Sunday, November 21, 2010
The Last Airbender: Ten Point Review
Before I jump into the ten points, let me say this: I really wanted to like this movie. I really wanted the M. Night Shyamalan of Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense to find a way to thrill us again and Darling Wife had the same hopes. Instead, what we got was a muddy story, a silly script, and some of the worst acting I’ve seen outside of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Is M. Night Shyamalan at all relevant as a director anymore? Not that I can see.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Moscow on the Hudson through Fresh Eyes
It has been a long time since I saw Moscow on the Hudson--probably since I was in high school--but I remember liking the movie. Netflix, one of my new bestest friends, streamed the movie into my home tonight and looking at it is a little like looking back into a time capsule. In some ways, it is also like looking at a better version of America.
For those who don’t remember, the movie is about a Russian musician (Robin Williams) who defects in a Bloomingdales in New York City. It follows him from Moscow, through his defection, and through learning to live in America. It isn’t a completely easy journey for him and it shows both him and his adopted country with warts and foibles and a bit of complexity.
With all the references to the old USSR, KGB, and the Reagan presidency, it is a look at a world that doesn’t exist any longer--it excites some of the same nostalgia bursts as Red Dawn without the campy overtones. But if you look past that little, gentle nostalgia, there are also some wonderful moments in watching the immigrants’ journey that put me in mind of an America that lives mostly in my hopes and may never have been entirely real. It glorifies hard work and opportunity over government handouts, it despises hyphenated allegiances at the cost of an American identity, and, in the end, it praises, if you’ll pardon me, the spiritual necessity of liberty over the state-controlled and, theoretically, perfectible society.
Two scenes really stand out to me. First, early in the movie, the immigrant watches a room full of new citizens taking the oath of citizenship. It is very quietly affecting as the judge gives her statement before administering the oath: “Today you will become citizens of the United States of America. No longer are you an Englishman, Italian, a Pole or whatever, neither will you be a hyphenated American. From this day you are no longer a subject of a governement, but an intergal part of the government, a free man.”
Then, nearer the end, when William’s character has suffered an assault and he is questioning the value of freedom when liberty is put to particularly dark purpose, he is reminded by a diner populated mostly by immigrants (a Cuban, another Russian, a Chinese man, and the American server) of the words of the Declaration of Independence. And while, as a scene in a movie it feels almost glib and you would be forgiven for wondering how such a moment might have calmed the anger Williams was showing, I can’t help but enjoy watching these folks extolling the virtues of freedom.
It’s no great movie. The character’s transition, for all the difficulties, still comes too easy. Too scripted. It also makes the emotional choices a little too simple for Williams giving a relatively tidy ending where some of the reality is bound to be messier. Still, I enjoyed it and have to say that a few of the performances are remarkably good. Williams, himself, is wonderful. He’s a good deal better than the script and he gives the whole thing more gravity than it might deserve.
More than anything, though, it was like a visit with an old friend. Not challenging, not new, but warm and comfortable.
Moving from there to Every Which Way but Loose, is particularly strange, though. Time has done precisely nothing to make Sandra Locke’s singing any easier to stomach…
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
A Few Late Night Observations
Thursday, July 15, 2010
This Ain’t TMZ (The Mel Gibson Edition)
I’ve tried to ignore them, but there’s like a critical mass of Mel Gibson content out there that makes it hard to miss the audio that is being released. And, boy, he’s a mess. There is a scary, out-of-control quality to his anger and he comes across as entirely unhinged.
I don’t feel entirely comfortable listening to other peoples’ fights. It’s like being in a restaurant while the couple in the both next to you is having an argument--I don’t want to know who has done what to whom and I don’t want to see that raw emotion thrown out for everyone to see. It makes me squirm a little and it’s hard to escape the feeling that Oksana Grigorieva is baiting him and poking at him to get the response that she wants. It isn’t pleasant listening and her apparent manipulation doesn’t forgive his threats of violence (and, potentially, real acts of violence) and vicious words.
Here’s the thing: Mel sounds like he’s one bad movie review away from killing someone. I’m not sure if it would be himself or someone else, but if all of those snippets of audio are genuine, then he should be spending some quality time with mental health professionals.
One thing is very clear: the Mel Gibson as public construct isn’t much like Mel Gibson the real person. As we’ve seen more and more of the real Gibson over the last few years, it’s become increasingly hard to find something to like about the guy.
