Sunday, December 27, 2009

Some Ramblings About Love Inspired By The Movie (500) Days Of Summer

Love is a strange and wonderful thing. It may be something that's nearly impossible to catch on film because it's such an individual feeling. Some think it's breathlessness. Some think it's a constant state of happiness. Some think it's safety. Some think it's comfort. Most of the time, if you try to capture it, you lessen it. You somehow make it commercial.

"Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" by The Smiths is a pretty damn good love song.

I think the most interesting spin on love is in Punch Drunk Love when Barry (Adam Sandler) says to Dean (Philip Seymour Hoffman) "I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine."

I think that people get passion confused with love. They're not the same thing. The trunk scene between Jack (George Clooney) and Karen (Jennifer Lopez) in Out of Sight is hot, but love isn't involved.

My parents got engaged the first night that they met. They've been married nearly 50 years. That's a pretty amazing story and I love to tell it. I could have allowed that to really screw up my sense of what love is, but I didn't. My wife and I dated a year before we were married. I'm very much in love with her.

Love is not standing by her window with a boom box over your head, blasting music.

For some reason, a man staring at the top of a woman's head signifies love. George (Jimmy Stewart) staring at Mary's (Donna Reed) hair while she's on the phone in It's A Wonderful Life and Rupert (Gene Hackman) staring at the top of Mrs. Pell's (Frances McDormand) head in Mississippi Burning. It seems strange, but love is in the smallest things.

I find the love story between Parry (Robin Williams) and Lyndia (Amanda Plummer) in The Fisher King to be very intoxicating.

I think When Harry Met Sally is a pretty damn good love story because friendship is a big part of loving someone.

I prefer movies that don't try to define love or understand it, but instead just go with it. For that reason, I didn't care much for (500) Days of Summer. It felt a bit too self conscious for me. The storytelling technique felt fresh, but the story didn't. Do you think that part of Zooey Deschanel's contract insists that she sings in every one of her movies?

Monday, December 21, 2009

James Cameron Doesn't Date Ugly Chicks

Wow. I've been away so long, I feel like the unfrozen caveman. You're... ways... are... strange... to... me. This... blogging... thing...

And to think the one thing that brings me out of blogging hibernation is James Cameron's Avatar. That's not really the case though. I've been meaning/wanting to write for some time, I just haven't had the time. So let's get started.

Movies really are like dating when you think about it. At first, everyone is attracted to the pretty ones. The ones that wow and amaze and that don't challenge you too much. The problem is, they're like trash. You use them up, throw them away and never think of them again. There really isn't any longevity to them.

The ones with a lot of personality get a little lost. They take some time to get to know and fall in love with, but once you're hooked, you're hooked.

Once in a while you get brains and beauty and watch out when that happens.

James Cameron's Avatar is all beauty. And boy is it beautiful. The ships, the robots, the scenery, the action. It's all there, but that's really the price of entry with James Cameron. You expect that, and he always delivers. But as of late, his beauty comes with a lot of baggage in the form of lousy storytelling and even worse dialogue. And if you look at Cameron's filmography, it starts to make sense why his more recent movies don't deliver. He co-wrote Terminator 2 and Aliens, however he was the lone writer on The Abyss, Titanic and now Avatar. There's a big difference between the former and the latter and it shows big time. There was a scene early on in Avatar where Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) pulls Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) aside and explains why making contact with the "Na'vi" is so important. The "Na'vi" have settled on large deposits of a precious metal that needs to be mined. As I watched this scene I couldn't help but roll my eyes. The Avatar program had been functional for some time. And I'm sure this wasn't the first conversation Parker and Dr. Augustine had ever had. So what's with the 101 on why they're doing what they're doing? Oh wait, I know. Bad storytelling. A much defter hand would have written that scene in such a way as to not be so obvious.

But hey, it's a James Cameron movie and I should just shut up and enjoy it, right? Right. Only I can't help but call bullshit on all these reviews I'm reading. They say it's visually stunning, but that the story is bad and the dialogue horrible. Then they give it 3 1/2 stars out of 4 or they give it an A- rating. Seriously? Last time I checked, a good review was reserved for films running on all cylinders. You can't give good reviews to movies that just look good. Right? Man, I wish that was right.

And let's briefly talk about how visually stunning the film is. It is. I would say that there were one or two scenes where I found myself noticing just how well-done they were. That said, I'm just not that impressed by special effects anymore. I've seen Orcs storm castles. I've seen incredible space battles. I've watched people morph from one character to another. I've seen it all, so I'm looking for something more. And truthfully, was there really anything about Avatar that was more stunning than something in Star Wars? Or Lord of the Rings? It's like comparing flat panel TVs (which I did recently). You can't really tell until you look really close. And how many people really do that?

So here I am, out from underneath the rock that has been on top of me for the past couple of months to say that for what it's worth, Avatar is a sexy picture. Just don't plan on much pillow talk after.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Evil Clown Wants You To Know Something

He wants you to know that even though you've got that mole on your face that's got that hair coming out of it. Even though you walk with a limp and have that hump on your back. And even though that's a really bad stitch job they did with that brain transplant. You're still all very special people in my eyes.

Oh yeah, he also want you to know that there's an Italian Horror Blog-a-Thon going on right now over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pretty Sneaky, Paramount

Evil Clown is rarely the fool.

Evil Clown is usually the pessimist rather than the sap.

There's an old commercial that Evil Clown remembers from his earlier days. It was a commercial for the game Connect 4. Remember that game? It's certainly not one that's good enough to gather dust in the closet along with Monopoly and Stratego, but Evil Clown owned it when he was a kid.

