Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dead Show Walking?

Disclaimer; This post is inspired by this article.

AMC's "The Walking Dead" just ended the first half of its mid-season. This post will contain spoilers for the show, as long as a few surprises. Tread at your own risk.

This show started out very promisingly. It took a familiar concept and expanded it beyond the realm of cinema to allow for an expansive world, homage, and character development. Something, unfortunately, got lost in the shuffle.

"The Walking Dead" starts off with Rick, a southern cop. We learn throughout the first episode or two that Rick is a humble, just, empathetic character. He fights for what's right no matter what. The first few episodes of TWD are very character-driven as we meet Rick and, through his eyes, find out about the world he is in. We see the familiar ruined cities and shuffling bodies expected in any zombie story. Rick's story quickly becomes a story of adapting his old-world sensibilities to a warped, post-apocalyptic world. We see him try to adapt the traits that made him a successful sheriff to a world where the law no longer exists. As a guide to this quest, Rick is given two huge plot threads; 1) Find his wife and son, and 2) try to help Morgan and Duane Jones, the father-son duo who introduced him to the world he woke up to, to safety.

So what goes wrong? With Rick, his plotlines are wrapped up (in the case of his family) or placed on the back burner (The Joneses and their fate) until it's convenient. The problem with this is that it immediately sucks all the drive of Rick's character, and therefore the drama, out of the show. As soon as Rick meets the rest of the supporting cast, the show begins to unravel. This is not to say that the show should be about only Rick, or that multiple characters cannot be handled well in a weekly serialized drama. Say what you will about where it ultimately ended up, but "Lost" knew how to make you care about a character. A few examples;

-We care when Jin begins to come around to Sun's independence because we saw the difficult origins of their life together and the obstacles they overcame to make their marriage work.
-We cared when Locke was murdered because we saw the struggles he had with his faith and with his fellow survivors. We saw his goal to get everyone back to the island and how it was stopped short by his murder, despite the passion he had for the goal.
- We cared when Desmond finally reunited with Penny via phonecall because we saw how hard he fought for her father's approval and how he was betrayed while trying to win it.
-We even cared when Ben, the show's villain, had his daughter executed in front of him by this point we understood how difficult it was for him to form a loving relationship after seeing his childhood and the abuse from his father.

With TWD none of this character depth exists.

It tries in very few instances. As I said before, Rick gets some development in the first few episodes. He is set up and established right away. Unfortunately, despite the ever-threatening zombie hoard, his character is never challenged. Any challenge is immediately overcome and tossed aside. The character set up simply coasts through the show, never having any kind of real challenge to his methods or mindset. In fact, his methods are proven to be correct most times, leading to a rather boring main character. Wife is pregnant? Fine. Wife slept with your best friend? Okay. Young girl goes missing? No problem. Rick stays in is comfort zone and never budges. We simply get to see him take it on the cheek and never get his feathers ruffled. The sad truth is that Rick's character arc plateaus as soon as he reunites with his wife and son. Even witnessing his son being shot mere feet in front of him has a minimal effect on him as a character. He panics at first, and begs to give all the blood he has, but his choices are reaffirmed when his son pulls through and everything turns out fine.

The supporting cast has a few gems, but most suffer the same one-note personalities as Rick.
Carol, Sophia's mother, is not a character at all. She's a plot device. She exists only as a vessel for the audience to feel sympathetic toward. Name one personality trait she has. I'll wait.

Carol is written only to appeal to our base emotions. Her husband beats her. That's bad. her daughter goes missing. Oh, that must be awful for a mother to go through! But not once do we see her do anything about it. She cries. That's how we know she's sad. She'll urge other people to go the footwork all day, but she just sits and camp and allows the audience to feel bad for her. Sophia, her daughter, suffers from almost all the same problems. She's around just so we don't feel bad when her father, who smacks her around, gets eaten alive my zombies. We're glad to see him go.

The real problem comes with Sophia's fate. In the mid-season finale, Sophia shows up as a zombie, and without hesitation, Rick steps up and shoots her down in front of her mother. Where is the character development? Just days before, Rick saw the same exact thing happen to his own son. Where's that pause? Where do we see Rick doubt his actions and have a self-reflective moment? When does he look at Carol and convey that look that says "I'm sorry I have to do this"? Hell, with all that happened, why can he do it so easily? Wouldn't it make more sense in the context of the show for Shane to kill Sophia? The character continuity just isn't there.

