Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shutter Island... What a Twist!

Before I begin my review of Shutter Island I first have to make it perfectly clear that I am a huge fan of Martin Scorsese.  And it's not just because he's a phenomenal filmmaker who has consistently made high quality, relevent films for over four decades... well, actually it pretty much is because of that.  Scorsese is a living legend of biblical proportions and pretty much everything he does is a masterpiece.  I am totally biased whenever it comes to any of his projects, and as a commercial whore I would immediately buy any product that was even remotely attached to his name.  I once read somewhere that Martin Scorsese preferred Tampax brand tampons I went out and bought a year's supply.  Upon carefully rereading the article I realized that it was Lindsay Lohan who preferred Tampax (which, in retrospect, made more sense) so I burned everything I had bought and decided not to include Lohan when mailing out the latest chain letter I had recieved guaranteeing "lifelong happiness, contentment, intellectual fulfillment, and sexual virility."  The point is that no matter what Scorsese does now I am going to love it regardless.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Shutter Island is about Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), two "duly appointed" US Marshals called in to investigate the disappearance of an escaped mental patient from a facility for the criminally insane on a place called... you guessed it, Shutter Island.  The pair quickly discover that there is something more going on and not everything is as it seems.  The staff led by Dr.John Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) as well as the inmates seem intent on derailing Daniels' investigation.  As he is drawn even deeper into the mystery of Shutter Island he becomes intent on revealing whatever terrible secrets are being kept hidden and must content with the storm of the century, escaped inmates, haunting flashbacks of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), and his increasingly tenuous grasp on sanity.

This movie just proves yet again why Martin Scorcese is the best at what he does, which is make movies.  He is a living legend and there are currently no new directors -with the exception of Chris Nolan- who are in the same league or on track to being in the same league as this guy.  He is a living legend and when he's gone Hollywood will lose at least half of its already-strained credibility.  Shutter Island is a perfect example of what holds a Scorcese picture together: the characters.  Without a doubt Scorcese is the best at carefully and exactingly examining a character, peeling him away layer by layer until his raw core is revealed to the audience.  I also heard he's not too bad at wakeboarding either. 

While Shutter Island is not Scorcese's best work it was still engaging cinema.  The whole premise is pretty freaky, and right away the audience is put on edge.  A mental institution for the criminally insane.  On an island with no contact with the mainland and no possible escape.  An escaped "patient."  From the beginning the mood and tone are set and remain consistent throughout the movie.  Everything blended together perfectly, including the odd reactions from the staff, the secrecy of the lead doctors and the fucked up residents of the Shutter Island institution.  Even the weather was cooperating as it always seemed to be either A) raining and blowing hurricane force winds or B) getting ready to rain and blow hurricane force winds.  I can't recall any sunlight at all, which I suppose is the point as the subject matter of this movie is not sunny in the least.

The plot of the film centers around Teddy Daniels' investigation of the missing patient Rachel Solondo and the implications it holds for what goes on at these facilities, but the movie itself is about the character of Daniels himself.  We find out pretty early on that Teddy's wife Dolores (finally a female alumnus from Dawson's Creek who can act and not just read lines and try to fuck up Batman Begins.  You know who you are (It's Katie Holmes.  Fuck she's terrible)). is dead and that he is still haunted by this death.  Also intercut with the main story are Teddy's flashbacks of his time in the war (good old WWII) specifically his memories of when he and his platoon were part of the emancipation of one of the concentration camps.  This coninuing thread plays itself out in a gripping and horrifying way that really ties in with Leo's corny final line of dialogue in the movie, which we will examine shortly.

Leonardo DiCaprio once again blows this one out of the park.  What I love about this guy's performances -this one included- is the intensity.  This whole movie is pretty intense, but a few scenes really stood out in my mind.  When he was investigating by himself in one of the cell blocks with the power off and has to question Jackie Earle Haley (you know, Rorschach) I was shitting my pants.  The other I suppose series of scenes is at the end when he "discovers" that he is actually a patient at Shutter Island and he slowly accepts "the truth".  SPOILERS APLENTY.  When he finally realizes that his wife snapped and drowned their kids and he ends up killing her, well, let's just say that there are only a handful of actors in Hollywood who could have pulled off that kind of performance (well) and Leo is one of them.  Michelle Williams, as I mentioned before, does a pretty good job herself and has kind of come out of left field in the past couple of years to establish herself as a reputable actress, unlike some other female leads from Dawson's Creek who have only proven that they have practically no acting talent whatsoever (a-hem, Katie Holmes).  Mark Ruffalo is always pretty solid despite his foray into chick flic territory, but ever since Zodiac he is a-OK with me.  While his part didn't require the same intensity as DiCaprio's, it did require certain nuances which Ruffalo handled excellently.  Also of note are the always fantastic Sir Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow as Dr. Jeremiah Naehring, an ex-Nazi scientist, and Buffalo Bill himself Ted Levine as the warden.  (Would you fuck him?  I'd fuck him.  I'd fuck him hard.)

Now while the movie's core was Teddy Daniels, it also explored some deeper, philosophical ideas.  Are Right and Wrong objective monoliths that sit on God's mantle and show's to dinner party guests on special occasions like Christmas or Chanukah or are they subjective principles that are unique to each situation?  How does one define reality (see: my Inception review)?  Who decides what is "sane" and what is "insane"?  It also explores the ethics of medical treatment as well as the nature of human interaction.  One of the key scenes to me was the eerie car ride with the warden and Daniels and their bizarre conversation about morality and the warden says something along the lines of "We wage war, we burn sacrifices we pillage and plunder and treat at the flesh of our brothers and why? Because God gave us violence to wage in his honor."  When Daniels responds by saying that "he thought God gave us moral order", the warden respons with "There is no moral orders as pure as this storm. There's no moral order at all. There's just this: can my violence conquer yours?"  To me that was really the core of the whole movie, the heart if you will, the anchor, the wind beneath its wings, the cinematic cockring.  It rang true in only the way a Scorcese-ism could, and it was presented in the format that Scorcese does best: dramatic monologue.

I should probably comment on the "twist" ending, because some chowder heads out there in cyberspace were probably complaining that it wasn't "twisty" enough or some such bullshit, but I don't think it was supposed to be a Shayamalan-esque twist.  I mean there were enough clues that it "gave away" the ending ie. the fact that Teddy Daniels is, in fact one of the inmates, (remember Andrew Laeddis) and is the subject of a radical procedure, a staged reality, to make him come to grips with the reality of what he had done ie. killed his wife.  I will tell you the reason this revelation wasn't a twist.  The reason this isn't a twist is because it's actually a funnel.  The whole movie Daniels is actually searching for Laeddis, who is actually himself.  So his figurative soul-searching is representing on-screen by an actual manhunt.  As the investigation proceeds, Daniels is brought closer and closer to becoming Laedus, from the medication he takes, to the clothes he wears, to the imaginary women he talks to.  So essentially, throughout the movie the realities of these two men are brought closer and closer together, until they meet and converge (the dudes are merging!) in the penultimate scene.

The final scene of Shutter Island, though, was the kicker.  DiCaprio exits on this really powerful yet extremely cheesy line: "Which would be worse: to live as a monster or to die as a good man?"  It's an interesting quandary, however in Teddy's case the point is moot: he's already done both.  It could be argued (quite persuasively given the time, resources and willpower to do so) that Daniels/Laeddis actually died during that fateful day at the concentration camp when he both witnessed and performed terrible deeds.  That's the kind of shit you don't come back from, metaphysically speaking.  And ever since that day, even before he killed his wife he was a monster.  He wasn't a monster of his own making, and in the same circumstances many of us would do the same thing he did.  And that's the point.  Daniels did not become a monster by choice or because of any internal defect: it was his involvement in one of the most horrifying and most deadly chapters of human history AKA World War II.  This was what the warden was talking about: the tension between human nature (violence) and human ideals (morals).  What happens when those two forces are put into opposition can tear a person apart.  The question isn't if it's better to live as a monster, it's how to live as both a monster and a good man at the same time because war makes monsters of men.

Alright, time for the final verdict.  Shutter Island was a great film, but definitely not Scorcese's best.  That being said, I give this movie an 8.5/10 = One Badly Beaten Criminally Insane Head Illuminated by a Match

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Perception of Inception's Perfection and Deception

It seemes that somehow the reality-bending Inception was somehow already having an effect on my own personal reality.  Last Friday I was in a tangible position to see Inception on opening night, which is rare these days for reasons that I'll explain later.  Due to forces beyond my control this did not happen.  So I decided to go to see it on Tuesday, for reasons which I'll explain now: on Monday I was podcasting and Tuesday night is cheap night and tickets are half price.  However, when we (my brother-in-law, Bonegod and myself) arrived at the theatre there was a problem: there was something "wrong" with the plumbing and they had no running water so they had to send the throng of people gathered in front of the theatre home.  This seemed odd to me because last time I checked the projectors did not require water to run (good old steam power) and I can piss in a garbage can.  In the context of watching movies running water is a luxury, not a requirement.  Anyway after we couldn't get in to see Inception we went back to the Bonegod's bachelor pad to watch a little movie called The Fourth Kind.  I arrived home completely freaked out and crawled into bed beside my wife and glanced over at the clock which read 12:34. 

