Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Some Odds And Bitter Ends

With this year ending I decided not to talk about the best and worst of 2012.  That will come at another time.

Instead, I'm focusing on other matters that attracted my attention this year, little curiosities that might not have gotten the attention they deserved.  Therefore, let us begin with my own 2012 Film Tidbits List.


The Vow

I consider myself an honest man, in particular with film.  If I don't like a film I'll say so, even if all my fellow critics basically masturbate metaphorically to one.  Similarly, if I enjoy a film while my colleagues don't, I'm not swayed.

The Vow is a film that, despite all its flaws (the Nicholas Sparks-type plot, the typically blank performance of my bete noir of film, Channing Tatum), I found that at the end, I tolerated it to where I could get through it.  By no means a great film, The Vow at least knew what it was (a horridly vapid and overly cute chick-flick) and didn't pretend to be anything else. 

Also, while Channing Tatum simply cannot act, in The Vow he did try, harder than I've ever seen him try before.  I give him an A for Effort if nothing else, although Tatum is extremely limited to him looking pretty and blank, expressing no emotion but for confusion.  Yet he keeps trying...


The Amazing Spider-Man

At least they didn't call it a 'reimagining'. 

It also wasn't officially a remake (although one could argue that it was), but instead, The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot, meaning we are starting our story of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man all over again without considering what had come before, a mere ten years ago.

It wasn't just a disappointment in that I felt I was watching a movie I've seen before.  It wasn't just a disappointment in that we got a simply awful segway to the inevitable sequel.  The Amazing Spider-Man was a disappointment because it was surprisingly boring.

I did think that Andrew Garfield was a better Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire, but ultimately I found Maguire to be a better Spider-Man than Garfield.   Even if Garfield's more sarcastic, snarky take on Spidey was closer to the source material than Maguire's more gee-whiz enthusiasm, I didn't particularly care whenever our webbed hero appeared.  My brother Gabe was so the movie with me whispered that he was so bored he started making up a story in his head while watching to keep himself entertained.

The Amazing Spider-Man kind of threw the villain at us, and bless Rhys Ifans but he didn't have much to work with.  For all its length, The Amazing Spider-Man had very little to say except set up another movie.  Even that was bungled: when once we had a regular kid from Queens who was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents' death, we got this epic where Peter Parker is 'a chosen one', with his father hiding some great secret that would pass onto his son. 

Finally, the antagonist was ridiculous.  Brother Gabe had one of the best lines on a movie all year.  As The Lizard rampaged over the Brooklyn Bridge, he whispered in my ear, "It's Godzilla's Mini-Me", which had me burst out laughing. 

The Amazing Spider-Man was not.


I'm at a loss to understand why everyone has declared Skyfall the Greatest Bond Film of All Time. Everything about it, in the minds of my fellow critics, is The Best: The Best Bond in Daniel Craig, the Best Villain in Javier Bardem's Silva, the Best Bond Theme Song with Adele's Skyfall, and so on and so on.  That's not the film I saw.  You know what I saw?

I saw The Dark Knight: Bond Version.

I semi-jokingly refer to Skyfall as The Dark Bond Rises because for all intents and purposes, Skyfall was a remake of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, in particular The Dark Knight with bits of Batman Begins thrown in for good measure.  Beat for beat Skyfall might as well have been called The Dark Bond Rises given how nakedly it copied from The Dark Knight.

James Bond/007 is the orphan child of wealthy parents raised in his estate, Skyfall, by the Bond family manservant. 

Bruce Wayne/Batman is the orphan child of wealthy parents raised in his estate, Wayne Manor, by the Wayne family manservant.

Sound familiar?

At one point in Skyfall, the villain Silva dresses as a policeman to assassinate a major government official: Judi Dench's M.

At one point in The Dark Knight, the villain The Joker dresses as a policeman to assassinate a major government official: Nestor Carbonell's Gotham City Mayor.

Sound familiar?

At the end of Skyfall, the new Head of MI6, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) hands James Bond an envelope with his new assignment.

At the end of Batman Begins, the new Captain Gordon (Gary Oldman) hands Batman a pair of playing cards with the Joker on them as his 'new assignment'. 

Sound familiar?

I imagine the critics love Skyfall precisely because it copies so unabashedly from The Dark Knight, but for me, I was unimpressed.  I wasn't a fan of The Dark Knight to begin with, and I detest the dark, morose take on 007 Craig has raised to an artform.  Skyfall certainly is one of the most beautiful -looking Bond film made, but it's not one that A.) I think of as a "Bond" film (no real girls, no sense of fun), and B.) I would want to watch again.  Please, I'd sooner watch A View to a Kill than Skyfall, and I KNOW A View to a Kill is terrible, but at least it's enjoyably bad, not depressingly so. 


John Carter

I am the first to admit John Carter is not a great film.  Never was a hoped-for franchise so ineptly handled.  So many things went wrong without needing there to be. 

You had a lead that had not proven himself a box-office draw being pushed as THE Next Big Thing when most of us were asking, "Taylor WHO?"

You had a director who had never made a live-action film before being given this massive production when even a more experienced hand might have found it daunting.

You had a screenplay that appeared to take a long time to get going and that had inexcusable moments of unintended hilarity (how could experienced people not see that the line, "Helium will fall" would not sound silly even if they meant a CITY called Helium rather than the gas).  Add to that both screenplay and director imagined John Carter as the first part of a TRILOGY, thus giving us a very long trailer rather than a movie AND expecting us to be so enthused with the final product we'd demand more when that wasn't guaranteed. 

You had an entire studio convinced that the public would swarm towards a project that whose source material was almost unknown to all but a small group of devoted readers.

You had an advertising campaign that did not tell you anything about the story and almost went out of its way to be opaque.  They never bothered to tell us WHO John Carter was or why we should care.  The pulling of Of Mars from the original film title John Carter of Mars didn't help, but perhaps if they had kept with Edgar Rice Burroughs' original title of A Princess of Mars would have given some idea of the story.

You also had a story that meandered and was not so much convoluted but unnecessarily complicated with the villain being able to take any shape he wanted and having obscure motives for his actions.

