Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar O'Sullivan


On one of the film podcasts I listen to, one of the podcasters recently came up with a quip that made me laugh:

"One of my least favorite film genres is ... Boston."

I immediately got what he was talking about. I'm from Boston, and I still got it.

Yeah, there have been a lot of movies set in Boston in the last couple years. I guess there are always a lot of movies set in a lot of prominent American cities -- as Boston is probably among the ten biggest cities in the U.S., we should not be surprised to see a fair number of movies set in Boston.

But there's something about Boston movies that seem to assert their Boston-ness, maybe more than Atlanta movies assert their Atlanta-ness, or Chicago movies assert their Chicago-ness.

And that's the point of the following hilarious little video, which I thought would be appropriate to post on Oscar day, when movies like The Town and The Fighter have both been nominated for Oscars ... and are "Bah-stin" to their core.

Here's the link ... enjoy, and enjoy the ceremony tonight.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

When money is no object


On Thursday night, I saw a movie about winning a lot of money, and it cost me no money at all.

However, it did make me question whether being free is actually reason enough to do something.

Those of you who rent from Redbox are probably familiar with their promotions. From time to time, they offer scenarios where you can get a free rental, or two-for-one, that kind of thing. This past week it was a free night's rental if you "liked" Redbox on Facebook. I'd already "liked" Redbox at some point in the past, for a similar promotion, but that didn't mean I was excluded from the promotion. Those who had already "liked" Redbox were also invited to use the promotion code.

The thing is, the promotion had very specific parameters -- it needed to be used on February 24th. Not a day before, not a day afterward.

This worked out well for me. My wife was gone for nearly five hours on Thursday, getting a Brazilian haircut up in the valley. (Which looks absolutely tremendous, by the way.) I could have actually watched two movies during that time, but I knew I'd get in at least one, even with feeding my son and putting him to bed.

So I used the code -- DVDONME -- and picked up Lottery Ticket. It wasn't my first choice. The display on the Redbox kiosk showed that Middle Men, the movie about the origins of internet porn, was available for rental, and I sometimes like to save these movies with unsavory subject matter for when my wife is out. But this particular kiosk wasn't carrying any copies of Middle Men, and many of the other movies available for rental were movies I'd considered watching prior to closing out my 2010 year-end list, but rejected.

Then I saw Lottery Ticket, which I'd wanted to see enough for it to be worthy of a free rental, for sure. It had its moments, but "free" ended up being about the right price for it. Let's just say I was hoping for a movie that intelligently looked at the dilemma faced by a newly minted lottery winner -- namely, that your relationship with everyone around you immediately changes, usually for the worse. I thought Lottery Ticket had the potential to mine comic gold from the way this phenomenon presents itself in the projects -- and if done properly, would avoid any really hurtful racial stereotypes. It did this last part well enough, but ultimately was a bit meandering in its plot, leaving me wanting. Marginal thumbs down for me.

The thing that really interested me about this experience was whether saving a mere $1.10 actually made it worth using the promotion at all.

The reason why Redbox is such a good business model is that the rental price is already basically free. I don't want to speak for every broke-ass person out there (apparently, the speech patterns of Lottery Ticket are still in my head), but for those of us who aren't wondering how we'll pay for our next meal, there isn't much of a difference between paying $1.10 for something and getting it for free. It depends what it is, of course. Paying $1.10 for a first-class postage stamp would drive us crazy. But the value of watching a movie generally seems to exceed that meager price, doesn't it? Even if the movie is bad.

So the question, when considering renting a movie from Redbox, is not whether you can afford it. It's whether you actually have the time to watch it before 9 p.m. the next night, so it doesn't end up costing you $2.20 rather than $1.10. If you do have the time, you'd be just as happy to pay $1.10 as to get it for free.

And to show you just how little Redbox was worried about the hit to their bottom line, you didn't need a unique promotional code, one that would become invalid once it was used once. The promotional code was the same for everyone: DVDONME. I could have publicized it on my blog, or on Facebook, or on Twitter, or in an email to all my contacts. And then hundreds of people who hadn't "liked" Redbox on Facebook could have picked up a free rental on Thursday. The rental fee on Redbox is so small, even thousands of people illicitly participating in a promotion wouldn't have meant much to their bottom line. And if it brought the Redbox experience to people who had previously been unfamiliar with it, all the better.

Because my wife was going to be out, I might have gone to Redbox, even without the promotion. The promotion had the value of sealing the deal for me, but for those who didn't have the available hours in their schedule, it probably didn't make any difference one way or another.

Except in the public perception of Redbox. A company that will give you something for free is a company you view with at least slightly more positivity.

Redbox is a perfect example of what a company has to do in an information age where everyone -- most notably the music business -- is competing with "free." So far, they're succeeding, where a company like Blockbuster isn't.

Having to spend only $1.10 on a movie rental, rather than $5 ... well, it prevents us from having to think twice about spending the money. It gives us that same freedom in discretionary spending enjoyed by ... say, a lottery winner.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What does marriage have to do with school?


I think Hall Pass is a great name for a movie.

I'm just not sure if it's a great name for this particular movie.

What does having a hall pass really have to do with taking a temporary break from your marriage?

You could make a lot of jokes in answer to the question I posed in the subject of this post. "Marriage is like school because it feels like it goes on forever." "Marriage is like school because you have to go through the same motions, day after day, learning things you don't want to learn without any apparent endgame." "Marriage is like school because your wife is as strict as a teacher, and makes you ashamed of your grammar." "Marriage is like school because in marriage, you feel like you're in a constant state of detention."

I get that, but it's not really like school -- not enough to make a "hall pass" be the thing that gives you freedom from the bonds of matrimony.

Let's look at what a "hall pass" really is, as most generically defined. A hall pass is what allows you to walk around school grounds without teacher supervision. Correct? Okay, so I kind of get what Peter and Bobby Farrelly are going for here -- a marital hall pass would let you walk around the world without spousal supervision.

The thing is, a hall pass is given to people who plan to use it responsibly. Trustworthy students are given hall passes because they plan to walk straight to the bathroom, straight to the library, or straight to the principal's office. If the latter, however, it wouldn't be a visit to the principal involving disciplinary action. The people sent to the principal's office for disciplinary reasons are the very people who cannot be trusted with a hall pass.

So while a hall pass is given to someone at school because they plan to use it for good, the hall pass Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis' characters' wives give them is to be used exclusively for the purposes of evil. It would be the equivalent of giving the most delinquent ruffian in school a license to steal lunch money from nerds and give wedgies to wimps.

Now, if this delinquent ruffian were to procure a hall pass illegally, that would be another thing. But that doesn't echo the scenario in Hall Pass either. If Wilson and Sudeikis stole their hall passes, they wouldn't be hall passes at all. That's what's called "cheating."

So what title would work better?

As usual, Spanish speakers know how to translate our titles better than we do.

As you can see above, I included the Spanish language version of the poster for Hall Pass, in which the title is translated as Carta Blanca. I'm not fluent in the language, but I believe that translates to White Card. However, what it really translates to is a French phrase: Carte Blanche. Because that's really what this movie is about, isn't it? Two husbands given carte blanche to do whatever they want (I know that's redundant) for a short period of time.

But here in the U.S., we obviously can't call a gross-out sex comedy Carte Blanche. So let's think of some other titles that we could actually use.

1) Bachelor Week - Nope. Too literal. Has no ring to it.

2) License to Cheat - A little bit better. But using the word "cheat" tends to crucify the characters. We have to come out of this experience liking Wilson and Sudeikis -- who, let's face it, will probably not end up cheating on their wives, because they're our heroes and they genuinely love their better halves.

