Friday, June 27, 2008

Oh, Peter Travers, How Do I Love Thee?

Peter Travers has written an early review of The Dark Knight that has set me on fire:

"Heads up: a thunderbolt is about to rip into the blanket of bland we call summer movies. The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan's absolute stunner of a follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins, is a potent provocation decked out as a comic-book movie. Feverish action? Check. Dazzling spectacle? Check. Devilish fun? Check. But Nolan is just warming up. There's something raw and elemental at work in this artfully imagined universe. Striking out from his Batman origin story, Nolan cuts through to a deeper dimension. Huh? Wha? How can a conflicted guy in a bat suit and a villain with a cracked, painted-on clown smile speak to the essentials of the human condition? Just hang on for a shock to the system. The Dark Knight creates a place where good and evil - expected to do battle - decide instead to get it on and dance. 'I don't want to kill you,' Heath Ledger's psycho Joker tells Christian Bale's stalwart Batman. 'You complete me.' Don't buy the tease. He means it.

The trouble is that Batman, a.k.a. playboy Bruce Wayne, has had it up to here with being the white knight. He's pissed that the public sees him as a vigilante. He'll leave the hero stuff to district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and stop the DA from moving in on Rachel Dawes (feisty Maggie Gyllenhaal, in for sweetie Katie Holmes), the lady love who is Batman's only hope for a normal life.
Everything gleams like sin in Gotham City (cinematographer Wally Pfister shot on location in Chicago, bringing a gritty reality to a cartoon fantasy). And the bad guys seem jazzed by their evildoing. Take the Joker, who treats a stunningly staged bank robbery like his private video game with accomplices in Joker masks, blood spurting and only one winner. Nolan shot this sequence, and three others, for the IMAX screen and with a finesse for choreographing action that rivals Michael Mann's Heat. But it's what's going on inside the Bathead that pulls us in. Bale is electrifying as a fallibly human crusader at war with his own conscience.

I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson's broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what's comic is hardly a relief. No plastic mask for Ledger; his face is caked with moldy makeup that highlights the red scar of a grin, the grungy hair and the yellowing teeth of a hound fresh out of hell. To the clown prince of crime, a knife is preferable to a gun, the better to 'savor the moment.'

The deft script, by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, taking note of Bob Kane's original Batman and Frank Miller's bleak rethink, refuses to explain the Joker with pop psychology. Forget Freudian hints about a dad who carved a smile into his son's face with a razor. As the Joker says, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stranger.'

The Joker represents the last completed role for Ledger, who died in January at 28 before finishing work on Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It's typical of Ledger's total commitment to films as diverse as Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There that he does nothing out of vanity or the need to be liked. If there's a movement to get him the first posthumous Oscar since Peter Finch won for 1976's Network, sign me up. Ledger's Joker has no gray areas - he's all rampaging id. Watch him crash a party and circle Rachel, a woman torn between Bale's Bruce (she knows he's Batman) and Eckhart's DA, another lover she has to share with his civic duty. 'Hello, beautiful,' says the Joker, sniffing Rachel like a feral beast. He's right when he compares himself to a dog chasing a car: The chase is all. The Joker's sadism is limitless, and the masochistic delight he takes in being punched and bloodied to a pulp would shame the Marquis de Sade. 'I choose chaos,' says the Joker, and those words sum up what's at stake in The Dark Knight.

The Joker wants Batman to choose chaos as well. He knows humanity is what you lose while you're busy making plans to gain power. Every actor brings his A game to show the lure of the dark side. Michael Caine purrs with sarcastic wit as Bruce's butler, Alfred, who harbors a secret that could crush his boss's spirit. Morgan Freeman radiates tough wisdom as Lucius Fox, the scientist who designs those wonderful toys — wait till you get a load of the Batpod — but who finds his own standards being compromised. Gary Oldman is so skilled that he makes virtue exciting as Jim Gordon, the ultimate good cop and as such a prime target for the Joker. As Harvey tells the Caped Crusader, 'You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.' Eckhart earns major props for scarily and movingly portraying the DA's transformation into the dreaded Harvey Two-Face, an event sparked by the brutal murder of a major character.

No fair giving away the mysteries of The Dark Knight. It's enough to marvel at the way Nolan - a world-class filmmaker, be it Memento, Insomnia or The Prestige - brings pop escapism whisper-close to enduring art. It's enough to watch Bale chillingly render Batman as a lost warrior, evoking Al Pacino in The Godfather II in his delusion and desolation. It's enough to see Ledger conjure up the anarchy of the Sex Pistols and A Clockwork Orange as he creates a Joker for the ages. Go ahead, bitch about the movie being too long, at two and a half hours, for short attention spans (it is), too somber for the Hulk crowd (it is), too smart for its own good (it isn't). The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It's full of surprises you don't see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams."

I'm actually shaking.

Paging Doctor Horrible

Joss Whedon makes me all giggly and incoherent. I worship the man behind Buffy, Angel, Firefly (and Serenity), the upcoming and fantastically intriguing Dollhouse, and now this, the incredibly awesome-looking Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog (best title ever? yeah, it just might be). Doctor Horrible is a 3-part film/production for the internet, starring Neil Patrick Harris (NPH!) and Nathan Fillion. Swoon.

The teaser just got released, and my goodness, what a teaser it is. I am certainly teased. Oh, Joss, you sly, brilliant man, you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Now Dig On This, Emo-Man

I loathed the first Spider-Man movie, loved Spider-Man 2, and didn't think Spider-Man 3 was as awful as people say it is. I've never read any comics, so maybe I'm easier to please when it comes to superhero movies, but then again, there is a caste system even with superhero movies (Spider-Man is higher up on the ladder than Ghost Rider, for instance), so I am at least somewhat discerning. I enjoyed Spider-Man 3, at least enough to recommend it.

That being said, there is so much wrong with the movie. Was Tobey Maguire always a terrible actor, or did something happen to him in betwee
n Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3? I swear he was really good in Spider-Man 2. In Spider-Man 3, I just wanted to punch that idiotic, gaping smile off of his pudgy, dumbly glazed face. Anyway, more about him later. The plot is the movie's biggest problem. I'll try to keep it simple (like the filmmakers should have): Peter Parker (Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) are officially together (or are they? yeah, they basically are) after his long-overdue revelation to her that he's Spider-Man. There's tension between Peter and Harry Osborn (James Franco), who also found out that Peter is Spider-Man and believes that Peter killed his father, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). As Harry plots his turn to the dark side, somewhere across town Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escapes from prison to see his dying daughter (roll eyes here) who gives him a locket (the token sentimental object). Flint Marko (worst comic villain real name ever) runs from the cops and gets trapped in a demolecularizer, which reduces him to sand. Hence, he becomes the Sandman. Oh yeah, Captain Stacy (James Cromwell) tells Peter and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) that, by the way, Marko is the guy who killed Uncle Ben, but whoops, he neglected to tell them that before.

Meanwhile, Peter is still working at the Daily Bugle for fast-talking, straight out of a Howard Hawks film J.J. Jameson (the funnier-than-all-heck J.K. Simmons). A new guy, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), comes onto the journalism scene and tries to sell photos of Spider-Man and basically take Peter's job, even if he has to manipulate the pictures to do so. Once his deceit is outed by bad Peter (wait for it), Eddie gets unreasonably upset and eventually turns into the villain Venom. Mary Jane is dealing with a struggling Broadway career (who cares?!). Harry does turn into Goblin, Jr., and during a pretty awesome fight with Spider-Man, Peter knocks him to the ground, which puts Harry into a coma (I think?). When he comes to, he's lost his memory, therefore forgetting anything unpleasant, like his vengeful plotting, and is as nice and plucky as can be and is bestest friends with Peter and MJ again. There's, randomly, the appearance of Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the Captain's daughter. She sort of dates Eddie and then serves as a piece of ass (an extremely sweet, kind piece of ass, though), a plot device really, to come in between MJ and Peter somehow. Also, there's this black, evil goo that follows Peter around and eventually turns him into mean, black-suited Spider-Man...and into mean, Emo Peter. So, that's the plot put as concisely as possible. See the problem?

