Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Man on Film: Worst Films of the Aughts - The Top Five

So here we find ourselves, staring down at an abysmal five films. The honorable mentions and the bottom half of the top ten have been covered. It's time to put the waders on because we've got a veritable stream of shit to make our way through.

5. The Master of Disguise - 2002

Every person I have ever met with Down Syndrome has been absolutely delightful to be around. Their disposition generally makes me feel bad for being such an awful person, and the thought has certainly crossed my mind that I'd be a lot happier if I had Down Syndrome. As much as I might like people with Down Syndrome, I don't really want to see a movie conceived by them, and that's the only explanation I can think of for the existence of The Master of Disguise.

There was a time when Dana Carvey, much like Billy Crystal (who we spoke about in the first installment), was considered funny. In retrospect, was the Church Lady that funny? Was Opportunity Knocks the high point of the 1990 comedic film docket?

Hindsight is 20/20. Seeing him go on the late night talk show circuit in the past ten years has just been sad, with each host tossing up incredibly lame softballs to let Carvey bust out his 20-year-old impressions.

This movie is a Dana Carvey star-vehicle at least eight years later than such a thing ever should have happened. If the picture above doesn't drive my point home, then here is the trailer:

I assure you, this movie is as dumb as it looks. I had to watch it at work once with some kids. I couldn't leave the TV room.

I should have quit that job when faced with the likeliness that I was going to have to watch it...

4. X-Men: The Last Stand - 2006

Now unlike many who took great offense to this film, I didn't actually care for the first of the three X-Men movies. It seemed like Singer & Co. tried to fit way too much into the film, the film lacked a narrative focus and direction, and the selection of X-Men for inclusion in the first film seemed a bit off to me. Add some questionable casting decisions (read: Anna Paquin as Rogue and James Marsden as Scott Summers) into the mix, and I came out of the theater very underwhelmed (definitely less than whelmed).

The second film in the series, however, was outstanding. Were I to make a list of the best superhero flicks ever, it would be in the top five* with ease. So when Brett Ratner's name was attached to direct, it became clear the film-going public would be the ones to pay.

*I think Spider-Man 2 was better and would probably place Batman Begins and The Dark Knight ahead of X2, but that's it.

Just how much they were going to have to pay would be impossible to imagine without actually seeing the film. To sum it up succinctly, Bryan Singer is having to be brought back on board after essentially being run off when he agreed to do Superman Returns and they are having to do an origins flick with Charles Xavier in his 20s.

Yes, X-Men: The Last Stand is that awful. The plot is paper thin. There is no set-up for anything that happens. It meanders from scene to scene with little regard for keeping the audience involved. Largely it is a film with set pieces around which a story is loosely tacked on. If it were a stand-alone movie it would be awful on its own merits. Given that it follows such a great film and essentially shits all over the goodwill that was built up in the second film makes its release a travesty.

Adding insult to injury, Ratner sees fit to anticlimacticly kill off characters that the majority of the audience has at least a decade of involvement with going back to the comic books and multiple cartoon randomly throughout the film, thus fucking the franchise going forward. The performances of all but Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ellen Page (shockingly, but more on that later) range from mailed in to abysmal.

*Can someone please tell me how Shawn Ashmore continues to get work?

It was obvious when Brett Ratner, the 'brains' behind the Rush Hour franchise was signed to direct the third installment that it was going to be awful, but no amount of reshooting was going to save this film, Marvel Entertainment. You should have given this film the third-term, partial-birth abortion it warranted and just gone back to the drawing board with a competent director at the helm. Instead, we all get this, and you will find yourselves scrambling to dig out of this hole for years to come. I hope you're satisfied.

3. Southland Tales - 2006

It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when the entire film world was buzzing about Richard Kelly. Donnie Darko had worked up a feverish cult following on DVD after having had an unfortunate release concurrent with 9/11. Kelly's script for Domino was snatched up by Tony Scott, who proceeded to make a film that failed to crack a 6.0 user rating on IMDB, but eager fans chalked that up to the director not the scribe. We waited anxiously for Southland Tales, which from everything we heard was going to be enormous in scope--so big, in fact, that there were going to be a series of graphic novels that would come out beforehand to lay the groundwork for his magnum opus.

