The Dipshit Factor

Posted in Movies on March 11, 2010 by kickingupthedarkness

You know what I really hate? I hate the term ‘CHICK-FLICK’.  I hate having to listen to women, and men too, tell me that I did not like a horrendous pile of steaming drivel like DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? or DEAR JOHN or THE NOTEBOOK simply because I do not have a vagina.  If a movie is good, then everyone should think so.  Hiding behind the defense of, ‘well it’s a CHICK-FLICK’, means that it is a movie made for only half (well, slightly more than half, according to the last census I think) of the entire population of the world.  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a bogus concept.  Movies are made for EVERYONE to enjoy.  And if it’s a good movie, I’ll enjoy it, be it dubbed as a ‘CHICK-FLICK’ or not.  After all, I didn’t think A WALK TO REMEMBER was so bad.  I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than TRANSFORMERS 2, I can tell you that much.

Oh, I know, I know, there are certain genres of movies that people cling to and others that people flee from.  For example, I am first and foremost a fan of horror movies.  Before anything else, I dig a horror flick and I’ll watch em all: the cheapie slashers, the sexploitation seventies flicks, the French new wave of gore and violence, all the eighties crap, every sequel there is, fucking hell, I even watch the re-makes and the PG-13 horse shit.  I don’t usually enjoy them, but I do seek them out. 

Now, I know many, many people, male and female, who do not like horror movies.  They have their reasons and I accept them (for the most part).  They don’t like the feeling of being scared, they think the films are stupid and cannot abide the character’s brain-dead decisions, they don’t like gore, etc.  All these reasons are acceptable.  And most of these people will admit that certain horror movies must be good, they just don’t want to sit through them.  That’s fine.  Nothing wrong with that.  Although, I will say it is one thing to ‘dislike’ gore, but it is something else entirely to be an adult past the age of twenty-five and to say, ‘I can’t watch gory movies because they are so disgusting, I can’t even look at the screen!’.  Jesus Christ.  Do you people not watch the news? Gore and violence is it’s bread and butter! And you do realize that it’s all just make-up and CGI right? It’s not real! You really cannot separate yourself from reality and what is unfolding in front of you on the screen?  Grow up pussies!! But that’s neither here nor there.

What I was trying to get at before I went on an angry tangent was that people who dislike horror movies are more often than not able to accept that that is their problem.  Why is it their problem? Because there are certain things about the genre that they personally find distasteful.  They do not feel the need to rail at me for liking a movie like THE DESCENT.  And I do not feel the need to rail at them for disliking it.  Okay, sometimes I do, but I shouldn’t! At least I know that much.

With the ‘CHICK-FLICKS’, I find the case to be completely different.  I’ll call a movie like THE NOTEBOOK bad (and boy is it!) and then be told that I just don’t get it.  Excuse me?! What was in the film that I didn’t get?! I got the bad writing, the one-note performances, the sappier than shit dialogue,  and the blatant disregard for every medical case study on Alzheimer’s.  Yeah, I got all that.  What were you saying?

But then they say, ‘It’s a CHICK-FLICK, it’s not for you’.  I would agree with them if I didn’t happen to like if not downright love many so-called CHICK-FLICKS.  And to prove it, here is an extensive list that I will no doubt greatly regret putting on the internet ten seconds after finishing this post, but fuck it, I’m trying to make a point: SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, MYSTIC PIZZA, SHE’S ALL THAT,  LOVE ACTUALLY, BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, NEVER BEEN KISSED, YOU’VE GOT MAIL, MEAN GIRLS, DOWN TO YOU, 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, DIRTY DANCING, ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, MERMAIDS, THELMA AND LOUISE, PRELUDE TO A KISS, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, BEFORE SUNRISE AND SUNSET, DOWN WITH LOVE, HEARTBREAKERS, i could go on, but you get the idea.

All of the movies above are films that I adore and films that I would never belittle by referring to them as ‘CHICK-FLICKS’.  They are simply GOOD MOVIES.  At least, that’s how I view them.  I mea n, if I were a filmmaker, I would never want to make a movie that would be labeled a ‘CHICK-FLICK’.  I would want to make a ROMANTIC COMEDY or a SEARING DRAMA that men and women alike could enjoy.  And I wouldn’t want to be known as making ‘GUY-MOVIES’ either.

And now, I think I have found my essential point.  There are a lot of dopey films that I enjoy (REINDEER GAMES, GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA) that get labeled as ‘GUY-MOVIES’. I prefer to call them PAMS (Preposterous Action Movies).  People tell me I only like those stupid movies because I have a dick.  I am saying right here and now that has absolutely nothing to do with it.  I do not like GI JOE because I am a guy.  No. Not at all.  Not even a little bit.  I like GI JOE because I am a DIPSHIT.

GI JOE is not a good movie by any means, but I enjoyed it immensely.  I have seen it twice and look forward to many more repeat viewings.  It’s a pile of steaming fucking garbage.  I know this.  I simply do not care.  It appeals to some inner part of me deep away and hidden that prevents me from disliking it.  And it’s not my inner child.  Fuck that.  It is my inner DIPSHIT.  I like it simply because I like it. And it’s not like GLITTER where I love it so much because of how unbelievably awful it is and just can’t look away.  Nope.  I actually, truly and sincerely like GI JOE.  I also like DEATH RACE, THE ROCK, and even STREET FIGHTER.   I have no defense, but I do not feel the need to hide behind the, ‘Well, it’s a GUY-MOVIE, you just don’t get it’ defense either.

