Thursday, December 28, 2006

300, and then some.

300 Movie Trailer (I removed the imbedded video because it was fucking with the formatting)

I am cautiously optimistic about this movie. Well, more than that, I am both geeked up and very worried. The last comic book movie I had high hopes for was V for Vendetta, and while pretty much everyone else loved it, I had trouble getting past my affection for its source material. Fortunately, this is movie is sourced from something by Frank Miller, not Alan Moore, and Frank Miller's most famous work was already faithfully adapted for the big screen. Slightly off topic, but Alan Moore has disowned the film versions of all of his books (which he doesn't own the rights to), even refusing to take, what I imagine are, extremely lucrative amounts of money on principle so he won't have his name on them. Considering how bad Constantine, From Hell and LXG were, I can see why he doesn't want to be associated with them, even though I probably wouldn't have had the willpower to resist the cash.

So anyway, 300 isn't much of a graphic novel, I mean that quantitatively not qualitatively. It is only 88 pages and it features mostly splash pages and narration, instead of panels and word balloons. That said, it is an excellent telling of perhaps the most heroic battle of all time. A friend of mine said that Thermopylae was the battle he most wanted to see adapted into a film and I can see why. This is a book of surpassing brutality and a celebration of the sort of masculinity that makes William Munny or Marv look tame by comparison. The Spartans in 300 are fucking and fighting machines,that live and die for honor and glory. Not to spoil too much of the story, but the King of Sparta starts an unwinable war because he won't bow a knee to the God-King of Persia and then he has the audacity to win anyway. So sex, violence and speeches about honor and glory? Sounds like a Hollywood winner to me.

So why the worry? Well, for one this movie could easily become cheesy and gratuitous, in fact it will be very difficult for it not to be. The Illiad seemed impossible to mess up, and yet we had Troy. The preview for the movie features a heavy rock song and editing that is very reminiscent of the Matrix, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but only a few movies have pulled that look and sound off, even most of the Matrix Trilogy didn't manage it. Also, there is a speech in the book, about dying for an age of freedom, that worked on the page, but I wonder if it will turn jingoistic and flat on screen. I am always skeptical of speeches that try to make the exotic palatable for our modern, Western sensibilities. Most of us can't understand dying for pride, but we all have to hear about dying for freedom. But I am getting ahead of myself because I haven't seen the movie yet. I also haven't seen anything by the director, Zack Snyder, though loved his remake of Dawn of the Dead. Coincidentally, his next movie is Watchmen, only the most celebrated comic of all time and the magnum opusa of forementioned malcontent, Alan Moore. I do like that the cast of 300 does not feature any big stars and the movie is coming out in March, not June, so it doesn't have Blockbuster bona fides AKA licence to dumb it down for kids and people who see two movies a year.

In short, I will be there opening day and this one has home run written all over it, but don't be surprised if there is just a violent swing before the ball ends up in the catcher's mitt.

Kramer's everywhere rejoyce

Well modern medicine manufacture miracles all the time, but to cure the jimmy leg? I was watching tv last night and noticed this hilarious commercial for REQUIP, which treats "moderate to severe restless leg syndrome." I was watching a show that I never watch ("Two and a Half Men", what? I was bored) and so I thought that it might be a joke commercial, but it just wasn't funny enough. Though I did laugh when I heard that REQUIP may cause you to fall asleep while driving, which seems to be much worse than the symptoms associated with "restless leg syndrome". Since REQUIP is also- primarily, I would imagine -used to treat Parkinson's I guess this is just a cross promotional opportunity and I can just see the pharmaceutical executives sitting around making up a disease to try and get some more bang out of REQUIP.

Far be it from me to mock those who are suffering, but I wonder how people in the Great Depression would have felt about restless leg syndrome.

"Oh, you have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs? Good, go move your legs over to the woods and gather some fire wood so we can heat up our dirt soup."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sweet things from Montana, so young and willing

So Donald Trump, the male equivalent of Paris Hilton in that his worth is both imaginary and derived by his questionable epitomizion of the stereotypical male role (supposedly his finances are not as rock solid as he asserts they are every time he pulls out Trump Checkbook, Trump Wallet or Trump Bankruptcy), has decided not to fire Miss USA. Donald is one of the most unlikable people on the planet, so I will go so far as to agree with Rosie O'Donnell, how is he "the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America[?]"

That is all besides the point though, the real story is that Tara Conner, Miss USA, was almost fired for drinking, sneaking guys into her shared Trump apartment, testing positive for cocaine (hey, we have all been there) and making out with Miss Teen USA in public!!! So, she went from being someone I have no interest in, to my dream girl. Unfortunately, the party is over because she is (wait for it...) checking into rehab.

By the way, there has to be something that checking into rehab won't get you out of.

"Officher, I-I-I-m shorry, I-I-I wahsh driv-v-vin-g tuh rehab."
"Yeah, I killed her, but I checked into rehab right afterwards."
"Honey, It was just a hooker, and I'm checking into rehab."

Well anyway, enjoy your break Tara, you deserve it. I would give my first born to have been at the party where Tara made out with Katie Blair, who is exponentially hotter than her senior counterpart. Honestly, this story is so hot that I don't even need the pictures (and there must be some out there somewhere), just hearing it makes me go lightheaded.

Before: Aw... Poor thing doesn't even look hot.
After: All better now. Yah Donald!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

They're bring Sexy Back

I was in despair last week because I had forgotten to watch the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, which generally is the best showcase of gorgeous women this side of- well, the Victoria's Secret Catalogue. Fortunately, they reran it last night and I blocked out some time to be a creepy voyeur.

To my surprise, the show was disquieting and decidedly un-sexy. I struggled to figure out the common theme among all the things I hated about the show, but the theme of the show was "What it is like to be a Victoria's Secret model" and that theme is resistant to deep thought. However, I do have some observations.

It is remarkable how gay the event is. It is like an incredibly expensive drag show. Everything is either campy or glam, but either way it is over the top and fabulous. The girls are wear big hair, glitter, diamonds and campy costumes. The music consisted of Justin Timberlake, electronic remixes of pop songs and a huge choir. The last drag show I saw was less of a parody than this.