It's so convoluted and way overcrowded with characters. Not just one villain, but three! More villain for your buck, I guess. It would have been way more interesting to just focus on one instead of watching these cartoonish figures hop around wreaking havoc. They're pitifully developed. I was really excited to see Thomas Haden Church get a role in a blockbuster, and you can tell he was raring to go, but he's given nothing to do but lumber around (to his credit, he lumbers well). Most of the time he's a CGI creation. The Sandman is a pretty cool villain special effects-wise (the detail of the sand is incredible), but then he just becomes this huge Hulk-like creature pounding on Spider-Man with his big, grainy fist while Venom holds him down. "Sandman mad. Sandman smash!" And really, Venom? That's how you help? Yawn.

Harry's ordeal is just ludicrous. His loss of memory is the equivalent of a lobotomy. He's so annoyingly happy all the time. It's desperate: "Look, Harry is a decent guy! Look! Look! We swear!" At one point, when MJ and Peter are fighting (when AREN'T they?), MJ calls up Harry and, no joke, Harry is painting. PAINTING. MJ is all, "Are you busy? I need some company." And he's all, "No, come on over, just putting the finishing touches on my oil painting of a vase." Well, to paraphrase... And then, she comes over, and there's an unironic montage, set to "The Twist," of them making OMELETTES. Oh, how wacky! Wacky, wacky fun! Puke. What, exactly, is the mood of this movie? How do omelettes and Chubby Checker fit into the plan?

Spider-Man 3 is basically "Mary Jane and Peter: The Married Years." Bicker, bicker, bicker. The excitement of their romance is the chase, and once they're together, you're tired of them. I didn't care about them one bit. They wrung that relationship totally dry. If there's another movie, which I hear there will be, it'll be "Mary Jane and Peter: Couples Therapy."

Now, it's time to skewer the best (read: worst) part. Oh, it's so awful. So, so awful. Peter embraces the black goo because he's upset about the news regarding Uncle Ben. We know that he embraces it because after a fight with, I think, the Sandman, he walks outside, sees his reflection, and...prepare yourself...pulls his hair down over one eye. GASP! How terrifying! Well, it is terrifying, but not the way it's supposed to be. This triggers Emo Peter, possibly the most hilariously atrocious character in the history of cinema. Emo Peter is more horrifying than any disaster the villains throw at Spider-Man. Ugh. I can't even describe it. I was so appalled, albeit amused, that I could only watch through my fingers or clasp my hands to my mouth in shock. Let me just say: Tobey Maguire is NOT sexy. Ew, ew, ew. Take a look at Emo Peter:

NASTY. GROSS. Blechh. Not sexy! Don't dance, Tobey, PLEASE. Remember the brilliant "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" sequence from the second film? Yeah, that was clever and knew when to quit. This Emo Peter business is totally pointless and seemingly endless. It's funny in the wrong ways. And it gives me the creeps! EW. Poor Dylan Baker, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Kirsten Dunst for being dragged into these segments. "Now dig on this." THAT will give me nightmares. This montage actually leaves out one of my favorite parts, when Peter tells Gwen before they enter the club, "Love that little giggle." Ugh. I wish I could pretend that this whole fiasco never happened, but it's burned into my memory. Forever. Yikes...

Okay, let's take a moment to compose ourselves. Ready? All right, moving on...

As I said before, Maguire's acting is criminally bad. No one is worse than him. Kirsten Dunst looks like she's half-asleep the whole time. Well, she's probably bored, and rightfully so. Both of them look like they're just going through the motions. However, James Franco is actually really good. He's Brando compared to Maguire. I could tell he was having fun with the lameness of his character, and I was pleasantly surprised that he mustered up energy and emotion and made me care. Simmons is so engaging and hilarious, and Elizabeth Banks is perfect as his gal Friday, Betty. You can definitely tell the new actors from the regulars, though. They just have a vitality and freshness about them. Bless them for trying so hard. Church does a valiant job with the Sandman, and it's wonderful to see Bryce Dallas Howard have an expression on her face and smile (cough, cough... Lady in the Water, The Village... cough, cough). She's really quite beautiful. I thought Topher Grace stole the movie. I wish he had been the only villain or that he could have been in it more. He just made Maguire look even more bland by comparison.

There are some amazing fight sequences, and the special effects are simply outstanding. The sound design is also insanely impressive (I notice and appreciate that so much more in movies after making my own sound films in school). The plot of Spider-Man 3 is ridiculous, and there are so many things wrong with the movie, but I was never bored. I was actually pretty entertained. I wouldn't watch it again, but I enjoyed it enough as an escapist exercise to help pass a couple otherwise dull hours.

Spider-Man 2 is as good as a superhero movie can get. This franchise will never be that good again. My advice? Stop trying. But, if Spider-Man 4 does happen and Tobey Maguire signs on, I have some more advice: get dance lessons.

Rating: **1/2 (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ride the Dark Knight

Er... I mean, The Dark Knight ride. Freudian slip?


So, my favorite theme park, the lovely Six Flags Great America in good old Gurnee, IL, is one of the lucky few Six Flags locations to gain a special new ride this season - The Dark Knight Coaster. Of course we get one. First of all, our Six Flags is the best. It's simply a proven fact. And second, Gurnee is just north of Gotham City herself, Chicago. I love living here.

I'm not sure how long this exploratory feature will be available on Great America's home page, but to check out the coolness of the ride, go here. Watch the quick intro, turn on the sound, click on the flying bat signal, and roam free.

The Dark Premise:

"The Dark Knight coaster catapults you onto the front lines of all-out war between good and evil in an indoor coaster experience that combines hairpin 180 degree turns and breakneck speed with hallucinatory nightmare imagery."

Additional Dark Description:

"The Dark Knight Coaster transforms guests into citizens of Gotham City — caught in the middle of a city under siege and torn apart by The Joker.

With The Dark Knight Coaster, guests experience the ride of their lives. Venturing through demented hallways of twists, turns and hallucinatory images, they are tormented by The Joker himself. Then as they set foot onto a distressed, vandalized train platform, they can only guess at what awaits them as they speed through six 180-degree hairpin turns, climb unseen hills, plunge into pitch darkness and dip into unforeseen danger. As they attempt to escape the terror, their only hope is that Gotham's Silent Guardian - Batman - can save them."

Dark Stats:
  • Ride category = thrill (or, as the guys in Harold & Kumar would say, EXTREME)
  • Length = 1,213 feet
  • Duration = 120 seconds

So, I need to go to Great America right away. This ride beckons me. It also gives me an excuse to spend exorbitant amounts of money on Dark Knight merchandise. Ahh, I'm so excited!! I'll definitely go before the film opens. Actually, The Dark Knight Coaster is almost reason enough for me to buy a season pass. Hmm... Where's my wallet?

