Sunday, May 31, 2009

Eric Christian Olsen is stalking me

I'm being stalked by Eric Christian Olsen.

How else to explain the fact that he's appeared in the last three movies I've seen?

When he appeared in License to Wed as a perceived rival for Mandy Moore's affections, I thought nothing of it, except "Oh, hey, that's that guy." His name escaped me at the moment. All I remembered was that he had three names.

When he appeared in The Hot Chick as a two-timing jock, I thought, "Hey, that's funny, Eric Christian Olsen (I had since figured out his name) appeared in the last movie I saw."

But it was when he showed up in Eagle Eye as a deadbeat dad that I asked my two other viewing companions to pause the movie. I had to share with them the funny coincidence.

Or was it? Is Eric Christian Olsen really stalking me?

It's stuff like this that I love noticing. There was no way I could have known this actor would be in all three movies. He's made only 15, and I happened to watch three of them in a row. License to Wed and The Hot Chick were things I picked up at the library, not knowing for sure, but making an educated guess that they would be currently unreviewed on my website, meaning I could claim them. When I was back at the office and discovered that, indeed, they were available, I went ahead and watched them.

Eagle Eye, on the other hand, was the end result of walking the aisles at Blockbuster last night with two friends. Our host owns a BluRay player, so we thought it would be good to rent something that might benefit from that format. (Unfortunately, I can't recommend Eagle Eye in the least.) I had no way of knowing Mr. Olsen would show up, especially since he's only in it for 30 seconds in one scene.

Now, if he shows up in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a 153-minute Romanian drama, which I've had from Blockbuster for two months, and which we're finally expecting to watch tonight, then I will be really surprised.

While I'm having a little fun at Mr. Olsen's expense, I did think I should mention that he is the only reason to recommend a truly terrible movie I saw a couple years ago -- but he's so good that I really would almost recommend watching it just to see him. He plays the younger version of Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. And even though this is, as I said, a truly terrible movie, his impersonation of Carrey is so delightfully spot on that I think any fan of Carrey's -- or even any fan of a good impersonation -- should try to catch a couple scenes on cable just to marvel at it.

I didn't plan it this way, but a post about the last three movies I've seen seems like a perfect opportunity to introduce you to a slight change on my blog. In my "Most Recently Seen," "Most Recently Revisited" and "Most Recently Reviewed" sidebars, I've just started including the last three entries in each category. This way, if you don't check in on my blog every day (and really, who does?), then you'll get a slightly better idea of what I'm watching/rewatching/writing about. Since, you know, it's possible that this interests you, though maybe not.

"Why then, Vance, does it say you saw Eagle Eye before The Hot Chick, when in this post you just told us the opposite?"

I'm glad you asked, young padawan. (This is the first and last time I will use the word "padawan" in my blog.) It's the system I've developed for determining my viewing order. If I watch part of one movie, then the entirety of another movie, and then finish the first movie, the first movie comes in after the second movie on the list. It's not which movie I started first -- it's which movie I finished first. Since I just finished watching the last half hour of The Hot Chick, I can't rightly say I "saw it" before Eagle Eye, can I?

Hey, I've gotta have a system, and this is as good as any.

The rule of three ... weeks

There's a scene early in Ken Kwapis' License to Wed in which Ben (John Krasinski) and Sadie (Mandy Moore) are trying to book a wedding date in the church of Reverend Frank (Robin Williams). Frank flips through his scheduling book with a look of concern on his face.

"It looks like we're booked out for the next two years," says Frank. Ben and Sadie look glum. Then, as though it were planned all along, Frank "remembers" some sort of near-term cancellation and consults his book again to verify. "Yes!" he says. "You can get married three weeks from tomorrow!"

What Frank "remembered," and what was in a sense "planned all along," is that three weeks is the exact right timeframe for the plot of a movie.

In real life, one to two years would be the perfect amount of time for a couple who just got engaged to sort out all the details, like geographical location, venue, guest list, cake decorator, musical accompaniment, and take-home novelty item with their names and wedding date emblazoned on it. But in a movie, that won't cut it. The sense of urgency can't survive one to two years of screen time.

I noticed the rule of three weeks in another wedding-related movie I was also recently forced to sit through in order to review it: 27 Dresses. There's no scheduling gridlock at the wedding venue that forces this one, but true enough, George (Edward Burns) and Tess (Malin Akerman) spring it on Jane (Katherine Heigl) that they will be getting married three weeks later.

The examples I happen to be remembering are from wedding movies, but they just jump out at me because of the unrealistically short planning period between engagement and betrothal. Numerous films you've seen take place during a period of approximately three weeks -- or at the very least, three weeks from the point in the plot when a certain key conflict is introduced.

