Friday, August 31, 2012

MAN, WHY'D YOU HAVE TO GO AND DO THAT? VOL. 2


A while back, I wrote about the problems of separating an actor's personal life with his/her work. After that thing the other night, and a bit of reflection on same, I return with this official ruling: he may be better in movies than he is on stage, but Clint stays Clint. Doing live theater without a script is fucking hard. I've done it, and sometimes it's turned out okay, but getting there took a lot of rehearsal, which Clint didn't do because Clint's Clint and nobody fucking tells Clint what to do. So it ended up overshadowing everything else at the Republican convention. Which is no skin off my back, the Republicans can take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. Bottom line: the king stay the king. Clint stay Clint. End of discussion. If every actor or director had to agree with me a hundred percent on everything for me to be a fan, I'd only be able to watch my own stuff. If I want to disappear up my own asshole I'll score some acid and listen to OK Computer on loop for 72 hours, thank you very much. Shit, now you people know what I'm doing this Guy Fawkes Day. Oh well.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

MAD DOGS AND ASIAN MEN

Yeah, that's Yayan Ruhian from The Raid kicking The Hulk's ass. Which would happen.

(Ed. Note: What you are about to read deals with ownage of sufficient scope and magnitude that not all will be able to fully handle and process. It is ownage so rarified that to merely discuss it is to see one's voice dip in pitch and volume as to become a hoarse, awed whisper. You have been warned.)

The finest pure action picture to come out in 2012, and for some years, is Gareth Huw Evans' The Raid, which for U.S. release had “: Redemption” added on for dumb business reasons. Whatever it's called in whatever country you're in, the important thing is that this fucking movie fucking owns like few things ever have. The most common criticism leveled at the movie is at the sparse characterization and simplicity of the plot, which is a little like complaining that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is indoors. The entire movie can be summed up in this one sentence: there are bad guys in a building, the good guys—most of whom get killed, so it ends up coming down to ONE MAN, because that's how shit works—have to go in there and kill them. Sure, in some genres you'd need a little more story than that, but the demands of this one are as simple as its unifying purpose: people kill people in action movies. You need more nuance than that? Okay. Good people kill bad people. Cut. Print it.

The Raid, within its chosen milieu of ownage pictures, the only one to which it aspires, is an unqualified masterpiece. Among its many splendors, the weaponized refrigerators, the single take camera moves in which Iko Uwais blows a hole in the floor and jumps down to the story below and keeps killing guys without cutting away, and the one-on-four hallway machete fights where the one guy without the machete (Iko Uwais again) wins, the greatest tradition of the action genre to which The Raid adheres, one it shares with the finest action movies ever made, is the tradition of the Unkillable Henchman, always the penultimate and most difficult obstacle in the hero's way. Die Hard had Alexander Godunov, Lethal Weapon had Gary Busey, and at the historical top of this particular pyramid, John Woo's Hard-Boiled had Philip Kwok. If that last name isn't as immediately familiar, recall Anthony Wong's eye-patch-wearing sidekick Mad Dog. Take a minute to get back up from the memory of how fucking awesome he was knocking you on your ass and get ready for another mind-shtup. The Unkillable Henchman in The Raid is also named Mad Dog.

Whether or not this was intentional or Evans' hand being guided by the universe itself when writing the script is immaterial. The signifier of the mad dog could be used to describe this character archetype regardless. Now maybe this is residual after-effects of having been chomped by a mentally ill Doberman when I was a little kid and never being able to warm up to the fuckers as a result, but dogs, to me, when they're pissed off are these little snarling fucking death machines who'll chew through your limbs and drink the arterial spray. (I will grant that when they're cheerful, dogs' sole problems are their lack of regard for personal space and that they smell.) Now, take a dog that's not just mad as in pissed off but mad as in rabid and THIS IS MADNESS. This is one step beyond.



