Saturday, July 28, 2012


Friday, July 27, 2012

Lupe Ontiveros 1942-2012

So sorry to hear of the death of another talent. I always liked Lupe Ontiveros in everything. She got cast in a lot of stereotype roles or in thankless supporting bits, but when you see her in something like Chuck & Buck or Real Women Have Curves, you can see how more people should have used her. Rest in peace. Que ella descanse en paz.

Random Thoughts

Look, I appreciate the effort. I appreciate comic book fans saying that we should go give blood because that's heroic. I even appreciate Christian Bale going to visit some of the victims of the massacre*. But I think it's getting to be a bit too much now. Do you think that maybe we could let this be about the victims of the worst massacre in American history for a little while instead of Batman?

(Update: I just this second saw someone on Tumblr who added "2005-2012" to this as a lament for the series. So... first The Dark Knight co-opts the tragedy itself, and now the symbol of the tragedy? The circle of news is complete.)

* I do find myself oddly perplexed by the women on Tumblr who have been saying things like, and this is a direct quote, "I didn't think Christian Bale could get even sexier!" Yeah, if his screaming at the lighting crew and assaulting his mother and sister didn't get those juices flowing for you already, I guess. It is much more in keeping with the spirit of Batman than Christopher Nolan's depressing Randian version, though.

:: You just knew we couldn't get away from this massacre, though, without some self-appointed Christian authority saying something utterly stupid. Jerry Newcombe, Evangelical nitwit from the Truth in Action Ministry, offered people that typically Evangelical combination of hope and smugness by saying "If a Christian dies early, if a Christian dies young, it seems tragic, but really it is not tragic because they are going to a wonderful place.. on the other hand, if a person doesn’t know Jesus Christ.. if they knowingly rejected Jesus Christ, then, basically, they are going to a terrible place."

How do you even respond to that kind of stupidity? It's the old argument that says you can't know ethics or morality without the healthy fear of an imaginary character in a really old book. It's heartlessness and assumed superiority masquerading as concern for others. And it's the kind of thing a worthless shit stain says to show everyone how righteous they are when they know nothing about being a human being.

Make like Jesus and give a shit about what happens to people.

:: Also, if you get to use a worn-out book in something like it's fifth translation from its original language as proof that God exists, I get to counter with the equal ridiculousness that Bram Stoker is proof that vampires exist. Hey, man, I read it in a book. An old book.

:: Penn State got fined $60 million and aren't allowed to participate in bowl games for the next four years. Every win they had from 1998 to 2011 was voided, and the statue of Joe Paterno got taken down. All that's well and good, but can we start looking at the people above Joe Paterno (up to and possibly including the current Governor of Pennsylvania) who made this massive cover-up possible? I'm not defending Paterno, but it's not like the buck stops there. Keep going, goddammit.

I thought the Man of Steel teaser was okay. Certainly a different take on Superman, but not one I found as offensive as apparently a lot of other people did. I just hope it's not as right wing as Nolan's Batman movies are. But who knows? It's Zack Snyder, and 300 was a pretty macho, racist caricature. (One I enjoyed, but let's face it, Snyder's definitely at his best when he's making cartoons like 300 and Watchmen.)

The music from Lord of the Rings was a mistake, but only because the LOTR music is so distinctive (honestly, it was the last film music I found truly distinctive). I'm glad they didn't go with John Williams' Superman march. After Bryan Singer's overly-worshipful abortion of a movie, I really want a film that offers its own take on the mythos, rather than reheating a superior effort from 30-odd years ago. Stand on your own, fly on your own, stop looking over your shoulder to see if Christopher Reeve fans think what you're doing is okay. That was a wonderful movie, but it still exists. Stop trying to be what already is and be something else.

:: Speaking of LOTR, is it really necessary for The Hobbit to be three movies? Two is kind of pushing it, except that Peter Jackson is throwing in bits from The Silmarillion and the expected fan-service for connective tissue. I love The Hobbit, it's a great novel, but is there really so much there that we need three movies? It feels like if a director were doing Lord of the Rings now it would be nine goddamn movies long. This trend is getting out of hand. Chopping Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two movies was pretty damn unsatisfying. Breaking Dawn, Mockingjay... do these epics really need to be so damn epic? I feel like when David Lean said everything he needed to say about TE Lawrence and the Middle East in less time than it took to tell the story of Twilight, something's wrong. When did brevity and simplicity become such lost art forms?

:: The Seven Deadly Sins in Animated GIF Form by Boulet.