I'm actually familiar with the need for this timeframe myself. I have no aspirations to be a screenwriter, but I have written one script, and I get ideas for numerous others every day. (I guess I share this last thing in common with most people who are big movie fans, especially those who live in L.A., which gives them the sense that they somehow have a greater chance of turning these ideas into reality). One of these many ideas of mine that took traction, and which my wife, who is a screenwriter, developed into a script, was originally envisioned by me as occurring over several years, in part because there's a key aspect of the plot that I thought necessitated it. However, she convinced me that the viewer wouldn't feel the driving sense of urgency (it's a thriller, after all) if there are large pockets of time that get skipped over on screen. Even though her version of the script doesn't totally work, in part because of the three-week time frame, I am still no less convinced that it has to be this way in order to eventually work.

What's so special about three weeks? Well, it's not a month, but it's also not two weeks. I should probably clarify that rather obvious statement. It's long enough that the characters can grow and work through their character arcs, but short enough that they've got to be on an accelerated time frame, which requires them to act instead of thinking things through. Let's face it -- when you go to the movies, you want to see characters act, not think. Look what too much thinking did to Hamlet. All the great thrillers, action movies and farces have one thing in common: Most of the characters would not do what they end up doing if they had the luxury of thinking things through.

Now you'll probably want an example of a movie in which the opposite was true: the characters had too much time, and the flow of the movie suffered. Okay, let me think.


Okay, I couldn't think of one. And it's not because they don't exist. They probably do. But see, I don't remember those movies. The rule of three weeks is so powerful, so widespread, that screenwriters seem to follow it on instinct. And oh yeah, there's probably a whole chapter on it in each of the major screenwriting books.

So what will be the happy medium between three weeks and several years in my wife's and my prospective script? If we can't find it, no one will remember our movie either, because it will never get made.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Comparative brilliance

I am not -- repeat, not -- going to see Dance Flick.

It looks stupid. It looks infantile. It looks obvious.

But it also made me breathe a sigh of relief when I first saw the trailer.

Why? Because at least it wasn't another ______ Movie, written by Hollywood's laziest rich hacks, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

It's hard to believe I've had a film blog for this long without ranting about Friedberg and Seltzer. But let's go back to the beginning of the story.

In the last decade of the 19th century, there were a pair of siblings known as the Lumiere Brothers ... okay wait, that's too far.

You could say this story begins with the early parody classics, such as Airplane!, The Naked Gun and Top Secret! It was a time when everything was fresh and new, and making fun of things in even the dumbest of ways was funny. The early era of parodies produced its share of duds, sure. Loaded Weapon 1? Wrongfully Accused? Mafia!, originally known as Jane Austen's Mafia? But since we were, as a filmgoing public, still sort of getting to know this form, we took the bad with the good.

The Zucker brothers, Jerry and David, along with their friend Jim Abrahams, were synonymous with these films. So, for that matter, was Leslie Nielsen. But this act began to get pretty long in the tooth by the mid-1990s, and the parody movie crept to the brink of extinction.

That's when, in 2000, Keenen Ivory Wayans came along and took the reins. Wayans was a veteran of parodic films like I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!, but it was the first Scary Movie that delivered him his biggest hit of all time, and made him relevant again after a bunch of ill-conceived action vehicles. He followed that up with the less-well-received Scary Movie 2 before he was summarily ejected from the parody racket and replaced by David Zucker, who directed Scary Movie 3 and 4.

Lest you think this is the story of the power struggle between the Zuckers and the Wayanses, hold on there -- we haven't even met our villains yet. Two of the six writers credited on Scary Movie were Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who were also both veterans of one of the lesser Leslie Nielsen spoofs, Spy Hard (1996). As the Zuckers and Wayanses fought over the legacy of Scary Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer spun off and were given control of their own movie: Date Movie (2006).

It was vile. It was repulsive. It was cheap. To excerpt my own review: "There's something just plain wrong with this movie, such that viewers will find the words 'torturous' and 'excruciating' entering their mental vocabulary as they watch."

But Date Movie raked in millions. $48 million, to be exact, or two-and-a-half times its budget. Meaning it had a high profitability factor.

And thus spewed forth a string of movies each less clever than the one before it, though only the first one -- Epic Movie (2007) -- was I willing to personally vet. Again excerpting my own review: "The jokes are so brainlessly simple, only by aiming them at the most recent Hollywood releases is there any chance they'd seem fresh -- and even that is quite optimistic. Simply put, this is lowest common denominator filmmaking, produced on a shoestring using actors whose hunger for a paycheck is downright embarrassing." I like to imagine that Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie (both 2008) are even worse, though I am unwilling to find out. I'd prefer just to ball my fists each time I see another pathetic trailer hit the screen, filled with variations on this pathetic joke: Some popular current icon (Britney Spears, the cast of Juno, Iron Man) gets kicked, punched, or crushed by something heavy. So inescapable were Friedberg and Seltzer that their idol, David Zucker, even impersonated them (though it's getting a bit hazy at this point) with Superhero Movie, also in 2008.

