Saturday, August 29, 2009

THE FINAL DESTINATION 3D & THE LINGERING OF THOSE 3D DEMONS

Yes, it appears that I am still unconvinced that 3D will be the future of cinema. Perhaps "the 3D experience" will dominate the future of movie going - as in what generates box office traffic (and adds $3-$4 to each ticket price) - but as far as enhancing the art of cinematography... well, let's just say I'm super skeptical. But, admittedly, my skepticism comes from the view of a fan, not an artisan or technician, so, trust me, I am not coming at this with a pitchfork mentality nor picket sign in hand. I fully acknowledge that there are artists and pioneers working in the 3D arena who have one hundred more times the foresight and knowledge about this art form than I do.

That being said, my nervousness hit a bit of a higher peak this Friday when I saw the Avatar trailer in front of the film that provides half of the title for this post. And no, unlike what other movie fans have been expressing, it wasn't the content of the Avatar trailer that bothered me, it was the way that it looked... with those damned 3D glasses on! My eyes couldn't take in the whole image within the frame because they were naturally focused on the pronounced image that was lifted off the screen. That isn't cinematography, that's just theatrics. I've come to accept the of gimmick of 3D as it relates to animated kids films, horror flicks, and B-movies, but Avatar - to my knowledge - is the first sort of epic, "serious", not totally animated, feature film that is pushing the 3D aesthetic. What I'm saying, is that I don't really wanna see Scorcese's Sinatra or Spielberg's Lincoln in 3D in the years to come.

But until then... I will admit that the entertainment value of watching the latest Final Destination installment was indeed enhanced... by those damned 3D glasses! (And no, not just because there was some full-frontal 3D bouncing boobies. Not just because...)

The Final Destination franchise is a unique one in that its "sequels" are totally free of the tentacles and roots of the previous films. For the most part, each Final Destination movie is a stand alone clean slate production that - after resetting, for any newbies, the hook of the film - simply tries to one-up the inventive kills of the chapter that preceded it. Further, if you consider that FDs 1 & 3 were directed James Wong while FDs 2 & 4 were directed by David Ellis, then you pretty much have a head-to-head killfest competition taking place - every year or so - right in front of your eyes. One doesn't go into a Final Destination film for story (they're all the same... ending and all).

However, I feel the need to applaud the Final Destination series for containing a fear element that - to my knowledge - has otherwise gone untapped in the horror genre, and that is the fear of the freak accident. Maybe y'all don't worry and obsess like I do, but I often ponder the horrific chain of events that could happen if I don't pick up that piece of paper that I dropped on the way to my car. If I decide to not get out of my car and retrieve that sheet, a passerby might slip on it, knock over a can of gasoline sitting in the edge of the curb, which will then pour on over to the guys using a blowtorch next door, and ... KABLAMMO!!! I know, what are the odds? Yeah, well that's the kind of stuff that plagues my mind, not some tired, old bogeyman. So, think about what you might have just done the next time you spill a bit of beverage on the floor of your coffee shop as you leave.

The easiest way to review The Final Destination 3D (aka FD4) would be to simply list each death and rate it on a scale of cleverness. However, that may suck the fun out for the few of you who may actually go and see it. I will say that The Final Destination 3D held me less than the previous two, mainly because David Ellis blows his wad in the film's opening sequence and never fully returns to form. Frontloading your fright film with its most elaborate and slamming sequence is ok as long as you don't go limp for the remaining 70 minutes (btw... FD3D is only 82 minutes! That is pretty much the ideal goofball/slasher horror movie length. Cheers to Ellis for that.), and, sadly, that's almost what David Ellis does. In fact, at least one (and maybe two) of the kills is a retread from the first Final Destination. It's my feeling that David Ellis and screenwriter Eric Bress relied on the gimmick of 3D at the disservice of writing more inventive sequences.

Ahh... but as a local theater hear in town annually hosts a 100 Best Movie Kills compilation night, and as Spike TV's 1000 Ways to Die appears to be a success, and as children (of all ages) continue to play the game of "would you rather die by drowning or burning?", the macabre fascination over how, when, and where our personal demise will greet us seems like something that shall always remain. So, expect Final Destination 5 sometime in, or around, 2012. You can bet your life on it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BREAKING! : HOLLYWOOD ACTOR SHOWS HUMILITY, SEEMS TO CARE ABOUT AUDIENCE!; ALSO: SOMEBODY'S DREADS ARE FALLING OUT!


I admit to not knowing anything about Sam Worthington prior to Terminator : Salvation, and while I've had no reason to dislike the guy up to this point, I think he's instantly launched himself into the realm of actors I'd like to give a big hug to (without creeping them out).

