Frenzy On Blog Archive for March, 2011

Movie Malaise

I’m sorry for my absence over the last week and a half.  I know you guys all missed me.  Things will return back to their regularly scheduled programming soon enough, it’s just been a chaotic couple of weeks in terms of work for me.  My MFA thesis is due in about a month, so I’ve been using the majority of my writing time to focus on that, and I haven’t gotten a chance to see a lot of new movies due to the workload.

But, more important than all of those real world factors is this: I’m utterly bored by the movies right now.  I don’t mean to sound like an elitist or a party pooper, but I’ve been having a real problem this year mustering up the energy to go out and see a film like, say, Sucker Punch.

Maybe it’s because my 28th birthday is a few days away and it’s just the result of getting older, but something has fundamentally shifted in me.  When I first started at MCN four years ago, I wrote often about how I felt it was important for someone who writes about movies to see absolutely everything that comes out in a given year, if possible.  The idea was that we can only appreciate the truly good movies when we subject ourselves to the really bad and mediocre ones.  There was also the notion that I could love a film that wasn’t necessarily well-reviewed or didn’t appeal to me on first glance.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

It’s strange how things have slowly shifted for me in terms of pop culture priority.  My time is more precious to me and time spent seeing a film like Sucker Punch, a movie that is not intended for me by a filmmaker I generally don’t enjoy, seems like it would be a waste.  Why would I go and see a film that I will almost certainly dislike when I could spend that time reading Melville or Joyce or watching a great television show or going to a concert or anything else that is culturally relevant.

I spent a big part of my life living in a bubble where movies were everything.  Maybe I haven’t seen a truly transcendent picture in a while, but that has faded.  I suppose a big part of it is that I’ve seen a lot of the great movies that I wanted to see.  I spent years and years doing nothing but catching up on the great films of the best directors so that I could be knowledgeable enough to hold my own in any discussion about what I considered to be the greatest art-form.  I remember obsessing over every frame of every single Kubrick film and hanging posters of the man’s work in my room.

I’ll always remember this: walking home from school when I was 12 and stopping at the video store every day to talk about movies with the clerk.  He was a big horror movie fan and he told me I should rent the films of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi.  So I got Dead Alive, Meet the Feebles, Heavenly Creatures (then just out on video), the Evil Dead series.  I watched them all and found them to be enjoyable and innovative.  I felt like I had discovered something.

But look back at that story and you’ll see that every element of it has changed in a profound way.  First off, video stores don’t fucking exist anymore.  That culture is dead, just like record stores.  There is no place for movie nerds or music nerds to discuss the latest thing they’ve seen or heard.  There is no sense of discovery.  Yeah, we have the internet, isn’t that wonderful?  Now every idiot with an opinion screams in all-caps about how Michael Bay is a genius because his movies make money.  But more importantly, there are no 12-year-old movie fans out there who can’t research every facet of an “underground” director with the click of a button.  We live in the age of the echo chamber, where the second somebody has an opinion that is brazenly different enough to perhaps have some merit, then everybody jumps on that bandwagon…until it becomes cool not to be on that bandwagon and call that guy a hack…until that’s not cool anymore and so on and so forth.  The other part of it is that there is no way for a young cinephile to discern what is important or what isn’t because everything is so available.  Isn’t it great that we can watch every movie on demand ever?  Well, not really.  Because without someone to guide you or to recommend you – and not Netflix’s computers, a real person – then how can you decide that it’s more important to watch Scenes From a Marriage or Confessions of a Shopaholic?  When everyone has a voice, then the voices of those who actually know something become lessened and that’s not a good thing.

The other thing about my story is this: I became big Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi fans.  I thought they had visual panache and anticipated what they could do next.  I mean, I didn’t think they were Kubrick or Bergman or Truffaut or anything, but talented fellows who I thought deserved a break.  I thought Heavenly Creatures, in particular, showed that Jackson was capable of making truly innovative films and couldn’t wait to see what they would do with a bigger budget.  And when Raimi made A Simple Plan, I thought he was capable of being one of the great thriller directors of our time. Of course, Raimi got the Spider-man franchise and Jackson Lord of the Rings.  It seemed like the coolest thing, that these kooky horror directors were going to be given the reins of a big-studio blockbuster!  I mean, of course they were going to be subversive, right?  “Well, okay, that’s cool, they made straight up studio movies, now they’re going to make the films they really want to make though…oh boy.”  See, it’s a disheartening thing.  These directors who I thought were capable of being themselves always wound up becoming the establishment and that sucks for the 12 year old in me.  I mean, they’ve made some fine films, but they’ve lost the voice that I responded to when I was younger.

Or maybe it’s that I’m not that kid anymore.  That big blockbusters don’t do it for me any longer.  I feel like a drug addict who is not trying to get high anymore because my “drug” abuse in the past was so out of control, but just trying to get “normal” with each fix.  Maybe Charlie Sheen was banging 7 gram rocks or whatever the hell he did, but I used to bust out 10 Fassbinder movies in a day.  Once you do that, it’s going to take a lot more than the latest Zach Snyder movie to blow your hair back.

Lately, with the free time I have, I’ve been re-watching episodes of The Larry Sanders Show.  It’s just terrific because I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid and now I get to see it in a whole new light.  But it also reminds me of something I’ve long discussed on this site: television is becoming a more intriguing medium that film.  A movie can never hope to have the hours that television has to develop a character in the same way.  I know Larry Sanders better than I know almost any movie character I’ve ever seen.  It’s probably why my favorite film of all-time is actually 5 different ones: Francoius Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, where we watch a boy grow up and change.

Nonetheless, there are movies I’m anxious to see this year.  We’ve got a new Malick, a new Van Sant, a new Fincher, and a whole host of others.  Hopefully something will get me back into the swing of things.  Antoine Doinel kept searching for love, no matter how old he got.  I want to keep searching for great movies, no matter what, but during the dog days of winter/spring when the studios are releasing nothing but crap, it’s hard to find the energy.