In short, John Carter WAS a disaster, but not in the way it's been portrayed.  If only a few things had been switched or altered...please, if A LOT had been switched or altered: different lead, different director, a greater focus on the story, a later release, we could have had the movie Disney wanted.

Still, despite all these issues I didn't hate John Carter.  As good pulpy fun, a film that doesn't ask much from us, I found it tolerable, even slightly enjoyable.  It's not in the 'so bad it's good' category because I don't think it's ALL bad.  Badly made, badly marketed no doubt, but once one clears away all the smoke and hoopla, John Carter is a film I think can be enjoyed if one doesn't ask that it be deep or introspective.  It serves as a good way to whittle away a few hours, nothing more.


He is my bete noir of film, someone whose success as an 'actor' I find both puzzling and a Sign of the End of Western Civilization.  Every time I see him darkening my screen I shudder at the concept that he is single-handedly destroying the idea of what an 'actor' actually is.

Yet I have to admit, Channing Tatum has had a singularly great year.

He starred in not one, not two, but THREE hit films this year.  You had the aforementioned The Vow (which appealed to girls who like sappy romances).  You had 21 Jump Street (which I grant you was funny and at least allowed Chan to spoof himself in the 'even I know everyone thinks I'm an idiot' way).  Finally, you had Magic Mike.  I simply couldn't bring myself to watch, but at least I can see that Channing Tatum, contrary to what I once thought, does have at least one discernible talent: Taking His Clothes Off.

For better or worse (I'd argue 'worse') Chan has become a box-office attraction, but he is still not an 'actor' in the accepted definition of the term (someone who can convincingly portray a person or being other than himself).  He is limited in his range to say the least.  I marvel at the thought of...

Channing Tatum IS Hamlet!

Channing Tatum IS Professor Higgins!

For all those who insist to me that Channing Tatum can act, I'd like you to imagine him in some defining roles.  Can you imagine him playing Abraham Lincoln as well as Daniel Day-Lewis, or a paralyzed man like John Hawkes portrayed in The Sessions, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises, or John Nash better than Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind

Still, I can't deny the obvious: Channing Tatum has emerged from being a himbo, stone-faced speaker of lines to being a genuine box-office draw...who is still a himbo stone-faced speaker of lines.  Now that he is leaving acting for 2013 (or as I think of it, an early Christmas gift from Chan to the world), with one or two previously filmed movies to feed America's Tatum Fixation, we hope that it will be the end of his reign.  No, I don't count him out, but really, why do we need a Magic Mike 2?


I never saw Friday Night Lights (either film or television series) but am told both were good.  Taylor Kitsch (blessed or cursed with the most curious last name of anyone working today) was on FNL, though I couldn't tell you what position on the football team he was.  It seemed only natural to take a guy from a little-seen television series and crown him the Next Big Movie Star.


Just as Channing Tatum was blessed to be in not one, not two, but three hits, Taylor Kitsch was cursed to be in not one, not two, but three FLOPS in one year.  You had the aforementioned John Carter (which for a host of reasons apart from Kitsch failed).  You had the big-budget spectacle Battleship (which for a host of reasons including Kitsch really just was awful even for the low standards of a big-budget spectacle based on a board game).  Finally, you had Savages.  I simply couldn't bring myself to watch, and judging from what I understand most of America felt the same.

It is curious that of all these, only the first two were geared towards shifting Kitsch into 'big-name movie star'.  Savages was intended to make a genuine actor out of him.  Whether it did or not I leave up to the people who saw it, but on the whole 2012 has been a disastrous year for Taylor Kitsch. 

Again, I would think that pushing someone, ANYONE, into 'instant stardom' is a bad decision, especially if he's coming off a television series that critics loved but few people saw or even heard of.  Taylor Kitsch may still prove to be a good actor, but he needs to not be pushed at us as A STAR or THE star of a film.  Rather, making him a supporting character would be better.

However, in the back of my mind I am reminded that Taylor Kitsch was thrown at us once as an action star.  People forget that before Kitsch's Annus Horribilis, he was Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  It was a disaster, though again he had such an insignificant role in it one can't judge whether he could have been any better if A.) Wolverine had been a better film, or B.) a film were centered around Gambit.  Kitsch was being set up to do just that in a hoped-for spin-off/sequel/series X-Men Origins: Gambit, but alas the horror that was Wolverine killed that dream. 

One of two: either Kitsch will bounce back and surprise us with a genuine performance, or he will be relegated to an also-ran of nice-looking people who tried for major stardom and failed.

Well, those are the little bits I wanted to hit on as we close out this 2012.  In the upcoming days we'll have the Ten Best and Worst Films as well as my own Awards for the Best in 2012 years. 

May 2013 present us with more good than bad...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

This Is 40: A Review (Review #483)


Now I have to start with a statement of truth: I never saw Knocked Up (not even in the almost daily rotation it gets on the E! Channel...wonder why it plays so often there?).  This is why I don't know how well it measures up as a follow-up to that film, taking two secondary characters and basing a film around them.  In a sense, This Is 40 sounds like what on television would be called a 'spin-off': take characters that appeared in one show and build a new show around them.  That is an accurate description of This Is 40: a bad sitcom pilot with only more self-centeredness and more vulgarity that would make HBO blush.

We encounter our Knocked Up couple of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as both approach their 40th birthdays.  Well, Pete is turning 40, Debbie is still debating whether to turn her actual age of 40 or continue being 38.  Since their birthdays fall on the same week, we get to see them go through their lives in this most tumultuous seven days. 

Pete is henpecked to within an inch of his life.  He can't have his cupcakes.  He hides his finances from Debbie, neither telling her of how his independent record company is losing money or how despite denials he still keeps giving his father Larry (Albert Brooks) money despite Larry having a new wife and toddler triplets of his own (making pre-schoolers the uncles to a teenager).  Pete is also not thought of highly by his two employees, Ronnie (Chris O'Dowd) and Cat (Lena Dunham...whom I'm told is a genius but never having seen Girls I cannot vouch for that.  Actually, I once had a nightmare where a group of women forced me to watch Girls when I wanted to watch football, but I digress). 