Finally on Wednesday, July 21 I was admitted into Galaxy Cinemas and was able to witness Christopher Nolan's latest addition to cinematic lore.  I have no idea how or why Inception changed the course of my life so that I watched it at that specific time at that specific place, but I'm absolutely sure that it did and that it will ultimately affect every moment of the rest of my life.  If this is indeed my life, which I'm not sure it is because after watching Inception I am no longer sure of my reality.  My biggest piece of evidence that something is amiss is that when I crawled into bed on Wednesday I glanced over at the clock and once again the glowing red numbers shimmered 12:34.  Fucked up, right?

The plot of Inception follows a thief named Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose speciality is stealing ideas from people's subconscious via their dreams.  After a botched job Cobb decides to lay low lest his (now angry) employers decide to tear him a new one.  Before he can do this, however, he is offered a job by an industrialist Saito (Ken Watanabe) that will essentially end his troubles and let him go back to America and see his kids again.  The twist is that instead of Extraction -stealing ideas- Cobb and his team must attempt Inception - planting an idea in the subject's mind.  This is infinitely harder and Cobb and his team must delve deep into the subconscious of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) and plant the idea to break up his father's company after he dies (from surprisingly natural causes.).  In order to make sure that Fischer accepts the idea Cobb and his team must go deeper into someone's subconscious than any of them have gone before, but with greater rewards come greater risks and the deeper they go the more dangerous it becomes and the more difficult to seperate dreams from reality.

OK, even though I have just described the basic plot I have not yet spoiled anything because the plot is infinitely more complex and layered (both literally and figuratively) so I will issue my SPOILER ALERT... now!  I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to this movie.  Inception really was the only movie I wanted to see this summer and the only one I really had any hope left for.  After first becoming a fan of Christopher Nolan years ago after watching Memento, was rewarded for my loyalty with The Prestige and completely wowed with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  So it was with unrealistically high expectations that I went to see Nolan's latest,  and all I can say is: Damn!  Inception completely blew my mind and definitely exceeded any and all expectations.

The whole premise of the movie is just fucking cool and the way it is handled lends itself to philosophical debate.  The idea of being able to initiate lucid dreaming basically on a whim with the use of technology is tantalizing to say the least.  Then to expand it even further and dream communally is even more engaging and , of course, is an interesting take on the idea of a collective consciousness.  I loved the way that the movie sets up the premise immediately and doesn't waste time trying to explain the technology.  It is a simple fact that the technology exists to enter each other's dreams and what is actually in those crazy metallic breifcases is unimportant to the story.  The fact is it works and as a member of the audience you never feel like something is missing by not having it explained.  And that, ultimately, is really what helps make this movie so great: not everything is explained.  Now obviously some of the rules of this universe had to be explained to the audience and this is done (flawlessly, I might add) through the use of the "new team member" character Ariadne (Ellen Page).  She asks questions, of course, and she is answered by other members of the team but none of it feels extranious and really I was intrigued learning about the whole process.

Acting in Inception was top notch, just fantastic.  Leonardo DiCaprio can emote like a motherfucker, and he can do hardcore action as well.  As of this point in time I do not believe he has won an Oscar and this is a crime.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt who play's Cobb's pal Arthur is also fantastic.  He really won me over in Brick and continues to wow me with performances like this.  Ellen Page obviously isn't on the same plane as these two guys, but she's getting better and her performance here was solid.  Tom Hardy also played his character of Eames "The Forger" to perfection and I was glad to see Dileep Rao in there too.  I really liked him in Drag Me to Hell and he switches gears for this movie perfectly.  Cillian Murphy is just fantastic no matter what he does and just hearing his name now is an instant draw to a movie.  Also Marion Cotillard who plays Cobb's wife Mal does an excellent job and has some pretty intense scenes to work through.  I'm not a huge fan of Ken Watanabe, but he did a good job and Michael Caine, well it goes without saying he was excellent.  All in all an excellent cast with a shitload of combined talent. 

I've heard a lot of comparisons being made between Inception and The Matrix, however that analogy is simplistic and misleading and is based on two key issues.  Issue one is that both movies deal with the idea of realities within realities.  While this is true, both movies have very different takes on this.  The other detail which keeps getting compared is the action and special effect sequences.  This is also not really an accurate comparison because both movies had very different types of mind-blowing action sequences that were both awesome in their own right.  The main sequence I think that everyone refers to in Inception is the "twisting room/zero gravity" fight Joseph Gordon-Levitt has with a bunch of goons in Cillian Murphy's subconscious, which was totally awesome and fused with seamless special effects.  Just don't go in expecting The Matrix or you will find yourself sorely disappointed.  I'm not saying one was better than the other, just... different.  At certain points in Inception I felt like Ellen Page's character did after learning she was in a dream for the first time (literally, her mind was blown.).  And even if you were watching this movie just for the action (like going to a Chinese Buffet just for the wonton soup) you would definitely not be disappointed.  It was really fucking cool how external factors in the "next reality up" would affect what was going on in whatever level of the subconscious the characters were in which resulted in some crazy spinning rooms and zero-G fighting.

Oh, what a feeling..

I've read several reviews of Inception by this point and one of the criticisms that came up was the idea that for being in dream worlds there was nothing that was really, really trippy ie. the dreams lacked a certain dreamlike unpredictibility.  This is utter bullshit, however.  One of the key ideas that really fuels the audience's immersion in the movie is the idea that you don't really know you're in a dream until you wake up.  So a slightly-altered reality makes more sense in the context of this movie rather than flying elephants, swimming pools filled with eyeballs, or surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator.  (Now why does that sound familiar...?)  Something else I read also brought up some point about the defences in people's subconscious always being depicted in this movie by dudes with guns.  While I'm sure it would have been cool to watch adversaries duke it out over a game of backgammon, or through wet T-shirt contests (as I'm sure battles would be waged in my subconscious), the dudes with guns in crazy action sequences was a lot more engaging to watch and far more appropriate given the context of the movie.   

Now one of my theories surrounding what makes a kick-ass movie involves the cinematic holy trinity: Character, Plot, and Idea.  By keeping one or more of these basic concepts in mind and in balance one can make a great movie.  For example, Martin Scorcese would exemplify the Character aspect.  His movies are essentially character-driven, and at their core are driven by the characters rather than the plot.  Steven Spielberg exemplifies the Plot aspect.  Spielberg's stories are powered by series of events rather than the characters.  Christopher Nolan embodies the Idea aspect because his movies are centered around core themes or ideas he wants to explore.  Now, before you get your panties in a knot, let me clarify by saying that none of the above directors is completely devoid of the other two aspects.  Scorcese's movies have plot, and Spielberg's character's have arcs.  Nolan is primarily an idea guy and Inception is the quintessential example of this.  It offers various concepts to ponder while you're handcuffed to your bed while your hooker counts your money to make sure you "don't come up short this time."

As Cobb and friends ply their trade one of the tricks they employ is the old dream within a dream deal, prompting the audience to constantly question what was real.  The basis of the whole movie was really that question of what is real and perception versus reality (more on that later.).  There's a really interesting concept of the idea as parasite which comes up throughout the movie.  The subconscious is depicted as having it's own defence system almost like the body's immune system which manifests itself in some pretty cool ways (ever get that feeling everybody is staring at you?).  Something else that really stuck out in my mind was that at the core of the mission that DiCaprio and company are on is the relationship between a father and his son which to me was just as prominent as the relationship between man and wife, or rather lover and lover.  It was no coincidence that these two relationships were juxtaposed throughout the movie. Nor is it coincidence that outside of Cobb's possibly dead wife Mal there was virtually no female presence in any of these men's dreams, and even when Mal was around she was either locked away deep in Cobb's subconscious or she surfaced to fuck his shit up.  This all tied in with the idea of catharsis which was even addressed explicitly in the movie. 

The real treat here though is not what the movie is about it's discussing what the movie could be about.  There are several theories, however the relative accuracy relies on the theory of Plausible Interpretation (I just made that shit up!) which basically states that there is no one "correct" interpretation of any given text (yes, a text includes movies) and that texts can be read and interpreted in many different ways but that the accuracy of those interpretations is limited by textual evidence.  For example, one might reasonably and effectively argue that Field of Dreams was ultimately not about baseball but about the relationship between a father and his son.  This is no stretch and perhaps the most obvious interpretation.  On the other hand somebody might argue that Field of Dreams is about Hitler's rise to power and the birth of national socialism.  According to the tenets of Plausible Interpretation the second reading of the movie -while it was one individual's personal opinion- is highly inaccuracte and irrelevent because there is a lack of textual evidence to support this opinion.  This theory allows for everyone's opinions, no matter how stupid or misguided they might be, but ultimately gives more credence to coherent theories put forth by highly advanced individuals (yours truly included.).

