Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Movie Madness: MEGA PYTHON vs GATOROID and MST3K MITCHELL

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.  Why go on?  The title speaks for itself as another in a long line of certifiably cheesy and intentionally silly ultra low-budget films from the Asylum company, a DVD studio that unashamedly puts out blatant rip-offs of popular movies or just random knock-offs of monster movies that were already knock-offs.  It's the retarded offspring of 50's B movies, and with its actors like pop stars Tiffany and Debbie Gibson (before with their own solo movies, now with one together! such epicness!) gladly degrade what little reputations they have left in the name of super-bad CGI monsters attacking a city and they being the only ones that can stop them.

I almost despise the movie for its self-knowing smug attitude about its humor, but at the same time I know that there are other parts where they do pull off some bits that are intentionally funny.  Case in point, Mickey Dolenz, who is there in the kind of cameo you might see on a Law and Order where as soon as you see the 'guest' you know how it'll go.  But it is a funny scene when Dolenz, who looks heavily medicated or just damn embarrased to be on screen, gets his commupance by the mega-python.  Some moments are, naturally, unintentionally funny, certainly via Tiffany's performance, which is so bad as to ruin scenes that could, in an alternate universe, be played by another, better, actress and actually be dramatically compelling.

Plot?  Who cares?  Two dumb bimbos, one a wildlife ranger and another an obnoxious environmental b***h at first get into a harrange over the latter (Gibson) bringing large pythons into the water which kill people, then the former (Tiffany) creates giant "Gatoroids" by feeding crocs chickens pumped - with unlimited roids.  That's about what you need to know really; the two leads start out in varying degrees of annoyance (Tiffany a little more sympathetic, Gibson not, then later Tiffany much more stupid, Gibson then not).  Other actors like A. Martinez (like a lawyer I guess, though with more fu manchu) and that old lady who played the secretary on The West Wing, stand by on the sidelines with perfunctory lines and common sense flying past their better senses.

Aka, 'Chick, where's my career?'
It's a shame too to come from a director who once, long ago in the eons gone by of the 80's, did good work with music videos and the near-classic horror Pet Sematary.  Guess even Mary Lambert's gotta eat, albeit from the black soul of Asylum's empty filmmaking prowess as producers.  I wish I could get behind the dumb and sometimes intentionally bad work on display, but some of it is just so mind-boggling in the (ill)logic, with how scenes are filmed and how crowds react and limbs go flying, that you just sometimes stand in awe.  Watching with booze and friends help quite a bite, though not with the commentary interspersed if watching on TV with Tiffany and Gibson making their snarky remarks between commercials.

And hey, it's a B-movie (or Z-movie), whatever.  But it's another in a long line that sometimes sits there barely trying.  Part of this comes from the visual fx, so bad that it makes that dancing baby from Ally McBeal look like a damn revelation.  There's not a single moment that a model or any kind of actual craft is used to create a snake or a gator for scenes of attack or violence.  This might be fine if the CGI was decent, but it never is, not from these bastards.   Subsequently, scenes that take place in, say, water have the appearance of a bad hallucination, and the few snakes and gators seen as real on screen are completely docile and not apart of the action.  There can be art in B-movies, but there is a persistant anti-artlessness in these movies.

And hey again, that might be just fine for some looking for the bad-movie times a plenty.  This is bad movie served up on the platter known as SyFy (for SyFyLus, you know), and it's not the first nor the last of a knock-off of a previous knock-off of another one, populated by Z-grade talent or washups or the here-and-there few (i.e. C. Thomas Howell in The Day the Earth Stopped) where you shake your head and go "what happened to you, man, you used to be beautiful!"  Mega Python vs. Gatoroid is mindless, and you can feel like you may lose your mind through some of it - that is until a surprisingly dull climactic battle of the THREE humans in all of Florida who can stop the monsters (ah, forget the National Guard, pussies) when one withdraws from the movie just when it should pick up into awesomely-badness.  It's idea of "funny" is to have Tiffany and Debbie Gibson saying the fucking lines from Tiffany's once hit "I think we're alone now" when in the water and in some possible danger.  Deep, man.


Ah, MST3K (or Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the layman), how you help us intrepid movie-viewers get through some of the crappiest crap to ever crap out of the crapper of B-to-Z moviedom, and Mitchell is one of the classics.  By that I mean that it's a bad movie, oh, it's very bad.  It didn't even completely hit me until writing that sentence.  I tried to find good words for it, but it's hard to.  Maybe Joe Don Baker has a knack for picking up a six-pack of beer with his feet whilst in the midst of sex with a hooker.  Maybe he knows how to harpoon a bad guy in a dirty fight in the climax of the movie.  Maybe he knows how to look grimacing and have sex appeal... wait, I got to stop sniffing glue to get over that last part.

Baker's been in far too many movies to write him off as an actor, some good and some not so good, but in Mitchell he seems to be playing a tasteless character not very well.  A freind watching the movie with me pinned it down: at his best, Detective Mitchell operates like a Bizarro-World Columbo, someone who acts so much like a sloppy nincompoop that no one totally thinks on the villain side that he can kick some ass or have some intelligence.

One might think he's on to something that his superior officers don't know about, or that he has some kind of plan with intermingling so much and making himself a dummy with the criminal elements, but... it's just so stupid as to never make sense.  Cause when it comes to sloppy detective, Mitchell is a big Sloppy-Joe with a side of bulldog face.  I don't know if it's the direction (though the hack at the helm, who would go on to direct The Dirty Dozen 2 in 1986, is no prize either), or that the plot lurches forward sometimes into confusing directions, but Mitchell is a bizarre, sometimes hilariously funny mess without ever trying to be.

And to be somewhat fair if I can possibly, Mitchell as seen in the version presented by Joel and the Robots on MST3K is a shortened version, chopped up to be abbreviated for a run-time to fit into a 90 minute program (the movie itself is 97 minutes long, plus the 'bits' the robots and Joel do which cut out about 20 minutes altogether).  But what remains still feels like a big cinematic lump of moldy cheese, where Baker exudes zero charisma, which is necessary for, say, scenes with Bo Derek look-alike Linda Evans, or needs to be all cool in front of Martin Balsam.  Some of the plot revolves around heroin smugglers and Mitchell's attempts to stop them, which turns ultimately into a somewhat exciting chase and shoot-out on a boat.  Still poorly shot and edited with minimum competency, it at least could have made a decent ending... until a coda ending that is about one of the worst in movie history.

Thankfully, per usual, Joel and the Robots can get us through with the wisecracks that help steer along us on this cinematic odyssey of noirish pain.  And, oddly enough, I actually got into the side-bits in-between the movie, which is rare as often the segments are dopey and too goofy really, which is fine except that it doesn't jive with the rest of the humor which is biting and sarcastic and filled with precious wit.  In this episode it's Joel's swan song, which is unintentional until a plot is seen by the robot Gypsy between two of the mad scientists and has to get Joel out of the Satellite of Love.  It's a panicked goodbye near the end... until a certain "temp" named Mike working at the scientists lab- who actually helps Gypsy plot Joel's escape from harm ironically enough- is sent to watch movies with robots from there-on.