So, ladies and gentleman, please try to change your ways and get that hateful term out of our language.  If you see a movie like THE NOTEBOOK, and happen to enjoy it…well, then MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR FUCKING SOUL!!!!  Sorry, I’ll try that again.  Folks, you need to get in touch with your inner-DIPSHIT.  He or she is lonely and needs to be acknowledged.  Show some love.  If you see DEAR JOHN and happen to like it, realize it is not because you are a woman or a gay man, but because you are a DIPSHIT. 

Wear the title with pride.

Ten Best Horror Films of the Decade

Posted in Movies on December 21, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

In the last ten years, American horror movies have been on a downward spiral into suckiness.  From the endless amount of remakes to the unbelievably insipid PG-13 films, it’s like we’ve lost sight of why we watch horror movies in the first place.  The idea of dumbing down a horror film for a younger audience goes against their very nature: to scare and disturb the shit out of us!! A movie shouldn’t be made less disturbing for a mass market audience.  Horror movies are supposed to be disturbing!! So, on this list, you’ll find the few great American horror movies of the last ten years and the foreign gems that really hit the mark.  No remakes and absolutely no PG-13 crap. 

10. HOSTEL PART II

Eli Roth’s follow-up to his 2006 box-office hit is superior to its predecessor for two reasons: Richard Burgi and Roger Bart.  As two American businessmen who travel to Slovakia so they can each torture and murder a young woman, both actors create vivid, terrifying, and believable characters.  Burgi is a hoot as the arrogant one who is always snorting coke and cannot wait to kill somebody.  It’s a hilarious, not-to-subtle satire of the American businessman.  And then there’s Bart: shy, unsure of himself and not nearly as kind a man as you would hope him to be.   Their role reversal at the end of the film is as brilliant as it is inevitable.  And once again, Roth makes the torture scenes genuinely frightening and intense, not exercises in depravity (Hello, SAW franchise).

9. SESSION 9

Writer-director Brad Anderson has had quite a decade with last years’ terrific thriller TRANSSIBERIAN, Christian Bale’s skinny performance in THE MACHINIST, and the delightful sci-fi romance HAPPY ACCIDENTS.  But SESSION 9 remains his creepiest.  The film is also noteworthy because it features an actual decent performance by David Caruso! Caruso and the great irish actor, Peter Mullan, play two asbestos workers who take the dangerous job of cleaning up an abandoned mental institution in under two weeks.  Anderson actually filmed in a real abandoned asylum which adds greatly to the film’s atmosphere.  The asylum swallows you just as it swallows every character, bringing every single one of their phobia’s to the surface.  And the film’s final line of dialogue haunts me to this very day.

8. THEM

In recent years, with films like HIGH TENSION and THE ORDEAL, France has proven itself to be the new go-to place for insane, terrifying horror movies and THEM is one of the best.  It’s basically the good version of THE STRANGERS, which is so similar in structure it’s a wonder that writer-director David Moreau did not sue Hollywood.  If you’ve seen THE STRANGERS, you know the gist: a young couple is tormented by unseen foes in their lonely cabin in the woods.  The big difference is that these unseen foes seem to be actual human beings, not supernatural creations of the screenplay who have the power to be anywhere at any time.  They are never seen fully until the last shot of the film which makes them all the more frightening as the young couple runs and hides in every spot of their home.  Moreau makes great use of background noise and shadows, causing the film to keep you firmly on the edge of your seat for its entire running time. The film also gives a frightening and believable reason for the villain’s actions, unlike those ridiculous masked people from THE STRANGERS.

7. THE DESCENT

Neil Marshall is another director who had quite a decade with the action-packed DOOMSDAY and the low-budget, but kick-ass DOG SOLDIERS.  However, it’s THE DESCENT that truly got under my skin.  The tale of five female friends who go spelunking in an abandoned cave system is scary and claustrophobic as hell before the mutant monsters even arrive on screen.  There’s a sequence where one of the main characters is trapped in a tunnel that is so genuinely frightening it’s borderline unwatchable.  And then those creepy monsters show up.  Marshall wisely keeps them in shadows for a good portion of the film so that when we do see them in full light, they’re creepy as all hell.  The American release tacked on a bullshit happy ending, so make sure you see the British version where the ending stays true to the darkness of the rest of the film.

6. FRAILTY

Bill Paxton made a terrific directorial debut with this chilling masterpiece.  Matthe McConaughey (In his best performance) recounts his horrible childhood to FBI agent Powers Boothe who is searching for a serial killer named ‘God’s Hands’.  McConaughey tells Boothe of how his kindly father (Paxton) claims to have received a vision from an angel who sent him on mission to rid the world of demons that are disguised as people.  The film is told mostly in flashbacks with Paxton’s two sons trying to make sense of their father’s ‘mission’.  Matt O’Leary is terrific as the young McConaughey who strongly doubts his father’s sanity.  The movie keeps it a secret for a long time before revealing whether or not Paxton is actually crazy of if he is indeed on a ‘mission from god’.  Either way, FRAILTY is a taut, gripping film that asks a lot of questions about what people believe in and why they choose to do so.

5. SLITHER

The silliest, most entertaining horror movie in the last ten years.  Writer-director James Gunn creates a great throwback to cheesy 80’s horror films such as THE BLOB and SHIVERS.  Nathan Fillion has a grand old-time as the small town sheriff who has to deal with an alien invasion of parasitic slugs.  Having even more fun is Michael Rooker as the poor sap who becomes the first human the slugs take over.  His search for meat in the supermarket is one of the film’s many hilarious scenes.  And lets not forget Gregg Henry as the incompetent Mayor.  Every line of dialogue that comes out of his mouth is a gem.  My personal favorite: After watching Elizabeth Banks chop someone’s head off with a shovel, ‘Bitch is hardcore’. Classic.

