Thursday, January 29, 2009

2008 part 11...

Alright, the films of 2008 is coming to an end, maybe one, two more entries...there's still a bunch of stuff I'd like to see, but a lot of it is in limbo between theatres and DVD, and I can't really afford to go to the theatres much right now anyway. So, yeah, I need to move on to something new anyway. I thought about doing the "999" challenge- nine films each in nine different categories (check it out on Divine Exploitation and Tomb It May Concern), but I think the real challenge for me right now (aside from finding a fucking job) is to watch more of the stuff in my collection that's been piling up for years and years, so I'm gonna do that.

In the meantime, ten more from 2008:

1. Doubt- Yeah, okay, sure, I got no real complaints about this one. The acting is great, and it deals with complex issues in complex ways. I suppose what with the title being "Doubt" part of the point is to leave the viewer with doubt as to what actually happened between the priest and the boy (oh yeah, I figured you already knew, but this is about a Catholic priest [Philip Seymour Hoffman] accused by a nosy, bitchy nun [Meryl Streep] on doing what Catholic priests do to young boys to a young boy), but after watching film after film from last year with abiguous endings, I sort of was hoping for something...different. But, see, this is the kind of film where an open ending works. We don't need to know what actually happened, the point isn't what actually happened, it's much more complex than that. I've read some criticisms that this is basically just a filmed play. So what? The acting is good, the dialogue is good, it looks good...it's not like they could have thrown a car chase or a shootout in there to break up the dialogue. Really, this is just a very strong, actor-driven film, reasonably compelling and thought provoking, really, something like this should represent the average of your mainstream dramas, as opposed to the upper eschelon, but as it stands "Doubt" is, ahem, doubtlessly above average. I hate myself.

2. The Haunting of Molly Hartley- I don't get it, is this film Christian propaganda, or is it sort of anti-Christian, kind of Satanist propaganda, or is it just dumb enough to think that you can make a mainstream film dealing with Christianity in today's political climate and not have be at least somewhat about religion? There's some Christian shit going on in here. Anyway, this flick was blander than margarine on Wonder bread, despite the presence of not one but two actresses from the new 902010 show, Shannon Marie Woodward from "the Riches" and Jake Weber from "Medium" and the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, which isn't to say that any of these performers would necessarily make a bad movie good, but there's a pleasing array of attractive and/or talented performers to be found here, all with absolutely nothing of interest to do. Y'know, it's not like a horror film has to be gory to be good, I'm totally cool with PG-13 horror, I'm cool with PG and G rated horror, as long as it's scary or interesting somewhow. "The Haunting of Molly Hartley" isn't any of these things. Margarine on Wonder bread, man, with tap water to wash it down.

3. Midnight Movie- More horror that seems vaugely Christian-themed, or at least it has people saying the Lord's prayer to avoid getting killed by a demon, or whatever the thing killing people in "Midnight Movie" is. I sort of tuned out after a while. Like, after the first five minutes, when it became evident that nothing was going to happen. This one isn't just bland, it's pretty dumb as well.

4. Paranoid Park- After "the Haunting of Molly Hartley" and "Midnight Movie," Gus Van Sant's second-to-latest was a welcomed change of pace, but I still had some issues with it. They say that the definition of insanity is doing to same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and I'm pretty Gus Van Sant is pretty insane because he's kind of been making the same movie over and over again since "Gerry." That film, "Elephant," "Last Days" and now this...granted, to some extent, he does get different results. "Elephant" I found pretty mesmerizing, while "Last Days" I found pretty much unbearable. "Paranoid Park" is fortunately more like "Elephant," unfortunately it's a little too much like "Elephant." In fact, I think if Gus Van Sant were really the Andy Warhol-type figure he seems to fancy himself, he just would have called this "Elephant 2." We have the same uberhip teens (in Van Sant's world, everybody is uber hip, teens, parents, teachers- everyone except the cops, though ironically the cop gives one of the best performances in the film, but anyway, this is a world where the dad has full sleeve arm tattoos and nobody has ever heard of childhood obesity), the same minimalism, the long tracking shots down school hallways and across fields, there's a hook (this time, skateboarding), a killing (of a railway security guard)...we've been here before, and it was more powerful the first time, which isn't to say that "Paranoid Park" isn't an interesting film, it's just not that interesting a film, or something. It really made me miss the less aggressively pretenious Van Sant who made the poppy yet iconoclastic "Drugstore Cowboy" and "My Own Private Idaho." I mean, I'm glad he's still out there, trying to do something challenging, I just wish he's try to challenge me with something else.

5. Ghost Town- This film, from David Koepp (writer-director of Stir of Echos, writer of Spider-Man, Panic Room), is wholly acceptable. Ricky Gervais is funny, and well, what else do you really need in a Ricky Gervais comedy? It lightweight, sappy stuff, but there's nothing aggressively wrong with it. And it's funny (aside from Gervais, you've also got some pretty droll performances from Tea Leone, Aasif Mandvi and Kristen Wiig), which is more than can be said for a number of comedies from last year that tried a whole lot harder ("The House Bunny," "The Rocker"). Plus, it's a movie you could probably watch with your parents, and it's always good to have something like that in the hopper. Seriously, though, not that bad.

6. Rambo- I found myself completely and totally unable to pay any kind of serious attention to this movie at all. RAMBO sucks. Sylvester Stallone (who also directed) is a fucking steroided, bloated freak. I'd say he's a clown but I like clowns, so he's something else, something that sucks. Everyting about this movie is just fucking stupid.

7. Nobody Loves Alice- More bland, low-budget horror. This one boasts a strong lead performance by Nitzan Mager as the titular crazylady, and nothing, NOTHING else. Don't bother.

8. Never Cry Werewolf- The title seemed modestly clever (NEVER CRY WOLF was one of my favorite movies as a kid), and the description sounded a bit like FRIGHT NIGHT, but, man, this is no FRIGHT NIGHT. Did I say something about bland, cheap horror? At least NOBODY LOVES ALICE is a genuinely low-budget film. This one seems to have a least a few bucks behind it, not millions and billions, but like a made for the Sci-Fi Channel kind of budget (wouldn't be surprised to see this film show up on the Sci-Fi Channel), but it's just so uninteresting. Kevin Sorbo, apparently a right wing creep because he was in AN AMERICAN CAROL, and who can't pull of a semi-comedic role here to save his life (or my interest) co-stars with one of the girls from the new DEGRASSI JUNIOR HIGH series, who's supposed to be doing some kind of a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER thing but just seems as disengaged as you will be trying to watch this. How can a movie about werewolves be this boring?

9. He Was a Quiet Man- Flawed but interesting drama-comedy-thriller hybrid with a geeked out Christian Slater as an angry, depressed corporate drone who dreams of going on a shooting rampage at work. When he finally gets up the courage to do it, one of the other angry, depressed office drones has beaten him to it, and Slater becomes a hero after taking the shooter out. Things improve for him at first, but only superficially, his anger and depression, left untreated, eventually get the better of him and ruin everything. I think. The ending was kind of vague, but at least it had a point. No masterpiece, but it's watchable, and it's about something, so that's cool. I dunno, it was decent.