Debbie has her own problems.  First, she keeps denying she is forty unless she is forced to, then someone is stealing from her store: either the hot salesgirls Desi (Megan Fox) or the more frumpy Jodi (Charlyne Yi).  Furthermore, she seems incapable of handling negative comments about her older daughter Sadie (Maude Apatow) online.  Debbie actually goes and confronts the sort-of cyberbully Joseph (Ryan Lee) and curses him out.  Let's remember this is a 40-year-old woman threatening to run a teen over with her car (and making him cry in the process).  Add to that her generally soft bullying and belittling of Pete, her strained relationship with her own father Oliver (John Lithgow) who ALSO has a teenage son of his own, and the big surprise that she is preggers herself.

Sadie is a Lost-obsessed perpetually shouty bitch while her little sister Charlotte (Iris Apatow) is a bit annoying.

Finally, despite all the problems these two face, Debbie and Pete somehow remain married, perhaps not in love but highly comfortable with each other.

This Is 40 veers wildly between forced comedy and excessively serious drama, and neither worked.  Again and again I kept thinking this played like a sitcom, a particularly bad one where everyone appears to think they are being clever and funny when they really are sad.  Sad, sad, sad.  In the course of a week, we get Pete and Debbie come across not as people who we care about but as people we'd run away from.  They never trust each other (he hides his finances, she her pregnancy) even though it is obvious that both will be revealed.  Their reactions and actions to various things, such as Pete's inability to see what he has up his ass (thus requiring him to get all twisted up) or Debbie's verbal abuse and threats to a minor make them look insane.

Moreover, when Jason's mother Catherine (Melissa McCarthy) confronts an unsuspecting Pete, somehow Catherine's behavior is even more irrational, allowing our two rather hateful people to get away with threatening to kill a child. 

Everything in This Is 40 is so forced, everyone behaving as if they know this is 'funny' when it ain't.   It's not just what they say but in their delivery, as if we have to have a beat between lines so as to allow the laughter to subside.  This isn't to say I didn't actually laugh in This Is 40: there were two scenes where I did laugh.  One was a montage of Pete and Debbie getting a battery of medical exams, and the other when an either drugged or insane Jodi is confronted with her being the thief. 

However, let's remember that for a comedy, that is only two times I laughed.  Most of the time, I kept wondering when their long nightmare of a film would be over.  Debbie's pregnancy news and her inability to tell Pete sounds like they stole that subplot from The Simpsons when Marge upsets Homer's life by getting pregnant with Maggie.

Again and again the 'humor' in This Is 40 is in humiliating or putting Pete and Debbie in embarrassing situations (case in point: when an obviously high couple puts a resort bellboy in an uncomfortable position by running around sticking things in their underwear).  You look at the people that Pete and Debbie surround themselves with, from their family to their co-workers, and you wonder how any of them function.

As good as O'Dowd is (and I suppose that genius Dunham as well), their scenes with Rudd again always look forced, as if they ARE in a sitcom trying to push the envelope but getting nothing from keeping their barely concealed contempt for their boss at the center of the comedy. There is really nothing funny in how This Is 40 goes out of its way to emasculate Pete or in his stupidity or deceit.  When he flees his Mary Richards-esque birthday party he ends up crashing into a door on his bike.

First, this isn't set up to be funny.  It looks painful.  Funny is if he were riding with confidence and joy.  Painful is when Pete's already suffering some kind of emotional malaise.  Then, the driver of the car does something irrational: he ends up punching Pete.  A natural reaction would be to see if the person who just crashed into their door is alive and all right.  Instead, the driver becomes hostile and angry, cursing out the person on the ground.

And OH the cursing.  One might have thought Quentin Tarantino had written the screenplay rather than Judd Apatow because of all the F-This and F-That, even coming from Sadie (who is there only because Daddums put her in there, not for any actual acting talent...a bit like Jaden and Willow Smith).  Both Apatow Girls were terrible in the film: Maude is every cliched angry teenage girl (and frankly a bit of a bitch towards everyone).  Maude Apatow's reaction to being told there will be limits to her computer usage is to shout and flail all about (her method of acting is to scream and swing her arms like a propeller) and this seemed again like a sitcom not real life. 

Certainly from my own experience with teens, most are actually good and respectful kids.  Why then celebrate boorish behavior like that of Sadie?

Curiously, the best performance in This Is 40 is from Megan Fox, who is able to spoof her own persona of 'the hot girl' and showed an unexpected flair for comedy, at least if it comes at her expense.  At least to her credit she is able to laugh at herself (something that not even the highly-regarded Mann was able to do). 

This Is 40 thinks it's funny (and there are some moments of laughter, and not forgetting Green Day's Billy Joe Armstrong's cameo was amusing as well) but just like weak Pete's fixation on Graham Parker, This Is 40 is out of touch with what makes a good comedy: characters we care about.

This Is 40 is the River Song of Comedies: when you give a secondary character the starring role, you end up with a disaster.    

This is horrible.  This is depressing.  This is boring.  This Is 40.


A Brown and White Film

There is definitely something wrong with this picture...
In reviewing Argo, I had an intense struggle over one aspect of the film.  On the one hand, the film itself is thrilling and brilliantly made (things one doesn't connect to a Ben Affleck picture).  On the other, it has an Anglo playing a Hispanic. 

No matter how I tried getting around it, the idea that the WASPy Benjamin Géza Affleck-Boldt could see himself playing a man named Antonio Mendez and do so convincingly is something I can't accept.  Try as much as I could, I could never shake the feeling that Affleck still has a remarkably inflated opinion of himself: that he is so good an actor that no one would ever question the idea that this Bostonian couldn't possible be seen as a Latino.

When I saw pictures of the real Tony Mendez, the first image that came to mind wasn't that of a former Sexiest Man Alive.  I don't think Mendez looks anything like Affleck.  Actually, upon looking at Mr. Mendez, I thought he looked more like this:

Mohammed Morsi, current President of Egypt. 

