Thursday, September 17, 2009

Coming Soon and Top Ten

Opening Tomorrow

For the kids, we have "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," a goofy looking, by-the-numbers chucklefest that is great for anyone on this planet who made the mistake of breeding, though beyond insignificant for anyone else.

Also opening is "Jennifer's Body," the latest opus from "Juno" scribe Diablo Cody. I doubt this is going to be another Oscar winner and despite the looks of its dark humor and bangable leading ladies, it arouses about as much interest in me as filling out a job application to work at the Gap.

Finally, we have "The Informant," in which Matt Damon plays a whistle blower at an agricultural firm who seems to suffer from some cognitive disorders. Good looking performance from Damon, playing against type, but one again this just doesn't seem to spark any interest at all. Director Steven Soderbergh has already done the corporate take-down thing, and reworking it as a comedy doesn't really make it any fresher. Overall, a pretty dull Friday coming up.

Top Ten at the Box Office

1. "I Can Do Bad All by Myself," which is another in the long string of Tyler Perry family comedy-dramas. I know I'm not the intended audience for this and shouldn't be expected to like it, yet I still feel the need to point out that Perry's entire oeuvre is about as creative as turning every single episode of "The Gilmore Girls" into a feature length film.

2. "9," a dark, interesting-looking animated feature about a group of puppet-creatures battling robots in a post-apocalyptic world. So basically the last "Terminator" movie with a more sensible plot and more life-like actors.

3. "Inglorious Basterds," the latest Quentin Tarantino splatterfest, this one focusing on killing Nazis in occupied Europe. It's become a major hit and has received a fair amount of raves, but I found it not much more than decent. Three or four great set-pieces and a pile of half-baked characterizations don't go a long way in a two-and-a-half hour long film. Highly entertaining, but I'm beginning to suspect that the days of Tarantino making great movies is fairly well over. It feels like he's using the cliches of other genres in order to get away with bad dialog and predictable plotting. The same people who are pissed at me for not liking "Fight Club" are going to yell at me over this as well, but fuck it. I know what I saw and what I saw was a decently goofy action film with some suspenseful set-ups but no real sense of direction or purpose.

4. "All About Steve." Sandra Bullock blah.

5. "The Final Destination." We can only hope. This entire series is based on a logical fallacy. If the personification of death is trying to kill people and is capable of moving physical objects around to do it, why not just give everyone brain aneurysms? You could counter that then there wouldn't be any plot and the movies would only be five minutes long apiece, to which I would say, "Good."

6. "Sorority Row." A remake of a slasher from the 1980s. It stays faithful to the original in the sense that both are completely and utterly forgettable. It's tough to work up an interest in a film when its most remarkable feature is how inconsequential it is.

7. "Whiteout." Killer, Antarctica, blah. It looks like John Carpenter's "The Thing" without the thing.

8. "District 9." A solid sci-fi action movie in the "Aliens" mode. Hints at having some deeper meaning, but it's mostly just for the entertaining ride.

9. "Gamer." Oh god, does this look inane.

10. "Julie & Julia." It's partly about Julia Child. Julia Child is awesome. Meryl Streep is apparently awesome as Julia Child. Therefor I have no objections.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Celebrity Death Parade, Coming Attractions and Popular Bullshit

I haven't been writing on the internet much recently. This is due to a variety of factors, the primary one being disinterest and a busy schedule. Writing about movies has the added problem that I haven't been going to a lot of movies this summer, since nearly every big blockbuster film I was excited for turned out to be a big, steaming pile of dog shit in my good-times frittata. Subsequently, almost every film I've seen in the past two month has been something I checked out from the library (I worked in video stores for too long to enjoy actually paying to rent movies), which means I've been watching real, god-honest, good movies that make most of the current product look like rejected kindergarten art projects from the Land of the Retards.

Not even some major celebrity deaths were able to get my interest up. First there was Ed McMahon, who died of being fucking old back in June and whose death mainly served as a way to remind people that he wasn't dead already (I don't think they even had to update his Wikipedia page). Then Farrah Fawcett went and later that same day, as if the world of celebrity were clearing out its most insignificant inhabitants, Michael Jackson kicked it. And is if to give us one extra at no additional cost, TV pitchman Billy Mays died in his sleep a few days after that, apparently just to fill the urgent need people have to make jokes about his passing.

As I've state many times, I have no interest in whether any of these people live or die. Their deaths matter to me as a media observer, and I find people's reactions to the event interesting, if often irritating. Jackson was the biggest of the bunch and his death has been the elaborate freak show you'd expect, with people chanting and praying and dancing over his corpse like they're trying to raise it from the dead for one last performance. I never fully bought the whole "child-molesting" thing about Jackson (if someone would have taken him all the way through a trial without settling out of court for absurd amounts of cash, I might have given his accusers the benefit of the doubt), though I did find him creepy and uncomfortable to listen to. His death has basically served the purpose of letting lots of people, who wouldn't have said so otherwise, admit that they like his music. We'll talk about how important he was for a few weeks and then all breath a sigh of relief that his past accomplishments will no longer be tarnished by the long, extended tabloid fever dream that was the last two decades of his life.

But moving on...

Coming Attractions

There are a couple of releases coming out Friday, with one of them being another entry into this seemingly endless summer pain parade and another working to make this horrid cinema season worthwhile.

In the latter category is "Bruno," the latest from "Borat" creator Sacha Baron Cohen, in which he pretends to be a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion reporter in order to make an ass out of himself and others across America. As anyone I've dated will attest to, I'm a big fan of awkward pauses and uncomfortable silences, so this might actually get me into the theater, even if it feels like Cohen is scrapping the bottom of his character barrel.