It seems strange to say this, but there's something comforting about Dance Flick being back in the hands of a Wayans. Damien Dante, to be exact, with four other Wayanses (including Keenen Ivory) serving as producers, screenwriters and/or performers.

Now, the Wayanses have their own kind of terrible. These are the guys who brought us both White Chicks and Little Man, two of the worst comedies I have seen in the last five years. But at least those movies give you the sense that they're trying something. The jokes may fail, but at least they're failing with soul.

What I hate so much about Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg is that they are utterly content with mailing it in, and the contempt they show their audience feels intentional to the point of spiteful. How can a movie be funny when greed and hateful indifference are informing it? Either that or they really are that unfunny, in which case, it might be worse: a failure of every standard available to Hollywood to measure talent. Literally the only reason for the existence of their films is to make fun of a popular movie that was released at some point in the previous seven months, no matter how little it relates to the parody genre du jour. (Good example: Borat, Snakes on a Plane and Nacho Libre all qualified as "epic movies" simply because they came out while Seltzer and Friedberg were shitting out the script.)

Dance Flick? Well, at least it seems content primarily to spoof dance movies.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quantifying menace

In case you were wondering, my subject is the title for a script I'm writing, a time-twisting intergalactic thriller in which James Bond teams up with Jar Jar Binks to fight an evil coalition comprised of Goldfinger, Darth Maul and a bunch of corrupt imperial senators.

Okay, no.

Actually, it was inspired by re-watching The Dark Knight earlier today. I came away with the DVD from a holiday gift swap -- much better than the fake vomit or package of blue condoms you often get stuck with at these things. We finally got around to our second viewing today, and I have to say, I liked it better the second time around. I liked it plenty well the first time, just not as much as the average person. Something about it made me appreciate it more the second time.

But that's not what I'm here to write about today. Actually, I want to write about the funny explanation given by the MPAA for its PG-13 rating, which I happened to notice after the FBI warning screen.

Namely, it was rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence and some menace."


That seems like a funny way to measure the amount of menace in The Dark Knight, which I consider to be among the most menacing mainstream films ever made -- even including R-rated movies. That doesn't mean it's the most violent or psychologically scarring, but this movie has menace coming out its ears. You could say that Heath Ledger's Joker is the very personification of menace. Doesn't it seem like this would be more honest? "Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and a shitload of menace." Then that would have to be followed by "This rating justification is rated PG-13 for some profanity."

It made me think of something really funny the website I write for compiled a couple years back. And since this is Memorial Day, no day for me to come up with an original idea, I am going to possibly illegally reproduce the following list for your reading enjoyment. Hey, at least I'm not trying to pass it off as my own. However, maintaining my own blog anonymity (for whatever value that has) precludes me from crediting the actual authors. Or should I say, compilers.

While I contemplate the hot water I could theoretically be getting myself into, I hope you will enjoy the following:

The 10 Funniest Ratings Explanations by the Motion Picture Association of America:

10. Mother’s Boys (1994)
“Rated R for language and for a mother’s sociopathic behavior”

9. Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
“PG for mild language and brief video images of violence and sexy dancing”

8. All I Wanna Do (1998)
“PG-13 for teen sex-related material, language, and substance misuse”

7. The Hunted (1997)
“R for strong bloody ninja violence and a humorous drug related scene”

6. War of the Buttons (1994)
“PG for mischievous conflict, some mild language, and bare bottoms”

5. Alien vs. Predator (2004)
“PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime, and gore”

4. Skateboard Kid II (1995)
“PG for brief mild language and an adolescent punch in the nose”

3. Bushwhacked (1997)
“PG for language and a mild birds and bees discussion”

2. Twister (1996)
“PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather”

1. Jefferson in Paris (1995)
“PG-13 for mature theme, some images of violence, and a bawdy puppet show"

Thanks, guys. I'd credit you if I weren't strangely committed to masking my identity. Not unlike a certain caped crusader I know.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Conventions we've come to accept

Whatever you think about Mel Gibson, if you've seen Apocalypto, you have to admit that it raised the bar for authenticity of spoken dialogue. Gibson made an extremely bold decision that paid off -- he had his Mayan characters speaking in the Mayan language. And since all the film's characters are Mayan, the whole film is in that language.