If one looks, one can see there IS a resemblance between President Morsi and Mr. Mendez (no offense to Mr. Mendez and no endorsement of Mr. Morsi).  Oddly enough, I don't think Ben Affleck will ever be cast as the President of Egypt should a Morsi biopic ever be made, but one can never be sure.

There are many things that are extraordinary about Ben Affleck as Antonio Mendez in Argo (while it's closer to the truth to call him Tony, I've opted to go by his full name to make a point).  The most extraordinary thing is that there have been few complaints if any over Affleck's casting choice of himself as the main character.

Even the Dean of Film Reviewers, Mr. Roger Ebert, made no mention of the nonsense of having a non-Hispanic play a Hispanic.  I doubt Mr. Ebert would have remained quiet if Affleck or Affleck's first choice to play Tony Mendez (one Brad Pitt!) had decided to play Cesar Chavez.  This is Roger Ebert, a man who prides himself on his leftist politics, who trashes Sarah Palin at every opportunity.  Yet for all his 'tolerance', he is oddly silent when it comes to Affleck as Mendez.

Perhaps, Mr. Ebert thinks, there are simply too many Hispanic actors on television and film for us to note, notice, or care that a real-life Hispanic is played by a non-Hispanic.  

I wonder if he would maintain that silence if say Michelle Yeoh played Martha Washington, or if Meryl Streep played Madame Chiang Kai-shek, or if John Leguizamo played Charles DeGaulle, or if Jennifer Lopez played Rosa Parks.  I imagine he would at least say it was foolish, if not downright wrong.  However, Affleck gets a pass.

Say what you will about Palin, but she at least apparently can tell the difference between Susana Martinez and Diane Kruger (who might play the New Mexico governor given Hollywood's rather erratic idea of what a Hispanic is.  It might be acceptable for Hispanic Alexis Bledel to play Governor Martinez, but I picture America Ferrera in the role). 

This of course isn't the first time that a real-life story where a Hispanic has been metaphorically white-washed.  The even-WASPier Tab Hunter was Guy Gabaldon in the war film Hell to Eternity.  Perhaps in 1960 the idea that a MEXICAN-American was a war hero was too impossible to accept.  Therefore, to portray a 5'4" Hispanic from East L.A., who better than a 6'1" Anglo from New York City?  Leaving aside the height discrepancy, it isn't surprising that Hollywood decided to alter reality to portray the story of a true American hero at a time when the civil rights movement was still growing, and certainly before Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta began the long march for Hispanics in general, Mexican-Americans (the largest Hispanic group) in particular.

However, we are now in 2012.  There are Hispanic Senators (Bob Melendez, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz from New Jersey, Florida and Texas respectively), Hispanic governors (Nevada's Brian Sandoval and New Mexico's Susana Martinez--the first female Hispanic governor in the nation), and Hispanics in all sorts of occupations, but somehow when it comes to real-life Hispanics, it becomes impossible to cast an actual Hispanic in a role where the lead character IS Hispanic.

Of course, one could, albeit with great difficulty, live with such matters, but not when both real and fictional Hispanic characters are played by non-Hispanics.  I was reminded of this at Christmas, when my cousin George and I were stuck watching In Time.  We were perpetually amused at the idea that Justin Timberlake, Mr. SexyBack, was playing Will SALAS.  All this time we figured the name Salas was Hispanic, but apparently either we were mistaken or Timberlake is really a Vato From the Barrio.  Is it no surprise that Salas was a poor kid from the ghetto? 

Perhaps I shouldn't be perturbed that the antagonist (the evil rich time-thief) is named Weis (one letter short of being almost anti-Semitic).  That on retrospect does raise my eyebrows, but again, the name Salas...even then it struck me as curious why that particular name was used.  George made a valid point between the mutual chuckling at Timberlake As Salas (and SexyBack in general).  He said they could have used 'Smith' or 'Johnson', but Will SALAS? 

Perhaps it is because in Hollywood, Hispanics make for the most obvious poor people.  In Hollywood, Hispanics also have a small number of actors capable enough to play either a fictional character named Salas or a real-life character named Mendez. 

You can't get more Spanish-speaking than Justin Randall Timberlake and Benjamin Géza Affleck-Boldt.   

There's something to be said about irony.  Charlton Heston, Academy Award-winner, Kennedy Center Honoree, star for over half a century, is derided for his portrayal as a Mexican in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.  While the film is held as a masterpiece (and it deserves its reputation), Heston himself is held in contempt for his performance.  I agree up to a point: the make-up was horrifying (I don't believe any Mexican actually looked like THAT, especially being that when I look at myself, I don't look like THAT).  However, it should be remembered that the make-up was not Heston's choice, but Welles'.  Also, Welles had directed Heston NOT to have any kind of accent, and Heston, being the actor that he was, went with what the director told him (although later on he admitted he would have given the character a hint of an accent should he have been able to revisit this film).

Charlton Heston is trashed for playing a Hispanic in Touch of Evil.

Ben Affleck is praised for playing a Hispanic in Argo.

Will someone, please, explain this to me, a "simple-minded Mexican", what exactly the difference is between a Hispanic Heston and Hispanic Affleck?

This is what I ask: that Hispanics be cast in Hispanic roles about real Hispanics.  I'm not asking that Edward James Olmos play Abraham Lincoln (although I think he would be great in the part).  Roger Ebert I imagine wouldn't be amused, so how is it that he is when Affleck basically pulls a stunt like that. 

I ask that Hispanics also be given parts that go beyond the traditional Hispanic roles of maids, gang members, illegals, and so forth.  I'd like to know that Hispanics can be lawyers, bankers, police, doctors, not just the ones who serve them or tend their children or gardens.

I understand there is to be a film based on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Given Hollywood's penchant for ethnic/color-blind casting, I offer the perfect actor to play this American Icon:

Why are you laughing?

If Tab Hunter, Charlton Heston, Justin Timberlake and now Ben Affleck can play Hispanics with nary a complaint...

From K-Stew to K-Slut

Don't Dream It's Over
It was all going so well.  We had Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, stars of the 'romance' Twilight films, in their own deeply private relationship.  Their love was true, their love was pure, their love might spawn children of even more limited range than either of these two (among the worst actors working today).

