Saturday, March 31, 2012

REMINDER: F.W. MURNAU WAS AWESOME

Obviously, F.W. Murnau wasn't really on crack, since they didn't have crack in 1927. But he might have been cranking the camera with his dick because holy shit dude. That there's Sunrise, kids. That there's one of the best movies that ever has been. Revisit this post for a more in depth discussion of Murnau's cinema.

Friday, March 30, 2012

SOMETIMES A REALLY UN-GREAT NOTION


This might happen. Is it too late to start blogging about knitting or Maldives presidential politics?


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

BOOK TO FILM: THE HUNGER GAMES


I finally saw The Hunger Games Tuesday afternoon. It's not perfect, but I'm certainly not going to begrudge it the holy-moley-great-balls-of-fire-fuckgantic box office gross it's racking up. For all we want to be cranky old people farting at the younger generation for being nekulturny nihilistic retards, sometimes the shit the kids are into is pretty good. Hell, Justin Bieber doesn't suck. Yeah, I said it. Sure, “If I was your boyfriend I'd never let you go/I can take you places you ain't never been before” ain't exactly William Butler Yeats, sure it's funny when Bieber uses the word “swag” (as in swag-ger, fellow olds), sure he looks like a lesbian. But “Oh yeah, I'll tell you something I think you'll understand/When you say that something, I wanna hold your hand” is stupid too, no one knew what the fuck “gear” meant even at the height of Beatlemania, and Paul McCartney looked even more like a lesbian than Bieber until he died in that car crash and his slightly butcher doppleganger took his place and grew a mustache. Sure, John Lennon could have melted Biebs with telekinesis, but the kid makes perfectly competent pop music. He's way the fuck better than the pop music teenagers listened to when I was a teenager—I don't care how female and how twelve years old you once were, the Backstreet Boys are war criminals—and moreover, you couldn't get kids to read books at gunpoint in the mid-90s. The Harry Potter books changed all that, proving that as long as you didn't try to get kids to read Paul Bowles, they would read. Publishing companies went “whoa, shit, let's try that again,” and while that meant we have to suffer the shame of being a species that created the Twilight series, it also meant a bunch of other YA properties are out there keeping books in kids' hands. One of which, and arguably the premier non-Potter out there, is The Hunger Games trilogy.

Thus far I've read the first book and a chunk of the second, and I gotta say, they don't fuck around. Suzanne Collins, with sparse, direct prose, renders a genuinely dark and scary far-future dystopia, where a totalitarian regime has divided North America into 12 (formerly 13) Districts, each devoted to producing a resource needed to keep the wildly luxurious Capitol in the lifestyle they require. In the other corner, weighing in at a lot less than she would if she had enough to eat, representing District 12 (the poorest District, whose raison d'etre is its coal mines) is Katniss Everdeen, 16 years of age. Katniss provides for her mother and younger sister by sneaking out into the woods and hunting, which while illegal is tacitly permitted by the local Peacekeepers (read: cops), since District 12 is widely considered too backward to be dangerous to anyone. All this changes forever, very early in the first book, when it comes time for the Hunger Games, held annually, which involve each District providing a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death on TV until one champion remains. The champion then returns to his or her District and lives in government-underwritten splendor for life. Katniss' younger sister is selected to compete, at which point Katniss volunteers to take her place. Katniss and her male counterpart, baker's son Peeta, are whisked away to the Capitol to get a crash course in media relations before being tossed into the arena for the Games.

When reading The Hunger Games, one (fairly dorky movie industry inside baseball) thought kept recurring: “How the fuck are they going to bring this in as a PG-13?” At one point in the Games, after a party I won't name does something that really pisses Katniss off, she shoots him in the throat, yanks the arrow out, and watches (reasonably dispassionately) as the guy chokes to death on his own blood. Now, I'm definitely on the “more the merrier” side of the ownage fence, but that's an R to me. So I knew that bit probably wasn't going to be in the movie (at least until Gareth Evans does the reboot with Iko Uwais in drag as Katniss) but at the same time, the thing Katniss is pissed off about is A Really Big Deal, narrative-wise, so if she just gives the dude a wedgie the significance of the moment is lost. There are a few other key moments where things get a bit bloody, too. It's not so much that I thought a movie version would be soft, it's that I was impressed with how dark the book gets. It “goes there.”

