Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Man on Film: Faster

Any Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson fan had to have been salivating when word that he was doing an R-rated revenge flick got out.  Well, Faster is that flick.  And it isn't.  While graphically violent, it falls short of what I think we all wanted from the film.

Now, I think when most of us think of what we would want from an R-rated Dwayne Johnson revenge flick, we want a shitload of righteous kills*.  For the most part, we get this.  Unfortunately, since it's The Rock that we're talking about, there is a certain way that I think we want these kills realized.  We want these bad guys, these henchmen, these minions, and especially these masterminds tossed around like rag dolls.  It's The Fucking Rock, after all.

Dwayne Johnson pursues doucher
What we get is a fearless dude fresh out of the joint who is on a mission to avenge his brother's death and his own attempted murder.  With nothing left to live for, he goes after his targets with reckless abandon and little concern for whether or not he is seen knocking these guys off.  This element of a singular purpose with a determination that cares not for such trivial things as getting caught is admittedly badass. 

*But trust me, we don't want Righteous Kill...

Unfortunately, the obvious physicality of Dwayne Johnson is woefully under-utilized.  And maybe if George Tillman, Jr. (the director of Soul Food, Men of Honor, and Notorious) didn't spend the first minute of the movie fetishizing Dwayne Johnson's massively muscular build, showing the audience what a physical specimen he is, then he could have justifiably made the argument that The Rock had been cast for reasons other than his obvious imposing stature, but it would be tough to make that case given the project.

As it is, Faster is a relatively run-of-the-mill revenge flick.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I happen to love this sub-genre.  Death WishPaybackTakenOldboyGet Carter.  The man on a mission to avenge a wrongdoing scenario is clearly fruitful ground.  It is not hard to appeal to our natural urge to exact revenge upon those who have done wrong unto us.  We can rather easily place ourselves in the shoes of the avenger, our loved one(s) perishing in the place of theirs, our righteous anger at the prospect of this violent act.  With as likable a lead as Dwayne Johnson, why wouldn't we want to pretend we were him?

The main issue that one can reasonably take against the film is that Dwayne Johnson just walks in with a hand cannon and shoots guys with a steely determination.  There is virtually no brute force used in the execution of his to-do list.

Well, maybe that's not the main issue, but that's the one that left The Leprechaun, J-Bone, and myself wanting when we left the theater on Saturday.

The main issue is that there is this lame-o British yogi contract killer who is so lame that he is dating (and SPOILER ALERT marries) Maggie Grace.  Yes, the same Maggie Grace who sucked in Lost.  That's right, the same Maggie Grace who did her damnedest to make me wish that the throat-chopping badass Liam Neeson failed in his mission to save his daughter in the surprisingly awesome Taken.  The insertion of this third-party hired to apparently add an element of The Good, The Bad, and The Choady is easily the most irritating part of the film.  The hitman who desperately wants approval of his 'faster' (yes, this is where the title comes from) target is simply sad.

Now, the film isn't necessarily poorly directed.  Just because the director is also the guy who directed Soul Food doesn't mean it doesn't look all right.  I actually kind of like the soundtrack choices, including "Just Dropped In" as Billy Bob Thornton's crooked Cop (yes, his character is just referred to as Cop, just as Dwayne Johnson is Driver, and choady toolbag (his real name is Oliver Jackson-Cohen) character is Killer) is shooting up in an alley, and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and a track off of High Violet (I think it was "Terrible Love" but now I can't remember) are prominently featured.  The score was also by Clint Mansell, whose work I generally love, but I honestly can't recall the score.  At.  All.
The other issue is the screenplay.  Written by the Gayton brothers (Tony wrote Murder by Numbers and The Salton Sea, and Joe wrote Uncommon Valor and co-wrote Bulletproof), the screenplay is relatively short on too many elements that it needed to be successful.  The Driver says virtually nothing.  The Cop is apparently a junkie, but he is hardly struggling with his addiction.  The Killer is a completely unnecessary character, and his new bride is even more extraneous. 