Also opening is "I Love You, Beth Cooper," a 1980s style teen comedy from Chris Columbus, one of the blandest people to sit in a director's chair since somebody put a cardboard cut-out of Martin Scorecese behind the camera as a joke (it went on to direct the bulk of "Gangs of New York" before anyone thought to take it down).

Top Ten at the Box Office

1. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" was created with care and love by the biggest group of petulant assholes this side of a Hummer rally. The film is exciting and thrilling in the way getting your nuts caught in a lawn mower is exciting and thrilling. Sure, it will get your adrenalin flowing, but in the end you'll be in pain and you'll just wish the whole thing had never happened.

2. "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which was not only computer animated, but apparently also computer written and computer directed. I'm fairly certain that no actual human beings were involved in the creation of this film or any of its predecessors.

3. "Public Enemies." The story of John Dillinger and FBI agent Melvin Purvis, as played by two terminal psychotics. I might actually go see this, as soon as I have more than two bladder-busting hours to spend watching gangster movies.

4. "The Proposal." This movie doesn't actually exist and there is nothing you can do to convince me otherwise. Even if I went to the theater, paid for a ticket, sat down and watched this film all the way through, I would still not believe that it exists. My memory would just tell me I went and saw the new "Star Trek" film again.

5. "The Hangover." So this is basically "Memento" but done as a comedy about a drunken weekend in Las Vegas? Just so long as we're clear on that point.

6. "Up." My problem with Pixar films is that they're fantastic, but the intended audience means I can never enjoy them in theaters (going to a theater with children is like going to church with howler monkeys duct-taped to your head). If I buy or rent the films, they make me feel like the kind of weirdo who owns children's films but not children. I feel like I need to hide them when I have guests over, but somehow having children's films hidden around your house only makes it so much worse.

7. "My Sister's Keeper," which manages the twin marketing goals of being both depressing and inconsequential.

8. "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3." When I can look at a new thriller and decide not to see it because it lacks the screen presence of Walter Matthau and Martin Balsam, then there is something seriously wrong with the film industry.

9. "Year One." So?

10. "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." This isn't a film; it's a brain injury.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Top Ten at the Box Office This Month

1. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". A character whose appeal is based in part on his mysterious origins has his origins revealed in a late-term cinematic abortion. I saw this out of a perverse need to punish myself for having good feelings about humanity recently, and I was not disappointed. The dialog is atrociously bad and the only thing the characters have over cardboard cut-outs is a wider range of movement. The action is so laughably absurd that you wonder if anyone involved in this film has ever seen a good action movie, or is even aware of the existence of concepts such as "quality" or "the laws of physical motion" The film only looks good when compared to some of the other comic-book films of recent years, which is like saying Idi Amin looks like a stand-up guy when compared to Stalin.

2. "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." Matthew McConaughey plays a man attending his brother's wedding who is haunted by his romantic encounters from the past. To me the question becomes not "will he learn from his errors?" but "why are so many of this man's former girlfriends currently inhabiting the spirit world? Is he some kind of serial killer?"

3. "Obsession, Which is a 'Fatal Attraction' Remake, Only Even More Depressingly Mediocre"

4. "17 Again." Do I even need to tell you what the plot is? It stars Zac Efron and Matthew Perry as the younger and older versions of the same man. If you can make a sound, rational argument for why the money used to make this film would not have been better spent if it had just been dumped in a hole, then you deserve some kind of award.

5. "Monsters vs. Aliens." This is an investment opportunity, not a film. Dreamworks seems to come up with most of its animated features by seeing what would make the best toy lines and what has the most sequel potential. Any entertainment gained from the product is purely incidental, not to mention fleeting and cheap.

6. "The Soloist." Jamie Foxx is a serious actor. See? Look how serious he is. Standing next to Robert Downey Jr. and everything. Being all dramatic, pretending to have musical talent like in every other film he's in?

7. "Earth." Also known as "Cute Animals: The Movie, as Narrated by the Bald 'Star Trek' Guy."

8. "Hannah Montana: The Walking Entertainment Product Unit"

9. "Fighting." I think it's hilarious when major Hollywood movies show the "underground" street fighting, auto racing, whatever circuit and the "shady" characters who inhabit them. They always seem to play it as if the people involved in these things are "keeping it real" and not selling out by going pro, when in fact these are amateur tournaments. So what you're really watching a movie about is guys who fight as a hobby when they're not at their day-jobs. If you think about it, it's kind of like making a movie about a guy who makes birdhouses in his garage on his weekends, instead of a film about a professional carpenter. But I guess "Punching Enthusiast" doesn't sound as tough.

10. "State of Play." Despite the fact that the two lead male roles are cast with two of the biggest assholes currently available, this actually looks like a decent enough thriller. Unfortunately, "decent enough" doesn't get me to go see thrillers the way it used to.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dr. Feelgood Should Pull The Plug

There has been a recent spat of coverage concerning a woman named Susan Boyle, a Glaswegian who appeared across the pond on ITV's "Britain's Got Talent." With 14 million hits and climbing, you've probably seen the clip of her performance on YouTube, where she some how manages to have a singing voice despite having a bulldog-like facial structure and frizzy, unkempt hair. The whole thing has been played, both here and back in Britain, as a rousing human interest story that teaches a moral lesson about how "we shouldn't judge a book by its cover" or some such cliched bilge.

Now, I'll start off by saying the clip is pretty impressive. It's set up like a joke, the whole thing aimed at making you think Boyle is another of the over-confident losers that shows such as this thrive on. Her above-standard performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserable" is the punchline, pulling the rug out from the expectations that have been set for you. It's a perfectly orchestrated rousing moment, the kind that would be right at home as the conclusion of your common "Mr. Holland's Opus"-style bit of saccharine cinematic melodrama. It's entertaining.