Now that I'm done refusing to apologize for that joke we can move on. A mad dog can be an asset to an evil old bastard who wishes to intimidate through the threat—and, when necessary or not, the reality—of violence, as long as he's holding the leash. Where the metaphor starts to fall apart, but the character archetype is capped with its scariest aspect, is that this “mad dog” unkillable head vice-bad guy is defined by a distinctly homo sapiens moral and ethical autonomy. His dog-like loyalty to the Head Fucko In Charge is voluntary. That sole human characteristic makes the fact that the rest of the character's personality is assembled from nightmare and nature imagery all the scarier. The “mad dog” is strongly linked to electricity and fire, from Alexander Godunov's Aryan ab inferno phosphorescent rage to Gary Busey's G. Gordon Liddy cigarette lighter bullshit to Yayan Ruhian needing to be stabbed in the throat with a fucking fluorescent light bulb to die (five minutes later, natch) to, most floridly, Philip Kwok using grenades indoors (!!!) and then lighting his cigarette from the fires resulting from the shit he blows up.

Now you might be asking yourself, how are they “unkillable” when both Mad Dogs (and both their lowercase Western counterparts) die? Astute scholars in the history of ownage will note that none of the referenced characters met their fate solely at the hands of the hero. Yaya Ruhian in The Raid was such a stone badass that it took both the hero and his brother, or put another way, the combined forces of light and gray, or put another way, the entirety of the thematic content of the entire fucking movie, to defeat him, and he still almost took them with him. Philip Kwok in Hard-Boiled probably would have made it to the end of the movie and parted with Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung like Vinnie Jones' Big Chris in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (a character closely related to the archetype under discussion, and one whose survival is almost exclusively down to Lock, Stock being a comedy), telling them, “My boss is dead, so I have no more beef with you, but if you fuck with me, you're the one who's gonna get fucked.” But Hard-Boiled is not a comedy (no matter how funny Chow Yun-Fat rapping to the baby was), so Philip Kwok had to die, and the only one who could possibly catch him with his guard down was Anthony Wong. It's only Philip Kwok's seizure of righteousness about Anthony Wong cacklingly gunning down civilians out of sheer evil that leads him to momentarily question Anthony Wong, who's like “I'm Anthony Wong, motherfucker, no one questions me,” after which RIP. (Note also, Reginald Veljohnson was the one who ultimately iced Godunov, not Bruce Willis, and it took Riggs and Murtaugh firing at the same time to take down Gary Busey.)

Also, not that it really has anything to do with anything other than being cool, both Mad Dogs, Yaya Ruhian and Philip Kwok, were both stunt/fight coordinators on their respective pictures. But the element of authorial input can't be overlooked when considering how much more awesome than anyone else ever to play their role in the ownage schema ever were. Here are guys whose job it is to make cinematic violence look cool, and you have to figure they saved a lot of their best tricks for the day when they would get to make themselves look cool.

Finally, that the purest distillations of this character archetype should come in Asian genre picture pictures should not be a surprise to anyone who pays attention to the different world cinemas. Gareth Evans being Welsh does not make The Raid any less an Indonesian movie, merely one made by a Welsh director. And in the East, genre movies are made and released quickly, with a minimum of bullshit. They're supposed to the get the job done, and not waste time with a bunch of extraneous nonsense like plot and so forth. And there are, no doubt, a ton of really fucking bad genre movies that result from that kind of crank-em-out process. But talented people working within such a process find the immediate need to focus and fucking do the job instead of jerking off to yourself for being some kind of brilliant artist means that, when the movies end up being good, they're real, real good. The intensity shines through. As does the fact that their stuntmen are both fucking lunatics and apparently not unionized because holy balls those guys do some dangerous shit.

There's your recipe for ownage, right there: tight scheduling, focus, check the ego at the door, and make sure either your budget allows for extensive stuntman medical care or that you're a sociopath who doesn't give a fuck. Morally troubling? Get outta the pool, this is the big kids' end.

Friday, August 24, 2012

PUTTIN' IN WORK

Yeah, I know I keep late hours, but it's not that kind of interviewing.


