Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mmm... gravy!

I find it a travesty that in the entire history of this blog (which claims to be all about the gravy), there has not been a single post that I can recally which is dedicated to the substance. THAT CHANGES NOW!

College has taught me the proper way to begin any important scholarly essay. It goes like this:

According to Wikipedia, "Gravy is a type of sauce, an old traditional English recipe, usually made from the juices that naturally run from meat or vegetables during cooking. Ready made cubes and powders can also be used as a substitute for natural meat or vegetable extracts. Canned gravys are also available. Gravy is commonly served with a roast dinner, Sunday roasts, meatloaf, rice, or with mashed or other popular types of potato dishes." FASCINATING.

You must end your introduction with the word "FASCINATING" or no one will know how important your Wikipedia quote is. It's very important. Are you paying attention? No, you're probably on another tab in Internet Explorer, looking for porn or maybe a wonderful pie recipie (porn). Or maybe how to spell the word "recipie." That's probably not right. Oh well, too lazy to fix that. Anyhoo, back to gravy.


GRAVY. And some meat, but who cares about that?


Gravy is a healthy animal byproduct! The internet tells me that there are 38 calories per cup of gravy, and that it is in fact a source of calcium, Vitamin A, and iron. We should just grind up animals and send them to third world nations in the form of gravy. World hunger: fixed! Now on to something more important, like what happens when you run out of ideas for an essay on gravy and Google "gravy disaster."


The answer to that ages-old riddle is that you get an article from the London Independent called "On the gravy train to disaster." Much to my chagrin, it's not about gravy, nor is it about trains. I think it's about rugby, but really I was too lazy to read it.


Okay, I think I'm done here. Really, there's not much to write about gravy. Oh well, I think I'll just post this now... ooh, there's this new thing where you can label your post for easy categorization. It's suggesting "scooters, vacation, fall." Sounds relevant to me! Thanks Blogspot!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On the subject of politics..


This was a cartoon from an old Newsweek magazine that I can't stop chuckling at.
Obama really does look like Tigger don't you think?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Empty Walls



Hey so I caught this video on VH1 this morning. Its the dude from System of a Down. I'm more of a Rage guy, but they're gone and I don't think System gets enough credit. Anyway, I just thought it was really interesting and possibly kind of exploitive. Serj is trying to create some controversy, and since I agree with him, I will help wholeheartedly.

The colors are amazing on the real video, so you should try to catch that.

Post script
Yeah, they're back

Post post script
'Empty walls' is either the most idiotic phrase ever, or the second most poetic. After 'cellar door' of course.

{Edit} Favorite part is definitely when the kids pull down Teddy Saddam

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Booo tonsils!

It's true, Karolyn and her tonsils have had a falling out of sorts...(something about getting strep throat eight or nine times these past twelve months can do that...)

So, Karolyn is getting her tonsils removed tomorrow (Monday) around 7:30am and won't be waking up until around 3pm! W00t drug induced nap!

So keep her in your thoughts...especially since she can no longer speak in first person...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

shift happens?



i just got an email from one of my old professors with the link to this video/slide show thing. it's one of them pseudo-apocalyptic "be very afraid" kind of things but there might be some truth to it, i dunno... i'm really curious as to what people think. is it just a bunch of over-hyped exaggerations? half-truths? communist propaganda? or does it scare the bajeezus outta you?

i got two things out of it, really: one - the chinese will take over the world (damn, nancy was right!) but only until our computers outsmart us and make us their slaves, and two - if half of what i've learned so far in college is already outdated, i feel real good about all those thousands of dollars i've blown on my education thus far. just one more reason to ditch school and be a bum, right? (i should really try that one on my parents.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Baby(ies)!

I probably should have posted these pictures months ago, but oh well, some before and after pictures. You might not be able to tell really well, but the rabbit has gotten bigger, and slightly less cute. Her name is Coconut, Coco for short. My roommate and I got her for $40 from a sketchy pet store a few blocks from campus.

Before:




Coco with my other (crankier) baby, Potato


Now:

Some things don't change.


Bath time!

(I should be studying for my final tomorrow)

Disney Princesses, BEWARE!

Check out this *guy*:

http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1792427

http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1791891


-Karolyn

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ice blocking!

i don't remember who told me about ice blocking but i thought they made it up. apparently i was wrong... sliding down on a hill on a block of ice is a somewhat popular pastime for people with nothing else to do (or those looking for new ways to potentially injure themselves)... it's got its own wikipedia page and everything (and rules?). it seems pretty genius to me... this may actually work better in warmer weather, i don't know, but i feel like this is something that needs to happen this winter break. so i'm gonna try freezing some ice blocks, who wants one?

figure 1. advanced moves in ice blocking: the superman. [source]

Monday, December 10, 2007

an ode to gravy.

hey gravy. let's talk.

you know, this is a great blog. there've been 885 entries since the first post over three years ago. and in it's early stages, there were as many as seven or eight posts in a single day. i did some quick research on blogging statistics and in comparison with the rest of the blog world, i'd say we made it pretty damn far.

and now... well, scott kind of summed it up. he's basically been the only one posting for the past few months, comments are kind of sparse, all the links are dead in the "our pictures" category over in the sidebar, and scott's is the only blog linked that's actually been posted on in the past year. maybe he's right in saying that it's on its way out. but the gravy's been my home page for the past few years and even though i was one of the last to become a contributor (and then didn't even contribute much at all), i've gotten kind of attached to this blog, and i don't wanna see it die.

you guys all know why the gravy's so great... look left at that long list of people. remember when we all went to the same school? i've read almost every post, every comment, and there were some pretty great ones. remember when mr. lum had a thing for pat? how about that infamous "conversations in ethics" post with its record 64 comments? and alright, i'll admit i may have skipped over a few of pat and ian's sports posts and some of that political nonsense, but i know that stuff had plenty of other readers more sophisticated than i. we had all kinds of amusing posts... jog your memory, here's a select few: patrick schneider's "feeling dirty," ben's "declaration," adrianna's "an ode to jim cantore, weather channel badass," pat's "lots of pressure," doug douganna(?)'s "price tag," and rachel's "haha, 'cock sandwich'." hey, and whatever happened to man's club? and the liberty party? what about them memories, huh? (see ben's "good times, if you forget all the crap")

i'm prolly just overly sentimental, still clinging to the hope that we'll all eventually reunite to start a crazy band or one day pile into nancy's family wagon on an epic road trip. i'm still waiting for the day the outsiders sees its first baby pictures. (a new generation!) but really, i like reading about what you guys are up to and laughing at your terrible puns. and hey, i'll find stuff to write about. so just write something - anything - and post it for god's sake. (c'mon, i know you all lead more interesting lives than i do. or at least you know of a few ridiculous youtube videos.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Goodbye to Romance

In September of 2004, I posted my first piece of movie writing here. I’d posted some political stuff, and I’d done reviews at the long-defunct Viper Studios before that, but writing about movies here really got me going. And now, go figure, that’s what I want to do with my life. As a part of that, I knew eventually I’d have to be done with The Outsiders Looking In (or the Horsemen of the Status Quo as it was in the day). Didn’t think it would come this soon, though.

Megazinemedia.com/wordpress

That’s the new site. All my new reviews (including, yes, my semi-full thoughts on No Country for Old Men), some news, some essays and longer articles. Plus a ton of writing from some really great, talented people.

I could still post my writing here, and I went back and forth for a long time trying to decide how exactly to handle the transition, especially since this blog is such a shell of what it used to be and I didn’t want to be part of the problem. I’m quite stubborn like that. I thought about posting my stuff here as well as at Megazine, but in the end I decided that’d make it too much about me and I really want Megazine to succeed, and hopefully this way you guys will happen upon some of the other awesome stuff that is and will be.

So my compromise is, at least for now, with every new review I post at Megazine, I’ll post the title here with a link to the main site. The site’s organized in such a way that the most recent posts are at the top, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

So yeah. Another nail in the coffin of this place, but I guess it’s been on its way out for some time now, and we’re really just in the last throws. I’m really, really glad I had this forum though, for the time I had it. Take it easy, and keep reading and replying. That way when we’re huge you can say “I was there when.”

P.S. The site's in "soft launch" right now, so any feedback you can give on content, ease of use, and design will be hugely appreciated. We need all the help we can get.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I'M NOT THERE

I didn’t think they still let people make films like this.

First, just to get this out of the way…and people who know me know this…I don’t like Bob Dylan’s music all that much. I know, he’s a modern poet and prophet and one of the great geniuses of our time. I know. Spare me. You and I are just going to have to part ways on this one. I like some of his music, but besides the train ride to go see this movie, I can’t think of the last time I sat down and said, “hey, I’m really in the mood for some of that Bob Dylan.”