It's difficult to know if the movie would have been more popular if a) it were in English, or b) Gibson had not just gone on a drunken anti-semitic rant, but $50 million seems a pretty decent haul in the U.S., considering those factors. And the movie itself? A damn thrilling action movie. Gibson did the same thing in The Passion of the Christ with a much larger box office take, but (in my opinion) a far more masochistic and unworthy effort.

For me at least, Apocalypto (and to a lesser extent Passion, which I simply tried not to think about afterward) made me reevaluate the other movies I've seen where everyone speaks in English regardless of where in the world the action is set. And watching Bryan Singer's Valkyrie last night brought those issues up again.

We've come to accept that if American filmmakers in Hollywood want to make a movie about foreign subject matter, to be consumed first and foremost by American audiences, they have to film in English, practically speaking. The most practical issue has to do with the language the director speaks. If you don't understand the language the actors are speaking, how can you even be sure they're saying the lines with the right inflection? I guess we should ask Clint Eastwood, who made the excellent decision to shoot Letters from Iwo Jima in Japanese, but relied on Japanese advisors to make sure everything was copacetic.

But Hollywood has traditionally tried to meet realism halfway, with the characters either speaking English in the appropriate regional accent, or in a generic British-influenced Euro accent that's a catch-all stand-in for "foreignness." Valkyrie deviates from that in one extremely noticeable way: Tom Cruise, the lead, uses his regular speaking voice, the one he cultivated while growing up in such diverse locations as New York, Illinois, Kentucky, Ontario and New Jersey. He doesn't try to sound either German or British. He just tries to sound like Tom Cruise.

For Valkyrie's detractors -- which were not nearly as many as we all originally thought -- this was a distraction. For me, though, it just seemed honest. Singer allowed all his actors to speak in their native voices -- it just so happens that Cruise was the only one who grew up in the U.S. Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson ... all Brits. So their British speaking voices were not fabricated in accordance with the time-honored Hollywood tradition; that's just how they talk. It might be worth arguing that native Brits are more convincing than Americans in movies like this anyway, which is why there are no Americans other than Cruise. But hey, Bill Nighy can't carry a movie.

As I said, I liked Singer's decision. If you know you're not going to be able to make a movie about Nazi Germany in German, why manipulate us in the form of English with German (or British) accents? Just because that familiar convention makes us feel comfortable? Not only might Cruise not be able to do this effectively, but if he tried, it might detract from his performance. Instead, he can just concentrate on acting. And act he does. In fact, Cruise haters won't find a single thing about this performance to pick on. To quote my colleague who wrote the Valkyrie review: "For all the character's noble, self-sacrificing heroism, Cruise never gets hammy or indulgent; there are no ridiculously badass one-liners (those in the original trailer were cut), no Oscar-bait hysterics or vain looking-into-the-distance-with-a-single-tear-in-his-eye. You don't even get that vague, distracting sense of megalomania emanating from his usually self-satisfied grin." (I love this writer.)

But it's not as though Singer is indifferent to the fact that there's some amount of artifice involved in filming in English. And he takes care of this quite effectively. The movie opens with Cruise narrating the words he's writing in a letter, in a tent in Tunisia, where his officer has been sent as a means of hiding him away where his anti-war views can't harm anyone. Here Cruise speaks in German -- and quite well, to the untrained ear. After about a minute of Cruise's German-speak, Singer transitions the dialogue to English, first overlayed over the German, then on its own for the rest of the movie. Message: "You know they're speaking German. But because I am an English speaker and so are you, we are agreeing to do this thing in English."

Singer may have been taking his lead from the legally disgraced John McTiernan. I can think of two other good examples of this same approach in McTiernan films. Though I don't have a lot enduring memories of The Hunt for Red October, I do remember how the characters on the Russian sub start out speaking Russian, and then there's a transition to English after about the same amount of time as in Valkyrie. The example I like better is from the underrated and underseen The 13th Warrior, in which Antonio Banderas plays an Arab courtier who joins the 10th century Vikings in fighting an army of cannibalistic mist creatures. As the viewers' surrogate, Banderas' character speaks in English, a stand-in for Arabic. The Vikings speak in their own language -- they are the film's "other." The film gets everyone speaking the same language in a captivating montage in which English words steadily blend with Norse, as Banderas absorbs their fireside bragging over weeks of travel.

As in any film, ultimately, it's the filmmaking and storytelling that trumps all these language concerns. And it's probably true that if you've got a good story executed well, it doesn't matter to what extent a director honors the conventions or adjusts them to his own agenda.

I do have one complaint about Valkyrie, and oddly, it's related to the semantics of meaning. It has to do with the tagline on the poster, which was one of the reasons (along with the presence of Cruise) that I never wanted to see the movie -- until I heard it was pretty good, that is. Here's the tagline:

Many saw evil.
They dared to stop it.

