Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Queue Continuum: The Red Riding Trilogy

There is a lot of great stuff that is relatively new out there on the Netflix Instant Queue, but I don't know that much of it is as good as the Red Riding Trilogy.

Based on British author David Peace's Red Riding Quartet (1977 was skipped for the purpose of the adaptations), the trilogy was produced by Channel 4 but released theatrically stateside last spring. The three parts are somewhat different, as each is directed by a different director and features a different protagonist.  

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 is directed by Julian Jarrold, who has recently helmed Kinky Boots, Becoming Jane, and Brideshead Revisited and stars Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, and Sean Bean. Soon-to-be superstar Andrew Garfield plays Eddie Dunford, a Yorkshire Post crime beat reporter who begins to look into a series of murders of young girls. As one of the girls turns up on the construction site of John Dawson's (Bean) future shopping mall, Eddie begins to look into Dawson as well. The deeper the investigation goes, the more dangerous things get for Eddie, and it soon becomes clear that there is a level of corruption within the local government and law enforcement communities of which he is just scratching the surface. Eddie continues down the rabbit hole, and it is a stark voyage that gets bleaker at every turn. 

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 is a James Marsh joint (director of Wisconsin Death Trip and Man on Wire) and features Paddy Considine as the lead investigator looking into the Yorkshire Ripper case. He is met with resistance by the corrupt West Yorkshire police department that he had previously externally investigated. Well, 'met with resistance' is putting it far too lightly. If you thought the first part was disturbing, wait until you dive into this one. As the level of corruption is shown to be more and more pervasive, hope diminishes to minuscule portions.

By the time Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 opens, the only safe bet is that it will be harrowing. With the auteur of Shopgirl and Hilary and Jackie having taken the reigns, the transition is seamless. Returning to the case covered in the first part, we follow a remorseful detective Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) and a beleaguered lawyer (Mark Addy of The Full Monty and CBS' Still Standing) who is implored to field an appeal by the mother of the simpleton pegged for the murders of the young girls from the first film.

All three parts work exceptionally well by themselves, but as a whole they are fantastic. There is corruption at every turn with those entrusted to protect being the most dangerous. Perhaps swallowing such a grotesque level of pervasive depravity is unreasonable, but it is probably naive to believe that those in power aren't simply looking out for their best interests. The Red Riding Quartet was a dramatized and fictionalized account of actual events. Obviously, liberties were taken. In the end though, the verity of the story being told isn't the issue. Are the films good? Oh, hell yes.

Weird Post-Script: I somehow neglected to mention this despite the fact that I had intended to, but holy shit is the Yorkshire accent hard to muddle through. I know for a fact that one of my friends got about two minutes into the first one before re-starting with subtitles. Apparently that did not help all that much, as the vernacular used in 1973 West Yorkshire may as well be Greek. Do not be deterred. The fact that you may not understand everything that is happening will not negate the power of the films at all.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Queue Continuum: Chaos Theory

The conclusion that I have drawn upon finishing Chaos Theory is that it would appear that maybe I need to stop watching movies solely because they have Emily Mortimer in them. Well, this one also had Ryan Reynolds, so this whiffed on two fronts.

Directed by Marcos Siega, who directed a handful of Veronica Mars episodes and is a supervising/co-executive producer on The Vampire Diaries, Chaos Theory is a rather forgettable comedy in which missing a ferry sets off a chain of events in which Frank Allen's (Ryan Reynolds) life is turned upside-down. Truths are left unspoken. Frank wallows in self-pity. Susan (Emily Mortimer) is livid with her husband. Then she begs his forgiveness to no avail. Aside from a meltdown while giving a motivational speech, this simply doesn't have much to offer past the intrinsic likability of its stars, which it tries to undermine at every turn.

It isn't quite awful, but it is hardly good either. Enter at your own risk.

Why does this keep happening, Emily?   