So depending on your perspective, that either makes me the ideal audience for the film, or the worst one possible. Either way, I loved the hell out of this film.

I'm Not There doesn’t make a lot of sense in any traditional…sense. It’s basically six people playing some version or aspect of Bob Dylan. There’s a through line in the loosest of senses, in that the transitions from one to the next to another and back again to the first and to another don’t really follow any sort of narrative, but tonally they feel so right. Just like, you know, music.

Because the best music out there – what happens in the song almost never matters. The lyrics come to you and stay with you later. What first catches you is a certain chord progression, a melody, a harmony, a great hook – something the song made you feel that isn’t at all linked to what the song is about. And THAT’S the best thing I can say about I'm Not There. And don’t get me wrong – it’s still a great script with very, very strong dialogue (the main character is Bob Dylan for God’s sake…if you’ve ever read a Dylan interview about ANYTHING, you know that’s the best central character you could ask for), but the film isn’t specifically about anything, really. Bob Dylan is just a launching point, and even if you stripped away his cultural importance, you’d still have a great film, because writer/director Todd Haynes created something really original that just feels right.

And yeah, in one of the sections, Bob is an 11-year-old black child. And in another, Cate Blanchett plays Bob (although he’s called Jude Quinn; all of the versions of Bob have different names). I’m going to tell you straight up, those are my two favorite sections, Quinn especially. Not because they’re overly experimental or any of that; in fact, on the page, there’s no specific call for Bob to be played by a woman. But Haynes was smart to open up the casting, because Blanchett just plays the hell out of it. She has probably the most interesting aspect of Bob to play, as he was making a transition from acoustic folk to folk-rock and was just an all-around ass. Haynes goes to town creatively in this section, drawing a lot from European art films of the 60s (which I’ve been getting into in the last six months, and was all giddy when I noticed the parallel), even briefly referencing The Beatles’ film A Hard Day's Night (his portrayal of John, Paul, George, and Ringo is genius).

Other aspects are played by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, and Ben Whishaw. I guess a lot of people are having trouble with Richard Gere’s part, in which he plays a version of Bob that’s basically Billy the Kid. It’s the Old West setting, the whole nine yards. I don’t know, maybe at the point they give the character his first real scene, I was ready to let the film take me anywhere and I could just roll with it, but it made sense to me. Bob identified with the Old West, and made himself to be something of an outlaw. So, this is Bob as an outlaw.

What’s great about this film is on the outset it may seem a little pretentious. You know, six actors playing “aspects” of this cultural icon and yada yada yada. But the film doesn’t hit you over the head with much. It just carries you. I’m going to break a huge rule of reviewing and end this with a quote, because it’s the best possible description of this film and I don’t want to steal it outright.

"Haynes didn't want to make a movie that was about anything. He wanted to make a movie that is something."
-Robert Sullivan, New York Times Magazine

Might be a little pretentious, but I was reading up on the film a bit after seeing it, and coming across those two sentences I was just like, "That's it!"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

SOUTHLAND TALES

First, update. Yeah, I never wrote a full No Country for Old Men review. Sorry. The film's too good. I tried to come up with something, but it was just too scattered and full of a lot of "you know, like, WOW" sentences. But you should go see it. It frickin' rules.

Beyond that, Beowulf is awesome. If you're too jaded to accept an animated film, then this'll get nowhere with you, but it is an exceptional film, not just in terms of technology (see it in IMAX 3D...dear God), but it really is a sophisticated script with stellar acting. I'll go toe-to-toe with anyone on that (no full review because it became even more defensive than that sentence). Lions for Lambs is largely successful, but doesn't quite come together as well as it sets itself out to be, but it is an intelligently-written film that tackles current issues, and we need more films like that. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead...I'm really mixed on. Poorly edited, but really great performances. If anyone ever tells you about "a great little political film called Rendition that no one bothered to show up for but it's really important," run away. It's a really bad film, and it makes Southland Tales look awesome.

So onto that...

I know no one has heard of this film (if you have, props), but you know Donnie Darko? Written and directed by Richard Kelly. Anyway, this is the first film he’s made since then.

Well…okay. Here’s the thing. Southland Tales isn’t a bad film as such. Well, okay, it is. So know that up front – on the whole, Southland Tales is a bad film. But it’s a bad film that tries BIG. And there are moments that it had me. For the first fifteen, twenty minutes I was really enjoying what I was seeing. But somewhere along the way it loses track…and when you have a two hour, twenty minute film, you better keep that sucker on track. But Southland Tales is all over the place, not just plot-wise (we’ll get to that in a second), but in basic tone. I don’t have a huge problem with films that play across genres, but Southland Tales is so scattered…it’s absurdist comedy one second, Donnie Darko the next, satire for a little bit, musical for awhile, espionage thriller for a second or two. It’d be amazing there was a cohesive narrative if, you know…there was one.

But the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. Which, hey, fine by me. In fact, that’s why I like Donnie Darko so much – it’s just such a thrill to watch that you don’t mind the hours and hundreds of rewatchings it would take to piece that bastard together. Southland Tales isn’t a thrill to watch. There are several good moments, but I only remember that because I remember watching it and being like “oh, awesome,” or “hey, there’s something you don’t see everyday.”

And I heard all this months ago. Actually, almost years now. At the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006, and early cut of this film was shown. Nobody liked it. The best a few critics could garner up was to say “well, not all of the special effects are in place – we shouldn’t judge it ‘til it’s truly finished.” Since then, Kelly apparently completed it, shaving a half hour off of it (give or take). If that half hour (or so) explained anything I saw, or at all bridged the film’s MASSIVE tonal shifts…let’s see that back in please. But as it stands, this is a film that was apparently green lit off its first draft and no one ever said “hey, you might wanna…change that.” I guess people figured “well, Donnie Darko didn’t make sense to people at first; guy must know what he’s doing.”

Apparently, Kelly lucked his way into a great film with Donnie Darko, because when the man’s let loose to do whatever he wants…he came up with this. I mean, this film’s a mess on every level, from the script all the way through the cast. And I generally like Dwane Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Sean William Scott. And Cheri Oteri. And Justin Timberlake (as an actor). And Amy Poehler, Kevin Smith, Mandy Moore…a thousand other second-stringers who show up through the film. But nobody in this film quite works in their role (except maybe Mandy Moore). Jon Lovitz as a racist, murdering cop is an especially weird touch. Don't get me wrong, these are brave choices, but they're not brave in that good way (like Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love)...they're brave in that bad way (not mean or creative enough to come up with a good example).

And hey, I went into this film ready for all of this. Everything I read said, loud and clear, “this film is a mess – nothing works.” But I love watching people go for broke, and many, many great films have been panned on initial release, only to be reconsidered later as masterpieces. And I could see this being one of those. I just felt it.

But I was wrong. The hype is true. What’s worse is that the best moments of this film (especially towards the end) are pretty much stolen outright from Donnie Darko, so for most of the moments I enjoyed in this film, all I was thinking was “I haven’t seen Donnie Darko in a long time.”

But y’know what, we’re lucky to have films like this, which is why I can’t completely hate it. Richard Kelly absolutely, as the guy at the copy store in Jerry Maguire says, hung his balls out there. This is a film packed to its gills with ideas and characters and concepts. If filmmakers weren’t given room to go for broke, yeah, I might’ve been spared those two and a half hours, but we also would have stuff like The Fountain, Across the Universe, all of Terry Gilliam’s good films, and yeah, Donnie Darko. And this is still ten times more interesting than whatever Epic Movie/Scary Movie/Date Movie derivative is out this year.

Friday, November 09, 2007

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (the non-review)

I’ve seen a lot of exceptional films this year. Zodiac came out swinging in March, and if it would’ve ended up the best this year had to offer, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. Once and Waitress made a summer that included Live Free or Die Hard, the latest Harry Potter mess, and *shudder* Spider-Man 3 worthwhile. The Bourne Ultimatum reminded everyone that big-budget action thrillers can be…smart. Across the Universe filled me with hope and made me smile all the way home. And The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, well…they don’t much come better than that.

Until they do.

Because as much as I love those movies (and I LOVE them), they’re very much contained. Which is fine and all, but they’re very easy to consider and, besides my desire to spend more time with such quality filmmaking, I didn’t ache for that second viewing.

I don’t even know what to say about No Country for Old Men at this point. I will tell you it’s exceptional. Even for the Coen Brothers, two of my absolute favorite filmmakers, and almost surely the best of their generation. And you know why this is? Because they don’t have “a masterpiece.” From the time they unleashed Blood Simple all the way through The Man Who Wasn't There*, every single film was excellent. There are some I like better than others, but trying to pick one, or even two or three, to represent the totality of their achievement…forget it.