But I have reservations about this whole happy-slappy-arch-humanity clusterfuck of feelgoodness. The performance is just entertaining for what it is, but people are trying to throw the veneer of meaning over the thing, as if this is some kind of triumph of the human spirit we should all be celebrating. It's not. It's a highly manipulative piece of television product, an example of "documentary reality" that plays on its audience's emotions the way a pianist plays a piano.

It's not an original observation to say that "reality" shows are the most inaptly named television genre since MTV stopped playing all those pesky music videos. These competitions are intensely organized, with the "reality" edited together from hours and hours of video to tell a narrative that bears only a blurry-eyed resemblance to the truth. The producers of "Britain's Got Talent" knew what they had when Boyle auditioned for them, long before she ever appeared in front of their audience. They edited the whole performance together, from the dialog they chose to show before she came on stage to the music they played as she came before the judges, to set a certain expectation with the audience that they would not have had with a different presentation. An honest producer could have chosen more dignified music on her entering, had the judges treat her less condescendingly, chosen dialog clips from before she came on stage that make her look less buffoonish and generally set a more reasonable expectation for what kind of abilities the woman has. But that wouldn't have been as exciting of television, so instead they essential lied and led the audience to view her a certain way before hitting them over the head with a cheap moral.

Because it's not like it's shocking news that unattractive people can sing. If Susan Boyle had come out claiming she was going to perform a intricate gymnastic performance to the song "I Touch Myself " by the Divinyls then no amount of gimmickry would have changed the audience's dubious attitude, since Boyle looks like she would be more comfortable around a pan of Scotch eggs than any form of exercise equipment (I know the feeling). But she came out to sing, and no one really things ugly people can't sing. If we got rid of all the dumpy, unattractive singers, operas would have a fuck of a time finding a decent tenor. Yet the show and the news coverage surrounding this whole mock event has been pointing fingers around saying, "See? We should all be less judgemental!" It reeks of condencension, because if the show hadn't endeavored to make her look like a loser people would have only been mildly surprised that she could perform as well as she did and none of this hoopla would be going on. It's no fucking miracle that this woman can sing and pretending like this is such a shocking development is dishonest.

The only person who comes out of this pretty well is Susan Boyle, who is finally getting the fame and attention she wanted. All she has to do is sit politely and live with news announcers and talk show hosts patting her on the head and treating her like an autistic child that just learned how not to shit all over the furniture. If you think that this is going to represent some kind of sea change and that less-than-perfect people will start appearing on television and being treated with some respect, you're wrong. As some other commentators have pointed out, this is just becoming an exception that will reinforce the rule, an excuse to fill the "ugly quota" so that everyone can make themselves feel better for a minute or two before going back to exaclty how they were before.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Watched "Watchmen"

I finally got around to seeing "Watchmen," the recent adaptation of the classic graphic novel, and I had a few ideas about it I wanted to air. I'm going to post a review on my other site once I get around to it, but these notes are separate from my views on the film as piece of cinema and are more in regard to some of the issues surrounding it.

First off, let me say that I enjoyed "Watchmen". It was entertaining and visually compelling. I'm also a fan of the original graphic novel, which I consider one of the classics of the medium. I'm not going to go into some comparison of the two works, since I feel that's kind of like comparing apples and Honda Civics. They serve different purposes and express themselves through different means and saying one is better than the other is a meaningless sentiment.

Now, though I enjoyed the film, I can't say my opinion of director Zack Snyder has improved. I've gone from considering him to be as dumb as a bag of rocks to now considering him being as dumb as a particularly stupid bag of rocks. I don't see his work improving over the course of what I fear will be a long, successful career. He's the directorial version of an abortionist, taking the work of others and cutting out the ideas from like so many unwanted pregnancies. I first noticed this with his "Dawn of the Dead" remake, which was an entertaining film, yet lacked absolutely everything that made it worth remaking. The original was a grand guignol commentary on the ills of American society and human nature; the remake was a zombie film that mostly took place in a mall.

I never actually bothered with "300," which looked like a headache in cinematic form, so let's skip right to "Watchmen". The graphic novel was a rambling discourse on the meaning of heroes in our culture. It was philosophical in its own way. This film is just a particularly epic superhero movie. The words are the same, but the purpose is gone. When the Comedian points to a riot-ravaged NYC in the 1970s and says that this is the culmination of the American dream, the words don't have any meaning. They just sound cool. "Watchmen" wasn't intended to be a thrilling action story, though those elements are there. Snyder located them and focused on them exclusively. A more creative director could have found ways to use some of the paraphernalia Alan Moore included in the book to add depth to the story and give meaning to the ideas expressed in it. Snyder just slavishly translated everything to screen that was translatable and filled it with little in-jokes for the fans.

Apparently I really hate fans. They always seem to ruin everything they claim to love. For example, I feel a less faithful adaptation of "Watchmen" would have been closer to the spirit of the source material. During the project's long production history (there have been talks of an adaptation since the late 1980s) there was once a director (I believe it was Darren Aronofsky) attached to wanted to updated the story to modern times, with references to terrorism and the Gulf wars. The studio balked and subsequently Snyder was chosen, in part because of he promised not to change the story. Wouldn't want to upset the fans by adapting a work that had said something about contemporary society in such a way so that it continues to say something about contemporary society. In a way, this film is like watching a performance by group of Monty Python fans recreating their favorite sketches, repeating everything the same as the original, right down to the vocal inflections. You might laugh because the sketches are still funny, but the spirit of anarchic invention and unexpected surrealism is gone. It becomes a museum piece rather than a continuation of the ideas that made the original have such an impact.