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Queue Continuum: Restrepo

Restrepo is a phenomenal film co-directed by Sebastian Junger--who you likely know for having written the novel The Perfect Storm--and documentarian Tim Hetherington, who were embedded with Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd  Airborne Brigade Combat Team as they struggle against the entrenched Taliban in the most dangerous place we have troops... The Korangal Valley in Afganistan

On assignment for Vanity Fair, Junger and Hetherington follow the platoon for a year as they try to establish a sense of order in the valley. Their greatest achievement, seizing a strategic vantage point perched atop a peak in the valley, provides them with a chance to memorialize one of their fallen brethren, PFC Juan Restrepo, by naming the outpost after him. Once the work on OP Restrepo is completed, much of the film takes place from atop their hill.

Perhaps the most effective element of the film is the fact that the viewer has as little idea as to where shots are ringing out from as the soldiers do when they come under fire. While we have grown so used to war films being produced, conditioning us to certain conventions of the genre and the greater movie-going experience as a whole, this film leaves you on edge--never quite knowing if and when the Second Platoon may come under fire. Restrepo brings the war effort home, and now it's on Netflix Instant Queue.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tube Steak: The Demise of Californication

Oh, Christ, make it stop! 
- Charlie Runkel, in "Suicide Solution" - Season 4, Episode 2

Maybe I am misremembering things, but it seems like there was a time in which Californication was not hackneyed shit. 

I think I tend to not be brutal in my evaluation of most of the media I consume here. Despite the name of the blog, I try not to make this an exceedingly negative space. This can be partially chalked up to the fact that I tend to only take in things that interest me in the first place. I won't be talking about American Idol any time soon. 
That is why this is particularly painful. Listening to the dialogue in the second episode of this newest (and hopefully last) season makes me seriously wonder if this show has become the worst on television. Every character on the show talks like they're in Mallrats. I mean this in the worst possible way. 

There was a time that Kevin Smith's way with words had some value. 

It is apparent that Tom Kapinos & Co. are operating under the assumption that we are still there. 

There was always the lingering doubt that someone as pithy as Hank Moody could actually be a great writer, but now every time Hank opens his mouth it seems shocking that he ever could have been paid to write at all. His hedonism is now just irritating. Whenever Marcy opens her mouth, it is to spew out some of the worst lines imaginable to man. The tête-à-tête between her and Charlie is unfathomably grating.

Somehow they even manage to infuse the show with awful music cues, further solidifying the shows entrenchment in the ways of 1996. Every bit of music screams crossover alt-rock from likes of Uncle Kracker and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

And the puns. Oh, dear lord, the puns. It is as if after having gotten his first show to run following his gig as Executive Producer on Dawson's Creek, Tom Kapinos decided that he had to infuse that style with the faux edginess of Sex and the City, filling the now six year void in which there were no shows featuring characters that somehow manage to speak entirely in puns. 

My earlier Mallrats comment rings even truer upon further introspection, as each character on the show basically talks like characters from the movie. Hank = Brodie. Karen = Brandi. Charlie = T.S. Marcy = Rene. This show really is operating in 1996. Becca was riffing on Hendrix for Christ's sake, and there is nothing more mid-90s than the Jimi Hendrix renaissance.

The thing that pains me the most about all of this is that I like David Duchovny. I want him to be working, making money, and producing worthwhile media for me to consume.

Californication no longer qualifies.

 If you need further proof, witness this clip. Fisher Stevens. Awful content. Joyless.
For a differing opinion (which I was shocked to find), feel free to read this.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rediscovering the Past: A Lucas Revelation and Other Thoughts

The first time I saw Lucas was sometime around 1987, in my uncle's basement in Liberty, MO. This would have made me about eight years old. Clearly the finer points of symbolism were beyond the grasp of my prepubescent mind.

Sleeping standing up, Haim was more highly evolved than the rest of us
So it is now, at 3:00 in the morning as Sunday rolls into Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, that it finally occurs to me that the 17-year gestation period of the locust that plays a central role in the film is symbolic of Lucas's own pending transformation from adolescence into manhood--well as manly as Corey Haim was destined to get at least.

How this never occurred to me before is beyond me, since I've seen this film at least five times in the past ten years or so, but it didn't. In retrospect, this is pretty hilarious on many levels--the most obvious being the fact that someone (presumably David Seltzer) put this much thought into what has ultimately been reframed as a Corey Haim star vehicle in revisionist film history.