Of course, what this poster means is "Many saw evil. They dared to stop it." In other words, "they" -- the characters in the movie -- should be differentiated from the "many" who saw evil. However, without the italics -- which you would never put on a poster anyway -- it sounds like "they" is modifying "many," as in "Many saw evil, and they dared to stop it," or "Many saw evil and dared to stop it."

But I'll forgive the humorous semantic ambiguity. Valkyrie is an unqualified success, and whatever errors the marketing department made don't influence that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Subtraction by multiplication

There's a billboard around town in LA -- and as much as I searched for it on google images, I couldn't find it -- that shows no less than 27 characters from Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian standing alongside each other.

Uh oh.

Okay, that's not nearly the only reason to say "uh oh" about this movie. But it's the one I'm choosing to focus on today.

The sequel to Night at the Museum follows exactly the formula followed by hundreds of its sequel predecessors: Bigger! Better! More!

And, a Heckuva Lot More Characters!

The 27 characters appearing on these billboards are meant to show you exactly how much comedy bang you'll get for your buck. If you're not a big Ben Stiller fan, well, there's Owen Wilson. If you're not so into him, try Hank Azaria. Or what about Bill Hader? If you're old-fashioned and you like impersonations of celebrities who reached their creative peaks in the 1980s, there's even Robin Williams to turn to.

But this kind of thing is a problem, especially in a comedy. Each actor will need his 5-10 minutes of screen time to peddle his (or in some cases her) shtick. What does that do to your script? Yep, it bends and buckles and threatens to pop the brads right out of the pages. (I wish I could let that reference go without further explanation, but the brad is the small brass thingamamabob that holds a script together, requiring three of them to do the job completely. See, now you know how clever that previous comment was).

I could name numerous other films where the sequels have been sunk by a delirious excess of characters, but you probably don't need me to. Most ensemble superhero movies tend to have this problem, not to mention Shrek movies and Harry Potterses. And it's not always that the movie goes from passable to terrible, just that you walk away from it wondering what the point was to even include certain characters, because there was never a possibililty the plot would give them enough to do to justify their presence.

I shouldn't -- and really don't -- care one way or another how many characters there are in a Night of the Museum sequel, except the movie holds a somewhat unique place in my filmgoing history. It's one of the few movies I've seen that actually saved itself in the end.

Almost every halfway decent movie you see has an excellent first half, then falls apart at the end. Strangely, the opposite occurred for me when I watched Night at the Museum. I rolled my eyeballs for the first 45 minutes of that movie, then somehow got into the groove of it in the third act. I still ranked it somewhere in the bottom half of the movies I saw that year, but for that unusual late improvement, I will always remember it.

Can Night at the Museum 2 do the same thing? I doubt I'll ever find out. If I'd ever really wanted to see it, any desire would have been killed by a character they don't show on the poster, but are showing like crazy on the ads. Any of you heard the following line of dialogue maybe once -- or 132 times -- in the last few weeks?

"Hey, check out the gun show over here! Boom! Boom! Fiyah-powahhh!"

'Nuff said.

Tune in some other time for my rant against using the voices of delusional blowhard New Yorkers for characters in kids movies.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cuteness destigmatized

Like the picture of Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher? I took it myself!

Um, no. But early on I decided never to use the same poster art twice, and I already used Definitely, Maybe for this post. So, anyway.

I once dated a girl who was very ... well, cute. But you didn't dare call her that. She hated the word "cute." She had been called it one too many times, and she never took it in the spirit in which people intended it. No, she found it demeaning -- something you would say to a person who had nothing of substance to offer. It wasn't viewing her as an object, as calling her "hot" would have been, but it did make her feel like something small and possibly weak. The equivalent of a condescending pat on the head.

Although "cute" is a word most of us use all the time, in plenty of different contexts with plenty of different subtexts, that ex-girlfriend of mine made me acutely aware of the condescension a person may be unconsciously conveying when they use it.

So when my wife called Definitely, Maybe a "very cute movie" the other night, there was the temptation to think she was patting the movie on the head.

In fact, from my wife, this is very high praise for a romantic comedy.

I was not necessarily expecting to see Definitely, Maybe a second time in this calendar year, having first watched it on a sick day back in January. But we needed to find something to watch on my wife's sister's last night in town. Since my wife's sister was recommending movies like Bride Wars and 27 Dresses to me, I thought the least I could do was offer her a really good romantic comedy, and it was still playing On Demand. Both of the movie's newcomers ultimately agreed with my assessment.