But the reaction was so overwhelmingly bad that I was was scared off until video where I watched as a mutual dare/suicide pact. This was my response after seeing it (when this blog was still clumsily walking a line lacking the requisite focus to have a semi-decent following):
Now hopefully (for you), the quote in the title is unfamiliar. If it does ring a bell, I'm sorry. That line is said not once, not twice, but three times in the most incomprehensible film ever made. Based on what the filmmaker said, this was a film that was supposed to be all things. Comedy. Thriller. Satire. Action film. What it ends up being is an utter piece of garbage.

The 'it' of which I speak is Southland Tales, and trust me, you do not want to see it.

Going in, the Old Lady, J-Bone, and I knew that we were about to watch a movie that was reportedly bad. That being said, I think we all were fairly open-minded and were expecting to find at least a few redeeming qualities. What we were treated to was essentially what would happen if Brett Ratner's ambitious, half-tard brother made an homage to Brazil. A disaster.

And all of us liked Donnie Darko. Sure it was convoluted and had some plot holes, but it was still enjoyable at the very least.

Southland Tales is anything but enjoyable. It clocks in at 2:15 (maybe more, my brain was hurting a lot by the time the movie was over), and I can safely say that there was only one scene that was actually good--and the faux domestic disturbance between Wood Harris and Amy Poehler was hilarious only because of my boy Avon Barksdale's gesticulating. The rest of the film is basically a series of events that take place involving characters leading up to this huge explosion, only there is absolutely no tension, and even if you are following what's going on and can makes sense of it there is simply nothing of any interest whatsoever.

I wanted to walk out of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 after about half an hour. I wanted to shoot myself after about fifteen minutes of Southland Tales. I guess I wasn't much of a pimp.

But I did finish the piece of shit, so I guess there's that.
This movie was completely and utterly worthless. If you need a reminder, here's the trailer:

I mean, Jesus Christ, he wasted The Rock and the opportunities that should have arisen from having Sarah Michelle Gellar play a porn star.

2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 2008

Cinematically speaking, this film comes as close to travelling back in time and raping your 12-year-old self as anything else could. It's like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg got together and decided that they were going to tie you down into a chair, murder your boyhood dog, and then skullfuck its corpse.

When trying to come up with anything positive to say about IJ:KoCS when initially reviewing it, I could only muster the following:
Shit script aside, there really isn't a lot to like about this film. Shia LaBeouf did what he could with a crap role loaded with cliche-ridden, greaser dialogue. Cate Blanchett's hair looked good. There's something about Ray Winstone I generally like, I guess.
This film single-handedly ruined a treasured (perhaps unjustly so) franchise from twenty years ago, ushered a new phrase into the pop-culture lexicon to augment and possibly rival "jumping the shark" ("nuking the fridge"), and made grown men cry. It gave us a leaden, humorless, and geriatric Indiana Jones complete with a horrible Harrison Ford performance that probably would have been better suited for the portion of Regarding Henry just after he is shot but before he starts to get his bearings about him. There are child-pandering transgressions here that are far more egregious than Jar-Jar Binks and the Ewoks combined, like the moronic vine-swinging sequence.

In short, fuck this movie.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Dead Man's Chest - 2006

I wrote the following diatribe on IMDB within hours of walking out of the theater:
This film is like having a fat man who ate at IHOP run a marathon and then drop a diarrhea dump on your chest and proceed to use your face as toilet paper

I should preface this review by saying that I was indifferent as to how I might feel about this film going into it. I thought the first film was fairly good. It was entertaining, but nothing that made me yearn for a second one. That being said, I hadn't read a review of this film (and still haven't) and had only heard that it had received mixed reviews. I had tempered expectations going into the theater, but I was certainly open to a good time.

A good time was not had. This film was quite simply awful. I have not seen anything in a long time that made me marvel at the fact that it was actually the finished product of a gigantic summer film churned out by a Hollywood Studio. I saw X-Men 3. While that was dreadful, this was eons past X3 in terms of excrement put to celluloid.

