Monday, April 07, 2008
Shocking Like Nothing Has Ever Been Shocking Before
It is so surprising for me to find that Oliver Stone’s film about President Bush (The Most Recent) might be biased, incomplete, inaccurate, and even a bit controversial. I mean, given his reputation as a stickler for historical details in his films, it’s so unusual to find that his centrist view of this White House might not be perfectly in line with reality.
Now that we’ve registered the proper amount of surprise, I say we go back to perpetually ignoring this movie that will likely shed absolutely no light on this presidency.
Friday, April 04, 2008
As Problems Go…
As problems go, this one seems pretty small. “Lloyd’s of London warned yesterday that an absence last year of natural disasters or man-made accidents was putting pressure on firms to reduce premiums in 2008.”
While I’m sure that a certain class of investor is a little worried, the rest of us are breathing a sigh of relief.
The problem with Putin’s request to “be friends...and engage in an honest dialogue” is that I don’t think he’d like what we have to say about his view of Russia or our post-Cold War international relationships. Frankly, he can take the entirety of the arctic circle (minus valuable natural resources, of course, which would have to be removed carefully beforehand) and shove it up his KGB-lovin’ butt.
I"m going to guess that’s not the kind of honest talk for which he was looking.
The problem with wealthy, young socialites these days is that so many of them are intent on the dignified, smart use of their privilege, skills, intelligence, and wealth to support their philanthropic efforts, truly hoping to make the world a better place. Oh, wait, that’s not their problem at all. Their problem seems to be something else entirely.
Sorry about that.
The problem with pirates is that they aren’t much like that lovable, funny, yet desperately in need of some personal hygiene guidelines Captain Jack Sparrow. Which, if you look carefully, is also the problem with failed states (and, if you look even closer, the problem with fetishizing anarchy--but that’s a long conversation for another day).
The problem with today is that I’ve got a lot to do and no desire to do it. Which, as problems go, is a big one for me but not so much for you.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Bonus Points… (Updated)
Complete this phrase properly, name the source for Big Zomby Bonus Points that can be exchanged for precisely nothing at your local lap dance emporium.
“Oh, shootings, yes. But that doesn’t mean Americans are more violent than other people...”
Update: If you were wanting a few more quotes from this quotable film, click on through Nathan’s post. Got, that’s a good movie.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Bad Day for News
I just dropped by FoxNews to see what’s going on in the world today and was faced with a grim, depressing, brutal reality: today’s news sucks.
And that’s the news that I see today--almost all of it some unsubtle shade of bad. Tonight would be a good night to drink a beer or five, I think.
Friday, February 29, 2008
DVD Review: Across the Universe
On the plus side, the music is far better than the film. Sadly, the music is tremendously uneven.
The movie (that is, the characters, the plot, and the dialog) is a mess that suffers hugely from Julie Taymor’s need to distort the story so dramatically to fit the many re-interpretations of the Beatles’ classics that make up the film’s soundtrack. Peopled almost exclusively, it seems, with names drawn from the Beatles’ catalog of characters--Jude and Lucy, the main characters, Maxwell, whose hammer is hardly silver nor terribly relevant, dear Prudence the slyly lesbian cheerleader, Sadie, who provides many of the musical highlights, and JoJo, Sadie’s Hendrix-esque boyfriend--the story never lets these characters grown into much other than cutouts of 60’s cliches. Worse, their stories are strung together so haphazardly that the disconnect from scene to scene left me caring little for what little character had grown.
It’s mushy, stupid fare for people who will be wowed by the visuals and who don’t understand the violence done to classic Beatles songs by Evan Rachel Wood who makes every song sound like a high school musical production. Jim Sturgess, the British actor who plays Jude, does better with his songs, although even he falls down in spots--most especially on “Revolution” which distracts from what might otherwise have been an interesting dramatic point in the movie. And maybe that’s the point: with the focus so heavily on the songs (and the songs so uneven in execution), they take away from the drama of the film.
