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.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Film Ignorance #16: Masculin/Feminin

Film: Masculin/Feminin
Rating: Yep, It's a Classic
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Stars: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Chantal Goya, various French people I've never heard of, and Brigitte Bardot for about two seconds
Year: 1966
Reason for Ignorance: Thought it was Truffaut

Ignorance Rating: 28 (7 votes)

Jean-Luc Godard viewed himself as more than a filmmaker; he believed he embodied the figure of the poet, the novelist, the painter, and perhaps above all the existential-political philosopher in the tradition of Sartre. You can instantly tell all of these things from his endless references to philosophy, to poetry, to painting. You can also tell, in Masculin/Feminin, when one of the title cards proclaims that the filmmaker and the philosopher have the same role.

Masculin/Feminin is more or less plotless. We see aimless Paul and his rising pop-singer girlfriend Madeline (played by 60s French pop star Chantal Goya) listlessly go through the motions of a relationship, surrounded by a few of Paul's friends and a seemingly endless series of incredibly pretty ex-coworkers of Madeline's. We watch these stylishly dressed hipsters go to bars, go to cafes, go to the cinema, ride the train, and do other, everyday stuff - and it's all, frankly, enrapturing. Because in addition to the pure and simple pleasure we get from watching these beautiful people in a beautiful city, we get to hear them talk.

Paul, Madeline, and their friends talk about everything. The "Masculin" side of the equation seems to be most interested in politics - Paul and his revolutionary friend bemoan de Gaulle, the Vietnamese War, the sad lack of interest in revolutionary politics. The "Feminins" make it quite clear that they don't care about politics, are squeamish about birth control, and prefer fashion and beauty above all things. This doesn't make them look particularly bad; Paul, after all, confronts the projectionist of a theater, passionately ordering him to stop showing a movie in 1.85 aspect ratio because it was decided that anything above 1.75 is excessive, and Godard points out several times that you can't spell "Masculin" without "Cul," which means "ass."

Speaking of: In his typically abrasive style, Godard points many things out to us in title-card asides and pronouncements. The most important one: this movie is about the children of Marx and Coca-Cola. It's about an exciting and turbulent time that was about to give birth to mass protests in both American and France; more to the point, it's about the collision of political values and cultural style, playing across the lives of a bunch of uncertain young people. Along the way, Godard makes his political and philosophical points - a man stabs himself for no reason, another sets himself on fire in a Vietnam protest - but if the film certainly is didactic, it never feels didactic. It feels, instead, like exactly what it is: overwhelmingly natural and free-form, flowing from scene to scene and conversation to conversation with no goal except the capturing of this fragmented moment in the city of Paris.

In the trailer for Masculin/Feminin, Godard tells us: "Minors under the age of 18 not admitted...because it is about them." It seems to me that, to this day, it's about us. If you haven't seen Masculin/Feminin, but you've ever watched a Wes Anderson movie, or read some Sartre or Camus, or tried to look European while smoking a cigarette, or worn a fashionable trenchcoat, I recommend you see it. It's a film about the hipsters of 40 years ago - and they look and talk exactly like the hipsters of 2008. Except, you know, in French.