Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rediscovering the Past: A Musing or Two on Starman

First things first: This is going to be briefer than I'd like. I want to have something to write about, but I've been insanely busy with work(s). In addition to the late Spring onslaught I've been enduring at the docks, I also went out to DC for a couple of days (this was the second time I'd been there in as many months) to go to "Jeopardy!" auditions. I showed well and am in the contestant pool for this upcoming season. Hopefully I get the call this time around...

This all has meant that I've been unable to consume media at the ridiculous pace that I generally do. I've been slogging through a Martin Dugard book about Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Davis in the Mexican War for about a month and a half, largely because I've been reading a reference-y book on the Presidents on the can as pseudo-preparation for the aforementioned tryout.

I've also not been able to get out to the theater since Iron Man 2, so there's not much to say on that front.

I also anticipate writing up a little something on "Justified" as the season comes to an end, but nothing else on the TV front has tickled my fancy enough to write about it lately (as is also evident over at Munch My Benson).

Then there's the whole UFC obsession that has taken over the lives of Chad, Peter, and myself, but I'll not be getting into that just yet.

As for Starman, I sat down and watched it for the first time last night and was pleased as punch that I did. From John Carpenter's* decision to go for the gusto with the awesome Jack Nitzsche score to Karen Allen actually sort of acting penultimate real film role**, the entire experience was an awesome one.

*The cool John Carpenter, not the creepy Bob Crane sidekick who filmed him on his escapades and then likely killed him as portrayed by Willem Dafoe in Auto Focus. And yes, I do feel the need to make the clarification between the two.

**Yes, I'm stating that the only movie she did after this in which she was worth a damn was Scrooged. Do you disagree? That's what I thought. I don't want to see any feigning of indignation in the comments section here card-holding members of the Karen Allen Fan Club.

What was really awesome, though, was Jeff Bridges stunted speech. I think if I could choose one way to talk from any movie, it would be the manner of speaking utilized by Jeff Bridges in his Oscar-nominated turn as Starman.

Watching Bridges own the role brings to mind the fact that he must have been livid when he was shooting K-Pax and Spacey was just sitting there blowing what Bridges had done better.

Just look at the disdain in Bridges eyes as he looks at the man who has won an Oscar chomping into a banana like a smug dick while Bridges mantel lay bare. The irritation is real (and justified). Really, does anyone think that F. Murray Abraham deserved an Academy Award for playing himself in a wig and a ruffled shirt? Come on.

Regardless, Bridges is the shit here, and Carpenter's sci-fi romance hits the mark at almost every turn, including this one...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Man on Film: Greenberg

It was not without a healthy amount of trepidation that I walked into Greenberg. While The Squid & The Whale was a solid outing, I'd hardly say I was in head over heels in love with the film. Margot at the Wedding was so fucking unbearable that I couldn't make it 20 minutes into the movie. Somehow I actually made it through Kicking and Screaming, but holy fuck do I wish I hadn't. And as a member of the faction of Wes Anderson fans (a fandom which has been waning for the past five-plus years) who still look at The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and sigh with disappointment, I hold Noah Baumbach largely responsible for its failure.

Does the fact that I was somewhat leery of what Greenberg had in store for me really need to be elucidated any further? I think the reticence has been justified.

What I got in Greenberg was a second solid outing from writer/director Noah Baumbach. In having seen three of his films entirely, part of the fourth, and another that he has co-written, it has become evident that there is going to be lacking in resonance on a personal level for me with his works. I guess that is to be expected, as there isn't much crossover between my middle-class, Midwestern upbringing and his privileged, Brooklyn childhood. It seems that he may very well have had a childhood like the one illustrated in The Squid & The Whale, and frankly it is one that most of us couldn't possibly have much in common with.

With Greenberg, I was able to find common ground with Baumbach's work where I'd previously been unable to--Ben Stiller's Roger Greenberg has willfully ignored conventional expectations for success, is largely a dick, and is easy to dislike, all things that could be said about me. That being said, it isn't always the most comfortable experience seeing characters that you share undesirable character traits with uncomfortably exposed on screen*.

*I had similar feelings after seeing Rachel Getting Married, as the self-absorption/-destructiveness of Anne Hathaway's character struck a little too close to home for comfort.

For the most part, this doesn't get in the way of the enjoyment of the film. While self-destructive, Roger is often scathingly funny. His letters of complaint to the varied businesses that he feels slighted by are funny. His sweet moments with Greta Gerwig's Florence Marr work well, as do the awkward ones.