I liked that this wasn't handled with too much schmaltz but good natured cheer, as Joel leaves behind a placard that quotes a George Pal movie!  And it's a good respite from the movie Mitchell, which is often equally dull and insane, stupid and contrived, dated-70's (I and my friends often did the 70's theme music intermingled with Black Dynamite themed tracks), and has a place right in the Bottom 100 on  It's a classic for the bad-movie hounds, and a laughable, turgid disaster for the rest of us.

Netflix-a-thon (#28) DOGTOOTH

(I was originally going to go out of my way to see this at a midnight screening in Manhattan, currently on the buzz of an Oscar nomination as the official entry from Greece, and that it's supposedly bugfuck insane... but then I realized, hey, why spend the $13 to sit in a small room - and I checked as it was playing in one of the tiny, smaller-than-my-living-room sized theaters at the IFC Center - and decided to save it for its availability on Netflix Instant allowed me to kill two birds with one stone.  Speaking of kill...)

Often during the running time of Dogtooth, the latest film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (say that 5X fast), I had a recurring thought: "What is this shit?"  I mean that as a compliment, I guess, as the film is never less than beautifully shot and composed.  Every shot, every iota of screen time, appears to be carefully planned out, possibly storyboarded or shot-listed to Hades, and whether it's a still-static shot or a very intense hand-held camera, Lanthimos certainly doesn't ever not know what he's doing when it comes to cinematographic technique and creating an original narrative with the editing.

But what I mean is... huh?  This is a film that boggles my mind and will continue to.  It's something that is why critics were invented, so that when something like Dogtooth ends one can rush to a review, or ten or twenty or all of them, to make heads or tails about this (Ebert might have the most spot on one, "like a car crash, you can't look away").  In the short of it it tells the story of a family, a dysfunctional family.  No, make that, the most fucked-up family this side of the Mansons, the Leatherface Clan, and that group of 'normal' lookin' folk that you see around the supermarket every now and again.  In a sense this family, whatever they're names are, are quite free.  That is, within the set rules that the Father of the household has set up.  Which are... a lot, apparently.

Song playing: "I had the Time of My Life"
It took some time to figure what was going on here, but once it clicked it worked: Dogtooth is, from an estimation (if not the definite one), a super-black satire on religion, or home-schooling or indoctrination to a super-maximum level.  The Father of the household (Christos Stergioglu) has set up, since the children were born, a completely enclosed system, of how to live and how to receive information, how to eat, how to wear clothes, how to breathe practically.  And most important of all, this includes language: words don't have the same meanings in this household that they would outside, so for example a keyboard is a vagina, a 'pussy' is a bright light, a zombie is a... hell, I dunno, a bug I guess.

The thinking being, and this is not really far out if one is a human programmer, that if you control language, everything else can follow from there.  And most of these words are dictated from a tape recorder that sounds like outtakes from a Jean-Luc Godard film on warbled semantics (come to think of it, this kind of reminds me in some ways, the content not the style, of his film Number Two, which also dealt with a perpetually fucked-up family that indulges in strange behavior and sex).

Oh yes, that's another thing to know before going into this.  There is sex, lots of it, the graphic kind (such as, most often, not-fake-for-the-cameras), and, indeed in this context, incestuous.  Only one other film I can think back to could compare with the daring on display, which is Takashi Miike's gonzo-trip Visitor Q.  But that film at least carried a sense of truly outrageous comedy.  There is some comedy when it comes to the vignettes with these characters, but it's the kind of comedy where I don't laugh so much as I scream-laugh ala Joker inside and try to reach for the closest teddy bear to snuggle with for protection as my eyebrows do the hustle.  It's a 'dry', affected way the mostly young actors speak, which is accurate for these characters who, perhaps the Father included, have been indoctrinated from the womb to follow all of the rules, all of the sayings, the customs, and of course to never leave.  And when those rules are broken, all bets are off.

Their version of 'Marco-Polo'
This is actually a good thing in a sense.  For one, Lanthimos doesn't make what happens with these sexual and just bizarre physical encounters (i.e. licking limbs and ears) into something exploitative.  On the contrary, it's meant to be so matter-of-fact, so businesslike, that it's where the dead-black comic humor comes from, how drained everything is (which, arguably, could also be just as exploitative in a roundabout way, but I won't go there for now).  I could pull out of my critic-knowledge-hat various possible influences- Haneke, Pasolini's Salo (or Teorema, ugh), or Harmony Korine's cine-entrails- and they might all apply with their uncompromising styles and attitudes towards the potential for human conditioning.  But there isn't any other movie quite like it despite the comparisons.  It's got characters we're not meant to "like" or "identify" with exactly, except perhaps on the point of "Oh my dear Pete, what the hell is going to happen to them next?"

A part of me fretted at this.  Dogtooth, with its precisely emotionless performance, random dance sequences (the one you might have seen from the trailer is the funniest "LOL" scene at a party in the house), and how absolutely cruel everyone is to one another, is cold in a way that, at times, made me feel very cold off of these characters and their insulated world.  I kept thinking 'Why does this exist? Why is this even here?  What the fuck is this director telling us?'  And then, ultimately, another part of me though 'hey, why not?'  It doesn't take its situations or violence or abuse lightly, and that is what sticks ultimately.  This doesn't mix exploitation and "art-house" experimentation like Miike did with his classic in Gonzo-family theater.  We're made to look straight on on these characters, trapped and transformed, yet within their own sphere with a kind of freedom that comes with being completely suppressed, if that makes sense.

To put it another way, Dogtooth is one of the most ugly-fascinating glimpses into the human potential for hell.  It doesn't make for a "fun" night of viewing, but it's masterfully shot, executed without a hitch, and hits a nerve.  I wouldn't want to revisit it any time too soon; like Salo it strikes up controversy by the nature of its poker faced attitude towards mayhem.  But for those about to be adventurous in film, this salutes you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#27) Cassavetes' MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ

(Seeing this film as it was presented on Netflix-Instant reminds me to give a fair warning: if you see a 'Starz Play' logo in the corner of the screen, chances are this may not be quite the version you're looking for.  It was fine for a movie like this one, where it wasn't 100% necessary to see all parts of the frame as the pan/scan was decent, but for other movies like one I tried to watch- John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man- it was unworkable as he always works in 2:35.  And hey, even if it a crappy movie, I still want to see the dimensions of it!  So, just so you know as you browse around, Starz-Play isn't always a surefire thing).

I love the characters in John Cassavetes' films  That doesn't mean that I always particularly like them, or would want to have dinner with them (or ala George W. Bush "have a beer with him/her").  I mean in the sense that they're not like a lot of other movie characters: the ones that come out of cookie-cutter scripts or the ones delineated by what's taught in screenwriting classes or demanded by convention-obsessed whores in Hollywood.  The world of Cassavetes is one of real, raw, emotionally vulnerable, high-strung, detached and sometimes downright crazy people.  We can love them or sometimes hate them passionately, but we can't just toss them aside as indifferent creations.  It always feels as if these characters have come out of life or real experiences, and that's something I respond to immediately in films in general, be it from old masters like Bergman and Woody Allen or occasionally in genre films.  You can still have 'types', but if they come from things that feel alive and recognizable that's a special thing.