The commercial involves a brother and a sister, playing the game. The younger brother explains the game to her. You slide little checker type pieces in the board and when you place four alongside each other, you win. The younger brother wins the first game and is feeling all cocky and shit, but then the sister gets smart and beats the brother for the second game. Only he doesn't see it. But it's right there you little shit. It's right there in front of your damn eyes! She has put together four checkers diagonally, you dumbass. Read the damn directions! Anyway, the brother ends the commercial with the line "pretty sneaky, sis."

I thought of this commercial during my recent interaction with the movie Paranormal Activity. It all started out simple enough. Mrs. Evil Clown is perusing the information super highway when she comes across this trailer for Paranormal Activity. She watches it and then says that I need to watch it. Now I must note that this little scenario thus far is a little curious. How Mrs. Evil Clown came across this trailer is still a mystery to me. She is not a horror fan in the least. IN THE LEAST. So how she found it and then why she watched it is a bit of a head-scratcher. So anyway, I watch it and it seems kind of creepy. But more than that, it feels like they layed down the gauntlet. Like they're daring me to watch it, by showing all the crowd reactions. Of course, now I must see it. Maybe I get scared, but maybe I say all of this is just a bunch of hogwash. So I look to see when it's coming to my town and I see this bit that says I must vote for it to come to my town. Vote? I'm part of a movement to help a little horror movie get a nationwide release? Helllz yeah, I'll vote. I'll vote five or six times. Better yet, I'll forward this information on and tell my friends to vote. And so I do all this and now I'm getting updates of where my town is with everyone else. And so I vote some more and I send more e-mails out for others to vote. And then I get it. The e-mail that says that it's coming to my town. And I feel vindicated. And there's joy in my heart. Then I talk to a friend who says that it's not really a little horror movie at all. It's a Paramount movie (yes, I realize that the Paramount logo appeared at the beginning of the movie trailer). And this voting for a nationwide release is just a well thought-out marketing campaign that maybe, just maybe, involved my wife. Son of a bitch! I've been duped by a marketing campaign. And worse yet, I'm in marketing.

Well played, Paramount. Now this better be a good movie, or I'm coming after you and I'm bringing my poisonous Cotton Candy with me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zombies Are Forever

Evil Clown here.

Yeah, yeah, I know I'm late. Here were are a few days into October and where have I been? Truth to tell, I won a trip to Aruba on Wheel of Fortune and I was there, on vacation, sipping on Bloody Mary's (course) and letting my pasty white diseased skin take in some rays. But I was summoned back by someone and, well you know me, I don't like to name names. Okay, it was fucking Greg at Cinema Styles. And if you didn't know already, he's have quite the time over at his blog this month so you should check it out.

So here I am. And Lord knows this shitty film blog could use some of my help.

So let's talk Zombies.

A lot of people ask Evil Clown "Evil Clown, why do you like zombies so much?" And I usually respond with my stock "Fuck you, I will eat your soul."

But it's true, I love zombies. Because really, is there anything scarier, or more funny than a zombie? On one hand, you've got the fact that they represent an out of control virus that turns you into a scary-looking, rabid animal that doesn't have the good nature to make sure you're dead first before it feasts on your innards. And then on the other hand, you've got the fact that zombies are probably the lowest monster on the food chain. They are the cockroach of monsters for the simple fact that there are so damn many of them. You kill one and there are million to fill its place. So it's kind of hard to take them that seriously because there is no value in any one zombie.

Evil Clown has been hearing a few things lately regarding zombies and frankly he's been a little disturbed by what he's heard. There are some that say that maybe zombies have run their course. That with all the movies and books and graphic novels and video games that there's a zombie overload. And I'm here to say that like a cockroach, these bastards are here to stay. You can write and say what you want, and be done with zombies all you want, but these rotted undead corpses are forever. Why? Because zombies are the equivalent of loosening the belt a little and letting our collective hair down. Zombies are a great big golden ticket to going a little crazy. Past zombie movies have touched on this idea, but none have to the extent of the recent Zombieland. The main character Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) attempts to justify his survival by following a set of strict rules he has given himself. But in doing so, he further hits home the fact that when zombies are on the loose, the normal rules do not apply. In fact, no rules apply. There's a great scene where the characters are perusing a road-side shop. They are being careful not to touch anything because proper etiquette tells them not to. A single piece is broken accidentally. Then another one deliberately. And then complete mayhem follows with store being completely demolished. It was fun as hell to watch and for some reason it felt like new territory.

The zombie Apocalypse is hell, but that's really looking at things from the glass half empty point of view, isn't it.? The upside is, with the zombie Apocalypse there are no stupid rules to follow. No pillows to fluff. No dress codes. No lines. No facebook. No stupid movie blogs. That's a very liberating realization. And that my friends is why zombies will be forever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever (I'm attempting some kind of echo effect here if you didn't notice).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is Year One A Sign Of The Comedy Apocalypse?

Not long ago, my son and I sat down and watched Year One. I can't say I was too excited. I have yet to see Jack Black rise again to his High Fidelity glory and because of that I've been disappointed with movie after movie in which he stars. I will admit that over the years School of Rock has grown on me, though. As the opening credits rolled, I saw Harold Ramis' name pop up as a writer, and so I thought "well, how bad can this be? Harold Ramis is a wonderful comedy writer." And then I saw Harold Ramis' name pop up as director, and so I thought "well shit, this is going to be good. Minus a Multiplicity and a Bedazzled, Harold Ramis is a wonderful comedy director."

And so I watched. And I laughed. And I laughed some more. And for the most part, I thought Year One was a very nice surprise. Certainly worth watching again to make sure the first time wasn't a fluke. Michael Cera continues to play up his boyish charms and Jack Black was pretty good. No one played against type, but they played "type" very well.

