Monday, February 28, 2011
Oh, the Oscars. We keep coming back every year, thinking the cinema fairies will wave their wand and suddenly it won't be the most expensively dressed auto-fellatio orgy known to man, but every year like clockwork it's the same damn thing. Getting pissed is pointless; it's like being sexually aroused by craziness and then complaining when all your girl/boyfriends are crazy (Ed. Note: coughcoughcough no personal relevance whatsoever coughcough).
Whence all the sex reference/similes? Well, that's Anne Hathaway's fault. She did a nice, perky job of hosting, and not only that, was knuckle-gnawingly hot in a variety of very flattering dresses (and one absolutely staggering tuxedo, in which she did a not-bad-at-all musical number). What has two thumbs and is ready'n'a motherfucker for her to play Catwoman? Why, a certain movie blogger of our mutual acquaintance.
James Franco, if anything, was even more remote than I predicted in my pre-Oscars joke prediction post. Now, I'm not saying he looked stoned, but I got a contact high just watching the sumbitch, and a good 20% of the presenters came out looking a little befuddled too. Was James Franco sitting backstage smoking up anyone who walked past? I mean, I'm not saying he was (Ed. Note: he was), but it sure looked that way.
Franco's odd detachment led many watching to make the “he's conducting a post-modern experiment about the artificiality of awards shows” joke, but jokes about Franco being stoned/overexposed/into artsy intellectual poses aside, the writing of the show was weird enough and so leaden with non sequiturs that he could have just been like “fuck . . . this is weird, what am I doing?” These didn't bother me so much, because whenever things got too boring or weird in between awards I'd flip over to watch the Knicks (who, incidentally, showed Miami who was gangsta in the second half and fucking won in Miami; I'm extremely proud of them). So a lot of the commentary from other people talking about how odd all the out-of-nowhere movie history references were, I don't have much of, just a lot of excited rants about Chauncey Billups' clutch three-point shooting ability.
As for the awards themselves, I got 17 out of 20 predictions right, with four abstentions, so I'm going to wear a party hat and have a nice big slice of nobody gives a fuck. But, just sayin: in between all the cursing and the typos is some good fucking insight into the medium and the industry. A piercing, gimlet-eyed gaze into this business. An understanding of that which I assay. My shit is correct, people.
So, looking at the winners, there's a surprising bit of parity. No picture won more than four, though The King's Speech taking Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Original Screenplay gave its four a bit more weight than Inception's Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and Cinematography. The (borderline-egregiously fucked-over) Social Network clocked in with but one fewer statue, taking Adapted Screenplay, Score, and Editing.
Actually, a number of excellent pictures got fucked, which happens in competitive years, which 2010 was. Winter's Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and True Grit all got goose-egged, with the latter two's losses for, respectively, Best Actress (Annette Bening) and Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins) particularly stinging. The silver lining for both of them is that Annette Bening lost to an actress who gave a pretty fucking extraordinary performance; Natalie Portman rolled the dice with her sanity on that picture and was damn lucky to come up seven. The fact that the worst thing that happened during Black Swan was she got knocked up by another chick's fiance is kind of a miracle (sucks for the other chick, but hey. Omelets. Eggs). And Roger Deakins was just unlucky, because Wally Pfister really did a spectacular goddamn job on Inception, and losing to Inception for anything is losing to a worthy adversary.
The foretold loss of Exit Through The Gift Shop to Inside Job was, similarly, a case where one great movie lost to another great movie. And, much as I love Banksy (and oh, do I), you really can't fuck with Charles Ferguson when it comes to clearing his throat and being like “Hey, you know, the Iraq war/Wall Street/whatever? That shit's fucked up. Oh, check this out, I have a lot of data. Oh, and I'm really good at editing so it's actually interesting to watch. Hope y'all dig it.” (A tip of the cap is due his producer, Audrey Marrs, as well, who, awesomely, used to be in Bratmobile!).
In keeping with the auto-fellating nature of the Oscars, allow me to indulge in some of my own: I nailed the fucking fuck out of my Best Foreign Film pick for the third year in a row. I'm tellin' y'all, my “if you've heard of it, it won't win” rule sounds like glib, cynical bullshit, but as Roger Ebert pointed out again right after In A Better World won, in order for your vote to count you need to have seen all five pictures. The kind of person who gives enough of a fuck to have seen all five best Foreign Film nominees (don't even start about how weird the selection process is, we'll be here all night) is, more likely than not, also going to be the kind of contrarian who will reflexively edge away from picking the most popular picture and go with the cooler, more obscure pick. Hipster Psychology 101 with the Reverend Doctor Bowes, believe.
The Fighter's two Supporting wins both led to fun speeches. I really feel for Xian Bale, because no matter how cool he's being, he still comes off like kind of a dick, and I think it's out of a weird combination of intensity and shyness, because he seems to legitimately mean well. He got nervous and had one of those total nut-crushing brainfarts where it looked like he forgot his wife's name, but shouting out Dicky Eklund in the way he did was some stand-up shit.
Melissa Leo I have to give love to, because she used—for the first time in Oscar history, no less—the favorite word of this here blog on live television. Within minutes of her speech, it was collectively decided on Twitter that “fuck” will heretofore be known as the “Melissa Leo f-word,” and that in a PG-13 situation, one can say, for example, that The Social Network got “Melissa Leo'd,” if one believes that its major-category losses were a bunch of Melissa Leo-ing BS.
Which brings us to the most disappointing aspect of the awards results themselves (the telecast itself, fuck it, I could care less, I was still cackling about Amar'e herbing LeBron on that last-minute dunk): The King's Speech edging out The Social Network (and, for that matter, Black Swan, Inception, True Grit, Winter's Bone, and The Kids Are All Right) for the four big Oscars. I need to be perfectly clear here: The King's Speech is a well-made movie. It's set during an interesting and pivotal point in British history, so much so that Edward VIII abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson is a fuckin subplot. It features two excellent central performances by two terrific actors, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. It is, in spite of all these pluses, nowhere near the best movie to come out in 2010.
David Seidler gave the best speech of the night. It was ingratiating, eloquent, genuine, gracious, humble, and dignified. You cannot watch that speech and root against him. His script, though well-executed, is in form the kind of thing that's been done many times before. It tells, in straight linear fashion, how Colin Firth manages to get through a meaningful speech to the British people without embarrassing himself, and how an impertinent Australian became his best pal. With the exception of the truly wonderful scene where Colin Firth figures out cursing helps keep him from stammering, the beats in The King's Speech are thoroughly predictable, and not only because it's based on a true story you can look up if you're so inclined or don't already know it. This doesn't make it a bad movie at all. In fact, the picture's predictability is exactly what makes it such a favorite of the old people who voted it all those Oscars. Predictability breeds comfort, and if one thinks of movies, or any art, as primarily a means of entertainment, any work that evokes positive emotions deserves credit at least on that level.
If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it's because it is; I am showing The King's Speech some pimp hand with a fuckin ring on it when I praise its craft. In another, slower Oscar year, like 2008, for example, when the perfectly entertaining yet mildly unwieldy Slumdog Millionaire bestrode the Oscars as a behemoth, The King's Speech would have been a worthy adversary. But 2010 was a year overflowing with ambitious, original pictures, each of whose craft was—without exception—equal to or greater than The King's Speech's.
The early favorite, which seemed like a near-certain Oscar sweep as recently as a month and a half ago, was The Social Network. It shared with its successor, and ultimate Best Picture winner, the occasional accusation of historical inaccuracy. Where The Social Network made its historical changes for artistic reasons—though neither Aaron Sorkin or David Fincher has ever clearly articulated what they were, they were clearly playing with metahistory to an artistic end—The King's Speech condenses events for little apparent reason other than narrative convenience. Even if we consider the differences between the two pictures, Mark Zuckerberg not founding Facebook to get back at a fictional ex-girlfriend and Prince Albert beginning his work with Lionel Logue a full decade earlier than portrayed, there's another huge historical problem with The King's Speech. It's something that got Christopher Hitchens fucking pissed (and homeboy's got cancer, you don't want to be stressing him out), and rightfully so: the fact that The King's Speech's Winston Churchill is a completely fictional character, whose positions in real life (mainly on the abdication) were the exact opposite as they were in the movie. It plays loose and alarmingly light with the looming Second World War, too, and I don't care how seriously you take the Internet or social networking sites, Europe on the brink of potential annihilation by Hitler and Stalin is a little more important than the details of who sued who and with how much justification, thereby making the historical inaccuracies in The King's Speech just that slightest bit more of a flaw in the movie than they are in The Social Network.
All this is still beside the point. The fact of the matter is, The King's Speech won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay (I'm not fucking with Firth, he won Best Actor fair and square) and no amount of whining about how one's preferred movie should have won is going to change that. It'll be up to critics in the future to assess the degree of injustice. But, no matter what, this is not one of those Crash-beats-Brokeback Mountain travesties. If you rank the Best Picture winners in terms of quality, with 1 being one of the Godfather movies (or, you know, one of the other biggies, Lawrence of Arabia, On the Waterfront, et al) and 83 being Crash (which is not open for debate, Crash is and ever shall be the worst movie to win Best Picture, and if anything ever takes its place we need to kill it with fire), The King's Speech probably ranks somewhere in the 60s. Because, we gotta remember, as pissed as we are about The Social Network and Inception getting fucked, or even Black Swan getting a surprise win on the strength of all the freeze-framing and fapping that took place when everyone got their screeners, The King's Speech is not a bad movie. It just wasn't, in a very competitive Oscar year, the best.
