Because nothing beats the master in his own words, here's an interview from 1999.
Long live John Carpenter!
Monday, October 31, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
WHEREIN I TEMPORARILY SUSPEND MY POLICY OF NOT FIRING ON CIVILIANS: REPUBLICANS AND THEIR FAVORITE MOVIES
Couple disclaimers before we begin: one, this is not a serious work of political commentary, as should be obvious, but you can never be too careful on the Internet, and two, if this was a bunch of Democrats the movies would probably be just as dumb and maybe even the same ones. But fortunately our current president, whose job all these dummies want, likes The Wire, which trumps all and leaves said dummies open to blatant vituperative ridicule for their inferior taste. See how easy that was? Okay, now let's get to the important business of shit-talking the GOP candidates:
This recent piece in the Washington Times takes a good shot at humanizing the Republican candidates for president in one of those “hey, they're just like regular folks” kinda ways, but what it really reveals is the deep-seated and harrowing psychological problems of each candidate polled. The intent of this piece, mine that is, is to reveal in what way each choice reveals the chooser to be a shithead and/or retard. How definitive is this? Not at all. What greater purpose does unscientifically shit-talking a bunch of non-cineastes about their favorite movies serve? None. Why am I wasting your time and mine with this bullshit, then? Because it fucking snowed in New York today. In fucking October. For this, members of a political party that denies climate change must get my dick in their eye.
And so, without further ado, the Movies By Bowes ™ Institute of Psycho Analysis (yes, it's two words for a reason, keep your stupid comments in your pocket) is open for business:
Candidate: Herman Cain
Favorite Movie: The Godfather
There is a vast body of evidence to support this diagnosis. First, the obvious: Mr. Cain made his fortune as the head of Godfather's Pizza. L to the O to the L. Good one, Herb. The plot of the movie has an interesting parallel to Cain's campaign (moar like cam-Cain amirite?) if you posit Vito Corleone as Reagan, Rick Perry as Sonny, and Michelle Bachmann as Fredo—trust me, this is gold—and Cain as Michael. In The Godfather, they're all like, “Eyy, Mikey, Mr. Ivy League, you couldn't be Don,” and everyone following the campaign is like “Herman Cain? I thought his name was Alan Keyes” only to be bushwhacked when suddenly, this goofy fuck who puts out ads where his campaign manager who looks like he's dying of alcohol poisoning is smoking cigarettes and Cain slowly rotates toward the camera smiling all slow like, “Wait, you motherfuckers thought I was serious? Oh boy have you ever been trolled” just like Michael Corleone lulling the heads of the Five Families into submission with his lisp and phony indecisiveness before BAM they're all dead. Seriously, Herman Cain's face at the end of that ad is the new Trollface. Mark it eight, dude.
Candidate: Newt Gingrich
Favorite Movie: Casablanca
Diagnosis: Conservative in all things, even movies
Unlike just about every other left-of-center type in America, I don't particularly have a beef with Newt Gingrich. He does and says revolting, atrocious things, sure, but that's all in the game. I see him as a pure politician, whose personal beliefs just happen to be what a lot of other people think on a given subject. Casablanca, while a great movie to be sure, and one of my own personal favorites, is a very popular one, and a lot of people list it as their favorite. Also, there's no ambiguity about the political content. It's Humphrey Bogart (unambiguous good) against the Nazis (unambiguous bad). There's also Ingrid Bergman (unambiguous sex) and Claude Rains (unambiguous awesome). The movie itself is in black-and-white, reflecting the black-and-white prevailing nature of Republican political discourse. Really, this is just about the only thing Newt could have possibly picked. And another in a long line of little things that make me half-ass like the guy in spite of all the awful shit about him.
Candidate: Michelle Bachmann
Favorite Movie: Braveheart, maybe Saving Private Ryan
I will never get the spell Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan cast over civilians. Like The Shawshank Redemption, another 90s picture civilians go ga-ga over, they're kind of good but way too long and I personally never had the urge to revisit any of them more than once. Back when I used to read the New York Post before I just couldn't take it anymore (I grew up with it, and it's never like it was any beacon of journalism or anything but it just fell of a cliff after 9/11) I used to read the thing in the sports section where they'd ask athletes things like their favorite movie, and without fail every time it was some guy you could tell just didn't give a fuck about the question would just go “Braveheart” or “Saving Private Ryan.” And almost without fail those dudes would all be Jesus shitheads. Thus, one can infer that Michelle, a Jesus shithead, didn't really give a fuck about the question and her mind was clearly on other things, like how fluoridated water turns Christian children into homosexuals or privatizing the military by replacing them with unicorns or re-instituting slavery “except nicer!”or whatever it is she wants to do. When I saw her on Meet The Press I was too busy watching her eyeballs vibrate to pay attention to what she was saying, and David Gregory was whimpering with his tail between his legs until his producer gave him his chew toy at the commercial break.
Candidate: Rick Santorum
Favorite Movie: “There's a lot,” then when pressed for an answer, Field of Dreams [he was in Iowa]
Diagnosis: Not Good At The Whole Politics Thing-itis
Rick, Rick, Rick. I know being named after anal sex is embarrassing (Ed. Note: huh huh huh huh “ass” huh huh huh huh) but you really need to work on this shit (bahahahahahaha ok I'll stop). Let me walk you through it, homes. You're in Iowa, you're getting curbstomped in every single poll—seriously, Rick's trailing Osama Bin Laden in a couple of the fuckers—and you want to pander. Good thinking, Rick! Pandering is good. You know how you do that? Think of something the fucking night before. Don't get up there like “oh, this is beneath me” because nothing is beneath you when you're losing as bad as you are. Get out there and ho' it up a bit. You're in Iowa and someone asks you about your favorite movie? Start talking about John Wayne, you limpdick. He's from there. Get one of your interns to find the most right-wing John Wayne movie they can find, and you fucking say one of the Duke's most right-wing lines in that fucking thing. Then, ya know what? Iowans are like, “That Anal Sex guy is fucking right-wing. I like that guy.” I fucking hate the guy and think he's a horrible, bigoted person who may very well be personally responsible for inciting people to anti-gay hate crimes and I still can't help but give him advice because he's so terrible at his actual job. Even the guy who wrote the Washington Times piece was cracking on him like, “No word on what his favorite movie's going to be in New Hampshire.” Stop the dithering, stupid motherfucker.