No Country for Old Men may be that film. Walking out this film, Gray and I both agreed we should probably just stay for the next showing. We didn’t, but I assure you this is a film I will see again, and soon. And when I do, I will attempt to give the film a proper write-up.

*I’ll admit Intolerable Cruelty was a misstep, only in that it doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of their work; I still enjoy it. And I haven’t seen The Ladykillers, but I hear it’s on the same level.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tragic News

This morning the Jesuit student body received news that Sam Wasson passed away due to injuries sustained in a car crash. Jeff and Elaine pulled students out of class that were closest to Sam and told them the news privately shortly before the school made a public announcement. At this time I know very few details other then he was driving from Wisconsin to work on something related to the Larmie Project when his vehicle was involved in an accident, He and another were airlifted to a hospital, but his injuries were too severe and he was not expected to live, he died presumably a few hours later. Jesuit will be holding a service for him tonight (October 23rd 2007) at 9:00 pm.


-Alex

Sunday, October 21, 2007

GONE BABY GONE

I love the hell out of crime films, but I’ll readily admit it’s one of the more tired genres in cinema. Everyone (male directors especially) thinks they can do a good one, but for the most part they just want to make a film about guys talking some trash and shooting people. At their best, though, crime stories have the potential to be great American morality plays, which put a man up against the worst of humanity and watches him wrestle with it.

At its best, Gone Baby Gone does just that. There are some great moral quandaries put to our hero, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), and he reacts in new and interesting ways to them (well, new and interesting for modern, mainstream cinema anyway…man, I really am turning into a snob). But there are major structural problems with this film, from a cliché-to-cliché first act to a convoluted third.

Most of the press surrounding this film comes from it being Ben Affleck’s directorial debut (I’ve been following this film closely, but even I was still a little surprised to really see the words “Directed By Ben Affleck” up on the screen). Now…I’m a huge Ben Affleck fan, so the fact that he would turn out an impressive, humble debut comes as little surprise to me. It almost seems inevitable. Also, I remember him talking about the process of writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, and saying they both realized early on that while they had a knack for character, they couldn’t plot their way out of a cardboard box. That’s the same problem he has here. Even adapting from a novel, Affleck’s screenplay (which he co-wrote with newcomer Aaron Stockard) has trouble getting from point to point, but there’s never a dull moment because he’s crafted exceptional characters, even if the police force was pulled from The Screenwriter’s Playbook (I watched Network the night prior, and all I could think of when Morgan Freeman came onscreen in this film was the assistant reading pitches to Faye Dunaway, all of which involved a “crusty-but-benign” authority figure).

I said about all the praise I could of Casey Affleck in my Assassination of Jesse James review, and while he isn’t better here (like I said, it’d be amazing if he ever tops that), he does show a lot of new shades, and it’s pretty great to see him talk trash and pistol-whip punks. The word that kept coming to mind while watching him was “visceral.” You don’t get that a lot in leads in crime films (“stoic” is a word that often comes to mind), and Casey puts up maybe the best reaction to a gun in his face since Philip Baker Hall in Hard Eight (yeah, more snobbery, referencing a film hardly anyone’s heard of, but screw you, it’s a great movie).

Michelle Monaghan should be in every movie. I almost went to see The Heartbreak Kid purely for her. Unfortunately, she’s shoved to the sidelines in this film, but even from there she’s charming as hell.

Ben’s strength as a character screenwriter continues as an actor’s director. Getting great, fresh performances out of his brother and Michelle Monaghan is one thing – they’re young and have a lot yet to prove. But finding new ways to make Ed Harris interesting? The guy’s about as good as they come, and while Remy Bressant isn’t a whole new cloth for him, there’s an edge I haven’t seen from Harris in some time. And that’s without even mentioning the great work Ben gets from Amy Ryan, who you know from…nowhere, but hopefully it won’t take long before she’s everywhere.

But there are problems. The first forty-five minutes or so are purely by-the-numbers detective/cop movie. There’s almost nothing new here besides that great Boston accent. Everything from the quarry until…I’d say about the last ten, fifteen minutes…fantastic. The story’s greatest strength is how it started one place, and when you assumed it was as wrapped-up as can be, it stayed right with the characters. It would’ve been easy for Ben to par down the novel’s story into a simpler kidnapping story, but he doesn’t. It was the right move, because everything involving the film’s main plot is where the screenplay falls flat; it’s the in-between, before-and-after moments we spend with the characters that are the most rewarding, and where those questions of morality get raised again and again and the world really does seem like a dark and hopeless place. But as the film reaches its conclusion, plot twist upon plot twist start to pile up, and it becomes too much. One too many stops on the way to the station. I have little doubt that these events were given time to breathe in the novel, but onscreen they’re rushed, and Ben and Stockard would’ve been better off reworking the way the mystery gets solved.

But on the whole, it’s a very solid genre film. Not a lot of new stuff, besides the continued revelation to the world of Casey Affleck’s genius, a firecracker of a performance from Amy Ryan, and Ben Affleck’s new career (I know people said the same of his incredible performance in Hollywoodland and that went nowhere, but I feel pretty confident this time). But there are great characters in the film that’ll get you through the first and third acts, and a second act you can’t help but be pulled in by.

Friday, October 12, 2007

MICHAEL CLAYTON

Michael fuckin’ Clayton.

That’s what I was thinking walking out of this movie. Michael fuckin’ Clayton.

There are a few reasons I go to see a movie. Most of the time, it’s because the ads looked good and I like most of the people involved. Some of the time, it’s purely because I’ve heard good buzz (which is why I can highly recommend King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, but it’s gone from everywhere now). Some of the time, it’s because it’ll be up for a lot of awards and I like to have an opinion on such matters. And sometimes…not often, but sometimes…I’ll go purely on the quality of the cast. Often, such things matter, but sometimes, some very few, very rewarding times, that’s all I’ll have. I won’t know a damn thing about the plot, I may not have even seen the trailer.

Such is the case with Michael Clayton. I saw the trailer months ago, never saw it again and can’t tell you a thing about it. I saw some TV ads that conveyed nothing beyond “EXPLOSIVE acting.” And someone mentioned Tom Wilkinson is ridiculously great. But I went because it stars George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and Sydney Pollack, and is the directing debut of screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who wrote the fantastic Bourne series of films. And besides that, I knew NOTHING.

And God damn is it great. It’s an incredibly entertaining, adult-oriented, fast-paced film made up entirely of conversations (okay, there’s one explosion, but it’s not as out-of-place in a legal thriller as one would expect…also, I’ve been describing way too many films as “made up entirely of conversations” way too often these days), all surrounding a lawsuit against a company called U/North, which had a bit of problem with its product causing disease. But it’s a thriller, so there’s murder and payoffs and espionage and Tom Wilkinson (one of the best actors, hands down) as a half-crazy-but-maybe-he’s-onto-something senior partner in the firm that employs one Michael Clayton (George Clooney) as their fixer.

I can’t say enough good things about George Clooney, I really am incapable. Right now, he's one of the few people you can genuinely qualify as a movie star - can do anything he God damn pleases, and he's great he everything he does. In the middle of slowly becoming a damn great director in his own right and being one of the finest comedic actors of our time and the coolest guy on the planet in the Ocean films, he stars in a legal thriller by a first-time director and delivers a really great performance.

But he ain’t got nothing on Wilkinson. The film opens with Wilkinson’s narration and you just know, man, you KNOW you’re in for a powerhouse of a performance. And even though this film is absolutely electrified with great performances (half the joy of this movie comes from watching these fantastic actors go head to head scene after scene), the voltage just gets cranked every time Wilkinson is onscreen.

All of this is helped, of course, by Tony Gilroy’s fantastic script. Armageddon aside (for which he was one of like twelve credited screenwriters), I’ve only seen his work on the Bourne films, but really, what more do you want? The guy’s a fantastic screenwriter, and really elevates films that you go into expecting “just entertainment.” Not only does he have a fantastic main plot to play with, but he gives Michael a great subplot that has nothing at all to do with the main plot. With a character as rich as Michael, he’s bound to have more than just this big lawsuit going on. And he does. He has a LOT of other commitments that don’t force themselves in to make that point, but they’re all just there as part of his life. And as a result, you get an even richer character. Budding screenwriters (hell, even seasoned screenwriters) can learn a lot from this script.

So really, if you’re not drawn in by committed, electrifying performances (overused term, I know, but the synonyms for it are “thrilling, exhilarating, stirring, stimulating, and moving,” and they’re all just as bad or just plain wrong) in a solidly-constructed script with great dialogue, I dunno what to do for you.