I've heard my wife call movies "cute" before, and it is almost always unambiguously positive. However, the problem is, for me it still feels not strong enough. For me, it sounds like you are removing the film from the realm of possibly having artistic ambitions. If it's cute, that means it's necessarily fluff.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and say that they wrote Definitely, Maybe with Oscar night in mind. It's basically a romantic whodunnit, in which a young girl (Abigail Breslin) must figure out which of three women (Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks and Rachel Weisz) is her mother as a younger woman, based on a story about his romantic past being told by her father (Ryan Reynolds). It really is "cute."

But what impressed me about Adam Brooks' film, which I commented on in my review, was the fact that it's more than it needs to be. Reynolds' character aspires to work in politics, and the points of the story roughly align with the high(and low)lights of the Clinton presidency, from his first campaign for president, through his impeachment, and even briefly on to life as a former president. The Clinton subplot works as a metaphor for the character's own emotional growth and fall from innocence. Not only that, but Brooks even throws in Kevin Kline as an acerbic, boozy and highly intellectual author and university professor. The film most certainly didn't need that, but thank God it has it, because Kline is hilarious.

So -- and it really sounds funny to be saying this about a movie that was released in time for Valentine's Day -- I kind of felt that it was more than a "cute" movie, that it might actually have been "good."

But what I need to understand -- and what I need to unlearn from my ex-girlfriend -- is that sometimes, cute is good. In fact, sometimes it's damn good. Sometimes, maybe, definitely, it's great.

So yeah, see Definitely, Maybe, especially if you've got someone in your life who doesn't discriminate between the good and bad romantic comedies. You know who I'm talking about. This is one you can tolerate too.

I think you'll find it quite cute.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Posters I like: The Hangover

I find myself captivated by the poster for Todd Phillips' The Hangover every time I see it.

I think it has something to do with the way they all look like they've been punched in the face, and the way being backlit by Vegas lights makes them seem hyperreal.

First you've got Zack Galifianakis, who goes over the edge of eccentric accessibility into downright bearded mayhem. The moral turpitude trickles its way southward from his beard down to his too-cool-for-school baby, hanging out in the Baby Bjorn.

Then you've got Ed Helms, a tooth rather obviously missing, his concern furrowed into his brow.

Then what really makes me laugh is the oddly angelic picture of Bradley Cooper. Yeah, if you look closer, he's scuffed up, too. But doesn't he also seem to have a look of mild euphoria on his face, and possibly a little halo hovering over his head?

However you slice it, I want to see this movie.

I think the whole "punched in the face" thing is the reason why I really wanted to see, and ultimately overcame my biases against, The House Bunny. Check out this poster, one of my favorites from last year:
That shocked look on her face, those rumpled bunny ears ... it's as though someone just bopped her in the face with a novelty over-sized boxing glove, or maybe a nerf baseball bat. You can practically see the stars and tweeting birds circling around her head.

That one was a nice little pleasant surprise, so let's hope the same for The Hangover.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm easy

Just throw a little Nine Inch Nails in your trailer, and you've got me. Hook, line and sinker.

Take Terminator: Salvation, for example. They showed the trailer during last night's season finale of Lost -- an honor I thought was reserved exclusively for Star Trek during J.J. Abrams shows -- and I was reminded of the fact that Nine Inch Nails' "The Day The World Went Away" scores it.

I was going to see this movie anyway, but now -- whoa. Watch out.

I should say that Nine Inch Nails is my favorite band, so there is nothing purely objective about what I'm saying. But I also think there's a reason Trent Reznor's music is chosen for trailers. It increases the awesomeness factor by ten.

It did the same for me back when 300 came out. This trailer also gooses the excitement level with a little NIN, this time "Just Like You Imagined," also from the album The Fragile. I have no doubt the song itself contributed to my near-feverish level of desire to see that film, and therefore, also to my ultimate disappointment in its ability to live up to my expectations.

I've written at length about the power of trailer music, so I don't need to go into another dissertation here.

However, it would be useful to pause a minute to reflect on why NIN's stuff works so well in particular. It's those cinematic industrial soundscapes that Reznor is so good at concocting. In many a Nine Inch Nails song, you can hear the clanking, the mashing, the sound of one piece of metal scraping against another. These are highly effective sonic attributes when you've got something like a Terminator movie. If ever the world is going to be destroyed by machines, you want a Nine Inch Nails song to usher in the end -- even if "The Day the World Went Away" could be construed as a little on-the-nose in this case.

I will say that the use of a Nine Inch Nails song within the body of a film does not have a 100% success rate for me.

While scoring a cool-ass car chase through the desert with NIN's seminal "Closer" probably took the remake of The Hitcher up a couple levels for me, the same cannot be said of the use of "Every Day is Exactly the Same" in Wanted. In fact, you might say that's the moment when I realized Wanted was going to suck. "Every Day is Exactly the Same" is not a particularly deep song to begin with, but when it was used to demonstrate the daily drudgery of the existence of Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), it was as obvious as being smacked in the face with a two-by-four.