10. Love Story- This I was looking forward to, a documentary about Arthur Lee and his band Love, one of the underrated greats of the psychedelic 60's. LOVE STORY has all the right elements- interviews with Lee and his bandmates, producers and contemporaries, but it's just kind of...blah. There's no concert footage, or any live or alternate recordings of Love's classic songs (Little Red Book, 7 and 7 Is, Alone Again Or...) so all we get is versions we've heard before. The archival footage is minimal, so though we get some good new interviews with the band members, there's nothing really interesting visually going on. And despite how great the band was and how eccentric Lee (who died in 2006, the interview seems to have been shot in 2005) was, the story of Love just isn't that interesting, or at least we're not given enough different viewpoints to get an interesting picutre of what went on. The band formed, they played, they were brilliant yet unappreciated, Lee had an ego, everybody did drugs, the Doors got more popular than them, they broke up. Lee's later legal troubles (he spent 5 years in prison for drugs in the 1990's) aren't covered, nor is his battle with leukemia (he was the first adult patient in Tennessee to undergo a stem cell trasnplant), nor is what happened to the rest of the band after Love. In an era of compelling rock documentaries about difficult eccentrics (YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME, about Roky Erickson, THE DEVIL & DANIEL JOHNSTON), this one just isn't that great a film. Sucks, too, because Love was certainly a great band, and probably there's an interesting film to be made about them.

2008 film watching malaise has officially set in. I didn't care much about any of these. "Doubt" and "Ghost Town" were fine, "Paranoid Park" was ok but too much like "Elephant," the rest I could have totally done without. Just a few more, though, just a couple of more entries like this. It doesn't feel over yet, I have to keep riding the wave. But soon, something different. Soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

this is exciting...


Anonymous posted:
"Fuck you. Heath and TDK weren't overpraised. They deserve every award. Maybe you're just too dumb to get it."

Ha, I've been doing this blog for almost two years now and I finally got my first anonymous "fuck you" comment. Negative Pleasure is officially on the internet. So, my snappy comeback- Someone who cares enough about a movie to get this angry about it, yet can't be bothered to actually write out the full name of the movie, doesn't have the guts to post their name, accuses people with different opinions of being "too dumb to get it," and refers to celebrities they've never met by their first name has problems more serious than mine (unless this was written by Michelle Williams, in which case I apologize and I think you should let me take you dinner to show how sorry I am, actually I think you should take me to dinner because you're rich and I'm unemployed). Also, getting so angry over something I've written only serves to make me feel important, so thanks for that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

2008 part 10...

Thank you, those of you still reading, for bearing with yesterday's self-indulgent blog entry (I guess "self-indulgent blog entry" is kind of redundant). So, here it is, 100 films from 2008. I'm not really done yet, but I think I need to start being less monomaniacal about this endeavor and start watching other stuff, and writing about other stuff, or something. Whatever, I'm feeling kind of braindead today, so, y'know, something. Words.

1. Igor- I probably should have liked this more, like, it's about monsters and stuff, and maybe I would have liked it more, had it been a better movie, but instead it's an intermittently entertaining but ultimately unremarkable knock-off of "Nightmare Before Christmas," or at least than general aesthetic, though thankfully without the horrible musical numbers (yes, I thought the musical numbers in "Nightmare Before Christmas" were horrible. I'm opinionated.). Seems kinda gory for kids, but then again when I was a kid I watched "Dune," "Gremlins" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," so maybe not, and you're probably not reading this to figure out what's appropriate to show to kids anyway. What was I talking about?

2. Blindness- It's weird, like, THE HAPPENING came out this year and borrowed plot elements from "Day of the Triffids," and "Blindness" comes out, and its' central plot element is the same as another great 1960's UK horror film, Terence Fisher's "the Earth Dies Screaming" (everybody going blind, except for one or two people). Both are kind of annoying too in that they just sort of have something catastrophic happen, and then it just stops. At one point, making a science-fiction movie where something totally unexplained, and never explained, happens might have been somewhat challenging and innovative, but here it seems more like lazy screenwriting, or perhaps not lazy but intentionally obtuse, yet obtuse without any purpose. Like, "Blindness" is arty, but it's really not an art film. Which isn't to say it's as bad as THE HAPPENING. Few films are. Actually, "Blindness" (by "City of God" filmmaker Fernando Meirelles) is alright, except where it isn't. Like, I couldn't help but feeling this was a film that was about something, but I'm not entirely sure what it was about. Mob mentality? The unpreparedness of the Canadian government (it seems to have been shot in Canada, Don McKellar [who wrote the script, from Jose Saramngo's novel] and Murray Chaykin are in it [if you don't know who those people are, watch any Canadian movie made in the past 20 years, and one of them is sure to be in it]) to deal with a major catastrophe? Is it about Katrina, is that what it's about? I can't help but feel it's a scathing indictment of something...humanity itself? Late capitalism? That time everyone went blind except Julianne Moore and they all acted like jerks? I dunno. At least it feels like it's about something. That's more than I can say for a lot of movies that got a lot more hype and accolades this year. And really, heavy handedness and bad ending aside, "Blindness" is a pretty well-made picture. Most of the film takes place is a delapitated detention/quarantine facility, where the victims of the blindness epidimic are left on their own, shut off from the outside world, and as things get more dire, "Blindness" gets genuinely pretty harrowing, so I guess things kind of average out, y'know, it's pretty prententious but I don't know that it actually has a point to it, yet it's an engaging film to watch, so dig on that, or don't.

3. Standard Operating Procedure- Y'know, it's an Errol Morris documentary, so it's good. Disturbing, thoughtful, probing, well-made, it's an Errol Morris documentary. This one's about Abu Ghraib. You should watch it. It's an Errol Morris documentary...Seriously though, one of the strongest qualities of Errol Morris' films, really what he's famous for, is his ability to capture interviewees at their most candid, and here we get the story from the actual particpants, from the abusers, it's bizarre in a way, to hear these people talking about torture, I mean, they were soliders, but they're just regular people, but they're, y'know, monsters, they tortured people. So, yeah, it's a typically stimulating, thought-provoking film from Morris, and one that surprisingly flew under the radar, despite the success of his "Fog of War" a few years back and despite getting mostly favorable reviews, it seems like this was really very minimally released and promoted. Are people not really ready to face this yet? I mean, they're not, the whole issue of torture, or else Bush and Cheney would be in, like, prison now, but they'll probably walk away from all of this pretty much unscathed, which is more than can be said for the people who were, like, y'know, tortured, or, as we might have suspected and this film reveals, the torturers themselves. Deep, right?

4. Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer- I sort of wanted to care about this film, obstensively a horror-comedy, but it doesn't really seem to care about itself. I mean, there's something there, something ok, but there's so much lacking, like, I know I use the word listless a lot to describe a certain kind of film, but "Jack Brooks- Monster Slayer" is listless. It's going through the motions, like, I think the movie is depressed, because there's some core of humanity to it, but it's not really funny or exciting, or well-written, or well-acted, except for Robert Englund, who's kind of wonderful as a nutty professor type, and who seems to understand what kind of movie this is supposed to be, so he camps it up a bit, but everything else is just totally blah, but I was sympathetic, like I wanted to cheer the movie up. Englund, by the way, was really busy last year. He did this, RED (which was great) and ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (which wasn't), plus a voice on the "Spider-Man" cartoon series, and he directed KILLER PAD, which really should have been better, given how much I liked his other film as director, "976-Evil." Good actor, though.

