Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Waking up Unhappy

I know this is a movie blog, but I'm gonna talk about politics a little. (Actually, this currently isn't so much a movie blog as a non-blog altogether, but that's a different matter that I'll address this weekend.)

I want to talk about politics because I haven't been able to think about much else lately, and although I've resisted the urge until now, I no longer can.

What I want to tell you is that, after waking up and checking the election results, I've fallen into a deep funk of pessimism. Anyone who knows me knows that this makes no sense - I've been a fan of Obama for a long time, and I consider his victory by far the most important political event in my lifetime. Not only that, I voted for him in North Carolina, and although the networks still aren't quite willing to call that state for Obama, the vote is in and, barring a recount, he won it. The knowledge that my vote actually counted, and was a positive force for moving this country into the 21st century, should be feeding the euphoria that I felt last night. But it's not.

You see, all the conservatives across the web are moaning their loss, and all the liberals hailing the dawn of a new progressive age. And I want to believe that that's the case. I want to believe that American has moved on from the neoconservative nightmare that produced two and a half presidents (Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and the more moderate George H.W. Bush) and dominated our domestic and foreign policy for almost 30 years. I want to believe that, last night, America grew up and moved past all of the silliness of the last thirty years: denying global warming, denying evolution, decrying a health care system that works as "socialism," embracing trickle-down (aka voodoo) economics, embracing preemptive real wars, embracing endless fake wars on abstract enemies ("drugs," "terror"), embracing torture, etc. And of course I understand that electing Obama won't magically render all of those issues moot, but I honestly believe that a country that sees what a progressive administration could do would move in a progressive direction for years (as the country did, even under Republican presidents, from roughly 1932 to 1980).

All my pessimism, I'm afraid, rests on the fact that - at the time of this writing - 86% of the vote is in on California's Proposition 8, and it appears certain to pass. If you don't know, Prop 8 is the ban on gay marriage that will amend the state's constitution. A previous ban on gay marriage was approved by voters as state law, but the California Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. The conservatives quickly got the law back on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, but it seemed destined to fail. In Massachusetts, people had gotten used to gay marriage and realized that it wasn't tearing the fabric of our society apart; in California, Ellen was on the cover of People magazine in her wedding dress, and America acted like that wasn't the sign of the apocalypse. And the California State Attorney General left the writing of the amendment the same as the state law but retitled it a "ban on gay marriage," ensuring that everyone who voted yes knew that they were voting for less rights for their friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.

Ironically (as several pundits pointed out) the same thing that gave Democrats this presidential election may have killed what would have been the biggest advance for gay rights ever. Whites and Asians were against the measure by 6 points; Latinos were for it by 2 points. Blacks, a group whose turnout was dramatically up across the nation because of the Obama candidacy, made up 10% of the electorate, even though they're only roughly 6% of the California population. But they opposed the measure by 40 points (70% yes, 30% no). The black voters that Obama got out to the poll were the deciding factor in this election; we have increased African-American turnout to thank for the fact that a new day may be dawning in America. But in California, black voters decided that gay people should not be treated like adults, and voted to take away their rights.

I imagine the despair I'm feeling right now will pass, as Obama leads this nation over the next few years. But right now, all of the hope I have in Obama remains just that - hope. I can foresee countless scenarios in which Obama is unable to achieve true progressive reform; I have no doubt he will be a better president than Bush II, and no doubt that, if given a free hand, the changes he would make in the economy, the Iraq War, health care, and our energy policy would be enormous. And I firmly believe that, without that last change, we could literally be facing the apocalypse, because if global warming isn't controlled, most of humanity will die.

But right now those future gains don't feel like much. California, unlike Massachusetts, is the progressive trend setter across the country. If Californians were ok with gay marriage, it would have been only a matter of time before most Americans realized that gay people aren't, in fact, demons bent on stealing their children. I would have expected gay marriage to be legal in Washington and Oregon in less than a decade, and for it to spread into blue state after blue state over the next few decades. I honestly believe that a victory here would have effectively ended the national debate on gay marriage, and it would have just been a matter of time. Now, with it blocked in California, I don't see gay marriage showing up in any state for decades. Sure, young people overwhelming supported gay marriage; when they get their chance to vote again in a generation or two, the outcome will probably be different. In the meantime, gay people will not be full adults. (I've been reading up and a number of pundits think this battle will be fought again in California within ten years. If that's the case, obviously this thing could be happening faster than I'm thinking it could)

My final point of pessimism is that, if gay marriage can't even win on the ballot in California, it's life as a wedge issue could be long. I was letting myself dream of a Republican "rump party," an increasingly irrelevant coalition of rural and elderly whites who would have to be content, over the next half a century, to dwindle from country runners to permanent minority party to mere gnats to be brushed aside. But if the Republicans can get their shit together, they can take anything Obama does to reform immigration and to push for "civil unions" and use them to leverage votes. The alternative is for an Obama presidency to be unwilling to touch contentious issues, which would be a victory for the conservatives right there, and would likely erode progressive support.

So there it is. Enjoy the Obama presidency, America - I intend to enjoy the first great political figure of my adult life, and possibly the first great one of my lifetime. But the sea change for gay rights that I saw in this country isn't coming, not any time soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

David Price

For President.

No, not this David Price.

This One:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ode to Brolin

My brain is absolutely fried. I can't think of anything to write. I just think 8-7, 8-7, 8-7, over and over again, followed by something along the lines of "never bring your best reliever in when your team is up 7-0, because that way if he gets in trouble and gives up a few runs, you can't replace him with your best reliever, because he's the guy out there who just got in trouble and gave up a few runs, and we're gonna have to look at Youkilis' beard for another decade at least, and the Rays are gonna leave Tampa, and Evan Longoria is gonna end up with a drug problem but somehow get clean just in time to play for the Rangers, and my last hope for having a hometown team win the World Series is gone forever, because although I have a few hometowns, only one has ever had a team, and it's probably moving to Oklahoma city in a few years."

Anyway, I still can't think of anything to write. So I just thought you might like to look at some pictures of Josh Brolin. That guy's fucking awesome.

Zombie Josh Brolin

Oh, sorry. Zombie Josh Brolin, for real.

Intimidate Denzel Josh Brolin.

Brain surgery Josh Brolin.

Cowboy Josh Brolin!

Cowboy Josh Brolin, pt II.

Monkey Face Josh Brolin

Imminent Dog Death Josh Brolin.

Clean Cut Josh Brolin? Uh, is this some sort of photoshop job, maybe?

Oh, here he is: Josh Brolin. Stage Left: Russell Fuckin' Crowe.

I hope you enjoyed that. I did!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Film Ignorance #19: The Killing Fields

Film: The Killing Fields
Rating: A Good Movie
Director: Roland Joffe
Stars: Sam Waterston, Dr. Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich
Year: 1984
Reason for Ignorance: Dunno...