One thing The King's Speech proved once and for all, though, is that Harvey Weinstein is the best there ever has been at running an Oscar campaign. He's an easy target for criticism, with his propensity for ruthless editing, his occasionally (and publicly) impolite behavior, and his enormous hard-on for middlebrow costume dramas. But one thing that cannot be denied, that a lot of people forgot until this year: if you give that man the right middlebrow costume drama, he will win you a fuckton of Oscars. Hats off to the man. He's so good at it it's not even a teachable skill set; just as a lot of baseball players hit a lot of home runs, but none of them will be Babe Ruth, a lot of ruthless movie execs can fill their trophy cases with Oscars, but there will only be one Harvey Weinstein.
All said and done, the 83rd Academy Awards were fuckin weird. A lot of people are gonna go home pissed—Annette Bening, Roger Deakins, and David Fincher are allowed to be drunk and throw shit for a good week without anyone saying a word to them—and for some reason, the Oscars still have the power to provoke large emotions, even though we know exactly what they are and how they do us every year. To obliquely quote a movie that, like all the above-lamented also-rans, failed to win Best Picture: “Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.” See, you're Jake. The Oscars are Chinatown. Ya know, because they slice your nose and end up fucking their daughter in front of you without you being able to do anything. Take my word for it, it's the perfect analogy (to bring the auto-fellatio theme full circle).
Sunday, February 27, 2011
IT'S NOT WHETHER YOU WIN OR LOSE, IT'S ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY HARVEY WEINSTEIN SPENT ON YOUR MOVIE'S CAMPAIGN
Since who wins and who loses isn't decided on merit, if one can compartmentalize and enjoy the spectacle of a bunch of extremely rich people taking themselves extremely seriously, the Oscars can be a lot of fun. So, with my predictions about who's going to win out of the way, here's a bunch of good old fashioned bullshit (if you have to ask whether a particular prediction is serious, it's not):
---James Franco's timing is going to be a little off all night, but Anne Hathaway's going to be on point. By the end of the telecast, the audience will be begging him to shut the fuck up so we can focus on Anne's smile. Speculation that Franco's stoned will run rampant, but the real explanation is, he'll be distracted by the forty college degrees he's working on, the twenty-five movies he's directing, and the mistaken impression that he has a shot in hell of winning tonight.
---It'll be a good year for dresses. Some will actually look good, some will be mindbogglingly awful. But it won't be a boring year.
---Florence will be laid bare as the fraud she is without The Machine.
---Gwyneth Paltrow will make everyone go, “Damn, remember when she used to act? Fuck me I'm old.”
---The best speech all night will either be by the Foreign Film winner, or one of the shorts.
---Colin Firth will alienate the entire world moviegoing audience by pretending to stutter in his own acceptance speech; he'll later tell the media “I was having a laugh, is that so wrong?” and the media will go, “Yeah, stick to drama, motherfucker.”
---Tony Curtis will win a bunch of gamblers a shitload of money by batting cleanup in the Dead People Montage. Dennis Hopper, counterintuitively, will lead it off.
---Aaron Sorkin will be a giant cock in his acceptance speech.
---Something will go horribly wrong with the Oscars' “virtual stage” or whatever the fuck it is.
---The ceremony will run 27 minutes and 14 seconds over.
---Thankfully, no dumb political shit in the acceptance speeches this year. Smart political shit, on the other hand, will certainly ensue when the Wall Street documentary guy wins, but he'll be dignified about it. Fox will still jump on this and do a thing about how out-of-touch and left-wing Hollywood is, even though it'll ironically be the least partisan and most relevant political statement at the Oscars in decades.
---No Banksy. Sigh.
---Somebody's gawnna do a wicked retahded Bahstin accent joke at sam point duriness fackin show. It's nawt gawnna be fackin funny.
---This one I can guarantee: when the old guy who wrote King's Speech wins, I'm going to get up and go “David Seidler, I'm happy for you, and I'mma let you finish . . . but Chris Nolan wrote the most original screenplay of all time!” But since that's not actually true, and that joke is old anyway, I'll just be glad no one's around to hear me. Except you all, but hey. What's a blog for if not oversharing.
---Natalie Portman's loss is going to be treated like some gigantic upset, but remember, I fuckin told you so.
---The Cameron Diaz Memorial “Most Stoned Presenter Award,” won last year by Jake Gyllenhaal (who is presenting this year but will likely not repeat), should go to either Halle Berry or Matthew McConaughy.
---Value bet of the night: Me getting bored with the inevitable King's Speech sweep (and the related reaffirming of Harvey Weinstein as the Master of the Oscars) and switching over to the Knicks-Heat game, with 7 to 1 odds.
So yeah, I'll be watching alone, since all my friends are either having a quiet evening in with their wives/husbands or don't give a shit. But you can follow me on Twitter as I crack wise all night. Just be forewarned, if those tweets start being about Carmelo and Amar'e, it means the Oscars fuckin sucked this year.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Wave your gold statuettes in the motherfuckin air, and wave them motherfuckers like they were based on a selection process that was remotely a meritocracy rather than a labyrinthine web of politics and stupid old people bullshit! (Wait, that's not how the song goes?) FUCK IT, IT'S OSCAR TIME!!!
Last year's Oscars were largely a snore because there were two legitimately great movies (The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds), a handful of really good ones (like Precious and District 9, for one of the funnier juxtapositions in living memory), and a flaming $300 million turd (Avatar), and there was no suspense whatsoever about who was actually going to win, with the only surprise being that Katherine Bigelow actually won Best Director (which wasn't really even much of one). This year's a different story, as 2010 was one of the sneakiest good years for movies on record.
The year started out with a wet stinky fart with Avatar dominating the box office for like ever, since no one seemed to give a fuck that it was fucking retarded and that moreover the FX weren't even that cool (sorry, civilians, you can get the same experience by eating mushrooms and watching the Smurfs, for a lot less money) and then Clash of the Titans coming along being like “Hey, we can take the lead guy from Avatar and suck even more!” and civilized people generally reaching for the whiskey bottle and wondering whether the Vicodin would be better in pill form or chopped up and snorted.
Then all of a sudden in the middle of the year shit started to absolutely fucking rock. Inception, The Kids are All Right, Winter's Bone started a litany of interesting, ambitious pictures that held reasonably steady until the end of the year, by which time there was a legitimately impressive roster of releases, with some excellent performances by actors, some truly visionary directing, and some fuckin a solid writing.
This means that, unlike last year, there were actual worthy nominees who got snubbed; Chris Nolan took the most public hit, not being nominated for Best Director for Inception, whose editor Lee Smith got royally fucked, not even getting nominated for one of the most magnificent editing jobs perhaps in decades. Best Director and Best Editing are the only categories where they really messed up the nominations (well, and a couple others that we'll get to later). Best Director, in a just universe, looks like this:
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
David Fincher, The Social Network
Debra Granik, Winter's Bone
Chris Nolan, Inception
That's your five. Fuck David Russell and a polite request to vacate the premises to Tom Hooper and the Coen Brothers (who justfuckinbarely miss the cut, I am not pissing on True Grit in any way). But, hey, them's the bricks.
Also unlike last year, there's some actual uncertainty in the acting categories. Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz, and Mo'Nique had that shit on lock even before the nominations were announced. This year, they don't even need to bother announcing the other four dudes in the Best Actor category, but the other three acting categories are still kind of up for grabs (it's a shame Jennifer Lawrence ain't got a shot). This necessitates the finest in analysis, from Movies By Bowes' ™ crack staff of one crackhead. Let's start with the ones I haven't any fuckin clue about:
Best Foreign Language Film
Always the most arbitrary award, because it never goes to the one movie anyone's ever heard of. It won't be Biutiful for that reason (also it apparently kind of sucks), and it won't be Dogtooth because it was the one everyone jumped to when they went “well it won't be Biutiful because people have heard of it.” I'm rooting for the Danish picture In A Better World so one woman director gets an Oscar, since Debra Granik and Lisa Cholodenko got boned by the nominating committee.
Best Live Action Short/Best Animated Short/Best Documentary Short Subject
No fuckin idea. But hey, you don't know either, that makes two of us.
Best Documentary Feature
This category's the most fun it's been years, with three king-hell badass pictures right at the top: Exit Through The Gift Shop, which isn't going to win—alas—though not winning will actually probably be better for Banksy's career than winning, just because it's hard to be anti-establishment with an Oscar (just ask Eminem) and we fuckin need Banksy to be anti-establishment. Also, if he did some shit like accept the fuckin thing as himself it'd be like, “right, you really are just some dude from Bristol in his late 30s. Fart.”
That means it's down to Inside Job and Restrepo, which means it's a coin flip: do you go with the—former, intellectually harrowing account of how far up our ass Wall Street's dick is, or do you go with the—latter—viscerally harrowing thing about combat troops in war? Guess it all depends which side of the bed the Academy wakes up on, but it'll be one of those two.
