Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BETTER LIVING THROUGH NETFLIX, VOL. 6: CRANKFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE CHELIOS

Ordinarily I wouldn't do another one of these posts for another couple months, but hey, writer's block is a bitch, I've been workin' for The Man, and I accidentally ended up with—theoretically—the greatest double feature ever. And, considering that they're both (apparently) unnecessary sequels, let's do this now:


Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen

Okay, first of all, why the fuck is the title of this movie like a 70s samurai movie after a lobotomy? The title was one of the reasons why I talked myself out of going to see it in the theater, along with my longstanding pissiness re: Michael Bay, and a knee-jerk reaction against a movie based on a line of toys (even though I had them all when I was a kid, and the comics, and watched the cartoon, but hey, I wouldn't want to see a fuckin Voltron movie in my 30s either). But hey, this kind of thing is what Netflix is for.

Now, we'll recall that upon its release, Transformers part deux was met with some of the most violently scathing reviews in living memory. Roger Ebert called it “a horrible experience of unbearable length” and went on to unfavorably compare it to The Rock (jeez, remind me to never piss Roger Ebert off). Peter Travers anointed it the front runner for Worst Movie of the Decade (and what a decade for it, wow). Just about ever major media outlet took a gigantic shit all over it, and to top it all off, lead actor Shia LaBeouf even said “We got lost. We tried to get bigger. It's what happens to sequels. It's like, how do you top the first one? You've got to go bigger. Michael Bay went so big that it became too big, and I think you lost the anchor of the movie. . .You lost a bit of the relationships. Unless you have those relationships, then the movie doesn't matter. Then it's just a bunch of robots fighting each other.”

Shia's last observation was actually the thing I most disliked about the first movie. There were a lot of agreeably weird elements, and as much as I want to hate the little fucker, Shia's got something as a leading man. Nuance? Depth? For the gays. Shia cracks wise, doesn't look like too much of a dork running from explosions, and can plausibly nail attractive broads, and that's all he needs to do in his job. To be a serious actor, sure, you need a little more than that, but he's not a serious actor, he's a guy you get to play the lead in a dumb movie that makes money. And he does that well. Disturbia was fun. Eagle Eye was too. Sure they were stupid, but they weren't too stupid. The first Transformers teetered a little closer to the brink, and it seemed like the last four hours were indistinguishable robots destroying shit. I was a little worried, before I saw it, that the sequel would be more of the same.

Now that I have seen it, I say with a very large smile on my face, that I was absolutely right. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen goes full retard during the fucking studio logo. It opens with Optimus Prime narrating a fight in 17,000 BC between a bunch of black guys with flaky paint on their faces and a bunch of Transformers. Or maybe it's just one. Doesn't matter. It closes with Optimus Prime declaiming on the deck of an aircraft carrier, with blithe disregard for the George Bush semiotics.

That's the thing about Michael Bay. Some people get on his ass for being right-wing, or for enabling right-wingers, and it's true there's a lot of military shit in his movies, and the adoration his constantly-moving camera has for the military and the men in it verges on masturbatory. But I submit that this has nothing to do with politics. I think Michael Bay faps to the military because they're the guys who have the wherewithal to blow shit the fuck up.

And yes, when shit blows the fuck up, it is awesome. Mr. Bay's foibles as a director (a list as long and over-the-top as his movies) have to be taken with the grain of salt that the man has a near-mystical respect for the aesthetic beauty of the explosion.

Transformers: RotF might be the most perfect sequel ever. It takes the very concept of “full retard” and goes full retard on it. There are about eight or nine different movies co-existing under its umbrella, none of which make the slightest bit of sense, and every single one of them has been made before in less caffeinated form. Hell, let's not beat around the bush. This entire movie is fucking tripping on cocaine.

The plot has something to do with a really old Transformer who wanted to destroy the sun. Somehow Shia LaBeouf is, yet again, the one human being with the key to the whole shmear, some little piece of metal shit he gave to Megan Fox as a keepsake. Shia's extremely horny parents are sending him off to college (Princeton, which the writers apparently researched by watching Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle) where some badly lit Victoria's Secret model is being as obvious as she can in a PG-13 movie that she wants Shia to put his penis in her vagina (in the biblical sense), except Shia resists because he's technically still going out with Megan Fox, who in a parallel plot line develops a really weird sadomasochistic relationship with a Shih Tzu-sized Decepticon who talks like Bugs Bunny. Shia acquires a nerd friend for comic relief. Marines Josh Duhamel and Tyrese are off having trouble with an evil white guy in a suit (who, because this is a Michael Bay movie, turns out to be a gigantic fucking pussy). Robots periodically destroy massive amounts of shit; in one sequence where the Autobots, in collaboration with Josh Duhamel, Tyrese, and Aaron Pierce, on a covert mission in Shanghai, apparently succeed in keeping things covert by only destroying half the city.

Oh yeah, there's a whole bunch of casual racism in the form of an Autobot named Mudkip or something and some other one whose name I didn't catch (they all look alike to me . . . see what I did there? Oh, how I amuse myself). This, rather than being terribly offensive—he says, as a white guy—just kind of adds to the general avalanche of batshit. Because why not have two Autobots who transform into Mini Coopers talk like a WB sitcom?

Anyway, it's a little hard to think about shit in a movie where nothing makes any rational sense whatsoever. Shia, Shia's nerd, Megan Fox, and Megan Fox's sexually obsessed Decepticon take their act on the road after the bigger Decepticons destroy a bunch of shit (and kill Optimus Prime), and they find John Turturro—the government alien hunter dude from the first movie—working in a deli, and he's apparently Shia's nerd's father or something. John Turturro abandons his deli to go looking for . . . something . . . okay, when Shia was in college for five minutes, he had this weird nervous breakdown in Rainn Wilson's physics class (watching the Victoria's Secret models in the front row get all squirmy over Rainn Wilson is both one of the funniest fucking things I've ever seen and probably part of his contract for taking the part: “If I'm going to be in this fucktarded movie I want hot girls eyefucking me”) and started drawing weird, Asianesque symbols all over the place. Which I think has something to do with the thing they're looking for. Which John Turturro can somehow help them with . . .?

Megan Fox's robot sub has what looks like a Benedict Arnold moment when he leads them to some long-asleep Decepticon, except it turns out he's not a Decepticon, and the non-Decepticon teleports them all to “Egypt” (it could not be Arizona more clearly if there was a truckload of Mexicans getting jacked for their passports by cops), which just so happens to be right by where Josh Duhamel and Tyrese are. The robots all start commence destroying the Pyramids, because the thing that's going to destroy the sun is underneath them, except John Turturro takes Shia et al to Petra (in one of a million out of nowhere Indiana Jones references, including Rainn Wilson's eye-gangbang at the hands of his nubile students) where they find some dead Primes. A whole bunch more shit blows up and Shia gets killed and communes with the souls of the dead Primes, who give him some obvious advice (revive Optimus Prime, don't let the Decepticons win). So Shia comes back to life, sprinkles some robot pixie dust on Optimus Prime, who wakes up and kicks ass, and we all live happily ever after. Until the third movie.

To quote my friend—and better writer—Matt Freeman: “Transformers 2 is one of the only truly grandly bad movies made in years. It achieves levels of absurdity that are wild and unruly and boggling.” That just about sums up Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Sure it's bad. But it's bad on such a scale, with such disregard for rational sense, taste, and everything except the worship of size and explosions, that it becomes something oddly beautiful. It's impossible to say until the third Transformers movie is unleashed on us next year, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen may be the perfect crystallization of everything Michael Bay is and means to people. Which makes the fact that he officially apologized for it all the more hilarious.


Crank: High Voltage

“In a story so bizarre I can scarcely believe the event I'm reporting, and yet corroborated by at least a dozen eye witnesses. A white male apparently fell from the sky above downtown Los Angeles today, landed in the middle of a busy intersection, destroying one vehicle and hospitalizing its elderly driver, and then was removed from the scene even before emergency personnel could respond. Without a body the police have yet to piece together the events of the day. It can only be described as implausible. Reports of a second body landing in the Boyle Heights area have yet to be confirmed, and are being treated as the bullshit they most likely are.”
What's this? Self-awareness? In my post-rational cinema of the visceral? That's right. Crank: High Voltage is another sequel whose progenitor left me kinda cold at the end. While admirably concise and free of unnecessary exposition other than “This is Jason Statham. His name is Chev Chelios—presumably because someone already used the name Rex Roenick and because Gert Gretzky would have been excessively effeminate—and he is a hired killer. These bad guys want him dead,” Crank was nonetheless really fucking stupid, and was shot and edited in such a hypercharged, adrenalized, cartoonish fashion that the action scenes were almost redundant, as they differed from the rest of the movie insufficiently.

Much like Transformers, the sequel to Crank seems almost relieved to not be a first movie, and that it can get on with the proper business of being a retarded sequel. It's almost like, now that we're in the age of sequels, remakes, reboots, and the like, that being the first movie in a series is something dirty that should not be spoken of, and not until the first sequel does a franchise truly exist. Weird, but hey, the modern age is always weird and inexplicable, because due to the selective editing inherent in cognition, the past always seems nice, neat, and orderly.

I didn't even know how the hell they were planning to make a sequel to Crank, since Jason Statham dies at the end. Would they use the Better Tomorrow 2 gambit, having Statham Secunda be the twin brother of Statham Prima? Would they do the prequel route, to wit, how Jason Statham pissed off all those Mexican/Chinese gangsters enough that they shot him full of that poison shit in the first movie? Or something wholly different and heretofore unknowable? That's right, one hot heaping plate of wholly different and heretofore unknowable: Crank: High Voltage has the balls to sell us on the premise that falling out of a fucking helicopter thousands of feet above Los Angeles did not kill Jason Statham. Well, then, Crank: High Voltage, go on. You have my undivided attention.