The show strives to fulfil fetishes, especially kid fetishes. The themes of various "acts" were angels, stewardesses, Scotland (think leather and buckles) and most bizarrely, growing up (over a carnival remix of Kelis's "I'm Bossy", though the song before that was the more appropriate, "When You Were Young"). They had models dressed only in bras and panties walking down the runway in in garish colors dragging a pink comforter, carrying pom-poms or graduating. The idea was to sell the Pink Line, which markets to undergrads, but the conjunction of child imagery and sexuality is um... disturbing.

In even worse taste is the state of the models. Besides the few models I recognized (
Adriana, Gisele, Alessandra, Ana and Karolina... ok so I recognized a lot of them, but there were 27 models total so I am only 18.5% a loser) the models began to look like anorexic adolescents or freakishly elongated aliens. The look for runway models is 90% leg and abs, with a big smile and bigger hair as the cheery on top (like I said, drag show). The problem is that most of the girls are stick figures wobbling on chicken legs and emaciated frames and the big hair can't hide pre-teen faces. Is it too much to ask for models that don't look like high school freshman who just spent some serious time on the rack?

The show pretends that it is about anything but dudes looking at girls they will never attain. So to fit their loose "We are regular people, see how we live" theme, they jam the show full of gimmicks like interviews with the models and a hidden camera (if they would have taken the camera into the bathroom then they would have hit three of the four "unacceptable" perversions: bondage, kids and water sports, leaving out bestiality). So instead of just watching hot models, we were forced to sit through grainy bouncy footage of nothing. Literally, nothing. The camera never focused on anything of interest and the shot of "What it is like to walk down the runway" became grainy blown out lights bouncing with the model's strut. The interviews were full of annoying "Idiot says something uninteresting and then laughs in pretend embarrassment" moments. Adriana Lima, one of the hottest women in the world for my money, destroyed the illusion by opening her mouth and being vapid and self important. What was I expecting, right? Since she recently reported that she was a virgin, I guess she is from the Paris Hilton school of public relations. Which is to say, lie because no one can prove different.

On the music front we have an interlude from J.T. Justin Timberlake has emerged as the clear winner from his break up with Britney Spears. He has reached a point where a guy could conceivably like him and not get made fun of. That said, why have him in the show? To rope in the women (who would presumably be the target audience for a company that exclusively sells women's clothing) that otherwise have nothing to see in the field of starving T & A? Justin clearly can dance, but why dance like that? It is all pointless jerky motions that look like a million variations on the robot; it is highly skilled cheerleading instead of real dancing. Also, did he write (or whoever wrote it, Timbaland probably) "Sexy Back" specifically for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show? It is a little too neat of a fit.

The "climax" of the show was the final string of models in diamond bras came out to a winter theme over a huge choir singing in the background. Someone put together the obvious metaphor of diamonds and ice, since they needed some way to showcase the absurdity of a multi-million dollar bra. The best thing was the choir singing "Just a little more love, just a little more peace, is all we need." Say what? A song about peace while
diamonds of all things are paraded up and down the runway. Diamonds are worth far less than they cost, since their value is neither intrinsic or rare. De Beers suppresses small diamonds (1.3 billion dollars in present day worth withheld from the market in 1981) to keep the price of a relatively common rock high. That diamonds (with can be produced with superior quality in a lab, though diamonds that are made are considered "fake". What a metaphor for a Nip/Tuck industry) were juxtaposed against millionaire women whose value is derived from talents that are inflated by a similarly bankrupt system was too much for me to bear. So I ended up watching sports instead. Eat a sandwich and I will see you next year girls.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dude, writers are pricks. (with obvious exceptions) recently reported that an Asian Games silver medal winner had her medals stripped from her because she failed a gender test. However, unlike Helen Stephens, Shanti Sounderajan was not a "cheater". Stephens won the gold medal in the women's 100 Meter dash in 1936, setting a new world record in the process. She was accused of being a man, but the charge was denied. However, in 1980 she was killed in a robbery and it was discovered that she had male genitalia, despite living as a woman all of her life (my favorite professor in college recently wrote a screenplay about Stephens's life). Instead, Sounderajan is physically and mentally female, but genetically a little too "male" because she had a hidden "Y" chromosome.

Understand, this is a 25 year old woman who trained very hard and due to something completely beyond her control she is now losing her medal and further probably will never be able to have children. Beyond the fact that "gender" is very contentiously defined, everyone in professional sports are "genetic freaks" in one way or another. If indeed this genetic accident did give her some marginal advantage, how different is that from the fact that most of the NBA is in the top .001% of the population for height? Every woman competing in the 800 meters at that level is in the top 1% of the population in fast-twitch-slow-twitch muscle ratio and lung capacity.

Imagine if you had trained for years to be among the best at a very competitive field and in order to clear your name of completely ridiculous allegations, as she must have assumed they were, you submitted to a voluntary test. Only to fail the test due to no fault of your own, in the process losing your coveted job forever and to top it off, you become the punch line to thousands of jokes around the world. Including at, where the title of the article is "Dude looks like a lady." If you lost your career and your prospects of having a family, at least you wouldn't have to do it while enduring international attention and derision from idiots. If this had happened in America then gay rights groups would indubitably be up in arms both about's insensitivity and the unfairness of taking away her medal. In my academic writing experience, when referring to a transsexual person the chosen gender pronoun is supposed to be used. This is one of the most depressing stories I have heard this year and I wish Shanti all the best in the future and in her appeal.

Update: I notice that article is an AP article, so it is possible that the title is also AP. In which case is just the monkey throwing the shit around as opposed to the one creating it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

As an artist, a person has no home save in Paris.

Paris Hilton is the most important pop figure of our age. I don't like her at all, but there it is, she's the modern version of Bob Dylan (following up on the post from yesterday, I found a place where you can listen to all of Dylan's XM shows online). Dylan always tried to dodge the "voice of a generation" label he got stuck with, fortunately for Miss Hilton no one has tried to brand her anything like that, until now anyway.