Still, go support The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford first because it’s getting dumped (there’s no ad support for that thing, so check local listings frequently) and it’s a really cinematic, big-screen movie and Michael Clayton would be just as solid on the small screen, but do not forget about this movie. ‘Cause it kicks ass.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED

“At this moment, I didn't feel shame or fear, but just kind of blah, like when you're sitting there and all the water's run out of the bathtub.”
-Holly Sargis, Badlands (1973)

And that’s kind of how I feel about this movie. I saw it nearly a week ago, and for the life of me I can’t find one interesting thing to say about it, any feelings towards it to convey. It moved me, but only in brief, fleeting moments that were crushed by bad symbolism at the end of the picture. But it wasn’t really a bad movie, per se. There was nothing in it overly obnoxious, the characters were pretty solidly-built, and it’s decently entertaining, but this really is territory Wes Anderson’s been over before in far more compelling ways, and so it’s just…it’s tedious. It’s an hour-and-a-half long movie, and it feels tedious. You wait for something new or unexpected to happen or be said, but it doesn’t, but what does happen and what is said is still pretty good. But not great. Or new. Just kind of blah, like when you’re sitting there and all the water’s run out of the bathtub.

And honest to God, that's all I've got.

Friday, October 05, 2007

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

I’ve been trying like hell to write about this movie without making it seem boring (wanted so badly to have this up last night, but I came down with a cold). But so many of the words I like to hear about certain films – slow-paced, two and a half hours long, made up mostly of conversations, taking its time to let scenes breathe and the characters exist more in a more open-ended plot and environment – just make the movie sound like a bore. Make no mistake, this is an exceptional film. It’s incredibly thrilling to watch because its cast is so strong and its shots so beautiful. But it’s easy to fall into a habit of apologizing and setting up expectations, rather than to just talking about how riveting an experience this is, a hard thing to convey with a film like this.

Let’s start with Andrew Dominik – a second-time director (who also adapted the book into a screenplay) who shows more capability and vision two films in than many directors do in five, if ever at all. He helped himself along by assembling an awesome team, starting with Roger Deakins, maybe the best American cinematographer today. There’s no question the film is gorgeous, and even if (big if) the plot starts to lose you, you can’t help but be taken in by its beauty.

Then there’s the cast, one of the more cohesive casts I’ve seen in some time. There’s a scene in the first act of the film (if indeed this film even has such a structure) with Paul Schneider as Dick Liddil trying to charm a woman (Kailin See, who’s more captivating in her tiny role than most actresses are for entire films) he’s been warned not to. This innocent back-and-forth has more to do with the events to come than we know (there isn’t a wasted frame in the film’s 160-minute running time), so all you can do is hope the actors are good enough to carry it. And, to their credit, the scene ends up loaded with sensuality without even getting to “the good stuff.”

Sam Rockwell plays Charley Ford, Robert Ford’s older brother. If anyone who’s seen Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (and you should) is still surprised by what this guy’s capable of, I can only ask “why?”

What did surprise me is Brad Pitt. Intellectually, I remember with great fondness his work in Se7en, Twelve Monkeys, Snatch, and especially Fight Club, but it’s been a long time since Brad Pitt’s been this good, and it’s refreshing to know he still can be. It doesn’t hurt that he was practically born to play this role. Jesse James comes with all the baggage of what we as an audience know about him (as does Pitt for that matter), but it’s the scenes of intense to crazed paranoia that makes Pitt’s performance stand out. It’s Pitt that puts these scenes right on the edge, where you really, truly believe anything can happen (and, if you see the film, you’ll know exactly the scene I’m thinking of – anyone who’s seen Fight Club knows no one laughs like Pitt, who with a mere chuckle can put the entire scene right on the edge).

But this is Casey Affleck’s film, and it’s about damn time. I’ve been rooting for this guy since I saw Gerry four years ago, and only now is he getting his due. I’d heard how good he was as the Coward Robert Ford, but man…still he surprised me. This is such a subtle performance, I just know the skill involved will go unnoticed by many, but it’s the kind actors admire, and the kind that’ll land him better and better roles (though this is one of those performances you watch and you’ll swear he’ll never be better, and maybe he won’t). His character is happening right underneath the surface, and Affleck brings it out with subtle, subtle gestures, inflections, smiles, and facial expressions. Beyond just the basics, this is an actor who has total command over every millimeter of his face. There are looks and smiles and discomforts he creates that maybe one percent of all actors can do. It’s amazing it took this long for Hollywood to really find out what this guy, who’s been in their films for ten years now, is made of.

This isn’t quite a perfect film, though for most of it I could’ve sworn it is. Everything after the assassination is quite lovely, but it’s evident that the studio decided no one would care much what happened after the titular event (we know there were heavy edits on this film, which was due to be released a year ago, and there have been reports of cuts running over 3 hours being screened), and it ends up playing like an extended, slightly uneven, epilogue. The problem, though, is that the studio’s half-right. I saw this film with a free-screening crowd, who’ll do whatever they damn well please with a film’s running time (thus far, unlike Portland, Boston’s free-screening crowds have the decency to stay quiet during the film). So in addition to the dozen or so people who had left by the halfway mark (this ain’t your typical Western, folks), I’d say at least another dozen left after Bob shot Jesse.

Also, the film doesn’t quite earn its voice-over narration (which I suspect played a much smaller role in Dominik’s original cut). I’m pretty harsh on narration in films because it’s a very, very easy way to communicate facts and feelings to audiences, but I’ve seen enough films that use it to great effect (Barry Lyndon and everything by Terrence Malick are my go-to films when defending narration) to not write it off completely. They do have a fantastic voice in Hugh Ross, but it feels like many of the narrated sections would’ve better been served simply being shown to us (again, I ache to see Dominik’s cut).

But these end up as minor quibbles. There’s no question this is a masterful work by an ambitious director with a fully-rounded cast. And, for my money, it’s the best film so far of 2007.

The film is continuing to play only in select cities, but I believe it goes wide next Friday. Go see it won't you please?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

INTO THE WILD

Y’know, a week ago I wasn’t even going to see this damn thing. For one thing, I don’t really care for Sean Penn all that much. Guy’s a fine actor and all, but he’s a big mess of ego and a little crazy, and while that either works wonders for, or doesn’t at all affect, his performances, it matters a LOT when he’s the guy in charge of the whole damn production (in addition to the directorial credit, he wrote the adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book and produced the thing). But this film reads instead like the one he wanted to make his whole life.

The story revolves around Christopher McCandless, who just graduated college and is just about a shoo-in for Harvard Law School. Instead, he burns his money (literally), destroys all his identification, calls himself Alexander Supertramp and sets off…into the wild. His ultimate goal is his great Alaskan adventure, to basically live off the land somewhere in Alaska. It’s a vague goal, but he plans meticulously for it.

These kinds of stories have only a passing interest for me. People just packing up (or unpacking) their lives and heading on the road just “to be out there” are so often described idealistically by people who have no idea how tough it actually is out there. But while McClandless might not have known all he was in for, he definitely had an idea.

If there’s any fault in the movie (and there are a couple), it’s that Penn is in love with his subject. He tries to approach him with a critical eye by putting most of the narration on Christopher’s younger sister, but a) it’s pretty poorly written; it might be from the book, but it doesn’t sound as good as it may read, and b) in the end, we’ll end up with a beautiful (God, is this film beautiful) shot of Christopher against a sunset, away from the things of man. Another film that comes to mind constantly while watching this is Werner Herzog’s masterful documentary GRIZZLY MAN, which analyzes Timothy Treadwell, who spent a good chunk of each year in Alaska to live amongst the grizzly bears. That movie’s brilliance comes from its fascination with Treadwell’s life without celebrating it.

But in the end, it’s a minor quibble, because while Penn misses the opportunity for masterpiece, he ends up creating something that resonates emotionally deeper. It puts us right there with him, so when he fires a gun into the air over frustration of the lack of animals in Alaska, we feel that loss. When the people he encounters (people who almost seem invented, they’re so rich) question his goals, we also wonder how they don’t see the opportunity. It’s a young man’s ambition, but at least there was one young man who was willing to go for it.

I was just mentioning the people he comes into contact with along the way, and while they're great on page, they're even better onscreen. Penn casted the hell out of this one, even using Vince Vaughn as a wheat farmer (to perfection). Even better, though, are Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker (who isn't even an actor, but you wouldn't know it watching him) as on-the-road hippies. But the one that brings the house down is Hal Holbrook as Ron Franz, an elderly man who helps Christopher on the last leg of his trip before heading into Alaska. I don't want to discuss him too much, but his performance is more beautiful than any of the shots in the film.