Worthington recently said the below in response to beefs that fans/viewers expressed about T4:

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"I can nitpick with the best of them and go down the list of things I saw on IMDB where they found holes in it, and go, 'You are f*cking right,'" he said. "If there was a big 10-ton robot coming outside that gas station, surely we would f*cking hear it. And I missed that. So I'm going to be a bit better when I'm looking through my f*cking scripts. So it raises my game a bit, because now I feel like an idiot for not saying it to McG."

He added that he takes criticism very seriously and uses it to become a better actor. "I read what people say, because they're my audience," Worthington continued. "And if you don't know how you're coming across, in my opinion, I think you're cutting yourself off a bit."

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In other news, (probably) America's worst film director - it's a horse race between him, Kevin Smith, and Todd Phillips - has a new movie coming out this weekend... but he's totally stressing out!

The lead singer of White Zombie says:

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"I cannot relax and settle down. My brain is always racing with ideas. I can't calm down. I'm like that all that time."
(LA Times)
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I'm guessing that the sound of all those "ideas" racing around in Zombie's head is of one note.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

After watching Inglourious Basterds - with perhaps the most eclectic "packed house" I've ever been in (an odd mix of elderly women, "dudes", and professor types) - I was happy to have learned that the dim splatter trailer for Quentin Tarantino's sixth (or seventh) film was just a taunt. That "scalp-y" teaser that trickled out this past February hinted at an artfully shot body count concoction, a film that was more in line with the sadism of Nu French Horror than the tamer Robert Aldrich fare that Tarantino often referenced as a touchstone for Inglourious Basterds. Plus, after seeing a CNN news spot on the Inglourious premier replete with a tacked-on tracking shot of a scuzzed-up Melanie Laurent running through the French countryside, I shuddered at the creeping realization that Tarantino's latest would indeed be pulling from films like Martyrs and Fronteir(s) the way fifty years of Japanese cinema was borrowed from for Kill Bill. Ahhhhh... so how glad was I to realize that Inglourios Basterds was not what I had suspected.

But, as Harvey Kietel so directly puts it in Pulp Fiction, don't think that I'm about to start sucking Inglorious Basterds' dick just yet. In fact, I won't be reaching that pinnacle point of passion at all. While Inglorious undoubtedly contains sequences and moments that whole-heartily win my admiration, the totality of it is a nasty mess, the end-product of talented visualist and witty gag-ster who may now be officially sliding towards the valley of his career (stitch the second half of Death Proof onto Inglorious Basterds and you have the weakest 200 minutes of Tarantino's portfolio). If the films within the span of Resevoir Dogs - Death Proof were criticized or disliked for specific reasons, one could never accuse those previous works of Tarantino of being dull, sloppy, or ill-conceived. Yet, that's the gulping, swallowing truth here about Inglorious Basterds, a movie that plays out in five Chapters because, well, how else would QT have convinced us to sit through this disaster (see (500) Days of Summer for another recent film that used similar tactics of distraction).

"Chapter 5 : THE REVENGE OF THE GIANT FACE" is Inglourious Basterd's most intriguing and well-executed chunk, followed closely by the opening "Once Upon A Time..." salvo which ends with Christoph Waltz's segment-ending shout of "Au Revoir Sho-SHA-NA!", a line delivered with such instant-icon gusto that we are sure to hear it repeated often in the future as another of Tarantino's most quotable moments. But despite its victories, Inglourious' "GIANT FACE" portion still feels like that one epic song at the end of an otherwise uneven and disappointing album that you'd been anticipating. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to me if Tarantino dreampt up this sequence first and built the rest of IB around it. The elegantly executed double-murder-in-the-projection-booth moment mixed in with the sheer lunacy of a projected poltergeist-like image of a woman shouting down a theater full of Nazis as they burn in flames ignited by the spark of old film stock is so supremely absurd enough to actually work.

As for the "BASTERDS" segment (Chapter 2)? Yawn. After Brad Pitt showed comedic range (again) last year with his performance in Burn After Reading, I at least expected an entertaining effort from him here. Instead, Pitt appeared to be three times over-playing a role that needed to be over-played, but not by that great of a length. Pitt's lower-jaw becomes his comedic crutch to lean on simply because nothing else seems to be churning behind those eyes of his. Much in the way Pitt's fidgeting and mannerisms in 12 Monkeys drove me, er..., bananas, his jutted-out jaw here in Inglourious really wore me out. Did Pitt just mail it in? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I do think he sold us (and himself) way short.