Hayden Panettiere canceled on this year's WizardWorld. Damn it. Getting her overpriced autograph was the only thing about this year's entire overpriced affair I was looking forward to. I am so over cons nickel-and-diming-and-hundred-bucking fans, anyway.

:: Okay, back to guns for a minute. A million years ago (roughly), I wrote on a Throwdown that people tend to call for a ban on guns after a massacre, but no one ever says we shouldn't have cars when cars kill people every day. Looking back now, I'm really annoyed with myself for writing something so immature and incredibly dumb. My point was that a gun was a tool and any tool could be used to hurt people. But I don't think that way anymore. Guns are designed expressly for the purpose of killing people. The only other things you can do with them are kill animals and target shooting, which is kind of like practice killing. I've fired handguns and shotguns; I don't see them as practical since we got out of our homesteading phase.

It's a complicated issue, as much as that seems like a cop-out to say. It's just that I don't find any of the anti-gun-control arguments particularly convincing. They're really just weak non-arguments. "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns." That's just saying what would legally happen. And more people with concealed weapons isn't the answer to anything. And having guns to defend yourself from the government? If that even happened, the government has access to a much better class of weapons than you do. Is having easy internet access to weapons purchase really an issue of personal freedoms? If it is, then the trade-off is that massacres can and do happen quite easily.

At any rate, I take back that stupid thing I said earlier. Because it really bugs me that I said it.

:: Dane Cook is already making jokes about the massacre. Let me paraphrase the whole thing for you: "Please just pay attention to me! I die without your attention! Even negative attention!"

:: Hey, how about this whole Kristen Stewart having an affair thing? I'm having fun with it because it's just so unbelievable and badly staged (and conveniently timed for maximum effect before Breaking Dawn Part 2 comes out). Well, the dumbass kids who think Robsten is really really super real needed to get disillusioned some time.

:: Fuck you, Mitt Romney. Just hadn't said it yet today.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


MasterChef Observations

The funniest thing about this week's episodes were the titles: "Top 6 Compete, Part 1" and "Top 6 Compete, Part 2." Except on Monday they had the last 8 people to get eliminated come back to compete to get back on the show, and then on Tuesday it was the now Top 7 competing and one got eliminated. Can't wait for Monday's "Finally, Top 6 Compete."

So we had to sit through another hour of Ryan, and of course it was down to him or Josh, even though Stacey was obviously better than Ryan. It should have been Stacey and Josh; she really challenged herself and came through. But this is that point in these shows where they start shaping the final narrative arc while trying to keep the illusion of reality competition going. Ryan's return had everyone stressed out, and that's the whole point of that little plot device. The problem with the boy is that he is just chemically designed to piss me off. Every dumb face he makes, every word he speaks in that monotone, every time he tries to explain food to Gordon, every time he fucking calls himself "the Flavor Elevator." (Four times. I counted. He's desperately hoping someone at Food Network is watching and wants to get in on the ground floor.)

So now Josh is back and whatever that means. He doesn't seem any better or worse; he's just as inconsistent as he always was, so this doesn't really add to the excitement. He seems like he's on the bottom tier of the new Top 6.

Sorry to see Felix go when David clearly deserved it.


:: I'm digging Frank more and more. He's a little arrogant, but his confidence is infectious and I like his sense of fairness. Arguing that he would've given rice to David if he'd had it because David doesn't deserve to go home for his mistake, he deserves to go home "for his terrible cooking," is the kind of thing I'm totally behind. I hate it on Hell's Kitchen when someone goes home because of some dumbass challenge that has nothing to do with working in a restaurant.

:: Right now, I'm calling Becky and Frank for the final two. I hope they go with Frank. He seems more marketable, right? Less impressed with himself than she is with herself, anyway. (Seriously, we don't need to cut to her phony opinion on everything that happens. Let someone else talk. Even if it has to be David, just anything to cut the Becky down.)

:: The judges seemed way too impressed with Becky's grilled prawns, by the way. We get it, she's the pet.

:: Nothing really to say about Hell's Kitchen this week, except that I'm glad Kimmie's gone home. Frankly, you could also send the entire blue kitchen home, if you wanted to.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Damn kids! Get off my lawn!"

"And put that flower pot back where you found it!"