4. SAUNA

Another terrific foreign horror flick that puts most American movies to shame.  The story of two Finnish brothers who are tasked with mapping the new border between Russia and Finnland after a brutal 25 year war in the 1400’s is haunting, moody, and trippy as fuck.  Near the beginning of the film, the two brothers commit a terrible crime that comes back to haunt them when they come upon a hidden village in the middle of the woods.  The village contains a sauna that the residents say can, ‘wash away your sins without the presence of God’.  Naturally, the two brothers enter and a whole bunch of crazy shit starts to happen.  The movie is not very concerned with explaining itself but that only makes it all the more mysterious. The film is filled with terrifying images that sneak their way into your head.  Does the sauna have any actual power or is it just the brothers’ guilt tormenting them? I think you can take the movie either way and like that it allows you to draw your own conclusions. Also, how many horror films can you think of that take place in the 1400’s?

3. THE MIST

I really don’t get why more people did not respond to this movie.  Frank Darabont proves himself once again to be the master at adapting Stephen King stories and THE MIST proves to be one of the most suspenseful horror movies I’ve ever seen.  The story is fairly traditional: people trapped inside a building with lots of monsters outside. In this case, it’s a supermarket and a mysterious fog filled with creatures that traps our characters.  But King and Darabont make this one unique by creating intelligent characters and using the setting as a back drop to explore the extreme measures people will resort to when they are terrified.  Marcia Gay Harden is terrific as the de-facto leader of a religious cult that forms in the supermarket and Thomas Jane makes for a good hero.  The ending of the film annoyed me when I first saw it, but it has since grown on me because it fits with the tone of the rest of the movie.  The film was released in color in theaters despite Darabont wishing to release it in Black and White.  Luckily, the DVD contains the Black and White version and if you haven’t seen the film, don’t even bother watching it in color.

2. MARTYRS

Hands down, the most fucked-up, deranged, creepy, and riveting horror film of the last ten years.  France really proved itself to be the new King of Horror with this insane, twisted ride of a movie.  I cannot say too much about the plot without giving away the movie’s labyrinth of secrets and revelations.  The film begins with a young girl being tortured by unknown foes in a HOSTEL-like chamber.  She escapes and winds up in an orphanage where she meets another troubled young girl.  The movie then jumps fifteen years and cuts to a nice, normal family having a quiet breakfast.  There’s a knock on the door and when the father opens it, he comes face to face with the young girl from the beginning, now holding a shotgun.  She enters the home and slaughters the entire family.  After she’s finished, she calls her friend from the orphanage and tells her, ‘I found them’.  All of this madness occurs in the film’s first ten minutes and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a wild ride through hell that has the power to shock and disturb the fuck out of you every fifteen minutes.  It is not an all an easy film to sit through, but you won’t be sorry that you did.

1. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

The. Best. Vampire. Movie. Ever. No Joke.  TWILIGHT and TRUE BLOOD fans should be ashamed of themselves after watching this movie.  It tells the story of a picked-on 12 year old boy who befriends a young girl named Eli after she moves next door to him.  There’s some strange things about Eli though: she does not eat, never comes out during the day, and is definitely connected to a series of murders that are plaguing the small Norwegian town.  The bond formed between these two characters is more touching and truthful than twenty Hollywood romances combined.  The movie never shies away from Eli’s nature.  She is not a ‘nice’ vampire who survives on animal blood or steals from the local hospital.  No.  She is a vicious monster who has to kill if she wishes to survive.  The two young actors are terrific, particularly Lina Leandersson as Eli.  She actually makes us believe that this girl is over 200 years old.  The film’s ending is as heartwarming as it is disturbing.  But the film’s best scene comes when the movie answers the age-old question of what would happen if a vampire were to come into your home uninvited.  A Hollywood remake is in the works, but there is no doubt that they are going to fuck it up, so see this version before they spoil the film’s greatness.

And that’s that! I don’t really have any high hopes for many American horror movies in the future (The re-makes keep on coming) so I’m going to keep my eye on Norway and France.  They clearly know what they’re doing.

The Ten Best Films of the Decade

Posted in Movies on December 20, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

Before I send out my ten best films of the year, I figured it might be fun to hit the top ten films of the decade.  I’ve been reading so many of these damn lists that I couldn’t resist the urge to do my own.  Even though these lists are pretty silly, always relative, and you always forget something crucial after you’ve written and posted them.  You know the feeling I mean: ‘Oh Fuckbunnies! I should have put ‘The Wrestler’ ahead of ‘Mystic River’, now I gotta do the whole list over again!’ Well, I’m not going to bother with that nonsense.  I’m not going to pool through lists of every movie that has come out in the last ten years in an effort to make sure I forget nothing.  If I’ve forgotten a film, well it couldn’t have been that great now could it?  So here they are, right off the top of my head, the ten films of the decade that remain at the forefront of my mind:

10. TIE: WATCHMEN/THE DARK KNIGHT

So sue me, I just couldn’t decide which one was better.  In a decade that made comic books the kings of the box office and the summer movie season, these were easily the two best.  And they are both great for different reasons: THE DARK KNIGHT took the summer popcorn movie and elevated it to a level of high art.  The action sequences were some of the most riveting we’ve seen in the last ten years and even if you have issues with the story, you cannot deny that this is one of the most entertaining action flicks in many a moon.  But it’s the characters and Christopher Nolan’s subtle criticisms of society that make this a true masterpiece.  We all know how good Heath Ledger was, but lets not forget Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Christian Bale for taking characters that could have been one-note and turning them into tragic figures.  And for those of you who feel the need to complain about Bales’ Batman voice, think about this: If Batman truly existed, why wouldn’t his voice sound utterly preposterous? Bruce Wayne would not care about his voice sounding cool, he would just be content to have it disguised.  This is one of the film’s many unique touches that makes it the most realistic comic book film we have ever seen.  WATCHMEN, on the other hand, creates its own unique universe that is at once unbelievable and frighteningly plausible.  It managed to adapt a massive, renowned to the point of hysteria, graphic novel as faithfully as could have been done in two-and-a-half-hours while not alienating people who have never read the graphic novel.  The performances (especially Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley) were right on target.  And the film itself, while visually breathtaking and filled with terrific action, works best as a sly satire of superheroes, idol worship, and government secrets.  After these two, superhero films have got a hell of a lot to live up to for the future.  Lets hope IRON MAN 2 is equal to the task.

