Friday, December 30, 2016

Carrie Fisher One With the Force

It's virtually impossible at this point to overstate the cultural impact that Star Wars has had. Its iconography has become a permanent part of our cultural landscape and has had an influence on the lives of millions of people across the world. There's something eternal about the mythology now, something that transcends time, which is maybe why it was all the more shocking to learn of Carrie Fisher's death on December 27, 2016. Official reports were saying that she died of a heart attack, but as the evidence mounts, it has become clear that she drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra. As part of the Star Wars mythology, there was something timeless about her. Death seems like too mundane a thing for stars that shine that bright.

Fisher was (by far) best known for portraying Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga (and also that nun who lived by a slightly different Book than George Carlin and Jay and Silent Bob). Aside from Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise, there are few other iconic women ass-kickers than immediately come to mind, due in large part to Fisher's performance, which had no shortage of strength and tenacity. This speaks volumes about both the positive influence Fisher had as a strong female character and, conversely, the state of the film industry (both in 1977 and in 2016) where strong female characters are few and far between. Princess Leia never went full Ripley, but she kicked her fair share of ass, and most importantly never took any shit from anybody.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Skyfell: An Ode to a Bygone Era... Some Things Always Never Change

I've always had a soft spot for James Bond. I've never been a huge fan like my brother Chris who still has the entire script of Goldeneye memorized, but Bond is an undeniable cinematic icon. I have fond memories of watching movies like Dr. No and From Russia With Love in my grandparents' basement on VHS while all the adults were upstairs talking about adult bullshit. My grandfather was a huge James Bond fan, and he really was the one to initiate our education in that regard. I remember that at my grandfather's funeral there was a picture of my him in his heyday wearing a white tux and looking every inch a clear Sean Connery doppelganger.

But I am also the first to admit that there are some very legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at the James Bond franchise. James Bond is a curious cultural artifact that feels like a holdover from a previous era, and for good reason. The character is a product of the 1950s and 60s, and more and more this is becoming glaringly obvious. Aside from Bond's appeal to British imperialism as well as his cavalier attitudes to alcohol consumption and his complete disregard for the sanctity of human life, the most conspicuous cultural relic old 007 carries from that era is the misogyny. Oh, the misogyny. And it's not like this is incidental baggage. The reason the misogyny and all the other bullshit are still present is that they are all integral parts of the character of James Bond. If nothing else, it cannot be argued that the character was not a man of his time. Likely for some, the ultimate man of his time. Bond represents an ideal of masculinity that falls apart under even the slightest scrutiny by 2016 standards. And that's saying a lot considering that the US President-Elect, Donald Trump, (still having trouble processing that one) was able to ascend to one of the most politically powerful offices in the free and un-free world alike atop a wave of blatantly sexist comments and incredibly misogynistic campaign promises. (Wait, where was I going with this again...?)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

To the Depths, with Sharks and Everything

The Shallows presents perhaps some of the greatest bang for your buck in recent memory. It is both a loving, meticulously constructed ode to Blake Lively's ass as well as a surprisingly well-executed woman versus nature thriller. On both levels, it succeeds gloriously, and so you essentially get two films for the price of one.

For those of you out there who were on the fence over whether or not Blake Lively was attractive, your fears can finally be put to rest. Nearly the entire first third of the film painstakingly documents in fantastic, high-def detail, every curve that Lively can possibly muster. Director Jaume Collet-Serra displays an impressive level of dedication to capturing on film every sun-soaked inch of Blake Lively's body, including a few inches you didn't even know existed. It's the kind of dedication to one's subject matter that most documentary film makers would kill to achieve. In all fairness, if I had a body like Blake Lively's, I too would want it preserved for posterity and chronicled for inclusion in the historical record. Purely in the service of scientific and academic discourse, of course.