This isn’t surprising to me. Taymor’s Titus was a shockingly gorgeous movie, but not a particularly well-directed film. I felt the same about Frida, although both of those movies put Across the Universe to shame.
But there are some charming bits. Dana Fuchs’ Janis Joplin impression works surprisingly well on most of her songs. “Do it in the Road” and “Helter Skelter” are rocking gems. I found myself wishing that Martin Luther McCoy had a few more opportunities to sing, too, as his voice provided some much needed warmth and charisma. “Let it Be” fulfills its gospel roots sung by a full choir to beautiful effect--one of a handful of flawless musical moments.
Bono shows up both to sing and to play a cameo as an LSD evangelist--and, while funny, his crazy tone is at odds with the irritatingly over-earnest feeling of the rest of the cast. If there had been a little more self-aware wackiness, it might actually have helped the movie along quite a bit. Of course, Eddie Izzard’s lunacy just bugged me while he gave a skewed take on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” At least when Bono sings the songs are nice.
The best musical moment is given by Joe Cocker on a dirty, buzzing “Come Together.” Shame he didn’t do a few more of the songs.
According to darling girl, the movie was at least 12 hours long. I corrected her, of course: the movie was only a bit over two hours. It only felt like it took as long as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Still Scratching My Head
I’ve been mulling this over since I saw it yesterday, and I still can’t quite make sense of it.
It’s an odd topic for a director like Ridley Scott to have attached him self to--and, although I have loved some of his work, I’m not sure he was the right guy to tell this story. Although I can at least expect a little more nuance than I would have seen if his brother, Tony, had done the job.
The whole thing is just a little surprising.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Academy Awards: Drive by Impressions (Updated Again and Again and Again)
I stumbled across the awards in a fruitless search to watch something else just in time to see Brad Bird has won the Oscar for Ratatouille--a well-deserved win. It’s brilliantly funny, touching, and gorgeously rendered--and it kind of solidified my belief that Bird is one of America’s best directors. Tomorrow night I’ll be watching both Iron Giant and Ratatouille to celebrate.
While I realize they want to keep the show short, I also think that they’ve been a little rude about the cut off for some of the speeches. When a person has only been up for a few seconds, find it in your hearts to give them a few more than usual. It’s probably the biggest night of their professional lives and they deserve to enjoy it with a little unrushed dignity.
The chick from Enchanted is hot. Ultra mega stoopid hot. The musical number is pretty fun, too, in an extreme take on Disney music. Fun stuff. Hubba hubba.
Jon Stewart irritates me, but he’s a solid host.
Watching the visual effects awards goes far in showcasing just how unreal movies are these days. Which isn’t horrible--see my love of Ratatouille and other animated movies for an example of how much I enjoy the artistic rendering that comes purely from the artists--but is a problem when those effects become more important than the heart of the story. See the latter two Pirates movies as a good example. Still, the technology is amazing.
The Art Direction award is more interesting to me, really. The capacity to create entire worlds and then translate them to film--whether those worlds are imaginings of other planets or visions of the past is irrelevant--to support the mood and feel of the movie is amazing. I haven’t seen Sweeney Todd, but I’m not surprised that a Tim Burton directed film would win the award. Regardless of other merits, Tim Burton movies are always visually arresting.
Re-watching Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s Oscar win was a reminder of the pure expression of joy that he expressed that night. I had forgotten. I wish he would make more movies worthy of a nod because there aren’t too many more likable people in Hollywood. He seems so genuine and unassuming in the middle of the self-consciousness and arrogance of so many of the other actors.
Javier Bardem deserved his Best Supporting Actor nod for No Country for Old Men. I saw that movie a few months back and I’m still digesting it--his performance is a large part of why.
Oscar’s Salute to Binoculars and Periscopes was a high point for me. Mostly because I’m pretty sure i noticed a clip from Top Secret in there. Could be wrong, though, since I wasn’t paying all that much attention.
Did anyone actually see August Rush? The song that they featured was fine--perhaps a little generic, but certainly not bad. I just could count the number of people that I know who saw the movie on the fingers of no hands. So, if you’ve seen the movie, raise your hand, because I’m pretty sure they released it in the new Nearly Straight to Video format.