The plot was akin to a second-grader's class project. There was zero character development and not a single moment in which you thought you were seeing an original thought projected onto the screen. While it is a sequel, at some point the things that happen to the characters should matter, and if something bad happens to a character, the events that have molded him or her to that point should affect the audience somehow. Instead, the tools responsible for this screenplay have events happen without emotionally investing the audience in any way, shape, or form as to the fate of the characters on-screen, simply hoping that writing an event will somehow tug at the heart-strings of the audience without ever having to earn it.

I don't know that it is entirely the filmmakers' fault, because it seems that Verbinski & Co. were tied to some P.O.S. script that was churned out in a matter of days to get the cameras rolling, so Disney could bend the movie-goer over and sodomize them while getting paid for it. In the place of an actual story, they were probably told to blow up the film with mind-numbing action sequences and lame special effects.

To add insult to injury, the film clocks in at a mere two-and-a-half hours, which for a film with a plot wouldn't bother me in the least, but when you can write out the entire plot of this film in a matter of moments, seeing that paper-thin storyline stretched into 150 minutes is unbearable.

I could even make an exception to all of the aforementioned gripes and say that there was something in the film worthwhile if there was one performance from the cast that was mildly amusing. Alas, there is not. The actors all seem to have mailed it in, including Depp, who had a single chuckle-worthy moment as a follow-up to an Oscar-nominated turn in the previous Pirates outing.

***********SPOILER ALERT*************** When it comes down to it, all you'll get from this film is an obscenely long prologue to Pirates of the Caribbean 3: The Search for Spock--I mean Jack, because the entire plot of this atrocious piece of refuse is enough to fill a mere introduction to a real story.

Now, as one could imagine, I did not bother with the third, At World's End. I am sure that it would make the list, but one of these is enough.

I still feel like I did when I wrote that. This was a wretched film. This was, by far, the worst movie of this past decade, and it's not even close.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Man on Film: Worst Films of the Aughts - Numbers Ten Through Six

The List 10 - 6

You've gotten the introduction and the films qualifying for honorable mention. Here is the first half of the top ten.

10. Minority Report - 2002

You might be able to tell by the fact that this is one of two Spielberg-directed films on the list that I might not like Steven Spielberg. While I think he can be a great visual director, his repeated steps up onto his soapbox are tirelessly aggravating to me. Minority Report along with IJ: KoCS are the last two Spielberg movies that I saw in the theater. Each time, I left the theater wanting my time and money back. In the case of Minority Report, I only spent $2 at a bargain theater.

I remember (and this was 7 years ago) sitting in my seat and becoming aggravated by his heavy handed preaching no less than ten minutes into his take on Philip K. Dick's dystopian vision of the future. Getting to watch Tom Cruise non-act his way through the film was brutally painful, something that a more intuitive director would have taken care of by pacing the film more responsibly. Two-plus hours of watching Tom Cruise occupy the big screen has since been added to the Geneva Conventions as a torturous offense. By the time Spielberg was done spelling out what you were supposed to believe with Days of Thunder as his lead, my brain hurt and I felt dumber for having sat through the film.

I'm not sure that I have recovered those lost IQ points, but you readers of the blog who knew me before 2002 might be able to shine a light on that subject. Regardless, Minority Report stole two hours and 15 minutes from my life that I'll never get back, and it brutally raped the memory of Philip K. Dick, further cementing Spielberg's place in the special part of hell reserved for people who take good source material and make turgid, piece-of-shit movies out of them.

9. Max Payne - 2008

Based on the trailer, I really thought this movie had the potential to be a solid dark action flick. Seriously, tell me how this doesn't look like it should be good.

Mark Wahlberg, who was just coming off the ass-kicking, Bronson throwback Shooter (I'm choosing to block out We Own the Night--if I didn't see it, it didn't happen, right?...), looked to have a super-dark, hyper-stylized revenge flick newly added to his resume. Mila Kunis looked super hot and was purported to be kicking ass, and good-looking ladies kicking all sorts of ass is never a bad thing. All looked good.

Then the movie came out. Holy Hell was I dead wrong. Any aesthetic appeal to the film was ultimately deemed irrelevant by the complete lack of anything resembling a story. Absolutely nothing happened other than his family being killed and then his finally starting to get revenge like 90 minutes in. I know video game movies are more often than not going to be awful, but they probably could have ripped the script directly from the game and at least had something happen in the first three-quarters of the movie. I cannot remember a single plot point from the first hour of the film, and that is probably because there wasn't one. This was basically an even more egregious sleight to storytelling in favor of making something look cool than the most effective advertisement in favor or steroid use ever, 300.

