One of my main creative idols and inspirations passed away last week. I’ve been reading and influenced by his words since I was old enough to read and watch movies critically. I felt a genuine sadness when I heard the news and wanted to briefly extrapolate here upon my earlier social media reaction to the loss of a professional hero whose talent and value as a person could not even be done justice by the pen of the prodigy himself.
When I was around 14 years old, I recall finding a book about movies in my grandparents’ house. As a burgeoning lover of all things movies, this was a score. The book was called The Great Movies, and judging by the picture, the author was a man who eerily resembled my grandmother, who in turn bore an uncanny resemblance to Bilbo Baggins. Double score! (God Bless them both.) Like my grandmother, the author had a benevolent face and the kind of eyes that emanated deep consciousness even through a glossy printed page. I realized I had read his witty words before, even if much of the writing’s mature complexity had somewhat eluded me, like laughing at a raunchy joke as a child because you know its funny, even though you don’t know what in fact ‘fellatio’ is. This was THAT MOVIE GUY! The famous film critic with an unnatural amount of thumbs to wave up and down. The author’s name was Roger Ebert, and he is a creative icon.
I found this book in the same house in which I grew up watching grainy VHS recordings of TMC classic movies presentations, and cult sci-fi flick marathons of the now defunct ‘Monster Vision’ hosted by Penn&Teller on TNT. I was entranced by Errol Flynn swashbuckling like a saucy fellow in Don Juan, dashing castaways protecting the women folk from giant crabs and pirates in Mysterious Island, and Fae Rae having an awkward but kind of kinky love affair with a giant ape in King Kong. These movies thrilled me and more importantly, they got me thinking. I recollect this, not to investigate where my conceptions of masculinity stem from (it’s all starting to make sense now…), but to frame the finding of this book in a context of an environment in which the imagination of films already flowed and just needed a tap to regulate and focus. In other words, my always critical mind started actively criticizing films as a hobby. Damn did I enjoy it.
I won’t attribute the entirety of my film fixation to Roger Ebert’s writing, not by any means. Movies are my natural passion. Roger Ebert, to me, was a paragon of everything movie watching entails: Viewing a movie with an open mind, an eager enthusiasm, and above all, a self awareness. That experience is so vital and exciting, and it’s an experience I feel many casual viewers lack and that’s a shame. ‘Critical’ get’s a bad rap… it does’t mean cynical. It’s OK to watch a movie critically, examining the why’s and what ifs of creative choices (source material and cinematic execution!) and still enjoy a movie. Rather then being work, unadulterated film criticism should enhance our appreciation for cinema and ignite healthy discourse and thought, not just about a film literally, but about the larger social concepts infused.
What is watching a movie if not a social experience? Even when alone, a viewer’s mind must interact with the story and the characters presented. When you like a movie you get a high, similar to basking in the stimulating company of friends. And there’s some movies you really have no desire to ever see again, just like that weird kid from high school who keeps poking you on Facebook. Unlike the real world where some interactions are unavoidable, YOU control your movie-watching fate, and according to your natural sense and inclinations, YOU control the experience. BUT you should always be open to new experiences and the movie opinions of your peers, only then will your cinematic ‘social circle’ grow. That is the job of a film critic: to enrich that movie circle for a viewer. As one aspiring to be such, I recognize that nobody did it better than Roger Ebert. Hell, it was his profession! And he was prolific.
Ostensibly, Roger Ebert was the man outside the movies looking in. But one could argue that no man embedded himself deeper in the culture of film. I did not always agree with his opinions on cinema (sometimes intensely) but I greatly admired his perspective… and that is indicative of this man’s talent as a critic, a writer, and a thinker. The great thing about Ebert’s criticism was that he understood that every review was relative, critiquing every film in it’s own context (A point he stresses here when called out by Gene Siskel for giving Full Metal Jacket a negative review- a review I happen to agree with!) Every film should absolutely be judged on its merits and should hopefully adhere to a basic standard of film making, but ALL OF THIS FRAMED in the context of a movie’s genre niche, intended audience, and whether or not a film succeeds in being what it was trying to be (among many other factors)! Of course The Tree of Life is a far better example of masterful film making, but I’d watch the no-hidden-agenda, pure entertainment value Fast Five over that monotonous film any day!