But here's the rub. Harold Ramis has always been known for smart comedy. Let me 'splain. There has been a shift in comedy and I won't even add the phrase "as of late" because it's been going on for quite some time. And that shift in comedy is that there's funny in idiocy. There's comfort and comedy in knowing that as an audience member, you're smarter than most everyone on the screen. Dumb and Dumber of course took this to new cinematic heights. And then there was Adam Sandler. And Ben Stiller. And of course Will Ferrell. And in little doses, that's funny. Billy Madison is funny. And Ron Burgundy is funny. But when that's all that' gets served up, it gets a little unfunny. One can't help but think back to Chevy Chase in Caddyshack, or Fletch. The humor was that he was always the smartest one in the room, even if he wasn't literally the smartest one in the room. Or Otter of Animal House. Or Bill Murray in Meatballs and Stripes and Groundhog Day. Certainly not the sharpest pencils in the pack, but the comedy never came at their expense.

And when you look at that list, Harold Ramis is responsible for most of it. He wrote Meatballs, Animal House and Caddyshack (which he also directed) and Stripes and Groundhog Day (also director). But now with Year One, he has written and directed a movie about cavemen, the lowest end of the evolutionary chain.

I think it's safe to say that with Ramis' resume, he is one of the best comedy writers of our time. And he has gotten to be that way by making us laugh because the main characters made everyone else look stupid. Not the other way around.

So what am I to make of all of this? Is this Ramis giving up and giving in? Is this his commentary on the state of comedy a la Idiocracy? Or maybe, just maybe, in the land of dumb comedies, this is the one-eyed dumb comedy that could be King.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nancy Meyers Continues To Jack Up Careers

I wish Nancy Meyers had a dedicated ensemble cast. I wish that the Actors Guild would pass an acting law and decide that Nancy Meyers could pick only three actors in the business. Could be any willing three actors. But only three actors. And she would have to work with them for the rest of her career. That way, her shitty movies would only leave their stink on a select few. Unfortunately no such law exists. And either the recession is still really bad, Nancy Meyers gives really good Christmas gifts if you've worked with her, or no one pays attention to resumes any more, but she continues to make bad movies and great actors continue to star in them. She's rubbed shit on the likes of Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Frances McDormand, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black. And now with her newest movie titled It's Complicated, it looks like she's made a really big shit sandwich and she's asked Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin to take a bite.

Or here's an idea. There should be a penalty for starring in one of her movies. Could be a physical penalty like lashings, or hobbling or something. Or could be a monetary penalty like taking every penny that actor has ever made or ever will make and burning it in front of them and hoping that they get a really bad cough from the ashes that lasts a couple of weeks.

Because seriously, why does this woman still make movies? And seriously, why isn't she treated like a leper in the industry? These are the questions that keep me up late at night.

Monday, September 14, 2009


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk to wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

- Rudyard Kipling

At first reading, the poem if... is a pretty tall order. It asks a lot of a boy to be considered a man. But in truth, it's not that far off. A lot is asked of children. And expected of them. But the important part of Kipling's poem is the word IF. It says that you don't need to be ready now, but when you are indeed ready, then manhood or adulthood awaits. This is not the case at an all-boys school in England in which Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) attends. You
have to grow up. You must grow up. Because growing up means conforming. There is no if, only when.

The film begins as we see the children returning to school. Boxes are unpacked and stories are told in an effort to settle in and catch-up. It's here that director Lindsay Anderson begins to reveal the established hierarchy within the school. A younger student asks an older one a question and he's quickly reminded that he is not to speak to the older students. Amongst all this, we are first introduced to Mick Travis as he enters the school with a scarf around his face. He's keeping a well-groomed mustache under wraps. The scarf isn't on his face long, neither is his mustache, but it's an interesting look into Mick's character. He wants to hide his manhood because ultimately it means more would be expected of him. As a grown up, he would be expected to conform. He also wants to hide his rebellion. A mustache would certainly be frowned upon (Mick and his friends are often being for their long hair) and would start his year off on the wrong side of the Whips, a group of self-appointed seniors who enforce order. Although he's not parading it around, he knows its there and his quiet dissent is enough for him. At least for now.

On the surface, the story of if... is simple enough. It follows life within the walls of a an all-boys school in England. Of course, life within the walls is not simple. Even without weapons, an all-boys school is a powder keg just waiting to go off. As my son enters his teen years, I can't imagine a worse thing than to send him away to school. These are such important years. To realize emotions. To test boundaries. To explore independence. Only all of those things run counter to the mission of a private school. As a result, you create two types of students. Those who aspire to be Whips and those who don't. Being a Whip not only represents complete conformity to the establishment, it represents a crusaders mentality. What's funny is that Mick and his friends Wallace (Richard Warwick) and Johnny (David Wood) never really act-out in the true sense of the word. They are not disrespectful in class. They are not bullies in the hallways (they're rebellion is really nothing more than sitting in a room drinking and smoking). It's their disinterest that gets them into trouble. Because they are not openly falling-in-line, they are seen as out-of-line.

What I liked most about
if... is the way that Anderson tells the story. His camera is so loose that the film comes off almost as if it is a documentary. Nothing seems staged. Or acted out. It appears as if Anderson just happens to be in the right place to catch life happening among these students. Because of this, there's a subtlety to the message that I appreciated. It's hard to watch this and not rifle through all the other movies you've seen about private schools or teen rebellion. Movies like Taps, Battle Royale, Brick, The Outsiders, The Blackboard Jungle and A Clockwork Orange to name a very few. Of course, when watching the ending of the film, one can't help but think of the Columbine massacre and Van Sant's Elephant. But what I appreciated about this film is that I didn't feel bludgeoned about the head at the end of it. In the end, Mick's rebellion against the school is no more harmful a gesture than growing his mustache. Anderson didn't feel the need to have a bloodbath to hit home his point. And what's further, he didn't feel the need to show moments of Mick and his friends boiling over to build for the climax. There were no scenes where Mick declares his inability to take it any more. Or his declaration of vengeance for one of the Whips. The pre-meditation is barely there. It's almost as if the guys said "hey, let's give this a try and see how it goes." Modern day cinema could take a page from this.