Where the film does over-reach is in the presumption that Florence would somehow remain interested in Roger after his repeated abuse. She doesn't seem broken in the beginning, and his intermittent shoddy treatment of her should realistically drive her away. But it doesn't, which doesn't really feel believable.

The film does look good, as Baumbach's style actually works well in Los Angeles, and the pacing is actually pitch-perfect. While often veering into the realm of the uncomfortable, the film never drags. Stiller and Gerwig are great, and Rhys Ifans is serviceable. Generally speaking, I could do without Jennifer Jason Leigh, but she wasn't in the film enough to really bring it down in my book. In all, Greenberg was a nice little film, and it gives Stiller a chance to stretch his legs a bit.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Man on Film: Un Prophete (A Prophet)

For whatever reason, I've not been making it to a lot of foreign fare in recent years. There was a time when TSLF and I would see about 50% foreign and 50% domestic films. That isn't the case anymore.

Well, I took in A Prophet a few weeks back with Chad and Steve (my only friend in Austin who is also a Super Furry Animals fan), and I was floored. I knew very little about the film other than the fact that it was a French prison movie. Having seen a fair share of French films, I expected some cursing cheese-eating surrender monkeys munching on baguettes, wearing berets, and occasionally raping each other whilst smoking cigarettes. What I got was an exceptional movie-going experience.

This being the first Jacques Audiard film I've seen, I came into the film not knowing what I was about to be given. This is easily the best prison movie since The Shawshank Redemption, which I loved. The film chronicles the rise of an Algerian prisoner through the inmate power structure of a French prison. The closest parallel to his story I can think of is that of Don Corleone story in The Godfather, Part II. This comparison is apropos in both the narrative and the qualitative sense, as A Prophet really does deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the best of The Godfather films.

Malik el Djebena as played by Tahar Rahim* is essentially a slightly more passive young Don Corleone if he had the ability to assimilate himself into nearly any group. Malik's prison ascension is compelling, and as the Arab having to be a lap dog to the Corsicans for much of the movie, it is hard not to root for him.

*It's weird but Rahim reminds me a lot of Maurice Compte, who I've always recognized as the guy from The Dream Catcher--not the shitty Stephen King adaptation--a film I recall having liked. Unfortunately, no one else in the world other than Compte himself would remember him. He was one of Gunn's peeps when Gunn was introduced on "Angel."

Generally speaking, the acting seems solid. I use the word 'seems' here because I hesitate to trust myself when evaluating the acting in a foreign-language film. Regardless, nothing seems to be amiss on the acting front.

Now I should note that the pacing of the narrative is very European. It takes its sweet time in getting rolling, but once Malik endears himself to the Corsicans, the film finally gets its legs under it. The slow start works in this case, and his efforts to embed himself in the backyard of the Corsicans and the ensuing double-/triple-agent life he takes on is fascinating.

All in all, the film is great, and it still seems to be playing in art-house theaters. Go see it. You'll be so happy you did.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Man on Film: Iron Man 2

If I'm not mistaken, this is actually the first time in the history of Inconsiderate Prick that I'll have ended up writing about the sequel to a movie that I have also written about. In that regard, I suppose this is a milestone of sorts. To celebrate this, I have treated myself to a bowl of Honey Nut in honor of Omar. Now I'm going to drop a dramatic deuce and engage in a self high-five*.

*All right, I just spent about ten minutes trying to find a video to no avail. The video was that of the short-lived mid-'90s Fox sitcom "Too Something," a show I can't say I ever actually remember having seen, but I do remember the promo that Fox surely ran about 10,000 times leading up to its lackluster premiere. Weirdly, the concept of the self high-five was emblazoned into my memory then and its execution still kind of amuses me. Unfortunately, there is no video that I can provide for you to lay down a framework for what I'm talking about.

Now, as far as the experience of seeing Iron Man 2 was concerned, it was an engaging film that left me thinking, That was pretty good. That may not be the most glowing reaction, but given my feelings about much of the high-profile films what I've seen lately, I was mostly pleased.

As was the case with Sherlock Holmes and the first Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr., makes this film work. Both of those films could have failed easily if not for the wiles and charms of Downey, just as Iron Man 2 could have. His cocksure bravado is precisely what this franchise needed. It fuels this sequel, infusing it with an energy that is needed as the film comes to its close slightly anti-climactically.