But as performances go, Inglorious Basterds is truly owned by its little known foreign actors and actresses, specifically Melanie Laurent in the role of Shoshanna Dreyfus. Much of Laurent's screen time consists of quiet nods, glances, and emotional pull-backs in the form of subtle arm movements or protected posture, all of which is a welcome contrast to Tarantino's manic-ness. Also excellent is Daniel Bruhl in the role of Nazi folk-hero/film star Fredrick Zoller. Bruhl's intensely upturned smile and gentle eyes afford him the tools to pull off the bizarre character of the "aw shucks"-Nazi. Together, Laurent and Bruhl are what's worth taking from Inglourious Basterds.

Some of Tarantino's slip-in references are cute, especially his wink to Henri George-Clouzot's Le Corbeau, a confrontational and controversial film - of its time - if there ever was one. Sure, slapping the film's title onto the marquee of Shoshanna's theater plays out accurately in that a French theater would indeed be screening Le Corbeau in 1944, but within Inglourious it also serves as an extension of Shoshanna's character, a metaphorical middle finger raised to French collaborators, the apathetic, and occupying Nazis alike. But, on the flipside, Tarantino's invoking of Howard Hawks' humane Sergeant York in the same breath of a Joseph Goebble's propaganda film shows disrespect for Gary Cooper's performance in that film.

Finally, there is one lasting curiosity that has been lingering with me tonight: If people are fine with Tarantino playing wacky with a horrific historical event (ie "the hunting of Jews"), then I hope they will now lay off Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, a film that is often trounced upon for playing sentimental with the same subject matter. For the record, neither film's historical reimaginings or liberty-takings bother me, I just find it curious that some people are much more offended by a sentimental paint job than one of hard-violence and goofball humor.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

ON THE WATER

I'll be back with a legitimate post sometime tomorrow, but, for tonight, here is a new video I'm liking for one of my favorite songs of last year:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NICOLAS CAJUN

******UPDATED on 8/19******

I don't care what any of you Nic Cage haters say, I think it's totally logical to be primally pumped for the upcoming Herzog/Cage Abel Ferrara-angerin', risk-ily titled havin' Bad Lieutenant : Port of Call New Orleans.

I mean, check THESE out!:



If you squint hard enough at the above still, you can even trick yourself into thinking that it's Asia Argento instead of Fairuza Balk. That's what I do, at least.






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UPDATE

In a timely manner for this post, Abel Ferrara recently weighed in (again) on this film vs. his original:

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Speaking of YouTube: at one point, Ferrara announced, “We got a special attraction.” He motioned to the projectionist, and soon we were watching the trailer for Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the project that famously provoked Ferrara to comment that he hoped Herzog and his production team “die in Hell.” Ferrara’s post-trailer comments were still bitter, but more restrained.

Unfortunately, anyone involved in our film wasn’t invited for that film, but I was told I should be really happy that such great people are ripping off our ideas.” A voice in the crowd called out, “You didn’t see a dime off that?” Ferrara: “Well … I might have saw A DIME.” Another voice asked if Ferrara planned to see the remake when it comes out. He shook his head vigorously and gestured to the screen where the trailer had played. “That’s enough of that.”
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Abel Ferrara is one of my personal favorites, but I'm a fan of Herzog's as well, so I'm not gonna get into any who-said-he-when-where-to-whom-and-why bickering, I just find it kind of humorous. Plus, Ferrara and Herzog are two of the most quotable guys around. I would love to see them get into a war of words, even if it's all for show.

Monday, August 17, 2009

THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS (1971) - TOERIFIC EPISODE # 8

Had I not known otherwise (or already read the DVD box), my post-viewing stab at the English translation of the title to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Handler der vier Jahreszeiten would have been "The Ugly Duckling"... sans that fable's happy ending. Although Fassbinder went with something much more subtle in the way of The Merchant of Four Seasons, I think Das Hassliche Entlein could have served as a fine backup.

Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller) is the pour misshapen fowl in this tale of a lower-middle class German street vendor who vies to instill pride in the eyes of his bourgeois family (Hans' middle class dreams clash with the ideals of his family line) and be a properly providing husband and father back home. But the slow reveal is that Hans' heart (literally and figuratively) can't bear the overtime that such a task demands.

Part of Hans' frustration - as an already greying adult - relates to his pent-up issue of being unable to let go of the need to garner his mother's approval. In her being the primary source of Hans' feelings of inadequacy and failure, Fassbinder introduces us to Mother Epp before any other character enters a single frame, and then lets her deliver perhaps the film's most damaging epithet: "Once a no-good, always a no-good". That brutal blast is delivered after Hans arrives at his mother house, full of pride after having finished a stint in the foreign legion (because Hans played the role of outsider in his childhood home, he now constantly seeks acceptance from anonymous groups: the military, the police force, a table of drunks).