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RUBBER – The Best Psychokinetic Tire Movie Ever!

If you only see one movie this year about a sentient tire that kills people with the power of his mind, make it Rubber.

I had heard a lot about the so-called “killer tire” movie that played at Cannes and then went on the festival circuit.  The folks who had seen it seemed cagey about what exactly they had seen, only releasing tantalizing hints that it wasn’t what you might expect it to be.  I didn’t really expect a movie about a killer tire to be anything really, so my interest was piqued in what seemed like a concept fit for a B-movie.

The interesting thing about Rubber is that it has just as much in common with Jean-Luc Godard as it does with Roger Corman.  Right from the get-go, it is clear that this absurd tale is about more than it’s letting on, with the film opening with a long monologue told straight to the camera by a man in a police uniform (Stephen Spinella).  He tells us that a lot of the choices made in some of our favorite films are made by their directors for basically no reason, that this element of “no reason” is an important one in some of the best movies ever made.  He cites specific examples from movies like E.T. and The Pianist then goes on to talk about more than just movies, asking why we can’t “see the air all around us.”  It’s all very philosophical and despite the fact that he tells us that things happen for no reason, it’s clear that this movie does have a reason and a purpose and is not just a bunch of nonsense.

The director, Quentin Dupieux, is someone to watch.  If he wanted to make something more conventional, he’d be great at it because he clearly knows the rules of cinema, which makes it easy for him to break those rules repeatedly and constantly.  He takes a lot of bold risks with this film, the biggest being that this isn’t really a movie about a killer tire at all, but a movie about watching a movie about a killer tire.  Dupieux employs a Greek chorus of folks who are in the desert with binoculars watching the movie about the tire play out before them and they comment on it, which is already a pretty strange strategy, but then beyond that he has certain performers in the “movie” who know that it’s all fake and a certain member of the Greek chorus who doesn’t want to comment, he just wants to see the movie.  If this all sounds confusing, I promise that it isn’t.  Well, maybe a little bit.

While the point of all this might not be readily apparent, I think it does cut to the heart of what it means to watch a movie and how that intersects with what it means to be a person.  And a big part of that is that sometimes we have to accept that things happen for “no reason” and that sometimes we have to jump into action rather than simply watch things unfold before us.  I think it’s interesting that most of the film takes place outdoors, with very few scenes happening inside houses or motels; even the car that is drive by Roxane Mesquida (who the tire falls in love with) is a convertible.  I think it’s a comment on the fact that we usually sit indoors when we’re watching a movie and here’s an audience of people watching a movie outside.

When I made a reference to Godard earlier, I wasn’t do so blithely.  Dupieux’s tactics and techniques are what Godard strove to do, but so often failed at, which is communicating ideas with the cinema.  And sometimes, Godard’s ideas were about anarchy and socialism and in a film like Week-end about the tenuous fabric of boring nothingness that holds modern society together.  I think Godard failed in Week-end and in Pierrot Le Fou, films which comment on themselves as they unfold, because he didn’t particularly care about the audience’s entertainment in the way that, say, Truffaut would have.  Godard is a very obvious filmmaker, one who would rather use a sledgehammer to get his point across than use anything resembling subtlety.  (There endeth my Godard rant)  Dupieux succeeds with Rubber because he makes what he purports to be the “point” of the film, which is that it’s not really about anything, but then crams in enough symbolism and philosophy to make us believe that it truly is about something.  But what Dupieux really excels at is making us care about what happens despite the fact that the most developed character is the tire.  What’s interesting is that we don’t care about what happens in the literal sense, but rather from a ideological perspective, in terms of what will be the final point that he’s trying to get across.

And then it ends with what I can only describe as both an homage and a middle finger to what modern-day cinema consists of.

Rubber is definitely not a film for everyone.  In fact, I imagine most people will be turned off to it in the way that a lot of people are turned off by a film like Contempt (incidentally, my favorite Godard film), because it doesn’t do what we expect movies to do.  My tastes are a little warped by years of watching unrelentingly bland, stale popcorn movies, so when I see a film like Rubber, that is aspiring to more than the usual, I get excited about it.

Rubber isn’t just the best movie about an animate tire who kills people with his mind that I’ve seen this year, it’s the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.  It takes risks and goes to unexpected places.  There is no way you will be able to guess what happens next.  And when I put it that way, I’m making it seem almost conventional; and if there’s one thing this movie isn’t, it’s conventional.

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SNL Recap – Zach Galifianakis and Jessie J

Zach Galifianakis is hosting SNL for the second time in two years and last year, he was excellent.  He gave one of the best monologues I can remember, which was basically part of his great stand-up act, and he’s adept embodying oddball characters.  He’s promoting The Hangover 2, which I’m strangely excited about, and I wonder if we’ll see a reference to that movie or if any of his co-stars will show up.  Either way, I’m excited about the return of Galifianakis.  I wonder if he’ll shave his beard again.

I apologize to the legion of Jessie J fans out there – if they exist – but I have no idea who she is or what kind of music she makes.  But I’ll give it a shot and see if it’s any good.  It’ll be fun to come to a music artist without any prejudices or preconceptions.

Okay, let’s get to it.