As much time as The Shallows dedicates to showcasing Blake Lively's ass, I wouldn't categorize that aspect of the film as gratuitous. Of course, I might be biased by the fact that I am a heterosexual man who is, at the moment of writing this, out of the known striking distance of her current husband, Ryan "Deadpool" Reynolds. (Incidentally, after seeing Reynolds in Deadpool, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that I would have enjoyed the film just as much (if not more so) had he been cast as the lead in The Shallows and had his ass so lovingly documented in service of the film.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My First Ever Total Epic Halloween Marathon

If there's a limit to how much Bruce Campbell one can get,
I don't want to know about  it.
For some time now, I've been working towards a month-long Halloween horror movie marathon, though not always consciously. I've never been a huge horror movie buff, but Halloween always seemed the perfect time to get caught up on all the gore, paranoia, exploration of taboo subject matter, and affronts to basic human decency that defined the genre and added to the rich cultural tapestry that we all know and love/fear. So it became an annual tradition of mine to line up a roster of films to watch on that most unholy of holidays that everyone seems to enjoy more than Christmas but can't fully admit to just yet. Slowly, that concept expanded to declaring October open season for absorbing all manner of murders, disembowelings, deranged psychos, hauntings, possessions, zombies, and monstrosities of all stripes through the magic of movies.

This year, I finally fully committed to taking the bloody plunge to engage in a full thirty-one full days of depravity, in full defiance of family functions, interpersonal relationships, and physical health. It was an excuse, really, to explore a corner of the cinematic universe that I otherwise don't venture into that often. Horror is a strange genre, really. I sometimes find myself trying to rationalize the enjoyment of the genre more than I would others. Perhaps there's more of an apparent disparity between the horror genre and the purported goals of art, though I found that upon closer inspection that disparity was, indeed, merely a perceived one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Life Lessons from Al Pacino

It's easy to lose your way in this workaday world. The path to spiritual fulfillment is often obstructed by the stress of modern living. Bills. Obligations. Family. Great asses which we've got our heads all the way up. Fortunately, there are those who have dedicated their lives to clearing away those obstacles with the metaphorical gun hidden behind a public toilet. For nigh on half a century, Al Pacino has served as such a guide. Some would call him a hero. Others, a prophet. From whatever celestial realm he was sent to us, it matters not. What matters is that the Pacino burns with such a passion that he cannot help but yell out his gospel as loud as he can, as often as he can, to as many people as he can, with as many obscenities as he can.

Through the sacred texts he has passed down to us in film, Al Pacino has presented a path to enlightenment laden with as much wisdom as there is profanity, so in other words, quite a bit. Though his wisdom is not always for the faint of heart, it is as undeniable as a straight-laced cop on a corrupt force that the Pacino is right. And when he's right, he's right, and he is right. And just like his fellow prophets who have gone before him, Al Pacino asks nothing in return for the gifts he bestows upon us. Just know that in this life, Al Pacino will be there to believe in you even when you don't believe in yourself. And the Pacino is a scary judge of talent...

#1: No, You Ain't Gonna Take It, and You Definitely Ain't Gotta Take It at Work

Listen, we all have to work in order to make money to do the things we really want to do. You know it. I know it. And Al Pacino certainly knows it. In Glengarry Glen Ross, Al Pacino portrays crack real estate salesman Ricky Roma who, at one point, is put in a difficult situation when his boss, John Williamson (Kevin Spacey), fucks up the sale that would have put him at the top of the leader board for the month. We've all been in a similar situation. You find yourself working in the service of lesser men who have dick-sucked their way to the top. It's all but inevitable that at some point while under the direction of some ass clown who's been promoted to a position of authority over you, that shit will eventually come to a head.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Star Wars Episode II: Send in the Clones, Don't Bother, They're Here

This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen.

Those fateful words will basically serve as the epitaph of an entire age of cinema. To most modern movie goers, those are words of a bygone era, but to cinephiles of certain age, they were a constant reminder of the subpar state of our home video versions of films. In those dark times, before the advent of the widescreen TV, audiences were forced to suffer through releases of films where it was possible that upwards of fifty percent of the image was chopped off just to account for the vast difference in aspect ratios between the original film stock and our televisions. In our darkest hour, "widescreen" versions of movies were paraded as some kind of special edition. Basically, it was a fucking travesty.

It always seemed appropriate to me, then, that out of my entire Star Wars movie collection, the only DVD that still bore those terrible words--Full Screen Edition--emblazoned across the top, those same, terrible words that were no doubt inscribed on the very gates of hell themselves, was my copy of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, my least favourite of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

I have a distinct memory of sitting on my roommmate's bed watching a trailer for Star Wars Episode II on his Mac and wondering aloud about the effectiveness of the subtitle Attack of the Clones. I don't remember exactly what it was that I said, but I do remember that it wasn't positive. I wasn't so much unimpressed as I was bewildered. For whatever reason, it didn't seem Star Wars-ian enough to me. It didn't seem to fit with my idea of Star Wars, which was, of course, the obviously correct one, and George Lucas and everyone else be damned.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Wishing a Final Farewell to the Waco Kid

Immortalized by perhaps his most iconic role as Willy Wonka in the 1971 classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Gene Wilder was known and beloved by generations of movie-goers, whether they knew his name or not. He was a singular comedic talent, and his death on August 29, 2016, was a particularly poignant loss. I must admit here (somewhat sheepishly) that a few years back I assumed that since I hadn't seen him in anything for a while that he was already dead, but it turns out he had consciously taken a step back from the Hollywood scene, and then in recent years he was out of the public eye most likely due to his battle with Alzheimer's.

Myself, I was never a real fan of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It was wacky, and Gene Wilder owned the shit out of that role and was the single reason the character of Willy Wonka became so iconic in the first place, but it never sat right with me. It was filled with terrible characters doing terrible things to each other wrapped up in a terrible message, which wouldn't be so bad if Willy Wonka wasn't specifically trying to impart a moral to its intended young audiences, as children's movies tend to do, much to the detriment of society at large. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Legacy of the Twelve Colonies Volume III: Battlestar Galactica... The Occupy New Caprica Movement

In the wake of 9/11, the Terrorist became the bogeyman de jour. One of the most defining characteristics of this new threat was their propensity for using suicide bombers. It's a difficult mindset to understand and one typically associated with the evil hordes threatening to kick down our front doors. So it was all the more striking for a sci-fi show made by Western Devils just a few years after the single most iconic terrorist act in modern history to empathize--quite effectively--with what amounts to a terrorist movement employing suicide bombers against the enemy.

Granted, Battlestar Galactica does give us more meat to sink our teeth into in terms of contextualizing the extreme measures the survivors of humanity are willing to resort to in order to fight back against their cybernetic oppressors than, say, nobodies favourite real-life assholes in al-Qaeda. At the outset of Season 3, we're presented with a scenario and point of view that makes such methods more easy to swallow, but that in itself is a pretty incredible feat considering the political landscape both then and now. Ask anybody in the Western world--especially residents of the good 'ol US of A--in the wake of the 9/11 attacks whether they could ever fathom what it would take for somebody to consider going to such extremes, and what few answers you would have been able to remember after waking up in the hospital three days later probably wouldn't have offered much insight into that sort of mindset. For most people living in modern times, it's a nearly unfathomable thought experiment. So to have it tackled in a mature and nuanced way in a sci-fi show about humanity's struggle against annihilation at the hands of usually pretty sexy murder-bots is a feat unto itself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Bridge of Spies Too Far: The Spielberg Effect

Steven Spielberg is a tough act to follow. Perhaps especially for Steven Spielberg. It's not just that he's an iconic director who has more classic films on his resume than arguably any other director working in Hollywood today. It's not just that he was one of the fathers of the modern blockbuster, leaving an indelible mark in the landscape of motion pictures. It's not just that he's a heavyweight in the industry, capable of influencing the notoriously insular MPAA into developing an entirely new rating for movies in the United States in between PG and R, the now-popular PG-13.

It's all of that combined plus the fact that he makes it seem so effortless.

As we would say in the '90s (often and with increasing vigour), he's all that and a bag of chips. Steven Spielberg has reached a level of excellence that few of us could ever hope to achieve. Whenever I talk about my favourite directors, Spielberg doesn't usually come up, but not because he's not one of my favourites; it's because his inclusion on the list is a given. I don' have a list of favourite directors; I have a list of favourite directors besides Spielberg. And I think this is true for a lot of people.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Lucas... Just Double Checking My Midi-Chlorian Count

In preparation for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I made sure that in the week leading up to its release that I watched the first six movies as well as Tartakovsky's oft-overlooked Star Wars: Clone Wars show. For as long as I can remember, Star Wars has been a central part of my cultural vocabulary and an essential pillar of my own personal artistic cannon. Growing up on the margins of most social groups, the sci-fi genre was appealing because one of its core messages was always one of hope. Star Wars offered a different sense of hope than, say, the vision of the future that Gene Roddenberry gave us with Star Trek. The hope that Star Wars offered was the hope that for each of us there was the potential of completing our own version of the Hero's Journey: emerging from obscurity to stand against an unfathomably evil force and fighting back for the good of innocent people, your own survival, or to win a moral victory. It also offered the hope that no matter how badly you fuck up, like, say, making out with your own sister, you could still become a badass dressed in black walking the path of the righteous man.

In a lot of ways, Star Wars has become, both for myself and a substantial and increasing subset of the general population more than a series of movies--and video games and books and comic books and memorabilia of every variety that humankind can conceive of. It has become an icon, a cultural phenomenon that binds us and inspires us every bit as surely as the Force. Culture is a funny thing. Seemingly insubstantial artefacts are imbued with extreme significance, but as we validate that significance, we internalize it. Star Wars, like any other cultural text, is both completely irrelevant in the Grand Scheme of Things but intensely important on a very personal level and even on a macro societal level because it is integrated into both who we are and how we interact with each other. Being a fan of something isn't just some silly thing people do to pass the time and lower their chances of getting laid (by someone who isn't their sister); it's a part of their identity.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Oscars Buzzed. I'd Like to Thank the Academy... No Wait, the Opposite of That...

The closest thing I have to a religion is movies. I don't adhere to any systems of spirituality because, frankly, there isn't a single one that is based on even the tiniest shred of verifiable evidence. That isn't to say I don't experience moments of transcendence or embrace cultural systems that do; I'm just a lot more honest about it than a lot of people. I find cultural instances of transcendence in the written word, video games, and mostly movies. I'm not sure why I developed such an affinity for movies. Perhaps part of it based on the fact that out of all forms of media, movies most closely reflect the way that human beings process the world around us. The point is that award shows are the closest thing I have to a High Holy Days, and I have completely abandoned even the pretense of observing them.

I wish the Oscars actually mattered, but it seems like the organizers do everything in their power to turn potential adherents away. Aside from the fact that the Oscars are boring as shit, the whole voting process is a giant clusterfuck. Right now it's a political system, which means it's based mostly on popularity and marketing campaigns and money. Which is fine if that's the system they want to employ. It's just that the results from one year to the next aren't comparable on any meaningful level, and so the outcome doesn't really hold a lot of value. Which wouldn't be so bad, if the Oscars didn't have the pretense of providing some meaningful metric. They're a popularity contest posing as a meritocracy, and it's that gap between what they are and what they purport themselves to be that's the problem.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day... Bummer

It's the end of the world the world as
we know it and I feel... witty and
charming with an offbeat sense
of humour, like always.
For those of you not hip to the proper channels, you might not be aware of your impending doom. Which is probably for the best, because in cases of apocalyptic goings-on, the old adage that ignorance is bliss probably rings the truest. I know that a lot of us had big plans for the future--starting up that surgery-for-hire business, drinking from the skull of Elvis Presley to enhance our virility, burying all of those dead bodies that we've been storing in our basements all winter.

But unfortunately, we will never have the chance to do any of that stuff.

Bill Murray uncovered the truth back in 1989. In Ghostbusters II, the sequel that the world didn't realize it needed until it was too late, Bill Murray reprises his role as the eccentric Dr. Peter Venkman, who is no longer ghostbusting and is instead hosting a low-budget cable talk show. While interviewing a couple of totally legit psychics (including Shia LaBeouf's movie dad from Transformers) he gets a pretty specific date for the end of the world from Danny DeVito's girlfriend from Twins.

February 14, 2016.

If there's one thing that Bill Murray is known for it is ferreting out the truth from the darkest reaches of the universe and the minds of alien abductees. And showing up randomly in the middle of zombie apocalypses. So let's hope that this turns out to be one of those.

On the bright side, nothing is surer to get those juices flowing the the End of Everything as We Know It. If history has taught us anything it's that there's no more potent aphrodisiac for the human species than death and destruction on an epic scale. So come Valentine's day this year, hold your loved one tight or stick close that seemingly uncrackable nut sure in the knowledge that though the end of the world is nigh, you're almost certain to get your dicks wet one last time before the whole thing comes crashing down.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

There are Badasses and Then There are Legendary Badasses. Thank You, Riddick, for this Bounty We are About to Receive.