Regardless, Max Payne was interminable and just sporadically meandered for 90 minutes until he finally started shooting the people who killed his family. Stupid.

8. Elizabethtown - 2005

I have absolutely loved two Cameron Crowe movies: Say Anything... and Almost Famous. I don't count Fast Times at Ridgemont High because he didn't direct it, even though it is arguably more about him than any of his films other than Almost Famous. Singles and Jerry Maguire were both flawed for many reasons but were not necessarily horrible. Elizabethtown, however, is absolutely terrible.

This is basically a film that consists entirely of rehashed moments from Cameron Crowe's earlier films. Making a film that is basically ripping off your own previous films is reprehensible enough, but he chose Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst as his leads, sealing this film's fate as an unforgivably awful movie. In their hands, even an intelligent script would fall flat, but this is the filmic equivalent to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication, which might be the worst non- Weezer album of the past twenty years, in that it is basically a covers album of one's own greatest hits with shittier lyrics. That it is from the mind of Cameron Crowe, who is capable of much better, makes it all the worse.

The thing is I knew going into it that it was supposed to be awful. I had not heard a single positive reaction to the film. Such a resounding disapproval lowered my expectations mightily. I thought it would be bad. Then I put it in and started watching, and each scene made me more and more angry than the one before it. It is a saccharin exercise in forced self-discovery with no rationale or plausibility to the protagonist's eventual self-actualization. Elizabethtown was a bullshit movie from someone who should know better. It's cloying and melodramatic and gratingly cutesy, all for the sake of trying to generate some feel-good ending, but it's all for naught because this movie blows.

7. House of the Dead - 2003

Uwe Boll had to make the list somewhere, didn't he. Now, unfortunately, I have not seen Alone in the Dark or any of the BloodRayne movies, but I think we can all agree that Uwe Boll is a mainstay on this kind of list. House of the Dead is absolute horseshit. When realizing that this is somehow an adaptation of a video game*, the first question that popped into my mind was, "The video game can't have been this bad, right?"

*I had sex in the decade prior to this film coming out, so why would I know this beforehand?

Seriously, it's a horror movie with no suspense, no rationale behind characters' actions, nothing resembling acting, and no budget. I could bore you with "plot points," but there aren't really any. The characters are supposed to be going to the rave of the century but, having gotten a glimpse of it in the opening minutes of the film, expectations for such a rave are comical as there could be have been no more than 15 people there. It is rare that a film has such a disconnect between what is supposed to be going on within the context of the film and what is actually shown on the screen. Hell, there are little shots from the video game spliced in intermittently to the film despite the fact that there appear to be very few similarities between them.

6. Juno - 2007

In case you missed it the first time I wrote about it, I hated this fucking movie. Watch this trailer, and tell me what about that is going to be good...

(I do realize that the sound isn't synchronized on this one, but the other trailer doesn't get my point across as well.)

Seriously, this movie is godawful. The dialogue is wretched. The characters are nothing more than caricatures. Everything is entirely too cute and precious. Juno is a bottomless pit of precocious witticism in a pregnant teen vessel. There is nothing that even approaches a real moment in the first two-thirds of this film, and when an attempt is made to bring this film back to reality it is all the more irksome because it just drives the point home that this film made no attempt at all to be about real people or real situations.

It is also indirectly responsible for "The United States of Tara," the biggest waste of the talents of John Corbett ever, so there is a tangential reason to hate this even more. That's kind of irrelevant because there is next to nothing redeemable about this movie. The fact that legitimate talent is attached to this film is just more aggravating because they could have been working on something good rather than this trite horseshit.

The fact that there are five movies that I hated more than Juno should have you coming back for the final installment of this series on Tuesday. Happy Jesus Day.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Man on Film: Worst Films of the Aughts - Honorable Mention

When getting down to the business of compiling decade's end lists, there is the obvious issue that there is no way for the writer to have seen all of the films released in that window of time. So while this list will obviously be incomplete for that reason, I can say that I have seen a fuckload of movies over the past ten years.