There are elements of this film that are either so noticeable, or so pivotal to the movie that they must be mentioned. The first one is the use of color and black and white in the film. It's not as alarming to someone who has sat through an Oliver Stone movie, but I can only imagine how interesting it would have been at the time. I tried to put rhyme and reason to it, but then discovered I was missing the point. To me, the use of black and white is Anderson further blurring the lines between fact and fantasy within the story. And speaking of fantasy, there's The Girl (Christine Noonan) who makes periodic appearances throughout the film. In my mind, she could be a lot of things. A muse. An animal instinct. Or she could simply be Mick's manhood. By being the curvy, voluptuous thing she is, she literally represents Mick's desire. And finally, there are the homosexual undertones that run throughout the film. Anderson treats this with the subtlety of the rest of the film. With the Whips, it's seen as another act of conformity. While in their room, they speak of their young assistants almost as lovers and Rowntree (Robert Swan) even goes as far as prodding another Whip to get a cuter assistant. And maybe one of the most interesting scenes in the movie watches a young student Bobby Phillips (Rupert Webster) gaze upon Wallace as he performs a gymnastics routine. While this is one of the scenes that feels more staged in its framing, it's still handled beautifully by Anderson because he lets the camera tell the story. When the two appear in bed later, it's not shocking because they have already shared that previous moment.

All of this builds to the climactic finale of the film. What I think is interesting is that the discipline of the school is driven by the students (the Whips), not the faculty. But the attack by Wallace and company is clearly aimed at the entire school. It's the individual that's the oppressor, and yet everyone is lumped together as one large foe. As a judgment call made by a confused and angry teenager, I understand it. But as a larger statement about tearing down walls, I find it a bit confusing. I suppose one could say that the Whips are a product of the establishment, but I'm not sure I'm sold on that. It's clear that Rowntree is behind the school's strict standards. That they are driving it, not being driven to it. There's a scene with Rowntree and the Headmaster, where it's clear that Rowntree is leading the charge. The Headmaster agrees to this, but does so reluctantly. And if the Whips are the establishment, then why not go after them individually? This story almost begs for peaceful resistance. For Mick and his friends to break down the hierarchy that exists with the students. But how do you do that by killing all of them? Of course, no one really dies, but it's almost as if Lindsay Anderson is so fed up with the whole thing, he's preaching a complete cleansing to start all over again. Mick says "war is the last possible creative act." It's a strange statement to make, but he's not talking about one Super Power taking on another. He's talking about taking on the establishment. And when you do that, in an act of creativity, all the rules must be broken.

I am not old enough to be a child of the 60s. I missed it by a couple of years, so I was not alive to experience the true significance of this film. But over 40 years later, it's message still rings true. We say our kids grow up so fast as if it's a bad thing, but the truth is we want them to. We want them to act like men, or women, so they behave. And there's no if about it. It would be nice to say that 40 years later, a lot has changed from this message, but in truth it hasn't. Out in the open, we champion individuality and creativity, but behind doors, we try to suppress it. Because creativity, by nature, challenges the rules. And conformity is so much easier a subject to teach.

So those are my thoughts. And I reserve the right to be completely wrong about all of it. What are yours?

And bonus points to the person who can tell me how many times I used the word "if."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

DePalma Blog A Thon: Phantom Of The Paradise

This is my entry for The DePalma Blog-a-Thon going on at Cinema Viewfinder which Tony posted this morning.

While it's easy to dismiss Brian DePalma's Phantom of the Paradise or at least forget about it, I might make an argument that it's one of his purest pieces of work. Or I might not make that argument at all. We'll just have to see.

Phantom of the Paradise is one raw piece of meat. It's a cobbled together piece with mostly unknowns who poorly lip-sync to catchy pop by Paul Williams. And damn if it isn't a beautiful thing. I wouldn't go as far as describing Phantom as a throw away film, but when looking at DePalma's scope of work it comes off like that. A movie that feels like it was made over a weekend with some friends on the thinnest of shoestrings. It's far from perfect, but there's a fuck-it spontaneity about it that makes me want to revisit it over and over again.

The synopsis is familiar if you're familiar with Phantom of the Opera and Faust. Talented artist falls for beautiful singer. Talented artist becomes horribly disfigured. Newly disfigured talented artist declares his love for beautiful singer by writing her a cantata to perform. Devil steals the soul of the now not so newly disfigured talented artist along with the cantata and the beautiful singer, thus making the disfigured talented artist a vengeful monster.

The DePalma usual suspects are here. A scene with the Phantom (William Finley) sabotaging a performance at the Paradise is beautifully choreographed and presented in wonderful split-screen. And of course, there's a nod to Hitchcock involving a shower scene with a plunger as the weapon of choice.

Where Phantom of the Paradise takes a well-thought-out turn is in its commentary of the music industry. To me, its message is decades ahead of its time and it's one that has yet to be topped. The Phantom's slow descent into madness has nothing to do with his talent and everything to do with his "look" or lack thereof. There's a great scene where Swan (Paul Williams) is trying to pick the next new sound and it's not unlike watching an episode of American Idol. Music today is all spectacle with a small side of substance and this message is hit home hardest in the finale where a dying Phantom makes pleas for his life to the audience and is dismissed as just an interesting part of the show. In today's bigger is better world filled with nipple slips and seventeen story screens where everything is expect and nothing is surprising, one wonders how far we are from live sacrifices. And if we saw it, would we greet it with cheers or shrieks?