This is one fucked up party

So now comes the part where we try to derive meaning and interpret Chris Nolan's latest masterpiece.  What's my take on this intricate narrative, you ask?  Well I would argue that Inception is even harder to pin down to one or two big ideas than the majority of other movies (even though that is exactly what I did two paragraphs ago), but I will tell you what I got out of this movie.  To me the core of the movie revolved around the cartharsis one gets from developing, realizing and finally accepting one's perception of reality.  The movie is ultimately about that emotional release that comes with letting go of and absorbing all of the negative shit in your past that you can't let go while turning your attention towards the future.  That may sound vague and even slightly cheesy, but it is also awesome.  For those of you who saw the movie you might refute me because it appears that by the end of the movie Cobb is still in some kind of dream state, so any catharsis he might have would not be "true" or "real" because he is not in a "true" or "real" place, merely a dream.  Well let me explain even further.         
There is no truth or reality - only the perception of truth or reality.  "Well that's just rhetorical bullshit," you might say.  And I will admit that you would be quite correct insofar as that is your perception of reality.  However, in the larger scheme of the universe and in the context of my theory of Plausible Interpretation, you would be the one who is full of shit.  (Well, it is my theory after all.)  To illustrate let me illuminate you on your preconcieved and (entirely) wrong understanding of truth. 

There is no ultimate, overarching Truth that is inherent and constant in all time and space in the universe.  Take language as an example.  If Truth were an intrinsic quality in the universe there would be only one language because every object, feeling, thought, action, etc. would have only one inherently conceivable way to define it.  Each would only have one set of phonemes that could only possibly be represented by one universally accepted set of symbols combined in only one concievable way.  As this is obvisouly not the case, I am proved right.  If there was only one ultimate Truth, there would be no wars fought over political or religious ideology: they would, instead, be fought for fun or out of boredom.  If Truth truly was intrinsic in the universe the entire judicial system would disappear and there would be no police because everything we said and did, by definition, would be the truth.  It there was an ultimate Truth then the world would not be subdivided into political units like countries or republics, our national (or I , suppose, planetary) anthem would be "Back in Black,"  only ugly people would be required to wear clothes (and because there is only truth there is only beauty so there is in essence no ugliness, which means we'll have to look at a bunch of naked, ugly people), everyone would drive a 1965 Stingray, fucking would become the (only) national pasttime because with inherent Truth comes the lack of guilt or remorse (even when fucking fat, ugly nudists), and all desserts would contain both chocolate and peanut butter in that order.  And since the basis for the argument of an objective, absolute reality rests on the notion of an objective and absolute truth, I have also disproved your notions of reality as well.   

I could even take that one step further and say (at the result of delving into pretentious ramblings about philosophy) that perception is reality.  However, the reverse -reality is perception- cannot be true, and I will explain why.  Reality by definition is static and absolute while perception is dynamic with no defined boundaries, therefore while perception is able to adapt to any reality, reality will never bend to the whims of perception.  This, of course, raises the question: if perception is indeed reality, which means that reality itself is dynamic and constantly changing, then what was it we percieved in the first place?  (And no, the answer is not "We percieve perception" smartass.)  The answer is: the question is its own answer.  And that answer is another question.  And each of us is both the asker ofer that Ultimate Question and, in the end, the only one who can answer it.  This brings us back to the counter-arguement of how can Cobb's catharsis be real if he is not in a real place?  The answer is because he believes it.  He accepts it.  He feels that emotional release, that peace inside himself, and that ultimately is "real."  It doesn't matter if you're in a dream, or if life (itself) is but a dream, if you feel happy that happiness is real.  If you feel sad that sadness is real.  Our perception of reality -and not reality itself- is ultimately what causes us to be happy or sad or violent or loving, and no matter what the context your emotional responses cannot be virtual or fake. 

The question is not what or even why we percieve and interpret, but ultimately how.  Do you accept your life and move forward?  Or do you hang on to guilt and past regrets and grow stagnant?  Of course this is all just speculation and opinion, but fuck if I wasn't inspired.  I think the greatest part of Inception is that it initiates and fuels dialogue which is something rare in movies these days.  Now the preceding was merely my own interpretation, but there are others that are equally valid.  I was reading one review over at Chud and that dude's whole theory was that that Inception was about filmmaking.  Cobb is the director, Arthur is the producer, Eames is the actor and Fischer is the audience.  The article goes on to argue that everything that happened in the movie happened within a dream, even the parts where they were supposedly in reality.  Both of these ideas I accept intellecually but deny viscerally.  The reading of Inception as allegory for Hollywood is a very valid reading and supported with textual evidence, however I think that narrows the overall meaning of the film which I choose to believe has more far-reaching implications.  This is not to say I disagree with the article in any way, because it makes some excellent points, it's simply another interpretation.  And pretty fucking clever, too.  Asshole.

Alright, I believe I have rambled on more than my fair share, and if anyone is still reading after all this time then you really have no life and I am forced to ask myself: Why the fuck are you reading this instead of out watching Inception?  From now on whenever I see the numbers 12:34 in any context I will be reminded of this movie and question my own reality.  I give Inception a perfect 10/10 = One Head Within a Head Within a Head of Awesomeness 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Miracle Whip Can Go To Hell

Alright this has been bothering me for sometime, and now I really feel the need to speak out on this bullshit.  I'm sure most of you have seen all those Miracle Whip ads on TV right now where a bunch of young, attractive people are living large while consuming mass amounts of flavoured mayonnaise and then at the end they flash this slogan: "We are Miracle Whip and we will not tone it down."  The whole ad is generally offensive to free-thinking individuals and I will tell you why. 

First of all the slogan is so pretentious.  "We will not tone it down?"  Really?  Tone what down Kraft?  All you're selling is a jar filled with a substance that has the same look and consistency as jizz and is about as bland as a cardboard box.  Of all the food products out there, or all the objects in the universe, Miracle Whip is about the last thing I would ask to be toned down.  Certain brands of hot sauce could concievably "tone it down".  McDonalds could "tone down" whatever the fuck they put into their food that makes it so addictive.  Mel Gibson could "tone down" his wild ranting.  The US government could "tone down" its invasions into whatever country in the world they feel like invading this year.  The point is in order to "tone" something "down" it first has to be "toned up" ie. have some level of intensity, which Miracle Whip does not have.  Miracle Whip is about as intense as sitting and staring at a blank wall not having sex with dozens of women.  Miracle Whip is the food world equivalent of having erectile disfunction.

That, in essence, is what makes this campaign so pretentious.  As if people were walking past the Kraft headquarters and having conversations like the one that follows.

"Hey man, what'd you have for lunch?"

"I had a sandwich.  But not just any sanwich."

"What was so special about this sandwich?"

"Well it was a turkey sanwich on rye."


"Well, for a change I thought I would add... some Miracle Whip."

"Holy, shit man!"

"I know, right!"

"Miracle Whip?  You're fucking crazy man.  That shit is intense!"

"You're telling me.  That sanwich was nearly the end of me.  I really wish they would just, like, tone it down a little, you know?"

It's like Kraft is telling us that the word on the street is that Miracle Whip is too intense.  As if they have been called out and have to defend the integrity of their product.  It's like some poser kid at high school who's trying to score points with the cool kids by building up some situation trying to make himself look like a rebel.  "Yeah, my mom packed my lunch and gave me a bottle of water, but I saved my allowence and bought bought a Coke today.  Yeah everybody tells me it will rot my teeth, but I'm not changing for anyone.  I won't tone it down."  Miracle Whip is the ingratiating loser who like exactly the same things you and your friends like and feel the need to tell you so they'll gain cool points or something.  Bullshit, Kraft.  I'm inclined to drive down to head office and stuff these executives in some lockers after holding them upside down and shaking out their lunch money. 

The second reason why this ad campaign is bullshit is the whole idea of trying to make it seem that Miracle Whip is actually relevent to young people when the only people who would actually care enough about this product to discuss its merits are 60-something, widowed women named "Mable" who smell like mothballs and pickles and hang around churches as much as they can in their spare time.  You think god likes Miracle Whip, grandma?  Miracle Whip is for pussies.  When god makes a sandwich he tops it off with pure habanero puree, molten lava, and bullets.  An eternity eating sanwiches topped with a pale paste that might as well be human ejaculate: that sounds more like hell to me.  Blow me Miracle Whip. 

What the Hell Are You?

So I was talking to Andy, an old work buddy of mine on Facebook (yeah, apparently that's still a "thing") and he says he wants to get together sometime and "hang out."  Knowing Andy I know that "hanging out" in his mind means doing blow off the tits of some strippers, killing some homeless people and dumping their mutilated bodies in the river after eating their genitals to increase our sexual prowess, followed by a circle jerk with him and five of his closest crackhead friends during which time we all cum on a piece of bread, pass it to the left when finished and then everyone chows down.