Ignorance Rating*: Pending

The Killing Fields is a highly disjointed movie, largely plotless, with no clear protagonist. I can't tell you whether or not this was intentional (I can tell you that this was director Joffe's first film and that he never made another film with an allmovie rating above 3). I can also tell you that it doesn't serve the film well. It's divided into roughly three portions: the first is a journalist in wartime tale, ala Joe Sacco's Palestine, the second is a story of hopeful and fearful waiting, and the third is a prisoner-of-war tale that finally introduces us to the titular fields.

But if the film's lack of cohesion doesn't serve it well, its story of friendship is almost overwhelmingly moving. Sam Waterston plays Sydney Schanberg, a New York Times journalist who is reporting on the Cambodia conflict with the aid of a Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran. Schanberg and Pran's collaboration resulted in a number of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, but the film de-emphasizes their success in favor of examining their relationship.

The two men are a study in contrast: Waterston, as Schanberg, is fierce and principled, a lanky figure with a left-wing beard who intimidates US and Cambodian figures with his passport and his prestigious credentials. Dr. Ngor, a Cambodian refugee who was not a trained actor, plays his earnest sidekick, whose life is in danger for most of the film; as a Cambodian citizen, he's never certain of respect from the Cambodian military or of aid from US or European officials.

What drives these men is their desire to share the atrocities committed against the Cambodian populace with the world. When Sydney gets Pran's family out of the country as the US pulls out, the Cambodian is insistent that he's remaning. "I'm a journalist too!" he repeats, over and over. This desire to tell the truth, and by doing so help the people of Cambodia, unites Sydney and Pran. Ultimately, the film turns on the fact that Pran must suffer for doing so, while Sydney receives nothing but accolades. Although others suggest that Syndey didn't act in Pran's best interests, Pran will hear nothing of it. He, unlike the naysayers, knows that they were in it together. The film reflects this - although we see Pran suffer immense physical and psychological torture, it's Sydney, helpless to aid his friend, who seems most emotionally burdened by it.

Ultimately, The Killing Fields is exactly the right kind of historical message movie. I didn't know that much about the Cambodian conflict or the horrors of the Khmer Rouge before I saw the film, and I didn't emerge from it with some sort of didactic understanding of the "issues" at hand. I emerged instead with a ground level of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and those that opposed them. Both Dith Pran and Dr. Ngor (both of whom are no longer with us) devoted their lives to shedding light on and alleviating the suffering of the Cambodian people. The Killing Fields is a document worthy of their lives, and of their service.

*The "Ignorance Rating" is the percentage of people who voted "Yes" on the poll for this film. If ten people vote in the poll, and 5 of them have seen the movie, I give it an ignorance rating of 50. It's just a ballpark way for me to know how egregious my ignorance was in this case.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Review: Body of Lies

"If only Ridley had cast me instead of Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven, it might have been worth watching."

Body of Lies


I was excited about Body of Lies more than a year ago, when it was an IMDb page with a different title. The combination of one of my favorite directors, Ridley Scott, with his man-muse Russell Crowe, was enough to get excited about. Throw in a newly-excellent Leonardo Dicaprio, a script by William Monahan (writer of The Departed), and hefty doses of violence, and you've basically got the perfect movie.

Well, Body of Lies is far from perfect, but I certainly enjoyed it very much. I thought last year's American Gangster was more Scott's movie than Crowe's or Washington's; the movie was so chopped up and quick-edited (something I loved) that neither of those actors had extensive chances to dig into their roles. But this movie is undeniably DiCaprio's. Leo plays Roger Ferris, a CIA field agent who risks his life in Iraq at the behest of bureaucrat Ed Hoffman (Crowe). Hoffman is moving up, and he takes Ferris with him, making him acting station chief of the bureau in Amman, Jordan. Hoffman is a blowhard asshole, but he knows talent, and thus Ferris is soon barking orders at and reprimanding agency oldtimers with complete immunity.

Although complex camera work and complex CIA machinations are on full display here, the movie really revolves around the ideology conflicts of three men: Ferris, Hoffman, and Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence. All of them want the terrorist Al-Saleem, but can't agree on how to go about it. Hoffman is a blatant ugly American stereotype, an overweight suburbanite who thinks he can run the world while taking his kids to school. He gives Ferris unprecedented powers in Jordan, then issues orders behind his back. Hani is his aristocratic opposite; he bestows both favors and torture with an urbane sense of entitlement. Ferris, most comfortable on the streets doing the work personally, seems sharper than either of them, but is also constantly caught between them. Every time Hoffman tries to browbeat Hani, or Hani tries to outwit Hoffman, Ferris ends up paying a price.

There's also a surprisingly cliched and surprisingly still effective love story thrown into the whole bargain, as Ferris romances a nurse he met in a Jordan clinic. The film (like The Departed) goes to great lengths to draw parallels between DiCaprio's potential life with a woman on the periphery of a world of violence, and that world itself. This is actually one of the weakest parts of the movie; although we get a strong sense of Ferris' sensitivity and integrity (something both Hoffman and Hani are lacking in), we never quite understand either his connection to the nurse or to the war on terror. This is the crucial ingredient; although we're viscerally connected to Ferris, we never quite understand how he's connected to anyone else.

As everyone who has written about this film has noted, it contains a strong critique of American foreign policy (at times, Crowe seems to be channeling president Bush for his portrait of Hoffman). But it actually has more in common with the Bourne movies or Spy Game or any Clancy thriller than it does with something like Redacted or Syriana or Lions for Lambs. This is a spy movie with a strong anti-War on Terror undercurrent, but first and foremost, it's a spy movie. It's not a bad one, either.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Favorite Movie is the Same Movie as The Best Movie of All Time

Note to the Internets: If you think this is the best movie ever made, just say so!

This is rather long-delayed response to a post over at He Shot Cyrus, "What's Your Favorite Movie." In that post, Scott (arguing what I think is the majority opinion) lays down the law on people like me, who hold the minority opinion. His first nightmare scenario, when asked about his favorite movie, is: "Scenario#1: This guy can't distinguish between favorite and best. Is The Warriors the best movie or my favorite movie? When I tell him my favorite movie is The Warriors, he tells me I'm wrong and then proceeds to explain to me the artistic mastery of Peter Jackson."

Well, like Scott, I'm frustrated by the "favorite movie" question and I understand all of his frustrations; if you say anything besides the list he mentions (Godfather, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, something in the last 6 months, etc) you get confusion. After trying to explain Bridge on the River Kwai and The Searchers too many times, I've reverted back to my high school answer: Gladiator (which is still one of my favorites). Casual cinema fans always know the movie and almost always like it; Crowe-hating cinephiles have steam come out of their ears, and try to explain the greatness of The Searchers to me.