It's hard to watch Phantom of the Paradise and not think "they sure don't make them like they used to." That's less a statement about quality and more of a statement about trailblazing. About putting stuff out there for people to love or hate, without overthinking if they're going to love or hate it. Phantom feels like an experiment in filmmaking. Not a complete success, nor a complete failure, but a positive step for a filmmaker on his way to a brilliant career.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I've never seen Bye Bye Birdie. And thanks to this clip which I saw on Mad Men a week ago, I don't think I ever will. Wait, let me clarify. I know I will never see it.

This really bums me out because I thought Anne Margaret could do no wrong. And yet, here we are.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Brian DePalma Blog-A-Thon Is On Now

Tony Dayoub over at Cinema Viewfinder is hosting a most awesome blog-a-thon for one of my favorite directors. Be sure to check it out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's Nice To See Tim Burton Producing Good Movies Instead Of Producing Bad Movies

Did you get that headline? Did you? See what I did is use the word Produced in two different ways. Get it? See, Tim Burton is "Producing" the upcoming movie 9 and it looks to be pretty good. And he's the "Producer" on it. On junk like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he's just the director. But he still "Producing" work, even though he doesn't actually have the title of "Producer" on the work. Are you getting any of this? Cause it's pretty damn good and kind of heady. Honestly, I'm not sure I get the joke anymore. Wait. Hang on. Okay, I still get it and yeah, it's pretty good.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mark Them Calendars. There's A TOERIFC Conversation Going On September 14th

Membership in The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club has its privileges. For instance, if I'm stuck in a Third World Country and have lost all my money, TOERIFC will front me some cash. The down side of that is that you have to then do "favors" for Greg at Cinema Styles and those "favors" are unspeakable.

But that's not really important right now. What's important is that I'm hosting this month's discussion about the film If... I chose it solely for the ellipses because I do love those so.

So once again, mark your calendars for September 14th and I hope to see you here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

My Battle With War As Entertainment

There's a constant war that rages within me. It's a vicious war and it goes something like this. Can a film about war be considered entertainment? Or better written, can I relax the sphincter enough to enjoy a war film and not feel bad about it? It's a good question - one that I seem to play both sides of. A movie is usually considered entertainment. It's true that a great film surpasses that, but mostly people escape to theaters or DVD Players to laugh, to cry, to be scared. I would never tell someone that Saving Private Ryan (minus the opening and closing scenes) "Fucking rocks and you must see it!" But I would say it's a very good war film. One that I have revisited several times. And so the question is, why have I revisited it several times? And I suppose the answer would be for it's entertainment value. What? There's entertainment in watching American Soldiers being blown to bits? To see a man holding his insides and calling for him Mommy? See my dilemma? I would be lying if I said that watching the soldiers approach Omaha Beach with the fear in their sunken eyes didn't cause my heart rate to rise. Or the ending standoff isn't some of the greatest action I've ever seen. But should I feel guilty for feeling that way?

And what of other war films? Like Three Kings, which I loved. Or more recently with The Hurt Locker, which I think is one of the standout films of the year. At no point did I feel dirty for enjoying those films, even though they were about war. And what about Platoon? Apocalypse Now? The Deer Hunter? Full Metal Jacket? I have enjoyed all of these and could revisit them again and again without a second thought. But I would describe each one of these as a great war film, which is almost like saying someone is a great black man. Or a great Asian man. Why do I have to label it? Can't I just let it be a great film? Must I categorize it? It's almost like I'm apologizing for it already. Or drumming up pre-conceived notions that may or may not have existed before. And of course, I'm not even including the other countless war films from the past.

This war within me came to a head recently with my viewing of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book. It played out as a very entertaining film but it dealt with heavy subject matter - that being World War II and the flight of Jews during that time. In commenting about it on Ed Howard's blog Only The Cinema for TOERIFC, I found it hard to outright say that I enjoyed the film. I felt guilty about doing so. Or at least describing it as an entertaining film. As a matter of fact, I felt it wrong for Verhoeven to take the approach he did with World War II as the background.

As far as I can tell, I seem to mostly have a problem with World War II, due to its subject matter. There have been many enemies in many wars, but I think the Nazi's are about as close to the devil incarnate as I have seen.

So of course, it makes no sense that I completely loved Inglourious Basterds. Or maybe it does. Honestly, I don't know anymore. Maybe I love it because it puts the Jews on the offensive. (the same reason why I can revisit Munich) Maybe I love it because it knowingly tips its hat to movie after movie. Maybe I love it because I'm in love with Melanie Laurent. Maybe I love it because it might just be Tarantino's most sophisticated writing to date. The opening scene between Colonel Hans and the French Farmer is filled with dialogue. But where in the past Tarantino's dialogue solely existed to prove how cool the character was, or Tarantino was, this dialogue defines motives. Creates tension. Dare I say, advances the story.

Maybe I love it because it's lovable. Because Tarantino made it that way. The moment that the opening credits began and type font after type font appeared on the screen, I was smiling. Not unlike when a great comedian takes the stage. Before that comedian has opened his mouth, I'm enjoying myself because I know I will enjoy myself. I think for all of Tarantino's trailblazing in the film industry, the truth is he wants you to enjoy his films. He needs you to enjoy his films. He is not a Steven Soderbergh who will go off and make a film that only a handful of people will like. Or see. No, Tarantino is a pleaser and you can tell that through every aspect of this movie and every movie he's made. The music, the freeze frames, the characters, the dialogue. He makes his movies like you're in on the joke.