Then again, that's not Trent Reznor's fault. It's Timur Bekmambetov's. His Wanted isn't much for subtlety in any respect.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

10 days of insomnia + acid reflux + swine flu ...

+ my sister visiting for a week + a huge project at work + the NBA playoffs + baseball season = exactly two movies seen and two blog postings during the month of May.

I'm upping the number of one of those right now. The other will change tonight when I go straight from work to see Star Trek in IMAX -- which is probably the last thing I should be doing considering that I haven't had a decent night's sleep since the calendar turned. But I gotta squeeze it in now, because on Thursday morning, my wife's sister arrives for almost a week. It's a sisterrific month of May in our household, to be sure, as mine just left this morning. We might have actually gone to Star Trek while she was here, but I wasn't able to gauge how interested she was, which turned out to be more interested than I thought.

Busy times, busy times.

A couple clarifications.

I don't actually have swine flu -- at least, not that I'm aware of -- but for awhile last week I was pretty paranoid about the poor timing of my sore throat, which eventually turned into the more traditional common cold symptoms that I have now. Still haven't actually developed a fever, so I'm not planning any medical action. Of course, that's probably the same thing all the people who dropped dead of swine flu thought, before they dropped dead of swine flu. I have found enough time in the last week to read that the swine flu pandemic no longer seems as serious as once thought, so I've stopped worrying about whether I need to make an appointment with my doctor -- which would be complicated anyway by the fact that we switched providers at work on May 1st, and I don't even have my new card yet. (If it's not one thing, it's something else, right?)

The insomnia. It sucks. Though I do have it to thank for actually getting to watch my second movie of the month, Swing Vote, which I watched during one gym session and two bouts of sleeplessness. I'd make a joke about insomnia and Swing Vote, except darn it, I actually kind of liked it. Maybe I'll say I liked it only because of the delirium.

The acid reflux. Almost nightly for the last five to six days. I'm sure it has something to do with the insomnia, though the insomnia started before I noticed having acid problems. I ate a really healthy dinner last night at a vegan restaurant, and I still had heartburn. D'oh.

The project at work. Almost everyone at my company is getting a new cell phone in the next three weeks, almost 200 of whom are porting in from another network. There are more moving parts to this project than I could have ever imagined. Yikes.

The NBA playoffs. Go Celtics!

The baseball season. Go Red Sox! Go my fantasy team!

I hope to have more actual movie-related thoughts by the weekend.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Posters I like: The Matador

Note: When I first started this blog, it was my intention to have some recurring features, especially useful for when I didn't have time to write at length, or the ideas dried up a bit. As you will agree, I've been pretty fertile so far. Whether or not you think the fertility has resulted in a useful blog is another matter. But there's no doubt that I have churned out a lot. Anyway, this will be the first in a recurring series called Posters I like. Yay.

We don't have that much free space on the walls of our new house, and the wall space in my own personal nook/desk area -- next to the washer and dryer, by the water heater -- already has an awesome Hieronymous Bosch-style painting depicting over a hundred common proverbs/idioms, acted out literally.

But I really want to buy this poster. In fact, I've been close a couple times. Sure is handy that the movie is also a nice little underdog treat.

I love the throwback style of those oranges and greens. Rich and wonderful.

Of course, one can't discuss the Matador poster without discussing the terrible injustice that was done to it when released on video. Quoting my own review of the movie:

"In an apparent attempt to goose rentals by seducing the James Bond fans walking the aisles at Blockbuster, the Weinstein Company changed the movie's poster art from the sublime greens and oranges of the theatrical original to the dumbed-down, iconic images of an actioner: flames, voluptuous women, and guys in sunglasses with guns."

See unfortunate Exhibit A:

Regrettably, because The Matador will continue to be available on video, but will never again be in the theater, this video box will probably be the enduring image of this clever indie hitman dramedy.

But the theatrical one-sheet will always live on in my heart.

And possibly on my wall.

Monday, May 4, 2009

No, I'm not

The first time I remember a movie website whose URL was something other than www.[moviename] was The Matrix back in 1999. As you may remember, information about this ground-breaking film could be found at In fact, the site is still going strong.

And something about that website made everything a little more intriguing, didn't it? "Yeah, what the hell is the matrix?" You really wanted to know.

Countless movies have followed this trend since then, some of them bold enough to not even include the title in the address. I wish I'd kept track of them, because at this point, it's hard to recall them, and I don't know of a good way to search for them, either. I guess I don't go to movie websites all that much, even if some of them are really cool.