Cold Open – Kenan Thompson and Jason Sudeikis as Greg Gumbel and Jim Nantz in a “selection Sunday” parody, where instead of showing the brackets for March Madness, they’re doing brackets for the craziest people.  On Moammar Gadhafi: “He looks like Tony Shalhoub had a baby with ET.”  Pretty clever idea and the writing already seems sharper this week.  Armisen is on, doing his great Gadhafi.  Another Gadhafi joke: “A fat sleepy baby in a ton of blankets.”  Samberg is doing Dick Vitale, the most annoying sportscaster who has ever lived. which is actually pretty spot-on.   “He’s like Stanley Tucci snorted an aderrall.”  Kristen Wiig as Melissa Leo…wow, I guess Leo did a good job making herself known outside the indie world by being crazy at the Oscars.  “Nicolas Cage, who always looks like he just witnessed a murder.”  And of course we have Bill Hader as Charlie Sheen on his live webcast, saying that the pyramids were built by the Wayans brothers.  This was easiest the most enjoyable and consistently funny cold open in months.  Great concept, delivered well.  8.5/10

Monologue – “All week I was thinking to myself: don’t screw this up, fatty.  Actually that was a text from my mother.”  Zach actually looks pretty good, like he’s shed a couple pounds.  “I wear a lot of Axe bodyspray.  But I live in a black neighborhood and it’s called ‘Ask’ bodyspray.  And if you don’t get that joke, you’re not racist.”  “The only time it’s good to yell out ‘I’ve got diarrhea’ is when you’re playing Scrabble.”  Wow, Zach is just crushing this monologue right now.  I really think SNL should always let comedians do their routines.  If they’re gonna hire a comedian to host, they might as well let them do what they’re best at and Galifianakis does one of the greatest droll and matter-of-fact deliverers ever, almost on a par with Steven Wright.  Zach takes off his clothes and he’s dressed as Annie and singing “Tomorrow” while doing his big board shtick, ripping off the pages that saying things like, “I was bullied as a teenager.”  Then the next one says: “By first graders.”  So much energy, so much commitment, great jokes…folks, this is how you do an SNL monologue.  Best of the year so far, easy.  9.5/10

The Talk – Abby Elliott, Vanessa Bayer, Kristen Wiig, and Nasim Pedrad as Leah Remini, Sara Gilbert, Julia Chen, and Sharon Osbourne respectively on the View rip-off morning talk show.  Pedrad’s Sharon Osbourne and Elliott’s Remini are my favorite impressions, they’re really good.  Everyone is reverential of Osbourne and everything she does, with Remini calling her “a human Albert Einstein.”  Elliott tripped over a couple of lines, whoops.  This skit is pretty funny, but it’s already a bit long and we haven’t even had Galifianakis yet.  There he is, as a man wearing a “View” t-shirt and asking when Barbara Walters is coming out.  Bill Hader comes on the show as Steven Tyler.  I haven’t seen American Idol this year and I don’t plan on it, but Hader’s Steven Tyler is pretty good, not one of his best impressions.  Galifianakis is being massively under-utilized in this skit, which is its biggest weakness.  It started strong, but wound up being pretty mediocre.  5.5/10

The Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy – I never know what to call it when it’s a film, but it’s not called a digital short.  Either way, this is one of those, which is about four comedians that all have their own catchphrases and sign-off lines.  Glad to see Paul Brittain as Goran, the Croatian comedian.  Kenan doing the “eatin’ dookie’ bit is hilarious and I wonder if Kenan has found the best character for him: a bad comedian.  Bobby Moynihan wonders why he can’t get a McDonald’s breakfast and Zach Galifianakis just plays his airhorn over and over again.  Love seeing Seth Meyers in a skit, as “Boston Powers.”  I love it when they have skits where almost every castmember participates and gets a chance to create a character.  This was not the greatest short film ever, but it was pretty good and I enjoyed myself.  7/10

Next Week – Elton John is hosting and is the musical guest. on April 2nd  Wow, that’s a lot of Elton.  Good thing he’s an amazing singer/pianist.  Don’t know how he’ll do with the rest of his duties, but I’m sure it’ll be memorable.

Scared Straight – Ugh, one of my least favorite recurring sketches.  This and the Target lady are the two skits that make me roll my eyes and cringe.  This is the skit where Kenan Thompson yells in peoples’ faces for six minutes.  Hilarious.  This time Galifianakis comes on with him, dressed as Hannibal Lecter, as a guy who used to be an accountant for Nabisco before he started eating people.  Galifianakis is trying his best, but he can only do so much with a skit that’s just not a strong one.  If I wasn’t doing this recap, I would just fast forward right past this.  Couldn’t we have more Paul Brittain and Jay Pharoah instead of this?  The audience seems to be enjoying this, at least.  To be fair, this is one of the better installments of this skit.  3/10

Digital Short – Zach Looks For a New Assistant.  Galifianakis is interviewing children for the position of his assistant.  It looks like the kids have no idea that this is a joke.  One kid says he like’s Usher and Galifianakis goes, “Usher is Justin Bieber’s dad, right?”  Galifianakis picks up a stapler and uses it as a telephone until the girl informs him that it’s not a telephone.  Then he uses a fart machine, trying to get one kid to laugh, but the kid just keeps shaking his head and going, “not funny.”  This was a quick, clever, and very Galiafanakis-ish short.  7.5/10

Jessie J – Well, she’s attractive even though she’s dressed like an idiot and wearing so much make-up that she looks like she’s trying to emulate Jocelyn Wildenstein’s style.  She has a nice voice, but this song is not good.  It’s so disposable.  It seems like she was cynically designed by record execs.  “We want Amy Winehouse, but a with a little bit more of a hip hop bent.”  Or like they said, “We want Lily Allen part two.”  This is silly.  3/10