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

One of those gassy, overlong, turgid melodramas that Hollywood loved to churn out in the 1960s: too big, too much, too overdramatic, but with really grand production design. Natalie Wood at 28 plays a 16 year-old girl who goes into the Hollywood machine in the 1930s and becomes an overnight sensation, but nearly loses her soul doing so. The movie is so timid about its themes (especially homosexuality) that it can't find a way to deal with them honestly, so it tries to go for Gothic grandness and just looks sillier. Wood overplays it, making Daisy Clover about as dimensional as a Dead End Kid. Except for the production design and an excellent performance from Ruth Gordon as Daisy's disturbed mother, this is a total waste. *1/2

Surprisingly good. Though it's advertising suggested a much more horrible film, this is a surprisingly human character piece about responsibility and potential. I could do without the overly earnest voiceover, and I am beyond sick of seeing animated movies that end with all of the characters dancing for no reason, but I really enjoyed this one. It's not The Incredibles, but it's not Shrek the Third. Of course, as we've seen in the comments here, I'm wrong when I like DreamWorks movies that aren't huge successes that three-year-olds will love (because Katzenberg really seems to believe the key to making toddlers love a movie is to make them about existential crises and star cameos) and that will spawn 10 sequels. But oh well. Guess I'm some kind of Philistine. ***1/2

LOL (2012)
I can see why Miley's latest star vehicle sat on a shelf for two years. It should've stayed there a lot longer. It's an annoying drama about an entitled teenage girl who whines about how entitled she is and about how her mother won't just shut up and let her be all entitled. Miley Cyrus is proving more and more to be someone who only had one thing in her (Hannah Montana) and the painful limitations are more obvious than ever in her half-hearted acting career and her increasingly arbitrary music career. She'll probably come back on an ABC Family sitcom when she's 30. This movie is so terrible that I wish it had a face I could punch it in. At least Chicago looks nice on film. Zero stars.

From the Porn Chic era, an era I love. But I didn't love this one. Rebecca Brooke plays a woman whose rival comes back to town and starts sleeping with everyone who isn't chained to the wall. It tries to explore some dramatic themes, but the actors aren't really up for it (Sarah Nicholson as the main character is even laughable at times). There's no joy or happiness to it; I've never seen an adult movie that's such a drag. It's like Bergman, but with more nudity and less recognizable humanity. **

Ralph Bakshi's third film after Heavy Traffic and Fritz the Cat is also about the urban nightmare, but with an even more racial bent (including the horrifying title, which was the producer's and not Bakshi's). It's a very interesting movie. It's a modern, urban take on Uncle Remus, about three characters who leave the South and head to Harlem thinking it'll be a black paradise, but only finding more violence and poverty. It's done in a graffiti art style that's still controversial, but which I find an interesting stylistic choice. Rather than amusing himself with blaxploitation stereotypes, Bakshi throws them in your face and forces you to deal with them for what they are. He does the same with some really outlandish queer stereotypes and Italian stereotypes (the film is in part an attack on The Godfather and what Bakshi found to be the offensive way in which it granted the Mafia a nobility that was dishonest). It's hampered by a lack of focus in the last third; or maybe it just gets to be a little too much by then and it wore me down. It's a visceral, haunting experience that, like a lot of Bakshi movies, is well-animated, confrontational, and often horrifying. ***

I really enjoyed this. I've never been able to make it to the end of The Pink Panther or A Shot in the Dark, but this one was a lot of fun. It was just silly and enjoyable; like a silly take on a James Bond movie. Or, given the way Bond movies were in the seventies, like a Bond movie. Peter Sellers is very funny, but I'm sorry they couldn't get David Niven to reprise his role as the Phantom from the first movie. Christopher Plummer is good, even with his big seventies hair, but no one is suave like Niven. The identity of the jewel thief is pretty obvious from the outset, but the movie was so funny I didn't really care. Also: incredibly good animation in the title sequence by Richard Williams and Ken Harris. That alone is worth seeing. ***

Lon Chaney in an early role as a guy who stands around and talks to other people who are standing around and talking. Also, something about a robbery. But mostly standing and talking. **

Surprisingly interminable take on the Perrault fairy tale. At 50 minutes, it's downright turgid. Mary Pickford stars in the title role and spends a lot of time staring off wistfully into the distance. I found the movie's morality hilarious: it paints going to see a fortune teller as the height of ignorance while fairy godmothers are what? A fact of nature? **1/2

Charlie Chaplin's first film. In his big top hat and his baggy jacket, his head looks disconcertingly big. That was an odd distraction. He plays a swindler who keeps stealing from one man, and then there's a cop chase. Not an epic, but Chaplin is funny and compelling as he always would be. It really doesn't take watching that many silent films to show you just how far and away Chaplin was from them in talent. It's amazing to watch, even here in its formative stages. ***