I STILL Demand a Recount

If you're a Democrat, you'll love HBO's scathing political drama Recount because it validates your opinion that the 2000 election was stolen by George W. Bush, with Florida as Ground Zero. If you're a Republican, you'll love HBO's scathing political drama Recount because it validates your opinion that George W. Bush was ahead during every stage of the voting tabulations and thus won the election in 2000. Isn't bipartisanship fun?

In all seriousness, that's the amazing thing about Recount, its ability to appeal to all Americans regardless of party. The Republicans are depicted as (skillfully) manipulating the election and recount. Now, whether you see their actions as cunning-and-ruthless-but-necessary genius or diabolical, underhanded, unforgivable trickery and moral/political fraud, that's your call. However, the film IS slanted more toward the Democratic persuasion. After all, it's told through the POV of Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey), the guy in charge of Al Gore's recount team. But, it does show both sides, and I guess it's up to you to decide whether justice was done or not. In my opinion, hell no, it was not. That's just me, though.

Recount continues HBO's unending streak of greatness. This is a fictional movie heavily based on real life events, specifically the election of 2000 and the recount that ensued in the wake of the controversy over votes in Florida. It proves that truth is often stranger, and more interesting, than fiction. If you paid attention to the news during that time (I really didn't), you'll recognize the faces of the public figures notorious for this constitutional catastrophe. But no matter how much coverage you watched, I guarantee that you'll learn something new. The film delves deeply into the minutiae without getting buried in it. In fact, the film's hour and fifty minute running time flies by. The more I learned, though, and I learned a LOT, the more sick and angry I became. Purging 20,000 voters (predominantly black) from the rosters and turning them away from voting just because their names were sort of similar to those of convicted felons. Riots. Sabotaging the recount efforts. Endless legal battles. Chads (oops, I mean "chad" - we learn in Recount that the plural of "chad" is "chad"). Corruption in every level of the government. A Supreme Court decision that ultimately came down in favor of Dubya, but it would only count once in history and then never count again. It would set no precedent. We would learn nothing. The first time that the Supreme Court ever made that kind of ruling. Conspiracy doesn't even begin to describe the atrocity that happened in 2000.

Recount was directed by Jay Roach (yeah, the guy responsible for the Austin Powers franchise - crazy, right?) with such remarkable finesse and control that it's hard to imagine him wrangling Fat Bastard...or Mike Myers' even bigger ego. He's got something good going. Stay the course, man. No doubt he'll receive attention come the Emmys and Globes. Someone else even more deserving of the accolades is screenwriter Danny Strong, the man Buffy fans know and love as geek extraordinaire Jonathan. His script is a work of art. It's some of the smartest, most exhilarating screenwriting I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. I'm not the biggest fan of the low-key jazz score (it sort of screams bad melodrama or movie of the week), but it grew on me the second time I watched, and it's a trifle in the grand scheme of things. Recount is a masterpiece. It's riveting up until the last breathtaking moments. Even though you know how it ends, or maybe because you do, the suspense is killer. I also think there's a blissful moment somewhere in there where you think things might turn out differently, at least there was for me. Then, sad, cruel reality sets in. And speaking of sad and cruel, it is absolutely devastating and physically painful to hear Spacey speak these all-too-true wo
rds: "I believe we end this thing when all the votes have been counted and we know who really won...or...when you can't win...even if you won."

The acting is unparalleled, as per usual on HBO. Check out the all-star line-up: Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson (on HBO again), Denis Leary, Bob Balaban, John Hurt, Ed Begley, Jr., and Laura Dern. Oh, wonderful Laura Dern hamming it up as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, her eyes glassy and dazed, being pushed around and happy just to be in the spotlight as long as she's got her make-up on. Dern is hilarious. I couldn't get enough of her. But beyond the hilarity, she really makes Harris seem like she actually has a soul. That's good acting. There's one chilling, masterful moment in which Dern completely morphs her face from private-Katherine to PUBLIC!!-Katherine. That alone could win her an award. Tom Wilkinson is great, of course, as the sinister head of the Bush camp, and don't worry, he has a much better hairpiece than in John Adams. I was really, really impressed with Begley, Jr.'s depiction of Appellate Attorney for Gore David Boies. He just knocked my liberal socks off, especially in his courtroom scenes where he really made me believe in the ideals that he was fighting for, and which the Supreme Court proceeded to shit upon.

Kevin Spacey is the star, both in name and in performance. This is his best work since American Beauty. It's nice to have him back in full form. He's just astonishing as Ron Klain. His performance is intense, rich, and emotional. There's this triple take he gives near the end that is so deftly exquisite that it made me think, "Give him the Emmy now." Then I caught myself and remembered Paul Giamatti in John Adams. Seriously, it's impossible to compare the performances - one is in something that's less than two hours, the other is in something that's almost ten hours. Even though I'll always vote Giamatti (well, I suppose I'd have to be objective if someone was really better, but that'll happen when Intelligent Designers preach evolution), I wish it could be a tie, or that they could be in different categories and not pitted against each other like they'll inevitably be. Ladies and gentlemen, a look into my crowded mind! I'll leave it at this: Spacey's work is award-worthy. I don't want to take away from what he does in Recount. He's heartbreaking and astounding.

So, like, I have a question: What is up with democracy in this country? Why do we even HAVE a popular vote if it doesn't matter? The electoral college is so screwed up. Isn't the point of a democracy to have every vote count individually? I live in Illinois, and we always go Democrat. I'm not going to stop voting, because if everyone had the attitude that history would repeat itself and didn't bother to vote, then that'd be bad. But, I would like my vote to have more significance, to stand on its own. Some pillar of democracy we are. So many references are made, tongue in cheek clearly (unless you believe in the conservative propaganda - we do see what we want to see, after all), to America being the last great democracy. The Bush campaign celebrates that the system worked. How disgusting. I don't want to be a part of that system. The system is broken, and I have little faith that it can be fixed. But if anyone can...oh please, Barack, help us hold our heads high again. I am so ashamed of being an American.

People always say that you can love your country but hate your government. Well, where does one end and the other begin? Doesn't the country enable the government? They're inextricably linked. The government turned the 2000 election into a crime, but the country made it possible. Recount is a brutal wake-up call. It came out at exactly the right time. It's not a happy movie and certainly not a hopeful one. It's realistic. But I think it provides us with the knowledge and the motivation to strive for something, anything, better. This film will polarize. It will shake people out of their apathy. I know I sound bitter, and I am. This film reignited my rage, and I think it will do the same for lots of other Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike (Republicans are always angry, even about the election that they snatched, and Democrats are for obvious reasons).

But here's the silver lining: rage is at least something palpable. We can work with it. That does make me feel some sort of hope. Wow, is this what hope feels like? I had forgotten. And let's be honest, because we're way beyond the point of niceties now - both sides are filled with rage, pent up for eight long years.

So, let's do it, people. As Americans, as human beings, let's rage against the machine together.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Movie Moods: Sideways

I'm not sure if this is a mood so much as it's just a totally autobiographical identification with Paul Giamatti's character, Miles, in Sideways. Either way, it's significant.

This is his response when Maya (Virginia Madsen) asks him why he's so into Pinot:

"Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet."

You see, like Miles, I am Pinot.

If you want to see five of the most poignant, haunting, romantic, brilliantly acted, and perfect minutes in the history of cinema, watch this clip with the quote in context:

I'm glad I could incorporate this quote. It's very important to me, not only because of its personal resonance, but because I'm on a Paul Giamatti binge lately. I'm in full-on obsession mode. And his performance in Sideways is just the end-all, be-all as far as I'm concerned.