5. Hell Ride- I've heard this film described as a tribute to the biker films of the 1960's and 70's, but really it's a tribute to a Quentin Tarantino tribute to the biker films of the 60's and 70's. Aside from the presence of motorcycles and people riding them, leather jackets, violence and tits, it really in no way resembles an old biker flick, but it looks, sounds and feels exactly like a Tarantino (who was executive producer) film, or maybe more accurately a Robert Rodriguez film. That's not a compliment. Writer-director-star Larry Bishop might know better, he was in ANGEL UNCHAINED and CHROME AND HOT LEATHER (with Marvin Gaye), but, no...If it felt like too many films in 2008 overrused the once provocative open ending as a way out of scripts that had no real point, and thus no conclusion, then likewise this is the film that killed, for me, stylized, repetitive dialogue, because the characters just say the same things over and over and over again, like David Mamet, or Hal Hartley, only retarded. And it's supposed to be clever, or funny, or something, but it gets to self-parody, and then tedium, pretty quickly. And Dennis Hopper is in this. Yeah, I know it makes sense, he made EASY RIDER, obviously, though despite being a motorcycle movie, that wasn't really a biker flick, about a biker gang, but I get it, he's a motorcycle dude, and he was in THE GLORY STOMPERS, but he's just gone so far off the reservation, somebody needs to hit him in the head with a hammer. Assuming that as a 1960's-70's counterculture figure, Hopper was once a liberal, it's not so much an issue that he's conservative now, that happens, and being conservative or Republican does not automatically make someone a right-wing creep, some people are, like, fiscal conervatives, which isn't great, but it's better than like Bill O'Reilly right wing fucking assholes. Dennis Hopper, though, is right-wing and creepy enough to appear in a hateful conservative propaganda film like AN AMERICAN CAROL, so fuck 'im, he's a piece of shit, he's totally worthless. And fuck this movie, it's totally stupid, even if David Carradine is in it.

6. Slumdog Millionaire- I have a pretty allergic reaction to hype, which I guess makes a snob or whatever, but the more adulation gets heaped on something, the more skeptical about it and the more critical of it I am. People, as a collective, tend to get caught up in things, so that something just okay can get overpraised as something totally earth shattering (THE DARK KNIGHT, and particularly Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT, anyone?), and it bugs me. I'm a grouch, a borderline crank. When I get old, I hope to maybe be a coot. I'm cranky and hypercritical, I like finding my own opinion. That said, despite the hype, Danny Boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is really, really good. It's maybe not the greatest movie ever made ever, but it's hard to think of an audience movie this wouldn't be appealing to. It's just, like, good, I dunno, it's good.

7. Frost/Nixon- Likewise, FROST/NIXON is pretty good. Not great, not outstanding, not stupendous, but it's pretty good. I have to confess, I hadn't seen a Ron Howard directed movie since PARENTHOOD (2o years ago!) when I watched this, I've always just assumed, once he stopped making comedies, that he wasn't a director that I really liked, and I'm not really rushing to go and explore his back catalogue now, but I like what he did here. Maybe I was softened by Howard's endearing Obama commercial (with him as Opie and Ritchie Cunningham, plus Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler as the Fonz), maybe it's because Nixon, despite his obvious flaws and, y'know, crimes (actually because of them), is pretty endlessly fascinating, a deep, complicated figure of recent American history...Obviously, there are some parallels to be found here between Nixon's crimes and Bush's, I mean, that's the whole point of this film, I think, giving a former president (it feels so good to call Bush a "former president") the trial they deserved but never recieved, in the court of public opinion, or whatever, and the need of the people for them to admit wrongdoing, the abuse of power. So, yeah, this is certainly an interesting and worthwhile production, and, hey, Pat Nixon is played by Patty McCormack, THE BAD SEED, so points to Howard for casting. I mean, Frank Langella, great as Nixon here, was once best known for playing Dracula (he also played Skeletor in the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE movie), I don't know if the connection, from Dracula (to Skeletor) to Nixon, is intentional, but, well, stuff...

8. CITY OF EMBER- I think this is probably a really good movie for preteen girls. Tweens. I don't know any preteen girls so I can't ask them what they thought of it. It was okay, though. Bill Murray is in it, so, y'know, it was okay. It's definitely a children's movie, though.

9. APRIL FOOL'S DAY- One of the more unusual slasher films of the 1980's is reimagined as an episode of GOSSIP GIRL with extra violence. While the original played it kind of light and humorous (no one actually gets killed in it), this one goes for somnabulistic and submoronic instead. It's more than 20 minutes before anything, I mean ANYTHING happens. Like, you're a third of a way into this motherfucker before it even remotely seems to become a horror movie, and even then, horror is a relative term. Actually, even once things got started, I was waiting for it to be revealed that what was happening onscreen was actually a joke. Nope, just bad filmmaking. One thing, kind of insidious, there's a scene where one of the characters in the film is distracted by driving, and she hits, not injures, but does hit, a jogger with her car. But the thing is, he's the asshole, because she apologizes, and he's still pissed, because SHE HIT HIM WITH HIS CAR. And you know he's an asshole, because he's smoking a cigarette. Because if he wasn't smoking a cigarette, y'know, I guess it wouldn't be justified for her to hit him with his car. Which raises two issues, the first being the villainization of cigarette smokers, which is just, like, stupid. I don't even smoke anymore, but c'mon, someone's not an asshole just because they smoke. But then there's this whole idea that it's okay to hit someone with your car if you don't injure them. Driving culture is so fucked up, people in their cars, they think it's okay to totally view pedestrians as obstacles, not human beings. It's not okay to not pay attention when you're driving, and it's not okay to hit someone under any circumstance, even if you don't hurt them. Cars are dangerous. Like 40,000 people a year are killed by cars in the US, more than 100 people a day. Cars kill more people than guns (in the US) and it's because of this attitude, people don't care, people are willing to risk the lives of others, mainly pedestrians, because they're so cut off from reality in their fucking cars, like waiting three fucking second for someone to cross in front of you is such a chore, like driving is a divine right, not a privileged privilege. Plus, y'know, the enviornment, and gas, oil, the war...really, if you drive a car, you're automatically kind of an asshole. Sorry, but to be fair, you were probably kind of an asshole anyway. I'm just sayin'...but, yeah, APRIL FOOL'S DAY, the original, was unique enough a movie that it really shouldn't have been remade, especially not this badly.

10. The Tracy Fragments- Oh, I get it, the girl is the movie is, like, fragmented, so the film is, like, fragmented. Symbolism. Seriously, though, the first line of dialogue (not meant to be funny) made me laugh out loud, then I pretty quickly got bored. This film is almost unbearbaly pretentious. I wish I didn't like Ellen Page, who stars in this. I shouldn't like her. I don't like most of the movies she's in. I don't know anything about her personally, so for all I know she could be a really horrible person. I hated "Juno." This is like the serious version of that, just obnoxious with pretentious, overwritten dialogue. Painful. Brian DePalma did some pretty interesting stuff with split screen. "Sisters," "Phantom of the Paradise," and it's been generally kind of dismissed, but I think Bill Norton's "More American Graffiti," which used split screen extensively and aggressively, is actually kind of an amazing film. But this isn't a film, it's an exercise. And this was directed by Bruce McDonald, Canada's premiere filmmaker who isn't David Cronenberg or Atom Egoyan, or Guy Maddin, or Denys Arcand, or somebody from SCTV. McDonald previously made "Roadkill" and "Highway 61," two very cool movies. Why do dudes always want to make movies about teenaged girls? Is it like a perv thing, or an attempt to master that unconquerable element of male adolescence? I think that's it, like memories of girls and stuff from that time are so strong, you feel really powerless, so you make a movie, and you can, like, control girls and stuff. For pretend. Actually, as this went along I found it vaguely less intolerable, but that might have been acclimation more than acual affection, or I could just like watching Ellen Page do stuff, because basically this is an hour and change of her just doing stuff.