I was in the middle of a Royalscentricity blog entry, so I don't have the time or energy to piece the rest of these thoughts into a cohesive entry, but as I half-rewatch Lucas, I'll post some random thoughts in the space that follows...
"Garrett M. Brown"
  • Seeing Jeremy Piven in 1985 it is funny to compare his hairline as a 20-year-old to his hairline now and see that it has miraculously un-receded. If ever there were a case of receding hairline predestination, it was Jeremy Piven.
  • When did the depravity start for Charlie Sheen? Corey Haim has stated that he was drinking beer on the set of Lucas as a then 14-year-old. Was Chas Estevez somehow responsible for setting dear Corey down the path of self-destruction by way of drug and alcohol abuse? 
  • Despite the fact that I'm only 38 minutes in, I am already eagerly awaiting the slow-clap. Is this the high point of cinema in the 1980s? Perhaps. 
  • Was Piven as big a dick then as he is perceived to be now? I want to give him the benefit of the doubt given his longtime friendship with John Cusack (or maybe it's Cusack that I want to excuse), but the fact remains that Piven's character is a bit of a dick in his limited screentime in Lucas.
  • Lucas happens to be the screen debut of Jeremy Piven and Winona Ryder. Are the fates acting against the two of them, insisting that only one of their careers can be doing well at a time?
  • Was squeezing citrus fruit between your forearm and biceps a lunchtime craze in the 80s?
  • I'm pretty sure that I looked as old as Corey Haim did in 1985 by the time I was nine (complete with ill-fitting glasses).
  • Gary Cole appearance as Assistant Coach. Voice apparently overdubbed. Weird.
  • Haim stepping in the shower. There is no fucking way that he is 14.
  • Every time Mr. Kaiser (Garrett M. Brown) is on screen, I cannot help but wonder where John C. Reilly got his time machine. The unfortunate corollary that arises here is when does John C. Reilly disappear from our time? Clearly he travels back to 1985 at some point in the very near future, takes on the name of one Garrett M. Brown, plies his trade as an actor, and eventually becomes Kick-Ass's dad.
  • Courtney Thorne-Smith can really stare daggers. When Maggie (Kerri Green) is getting water on the sidelines, it is shocking that she doesn't actually go up in flames. Clearly this was on her reel when the casting was getting underway for Melrose Place.
  • The pass to Lucas at the end of the game (at the 8:10 mark in the clip below) is totally an illegal forward pass. Lucas is thrown the ball initially as the quarterback is trying to evade a sack. While Lucas never passes the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball back to the quarterback, he did catch a forward pass to start things off. Then when he is thrown the ball downfield, he never bobbles the ball, never completing the catch, making it an incomplete pass. All of the action that happens in the ensuing melee should be immaterial as there is no fumble to recover. Lucas is hospitalized on a play in which there was an illegal forward pass, an unsportsmanlike conduct (he removed his helmet on the field), and an incomplete pass that is then mistreated as a catch and a fumble.

  • Kid with a Krokus shirt.
  • Believe it or not, I cannot find a clip of the famous slow clap by itself. Regardless, it was totally worth watching until the end. Stirring.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Man on Film: True Grit

Since this blog has made the full-on switch to being a pop culture blog, I have written about every newly released film that I have gone to theatrically but two.  Those two outliers have been A Serious Man and Burn After Reading

With Burn After Reading, I think the primary reason that I never did a reaction piece was that I was largely disappointed but was worried that I would later come around on the film as I did with earlier Coen Brothers films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski.  Having been initially somewhat underwhelmed by Lebowski, I would now contend that it is one of the funniest movies ever.

With A Serious Man, I had begun to write an entry, but I had this weird idea about how the movie had a weird anti-technology/trappings-of-modern-society angle it was working on that I was relatively unsure about* and didn't want to finish until I had seen it a second time.  That second viewing never happened.  Neither did the blog entry.