Even a less radical adaptation would have been more interesting than what we got. I would have loved to see Terry Gilliam's miniseries adaptation or Paul Greengrass's take on the work. But unfortunately Gilliam is cursed to never finish another good movie for as long as he still breathes and Greengrass got distracted by less interesting projects. And what we got was a film that is entertaining for exactly the 2 hours, 45 minutes it's playing, but gives you nothing to think about later other than how it looked or hour entertaining it was. It's a fun movie to watch, but a boring one to think about.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Top Ten at the Box Office This Month

1. "Fast & Furious." Dipshits pretend to be badass while playing with their over-sized, gas-fueled dick substitutes. Ra ra.

2. "Monsters vs. Aliens." Huh, what? Oh, yeah. Movie. Gothcha. Listen, guys, if you want to remain impressive in your preview, "from the makers of 'Shrek' and 'Kung Fu Panda'" is not the right way to sell it.

3. "The Haunting in Connecticut." Apparently this is based on a true story, which is odd considering that the whole "ghosts" thing has been pretty much shown to be bullshit. That the film seems to have a plagiarism-ish resemblance to "The Amityville Horror," which was also based on a not-actually-true-in-the-sense-of-being-bullshit story, is worth noting.

4. "Knowing." Nicolas Cage is like some sort of super-human shitty-high-concept film-making machine. He stars in more ill-conceived movies in a given year than most actors can manage in a lifetime.

5. "I Love You, Man." Though he has no direct connection to the film, this still has the stink of Judd Apatow all over it. Most modern comedies don't really do much for me. Even the trailer for this one seems padded, so I'll probably pass, unless someone can give me a valid reason to do otherwise.

6. "Adventureland." This year's indie-comedy success. Good to know that slot has been filled.

7. "Duplicity." Two people in morally dubious professions start a relationship with trust issues. By the way, it's a thriller. Are you thrilled yet?

8. "Race to Ruin All of Your Fond Childhood Filmgoing Experiences With Cheap Corporate Schlock, Part 56."

9. "12 Rounds." Renny Harlin alert. The plot is ripped from the Hercules mythology (what?), which apparently someone thought was a clever idea, and the whole thing seems to be aiming for this kind of "not really worth giving a shit about" tone.

10. "Sunshine Cleanup." Just too wonderfully quirky for words. The indie-drama slot for the year has now been filled.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Good Month

I tend to write a lot of, shall we say, "negative" things on this blog. So much so you might get the impression I don't really like movies all that much. This couldn't be further from the truth. I really love cinema. Love it dearly. Which is why the existence of so much pure filth disgusts me, why the criminal waste of talent and resources that goes into 90% of film production is such a constant irritant.

Still, I feel it's time for a slight corrective, so I'm going to write about some films coming up in May that I'm actually looking forward to (in all honesty, I chose May because looking at the releases for June was too depressing. Literally not a single interesting film coming out and just one Jack Black comedy too many. For its part, April isn't much better. A "Fast and the Furious" sequel and the Hannah Montana movie are kind of acting as killjoys for me). So, for once, something positive. Don't expect it to become a habit.

May 1: "Limits of Control." A new crime thriller from Jim Jarmusch. Bizarre criminal plots and existential dialog? Who could ask for more? This looks like something that might put Jarmusch back on people's radar after his less-than-interesting last few features, and looks to be at least as good as "Ghost Dog."

May 8: "Star Trek." Yeah, I know. I'm a pathetic fanboy. In my defense, I'm merely a casual fan of "Star Trek," enjoying the original series and the bulk of "TNG," but not much else. Don't really care about any of the other series or any of the movies. The preview gives the impression that they've kept the look and the mythos without the corniness, which might work out well. The casting also seems spot on from what I've seen so far. I'm pretty sure it will at least be entertaining, if not out-and-out great. Can't ask for much more than that from a major blockbuster.

May 22: "Terminator: Salvation." I had my reservations about this one. The mono-monikered director brought us one of the "Charlie's Angel's" movies and spent a lot of time at Comic Con talking about the themes of individuality and destiny in this new one, which is all a load of intellectual crap to give his blcokbuster some veneer. However, I can't argue with the look of the film in the previews, and I'm pretty sure that when I saw those giant robots start smashing buildings I grew an extra testicle. It's like a grungier "Transformers" with a NIN soundtrack and some semblance of a brain. If nothing else, the preview at least wipes the sour taste of "Terminator 3" from my mouth.

May 29: "Up." Pixar has done more to combat the tide of cynicism than just about any single entity. Most religions can't claim to have brought as much good will into the world as this company has with its series of films. Every time they release a new one, I go through a slight period of forgiveness and redemption. This usually ends around the time a new Ben Stiller release comes out, but it's nice while it lasts.

However, all the goodwill in the world will not help me through the fact that I hate children and won't go to theaters where they appear in mass. So on opening day I'll probably go see "Drag Me to Hell," the latest from Sam Raimi, returning to the horror genre for the first time in years. The plot has its fair share of social commentary (a loan officer is cursed for foreclosing on an old gypsy woman and is hunted down by demons), but it feels a little heavy-handed. If nothing else, the film seems to at least break the dour tone most horror films have had recently and brings a little fun and weirdness back to the genre. Will probably suck, but I'll see it anyway.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dead Celebrities and Top Ten

Dead Rich People

I suppose the big news this week is the death of Natasha Richardson in a skiing accident. So a woman born into wealth, who gained a multi-million dollar acting career in part from her family connections died while performing a leisure activity at an elite resort? Golly, I'm torn up.