A bunch of shady Chinese guys peel Jason Statham off the ground with a shovel (no shit, one of them literally has a shovel) and throw him in the back of the van. They proceed to shlep him to a filthy, poorly lit surgical facility where they remove his heart and replace it with a mechanical one. Why? Shush.

Statham, of course, escapes and kills a bunch of dudes. He leaves one alive with a shotgun rammed up his ass (again, literally) and hotwires a car, whereupon he feels a bit drowsy, whereupon he discovers he needs to give himself electric shocks to keep his new temp heart beating.

Not much else actually happens over the course of the movie. Jason Statham chases down the guy who has his heart. Shit gets broke in the process. Writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor bring back a number of elements from the first movie, like comic relief Efren Ramirez (who is the brother of the character he played in the first movie, who was killed), and girlfriend Amy Smart, who once again has to have public sex with Jason Statham to keep him alive, this time in a racetrack in the middle of the track during a race (a horse jumps over them, and Amy Smart marvels at the size of its dick). The movie ends with Jason Statham again apparently about to die, except this time around they know better than to imply to us that he's dead. It's Jason Statham. We know he's not dead.

Crank: High Voltage is an entertaining hour and a half, and calling it brain-dead or retarded isn't quite accurate. If Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is tripping on cocaine, Crank: High Voltage is tweaking its fucking tits off. From the grimy cinematography to the “full body Tourettes” Efren Ramirez has to the very title of the movie, Crank: High Voltage is cinematic crystal meth. This, of course, means it's not for everyone. Downers people will find it bewildering. Asians and Hispanics may not be pleased with the caricatures.

Most importantly though, it's not really a picture for women. I hope Amy Smart and Bai Ling got paid for this movie, because holy shit. All they do the whole picture is either melt into liquified g-spot at the sight of Jason Statham (in itself not all that implausible, he's a handsome fellow) or—and this is the bad part—get abused and humiliated. Every single other woman in the movie is either a stripper or a hooker (or both), and there's this shot in the middle of a gunfight where a stripper gets shot in her breast implants and the camera lingers on her deflating rack (I don't know, I think it was supposed to be funny). Sure, the deus ex machina at the end is a bunch of strippers and leather queens with machine guns, but I don't know, dude. It's just self-aware enough as a movie that you can't simply write the misogyny off as a facet of its stupidity.

Of course, Crank: High Voltage is not meant to be thought about too much or too hard. It is, after all, post-rational. The problem with this is, people who don't think are going to watch it and instead of thinking “Wow, either Amy Smart is a really good sport or NOW needs a paramilitary wing” they're gonna go “Yeah, that bitch got owned, bro.” Don't get me wrong, I'm not getting PC on you or anything, but seriously, when a Michael Bay movie (a Michael Bay movie where Megan Fox gets her leg humped to the point of orgasm by a robot, no less) looks good compared to yours in its treatment of women . . . you done fucked up. You know you done fucked up now, right?

All that being said, Crank features the usual rock-solid Jason Statham performance. All he has to do is grimace, look sullen, and growl a bit, but he does these things so well. The Transporter pictures are more my cup of tea, with the European settings, the suits, the calmer—yet still intense—filmmaking, but Crank, in spite of its flaws and ghastly oversights (casual racism and misogyny, etc), is interesting, if a distant also-ran in the retard epic sweepstakes, since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is now the gold standard.

Seen in tandem, these two pictures don't really have anything to do with each other except shitty lighting, a severe case of attention-deficit disorder, and feverishly, melodramatically stupid high concepts (“Evil robots from space want to steal the sun” and “Jason Statham has to literally retrieve his stolen heart”). They are both fun. They are both kind of upsetting if you think about them for too long. I don't really need to see either one of them again, but they both provided some good laughs. I do, however, want to see something that's actually good next.

Friday, August 27, 2010

OH, HAPPY DAY!

Since its inception, the NC-17 rating has constituted de facto censorship within the movie industry (see Kirby Dick's self-aggrandizing yet fascinating This Film Is Not Yet Rated for more details about just how fucked up the rating system is). One of the biggest reasons no one ever wanted to put a picture out with an NC-17 was because Blockbuster refused to carry them.

Well, lookee here! 'Twould appear that excuse no longer exists. What's the next bullshit excuse for keeping sexuality either ghettoized in porn or euphemized to the point of meaninglessness?

RIP Blockbuster. May your insulting attitude toward to the American moviegoer never be forgotten so that it may never be repeated.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

BETTER LIVING THROUGH NETFLIX VOL. 5: A MYSTERY GUEST

Ordinarily, I would eat somebody alive for panning a movie they didn't sit all the way through. I'm getting around that by not talking about the movie itself, but rather the overall DVD experience. As it so often does, it starts with the trailers:


Did You Hear About The Morgans?

Let's clarify. This movie doesn't actually exist; it's actually a bleeding-edge multimedia art project/political statement about the stupidity of Hollywood. The proof is right in the trailer. There's no way this is actually a movie. It's too perfectly calculated a trailer—that opening bit with Hugh Grant and his bitch-boy is a joke with a narrative arc, beginning with a lame, contrived set-up, allowing Hugh to flash some sandpaper wit, all concluding with a reference to a “relationship.” Because OMG U GUISE ITS A ROEMANTIK COMEDEE LOL.

So let's see . . . somebody gets killed and Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica O'Horseface have to go into the witness protection program. In The Country! Sarah Jessica McFuckball makes a Sarah Palin joke (edgy!) And Hugh Grant and SJP fall back in love. It all gets very frantic and splintered by the end of the trailer, just like the third acts of the movies this avant-garde experiment is satirizing.

Here's the kicker, though. Because the movie itself is of so little importance in modern Hollywood, the centerpiece of the experiment was its original release date. Yes, that's right, DYHATM? was “released” the same day as Avatar. And sure, Avatar ended up being fucking terrible (Ed. Note: Avatar is really, really, really, really awful) but if there was one thing you could set your clock by in the industry, it was that anyone who went to a movie that weekend was going to see Avatar. It had been marketed just right, with just the right level of cultural saturation, and managed to convince people that they were excited.

And this is the final, clinching piece of evidence for Did You Hear About The Morgans? being an experiment commenting on bad marketing campaigns: everything about it fucking sucks. Has anyone given a flaming rat's ass about Hugh Grant in 15 years? No. Does anyone actually like Sarah Jessica Blah-Blah-Blah? Sure the show was a hit, but Kim Cattrall was the one everyone was actually interested in. The bit about giving away the entire plot in the trailer is but the capstone on the whole experiment; why would anyone want to spend two hours what they just saw in a minute and a half?


Ice Castles

Promising young skater gets injured, comes back triumphantly? I really can't tell. Drowning under mountains of goopy sentimentality, kinda pissed about this being another trailer that gives the whole movie away. But there is a place for a PG family movie with an unchallenging, diagrammatic structure about a nice girl “positive role model” type. That place just happens to be elsewhere than my DVD player.


Sleepless in Seattle

Okay, what the fuck? Bear in mind, at this point, I have literally forgotten what DVD I put in the player. It's late, I'm a little addled (actually just plain old exhaustion rather than booze or drugs), but still, it's a little alarming that I can't remember what movie's going to be coming on in 5 minutes. I also am at a a bit of a loss as to why a trailer for a movie that came out in 1993 is in front of the same movie as something that came out last December (and whenever the Ice Castles thing came out, it looks recent too).

Eventually, I get distracted by remembering how good Sleepless in Seattle was. Oh, that bygone era, when Tom Hanks had just become the massive movie star he always should have been, when Meg Ryan was Meg Ryan, and the romantic comedy formula had yet to devolve into the disturbing mess that it is today. Though, in a way, Sleepless in Seattle established the template for the “this isn't romantic, these people are actually out of their fucking minds” modern rom-com. Meg Ryan happens to hear Tom Hanks talking about his late wife on a talk radio show, falls in love with him, and kind of starts stalking him. Meg Ryan was only able to get away with this because she's Meg Ryan, but Sleepless in Seattle was a hit, so dozens more movies with lesser movie stars were made where the insanity of the heroine's actions wasn't offset by Meg Ryan's preternaturally adorable Meg Ryan-ness.

Actually, before the feature presentation even started, during the Sleepless in Seattle trailer, I started wondering about Nora Ephron. In When Harry Met Sally, she did a fairly decent job with her male characters, even though the scene where Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby are talking about Billy's divorce at a Giants game would never happen (dudes talk about that kinda shit during a game about as often as solar eclipses), though the fact that the dialogue rings true helps.

But Sleepless in Seattle sees Nora slip a little bit more. Rob Reiner, as Tom Hanks' buddy, is a character who simply does not exist. Dudes do not have girl talk with each other. The couple clips of Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner in the trailer consist entirely of them having girl talk. Now, in the movie itself, this actually works, as the movie is a very otherworldly, stylized thing, and is a lot more self-reflexively meta-cinematic than the average early 90s studio picture. But, in hindsight, it's a sign that Nora Ephron was slipping just a hair.

Guy writers frequently get criticized for not writing good women, or writing women who are little more than fantasy objects. Hey, I've consciously written women characters as fantasy objects before, I'm not saying I'm above such missteps. Women do it too, though. A woman writing a scene where two dudes talk articulately about their feelings and ask each other if their butt looks cute (admittedly, a pretty funny scene in SiS) is equally as fantastic as a man writing a scene where two femme chicks spontaneously start making out. Both have possibly happened at some point or other in real life. Possibly. However, as a writer, you should always be aware of how farfetched such a premise is.