"So how about it, Nathan?" Andy says.

"I don't know, Andy.  How about we go catch a movie instead?"

"Fine, whatever you pussy.  How about we go catch this movie Predators, biatch?"

"That sounds like a mutually agreeable heterosexual male bonding ritual," I said.

When I got to the theatre I found Andy yelling at the manager.  Turns out he thought Predators was about perverts in nondescript, unmarked vehicles stalking children waiting for the right time to strike, a subject Andy has a special interest in.  He was yelling at the manager about "false advertising" and "entrapment."  After twenty minutes Andy's friends and I were able to calm him down and we grabbed a seat in the theatres to see about the (as far as we know) non-child molesting Predators.  You know, the aliens with the cloaking devices, and crazy Wolverine-style blades, and crazy awesome dreads.

So obviously I wasn't going into this movie expecting it to be a cinematic masterpiece.  I didn't even have high hopes that Predators would succeed in any memorable way as an action showpiece.  I'm a total diehard fan of the original Predator made all the way back in 1987.  I mean that was Arnold Schwarzenegger during his action glory days and Predator was classic 1980's testosterone-filled, impossibly big gun toting, ridiculously repeatable one-liner delivering, gloriously gore-laced, action packed awesomeness.  I mean the magic from that film and others like it just can't be captured again.  There was some mix of ridiculousness and hardcore action that just seems to be lost to filmmakers these days, just like the methods of building without cranes power tools are lost in the sands of time.  There was something (maybe the minimum 40-inch biceps requirement) about Predator that just made it eternally cool.

I will say I wasn't totally right about Predators, but neither was I wrong.  I won't say that there was the same kind of magic that the original had that will make it transcend others in the genre like the original.  What I can say about Predators is: it was what it was.  This statement may seem kind of vague and a little bland, but then so is the movie it describes.

The plot follows a group of apparent badasses and Topher Grace for some reason who are dropped quite violently into the middle of the jungle.  These strangers are mostly military with a mix of mercenary, cartel enforcer and death row con mixed in for good measure.  With no memory of how they ended up in this jungle they quickly discover that they are being hunted by persons unknown.  They quickly realize that A) they are no longer on planet Earth and B) they are being hunted by a group of aliens who live for the hunt.  As they are slowly killed off one by one they formulate a plan of escape involving an alien spaceship and a final, climactic showdown with even bigger, more badass Predators than ever before.

There's not much I can really say about this movie.  It was a pretty standard group-of-strangers-from-different-backgrounds-who-must-grudgingly-work-together-to-survive scenario.  There was an adequate amount of action and gore but nothing really memorable.  There was some effort made to differentiate the characters but they turned out as little more than slightly amusing cliches, like the tough, solitary leader, the token black guy, the token woman, the token Hispanic, the token Asian who ends up wielding (surprise, surprise) a samurai sword, and the comic relief.  I mean it was amusing and all, but only two days after watching the movie and it's already starting to fade in my memory.  This could be chalked up to my terrible memory brought on by a lack of Vitamin E in my diet, an excess of alcohol, and brain damage brought on by numerous blows to the head... sorry I forgot what my point here was.

I wasn't sure how or if I was going to buy Adrien Brody as the tough guy lead and basically the new Schwarzenegger and to be honest I'm still not sure.  Just when he was starting to convince me he'd spout some really obvious tough guy dialogue in his gruff, supposedly tough guy voice and he'd lose credibility with me.  It's not about sounding tough, it's about exuding toughness, whether it be real or not and in my mind Brody just does not exude that toughness, at least not in this movie.  Or at least not consistently.   One thing I will say is that in the final showdown when Brody was shirtless he looked fucking huge.  He's got kind of a lankier build but he looked like he'd been hitting the gym pretty hard and damn I was impressed... in a totally heterosexual way of course. (A-hem)  I've always loved Danny Trejo and I'm glad to see him getting more work in higher profile projects.  Can't wait for Machete.  Topher Grace was, of course, the comic relief but most of the movie he just felt out of place.  There was a really weird and sloppily handled turn for his character late, late in the movie where he actually got to do something a little darker, but overall I could have taken of left him.  Honourable mention goes out to Walton Goggins who plays a convict who was two days away from his execution and if Grace's character had been left out entirely this guy would have easily covered the humour.  It wasn't just his lines which were funny ("Man let me tell you, if I get out of here... I'm going to do so much cocaine.  I'm going to rape so many bitches.  Yeah it's after 5:00.  Time to do some coke and rape some bitches.") but his delivery of them.  Alice Braga did a competent job as well, but really the only reason I mentioned her is so that I have some pretext to show some pictures.

  The predators themselves were handled very well and shown very sparingly which worked well.  They all had slight variations in their armour to differentiate them but they remained true to the original look.  The new bigger predators (aparently there's some racial tension amongst these gentle giants) looked pretty cool when one was finally unmasked at the very end and they felt threatening enough.  It just seems now that they're getting a little too easy to kill.  I mean in the original they have som much trouble dealing with just one, but these guys manage to take out a total of three.  Not a huge amount, but still. 

Another thing I liked was that that the characters were so quick to leave each other behind for the good of the group.  That was a fantastic touch.  It's so fucking annoying in movies when the characters walk into a trap so obvious even they know it's a trap and get themselves into even more trouble.  In this movie not only did they leave each other behind when it was pretty clear that they were fucked, sometimes they even but each other out of their misery.  You know, with a bullet.

There were lots of nods to the original Predator, which didn't really help this movie, but they were still cool.  Braga's character goes over a report that was obiously a direct reference to Schwarzenegger's charcter Dutch.  Then there was Adrian Brody covered in mud taking on a predator with low-tech means.  Then I suppose there's the whole jungle setting.  There was a predator ripping a dude's spine and attatched skull out of his victim's body, but I'm pretty sure Ozzy Osbourne did that at a concert once years ago.  Of course that could also be the acid talking.  Then there was the scene where Louis Ozawa Changchien's character stays behind to face this nameless terror alone with only sword for no aparent reason much like Billy (OK, exactly like Billy) from the first movie.  Although this time the the dude actually brings down a predator in a pretty cool fight, although at the cost of his own life.  Oh yeah, ths SPOILER ALERT thing.  I keep forgetting.

So overall, even though my friend Andy was expecting a much different, more risque movie, Predators was alright.  It was a highly forgetable piece of action fluff, that while moderately entertaining offers almost nothing memorable or highly unique.  It is another name on a long list of disappointing movies this season, but what can you expect when it's directed by a guy named Nimrod?  (I kid, I kid)  Also, what the hell was Laurence Fishburne doing in there?  Aside from some needless exposition his character serves no real purpose.  Just like this sentence (which is technically just a sentence fragment).  Really makes you think.  I give Predators a 5.5/10 = One Decapitated Alien Hunter's Head With A Mouth Like A Mutated, Murderous Vagina

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What in the Name of Odin's Beard is Going on Marvel?

Anybody with even the slightest interest in the Marvel universe has probably heard about the propsed Avengers movie that's supposed to come out in the next couple of years.  Unless of course you're an evil dictator hiding out under a rock in the middle of the desert.  And even then you'd have some inkling.  The cool thing is that there a whole battery of movies like Iron Man 1&2, The Incredible Hulk, and the upcoming Thor and Captain America that are building towards the Avengers movie with little cameos and other subtle nods. 

Now of course it's the wet dream of a lot of fanboys out there to see all the actors from these movies appear in the Avengers movie project together, which would be totally awesome.  But somehow, for some reason Marvel is fucking the whole thing up.  I've been following the story over at for the past couple of days and you can read about it here.  Now I don't know the whole story (nobody ever does) but from the comments I've read the good folks over at Marvel seem to be behaving like a bunch of douchebags.  The comments I have read make it seem like Marvel is caught up in Ed Norton's reputation for being reputedly as difficult to work with as an albino rhinoceros in heat.  But it seems far more likely that the production is trying to cut costs.  Paying a big A-list actor top dollar for twenty minutes of screen time may not be the most financially logical course to take I suppose.

But I mean it's such bullshit.  If you're going to make a decision just fucking make a decision.  Call it what it is.  I mean you want to save money, just say you want to save money.  Don't attack a man's character publically and prey on this mythology of Norton's difficulty to work with.  Maybe there is some truth to it, I mean I've heard a few rumours especially regarding American History X (kick-ass movie by the way), but I mean if he was really that terrible then explain to me how the hell he still gets work.  I mean what is so hard about saying Bruce Banner's part in the movie will be very small, you're too cheap to pay a phenomenal actor to play the part, and you want to shit all over your fans just for fun because you know they'll keep coming back no matter what.  And from what I've seen it's Marvel who's coming off as a bunch of ass clowns in this scenario.  I mean Norton's response on facebook makes him look like a rational, well-spoken professional, quite the contrast to the folks over at Marvel.  It really is a shame that it's just a matter of money that could potentially fuck up what could have been one of the greatest super hero flicks of our generation.