I’d be remiss to not talk about Emile Hirsch, who plays Christopher. Hirsch first came on my radar with 2005’s LORDS OF DOGTOWN, a performance that (I’m told) didn’t work for everyone, but I thought was a downright revelation. I knew that if he was lucky enough, he’d be destined for big stuff, and this film solidifies it even more (and gives me hope for his starring role in next year’s SPEED RACER from the Wachowskis…no, really). It’s a spare performance, verbally, and so much is communicated with body language and his eyes, and at only twenty-two, Hirsch handles his character’s downfall better than other actors who have been doing this for much, much longer. He also looks freakishly like McCandless.

Anyway. The film’s long at 2 hours, 20 minutes, but there are parts that feel a bit spare. It often rushes from location to location and character to character, and in the editing stage, I can see why Penn made the choices he did. But somewhere out there (maybe among the films that’ll never be, hopefully in an eventual DVD release) is the real deal. One that doesn’t skirt the hardship Christopher placed on his family, and better tackles (what’s known of) the nuts-and-bolts of how he got from place to place. But as it stands, it’s a very impressive, deeply moving film. Man, those are overused words, but they definitely apply.

I just scored a pass to The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford for Tuesday, which I'm impossibly excited for, so I'll be writing about that as soon as the words come together. Next weekend also sees the release of the new Wes Anderson movie, The Darjeeling Limited (you can read my pre-release thoughts here), as well as the new Clooney flick, Michael Clayton. It's really starting now.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

As the Columbia logo came up at the beginning of this film, the only thing I could think was “I could probably do without seeing this movie.” It’d been a long week, and I’d already seen David Cronenberg’s awesome Eastern Promises a few hours earlier, and this was two and a half hours long and besides Roger Ebert’s four-star review (which came as a surprise), nothing out there made me believe this movie would be any good.

Don’t listen to any of it (except Ebert...good man that Ebert). This is an extraordinary accomplishment on every level – musically, cinematically…wow. I understand how this could have gone wrong for a lot of people, and I’m not going to say it’s a future classic, but for some circles. All doubts I had about the success of this film were shot from the second the “Hold Me Tight” montage starts up about a minute and a half into the film. It had me from then onward. And yeah, there are sequences that don’t completely work (putting “I Am the Walrus,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and “Because,” with all the visual extremes that should accompany each, back to back to back is a little jarring), but this film falling short is ten times more interesting than many, MANY films “succeeding.” And yeah, sometimes it’s a little too clever for its own good (all the main characters’ names are taken from Beatles songs, and there are a ton of lines that reference songs), but that was far from what was on my mind when I walked out of the theater.

What was on my mind was the sheer joy I had watching it. Sure, it helps to have some of the most beautifully-written songs of all time, but my personal connections that come along when Lucy goes into “If I Fell” will only get a film so far. The rest is up to one of the true artistic visionaries, Julie Taymor. I’ve been loosely familiar with Taymor for a long time, but even without this, she’d have my loyalty for Broadway version of The Lion King. There are things Taymor does in this film that…I mean, I don’t know how to describe it. For those of you who love musicals, you’ll find this an extremely rewarding experience.

But to have any shot at getting this film, you’re going to have to love or be interested in any number of things – first, The Beatles. Not just some of The Beatles. Everything from the pop-rock “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (beautifully rearranged in this film) to the nonsensical insanity of “I Am the Walrus.” Second, musicals. If people breaking out into song doesn’t fly with you, why are you even reading this? This film is a musical from its opening frames to its last. It hits you over the head with themes, plot, characters, ideas, and emotions. THAT’S why I love musicals, and as much as Julie Taymor is breaking new ground, she’s not reinventing the wheel here, and I commend her. Finally…you have to buy into the romance of the story. The romantic ideals of a bohemian lifestyle, the romance of the music, and of course…the romance of love. It’s a musical, remember, so realism (and certainly cynicism) have little place in this world. Everything’s a little brighter, and all you need is love.

It came as a huge relief to discover the cover versions of the songs were (mostly) the cast themselves singing. One of the big issues a lot of people (myself included) had early on was that they were using all cover versions of the Beatles songs, without really realizing that the covers might be the cast’s versions, which is what you would do (naturally) if you were to stage it. Jude (Jim Sturgess) may be from Liverpool, but that doesn’t mean he’d sing like Lennon or McCartney. Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) certainly wouldn’t. Even more relieving is that they can sing damn well, and in some cases (“Hold Me Tight” for sure) they improved on The Beatles originals. Yeah, I said it. Look, I LOVE The Beatles, but I’m no purist for any band. And even when they don’t improve on the originals, they at least work wonderfully within the film.

Anyway…I’m spending too much space discussing the movie, but I couldn’t quite find the words to express how much fun I had watching it, and how easily it carried me for the entire two and a half hours (which, for you fans of musicals, is pretty standard if you include intermission). There are some rough patches, but this is ambitious as hell, and I always give some leeway for ambition. I’ve been saying over and over how exciting this fall’s gonna be, but I’d be surprised (and very, very happy) if anything this inventive hit the screen.

P.S. No, Ben, I'm not pumped for The Darjeeling Limited (I'm barely anticipating it on any level). I have a sinking suspicion writer/director Wes Anderson lost his magic as soon as he lost Owen Wilson as a writing partner, and he's stuck relying on the same story. I hope with everything in me I'm wrong, but my feeling about it (it comes out October 5, at least in some parts of the world) is one of dread.
in the library today, i found a book called "What Nuns Read (Besides Hustler)". no seriously though, it was called "What Nuns Read", proving my point that for every obscure, useless topic, there is a faux-intellectual biting at the chomp to publish a book about it

Thursday, September 13, 2007

SHOOT 'EM UP and ROCKET SCIENCE

In an effort to try not to think of the pure awesomeness happening right now at the Toronto Film Festival (they’re basically screening all the films I want to see this fall…this happens every year…for this reason, I’m always a little bitter at the beginning of September), here are some catch-up reviews. I should mention that lack of a review aside, Superbad is one of the best movies I've seen all year.

SHOOT ‘EM UP

As with any profession, or at least a hobby you want to be really good at, I have a lot to work on when it comes to writing about film. One significant advantage I could give myself is to stop looking at anything that’s released about the film prior to its release (trailers, mostly). Another is to at least eliminate from my brain all expectations I had going into a film. Because going into Shoot 'Em Up, I was expecting something just insane. Maybe the best action movie ever. At least top five. And I heard a LOT of comparisons to Looney Tunes, of which I’m a massive fan and hold in high artistic esteem. Well…none of that’s true. It is a silly movie. It’s silly as hell. And a lot of fun. But for a movie called Shoot 'Em Up, there are way too many parts where people aren’t shooting each other, and its characters and plot aren’t nearly strong enough to fill these voids. And there are a lot of very, very failed attempts at humor. Action movie fans will appreciate the use (and subsequent table-turning) of clichés – the one-liners, the love interest, the idea that some sort of moral ideal can be used as a reason to kill dozens, maybe hundreds, of people. But for my money, the insane, ridiculous, hilarious action movie was done twice in the last year, and better – Smokin' Aces in January, and Crank in September ’06. And Domino the year before that. And the only recent film that deserves to be in the same breath as LOONEY TUNES is KUNG FU HUSTLE.

But one thing Shoot 'Em Up has that none of those others do is that classy bastard, Clive Owen. My dad, for YEARS, complained about the lack of real MEN in cinema, and rightfully so. Even our damn action movies were filled with pretty boys! Sin City changed all that, mostly for Mickey Rourke, but you gotta give it up for Clive. And he brings that same level of badass to this film. But unfortunately, the film wasn't as badass as him. There just weren’t nearly enough moments that had me on the edge of my seat (the car chase and skydiving shootout are the two major exceptions), largely because the only kinds of action in this movie are gunfights, and that just doesn’t hold. I LOVE gun fights, but they don’t sustain a movie. At some point, someone’s going to have to go all fisticuffs.

So this is a solid middle-of-the-road film for me. I’d like to blame expectations, but my massive expectations have been shattered before, so it can’t just be that. Still, if you’re sitting around your house/dorm/apartment sometime in a few months and are in the mood for what a film called Shoot 'Em Up would deliver, I definitely recommend making the trek to the video store.

