Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Beating the Holiday Slump?

Apparently, December is a terrible month for me to blog. I know where some of my time went, but surely there was time to write more than I did, right? October was so good to me. Why couldn't that continue? Obviously, I blame a combination of the economy and the Socialist agenda in this county. So with that, I present the last of my Netflix Roundup's for the year (perhaps even my last post?). This may be one of my most diverse collections of films yet for this feature (at least in terms of genre).

Red State -- Kevin Smith
I never really cared for Kevin Smith as a director. I really like Chasing Amy and somehow accrued Clerks, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back but those all leave me pretty cold. Kevin Smith the man always seemed affable enough and you have to respect someone who makes personal movies. Somewhere along the line, though, he became kind of a dick. Maybe he was always a dick and his sense of humor and charisma glossed it over, but he got mixed up in various controversies and hasn't recovered. His actions regarding the sale of Red State are a mix of P.T. Barnum and being a straight up ass, weighing more heavily to one side depending on how you feel about the man. Of course, maybe he was insecure about the sale of his movie because it fucking sucks! Smith never had much of a visual style, but the lack of one in a genre movie has the ability to crush the impact. Instead, he gets really crappy footage from the RED camera (aside from looking terrible, every time there is a fast camera move, the image is choppy) and sacrifices suspense for surprise and deus ex machina while half of the movie is told via Special Agent Exposition (played by John Goodman). Several plot points make no sense and the dialogue is ridiculously overwrought while saying very little (the only other writer more in love with his words is Tarantino). It's like Smith got so wrapped up in making a "brutal" horror movie that he forgot to include anything else but the "brutal" elements. This is an out-and-out terrible movie.

Tyson -- James Toback
I don't want to take the comparison too far, but I can't help but think of this movie as The Fog of War, except featuring Mike Tyson. It's largely Tyson, sitting on a couch, telling his life's story. Obviously, with a structure like this, we're only getting one side of the events, but that's all the movie (and, hopefully, the viewers) is interested in. It's easy to see why he became a joke, but to hear him recount these events (Robin Givens, the ear biting) is near heartbreaking. His lisping, high-pitched, nasally voice makes him sound dumb, but clearly he's not. As someone who never saw him in his prime (aside from as the ultimate fight in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out), the movie gave me a lot of respect for the man. As with any of these "rise and fall" type of lives, it's easy to forget that, in many cases, the person is insanely young during the rise and some people simply aren't equipped to handle that. It's nice to see Tyson portrayed as something other than a joke.

Caged Women -- Bruno Mattei
It's rare that I don't watch every movie that comes to me via Netflix. In this case, the DVD was a double feature of Caged Women and Women's Prison Massacre. After watching the former, I didn't have the stomach for the latter. Not because I was disturbed, but it was too... damn... BORING. Holy christ! How can people watch this stuff? Once again, there's tons of nudity, but who cares when everything else is so bad. The women-in-prison genre basically remakes the same movie every time, so my hopes for WPM dashed. There are a few more produced by Roger Corman that I want to check out and Jonathan Demme directed possibly the definitive film (plus there's the one with Linda Blair), but my enthusiasm is waining. On the plus side, Black Mama, White Mama was pretty good and Pam Grier is in a few more, so... optimism?

Pontypool -- Bruce McDonald
Pontypool is a movie I think everyone should see just so I can talk to them about it. I'm not sure it makes sense or that I like the execution, but I like the set-up, it's single locale and insular perspective, and the take on zombie conventions (though I'd never call it a zombie movie. NEVER!). It's one of those movies that you don't want to know too much about going into it. Let the movie take you where it goes and then contact me so we can chat about it.

Casualties of War -- Brian de Palma
My love of Brian de Palma grows. With the exception of Scarface, from '74 to '89, the man doesn't really have a misstep in my eyes (I've yet to see Obsession, Wise Guys, and all of The Untouchables in that timespan). Michael J. Fox' performance is terrific hurt only by the fact that you never really believe there is a risk of him backing off of his belief and raping the kidnapped girl (oh... the movie's about a group of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam who kidnap and rape a Vietnamese woman). I mean... it's Michael J. Fox! Alex Keaton! Marty McFly! So there's a bit of missing drama in that the we don't think the peer pressure will get to him. But the real flaw of the movie is Sean Penn. I don't know where he got his accent for this role, but it's terrible. He sounds like a cartoon character (I would love for someone to make a montage of the various voices Sean Penn performs with in his movies. It would be hilarious. I'd do it myself, but I can't spend that much time watching Penn or I'll go insane). The film also illustrates the difficulties to be a dissenting voice in such a strict institution. You want to talk about personal responsibility vs. people acting under orders? It's not always as easy as it sounds. Casualties of War is awesome and even overcomes the cheesy flashback "dream/remembering" structure.