This was a concept of critique that Roger Ebert employed with unparalleled comprehension, to the eternal benefit of his readers and viewers. I witnessed and felt through his writing a great passion for movies and for any form of creativity… a creativity that echoes in myself, whose vastness I can only aspire to emulate. Above all Roger Ebert represented incomparable presence of mind tempered with a basic decency. In today’s world, such an outlook on one’s surroundings is increasingly rare. Very sad to know such a bright light has gone out. You are remembered Roger Ebert.
Tonight is the big night in the film world folks. It is a night of pageantry and tradition, creative recognition and self congratulation. A night in which the old cadre of Hollywood cool- Jack Nicholson, Dusty Hoffman and cronies brush shoulders with the young starlets and studs such as Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. A night in which Psy could theoretically (and probably) hook up with Selena Gomez at the Vanity Fair after party. Its the Oscars, the ultimate award show in the movie industry. Whether you love ‘em as the pinnacle of talent, celebrity, and glamour or loathe the ceremony as a self congratulatory farce, if you have more than a passing interest in movies you’ll probably want to watch ‘em, and if you want to be involved in the film industry in any capacity, it’s my contention that you need to watch them. So I want to get into more detail about these picks*, but to get them on record under the wire, without further ado, here are the Ewoksgetabadrap quick-pick Oscar predictions for 2013.**
*Picks divided into Should Win/Will win categories, to represent my personal choices for winners and those who will ultimately be propelled to victory by the combination of merit/politics.
**explanation for choices coming
Should Win: Silver Linings Playbook
Will Win: Argo
Should Win: David O Russell
Will Win: David O Russell
Should WIn: Daniel Day Lewis
Will Win: Daniel Day Lewis
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actor:
Should Win: Robert Deniro
Will WIn: Tommy Lee Jones
Best Supporting Actress:
Should Win: Sally Field
Will WIn: Anne Hathaway
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Should WIn: Silver Linings Playbook
Will Win: Argo
Best Original Screenplay:
Should Win: Django Unchained
Will Win: Django Unchained
Should Win: Skyfall
Will Win: Life of Pi
So let’s see if I have any idea what I’m talking about, or if I need to stick to amateur Sylvester Stallone impressions. Check back after the show. Enjoy the 2013 Oscars folks!
Come each year’s film award season, I make it a mission to see as many award nominated films as possible, whether the film itself is nominated, or the directing, production elements, or acting is the subject of particular praise. The Deep Blue Sea, a British, World War 2 period, romance/drama, garnered strong critical response, highlighted by the acting of Rachel Weiss. Weiss snagged a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as a bourgeois, unsatisfied housewife in post-war England, who has an extramarital affair with tragic consequences. The true tragedy is: Rachel Weiss is fantastic in this movie…but it doesn’t matter, because if you can get through this movie without falling asleep, you deserve a Golden Globe. The Deep Blue Sea is calmer then the water in my grandmother’s bathtub.
I’m a guy who prides himself on sitting through an entire movie, rewinding even if a single line of dialogue is missed. So I’m kind of a disappointed in myself that I only lasted about 50 minutes into this one, but it was tough. To paraphrase Samuel L’s Jules from Pulp Fiction, I tried Ringo, I tried real hard. It’s not that there’s anything egregiously bad about The Deep Blue Sea. At least a lack of quality or execution might have stimulated some feeling, even if disgust. No, in contrast to the internal restlessness and desire for release meant to be conveyed by the two romantic leads, The Deep Blue Sea’s methodology is calculated and deliberate. This of course reflects the emotionally constrained society represented, but does…everything…have…to be…SO…damn…deliberate?! The pacing of this movie makes William Shatner’s speech cadence seem like the ShamWow guy rapping a Twista song on methamphetamines. It’s execution is more deliberate then what I imagine Stephen Hawking’s foreplay to be like (what, you don’t imagine that?) Are you getting the message from my off-topic and probably offensive jokes?
