Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 IN CINEMA: HALFTIME



The year is half over, and earlier on Twitter a bunch of film critics and other assorted riffraff were posting their lists of the best of the year so far. I'm a good little lemming, so I'll join in the fun, even though for a variety of reasons this enterprise is more just for fun than any kind of lasting meaning. Then again, what the fuck do best-of-year lists mean even with a complete year? Eh? Riddle me that. Now that everyone's in a nice warm and fuzzy “morbidly questioning the purpose of existence” type mood, let's proceed:


Top 10 Movies I Haven't Seen Yet:

Money's been tight, and even if not for that, there are only so many hours in a day. Thus, without comment—

1—The Avengers (yep, still)
2—Moonrise Kingdom
3—Rowdy Rathore
4—Damsels In Distress
5—The Deep Blue Sea (the Terence Davies one, wiseasses, not the shark one)
6—Goon
7—Take This Waltz
8—From Rome With Love (I don't care if everyone says it's meh, Woody's Woody)
9—Kahaani
10—Bernie

Perils of being exclusively on the SF beat for Tor.com, and only being able to get into whatever else I can randomly hustle a screening for. Then again, less than a year ago I couldn't get into any screenings at all, so I should just shaddap.


The Shit List:

Though this has been a pretty good year for movies so far, there have been some real stinkeroodies here and there as well. Like the following (from godawful to disappointing in ascending order):

1—The Divide—Hateful, misanthropic, nihilistic garbage, and it lasted fucking eons.

2—Jesus Henry Christ—This pile of shit, I saw at Tribeca in '11, but as it (for some unfathomable reason) got theatrical release this year, and because I never talked about how terrible it was last year, here goes: this movie fucking sucks. It's a soulless, cynical attempt at twee quirk, that simply alienates through its rote horseshit attempts to be hip. Still, Michael Sheen's good in it, because Michael Sheen is always good, but that's literally the only thing in this movie that doesn't suck. The director openly admitting in the Q&A that he only made this picture (based on a short he'd already made and didn't really feel like revisiting) because his agent told him he could make money made the whole joyless experience make sense. Better luck next time, homes. Try doing what you feel instead of chasing a greenback dollar.

3—The Raven—Brainless horseshit. Would have made Poe turn over in his grave if he wasn't still too smacked out to move.

4—Gone—Amanda Seyfried's great, and the movie's not bad until the climax, at which point it abruptly ceases to make logical sense and faceplants, leading to a retroactive feeling of nothing in the whole movie having had any point.

5—Safe House—Denzel's Denzel, and it's not like this is any dumber than any ten other action pictures I'll happily rewatch, but holy balls is the editing bad.

6—John Carter—Conditional; I actually want to watch this one again, but the first time through was a little rough.

7—Prometheus—Partially brilliant, partially whatever the diametric opposite of brilliant is. Eminently frustrating as a result.


And, now, with no further ado, counting down from 10, my favorites (as opposed strictly to best) of 2012 so far. Due to where my head has been at and the way release calendars tend to go, the following overwhelmingly favors ownage pictures, but a) does that surprise you at all and b) whaddaya want from me, 2012's been a good year for ownage:

10—(tie) Men In Black 3/The Hunger Games—Both pictures had their problems (The Hunger Games' all that wobblydeewobblydee handheld camera, Men Black 3's cringe-inducing Chinese “jokes”) but overall two blockbusters that did their damn job.

8—Haywire—Gina Carano fucking owns.

7—Eddie, The Sleepwalking Cannibal—Hasn't been released theatrically in the US yet, but when it does, look the fuck out. Canadian somnambucannibal horror comedy is going to be the new mumblecore, just you fucking watch.

6—Lockout—SPACE JAIL MOTHERFUCKERS SPACE JAIL SPACE JAIL SPACE JAIL!!!

5—The Raid: RedemptionWall-to-wall fucking ownage, of highly inventive variety (weaponized refrigerators, fluorescent light bulbs to the jugular), but more than that, the single greatest action movie premise ever: “The bad guys are in a fucking building, and we need to go to that building and fucking kill every single one of them.” It's kinda like a bunch of dudes were sitting around Indonesia chewing qat and smoking angel dust while watching Die Hard and being like “Yeah, those guys're pussies.” This and Space Jail are the two movies on this list I'm most likely to buy on DVD and watch until they disintegrate.

4—The Grey—Less an ownage picture and more an existential meditation on the futility of testicles as survival tools, and less a big dumb thing about a bunch of dudes getting eaten by wolves than a really goddamn good movie. It's the best thing Joe Carnahan's ever done by quite a bit (Narc comes closest, but good as it was it was still nowhere near this), and neck-and-neck with Taken for “best late-period Liam Neeson ownage picture,” no mean feat these days now with Liam Neeson's ascension to godhood.

3—Magic Mike—On top of all the praise I rained on it like so many $1 bills, it's also a clear-eyed look at the precariousness of the American economy at present.

2—The Cabin In The Woods—So clever. So much fun.

1—Sleepless Night—And, my favorite of the year thus far. What, you thought I wasn't going to love a French gangster movie that inflects its essentially naturalistic presentation with surreal elements to create a dream-like effect and a sense of neither beginning nor ending but always existing? Child please.


So here we are at halftime. The second half of the year holds even more glories. Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Rises, Holy Motors, Ek Tha Tiger, Joker, Looper, Django Unchained, The Master, whatever the fuck Terry Malick's new picture is called, that David Russell picture that basically looks like I cast it while fapping, and a zillion other things I can't even think of at the moment. AND . . . Taken 2. As Robert Carradine said in Revenge of the Nerds, “It's gonna be a great year . . . HEHHHH HEHHH HEHHH!!!”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I SEE A LOTTA GENDER BINARY LAWBREAKERS OUT THERE: MAGIC MIKE


Box office predictions are not what I do best, largely because I don't really care beyond a vague desire to see good pictures make money and bad ones tank, largely because the predictive metric I use is extremely imprecise: the gut feeling. One's guts, to paraphrase John Cusack in High Fidelity, tend to have shit for brains. But I've been seeing signs that allow me to make the following prediction with a fair degree of confidence: Magic Mike is going to make an absolute fuckton of money.

It will do so by catering to the “people who like seeing good-looking naked dudes” demographic, large numbers of whom have been evincing distinct interest in this movie, and if anything, they're not as excited as they should be. Steven Soderbergh is too subtle a filmmaker to beat a dead horse with enormous stripper cock (though there are a couple, what's the word, memorable dick shots), instead crafting what ends up being a really interesting counterpoint to his January picture Haywire in terms of subversion of traditional notions of gender. Where in Haywire Soderbergh has Gina Carano swaggering around dispensing ownage (traditionally a male enterprise), in Magic Mike we're presented with men who rely on their looks to earn a living dancing naked for money, and the premature obsolescence inherent to that way of life. Much as Gina Carano, while an agent of the highest level of brutal ownage, is also a conventionally attractive, even feminine, woman, Magic Mike star Channing Tatum is in no overt way androgynous, and yet without contradicting his masculinity in any way manages to evince powerful sensuality and vulnerability. However (and sadly tellingly), while Gina Carano's likely career trajectory in movies is essentially “rich man's Cynthia Rothrock,” Channing Tatum's has no ceiling. I've been saying this for a couple years now, but y'all are just gonna have to deal with this shit: Channing Tatum is a good-god-almighty Movie Star.

