June 27, 2009

The reaction to Michael Jackson’s death has been just about perfect; just the right blend of shock, respect for his passing, respect for his great music, reflection over his effect on society, righteous indignation, funny jokes, obvious jokes, funny tasteless jokes, and tasteless jokes so bad as to enlighten you to who is truly an asshole.

But for me it did something different. It wholly clarified the fact that I unabashedly like Michael Jackson.

It’s amazing how many people forget that not only was this guy a megastar, he was the biggest personality on the planet. He simply dwarfed everyone. Madonna didn’t even have half is popularity. He wasn’t just talented. He wasn’t jus a great dancer. He was a great song writer. He was an innovator. He never settled for second rate. He worked harder then everyone else. He pushed the envelope. He was incredibly optimistic. I’ve spent the day watching all his old videos and that’s the thing I noticed the most. He was so, so optimistic about life, even when it was about dark subjects. He wanted people to have fun. He wanted them to conquer demons. He wanted people to be kind. He gave an absurd amount to charity. He embraced working for racial causes. Heck He was post-racial before anyone was post-racial. He popularized MTV. Fuck. Popularized doesn’t do it justice. He made MTV. He set every trend. He came up with entire worlds. He could move like no one else could move. He was shy. He loved involving other stars in his work. And he was a damn nice guy.

The fall of Michael Jackson can be associated with three things in my mind.
1) Them Daddy issues. The abuse he suffered is now well known, but there’s no doubt that these things, plus his becoming famous at such an absurdly young age laid the groundwork of a troubling adulthood. Matt Damon once said you stop aging at the moment you get famous. Michael Jackson was 3… It explains a lot.
2) His skin condition, where the white splotches left him with the option of either leaving it as (probably the right choice. America would have just had to deal), constantly covering with quality black make up, or simply bleaching his skin to match the white spots. Which is what his bad doctors advised for him. It started his whole movement toward looking weird and white.
3) If he hadn’t fallen off stage and broke his nose, he never would have gotten that first botched nose job. Which he then tried to fix and fix and fix because “it didn’t look right.” Coupled with the bleachings to come later. It basically destroyed his face.

And those things affected him. They really did. It sent his introverted nature over the edge because he was terrified of being seen in that sort of light. He had to constantly monitor his appearance. It made him a shut in.

And then it got sad. He had odd sham marriages. The creepy stories about his behavior with children surfaced. He build that Graceland west called the Neverland ranch. He had children stay there. Then the lawsuits came. Look. I have no idea what happened. It sure as shit wasn’t proper. But I’m not sure as shit it was anything insidious either. As far as we really and truly know he was just kind of this weird asexual introvert with arrested development. His Peter Pan like personality (the Neverland ranch, ahem) suddenly became his real identity. And most people just assumed he was a pederast. Logically, there’s great merit to that, I’m not naïve or anything. It was basically impossible to like Michael Jackson in a true sense anymore. He hase made the divide. Whether it is truly legit we don’t really know… Maybe he could just be Peter Pan.

Either way, He stopped making music. He started relating to monkeys more than people. He never learned to be an adult. His public appearances became utterly bizarre. My favorite crazy story is when he went down to the local city hall and demanded they put more Taco Bells near his house… he did this in a spider-man mask by the way… yeah… He basically went crazy. It happens. People just go batshit insane sometimes.

And it kind of sucks it was this guy. But then again that’s possibly how it had to be. The 80s and early 90s were just so fucking weird there was no way what was considered cool then could really translate into the following generations. But still. Those great, great songs and performances will live on.

The thing I don’t get is people saying “what’s the big deal? He was a fucking pederast nutball. Just cause he’s dead doesn’t mean you have to be all nice now. You’ve been just as critical as anyone.” And to a degree that is correct, but how it is wrong is the fact that now that because he is dead we finally have the stopping point where we can sit down with body of work. Everything is on the table. The good. The bad. The ugly. It’s all there. And believe me. Another 20 years of crazy could have made a difference. But now he’s dead at 50, of a rather sad cause too. And when looking at it, all the negative stuff (what we know at least) just doesn’t outshine the truly good stuff he gave to the world.
And if you don’t really see that, that you’re just way too fucking cynical.