I guess that's it for now. More to come, whatever it may be. Maybe more films from 2008, maybe some other stuff. But something, for sure, and soon...

Friday, January 23, 2009

temperance...

It's worth mentioning, as much as anything is actually worth mentioning I guess, that I noticed today how much I've changed in some ways over the past several years, and how change like that can creep up somewhat subtly and just kind of smack you in the face when you least expect. The case in question is my temper. On and off, but for most of my life, I've had a really bad temper. Not violent, as an adult I've never gotten into a fistfight or anything (though I've been decked once or twice), but explosive sometimes. There was definitely a period of time four or five years ago where I was really blowing my top on a regular basis and having all kinds of public arguments. Finally, I got really sick of it, and things have gradually cooled off. It's taken work, and I haven't always been successful. Last year, for instance, I was on a medication that I didn't realize would make me more irritable and more prone to lashing out, but it did, and I went off on someone at work and wound up basically losing my job over the whole thing. Although the losing my job part had more to do with the idiocy of the people I was working for and arguing with than what I actually did, it was still my temper that lost me that gig. But in the larger scheme of things, it was a mostly isolated incident. I just don't have the same temper that I used to and when I do lose my temper, it's a fairly rare event, and it really just doesn't feel the same. Today I blew my lid, very slightly, over something stupid, something I was right about, but something I could have easily walked away from much sooner than I did. There wasn't anything exciting about it, as soon as I was in the argument, I wanted to get away from it, and eventually I did, and the whole thing just left me feeling regretful and icky. It used to be I would regret the things I didn't get to say, that I didn't completely put the other person in his place. Now I regret saying anything, and trying to put anyone anywhere. It doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. Sometimes people do stupid things, sometimes I do stupid things, it doesn't matter. I'm not a crazy person, and I don't need to freak out like one over pointless, ridiculous shit. But realizing that makes today feel all the more like a defeat, because I know I should have walked away sooner, and let things continue a little further than that anyway, not out of any particular need or because it was bringing me any satisfaction or relief, but because of some kind of phantom limb of the way I used to handle myself. Stupid, and demoralizing. Fucking completely and totally stupid. And I'm going to be kicking myself for it all day. Because that's what I do. But anyway, I guess it's progress that I can see the situation with some clarity and realize, so soon afterwards, what my mistakes were. So, victory? A minor, bitter victory, but a victory nonetheless? Or is losing it some kind of defeat, is dwelling on it some kind of defeat? Or is it nothing, just something that happens sometimes, that I shouldn't really take as good or bad, or can take as both, because even though it was stupid, it revealed some progress. Funny enough, the incident itself was so minor that it really doesn't deserve a whole blog entry on it, but I've already written this, so, I dunno, fuck it. Maybe putting it on paper (or computer, or whatever) will help get it out of my head. Oh well, whatever, it's nice to see evidence of some personal growth somewhere other than my waistline, even if it did necessitate a minor backstep to realize it. Anyway, thanks my tolerating my self-indulgence here. Film, comics and pop culture to resume momentarily...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2008 part 9...

More movies from 2008. Bored yet? Am I? I don't even know anymore. Read and tell all your friends...

1. Appaloosa- I sort of knew in advance that I would like this film. Or at least, I felt like it would have to work extra hard for me not to like it. So, unsurprisingly, I really liked it. Director-star Ed Harris presents a stripped down, unmelodramatic, demystified and very human western. At the core of the film is the relationship between Marshall Virgil Cole and his deputy Everett Hitch, masterfully played by Harris and Viggo Moretenson as characters who not only defy western stereotypes (they are stoic cowboys, but also have emotions) but have this amazingly believable partnership, a hetereosexual male marriage with Mortenson (who refers to himself as "being with" Harris in the same breath as referring to the marhsall's girlfriend as "being with" him) literally finishing Harris' sentences for him. It's just great acting, and Harris' stylish but somewhat laid-back directing style gives it room to resonate. Plus you've got Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen and a decent Renee Zelwegger in the supporting roles. "Appaloosa" is I guess what you'd call a postmodern western in that it goes against some of the standard tropes of the genre, insomuch as, aside from a few scenes, it isn't especially violent, nor is it about violence, or vengeance, though it does touch on honor and duty, it's still ultimately a film about relationships, and it succeeds pretty perfectly in binding that the western trappings. And not so far beneath the surface, but not exactly at the forefront, a critique of power, both figurative and literal, in that who controls the (literal) power (electricity, copper) has the (symbolic) power, which obviously has some political resonance these days, so in a larger sense, you have a film about maintaining humanity in the face of power and corruption, or something, like, how do you power that is essentially antihumanistic (captialism) without losing your own humanity? Because this is a film with a lot of humanity. I dunno, it was pretty super terrific. That Viggo Mortenson can really act.

2. Midnight Meat Train- This Clive Barker-based horror film, from Japanese filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura (Godzilla- Final Wars), was supposed to get a theatrical release but wound up being released directly to DVD by Lion's Gate. Some of what I read about this seemed to view the decision with some kind of outrage, that it was a slight against the horror genre, or a personal vendetta against the film itself. Whatever the truth is, I can't help but believe that some of the decision has to do with how much "the Midnight Meat Train" sucks. It's pointless and incoherent and full of obnoxiously fast paced, CGI-manipulated editing. The main character isn't exactly unsympathetic, but he's impossible to find that compelling either, it's just not that well-written a part (or that well-written a movie), and weasel-faced star Bradley Cooper (who has the WASP-iest fucking name ever, "Hi, I'm Bradley Cooper, would you care for some chardonay? Does this ascot go with my dickey?") is far too bland and whiny to rise above the weak material. I think it's really important in horror films for the viewer to have something to grasp onto, be it a compelling or sympathetic main character, or some kind of interesting set up for the threat they're facing that gives it some extra dimension or something the viewer can relate to their own fears, but "Midnight Meat Train" has neither and should consider itself lucky for being released at all.

3. 18 Year Old Virgin- Would you blame me for not expecting much out of a low-budget, direct-to-DVD teen sex comedy with a stupid title? Would you believe me if I said it was actually kind of good? Teetering on the edge between something you'd see late at night of Cinemax (possibly with "National Lampoon's" preceeding the title) and something more unique, a kind of aggressively sexualized indie about teen sexuality, "the 18 Year Old Virgin" uncomfortably mixes cheap gross-out gags with some degree of insight. To be fair, the acting and staging, and really alot of the dialogue, falls on the Skinemax side of things, but there's just a certain sense of something that elevates the films above, well, above itself. Maybe it's that the director, Tamara Olson, and the screenwriter, Naomi Slefman, are women. Maybe it's the spunkiness of star Olivia Alaina May, as a recent high school graduate intent on losing her virginity over the course of a night. Maybe it's the uniqueness of seeing a movie about a teenage girl's sexuality that's still pretty smut-minded and full of nudity and gross gags, but ultimately very sex positive, and nowhere nearly as schmatlzy as its' namesake "the 40 Year Old Virgin." It's not great, but it's something, which I guess is better than, y'know, nothing.