Hey all! Over the past couple weeks I've had a couple really cool opportunities over at Indiewire (that will be, collectively, paying a bill or two here at the Movies By Bowes home office, always a good thing). Now that all the pieces have been published, I wanted to archive them here. So, without further ado, here they are:

1) My interview with actor/comedian Eddie Izzard.
2) My interview with the legendary Roger Corman.
3) My essay singing the praises of USA Network's Burn Notice.

Been quite the productive August! Hope this keeps up. Thanks to Alison Willmore for throwing me these gigs.

Monday, August 20, 2012

RIP TONY SCOTT: A CRI DE COEUR


For most of my life, I've been prone to (literally) crippling periods of melancholy, in which I've been convinced others are conspiring against me, that everyone hated me, that there was no reason to go on, that I was out of options. This thinking has gone far enough that I've narrowed the means of The Final Solution (I always stopped short of calling it suicide or killing myself, I always resorted to either mordant euphemisms or shibboleths like “checking out”) down to a couple options. The common thread in all of them—opening my wrists, walking out into the ocean with stones or some other weights in my pockets, jumping (as Tony Scott did Sunday) from a great height—was a period of easing into it, a gradual transition into either nothingness or whatever unknowable otherness awaits after life as the human mind perceives it ends. Three things always put the breaks on the immediacy of these thoughts. One, I didn't want anyone to have to clean up after me once I was gone, which ruled out “checking out” in a public place. Two, I have no idea what comes next. I don't believe in God or the devil or heaven or hell. If it's nothing and there's no “me” left to perceive . . . well that sucks. Finally, three: there are things in this life I love passionately and make me feel life in its most fully vivid splendor, to which I cling ferociously in those low moments. Among those are Tony Scott movies.

I started blogging following in late December 2009, after a long, brutally profane rant on Facebook about how much I hated Michael Mann's Public Enemies (which had to do with how much I loved Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice, and his other pictures). A number of my friends urged me to start a blog consisting of similarly long-form profane rants about movies. So I started one (which led directly, in the coming years, to my current semi-steady freelance film writing career), and sat around thinking of ideas for posts. The idea of starting one of those blogs where you do a couple posts and then forget about it was unthinkable. I wanted people to read it, and the only way I knew to get attention was to lead with passion and honesty. So one of the first posts I ever did, all awkward searching for an authorial voice and ignorance of form and big messy fucking passion, was about Tony Scott. And that's because I fucking love Tony Scott movies. I love them in all their immense loudness, their lurid colors, their violence, their tales of capable troubled people kicking fucking ass, and their gigantic motherfucking balls.

I'm not going to try and sell you on some story about some time when I was thinking about killing myself and then I watched a Tony Scott movie and it brought me back. That would be too neat, and in any case a goddamn lie. I'm also not going to try any whining fucking solipsism about how Tony copped out on me or his other fans. And no “I've been through that shit too, I can't imagine how Tony Scott, proprietor of his own testicle-shaped wing in the Hall of Ownage, wealthy family man could possibly feel the need to take his own life” hand-wringing either. I know, intimately, like I know my own name, how he could feel the need to take his own life. It's because, for reasons that make no sense to anyone else but yourself, you just need to. And goddammit it sucks. Because here is someone who was once alive enough to make movies that tap into the elemental stuff in the universe out of which intense visceral pleasure is made. It would look to any observer like this is a man who has the life force, who would not only want but need to keep living because he knew nothing else. And yet.

Whether there is still a self that perceives remaining of Tony Scott to know peace, I have no way of knowing. I know his family must be in unspeakable pain now. There's nothing more to say.

Fuck, this sucks.

Friday, August 17, 2012

IF THIS IS THE ANSWER, THE QUESTION MUST HAVE BEEN AWESOME



So I came to a realization, which is personal in nature and not really anything to do with movies, but bear with me. It is this: Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for "The Answer") are playing a gig tonight here in Brooklyn. And I could totally go. And I'm a smidge obsessed with their music at the moment (and with them; I've been taking Google Maps street view tours of Cape Town, for fuck's sake). But I'm not going. And I know for an absolute fact that I'm not going to feel any particular disappointment at not being there.