For Cassavetes, Minnie and Moskowitz is just another day at work, but a good day, sometimes a great one.  The story he tells here is a love story, but one that is not (as we're told, somewhat meta-like) how we see it in the movies.  Minnie especially has this problem as she tells one of her friends how "movies are like a conspiracy, they get you when you're young".  Perhaps in a way this film is a way to break apart some of that conspiracy, if there is one, to show how two unlikely people meet and, one more quickly than the other, fall in love.  Minnie (long-time star and wife of Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands) is a museum curator who has a bad affair going on with a married man (Cassavetes himself), who breaks it off after a sudden tragedy.  Seymour Moskowitz is a parking attendant who parks the cars at restaurants, and looks like a refugee from the Allman Brothers: super long, bushy moustache and a long-haired ponytail, a "freak" as the squares would say.  Somehow he's made to be the "younger" of these two, but in reality the actors are not too far apart in age.

How they meet is almost like an anti-meet-cute, or what becomes an ironic meet-cute perhaps; Minnie is on a lunch date that goes very bad.  It's one of those scenes that you want to get away from if you're seeing it in real time, as a guy with a big loud obnoxious voice and disposition goes on about being low-self-esteemed and fat and bald, and poor Minnie sits with her big sunglasses (as she often does) as a way to back away from those around her.  When they go out to the parking lot- naturally she can't take much more of this honest but uncomfortable mess- he leaves without taking her, leaving Seymor having to call her a cab.

.. until the man suddenly comes back to face her again, to which he and Seymour get into a big scuffle.  Seymour then drives off with Minnie in a rush, his adrenaline charged ("I feel terrific! Not cause I, you know, hit the guy, I didn't want to, but I feel terrific!" he says), and tries to take her somewhere else to eat.  She's not having it, and finally she walks away.  Moskowitz then follows her, drives up on to the sidewalk to go after her (the one really laugh-out-loud moment in the film that is possibly intentional), and forces her in so he can drive her to work.  It's not exactly the classiest way two characters have met, but that's the point: these aren't Bogart or Bacall like they go to see in the movies (and they do like to go see them).

The characters in Minnie and Moskowitz lead messy, something explosive lives where being treated right is all one can really wish for.  Moskowitz certainly doesn't get treated right at his job, nor by patrons at a bar he goes to to try and hit on a girl early in the film (he's actually pulled out and beaten up, why exactly in such a mob-like fashion it's not totally clear).  And Minnie doesn't get treated right at all by Joe (Cassavetes), who should treat her well being that she's his cuckold, but beats her up for drinking with her co-worker, and then laughs as she tries to beat him back (later, when he reveals his next move to her at her work, it doesn't go over well).  This scene I should note is one of those examples of how film acting reaches a higher plane of art. It's not shot with any particular 'style', but then again Cassavetes is like how Kubrick described Chaplin "All content, no style", though Cassavetes does have a sytle, it's not immediately detectable.  What matters is how Cassavetes and Rowlands move on screen, reacting to one another, feeling what they are in the present moment and then what they'll do next, how available they are in such a harrowing scene.

The rest of the movie has that tone as well.  The chemistry between Rowlands and Cassel is odd but always present.  They're a true odd couple, as she's more a middle-class blonde house-wife type and he's basically a wild hippie.  He practically bounces around in his seat and asks, nay demands, that the love he gives out be returned.  Moskowitz is, delicately to put it, a high-strung kind of guy, hopped up on living and not one to always be totally PC.  This might be why a few times I was kind of taken aback by him, or maybe by Cassel's performance.  As Rowlands sits there as Minnie taking in the situations in front of her, trying to be calm, Seymour is like a little kid, sometimes running around (literally) in the night proclaiming his love for a woman he just met a little while ago.

It's refreshing and startling to see such a relationship unfold, and one that could veer at any moment into really crazy territory if, say, Minnie stopped taking in Seymour's advances, the likes of which are that he comes to the door in the morning banging away.  He is what some might call a "character", but never untrue or superficial.  He'll even give his hotdog to a mangy guy at a diner played by Timothy Carey, or he'll act all dopey ala Bugs Bunny to try and get a little girl to eat carrots by an abusive mother on an airplane.  He's a tough guy to peg, sweet-hearted but with a BIG temper, and if I had one minor criticism it is that Cassel plays him as so hard to peg that he's not as consistent in his performance as Rowlands is (though, then again, it might be simply how the character is written, which is very good writing).  When Seymour Moskowitz is at his most 'passionate' and angry and alive, he makes Stanely Kowalski look like a pre-schooler.

Minnie and Moskowitz is the 'alternative' date movie, alternative in that it's not on the usual tract, it's not done in studio, it sometimes very improvised (if only in feeling), its actors are not conventionally handsome or beautiful (but they are), and even its "happy" ending has the air of oddness about it.  When the two mothers, Seymour's and Minnie's, meet for the first time as an introduction prior to a marriage proposal it's a very awkward sort of dinner as we get to see where both of these main characters come from.  It's a wonder in some stories how a character is the way he/she is, and Cassavetes takes that extra step; I suddenly had a better understanding/sympathy with Seymour seeing how his mother acts/reacts to how him as a "nobody, shlepping cars", as she also gives Minnie some back-handed compliment about being an "attractive" woman with a "good body, good face."

I don't know too many other filmmakers who would take that extra step, but Cassavetes does, and it brings the realism to such a height as to be funny in that most cringe-inducing way that it's just... life.  It's a near-masterpiece for a director with several.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#26) Francis Coppola's PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED

(Note: Tonight was another mishap, and one that further shakes some if not all of my confidence in Netflix-Instant streaming: Skipping.  That's right, thanks to some bad Ip address or something out there, my movie was skipping!  I had to do a reboot of my blu-ray player to get it back up and functioning, and then midway through the film it did another of it's 'rebuffering' things.  Sigh.  Aside from that, very good presentation of an excellent studio feature)

It's one of those premises that every writer who deals a little in fantasy, or just any one in general, comes across: what would we change if we could go back and do such and such a thing to change the present course of events.  And surely for Hollywood this is the kind of premise that can be a goldmine for stories, usually of the sort that give the audience a nostalgic trip back in time.  Peggy Sue Got Married follows quickly on the heels of Back to the Future, only with less specific science fiction.  The path that Peggy Sue takes to getting to her 1960 time-warp is akin more to a Wizard of Oz treatment, where she's totally conscious of everything around her, even if everything is a dream.  At first she finds it aptly ridiculous, takes some drink and is cognizant of it being a dream.  And then she wakes up.  Still 1960.  Oh, Darn.

As wholesome as apple pie... well, this was before Body Heat, kinda, technically..
Francis Coppola's sincerely charming 1986 feature is one of his most pleasant and entertaining distractions that reveals some of its deeper complexity the further it goes along.  It's not so simple as to try and change things, but rather to wrap around oneself how people are and what a certain thing like "fate" or whatever could mean.  It's not as narratively ambitious as a Back to the Future, and it doesn't need to be.  The focus here is squarely on Peggy Sue's grappling with her past, and what all of these past versions of her old friends and husband and family were like.  And she's not one to try and completely 'fit in' with her surroundings.  She treats things at first kind of farcical, like she's in on how goofy some of these 60's things looked and felt, the hair, the cars, the music.  But then she actually gets in to it, and this makes this a little bit stranger.