Out of all of the badasses that have ever appeared on film, Richard B. Riddick is certainly one of the most resilient. This guy takes a licking like nobody's business, but refuses to give up no matter how ridiculously and outlandishly the odds seem to be against him. And with director David Twohy, you can bet your hover bike that the odds, like everything else in his films, will almost certainly be ridiculous and outlandish. Riddick is a walking contradiction of sorts, because when he puts his mind--and his pecs-- to it, he seems like an unstoppable force of nature, but somehow he always seems to find himself in trouble all the way up to his gloriously bald, badass head that you could probably bend sheet metal on if that was the sort of thing that floated your boat.

In that way, Riddick is a lot like Rocky, in that they're both established as champions yet always seem to be the underdog in their own narratives. The Rocky series went through great lengths with each installment to knock its titular pugilist down enough pegs so that he was forced to crawl his way back to the top, and Riddick, it seems, is no different. His third time out, now simply titled Riddick, sees the escaped convict and murderer turned leader of an intergalactic death cult stranded on a random planet fighting for survival against alien dogs, alien giant scorpions, and (technically) alien bounty hunters.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

By Grabthar's Hammer, by the Suns of Worvan, You Shall be Mourned

There is truly only one way to describe the emotional reaction I felt upon hearing about Alan Rickman's death when I awoke on January 14: it felt like someone had cut my heart out with a spoon. With the world still reeling from the loss of iconic singer and codpiece aficionado David Bowie just days earlier, it seemed almost too much to bear to lose the iconic actor as well. It seemed all the more surreal when it was revealed that both Bowie and Rickman had both died of cancer at the age of sixty-nine. It seemed that sixty-nine was quickly becoming the new twenty-three (and the fact that sixty-nine is a multiple of twenty three didn't help to make conspiracy theorists any less insufferable).

Alan Rickman was instantly recognizable with his trademark deep voice that itself was worth the price of admission to any movie he was in as well as, you know, his general ability to kick ass in any role he tackled. He was a stand out in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as the cartoonishly evil Sheriff of Nottingham, and this coming from a man who actually loves Prince of Thieves completely unironically. Whether threatening to cut Kevin Costner's heart out with a spoon, calling off Christmas, or doing the slow turnaround to one of his fellow lords and telling him to "Shut up, you twit!" Rickman was eminently watchable and is still quoted prominently amongst my family to this day in nearly every social interaction.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ground Control to Major Tom... Stepping Through One Last Door

I can't lay any legally defensible claim to being a huge fan of David Bowie's music. Though several of his songs as well as the man himself have come to thoroughly permeate pop culture to the point where it's virtually impossible for anyone in the civilized world not to recognize either the man or some part of his vast repertoire of work, I can't claim that I felt the same touch of transcendence that I have with other artists in various media. And yet when I heard of his death earlier this month on January 10, I couldn't help but feel that the world had suffered some immeasurable loss.

My recollections of David Bowie are centred more around his film roles, most notably as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth and as Nicola Tesla in The Prestige. I defy you to find a better song from a children's movie than "Magic Dance," or at least a more catchy or quotable one. It's been scientifically proven to rest at the very pinnacle of artistic achievement of the '80s, which puts it in the running for greatest of all time. His turn in The Prestige really blew me away, not only by how great his performance was, but also that I had no goddamn idea it was him the first time I watched it. People often talk about actors "being chameleons" and disappearing into their roles, and for anybody looking for a perfect example to advocate or to emulate, they need look no further.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2015, A Year in Review. Everything it Shouldn't Not Have Been

As time continues its unending march into the black depths of the unknown, carrying us all
inexorably closer to our eventual destinies, it's important to take the time to reflect on the primordial mists from whence we emerged. Also getting high from time to time doesn't hurt either. As most years seem to, 2015 feels like it went by much faster than every single one that preceded it. More and more, I feel like I'm caught in a loop of simultaneously wanting to slow everything down to savour the good times and fend off the inevitable coldness of the grave and desperately wishing to speed everything up to see how the story unfolds.

I didn't climb Mount Everest or bake a record-breaking confection or anything, but I also didn't get cancer or inadvertently start a Twitter controversy, the very worst kind of social atrocity. I don't want to sell 2015 short, but it didn't leave the strongest of impressions. 2015 was the random blue sky puzzle piece of years. 2015 was like the Mark from accounting of years: everybody knows he exists and he's always kind of there in the background, but he's not getting invited to any office Christmas parties or included in any of those mass emails with the latest meme involving cats or some bullshit.

Without further ado, here's a rundown of a few of my own personal highlights from that lumbering behemoth known as 2015.