Thought for Yesterday 7/30/09

Don’t even start. Long week. Anyway…

Have y’ever noticed that American political party’s “pet issues” are usually NOT things that are especially popular or “important” to voters (statistics-nuts please note use of the word “voters” and not the more all-inclusive “citizens” or “Americans”)? Take the Democrats: currently tearing eachother apart over Universal Health Care even though voters tend to be ambivalent about it (I don’t say that as a positive or negative, just as a fact.) Or, if you like, the Republicans – ALWAYS ready to go with the less-electable candidate in the name of pandering to the anti-abortion/anti-gay crowd even though neither of those positions constitute an overwhelming voter majority.

Political Parties, it seems to me, are primarily in the business of keeping and holding power (read: their jobs) for as long as possible, and that’s more-or-less the explanation for this phenomenon: They both want things that can “shore-up” a go-to base of massive GARAUNTEED votes each time an election rolls around.

That’s why Democrats have been obsessed with passing all-encompassing health insurance (again, this isn’t about whether or not you think it’s a good idea) for decades: A large group of (mostly) impoverished people getting (mostly) free health-care becomes a large group of people who you can scare into voting for you every cycle because “the other guys will take that away from you!” Sure, plenty of Democrats probably think it’s the good/moral thing to do anyway (President Obama certainly seems to); but make no mistake: NO idea in politics has traction if it doesn’t increase the staying-power of the party. Republicans are running the same exact game when it comes to abortion. They WANT an all-encompassing ban on the procedure so they can turn around and whip up the base every two years by telling them: “If you don’t re-elect us, the OTHER GUYS will start KILLIN’ BABIES again!”

Meanwhile, the economy is still crumbling, the ecosystem is destabilizing, an American soldier is still being held by The Taliban, and none of our leaders seem to think any of this is priority #1.

Thought For The Day 7/29/09

“G.I. Joe” will be out next week, an event which will likely mark a “sink or swim” moment for the burgeoning subgenre of “action films based on animated TV programs which actually advertisments for action figures” (someone needs to “name” this) in as much as it’s the first one to come out post-“Transformers” and trends are gauged by how much the subsequent entries play out. Remember, when the first “Batman” movie hit in 1989 everyone assumed the start of a “superhero boom” and HUNDREDS of comic book movies were optioned… but most of them never got made and most of those that did didn’t pan out very well. The genre slid into dormancy for years, only to eventually reawaken after the one-two punch of “Blade” and “X-Men” and the subsequent “Spider-Man” knockout.

Here’s my question: What exactly does “G.I. Joe” have to do to be considered an artistic failure, objectively? I mean, once it’s out it’ll be only the SECOND entry into the entire genre, and let’s face it: You KNOW it’s going to be better than “Transformers” because EVERYTHING is better than “Transformers.” So… is that it? Does Joe automatically get to be the “best ______-movie EVER” and that’s that, or does there need to be some other standard applied because this particular test is too easy to pass?

Thought For The Day 7/28/09

Linked below (hat-tip: Kotaku), the two most “talked about” (read: complained about) poster images advertising “Halo Legends,” a DVD project in the vein of “Animatrix” wherein a collection of top-tier Anime production houses will produce animated short-films set in and around the universe of the “Halo” video games…

It’s kinda weird, for me, to see Halo looking… well, interesting and visually-dynamic all of the sudden. Y’see that up there? That’s an image I’d expect to find on a golden-age pulp-scifi magazine or 80s NES game box-art, not in association with the incredibly bland Halo universe.