But unlike Scott, I make no distinction between "best" and "favorite" movie. I've actually discussed this several times with people, and have only found one who agrees with me. But here goes:

I have absolutely no criteria for judging a movie beyond how much I like it. How could I? One person I knew who argued that Citizen Kane was the best movie ever made but not his favorite tried to do so under the banner of technical competence. And yeah, Citizen Kane is probably the best made movie ever made. But why should that make it the best movie ever made? Saving Private Ryan is also one of the most technically impressive movies ever made, but I considered it a hokey piece of patriotic bullshit. Being well-made doesn't make it the best movie I've ever seen; me liking a movie a lot makes it the best movie I've ever seen.

The main point I have here is that I don't believe that there's any sort of universal or external criteria for judging movies. There just aren't. There's absolutely no way to sit in front of a movie screen and watch a movie and then say "That was one of the best movies ever made, but I didn't like it that much." If you can say that, your judging criteria are broken, and you're going to go see a lot more "best" movies that you don't like very much. Even I sometimes offer up the cheesy chestnut "I admired the movie but didn't like it that much," but that qualifies it for neither favorite nor best - just impressive in some manner that didn't really appeal to me.

I personally think that most people who make the favorite/best distinction do so for personal protection. There favorite movie is Dumb and Dumber, but they tell people Pulp Fiction, because they know Dumb and Dumber won't pass muster, so they distinguish between "favorite" and "best" disingenuously. I've just never found a reason to do that. I'm happy to tell people that Breathless, The Third Man, and Citizen Kane share space on my favorite/best film list with Zoolander, Knocked Up, and Sin City. Sure, those last three didn't win any Oscars, but fuck that. They're awesome! The bottom line is: each individual person can only judge a movie based on what they thought of it. There's no reason to hide what you felt about a movie from other people, and there's no reason to think that you're qualified to judge a movie based on any criteria other than how much you liked it.

Scott actually seems to offer up a different way to distinguish between favorite and best movies in a later post: Even back in high school, he says, "I knew the difference between "best" and "favorite." These were my favorite films, the ones you could put on anytime, over and over, and I'd watch them."

This is totally different from the distinction between personal favorite/universal best that I hate so much. Scott doesn't offer up a definition for best here, but he does offer up one for favorite: your favorite movies are the ones you can and do watch most often and always enjoy. Maybe I'm really weird but, again, this distinction wouldn't work for me personally. Sure, there are some films that I consider best/favorite that I've only seen two or three times (Citizen Kane, Third Man, etc). And there are others (Hellboy, for example) that I've watched many times and don't consider among the best I've ever seen, although they might qualify for "favorite" approval. But most of the movies on my favorite/best list are the same ones that I watch over and over again; Zoolander, The Departed, Lost in Translation, Royal Tenenbaums The Philadelphia Story, Sin City, The Searchers, Meet John Doe, Gladiator, pretty much every Coen Brothers movie...all of these films will make any top movies list I make, and I will watch them multiple times. For me, in almost every case, favorite=best=most watched and most rewatchable.

Irony Caveat: There's only one place where I will distinguish between favorite and best, and that's when one of my favorite movies sucks in whole or in part (complete or partial irony). I take things like my favorite movies and top films list much too seriously to ever put this kind of movie in those categories, but I watch at least part of, say, Red Dawn, almost every time it comes on. I don't ever watch all of it, because it's a horrible movie and I get tired of it, but Ifor a while, I enjoy its horribleness. Only when I love a movie for being bad would I be willing to distinguish between favorite and best.

As always, I want to know what you guys think. Do you have a different way to distinguish between favorite and best? Am I weird that Scott's definition of "favorite" movie doesn't eliminate many of the "best" movies I've seen? And of course, tell me what your favorite and/or best movies are - especially if the answer is Blade Runner. I would especially like to hear from Scott, but I don't even know if he reads this blog, so we'll just have to see about that.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why Don't People Like Russell Crowe?

(If you want to see a picture for this post, please scroll to the top of the screen)

This is a serious question: Why don't people like Russell Crowe? And I actually want answers. Whenever I bring up my (completely rational) love of Russell Crowe, people seem to agree or at least sound noncommital. But when I'm in groups not aware of my Crowe-love, and I mention loving Gladiator or 3:10 to Yuma, or being excited about the upcoming Body of Lies, people often seem a bit surprised. Surprised that I, a person quite informed about film, could like movies with Russell Crowe in them. And everyone wants to immediately point out that Bale was better than Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma, which is frankly not even close to being true (Crowe is better, but he also has the much flashier role - sort of like Jackman in The Prestige. In both cases, I prefer the Aussie to Bale, but he seems to be deliberately playing the second fiddle).

There are only two reasons I can think of for disliking Russell Crowe: first, he seems to be kind of a jerk, with an extreme temper. Well, I've never believed that personal life is a reason to evaluate an artist...otherwise our great artists would include pretty much only Paul Newman. And if you disqualify people from making movies for being jerks with tempers, well, I would advise you not to vote for McCain.

The other reason I can think of for not liking him is just not liking him. He might not be to your personal taste. I personally can't fathom that; his combination of Brando-like raw charisma and ability to underplay make him (like a very small class of actors, ranging from Newman to, yes, Bale) equally able to dominate as a larger than life character (Maximus, Jack Aubrey, Ben Wade) or disappear into a subtler role (Jeffrey Wigand, John Nash, Richie Roberts). But if you don't like him, you don't like him.

So now that I've gotten that out of the way, here's some perfectly objective reasons why you should like Russell Crowe:

1.He only makes good movies. Since he broke out in 1999 in The Insider, he has only made one bad movie, A Good Year. Besides that, he has only made good movies; the average metacritic score for his movies since 1999 is 68. That is damn high for an actor, who should at least be occasionally handicapped by a bad script or director. The universally lauded Bale, by contrast, has, over the same period, a metacritic score of 56 as a leading man. If you don't like Crowe, it shouldn't be because he makes bad movies. He doesn't.

2.He doesn't make too many movies. If there's one thing I get sick of, it's being overexposed to people I don't like. Don't like Christian Bale? Sorry, you're gonna see his face everywhere. Batman Begins, The Terminator, 3:10 to Yuma, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, even I'm Not There; good luck seeing a decent number of movie in any year without having to look at his face. He's even in fashion magazines (and there's totally NOT a Bruce Wayne Armani ad up on my fridge right now). But Crowe makes only about one movie a year; from The Insider through Body of Lies, he's only made 10 movies. For whatever reason, he chooses his movies carefully, and doesn't make too many. As someone who loves him, that can be a bit vexing, but it seems like a great reason not to dislike him.

3.He revived the career of Ridley Scott. Different communities believe different movies are the greatest film ever made. IMDb says it's Shawshank, critics and academics seem to agree on Citizen Kane, your average cine-fan will probably say The Godfather, and any group of college freshman will choose whichever movie made the most money the preceding summer. If, however, I had to pick a movie most beloved in the Blogosphere, I think it would probably be Blade Runner - everyone seems to love it. But its director was hurting in the 90s;in the ten years previous to Gladiator, master filmmaker Sir Scott made Thelma and Louise, 1492, White Squall, and G.I. Jane. Yes, in the ten years prior to Gladiator, Ridley Scott made only four movies, only one of them good.