3) Marriage Vacation - Too confusing, and too literal. Both at the same time.

4) Time Off For Good Behavior - Sort of catchy, but a bit abstract, and a bit inexact.

5) Untitled Farrelly Brothers Project - Too insiderish.

Okay, I couldn't come up with anything better. Hall Pass it is. But that doesn't mean I can't complain about it.

A couple other thoughts on Hall Pass:

1) If I had to translate into words Jason Sudeikis' facial expression in this poster, those words would be "I'm going to see some tit-TAYS!"

2) I want to look forward to this movie, but the Farrelly Brothers have been on a major losing streak. I have hated -- hated -- the last two movies they directed, which were Fever Pitch (2005) and The Heartbreak Kid (2007). Stuck on You (2003) was only slightly better than that. You have to go back ten years to Shallow Hal in 2001 to find a Farrelly movie I actually liked. And though I do like Shallow Hal pretty well, I'm still not 100% sure I think it has the message right -- I mean, if Jack Black is actually seeing these people as beautiful, is he really learning anything? I've decided to set aside my concerns with Shallow Hal and just say that I got enough laughs out of it and liked what they were trying to do, even if they didn't 100% succeed.

In any case, the Farrellys' last unqualified hit was There's Something About Mary in 1998. If we're feeling optimistic based on a 13-year-old movie, we should really examine that optimism more closely.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mourning The Social Network in advance













The Social Network
will not win best picture this weekend.

Why? Because a nice little period piece about overcoming adversity is going to come in and swipe away the Oscar.

When I say "swipe away the Oscar" I might as well be saying "sweep the Oscars." If the 12 Oscar nominations for The King's Speech did not stagger you, the fact that it could win half of them should.

Mind you, this isn't one of those years where I have serious misgivings about the eventual best picture winner. That's happened a bunch in recent years, where I've had minor to major problems with the movie that won. Even in the six years I've known my wife I can think of four examples of movies I thought had too many flaws to win: Million Dollar Baby, Crash, No Country for Old Men and The Hurt Locker. When The King's Speech wins, it will have my unambiguous support as a worthy contender.

It's just nowhere near as worthy as The Social Network.

I don't talk a lot about The Social Network on this blog. I've spent considerably more time heaping praise on the other four of my top five films of the year -- 127 Hours, Tangled, Agora and Winter's Bone -- than on The Social Network. In part that's probably because I thought each of those films, in their own way, required some kind of help from me, while the chorus of love for The Social Network was deafening already. For me to construct an entire piece on why David Fincher's film was so great would be just to repeat what numerous others have already written on the film blogosphere.

Now I'm wondering if we took The Social Network for granted. All of us.

I read an interesting take just now on why The King's Speech will win. You may already be aware of it, but I was not. While the praise for The Social Network was inescapable about two months ago, that's because that was when all the critics groups were releasing their accolades. But critics don't vote on the Oscars -- Academy members do. And so when the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild all awarded their top honors to The King's Speech, the writing for The Social Network was on the wall.

But why? Why do critics have such a different outlook on this year's best picture race than the people who actually make the movies?

If I were being cynical/uncharitable, I'd say it's because the people who make movies are not as smart as we are. On the whole, that is. Any large body, like the Academy, tends to have a very populist undercurrent, just because it is comprised of so many damn people (upwards of 4,000, right?). And if you're an intellectual snob, populism = stupidity.

The thing is, I thought that The Social Network was stupidity-proof. I thought it was so damn good that it was going to walk away with the Oscar, unchallenged. And that's me trying to be unbiased. It's not even my favorite best picture nominee -- that honor goes to 127 Hours. But it was the best picture nominee I thought "we all" (both critics and Academy members) could get behind.

Speaking of 127 Hours, I'm still trying to get over the fact that Colin Firth will take the best actor Oscar over James Franco, even though I conceded that long ago. In fact, Franco is probably not even the #2 contender for the award, which you could argue would be either Jesse Eisenberg or Jeff Bridges (despite his win last year, people seem to love Bridges in True Grit). Franco probably sealed his fate as a non-contender when he agreed to host the ceremony. (We just watched the Dana Carvey SNL last night, which featured Paul Brittain as Franco, doing every job on the set -- as well as discussing all the other jobs he's doing, such as rabbi and cab driver.)

But I really didn't think I would have to concede best picture to The King's Speech as well.

Look, The King's Speech is good. I'm not saying it isn't. I was the first person I knew who saw it, several weeks before Christmas. When I came out, I thought, "That was a very solid movie." It actually held more interest for me as a study of the difficulty of a life of royalty, than as an "overcoming adversity" movie. There's no doubt that the movie has an excellent build toward the climactic speech, which is indeed quite tense. But I was much more fascinated by the way ordinary people rise or fail to rise to the occasion of being royalty -- because even though they have the bloodline they do, these royals are just human beings, at their core, who want and need ordinary human things, things that don't necessarily jibe with a life in the public eye. I liked the cinematography, set design and art direction, I thought Firth's was probably the second- or third-best performance of the year, and I was with it the whole way.

But best picture? Nah.

In The Social Network, you have a movie that defines our times. A director at the height of his powers has fully realized a complicated, layered script from one of the greater writers of our age, and gotten a performance of lacerating unlikeability from Jesse Eisenberg in the lead. The Social Network is so interesting because it takes something that seems so frivolous -- an addictive networking website -- and makes it stand in for a host of ways we define modern discourse and psychology, such that our very humanity is what's being studied. I'll leave it at that, because as I said, others have gone into this in great depth.

And now, it may not win any Oscars.

How could this happen?

For one, I guess The Social Network is, at its heart, cold. We forget that the Oscars often shy away from emotional coldness. One of the reasons Slumdog Millionaire won best picture was that it was emotionally warm. The fact that it happened to be the best nominated film that year was just a bonus, making for a perfect Oscar winner (even if the film has suffered backlash since then).

The thing is, "cold" movies win all the time. No Country for Old Men was as icy as the crypt.

Then there's the possibility that The Social Network came out too early. Its October 1st release date meant that audiences had months to fawn over it, and to get over that fawning. In fact, perhaps The Social Network crammed in a period of fawning followed by a period of backlash, all before Oscar voters even cast their votes. Meanwhile, The King's Speech had two months' less opportunity for that cycle to complete itself.

The thing is, movies released early in the season win all the time. The Hurt Locker came out in July. Maybe even June.

Who knows. Maybe one too many person in the Academy decided that The Social Network was too progressive -- too young for their tastes, even though the Academy has stated a desire to appeal to younger viewers. Along those same lines, maybe one too many person couldn't stomach giving best picture to a movie in which Justin Timberlake appears. (Let's hope that's not the case, because Timberlake always does good work.) Or maybe too many of them had worked with Fincher, who is supposed to be very difficult.

In any case, it looks like an advanced mourning of The Social Network is definitely warranted. It's a shame.

Here's hoping it wins at least one award. I won't say which one, but when/if it does happen, check back here for a post on the subject next week.

Until then ... enjoy the Oscars. At least there's no truly inferior film to Crash the party this year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A sucker for faces made of branches


Ranking Return of the Jedi on Flickchart just now, I came across this amazing poster I'd never seen before.

It's apparently by a guy named Olly Moss (www.ollymoss.com), who has designed posters for Star Trek and Lost, among others. (He's also got an Empire poster with a Boba Fett silhouette, and a Star Wars poster with a C3PO silhouette, but they aren't as arresting as this is.)