Ultimately, it is cool that The Rock is blowing motherfuckers away, but Faster has too many things detracting from it to recommend to anyone without them either being a huge Dwayne Johnson fan or desperately looking for a revenge flick that isn't directed by that hack Paul Haggis.  After all, I think we'd all trust the director of Soul Food and Men of Honor to direct a better revenge flick than him. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Man on Film: 127 Hours

At the heart of this film, there are two stars: James Franco and Danny Boyle.  Their respective imprints ultimately inform the entire film.  If you have a problem with either of them, there is a very good chance that you will have a problem with 127 Hours.

Starting with Danny Boyle, there may not be a director out there who uses more stylistic gimmicks than Boyle does.  Split-screens.  Surreal fantasy sequences.  Graphically disturbing gross-out scenes.  Fantasy video game sequences*...

*Sadly, there is no fantasy video game sequence.  Sorry to get your hopes up.

Despite the fact that yet another Boyle film finds itself gimmick-laden, it works.  That's the catch with a Boyle film.  Unlike, say, Michael Bay, where style gets in the way of storytelling, Danny Boyle's films all find a way to actually be augmented and enhanced by the tricks that he uses.  Sure, they are tricky, but these tricks enable Boyle to actually tap into an extra-narrative means of storytelling that few directors utilize.  His films, despite the wide array of genres that he has operated within, are always uniquely Danny Boyle films, and 127 Hours is most definitely a Danny Boyle Joint.

This is a good thing because 127 Hours would be unbearable if there were not a relief from the desperation and claustrophobia.  Without intermittent departures from Aron's dire situation, people would probably be having panic attacks.  As it happens, the guy next to me (and there was only one person in the theater who did this) had to excuse himself after the much-talked-about scene.


Much has been made of 'the scene,' and the hubbub is probably warranted.  After all, we are talking about a man deciding to break his own arm and then cut it off with a dull pocket knife.  The graphic scene has been blamed for causing nausea, vomiting, fainting, genocide in the Darfur Region, and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, but the effect of the sequence cannot be chalked up to just the intrinsically gory nature of severing one's own arm.  No, the violent camera work and the abrasive discordant blare of sound that strikes the viewer's eardrum like a fucking sledgehammer as Aron attempts to cut the nerve in his forearm.

And while the direction in this scene is integral, it is not just Boyle who is responsible for its success.  The scene and the movie would be nothing without James Franco.  From the onset of the film, Franco's work endears Aron Ralston to the audience.  He imbues the role with all the affability, self-reliance, humor, and goofy charm that he can muster, drawing the audience into his shoes with deft skill.  As we are trapped in the crevice with Aron, our sense of empathetic desperation is all the more palpable because of what Franco has done.  With time running out and the chance of rescue becoming increasingly impossible, the stakes are as high as they are for us thanks to Franco.  When he finally emerges, everything about his demeanor would lead us to believe that James Franco actually had to cut his own arm off. 

This isn't all to say that it is just Franco in the 11th Hour that puts this film over the top.  If there is a scene that actually serves as the segment of the film that captures the spirit of the film, it is the faux-talk show he does on his video camera.   Aron's self-deprecating humor is perfectly balanced with his self-awareness.  While the gravity of his situation never goes away, Aron's resilience cut with his goofy disposition pumps the blood through this film, and at no point is this more evident than in this moment.

I suppose it says a lot about a film in which the beginning of the third act consists of the protagonist*, who has been on screen by himself for much of the film, self-amputating the lower third of his right arm in a rather gruesome fashion, yet that scene isn't the one that I find myself thinking about as I close this out.

*A modern Western hero, as I've seen him dubbed elsewhere.

And as if I needed another reason to love this film (and casting James Franco in a role in which he is in 97% of the film was one helluva start, Mr. Boyle), the selection of Sigur Rós's "Festival" at the film's resolution seals the deal, lifting you up and sweeping you away elated and on the verge of tears with Aron.

In short, Boyle and Franco fucking delivered.