9. FINDING NEMO

I’ll admit, it was tough to choose just which Pixar movie was going to find up on this list (Hell, I could have just listed each one from each successive year and called it a day), but I’m going with FINDING NEMO because it wowed me the most.  WALL-E was a visual masterpiece of the future, but there’s something about the way the water moves around the characters and environment in every scene of NEMO that just entrances me every time I watch it.  I have never felt more like I was getting a sneak peak into a gorgeous new world than when I was watching this film.  Every scene is breath-taking.  But the sequence that takes the cake for me is when we get to watch as news travels all over the ocean (From the crabs at the bottom to the birds in the sky) of Marlon and his quest to find his son.  I also think it is the funniest of the Pixar movies (with UP as a close second).  Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres perfectly nailed their mis-matched characters.  Brooks, with all of his usual neuroses and aggravations firmly in place and Degeneres, with all of her inherent whackiness on full display.  No actors have better morphed into animated characters than these two. 

8. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

My problem with most of Charlie Kaufman’s films is that they are either impenetrable or lose themselves in the third act by putting their utter contempt for the audience on full display.  ADAPTATION flies off the rails when it realizes it doesn’t have an ending and thinks itself clever by throwing every cliché in the book at us.  It’s a fine line between being clever and being lazy and that one misses the mark.  Ditto to BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (though that one is interesting and bizarre enough that I do feel the need to watch it again).  ETERNAL SUNSHINE is his most complete movie.  Jim Carrey delivered his best and most restrained performance as the lovesick fool who thinks that erasing his memory is the best way to forget his lost-love, Kate Winslet (In one of her best performances).  As we track his descent to regain his consciousness, we are drawn into our own minds where our memories have the power to destroy us and to save us.  This is the price of love and Kaufman does not beat us over the head with his message, but quietly shows us that our memories, no matter how painful they are, are what truly allow us to define ourselves as human beings.  The movie is also a visual delight (the most accurate depiction of the mind to ever hit the screen) and filled with great supporting performances by Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, and Mark Ruffalo.  But special credit goes to Kirsten Dunst, an actress I normally find unwatchable, who delivers her finest and most moving performance as the Nurse who discovers a crucial truth about her own memory.

7. SOLARIS

Audiences and critics really missed the mark on Steven Soderbergh’s haunting, moody, sci-fi masterpiece.  It owes more to a film like 2001 than to STAR WARS and I think that’s what people’s real problem with it was.  Also, it moves at a slow, steady pace that most found boring, but I found hypnotizing.  Clooney had a great decade and this is his most affecting performance.  He shows us the inner turmoil of a scientist trapped on a spaceship near a planet that does not attack with little green men, but with a fully formed being in the shape and with all the memories of his dead wife (The always reliable Natasha McElhone).  Sci-fi movies so rarely take the true leap into their own title (Science and Fiction) and are mostly content to rely on aliens and humans blowing each other up.  SOLARIS  looks at space with true wonder and at once comforts us and terrifies us with the possibilities of what could be out there.

6. CACHE (HIDDEN)

Harsh social commentary disguised as Hitchcockian thriller.   There is no more interesting director to watch right now than Michael Hanecke.  The formal behavioral psychologist as morphed into the most demanding, infuriating, and riveting director of his generation.  There is no film-maker out there right now who has his ability to pin me to my seat and demand my attention from the very first frame.  Audiences have trouble with his technique because he so often tries to enrage you (FUNNY GAMES) but never just for the hell of it and the anger he seeks is always the appropriate reaction.  CACHE is his most mind-boggling.  Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche are terrific as a wealthy French couple who start to receive mysterious videotapes that impossibly document their every move.  Eventually Auteuil realizes that these tapes are tied to his  past history with a young boy from Algeria and tries to find out who is torturing him and his wife.  An easy concept for a thriller, but the tapes are not what the movie is really about.  Hanecke merely uses the tapes as a way to force his characters to confront their past sins that they have buried with false justifications.  By using the shaky relationship between France and Algeria as a focal point, Hanecke reflects on race-relations of all cultures and how past prejudices still ( and always will) exist in a world where people do anything and everything to hide their own guilt.  Hanecke’s got a new movie, THE WHITE RIBBON, coming out at the end of month and I hear it’s his best yet.   But if you haven’t seen this, shoot it to the top of your Netflix queue immediately. And make sure you watch that last frame with a magnifying glass.

5. KILL BILL

I consider both the KILL BILL”S to be part of one movie so I’m including them as part of their own epic, individual masterpiece.  I did not have more fun at the movies in the last ten years than when I was watching the KILL BILL’s.  Tarantino is a director who has no problem throwing every personal fetish and idiosyncrasy on the screen in full display and I love him all the more for it.  His dialogue crackles and sparks with obscure references from SUPERMAN to long forgotten Kung-fu movies and you treasure every word.  This is also absurd action at its finest and most enjoyable.  We root for the Bride as she completes her ‘roaring-rampage-of revenge’ and that line of dialogue describes both films perfectly.  Never before has revenge been treated as such a sacred, necessary and even artistic ritual.  Everyone loves the great sword fights, but for me, the best battle is the cat-and-mouse games of words that Bill and the Bride play at the end of the movie.  Dialogue has never been more engaging and exciting.

