Saturday, November 29, 2008

FOUR CHRISTMASES

I don't believe in getting wrapped-up in the madness that is "Black Friday" - though I'm still surprised that Lionsgate hasn't put out a straight-to-video movie based around it -, but I do believe in the annual post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas holiday family-comedy film. A Christmas Story was the first one I remember. The Family Stone was the most recent one I remember liking (it's really much better than all of y'all think it is). And Jingle All The Way was the worst of the lot... until Four Christmases, that is.

But I believed in Four Christmases. I believed that Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn could generate a more convincing comic chemistry than Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston were able to in the almost-kind of good The Break-Up.

Witherspoon's on-screen comic lightness does expose the smug underbelly that Aniston just can't seem to shake off even among her more tolerable performances in Along Came Polly, Friends With Money, and She's The One. And as Vaughn has kept on the chub, he's a much more huggable and charming version of himself than the one that broke out in Swingers. But damn, not even the most stubborn audience member should expect quality from these two talents when they're saddle-bagged with a script as bogus as the four-person created page-burner of Four Christmases.

Brad (Vaughn) and Katie (Witherspoon) get flight-delayed in their hometown of San Francisco, and when their plan to avoid all holiday family contact becomes unveiled at the hands of a at-the-scene news reporter, the couple must visit all four of their households through the remainder of December 25th. Though the film is set in northern California, the screenwriters four and director Seth Gordon apparently felt like channeling flyover country for some of the comedy. Most draining is the evangelical nativity re-enactment sequence that will drain all the blood from your brain and wish for someone to strike a million matches off the the top of your head so that you can feel something other than the opposite of a good time.

Fresh from directing the beloved and slow-growing crowd-pleaser The King of Kong, Seth Gordon has a box office smash on his hands with Four Christmases, but what a rotten path to take in order to reach that plateau. The hook of the film plays on the misery all of us have experienced as captive family members back home for the holidays. But the wicked twist of Four Christmases is that it actually makes you want to rush out of the theater (the still of Reese Witherspoon up top is representative of the viewing experience...) and into the arms of those Christmas sweaters and board game festivities back home that you previously took for granted. In that way, I guess Four Christmases does deliver a bit of that lil' old holiday spirit.

Friday, November 28, 2008

WHY DO PEOPLE HATE TOM CRUISE?

I think it's a legitimate question... one I've yet to hear a convincing answer to.

Out of everyone in Hollywood, why him? Is it anti-Scientology bigotry? Is it because he's short? Is it because he's successful? Is it because he defied early criticism and became a good actor?

Maybe it's a stew of all those things, but a couple of memorable incidents seem to come up the most:

***ONE: He went off on Matt Lauer (and Brooke Shields, indirectly) when he blasted the use of psychiatric drugs.

For some reason the general public takes no issue - as the shouldn't, btw - with the director of Anchorman or Nora Ephron writing political commentary for The Huffington Post, but if Tom Cruise expresses his opinion on prescription drugs then he's a wacko.


***TWO: He jumped on Oprah's couch because he was excited about his love for Katie Holmes.

Wow.... how totally contemptible.


So, for whatever reason, the next round of gossip blogger bile directed at Cruise is because he wants to produced a lustful film starring him and his wife Katie Holmes. From an unnamed studio executive:

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‘They’re looking at remaking Last Tango In Paris, but anything sexy with a good story appeals,’ a film studio executive tells Now.

Tom’s looking for something that’s cutting edge and sexy, but also accessible.

'He’s thinking along the lines of Basic Instinct – a movie that has a mainstream plot, but also some intense sex stuff.

'He hasn’t found the script yet, but both he and Katie are reading a few that could fit the bill.’
---

While remaking Last Tango does sound painful (remaking Bertolucci is like doing a radio edit of Mozart), why not redo Basic Instinct? It's not like the original was anything to begin with.

Some Guardian blogger guesses that perhaps Cruise wants to "prove his love" to Holmes by making this movie and/or wants to "enshrine their love-making as a major motion picture". Or, as I think, maybe Cruise just wants to make an erotically-themed movie with his wife. (GASP!) You know, she IS an actress after all.

I mean, really people. There are some Grade A imbeciles to go after in Hollywood, so how about backing away from Tom Cruise for awhile, yeah?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TWY AS YOU MAY AND TWY AS YOU MIGHT YOU JUST CAN'T SPOIL MY TWILIGHT NIGHT!

You'd think that if there was one franchise out there that is SPOILER-proof, it would be the Twilight series. Even if you haven't read the books, the story is in our collective unconscious and you know what happens even if you don't know that you know it yet.