Weekend Update – I could use some Stefon in my life, especially since the show won’t come back until April 2nd, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.  Seth Meyers starts off with a couple of weak jokes about Obama’s bullying and the NFL lockout, then a pretty solid joke combining the Pope, Jesus, and Watson the computer.  Kristen Wiig comes out as Julie Taymor to talk about getting fired from the Spider-man musical and she’s singing the opening of The Lion King.  I feel bad for Julie Taymor, sort of.  I’d probably feel worse if she didn’t come across as being incredibly pretentious.  Or if I liked a single one of her movies.  Wiig isn’t doing anything outrageous here, which is fitting because Taymor isn’t an easy person to impersonate.  Meyers says there are claims that she doesn’t know anything about the source material, which she refutes.  “I know everything there is to know about the Spider-man.”  “I know Spider-man’s secret identity is Peter Jessica Parker.”  Then she sings a song called “Rise Above,” which is pretty funny.  Wiig is always on point when she’s singing.  Moving on.  “According to a new study, men with deeper voices are more likely to be suspected of a cheating in a relationship.  Also suspected?  Men with suddenly high voices.”  This is a good one: “Police in Alaska are warning visitors to not approach any wild moose after a woman who tried to pet one was kicked in the chest.  ‘No, yeah, we know,’ said absolutely everybody else.”  Andy Samberg comes on as “Liam, the teenager who just woke up.”  The weird thing is that Samberg looks just like me when I would wake up in the middle of the night ten years ago.  He’s supposed to talk about Obama’s energy policy, but instead he talks about the dreams he just had.  This is not the best Update guest or the best Samberg character.  While singing about Peter Falk and wet dreams to the tune of “Oops I Did it Again,” Samberg almost loses it, which is enjoyable because Samberg almost never breaks character.  He’s got one of the strongest constitutions on the show, but he almost broke for a second.  Seth Meyers ends Weekend Update on a serious note, with a plea to donate money to the Earthquake-relief efforts in Japan.  Classy move.  Not the strongest update of the season, but certainly pretty good and fairly short.  6.5/10

Noodles – Galifianakis and Wiig play parents who have to inform their kids that Noodles, the dog, has died.  They tell their three kids – played by Pedrad, Moynihan and Elliott – that he’s on a farm somewhere upstate eating avocados fresh from the tree.  Pedrad picks up on the lie and says that unless there’s been a drastic climate tree, there’s no way there are avocado trees upstate.  The parents keep changing their story, trying to get the kids to believe that Noodles died.  “Noodles was killed by the Latin Kings.”  “The Latin Kings haven’t been active in this area for years.”  “Okay, Noodles hung himself.”  Galifianakis and Wiig then tell the truth: Noodles died from auto-erotic asphyxiation and then explain the practice to their children, complete with a copy of his dog porn magazine.  Then Hader brings the dog back, informing everyone that the dog isn’t dead, but was merely in a coma.  Then it gets even weirder, with Kenan as the voice of Noodles, singing “Luck Be a Lady.”  This skit definitely gets bonus points for being so bizarre, but it was slow going for a while and there weren’t that many laughs.  6/10

Celebrity Scoop – Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen play the hosts of a Winnipeg-based Entertainment Tonight type show.  Zach Galifianakis is one of their reporters.  They don’t show pictures of people canoodling because that’s the “Canadian way.”  Galifianakis elongates every “o” and all of them, as the skit goes on, are starting to sound more and more Irish rather than Canadian.  Bill Hader comes on as the fashion correspondent.  Basically the skit is based on the stereotype that Canadians are really nice.  This skit is going on really long considering there is only one joke and it was beaten into my head within the first thirty seconds.  This might have been an interesting concept, but there’s not a whole lot to do with it.  This is getting painful.  2/10

Jessie J Again – Wow, that’s some outfit.  What is with modern female singers dressing in underwear?  What hath Lady Gaga wrought?  Not that I’m complaining.  Anyway, once again Jessie J has a really nice voice, even if she’s intent on proving that point a little too much with lots of flashy singing flourishes.  This song is really terrible, though.  As a pop song, it has no hook and it’s difficult to get into a rhythm with it.  Sorry, Jessie J, you’re just not for me.  2/10

Corn Syrup Producers of America – It’s another short film.  This one is at a birthday party, where Kristen Wiig tries to explain to Pedrad that corn syrup is bad, but then gets rocked by Pedrad.  “Should I trust scientists or stay-at-home mom Sheila who drinks wine at 10am?”  This was actually pretty funny and succinct.  I liked it.  7.5/10

The Titanic’s Women and Children – Zach Galifianakis dressed as a woman so he can get into the lifeboat that is reserved solely for women and children and isn’t fooling anybody.  Galifianakis then beats away a man who tries to get into the boat.  It turns out that Galifianakis is the captain.  They read from his journal: “Iceberg straight ahead, I think I’ll blast through that sucker.”  This is just not a good sketch.  But it ends with a pretty bizarre epilogue that I enjoyed.  3/10

Goodbyes – Whoa!  Galifianakis shaved the sides of his head, apologizing for the fact that they didn’t have time for the “Mr. T” sketch.  It’s becoming a recurring thing for Galifinakis to shave parts of his body on SNL…what’s next?  10/10 for shaving his head to look like Mr. T.

Final Grades:

Zach Galifianakis – He was excellent, but he was let down by some of the material.  The Digital Short could have been stronger and I think that was probably mostly his idea, but the monologue was the best I’ve seen all year.  Next time they need to find some sketches where he can embody some more specific characters rather than shoe-horning him into skits that could have been written weeks, months or years ago.  Either way, I’d be happy to see him come back once again.  9/10

Jessie J – Sorry, not a fan.  She was too derivative of other, better artists despite her nice voice.  2.5/10

The rest of the cast – Got to see Paul Brittain, which was a plus, but there was an absence of Jay Pharoah.  The MVP would probably be Nasim Pedrad, who was in a lot of the sketches and made the most of her time.  Wiig is a close second.  Kenan and Hader are tied for third.  Let’s get Stefon back next time, guys!

As for myself, I whipped through this pretty well, so I give myself a 7/10.

What’d you guys think?