And he's absolutely tremendous in Magic Mike, a semi-autobiographical tale based loosely on his own days as a male stripper prior to breaking into movies. By day, Tatum is a 30ish guy named Mike hustling a few bucks here and there doing construction and stuff, but by night . . . he's Magic Mike, male stripper extraordinaire. Life is good: he has threesomes with his omnisexual kind-of-sort-of girlfriend Joanna (Olivia Munn) and anonymous women whose names neither of them can remember. One day, Mike meets a younger dude (Alex Pettyfer) who's either shy or has a case of rectal-cranial inversion syndrome—maybe both, but definitely one or the other—and, impulsively, decides to invite him into the odd, hilarious, and wildly fun world of stripping.

Magic Mike's story is nothing especially novel, which in a way is kind of the point. The milieu is relatively novel, as is the fact that it's an examination of male beauty, but the main thrust (heh heh) of the narrative is “life moves on/all things must pass/looks fade/new replaces old.” As the movie goes on, it becomes increasingly clear to Mike that he's rapidly approaching his sell-by date in terms of being a stripper, and the question becomes how exactly he'll deal with this, if in fact he does. Given that this is, while a universal truth, not the most dramatic premise imaginable, Magic Mike is a little slow in places, before recovering for an immensely satisfying ending that vaguely recalls Ron Shelton's Bull Durham, with Channing Tatum as Crash Davis. Of all the things.

Speaking of Tatum, though, the real appeal here is the acting. Tatum is legitimately fucking spectacular, not just in comparison to his previous work, but actually fifth Best Actor nominee caliber. That is not an exaggeration. He hits every note perfectly, from the doofus moments to the puer aeternus moments, to the truly mind-boggling, seemingly physically impossible dance routines (the one he comes up with when Matthew McConaughey challenges him to come up with “something new” truly is something new; Soderbergh shoots it and Tatum performs it in stunning form). The other legitimately award-worthy performance is McConaughey's. His slightly older, semi-retired stripper-turned-majordomo is the absolute perfect Matthew McConaughey role, and not only because he's expressly prohibited from ever wearing a shirt. If anything, McConaughey almost makes it look too easy; the one scene where it's really apparent how much craft is on display is when he and Channing Tatum find themselves, for the first time, overtly at cross purposes. The turn from sexy, charismatic charmer to utterly cold-blooded bastard is immediate, absolute, and perfectly played.

Nearly everyone else is good too. Alex Pettyfer has a slightly tougher job as the inscrutable Kid, and handles himself acceptably. Stand-up comic Gabriel Iglesias represents my people (fat dudes, of course, not Latinos, of whom there are others and of whom despite speaking quite a bit of Spanish I am not) quite well, and hopefully this means he'll get more movie roles, because he's really funny and he does well here. The two main women—apart from the dozens of extras having an absolute goddamn blast during the strip club scenes—are a bit of a study in contrasts: Olivia Munn is fun (and gets the job done, boom bap ba boom ba boom bap) as the threesome-loving Joanna, and looms large in a fairly crucial plot point viz a vis the whole perpetual onward march of time business, though Cody Horn (representing another side of the same plot point) is a bit awkward as the Kid's sister, and makes a bit of a mess with her one big emotional scene. Still, she's not terrible, just not all that great.

The job Steven Soderbergh does with this material is really rather extraordinary. Great as he is, the words “loose” and “fun” are not generally the first that come to mind when his name is mentioned, and the fact that Magic Mike is loose and fun is a lot more surprising than “Peter Andrews” (SERIOUSLY WHY DOES HE ONLY SHOOT STEVEN SODERBERGH MOVIES YOU GUYS????) creating a perfectly Floridian sense of place with a color palate largely grounded in golden browns with the occasional dash of pink (which colors also bring to mind skin), because that's the kinda shit fancy-schmancy really fucking talented filmmakers are supposed to do. The soundtrack is excellent (and a lot more strip-clubby than the usual Soderbergh jazzy David Holmes or ambient Cliff Martinez either-or), and the club sequences are simply goddamn brilliant. American hetero male iconography all over the goddamn place, being made fun of. A shooting style that simultaneously captures the ridiculousness, hilarity, and wonderful guilelessness of the dance numbers. I mean, damn, for a guy who keeps moaning about how he wants to retire, it sure seems like the reason Soderbergh forewent handheld for tripods here is because he kept making the camera shake from giggling nonstop with glee. That authorial sense of fun pervades Magic Mike, and makes the darker parts toward the hour and a quarter mark feel darker. And even at the end, when the irony of the picture's title becomes increasingly manifest, that sense remains, part as a fond memory, part as an indication that what lies ahead may very well be fun, too.

So, yeah. Magic Mike's a real crowd-pleaser. It's on its way to becoming the least-surprising surprise hit in recent memory. Cuz I mean goddamn, for real: you have box-office god Channing Tatum (get used to it) getting very naked (cue straight ladies and gay dudes, “Oh, I can definitely get used to that”) and a lot of other very decorative dudes working without the ol' cis-gender-role safety net. That mix of the familiar and the novel is the stuff genuine blockbusters are made of. Oh, and also, for the lesbians and straight dudes: there are girl boobies, and fairly wonderful ones, too. Just saying, when Magic Mike turns into the biggest non-comic book hit of the summer, don't be shocked.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

KEANU REEVES: MAN OF TAI CHI



OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG Keanu is directing a movie called Man of Tai Chi fapfapfapfapfapfapfapfapfapfap *ascends bodily to Heaven*

Monday, June 25, 2012

THE BENEVOLENT WHITE GUYS IN SUITS THEORY: THE NEWSROOM

Jeff Daniels is not here to eat your brain, he's here to save it.

Since this is the only thing anyone has written about The Newsroom on the entire Internet—wait, really? This is the eleventeenth kajillion zillionth? Ah shit; well, anyway—it is Aaron Sorkin's return to television after a few years writing for the movies (really well, too: the scripts for Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, and Moneyball, the last of which he co-wrote, were all fuckin great). And there is serious business at hand. Aaron Sorkin is going to save America.

I'm not being entirely sarcastic. He's smart, a good-bordering-on-legitimately-great writer, he loves America, and he's not afraid to be a giant goddamn cornball. That last might not seem all that impressive, but these days discourse is overrun with posturing and people shitting all over everything so no one sees them liking anything uncool that there's something refreshing about some guy being like “Fuck it, I'm a middle-aged square-ass and I believe in stuff.” While not the entire battle, hey, it's novel, at least. One of the things he believes is that an informed America is a stronger America, and that rather than being a pussy about pissing people off, ONE MAN has to sit behind a desk in a suit, look into a camera, and tell the American people the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be and no matter who it pisses off.