 But hey, even if we don't get Ed Norton -one of the hands down best actors in Hollywood today-at least we still have the superior "acting skills" of Scarlett Johansson.

Sorry, I got distracted, what was this article about again?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bioshocked OR Lightning Really Does Strike Twice

Last week as I was collecting money from my ho's and one of them came up short I had to smack her around a little.  Turns out she wasn't actually one of mine and her real pimp came over and we both pulled out our pimp knives to settle this little dispute and wouldn't you know it we both had the exact same knife.  It's funny how things work out like that.  We started talking and it turns out we also shared a love of Cheddar cheese, big breasts, lion-related maulings, and Bioshock.  After a couple hours we went over to his place where I promptly killed him and stole his stash of heroin and his collection of 1970's porn.  I guess it really is hard out there for a pimp.

The point of the story is my love for Bioshock and its aptly titled sequel Bioshock 2.  I know I'm a little behind the times for Bioshock 2 and really behind with the original Bioshock, but in my defence... shut up.  After a hardcore couple months playing Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 (again, way to go with the creative sequel title guys) I needed a break from killing hordes of zombies.  OK really all my friends got bored of playing so until they're ready to play again I needed to pleasure myself.  With video games.  But not on my penis.  Well, OK, sometimes on my penis.  So I played my way through Assassin's Creed 2 (Sequels R Us) and in May I started playing Bioshock expecting a nice little linear FPS.  You know something light to pass the time.  Instead I get hit with the kind of abject terror and and general insanity that kept me on the edge of my seat while playing Dead Space.  And it was great, but having to sleep with the lights on all the time is really hell on the electrical bill.

Right from the very first second Bioshock sets a dark, horrific atmosphere what with a plane crash and all.  Then when you find Rapture you're hit with one of the terrifying splicers right away.  And the splicers were indeed terrifying.  Maybe not as terrifying as reanimated and mutated corpses stalking you on a giant spaceship or a bad case of herpes, but terrifying nonetheless.  A large part of the atmosphere comes from you being trapped basically alone in this city with only psychopaths who possess crazy abilities like teleportation.  That sense of isolation even though it's "just" a video game prays on you and after a while normal sounds in your house -the fridge turning on, creaking floorboards, a gust of wind, that scraping on your cellar door as the homeless people you keep imprisoned there try to escape- all start to make you jump.  The Little Sisters wer also creepy as hell.  The Big Daddies were frightening, but there's something about genetically altered ten year old girls with glowing yellow eyes who harvest dead bodies for genetic material that just makes you shift a little uncomfortably in your seat.  Even more addictingly disturbing is the moral choice you have to make whether to rescue these little girls or harvest (ie. kill) them, both decisions yielding their own rewards.

One of the bonuses of waiting so long to play these games is you get the chance to play the sequel right away.  So it was about mid-June that I borrowed Bioshock 2 from my brother in law.  I didn't really expect much because, really, what more can you do with the game except maybe add more areas to explore.  I was wrong -to a degree.  While Bioshock 2 is essentially just an extension of the first game there are some cool innovations.  First of all you get to play as a Big Daddy, a half-man, half-machine enforcer watching over the Little Sisters.  The first thing you notice is that you get to use both your hands at the same time so you can fire off your plasmids (powers gained from forcefully injecting yourself with random needles full of DNA altering material) and your conventional projectile weapons at the same time.  This may not seem too huge a deal, and I didn't realize how awesome it was until I went back and played the first game again and was so frustrated with the time it took to switch between your plasmids and weapons.  The second innovation is how you interact with the Little Sisters to gain Adam.  In the first game you just rescued or harvested them, but in the sequel you have to protect them from hordes of splicers while they tried to get the Adam for themselves.  Then of course there's the Big Sisters which are just even more insane.  Another cool change was the mini-game that you used to hack electronic equipment.  Although at first I missed the strangely addictive liquid hacking from the first game I quickly grew to enjoy the moving needle hack featured in Bioshock 2

The best thing about video games these days isn't the superior graphics and sound, but the quality of the stories and the depth of the characters.  A lot of games I'm playing these days have better writing and better plots than most of the crap coming out of Hollywood these days.  And that's really the great thing about Bioshock and Bioshock 2.  I mean they were both linear first person shooters that both had superior graphics, but it was the strength of the writing that really made them succeed both with the game playing public and the pimping community alike.  I mean they both teach important life lessons like always, ALWAYS inject yourself with random needles you find lying around on the street and ten year old girls are all evil and if you open them up you'll find a prize inside.  If you haven't already played these two games I highly recommend them.  I give Bioshock and Bioshock 2 each a 9/10 = Two Genetically Altered Heads Shooting Fire and Electricity at Each Other  

The First Rule About Chuck Palahniuk is You Do Not Talk About Chuck Palahniuk...

Just like movies these days good books are few and far between.  It doesn't help when bookshelves are flooded with subpar writing about inept wizards and sparkly vampires which is setting the bar so low for future writers who now believe that this lead is actually gold.  I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.  We all know that the written word -as we know it anyway- is dead, or at least dying a very painful death.  But on this downswing in literary history there are still a few deposits of genius left to be found.  Now Chuck Palahniuk first came on my radar way back in my university days after witnessing the cult movie Fight Club based on his novel of the same name.  The movie completely blew me away and quickly climbed the ranks to become my number two favourite movie of all time.  And shortly after I saw that movie... I did not read Palahniuk's book.  Maybe it was because the book is always (or at least 99% of the time (looking at you Lord of the Rings)) better than the movie and I didn't want my cinematic wet dream to end.  Or maybe I was too busy playing Rogue Squadron and SSX Tricky until three in the morning, or watching all nine hours of The Godfather trilogy consecutively, or getting drunk off of Smirnoff Ice or Mike's Hard Lemonade alone in my residence room.  Who the fuck knows?

The point is I kept putting off Palahniuk for some reason or another.  I kept hearing about his work from a couple friends of mine so finally this last Christmas I started asking for anything written by Chuck Palahniuk so I could see what the fuss was about.  I specifically mentioned Fight Club because I really wanted to see the original source matieral.  So of course I got Pygmy.  So shortly after New Year's eve way back in January I set to work reading my first Palahniuk.  And my god was I blown away.  It was like being asleep for a long time and then suddenly being woken up by a nuclear blast.  The book slapped me in the face then firmly wrapped its hands around my neck and wouldn't let me go.  It was some of the most outlandish, crazy shit I had ever read and I fucking loved it.  To me as an amateur-hoping-one-day-to-be-professional writer one mark of truly great writing is something that makes me jealous.  Jealous that I didn't think of that idea first, or put those words in that combination myself.  And damn I am jealous of Palahniuk's writing.

After Pygmy I didn't immediately jump right into more Palahniuk.  First off work kept me pretty busy, and secondly I've been on a huge video game kick this year.  (Thank you Left 4 Dead!)  Thirdly Palahniuk's work is so intense that you need some time to recover after reading it, just like a good workout, or a great lay, or major surgery.  Then last week I was over at my friend Bonegod's house where amidst his copious collections of graphic novels, and Jack Whyte there is a Chuck Palahniuk section so I asked him to borrow his copy of Haunted which I had recently seen at a bookstore but was too cheap to buy at the time.  (Sorry, Chuck, I'll make sure to actually spend my hard-earned cash next time.)  Fuck, what a ride.  I couldn't put it down.  It was so intense and fucked up and totally awesome.  If you haven't read Haunted it basically follows a bunch of strangers from much different backgroundsall pulled together for a three month writer's retreat and end up trapped and fighting for their survival.  Amidst the craziness they all start telling their own stories, 23 in all if I remember correctly.  So it's a compilation of these stories, some poetry all framed in the larger narrative of the trapped would-be writers.  I don't want to say any more lest I ruin the purity of reading it fresh for the first time, but definitely get ready to be shocked.  One of the benefits of being from my generation with all the movies and video games is that I'm so desensitized to violence and other twisted shit that I have built up an almost inhuman tolerance to it, but there were some passages in this book I had to read three or four times to fully comprehend them and others that actually caused me physical discomfort. 

Usually it takes me some time to get through a novel, not because I'm not a fast reader, but because when I'm reading for pleasure (Boo-yah!) I like to take my time and digest every line of what I'm reading.  Usually a book this long would take at least three weeks but I think I got through Haunted in five days.  It was so diabolically brilliant I couldn't put it down.  The thing is that through all the craziness Palahniuk is dealing with some pretty deep issues, bringing a funhouse mirror to reflect our postmodern bullshit society, exaggerating certain elements to the point of satire.  At the forefront is our media-consciousness and our media-whoreishness in which every tragedy becomes a movie of the week.  Then there are larger concerns like how and why humanity is so hellbent on causing itself so much pain and suffering and how we construct the narratives of our lives, assigning people certain roles to create something more compelling and more easily digested by the mass media.  His little microcosm of the writer's retreat really causes you to examine how humanity fucks itself in the ass.  Bad guys are the new good guys.  He also shines his own unique light on morality making us think about the nature of right and wrong and the themes of death and violence are expertly woven throughout the work as well.  Pretty deep shit.