Also, let's note another fuckup that doesn't really count because it was funny: dudes don't cry at the end of the Dirty Dozen, much as it worked as a joke in this. Dudes cry at the end of Field of Dreams, which is actually more limpdick, so props to Nora Ephron for letting us save testicular face.

(Ed. Note: all this negativity about Nora Ephron and Sleepless in Seattle is just foreshadowing—Sleepless in Seattle's pretty fuckin good)


Hanging Up

Huh. Another Nora Ephron movie? What the fuck is going on here? (Ed. Note: at this point, the author has still yet to remember what movie he just put in the DVD player). The only thing I really remember about this one was that it took that meta-cinematic feel Sleepless in Seattle had to a whole 'nother level, making the importance of the characters' resemblance to real people secondary to the importance of their resembling movie characters. Which, yeah, is interesting if you're high, and Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, and Lisa Kudrow are all cool, I guess, but really, when I'm high I either want to be watching art pictures from the 60s or John Lithgow invading Earth with a fake Italian accent. Personal prejudice.


And, our feature presentation . . . Julie & Julia

Hey, don't look at me, I don't know why the fuck I Netflixed this. At the same time, they sent it to me, I hadn't seen it, I figured, why not? Maybe it'll be good. The Nora Ephron trailers suddenly made sense, and that odd parallel-universe feeling I'd been having eased somewhat.

But holy shit, this movie wasn't messing around when it decided to suck. From the word go, everything is completely stilted and artificial. Amy Adams' friends seem to have beamed in from some parallel universe where people declaim instead of conversing. Amy Adams, herself, does an excellent job, but she has a bit of trouble rolling the rock up the mountain with this fuckin' dialogue.

Meryl's great, and seeing her and Stanley Tucci so mad for each other is cool, but it can't shake how godawful the Amy Adams & co. bits are in the first half hour or so, which is all I made it through. It was too painful to watch something so completely divorced from reality, and the irony that it was based on a true story made me need a drink.

Now, of course, it's possible that the movie abruptly becomes awesome at some point after I turned it off. Even though I doubt that it does, that's neither here nor there because I didn't actually take the time to find out.

Still, that being said, it's unfortunate that Nora Ephron lost her fastball, because as stylized and non-naturalistic as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle were, they were still really fucking funny. Of course, Julie & Julia isn't a laff-a-minute farce—its intention is to be a story with funny bits in it rather than a straight-up comedy—but even the stuff that's supposed to be funny is strained, and so far removed from actual human experience that it's like “Okay . . . I guess . . .” whereas When Harry Met Sally was like “Wow, I never thought of it that way before!”


The most interesting thing about experiencing the (incomplete) picture in this fashion was the narrative created by the trailers. We started with a great example of the modern romantic comedy—manic, joyless, insane, devoid of both romance and comedy—progress to a feel-good programmer (hey, civilians need shit to enjoy too), then the tripartite Nora Ephron show. All told, it was only an hour or so out of my life, so I don't feel like I totally wasted an evening or anything, but boy it was weird and inexplicably kind of disturbing to see that drift away from reality.

Oh, well. That happened. Moving on . . .

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

THIS AIN'T NO PARTY, THIS AIN'T NO DISCO, THIS IS JUST AWESOME


Evangelism, bitches.

The difference between theater and movies is that in live performance is that both performer and audience are physically occupying the same space, and both need the other for a performance to be truly memorable. While this is true for theater, it's especially true of live music. Thinking about the memorable concerts in one's life, the experience of the evening is likely far more than the set list the band played, it's more about who you were with, those girls who were smoking a joint in front of you and offered you some, those guys who kept shouting “Free Bird,” and their eventual assassination at the hands of a guy in a Bill Hicks t-shirt, and your thought to yourself—aided by the joint the girls passed you—“Heh, Bill woulda dug that if he was still alive.”

These musings originated from two places: one, the fact that, for the better part of this past week, I've been reviewing theater (here are two samples, if you're interested), and two, when I haven't been off doing that, I've been watching Stop Making Sense repeatedly.

There has, quite simply, never been a concert picture this good. Ever. In the history of music or movies. The only peer Stop Making Sense has is Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, and while The Last Waltz is balls-out fucking amazing, it still has long periods of The Band talking. This led to other bands developing the fatal delusion that they were as interesting as The Band were, which resulted in a lot of shitty fucking movies about a bunch of stupid fucking musicians talking about awesome they are, complete with worshipful shots lingering on their every caesura, genuflecting before every tautology, and hammering home every mangled quote from the Eastern religion du jour as if it were the most brilliant insight of all time. (All those bands and docs would eventually get their asses handed to them by This Is Spinal Tap). It's not really fair to blame Marty S. or The Band for that, but hey, them's the bricks.

Stop Making Sense, like The Last Waltz, has the two elements any concert film needs to be good (obviousness alert): a great band and a great director. In 1984, Talking Heads were five albums in, each one a masterpiece. They'd just had their first top 10 hit with “Burning Down the House,” making them that always rare—and now unheard of—band embraced equally by music critics and the general public. And, thanks to the staggering work of genius that is the video for “Once In a Lifetime,” I (at six) even knew who they were.

Jonathan Demme, at that point, hadn't yet had a commercial hit, though he'd directed a couple fanfuckintastic exploitation pictures for Roger Corman and one of the all-time great “How in the hell is this so good? Holy shit this is awesome” pictures Melvin and Howard a few years previous. He was then as he is today: a force to be reckoned with behind a camera. But to make a great movie about music, it's not enough to be a great director, you have to be a great director who knows, understands, and feels music.

This is one thing Jonathan Demme has in common with the aforementioned Mr. Scorsese: the soundtrack is always, always, always (well, except for Philadelphia, Beloved, and maybe one or two other aberrations) bangin'. When Charles Napier is doing Michelle Pfeiffer's hair in Married to the Mob, that's “Bizarre Love Triangle” playing in the background. Because why stop with casting Charles “It's hard to eat corn on the cob with no fuckin' teeth” Napier as a hairdresser when you can bump New Order? Jodie Foster got chased around the basement by Buffalo Bill to the fucking Fall. That crappy remake of Charade may have been crappy, but it had Asian Dub Foundation and it, pornographically, had Anna Karina singing Serge Gainsbourg (heaven is not, as David Byrne mistakenly asserts, a place “where nothing ever happens,” it's a place where Anna Karina sings Serge Gainsbourg.) And holy shit, that wedding sequence in Rachel Getting Married divides by zero—a bunch of square-ass white people dancing around to Brazilian/Indian music and it's GOOD???? Okay, let's recap:

Mr. Demme, do you know your music?
Clearly I do, sir, peruse the above paragraph for proof.

Mr. Demme, do you understand music?
Well, without speaking immodestly, I must say I use music that is appropriate for the given scene, rather than trying to force a square peg into a round hole, and in this regard I stand head and shoulders above every director in the history of cinema, including, with all due respect, Mr. Scorsese, who is himself no slouch by any reckoning.

Mr. Demme, do you feel music?
Lo siento, baby.

Note that Jonathan Demme is this dope and we haven't even fucking mentioned Stop Making Sense for like eight paragraphs. Here's the opening. “Psycho Killer.” Recognize.

Now, the opening titles being in the Strangelove font is no accident. Oh, I'm sure David Byrne turning to his nearest minion and saying “Bring me Pablo Ferro or taste my wrath” was probably motivated by nothing more profound than “The opening titles of Dr. Strangelove looked cool, let's do that for our movie.” But I submit that accidental synergy is just as valid as that by design: David Byrne comes out after the Strangelove titles and drops the motherfucking BOMB. David Byrne is fucking amped to be out on that stage playing music, and he fucking manages to kill shit by himself.

Then Tina Weymouth comes out. Oh, Tina Weymouth. On “Heaven,” when it's just her and Dave out there, you get to hear just how off the chain fucking awesome bass player she is. Oh, Tina.

“Thank You For Sending Me An Angel.” Add Chris Frantz. Watch Chris Frantz remind everyone, “Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can play my ass off, too.” That shot of him when he starts playing, he looks like a guy who knows he's in the best band in the world, and who, if you gave him the choice of doing anything else in the world at that moment, he'd probably think about it for a second then say, “Nah, dude, playing drums in Talking Heads is a pretty goddamn good deal.”

“Found a Job.”
Add Jerry Harrison. Jerry's playing it cool, but he ain't foolin' anyone, he knows this is where it's at.

“Slippery People”
Okay, I've been trying to resist the urge to post the whole fucking movie, but bear with me here, this song features some serious white-guy rock alchemy.

Every single other white guy who tries to act hip by having black chick backup singers ends up looking like a fucking douchebag. Okay, Mick can pull it off. Bowie kind of gets away with it, but only because of the Bowie Exemption (to wit: everything David Bowie has ever done, with the exception of Tin Machine, Never Let Me Down, and his and Mick's retarded “Dancing in the Street” cover, is not allowed to be criticized by mortals). That's about it. The key to Talking Heads pulling it off is that they're not trying to be cool. They know they're dorks. The side musicians are there because they can fucking play.

“Burning Down the House”
Okay, I gotta do it again. Sorry, this music is so fucking good my hands are shaking.


FAQs

Does David Byrne own the universe with that “Anyone got a match” line?
Yes.

Has anyone who ever complained about this song being played out ever heard this version?
No.

How much do Talking Heads rule?
Man's understanding of cosmology has yet to develop the concept of sufficient size.

“Life During Wartime”
By this point in the concert(s)—by the way, minor aside: how in the hell did Jonathan Demme stitch together three different concerts this seamlessly? Allegedly there are some continuity errors, but if you can spot them you're watching on mute, drinking the tears of children, and reminiscing about a puppy you kicked last week—the energy of the live performance has short-circuited the rational part of my brain. I am there. Demme is a god, by which I mean both omnipotent, and completely invisible.