It's a unique poster in terms of Jedi subject matter, to be sure. The lone imperial walker almost appears to be lost, in a portrait of Endor that looks like it has more in common with Dagobah. And then there's the fact that the whole thing appears inside a Darth Vader silhouette ... well, it's just enthralling. In fact, you can almost look at it like the imperial walker has its head craned upward in Vader's direction, seeking approval and/or guidance in the task at hand.

But I think it's really the branches making up Vader's eyes that I love.

I didn't realize it at first glance, but this poster got me excited in the way that a similar poster got me excited for a considerably lesser movie: Premonition.

If you've never seen the original Premonition poster, which trusted us enough not to emblazon Sandra Bullock's face across it, here's an example below:


I like this poster so much, I even remember where I was when I saw it for the first time. (Outside the Laguna Beach single-screen theater, which was flooded last year. I sure hope they can repair.)

Nothing more to say for today. Just keep those face-branches coming. I'll never get tired of them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Desert hideaway














This is where my wife, son and I spent our Friday and Saturday nights.

Jealous? You should be. It was awesome.

It's a little getaway called Green Acres Ranch in Joshua Tree. This building and one other are the only two on the site, and there ain't nothing else around but the joshua trees and the scorpions. (Of which we saw none, but we knew they were there.)

We were getting away for my wife's birthday, which fell on Saturday this year. We might have been inclined to stay three nights instead of two, only my company doesn't give us President's Day as a paid holiday (or Martin Luther King Day, or the day after Thanksgiving -- I'm getting used to it).

Because this is a movie blog and not a "how I spent my shortened Presidents' Day weekend" blog, I'll talk about how our weekend relates to movies.

Usually in situations like this, we want to watch a movie each night. There's plenty to do in a place like this -- it has an outdoor fire pit, a hammock, a garden fountain with a fish pond, a horseshoe pit, even an outdoor shower, which I tried to use on the assumption that it would eventually warm up. (It did not.) But my wife and I love movies, so we generally want to wind down the evening with a good flick once all the daytime activities had been exhausted. (And it was too windy/rainy to use the outdoor fire pit anyway.)

We might have watched a movie both nights, but after a five-and-a-half hour drive out from Los Angeles on Friday afternoon/evening -- the deadly combination of rain, a Friday night, and a holiday weekend making it especially long and frustrating -- it was all we could do to make ourselves dinner and get our son situated. A week away from six months old, he was finally spending his first night under a different roof, and let's just say he was not particularly happy about it. We did enjoy some cocktails, but the episode of Twin Peaks we thought we might watch -- our compromise when a movie seemed too daunting -- never did get watched.

Saturday night was different. After a day of yummy meals (all of which we made in the kitchen there), a couple short walks away from the cabin, some reading, and various other birthday-related fun, we got our son settled enough to watch Galaxy Quest for the night of my wife's birthday. Even on the small screen of my portable DVD player, we were reminded just what a joy this movie is. Check out our setup: The house has an attached indoor/outdoor space that's about as big as the living area, and has the benefit of being far enough away from our son that we could make noise without him hearing it. We dragged in two chaise lounges from outside, got ourselves all "rugged up" (my wife's Australian term, that I'd never heard, for bundling up in cold weather), and watched most of the movie out there. After several breaks to go comfort him, we eventually had to come inside and finish up in the bed, with her holding him in her arms. At least he slept well after that -- we all did, on both nights, after the initial fussiness. As good a reason as any other to wish we could stay out there.

But I didn't really just want to write about watching Galaxy Quest. Because this cabin was outfitted with just about everything else -- done in a very rustic style, mind you -- it should be no surprise that it also had its own TV and DVD player on the premises. (We just couldn't use them, because it would have kept our son up.) There were a handful of DVDs available as well. Surely they're just things that have accumulated over time, one way or another, but I thought the list of available movies/watching material was rather odd. Check it out:

The Amityville Horror (the original)
The Hurricane
Planet of the Apes (the original)
Thirteen
Training Day
12 Monkeys
Wendy & Lucy
A Showtime Emmy screener pack
A USA Network Emmy screener pack

Sure glad we brought Galaxy Quest from home, because not a single other of these would have been what you would consider "light birthday viewing." The Amityville Horror might have been especially creepy, given that we were out in the middle of the desert with basically no one else around. (Or so we hoped, I guess you would say.) Perhaps that's why it's there as an option.

Now, back at work, but still on a high from our weekend in the high desert. Here's hoping you're reading this from home, even if I'm not writing it from there. (Though I guess that would be pretty weird if I were writing my blog from your home.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Series I'm glad I've seen none of


1. Big Momma - Big Momma's House (2000), Big Momma's House 2 (2006), Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (2011)

2. Ernest - Ernest Goes to Camp (1987), Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), Ernest Goes to Jail (1990), Ernest Scared Stupid (1991), Ernest Rides Again (1993), Ernest Goes to School (1994), Ernest Goes to Africa (1997), Ernest in the Army (1988)

3. Ghoulies - Ghoulies (1985), Ghoulies 2 (1987), Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1991), Ghoulies IV (1994)

Series I'm surprised I've seen none of:

1. Dirty Harry - Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), The Dead Pool (1988)

2. Nightmare on Elm Street - A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985), A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994), Freddy vs. Jason (2003), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

3. Transporter - The Transporter (2002), Transporter 2 (2005), Transporter 3 (2008)

Series I'm embarrassed to have seen all of:

1. Left Behind - Left Behind: The Movie (2000), Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002), Left Behind: World at War (2005)

2. Harold and Kumar - Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)

3. Saw* - Saw (2004), Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006), Saw IV (2007), Saw V (2008), Saw VI (2009), Saw 3D (2010)*

* - I have yet to see Saw 3D, now called Saw: The Final Chapter. But I thought having seen six of the seven Saws was embarrassing enough to be worth including.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Apocalypse now


Question: When can a film blog feature a post that isn't about "films," per se?

Answer 1: When the blogger's wife has made an awesome webseries that will be debuting in April.

Answer 2: When the blogger appears in the aforementioned webseries.

Answer 3: Whenever the blogger damn wants. It's my blog, and to quote Cartman, "I'll do what I want!"

So yes, my wife has been hard at work on an excellently chilling little webseries called The Apocalypse Diaries. The trailer has just gone up, and I urge you to check it out: www.theapocalypsediaries.com. Tell your friends, co-workers, pets, strangers, and that goofy uncle who still forwards you silly emails, even though that practice went out in 2001.

I'm in it, but since my appearance is almost completely masked by hazmat gear and goggles, I'll still remain anonymous to you, for all intents and purposes. ;-)

Intrigued? You should be. It's good. Check it out.

Back tomorrow with more stuff about movies ... Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, I've got you in my sights.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Audient in only 140 characters? Impossible!


In my little corner of the film blogosphere, I am known -- especially by people who have given up reading me -- as a very prolific writer.

If that sounds like a compliment to myself, I certainly don't intend it to be.

I like to write a lot. A lot of days, and a lot of content per day. It helps that I type fast, and that I have a reliable window of time to write every weekday.

Contrary to what may be popular opinion, I don't like to just blather on and on. I actually have very refined editing skills, the result of limiting myself to 300 words for the reviews I write. It's just that I specifically think of the blog as a place where I don't have to edit myself -- where I can blather on a little bit, as long as it is entertaining and contributes to a serious and/or humorous point.

But I can't blame you if you might like a shorter Audient.

And so it looks like I may be presenting you with a condensed version of The Audient, to accompany the regular version, for your reading pleasure. Or perhaps I should say, your tweeting pleasure.

I have so far been unwilling to concede the usefulness of Twitter, feeling like I get what I need by writing and reading Facebook status updates. (I must admit, part of my antipathy toward Twitter also has to do with its silly name.)