If you haven't already definitely pick up one of Palahniuk's books immediately and read it cover to cover as fast as you can.  After reading Haunted in particular I could feel my world view shifting ever so slightly and his theory on the meaning of life here on earth is the most plausible I have ever heard and even presented in such a dark and twisted way the most hopeful.  It is this mix of sure-fire, gothic cynicism mixed with a dash of reserved hope that there is indeed a "reason" for everything that happens to us that makes his work so compelling.  I think we could all use a little Chuck Palahniuk inside of us.  Take that how you will. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

On the Road Again

Holy shit, just when I'd lost my faith in post-apocalyptic genre after the pile of wet garbage outside a Chinese restaurant that was The Book of Eli I get hit with a little movie called The Road.  And boy, was I blown away (you know, the good kind of blown like from a French whore, not the bad kind, you know, with, like, the wind).  From beginning to end The Road is simply an expertly crafted, thoughtful, gripping, emotionally poignant movie.  I mean this is what filmmaking is all about. 

The plot of The Road follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they battle for survival in a bleak, no-holds-barred, post-apocalyptic world.  They live in constant fear of other survivors because they are just as likely to rape, rob, beat and/or eat you as look at you.  Amidst all the scavenging and running from other survivors the father and his son struggle to find meaning in their shattered world as they each contemplate the pro's and con's of dying, try desperately to remain "the good guys", and keep on moving south, always south.

If I was being held hostage at gunpoint by a terrorist and he told me that I had to sum up the movie The Road in one word or less or else he'd put a bullet in my brain the hard way I would have to say: tension.  Hot damn, I was on the edge of my seat practically the whole movie.  Whenever the man and his son encountered any other survivors my heart rate would rise in anticipation of what horrors might befall our protagonists.  When they were alone, huddled like cavemen around a fire I was only slightly less tense because I knew that any peace they experienced was only temporary and when the morning came they would be back in the shit again.  Then there was the tension between the father and son as the boy was at an old enough age to understand the concept of suicide and the moral and practical consequences of leaving some dude naked in the midst of a blasted, dying landscape.

I'm sure all of you astute readers out there noticed how short and lacking in detail that summary was.  (Way to go, Einsteins.)  This is because The Road is definitely a character driven movie and not a plot driven movie.  Indeed there are no epic quests to bring hope and order to the masses, no antagonist bent on rebuilding a new world in his own image, and no half-assed love stories with surprisingly-well-nourished-despite-the-apocalypse hotties.  There was just a dude and his son struggling desperately to survive and dying slowly of malnourishment.  I mean if you want a "realistic" post-apocalyptic movie, The Road is the movie for you.  Society is not in any danger of being rebuilt here, led by some enigmatic leader who wandered out of the wasteland and earned the grudging respect of a group of survivors.  There's just two people with no real sense of purpose other than to keep on moving and no real hope other than to find something -anything- to eat.  Shoes are now a hot commodity because apparently despite their misleading slogans Adidas ("We ARE the Apocalypse") and Nike ("Even Bigger Than Jesus") have both stopped their manufacturing divisions in North America.  Most of the survivors in this movie are wearing the remains of shoes tied together with bits of old string and lined with plastic bags.  There are no animals left to hunt and the trees are slowly but surely dying.  If the gun-toting terrorist from my scenario gave me two words to describe this movie the second would definitely be: bleak.  And I mean bleaker-than-Mel Gibson's-future-as-the-chairman-of-the-Anti-Defamation- League bleak.

Everything element in The Road adds to that sense of bleakness.  There's the general emaciated state of the survivors.  There's the lack of any type of society beyond groups of five or six people who ban together to hunt other survivors for food.  It's pretty cool because these harsh times where the next dude you meet on the road might be looking at you and seeing a giant chicken leg like in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon breeds this weird sort of paranoia and everybody in the movie is always asking everybody else if they are following them.  The landscape is not only blasted, but is still slowly dying like the people that inhabit it.  And only at the end do you realize that nobody in the movie had a name.  Just nameless wanderers trying to survive just a little longer.  Even the way the movie is lit, with the screen at times even completely blanketed in darkness, makes you feel as shitty as the characters on the screen.  Shitty in a good way.  All this is of course brilliantly contrasted with that vague image of the "fire" that the man and boy are carrying.  Now the true brilliance here is that Viggo's character never specifies what the fire is or what it's supposed to symbolize, just that the good guys have it.  And what "it" is is up to the audience, but there's no preaching and nothing being forced on you so it leaves room for interpretation. 

Damn these new WalMarts are getting big...

Viggo Mortensen is just phenomenal here as the nameless father.  The intensity that emanates from this man is enough to level entire city blocks that are lucky enough to be nearby.  Damn this man can act.  Every role he has he just knocks out of the park.  Where his genius really shows is in the flashback scenes with his wife (Charlize Theron) and you can totally see the difference in the calibre of acting.  The kid Kodi Smit-McPhee did a bang up job and see great things in his future.  The scenes where he's asking about suicide really pulled on the heartstrings.  Robert Duvall made a great appearance and it took me a few minutes to recognize him under all the makeup and layers of filth.  Also a nice surprise was Guy Pearce and Molly Parker who showed up at the end.  Guy Pearce is one of my favourite actors so it's a treat to see him in anything these days.

This is definitely not a movie for the faint of heart.  The Road is a gritty, raw, tense, heartbreaking, visceral beast of a film that keeps the audience involved from start to finish.  Every tragedy and triumph, every horror and victory this father and son mus endure, the viewer is pulled along with them experiencing each and every one as if they were his own.  The dark feel of this film at times kept me on the edge of my seat.  I mean, imagine breaking into a house to find food and then finding only a cellar full of people kept like cattle.  That is some messed up shit.  Imagine being on the brink of trying to decide whether a situation is past the point of no return and you would rather shoot a family member in the head to spare them from almost certain horror or whether there is still a chance to escape.  That is some messed up shit.  Even when the father and son find a cache of food, you feel that joy, but you're also waiting for the next shoe to drop.  And it's not just these scenarios, it's how they are presented to us on screen, from a distinctly human perspective.  Anybody with a pacemaker should definitely steer clear.

It's pretty clear from the previous paragraphs that I loved this movie so I'll just give you my final diagnosis: watch this shit.  This is an excellent counterpoint to that shit stain known as The Book of Eli and if you put them side by side, I mean there's really no comparison.  My rating for The Road is 9/10 = One Cannibalistic Post-Apocalyptic Survivor's Head With a Bullet Lodged in the Frontal Cortex

Thursday, July 08, 2010

I've Got a Book For You... In My Pants!

The post apocalyptic landscape just got a little bit worse.  It's bad enough that when civilization is in ruins and the human race is hanging on by a thread  having to deal with bands of raiders, lack of clean water, and amateur cannibals, if and when they do find any physical media they might be forced to sit through some shitty movie like The Book of Eli.  Not only was the movie mired in mediocrity from the very first frame, but the "twist" ending just ruined the whole thing for me.  I mean it was just terrible, so terrible in fact that I'm going to have to go ahead and issue a SPOILER ALERT right here because I really need to vent about this shit.

Alright, the plot of The Book of Eli follows a dude named Eli (Denzel Washington) is on an epic thirty year quest through a blasted, post-apocalyptic world to protect a certain book and kick some ass.  Along the way he encounters various dangerous gangs and thugs trying to etch out a living and kill as many other people as they can, but none so dangerous or determined as Carnegie (Gary Oldman).  Eli rolls into Carnegie's settlement of ruffians to fill up on supplies (like a recharged iPod battery, essential for making it after the world ends) and runs afoul of the ruthless leader who it turns out is looking for a certain book that Eli happens to be carrying.  While attributing to the book an almost supernatural power to shape men's minds Carnegie is determined to possess it with or without Eli's consent.  Eli, of course, singlehandedly takes out a whole army of bad guys and proceeds on his quest to take the book West and is soon partnered up with the young and smoking hot Solara (Mila Kunis) who is on the run from the abusive Carnegie.  With Carnegie and his thugs in hot pursuit Eli and Solara must work together to make it past different post-apocalyptic thugs and even a couple of elderly cannibals in order to complete Eli's quest and deliver this much sought after book to a hopefully better home.