ROCKET SCIENCE

“There's a new indie comedy about high school coming out this weekend that I will not be seeing this weekend (too much glory), but will be seeing next week if anyone else wants to come. It's called Rocket Science. And even though this increasing trend of quirky, indie movies about teenagers that are all ripping off the vastly-superior Rushmore kind of annoys me, I can't deny that I enjoy the ones I see.”
-Me; Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This is not one of those movies. There are some really inspired moments in this film – the opening prologue of the film is beautiful and poetic, but the rest of the film just can’t sustain it. Not only is this a rip-off of Rushmore, it’s a rip-off of Thumbsucker too (and really, who rips off Thumbsucker?), but without an ounce of the heart of either. There are a lot of moments constructed so that they try to elicit some sort of emotional response, but…this is where the director really shines or just falls flat. There have been so many movies made about heartbreak that, really, if you can’t construct the basics of a heartbreak scene just using what you’ve seen in other movies, time to find a different job. That isn’t the director’s problem here…his problem is that he understands all the necessary ingredients (including the indie comedy staple of having your wildly underage protagonist drink heavily…see also the unbearable The Squid and the Whale), but he puts NO emotion into it. Maybe I was just fed up at that point and there really was something going on, but as a man who has had many, many women disappoint and reject him in many, many different ways, even I couldn’t connect beyond the basic “oh yeah, that kinda blows.”

I should mention that at the start of the third act, I was so certain the film was going to redeem itself, but instead it just took a nosedive into more and more indie film clichés. I should also mention that in spite of the film’s total running time of 98 minutes, I was trying to figure out if we were actually into a fourth act, and was quite certain the film had been running for close to two hours (with still a whole act to go).

Friday, August 24, 2007

By no means a complete list but whatever

Cover 6 on that page just looks really wrong.


Top Five Superman(post 1987) Covers:

1: 75


2: 204

3: 120

4: 160

5: 44

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Shaky Hands: Live/Self-Titled

Alright, I shoulda got some pictures sorry. The Shaky Hands were Willy Week's new band of the year, and they had a Pfork review, so they were on my periphery but I hadn't gotten a chance to hear them. So Ian, Cynda, and Doug joined me under the westward on-ramp of the Hawthorne Bridge to check them out on Sunday of PDX Pop Now!

The two guitars, two percussionists, and bassist of The Shaky Hands played a fast, rhythm-heavy five songs that seemed interchangeable in their mod-surf approach, slowed down for one weak song, and then played a Holy Jesus of a Zeppelin-fronted-by-Tom Waits doozy to kick us in the ass on our way out. The crowd was Crystal-sized and mostly dug it. Though the lead singer to audience back to lead singer banter was painful to witness. Very good, short and FREE set. Only here.

PS: We didn't stay the two hours for Blitzen Trapper like originally planned. The new venue on 3rd and Madison, Audecity or something, is pretty sweet. No Loveland, but hey.

Rating: MmGravy-mMmGravy

Anyway, I had been more than a little excited for another Portland band to hit it big and my hopes weren't quite met by a huge outpouring of originality, so I rushed home to grab their new, self-titled album (from emusic you cynics) to figure these guys out. While I waited on my irritatingly slow DSL, I loaded up the aforementioned review, and saw a pretty different take on the band. More laidback folky, apparantly. Not all their songs had enormous beats, evidently. Weren't even all plugged in. A couple flutes and violins lightly interspersed. Was this the same band?

Their Beach Boys-meets-garage earnestness was refreshing on that warm summer night, but on the source material, the songs are peeled back and show a band with legs to stand on, and a future beyond openings for mid-level indies. "The Sleepless" and "Summer's LIfe" are just perfect, in their own poppy right, and are basically Ben's Own Mixtape Fodder. "I'm Alive," "Sunburns," and "We Will Rise" are really good short happy little jams. Even the sad ones are just lightly bittersweet, and mostly hopeful. Just right for the last weeks we have. Of this summer at least.

RIYL (In decreasing order of relevance, as always): Rogue Wave, Peter and the Wolf, Fruit Bats, Johnny and the Moon, The Robot Ate Me, Danielson, M. Ward, Sufjan, feedback-less Yo La Tengo songs, The Shins, The Decemberists, Califone, The Magnetic Fields

Rating: mMmGravy

Hit me or Ian up and we'll burn you a copy.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Party at John's is now on Friday!

(see above)


NOW ON FRIDAY!


6:00pm-11:30pm
Friday, August 10th

We're grilling burgers, bring snacks or desserts.
Keep it Dry

Confirm here or on facebook

See you all there!

Friday, July 13, 2007

This is not Devon magically posting from basic training with his mind, unfortunately. This is Felicia. I just received a letter from Devon in the mail today, and he asked me to let you all know that everything is going well, and to post his mailing address for him. The delay in getting this out was caused by the drill instructors tossing his address list after he arrived. Gotta love those guys, right?

Anyway, here is his address:

Rec Rohlf D.R.
2nd BN Echo Co. PLT 2107
38001 Midway Ave.
San Diego, CA 92140-2107

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

I am SO glad we watched all three Die Hard movies before this. First, to remember how frickin’ amazing the original is, and second so that I could accurately assess how disappointing Live Free or Die Hard is…or is not?

Prior to its release, a lotta people talked about all the things that clearly pointed to Live Free or Die Hard “ruining” the Die Hard franchise…giving him a lame geeky sidekick, the PG-13, a bald John McClane, a storyline based around computers*…all this and many more have been considered, but you know what? This franchise was ruined from the moment Die Hard 2: Die Harder (and what a retarded title that is, by the way) hit the screens. So pretty much as soon as it became a franchise, BAM, ruined. Gone. That said, Die Hard With A Vengeance is off the frickin’ chain. You don’t enjoy it, you can just take a big lick right now. It’s not as good as the first, but it’s pretty damn great.

What did Live Free or Die Hard get right? Awesome action scenes. Really. Len Wiseman’s only previous directing credits are on the Underworld franchise, which I’ve never seen and never will (but I know a guy in college who, in the days following the release of Underworld: Evolution, swore it was the best film he’d ever seen…film school is a sad, sad place), but the man has an eye for movement. Second, McClane’s still cool. Whatever. He always will be. Third, the plot’s actually pretty sweet, even if the execution is less than thrilling. Fourth, they made sure it all happened in one day. That to me is KEY for a Die Hard movie, and they stayed with it.

Unfortunately, cool plot, awesome action, and a great main character a good action film do not make. Because the bad guys just suck. They’re awful. There’s nothing interesting or compelling about them, and they did that retarded thing they’ve been doing…I’d say since around the time X-Men came out, where everyone suddenly decided action movie villains need to be sympathetic and have motivation beyond money and just being evil. Screw that. For all its faults, Transformers still had just an evil guy (robot) to fight against. Mission: Impossible III was great for many reasons, one of which Phillip Seymour Hoffman was just flat-out evil. No reason, no motivation…he just hated you for being you. And so did every Die Hard villain…until this jackass, who couldn’t even be bothered with a personality while he’s trying to destroy the country (or show the country how it could be destroyed or whatever his lame plan was). Just makes me angry.

Second, Justin Long isn’t funny. Ever. Not just in this movie. Ever (yes, even the damn Mac ads). I get his appeal, he’s kind of a cool hipster guy, and maybe it’s just because I dislike hipsters, but I just have a disproportionate loathing for that guy for like no real reason. And this movie wasn’t changing that very fast. I think it’s just because he’s always kinda this likeable loser hipster guy, but beyond that has no real distinguishing personality, and people put him in movies because he fills space a lot more effectively than most other actors. Could be. He wasn’t nearly as bad as the damn sidekick in Die Hard 2 though. Man, you wanna talk about the most boring supporting character ever put in a major action movie.

Next, yes, the PG-13 sucks. There’s some pretty great violence in this movie (and a lot of it happens to that guy who’s always climbing and jumping, but he lives through an unusual amount of it), but it looks like it’s happening to like mannequins or something, I don’t even know. That monkey guy gets taken down pretty spectacularly, actually, but, y’know…no real blood. And I know this says a lot about me as a person that I really crave my violence bloody, but y’know, unless you’re doing a lot of kung-fu (and even then), blood’s kinda part of the game. Especially with the shooting and so forth. And especially in a movie called DIE HARD. HARD. DIE.

Oh, and Kevin Smith isn’t outright bad so much as he…it’s like when you’re watching the trailer for that new Hairspray musical thing, and the credits tell you John Travolta’s the fat woman. And you ask yourself…why? Why would they cast John Travolta? Why not cast a woman? It’s kinda the same thing with Kevin Smith in Live Free or Die Hard. They clearly put him in here because he’s kinda known as a cool geeky guy, but it’s just really distracting and doesn’t serve the story (or the lameass character he’s playing) or any other purpose other than an attempt to gain geek points, which they lost immediately because movie fans are much smarter than studios give them credit for when it comes to spotting such things (although we’ll always end up paying for it, so I guess we’re not as smart as we think).

Anyway, don’t see this movie. Bye.

*Here’s another thing I didn’t know until the movie started – four distinct screenwriting credits. Sometimes that works out well (Children of Men), other times not so much. It breaks down like such…Mark Bomback wrote the screenplay, but the story was by him and a guy named David Marconi, although some amount of the story was based on an article called “A Farewell to Arms” by John Carlin. Oh, and Roderick Thorp, author of Nothing Lasts Forever, the book on which the original Die Hard is based, gets credit for “certain original characters.” Fan-tastic.