Now in most places doing these lists, you'll find a best-of list pounded out by some fanboy eliciting arguments from other fanboys about how Oldboy should have been higher than Audition or how the Lord of the Rings trilogy should have held the top three spots (even though it wasn't even the best trilogy of the decade). Obviously, my list would have been Rambo and then everything else, and where's the suspense in that?

Putting together a list of the worst movies of the decade is a lot more fun, and you know it.

Now since we're talking about awful movies, it will be hard for me to dial back the language to an even remotely family friendly standard, so if you are sensitive to harsh language, this is the post that you should probably avoid. There is also the obvious shortcoming of not having seen movies like Daddy Day Camp, Malibu's Most Wanted, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, White Chicks, Dracula 2000, Wild Hogs, Saw VI, or The Love Guru*, so this list will be mostly comprised of movies that it will have made sense for someone to have seen. This means that these films had some sort of expectation of being more than they were, meaning they failed much more than a Jamie Kennedy star vehicle, which was obviously going to suck from Jump Street.

*There is also the curious phenomenon of the Tyler Perry catalog. I saw 20 minutes of Madea Goes To Jail and was horrified. I'm not sure what to make of these films and how they would fall into this list. Don't get me wrong that 20 minutes was painful and transvestism for comedic effect rarely works, but I wonder if it's really worth my time to write anything about them. And if I did, I would be afraid that my favorite person to make the BALCO investigation list would come after me...

It also should be noted that I have not seen From Justin to Kelly, Crash, Van Helsing, or either of the Fantastic Four films--all of which I fully believe would contend for spots on this list. I have seen the first 20 minutes of Norbit, and I am confident that it would make the top two if I had been able to finish it. Unfortunately for this list, fate and work intervened, and I have not seen the entire film.

I also feel like there is a very good chance that I will hate Avatar and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, both of which come out as the Aughts come to an end.

Without further ado, here is the list of the Worst Movies of the Aughts...

Honorable Mention:

These films were all terrible in their own right. They just do not happen to have been so bad as to make the cut.

America's Sweethearts - 2001

Holy shit. There was a time when Billy Crystal was funny. Seriously. Well, he co-wrote and co-starred in this shit heap. It starred Julia Roberts (who only Steven Soderbergh can coax a remotely bearable performance out of) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (who sucks outright), stacking the deck on the "this is going to blow" side of the argument from the get-go, but also managed to make the inherently likable John Cusack come across as unsympathetically whiny.

Battlefield Earth - 2000

Do I really need to say anything about this? If this came out more recently, maybe this would crack the top ten. If I hadn't missed 45 minutes of it while a roommate was watching it on cable, it might make the top of the list. Having missed one-third of the film did not dull the pain enough to have BE not make this list.

Death Proof (The Grindhouse cut) - 2007

So I'm cheating a little bit here, but there is no fucking way I was going to sit through the director's cut that meant I was going to get to hear more shameless name-dropping of Austin landmarks and poorly written dialogue for female characters. The car sequences were decent enough to exempt this from the top ten, but it still makes the honorable mention cut. It somehow manages to waste Kurt Russell, which I thought was impossible, but casting against type doesn't automatically make something good.

Righteous Kill
- 2008

Al Pacino and nuance have been estranged since at least 1983. He hasn't carried a decent movie since 1992*, if we're being generous. Robert DeNiro hasn't been in a strong serious film since 1998's Ronin. You could tell from the trailer that it was going to be awful. It didn't disappoint. Given their decade-plus track records of churning out garbage, it was hardly a surprise. If the honorable mentions were being ranked this would be wrestling with Battlefield Earth for making the top ten.

*Michael Mann's Heat is the shit, but that is absolutely an ensemble piece.

Swordfish - 2001

How does a movie containing the first Halle Berry topless scene on celluloid become the most boring Heineken ad ever? Ask Swordfish because it accomplished that feat.

Complete and utter shit, and it solidifies John Travolta as this generation's Al Pacino.

Check back Monday for the bottom half of the top ten.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Man on Film: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Since The Royal Tenenbaums, it has kind of felt like Wes Anderson was treading water. In each film, he seems to have been desperately seeking his father's approval, and each has ultimately drowned in paternal pathos. Even the shine of Anderson's perpetual quirkiness has begun to lose its luster, as his characters have become increasingly unlikeable and decreasingly tethered to a reality anyone in the audience can share.