There was no way this wasn’t going to turn out interesting on a culture-clash basis alone: Halo – alongside the entire First Person Shooter genre – may as well not even exist in Japan, where all these films are coming out of, firstly. Secondly, for a larger-than-you’d-think number of it’s devoted fans, Halo has become a kind of rallying-point for Western gamers who HATE the prevelance of the Japanese aesthetic in the medium. That’s why I like THIS one the best:

Sunny day, field of flowers, woman’s hands holding a teddy bear charm. I love this image. I love it because it looks as though Production IG is deliberately whacking the hornet’s nest in regards to Halo’s angrier fans. It makes me picture thousands upon thousands of backward-ballcap’d, gold-chained, 13 year-old suburban douchebags collapsing to their knees, fists shaking at their sides, staring up at their framed posters of Tony Montana and Dominic Toretto with tear-filled eyes, screaming at the heavens “RAARRGHHH!!! TEH JAPS R TURNIN’ MASTER CHIEF INTO TEH GHEY!!!!!”

I picture that, and it makes me smile 😉

Thought For The Day 7/27/09

The first generation to be aware of the existance of Alzheimer’s BEFORE most of them were old enough to have to consider the possibility is turning 60 faster every day. How long until we see the first of what will be MANY “Rear Window” variations on the theme of “I saw a murder (or did I?) and no one will believe me because I’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s!!!” movies? This’ll be BIG with aging leading-men.

“Dad… I know what you THINK you saw…”

“I KNOW what I saw!!!!” ::throws medication at wall::

Orphan (2009)

Possible Spoiler Warning

Here’s a good rule to pick movies by: If the TRAILER is already talking about a Shocking! Twist!! Ending!!!, it’s probably not very good. If they thought it was good enough to stand on it’s own, they wouldn’t feel the need to imply that you might be missing “this year’s Sixth Sense.”

In full-disclosure: I went into “Orphan” 99% sure I knew what the “twist” was, having heard of a certain producer making a film with a certain “really dumb” final shocker a year or so ago. Thusly, I can’t tell you whether the “secret” is as easy to figure out as it is dopey; other than to opine that it’s one of those things that you’ll only guess if you’ve heard of “it” before. In this case, I think that especially devoted fans of either “Law & Order: SVU” and/or “Batman: The Animated Series” will probably call it right off the bat. Make of that what you will.

Whatever. The fact is, knowing or guessing the “twist” doesn’t really effect the film much – this isn’t like “Psycho” where the big reveal explains a central mystery and redraws everything you thought had happened. Here, it’s just a lurid “oh by the way” that mainly serves to take the “teeth” out of an otherwise potentially-disturbing sequence it’s intercut with toward the end. Otherwise, this is just a 100% by-the-numbers, unimaginative “spooky kid” movie. Title baddie is overly well-mannered and dresses like an American Girl doll? Check. Marriage recovering from recent tension? Check. Kid with exploitable disability? Check. Knick-knack of irreplaceable sentimental value that might as well be labeled “break for purpose of of escalating tension? One parent has job that keeps them out of touch constantly? Check. Ridiculously-ornate house in the middle of fucking nowhere? Check. “Audience POV character” with dodgy “nobody trusts me” past? Double-check. There’s not a single thing that happens here that you won’t see coming.

“Spooky Kid” movies, of course, belong to the subgenre of exploitation movies I’ve occasionally liked to call “projection monster” films – wherein the “monster” is a generalized version of a certain type of person or identity that most of us never get to “confront” the way we secretly want to; usually for purposes of social correctness (see: “Evil dad” movies, “evil cop” movies, etc.) The ultimate expression of this is the Zombie Movie, wherein the form of the monster allows for the good guys to lay indiscriminate waste to humanity itself. That’s why “spooky kids” are always prim and smug, as though they’re fully aware of how much you HATE bratty kids sometimes. Don’t lie. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Ill-trained little rugrats running around causing chaos, screaming infants inexplicably brought into movie theaters… there are times you just fuckin’ HATE children, and “spooky kid” movies are an outlet for that – particularly seeing them take the innevitable beatdown at the end (in fact, one of the few marks in “Orphan’s” favor is that it has seemingly no qualms about inflicting physical harm on it’s population of obnoxious tots.)