Others have already pointed out the ways in which The Newsroom is about Aaron Sorkin talking about how Aaron Sorkin has all the answers, and that the entire dramatic architecture of the show is built to shine glorious light on Aaron Sorkin and all the things Aaron Sorkin has to say about the way things oughtta be. And it's true that sizable stretches of the pilot episode of The Newsroom consist of Aaron Sorkin jerking off to himself. The two principal female characters we've had extended time with are ragingly competent yet go all gooey around The Great Man (one gets the feeling if Sork could have gotten away with going the full Lena Dunham/Louis C.K. route and played the Jeff Daniels role himself he totally would have). And yes, it is a little weird that the show is set in 2010 and that the big story they spend the second half of the episode breaking the living fuck out of is the BP oil spill.

On the other hand, being in love with yourself to the point of eroticism is not a condition unique to Aaron Sorkin. We notice it with him because he's totally upfront about it, which makes it a little less lame than it is in people who feign humility for show but behind closed doors turn into Mr. Hyde. The sexism thing is a bit more of a thing—having the male characters talk down to the female characters is practically an authorial trademark—but it's clearly not something he does on purpose (he's written some terrific female characters in the past who wouldn't stand for that kinda shit), not that that makes anyone any less pissed. The 2010 thing is actually kinda brilliant in a counter-intuitive way, as it makes all the “WTF is this shit?” jokes about Twitter and blogs marginally less fuddy-duddy.

While none of those things can quite be entirely papered over, The Newsroom's pilot does a hell of a job trying. Greg Mottola's direction is pretty great, trusting long takes and theatre actors to do the job many would panic and resort to extreme close-ups and hummingbird cutting. Sorkin sometimes leaves the actors with nothing to do but motor through declamatory text, but hey, he's Aaron Sorkin, for every line where you're like “There is literally no human way to play this text” there's a half-page speech where it's impossible to not look like you knock down buildings with your dick. (And yes, that goes for at least Emily Mortimer too in this show, so far.) The main building-knocker-downer guy so far is Sam Waterston. Sam Waterston swaggers through the whole pilot drunk as fuck being like “I'm in fuckin charge, you whippersnapper-ass punks” and at one point when one of the young people acts the fool, he's like “I'm going to kick your ass” and there's this great moment where Jeff Daniels' posture goes all “Haha Sam Waterston kicking this young guy's ass, that's funny . . . wait, shit, he probably can.” Jeff Daniels is rad, too, and it's not his fault that spontaneous ovation after the newscast is bullshit Sorkin onanism. But if the show just randomly decided to shift formats and be just Sam Waterston sitting in his office, fucking with his bow-tie, pounding scotch, and taking meetings, I would be juuuuuust fine with that.

I'm not in the habit of doing immediate react pieces to TV shows, as small sample sizes are no way to assess totality. Especially when the reaction that inspired the piece is “it's a mixed bag.” I'm on roughly the same side of the fence as Sorkin politically, but with enough differences that his speeches don't give me Saul/Damascus boners (part of the reason that even though I vote for them more often than not I can't ever really be a card-carrying Democrat). From all I can tell, reading, watching, and the (very) occasional first-hand anecdote, Sork's kind of an asshole. But fuckin' hell when his tuning fork is in key Aaron fuckin Sorkin can write the dead back to life. That's why even though the pilot of The Newsroom is far from perfect, and indeed has large stretches that kinda fucking suck, it has me up at one in the morning talking about it. Foibles (and ho boy are there foibles) aside, Aaron Sorkin does words real good. And that means something. If there's one thing all the cornball misty-eyed Americana and hero worship and shit we're all supposed to be too cool for in this modern age gets right, it's that certain things mean something. Truth, justice, and the American way ain't no joke. Maybe the America everyone's getting all weepy about here never actually existed, but in that one speech of Emily Mortimer's, she gets at what the real American way is: the belief that even if we never got it exactly right, we still can one day. So even if Sorkin's walking a crooked path toward that ideal and he keeps falling down because he's trying to suck his own dick, he's at least pointed in the right direction. That means something.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

ONE LOVE



Happy Pride, y'all.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

THE FCC WON'T LET ME BE

(c) Chicago Tribune

This morning the Supreme Court made up its mind about whether the FCC (Fuck-Censoring Cadre) should continue doing what it does, namely making sure no CHILDREN hear any foul language or see any tits on network and basic cable television BECAUSE THE CHILDREN MIGHT CHILDREN CHILDREN ON THE CHILDREN. And, considering that it was a unanimous decision, the Court certainly did make up its mind. Their verdict? Keep up the good work, boys. Justice Kennedy's decision wasn't as much an affirmation of the FCC's mandate as it was punting; from the look of things it was like “yeah, sure, the FCC's doing God's work CHILDRENING CHILDREN FROM CHILDREN CHILDREN, keep it up, now get out of here so we can make a stupid decision about Obama's healthcare plan.”

Now, look, it's not like Scalia and Thomas (and Roberts and Alito) were going to wake up one morning and be like “You know what? Let's not be right-wing shitheads.” Übermenschen like that wake up every morning and say “Hell of a day to be alive! Let's be right-wing shitheads all goddamn day and then wake up tomorrow and be right-wing shitheads some more.” And heaven forbid the alleged liberals on the Court remind people that the First Amendment exists. So it's not like the FCC was going to be dissolved or anything. The game is the game. But what is is one thing, what should be is another, and what the FCC should be is a memory. It's a violation of the constitutional prohibition against restricting free speech. It should not exist, and only does because WHAT IF CHILDREN HEAR SWEARCURSES AND SEE SATAN TITS????????

The stupidest thing is, the same people who engage in all that frantic pearl-clutching about protecting the (hypothetical) kids and the necessity of maintaining a governmental regulatory body to that end scream like, well, kids whenever anyone talks about regulating shit that has an actual effect on actual people. We cannot abide billionaires paying income tax at the same rate as their employees, but the thought of some imaginary angelic rosy-cheeked middle-American white kid hearing the word “fuck” for the first time at the age of 10 while watching CSI: Dubuque after finishing his Bible study, that we need a governmental agency for. This is more than just left-right “the other side has cooties” silliness. Billionaires, and the corporations many of them head, have enormous effects on every human being on Earth. They have massive amounts of the thing—money—that makes the world go 'round. It makes a certain degree of sense to keep an eye on the fuckers and make sure they're not pulling any funnies, which is not to say that we need to throw the Evil White Guys In Suits up against the wall or anything, but asking billionaires to actually pay income tax and not just whimsically destroy communities with massive layoffs just cuz what the fuck is not outrageous. If you live in the real world, you should play by the same rules as everyone else.