The whole movie has a bit of a strange air to it, despite being a Frank Capra-esque journey into adolescence and love.  Perhaps this is accentuated in a uproarious climax when Peggy Sue tries to find a path back to the present day with her grandfather's, uh, cult or whatever of people in funny hats and in ceremonial garb trying to get her back to the future.  This is the extent of it, anyway, and also Nicolas Cage's performance.  He can be so alarming with his off-beat comedy sometimes (not taking into account his crazier roles as 'off-beat'), and surprisingly charming.  Somehow, indeed, some women out there really find him attractive.  He takes that to a fine mixture in his performance as Peggy Sue's lover-boy-soon-husband Charlie, who is a happenin' cat with a bit of a nerdy voice (oddly inspired by Pokey from Gumby), and yet a wower when it comes to Doo-Wop and singing.

He's an odd-duck of an actor to be playing such a role, but that is one of the things that makes Peggy Sue Got Married so interesting and charming.  He's not too conventional a leading man, but one can see why Peggy Sue would fall for him, desperately in love, but at the same time as she's "back in time" Peggy Sue and why she would want to instead try for the beatnik Michael Fitzsimmons (Kevin J. O'Connor), who looks cooler and faster and has a bike and poetry and pot and stuff.  These aren't too hot or conventional guys, but the kind that a teenage girl in a small town might have considered marrying - or did, as case happens, with some not-so-great results.  On the surface, yeah, it is a conventional kind of story, but the trick is to see how it plays out with the relationship, how Charlie responds to all of this tap-dancing Peggy Sue does as she knows all too well how things will go.  (Btw, the revelation as what Michael wants to do with Peggy Sue when high school ends is the one really outrageous moment of comedy, well earned).

It might be somewhat startling that a film so... lightweight would come from a director so into the nitty gritty and harsh times of people in gangster-dom and Vietnam and so on.  But it's really just another side of the coin from a director who a few years before made The Outsiders and Rumble Fish.  Same ballpark, just a different game.  And when it comes to doing a piece that should, on paper, seem so simple a rom-com, it turns out by its director to have much more heart and soul than I have given it credit for going in.  The dialog, akin to Back to the Future, is knowing about how we were and how we change, or how personalities connect when they're in small groups as are the teens at the high school, the cliques and the gossiping.  It is, unusual for a studio rom-com, genuinely clever writing, often for banter from Kathleen Turner's Peggy Sue or Charlie; just watch them in the scene where they 'neck' in the car at night, and how Peggy Sue actually goes too far for Charlie sexually(!)  It's a minor hoot.

And Turner meets Coppola more than halfway.  While I might've been more charmed and laughed harder with Cage on screen doing his thing (and also touched unexpectedly with a scene where he breaks down crying in a basement argument), it's Turner's movie and she takes her character to some wonderful places.  I liked how Turner made Peggy Sue unwittingly smarter than those around her, with some of her talk and her knowingness of what's come already.  She's a self-conscious character, but Turner doesn't wise-ass it so much as to make her super-cynical.  Like a Capra lead she's in happy awe about what she sees... until she isn't, and knows how twisted life can become, or how sad it is as when Peggy Sue hears her grandmother's voice on the phone and later sees her.  The key to her performance is being a 30-something year old playing 17, and being believable as 17 AND 30, sometimes in the same scene.  The humor comes from a knowing, gentle irony that surprisingly works, and usually based on how to walk, position the hair, wear a sweater, simple but actually complex actor mechanics.

Peggy Sue Got Married is freed from some of the potential paradoxes that come with a time travel movie (no photographs with fading relatives here), and all the better as a whimsical fantasy with touches of existential tragedy.  The stakes are only so high inasmuch that a character is reliving life, seeing all of the old ways and people and mannerisms and music, and getting that oh-so-gracious second chance, with the potential for reprieve.  Coppola's movie is not pioneering anything too far, but it's "fun".  There's nothing wrong with a director of such stature as "The Godfather-Man-King" making a 'fun' movie, so long as it's done with some heart and understanding of the genre, and with little improvements to what we can expect with the characters and their motivations.  As far as throwback late 50's/early 60's go, it's certainly truer and less idiotic than Grease.

Nic Cage prepares for his next role in Wild at Heart by first living the 50's as a yuppie... yeah, weird.

PS: Also feauring some fantastic side actors given some good if small roles: Jim Carrey, Joan Allen, Catherine Hicks, Barry Miller, and ... John Carradine!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Steven Soderbergh's KING OF THE HILL

(Before you ask: No, it has nothing to do with the Mike Judge show of the same name.  It's about as similar to that as I am with Dick Cheney.  Not that this is a bad thing in Soderbergh's corner... check it:)

Dramas, or even tragic-comedies, for kids (or could appeal to kids) that are good are hard to find.  Sometimes you get good one like Stand by Me, or you can venture to the art-house for the 'quintessential' The 400 Blows.  But in the scope of 'coming-of-age' stories that can appeal to adults and kids there is a shortlist of great ones and King of the Hill is one of them.  Why Steven Soderbergh chose this as his follow-up to Kafka, which was already a bizarre follow-up to Sex, Lies & Videotape, you'd have to ask him; from biographies I've read it actually was a very personal story for Soderbergh to tell, despite it being in 1933 depression-era St. Louis and involving a real person that wasn't him, A.E. Hotchner (now a biographer).  Apparently Soderbergh, like the 14 year old Aaron Kurtlander, spent a lot of time alone as a kid, having to go at things his own way, and be smart about stuff in rural Louisiana.

This doesn't mean one has to have a cursory knowledge of Soderbergh's life story to like or love King of the Hill.  Far from it.  This is the director's Charles Dickens movie, and it's something that warms the heart after going through the trenches of struggle.  Young Aaron is just another kid in a class in 1933, surrounded by kids who are mostly, surprisingly, better off than him, both monetarily (young Katherine Heigl plays one) and physically (the fat kid, ah what a lot to steal food from).  He also lives with his mother, father and brother, but in the first half of the story one by one they each drift away, for reasonable reasons: the brother is sent away to relatives since the parents don't have enough money to take care of them both; the mother is sent away to a sanitarium for consumption (or another reason we might not be told of, though consumption makes it more innocent if not less convenient); the father is sent away as he has to get more work as a traveling salesman across the midwest, without taking poor Aaron.

Meanwhile, Aaron has to put up with the father of 'Pal' from Uncle Buck
So Aaron, ala Oliver Twist only not quite as dark in scope of living, is left to his own devices.  The main trick is to be able to live okay enough in his little hotel room, and he's surrounded by various odd or helpful folks like Spalding Gray's Mr. Mungo who is nice but also damn weird and with a hooker always, and Adrien Brody (whom my wife did a whistle-sound the likes men do at attractive women) as Lester, a caddy with a knack for fixing things or starting cars or finding the right suit for a graduation day for Aaron.  The kid is in some bad straits, but not as bad as growing up in a ghetto of the present.  It is tough though, and it's a struggle that makes for the drama and sometimes comedy of the picture; we see how he interacts with people who are very nice and friendly but have tics, like Amber Benson's epileptic nerdy girl, or the snooty bellboy at the hotel who ultimately gets told off in one of those great moments in moves ("You can teach a dog to walk on hind legs, but he's still a dog.")