There are other examples in Andrea and T-Dog, but those are explained in the link above. This is just the most interesting one to me.

There are two supporting characters, however, who are actively getting some development. Shane, whose jealously of Rick is eating him up inside and destroying his psyche (making an interesting allegory/comparison between his losing his mind and the zombies, who are mindless) and Daryl, who found himself on the verge of death and hallucinated his racist brother, who seems so foreign to him after all he has gone through with the group of survivors. Interestingly, both of these characterizations are purely products on the show, suggesting that the problem may actually be with the source material.

Who is not on that list? The Joneses. They haven't shown up since Rick left them, but I'm sure we'll be expected to care about them when then finally pop up down the road.

So what IS the show doing right? Well, fans have blasted season two for not doing a lot so far. Zombie attacks have been few and far between, and the characters have been trying to solve problems amongst themselves and ignoring the huge, undead elephant in the room just outside the gates of the farm. I argue that this is exactly what the show needs.

Rick and company stumbled across Hershel's farm this season. Hershel runs it the way he wants to, and they have to abide by his rules if they want to stay. The problem is that Hershel sees the zombies as sick people and does not approve of Rick and company's urge to kill them on sight. By this point in pop culture we've seen zombies, well... done to death. Aim for the head, don't get bit, we don't have a cure. It's tired. This new angle and the shift in the norm are exactly what the show needs to bring to the table. Use the old, but don't be afraid to innovate.

The sequence with the Well Zombie is exactly what TWD is doing right. It's a unique, small-scale, day-to-day problem that serves as a synecdoche for the world of the show, itself.

Homages to "Dawn of the Dead" (The whole mall sequence) and "28 Days Later" (waking up in an abandoned, zombie-infested world) are fun, but the show is going to survive by presenting audiences with subversions and genre-expanding scenarios of zombie tropes they already expect.

Overall, TWD suffers from a lot of the same problems "Heroes" suffered from a few years ago. They both featured large casts and fantastic but familiar ideas. Both had great starts, but neither was sure where to go beyond the initial pitch to the network.

TWD still has time to turn things around before they get to the point of discovering a magical circus in the woods. I hope. They need to steer clear of "Heroes"'s character inconsistency and handling of the idiot ball or I'll be convinced that something has devoured the writers' brains.

Monday, September 5, 2011

New posts coming.

I promise*

* Promises not verified by the FDA.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Year of Film: Mega-Movie Review

I'm awesome at keeping schedules. Let's get this road on the show.

Ponyo- viewed February 16, 2011.

I've only seen one other Miyazaki film all the way through, and that was "Howl's Moving Castle." I've seen parts of his other movies, and the animation never ceases to astonish. The plot for "Howl," however, was almost nonexistent and meandered for two hours before finally trudging to some end. It was gorgeous, but empty. "Ponyo" was much better. It followed the basic plot of "The Little Mermaid," but stood on its own as a unique movie. However, some things, be they cultural differences or just translation problems, kept the movie from being great for me. We're never given reasons why some things happen. They just happen and are glossed over as either Ponyo's magic or not being a big deal at all. There are a few things that never get any payoff, despite how important they're made out to be (Lisa's talk with Gran Mamare). Dire importance is also given to the fact that Sosuke and Ponyo MUST love each other, but we never find out why. However, from a visual standpoint, this movie is beautiful.

The Social Network- viewed March 1, 2011

"the Social Network," plot-wise, is pretty run of the mill. It has a few surprises, but it seems to be just a movie about something that could be forgotten in a few short years. Most (good) movies say something important that reaches beyond its subject matter, but if, in twenty years, someone remembers "That Facebook movie" as being one of the best films of 2010 I'll be incredibly surprised.
However, what makes this film good is its script. Not in the broad sense. In the "words people say" sense. It completely saves the movie from being about a douchebag nobody cares about and engages the audience with its funny, quick, and smart dialogue. In fact, from Zuckerberg's personal blog to the idea of Facebook, I'd say that this movie is more about writing than it is about the website. At what point does writing lose its power? If the information is there, what does it matter if only a few people read it (like the blog) or if everyone does (like Facebook)? The written word in "The Social Network" goes from an intimate, dangerous, useful thing to a homogenized, filtered, up-to-the-minute ticker that involves no thought and people can choose to skip over if they want to. Much like the rest of this review.