Hey, Owen Wilson. I wonder how he’s doing? He looked like he needs glasses to read the Teleprompter, was as wooden as a presenter can be, and skipped right over any fluffy stuff, so yeah…
Best Supporting Actress goes to Tilda Swinton (who looked tremendously surprised). I saw only one of the movies--and Michael Clayton wasn’t one of htem, so I don’t have any commentary. I love Tilda Swinton, although I couldn’t necessarily explain why. She’s certainly a wonderful actress, though.
So, yeah, looks like the Coen brothers are going to have a good night.
I wouldn’t have picked Bourne Ultimatum for either of those sound awards. No Country and 3:10 to Yuma would have been my choices.
Best Actress (the award was given by the phenomenally talented Forest Whitaker) goes to Marion Cotillard--hopefully I’ve spelled that right. Again, another movie I haven’t seen, so I won’t comment on the performance, but her acceptance speech in broken and confused English was all sorts of endearing.
I’m so bored by this thing right now…
Wait, what the hell? Bourne Ultimatum won yet another of those little techie awards? Weird.
Nice entrance, Mr. Travolta.
Hey, Big O, whaddya got there, fella?
I’m not stopping yet. I don’t want to.
Best Cinematography went to Robert Elswit for There Will be Blood. Which is nice for him. I would have given it to that guy from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But what do I know?
Dead montage. One of those faces stands out as particularly sad, of course--a too short life with a useless ending--and some of them are simply personal reminders that, damn, I’m getting old.
Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) was given by soldiers in Iraq. Nice treat for the troops who got to participate. Some of the audience just looked a bit confused, though. Here’s to the winner, Freeheld, for receiving the award in a unique way. And, of course, just for winning the award. I suppose it makes up (just a touch) for Hollywood’s political bias, which might have been a bit more obvious in the nominations for Best Documentary Feature.
The award went to Taxi to the Dark Side. I think it should have gone to Fistful of Quarters--which wasn’t, you know, actually nominated. Because political statements are far more interesting than entertainment and good film making. Let’s hope that we can move away from the Dark Side, folks. Because Darth really has us in his hold…
With the Best Actor going to Daniel Day-Lewis, let’s just say that there are no surprises here. Also nothing unreasonable--he’s great. Best Directory and Best Motion Picture going to Coen brothers same-same. And, regardless of what people might think of the ending, they directed a near-perfect film there. Big congratulations to them as they’ve made some of my favorite modern films.
Denzel is looking mighty fit and trim. If I were making a movie today and needed a strong, male lead, he would probably be number one on my list. Russel Crowe would be number two.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Three Sunday Reviews, Part 3: A Belated Surprise
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
I was ready to laugh at King of Kong and its cast of geeks. At the beginning, my expectations of goofy, self-aggrandizing classical video game players were met beautifully and I did laugh. Obsessives like these are funny. Something strange happened, though: the movie stops being funny (in a point-at-the-funny-man kind of way) and became a moving, involving story about a kind of beat-down man’s struggle to set the Donkey Kong world record.
Steve Weibe (pronounced “wee-bee") is a family man with an uncommon talent for Donkey Kong and looks, for all the world, like he’s going to be one of the goofy folks and I was fully prepared to give him the same mocking treatment that I was giving others in the show. [Aside - And, yes, I know: that’s not very nice of me. The truth is, though, that if you put your strange obsessions on display in a nationally distributed documentary, the giggles are your doing. This is why I keep my own funniest quirks hidden.] When Weibe is treated shabbily by the gaming establishment, Twin Galaxies, and at the hands of the previous world record holder, Billy Mitchell, it is almost impossible to keep from that knee-jerk American urge to rally behind the underdog. Weibe, with his reserved, stumbling personality makes a strange but natural hero.
On the other side of the tilt, Billy Mitchell, with his carefully cultivated Nick Cave appearance and gaming stardom, is just as natural in his assumed role of bad guy. He talks a big game, but refuses to play publicly against the newcomer. He manipulates and pushes. He rudely refuses to acknowledge Weibe’s existence at one point of the film--an impressive display of bad manners that makes even his friends start questioning his treatment of Weibe.