Bonus Franco (and yes, these were on the pre-trailer reel that the Alamo put together, but not everyone can go to the Alamo):

R.L. Stine...  Barack Obama...  Gay doctors...  Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie


That is the word that best sums up my feelings when I think about why I actually bothered finishing this book.

From the beginning, it was a chore.  Rushdie's train of thought never ended up matching up with mine.  Elements of his style struck me as both irksome and pretentious--namely his lack of comma-usage when listing of things in a series.  The cultural chasm between me and Rushdie's post-Independence India seemed hopelessly untraversable.

More importantly, though, it felt like I had kind of been there already.  Between having read Middlesex and One Hundred Years of Solitude fairly recently, the multi-generational magical realism on display didn't feel especially fresh.  Granted, Middlesex came about 20 years after Midnight's Children, but that's not the way I came to it, and One Hundred Years of Solitude was penned 14 years prior to Midnight's Children being published.

Mostly, though, the book never grabbed me.  I appreciate that it was trying to use its narrative to serve as an allegory for the burgeoning Indian Republic, but it didn't make me give a shit about it at any point.  Most of the characters were irritating more than anything else, including Saleem Sinai, the narrator, and the construct by which Saleem has omniscience seems a little too precious.

If anyone feels differently about the book, I'll gladly respond to comments.  I was definitely underwhelmed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Man on Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

As I briefly mentioned ages ago, one could hardly call me a fan of these movies.  The first two were utter failures--Chris Columbus's direction was awful.  Maybe kids enjoyed them, but there was nothing in them for adults, and I was of legal drinking age when TSLF dragged me to the first one.  Once Alfonso Cuarón took the reins in The Prisoner of Azkaban, the series was rebranded.  Cuarón's successors, Mike Newell and especially David Yates, have continued on following his example, and the results have been mostly good.  Yes, the series is still a bit hokey at times, but it has gotten slightly more adult as the characters have aged. 

Now, as I mentioned in the aforelinked article, TSLF had some concerns upon finding out that the final installment of the series was being split into two parts.  The primary concern lied with the fact that nothing happens in the first half of the last book*.  If the final book were to be split in to, it would stand to reason that it would be split roughly in the middle.  What does that mean for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1?

*For the record, I have not nor do I intend to read any of the books.  I have bigger fish to fry. 


Camping movie.


So for 153 minutes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and now 146 minutes of The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 essentially nothing has happened.  Think of it like a really long Empire Strikes Back.  Now as we all know, that doesn't equate to it being bad necessarily.  In the case of Empire, much of its worth is tied directly to the fact that George Lucas's involvement in the film did not include either a screenwriting or directing credit, but that doesn't mean that it isn't similar in spirit to this film.  Both are penultimate build-ups to what should be a huge ending.  Fortunately, there will be no goddamn Ewoks in Part 2.  Unfortunately, no gold bikini, unless I'm reading this series entirely incorrectly.

As for the cast, well, we all know what they're bringing to the table.  Daniel Radcliffe brings this...  

Emma Watson is cute and pulls off bookish well.  The kid (or dude, now, I guess) who plays Ron* does that thing that he does.

*His name--and yes, I had to check the credits for this--is Rupert Grint.

And it's all fine and good. 

It's just nothing really happens.  If you go to movies as much as I do, this probably won't bother you too much.  In an eight-film series, 299 minutes isn't really that much time in which nothing happens.  Hell, nothing really happened in the entire second season of Lost.

Now, if the ultimate installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 blows ass, then you'll be dealing with a camper almost as unhappy as Peter Johansen after the finale of BSG, but until then I'm willing to allow for this to have been the longest camping movie ever.

For me to not be irritated at the fact that not much happened meant that Yates & Co. pulled off what they aimed for.  Some of the best movies ever (Rear Window comes to mind) have virtually nothing happen and succeed because of the masterful building tension.  Deathly Hallows One is no Rear Window, but for the most part it works in spite of the fact that very little happens.  In that regard, kudos, David Yates.  Kudos.
Weird Side Note:  I was totally weirded out by the fact that the only song on the soundtrack was "O Children" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.  I bet he never thought that a bunch of nerdy kids who love magic were going to discover his music via the Harry Potter franchise.