In light of my strong feelings on that matter, his genuine, unceasing class and humility, particularly from an interview with The Onion's A.V. Club, amazes me and only makes me love him more:

The A.V. Club: You've said that you didn't deserve to win an Academy Award for Sideways. Why?

Paul Giamatti: I certainly probably said that. [Laughs.] Sure. I don't think I gave a good enough performance to be nominated for it. I thought I gave a fine performance, but those things are supposed to be about giving an extraordinary performance, aren't they? I don't feel like I did. I feel like it's a great movie, and everybody's really good in it. I feel like Tom [Haden Church] and Virginia [Madsen] actually gave the kind of performances that should have been nominated. I don't feel like I did. I'm not putting myself down or anything. I did a good job. But I always thought those things were about doing better than a good job.

AVC: Is that one of your favorite performances? Do you feel like there's another film where you really knocked it out of the park?

PG: No. I think I'm a fine enough actor. There are performances that I prefer to that one. I see a lot of flaws in that one. There are other things that I think I'm better in.

AVC: What kind of flaws? What would you have done differently?

PG: I don't know that it's so much what I would have done differently in playing the character - like I would have chosen necessarily to have done different things - but I think I would be more relaxed about doing it now. I think I felt a lot of pressure doing it, because I'd never played a part in a movie that big before. So I think I worked too hard at it in the wrong ways. I overworked it.

Au contraire, Mr. Giamatti.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Movie Moods: My Man Godfrey

With the potential to become a regular feature on Lisa's Film Archive, "Movie Moods" allows me to express my mood or feelings du jour (or longer than un jour) via a film. Observe today's sentiment.

"Life is but an empty bubble."

-- Irene Bullock (the devastatingly exquisite Carole Lombard) in one of the greatest screwball comedies ever, and one of my favorite films, My Man Godfrey

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why We Fight

I promised John Kass that I would be coming for him. Well, here I am, Johnny Boy. And lucky for you, I'm extra cranky (no, not PMS, you pig), having seen Lady in the Water AND The Happening in one week. So, watch out, this kitty has sharpened her claws, and she's out to get you. Me-ow. You know the part in Batman Returns when Michelle Pfeiffer becomes Catwoman in her apartment, and one of the final stages of her transformation is to punch out letters from her "Hello There" neon sign so it says "Hell here"? And how she only did this after she had been pushed out of her office building to her death by Christopher Walken? Yeah, I'm madder than that. The meek little pussycat is about to roar.

To warm up, I'm going to use Entertainment Weekly's Gregory Kirschling as a punching bag. Gee, hope I don't break a pink, freshly manicured nail. In the June 13th issue of EW, Kirschling weaseled a little column into the movies section entitled, "Your Movie Is Too Long! Making Sex Safe For Guys." Note that this was ignorantly written two weeks after the film's release, meaning that Mr. Kirschling had full knowledge of the film's impact, success, and significance for women. He blurbs beneath the title, "How did Sex and the City end up being 146 minutes long?! Watch as we edit the movie for beleaguered boyfriends and husbands everywhere. (Everyone else, be warned: Mild spoilers follow!"

These "beleaguered" legions of men should be grateful they even have girlfriends or wives if they cop that kind of attitude with them. I bet to their faces, they're all like, "Of course, honey, let's go see it." And I bet they probably don't mind when their significant others play SATC-inspired dress-up. I bet you don't have as much of a problem with it when your woman is looking fine in her Manolos (which you probably BOUGHT her, or else resent that she is self-sufficient enough to buy them herself) and banging outfit. Not like clothes mean everything, but if people like Kirschling and John Kass are stupid enough to reduce it to superficiality, I'll play their little games.

Also, aren't relationships give and take? I doubt one woman ever put a gun to her boyfriend/husband's head and forced him to take her to see Sex and the City. And how many times have women good-naturedly gone along to so-called "guy flicks"? But more about this later. If Kirschy can do some dissecting of this film, I can dissect HIS dissecting.

On the left side of his column, he breaks down the plot into intervals. On the right side, which is what I plan on focusing on, is where he plays manly man and cuts out chunks that he feels would save the poor darlings from the distress caused by this film.

Here are his points on expendable minutes:

1. "First scene to go: the one where the women meet Samantha on the street and shriek. And shriek. And shriek. Do women really shriek at one another like this? While we're at it, let's lose the whole auction scene that follows." This subtracts five minutes.

Rebuttal: Seeing as how Samantha lives in LA now, the first reunion between the fab foursome is pretty damn important. I wouldn't call it "shrieking." They're not banshees. Excitedly squealing, perhaps. And yes, women do that. We have feelings, and we let them out. When I reunite with girl friends who I haven't seen in a long time, I vocally emit my happy feelings, with words accompanying the sounds. Kirschling makes us sound like dolphins. What do men do when they see friends after a long time apart? Do the silent, macho one arm, one second long hug? Do they grunt like Tim Taylor on Home Improvement? Or do they homophobically avoid eye or physical contact and just stand aloof with their arms crossed ten feet away from each other? So, "do women really shriek at one another like this?" Do men usually oink at one another?

Also, the auction scene is crucial because it sets up Samantha's storyline.

2. "Love you and your snappy Diane Arbus quip, Candice Bergen, but you're fired. In fact, any scene that has the word Vogue in it is gone. That name-brand-dropping, retail-porn wedding-dress montage? It's not even going on the DVD!" This subtracts 10 minutes.

Rebuttal: Of course, you WOULD want to cut out the Bergen/Vogue stuff. This element emphasizes Carrie's professional status, that designers are fawning over her to wear their stuff. She's made it. I'm not sure why the montage won't be on the DVD, but the fans loved it. The dresses are fab, and Sarah Jessica Parker looks gorgeous (it puts her detractors to shame). She's basking in her dream wedding moment. And yeah, like this is the only time a major motion picture dropped a product's name.

3. "Here's a rule: If the scene isn't set in NYC, it's out. This means a lot less Samantha, but that'll teach her for moving to L.A. Her subplot with the well-endowed fornicator next door is deadly." This subtracts 20 minutes.

Rebuttal: My, aren't we closed-minded. If it's not in NYC, it's out? Maybe the whole movie should take place in Carrie's closet. Would that be better? We wouldn't want these strong women running rampant around North America. Reel them in. They are out of control. That'll teach Samantha for moving to LA? Her moving is an integral part of her character arc, and her subplot with the well-endowed fornicator (jealous, Greg?) is what makes Samantha...Samantha.

4. "More silly fashion, more loud shrieking: We're cutting the girly 'Walk This Way' dress-up sequence where Carrie models old clothes while her friends caterwaul on the couch. Easy call." This subtracts 2 minutes.

Rebuttal: Two minutes? Is that worth cutting? Sorry the sequence is too "silly" for you, but this is a demonstration of Carrie's fashion evolution (including the beloved tutu). In case you haven't noticed, she's something of a fashion icon. The girls are also saying good-bye to Carrie's apartment, home base for the entire series. It's fun, and it's poignant. It stays.

5. "You know what? Let's ax the whole Mexico sequence. Remember the rule: No NYC, no mas. Just jump to Jennifer Hudson. Carrie's still mopey then, too." This subtracts 20 minutes.

Rebuttal: Are you crazy?! They're in Mexico on what should have been Carrie and Big's honeymoon. It's significant for them to be there so she can confront it, no matter how "mopey" she might be. I'd be mopey, too! Sheesh. Give her a break. SJP does some of her best acting in Mexico. Also, it's a getaway. Clearly, NYC has been tainted for the time being. Mexico gives the girls a fantastic chance to bond and showcase the chemistry we love so much, and it gives Carrie time and space to mend. Doesn't she deserve that?