Soderbergh gets the best out of his performers, especially Jessie Bradford, who sometimes has a look on his face like "are YOU kidding me" but with a demeanor that is calm and trying to figure things out.  I like seeing smart characters even if they're kids; Aaron isn't smart like a 'smart-alek' ala Culkin characters from the 90's.  He has to be resourceful almost by lack of choice.  He'd much rather play marbles or run around and play with his brother, but with a mostly lack of friends his age and without much income (he tries to breed birds based on a tip from a classmate but all turn out to be girl birds worth only 50 cents) he has to scrounge for money and food, and Bradford is able to pick up on the desperation but also the intelligence and project it for the audience.  We feel for him because he's a genuinely good person and has really bad luck thrown upon him, one after another, and we root for him even in the darkest moments.  It is another of those stories out of the depression: only the Joads seem to have it worse off.

And I also loved how Soderbergh actually made the eventual happy ending, or as close as it could be, much more deserved than usual.  While one might think that it at the end doesn't go quite bleak enough, this also isn't a neo-realist film either.  It's a slickly made Hollywood production, albeit on the low-budget scale, and it's more in how Soderbergh presents these images that makes them stick as being so dark and doom-like.  It's also a little contradictory that it should be so sad a story for a lot of it as it's a brightly colored film, given a yellow filter through the exteriors and some of the interior hotel scenes.  It has the air of a nostalgia for something that happened, it was what it was, and a person grew through it.  And yet there are scenes and moments that speak to something else in the narrative.

What I mean is that despite how good things do turn out in the end (relatively and with some minor comedy involving the bellboy and a cop), I took away from the Soderbergh's tale that people can be very mixed when it comes to what they do or what they do for others.  As Aaron's father is about to leave and gets into his car, he tries to give Aaron a self-esteem booster by telling him of how when he was a baby he kept on crying for some food or attention, and then his father poured a bowl of water over his head.  Then, after this, baby Aaron didn't cry anymore when he saw that water near him like that.  And this is meant to inspire him for how intelligent he is!  The miracle in King of the Hill is how well Aaron turns out with all of the disarray and poverty and depression and annoying kids and suicide around him, with even the helpful people turning out to be crooks sometimes, and how he manages to take us along in the dark in order to get to the light.

It's perhaps the 'best' film of the director's career, the one that contradicts Soderbergh's own words that he's been "interested in form, not story", as it's a very carefully crafted, lovingly human tale of adversity and triumph.

Netflix-a-thon (#25) Michael Winterbottom's 9 SONGS

 I think if there was a tagline I could come up or contribute as a (sorta) film crtic for Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs, it would be this: "Come for the fucking, stay for the rock songs."  That's really what one of the most explicit mainstream sex movies ever made is proposing for its audience, which are that a) two actors, Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stiley (and both actual actors, by the way, no "John Cockthrob" names in their resumes), would play characters who fall in love, whatever that is, and have lots of actual on-screen fucking and masturbation and all of those goodies we do with our genitals, and b) lots of indie rock songs performed live by their respective bands.

This is actually a sex-rock movie that I'm surprised one of my short-lived girlfriends in college didn't sit me down and watch with me.  I imagine it wouldn't turn her on for the sex, more-so to see Franz Ferdinand and the Dandy Warhols get their rock on.

It is, in all respectable terms, an experiment, pushing the envelope even further than Catherine Breillat did with her film Romance in terms of what you can show in a film that is not going straight to the back of the video store and covered in sticky white stuff.  If nothing else 9 Songs asks for and for some of us gets respect as being a piece of art that rests in the very rare netherworld of films that are not porn but not quite there for full mainstream consumption (Romance certainly wasn't, and Shortbus came closer, no pun intended).  It's not meant to be porn, according to the director, but just a shapshot of two young people in love and hanging out and going to rock shows and occasionally showing the guy, Matt (O'Brien) doing his Antarctica-explorer thing, which is his job, I guess (we never see what she does for work, but then she might be too young to "do" anything for a living yet).

And yet I can obviously see why some people, critics, audiences, did see this as just art-porn.  There's probably a big cross-section of people who would watch 9 Songs just to get off, and hey, more power to ya if you just pop it in for a few minutes and then eject before the missus or the kids walk into the room . But it's not "supposed" to be meant for that; this I also told myself as the sex scenes were at times a turn on, not because the people are particularly attractive but because the staging of the sex is meant to be intimate and raw, and the cinematography is not meant to reflect the work of porn directors who only stay on the genitals.  It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, which is a very improvisational look at a couple who do the things couples do: cook, cuddle, fuck, on one or two occasions argue, do cocaine, dance, and those rock shows.


The experiment is admirable, but here's the rub: an actual film still needs something of a semblance of a story or character development, at least some of the time.  9 Songs would work best for people just looking for a "tone-poem", so to speak, of young love, but for me it didn't entirely work as a narrative experience.  As a series of moods and vignettes and the possibilities of daring, sure, it's cool.  But I never knew really what these two saw each other at the start, and there's only a couple of times we see them having some meaningful interactions as far as conversations go.

They're cute together, but they don't really change during the movie: they start out horny and lovy-dovy, and end horny and lovy-dovy, only on separate parts of the world as Matt goes back to his Antarctica stuff and Lisa goes back to... being young and kooky I guess.  It is, at its worst, tedious and repetitive, since you can almost count when the next sex scene will appear based on when the next rock song appears.  And don't get me started on the audio in those Antarctica scenes.

But speaking of the rock songs, I think that will be what draws people more to this film, possibly, maybe, than just the sex.  The bands on tap, and some of them I hadn't heard of before (re: the poster), have at least some kind of interesting groove going on, and some of them rock the fucking house.  It may be a little too "hip" to listen to on an endless loop, unless I was one of those people and I don't think I am, but a good many of the songs by Primal Scream and Franz Ferdinand and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are genuinely good songs, and shot in a rough, underground style by Winterbottom to get the feel of fun and excitement and how unique this place is.  This isn't POP music, at least not intentionally, so he doesn't get a lot of close-ups.  It's all from the audience, and it's surely the aspect that I liked as being most "documentary-ish".

Make sure to check this out in full HD on those... other sites....

9 Songs delivers exactly what it promotes, and how that works for you depends on how much repetitive graphic sex by reasonably good looking folks does, and how much of the indie rock track you can stomach.  It's a film that divides its audience, and I feel divided myself looking back on the movie.  I admire its just-go-for-it attitude and fearless respect for its audience at a time when most sex on screen has to be diluted for the ratings boards to get a wider release (indeed if not for the rock bands and somewhat the name and radical reputation of the director it might've taken me longer to be acquainted with the movie outside of jerk-off sites).  But as an actual movie, it's only at best fair and at worst kind of rubbish.

PS: In case you're wondering how much sex or how graphic... well

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#24) Buster Keaton in COLLEGE

Ah, Buster Keaton, where have the likes of you gone?  Keaton had the peculiar and genius knack for being one of the primary comedians of his time, while actually looking on the surface rather ordinary.  Sure he was a little short and had a face like a banker, but when he got to work with facial reactions, physical timing, and of course those stunts, there was no limit to the possibilities.  In the scope of a career in the 1920's that had him doing feats of daring-do that might have made Chaplin sometimes double-take, and with a few big-time masterpieces (The General, Steamboat Bill Jr, Sherlock Jr, most of Our Hospitality), a movie like College is kind of a minor work.  This is at least when it comes to the stunts category; considering that it's a work that focuses on Buster doing his stuns at a college as a would-be sports jock with all kinds of activities (baseball, track, Olympic-style javel throwing, rowing crew), he doesn't do quite as much harrowing work one might expect... until the climax, that is.