Why? Because, as the great bard Roger Murtaugh put it so eloquently, I'm getting too old for this shit. By "this shit" I mean going to a gig that's probably not going to start til late as all hell with a bunch of people on drugs, while not on said drugs myself, to see a couple meth-head-looking South African Martians. Which is unfair, because although they do look like they come from the Afrikaans-speaking neighborhood on Mars, it's in a good way mostly. And there was a time when I'd be right up there at front, out of my mind on something expensive, mangling the lyrics at the top of my lungs, and it'd be great. Now, though, I think I'm happier staying at home and watching that video on repeat a couple zillion more times. And I'm okay with this.

Anyway. I guess the relevance of this is that my criticism might be colored by a more measured, contemplative quality than it would have been in my run-around-Williamsburg-in-the-middle-of-the-night-headless-insomniac-chicken days. If we're being real, I was just looking for an excuse to post that video. And this one:



Man they're fucking crazy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

COSMOPOLIS: A REVIEW


My favorite part of Don DeLillo's Underworld, which I haven't read since I was 20 when I thought it was the greatest novel ever written, was the periodic reappearance of Lenny Bruce, screaming “WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!” at his stand-up shows. Not just because Lenny Bruce is fucking rad—which should go without saying—but because he and that bit were an essential part of what the book was about, which (not to be too reductive) is that everything is, to varying degrees, fucked. That's one thing I've always liked about DeLillo: no matter how opaque and dense he can get (and whoa can he), his particular brand of ease with the universe going to hell in a hand basket really hits the spot sometimes. David Cronenberg, in adapting DeLillo's 2003 novel Cosmopolis, has a perfect ear for that particular note, and the movie (which hits theaters this Friday) is a near-perfect harmony between novelist and adapter-director, and might be the best movie of Cronenberg's career.

That's a heavy statement, I know, since Mr. Cronenberg hasn't exactly had his thumb up his ass these forty-some years. And yes, “best” is a tricky and fungible quantity in the arts, but Cosmopolis really is that good. The novel was received critically with an eye roll + jerkoff gesture by most book critics, and there was a whole lot of “Well, it ain't Underworld” being tossed around. Which sucks, but is kinda unavoidable when the followup to A Very Big Book (or album or film etc) isn't as Very Big or is different in some way. Cosmopolis was a slim, very strange book that had the the dual bad timing of coming out a) right when all the first novels about 9/11 were and being a little weirder and more detached than the rest, and b) five years before the culmination of George W. Bush's presidency, the 2008 financial crisis. Context definitely works to Cronenberg's advantage adapting Cosmopolis for the screen now, because now this story of a Master-of-the-Universe financial titan's surreal downward spiral resonates in a way it couldn't as initially written by DeLillo, history not having caught up to it yet. (For another example of this, check out how all of a sudden everyone respects Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers as the satirical, Brechtian masterpiece it is now that they saw the War on Eastasia—er, sorry, Terror—unfold and stuff.)

Now, from the first tight, low-angle shot of a series of limousines, Cosmopolis is very much Where We Are in 2012. It is this without being, in any way at all, a naturalistic movie. Cronenberg keeps as much of DeLillo's dense, stylized, elliptical dialogue as possible, and plays with time and space to lend a dream-like quality to the protagonist's journey across Manhattan on a whim to get a haircut. What starts as a wry joke about how fucked up the traffic gets in New York (complications include a presidential visit and a funeral procession for a Sufi rapper, nothing too heavy by normal standards) turns into a metaphor for the stultification of the modern world by global finance and its attendant obsessions with security and order. Over the course of the movie, the inherent instability of the system and the impermanence of power are laid bare as protagonist Eric Packer and his space-age limo devolve in tandem, each mirroring the other's decay. Cronenberg's direction is about as good as it gets here, with the visual journey perfectly complimenting the narrative, as formally perfect a movie as one could possibly hope for.

