Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favorite Movies of 2011

Hey folks, sorry I couldn't get a podcast episode up today. Obviously, not being able to get home for Christmas (fuck you, Megabus), I should have had time to get one recorded. I just couldn't find anyone to do it with—and shit knows I ain't ever flying solo, as far as podcast episodes go. So, in lieu of a podcast episode today, I'll give you a list of my favorite movies of the year. Well, that is to say, my favorite movies that I saw for the first time in 2011. Yeah, I don't get to the theater too often. But hey, if I haven't seen it, it's new to me (I apologize).

The list, in no particular order:

Drive (2011)
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

Listen to the podcast episode here. (Just a warning: This was the first podcast episode—not as smooth as recent episodes. Listen at your own risk.)

Meek's Cutoff (2010)
dir. Kelly Reichardt

Read the review here.

Super (2010)
dir. James Gunn

Read the review here.

Detroit 9000 (1973)
dir. Arthur Marks

Read the review here.

Revolt (1986)
dir. J. Sheybani

Ok, this is a bit of a meanspirited entry, as any enjoyment derived from this movie is strictly of the laughing-in-derision variety. But hey, I enjoyed it, so why not?

Read the review here.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)
dir. Georges Franju

Read the review here.

The Violent Years (1956)
dir. William Morgan

Again, one of the so-bad-it's-good sort, but a winner none the less. Read the review here.

Piranha 3D (2010)
dir. Alexandre Aja

Read the review here.

10 to Midnight (1983)
dir. J. Lee Thompson

Listen to the podcast episode here. (This incidentally was one of the most enjoyable podcasts recorded this year.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Trailer Time: Brazil (1985)

dir. Terry Gilliam

I don't know if I still like Brazil. It used to be one of my favorite movies. It used to be a go to movie: Anytime I didn't know what to watch, and was bored by everything else in my collection, I'd pop in Brazil and get lost in the wondrous sights concocted by Terry Gilliam. Oh, I loved everything about it—the images; the ideas; the use of an ineffectual, milquetoast nebbish as the hero; the beautifully bleak ending; everything. But, I just haven’t watched the thing in ages. Hell, it’s been at least half a dozen years since I pulled Brazil off the shelf.

What happened? Did I have a change of heart; do I no longer enjoy the movie; does it no longer speak to me? I honestly don’t know. All I know is I haven’t had an urge to watch the thing for a while. At this point I’m afraid to revisit it. I think it would bum me out if I realized I might not enjoy it anymore. I think I still like it. I hope I still like it. I just don't know.

Perhaps what drew me to the movie initially is what keeps me from revisiting it now: the pathetic, ineffectual main character, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce). Back when I first saw and fell in love with Gilliam's movie, I identified deeply with Pryce's character. Perhaps I would still identify with the character; but that's the problem. I don't think I want to identify with that character anymore. It would depress the hell out of me. It's the kind of person I would like not to be anymore.

Anyway, where was I going with all of this? Oh yeah, I was supposed to talk about the trailer here—what you came to the post for. Let's get to it.

Accompanying beautiful images from the film are the dulcet-toned queries of a narrator: "Do you wake from your finest fantasy only to return to your daily nightmare? Is your mother about to look younger than you do? Does the woman of your dreams still have a few doubts? Then it's time to take a stand—to break out of your dull, humdrum life, and into Brazil."

Holy shitballs talk about a miscalculated trailer. Although, to be fair to the studio, this is one bitch of a movie to sell. But they still could have concocted something at least a bit better than this. Brazil's trailer plays like a conventional 80s comic romp. And as you know if you've seen Brazil, or if you've ever heard anything about it, this movie is anything but. Of course, if you know anything about the production history of this film, you'll also know that the studio did try to butcher Gilliam's vision to make the film more palatable to the masses. I've never seen the butchered version of the film, but I'd imagine this specific trailer is somewhat appropriate to that film.

Still, a blind monkey could've done a better job here.

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 20 - Baseketball

dir. David Zucker

My roommate Cliff Larcom and I discuss Baseketball. We also discuss South Park and the career of David Zucker. You can follow Cliff on Twitter @cliffordlarcom. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Red Planet Mars (1952)

dir. Harry Horner

"This is a story not yet told. It begins on a warm evening some years hence, when high on a mountaintop in southern California a giant telescope searches the heavens for the secrets there contained."
-The "you've been warned" narration uttered at the beginning of the movie

You know what all those beloved, red scare-tinged sci-fi pictures of old were missing? Theological instruction. All that confounded science always got in the way and ruined otherwise decent pictures, pictures whose potential to act as vessels for the instruction of religious dogma was wasted. If only these movies could have been given some edge via attempts at Christian proselytizing. If only I could belabor this point for another sentence.