One, Two, Three -- Billy Wilder
This is about as madcap and screwball as a relatively modest story can get. The setup is pretty deliberate, but the payoff is tons of fun. A Coca-Cola exec in Germany is supposed to watch over his boss' daughter, but she goes off and marries a Communist and her parents are flying in. There's lots of fun mockery of Communism and Capitalism and playful back and forth. James Cagney rules as Mac MacNamara, carrying much of the movie and delivering an impossible amount of dialogue. It's neat to see him in a comedy role and doing so comfortably. It's amazing to me that people can write dialogue so witty and fast-paced.

Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why's Everybody Talking About Him)? -- John Scheinfeld
Basically, if you like Harry Nilsson, this is interesting because it reveals a lot about the man and his struggles/troubles (particularly fun feeling about his night out with John Lennon and the Smothers Brothers show). If you don't know who the man is, you should watch this to get a sampling of him music, because the man was amazing. Most people know him for Everybody's Talkin' from Midnight Cowboy or Put the Lime in the Coconut, but he's so much more (as my cousin pointed out, he beat "Fuck You" by nearly 40 years).

In the end, everyone could use a little more Nilsson in their lives, so you might as well watch this.

Insidious -- James Wan
Better than you'd think. The film probably met a lot of resistance because it's from the creators or Saw and while it suffers from a lot of modern horror conventions in addition to being just a little bit too flashy, Insidious is fairly affective. There are some conveniently knowledgeable characters who, while they don't know things for sure, are surprisingly accurate in their assertions, but basically, the movie is a good creepy time and bucks a few of the old haunted house tropes without being openly aware (read: meta) about it. In some ways, maybe that's why Insidious plays so well. At it's core, it's got an old-fashioned feel mixed in to the modern look. Double bonus: a lack of obnoxious, irrational characters.

Walker -- Alex Cox
All I can say is, "Damn you, Alex Cox." I spend an hour and ten minutes watching your movie and think of it as one thing, then during the last half hour, you reveal to me that it's something else entirely. Now I have to watch the damned thing again because I'm more than certain I didn't "get" it the first time. There are hints along the way, but it's not exactly easy to put it all together until the end. Fortunately, of all of Cox' films, Walker is my favorite, so watching it again won't exactly be a chore (though I'm finding that Ed Harris is a little tiresome to watch. He's always playing the same disposition). This is definitely a movie you don't want to read too much about before seeing it. In fact, I'll add it as the second movie I've ever seen that I felt the need to watch it again right away to better digest it (the first was Mulholland Drive).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Weird Al Time Lapse

I've never kept it a secret that, as a 29-year old, I'm still a huge Weird Al fan (not to be confused with a huge metal fan). I've only seen the man in concert once, at Hershey Park years ago (I think it was the Bad Hair Day tour), and it was amazing. People who dismiss Weird Al for being too silly or for kids have no idea how dynamic, funny, and complicated his stage shows are. There are loads of costume/makeup changes and the band is a well-oiled machine up there. I need to see him live again.

Which brings me to this time lapse of the set up and tear down on his most recent tour (set to Hardware Store, my karaoke white whale). It's awesome and you get a brief sampling of his stage show. Stick this in your eye holes and love it.

h/t Weird Al

Thursday, December 8, 2011

People In Cars, Alone

I ride my bike nearly everywhere in Portland unless I'm traveling with my pregnant fiancee or going somewhere where I know my panniers won't be enough carrying capacity, like for grocery shopping (note to self: add cargo bike to wedding registry). On these bike rides, which mostly consist of going to the climbing gym and to work, I've compiled a lot of circumstantial data that a vast majority of people driving around town are driving alone. This makes me crazy. Portland is not a big city and is very easy to get around via bike and we have above average public transportation. There is no reason for so many people to be driving around alone (the sheer number of solo drivers I see everyday leads me to believe that it's statistically unlikely that everyone is going to the grocery store or other such errands where they need the extra car space).