But today I set up a Twitter account for the first time. The reasons for setting it up had nothing to do with my blog, but my wife convinced me that I should use my blog name as my Twitter handle, which would allow me to use it in some capacity related to The Audient.

What capacity will that be? Not sure.

For awhile now, I've wished there were a way for people to leave comments on my Most Recently Seen, Most Recently Revisited and Most Recently Reviewed sections on the right. Those are just "lists" (that's the name of the blogger gadget), and they have no potential for interaction. So maybe I will use Twitter as a way to make a short, snarky and/or supportive comment on the movie I've just seen, and invite others to do the same.

Or perhaps I will tweet "Audient thoughts" that are not significant enough to warrant a whole post. Though my standards for what warrants a post are famously lenient.

Or perhaps I will tell you what club I am going to, what so-and-so said in the locker room, what it's really like on a red carpet, or what crimes and misdemeanors Lindsay Lohan and I have just committed.

We'll see. For now, you can follow me at @theaudient. Is that redundant do use two ats? Am I supposed to use a hash mark (#)? Who knows. I feel like a luddite today.

But at least we agree on this: A shorter Audient could sometimes be better.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Should we spend Valentine's with Kate & Leopold?


My wife and I don't make a big deal about Valentine's Day, because it's only five days before her birthday, and we're usually trying to save our special activity for then.

However, we do like to honor it in minor ways. You know -- wearing red, eating a nice dinner (at home these days, since we have a baby), and watching a romantic-themed movie.

But as usual, we forgot to line up our Netflix queue so as to get just the right movie delivered to our house in time for the big day. And while Netflix streaming has plenty of options, they are not necessarily good ones. In fact, I went through the "romance" section, all 13 pages of it, and found only a handful of instant viewing options I thought were worth the risk. There were a lot of titles I'd never heard of -- probably for good reason -- and a lot more titles that somehow slipped into the romance category because the two main characters have a romantic subplot. Big deal -- almost every movie you see involves a love interest for at least one of the characters.

So I made a trip to the library on Saturday to pick up the three most promising titles. I skipped such marginal choices as Ever After, Leap Year and Love Happens, and came away with Say Anything ..., Love Story and Kate & Leopold.

For some reason, I thought my wife hadn't seen Say Anything ... She has, but she saw it for the first time within the last decade, and declared it a little bit dated. (I haven't seen it in 15 years -- she might be right.) And she'd also seen Love Story recently, which I've never seen.

So ... Kate & Leopold?

It has two thumbs up from Ebert and Roeper on the box. I always thought it seemed potentially cute, but probably not more than that. Potentially cute might be good enough for Valentine's Day ... or it might not. One factor in its favor is that it stars Hugh Jackman. Like my wife, Jackman is Australian. Perhaps there's some inherent interest there.

So I ask you, dear reader ... is Kate & Leopold any good?

At least, good enough for two people who celebrate Valentine's Day in a pretty casual way?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Four wide releases, four snarky comments


As you are surely aware, I reserve Fridays for posts about new releases. After some friendly debates on the subject with other film bloggers, I am now more cautious than I used to be about indicting a movie that hasn't come out yet. But I still love talking about new releases on Fridays, even if what I usually have to say falls more along the lines of a silly joke than some kind of penetrating, in-depth analysis. I think it's important that a blog have a certain up-to-the-minute quality, mixed in with the bread and butter of discussing older films.

Some Fridays, I force it -- I write about a new movie even though I don't have a particularly compelling "take" on it. Then there are the Fridays -- like this Friday -- when every single new release inspires me to write an entire post.

So instead of doing that, I'm going to combine four posts into one, with a short section devoted to each of this week's new movies. And as usual, I hope it will make you laugh. At least, when I'm intending to make you laugh.

The title or the egg?

So, which came first with Gnomeo & Juliet -- the title, or the story?

I'm going with the former.

Your options are these:

1) Someone decided to make a movie about garden gnomes in which some of the garden gnomes fall in love, and then happened upon the title Gnomeo & Juliet.

2) Someone realized that "gnome" rhymes with "rome," and that, by extension, "gnomeo" rhymes with "romeo." Someone get me a script!

I think it's the latter.

Wait, which one is supposed to be the hot one?

Although the advertising focus for Just Go With It has shifted almost entirely to Brooklyn Decker emerging from the ocean, Bo Derek-style, with her jiggling boobs barely contained by her skimpy yellow bikini, I first became aware of the movie from a billboard next to the 405 Freeway.

In this billboard, the same poster you see here, Decker is very small -- she really could just be a random "anybabe," not necessarily part of the plot as a distinct character. So I wasn't struck by the hotness of Decker -- I was struck by the hotness of Jennifer Aniston, now basically an afterthought in the ad campaign.

Anyone with me on this? Have you ever seen Aniston looking quite as beautiful and/or sexy as she looks in this picture?

I'm not interested in getting all pervy here, but there's something about that outfit that just makes Aniston look dynamite. Not only does it accentuate her breasts very nicely -- and make me wonder if the poster was touched up -- but it also provides an excellent showcase for her long, slender legs. Pretty sure those are all Aniston's.

Okay, end pervy portion.

One thing I think is very funny about Just Go With It is how they have basically dropped trying to sell it as a romantic comedy, which is what its Valentine's weekend release date indicates it should be, and Aniston's presence indicates it should be. In fact, they are going almost exclusively for Adam Sandler's fans, as the main line in the campaign has become "Just tell your girlfriend it's a romantic comedy." Did they stop to consider that "your girlfriend" would also be receiving this message?

While it's possible this is the right decision, I am guessing that the driving force for couples going to the movie theater on Valentine's Day weekend is the woman, not the man. So we'll see if this totally backfires. Then again, maybe I'm wrong about that -- maybe going to the movies is a compromise engineered by the guy, when the woman would rather do something more romantic, like dinner.

21st century boy

The Eagle is set in 135 A.D. Unfortunately, its star, Channing Tatum, is set in 2011.

Is it just me, or is Channing Tatum a complete byproduct of the 21st century, unable to play a character in any movie set prior to 1999?

In a brief six-year film career in which he has become pretty prominent, Tatum has played almost exclusively modern male archetypes -- the streetwise brooder/fighter (Fighting), the hip hop dancer (Step Up), the urban athlete (Coach Carter), the extreme sports athlete (Supercross: The Movie), or the modern soldier, either "real" (Dear John/Stop-Loss) or fantastical (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra). There are few actors who owe their essential "look" to Eminem more than Tatum does. In fact, I would not be surprised if he had a role as a white rapper somewhere on the horizon.

So we're supposed to believe him as some kind of Scottish warrior who lived only a hundred years after the death of Christ?

I'm just not seeing it. It's kind of the same reason they don't cast Mark Wahlberg as a viking.

I mean, I might be wrong. Tatum also appeared in Public Enemies, which I did not see, where he must have been either a 1930s gangster or a 1930s lawman. However, most people say not-great things about that movie, so maybe him not pulling it off was one of the not-great things.

But Tatum is definitely a star, so we should expect him to be expanding his roles beyond those of square-jawed 21st century troublemakers and rabble rousers. I can't wait to see him get that street-slanged mouth around some Shakespearean sonnets.

Hardly a credible source

There are a million ways to make fun of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. I will choose two.