Pop culture is important- not intrinsically, but it is important because so many people think it's important. I don't subscribe to US Weekly or watch Ryan Seacrest on E! (though I do watch "the Soup" sometimes), but I could tell you with a fair amount of accuracy who is dating who and who is hating who. Why? Because I pass the couple of minutes in the grocery aisle finding out. The lives and lifestyles of the rich and famous are worthless in every way, except in that they help waste the time until death for masses of people who have already put their lives on cruise control. It is hypocritical to pretend I am better, since I am huge sports fan, and that is just the other mostly gender specific way throw away time.

Among all the dimwitted good looking people that the magazines stalk, Paris Hilton is the most important, not because of what he is, but what she isn't. She manages to be among the most famous people in the world without being particularly talented or even very good looking. If you listed her talents they would amount to: being blonde, tan and skinny. Her other charms include being rich, wearing skimpy clothing (sans underwear on occasions that serve as cautionary STD tales for adolescent boys), always posing (she always assumes some striking or smoldering look for the camera) and being extremely famous. Famous for what exactly? Well, she is rich and was well known in the Hollywood set for years, but only became truly famous when she starred in a sex tape. Since then she has been in a reality show, which was a product of her fame, not the source of it, two supporting parts in movies and produced a book and a CD (both of which were eviscerated by critics before they even came out). But, Paris is most famous for frequent minor "scandals" involving herself or other celebrities, the most famous of which are the sex tape and her rift with rail thin druggie, Nicole Ritchie. That Brittney Spears (oh how the mighty have fallen) was hanging with Paris when she showed us where her kids came from 3 (count em, 3) times (Paris only pulled that trick once... no twice...) is no surprise. That is Paris Hilton's stock in trade, the manufacture of shameless fame by shameful behavior.

Understand, I am not moralizing. I don't care, further I don't even think anything is wrong with Miss Hilton sleeping with hundreds of thousands of people, animals, plants or inanimate object, nightly doing exotic and dangerous drugs so extreme I don't even get to know about them, ceasing to wear clothes altogether and starting to speak in some combination of the language from A Clockwork Orange and valley girl. In fact, if all of those things happened, my opinion of Paris Hilton would probably become much more positive, at least that would be interesting. People shouldn't be famous for having night vision sex tapes, showing their 500 bad miles of vagina, losing their cell phone with "famous phone numbers" in it, feuding with their drug-addict, anorexic BFF or any of the other shit that Paris does on a regular basis. She has turned being a ditsy coke-whore princess into a multi-million dollar business, and as a human being I feel slighted that someone would be given so much for so little.

But her general negative contribution to the world that lavishes her with success is why Paris is the key figure of our age. We live in a post-modern world where most people (myself especially) lead lives that are insular and small. There is so much "noise" that it is difficult for any book, movie or song to rise above it all and gain acclaim and no one has time to consider all of the "important" or "good" things coming out in a year. So what we are left with is the lowest and least important people become the most looked to and sought after. The most important aspects of culture to the average man and woman are sports and pop culture respectively. So ours is a culture that has rejected culture. In world where sports figures, actors and rappers are our demi-gods, pure fluff like Paris Hilton is elevated to the status once reserved for people who had, you know, done something. So enjoy all the good things that lady luck throws up on you Paris, by being the least deserving, you've earned it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I'm wondering where in the world my lunch might be

Now maybe I am biased, well definitely I am biased, but I think Bob Dylan's new (or rather newest, it isn't exactly hot off the presses) album is fantastic. Then, I am a frequent drinker of the Dylan Kool-Aid. At, Dennis Cozzalio recently posted one of his movie quizes and one of the questions was: "Is there a movie that would make you question the judgment and/or taste of a film critic, blogger or friend if you found out they were an advocate of it?" I struggled to answer that question, but I know its musical inverse by heart, because if anyone tells me that they think Bob Dylan makes bad music, or they can't stand his voice... (I have certainly heard this before in the great Linkin Park vs. Bob Dylan debates that left many with hurt feelings, though not me, I have no feelings... sob) Well, that's it. We aren't friends anymore. I can appreciate different opinions, but Bob is my litmus test. If you can't at least appreciate that it is high quality work, I just can't trust your opinions on anything else. Sure, some people only like electronica (I am looking at you, 3), but you're gonna have to serve my man Bob his due props.

Back to the album at hand, I think this is his finest work since the 70s (I like some of his stuff from the 80s, but never got that into Love and Theft or Time Out of Mind, but in the 70s he put out the best album of all time, and this one doesn't top that one). There aren't any songs I really dislike and I really like tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 8 and 10.

Dylan's music is at its best when it communicates a feeling or experience, but doesn't get too specific and this album is full of those types of tracks. Like Steely Dan, attempts to really unpack what Dylan meant are fruitless from the start, because I don't think that Dylan sat around making up metaphors for Watergate or Vietnam that became his "115th Dream" or "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" (two excellent songs). His focus was far broader (and far more specific), though when he was specific ("Hurricane") he avoided the temptation that artists have to become jingoistic. Let me stress, that I am all for thinking a lot about Dylan and his music, I just don't believe there is a final answer out there. Most of the time Dylan was talking out of his ass anyway, just to fuck with people, consider these two quotes: "I've never written a political song. Songs can't save the world. I've gone through all that." and "I'm speaking for all of us. I'm the spokesman for a generation. " If there is a disconnect there, don't worry about it, maybe Bob could save us but he was too busy doing it better than anyone ever had or will.

Here is the video that prompted this post.
Slate Took it Down, but here is a link to the video.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Three're very well known

Finally I finish. I love reading lists, but this list was a huge mistake from start to finish. It took forever, and I ended up making sweeping generalizations and overviews of movies I hadn't seen in years. I stand behind my opinions, but this site was supposed to be about thinking hard about culture, not trying to extrapolate from distant memories of things I didn't like when I watched them. Now that I have said it is unimportant, here are thousands of words to read:

Terrible Oscar Winner I somehow dropped off my list

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) – This is a very sweet movie, with a benignly positive message that everyone gets and everyone leaves the theater with that “I just drank a warm cup of America-coco with little marshmallows of vague humanism in it” after glow. The obvious charge against this movie is that Morgan Freeman’s character is reminiscent of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s most famous character. I don’t want to go there, because I think it is revisionist to say that Sidney Poitier played regressive characters, when he was always the most educated, well spoken and heroic character in every movie he was in. It is simply absurd to say that every black character who is civil in the face of white abuse is an “Uncle Tom.” There is nothing wrong with maintaining your composure and not sinking to the level of the small minded; of course, there is also nothing wrong with standing up for yourself with force and conviction. In Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee addresses the MLK-Malcolm X dichotomy far more poetically than anything I can add, but I will note that most of the characteristics typifying an “Uncle Tom” are found in peaceful nonviolent protest.