6. "Charlotte's news flash? Who cares? As punishment for the 'Poughkeepsie' scene (don't ask), we're cutting her out of the rest of the movie..." This subtracts ten minutes.

Rebuttal: Cutting out one of the girls? Yeah, that's worth the extra ten minutes. And Charlotte's news is HUGE. I care, and so do millions of other fans, you big jerk. Also, the Poughkeepsie scene is hilarious, and it serves a major function by making Carrie laugh at last. It's great to see them all laugh together. And "punishment" is an interesting word choice... why stop at cutting her out of the film? Just flog her and put that bitch in her place.

7. This final cut subtracts 10 minutes. "...which means Big can't come to Charlotte's aid late in the movie anymore, setting up the ending. He and Carrie will just have to run into each other in the supercloset now. Seems a little random, but at least it gets us out of here."

Rebuttal: Yeah, setting up the ending is SO overrated. The run-in between Charlotte and Big got one of the best reactions at my screening. It's two-fold: she gets to tell him off (and he deserves it), and he has to help her with her "news flash." Since we care about Charlotte, this is a rather important event. But hey, cut out her delivering her first naturally conceived child - no biggie, right? Not like she had been longing to get pregnant for years or anything. Besides, this is the perfect way to bring Carrie and Big back together.

Total running time: 146 minutes
Our running time (Kirschling is apparently speaking for all men): 69 minutes

Anyone else think he planned that to come out to 69 minutes? Seems awfully convenient.

Why Gregory Kirschling decided to write this two weeks after the film came out bewilders me. Why is he still suffering so? I know respectable publications like Entertainment Weekly and the Chicago Tribune post stuff like this because they know it's going to cause controversy. So maybe I'm playing right into a trap, but I don't care. Why does Kirschling feel the need to manit (man + edit) the film? I have never once seen a woman do something similar in EW...or anywhere else. If we could only stop sewing long enough and take those scissors to some of the "dick flicks" (get it? I think that could catch on), those movies would be chopped up beyond recognition. But women don't, and you know why? We have been persecuted for so long that we understand how to exercise tolerance.

To play devil's advocate, though, I'll edit a dick flick. How about Transformers? (And I'm not saying there aren't women who like Transformers. I'm making a general assumption like these media assholes.) I do admit that Transformers is geared toward men and Sex and the City is geared toward women. But this is like telling a little boy that he can't play with a doll and telling a little girl that she can't play with a truck. I know SATC's core audience is female, but there are plenty of male followers, gay and straight.

Anyway... Transformers...

Running time: 144 minutes
"Our" version: Zero minutes

There you go. If you want to be spiteful, I can be, too.

Now, my Kirschling attack was just the appetizer. It's time for the main course. Maybe I should order a cosmo...or ten.

John Kass wrote his article on May 14, 2008. Before the film even came out, he was spitting on it. How about giving it a fucking chance first? I don't know who makes me more mad: Kirschling for writing his spiel AFTER the film's success or Kass for writing his misogynistic whinefest BEFORE the release. Kirschling's belated bitchslap undermines the tangible, positive steps made for women, but Kass prematurely undermines it and, at the same time, tries to stop it before it starts. And Kass is much more offensive and pointed in his piece, so he's definitely the worst of the worst. Let's break down Kass' article, sexist bit by sexist bit.

"Because no man should feel the agony of this film" by John Kass:

"Today's column contains a free John Kass' Get Out of Watching the Sex and the City Movie Card, or Kass' SATC Absolvo Carta for short, and I'm offering it for this simple reason:

I can still hear the terrified cries of men from across the sea, from England, men scared stiff by the new Sex and the City movie premiere, and such cries are cries of warning to men in America, where this evil film will debut in a few weeks."

Rebuttal: First, I'll start off by saying that John Kass is more then entitled to his opinion. But, as this is a free country, so am I.
That being said, on to the bashing:

Referring to yourself (I periodically speak TO Kass in this entry) in the third person in the first sentence reeks of arrogance. Yes, you can actually print out a certificate (more on that later). How delightfully interactive of him. Get a life. Doesn't he have anything better to do than come up with a certificate? If a man gave me that certificate, I would slice his throat with the paper. Any man who presents that certificate to any woman with self-respect and concern for her gender will be in danger of bodily harm or being denied sex infinitely. Terrified cries? Very melodramatic for such a macho man, don't you think? He calls it an "evil" film. Not just bad or annoying...EVIL. Credibility = gone.

"One of the first shrieks of woe came from a regular guy named Phil. His warning was posted in the Times Online, as a comment on the review of the film that premiered the other day in London.

'I don't think SATC is just for girls. I am a reasonably well-adjusted bloke and I am looking forward to seeing the film with my girlfriend. I am then looking forward to poking my eyes out with red-hot pokers, burning my skin off, and rolling around in salt for a while.' - Phil Mann, Newcastle upon Tyne."

Rebuttal: Men shriek now? Maybe he should confer with Kirschling about that. Well, Phil, once your girlfriend read your comments, I bet she was looking forward to your self-mutilation, also.

"He's not alone. Millions of men are sick about this movie based on a TV show about four terrifying, rich, aging, elitist women who whine about sex and men and purchase $700 pairs of shoes to feel better about themselves. What guy wouldn't love such a movie?"

Rebuttal: MILLIONS of men? Hyperbole central. One might say Kass is acting hysterical, a horrid word that originated due to male doctors' ignorance at diagnosing female patients, especially in the past couple hundred years. Rather than find something actually wrong with the patient, she'd basically just be labeled "crazy," overreacting to silly women's problems that couldn't be handled by someone so feeble, and tossed aside. Don't believe me? Doesn't hysterical sound awfully similar to hysterectomy, the procedure in which the uterus is removed? Ugh. History is fun.

"Terrifying": Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha are terrifying? Why, because they're successful and independent? Because they embrace their sexuality? Because they would probably make fun of your sexual inadequacies? When did they turn into monsters?

"Rich": Why is rich used as a derogatory term? Because they make their own money? It's so irrelevant...unless you're a threatened man.

"Elitist": This is totally out of line. What makes them elitists? They like nice things, and they can afford them. Maybe you're confusing being an elitist with having standards.

"Whine about sex and men": Have you never had a bad sexual experience or relationship? Just because men are too uncomfortable to discuss their feelings doesn't mean the SATC women should be insulted for venting. They don't whine; they talk. Your article, John Kass, is whining. Besides, the name of the show is Sex and the City - what do you think they're going to talk about, needlepoint?

"Purchase $700 pairs of shoes to feel better about themselves": Hmm, oink, oink, Mr. Kass. They aren't purchasing the shoes to feel better about themselves; they just like shoes! They prefer not to walk around barefoot in New York. So, they're expensive. They earn their own money, so they can spend it how they want. And if a pair is occasionally bought to make them happy or to "feel better about themselves," what's wrong with that? Has a man never bought something he wanted just because he thought he deserved it or because it would cheer him up? What a crime.

"What guy wouldn't love such a movie?" Kass asks. Well, no guy if he approaches it with the same condescending, smug attitude. And besides, no one is asking you to.

"Naturally, millions of men are ready to poke their eyes out with red-hot pokers, peel their skin off and roll around in salt - and if not salt, then we'll soak in a bathtub of lemon juice and slit our wrists with Manolo Blahnik credit card receipts - if our wives or girlfriends demand we accompany them to Sex and the City.