So why am I advocating shitcanning the entire FCC? Because those hypothetical kids everyone's always fucking moaning about don't exist. When I was a little kid, I heard people cursing all the time (even though I had “dick” and “butt” confused until I was about 5; this may explain my lifelong fondness for Bette Davis and Oscar Wilde). I knew the rules, though: don't ever curse around your grandparents OR ELSE, only curse around my dad if I was in the mood for an anguished lecture, and only curse around my mom if I was actually being funny. Obviously, specifics may vary kid to kid, but every kid knows you don't curse in certain situations OR ELSE. Just ask that kid in Hope And Glory, in re: “fuck”: “That word is special.” They know the word, that doesn't mean they use it all the time. As far as sexual content messing kids up, that's a giant pile of shit. Absent the hormones that produce sexual desire, movies and TV shows with naked people and/or sex scenes are boring. Were Sofia Vergara to have a nude scene with her tetas out on Modern Family, little kids would not give a fuck. If anything they'd be happy about the day off they got from school the next day when a national holiday was declared. But I digress.

Given how dumb it is to censor some kinds of TV and not others, the existence of the FCC as currently constituted doesn't really make a ton of sense. Its regulatory priorities are based on outmoded and/or imaginary ideas of what offends people and plays into the fallacy that prohibition is the only alternative to chaos. Not only is that not the case, but prohibition creates allure, completely aside from the fact that it doesn't work. When booze was illegal, everyone was like oooh and sneaking around to speakeasies. Weed being illegal won't bring back my memories of anything that happened between 1995 and whenever the hell I stopped blazing, if I even did . . . anyway, you get the point, and it's highly doubtful that weed would occupy the pop cultural niche it did if you could go to the bodega and buy a pack of joints. Not having nudity on TV doesn't mean there's no sexual content. Sex is all over the goddamn place on TV, to the point where letting a matter-of-fact nipple or dick slip through would barely even be noticed, and if it did it'd take the feverish mystery out of all the innuendo. And not letting the hallowed Seven Words be broadcast over the airwaves doesn't mean people don't curse on TV, they just use stupid curse substitutes that call more attention toward the fact that the character is cursing than it would if they just said fuck and shit. Yeah. The FCC is making things worse.

The good news about the Supreme Court punting rather than setting some “thus it ever shall be” shit in stone is that at some point, maybe after Barack gets to appoint a couple justices in his second term, another Court might be like “Ya know what? This is silly. Go get real jobs, guys.” Because it is silly. Either eliminating—or, more realistically, redefining the purpose of—the FCC is not going to lead to hardcore pornography being broadcast at dinnertime. In all likelihood, cursing and titties hour wouldn't start til at least 10pm even in the absence of some bluenose regulatory body saying so. Networks will realize that the notoriety (FCC or no FCC, Christian groups will shit a brick if someone says “shit a brick” in prime time) of being naughty is not a solid long-term investment. Because when you don't treat people like children, they act like adults.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

RIP ANDREW SARRIS



Disagree on particulars or even fundamentals, the undeniable truth is that Andrew Sarris is the most influential American film critic there has ever been. It all comes back to him eventually. I would be speaking a different language if not for Sarris. And so, a salute to all he was and continues to be.

Monday, June 18, 2012

OM, SHANTI, KEANU



So a couple weeks ago, one afternoon when neither of us had anything better to do, my friend Bastard Keith and I were Facebook chatting about whatever, and after a brief discussion of Johnny Mnemonic (which BK had just recently beheld), the following (unedited) conversation took place:


Me: ....and at the center of it all, the inimitable keanu

Bastard Keith: He really is a law unto himself.
Sometimes utterly right as the center of a film, sometimes almost glaringly not.

Me: never unmemorable, though

Bastard Keith: NEVER

Me: which is odd considering everyone always talks about how blank he is
and i think sells him short

Bastard Keith: I think he's kind of a monolithic presence.

Me: but he IS a presence

Bastard Keith: That's my point.

Me: unlike people like sam worthington
whose name i had to take a second to remember while typing

Bastard Keith: Worthington is almost astonishingly unmemorable.

Me: exactly
everything about him, down to his last name being too long, is anti-memorable
you always remember keanu

Bastard Keith: There's an essay in that.

Me: even this shitty serial-killer movie [name of ex-girlfriend redacted] made me watch once, there's this indelible moment where keanu's dancing around like a jagoff

Bastard Keith: Doesn't it feel like he's always been with us?

Me: THE ETERNAL KEANU: AN ACTOR WITH NEITHER BEGINNING NOR END

Bastard Keith: He's a room you enter and never leave, perhaps without realizing it.

Me: he is the cinematic image of one hand clapping

Bastard Keith: He is Om.

Me: heh there we go, i'll call the essay om shanti keanu

Bastard Keith: NICE

Me: this actually has to be done

Bastard Keith: I struggle to think of an actor with a career as indestructible.

Me: oh yeah

Bastard Keith: ANY other actor, ANNNNNNNNNNY other actor who'd given some of those performances would be on the outs.
And yet his iconic roles are so perfect, so RIGHT.

Me: but keanu, he bombs in something and then a quiet few months later there's a thing in the trades about keanu being in talks for something new that sounds kinda cool
and frequently is

Bastard Keith: I have this image of, like, studio heads talking in a conference room and Keanu just sort of walking and sitting down quietly and they all slowly realize he's there.

Me: actually on further reflection the fact that when he goes down, he goes down SO HARD is actually kind of admirable
yes! meetings with keanu must be the GREATEST FUCKING THING EVER

Bastard Keith: And they ask what's up, and he just sort of calmly talks about what he'll be doing next.
And they're like, “So...so that's....we're making that?”

Me: “yeah.”

Bastard Keith: And he's like, “Yes, this is what I saw happening.”

Me: “i was riding my motorcycle along the pacific coast highway, and the film came to me in an instant”

Bastard Keith: No threat, just this ineffable sense of zen inevitabllity.

Me: yeah, in a totally even, slightly ethereal tone of voice

Bastard Keith: And the studio heads are just so beguiled by him.
So the movies get made.
Like, can you say no to the tide?
To the phases of the moon?

Me: nor to the wind

Bastard Keith: Basically, I'm saying he's the closest thing to a shaman that modern film has to offer.

Me: oh absolutely

Bastard Keith:
I'm loving this conversation, by the way.

Me: and it makes hugo weaving's speech about inevitability to him in the matrix an extremely meta moment
i am too

Bastard Keith: OH GOD YES.

Me: i'm writing this essay


And for the last couple weeks when I've had a spare moment I've been trying to gather my thoughts about the essay I repeatedly said I was going to write. For the most part, I've been failing miserably. Keanu “the reification of one hand clapping” Reeves is one hard motherfucker to pin down. He's had an amazingly durable career, and long, too. Make sure you're sitting down before you read this next bit: the year after next Keanu is going to be fifty fucking years old. Isn't that kind of fucked up? But, more to the point, isn't that kind of fucked up because you don't think of Keanu as being any age at all? One of the reasons I excerpted that chat with Bastard Keith is that Herr Bastard raises the excellent point that “Doesn't it feel like he's always been with us?” I know it feels that way to me. Bill & Ted dropped when I was 9 or 10, and Keanu was very much a fact of life in it. He's continued to be that way ever since, showing up in a variety of pictures of variable quality. In each, though, at its center, was Keanu.