I know I always seem to harp on the death of celebrities as if I don't give a shit about them, but the simple fact is I don't. Care about them, that is. And neither does the vast majority of humanity, when you get down to it. Celebrity lives are just another form of entertainment to most people, a meta-drama that keeps the masses entertained until the next film comes out or the new season of the show starts. People care the same way they care about a soap operas. They may even cry about it if the story is compelling enough. I just don't care about the story and feel no real emotional attachment to the small culture of people who make entertainment.

The only honest emotional reaction to this sort of thing is lack of interest, maybe a passing sympathy for the family. Because if I told you that a single mother in Minot, North Dakota, whom you had never heard of and had no connection to, had died in a car crash this weekend, you might say "how sad," but you would be mildly psychotic if you actually, sincerely, cared about it.

Leave it alone and let the grieving grieve. The only way it affects your life is that you won't be seeing Richardson in any more movies. In other words, very little.

Top Ten at the Box Office This Week

1. "Race to Witch Mountain." Your childhood, once again diluted and reissued. Get used to it.

2. "Watchmen." Still haven't seen it, but I plan to. And the only reason I will is because I am having trouble getting over the feeling that it somehow sucks despite what everyone who has seen it has told me. I need to settle this matter in my mind. To be clear, I want it to be good. However, my personal experiences with this sort of thing are telling me I should prepare for disappointment.

3. "The Last House on the Left." Shit buckets. I am really sick of this nonsense. Despite its pseudo-classic status, the original wasn't even that good. More interesting for historical reasons than quality. And this just looks abysmal.

4. "Taken." I'll bet you anything there are box office analysts out there trying to calculate what kind of sympathy boost this will get now that Liam Neeson's wife is dead.

5. "Madea Goes to Jail." I think it would be great if we could lock up Tyler Perry and just make him watch his own movies for 24-hours straight. I'd put down even money that he would rip out his own eyes before he got to "Meet the Browns."

6. "Slumdog Millionaire." I have no problem with this.

7. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." This, on the other hand. Just looking at the posters for this film makes me feel weird and sticky, like someone just dumped an Orange Julius on my soul.

8. "He's Just Not That Into You." Could you cram any more mediocrity into a single film? Maybe have Ryan Seacrest narrate it?

9. "Coraline." If you have kids, take them to see it. Me, I'll probably never see it unless I stumble into the wrong theater at the multiplex after a particularly competitive beer festival.

10. "Miss March." What is it about so many comedy troupes that causes them to take their first chance at big screen success and jam it full of the most overworked cliches? Rap stereotypes, scantily clad women, road-trips-for-sex, doofus best friends, drunken high school antics. It's like they're working off some kind of list that was completed around the "Porky's" era and hasn't been deviated from since.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You are a Precious Snowflake

Another older article, written for another site, that I wanted to send back into the light of day.

Movies That Want You To Think You Are Unique

Everybody thinks that they're special. We all want to believe that we have some great talent or some destiny that we were meant for and all we need is the right opportunity to show the world how great we really are. Admittedly, this illusion is easier to bear than the reality, which is that we are a congregation of cells that follow a basic pattern and that the vast bulk of us will never be remembered for anything by future generations once we slip off the mortal coil. Most of our talents involve things we did when drunk ("I can projectile vomit four whole feet. Will I use it for good or evil?"). We like entertainment that reinforces our concept of uniqueness and we keep alive the myth that anyone can become someone of merit, ignoring the fact that most people who make it in this society do so by either years of hard work or dumb fucking luck, if not both. Here are some movies that would have us believe otherwise:

8. "The Matrix." This world can't be real, it's all just a ruse. You aren't really just some dipshit office drone with no girlfriend and crappy meth-addict friends. You're really the savior of the human race, imbued from birth with the power to control reality. Yeah fuckin' right. This is every entitled white college-age male's wet dream. You are so much better than those sheeple, you know what's really going on because you look at stuff on the Internet. We're all being controlled and only you know it and if they just listened to you we could fix all this shit. Except they don't listen to you because you're a flabby, white asshole who's never done a real day's work you didn't whine about and spends his days downloading "South Park" episodes and babbling about Ayn Rand and that worthless Ron Paul prick on whatever website that hasn't booted your trolling ass yet.

Goddammit, I hate "The Matrix."

7. "Star Wars." The original trilogy got by on pure entertainment, while the prequels exist on the white-hot force of George Lucus' hatred for humanity, but the real secret of the success of this series is the baseline concept that you might actually be an uber-cool zen knight who could totally rip a fucker in half with your brain. In the original trilogy you see Luke Skywalker going through about a month of training in a shitty-ass swamp and he becomes some kind of Space Jesus for the effort. At least he put some work into it. In the prequels we find that all that Jedi shit is based on a biochemical reaction that you are born with, so only an elite few can master the powers. Thus we get the future Darth Vader building rocket sleds and fighting space battles when he's still old enough to be wetting the bed. Effort is for losers.

6. "Wanted." Probably the most recent example of this phenomenon. Some jackass becomes a super-assassin based totally on the merit that his father was a super-assassin. Because learned behavior is apparently hereditary. Would you let a guy perform surgery on you based on the fact that his father was a brilliant surgeon? Let me answer that for you: Fuck no, you would not. You would send the little bastard to medical school and see if he can figure out the right way to hold a scalpel before you even let him near your appendix. Thinking like this is what got George W. Bush elected president. His daddy was a smart guy with the foreign policy, maybe some of it rubbed off on Junior. Except that his dad was a former CIA director and had served as vice-president for 8 years, whilst GWB pissed away fortunes and spent his free time snorting coke off a hooker's tits. We all know how great it turned out.