1) On a digital billboard for this movie that I see on my way home for work, there are a couple praising quotations that appear one after another on the screen. The one that really makes me laugh is the one that says "... an inspiring story ..." It's not because I'd like to see what's on either side of the ellipses, but because of who this quotation is attributed to: Sheknows.com.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but when you're pimping a movie, aren't you trying to find the least likely organization to support it, as a sign of just how damn good it is, rather than a source that you would imagine to be in the movie's pocket from the start? Wouldn't you rather find an approving quotation from The Wall Street Journal, than from "Sheknows.com"? Or at the very least, a source with some kind of legitimate media credibility, rather than what appears to be a site for fangirls?

I just went to www.sheknows.com, and it appears to be a site devoted to women and their wants/needs. That much I could have guessed from the name. If I needed further confirmation of its essential frivolousness, every graphic on the site is some shade of pink.

If they wanted to drive the Justin Bieber movie even further into the marginalized ghetto of shrieking 12-year-old girls, congratulations, mission accomplished.

Then again, there's also a certain savviness to knowing your audience.

2) The title. What is Never Say Never supposed to mean?

I think it's funny that the main narrative behind Justin Bieber is supposed to be that he "beat the odds" to become famous, that people told him "all his life" that he "couldn't make it," or something like that. "All his life?" What are we really talking here? The kid is 16, and hasn't he been famous since he was about 12? So when he was 8, someone told him he would never make it?

Wow, what a story of persistence. Brings a tear to my eye.

Never Say Never would make a lot more sense as the title for a movie about an older person, who beat legitimate odds to finally make a name for themselves. Like, Susan Boyle: Never Say Never.

So ... which one am I most likely to see, in the theater or otherwise?

I'm gonna go with Gnomeo & Juliet. I know, I know. But I have to say, I kind of like the animation. It seems different enough to be original, without sacrificing quality.

However, I don't think it will be in the theater. I think it will be "otherwise."

Friday, February 11, 2011

The all-too-brief feature directing career of Daisy von Scherler Mayer


Hollywood is a pretty tough place to work, if you can direct two really great comedies out of four movies, and you still have to spend the rest of your career settling for TV work.

Such is the case with Daisy von Scherler Mayer, a director who caught my attention as much for her lengthy name (second in length only to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck?) as for the fact that she's the pride and joy of Wesleyan University, where a close friend attended college.

I've had the pleasure of revisiting Mayer's two really great comedies -- Party Girl (1995) and The Guru (2003) -- in the past year, The Guru as recently as Monday night. I'm glad to say they both hold up. Her other two movies -- Woo and Madeline, both released in 1998 -- are not so great. But nobody's perfect.

Still, you'd think her two successes would have earned her a fifth theatrical feature, especially since her best film, The Guru, was her most recent one. Unfortunately, when it comes to the world of movies, "best" is a decidedly subjective term. I love The Guru, but I'm the only source I really have for that love. I mean, I've showed it/recommended it to other people, and they've confirmed that it's good, but I've never spoken to anyone who has independently offered up their affection for The Guru. I'm still waiting for someone to mention The Guru to me, rather than the reverse. And even though I gave it a glowing review on my website, predating that review was the 2 1/2 star rating the staffers gave it, based on a general critical consensus. Despite my review, that rating still stands.

So since 2003 Mayer has been directing TV episodes -- just a handful here and there, shows such as Emily's Reasons Why Not, The Loop and Aliens in America. Remember those? I thought not. (Actually, Aliens in America was good -- I can't speak to the quality of the others.) Okay, so she's also directed Mad Men and Chuck -- maybe she's fine with this being the new focus of her career. But as a guy who prizes the value of the feature film over the value of the TV episode any day of the week, I tend to doubt it.

At this point I should probably tell you a little bit about why I think Party Girl and The Guru are so great.

Remember when Parker Posey was not yet "Parker Posey"? In other words, was not yet essentially a caricature of herself (even though she still manages to be plenty lovable on occasion)? Party Girl provides a wonderful example of that. In this light indie comedy that also features fellow up-and-comers Liev Schrieber and (to a lesser extent) Guillermo Diaz, Posey plays Mary, the party girl of the title, who doesn't realize that she yearns to do more than attend parties in Manhattan lofts and shop at thrift stores. Under the influence of her aunt Judy, a librarian -- who, I've just learned, is the director's mother, actress Sasha von Scherler (R.I.P.) -- Mary decides to pursue library sciences, while also courting the salesman at the falafel stand where she orders her baba ganoush. There ain't a lot more than that in terms of plot -- but it's what Mayer does with these characters (especially Posey, but several darling secondary characters as well) that makes this such a joyous little slice of deliciousness. It's one of the standouts of the indie comedy movement that emerged in the mid-1990s, which also featured some prominent directors who are still going strong -- Nicole Holofcener with Walking and Talking and Noah Baumbach with Kicking and Screaming, just to name the first two that come to mind. (Quite possibly, because their titles are very similar). For the record, Party Girl falls in between those two, with Baumbach's movie coming out on top.

Then there's The Guru, which is probably Mayer's "biggest" movie in terms of its cast. Although the lead, Jimi Mistry, is essentially unknown (and what a shame it is that he can't get more work, because he's charming as hell), he's flanked by two pretty big names: Marisa Tomei and Heather Graham. (Not to mention a hilarious cast of side characters, including Michael McKean, Dash Mihok, Bobby Cannavale and Christine Baranski.) The film is about an Indian dance instructor (Mistry) who comes to New York to pursue the American dream of becoming a famous actor -- spurred on by a childhood love of American movies, which was awakened the moment he snuck out of the Bollywood movie his parents were watching and into the screening of Grease in the neighboring theater. While living with three other Indian nationals who have more "typical" immigrant jobs -- cab driver, waiter in an Indian restaurant -- the naive Ramu applies for a part in a movie, not realizing it's a porn shoot. On the shoot he meets Sharonna (Graham), who is trying to fool her firefighter fiance (Mihok) that she's actually an innocent school teacher -- though she's only doing porn to help them afford their dream home in nearby Throg's Neck. Meanwhile, Ramu also gets accidentally hired to serve as a guru at a party of Manhattan socialites (Tomei and her family), which accidentally becomes a full career as a sex guru. He needs Sharonna's wisdom on the art of sexual gratification to peddle his new trade.

Whether the previous synopsis sounds kind of off-the-wall or counterintutively delightful, you'll just have to trust me it's the latter. The movie has several dance numbers that infuse the spirit of Bollywood with the spirit of Hollywood, and they are absolutely wonderful. The whole movie is light and sweet. Crucially, the movie loves its three crazy dreamers -- the dance instructor with Hollywood hopes, the porn star who wants to live out her suburban fantasy, and the loopy socialite seeking her purpose in Eastern religion. A mean-spirited satire would have made a laughingstock of them all, but this gentle satire loves them, and the love is contagious. The movie has some really funny moments, as well as some touching ones -- and the dance numbers, oh, the dance numbers! See it.

In between Party Girl and The Guru, Mayer made an urban romantic comedy (Woo) and an adaptation of a beloved children's book (Madeline). Both have their positive bits -- Jada Pinkett Smith is pretty delightful as Woo, a little firecracker who was probably modeled on Posey's Mary, and Madeline is harmless if forgettable fun, featuring a very game Frances McDormand, playing a nun. But neither of these films is worth a second look.

I've now seen Party Girl either twice or three times, and The Guru four times. I own the latter and I wouldn't mind owning the former.

And this has made me a big Daisy von Scherler Mayer fan. It's made me root for Daisy von Scherler Mayer, and made me heave a sigh of disappointment to see that she can't get feature directing work anymore.

But who knows what it is. Maybe Mayer found directing films too stressful. Maybe she preferred the short-term commitment of TV. Maybe she's independently wealthy and doesn't need to work, and maybe she just dabbles in TV because it keeps her professionally sharp and feeds her remaining creative impulses.