Not so with Harry Horner's 1952 creation Red Planet Mars. It's hard to say which issue Horner was concerned with more: red scare fear-mongering, or the teaching of the ways of Christ. Of course, it ain't hard to detect the presence of either message here. Modern viewers have become hip to the subtext of many a Red-Scare era Sci-Fi picture. The discerning viewer can, with little trouble, examine these movies for hidden nation-in-a-panic meanings. What Horner presents us with in Red Planet Mars, however, isn't so much a subtext, as a bludgeoning over the head, "are you fucking getting this?" propaganda text-text.

Heading Red Planet Mars' illustrious cast is biographer extraordinaire Peter Graves as godless scientist Chris Cronyn. Chris is all ahappy over the evidence he's established of life on mars: The entire planet is crisscrossed with long canals, and, oh yeah, the Martians just destroyed a Rockies-sized mountain range of ice in one week.

[Crystal clear satellite image of the Martian landscape. Apparently Mars exists in the grease-pencil dimension.]

Chris has a powerful enough transmitter to send messages to the Martians, but he can't figure out how to communicate with them, how to interact. The lazy Martians respond to Chris' signals by copying them and sending them back verbatim. If only there were some universal language that Chris' math-based mind could wrap his head around and use to converse. Chris must invite code-breaking admiral Bill Carey to the Cronyn abode to aid him.

["You fucking touch me again, old man, and you'll be pulling back a bloody stump."]

Then Chris' son eats some pie and has a eureka moment. He tells his dad to transmit the first few numbers of pi, allowing the martians to reply with the next numbers. The kid reasons that a civilization so advanced must have wheels. If they can make wheels, they must know pi. The admiral realizes the boy is on to something, "And you can't make a circle without knowing the ratio of the diameter to the circumference—pi." (Actually, pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter, admiral, but we'll let that shit slide.)

["Honey, I forget. What's pi? I need to make another wheel."]

Obviously, a civilization advanced enough to crisscross a planet with canals, and destroy mountains of ice within a week would have enough scientific and mathematical knowledge to understand the basic concept of pi. And Horner et al. get points for recogning Mathematics as the universal, immutable language by which any culture can communicate. But the argument made in this movie is unneccesarily complicated and counter-intuitive. Let me state this as simply as possible: no need know pi for make of wheel.

By the way, how is it that the country's leading scientists failed, up to that point, to grasp the no-brainer of using math—their fucking specialty, I might add—as a means of communicating with extra-terrestrials? Oh, precocious youngsters, you've saved us yet again.

["Yeah, great; this is exactly how I wanted to spend my day off—stuck in a lab with two nerds watching a screenful of static. No, no, I really didn't need to be with my wife as she gave birth to our firstborn. I'm sure I can do that again sometime."]

As we'll soon find out, however, Chris' wife Linda is none too keen on Chris' attempts to advance science (aka the devil's business).

["You ever seen a grown man naked?" (my obligatory Airplane reference)]

And she'll soon get her "I told you so" moment when the Martians cause the entire planet to collapse. And here is how the Martians throw the entire fucking world into disarray. The red planet dwellers deliver the following messages: They've figured out how to feed a thousand people on an acre of food; they've discovered how to use cosmic energy and now have no need for coal or oil; they've discovered how to make hundreds of elements fissionable; and they've expanded their lifespan to 300 Earth years. What's that, you say; Earth will be excited to get advanced information and improve their society? Not so. When Earthlings find out that the Martians are really efficient at producing food, food prices drop and all farmers go out of business. When Earthlings discover that Martians thrive on cosmic energy, all coal mines shut down, which in turn shuts down all steel mills, which halts all production, which brings Earth to a standstill. Also, France suspends its constitution, implementing martial law. Because why not?

Let me state this again, just in case it wasn't clear before: Martians never come to Earth, nor do they inform Earthlings how they achieve everything they do so well; they're just bragging. Now, I get economic and societal collapse as a plot device. It's certainly more original than the typical shoot-em-up invasion scenario. But I really don't understand how just knowing that another civilization is more advanced and efficient than us will lead us to throw in the towel as a society. Apparently, in this movie, Earthlings are the self-destructive, bitter, passive-aggressive, perpetual failure types who give up after finding out that their friend just scored a major book deal. "Oh, you're gonna be doing the whole modern-spy-thriller-as-metaphor-for-the-Franco-Prussian-War thing? That's cool, I guess. I was kinda developing something like that...before I, you know, realized it had already been done to death. But that's cool that you're gonna do that. To tell you the truth, I'm kinda done with the whole biz. I just really don't see any room in this landscape for my voice. But again, that's cool that you got a deal."