P.S. I was just now surfing through the Rotten Tomatoes reviews, and for literally the first time ever I am actually wondering if I even saw the same damn movie. Maybe I didn't. Maybe it was all just a bad dream. That happens sometimes. I've dreamt of seeing Batman Begins, Superman Returns, and Transformers at least before they came out. In dream form, they all blew hard.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

SICKO

I’ll keep this brief – see this film. It’s the single most important film I’ve seen in…I don’t know how long. Michael Moore wisely keeps the focus out of the politics and just on the affect our system has here, and the effects of universal health care in other countries (and if you’ve ever had any reservations about universal health care, I can’t see any of them remaining after watching this). Would universal health care be a step towards socialism? Maybe, but, as Moore points out, we’ve socialized the fire department, the police force, schools, libraries, etc. And how bad could France’s system be if people not only get free health care, but free child care (well, okay, $1 an hour), free nannies, five-eight weeks paid vacation (with an extra week for your honeymoon), unlimited sick days, and in the end have higher productivity? And you still get to choose your doctor.

Michael Moore, as he did with Fahrenheit 9/11, backed up all the facts presented in this film. It’s not a fact-heavy film, as most of it is about comparing how well people get by with universal health care, and how well we get by on HMO, but the facts that are there are important, so even if you (unwisely) choose not to see the movie, I encourage you to look through the fact sheet. It’s pretty damn informative.

The one area I’d fault it on is Moore does a huge stunt towards the end in taking 9/11 rescue workers to Guantanamo Bay for health care, which ends up being little more than that – a stunt. But it does lead to an important point in which we find out that, yes, Cubans get better health care than we do.

But once again, see it. It’s quite often very funny, incredibly informative, totally convincing, a little enraging, and even a bit touching at the end.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

TRANSFORMERS

Ready for another mixed review of a major summer motion picture?

I am a Michael Bay fan. I wouldn't say he's one of my favorite directors, but I would say I enjoy all of his movies to varying degrees. I'm more forgiving of Pearl Harbor than most people are (it's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand where its heart is at, I just feel like something went askew and they didn't quite deliver on what they'd hoped for), I enjoy most of Bad Boys and The Island, and I out-and-out LOVE The Rock, Bad Boys II, and ESPECIALLY Armageddon. I don't understand the arguments against the last two (The Rock is pretty much universally recognized as sweet)...Bad Boys II is supposed to be retarded, and it really does have just incredible action sequences, and Armageddon...I dunno. I love every piece of it. Especially the characters. And Michael Bay did wander into his one moment of genuine emotion in his entire career (a career in which he's attempted to find genuine emotion many, many times) when Bruce Willis says goodbye to his daughter. But that's all on Willis and especially Liv Tyler.

But people who say Michael Bay is the worst thing since the invention of cinema are just idiots. Never mind the scores of bad movies that have come out in the past, but look at frickin' Brett Ratner, who's not only content with making a third Rush Hour movie (which looks retarded, but not in that knowing way that Bad Boys II was), but also took a second to screw over the X-Men franchise. And then there's guys like Shawn Levy (who sat in the chair - and probably didn't do much else - on the sets of such films as Cheaper by the Dozen and the Pink Panther remake). You look at a Michael Bay film and, if you can't catch onto his knack for quickly establishing character, you can at least see all the work that was put into making the movie...the guy can make a film MOVE.

So I was out-of-my-mind eager to see Transformers. Not because I watched the cartoon all the time as a kid, and could probably still dig up my Optimus Prime action figure. But because it was the new Michael Bay movie. And Transformers is, if nothing else, an absolutely stunning summer action movie, the kind they just don't make that much anymore - it's frickin' HUGE. Everything about it is massive. The robots, the story, the action, everything just feels EPIC. This was the first movie this summer that's made me sit up and verbally express my amazement at the spectacle that was moving across the screen. And anytime the movie kicks into high gear (and it does this, thankfully, very very often), it moves into the realm of greatness.

But it's those other times that are the problem. And I know I shouldn't go into Transformers expecting a great human story, but a) I love the human story in Armageddon and at least ENJOY the characters in The Rock and Bad Boys II, and b) the movie spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to get us to give a damn about its human characters, especially Shia Lebeouf (who elevates his character so far past what's on the page that I became an instant fan) and Megan Fox (who...God damn is she a babe). But I swear I couldn't have cared less about either of them. And Megan Fox's character (Lord knows what her name was) was just saddled with modern-day female cliches...okay, I'm first in line for a movie featuring strong female characters, especially in major roles...I don't feel like I have to list my credentials here, but I love the shit out of Waitress and Marie Antoinette, and maybe my favorite cinematic moment this year is when the three girls kick the shit out of Kurt Russell in Death Proof, so make of that what you will, but it just pisses me off when they seem to just spin the wheel and give the girls in these movies the most random traits just to make the girls feel like they're a part of the action too. For example...Megan Fox is the daughter of a carjacker (or something), so she knows more about cars than most other guys (which intimidates them, so she doesn't mention it because she can't help falling for jerks with great abs - I think she actually says that part out loud), and later on uses this part of her past to drive a tow truck (backwards) with Bumblebee attached to it, who shoots the shit out of everything (that last part doesn't bother me, actually...it was pretty cool).

And once again, I know this sounds like I'm dwelling too much on the characters in a movie based on a line of toys, but the damn movie kept trying to make me care! And I couldn't. I didn't even like the damn robots that much until they started fighting each other. I love action movies to death, but it pisses me the hell off when they try to find character moments and drama but are just completely incapable of either.

I really am being unfairly negative about a movie I really did enjoy, but this was the stuff I got to thinking about over the last day or so. It's harder to just say "the action was effing amazing." Which it was...I mean, really...I watch a LOT of action movies, and there are very few that have achieved what Bay and his team have done here. For about 3/4 of the movie, I was on the edge of my seat, not 'cause I thought there was a chance the good guys would lose, but because God damn...did that just happen? No, it couldn't have, it was TOO awesome...oh, wait, it totally did though. Only in the time it took that thought to form, like twenty other ridiculous, mind-blowing, "did that just happen" moments frickin' just happened. There's a full-on 40-minute showdown between the Autobots (the good bots) and the Decepticons (the other guys) at the end of the movie in the middle of LA that was one of the best things I've seen all year. It's INCREDIBLE. This may be the best effect work I've ever seen, if only for the speed at which those things transform. There are two Decepticons that can fly, and there's like twelve times when they jump up in the air, transform, and fly away in the space of maybe a second. There's a GREAT aerial battle with one of them and some jets too.

The ONE thing I wish they did, action-wise, is a chase scene, or rather a driving battle. And I mean a BIG one. I know that seems ridiculously obvious, which is exactly why it should have happened. There are smaller bits where they drive around and transform at the same time, but I wish with everything in me there was like a nine-minute, Matrix Reloaded-style segment for that.

But all said, the best "summer movie" so far this summer. Sunshine's gonna kick its ass, or at least I hope it does (though from what I hear, that's more 2001 than Armageddon, but I think enough of the elements are in place to qualify it as a "summer movie"...and it comes out in a few weeks). I'm not a fan of the "turn your brain off, and you'll enjoy it," because a) that apologizes for what the person saying it secretly believes to be a bad movie, and b) if you do, you're gonna miss most of the action (it comes at you way faster than any of that fancy dialogue stuff in those other movies you kids are so fond of), but, really, it's like a ride (which is also a retarded thing to say)...strap in and enjoy the hell out of it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Paris, je t'aime

Ben has been begging me for a summary of my trip to France, and I figure after just seeing the movie, there would be no better time than now, especially since I'm supposed to be working now, although I have absolutely nothing to do. This won't be quite a film review, but I'll work some of that in it, as my trip and the movie has some cross-over.

The largest difference between the film and my few days in Paris is perhaps the most obvious, my short 4 days there focused entirely on the monuments and museums: Notre Dame, Eiffel tower, the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay (my favorite), Invalides, Arc d'Trimophe, Versailles, a couple other cathedrals that I forget the name of, the church that the Jesuits were founded in, a boat tour of the Seine, and my absolute favorite moment of the trip: the Jardin du Luxembourg. The gardens were my favorite part of the trip because I was reading Les Miserables at the same time (in fact, to "prepare" for the trip, although I've meant to read it for a while now), and part of the novel took place in the park. I was so excited when I came to that part, I started running around the garden looking for the exact spot where it took place. The only identifying feature, however, most have been torn down in the last 140 years, though, and I wasn't quite sure where it happened, but I'm pretty sure I got close. The scene is where two of the main characters met and fell in love, which, really is the whole point of Paris, je t'aime. I like to think that I found something in that garden. I don't know what it was, probably not love, but who can be sure?
The difference is that film showed Parisians in their city. As a tourist, I could only get a taste of this, but the film showed the essence of the life of the Parisians. Love is life in a moment, and even a mere glance or a shattering heartbreak can show this, and that is what the film is about.