Take Me Home Tonight- viewed March 8, 2011

"Take Me Home Tonight" is the best film of 1987.
Let me explain.
The movie takes place in the late 80s, but also borrows heavily from the John Hughes era of using teenage caricatures to bring light to real human problems.
This movie got slammed by the critics, but if you go in knowing exactly what you're going to get--a goofy-yet-poignant look at post-high school life--you won't be disappointed at all. Director Michael Dowse and the crew borrow Hughes's playbook and hit all the right notes. The movie brings us back to that time where the mundane problems that everyone was going through were also the important ones. They seemed mundane because our whole social sphere had the same problems. Looking back, it's easy to see how those times influenced us, even if they didn't seem so big and scary at the time. The movie has great music, likable actors, and a great bathroom cocaine-and-molestation scene. If you go in expecting a throwback to the 80s and everything to be wrapped up nicely, this movie hits all the right notes.

Slither- viewed March 9, 2011

The well that horror movies were once fetched from has become dried up. That's a fact. When's the last time you saw a movie as great as "The Shining" or "The Exorcist" or "Evil Dead"? Now they all look like the self-parody that the "Child's Play" series has fallen into. Everything is tongue-in-cheek, so it makes it incredibly hard to take things seriously. People don't care about your story if you don't care about it. (Maybe that's why I liked "Take Me Home Tonight" so much, but that review's over).
So that's why I get so excited when I see a horror movie that is worth a damn. "Slither" toes the line between straight-up horror movie and horror movie parody expertly. It does the best job of this since "Evil Dead 2". The scary parts are still scary, the funny parts are hilarious, and both include a creepy deer. While "Scream" was a deconstruction of the slasher film, "Slither" takes all the commonalities in films like "The Thing" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and skewers them in the most loving way possible. They even named the mayor "MacReady." Plus, it's hard not to like Nathan Fillion. I like my humor, and I like my serious stories. Many movies try to mix them unsuccessfully (one of my major problems with the "Pirates of the Carribbean" series. I can't take Davy Jones seriously when he's standing in a bucket of water in a very important scene). "Slither" pulls it off perfectly.

Rango- seen March 19, 2011

Nickelodeon has put out some real shit in the last few years. Like the Disney Channel, (remember when I covered them in that awesome article?) they've gone down the path of recycling their "pretty teenagers who sing" shtick ad nauseum, just in time to graduate your child from that show about teenage idiots to that show about twenty-something idiots on MTV. They're owned by the same company. Check it out.
Anyhoo, "Rango" undoes at least five years of that bullshit. It's a phenomenal movie. The CG is amazing, the music is catchy and fun, the actors are wonderfully cast, and the story, though borrowed, keeps you interested and entertained. In fact, since Pixar only has "Cars 2" coming out this year, I'm perfectly ok with "Rango" taking home the Oscar for best animated feature.
In my review of "True Grit" I complained that westerns weren't really my thing, though I've always loved the setting. "Rango" showed me why. It introduces us to a cast of characters so fun and vibrant and makes their world look so real that at times I forgot that I was watching a cartoon lizard. In fact, I'd argue that "Rango" is a better western than "True Grit." Like many great affectionate parodies (Those of Mel Brooks come to mind), "Rango" absolutely loves what its skewering. In this way it is a lot like "slither." It doesn't feel like a bid for money like all the terrible shows on Nickelodeon (or MTV). It feels like it has real heart. Like they gave a shit. And sometimes that's all it takes.