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Damon & Affleck: Two Roads to Stardom

While I was watching the middling, but not altogether unenjoyable The Adjustment Bureau, I was struck but how many other films it reminded me of.  Dark City, for sure.  A little bit of The Matrix, no doubt.  A big dose of The Lost Room, absolutely.  But the film I was most reminded of while watching it was John Woo’s 2003 film Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck.  I remember it was around that time when I realized that Matt Damon had the better career of the two best friends, that Damon cared more for the craft and Affleck for the stardom.  It’s impossible not to compare their careers, because they make a fascinating case-study of two young, intelligent, and attractive young actors who both make it big at the same time for the same film.  To see where the went from there makes for a great reference for future young actors everywhere of what to do (or not to do).  I mean, take a look at the choices they made following Good Will Hunting:

1998 – Damon works with Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) and John Dahl (Rounders) while Affleck works with Michael Bay (Armageddon)

1999 – The both star in Kevin Smith’s Dogma.  Damon also works with Anthony Minghella on the brilliant The Talented Mr. Ripley while Ben Affleck works with Bronwen Hughes on the Sandra Bullock-starring Forces of Nature.  Affleck also has a small part in 200 Cigarettes.

2000 – Damon makes a couple of missteps, but at least works with Robert Redford (The Legend of Bagger Vance) and Billy Bob Thornton (All the Pretty Horses).  Affleck, meanwhile, makes the worst film of John Frankenheimer’s career (Reindeer Games, and yes it’s worse than The Island of Dr. Moreau), but also works with up-and-comer Ben Younger (Boiler Room) and Don Roos (the mediocre Bounce).

2001 – Damon works with Steven Soderbergh and a whole host of great actors and movie stars in Ocean’s Eleven, a perfect example of how to do a studio blockbuster right.  Affleck re-teamed with Michael Bay to star in Pearl Harbor, a perfect example of how to do a studio blockbuster wrong.

2002 – Here’s where their careers truly diverged.  Damon makes an intelligent thriller called The Bourne Identity with emerging filmmaker Doug Liman.  Affleck stars in a boring reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise, The Sum of All Fears.  BUT – Affleck also starred in the very underrated and engaging Changing Lanes, giving one of his best performances to date.  At this point in their history, Damon seemed like the “serious one” already while Affleck could have gone either way.

In the years that followed, Damon worked with directors like  Soderbergh, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, Robert De Niro (in The Good Shepherd, one of Damon’s finest portrayals), Clint Eastwood, The Coens, Paul Greengrass, and Stephen Gaghan.  Meanwhile Affleck starred in one colossal misfire after the other, like Gigli, Jersey Girl, the aforementioned Paycheck, Surviving Christmas, and He’s Just Not That Into You.

But things changed for me recently.  With The Adjustment Bureau being so Paycheck-like and the disappointments of Hereafter, Green Zone, and Invictus, Damon is reminding me an awful lot of post-Pearl Harbor Ben Affleck.  Meanwhile, Affleck has written and directed two very good – almost great – films in Gone Baby Gone and The Town, as well as given a deeply nuanced performance in The Company Men.  Now Affleck has just wrapped a starring role in Terrence Malick’s untitled next feature.  It seems the tide has turned, no?

Well, no, not exactly.  The truth of the matter is that Affleck is just catching up to Damon, who has movies in the can or in pre-production by Soderbergh and Cameron Crowe – no slouches, they.  And the bottom line is that while Damon has been in some stinkers (hello, Stuck on You), he’s never given a truly bad performance.  Meanwhile, Affleck has given quite a few (hello, Gigli and Jersey Girl).  But the bottom line is that there was a point in Affleck’s career where he wanted desperately to be a movie star at any cost, including starring in a terribly scripted Daredevil film that Damon has recently said he passed on because of “script issues” and the fact that he didn’t believe in Mark Steven Johnson as a filmmaker.  If you look at the filmographies of both stars, Damon rarely works with first-time filmmakers, opting instead to go with proven commodities and artists while Affleck had previously not seemed to care much about the man behind the camera.

Look, I can’t get too down on Affleck for starring in films directed by Martin Brest or his buddy Kevin Smith, but at a certain point no matter how great the director is, it’s a matter of writing – something that Affleck and Damon should know a lot about, considering their Oscar for screenwriting.  Damon, despite not always choosing the most commercial scripts, wound up having a more direct path to movie stardom.  The fateful choice, in my eyes, is his choosing The Bourne Identity (a production that was plagued with problems), which became a lucrative franchise.  Meanwhile, Affleck turned down a part in Ocean’s Eleven and saw more commercial potential in the more conventionally commercial Jack Ryan franchise.  Damon followed his heart while Affleck followed the dollar signs.  But I never would have guessed that Affleck would save his career by becoming one of the more exciting directors out there.  Maybe that’s why he didn’t necessarily care too much about who his directors were – he was already the best one on most sets.

Side-note: The Adjustment Bureau, for what it’s worth, is a completely fine film.  It’s seriously flawed and the whole sci-fi aspect is pretty dumb and overly-expository.  However, the love story at the center of it is refreshing and engaging, due to the fact that Matt Damon and Emily Blunt imbue their characters with such commitment and heart that we can’t help but root for them to wind up together against all odds.  I liked the story of these two people and how their romance blossoms and I would have much preferred a film that focused on that rather than spending the bulk of its running time explaining why John Slattery and Anthony Mackie are always around.  I’d rather not have to spend my time questioning how these all-powerful agents can move things with their mind yet can’t somehow give a bus a flat tire.  I’d rather spend that time getting to know these two characters even better.  It’s the rare sci-fi, big-budget blockbuster where the characters and the romance is much more enjoyable than the effects and the action.

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Stanley Kubrick Passed Away 12 Years Ago Today

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDupoFh5Op0

One of the greatest scenes in movie history in one of the greatest films in movie history.