Including two shorts, The Merchant of Four Seasons was the fifteenth film of Fassbinder's brief, but unbelievably prolific, career. Although I've only seen roughly half of the fourteen films that preceded it, The Merchant of Four Seasons feels like something of a flagpost in Fassbinder's oeuvre, setting aside some of the earlier theatre-based, experimental, and dark humor techniques and elements for a more settled-in, sympathetic character drama that quickly became a popular trademark of Fassbinder's as his career evolved. That's not to say that the aforementioned elements were absent from the twenty-nine (or so) films that followed. Not at all. In fact, there is a line of dry humor that runs alongside the dry melodramatic tone which permeates The Merchant of Four Seasons. Check out the moment when Hans' brother-in-law Kurt (Kurt Raab) pets the head of Hans' wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann) while she seeks consoling and protection from her violent husband.

The melodrama in Merchant comes out predominantly in two forms: the marriage between Irmgard & Hans, and Fassbinder's Christ allusions towards Hans. In both cases, the melodrama is delivered in scenes or sequences of ultra-dry passion, made all the dryer because Merchant contains no score whatsoever. The only music in the film comes via a recording of strummed guitar that Hans repeatedly plays on his miniature turntable.

Concerning the marriage of Irmgard & Hans, Irmgard stands as the pair's emotional rock. Though she strays from Hans sexually (as Hans does from her), it is clear that Irmgard's chief concern is in keeping her family intact and above the lines of poverty. Although Irmgard can exhibit moments of vulnerability - as when she struggles with her attractiveness after a customer hits on Hans - Fassbinder makes sure to portray her as the singular force who fights for Hans, even if her devotion is sometimes compromised by a bit of regret or sadness. One night, on a walk back home from the bar after being berated and assaulted by Hans, Irmgard is framed in front of a storefront window that's displaying a mannequin in a wedding dress. Such still life symbolism might incite eye-rolling were it crafted by lesser hands, but Fassbinder's playfully loaded image reinvents the sentiments of the 1950s films he fell in love with, where social issues and homespun emotions were dealt with in colorful and operatic fashions.

But in the case of Hans as Christ allusion (I've noticed that this seems to come up in quite a few TOERIFC films/discussions) I think Fassbinder overdoes it a bit. Visually, the symbolism is put forth in a clever and humorous manner - after Hans suffers his first heart attack in front of his family, Fassbinder shoots Hans on the floor, arms out in a t-shape like Christ on the cross while Mother Epp and Hans' sister Heide kneel beside him like "the two Mary's" - but ultimately this kind of imagery drowns itself in overabundance. I count at least three times when Hans is captured in frame with a cross and/or painting of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus that both hang in his room. And although I do believe that Fassbinder's parallels between Hans and Christ serve a purpose - Hans finally decides to sacrifice himself for his family (seeing his friend Harry as a better father and husband for Renate and Irmgard) in the way Jesus does for his followers - they are laid on a bit thick, and, for me, weren't convincing enough in their audacity.

Stylistically, I see The Merchant of Four Seasons as a film of Fassbinder's where his worthy ideas and emotions exceeded the visual representation of them. Fassbinder's oft-used - and in my mind, the superior cinematographer to the other oft-used Dietrich Lohmann, who shot Merchant - DP Michael Ballhaus wasn't on board here, and I think it shows. Compare the way Lohmann shoots interiors in Merchant to the way Ballhaus does, just one year later, in Fassbinder's masterpiece The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant. True, the stories aren't the same, and The Bitter Tears... carries a much more lavish tone, but in revisiting Merchant two or three times in the last week, I couldn't escape a feeling of flatness covering the otherwise provocative set-pieces.

Still, The Merchant of Four Seasons is a film that will forever be dear to me for the way it introduced Fassbinder's heart, his way of always expressing - as critic Geoff Andrew so perfectly describes it - "unsentimental sympathies" to characters of all stripes and walks of life. His was a type of filmmaking that put people above issues, and that's why I love him so much.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

STREAM-OF-CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION - Pent-Up Anger Edition : DISTRICT 9


[NOTE: This is where the blogger gives himself a strict 10 minutes to rattle off whatever about a movie he just saw that he doesn't feel deserves a thoughtful edited review but still feels the need to feed the animals anyway. Quality is of no concern.]