Holding everything together is Robert Pattinson's performance in the lead. He's good. He's real good. He starts out this icy, remote, almost alien being, then gradually and with the same exquisite precision as Cronenberg's direction, reveals emotional colors, vulnerability, hunger, desire, raw open nerves. Over the course of the movie, as shit gets weirder and the world he's known (and basically ruled) all his life collapses, it's endlessly fascinating to watch the way Pattinson plays Eric Packer's fascination with his own (self-orchestrated) undoing. I'll stop before I get too specific, but goddamn if Pattinson isn't simply tremendous in this movie. If this performance is any indication, he'll do just fine post-Twilight. The dude can act his motherfuckin' ass off, and I hear chicks dig him, so he's got that going for him as well.

But yeah, Cosmopolis is great. Everything and everyone is basically fucked, and while “cheerful” isn't quite the right word to describe the way DeLillo and Cronenberg convey this idea, it's weirdly not far off. Cronenberg's stunning visual ideas and set pieces (like, respectively, the pervading references to rats and that related “holy fucking shit” protest scene in Times Square) may make some people a little uncomfortable, but they certainly don't seem to be doing that to the director. You can palpably feel Cronenberg enjoying himself, I mean having a fucking blast, for almost the entirety of Cosmopolis: “WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!” Which is, alas, true. But one thing Cosmopolis gets it right in its particular ultra-cerebral, meticulously strange way is that it's really all about the journey. Because it is.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

ATTENTION TO DETAIL: IT'S AWESOME


Props to Jordan at The Film Stage for bringing this brilliant bit of detail to light, from Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, made in 2006, set in 2027.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A MINDBLOWING TRUTH ABOUT DRIVE



This is absolutely true.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

THE HYPOTHETICAL MOVIES BY BOWES SIGHT & SOUND BALLOT NO ONE ASKED FOR BUT THAT YOU'RE GETTING ANYWAY, PLUS THE WEIRDEST LIST I'VE EVER COMPILED

Maggie Grace and Guy Pearce in filmic masterpiece Space Jail, #11 on my ballot

The results of the Sight And Sound critics' poll were announced Wednesday, with the biggest new being that for the first time since 1962, Citizen Kane was no longer the #1 greatest movie of all time, that instead Vertigo took the top spot. Here's the complete list of the top 50.

Everybody losing your damn minds about Kane being knocked out of the top spot, take a deep breath. I've seen an overwhelming majority of these movies. They're all really good. The greatest movie of all time? It changes depending on who you're asking or what criteria you're using; symbolically, that's actually the biggest takeaway from this year's poll, with the new Greatest Movie Of All Time RRRRRAAAAARRR. (It's also possible that everyone remembered how apeshit Kim Novak went over that chunk of the Vertigo score being copped by The Artist and voted Vertigo #1 so she wouldn't fuck their asses up; I wouldn't piss her off if I were you, y'all.)

This woman is entirely too elegant for your bullshit, people.

So, because I have a blog and there's no one here to tell me this is a bad idea, I present to you, kind people of the Internet, my top 10 greatest movies of all time (note, not most perfect or favorite or any of that shit, the 10 greatest; I'll be happy to unpack that concept if anyone gives a shit) if some silly schmuck let me have a ballot. AHEM:

1) Citizen Kane (1941, dir. Orson Welles)
2) Breathless (1960,  dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
3) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, dir. F.W. Murnau)
4) Sunset Blvd. (1950, dir. Billy Wilder)
5) The Godfather (1972, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
6) Nashville (1975, dir. Robert Altman)
7) Psycho (1960, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
8) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, dir. Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid)
9) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
10) Singin' In The Rain (1951, dir. Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly)


I know it's basically the same as the Sight & Sound thing always is (well except Meshes of the Afternoon; I had to shout out the days in my theoretical development when I wasn't even allowed to watch narrative film). But hey, what do you want, the people they ask know their shit.