Another reason College might rank as kind of a minor work for me is that the premise is just a little fishy for me: a girl whom Buster pines after sees that he's just a big "egg-head" as he gives a speech as valedictorian at the high school graduation about how sports are nuthin' and science and education is really where it's at.  It also doesn't help poor Buster's predicament that his suit becomes smaller and tighter before the speech as he's caught in rain and sitting right next to a heater waiting to speak.  The girl tells Buster that his speech was "ridiculous" and that unless he goes for sports instead of boring stuff like science and literature, she wants nothing to do with him.  So he goes for all the sports he can- baseball, track, gavel-throwing, the whole works from that sports game that we used to play as kids on Nintendo (the one with the mat, sorry I digress again)- all for her affections.

It's a little suspect to me that Buster wouldn't just say 'screw it' and find just one other girl who, you know, might be interested in him just on the basis of being all nerdy and not like a jock.  This is the kind of premise one might expect in a stupid comedy of present day, maybe starring Jay Baruchel or something (please, studio execs maybe reading this, don't get any ideas).  And yet I can almost forgive the dopey premise because it's Buster Bust-a-Move Keaton, and he's hilarious even in a minor key role such as in College.  Some of the gags seem kind of basic but are taken to some wild levels, like when he works as a Soda Jerk and doesn't know a lick of how to throw up a soda glass or eggs (of course).  Other gags veer into outrageous territory as, for example, Buster sees a job offering for waiters, but only "Colored", so he goes in in blackface.  I was a little taken aback at first, until I saw the pay off.

There was never a moment I doubted Keaton's abilities with quick or just sublime timing, and even the title cards indicated humor where I didn't expect it (example: "A call to the dean's office means only one thing: GRIEF").  And when Keaton gets into a groove with some of the sports gags it picks up some comic steam; seeing his struggle to just jump over a stick turns into an epic struggle, and his triumph a gag that had me howling in my couch.  What worked best for the movie is that just as it looks to be over, following a madcap mayhem with the rowing competition- first Buster isn't drugged like the rowing crew tries to do, then turns into the rudder(!) to help win the race- it turns into a daring rescue mission for the girl, trapped by a big lout of a jock.  It's this climactic sequence that it becomes a classic Buster Keaton sequence as he takes all of the previous strands of gags and vignettes and ties it altogether as if he becomes a superhero (or, as I joked to myself watching it, "... He's the One").

"Mr. Anderson, that's the sound of your life running out."  "MY NAME... IS BUSTER!"
After this the movie basically ends, though not without giving a possible influence to... Zardoz(?)  But anyway, College is a fun piece of Keaton stylization, with his sharp direction (he's not credited but really directed most of it himself) and that look on his face that makes it sometimes very hard to laugh.  It's hard to find some of it funny without thinking afterwards "Poor Buster", since we want to root for him despite the hackneyed premise.  His genius was getting us to care about him almost without thinking we could; he and Chaplin were the masters of the underdog silent comic.  And if College is minor work, it's still better work than most slapstick/rom-coms of the present day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Best" of the year: Mike Leigh's ANOTHER YEAR

Sometimes you just got to have characters who are essentially good at heart.  They might have their lives straight, or they might be lonely and depressed, or may have lost a loved one, or are overweight or drunk a lot of the time.  But they're all here for us, as human as the person we would like to be friends with or want in our families for better and worse.  Mike Leigh understands this better than most filmmakers working today, which is why he has these people in his film, Another Year, and it aches with the pain and is cheery with the joy in genuine measure.  I always felt for the people here, and even those in just a couple of scenes felt fully-rounded, lived-in and all-about.  It's also shocking and astonishing that, if this is like other Leigh films, most if not all of the dialog was improvised by Leigh and his crew (to my knowledge of his working methods in the past couple of decades anyway).

His film simply follows, ala Kim Ki Duk's Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, the lives of people over the course of a year and seen through changing seasons (only this not so overtly philosophical).  Married Tom and Gerri (ho-ho) live relatively peacefully in a suburb of London, sometimes seeing their son, and usually seeing their friend Mary, whose husband left her and has been alone for years looking for a man.  They also have another friend who comes by in the summer, who is overweight and smokes and drinks too much but had a good heart and hearty sense of humor.  Later, their son Joe brings home a girlfriend, to the dismay of Mary who while older has a fancy for Joe he does not in return and the old couple picks up on this.  Then in Winter, there is a death, which brings sadness and grief and some unexpected human connection between unlikely characters.

It's things like that, the simple little moments we share as people that end up being sometimes far more dramatic than anything so abstract in most movies.  The conflicts here are purely of the personal sort: loves lost, time that's gone by, deaths of those close to us (but more-so how people deal with grief), the jobs we have, the people we chose to live with or those who chose to leave us.  And Leigh's characters are complicated and and not altogether happy (even the married couple, Tom and Gerri, I suspect have had their ups and downs despite appearing to always be content and "normal" whatever that is), and thank goodness they are.  Even minor characters like Imelda Staunton's Janet, who comes to see Gerri as she's a counselor and Janet has major depression, feels like a complete character, and one who could be happy but just isn't; Staunton as well, who has basically a glorified walk-on role, does so much with just the look on her face and the sad state of her voice, and we remember her long into the film.

The character with the most interest is Mary.  As played by Lesley Manville in a performance that in any just world would garner her awards up the wazoo, Mary is a fragile, bittersweet, kind of gal who loves to get her drink on to have some laughs and tears, sometimes in self-pity and sometimes for others to share her pity with her, mostly by way of Gerri and Tom.  They patiently sit and listen to her and respond in kind, understanding where she's coming from- her previous man left her and now she has just a small flat and no car, and then when she does have a car it's something of a nightmare- until she crosses a line with their son.

It's a character we might know, or maybe we are, and seeing Leigh and Manville tap into something that is flawed but so heartfelt is consistently moving.  She should be a loser, but she's not so easily readable as that despite (or because of) all of her faults.  She especially has good scenes later in the film with Tom's brother, who is going through his own big problems.  Indeed in one of the best and true scenes of any film this year, the two of them have a slightly awkward conversation where what's said isn't quite as important as what's between the lines, unspoken, particularly as Tom's brother is not one to say more than he needs to.

All of the performances are on such truthful playing fields that I could have a hard time finding any problem with any of them.  A scene that should, and does, make for some awkward comic tension when Mary hits on Joe isn't there as a simple comic set-up.  The characters seem to know what the other is thinking or about to say before they say it, and it makes for something that is quite dramatic while also very funny.  And little moments in the slice-of-life style like when the men go for a golf game and some shenanigans happen, none of it rings with the slightest bit of "this is a movie".  And yet it's not shot like some rough-and-gritty piece of reality (maybe the only thing distinguishing it from still Leigh's best film, Naked), but shot with rich and bright colors for Spring/Summer scenes and de-saturated hues with grays and blacks for the Winter scenes.  And to match with the realistic decorum, even someone who should be a "villain" or close to it, Tom's enraged and pushy nephew, comes off kinda sympathetic.