So a *shrug* of the shoulders goes out to some NYers who tried to spoil Twilight by writing plot point from the series on some subway posters (CLICK TO ENLARGE):


Someone at NYMag wrote translation quote bubbles for some of the scribbles, but not all of them, so I decided to fill you in on what the rest of them say:

*"Bella votes for McCain"

*"Edward gets traded to the Milwaukee Brewers"

*"Bella buys a HD DVD player at a bargain price not knowing that Blu-ray won out and so Edward calls her stupid for it"

*"Edward finds a Taylor Swift cd in Bella's car and flips out"

*"On a goof, Bella gives Edward some Caro syrup w/ red food coloring and he almost dies"

*"Bella's father gets wasted and posts on his blog that 'vampires are gay!' "

Monday, November 24, 2008

TWILIGHT

I blame Catherine Hardwicke.

No, I've never read Twilight, but watching the movie adaptation of the much-loved romance between Edward & Bella, it's easy to see why this story has resonated with generations of (mostly) women. Heck, when Edward gives Bella that hundred yard stare across a high school parking lot, even I swooned a little. At the core of Twilight is an old-school fantasy romance: a white knight, a brave ranch hand, the disaffected rebel... all who are much more concerned with your protection than the chance of getting you into bed. And when Edward (the handsome Robert Pattinson) pushes himself off a half-naked Bella (the adorable Kristen Stewart) it's the ultimate display of love conquering lust. I love you so much I'd rather cuddle you than risk a kiss that could make me lose you forever.

Things go in cycles, which means the public grows tired of formulas and copycats. Save for perhaps The Notebook - which I've yet to see - modern sex and romance films for the teen-to-adult set have typically been of one note and/or fashioned towards a male audience. Popular rom-coms like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Forgetting Sarah Marshall progressed from the pure raunch of American Pie and Mallrats, to incorporate a sweetness that pulled in the female demographic. Instead of Jason Lee farting during fellatio and still scoring the girl at the end, the Apatow comedies showcased men who would save themselves for marriage and cry after a break-up.

On the non-comedic side of romance were "Adriane Lyne" knock-offs, adultery fantasy (The Bridges of Madison County), intellectualized goop (Before Sunrise/Sunset), and fetishized thriller porn (Sliver), most of which were written and directed by men and played to male sexual fantasies.

But Hardwicke and Meyer's Twilight is strictly female. I don't even know if Edward has a penis, but he sure isn't concerned about using it. He'd rather watch Bella sleep, watch Bella eat, or watch Bella peer into a microscope. Yep, he's that sensitive hottie who loves to gaze at you and ask you questions about yourself... what else could a girl ask for?

On those grounds, Hardwicke nails the cute courtship between Edward & Bella, but like the title of the Linkin Park song that closes the film, she leaves out all the rest.


Thing is, what Hardwicke nailed was simply an easy translation of Stephanie Meyer's main hook from book to movie screen. What the director failed to do is carve out her own cinematic vision of teen drama the way she did in her debut feature Thirteen. Despite what you think of that film, Hardwicke and cinematographer Elliot Davis went for an aesthetic that matched the character's wreckless and dangerous lifestyles. In comparison the imagery in Twilight is safe and conventional like a TV show. And you can't blame the material. Twilight, the story, is ripe for a visually spectacular interpretation, but Hardwicke cuddled up to caution instead of creativity.

It's understandable the pressure Hardwicke must have felt when going up against the imaginations of a million screaming girls hoping to see their vision of Edward & Bella up on the big screen. But Hardwicke let that pressure cripple her, and it shows. Twilight feels mechanical, efficient, but in that business-like sense, appearing to be the work of a hired hand instead of a filmmaker with artistic opportunity. The only time we feel a real connection with the world of Forks, Washington is when Edward tells Bella to Google something or when Bella asks her mother, "are you texting ?"

Hardwicke's most obvious flub is the misguided execution of a baseball scene with Bella and the rest of the Cullen family. When Bella asks Edward why they're playing baseball, he answers, "It's America's pastime", but Hardwicke wastes an opportunity to visually connect the heritage of America's oldest sport to the heritage of one if its oldest roaming families. Instead, she turns the sequence into a comedy of goofball errors, actually having two of the Cullen vampires collide in mid-air like something out of a blooper reel you'd see on This Week In Baseball.