Inglourious Basterds is not without its faults. I could have done without the chapters. To me, they were unneeded and frankly felt as if Tarantino had lost a little trust in his audience's ability to keep up. I hated the scene where Colonel Landa was being introduced to Aldo Raine, Donowitz and Ulmer as Italian filmmakers. It was too slapstick for me and felt out of place in the story. And while Tarantino has made strides in the dialogue department, there were still some places that felt a little too chatty. Specifically, the scene between Colonel Landa, Raine and Utivich. The scene should have been there to advance the story, and it felt like Tarantino was showing off a bit. But probably my biggest complaint, and it's not necessarily a complaint as a wish, I wished that we could have seen more of the Basterds. An entire movie could have played out introducing each one of these characters to us and showing us why this brotherhood was so important. I'm not usually one for insisting on a backstory, but this would have been good to speak to the motivations.

What I guess I like about Inglouious Basterds, and what I like about every single Tarantino movie for that matter, is that I left entertained. The fact that he can make an entertaining film against the backdrop of one of the worst wars in history is a testament to his talent. Either that or I'm finally ending my war against war movies. We will have to see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Say You? To Love Or Hate Quentin Tarantino

The love him camp.

This is where I fall. I love the guy. Every time he makes a movie, I am first in line to see it. (Actually, Piper and I are first in line.) He is arguably the most interesting director working today. He always shoots for the moon, and even if he falls short, I love Tarantino for trying. I admire his rich pop culture dripping dialogue and his overriding mission to make entertaining movies.

I saw Inglourious Basterds and it worked for me. Siskel and Ebert once defined a great movie as one with three great scenes. Using those criteria, this was a great movie:

1) Opening interrogation scene with Colonel Hans Landa and the man at the farmhouse.
2) The shootout in the basement.
3) The Interrogation “shoe fits” scene with Colonel Landa and Bridget von Hammersmark.

The hate him camp.

I don’t fall into this camp, but I know there are many campers here. Detractors say Tarantino falls in love with his own dialogue, his movies are way too long and he doesn’t have an original idea. All he does is steal from better directors and then he calls it homage.

I’ve read some reviews of Inglourious Basterds that were pretty vicious. The LA Times describes the pace as “glacial.” Kenneth Turan goes on to say, “… also getting in the way is Tarantino’s inevitable self-indulgence, his willingness to please himself by choosing movie moments over genuine emotion.”

WHAT SAY YOU? Do you love Tarantino or hate him?

From Brian

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's Gotta Be The Eyes

I love Zooey Deschanel. Yes, I do. And as I'm writing this, I'm screaming it from the rooftops. Screaming and screaming. There seem to be some police gathering below and telling me to "shut the hell up." But I won't! I won't do it, because my love is greater than a badge. Greater than Mr. Lawman. What does Mr. Law know about deep, deep love? Okay, now the police are drawing their billy clubs and some pepper spray? Is that pepper spray? But that won't stop me! Fear of being beaten about the cranium and spayed in the face with pepper will not stop me from declaring my love. Okay, they're getting really close now. And upon further observation, that pepper spray is actually a tazer gun. Okay screw this, I'm running back inside and locking the door behind me. There, now I'm safe.

Okay, I will quietly declare my love for Zoey. Not as an actress, although I do like her as that. But mostly for her eyes. And her voice. If Zooey could sing me to sleep every night and let me get lost in her eyes without getting creeped out by a grown man falling asleep in front of her while staring into her eyes, I would be a happy man.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If Loving Cinema Is Wrong, Then There's Something Seriously Fucked Up In The World

Let's go back a couple of days. Okay a week. Alright, let's go back several weeks. That's when Greg at the fantastically awesomely something or other tagged me for the meme Why Being A Cinephile Matters.

It was a meme created for the sole purpose of reminding Greg and others why they love blogging about film. I am finding myself more in the ebbs than the flows of film blogging lately, and when I'm in the ebbs, I am really in the ebbs. I don't write, I don't comment, I don't check traffic. It's like my blog is a needy lover that I can't just flirt with. I have to leave it completely. The fact that I'm a traffic whore doesn't help me at all, because while I'm completely unmotivated to write, I think that I must so that people don't forget about me all together. And on top of that, I decided to create a parenting blog for some reason or another, so I have been writing some on that and that has taken away from this and blah, blah, blah, blah. But I seem to be peeking out from the darkness a bit, work has slowed down some and I have more of a desire to begin writing about film again. And while the desire is great some days just to shut down Lazy Eye Theatre, I don't know that I ever could because part of loving film is talking/writing about it. And to me, if I gave up my movie blog, it's like saying that I don't love movies anymore. And I can't have that.

So to officially show why I love film, I will complete Greg's task and list why I think being a Cinephile matters. And I'm going to tweak it a bit and explain why being a film blogger matters. Here we go.


You weren't ready, were you?

Okay, I'll give you a second.

Okay. Ready?

Seriously, just get ready already.

Ready now?

Okay, here we go.

* I've discovered that it's much easier to hate a film than to love one. That being a true lover of cinema means to not walk into a movie with a loaded pistol ready to shoot holes.

* I've discovered that I'm not much of a reviewer. More of a color commentator. There are far too many great reviews out there. And people who can write them far better than me.

* I've discovered Sergio Leone and found a new love for Westerns. Not just the spaghetti kind.

* Like Greg, I too discovered the sub-genre Pinky Violence and what a wild and wonderful world that is.

* I've discovered that I am not the only one who loves the films of John Carpenter. And that's it's possible that there are some who love his films more than me.

* I've discovered that the Koreans know what they're doing when it comes to cinema.

* I've discovered that there's more to Paul Verhoeven than Robocop.

* I've discovered that even the worst films still have interesting subtext if you look hard enough.

* And conversely, I've discovered there's a lot of subtext that's just a bunch of hogwash.

