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.