4. Seven Pounds- So, this was like everybody's top pick for worst movie of the year, but I actually kind of liked it. I can understand what critics reacted to so negatively in it, there are certainly many of the hallmarks of the classic "Bad Movie" to be found in "Seven Pounds." You've got a confusing plot, bizarre character motivations, terminal illness and Will Smith's almost inexplicable suicide-by-jellyfish. But that's the thing, "Seven Pounds" is kind of bizarre and consistently pretty fascinating, and unlike many films these days, it's actually about something, and manages to put out some ideas without having the characters just express their motivations repeatedly in every scene, over and over again (for three plus hours in "the Dark Knight"). It's definitely flawed, it's not some kind of unsung masterpiece, but it is a strange and compelling film, and I gotta say I liked Will Smith in it. I can definitely see myself watching this again, maybe more than once, to further get at what I liked about it.

5. Splinter- More bland horror from the seemingly endless well of films about young couples stranded out in the middle of nowhere with something threatening them. "Splinter" has nothing that makes it unique. The characters are boring, there's no discernable sense of humor, the threat is unusual but also unexplained, which would be okay if we actually cared about the characters, since there'd be some sense of identification with people in a confusing situation beyond their control, but since the characters are so ill-defined, it's us, the viewers, who are in a confusing (albiet more boring than threatening situation) situation that's beyond our control (well, you could turn the movie off, I guess, but I like to try and see these kinds of things through til the end), with the added unpleasantness of sharing the situation with really uninteresting people (the characters on screen, not your viewing companion, unless you have boring friends). Anyway, "Splinter" maganes to be completely lacking in both horror and fun, so, y'know, that's pretty bad.

6. Bolt- The first ten minutes of this Disney CGI-animated film are an exhiliarting and genuinely funny and involving parody of Matrix-style action movies, executed with enourmous flair and style, successfully walking the fine line between parodying something and cleverly mimicking the best aspects of it (at least visually). Once the actual story of "Bolt" takes over, things are less interesting. No awful, just, y'know, why save all the fun stuff for the parody, if you've got the chops to pull off such engaging digital filmmaking, let it run through the whole movie. Still, this is a good natured family film and I enjoyed its' general lack of cynicism. I don't generally like all-CGI movies, I just have a hard time getting into them. Aside from "Bee Movie," which I really liked, and "Finding Nemo," which I didn't love but enjoyed (Albert Brooks is in it), this is probably the best I've seen. It doesn't have the icky Ayn Randian-fascism of "the Incredibles," nor whatever I'd find in those icky-looking Shrek movies if I could be bothered to watch them. Its just a good movie for kids, that adults can enjoy somewhat as well, which is not a bad thing. I even didn't the presence (voice only, at least) of John Travolta, who generally I think sucks. And I guess I can understand why kids like that Miley Cyrus so much, she's pretty fun (again, voice only) as the owner of the titular canine. Anyway, not a bad film, and that opening is pretty wonderful.

7. Frontier(s)- This French film is essentially just a clone of American torture porn ala "Hostel" and "Saw." The situation should be somewhat horrifying, a group of (I think) Franco-Algerian thieves escapes Paris during the riots (I assume this referenced the riots in the Paris suburbs a few years back) and find themselves stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a group of neo-Nazis tormenting them, but I think a combination a bad acting and uninteresting filmmaking robs "Frontier(s)" of any real impact. The situation was just so familiar, with the kids winding up in a run down, dirty hotel run by vaugley menacing people, who of course turn out to be killers. It's got the same dingy lighting, the same endless scenes of the female lead running through the muck, screaming, it's got the same everything. Perhaps there's some novelty, because it's French, but really, it did nothing for me. There are some obvious exceptions ("Eyes Without a Face,"Trouble Every Day") but in the broader sense, I don't think the French do horror films (or action films) as well as they do dramas, crime films and mysteries. "Frontier(s)" has some genuinely bad acting, particularly by the lead, who seems in her final scenes to be specifically mimicking a concentration camp victim, which is, like, pretty fucked up, because this film is basically just using Nazis for shock value, and using the Holocaust as a cheap gimmick, it doesn't really comment on anything or refer to anything, it's just there for the visual punch, and it's a pretty weak punch anyway. So, yeah, "Frontier(s)" sucks.

8. Max Payne- The former Marky Mark stars in this video game adaptation which, like most video game adaptations, fails to graft a reasonably involving plot or fleshed out characters on the thin frame of digitized action. Like many of these films, it also seems to revel in its' video game-ness, and like many of these films it fails to provide nearly as much entertainment as the same amount of time spent playing a really good video game.

9. Fashion Victim- "Fashion Victim" is the latest in a seemingly unending line of cheap serial killer biopics. In the past decade, we've seen "Ed Gein," "Ted Bundy," "Dahmer," "Gacy," "Karla," a remake of "the Boston Strangler," at least two films about the Hillside Stranglers, "Starkweather," "Kemper," two films about the Zodiac killer, a couple movies about the Green River Killer, a couple about the BTK killer and that movie where Corin Nemec from Parker Lewis Can't Lose plays Richard Speck...certainly more films than have been made chronicling the experiences of American presidents, or really any other true life segment of the population, as far as I know. Some of these films are pretty good, I'd highly recommend "Dahmer," and "Gacy" has its' merits. Most of them are pretty bad, cheap and exploitative, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when filmmakers are exploiting the actual victims of actual crimes, there's something really troubling about it. "Fashion Victim," about Andrew Cunnanan, the killer who counted designer Gianni Versace among his victims, is not good, but it's not particularly exploitative either, in large part because it's so bland, which is no mean feat, since the lurid elements are certainly there to be exploited. But, no, this is a super-cheap, poorly made, extremely flat retelling of Cunnanan's killing spree, with no real insights into his character (it's mentioned that his parents were members of a doomsday cult, but his childhood is never really explored), into the nature of his crimes, his obsession with fame...It's just not there.

10. Red- Brian Cox is kind of amazing in this small, serious film (co-directed by Lucky McKee, who did "May," one of my faves), as a widower who seeks justice after some teenagers kill his beloved pet dog, Red. There are many virtues to "Red," which seems to be gaining the most notice among horror fans because of McKee and costar Robert Englund (also Ashley Laurence of "Hellraiser," and Cox of course was the original Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann's "Manhunter"), but it's more of a drama, and fairly low-key for a revenge film. Actually, it's only marginally a revenge film, Cox's character's quest really is for justice, at the very least the acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and the situation only escelates because of the teen (Noel Fisher) and his redneck-with-money (do people still use the term nouveau riche? Or new money?) dad (Tom Sizemore). The story is pretty compelling, but it's really Cox who is the reason to watch this, he carries himself with a very powerful, quiet dignity, softspoken but somewhat hard, yet caring, this is totally his film (fortunately, he's in pretty much every scene). Which isn't to say it's not a good film, that the script (based on a book by Jack Ketchum, who seems to specialize in these slightly Stephen King-esque New England brutality dramas, ala "The Lost," a bad film (produced by McKee) and "the Girl Next Door," a very good and extremely horrifying film) isn't good, or that the supporting cast isn't good (it also includes Kim Dickens, of "the Zero Effect," who I've always really liked alot, Amanda Plummer, Kyle Gallner of "Veronica Mars" and Richard Riehele of "Office Space"), but for the most part, all you really notice is Cox (which sounds kind of dirty if you read it aloud). I wish I had a more in-depth analysis, and maybe in time it will come to me, but I guess some movies rest on the talent of their lead actors, and this one certainly succeeds because of it. In an interview on the DVD, Cox (who seems pretty great out-of-character as well) refers to McKee as the "original director," so I wonder if he wasn't fired or left the project for some reason, really some of it isn't as striking, visually or otherwise, as he previous films, though maybe it's just an attempt at a more straightforward visual style to accentuate the straightforwardness of the story, and of Cox's character. Anyway, "Red" is totally alright, maybe one of my favorite flicks of last year, or whatever.