That being said, the best movie in this category is Exit Through The Gift Shop. Hands fucking down. Banksy is a fucking god.
Best Original Score
Hans Zimmer, motherfuckers.
Best Original Song
I don't really give a fuck. Randy Newman? Sure, why not. I'll be taking a piss when this one's presented anyway. This is why we either need to take a page out of Bollywood's book and actually fucking write good songs for this category, or just change the goddamn thing to “Best Needle Drop” and give the award to the hipster who decided to score a gun battle to “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear.
Best Sound Editing/Best Sound Mixing
Both of these joints had best be going to Inception. I watched Inception with headphones on a train coming back from Christmas and I was like “fuck, they should call this movie Erection.” Because of the sound, you see. Well, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's suits ahem but that's not the point. Seriously, if either of these categories go to anything else, the whole thing is a fucking fraud.
The Wolfman. Sure it sucked, but Rick Baker owns.
Best Costume Design
An utterly invalid category this year due to the absence of Inception. Any movie responsible for that many people calling me gay for babbling about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's tailoring should fucking win Best Costume Design. Point fucking blank.
No Inception = The Social Network by default. But it's fucking bullshit that Inception is not nominated in this category. Seriously, we need to find out whose wives Chris Nolan has been fucking.
Best Visual Effects
No Tron: Legacy (which should have won, not even being nominated is retarded) = Inception wins by default. “Oh, there's your consolation prize for not being nominated for editing, Inception.” Yeah, suck my dick, Oscar.
A good field of nominees. Can't really go wrong with any of them except The King's Speech, which isn't even that bad, it's just the weakest of the five. General consensus is it's Roger Deakins' year for True Grit; I was amazed that he hasn't won yet, and that shit was gorgeous, so it's not even a consolation prize.
Best Animated Feature
Fuck knows. Don't care. I hear How To Train Your Dragon is good, but as part of the .0001 “Fuck Pixar” % of humanity, I just don't want it to be Toy Story even though it will be. I'm sorry, Pixar movies are so emotionally manipulative it's scary: what happens when Disney decides to use those skills for evil? HUH???
And now . . . the biggies:
Best Adapted Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin and a cast of thousands, and could very well end up being The Social Network's token Oscar, if the Academy indeed makes the howlingly retarded decision to fuck David Fincher. Unfortunately, this means Debra Granik goes home empty-handed, but hopefully she cleans up at the Spirit Awards.
Best Original Screenplay
Chris Nolan should win, but they're probably giving it to The King's Speech, which annoys me because not only does it wantonly fuck Chris Nolan over it's also an insult to Lisa Cholodenko, which is just like goddamn it man. Fuck the Oscars are annoying sometimes. Anyway, in a just world this is a coin flip between Inception and The Kids Are All Right, because you cannot compare those pictures. But this is not a just world.
Best Supporting Actress
Anybody's guess. Most likely are Melissa Leo for The Fighter or Hallee Steinfeld for True Grit, but more likely Melissa Leo.
Best Supporting Actor
A two-man race between Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush. Bale's not as much of a favorite as people seem to think, but he still probably takes it so the Academy never has to vote for him again for anything (people really don't like that cat for whatever reason).
Another two-way race, this one between Annette Bening and Natalie Portman. I don't know why everyone's so convinced Natalie Portman has this one in the bag, because I'm goddamn near positive Annette Bening's winning it. First of all, this is another instance where you can't compare the performance. Natalie Portman in Black Swan gives one of those high-wire act, teetering on the brink of madness performances that are really flashy and everything but really, bizarrely, aren't as reliant on talent as they are a willingness to push oneself. It still, obviously, takes talent to do it that well.
Annette Bening, on the other hand, gives a much subtler performance in The Kids Are All Right. Her character is a bit of a control freak, and extremely uptight, and in a lesser movie with a lesser actress could have just been the most annoying fucking person on the planet. In Annette's hands, the character becomes enormously compelling, human, and the kind of person the audience can actually relate to. That, clearly, is not a substitute for artistic achievement, but Annette's attention to detail takes surgical skill (and I'm not just phrasing it that way because she plays a surgeon, but holy shit, how bout that, huh?)
You can't compare the two performances, but I personally am taking Annette, and I'm taking her to win because of the Hilary Swank losses in '99 and '04. Politics are a way bigger part of this than anyone wants to admit, but in this case, it'd be a deserved win.
Colin Firth. The biggest lock the entire night. It ain't a race, it's a coronation. But oh . . . what about his speech? Bahahahahahaha TIP YOUR WAITRESS MUTHAFUCKAAAAAAAA
Okay. Even if they hadn't fucked up the nominations in this category and Nolan was still in, it'd be a coin flip between David Fincher and Debra Granik, if we were doing this on straight quality, with no politics or box office or anything thrown in. So, post-fuckup, it should be David Fincher finally getting some recognition for being fucking David Fincher (and The Social Network was a worthy picture to win for). But lo and behold, there's this absurd tantrum the old people are throwing where they're pretending that The King's Speech is this legendary, earth-shattering thing. It's a good movie, but come the fuck on, man. And Tom Hooper's just sort of there. Best Director means Best Fucking Director. That means David Fincher, of these five.
The probability at this point is probably 60/40 for Tom Hooper to win, but don't be surprised if Fincher wins. The fact that he's the underdog is absolutely fucking ridiculous, though.
It's The King's Speech. It's been The King's Speech since the old people threw their coup d'etat and decided The Social Network never existed. It's not an apocalyptic disaster if The King's Speech wins (it is good), but it's a sign that critics are being more completely marginalized. Critics, the people who actually study movies, were all in agreement: The Social Network was by far the best movie of the year. Then all of a sudden the guilds with all the old people give out their awards and suddenly The King's Speech is the only movie that came out in 2010? Child please. The old people are just pissed because a movie about all that computer shit that they're still convinced is a fad—AFTER ALMOST 20 YEARS OF THE FUCKING INTERNET—had all these damn critics all in a tizzy. Again, The King's Speech is a good movie. And yes, The Social Network is, at best, a parable, and at worst near-total fiction. But for fuck's sake, it's a brilliantly made movie. It's the best Hollywood movie in years. The choice between a good movie, that's nice and makes you feel good, and a great movie, that's a work of genius and makes you think is not a fucking choice. Great is better than good. But people prefer to feel than to think, so it's The King's Speech.
This isn't even taking into account the other movies that were better than The King's Speech this year: Black Swan, Winter's Bone, The Kids Are All Right, Inception, True Grit (Dabangg, Endhiran, Tees Maar Khan . . .) But, in spite of all my ranting, the fact that there are this many pictures that were better than the (admittedly good) heir apparent to the Best Picture statue is a sign that 2010 was a pretty fuckin good year for movies.
The other, more general, good news is, to use one classic example, Citizen Kane is Citizen Kane and me and maybe other four people under the age of 60 have seen How Green Was My Valley. I'd say Fight Club has more enduring relevance than American Beauty, but that'd just make me mad about David Fincher inevitably getting banjaxed this year. But the point I started to make, with Kane, is that the good news is, it's just the Oscars. History has a better voting record than the Academy.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Last night I completed my little Tony Jaa project, and I realized one mildly disappointing thing: I should have done them in chronological order. The problem with The Protector not being available on Netflix Instant meant I had to wait forfuckingever for the goddamn postal service to bring it to me, thus leaving it as the capstone of my Jaa-capades.
Only problem with that is that The Protector isn't very good. It's kind of like an attempt to recapture the bugfuck energy of Ong-Bak, utilizing a similar fish-out-of-water premise where the good kid from the sticks (Tony) goes to the big city and has to fight a bunch of gangsters again, only this time IN A SURPRISE TWIST he goes to Sydney, Australia instead of Bangkok. Fresh!
The fact that The Protector doesn't make more out of the fact that one of the world's top 5 craziest motherfuckers (Tony Jaa) is running around kicking ass in Australia, home of at least three of the other four—it just has to be, it's Australia—is a bit of a let-down. The fight scenes are extremely hot stuff, as they damn near have to be, with Tony Jaa involved, though the intervening story is giggle-inducing horseshit. Or, more accurately, elephant shit.
Yes, this is the movie whose alternate American title is Where's My Goddamn Elephant?: One Man's Pugilistic Quest To Find a Lost Pachyderm. Tony plays a guy in a long line of monks or something who train in Muay Thai to protect battle elephants, and there are a whole lot of stupid-looking CG flashback/dream sequences to back in the days when tiny little Thai motherfuckers would protect the elephants by owning anyone who tries to get up under the elephants where they're vulnerable. Even though the elephants are no longer used for battle anymore, Tony's still all trained and everything. Then one day, a bunch of bad guys who seemingly are involved in every single illegal activity there is—murder, drugs, prostitution, kidnapping animals on the endangered species list—straight up gank Tony's sacred elephant, and the little baby one. Tony beats the shit out of everyone and is told that the bad guys have amscrayed to Australia with the elephants.