The film is a collection of 18 short films about love in Paris. The first 3 or so are typical (although touching) stories where two strangers meet and fall in love. (Pat didn't quite enjoy the one with two men or the one with mimes). The rest (with the exception of the vampires, which was just weird) weren't the idealized conceptions of love-at-first sight, but showed love in all its complications and contradictions. All of the stories were love between people, which seems to me a very narrow definition of love, with no element of God in any of it, but France as a whole isn't religious, so I guess it makes sense.

The second half of my trip, and the very reason I was in France to begin with took me out of Paris, and out of the scope of the movie. The retreat at Taize was not a disappointment, but only because I was prepared for the worst. It gave me a lot of good reflection time, which was very nice, and really, is a place apart from the world. Life there consists of three prayers a day, where you sit in a big room and chant their songs, which was nice. Then food, which as a rule, was bad and there was never enough of it. There was also a "bible introduction," which was elementary, and palled in comparison to Sophomore year. But the majority of the people there, and even those in my group have had very little religious education, and actually learned from the experience. What I learned the most from was the students from Israel that were there. The intention was that A few Jewish Israelis and Christian Palestinians would come to the retreat and talk or something, but the Palestinians didn't get visas in time, and I was chosen to take one of their place. It was very interesting to experience Judaism from Jews. I have of course learned a lot over the years both from the comparative religion class at JHS and from things like Passover at Cornell, but really have never experienced from anyone who is, to the depth of their being, Jewish. Even the many Jews at Cornell are on the whole very secular, without any religious component other than going home for Passover, so to see Jews actually act out and teach their faith was something. I like it, especially the bittersweet aspect that seems to underlie their experience of the divine. They also invited me to shabbat, which was great food compared to the dismal fare at the retreat.

My group, 6 Cornellians, were selected because we were involved in Campus Ministry in some way (all I did was go to Guatemala). One of the priests is getting old, and worried about his legacy at Cornell, came into a large sum of money, and wanted to send students to a place that has influenced his life very much, and then we could come back and help the shoddy shape of the Cornell Catholic Community. I really don't know how much we'll be able to do, but I guess I'm kinda committed to Campus Ministry now.... I'm of course glad that he sent us, I don't know when I'd see France any other way, but I'm not sure if it was worth it. The best part of the trip was meeting new people, (predominately German) including the other 3 Americans at the retreat. Although, I could have done the same reflecting anywhere else, the fact is that I wouldn't have, and so I'm quite grateful that I went. I even think I found God in some new way. It was like the last clip in Paris, je t'aime. A lady from Denver goes to Paris, sees the sights, sits in a park (always the park!) and falls in love with Paris. While I certainly hope that I'm not as pathetic or lonely as that woman, I could at least relate. I went to Paris, and found something; God, answers, life, love, I'm not sure, but there was something.


PS: I have pictures, I'll try to get them up later

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Hold Steady [live]

Blitzen Trapper: I missed a few songs from their set and I sincerely regret that. I had a few songs of these guys on my computer from senior year at Jesuit, but I didn't get too excited about them at the time and never really went back. Well, they were really fun to see live. Very energetic and dynamic. Their songs were pretty spastic but on most you could hear some country, Americana roots and I dug them a lot. They have a new CD coming out in June and its supposed to be really good. I met Brian the drummer after the show and I guess I was right in thinking they were a Portland band. He was super-friendly.

Rating: mMGravy

Heartless Bastards: I had just read reviews of these guys before going, so I was way off-base in telling Ken I thought they were supposed to be Death Cab-y. Not at all. The first two songs were very simple and boring, but I guess it was a pump fake because the rest of the set was good bluesy garage rock with some great singing from frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom. Rachel called it as like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and at the time I said yeah but without the insanity but I should have added without a great guitarist. The drums and bass seemed pretty utilatarian and unspectacular, but I thought everything added together really well. I'm definitely picking up their newest CD. Oh yeah, the violinist for that one song walked by us and I said good job and he said you too.

Rating: mMGravy-mMmGravy

The Hold Steady: Great show, great deal. These guys were made to see live and they didn't disappoint. Hell, they didn't want to stop playing. Craig Finn is thrilled to be a rock star, at whatever level he is, and he led his band through a really tight, fun set. He danced and jived and wanted us to know all the words. Of course, I was a scenester and hadn't listened to their first two CDs before I went, so while I liked all the songs that were new to me, none were as loved as much as those from their newest CD Boys and Girls in America. Stuck Between Stations, Chips Ahoy, First Night, Massive Nights, You Can Make Him Like You, Southtown Girls: they were all fantastic. Oh yeah, and we saw Franz, the suited, mustachioed keyboardist after the Arcade Fire concert. What a funny guy. Five song encore? Wild. They were too eager to come back on too. What a lovable pack of guys.

Rating: MMGravy-MMmGravy

Monday, May 28, 2007

Arcade Fire [live]

Set:
Keep the Car Running
No Cars Go
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
Haiti
Black Mirror
Neon Bible
Distortions (Clinic cover)
In the Backseat
Intervention
(Antichrist Television Blues)
Ocean of Noise
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
The Well and the Lighthouse
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)

Encore:
My Body is a Cage
Wake Up


Ian and I would have died for a Born on a Train cover, but I think everyone had a great time. Except when Magda and Cynda got sent back to their seats after invading the aisles. Every song was outstanding, so I don't feel like I can criticize the three or so that were just outstanding and not wholly superb. Each song in succession reminded me why I don't have a favorite Arcade Fire song like I do with most bands, I have a favorite ten Arcade Fire songs, in no immutable order. The set design and showmanship were fantastic, evoking a 1920's film shot at a carnival funhouse or something equally absurd and perfect. The songs started as boulders already rushing downhill, and just gained momentum. It was thrilling to be part of; a wild out-of-another-dimension punk rock orchestra. My life's biggest regret is now assauged having seen that show.

Sorry for the incoherence, felt like I had to write it pretty quick or it would never get done. And its late. Cheers.

Rating: mMMmGravy-MMMGravy

Thanks for snatching tickets Magda. (Send me the picture Cynda?)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Montana

...


Also, it's snowing.Tomorrow severe thunderstorms + South Dakota= more funtastic. I miss you guys.

Milwaukee in t-minus 3 days!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dinosaur Jr. [live]

Alright, so the Dinos just released a comeback album after over a decade and I super-dig it. It runs a little bit together, but its so solid throughout I can't help but love it. Its all Lou's delicious fuzzy mega-strummed bass, smart drumming, and J's genius guitar melodies which shift into some pretty incredible solos. And that's pretty much what it was in concert. They didn't really interact a helluva lot with the crowd, except when Murph the drummer went missing and we all chanted his name under Lou's direction. Lou also told us somebody stole his jacket out of the dressing room, and so he told us Portland was redeemed when it got handed up to him later. We cheered.

Back in the 80's when they rocked hard and didn't give a fuck:


It was a very interesting concert experience for me in that I really got to see some pretty agressive crowd behavior. I was two rows up when the show started but I backed off after awhile so as to be just on the edges of the moshing. I don't even know if what this was is actually called moshing. Maybe you can help. Between, depending on the song, twenty and thirty people running into each other, while the people on the outsides push them back into each other. It was odd. The music was great, especially the new songs. They really did look like dinosaurs up there, especially Lou who made the bass look like the coolest fucking instrument on the planet. J is a weird motherfucker. Murph is bald now and just looks like he wants a burger.

These days when they rock hard and don't give a fuck:



I got a copy of the setlist, and waited outside the Crystal for an hour to get it signed. But no one came out, so I was walking to my car (up the hill), when I turn around and see J walk down the hill towards Burnside. I go to catch up, but I kind of chicken out because J is the least approachable one, so I kinda followed him for awhile hoping he'd meet up with the others. But he just went into the Benson with some roadies he found. Ok, so I followed him for ten blocks. Sorry.

Alright, so in summary, not the greatest concert of my life, a little overpriced, a little wild, but very interesting and usually enjoyable nonetheless. Oh, and openers Awesome Color near instantly made me think of the Stooges if they weren't threatening but instead wanted to skate with you (which they told us they did.) They were mediocre but lovable. Y'all didn't miss a bunch I guess.

So just find yourself a copy of Dino's new CD Beyond and call it good, k? Maybe work the back catalogue after that, and share with me. Cool.

Rating: mMGravy