Since he got Crowe fever in 2000, Scott has made eight movies, and in that time he's made Matchstick Men, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and American Gangster. I don't know why he was in such a rut in the 90s, but the invigoration generated by collaborating with Crowe has gotten one of our greatest living directors back into making great movies. That couldn't make me happier.

So now you've heard three completely objective reasons for loving Russell Crowe; I've spared you my subjective ones. Please, tell me what you think. Do you dislike him, as so many people seem to? Why? How? Let me know.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Film Ignorance #18: Million Dollar Baby

Film: Million Dollar Baby
Rating: But...This Movie Sucks!
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Year: 2004
Reason for Ignorance: Hated Mystic River

Ignorance Rating: Pending

You know in Barton Fink, when he's asked to write a terrible, cliched, melodramatic B-movie wrestling picture starring Wallace Beery, and he can't? Well, Paul Haggis, adapting some short stories by F.X. Toole, has managed to write it. It's called Million Dollar Baby.

Million Dollar Baby has that mixture of predictability and preposterousness that only Hollywood movies can muster. Sure, it's utterly preposterous that female boxer Maggie (Swank) would show up in Frankie's (Eastwood) gym and ask him to train her and - even though he doesn't train girls and she's too old - he trains her, she warms his heart and melts his curmudgeonly exterior, and becomes the best boxer in her weight class. Preposterous. And yet, also predictable.

In Barton Fink, the studio exec tries to get Barton started by reminding him that every protagonist of a wrestling picture must protect either a dame or a retarded kid. Barton ponders his options and finally offers: "How about...both?" The executive ain't happy - even a cliche monger like him wouldn't have the audacity to both in one film. Which is why, in Million Dollar baby, Frankie and his sidekick Eddie (Morgan Freeman) don't just train Maggie, they also let "Danger" Barch, a semi-retarded youth who dreams of being a boxer, hang out and train in their gym. And don't even get me started on the scene where the gym's bully is picking on Danger and Eddie puts on one glove to put the bully in his place. No, I can't believe it: the battle-hardened ex-boxer who spoke longingly of one more fight stood up to the bully and protected the simpleton!? Who could have predicted it?

Outside of the hard left turn that the film takes in its final act, it really is just a heaping bunch of maudlin cliches; from boxing cliches, delivered in voiceover by Freeman, to the absolutely vicious portrait of Maggie's families as worthless white trash, the film hasn't met an easy shot it didn't like. And I'll echo the party-line from all non-Eastwood lovers: post-1992's Unforgiven, every Eastwood-directed picture has been as standard as it could be: competent-looking and professionally made hackwork. (Beware The Changeling!)

Were I watching this film in a vacuum, I probably wouldn't have loathed it so much. But as a Best Picture and Best Director winner, as the leading film of the 21st century's most overrated director, and above all as the movie which featured Hilary Swank's corny slice of Americana winning the Best Actress award over Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine, I loathed Million Dollar Baby. It's a mediocre movie, made in a mediocre manner, but with such pretensions and aspirations to greatness that I can't help but hate it. Had it appeared on Lifetime, I could have forgiven it. As an Academy Award winner, I believe this: someone should have euthanized this picture.
Just imagine: In 2004, you could have honored this movie instead. Good job, Academy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Public Service Announcement: The Wrestler is NOT Mickey Rourke's Comeback

The new Aronofsky film, The Wrestler, is getting rave early reviews. Everyone seems to agree on two things: it's a great film, and it's Mickey Rourke's comeback.

You'll have to excuse me for not really knowing who Mickey Rourke is. Sure, I've seem him in some movies, and he seems to be a pretty good actor, but I'm simply too young to remember his first go round. But even I know that this is not his comeback. David Ansen of Newsweek, one of my favorite critics, wins the idiot prize on this one: "To say this is a great comeback for an actor whose talent was exceeded only by his self-destructiveness is obvious."

That's right. It's obvious. So obvious that Ansen couldn't even say it without noting its obviousness.

So now we get to play a little game. What if there was an actor who flamed out a long time ago but started working his way back into relevance? What if he had a series of small and medium size roles in movies as diverse as Domino, The Pledge, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Man on Fire, and a few others over the course of the last decade? And what if that upward movement of a dead career (some might even call it (obviously) a "comeback") resulted in the biggest, juiciest, flashiest role in a movie that also featured Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rutger Hauer, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Benicio Del Toro, Jessica Alba, Powers Boothe, Michael Clark Duncan, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen, and Elijah Wood? And what if that actor outshone all of those other actors (even the good ones!) and was wisely praised for his role, his biggest in decades? And what if that movie opened #1 at the box office, quadrupled its production budget in gross revenue, and got everyone (even young people like me, who'd barely heard of this actor prior to this movie) talking about this actor?

Don't call The Wrestler a comeback, unless you want people to think that you can't remember 2005. And if you can't remember 2005, meet Marv:

He has a way of making people remember things they think they've forgotten.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Coen Movie Appreciation

The critics (myself included) liked, but didn't love, the new Coen movie. But should you trust us? Everyone who knows anything about the Coen Brothers knows that their movies get better with time (they appreciate). Each and every viewing of every Coen Brothers film rewards the viewer with unseen details and an increasingly significant subtext. Well, admittedly, I've only seen The Ladykillers once. But every other Coen film just keeps on getting better. I thought I'd take a look at the Metacritic scores of all the Coen films that we have scores for, to get an idea of what people thought of them initially, and then compare those results to my (incredibly unscientific) sense of what people think of them now as well as the allmovie rating. I'll also add my own initial and current ratings. Since you undoubtedly need even more information, I'll give you the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? (TSPDT?) ranking for any of the films which is in the top 1000; They Shoot Pictures attempts to locate every important list of top films and index all of them to produce a 1,000 best regarded films ever made. And I suppose I'll throw in the current IMBD user rating for each film, even though I'm pretty sure most monkeys could tell that The Third Man (8.6) is a better film than The Shawshank Redemption (9.1).

Film: Blood Simple
Metacritic Score: None (The Director's Cut got an 81, but that was after everyone already acknowledged this as a masterpiece.)
My Initial Impression: 4/5. Skillful yet unformed
People Today: Tend to regard this one as an early, rough-hewn masterpiece; I'd say about 4.5/5 Allmovie Sez: 5/5
TSPDT?: 633rd best film ever made
IMDB. 8.4/10. That's pretty high
My Thoughts: 5/5. A small and nasty little film that is put together almost perfectly
Verdict: No Metacritic score means I don't know what the critics thought...
Appreciation: Hard to tell, but I think this one has appreciated some.