Then came...THE BETRAYAL...

Stewart was discovered to have been cheating on the beloved R-Pattz with her Snow White & The Huntsman director Rupert Graves. 

The ensuing scandal was, well, actually quite funny.  Granted it wasn't funny to the cuckold Mr. Pattinson or the humiliated Mrs. Graves (and their children) who had to endure the world finding that they had been fooled by their respective partners.  It was also humiliating to both Stewart and Graves to have their 'momentary indiscretion' so publicly revealed. 

What WAS amusing, at least to me, was in how others took the news.  A whole gaggle of little girls (and those who think like them) were DEVASTATED, emotionally wrecked, knowing that one particularly vulgar girl (seriously, does Stewart have to use profanity in even the most basic and mundane conversation?) had not lived up to their own rather vapid romantic fantasies. 

These fans could not figure out that Stewart is capable of being just as foolish as any of them.  They could not understand that Kristen Stewart was human, one who could fall into temptation.  They instead saw that a romance they had invested in emotionally, that between fictional characters that had carried over into real life, could possibly be filled with human failings. 

All they saw was that Kristen Stewart, one half of a Dream Couple (in more ways than one) had betrayed someone these perfect (perhaps perfectly insane) strangers elevated to near-divine status.  As far as they were concerned, Robert Pattinson was/is PERFECT in the same way EDWARD CULLEN is PERFECT.  They could no longer tell fantasy from reality (thus strengthening my case that Twilight fans shouldn't be allowed to vote, but I digress). 

These people were upset about another woman caught in a "momentary indiscretion" with a man not her boyfriend.  They simply had put so much of themselves into Bella/EDWARD CULLEN and/or Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson that they behaved, perhaps even thought that Kristen had betrayed THEM!

I'm snobbish enough to have always thought Twilight fans were intellectually weak (yes, I mean stupid), but this is manna from Heaven for me.  There are people out there who are so wrapped up in both the lives of the fictional Bella & EDWARD CULLEN but also of Robsten that this dalliance has upset them so terribly.  Why is beyond logic: they don't know them personally, they've probably never met any of them and perhaps only from a distance or in passing.  Why THEY should take a fling of a stupid girl so to heart is simply inexplicable.

As far as I know, none of the people who issued death threats to Stewart or appeared so devastated about some bad actress schtupping her older/married director knew anyone involved personally. 

Instead, these poor people were upset that their fantasies were being shown to be that: fantasy.  Yes, romances between co-stars do emerge, but for the Twihards (or as I lovingly call them, Twilight Twits) there really was very little to no separating the fiction of Bella and EDWARD CULLEN to the reality of Kristen and Rob. 

When I went to the El Paso Comic-Con, or EPCON, I wandered into the Twilight Society forum.  When one of the leaders asked if people liked Kristen Stewart, I heard a few "no".  I was amused that these multi-tattooed women and their pre-teen daughters could be so mesmerized by THESE characters that an affair could taint their image of a lousy actress.

I'm not a fan of Stewart or Pattinson.  They both show again and again they cannot act.  Still, what they do in their own private lives is of no concern to you.  If you can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality then you really are even less educated than I give you credit for.

I have news for all of those who are so emotionally spent from this Trampire scandal.  Twilight is a badly written book.  The prose is inane, the characters dead (in more ways than one), the female lead shockingly narcissistic and self-absorbed.  Well, perhaps I've answered my own question as to why so many women love it. 

Really, all you middle-aged women, 
Making the case for Sterilization...


Saturday, December 29, 2012

And the Honorees Should Be: Part 10. Kennedy Center Honors Suggestions

The only known photograph of David Letterman treating a woman with respect.

It's now been ten recommendations of Kennedy Center Honorees that I've made.  So far, only one, Dustin Hoffman, has been selected.  Yep, it's a pretty lousy record, but here's hoping that next year I'll have a bumper crop.

For my part, I remain undaunted, and I really want to end this series.  Therefore, my newest batch of potential Honorees (to perhaps the surprise of those at the Kennedy Center, I did manage to find at least one Hispanic, something they insist they haven't been able to do since 2002). 

Emanuel Ax
Emanuel Ax has been a passionate proponent of more contemporary composers along with the standards.  His masterful piano playing is still studied, especially by his students at the Julliard.  Ax continues to perform and inspire with his virtuosity on the keys.

David Bowie

David Bowie no longer performs, which is a real shame given his long and varied career in music.  From the Ziggy Stardust persona right on down to his more commercial work, Bowie has constantly reinvented himself to be a singer/songwriter that continues to influence succeeding generations.

Moreover, his acting career has been quite remarkable, from The Man Who Fell to Earth to Labyrinth right down to The Prestige, where his performance as Nikola Tesla was shamefully ignored by the Academy.  Musically and artistically, David Bowie has created a great body of work worthy of recognition.

Monserrat Caballé

Monserrat Caballé no longer has the voice she once had, but in her prime the power of her soprano was unequalled.  Caballé is one that I am placing more by virtue of her reputation since I'm not an opera expert, but having heard some of her recordings, Caballé's voice is one that had a great beauty and power, never overpowering while still maintaining a clarity not often achieved in the rarified world of opera.

Keiko Matsui

Keiko Matsui is a bit of an oddity: a Japanese jazz fusion virtuoso.  She blends music into something uniquely her own which can bridge so many genres: jazz, New Age, world, even pop or rock.  Matsui's artistry with the piano has earned her the respect and admiration of fans of music.  Not just jazz music (although she usually is placed in the jazz category), but in music overall.

Rita Moreno

Here's that fabled Hispanic that I really think will be honored next year.  There will be probably some clown who will say that Rita Moreno receiving a Kennedy Center Honor will be tokenism rewarded, but a look at her career shows she EARNED every accolade she's received.

Let's see: there's that Oscar (Best Supporting Actress: West Side Story), that Tony (Best Featured--Supporting--Actress in a Play: The Ritz), those Emmys (Outstanding Guest Actress: The Rockford Files and The Muppet Show), and that Grammy (The Electric Company Album).  Oh yes, there's that little bit of being a pioneer for other Hispanics.