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Tonight, as I was relaxing at a local record store, going through records and then buying them, I was calm, collected, and chill. But when I heard two clerks slobbering over the highly overrated and well let's just go ahead and say shitty new film District 9, I knew I had to come home and let some steam off. Tomorrow is a day when will be talking about a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film here at TRACTOR FACTS (btw... please show up and give me hits even if you don't leave comments) and because of that some of his quotes are feresh on my mind. One of them is something to the effect of "People praised and gave me awards for Katzlemacher not because they thought it was a good film but because they thought it was making a statement about immigrants. That wasn't my intention". And though the intentions of South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp are at least part definitely ppolitical, I think Fassbinder's comment about why people are praising this film so much (Best Picture??? WTF?!?!?) applies here. There is a lot of chatter of how this film is socially conscious. Utter crap. Yes, it WANTS to be, but give me a break, and then give me another one because I'm tired of hearing it. What, just because tehre are aliens in a camp in Johannesberg this film is automatically referencing apartheid in South Africa? Or, because of that same set up, people believe Blomkamp is making a commentary on immigration or oppression in general? And what do you have in teh film to back that up please?? What Blomkamp gives us is a treacle. At first we're told that the aliens are savages that derail trains for fun, kill humans without care, and have no concept of personal property so they raid and ravage nearby neighborhoods and villages. But THEN Blomkamp gives us a silly story and an alien named Christopher and his little cute son. It's as if the most sentimental garbage was just plopped on screen to convince people of this silly oppression is wrong storyline. Oppression is wrong, but you won't find a smart hammering out of that here. This is garbage. It's a video game for people who play video games but want to see a movie like the ones they play. Exploding head and blood splatters pop and splash just like some XBox game and the humor in this hits like the worst of Peter Jacksons early years. Go rent District B-13 instead. Seriously. The message that Blomkamp WANTS to achieve with his movie is fleshed out humanely and wisely and smartly in District B-13. It's a real move. District 9 is not. District 9 sucks and you all know it. Peace.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER

Perhaps it's unfair to evaluate a film that revolves around and shuffles through the travails and pains of young-adult love just days after the passing of the one and only John Hughes, but that still doesn't shake my confidence in declaring (500) Days of Summer a movie utterly devoid of joy - bittersweet, or otherwise. Irregardless of the emotional aftershocks left lingering from that pop-cultural fissure last week, (500) Days of Summer unravels in rewinds and fast forwards like a heart-felt mix tape sequenced all wrong and out of order. High Fidelity this ain't. Indeed, there appears to be nothing but good intentions among the elements that make up this Zooey Deschanel-as-French-chanteuse vehicle, but are the maker's emotions mixed?

First time feature director Mark Webb kicks off his film with one of those "any similarities to living persons are purely coincidental" disclaimers, only then to turn around and name names in the form of an ex-girlfriend (with an added "fuck you" as punctuation). Sure, it's a joke, but one that instantly reveals the film's structural cracks and cross-wired sentiments as it hits the floor with a gigantic thud. If (500) Days of Summer ultimately wants to be about emotional resolve, release, and rebirth - as it clearly does - then why the negative mojo before we've even seen one single image? Pure nonsense. Personally, I chalk this up to the inexperience of a director who previously had only worked in the short-film form of music video, an arena where visions and archs are connected across much shorter distances.

In fact, that sensibility leaves its fingerprints all over (500) Days of Summer. Ideas are choppy, short-lived, brief, erratic. You'll get no disagreement from me that non-linear filmmaking can be compelling, but what Webb's up to here is a shell game, one that simply enacts the storytelling device of past-present-past time shifting in order to divert attention away from the filmmaking flaws. To lay out the happenings of (500) Days of Summer in sequential fashion would be to plainly reveal the film's vacuousness. Sequences such as the love-locked Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sliding into a street musical performance after his first lay with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and an ill-used narrator taking us through a slide show of "the effects of Summer" feel like shampoo commercial fodder, not cinema.

I think it's safe to say that each one of us has loved somebody that never loved us back. Because of that universally shared experience, the dilemmas that Tom and Summer face as friends and lovers is automatically relatable, but what Webb fails to capture through his lens and - more significantly - through the direction of his actors, is any tangible sign of lovesick infatuation. I can hum The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" to myself right now with those immortal lyrics "and in the darkened underpass/I thought 'oh god, my chance has come at last'/but then a strange fear hit me/and I just couldn't ask" crying off my tongue and be instantly transported to a place of boy/girl swirl, yet Webb chose to waste that epic tune on a silly meet-cute elevator scene. Funny that a guy who's worked on so many music videos has yet to grasp the powerful relationship between song and image.