Resurrectionsong isn’t TMZ, but this link will take you to that star-stalking site of celebrity obsessives. I almost feel dirty just for linking to them. Or if that seems like a link to far, here’s one to Fox where you can listen to some of the audio.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Carter Must Be Lovin’ It
Is it just me or has this entire administration seemed a little like one long malaise speech? It’s making the Carter years look positively upbeat.
More than a year on, the message remains just how bad the last administration was, how unlucky they were to have inherited such a mess, and, gosh, life is tough. Here are a few messages I really think President Obama and Vice President Gaff-o-Matic need to learn if they want to do something other than offering excuses for the next few years before being ushered out of office with nothing to show for their effort but a pair of “I’m With Stupid” t-shirts (which I’ll be happy to send on my own dime--assuming I have any dimes left after the program of threatened tax hikes, fee hikes, energy cost spikes, and new health care costs that have been leveled toward me like the barrel of a freakin’ 12-gauge).
Businesses are like consumers: when they understand the rules, when they know the costs and risks, they adjust, they expand, they take calculated risks in hopes of creating reward. The problem comes when the rules and risks aren’t understood, when folks believe that the rules are changing faster than they can keep up have no space from which to take those risks. They have no way to judge whether the potential reward is worth the cost.
None of which changes the fact that Youth in Revolt, (which, in the simplest terms might well be described as a quirky, humorous look at a boy suffering a psychotic break who obsesses dangerously over a pretty girl) is absolutely wonderful. Smart, beautifully shot, entertaining, and morally questionable, it’s still not for everyone. But if the sound of seeing Better Off Dead as written and directed by Wes Anderson sounds intriguing, then this might be the movie for you.
Update: Michael Steele hasn’t quite been the person that I expected when I supported him for his job as head of the RNC, but on this issue I find that I am echoing his words:
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Robin Hood: The Ten Point Review
Three stars, then, mostly for the battle scenes, the amazing costumes and sets, the wonderful rapport and chemistry between the lead characters, and the fact that I’m a big fan of knights, swords, archers, and anti-tax sentiment in popular culture. A decent movie, then, but only just. I’m a fan of Ridley Scott, but this is one of his lesser efforts.
If you do find the Robin Hood myths, then Stephen R. Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy is worth your time. It isn’t your standard view of Robin Hood, and purists will be disappointed, but the story-telling and period details are wonderful. Similarly, his take on the Arthur myths are remarkable (give a skip, though, to Avalon, a singularly unsatisfying book and a wholly unnecessary add-on to the end of the series).
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Quick Hits from a Nicely Spent Saturday
Darling girl and I have started haunting a little used book store here in Aurora. It’s run by an older couple and it sits in an anonymous little strip mall where the only real draw is the book and those two who seem to have been running the place for something close to ever. Anyway, when I was finishing up my run, I happened to spy a little hardback copy of Bill Mauldin’s Up Front.
I grew up with “Up Front,” which was Mauldin’s World War II infantry-eye view of World War II. Mauldin himself was an infantryman and his characters, Willie and Joe, were one of the most honest looks at the infantry that you could find, warts and all.
It may sound strange to hear that I, who wasn’t born within decades of WWII, grew up with those guys, but it’s true. One of my father’s friends had this same book and another (the name escapes me, sadly), and I read through not only the cartoons, but Mauldin’s commentary about the soldiers, the war, the cartoon, and the stories that inspired it all. I would still say that if you want to get an idea of who wartime grunts really are, this is a great place to start. It doesn’t sugarcoat the guys, but there is an obvious, gentle affection to the poor bastards who carry the load.
The technology and some of the terminology have changed, of course, and there is an old-fashioned feeling to the cartoons, but there is a reason that his fellow soldiers loved him, there’s a reason that he enraged Patton and the Eisenhower protected him, and there’s a reason that he won a few Pulitzers for his work. I have no idea what kind of a guy he was in the real world, but “Up Front” was as much a love letter to the infantry (and more authentic) as Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
Of course, I picked up the fragile old book--pages yellowing and tearing in a few places--and brought it home with me.
Mauldin had a very obvious concern for his fellow soldiers and was concerned that the returning soldiers wouldn’t be taken back in by the country that sent them off to war. A bit that I read pretty close to the front of the book probably bears repeating today:
If you see a copy next time you’re in your local used book store, I highly recommend picking it up. It’s well worth the few bucks you’ll spend. Mauldin passed away a few years back, but he’ll be remembered as long as his doggies have to go to far off lands to fight wars on behalf of the rest of us. Mauldin told their story, perhaps, better than anyone else has ever managed.