4. MICHAEL CLAYTON

When I first saw MICHAEL CLAYTON, I liked it quite a bit.  I thought it was a smart, entertaining thriller with great performances all around.  However, each time I go back to it, I discover something new and like it more and more.  This is Clooney’s other masterpiece of the decade (though I haven’t seen UP IN THE AIR yet).  This film is so masterful in its storytelling that you are practically unaware that it is a corporate thriller until you’re about halfway through it.  But what really sticks in my mind is first time writer-director Tony Gilroy’s (he wrote the BOURNE movies) terrific dialogue.  There’s the great scene where Clooney explains the job of  a law firm’s ‘fixer’ to a client who has just committed a hit-and-run, Tom Wilkinson’s rambling, brilliant monologue on why the law firm has broken his spirit, Tilda Swinton ordering a hit-man to murder someone without even mentioning the word, Wilkinson reading the corporation’s many crimes while they listen in on his phone, and the final, amazing confrontation between Clooney and Swinton that is so taut and tense you’ll forget to breathe.

3. THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Daniel Day-Lewis is quite possibly the finest, craziest and most daring actor of his generation and no movie proved that more than Paul Thomas Anderson’s deranged masterpiece.  Everything about the film and Lewis’ character, oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, put you on edge.  You are not comfortable for one second of screen time.  There’s also Paul Dano’s terrifying performance as the small-town preacher who forges a life-long battle for power with Mr. Plainview.  Anderson uses both characters to see which would happen if capitalism and religion were both wild animals tossed together in a duffel bag.  It’s not a pretty picture and Anderson is not afraid to portray both men as charlatans of false worship.  His themes resonate even more strongly today, as a recession cripples us and religion continues to prevent people from moving forward. 

2. SIDEWAYS

Hands down, the funniest and most touching movie of the decade.  I would like to spend an entire weekend with Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti on a wine tour, but kind of already feel like I have.  Both actors create such real, flawed, wonderful characters that we feel like we know them inside and out.  Virgiania Madsen is also wonderful as the woman who might be able to save Giamatti from a lifetime of depression.  There are so many scenes of such quiet truth, such as when Giamatti visits his mother only to steal from her and she knows it and accepts it.  Also, Church’s heartbreaking monologue about how he cannot lose his fiancée despite his endless amount of lies to her.  And no one can forget the wonderful scene where Madsen compares Giamatti to a bottle of the finest wine.  What’s even more remarkable is that none of this feels forced.   The movie touches on themes of loneliness, despair, and lies but succeeds the most by simply creating real characters who we would be honored to spend some quality time with. 

1. THE PRESTIGE

I think I’ve seen THE PRESTIGE about twenty times since it first hit theaters and the film never fails to fully engage my attention.  Christopher Nolan has proved himself to be my director of the decade as he is the only one who has two films on this list.  The story of rival magicians Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman is told in his traditional out-of-order manner, but this is the first time where that structure did not merely feel like a gimmick.  He uses the device of having both characters reading the other’s diary to tell his epic story so the audience learns about each one at the same pace as the other character does.  It’s a brilliant structure, but what makes the movie the true best film of the decade is that it itself is one giant magic trick.  You’ll hold your breath until the very last frame and still be shocked out of your skin.  The film is also a great reflection on the tortured nature of artists.  In order to be a truly great artist, one must make unbelievable sacrifices, something that both characters learn in very different ways throughout the course of the film.  Artists are at the forefront of our world every day and we criticize them and bring them down whenever we can without ever thinking that our words might have the power to make them do terrible things in order to please us. 

So, that’s it! Those of you who know me might have been surprised that I included no horror films on this list.  Well, have no fear both of you! Coming up next will be my top ten horror films of the decade because I love too many of them to have to exclude them from any list and they really deserve a category that is all their own.

What’s Wrong With Star Trek?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

StarTrek_2009Movie

Everybody and their mother loved J.J. Abrhams’ STAR TREK.  Critics are calling it the ‘movie to beat for the summer’ and many of my friends have hailed it as ‘this year’s DARK KNIGHT’.  Oh sure the Trekkies are complaining about minor plot details and inconsistencies and just about anything else in the film that doesn’t match their personal vision of the perfect TREK film, but that’s just what they do isn’t it? Everybody else is coming all over this thing like its Megan Fox lying naked on a beach.

But not me.  I didn’t get it.  Not at all.  I wouldn’t call it a bad movie, just a mediocre one.  It’s a hell of a lot better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (Fucking mouthful of a title), but that’s not saying much.  So, because I am in the minority, I am not going to attempt to figure out why people loved it so much.  Instead, here is my attempt to figure out just why exactly I didn’t have the same reaction as apparently the rest of the human race.  I feel left out and need to bring my feelings to light in order to get to the heart of the matter.

So just what the hell was it about the film that left me so cold? Perhaps it’s the source material itself.  I’ve never been a fan of STAR TREK in any of its incarnations.  I’ve seen all the movies and enjoyed a few of them, but I’ve always found the whole thing to be kind of…well…trite.  Sorry Trek Fans (they really hate the term Trekkies and I’m sure I’ll piss them off enough in the rest of this review), but the story of some spaceship exploring a bunch of other planets and fighting with different alien races has always just felt bland to me.  The metaphors about different planets and their inhabitants were always obvious at best and all the characters were one-note caricatures.  Bones is cranky, Spock has a hard time feeling emotion,  Kirk is adventurous, Scotty is quirky and so on and so forth.  They all have one emotion that clashes with the others on board so all conflict between them involves switching up which other character they’re arguing with.  No one ever grows as a human being (or Vulcan) or makes any drastic changes to their personality.  I suppose some fans are comforted by knowing that their treasured characters will never change, but I don’ t know, I like when characters develop and mature so they’re completely different than when we first got to know them.  But that’s just me. 