I should just be glad for what she's given me so far, and not worry about whether she has the long and illustrious career I think she should/could have. You never know with directors. Sometimes they just disappear, and you may never get a satisfactory explanation of what happened. For example, I am still trying to figure out when we're going to get another movie from the great Alexander Payne, whose last film was Sideways, way back in 2004. Oops, scratch that -- I just checked wikipedia, and his film The Descendants is due out this year. But the point is, when I looked about a year ago, there was nothing on the horizon for this indisputably talented and successful filmmaker, who had given us the excellent quartet of Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt and Sideways. Neither could I find anything when I googled the words "What happened to Alexander Payne?" I'm just thankful that the existence of another movie finally came along to give me my answer.

As for Mayer, or Scherler Mayer, or von Scherler Mayer, maybe she's got a third great comedy in her, maybe she doesn't. Or maybe she now finds the Madison Avenue board rooms of the 1960s to be her thing.

Either way, I wish her well.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

58 palms, zero stars



Two of the worst films I've ever seen are both called Twentynine Palms.

Actually, one is called Twentynine Palms, and the other is called 29 Palms. If I knew that Twentynine Palms was not, in fact, 29 Palms, I would have seen only 29 Palms, and wouldn't have the pleasure of knowing just how terrible Twentynine Palms is.

But as of yesterday, I have seen both. And even though I didn't think it could be possible, I'm almost having trouble deciding which is worse. Which is really saying something, since I've told people that Twentynine Palms may be the worst movie I've ever seen.

Let's back up a step or two.

Last July I was approved to review 29 Palms, a 2002 crime caper that appeared to be in the Tarantino mold, starring Chris O'Donnell, Jeremy Davies and Rachael Leigh Cook, and directed by Leonardo Ricagni. I knew nothing about it. I requested it primarily because the title caught my eye. See, my wife and I love the so-called "high desert" to the north of Palm Springs, which includes such towns as Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, and, you guessed it, Twentynine Palms. In fact, we looked at a potential wedding site in Twentynine Palms, nearly four years ago now.

So this was the movie I thought I was watching when we got our new BluRay player with its streaming Netflix capabilities, last August. In fact, it turned out to be Bruno Dumont's 2004 indie drama Twentynine Palms that we were actually watching. I didn't discover this until the end, when I went to the movie's page on the website I write for. I was shocked to see it had already been reviewed. You mean I sat through THIS ... for NOTHING??

Yesterday I completed the "back 29" of the two Palms movies, and let's just say that all my fondness for that town along the northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park has now evaporated.

What's so awful -- so downright, goddamned awful -- about these two movies? Well, I'll tell you.

Think of the worst Vincent Gallo movie you can possibly imagine, then make it five times more boring, five times more tedious, and five times more needlessly hateful. That sums up Bruno Dumont's Twentynine Palms to a T. Twentynine Palms makes Gallo's famously obnoxious The Brown Bunny look like a cinematic masterpiece with a dense plot and in-depth character development. In case that reference is lost on you, The Brown Bunny consists almost entirely of Gallo's character driving, and driving, and driving, and driving across country, then reaching Los Angeles and getting a blow job from Chloe Sevigny. Really, that's it. But that's a lot more than happens in Twentynine Palms. In Twentynine Palms, two insufferable characters -- an American man (David Wissak) and a French woman (Katia Golubeva) -- drive out to the high desert, go for Chinese food, go for ice cream, have sex in Joshua Tree National Park, have sex in a pool, argue about frivolous things, and then get raped by hillbillies. Actually, only he gets raped. In the aftermath of the rape, he cuts off all his hair and stabs his girlfriend to death with a knife. After which he wanders around naked and dies of exposure in the desert. The end.

Oops, sorry, did I spoil it for you?

29 Palms is the kind of diarrhea Quentin Tarantino might have shat out after a long night of drinking and getting dosed with Rohypnol. A half-dozen moronic assholes -- Chris O'Donnell, Jon Polito, Michael Rapaport, Jeremy Davies, Rachael Leigh Cook, Michael Lerner and Russell Means -- chase around a bag of money in the desert. Of course, the only reason they're chasing it in the first place is because the most moronic of these assholes -- Rapaport's character, a corrupt cop -- sends this unsecured bag of money via bus, and without anyone to accompany it, from Baker, California to Twentynine Palms. (The town name is always written out with numbers in the movie: 29 Palms.) What follows is a series of Mexican standoffs, unlikely coincidental meetings between the various parties involved, and a chain of possession of the bag that does not even make sense. That's right -- the movie is about a bag of money constantly changing hands, and it can't even keep track of which person has the money at which point of the movie. The whole sloppy mess -- I mean, it's one of the sloppiest movies I've ever seen -- is pasted together with some of the cheapest technique you've ever seen, in which random freeze-frames are supposed to make these moronic assholes seem iconic. It's probably unfair to pick on movies that go straight to DVD, but I've seen a number of straight-to-DVD movies, and this is probably the worst one I've seen. With the cast they had on hand, the teasing becomes much more legitimate. Bill Pullman and Keith David also sullied their hands with this shit.

Oh, and the coup de grace? None of the characters have names. That's one of the most tired attempts at feigned cool that you'll ever find.

In the nearly six months between when I saw Twentynine Palms and when I saw 29 Palms, I have held 29 Palms up on a pedestal of imagined comparative excellence. Now, I'm not even sure I know which one is worse.

On the one hand, Twentynine Palms is at least trying to be some profound, minimalist comment on the nature of male-female relationships, if I am generously crediting Dumont with the best motivations I can possibly ascribe to him. Plus, at least it spells the town's name right. However, I don't think Dumont's motivations are anything but pernicious. I am not going to accuse him of hating Americans, at least not directly -- I'll leave that up to you. However, I will say that the townspeople of Twentynine Palms, when they are presented at all, are presented as xenophobic rednecks who either yell at our main characters or track them down in the desert to anally rape them. I don't think it's a coincidence that there's a military base in the real Twentynine Palms. But whatever message Dumont may or may not be trying to convey is lost in the fact that his movie is unforgivably, relentlessly tedious. It seems to exist only for these brief flashes of shocking sexuality and shocking violence, and otherwise has no purpose whatsoever. It is mean and misanthropic and just ... plain ... terrible.

Then there's 29 Palms. It is as hateful and malevolent as Twentynine Palms, in its own way -- all the characters are grubby lowlifes with basically no motivation but to get their hands on a satchel of money intended for a hitman. Everyone loves a good lowlife now and then, but the characters in Tino Lucente's script are so devoid of any traits, other than their tunnel vision money lust, that there is simply nothing to latch onto here. Plus, director Leonardo Ricagni has a wearying reliance on flashbacks -- flashbacks to parts of the plot that are not even consequential. The only positive thing to say about it is that its lack of a pernicious agenda just makes it an incredibly poorly conceived and executed genre movie. Whereas Twentynine Palms wants to actively inject ill will into our world, 29 Palms just wallows in the ghettos of cliched screenwriting and cinematic hero worship.

I tend to think that when rating movies according to a star scale, the low end is one, and the high end is either four or five -- I prefer five because a) it's what my website uses, and b) it allows for more subtlety in the differences in quality between movies. However, this scale also means that the worst movie you've ever seen is going to get one star.

That seems too generous for either of these movies. These are the types of movie that make me want to whip out The Mother of All Insults -- the zero-star rating. Lord know they deserve it.

But then another problem arises: Which zero is lower?

This is a tough one. I'm going to have to think about it.