Within the confines of the movie, at least, Mitchell is a world class jerk.
The whole thing wobbles back and forth--triumphs are quickly replaced by disappointments and a sense that this gaming world just isn’t playing fair. The Girl, who had planned to start reading a book almost as soon as I popped in the film, was just as engrossed by Weibe’s struggle. It’s a truly useless struggle, to be honest, and the strain that it puts on his life is beyond any kind of a rational pursuit. But rooting for the Quixotic excesses of a man who simply wants to find one special thing inside of a disappointing and difficult life has never been more compelling.
Some bits of the movie irritate. It takes a bit to get to the meat of the story--a reality, I think, of the fact that the producers didn’t know where their film was going to go at the beginning and found Weibe’s epic struggle only by chance. During the in-depth introduction to Weibe, they note that he was an also-ran musician during the grunge era--and play an old track from The Cure to prove the point. It’s an odd thing, and a small one, but couldn’t they have licensed themselves a track from Tad or Alice in Chains?
Mostly, issues with the movie come down to nitpicking. It gets all the big parts right--it tells a great story, it focuses on interesting personalities, and it entertains far more than I would have expected it would. It’s sold as being hilarious--and it is funny, but it’s tremendously more than that. It’s no wonder that, as of this writing, the movie has a 96% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It really is that good.
Wonderful stuff and damned close to greatness.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Three Sunday Reviews, Part 2: Violence
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The pacing does, indeed, hit something closer to plodding, but it’s made up for by an intimate view of a familiar story: how Jesse James, the psychotic and ultra-violent media star of his day was betrayed and murdered by one of his men, a jealous and dishonorable John Ford. And it’s a hell of a story.
It is easily one of the most visually engaging movies I’ve seen in a long time. With views of rough country filmed with a eye for texture and nuance, it succeeds in sheer beauty in a way that few movies ever manage; in the same way that The Cell was so richly compelling in its vision of the world of dreams and nightmares, even if The Assassination of Jesse James were a horrible movie, it would be remarkable for its gorgeous scenery. While The Cell was let down by its story and acting, though, The Assassination of Jesse James is a far more complete film.
Brad Pitt may have hit his career high point with his portrayal of James as a charismatic, unpredictable, and, ultimately, self-destructive anti-hero. Pitt is every inch believable in the role. Casey Affleck, as Robert Ford, equals Pitt with a performance that is a disturbed and tone perfect version of a man who is deeply jealous of the fame of Jesse James. These two are remarkably good together and supported by a cast that doesn’t let them down for even an instant.
It could have been tightened up and the pacing at times could be charitably described as leisurely, although brooding and introspective might be tossed into the mix, as well. The visual space and quiet moments let the thing breathe in the same way that the Mark Hollis’ song “The Color of Spring” breathes in its quiet moments--and the silence imbues the well-considered, spare piano notes with so much more meaning than if they had been buried in noise. Not for everyone, to be sure, but a treasure for people who enjoy the moment’s reflection within the art.
The pacing is a problem, but, to me, a forgivable one. Far more problematic is the homoerotic edge--it seems oddly out of place and, as far as I’m aware, has no place in historical accuracy. As an ode to Brokeback Mountain without the consummation, it’s merely a distraction. Ang Lee told the gay cowboy story better.
The girl can fall asleep during the loudest, most brutal movie when she’s at home and on the couch. It’s worth noting that she walked in on the movie late, while getting ready for bed, and was entranced by it. She was intent on it to the end, engrossed by the characters and the story. That, by itself, is a big endorsement.
It’s a worthy, quiet movie with moments of shocking violence and brutality. The poetry is in the wonderful performances, the measured unfolding of the story through its wholly real characters, and the superb artistry of its cinematography.
As I said, it’s not for everyone, but it isn’t without value. I loved it.