Tony shows up in Australia and starts barging up to everyone in sight, beating the shit out of them, and asking them where his elephants are. In so doing, he runs into a Vietnamese gang lieutenant who fucks Tony up with wushu (which I guess he's never seen before or something), that lieutenant's boss, a Chinese trans woman who—in the American cut—never has anyone remark, rudely or otherwise about the fact that she was blatantly not born female (in the original cut, they do acknowledge this). Xing Jin, the actress who plays the role, is trans in real life, and one of the only trans people the Chinese government is willing to acknowledge, because she's apparently an awesome ballet dancer, so, far out. Not a whole lot of those moves are on display in The Protector, though, and one gets the distinct feeling that a whole lot of her scenes were cut due to Harvey Weinstein being a pussy about action fans not being able to get down with LGBT stuff.
I'd rant a little more about Harvey except why fucking bother at this point, and also the movie really isn't all that good. It does, however, have one all-time fucking legendary sequence, and fortunately it's on Youtube, so you don't have to watch the whole movie to see it:
That's right. The first four fucking minutes of that clip was one fucking shot. I sure hope those stunt dudes who went flying four stories into wooden roofs are okay . . .
Then toward the end there's another sequence which is kind of awesome, except more in an unintentional comedy way than the staircase one which is completely and inarguably awesome independent of how dumb the rest of the movie is. And, because this fight is just straight-up ridiculous, it actually fits a little better with the rest of the movie:
This is basically the climactic fight (SPOILER ALERT: the bad guys killed the big elephant, that's what Tony's so pissed about; the baby elephant's ok, though). Tony goes on to have a fight with a gigantic white guy, and then there are multiple gigantic white guys, then he yanks the trans villainess out of a helicopter in a cruddy-looking CGI shot and then the fuckin movie mercifully ends.
But, back to the staircase fight, with the uninterrupted four-minute Steadicam shot of Tony owning the shit of everybody (and getting visibly tired by the end of it, which, hey, he's allowed to). This is the most important part of this picture for two reasons: one, it's awesome, and two, it comes at the halfway point of the movie, which is in itself a major flaw and a sign that the creative talent behind The Protector didn't really know what the fuck they were doing on this one. When one random fight in the middle of the movie is so exponentially cooler than anything else in the movie, it's a sign that either the movie doesn't know what it's doing, or doesn't give a fuck.
I'd be inclined to posit that the answer lies somewhere in between in the case of The Protector. It's flawed and dumb and the acting parts are just fucking staggeringly stupid in places (and killing the big elephant was stupid and unnecessarily melodramatic), but it gets style points for eccentricity (the fact that they're just like, sure, our villain is a trans woman, and sure, she's fucking the corrupt Australian cop dude who kills people for her, not to mention all the goofiness with the elephants) and any movie with Tony Jaa beating the shit out of people is watchable for those scenes alone, though in the case of The Protector, you want to keep your fast-forward button handy.
I now feel like I'm up to speed with Tony Jaa. Like I was saying in my previous post about him, I think he's a total singularity in the history of action movies, and is amazing to watch. But holy fuckin shit he's weird. Don't get me wrong, I like weird. But there's civilian weird and then there's Tony Jaa weird, way the fuck over there in a whole separate category. And if you go over there, don't mess with his elephant, because it'll be all day getting Tony Jaa's foot out from being embedded in your ass.
Monday, February 21, 2011
I'm currently busy finishing up a first draft of a play that is already absolutely fucking insane and will only get more so before the action-packed climax, so posting might be a little light over the next few days. I'm going to try to get in previews of the Spirit Awards and the Oscars this coming weekend, so be on the lookout for those.
I reviewed a couple movies for Tor last weekend: Unknown, the latest entry in my favorite new genre (Liam Neeson owning the fuck out of people in a randomly selected European city). I didn't really like it all that much (the intervals between ownages were a little long and a little dumb), but it had its moments, and was a flat-out fucking masterpiece compared to the thing I saw the next day, that may be the single stupidest fucking piece of shit I've ever seen, I Am Number Four. When I got out of that movie, I went on a Twitter rant:
Reviewing I AM NUMBER FOUR without the f-word and death threats is going to be a challenge.
I saw a guy on the subway who was going to recharge his cell phone with the third rail; he said I AM NUMBER FOUR was his favorite movie.
I AM NUMBER FOUR is so stupid, Glenn Beck denounced it as a fourth columnist trying to discredit stupid people (think about this one a sec)
I AM NUMBER FOUR is so fucking stupid, stupid people just hired Ron Kuby for a defamation lawsuit.
I AM NUMBER FOUR is stupider than doing heroin off a stranger's key because he told you it was coke.
Any movie that can't be saved by an Australian biker chick with guns is deeply fucked.
Sarah Palin in a fucking coma would be smarter than I AM NUMBER FOUR. Bad reviews aren't enough, we need prison sentences.
A number of my friends seemed to find this highly amusing, but really, it was using humor to hide the pain. When someone who counts Tango & Cash, Marked For Death, Bloodsport, and The Last Boy Scout among his favorite (do not confuse with "best") movies of all time tells you something is offensively stupid, you best be fucking sitting down. Because the concept of something being that stupid ought to fill your soul with dread. Matter of fact, since I can curse here, this is my actual review of I Am Number Four:
Happy President's Day, my friends.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
One occasional annoyance of living in the Western world (it's not just America, though we fucking rule at this just like EVERYTHING ELSE) is that the commercialization of the media leads to stupid shit getting a ton of coverage because real news is boring. So, at a time when the people of seemingly every country in the Middle East and North Africa are in the streets engaged in (mostly) non-violent protests demanding democracy, our news media here in the United States of Apathy is largely occupied by the activities of Charlie Sheen's penis, liver, and nasal membranes.
And fuck it, I'm not above writing about this shit. All I know about the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East/North Africa is “Good luck, y'all, hope it works out for you,” and I don't really have anything more substantial to write about it than that, other than to say that having a sitcom starring the deposed Gaddafi, Mubarak, and Ahmadinejad all forced to live in the same apartment splitting rent after all their shit gets seized would be funny. They could even call it Two and a Half Men because Mubarak and Ahmadinejad would misogynistically make fun of Gaddafi for having female bodyguards. And with that, we segue back to Charlie.
Like most people, my reaction to Charlie Sheen's exploits is a Venn diagram of exasperation and disgust, though mine has a third circle: a hazily laissez-faire “hey, fuck it, if he can do 8-balls the size of his fist and bang porn stars and drink like a fish with a drinking problem, let him do it.” Cuz, really?As someone who's a little unconventional about who he goes to bed with and also been unwise with the controlled substances his own self, I can't really talk. Beyond that, I don't have anything emotional invested in this cat. I could concoct some kind of “he was one of the most compelling leading men to arrive in the mid-to-late 80s but never fulfilled his promise as a movie star in part due to his spiralling substance abuse issues” argument, except that's kinda bullshit. Sure he's on a sitcom now, but TV is far from its former status as purgatory, and he is getting motherfucking paid to be on that thing. Cat makes $40-50 mil a year or some shit on that damn show. It may not be any kind of apex of artistic achievement, but money's money and this is America. Not to mention, the show is incredibly patient with him; if they haven't fired him yet, they're not going to. He could fuck the boss' wife in the ass while spooning coke into his daughters' noses and still not get fired at this point.
That's probably the weirdest thing about the media narrative on Charlie Sheen. People can do all the hand-wringing they want about how he's self-destructing, consciously/unconsciously committing suicide, all that jazz, but the fact of the matter is, he's got probably more job security than anyone in the business (CBS is only now hesitating about bringing him back). Certainly more than the other tabloid piñata we'll be discussing today, Lindsay Lohan.
Lindsay Lohan, from all available and objective accounts, drinks and snorts less than Charlie, and does not have a terribly seamy sex life. Sure she likes chicks, but she doesn't piss on them or lock them in closets or anything, she just has lesbian sex with them, and lesbian sex is one of the cornerstones of a civilized society. This is how you can tell all the homophobe religious people are full of shit; anyone who claims to not like lesbians is either a fucking liar (unless you're a straight girl in a bar dealing with a belligerently determined drunk one who isn't listening, and even then if you blame the faults of each on all you're making a moral mistake) or seriously misguided.
Even if one presupposes that the tales of Lindsay Lohan's debauchery are factual and that the nature of said debauchery is as severe as all the tabloid tut-tutters maintain, she's hardly unique. There is a well-established tradition of child stars, denied a proper childhood due to having spent the entirety of it onstage or on a movie set, freaking out and getting fucked up on drugs in their teen years and young adulthood. Lindsay ain't the first and she sure ain't the worst. The tone of the vast majority of the tabloid reports on her exploits is 90% faux outrage and 10% content (Ed. Note: stats courtesy of NASA in collaboration with the Trilateral Commission) and when you sift through and find out what they're actually accusing her of doing is having a couple drinks and then passing out because she's tired. Even the necklace thing isn't all that cut and dry: celebrities get given free shit all the time and sometimes signals get crossed. Is it dumb to walk off with a necklace and assume it's free? Sure. But it ain't all on her.
So. Whence this contrast, and to what end? Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan are but two examples, the most current, of heavily-chronicled celebrities who like getting fuggedup. There are two important dichotomies at play here:
a) Charlie Sheen is male and Lindsay Lohan is female
b) Charlie Sheen makes evil white guys in suits money and Lindsay Lohan no longer does.