I may not know which Palms is worse until I duel them both in Flickchart, and am bound by the results. It's been a couple months since I've discussed the project I'm working on -- re-adding all my movies into a new Flickchart account, to get the most accurate possible rankings using their new ranking system. But I'm making excellent progress as I go through alphabetically. I'm currently in the Ps -- in fact, Police, Adjective was the last film I added. That means the Ts are not far behind.

And when these two movies come up, watch out. It's going to be an epic grudge match.

Fifty-eight palms, and not a single one of them worth shit.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What a long, strange trip it's been


It takes a year for the earth to revolve around the sun, or so I'm told.

Apparently, it also takes a year for Moon to revolve around my group of friends.

I bought Duncan Jones' masterpiece (my favorite film of 2009) in January of 2010 -- the very day it became available for purchase, if memory serves. (I remember debating whether I should take the plunge for BluRay, even though I wouldn't own a BluRay player for another seven months. Wanting to watch it right away, I opted for DVD.)

But I only had it in my possession for about three weeks, which did involve that one viewing, before I sent it on a journey that just ended this past Sunday.

Last Super Bowl Sunday, I loaned it out to my friend (let's call him "Steve"), so eager was I to spread the gospel of Moon. He took it away with a smile of anticipation on his face, ready to be converted.

Only, it was a pretty slow conversion. When I asked him about it a couple months later, he hadn't watched it yet. When I checked again a couple months after that, he had watched half of it. Not a good sign. He'd watched half of it and it hadn't grabbed him. He wasn't giving up -- he just got distracted. Believe me, I understand how parenthood distracts. Still, I know he'd watched dozens of other movies to completion during the same time.

By September, he finished it, handing it over to me at a poker game, with muted positive things to say about it.

But at this same poker game was Daddy Geek Boy. He also hadn't seen it. Undaunted by the time Moon had already been away from me, I held it in my hands for about 15 seconds before handing it over to DGB.

Well, unlike Steve, Daddy Geek Boy has two kids. (Steve's second didn't arrive until December.) You can pretty much guess where this is going.

As it was coming up on a year since I loaned out Moon, I considered nudging DGB a few weeks back, in part because I thought it would be funny to write the very post I'm writing now. See, the annual Super Bowl party is at his house, and as I discussed briefly yesterday, he and his wife stuff us with amazing edibles during the game. I thought, if he could watch Moon in time for me to get it back at the next Super Bowl party, that in itself would make a funny post, about how Moon was gone from me for exactly a year. (Hey, when you write nearly every day, your standards for what makes a good post are necessarily a bit lower.)

But I ultimately decided I didn't want to "fudge it" -- I didn't want to meddle with real life for the purposes of my blog.

Fortunately, the email came in from Daddy about a week ago saying he'd gotten the chance to watch it, and that it was "awesome." I wanted to discuss it more with him at the party, but he usually had an oven mitt in one hand and a spatula in the other.

So Moon returns home after a year's journey, in which it was received with moderate appreciation at one location and more unreserved praise at the next.

Now that it leaves Daddy and comes home to Papa, it'll get watched for the fourth time since it was purchased. Soon.

Soon, Moon, soon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Every movie that hasn't come out yet is awesome


I mean, isn't that kind of the secret behind trailers in general, and trailers seen during the Super Bowl in particular?

As film fans, we are eternal optimists. The mere fact that a movie hasn't come out yet means that it is filled with unlimited potential. And if they've done a half-competent trailer -- which they usually have -- it's easy to believe those images could coalesce into The Best Movie You've Ever Seen.

Which is why even movies that we know will be bad -- such as Transformers: Dark of the Moon -- look like they might just be awesome, when offered up to us during the Super Bowl.

I usually don't watch as much of the Super Bowl as I expect to watch -- I tend to focus on the eating and the drinking and the socializing with friends. My friend Daddy Geek Boy and his wife kill themselves each year making all sorts of gourmet appetizers for us, rarely if ever repeating the same ones from year to year, and with the baby, I don't get to see these friends as regularly as I used to. So I miss the game and the commercials just about equally, though I try to pay attention during the commercials if I have the presence of mind. (And anything I miss, I can catch later, either online or on my DVR recording of the game.)

So I caught only a few snippets of this year's ads -- it's a pretty distracting environment full of kids, so even if I'm paying attention, I can only hear half of the dialogue in the ads.

But with the movie ads, all you're really going for is the images in the ads, right?

And because of the principle described above -- "every movie that hasn't come out yet is awesome" -- it's easy to dream ourselves away into the possibilities of those images.

Like when some alien probe is firing on the buildings of an American city in Transformers.

Like when Daniel Craig jumps onto an alien craft with four sets of wings in Cowboys & Aliens.

Like when there's some kind of mushroom cloud explosion in the distance in Thor.

Do I have high hopes for any of these movies? Cowboys & Aliens, maybe -- the others, nah. But on Super Bowl Sunday, anything is possible.

On Super Bowl Sunday, making a fifth Fast & the Furious movie (Fast Five) or a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (On Stranger Tides) may not be a bad idea. On Super Bowl Sunday, I Am Number Four could be #1. On Super Bowl Sunday, even Brooklyn Decker's jiggling boobs (Just Go With It) -- shown in slow motion, then rewound, then shown again -- might be Oscar material.

I sometimes think that we movie fans would be happiest if some of these movies never came out at all. With many of them, it doesn't get any better than the trailers. If they could somehow enter a perfect state of being forever just out of our grasp, their release date always a month or two hence on the horizon, then they could always remain The Best Movies We've Never Seen.

Once they come out, all too often, they are just another unit in the assembly line of Hollywood garbage.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A disappointing awareness of people


I'm getting older. There's no two ways about it.

However, the teenagers they get to star in bad horror/thrillers tend to stay about the same age. (In other words, not actually teenagers, but people who think they can play teenagers.)

Which means there are times when all the people in a certain movie are people you're aware of for stupid reasons.

Take The Roommate, the blatant Single White Female rip-off (some would say "modern update") coming out today. I am familiar with all the names on the movie poster, but not for reasons I think are good ones.

I know who "Leighton Meester" is because she's on Gossip Girl, a show I don't watch, but a show that regularly creeps into the zeitgeist. (I also think she has a "snobby rich girl" name if ever I've heard one.)

I know who "Minka Kelly" is because she's dating Derek Jeter. (My wife also tells me she was on Friday Night Lights.)

And I know who "Cam Gigandet" is (though not how to pronounce his last name) because he was in Twilight. (Jee-gone-day?)

Of course, this is not the first time there's been a movie made with lots of young people I don't really know. What caught my attention about The Roommate was that the names of the three principles all appear on the poster. Usually, you only put actors' names on the poster if they're instantly recognizable to your target audience. In fact, if the opposite is true -- if your audience doesn't recognize the names -- listing them is more likely to hurt the movie than help it. "Let's not see that -- it stars a bunch of nobodies." Whereas if you don't list the names, people won't realize it stars a bunch of nobodies until after they've bought their ticket.

So apparently, "Leighton Meester," "Minka Kelly" and "Cam Gigandet" are all well-enough known people to get star billing on the poster.

I am sure they are all fine people. In fact, I am pretty sure that Meester and Kelly are twin sisters. At the very least, the casting director has done a good job casting this movie, if his/her sole intention were to cast virtual doppelgangers in the central roles. Only just a few minutes ago did I actually confirm which one was the "good one" (Kelly) and which one was the "bad one" (Meester). (Whereas in Single White Female, Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh were in the same neighborhood, appearance-wise, but not twins. This made Leigh's transformation into Fonda's doppelganger a bit more startling and effective.)