I feel for the fans of Twilight. And they're right, the story is sweet and entrancing. It's just a shame it was given to a director who at least appears to feel so passionless about it herself. Ah well, Twihards will always have the movie in their heads to close their eyes and gaze upon... and nobody can mess that up.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

ON DVD : ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD

"It was this kind of image that made me want to film in Antarctica", director Werner Herzog says as we focus intently and fantastically on the first frame of his documentary Encounters at the End of the World. Under water, below six feet of frozen surface, the camera captures what looks like a stalactite of ice from a futuristic cave city. It was that type of free form, sci - fi influenced imagery that inspired Herzog to push his previous film, The Wild Blue Yonder, past the trappings of traditional documentary and into the realm of fictional narrative. (Both films use footage captured by scientific cinematographer Henry Kaiser from Herzog's trip to Antarctica.)

A charming personality trait of Werner Herzog has always been his unbounding curiosity. Indeed, the running theme of Encounters is a general inquiry of "why?". Why do good guys chase bad guys, why do ants enslave caterpillar larva, why don't monkeys ride goats?... and, why the South Pole? Over his career, Herzog's pushed creativity to the limits by filming in the unfriendliest of locations and working with the most uncooperative of actors (professional and non). It's as if Herzog can't be satisfied with the end product unless he had to test himself - or risk his life - to get there. He may not know "why" the researchers do what they do, but certainly he empathizes with their ambitions.

This philosophy's on display in a sequence where Herzog encounters a team of volcano divers. When they tell him an eruption can happen at any moment, the camera tilts down to capture an intimidating crater emitting clouds of smoke like puffs from the cigar of a fat assassin just waiting for that right time to pounce. It's frightening, and Herzog wants us to know that we know it.

Of course, there's always looming doubt when you take on a Werner Herzog "documentary". Previous fictional bents were obvious in films like Lessons of Darkness, but with Encounters at the End of the World the line is much less clear. Within the film, Herzog portrays the American Antarctic research town of McMurdo as a city of wild eccentrics. True, there's no questioning the unique makeup of a person who decides to make the South Pole home (temporarily or not), but one-by-one as Herzog's selection of interviewees grows, so does one's skepticism. This hits a peak when the crew wanders into an apparently vacant greenhouse and a young man appears like a spirit from the shadows. The man's experiences may be amazing and true, but heck if the whole moment didn't feel staged. (And are we really supposed to believe that woman fought alongside rebels in Uganda?!?).

But the most confounding element of Encounters may be Werner Herzog's narration. That voice of his is iconic, a steady road of concentration and precision that refuses to react to the visuals on screen. No matter the emotional ups and downs of what we're witnessing, Herzog remains level. Still, watching Encounters I couldn't help but detect a slight bitterness in his voice. What, for example, leads Herzog to reach the conclusion that "true human adventure" is dead and that we only witness perverted versions of it today in "absurd quests" that get chronicled in The Guinness Book of World Records. Herzog juxtaposes this opinion with the interview of a man training to become the first person to break a world record on every continent. The man wants to do this by pogoing across sections of Antarctica.

Herzog's treatment of the pogo man comes as a jolt. Here is a director that's always been fascinated with the bizarre and unordinary, yet he seems mildly irritated at the fruitless conquest of a man with a pogo stick. Are we to look back at the portrait of auction announcers in How much Wood would a Woodchuck chuck? with the thought that Herzog may have been smirking behind that camera? At sixty-six, has this beloved filmmaker become more aware of his mortality and thus less accepting of weirdo journeymen? It's unfair to saw, and, personally, I doubt it. One is bound to get a little cranky when trapped in the quiet, white, secluded madness of Antarctica. In fact, I'll bet once he set foot on some land that he could kick up again, Herzog admired the weightless and warmer ambitions of weirdos once again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

THE DEDICATION BY FREE ASSOCIATION ALPHABET MEME

Posting this now, I feel like that marathon runner crossing the finish line at 6:23:08, seeing more squashed paper around my feet than fellow travelers. Oh well, I'll bring up the rear this time...


Started by : Fletch at Blog Cabins.

What? : Name your favorite movie for each letter of the alphabet.

TWIST! : Every movie listed is a movie that pops in my head when I think of the blogger whose name shall follow.



A= Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Megan )



B= Becket (Jonathan Lapper)



C= Clowns (Pat Piper)



D= Devil Probably,The (Arbogast )



E= Explorers (Evan & Luke)



F= Freaked (Bob Turnbull)


G= Getaway, The (Daniel)


H= House Bunny, The (Scott)


I= I Confess (Nick Plowman)



J= Jules et Jim (Bill R. et Rick Olson)



K= Kindergarten Cop (Fletch)


L= Last Emperor, The (Jason Bellamy)


M= Murder By Numbers (Aunt John & Uncle Lancifer)



N= Nenette et Boni (Ed Howard)


O= One Hour With You (Kat)


P= Pola X (Nathaniel R)

Q= Q : The Winged Serpent (Bryan)


R= Ronde, La (Debbie)


S= Schramm (Soiled Sinemas)


T= Twilight (Mandy)


U= Undisputed (RC)


V= Viva Maria! (Pat)

W= Wiser Sex, The (Marilyn)


X = X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (Joseph Campanella)


Y= You Only Live Once (Ryan)


Z= Zelig (J.D. @ Valley Dreaming)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

OH MY GOD, HOLY CRAP, AND SAM ROCKWELL ALONE IN SPACE

OH MY GOD...



HOLY CRAP...




SAM ROCKWELL ALONE IN SPACE




Monday, November 17, 2008

FINALLY...

***UPDATED***

***ANOTHER UPDATE!***


In February:


And not to be outdone (also in February).... BOO-YA!


---
UPDATE


Bonus Finally (this Sunday!):



Oh, and if you're between the ages of 28 - 38 and you say that you're NOT gonna go out and buy that - EXCLUSIVELY at Best Buy!! -... then you're a liar!

---

UPDATE 2

Oh... what the heck! Let's all watch it! (per a comment in the comment section):



I gotta say, man... that song holds up pretty well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN : DID ELI MANIPULATE OSKAR?

oh those puppy dog eyes.

International art house sensation Let The Right One In is probably playing in most major U.S. cities at the moment. And while the question I've posed in the title may alienate viewers who have yet to see the film, I can wait no longer in seeing if anyone else feels the same way I do.

I first saw Let The Right One In smack dab in the middle of a festival, so my experience was filtered through the condition of cabin fever mush brain. Because of that, I wanted to put fresh eyes on it when it came around on its regular run. Not much changed, really. I still think the film is average-to-good, but not great, nor the genre masterpiece some have claimed it to be. (I just gotta get this out of my system again... the cats?!? WTF is up with the cats!?!). However, I do credit Tomas Alfredson for the job he did in maintaining a unique combination of mood, pacing, and entertainment over Let The Right One In's one hundred fourteen minutes.

But something appeared clear to me the second time around, and that was the nasty manipulation of 12-year-old Oskar by his 12-year-old ("more or less") girlfriend/BFF Eli. Eli's been stunted at the age of twelve for centuries and "lives on blood", yet we're led to believe that she suffers ethical dilemmas over the methods used to obtain said blood. Because she prefers not to kill, Eli travels with a fortysomething man who kills for her, draining the blood of victims into containers for Eli to drink.

This relationship between Eli and the older man isn't like father and daughter, it's more like husband and wife... unhappily domesticated husband and wife. They crowd each other, disappoint each other, sleepwalk through a day's duties (when getting ready to go out and kill, the man prepares his "blood draining kit" likes it's a lunchbox for a day at work). So then the question lingers: was this man the equivalent of Oskar some thirty odd years ago? Has Eli been seducing young boys and using them as caretakers into their adult lives?

Before heading out one night, the man says to Eli, "Do me one favor... don't go see that boy (Oskar) tonight". The statement rings of jealousy. And before sacrificing himself to protect Eli, the last word his whispers is her name.

On the other end, Oskar lives between divorced parents who are good people but inattentive caregivers. He's constantly picked on at school and has no friends. Thus, the vulnerable Oskar makes an excellent candidate for Eli's new boy-toy/man slave. This may sound like a cynical reading of a film which works hard at portraying a sweet & innocent relationship between two tweens, but let's look at the facts:

1. Eli seduces Oskar with loyalty & friendship.

2. Eli seduces Oskar with money.

3. Eli seduces Oskar with sexual advances.

4. Eli saves Oskar's life.

5. The movie is called "Let The Right One In" (i.e. choose wisely the one who shall live life with you).

After taking in a screening of Let The Right One In herself, fellow blogger buddy Marilyn wrote that she didn't like the last shot of the film; that it left things too open-ended. I had thought the last shot was really sweet, but after seeing it a second time I think Marilyn is right. It is too open-ended. But where we probably disagree, is that I think Alfredson intended to leave it that way. For he couldn't bear to show the audience where Oskar was headed... towards a life of briefcasing around a butchers knife, funnel, and plastic bottle, doing the dirty work of a 12-year-old diva.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

HOLLYWOOD & GAY MARRIAGE

***UPDATE***

As a friend/commenter posted in the comment section of my "Mickey Rourke and Lindsay Lohan" post, there are a lot of homosexuals working in Hollywood. Powerful ones too (see David Geffen). So it was inevitable that a powerful post-Prop 8 wind was going to blow through Tinseltown.