And, as much as ratings board issues and length restrictions made changes in the adaptation mandatory, the movie does too. Working from a script on which he collaborated with Collins herself and the very talented screenwriter Billy Ray, director Gary Ross made the cinematic equivalent of what The Hunger Games was as a book: an exciting, occasionally rough, but fiercely compelling SF action picture. Freed from the first-person narration in the book that limits the action strictly to what Katniss does, observes, and remembers, the movie is able to provide context to the world of the story, though this is a bit of a double-edged sword, as knowing more about what's going on kind of takes the edge off certain aspects of Katniss' path through the Games, and some of the more frightening surprises. Still, it's a damn solid movie.

Its one major debit as a movie is its overuse of handheld camera. Now, I'm not as militantly anti-shaky-cam as some, and it doesn't give me motion sickness or anything. But there's a time and a place. (Ed. Note: read that last sentence in your head as Paul Henreid. You're welcome.) I think the real problem is that Hollywood needs to either a) start cutting its cocaine with something a little more chemically equanimous, like, I don't know, Valium or something, or b) stop giving its camera operators quite so much of the shit, because man, the camera in The Hunger Games is jittery. Combined with the quick cutting, a lot of the movie is lost in a blur. Weirdly, the action sequences (some of which were directed by Steven Soderbergh, who's kind of the Energizer bunny of cinema; I pictured him coming up to Gary Ross being like, “Man, principal photography doesn't start for my other four movies for like three days, man, I need a fix, man, I need to shoot something, I don't give a fuck, man, I'll shoot second unit for you man, please, man, I'll suck your dick!”) are more visually clear than the bits where Jennifer Lawrence is just walking down a path in District 12 moodily contemplating her downtrodden existence. You get used to it (if you're able to) after a while, but the bit when they're arriving at the Capitol and seeing just how much more it is in ever sense than anything Katniss or Peeta have ever seen would have worked a lot better if the damn camera wasn't doing its coke-freak-out tarantella all over the fuckin place.

But anyway, enough of the problems. There's plenty that's awesome about The Hunger Games, and it all starts with the aforementioned Ms. Lawrence. Jennifer Lawrence is made out of movie star. She's gorgeous, she can act, she's got terrific physical presence. And there's this air of “wait . . . you're serious? You mean I get to make movies? That's ridiculous, and awesome, but I mean, come on. You're not seriously letting me be in movies, right?” about her that seems totally unaffected, and is endlessly endearing. She'll play along with the “joke” and keep being in movies until someone yells “psych!” at which point she'll shrug it off and go right on doing whatever. Except if she keeps being this awesome in everything she's in (Winter's Bone's still out there to watch, too) no one's yelling “psych” for a long, long time. Everyone's good in the movie, especially Lenny Kravitz, who's just terrific in the small but key role of Katniss' stylist Cinna, Woody Harrelson, quietly peaking as one of the best character actors alive as the drunken and haunted mentor and ex-Hunger Games champion Haymitch, and a young actor named Amandla Stenberg, as Rue, a District 11 competitor Katniss befriends over the course of the Games, who turns in a really affecting performance without the benefit of a ton of dialogue, but all Rue's subtext shines on the screen.

Most of the core story of The Hunger Games is right there on screen. A number of details of the story are presented with little or no explanation, which is fine as fan service, but might leave people who haven't read the book out in the cold. The only two worth mentioning (and it's something that could quite easily be addressed in the next movie) are, first, the pin Katniss acquires early in the movie, that she gives to her sister for luck, only to have returned when it turns out Katniss is going to be competing in the Hunger Games, and which is subsequently incorporated into one of her costumes by her stylist. It's identified as a “mockingjay,” though it's never explained what a mockingjay is. The book explains a mockingjay is a hybrid bird genetically engineered by the Capitol as a means of spying on the people, only it proves uncontrollable and slips the Capitol's grasp, living on as a signifier of the frailty of totalitarian rule. Also, Mockingjay is the title of the third and final book in the series, implying that it's pretty damn important. Still, with the first movie being entirely concerned with Katniss competing in the Hunger Games and finding that to be just the beginning, with the rebellion of the Districts (briefly addressed in the movie, in a scene not in the book that ends up being one of the movie's most powerful moments) coming mainly later on in the series, there is still time for the explanation of the significance of the mockingjay.