Maybe it’s the conventions of the TREK-verse.  I hate the shields.  Fucking hate those goddamn, useless, plot-halting shields that never protect the ship for more than thirty seconds.  How many characters in how many TREK films or TV episodes have gone through the following dialogue exchange: ‘Put the Shields up!’  *BAM* CRASH*CAMERA TILT* ‘Shields are down!’.  When in the hell is Star Fleet going to get round to making some shields that actually shield their precious space cruisers? Fix the fucking things already! Hasn’t anybody learned their lesson?  Then there’s beaming and warp speed.  Both devices (like the shields) are just ways for the writers to move the plot along without having to make their characters travel absurdly long distances.  They may service the plot, but they take away from the wonder and majesty of space travel.  There’s no wonder in any of the character’s eyes as they travel vast distances in seconds flat.  No sense of awe as they pass by another planet.  No sense of the sheer vastness of outer space.  It makes space travel seem trivial.  And those phasers! Over thirty years later and they still look like child’s toys.

Maybe it’s my poor attitude.  But hey, I don’t care for James Bond either and I fucking loved CASINO ROYALE (QUANTUM OF SOLACE not so much).  I went into the film with an open mind hoping for two things: (1) a thoughtful science fiction film that hearkened back to the days when the original show provided some political and social commentary,  (2) a fun, rip-roaring, action packed space opera.  Call me an asshole, but I felt cheated on both fronts.  There was no political, social, allegorical or any other kind of commentary going on in this film.  At all.  I didn’t even get a sense of what Star Fleet was or why they were even interested in exploring the universe.  And the Vulcans felt redundant.  They’re a poor metaphor for any form of human life, not just because there are actual humans in the film, but also because their notions about emotions seem so arbitrary and are only there to service the plot.  And I’m sorry, but the  ears are fucking goofy looking.  So is the hair.

So how about that fun space opera? Eh, not so much.  I had a decent time; the action was solid and many sequences were suspenssful, but nothing truly awe inspiring came across my eye.  Many of the sequences felt like they were just there to keep the plot from moving forward.  Like Kirk being chased by a bunch of monsters on the ice planet.  Why did we need that? We know he’s going to get away, it’s not connected to any of the main action sequences, it’s just there to show off some cool creatures and prevent Kirk from getting back to the main story.  It bored me. 

Maybe it’s the fact that I cannot help but compare the film to my own personal favorite space opera show, FIREFLY.  FIREFLY had characters with specific quirks, but they were changed and tested in interesting ways.  It was also filled with ideas about outer space and the future while maintaining a goofy sense of fun.  STAR TREK has no ideas.  And I suppose people will argue with me and say that Spock and Kirk both change throughout the course of the film.  This is true, but they only change enough so J.J. Abrhams and his screen writers can have them as what all fans remember them to be at the end of the film.  He just brings them back to status quo.

Maybe it was the screenplay that drove me nuts.  All the time travel stuff didn’t make a lick of sense and seemed only like an excuse to bring Leanord Nimoy into the story.  And the whole thing was rushed as hell.  They join the academay, get on ship, argue with each other, fight some pissed off alien dude,  Kirk and Spock come to an understanding, and then they’re all assembled in the exact posisitons they were in the TV show, the end.  And you can argue with me about Spock and Kirk changing, I’ll give you that, but not about anyone else.  All other characters just perform their stock character quirks and then recede into the background.

Maybe it was the acting.  Karl Urban impressed me with his imitation of DeForest Kelly, but that’s all it was.  And, frankly, that’s all everyone in the film did; act like the other actors who had come before.  When did it become impressive or note-worthy for an actor to simply copy someone else’s performance?  Chris Pine wasn’t bad as Kirk.  He made me laugh a few times and seemed to want to create his own character, but he was bogged down by the universe he’s stuck in.  Zach Quinto wasn’t bad either (Much better here than on HEROES) but he too felt restrained by everyone’s preconceived notions of what Spock should be.

IS THAT SHATNER???trek

Maybe it was the villain.  I didn’t find Eric Bana’s Nero to be an interesting antagonist at all.  All he is is a bitter Romulan with a big ship and an even bigger grudge.  Also, a misguided grudge.  He isn’t clever or manipulative like the Joker.  He just wants to blow up planets.  Yawn.

I’m Very Meannero

I give up.  There are too many thoughts rolling through my head.  I think I was simply destined to not like this movie; I’m too opposed to the universe it takes place in.  STAR TREK just isn’t for me.  I like my science-fiction to make me think.  I eagerly await MOON, staring Sam Rockwell as an astronaut who has been monitoring a space station alone for over two years and chronicles his possible descent into madness.  That sounds interesting to me.  It sounds though-provoking.  It sounds like it treats space with the awe, terror and grandeur it deserves.  And I need to see a film like that.  Becuase this one just didn’t do it for me.

I guess I’ll never be a Trekkie.

A Real Hero

Posted in Uncategorized on May 7, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

special poster

This weekend, instead of going to see the ocean of mediocrity that is X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (Fucking mouthful of a title), why not give yourself a treat and rent a little movie called SPECIAL.  The film says more about super-heroes in five minutes than Hugh Jackman and Liev Screiber do in their endlessly boring, clawing, snarling ninety minutes of screen time.