But there's something about these three people that's just so ... teenager-oriented. I can't think of a better way to say it, nor a way that doesn't make me sound like an old fart.

And let me be clear: It's not their age alone that makes me say that. Just because an actor is young, it doesn't mean he/she appeals only to teens. For example, one of my favorite women to watch these days is 22-year-old Emma Stone. Not just because she's attractive -- all women in Hollywood are attractive. It's because she's got spunk, she's got personality, she's got excellent comic timing. And one of my favorite men to watch these days is 24-year-old Shia LaBeouf. Not just because he's (I'll admit it) pretty cute -- all men in Hollywood are pretty cute. (Okay, not all, but I'm trying to go for a parallel structure here.) It's because he's got spunk, he's got personality, he's got excellent coming timing.

Meester (24) and Kelly (30) are super bland. They're attractive in generic, spokesmodel-type ways that make them perfectly suited to star in a teen soap opera. They could both be cast as "the bitch" in a movie starring Emma Stone. They were born to play the "frenemy."

Meanwhile, Gigandet (28) is in that category of handsome heartthrob who can best be described as "the cutest rat you've ever seen." He's got those squinty eyes that are just waiting to become dewy with angst. And even though he played a "bad" vampire in Twilight, couldn't this guy have been cast as either Edward or Jacob? He looks like a mash-up of the two of them.

So yeah, I guess I'm a little disappointed that these three people have such traction with today's young audiences.

But I should also realize my own hypocrisy. I say I don't like Leighton Meester because she was in Gossip Girl, yet I think fellow gossiper Blake Lively is luminous and charming. I say I don't like Cam Gigandet because he was in Twilight, yet the terrific Anna Kendrick was also in Twilight. And I say I don't like Minka Kelly because she dated Derek Jeter, but Jeter also dated Jordana Brewster and Jessica Biel, both of whom I think are pretty cool. And each of these actors has also appeared in a movie I find very credible: Meester in Date Night, Gigandet in Easy A and Kelly in (500) Days of Summer.

So maybe what I really object to is the likely suckitude of The Roommate. Such an insipid retread, entirely devoid of inspiration, reflects negatively on all those involved.

What should we expect from a director named Christian E. Christiansen? Now I'm disappointed that I'm aware of him.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Outwit, outplay, OUTLAST


Sometimes I envy my friends whose wives go to bed at 9:30 every night.

Mine does not. In fact, she is a genuine night owl. Even when she does talk about going to bed early, 9:30 is the absolute earliest it would be. And even then, she'll usually potter around until at least 10.

This is no dig at her -- every person is entitled to their particular ways of doing things. And in fact, I kind of love that my wife burns the midnight oil. It's the best indicator we have that we're not over the hill, the fact that we we like to still stay up late and have fun together.

And it would not be a problem, except that she has also lost her interest in watching movies.

Not totally, of course -- she watched plenty of movies with me down the stretch, as I was wrapping up my 2010 rankings. But in general, she would rather consume a number of short units of entertainment, half-hour or hour-long shows on our DVR, than commit to a whole movie.

My problem is, I try to watch at least five or six movies a week, and a lot of times, they're movies she wouldn't be interested in watching anyway. Merely mentioning the quantity of movies I have on the docket, to see if she'd be interested in watching them, can put her off her game. It can provide her an unpleasant reminder of my obsessive focus on consuming cinema -- an obsessive focus she endorses in the best of times, but greets with some wariness when things aren't running on all cylinders. (Like, when the baby has deprived her of precious sleep six nights in a row.)

Which means if I want to keep up with my own pace, I need to outlast her. I need to stay up past when she plans to stay up, and start my movie then.

As I said, this can be hard, even when she says she's turning in early.

Take this past Tuesday night. Tuesday night is usually project night, when we don't turn on the TV at all, in deference to accomplishing some task that seems impossible while our son is awake. But this past Tuesday, we were both tired, so we decided to cancel project night.

She started to make noises about going to bed as early as 9 o'clock. I knew this meant I'd probably be able to watch a movie after she turned in. In fact, I had Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy all lined up. I'd borrowed it from my boss, and he'd already asked a couple times if I'd had the chance to watch it. I knew that chance would be even harder once her sister comes to town for a week, starting tomorrow. So when I promised I'd watch it within the next week, my ability to keep my word seemed contingent on taking advantage of any opening I could find. And since it was Hitchock, I wanted to give it the respect of watching it on a big screen, at night, rather than on my portable DVD player, a snippet here and there throughout the day.

But we had lasagna for dinner, and Italian food invariably activates my craving for red wine. I'd had two glasses by the time my wife started truly winding down. So I was really stacking the deck against myself to watch a 116-minute movie starting after 10 p.m.

I might have been able to start earlier, because she actually did start clearing out of the living room by about 9:40. But outlasting the other person who has claims on the TV is a somewhat delicate process. If you jam your movie into the DVD player the moment they get up from the couch, it becomes clear that you've just been waiting them out, that they have essentially been serving as an obstruction to your desires, that you would have been happier if they went to bed hours ago. This can lead to sadness.

So it really was 10 p.m. before I ventured to put in Frenzy. I was heavy with sleep and my vision was somewhat blurry.

I actually did pretty well, considering the factors -- like my son waking up around 10:30, and again around 11:30. After about 13 minutes of the movie, I made myself a bowl of ice cream, hoping the sugar rush would help. (I didn't actually "make" it -- I scooped it out of the container.) Then later I had a can of Fresca, relying on the carbonation once I realized it was sugar free. I also ate a whole sleeve of Saltines, not because I was hungry, but because I thought the repeated activity of eating would prevent me from dozing off. Unfortunately, repeatedly eating Saltines means you go through a sleeve in about eight minutes.

I succumbed with about 15 minutes to go in the movie, just after midnight. I finished at about 2:30. And just to make sure I had gotten everything there was to get from Frenzy, I fast-forwarded through it a second time, to make sure I remembered what had happened in every scene, hadn't missed any subtle details when I was hovering in purgatory between consciousness and unconsciousness. A pretty useful thing to do, I decided. (And to comment briefly on Frenzy -- it's Hitchcock's second-to-last film, made in 1972, which in itself is a strange thing to see. He's past his prime, sure, but there's enough classic Hitchcock in there to be worth watching.)

The "outlast" strategy is flawed at best. In trying to maintain my regular quantity of movie watching, I'm probably sacrificing quality. So I guess it's best to watch things that you don't think you're going to like, when you're getting a late start with a belly full of wine. And I guess some amount of viewing quality is going to be sacrificed whenever you watch movies at a fast clip. Every cinephile has to make peace with the details of lesser movies fading into oblivion. Hey, that's why they're the lesser ones.

I've been trying to keep up my same movie-watching pace in the baby era, and so far, I've mostly succeeded. But it's hard when you're literally taking every single moment your partner isn't home, or isn't awake, to squeeze one in, even if you are also trying to keep a baby entertained at the same time. It's almost like watching movies has become a shameful habit, one I must keep hidden, as though it were pornography. When really, it's just wanting to watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie at a speed that my boss considers timely. It's especially difficult because the more I write this blog, and the more I engage with others on the film blogosphere, the more movies I realize I want to see, or want to see again.

Maybe the real key is that in addition to project night, we also need movie night. Maybe it's Wednesday, maybe it's Thursday. One night each week that definitely involves a movie. The danger is, of course, that this could cut into other impromptu viewings. I don't want the existence of a movie night to mean that movies don't get watched on other nights.

Well, one thing's for sure: Outlasting is for the birds.

Since we're talking about Hitchcock.