Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Man on Film: State of Play

A political thriller in spirit of 70s paranoia films like All the President's Men, The Parallax View, and Three Days of the Condor. Clearly, the newspaper aspect of the film means it owes most to All the President's Men, and it is a worthy follower. Obviously, the source material of State of Play is only a BBC miniseries, not the greatest political scandal in the history of this country. What this film lacks in historical import, it replaces with strained relationships, adultery, the prospect of the outsourcing of the military to one uber-corporation (think, oh, Halliburton), and the death of the newspaper. Needless to say, there was a dearth of ground to be covered.

Now, State of Play is by no means earth-shattering. While never approaching the realm of the primarily pedestrian, Kevin MacDonald's non-documentary follow-up to The Last King of Scotland is merely solid. Here, too, there are not any acting performances that fall short, but as with the other, the film lacks the quality of being exceptionally memorable. Shortly after leaving, all thoughts of the film have gone, quickly retreating to the recesses of one's memory. It is not a crippling shortcoming, and boredom never sets in while watching.

All that being said, the film is good and never feels predictable, a good trait to be sure. Ben Affleck and Jason Bateman are great, but Rachel McAdams's character is not penned with enough depth for her to show off her talent and charm (both of which are prodigious). Russell Crowe is Russell Crowe and does seem best suited to be the character actor he has resumed being of late.

Again, State of Play falls short of being great, but you'll not regret having seen it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

After aborting a month-long effort to get into For Whom The Bell Tolls, I decided that it was not worth it anymore and dove right into another of the many books sitting on my shelves unread.

This one was James M. Cain's masterpiece, Double Indemnity. I am sure most, if not all, of you faithful readers have seen the Billy Wilder directed adaptation of the film. If you haven't, do so. Now. Seeing 'cool' Fred MacMurray--and he pulls it off completely--is kind of mind-blowing.

The problem with attempting to read the source material for an iconic film--after all, the film version is largely credited as being the progenitor of the film noir genre--is that you probably already know where the book is going.

If that concern were applicable to this piece of literature, Cain's prose flows forth effortlessly, and it is told from the first-person so it reads very quickly--even with the occasional hurdle arising from its having been written very much in the parlance of its time. Walter Huff (the film version changed his surname to Neff) is an engaging narrator, and as the reader, you want to go along for the story.

Luckily, the film version does differ fairly dramatically in the third act from the novel, so any knowledge of the ending from the film is not applicable when reading the Cain novel. As is often the case, the book is better than the film--at least in that regard--although with this book, there is the unusual scenario that arises (in this time so far removed from the production of either piece of art) that the adaptation has become the much more prominent work. That is so much the case in this situation that the book has nearly been forgotten.

This should be rectified.

But don't take my word for it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Man on Film: Crank: High Voltage

Holy Fuck.

The amazement that strikes you while sitting in the theater watching the greatness that is Crank: High Voltage is a little difficult to explain. There are a myriad of factors that inspire that awe.

First and foremost, is the inconsolable head-shaking that you imagine studio heads possessed with when they realized that this was the film they greenlit. Then, there is the idea running through the set while filming that there is no fucking way anyone is ever going to see what was just committed to celluloid so they go even further than they initially anticipated. Also working its way in there is the shock and awe that results from the rampant cultural and racial insensitivity that permeates the film.

And then there's the style. From start to finish, you are also in the throes of film-making style that can most appropriately be described as 96 minutes of McG action sequences on crystal meth. If you thought that some of Michael Bay's heavily cut action sequences could be hard to follow, then holy shit will the freneticism of the latest Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor film fuck you up.

And all of these things are why Crank 2 is fucking amazing.

Now, I hope you saw Crank because it sets the bar pretty high. In Chev Chelios first time around, there was a new standard set for being over the top. This time, that bar is broken in half and stuck up your ass, and then for good measure the other half of that bar is jammed up your urethra. In a good way.

