Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Diversions: Alert!

Holy shit, do I have to piss.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Man on Film: Inglourious Basterds

After the two-hour anti-climax that was Kill Bill, Vol. 2 and the unwatchable section of Grindhouse, Death Proof, I have to admit that my expectations for the newest installment in the Quentin Tarantino catalog were pretty low.

Luckily, Inglourious Basterds wasn't overflowing with female characters for Quentin Tarantino for whom to write abysmal dialogue.

I think what warmed me up most for the film was hearing Tarantino on Fresh Air when the film was released. Coming across as far less spastic, hearing this interview was the perfect primer.

With over a week to separate myself from the film, I have to say that it was a welcome return to--well, maybe it wasn't a return to form, per se, but it was certainly a welcome return to the realm of entertaining filmmaking.

It had been six long years since I walked out of a theater having enjoyed a Tarantino release. A long enough time that I was beginning to doubt he'd be able to regain his touch.

While IB is perhaps a little long, it never crossed that line into the watch-checking family of three-hour films. No performances stuck out as being particularly flat (even that of Rod Taylor, the leaden leading man of the 50s and 60s who "starred" in such weak fare as The Time Machine and The Birds). Despite the complaints of some that Brad Pitt's accent was over-the-top, I thought it worked pretty well within the context of the film, and his speaking of Italian in his Tennessean accent was hilarious.

*******SPOILER ALERT*******

What is maybe most unique about the film, is the catharsis it is able to provide its viewers. Unlike any other WWII film, Inglourious Basterds sees Hitler graphically slaughtered by Allied Forces--his face ripped apart by a slew of bullets.

As for the violence: While it was graphic at times, I was a little surprised that it wasn't a little more hardcore. Maybe I have been desensitized to the point of it being disturbing that I was bothered so little, but I didn't really think there was that much to be shocked by. Sure, the scalpings were graphic, but there really weren't that many of them. Maybe it's fucked up that I laughed during one of them...


The movie was entertaining. That's what most movies are supposed to be. There's a little unconventional catharsis thrown into the mix. That's cool. You never know who's going to die or when they're going to get it. There is a tension that such unpredictability lends to a film that certainly helps its cause.

I can't say it's a flawless film, but so few are.

See it if you like scalpings and bludgeonings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: Lord of Illusions and the Undeniable Star Power of Scott Bakula

It's weird how random conversations can will movies to be on television. Yesterday, while in the throes of a Mark Harmon*-driven chat, the subject matter inevitably turned to Scott Bakula. Over the course of the Bakula turn, the stranger to me in the group mentioned In the Mouth of Madness**.

*During the course of this conversation, Mark Harmon was obviously called "Summer School", and the fact that he was People's Sexiest Man Alive (in 1986, although I thought it was 1989 or 1990, for some odd reason) was thrown into the mix.

**The fucking scene in the car in the fog where they keep passing the same old man on the bicycle totally trips me out. Past that, I remember very little of this film other than the fact that Ryan and I rented it with Gordo and Else back in high school. I seem to remember Ryan and I being the only ones even remotely interested by the one-hour mark or so.

I didn't really get the connection at the time, and then I realized that he really meant Lord of Illusions, but it was far too late to correct him, which is a shame because the whole conversation was kind of revolving around him hitting on this girl, which I've got no problem with in theory, but in reality there is always this incredibly awkward energy that then looms over the flow of conversation. It would have been nice to bust that up, if only a little.

Anyway, this conversation in which the words 'lord', 'of', and 'illusions' were never uttered in succession but the allusion to the film was there in spirit and in my mind clearly set the gears in motion over at HBO because I'm sitting here watching it right now.

Let me tell you, I had forgotten just what this film really was since we rented it and watched it one afternoon right before Dazed and Confused (odd twin-bill, I know) at Stein's house.

Just off the top of my head, I'm hard-pressed to think of many movies that combine the worlds of film noir, horror, and desert acid movies, but Clive Barker elected to do it here. It was a bold move, I guess, but not one that ever completely works.

What does work is R-rated Scott Bakula as a private investigator. Why no one decided that Dr. Sam Beckett needed more work in the hard-boiled world of noir (and real, stylized film noir, not this amalgamation) is beyond my comprehension. Let me say right now that these short-sighted producers/casting directors can go screw.

What I can say is that watching this makes me want to watch Necessary Roughness again, but I guess that could be said on just about any day of the week...

Now, for your Bakula treat, something I totally forgot existed. Thank you, Al Gore, for inventing this goddamn internet.

And to bring it full circle:

Now if only I could find video of Bakula in his starring role in the TV series adaptation of Gung Ho. I guess this will have to do...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye

If there has been one good thing about the Royals* only being watchable once every five games or so, it has been that I have found myself with slightly more free time on my hands. Past a cursory look at the standings to see where the Royals are in the running for the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes and trying to catch Greinke’s starts, my time devoted to baseball is shrinking to microscopic proportions.

*I think it is obvious that we’re using the plural form of Royal out of politeness here.

Granted, I now work somewhere in the 70 hours per week neighborhood, so the term 'free time' is being applied loosely here, but that luxury would be virtually nonexistent if the product on the field at the Kougar were even remotely entertaining.

What I have spent my last week or so doing is reading the new—we’re talking books here, so a couple months old is still new, right?—Satchel Paige biography by Larry Tye. If for some reason you are not familiar with the man who may well have been the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, here is a link to the book’s author speaking about Paige at Amazon.

Now, I am hardly a man who keeps abreast of what is atop the best-sellers lists. In fact, the only reason I even knew the book had been published was because of NPR. But the instant its existence was illuminated for me was the instant I knew I had to read the book.

When I was a child, my dad—a Kansas City native, whose childhood home is almost entirely responsible for my years of sports-fan-derived misery—found one of my uncle’s old books on Satchel Paige and read it to us at bedtime while staying at my grandparents’ house. Between my uncle—whose rabid baseball fandom—and my dad—whose Royals fandom has since waned as things like real life have taken up the space that a less complicated life used to allow for—my fate as a baseball fan was sealed.

Satchel Paige was a mythic figure to me as a child.

Larry Tye’s new book does nothing to undermine the mythos that I have so long associated with the hazy figure from my childhood memories.

To be able to say that about something from my childhood is refreshing, given that nearly everything I remembered as being awesome from my youth has not held water (i.e., Short Circuit or “MacGyver”).

Larry Tye’s thoroughly researched and obviously passionate account of this larger than life Negro League superstar is at all times captivating. While the facts are painstakingly separated from the legend, the reader is taken on an historian’s voyage through the muddled annals of Negro League history—one rife with hyperbole and unburdened by a need for accuracy in reportage. What those facts elucidate is the life and work of one of the greatest unsung figures of the 20th Century.

The importance of Leroy “Satchel” Paige in terms of what his fame, skill, and persona did to sew fertile seeds in the growing of goodwill between the races is never more aptly drawn up as it is here.

And reading about the man himself with his homespun aphorisms and colorful peccadilloes is a blast for the duration of the 300 pages.

It is a quick read, imbued with love for the subject and his time and imminently worth the effort put into it.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

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