I think that should be enough for her to be a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2013 without a quota.

Bill Murray

Bill Murray is best described as eccentric, perhaps mercurial, but let's not also forget extremely talented and respected.  Coming from the original Not Ready For Primetime Players on Saturday Night Live, Murray has carved a great career on screen.

From his much-imitated turn in Caddyshack (a film every guy knows) to Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters, and What About Bob?, he's moved on from straight comedies to more nuanced roles in such films as Lost in Translation and the films of Wes Anderson: Rushmore, The Royal Tennebaums, and Moonrise Kingdom.

Franco Zeffirelli

Franco Zeffirelli has done so much to popularize Shakespeare with his film versions of Romeo & Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet.  His television miniseries of Jesus of Nazareth is still viewed and admired for the respectful and dramatic telling of the life of Christ, and Zeffirelli has become a highly respected opera director both for the stage and film.

That now wraps up ten essays of artists in film, television, stage, dance and music of all types from classical to opera to country to rock that would in my view make worthy recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors.   Whether they will be heeded is up to them, but somehow I fear we will be seeing these artists ignored in favor of others, such as...

Who wouldn't want a musical tribute from the Funky Bunch?

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Impossible: A Review


The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 is one of those moments in human history which lends itself to cinematic portrayal but whose horrors seem unfathomable, lest they minimize the trauma, destruction, and death that literally shook the earth.  Like September 11th, while there have been some programming around the tsunami and the disaster played a part in other projects, it stills seems too soon, too raw, to make a film dramatizing it.  The Impossible, based on the true story of a vacationing family that survived the tsunami, to its credit, handles the material respectfully, making the shock palpable and the circumstances that both separate and reunite the family logical.

In the only major change to the actual story, the nationality of the family was changed from the original Spaniard family to a British one.  Maria (Niomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) have taken time for a Christmas holiday in Thailand.  With them are their three sons, Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and the oldest, Lucas (Tom Holland).  Lucas isn't the most loving of fellows, particularly with his little brothers, but on the whole they are a solid, loving family. 

All is going well until that fateful December 26, 2004.  Everyone is relaxing at the pool in their resort when the waters come barrelling through.  A quick fade to black before we come to a terrified Maria, clinging to a tree and calling desperately for her husband and children.  Soon, a ray of hope: Lucas is swimming with the onrushing tide when they spot each other, and Maria tries desperate to catch and catch up with her equally terrified son.  Maria has had many physical injuries while Lucas on the whole has come out much better.  Eventually they manage to enter some dry land, where Maria's leg injury begin to plague them.  In the midst of all this, as they start accepting that perhaps Henry and the other boys might be dead, they come across a lost infant named Daniel.  Despite Lucas' initial reluctance they rescue him and soon are rescued themselves, where Maria fights to stay alive and Lucas fights to stay relevant and sane amid the chaos.

We then leave them to find Henry back at the resort's wreckage.  He too managed to survive, as did Simon and Thomas (who we are told also hung on to trees).  Henry is torn, but decides that he needs to find Lucas and Maria, sending his two boys to safety in the mountains.  Henry is soon joined by another man desperate to find his own wife and children.

Lucas had been separated from his mother in the confusion of the hospital, but eventually they are reunited.  Maria's leg needs to be operated on, which leaves Lucas terrified he will lose the only family he believes still exists.  Then, through a strange series of turns, truly wonderful things happen to our family.  Henry arrives at that hospital in hopes of finding his wife and son.  Lucas recognizes his father's walk and swimming trunks.  In his calls to his father, Lucas is unaware that his two brothers, who were being sent away, are at the hospital too.  Simon's need to relieve himself keeps them there longer than they'd planned.  The brothers recognize Lucas' voice and are reunited.  Henry somehow spots his sons and is reunited with Lucas, who then brings his father and siblings to his mother. 

While her surgery has success, they have to be taken to Singapore, and The Impossible ends with our family, still wearing what they've had on for at least two or three days, flying out to safety over the same treacherous waters. 

The Impossible boasts some of the best performances seen this year, certainly in Naomi Watts' case.  She is an actress who is almost always as good as her material: when it's bad (as in Dream House), she is bad.  When it's good (as in The Impossible), she is very good indeed.  Watts' Maria is a frightened woman who knows she has to somehow will herself to keep going.  The cross between her physical deterioration, emotional exhaustion, and her need to push through shows the strength behind someone so beaten up.

Ewan McGregor remains one of my favorite actors, and in The Impossible he simply does not disappoint.  His Henry is equally a survivor who won't give up searching for his family, but beneath his determination he too is wrecked.  The scene where he manages to call home only to break down is downright heartbreaking, leaving one devastated.  He gains some control of himself and makes a second call where he tells the voice at the other end he will keep searching.

The Impossible, however clearly belong to Tom Holland, a young actor who has not only proven he is able to handle his own against competent and accomplished actors like Watts and McGregor but who gives one of the best performances I've seen this year, and certainly for someone as young as he.   Holland gives Lucas that vulnerability of a teen but one who is also resilient.  Lucas is a realist (when he shouts to Maria that his brothers must be dead) but who also has compassion (as when he quietly rejoices at being able to help reunite a younger child to his Swedish father). 

I'd argue that most of The Impossible is seen through his eyes, and Holland's performance is simply one of gentle power.  He doesn't have a "big" scene where he is allowed to vent his fury to the heavens.  Sometimes he looks frightened and/or overwhelmed with all the horror he has to witness and endure.  Still, Holland creates that emotional bond with the audience.  If Tom Holland isn't nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar it will be a mild disappointment, mild only in that given his talent he should eventually win one for another film should his acting remain at this level.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona not only got a great cast to do some marvelous work (even a wonderful cameo by Geraldine Chaplin that seemed both soothing and added a comforting philosophy to the younger boys' view of what they've lived through), but he also did something rare in modern filmmaking: he let the visual effects serve the story.  The actual tsunami sequence is terrifying, and at a crucial point near the end of The Impossible we go back to it, reliving the horror of that day as close as most of us will ever come across something so traumatic. 