As the real world has become a less than integral element in Anderson's ouvre, the leap to The Fantastic Mr. Fox makes sense.

Now if one were to assume that since The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a movie for children that there wouldn't be any daddy issues, one would be mistaken. For nearly the entire film, the Jason Schwartzman-voiced Ash begs for his father's attention/approval.

Luckily, since there is a clear break from reality and stop-motion animation is a new medium for Anderson to work within, this doesn't feel as tired as The Darjeeling Limited and (especially) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou did.

For the most part, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a fun ride. The kiddie flick 'cuss' alternative is amusing for the adult. The farm-robbing hijinx breathe enough life into the film not to bore.
Visually speaking, the stop-motion animation that he first experimented with in The Life Aquatic gets to breathe a full breath, stretch its legs out, and make itself comfortable. Given the time of a feature-length film and the hand of a director who doesn't seem to have a whimsy off-switch, the full breadth of what the stop-motion can do is realized to great effect. That combined with the boisterous agri-capers that the George Clooney-voiced Mr. Fox ventures out on, make for a fun, family-friendly romp.

The one thing I do wonder is whether or not children are going to get this film. I mean, I'm not a kid so personally I don't give a damn whether it works for children, but I doubt that most six-year-olds are going to be drawn into a film in which the character that they would most closely associate themselves with is conniving and whining for a good chunk of the film.

Again, that does not color my view on the film, and I liked it walking out to the car, so I guess that's all that really matters.

Now if only Wes Anderson's father would express some pride in his son's work, so we could all get to see what might happen if he made a film with a different thematic template...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

Over the past year or two, I have come to realize that I rather enjoy reading about the role that music plays in other people's lives. Maybe it started with Fargo Rock City. Maybe it predated that. Regardless, there is something comforting to me about reading about how important something as arguably unimportant can be in someone else's life as it adds an air of normalcy to my perception of my life that probably shouldn't be there.

But somehow reading someone whose own pop obsession rivals mine validates my perpetual preoccupation.

Rob Sheffield's account of music and the role it played in his life is compelling, funny, and even devastating. You see, while Love is a Mixtape is a chronicle of the musical experiences of a rock writer, it is at least as much a stirring elegy paying tribute to his wife, Renee, who died one afternoon in their Charlottesville apartment at the age of 31 from a pulmonary embolism.

And weirdly, this book works fantastically well, and I don't think that it is solely because it plays to my biggest fear* and my appreciation of music (fandom).

*Despite my gross self-centeredness, my biggest fear is actually losing The Special Lady Friend, not my own death (but trust me, that's way up there on the list). Death fucks me up anyway, but every time TSLF is abnormally incommunicado and unaccounted for my imagination works into horrific overdrive and I start to freak the fuck out. Maybe I'm a morbid person, but I'd be fucking shattered if anything happened to her.

Sheffield lovingly paints a picture of a vibrant, magnetic woman, one whose relationship with him was colored largely by shared musical interests. If ever he worried that Renee would be forgotten, this book assures that she won't. After endearing her to the reader, illuminating her quirks and injecting her joie de vivre into nearly every page, her death knocks you on your ass. His account of the aftermath is heartbreaking, and it seems clear that he'll never truly be over her.

Music was a backdrop for their life together, permeating nearly all of their experiences together. Their consumption of music of all types informed and enriched their lives. Their shared experiences are defined by their mutual love of music, and his memories of Renee are rehashed, rekindled, and recalled at the insertion of a mixtape into a tape deck.

It may sound weird, but somehow reading a book with each chapter of the author's life framed by a mixtape from the time period is insanely entertaining. The tragic sudden death of a young bride makes for a heart-string puller, and his recount of trying to pick up the pieces of a broken life afterward certainly resonated with me.

In short, it's a good music read that's not nearly as light as most similar works.

(If you read the book, you'll get why that trailer is there...)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Man on Film: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Imagine a film in which Nicolas Cage is cut free and allowed to be 110% Nicolas Cage.