Candidate: Ron Paul
Favorite Movie: “I don't watch many movies.”
Let's be clear: the only reason why Ron Paul is “the reasonable one” in this race is because the rest of them are so fucked up. Ron Paul is insane. But, credit where credit's due, he is smart. And he knows that by letting everyone else fuck themselves in the ass left and right and just laying in the cut and quietly saying smart stuff like “I don't watch many movies” rather than say something just to say something and have it be dumb or nakedly pandering, he looks like a reasonable guy. Sneaky. But remember, he's the guy who believes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an instrument of totalitarianism. He's not your friend.
Candidate: Gary Johnson
Favorite Movie: Doctor Zhivago
Diagnosis: Good taste, no real shit to talk here
I mean, the only thing I know about the guy is that he's even more libertarian than Ron Paul, which is pretty impressive in its way, but I gotta hand it to him. One-loving David Lean is a sign the guy knows his movies, cares enough about them to have a good one as his favorite, and could probably explain why he likes it in a cogent fashion that actually makes sense. Why can't he be the frontrunner? He'd still lose to Barack but we'd have to sit through less fuckfacedness first, and when Johnson quotes Pauline Kael's review of Ryan's Daughter at Barack to attack his jobs bill or whatever it'll be a fun debate moment.
Candidate: Rick Perry
Favorite Movie: Immortal Beloved
Diagnosis: Lost a bet
Less clinical than my other diagnoses, so follow me on this: Rick's chillin with his evil white guy buddies at their hunting lodge. One of 'em says “Hey, Rick, I betcha ah cain't hit that there hummingbird in th' ass with his here raffle.” Rick goes, “Son, you couldn't hit water if you fell outta fuckin boat,” and everybody's like “ohh shit,” so the other guy takes aim and shoots the hummingbird dead in the ass. And everybody's like “ohhhhhhh shit” and Rick's all pissed because he knows they're going to make him do something fratty and embarrassing. Now, as evil as they are, they know they can't make their buddy say “I'm gay” on national TV, because then how are they going to get appointed ambassador to China when their huntin' and drinkin' buddy gets elected Commander in Chizzief. So they go the next best route: they pick some random movie one of their wives made them sit through on HBO in 1997 and tell Rick if someone asks him his favorite movie ever he's gotta say Immortal Beloved. Rick's like, “Aww, man, you guys're asssssssholes,” while they all cackle and get ready to kill some more shit. Occam's Razor.
Candidate: Mitt Romney
Favorite Movie: O, Brother Where Art Thou?
Diagnosis: We're all gonna die
Sure, it's possible Mitt Romney's a Coen brothers fan. After all, you do have to put them in the “greatest living American filmmakers” discussion. And O, Brother was one of their best, and more of a crowd-pleaser than the ones it's not as good as. I'd go ahead and call this a solid civilian pick except for the fact that there's totally something wrong and sinister about Mitt Romney. It's like, okay. His hair. It's impossible to look at his hair and not get an erection. Call it Newton's 69th law of physics or whatever. But that fucking hair is just entirely too perfect to be anything other than a distraction. Every time you're like “Hey, but you're in a cult that didn't acknowledge that black people were human beings until 1978, under great duress, and you were already an adult at the time,” his hair is like, “These are not the droids you're looking for.” During that debate when he put hands on Rick Perry, there was this slight whiff of “If you don't shut the fuck up I'm going to Vulcan nerve pinch you, you peckerwood cocksucker” to the gesture, which is probably why Perry's nuts turtled and he didn't do shit about it. Romney might snap and kill somebody. And by might I mean will. Look at the color of his skin. Look at the suit. DO THE MATH, PEOPLE.
What's this have to do with O, Brother Where Art Thou? Just that Romney picked the wrong Coen brothers movie. On purpose. He really meant Barton Fink. You know, where John Goodman's all nice and friendly and shit at first, even if he's a little weird and creepy? And then at the end of the picture he's chasing John Turturro up the flaming hallway bellowing “I WILL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIND!” twelve octaves below the surface of the Earth and Turturro basically shits his ass and only survives by accident? That's Romney next year when someone fucks with him at the convention. It's all gonna burn. And the only survivors are going to be Mitt Romney chasing Grover Norquist with a shotgun hollering “HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW, MOTHERFUCKER? THIS SHIT REAGANESQUE ENOUGH FOR YOU PORCUPINE FUCKERS?” At which point the National Guard comes in, and, well, you've seen Godzilla.
Anyway. That's my year's worth of politics. It's back to the movies themselves after this. Unless, of course, these motherfuckers keep acting the fool and another response becomes necessary. I'll sign off now. Occupy Everything. Peace.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
I count myself as very unfortunate to be just a hair too young to have been around for the prime of Pauline Kael. There are several new books about her, which I have not yet read. Instead, I'll turn over explication to two women I greatly respect, the first of whom I have the great pleasure of knowing personally:
The Self-Styled Siren on Pauline Kael.
Camille Paglia on same.
Two very different perspectives, but there was no easy and consistent way to sum up Pauline Kael. Even though if she knew me she'd probably think I was a fatuous, pretentious jerkoff, I still think she's just swell and I encourage all of you who are not yet acquainted with her work to get up on her body of critical work. Even in death, she'd probably be able to win an argument (the perils of stepping to Pauline in life were dire).
And remember this very important lesson: you do not always have to agree with someone to know they're smart.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Today is the 10th anniversary of the release of Grand Theft Auto III, and I'd like to observe this momentous date by talking a bit about the Grand Theft Auto series' contributions to film criticism. Not exclusively, of course; talking about GTA III without touching on gaming would (obviously) be amiss, and its impact on the culture at large was not insignificant either. But one cannot talk about GTA III, or any of the subsequent games in the franchise without talking about movies (at some point).