In any case: Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are the mom and dad. She’s a recovering-alcoholic, he’s an architect, she got drunk and nearly allowed one of their kids to drown, he’s straining under the weight of being the “stable one,” they’re both getting over a recent miscarriage. Their son is an angry little shit, their daughter is a hearing-impaired cherub. The titular adoptee is Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) a Russian refugee who’s foggy past has evidently imbued her with advanced skills in the fields of piano-playing, painting, period dress and never being seen by doctors (got it yet?) Bodies, injuries and coy manipulations are piling up before you know it, and poor ex-alkie-mom can’t get anyone to believe her.

At the very least, it goes at the material feet first: The (very) R-rated gore helps give the third act a bit more heft than it deserves (since you can’t be 100% positive people won’t be killed) and the actors are all really good. A mountain of buzz will fall on Fuhrman, who’s good but not exactly a revelation – how many times can you see the “I’m too glib and well-spoken for my age and therefore you should be unnerved” schtick and still be impressed? Aryana Engineer, a newcomer who plays the deaf, sign-language speaking younger daughter (she’s apparently partially deaf in reality) has the harder part and shows real range… though I hope she was unaware of the context of most of her scenes. The “twist,” sadly, ends up sucking a lot of the edge out of things… it almost feels tacked-on in order to make Esther’s “bigger plan” less creepy to the audience and “justify” the eventual punishment she takes.

It’s not very good, is the bottom line; though I imagine it’ll be pretty impressive to younger audiences who never saw Bad Seed or Omen.

Thought For The Day 7/26/09

Well, a pair of thoughts actually. BELOW, the trailer for “Ninja Assassin.”

Question number one: I get (and ADORE) that this film seems to “get” that Ninjas carry a certain ironic/humorous baggage with them at this point but that it’s “more fun” to play them stone-cold serious than joke about it, but… the title is a blatant redundancy on purpose, right? Cuz otherwise, “Ninja Assassin” is sort of like saying “gay homosexual” or “police cop.” Just sayin’.

Question number two: “International” readers (I must have some of those by now, right?) preferably from the East… is Rain (Korean pop superstar, lead actor here) taking – or can he be expected to take – any degree of “grief” from his native country for playing what I imagine has to be a Japanese hero character in this? I mean, Korea and Japan are still really, REALLY not fond of one another, correct?

Thought For The Day 7/25/09

So, we’re all fair to moderately excited/interested about the “Green Lantern” movie, yes? I mean, not as excited as Ryan Reynold’s agent or any blank t-shirt distribution middle-man with an excess of stock in “green,” but it’s got the people it needs talking talking. But… here’s something that I haven’t seen considered around much:

GL is one of those comic figures like Iron Man who (prior to the movie) is HUGELY important and well-known in the comic-reading world but not so much outside of it. To that end, the only real “penetration” the GL brand has had into the cultural mainstream has been the character’s heavily-featured presence on the Bruce Timm “Justice League” cartoons – which was probably watched and internalized by more young kids than will EVER pick up a GL comic these days – sorry, Geoff Johns.

On the one hand, that means that the character already has some semblance of a “broader” audience. On the other hand, well… the movie is using the “best loved by fans” Hal Jordan Green Lantern (briefly: The Green Lanterns are a space police force, so there are and have been a fuckton of different ones) while the League cartoons used the John Stewart version. Principal difference between the two: John Stewart is Black. And for a pretty solid segment of the generation “behind” the comic-reading thirtysomethings who’re thrilled to have Hal Jordan back (it’s complicated); Stewart isn’t just “a” Black cartoon superhero… he’s THE Black cartoon superhero. In other words, when the posters and trailers for this movie start showing up within the next two years, there’s going to be A LOT of people who’re genuinely surprised to see that Green Lantern is white – and a good number of them are likely to be African-Americans who have “grown up” with John Stewart and may be more than a bit dissapointed to now “lose” one of the (scandalously) few superheroes who looked like them.