If you enjoy countless stationary shots of pensive people looking out windows or smoking cigarettes, that last for minutes, then this movie is for you! Another cinematic technique incessantly employed is the fade: One static scene, smoldering with emotional repression, will slowly fade out to black… and fade into the next static scene, smoldering with a similar degree of emotional repression (key word is slowly, not smoldering). This repetitive utilization is jarring at first, until the viewer’s annoyance gives way to a drowsy complacency. One could say the ‘mise en scene’ is marvelous, but I found even the color scheme drab.
I believe in a film’s artistic integrity. I can enjoy the Fast Five’s and Bad Boys 2’s of the world as much as my fellow laymen, but I also get absorbed in Terrence Malick’s The New World. So it’s not like I can’t dig art films, or appreciate the mastery of the ‘less is more’ mentality. But there’s a reason 99% of the world first heard about this film at the Golden Globes, and maybe 1% of them bothered to seek it out afterward. Call it ponderous, laborious, or contemplative if you’re feeling kind: The Deep Blue Sea is boring, plain and simple. Get off your high horses critics! America just doesn’t want to see this stuff.
Of the 50 minutes I saw, Rachel Weiss truly sizzles as a repressed woman seeking stimulation in a muted society. Her lover, played by Tom Hiddleston- a fine actor of Thor fame, does what he can as well, but neither performance can turn the heat up enough to ignite a flame that saves the movie. The film opens with Rachel Weiss’s character Hester attempting suicide, and the audience spends the rest of the movie empathizing with her failed attempt, if only to avoid the drudgery ahead. Spurred by a critics pride, I mean to finish The Deep Blue Sea some day. Of course, I keep saying the same about going to the dentist. Guess which one I’ll do first? Take a swim in The Deep Blue Sea if you’re feeling resilient, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when your attention slowly… fades…
Sinister has some seriously scary stuff going on. After watching, I feel giddy- on edge, I feel loquacious, yet withdrawn, I feel fat, I feel frail… I feel pretty? Wait, NO! It’s clearly apparent that my mental state has been affected by the 2012 Halloween season’s best horror offering: Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke and some sort of pseudo-demon that may or may not be Michael Jackson (more on that in a minute). Snark aside, Sinister is clever when it’s subtle, and downright disturbing when it decides to kill all the lights and get dark.
An amalgamation of the classic haunted house story and a cinematic portrait of psychological obsession, Sinister is the story of a down-on-his luck, true-crime writer (Ethan Hawke), who moves his loyal (but weary) family into a house in which the previous family had been hung from a tree in the backyard (but hey, there’s central air!) Turns out dutiful dad Hawke ‘forgot’ to tell his family about the past of their new home, and our protagonist writer has no idea what he’s gotten his family into when he finds a box of Super8 home movies in the attic. I won’t spoil the gruesome details, but I’ll say this much: On the disturbing found-footage scale, these flicks rank definitively higher than the Kelsey Grammer sex tape. As Hawke delves deeper, Sinister manages to successfully blend the macabre true crime intrigue of films such as Seven and Zodiac with the creeping supernatural scares of say, last years Insidious. Throw in the obligatory ‘BOO’ moments (don’t love em, but can’t really hate em) and Sinister is a more-then-competent horror movie with a captivating spin.
Inevitably, the sinister shit does hit the fan, and our flawed protagonist realizes as the audience does, that there is some sort of entity with serious issues causing all the chaos. And yea, it kind of looks like Michael Jackson. I don’t want to reveal too much, but a tall, pale, androgynous thing, who tip toes around like an evil Wham! backup dancer, luring kids to play with him forever? All that’s missing is a sparkly glove. Don’t get me wrong, whatever crimes the King of Pop allegedly committed, the entity in Sinister is 1000 times more… well, sinister. He/she/it is also spooky as hell. But, like many of its monstrous peers, it can seem silly when it gets too much exposure.