This was what initially drew me to it. I had topped out with the original NES, being annoyed that the SNES had no way of playing the old games—and not having any money to get a whole new system and a whole array of new games—and spent the majority of my teenage years immersed in art cinema and centuries-old novels. But my tweediness had limits; I still liked loud music, sports, and both movies and books where shit blows up and people get killed. And so it was that I read an article about GTA III when it came out for the PC and thought, “That sounds awesome.”
I'd first encountered the original Grand Theft Auto when I was in college and decidedly not playing video games. A friend of mine with a computer fancy enough to actually do stuff (not the given in the late 90s that it is today) showed me the game while I packed a bowl and gave a very excited, only partially embarrassed account of the game's wonders, involving the ability to run people over with cars and fuck them up with no lasting consequences. This was all fine, and I was interested, but we had limited time for some reason that now escapes me, and had to smoke that bowl else Western civilization collapse, so that was it for the GTA talk. But the memory of my friend's total geek-out over the game came back to me as I read the review of the new game, where the writer repeatedly assured anyone who might be worried that one could jump in with GTA III without missing anything. I was sold. Bought the game, installed it on my PC, let 'er rip, and haven't looked back since. I bought a PS2 with my '03 tax refund for the express purpose of buying GTA: Vice City. I ran all over lower Manhattan looking for a store that had GTA: San Andreas on the morning of my 26th birthday (the day the game was released, by happy coincidence), eventually finding one. And, once again, when GTA IV came out, I bought a PS3 for the sole (initial) purpose of playing it. To a very real extent, my playing other video games arose more from a feeling of “damn, I dropped a couple/few hundred bucks on this fucking game system, I should probably take advantage of that by playing some other games instead of just gluing GTA into the fucker.”
It was like games had caught up to what I wanted them to be. While I loved Super Mario Brothers back in the day, I could never beat it. I could beat Zelda, but swords and magic and shit was never my thing. My dad, an enthusiastic if not terribly good PC gamer, got one of the Police Quest games and we played through it together on the weekends I'd be over at his place, but still, there was something missing. “I want to design a game called Criminal Quest,” I said, causing my dad great emotional anguish (so easy to do, so much fun), “where you're the guy selling drugs, stealing shit, fucking shit up.” Dad grudgingly admitted that that might be fun given sufficient narrative quality that it wasn't just a bunch of nihilistic bullshit. And lo and fucking behold, Grand Theft Auto III: that very thing.
While it permitted the player freedom to screw around and do whatever s/he chose, the story of GTA III was a total quest narrative. Your guy who you control (not named in the game, but later confirmed by both fan communities and GTA: San Andreas to be named Claude) doesn't speak, and never changes out of his dark earth-toned clothes the whole game, because he has other priorities, to wit killing the living shit out of anything and everything he sees. Most of this is done in cars, hence the title.
The most attention-grabbing aspects of GTA III were things like the fact that you could kill as many cops as you like until they get their shit together and kill you, that one of the easiest ways to replenish your health meter was by picking up a prostitute, driving her to a quiet locale, and fucking her, and perhaps most notoriously that when the deed was done you could kill the prostitute and get your money back. Because of these elements, the GTA games have long been the target of moral watchdog groups up in arms over the desensitization of modern youth to sex, violence, and sexual violence—not to mention cop killing—and even the games' fans will say things like “it's indefensible,” even though they like and play them.
I never bought into this. For one thing, I maintain the best use for the kind of people who want to ban video games or music (or any art) is at the bottom of an oubliette serving as the appetizer course for hungry alligators before the main course of religious demagogues and evil white guys in suits (oh, how I do long for that day. . . .) For another, these moral objections ignore the fact that it's possible to play through the entire game without killing one cop or prostitute, or even patronizing prostitutes. And finally, even if one counters the previous objection with, “Well, the writers and designers put that in the game, so they're still sick fucks,” the nature of the medium is such that the game only exists in the way a given player plays that game. Ergo, if a player spends his/her (I'm not being PC, I knew a girl who absolutely adored killing cops and hookers in GTA III; she was out of her fucking mind, clearly, but she was awesome) time killing cops and hookers in GTA III, it's on the player for doing so. Quod erat demonstrandum.
(Caution: the discussion of the plot of GTA III contains spoilers)
The story of GTA III owes a fair bit to gangster pictures like Goodfellas and Scarface—one radio station is entirely devoted to songs from the Scarface soundtrack; the rest establishes the reputation the GTA games would continue to earn in spades for having outstanding soundtracks—as well as to a myriad other cops-and-robbers movies and TV shows. In an opening expository sequence Claude is shot and left for dead by his treacherous girlfriend Catalina during a bank heist, and is subsequently sprung from police custody along with a fellow criminal, bomb specialist 8-Ball, by means of a bomb that temporarily destroys the only bridge off the island on which the game's lengthy first act takes place. Confined to one third of Liberty City, a fictional American east coast metropolis that resembles each and all to varying degrees, Claude is introduced by 8-Ball to a low-level local Mafioso and begins to work his way up the ladder with his useful driving and murder skills. Over the course of this upward mobility, Claude meets the Don and the Don's younger girlfriend Maria, who takes a shine to Claude and even goes as far as to tell the Don that she's fucking him. (All this without his ever having said a word to her. . . .) The Don, pissed, puts a hit on Claude, but Maria hustles Claude off the island by boat, unlocking Liberty City's second island, roughly analogous to Manhattan.
This was the first point where the game threw me for a loop. I'd assumed the whole game would be Claude working for the Mafia, maybe working his way up to a position of power within the organization. Then, once he was on the run from the Mafia, I assumed the whole rest of the game would be Claude on the run from and in opposition to the Mafia. But just about the first thing he does for his new friend, Maria's S&M lesbian Yakuza girlfriend (doesn't everyone have one of those?) is go back to the Mafia neighborhood on the first island and whack the Don.