The second omission is a little more problematic. In the books, food is an enormously important thing. Katniss and nearly everyone else in District 12 is constantly on the brink of starvation, even though the ruling regime could feed everyone with little more difficulty than a snap of the fingers. It's a reminder of the power of the Capitol, and virtually every moment of Katniss' day at home is given over to acquiring and trading for food. The Hunger Games are so called because the winner never has to go hungry again, and as a reminder that their (optional) hunger is a symbol of the power the contestants' (and everyone else's) rulers have over them. The movie doesn't have as much time to address this as the book, with that exposition having to share room with all the other crap the movie has to pack into its first act, and while Jennifer Lawrence tells her mother “Don't let [my sister] starve!” that's about it. It wouldn't be that big a deal—any book loses pages on the way to the screen—except the movie's called, ya know, The Hunger Games.

That narrative shortcoming, and all that “holy shit give the fuckin camera operator some Thorazine” camerawork, are the only things really holding The Hunger Games back from being legitimately great as opposed to just really good. And, in a way, the jittery camerawork is the equivalent of Suzanne Collins' occasionally clunky prose, which cancels it out as a deal-breaker for the movie, which has the benefit of the book's dark, intense relentless narrative momentum. It's a damn easy movie to get caught up in. Damn, damn easy. And that's a blockbuster's job. I can nitpick the camerawork and the vagaries of book-to-film adaptation all the livelong day, but the most important thing about The Hunger Games is, it's the kind of movie whose strengths inspire a great big I-don't-give-a-fuck about its weaknesses. And, much like at the top where I compared Justin Bieber to Paul McCartney, allow me an additional sacrilege: The Hunger Games inspires a similar level of I'm-caught-up-in-it-so-fuck-the-parts-that-don't-work as Star Wars. By which I mean the real Star Wars, the one from the 70s.

Now, there's no way The Hunger Games can have the same cultural impact as Star Wars, which literally reinvented the movie industry almost singlehandedly. But if the kids who are the same age now as the kids were who made Star Wars into the institution is today grow up venerating The Hunger Games movie equivalently to Star Wars, it's not that they're assholes, or they don't get it (to reference an earlier movie featuring the actor who played Peeta, the kids are all right.) It's a legit comparison, speaking strictly as cinema.

All inflammatory nerd provocations aside though, here's to Jennifer Lawrence, movie star, who'll keep The Girl On Fire burning forevermore. May the rest of the movies in the series work as well as pop cinema as the first.

Friday, March 23, 2012

THE HUNGER RAID


Today's the big day! After months and months of hype . . . The Raid: Redemption finally opens today! FUCK YEAH! Here's my thing I wrote about it for Hudak the other day, and here's a link to the review by Lou Lumenick of the New York Post, which is pretty much exactly what I would have said in a proper review except without a star rating (though 3 out of 4 is pretty much spot-on) and way the fuck more cursing.

Oh yeah, and some independent movie with Jennifer Lawrence in it comes out today. Winter's Bone 2: Wintrier and Bonier, I think it's called. So, ya know, go support that. (On a serious note, dude, fucking The Hunger Games is projected to gross $160 million this weekend. That shit is insane. That's like fucking Ancient fucking Rome.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT FOR A PRIVATE GIG?



EAST MARS (AP) --- Ewan McGregor's Penis, in an effort to regain market share (currently dominated by the upstart penis of Michael Fassbender), released this statement on the Conan O'Brien show recently. Clearly, the gauntlet has been thrown.

If we've learned anything from this contretemps, it's that Louis C.K. is a dyed-in-the-wool classicist.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A NOBLE (BUT INCOMPLETE) ATTEMPT TO WATCH GREEN LANTERN


I was home not being a drunk shithead last night, which meant that at about 12:30 I was looking at the channel guide on TV; I was nearing the end of Dazed and Confused, a really fantastic movie that I should someday give a proper rewatch without commercial breaks and censored fucks, and looking for something else. Lo and behold, I found something. And before it even started, I regretted it:

Already feeling like the decision to watch GREEN LANTERN on HBO at 1:25 is a mistake and it hasn't even started yet.

I don't know whether it was morbid curiosity, self-flagellation because all anti-St. Pat's rhetoric aside I could have kind of used a drink, or what, but the die was cast. Despite being determined to go through with my plan, I knew it was probably a bad idea. My friend Jon Hoche, an actor, playwright, and a nerd of far purer heart than I, saw my tweet about watching Green Lantern and immediately started warning me against it; this, for those of you without the privilege of knowing Mr. Hoche, is a really bad sign with any comic book/geek property. But what is St. Patrick's Day if not a day to make bad decisions, and verily to do things that may induce vomiting? This, then, is the record of that horrendously ill-advised decision:

The opening of GREEN LANTERN is reminding me of what the opening of HEAVY METAL would be without a sense of ironic perspective.