Rebuttal: All of those things you described, yes, you go do them. Demand? Are they really "demanding"? Or are they just asking you, as part of a loving relationship, to at least attempt to show some respect and take an interest in something that they enjoy? Honestly, what woman would want to take a man like John Kass, or the apparently millions of others, to see SATC? We all want to go with our girlfriends. Stop being so narcissistic.

"It is the never-ending question to the never-ending story, why men would rather chop their toes off with a rusty hoe than walk across the street to see Sex and the City.

Why? Tell me why."

Rebuttal: Why, why, why? Sheesh, talk about whiny. Does baby need a nap? No one's stopping you from chopping your toes off with a rusty hoe. Actually, we might stop you so we can leave it out in the rain a couple more nights. "Tell me why"? Is he going to launch into the Backstreet Boys?

"'I just don't understand why you men don't like Sex and the City,' said a woman on Tuesday. 'I had a nice man over to my house. We were watching TV and Sex and the City came on, the show. And I said, 'Oh, let's watch Sex and the City and he said, 'You like that romantic [stuff]?' And I said yes.' And then I never saw him again. My friends said, 'Girl, you don't need a man like that. He's nothing but a loser.' I don't know if he was a loser. But he sure disappeared."

Rebuttal: First off, I feel sorry for this woman who spoke to John Kass. Secondly, YES, honey, he was a loser. Any man who would leave you over something like a TV show or, for that matter, any man who would compare a film to the forces of evil, is a loser.

"Sadly, that's just another example of the painful truth: Women Just Don't Get It. Because when it comes to Sex and the City, women don't care about our needs, our desires, our deepest hidden
longings - and our phobias about $700 pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes. I've never seen such shoes. But if I saw the bill, I'd begin to cry."

Rebuttal: Yes, women ARE idiots. We clearly don't get it. Oh, right, it's the women who don't care. We're so selfish. Men's needs, desires, and deepest hidden longings? What, to avoid a movie? It's about damn time men cater to the needs, desires, and deepest hidden longings of women! Wake up! This isn't the 19th century. And hey, the women in SATC are proud to buy their own Manolos. I can't speak for women everywhere (like John Kass evidently deems himself worthy of speaking for men everywhere), but we don't need men to buy us stuff. And any man willing to spend the money, well, that's his choice, isn't it?

"So today, and today only, I'm offering absolution to every manjack on the planet. It's your Get out of Sex and the City Absolution Card.

Just sign this, and show it to your wife or girlfriend, and they'll be prohibited by Kassian law from making you see the movie. If they persist, drop me a line, and we'll report their crimes in the paper, showing them to be nothing more than unrepentant SATC-istas.

OK, have you cut it out? Have you signed it? Or have you clicked to and printed it out? If you have, then I've got three things to say: Absolvo. Absolvo. Absolvo. It's all over. Stop worrying. You don't have to go.

Use the card at your discretion."

Rebuttal: "Absolution" is an awfully grandiose, loaded word. I thought that only kings or the Pope could offer absolution. How lucky we are to have John Kass amongst the rest of us mere mortals, granting his benelovent justice. Ooh, Kassian law, huh? So, one might say he's the Hammurabi of our times.

Seriously, any man who prints out the certificate, signs it, and presents it to his lady should be prepared for banishment to yonder couch. I know that Kass thinks he's being witty and hilarious, but this sentence bothers the heck out of me: "If they persist, drop me a line, and we'll report their crimes in the paper, showing them to be nothing more than unrepentant SATC-istas." It's so sinisterly anti-women that it makes me want to vomit. I don't even have a response except to say that if you don't get what's wrong with that sentence, you must have had a lobotomy. Yeah, use the card at your discretion: like at the risk of dumping, death by paper cut, or a Manolo to the eye. Sheesh.

"Whew, glad that's over. But the last thing I need are a horde of SATC-istas writing me, saying this is all mere macho posturing.

Aren't I the guy who champions Guy Cry Movies? The guy who suggested that you rent Random Harvest and An Affair to Remember for Valentine's Day? Yes, indeed. So take your Manolo Blahniks and smoke them in your pipe, if you have one."

Rebuttal: Oh no, John, you're wrong. This is far from over. The last thing he needs is a horde (what are we, animals?) of SATC-istas writing him? Please. He's begging for it with this article. He's asking for a fight. Wow, congrats on "championing" Guy Cry movies. Maybe mentioning more than two would make your argument more compelling, or else picking films that are weepies but also feature substance and strong women. No one can honestly say that the beautiful-yet-simpering Greer Garson in Random Harvest or the rather uninspiring Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember are strong feminine role models. Kass is still too limited and intimidated. I bet Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn make him quake in his bunny slippers. Is that really his justification for spewing this misogynistic bullshit, that he recommended two movies? And they're stereotypically women's movies, meaning that they're movies men think that women love (the ONLY kind they love) or movies that will help them score if they sit through them and squeeze out a tear. Disgusting. This IS macho posturing of the highest order.

"Otherwise, listen to what unmarried guys have to say.

'I'm not going,' said my young apprentice, the Polish Spartacus, whose girlfriend is a confirmed SATC-ista. 'She wants to see the movie. Fine. But I'm not going.'

Oh yes, you're going.

'I'm not going! I'm not!'

We'll see.

He said the same thing about 27 Dresses and Juno.

'OK, but I really hated Juno, that damn thing. I was so miserable,' he said.

But you saw it.

'Yeah, but I'm not going to see Sex and the City,' he said.

Of course you're not. Sign the card. Show it to your girlfriend.

Defend thee.

Rebuttal: The Polish Spartacus? That's a somewhat homoerotic label for his pal.

Did you notice?

John Kass likes to write one sentence at a time.

And then put a space in between.

He thinks it gives his words gravity.

Isn't that annoyingly pretentious?

Anyway, discussing 27 Dresses and Juno in the same sentence is blasphemous. Juno is NOT a chick flick. It's a humanist film that just happens to have an empowering heroine at its core. I don't know why Kass felt this exchange between himself and Spartacus was necessary to share with us. Maybe because it makes him look like some sort of middle-aged hero with great wisdom to impart to the next generation? Wow, imagine THAT world. We'd be doomed. "Defend thee"? How noble Kass' mission is.

Kass' last words: "Oh, the horror. The horror." Wait, those are MY last words about his article. HIS last words are: "They can take our remote controls, but they'll never take our freedom!"

Rebuttal: I imagine him proclaiming that, punctuating it with a Tim Allen-style grunt, and pounding his chest with one fist. "Women bad. Must stop movie. Kass mad." And then he grabs his woman by the hair, drags her across the ground as he lumbers off toward his cave, club over one shoulder and, forgetting to duck, bangs his protruding forehead on the rock of the cave's his woman laughs.

One movie has got you in this much of an uproar? He was trying to undermine the movie before it even came out. He knew it would be successful, but probably not HOW successful. I hope he was sitting down when he heard the box office numbers. How ignorant for him to diminish the significance of the one major movie event for women in the history of cinema.

Honestly, this is the first potential (and confirmed) female blockbuster. How childish of him to try to snatch the victory away from us (not like we would let him, but his attempt speaks volumes, about him and the state of gender equality in this deplorable country).

Oh, let's take a look at Kass' cute little certificate.

This part is my favorite: "...shall not be compelled, or enticed or whined at or nagged at or begged or pouted into having to sit through the Sex and the City movie. And if any girlfriend or female relation tries anything uncool, they will rue the day."

Is that all women do? Whine, nag, beg, pout, and entice? Oh, sorry, for all you chauvinists out there, let me translate Kass' words: Oink oink. Oink oink oink.