The first is important because forgetting that the vast majority of people calling the shots in the entertainments industry are guys is a mistake. It's probably the main determining factor in the bile that arises from the second point. If you're a fucked-up guy former child star, you get to be Corey Haim (well, til you OD, but you get the point). People sigh and make mean jokes about you, but there's a fondness in the way you're remembered (especially after you OD), even if it's couched in smarmy irony. Lindsay Lohan isn't getting any of this slack. This assessment has a bit of subjectivity to it, of course, and I have way the fuck better things to do than reading everything motherfuckers write about her, but it seems like there's a lot more anger to the way people write about her, and a whole lotta schadenfreude when one of her pictures flops.
None of this bullshit would be happening if she wasn't making atomic turds like I Know Who Killed Me (which is student film quality garbage) and Georgia Rule (which is just jaw-droppingly awful). Both of those are several years ago at this point, reinforcing the already painful truth that the difficulty curve for a career comeback is vastly steeper for women in the business than it is men. A couple flops, and a couple instances of unladylike public behavior, and the industry goes “My word!” and turns into a fuckin spinster aunt from a fuckin 1920s melodrama, whereas Robert Downey, Jr. (to be fair, a much different type of actor than Double-L, who at her peak was a highly competent comic leading player rather than a chameleonic Method lunatic like RDJ) is that nice young man who just needed to be given a hand.
Gender isn't the only element at play here, though. Remember, Charlie Sheen is on a massively successful TV show (forget that it looks fucking retarded, it prints money) and RDJ had that slam-your-dick-on-the-table blockbuster with the first Iron Man picture. So while Lindsay Lohan being a girl is arguably responsible for the severity of the critique she receives for her behavior, motherfuckers wouldn't give a flying fuck if she was making hits. If the right producer offered her the right project where she could transition into more adult roles, in one of those performances that gets written up as a “revelation” in the press, that turned into one of those $50-75 mil grossing Indiewood pictures and got nominated for awards and shit, next thing you know Chris Nolan rolls the dice and casts her as Harley Quinn or some fuckin thing and boom, she's in “I guess we gotta put up with the lateness and booze breath” Sheen territory.
That last brings up one of the potential elements one might bring up to counter my argument. “Charlie may get fucked up and have nine-ways with porn stars, but he always shows up to work. Lindsay is so often late and absent that guy had to send an open letter to the media complaining about her behavior.” First, let's not hold the guy who sent the letter up as some kind of crusader for decency. If you have a problem with someone, tell them about it, not the fuckin media. And second, dealing with crazy girls requires a bit of compassion; it's tempting, as a guy, to just say fuck it and wash your hands of the whole situation, but not all crazy girl craziness is malignant or personally directed at you. A lot of times it isn't even craziness, it's just behavior grounded in unfamiliar premises. Granted, Lindsay actually is kind of nuts (poor Samantha Ronson), and producing a project where your lead actor is always late is frustrating. But goddamn, dude, trying to shame her into better behavior through the media was like “Holy shit my house is on fire, let me put it out with this giant can of gasoline.” Because maybe it works temporarily, but the next time she's in a bad mood and has a couple drinks, she's like “THE FUCKING MEDIA IS RUINING MY LIFE” and next thing you know they're dragging her into a limo with no panties on and there goes that meeting the next day; “Fuck it, we're casting Emma Stone, this is too much headache.” There's a point where responsibility for one's own actions becomes moot: the feeling that the entire fucking world is conspiring against you leads to despair, nihilism, and an abandonment of any desire to play by that goddamn world's fucking rules.
And so this is why Charlie can give interviews saying sobriety is boring and nothing'll probably happen, where if Lindsay tried to pull some shit like that she'd get fired from projects she wasn't even attached to. I won't recap the reasons why, but I will add an emotional tag: it kind of pisses me off. To the point where I'd write and direct a comeback vehicle for her if I could get funding for it, just to be like “Fuck you, it can be done.” I mean, I'm not saying I'd do it without a really good contract and a couple ex-Mossad agents to follow her and keep her sober, but I'd give it a go.
As for Charlie, it's a moot point considering that show is all the work he needs to do, and if he's banked even a tiny percentage of his insane salary from that show he's set for life, however much of it is left. But I don't know, the only advantages I can see working with him are easy access to coke and porn stars. I have no use for coke, and I hang out with burlesque performers and models on the regular. Sorry, Charlie. I think you can deal with the disappointment.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Tony Jaa's the one with less fur. That's not a joke, that's actually the only comparison I can think of.
Here's a simple breakdown of the five dumbest fucking things you can do:
(5) Forget that Clint only fired five shots.
(4) Cross the streams
(3) Forget about Dre.
(2) Let Egyptian kids fuck around on Twitter (this Bud's for you, Hosni Ceausescu)
(1) Get Tony Jaa pissed off
It's a really, really bad idea to get Tony Jaa pissed off. Very large amounts of shit gets broke when Tony Jaa gets pissed off. Unlike a lot of his predecessors in martial arts cinema, Tony Jaa takes shit really fucking personally. Jet Li will assume the form of the ocean and through a weird blend of reification and Zen poetics end up leveling your shit like a natural disaster, but his emotions are always in check, because he becomes existence. Jackie Chan will flip through his Buster Keaton DVDs and use stunts and physical comedy to entertain you into submission. Bruce, however, would get pissed every now and then and fuck everybody in a five mile radius up, but with the exception of that one scene in The Big Boss where he knifes the henchmen to death at the ice factory, he was always in control, however fierce his style might be.
By contrast, Tony Jaa looks legitimately dangerous in his fight scenes. As in, there's probably more than one stunt dude somewhere in Thailand breathing really carefully and grumbling to himself that at least the check cleared and once these ribs heal up and my leg is reattached I'm going to get a surplus Soviet tank and go over to Tony's place. To his credit, though, Tony does a ton of insanely dangerous shit himself; he isn't asking the extras to do anything he wouldn't do. Only problem with that is, Tony Jaa is fucking crazy.
His entire life was based around learning martial arts so he could make really violent movies where he owned the fucking shit out of everyone in sight, and this ambition was realized with Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (released in the US as Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior). The opening scene sets the tone in an indirectly perfect way, featuring country boy Tony Jaa competing with a shitload of other dudes to see who can climb a tree the fastest; as they climb, they all try to throw each other off the tree, and by the end of the sequence, dudes are falling off the top of the fucking tree in uninterrupted takes and crunching on the ground.
Tony, being the star, wins, which means he gets to get ordained as a monk. Meanwhile, a bunch of sleazy city dudes are trying to buy the village's prized possession, a statue called Ong-Bak. The locals steadfastly refuse, which leads to the city guys chopping the head off the statue and scurrying back to Bangkok. The villagers send Tony Jaa to the big city with all the money they can collect, to go see his dickhead cousin Humlae (Petchtai Wongkamlao) to help him get the statue's head back.
When Tony Jaa arrives in Bangkok he finds that his dickhead cousin has befriended a teenage girl named Muay who holy shit is like the fucking Thai Carol Kane with that voice. When she's not talking she's pretty, but gaaaaaaaadDAMN do you want her to shut the fuck up once she gets started. Still, once you get used to it, her voice isn't that bad. Kinda like Carol Kane.
Humlae has developed a bunch of city ways—dying his hair, gambling excessively, running various short cons to pay off his debts—which lead inexorably to Tony Jaa wandering into an underground boxing club. The place is run by a bad guy in a wheelchair with a voicebox, who hangs out with a bunch of attentive and decorative girls and some other gangster who laughs a lot with whom Voicebox Guy gambles on the fights. The other gangster is thoroughly getting his ass handed to him by Voicebox Guy, until Tony Jaa accidentally volunteers to fight this big mean motherfucker, when all he's trying to do is get to the cashier to get his money—that Humlae stole to gamble on the fights—back. It looks perilous for Tony, until Tony just up and owns the fucking guy with one move.
Tony, pissed at Humlae but fond of the girl Muay, grumpily tries in vain to find the statue while Humlae keeps fucking up and getting bad guys pissed off at him and requiring Tony to do all kinds of awesome stunt work evading bad guys (one shot during a chase scene reveals some graf on the wall that says “Hey Speilberg, let do it together!” [all misspellings the movie's], which actually was a message from the director to Steven Spielberg suggesting that they make a movie, though the syntax is ambiguous enough Spielberg, had he seen the picture, might have thought someone was asking him to shtup).
Tony's quest for the statue leads back to Voicebox Guy's boxing club, where Tony has to fight a few more dudes. The first is a racist Australian guy, in a possible homage to the racist New Zealander Bruce Lee teaches the art of fighting without fighting in Enter the Dragon. Tony Jaa, however, teaches the Australian the art of fighting with fighting, beating the living fucking shit out of the guy.
Next up is a Japanese guy with a fro (the thumbs-his-nose-at-causality nerd in me couldn't help but think “Sushi K from Snow Crash really fuckin came down in the world since the future, man, damn . . .”) and really fast feet, with whom Tony has a highly entertaining fight.
Then, another goddamn white guy, who takes advantage of Tony's fatigue to almost win, before Tony just goes like “fuck this” and finally lays his ass out. After this, the crowd throws coins at Tony in recognition of his off-the-chain insanity and badassness, thoroughly pissing off Voicebox Guy, who's been betting against Tony the whole time, and delighting his giggly adversary, who makes out like a goddamn bandit.