The fact that music is capable of being this good makes me cry with joy. I'm not kidding.

“Making Flippy Floppy”
Visuals: random words rear projected. Wait, when did the techies finish building the set? WAIT HOLY FUCK: THIS SONG!!!! The reason this song is called “Making Flippy Floppy” is clearly because turns your fucking brain into a dolphin jumping out of the Pacific Ocean at sunset. Jesus Christ, Tina is on point. Byrne's solo! (Ed. Note: the author screamed random, possibly verbal, noises for about five minutes while jumping up and down in ecstasy).

“Swamp”
Phew. Time to chill. On this one the Heads are just layin' in the cut, casually brilliant, catching their breath. Hiiiii . . . hi hi hi hi hi hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii . . .

“What A Day That Was”
Solo Byrne (solo as in not a Heads song, the whole armada of badasses is still out there). Hot shit. The fact that rational thought is possible should not be taken as an indication that the concert is letting up. If anything, the visuals are even fucking cooler with all the shadowy lighting. As the one commenter on Youtube said, “Everything from about 3:15 onward is probably the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life.”

“This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”
Man, everything from Dave turning on a lamp at the beginning and the projection of the bookshelves. This is just nice. That's not meant to be condescending, or to imply in any way that there's something not nice about the rest of the picture. There are many different ways of feeling positive. Full-throttle manic sobbing (see a couple songs ago) is one. That's a little intense though. Sitting around with a smile on your face while watching David Byrne bob his head like a chicken is another. Lot mellower too.

“Once in a Lifetime”
Wow. Just . . . holy fuck.

Now, yes, the version on Remain In Light is better (perfect beats awesome). Yes, the whole shit with the glasses and the weird dancing is shtick. But let's be clear: David Byrne is above reproach. This is why Talking Heads eventually broke up, because he started believing that too and the other three told him to blow it out his ass, but let's not get distracted. No criticism of David Byrne's glasses and herky-jerky dancing will be tolerated in polite society. As your Minister of Culture, I shall sentence you to the gulag for your blasphemy.

“Genius of Love”
Understandably, Byrne needed a break after having epilepsy for five minutes (the Minister of Culture can say whatever the fuck he wants, na na na na na na). Among the manifold attributes of Talking Heads, let us not forget that when David Byrne needed to run offstage to take a piss, they could kill time with a Tom Tom Club mini-gig. Now, anyone who says they like Tom Tom Club more than Talking Heads is probably a fucking communist, but Tom Tom Club were solid. Sure Chris Frantz raps like a dork, but this counts as the single most stylish filler track ever.

“Girlfriend is Better”
Houston, we have Big Suit. Did you seriously think we were done with the genius? Foolish mortal.

Okay, brief but relevant memoir digression: this song nearly broke the souls of four able-bodied potheads one night, when they released the Talking Heads download on Rock Band; we had at it, and in spite of the four or five beers I had to try to sober up (your Minister of Culture is a wise man indeed), I was flunking the fucking vocals (usually impossible to all but the utterly tone-deaf), and my friends—if you're reading this, you remember how fucking frustrating that was?—were breaking their hands trying to play the guitar and bass parts. When we finally made it through the damn song intact, sub-70% accuracy be damned, the sense of accomplishment was profound.

Now, Talking Heads being dork superheroes, they make this song sound easy. This is why Talking Heads were so cool. They didn't try. They just were. Name one other person who puts on that Big Suit and doesn't look like a fucking choad. David Byrne does it and it's awesome. And holy fucking shit the band is cookin' on this one.

“Take Me to the River”
I ain't gonna lie. I love me some Talking Heads (as I may have subtly conveyed), but I like the original better. The Heads version is good, but Al Green's Al Green. I like his better. Hell, I like the Commitments' version better. But I ain't gonna lie about this either: the version in Stop Making Sense is kick-ass. The fact that Dave's singing it in the Big Suit for the first couple verses is really what puts it over. And something feels right about doing the whole “introduce the band during the song” to this song. All the pieces matter, and if you will have perfection, all the pieces will be perfect.

Actually, fuck hierarchies, this version of “Take Me to the River” is great. Perfect choice for penultimate song, and when David Byrne puts on that red hat with just the pants from the Big Suit, he looks like Mario.

“Crosseyed and Painless”
Boo ya. If you want to blow the crowd out of the fucking auditorium, it helps to have a song like this in your repertoire. Leave 'em dancing. The best part is, at the end of the song, Byrne brings the movie crew (who we've been seeing holding up lights and shit) up onstage to take a bow, which closes out an exhilarating movie/music experience.


When Stop Making Sense is over, the overwhelming feeling is “Yes. I am fucking alive. Life will never be dreary and mundane as long as something this good is in it.” The Heads' eventual decline and breakup over David Byrne being difficult doesn't exist. The movie ends with them at the peak of their reign, when they held mighty sway over music and very simply had no peer. This is real superhero movie.

That's the greatest thing about movies. The story ends where you want it to.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

THE HUMP


Halfway Cinema. No explanation. Just check it out.

Monday, August 16, 2010

YOU CAN GET FURTHER WITH A KIND WORD AND A GUN THAN YOU CAN WITH JUST A KIND WORD


“1930. Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a City at War. Rival gangs compete for control of the city's billion dollar empire of illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and tommy gun. It is the time of the Ganglords. It is the time of Al Capone.”
It is the time for MEN. The Untouchables is the kind of picture they used to make all the time before the fall of the studio system, and aside from a couple blood squibs and fuck bombs (okay, aside from a lot of blood squibs and fuck bombs), it could have been made in the 40s or 50s. It is, top to bottom, a Hollywood Movie, featuring the finest talent money can buy. And whoa baby is it fucking awesome.

Now, since this my 100th post (or 99th, whichever, do you really give a fuck? I don't really give a fuck) and I'm in a good mood, I'll concede that there are some mildly ridiculous things in The Untouchables; Roger Ebert wasn't on his period when he cracked on the script, performances, and direction. David Mamet, who scripted, is frequently guilty of jerking off to himself, and this is no exception: the language is hugely overblown, several florid shades of purple, and there's an undercurrent of “history is for faggots” at play, since according to Mamet Frank Nitti both is Southern and gets killed (Nitti lived until 1943 IRL, and took over for Capone after Eliot Ness took Capone down) and there are a third as many Untouchables as there were in real life and half of them die (none of them actually did). Also, the whole bit about upholding the law whether or not it makes any sense is something I can't get on board with morally, but, on the other hand, Mamet's script is also fucking great, so na na na na na na.

As for the performances, well . . . as much of a novelty as it is to see Kevin Costner appear smart (his 1986-89 run as coolest motherfucker on the planet notwithstanding, the only other person who ever made him look smart was Ron Shelton) he's still a movie star, not a Serious Actor. Sean Connery's accent in this is widely held to be one of the worst movie accents of all time, even though he's just doing his Sean Connery voice (again, sigh, movie star, not Serious Actor). Overweight Bobbert has his moments, but the problem with every Bobbert performance is every other Bobbert performance: you can never escape that this is the guy who was in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver and Godfather II and Mean Streets (and subsequently Midnight Run and Goodfellas and Heat).

And the direction, well, it's time for an emperor's new clothes moment: Brian De Palma tends to do better whoring himself out to a studio and doing someone else's script. Some of his “own,” (read: more auteur-y) pictures are okay, but his 60s counterculture ones suck, only one of his companion piece voyeur/hooker things from the 80s was good, and his Mars picture was a fucking felony, but his career low was putting a lesbian scene in Femme Fatale that wasn't even hot. It's not like Brian De Palma is a shitty director or anything, but he is extremely erratic and errs on the side of style over substance (which still doesn't explain the crappy lesbian scene . . . Jesus Christ, Brian, with great power comes great responsibility, if the studio lets you do it, DO IT RIGHT GODDAMMIT). Now, The Untouchables is probably De Palma's best movie (the rest of the top 5: Obsession, Carrie, Blow Out, and Scarface), but still he's mostly just whipping his dick out.

That, however, is why The Untouchables is such a fucking badass movie. It's an entire movie that just has its dick out, which is why Pauline Kael liked it. From the opening scene, where we see the press eating out of Al Capone's hand while he has a shave—they don't notice the brick the barber shits when he accidentally nicks Capone, who probably only lets the guy live because there's reporters there—and puts on this “I'm a businessman” act, only to cut to a scene where one of Capone's dudes blows up a bar (and a little girl) because the barkeep won't buy Capone booze, The Untouchables does not fuck around. The word subtlety was razor-bladed out of this movie's dictionary, and Frank Nitti rolled a cigarette with it.

Introduce Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), a straight-shooting Treasury officer sent on a fool's errand to Chicago to stop Capone. However, he finds himself having to liaise with a police department that's about 98% on Capone's payroll, thus leading to the inconvenient situation wherein Ness decides to raid a Capone warehouse, Capone finds out about it way the hell in advance, and gets all his shit out of there, embarrassing the crap out of Ness all over the front pages (goes to show cultivating a good relationship with the press never hurts).

Humiliated, Ness goes for a walk. He crumples up the newspaper and tosses it in disgust, only to get popped for littering by beat cop Malone (Sean Connery). Since littering is hardly the biggest law-enforcement issue in Chicago at the time, Malone just busts his balls a bit, until he sees Ness is packing heat.