Oink oink.


I don't care if this article is supposed to be a joke. There's nothing funny about misogyny or even faux-misogyny. People don't take the time or energy to tell the difference. And I don't think it IS faux. This article stems from a dark, miserable, angry, hateful place. Think of the impression you're giving off, John Kass, the ramifications of these venomous statements. How dare you pump your poison into society?

Why are you so threatened by this hyper-feminine (to borrow a phrase from my dear colleague Sara Freeman) film? Are you that insecure? And for someone who hates it so much, John Kass devoted quite a bit of time to writing about it. Are you a closet SATC-ista (is that his term? I've never heard it before) perhaps, John Kass? Don't be afraid. It's okay to let it out. We (women) won't judge you. That's your job - to judge us. Or is it your right as a man to judge us? And don't think I forgot about you, Gregory Kirschling, and all the rest of you pathetic, sniveling men out there so intimidated by the idea of women banding together and embracing their sexuality and femininity.

Fuck you, Gregory Kirschling and (especially) John Kass. You give men a bad name. You're the reason women become man-haters in the first place. For every gain we make, you make damn sure to do your part to try to set the women's movement back. The operative word is "try," because you will never succeed. A $120 million and growing U.S. box office proves that.

The last line of Kass' article slays me: "They can take our remote controls, but they'll never take our freedom!"

We'll never take YOUR freedom? What an asinine statement! I'll tell you where you can shove your freedom! How's your throne in the Land of Delusions, Mr. Kass? Comfortable? Well, we're sick and tired of catering to YOUR comforts. How about our comfort for a change? What about our freedom since the beginning of time, you jackass?! Haven't we been oppressed enough? You couldn't forego your petty, chauvinistic column and let us have this one? Must we ALWAYS fight?

Well, John Kass, men like you and Mr. Kirschling are the reasons why we fight, and why we'll continue to fight, and why we'll win. Yes, some day, we will win total equality, and YOU will rue the day. And...we'll look fabulous while doing it. We might even be wearing a $700 pair of Manolos.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Old Hollywood Meets ABBA

This is a gorgeous picture of Amanda Seyfried, star of Mamma Mia!, from Vanity Fair, the mecca of great photographs. It's so classic Hollywood glam/pin-uppy. She looks amazing, and she's also incredibly talented. I think she's going to be phenomenal in the film. I didn't include Mamma Mia! on my list of most-anticipated summer releases because it seems so hokey, and I'm not a fan of the "My mom's a slut, let's party!" message, but I feel like I'll end up seeing it, like a sucker, and bawling my eyes out.


Rock on, Amanda.

Pregnancy Becomes Her

Wow. I'd be jealous if I wasn't so busy fostering my girl-crush on her. Is Angelina Jolie the most beautiful woman on the planet? Quite possibly. I think I speak for everyone here when I say, "Hot damn!"

Why I Love Paul Giamatti: Reason #2,003

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

Allow me to introduce you to Paul Giamatti.

He's one of the greatest actors of all time. Oh, you know him, you say? Ah, yes, the pitiful consolation nomination for supporting work in Cinderella Man. Tsk, tsk. We can do better than that, can't we?

You have consistently chosen to ignore his superior work, and I am ashamed of you. In this decade alone, he should have received three Best Actor nominations, and two Best Actor wins. In 2003, he gave a tour de force performance in American Splendor. He should have been nominated, and he should have won. In 2004, he delivered the best performance of his career thus far in Sideways. You snubbed him yet again. He certainly should have been nominated, and he DEFINITELY should have won. I will never forgive you for this.

And finally, while Lady in the Water is an embarrassment to cinema, his magnificent, nay miraculous, work in it deserved an Oscar nomination over Leo in Blood Diamond or Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland for sure. And since you selected Whitaker as the winner, in a category he didn't even belong in, what does that say about your discretion or integrity?

Wake up, Academy, and pay attention to this extraordinary man. Paul Giamatti doesn't need your validation to continue being Paul Giamatti, but it would be nice to give him some serious thought and acknowledgement for a change.

A Paul Giamatti Enthusiast

Well, hello there! You seem to have stumbled upon my personal letter to the Academy. What provoked this, you ask? Well, other than Paul Giamatti's stellar turn in Lady in the Water, it's his revelatory work in American Splendor, which I delightfully revisited recently. Giamatti takes on the enormous challenge of playing an actual person who narrates, consults on the film, and constantly lingers around the set. He stars as Harvey Pekar, a shlubby, perpetually cranky, raspy-voiced Clevelandian file clerk in a veteran's hospital who just happens to be the hero of his own Everyman comic book, American Splendor. He writes the material, painfully drawn from life (none of that "idealized shit"), and then has it literally drawn by artists, including Bob Crumb (James Urbaniak), himself the subject of a documentary. American Splendor is part documentary, part biopic, part animation, part fantasy, and part (mostly) fiction that is heavily grounded in reality. Phew. Got all that? It's an inspired melding of filmmaking approaches.

Harvey Pekar could easily have been a caricature, but he isn't because a) Giamatti plays him with sensitivity and depth, and b) Pekar really is like that. We see him in interviews intercut with the rest of the film. It's hard to believe, but this guy exists. Other people who exist and make appearances in the film include Pekar's wife Joyce (portrayed by Hope Davis), Pekar's friend and colleague, jelly bean aficionado, and self-proclaimed nerd Toby Radloff (portrayed by Judah Friedlander), and Harvey and Joyce's sort-of-adopted daughter Danielle (depicted by Madylin Sweeten). The majority of the film is devoted to the actors, but the alter egos, and Pekar moreso than the others, make carefully planned appearances to explicate and enrich the story. I've never seen a film like this one.

Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (who have since unfortunately fallen from grace via The Nanny Diaries) with fantastic energy and flair, American Splendor sucks you into Harvey's drab, angry Cleveland existence. Nothing is sugar-coated. But it's not depressing either, which is a great achievement. It's actually quite poignant and uplifting. There's heart and humor in the dregs of society and in Harvey's melodramatic self-loathing. The film often morphs into the guise of a comic book, with panels popping up here and there, and it's all driven by a brooding, urgent, infectious jazz score (indeed, the score of Harvey's life). American Splendor is a masterpiece in all aspects of the filmmaking process. It will blow your mind with its quirky, unconventional, self-aware, progressive storytelling techniques. It's a marvel (not unlike the comics)...a true American treasure.

Friedlander is a riot as the slow/deliberate-speaking Toby, and Hope Davis is out of this world as neurotic hypochondriac Joyce (Harvey: "Wow, you're a sick woman." Joyce: "Not yet, but I expect to be."). She's got impeccable comic timing and conveys Joyce's love and concern for Harvey beneath her icy, sarcastic exterior. Paul Giamatti is mesmerizing in American Splendor. His talent is limitless as far as I'm concerned. He's a different actor in every role, though no less outstanding. He BECOMES the role, never giving less than 150%, even in crap like Lady in the Water. Harvey Pekar was lucky to be portrayed by Giamatti.

The song "Ain't That Peculiar" is featured prominently in American Splendor, as per Pekar's request. Well, even if Paul Giamatti hasn't quite received the appreciation and respect he deserves as of yet, there's nothing peculiar about his consistent standard of acting genius or his rising star in Hollywood. Keep at it, Mr. Giamatti. I adore you, and I know I'm not alone. Cinema wouldn't be what it is without you.

In an interview, Paul Giamatti muses, in his ultra-sincere, humble, endearing way, "Am I really cool? You're telling me I'm cool? Well, that's good to hear."