5. "Pirates of the Caribbean." I'm not talking about crazy-as-fuck Johnny Depp here, but rather Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Sure, he was a good sword fighter because he practiced all the time, but where the fuck did he pick up all those sailing skills? On something like his second boat ride he's ordering a group of hardened sailors around like he's Lord Nelson. What does sword fighting and blacksmithing have to do with sailing? Absolutely jack shit. Oh right, his father was a pirate. But what about Knightly? Her father was a babbling idiot, but you don't see her possessed with his remarkable "acting like a retard" abilities. No, she's up there telling pirates how to run a ship, when in reality the same group would have raped her to death and hoisted Bloom up the mast by his hairless genitalia, then gone on their merry way.

4. "Harry Potter." Tell me something: in any of the books or movies, did Harry Potter ever have to make any kind of effort to get his skills? He was a bad student, a naturally gifted jock, gets a pass on everything because of his family connections and without even trying has all the powers of a god. And we're supposed to root for this asshole?

3. "X-Men." Most comic book movies could fit into this category, as their bread-and-butter is adolescent wish-fulfillment. But quite a few make being a superhero seem like work. Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist who suffers for his errors by becoming the Hulk, Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark reject their privileged lives by working hard to do right for humanity, Peter Parker gets nothing but personal fulfillment from his heroics, often at great sacrifice. Even Superman has the whole "moral uprightness" thing, his small town values the only thing standing in the way of him ruling us like a god on Earth. But in the X-Men universe, anyone could be born with incredible powers, no effort or consequences necessary. Naturally, society fears them, but then again being a victim sure makes you feel self-righteous and awesome. Why do you think Wolverine is the most popular X-Man? Because we all know that if we had powers like that, we would be the lawless-bad-ass-loner type, rather than the principled and hard-working Cyclops.

2. "Chronicles of Narnia." When life has you down and society doesn't seem to understand you, why not escape into a magical fantasy world where you are regarded as important for no other reason than because a prophecy said you would be? Never accomplished anything, never done anything of merit? No problem, just go from point A to point B and we will treat you like a hero.

1. "Cinderella." Probably the most insidious myth to pervade human relationships in the Western world in the last century. The original tale, in its various incarnations, is a lot darker and not as pleasant. People really go for the Disney version here, since it whitewashes everything. Sure, you toil ceaselessly for a family that doesn't understand how special you really are, but one day someone will come by and give you everything you want and then a rich man will fall deeply in love with you. Why will he love you? Well, for your looks and demeanor. "Love at first sight" doesn't leave a lot of room for him to notice your personality. Despite years of feminist deconstruction, this myth still exists within just about every romantic comedy that passes through our theaters like turds on their way to a sewage treatment plant. Both genders buy this shit, in their own way.

You want to find someone worthwhile? Then read a book every now and then, get a hobby, improve your mind and personality and try not to be such an asshole to everyone. Maybe then you'll meet someone who likes you and treats you with some dignity. You're not special. Being one in a million just means there are 6,000 people in the world exactly like you. Grow up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Hate Your Childhood

This is a piece I wrote a little while ago for another site. I stopped writing for them when I got tired of it and they deleted all my material during their last site update. This is my favorite piece from the work I did for them. I'll probably have another up in the next couple of days, if I can find it.

Ten Nostalgic 1980s Classics That Suck

Every decade gets its moment in the sun, that brief period when people pine for the simpler time of their youth. They look back at their childhood and how innocent and heartwarming the pop culture was, and realize how deserving of veneration and preservation it is now. The 1980s is currently the decade of choice for nostalgic types, with every loser bit of pop-cultural detritus getting its own special DVD release and a reference on "Robot Chicken." This is a dangerous habit, since people will forgive a number of flaws for something that brings them back to the rose-tinted time of their youth and soon enough they become fully grown adults who spend a substantial portion of their waking hours watching "He-Man." Appreciating the time period ironically is no better, since it has long been known that irony is just a way for hipsters to hide their shitty taste in beer. I now offer to you a slight antidote, wherein I take a look at some veneered cinematic classics from the era so many of us grew up in, and telling you why they sucked balls.

10. "Spaceballs." Apart from providing some hilariously embarrassing Comic-Con costumes, this film has not done anyone any real favors. A smorgasbord of cheap jokes and Rick Moranis, the film has a special place in the hearts of many comedy fans for its spoofery of the "Star Wars" series, though as we have been able to see in recent years, doing a spoof of "Star Wars" is about as difficult as putting on a hat. For every solid bit of comedy from the film that gets repeated ad nauseum by fans, there are dozens of painful flops (funny names are the first sign of hack work in a comedy, and this film is full of them). The film's most painful legacy is what it would lead to later, with director Mel Brooks modeling both "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" after this, his last truly commercially successful film.

9. "Back to the Future." Logical paradoxes aside, this is a ripe piece of filth. It's odd that this would become a nostalgic classic for lovers of the 1980s when the film itself was trading in on the nostalgia for the 1950s that was rampant during its release. The storyline doesn't make one lick of sense when held to the most basic level of intellectual scrutiny, and I always spend the entire film wanting to do nothing more than kick Michael J. Fox in the nuts until he cries. This is the sort of simpering feel-good callback to "better times" that director Robert Zemeckis made his name on. As a side note, the idea that Chuck Berry needed some smug white boy's help inventing his sound is so blithely racist that it makes me want to puke all over Elvis Presley's grave.