I also picked up a copy of PJ O’Rourke’s wonderful Parliament of Whores. It might seem a little dated--the book is nearly two decades old at this point and some of the stories stretch back to 1988--but it’s still a fun romp at the expense of the political class (finished with a painful look in the mirror).
Anyway, here’s a quote for you. It’s from the opening paragraph of the chapter entitled, “The Three Branches of Government: Money, Television, and Bullshit.”
I grew up reading this stuff: is it a wonder that there is a streak of cynicism in me that rears up now and again?
Lastly, we also picked up Crazy Heart since the local Blockbuster didn’t have one to rent.
No regrets on that. It’s a wonderful movie with absolutely stellar performances and surprisingly good music. It might be a little smaller than some people might expect--there are no grand gestures and no earth-shattering themes--especially given all of the Oscar talk. But it’s that tightly-focused look at one lonely, old, alcoholic that keeps the movie good.
No politics, no “brave” agenda about racism or sexuality or any supposedly hot-button issue of the day, and no overblown sentimentality leave it being a wonderful movie with more humanity, by far, than something like Avatar. Of course, I’m also of the opinion that District 9 was the best science fiction story last year, so take that as you will.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I have to say it again: the music was surprisingly good. Jeff Bridges, as Bad Blake, actually made a credible country music artist. I didn’t realize that he sang so many of the songs in the film, but was pleasantly shocked by just how well he pulled it off.
That’s not my favorite song from the movie (that would be “The Weary Kind”, but that song isn’t sung by Bridges) but it has the bonus of featuring Collin Farrell, too. Again, surprising.
And here’s one more for the road.
I hesitate to throw this story in the mix, but I can’t stand not mentioning it. I realize that not everyone is heroic in action or willing to sacrifice for others--although I hope that if I’m ever tested, I would would be both--but this story is not only one of the saddest things I’ve read in a very long time, but also one of the most shameful. Not shameful to me, of course, but to those people who saw, who knew, and who still did nothing.
If I were to say a prayer on this day it would be that I am never so callous, never so uncaring, never so low as to leave a man dying in the streets while I did nothing. I’m sure that some of the passers never noticed, never saw the blood, and never realized what had happened, but, just as surely, some of them did see.
This man deserved far better not only because he had acted with courage to save a woman that he didn’t even know, but because he was a human being dying in the streets. He didn’t have to die and he deserved far, far better than this.
Shame, shame, shame on those people who let the man die.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
OK, fine, here’s your freakin’ context.
Feel free to add your own to the list, but you’ll have to provide your own context this time.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Share a Moment with the Zomby
If you’d like to share a moment with the Zomby, fire up From Russia, With Love and fast-forward to the girl-on-girl Gypsy fight scene. Because that’s some fun stuff.
Disappointing only for its lack of gratuitous nekkidness. Sean Connery, however, was at his very pretty best in this film.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Hey, Maybe We Should See Movie Title This Weekend…
I dunno. I think I’ve already seen that one.
Catchphrase. Laugh laugh laugh laugh.
Corey Haim, RIP
Poor, stupid, little boy.
The tragedy isn’t so much that he ended up dead of a drug overdose (accidental or otherwise), but that he represents a wasted life. He couldn’t grow up enough to take responsibility for his life, he couldn’t be strong enough to stop abusing drugs, and that he threw away the friendship and opportunities that he had in his too short life.
To be honest--although not without a point--the world didn’t lose a hugely talented actor. Neither of the Coreys were great actors, they were great, fun personalities. Where Corey Feldman seems to have grown up and moved on with life, Haim just got stuck. The value of a life isn’t in how good an actor a person is, but in what they do with the years that are given them; the world didn’t lose a great actor, it just saw another person who failed to find a way to give his years any meaning.
I’m sad for the people who cared for him, but I wonder how many of them are actually surprised? I watched a part of the A&E show The Two Corey’s and knew that sooner or later he would end up dead or in jail because no matter how many chances he had, no matter who reached out to him, he had an amazing drive to self-destruction.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Lindsay Lohan: I’m Not a Milkaholic!
The funniest news of the morning comes to us from AdFreak:
I had been wondering where the insane little starlet had gone; it’s good to know that she hasn’t lost all her crazy.
(Okay, no, I wasn’t really wondering where the insane little starlet had gone. It just fit the flow of the narrative.)
Sunday, March 07, 2010
There I Was, Watching the Oscars…
...And Tyler Perry shows up to present an award. He had this to say: “They just said my name at the Oscars. I’d better enjoy it because it’ll probably never happen again.”