You, Mr. Giamatti, are the coolest cat around.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

The 10 Worst Films of 2007

Yes, I really am doing this list now, on June 15th of the year 2008. Let's bypass any explanation or snarky, self-deprecating remarks and get on with the badness. All I'll say is that In my defense, they're still just as bad in mid-2008.

1. Southland Tales: The most offensively inexplicable and pretentious pseudo-philosophical nonsense I've ever seen. Richard Kelly, get out of my life.

2. Hostel: Part II: This comes in at a very close second. I was going back and forth for a really long time - misogyny versus pretension? Normally, misogyny would win out every time. But Richard Kelly's galaxy-sized ego and convoluted arthouse shtick ("It's cool because I say it is") makes me even more infuriated than Eli Roth's blood bath o' babes. Even though Roth's film takes a nauseatingly misogynistic turn with the lesbian disemboweling of Heather Matarazzo (shame on you, Heather), at least Roth is in control of his mess. He knows what he's doing, even if it's horribly wrong.

3. Descent: Was this even a movie? I couldn't tell.

4. Redacted: Brian de Palma's screechingly annoying, totally misguided take on the Iraq War is an insult to the honorable veterans of this conflict.

5. The Dead Girl: Lots of great female actors and a breathtaking performance by Brittany Murphy can't save this dreary, unenlightening tale of women seemingly getting what they deserve, often just for being women, and being punished in totally unironic ways, all under the guise of empowerment. Blechh.

6. Inland Empire: David Lynch proves that just because you CAN make something doesn't mean that you SHOULD. Laura Dern deserves to have a monument erected in her honor for being such a (brilliant) trooper.

7. A Mighty Heart: Angelina Jolie delivers a moderately impressive performance. Too bad the rest of the film gets bogged down in political minutiae. Snoozefest. I know from experience. I actually fell asleep quite often during the screening I saw at Cannes.

8. The Banishment: A Russian entry for the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year. I saw this at the festival impossibly late at night in my uncomfortable formal wear and thought it was one of the most boring stories ever. In fact, was there a story? I'm still not sure. Transcendent cinematography and sound design make it an even bigger letdown.

9. Death Proof: Quentin Tarantino's self-indulgent exercise in disgusting, fanboy fetishization and exploitation of women. Death Proof and I have a complicated past, to say the least.

10. Michael Clayton: "Oh no, she di'int!" Oh yes, I did.

The Great Stone-Faced Victor

As you may have noticed, I've been having a lot of fun with the poll function on my blog lately. I recently conducted one pitting the three giants of American silent comedy - Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd - against each other. It was just for fun, of course, because the real winners are movie lovers for having had all three of them touch and revolutionize cinema in their special, unique ways.

That being said, I was just curious who the favorite would be. I pretty much assumed Charlie Chaplin would tramp-walk away with it. To my surprise and pleasure, it was an insanely tight race between Chaplin and Buster Keaton, with a photo finish ending. Harold Lloyd even got one vote, which made me really happy.

Alas, the winner, 6-5, is...


The Great (Beautiful) Stone Face himself!

Applause, applause!

I'll tell you a secret: I voted for him. I love them all so much, and Chaplin's The Great Dictator is the best film any of them made, so it was a really difficult decision for me. Ultimately, there's just something about Keaton. I feel a deep emotional connection, a kinship, with him.

In honor of his victory, here are two clips from my favorite Keaton film, Our Hospitality (his version of the Hatfield/McCoy feud). The first is a brief, hilarious snippet with no sound at all, and the second is a sequence (one of the funniest, most brilliant, and best choreographed in history) from the film set to Daft Punk's "Da Funk" that I really dig for some reason.

Thank you, America. Good night, and keep laughing.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Full Frontal...Heart

I fell in love with The Full Monty in high school. It was an obsession amongst me and my group of friends. I believe it was the first British film I had ever seen (it was either this or Help!). It was certainly the most difficult to understand British film I had ever seen, speaking-wise, that is. The accents are crazy thick. I actually had the subtitles on when I watched it recently, and I discovered lots of things I never knew they were saying. Of course, what I learned only made me adore the film more.

The film is about six working-class British guys who are middle-aged and out of work in the fallen steel town of Sheffield. The group is led by Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and his best mate Dave (Mark Addy). Gaz is more immature than his pre-teen son, Nathan (William Snape), and he exposes Nathan to more than he should at his age. But, he loves Nathan and would do anything to find the money to pay his ex-wife to maintain visitation and custody. Hence, Gaz gets an idea, inspired by a Chippendales show in town, that he can strip, too. If those "puffs" can make that much money, why can't he? Don't women want to see regular guys, after all? So, he enlists Dave, Gerald Arthur Cooper (Tom Wilkinson), Horse (Paul Barber), Lomper (Steve Huison), and Guy (Hugo Speer) to be a part of his revue. It eventually turns into "the full monty," meaning totally nude and balls out (literally), because they have to offer women something the Chippendales don't.

What's great about these guys is that they're all down on their luck but totally lovable. They have idiosyncrasies, but they don't feel superficially tacked-on. Gaz is a womanizing ass, Dave is fat and fears that his wife Jean (Lesley Sharp) will leave him, Gerald is trying to maintain his upper-class lifestyle for his wife, as well as his social standing (Gerald is also the only one who has any sort of dance experience), Lomper is a weak, pasty introvert/band geek caring for his sickly mother, Horse has a know...and some sweet dance moves, but is insecure about his advanced age, and lone beefcake Guy...well, Guy's main problem is that he keeps trying to emulate Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain and ends up slamming face first into the wall instead of walking UP it. They all need this gig and the money. We're just lucky enough to go along on their journey.

The Full Monty has always been one of my favorite films, ever since it came out in 1997. It's extra special to me because, among the many firsts it gave me, it introduced me to Tom Wilkinson. He's amazing as Gerald Arthur Cooper (a name my friends and I loved to randomly bust out in our best British working-class). Tom Wilkinson is, I think it's safe to say, known as a heavy actor, so it's wonderful to see him in just a totally light-hearted comedy. His trademark gravity is there, but it's mostly an exercise in exuberance (the same can be said about the whole movie). It's one of my favorite Wilkinson roles, and it'll always be very close to me. The rest of the actors are incredible, every single one of them, especially Carlyle and Addy (in more obvious ways since they're the leads), but also Speer, Huison, Barber, and Sharp in more-subtle-but-no-less important performances. Also, Snape is a remarkably impressive, naturalistic child actor.

I think The Full Monty paved the way for films like Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, and Juno at the Oscars. The Full Monty was nominated for Best Picture (it didn't have a chance because of Titanic - nothing did), and I believe it was the first indie comedy to receive that honor, at least in the modern day, and the trend has continued ever since. Now, if only one of those films would win some day...

The Full Monty is an extraordinary film, masterfully directed by Peter Cattaneo, brilliantly written by Simon Beaufoy, and with an Oscar-winning jazzy score by Anne Dudley. It's hilarious with the hugest heart imaginable, a funny, touching balance of bleak realism and unabashed faith in the human spirit that I think only the Brits have managed to master. It has its melancholy moments, but that only makes the happy moments that much more rewarding. It's like the quote, the origin of which escapes me right now: "You can't have sweet without the sour." And the best part is that you're totally invested in these characters. You'll smile the whole way through, and it's a surprise until the last second. The ending will have you howling in delight. It was totally deserving of its Best Picture Oscar nomination.

The Full Monty is the feel-goodiest feel-good film I have ever seen in my life.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)