Film: Raising Arizona
Metacritic Score: 55. They didn't like it.
My Initial Impression: 5/5. One of the funniest movies I had ever seen.
People Today: Love, love, love this quirky movie.
Allmovie Sez: 5/5
TSPDT?: 747th best film ever made
IMDB: 7.5/10. They're obviously wrong
My Thoughts: 5/5. Gets funnier every time.
Verdict: The critics didn't know what they were watching, and got upset. Idiots.
Appreciation: Very High. This one went from critical hatred to classic pretty fast.

Film: Miller's Crossing
Metacritic Score: 66. Good, not great.
My Initial Impression: 5/5. More Coens, please.
People Today: Definitely like this movie alot.
Allmovie Sez: 4.5/5. More awesomeness from the Coens.
TSPDT?: 665th best film ever made
IMDB: 8/10.
My Thoughts: 5/5. Is it the best gangster movie ever made? Could be...
Verdict: They liked it more than Raising Arizona, but still weren't quite sure what to make of this sucker.
Appreciation: High

Film: Barton Fink
Metacritic Score: 69. Still in the good range, no more.
My Initial Impression: 5/5. I immediately worshiped the ground this movie walked on.
People Today: Often consider this their best movie. 5/5.
Allmovie Sez: 5/5. Those people like these brothers
TSPDT?: 529th best film ever made. That's getting there.
IMDB: 7.7/10. Wrong.
My Thoughts: 5/5. Is it the best movie ever made? Could be.
Verdict: They're still not quite getting it. How could this movie have a sub-90 Metacritic score?
Appreciation: Very High.

Film: Hudsucker Proxy
Metacritic Score: 52. Two points lower than You Don't Mess with the Zohan.
My Initial Impression: 4/5. A fun, off-kilter movie
People Today: Like, don't love, this one. 4/5, I'd say.
Allmovie Sez: 3/5. Not so much love
IMDB: 7.4/10. Sounds right.
My Thoughts: 4.5/5. Hawks and Capra have very little in common. This movie fuses their styles. Surreal, brilliant, hilarious.
Verdict: The critics liking this one less than the last two makes sense. On the other hand, The House Bunny has a higher score.
Appreciation: Medium

Film: Fargo
Metacritic Score: 85. First acknowledged masterpiece
My Initial Impression: 3.5/5. Seemed a bit overrated.
People Today: Love this movie. 5/5.
Allmovie Sez: 5/5. Everyone agrees!
TSPDT?: 292nd best film ever made. Again, everyone!
IMDB: 8.1/10. Seriously, everyone!
My Thoughts: 4.5/5. Far from my favorite, but it's a damn good movie.
Verdict: Something clicked for the critics on this one. They got it right away. Not so much for me...I think I was expecting something life-altering, based on the hype.
Appreciation: Maybe a tiny bit? Started off pretty high.

Film: The Big Lebowski
Metacritic Score: 69. Another good, not great reaction.
My Initial Impression: 4/5. Very funny, kinda confusing.
People Today: No Coen Brothers movie is better loved than this movie. And that's saying alot. 5/5.
Allmovie Sez: 4/5. Allmovie tries to keep their cred by not overrating this "cult" film!
TSPDT?: 828th best film ever made. Probably just too recent, or too stoner, to climb.
IMDB: 8.2/10. IMDB users not worried about cred, rate this movie higher than The Graduate, Nosferatu, and His Girl Friday.
My Thoughts: 5/5. Yeah, I've watched this movie, um, more than once. It's good..
Verdict: Surprisingly good initial reviews, but as a cult film, it's not that weird that the critics didn't love it. Allmovie is still holding out, but this is definitely the best loved Coen movie.
Appreciation: High. The critics liked it, but didn't see the fan worship coming.

(They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, cuts off here - newer movies have a separate list that's meaningless in comparison)

Film: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Metacritic Score: 69. Apparently, Coen Brothers movies get 69s.
My Initial Impression: 4/5. Surprisingly funny.
People Today: People like this movie, but I'd say it's about a 4/5. The Clooney era hasn't been too kind to the Coens.
Allmovie Sez: 4/5. Allmovie goes the safe route.
IMDB: 7.8/10. Consensus reached.
My Thoughts: 4.5/5. A very, very good movie, with amazing music and a whole host of brilliant performances. Not a masterpiece, but close.
Verdict: Very good, not great, both then and now.
Appreciation: None. Came into this world Very Good, will leave it the same way.

Film: The Man Who Wasn't There.
Metacritic Score: 73. The critics look favorably upon neo-noirs.
My Initial Impression: 4/5. Dark, noirish, not very significant.
People Today: Like this one, I think. Doesn't get talked about much.
Allmovie Sez: 4/5. Allmovie goes the safe route.
IMDB: 7.7/10. Surprisingly high.
My Thoughts: 4.5/5. Doesn't reach perfection, but it's real good.
Verdict: Everyone agrees: an above average movie, but not an amazing one.
Appreciation: Marginal

Film: Intolerable Cruelty
Metacritic Score: 71. The critics look favorably upon neo-screwball comedies.
My Initial Impression: 3/5. Funny, but pretty stupid.
People Today: Are divided, on this one. I know plenty of people who, like me, love this movie, but plenty also consider it mediocre or worse.
Allmovie Sez: 3/5. Allmovie likes it less now than the critics did initially
IMDB: 6.4/10
My Thoughts: 5/5. I've watched this one more than any other.
Verdict: Pretty good, nothing special (except I love it!!)
Appreciation: Actually, mild depreciation. The critics liked it more than people do today.

Film: The Ladykillers
Metacritic Score: 56. The critics look unfavorably upon bad remakes of classics.
My Initial Impression: 2/5. Annoying, mostly unfunny. Hanks was great, though.
People Today: Do not like this movie. At all.
Allmovie Sez: 2.5/5. Bad, bad, bad.
IMDB: 6.2/10. Seriously? On par with Intolerable Cruelty?
My Thoughts: 2/5. Haven't rewatched it. Uck.
Verdict: This one sucks.
Appreciation: Again, mild depreciation. The critics didn't like it; now this movie is hated.

Film: No Country For Old Men
Metacritic Score: 91. One of the highest scores I've seen.
My Initial Impression: 4.5/5. What was up with that ending?
People Today: Still love this movie.
Allmovie Sez: 4.5/5. Very high for such a recent movie.
IMDB: 8.4/10. The people have spoken. Practically Shawshank good!
My Thoughts: 5/5. Saw it a second time, left my reservations behind.
Verdict: A masterpiece then, a masterpiece now.
Appreciation: None. But it doesn't have much room to appreciate, either.