I remember waking up on March 7th, 1999 and seeing the news that Kubrick had died on AICN.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, thought it was some kind of joke.  The man was my hero, the man who made me interested in movies as an art form.  When I realized that it was true, I nearly burst into tears.  Eyes Wide Shut was still four months from being released and word had gotten out that he had screened it a few days before his death.  I was excited to see my first new Kubrick film in theaters – even if it wasn’t finished – but depressed because it would be the last.  The man was a visionary and I will always believe that he was the greatest filmmaker that ever lived.

To quote the ending of the film: “It was in the reign of King George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”

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SNL Recap – Miley Cyrus and The Strokes

Miley Cyrus blah blah blah.  For the first time in forever, I’m much more excited about the musical guest than the actual host of the show.  You see, The Strokes are probably my favorite band and they haven’t released an album in five years and on March 22nd, their new record “Angles” will be released.  Seeing them on SNL gives me an opportunity to study they way they interact with one another (word is that they don’t get along so well these days) and to hear another song off the album (their first one will surely be the single “Under Cover of Darkness”).  On April 1st, the day after my birthday, I’ll be seeing them at MSG, but today it’s all about seeing them on my favorite television show.

Okay, sure Miley Cyrus is a popular kids’ star and media figure, but I have no idea if she’s talented or not because I’ve never once heard her sing or seen a minute of her acting, having avoided all things Miley pretty successfully.  So, I don’t know if she’ll be a good host or a terrible one, but I’m pretty confident we’ll be seeing “The Miley Cyrus Show” with Vanessa Bayer at some point.

Despite a three week hiatus, the same drill applies;  I’ll recap the individual sketches and then grade them on a scale of 1-10.  Let’s do this.

Cold Open – “Duh Winning” with Charlie Sheen.  Bill Hader plays the titular host of this talk show.  I gotta say, I was hoping SNL would steer clear of the Charlie Sheen jokes, for the simple reason that there is no possible way that a sketch or a joke about Charlie Sheen could possibly be funnier than the man himself.  It’s like making a parody of a funny comedy movie, it just doesn’t work.  This sketch just seems like an excuse to have Hader as Sheen say things we’ve already heard him say, like “warlock” and “goddess” and “winning.”  Abby Elliott is playing Christina Aguilera and as usual, she’s spot-on.  Taran Killam comes out as John Galliano (a man who I wrote about the other day and caused tons of racists to come out of the woodwork in the comments).  There’s no real joke in this sketch, it’s just a recap of the stupid things these people have done.  I think all of these jokes would have been better used on Weekend Update.  Fred Armisen comes out as Moammar Gadhafi, of course.  “If by ‘it’ you mean ‘my people’ then yes, I am killing ‘it.'”  “I dress like Humpty Hump from Digital Underground.”  Those are pretty good.  Miley Cyrus comes out as Lindsay Lohan and if I were ten years younger, I’m sure I’d see this as being “controversial” or something.  Overall, this sketch lacked energy and, you know, jokes.  An inauspicious start.  4/10

Monologue – Miley starts off making a reference to “The Miley Cyrus Show” by saying, “So that’s pretty cool.”  Ah, Miley’s crooning about her past tabloid scandals, including almost getting nude in Vanity Fair.  And yes, there’s another reference to Charlie Sheen and “winning” which is gonna get old very fast.  Moynihan and Wiig come out to sing with her.  The good news is that Miley’s got a pretty good voice and the monologue was kept at a good, short length.  6/10

Commercial – Baby Spanx.  “In no time, your baby will go from flab to fab.”  “That child looks hot!”  “I would never spank a baby, but I sure as hell would spanx one.”  This was pretty good, does exactly what you’d want an SNL commercial to do: goes in, finds its target, doesn’t waste any time, delivers on its goal.  7/10

Our Time with Taboo and apl.de.ap – I love the premise of this from the get-go: a talk show hosted by the two background guys from the Black Eyed Peas.  When they were on the Super Bowl, I’m pretty sure they never sang.  Kenan is playing aple.de.ap and Andy Samberg is playing Taboo.  “Finally our own show.”  “Just like the people wanted!”  “Despite the rumors, I’m not a Japanese ghost.”  I’m enjoying this so far, but I’m fairly sure this is going to get old fast.  Miley Cyrus comes out as Fergie – I’m guessing she’s going to sing in every sketch – and Jay Pharoah comes out as will.i.am and then they both exit pretty quickly.  Abby Elliott comes out as Khloe Kardashian, one of my favorite Abby Elliott characters – she nails the voice so well.  “Well, I’m a black Filipino.”  “And I am from the Matrix.”  Pharoah and Cyrus come out again.  Really, it’s a shame that Jay Pharoah is being wasted in this sketch, just dancing next to Cyrus.  “Taboo was on the cover of this month’s Vaguely Asian magazine!”  And the skit ends very abruptly.  I think it should have ended way earlier.  6 minutes is too long to spend on these characters.  The jokes about Taboo were pretty solid, though.  6.5/10

TCM: The Essentials – I love when they do these, usually.  This time we’re checking out “behind the scenes” of The Sound of Music, which I’m guessing will give Cyrus yet another excuse to sing.  The Von Trapp children all line up and introduce themselves until we get to Fred Armisen as “Richie,” the adopted son from the Bronx, played by a 34-year-old stand-up comedian.  Just like I thought, Cyrus is singing “16 Going on 17.”  Armisen interrupts to do a stand-up routine.  “All the lines were lifted from the comedy album ‘Richie Valens: Dead or Hispanic.'”  This skit went off the rails pretty quickly.  The only funny part was the original line-up when Armisen introduces himself as Richie.  After that, it’s just Armisen interrupting famous scenes to tell bad jokes and it just doesn’t work all that well.  3/10

Disney Channel Acting School – Miley Cyrus as herself and Kenan Thompson as Raven Symone, teaching kids how to act like them.  “At the Disney Channel, every person needs to be the loudest person in the room.”  “In the Disney Channel World, any child is smarter than any adult.”  I wonder if Paul Brittain is behind this one, since 1) he’s actually in this short film and 2) it’s similar to his “Sex Ed” skit from a couple months back.  This is easily the best thing we’ve seen so far tonight.  “That’s so Raven!”  I think it probably could’ve gone even further than it did, but I think it did a nice job of sending up its target.  Not nearly as good as “Sex Ed” though.  7.5/10

Next Week – Zach Galifianakis is hosting again!  He was one of my five favorite hosts last year and his monologue was one of the best in recent years, so I’m looking forward to seeing him come back.  The musical guest is Jessie J. and I’m not even going to pretend that I know who that is.

