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

May 2011 posts

 

-Thursday, June 30th, 2011: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - Balls

Two BasterdsYou can call it raging ego, chutzpah, or genius, but INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS showcases the immense confidence that Quentin Tarantino has in his craft. Look, I am an enormous fan of this film. I love a good alternate history tale, and really, who wouldn’t want to see a movie that has a U.S. soldier emptying an entire machine gun clip into Adolf Hitler. I love hating Nazis! The acting, especially the genius playful turn by Christoph Waltz in four different languages, is tremendous. I also had special affection for Eli Roth's unhinged sadistic depiction of The Bear Jew. It was one of those movies that sent me out of the theater with a big smile on my face, satisfied with the cinematic feast of pulp and art. And don’t be fooled, this film is both pulp and art, sometimes in the same sequence. Some people claim that Tarantino is just riffing off of past film masters. And while certain scenes strongly evoke the works of Hitchcock, Peckinpah, and Leone, Tarantino makes each scene his own. That first scene at the farmhouse is all Leone, but Tarantino makes it his own sequence with his unique rhythms and tensions. IB contains one of my favorite examples of pulp/art. The bar scene in INGLORIOUS BASTARDS is a fantastic scene that builds and intensifies in a very old-fashioned manner. The screws tighten as the threats multiply for our heroes. As the conversations continue, the tension becomes unbearable. So many great auteurs used this technique in the past, from Orson Welles with the ticking bomb in TOUCH OF EVIL to Alfred Hitchcock in SHADOW OF A DOUBT. I particularly love how this bar scene all falls apart due to a very small cultural mistake. As soon as Michael Fassbender’s character gestures for three beers to the bartender, the audience, watching the Nazi’s face, can tell that the gig is up. Violence soon ensues. But how cool that it was one little gesture that destroys the entire mission and kills so many people. Tarantino builds the tension masterfully, and then differs from his predecessors by unleashing this scene of over-the-top ultra-violence to end the sequence. QT just feels that all that tension needs a release and damn does he release. Look at that first gunshot to the Nazi’s balls. That blood shoots upwards at such velocity, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a dent in the top of the studio hanger.

But that ending is just the ballsiest bit of director’s commentary that I have ever seen. Brad Pitt carves a swastika into the forehead of Nazi Hans Landa. Then Pitt sits back, looks at his handiwork, than says right to the camera, “I think this just might be my masterpiece.” Then we cut straight to the “Written and Directed by QT” credits. There is no way you can look at this sequence and not see QT making that claim about his movie straight to the audience. Sure, the words are couched by Brad Pitt in character, but let’s be honest here, Tarantino is making an audacious claim to the audience that he has created his magnum opus. And you know why I was still smiling, even after that insanely confident boast? Because he just might be right. I’m not sure anything can touch the thrill and narrative weave of PULP FICTION, but INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS showcases a director at the height of his craft. From what I can tell, Quentin Tarantino is one weird duck. He is a film nerd, having worked in a video store for most of his young life, and his strange anti-social idiosyncrasies really come out whenever he steps into the public eye. Watch how he reacted to a paparazzo at Sundance a few years ago. Odd but incredibly talented and fully aware of his own talents. I hope he doesn’t continue his boasting into future films, but I am prone to agree with him; INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is a tremendous movie and, so far, Quentin Tarantino’s most satisfying and assured film. I'm out tomorrow, everyone have a Happy and tipsy 4th!

 

 

-Wednesday, June 29th, 2011: UP - Opening Sequence

UpWow, CARS 2 is just being pummeled in the reviews, huh? I know that the one entertainment story people love reading more than a celebrity comeback is the scandal, but this seems to be taking public flogging too far. With each new Pixar film that is released, there always seem to be articles that loudly wonder, “Will this finally be the film that breaks Pixar’s streak of fantastic films?” There’s a gleeful hopefulness to those articles, as if it would be the best thing in the world to see Pixar fail. And that just sucks, it’s an abysmally embarrassing facet of humanity that any part of us would wish that Pixar, a company that has produced so much sophisticated entertainment for children and adults alike, would fail. Now, CARS 2 wasn’t my favorite, but then neither was the original CARS. I see the allure of that car-world for kids, but none of the drama there interests me. But the feel of creative giddiness infuses the CARS films. Pixar’s chief, John Lasseter, has often admitted a life-long love of old cars. To him, these movies are a way to re-connect with his childhood, a way to show his favorite things to a new generation. I’m not that interested in cars, but I can still appreciate the man’s devotion and child-born passion. I just don’t think there is much reason for the CARS universe to exist otherwise. But do I think that CARS 2 deserves a 36% Rotten Tomatoes rating? Less than TRANSFORMERS 3 and BAD TEACHER? Hell no! There is still so much richness and good heart in CARS 2 that needs to be appreciated. There is a quick moment in the beginning of the movie where they show a trophy case dedicated to the racing career of ‘Doc Hudson,’ a car character voiced by the now deceased Paul Newman in the first CARS. It was a touching little tribute to how much Paul Newman is missed and I thought it was a wonderful moment that had more heart and sentiment than any other movie moment I have seen so far this summer. And the heart in Pixar is what brings me to today’s post.

For the record, UP is nowhere near the top of my list of favorite PIXAR films. For me, it’s a toss-up between THE INCREDIBLES and WALL-E. But I do think that the much-heralded beginning sequence of UP is one of the most poignant and beautifully realized sequences Pixar has ever created. In fact, I think the rest of the movie suffers by having to follow the opening. I can’t even really remember much from the latter half of the film. Something about an annoying dog who talks, a hilariously animated bird, and an evil adventurer who keeps heads in his dirigible. Is that about right? But that beginning sequence is an entire short film by itself. First, there is the depiction of how Carl and Ellie meet as kids. But then, there is the more touching aging sequence that immediately follows. Wordless and poetic, the sequence charts the married life of Carl and Ellie; their dreams and disappointments, their love and their friendship. It so effortlessly captures the melancholy simpleness of our lives, but also shows the strength that people are capable of. When Carl and Ellie discover they can’t conceive, they cover that pain and disappointment with a new dream of world travel. That hurt is still there, but it shows how a good relationship can be a river, often stuck on rocks and shoals, but always fluid and capable of finding a way through. Can you believe that a cartoon is depicting that kind of issue?! I’m still a relatively young man, and youth is always determined to leave a mark on the world. I want to make a film that people will remember for all time. Have family that will remember me for generations. But UP argues that there are far more attainable goals that can be just as rewarding. Carl and Ellie seemingly exist in their own little world, and UP is saying that as long as you can find someone, just one person whose life you change, who loves you as much as you love them, that should be all you need. That heartbreaking look Carl gives Ellie when he sees a painting of their old dream, shocked at how old they have become, is heartbreaking, but also inspiring. Even as an old man, all Carl wants is to go on an adventure with his wife. That’s the dream right there. That we can find someone to be a partner in life; a co-pilot, confidant, and friend. And none of this would work without that beautiful orchestration created by the versatile Michael Giacchino. The tune moves from boisterous, to sweet, to calming, to melancholic, to tragic, to heart-breaking, all in one fluid movement, all the more impressive for how simple it sounds. I can’t say enough how deeply that UP sequence touched me. If a studio is capable of creating such poignant moments of humanity, how dare we crow over a feature of lesser quality. CARS 2 is no UP, but a gorgeous feature with its heart in the right place should never be vilified like this. Yes, I’ll roll my eyes at the juvenile antics of Tow Mater, and ponder the strange implications of sentient cars that still have interior spaces for people that don’t exist (was there an automotive rebellion? Were the humans killed off??) But this is the team that gave us the uplifting ending in TOY STORY 3, the scene where WALL E touched the stars, a critic's joyful revelation in RATATOUILLE, and a terrified Mr. Incredible confessing that he couldn’t bear to lose his family again. And above all, in UP, they gave us a wonderful depiction of marriage, with a minimum of exposition and a whole boatload of creative and artistic expression. Let’s cut Pixar a break, okay?

 

-Tuesday, June 28th, 2011: 127 HOURS - Motion Picture

Rock and a Hard PlaceCrossing 127 HOURS off my list, I have finally gotten through all 10 Best Picture nominees from last year. I hear that the number of Best Picture nominees will decrease for 2011, thank god. It makes the designation so less unique to have 10 damn finalists. Though in my opinion, 127 HOURS definitely earns a spot among the 5 best movies of last year. What a beautiful self-contained story this is. There are really no surprises, chances are if you find yourself watching this movie, you already know that it is based on the real-life story of Aaron Ralston, a climber who fell in a remote canyon and had his arm trapped beneath an immoveable boulder. After days of suffering, Ralston decided to cut off his arm in order to escape. It’s one of those great survival stories; a tale of what sacrifices some people will make to continue their existence. The movie accomplishes exactly what it is supposed to; it puts audiences in Ralston’s shoes and asks them if they would make the same decision. What percentage of people would just give up and die? How many of us would look at the situation, do the cold hard math, and be willing to do what was necessary to survive? It’s a heavy question, one that was constantly running through my mind while watching this movie. Do I have that much to live for that I would cut off my arm to ensure that I continue? What would it say about me if I answered ‘No’?

Danny Boyle always makes interesting and passionate movies. Sometimes they can be complete disasters, like THE BEACH, but no matter what genre Boyle plays in, there are always fascinating scenes to pick over. Still one of the more bugnuts film scenes I have ever seen is in THE BEACH, when Leonardo DiCaprio hallucinates that he is in a video game. I can’t decide if this scene (sorry for the poor video quality) is the worst scene ever captured or one of the most imaginative, but I know for sure that it is one of the strangest. At first, it may seem like 127 HOURS is a complete change of pace from the sprawling stories he tells in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and SUNSHINE, but the hallucinatory imagery inherent to a survivalist story plays right to Boyle’s strengths. Boyle has the imagination necessary to make a 1-location film interesting. He gets the joke: making a motion picture about immobility. Boyle is also helped along by a fantastic performance from James Franco. Don’t let the cast list fool you, this is the Franco show, and he doesn’t hit a false note despite having cameras stuck on his face in extreme close-up the entire time. I know this guy. That outdoorsy, wild child, adrenaline adventurer that lives on Cliff bars and his knowledge of bike gears. There was a great line that is said about Ralston by two hikers who spend a little time with him, “We don’t even factor into his day.” Ralston is all about the energy of himself, experiencing awesome nature NOW. When the boulder forces him to slow down and perceive his actions towards others, it works. The way the sunlight brightens the cavern for 15 minutes every morning, how a hawk flies overhead every morning, these are details that Ralston starts to notice, and these help him realize how much he overlooks in his life. Ok, this all sounds cliché, I know, but you are so there in that situation, that all of Ralston’s growth is just accepted.

Boyle throws every trick in his book into the movie. He is constantly switching from handheld miniDV cams, to intimate and curious film angles, to stunning wide vistas. Look at this great shot where the camera follows the girl’s plunge down into the lake, just thrilling. And I will never look at Scooby-Doo or listen to ‘Lovely Day’ in the same way ever again! I loved how Boyle used sound in the movie. There is a great scene where Ralston is hiking and parkouring his way through canyons, listening to a techno song that is blaring on the soundtrack. We’ve all been there, we run with music, it makes us feel like we are in a movie, powerful, cool. Then Boyle switches to views of Ralston from the desert perspective, where the quiet landscape is just observing this leaping mook. Ralston is in his world, missing everything majestic and wonderful about the landscapes he explores. Later, it is made very clear how slight his chances of rescue are as we hear Ralston’s screams for help fade as we zoom out from the canyon. Later, when Ralston starts to commit to the idea of sawing through his own arm with a dull blade, Boyle adds electric screeches to the soundtrack to put us more on edge. And wow, that arm cutting scene is brutal. He first has to break the bones in his arm because the knife isn’t sharp enough to cut through bone. And that one shot of Ralston snapping through a nerve is just awful. As I said above, nothing is a surprise here, but when Ralston suddenly falls back into the canyon and looks back at his severed lower arm still stuck in the rock, I gasped. Being so intimately stuck in this wedge of rock, it is shocking to the audience to so suddenly be free. And how perfect is it that Ralston takes a picture of his own severed appendage before he leaves. This is a visceral and exciting film that brings a man near death so that he might find himself. We have an Oscar-winning director at the top of his game and an actor rediscovering his dramatic potential. And it really is enthralling to see so much energy in a movie that takes place mostly in one location. Despite interviews that tend to portray Danny Boyle as a brutal, nihilistic filmmaker, I think most of his films end in positions of hope and elation. I loved the last few moments of the film, when we see the real Aaron Ralston, sitting on a couch with his new wife. They are staring at the camera for awhile, and as it becomes clear to us that the changes Ralston experienced in the canyon have remained with him, he starts to smile.

 

 

-Monday, June 27th, 2011: FANTASTIC LINE READINGS - The Shat

The ShatNothing deep or game changing with this post, I just mainly wanted to introduce this hilarious website that catalogs some of the worst line reading ever given in the history of film. Seriously, I am going to start incorporating that Hercules “Disappointed!!!” line into my daily routine. It just covers so many different daily situations, I feel like hugging Kevin Sorbo. The others are pretty good too; I love the description of the black guy’s proud head bob in the HAPPY GILMORE clip. I think I rarely notice bad line readings, probably because I haven’t yet seen THE ROOM. A couple film moments due come to mind though. I understand that Clint Eastwood wanted to use authentic Hmong teenagers in GRAN TORINO, but some of these first-time actors are just atrocious. And I actually like GRAN TORINO, it reminds me a bit of UNFORGIVEN, a sober reflection on violence directed by a man who used to be the film king of casual cinematic violence. But Clint didn’t do his actors any favors, demanding complicated and embarrassing line readings that would have tried even a seasoned actor. Look at this scene and how hard the poor girl struggles with the weak insults. Ugh, big misstep by Clint. And some day, I’ll have to post some of the short films I did in college up here. There is one short in particular where I gave the worst line reading of the word ‘Thanks,’ ever committed to film.

But back to some non-mocking-of-Trevor fun, let’s take a second and appreciate the king of overacting and fantastic line deliveries: William Shatner. In a later post, I will give some love to the other master of line delivery: Gary Oldman. Now look, I love the Shat. He is willing to dive so far into overacting that he sometimes is capable of coming out the other side unscathed. I think that his crazy antics sometimes can really work for a part, like his fantastic TWILIGHT ZONE episode, ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’. Seriously, watch the whole thing, part 1 and part 2. His mounting paranoia and increasing instability capture a claustrophobic panic that I think really works here. I think his ROCKET MAN performance goes a little too far, ruining the joke by hammering on the joke of his strange Shatner-esque delivery. But of course, there was no better venue for hamminess than as Captain Kirk in STAR TREK. Everything in this show was cheesy, and I think my favorite examples where in the episode where a transporter accident created an Evil Kirk. Look at the end of this clip, when Evil Kirk appears. How can you keep from bursting into laughter?! Then catch his insane overacting later in the episode. Granted, the guyliner isn’t doing the Shat any favors, but wow, this man is afraid of nothing. But any conversation of William Shatner is incomplete without mention of his infamous yell of ‘KHAAAAAANNNN’ in STAR TREK 2: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Man, I grew up with this movie; I mean I knew every part of it. I was terrified of those ear bugs, there were times I was putting cotton in my ears before bed so they couldn’t crawl in. And I feel that I could have had a second career based purely on my mimicry of the Shatner Khan yell. Look at that face; it looks like he is chewing pebbles. Then his head starts to shake as he erupts into a furious, soul-scraping, throat-gouging scream. His scream is so profoundly awesome that it temporarily breaks the laws of physics and echoes across the surface of an airless moon. And the best part is that his rage-filled scream makes no sense! It is revealed later that Kirk had a back-up plan all along, so why did he feel the need to injure his vocal cords and make such a horrific face that probably terrified his son and ex-wife? One can argue that it was to convince Khan that he really was mad, but even as a kid, I knew that I was perfectly capable of screaming over a phone without twisting my face into a red blushy pulp. Who cares, this was one of the touchstones of my childhood. I was fascinated by the Shat, and always really impressed by the emotion that he punched into the Spock funeral scene later in the same movie. For little sci-fi geeks like me, the death of Spock was momentous, and it was carried out with class and heroism. Call it cheesy, but I loved that stone-faced emotional break Shatner has at 4:35, and then how he grunts out ‘human’. It’s a strange choice to play a scene that way, but damn is it fascinating. Thanks Shat for your line deliveries, may they long continue to entertain people on free clip sites.

 

 

 

-Friday, June 24th, 2011: HUGH JACKMAN - The Man Your Man Is Not

HughI was reading something this morning about GREEN LANTERN; about how slim the chances are that we see a sequel after this film’s dismal box-office performance so far. The blogger outlined options for the studio to take if there were to be a sequel, and one of the blogger opinions was to replace Ryan Reynolds as the lead. People are critical of Reynold’s performance, saying his personality really fits a character like The Flash or Deadpool than it does Hal Jordan. I haven’t seen GREEN LANTERN yet, but I’ll be chiming in on that issue soon. What the re-casting comment made me think about is how many superhero leads have been recast recently, like Spiderman, Superman, James Bond, and the entire cast of X-Men, minus one big hairy berserker character.

And that brings me to Hugh Jackman, and a clip-palooza. Has an actor ever so fully captured a superhero as Jackman has done The Wolverine? Despite now being in his 40s, he has played Wolverine in 5 movies. I know that his character is never supposed to age, but it still amazes me that there is never even a whisper of recasting the role.  He so completely steals each film with his feral, furious performance. It all starts to look a little old hat by now, but remember how dominant he was in those first 2 X-Men films? In X1, that great long wordless sequence of Wolverine scurrying around the halls of the mansion, eyes darting, fighting a voice in his head. Or how much rage and passion he pumps into his scream when he impales that soldier against the fridge in X2? That kitchen fight is simple and short, but I remember that it got a huge applause in the theater and that is all due to how hard Jackman sells that moment. In those first two movies, every scene is improved with his presence. I couldn’t find many clips online, but check out his demented grin at 2:00 when he finds superspeed on Cyclops’ motorcycle. I also love the way he reacts/snaps into a kiss with Jean Grey in X3. And his 2-second cameo in FIRST CLASS, he brings so much gravitas and manliness to that one scene that you miss him for the rest of film. Could anyone imagine what The Wolverine would have been like if the original actor cast in the role, Dougray Scott, wasn’t fired from XMEN?!

But Hugh Jackman is so much more than The Wolverine. This guy has become the symbol for confident modern manliness. He has that charm and easiness that so many Australians seem to possess. When he went to Broadway to star as the gay singer Peter Allen in “The Boy From Oz”, people thought he had gone nuts. I saw that show on Broadway and was so impressed with his talent and passion. As part of the show, Jackman had to interact with the audience for a few minutes of spontaneous comedy. The night I was there, Bryan Singer, the director of the first two XMEN movies, was in the audience. He yelled out something during the audience interaction bit and Jackman made some humorous remark about how Singer was regretting his casting decision. Then Jackman discovered that there was a group of Playboy Bunnies in the audience and he made a great show of running of the stage as if he were done for the night. All this playful improv was just wonderful to watch. Someone so nimble and earnest engaging his audience with such charm. He was also in a largely forgettable movie, KATE & LEOPOLD, around the same time, as a 19th century Duke magically transported to modern New York City to fall in love with Meg Ryan. And even though the movie went through every time-displacement cliché, having Jackman teach modern men about chivalry and courtship, he was still enormously convincing and entertaining. At one point in the movie, he is in a TV commercial selling butter, and the test subject women swoon. As he caresses the words with a smooth gentlemanly English accent, it is easy to see why. I’ll admit to having a manly urge to buy butter. He elevates crap like SWORDFISH, bringing a boyish glee to his f-words, somehow making a computer hacking scene look fun. And really, any actor who signs up to do a movie where he has to hack a computer system while getting a blow-job with a gun to his head, well, he’ll always get my vote!

Sometimes, his good looks completely swamp out his talent. Look at this unfortunately fuzzy clip from AUSTRALIA, where Jackman was cast as the epitome of man meat beefcake in the hilariously soft-porn shower sequence. But then look at his performance in the underrated THE FOUNTAIN. This is such a strange film, requiring a bald Jackman to lovingly fondle a tree and vomit moss, but he conveys such emotional depth in his face, it makes me wonder how anyone could have possibly cast Brad Pitt in this role. Jackman tends to disappear from screen for awhile, probably to get grounded with his normal-looking wife and family back in Australia, so it’s always a pleasure when he pops in somewhere. What a great song he had with NPH at the Tony’s last week, just pure talented Jackman. I just love this guy, and think that it is fantastic to have a straight male actor out there with excellent family morals and enough character and charisma to play roles as varied as testosterone-drenched Wolverine, and a flamboyantly gay television star. Can’t wait to see what’s next Hugh!

 

 

 

-Thursday, June 23rd, 2011: FAMILY GUY - Hyper-violence

Evil StewieMaybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but shouldn’t there be a conversation about the casual use of extreme violence that is appearing in the Fox cartoon, FAMILY GUY? Normally, I completely enjoy this show, I still dig the dynamic of the family and love whenever it tries something a little new. For instance, that scene last year where Quagmire yelled at Brian, pointing out all his pathetic faults, was a fantastic deconstruction of a television character. And I am usually fine with all the jokes about controversial topics like abortion, pedophilia, and sex, because I assume that most of that is flying right over the heads of younger viewers. But visual violence is a different matter. Yes, yes, the sqog entry below is all about the fantastic gore and violence in BLADE, but there is a big difference between an ‘R’ rated movie in theaters and a major network cartoon playing at 9pm on Sunday nights. I flipped the show on the other night and caught an episode that showed this past March. The A-story was a pretty boring outing about Meg Griffin falling for Joe Swanson, which (as the show itself pointed out) is just a retread of an older episode about how Meg inappropriately fell for Brian. But the B-story really kind of shocked me. Brian is teasing Stewie about going soft; that he is no longer the diabolical, would-be-world-conquering evil genius that he used to be. Stewie creates a machine that will re-awaken his evil sensibilities. Things go wrong and an Evil Stewie clone is created. I liked what they started to do with Evil Stewie, in fact, I enjoyed that Evil Stewie’s exit from the machine’s test chamber is a direct lift from an old STAR TREK episode where Captain Kirk’s evil duplicate emerges from a transporter. And I was still okay with the scene where Evil Stewie assaults Brian by shoving batteries up his nose and nearly strangling Brian with his leash. Extreme, yes, but it’s just showing juxtaposing Evil Stewie with Regular Stewie, showing that Evil Stewie is pretty damn cutthroat. But then this scene happens, where Evil Stewie beats up Brian and Stewie. Then this scene happens, where Evil Stewie carjacks. Woah. And it sounds worse when I describe it. Basically, Evil Stewie beats the crap out of Stewie, then viciously cuts off Brian’s tail and shoves it into Stewie’s mouth. When Evil Stewie carjacks, he takes a sword and bisects a woman, cutting her from crotch to crown so that the two halves of her body slump to the street.

How is this different from earlier moments in the series? Look at all that fleshy detail in the animation. Blood is splattering everywhere in these clips. You see the gory stump of bone hanging off of Brian. When Evil Stewie cuts up the woman, you see blood spraying Evil Stewie in the face and the inside of her body bleeding out into the street. I remember that episode from early in the series run where Stewie beats up Brian, and though that scene is brutal, it is not nearly as callous and chilling. I think the main reason why is that the ‘Stewie beats Brian’ bit plays as a parody of mob/gang violence. It’s brutal, but cartoonish in its intent and detail. How is this different from that Simpsons episode where Homer and his family breathe in inside-out gas? Because that was specifically a Halloween episode, so not part of the Simpsons ‘reality.’ Plus, the animation was very cartoon-y on those inside-out sequences, yes, there is still blood and vague animation. Yes, Bart’s dog drags him off-screen by his large intestines, but since the family is doing a dance number at the time, the tone is light and breezy. The Evil Stewie bits aren’t from a ‘special’ episode, they aren’t parodying anything or providing a light, escapist tone, they are just sickly real. If I were younger and randomly caught this episode, I would be horrified. Look, I’m sure this bit of hyper-violence was included just to push a gag as far as it could go, but I feel strange that this episode didn’t cause any kind of controversy. Am I crazy here? Some of this stuff leads back into old arguments I’ve already made about censorship and ratings system. So it’s okay to see a cartoon baby graphically dismembering a woman, but not okay to see a woman’s boob with her nipple covered? I just get so confused with the different media standards set for sex and violence in this country. Despite the fact that we all have the bits and pieces, parents are still screaming at a network that dares show too much skin, but not batting an eye at the countless gory deaths witnessed on television. Maybe it has something to do with the fantasy element. Sex and nudity are real things in our lives that every single person will encounter every day, while hyper-violence is something that is rarely encountered in one’s entire lifetime. What it boils down to it that maybe it is more comforting to confront things that are fantastical than things that are familiar. Or hell, maybe the puritanical nature of our forefathers is still influencing us, 200+ years later. All I know is that the violence in this episode of FAMILY GUY disgusted me. Call me old, call me a rube, but I don’t think that level of goriness is appropriate on network television, especially in cartoon-form.

Oh well, and to totally steal from another website: for no real reason at all, here is a picture of The Rock riding Splash Mountain.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011: BLADE - Some badass fights

BloodbathAh yes, good old BLADE. This movie came out when I was a senior in high school, finally fully allowed into ‘R’ rated fare, and I’m not ashamed to say BLADE kinda rocked my world. It was really the first of its kind, a deadly serious modern comic book movie adaptation way before the likes of SPIDERMAN, Nolan BATMAN, XMEN, and way before vampires became all sparkly and emo. In addition, BLADE is unapologetically ‘R’ rated, which is still something that studios struggle with. If I remember correctly, I went to see this in the theaters with my brother and we both were soon grinning like idiots. The movie doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, and I think that is what we both really responded to. This is a bleak world; with most of the color bleached from the film, and the simple composition of the images lend it almost a sense of elegance. And when I saw this in theaters I remember that the sound of Blade’s punches were jacked up to such a vicious meaty thud (a rare effect then, but commonplace now), it was hard for me to believe anyone could survive even one jab from this guy. In the opening sequence, when the random dude is led into the meat cellar rave and the showers start pouring blood, I remember looking at my brother, wide-eyed, amazed at such audacious awesomeness. That is truly the best moment of the BLADE films, the release of this crazy bloodbath rave. It may be nuts and possibly unhealthy, but damn, you kind of want to be there! It’s a spine-chilling moment, as the guy slowly looks up at the ceiling, in synch with everyone’s arms rising into the air. And that heavy dance beat just hits right there as the room de-evolves into a mass of squirming id beasts. I love all the shots of writhing bloody body parts, just animals in pack heat. What an introduction to this world, and then eventually to the reveal of badass Blade. Wesley Snipes is just so perfectly cast. He moves with such precision and kinetic energy in his fight choreography, it’s a pleasure to watch. And Snipes handles that sword with such ceremony and flair, it’s addictive to watch. And the director, Steven Norrington (who still hasn’t recovered from the disaster that was LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN) doesn’t hesitate to give Snipes a whole mess of iconic cool kills here. Look at 5:35, when Blade shoves a stake so hard through a guy’s head, that he becomes impaled in the ceiling! Or that little smile at 6:45 when Blade throws that spinning blade of death around the shower room. Love it.

But the best of Blade is always unleashed once his blood lust has been fulfilled by some real human blood. He enters this blood rage phase where each move is simultaneously efficient and brutal. When I was in college, I choreographed some goofy fight sequence in a film once and I only realized later that I stole most of the cool moments from BLADE. I mean, look at this final fight; I could just do a laundry list of moments that make you smile at their brassy exclamations of radness. Smoothly snatching the glasses at :30. At 1:05, his little shove to the dazed thug. At 1:10, he rips a thug’s throat out and actually throws the throat at another bad guy. At 1:32, I love his rage kicking frenzy, resulting in the very next shot where he somehow kicks a guy so hard that he flies upwards. I never quite understood the physics of that kick. Then at 2:55, when he finally gets his sword and poses, vampire dust falling around him. And at 3:55, possibly my favorite action beat, Blade’s silent mouthing of “What the F---?!” And OK, maybe his last line to Frost, “Some mother---ers always be trying to ice-skate uphill,” doesn’t really make any sense, but seeing Frost explode in a gooey mass of blood globules is so ludicrously over-the-top that it somehow works. I’m trying to figure out why these fight scenes are so effective. I think part of it is that even though the whole film is bleak, there is a sense of fun and playfulness in the fights that feels like a release for the audience. In addition, even though there certainly is a bunch of CGI in these fights, Blade’s moves are never CGI’d. It makes a difference knowing that Snipes is actually going through all this choreography and his flesh-and-blood punches carry an ‘ooomph’ that aren’t present in later, more computer-reliant BLADE flicks. Now, I do like BLADE 2, mostly because I am such a sucker for the wacky imagery that trips out of the mind of Guillermo del Toro. But the movie still paled next to the original. Except for that badass slo-mo Blade walk out of the blood pool at 1:15. And the hilarious wrestling body slam at 3:10 that breaks the glass. And Ron Perlman always classes the joint up. But I think I became more inured to this kind of bloody action as time passed. The original BLADE showed up at a time when I was just starting to make my way through ‘R’-rated films, and the combination of beautiful action choreography and gore really left a lasting impression on my developing action-movie-loving mind.

 

 

 

-Tuesday, June 21st, 2011: SEASON FINALES - The Killing

The Unanswered QuestionI will not be returning to THE KILLING next year. This series got me so damn frustrated by the end; I was reminded all over again why I can’t stand crime-procedural television shows. I thought the show started off well, the gloom and the rain and that chilling scene when they find Rosie’s body. But then everything started to go downhill, the amount of rain became a joke and the writing just got insulting. I’m not usually a stickler for plot holes, but the ones that kept appearing in THE KILLING were large enough to drive a truck through. Why would the investigators wait 7 days to interview the family of the victim? Why wouldn’t the detectives look into Rosie’s internet browsing history right away? Why would the investigators wait 13 days to look at the gas mileage for the car in which Rosie was found? The toll bridge official called Sarah with the information about the broken cameras only because Holder used Sarah’s badge number for the video request. Why would he do that?? He must know that as soon as the bridge toll people called Sarah, the gig would be up! Also, I’m pretty sure that it’s a major breach of protocol, and a potential mistrial claim, for a detective to email a suspect saying, “I know what you did!” There was a great moment in the finale when Stan Larsen helped the very pregnant Amber Ahmed reach down to get a candy bar. I was trying to appreciate the wonderful way in which Stan answered the question about how many children he had, but all I could think about was how stupid the writing was. How on earth would Amber not recognize the man who was tried and imprisoned for nearly beating her husband to death just a few days earlier?! It was an inexcusable mistake that betrayed the subtle acting taking place.

The writing in THE KILLING let the actors down all season. I mean, there is some great acting going on here, and it's a lesson on how bad storytelling can absolutely kill a good acting job. I started to hate Michelle Forbes’ portrayal of Rosie’s grieving mother. It’s not Forbes’ fault, I thought she was fantastic in the earlier episodes, but the writers gave her no other notes to hit other than grief and anger. Is the audience supposed to enjoy seeing Forbes break down into tears for the same reason in every single episode!? The lead character, Sarah Linden, remained a cold cipher for most of the season. I thought the best episode was the one that took a time out from the case and followed Sarah and Holder’s search for Sarah’s son. There was wonderful character development for both and a deepening of their bond. But this episode aired far too late in the season, as the 11th of 13 episodes. Why on earth wouldn’t they put this episode earlier in the season, getting us involved in the lead characters’ lives as they descended deeper into the darkness of Rosie’s murder? Holder became the best character in the show, but even with him, everything we know has to thrown at the window based on his betrayal of Sarah in the closing moments of the finale. And don’t get me started on Rosie. We never really found out who she was. Her room made her seem like the sweetest, most innocent angel, but then we found out she was also working as an escort at a casino. The entire season’s emotional arc depended on the audience caring about this girl, feeling rage at her murder, and a passion to find her killer. It’s a challenging thing to make us care for a girl who is already dead, but there are ways. Maybe they could have had her be a budding videographer, so we could see old footage of her goofing around. Even though it’s a very different type of show, VERONICA MARS invited us to care for a dead girl through use of flashback and dream imagery. I’m not sure that would have worked into the mood and tone of THE KILLING, but they could have tried something!

I always felt 10 steps ahead of THE KILLING, like they were writing for people who had never seen television before. Did anyone really think Bennet Ahmed killed Rosie? Of course not, because there were still 7 episodes to go in the season. And the more proof and conviction that was heaped on Darren Richmond in the finale made it obvious that it wasn’t him. And if it had been Richmond, I still would have been upset, because that would mean that the entire political storyline only existed to set up Richmond as the killer. Audiences aren’t idiots. There are rules to television procedurals and instead of trying to break those rules like they promised, the show’s writers plodded through each expected cliché: the foreign suspect, the endless red herrings, the hardened investigator with a past, the unconnected storyline that has to eventually tie into the end (the politics), the last minute ‘twist’, etc.

I read an interview with the show’s creator, Veena Sud. The interviewer was a little pissed off that the finale never reveals who Rosie’s killer is. Sud defensively claims that she never promised to reveal the killer by the end of the season. That is absolutely ridiculous. The marketing for this show insistently questioned, “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” That poster implies that viewers will get an answer by the end of the season. Will the poster for next season be the same tagline?! Plus, the show is based on a Danish series that did reveal the girl’s killer by the end of the first season. This isn’t LOST, where there are 50 different mysteries that need solving, so we are satisfied when only a few questions are answered by the season finales. This isn’t GAME OF THRONES, where the characters are so rich and deep, the storylines so plentiful, and the potential so great, that we don’t care if there is resolution. There is one mystery, one question with THE KILLING, and they needed to answer it in the finale. Ugh, I’m done, I’m getting angrier the more I write. AMC, the home of MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, and THE WALKING DEAD should be embarrassed and I have no idea why they renewed the show. I’m not sure what so set me off about this ending, I don’t usually get this worked up, anger-wise, about a show, but I am just furious with THE KILLING. I understand that others like the show and have no problem with it and I wish the best of luck for anyone sticking with it for the second season.

 

 

 

-Monday, June 20th, 2011: SEASON FINALES - Game of Thrones

Dany & the Dragons. Kind of a big spoiler.Hot damn, now that is how you end a season! Are you listening, THE KILLING? Are you taking notes for next year? Because this medieval HBO season finale just schooled you in every possible way! I think it was very interesting to have both GAME OF THRONES and THE KILLING reach their finales at the same time. The comparisons allow us to see the weaknesses and strengths of both series more fully than if they had aired in a competitive vacuum. I’ll get to my frustration with THE KILLING in a later post, because this should be all about the awesomeness that is GAME OF THRONES. I wasn’t all that interested in this show to begin with; the previews made it look like a LOTR rip-off. But it sucked me right in with that brutally effective introduction to the White Walkers. There were times that the endless speechifying/exposition of the first handful of episodes got me a bit bored, but I thought it was an excellent idea to end every episode with some sort of cliffhanger. Jaime’s chilling utterance of “The things I do for love,” then off-handedly tossing Bran out the window was a fantastic early tease. And despite my appreciation for everything that occurred in the finale, my favorite scene came earlier on in the season, when the fan-favorite Inigo Montoya-clone, Syrio Forel, was teaching Ayra how to swordfight. Eddard Stark watches on proudly as his daughter fights with a wood sword. But as her training continues, Stark’s face falls. He starts to hear metal-on-metal clashes from the swords, and is reminded of all the terrible battles he has been subject to. His face now sad, fallen, and stunned, Stark hears men screaming, the imagined metal clangs chasing him into the horrors of the past. What a beautiful and subtle use of audio alliteration to wordlessly express the fear that Stark feels as he catches a glimpse of the future Ayra is forging for herself.

One of the other things that GOT has been doing well is playing with expectations. Audiences have seen countless medieval stories in film and television, so we often think that we can see plot developments coming miles away. But GOT constantly flips scenes around so that they never work out like you’d expect. For example, the show depicted two fights that show the limits and advantages to body armor. It has become rote in medieval drama to show how a limber fighter with no armor can overcome a cumbersome chainmail-clad adversary. And that great Bronn fight on behalf of Tyrion in the Eyrie showed us an exciting fight that did just that. But then, a couple episodes later, we saw a fight between Ser Jorah and one of Drogo’s men where body armor won the fight. How unexpected to see both sides! The unexpected happens elsewhere. Not only does The Mountain rage at his joust loss, but he beheads his own freaking horse! Khal Drogo, the immense horseman, remover of tongues through the throat, dies from a simple infected cut. Tyrion’s continued sarcastic existence (and can we all just agree to just give Peter Dinklage the EMMY now for his fantasticly nuanced performance?!). And of course, the biggest surprise of the season: the show’s main character, Eddard Stark, is killed in the penultimate episode. I can’t think of any other show that has ever done something this shockingly momentous, daring to kill off its lead character in the first season. I know that the original plan in LOST was to kill Jack Shepherd in the pilot, but that decision was deemed too risky. And tons of shows have killed off supporting characters in the past. But damn, Sean Bean was undoubtedly the main star of this show. His face was plastered over every piece of marketing for GOT, it was unthinkable to have him die! I know that his death is a big part of the book, and the show has done an admirable job of creating other interesting characters to carry the plots, but wow, I kept expecting someone to save him. Some Robin Hood-esque last minute heroics, but no, it wasn’t until that sword touched his neck that I believed they would kill Stark. And what a beautiful scene it was. Ayra in the crowd watching the crows fly away while that vile piece of crap sadist Joffrey changes his mind. Seriously, that kid actor who plays Joffrey will never play a good guy ever again. That’s why I am so very happy that this exists. But that clip needs some serious audio impact smacks added.

The finale wasn’t nearly as action-packed as the penultimate episode, but it did an amazing job of making setup feel like payoff. All the finale really did was move its chess pieces around; sending Jon north of the Wall, making Robb King of the North, establishing Joffrey’s court, holding a funeral for Drogo, etc. But everything felt so huge and game-changing that it felt like action. I liked how Sansa started to stand up for herself; for a second there, I thought either she was going to push Joffrey off the bridge, or hurl herself to her own death. See what they did by killing Stark? No one is safe; truly anyone can die at any moment! I have always liked the different Tyrion who appears in front of his father. Gone are his confidence and sarcasm, and all that’s left is vulnerability and pain. It gives Dinklage that much more wonderful footage to pack into his Emmy submission reel. But let’s talk about that ending. Wow. Watching Dany stand up naked from the ashes, surprisingly-good-CGI dragons curling around her body; I would have bowed before her too! I love how that first dragon is revealed, shyly peeking over Dany’s shoulder, it is a true WTF, fist-pumping moment. Some have claimed that Dany’s full season arc has been rushed and simplified, but I find it really well done. Months have passed and she has been through tremendous ordeals. And I thought that her last scene made a fantastic feminist image. Dany isn’t being strong and inspiring awe by assuming a man’s pose, or copying the swagger of her dead husband. Her authority is all Dany, living through her unconcerned nudity and the act of birth. Through fire, she has managed to turn her feminine powers of reproduction into species resurrection. Look at her standing in ash and dragons. That is the raw power, passion, and beauty of woman all right there. It’s exhilarating. And that music kicks in as she stands, your spine starts tingling, and it cuts to black. You better believe I’ll be tuning in whenever GAME OF THRONES comes back on! As a quick note, I decided not to read the GOT books before watching this season and so I was able to be completely surprised by innumerable moments like Bran’s fall, Stark’s death, and the dragons. But over the long wait until Season 2, I don’t think I’m going to be able to resist reading all the books. Even though I will lose the exhilarating thrill of shock, I hope that knowing the eventual path of the television show won’t take away from my enjoyment of its development. I will miss the surprises.

 

 

 

-Friday, June 17th, 2011: ICONIC PICS - Vancouver Riots

Riot LoveThis is a little outside of the normal purview of this blog, but who doesn’t love analyzing an iconic photograph! This picture was taken from the Vancouver hockey riots two nights ago and appears to depict a romantic moment in the midst of violence and hate. First off, what the hell Vancouver?! The riot was in response to the Vancouver Canucks losing the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins. It was a pretty hard fought series, but since when does losing a sporting event mean you have the license to trash your own city?! OK, yes, I probably shouldn’t be talking considering what the people of San Francisco did to their city after the Giants won the World Series last year. But I thought that was ridiculous too. A cynic would think that this kind of behavior proves that we are all just a thin mask away from complete savagery, that all humanity needs is a little push in order to embrace violence and anarchy. I know that is a big step to take based on a few riots, but come on; people are rioting, looting, burning police cars, and assaulting each other, all because of a hockey game. If that isn’t a sign of the apocalypse, I’m not sure what is.

Doom and gloom aside, I looked into this picture a bit more. It turns out that this is not a moment of passion. These were two tourists caught up in the mayhem in the streets. The girl had been knocked down and partially beaten by riot police (there is actual video showing this), and her boyfriend was just trying to get his hysterical girlfriend to calm down. He figured the best way to do this was to kiss her. In a way, I think it’s sweeter that way. Obviously, no one is going to lie down in the streets and get it on with riot police stampeding. That’s like a scene from a crappy action movie, or something SF hippies in the 60s would have done. But here, it seems that this moment was sparked by a scared dude, terrified of the situation he was in, trying to get through to his girlfriend in the simplest, most intimate way he knew how. Instead of trying to verbally calm her down in a tense moment, he just kissed her. Pretty awesomely romantic. I read one blog that claimed that the only reason this picture is getting any attention is because there is some leg in there. And I think, in a way, that’s right. Seeing that girl so exposed just pumps up the vulnerability of the tableau, it stresses just how defenseless she is. But the picture's power doesn't lie in exploitation like the blogger is implying. Guns, shields, tear gas, violence, and a man protecting a half-naked woman. This kind of image is burned into the caveman brains of both men and women; chivalry, dominance, romance, Lancelot riding to the rescue, etc. Hell, every action movie in existence plays out this kind of scenario in some fashion. Some commentators are comparing it to the picture of the kiss on V-J Day. Really? Let’s not go crazy here, people. Somehow, I think that victory in the Pacific Theatre of Word War 2 is a little bit more momentous and historic than hockey riots in Vancouver, Canada. And sure, this pic isn’t as awesome as Tiger and the Mysterious Moustached Mafioso on the right from the Masters earlier this year. Still, maybe I’m just a sappy romantic, but I find the Vancouver picture to be a nice reminder that compassion can exist in the midst of malice, that maybe we are more than barbarians wearing a thin cloak of civility, that we are capable of more. And you know what, that’s not a bad message to send us all off into the weekend.

 

 

 

-Thursday, June 16th, 2011: DEXTER - Title Sequence Art

The Happy Serial KillerJust saw a chilling new promo for the upcoming season of DEXTER. I’ve always enjoyed the show, but mostly because the moral quagmire that DEXTER exists in just fascinates me. The lead main character, with whom we are supposed to cheer for and empathize with, is a serial killer. Now, yes, Dexter does kill by a very strict set of rules. He only kills ‘bad’ people, he protects children, and he needs proof of evil before he kills, but it boils down to the fact that we are cheering for a murderer to get away with his crimes. To the show’s credit, Dexter’s kills are usually shown in full, directly challenging the audience to question their own ethics and moral code. The show is at its best when it pushes these boundaries, putting Dexter in situations where he bends or breaks his code, seeing how far the audience can be pushed. The first season was perfect, a full story that wrapped up with wonderful twists and an awesome ending. The 2nd and 3rd seasons were repetitive, repeating Dexter’s arcs, but still sometimes allowing for some good development. But the addition of John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer in the 4th season was a masterstroke. Lithgow’s performance was creepy and towering, and he proved to be an effective even-more-twisted mirror of Dexter. The Trinity Killer isn’t that different from Dexter, and that is where the fantastic drama of this season was created. Look at this scene, especially at Lithgow at 2:20, one of the most f---ed up Thanksgiving dinners ever committed to film. But I loved how this scene played. Despite all the violence and hate in this family, when Dexter revealed his own brand of violence, the family reacts in terror. An awesome example of family Stockholm Syndrome. And season 4’s ending, while controversial and shocking, puts Dexter in a new place for Season 5, something that desperately needed to happen. And according to that promo, he is out for blood. And I’ll be there to see how the finale pushes Dexter into choices that his moral code is unable to handle. Should be exciting.

Off topic again. I bring DEXTER up because it has the best title sequence of any show I can think of. Now, there are some great title sequences out there, and I love it when a show really goes out there and puts some effort into creating something compelling and memorable. I love the artistic use of cogs and landscape to depict the machinations at work in GAME OF THRONES, plus the score is tremendously kinetic. The falling cutout man in MAD MEN informs the audience that no matter how in control Don Draper appears, he will always be a mystery man in free-fall. I love the DEADWOOD opening for those gritty visuals, but I don’t think it necessarily tells you anything about the show except that it is indeed grimy and dirty. And I think they dropped the ball on the TRUE BLOOD credits which is just a collection of creepy Southern images shown in a frenzied state of edit. The good opening sequences hint at the tone of world about to be revealed. The great sequences get you in the show’s mindset. DEXTER’S opening sequence is deceptively simple, just a set of images that show Dexter’s morning routine. But even the most normal everyday activities are shot in inventive ways that evoke violence and brutality. The extreme close-ups of his unshaven face and the scary sound the razor makes as it cuts through the hairs. The sickening ease with which a knife pares the breakfast ham. The visceral gore of an orange as the juice is grinded from the fruity flesh. By shooting Dexter’s shoelaces with a high frame rate, it appears as if he is using the laces for strangulation. Dexter putting a shirt on, pausing for a moment as if he is being suffocated by the fabric. These shots play against a sinister jazzy song that gives the whole sequence an upbeat Miami vibe, instead of the dark and moody score you would expect to accompany these images. The opening bit ends with Dexter leaving his house and starting his day, like any normal person would. But we have witnessed the violence of his morning and are amazed that he can walk in public with a smile and a nod for his neighbor. This title sequence prepares the audience for the moral tests to come, forcing us to look differently at the world, to see our everyday world as a violent play. This is how Dexter sees the world and it’s not hard to imagine that if I saw the world in this kind of violent minutiae, I might go a little mad myself. It is so very rare when a title sequence can envelop a viewer into the show’s world, but the DEXTER opening sequence accomplishes this by taking advantage of a brilliant concept. This should be taught in film schools.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, June 15th, 2011: NPH - The Comeback Kid

NPH Dr. HorribleWe hear about career comebacks all the time; if there is one thing the American public loves nearly as much as seeing celebrities fall, it is seeing them rise again. Britney Spears, Hugh Grant, Letterman, hell, John Travolta has made an entire career out of his comebacks. But one of the most successful recent career comebacks, one that seems like it may never slow down, has been the resurgence of Neil Patrick Harris. It’s hard to remember how much of a joke this guy used to be. He was such a star as a kid in DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D., and like many other child stars, he got lost in his adolescence. I can only remember him from one movie in the 90s, STARSHIP TROOPERS, which he was just terrible in. Not the sarcastic, I-know-I’m-bad type of terrible acting, he was really awful! Check out this clip at 1:50, where not only does it sound like he is talking with a lungful of helium, but he is so inappropriately serious.

Then in 2004, Harris did one cameo in a small film that changed everything for him. He played a hard-partying, whore-loving, Ecstasy-fueled version of himself in HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE. He is just awesome here; insane, funny as hell, totally willing to mock himself for humor. I love how quickly he shifts moods here, from partying playboy to preppy prick to haunted lover in the space of about a minute. This little performance created NPH and jump-started a completely dead career. He became the embodiment of male chauvinism as ‘Barney’ in the TV series, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, creating a character that is imitated in bars everywhere. He has done some fantastic TV guest spots, even winning an Emmy for his stunning guest performance of Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ on GLEE. I still think the best thing he has done is his hilarious, pathetic, and finally touchingly tragic performance as ‘Dr Horrible’ in Joss Whedon’s DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG. It’s primarily a funny short, but NPH’s last line is so sad and lost, it really adds a whole new level this character that lost all of his humanity with Penny’s death. NPH has also been a host at many awards show, with a fantastic opening segment at last weekend’s TONYS. He has this playful attitude in most things he does, never afraid to take potshots at himself, always sarcastic, but in a nice and light way, never mean. He handles the room so deftly, even when Brooke Shields completely flubs her lines. NPH never sweats. He even performed a number from COMPANY, promoting the play and his performance which will soon be in movie theatres for a short run this weekend. You can count me there. In college, I performed NPH’s role of ‘Bobbie’ in that play, and just seeing the performance of ‘Side by Side’ at the TONYS brought a whole host of memories rushing back. NPH may be good, but can he possibly match my transcendent performance? I highly doubt it, but I’ll still check it out just to make sure.

NPH came out a few years ago and unlike some actors who reveal their homosexuality, he never carries it as a burden, and it certainly hasn’t seemed to hinder his career. It’s just not even an issue for him. There was an inflammatory article written a couple months ago about the believability of gay actors in straight roles. It concentrated on actors like Sean Hayes playing a straight role in a Broadway play and Jonathan Groff in GLEE. I was confused why NPH was never brought up? He absolutely plays a convincingly straight man in HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, in effect, completely demolishing the dumbass argument made in that article. And even with an awful-looking movie on his slate, THE SMURFS, I don’t think anything can derail the NPH machine at this point. I hope his brilliant new career continues to flourish with his portrayals of charming, confident, and hilarious characters.

 

-Tuesday, June 14th, 2011: PARENTHOOD - Thanksgiving Football

Always a landmark realization for a dude Zeke and CamilleDo you ever have one of those moments when you see or smell something that pulls you right back to a specific moment in time? And the memory is so sharp and clear, it’s almost painful? I had one the other day while watching PARENTHOOD, the Thanksgiving episode. Holiday shows are this kind of drama’s bread-and-butter, and this episode doesn’t disappoint. The whole clan gathers together and there is endless bickering about mundane topics like who gets to cut the turkey and where everyone sits. These little clashes are mixed in with much larger fights like Adam’s disgust with his boss and the lingering anger between Zeke and Camille. It is a wonderful episode that is high on family and strength, but never above showing the turmoil that seethes below every ‘perfect’ family. But in the end, no matter how frayed the relationships get, it’s the family bond that keeps everyone together. And I love how Jason Katims and this show depict that; with the brothers and sisters, drunkenly dancing like dorks to OPP. I have rotating favorite actors each week, but recently, Bonnie Bedelia has been doing some touching work as the family matriarch, Camille. She and Zeke have been struggling to maintain a relationship despite the fact that they have both recently cheated on each other. It’s tough, and you can always read the emotions right off of Bedelia’s face. She is so often hurt by what Zeke does, yet touched by the small pieces of happiness that others around her find. I loved how giddy she got when Haddie talked about her boy crush. Camille just wrapped her sad heart up in Haddie’s soaring emotion, finding happiness in Haddie’s tender naiveté. There was also a great scene when Amber thanks Camille for doing all the cooking and presentation at Thanksgiving. By the stunned reaction of Camille, this may be the first time anyone has ever thanked her for the work she does for this family. What a touching scene. I only remember Bonnie Bedelia from her small role as John McClane’s estranged wife in the DIE HARD movies, where the hell did she go after that?!

Sidetracked again, back to the moment. It was when the family was playing football on the field and Zeke is designing the complicated plays that his clueless family members will run. Zeke outlines the play by getting his team in a huddle, turning his back to the opposing team, and diagramming the play on the front of his shirt. I saw these little hand movements Zeke made on his shirt and it took my breath away. I was instantly back in countless lawn football games with my Dad, watching him diagram the same kind of plays on the front of his shirt. We used to play pickup football games a lot when I was younger; at the large family gatherings at Thanksgiving or out on the lawn on July 4th. I remember how excited I was to be included on the ‘grownup’ team, that my Dad thought I was big enough to help out. I could never quite grasp the complexity of the maneuvers Dad would draw up, but I was determined not to let him down. He would always wear a beat-up Northwestern shirt with a saggy neckline. He would draw with strong hands, the rugged lifelines creased between his knuckles and running across his palms. His hands were the game, and I was always supremely confident that no plan of my father’s could ever fail. Mostly, I remember how much fun I was having, to be part of family, to be part of the age-old tradition of testosterone-rich football games. The rest of this PARENTHOOD episode flashed by, but I was still in this strange mood of recall and possibility. When the two scenes came up between Zeke, Camille, and their surprisingly tender conversations with their grandchildren, all I could think was what awesome grandparents my Mom and Dad would make. I’m a comfortably single guy, early 30s, but man, I can’t describe to you how scared I suddenly got. What if my parents never got the chance to have a close relationship with my children? What a waste of time it would be to not fill up the moments of my future with family and children. If I were a woman, my ovaries would have been aching! Zeke’s hands reminded me of the awe I still hold for my father and how much I want to be able to be that man for my own kid. I’m not the type to remain a bachelor, I mean, I want a wife and kids more than most 31-year old men I know, but I’m patient enough to wait for the right time and the right woman. But for a second, being thrown into the past so strongly made me feel a shiver of fear that I might not find what I am looking for. Or what if I find someone, but I’m too late to share the ups and downs of marriage and parenting with my parents? That’s very frightening to me. This is all probably TMI for an entertainment blog, but this episode of PARENTHOOD really stirred some things up in me about my life and where I am going with it. And shouldn’t that be the lofty goal of entertainment as art, to present us with a mirror for us to see ourselves and maybe even catch a glimpse of a path? Not the way I usually spend a Monday night, but you won’t find any complaints from me.

 

 

 

-Monday, June 13th, 2011: SUMMER MOVIES - X-Men: First Class

FassbenderHmm, well, that didn’t quite work. I’ve got to give Matthew Vaughn a lot of credit, this X-MEN prequel looks fantastic and has some tremendous ideas rattling around, but it never quite gels into a cohesive film. It’s mostly a bunch of collected scenes of awesomeness. And I thought that would be good enough, but it turns out that I needed more. First of all, any scene between James McAvoy’s ‘Charles Xavier’ and Michael Fassbender’s ‘Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto’ was fantastic. McAvoy usually annoys me, but his calming and entitled portrayal of Professor X was wonderfully subtle. I think WANTED has been playing on TNT too often recently, because I especially can’t stand him in that. And Fassbender’s performance just continues his streak towards stardom. I’ve been tracking this guy since BAND OF BROTHERS and 300; he is a supremely talented and charismatic actor. He takes a character already played wonderfully by the inimitable Ian McKlellan and adds his own brand of fire and passion. Fassbender completely sells the Magneto arc, adding true pathos to his eventual choice. It wasn’t until the scene where Erik is trying to move the satellite dish that I really got pulled into the relationship between Charles and Erik. Since surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, Erik has always used rage to fuel his power over metal. Charles convinces him that true focus lies between serenity and anger. He asks Erik to think of a calm moment from his childhood while Charles reads his mind, attempting to pull that warm memory to the forefront of Erik’s mind. The audience sees a small scene of a boy blowing out a candle while his adoring mother watches on. Suddenly, tears start running down Erik’s stricken face. Charles, observing the memory from inside Erik’s head, also wipes away a tear. Then Erik turns and is now able to move the dish. There aren’t a lot of words in this scene, but the look on Erik’s face as he uses the strength of his memory to fuel his power is tremendous. Tears are flowing down his face, but for the first time in his entire life, his power is coming from a safe place. It’s a wonderful little scene.

No other moment tops that one, I was disappointed in the Mystique arc, poor Jennifer Lawrence was saddled with terrible dialogue and a plodding character development that you can see coming from miles off. I felt no loss at Darwin’s passing, it felt like he was just that ‘noble black guy’ thrown into the cast to mix it up a little. I did think that the visual of the sub rising out of the water was played perfectly with the music and footage, making the moment truly awe-inspiring. And I thought Kevin Bacon was excellent as the villain, ‘Sebastian Shaw’, all smooth intelligence and subtle power, even in that dorky helmet. The scene where he reveals his power to a general is a surprise and a visual treat. And I doubt anything this summer will surpass the grisly inevitability of Shaw’s demise. I’m trying not to spoil it too much, but I loved how the camera tracked with the coin and how Magneto’s action hurt Charles nearly as much as it did Shaw. It was a terrifying death, the first time in 4 XMEN movies that I was actually afraid of Magneto. Otherwise, I loved the two cameos from other XMEN movies. (SPOILER) It was just pitch perfect to see Charles and Erik talking to other mutants around the globe. They come upon Wolverine, still played by Hugh Jackman, in a bar, and introduce themselves. Wolverine answers with a perfect PG13-one-F-word phrase “Go f--- yourselves.” Hilarious and in character, though it made me realize how much Wolverine was missed in this movie. The second cameo was when Mystique is lying named in Erik’s bed, and he says that he would be interested if she were older. She morphs into a naked Rebecca Romijn, the actress who played Mystique in the first three XMEN movies. Small and very funny. (END SPOILER) So, I think you can see my problem with the movie. I’m listing all these killer moments, but they don’t add up to anything. The ending had some great bits, but it felt too much like it was forcing pieces into slots so they could set up the original XMEN movie. After the last two dismal movies in this franchise, I am frankly amazed that this film works as well as it does. I’d say it’s better than the original XMEN movie, but doesn’t stand nearly as tall as X2. I think it would be awesome to see these characters keep growing through time. We’ve gotten the intros out of the way, introduced some way cool new characters like Banshee and Havoc, now let’s see how these mutants interface with the rest of American history. And for god’s sake, do more with January Jones than have her sit around looking good in lingerie! I mean . . . wait a minute, yes, keep her looking as amazing as she does here, but you have to give Emma Frost, a terrifically complex character in the comics, more to do. So far, my pick for best summer movie of 2011 is still FAST 5. I read a hilarious quote today about how huge Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, is in person: “He looks like he could punch a cruise ship to death.” Beat that upcoming summer flicks!!

 

 

-Friday, June 10th, 2011: DUMBO - Those damn pink elephants

What the hell is this monstrosity, Walt?!?!I was a complete pansy when I was a kid, I mean, I was scared of everything. I don’t know whether it was because I had an overactive imagination or because I read too much, but it was bad. For example, I remember a period of a few years when I would only sleep on my right side. I wouldn’t sleep on my left side because in all the picture books, Dracula always bites you on the right side of your neck. I wouldn’t sleep on my stomach because I saw a midnight movie once where an insane tiki doll stabs this sleeping guy in the back with a spear. I can still see the image of a bloody spearhead thrusting through the bedsprings and out the bottom of the mattress. And sleeping on my back reminded me too much of a body in a coffin. One time at Halloween, I freaked out so badly in a pumpkin patch haunted house that they had to shut the house down until they could get my hysterical crying ass out of there. I would have terrible nightmares while sleep-walking and terrify friends whenever I would sleep-over. I was messed up, man! It’s amazing I have turned out sane at all.

The other day I was hanging out with some friends and their daughter and we started watching DUMBO. I didn’t remember a lot of the Disney cartoon for awhile, until those damn pink elephants started their parade. This is one messed up sequence and I remember being strangely affected by this when I was a kid. I wasn’t necessarily terrified, but the whole sequence made me uncomfortable. The unrelenting beat of the music would play in my dreams as ghoulish denizens marched towards me. My little kid self would wonder who on earth could have imagined something this freaky and other-worldly. In my mind, I felt like I was catching a small peek at madness. And since this is what Dumbo saw when he got intoxicated, it made me swear that I would never get drunk. Not if getting drunk meant that I would have these kinds of hallucinations. I was disturbed by the empty, yet somehow still expressive black eyes of the elephants, and the puckered fleshiness of their horns made my skin crawl. That scene where the pink elephants suffocate the screen like a mass of squirming intestines at 1:25 always made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. In fact, so much of the sequence is about squishing and suffocation, just look how many times things are squeezed and scrunched in and out of frame. Even when the music would turn into something sweeter, like the later ice-skating/skiing section, there were always darker moments lurking, like when one elephant blew up another with a bolt of lightning and especially when all the energy of the elephant activities ramps up into an explosion. This kind of sequence just played right into all those fantastical childhood fears I had about monsters, demons, and hands creeping up the windowpanes. When I was watching this the other day with my friend’s daughter, I noticed that she had no problem whatsoever with this sequence, she thought it was funny! What kind of messed up 3-year old is that?! I’m kidding, but not really. I still remember that feeling, that the otherworldliness of something I was seeing was unlocking a door inside of me that was not supposed to be open. A door to Crazy Town if you will. It was the same way I felt when I saw that shot of the guy in the bear costume in THE SHINING, or when I read AMERICAN PSYCHO. Every now and then, an artist taps into some weird vein of imagination, something that momentarily cracks the walls of reality. Obviously, it’s different triggers for different people. DUMBO’s pink elephant sequence doesn’t particularly disturb me anymore, but seeing it again recently still awakened the feelings I experienced as a child. For a fraidy-cat little kid, those damn dancing pachyderms were squishy, sloshy, freaky-ass pink nightmares.

 

 

 

-Thursday, June 9th, 2011: TIMOTHY DALTON - Hilarious

Smarmy British Bastard!OK, where has this guy been for most of my life?! Timothy Dalton, hailing from that same awesome class of classically trained British thespians that includes Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and every adult actor in the HARRY POTTER films, is only known for one thing in America: Screwing up the James Bond franchise. I did a bit of research into how critics and fans ranked his portrayal as 007, and he is always at the bottom of the list. To his credit, that period in the late 80s was a pretty crappy time for Bond. The Broccolis had booted the bland grandfather-like Roger Moore and were attempting to revitalize the franchise with a bold young face. Either because of the script or the production team, Dalton played Bond as a cold, deadly serious assassin, jettisoning most of the charm and fun that audiences expect from their Bond. I don’t remember much from either of the Dalton Bond films, just that they made a guy’s head explode in a pressure chamber in one of the films, and the image of the dude’s expanding/exploding head gave me nightmares for weeks. Cold and calculating wasn’t playing for Bond in the 80s, and they eventually went more lightweight with Pierce Brosnan, a perfect fit for 90s Bond. Dalton was cast aside, labeled with the reputations of being a humorless, cold, and not particularly good actor. Apparently, he has been in a number of plays and television shows in England, and was the bad guy in THE ROCKETEER, though I’ll admit, I don’t remember much about that movie. Suffice to say, his career across the pond was finished.

Then along comes HOT FUZZ. I unabashedly adore this Edward Wright movie that combines a horror/mystery plot with every single action cliché I have come to know and love. The film doesn’t mock all the familiar beats of silly action movies, it pays loving comedic homage to them. Every scene is filled with multiple in-jokes and I love how often testosterone/Michael Bay movies like POINT BREAK and BAD BOYS 2 are referenced. These are the stupid summer action events I grew up with and I loved seeing Simon Pegg’s character, ‘Nicholas’, come to love the pure thrill and release of orgiastic gun violence. And seeing old, overweight British actors wielding vicious weapons in slo-motion, like they are in a Tarantino flick, just never gets old. All very caveman, but a bunch of fun! Anyways, Timothy Dalton plays one of the bad guys, ‘Simon Skinner,’ and the pure joy that he exudes in this film is palpable. It feels like he is having the time of his life playing a smooth and snaky charismatic supermarche owner. I couldn’t find a good clip on Youtube, but I love the way he delivered his line to Nicholas, “Lock me up. I’m a slasher . . . of prices! My discounts are criminal!” He drips these lines out with the perfect amount of sleazy charm, with a fantastic roguish grin on his face. Later on, when Nicholas and the police are storming the supermarche, Skinner can’t help but smile as he oozes out, “And here come the Fuzz.” I love seeing an actor having fun in a role, and it is quite clear that Timothy Dalton is just having a ball.

He has also recently popped up in the 4th season CHUCK as the devious Alexei Volkoff. What a great casting choice by the CHUCK producers, because Dalton is turning out to be the best guest character they have ever had. And quite frankly, even though he shares most of his scenes with another guest actor, Linda Hamilton, he is blowing her out of the water. Of course, he gets to play three different cover characters on this show, so that helps. In one episode, he was playing a cover as a cowardly geeky spy, admitting that he had his “first sexual experience watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.” Look at how much glee he puts into the line, “Oh cool, a tiny weapons standoff!” In another episode, he plays a stunningly off-beat mix of insanity and love when he is pursuing Linda Hamilton’s character into the Buy-More. Later in the same episode, he does the chicken dance in a game of charades back at Chuck’s house. Really, if Dalton can lend gravity and humor to the chicken dance, what can’t he do?! And then, in another later episode, Dalton finds this wonderful note of pathos in his villain, making a simple question to Chuck about his daughter heart-rendingly tragic. I can’t wait to see his character come back in CHUCK, but I know I can always go back to see HOT FUZZ to see his hilariously devious Simon Skinner. Yes America, Timothy Dalton has a sense of humor, and it’s fantastic!

 

 

 

-Wednesday, June 8th, 2011: CHUCK - Sarah's Breakthrough

The TrioAnother show that I am catching up on during the summer television hiatus is CHUCK. I’m not the biggest fan of this show; I think it’s mostly just cute and lightweight piffle. I watch it just to support another FIREFLY alum, Adam Baldwin, one of the more manly and awesome men ever to grace a television set. Though, I may have to re-think this whole watching-shows-that-have-FIREFLY-actors thing. I love you Summer Glau, but there is no way I am going to suffer through another show as awful as THE CAPE ever again. Anyways, Adam Baldwin plays ‘John Casey’, a hardcore spy with a stone-cold demeanor who begrudgingly starts to warm-up to his teammates Chuck and Sarah. Look, the show is funny and loads of fun, I think it incorporates music fantastically, with great fight scenes, and I will never begrudge CHUCK for giving us another hot slow-motion Buy-More entrance by any of its stunning female characters. Keep those walk-ins coming! I do look forward to the slow reveals. Everyone thought that it was a huge game-changer that Chuck now has MATRIX-like moves that are downloaded from the CIA Intersect that is stuck in his brain. I didn’t think that changed much about Chuck except push him harder to become the spy he has always wanted to be. I got much more of a thrill over the revelation that Chuck’s best friend Morgan now knows that about Chuck’s secret life. Morgan’s entry into the gang has been fantastic. It allows for some great ODD COUPLE-ish antics with Casey, plus Morgan’s inclusion allows the spy plot to be more intricately bound to the Buy-More shenanigans. I find that I prefer the stories where the spy and store elements eventually intertwine.

Here’s the thing though. There was this one moment in the 2nd season that was so touching and incredible, that I will keep watching this show, if only to see if it can ever touch the heights of that moment again. I like the Chuck/Sarah will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic, even if I thought it got played out waaaaay too long. And it is fun to see them now in the 4th season, working through the fledgling steps in their relationship while also learning how to be spies together. Back in the 2nd season, the writers were still dragging out their attraction to each other. We always knew how smitten Chuck was, but Sarah’s cautious and closed-off character was always a tougher nut to crack. But I liked how Sarah and Casey were starting to really warm to the idea of protecting Chuck. Well, at the end 14th episode, ‘Chuck versus the Best Friend’, Chuck, Sarah, and Casey go through a huge fight scene with ninja chicks in order to secure a special bomb. Chuck grabs the ticking bomb and drives away from Sarah and Casey, desperate to protect them from the bomb. Suddenly, the car explodes. Sarah, who looks like crap after getting the snot beaten out of her by the ninja chicks, leaps back, and her wide-eyed look of horror is something to behold. Tears are running down her face, mixing with her blood as she gapes in disbelief at the flaming wreck of Chuck’s car. This cold character is suddenly realizing how important Chuck is to her, and it looks like someone physically ripped her heart from her chest. It has been established that Sarah is a spy through and through, and in this scene, it looks like someone trying to cry but not remembering how because it’s been so long. A second later, Chuck surprises Sarah and Casey, stepping out behind them. It is revealed that he was driving the car away with a remote control device so the bomb could safely explode. Sarah whips around at his voice, and she can’t even speak. Watch her hands, clutching her chest, fluttering around her face. She is so revealed in that moment, so naked, her emotion so plain and powerful, that she needs a long time to pull herself back together. Sarah never talks in this moment, but wow, what a scene of pure revelatory emotion. I had never heard of Yvonne Strahovski before, and assumed that she was hired for her stunning looks. But she has a lot more range than I ever imagined and I hope she gets another chance to show us. I would also like to mention Adam Baldwin too in that scene. His reaction to the sight of Chuck ‘dying’ isn’t as apparent as Sarah’s, but look at his face when he takes the remote away from Chuck. That stunned face. Like he just put it together that, as much as Chuck depends on him, Casey needs Chuck as well to keep him from turning back into an emotionless military robot. The show soon gets back to the funny and the whimsical, but this was a serious and defining moment that cemented the bond between these three characters going forward. CHUCK is the series that just won’t die, and it was recently announced that it is coming back for a 13-episode final season. You bet I’ll be there for the end, laughing at Morgan’s antics, loving everything John Casey, and hoping that I see another moment as raw and heartbreaking as the look on Sarah’s face when she watched a car explode, and realized that she loved Chuck.

 

 

 

-Tuesday, June 7th, 2011: FINCHER METHOD - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

CoveredWow, does anyone else build up suspense and excitement for their films like David Fincher?? OK, on a pure pulp level, I could throw JJ Abrams into the mix, especially for the delayed reveal of CLOVERFIELD. But in terms of selling serious and high-browed cinematic entertainment, there is no one who sells their films as convincingly as the Fincher team. The original SOCIAL NETWORK trailer was fantastic; it was a perfect use of the Facebook interface to build the film’s drama in a different and evocative manner. Now, Fincher is promoting his remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, an adaptation of the three Stieg Larsson books, and the material that has come out in the past couple weeks has been stunning.

I’ll admit that I have been on the side of the doubters in the argument about whether it is appropriate to make these movies when there already exists a serviceable Swedish film trilogy released just a couple years ago. To adapt these books again, so soon after another film adaptation seemed like a terrible insult to the Swedish filmmakers and their work, not to mention a shameful admission that Americans would rather remake the damn movies then read one single subtitle. I thought Noomi Rapace did a tremendous job in the Swedish films as Lisbeth Salander, and it was just mean to recast the role and overshadow her grungy, desperate work. I enjoy the books themselves; they are fun popcorn reads that make one feel smart, figuring out the murder/financial mystery alongside our heroes. There are some seriously messed up issues regarding violence towards women. When does the act of using shocking violence towards women in media, used in order to highlight a societal problem, become exploitive in of itself?  Is Larsson using that awful scene of Salander being raped as a warning of how ugly men can be, or is he using the scene as a device to illicit shock, disgust, and publicity to sell more books? It’s a tricky issue, and if it weren’t for Steig Larsson’s death a few years ago, I would have really liked to see how he responded to questions on this issue. But anyways, back to the point, I’m coming around to the idea of an American film adaptation. First off, the Swedish trilogy was made for and funded by television production companies. And this shows in the pacing and cinematography of the Swedish trilogy, the movies felt small and intimate. Every single shot from the Fincher movie trailer is more epic and evocative than anything I saw in the Swedish trilogy. The argument can be made that the American adaptation is a worthwhile endeavor from a cinematography viewpoint alone. And even though Rooney Mara, cast in the role of ‘Lisbeth Salander’, hasn’t done much of anything yet, I have confidence that Fincher will elicit a stunning performance from her in a role that any young performer would die for.

But look at that Fincher trailer, how cool is that?! I was a bit concerned that this project was kind of a paycheck film for Fincher, but he seems to be attacking this story with verve and passion. It also helps that the dark, violent mystery tone of the DRAGON books fits perfectly into Fincher’s film oeuvre, filled with such twisty dank tales as SEVEN, THE GAME, and FIGHT CLUB. This trailer is pure kinetic movement. I love the Trent Reznor cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’, and the relentlessly steady and rhythmic cuts made me feel like I was caught up in a tidal wave, hurling me towards the snow-draped Vanger mansion. Sony/Columbia is making this film, and I was surprised to see this studio, traditionally known as safe and conservative in their film and marketing choices, go such a punky, grungy humor route with their slashed slogan, “The Fell Bad Movie of Christmas.” Well done Sony/Columbia. Fincher’s fingerprints are all over this trailer and I’m ecstatic that the studio seems to be fully behind his auteur vision.

Finally, this week, a poster for Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was ‘leaked,’ and woah, that’s a boob! Considering that the poster has been all over all the entertainment websites, it’s hard to believe that this controversial poster was leaked, and much easier to believe that this was an intentionally racy poster release. Yes, I know there was a modified poster (above) released the next day that covers the nipple, but even the modified poster is still kinda out there. Again, this is compelling stuff. Fincher and the studio just blatantly break the rules here, releasing a very cool poster that could never be shown in public, pushing the dark and radical nature of this story. The poster is simple, shocking, unique, and serious. This is buzz, this is excitement, this is trademark Fincher buildup and I am more eager to see this movie now than I ever thought I would be. I just love it when marketing can really be used thoughtfully to launch a film into national conscience. You would think, with the amount of creative people and deep pockets serving studio whim in Hollywood, that creative and gripping marketing would be more commonplace, but alas, campaigns with such promise as the one building for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO are a rarity. Can’t wait to see what’s revealed next in this campaign!

 

 

 

-Monday, June 6th, 2011: SUMMER MOVIES - Hangover 2

WolfpackI’m actually not sure that I have that much to say about HANGOVER 2. Structurally, it really is amazing how much of a copy this movie is of the first HANGOVER. And that’s not really the worst thing. I mean, most people don’t go to sequels to see change. They want to see the same characters get in similar shenanigans. And if the structure of the film happens to be the same, well, then all the better for today’s indiscriminate audiences. Come on, HANGOVER 2 has already made north of $200 million and it is not slowing down, clearly people don’t really care if its repetitive, as long as the film mockingly acknowledges that its being repetitive. I wasn’t that big a fan of the first one, though I will admit that Zach Galifianakis’s lines get funnier every time I hear them. The only time I really laughed out loud was during the closing picture montage. The inspired staging and ludicrous nature of those pictures was so much more fun than puzzling through the night’s aftermath. OK, I also really liked those cops. And when Phil is driving the cop car and compliments the women's rack over the PA. "I should have been a f---ing cop!" Still, I probably laughed harder at the second film, but mostly because I was amazed at how dark they were able to go while still passing off the film as a light-hearted R-rated romp. I mean, look at Ed Helms’s character, Stu, in the sequel. He gets truly F---ed up here!

Not only does he end up with a permanent facial tattoo, and get splashed in the face with pig guts, but he also gets violated by a transgender prostitute in a Bangkok strip club. That scene where they figure out what happened in the back of that strip club was insane. You keep thinking they won’t go there, but suddenly a couple dicks come flopping out where they shouldn’t be and we are deep in Stu’s f---ed up nightmare. Ed Helms does a fantastic job absorbing the news; his whimpering, child-like fear is so very funny in its pure shock and horror. I felt more that I was laughing at relief that I have never been in that bad of a situation. And I liked how Stu starts to realize that he really does have a disturbing dark side. Each of the two times he has been drugged and set loose on an unsuspecting town, he has gone off the deep end. I think that was him at one point in H2, shirtless, screaming my favorite inappropriate white man phrase, “F--- da police!” at an approaching line of Bangkok riot cops. The first time around, he married a stripper, and now, he has gone far further with another stripper. I’m not sure I agree with the end point, that Stu’s dark side makes him a more dedicated husband. Personally, I would suggest that his fiancée run as far and fast as possible while Stu goes in for some serious counseling. So even in a film that is dominated by Alan’s non-realistic cartoon nature, the movie does more than I expected by suggesting that these guys have some serious pathological issues. I am also amazed at how Todd Philips crafted this money-making machine. Between Stu, Alan, and Phil, you really have someone for all the demographics to identify with. Stu is the uptight responsible professional, a perfect foil for older audiences. Phil is the hot, slick, and often shirtless Han Solo type who guys want to be and women want to be with. And Alan is the man-child who appeals to hipsters and young kids alike with his memorable lines and oddball freaky ‘id’ behavior. I’m still not sure what Justin Bartha’s ‘Doug’ is even doing in this movie. I feel like he was written out of the first film because of some other film gig, but once the movie become enormous, he was forced to sit out the antics of the second film as well because he isn’t exactly part of the Wolfpack. It is just odd to see Doug on the fringes of the adventure, with no explanation given as to why he isn’t a part of them. But yeah, I guess I did enjoy HANGOVER 2 more than I thought I would. I’m not sure I want to see the boys have a 3rd slightly-different, but really exactly-the-same adventure again in another city, but this one worked for me.

 

-Friday, June 3rd, 2011: PARENTHOOD - Something in my eye

Kristina & Adam TitleNow that the spring finale season has passed and most of the television shows that I watched are on summer hiatus, the magic of HuluPlus allows me to go back and catch up with some shows that I neglected this past year. One of those shows is the second season of PARENTHOOD. Other than loving the same-titled Steve Martin movie that this show is based on, I wasn’t planning on making this appointment-time watching. I usually prefer the grander shows, the sci-fi or large concept shows with mind-bending revelations, mythology, great action, and epic heart. PARENTHOOD is really none of these things. It is quiet, emotional, often goofy, but never ashamed to show off its gooey center of love and family. In other words, a decidedly very un-cool show. Then I learned that Jason Katims, one of the primary writer/creators on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS was coming on board to run PARENTHOOD. Epic be damned, put the Katims name on anything after FNL and I am in! I am still early on in the season, but I came across an episode the other night that just knocked me out.

PARENTHOOD has an extremely large and talented cast, which can make the pace of the show wildly uneven when it has to service all the characters and their storylines. While this kind of structure can shortchange some situations and wrap things up too tidily, it often means that, due to the demands of time, the power of a scene needs to be keyed of a little emotional moment. And that’s what this blog lives for are the small moments of power in entertainment. Well, when PARENTHOOD is on fire, it is chock-full of these small scenes that can sneak up on you and before you know it, you might be crying right along with a character on TV. The 5th episode of the season, THE BOOTH JOB, had a couple of these moments. There were some wonderful bits regarding Crosby and Jasmine pretending to be married so they could impress an admission director at a school which they were hoping would accept their son, Jabbar. It was mostly played lightly and for laughs, with both adults wearing fake rings to sell the marriage. I particularly liked that the admission director, played by a character actor who is always a prick in every project he is in, actually turn out to be a genuinely nice guy. But there was one moment when Crosby is impressing the hell out of the director, when Jasmine looks down at her fake ring and stops smiling. She sees Crosby stepping up to the plate, charming and confident, battling for his son, and she suddenly realizes that she wants a real ring. No words, just the great look on her face as something so light and easy suddenly becomes serious.

But the meat of this episode dealt with Adam and Kristina and their continuing battle to come to terms with their son Max, who has Asperger’s. The Adam/Kristina plots tend to be the heaviest, but this week really let the emotion play through, and outlined just how hard it is for these two to just get through the day. Kristina really wants to go to a support group for parents who have kids with Asperger’s, but Adam is not interested. Kristina goes and tells the group very quickly and matter-of-factly that she has a sic son. Another woman passes her a Kleenex and she declines it, bewildered that someone would think she needed to cry. Then another woman starts speaking about her son with Asperger’s. She talks about how difficult it is to see her son transform into a different person each second, how it wears on her, how she worries about his future, his hopes, and his dreams. Hearing her own daily trials coming from another parent completely unlocks Kristina and tears start streaking down her face. I’ve never been an enormous fan of Monica Potter, but she plays this moment very small and very tender, and it is heart-breaking. No histrionics, just her tears and her gratefulness that other people understand her shitty situation. Later in the episode, Adam does attend a session, and he tells a quiet story about how he dreads the day when he has to tell Max about his disease. No tears, just a straightforward story, but Peter Krause just knocks this little confession out of the park. What strength must this couple have to put smiles on their faces when they know something that awful lies in their future. All this may read like pure melodrama, but the sensitivity, honesty, and passion with which Katims writes these scenes transcends cliché. Scenes like this evoke the very best of FNL, and coming from me, that is very high praise. I am still nowhere near having a family of my own, but I certainly very much want one. And I love that there is a show out there that can show me so many permutations of realistic family/work balance, that despite all manners of setbacks and heartache, still holds onto an optimistic and hopeful point of view! It may be exhausting to ride these emotions sometimes, but I will keep watching.

 

 

 

-Thursday, June 2nd, 2011: OUTLANDER - Something in your eye

Looks like a Bruce Campbell movieLet’s see, this was a movie recommendation from my sister, and holy hell, this is just a damn fun movie! I mean, pure nerd alert stuff here, but I really got a kick out of the cross-genre blending between medieval action and sci-fi alien creatures. It’s basically about a humanoid alien who crash-lands his ship in Norway in 709 AD, but accidentally brings a scary alien beast along with him. The movie is then about how the humanoid helps the Vikings hunt and kill the alien beast. I read a lot of reviews about the movie after I saw it and most berate the film for falling into the cliché of having the Outlander alien just happen to look and act exactly like a human. There is an explanation for this in the film, but it flashes by so quickly, I can see why some reviewers missed it. On a graphic in the Outlander’s computer, Earth is shown with the words, ‘Abandoned seed colony,’ written beside it. In three quick words, we are told that Earth was seeded with alien humans, but then abandoned for some reason. So it makes sense that the Oultander would look and act exactly like regular humans, he’s their ancestor! Really, the film should have made this point more clear than a split-second computer graphic. The film fumbles a couple other things too; like how can the audience be expected to believe that the big beast was killed by a simple dive off a waterfall? It has been shown that these beasts are great swimmers, and that even a lake full of burning kerosene couldn’t bring down this bastard, so why would the characters assume that a long fall into water would kill it? Maybe if the Outlander had driven his hardened metal sword through the beast’s head, then thrown the carcass off the cliff, I could believe it. Acting-wise, James Caviezel does a serviceable job as the Outlander, William Hurt killed as always, and Ron Perlman just cracked me up as the husky Norse warrior. Really, Perlman just loves being in the makeup chair, doesn’t he!

My favorite part was right in the beginning, when the Outlander has to learn the Norse language. Most movies set in ancient times, or in different countries, or on other planets just skip the translation problem and just have everyone speak English from the start. But I really enjoy it when a film comes up with a way in which to artfully perform the translation transition. I remember a long discussion on MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA about how we could believably have the Japanese characters suddenly start speaking English. My favorite example of a well-done translation is in one of the most re-watchable movies of all time, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. The sub’s political officer is reading out loud a long Russian letter. As he speaks in Russian, the camera slowly zooms in on his lips. Seamlessly, the political officer switches to English, and the camera slowly zooms back out to continue the scene. What a neat, uncomplicated trick to pull the audience in and find a cool way to translate. Of course, they kind of ruin the trick later when the crew starts singing in Russian, I guess the camera zoom-in only served to translate speech and not song! Anyways, back to OUTLANDER. Once he crash-lands, the Outlander pulls out a computer that quickly informs him what language is spoken in Norway in 709 AD, then extends out an eye socket interface that looks like the view-piece on a camera. The purpose of this device is to download the language into the Outlander’s brain. But I like that this language download is not some painless, MATRIX-like brain tap, this is an excruciating experience for the Outlander. He even vomits afterwards, with a roughly uttered “F---“ just to let us know that the download worked. Just ignore the fact that the movie makes this big deal out of learning Norse only for the entire cast to speak English for the rest of the film, it’s still a kitschy and crazy scene, and I totally love it. It’s these little details that really pull in genre fans. I mean, think about the kind of society that would expect their soldiers to voluntarily submit themselves to such a painful experience just to learn a language. They couldn’t come up with some kind of ocular Valium to ease the pain? If 21st century humans had a device like this, guaranteed they would do everything in their power to make the experience as calming as possible. Without a word spoken, it is clear the Outlander comes from a brutal, gladiator-like species, unconcerned with frailties and mercy. It’s a fun movie, nothing award-worthy, but definitely a cool romp with scenery-chomping actors and some well-conceived CGI creatures.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, June 1st, 2011: F-WORD - PG-13 Movies

Burgundy Sexy More sexyAt this point, the MPAA is just a laughably inept organization. I don’t have a problem with the idea of a ratings board, but I do have a problem with the inconsistent and sometimes outright contradictory judgments that the board passes down. Violence seems to get a free pass by the board while nudity and language is strictly regulated. This is why a wonderful movie like ONCE, a sweet and inspiring movie with a couple F words, can have the same ‘R’ rating as torture porn like HOSTEL 2. And god forbid there are actual boobs in a movie, usually an automatic ‘R’. I think you can get away with one boob in a PG13 movie, but you better not have two boobs!

And don’t get me started about television censorship. The rules are so arbitrary, the system just becomes a parody. On TV last night, I switched from an episode of FRIENDS that freely used the word ‘bitch’ to an an old episode of NYPD BLUE that edited out the word ‘ass’. And I am still so massively confused over the still-relevant Nipplegate scandal with Janet Jackson and the Super Bowl. I mean, look at this. When the bra came off of Janet, there was no nipple shown, she has some kind of star pastie over that area. So basically, we are seeing nothing more shocking than what is shown in BAYWATCH or even regular sitcoms with girls in small bikinis. I just don’t get it. But as a small aside, I could never rag on Janet Jackson for she graced us with one of the sexiest celebrity pictures ever taken. Thank you Janet. My favorite TV censorship practices are the audio dubs done to ‘R’ rated movies for television broadcast. I mean, why bring a movie like GOODFELLAS to TNT if you plan on editing out the hundred-odd uses of the F-Word?! So you can re-edit the movie as a comedy?? These are just hilarious. As a kid, I remember watching DIE HARD on TV and being very confused that Bruce Willis kept saying, “Yippee-ki-yay Mr. Falcon!” Wait a minute; the bad guy’s name is Hans Gruber, who the crap is Mr. Falcon?! I was a very baffled 15-year old. I’ve heard of some other great dubs, but never seen them for myself. Apparently, for SNAKES ON A PLANE, they dub Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘motherf---ing’ out so he says, “I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane!” Now come on, the censors must have been fooling around with that one. Or from the dub version of BIG LEBOWSKI, when thee dub over John Goodman’s F-word and ‘ass’ so he says, “This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!” Totally makes sense that way.

But back to movies. One of the only consistent rules in the MPAA bible is that you can get away with one non-sexual use of the F-word in a PG13 movie. Now, of course I have seen this rule broken many times, for example THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT had three F words and still landed a PG13, but for the most part, the MPAA strongly regulates this rule. In recent years, there has been a hilarious trend for some PG13 films to save their one F-word for a key moment in the movie where it can really make an impact. I am sure there are many instances of the choice use of PG13 F-word, but here are some of my favorites that I can recall. A crappy movie, but the RING 2 has a great ending(at 8:13) with Naomi Watts bellowing out to that creepy ghoul girl, “I’m not your f---ing mommy!!”. In ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, it is a fun little throw-away line when they catapult Kevin Costner over the wall and Christian Slater gleefully cackles, “F--- me, they made it!” They also do a great job with it in DATE NIGHT, as Steve Carrell has had a terrible night, so he makes a long impassioned speech to Mark Wahlberg’s topless character, culminating with Steve yelling, “Now will you, for the Love of God, put on a F---ing shirt!!” But here are my top 3:

#3: GALAXY QUEST, Sigourney Weaver, “Well, F--- That!” This is great because it is such an obvious dub. When Weaver and Tim Allen come running around a corner, they find that they have to maneuver through some insanely dangerous-looking chompy crushy pistons. Weaver, understandably, stops and utters a great, “Well, F--- That!” But there must have been some issue with the MPAA, because you hear her say “Screw that,” even though her mouth is clearly saying the F-word. I just always find it hilarious how obvious this dub is. And do youself a favor and watch the rest of this clip, its one of the funniest moments Weaver has ever had.

#2: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, Tom Hanks, “Go F--- yourself!” I remember seeing this in the theaters with a friend, and when he saw the end of Tom Hank’s Knock Knock joke, he spit up his coke all over the floor. He couldn’t stop laughing throughout the whole next scene. It is pretty awesome, Hanks has the perfect amount of pause, then totally delivers a line that you really weren’t expecting from the usually wholesome Hanks.

#1: ANCHORMAN, Will Ferrel, “Go F--- Yourself, San Diego!” Like this is even a surprise, of course this has to be the best use of the one F-word allowed in a PG13 movie. He delivers that line with such Rob Burgundy gusto and confidence, it’s perfect. What is even better is that the scene continues with Burgundy completely unaware of what he just said to the entire city of San Diego. I could go on about ANCHORMAN, but that is another post for a different time.

Long live the hilarious PG13 moments that have come about due to the dumbass MPAA. As I find more of these, I’ll keep putting them up here in this original post, they are just too good to not be remarked upon!