Paul- viewed March 19, 2011

And then there's "Paul." "Paul" is a strange case where the writers/actors clearly loved what they were parodying, but it just didn't work. While "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" are both brilliant for what they do to their genres, "Paul" just seemed... phoned-in. Frost and Pegg tried to open up to a "wider audence" which I assume means "add more gay jokes and Seth Rogen." The reason the movie doesn't work is just because everything in it has been done before or seems to be tacked-on. The CIA plotline seems extraneous, which is a strange thing to say, seeing as it is a large part of the movie. All of the jokes fall flat simply because we've seen them before. Compare "Hot Fuzz"'s "This shit just got real" to Paul the alien wanting some Reese's Pieces. Both are from other popular movies. The first is ironic because it's so surreal and ridiculous and we know that Nick Frost's character has been waiting his whole life to say it. When Paul wants Reese's it's just derivative. There's no punchline. It's like a Dane Cook joke delivery.
This movie is really just "Fanboys" with a broader spectrum of jokes. The nerdy guys take a road trip in an RV across the U.S. The pop-culture gags are ok, but we've seen them all a million times before. Early in the movie we learn that our two main characters are UFO aficionados, but instead of taking the pseudoscience/alien conspiracy approach (which would have also been better for Kristen Wiig's character, the best character in the movie), we're given a barrage of pop culture gags. It's nice, but feels tired.
I know this duo has some great movies left in it. "Paul" just seems to be the junior slump.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Year of Film part 6- Cyrus

Viewed February... 7? Let's go with that.

"Cyrus," starring John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill marketed itself as an oedipal story about a middle-aged man who begins dating a woman with a 20-something year old son (Johan Hill). The son is fiercely protective of the relationship with his mother (The always-stunning Marisa Tomei) and will do anything to stop John (John C. Reilly) from pursuing the relationship.

The movie seems to think that it is telling a unique story about this relationship between the three people, wherein Cyrus begins to get passive-aggressive toward John and tries to sabotage the relationship. Unfortunately, despite the actors' best efforts, this movie doesn't do anything that new. In fact, there was a period of time when I was growing up in the early 90s when movies about new dads and preteen sons who didn't like them were commonplace and filled with people like Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Chevy Chase. In fact, except for the cursing and the sexual references, this movie is just a more adult version of 1995's "Man of the House."

Even the slogans indicate that this is almost the same exact movie. (And just for kicks, the scores on IMDB are Cyrus- 6.6, MotH- 4.4. This is the only time you'll hear me say that JTT got robbed.)

That doesn't really mean it's a bad movie. It's derivative, but it definitely had its moments. However, those moments are also derivative.

The plot of the movie is also both too fast and too slow. John meets Molly and follows her home the next day. It seemed by the third day he was already moving in. That's not hyperbole.
The crux of the movie is the battle for Molly between Cyrus and John, but that battle is such a slow burn that it hardly relevant to the plot, which is more focused on John's need for a relationship and Molly's striving for a balance between her new love and her old life. That is a movie in and of itself and it really doesn't need Cyrus at all to thrive.

The competition for Molly conveniently comes to a head at a wedding and Molly and John go through the requisite break-up-and-mopey-montage phase. Cyrus comes around and reunites the two. The movie is such a by-the-books story that it really puzzles me as to why people thought it was such a shocking film.

Overall, "Cyrus" doesn't prove itself to be anything new and its pacing needed some retooling in the editing department before shooting started. It toed the line between being a drama and a comedy and ended up being weak in both departments.

Seriously, Sundance? Why did this movie get such rave reviews when 15 years ago it was contrived kiddy fare crap? I guess it takes time to grow into contrived adult fare crap.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Year of Film part 5- Waking Sleeping Beauty

Date viewed: 1/29/11

Imagine you're out in the ocean with nothing around for miles. While out there, sharks swirling beneath you, you come across a life boat. In that life boat are several pages, and those ages tell a great story, but it seems that the wind has picked up the first half and scattered them across the sea, and the writer died of starvation before finishing the book.
These pages are pretty good, but you no context for the story or the characters.

This is "Waking Sleeping Beauty." The documentary tells the story of the Disney animation renaissance between 1989 and 1994 (or, "The Little Mermaid" through the "Lion King" for those of you who know the canon).

It tells about the people in power at that time, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and their struggle to bring the Disney animation studio back from the edge of bankruptcy.

The movie does a fair job at this, giving us a brief history of Disney up to that point, but it's ultimately not enough. We never get the real scope of the situation. We have hearsay about the old films and how great they were and that the Disney standard is in the toilet. We have Roy Disney running around managing a company, Eisner beginning his "milk the brand for all it's worth" phase, and Katzenberg being wrong on every call he makes (cut "Part of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid"? "Pocahontas" will be bigger than "The Lion King"? Really?).