The Miley Cyrus Show – I’m surprised they waited this long to do this skit.  I’m assuming Vanessa Bayer will play Miley Cyrus as usual and Miley Cyrus will come out and play somebody else as a guest.  But we’ll see.  I gotta say, I never thought this sketch was that funny to begin with, and I’m reminded of that instantly.  Yeah, Miley Cyrus comes out as Justin Bieber.  Once again, I’m sure if I was 15, this would be a really incredible moment in my life.  But, as a nearly-28 year old, I don’t really care about Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber’s lives.  I am so tuned out of this skit and bored to tears.  This seems like a skit from Nickelodeon’s “Roundhouse” rather than an SNL skit (that was a strange reference, admittedly, but it’s also the last time I watched Nickelodeon).  Okay, this is mercifully ending.  Please, can we retire this sketch now?  2/10

The Strokes!!!!!! – One of the biggest reasons I moved back to New York was because I saw The Strokes on MTV late one night, my first year of college.  I just adore them.  They’re playing “Under Cover of Darkness,” the first single from their new album.  The music video for the song is pretty disappointing, but I’m glad to see that they still have the same stage presence, with Julian still being the coolest dude in the room, even while sober.  They’re doing their same left-to-right line-up that they always do.  Everybody looks pretty good, except Albert is looking a little older.  I can’t believe it’s been a decade that they’ve been around.  The acoustics sound a little funky, though, like the sound guy screwed up.  It still sounds pretty awesome and it’s great to see the Strokes performing live for the first time in five years.  The song is a really good one, not quite a great one.  It sounds like it could fit comfortably in The Strokes early canon.  I’m a fan of it.  Also, Nick Valensi might be the coolest looking guy, always dressed super sharp.  9.5/10

Weekend Update – As usual, I hope Stefon makes an appearance, but he probably won’t.  Seth Meyers starts off saying “No!  Not yet, I will get to you,” when a picture of Charlie Sheen pops up.  So, that’ll be something to look forward to…we’re forty five minutes into this show and I’m already sick of Charlie Sheen jokes.  A joke about Newt Gingrinch’s potentially running for President: “Are voters still going by charisma or have they switched over to head size?”  And now we’re going into the Sheen jokes.  A whole segment devoted to “Winners and Losers” based on Charlie Sheen.  Denise Richards and the kid from Two and a Half Men are winners.  Also, 80s slang: “I would have thought the only way I would hear ‘gnarly’ and ‘bitchin’ so much would be via a time machine.  It just proves the theory that when you do cocaine, your slang freezes in time like a prehistoric mosquito in amber.”  Loser: the news media, “Piers Morgan talked to Sheen the way a guy who just ran out of coke talks to a guy who still has some.”  That’s a great one.  Loser: Tigers, “Tigers must be wonder ‘why’d he drag us into it?'”  “The biggest loser?  Winning.  It doesn’t seem to mean the same thing anymore.”  Galliano joke: “You know if you’ve ever been threatened with a chair, the occasional ‘I love Hitler” just slips out.”  Jason Sudeikis comes out as the devil to talk about the Westboro Baptist Church (the “God Hates Fags” church that I’m sure a lot of the commenters of my Galliano post belong to).  The devil: “I produced the Oscars this year, which went perfectly.”  About the Westboro Baptist Church: “I am the physical incarnation of pure evil, but what they’re doing is heinous.”  This is a pretty great rant that perfectly illustrates the ridiculousness of homophobia, spoken by the devil.  I don’t often like it when SNL takes an obvious political stance, but I’m way behind this one and I think the joke is pretty clever.  “Then I’m off to the West Coast to help with the next season of Entourage.”   Zing!  About Legionanaire’s in the Playboy mansion: I can’t even keep up with all of the hilarious things Seth Meyers said, but it was pretty brilliant.  So far this has been an excellent Weekend Update, but it’s about to get worse with the arrival of Bobby Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino character who hears news second hand and then screws it up when he repeats it.  I love Moynihan, but I really dislike this character.  He confuses Charlie Sheen and Charlie Rose, wonderful.  Back to the good stuff.  “Just a side-note, when I said the words ‘mom prom,’ my penis went up inside me.”  Even with that last character, this Update was one of the better ones.  Would have been better with Stefon, though.    8/10

Les Jeunes de Paris – You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.  This skit was the worst I’ve seen this year (from the Emma Stone episode) and they’re bringing it back a second time?  Basically, it’s all in French.  A bunch of young French stereotypes dance with each other.  It’s like the dancing scene from Band of Outsiders, except terrible.  I don’t understand the thinking behind bringing this skit back when nobody liked it the first time.  Can you hear how quiet the crowd is?  The only part anybody enjoyed was Andy Samberg as the mime.  At least Miley Cyrus isn’t singing in this skit and everyone is really committed and full of energy.  I just didn’t get the joke the first time and I really don’t get it this time.  1.5/10