From there, Claude becomes the Yakuza's main gaijin, and gets involved with an array of rich and powerful scumbags, including media titan—and proof of the GTA games' firm grasp of the Evil White Guys In Suits Theory—Donald Love, who has Claude start a gang war between the Yakuza and the Colombian cartel (an organization of which Claude's treacherous ex-girlfriend is not only the president, but also a member), among other nasties, notably a bunch of Jamaicans like the kind Steven Seagal fucks up in Marked For Death except more competent.
Things come to a head, after the third and final island has been unlocked and a whole lot more crazy shit happens, when the Cartel kidnaps Maria and Claude has to go rescue her and ice his ex. This is something I've never been able to do on the PS2 version without cheat codes (there are a few other missions I found similarly impossible), but when you kill everyone and save the day, after all that shit Maria jabbers your ear off over the closing credits and the last thing you hear is a gunshot, signifying, one is left to assume, the last nerve of the almost comically taciturn Claude.
Everything that happens in GTA III does so in a manner that can only be described paradoxically as both utterly convincing and yet complete bullshit. Liberty City is so meticulously and skillfully rendered that I spent hours upon hours just getting in one of the faster, more luxurious cars among the dozens the game offers and driving around the city listening to the in-game radio, and it felt very much like driving around a real city. Of course there are differences, Liberty City being a place so thoroughly designed for violence that it has department-store sized gun stores called Ammu-Nation where you can tool up and go wreak havoc. And, most impressively, Liberty City has such astonishingly good healthcare that you can get shot with a bazooka that obliterates your car and the four others closest, and the only thing that happens is you wake up in the hospital a few hours later and a few thousand dollars light in the pocket. Seriously, GTAcare is the most amazing shit in this or any universe.
If the design of the city and the nature of so many of the game's missions—drive here, kill that guy, outrun the cops, etc—weren't enough to make GTA III feel like a playable action movie, the voice cast sealed the deal. The Mafia Don in the early part of the game was voiced by Billy Bats from Goodfellas. His lieutenants were Michael Madsen, Joe Pantoliano, and Michael Rapaport. When you get to the Manhattanish island, necrophiliac media baron Donald Love is Kyle MacLachlan (fucking great casting: if you need an evil white guy in a suit who fucks dead people and yet is still kind of charming, accept no substitutes). The crazy undercover cop you get a bunch of crazy missions from is Robert Loggia, and ho boy does he ever put in some awesome voice work (it's the greatest Robert Loggia part Robert Loggia never quite got the chance to play). And of course the hip-hop nerd in me loved that Guru from Gangstarr voiced 8-Ball.
The GTA series has taken many radical, ambitious steps forward since then. Vice City made the Scarface/Miami Vice 80s come alive (and has the greatest soundtrack in the history of soundtracks), San Andreas was a staggeringly vast narrative, using the early 90s “hood” movies like Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society as a jumping-off point to explore the entirety of the American experience (even incorporating science fiction without breaking the spell). And GTA IV—Vice City and San Andreas were extended narratives that overlapped partially with the GTA III storyline, all set in the same universe, all built for the PS2, and thus not GTAs IV and V; the game called GTA IV was set in a separate universe, indicative of its having been designed for the next-gen PS3 console—is as special to me as GTA III once was, set in an only-slightly paraphrased New York City, a new Liberty City, that's just as fascinating to me now to drive around in as GTA III's Liberty City once was.
I started to mention at the beginning that the GTA games were, in a sense, elaborate exercises in film criticism, and after itemizing all the other countless glories contained within, it's time to address that. Each game takes its cinematic influences and manages to simultaneously pay deeply respectful homage while still deconstructing and satirizing. The method of the deconstruction is a particularly ingenious one, leaving it entirely up to the player to do all the heavy lifting, as it's the player's choices that ultimately make the game what it is. If all you do in a GTA game is drive around killing cops until you get your ass handed to you, that's the sum of the value that player creates. Someone like me who repeatedly and almost exclusively plays through the story mode of each game is clearly more interested in pulp narrative. And a player primarily concerned with creating video clips of them doing all kinds of cool, unique car stunts is concerned with the visuals and the cinematic aspect of each game, and by extension the movies from which the games draw.
It may seem like a stretch to ascribe this level of depth to the GTA games, and maybe it is, but I can say that GTA III made me look at gangster movies differently, with a more critical eye. Vice City gave me an entirely new and more vivid love for Scarface, as well as defining how I watched Miami Vice (a show I was too young to watch in its initial run, but managed to catch up with thanks to reruns, DVD, and online streaming). San Andreas gave me more of an appreciation for the “hood” movies upon further reflection—I could barely watch John Singleton's Boyz N The Hood after playing San Andreas, though it made me love Menace II Society all the more—as well as spurring all kinds of unexpected thoughts about race, ethnic and social isolation, and the importance of remembering one's roots even if ultimately one doesn't stay in the same physical or social place. I swear, I'm not doin' it wrong and reading too much into these games, this shit's all there. (Along with just about every conceivable dick joke the human mind can concoct . . . except that one. Con-cocked? You're welcome).
That, I submit, is the greatest legacy of the Grand Theft Auto games, all of which started with the massive and ambitious step forward that was GTA III: a massively sophisticated deconstruction of the violent impulses of the American people as wrought not only by games, but by gangster and action cinema. Actually, the greatest legacy of the GTA games is that they managed to do all that and still create ridiculously awesome and fun video games. That's my favorite kind of popular entertainment: as stimulating intellectually as it is viscerally. Happy 10th anniversary, GTA III.
Monday, October 17, 2011
I love me some character actors. From my very early years as a cineaste, when I realized that the reason the guy Arnold just shot twenty-five times showed up in another movie because none of this was really happening, I liked tracking people's careers from movie to movie and TV show to TV show. It got to the point, after a while, where certain actors' mere appearance were signifiers of the narrative to come. For instance:
Pre-Paul Thomas Anderson Luis Guzman—probably not a very good movie, and Luis is going to die.