To really care about this movie we'd need a full history of Disney and the Nine Old Men who helped found the studio. We need to care about what is going on.

Personally, I think "Waking Sleeping Beauty" would have been more successful as a documentary about the history of animated film with the late 80s/early 90s as the fulcrum of the story. There is too much history before the movie begins and after the movie ends for us to care about the five-year vacuum that the movie showcases. We need to know what happened after the renaissance and what happened to our "characters."

Speaking of which, great documentaries have great characters. Christopher Guest knows this and has made a film career based on exploiting it. Even "King of Kong," which I talked about a few weeks ago, does a fantastic job setting up its characters. We know their history, we know why they do what they do, and we know what they're fighting for.

In "Waking Sleeping Beauty" we get none of this context. We are plopped down into the plot and told to care. In order to get more of the story, Lindsay Ellis's Nostalgia Chick video is almost required viewing.

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" does a decent job of telling us why this period is important in Disney animation history, but it lacks a care factor. There is nobody to cheer for because the documentary never takes the time to really introduce us to any of the people involved. The really interesting stuff happened as a result of the events in this film, so I feel like they should have at least been touched upon. Overall, "Waking Sleeping Beauty" will please those who have a deep knowledge of Disney's history, but leave those who don't wanting more.

You'd think she would at least get her profession right.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Year of Film part 4- True Grit

Viewed 1/28/11

"True Grit" is one of those movies that people say you have to watch before the Oscars. I don't watch the Oscars, but I did anyway.

And what can I say? A film by the Coen brothers is difficult to talk about for a few reasons including their monolithic film integrity, and the fact that I just don't feel like I'm smart enough to do justice to their movies.

That said, I thought "True Grit" was just an okay movie. There are several reasons for this. The Coen's films usually have a little surprise up their sleeves. They employ an "anyone can die" rule and tend to be the blackest of comedies.

"True Grit" sidestepped a lot of the reguar Coen schticks and made for a much more straightforward, coherent, and accessible film. This is a very easy movie to watch. The characters are exactly who they appear to be, the plot goes more or less how you expect it to go, and all-in-all, it doesn't do much for me as a Coen brothers film.

That's not to say it's not a good movie. It is, but it's only good. Maybe that's the problem. Done by anyone else, this would be just another film. Everything the Coens touch turns to gold, so it's no surprise that this movie has gotten the attention it has even if it's a little unwarranted.

A lot of that attention is for Hailee Steinfeld (not to be confused with a certain comedian with a Superman fetish). She's fantastic in the movie, and unlike, say, Dakota Fanning, I don't want to stomp on her throat until her voice becomes but a gurgle. The girl can act. The cast is also bolstered by the fabulous Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. The acting in this movie is spot-on and they couldn't have done a better job making the characters seem like real people, if a little goofy.

So why did this movie fail to dazzle me? Maybe itls because I don't really care about westerns. To me, westerns are like vampire movies. I really like them as concepts, but I've yet to see one that has really thrilled me. While this is a fine stand-in for an original Coen movie, it just isn't as interesting or fun as "Fargo,"or "The Big Lebowski," or "No Country for Old Men." But it beats the hell out of "The Ladykillers."

I haven't seen the original, but I watched a matchup or similar scenes in both versions. I'm going to go on record as saying that Jeff Bridges is a hell of a better actor than John Wayne. Like anyone whose persona overshadows their work, all you see is The Duke in an eyepatch. Bridges became Rooster Cogburn.

This is a pretty spineless review. Do I say I didn't like it and risk looking dumb talking about filmmaking geniuses, or do I say "it was a good movie, so go see it"?

Fuck it, I hated "Avatar," I can say what I want. Wait for video for this one.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Year of Film- Part 3: The Green Hornet

Viewed 1/18/11

What would you call the worst superhero movie ever made? "Daredevil"? "Electra"? The Ang Lee "HULK"? What would you say if a comedian took all the worst aspects of those movies and made them into a separate movie?

"Hey, awesome! This will be hilarious!"