That said, at best this movie doesn’t have much of a racial point to make and so it becomes the limited story of twilight friendship. Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy are both fantastic and it is generally well done, but it probably shouldn’t have won for Best Picture (though it was in a mediocre field of Field of Dreams, My Left Foot-which I haven’t seen, The Dead Poets Society, and Born on the Fourth of July- which I also missed/avoided). I would have given the award to Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)- AKA Matchpoint, the Prequel- but I’m a sucker for Woody Allen.

Terrible Oscar nominees

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Terrible is a strong word, E.T. is just a nothing of a movie that became a classic like sentimental weepers often do. Don McKellen, of the Village Voice, destroys the movie in one of the best-written film criticisms I’ve read. An excerpt:

"E.T. is a dog movie. Genre-wise, I mean. It's about a boy meeting a dog, naming it, taming it, learning from it, and growing up. Of course, the genre is superficially disguised as science fiction, as was the fashion at the time. Star Wars, Alien, Outland, and Blade Runner are among the many other films of the period that were deliberate sci-fi updates of established genres. But, in the case of E.T., there's no way to overlook the dog-yarn genealogy. The script makes things quite clear with lines like "I found him, I'm keeping him!" "He's trying to tell us something," and "E.T. phone home," a repeated refrain that evokes that most famous of canine titles, Lassie Come Home. "

I can’t top that, so you should just read the article.

The Prince of Tides (1991) - Oscar Nominee. I never really got into the Godess New York Singer/Actresses, Babs, Bette Milder, Liza Minelli et al, so the female lead doesn’t get any sentimentality points from me. The ultimate story is one of sacrifice, where the leading man leaves the love of his life to return home to his wife and child. To top it off, Nolte is Bab’s therapy patient, so their intimacy compounded because they really got to know each other on the couch before they got to know each other Biblically, on the couch. I guess this was edgy in the 80s, of course The Sopranos does a better job with this subject every episode and tops that by not telling the viewer everything expressly. Whatever, I wasn’t this one’s target demographic anyway.

The Sixth Sense (1999) - Oscar Nominee. For the purposes of full disclosure, I knew the ending before I saw the movie, so I didn’t get the big shock that I guess everyone else did. That said, a great movie should be reliant on more than just a twist, something that M. Night Shymalan should learn before making “Big Twist 6: She’s really your Sister” or whatever. I know that this one was a big hit back in the day, but it is just a tightly written genre movie, it doesn’t improve, redefine, subvert or do any of the other things that great genre movies do. This is Rooster Cogburn, not The Searchers.

Erin Brockovich (2000) - Oscar Nominee. This out is more Movie-of-Week's than The Prince of Tides. I can hear it now: “Erin Brockovich is a struggling single mom just trying to support her family, yet she takes on the biggest water company in the country because she can’t stand to see them getting away with with murder. Will she let the good looking motorcycle rider next door distract her from her quest? With Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart as Generic bad boy, join Lifetime on Saturday for this unbelievable tale.” Pass.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) - Oscar Nominee. On first viewing, I enjoyed this movie for all the exciting derringdo and seamanship. That said, the plot is weak, including a scene where Captain Jack (not the cool one, the literary one) learns a tactic from a bug. I think Russell Crowe was just a guarantee for a Best Picture nod in this period, because this was the third year in a row featuring one of his movies up for the highest honor this side of a Moonman. It is an excellent portrayal of life at sea, but the Discovery Channel makes those three times a month and it only gets a .025 rating for its troubles. Period pieces always get overrated come Oscar time.

Finding Neverland (2004) - Oscar Nominee. In an infamous, and amazing, response to Crash winning Best Picture, Annie Proulx, the writer of the short story “Brokeback Mountain”- the basis for the movie of the same name, stated:

The prize, as expected, went to Philip Seymour Hoff-man for his brilliant portrayal of Capote, but in the months preceding the awards thing, there has been little discussion of acting styles and various approaches to character development by this year's nominees. Hollywood loves mimicry, the conversion of a film actor into the spittin' image of a once-living celeb. But which takes more skill, acting a person who strolled the boulevard a few decades ago and who left behind tapes, film, photographs, voice recordings and friends with strong memories, or the construction of characters from imagination and a few cold words on the page?”

I often wonder the same thing as four of the past six Best Actor/Actress wins have been for people playing real people. Biopics are my least favorite genre of movies (well, second least favorite. Musicals are the worst. THE WORST!). They have such a clear-cut structures that they are entirely predictable, and the focus is generally on mimicry rather than innovation. I don’t read biographies (well, actually I was reading a kid’s bio- well, maybe it was for adults, but you couldn’t tell by the idiotic writing- of Andy Warhol, all I wanted to know about was Edie Sedgewick and Bob Dylan and they covered that in no detail 10 pages. I knew it was a mistake to read anything but fiction) for the same reason. I don’t really care how some famous person overcame various obstacles to become famous, which is of course the plot of every biopic, biography and auto-bio. Finding Neverland doesn’t elevate the discussion of Peter Pan, if anything it turns it into something small and cliche, instead of a subversive classic. On top of that, the real J.M. Barrie was slightly pedophilic and the villain of the piece is a woman who is worried because a man starts spending his time with her grandchildren. Boring, pointless, inaccurate, cliched and nominated for Best Picture. Par for the course.

So to conclude, here is a numbered list of the most overrated movies of our (my) time. Note, this is a list of disparity between actually quality and esteem. Both values are subjective and I am just going with my guy. By the way, I somehow ended up with 26 movies, which is better since there are 26 years covered in my poll (27 really, but whatever, 2006-1980=26 so there it is).