In these scenes, the impact both physical and emotional of the tsunami is felt by all the characters.  There is never an effort to downplay the sheer horror of that day (although no film, no matter how good or strong, will ever really capture the immensity of that cataclysmic event). 

Sergio G. Sanchez's screenplay never plays for emotion, instead allowing things to flow naturally.  It is basically divided between three acts: Maria and Lucas' story, Henry's story, and the eventual coming together of both.  In many films, the obligatory 'people keep missing each other' sequence would appear almost too forced to be believed, but in The Impossible we see that for most of that sequence, it's really Lucas catching a glimpse of someone who could be his father and desperately trying to find him.  It also played well that his brothers, not Lucas, spotted the latter first.

I won't argue against Fernando Velasquez's score, even though at times it might have been a bit overdramatic, trying to push the emotions when it didn't need all that.  Sometimes it served the movie well, and sometimes it felt a touch too much.   I wouldn't qualify it as a flaw but at times a little less is more.

The Impossible may have a less-than-clear title, but it is a strong tale of survival in the middle of almost unspeakable devastation, with some of the best performances by the leads and a star-making turn by Tom Holland (someone to watch for). 


Entering The Dark Knight of The Screen. Thoughts on 'Dark Cinema'

I shall speak clearly: I Did Not Like The Dark Knight

Yes, I understand that in certain circles, that's like saying 'I hate God' or 'I drown babies for fun' (and that's a definite NO on both counts).  However, I was left unimpressed with the film (far too nihilistic, overlong, and convoluted for my tastes), not to mention I wasn't blown away by Heath Ledger (no pun intended).  My friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead) had a great line about Ledger in The Dark Knight: "I thought he just needed some Chap-Stick". 

Still, for better or worse The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight--especially The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises) have cast a giant shadow over all future adaptations of any other franchises.  We now have every franchise or potential franchise, from Superman to Star Trek to even perhaps Iron-Man 3 (a franchise that so far almost delighted in being more upbeat, with its bon vivant hero Tony Stark), going for a darker, more pessimistic vision of the world.  In that sense, the fanboys who worship at the feet of Christopher Nolan are correct: The Dark Knight has changed cinema.

I think the current crop of filmmakers have learned a lesson from Christopher Nolan's trifecta of Batman films, but it's the wrong lesson.   What they appear to think is that audiences want to see this opaque, cynical, despairing vision where the world (or whatever world the setting takes place in) is one millimeter away from total collapse.  The world of Batman is one where things can be darker, a world where civilization appeared to be crumbling with nary a hope of redemption.  In this case, Batman can be seen as a Sisyphus-type being: one who realizes that struggling against decay is absurd, but who in his struggle gains meaning.

Can we really have the same said for Star Trek?  Has Star Trek EVER been a series (in any of its incarnations) where despair and hopelessness reigned?

Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future was not dark at all.  In fact, it was wildly positive and optimistic.   Yes, there was the struggle between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, but within the Federation itself there was remarkable unity and cohesion.  Aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, you had a variety of races, sexes, and species working in tandem where their differences were never thought of, remarked on, or especially relevant.

There was an Asian, an African-American, a Soviet, and a Vulcan aboard the Enterprise in the original series.  The casting of minorities and women in positions of authority and respect was forward thinking for the 1960s.  Let's remember that Star Trek was the first time an interracial couple kissed on television (although having seen clips of Plato's Stepchildren, I'd argue that Kirk and Uhura's lips never actually touched, but I leave that for another time).  Roddenberry had a passionate sense of hope for the future: why else would he have a character like Chekhov, unless he imagined that deténte would be far more reaching than it ultimately ended up being?

This is something to ponder: Roddenberry was so positive about the future he saw a time when the Cold War did not exist and someone from Mother Russia could work easily with someone from Iowa.  If I can stretch the analogy further, in Roddenberry's universe, enemies always eventually came together: The Next Generation had the Federation's greatest enemy, the Klingons, now serving with distinction aboard Federation Starships. 

Even the character of Spock is important to the original idea of Star Trek being a hopeful, optimistic series.  He was a child of Vulcan rationality and human emotion.  While the Vulcan side was the more dominant one, to where Spock generally recoiled from emotions and puzzled at the emotionalism of Dr. McCoy, Spock could be moved or motivated by those feelings inherited from his human mother.  His sacrifice in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan may have been logical, but his recognition that Jim Kirk was and shall always be his friend was thoroughly human.    

Now, however, Star Trek has apparently decided that the vision and idealism that Roddenberry brought to the project must be scuttled in the mistaken idea that the public no longer wants or believes that there is hope for the future.  The newest Star Trek film says it all just in the title:

Star Trek Into Darkness.

Into Darkness...Dark (Knight) Rises.  It has to be pretty obvious Abrams is going to imitate in some way Nolan.  Still, in their rush to capitalize on the success of Nolan's films I wonder if those currently in charge of the Star Trek franchise have lost what made Star Trek so beloved by so many.  I cannot imagine any previous Star Trek film even suggesting that it would give in to despair and make its universe one bordering on total hopelessness.  If one needs proof, allow me to give it to you.

The similarity between the posters for The Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek Into Darkness cannot be a mere coincidence.  Star Trek Into Darkness is deliberately echoing The Dark Knight Rises in its artwork, and it remains to be seen if it will echo it in its dystopian worldview.  If it does, it would be a terrible disservice to the legacy of Roddenberry, the Great Optimist.

It isn't just the Star Trek franchise that looks to The Dark Knight Trilogy for inspiration.  I'd argue it's almost every franchise now in existence. 

That scowl, that morose face...THIS is the new James Bond.  I joke that Skyfall should have been called The Dark Bond Rises because in so many ways Skyfall mirrors The Dark Knight, particularly in plot.

You've got the crazy devious supervillain (who even at one point dresses up like a policeman to gun down a top government official) you've got the deeply wounded emotionally protagonist (who is an orphan raised by a caretaker of a large estate), you've got an epic burning down of the childhood home...again and again I seriously wondered whether Neal Purvis, Robet Wade, and John Logan didn't just say, "Oh, let's just get The Dark Knight script, change some names and situations, and throw that at Crabby Craig".