That's it for now. More to come. I'm still feeling a little burnt out on this whole endeavor, yet feel compelled to continue on with it. Why? Why not? Why the fuck not?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

today...

Today was a good day. I don't know if I'm happier that Obama has taken office or that Bush has left it, but I'm optimistic about politics pretty much for the first time in my life. It's pretty cool. And Bush is gone, after eight years of incompetence and outright corruption, he's finally gone. Whatever happens next, at least there's hope. Finally.

Monday, January 19, 2009

2008 tv...

As long as I'm doing the list thing, and the 2008 thing, and apparently the thing thing as well, here are my favorite TV shows from last year. I know I said I wasn't going to do best of or favorite lists, but apparently I lied, because these are the shows I liked the most-

1. Terminator- the Sarah Connor Chronicles- There was no reason to expect much of anything from this spin-off of the popular movie franchise, but it turned out to be some pretty compelling TV. The stories take some of the most interesting elements of the Terminator movies and expand on them, particularly the implications of time travel, and the morality of killing to avoid the deaths of many in the future, plus the whole idea that this one character, John Connor, has been robbed of his childhood to be groomed to be the leader of the future revolution, all based on this insane idea that freedom fighters and cyborgs have come back from the future to stop/start the oncoming human-machine war. The acting is uniformly pretty top notch, especially the more-or-less painfully attractive Summer Glau as the good-guy robot who's basically devoid of emotions but occasionally reveals a spark of humanity, or something, under her cold exterior. And the action is good, and well-balanced with the story and character development. And there's story and character development. Did I mention how beautiful Summer Glau is? This is a really good show.

2. Breaking Bad- I've always really liked Bryan Cranston, the comedic character actor best known as the dad on "Malcolm in the Middle" or the dentist who converts to Judiaism for the jokes on "Seinfeld." Here he gets to show off his more dramatic side as a terminally ill science teacher who starts a meth lab in order to provide money for his pregnant wife and disabled child after he dies. This scenario is enough to make for a pretty compelling narrative, but things get even more interesting when Cranston's character teams with a deadbeat ex-student who has drug dealing experience, and everything quickly turns to shit. It's a fascinating meditation of death, mortality and morality (subjects that seem to drive a lot of media these days), as well as the financial pressures of late capitalism on what used to be the middle class, plus there's enough dark, subtle humor to keep things entertaining as the drug dealing venture becomes increasingly dire, as when the two men are stuck with a rival dealer chained up in the basement of their meth lab, and have to figure out whether they're going to be able to kill him or not.

3. Pushing Daisies- Bryan Fuller emerges from the TV abyss every few years to create a show, previously "Dead Like Me" and "Wonderfalls," that's kind of incredible and relevant and which gets cancelled far before its' time. "Pushing Daisies" is no different. Aside from being about something that's important (again, death and mortality), aside from having style (something seriously lacking on most TV), aside from being cleverly and wittily written, aside from having an amazing comedic ensemble cast (Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenowith, Ellen Greene, Swoozie Kurtz, Stephen Root, even "Repo Man's" Sy Richardson shows up for several episodes as a deadpan coroner), aside from...seriously, that wasn't enough to get people to watch this? Or for ABC (the same network that cancelled "Max Headroom," "Sledgehammer," "Twin Peaks" and a bunch of other innovative TV shows I liked) to keep it going for just a little while longer? I guess we'll have to wait another couple of years for Fuller's next one or two season wonder...

4. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia- I was late in coming to this ultra-lowbrow sitcom, something about it (possibly it being ultra-lowbrow) turned me off, but I decided to give a shot last year and wound up watching the first three seasons in about two days while I was sick, and I fucking loved it. This show is just wrong, but it's wrong in a way that's right, just the super sick, gutter-level anything-goes desperate kind of humor. It doesn't always hit the mark, but when it does, such as this season's opener, about cannibalism, it's pretty side-splitting. Plus, Danny DeVito.

5. Metalocalypse- I was also late in coming to adult swim's death metal cartoon, despite being a huge fan of creator Brendon Small's "Home Movies" (which is admittedly totally different). My mind was changed when I saw a rerun of an episode featuring Dr. Roxxo, the cocaine sniffing rock n' roll clown (who seems loosely based on David Lee Roth). After that, my heart was open to the story of the world's most popular, and brutal, death metal band (turns out I really like death metal and black metal- who knew?). This season, every episode seemed in end in a violent massacre of some kind, usually pretty hilariously. Plus we got to see the bleak Norse enviorns where my favorite character Toki grew up. Toki also beats the shit out of some frat dude in the season finale, it's pretty funny. And fictional band Dethklok actually has some great songs (mostly all performed by Small).

6. The Venture Brothers- This show is basically specifically designed for people with my interests and sense of humor. The third season wasn't as great as the previous two, but I still pretty much love everything about "the Venture Brothers." And it's got voice acting by James Urbaniak and Patrick Warburton. And the music is by JG Thirwell of Foetus. Presented in glorious Extra Color.

7. Batman- the Brave & the Bold- This new cartoon series actually manages to do something that's totally beyond "the Dark Knight" and Grant Morrison's recent Batman comics- be fun. It strikes a near perfect balance between the light, sci-fi heavy Batman comics of the 1950s and 1960s (from which it also takes much of its' visual style) and a more sophisticated view of the character (influenced no doubt by Batman- the Animated series and JLU cartoons, I would also say Steve Englehart, Marshall Rodgers and Terry Austin's run on the comic). The choice of guest characters is particularly inspired, and seems to come from a knowledge of and love for the DC comics universe. You've got the current Blue Beetle, a golden age styled Green Arrow, Aquaman (back in his awesome green and orange costume), Red Tornado and Plastic Man, it's all good stuff. Though I doubt any comics-derived cartoon will ever rival "Batman- the Animated Series" for my affections, this certainly comes close, and is a worlds above the bland "the Batman" cartoon of recent years. Fun. Awesome.

8. Moral Orel- Though the final season of this adult swim series kind of petered out towards the end, the first episodes were unbelievably bleak and brutal, particularly the season opener, which commenced things with the Mountain Goats' "No Children" ('I hope I cut myself shaving today, I hope it bleeds all day long...'). This series started off as a one-joke parody of fundamental christianity, but once it tapped into the core desperation of its' adult characters, it became much, much more. Was the finale kind of disappointing on purpose, I wonder, to underscore the general theme hopelessness?

9. Peep Show- I had to seek out episodes of this UK series online. It's one of my favorite things that's ever been on TV, if not my favorite. After killing and eating a dog and pissing on a wedding party in a church last season, this year's episodes deal with the horrible co-dependency between main characters Mark and Jez, how they just can't seem to escape one another, no matter how hard they try. Again, the humor is bleak and brutal, but hilarious, and almost painfully relatable at times.