Too describe how far Crank: High Voltage goes would be a disservice to all. The obscenity, violence, nihilism, and anarchy of this film should be seen without being spoiled in any way. Jason Statham eats up this kind of role, and it makes you look forward to whatever he gets to do next (The Expendables, and it will kick your ass). His star power cannot be denied, and the audacity of the filmmakers is frankly unparalleled. See this movie to be amazed at how much further it went than the first installment.

If that wasn't enough, here's the trailer:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Man on Film: Adventureland

I'm not going to write too much on this since it has been in the theaters for a while now, and there are two other films I expect to see in the next few days that should more than sate your Inconsiderate Prick film reaction needs.

Insofar as Adventureland is concerned, it was a nice little film. While it wasn't necessarily aiming for them, there were not a lot of moments filled with hearty laughs from the audience. It definitely fit the mold of the coming-of-age indie comedy--with Jesse Eisenberg (presumably playing writer-director Greg Mottola's younger self as he had actually worked at Adventureland in Pittsburgh) playing the part of recent college grad having to work for the summer before he is set to go off to grad school--and by fitting that mold I mean that it is more concerned with character and nuance than getting laughs with broad humor. Granted, there is an inordinate amount of nut-punching, but as it is the protagonist getting nard-knocked, the audience feels his pain, thus negating any laughs potentially derived from them.

As far as the film is concerned, it characters were fairly engaging, and Mottola accomplishes the feat of capturing the redeeming nuances of working in a largely meaningless and mindless jobs and he does so with more subtlety than others have tended to do. In movies like Waiting... or Empire Records, the filmmakers chose to have their characters be caricatures rather than real people, a mistake that Mottola does not make. Their banter isn't hampered by a departure from reality or embued with far too much cynicism and wit. While this may sound lame coming from someone who works in the service industry, real people do populate those jobs, and too often people in those positions are depicted as little more than simpletons in film and television.

While this is by no means a great film (after all, Kristen Stewart is in it), Adventureland is certainly worth throwing in your NetFlix queue or taking in when it makes the rounds on the premium movie channels in nine months or so. And Martin Starr is in it, which should make you want to watch it anyway.

And no, Weibel, Kristen Wiig is not irritating in this one either.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Man on Film: Affleck

About a week ago, I had to listen to some out-of-the-loop fellas disparage my boy, Ben Affleck. Now maybe this comes as a surprise to some of you, but if you think I really like Nic Cage, then hold on to your fucking hats because there is perhaps no actor alive who I am more a fan of than Ben Affleck.

To give you an anecdote, an old friend/co-worker (Hannah Kaufmann, who will no doubt appreciate being able to google her name and Ben Affleck's and be featured on the same page) and I once struggled with the following hypothetical situation: If we had a gun to our heads and sacrificing ourselves was not an option, and we were forced to choose which one had to die, Matt Damon or Ben Affleck, who would we choose?

Well, I would save Ben Affleck.

If ever you needed to know why, listen to the commentary track on the Chasing Amy DVD. Watch him on "Real Time with Bill Maher" when he shows up. Read up on his political activism. Take in an interview on a talk show. Listen to him talk about sports and how evil the Yankees are. Or just watch anything he's ever done.

Obviously, there are films that he's great in that everyone knows and appreciates: Good Will Hunting, Phantoms, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Boiler Room, and Dazed and Confused. There are lesser films that were arguably solid that he was great in as well, like The Third Wheel, Armageddon, Mallrats, Going All the Way, and 200 Cigarettes.

Take The Sum of All Fears. All in all, it's not a great film, but Affleck is awesome. There are about three moments in the film where it feels like he is breaking character and delivering Jack Ryan lines as Ben Affleck, which are totally awesome.

Daredevil is also not particularly good, but as is the case with many Ben Affleck movies, fault does not lie with him. In Daredevil's case, Mark Steven Johnson blew it, just like he did with Ghost Rider. Like Cage with Johnny Blaze, Ben Affleck was a big fan of the character from the comics and this was a passion project.