1. Forrest Gump (1994) - Oscar Winner.
2. Dances with Wolves (1990) - Oscar Winner.
3. Braveheart (1995) Oscar Winner.
4. Crash (2005) - Oscar Winner.
5. A Beautiful Mind (2001) - Oscar Winner.
6. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) -
7. Titanic (1997) - Oscar Winner.
8. Driving Miss Daisy (1989) - Oscar Winner.
9. A Few Good Men (1992)
10. Gladiator (2000) - Oscar Winner.
11. American History X (1998)
12. Erin Brockovich (2000) - Oscar Nominee.
13. The Prince of Tides (1991) - Oscar Nominee.
14. The Sixth Sense (1999) - Oscar Nominee.
15. Scent of a Woman (1992) - Oscar Nominee.
16. As Good As It Gets (1997) - Oscar Nominee.
17. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Oscar Nominee
18. Finding Neverland (2004) - Oscar Nominee.
19. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)
20. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) – Oscar Nominee
21. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – Oscar Winner
22. American Beauty (1999) - Oscar Winner.
23. Kagemusha (1980) - Palme d'Or Winner.
24. Magnolia (1999)
25. Scarface (1983)
26. Goodfellas (1990) - Oscar Nominee

Thursday, December 7, 2006

A date that will live in infamy (times two)

No new posting today, besides this one, because today is my birthday! I have a long standing tradition of getting depressed and/or/consequently drunk on my birthday and today will be no exception. Happy Pearl Harbor Day to me and you too!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

This is our receptionist, Pam. If you think she's cute now, you should have seen her a couple years ago.

I watch a lot of TV and among all the shows I watch, which I will go over once I finish the list of overrated movies, "The Office" is my favorite. Not only that, but I think the British version of "The Office", might be the best and smartest television comedy of all time. Not necessarily the funniest, but the existential drama of the show is something I have never seen in a comedy. The American Office might be consistently more funny, though the "Training" episode of the British Office is the funniest and most rewatchable thing I have ever seen on TV, but the price is that it does not quite mirror real life as truly. I am going to get into this subject in far greater detail in the future, but I just wanted post something and then point out some excellent links on the subject:

Tad Friend of The New Yorker discusses both shows. (from

Travis Hoover of Film Freak Central (my go to place for movie reviews) reviews seasons one, two and the Christmas Special of the British Office. I don't necessarily agree with his opinion of the Christmas Special, but it is all a great read.

Best of all, here is David Brent showing the chops that allowed him to open for a little Scottish outfit called Texas.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

They're Well Known, two.

The other movies were all Oscar winners and won movie that won Cannes. Today I will have themes to group together similarly overrated movies. I still have 6 7 left to go, this is taking forever unfortunately (and I miscounted)

Important, but not very good.

Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) - This is an incredibly important movie, but not for what is on the screen. When this movie became a breakout hit and made more than twenty times its 1.2 million dollar budget, Hollywood took an interest and the age of "independent" movies made by major corporations began. I find the movie itself creepy and weirdly plotted. I have heard people describe James Spader as "magnetic" in the movie, but if I had kids I would want to be warned if he moved into the neighborhood. Andie MacDowell is one of my least favorite actresses and she is wooden and awkward in the movie, though maybe her character is supposed to act that way. The romance that builds between the two of them is inexplicable. Do girls really like the quiet guy who smiles awkwardly and has a huge collection of homemade porn in his living room? Perhaps I have been going about this all wrong. Meanwhile, the two characters we are supposed to hate, Sandy from "the OC" and that girl from "Just Shoot Me", are exciting and interesting. Laura San Giacomo actually is brilliant in the movie, easily my favorite thing about it, but that isn't saying much.

Good, but overrated.

Scarface (1983) - I am not quite as sold on Brian de Palma as the guys at 24 Lies a Second, sure he has his moments, but he can go pretty far afield. However, Scarface is in general an excellent movie, great acting, interesting story, ect, so why put it on an overrated list? Well, call it the "MTV Cribs" backlash. Every rapper on "Cribs" has the same favorite movie and for the same reason. The rise of Tony Montana from penniless immigrant to drug kingpin is seen as an inspirational tale, or at least the correct movie to maintain street-cred. It might seem bizarre to denigrate a movie because other people like it, but this is a list of overrated movies and in some circles Scarface is way overrated.

Magnolia (1999) - Paul Thomas Anderson is kind of a genius and definitely an asshole. One of his movies, Boogie Nights, is a modern classic, his last one, Punch-Drunk Love, was even better in my opinion and, from what I hear, the one I didn't see, Hard Eight, was the best of all (someone on Film Freak Central said they loved it, but I couldn't find the link). On the other hand he ripped into Fight Club using the Columbine argument:

I think John [Reilly] and I have both had a good laugh many times about this argument that movies don’t cause violence. But movies do cause violence. … Movies absolutely promote violence. I don’t particularly want to see a whole lot of guns in the rest of my movies. I’m not really interested in it anymore. I’m sick of it. I think a movie like Fight Club is an incredibly iresponsible film.

Beyond the fact that Fight Club is a work of art and making art beholden to imposed moral standards is a dangerous path to start out on, the violent character in Fight Club ultimately becomes the "villain" for lack of a better word and the violence is shown as a negative. In Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love some of Anderson's characters engage in drug use, prostitution and extortion, but all of it is portrayed negatively, surely P.T.A. wouldn't argue that Magnolia encourages people to kill frogs.

On that note, let me finally get to the movie in question. Magnolia is brilliant at times (the opening especially), but its grand climax which allows Anderson to get himself out of all the corners the messy scripts writes itself into isn't anything like the grand design stories at the beginning of the movie. This is a movie for people, who love movies, but it isn't a classic and it doesn't stick with you like Anderson at his best.

Scenery Chewing 101

A Few Good Men (1992) - Oscar Nominee. Jack Nicholson has become a cartoon, a caricature actor playing the high energy version of the actor he used to be every role and A Few Good Men shows that it isn't a recent development- I personally think he is still playing the Joker after all these years. Nicholson was the worst part about The Departed, and I was left wondering what Ray Winstone, Mr. French, might have done a better job (someone else online suggested this before me, but I can't member who). I have a general tendency to discredit all of Tom Cruise's movies, but he is fairly solid here, this was back when he was more than a big smile hiding miles and miles of crazy. The movie is just ho-hum, like a special episode of "J.A.G" or "Law and Order: Military Police". I honestly can't understand how this movie became a "classic" or an Oscar Nominee- fortunately one of my favorite movies of all time, Unforgiven, beat it out for the statue.