Overall Verdict: I think you probably should trust us that Burn After Reading is good, but not great. Ever since Fargo, the critics have been aware of how good Coen movies are, and are no longer underrating them. By far the highest appreciation occurred in the early part of their careers, with Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, and Raising Arizona getting wildly underrated. But two of their most recent masterpieces (Fargo and No Country) were met with masterpiece level reviews. Hell, 2 of their last 4 movies have slightly depreciated. It looks like critics are suckups unable to look beyond past success. I think we already knew that. But at least they're not the IMDB users.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Film Ignorance # 17: Strike

Film: Strike
Rating: Yep, It's a Classic
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Stars: "The Actors of the Proletcult Theater" I'm not kidding, that's what they were billed as.
Year: 1925
Reason for Ignorance: Silent Soviet propaganda thanks

Ignorance Rating: Pending

I was immediately blown away by this movie. Not since the first time I saw Breathless can I remember seeing a film which so forcefully announced itself as a cinematic masterpiece. In only the film's first minute, Eisenstein had already put together four incredible shots. First, there's a dissolve from a closeup of an evil capitalist to the scurrying workers providing his wealth and back again. Then a gorgeous crane shot of the enormous factory where much of the film is set (did they have cranes in 1925?). Then we watch some factory workers go about their business from behind a lighted screen, rendering them faceless silhouettes, part and parcel of the machinery of the factory. Finally, our first introduction to the strikers is shot as an upside down reflection from a puddle, so that we start by seeing the reflection of the factories smokestacks, then see the conspirators' feet appear upside down in the shot as they walk through the puddle, only to reappear rightside up in the reflection. And these are all in the first minute of the film, in Eisenstein's first feature film.

In other words, this dude wasn't fucking around. In case you don't know, Eisenstein was a Soviet film pioneer who more or less invented montage and used it to terrific effect. This movie is, like all of his others, a blatant ode to Soviet ideals. A strike at a large factory gets going when a loyal worker is falsely accused of theft. To prove his innocence, he commits suicide (another stunningly well shot scene, which cuts between the belt and footstool he uses before finally settling on his lifeless feet), and this galvanizes the factory to strike. The capitalist pigs in charge (who, with their fancy suits, top hats, and moustaches, look exactly like the capitalists in American films of the 30s and 40s) don't like the situation at all, and the shit hits the fan.

And boy does it hit the fan. Seriously, this is an insane movie. Babies are kicked, midgets dance on tables, boots are thrown at kittens, and toddlers are thrown off buildings. A team of hobo arsonists (led by a dwarf) are recruited out of the barrels they live in to burn down an apartment building that the strikers live in, and when the firemen arrive, they turn their hoses on the dispossesed people instead of the burning building. This last development is one of many that I couldn't figure out. This film was incredibly difficult to follow; the plot swings wildly from place to place, all the workers look pretty much alike (as do the spies in their midst), and I was generally clueless. But Eisenstein cuts so rapidly, so frequently, and so ostentatiously that I usually didn't have time to worry about it.

The weak link here is probably the worst acting I have ever seen on film. Somehow the workers manage to overact stoic defiance. But the god. There's hardly a single shot of a capitalist where he's not laughing with obvious evil, gasping with rage, or both. They laugh, they quiver, they gyrate, and they even jump up and down as evilly as they can manage. It would have been more subtle to simply dress them up with red horns and pitchforks that to led those particular proletcult players try to act "evil." It was absurd, over the top...and yeah, a lot of fun.

Which is a great way to describe this movie. It is propaganda of the most overt sort, with atrocities coming left and right far beyond believability, and acting to match. But it's also one of the most heavily stylized and forcefully edited movies I have ever seen. I can't promise you'll like it, but I can't imagine that you could ever be bored by it. This movie goes to 11!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fall: Please, I Can Has Movies?

So first of all, another apology. Just a few weeks ago I apologized for not posting enough, and promised to get Western Star of the Week back on track and start posting more in general. Fail. In all truth, this blog will probably get less and less maintained as my exams approach in February. I'll fight that as much as I can, but I'll probably have no choice. I'll do my best to have everything cruising again after that, and try to keep this sucker afloat in the mean time. But no promises. Unfortunately, blogs thrive on having as many posts as possible, and if I lose a few readers, my readership will be roughly zero.

On to my topic: the Fall. In case you weren't aware, there are two main movie seasons, if you live in a Megalopolis. The first is the summer, in which the biggest, most CGI-tacular releases are crammed down our throats. This year, for some reason, those releases were actually good. The summer starts earlier every year (like March this year) and then peters out in August. Hence, we were overwhelmed with everything from Iron Man to Hellboy II to The Dark Knight through July, then had to deal with everything from College to Disaster Movie to Star Wars: The Clone Wars (CG theatrical feature film) over the last 1.5 months.

Now the fall movie season is here, which will carry on until Christmas and might be called the holiday season by some. Burn After Reading kicked it off. This season is made up of three main kinds of releases: blatant, usually crappy "holiday fare" that warms people's hearts and/or appeals to kids and grandparents alike around Christmas and Thanksgiving, summer style movies that are frequently, but not always, more intelligent, stylish, and middle-brow than summer fare (Burn After Reading, Harry Potter (before it got moved!), Quantum of Solace, etc) and blatant Oscar grabs that won't make much money but could win some awards, including real and semi-independents, and foreign films (for this year, look at The Road, Appaloosa, and any other movie starring Viggo Mortensen). Obviously, certain movies, like Lord of the Rings, etc, can be in both of the latter categories, and some are even in all three.

But now we're at one of my pet peeves: you have to be in a Megalopolis to have this uninterrupted season. Here in Chapel Hill, there's really more like three seasons: Summer (Dark Knight et al), Fall (Quantum of Solace et al) and Films That Won't Be Released Until At Least After the Golden Globe Nominations, But Preferably the Oscar Nominations, Because The Only Way To Get Anyone To See A Movie As Relentlessly Bleak As, Say, There Will Be Blood Is To Dump It In Theaters In December To Qualify For Awards But Not Give It To The Moviegoing Public Until Jan/Feb After They've Seen It Get Nominated For Stuff.

This means that, for this blog, the actual movie year has to be Feb-Feb, or, more precisely, from Oscars to Oscars. A real critic, or a NY/LA/Toronto resident, can see all of "this year's" movies by Dec 31. I won't be so lucky. And in the case of foreign films, I often won't see them until after they've already won their Oscar, in which case I have no idea what year to put them in. It's frustrating to have A.O. Scott put The Lives of Others in the best movies of 2006, and then get to see it in April of 2007.

All of that's to say, it's fall. This is my favorite moviegoing time of year, and the most frustrating. Because, outside of the highly anticipated wide releases like Quantum of Solace, I just have to scan the local theaters and bitch about the fact that real critics have already made their top 10 lists, and most of the movies haven't even come to the Triangle yet. It's an exciting, nerve wracking period, trying to see everything notable, drinking everything in, and being painfully aware that I'm a second class film citizen, not worthy of There Will Be Blood until January. I can't stand it. Please, bear with me in this difficult time. Also, write your local studio exec and inform them that if every single under the radar Oscar release is put out in Dec and then expands in February, most of them will fail. May I suggest August?