Let’s try an experiment:

Watch this video. Remove all negative feelings. Just sit there and think that this could entertain you. And it just might.


Like: MOON

June 19, 2009

This is a film that is best if you know absolutely nothing about it before going in. Just walk in and enjoy. Or at least observe.

It isn’t that MOON is especially cryptic, or twisty, but it is certainly best experienced as the character experiences it (especially cause they apparently give away WAYYYY too much in the trailer, which I thankfully didn’t see beforehand).

There’s a bunch of little things I want to talk about, but I will resist. Save to say Sam Rockwell gives what is perhaps his best performance. It could easily be something that comes off showy, but he resists and keeps it nuanced, yet perfectly tangible. This comment would make more sense if I could explain more. But he’s just absolutely incredible and shows tremendous range within the character.

And it’s a real sci-fi film to boot. The science. The philosophy. It’s real great stuff. Effects are starting to get to the point where they can be done seamlessly on the indie level. (A great little Spanish movie “Timecrimes” was released a few years ago. That was also great). Plus the thing is directed by Duncan Jones, a first timer who also happens to be David Bowie’s son. Which is also rather cool.

So basically. If you’re in the mood for something good and rather different. Check out MOON. Just don’t check out the trailer or anything else.

Like: Tetro

June 18, 2009

I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s new movie “TETRO” this past weekend. And I loved it.

It was an odd career trajectory. The guy was one of the greatest filmmakers alive, went a little nuts, made some decent but ultimately kind of middling movies (the rainmaker?!?), and then stopped really making movies all together. Sure he produced some crap in that interim, but he also produced his daughter’s movies, all of which happen to be rather good in varying degrees. And FFC finally came back to the director’s chair a few years ago  with Youth Without Youth: A strange, cryptic, sometimes inaccessible, “film schooly”-type movie that I found interesting. There’s no particular flaw with the movie, on a thematic level it makes perfect sense and provokes or entertains a great deal of ideas, but there’s a big distance between the audience and the film. Which speaks to how well it performed.

In many ways, TETRO is the complete opposite. It was an stunningly raw movie. Sure it was polished with achingly beautiful black and white cinematography.  But rather than cerebral concepts being the focus, instead it’s about family, brotherhood, fatherhood, and the nature of human relationships, love and cruelty. This is big bombastic stuff, and it’s all exposed through a very European sensibilty. Bertulucci, Fellini and Antonioni is all over this film. Especially Bertolucci. Hell you could have told me Bertolucci made it and I would have believed you. There is also another big influence of the recent Neuvo Wave (which perhaps informs the argentine setting and the casting of Maribel Verdu). The writer-actor-director Vincent Gallo plays the titualar charcter with, to use a key phrase again, a raw acting skill set. He lacks nuance, but makes up for it with a singular, focused presence. His low key, urbane accented speech could come across as “bad” to some, but I found it rather refreshing. Playing his girlfriend, Verdu is the absolute best part of the film,then again her role is that of a consilidator and she’s insatiably likable so it is hard not to love the performance.

But most people will be talking about Alden Ehrenreich. He’s a newcomer. Discovered by Speilberg. He looks a LOT like a young Leonardo Dicaprio (see picture on top left). And thankfully he’s great in this. He’s all useful innocence and mitigated charm, and subtle angst, and hopefullness and all that stuff that makes characters like these my favorite kind of main characters (coming of age stories I guess would be the designation).

And sure, TETRO is not perfect. There’s a lot of unfocused strings near the end, and a little heavy handedness in the finale, but all that is meaningless. In some ways it has to end the way it does, but more importantly the film is just a joy. If you like great movies with an heir of worldiness and some challenging form, definitely go see it.

And if that doesn’t convince you you get to see Maribel Verdu’s boobs.

Don’t Like: That Stan Van Gundy Turned Into Stan Van Gundy Again. Seriously. HOW do you not foul Derek Fisher???

June 12, 2009

Ohhhh SVG. You old so and so!