I get a little defensive when the topic of acting comes up for discussion, until the other party's credentials come up for discussion, because I spent a lot of years studying acting in a variety of different disciplines, with almost a decade as a working theater artist. Which, yeah, whatever, I don't want a gold star or a fuckin lifetime achievement Obie or anything, but even the most cursory glance at these pages or at my other critical writing will show you that I think the deep thoughts about stuff. Acting is one of the handful of subjects on which I can discourse with confidence, erudition, and insight, joining movies (obviously), basketball, and the ways and means of bringing a woman to orgasm. Having spent all those years trying to figure acting out, it thus pains me how people who've never done it and barely even know what it is hold forth about acting as experts. (For a longer and more eloquent kvetch on this same topic, Uta Hagen's Respect For Acting is a surprisingly fun read.) I bring this up because it's largely these armchair experts who will, with ruthless brevity, dismiss Keanu's acting as “shitty.” Most often because his performances aren't naturalistic. Sometimes because, yes, he actually isn't very good. But this misses the larger truth of Keanu, his Om, if you will. He is as he is. To try and mold him into something he isn't is folly. Also, it means something that Bertolucci cast him as the Buddha. Sure, that was no Last Tango In Paris and it sure wasn't The Conformist but Bertolucci's not some schmuck off the street, and he could have had any number of actors, but he chose Keanu.

Just as filmmakers and writers can be stylists, not conforming strictly to a rote transcription of the world “as it is” to give some illusory sense of “real” life, actors can be too. In fact, most movie stars give off a sense of being larger than life, of being above such mortal concerns as reality. John Wayne did John Wayne. Bogart did Bogart. Clint did (and may at some point again do) Clint. This may even be the very thing that does make them great, that they are stylists. I don't know whether Keanu qualifies under this category, because it's not entirely certain he's doing it on purpose. This sounds like I'm saying he's some kind of holy fool, but that's not it. It's basically like we were saying in the chat: he's a force of nature, like wind, or the sea. He is as he is.

And, even though I know he won't, it feels as though he ever shall be. The genuine joy I've felt watching him act is more like the joy of a summer breeze or the ocean gently brushing my bare feet on a beach than it is watching an actor. The inflection in his voice on “whoa.” (Specificially the “whoa” after watching Morpheus jump in The Matrix, though at least one of his Ted “whoa”s qualify as well.) The triumph of “Yeah? Well I'm taller” is every triumph. The genuine awe of confronting the mysteries of the universe contained in “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.” It's part of the great beauty of the work of Keanu Reeves that this piece is at once kind of kidding, a little ridiculous, and absolutely sincere at the same time. At a certain point, pondering the mysteries of the universe is pointless, because the universe is us and we are it. That's the great thing about Keanu. He is. His apparent comfort in simply being radiates off the screen. Sometimes it means he isn't very good in the given movie (and a lot of times the given movie's a piece of shit, too) but for those moments of absolute perfection when everything clicks together, he's one of the finest mediums there is.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

BETTER LIVING THROUGH NETFLIX, VOL. 10: FIND ME GUILTY

Vincenzo Gasolina and Tyrion Lannister. Boosh.

With a handful of notable exceptions, Sidney Lumet's career as a director was characterized by his tendency to make very good movies that it never occurred to anyone to watch. This, to be clear, was never Mr. Lumet's fault. (Well, almost never: Q&A was terrible.) It was merely a function of his valuing character and story over all else, his refusal to (intentionally) lean on melodrama for cheap effect, and—maybe most important—the humility with which he carried himself personally. If you want people running around sucking your dick about what a genius you are, you need to plant the seeds by acting like one. Of course, this can backfire if you aren't one. But Sidney Lumet never seemed to care about that, always talked up the importance of the work above all else and the collaborative nature of the filmmaking process, and as a result he never won a competitive Oscar (he was given an honorary one when he was old, and his speech was pure elegance and class; Sidney Lumet was a man among men, believe) and even among the list of all-time classics he directed, all are associated primarily with their leading actors. His careful preparation, empathy, and humble commitment to the work above his own personal glory (and a number of other things associated with being awesome, surely) led to a vast array of actors giving either the best or one of the best performances of their careers working under Lumet's watch, among them Henry Fonda, Rod Steiger, Al Pacino, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Paul Newman, River Phoenix, and many many others. So too, in the second-to-last movie Sidney Lumet would ever direct, did Vin Diesel, in Find Me Guilty.

That's right, Vincenzo Gasolina himself. And it's not like “oh, sure, wow, he turned in a better performance than The Fast and the Furious, xXx, and The fuckin' Pacifier, big whoop.” Vincenzo's amaaaaazing in Find Me Guilty. He's out of his mind good in this. There's a grand total of one moment the entire picture when he's not perfect, and that moment is like two seconds in the Annabella Sciorra scene an hour or so in, even then it's just a moment of his composure cracking because he doesn't know what to do with his hands, and even then it's something you can rationalize as “well, maybe it's not that Vin doesn't know what to do with his hands, maybe it's Jackie” except, sorry, it is Vin. But that's okay. The whole rest of the picture Vincenzo's in this fucking wig looking like Jerry Orbach except radiating Movie Star, and it's like “Holy shit, Vincenzo has star power even when he's not flexing his guns driving two hundred miles an hour doing sex with Asia Argento?” If ever there was a moment for Sidney Lumet to pop his collar and be like “Oh yes that's right, y'all,” it's this. Making Robert Duvall look good is one thing. Making Vincenzo Gasolina look like something other than a guy who throws grenades by flexing his biceps is another matter entirely. It's not that Lumet waved a magic wand and turned Vincenzo into a good actor, it's that he knew enough about what acting actually is and was forward-thinking enough to say “I'm going to make a picture with Vin Diesel playing the lead where nothing blows up and he never drives a car.” And he did. And it's a massive amount of fun.

Based on a true story (and purporting to consist to great degree of actual court transcriptions), Find Me Guilty is the story of Jackie DiNorscio (Vincenzo), a wiseguy from the Dirty Jerz whose fuckhead cousin tries to clip him, unsuccessfully. Once he recovers, Jackie's luck takes another turn for the shitty when he gets pinched trying to buy a suitcase full of coke from an undercover cop. Not to mention, he has racketeering charges hanging over him. The US Attorney's office (represented by oily Linus Roache, who did an NY/NJ area accent so well I had to check who he was, only to be like “Holy balls, that's Linus Roache?”) swoops in and offers Jackie a deal if he rolls over on The Boys, only Jackie's a stand-up guy and won't hold with such rubbish. He tells the US Attorney, “Hey, you got a brother? Fuck him, too.” And thus Jackie and practically everybody he knows and has worked with go on trial.