John Mahoney—everybody else will have less moral rectitude (because John Mahoney fucking owns).
Art Evans—an unreliable signifier, because the movie might or might not be any good, but Art was guaranteed to fucking rock, even if it's only one scene. Also, any good aesthete has to love a guy whose name is Art.
James Rebhorn—chances are about two in three he's going to the evil white guy in a suit.
Now, this shit is fucking important, because it is the duty of all morally and politically responsible art to remind the audience that evil white guys in suits are conspiring to destroy the Earth at all times. And, the thing about white guys is that there are echelons; in short, white people have their own white people (take the famous observation about the Irish, that they make fine soldiers as long as they have white officers), and right up at the top of the pyramid (the Freemason one with the eye. Trust) are WASPs from the Northeast United States, and James Rebhorn is from Philly. Consider also, he has the perfect build to wear a really, really conservative suit, and once his hair started going gray the fact that he's a fucking great actor meant we had the perfect storm: the Evilest White Guy In a Suit to ever reflect every last goddamn bit of light back from the silver screen.
Trying to go through every single James Rebhorn performance and talk sufficiently about how awesome it is would take about a goddamn year, because for the entire 1990s he probably took about one coffee break off from being in every TV show and movie the 24 hour day allowed him to grace with his presence. He was in so much stuff even civilians will not only go, “oh, yeah, that guy” but follow it up with “That guy was great in [pick one of about ninety things].”
So, given that, a select list of Mr. Rebhorn's finest work:
Basic Instinct (1992)
While the first things one thinks about when one thinks about Basic Instinct are all the sex and violence and casually rancid biphobia, not to mention George Dzundza telling an array of pussy jokes unmatched outside of Shane Black in Predator, James Rebhorn was most definitely in this as well, about two-thirds of the way through.
After Michael Douglas has been walking around making Michael Douglas Face (the technical term for the overlap in the Venn diagram of middle-aged white guy, poorly-controlled sexual impulses, and jaw-dropping amounts of booze and drugs) for almost the whole movie, with the resultant skyrocketing in the price of Jack Daniel's stock and mortal sexual panic of everyone in his path, the San Francisco PD sends him to see a shrink he isn't fucking (casting aspersions at your professional ethics there, Jeanne Tripplehorn), namely James Rebhorn (some other dude is there too, but his presence is negated by Rebhorn's).
Rebhorn only has like one line, and it's some awesome cliché pseudo-Freudian “tell me about your mother” horseshit, but that one line, and the beautifully honed snootiness with which Rebhorn delivers it, leads to one of the most marvelously douchey Michael Douglas monologues ever. And that, my friends, is the mark of a good character actor. Like a midfielder setting up a perfect pass for the glory-boy striker with the nice hair to fire into goal, a good character actor is defined oft-times by how awesome he manages to make the hero look. James Rebhorn's a fucking team player, people.
Real Steel (2011)
This is actually the role that inspired this tribute to the great man and his work. Real Steel kind of sucks—it was directed by the guy responsible the Night At The Museum fuckarounds, so I wasn't expecting Citizen Kane, but it was still really artificial and fucking terribly written—but Rebhorn shows up and delivers an unfuckingbelievably nuanced little performance in his customary tiny amount of screen time.
The deal is, Hugh Jackman is an irresponsible fuckstick who doesn't want custody of the precocious little moppet who's basically the violin bow the movie uses to play the audience's heartstrings, and Rebhorn is the new husband of the relative Jackman's trying to pawn the kid off on. Only problem is, Rebhorn's looking at this rationally: he's rich as hell (his wristwatch has the approximate mass of the Earth's moon) and he wants to go to Tuscany with younger wife Hope Davis (the relative in question) and be fucking like all summer, because to James Rebhorn go the spoils of victory. So he and Huge Jacked Man cook up a bargain wherein Huge gets a big thick envelope of cash and James Rebhorn gets to spend the whole second act off screen fucking Hope Davis' brains out. Everybody wins.
What seems like a nothing role—or worse, an Evil Stepfather—is just brilliantly and subtly worked by Rebhorn to the point where he manages to play A Guy Who Hates Little Kids and not only not seem like an asshole, he doesn't even come off as a bad person. I maintain, you put a lesser actor in this role, you get a stereotypical meanie Evil Stepfather, and the movie's shittier for it. Rebhorn just walks up like, “I'm a reasonable man,” and the audience is like, “You know what? He kind of is.” That shit right there is like the Stella Adler Jedi mind trick, is what that is.
Independence Day (1996)
Maybe Rebhorn's highest-profile role (his role in the profitable but fucking terrible Meet the Parents was less key, ditto Scent Of A Woman, and I can't discuss the final episode of Seinfeld without overturning cars and starting simultaneous riots in at least five major cities), and certainly his most unambiguously villainous. Playing President Bill Pullman's trigger-happy Secretary of Defense, Rebhorn basically spends the whole movie being the guy who's like, “Wir haben das Reich zu schützen, mein Führer,” and Bill Pullman's like “What the fuck is this shit, I thought I was a Democrat.”
Interestingly, in spite of him being a total WASP, and Rebhorn admitting to totally basing the character on Ollie North (showing Rebhorn is totally fucking aware of the Evil White Guys In Suits theory) his name in the movie is Nimzicki, which is about as far from WASPy as shit gets. But, director Roland Emmerich said the character was named after the MGM executive who fucked up the ad campaign for Stargate, so it was just a good, old-fashioned bit of axe-grinding; if not for that surely Rebhorn would have had a WASP name. And anyway, Rebhorn's mere presence is a signifier of WASPy WASP WASPness.