10. various negative pleasures- 90210, True Blood, VH1 celebrity reality shows- I watch a lot of shit because I don't like it. Which I guess means I actually do kind of like it, but that's sort of the push and pull of negative pleasure. 90210 is stupid and fun just like the old 90210 was. True Blood is infuriatingly stupid but sometimes it's hilarious in its' mediocrity, and it has a lot of sex and nudity, and apparently I will watch a TV show just for some sex and nudity. I don't know why I watch VH1 reality shows. I despise Bret Michaels but I can't stop watching Rock of Love, Rock of Love Charm School or I Love Money. And Celebrity Rehab, there's some shit, whatever. I won't call them guilty pleasures, because I don't feel any guilt for watching them, but they're definitely negative pleasures, because they sort of make me want to gouge my eyes out because I can't look away...

And that's it. More films of 2008 coming soon. I think I'm going to break a hundred on that one. Eventually I'll get bored with it but for now I can see it the tally reaching 120 or more films. Does anyone even care? Do I even care if anyone cares? It snowed in New York today, so that was kind of nice...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2008 part 8...

So, my band Chernobyl Skul! played our first show last night, and it seems like it went pretty well. It was certainly a lot of fun, and I think we were fairly successful in inflicting a sonic noise assault on the audience, but not in a full on aggressive way, like, with a little rhythm and melody and stuff. A good bunch of people came out (if you reading this and you were there, thanks!) despite the brutally frigid weather in New York this weekend, so that was pretty awesome too. Pics and video were taken, so I'll post some stuff or at least some links to it sometime soon. Meanwhile, hopefully Chernobyl Skul! will be playing again sometime in the near future, so stay stuned...

Meanwhile, the onward thrush to view and review as many of the films of 2008 as I can stomach soldiers on. Actually, I'm being a bit unfair, each batch of these films has held some treasures along with the pain, and this one is no different, so enjoy, or whatever. Not enjoy, but be enlightened, or whatever. Just read...

1. Jumper- It's kind of amazing that mainstream, big budgeted films can be this plotless and incoherent. When I was in film school, I had a screenwriting teacher, not to drop names but he was one of the writers of Friday the 13th part IV, and he was kind of a lunatic and a little bit of a moron, but he successfully personified your typical screenwriting professor and Hollywood type in general by railing on, with unmotivated hostility and aggression, about the fundamentals of screenwriting, the importance of story, of your typical three act structure, and I always sort of imagined that people who make big mainstream movies, who greenlight these sort of sci-fi action projects, would be of the same philosophy. But then I see something like "Jumper," which really has no story nor plot, nor any real action until more than halfway through, which wouldn't be an issue if there were something else going on, strong characterizations, good dialogue, but, no...Instead we have two of the most generic performers imaginable, Hayden Christianson and, uh, some girl (Rachel Bilson, who I intially mistook for the slightly less bland Rachel McAdams, not that it matters) and a central special effect (teleportation) that really isn't all that special. Like, it's cool that they have all these digital effects these days, but it's not that impressive when they're used to replicate something that could basically be achieved by stopping the camera and having the actor go out of the frame, pretty much the first thing anyone who has ever picked up a camera has ever figured out. Or whatever they did on the old Star Trek show, with the teleporter, which worked fine and probably costs millions of dollars less to put on film. It's not even that this movie is totally bad, just totally inconsequential, without any substance or relevance of any kind (no surprise, it comes from the director of "Swingers" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," the first of which at least had the courtesy to be intermittently amusing and the second of which was at least ridiculously bad in a moderately, marginally entertaining way [not really, but still better than this], though I admittedly enjoyed his first movie, the somewhat cheesy dark comedy "Getting In" with Andrew McCarthy and Dave Chappelle). Oh, and what is with filmmakers' need to put ridiculous things on Samuel L. Jackson's head? He has some insane wig or piece of headgear in pretty much ever movie he appears in. Here it's a bone white short haired wig, sort of like soul singer Sisquo of the "Thong Song" fame, though to be fair it was probably the most entertaining thing to be found hereabouts...

2. Drillbit Taylor- It may be a sign I'm getting progressively dumber, but I actually really liked this tweeny comedy with Owen Wilson as a homeless man who is hired by a bodyguard by a bunch of high school misfits. Then again, "Drillbit Taylor" is directed by Steven Brill, who also did "Heavy Weights" (1995), which I've always considered a pretty excellent young people's film (full disclosure- "Heavy Weights" was co-written by Brill and Judd Apatow, one of my most of hated of filmmakers, but who obviously hasn't always done everything wrong, and "Drillbit Taylor" is co-written by Seth Rogan, who I have mixed but obviously less acrimonious feelings about blah blah blah). Anyway, like "Heavy Weights," "Drillbit Taylor" is a good teen outcast comedy, and it works mainly because the kids are funny, the stuff with Owen Wilson is actually pretty extraneous, although he does exude a certain easy charm that makes it possible to recall him in more rewarding roles in Wes Anderson movies and...well, that's pretty much the only good movies he'd done, huh? But seriously, "Drillbit Taylor" is alright. The kids, Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile and David Dorfman, all play nerdy high school kids with a degree of believability and are appropriately awkward and funny. There is also a very talented array of adult performers with small roles in the film, including Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh of Upright Citizens Brigade, Danny McBride, Stephen Root, Beth Littleford, David Koechner, Josh Peck, Leslie Mann, Cedric Yarbrough of Reno 911, Rance Howard, Steve Bannos of Freaks & Geeks, Kevin Hart, Kevin Corrigan and, in on the film's funniest moments, Adam Baldwin in a scene poking fun at his breakout role in "My Bodygaurd." Yes, "Drillbit Taylor" is pretty lowbrow, but it's lowbrow fun and I think that critics who dumped on this missed the point that it's a reasonably not stupid movie for tweens, not a really stupid movie for adults...


3. The Happening- M. Night Shyamalan is a remarkably shit filmmaker. Sure, "the Sixth Sense" and "Ubreakable" were pretty good, not great but decent, but it's been a fairly aggressive drive downhill sense then, with "The Happening" winning out over "Lady in the Water" for the director's worst film (maybe the worst film of the year, if such a thing can truly be appraised). This has the distinction of being the director's first R-rated movie, which only really means it amps up the violence a bit, but it's of no particular consequence, since the tone and inevitable twist ending are exactly the same as any other of Shyamalan's films. At least it isn't as overwhelming a piece of Christian propaganda as "Signs," but it's still total shit, remarkably awful, poorly written with awkward dialogue and bland acting, no real story to speak of- the horror just begins and then it stops. And it's basically a rip off "Day of the Triffids," which isn't a bad thing unto itself, but I would have much rather been watching any one of the versions of that instead of this, which was bad, so bad, really fucking bad, irritating, pointless, stupid. I hope "the Happening's" failure and critical drubbing will remove this one-trick pony gimmick filmmaker from our public consciousness, or at least force him to actually try and make a different movie from the same thing he's been inflicting filmgoers with time and again. No, wait, I just want the first one. I want him to go away...