Scent of a Woman (1992) - Oscar Nominee. I have a good friend who loves this movie and credits Al Pacino's performance as his favorite of all time. To that all I can say is: Hoo-ah! It is quite a scene when the blind Colonel yells at Prep School, but of course that scene is mirrored by Chris O'Donnell rescuing him from himself. The cliches of that scene, committing suicide on a dark rainy night in full uniform, only to be interrupted by the one person who could talk you out of it, pale in comparison to the execution. "You can dance the tango and drive a Ferrari better than anyone I've ever seen" says the simpering youth and apparently that was enough to live for. The aforementioned Ferrari scene being as Hollywood a moment as anything I have ever seen. But that is what this is, a Hollywood father-son movie, where the son redeems the father so the father can protect the son. The topper, of course, is Pacino turning the ham up to an 11. This movie is a nice Friday night date movie, but it should have been lost to the sands of early Saturday morning cable programming by now.

As Good As It Gets (1997) - Oscar Nominee. Jack Nicholson plays perhaps the least likable protagonist in the history and yet because the genre demands it, he ends up with the girl at the end. Understand, Jack plays a racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-semite, with O.C.D; plus, he is several decades older than Hunt and somehow more offensive than any of the bigot words connote. Sure, the dialogue is snappy, but where exactly does anyone start to like Melvin the misanthrope in this movie? Every year a movie or four gets nominated needlessly for Best Picture and an actor like Jack wins for what he once did, instead of the movie he or she is nominated for.

Psuedo Important Subjects done with Sledgehammer subtlety.

American History X (1998) - Did you know that being a Nazi is bad? In case you were wavering on the subject, American History X goes to great lengths to prove that racism is wrong. Ed Norton puts in a solid performance, but he can't carry a movie this sloppy and pointless. All flashbacks are shot in black in white, either as a silly metaphor or just to make sure that we understand it's a flashback. Spike Lee has commented that this movie features the worst shot basketball sequence he has ever seen, but I will go further and say nearly everything in the movie is the worst shot I have ever seen. The climax is the real topper when we find out that racism is wrong, but black people will kill you. The movie fortunately never won anything, but it is held in high regard at and in the minds of the people (at least people I know). I think the "curbing" scene is responsible for 90% of this film's popularity.

Overrated by its Inclusion in a Beloved Series

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) - I am not a Star Wars fan by any stretch of the imagination, so perhaps I just don't get "it". The last three movies (aka the first three) are horrible and lots of people run around acting like George Lucas betrayed the proud legacy of his original trilogy with these sub-par follow ups. However, the original Star Wars was pretty clunky in the plot department (George Lucas ripped off Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces structure point by point and even word for word) and only became a classic because of its then state of the art special effects. Empire Strikes Back is the trendy pick as the "good" or "best" movie, mostly because it avoids the Huck Finn quandary (how to end a story) by leaving everything open. E.S.B. (the movie, not the ale) ends on a down note, so people think it feels less cheesy than the others, and I agree. However, Lucas quickly undid that by making Return of the Jedi, which is bad enough that no one should be surprised that the prequels sucked. The Ewoks became Jar-jar Binks, the dialogue was always bad, so nothing has changed there, and the sickly sweet, cringe inducing romance in the prequels mirrors the idiotic Luke-Darth dynamic in this movie. Beyond that, the climax of this movie is exactly the same as in the first movie, they do a bunch of random shit and the Death Star blows up. Like I said, maybe I don't get "it", but from where I'm sitting, this movie sucks. George Lucas makes merchandising advertisements, not cinema.
Tomorrow or next week, one day, the final six and a ranking.
Goodfellas (1990) - This is a bona fide great movie. It is a classic in every sense of the word and it would be a career defining movie for almost any director, besides the director who directed it. What Goodfellas isn't, is the greatest movie of all time. It isn't the best movie of its genre, it isn't the best movie by its director, it isn't the defining movie of the decade... it just isn't in the pantheon. The clumsy use of narration and the weak third act hold the movie back from such a status, which is no insult.

Monday, December 4, 2006

My Crane Wife

I am almost finished with the other 15 movies on my overrated list. Having a blog is a lot of work!
I just wanted to post that by far my favorite album of the year is the new one by the Decemberists, The Crane Wife. It is a gorgeous album that sounds as pretty up from a distance as it does up close. By that I mean, if you pay attention to the lyrics and the music it is mind boggling, but even if you just put it on in the background it puts you in a good mood. Plus, it is 100% kid friendly and they might even learn something as this is probably the most literate band around right now. The Decemberists have been a great band for awhile, but this one is a real topper. They have three songs posted on Hear Ya, check em out.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

They're Well Known

Since I shot fish in a barrel last post, I thought I would aim for a sacred cow with my next post. Actually, 25 sacred cows, as this is my list of the 25 most overrated movies of the past 26 years (everything since 1980, which I guess is technically 27 years, but whatever). In order to determine what exactly is a highly rated movie, I looked at the Academy Award nominations, the AFI top 100 list of nominations, Cannes prize winners and IMDB's top 250. Obviously some highly regarded movies might not make these lists, but then how overrated could they be? Just about every Oscar winner could be listed as overrated, so for the record I haven't seen Terms of Endearment (1983), Out of Africa (1985), The Last Emperor(1987), The English Patient (1996) or Chicago (2002) ; so, probably a few of them would be on the list if I bothered to watch them.

Dances with Wolves (1990) - Oscar Winner. - So boring, so heavy handed, so long. This movie won for being very obviously about the exploitation of Indians and thus it made people feel good about themselves to vote for it. See Crash for further examples.