It also doesn't help that Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have absolutely zero chemistry on screen. As the couple flits around an IKEA together during an early-in-the-relationship day date, Summer whispers to Tom, "this is fun". Really??? It didn't appear to be. You'd think that the # 1 female object of indie-pop desire would have, by now, figured out a constructive way of responding to a boys devoted emotions besides staring straight-forward with blank blue eyes. It's as if Deschanel has experienced a bit of that "Summer effect" herself, cutting career corners with fluttery charm, winking her way to superstardom.

Deschanel was once able to channel her porcelain features and droll persona into strong supporting comedic roles (see The Good Girl and Elf), but as a leading lady, she's simply out of her range. Yes, you're a cute one Zooey, but not near as radiant as an Anna Karina or Brigette Bardot, so you must learn how to act! And before his next feature-length undertaking, Marc Webb must learn how to direct. With such a universal topic, it must have been easy for him to cut corners as well, but if next time around I catch my man molesting the soul out of "I Know It's Over", we're gonna have some serious problems.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"G"-MOVIES AND THEIR BOOM BOOM BOOMS

Two recent special-ops films - one about gerbils, one about Joes - use The Black-Eyed Peas' #1 mega-market smash hit, "Boom Boom Pow", in them. I'm not here to critique the song, just the usage of it in each film. In Disney's G-Force, the song makes sense. "Boom Boom Pow"'s now notorious back-rhythms drive along such silly animated action as two gerbils riding inside of an abandoned tire as it conspicuously rolls past a pack of curious dogs. In G.I. Joe : The Rise of Cobra, the song plays over the heavy steel-plated credits. Eww, gross. This doesn't even make sense. I mean, I get that there was a contract signed somewhere by somebody to somehow place this song within the film, but why not have it blasting out of Marlon Wayans' boombox while he's working out, or something? I would have much rather heard the phony Green Day playing a candy-ass cover of the old G.I. Joe theme song for chrissakes.

And yes, undoubtedly, G-Force is the smarter, wittier, flashier, brainier, and - most crucially - shorter of the two films. G-Force wins on all accounts. Director, and visual effects veteran, Hoyt Yeatman even makes it more believable that four little rodents could save the universe over the put-on that Sienna Miller could actually kick someone's ass, that Joseph Gordon Levitt is menacing, and that Rachel Nichols can act (her turn as "Scarlett" is the worst performance of the year, thus far. Imagine a hooker doing her best to pretend that she really has feelings for you, and then think of a charade 4 times less convincing... and then you're pretty close.). As a thirtysomething, I'll still take fart jokes and poop jokes from the mouths and butts of talking animals that a hologram of Dennis Quaid telling us slowly and bluntly that "know-ing ... is ... half ... the ... bat-tle". Sure, we may be dunces for seeing your film, Dennis, but we ain't retarded, ok?

"Knowing is half the battle". That's true, but so is pre-production. And who invited Brendan Fraser to this mess anyways? Seems like a nice guy, but why? Is it because he was in The Mummy? It better have been a director's favor because, he sure isn't cool enough for a cameo. And how about Snake Eyes (indisputably the coolest G.I. Joe ever) having chiseled out lips on his suit of armor? The lips don't move, and Snake Eyes doesn't talk, so why bother even having anything there beyond a smooth surface? It just looks creepy. It actually sexualizes Snake Eyes. I mean, if they gave him lips with fangs, or a slithering little tongue, or even a Billy Idol sneer, I would have been mildly ok with it. But no. Instead, Snake Eyes' perfect mouth just made me wanna kiss him. He looked like the sexiest gimp ever.


I was also almost destroyed by the way the origins of Destro were revealed. I know I sound like one of those shoe stomping fanboys who just can't get over the way they fantasize their false idols in the movies in their heads, but Destro was the coolest bad dude as a cartoon and action figure. In G.I. Joe : The Rise of Cobra, however, he's just kind of soggy and clammy. In fact, the Cobras in general look awful. Where's the BLUE??? I'm guessing the studio and producers saw the old-school Cobra Commander helmet as a little too "Nazi", while the Cobra Commander "hooded" look gave off too much of a Klansman/executioner vibe for our sensitive times. However, what they ended up with is just plain bizarre, a glowing metal concoction looking something like Rocky Dennis mixed with one of those vagina tools that David Cronenberg designed for Dead Ringers.