But fear not, Earthlings, Mars has heard your cry for help, and delivered another message. Mars' next message—I'm paraphrasing here—: Hey, Earth, you folks should like be nice to each other and stuff; try not to kill each other. Even though the new message is neither religious or god-y, Earthlings take this as a call to get back to church. Peace and love reigns everywhere. And Russia replaces its Communist dictatorship with a religious based society. Their new leader: a cleric. (Side note: Rare for films of its ilk, Red Planet Mars' Russian characters occasionally speak in Russian to each other. But then, when they need to discuss plot, they quickly break out the Russkie-accented English we've all come to know and love from our Cold War-era film baddies.)

Yes, the solution to the threat of despotic, oppressive Communist dictatorships is to spread despotic, oppressive theocracy around the world. Red Planet Mars' American president states that it matters not which God a country worships, so long as each country's government is based on religion. This future theocratic dictatorship world, apparently, comes emblazoned with a coexist bumper sticker.

Well, we soon find out that Nazi scientist Franz Calder—now working for the Russkies—had been punking Earth all along by giving out all the hysteria inducing messages. He wanted to throw the world into chaos. But what's this? Calder didn't create the messages about peace, love, and understanding. That wasn't part of his plan. But that must mean...yes, Virginia, there is a Martian God. (That was a spoiler. By the way, if you get upset that I spoiled this movie, you are a terrible human being.)

[The final image of the movie. Oh, I see what you did there, movie.]

In lieu of a conclusion, here's just a whole mess o' quotes from the picture:

"And you'll be the next to advance science, and maybe us—right into oblivion."
-Linda Cronyn

"There it is: the red planet Mars, for over 2000 years the symbol for war. And we fly in the face of providence and try to bring it closer to us."
-Linda Cronyn (This portentously-delivered line interrupts a mundane conversation after Linda happens to glance out a window at the night sky.)

"This message can't go out. It doesn't make sense. It's not scientific."
-Chris Cronyn (his reaction when told that the Martians have sent a message saying that Earthlings should get along and not kill each other so much.)

"We've switched stars, Mr. Secretary. Now we're following Bethlehem."
-The President (his reaction the secretary's assertion that we can not hitch our wagon to the peace and love star.)

"Could it be possible that the man of Nazareth and the man of Mars are the same?"
-Radio Announcer

"What have they given us? Nothing we couldn't have had all along. Prayers were given to us long before wires."
-Linda Cronyn

"Lucifer's my hero. God beat him, but I'll have beaten God."
-Franz Calder

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Megabus Hates Its Customers

This is the email I just sent to Megabus (Yes, I realize that Megabus is cheap as hell, and you get what you pay for, but...ah, oh well; it felt good to bitch. By the way, I'll keep you posted if I receive any replies):


Good news first: I'm not going to ask for a refund of the money Megabus grifted from me. Bad news: Not only will I never allow myself to be swindled again by Megabus, but I will inform everyone I know that not only does Megabus hold its customers in contempt; your company also hates families. I went today to 33rd St. and 9th Ave (an hour before the departure time of the bus I bought a ticket for) to catch the New York to Boston bus (the bus that I, just to remind you again, paid money to board).

When I arrived there, I saw one huge line. I mentioned that I was going to Boston, and was told to get to the back of the line. I was told that this was the line for every city. It seemed odd that every city destination would have to wait in one line, but I went there because that’s what I was told to do. Why would Megabus lie to me, I thought. I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

Come to find out (after waiting in line for two hours), this was the DC/Baltimore line. Yep, there were different lines after all. After discovering this, I quickly found a Megabus employee and asked about my bus: the 1:10 to Boston.

He quickly brushed me off, “What? Oh that bus left a while ago.”

When I explained the situation, and that I had been misled to the wrong line, he shrugged it off, “Well, you’re not gonna catch another bus.” Apparently, being lied to by Megabus, did not qualify me to get a seat on a bus that I (to remind you again) paid for.

Now, I will not be able to make it home for Christmas—the only time of the year that I am able to get home and see my family. To add insult to injury: not only did I miss my bus but—because I was given faulty information—I accidentally gave wrong information to other people who stepped into the line. Now I have the guilt that others may have missed their busses because I gave them the wrong information that was initially given to me (guilt is a sensation, by the way, that may be foreign to your company, so you should see if someone can explain what that is).

Now, if you had signs for different lines; or if, oh I don't know, a Megabus employee went to each line at regular intervals, and informed the paying customers which line they were standing in, the situation could have been averted. But something as complicated as that, apparently, is beyond the grasp of your company.