The fighting stops for a couple minutes, to reveal that Voicebox Guy is annoyed with his underling who stole Ong-Bak's head and introduced the headache that is Tony Jaa into his midst. The underling, bristling at this rebuke, kills a hooker (who happens to be Muay's sister) by jamming a fistful of cocaine into her face. This leads to a wild tuk-tuk chase (a tuk-tuk apparently being the product of a wild night of sex between a golf cart, a rickshaw, and a Mini Cooper), at the end of which, Tony Jaa finds a cache of stolen Buddhas, and is exhorted by Voicebox Guy to go out way out in the sticks to the Burmese border to have a rope-fist fight against Voicebox Guy's henchman who shoots himself in the tits with steroids so he's invulnerable to pain. If Tony throws the fight he gets Ong-Bak back, as well as Muay and Humlae.
Tony throws the fight, but Voicebox Guy decides to be a fucking asshole—he is, after all, the bad guy—and Tony is forced to go out to this cave in the mountains and own a few dozen more bad guys and recover the head of Ong-Bak and rescue Muay. In the ensuing scramble, Humlae (who has been getting gradually less buffoonish and douche-y over the course of the picture) nobly sacrifices himself, and the severed head of a much-larger Buddha crushes Voicebox Guy to death. Humlae's last wish is that Tony Jaa put Muay through college and make sure she grows up right.
The chases and fight scenes are extremely well done and Tony Jaa is a staggering fucking badass in them. His moves, based on really old-school Muay Thai, are absolutely spectacular, with a startling amount of power for such a little guy (Tony claims to be 5'6” . . . I don't know, everyone else in this picture must be 6' plus if that's the case; not to generalize about SE Asia but I find that highly unlikely) and he has a couple positively terrifying finishing moves, one in particular where he wraps his legs around the dude's shoulders and chops him with superhuman ferocity in the fuckin head with the sides of both hands about eight times . . . that's just gotta hurt. Also Tony beats the fuck out of a guy with his legs literally on fire (the first take, Tony burned his eyebrows off because the fire got out of control, but insisted on doing a couple more takes).
Now, you might read through all that and go, “Holy shit, that movie sounds crazy.” You'd be absolutely right, too. It is totally fucking crazy. But it pales—pales, I say—in comparison to Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning.
The stories behind this movie are crazy enough: Tony, who was directing this time around, was rumored to have disappeared for a couple months midway through production. The juiciest rumor—started by the movie's producer, no less—was that he'd had a nervous breakdown and wandered into the jungle to randomly kick ass. Tony claimed that this wasn't true, but was vague about what exactly had happened. Either way, not the smoothest shoot.
I'm reluctant to write too much about Ong-Bak 2, because this Cracked article sums it up pretty much perfectly. Take a few minutes to read that and meet me on the other side of this picture of a typical scene.
Yeah, that's a picture of Tony Jaa ripping a motherfucker's larynx out with his fingers. He does that a few times.
Okay, the thing to keep in mind about that Cracked article is that it understates the case. Ong-Bak 2 is what would happen if you took a 10-12 year old boy who was into fantasy novels and martial arts movies and got him tripping his nuts off on a sugar high and gave him some crayons and told him to write a movie script. It has flashbacks less because they're necessary and more because Tony is like “oh yeah, right, and while all this shit was going on, this thing that happened a few years ago is what 'explains' what's going on.” After about an hour, you can kind of get a bead on what the fuck is going on, and then it's time for Tony to go have his final boss fight against the evil prince and a couple hundred ninjas.
Tony doesn't dwell on the backstory, which happens in no rational order, and is basically about how his 15th century nobleman father raised young Tony to be gay and sent him to dancing school, where he fucked up at being gay by falling for a girl. So then there's some intrigue or something and Tony gets kidnapped by a bad good guy, and then a good good guy re-kidnaps him before a bunch of dudes shoot the good good guy with arrows and Tony gets sold into slavery and then thrown into a muddy pit to wrestle a crocodile, whereupon a mysterious dude throws Tony a knife with which he dispatches the crocodile, and then the mysterious dude takes Tony off to the middle of nowhere and teaches him all kinds of ridiculously awesome martial arts and teaches him how to blow shit up. The movies shows that he's learned all this shit by jettisoning the kid actor who had been playing the lead character and plunking Tony Jaa down to have a succession of fights where he casually owns the master of each discipline. The chronology jumps around all over the place, and Tony gets his extremely bloody revenge against the slave traders who threw him into the crocodile pit as a kid, and liberates all their slaves. Then the fucking prince or whoever he is shows back up and starts acting like a dick and Tony kills a whole bunch of people and then infiltrates the palace, where the girl he'd been in love with as a little kid is there as the lead dancer. But, rather than have a big romantic reunion, Tony has to kill a couple hundred ninjas and then realize that the guy who taught him all the cool shit he knows actually killed his father, and they square off to have a boss fight but then the guy tells Tony to kill him to avenge his father's death, so Tony kills him and then fights a couple hundred more ninjas and kills the bad guy except he doesn't and Tony Jaa, improbably, is about to get owned when the camera cuts to black and basically fucking says, per the Cracked article, “Clap your hands if you believe in fairies and Tony Jaa will live.” No shit.
That's not even a spoiler, because you actually have to watch Ong-Bak 2 in its entirety to grasp how fucking weird that ending is, and the even weirder reality that that ending doesn't totally suck, in spite of how ridiculous it sounds. The thing is, the entire movie is just as ridiculous, and there really is no other way it could have ended, other than in some way you simply were not fucking expecting.
But narrative, shmarrative. Does Tony Jaa own motherfuckers in Ong-Bak 2? You're goddamn right Tony Jaa owns motherfuckers in Ong-Bak 2. The insanity of the fight scenes in the first Ong-Bak—oh, and by the way, to clear up any misunderstanding, there is literally no connection whatsoever between Ong-Bak and Ong-Bak 2 except Tony Jaa ownage and some vague Buddhist connections—pale in comparison (pale, I say, pale) to Ong-Bak 2. Tony Jaa kills people with fucking grenades in the fucking 15th century. Tony Jaa makes elephants bend to his will toward the beginning, and he has an elephant show up to help him fuck people up toward the end. (Tony likes elephants; there's a whole bunch of elephant-related awesomeness in The Protector as well; The Protector warrants a whole post of its own, which it'll get soon). And there is plenty of fighting that's just straight up hand-to-hand or with swords, and it's all amazing. What makes it all the more thrilling is the sneaking suspicion that Tony might have forgotten to give a fuck about safety regulations while filming, because seriously, some of that shit looks like some extras fucking bought it (and at least one of those elephants should have lawyered up before taking part in Tony's batshit stunt work).
It's almost a shame that he decided to make an Ong-Bak 3 where he tried to link the first two by implying that his character in the first was the reincarnation of his character from the second, because the sheer novelty of having a second movie that bore that little resemblance to the first would have been goddamn perfect. Oh, well.
It's tempting to conclude with something along the lines of “Tony Jaa immediately redefined the hierarchy of action gods with his arrival on the scene etc etc” except for the fact that he's so fucking crazy he's in his own category. This tiny elephant-obsessed anger-management issue having motherfucker cannot be compared to any other entity ever. He is simply Tony Jaa. All praise is due.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Well, so much for writing a blog post about Commando. There's no way I can do a better job than this kid. Seriously, if Gina Gershon movies ever get distribution in Tanzania I'm going to have to turn my whole blog over to this little guy.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Once one of the best movie magazines we had, and then in its web-only edition the first place that ever paid me to write for them (a sign of excellent taste), Premiere as we knew it has ceased to be. It's now been folded into some French entertainment website. The exact details, whatever. Premiere will live on in my memorial gratitude.
In all the hooraw in the site's last days, they never got around to posting the last thing I wrote for them (the original idea for which was James Comtois' that he let me have because he couldn't think of 7 movies to fill the list out). That they never posted it is a shame, because I rather liked it, but the good news is they did pay me for it. My good friend and editor John DeVore told me (well, I think is what he said, if it turns out I heard wrong, it's my fault not his) that this piece was basically mine to do with as I chose since they never posted it. What I choose is to share it with y'all; it's in a different style and format than I usually employ here, but hey. Fuck monotony. (Ed. Note: anything that contradicts anything that the author wrote here on this blog is because he was talking out of both sides of his mouth to please The Man like the shameless little slut that he is):
7 MOVIES THAT MAKE NO SENSE (BUT THAT WE STILL LOVE)
We've all been there: watching some movie, thoroughly enjoying it, but one thing (or more) comes up and you're like “wait a minute . . . what?” If the rest of the movie's good enough, more often than not we'll cut it some slack, but that doesn't make it make any more sense. Here are a few examples of the most forgivable “huh?” movies:
1—Inception (2010) dir. Christopher Nolan
Dreams within dreams within dreams (within dreams?) Christopher Nolan's enormously successful summer mind-heist blockbuster features a lot of very attractive, well-dressed people doing a lot of very attractive, well-photographed things. And talking. A lot.
But what about all those rules? The thing about attractive people is that you want to be cool enough to understand everything they say, so that they'll think you're smart enough to sleep with. But much like the previous sentence, not everything the comely cast of Inception says holds up to close scrutiny. Or any scrutiny at all: why, if it's so important to use your own totem, does Leo DiCaprio use Marion Cotillard's? That's just the first of many threads that, if pulled, start to unravel the movie.
Why none of that matters: They're all so pretty. And the zero-gravity fight scenes. And that awesome BWWAAAAAH sound. And Edith Piaf.
2—Mulholland Dr. (2001) dir. David Lynch
You could plug most David Lynch movies in this spot, since they're all really good and none of 'em make a lick of rational sense. And do not, whatever you do, ask your pothead friend to help. You'll be listening to them make as little sense as the movie for twice as long, without getting to see Naomi Watts naked.
So . . . what the hell's going on here? Ya got me. It looks cool, sounds cool, makes a couple thought-provoking statements about the subjectivity of reality (I think) and both literally and metaphorically deals with the cruelty of the movie industry (maybe?)
Why it's still great: Naomi Watts and Laura Harring may be the sexiest couple in the history of cinema. The “no hay banda” scene is killer. And even if the movie's gibberish, you still have to pretend you like it to shut annoying David Lynch fans up, since nothing is worse than having them tell you you “just don't get it.” Cut them off by saying “I enjoy it on a post-rational level” and go get another beer.
3—The Matrix (1999) dir. The Wachowski Bros.
Sure the sequels sucked, but the first one still holds up. The action's great, no one says “whoa” like Keanu, there is no spoon, and any movie with Joe Pantoliano playing a weaselly douchebag is automatically watchable at least for his scenes. However, there is the matter of the script . . .
“The body cannot live without the mind”? Seriously, Morpheus? If that was really the case, the whole country would drop dead each Election Day. The machines spent all this time and brainpower coming up with a virtual reality for human beings to live in, when they could just as easily have kept everyone in a coma. But that's not even the most confusing thing: a bunch of artificial intelligences smart enough to subjugate humanity, and they can't find a more efficient energy source than the bioelectricity generated by a human body? For real?
Why none of that matters: Because they need a virtual reality in order for Neo, Trinity, Morpheus et al to do all that cool bullet time stuff. And make no mistake, The Matrix is a cool action movie, not a deep science fiction opus.
4—The Terminator (1984) dir. James Cameron
Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent from the future by evil computer Skynet to unleash hell on southern California (as redundant an idea as that might be) and kill the mother of the leader of the human resistance before she can give birth to him.
But wait . . . Much like the computers in The Matrix, Skynet is in serious need of an Occam's Razor program: it's going up against a small human resistance composed of biologically frail opponents who need food, water, and sleep and often make emotional mistakes. The humans squeak out a couple lucky military victories and Skynet's first response is to launch this byzantine time-travel plot that violates causality and the laws of physics instead of just making a few more new Terminators and just laser-gunning the fleshlings?
However . . . Are you really willing to give up the awesomeness of The Terminator (and the first sequel) just because the central premise doesn't make any sense? That's what I thought.
5—Superman (1978) dir. Richard Donner
Young Kal-El is sent by his parents from the dying planet Krypton to a small, out-of-the-way place called Earth for his own protection, where he Anglicizes his name and finds he can do all kinds of cool stuff like fly and see through women's clothes.
Not to belabor the obvious, but to belabor the obvious: No one can tell Clark Kent is Superman just because he has glasses on? I thought the Jedi mind trick was invented on Tattoine, not Krypton.
Again, obviously: The general public had gotten over that little problem before the actor who played Superman in this movie was born. Christopher Reeve was great, and the whole movie really holds up in terms of craft, narrative drive, and genuine wide-eyed innocence. Also, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty are the greatest closeted gay couple ever.
6—Vertigo (1958) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Jimmy Stewart develops a fear of heights after a terrible accident, and has to leave the police force. An old college buddy hires him to follow his wife (Kim Novak), who's acting weird.
I'm not saying it's not still one of the 5 best movies ever made, but . . . The college buddy wants to kill his wife and make it look like a suicide. Sure, why not. Okay, why does he hire Kim Novak to pretend to be her? Wouldn't it be easier to just snuff the wife and bribe some cops to falsify the evidence? Same probability you'll get away with it, much simpler. And the whole thing about bringing Jimmy Stewart there to be a witness to the fake suicide and assuming that Jimmy Stewart will have a panic attack and not see the college buddy throw the dead body of his wife (remarkably well preserved, since Jimmy Stewart didn't smell her) off the tower? Little complicated.
But, still, it's one of the 5 best movies ever made: It's so gorgeously shot, and Jimmy Stewart is so good playing a guy whose obsessive love for a woman he barely knows drives him to mania, and the ending is so beautifully tragic and ironic that, really . . . let the logic loopholes slide. It'll be okay.
7—The Usual Suspects (1995) dir. Bryan Singer
A modern classic, made stars out of Kevin Spacey (temporarily) and Benicio del Toro, though Gabriel Byrne was still the coolest guy in the whole movie. Well, except Keyser Soze. Unless he is Keyser Soze . . .?
Spoiler alert: he's not: When Kevin Spacey is revealed to be Keyser Soze, after spending the whole movie tying Chazz Palmintieri in knots with that story about the $91 million in coke and mythical Hungarian/Turkish gangsters and Pete Postlethwaite as a Japanese guy (a clear sign something was off), it raises the distinct possibility that the movie we just spent two hours watching was all a lie and never happened. Or was Kevin Spacey lying to protect Gabriel Byrne? Probably not. Either way, untangling everything causes massive headaches.
Or, more accurately, only if you let it: There's plenty of textual support for the “twist” ending, that only seems like one because the story is so masterfully constructed. Actually, part of the appeal of The Usual Suspects is that it's confusing. It's a story being told by a con man. If you were able to see where it was going before he wanted you to, he wouldn't be much of a con man. As with the other movies on this list, too, it's better to figure it out afterward (if possible). Until then, enjoy the ride.
So, yeah. I'll miss Premiere. Thankfully Tor.com's still going strong; I'd hate to get a rep for killing every publication I write for. I'll have to kill more than one to do so in any case, and I have no intention of doing so. I'm in the process of finding more freelance work, and will keep you all updated on what far-flung spots in cyberspace are kind enough to print my ravings. 'Til then, happy weekend, my friends.
“Well, I believe in the soul. The cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, softcore pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. [pause] Goodnight.” —Crash Davis, Bull DurhamWhen baseball season's ready to start back up, Bull Durham will get the stand-alone post it deserves, but until then, let's focus on this speech, in which Crash (played by Kevin Costner) explains why he's fucking awesome. Crash Davis is the hero of Bull Durham, and the embodiment of a very particular type of American masculinity, reasonably progressive but not at his balls' expense, intelligent but uncomplicated, a man who believes in the good things in life.
Now, I'm a horrifically complicated fucker, but I like to think I'm in that same category of dude, except way more neurotic and not as adept with the ladies (in fairness, it was the 80s and he was Kevin fuckin Costner). I'm with him on a few of his favorite things, except for the Lee Harvey Oswald thing (how many fuckin times do motherfuckers have to be told, Carlos Marcello set up the hit and had everybody non-Mob or -government involved in the conspiracy killed; Oswald was sheep-dipped by Marcello's FBI buddy) and the designated hitter rule (only because it gives fat dudes who hit homers a few extra years in the sun, and those are my people, yo). The only one where I'm not certain is softcore pornography.
I never fully understood why, when they go to all the trouble to have the shoestring production values, the dumb plots built entirely around the sex scenes, and even a lot of the time actors who also do hardcore porn, and everyone's there and they have their clothes off, why they have to pretend to fuck. Seems like a needlessly convoluted element in the equation. However, rather than write it off as pointlessly retarded (especially considering how fucking stupid hardcore porn can be) I'm willing to entertain that the artifice of simulated coitus sets the softcore movie apart as its own genre. And here is where the fun starts.
It is not a genre where you're likely to find great filmmaking, acting, or (especially) writing. It's actually part genre and part critical gulag, at least in part because a movie that's any good or has artistic ambitions beyond being late-night cable fap fodder escapes classification as softcore porn, even though many pictures that get to be real movies are way more sexually explicit; hell, 9 Songs, Shortbus, and Antichrist get to not even be porn at all even though they have people actually fucking in them. Saying “well, that's because they're good movies” doesn't hold water with 9 Songs, which sucked whenever they weren't shtupping or at a concert, or with Antichrist, because Lars von Trier movies are so hard to watch it's impossible to call them good or bad. So, to define the genre in as accurate a way as possible, this discussion is focused on the kind of picture they show on Cinemax After Dark, which is why one common name for the genre is Skinemax (because get it? Naked people! Skin!) even if the picture in question is not shown on Cinemax (even though let's get real, it probably is or will be).
There are a few different types of Skinemax pictures, each offering a different flavor for the connisseur. The most famous is perhaps the thriller. It'll have a title like Naked Ambitions or Erotic Mystery or Murder by Sex (I fuckin wish that was a real Skinemax title; matter of fact, if I ever decide to make a satirical homage, I call dibs on that title), basically a title that adheres to the formula of “sex word + mystery thriller word,” although in some cases it'll just have a generic thriller title. Everybody walks around acting Very Serious in Skinemax thrillers, though there may be one comic relief character (who never gets laid). There is, it goes without saying, a lot of fake fuckin goin on, as the denouement more often than not is the male and female lead fake fuckin each other's brains out before the final credits.