Now you don't have to. It exists, and it is The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

I will freely admit that when I heard the Werner Herzog was going to team up with Nicolas Cage on this project I was not sure what to expect. It really owes nothing to Abel Ferrara's The Bad Lieutenant. There are certainly thematic similarities, as both feature corrupt, drug-addicted cops, but Herzog has never seen Ferrara's film, so anything past that is mere coincidence. Knowing the subject matter and the talent involved, you knew this was going to be mind-blowing.

If you have any doubts, here's the trailer. It will convince you.

This is unbridled Nic Cage. If you are a reader of this blog or know me at all, you know that is all I want from life.

Despite my insanely high expectations for the film, I walked out ecstatically pleased with my film-going experience. There were weird reptile motifs complete with reptile cams. It is insanely quotable with Cage rattling off brilliant lines like:
Shoot him again... His soul is still dancing.

You don't have a lucky crack pipe?

I'll kill all of you. To the break of dawn. To the break of dawn, baby!
It really seems like Herzog had the intention of making a vehicle for Cage to go balls to the wall for a full two hours because he trusted Cage's instincts, and Herzog was rewarded with perhaps his best feature film yet. Each stylistic choice is spot on. It is perfectly exploitative. It has the grit of post-Katrina New Orleans permeating every shot. The score envelops the film with a doped up swampy haze that pulls you in. And there is Nicolas Cage, who I may have devoted more space and time on this blog to than anyone else, and here he justifies that status.

Hell, any movie that ends with this line:
You know, Chavez, I still hate that I ruined my underwear for you
followed by a quasi-maniacal laugh, should be seen regardless of what else is in the film.

Judging by the trailer above, you should know if this is a movie for you. If it isn't, I feel bad for you because there is something missing from your life and it is the joy of seeing this crazy, fucked up movie.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg

Not being an historian of any sort myself (I haven't taken a proper history class since my junior year of high school in 1996-'97), I have to admit that I am no authority on the American Revolution.

With that admittance out in the open, Nancy Isenberg's thoroughly researched 2007 biography of the controversial Aaron Burr is absolutely convincing in painting its portrait of a man who has been short-changed in the larger eye of history. Taking into account the hyper-partisan press, the Alexander Hamilton-led Federalist party, and the myriad jealousy-driven factions within his own disjointed Republican party, Isenberg lays more than ample groundwork to make her case.

Through her extensive research, she is able to tell the story of the nation's third Vice President. His potential for broad appeal affixed a target to his back, and his opponents (read: nearly every man wielding any political power after the slightly mishandled election of 1800) took nearly every chance they got to take him down. Despite his best efforts--or possibly because of them--to remain neutral and independent, he ended up getting dragged through the mud worse than any of his peers.

*The notes and index run a whopping 125 of the hardcover's 540 total pages.

Having had his character repeatedly assailed by the spurious and pernicious Alexander Hamilton, the fed-up Aaron Burr finally made the fateful challenge. All of this came closely on the heels of his President abandoning him, fearing for the preservation of the Virginia Dynasty and buying into the baseless lies sold by Burr's foes in print and politics (although little separated the two).

Following those two career-destroying events and fueled by his financial woes resulting from his failed land speculating in years past, he made a run at a privatized liberation of Spanish territories to the west of the Louisiana Territory (any government involvement would have been viewed as an act of war). Unbeknownst to Burr, he had taken a double agent into his inner circle, who then sold Burr out to sitting President Thomas Jefferson by misrepresenting Burr's intent as having been secessionist.

Already we're talking about a pretty compelling story, complete with very vivid personal letters lending Burr's own voice to his biographers set of tools. There is also further characterization of Thomas Jefferson as a politically insecure, passive-aggressive douchebag with a penchant for trusting the wrong people. So clearly what we're talking about is one of the most interesting, historically maligned figures from out batch of founding fathers. Coupled with a fresh take (I hesitate to label this revisionist because of the bitter pang that the term takes for me, personally), this is totally worth your time and effort.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tube Steak: "White Collar," You Surprised Me

(updated with video at the bottom of the page @ 9:00 pm)

So I was going to sit down and begin to work up a "Family Ties" centered Munch My Benson blog entry(ies?...) after finishing up with the "White Collar" fall finale, but now I can't.