I will at least give Stephen Sommers the courtesy of putting a half asterisk next to my overwhelmingly negative feelings about his G.I. Joe : The Rise of Cobra, because I was admittedly coming off a two-hour workout and suffering a wicked left-eye sinus headache as I eased down into the theater seat. (Because of that half-asterisk, I will watch GIJ:TROC again when it comes out on video, but I refuse to see it again at theater... anytime soon). I even fell asleep in the film's final battle sequence, which seemed to last as long as four months worth of Catholic homilies slowly rolling off the good Father's tongue while Warren Moon was lining up on the Cleveland Brown's 1-yard line back home on TV. So, if you're Joe-nsing for some Real American Hero popcorn fun, go see G-Force instead. No, G-Force isn't a great film, but you won't feel cheated afterwards, and not feeling cheated is half the summer blockbuster experience.

Friday, August 07, 2009

AN UNDERAPPRECIATED MAN

Because the name John Hughes is oftentimes chased by the phrase "80s teen movie", too many film historians have never given him the respect he is due. It's my belief that when those wheels of critical reexamination come rolling back around, John Hughes will finally get his honors.

I could write all night about the films of Hughes - especially the period of 1984-1987 - and how much they meant to me while I suffered acne and a crush on an unattainable cheerleader at the same time, but I'd rather just play a clip from Some Kind of Wonderful that showcases one of my all-time favorite characters of his: Watts.

I probably saw this scene for the first time when I was around 12, and I kept relating to it until I was about 21. John Hughes understood the feeling of being lovesick and young better than anyone else. This still feels special to me:



Wednesday, August 05, 2009

IT SHOULDN'T BE SURPRISING...

... that Eli Roth's faux-trailer for his faux-movie within Inglourious Basterds is way terrible:




Shouldn't this trailer at least LOOK like and SOUND like it's from the 1940s if it's supposed to be for a faux-Nazi propaganda film from the 1940s?!?!

And what about this bizarre thing?:



Ehh... screw all that shit. Cleanse your palette with this, my favorite Elliott Smith song:



Ohh shoot... I just can't resist... I'm sorry...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

FUNNY PEOPLE

With Funny People, Judd Apatow aims to make an epic movie (in length, not scope) from the tossed around bit that most comedians are just sad sack and tear-tracked clowns that run incompatible not only with the opposite (or same) sex, but with long-term relationships in general. George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a comedian/movie star who's paid his dues, been paid in full, and is now coasting on cruise control, sexing any lady he'd like and rolling out his lifelong wit at the nudge of an elbow - or at the scent of $50,000 check. George's is a life lived spectacularly, but one that peaked too soon. Sure, in this economically pinched era that we're wading through, drawing sympathy for a character that has a gardener, maid, and personal chef is a tough task, but Sandler's golf hat loafing never trips into annoying self-loathing. George doesn't whine about his "I can't breathe" super stardom, he's just lonely as hell, and that's a universal discomfort that reaches across all socio-economic lines.

In the middle of a "coming out" montage of illness confessions to George's friends and family, and in a post-remission bar scene that celebrates the superstar's second chance, Apatow's camera drags over the faces of George's/Sandler's comedic peers. Norm McDonald, Dave Attell, George Wallace. These are all faces we're pop-consciously familiar with in some capacity based on our personal pockets of entertainment consumption, but to witness each performer out of his element, away from the settled-in sitcom sets and open-mic stages, is to see vulnerable men. Eyeing the thinning hair atop Paul Reiser's head and catching a glance at the deep wrinkles in Ray Romano's face is like noticing the early attachment of flab to a boxer's physique for the very first time. This pack of lifetime jokers represents a rare subgroup of entertainers: unattractive comedy scribes that found the yellow-brick loophole to screen fame but now stand dumbstruck that the camera's gone.

What Apatow's ambitiously taking on here is a deeper peer into the opposite end of David Seltzer's catch-a-break stand-up symposium Punch Line. If that film was about the bloody-knuckled climb up, Funny People is about the gingerly, gravel-sliding trip back down. It doesn't always work, as when Apatow steers the film into San Francisco so George can take a stab at undoing the damage he's done to his one true love (Leslie Mann). The whole sequence feels a mess, an overly extended mix of cutesiness, sentimental swings, and an over-the-backboard comedic shot from Eric Bana. Only Seth Rogen survives it.

We can play the game of wondering whether Apatow wrote this chunk simply for the benefit of inserting his wife (and daughters) into a sizable role in a sizable film, but I think more likely it's a case of poor judgement, a still fresh director making a forgivable mistake. Funny People feels like it wants to touch on too many bases, as if Apatow became overstimulated in his idea factory and ended up writing himself into a whole. The script yearns to be an elaborate one, but its author hasn't reached that level of sophistication yet. Funny People could've driven home its point without overturning so many stones. That game plan ends up presenting a twofold problem: the more characters that are revealed, the more storylines that are left flopping like unattended water hoses (I still feel uneasy about the way George's sister and parents were plopped onto the screen only to be forgotten by movie's end). Worse, these mishandled open storylines only distract from the central focus of George, Ira, and the ballad of the lonely comic.