Speaking of HEAVY METAL, I just had the horrifying realization that there are no gratuitous nude scenes in this movie.

(This led to me briefly brainstorming, with Isaac Butler, a live-action version of Richard Corben's Den starring Ryan Reynolds. Genius never sleeps, people.)

So all of a sudden Blake Lively is playing Goose in a heterosexual variation on TOP GUN. #GreenLantern

Holy shit, the Loch Nar is looking for Ryan Reynolds! (Ed. Note: the Loch Nar was the little green spherical thing that appeared in various iterations in the Heavy Metal movie that caused a variety of sin and perfidy; the weirdly dark tone of Green Lantern had me thinking the Lanterns were actually the bad guys.)

The military-industrial complex is kinda toothless here. Real evil white guys in suits would STILL be tasering Ryan Reynolds in the nuts. "Oh, you crashed our billion-dollar plane for no reason! Okay, we're not even going to yell at you, we'll let Blake Lively do it." Sure.

I don't wanna say these cats are wasting money, but if you gave me $200 mil and a camera Cecil B. Demille would rise from the fucking dead. (Ed. Note: I want to reinforce this point; the CGI was almost as bad as it was in the Telugu fantasy picture Once Upon A Warrior, which cost like 8% of what Green Lantern did and had cooler swordfighting and a better girl character than Blake Lively. If you gave me $200 mil, you would see that $200 mil on the screen. For better or worse.)

Peter Sarsgaard and Angela Bassett just had a ferocious bad hairstyling duel.

Ryan Reynolds just straight up murked three proles with his fancy Loch Nar ring. Maybe this IS a remake. Maybe Blake Lively WILL get naked! (Ed. Note: this is an important point, that Cracked also made: Ryan Reynolds gets his ass kicked by these three dudes who lost their jobs because he pulled his I-play-by-my-own-rules fucking bullshit and crashing that massively expensive plane, completely unnecessarily. This would be a fine moment for Ryan Reynolds to take a beating as character-building. But no. He whips out his Green Lantern ring . . . and fucking kills the three guys. They're fucking dead, they're not just knocked out. I mean, what the sociopathically self-absorbed fuck. And the movie doesn't dwell on this at all. It's just like, hey, if you fuck with Ryan Reynolds, you get got. Yeah, cool story, bro.)

British aliens were better when they were dudes in metal suits, man, fuck your computers. (Ed. Note: this is when the aliens whisk Ryan Reynolds off to their planet to tell him he's one of them now.)

Though I will say, having the infodump in a British accent was a very smart move. It adds "class."

"What is THAT?" "It's a computer-generated effect, Mr. Reynolds. Now allow me to recite a few non sequiturs in my melodious British accent."

Why's Mark Strong dressed like a hemorrhoid & talking about nuking THE PARALLAX VIEW? What did Warren Beatty ever do to you, motherfucker?

Peter Sarsgaard has a fivehead and is possessed by Something Alien. Gotta say if somebody's gotta do it, might as well be him.

GREEN LANTERN is an evocative movie. It evokes the desire for sleep. I'm out at the hour-ten mark; no idea what's going on & don't care.

One last parting thought: it is truly remarkable how awful everyone's hair looked in that movie.

And that's it. I couldn't make it past the big scene when Tim Robbins (as the Evil White Guy In A Suit, except with the murky moral tone I couldn't tell whether him being evil had anything to do with anything or whether it was just because they noticed how awesome an EWGIS Tim Robbins is now that his hair's gone gray) is getting some thing at a banquet and Blake Lively is made up to look like Jennifer Lopez's younger sister for some reason and some shit or other starts happening. I just had to say fuck it and pull the plug.

All this being said, it's probably an outstanding picture to smoke weed to, so if you're so inclined, knock yourself out. As for me, whose days of blazing are mostly a thing of the past, I couldn't hang. I did try, though.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

AN SEAN GARDA: WHY BRENDAN GLEESON IS SO AWESOME IN THE GUARD (AND WHY I NEED TO LAY OFF THE BILINGUAL PUNS)

Brendan Gleeson in both The Guard and excellent company.

St. Patrick's Day is upon us once again. For deep contemplation of the holiday itself, I find once again unable to top my first St. Patrick's Day post, so read that if you like, but today we have very pressing business at hand. We gotta kick it for a minute about how good Brendan Gleeson is in The Guard.