Merry Christmas,


KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 19 - Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986)

dir. Jim McCullough Sr.

On today's episode, my writing partner Roger Snead and I discuss the misnamed Mountaintop Motel Massacre. You can listen to the episode here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Trailer Time: The Swimmer (1968)

dir. Frank Perry (and an uncredited Sydney Pollack)

"When you talk about the swimmer, will you talk about yourself?"

Although The Swimmer gets a bit heavy-handed come the conclusion, and hell through most of the film—what with the symbolism, and the (not so) hidden meaning, and the comment on our empty society, man, and the whatnot—it is nevertheless an interestingly strange little picture. A film sitting on the precipice between old and new Hollywood, The Swimmer stars a fit Burt Lancaster as a seemingly affluent man who decides to "swim" home one day by using the swimming pools in the backyards of all his neighbors. For fans of experimental Hollywood, this picture is well worth a watch.

Now the trailer for this film is pretty standard but one thing, nevertheless, jumps out at me: the hucksterish salesmanship of the trailer's narrator. ("A motion picture that breaks new ground. An exciting different film. One that will be talked about.") Sure, it's not much different than the standard trailer today for prestige pictures—splash a bunch of quotes from important critics about the importance of your important picture—but something about the tone and delivery of The Swimmer trailer's narrator is so delightfully old timey and hokey. Maybe it's the fact that the quotes about the film's importance come from the studio and not the critics. Of course, this was a method long employed by Hollywood for its trailers during the golden era; it just feels out of place for a movie produced during the dawn of the new Hollywood.

By the way, unrelated to anything, but goddamn Burt Lancaster was in incredible shape for a 55-year-old man.

[The trailer:]

[Here's a Levi's ad directed by Tarsem, parodying The Swimmer:]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 18 - Fire in the Sky

dir. Robert Lieberman

On today's episode, my brother John and I discuss Fire in the Sky, a movie that scared the hell out of us as kids. We attempt to relive and rid ourselves of the traumatic childhood experience that was this movie. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I Have Failed You

Hey folks, sorry I couldn't get a regular post out for y'all this fine Monday morning, but I've been tied up. No worries. I'll have regular posts the rest of the week, including two new podcast episodes as always.

In the meantime, enjoy this contentious appearance by Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal on The Dick Cavett Show.

Friday, December 16, 2011

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 17 - They Live

dir. John Carpenter

In today's episode my friend Krisana Soponpong (bass player for the band Black Taxi) and I discuss John Carpenter's last great movie, They Live. You can listen to the episode here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

dir. J. Lee Thompson

Those who listened to the podcast that Roger and I did on J. Lee Thompson's 10 to Midnight will remember us raving about Thompson's slasher movie Happy Birthday to Me. Well, here's the awesome trailer.

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 16 - Dead Heat

dir. Mark Goldblatt

On today's tangent-filled episode, my writing partner Roger Snead and I discuss the zombie buddy cop film Dead Heat. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Meek's Cutoff (2010)

dir. Kelly Reichardt

As you know from listening to my podcast episode with Roger on the Sonny Chiba flick The Streetfighter, I am of the opinion that pan-and-scan is the devil’s tool. (You all download all the podcast episodes, right? Right? By the way, I think I should rename the podcast, “Damn, all the people I have on this podcast speak so much more eloquently and knowledgably on movies than I, the self-professed movie-geek, do.”) And by the devil’s tool, I mean that, back in the day when studios saw fit to release 2.35:1 cinemascope movies for viewing on standard 1.33:1 ratio TV sets, instead of letterboxing the pictures to enable viewers to see the entire image as originally filmed, they formatted the films for the small screen; panning, scanning, and creating artificial edits within the image—and then they brought in the dark lord to rub his cock all over the movie. (“Take that, movie. I love pan and scan because I’m the devil and I’m evil. And maniacal laugh. And you get the idea.”)

Releasing pre-fifties flicks on home video, on the other hand, weren’t no thing. You see, before the advent of widescreen in the fifties, films were filmed in the film aspect ratio that was also to become the standard for TV sets of old—the academy ratio of 1.33:1 (well, actually, it was more like 1.375:1, but you get the idea). If, in the early days of video, you watched a post-fifties movie on VHS, however: good luck.

Now, with widescreen TV’s, where we solved one problem we created another. When watching old, pre-widescreen movies, non-knowledgeable movie-watchers will opt to stretch the image to fit the screen, so as to avoid black columns on the sides. (Not to go off on a random tangent, but some time ago I went to a friend’s house to watch a standard-aspect-ratio TV show on his widescreen TV. When he saw the black columns, he decided to “fix” the problem by adjusting the image to fill the entire screen. Seeing as I try not to be an annoyingly douchey movie-geek person around friends, I decided not to school him on his faux pas. But lest my more movie-geekist readers feel betrayed by my failure to act, you’ll be happy to know that I had a barely contained inner meltdown.)