SPECIAL stars Michael Rappaport, an affable actor who has made memorable appearances in a tons of decent to good films, and a few very bad ones.  Remember him in SMALL TIME CROOKS? He was the guy who insisted on wearing his hard-hat backwards.  When another character asked why, his response was, ‘Cuz it looks cool like this’.  And let’s not forget his immortal line in MIGHTY APHRODITE when he asked Woody Allen who the bad guys in SCHINDLER”S LIST were.

Rappaport has made a career out of small parts in big movies, though he did star in the short-lived TV series, THE WAR AT HOME.  With SPECIAL, he makes his first film as a leading man and, to be perfectly frank, it is something of a wonder to behold.

Rappaport plays Les, a mild-mannered meter maid, who submits to an experimental drug test in order to make a few extra bucks.  Les is a meek fellow.  He spends most of his free time hanging out with his buddies in their comic book store or reading comics on a park bench.  But soon after taking the drug, he begins to develop special powers or so he thinks.  He can levitate, walk through walls, read people’s minds and even make people disappear.  Upon the discovery of these powers, he dons a makeshift super-hero costume and begins patrolling the streets.  That all of his powers are probably only in his head is something he doesn’t consider much.

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SPECIAL is by no means a perfect film.  It’s so bristling with ideas and new developments that the script often seems like it’s going to cave in on itself.  It could have been very easy for Les to be nothing more than a one-note bad joke, but Rappaport makes us believe in this man.  And when he crashes head-first into a wall, with blood streaming down his nose, and then asks his friends what they think of his new powers, our first instinct is to laugh.  But Rapaport is so good, so sincere, so completely convinced of his abilities that we really just want to cry.

The movie offers a terrific critique of what it would mean to really be a super-hero.  Les is little more than a boy with childish delusions of saving the day.  There is nothing glorious about what he does even when he succeeds in catching a shop-lifter or a purse snatcher.  More often he only succeeds in knocking over an innocent bystander.  And that’s truly what super-heroes are all about isn’t it? They’re not about protecting society or helping people.  They’re about making themselves look good for the public eye.  They exist only to be figures of worship.  Poor Les is so deluded that he actually does believe he is saving the world, but the character shows us the dark side that would have to lurk underneath every super-hero.

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Someone who definitely has a a burning need to watch this film is SHADOWHARE, the self-proclaimed super-hero of Pittsburgh who wanders around with a few of his friends, carrying handcuffs, mace, and tasers as a way to dish out justice.  SHADOWHARE seems to actually believe his own line of bullshit, but anyone with half a brain can tell that this is an extremely mentally ill human being.  For more on the history of SHADOWHARE, click here.

It is in this area where SPECIAL almost loses itself.  By the film’s midpoint, Les slowly but surely starts to become aware of his unstable mental state and the film switches from being a scathing, funny critique of super-heroes into a study in mental illness.  Some of the things Les does seem out of place for someone so deranged, but the movie is a comedy after all, so we can forgive the flights of fancy.  One big problem though is that the movie sometimes suggests that Les does have some powers, but never comes to a complete conclusion.  It seems a bit cheap to paint such a sympathetic portrait of a deluded man and then say, ‘hey, maybe he wasn’t crazy after all!’

But Rappaport is so good here that he makes up for all of the film’s shortcomings.  For a good 45 minutes, the director’s use him as a punching bag.  He crashes into walls, jumps off buildings, tackles people, gets beat up, and even gets hit by a car.  Rappaport doesn’t let any of this stop him from creating a completely believable and relateable figure.  There is true pathos in the films final, touching (albeit a bit ludicrous) last act.  And when he tells the young, pretty sales clerk that he is probably losing his mind, he makes us feel his pain.

So the film is a bit unfocused.  So what? These days, when we get a new super-hero movie every week, all of which are carbon copies of what has come before, SPECIAL is like a breath of fresh air.  Super-heroes have become such a part of our consciousness that we are indeed in danger of breeding more sad cases like SHADOWHARE.  Folks, if you’ve ever thought of donning a mask and taking to the streets, take a look at the wonderful work of Michael Rappaport in SPECIAL and then see if saving the world still seems so appealing.

Mike Skinner Succumbs to Latest Internet Trend

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

I love The Streets.  Ever since Mike Skinner’s sophomore album, “A Grand Don’t Come For Free,” which beautifully chronicled one man’s journey through the worst day of his life and eventual redemption, I’ve found Britain’s answer to Slick Rick-style narratives to be inventive and engaging.  I was disappointed when I heard that there will only be one more Streets album (especially considering the fact that none of his successors seem to be able to match his wit and wordplay) but Mike’s shown no sign of slowing down.  He’s discovered TWITTER.

TWITTER is asinine, but, like Myspace before it, it proves a crucial avenue for musicians to showcase new music without the hassle of a record company.  Skinner has channeled the immediacy of Twitters tiny little blogs by promising to deliver three new songs in three days.  He came through on that promise, buuuut….are they any good?

Yes and No…

http://www.zshare.net/audio/5865344490dfb2e0/

First up is “I Love My Cellphone.”