So I was glad to see that my observations are correct. The numbers on this report boggle my mind.
Is it laziness or are we such a car-centric culture that it doesn't even occur to people that here are other options? I've talked to a few patrons at the theater who completely forgot that there is a transit stop two blocks away that is fed by three MAX lines and several buses. And the reason we started talking is that they were complaining about the parking! It feels like people just want to complain about all of the inconveniences of driving and not do anything about it.

It's a shame that people don't realize that not driving saves money, saves aggravation (I rarely have trouble finding parking), and keeps them healthy (which can even save money in the long run due to fewer health costs) among other things.  Of course, one irony we're facing in Portland is that with less people driving, less money comes in through gas taxes and that's less money for PBOT. However, bikes, walking, and buses all mean fewer cars on the road, which means less wear and tear so the roads last longer.

In the end, I just want people to think if they have to go somewhere alone, do they really need to drive?

Just Call Me MacGyver

The other day I locked myself out of the house without my phone or my wallet. I was pretty nervous that I was going to have to wait several hours for my fiancee to get home, so I searched my property for tools to help me regain entry. Having locked myself out once before and failed to break in then, I wasn't confident of my chances. Then I found these:

I felt more than a little like MacGyver. It was awesome.

Note: there were special circumstances to my being locked out that aided me in my break in. To try to dissuade attempts to get into my house without a key, I won't be relaying that information.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

There ARE Good Movies Out There!

I've been embarrassingly absent in writing this month and lord knows the end of the month is going to be a wash. Stupid Christmas. Why must you interrupt my blogging!

If I'm going to keep doing Netflix Roundups, I'm going to have to change my methods. I'm not watching nearly as many movies a week as I used to so waiting to have a collection takes a while and I forget stuff about the earlier movies. For instance, I know I had lots to say about Seed People, but at this point, you're all going to miss out on those brain babies.

Fortunately, since I've finally pulled out of the horror onslaught, the movies got better. It's a shock, I know.

The Osterman Weekend -- Sam Peckinpah
My basic reaction to The Osterman Weekend is that it wasted an awesome cast: Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Christ Sarandon, Dennis Hopper, Burt Lancaster, and Craig T. Nelson (for some reason, it's always weird for me to remember that he had a career before Coach). I'd mention the women in the movie, but it's Peckinpah and so they barely matter (I'm only half joking). The movie is supposed to be a conspiracy thriller, but there's little that's thrilling about it. Most of the time, people are just talking about the past. I'd rather see that stuff than the conspiracy stuff. It makes some sense that this is Peckinpah's last film since directors are rarely much more than serviceable at the end of their careers. I do wish that I'd watched the documentary about the making of the movie, Alpha to Omega: Exposing The Osterman Weekend, on the DVD. It sounds pretty cool.

Seed People -- Peter Manoogian
From Charles Band's (Puppet Master) production company Full Moon Entertainment and written by the man himself, Seed People is everything you'd expect. Bad acting, bizarre plot, and silly puppetry. There isn't much memorable about the movie (except I think I remember finding one of the actresses attractive). But, as with most of Band's movies, it seems like it was fun to make. Maybe it's the part of me that regrets not making my own special effects when I was younger and that's been fantasizing about working at Jim Henson's Creature Shop, but I had a lot of fun watching the seed people roll around and seeing the design of each one, which is really the only reason to watch Band's movies.

Bacchanales sexuelles -- Jean Rollin
I have no idea why I put this on my queue. The only thoughts running through my head were related to how pointless and ridiculous soft core porn is. Seriously, what's the point in having a seven minute sex scene where the man is thrusting into the belly button of a woman (because, god forbid they accidentally rub genitals while they are simulating sex) and everyone is seeming to have a good time with this except to pad out the run time to a terrible, nonsensical movie? It's watching movies like this where I think back to my thirteen year old self and wonder what his reaction would be to the movie and to my lack of interest. "What are you doing!?!?! BOOBS! Right there! Look at the screen, you fool! GAAAAAAAHHHHHH!' Something like that, I think.

King of New York -- Abel Ferrara
This is my first Abel Ferrara movie and I've got to say, I need to check out more. King of New York rules! This is the type of Christopher Walken I was hoping for in The Prophecy, constantly awesome and constantly present. The man is designed to play a king pin. The cast is stacked, but I'll let you be surprised by everyone who is in it who became incredibly well-known. I'm also very happy that the first link. It won't let me embed and there may be an add before you watch it, but this clip is when I knew I loved this movie.