As a bonus, using an entirely different rubric (because why the fuck not) here's the top 10 greatest in my lifetime (October 1978 onward, which is why no Annie Hall):

1) Goodfellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese)
2) Hope & Glory (1987, dir. John Boorman)
3) When Harry Met Sally (1989, dir. Rob Reiner)
4) Apocalypse Now (1979, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
5) Diva (1982, dir. Jean-Jacques Beneix)
6) Do the Right Thing (1989, dir. Spike Lee)
7) Orlando (1992, dir. Sally Potter)
8) Point Break (1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow) Really? Yes, really.
9) Pulp Fiction (1994, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
10) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, dir. Michel Gondry)

Okay, okay, I'll explain #8. The ability of the medium to evoke intense visceral excitement is one of its academically underrated facets. Boosh. There's your explanation. Okay, yes, I'm exaggerating slightly with that pick. But Kathryn Bigelow's the fucking truth and that movie is electricity. I know leading with talking about how lists are dumb and we shouldn't fight over them and then concluding with a list almost explicitly designed to start fights might seem like a contradiction. But that's only because it is. Good night! Think before hitting send come hate mail time.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ON GORE VIDAL AND BOB ROBERTS



Gore Vidal died last night. I've always felt a bit deficient for not being more familiar with his work, knowing him primarily from Myra Breckenridge, his epic feuds with people like Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley, and best, weirdly, from his supporting role as an aging liberal lion in Tim Robbins' picture Bob Roberts.

Vidal's character, Senator Brickley Paiste (calling him Fred Fennedy wouldn't have been quite on), is the incumbent against whom writer-director-star Robbins' sinister right-wing folk singer Bob Roberts is running. He's basically playing Gore Vidal, which no one else could possibly do. The concern the character voices about the wildly successful Roberts, about his personal and organizational opacity, is exactly the kind of thing Vidal would have said about such a dangerous, corrupt dipshit in real life. Except, maybe less restrained. Gore Vidal had a mouth on him, boy.

Bob Roberts ended up being an alarmingly prescient movie. The parallels between the coterie of shadowy, coke-dealing Iran-Contra fuckfaces around candidate Roberts and the oil-industry, radical think-tank jerkoffs that made up George W. Bush's entourage are almost directly one-to-one. Not to mention “right-wing folk singer” prefigures the apparent contradiction in terms of “compassionate conservative.” Most importantly, though, the tonal note on which the movie ends, with Roberts ascendant, the liberal/progressive voices silenced or marginalized, merges in a truly spooky way with where it leaves of chronologically: on the eve of the first Gulf War, which would turn into a decade-and-a-half “We have always been at war with Eastasia” saga with Saddam Hussein (our staunch ally against Iran in the '80s) as the diabolical villain. Pay no attention to the paunchy impulsive dumbass the facts might evoke, America, he is, as Vidal's character sarcastically sighs, “the worst thing since Adolf Hitler.”

Obviously, Vidal didn't write or direct Bob Roberts. Tim Robbins, though, knew exactly what he was doing casting Vidal in that role, understanding the semiotic value of merging the text of his movie with Vidal's personality. Presenting the movie as a “mockumentary” (a form not yet fucked to death by incompetent repetition in 1992) made the Vidal sections work particularly well, as the parts with actors felt, for lack of a better term, actor-y; this is not to slight the tremendous ensemble Robbins assembled, it's just in contrast between the Vidal scenes and, for example, Giancarlo Esposito's caffeinated activist/journalist. Giancarlo Esposito's awesome, and his seemingly paranoid but dispiritingly accurate rants about the continuum of right-wing corruption in the American government rule, but you can still see him acting in a way that you don't see in the Vidal parts.

I've always associated Gore Vidal with the “seriously, people, if you don't fix this shit we're all going off the cliff” tone he takes playing in Bob Roberts, and in interviews. His was more a voice of caution than of doom, and often one speaking to an audience whose VIP was the speaker himself. But as people talking to hear their own voices go, Gore Vidal did have an awfully nice voice. As long as you weren't the embodiment of all that was shitheaded in his latest jeremiad. Then, I imagine he could be a giant pain in the ass. But some people need a pain in the ass. And Gore Vidal was just the man for that job, as well as almost certainly having a classic witticism at the ready about that phrase.