Not all Skinemax pictures are so deadly serious though. There's a whole subgenre of softcore parodies of blockbusters, with jokey titles: Playmate of the Apes, Lord of the G-Strings, Spiderbabe, etc etc. These are characterized by their godawful fuckin terrible special effects, which are acknowledged as such by the filmmakers, who pour on the humor with a very heavy hand, though sometimes they're pretty fucking funny. (And, of course, there's more fake fuckin than you can shake a carefully concealed out-of-frame stick at.) The heroine of just about all these pictures (left), an actress who appeared under the pseudonym Misty Mundae, and now appears in other softcore pictures under the name Erin Brown, is not half bad at light comedy. She's got good timing, and a fairly quick wit on top of the fact that she looks quite presentable without her clothes on (which after all, is really what this is all about) and doesn't have fake breasts. Most of the time, she's by far the best actor in any of these movies, not that it matters all that much.
Finally, there is the episodic program. These can be either extremely serious like the thrillers, or silly like the blockbuster parodies. Either way, the fake fuckin-to-plot ratio is even higher than the features, due to the shorter running time. Not that the loss of the plot is all that great a tragedy; in fact, the popularity of the episodic softcore porn programs on late night cable is largely due to this.
What they all have in common is, regardless of intent, some of the funniest depictions of sex you will ever see. Softcore pornography, by its very definition, doesn't show any actual intercourse, which means it has to employ visual euphemism. There are ways to make simulated sex look real—hence all the rumors about the actors in this movie or that movie actually fucking (complicated by the fact that sometimes the actors actually are fucking in those movies, although that's not always the case when it looks real)—but when operating under the financial and time restrictions under which the softcore porn industry operates, it ain't always possible to get it right.
But the way in which softcore porn gets it wrong is fucking awesome (heyyy, look at that, a play on words!) The best description for this was provided by a young lady with whom I was once watching Skinemax to “get in the mood,” an enterprise that failed miserably when we both found ourselves laughing too hard to remember to take our clothes off. Her remark was what kicked off the laughing spree; when the guy was bangin away at the girl from behind, my companion said, “Hey, guy, her clit isn't in the small of her back.”
Maybe you had to have been there, but that shit was hysterical. It gets right to the heart of what's wrong with all the sex in these pictures: they way overdo it on the “simulated” part. Guys (and girls, frequently) will be going down on a girl and apparently making her come by licking her belly button, which would be a neat trick if it worked. Most of the time in life though, the achievement of that noble goal is found in venturing a bit southward.
Just like in hardcore porn, the actors fuck in stupid positions that make it easier for the camera to capture the sex, in softcore the actors pretend to fuck in equally stupid positions that make it easier for the camera to hide the fact that nothing's going into anything else. This leads to the famous “dude ramming his dick into the chick's lumbar spine” position, and the “chick straddling the dude's navel” position, and all that cunnilingus and fellatio people perform on each other's abdomens.
What makes softcore porn such a horrible sex ed tool is exactly what makes it so entertaining. It actually, ironically, also makes it lousy porn, because most of the time watching this stuff, the sophisticated cineaste is laughing too hard to fap. Especially with all the breathy, badly-acted innuendo scenes that lead up to the girl sucking the guy's dick from some body part four feet away from his genitals. This is one instance where overanalyzing and overintellecualizing actually improves an experience. Seriously, if I want to watch something erotic, I'll throw on Traffic and watch Catherine Zeta-Jones order people's deaths. (Ed. Note: don't judge.) Softcore porn is rarely if ever erotic, and it nearly always gets funnier and funnier the more you think about it.
Perhaps the funniest thing in softcore porn is its treatment of LGBT issues. Gay dudes don't exist (the only gay dude I've ever seen on any of these shows was the flaming designer's assistant on that one Skinemax show about lingerie), and neither do actual for-real lesbians for that matter. Plenty of chicks get it on with other chicks, let there be no mistake. As a matter of fact, chicks get it on with chicks in approximately every single fucking Skinemax movie ever made. It's always two femmes, because butches and tomboys don't exist either, and they're always bisexual, even if one of them has to whisper “have you ever been with a woman before?” to the other, who whispers back “no,” which by the way is the single funniest thing ever in porn, hard or soft. It's the phrasing that does it: so formal, yet so stupid. The one who hasn't “been with a woman before” is always so shy it's like she just landed on Earth and is still learning the odd ways of these humans. Now I'm sure the female mind is different from the male, but not so different that if you're sitting there with someone hot who's trying to fuck you, you don't a) realize it and b) go “cool, I'm going to see her naked in a second” and c) make the first move at least three or four times out of ten. Recent converts are always the most zealous, after all. Okay, I don't have any fuckin idea what'd be going through a girl's mind in that situation, but the ritual where the new initiate into the sisterhood of improbably hot bi femmes always has that deer-in-the-headlights look and takes like ten minutes to start shtupping back never ceases to be high comedy.
As ridiculous as the whole enterprise is, occasionally a performer, a scene, or an entire picture rises above the rest and makes you go, “Damn, he/she/that was actually kinda good.” Credit where credit is due.
Shannon Tweed is, of course, Shannon Tweed. Her prime was a little before mine, but her contributions to the genre cannot be denied. She always looks like she gives a shit in her movies, without having any illusions about the kind of pictures she's making. And also, her being married to Gene Simmons gives all funny-looking dudes hope (even if his being mind-bogglingly rich gives him a bit of an edge).
One actress, who goes by Angela Davies (left), frequently plays characters with more than the usual amount of intelligence and culture, to the point where it has to be a conscious choice on her part. She's the thinking man's Skinemax star, which explains a lot about why I of all people am talking about her. In one vignette on one show, she's just been dumped by her hoi polloi husband, and she meets this handsome dude who owns an art gallery and shares her love of foreign movies. They actually have this reasonably plausible (though woodenly acted) scene where they argue good-naturedly about whether Fellini or Antonioni is the better filmmaker. Not bad. They then have ludicrous fake sex, but hey, you take your glimmers of intelligence where you can find them. And she's a good-looking woman.
Another favorite, and mainstay of a ton of Skinemax pictures and shows, is Beverly Lynne. Her forte is more in light comedy; she's played the bitch and the villain a couple times, but I'm not buying it. She just seems like an ebullient, nice person in most of her pictures, and handles the absurdity of the segues into fake sex with a charming “oh hey, it's fake sex time again!” equanimity. This would be an inferential stretch if, in my days as an imdb lurker/troll, I hadn't actually had a brief exchange with her. When some asshole (not, surprisingly, me) kept insisting that one of her sex scenes wasn't faked, she joined the conversation herself to insist that it, like all her scenes, was faked. She was very matter-of-fact about it being work, and that her husband (also, conveniently, a frequent co-star) understood that it was work, and that they saved the real for each other. It was an interesting insight into that particular type of acting. I'm an actor, and I've had to kiss (and occasionally make out with) other actors of both genders, and I know that even if you're mildly attracted to the other actor, the way you get through the scene is by treating it as just another bit of business in the scene. Clearly, being naked and fake-sex grinding with the other actor is a step further, but hearing it first-hand that it's just the same damn thing humanized the whole enterprise to me.
Ms. Lynne's is not the only approach to the work. Many actors in softcore pictures also make hardcore porn, and I'd wondered idly whether they faked it too, or whether the director just shot them fucking from angles where nothing “incriminating” was shown. One night, deeply annoyed by insomnia, I found myself for some bizarre goddamn reason watching some behind-the-scenes thing about the making of some softcore thing. I want to say it was the blooper reel after one of the movies or something. Anyway, the director kept on saying, in increasingly annoyed tones, “Cut! We've got cock.” Which, insomnia or no, got a chuckle out of me. The actor, who worked in hardcore porn usually, kept on going “Shit, sorry.” At one point, they didn't cut away fast enough, and it was clear he was sitting there with a raging boner. Sometimes it happens; one only hopes it wasn't too awkward for his co-star. On a few other occasions, though, due to sloppy editing and hardcore porn actors being involved, it's been clear that what you see is what you get. And, wouldn't you know it, those scenes look a little bit more realistic than normal. But they also break the spell. It suddenly wasn't comedy, it was just two tattooed Southern Californians fucking.
I don't have Cinemax anymore. My memories of these pictures are largely fond—especially that one whose name and cast I don't remember at all, about the two sex researchers who fall in love that was actually a well-made, moving movie where the sex scenes were actually kind of romantic—but while I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not having them in my life I do want them to have a modicum of respect as a distinct form of entertainment, rather than be regarded as shittier versions of “real” movies. Because, seriously? How many “real” erotic thrillers can you recall other than Basic Instinct that were any fucking good at all? Exactly. And that's because Paul Verhoeven, this generation's Douglas Sirk, was at the helm. Skinemax movies don't have anyone that brilliant, crazy, or Dutch involved. They make do with what they have. And they're really pretty glorious. No matter the reason, any piece of entertainment that succeeds in entertaining, whether intentionally or not, deserves regard. Here's to Skinemax!