Seriously, how do you not foul Derek Fisher?????

I’ve been saying for a good long while that the Magic simply are a mediocre team who can occasionally go on a great shooting run. Plus SVG is the certified “Master of Panic.”

And it was all proved last night.

Why coaches don’t foul when they’re up 3 is beyond me. Afriad they are going to take a “shot”???!?! Nonsense. The seconds it’s touched across half court. Wrap em. It’s that easy. Let em shoot. Do your job and rebound. That’s how you close games.

What SVG??? You like going toe to toe and LETTING Jameer Nelson give one of the ice cold closers of the game HAVE his 3.
And this is not take away from Derek Fisher. The guy was supposedly too old and busted to be effective. Over the course of the game he just can’t put 35 minutes together any more. All game he couldn’t hit the side of a bus. But in the last two minutes you STAY on him at the three line. He’s a great closer. He’ll hit that last one. Like big shot Rob.  Like Ray Allen. Like Reggie Miller. You STAY ON HIM. You don’t give him three feet.

And you FOUL him before it even gets there.

Just absurd.

And it helps prove why Orlando should never have been in this finals in the first place.

Just a joke.

I can’t believe I actually like the Lakers better in this series.

Is it possible to not want either team to win? How glorious would that be.  Kobe not getting his ring on his own, and the Magic being laughed off the court.

Just Ideal.

Don’t Like: THE HANGOVER, only in the sense that I pretty much already saw every funny moment or comedic beat in the trailers and commercials

June 5, 2009

Say I walked into this movie without seeing a single trailer or commercial. I probably would have found it freaking hilarious. So often this is actually the way that critics see movies and it works distinctly to their benefit. But this always assumes that audiences go to see movies in a bubble. Nope. Everybody sees the commercials and they see the trailers. And all the of the advertising for THE HANGOVER has been rather funny. Heck, it got me to see the movie (though honestly I would have seen it cause I like Zach Galifianakis). So what happens when you go to see a movie and every funny part has been already seen in some form? It’s disappointing, that’s what. I feel like I was robbed of seeing the actual freakin movie.

What kind of makes it all the more remarkable is THE HANGOVER is throwing constant waves of funniness at you for the entire running time. And the trailer folks somehow freaking managed to cram a great 2 hour comedy into a 2 1/2 minute ad. Pretty remarkable.

So how does this happen? Easy. Focus groups. Studios are run by businessmen who think this practice is important. Hint: it’s not. It’s actually detrimental. But they do a focus group on a trailer and ask what the people what they would have liked to see more of in the trailer. This particular phrasing was recently a comment on mefi: “Men always answer: explosions and boobs. Women always say they wanted to see more of the story. That’s why trailers are usually filled with explosions and boobs and give away the whole story.”

God dammit that is frustrating. I could launch into a diatribe on the stupidity of moviegoers, but that seems a tad assumptive and snotty. Nope, the blame lies squarely with the focus group testers because there is a direct fundamental problem with the question itself. A trailer is supposed to make you WANT TO SEE MORE. That’s the entire conceit of the damn thing! No one really wants a encapsulated movie. They don’t and I stand by this.

Some people disagree. Matt Groening recently said on why some trailers spill all the good stuff is “smart things make people feel stupid and unexpected things make people feel scared.” Which is true to a degree, but isn’t that basically an acknowledgment of catering to the lowest common denominator? Why do we do this? To get lots of money? Yeah that’s the justification. But I don’t buy it. That amounts to nothing more than disgusting excuse. Look at the Apatow movies. Those trailers hardly EVER spoil the funniest and best parts. The new Bruno trailer leaves the best parts out and the old Borat trailer only showed the opening.  And all these movies are ridiculously successful, even with the “lowest common denominator” audiences.

So I don’t buy it. It’s an inane practice that has become nothing more then the safe, assumptive bet.