* I've discovered that explaining why a movie is really good, or really sucks, takes a lot of talent.

* I've discovered that a great review can engage a conversation even if you've never seen the movie. It can also erase a lot of pre-conceived notions.

* And finally, I've discovered that I will never know enough about film. And that is a very humbling and exciting discovery.

Sorry this is late Greg, but thanks for having me do it.

I will now tag some people

Tommy at Pluck You Too

elgringo at He Shot Cyrus

Adam at A Shot In The Dark

Joseph at It's A Mad Mad Blog 2 (I'm still working on your meme, by the way)

J.D. at Radiator Heaven

Paul at Careful With That Blog, Eugene

and Fletch at Blog Cabins

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Speak Prawn Fluently

So I saw District 9 on Sunday and well...

I wouldn't say I was disappointed, I would say that I just wasn't amazed.

The documentary format was well done, but it was also one of the film's weaknesses. The problem with the Quaratines and Cloverfields of the film world is that you can only buy the documentary technique for so long. At some point there are just places that the story goes where it doesn't make sense for the camera to tag along. In Quarantine, there's NO WAY the camera guy walks into the rooms he does in real life. But the technique demands that he does, so the whole point of the realistic documentary style is lost. Perhaps Blomkamp was aware of this, because he attempts to mix and match docu-style with good old fashioned dramatic storytelling. But it's a tall order to switch like that. To one moment be seeing it as real life, and then dramatically the next. And I'm not sure it works. Especially when we start to delve into alien life a bit deeper. To me, the story works if we keep knowledge at a distance. Much like gathering footage from watching the news. There is a base of knowledge that we can gather, but it isn't the real scoop. And the fun is in wondering what the deeper story is. Once we begin to understand what the aliens are thinking and where their motivations lie, the technique and the story begins to fall apart.

The film is not without its strengths, however. The effects were fantastic and for a rookie directorial effort, I think Blomkamp shows great promise. And if I put it up against the other summer dreck thus far, its stock rises considerably.

But here's my bigger beef with the film. In every scene, the humans can communicate perfectly with the aliens. We see subtitles (note to Jason and Ed, I wonder if they will offer the DVD with dubs in English?), yet the humans understand everything. Every whizz, rattle and click. And I'm thinking to myself, how is that so? How can that happen? Yes it's true that the aliens have been established in Johannesburgh for 18 years, but the relationship is so strained between them and the humans, when did someone bother to understand what they were saying? And if they did, how did it happen? To me, that's an interesting story. One I would have liked to see.

TOERIFC Monday - The Merchant Of The Four Seasons

Join in on the discussion happening at Tractor Facts

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes 1950-2009

I was going to title this post As Goes John Hughes, So Goes My Childhood. It's got a nice flow to it, but it's not very accurate and a tad dramatic. It might make more sense if Hughes was still making movies the likes of Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Breakfast Club. But he's not and hasn't for a long time.

What I probably liked best about Hughes is that he gave teenagers a voice. No doubt he probably made them smarter than they actually were, or prettier than they actually were, or deeper than they actually were. But for the first time in my cinema going history, I saw teenagers come out from the background and stand front and center.

To me a John Hughes film represents what a film experience should be. An escape. Pure and simple. No one looked at things with rosier colored glasses. In his world, the smartass outsmarts the principle. The geek ends up with the Prom Queen. And yes indeed, you can create Kelly LeBrock from your computer. And it doesn't matter how old I've gotten. Or jaded. Or cynical. When I'm in his world, I believe it all. Because it's a lot more fun to do so.

Early on in the history of this blog, I wrote my very first Blog-A-Thon post for Lucas McNelly's 100 Films. I wrote it about John Hughes and the love/hate relationship I've had with him while growing up. It seems a fitting homage to his career and what it meant to me.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Trouble With Adam

I'm in my "I'm going to sum up a movie without really seeing it mode." It's not a good mode, but I'm in it regardless. I've already decided I'm not going to like Funny People even though I have been looking forward to it. Actually, my sum up a movie without really seeing it mode told me that Funny People would be Apatow's sweet spot. That this will be the film where he finally got it. But the reviews are in. Some are good and some say that it's disjointed. That it's too long. That Apatow doesn't fully grasp the dramatic part of the movie. These are all the things I was hoping that Apatow would fix. Because the truth is, his movies are too long. And a lot of the scenes feel like they're there just to be funny. I know, you're saying "but Piper, it's a comedy." And I'll say "but a good comedy is seamlessly funny. It doesn't feel like you've taken a break from the story to make something funny."

And because I'm in my "I'm going to sum up a movie without really seeing it mode" I'm going to also take aim at this trailer for the film titled Adam. It's about a guy with Aspergers. If you know about Aspergers, you know that their are varying degrees of Aspergers. If you live with someone who has Aspergers, you live with it. You understand it. There are sweet moments and not so sweet moments. I have some good friends with a child with Aspergers. He's a great kid. But here's the thing, because there's always a thing. This condition will be glorified for the sake of making a movie, I just know it. Things will get missed, or brushed over. Much like they did in The Martian Child when dealing with attachment disorder. No doubt there are highs and lows involved in children with disorders, but those highs and lows never play out to "Mr. Blue Sky" by E.L.O. or whatever indie song is popular at the time. So while the trailer looks nice and cute and whatever, I don't know that I can fully buy into it, because in the back of my head I will always be asking myself if something was compromised to make the story a bit sweeter. And if it was, shame on them because then they're just using a disorder to "mix up" a love story when they should have just told a good love story to begin with.

Of course, I could be completely wrong.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tim Burton's New Movie Surprises No One

Fantastic sets which are sure to overshadow the story.


Creepy yet endearing characters which are now just creepy.


Helena Bonham Carter.