But back to the issue that set this all off, there is still a misguided idea of Ben Affleck that is not informed by his recent works. Even if you want to write off his late 90s - early 00s output like Armageddon, Bounce, Forces of Nature, etc., I can at least understand that. Many of these roles were attempts to capitalize on star power and appeal to the masses. They're moves I understand. Sure, I have little desire to own Gigli, but I could list off a ton of movies that are legitimately worse than "one of the worst movies ever"--the hatred of that film (that no one actually saw, mind you) still baffles me*.

*Speaking of inexplicable backlash against a film, it still blows my mind that Hudson Hawk was universally panned. What the fuck is wrong with people? What movie were you watching, dickheads? Hudson Hawk was the fucking bomb.

But of late, Affleck has his shit together. Hollywoodland was very good, and Affleck was great. Not that I like to use the Oscars as a means by which I can support a case, but he did get a nomination for his portrayal of George Reeves, and all praise was justified. [Correction: Thanks for the note Mark, it was the Golden Globes who nominated him for Best Supporting Actor, and then the Academy criminally overlooked Affleck, opting for Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls and Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond. Lame.] Gone Baby Gone, which he directed and adapted the screenplay for, was great, and he managed to do what Clint Eastwood was unable to do--adapt a Dennis Lehane book without making an awful movie. Yes, I'm knocking Mystic River.

So, to all you Affleck-hating fools, it might be time to re-examine your lives. If you were misinformed about this, what else are you missing out on because by the end of this year there will be two more films in the canon, State of Play and Extract,

and you'll be feeling like a dick if you're sitting around badmouthing Affleck based on eight year old tabloid bullshit and Armageddon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Man on Film: Observe and Report

While it may not have been the most evenly paced film, Jody Hill's second feature-length film was a step in the right direction. Much as nearly everyone involved with the film has stated, Observe and Report owes a debt to Taxi Driver of all films. If ever there was a film that needed to be reinterpreted through a comedic lens, it was Taxi Driver.

Not really, but it works here.

Ronnie Barnhardt, played by Seth Rogen (who flashes a little range he'd not been given a chance to show since, what, Donnie Darko?), is a person deeply disconnected from reality. His descent into, well, borderline insanity, is largely fueled by his having gone off his medication treating his bi-polar disorder.

Barnhardt is a self-important, power-tripping mall cop who flagrantly abuses his authority, but the abuse stems from a deep-seated belief that his role is to preserve order in his mall. The fact that he is completely incompetent totally evades his consciousness, and the audience is left watching him trying his damndest to catch a flasher, who is repeatedly referred to as a "pervert", which is pretty hilarious.

Maybe this doesn't seem like a film for everyone, but it seems as though Hill & Co. have truly honed the comedic anti-hero, taking it to a much darker place than, say, Will Ferrell fare in which the character is generally affably dim while being completely inconsiderate. As Kenny Powers and Fred Simmons before him, Ronnie Barnhardt is largely a dick. But he is a down-and-out dick. Hill adeptly captures these down-and-out characters with an insight to the life that most screenwriters do not possess.

For all of his strengths, Judd Apatow's films always have a fifteen minute coda of moralization. Hill's works do not necessarily reflect this ideal. While at times these characters realize their goals, they do not experience growth in doing so. It is this unflinching embrace of those wayward souls that is so refreshing, uneven pacing be damned.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Man on Film: I Love You, Man

So it has been almost two weeks since I actually went to this, which could be interpreted in a few ways. The first way could be that I was not crazy about this film and put off writing anything about it as a result of a lukewarm reaction to the film. The second being that other things pressed their way to the forefront. The third, there has not been enough time in the day to get around to writing this entry with the baseball season finally getting under way and my Royals fandom now eating up a good chunk of my free time.