Luckily there are a few things in THE HANGOVER that allow you to get over the been-there-done-that-deja-vu of watching the actual movie. Most specifically, Zach Galifianakis finally getting the breakout roll he’s needed for years. He’s just absurdly good in this. You’ve already seen most of his good stuff, but he has a laundry list of throwaway lines and left field deliveries. My favorite of which being his pre-shots speech read-aloud. Classic stuff. I hope he becomes as huge as he should (and this guy has been toiling in the comedy scene for years).

Random notes:

-dear todd phillips: women are not evil and alternatively they don’t have to be vapid whores either. carry on.

-Ken Jeong. Nicely done. Secret weapon of the movie. Too bad your best moment was also ruined.

-Again Zach is just awesome.

-Ending picture montage practically saves the movie.

Don’t Like: AWAY WE GO… only in the sense that it could have been absolutely amazing were it not for the fact that 35% of the movie sucks donkey balls

June 4, 2009

So I have this weird love/hate thing with Sam Mendes. When I was, like,16 and thought I knew things I thought American Beauty was a deep and profoundly awesome movie. Instead it turns out it’s just a reasonably fun and well executed satire with some genuinely hilarious moments, not to mention a masters class in cinematography by Conrad Hall. Not too shabby. Road To Perdition was also pretty as heck too but extremely lacking in the interest-in-character department and a few other ingredients you absolutely need to make a movie effective. Jarhead was actually pretty underrated as far as black as night gulf war movies go. The lackluster reaction was mostly a product of how it was sold. The movie was more Mash than Three Kings. And I hated Revolutionary Road with a passion often reserved for zealots. So why is this all relevant?

Cause you took your stab at the “quirky indie comedy” with AWAY WE GO.

First off I hate pretty much every “quirky indie comedy” that comes out now because the vast majority are ripoffs that confuse tone with plotting and make a mockery of human interest.

And because of all of the aforemention Mendes/indie comedy-ness I went into AWAY WE GO with very low expectations. The truth is I have no idea what I’m going to get from Sam Mendes which is surprisingly weird considering he always throws some combination of satire and formalism at you. It just always comes out to different kinds of quality. And AWAY WE GO could be a brilliant movie. It really could.

I thought it would be from the magnificent start, but I have never seen a movie go on to alternate between exceptional scenes and utter garbarge so freely  and divisively as I have here. Complete night and day in terms of quality scene to scene; really, it’s THAT much of a dichotomy. A Brilliant scene, then a scene so offensive to my sensibilities as a guy with a brain in my head that I wanted to storm out of the theater, then once again followed by a brilliant scene. It’s bi-polar quality.

To explain it, there’s no way to get around outright description so here’s a kind of summation.

Warning here be spoilers.

-the movie is about prospective parents visiting friends and family around the country to see where they want to live. The parents are John Krasinski (jim from the office) and SNL comedienne Maya Rudolph.

-Cold Open and beginning: Stunningly good. I thought we had a masterpiece on our hands I was so impressed. I was practically swooning at the reserved grace.

-Then we meet his parents: more of the same garbage Mendes keeps trotting out in many of his movies: Cartoonishly selfish parents who have no resemblance to real people, and if those people are indeed real, they are so exaggerated as to appear utterly insincere on screen. This would be less of a problem if the movie was straight satire, something like Stepbrothers, but Mendes just spent the first 10 minutes of the movie establishing wonderfully nuanced real characters in John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, why take a shit on that by making them interact with spastic solipsistic jerks for parents? It’s ridiculous and more importantly undermines the emotional resonance of your film.

-John and Maya go on their own again after this visit and this becomes a running theme of interspersed moments between the various people they visit. And all of these scenes just between John and Maya’s scenes are sweet, funny, touching, and real. Great stuff. James L. Brooksish at times. That’s a high compliment.

-The first official visit (after the parents) is to Alison Janney and Jim Gaffigan who play an obscene, disparaging mother and a disassociated drunken father. Yup. We the audience members get more experiments in totally unrealistic characters who are supposedly funny but just saying juvenilely horrible things for no other reason than to try and be funny, rendering the whole thing inane. That’s what these scenes are… completely inane. Not an ounce of redeeming laughter or value to be found. The audience was stacked with people poised to like this movie and it only elicited a few chuckles. Just fucking garbage. Which sucks cause I love Gaffigan. But he’s utterly wasted. So angry!