So often with movies we're dealt with conventions and things to expect.  Another Year, for one thing, doesn't know quite where it's going, but this is actually a good thing, maybe a great thing, as it's like with life, and it usually doesn't know where it's going sometimes either.  Or if it seems expected, then it's handled with care and grace, humility and a mix of natural humor and honest tragedy and the circumstances for change.  And yet Leigh is more just concerned with presenting these characters, asking us to take them as they are and if to judge not as harshly as we might in another more cynical treatment.  It can be a dark, cruel world where things don't work out, but at least people have each other; the final scene that shows a dinner around the table, one shot in fact circling around at first at the more contented figures and then going to show the two at the table not so happy and observant, gives so much room for interpretation.

Mary could still be in a rut, but there's always tomorrow or next year, and Tom and Gerri will be there, with their tea and food and company.  Her face might say differently, but Leigh leaves me hoping, and that's a special thing for a filmmaker to do.  It's essential viewing for fans of "little independent" films where the highest drama is the breaking of a heart (yeah, corny, what of it?)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#23) WE LIVE IN PUBLIC

(Oh, the irony; as the narrator talked near the end in kind of full-summation form about how we're now dominated by how we go online and give out our information and always look down to our little black boxes - i.e. blackberries - I looked down at mine without thinking to check a message I got on my Facebook.  My wife dutifully with a big smile reminded me of this, and I smiled as well thinking of the moment I'd come to this blog and write about it.  How Meta!  I'll have a Meta-Internet Burger with a side of Pixels).

In the era before the Dot-Com bubble burst with the stock market and the near-pioneers of the movement to get information put online, Josh Harris was one of the big guns, worth 80 million at one time, and the founder of a website,, which was a big interactive media site that provided a lot of videos and music with artists and entertainers and all sorts of crazy and fun stuff that garnered a good deal of attention.  Harris had a good thing there in the 90's as the creative head, until he went a little batty (i.e. dressing up in a clown costume, which I'll reserve to reveal till the end of this review as to not frighten the children), and left the website with his share of stocks.  He used his leftover millions to then go and make a project called 'Quiet', where he'd make a kind of cross between the Warhol Factory, a utopia, and the Millgram experiments: artists and regular folks and those with some big problems (maybe a hundred, more or less) participated as lab-rats in a societal experiment that made Big Brother look like the Partridge Family.

Click.  come on...
It was a bold, dangerous, unethical, surreal and fascinating experiment.  I'd never heard or seen it until this movie, but it had to have been something wild to see, as the director Ondi Timoner did when she went to shoot there.  Cameras were set up in every room and all over the place, a big connecting network where everyone would be seen, and the people participating could watch what other people were doing: eating, drinking, shitting, fucking, and shooting off guns in a firing range(?)  There were also (ala Millgram) controlled interrogation rooms set up, supervised by an actual CIA interrogation psychologist dude, and the goal was... I guess to reveal how messed up some or most of these people were: their mental problems, addictions, and would be basically tortured in ways that were fascinating precisely because the people agreed to participate.  Why?  Cameras?  The knowledge of being watched and doing what's told?

Beavis and Butt-head in the 'Quiet' project would be mostly this.
Josh Harris' ideal of going forward with the Warhol '15 Minutes' quote to '15 minutes of fame - a DAY' was stopped right on January 1st, 2000, the day after the burst of Y2K, as it was (rightfully so) assumed that it was some fucked up cult gathering.  But the next experiment was much more personal though not any less strange and self-indulgent for Harris: he would turn Quiet on himself, taking 24/hour surveillance on himself and his girlfriend (whom after their bad, inevitable break-up he called his 'pseudo girlfriend, which she vehemently denies and is more credible than he in this).  How real was the relationship, and even their big fights?  Does it matter?  After any seemingly big emotional exchange, such as Josh grabbing at Tanya in a manner close to spousal abuse, they each would go to their computers to communicate with fellow viewers to the site.  Through a glass pixelated.

In another life Josh Harris designed the sets for Clockwork Orange's Korova Milkbar.
It's not mentioned in the film, perhaps intentionally, but on Harris' Wikipedia it states that he was highly influenced by Peter Weir's The Truman Show.  In a sick way perhaps Harris saw himself as but puppeteer and the puppet, and couldn't ultimately have it both ways.  The key to that movie is that Truman doesn't know he's on TV, but the creeping sensation eventually builds.  Yet TV is a much bigger factor in shaping Harris than, I'd argue, the internet.  He was on the forefront of it, and pushed the innovation perhaps a little too early like a premature birth (or ejaculation?), but if it weren't for the years in his childhood without parental guidance and watching hours of Gilligan's Island and other shows ala Cable Guy (another Carrey movie connection, might as well), he might have been a better adjusted kid.  But like a Howard Hughes empowered by his own egomania and sense of his own created status, he went further into himself.  Even when he eventually stopped 'We Live in Public' due to, basically, being broke, he was still in a kind of self-made experiment of exile with an apple farm.

And we may also be able to tell Josh Harris' religion by this picture.
The point of view of the film on the surface is that Harris was "the great innovators you never heard of".  It's a given to say that he was ahead of his time with his idea of showing everything you do every minute of every day for others to see.  But the difference is with Youtube, Facebook and all of the blogs and so on that exploded a few years back is you can cherry-pick your information to share.  Harris' ideal was a world without boundaries to reveal.  This is what makes the 'Quiet' section of the film the most captivating and the most disturbing, how far humanity goes when it has total freedom: free food, free drink, free sex, and tons of psychological torture, as if the Orwell Big Brother ran Club Med in pods.  For him this might have been his most successful period if also the shortest, as he created his own diorama of humanity.  It's an experiment in an ironic placement of free will in a controlled environment, all on camera, all ready to broadcast for people to comment on all over the world.

While Y2K didn't happen, this did that very night of New Years Eve.  Yey naked shenanigans!
So while the director may have a perspective on Harris that is positive to an extent- that is the director likely had to have one at the least to have the access she had, or she does find him genuinely innovative which he could be in a less insane framework- We Live in Public ultimately reveals a personality that is precisely unbalanced for a regular social world.  He's like The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg with a little more pudge and a fewer friends, seeing something of the future but also lacking the mental faculties to see his "cool" at odds with his own self-regard.  He obstensibly was under the radar since 2001, in some part due to credit fraud, but any time he appears on screen, even with a final video he shot for his dying mother whom he refused to see for reasons perhaps a little too complex to show in a documentary, he comes off like a jerk full of his failures even more than his successes.

Josh's next project: competition in TRON with Kevin Flynn.  
It's an immensely interesting and sometimes (in the 'Quiet' scenes) emotionally claustrophobic look at an awful person, and at a society where for at least a few moments a man like Josh Harris gets his 15 minutes, and maybe another 15 minutes somewhere down the line.  Maybe, kinda, sorta.

and now...