*I once convinced myself that Radiohead's Hail to the Thief was almost entirely an anti-Bush album, a reading that I seemed to be entirely alone on when I talked this over with friends.  I definitely wanted to be sure on the A Serious Man thoughts, and the theory was just a kernel.

I went to True Grit for the first time last Thursday, but I was tired from not having slept much for the two nights prior to going and ended up dozing off for what I figured was about five minutes.  After going to it again, it would seem more like I missed about two minutes the first time.  That I had to see it a second time (or at least felt obligated to) does not make me upset at all.

True Grit is outstanding. 

While the Coen Brothers post-The Man Who Wasn't There output has been hit-or-miss, True Grit is most definitely a hit.  Joel and Ethan Coen have churned out another highly stylized script with pitch-perfect dialogue that rivals their best work in Fargo, Lebowski, and O Brother.  They have discovered the world in which these characters live and made it ooze from every corner of every frame in this film. 

As for those characters, they are great.  Jeff Bridges is in top form as the world weary Marshal Rooster Cogburn, grizzled, hardened, uneducated, drunk.  Not once do you think that he is the same actor who was the coach in Stick It.  Matt Damon steals every scene he is in as the loquacious and comically prideful Texas Ranger LaBoeuf.  Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin are both remarkably filthy and seem so authentically Wild West criminals that you would think a time machine had been employed to get them in the movie.

And then there is Hailee Steinfeld.  Color me shocked.  I went into this film expecting next to nothing from the lead.  I was actually leery about the movie as a whole because Mattie Ross was said to be in every scene, and having so much of a film reliant upon the performance of a child actor is not a proposition I take to without a good bit of trepidation.  Such worries were unnecessary, as she plays Mattie with such pugnacity and gumption that one can hardly tell she has appeared in only a handful of projects, most of them shorts.  If it was not for her shockingly good turn, True Grit would fall flat on its face.  Instead, we got a film that was easily one of the best of 2010.

While having neither read the book nor seen the original adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, this film is great on its own merits.  As the Coen Brothers are wont to do, they imbue this world on the fringe of civilization with nuggets of oddness that simultaneously put the Coen Brothers' stamp on the film and let the viewer know just exactly how far from society Mattie & Co. are.  The entire sequence from when they happen upon the hanged man to after they happen across the frontier dentist in the bear skin doesn't really serve to advance the narrative at all, but it is strangely vital to making the film work.  These flairs set this film apart from your standard theatrical fare, and we should all be thankful for that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Man on Film: Season of the Witch

You take the good,
You take the bad,
You take 'em both,
And there you have
The joys of Nouveau Cage
There are some valuable things to be taken from Dominic Sena's new 'film' Season of the Witch; lessons, if you will.  In honor of the screenplay by Threshold show-runner Bragi F. Schut, I will forgo any and all attempts at constructing a coherent entry here, instead opting to write the bulk of this entry in bullet-points.