As much as I appreciate the supernatural elements, Sinister is at its best when it presents itself as a chronicle of one man’s obsession with the evil of horrific crimes, and the subsequent madness that results when a human being dwells in the dark for too long. As in life, reality is more frightening than fiction, and the process of psychological degeneration serves to scare the viewer more then any supernatural force for much of the movie. Generally speaking though, Sinister scares on all cylinders, and entertains adequately, even when the good elements revert to mediocre. It definitely leaves an impression. But I can’t help but think that impression would last longer if Sinister stripped itself of some spectacle, and relied more on it’s eerie, and scarily realistic renderings of the human soul’s susceptibility to evil.
Sure there’s the beloved staples… White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Muppet Christmas Carol, (yea, I said it). But just like eating at Panera, so often, that the soothing acoustic guitar music streaming from the speakers begins sounding like the frenetic orgasms of a Raffi-loving demon… eventually you need a change of pace. One can only sit through so many perennial renditions of TBS’s inane, 24-hour Christmas Story marathon, unless you actually enjoy that movie, in which case you deserve every fucking hour of it.
Still, sometimes one makes sacrifices for the good of Christmas; after all, you can’t very well watch Requiem for a Dream on Christ’s happy day (ex. Christmas 2006: “Sure, come over, we’ll watch this new movie I got. Bring some chicks, have a couple of laughs.”- Said I, who saw no laughter and never saw said chicks again.) This Christmas Eve, you might find yourself on that recliner with that glass of strong ‘nog… thinking about how much fun Mariah Carrey must be having at her holiday party, as she sings that one insipid Christmas song ad nauseum and Nick Cannon is forced to clap with his marionette hands, until Mariah puts him back in the cupboard (“All I want for Christmas is to stay here foreva with you Mariah!”) You might find yourself watching The Santa Clause for the 457th time and stripped of all sentiment, beginning to realize that the plot is some sort of terrifying tale of Talented Mr. Ripley type murder and stolen identity. You might even let Christmas dinner indigestion and complacency leave you watching that infernal Christmas Story marathon. That’s around the point, providing the gentle caress of the eggnog has prevented Christmas Story induced suicide, that you might think to yourself “I’m getting too old for this shit.” You’re yearning for something with an edge to take the adult yuletide edge off. Alas, old habits die hard… (See where this is going yet?)
What are the alternatives? Only a cheerless cad would watch a non-seasonal movie on Christmas! Sure, you get a sentimental catharsis from Jimmy Stewart’s wonderful revelation as good as the next fella or female, but all due respect to Capra, sometimes you need a little action.
Could benevolence of spirit and good will towards fellow man have clouded your obvious inclinations? Could the remedy to your holiday movie doldrums lie in the almost cliche references not-so-subtly alluded to earlier? FEAR NOT! I have a seasonally appropriate, cinematic solution, and it involves explosions. Doubt me? Well I may not be one of the Three Wise Men, but middle-aged women find me soulful, and I watch a lot of Ancient Aliens, and armed with those credentials, I’m here to tell you that there is (TWO) bona fide Christmas classics under the ‘Action & Adventure’ tab on Netflix. Adding an abundance of movie-magic fueled fire to roast chestnuts by, just in time for the holidays: Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, genuine Christmas flicks.
Now before the purists and the Hallmark card devout get up in arms, and I wake up in a ditch to some Charlie Brown Christmas fanatic telling me to put the lotion in the basket, let me explain my (very sound, very hip, like, totally postmodern) reasoning. Both Die Hard and Lethal Weapon share common denominators of Christmas spirit, and should be considered Christmas movies for the following reasons:
1. DUH, they take place at Christmas!
I know this isn’t an “if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” defense, but honestly, IT MEANS ALOT! Both movies take place near or on Christmas, and that means decorations, trees, presents, music, mentions of Santa- the works. Bullets may be flying, but tis still the season to be jolly! Hell, both movies even open to the tune of Christmas songs. How can you not feel festive when Jingle Bell Rock foreshadows the plot? Honestly, what better setting for blockbuster action excess anyway, then Christmas and all the excess the commercial holiday entails?