AAAHHH!!  (yes, he tried to make this a mascot for the dot-com company he worked for - View Askew's Vulgar had a better grasp than this douche

"Worst" of the year: SEX AND THE CITY 2

I could have thought 'what were they thinking?', rhetorically of course, in making Sex and the City 2, but I already knew what I was getting into.  The best I could hope for was that my wife's warning words on the film, who wasn't a big fan of the show (like me) but could find it enjoyable and on occasion meaningful as social commentary (like me), weren't all true.  Nope.  It's a fucking mess.  The kind of Hollywood debacle that if it weren't called Sex and the City 2 and featuring its huge cadre of female (and gay male?) followers would be such a stink-bomb in the box office bombs of the year.  Because it's not really a movie that appeals to the public.  I don't know how anyone who is not living in big penthouses and nice NY apartments and then going off to big expensive (almost) all-expense-paid trips to rich exotic Arab countries and Big Gay Weddings with Liza Minelli can identify with ANY of this.  I'm reminded of that Warren Beatty bomb from a decade ago, Town and Country, which addressed the relationship concerns of people most of us couldn't give 1/10th of one (bleep) about.

And why is that this time?  As someone who can say he actually admired the show at times, the movie simply continues the pattern of the previous 2008 feature film, where writer/director/fashion-bleeper Michael Patrick King just takes all of the annoying and shallow and really stupid crap from the series and amplifies it while toning down the good qualities of the characters.  I would think that most sane-minded fans of the show would be upset at how much the four women (to round off like the Chipmunks: Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda) have kind of regressed in this movie.  And it's not just that the characters themselves, with one or two exceptions in a couple of scenes, come off as shrill and seemingly ignorant of their foolishness.  It's in the writing that Sex and the City 2 is cursed, as really inane malarky takes over (even more than in the first movie which had its share of gross-out gags and so-bad-they're-bad puns) and the conflicts just suck.  There's no better word to say than 'suck' really.  It sucks the life out of you as you watch and can do little but face-palm yourself about two dozen times.

Lawrence Suck-A-Far-Out-of-My-Twat.
Let's just run down some of these 'conflicts' the characters have, which is really the main thrust of the story in true Sitcom-Style: Charlotte has a nanny (the admittedly very, very, very hot Alice Eve) who doesn't wear a bra and thinks automatically that this means her Very Bald JewishTM husband is having an affair with her; Miranda has a, uh, boss who kinda not really sexually harasses her and so she quits and doesn't really find another job I guess(?); Samantha has her womanly parts (scuse me.. a CUNT) that she can't seem to get under control as she reaches the age of menopause and hot flashes; Carrie (oh this is the best I saved for last) can't stand that her husband, John James Preston aka Mr. Big, doesn't want to go out to big premiere parties on Monday nights and would rather (get this) stay snuggled in on the couch watching movies at night and eating in.  This last one should rankle most married couples, it certainly did me (personally, I can't think of anything more comforting than having a night in snuggled with my betrothed watching movies and TV shows, but then again my betrothed isn't a psycho bitch with bad hair, bad make-up and glittering shoes).

Unlike in, say, the first feature film where a character like Miranda had an actual conflict, albeit conventional, with a cheating husband, this time she (one of the more interesting albeit bitchy characters on the show) has little to do except act as fellow mother-bitchier to Charlotte over drinks.  And there's something about the way King handles the big conflict with Carrie and Big in this movie that almost, kinda, stinks of (unintentional?) misoginy.  This is a movie that ironically is meant primarily for women, but I couldn't think of another movie this year that treated women as single-minded, bullshit-headed cunts who have their heads so far up their birth canals that they don't know shit from shinola (and believe me, that's being kind).  The characters are written as to be so unlikeable and so on tracts that don't have logic to them, especially when the characters get to their laughably-high-sheen Abu-Dabi getaway that it almost hates on women in the guise of dopey-goofy comedy.  They're shallow, crass, the women treat men like shit or sexual objects, and yet the men keep coming back to reward them (i.e. Carrie, kissing former flame Aiden) with gifts and praise and fucking!  ::Jack smashes desk ala Hulk::

According to this movie, this is *wrong*.  ::Face palm::
Oh, and this is NOT funny, barely a little bit, except maybe in the unintentional column again, such as when Carrie asks Big, without a shred of irony it would seem, "Am I a bitch wife who nags you?"  Most of the movie is made up of cutesy clever 'puns' like  "Lawrence of my Labia" as said by Samantha looking at a hot Sheik in the desert.  Or a reference to "it's the law" suddenly bringing out "Yeah, Jude Law", which had me throwing a shoe at the TV.  Or a repeated "pun" (must use quotes) for "Inter-friend-tion", which later turns into "Inter-FUN-tion.  Stop me from having an epileptic aneurysm.

King doesn't seem to see how so much of what he presents is offensive, and not even so much for, for example, the treatment of Muslims and Arabs in the Abu Dabi scenes.  No, I'm reminded of the scene from Seinfeld where Jerry is upset at his doctor for converting to Judaism for the jokes.  The Preist says, "Does this offend you as a Jewish person?" Jerry replies, "No, it offends me as a comedian!" That's the problem here: it's just not funny, or it thinks its clever when it isn't.  Only one scene involving a Liza Minelli cameo ("If there's gay people she magically appears") has the air of amusement about it.

So much of this, in fact, would have made for the kind of vicious satires that Luis Bunuel used to pull off so smashingly.  There is no discreet charm in these bourgeois people.  They're lives are dictacted around having good times with the every so often "oh, my children" or "oh, my spouse" while doing the kind of stupid bullshit that would have had them divorced from their spouses long ago.  It's meant to be meaningful or satirical when the girls sometimes get their commupances like in the climax of the picture (so called) when they're kicked out of their luscious hotel in Abu Dabi and combing the marketplace to find Carrie's passport (woopsy daisy) and then to get some raucous commentary with Samantha showing skin and perturbing the Muslim men.  This is idiotic and inane, but not as much as when the women of Abu Dabi reveal that they're secretly fashion whores obsessed with glittering shoes and Samantha Sommers books on tighs.  Nice to see they're so obsessive and shallow as Western women as opposed to being intellectually engaged or attempting to be smarter than their male dominants.

"Wow, you were in Tanner 88?" "Please, don't remind me, or I'll cry in my Cosmo"
And that leads me to what is probably deep down most offensive about this, and why I mentioned Town and Country: it's very hard to identify with people who are so well off and have no real problems or conflicts to them.  At worst they're living in already expensive NY apartments with tons of stuff, clothes, tons of shoes, spouses who love them (almost in spite of themselves) and dopey children who smatter red paint on their designer pants(?).  It's the anti-recession-era movie, and I have to suspect it was meant as "escapist" fare for people to rush along with they're favorite characters to exotic locales.  I would have some dismay and embarrassment to meet women (or gay men?) who genuinely like or possibly love this movie.  It goes beyond common reasoning in these times.  I might have had problems with characters in the series, but nothing compared to this: it's to the point that when the revolution comes for the proletariat, I'll kill the Sex and the City women FIRST just to show these rich motherfuckers I mean business!

So there.

PS: I forgot to mention that the acting doesn't help here, and Sarah Jessica Parker's seemingly inate ability to see the illogic of her character comes out in her empty performance.  A dog humping a prada bag steals the show as far as acting goes.

PPS: Thanks DVD for not featuring the audio commentary, which would have been the most fascinating of its kind since Sean McNamara's goodies on Bratz, instead for a feature on... 80's fashion and hair?  They're only in their 80's selves for ten fucking seconds!  Thanks, movie.