Well, what if they wanted to play it straight? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "The Green Hornet."
"Green Hornet" is a movie full of "what-if"s. What if Seth Rogen wrote his character to be an affable schlub instead of an unlikeable one? What if the Sidekick-as-real-hero was actually addressed further? What if any character besides the two leads had gotten any characterization at all?
But let's back up.

"The Green Hornet" is based on an old radio show. It was optioned to be a movie years ago and was supposed to be written and directed by Kevin Smith. He did a draft, but then decided to pass on it because he realized he can't write an action movie. I wish Seth Rogen had realized this. I only saw the movie three hours ago, but, save the penultimate car chase, I can't remember any of the action scenes. I remember Rogen's Britt Reid and Jay Chou's Kato bickering, but not much else. That's a shame, because "The Green Hornet" had a lot of great ideas that they never bothered with. I mentioned the superior sidekick thing above, but we also have Christophe Waltz as the "villain" who sees the crime world around him going crazy and has to adopt a supervillain persona to keep up, we have posing as a bad guy idea, which is pretty brilliant. Unfortunately it is only brought up once before the Green Hornet and Kato go out and bust drug dealers in order to send a message to their boss. This is exactly the same thing that anyone posing as a hero would do. What makes them so different?

A much better version of this movie would be something of an affectionate parody along the lines of "Kick Ass." Seth Rogen could be his same old schlub self who wants to make a difference. He's a comic nerd and decides to be a superhero. Being genre savvy doesn't help him much though, as he has no battle training, can't use mechanics well, and is generally a dim bulb. He enlists Kato, who thinks it's a stupid idea, but humors him. Britt realizes that he's not special like Spider-Man and not a genius like Batman, so he goes for a guerrilla approach and decides to infiltrate the criminal underground. A lot of the movie could be him trying to toe the line between keeping Chudnofsky happy by doing what he has to, but also gathering info on a big plan the bad guy has going in order to stop it. Meanwhile, Britt uses his Green Hornet persona to stop the same crimes he's helping set up. The city gets into it, Green Hornet mania sets in and the villains start adopting crazy personas to fight the Green Hornet. They all have terrible names and the movie becomes a parody of superhero films with Chudnofsky as the straight guy, wondering what the hell is going on with the criminals in this city.

Instead we have a film that really doesn't know what it wants to be and generally leaves the audience stupefied. We have Kato, who, for some reason sees in bullet-time with Robocop vision, Cameron Diaz, whose character is completely useless in her I-am-totally-not-Pepper-Potts role, and the unnecessary subplots like the corrupt DA and Britt's father's murder. On top of that, Christophe Waltz is used in 30-second increments throughout the movie, so we never get a notion of what he's doing or why he's really evil. The movie just tries to take on too much at once and never lets us know if it wants to be taken seriously or not.

I think we're supposed to like these characters when they're being funny and worry for them when they're in danger, but the film never lets us see enough of either lifestyle to care. "Iron Man" was successful because Tony Stark is more interesting then Iron Man and the story was about Tony. "The Green Hornet" is like the bizarro-Tony Stark. He's a rich boy charisma vacuum and we just don't care what happens to him.

In fact, this movie is "Tommy Boy" if it was a superhero movie and Chris Farley's character was played by his talentless brother, Kevin Farley.

There really is a Kevin Farley, by the way.

Oscar-winning actors wasted: 1
Useful female characters: 0
Nut shots: 5
Characters who get their alter-ego's name using the same method Robin Williams's character used in "Mrs. Doubtfire": 1

P.S. When the back half of the Black Beauty is chopped off in the elevator, why do they explain that the car can still drive because it has front-wheel drive, but not how it can move without a gas tank?

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Year of Film- Part 2: For Your Consideration

Date watched: 1/6/11

Christopher Guest has made a career in the Mockumentary film "genre" started way back in 1984's "This is Spinal Tap." It seems that this movie, the only one he didn't write, incidentally, gave him the bug of using fictional characters as cartoon characters in the real world. Each of his films is very self-aware and he encourages his cast, usually a combination of Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Katherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, and himself, to improvise dialogue, making the movie sound more real and conversational--something that helps when you're trying to live in the documentary realm.

Guest's movies that he wrote and directed, "Waiting for Guffman," which brought us the hilarious and flamboyant Corky St. Clair, "Best in Show," where Parker Posey got to turn her crazy knob up to 11, "A Mighty Wind," which starts to wane a bit, but is still very funny, and "For Your Consideration."