What it all boils down to is people are damn fussy about black empty spaces on their screens. (“I paid for all of the TV, yet the TV is only TV-ing part of the TV. Why is there empty? I don’t like empty. I didn’t pay for empty. I paid for not empty. No. Empty. Spaces. Period.”) Why people have always been bothered by this is a mystery to me. I…you know what, I apologize. I’ll end my aspect ratio rant. Not hardly original.

But back to the aspect ratio discussion. When I started watching Kelly Reichardt’s bleak, lyrical Western Meek’s Cutoff on Netflix’s streaming service, I saw that the image had black columns. I immediately freaked out. This was the second pan-and-scan movie in a row I watched on streaming. Why the fuck…wait a minute, no one pans and scans anymore. Widescreen TV’s ended that. Hold on a sec…

I did a little research and saw that director Kelly Reichardt shot her picture in the old academy ratio. How daring. After viewing this film, I don’t know why more modern films aren’t filmed in this old aspect ratio. Sure, you’ll get the occasional black and white art film, but so rare is it these days to see a standard ratio picture. As we witnessed with Tarantino’s use of the academy ratio in the burying scene of Kill Bill Vol. 2, this aspect ratio is quite adept at conveying isolation, confinement. It can also, as Reichardt displays in Meek’s Cutoff, be used to create a sense of intimacy. We are so used to the Panavision vistas of post-fifties westerns that we take for granted the widescreen. Well, of course, you have to shoot a Western in widescreen; it’s big and epic and…big. You gotta see all that open space. Now I ain’t here to argue that widescreen shouldn’t be used so often in Westerns; if any genre begged for widescreen it’s the western. But I’m just saying that maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to do it every time.

Which brings me to another rant. Why is it that any time a new film technology is introduced (sound, color, widescreen, digital), filmmakers—or studios, I should say—so quickly decide to abandon the old? Now I’m no Luddite. I will always herald any technological improvements. I look forward to all the wondrous new (and cheaper) things we will continue to be able to do movie-wise. But some of those old technologies can still be used to great effect, evoking sensations not possible with the new (will the continuing perfection of the digital image ever be able to match the warmth of film grain?). Yes, widescreen enables you to create a sense of the immensity of existence, but so rarely can it grant you intimacy—or, as I said before, convey a sense of confinement, isolation. Considering Meek’s Cutoff’s low-profile, my wish is pointless, but I’ll state it nonetheless: I hope Reichardt’s film ushers in a wave of smartly executed exercises with varying aspect ratios.

Here's just a bunch of images from the movie:

Recalling the early work of Monte Hellman in the best possible way, Reichardt strips her Western to the barest of bones. From the close-up sound of oxen hooves plodding over sand and gravel, to the kneading of dough, to the detailed depiction of the mending of covered wagons; Reichardt superbly catches the daily humdrummery of pioneer existence.

Through many a scene in this film I couldn’t help but be reminded of Patton Oswalt’s routine on the yearning some folks have for returning to the “simple” existence of the pioneers. Yes, we like to look with nostalgia on the grit and down-to-earth gumption of the hardy pioneer stock, but few of us would last a week in such situations. Aside from all the dangers involved, it would also just be a whole helluva lot of hard, now unnecessary, work. I’m just gonna say it: I love the fuck out of modern convenience. Where we may lose some quality in the home-made-ness of products, we gain in not having to waste hours hewing axles for broken wagons. Sure we may romanticize the flavor and quality of homemade everything, but who’s got the fucking time in the morning to, when already late for work, knead fucking dough or some other such nonsense? (Yes, this paragraph negates my whole argument a few paragraphs prior on the necessity of revisiting old film technologies, but…ah, do with that what you will. What I lack in consistency I make up for in consistent fluctuation.)

The story of Meek’s Cutoff is simple: hard-scrabble pioneers trek off the Oregon Trail, get lost, encounter obstacles, struggle to survive, capture an Indian to guide them to water, and then do some more struggling to survive. What Reichardt does with the material is a thing of bleak beauty.

Because we know the outcome of this chapter in American History, too many works of fiction dealing with the subject take as a foregone conclusion the triumph of the settlers over the old west. In Meek’s Cutoff nothing is taken for granted. Reichardt places us in the situation. Ending on an ambiguous note, Meek’s Cutoff leaves up in the air the survival of this group. (Yes, you can read history books to find the answer, but why would you wanna do that? Damn, history books, why you gotta be so full of spoilers?) In the experiment of the settling of the West, the future for the pioneers seemed damned uncertain at the time.