He's kind of the final word in dopeness in that movie. From that opening scene with the drunk drugged-up douchebags driving, intercut with Brendan Gleeson being all reluctant to have to work and shit, to where he finds them after they crash and die (because of course they crash and die, THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DRINK AND DRIVE, SHITHEADS) and sees that bag of E pills, fucking takes one, then looks out at the horizon and goes “What a beautiful fookin' day . . .” Tone, set.

I didn't even know whether he was a good or bad guy at that point, but I knew it was going to be a hell of a ride. And it was, through the murder investigations, the revelation that there's an international drug ring in Galway, the arrival of a straight-laced FBI guy (Don Cheadle) tasked with dealing with said drug ring, and the fact that Brendan Gleeson is just slamming pints, playing video games, menaging a couple hookers in the trois on his “day off” (Brendan Gleeson takes leisure seriously), and generally just IRL trolling the living shit out of everyone who crosses his path.

The Guard is less a police procedural (it's barely even that) than it is a character study, but holy shit is it an interesting character study. Everyone in the movie is a slight variation on a standard cop movie archetype (the loose cannon cop, the straight arrow partner, the other straight arrow partner, the widow of the guy who gets killed, the bad guys—the friendly one, the scary quiet one, and the wisecracking psycho—the hooker(s) with a heart of gold. . .) but in every case that slight variation is in the direction of greater depth. There are no dull characters in the movie, but Brendan Gleeson is fascinating. He's way overqualified for the life of a small-town cop, but nonetheless content with it. The encroachment of the baddies with their drug business and the FBI's investigation thereof shakes him out of his stasis, and forces him to live up to his intelligence and talent level.

The fact that we never quite learn what makes Brendan Gleeson tick is kind of the point. He might have finished 4th in swimming at the Seoul Olympics, it might be bullshit. He might not give a fuck about anything, or he might just have no reason to. He might, as Don Cheadle puts it, be “really motherfuckin' dumb, or really motherfuckin' smart.” But the evidence points to the latter. While Brendan Gleeson's ultimate fate is left a bit ambiguous, the movie ends satisfyingly because whatever actually happens to him at the end, it happened on Brendan Gleeson's terms. Which is as it fucking should be.

That's all I got, really. The Guard is great and Brendan Gleeson fucking owns. And as much as his character in The Guard likes a pint, he's enough of an instinctive contrarian to avoid going full retard on St. Patrick's Day, which makes him, more than any other character in contemporary cinema, truly a man after my own heart. (And if Fat Guy Nation ever needs a Taoiseach, Brendan Gleeson is fucking it.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

GAME CHANGE OF THRONES


So I watched Game Change and it was okay, except it was kind of like watching cable news while having drinks with Steve Schmidt and having him be all like “Yeah, y'know, the real story behind such and such is blah blah blah” and you're like “Dude, I kind of inferred that on my own” and he's like “Yeah, well, what do you expect from a veteran political operative, candor?” and you're like, “Yeah, good point.”

Woody Harrelson's great as Schmidt, and Julianne Moore does a rockin' Sarah Palin, but the woman who almost became vice president (Ed. Note: 2008 was both a year and the author's diastolic blood pressure that whole fucking campaign) remains elusive; the writers and filmmakers are clearly both fascinated and a bit horrified by her, but they're just as curious for genuine insight as the audience remains after the movie's over. It's nicely crafted and engrossing and there are some nicely observed moments, but really, this shit just happened and there's nothing really new. I'd been planning to write about it, but . . . well . . . I ain't got shit to say. As the poet Rasheed Wallace said on two separate occasions about something other than presidential politics, “It is what it is,” and “Both teams played hard.”

But ohhhhhhhh shit. Playing a couple HBO channels over from Game Change was the Game of Thrones season 1 episode “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” also known as the episode when, for me, Game of Thrones became Game of Owns, must-see TV. And it was like I was shlepping to Damascus and the skies opened up: Game Change of Thrones. (Warning: Game of Owns spoilers after this awesome photograph.)

Well, this is kind of a spoiler, too....

We open with Sarah, up in the north, by The Wall, illegally hunting direwolves. Word comes from King's Landing that the King needs a new Hand after Sean Bean gets got. Someone has the derptastic idea to appoint Sarah, who naturally goes “Ohh, you betcha!” and gets on her horse. Cut to a scene where Tyrion “Peter Dinklage” Lannister is getting blown while drinking a whole flagon of mead and going “Well that's a brilliant idea if ever I've heard one. Grip the shaft a bit there, love.” Cersei immediately hatches five horrendously devious assassination plots, not against Sarah, but just because. The gay Baratheon kid (Renly? Not having read the books it's a little difficult to remember all the names sometimes) goes “Goddammit, not only is my storyline underwritten, now I got this Jesus freak to deal with.” Jon Snow broods. Littlefinger and the eunuch welcome Sarah with open arms and big smiles and Sarah's like “Ooh, that bald fella there, he seems kinda funny” and dislikes Littlefinger because Aiden Gillen played Carcetti, a Democrat, on The Wire.