The trial, a massive clusterfuck (it would go on to be the longest criminal trial in American history), is the bulk of the movie. Judge Sidney Finestein (Ron Silver, who is pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-fuckin-floor great in this, in a reminder of how great he could be when not simply noshing on scenery in an exploitation movie for a paycheck) does his best to keep all twenty-something defendants and their respective lawyers (the de facto leader of whom is played by the mighty Peter Dinklage, who rules beyond the capacity of the English language to describe) in line. And he'd have done so perfectly if not for the monkey wrench of Jackie deciding to defend himself. Jackie's wildly inappropriate, blithely ignorant of proper procedure, yet charming debut as defense counsel completely overwhelms the entire trial.

Storywise, that's all there is to Find Me Guilty. The narrative has occasional telling-rather-than-showing problems with conveying the massive amount of time over which the trial took place, and despite being based on a true story elements of it are really, really farfetched. It's the kind of material that in the hands of anyone other than an absolute master—and I really think it's time we start putting Lumet in with the all-time greats, if we aren't already—would be ridiculous nonsense. But in Lumet's hands, it's a delightful bit of entertainment.

Beyond the performances, which are simply tremendous, with countless beautiful little human moments, Lumet's direction is pristine classicism, with meticulous framing, long takes, actual medium and long shots that aren't either establishing shots or panoramic landscapes, and invisible edits. In spite of this it never feels conservative, or an example of a relic of a bygone era clinging to an outmoded way of working because it's all he knows. I feel like kicking myself in the balls for even suggesting such a thing. No, this is a director who trusts his actors to be all the flash and dash the picture needs. That trust derives from careful preparation, years of experience, and the confidence those combine to create. Maybe the result only seems so good because no one makes classical American cinema anymore, but it's still a wonderful little movie.

It's a movie that's been done wrong by history, too. Due to one of the absolute worst marketing campaigns in the history of human endeavor—like, “Kilgore Trout's SF appearing in porno magazines” level bad marketing—Find Me Guilty was gone from theaters before anyone knew it had come out, and was a non-factor in 2006's Oscar race, which I mean yeah I know, “Oscars? blow me,” but imagine if Harvey Weinstein is running the picture's campaign. Suddenly we've got Sidney Lumet going up against Marty Scorsese for Best Director, with both of them trying for their first. You've got Vincenzo getting a nom against Forest Whitaker; I mean, Forest Whitaker still would have won, but then we get the Fast and Furious trailer hailing “ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE VIN DIESEL.....and paul walker” a couple years later, which would have been considerably lulzier than Vincenzo returning to the franchise having failed elsewhere.

Anyway. Fuck the business. Find Me Guilty still exists, and can be watched. And I'm here to say, with all the authority given a random asshole on the internet with Proustian Tourette's that it goddamn well should be. So there. At the very least, people fiending for a Game of Thrones fix should watch this to get a hit of some Dinklage. Or if you feel like winning a bet with a friend of yours who refuses to believe that Vin Diesel could ever look like Jerry Orbach. Or, if you just want to plain want to see a good movie. Sidney Lumet was the truth, ladies and gentlemen. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

THE WORST MOVIE THEATER EVER?

A typical seat at the Pavilion Theater in Park Slope

I've lived in Park Slope since I was 5 (Cobble Hill was my first home). For many years, there was no movie theater in the neighborhood, which meant going to the movies meant hopping the subway. In 1996, the long-dormant former movie theater on the corner of Prospect Park West and 14th Street re-opened as The Pavilion. For a time, life was good. Initially there was one huge main theater, complete with a balcony, on which big studio blockbusters screened, and two smaller theaters that would screen artier fare, for the presumed sophisticates in the neighborhood. I saw Independence Day and the first Mission: Impossible movie on the balcony, with my feet up, which thoroughly improved both movies. There was also a second-floor cafe.

In fairly short order, though, this model was abandoned. Some hasty, slipshod renovation did away with the balcony, and added more screens. Time went on, the second-floor cafe never actually opened (or, at least, was never seen to be open by anyone who can remember, serving as a melancholy signifier of what the Pavilion almost was but would never be) and eventually, things devolved to where film critic Matt Singer was moved to write this piece over at Criticwire. So let me turn it over to Mr. Singer at this point. Read and be forewarned.

Monday, June 11, 2012

JESUS CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, AND ACTUAL PROMETHEUS SPOILERS



This weekend, I swear. For about 72 consecutive hours I've either been trying to avoid, actively engaged in, or stewing about some sort of impassioned discussion about Prometheus. And, before that, I'd been sitting around since Tuesday night trying to figure out what the fuck to write about it. And before that there were the months of faux-viral video clips and Stephen A. Smith bellowing about it during basketball games and the filmmakers being coy about it. It would have been too bad if after all that, the movie was just another boring, business-as-usual blockbuster. But that's the thing. It isn't. And it kind of is.

A movie that's at odds with itself about what the fuck it actually is is going to provoke some discussion. And holy cow did Prometheus ever set off a shitstorm. I saw it last Tuesday at an all-media, and after the whole clusterfuck of getting our phones back was done, my friend with whom I saw it and I spent the next hour or so walking to the subway and riding back to Park Slope repeatedly asking each other, “Why did Prometheus suck so bad?” Then, after we got back to our respective apartments, we hit each other up on Gchat to ask again: “WHY DID PROMETHEUS SUCK SO BAD?”

So, I had a couple days to think about it, which was actually really valuable because the review I ended up writing for Tor had evolved beyond that initial negative reaction and developed a bit of nuance. That extra time to think allowed me to sort the things that pissed me off about the picture and weight how important each was to the whole thing. Also, it allowed me to assess Prometheus in relation to Alien, to Ridley Scott's career as a director, and to the median 2010s-vintage Hollywood blockbuster. The result? I really respect what Prometheus (mainly Ridley Scott, Dariusz Wolski, the designers, and the cast) gets right. (Ed. Note: if only there was a way to make the incipient “but” in 400 point boldfaced type with an mp3 of Samuel L. Jackson hollering “BUT” when you clicked on it . . .)

BUT, Prometheus has some of the dumbest writing, from inexplicable character behavior to unnecessary and poorly-placed plot twists to clunky big-idea-conveying to those ideas not being as big as they would seem in more competent hands to an ending that can go fuck itself in the severed android neck, since Tommy Wiseau's proud nadir, The Room. I don't invoke St. Wiseau the Lowest of the Low in vain, believe me. Here's a partial—complete would take us all day—list of dumb shit in the Prometheus script (and in case subtle hints like the title of the fucking post didn't convey this, spoilers in the following):

—Despite having no reason to do so, CEO Guy Pearce of Evil White Guy Industries (a pre-Yutani merger Weyland Corp.) stows away on the Prometheus and only reveals that he's on board near the end of the journey. The reveal has no dramatic impact, no purpose whatsoever: it just happens and suddenly Guy Pearce is doddering around in Andy Garcia Dead Again makeup and everyone's acting like he's always been there. Why wasn't he?