Speaking of setting things up for the other actor, let us not forget the bit near the end when the aliens are about to fuck shit up, and Judd Hirsch busts out the Torah for the prayer circle as Rebhorn's sitting down. “But . . . I'm not Jewish,” says the great man. Hirsch appraises him with one of the great “No fuckin shit bitch” glances in cinema and says, “Nobody's perfect,” a line that wins style points for one-loving Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot. Say it again: Rebhorn's in for the team.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Playing yet another super-rich dude, here Rebhorn is Jude Law's dad, who hires Tom “Matt Damon” Ripley to go to Italy be responsible, which ends up being a stupid move, but falling for Tom Ripley's bullshit is nothing to be ashamed of, as anyone who's read much Patricia Highsmith or knows anything about Alain Delon or John Malkovich can tell you.
The thing that's so dope about Rebhorn in this is just how perfectly he captures the quiet, understated, patrician WASP thing here. It's like every white person in the history of white people donated DNA to a super-white person designed by the world's greatest geneticist and polished off by a goddamn artist. Rebhorn is, simply, the whitest rich dude like ever in this. Say what you want about The Talented Mr. Ripley, it didn't half-ass anything. It wanted be a beautifully shot movie with gorgeous Italian locations? Done. It wanted to be about twenty minutes too long with a false climax and too many subplots? It was thirty minutes too long with two false climaxes and way the fuck too many subplots. I do really like the movie, but it values surface over depth. The surface is perfect, though, which is why when it needed a guy to be a rich WASP as Jude Law's dad, it got the rich WASP: James fuckin' Rebhorn.
The Game (1997)
The sine qua non of awesome James Rebhorn performances. David Fincher's typically stylish, much-better-than-it-has-any-fucking-right-to-be third feature gives Rebhorn a bit more room to stretch than most other pictures he's been in, and Rebhorn responds with a fucking powerhouse, multi-layered, meta mindfuck. And, of course, to bring this discussion full circle, he spends the whole movie fucking with Michael Douglas, a noble pursuit.
When Douglas' little brother (Sean Penn) gives him a “game” as his birthday present (pitched as a massively intricate ARG), Douglas, his existence barren, gray, and emotionless, deliberates a bit and goes “what the fuck.” He heads on in to start playing the game, and the dude he talks to at the game company is James Rebhorn. Now, because The Game is one twisty fuckin narrative and a damn fine cinematic experience the first time through (it holds up to multiple viewings, but that's more a how did we get from Tinker to Evers to Chance kinda thing), I'll stop right there in terms of specifics. But suffice to say, James Rebhorn is goddamn astonishing in this. He adopts like five or six different personae depending on what the best way to fuck with Michael Douglas' head is under the circumstances in question, and each time you totally buy it as what's really going on.
Now, sure, there's other stuff going on in The Game. Michael Douglas is a rock (he gets us on his side even though he's a fairly Evil White Guy in this, with many expensive Suits, which you cannot do unless you put in a solid performance), Sean Penn is a bit overcaffeinated but still good, and Deborah Kara Unger was putting in another installment in her brief mid-90s run as the thinking man's kinky Canadian sex symbol, but Rebhorn walks away with this movie. Just walks right the fuck away with it. Every beat and line reading is just like “holy shit, this dude is a fucking BOSS.” And it was the point at which, after having seen him in like a half dozen thing in which he absolutely ruled, I made a point of checking the credits and going “Who the fuck is that guy . . .? Ah, James Rebhorn. Okay, duly noted.” Crossing the Rubicon from “That Guy” to having your own name and everything is a big step. It happens a little earlier for me than most, because I'm a goddamn nerd and I'm obsessed with character actors, but still, when you have your “That Guy” graduation, you've won the character actor game.
James Rebhorn, I salute you and all your contributions to the cinema, not the least of which is the fact that every time I see an evil white guy in a suit in a movie, I have to go, “Is he Rebhorn caliber?” It's not every actor who can lay claim to having defined a character archetype, but James Rebhorn most certainly can. Here's to you, sir.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
The great Charlie Jane Anders said, "Wow. This could actually be the worst movie of McG's career." I would donate a testicle to see that be a pull quote on this poster. I mean . . . holy shit. We might have to pull the plug on Western civilization. Anything that makes one long for the halcyon days of Terminator: Salvation's lucidity and intelligence is just . . . wow . . .
The above is an ad that's been running on TV a bit of late, and has—probably intentionally—provoked a bit of controversy. You may have noticed that I don't talk a whole lot about advertising here, even though it's an occasionally interesting form of cinema, mainly because there's baggage (politics, memetics, aesthetic morality, all kinds of complicated shit). This one, though, requires response, because otherwise I'm going to dent a wall slamming it with my fucking head.
I'm a guy. I like beer. I like sports. I like movies where lots of shit blows up. I'm what you might call, if you felt so fancy, a bit gender normative in all these regards. None of these pleasures induce the slightest bit of guilt. Guilty pleasures are for people who need to loosen the fuck up. By that same token, I'm not one of those morality police-ass motherfuckers always running around telling people, “WAAAAA YOU CAN'T SAY THINK DO OR FEEL THAT BECAUSE OH MY GOD YOU NEED TO BE SENSITIVE WAAAAA” because those people are fucking assholes. When I was a little kid in Park Slope, I went to this mildly schmancy summer arts day camp, which was enlightening and kept me out of trouble when school was out. Being the Slope in the late 80s, it meant there were a whole lot of upper-middle-class junior progressives there, but most of them were okay. The camp people would hook us up with popsicles at the end of the day because it was the summer, and this one day one of the other scruffball troublemaker types I hung around with tossed his popsicle wrapper on the ground. A dick move, and a sign of poor breeding, to be sure, but nothing I was about to break his balls about. This other kid, though, swoops in and in his high-pitched little kid sanctimonious voice squeak-bellows, “YOU LITTERED! THAT'S WRONG! YOU HAVE TO PICK THAT UP AND NEVER DO THAT AGAIN! YOU LITTERED!” I mean, come on. There's politically correct and there's being the little fuck who gets all the extra credit questions right, and this kid was the kind the latter roll their eyes at and call dipshit. Scolding people for bullshit just deepens their resolve to do that kind of shit again.