I mean, she'd be written out of the show after one or two episodes for being a dipshit and she'd end up being the Nikki and Paulo of Game of Thrones, but there'd be a fuck of a lot more ownage than there was in Game Change. Also, having his head cut off by Sarah Palin is almost ignominious enough an end for Joffrey Baratheon.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A FEW THOUGHTS ON WHY EVERYONE NEEDS TO CHILL OUT ABOUT JOHN CARTER

Nerd-Fight-Its-on
(photo by StampyTurtle on Flickr)

So, John Carter is in theaters now, and there's an odd dynamic developing. This isn't the first time this has happened, but it's the first time I've been caught in the crossfire, so I'm noticing it more, to wit: the kind of things people who liked the movie are saying about people who didn't. For weeks now there have been stories all up and down entertainment media about the fact that John Carter cost $250 million, and was not only expected to suck but to lose more money than any movie in the history of the business. I weighed in on this narrative earlier this week, maintaining optimism both for its commercial and artistic prospects, partly because I knew I was going to have to review it for Next Projection. When I did, I discovered that there was a reason the narrative about it being shockingly expensive and not very good had developed. It was because, to my eyes, it was shockingly expensive and not very good.

But opinions are, as the poet said, like assholes, in the sense that everybody's got one and they're frequently full of shit. I try my best to be enlightened and not let anger fuck me up—though it frequently does—so I'll lay my cards on the table about my own perspective:

1—I went in, as I always do, wanting it to be good.
2—It was a little clunky.
3—Its clunkiness was exacerbated by being projected in an unwatchable format.
4—I can't say this enough, 3D is bad enough but 3D IMAX is a hate crime against cinema.
5—In spite of the unspeakably awful presentation, I tried my best to be fair about the movie.

But in spite of being the most serious intellectual in three counties, possessed of immaculately refined tastes, and fucking awesome, occasionally, people disagree with me. Which is fine. Without different perspectives, there'd be no discourse, and were there no discourse, we might as well feed ourselves to the fuckin wolves. And so it is that a number of people, a lot of whom I respect greatly, liked John Carter, and found it to be the thing I thought it missed the mark in trying to be: a rousing SF fantasy popcorn epic. You say it owns, I say it makes Dune look like it was directed by Robert Bresson. It has ever been thus.

But the pro- and anti- camps have been talking a bit of shit, and it's getting a little out of hand. I'm going to be paraphrasing a bit here and there, and withholding names because I don't have anything personal against any of the parties involved (so if you see yourself quoted or paraphrased, don't be mad, please.) But here's the basic gist of a few strands of the conversation:


“Any critics who thought this was confusing need to go back to critic school.”

One very crucial hair needs to be split here: when a critic describes something as confusing (as I did John Carter, if not in so many words) that critic is not necessarily admitting to have been personally confused. I personally knew what was supposed to be happening in John Carter, but the way in which things unfolded was a bit fucky. This is what I, and most critics worth half a shit, mean when we say something is confusing.


“It's boring that everyone's piling on and trashing John Carter.”

This carries with it the implication that liking something that everyone dislikes is more interesting. This one's kind of sticky, because it's true that each should make up his/her own mind, and not reflexively go with the all out of comfort and solidarity. Especially in communities that can be as insular as the film blogosphere, there's a lot of apparent sameness. It's not just in criticism, either. When I was in college, I used to go to a lot of dance concerts, because physically fit girls in leotards = win. They were a lot of fun, and not just because of the leotards, but one thing that I noticed was an awful lot of virtually identical choreography. It wasn't because the girls were lousy choreographers; some were better than others, as it is in all walks of life. It was because they were always doing guest spots in each other's pieces and sitting in on each other's rehearsals, and as happens in any endeavor, sometimes they found themselves with like an hour to finish their 'ography and had to throw in some tried-and-true maneuver just to finish the damn thing. And the tried and true, by nature, has been tried and proven to succeed, so rather than do some lunatic shit that might not work, better to play it conservative. It won't wow anyone, but it also won't have them being like, “Wow, you suck.” Of all the examples of proximity breeding sameness, the college dance concerts always sticks out because it was physically demonstrable. Criticism is a different beast only in that ideas don't have tits that look really good in leotards. Or something like that.