—When all the scientists go down to the planet, the air isn't breathable, so they wear their space suits. Then they get inside what turns out to be an alien spacecraft and suddenly, whaddaya know, the air's breathable. Far out. The scene where some dude cracks open his space helmet to breathe air just like back home on Earth is a staple of SF. So some dude cracks open his space helmet. Then everyone else does. Even after they discover alien shit so alien it killed other aliens, they're still lollygagging all over the fucking place with their helmets off touching stuff.

—Per the last, to repeat, they're scientists.

—The “ticking clock” is a time-honored suspense device. Alien had a literal one that counted every last second until the Nostromo blew up. But in Prometheus, near the end when Noomi Rapace is running around while shit blows up, her helmet tells her she has like thirty seconds of air left. She keeps running around doing all kinds of strenuous shit like trying not to get killed by various kinds of aliens (at some point the fact that she was supposed to be running out of air kind of becomes a non-thing) and trying to convince Michael Fassbender to fly another dormant alien spacecraft (hold that thought) to the head aliens' home world to ask them “Seriously, what the fuck, guys?” Despite the fact that this is totally retarded and Fassbender's head, back when it was attached to his body, thought it was a good idea to convolutedly impregnate her with an alien squid thingie either to kill her or just because what the fuck, he agrees to set up the sequel with her. (It's okay, take an Advil, I'll be here when you get back.)

—Per the ticking clock point, the whole point of the climax was that there were two spaceships on the planet: the Prometheus and the flying alien death croissant. Idris Elba, Benedict Wong, and the other guy made a whole big deal out of kamikaze-ing the Prometheus into the flying alien death croissant so it wouldn't go to Earth and turn the sequel into a Roland Emmerich movie. So, Idris et al take one for the team. The aliens maybe get killed. Then Fassbender's head just tells Noomi Rapace “Oh yeah, and there was no need for Idris and everyone to get killed.”

—Last, and most fundamentally, there's a way to do the whole “larger forces are at work here, and they may be beyond our ken, and thus this movie shall lay things out allusively rather than run the risk of the explanation for shit being stupid” thing. Stanley Kubrick was up on that with 2001, and 2001 was awesome. If you look at 2001, it's all right there: A leads to B leads to monolith acid trip leads circularly back to Strauss in a clean, orderly fashion. Who the fuck the aliens are and what their whole deal was is left alone, because there was no answer that was going to be cool enough, and leaving it ambiguous has been giving us stuff to yak about for almost 45 years now. Prometheus wants to be this thing—which is why I graded it on the curve for ambition; they might have fucked it up but they at least tried—but, as that bit inside the em-dashses alludes to, they fucked it up. The movie over-explains who the “Engineers” are, literalizing them as these big white emotionless humanoids who somehow are a 100% match for human beings genetically and also started the evolutionary process that led from primordial ooze to us jagoffs (in case it's been a while since you took biology, those are mutually exclusive conditions except under staggeringly improbable circumstances; the whole “they created us but evolution is still a thing” is total bet-hedging controversy-averse screenwriter dicklessness). And yet, in spite of defining the terms of the explanation in such a way that there's shit that needs to be explained, it just leaves everyone hanging. Anyway, tl;dr Prometheus' handling of its own mythology is a total misfire. (Thank fuck they cut the part about Jesus Christ being an Engineer . . .)

So, yes, the script is a shitpile. The handful of wholly negative reviews have focused on this, to the exclusion of all other aspects of the movie, as in the case of this tantrum over at /Film. The whole thing focuses on stuff like I listed above, ending with the dismissive, “But boy, it sure is pretty.” To recap, that's six words devoted to any aspect of Prometheus that isn't the script. Writing a review of a movie and focusing solely on the script is almost like writing a review of a movie based on what the wallpaper looks like in each scene, or what kind of chairs everyone's sitting in (yes, the script is more important than the art direction, and if you'll note I actually agree with a number of the points the dude made, but come the fuck on, THERE ARE OTHER ASPECTS TO THE MEDIUM).

On the other hand, Roger Ebert (and others, not to beat up on ol' Rog) giving Prometheus four stars isn't any better an indicator of value. I mean, this happens every now and then, everyone's fretting about an uneven balance of quality between different dissonant elements of a given film and Ebert chimes in like “FOUR STARS! I WAS TRANSPORTED!” and everyone else is like, “Uhh . . . ok.” (Also, unlike the /Film review, to the former's marginal credit, Ebert spoiled nine kinds of fuck out of the plot before any civilians had had any chance to see the movie, and without warnings, either. Naughty, naughty, sir.) Prometheus' champions are almost all saying “meh, fuck the script, the movie's awesome, it's Ridley Scott's best picture in years and truly beautiful filmmaking.” And that's all true. The photography is gorgeous, and finally there's no reason at all to bring up Dances With Smurfs in the discussion of best use of 3D, because Prometheus raised the bar really, really high. The only problem with that is . . . the script really, really sucks. There's a degree to which direction, photography, sound, design, and the other elements that make cinema cinema can overcome a shitty script, and when all of those elements are at an elite level, as they are in Prometheus, that degree can be nearly enough complete to make the overall experience enjoyable. But with an elephant turd of a script like Prometheus', it can never close the circle and make for an unqualified masterpiece.

Prometheus is a frustrating one, for sure. It's too ambitious to be dismissed out of hand, but the train-wreck script undermines those ambitions and makes them seem more commonplace than they actually are. If it makes money, maybe someday someone else gets to make a big beard-stroker R-rated SF movie that actually works better. But the fact that it's out, and we all saw it, means that at the very least we don't all have to keep fucking talking about it coming up. Also, everyone had to re-watch Alien to prepare, and that's a net gain, because Alien fucking rules. Prometheus will never fuck that up. So, hey. Life goes on. Now let's all spend a month and a half driving each other batshit (get it?) talking about The Dark Knight Rises.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

THE MOVIE CRITIC'S NATIONAL ANTHEM



Earlier today, I read this piece by Glenn Kenny about the way people perceive film criticism, and fail to understand what it actually is. I found myself nodding and going, yes, I agree with this and it's very well written.

But then, holy balls. I read this piece about the same thing by Jim Emerson and I'm ready to join the fucking Army. I don't know that I've ever seen an argument as methodically and completely laid to more desolate waste than Emerson reduces this dude (whose work, I should say, I'm not as familiar with as I am with A.O. Scott's, or Mr. Kenny's, or Mr. Emerson's, all three of whom are really goddamn good at what they do.)

Anyway, that's all I got for now, but if you have any interest at all in criticism, rhetoric, or good writing, check those pieces out. Peace.