Heathers -- Michael Lehmann
Heathers has a pretty substantial reputation (Entertainment Weekly ranked it #5 on its list of Best High School Movies). The cult is strong and I was afraid that since I didn't drink the Kool Aid years earlier, it might be too late for me to join (in this scenario, the Kool Aid is for initiation purposes [maybe they peed in it], not killing purposes [or killing porpoises]). There are definitely aspects about Heathers that drive me nuts. It feels like Diablo Cody cribbed some of her dialogue stylings from this movie and Christian Slater couldn't be more obnoxious doing his Jack Nicholson impression. But the satire is strong in Heathers. It's well-observed and the dreamlike style suites the subject matter. Nearly every character is a caricature, but not so much so that the viewer can't relate to the various high school experiences. In fact, the heightened level of reality goes quite well with the heightened teenage emotions. The ending kind of falls apart, but Heathers definitely deserves its reputation. Now, if only Stanley Kubrick had directed like writer Daniel Waters desired. I'd love to see his take on the high school comedy. Kubrick wouldn't have even had to drop another film in lieu of this one since his next movie was Eyes Wide Shut.

Together -- Lukas Moodysson
Fuck Together. Here's why. The movie starts off just like any other stupid personal drama except it takes place in a commune just after Franco is killed. There's a sister that comes to live at the commune with her children because her husband hit her. I hate this type of movie. Then, dammit, I started to care about what happens in the movie! Seriously, what the fuck? Together (Tillsammans in Swedish, which automatically became my favorite Swedish word) is basically plotless, following a large group of people who exist in one space and how their relationships with each other shift. I was set to hate the movie in the first ten minutes and I blame Gustaf Hammarsten for sucking me in because his portrayal of Goren is amazing. He looks like the kind of guy you just want to hug for being a sweetheart but you can see his true feelings in his eyes and it breaks your heart. Ultimately, Together is one of those movies that doesn't drag the viewer down to build them back up. It's realistic relationships that are like any other friendly relationships. Ups and downs, but overall, everyone understands each other's perspective. It's a movie that is designed to make you feel good about humankind with soccer being the ultimate sign of togetherness. You can't help but smile in the end. And I HATE soccer. Fuck Together. It made me feel... emotions.

United 93 -- Paul Greengrass
Speaking of feeling emotions... I'm one of those people who's more cynical about 9/11 than anything else. I see those "We Will Never Forget" stickers and whatnot and think "No shit. Way to be proud about not forgetting when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. Good for you." I hate that 9/11 became a political device and I hate the turn the country took in the aftermath. I didn't lose anyone on that day and if I know anyone who did, they haven't told me. Watching United 93 (and World Trade Center months ago), my reaction almost feels like a defense mechanism. It's hard not to get misty returning to that day, sitting in my dorm room watching the events unfold, talking on AIM with friends, before heading out to Organic Chemistry because they hadn't canceled classes yet (seriously, could the day get any worse). I'll always remember it was a Tuesday because I had my Extended Orientation class that day where we talked about it.

So yeah, United 93 is a tough watch, but it's amazing. I'm kind of fascinated by the structure because it's not at all about character or narrative arcs. Everyone knows what's going to happen even though you still hope the people on 93 will be able to pull up out of the dive at the last minute. The movie many of the points of view from before any of the hijackings to the crash. It's like watching a giant game of telephone where people hear tidbits at a time of what's happening and there's an ominous feeling when it cuts to flight 93 after the planes hit the World Trade Center and they don't know anything about it. This method of communication continues on the flight when they pass on information to each other a row at a time. It's thrilling to watch.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about United 93 is that it didn't make the hijackers into vacant bad guys. They are people and feel nervous before moving and don't have everything under control and are scared and paranoid. The viewer may not sympathize with them, but we can understand what they are feeling.

United 93 is terrific and intense. If I have one complaint, it's the score. I feel that they should have dropped it altogether to match the realism the image is going for. Scores enhance drama, but the drama here doesn't need that. A dynamic use of sound design could have done just as well. That's a minor complaint since the score certainly didn't detract from the movie. Definitely see it.

Peter Dinklage in GQ

I discovered the following pictures via Blogtown, the Portland Mercury's blog. The writer is quite taken with the photos, going so far as making one his computer's background. I, on the other hand, thought the pictures were kind of exploitative. They cry out to me, "Look! It's a little person! With a hot, naked woman! How utterly unusual!"

I get that Game of Thrones is notorious for it's boobaliciousness and I agree that Dinklage is badass in every possible way and deserves to have hot, naked women crawling all over him (if that's what he wants), but these pictures leave a bad taste in my mouth. What says you?