Make no mistake: This WILL come up. And it’ll get a little ugly in spots, too, particularly on the “comic fan” side. One of the less-attractive elements of geekdom is the way some of “us” occasionally behave toward people who’re fans of properties from “second tier” versions, (want to make a hardcore DC comics devotee bleed from the eyes? Tell him you think the “Smallville” version of Superman’s origins is superior to the comics’…) add a racial component to that and… yikes. My question is: How much do you want to bet that Warner Bros. has NO IDEA that this is going to be an issue?

This is how noob I am at this job…

Alright, so… here’s what it is:

I’ve got a question… a search for info, really. And since making phonecalls and chasing leads doesn’t seem to yield much I’m going to try a desperation move: I’m told the blog here is actually getting somewhat widely-read, so, let’s try throwing it up out in the open and see if anyone knows. So, here goes…

Movie Critic press-screenings: How do you get into these?

Yeah. Strange question for a (technically) professional film-critic to be asking, but for a guy only starting out it’s like digging for Hoffa trying to find out how you get on the “list” (lists?) of pro critics who get invited to pre-screenings for new/upcoming films. No one seems to know, and the folks who do know (i.e. publicity houses that run that particular side of the business) don’t seen to return phonecalls.

So… yeah. Do I have any readers who maybe know anything about this? Any little scrap of info or lead would be appreciated, either here in the comments or feel free to email me at . I’m based in the Boston, MA area if that makes any difference to the “who should you call” end of it.

Thanks in advance to ANYONE who knows anything. We now return you to our regularly-scheduled movie gripe-fest 😉

Raimi directs Warcraft


So, according to AICN:

AND Variety:

Unless both of those are full of bupkiss, apparently… Sam Raimi will direct the feature film adaptation of “Warcraft.” There’s no specification as to whether this is just a fantasy/action film set in the “Warcraft” universe or something tied directly to the “World of Warcraft” MMORPG franchise, but it’s the popularity (and pop-culture ubiquity) of “WoW” that’s driving this, no question.

Until there’s something concrete (story, tone, pitch) this is honestly kind of a “huh, could be good” for me. The idea of Sam Raimi helming a mega-budget fantasy/action epic is, of course, automatically worth looking forward to even if you DON’T take into account what an awesome steward he was of that genre with his Hercules and Xena shows… in which case it becomes a MUST SEE… but I’ve really never been into MMORPGs or Warcraft in general; so I won’t be geeking out until I at least start seeing some under-dressed starlets done up as Night Elf wenches (again, thank Rao that Raimi was also the boss of Xena.) And even WITH Raimi’s involvement… look, I’m sorry Warcraft fans but… without substantial plot additions, how can this hope to be anything other than LOTR/Narnia again but with different costume choices? Part of the appeal of this franchise (especially in MMORPG form) is the way it encapsulates a generalized melenge of every fantasy cliche and trope in existance. Until details emerge, I maintain my earlier position that doing the formula of a normal human pulled “into” WoW for real (or vice-versa) is the most plausibly-decent way of doing this.

Funny, though, how things change: When Raimi was announced as the director of “Spider-Man,” it was a HUGE deal for film geeks because it represented something “we” almost never get: A major studio taking the chance of letting a geek-cinema icon take charge of a big-ticket franchise the pairing of which was a geek wet-dream. Now, not even a decade later, his attachment here is big news in an entirely different direction – Raimi is NOW the type of A-list blockbuster talent that “we” almost never get to see tackle game-adaptations.

The Ugly Truth (2009)

Romantic Comedies, on-balance, are almost never good. They used to be good. They were good in the “golden age” when they were about dizzy, silly women and the exasperated men who wrangled them. They were good after that, too, in the early stages of what would come to be called feminism; when they were about assertive (but maybe not) women and their bewildered (but wily) men. They were good amid the institutional collapse and psycho-sexual chaos of the 70s. They were even good in the working-girl “backlash” atmosphere of the early 80s.