All that critiquing, and I still think Funny People is impressive. I gotta admit, I never thought I'd think of Seth Rogen as anything more than a typecasted actor who could faithfully portray the sexist, pothead schlep (he was at least reliable at that), but after his dark turn earlier this year in Observe & Report, and more definitively here in Funny People as the steady, mellow, and oddly touching sideman to Sandler, I am new-born believer in the guy. In short, Rogen appears to be a much more intelligent actor than I had given him credit for. As Ira, the happenstance apprentice/assistant to George Simmons, Rogen's eyes are free of the gruff and smarmy cynicism that always unimpressed in shows/films like Freaks and Geeks, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri, and The 40 Year Old Virgin. There is a pink-ish innocence to Rogen here in the way he calmly stands opposite his more aggressive counterparts. Don't let Ira's sheepishness fool you, he's the strongest character in the film.

Despite its inappropriate length, when Funny People ended I was left wanting more. I think that means I would like Apatow to return to this territory of "the funny people", to give me more of those entertainers at the bar who can give us a little of that much needed healthy distraction from our own troubles, but don't know who to turn too when they need a little of it for themselves.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

STREAM-OF-CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION: THE COLLECTOR


[NOTE: This is where the blogger gives himself a strict 10 minutes to rattle off whatever about a movie he just saw that he doesn't feel deserves a thoughtful edited review but still feeds the need to feed the animals anyway. Quality is of no concern.]

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I went into The Collector thinking , "Hey, well, at least the limited theatrical release for this movie kinda signals the end of sadist-horror. Maybe The Collector is gonna be that horror sub-genre's swan song?" Then something odd happened. The first twenty minutes of the film were kind of good. It felt more like a Lodge Kerrigan psych-moody-indie horror than a splatter fest mixed with nasty sexuality of a RObert Mapplethorpe perspective. It was actually kind of ... nice. Oh, but what you can talk yourself into when the sound design of a film is well laid out and the projection is digital. I even let myself forgive the always irritating neo-horror credit sequence that has been the thing to do ever since Se7en and Mark Romanek's waaaaaaaaay overrated "Closer" video. You know... loud industrial music, loud industrial screams set against quick cuts (not even quick CUTS but like quick snippets) of medical tools, nails, blood, yellow skin, urine colored walls, mildew covered whatever. Yep, I even forgave that because as soon it as it was over The Collector went back into studiious mood horror. Oh, but yeah, that was just a tease. Soon the mildewy-ness and jaundice-ness take over the lighting and so does the sewing of mouths the emptying of bowels, the sexualizing of breasts and nailes and the licking of lips and the murdering of cats with acid and razorblades and the boxes with mooshy bodies in them and the stupid mask that the guy is wearing and the fish hooks in skin and the cutting if stomachs open so you can put bugs in them. It's all stupid, but what makes it horrible is that the directors shoot the film in a way that they want to one up their idiot French sadist buddies. It's artfully shot and well put together (in moments) but it's so bereft of substance than any positive technical things I can say about this movie really lose themselves). If you like the pre-production artwork drawings for Pascuel Laungier's idiotic Martyrs, you might like this movie. If you also get turned on by those drawings you will also probably like this movie. I like to think those type of people, also like listening to Einst├╝rzende Neubauten. Well, they're on the soundtrack, so maybe I am onto something. I got no problem with people pleasing themselves in whatever sick sexual ways that they want, but to fuel that sexual energy in to a movie and call it "horror" is just silly. I did like the main actor though. Jeff "something". He was a good as a kind of hero in teh film, that, of course, in post-Saw fashion, doesn't escape. Tehre used to be a day when we were tired of the heroes and heroines always escaping the boogeyman in an horror film. Then things changed. I'm now tired of the bleak endings. I want happiness back. The Collector is like the opposite of The Last House on the Left remake which is actually far much better than people gave it credit for. In that film the family used their house to protect intruders. In The Collector, the intruder uses the house to slowly murder the owners. It's backwards and nasty. Also... I noticed that Bloody Disgusting and Shock Till You Drop were thanked in the credits. I kinda wondered how much those sites maybe were in the tank for crap movies like this. It's pretty clear now. I'm outta time...