To alleviate your concerns, the first explanation is not even remotely on the mark. There is a shred of truth to the other factors. Obviously, the Royals blog has been drawing my attention its way. There were also a couple of concerts that necessitated their inclusion on the blog. The Eddie Money entry certainly wasn't pressing but was a quick way to get some content up that I found awesome on a personal level. You will have to excuse me, but as a ten-year-old living in Rochester, Minnesota, I owned Eddie Money's historic Nothing to Lose featuring "Walk on Water" and "The Love in Your Eyes". My having taken issue with Watchmen seemed like something that needed to be written about sooner than my predictable feelings for I Love You, Man so that explains that.

Anyway, on to the film...

I Love You, Man was pretty goddamn funny. Unlike some of the films which members of Team Apatow since Knocked Up* (I know Judd wasn't involved with this one, but it does feature two of the Apatow players--well, three really, as Rashida Jones goes all the way back to "Freaks and Geeks") are involved, I think my expectations were fairly tempered for this one. I had super-high hopes for Superbad but was slightly let down. I had tempered expectations for Forgetting Sarah Marshall and was delightfully surprised. The only one that kicked the ass of my high expectations was the amazing Pineapple Express. So, here was another that I thought would be funny but was not convinced that it would be great, and I left the theater very pleased.

Rudd stars as the slightly effeminate Peter Klaven who is generally awkward in dealing with other men. He's in a fencing club, and he even finds trouble bonding with those men on a meaningfully masculine level. Upon proposing to his girlfriend, Zooey (played by Jones), Peter decides that he needs to try to find male friends largely because he has no one for his wedding party. His ill-fated early attempts at finding a male friend are really funny, with "Reno 911"'s Thomas Lennon making an especially funny appearance as a gay man misunderstanding the set up with Peter. His many attempts at bonding with men, trying to bridge the gap between acquaintance and buddy fail epically.

That is, of course, until he meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel). Their bond is hilarious, and Fife seems like a guy who will say anything but always have the back of his friend. As a fan of surprise in comedy, I'll refrain from giving away too much, but their love of a certain prog band, the prominence of Lou Ferrigno, and an ad campaign make for some great laughs. And this didn't seem to be a film of appeal to only males in the audience, as the ladies in the crowd seemed to be laughing as heartily as the gents.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: Edward Mahoney



If you haven't done so, go ahead and create a Pandora Eddie Money station. It gets you the optimal cross-section of all late 70s and early 80s bands that you could possibly want, while not getting too broad, like a Journey or Phil Collins station would.

I do think it's weird that he was a cop in the late 60s having followed in his father's footsteps, and no more than 15 years later, he was in a coma after snorting phenatol thinking it was coke.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tube Steak: Fuck the Internet

All right, so unlike whatever fucking news source I just read this on, I won't tell you what specifically happened, but in the title of an article about a new hire for the Obama administration some asshole spoiled a huge development on one of my favorite shows.

I just looked it up.


Whatever happens, do not read their site/paper. Ever.

God fucking dammit.

Michael Saul, you just made my list of things to do. Fuck you. Fuck your copy editor. Fuck your paper. Fuck.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Musicalia: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Austin, TX

Seeing The Boss is a slightly different experience than seeing Leonard Cohen to be sure.

Jackie and I arrived at the doors about fifteen minutes before they were done giving out lottery numbers for the floor at the Frank Erwin Center. When the winning number was drawn, we ended up 250 people back in the queue. Upon finally being let in, we found ourselves standing about five people removed from the center of the stage, and unlike what people had told us about previous shows they'd attended at the Erwin Center there were no chairs set out on the floor.

Ho. Ly. Shit.

How this happened, I'll never be sure. But it did, and neither of us will ever complain about our vantage point for the show.

Seeing Springsteen that close, I can safely say that if ever a man were to claim the title of The Hardest Working Man in Showbiz now that James Brown is gone, it's Bruce. For two hours and forty-five minutes of rock bliss, Bruce Springsteen belted out every song with so much vigor that it's hard to imagine him not having had a stroke on stage twenty-five years ago.