Three Sunday Reviews, Part 1: Love
Feast of Love
Feast of Love isn’t just bad because it is poorly written, although that’s one of its bigger problems. But we’ll get to its shortcomings in a bit. On the plus side, the acting is fine, the visuals are lovely, there are more than a few nude shots happily fulfilling my own personal desire for more gratuitous nudity in film. The pacing is a little slow, but it never quite falls into plodding. That’s the good.
Sad, then, that stilted, uneven dialog conspires with a strange landscape of characters of depth in sharp relief against cardboard cutouts that flit through the movie with hardly a sense of humanity to them. Some of the characters--an alcoholic father, in particular comes to mind--never feel real enough to achieve the kind of importance they come to play, so the emotional response is muted. Feast of Love’s biggest sin, though, is it’s moral confusion.
At one point in the film, Morgan Freeman’s wizened professor tell’s Greg Kinnear’s sadsack romantic that he can’t be angry at the failure of his wives’ sense of fidelity. After all, you can’t blame someone for falling in love. But the act of betrayal--the cruelties, lies, selfishness, and the betraying of marriages, trust, spouses, and children are brushed aside as all the couples become friends in the end. It’s a squeaky clean lie that doesn’t acknowledge the truth of the pains and angers and arguments over CDs, bills, and alimony that come with ruined marriages in real life. It’s a lie of the common era, though, that advocates a nebulous personal fulfillment above the stark and hard realities of personal responsibility--a failing, then, not of this movie, but of this culture of “finding your bliss” that has somehow made abandoning families and children into a semi-heroic stance against old notions of what constitute marriage, fidelity, love, and honor.
This is a horrific twisting of the world. And while this movie doesn’t make heros of its cheating and tortured cast, it does end up letting almost all of them off the hook for their selfishness--except for Greg Kinnear who thoughtlessly buys his wife a dog. Symbolically, he’s portrayed as the bad guy for this act (and it is, indeed, thoughtless), but she is portrayed as a fine specimen of grown up for leaving him for another woman. Brilliant.
With Morgan Freeman--who has come to occupy the position of God’s own voice in US cinema--telling us in kindly voiceover’s that everything is alright, the reality is scrubbed free of an authentic sense of the weight of failed relationships. In place of that burden is the ethereal lightness of Hollywood’s new adult: free from real responsibility, not living in a world many of us working class prols would recognize, and smiling with kind arrogance on those of us below who dare to believe that greatness comes when your personal fulfillment doesn’t come at the expense of the lives around you.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
More Cloverfield and Godzilla
Shawn Macomber talks Cloverfield, Godzilla, Jonah Goldberg and other such things. If you’ve read my rambling review below, this sort of ties in with some of what I was saying. I hadn’t seen this post before seeing the movie, but a few bits of it are damned close to what I wrote.
And Retro has funny thoughts, a freakin’ map, and he noticed that the impaled chick didn’t seem to suffer much from her serious wound. Beware: big spoilers. I did see this before I saw the movie, but I refused to read everything after the map because I didn’t want the surprises killed for me. Glad I waited.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Cloverfield: A Review
Is it a minor message movie or is it just big, dumb fun? The question has been bounced around a little, and I found myself wondering about it when I went, sans fiance who stayed home sick, to see Cloverfield tonight.
First, and more important, though, I wondered if it would even work as big, dumb fun. The trailers had left me cold: Blair Witch meets Godzilla wasn’t inspiring me to spend nine bucks on a ticket. The early reviews and advice of friends won the day, though, and I’m glad they did.
Ignoring any possible social messages, the Blair Witch hook works far better for Cloverfield than it did the earlier movie simply because the plot--what there is of it--holds together better as the movie continues. Not that the plot is much more--and, actually, is probably less than some--than your typical monster movie. The difference is that, once viewers got past the Blair Witch personal video camera conceit, the movie becomes tedious and the characters unlikable. Cloverfield builds tension and pace, draping the story over characters too hurried to actually build much in the way of personality, all the way until a bit of a weak ending that did less to wrap things up than indicate that the whole endeavor just suddenly ran out of steam.