I'll start with the positive points, but don't worry that won't take too long.  The movie had a very cool look and I liked the too-bright, desert-like landscape.  I also liked how they didn't go into too much detail as to how the apocalypse happened other than to have Eli briefly mention something about bombs being dropped.  So we are to assume that there was some kind of nuclear war which has apparently damaged the atmosphere and if you look real close everybody in the movie wears shades outdoors to deal with potential overexposure to the sun.  This is just a little detail, but I think it added to the feel of the film and it wasn't blatantly addressed.  Of course the whole sunglasses thing is a part of one the shittiest surprise endings ever, but still.  Denzel I can take or leave, but when he wants to the man can act and he can definitely do action and there was nothing really wrong with his performance here.  Gary Oldman is one of my favourite actors and can do no wrong in my opinion.  He does a commendable job in The Book of Eli, but can only do so much with what he's given.  Mila Kunis was a pleasant surprise, because not only is she hot, but she was a total chameleon in this role.  I have so come to associate her with her characters on That 70's Show and Family Guy that I was totally shocked to see her in a dramatic/action movie with a much less annoying voice.  I had no idea.  I hope she gets some more varied roles because I get the feeling we haven't seen the extent of her talent yet.

OK so I started watching The Book of Eli with an open mind, even though a buddy of mine had already told me the nature of the book that Eli was carrying, which I suppose was supposed to be a secret until the end.  It established pretty quickly the badassery of the title character, the inherent dangers of traveling through a barren wasteland, and the motivation of the antagonist.  About halfway through the movie, however, things started to sour for me.  Even if I hadn't been told it was becoming pretty clear that the book he was carrying was the bible.  I mean this would have been OK, but then Eli goes into this whole story about how a voice told him where the book was and then told him to head west and that he would not be stopped.  "Oh, OK," you might think, "this guy is obviously off his fucking rocker."  Then comes the ending which then completely ruins any hope the movie might have had. 

OK, so Gary Oldman finally gets the book, makes the classic bad guy moving of shooting Eli, but not killing him with a double tap to the skull which he could easily have done, and Eli makes it to the coast where he and Solara take a boat out to Alcatraz because apparently San Francisco is the last safe haven of civilization in the continental US.  There they discover a garrison of soldiers led by Malcolm McDowell in a bad hairpiece (at least I hope it was a hairpiece) who have nothing better to do than collect books which is somehow part of their plan to rebuild civilization. (Step 1: Gather Books.  Step 2: ???????  Step 3: Rebuild Civilization?  Fuck off).  When they arrive Denzel declares in his most masculine voice "I am in possession of a King James bible!" or some such shit which gets him access to the fortified island.  Then they sit down and the "copy" he has is actually (wait for it) inside himself, for he has read the bible so many times that he has indeed memorized every word.  During the recitation montage there is one ineffective shot where Denzel takes off his glasses and the camera zooms in on his eyes which are clouded over and looking in slightly different directions."No, it can't be," you think to yourself "if he's blind that would be a worse 'twist' than having Darth Vader build C-3P0 and would completely ruin the movie."  You'd be right on both counts.

There are two main reasons why the blind Eli twist ending is complete bullshit.  The first is because it almost completely negates all of Eli's badassery throughout the entire film.  This is because there is absolutely no way that a blind man could have done all the things that Eli did.  I'm not saying the whole blind warrior concept can't work.  I mean there's the tradition of the blind swordsman Zatoichi, the blind mentor Master Po, the blind prophet Tiresias (it's Greek mythology you uneducated bastard) and of course blind superhero Daredevil.  I'm saying it didn't work in The Book of Eli because it stretched my willing suspension of disbelief past the point of breaking because of the previously established tone and rules the movie had previously established for its fictional world.  It simply didn't fit with the supposed realistic feel of the film.  There are scenes where Eli is singlehandedly taking on scores of bad dudes with both his machete and a gun.  The machete I could have bought if it was one or two guys and his moves didn't seem so polished or deliberate or if he took a hit or two.  But he busts out the moves with no hesitation and the lethality of a ninja on steroids.  It's too fucking much.  What really got me though was this supposedly blind man's sharpshooting which was even more unbelievable than Lee Harvey Oswald's impossible shooting.  Not only is this guy sharpshooting well-hidden snipers from ranges of what looked like at least 50 metres with a handgun held in one hand while he was running down the street.  I mean that would be tough enough for John McLane or a T-800 to accomplish but a blind man who has to be at least fifty years old.  I'm sorry that's just too much even with all the little hints of his other heightened senses.  Slightly more believable blind shooting scenes were presented in Once Upon a Time in Mexico where Johnny Depp's character has his eyes removed and is only able to locate a target to shoot if they make a sound.  And even then he has uzi's to give a wide spray of bullets and the tone which the movie had established allowed this kind of over-the-top character to plausibly exist in that universe.

The second reason the blind twist ruined the movie for me because the movie basically degenerates into pro-Christian propaganda.  First off, why did the book have to be the bible?  I mean the dudes at the end were looking for all sorts of historical texts.  Why not a collection of Shakespeare's works?  Why not some other significant work like The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein, Beowulf, Beyond Good and Evil,or The Dialogues of Plato?  Or another religious text like the Torah or the Koran?  And why imbue the bible with such mystical power?  Carnegie, the main bad guy, is looking for this text because it seemingly has the magical power to control men's minds, like it was the One Ring or some shit.  I mean even if the words were so powerful, you couldn't remember one single fucking phrase?  I mean even the most secular, vegan atheist knows the old "Do unto others" routine.  Instead of wasting time searching for this one piece of literature why not simply write your own text, and then while you're at it teach people to read and write.  Organize, get fresh water, build affordable housing or distract and confuse the people with a highly publicized "war on terror".  I mean, the guy was already in control of a whole city.  He should have focused on expanding, setting up colonies and and banging hot chicks to provide heirs to his throne.  And then the only thing that Eli can pass on from the olden times is the ritual of praying before dinner.  I mean is this the sum total of Western culture?

I could have been a contender...

Also are we to believe that the voice that spoke to Eli is supposed to be the voice of The Almighty himself?  That the reason that out of the thousands of bullets that were fired at him throughout the movie only one actually hit him, and then just barely wounded was because God was watching over him?  And was God the one who was guiding Eli's hand as he brutally killed, maimed or scarred anyone who got in his way?  So much for "Do unto others."  As much as I hate getting preached at during the course of a presumabley secular movie, I hate getting preached at this shittily.  Any time in the biblical narrative that God wanted to save someone never once did he send them a giant machete and say unto them "Go hence and chopeth ye motherfucker's hand off."  So even as Christian propaganda it's hypocritical.  I have only one word for the fiasco: bullshit.

Alright I'm done with this shit, thinking about it again only makes me angrier.  For turning what could have been a cool twist on the post-apocalyptic genre into a two-hour joke I give The Book Of Eli a 4/10 = One Blind, Bullet-Dodging Warrior's Head With Admittedly Pretty Cool Shades.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Yes, But Why is the Rum Gone?

"In the early Fifties, when San Juan first became a tourist town, an ex-jockey named Al Arbonito built a bar in the patio behind his house on Calle O'Leary."

So begins one of the greatest novels by one of the world's greatest authors ever.  I recently just finished reading Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary again, and my god what a fucking great book.  The man was a genius, no two ways about it.  I believe that like many people from my generation my first forray into the Hunter catalogue began with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas due in large part to Terry Gilliam's brilliant movie adaptation.  It wasn't until some time after Thompson's suicide way back in 2005 that I actually started reading his work though.  A friend of mine, let's call him Joe, was into Thompson since at least high school and he kept bugging me to read his work, but I wasn't sold.  And when news of his death hit, I didn't really get the big deal.  Now one of my regrets is that I didn't get to mourn Hunter S. Thompson at the time of his death and instead learned of his cultural significance and narrative genius until much later.

After pollishing off Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas my friend Joe recommended The Rum Diary and from the first moment I was drawn in.  I couldn't put it down the first or any subsequent readthrough.  Thompson had stated that he was influenced by Ernest Hemingway and nowhere is it more evident to me than in The Rum Diary.  It's a funny thing though because as much as a love Thompson I hate Hemingway.  I could never stomache any of Hemingway's bullshit minimalist writing.  The only thing he ever wrote that I could get any enjoyment out of was A Moveable Feast.  Check it out some time.  I dare you.  This is one instance when the son has definitely outdone the father, and I really don't know why Thompson's works aren't compulsary reading in high school.

Anyhow to get back on track, for those of you not in the know there is currently a movie based on The Rum Diary in post-production starring Johnny Depp in the lead role of of "vagrant journalist" Paul Kemp, a writer at a small newspaper on the verge of collapse in San Juan.  I believe Depp is also producing the movie as he has a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of the source material after befriending Thompson during his work on the Fear and Loathing film.  As a huge fan of Hunter S. Thompson's work I am totally stoked to see this movie getting made and I really hope they don't completely fuck it up.  It's bad enough to see terrible movie adaptations of books (of which there are many), but it's just extra painful when they mess up something you love. 