Yeah, that’s probably true. Thing about Tyler Perry is that, firstly, he seems like a nice enough guy, secondly, his heart seems to be in the right place in his films, and, thirdly, he doesn’t come close to deserving an award. Of course, many of the movies don’t deserve their awards, but his tend to be phenomenally bad. Not only does he scrape up every racial stereotype possible, but the scripts, the direction, and the acting are usually atrocious.
The same kinds of people who will tell you that Tyler Perry movies are good in any kind of an artistic sense are the same kinds of people who would tell you that the Left Behind books are artistically satisfying, that The Gamers: Dorkness Rising had good art direction, and that contemporary Christian pop music is something other than uninspiring pablum.
Okay, there may be a few exceptions to that last part, but the point still stands.
Those people so strongly believe in the subject matter that they entirely ignore the artistic flaws. There is a difference between artistic merit and personal preference; the Oscars may not always find the artistic merit, but it should always be their goal. Tyler Perry doesn’t deserve that kind of recognition, regardless of how nice of a guy he is and how much he tries to make moral movies.
The Oscars this year were a bit of a fumble, though, weren’t they? A few funny bits here and there, a fun intro with the resurgent Doogie, a great dance number, and some worthy winners were nice. It was also (up to the point where I am writing this, at least) pleasantly politics-free. On the other hand, the camera cuts were horrendous (especially noticeable at the beginning of the memorial section), the Baldwin-Martin team was uneven (although not horrendous), and a goodly number of the presenters proved themselves incompetent without a script and without good editing (Cameron Diaz, you’d be number one on that list).
Cheers to Jeff Bridges (goofy, strange acceptance speech aside) and all the other winners on the night, though. Whatever lack the show might have, it is always an honor to be recognized by your peers.
On a more important note, now that I know that Morena Baccarin is in it, I might have to watch V.
Update: Forest Whitaker’s introduction of Sandra Bullock for the Best Actress nominations was top notch. Some of the others, for both Best Actor and Best Actress, were nice, too, but Whitaker’s was pitch-perfect.
Update to the Update: The previous note was convenient since Sandra Bullock won and gave a touching and funny speech of her own. Love her.
That said, leave it up to Barbra Streisand to point out that we could have the first female or black director winning an Oscar this year. It turned out to be the first woman (Kathryn Bigelow for Hurt Locker) and a well-deserved win on merits.
But did it really need to be about that? Couldn’t it just be about the movie or even just about her talent?
Tom Hanks just noted that Casablanca was the winner the last time there were 10 films up for consideration. I watch it somewhat regularly and, though it’s a little old-fashioned, it has maintained its relevance artistically, culturally, and even politically through the decades. A wonderful movie.
Will any of the movies nominated this year wear as well? A few of them might, but I doubt that any of them will be as well-remembered as Casablanca. Which isn’t to say that it was a horrible class of movies (I liked Up, Hurt Locker, and Inglorious Basterds. I’m still pondering A Serious Man. Both District 9 and Blind Side were surprisingly good.
Casablanca is tough to live up to, though, in the same way that Lawrence of Arabia would be hard to live up to.
All that prologue aside, Hanks’ announcement of Hurt Locker winning Best Picture was a bit anti-climactic, wasn’t it?
No Appreciation for the Classics
My wife, the lovely woman that she is, has no appreciation for the classics. For example, after fifteen minutes watching Caveman streaming from my Netflix account, she stated flatly: “This might be the dumbest movie ever.”
Crazy talk. Ringo Starr has never been better (well, never been better as an actor, anyway) and neither has Shelley Long. Dennis Quaid, on the other hand, did go on to bigger and better things.
Maybe I’ll make her watch the Dudley Moore anti-classic, Wholly Moses later…
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Misplaced Praise, Second in a Series of 562
Watching Sweden’s and Finland’s Olympic hockey teams beating up on each other, I was just informed that the “Titans will clash!”
Brilliant bit of marketing, that. I hear that when the movie is released, all of the new material will be re-branded. “Titans are clashing at a theater near you!”
(Warning: That is one slow loading site.)
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Spartacus: Blood and Boobs
I just episode one of Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
Well, what to say about that?
It makes 300 look subtle. It makes The Passion of the Christ look bloodless. And it has more boobs than you can count count. That last bit may not be strictly true. You probably could count the breasts on display, but it would take a sharp eye and strict attention to the task, which sort of takes the fun out of it.