Absolutely terrible.  Borderline unlistenable.  “A journey through time…” begins Skinner.  I could barely listen to this one without getting a headache.  There are a few interesting points to be made here about what we use our cellphones for, but it’s all done is tiny little verses with a chorus (..and we all know how good Mike is at THOSE…) repeated ad nauseum.  This one gave me very low hopes for the rest of the week.

http://www.zshare.net/audio/5865344490dfb2e0/

“Trust Me”
Heeere we go!  This is the Mike Skinner I enjoy.  The beat is a mishmash of disco guitar and sped up vocals with classical strings and Mike making much more interesting (and listenable points) about the internet and our technology-ridden future.  I hope Mike made this beat himself.

http://www.zshare.net/audio/58741911ffd641f3/

“David Hassles”
This song made me feel incredibly stupid and American.   I have no idea who David Hassle is, or Daniel Beddit (sp?).  I THINK this song about modern music.  Also has the corny line “I speak with a tweet you’re a beacon of weakness.”  It’s definitely better than that first song, but it reminds me of the lesser songs on “Everything is Borrowed,” where I’d listen to it once, but skip it on the album as a whole.

Skinner’s next album, tentatively titled “Computer and Blues,” could fit in any of these tracks, though I’d prefer it if we just kept that second gem.  Also, he promises three more songs next week.  Let’s see how many songs about computers the man has in him…

Observe and Report

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

observe

What exactly is it that people find so gosh darn appealing about Seth Rogen?  I’ve enjoyed some of his movies and always find him to be affable and engaging but what has he done that has made him such a huge box-office and critical darling in such a short span of time?  Observe and Report is his fourth movie in a little over eight months (if you include his voice in Monsters Vs. Aliens) and its poster is just his big mug staring out at you. 

I suppose it has something to do with his natural everyman quality, which he skewers a bit (but not quite enough) in this latest film that, at the very least, acts as a sobering antidote to the the Kevin James vehicle.  Other than being about mall cops, the two films couldn’t be further apart.  I’m sure we’ll hear some amusing stories about well-meaning parents who take their six year old to this expecting another family friendly fat-guy-falls-on-his-face affair and are horrified to find themselves watching this deranged story of a mall cop who enjoys tasering parking violators, beating up teenagers, and spends most of his time hunting a serial flasher.  For that alone, the film deserves a lot of praise.

Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhart, the delusional head of security at a typically American mall.  Ronnie is bi-polar and spends a good portion of his watch fantasizing about saving the day with a big gun.  He is madly in love with Brandi (Anna Faris), the bitchy cosmetics girl  who is dopey, but at least smart enoguh to be wary of Ronnie.  Ronnie lives with his alcoholic mother and dreams of being a real police officer.  The appearance of a serial flasher and a robber spark Ronnie on a quest to prove himself to the local police (personified by Ray Liotta) and to the entire world.

Writer-director Jody Hill has stated that his first big studio effort is a tribute to Taxi Driver and indeed, some comparisons can be made.  Both films involve delusional men who use violence as a way to solve what they view as all the problems of the world.  But while Taxi Driver regards its anti-hero with fear and despair, Observe and Report seems to want you to like Ronnie Barnhart.  Yes, he is a sociopath.  Yes, he proabably belongs in an institution, but don’t you feel just a little sorry for him? And can’t you just root for the underdog? Um…sorry, not really.

Hill goes back and forth so much between painting Ronnie as a sympathetic character and a complete psychopath that the film becomes a bit schizophrenic.  Perhaps, that was Hill’s point, but it feels more like an attempt of his to lighten up this material for mainstream audiences.  Not a wise move.  Just when you think the film is going to jump headfirst into truly disturbing territory, it pulls back to get an obvious laugh or a cheap tug on your heartstrings. 

Most critics will probably say that the film is ‘too dark’, but I was hoping that Hill would go the full mile.  It has moments (such as Ronnie’s terrifying psych-evalutation) that hint at just how fucking dangerous this man is, but far too often, Hill takes the easy way out, like with the overally happy ending and a cheesy romance between Ronnie and a crippled barista (Collete Wolfe).

That romance bugged the shit out of me.  Ronnie meets this friendly, kind-hearted woman who works in the coffee shop and suffers a barage of insults about her broken leg from her boss (a hilarious Patton Oswalt).  Yes, Ronnie comes to her defense by nearly shoving his head in the oven, but other than that, he is cold and awkward towards her.  That doesn’t stop her from staring at him with cute, puppy dog eyes and listening to him when he is clearly on the verge of a psychotic epsisode.  If she likes this creep so much, then she must be as deranged as he is, but that’s something the movie never explores.

Celia Watson earns solid laughs as Ronnie’s boozing mom, but once again, Hill paints her too kindly.  Her alcoholism is nothing more than a cheap joke that wears thin after awhile.  I also enjoyed Ray Liotta’s police officer who shouts things at Ronnie that my thoughts were echoing.  Michael Pena, known for serious roles in Crash and World Trade Center, has a blast as Ronnie’s second in command.  Faris is funny too, but her dumb, bitchy blonde act is starting to get old. 

And then there’s Rogen.  He plunges himself into the role with a confidence that is quite admirable and manages to navigate Hill’s touch-and-go script with ease.  I guess the reason people like Rogen so much is that he is just naturally funny.  And I have never been more convinced of that than while watching this film.  His facial expressions, strange movements, and sometimes touching monologues provide a lot of smirks and snickers. 

Observe and Report is not a bad movie, just a misguided one.  It wants to be disturbing and edgy, but also charming and sweet at the same time.  It doesn’t quite work, but it’s still more entertaining than most dipshit comedies that score millions at the box office (Paul Blart is a prime example).  I just wish Hill would have trusted his intentions a bit more.  The result is a movie that’s not nearly as funny and sharp as it could have been.  I kept thinking of one of the film’s funnier lines of dialogue:  Liotta’s character delights in informing Ronnie that he cannot join the academy and has his partner listening in the other room, the both of them snickering while Ronnie sinks into despair.  After a few moments, Liotta’s partner steps out of hiding and says, “I’m sorry.  I thought this would be funny, but it’s just kind of sad.”  And that, ladies and gentleman, says it all.