Now, a dancer can potentially sprain an ankle or blow out a knee doing some crazy difficult shit no one's ever tried before. Movie critics aren't at that kind of risk, but back in the day Paul Schrader did get fired for panning Easy Rider, and I've been accused of having no soul for not loving the Star Wars movies, and for not having a sense of humor for hating Waiting For Guffman. Now, Schrader went on to write Taxi Driver and fuck Nastassja Kinski and I have a middle finger each for the Star Wars and Guffman people, so this isn't the apocalypse or anything, but unpopular opinions lead to fights and sometimes there's better shit to do.

On the other hand, not all sameness is created equal. Sometimes, what appears to be a bunch of sheep baaing and dickteasing Welsh people have among their number a wolf or two in drag. Which, in this case, means people like me who didn't like John Carter because we didn't like John Carter, independent of anyone else's opinion. It may be black and rectangular like a monolith, and it may make everyone go apeshit and start braining each other with leopard bones like a monolith, but it ain't necessarily a monolith.


“Yay! I'm glad you like John Carter too! [unlike these other sticks in the mud].”

Hey, being able to share how much you dig something with someone else is awesome. And, no shit, I'm glad someone liked John Carter. I wanted to, and might have if it hadn't been for that bullshit IMAX fuckshit. The movie was basically sitting in my lap, shouting at me, and prying at my ocular nerve with a crowbar for two-plus hours, which is exhausting at best. If it was up to me, I'd be right there with y'all fapping to happy memories of Lynn Collins and being all into it when the Thark or the Tharks or whatever the plural is crashland the hovercraft into the thing at the end and help Tim Riggins kick ass. I mean, shit, I'm right on board with both and I didn't even like the picture. But I'll make this deal: I'll assume you all like the picture in the same good faith in which I didn't.


John Carter was fucking retarded. Anyone who likes this movie is also.”

Fuck you. Stop conflating your own dipshit opinion with empirical fact. A lot of people who are a lot fucking smarter than you liked this movie.


Anyone who's deriving pleasure from the picture flopping and the potential damage to Andrew Stanton's career

You all can blow those huge white furry ape things Tim Riggins owns in the gladiator scene. There's an ugly tendency in modern culture to hate all success with the same fury as undeserved success, and that shit needs to stop. Even though I find Pixar's memetic omnipotence a little disturbing, Andrew Stanton sufficiently made his bones with that company with Finding Nemo and WALL-E that it's only right that parent company Disney tell him, “Hey there! We like money and you made us lots of it, so now we're going to let you do whatever you want.” It reflects well on them that they let him do that, too. So Andrew Stanton wanted to make a $175 million movie version of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. So it ended up costing between $250 and $300 mil instead. Big fuckin whoop, Disney's got money. And yeah, a guy who spent his whole career with complete control over every element of his films shot in live action with people and weather and a crew he had to keep fed and coffeed and days when everybody's just not feeling it ended up with something that's a little less perfect than his earlier pictures. Again. So fucking what. He made the Mouse a shitload of money. They can write this one off.


The only point to all of this is, there aren't sides. We're all people who like movies. Judging someone on the basis of their liking or not liking one isolated thing is dumb, whether it's to align yourself with them or against them. And letting yourself get worked up about someone liking or disliking something you like or dislike is also dumb. Let's all just breathe in, breathe out, and move on.

Friday, March 2, 2012

FROM THE HEART: DIL SE


In order to be a full-fledged, card-carrying movie star, you need to have at least one picture that, no matter who you show it to, even someone who doesn't even like you, there's only one possible response: “That was fucking great.” John Wayne had Red River, The Searchers, Stagecoach etc etc to point to when the “Hey, you're a drunk right-wing shithead and you're old” clamor got too loud. Elizabeth Taylor, even when she was threatening to become more famous for her multiple marriages than her work, could sit people down and be like “Watch National Velvet, A Place In The Sun, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and pour yourself a Shut The Fuck Up on the rocks.” Hell, even Keanu has the first Matrix. And yes, there's a lot of room on the movie star spectrum between the first two examples and the third, but that's the thing, no matter how annoying you are, no matter how dim the memories of your previous successes are, no matter how stupid the tabloid stories you get caught up in, if you have that one unassailable classic in your repertoire, you get to be a movie star. So it is with Shahrukh Khan and Dil Se.