Johnny Deep in some kind of a dress and heavy make-up acting like a fool.


Oh yeah, and Danny Elfman phoning it in.


I feel like I've seen this movie and I haven't even seen it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Isn't Hollywood Funny?

Let me see if I've got this right.

Zack Galifianakis, the guy who makes a baby look like it's masturbating in the movie The Hangover...

Is also starring in a Disney movie to be released this Friday.

The guy who made a baby look like it was beating the bishop...

Is going to star in a Disney movie about talking Guinea Pigs that save the world.

The guy who made a baby look like it was Jerkin' The Gerkin'...

Is now collecting a pay check from Walt Disney.

Do I have that right? Let me see if I've got it one more time.

The guy who made a harmless, cute baby look like it was bludgeoning the beefsteak...

Is now working for the same company who created this guy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Turns Out I'm Easy On The Eyes

Evidently, and completely unbeknownst to me, Lazy Eye Theatre has been under a bit of a microscope lately. Yes, whilst I toiled away on the keyboard, eyes were watching. And scheming. And judging. And scheming some more. And then some more judging on top of that.

It seems that some tests were conducted regarding Lazy Eye Theatre. Major tests. Scary tests. Tests involving controlled groups. And sample sizes. And words like "x factor." And phrases like "if x = y then d must be the constant." Maybe animals were involved, maybe not. It's still kind of hazy but here's what I know so far.

100 people were asked a series of questions in a room that maintained a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees. Of those 100 people, 23 fell asleep, 12 threw up due to heat exhaustion and 65 completed the testing. Those 65 were then split into two groups. One group was given a placebo and submerged in water for several minutes. The other group was given electro-shock. Two people died during this phase of testing and due to that there's a minor investigation going on into the incident, but that's not important right now. Those 63 people were then given sandwiches to eat. 23 of those sandwiches were turkey, 20 of those were roast beef, 10 of them were tuna salad and 10 of them were peanut butter and jelly. The 10 who ate the tuna salad complained of stomach aches, which lead us to believe that the sandwiches had been left in a hot car too long. The 23 who ate the turkey said it was bland and could have used more mayo. And the 10 who ate the peanut butter and jelly became blissfully ignorant.

The 63 were then taken into a large room, split into two separate groups and asked a series of gradually complex questions. One group was praised for their right answers and given encouragement when they gave a wrong answer. The other group was beaten about the knees whether they got the answer right or wrong. During this phase of the testing, 13 people left calling the testing "the biggest pile of hairy horseshit ever." Of the 50 that were left, they were then asked a simple question. "Do you like to read Lazy Eye Theatre." And with some major coaxing and some promises that were made that would never be kept, 12 people answered yes. They were then beaten about knees.

So as a result of all of this, I have been given a major award courtesy of Tommy Salami from Pluck You Too that says "I'm a great read." At first I thought it said I was a great lay, but then I read it again and discovered that's not what it said at all.

So I say thank you to Tommy at Pluck You Too (which by the way is a damn fine read itself) for bestowing this great honor on me. And I will now tap 7 blogs that I deem a great read.

Fox at Tractor Facts

Nathanial at Film Experience Blog

Rick at Coosa Creek Cinema

Alex at Film Forager

Ibetolis at Film For The Soul

Kevin Olson at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies

And Greg at Cinema Styles

Monday, July 20, 2009

TOERIFC Monday - Black Book

Please join in on the discussion over at Only The Cinema. See you there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Interesting Thing Happened On The Way To Hogwarts

The Harry Potter franchise is an interesting one. In the history of cinema, has there ever been a franchise that gets better with each movie? That's not to say that The Half-Blood Prince is the best one of that batch, but it may be the most interesting one.

I sat for two and a half hours last night watching Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince and not once did I look at my watch. Not once did I find myself nodding off (which for one reason or another is a major concern for me these days). I was riveted. Is it because of all the new story developments? No. Is it because of all the action one would expect with summer fare? No. Truth to tell, when I left the theater and thought about it some more, nothing much really happens in this movie. Well, one things happens, and I'll spare the readers of that spoiler for now.

If nothing else, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince is a really nice postcard from an old friend keeping in touch. Unlike most sequels that speed up to try to engage audiences, The Half-Blood Prince slows down and focuses solely on the characters. And what a nice experience that was. Sure there will be a lot of people (my wife for one) who will leave the theater bored. Who will say that the movie was a bust. That there were no major battles. No giants. Or centaurs. Or flying cars. But not this guy. This was good old-fashioned storytelling, and it was like taking in a breath of fresh Spring air. Harry and Hermoine, the Weasleys and Dumbledore have all become characters we love. We've literally watched them grow up and grow old before our eyes. So it's not a ridiculous notion to think that when we get excited for the next Harry Potter movie, it's because of these characters. Not because of wizardry and giants and flying cars. And it's nice to see a franchise understand that.

In a quest for movies to be new and different, The Half-Blood Prince bests them all by not doing much of anything. And it has been the best surprise of the summer thus far.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New District 9 Trailer

Hey Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp. Don't fuck with me, okay. Seriously. This trailer for District 9 looks really good. I mean, really good. And it makes me want to see the movie really bad because I've been longing for a really good sci-fi movie for a long time. But if this is going to be another one of those "hey, lets put all the cool shit in the trailer to make the film look really good but in truth those scenes in the trailer are really the best part of the movie which means the movie really blows but it's okay because we're going to market the shit out of it and we will have made all our money in the first couple of weekends before bad word of mouth really screws us" scenarios, then just tell me now. Just put me out of my misery and let me move on to the Fall. Just don't tease me into thinking this is going to be really cool with your anti-alien poster campaign and this trailer. Just don't do it, alright? Seriously.