Yes, Iron Man 2 does kind of rush into and through its conclusion. Some complaints levied against the film and its according narrative shortcomings chalk them up to biting off too much in regards to foils for Tony Stark. I would hardly say that is the case. X-Men or Spider-Man 3 this film is not. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko and Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer both add much more to the film than their possible division of dedicated screen-time to villainy could take away. Rockwell is especially solid as the slimy defense-contracting douche.

As was the case with the first Iron Man, the staging of the climactic end fight scene simply leaves a bit to be desired. For starters, much of the flight/pursuit action borders on unintelligible. Perhaps this can be attributed to my second row seat, but there were 10 - 15 second sequences at the end that were a blur as much as anything else. When War Machine and Iron Man finally face off against Whiplash, the fight seems to end almost as soon as it begins.

Luckily, Iron Man 2 is ultimately character-driven, and it works entirely in that regard. While Justin Theroux's (holy hell, did I think it was weird that Theroux was writing this movie) screenplay may be unbalanced from a narrative standpoint, it succeeds on the personal front, and Stark's dealing with his mortality works exceptionally well.

Ultimately, the film's shortcomings don't do enough to detract from one's enjoyment of the film, and it does leave you looking forward to the eventual foray into the Avengers series of films down the line.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reading Rainbow: House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

If we're being honest here, my reaction to this book is tepid at best. While there are passages in the book that are engaging, too often the book veers into prolonged passages of tedium.

For those not in the know, the book can be most succinctly described as follows:
A young man finds a manuscript in trunk in an dead old blind man's apartment. The manuscript is essentially an academic work dedicated to a film that does not exist within the world in which the manuscript is found and the myriad mostly fictional works cited in 400-plus often lengthy footnotes. And that film is a documentary about a prize-winning photographer (fictional in the real world in the book) and his house in which a hallway leading to an impossibly large, metaphysically anomalous black labyrinth suddenly appears.
There's some more going on here, but the important part is the footnotes and the long tangential elements of the book that ultimately hurl the book into the realm of books that prove to be more trouble than they are worth. Sure, there is some merit to the book, but the labyrinthine task of reading the book and the psychological manipulation that Danielewski exacts upon his readers eventually cross the threshold into the realm of grating.

The great pains he goes to so that he can satirize academic criticism ultimately cost the book any chance it has to evade being an exercise in turgidity. While the wearying formatting may have been the goal for Danielewski, that doesn't mean the reader needs to be a willing participant. By the time the psychologically-suggestive, oddly formatted sections of the book arrive, the bullshit detectors are going off violently.

Any compelling sections of the novel are almost immediately undermined by pages upon pages of dull scientific exposition or faux academic criticism. Any momentum that could be gained is lost, and the reading experience ends up being an ultimately unsatisfying one.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Moneyball by Michael Lewis

This is the first of a few catch-up posts for the Reading Rainbow segments of the blog here. I know the Reading Rainbow stuff is probably the area of the blog that y'all are the most indifferent* to, but whatever.

*And, yes, I'm using the degree of indifference as a qualifier, as we all know that this entire blog is met with an indifference that can only be categorized as resounding.

Let's begin.

Moneyball is one of the most compelling non-fiction books I've read in ages. One part business, one part baseball, ten parts awesome.

Why I hadn't read it yet is baffling to me, but I hadn't and am upset with myself for taking so long to get around to it.

For those not familiar with the book at all, its primary goal is to show how the Oakland Athletics under General Manager Billy Beane managed to exploit the market inefficiencies in baseball to field a playoff-caliber team while having the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball. While that may not seem all that interesting on the surface, there is a reason why Michael Lewis finds himself atop the non-fiction bestsellers lists routinely. He is a great writer and manages to intertwine 30 pages of loosely related tangents engagingly and with ease.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, this book is enthralling.

Billy Beane is a fiery former prospect who flamed out when he got to the Majors. Rather than continue on as a player at a certain point in his career, he went and asked his General Manager if he could take a job as an advance scout (if I remember correctly). As he worked his way up through the ranks of the front office, his quest to discover what sort of players actually succeeded at the ML-level in relation to the tools they possessed began to be supported by the writings of Bill James (as he discovered them - they were written before Beane retired as a player), or the theorizing of Voros McCracken.

As Beane becomes united with Paul DePodesta, it becomes clear that this Athletics front office was head and shoulders above the rest in baseball.

While it could have been an insular story just about baseball, Lewis's Moneyball is a compelling, character-driven story about how an organization does more with less.

Look for another completed Reading Rainbow entry that will be posting tomorrow morning at this time.
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