Monday, June 4, 2012

WHAT THE OSCARS CAN LEARN FROM THE MTV MOVIE AWARDS

Elizabeth Banks getting carried offstage by an actor playing a stripper playing a fireman; aka winning at life

I know you all looked at the title of this post and went “What the fuck, dude, what are you, writing for Slate now?” If it's any reassurance, I'm not suggesting stupid shit like “the Academy needs to be more populist in its selections” because Oscar movies are certainly not a representation of the artistic elite in cinema; Oscar movies are just as much comfort food as the stuff that wins MTV Awards, just for the palates of people who've graduated from high school. Also, for all everybody's griping about inevitability, let us remember, the Oscars did give Best Picture to a black-and-white French movie with almost no dialogue this year, and whatever you thought of it, that is something. But let's not revisit that whole fuckin mess again. On to lessons:


1—Lighten up, Francis

Look, art is important. It's a prism through which the great mysteries of life can be contemplated, it gives us language to describe the exalted, and it's as old as human beings themselves, suggesting that it's a fundamental part of our character as a species. Cinema is art. But the Academy doesn't have anything to do with art, and the fact that they pretend to when at least three out of every five years shit happens like The King's Speech beating The Social Network or Crash beating Brokeback Mountain or Slumdog Millionaire running unopposed or Forrest Gump beating Pulp Fiction or Ordinary People beating Raging Bull or Rocky beating Network/All The President's Men/Taxi Driver/Bound For Glory is absurd. To clarify: this isn't about my personal taste. In every single one of those cases, the ambitious picture that dares to be dark (and, in every case except the Rocky one, is the only one that people still actually watch) lost to the reassuring, safe, forgettable picture. The Academy awards artistic achievement by accident, not by design.

So, as long as they're going to be kind of silly and dick over great filmmaking, why not let their hair down and embrace the silliness? Russell Brand is hit or miss as a stand-up—a little of his I'm-above-this breeziness and faux-edgy political humor that's designed to seem to the audience like he thinks it's going over their heads but is really supposed to flatter them for “getting” the “joke” goes a long way—but his hosting was in another fucking galaxy from Billy Crystal's this year because some of his jokes actually worked. Not to mention, one of Russell Brand's biggest strengths in a context as silly as an awards show is the way his perpetually sighing vocal delivery reminds everyone that what's going on is not serious. Because it's not.


2—Categories like “Best Kiss” and “Best Fight” are not stupid, they're actually great

A continuation of point 1. These categories are the greatest strength of the MTV Movie Awards, after its realization of its own existential absurdity. Considering that the Oscars are—whether they admit it or not—about what makes movies fun rather than great, why not have Best Kiss? Or Best Fight (maybe expanded to Best Ownage Sequence to allow car chases and shit as well)? Or Best Villain?

This isn't about getting more people to watch the Oscar telecast, because fuck that (and in any case the MTV Movie Awards ratings were down almost 30% this year, making it a less-than-ideal commercial model). I'm just saying, if they gave out Best Fight right after the dead people montage and then the clips of the nominees are things like Iko Uwais ramming a fluorescent light bulb into a dude's throat, that would be awesome.


3—Wiz Khalifa and The Black Keys showing up for no apparent reason

If you need to make it sound more pretentious call it the “Luis Buñuel Memorial Appreciation For The Stochastic and Ridiculous Nature Of Existence.” Also, the performance the Keys did with Lifetime Achievement Award winner Johnny Depp (who, it should be noted, looked like he was having infinitely more fun than he does whenever he shows up to lose an Oscar) is something the Oscars should do: if someone gets a lifetime achievement award for being an awesome performer, they should have to perform. The fact that Johnny sat in with the Keys on guitar and proved that, while he looks perfect as a rock 'n' roll guitarist, he kinda sounds like shit is even better: the performance should have to have a degree of difficulty increase. Make Francis Ford Coppola juggle. The what-the-fuck quotient would actually make that shit interesting.


4—The MTV Movie Awards are only two hours long

This is tricky for the Oscars, because the best speeches are ALWAYS for the awards “no one cares about” (implying, falsely, that anyone gives any appreciable degree more of a fuck more about Best Actor and Director; half the audience is watching for the dresses and the other half's attention is drifting toward the blog posts they're drafting about what bullshit it is that Terrence Malick doesn't have more Oscars that William Wyler). But dudes, you need to tighten. Not shorten. Just only put in what needs to be there. The fact that some fuckfaces at MTV who give their Best Picture award to Twilight are doing a better job than you should make you jump out the fucking window in shame.


5—Show clips from upcoming releases

So, to explain: I watched the MTV Movie Awards instead of the Game of Thrones season finale because I was lured with beer and a post-show trip up to a roof deck and it was gorgeous out Sunday night. And I have no regrets, because the company was great and I was able to catch GoT first thing the next morning online. I already forget who won what except for Kristen Stewart earning the nickname “Pinner” after the variety of joint, because pinners are skinny, white, and full of weed, and so is she (I'm not judging, I think she's great, I'm just saying, girlfriend was fuckin hiiiiiiigh). But one thing I do remember is the coming attractions.

They debuted the trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I don't really care about except I hope it does well so Emma Watson gets her post-Hermione career off to a good start. And, later, they made a gigantic hullafuckinbaloo about an EXCLUSIVE NEVER-BEFORE SEEN clip from The Dark Knight Rises. Which I knew wasn't going to be anything really new but still, I can't lie, I got excited. And went ahead and spent a couple minutes speculating about the structure and how Anne Hathaway figured into things. So, you know mission accomplished.

It sounds like (and sometimes is) conceding the lack of interest in the history of movies to advise the Oscars to stop the all-necrophilia-all-the-time act and focus on the present and future, but there's a way to do it right. First, acknowledge past, present, and future as one, rather than just incessantly venerating the past, and all too often the wrong parts of the past. So, yeah, look back. Then there are the awards themselves, which acknowledge the present sufficiently. But seriously, what the hell's wrong with being like “movies are still a vital, thriving thing, and here's what we've got in store”? Nothing. Don't hard sell it up too much, but a trailer or two wouldn't do any harm, especially when presented the way the MTV Movie Awards did, bringing out Christopher Nolan to a thunderous ovation—seriously, a director getting that kind of reception? Kinda cool—to say a few opaque words before unveiling the clip. Most of it was stuff we've seen before, with the exception of a little dialogue between Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but hey.


Now, the Oscars aren't in such dire shape that they really need fixing. They are what they are. And heaven knows taking too many pages out of the book of an entity that hails fucking Twilight as any kind of superlative is problematic. But none of these suggestions would hurt. At all. Especially the one about lightening the fuck up, which really is the one from which the other four derive. Silliness is a virtue, and so is self-awareness, Oscar.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

NATURAL PO-LICE: A DECADE OF THE WIRE



Happy 10th anniversary to The Wire. As you can see, I got my entire vocabulary from that show.

(EDIT: For a more substantive reminiscence, here's an oral history Marc Spitz did for Maxim.)