8. "The Breakfast Club." We have now entered John Hughes country. Be sure to roll up the windows, because there are a whole lot of stray emotions flying around here. Aside from having one of the shittiest soundtracks of all time (hard not to if you're filling it up with 1980s chart-toppers), the film is such a blatantly obvious emotional play that it's almost laughable how strongly some people are tied to it. The collection of stereotypes who spend their day together in unsupervised detention feels market-tested to appeal to as wide a range of teenagers as possible, while the cheesy moral of the film is so far removed from the everyday life of a high school student that you wonder if the people who made this had ever actually experienced adolescence. However, watching Judd Nelson play the World's Oldest Teenager is hoot.

7. "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." You're probably thinking, "He's not going to go there." Well, fuck you, Mr. Dissenting Opinion I Made Up. I'm going there. I hate this fucking movie. I hate this movie like fucking cancer. Another shitpile from the John Hughes Crap Factory with jokes about as subtle as a punch in the teeth, which is exactly what I want to give Matthew Broderick every time I see his smug face. I'll concede a few key moments in the film, but honestly if you think this is some kind of comedy classic then don't be surprised when your children call the release of "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle" a generation-defining moment.

6. "Top Gun." Does anyone actually like this movie anymore, or is it just some sort of long-running national joke? If you want a prime example of absolutely everything that was wrong with 1980s action cinema, this would be a good place to start. Aside from its much commented-upon homo-eroticism, the film is also a fawning piece of jingoistic propaganda, the sort that Hollywood seemed be almost sycophantically willing to put out during the reign of Ronald Reagan. Tom Cruise is at his block-of-wood best, while the the soundtrack is so cheesy it defies ironic appreciation. As an aside, while the most notable thing about the soundtrack is the presence of no less than two Kenny Loggins performances, the film also reeks of the 1950s nostalgia mentioned above, as the two big sing-along moments involve Jerry Lee Lewis and the Righteous Brothers.

5. "Pretty in Pink." This is every teen comedy ever. Unlike many young men of my generation, I'm not bitter about the fact that the film ends with the hunky guy getting the girl rather than the nice goof-off. Personally, I found Duckie annoying and kind of wanted the film to end with him being thrown into a thresher. That the film champions the worst sort of Cinderella myth as its primary plot point is a tad more irritating, but this is at least true to form. James Spader just about gives Judd Nelson a run for his money in the Old Teenager department, playing a high school senior who is very obviously in his early thirties.

4. "Flight of the Navigator." This is a beloved childhood classic for sci-fi geeks, but when you start looking at things with an eye cleared of the fog of nostalgia you begin to realize how deceptive the term "beloved childhood classic" really is. A boy wakes up 8 years in the future without having aged a day due to an accident with an alien spacecraft. He meets up again with the sentient craft by escaping from a government task force so intensely inept it makes you fear for our country's security. They go on some boring adventures. By the way, the spaceship is voiced by Pee-Wee Herman. No, I'm not kidding. Kind of pisses all over your fond memories of the film when you think about that, doesn't it. Glad I could be of service.

3. "Good Morning, Vietnam." Aside from being the most saccharine piece of sub-comedy that Robin Williams had done up to that point (he topped it with "Patch Adams," to the extent that "Patch Adams" can be considered to "top" anything), the "true story" of the film is mostly bullshit, a Vietnam War fairy tale with Robin Williams in the middle. Here's an idea: Take all of William's "hilarious" commentary in the film and edit it together in one long string, subtracting out all the reaction shots of soldiers finding it funny. Now how funny does it all seem? If you answered "not very" then you have won the award for the most obvious statement made during this article.

2. "Stripes." Quite your god-damned blubbering, it's not a good movie. It's another piece of military propaganda, this one going for a soft sell by seeming to make fun of the army while actually reinforcing its values and without actually questioning its authority. You could make a pretty convincing argument that the film is an ode to military arms spending, showing how even the most total of fuck-ups can win wars with the billions of dollars we spend on high-tech weapons, but it's much easier to just say that this is one of Bill Murray's weakest comedies, starting off strong enough but then having the laughs come to a complete and utter halt through much of its last half.

1. "Goonies." I'm going for the balls here. This movie is a long car ride through a hot desert with a group of young children suffering from bladder infections. It's a plane-ride with a convention of "Sex in the City" fans that has become delayed on the runway without drink service and won't be taking off until early next week. This movie grates on me like steel wool rubbing an exposed nerve ending. I want to take these children and shake them until they stop making noise.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Acknowledgement

I suppose I should at least recognize the fact that the Oscars did occur this weekend. Personally, I skipped it in favor of drinking heavily, so I have to take it on faith that they actually aired and awards were given out.

Some notes:

Best Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire", the least objectionable nominee, goes for the win. Not what I would call a great movie, but at least it's not some pandering piece of Hollywood liberal revisionist history or a thunderously dull exercise in stylistic hubris like some of the other nominees I could mention.

Best Actor: Called it. Did anyone actually think Mickey Rourke would nab it?

Best Actress: And Kate Winslet officially becomes the Meryl Streep of her generation.

Best Supporting Actor: The Vegas odds on Heath Ledger getting the award were practically 1-1. I think in the future, the ceremony can save a lot of broadcast time by just eliminating the presentation of awards that are foregone conclusions.

Best Supporting Actress: We could probably also skip awards where no one cares who wins, though that would slice out half the ceremony for me every year.

Best Director: Danny Boyle, for something that is really not his best work. Still: Suck it, Fincher.

Best Original Screenplay: "Milk"? Really? Did the copy of 2008 Adobe BioPic they used to write that thing accept the award?