The first released (but second-filmed) appearance of the Little Tramp. This one is hilarious; it's about a newsreel crew trying to film scenes of a baby cart race in California, but the Tramp keeps getting in the shot. It was actually shot at a real race with Chaplin and the crew pulling gags in front of spectators. It's really funny, but it goes on just a smidge too long, getting repetitive in the end. ***1/2

Chaplin's first filmed appearance as the Tramp is in this comedy with Mabel Normand as a hotel guest who gets locked out of her room. Complications ensue, the best of which is the Tramp as a drunken admirer. Kind of predictable, but Chaplin is great. **1/2

This is another great example of how Chaplin is just so precise and fluid in his comedy. Here, the Tramp and another tramp compete over who gets to help a woman avoid a muddy puddle after a rainstorm, and then over whether an umbrella belongs to her. Even the way Chaplin turns around can be hilarious. But as the rival, Ford Sterling is much too broad and obvious. ***

Chaplin again, as the Tramp falls in love with a girl in a Keystone picture and travels to the studio to rescue her. Some good sight gags involving silent filmmaking, and some funny cameos. Ford Sterling is funnier here playing himself for half a minute than he is in all of Between Showers. ***

Mabel Normand in an overlong romp leading up to an incredibly obvious and ancient punchline. This was her 172nd film. **1/2

A long American take on Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." It's heavy-handed (it wouldn't be Griffith if it weren't), but there are a lot of good things in it, particularly a vision of hell that the protagonist suffers at his lowest. ***

A touching film about a Mexican boy and the bull he raises from birth. From day one, the bull is destined for the arena, and Leonardo tries hard not to let that happen. It's one of the most rewarding boy-and-his-animal films I've ever seen, though the third act loses me a bit because of the spectacle of bullfighting; I'm sorry, but you'll never convince me that cornering, wounding, and baiting an animal is noble in any way. But the ending makes up for a lot. ****

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride 1951-2012

Sally Ride died today at the age of 61. She had battled with pancreatic cancer for the last 17 months. I actually remember her flight into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. My Mom, who was always the one to get me into science fiction and outer space and the Space Program, made sure I knew what was going on. Thank you, Dr. Ride, for being one of the brave ones who inspired us to look up.

Movie Confessions

This is apparently a blogathon that's been going around a bit. I first found it on the Cinema Junkie tumblr, and I just figured I'd give it a go here.

Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?

The first thing that comes to mind is The Pink Panther. It's fresh in my head because I saw The Return of the Pink Panther this weekend and enjoyed it; but I never wanted to see it because I've tried three separate times in my life to watch The Pink Panther and I've never made it all the way to the end.

I've also just never enjoyed Network. Or Nashville.

Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?

Lots of them, honestly. I don't feel particularly... well, whatever the film equivalent of well-read is. Especially when it comes to foreign classics. There, unless it's Kurosawa, I tend to be lacking.

Here are ten off the top of my head (foreign language or otherwise):

  1. The Wages of Fear
  2. Band of Outsiders
  3. Top Hat
  4. Sullivan's Travels
  5. The Last Laugh
  6. L'avventura
  7. Night and Fog
  8. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  9. The Lost Weekend
  10. Marty
You have to remember, too, that when I first got into films in a major way there was still no internet to speak of. I went by what a lot of books and things like the Sight & Sound list said were the essential movies to see. Then my generation decided that most of what came before Reservoir Dogs was inessential and that Spielberg was the most important director of all time and that lists of the greatest films ever made started proudly including hardly any movies that were made before The Godfather. So I don't know what's supposed to be the greatest whatever and tend to not take those things too seriously.

All I know is, there are so many films I want to see, and I may never see each one. But at least I'll never lack for something to watch.

Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?

Oh, sure. But I weirdly can't remember what any of those movies were.

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?

Jesus, who isn't anymore? Just look at the A-list: they almost all suck. First name that pops into my head: Reese Witherspoon. What the hell was that whole thing about? And who are these people who think that Julia Roberts is seriously talented in any way?

From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?

I honestly can't think of one... Not now, anyway. I might later, and now I feel like maybe I look like a know-it-all. But seriously, I feel like there isn't a major director where I haven't seen at least one piece of his work.

Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?

Oh, you know, the popcorn stuff that people give me a hard time about: The Spirit, Speed Racer, the Star Wars prequels.

Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?

No. I've had it done to me and wouldn't ever do it to anyone else.