And so I can't discuss this trend with my usual cavalcade of evidence. But I can pick on the latest movie to follow it poorly: the recently released Obsessed.

If you want to use the worldwide interwebs to find out information about Obsessed, you go to

Blog interactivity compells me to do so, but I hate making this a link that you can click on from my post. I don't think you should go to this website. Not only is this supposed to be a really bad movie, but it's a damn stupid URL.

First off, it ascribes a certain grandiosity to what seems to be a pretty pedestrian thriller, just an interracial Fatal Attraction. With The Matrix, it made sense, as the Wachowski brothers were really introducing us to a whole new world. It's even more appropriate in retrospect, as The Matrix became easily one of the most influential films of the last ten years. (It's actually just about a month past being ten years old). Not only that, but the website itself heightened the themes of the film, gave you a sense of the big brother eeriness of a computer network that controls us all.

Obsessed? What are we supposed to learn here? It's pretty much just the story, cast and crew. And oh wait, there's a chat window that pops up from Ali Larter's character, that makes you think for a moment you might have ended up on some kind of social networking site that might be reading and stealing information from your computer.

Then there's the problem with the question itself. Do you want to be obsessed? Isn't that a bad thing? Do you really want to be psychologically aligned with a stalker who has potentially murderous intent? What's more, the website lets you figure out whether you are or not. There's a lame eight-question quiz that's supposed to help you determine your level of obsession with a person that may actually exist in your world. It's meant mostly to be whimsical -- I took the multiple-choice quiz, answering each question with the most stalkerish answer of the bunch, and at the end they told me that "Your crush might want to call the cops! You are over-the-top obsessed!" I'm fine with that being tongue-in-cheek, but doesn't it undercut the mood this film is trying to create? It's a thriller, not a comedy.

Then again, from what I've heard about it, maybe it's an unintentional comedy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ghosts of movies past

It may surprise you to hear this, but Matthew McConaughey is actually a halfway decent actor.

When I first became consciously aware of The Shirtless One, it was while watching the John Grisham adaptation A Time to Kill (1996). He delivers an absolutely knockout courtroom summation near the end, his face buckling believably under the emotion of the words he's speaking. Of course, I should have been aware of him from Dazed and Confused (1993), except it's such a different role that I didn't make the connection. His Wooderson is the classic archetype of the post-high school charming skeezeball. Then there's Reign of Fire (2002), where he's a post-apocalyptic commando with a shaved head, whose eyes burn with fire, and who chews scenery and spits it out with an awesome trashiness.

Unfortunately, Matthew McConaughey has also made 29 other movies.

And a heckuva lot of them are almost exactly like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

Forgive me if I make assumptions about a movie I haven't seen, but the repetitive nature of Mr. McConaughey's body of work just begs you to do that.

The second non-Christmas movie based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol within the past year -- following the execrable Republican propaganda otherwise known as last October's An American Carol -- Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is Matthew McConaughey at his laziest. You might say "at his paycheckiest." The guy can do other things, he just chooses not to. And to think I criticized Brendan Fraser for sticking to his comfort zone.

Actually, the first ten years of his career were pretty promising, or at the very least, diverse. This is a guy who appeared in everything from The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994) to Amistad (1997). He's in several movies I really love, including Contact (1997) and Boys on the Side (1995), not to mention those listed at the start of this posting.

But it was right around the time of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) that McConaughey decided to lose his career in ten movies. Okay, maybe "career" is not the right word, since he's clearly still very castable. How about "critical respect"?

Consider what has come since: Sahara (2005), Failure to Launch (2006 -- you could have a field day with that title), Fool's Gold (2008) and now Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Even occasional trips off the beaten path, like We are Marshall and a very funny appearance in Tropic Thunder, can't change the public impression of his downward trajectory into abject creative sloth. He liked what he tasted in EdTV (1999) and The Wedding Planner (2001), and those movies quickly became his standard, rather than his change of pace.

And there's just something about that oily, insincere, devil-may-care smirk on the posters that suggests he's pulling one over on us. And he knows it.

Matthew McConaughey is hardly the first actor to become excessively comfortable with his typecasting, and he certainly won't be the last. But I think the reason his current path is so dispiriting is that the character type is so essentially unlikeable. The charming and handsome lothario who won't commit? Really? Is there anything else we can possibly learn about this archetype?

I'm just hoping there's still something more we can learn about Matthew McConaughey. The actor's next announced project on IMDB is called Hammer Down, and it's projected for release in 2011. (I must say, I have a hard time believing he doesn't have at least three more brainless romantic comedies scheduled for release before then.) In Hammer Down, McConaughey plays a former NASCAR driver involved in a heist.

It's different, I'll give him that.

And that's really all I'm looking for.