Yes, this Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Musicalia: Junip - Mohawk - 11/18/10

After inadvertently taking a two-and-a-half hour nap, I awoke in a stupor to realize that I had about 15 minutes to get down to the Mohawk if I was going to see Junip.
Not sure who did the artwork, but I like it

For those unfamiliar with Junip, they are a band featuring Jose Gonzalez, the Argentine-via-Sweden folkster whose solo work found its way into the indie pop pantheon thanks in large part to his covers of The Knife's "Heartbeats" and Massive Attack's "Teardrop."  In the case of "Teardrop," his cover was such a reinvention of the song that despite it having been the reason I got into Massive Attack in the first place I could not figure out what song it was when I first heard it and had to look at the liner notes of a friend's (Wes Edwards, oh how I miss your shoulder rubs...) copy.

Gonzalez's somewhat eclectic heritage seems to inform his music at every turn, and with the platform that Junip provides him, this is especially evident.  Here the Scandinavian pop-folk sensibility is met with the undercurrents of a Latin rhythm section.  Each song settles into a groove that gets even the most ardent of the stoic concert-goers* nodding along. 

*Speaking of concert-goers, there was a little incident fairly early in the Junip set in which a guy somewhere around 40 years old somewhat angrily told a chatty girl in his line of sight to shut up.  A song or two later (after not heeding his command) she and her friends started making light of the shut up comment.  Now personally I know it's harder for me to tell a girl at a concert to shut up than it is for me to say it to a guy** for reasons I don't fully comprehend, but the fact remains that if anyone is telling you to shut up, there is probably a fucking reason for it and maybe you should re-examine your behavior before deciding that it's hilarious that some old dude told you to stop talking at a concert.  If one person around you thought you were irritating, then the odds are pretty good that everyone around you thought you were a pain in the ass.  If you have had your back to the stage and talked through a whole concert, then I'm talking to you right now when I say this:  SHUT THE FUCK UP OR LEAVE.  YOU ARE NOT MORE INTERESTING THAN THE CONCERT.  WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO SAY CAN WAIT.  WHAT WAS THE POINT OF YOU GOING TO THE CONCERT IN THE FIRST PLACE?  WHAT SHITFACE FROM WESTLAKE (insert your own city-specific entitled rich kid suburb where appropriate) IS GOING TO SEE YOU THERE?  WHY ARE YOU ALIVE? In this instance, I wasn't bothered by the person until after Angry Old Man yelled at her, but still, stop being dipshits at concerts people.  Have some sense of decorum.

**If anyone ever had a bootleg of Kris Kristofferson's SXSW set at the New West Showcase at La Zona Rosa from about 2006, they would most definitely here me yelling at some badge-holding dickbag telling him to "Shut the fuck up!"

There is not a world in which Junip would be considered a raucous live show, as one would expect given Gonzalez's solo output, but that didn't detract from the show at all.  The music plays well live, and they closed with a collaborative cover of "With or Without You" with opener Sharon Van Etten (and band) that was very much their own as one would have expected.  Van Etten's vocals were remiscent of Chan Marshall and made me wish that I hadn't been asleep for her portion of the night's bill, and the random people that I happened into after the show solidified that sentiment with their intimations that they had actually been there to see her.

When the show let out, I contemplated meandering down to Emo's to catch the Kurt Vile show (after having slept through his in-store show earlier in the evening) but ultimately decided that Rio Rita was calling out my name, which was probably the quasi-financially responsible thing to do.