Forrest Gump (1994) - Oscar Winner. It beat out Pulp Fiction for Best Picture and enabled assholes to yell "Run, Forrest, Run!" anytime they saw someone running (hey, I was 10 when this movie came out, it was a major pet peave at the time). The plot is endearing, even if it is a dumbed down, historical version of Being There. However, the political message of the movie is not only overbearingly conservative, but, it goes the extra mile by making liberals the product of child abuse and, consequently, making liberalism a inflicted psychological disorder. The twin fates of Forrest, the good hearted man who went to war and became a millionaire, and Jenny, the whore who protested, eventually got AIDS and finally found redemption by getting pregnant, reinforce the most repressive concepts of gender, race (Forrest was scorned from the Black Panther Party, but Bubba's Mammy gets a big pile of money from whitey to rescue her from the plantations in Alabama), class and justice. There is even a funny commentary on John Kerry's political career, since the anti-war speeches that launched it were successfully replicated by a mentally handicapped man. If you are the sort of person who roots for America like it is your favorite football team, then this is the movie for you, otherwise it's an embarrassment.

Braveheart (1995) - Oscar Winner. Famous for its "ultra realistic" battle scenes that look like they were filmed by someone having a seizure. Grossly historically inaccurate, with a scene chewing villain without a speck of humanity and a script of thunderous lines, it is a solid action flick that got a Golden Statue because people were unwilling to vote for a movie about a pig. It did feature Sophie Marceau looking incredibly sexy in period clothes, so that is something.

Titanic (1997) - Oscar Winner. I make the case that this is the worst movie ever to win Best Picture, with its only saving grace being its relative lack of ambition. Sure, it cost 200 million dollars, but at least we didn't have to wade through an obvious message- unless the message is ships don't do well when they hit icebergs (thank you Paul Haggis!). It is a straightforward, weepy love story, with a huge action section jammed in the middle (or maybe the love is jammed around the action, I mean you could make Titanic without Jack and Rose, but not without the ship sinking). It's your basic summer blockbuster that made huge sums of money by having enough romance to get the girls and some nudity and violence for the guys. There are two problems: Hollywood rewarded the movie with a Best Picture Oscar for making a lot of money and the screenplay is simply terrible. The meandering plot includes a boring frame story that serves to distance the viewer from the real story- culminating in the heroine throwing away a priceless jewel in an act of selfishness that presumably is an attempt to pay tribute to her lost love by making the people looking for the jewel suffer- and, best of all, a sequence involving the Billy Zane chasing and shooting at our starcrossed lovers as the Titanic is sinking! In short, this movie features terrible dialogue, mediocre acting, and a miserable plot, but at least they went for realism by building a big, big boat. To be fair, this movie doesn't make a lot of "best of" lists anymore.

American Beauty (1999) - Oscar Winner. This actually was my favorite movie for years. Most of the characters feel alienated and unfulfilled, and the broadly anti-suburban motif really resonated with my wannabe-edgy teenage mindset. I didn't watch the movie for a couple of years and then came back after actually learning a little about film and to my surprise A.B. had tarnished in the meantime. The central plot of the middle-aged Lester waking up from his malaise and realizing his life is unhappy and inauthentic is completely betrayed by his adolescent response to this epiphany. Lester doesn't like his job, wife, car or body, so he starts smoking weed and working at a fast food restaurant, he buys a muscle car and idolizes one of his daughter's friends. Just like the creepy drug dealer next door finds incredible beauty in a plastic bag, the movie finds the antidote to modern alienation in living like a 16 year old. No wonder it was my favorite movie back then.

Gladiator (2000) - Oscar Winner. Won in an incredibly weak field that featured another movie on this list, two foreign movies (those sure aren't going to win) and Traffic, which should have won by default, though movies like Momento and Snatch were better that year. This is a more exciting version of Braveheart, with even more violence and Joaquin Phoenix playing the role of scenery eater. It has a great score and the speeches definitely give you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but ultimately it is an action flick about "honor and glory". Specifically, the honor and glory of killing everyone in the way of your quest for revenge, making this a period version of Death Wish (a badass movie in its own right, though certainly not an Oscar winner). At least Braveheart was about how the English are evil and soulless, while Gladiator just demonstrates how effective the death penalty would be as a deterrent if it was executed (punny) with swords in front of a big crowd.

A Beautiful Mind (2001) - Oscar Winner. Russell Crow pulled off his second dupe in a row with this by the by the numbers drama that managed to beat Gosford Park and the first Lord of the Rings. Someone at the academy likes a good twist (see the nomination of The Sixth Sense), since all this move had not much going for it was the revelation that *SPOILERS AHEAD* he was crazy *END SPOILERS* (did I mention that Rosebud is the sled?). This is fine fare for boring night, but a best picture? Not even close.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - Oscar Winner. I really enjoyed the first two movies and this one was awesome for the first three hours and fifteen endings. I realize that the movie won because of the strength of the entire series, the special effects and the huge piles of money, but come on! This was a kid's movie that was yawn inducing for the last hour. The series is incredibly popular and should have taken all that money as its own reward, but it got greedy and it got overrated.

Crash (2005) - Oscar Winner. - In his acceptance speech for "Best Original Screenplay"PaulHaggis said the following: "Bertolt Brecht said that art is not a mirror, but it is a hammer. Not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer in which to shape it. So I guess this is ours." In other words, Haggis used his bully pulpit to bludgeon us to death with the never before seen message that some people are racists! Haggis takes no chances that we might not catch this subtle theme, so he has the characters say expressly that, in between demonstrating it over and over again. Beyond that, I hate that this movie won over Brokeback Mountain which ultimately fell victim to its own success, despite having a much more interesting message (the high cost of keeping homosexuality private), a far more moving conclusion and superior cinematography and acting. Crash's win is proof positive that the Academy Awards are just the best attended television event of the year and have no credibility at choosing the best movie of any given year.

Kagemusha (1980) - Palme d'Or Winner. I had no intention of attacking this movie, until I saw that it won the grand prize (no, not the Grand Prix, that is second place...) at Canne's. I think this movie is insufferably boring and plays even longer than its 3 hours since almost nothing happens in the movie. Kurosawa's body of work is untouchable, but this smells like a lifetime achievement award, like the Oscar Marty is going to get this year for The Departed (which I loved). This is a beautiful movie to look at, with a full palette of gorgeous colors in scenes of wading through rainbows of paint and legions of different colored flags aligned and blowing in the breeze. Unfortunately, sometimes scenes take several minutes to set up while we see soldier after soldier march into position. This movie could be trimmed down an hour without losing a scene or line of dialogue. Only a renowned master like Kurosawa would be allowed to make a movie this fat.

The other 15 tomorrow.