4. The Strangers- This fairly minimal, stripped-down horror flick by first time writer-director Bryan Bertino did pretty good business, got a few favorable reviews and seemed to resonate somewhat with horror fans, but I found it mostly pretty bland. "The Strangers" is sort of like the Hollywood version of a Michael Haneke movie, except it's not because we actually saw the Hollywood version of a Haneke movie this year, by Haneke, and it was much more interesting than this, but here we have like survival horror lite, with a young couple taunted by a trio of masked tormentors for no discernable reason beyond the allure of random violence. The action is slow to get going, which would be cool if that time was spent well. Instead, with get Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman mumbling in hushed tones about something about their relationship or whatever, it isn't really character development, it isn't really scene-setting, it's actually kind of hard to understand what either is saying half the time since they're whispering despite being alone with one another in an isolated house. But I guess that is Bertino's idea of being challenging or difficult, but it's more difficult to follow than it is to endure, though I give him credit for trying to be difficult using any cinematic tactic other than extreme violence ala torture porn. Problematically, though, he gives us almost nothing to work with, by the time the action starts, we don't really have a feel for the characters, the killers are literally faceless and the paramaters of their threat are totally undefined. The latter is actually fairly cool, up to a point, because we have no idea what's coming. In fact, there's a sense that once the villains actually capture their prey, they might just let them go rather than killing them, like they've been scaring them for the sake of scaring them. Except, when the moment comes, they just kill them. Like, we've been through a fairly unconventional scenario, and it ends up very conventionally, which is a let down. And there's a whole thing about the killer's masks that's kind of annoying. They wear masks the whole movie, and at the end they take them off, but we still don't see their faces. It's an interesting attempt at withholding cinematic relief, but it feels gimmicky. Also it's kind of stupid that the killers are played by actors and have stunt doubles, when they just could have been played by the stunt people. Oh, and the very ending is totally lame, a cheap shock gimmck that amounts to nothing. Blah.

5. Real Time- Writer-director Randall Cole gives us a slight but well-acted and generally pretty satisfying lo-fi drama comedy about a degenerate gambler (Jay Baruchel) and his last couple of hours with the hitman who's been hired to kill him (Randy Quaid). "Real Time" is a character piece, and fortunately the characters work, the acting is good. What could have been a trite, standard issue "quirky" indie comedy plays out pretty well. For sure, it could have been a play, but that's not a bad thing necessarily (check out "Bug," or many of David Mamet's screen adapatations). I really kind of liked it.

6. In Bruges- Finally, a movie that lives up to the hype. I kept hearing about how great this film was, how great it was, and I though, nah, movies that people think are good are never good. But "In Bruges" is really, really good. It's not perfect, but it's a funny, good-hearted dark comedy with a violent streak, propelled by some excellent performances by Brendan Gleeson, whom I've always really liked, and Colin Ferrell, who I up to this point have found fairly intolerable and intentionally avoided movies that he's in, but here he's good, kind of really good. It helps, of course, that the script, by writer-director Martin McDonough (a playwright, and again this has kind of a could-be-a-play feel, as it's mostly just two characters talking), just totally works. The characters are likable, but it's also a movie about regret and pain, and the emotional content is strong. Some of the extraneous elements, such as the coked-up dwarf ranting about the oncoming race war, maybe betray the more realistic characterizations and emotional aspects of the film, but they provide enough laughs to be passable. "In Bruges," man, pretty good film.

7. Saw V- One of the worst things about Saw V is that watching it necessitated also watching Saw IV. I've written about these films here before, about how much I dislike them, yet keep I watching them, as though somehow the next entry in this interminable series is going to provide something valuable that the others have so aggressively withheld. Hasn't happened yet. If anything, the entries in the Saw series have become progressively more incoherent and pointless, with unintelligible dollops of overwrought plot histrionics intercut with the only real attraction- elaborate scene of excessive violence. Well, not excessive, the ethos of the series is such that no act of violence is in excess, but very extreme violence, which is something I obviously don't mind in better movies. Tokyo Gore Police is full of insane violence, but it works because the movie has like characters and stuff, here we have an interchangeable battery of puffy faced middle-aged ex-TV performers looking all sweaty and serious and stuff. Oh, and Julie Benz, who I do like a lot, and between this, "Punisher War Zone," "Rambo" and her role on "Dexter," has been in probably the most violent movies and TV of the year. I'd like to think it's maybe some kinky violence fetish on her part, but it's probably something more mundane, like these are the parts she was offered, and so she took them, but it's interesting that one actor would be in so much violent media in one year, and of such varying quality as well. Anyway, Saw V totally fucking sucks, and there's no reason to watch it, unless you're really a glutton for punishment, which I guess I am, cuz I watched it, but I definitely didn't enjoy it. But whatever.

8. Smart People- First-time filmmaker Noam Murro's "Smart People" is a pinnacle of adequate, unremarkable filmmaking. From a script by Mark Poirier, it's bland but not bad, smart but not as smart as the titular smart people. It's paced and deliberate in a watchable way, but it's still got a bit of Hollywood going on, there's got to be kind of neat, happy ending, y'know it's got a bit of the "Little Miss Sunshine" presciousness syndrome. Still, "Smart People" has a good dry wit, it is genuinely intelligent, and the cast (Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Sarah Jessica Harper, Thomas Hayden Church, Ashton Holmes, Camille Mana) is pretty great. How come when someone who has always been kind of appealing, and not a maniac, like Dennis Quaid does some genuinely interesting films like this and "American Dreamz," no one really talks about the triumphant ressurection of Dennis Quaid, but a shitty actor who disappeared because he's shitty, and a maniac, like Mickey Rourke gets the fanfare rolled out for him for "the Wrestler." That's kind of bullshit. Like, Mickey Rourke, John Travolta, there's a reason why these actors went away and needed to make a comeback- they made lots of shitty movies and bad career choices, and were sort of awful in their personal lives, aggressively so. Dennis Quaid is a good actor who has mostly done interesting or at least passable films and never made much of a splash personally, and his star should be shining brighter than it does. And he's got range, to go from the dimwitted Bush clone in "American Dreamz" to the self-hating college professor intellectual in this. Film critics are fucking stupid. Oh, and that Ellen Page, I don't mean to be crude, but I find her very attractive. Y'know, sexually.

9. The Foot Fist Way- This is another film which came with some hype, and actually delivers. It's no surprise that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay were behind the release of this indie from filmmaker Jody Hill, since it's basically a lower-key version of the type of idiot humor of "Talladega Nights" or "Anchorman," you've got a clueless, yet aggressive character who is monomaniaclly obsessed with their chosen profession, and most of the humor emerges out of that character's social retardation. Danny McBride (also a co-writer) as Tae Kwon Do instructor Fred Simmons, is pretty much perfect. He's a self-deluded loser and an asshole, but basically good hearted (ala Ferrell in many of his films), and McBride is a truly captivating comedic performer (he was also in "Pineapple Express" and "Drillbit Taylor" this year, and brought something welcome to both). It's cool to see an actor basically the same age as me who isn't especially good-looking doing comedy, since it seems like too often 30-ish comedians have to be good looking these days, it's kind of lame, it's sort of antithetical to the spirit of comedy, maybe, something, whatever...Anyway, I really like Danny McBride, and I really enjoyed the "Foot Fist Way." It's comedy of discomfort done with a certain aggressive, unflinching abandon, and even when it falters, it's still pretty watchable. And there's emotional resonance too. This is a good film and I'm looking forward to seeing more of McBride and Hill and what they come up with next, or something...

10. Alien Raiders- I only watched "Alien Raiders" a few days ago and I can't remember anything about it, so I'm going to go ahead and say it was pretty bad. Maybe I need to watch it again. As far as I remember, it was sort of like an extended version of that scene in John Carpenter's "the Thing" where they test everybody to see who's an alien and who isn't, set in a supermarket, with cops and robbers. Mathew St. Patrick, the guy who played Michael Hall's boyfriend on "Six Feet Under," is one of the stars. There's lots of talking. Seriously, that's all I remember...

More to come. Thanks again to anyone who supported Chernobyl Skul!