Then again, right is right and wrong is wrong. Back to that ad for a second. The people who made that ad are operating under all kinds of upfucked assumptions. Let's unpack and dissect:
1—Only dudes like action movies. This right here's about as bullshit as bullshit gets. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I grew up with a dad who didn't really like typical dad stuff. He was indifferent to, if not contemptuous of, sports and the only way you could get him to sit through a violent movie is if it was SF. Thus, my entire responsibility for my early education in both sports and violent movies fell to my mom, who was more than capable of taking care of this, but still, it was all up to her. And it's not like she took this responsibility on because she was on some martyrdom trip, like “in the absence of a traditional male role model, I shall nobly resist and suppress my feminine nature in aid of what must be done for my child.” Fuck that shit, she wanted someone to watch Knicks games and car chase movies with. And as awesome and unconventional as she is, she's not the only woman in the world with these tastes by any means. I get most of my fantasy hockey advice (and not bad at all, either) from a woman friend, and I'm in two different fantasy football leagues with another woman friend, among many other examples. Action movies? Fuckin' forget it, it'd be easier for me to count the number of women I know who don't like violence than the ones that do. Don't even come at me with bullshit about small sample sizes and so forth. Even if you somehow managed to collect stats for the whole movie-watching world and came up with something like less than half women like violent movies, or even if you found out only a third did, you can take that “only dudes like action movies” hooey and jam it in your ass.
2—There is anything manly about drinking diet soda. There are two reasons to drink soda: sugar and caffeine. It is a terrible vehicle for either of these things. If you still need your caffeine fix and for dietary reasons you need to lay off the sugar or something, nut up and drink some fucking black coffee. Putting sugar in your coffee is weakness, and putting milk in it is racist. If you're in a tea-drinking country, tea's fine, just put like twelve bags in the kettle and get ready for fucking liftoff. Relying on soda for caffeine is like jerking off with the crook of your elbow.
3—This “no women allowed” thing. Now, this'd be a whole 'nother deal if Dr. Pepper was like, “you know what? With the number of states passing marriage equality votes, and with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell finally allowing members of the military to come out, let's reach out and market our new diet soft drink to gay men.” Which would be just as dumb, because then you'd be shafting the lesbians, and their whole trip is that that's not their trip. There's no way this “no women allowed” shit isn't sexist. At all. There are nights you hang out with your dudes, or your chicks, and it's just dudes or just chicks, and that is what it is, but if you're some dude hanging with your dudes and you're saying (or, shit, thinking) “Fuck yeah, bro, I'm fuckin glad as fuck there aren't any fucking chicks around bro, fuck that shit, bros before hoes, bro, fuck yeah!” you need to broaden your horizons. You may even find a female friend who finds your double entendres about broadening your horizons by hanging out with broads funny. (Ed. Note: I'm living proof!)
Ad people are probably looking at all the people tweeting and blogging about how fucking stupid this is and going “Well, the spot did its job, people are talking.” Here's the problem with that assumption: all the people talking about this are pissed. They're not going to suddenly want to have makeup sex with this dumb diet soda. And, on the off chance, some dumbfuck bro types are sitting around going “Fuck yeah, bro,” those dummies aren't about to go drink this piss. They're barely going to remember what the fucking ad was for thirty seconds later. The net result is, you pissed a bunch of people off for nothing. All because you couldn't be fucking bothered to think about what human beings are like beyond a stereotypical level.
Rather than end on an angry note, let me raise a glass to all the women out there who like action movies. Let me raise another glass to the men who aren't so stunned by that affinity that they treat those women like unicorns, and instead do the sensible thing and kick it about action movies with them. Let's raise a glass to treating people like human fucking beings. And rest assured, what is in the glass I raise will not be Dr. Pepper.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The following is a Gchat transcript of a conversation between myself (me) and Chicago-based musician, actor, and cineaste Steve Gilpin (Steven).
Steven: personally I didn't like Brick a whole lot
it was ok
but I REALLY fuckin' liked The Brothers Bloom
(in William Hurt voice) A HELLUVA LOT!!
sorry that was my pathetic excuse for a history of violence reference
me: brick was awesome
Steven: i didn't like it that much
me: you have cooties if you don't like brick
then i guess i have cooties
i didn't hate it
just felt so self-conscious and didn't add up to much for me
Steven: interesting style, sure.
me: no reaching the kids these days i see
Steven: see i WANTED to like Brick
but i would be lying if i said i really dug it
does that make sense?
IF IT IS WAR YOU WANT THAN IT IS WAR YOU SHALL HAVE
Steven: the movie's charms just eluded me, dude.
sorry for not partying with brick
me: I SHALL BOMB YOUR DRESDEN
I SHALL SEND YOUR LEADERS INTO HIDING
i mean i guess i could watch it again
YOU WILL NOT WATCH IT AGAIN
YOU WILL BE BOMBED
me: YOUR FIELDS SHALL BE PLOWED WITH SALT
AND YOU WILL NOT BE ALLWOED TO WATCH
BECAUSE YOU WILL BE DEAD
TOO DEAD TO BUST MY BALLS ABOUT TYPOS
taste is subjective
CLAM THE FUCK DOWN BITCH
me: i am clam
starring sean fuckin penn in a shell, motherfucker
i am clam
so i have a confession
me: HEROES IN THE HALF-SHELL TURTLE POWER
Steven: i never thought i would say this ever
Steven: i actually wanna see the Footloose remake
me: WELL IT'S FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT, STEVEN
Steven: you are punchy today
me: THE DIRECTOR OF THAT FILM HAS DEMONSTRATED, IN HIS OTHER WORK, AN AUTEURIST SENSITIVITY AND A GENUINE FEELING FOR THE MILIEU IN WHICH THE ORIGINAL FOOTLOOSE WAS SET
HIS INTERESTS IN MUSIC AND CINEMA ARE OFT-DEMONSTRATED AND THE ADDED MEDIUM OF DANCE COMPLETES THE TRIAD IN A KIND OF AESTHETIC SYMMETRY THAT COULD LEAD TO A HIGHLY INTRIGUING FILM
WHICH IS TO SAY, YOUR INTEREST IN THIS FILM IS WARRANTED, DEFENSIBLE, AND INDICATIVE NOT OF AN AESTHETIC FAILING, BUT INDEED OF THE RARIFIED LEVEL OF TASTE THAT YOU'VE FREQUENTLY DEMONSTRATED OVER THE DECADE AND CHANGE THAT WE'VE BEEN FRIENDS
how's that for punchy
Saturday, October 8, 2011
The American experiment has hit a couple potholes here and there in its 100 mph, top-down, hair in the breeze weekend jaunt through the annals of human history. Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that we're always one or two simple steps away from getting it right—to extend the opening metaphor, we could, if we so chose, ask the hooker to sit in the passenger seat and do some of the righteous blow s/he brought and not suck our dick as we take that hairpin mountainside turn—but, well, we just insist on getting blown at all times and so, occasionally, a fiery flaming wreck results. That's America in a nutshell, always thinking with its dick.