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?

Oh, sure. Try and be a fan of any actor or actress, especially today, and you have to know going in that if you follow them, you're going to see some bad movies. It's just a statistical definite. Jeez, this happens so often that I'm having trouble pulling out specific examples. Just this year I saw Big Miracle, even though it looked like exactly the kind of cloying, manipulative, John Krasinski-starring crap that I despise, but I saw it because Kristen Bell was in it. And guess what? I hated it. But I didn't hate Kristen Bell.

Bell's a good example, really, because I knew going in that When in Rome and You Again were going to be terrible. And hey, they were. But I can't ignore Kristen Bell. That's just not happening.

Furthering the example: I saw Roman because it was on cable a lot and Kristen Bell has a too-small role in it. JA, you warned me not to see it, but I did anyway. And it was as bad as you promised it would be. But I couldn't stop myself.

Oh, and Pulse. That was another one that looked fucking terrible--so terrible that it was delayed over and over in theaters. I saw the same trailer for that thing for something like a year and a half, because that's when I could still afford to go to the movies all the time. And Kristen Bell was in it, so I watched it, and that movie made me feel physically sick.

Jesus Christ, Kristen, you really need a better agent.

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?

I've delayed viewing because I was too tired for subtitles, but I don't have a problem with subtitles and get irritated by people who do.

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?

Yeah. Time gets away from me. Let's not talk about that.

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?

When I own bad movies, it's usually because they have an actor or something else I like about them, or because I'm being a completist about a specific director or Disney movies. My Disney feature animation collection remains unbroken, even if it does have to include Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little and Bolt.

Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?

No, not really. My DVD player has finally stopped working. I had that fucker since 1998, so I got my money's worth out of it. (Which is good, because that beautiful Pioneer cost me 400 bucks back then.) I think now that I have to buy a new one, I'll upgrade to Blu-Ray.

Any other confessions you want to make?

Still a guy who cries in movies. Still a guy who occasionally needs to sleep with the lights on if a movie gets a little too creepy.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Song of the Week: "Tomorrow Is Today"

A beautiful tune from Billy Joel's underrated debut album, Cold Spring Harbor. The album appeared in 1971; the lyrics here are based on a suicide note he wrote when he tried to kill himself by drinking furniture polish. In 1970. Just the year before. This is a perfect example of why Billy Joel has always been comfort music for me: he writes beautiful songs, often in the pop single mode, about self-loathing, unobtainable desires, and just how hard life can be in general and how easy it is to become disgusted with yourself as a result. Chuck Klosterman once said something along the lines of not liking Billy Joel as a pop star because Billy never made him see a pop star or something to aspire to: "the only thing he's ever made me see is me." That's exactly what's so amazing about his music to me.

The Falcon

I think it's really interesting that they've announced that Anthony Mackie is going to be playing The Falcon in the Captain America sequel. I'm honestly surprised they're just going for it, but I think it's really great that they are. Part of what's made these Marvel Universe movies so surprisingly fun is the way they've just gone for these things that seem really silly without even looking back. It's a distinctly Marvel attribute.

I remember when I was a kid, back in the days when you had to hide a lot of your nerdery, and Falcon was one of those characters you smiled at but who was also one that just made people think your love of comics was ridiculous if they ever saw him. I guess with the costume he's just asking for it a little bit.

I assume that with the costume they'll go less with the one that onscreen might seem reminiscent of Disney's Condorman and go with the Ultimate Universe version, like they did with Hawkeye and Thor.

Seems like he'd be awfully heavy on those wings with the automatic weapons in hand, but that's Marvel now.

Either way, I think this is an especially neat idea, and putting him in a Captain America movie is the perfect way to go.

The full title is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I don't really know anything about the Winter Soldier. He's Bucky, isn't he? Watching Captain America: The First Avenger again the week before The Avengers came out, I wondered if they were going to go in that direction because of the way Bucky's death was handled in that movie. It seemed to open the door for that possibility. Again, it also seems like a good direction to go in simply because it gives Cap a personal stake even though he's been removed to 70 years in the future.

The bad news is the realization that Marvel is only making two of these movies a year: so we've got Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World next year, then Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, and The Avengers 2 seems definite for 2015. It's looking increasingly like Ant-Man is going to be the other movie in 2015. So that begs one question.

Where is my Black Panther movie, Marvel?

Not to be ungrateful for the top quality I've been getting, but I was pretty excited about that whole deal.

I Never Tire of 60s Jim Henson Commercials