Recently, a couple of Hollywood industry people were "outed", you could say, for being supporters of Prop 8. The CEO of Cinemark was a "yes on Prop 8" supporter, and so was the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival. (UPDATE: The California Musical Theater's artistic director just resigned due to boycott pressure following his Prop 8 donations).

Before getting to some thoughts of my own, below is MCN blogger Dave Poland's post on the Rich Raddon (the festival director of LAFF) situation:

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Prop 8 Battle Hits Hollywood's Indie Community At Home

The buzz story of the day is not going to go anywhere pretty...

The Festival Director of FIND's LA Film Festival, Rich Raddon, came up on a “Yes On 8” donation list this morning. $1500.

Rich is a well-liked guy. He is not secretive about being a Mormon. And he could end up losing his job over this.

FIND's position is that no one can be fired from a job over their religious beliefs. So Rich is still employed.

And I must say, positions amongst FIND insiders are widely varied. The phrase "witch hunt" has been used... as has "I can't see ever sitting down at a meeting table with him again."

And so… the question is now one that a lot of people in the Los Angeles indie community must answer directly… how do we all – gay, straight, and otherwise – feel about seriously damaging careers of people just because we disagree with them politically? How far into people's beliefs will we go before we decide that we must respect the rights of everyone, not just those we agree with? And if you are a hard-liner on Prop 8, how can you forgive?

These are the times that try people's souls... and as cynical and gamey as Hollywood is, these questions are being pondered with passion and sincerity all over town.
---


Since that post, Raddon has resigned. However, FIND then denied his resignation. At this moment nothing else is known about Raddon's future. Here is his profile over at their website.

Now, first of all, I should disclose that I am for gay marriage. I am also for the freedom of personal, religious, and political beliefs. You may dislike Raddon for his beliefs, but to want him fired because of them is disgusting. Protest? sure. Boycott? go for it. Firing someone over a political disagreement? that's illegal.

In the comment section to Poland's post (click on the link up top to see the comments) there were quite a few people who supported the idea of Raddon being forced out because he was a "Yes on Prop 8" supporter.

Here's the first comment from that post:

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"If they found out the guy was a member of the KKK would that be grounds not to want to sit at a table, let alone work with him? Prejudice might be a right, but discrimination certainly isn't. And that's where the respect ends and action (including boycotts and "witch hunts") begin."
---

A few thoughts on that comment:

1. I think some advocates of gay marriage do the cause a disservice when comparing it to our nation's long history of discrimination against blacks. Gay people have not suffered under anything resembling a Jim Crow type of oppression, and to suggest otherwise could very well create greater push back against the cause.

2. It bothers me how easily this commenter supports "witch hunts" simply because somebody disagrees with him. Does he not see that as being exactly what he is railing against?

3. Lastly, and though the commenter does not mention this, advocates of gay marriage should not frame their arguments along conservative/liberal or Republican/Democrat lines. 60.9 % of Californians voted for Obama, while 37.3% voted for John McCain. 52% of Californians voted for Prop 8. That means that a significant number of Democrats voted for Prop 8.

I'm not a legal scholar, but since California's supreme court previously ruled that denying marriage licenses to gays was unconstitutional, I imagine that will happen again in the future. I realize that "in the future" isn't very comforting for people who love each other and want to be married now, but I firmly believe it's only a matter of time before gay marriage is widely accepted. It's a generational thing (voting statistics support that).

This is also probably of little comfort, but "yes" voters (ie anti-gay marriage voters) dropped 9% from 2000 to 2008, leaving only a 4% margin between pro- and anti- voters. This is good news, and it's great to see a rising up of peaceful activism among gay marriage supporters. However, these supporters - which I think are in the majority - should push back on the "witch hunt" faction of the movement whose violent and radical tendencies will do nothing towards getting that 4% margin into the negative.

to be continued...

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**UPDATE

So I guess there is a blacklist afterall. It's not exclusive to Hollywood, but it does exist.

Of course, whoever set this up is entitled to do so, but it is a "witch hunt". Voting yes on Prop-8 doesn't necessarily make you "anti-gay" nor mean that you "hate" gay people. Again, I think that type of quick branding could ultimately be counterproductive for the pro-gay marriage movement.