Beastly Parody – I love this nerdy Andy Samberg character that was previously seen in The Roommate parody, which was also hilarious.  This is an insanely short short and it packs more laughs into it than most SNL sketches, including when the title card pops up under Samberg, “Gene Hackman.”  Last time it was “Sir Ben Kingsley.”  The ending is great.  “Burn!  Rango!”  8/10

New Products – Oh man, this is awful.  Kristin Wiig and Miley Cyrus with 80s wigs, against a white backdrop, promoting a facial cream and rockabilly CD combination.  I swear, it’s like they forgot to include the jokes in this skit.  Just absolutely intolerable.  PLEASE END ALREADY.  One of the worst skits of the year, along with Les Jeunes de Paris and the Spot of Tea skit from the Russell Brand episode.  1/10

The Strokes Again!!! – Thank goodness, The Strokes are back, playing a new song called “Life is Simple in the Moonlight.”  It’s a really pretty, soulful, near-ballad.  It’s most reminiscent of “Under Control” or “Evening Sun” and I’m really digging it.  It’s very summery and arranged very nicely.  They released a song called “You’re So Right” on their website that I wasn’t crazy about because there were too many instruments, too many disparate sounds, but this new song is excellent in its cohesion.  Really loved this one. 10/10

Cruise Ship – Miley Cyrus plays a singer on a cruise for elderly people and makes fun of them.  Yawn.  Oh and hey, what do you know?  Miley Cyrus is singing again!  She keeps singing, “You people are so gross to me!”  Taran Killam makes another appearance.  He’s getting a lot more spots in sketches than he did earlier in the year, but I fear it’s at the expense of the amazing Paul Brittain who is relegated to the keyboard player in this skit, with one line, “I’m not taking any requests from these animals.”  We want more Paul Brittain and Jay Pharoah!  This skit is really more sad than funny.  2.5/10

Gurney Month – Yes, CBS has a lot of shows that start with dead bodies.  This is like an outtake from The Soup and it’s completely unnecessary padding for the show.  3/10

Final Grades:

Miley Cyrus – I really don’t know if it’s her fault or the fault of the writing, but she did seem a little too earnest and used way too much “Disney” acting.  She was singing in almost every skit, which isn’t her fault.  She brought a lot of energy, though, which is a good thing.  Overall, she was mediocre.  Nothing more, nothing less.  5/10

The Strokes – Come on, best performances of the year, just ahead of Kanye.  Of course, I am ridiculous biased.  10/10

The rest of the cast – Nobody really stood out for me.  As I said earlier, Taran Killam was the most used.  I think the MVP for tonight has to be Seth Meyers, who delivered one of the best Weekend Updates of the year.  He’s often overlooked because he plays such a great straight man, but he’s almost always excellent and subtly hilarious.  And again, more Paul Brittain and Jay Pharoah please!

As for myself, I think I could do better, but it’s been a three-week layoff, so my rust is to be expected.  6/10 for me.

Next week, we’ve got Zach Galifiniakis to look forward to and I’ll see you all then.

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John Galliano and Other Anti-Semites

As someone who was raised Jewish, I was appalled and offended by the vile and idiotic anti-Semitic remarks spewed by John Galliano.  If you’re not familiar with the story, just Google it, but basically he said “I love Hitler” and various other comments that re-affirmed my opinion of him as a Mensa candidate.  After these remarks came to light, Galliano was fired from his position as the head designer of Dior.  To put it in film terms, this is the equivalent of Peter Jackson being fired from the latest Hobbit movie.  It’s a big deal in the fashion community and my friends who work in that industry are still in shock.

The weird thing is that I don’t think he should be banished forever for his hateful rhetoric, just as I don’t think Charlie Sheen should be fired for being awesome or that Mel Gibson should be denied work because of his own racist and anti-Semitic remarks.  The bottom line is that there are always going to bigoted people out there, but that doesn’t make those people any less brilliant at their particular vocation.  John Galliano being an anti-Semite doesn’t make him any less talented as a designer.  I think the choice should be up to the consumer as to whether or not they can compartmentalize and choose to wear his clothes whilst knowing he is prejudiced.  Natalie Portman has bravely made her feelings known loud and clear (and seriously, kudos to her for having the balls to speak out about it), but not everyone may feel that way.  The hire-ups at Dior clearly felt that sales would go down because of Galliano’s actions and it’s perfectly understandable that they would seek out this change.

Look, I think Mel Gibson is a hell of an actor.  I think he’s charismatic, charming and I really love watching him in movies.  His being an anti-Semite doesn’t change the way I feel about him as an actor, but it sure doesn’t make me want to hang out with him.  Just as John Galliano being an anti-Semite has nothing to do with the clothes he designs (unless he’s trying to bring back the swastika).  These people are scumbags and assholes and morons, but they are also savants.  I want them to continue creating their art and I want to never have to interact with them, for fear that I might punch them in the face.

As a person who opposes intolerance in any form, I can’t deny that Galliano’s firing felt good, that justice had been served.  But so many great artists have been racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and it would be a shame if we denied them an opportunity to create their art simply because they have idiotic opinions.  Richard Wagner was anti-Semitic, so am I supposed to not listen to his music?  I can’t even count how many brilliant Southern writers were racist, am I supposed to not read the works of O’Connor or read Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner?

The point, ultimately, is that intolerance should not be tolerated.  I refuse to accept a work of art that is inherently racist prejudiced, but I can differentiate between the art and the artist.  And while the artist might be a racist, as long as there isn’t a sign of it in the work, then what?

I don’t want to be seen as defending Galliano for his behavior, which is absolutely unacceptable, but I don’t see what it has to do with him as a clothing designer.  Good riddance, I’m glad he’s suffering and all that, and considering the fact that sales might dwindle, I understand (and even rooted for) his dismissal from Dior.  I hope he is punished to the fullest extent of the law.  I also hope he has a chance to design clothes again in the future, just as I hope to see Mel Gibson on a movie screen.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima