Tuesday, September 27, 2011
This right here's called The Artist. When it comes out here in the US people are going to lose their fucking shit over this movie. Rightly so, this trailer is forty shades of awesome, and apparently it's a pale shadow of the movie itself. You heard it here first (unless you were at Cannes or something).
Friday, September 23, 2011
|Won Bin in The Man From Nowhere, who didn't even make the cut, this list is so loaded with badasses|
The incredibly serious business that is the Badass World Cup continues, with a biggie. If we're going to be real about ownage cinema, there are two continents where the vast majority of the greatest classics are made: North America (which I'm saving for last, and not out of dick-waving patriotism or anything either, just cuz facts is facts, people), and Asia. To indulge in one of the soccer metaphors I've been trying to keep to a minimum throughout the group stage coverage, in the same way that Australia was the underrated, dope Netherlands, Asia is Brazil. Aw yeah. Style. Grace. Joga Bonito. Is it a coincidence that Pele and Bruce Lee were born the same year? Fuck. No. They're within days of being the same astrological sign.
But yeah, Asia has a vast history of massively awesome violent movies, with some of the raddest motherfuckers ever to take their shirts off. The movie industries of Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, and more recently Seoul are not fucking around. This is a continent where you could stock a team of eleven starters and seven reserves that would fuck the whole shit of any other in the world up, and still not need to field the winner or the first couple also-rans. The point I'm trying to make is that Asia knows ownage.
This leads into a very important point, because I need to have a convenient argument shutter-downer in case someone's pissed off that I “forgot” something: there's a reason I've been sticking with the central soccer metaphor in this particular Cup. Even though the notion that, on any given Sunday, any team is capable of beating any other team originated in American football, it's true in association football too. I mean, unless you're playing Barcelona, in which case you're fucked. But the point is, whatever worthy I may have “forgotten” could just have run up against an ill-timed own goal in a qualifying match. And that's the story I'm sticking to.
So, without any further ado, let us to the runners-up:
9—Bolo, Enter The Dragon, China
Just as easily could have gone to Bolo's work as the baddies in Bloodsport or Double Impact, whose names escape me for the simple reason that when this motherfucker walks on screen, his name is Bolo. Those muscles, my friends, are large. The malevolence is at once universal in scope and extremely localized in focus, which is a fancy way of saying that when he puts his foot in your ass, he does so with the force of all the stars in a galaxy. And that's you fucked. Even though this was an American movie, tribute must be paid.
Bolo in Enter The Dragon is one of the rare instances of an actor being so badass that the only way he could be sufficiently scary is by naming his character after himself. Sure, he gets eliminated for being a bad guy and for getting killed—by John Saxon, no less; that's some shameful shit—but dude. Fuck thou not about. He's Bolo. Genuflect.
8—Kuwabatake Sanjuro, Yojimbo, Japan
Dude, it's Toshiro Mifune starring in The Glass Key. No more need be said.
7—Sivaji, Sivaji, India
No list of Asian badassery would be complete without Rajinikanth. He's so fucking great that when cinemas showing his movies have technical difficulties, audiences denied the ability to behold ownage riot. That's not an exaggeration, and that's the kind of shit that gives you the right to bill yourself as Superstar, as Rajni does at the top of Sivaji (another instance of character being named after actor, that's Superstar's born name).
Why Sivaji? This is why:
I do hope we don't have any arguments after watching that clip, because that would just be foolish. This low finishing position should not be construed as a slight against himself, it should be a sign that you should be fucking excited about what's to come.
6—Oh Dae-su, Oldboy, South Korea
Another instance where words fail me. Behold:
Just don't say anything. Bask.
5—(tie) Rajveer Shekhawat, Wanted / Sanjay Singhania, Ghajini, both India
The thing about Khans is that you can't pick just one. Here we have Salman and Aamir, respectively (Ed. Note: I'm not being twatty about Shahrukh, it's just that his particular brand of being awesome doesn't involve a whole lot of ownage in conventional terms). These two fairly recent displays of asskickery by two of the world's biggest movie stars are radically different in tone, levels of levity, just about every measurable metric. So it's apples and oranges, or Salmans and Aamirs, basically, but they both need to be shouted out.
Salman in Wanted has several moments of staggering ownage. He's so awesome that when the bad guy is about to kill his dad (Vinod Khanna, no stranger to ownage his own self), Pops out Dennis Hoppers Dennis Hopper in True Romance, giving an operatic pre-death speech about how MY SON, SALMAN KHAN, IS GOING TO FUCK YOU UP. When you own so hard that you can own someone when you're not even in the room, you own. Then, factor in Salman's earth-shattering swag when he rolls up to the final fight, and the way the fucking camera vibrates right before the final brutal bad guy death (Salman is so awesome the goddamn camera is nervous), well, that's enough evidence.
Aamir spends less time, by percentage, owning bad guys in Ghajini, but he's no less fearsome, in a completely different way. After the bad guys brain him, he has Guy-Pearce-in-Memento-itis and has to carry around all kinds of reminders about who the baddies are and why they have to die, but when he finally gets down to it at the climax, looking like a malignant Tony Parker with incomplete Vulcan makeup on, he cold fucks motherfuckers up. All while growling and keening bestially. Fucking with this guy ain't no multiple-choice question, unless “no” and “fuck no” count as different answers.
Again, the order of these is even more arbitrary than it usually is, because holy god is there an array of ownage on display on this list.
4—Ip Man, Ip Man 1 & 2, China
Oh, Donnie Yen. You wear elegant righteousness so well. In the first Ip Man movie, Donnie employs the “if you own the first nine guys first, the tenth one is a snap” method of owning ten guys at once with his bare hands, which is a really efficient one. I guess it's part of the esoterica in Wing Chun, because he's the only cat I've ever seen who managed to pull that one off.
There isn't really much more to say about Ip Man except oh, Donnie Yen. There's something to be said for a really well-filmed martial arts movie where the leading man is a genuinely great actor and yet also just breathtakingly graceful in his disbursal of ownage.
3—Jaidev, Sholay, India
Amitabh Bachchan. See, the thing about Sholay is, if you haven't seen it you literally do not have the language to describe how awesome it is—even if you know what कितने आदमी थे means, you don't know what it means til you see Sholay—and if you have seen it, all you can really do is sit around saying कितने आदमी थे to other people who've seen it with smoke coming out your ears.
Sholay's so fuckin good Amitabh isn't even the one who says that and he's still the baddest motherfucker alive. He's the lone exception to the “if you die, you disqualify” clause in the Badass World Cup regulations, because he dies so awesomely and for the cause of protecting true love and with unparalleled drama. Also, any lists about badasses in Asia without Amitabh Bachchan on it is just incomplete.
2—Cheng Chao-An, The Big Boss, China
Gets the nod over all other Bruce roles because, when Bruce finds out the bad guy and his fuckface son killed Hsu Chien and the whole house full of cousins (including the fat guy and the kid), he goes apeshit and fucking fucks people up. Bruce unleashing holy hell was always a sight to behold, but he spared no expense here, knifing bad guys, just generally wrecking their entire shit.
Also, Bruce fucks around too much in Way of the Dragon (and you can take the whole “but he kills Chuck Norris” argument and cram it in your ass, the cult of Chuck Norris enables too much stupid right-wing horseshit to even work on an ironic level), and gets killed in Fist of Fury, and Enter The Dragon is an American movie, so it'd be The Big Boss by default even if Bruce didn't rule ass six ways from Sunday in that joint.
1—Chen Zhen, Fist of Legend, China
JET LI OVER BRUCE??? ARE YOU MAD??? Naw, I ain't mad, I'm in a good-ass mood. Also, this is like the eighth time on these very pages that I've proclaimed Jet's superiority in Fist Of Legend to Bruce, so it's getting less controversial. All's I'm saying is, the Fujita fight. That's why Jet's the first runner-up in the most crowded bracket in the whole sumbitchin' Cup. Fujita's like a foot taller than Jet. He's immune to pain. He has superhuman strength. And Jet won. That's all y'all need to know.
And now, the top two. Oh, that's right. Asia sends two to the elimination round. As will North America in the final group stage. Why? Because, that's why. And so the winners are . . . drumroll . . .
Tequila & Tony, Hard-Boiled, China
Sure, they have guns, and almost nobody else on the list does, and it'd be tempting to say a guy who fucks shit up with his bare hands—or, like Jet, who can decapitate a guy with his belt—is more badass because he doesn't need the help, but let me refute that:
In a nutshell, Hard-Boiled has the best gun fights to ever be filmed. Most of that is John Woo walking around swinging his dick like a watch chain, but the thing that makes it more than just craft is the fact that Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung (the one who's the best actor in the world, not the one who might have actually fucked Jane March on camera) are so awesome in this. I mean, Chow Yun-Fat's Tequila (take note and keep going) is a cop who's a jazz musician, for shit's sake. Tony Leung makes a paper crane every time he kills someone, and his houseboat (take note and keep going) is full of hundreds of the fuckers.
The climax involves our heroes teaming up to defeat a villain so evil he looks like a white guy even though he's Chinese (the legendary half-British all-awesome Anthony Wong) by killing hundreds of bad guys who've taken over a hospital. It is, bar none, the greatest action climax ever. And that is why Tequila and Tony, despite all of the above-mentioned worthies. Easily the most fun of all the group stages in in the Cup so far.
Next up—whenever the hell I get around to it—the final group stage . . . North Afuckingmerica. Boo ya.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Writer-director Cam Archer's new film Shit Year is the kind of thing that makes me nervous. My entire formal education in film was aimed toward training me to make films like this (no, I haven't fallen off the wagon or anything, the only word for this type of work is “film”): non-linear impressionistic black-and-white aggressively non-commercial and frequently intentionally irritating “films.” The thing about this kind of work is that, when done right, it's exhilarating and opens the viewer's mind to the possibilities of the medium and all that cool shit, but when done badly nothing in the fucking universe sucks as fucking much as a “film” made by a talentless dipshit. I mean it's torture. Note, earlier in my adjectival barrage about the art film that informed my early college years, the word “pretentious” was not included. That's because the good shit in art cinema isn't pretending to be awesome, it just is. The bad stuff is the reason the word “pretentious” is such a slur. Shit that sucks pretending to be something amazing, where if you “don't get it” (read: ooh and ahh insufficiently or fail to hail the filmmaker as the next Stan Brakhage/Bruce Conner/Maya Deren) you get called a philistine retard incapable of getting anything deeper than Big Momma's House, well, I haven't any use for that. And because of the enormous divide between good and bad at play here, I get extremely apprehensive about going to see avant-garde/experimental/art cinema, and thus don't see as much of it as I arguably should.
With that in mind, the fact that Shit Year took me back to my sophomore year of college is at once a sign of the lacunae in my knowledge of contemporary art cinema, a “you had to have been there” perfect descriptor of its form and tone, and a wistful rumination on how I might have ridden it out as a film student if the stuff we were watching and everyone else around me was making was this interesting. At the same time that it's better than all the stuff I was forced to watch back then, Shit Year nonetheless is completely of that frustrating brand of cinema: first, its title is just godawful. It's not that I don't get it—it's not a reference to excrement, and it actually describes the subject of the film perfectly, to wit a less-than-ideal year in the life of its lead character—it just reeks of “look at me being edgy” on the filmmaker's part. Second, the sound design, by Cam and Nate Archer, is at several points so intolerably irritating that I was tempted to leave, and it is so absolutely on purpose. Like, I get that you're in it for the love of cinema rather than wanting to go all Hollywood and shit, but there's a fair expanse of gray area between having an uninterrupted recording of a car horn on your soundtrack for a full minute with the fader pushed up to the top so that it's the loudest thing in the whole movie and being The Help. Just saying, Cam, you coulda cut that shit after ten seconds and still made your point, homes.
That being said, everything else about this film kinda fucking rocks. The black & white photography is gorgeous, the surreal set pieces are counterbalanced (a problematic word since they might be the same thing expressed differently, I don't know) with beautifully observed human moments between people, and the lead performance is a stunner. Ellen Barkin plays a recently retired actress who moves to the country to be alone and wear baggy pants and untied shoes and tell people to fuck off (my personal ideal retirement scenario), while reflecting on a relationship she had with a much younger actor who may or may not exist. She's visited by her guileless neighbor and wiseass brother, and an unfortunate array of extremely loud noises. That's basically it in terms of story, but that's non-narrative cinema for you, the “there” that's there is elsewhere.
In this case, that's primarily Ellen Barkin's tremendous performance as a character that, by her own admission, is very close to her heart. The character, Colleen West, is an actress approximately Barkin's age, providing her the opportunity to explore in a variety of ways just what that means. Her physicality is that of a much younger woman, at times even like a child. She dresses however the fuck she feels like—in ensembles the costume designer pulled from Barkin's own closet—and it's refreshing to see a “portrait of alienation” (phrase in quotes because it so often describes a gloomy, self-serious bum trip) where the subject is so at home in her own skin. Her face glows, and what lines are visible seem natural, rather than harsh. Archer is content to just look at Ellen Barkin for an hour or so, and I can't say as I blame the cat, especially when this is how she looks to him.
The rest of the cast are more just kind of there, which isn't necessarily a problem, considering the film is all about Barkin. Theresa Randle has an engagingly strange and spooky bit as a science-fiction character who's trying to help replicate the memory of the young guy Barkin fucked during her last play. As said young guy Harvey West (no relation), Luke Grimes mainly has to just sit there looking pretty, and since it's not really clear whether he actually exists or not, that's ok, you can just high-five Ellen Barkin and tell her “get it, girl” while dude splashes around in the swimming pool and strums and acoustic guitar and so forth. Melora Walters does a good job not being annoying as the neighbor who goes out of her way to be friendly to Barkin's character, which given that she makes “apple dolls” and jogs and drops by unannounced, is a fair achievement.
The one supporting cast member who manages to rise above that “kind of just there” level is Bob Einstein, as Barkin's brother. Dude's been stealing scenes for decades now, from his initial rise to fame as live-action Wile E. Coyote Super Dave to his current level of godhood as Curb Your Enthusiasm's Thumpin' Lumpen himself, Funkhouser. He's pretty much got “normal guy with a really loud voice” on lock, and his chemistry with Barkin is stellar.
But, with all that said, Shit Year and everything in it comes back to Barkin, and her titular fucked-up 365 days. It's not a film that's going to break box office records, for obvious reasons, not the least of which is that it's a Film with a capital f, but that's not the point at all. But there was something very satisfying to the way, in the Q&A session that followed the screening I attended, Barkin responded to this one dude's long-ass question about Ingmar Bergman and what directors she and Archer studied when making the film. She was basically like, “We didn't go about it that way, we just put in the work.” And that, in a slightly vague nutshell that I can't really elaborate on further, is why Shit Year works as a Film. It may be non-linear, it may be in black and white, it may deliberately use the tools of the medium to disorient and even irritate in places, but it's not beholden to some other, older director's work. It's an entity unto itself, and—especially since it's only like an hour long—is worth seeing. Fortunately, much as I don't like it, the title totally prepares the audience for what it's getting itself into: you can't print it in the paper, it's kind of off-putting initially, but ultimately it couldn't be any other way.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
All right, ladies and gents, time to get down to the serious business of discussing Drive. Its director, Nicolas “The Long And” Winding Refn, won Best Director at Cannes this year, and pretty much ever since every critic who's seen it ends up getting the first sentence of their review—usually “holy shit that was awesome” or some variant—before tipping over due to their massive boner. Now, I'm a skeptical fucker, but I'm also a total sucker for sparse, crisply directed noir-influenced pictures with taciturn heroes and skillfully executed, surprising scenes of violence. So I was torn. This morning, I finally saw Drive after months of anticipation, and am no longer torn. Drive fucking owns, and needs to be seen by absolutely every last sentient being on Planet Earth.
Well, okay, not everyone. People who don't like violence should sit this one out, because there are at least five scenes that would give them nightmares. I totally respect where they come from; my aunt Susie and uncle Mike, for example, totally rule and they're good progressives and all and they love movies, but I couldn't recommend this to them. The ownage scenes in Drive are so intense I cringed. And you had best believe that is a powerful testament to how fucking good said ownage scenes are, because lemme tell ya. I done seen some shit in my day. But I never seen someone get the top of their head turned into a slow-motion brain cloud by a shotgun, or get killed by having someone razor blade the artery in their forearm lengthwise from elbow to wrist, that much I can tell you, and those scenes are not soft-pedaled at all. The more standard people-getting-shot stuff is also done really powerfully, with EXTREMELY loud sound mixing (the sound is fantastic in this). Basically, I'll leave it at this: people who don't like violence are advised to see something else this weekend, but those who do, or even those who are neutral, ya gotta fuckin see this, dude.
Second disclaimer before proceeding further: don't mistake the breathless critical response (including, admittedly, my own) for an implication that Drive is somehow perfect, or the cinematic embodiment of the Christ or any shit like that. It's just a really well-directed and acted noir story with really good action scenes. But, that being said, it's a really, really well-directed and acted noir story with fucking off-the-chain ludicrously dope action scenes. And now, on with the review:
Drive is the story of a movie stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a wheelman for entrepreneurial sorts who need to evade cops. We open with an extremely tense sequence where two knuckleheads knocking off a warehouse somewhere in Los Angeles hire Gosling, and in a display of both top-notch driving and extreme intelligence—the details have to stay vague, but if you pay attention to the sound, the resolution of this sequence is just breathtaking—Gosling pulls it off. Roll opening titles, with dope synth-pop song.
(That's another thing: not only is the soundtrack fucking awesome, it's incredibly of the current cultural moment. You can't swing a stick in 2011 without hitting some group putting records out that sound like the Miami Vice soundtrack. This, in case there is any confusion, is a very very good thing, not in the least because there's no Phil Collins to get all conflicted about “arrrrrgh why the fuck do I like this????” and shit.)
So, Gosling, in spite of being an incredibly buttoned-up and closed-off dude, falls head over heels for next-door-neighbor Carey Mulligan. Which makes perfect sense, if anyone's a Girl Next Door it's Carey Mulligan. She's got a young son who bonds almost instantly with Gosling. She's got a husband in prison. She's got eyes for Gosling.
Gosling works at a garage, for Bryan Cranston (in a terrific performance as the classic noir sad sack wiseass), who has ambitions to start a stock car team with Gosling driving. In order to do so, he needs to borrow some money from the kind of people who it's not good to borrow money from. You know, badass gangsters. Like Ron Perlman; shit, he was Hellboy, he fuckin runs SAMCRO, fer fuck's sake, you don't fuck with Ron Perlman. And Albert Fuckin Brooks, motherfucker, you don't fuck with—wait, Albert Brooks?
Yeah, that Albert Brooks. He plays the more reasonable and personable of the two gangsters (Perlman would be the muscle no matter who the fuck the other dude was, believe), which gives him plenty of opportunity to say funny Albert Brooks-esque stuff. And, I don't want to say too much, but because you will never see it coming in a million fuckin years let it suffice to say Albert Brooks owns a couple of dudes worse than just about anybody has ever owned anyone in any movie. Ever. The fact that it's fucking Albert Brooks doing it makes it all the more awesome. Mark him down for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. In ink. Call it the Christoph Waltz slot.
So, anyway. We know nothing good is going to come of Bryan Cranston getting in bed with Albert Brooks, and that eventually Ryan Gosling is going to end up getting caught up in something. Only thing is, those two end up (kind of) being separate, because before anything else, Gosling has to deal with Carey Mulligan's husband (Oscar Isaac, who by the way is majorly blowing up, he's been in everything the last couple years) getting out of prison. Because he may be out of prison, but he's not free. If ya know what I mean.
I'll leave the plot there, not just because when Christina Hendricks shows up as Oscar Isaac's stripper criminal associate there's a shot of her ass that almost made me lose consciousness, but because that's when things start getting twisty. Also, this is not a movie where the plot is anything revolutionary. All the above description of the narrative is standard-issue noir. Part of the fun in Drive is cataloguing all the “this reminds me of that” moments, which when you look at the list afterward you see some seriously fun shit on the list: Walter Hill's The Driver (from back when he was Walter “Motherfucking” Hill), To Live And Die In L.A. (in a good way), early-mid-80s Michael Mann like Thief and Manhunter (and Miami Vice, with which Michael Mann was closely involved), and, confirmed by the director himself when asked, Steve McQueen's Bullitt.
Of course, it's what he does with those influences that's the important thing. And Drive sees a very skilled director with a terrific eye for detail in full stride. Nicolas Winding Refn tells in a pair of shots what most contemporary directors take twenty-five minutes of endless stupid dialogue scenes to convey. That economy and a terrific, stylish sense of what's cool make Drive one of the best action movies in years, one that puts most contemporary American action movies—besotted with their shakycam and having forsaken choreography for the clusterfuck—to shame.
That might be part of what's caused the ecstatic critical reaction: it's the kind of movie that for some reason doesn't get made as often anymore. While, even in their heyday, low-key noir-ish thrillers weren't often as well-directed as Drive, there nonetheless was a time, twenty-some years ago, stretching back to around the release of Bullitt, when there were enough of them so that when one came out, critics were like, “hey, not a bad little thriller.” Whereas now, with the American action movie going through a prolonged decadent phase, something like Drive drops and people flip the fuck out. Make no mistake: Drive's fucking great and I loved it and even if it had more contemporary action pictures on a similar scale for comparison, it'd still be right up near the top. But part of the reason it seems this good is because circumstances have rendered it almost unique.
Let's not end on a low or even equivocal note, though. Let's end with a parental advisory: Drive is rated R for scenes of intense and fucking awesome ownage, as well as a scene where a bunch of extremely stoic strippers watch Ryan Gosling wreak fucking havoc. It's a movie so fucking good it turned Albert Brooks into a badass (enough of one to almost qualify for the crowded North American group stage of the Badass World Cup, no less). Go see Drive this weekend. Do it for great justice. And also so we can talk about the ownage scenes I can't spoil here, because holy shit do I want to talk about how awesome they are with you.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Ten years ago today, a bunch of assholes hijacked planes and destroyed the World Trade Center towers, while a bunch of their friends set their sights on Washington DC. With that, any brief uncertainty about how the American 21st century would be defined was gone. That would be the thing. But this is not every 9/11 story, this is just one.
I was a couple months out of college and was fortunate enough to have made the arbitrary decision to take a temp job handing out campaign flyers—that Tuesday was going to be the primaries for a bunch of city- and state-wide shit—and to schedule my interview at the Borders in the World Trade Center for Wednesday, so I could have some cash in my pocket for breakfast before that interview. They had asked me if I could come in Tuesday morning at 10 or so in the morning, or Wednesday a little later, so there was that consideration as well. As it happened, the primaries were called off, so I was out that $50-60, and judging from the fact that I could see the smoke from where my interview the next day was for a fucking month I made the judgment call that that interview had been at the very least postponed. But that was the extent of the immediate personal effect that day had on me. I woke up (incongruously early) and picked up The Hunt For Red October where I'd left off the night before, which any tenuous “whoa, that's deep” connections to warfare and such aside was just like any hundred other Tuesdays in my life. Until the movie ended and the TV was showing the news.
The effect on the entertainment business, under which broad definition the subject of this blog falls, was pretty huge. Any project at any stage of its development that had anything at all to do with terrorism immediately became a huge locus of potential controversy. Some pictures, like the Matt Damon vehicle The Bourne Identity, saw their release dates postponed several months, others, like the Arnold picture Collateral Damage, had the living shit cut out of them. Perhaps the most affected, though, was Fox's new TV show 24.
Now that its run is over, especially with the hideously fucking retarded last season of the show, it's easy to forget that once upon a time, 24 was the most highly anticipated TV show like ever. Critics were lining up in droves to hail it as the most ambitious show of all time, second coming of sliced bread, so on and so forth. All summer I'd been reading shit from people who normally kept pretty buttoned up about how 24 was going to change the entire medium of television. Its real-time conceit, that each of its 24 episodes would be one hour in the day of protagonist Jack “Kiefer Sutherland” Bauer, and that the bulk of those hours would consist of people getting their asses handed to them by the bad guy from Stand By Me, appealed to me greatly, so I was looking forward to it.
Although clearly not the most pressing matter on my mind on 9/11/01, once it was collectively decided that we could talk about shit again, and I got back to paying what attention I did to entertainment media, I read a thing about how Fox was uncertain they could even air the pilot to 24, as it featured a shot of a plane blowing up (oh yeah, that was the other thing, anything even remotely relating to airplanes got the fine-toothed-comb treatment by “unofficial” censors). It was later decided to simply remove the footage of the plane blowing up.
So they hyped the living motherfuck out of 24 the rest of that fall, including so many goddamn ads during the World Series that I had time to refuse to watch the show in disgust at the overhype, decide after a while to steel myself resolutely against that hype and watch it anyway, refuse again because it was starting to look like the show might suck, then finally decide “Fuck it, I'll watch the pilot and take it from there.” In November, I watched the pilot, and at the end of it after the explosion-less ending actually worked better artistically than an explosion would have, I was like “FUCK YES WHEN CAN IT BE NEXT WEEK???”
Because the first season of 24, when it first aired, was an extraordinary, exhilarating experience. I had never seen a TV that “felt like a movie” before, due in large part to movie director Stephen Hopkins (who directed eleven episodes season 1, including all the important ones) setting the tone by incorporating then-rare elements like handheld camera—which still worked back then as a means of establishing a more realistic tone—and valuing editing more highly than anything I'd ever seen on TV. The tension, built from both the top-notch cinematics and some tight scripting, was almost unbearable at times. Jack Bauer, that first year, was an enormously sympathetic hero, a fiercely competent and dedicated straight-arrow trying to make things right with his wife, who although kind of a dingbat was all right, and his daughter Kim, who although an annoying teenager was nonetheless an acceptably smart and resourceful one. The presidential aspirant, whose threatened assassination formed the bulk of the main plot's drama for the season, David Palmer, was a truly great man, magnificently portrayed by Dennis Haysbert. The show was almost thoroughly apolitical, though Palmer was openly identified as a Democrat and the fact that he was black was definitely mentioned, important, and dealt with well.
I mention all of this, as well as the fact that Jack did eat lunch and get extremely tired at a couple places, and people did take a piss every few episodes, and sometimes characters would disappear for an episode or so because they were driving through Los Angeles traffic, to highlight the fact that the first season of 24 was a different animal from the ones that followed. The writers stuck to their original storyline rather than abruptly having Jack take off after Osama Bin Laden mid-season, keeping the magnificent Zeljko Ivanek the main heavy until Dennis motherfucking Hopper turned up for the last couple episodes as basically Voldemort with the worst fake accent in the history of bad villain accents, and was AWESOME.
I've revisited the first season of 24 three times since. The first two were three-or-four day marathons in preparation for subsequent season openers, and the last was earlier this year. That last rewatch revealed a couple blemishes I'd previously overlooked and a couple get-the-fuck-outta-here writing moments (this is partly attributable to my having seen superior television since then), but I'll nonetheless hold that season up against the debut seasons of just about anything else in the history of television. It gets smoked by The Wire—the king stay the king—but it's better than the first season of Lost, which seriously drags in the middle fifteen episodes or so, it's more consistently exciting than the first season of The Sopranos, so on and so forth. Well, shit, it's not as good as the first season of Twin Peaks. But the point stands, it was a damn fine season of television.
But it's one that, at the time, I couldn't conceive of anything other than a stand-alone without seriously dipping in quality. The sheer balls of the way the season ends, with Jack killing the bad guys, but not before the mole Nina Myers kills his wife in her panicked escape attempt, precluded any kind of continuation, to my mind, of Jack's career as a counter-terrorism agent. At least in any official capacity. The way I saw it, the most important thing about 24 was always the real-time conceit, and when the announcement was made that 24 would have a second season, I wondered momentarily if Jack would wander the country in grief, with the day perhaps being a “stranger comes to town” scenario where Jack would get enmeshed in some smaller-scale but still compelling intrigue over the course of the day. I thought, with the naivete of someone with a soul, that it would be artistically interesting to explore the real-time thing and the character of Jack Bauer, rather than just winding him up and sending him out to go whomp on some Osama lookalikes.
That, of course, is what season 2 of 24 was about: a bunch of A-rabs with a nuke-ya-ler bomb. The production values and editing carried the show through a whole bunch of retarded shit, like keeping Kim around just to keep her around (and because Elisha Cuthbert was and is an extremely attractive young woman), which resulted in her getting lost in the desert and almost getting eaten by a cougar. (Ed. Note: this is not a euphemism for an attractive older woman trying to perform cunnilingus on her, which needless to say would have been a fascinating four-episode story arc, this is a literal reference to a four-legged furry creature with claws). There was a late-season bait-and-switch where it was revealed that the real bad guys were evil white guys in suits, but since we only met them like the episode we found out they were the bad guys it didn't really mean anything.
Then season 3, the writers really fucked the dog. They gave Jack a partner, a heroin habit he incurred while infiltrating a bunch of Mexican drug dealers, Kim as a co-worker at CTU (the increasingly ridiculous fictional government agency that employs Jack and every single mole who ever attempted to infiltrate the United States), and a fucking ricockulous plot revolving around one of those instantaneously lethal nerve gases that would kill the entire population of Earth if they were as powerful as they're said to be. There was a bait-and-switch toward the middle where the writers killed the stupid Mexican drug dealer baddies and introduced an English guy (as subtle a fix for inadequately villainous bad guys as railing heroin to cure a headache), which didn't make the nerve gas thing any less dumb, but it nonetheless ended the season on a high enough note that I came back for season 4.
Now, season 4 of 24 was awesome. It had the uneasy borderline racist shit about Middle Easterners, but kept it pretty much in check, and it was another “Los Angeles is menaced by nuke-ya-ler weapons” plotline—establishing the pattern that would last the remainder of the series, wherein even-numbered seasons were nuke seasons and odd-numbered seasons were nerve-gas seasons—but it was tight, there wasn't any fuckin bullshit with Kim and Nina was finally dead, Tony Almeida had magnificent swag, and at the end of the season, Jack officially didn't exist anymore, having faked his own death, and he walked off into the sunset. 24 had long ceased to have any artistic value, but it was a wildly entertaining season with a great fucking ending.
Season 5 was erratic in terms of quality, though it had great bad guys in wackadoo president Logan (Gregory Itzin) and Peter Weller as the guy who “taught Jack everything he knows,” a great archetype in retarded action stories, and tremendously rad with someone as dope as Peter Weller at the controls. The season was all over the place, and Jack was a total cartoon character by this point, though a lot of the dumbness was counterbalanced by a genuinely surprising ending where Jack was kidnapped by the Chinese (whose enmity Jack incurred by breaking into their embassy to kill a guy or something like that the previous season).
The way Jack was brought back season 6 almost made me completely give up on the show forever, because it was just fucking stupid and Jack was indistinguishable from the way he'd been seasons 2-5 after a shave. Maybe Jack went nuts because he hadn't taken a shit in about 10 years, but considering he hadn't eaten in about 10 years since that lunch middle of season 1 maybe he didn't need to. Either way, season 6 was fucking bullshit and inalienable proof that the show as currently constituted was untenable.
To my great surprise, 24's writers actually did what I'd been wanting them to do since season 2 and move the show out of Los Angeles. Season 7, prologued by a not-half-bad stand-alone two-hour episode set in Africa, was rock solid up until the very end, in spite of it being an odd-numbered season and thus a nerve gas season. It made a very, very bad decision at the end of the season, with regards to longtime fan favorite Tony Almeida. From the very beginning of the show, Tony's purpose was to provide an alternate-universe Jack, who over time managed to get past his vastly different methodology to become a loyal and respected comrade of Jack's (who, early in season 4, Jack calls “the only man I can completely trust,” and follows the fuck through on one of 24's finest non-Jack-related ownage sequences), only to have his world completely shattered when, early season 5, the bad guys kill his wife (as well as David Palmer, about which, more later), and then Peter Weller kills him season 5. Kills him as in dead. Like, no longer alive and walking around and giving forth with ownage.
So. Tony's reintroduced season 7 as a bad guy. Okay. Wrong, but strong. He's then revealed to be a deeeeeeeeeeep deep cover agent infiltrating the baddies for some radically covert, extremely off-the-radar, so hardcore Jack Bauer doesn't even know about them, government group (that injected him with something to make him look dead so they could get his body out of CTU's infirmary and revive him in bad guy Narnia). 24 had gotten just retarded enough by this point that this was an acceptable reason for Tony to still be alive. He then resumes being a good guy alongside Jack, and not an uninteresting one either, as his ragged, dead-eyed “fuck the world, everyone I love is dead” worldview more or less resembles Jack's. But then they upfuck the entire business by having Tony really be bad again at the end of the season, which concluded with a fart.
Season 8 I never made all the way through. Anil Kapoor even showed up as the president of Middle-Eastistan and it didn't help. (Ed. Note: when Anil Kapoor can't save your movie or show, you're in a special level of fucked the CDC classifies by crossing themselves and leaving the room.) Starbuck from Battlestar showed up and—OH MY FUCKING GOD! A MOLE IN CTU????? WHAT ARE THE ODDS????—ended up being a mole. That was the point when I decided to check out and catch up with my backlog of research for my Unified Field Theory of Gina Gershon, which was far more pressing business than seeing 24 and all its fucking ridiculous bullshit to its bitter end.
Where, oh where did it all go wrong? It'd be tempting to say, “after season 1” but that's utopian. 24 was fucked irrevocably from 9/11/01 onward. Obviously this was not the biggest tragedy of that day, I'd be a goddamn fool to suggest so. But this is not every 9/11 story, this is just one. There is a slim possibility that 24 would have gone in a different direction were it not for the sea change in the American popular consciousness after 9/11. More likely, if there'd been no 9/11 on 9/11, 24 would have gone through its first season as a critics' darling, an obscure footnote in the history of ownage, and quietly not been renewed for a second season due to shitty ratings. It'd have been as quickly forgotten as the Ed Zwick/Denzel/Bruce Willis picture The Siege in '98, but if The Siege had been good. But there's no way of knowing that now.
Instead, with many Americans turning to whatever avatar they could to live out their desire for revenge for the 9/11 attacks, Jack Bauer's “fuck the rules, I'm goin H.A.M.” attitude became enormously popular, and for some reason a show that got its start with a season about protecting a Democratic presidential campaign became right-wing porn, with Republican politicians and media operatives—a more apt term for the Fox News shitheads than “journalists,” for damn sure—lovingly, glowingly, masturbatorily name-checking Jack Bauer in a wistful “if only those damn liberals would let us” fashion whenever we started politely asking that they not rape Iraqi POWs or waterboard “suspected terrorists.”
This all culminated with the assassination of David Palmer at the beginning of season 5, which is the point where 24 ceased to have any value whatsoever beyond filmmaking (which stayed fairly solid, even if the last couple years they did a really bad job of hiding the fact that “Washington DC” and “New York City” were Los Angeles). Sure, the show began with the need to protect David Palmer and it didn't need to end with that as well, but they almost killed him and he pulled through so many fucking times by that point that to just ice him at the beginning of the season for a shock moment was a sign that no one involved with the show gave a fuck about it at all. I really hated that. I felt like a sucker for still having at least fractionally given a fuck for so many years after the show's creators ceased to.
Disillusioned as I was by the way the show played out, 24 deserves credit for resurrecting Kiefer Sutherland's career, and for good measure turning him into not only a badass, but one of the pre-eminent minds in ownage. I use the word “mind” deliberately, because Jack Bauer thought up more creative, insensitive, and occasionally disgusting ways to own bad guys than anyone this side of Tony Jaa. Still, even that rarefied achievement was undone by the dumbness of the show.
Like, how many fucking times could this elite counter-terrorism outfit get fucking infiltrated? At least Nina Myers, Aisha Tyler, and Starbuck were hot (I don't blame her being funny-looking on her being funny-looking, I blame it on the hair people for not supporting her by hiding the ears) but shit, that's the tip of the iceberg. Also, even if you give them a pass on that under the “evil is sexy” clause, CTU is fucking terrible at their job. They never find out the bad guys are smuggling a nuke into the United States until they fucking get it here, which is a serious lapse in intelligence work. Remember, even on 9/11, the only time terrorists actually pulled something off against us on our home turf that fucking worked, we knew it was going to happen at least a month ahead of time, Bush was just like “meh, fuggit, ah'm on vacation, and anyways mah daddy's old buddy wouldn't do that ta us.” Terrorists can't penetrate governments. That's why they have to resort to terrorism.
Was the ultimate fate of 24 even the worst entertainment-related repercussion caused by 9/11? Of course not. But this is not every 9/11 story, this is just one. Lest we forget, the normalization of the idea of a black president, to which 24 and David Palmer contributed greatly, led to the election of Barack Obama. And while that hasn't exactly all been sunshine and unicorns and shit, it at least gave us the first possibility of finally pressing play again, after Bush freeze-framed us on 9/11/01 for almost a decade. After ten years, it's time to move on. Maybe we can, maybe we can't. But it'll sure help that 24 is off the air.
Friday, September 9, 2011
I have a sneaking suspicion someone in this picture might qualify for the Asian stage of the Badass World Cup. Holy jumping Jesus Christ, that is a fucking ACTION TRAILER. Like four or five guys get owned in that minute and a half clip worse than anyone's ever gotten owned before. More on this story as it develops; Twitter has been having one of those consult-your-physician Cialis boners about this trailer all day, so I share it with you.
Listen up, kids. David Lean is talking. Specifically, about the god William Holden, the (amazingly) shy Alec Guinness, and a whole bunch about A Passage To India, concluding with one of the best fucking insights about literary adaptations THAT I HAVE EVER HEARD A HUMAN BEING SHARE. Maybe that's just because his statement is something I already agree with, but still. Trust me, you HAVE eight minutes to watch this clip.
Then, when you're done, check out my review of Warrior, which opens today. Peace, and stay away from cable news this weekend, my fellow Americans!
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Of all genres in cinema, the most rigid is the sports movie. Even the romantic comedy—currently enduring some kind of Cthulhic hell—has more surprises: you don't know which limpdick Katherine Heigl will pick before molting and turning into a demon vulture sorceress (Ed. Note: extrapolating the future after the credits roll in rom-coms is massive fun on the right drugs), not always. But sports movies (as opposed to movies that have sports in them; that sounds like semantic bullshit, but it's not) are unchanging. There will be an underdog. There will be a complete obfuscation of the sport in question in the name of allowing that underdog to win. There will be a victory by the underdog. And most of us, whether voluntarily or not, will cry. No matter what sport it is, the game is the game.
This holds true even as sports themselves change. Boxing has seen a decline over the last couple decades, starting roughly when Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson and slowly fizzling to the point where very few of us are left who still give a fuck. It's not as though the public's taste for gladiatorial combat has waned, though; quite the opposite, boxing isn't quite brutal enough for us anymore, judging by both the emotional and psychological harm reality show contestants inflict on each other and the massive audiences for them, and in a more literal sense, the explosive growth in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. While reality shows can (for the most part) go fuck themselves as far as I'm concerned, I have no issue with MMA or UFC whatsoever. As a lifelong boxing fan, it'd be massively hypocritical. It's for this reason that I see MMA taking over the place within the sports movie genre once occupied by boxing movies, and doing so fairly seamlessly. A good example of this is the upcoming release Warrior.
Warrior is very much a “sports movie.” Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor is responsible for one of the better sports movies in recent memory, 2004's Miracle, about that time a million years ago when the Americans beat the Soviets in hockey and Al Michaels has had to be guarded around the clock to keep him from continuously masturbating ever since. Unlike a lot of sports movies, Miracle had the advantage of being true; the 1980 US hockey team is just about the only team in the history of sports that actually was as big an underdog as teams always are in sports movies. O'Connor managed to pull off the amazing feat of making a movie that appealed to teary-eyed sentimental sports jingoists and cynical fuckfaces like me in equal measure. For that alone, O'Connor would be in the Sports Movie Hall Of Fame (Alchemy Wing), but then he goes ahead and makes Warrior, arguably an even better movie, with a higher difficulty curve—it's fictional, and about a (for now, anyway) less mainstream sport—just to reinforce the point.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton star as brothers estranged from both each other and recovering alcoholic father Nick Nolte (their mother is not seen, sidelining the question of just how the fuck Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are brothers). Tom Hardy shows up at Nick Nolte's door in Pittsburgh after 14 years, having inherited his pops' addictions, and shouldering the wait of a harrowing past for which Nick Nolte (drunk version) was responsible. Joel Edgerton is teaching high-school physics in Philadelphia, married to Cameron from House, and is up to his eyeballs in financial problems. He's sneaking off to participate in underground cash fights to help make ends meet. Meanwhile Tom Hardy starts working out at a gym in Pittsburgh that had been a boxing gym but now specializes in MMA. Tom Hardy hears someone mention money for fights, and promptly beats the living fucking shit out of one of the top middleweight MMA contenders in the world, impressing the guy who owns the place.
Soon, word gets out that some white guy in a suit (played by director O'Connor) has renounced his evil and is now organizing a winner-take-all MMA tournament to determine the world's alpha purveyor of ownage. Tom Hardy goes “sniffsniff . . . ownage? Fuck yeah I'm in.” Joel Edgerton sees this and thinks, “Wow, if I win that money I can pay off my ninety mortgages and keep Cameron from ditching me for Chase!” (Ed. Note: this is a very real fear, as both Joel Edgerton and Chase on House are Australians; girlfriend clearly has a type). They both enter. Meanwhile a subplot involving Tom Hardy being in Iraq and pulling off some of the mightiest feats in the history of testicles is introduced, though the question of why he deserted (which is telegraphed about an hour before Tom Hardy fesses up to it) is left open.
Before long, we're in Atlantic City for the tournament, called “Sparta” in an unsubtle but fun bit of imagery. While it's a total fait accompli that the final will be Tom Hardy vs. Joel Edgerton, the tournament itself features some colorful characters, including the guy whose ass Tom Hardy kicked to start his MMA career and this gigantic, terrifying Russian who's never been defeated (played by pro wrestler Kurt Angle, in an extremely effective performance). Meanwhile, the brothers have to have a scene where one of them (Joel Edgerton) tries to reconcile with the other one, who isn't having it (Tom Hardy). Each of them needs to confront Nick Nolte, but with the ultimate forgiveness impossible until the emotional climax of the big fight. Which will be won by . . . (warning: spoilers after this photo)
. . . Joel Edgerton. This is actually kind of obvious a while before it happens, because the rules of the sports movie dictate no uneasy moral choices at the end, and while Tom Hardy is fighting to give the $5 million purse to the widow of his fallen brother Marine (while uneasy morality may be out of bounds, kudos to this movie for having the stones to present nuance within morality, tackling the idea of biological vs. chosen families to such an extent), Joel Edgerton is fighting to save his house and family. And it's also totally obvious that, since that won't take up the whole $5 mil, Edgerton's going to drop a heavy chunk of change off with the widow, whereas if Tom Hardy won, he wouldn't give his brother shit. So you know Edgerton's going to win.
But that's the thing about sports movies. You know how they're going to end, that's not the point. We watch sports movies for the journey, and to see what details and flourishes are included along the way. Warrior introduces a whole lot of potential subplots and character stories, some of which are realized rather well and economically, some not at all. Nick Nolte's character is dealt with well right up until the end, when after an enormous blowup with Tom Hardy, where Tom Hardy is such a dick to Nick Nolte that even he realizes he's being an asshole, Nick Nolte relapses and gets fuuuuuuuuuuuuucked up on little minibar bottles of booze, only to recover almost immediately, which rings a little false (he bounces back pretty quick for someone without a drinking problem who's just hungover, let alone an addict having a major, operatic relapse). But even this isn't that big a deal, because he needs to be there to see the big fight between his two sons.
There lies Warrior's greatest assets: two massively testicular leading performances. Tom Hardy is basically a testosterone molecule with arms and legs in this. He does such a good job in the role that it's easy to overlook the fact that the character is kind of an asshole. He's been through a fucking ridiculously hard life—his dad left him to take care of his dying mother, then he was the only survivor of a “friendly fire” (Christ that fucking term is awful) incident in Iraq, after which he deserted and had to anonymously rip the door off a tank (dude's balls fucking clank, for real) to save a whole shitload of Marines, after which he's been on the run ever since. I mean, yeah, he's been through a lot. But he's still kind of a dick, and he's not that bright. Tom Hardy inhabits this dude to a degree that's a little alarming, but never to the point where it takes us out of the movie. It's just like, holy shit, dude.
Joel Edgerton, while considerably smarter and less consumed by anger, is every bit the fucking beast Tom Hardy is. As those of us who remember him from the twenty minutes or so he was in Animal Kingdom (where he was totally credible as the axis of those characters' universe), Joel Edgerton is a fucking ridiculous actor who needs to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world like immediately. It makes sense that he's a physics teacher, because you'd need to study for a long goddamn time to calculate the gravitational field around this dude's balls. His determination comes through in his fighting: even though he's the underdog in just about every fight he's in in the movie (too old, technical skills a little lacking, etc) he prevails because he needs it to a degree the other guy doesn't. This comes dangerously close to one of the most annoying cliches in sports—the scrappy underdog white guy who gets by with heart—but Joel Edgerton sells it because he's fucking awesome. And also, because MMA is a fickle enough beast that, as they point out zillions of times in the movie, any guy can win any fight.
That's one of the most important things that keeps Warrior from being a cloying, melodramatic, formula sports movie: it's just grounded enough in realism that Gavin O'Connor can look over at the glowing red Melodrama Button about two-thirds of the way through and just weld that motherfucker to the control panel and it's okay, because he's built up enough goodwill with the audience by being willing to give them a good movie up to that point, that it's almost like the melodrama of the climax is an equal and opposite reaction to the goodness of the rest of the movie, to borrow a bit from one of Edgerton's physics lectures. The self-awareness the movie displays about the melodrama helps as well; it's left to the TV announcer (who is, bizarrely, not Danny Nucci despite being a dead ringer) to relay the information that the combatants in the final fight are brothers.
While one's ability to go with the finale is entirely dependent on one's feeling that the movie earned (or didn't) the suspension of disbelief, there is one gaping hole in the middle of Warrior. Repeated mention is made of the guy who sets up the whole tournament, and that he's given up his career as a financial hotshot in order to bankroll the Sparta tournament. They mention him often enough that I was expecting him to show up and have some shadowy ulterior motive behind Sparta, which would have been fucking stupid, but it's kind of an unhappy medium between having him show up once and tell one of the ESPN guys “I'm not just the guy with all the money, I'm also a huge fan,” which would have been fine, and having him be some Rollerball-ass fuckin megalomaniac villain, which would have been retarded. It's a minor enough detail to be ultimately worth forgiving, especially since the more we found out about this character the less we probably would have liked him. I think the reason he's in the movie so much is that the character is played by the director. I could do one of my wild-ass feats of extrapolation and posit that having the character who sets up the whole tournament is the in-movie equivalent of the director who calls all the shots and sets up the whole movie, but I gotta pace myself with that kinda thing, and also I don't think it's on purpose, I think Gavin O'Connor just shot a bunch of footage of him acting and left it in because, hey, fuck it, it's his movie.
And the rest of it's really pretty fuckin good. It runs about two hours and twenty minutes, just like Miracle, which is a little alarming on paper but I can testify it's a quick two-twenty. The movie's engrossing, and is a sports movie in all the good ways and very few of the bad ones. The fact that parts of it are a little underwritten counts against Warrior less than it would a movie with a lesser cast. Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte are all great, Jennifer Morrison is good enough that I really should stop calling her Cameron all the damn time (she plays an excellent disapproving wife, imbuing her with a bit more dimension than the character might have had), and Kevin Dunn shows up as Joel Edgerton's principal and grudging friend.
When Kevin Dunn shows up in a movie, it's generally a sign things are going to be okay (unless it's a Transformers movie, in which case it's a sign Kevin Dunn's getting fucking paid). He's a fucking rock, he's got great comic timing, and has aged shockingly slowly; he's still playing dudes the same age as he was twenty years ago.
So, if you want to see a really well-made, well-acted sports movie and don't nitpick excessively about script imperfections, go see Warrior. If for nothing else, you'll want to see Tom Hardy own the fucking fuck out of real-life MMA dudes and have it be totally plausible because his performance is so good, and Joel Edgerton being like “Hey, in a couple years I'll be a massive movie star!” And a sober Nick Nolte, which is a sight we haven't seen in . . . shit, have we ever seen a sober Nick Nolte? There's that for novelty's sake.
So yeah. Pretty good fuckin movie. Check it out when it drops this Friday.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Oh, I bet you all thought these were over and done with and I'd just flaked. Au contraire, homes, we just gettin started. And now we get to the Big Three in terms of cinema: North America (where my sweet home Estados Unidos is), Asia, and today, Europe. This is not to slight Africa, Central/South America, or Australia, they just don't have as vast and well-funded national film industries as the Big Three. And of course, simple math dictates, more cinema, more potential ownage.
Europe is where cinema goes back the longest, too (fuck you, Edison, I'm Team Lumiere). The Czech Republic (and Slovakia, too, I guess, back when they used to be smushed together as Czechoslovakia) and Poland have produced some great pictures, Spain, Germany, Russia, Italy, France, and England a whole fucking lot of 'em. Some of the greatest directors to ever call action—in whatever language—are European, as are some of the greatest actors. It would stand to reason, by this rationale, that the problem in determining who reps Europe in the Badass World Cup should be sifting through all those badass performances. Right?
Actually, surprisingly, no. European cinema suffers from the same problem as South America and Africa do, on a much larger scale: their art cinema is fucking top-notch, but the ownage content of their shamelessly populist stuff is, percentage-wise, a bit low. The one notable exception to this, historically, has been France, because French people have historically had this massive crush on American B-movies, starting from Truffaut and Godard trying to intellectually justify geeking out like little kids over Don Siegel movies where dudes own other dudes with shotguns, on down to the present day of Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, an institution with the highest respect for le cinema d'ownage.
Despite these most valiant efforts by the French, European cinema remains largely a place where people get their asses handed to them by historical forces, fate, and totalitarian governments, rather than one large man with muscles and/or guns. This makes European movies great to drink a glass of wine to, no question, and that's important. We need movies where people grimly contemplate existence, or have secret affairs wherein their long-repressed passions take flight, or where we just sit there for three hours digging how pretty the Alps or the Riviera or the steppes are. Well, maybe we can trim that last kind, but you know what I'm saying. Ownage isn't the only game in town.
However, it is the subject of this competition. So, without any further ado, the also-rans:
6—Count Orlok, Nosferatu, Transylvania
Remember back when vampires weren't pretty hairless twinks who sparkled in the sunlight? Well this motherfucker right here is fucking old school. Max Schreck was a perfectly normal-looking old German dude, but he got in the room with F.W. Murnau, one of the earliest great duckfuckingly insane auteur filmmakers—and I say this with great reverence, F.W. Murnau was fucking crazy—and suddenly it's all like “get in this makeup, Schreck, we gotta make your ass look fuckin disgusting.” Oh man did it work, too. Nosferatu fucking owns if you can get a half-decent print (a big if these days, sadly, mostly due to Bram Stoker suing the shit out of Murnau for copyright infringement because Murnau decided to just steal the shit out of Dracula instead of paying for it). And Count Orlok is one of the all-time great baddies. He loses out in the Cup largely because a) he's a bad guy and b) he dies. Way to waste your immortality, fucko.
5—Vakulinchuk, Potemkin, USSR.
|Vakulinchuk (left), some other dude with a dope mustache (right)|
Because we need to shout the Russians out when we're talking about cinema. The great thing about Russians, if I may be permitted a little racism leeway to pay the cats a compliment, is their grim determination to soldier on with unglamorous shit. Thus, in the early years of cinema when everyone was figuring out the best ways to light chicks to make them look hot and messing around with visuals, the Russians were like, “fuck it, we're gonna invent editing.” Everyone else, taken aback, was like “okay, you guys do that, we're going to see if Gloria Swanson will show her tits.” (Ed. Note: the one or two women directors in the world were probably figuring out how to light Douglas Fairbanks' package, for a note of equality). But in '25, Sergei Eisenstein dropped Potemkin and everyone else ever since has been cutting based on the way he showed them how.
Now, the important thing to note with this entry is that the fact that one character stood out in Potemkin is a sign that Sergei Eisenstein fucked up. He was trying, and employing every last theoretical and technical bit of genius in his arsenal, to make a film glorifying the Soviet ideal, wherein each was part of an all rather than a unit on their own. Only problem is, he was such a good filmmaker that in the second episode in Potemkin, he ends up revealing how much the sailor leading the mutiny, Vakulinchuk, fucking owns.
The great thing about Vakulinchuk is that he doesn't spout all kinds of incongruous, fully-articulated Marx (like any number of dudes in Soviet movies), he's just like, “Fuck it, this shit's not right. These dudes running shit are assholes. Let's fucking get rid of them, even if it means our lives.” And Vakulinchuk lets himself get owned in the interest of the greater socialist struggle etc etc etc, leading inexorably to the Leninist revolution, but let's not let the fact that it ended up being for a questionable cause count too much against Vakulinchuk. The fucking guy is really cool, and we need to remember he was non-ideological, he was just engaged in a very simple struggle of “These guys are assholes, I'm not, so I'm going to stop them.” I always award style points for fighting the good fight. If this was college basketball, Vakulinchuk would be that one tiny-ass school with no guys who'll ever play in the NBA but who somehow make it to the quarterfinals every year. He doesn't win, but he endures his defeat with dignity and you'll be like “Hey, remember Vakulinchuk?” for a long time afterwards.