Seeing as I already wasted all my review space ranting on aspect ratios I'm just gonna say in closing that Meek's Cutoff further enhancs my appreciation for Michelle Williams. Not only is she talented as a motherfucker, but she knows how to choose her roles. Granted, it may just be the case that she only gets offered juicy roles in compelling movies, but she’s got such an amazing track record of late that I’m gonna say she’s had a hand in it. Hell, because of her involvement, I even wanna check out My Week with Marilyn. (As you'll hear in tomorrow's podcast episode, I generally hate biopics. Hey, did I mention you should download my podcast episodes?)

By the way, I know I usually write at least a little bit on the filmography of the director whose film I’m reviewing, but this is the only Kelly Reichardt movie I’ve seen—a blind-spot I’ll soon remedy.

My apologies for the lack of attempted humor in this post. I’ll try not to do this again—at least for a while.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, December 9, 2011

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 15 - The Streetfighter

dir. Shigehiro Ozawa

On today's episode, my writing partner Roger Snead and I discuss the Sonny Chiba movie The Streetfighter. We also discuss the art of Kung Fu dubbing. You can listen to the episode here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Favorite Movie Scenes: Blow-Up - The Yardbirds (1966)

dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

I know it's old news by now, but you have all, no doubt, seen various clips of the mini mobs that broke out across the country's shopping establishments on this year's Black Friday. Perhaps the most famous video was one of an incident in which folks were at each other's throats over $2 waffle makers.

[The waffle maker video:]

These Black Friday videos never fail to reinforce my desire to never go to a Black Friday sale. Now it's not like I don't like a good deal. I'm poor as a motherfucker and always look for the best prices. And hell, it's not even like the whole dignity thing is an issue for me. I will never hesitate to squabble with a clerk at the supermarket over a sale item. ("The sign clearly said $0.50 off. I'll be damned if I'm paying $3.29 for yogurt.") Yes, I'm the annoying old guy who holds up the line while you stand behind me for 10 minutes, waiting to pay for a lousy pack of gum. I apologize.

No, the reason I never go to these sales is that I'm scared as fuck of crowds. And these videos always help to reinforce that. They also never fail to remind me of my favorite scene from Antonioni's Blow-Up: The Yardbirds concert.

[The Scene (To see better quality version of the clip on youtube go here):]

Now Antonioni's depiction of the unbearably hip, mod, swinging London set is closer to Williamsburg than Wal-Mart but the mentality is the same. For those who can't be bothered to watch the clip, our star David Hemmings wanders into a Yardbirds concert. Mid-performance, guitarist Jeff Beck, frustrated with the speaker, smashes his guitar and then throws the neck into the crowd. At last, a reaction from the heretofore listless crowd. Chaos. Mini riot over the guitar neck until David Hemmings grabs the junk and runs out onto the street.

After exiting the concert, Hemmings dispassionately looks at the neck and casually tosses it away. At the moment that he bludgeoned others for the precious, all that mattered was aquiring the coveted guitar piece. Why? Because everyone else wanted it. Outside, divorced from the context of the rock show, the guitar neck is now just a piece of trash. Useless.

Which brings us back to $2 waffle makers. Sure, you may say, waffle makers have more use than broken guitar necks; but the illusory use of this appliance will soon go the way of Jeff Beck's trash. Now you will use the waffle maker. At first. You'll try to convince yourself that the extra effort required to shape pancake batter into squares with dents is worth the bruised shin and the guilt over kneeing a 76-year-old woman.

After the first use you'll have to tamp down the negative thoughts creeping into your head: "Why am I going to all this extra effort to make breakfast when I can just slop the batter into a pan, no, no. I'm gonna use the waffle maker. I have to make it worth it. I have to make it make sense."

And you'll continue using the waffle maker. For a time. But it'll soon become the obvious chore that you were too blinded by adrenaline to see when you screamed triumphantly over the cowering mess of tears and fear that was the visage of the 76-year-old woman from whom you snatched the last waffle maker.

Soon, whenever you walk past the kitchen counter—the waffle maker's temporary home—the tell-tale appliance will haunt you. You'll be unable to look at it. It will haunt your dreams. One thought will race through your head: "But it was worth it. It was worth it? Yes, it was worth it. Right? Right? Right?" You'll be unable to escape the screams of the 76-year-old woman.

You won't even be able to look at the waffle maker. "I haven't used this in a while. I gotta make way for my new juicer. Maybe I'll just stick this in my hall closet—you know, just temporarily. I'll use it again, you know. I know where it is. I know, I just gotta make some room here."