It’s the last decade or so when they hit the wall – robbed of anything to say about the battle of the sexes by the crush of political correctness. They became, to the letter, predictable stories about mismatched opposites learning that they were both “wrong” in their approach to life and love and finding happiness only in bland, regimented compromise. Watching two people – however attractive – run in-tandem toward a haze of gray isn’t interesting. And when they DID try to have something to say, usually it was of a vaugely self-hating (since, let’s face it, these films are made for women) misogynist variety: Stories of overwhelmed career women rescued by a confident (but nonthreateningly-boyish) man enter the scene and declares – as “Family Guy” put it with uncharacteristic insight – “over the next 90 minutes, I’m going to show you how all your problems can be solved by my penis.”

With all this as background, I feel comfortable saying that “The Ugly Truth,” due to open wide on the 24th of July, is the best “traditional” romantic comedy to come along in a long time. It does almost everything right, it’s inventive where it needs to be, and it WORKS. Taken as an example of it’s genre, on those merits, it’s a total success – a dynamite movie.

The premise you’ve been seeing in trailers for over a year now: Katherine Heigl is the genre’s standard-issue “Type-A” career women; a TV producer (shades of Liz Lemon) who’s daytime news program is in ratings trouble and who’s love life is nonexistant because she’s a control freak. As a ratings fix, her bosses opt to add to the show “300’s” Gerard Butler as one Mike Chadway (sp?) the neo-neanderthal host of a vulgar (but massively popular) “guy’s perspective” relationship advice cable show. She hates him, but he’s a born TV star, they clash, etc. You get the idea. Being evidently just well-read enough to be aware of Cyrano DeBergerac, he makes her a deal: He’ll prove that following his “how to get any guy” advice can land her the handsome doctor next door of her dreams… or he’ll quit. Of course, if they should become friendly or close during the tutelage and he then has to hand her off to the other guy… yeah. Like I said, it’s “Cyrano” again with one of the pieces swapped. Think you know who ends up with who? Yeah, you’re right. Fuck a spoiler warning, honestly.

Why does this work? First, because it’s funny. The script is mostly throwing layups, but their going in almost all the time. Uptight girl buying naughty lingerie? Yup, they make it work. Comedy phone-tag? Ditto. Food allergy slapstick? Yup, even that. Solid material, good cast, score. Execution is EVERYTHING. It also helps that Heigl and Butler are perfectly cast as leads in a film trading on the starkest of gender archetypes: With her impossible smile and Barbie body, Heigl is “The Girl” on an almost elemental level; while Butler – sporting permanent stubble, hatchet-job haircut, affecting an American accent that seemingly relies on speaking mostly from one side of his mouth and evidently still carrying most of his “spartan” physique around – is “Man” in the strictest anthropological sense of the word. They fit right in in the arch hyperreality of the genre.

But the main key here is that (okay, fine, SPOILER WARNING) the film doesn’t take the “lesson teaching” route in it’s resolution. We know they’re going to discover that they love eachother, but in almost every other version of this story they discover this only after she’s “taught” to lighten up and he’s learned to be more civilized. That doesn’t happen here!!! Because this is a film that “gets” these two people and doesn’t look down on them. Either of them. SHE’S a control freak, but she’s also a decent person and her Type-A mannerisms are what make her good at her job – which THIS film sees as a GOOD thing (take notes, “The Proposal.”) Meanwhile, there’s no “secret” or “psychosis” to Mike… he’s an intelligent, observant guy who’s arrived at his opinions on relationships logically and through experience and is open about the line between himself and his character (“your supposed to use that on stuck-up 25 year-old girls who think they’re hot” he chides a nephew who borrowed some advice from his show “not 14 year-old girls you want to like you.”) And the movie DOESN’T think he’s all that wrong.

When it’s said and done, SHE doesn’t learn to “change” and neither does HE… they fall in love because they have chemistry and like eachother for who they are. She likes his gruff sincerity, he likes that she’s a “control freak,” and off they go. This isn’t a “put her in her place” guy-movie or a “make a proper man out of him” chick-flick. It’s “I’m who I am, you’re who you are, this WORKS.” When’s the last time you saw that? AND it’s really funny, to boot.

I say go see it, but that’s me.