  • The central point of this film is casting Nicolas Cage as Jesus.  His character Behman's origins are unknown, having no home or family to go back to.  Hinting at immaculate conception?  I think so.
  • Christ Behman sees the atrocities being committed in the name of his father and walks away from organized religion.  In this case, it is the Catholic Church.  This seems to imply that Nic Cage Christ does not approve of the ways in which his Father's words are being misconstrued to serve the Church's own ends--at least within the construct of this film--that are not in line with His Message.
  • Dominic Sena has cited Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal as the primary source of influence (Andrew O'Hehir covers this with aplomb at Salon) for Season of the Witch.  Stopping there would be selling Sena & Co. short, though.  The film clearly owes plenty to Henri-Georges Clouzot's Wages of Fear and Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ.  All three are all-time great directors.  Dominic Sena directed Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish, Kalifornia, and Whiteout.  While the temporal spacing of his releases could lead one to draw comparisons to deliberate contemporaries like Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, or even Terrence Malick, the fact that there is so much time that passes between their respective releases does not actually equate to a similar level of artistry in Sena's films.  
  • The reality of this Nouveau Cage World we live in is that sometimes the films he does are crafted by artisans who are out of their depth.  I can see what made Nic Cage want to make this film.  With the Bangkok Dangerous remake, he had clearly been a fan of the original; Next, of the Philip K. Dick short story; this, The Seventh Seal.  I've long defended Cage's choices of the past decade, as I know he is simply doing the films he wants to do.  Unfortunately, the other talent involved isn't always up to the task.  I am sure Cage enjoyed working with Sena on Gone in 60 Seconds.  Directing an ADHD car thief movie doesn't necessarily qualify a director to helm a medieval homage to an Ingmar Bergman film.  
  • Wolf- and witch-punching abounds.
  • One has to wonder what the film was like before the reshoots.  From all accounts (and this interview with Cage), it seems as though the studio wanted a wide scope.  I'd imagine most of the stylistically disparate Crusade battle scenes in the first act were added via reshoot.  While they frame the conscientious objection of Behman and Felson, it was probably unnecessary, and perhaps spelled things out too clearly.
  • This probably doesn't matter as the dialogue is, um...  sometimes not so good.
  • Fortunately, as with any Cage movie, there is something that you can take from it.  Here?  Uh, Nic Cage is a knight.  AND JESUS.  He saves the fucking world from the plague.  
  • Season of the Witch also takes the standpoint that more witches should have been burned.  While Andrew O'Hehir in the aforementioned Salon column took issue with that, I embrace it.  This is like anti-Spielberg.  Oh, there is no getting up on the soapbox and preaching about some cause--in this case the burning of witches.  Not here.  If more witches had been burned, they may have gotten to the root of the bubonic plague.
  • And the root of that plague?  Not a witch.  Hell no.  The Devil (more or less).  So, in short, Jesus hates organized religion for co-opting the message of his Father to kill innocent women and children, is imprisoned as a deserter by the Church, is coerced into transporting an alleged witch to trial by monk jurists, and then defeats Satan, driving the plague from humanity and saving the possessed girl.
  • Some jaded dicks may point to accents in the film.  For the most part, Cage affects a vaguely British accent.  The slow-reading priest who accompanies them on their journey is British.  Ron Perlman basically talks like Ron Perlman.  The only thing that really sticks out is the weird accent that Stephen Graham is speaking in.  It is almost as if he was still in character from playing Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire, but I assume that it is a slightly more Jewish/Yiddish take on things, which is weird and possibly racist.  The only reason I labeled accent hawks as jaded dicks is that at a certain point I think pinpointing people for accent work in medieval-and-earlier films is absurd.  The standard accent for such fare is a broad British accent, but why? Whose brilliant idea was it to decide that everyone who lived in the whole of Europe except for the French spoke with a British accent before the turn of the 17th century.  That's how they spoke in Ancient Rome?  Of course...  Maybe there is a rationale to this that I am not aware of, but I kind of doubt it.  Explanations are welcome in the comments section.
  • The ultimate question in regards to this film is this: How do you feel about seeing Nic Cage as Sir Jesus in a pro-witch-burning movie?  I'd say for this guy, that's still a movie I'd have to see.
This is the trailer from a year ago, pre-reshoots.  Honestly, I think the studio fucked this film over to at least a small degree.

Even if this isn't a great film, Cage fans still only have to wait until next month from the surer bet to be awesome Drive Angry.  It's the film that Cage seems to have done for fear that Ghost Rider 2 wasn't going to happen, only it is just as much a trashy exploitation film in all the best ways (and has the beautiful Amber Heard).

      Wednesday, January 5, 2011

      Musicalia: RIP Gerry Rafferty

      The criminally underrated musical genius of yesteryear, Gerry Rafferty succumbed to liver and kidney related illness at 63 in Dorset, England.  The Scottish singer-songwriter who was once in a band with comic Billy Connolly (in The Humblebums), is probably best known for having co-written "Stuck in the Middle with You" with Stealers Wheel bandmate Joe Egan and having released 1978 album City to City, which yielded the pop song featuring the best sax solo ever* "Baker Street" and the even better pop gem "Right Down the Line."

      *One likely responsible for the entire sax solo binge that happened in decade that followed.