So you'll stick the appliance in the closet, in front where you can see it. But you'll soon get more appliances, more bad memories, more waste. Over time, you'll add the newer detritus to your closet pile, obscuring the waffle maker under a pile of junk.

After a few years, when concerned loved ones will have mentioned volunteering you for an episode of Hoarders, you'll decide to pre-empt them and do some spring cleaning. You'll clean the entire house, wondering where on Earth you ever got half the junk, you, until now, seemed to value for some reason. You'll eventually get to your closet. "Huh, why do I have a waffle maker? That's pretty useless." You'll shrug and toss it in the trash.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 14 - Cliffhanger

dir. Renny Harlin

My brother John and I review the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger. We also discuss the careers of Stallone and director Renny Harlin. You can listen to the podcast here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Limitless (2011)

dir. Neil Burger

OK, let me say straightaway that Neil Burger's Limitless engages in so many of the tropes and stylistic touches that I abhor, that it couldn't help but upset me. It's the kind of movie designed specifically to piss me off, so this review will be a touch unfair. Is it a good movie, will most people like it? Irrelevant. I didn't like it and that's all that matters.

First and foremost, let me state that I get irked by any movie that makes me feel as if I'm watching its writer hammer out the story (Movie pet peeve # 327). As the story begins...well, that is, after the how-will-the-story-get-here flash-forward pre-credits opening sets the tone, Limitless flashes back to lowly author Eddie Morra's (Bradley Cooper) struggles with writer's block. And how do we know that handsome Bradley Cooper's character is a writer? He's got uglifying long hair.

["Give me the John Cusack in Being John Malkovich." (Side note: obviously, the long hair makes Mr. Cooper completely unfuckable.)]

As Eddie states in voice-over, "What kind of a guy without a drug or alcohol problem looks this way? Only a writer." (Or a handsome actor trying to slum it as a normal.) Of course, it isn't long before Mr. Morra takes an adderall+ and transforms into the non-worthless-looking man you've all come to know and love.

[Yes, because writers are all one haircut away from looking like Bradley Cooper. Ah the ugly duckling trope (Movie pet peeve # 38).]

But I get ahead of myself.

Back to movie pet peeve # 327. Before Eddie takes the smarty-pants pills, his life is a shambles: He can't finish his manuscript, he can't organize his thoughts, his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) is dumping his ass, etc., the rest, and what have you. But then the ex-drug-dealer brother of Eddie's ex-wife slips him the experimental brain-enhancing drug NZT-48. Everything makes sense now. He quickly writes a brilliant novel, bangs the landlord's wife, and cleans his apartment. The possibilities are limitless ®.

While watching the early scenes, I couldn't help but imagine writer Alan Glynn (whose novel The Dark Fields is the basis for Limitless) sitting in front of his computer—struggling to write and wishing he had a magic pill to let loose the ideas—suddenly pumping his fist at the eureka moment. "By God, why don't I write a novel about an author, struggling to finish writing a novel, who takes a pill to relieve him of his writer's block." When I can see the gears working, I'm taken out of the story.

From this point forward, Limitless caters strictly to the MTV Cribs crowd (cultural pet peeve # 622). Now that the creative writer has the ability to pen endless pages of achingly beautiful prose, he thinks: Fuck writing; I'ma make me a bundle on Wall Street. Yawn. He hooks up with powerful mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) and helps engineer mergers and such. Double yawn.

[Robert De Niro: Not caring since 1997.]

Eddie's got everything now: the ability to fuck like a beast, a limitless ® bank account, cool toys, a killer Manhattan apartment, and lots of other...yawn, yawn, yawn. As you may have guessed, handsome rich folks enjoying themselves as they engage in handsome-rich-folks activities is not the kind of movie plot I find the least bit interesting.

Of course, there's slightly more to the story than that. Eddie continually gets chased by a Russian mafia hit-man from whom he snagged a payday loan, other mysterious goons, the police, and the monkey on his back. Oh yeah, although NZT may turn you into an autistic savant, with the bank account of Bruce Wayne, the fighting skills of Bruce Lee (more on that later), and Bradly Cooper looks (Rumor has it that when the completed film first played for studio execs, comic-con devotees world-wide spontaneously ejaculated, not entirely knowing why); the drug also creates withdrawal like a motherfucker, not to mention one helluva rebound effect. So Eddie's got that going for him.

As you have no-doubt deduced by now, Limitless is based on the "10% of the brain myth" (the 20% of the brain myth, in this movie), which states that no person ever uses more than 10% of his brain. What NZT does is allow you to utilize all 100% of your brain. Obviously, when the basis of a movie is a long defunct myth, it exists in a sci-fi world and thus should be cut some slack in regards to playing fast and loose with reality; but I just couldn't look past the more glaring errors in logic and science in Limitless.