All is not lost, though. The evil white guys in suits are getting a degree of comeuppance from the awesome folks engaged in the 99% protests, the Occupy Wall Street/various and sundry other EWGIS hangouts demonstrations. The evil white guys in suits are not taking this resistance terribly well and have been acting out in fairly piggish fashion, which is both lulzy as fuck and ultimately damaging to their hegemony, so these days there's a rare sliver of optimism that the good guys might actually wrinkle some motherfuckers' Brooks Brothers. Which is nice.
But, then, some dumbass comes along and fucks everything up and restores that creeping, chilly “we're all fucked” feeling. One such is a woman in Michigan who's filed an actual for-real, official and everything lawsuit against the distributors of Drive, claiming that the trailers misrepresented the movie as being Faster and a bit more Furious than it ended up being. Obviously, it's not like people aren't allowed to not like Drive. I did, a lot of other people did. A lot of others were lukewarm or outright hostile. Not everybody likes the same stuff; there are even reports of apostate joyless fucktards who don't like Big Trouble In Little China (Ed. Note: shun these fucks).
Be that as it may, suing a distributor because you're too fucking stupid to realize that a trailer is not a movie . . . well, that's just special. Not only is it a waste of time the criminal justice system could better use to acquit good-looking white chicks of murder, it sets an extremely dangerous precedent. Let's break the “thought” process down into its elements:
1—Lady sees Fast & the FuriousI'm well aware that not everyone reads the amount of film criticism I do (some read more, most read less) and thus not everyone had been reading stuff about Drive from when it screened at Cannes until its US release four months later. But even so, have another look at the trailer for Drive:
1a—Lady likes Fast & the Furious (a logical conclusion)
2—Lady sees trailer for Drive
2a—Drive trailer contains cars
2b—Moreover, said cars are being driven
3—Lady transitively infers that Drive = Fast & the Furious
Again, you can not like it because it turned out not to be the Fast & the Furious. I may find your reasoning specious, but hey. It's America. The level of stupidity it takes to actually sue Drive's distributor over this, though, is one where it's practically an art form. And that's before we even get to the part that because Drive has Jewish characters, it's anti-Semitic. That, actually, is kind of comforting: the plaintiff might just be crazy, not apocalyptically fucking stupid. Small comfort, but still.
I know the second a responsible judge gets a hold of this ruling, s/he'll toss it and probably even openly chastise the plaintiff for wasting the court's time, but on the off chance that doesn't happen, it sets a dangerous precedent. It means if I see a trailer for a Scarlett Johansson movie, and she doesn't take her clothes off, I can sue because I saw those hacked cellphone pics. If I go see RDJ's next Sherlock Holmes movie and he doesn't turn to Jude Law and go “The game's afoot, Watson!” I can sue Warner Bros, RDJ, Jude Law, Guy Ritchie, and the cult center where Guy Ritchie left his filmmaking ability ten years ago.
Per that last, it is once again safe to make unkind jokes about celebrities on the Internet. The recent reality show H8R, where éminence grise Mario Lopez provided the likes of Snooki, Kim Kardashian, and the creator of Girls Gone Wild the opportunity to shame people who'd said things about them on the Internet. Now, as Daniel Fienberg points out in this brilliant evisceration, it would be one thing if Snickers was rolling up on Perez Hilton or something, but this was a case of people who had unequivocally beaten the system, gotten ludicrously rich (or, in Kardashian's case, started out ludicrously rich and then become more so) for doing nothing more strenuous than existing. And, when someone on the Internet expresses anything other than the most obsequious fawning, Mario Lopez is there to sit in his limo and watch them waddle up to some random person who makes in a year what the victimized celebrity makes in a half-hour and say shit like “You don't even know, okay?”
That something like H8R even existed in the first place is a sign that America is deeply, deeply damaged, even if the fact that it was canceled after four episodes is a sign that we're not quite past beyond the point of saving. And, as mentioned at the top, there are many in whom the desire to change this broken country for the better has been awakened. But fuck, man. There was, for four whole episodes, a TV show where incredibly rich people went out of their way to embarrass incredibly not-rich people they'd never met before who dared to criticize them. And, as Fienberg pointed out, the nature of the critiques was mild, if not merely stating fact.
But, again, H8R is now fortunately a thing of the past, soon to be joined by the dumb Drive lawsuit. Hopefully the misconception that the right to have one's cake and eat it too is guaranteed in the Bill of the Rights will pass. But it is one that's shared by many in America. Occasionally, things are going to happen that we don't like. It's how we deal with that that determines our character. I'm not perfect in any sense of the word (except sex and the crafting of analogies, of course) but I can say unequivocally, if your reaction to not liking a movie is to sue, or if you get so bent out of shape about someone Tweeting that you're imperfect that Mario Lopez and a limo become involved, your character is a bit wanting.
(As a treat for putting up with social commentary on a movie blog, here's a link to my review of Real Steel. Oh, shit, that didn't help, did it? Sigh....)