A final note: I will open up five more spots on the year's top 10 list, to 15, which I'll fill as fall movies come out and I regard them as worthy of the list (I intended to put Burn After Reading on the list with as much pomp as I could muster, but that one turned out to be a whimper). I'll add five more spots (making 20 total) on Dec 31st; those 5 will be for the various Oscar releases, and let me recognize any fall or summer movies I've overlooked. That's right, my end of year list is 20 films. Because I'm twice as opinionated as any other critic.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seinfeld Poll Results

Well, the Seinfeld poll results are in, and there's bad news: you guys like Seinfeld. 11 of you voted that Seinfeld was "great" and four weighed in that it was "ok." I, and I alone, believe that it sucks.

It does make me happy that roughly a third of the people who answered the poll question weren't huge fans of Seinfeld. Take that, Seinfeld flamers: the show is not loved by 100% of people!

Actually, I've got some much more important numbers to throw at you. I know it seems like all of America watches American Idol. But it's Nielsen ratings (admittedly a flawed system) indicate that between 30 and 35 million people watch that show. Which means that for every American who watches American Idol each week, roughly 9 Americans didn't watch it that week. People are always saying that more people care about American Idol than the presidency; that's just silly. 61% of the people eligible to vote in 2004 voted, a process that involves registering to vote and then physically traveling to a polling place. 10% of the people in the U.S. usually watch American Idol, a process that involves turning your television on.

Which brings us to Seinfeld. I know, I know, everyone loves it, etc. But it never averaged more than 20 million viewers. Which means, again, for every person who watched a new episode of that show, 14 other Americans did something else. Seriously.

So here's my big finale: no matter how mainstream something is, no matter its media saturation, no matter if it's the highest rated show of the last 30 years or just made over half a billion dollars at the box office, odds are good that more Americans don't care than do. Just saying.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: Burn After Reading

If you find vicious axe murders hilarious, you'll love this movie!

Burn After Reading

When I heard that the Coen Brothers were making a spy comedy as a follow up to No Country for Old Men, I was expecting a comical antidote to the nihilism of that uniquely bleak movie. Well, Burn After Reading is funny (although maybe not as funny as No Country*), but it's not an antidote to the nihilism of No Country. In fact, Burn After Reading is in fact probably more nihilistic.

I would not have thought that was possible. But No Country for Old Men, as bleak as it was, treated life as a vibrant and valuable thing. Ultimately, there may have been no solution to the murderous Anton Chigurh, but his violence was a terrible thing. Every time he took a life, even if it was a character we didn't know, we cringed. The loss of life was a loss that mattered.

Burn After Reading takes the exact opposite approach. A group of idiots (a personal trainer, a federal marshal, an ex-CIA analyst, the CIA analyst's frigid wife, and a lonely woman) are running around, sleeping with and killing each other, after the CIA analyst's memoirs go missing and the personal trainer and the lonely woman try to blackmail him for its return. As expected, things go wrong, people die, and laughs are had. Frequently, those last two are simultaneous.

That's why I regard this film as bleaker than No Country. The external observer in No Country was Tommy Lee Jones. Every death weighed on him; he was never directly involved in the chase for the mad killer, but we saw the true cost of those murders in Jones' eyes. The observers in this movie are a pair of disengaged CIA higher ups. Like Jones, they don't know what's going on, but unlike him they're unmoved by loss of life. When some of the characters die, when another commits murder, when another is in a coma, their only concern is that the agency come out looking ok. They, like the Coens and the audience, are completely divorced from some truly gory and vicious acts. These deaths are mined for comedy, and it's pretty clear that the characters deserve them, for adding to the world's surplus stupidity.

Which is not to say that this movie isn't funny; hell, death is frequently funny on film, especially in the hands of the Coens (Wheezy Joe, anyone)? But outside of some inspired silliness by Brad Pitt as the personal trainer, this movie is never fun. Clooney, Malkovich, and McDormand are also very funny; only Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins are saddled with nothing to do. But even the funniest of Malkovich's rants or Clooney's narcissistic acts or McDormand's cluelessness are anchored by a deep and abiding desperation.

I do recommend this movie. I admired the skill that went into it, and all of the Coens' skills are on full display here: quirky characters, perfect dialogue, inspired deaths, and an attention to detail in all facets of filmmaking. But it's not a fun movie. It's not a happy movie. And it's certainly not an antidote to No Country for Old Men. Rather, it's its more cynical counterpart, in which the devaluation of human life is no longer a tragedy, but a farce. Because of all the laughs, no one will probably condemn it for its nihilism, as they some condemned both No Country and The Dark Knight. But if you ask me, those who are in the business of condemning nihilism should consider this Exhibit A.

This is pretty much what I looked like when I walked out of the theatre.

*Like The Departed, except way bleaker, I found No Country to be a nihilistic tragedy/comedy. All of Woody Harrelson's lines? Brolin's mother-in-law? Tommy Lee Jones' blatantly made up story about the conflict between man and steer? All hilarious.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Golden Age of TV: There's a Fucking Seinfeld Bus

Seriously, there's a Seinfeld bus going around on college campuses to raise awareness about Seinfeld. Apparently someone is getting a bit antsy about Seinfeld's cultural hegemony. Newsflash: Seinfeld is bland. In today's TV Golden Age, Seinfeld is an ancient dinosaur that the kids aren't interested in.

Also, the AV Club is funny:

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Golden Age of TV: Actors You Just Can't Get Enough Of

Since Ive been busy, I haven't been able to support my Golden Age of TV idea as much as I wanted. I only got two posts out, and I've been planning this one for a while and never got around to it. So this'll be the last Golden Age of TV post for a while, unless I get less busy and more inspired in the real near future.

There's a certain brand of actor out there that I just can't get enough of. And I mean that literally, not figuratively. Figuratively, I just can't get enough of, say, Michael Caine. But hell, Michael Caine was a major leading man for three decades and has been a major character actor since. You could watch a Michael Caine movie a week and it would take you years to watch every movie with either a lead role or meaty supporting role.

Phillip Baker Hall is another matter altogether. I figuratively cannot get enough of him. But I also literally can't; I've only ever seen one movie where he has a leading role (Hard Eight), although I know there's a couple more out there. But for the most part, if you want Phillip Baker Hall, we're talking bit parts. We're talking 10 minutes in Rush Hour, 5 in Rush Hour 2, 15 in Zodiac, 7 in In Good Company, and some Holiday Inn Express commercials. That's what you have to wade through to try to get enough Phillip Baker Hall.

So I'm devoting the rest of this post to unobtainable actors, actors who I couldn't get enough of figuratively and literally, but who, unlike Hall, have found a place in The Golden Age of TV where they're beamed into our house once a week. Many of these actors started in TV before I was born or when I was a wee one, spent most of my lifetime in films, and have finally returned to the small screen, now that it's worth watching.

1.Tony Shalhoub
Show: Monk
Leading Film Roles: None

Tony Shalhoub is the king of this category. Either while enduring or after leaving the depressingly dull sitcom Wings, Shalhoub was a supporting actor ace, Coening it up in The Man Who Wasn't There, Barton Fink, and Miller's Crossing, and just plain being awesome in Men in Black and Galaxy Quest. But those 5 roles combined probably don't have an hour of screentime. Now, with Monk, you can see Shaloub on camera for an hour every single week. It's like striking character actor gold.

2.Bruce Campbell
Show: Burn Notice
Leading Film Roles: 5-10

Bruce Campbell's career can be broken down into three main categories: cultish lead parts in a handful of movies (Evil Dead, Bubba Ho-Tep), bad lead roles in terrible TV shows (Brisco County Jr, Jack of All Trades), and miniscule film roles in everything from Coen Brothers movies to McHale's Navy. Suffice to say, after you've watched the cult movies, there wasn't much left worth watching just for Bruce, until Burn Notice. As a spy's sidekick, Bruce is a hard-drinking, hard-punching ladies man in a Hawaiian shirt. I hope the show goes on forever, and I would watch it just for him.

3.James Cromwell
Show: Six Feet Under
Leading Film Roles: 0-5 (pretty much just Babe)

Like many others of my generation, I was first exposed to Cromwell in that masterpiece that is Babe. Since then, I'm still looking for another leading role for him. Sure, he's great in great stuff like L.A. Confidential and The Queen and in crap like I, Robot and The Sum of All Fears. Unfortunately, I haven't seen Six Feet Under, but the evidence is piling up that I need to. I'll probably be the only person watching it for James Cromwell, though.

4. Alec Baldwin
Show: 30 Rock
Leading Film Roles: 0-5 (in comedies)

Alec Baldwin's career as leading man in dramas and action movies pretty much disappeared on impact. But since that career imploded in the 90s, SNL fans have known that he's one of the funniest people in the universe. But to see him being funny, you had to either Youtube SNL, acknowledge the fact that The Departed is actually an action-comedy, or sit through dreck like Along Came Polly, Cat in the Hat, and Elizabethtown. Now you can just turn on the TV and relish 30 rock. Although I do recommend The Departed.

5.Ron Perlman
Show: Sons of Anarchy
Leading Film Roles: 0-5

I'm aware of the ancient Ron Perlman holy grail, Beauty and the Beast, which is just a bit before my time. Outside of that, you've got the Hellboy twofer, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's City of Lost Children, and bit roles in everything from Alien Resurrection to In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. That's not pretty. There's only been one Sons of Anarchy episode so far, but it was a good un, and Perlman was great as the Godfather of a biker gang. I assume it will only get better.

6.Harvey Keitel
Show: Life on Mars
Leading Film Roles: 0-5

Martin Scorsese's original method muse quickly became a second, third, or fourth fiddle to the De Niro juggernaut. Since his brief heyday as a leading man, he's mostly just done crap or been an ensemble player in quality stuff like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Get Shorty. He's coming to the small screen this year in Life On Mars, the second attempt to do a U.S. remake of a show about a cop who goes back in time to the 70s (or something. Believe me, this whole situation has me confused). The role doesn't look huge, but I'll check the show out, just for Keitel. This one is pure potential.

Well, I'm sure I left lots and lots of people out. And I notice this post is totally missing the ladies; I guess Kyra Sedgwick would count, but I'm afraid I don't know her as a film actor and I haven't seen a single episode of The Closer. So I need some help here. Post away.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review Roundup: Death Race, Man On Wire , Hamlet 2

Greeting, Movies et al fans! Crazy stuff has been happening at Movies et al! And by crazy stuff, I mean: 1. Movies et al's piece about the Golden Age of TV was highlighted on IMDB, which led 6500+ people to visit the site, most of whom left a vicious comment suggesting that yours truly should not be allowed to talk about TV as I don't like Seinfeld. My favorite comment suggested that the writer of the piece be fired. Yeah, so, I decided not to fire the writer of that particular post, but I've decided to reduce his salary to nothing. Poor bastard is just gonna keep writing, but never get paid.

2. I had to grade some papers and deal with students, and stopped posting for a week! Sorry. I'll be better in the future. At the very least, Film Ignorance will keep going strong, as will Western Star of the Week, which will restart next week after a break for noir month. I know you've missed it, Ibetolis!

I'll also try to keep up with the reviews, which I've been slack about. For now, a quick paragraph about the three films I saw most recently. I might revive the "mini-review" format, but right now the reviews I write are about the same length as my original mini-reviews. So, here are some mini-mini-reviews.

1. Death Race

Halfway through the first of Death Race's three races, I realized something: I was enjoying this damn movie. I had no right to enjoy it. It had all the hallmarks of a Paul W.S. Anderson movie: terrible characters, worse dialogue, an incomprehensible plot. But somewhere along the way, he learned how to actually film and edit an action sequence. And I loved this film's cars, the races, and the vicious sadism that other movies pretend to have but always fail to actually bring. Our hero Jason Statham hates somebody, so he breaks their neck on national television. This is a movie that never went soft. And in a great piece of irony, it's Joan Allen, not Ian McShane, who says the word "cocksucker." Actually, she says "Cocksucker, you fuck with me and we'll see who shits on the sidewalk." Classic.

2.Man on Wire

The best documentary I have seen since...Bright Leaves? Fog of War? Ever? This is a masterpiece about a crazy Frenchman who, upon hearing that the Twin Towers are going to be built, immediately decides that he has to walk a tightrope between them. I can't explain why he feels that way, but this is a caper film and a half, the real life story of a team of deranged artists who break into the WTC so that their resident crazy/genius can walk on a tightrope between the towers. One of the most beautiful, and also most troubling, portraits of an artist that I have ever seen. And Phillipe Petit, our titular man on wire, is truly an artist. Provisionally, having only seen this film, I would call him one of the great artists of the 20th century. He was a guerrilla artist, three decades before the site of his art would become famous for terrorism. Petit imagined a world in which boundaries and rules were broken for the sake of art, not ideology. As a child of the 80s and 90s, I find it hard to believe such a world existed, but documentaries like Man on Wire assure me that it's all true..

3. Hamlet 2

It's like School of Rock, except not funny. It's also dull. Cliched. Tedious. Stupid. A complete and total waste of time, except for Steve Coogan's vicious wife (Catherine Keener) and dim-witted roommate (David Arquette). Keener, one of our best leading ladies, is not given much to do but is great in her few scenes, taking Coogan's no-talent ass-clown apart. Arquette is even better - his inane dialogue (I think he has only four lines) is so deadpan I don't know how he kept a straight face. His first line is "It's a sunny day outside" and his last one is "I left you a protein shake in the fridge. It's strawberry." His dialogue and character are so deprived of meaning as to be hysterical. The rest of the movie is just deprived of comedy.