In perhaps Limitless' biggest fuck you to science, Eddie gets cornered by a large group of thugs and struggles to figure a way out. He's smart but he's got fighting skills like a fucking nun. But wait, his limitless ® brain powers allow him to remember all the martial arts movies he's seen throughout his life; so he uses said skills on the baddies. Because fuck muscle memory. Your ability to remember that Bruce Lee flick you saw when you were thirteen is the only thing standing between you and an MMA championship.

In another such moment, Eddie gets cornered in his apartment by the aforementioned Russian hit-man (high on NZT) and two of his associates. But Eddie's out of NZT. What to do? After the two goons leave the room, Eddie gets the upper hand and stabs the hit-man. But shit, the two goons are still in the other room. Eddie hasn't got the NZT-induced brain-power to take on both men. Shit. But wait, the Russian hit-man's NZT-infused blood is pooling before him. Eddie takes a few slurps.

And then this happens:
[By the way, the whole spinach making you strong thing—also a myth.]

Before this devolves into a complete bitch-fest I should state that I didn't hate everything about Limitless. I actually do dig Bradley Cooper as an actor and he turns in an admirable performance here. Shifting gears between milquetoast writer and cocky playboy so effortlessly, he is never less than believable. One wonders why he can't snag juicy roles in better movies.

Also, Limitless aptly captures the frustration of writer's block. And the magic-pill-to-escape-this-block fantasy is one I'm sure most writers have had. As a not-existing-in-reality fantasy picture, this section largely works for me. Sweet, limitless ® writing potential. Sign me up.

But back to the hate.

As stated previously, my attitude toward this movie is perhaps a bit unfair. My largest complaint with the movie, understand, has less to do with its actual filmic qualities, than my own personal biases. Burger's film fetishisizes the brain drain that has sapped our creative, scientific, and inovative fields; funneling the best minds into finance. As Limitless attempts to posit, the joy of creating is not nearly as important as getting blown by twin models in a sports car doing 90.

Now I'm not saying that Burger should have shoehorned a message about the damaging effect that the allure of Wall street cash has had on our society's long-term economic sustainabilty (indeed, I likely would have been more irked by the movie had it tried to preach); this is a fantasy movie, after all. Limitless just happens to espouse I fantasy to which I don't subscribe, and which, frankly, I just don't understand. This is a movie not made for my sensibilities. If you were to pitch a story to me in which a man is given the ability to quickly pen stunning prose, but instead decides to waste his time accumulating millions; I wouldn't see it as anything other than a tragedy. (Yes, the film does show that the whole turning into a junkie thing would also be kind of a bummer, but that's irrelevant. There just gotsta be drama in a movie.)

We can now add Limitless to the list of films responsible for churning out new generations of Gordon Gekko clones.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, December 2, 2011

No Podcast Episode Today

Hey, folks, my apologies for not bringing you a podcast episode today. What with Thanksgiving I didn't have a chance to record a second episode this week. No worries, I'll try to make sure I don't miss an episode again.

In the meantime, enjoy this hilarious collection of outtakes, featuring Siskel and Ebert being extra bitchy to each other.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Awesome Movie Trailers: Rolling Thunder (1977)

dir. John Flynn

With a voice like sand and gargled gravel, the narrator (I wish I knew his name; he's my favorite 70's exploitation trailer narrator) announces that Vietnam Vet Charles Rane has been away for eight years and is now coming home, "...but the world has changed." His wife has been unfaithful; his son doesn't remember him; and he's changed as well: Let's just say he's no longer the Ward Cleaver type. He's no longer in the game. That is, until a gang of thugs give him a reason to get back in.

Sure, this trailer essentially tells the entire story in miniature, seemingly negating any reason to watch the entire film: You already know what's going to happen. But then again, you already always know what's going to happen in any of these movies. When has that ever stopped you from watching a vet-sploitation picture? Nay, despite revealing too much, this trailer perfectly encapsulates the story and tone of the picture. You like what you saw in these few minutes? Well come back and watch the entire thing play over feature length. You'll get all this and then some.

By the way, I know today's piece is a trailer review, but I just wanna emphasize what an achievement this film is. Yes, it's got exploitation trappings; I'd even call it an exploitation picture; but scripted by Paul Schrader as it is, Rolling Thunder exhibits an intelligence and emotional depth rarely seen in this genre. Hell, even Gene Siskel named it one of his ten favorite films the year of its release.

For the love of fuck, when will this movie come back in print?

[The trailer:]