That’s not all. You also get ridiculously bad acting, over-the-top writing, uproariously strange sex scenes, and some full frontal male nudity for the women. What you don’t get is compelling story-telling, interesting characters, or a moment’s respite from the overly stylized presentation.
I enjoyed 300,, but this takes the same ingredients and, somehow, screws up the recipe. I would say that the urge to oversell the comic book aspects of the violence, with explosions of blood consuming the screens, limbs flying willy-nilly, and even the smallest moments of violence given slow-motion treatment and imposing music. The sex scenes, well-short of the graphic nature of pornography but exhibiting the same skewed sense of fantasy sensuality, is just as off-putting as the stylized violence.
I suppose that’s a long winded way of saying that I thought that 300 stepped over the line of good story-telling and good taste in some of the same ways as Spartacus, but I still found something worth enjoying. This new Spartacus, on the other hand, left that line so far behind that all I could find was the urge to point and laugh when our hero’s wife fairly exploded into a wash of blood during the climax of one particularly strange dream sequence. I’m sure there’s something good about the show outside of its admirable commitment to gratuitous nudity; but, then, it fails even at that titillation when you realize that the writhing girls and simulated orgasms are an insult to anything remotely resembling real intimacy.
Don’t even get me started on the mismatched accents…
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
And Now for Something at Least Mildly Different
While I don’t think that the US has fallen into a second Great Depression, I do think that we can look back and enjoy some music.
And when I go home tonight, I think I’ll torture my wife by making he watch Cinderella Man. Just to keep the mood going.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Lethal Drinking: Mashed Blogging
With the war between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno--ably flamed on by Jimmy Kimmel (Seriously, did you see him on the Leno show tonight? The audience was getting uncomfortable by the end of that 10@10 piece.), and commented on by the wonderful Craig Ferguson--I have to admit to watching shows I wouldn’t normally watch. Normally, I’d avoid Leno’s crap prime time show, I’d skip right over Conan’s awkward humor, and I’d spend my time working. So, late night wars and NBC’s wholly inept handling of a bad situation have given me a little bit of a break from my usual rut.
Which is nice for me.
But it doesn’t change the fact that it grows harder and harder for me to enjoy Lethal Weapon as the years go by. Not just because Mel Gibson’s mullet is so outdated, but because Gibson is a boozy anti-Semite and Danny Glover is a dictator loving loon of Pat Robertson-esque proportions (the loon part, that is, not the dictator part).
Damnit, I used to love that movie.
Which brings me to the point. Drinking. Drinking is precisely the thing that helps us cope in times like these. In times where late night hosts are locked in cycles of anger and aggression, where Gibson can’t be trusted in polite company, and where Glover poops on pretty much everything that gave him a better life than I’ll ever know (at least in a material sense--whenever he opens his mouth, I feel significantly blessed on the intellectual side of things).
What was I saying?
Oh, yes, drinking.
In the Rockies? Blogger or blogging groupie or unreformed alcoholic? Or any combination of the above (which are beside and not actually above, but that’s beside the point). Well, good, because the Bill with too many LLLLL’s is calling out to all of us to come drink at the Rocky Mountain Blogger Fest.
Check it out here to, RSVP, and vote for a date. I’m planning to be there whatever date is chosen and I’m looking forward to drinking the memory of my own mullet into the trash bin of history.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
I Know She Can Get the Job, but Can She Do the Job?
I feel a little for Amanda Simpson because she’s right.
When the focus of a person’s career trajectory is on their status as a member of a protected class, then the automatic question becomes one of competence. Did she get the job because she’s a sop to the gay and lesbian community or did she get the job because she’s actually competent to do the job? I rather hope it’s the latter and I’ll happily give her the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t help much that this is an appointment (senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security) that would normally draw very little attention; the attention has come because of the novelty of the moment.
I’ll be happier when we can move beyond focusing on the novelty and appreciating the professional qualities that drive a person--regardless of skin color, religion, or current disposition of dangly bits--to succeed in some very tough jobs. Give me the best person for the job, not the best demographic mix for the moment.
Good luck to her, though, in her new position; now don’t let us down.
And if you have no idea where that title came from, you’re poorer for the lack. Here’s a clip from the wonderful Joe vs. the Volcano, one of my favorite movies of the 90’s.
And for those of you who do remember the movie, here’s a moment for you: after seeing the movie with my friend, Jerry, some time after my divorce, he looked at me and said, “I have some baggage, but, damn, you have Joe vs. the Volcano baggage.”
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