There are some who would argue that Thompson's subject matter might be outdated and his relevence outdated, but in my opinion that couldn't be further from the truth. The themes that permeated Thompson's work I believe are still as applicable to my generation as they were to his and there was more "truth" in his Gonzo journalism that anything in the popular media. Even above and beyond all that Thompson proved that writers ,just like those in the movie and music industries, could attain celebrity status both for their proffesional talents as well as their real-life exploits (ie. drug use).

I guess there was really no point to this article other than to profess my admiration for Hunter S. Thompson and to let you guys know so that you can keep track of this shit and catch this beast when it hits theatres.  It will also be nice to see a movie adaptation that's based on some quality material and not some stupid shit about vampires or wizards for a change, but god knows we can always use more of them too.  (Yeah, that last part was sarcasm.  I just have to spell it out in case any Twilight fans actually read this because they're either A) Thirteen years old or B) Lacking in mental capacity due to generations of inbreeding.)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Return of Robin Hood

When I heard way back when about Ridley Scott's upcoming adventure in Sherwood Forest with everybody's favourite thief I knew from that moment that eventually I would be sitting in a theatre watching it.  For some reason I just fucking love the whole Robin Hood myth, and have devoted countless hours reading books, watching movies and even doing my own research about it.  For all you morons out there I'm sorry I just shattered your world by revealing that yes Robin Hood is a myth and never really existed, just like Santa Claus (a pseudo-religious mythical figure) and Colin Farrell (a digital creation put together by a group of our handsomest scientists at NASA and Lucasfilm).  So anything they do with the character is fair game in my opinion, and I like to see all the different variations and interpretations of how he came to be an outlaw and shitting all over the Sherriff of Nottingham and Prince John.

Of course I was totally stoked for this project in particular which was helmed by Ridley Scott, the genius behind such little-known films as Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, Legend, and American Gangster.  Now granted he hasn't had as many hits as Martin Scorcese (who has?), but when this guy is on he is fucking on.  I remember a lot of people criticizing the movie saying it was like Gladiator but in England, like that was a bad thing. 

So this is the story of Robin Hood before he was Robin Hood.  Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in King Richard's army returning from the (in)famous crusades in the so-called Holy Land.  Through a series of unfortunate events Robin and his friends, Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle), and grudging accomplice Little John (Kevin Durand) end up deserting the army and trying to make their way back to jolly old England.  Along the way they encounter and quickly dispatch a bunch of bad Frenchmen (really which ones AREN'T bad?) led by Godfrey (Mark Strong).  They then discover the crown of the recently deceased King Richard so they disguise themselves as high-ranking English soldiers and Robin -under the guise of Sir Robert Loxley- and deliver the crown to Richard's much younger and obviously more evil brother John (Oscar Isaac)  Robin then delivers on a promise to return the real Robert Loxley's sword back to his father whereby he is convinced to retain his new identity for reasons which aren't really important here.  One thing leads to another and Robin gets his dick wet with his first of presumably many robberies.  He then ends up helping  King John stop an invasion from the French (bastards!) but in the end is betrayed by the young monarch and officially declared to be an outlaw for posing as a nobleman.  So the legend begins!

I so want to say that I love this movie, and I tried really, really hard (I swear!) but really the overall feeling I get from this movie is a shoulder-shrugging "Meh."  I really dug the overall concept, the set design was fantastic, live locations were breathe-taking, and the battles were expertly staged and filmed.  Even the acting was good for the most part.  This is an example of a bunch of really good elements that for some reason or another just didn't click.  Part of it may have been a relatively weak script which had a really strong overall concept but individually weak elements.  One of the big weaknesses is how the subplot invovling Robin's father is handled.  I don't know if it was just too cliche or what, but what should have been a key emotional catalyst is just kind of thrown in the mix near the end.  I mean by the time the "big reveal" comes it lacks so much emotional relevence to the character that even Russell Crowe's otherwise solid performance is marred by a very weak counter-climactic reaction.  For the whole father/son thread to resonate with the audience it has to be woven a lot more intricately than that into the story.  What could have or should have been a major thematic element seemed more like an afterthought.  Then there's this really confusing subplot about a bunch of orphan kids living in Sherwood forest making coordinated, guerrilla-like attacks on Maid Marion's (Cate Blanchett) town.  This thread too is completely dropped and NEVER mentioned again until the end of the movie when it is inexplicably brought back for some reason.

Another problem for me was confusing or completely lacking character motivation.  The one in particular I'm thinking of is Isabella (Lea Seydoux), King John's main squeeze.  Halfway through the film she is approached by John's mother and told that she (Isabella) must be the one to warn John of the impending French invasion and the trouble with the barons.  But early on it's established that not only is she French nobility she is also a cousin to the king of France.  So are her loyalties to her countrymen so easily forgotten, or does her love for John overpower the love of her former king and country?  See it just isn't made clear why she should give a shit about the French invasion.  I mean either way she'll come out on top (boo-yah!).  Either she marries John, or she marries some other high-ranking French noble after the French control England.  Either way she advances her position.  The main antoagonist of the film, a nobleman by the name of Godfrey, seems very two-dimensional and once again his motivation is never made clear.  Why is he helping the French?  Is it just for the money?  Did he marry some young French maiden and is having problems getting her through immigration so he decides, fuck it, she won't have any problems if England becomes part of France?  Is he a straight-up anarchist who just wants to see shit burn?  He just seemed too two-dimensional.  Even King John by the end of the movie seemed like an asshole with no redeeming qualities.  There was plenty of room in the narrative and many clues given that there was more depth to his character, but by the end all this is forgotten and it seems his existence serves only as a plot device to quickly turn Robin into an "official" outlaw at the end of the movie.

Now on the flip side of the coin, Scott knows how to do an action scene.  The battle scenes were excellent and the siege of te French castle early on really gave the feel of what it might be like to actually have to break through such heavy defences.  King Richard's death was pretty cool, and I'm not sure how historically accurate it was, but the whole idea of this great man, this king, being cut down by a lowly cook (no, NOT Steven Seagal) was a really cool juxtaposition.  Also seeing how Robin Hood became Robin Hood was an interesting take.  I really liked how Robin and the first of his merry men were hardcore war veterans.  That way they didn't have to explain how they kicked so much ass.  There were also the obligatory -but thankfully not over the top- archery shots to show Robin's legendary proficiency with the bow.

I think we should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque...

The acting was good, but not great.  I'm a fan of Russell Crowe and he did a passable job here, but in all fairness I think the weak script might have contributed to the problem here.  Ever since Lost I've had my eye on Kevin Durand and I think he's an excellent pick for Little John.  I don't think I really realized how physically huge this guy really was until this movie.  I was really surprised to see Scott Grimes in this movie, as the only thing I'd ever seen him in was ER and his character was annoying as hell.  I have to say though he did a good job in this movie.  Even more surprising was Alan Doyle as Allan A'Dayle.  For those of you who don't know Doyle is actually the lead singer the popular Candian band Great Big Sea, so how he wound up in this movie only his haridresser knows for sure.  All I know is Scott smartly kept Doyle's speaking parts to a minimum and allowed him to show off his impressive pipes in several scenes where he sings some good old-fashioned English folk tunes.  I must say for three non-British actors I think they did a good job with the accent.  It goes without saying that Cate Blanchett put forth a solid performance.  No matter what she's in you know she's going to give it her all.  Mark Strong is apparently on a bad guy streak, but as I stated in my Kick-Ass review I thought his performance in that movie was much better than here, but once again I think the problem lay in the script not giving him enough to draw on.  Also worthy of mention are William Hurt as the English Lord William Marshal and Danny Huston as a conflicted King Richard.

But therein lies the problem.  Everything was "good" but not "great."  Unfortunately what could have been another excellent addition to Ridley Scott's Top 10 list and my BluRay collection was just another in a series of movies that is making this one of the worst summer movie seasons in a long while.  In my mind the best Robin Hood movie so far is still Prince of Thieves.  What I liked about both this new Robin Hood and Prince of Thieves is that they were both put into historical context which I feel really added to the depth of the movies.  Where the new movie failed is its lack of cohesion in both the story and the overall themes it was looking to explore.  I know a lot of you out there for some reason don't like the Kevin Costner flick because he didn't do a British accent, well all I have to say to you is please firmly grab the stick that is shoved up your asshole, twist slightly to the right, and pull.  Hard.  What Prince of Thieves had that this new film does not was consistency and coherence, both in the plot and in thematic concerns.  It also had rich characters with clear motivation and definable character arcs which Ridley's does not.  (Also I kind of have a thing for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.)

Alright, despite all my bashing of Robin Hood I didn't entirely hate it.  As a fan of the myth I couldn't help but be entrigued and entertained by this movie.  In the hands of a lesser director this might have failed completely but Ridley Scott was able to salvage it to some degree.  My recomendation is to go into this movie with low expectations and a couple of beers in you.

Overall I give Robin Hood a 6.5/10 = One Villainous Nobleman's Head Mutilated by a Well-Shot Arrow