Now, it's not even really like Shahrukh is in that bad shape. He's still the king. Ra.One made money, Don 2 made money and featured a surprising amount of legit, not-graded-on-a-curve ownage. But dumb shit like throwing a hissy fit and smacking Shirish Kunder around for no apparent reason other than Shirish Kunder being a sarcastic wiseass (Ed. Note: I don't mean that in a bad way at all; much love and respect for Shirish Kunder) can lead to a bit of SRK fatigue—at best—and can retroactively color one's opinion of his entire career at worst. It doesn't help that even in his good movies he has bits of schtick that he falls back on that can be almost catastrophically irritating (put it this way, if I never see the guy play a dork or a hick again I will not die feeling a sense of loss) even if five minutes later he saves the day by being awesome again. Can the king stay the king without being start-to-finish awesome in at least one movie? No. How awesome does a movie star's best role have to be to completely nullify all the shaky and inconsistent others? Very. With that in mind, I present you with this:



That right there is what this whole cinema shit is about. Shouts, of course, to A.R. Rahman and Gulzar, who wrote the awesome song, Malaika Arora for existing, Farah Khan for the choreography, and everyone else involved in the creation of that six and a half minutes of joy, because that is hands down one of the most exuberant and sublime sequences ever captured on film. And that's how the movie starts. That thing at the beginning, with Shahrukh in the rain, is the first scene of the movie, right after he meets the girl in the train station and immediately falls head over heels in love with her.

The rest of the movie maintains that sense of emotional size. Set in the buildup to the 50th anniversary of Indian independence, the story concerns Shahrukh—a radio reporter—working on a story about the precarious, and indeed fractured, state of the union, with some states on the brink of openly opposing New Delhi with violence. His having fallen in love with the mysterious Manisha Koirala, and her keeping him at at least arm's length, becomes an increasing distraction to his work. Even after his family arranges for him to marry Preity Zinta, he can't get Manisha out of his head and heart. Even after he finds out that Manisha is working with a terrorist organization planning to assassinate the President.

It's one thing to have a big, booming romantic plot, another to set that story in the context of national affairs and politics, but it's something else entirely to do it so well. Director Mani Ratnam does a number of things spectacularly well here: the number and richness of the levels in the love story, portraying his characters as less good guys and bad guys than people who do good and/or bad things for believable human reasons, and keeping a long movie from feeling excessively long. Not to be underestimated among his accomplishments here is getting arguably the finest performance of his career out of Shahrukh Khan.

That's the thing about this movie. SRK is so fucking good in it. All his considerable charm and massive charisma are on display here. But more impressive is the seemingly unaffected humanity, the increasing desperation and self-destructiveness of his love for Manisha Koirala, and the way that even as it increasingly leads him to abandon his work, family, and even risk his life itself for the sake of that all-consuming love, is that he remains emotionally affecting. At no point are we ever sitting there going, “Fuck's sake, SRK, let it go.” Rather, we're like, “Oh, man, poor guy . . .” This even as Preity Zinta is sitting there in an arranged marriage to some dude who's clearly in love with someone else; a lesser movie would have the audience siding with either SRK or Preity depending on one's personal loyalties or the skill of the movie's execution, but in Dil Se both of them have the audience on their side at the same time. (And whoa boy is the SRK/Preity relationship fascinating in this. They both love someone else despite having to be married to each other, but there's a genuine fondness there that feels palpably real.)

I won't spoil the ending for anyone who's yet to see it, even though the only DVD currently available is this fucktastically terrible transfer with slightly Alvin and the Chipmunksed sound that's all stretched out and fucked up on a 16:9 TV. Watching Dil Se is an almost Zen challenge on this DVD, and lemme tell ya: if this movie was this fucking good when I had to squint to read the subtitles and mentally slow down all the music in my head by about 12%, I can only imagine what it'd be like with a good 35mm print and good speakers. Holy shit.

But back to SRK for a second. He gets to be the king, he gets to pop up in people's corn flakes in animatronic miniature form hectoring them to go see Ra.One, he can be as pissy in the tabloids for as long as he wants, but he'll always be a movie star if only for Dil Se. It says something that among all the Indian film fans in my acquaintance, across all lines of taste, genre preferences, anti-SRK, pro-SRK, every last one of them is like, “Dil Se? Good fuckin' movie.” Just like Ed Lauter in True Romance talking about Comin' Home In a Body Bag. And all true cineastes know, that “good fuckin' movie” is the highest honor cinema can achieve.

Dude, just watch this one more time:



The advocate rests.