4—Michel, A bout de souffle, France
Okay, now we get to a more conventional portrayal of conventional ownage. You can't be talking about ownage in Europe without talking about Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of the great purveyors of same to ever breathe. Even if, in this, he's out of breath! BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! (Ed. Note: fuck y'all, that was funny)
Michel owns a cop, fucks Jean Seberg, smokes a lot of cigarettes, does that awesome lip thing, and when he walks by the Bogart poster, he adjusts his shit to make sure his swag is tight. He's Jean-Paul Belfuckingmondo, people. There really ain't much more to say about the cat other than that he owns in just about the Frenchest way possible, which is ultimately why he's not repping Europe, because owning Frenchly means you get killed in the end, and although he dies one of the dopest deaths anyone ever pointed a camera at, still. Death is a bad move if you want to advance.
3—Bryan Mills, Taken, Ireland
Sure, they say he's American, but Liam Neeson was too busy killing the shit out of everything in sight to meet up with the dialect coach, which is why he gets to fly the green, white, and orange in this Cup. I needn't rehash all the reasons laid out in this post, so refer to that in case you somehow forgot how goddamn great Taken is, and how much ass Liam Neeson kicks in it.
So, you may be asking, why is he not the guy for all of Europe? Because the top two also-rans and the champion are just that fucking cool. So prepare to get your socks knocked off.
2—Jacques Mesrine (“C'est prononcé 'MAY-REEN' vous enculés!”), Mesrine, France
Ah, Vincent Cassel. He fucks shit up in just about everything he's ever been in, playing villains and heroes with equal skill, though he takes particular relish in being bad. Which is probably why he's so spectacular as Mesrine. It took two movies and four hours that were basically just an episodic account of thunderously badass (if occasionally embroidered) deeds, to tell Mesrine's story. Not all of it is pretty—him being a shitbag woman-beater is his eventual undoing in the Cup—but the number of times and ways the motherfucker broke out of prison, it's like he's a French version of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
He's more badass in the first part of Mesrine, “Killer Instinct,” than in the second, “Public Enemy No. 1,” but that's largely due to the director having to—I guess—return his tripod to the shop after filming the first part, because there's too much bullshit shaky-cam shit in part two, which suffers from being both more of the same from part one but being darker, since it's when Mesrine confronts his own mortality and decides he wants to be a leftist. Which is fine, I mean heaven knows we could use an actual Left in America, but when you're some dude who robs banks with his dick out and beats his wives, you might want to chill with the insurrectionary rhetoric. Sometimes you're not a resistance fighter, sometimes you just steal shit. And as the cops reminded Mesrine at the end of the picture, by lighting his ass the fuck up in broad daylight, they were in charge.
All that negativity should serve to point up the fact that the fucking prison break near the end of part one must have been tight as fuck (Ed. Note: the fucking prison break near the end of part one was tight as fuck) because that alone vaults him this high in the rankings. Also, he's Vincent Cassel. I like Vincent Cassel.
1—James Bond, various, United Kingdom
The odds-on favorite to win worldwide, 007's shocking upset in the Europe group stage set the cinematic sporting press aflutter, with many hailing this as the most surprising defeat in the history of sport. Or, you know, it would be if this was a real thing.
Whence 007's defeat? Playing him made Sean Connery a star, for which we should all be grateful, made Pierce Brosnan a star, for which we should all be . . . well, not as grateful. And it gave us Daniel Craig, and Daniel Craig fucking rocks. It's not his fault Cowboys & Aliens sucked balls, and that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is probably going to be gloomy whack-off-in-your-hat bullshit despite his and David Fincher's best efforts. But James Bond never has that problem, right? He's always awesome, consistently shaken-not-stirred, always wins in the end, always gets the finest specimens womanhood has to offer . . . right?
Alas, even James Bond has his Achilles heel. In this case, it's the Roger Moore/Timothy Dalton years, which collectively consist of almost half the franchise's duration. During those years, Bond was a fucking dick (the Moore years) and a pussy (the Dalton years), the Bond girls were bland, and Bond was a fucking asshole to them. Let's break it down:
Connery—old-country chauvinist, but only hit women when they tried to kill him.
Lazenby—goofball, kind of the Ringo of the Bond franchise, but props for landing Diana Rigg.
Brosnan—charming cocksman, more of an ex-boyfriend than anything else.
Craig—tortured romantic, comparatively progressive though still quite the horndog.
It'd be one thing if it were possible to go strictly by the character and toss the actors out of the equation, but the character of Bond changed inexorably with every actor who played him. The Connery Bond owns all in his path, and if the franchise had ended with Connery we wouldn't even need a Cup. The Craig Bond isn't as sure a bet, since he's only done two, and the Quantum of Soporifics sucked, but Casino Royale is, no exaggeration, one of the best action pictures ever made and stands side by side with the best of the Connery years. Brosnan coasted on the fact that at least he wasn't Roger Moore. But goddamn. The Roger Moore years were really, really bad. Bad enough to be the stumbling block for James Bond's quest for the Cup. (By the way, I know I kid around a lot on this blog, but I'm dead serious about this: if you cross swords with me on the Roger Moore question, we are at war). This is basically the equivalent of a soccer player losing the game by scoring five own-goals, on purpose, to lose the game 5-4. For the non-soccer fans out there, doing that will get you killed in every country on earth other than the United States. Fucking Roger Moore . . .
(Ed. Note: Apparently he's a sweetheart IRL, so there's that. But holy Christ his Bond movies suck.)
And, finally, our surprising winner, the Cinderella of the Cup so far . . .
Moses, Attack The Block, United Kingdom
Since on the surface this looks like a case of something I saw recently seeming better because I just saw it, let's look at the objective merits of both this character and the movie itself. First, there aren't a lot of good SF movies in Europe, though “good” is a hard quality to pin down when dealing with some of the fucking insanely bad but extremely fun SF pictures made in Italy (side note, if Italian Spiderman was real, he'd have been #1 on this list no question.) Second, even in the handful of good SF movies in Europe (can anyone think of another one besides Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker, or maaaaaybe von Trier's The Element of Crime . . .?) there aren't a whole lot of own-or-get-owned showdowns with vicious carnivorous aliens. Third, even if Moses didn't own the bejesus out of an entire battalion of vicious carnivorous aliens single-handed, there's the added bonus of the fact that a black guy representing Europe will make racists' heads explode.
The thing that makes Moses so great is that he starts out at a place where he could very easily slip into a life defined by anger at his circumstances, taking his revenge on society at large until he got so deep in the game that there would be no way out except death. But Attack The Block catches him right at the brink, where his intelligence and ferocious tenacity can be channeled into the cause of saving Earth. Because, seriously? Those wolf-gorilla motherfucker aliens could have posed a threat to the entire planet. It's Moses, Pest, Sam, Ron, the hipster stoner dude, the girls, and the rest of them whose resolute defiance stops the thread from spreading, and Moses who stands out from the pack by being the one who lures the wolf-gorilla motherfuckers to their ultimate doom.
Look, what I'm trying to say is that the second Attack The Block hits DVD and groups of friends can smoke weed to it, it is going to take on once-in-a-generation classic status. Remember how The Big Lebowski tanked at the box office and became a cult hit on home video? Or Fight Club? Chances are, you barely do, because those pictures are regarded as two of the finest of their decade, and endure as classics to this day. I'm saying this right now and posting it online where everyone can see it, so if I'm wrong you all can laugh at me, but I'm not wrong. Attack The Block is going to be regarded as one of the classic movies of this generation the second people can smoke weed to it. I haven't smoked weed in well over a year and probably won't again for well over another, if ever, but I remember it (reasonably) accurately. And I remember this: people like SF when they're high, they like horror when they're high, and they like comedy when they're high, and Attack The Block is an unstoppable and seamless blend of all three. One of the biggest reasons why is because of its hero. And that's why Moses reps Europe.
Commentator: “Moses, how do you feel about representing Europe in the Cup?”
Moses (not making eye contact, smiling shyly): “Allow it.”