Like Blair Witch, it also helps that most of the movie exists without blatant, in-your-face shots of the monster--and when the real reveal comes late in the film, you’ll probably be glad that they didn’t focus much on the baddie.
Cloverfield also works better than, say, the 1998 abomination, Godzilla. In fact, Cloverfield is far more a spiritual successor to the original, 1954 Godzilla than any of that film’s sequels, but it does it on a lesser level.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Heath Ledger Has Died
It hardly counts as important news, but it sure as hell surprises me. Heath Ledger, the actor from Brokeback Mountain and A Knight’s Tale, was one of my favorite up-and-coming actors. At just 28, he’s gone far too early.
Update: More news:
Monday, January 21, 2008
Big Win for Women (But Not for Katie Holmes)
But if they do, then they’re really asking for it, if you know what I mean.
It’s a brave, new day in Saudi Arabia for the fairer, and more easily subjugated, sex.
I saw an interview with Katie Holmes recently and remarked that her brain and personality seem to have been sucked out forcibly with a special vacuum cleaner attachment. That doesn’t do much to make Cruise a shill for a genocidal lunatic, though, he’s really just kind of creepy.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Where’s El Mariachi When You Need Him
An odd thing is happening in Mexico: somebody has started killing musicians.
This sounds like a situation for Antonio Bandaras as El Mariachi, the deadly musician who takes on hordes of bad guys with the massive arsenal dispensed by his magical Guitar Case of Extra Holding (that was an extra dose of geek right there).
(And, yes, I know I linked Desperado instead of El Mariachi--that was my favorite of the three that made up the trilogy.)
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Apolitical Sunday: Supposed to be Funny?
Jerk. I’d like to see him try that trick with the Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa.
The future wife likes that movie by the way. She giggles particularly hard during the naughty scene with Santa and the bartender in the parking lot. Still not sure what I should think of that…
Friday, November 30, 2007
“Without Writers Guild Members, we would have bad jokes, crap movies…”
Okay, it really isn’t the most important issue of the day, but watching the daily news about the Writers Guild strike is almost as much fun as the video from an ill-advised Britney Spears music awards performance.
Anyway, Shawn captures what must be one of the funniest things spoken by a celebrity during the strike.
The funniest bit, though? This:
Read the rest because, let’s be honest, there aren’t too many funny stories in the news today that go from the phenomenally cute Kristin Davis to a socialist selling copies of 1917: Journal of the International Bolshevik Tendency.
Full disclosure: hidden in the mix is a link to RSong. Thanks, Shawn!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
God Bless the Writers Strike
I wasn’t sure what I think about the writers strike--mostly because it hadn’t really poked its head into my life in any noticeable way--and I’m not prepared to take sides in the money grab that is going on. I figure it will work itself out without my help.
Now, though, I’m rooting for a long, long strike that paralyzes the Hollywood money machine for years to come. That would be awesome.
Anything that can keep us from idiocy of more Dan Brown-related films makes me feel all tingly inside. Actually, come to think of it, we’d all be better off if Hollywood managed to lose a few like Stealth, Norbit, and Boat Trip. Instead, the strike will probably be over soon and we consumers will be faced with another weekend of Dumb and Dumberer-esque “entertainment.”
Update: Thanks to Shawn for linking this from American Spectator blog.
Another update: The conversation continues here.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Am I the only one looking forward to not seeing Beowulf? Every time I see an ad for the movie and all the attendant exclamations of greatness, I sit back and wonder why I seem to be the only one who doesn’t get it.
Beowulf looks like it was rendered in its entirety inside a game engine. The people and the monsters look like toys, the animation doesn’t look anywhere near the top of the animation heap, and the whole thing reminds me that if I want to watch bad acting and inhuman anatomy, I could just rent Conan--which is a movie that I actually like.
And, no, the prospect of a scantily clad 3d rendered Angela Jolie isn’t enough to pull me in.
In fact, the only thing that intrigues me is that Neil Gaiman is one of the writers, and Gaiman is brilliant. I think I’ll just watch 300 again and call it good.
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