Best Adapted Screenplay: This was a given, though maybe Eric Roth will take the hint and come up with a better idea that just slapping some art house paint on his old "Forrest Gump" screenplay.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Top at the Box Office This Week

1. "Taken." Liam Neeson plays a former spy battling slave-traders for the life of his daughter. I'm actually happy to see this at the top of the list, since I always get a kick from watching Liam Neeson beat the shit out of people. Doesn't happen in enough of his movies.

2. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." What fresh hell is this? Director Steve Carr continues to blight the earth with his cinematic vision, and the fact that someone thought Kevin James would make a thrilling lead in anything resembling a comedy goes to show that our cultural bankruptcy runs deep.

3. "The Uninvited." Christ, I miss good horror movies. The PG-13 rating has officially become a sign of over-market-tested, bland-as-a-beige-wall mediocrity. Movies like this just make me clutch on to my DVD of the original "Dawn of the Dead" all the tighter.

4. "Hotel for Dogs." Fuck a duck, does this look awful. I really can't stress this enough: Dog movies=boring movies. Add cute kids to the mix and you have a recipe for total mental degredation.

5. "Gran Torino." Clint Eastwood is sooooooo oooolllld. He's ooooooooollllllllld. And raaaaaaaaaciiiiissssst. But he learns an important leaaaaaaasssoooooonnn.

6. "Slumdog Millionar." If this movie wasn't as well made as it is, I would hate it. The story is the same sort of "love conquers all," "being together is our destiny" shit that every other romantic film out there peddles, and which has no relationship to the real world or real emotions. But this is such a good looking and well-constructed film, I can't really dislike it. Shame.

7. "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans." Actress Rhona Mitra is cursed. Here is a sample of her filmography: "Doomsday" (kinda shit), "Shooter"(pansy-ass action shit), "The Number 23" (really shit), "The Life of David Gale" (she should castrate her agent with a rusty tuna-can lid).

8. "New in Town." Hollywood likes to pretend it knows something about small towns. It doesn't, and hence these movies always fail.

9. "My Bloody Valentine 3-D." This is still here? Did anyone tell it that it could stay? For shame.

10. "Inkheart." Kids, power of imagination, evil goings on, fantasy, blah blah blah.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Year of the Suck: 2008 Oscar Nominations

For the most part, 2008 was a piece of crap year for everything. Sure, we got a decent president, but the effect of that didn't really start until 2009. So I think we can really just write off the whole last years as "not worth fuck all." Just a big black mark in the history books where 2008 should be, "Not worth a tick-riddled dog dick" written over it.

So with that image in mind, here is the most recent batch of Oscar nominations. May our sins be forgiven.

Best Picture
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": A man is born an old man, ages backwards, then dies as a child. Commentary on human condition: Not really. Any lasting significance: No.
"Frost/Nixon": My money's on Nixon. Frost is younger, but ol' Tricky Dick is a wily one.
"Milk": A very average movie telling an interesting story.
"The Reader": Kate Winslet seems to have made a career out of sleeping with young men. It also has Nazis.
"Slumdog Millionaire": A film so full of feel-goodness that you just want to bloody well punch a nun after seeing it.

Best Director
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": David Fincher can go suck a curly cock for all I care about him. He has a lot of style hiding a lack of ideas and the majority of his filmography is like a depressing wart sitting in the memories of my cinematic experiences.
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon": Ron Howard was nominated for a film that isn't a saccharine, happy-time whitewashing of history? Lord be praised.
Gus Van Sant, "Milk": These days, I'm just happy when Van Sant directs a film that doesn't make me want to strangle him with his own internal organs.
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader": I'm trying really, really hard to care about this film's existence as if it actually matters. It's hard, because it doesn't.
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire": The least objectionable choice, though I wish Boyle would go back to making movies about heroin-addicted zombies. Not that I want to typecast him for those films, I just think there should be more of them.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor": Apparently it has something to say about illegal immigrants living with real people.
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon": I guess he's pretty Nixony.
Sean Penn, "Milk": Do you really need to nominate anyone else? We all know how this is going to turn out.
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": This is some sort of bad omen.
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler": This is worse.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married": Maybe my desire to see her win is related to my desire to bone her stupid. I'll have to talk to my bookie.
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling": I hear she drinks the blood of kittens.
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River": She smuggles stuff and it's cold. Awesome.
Meryl Streep, "Doubt": I just realized that Streep hasn't actually won an Oscar since 1982. Needs more cancer roles, I say.
Kate Winslet, "The Reader": At this point I think Winslet's movie career is just an excuse to bang teenagers.

Best Original Screenplay
"Happy-Go-Lucky": Wanted to see it, missed it, will probably never see it.
"Frozen River": Yeah, really cold, poor people, Eskimos. Gotcha.
"In Bruges": The only thing I care about even slightly this entire award season.
"Milk": Wow, someone came up with the idea of a heartwarming story of human struggle overcoming adversity? The air feels so much fresher now.
"Wall*E": Yeah, why the fuck not?

Best Adapted Screenplay
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": I doubt F. Scott Fitzgerald would recognize his short story in this film. Though I doubt F. Scott Fitzgerald would recognize his own face in the mirror during much of his hazy waking life, what with it being caked with his own 90 proof gin vomit. He's also dead.
"Frost/Nixon": Now the "Presley/Nixon" tapes, that would be a good story. Nixon: "Jews....(garbled)...fuckers...all out to get me." Elvis: "BLAAAGGH!"
"Doubt": You know, apparently some people have doubts. And some people thought this would be an interesting idea for a movie.
"The Reader": So?
"Slumdog Millionaire": Yeah, sure. Fuck it. Fuck it all.