Earlier in the day, I had thrown in Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River on a lark, which was a good thing because the set was marked with "Badlands", "The Promised Land", "Prove It All Night", "Sherry Darling", "Out In The Street" and "I'm A Rocker", and they are weirdly the two albums I am least familiar with (I don't have them in a portable format, just LP).

They blasted out "She's The One", "Born To Run", "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Jungleland", during which I nearly shat myself out of amazement. He gave me chills with his rendition of "The Wrestler". They killed with a rocked-out rearrangement of "Youngstown" and a rollicking "Johnny 99". I'm a perfect two-for-two on seeing "Because The Night", as well, which is fine by me because it plays really well. "The Rising" roused my spirits, and completed the feel of a recession-tinged show.

Even "Outlaw Pete" played all right, despite my general dislike of the song.

Moreover, he took requests three times, with "Sherry Darling" and "I'm A Rocker" having been taken early on ("Rocker" didn't get in until the encore, though), and "Glory Days" serving as an addendum to the encore after they were all ready to leave the stage. One of the best parts was that they clearly did not have a strong grasp on "Sherry Darling" and "I'm A Rocker", but they played them anyway, adding a good dose of unpredictability, especially when Bruce acknowledged as they started into "Rocker" that he didn't remember how it started. With the three requests, it meant we ended up getting two more songs than those jackoffs in Arizona.

Now, before the show, I asked Jackie what song she wanted to hear most, and she said "I'm On Fire" to which I (kind of dickishly) told her not to get her hopes up. Well, as soon as we got back home, I got a call from Mark (who was also at the show but was seated with Chad) to tell me that he looked at the hand-written setlist and "Sherry Darling" took the place of "I'm On Fire". Who's the jackass now, Jack?

Regardless, the show was outstanding, probably even better than the Dallas show Chad, Mark, and I went to last year. It sure as hell didn't hurt that I was often standing a mere 10-to-15 feet away from The Boss as the veins popped out of his head and neck.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Musicalia: Leonard Cohen - Austin, TX (2nd Show)

I will gladly admit that immediately after having seen a much anticipated musical act in concert that I perhaps heave praise in their direction that can go well past effusive. Having proffered that qualification, Leonard Cohen was amazing Thursday night.

As many know, Leonard Cohen is not one for touring. If not for his former business manager basically robbing him, he probably wouldn't have to begin with. A lesser man would surely bear a noticeable resentment for having been thrust back into touring as a victim of circumstance, but Leonard Cohen is clearly greater than that.

What he gave the audience at the Long Center was a three-plus hour masterpiece. There was not a single moment in the show where you felt like you were watching anything less than a living legend who seemed to show no ill effects of being 74 years old. He was nimble on stage, dancing on-and-off stage during his shockingly energetic encore, and worked the audience like a consummate showman.

They went on pretty promptly at around 8:00 pm, broke for a twenty minute intermission at 9:20, and then played until 11:30. Three hours covers a lot of material to be sure, and barring a song or two that I really wanted to hear off of New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Cohen & Co. played just about any song I could have asked for. The setlist was pretty much without a flaw, and each song's rendering was marked with a command that was nothing short of arresting. As the show became more and more epic, the amazement at their ceaseless showmanship became more and more overwhelming, each song becoming marked with that feeling you get towards the end of a transcendent show where you simply cannot fathom that this song is going to be the last song, only at this show you were greeted with another and another and another.

It is difficult for me to objectively look at a show that I have seen so recently without being a little over-excited, but I can't imagine my personal concert-going history bearing out that this was easily one of the five best shows I have ever been to, and in the past year alone I've seen Bruce Springsteen (who I'm seeing again tonight), Tom Waits (three times), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Wilco to name a few.

As we got up to leave, the Rangers fan next to me (who I'll refrain from naming in the interest of preserving his privacy) turned and said, "I've never cried at a concert, and I cried twice tonight." That pretty well sums it up.