Makes me wanna smoke crack

I watch a lot of television, though not as much as I did when I had On Demand, HBO, Showtime and DVR in college. I do manage to avoid two of the most popular types of programming: procedural dramas and reality television, with a few exceptions, all of which are on MTV.

MTV is a tough channel to defend, as it is perhaps the single most evil influence on our society, only al-Qaida and Islamic fundamentalism even running a close second. A short list of MTV's crimes: perpetrating the careers of people like J-Lo and Jessica Simpson, who sap the collective IQ by broadcasting stupidity like anti-intellectual Tokyo Roses; celebrating being rich and wasting money ("My Super Sweet 16") and purveying the culture of being famous for being famous ("Laguna Beach", which is also is about the rich wasting money and tops that by being ephebophilic to anyone over 18 who watches it). But worst of all, MTV created reality television with "The Real World" in 1992 and in the process became the forefather of everything from "Temptation Island" to "The Swan".

Most MTV reality shows, or any reality show on any network, follow this simple formula: put ridiculous people together in ridiculous situations and encourage them to overact to any perceived slight or affront (bonus points for getting them drunk too). Shows like "The Real World" boil people down to specific stereotypes (conservative, thus bigoted, southern white girl; flamboyantly gay black man; girl with emotional problems stemming from bad childhood; angry black man; angry black woman; angry white man; angry white transsexual who wants to be an angry black lesbian...) that the people on the show seem to constantly try to live up to, rather than escape from. MTV screens these people with a professional psychologist before hand, to ensure they really are crazy and find out which cast will be the least compatible, and thus the most entertaining.

In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman says that he thinks everyone in the world became like people in "The Real World" after the third season. Before "The Real World" he viewed people as individuals, but after the third season he realized that everyone is just like someone from the show. In other words, despite being incredibly inauthentic, "The Real World" is more real than real life. His tongue may be firmly in his cheek, but that idea isn't that far fetched in a society when the media tells us who we are supposed to be both expressly- in Miller commercials that tell us what men are allowed to do (evidently men are supposedly to live in constant fear of accidentally acting like a homosexual)- and subtly by demonstrating how idealized men and women act on television. A generation of people raised by the television would naturally have role models on the silver screen and even as we laugh along with the laugh track, we learn how to behave. The guys get laughs for being dumb animals who only know about sports and hate all things feminine, including art, literature, or education (examples: Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor and Dan Conner). The women, meanwhile, are either domestic foils or portrayed as crazy or baby obsessed for laughs (Lucille Ball is the archetype, while shows like "I Dream of Genie" or "Bewitched" just reduce the women to cartoons). Obviously there are many exceptions, but those shows are the successful exceptions that prove the rule. A deeply flawed show like "Sex and the City" became a huge hit just by showing women as rational, self-sufficient adults unafraid of their own sexuality. A show like "the Real World" is the next logical step in the other direction: true life role models demonstrating how to be a young, hot, sexually active alpha male or female. Unfortunately, those role models are picked for being emotional unstable and filling out a tank top or wife beater and have about as much credibility as role models as the average professional athlete.

All that said, MTV is incredibly watchable, at least in small doses. One of my friends theorizes that the producers' of MTV programs make them with the express intention of appealing to two audiences, the very dumb, who can only appreciate it at face value, and the people who ironically appreciate how ridiculous everything is. I don't believe that MTV producers make shows like "My Super Sweet 16" with the express intent of exploiting the brainless greed of teenagers, and if they do, that is worse than just making a show about quarter of a million dollar birthday parties. I choose to believe that most MTV shows are well crafted junk TV, the equivalent of a microwave dinner from Jean-Georges, delicious but ultimately unsatisfying.

So, why do I watch MTV? First, because I have watched it for a long time and I will keep doing something I don't like for a long time, but I won't start doing something unless it is immediately compelling. It is a lot easier to quit smoking if you never start. Second, the shows are always on and I sell my free time cheap. Even if MTV is evil, its shows are more entertaining than anything that has ever graced the screen of 80% of my basic cable channels. Shows like “True Life: The Jersey Shore”, are so unbelievably funny that they have to be seen to be believed. Serious or not, exploitive or very, very exploitive, when MTV nails it the results are stunning and some people just deserve to be made fun of. Third, and most importantly, MTV is a reflection of what is going on in mainstream youth culture and sometimes I need to look in the mirror and realize how far I haven't come. I, and my like-minded compatriots, create a distance between the caricatures on MTV and ourselves based on an assumption of mental superiority. Sure, I am smarter than the Tommy, the meathead looking for love in the clubs of the Jersey Shore, but am I doing anything better with my life? Just watching a show like that begs the question, if I’m really so smart then why do I spend all my time watching him on MTV?

Friday, December 1, 2006

Do you all like my looks?

Here we, and by that I mean me, are. I vociferously read blogs, but thus far, resisted starting one of my own because I couldn't stand the thought of promoting it or eventually abandoning it after my friends mocked it behind my back for being mediocre. However, since college ended I have lost most of my outlets for intellectual discourse about the things I spend my time doing- namely, watching television and movies, attempting to read a book a week, following sports and generally complaining, we called it critiquing, everything in sight. In a completely unrelated coincidence, I haven't really been around marijuana and people who consume it, though according to a commercial I recently saw that means I should have seen a spike in time spent ice skating with girls and mountain biking. Unfortunately you don't have to smoke weed to waste all of your time.

That is what this blog is ultimately about, I spend all of my time doing things that can only by the most generous of definitions be termed "constructive," but I think that fiction is important, perhaps more important than non-fiction, at least in the arts. In fact, when I see people who never read novels and only watch documentaries, I generally assume that their world view is as big as pin. Documentaries in any form can tell us about the world, but great fiction can tell us about ourselves. That is what the lid of my Snapple can said anyway. I want to think very hard, or at least as hard as I can while still listening to music and playing Snood, about the things that entertain me and hopefully one day people will read this and tell me I am wrong and we can have a conversation.

As a counterpoint to all the heart on my sleeve stuff, I will point out that the last time I wrote a column it advocated banning booze to encourage drinking and not trusting people who didn't do drugs. The point being, I don't take myself too seriously and I always value humor over content. So let's see how long I can keep this up!