Malone: OK, pal, why the mahaska? Why are you carrying the gun?
Ness: I'm a treasury officer.
Malone: Alright. Jusht remember what we talked about now.
[Malone walks away]
Ness: Hey, wait a minute! What the hell kind of policemen you got in this god damn city? You just turned your back on an armed man.
Malone: You're a treasury officer.
Ness: How do you know that? I just told you that.
Malone: Who would claim to be that who was not?
In spite of the initial antagonism, Malone sympathizes with Ness, and since the two of them are just about the only honest cops for a hundred miles, they bond. Eventually, Ness turns to Malone to help him assemble a team of “untouchables,” uncorrupted cops driven by honor and the genuine desire to do good. Malone, a cynic, resists at first before relenting, but he wants to make absolutely sure Ness knows what he's getting himself into (and, in his warning, represents his set better than any human being ever):

“You wanna know how you do it? Here'sh how: they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He shendsh one of yourzh to the hoshpital, you shend one of hizh to the morgue. That'sh the Chicago way . . . and that'sh how you get Capone!”
(Ed. Note: one night, the author was watching The Untouchables with two friends from Chicago, and on that line, they nodded and clinked beer bottles. That is all that need be said about that).

The new partners go to the police academy to recruit, under the theory that that's the one place to find a cop Capone isn't bribing yet. Sean Connery asks the instructor to send over his two best marksmen, one of whom is a mumbling stuttering fuck who causes Sean Connery to sigh “There goes the next chief of police,” but the second of whom is Andy Garcia.

Sean Connery: George Shtone, that'sh your name? What'sh your real name?
Andy Garcia: That is my real name.
Sean Connery: What wazh it before ye changed it?
Andy Garcia (sighs): Giuseppe Petri.
Sean Connery: Ah, I knew it. All you need is one thieving wop on the team.
Andy Garcia (pissed, but maintaining): What's that?
Sean Connery (pokes Andy Garcia in chest with clipboard): I shed you're a lying member of a no-good raysh.
Andy Garcia (has someone get a wheelbarrow for his balls, pulls heat on Sean Connery): Much better than you, you stinking . . . Irish . . . pig.
Sean Connery (smiles): Oh, I like him. Shun, you jusht joined the Treasury Department.
I hadn't seen 8 Million Ways To Die yet at this point, so I had no preparation whatsoever for this nuclear blast of badass Andy Garcia unleashed in this movie. On the sole basis of The Untouchables, Andy Garcia is in the Hall of Fame.

So the three comrades are getting ready to go raid a Capone warehouse off a tip Sean Connery picked up, and as they're on their way out the door, Charles Martin Smith (an accountant who was sent by the Treasury department as Ness' assistant in an apparent sick joke) walks in with some ledger or other going “Gosh, I don't think Al Capone pays any income tax!” or some such dorkiness.

Sean Connery: You carry a badge?
Charles Martin Smith: Yeah?
Sean Connery (hands him a shotgun): Carry a gun.
And the Untouchables are complete. Charles Martin Smith shows surprising balls and rather enjoys big swinging dick police work (“It's much more diverting than accounting!”) Our heroes hit Capone, who grows displeased, and being a psychopath with terminal syphilis, Capone's displeasure manifests itself in dudes having their fucking heads caved in with baseball bats, and purple shit coming out.

Our boys fend off bribes from corrupt politicians who want them to leave poor Al alone, and press on with the investigation. They get wind of a huge shipment of booze coming in from Canada and go up to take it down. The blowhard Mounties fuck the whole thing up, and it turns into a firefight, where Charles Martin Smith gets to kill a couple guys (and, in a crowd-pleasing moment, does a shot of the bootleg whiskey out of a bulletholed barrel after offing the last one) and Ness does too, only he finds it less of an adventure than Charles Martin Smith does. Connery gives him the boilerplate movie “you or him” speech, and, slightly mollified, Ness heads inside to interrogate this one guy Sean Connery took alive. The guy isn't giving anything up, so Sean Connery improvises a bit of theater, taking the guy Ness killed, and holding him up, making it look like he's still alive and resisting interrogation. Sean Connery blows the corpse's head off (a little extreme, but nonetheless pretty cool) and the prisoner shits himself and starts blabbing about everything. On the way out:

Blowhard Mountie: Mr. Ness! I do not approve of your methods.
Ness: Yeah? Well, you're not from Chicago.
Man, this movie makes me wish I was. Anyway, having turned the prisoner, they bring him back to Chicago to snitch on Capone, only Frank Nitti disguises himself as an elevator operator and gets the guy alone with Charles Martin Smith. Thus perishes one of the coolest nerds in cinema.

Sean Connery tells Ness to stall the DA for a little bit (the case having hinged on the guy who died), and goes to talk to his old high-ranking cop buddy (whom he apparently met at the Bad Irish Accents Club), which devolves into a fistfight, which concludes with the cop buddy telling Sean Connery about Capone's main bookkeeper, who can make their whole case.

While Ness and Andy Garcia are off stalling the DA, Sean Connery goes home, has himself a shot of bootleg booze (naughty, naughty Sean . . .) and then finds out that all the POV camerawork is because a scared lookin' dude broke into his house with a knife.

Sean Connery, not realizing that these are about to be his last words, nonetheless comes up with one last badass/racist epigram:

“Trusht a wop to bring a knife to a gunfight.”
Sean Connery pulls heat and chases the fucker out of his apartment . . . but there's Frank Nitti with a tommy gun. Sean Connery gets lit the fuggup. He staggers back into his apartment, dying operatically (intercut with Bobbert taking in Pagliacci at the opera house, because remember, subtlety is for homosexuals), dragging himself down the hall to his sitting room, where he has the evidence he needs to give to Ness . . .

So Ness shows up, and Sean Connery, still dying, still noshing on scenery, gives him the intel about where the accountant's coming in, as well as his St. Jude's medal, and, at the perfectly calibrated moment for maximum emotional impact (Ed. Note: this scene and the end of Field of Dreams are two of the only known instances when it's okay for heterosexual men to cry) Sean Connery shuffles off thish mortal coil.

A new, improved “I don't give a fuck” Kevin Costner rolls with Andy Garcia to the train station to meet the accountant. They, of course, know that Capone dudes are going to be there, so they know shit has a 98% chance of going down. But there's a woman with a baby carriage. Costner can't help it, he's a straight arrow, he has to help the poor woman get her baby carriage up the stairs. Terrible timing, though: that's exactly when the accountant comes through, and armed Capone dudes materialize from everywhere. Costner has to let the carriage go to blast a motherfucker with his shotgun, and the carriage goes thunking down the stairs . . . maybe it's just me, but I could have sworn I saw that in another movie . . . nah, Brian De Palma never steals shit from other movies, I must have been high.

Anyway, a sweet slow-motion shootout ensues as the carriage thunks down the stairs. At the very last minute, Andy Garcia ex machina slides in to a) stop the carriage with his foot, b) take aim on the last surviving Capone dude holding the bookkeeper hostage, and c) toss a spare piece to Costner. As the ensuing standoff develops, and the Capone dude starts nervously monologuing about how he plans to leave with the bookkeeper, Costner asks Andy Garcia, “You got him?”

Andy Garcia practically fucking yawns as he says, “Yeah, I got him.” In that moment, Andy Garcia makes any argument about him not being one of the coolest motherfuckers of all time completely null and void. This is no longer a matter for debate. Infidels shall be put to the sword. When Andy Garcia puts a bullet through the Capone dude's open mouth mid-monologue, that is but the grace note concluding the symphony of badass.

The trial is a zoo. In spite of the fact that the good guys have an ironclad case against Capone, Capone has an ironclad bribe infrastructure. The level of confidence in the Capone camp is such that Nitti openly swaggers into court with a gun hanging out of his jacket to whisper in his master's ear. Costner gets pissed and has the bailiff escort Nitti out into the lobby, where Costner frisks him and starts up a round of cop vs. scumbag, until he finds a signed note from the mayor permitting Nitti to carry the gun. Costner, frustrated, demands that Nitti not be allowed back in the courtroom, and goes to light a frustrated cigarette with Nitti's matches . . . which have Sean Connery's address written inside. Costner knows. Nitti realizes, whoops, I just got made as a cop killer; he busts a couple shots into the bailiff and takes off.

Costner chases Nitti up on rooftops, eventually cornering Nitti as he dangles from a rope. Nitti taunts Costner: “Arrest me! Arrest me!” Costner pulls Nitti back up onto the roof, and begins the process of arresting Nitti. But Nitti can't resist the urge to talk a little more shit.

Nitti: Your friend died like a pig.
Costner: Excuse me?
Nitti: Your friend died screaming like a stuck Irish pig. Now you think about that while I beat the rap.
[Costner grabs Nitti and throws him off the fucking roof. Nitti falls through the air, screaming]
Costner: He sound anything like that?
Oh, man. I miss the days when Kevin Costner was cool. He was pretty fuckin all right for a few years there. So, Nitti having been dispensed with (he crunches rather indelicately on a parked car), Costner heads back inside, where Andy Garcia has some evidence that Capone's bought the jury. Then, noticing something awry:

Andy Garcia: Where's Nitti?
Kevin Costner: He's in the car.
Now that right there is dialogue, by God. David Mamet can be kind of ridiculous sometimes, but he can hang his hat on that line (and, from Heist, Danny De Vito's immortal “Everyone wants money. That's why they call it money.”)

Costner goes into the judge's chambers with Capone's list of bribed jurors, and convinces the judge to switch the juries. Capone's lawyer panics and changes Capone's plea to guilty. Boo ya. See ya later, Al! Costner's metamorphosis into man of testicles complete, he swaggers up to Capone and talks shit while twelve dudes hold Capone back from kicking his ass (well . . . maybe it isn't that complete, but hey, even talking shit to Al Capone under those circumstances takes some balls).

So Costner closes up shop, bequeaths Sean Connery's St. Jude's medal to Andy Garcia, and goes home to his wife. An earnest reporter, who's been popping up here and there throughout the movie, runs into Costner on his way home and says to him, they're thinking about repealing Prohibition, what'll you do then? And Kevin Costner gives us a classic last line:

“I think I'll have a drink.”
Ah, man. What a fuckin' movie. Sure, it's got nothing to do with reality, sure it's style over substance (score by Ennio fuckin Morricone, costumes by Giorgio fuckin Armani, that's some style that'll win out over most substance), sure it all ties up a little neatly. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the fucking point. It's a movie meant to be enjoyed, rather than nitpicked to death, so you can nitpick if you want to, but just know, the rest of us will be over here having fun.

* * * *

Postscript: since this is (or isn't) the 100th post, let's take a look back at some of the highlights of the brief but fun history of this-a-here blog:

Tony Scott
Kathryn Bigelow
James Bond
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Paul Verhoeven (and parts 2 and 3)
The Evil White Guys In Suits Theory
Star Wars
Tango & Cash
Dennis Hopper
Ocean's
Meryl Streep
Gangsters
Inception
The Terminator
Terry Gilliam

Anything you like that I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading! I hope you're having as much fun with this as I am.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ZOMG U GUISE! EXISTENTIAL CRISIS!


Normally, trying to predict box-office results is a gigantic waste of time. The only way it's not is if you actually are a movie studio. Ordinarily, I would completely dismiss the whole enterprise—the only reason I care about how much money a picture makes is its career implications for my favorite directors—except for the fact that occasionally, audiences will be like “Oh, I don't want to go to this picture, it's flopping,” like when Fight Club was in theaters and despite being both wildly entertaining and having something interesting to say politically, people bought into Joe Lieberman's whole Columbine-inspired crusade to cut Hollywood's balls off and the picture would have flopped (and David Fincher would have been through) if it hadn't miraculously turned a profit on DVD.

Columbine was already awful enough. The two jerkoffs responsible ended up trivializing a very real problem in American culture—the relentless bullying of those who do not fit by those who do—and gave people a new reason to harass weirdos, thereby exacerbating the problem. But, because politicians do not understand outsider culture (because the only people who have ever or will ever win elected office are insiders to some degree or other), the way they decided to fix this problem was by making the entertainment industry “police itself” or something. Since Hollywood is a market-driven business, a whole lot of fretting ensued, and the fact that interesting, transgressive pictures had been making healthy profits for the entire decade went out the window in a scared desire to prove to Middle America that “hey, we're not sick and depraved! And those Columbine psychos, it was their fault!”

A decade later, the movie business is in its usual state: neither unacceptably awful nor incongruously awesome. This year in particular has been an interesting one, featuring any number of sequels, cash-ins, and the usual exasperating bullshit, but the odd really interesting picture (like Inception, and a couple kinda cool things at the art houses). This coming weekend, something that used to happen a lot but that I honestly cannot remember the last time it did is looming: two pictures I really want to see are coming out at the same time.

This raises an interesting question: when did Hollywood studios stop competing with each other? Counter-programming—putting out a “chick” picture the same weekend as a “dude” picture—is fucking retarded because it assumes that no chicks want to see dude pictures and no dudes want to see chick pictures; granted the former is a lot more common than the latter, but still. This coming weekend's head-to-head seems like counter-programming, and it's probably a mark of my otherness that I feel like either could have been made personally for me. But let's look at the situation a little more carefully:


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: dir. Edgar Wright, starring Michael Cera, a couple cute girls, and a bunch of handsome dickheads.

Wherein Scott Pilgrim (Cera) has a fairly mundane problem—dealing with his new girlfriend's dating history—turn comic-book epic end-of-the-world life-or-death on him, as he has to battle her Seven Evil Exes, who are all better looking and more confident than he is, all of whom can beat the living shit out of him unless he musters some inner strength or something. I don't know, I haven't seen the picture yet.

While the premise certainly isn't irredeemable or anything, the main attractions here are Edgar Wright and Michael Cera, both of whom are nerd gods. Edgar Wright's resume is short and to the point: Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz. He knows nerds. He is a nerd. He's a very talented director with a rare ability to balance subtlety with over the top orgasmic geek-out. Scott Pilgrim marks his first foray into a world where Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are no longer there to be awesome, though Michael Cera is definitely of that phylum.

And Michael Cera, despite teetering on the brink of overexposure from having seemingly done the same picture where he shyly romances the cute hipster girl about twenty-five times in a row (even though it's really only three), is finally breaking out of the mold in a very smart way, since he's still shyly romancing the cute hipster girl, except now instead of a bunch of twee faggots with acoustic guitars on the soundtrack providing the only dramatic tension, he faces the threat of people like Chris Evans frat-douche-ily stomping the shit out of him. This bodes well, and the inevitable triumphant third-act table-turning when Michael Cera grows a pair and kicks ass cannot but be one of the funniest fucking things you or I will ever see.

Therein lies the appeal for me. A picture where the nerds get one over on the handsome douchebags who get all the girls is one that will always have an audience of at least yours truly. Even though, fortunately, I'm no longer as awkward as I was in high school (and, let's be real, college, and, let's be more real, my mid 20s) part of me will always identify with the underdog nerd. Although Michael Cera, as the skinny, stuffed-into-locker variety of nerd, is of a slightly different stripe than my hulking and brooding, he's still my people. And I thus support any enterprise that involves Michael Cera hooking up with hot girls. It'll take some of the sting out of never getting to nail Maeby Fünke.


The Expendables: dir. Sly, starring Sly and just about everybody with balls except Danny Trejo.

Of course, this has an entirely different appeal. Back in the 80s when men were men and extras were filled with holes, action movies were not something “real” actors did in between Oscar-bait roles as gay retards with leukemia. Action movies were something you did if you were the personal trainer for one of those “real” actors and had a shapely, steroidal figure.

I've always respected Sly more than I actually like most of his pictures; my favorite things he's done are the sort of things his big fans tend to hate, like Tango & Cash and Demolition Man. I've never seen any of the Rambo movies and only the first Rocky movie, and swear up and down til I'm blue in the face that the best picture he ever did was Nighthawks, which in spite of having Billy Dee Williams and Rutger Hauer (and Joe Spinell!) in it somehow managed to slip through the cracks of history.

This, though, is different. The Expendables has one of the most impressive arrays of large, gruff voiced dudes ever. There's Sly, as the head of a team of ass-kickers for hire or something, who has a summit with Arnold and Bruce Willis which results in Sly and retinue going out and blowing shit up. Who needs details? It's Sly, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, and ericrobertsandmickeyrourke *cough cough*.

Now, of course, I want to see this, but I'm resisting for a couple reasons. One is that big-budget homages to low-budget movies (lookin at you, Grindhouse) tend to miss the point and, by the very fact of having more than $1.50 are a totally different kind of picture. Real low-budget action movies have the one guy on steroids in the lead, the one girl no one's ever heard of before who's kind of cute but can't act, the one drunk character actor phoning it in and hamming it up as the villain for that fall's rent, the one other big muscular dude as the villain's number one henchman, and a wise-cracking sidekick (who was sometimes also muscular).

The second reason is that the example I'm about to use of the aesthetic purity of that template is not in The Expendables: Jean-Claude Van Damme. As readers of the Bordeaux, France/Seattle, WA based zine Louis Liard are aware, I am the world's foremost authority on Jean-Claude Van Damme, the king of kings in low-budget action cinema. Genetic engineering could not have produced a better low-budget action star than Jean-Claude Van Damme. He had very large muscles. His near-complete inability to speak English made his acting seem shitty (though, as we discovered in the brilliant, revelatory JCVD, he actually can act). And he kept it simple. Let us take, as an example, Double Impact:

1---Leading man on steroids? Check, times two: Van Damme plays twins
2---Girl no one's ever heard of who's kind of cute but can't act? Meh, the blond can't act but she isn't attractive, ditto the “lesbian” working for the villain.
3---Drunk character phoning it in/hamming it up? Again, slight departure; Geoffrey Lewis isn't the villain, but he sure is drunk and screwing around. Philip Chan, though, HOLY SHIT is he hamming it up, and you can smell the Remy Martin on that dude's breath.
4---Other big muscular dude? Bolo motherfuckin Yeung. The only reason this dude wasn't the biggest fucking superstar in the fucking world was racism; it was always barely plausible that Van Damme could kick his ass. I submit Bolo could have killed Arnold. Yes, that's right, and I'll say it again so there's no ambiguity. Bolo could have fucking killed Arnold. And, don't get me wrong, I love Jean-Claude Van Damme, I love Arnold, but why can't a Chinese guy be big, muscular, not be able to speak English and star in a movie? Huh? Riddle me that, Menachem Golan.
5---Wisecracking sidekick? Not applicable, but let's take Bloodsport as an example—Ogre was fucking great in that as Jean-Claude's wisecracking sidekick, who multitasked as a big muscular dude, and the crippled/dead friend JC has to avenge, only being Ogre he's enough of a badass that he recovers from Bolo crushing his skull within days and is drinking beer like nothing ever happened. Completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, but Ogre was fucking awesome in Bloodsport.

Now, Sly isn't a retard. In fact, in the discussions here regarding Tango & Cash and Victory, I reiterated several times that Sly is, to the contrary, rather intelligent. Sly offered Jean-Claude Van Damme a part in The Expendables. But Jean-Claude Van Damme turned it down, I guess out of an ascetic loyalty to the purity of low-budget action cinema or something (JC is fuckin weird), thereby putting Sly in the awkward position of, due to circumstances completely beyond his control, being unable to perfectly make the all-star team kind of picture he wanted to. Of course, holding that against him would be ridiculous, and I won't do it.

Sly's mistake that he didn't have to make, and that I will hold against him, is cutting Danny Trejo out of the picture (AFTER PUTTING HIM ON THE MOTHERFUCKING POSTER). It's very simple. You cannot make any kind of definitive cinematic statement about anything male without Danny Trejo being involved. Anything testicular with which Danny Trejo is not involved needs to be compared to Danny Trejo. Those stupid Dos Equis ads would be awesome if Danny Trejo were in them, because he is that guy. So what the fuck, Sly? First you cast Danny Trejo, then you decide to merge his character with either Eric Roberts or Mickey Rourke (I forget which)? This is utterly unacceptable, and should have been decided with a bare-knuckle boxing match, which prison boxing champion Danny Trejo would have won, and ended up playing both Eric Roberts' and Mickey Rourke's roles. Sure, Eric Roberts matured into a pretty cool reptile, but Mickey Rourke has looked like fuckin Rocky Dennis for about 20 years now, and the whole point to Mickey Rourke was that he was good-looking. Even in his prime, a half-asleep Danny Trejo with one leg chainsawed off by Mickey Rourke's wisecracking sidekick would fucking destroy him.

But, still. Even if it's imperfect and exempt from the grand tabulation of Statements on Masculinity due to one annoying violation of the statutes, it should be a hell of a lot of fun. Thus presenting the dilemma: The Expendables or Scott Pilgrim? For me, the answer is moot, since I'm going to be spending the weekend reviewing plays for nytheatre.com and trying to have production meetings for a movie I'm directing the end of the month (many self-indulgent plugs to come). But if I were to go to something this weekend, it would probably end up being The Expendables, even if it came down to a coin flip. I have the feeling Scott Pilgrim will benefit from a DVD-and-a-joint viewing at home more than a see-it-in-the-theater-completely-straight experience. Of course, I could be wrong, and probably am.

And, for the biggest question, the one I care the least about: which will be #1 at the box office? Neither. Eat, Pray, Love is going to gross $40 mil. (EDIT: 40 million rubles, maybe. See what I mean about box office predictions being fucking stupid?)

Monday, August 9, 2010

"HOW MUCH YOU TAKE 'EM FOR? 20 DOLLARS? LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES!"


In these days of zillion dollar tickets, broke-asses like me don't get to see as many movies in the theaters as we used to (and, alas, $20 no longer lets three Mean Streets mooks all go to the movies). This is kind of a mixed blessing, actually, because for the last few years as society descends deeper into the void and common decency gradually becomes a thing of the past (sorry, I held a straight face for as long as I could, gimme a sec: hahahahahahahahahaha! Okay we're back) people generally act like assholes in movie theaters. The talking, the cell phone screens showing up in your peripheral vision, the people who take calls during movies, a lot of it kinda sucks. Unfortunately this didn't cause a rise in more people going to art houses, because art house audiences are awesome. They shut up during the parts when they're supposed to show up, laugh when they're supposed to laugh (if the New Yorker told them it was okay to, an important wrinkle to not forget in arthouses; more later on why you need to check the ruling of the cognoscenti beforehand) and generally, you're in the presence of people who like and respect movies.

And, really, a lot of what makes going to the movie fun is going to the movie, the experience. I find watching at home I get to focus a lot more on the movie itself—again, a mixed blessing; if the movie sucks, there's nothing to do except turn it off. But in the theater, if the movie sucks, you can either make out with your date, open one of the beers you smuggled in, look around and enjoy the pained expressions on the audience's faces, so on and so forth. Occasionally, too, crazy shit happens. Some choice anecdotes:


Tombstone (1993) dir. George P. Cosmatos (and, allegedly, an uncredited Kurt Russell)
Location: Metropolitan Cinema, downtown Brooklyn, NY
Crazy shit: dislocated shoulder on way to theater


So, yes, technically, this isn't a story that took place in a theater, but it affected the experience and is at least 75% of the reason why I like Tombstone even though the structure's clunky, it's too long, and Dana Delany is ditzy in it. But anyway. So it's the winter, the streets are all icy, it's about one fuckin degree outside, and—foreshadowing!—I was watching football just a little while before and had seen (newly elected Hall of Famer) Emmitt Smith skullfuck the Giants with a dislocated shoulder.

I think my mom and I were actually talking about that game while walking down 10th street in Park Slope down a fairly steep hill along a stretch of sidewalk with no houses around so the sidewalk wasn't plowed or salted or anything. Naturally, the sidewalk was pretty treacherous, and although I was being very careful, I slipped and went horizontal. Mom slipped and went horizontal, and her right foot flying up just fuckin nailed my right shoulder, and then I crunched on the ground. BAM, dislocated shoulder. Ow.

Mom, being a mom, was very upset and kept saying “I'm so sorry.” I, on the other hand, was 15 and a man-in-training so I had to represent, and I really wanted to see the movie, so I insisted that I was fine, tried to hide the fact that my shoulder was hanging off at some bizarre angle, and we continued on our way to the subway to downtown Brooklyn.

So. We get out. Shoulder still hurts. We're walking down Fulton Street to get to the Metropolitan. A very large Afro-Klingon man is walking toward me, glowering (in fairness, I kind of looked like the Master Race's CPA at the time and it looked like he was having a bad day) and as he walks by me, he tries to knock me down. By aiming at my right shoulder. BAM. Shoulder knocked back in. And suddenly barely even hurts anymore.

My mom looks at me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I think that guy knocked my shoulder back in.”

“Oh good, it was—wait a minute, was it dislocated????? Oh fuck, why didn't you—”

“MOM, we're gonna be late for the movie!”

So we hustled in and watched the movie. If you've ever had a serious injury, or migraines (both of which I can tell you all about) you know the best part is after the worst of the pain has faded, and that strangely euphoric sensory sharpness takes hold. I sat there and enjoyed the living shit out of Tombstone—Val Kilmer's glorious hamminess as Doc Holliday, Michael Biehn being fucking terrifying and fucking awesome as Johnny Ringo, all the cameos from people like Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum narrating. I've never enjoyed it quite as much ever again, and am thus ever convinced that the shoulder was worth it. Even though for the last sixteen-plus years my shoulder hurts when it rains, hey. Tombstone.


South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999) dir. Trey Parker
Location: Pavilion Theater, Park Slope, Brooklyn NY
Crazy shit: Well-behaved children

Of course, an explanation is necessary, but fear not, I will oblige. I was on summer break from college, and naturally as a mature, progressive man of taste, I was very geeked about the South Park movie. So much so that I forgot that school was out, and there were going to be dumbass kids at the theater.

Ironically, considering that the premise of the movie involved the underage protagonists sneaking into an R-rated movie, the theater was packed with diminutive, shrieking fucktards. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against kids, I just like them quietly reading in another room. These kids were neither quiet, reading, nor in another room. I took one of the only unoccupied seats left, near the front, which was, unfortunately right in front of an unsupervised group of very loud, very stupid kids.

WASPs are generally pretty good at keeping it together, and being as these were my college years, I was doing my obligatory dabbling in the philosophies of the East and was thus trying to calm the beast within with Zen, the Tao, and all that jazz, and basically, I was like this: they can talk during the previews, but the second the movie proper starts, if they're still talking . . . this means war.

So the movie starts. The kids, very excited that they're at an R-rated movie by themselves, are still babbling, and quoting South Park episodes to each other. The first song starts, and the kids instead of shutting up start talking louder.

I turned around and looked the loudest one, the one behind me, dead in the eye and I said “Shut. The Fuck. Up.” And I turned around and thoroughly enjoyed the movie . . . and didn't notice until about thirty minutes in that I was enjoying the movie in silence. I briefly wondered if the kids had just left, but then funny stuff started happening and I forgot about them.

It wasn't until the movie had come to its very entertaining conclusion, and I was standing to go. I saw the four kids who'd been sitting behind me for the whole picture, getting up quietly and making their way out. Let that be a lesson, ladies and gentlemen: all you have to do to keep kids in line is curse at them. You're welcome.


Bamboozled (2000) dir. Spike Lee
Location: Upstate Films, Rhinebeck, NY
Crazy shit: Progressive, white, upper-middle-class wrath


Getting off campus to the movies when I was in college was always a bit of an event, as I had no car and generally had a mountain of work to do, when I wasn't so high I thought I was off campus already. The nearest movie theaters were a bit of a shlep, but fortunately we had an art house in nearby Rhinebeck so we weren't stuck with the horseshit playing at the mall. I got out there for, among other things, Ghost Dog (which wasn't much of a story, we smoked a joint in the jeep on the way over, really liked the movie, smoked another joint on the way, back, and then decided, hey, let's smoke some weed) and Dancer in the Dark (which wasn't much of a story either, that picture was just depressing). But the night a friend of mine and I got in a fight with some middle-aged progressives, we had just seen Bamboozled.

Let's first establish two universal truisms about Spike Lee. First, he's a brilliantly talented director; the only other director I can think of capable of creating as genuine, visceral excitement in an audience using nothing but cinema vocabulary (camera moves, edits, sound) as Spike is Martin Scorsese. Spike's from New York, that's how we are, we're fucking enthusiastic, man. That does, however, lead into the second universal Spike truism: the thing that trips him up is a tendency to not know when to take his foot off the gas with the politics. This is especially unfortunate because he has very important things to say. The bits about the cops murdering people in Do The Right Thing, Spike did not pull out of his ass. That literally happened every fucking day in New York in the 80s, and Spike was incredibly influential in getting that bullshit to, if not stop, at least get a bit less frequent. Malcolm X was one of the two or three best biopics ever made, and reintroduced Malcolm into public discourse as a fully rounded tragic hero, and the movie cannot be underestimated in helping Malcolm maintain his proper place in the history of this country.

But occasionally, Spike swings and misses. Bamboozled was one of those cases. Again, the source of the main premise was not Spike's ass—racism in the media is all over the goddamn place. Spike's premise—a TV network that airs an actual, blackface/shuck & jive minstrel show set in a watermelon patch—is, much like Network, one that only seems over the top until you think about it for a second. Or however long it takes to look up The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer on imdb. Yep, a sitcom about slavery. Jesse Jackson's fucking head exploded when that show hit the air; unlike a lot of the lesser controversies where you can tell Jesse's just phoning in the sincere, reproaching disappointment, you could tell he was actually fucking really pissed when this happened. As was just about every single black person in the United States not directly employed by that show, including Spike, naturally.

If anything, Bamboozled suffers from Spike's apparent, understandable, furious need to get the picture on a screen and get people to watch it as soon as possible. It has a great premise and a lot of real shit to say, a lot of which could have been said more effectively if Spike had done another draft or two of the script. Damon Wayans' performance in the lead is really weird; people dismissed it as being shitty, which is only a little reductive. There are elements of a really good performance in there, and he has some excellent moments, but his character's arc from bored, annoyed yuppie to righteous moral crusader to whore bathing in filthy lucre is too complex for some of the lazy choices Damon Wayans makes (and that Spike didn't tell him to knock the fuck off), primarily his arch stand-up comedian white guy accent. His best scenes are the ones where you can tell he's not putting it on as strong, like when he gets pissed off in a writer's meeting at a white woman who self-righteously asserts that she knows about black people due to her degree in African-American studies and calls her a “niggerologist,” a line my friend and I found hilarious. (Hold that thought, reminiscence after only a smidge more plot recap) Spike's choice to shoot the whole thing on grainy videotape was a little odd too, as it took the audience out of the story he was trying to tell, and not in a good way. And, ultimately, the picture goes on a little too long, and having Jada Pinkett-Smith pull out a gun and shoot Damon Wayans at the end was too melodramatic and didn't contribute at all to the points Spike was trying to make, it was more that Spike himself wanted to shoot this horrible motherfucker and did by proxy.

Now, the press that greeted Bamboozled, like most of Spike's bad press, was largely motivated by the two-front assault of racists who want Spike to shut up and accept that racism is over because they only lynch one black person a year in Arkansas these days, and pussy-ass progressives who think Spike has the right idea but ruins everything by being too angry (ironically, a perfect justification for Spike to stay pissed). Spike, to his credit, handled this by giving everyone the finger and telling them “Go fuck yourself, if you ban this movie you're proving my point that the media are racist cowards.” Naturally, with all this hubbub, a certain percentage of the pussy-ass progressive demographic wanted to go see Bamboozled so they could be solemnly, deeply upset. My friends and I wanted to see a new Spike Lee joint.

If memory serves me correctly, we stopped off for some beers on the way there, but however it happened, we were definitely scruffier and rowdier than most of the buttoned-down Rhinebeck citizenry there with us. So we were talking, in typical college-student patois (erudition + fuck you motherfucker + loud lack of regard for bourgeois decorum) and a thin, severe, middle-aged woman in glasses turned around—this is before the previews even started, mind you—and asked: “Are you going to talk like that through the whole film?”

I was confused. “The picture hasn't started yet, ma'am.”

Ma'am? Did you . . .” and she started sputtering, which confused me even more, until the woman turned to her husband and muttered something about “he just called me ma'am,” at which point I realized I hadn't gotten the memo from the feminists about which words were off-limits that week. But, whatever, I didn't press the point. I even lowered my voice and stopped cursing.

So the picture starts. No more reprimands. However, a ways into it, my friend and I found ourselves laughing quite a bit. This isn't because we're insensitive assholes, or racists, or anything like that. Spike Lee is fucking funny, and Bamboozled is deliberately funny on any number of occasions. The scene where Mos Def is sitting there talking about something or other and there are like three jump cuts in the middle of his monologue showing that he's still not getting to the fucking point is hilarious, and I would like to point out, for the record, that the fact that we were laughing at a jump cut was in and of itself a badge of sufficient cultural sophistication that the Rhinebeckers should have fucked off and left us alone. But I started noticing after a while that every time my friend and I laughed, heads would turn around to (indirectly and non-confrontationally, of course) stare at us. After a while we even got that patented leftie sound that I can only describe as a cross between “tsk tsk” “shh” and steam escaping. In stereo. A ways through the second act I muttered to my friend, “Dude, we should probably keep it quiet,” and he looked around at an apparent theater full of politically left-of-center teakettles and nodded.

So the movie ended, and my friend went to go hit the men's room before we headed back to campus. While I was waiting for him outside in the fresh air, the same woman who got pissed off at me for calling her ma'am comes out with her husband and another couple. Ma'am says to me, “You should be ashamed of yourself for carrying on like that during a film.”

Boy, she's good at confusing me. “What? I was . . . laughing . . .”

“Yes, you were laughing. Honestly, that's disrespectful.”

Okay, confusion metamorphosizes into anger: “Lady, the picture was funny. When a thing is funny, normal people laugh.”

She gets sarcastic, folds her arms. “Oh, normal people laugh at racism.”

“Listen, ma'am, the director intended the picture to be funny. If he were at this screening, he'd be pissed off at you and asking who rammed that stick up your ass.” (Good breeding failed me)

At this point her husband turns a little red. “Don't you talk to my wife like that.”

I turn to him. “Goes both ways, sir, she shouldn't talk to me like that.” And I was in the middle of failing to come up with some brilliant addendum to that when my friends got me the fuck out of there and into the car to go home.

As we were heading home, one of my friends said to me: “Only you, man, fuck . . . you managed to get into a fucking fight in Rhinebeck.”


The Rock (1996) dir. Michael Bay
Location: somewhere around Caterham, Surrey, England
Crazy shit: Slept through car chase


Summer of '96, in between graduating high school and starting college, I went on a student-exchange trip to England. The English kids had come over to New York the previous winter, and we were all basically trapped indoors in a blizzard for about four days, during which I got Gareth, the kid I was hosting, hooked on both my stealth bomber computer game and basketball (“This is fucking magic, mate, it's like football with more black blokes and more scoring!”) and watched a shitload of movies he'd never seen, like El Mariachi and The Godfather, and made plans for me to direct a movie someday with him playing a South African villain. Good times.

Naturally, when my plane landed, the first thing Gareth wanted to do was take me out for a pint and go to the movies. As I was seventeen, this sounded awesome. (Ed. Note: at 31, it still sounds awesome) So we got a pint or four and staggered over to the cinema to see The Rock. “Michael Fucking Bay,” Gareth said, with a big smile on his face.

“Yeah, man, Michael Fucking *yawn* Bay . . .”

Gareth looked at me and said something typically sarcastic about how my backward colonial upbringing hadn't properly prepared me to drink, and I yawned again, conceded his cultural superiority, and settled down into my seat. The movie started, and the usual Michael Bay Ritalin editing and retarded exposition ensued. I tried, in vain (as it so often goes), to figure out what the fuck Nicolas Cage was on, and eventually let jet-lagged drunk oblivion do its work. Next thing I know, I'm being woken up with an elbow to the chops. “Wha . . . the fuck you do that for?” I said to Gareth.

“Mate, you just slept through the fucking car chase,” he replied, radiating contempt and disgust.

“Oh. Sorry. What'd I miss?”

“Nothing. That's not the point. You slept through the fucking car chase.”

“Oh. Sorry, won't let it happen again.”

(Ed. Note: the car chase in The Rock is, although no classic, still of sufficient caliber that the author quotes this story with the proper degree of shame, and with firm assurance to the reader that he has since learned to drink properly)


The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) dir. Joseph Sargent
Location: Film Forum, New York, NY
Crazy shit: An outpouring of love from New York's finest movie nerds.

This one isn't so much weird as it is just one of the most fun nights I've ever had at a movie. A very dear friend of mine heard The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was playing at Film Forum, I heard it from him, and put my fuckin boots on to go the fuckin movies. Because, as a movie nerd, I have to show love for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and as a New Yorker, I have to show that love demonstratively. It's one of the tightest, most exciting action pictures in the first and most fertile decade of the modern action picture, and few movies have ever captured grouchy, proletarian Old New York quite like it. And, since we had three or four people there with us who'd never seen it, this was important shit.

We sat down and started talking very excitedly about how awesome this movie was, and, because I cannot but be circumspect, I noticed that in several other groups throughout the theater, other pairs of friends were very excitedly explaining how awesome this movie was to their friends, and all the new people were getting on the vibe as well. The place was buzzing before the lights even went down.

The first trailer got a standing ovation. Now, sure, you've seen this happen when some picture has like The Dark Knight or Star Wars or some such trailer attached, and the nerds applauding are more likely than not just there at that movie because they heard their trailer was attached (this is how, with both my mom and my Pelham One Two Three friend, I came to see Dreamcatcher; one of the Animatrix shorts was showing first). But this time, at Film Forum, was fucking special. The trailer went a little something like this: a shuffling jazz beat starts playing. Then, on separate title cards—

BAND
OF
OUTSIDERS
A FILM BY
JEAN-LUC GODARD

It was like a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the World Series. Film Forum went fucking apeshit. The second the trailer ended, about ten people—including, I confess, me—all said in unison, “WE GOTTA COME BACK!” and then the whole place laughed.

We had a couple seconds to chill and catch our breath, and then David Shire's funktastic score started playing, and the titles of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three started rolling. For the whole hour forty-five, the entire theater kept that same level of energy. Every word of Walter Matthau's mouth was the funniest thing we ever heard. Robert Shaw sitting there doing his crossword puzzle: awesome. The last scene when Walter Matthau hears Martin Balsam coughing, then pokes his head back in with his Walter Matthau basset hound face: standing ovation. It was a good night.

The thing about nights like these at the movies is, you never know when they're going to happen. You can't plan them. You just have to go to the movies and let them unfold all by themselves. Sometimes the movie isn't that good. Sometimes the crowd is annoying. But when everything falls into place, or falls apart in just the right way, there's nothing quite like it.