      Rather than wax ecstatic about the genius that was Gerry Rafferty, I'll let his music do the speaking.  First, the stirring "Whatever's Written in Your Heart" from City to City.

      Here is a link to one of the three singles off of his follow-up to City to City, "Get it Right Next Time" from Night Owl, and here is a session video for its title track.

      And last but not least, one of my favorite songs ever...

      I can say with confidence that I'll be wearing my Gerry Rafferty shirt in remembrance of you, Gerry.  Now if I can only dig up that photo of me at the Baker Street Underground station... 

      Tuesday, January 4, 2011

      The Queue Continuum: City Island

      This was in the second row of movies newly added to the Instant Queue.  I saw Emily Mortimer's name in the credits, and I kind of find her adorable.  Unfortunately, Andy Garcia is top-billed, and that should have been enough to scare me off.  It wasn't.

      If you want to watch an indie comedy about a dysfunctional family with Garcia and Julianna Margulies as the patriarch and matriarch, then this is your movie.  The list of people who that applies to cannot be a long one...

      Emily Mortimer was not in this movie enough to offset the pain that the rest of this film causes. 

      Do you really want to watch a cloying movie in which the charisma-challenged Garcia plays a prison guard who secretly wants to be an actor and finds his abandoned son as an adult in jail and brings him home without telling anyone why?  The answer should be no.  If it wasn't initially, perhaps once equipped with the information that Garcia also does a Marlon Brando impersonation at an audition because he thinks that's how actors act will scare you off. 

      I suppose these are the perils of having even more movies available at the touch of a button.

      Monday, January 3, 2011

      The Queue Continuum: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

      As promised last time, here is the first entrant into what should be a fruitful, if often shorter, additional section to the blog.  One in which we (perhaps only royally speaking) look at movies that are available on Netflix Instant Queue and therefore instantly accessible to many of you readers.

      The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the Swedish adaptation of the absurdly (and arguably unjustly) popular Swedish crime novel by Stieg Larsson.  Having just finished the book, I decided to throw this on in the midst of a Netflix-athon with Munch My Benson co-contributor, softitems.  Given the freshness of the material, I oddly found myself feeling obligated to explain things, and this was not because of any shortcomings on her part.

      Honestly, the film seemed to be a bit of a mess to me.  Since the book shared a similar shortcoming, I suppose it only makes sense in the end, but it just felt like there were plot holes.  This is largely because the book is an unwieldy material to have to adapt.  There are essentially 150 pages before the disappearance of Harriet Vanger is touched on and another 100 after that aspect of the story is resolved.  These 250 pages deal largely with the mostly disposable Wennerstrom Affair, but there is also crucial character development of the male protagonist that occurs therein.  As this section is largely omitted from the movie, the development of Mikael Blomkvist is sorely lacking.  Without this, the fact that Lisbeth (the female protagonist) is drawn to Mikael kind of comes out of the blue.

      Given that they are screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg were tasked to adapt a 600 page book, they probably did about as well as could be expected.  There is a lot of fat in the novel, and for the most part they trimmed it well.  A few characters were combined and the mystery was streamlined a bit.  I don't know that I would say the film wasn't worth watching, but I honestly have to say, given its shortcomings, that I am actually curious to see the impending American remake, and you couldn't have said that about most of the American takes on the Scandinavian oeuvre. Given that Steven Zaillian is adapting the screenplay, and David Fincher is directing, I can't imagine it won't be an improvement.

      The other thing that struck me while watching the film was, "Wait, I don't remember the Scandinavian peoples as being particularly homely..."  Yet, here, frankly, not an attractive cast.  Pretty much across the board. Call me shallow, but it made me feel like I was watching a mid-90s BBC production.

      Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I just did not get why the book and now the movie are all the rage.  They're both all right.  The book is readable.  The movie is watchable.  They are both entertaining enough, but they both seem flawed, and the thing that redeemed the book for me--the interesting relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth--is kind of handled poorly in the Niels Arden Oplev film version.

      But it is out there for you to watch.  Did anyone out there feel strongly differently?

      (Man, some of that subtitle spelling is bad...)
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