I still remember a time when Bond was both a professional hitman and smooth ladies' man.  He enjoyed living.  This Bond of Craig's is so miserable, so psychologically damaged I really wouldn't want to be around him.  So far in his Bond films, there are two that I have no interest in watching again, even for guilty pleasure...and he's only made three Bond films.

My issue with the NuBond is that like the Nolan Batman films, Craig's Bond takes no joy in anything.  Even when he's in bed with a woman, it looks more like a chore than a pleasure, something he'd rather not do but that he has to get through. 

When James Bond doesn't get any pleasure out of bedding a bevy of beauties, we have a problem.

Now I am not only faced with a Dark Bond, a Dark Kirk, perhaps even a Dark Stark, but even worse, I might now have to deal with a Dark Superman.  That's right: the Last Son of Krypton himself, a being who above all else once stood for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, the greatest Immigrant Success Story, the Moses/Christ-like figure in comic book lore, may now in his latest film be a celebration of the despair within Kal-El's heart.  It is impossible to know whether or not Man of Steel will go The Dark Knight route, but so far the rather opaque trailers don't bode for him smiling. 

It's a curious thing that we've already gone down this more contemplative Superman route in Superman Returns.  How well did THAT go?

If anything, all these people, in their mad lemming-like rush to capture what pushed the Nolan Batman films to success critical and commercial, fail to learn that what works for Bruce Wayne may not work for everyone else.  Joss Whedon bucked the trend for a darker take with his comic book film, and what he got was a magnificent film.  The Avengers wasn't all sunshine and lollipops, but it also figured that our heroes weren't going to give in to the darkness.  There is a lot of light (metaphorical and literal) in The Avengers, and Whedon showed he could get a great comic-book film without copying what Christopher Nolan did. 

Yes, I may be one of the few critics who rail against this creeping darkness in all franchises be they comic-book based or science-fiction, but I figure that if we keep embracing this darkness, we will soon no longer appreciate the light. 

You'll find that life is still worthwhile/if you just smile...

And The Honoress Should Be: Part 9. Kennedy Center Honors Suggestions

Giving New Meaning to the Term
"YUCK It Up"...

In their eternal "wisdom", David Letterman, a man who hasn't made me laugh since Larry "Bud" Melman left us, has been decreed a Kennedy Center Honoree.  He might have been funny once, but now he's not.  Furthermore, given how President Obama won re-election in part due to the Republican Party's "War on Women", isn't there something disingenuous in celebrating a man who has shown nothing but contempt for both female comics AND female staff?  Perhaps that 'war' doesn't exist when it's your own supporters doing the fighting.

Then again, that's just me. 

Well, I decided to try to wrap up some of these lingering suggestions this Christmas season, when the Kennedy Center Honors are broadcast.  This year's, which include both the aforementioned Letterman and the defunct band Led Zeppelin, is the first I will be skipping in a long time.  Frankly, I don't think it's worth my time.  However, since I have a few more names to throw out (and have ignored), I figure, well, why not.

With that, here are more recommendations for Kennedy Center Honorees.

Vladimir Ashkenazy

Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a master of the piano for more than sixty years. A champion of music from his native Russia, Ashkenazy has risen to become a respected conductor as well as a sought-out pianist. 

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach has been dismissed as either old-fashioned or trite with his songs of love.  However, he has won Oscars (for Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid's Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head and Arthur's Theme) and earned a nomination for The Look of Love (from the original Casino Royale).

No matter how much people may say they don't like his smooth style, few people can really not go without knowing his other songs, such as Walk On By or  I Say A Little Prayer.  His influence is still going strong, and his songs are now standards in the popular culture.  Besides, it's true: What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love...

Frank Langella
Yes, I suppose many people saw Frank Langella as the romantic Dracula.  I however, never thought of him in such lush terms.  Instead, I saw Frank Langella as one of the best actors working despite not being a major star (or star at all).

Langella has made his mistakes (Masters of the Universe, Eddie, Cutthroat Island), but at least his stage work, along with some new work such as in Frost/Nixon and Robot & Frank, show him to be a much better actor than most of the parts he's played. 

Marian McPartland

A true jazz legend, Marian McPartland is perhaps the only surviving artist from the famous Great Day in Harlem photograph still with us.  At 94, her career as a premiere jazz pianist has been even more unusual given her proper British birth and training.  Still, her love for the American art-form ensures that future generations will turn to McPartland long after her actual piano-playing days have passed into history, especially if they were fortunate enough to hear her radio program Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz

Given her age, perhaps Marian McPartland should be given special consideration for next year's Kennedy Center Honors, unless the Spice Girls have renewed success.

Carlos Santana
OMG--could that actual HISPANIC?!  Since we know the Kennedy Center can't find any Hispanics worthy of recognition, I did manage to dig at least one up.

Carlos Santana's musicianship has been unrivaled for his career.  Still playing and influencing musicians old enough to be his grandchildren, Santana has had a long range of memorable songs.  He has blended rock with Latin music, creating a uniquely American sound (except to the Kennedy Center, which doesn't think Hispanics are actual people). 

I have one message to the Kennedy Center Honors Board...You've Got to Change Your Evil Ways.

Kiri Te Kanawa
I would imagine that the term "diva" would have been created for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa if it hadn't been around.

Te Kanawa's legendary voice has made her one of the great sopranos of our time. Dame Kiri has gained respect for the beauty and clarity of her opera performances.  She has also been a bridge between the grand European culture and that of her Maori heritage.

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson is not just a jazz legend but one of its great proponents in the popular culture.  While health issues have slowed her down, she still has a long record of recordings to back up her reputation as a great singer.

She also is someone who was a trailblazer, having her own eponymous television show in the 1960s when the civil rights movement (which she actively supported) still made something so commonplace today (an African-American woman on television) a rarity indeed.

Well, those are my suggestions for now.  Of course, given the Kennedy Center's penchant for more relevant choices for artists, I expect this person to follow David Letterman in terms of comedic genius...

Come now... didn't we all find Good Luck Chuck to be funnier than anything the Marx Brothers ever did?