Do what you can to see this. You may not get another chance to be overwhelmed by the vitality of Leonard Cohen.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Man on Film: Who Does Watch The Watchmen?

While I wouldn't go so far as to say, "It sucked," I cannot say that The Watchmen was a film without some fairly major shortcomings. In the interest of full disclosure, my feelings on the source material fall somewhere in the very-good-but-not-great camp. I like the concept of the very flawed hero, generally. The parallel universe created is certainly interesting, as well. But its dystopic vision centered on Nixon having remaining in power seems a little gimmicky to me (and Nixon is a little too easy, in my mind), and not all of the characters struck me as being particularly interesting*.

*We all know I'm not talking about Rorschach, here.

Having gotten that out of the way, my issues with the film go past those qualms. For starters, what was the fucking music budget for this film? Honestly, the soundtrack was a distraction. "The Sound of Silence" playing over The Comedian's funeral was a little over the top. "99 Luftballoons" playing over the Dan Dreiberg/ Laurie Jupiter dinner scene was completely distracting and, despite the apropos lyrical content, completely clashing from a tonal standpoint. The bastardization of Leonard Cohen's* "Hallelujah" over the awkwardly sytlized love scene was egregious. Honestly, I think the only time I didn't take issue with the soundtrack was with "The Times They Are A-Changin'" over the opening montage, which is one of the few things I thought was done very well. With that sequence, Snyder managed to knock out much of the exposition without dialogue and took about three minutes to set the stage for the entire film in a visually engaging manner. It saved so much screen time and seemed to catch everyone up well enough to follow what was going on. The task of adapting this work was no small undertaking, but this was an encouraging sign early on.

*Seeing him in about an hour...

Past the absolutely off the mark soundtrack (and odd primary complaint, I know), my primary concerns were not the relatively static camera work (I didn't take too much issue with Zack Snyder trying to capture the spirit of the comic book by trying to keep all the action in one frame without lots of cutting) as it was with many reviewers in the mainstream media. It was perhaps an odd choice but not one that made me feel as though the film was stagnant. My issue was with some horrible miscasting. For starters, I thought Adrian Veidt should have been played by someone less effete than Matthew Goode. Veidt in the comic felt like a slightly more square-jawed man. Goode was simply too boyish to pull off a character who despite being insanely smart was a very strong athlete (yes, I know he was a gymnast, but male gymnasts also fit a slightly more square-jawed, manly profile than Goode). Then there's the fact that he's not an especially good actor.

But Goode's casting was not what I took umbrage with most. That lies squarely on the shoulders of Malin Akerman, whose portrayal of Laurie Jupiter was so far off where it needed to be it was painful. The problem with that is much of the film hinges upon her pulling that character off. You need to believe that Dr. Manhattan would come back just for her. You need to believe that Dan Dreiberg would have carried a torch for her. As the film was coming to an end, there was a twinkle in her eye that made me realize what was going on. She seemed to be channeling Cynthia Geary as Shelly in "Northern Exposure", which is not a performance I would be looking to emulate for this role. She simply does not have the dramatic chops to pull this role off.

One last note, Zack Snyder's insistence upon using slo-mo in absolutely every action scene borders on ridiculous. Show something in real time, please.

Oddly, those are my main complaints. I thought the rest of the film, especially the modified ending (which worked much better for the film), worked for the most part, but these issues I had definitely detracted from the enjoyment I took from the film.

At the very least, it was not life-changing, which many Watchmen fans certainly would have wanted. I guess that would be a tall order for any director to fill.

Musicalia: Of Interest to a Few

All right, I know that anyone who comes to this blog is likely not interested in my Royals blog. The lack of interest in both the retarded pop culture bullshit that I write about here and the Royals content that I now write over there was the determining factor in my having decided to start the Royals blog in the first place.

That being said, within my latest blog entry over at RoyalsCentricity, there is a nugget that at least Mark and Chad are going to want to see. It's pretty sweet, and we know right where that magic happened.
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