-The 2nd visit is to Maya’s sister and it’s nice and reserved with some good touch on John’s character (being a boob man etc). Not the best the movie has to offer but it gives some nice insight.

-The 3rd visit is to Maggie Gylleennhhaallalalal and some dude and they are equally cartoony new age hippy types. Hey guess what guys? Hippies can be dumb and self involved and pretentious! Bet you didn’t know that. Once again, our two main characters enter make-believe-land where we’re supposed to think interactions like this actually happen. I almost walked out of the movie I swear. Look, this is not to say you can’t do these scenes and make the same kind of points. It’s just that the way the scenes are in the movie come across as so over to top and ludicrous you simply can’t believe they are happening in the same fucking movie. You just can’t. It gets so outrageous that you have to have John K duplicate the audiences reaction and tell the stupid hippy jerks off. And that’s never ever a good sign.

-After this, thankfully the movie starts settling down. The sequential visits (Paul Schnieder! The guy who played Ted in 6ft! The other girl from heavenly creatures!) are all much, much more palatable cause Mendes suddenly seemed to realize he took all this time to make a movie about rounded interesting main characters, so he should probably include some others as well. It really hits its stride and comes off wonderfully during the entire last half.

-It eventually all swells into this wonderful ending with John and Maya talking to one another. It’s one of those perfect movie crescendos where you can see how its finishing and you’re ready to forgive the movie for all misgivings…

… and then it went on for another couple of pretty needless scenes. Don’t you fucking hate that? A movie has a perfect ending then it just tacks on some extra bullshit. I’m not talking about the kind of stuff where people complained about No Country. That’s banal. I’m talking needless from even an intellectual or thematic standpoint. The Stuff-I-Like-Girl agreed with me and said the ending was like “a limp dick.” Perfect description.

So anyways, other good things:

-John Krasinksi: So I said your character was secretly a dick on The Office and I had this vague suspicion that you weren’t that great an actor… but damn dude. You were just incredible. Balancing this great sense of optimism, fear, and humor, you just fucking nailed it. Even better for your prospects, I never saw one second of Jim in the performance. A+

-Maya Rudolph: everyone was interested how you’d do. And you were solid. Well done.

-Alexi Murdoch: the guy who did the music. Sure you want to be Nick Drake. That’s okay cause Nick Drake is amazing. Good songs and used well throughout.

So lastly I say directly to Sam: Why the fuck did you have to make some of those visits outright satires? It destroyed the movie. Absolutely destroyed it. If you’re going to have a movie be about real people dealing with real life, you can’t include characters so singularly outrageous I should expect to see them in an Adam McKay movie. That’s not how it works. You could have had a master piece here, but those three bad choices on what direction to take in those initial visits… damn… just freaking poor form. And I could have forgiven all if you stuck the landing.

I’m going to be bitter about this one for a bit.

Like: UP

June 1, 2009

In the interest of brevity, I’ll keep it simple: UP just might be the reason you go to the movies. Incredibly entertaining, funny, emotional, and inventive. Just go see it. You shall not regret.

Random bullets:

-Dug and Kevin might be my two favorite characters… ever? (and yes, they were full fledged characters with everything that goes along with it)

-Could anyone else have done Carl’s voice besides Ed Asner ?

-bunch of other amusing parts I won’t both recounting but there’s tons of them.

-In some ways, you can argue that Pixar’s last two movies (UP and WallE) have been their best, or at least their most ambitious. Sure WallE had some tone problems with the inclusion of the human satire, but both films attempt to transcend the confines of, well, “kid film/animated / what have you.” Okay many animated films have done something like that, all the old disney classics and whatnot… but… I really don’t know what I’m trying to say… Maybe WallE and UP are about bigger realities and emotions than some of those movies… they feature sequences that are completely brilliant… they border on pure cinema at times…. maybe I’m trying to say they really are just adult movies about big emotions that just happen to play to kids… instead of how most animated films that are the other way around…. I dunno… I’m sleepy.