"Consideration" is the story of Marilyn Hack (Katherine O'Hara), an aging actress who is trying to cling to her youth. The first thing you'll notice about this movie if you've seen Guest's other films is that it is no longer filmed documentary-style in the traditional sense. Instead, it goes through an "Entertainment Tonight" style TV show starring Fred Willard and Jane Lynch as Chuck and Cindy, the hosts.

Willard and Lynch steal the show as aging hosts trying to stay current with their mohawks and ridiculous outfits. They follow the stars of the made-up film, "Home for Purim," around teasing them with Oscar buzz rumors and jabs about their failing careers. Meanwhile, these hangers-on having nothing to show for their lives except living for the next celebrity gossip or absurd clothing trend. The movie goes the extra mile to demonstrate that while the people with the real talent are often self-absorbed and a little cuckoo, the ones who have made their careers out of tracking them down and humiliating them are pathetic and loathsome.

Marilyn Hack is like Mel Brooks meets Norma Desmond. Her last name says it all, as her performances are laughable and empty, yet she gets caught up in the rumor that an Oscar might be in her future. She wishes to be young again, as many movie stars do, and blows her cash on botox, rendering her emotionless and permanently ruining any chances of an Oscar in her future. This story could be sad without Guest's hilarious writing. Hack eventually ends up an acting teacher whose only sense of fulfillment comes from trying to one-up her pupils.

The other characters, such as Harry Shearer's Victor Allen Miller, Jennifer Coolidge's Whitney Taylor Brown, and Parker Posey's Callie Webb each have their own stories, some shallow, some not, that eviscerate the cult of Hollywood further.

Also, what is it with Parker Posey? She can be really weird looking in some movies, and super cute in this one. Ah, the power of make up.

Ultimately, "For Your Consideration" "documents" a film that has gone bad due to its ineffective writers, idiotic director, selfish actors, and vapid producer. it all culminates in a piece that none of them is really proud of, but all of them were complicit in making.

While the film isn't as funny or entertaining as "Best in Show" or "Waiting for Guffman," it does have a certain charm to it. It stands as a parody of both the Hollywood experience and those pathetic enough to do nothing but pore over "Us Weekly" to see that the stars are "just like them."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unsurprisingly, I Blame George Lucas

While hitting my regular sites on the internet (mostly pornography), I noticed people reporting on the Mark Twain classic, "Huckleberry Finn." Apparently they deem the words "nigger" and "injun" offensive enough to warrant editing the whole book. It's a growing trend, apparently. I guess that's why that porno I was watching had the woman saying "Fuck me with your African-American cock!" Gotta keep it P.C.

This is one of the problems with America. White Americans are trying to cover up the fact that racism ever happened by whitewashing (blackwashing? African-American-washing? Wait, I'm straying into racist grounds again) the past. But that doesn't really work when the effects are still being felt today.

Here's another problem with America; dumb people take the word "nigger" in the book at face value and immediately decide that it must be cleaned up. They aren't looking at the historical context of the book, they're not looking at what characters use it, they aren't even taking into account that Mark Twain was perhaps the best satirist of all time, so when he uses the word "nigger" he's got a motive behind it. All they know is that the word is offensive, and so their poor little kids should be sheltered from it. It sucks all the meaning out of the book. It's like removing the context of the Holocaust from "Diary of a Young Girl." You no longer know why the text is relevant, why it's important, and what made it as famous as it is today. Should we also make Lolita a consenting adult who is saving herself for marriage, wears a silver ring and will only do anal so it is more comfortable for American audiences? Remove the word "bitch" from "Babe," ignoring the true meaning of the word altogether? Make Jane Eyre a vampire? "Moby Whale"?

People invoke the "Nanny State" a lot when it comes to stuff like this. It's a little deeper than that. People are always telling us to "think of the children," almost as much as dissenters use the phrase to mock them. We can't make everything in this country child-friendly. Not everything is Justin-goddamned-Beiber. "Three's Company" was edgier than anything on TV now.

I think George Carlin said it best when he said "Fuck the children!"
I'm worried that in the future this will be censored to "Fuck the children, provided they are 18 and you are married to them."