I'm getting too old for this shit anyway.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Man on Film: The Trailer for The Mechanic Remake is Up

For those of you who are not familiar with the source material--quasi-trailer that doesn't do the film justice here:

--the original film, The Mechanic, follows a hitman (played by Charles Bronson) as he mentors a young protege who seeks an education in the art of contract killing.  The 1972 film is great, starting things off with a miraculously compelling 19 minutes of film featuring no dialogue whatsoever.  Directed by Michael Winner, who seemed to only work with Charles Bronson, The Mechanic really only has one shortcoming, the leaden Jan-Michael Vincent.

Now, Sylvester Stallone had wanted to do this remake for years, but I have to say that I'm just as excited to see what the director of what is inarguably the most important movie of the 1990s (Con Air, of course) will do with this project.  With Simon West at the helm and the immensely likable Jason Statham as its star, the only potential hitch would have been in the casting of Jan-Michael Vincent's role.  Ben Foster?  Sign me up.  In addition to seeming legitimately insane, Ben Foster has strung together a list of stand-out supporting turns in 3:10 to Yuma, 30 Days of Night, Hostage, Six Feet Under, and X-Men: The Last Stand (an altogether abysmal movie).  One could easily presume that he was great in both Pandorum and The Messenger, but I've not seen either film yet. 

Regardless, The (new) Mechanic looks intriguing enough for me.  Moreover, it makes me want to go back and watch the original.  Until its release, there is one vital question that the movie-going public will be losing sleep over:  Will there be a handball scene in this one?

At least Airwolf is nowhere to be seen...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tube Steak: Things I've Learned from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Perhaps this entry title is a bit misleading insofar as I've only learned one thing from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  That, of course, is the fact that Kim Richards needs me to marry her.

Now, I know what you're thinking...  Wait, what about your SPLF, Old Man?  Well, once you and I are wed, Kim Richards, the SPLF can move on to the only man she truly loves Timothy Olyphant (sorry, Mrs. Olyphant).

Kim Richards, since I first laid eyes on you--I was eight marvelling at your ten-year-old self, but I was in 1987 and the you I was smitten with was the you from 1974 or so*.  That didn't stop me from pining over you though, and my passion for your former self was re-ignited when I watched Tuff Turf, perhaps the greatest film ever, a couple years back.

*Think Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in The Lake House**, or in an actually lamer way***, pre-crippling Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time, everyone's mom's favorite movie.****

**Yeah, dickhead, I saw The Lake House.  Go screw yourself.  

***Yes, there is something lamer than The Lake House.

****Thanks a fucking lot, Oprah.

So if there has been one thing to be learned from these few episodes, it is that Kim Richards deserves better.  That's where I come in.

I'm awesome, and I know you deserve the best.  And you're a stone-cold fox.

Kim, you can contact me through the contact information on my profile.

I miss you already.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Man on Film: Catfish

To say there are an inordinate amount of films centered around social networking would be an understatement.  As Jesse, one of Paul Weston's patients on this newest season of In Treatment*, stated this past week:
Our society is becoming increasingly bifurcated... Our lives are now half in real-time and half in virtual-time.
Taking this into consideration, I suppose it only makes sense that more and more of our media will start to focus on this.

*Which I hope to talk about later this week, but we'll see if I get around to it.

Catfish, a relatively new* documentary, follows Yaniv 'Nev' Schulman as a he strikes up a friendship via Facebook with a child prodigy named Abby, who has been reinterpreting his photography through painting. Initially inspired by the story of this small town child artist, the filmmakers, Nev's brother Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, set off to explore Abby through her interaction with Nev.  

*It's nearing the end of its theatrical run.

As he begins to interact with Abby more and more, Nev gets to know her mother, Angela, and her hot older sister, Megan, and it is with Megan that he begins to strike up a relationship.

Where it goes from here is best left undiscussed, as the development of the story is compelling but ultimately subject to spoiling.

What Catfish does serve as is an entertaining and interesting look at the nature of our social lives on the internet and our perceptions of cyber-reality or our sense of virtual selves.  The question of what can we know about these people who we have daily interactions with on the internet is explored deftly, if entirely coincidentally in Catfish; but it is a personal story, so it never feels like it has taken on more than it can chew.
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