Now I've not spoken about the show on the blog before, but I have written about some of the USA Network's other programs at length, which is kind of weird I guess. And there is the matter of having started up an entire blog with other people solely devoted to one program that they air about 15 episodes of every Tuesday... Suffice it to say, I watch a fair deal of USA, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

In their newest show, "White Collar," they have quite the little hit on their hands (it generally pulls better ratings than "Smallville" does on Friday nights, although they are in different time slots).

"White Collar" seemed very much akin to "Burn Notice" in that they both feature impossibly cool protagonists who are capable of doing just about anything their work requires, and their work is pretty fun to watch. Where "Burn Notice" has its super spy, "White Collar" has its master thief/forger/conman. And, of course, Matthew Bomer is a dashing man who wears a suit well with a winning smile, so it makes it really hard to root for his character...

*****Spoilers ahead*****

So much of what has been driving Caffrey is the yearning to get his girlfriend, Kate, back. At the same time, he has had to earn the trust of his partner in the FBI (he's on work-release essentially), Peter. As cards have been turned over, it has become evident that Kate is being controlled by a third party.

As this fall finale played out with Neal wiggling free from the grips of sure imprisonment (this time wrongful) using his wiles and charm, he got a phone call from Kate telling him to trust no one.

Now if they left it at this moment that reeked of "The X-Files," it probably would have kept me wanting for the six weeks between now and the next new episode.

Then it took a turn for the dark side, and after the break Kate entered her hotel room to find her pinky-ringed pseudo-captor seated behind a high-backed chair.

And then there was the reveal.

Ho. Ly. Fuck.

Color me shocked.

Now maybe there is more to this story, but if Peter* is really some crazy double-life living mastermind, then you can consider me utterly surprised.

*By the way, love that Tim DeKay is in this. He was great in "Carnivale" and has been insanely likeable (/hate-able?...), and his play with Bomer has been some of the best buddy cop chemistry in recent television.

That is a first from a show on this network, and this viewer is pleased as punch.

Needless to say, I really cannot wait for January 18th to roll around because that curveball threw me way off.

And since I can't find an embeddable version of the Private Eyes "Psych" promo, here's an oldie but a goodie...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tube Steak: Semi-Shameful "Glee" Confession

All right.

I watch "Glee."

It might be the gayest thing I do.

I actually enjoy the show for the most part. There are moments when I cringe*, but they don't outweigh the good.

*Any of the musical numbers that are fantasy sequences within individual characters' heads, thus breaking with reality: the thing I hate most about musicals in general.

With that out of the way, the pregnancy ruse that Terri was pulling on Will definitely had to end. It was intriguing for a while, but it had gone about six episodes too long. I guess there are bound to be some growing pains when you get an Executive Producer used to 13 episode seasons having to stretch his feet out on network full-season television, but Ryan Murphy need not worry, he is not going to be compared to Kevin Williamson* or "Degrassi" when it comes to burning through narrative arcs.

*Maybe my memory is doing me a disservice, but it really seemed to me that stories that should have taken months to play out on "Dawson's Creek" ended up being resolved in two or three episodes. With reasonable narrative pacing, I probably would have kept watching that show past its first season. OK, probably not. Its "Buffy" lead-in was the reason I watched in the first place, I never had a thing for Katie Holmes or Michelle Williams, and its dialogue was laughably inappropriate for the age-group being portrayed. "Dawson's Creek" was never really going to be a show that I could have stuck with...

But this faking of a pregnancy and the awful sister-in-law scenes was killing all momentum every fifteen minutes or so.

It had to end.

Now I get that Will and Jayma need to be kept apart to leave viewers wanting for something to happen. The sexual tension between the two is one of the most compelling aspects of the show--that, and the roughly tri-weekly transcendent full-group routines, starting with the outstanding "Don't Stop Believin'" number in the outstanding premiere--so keeping them lusting after one another with no release is vital to the overall chemistry of the show.

That doesn't mean the Will/Terri pregnancy drama needed to go on this long. It was excruciating, but I guess I've now gotten just a bit more of the good ol' catharsis from it, so there is that.

Thank God that's over.

I can now look forward to the season-long story arcs moving forward.

Here's a gift...

You're welcome.
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