I like to call it the "Disneyfication of America." A place that exists outside of the real world where everyone is friendly, and attractive white kids dictate what kind of music and TV shows top the charts, and nobody ever gets offended because the same seven safe plots are used in all forms of media, ranging from "Oh no, I have two dates at the same time in the same place!" to "Men make a sexist gag, women challenge them to a gender-defined contest, women win, proving that the sexes are equal."

These "special editions" of books need to stop now. You get kids to care about literature by telling them how boundary-testing and interesting and revolutionary it is, not by cleaning it up so it's as vanilla as everything else in their lives. We need to do this before Twain, and Vonnegut, and Shakespeare, and Joyce are further maligned by literary masters like Snooki, and Spencer Pratt, and Kim Karashian, and Jenny McCarthy.

They've always said that knowledge is power. It's no coincidence that we're so content to lose both.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Year of Film- Part 1: King of Kong

I'm going to try to keep myself a little busier this year.
Oh, first of all, happy new year!
Now, I'm going to try to keep myself a little busier this year. I'm going to do more movie reviews. Yeah, I know everyone does movie reviews, but the goal here is to do them a little differently. I'm not sure how yet. I'm just going to dick around and see what happens.
The rules? I'm only doing movies I'm seeing for the first time. That means it could be in theaters, on DVD, on Betamax, whatever. I just have to be seeing it for the first time.

To start off this new-tradition-that-might-get-old-quick, I bring you "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," which has to be one the most pun-filled pop culture-y titles of all time. (Date watched: 1/1/11)

In "King of Kong" we get a look into the competitive world of video gaming. And I don't mean bullshit "Black Ops" rounds. I mean the old shit. 8-bit awesomeness.
You see, back before X-Box Live, there was this thing called an "arcade." In these strange buildings there would often be pool tables, pinball machines, and giant video games. Not like those enormous clunkers your grandparents used to put in the NES, but giant games. And people would have to stand to play them. It's amazing people even bothered running electricity into their caves.
Back then, video games didn't really have an ending. The whole point was to accumulate points until you died. After the game over, if your score was high enough, you'd be able to put in your initials--three letters long--on the score board for everyone else to see until the game was unplugged. You may remember an episode of the TV show "Seinfeld" that used this as a plot point. "What's 'Seinfeld,'" you say? Well, I'm afraid that's another story for another day.

At any rate, one of these arcade games was Donkey Kong. You may remember him from things like the video game episode of "Futurama" and what it is "On like."
Donkey Kong was one of these games with a high score. In the 80s, a man named Billy Mitchell grabbed the high score of DK and that record stood until about 2006 when average schlub Steve Wiebe became a part-time dad and made his kid wipe his own ass for a change in order to beat the score.

With any good story you need your protagonist and your antagonist. Documentaries are no different and it easily casts Wiebe as the underdog hero and Mitchell as the Cobra Kai of video games. Legend has it that years ago on the planet Krypton, Jor-El sent his last tie collection to Earth just as Krypton was about to explode. This tie collection made its way to Billy Mitchell and he became a true video game villain. He isn't aggressive, he's passive aggressive. Billy just comes off as a smug asshole who looks like Jesus, which makes his face just that much more punchable. You really don't want to like this guy. Don't believe me? Do a search for him on Google.

Yes, he makes his own hot sauce, too.

The rest of the movie plays out like a "Rocky" film, complete with "You're the Best Around" during a "training montage" in what might be my favorite bit in the movie. Wiebe keeps playing "Donkey Kong" while Mitchell stays in the shadows, be a passive-aggressive douche. It comes down to a pretty great finale which is up there with the likes of "Hoosiers" and "The Mighty Ducks 3."

the documentary may not be fair to Billy Mitchell all the time, but he's just so easy to dislike that you really want to root against him, so I can't fault them on that. As Weibe's family gets invested in his strive for the high score, we do too. If it was just two guys trying to save Pauline, we wouldn't care. The cast of characters around them, from the old prospector-like proprietor of Twin Galaxies to Mitchell's former-nemesis-turned-associate. It's definitely worth a watch for a look at a great video gaming underworld that not even I knew about. And also so you'll dislike Mitchell as much as me.