2. Both movies have a holiday appropriate and heartwarming message.
Seriously, who doesn’t get teary eyed when Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs feels the pain of a holiday alone without his wife, and contemplates eating a bullet? Who doesn’t get tingles when Bruce Willis’s battered John McLane limps away from the Nagasaki building with his family, after kicking some terrorist ass?
Die Hard is a film about a man doing whatever it takes to be with his family on Christmas. This includes: Running barefoot on glass, dropping terrorists like lumps of coal in a stocking, and making countless bad puns, just to keep the mood cheery. For real, this guy is like the Anti-Grinch (trademarking that shit)! GQ looking terrorists and laws of plausibility be damned, this man fights for his right to receive ugly XXXL sweaters from his Pep Pep on Christmas, with the rest of us.
Now Lethal Weapon has a very similar feel-good agenda beneath its facade of violence, but it’s message is slightly different. Lethal Weapon is the story of two partners, one with everything to lose (a well adjusted veteran with a loving family) and the other with nothing (an already troubled veteran who lost his wife). Its about inclusion of the outsider, Martin Riggs, into his partner, Lt. Murtaugh’s familial unit… inundating the isolated with the alien comforts of home and trust. Most of all, its about preserving familial bonds against all adversaries, whether it be 1 man’s loneliness, seasonal stress, or in this case, ex shadow-ops commandos who peddle heroin on the black-market. Can’t you just feel your heart getting all warm and gooey, like a warm oatmeal cookie left out for Santa?
These are movies with feeling folks, delivering messages with morals, just as poignant as A Christmas Carol or The Grinch who Stole Christmas. It’s Christmas parable done in high-octane 80’s style, complete with requisite bad hairstyles, only instead of Scrooge and the Grinch, we get equally flamboyant bad-guys named Hans Gruber and Mr. Joshua.
3. Mel Gibson would be SO psyched if he thought he made a Christmas movie.
This one’s kind of a joke, but if we can provide a little redemption for Mel Gibson, why not? Lets face it, that movie The Beaver was probably a documentary at this point, except instead of talking to a hand-puppet, crazy Mel’s only friend is a tube-sock named after Helen Hunt, whom he makes fervent love to (until the Helen-Hunt-Sock realizes Mel gave it herpes, and it divorces him for half his net worth). I know the guy is Public Enemy #1 these days, but tis the season of forgiveness. Think how jazzed Mel would be if he thought one of his movies was widely enjoyed as a heartwarming classic on Christ’s birthday! We all know how passionate Mel Gibson is about Christ.
4. They’re fun to watch! Alone… or better yet, with family.
This is what it really comes down to. What do you want to get out of Christmas? You want to be thrilled, you want to connect with something, and most of all, you want to feel: emotion, excitement, and a state of lightheartedness. What these movies provide is the catharsis of emotionally charged cinema AND the primal satisfaction of fistfights, explosions, and ‘my dicks bigger than yours’ contests… all in the name of Christmas!
These movies are perfect for solitary enjoyment on a ho-hum blustery night, but since most of us are with family on Christmas, for better or worse, why not make it a party? I’m not saying you have to get off that recliner, or lay off the eggnog (unless you’re alcoholic… then lay off the eggnog). Share the (insert festive beverage here) with Mom, Dad, Uncle Caligula, Cousin Coco, or even the homeless guy you invited for Christmas dinner, and make the case for why Lethal Weapon or Die Hard deserves an honored spot in the pantheon of your family’s Christmas movie tradition.
These aren’t films for the Christmas cynics. Those folks have Bad Santa. Just as one still appreciates Christmas after realizing Santa is bullshit, you can still get into the holiday spirit under the stress of student loans, and the realization that life doesn’t just fall into place like an episode of 90210. Maybe you’re a 23 year old creative type with Christmas blues and not much to do. Perhaps you’re a dude or dudette who loves Christmas, but just wishes it was a little rowdier. You might really be getting SO old for this shit, that you have to shit in a diaper again. Whatever the case, no one is ever too jaded, too pious, or too old to enjoy Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. Unlike the current testosterone production of Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, these seasonal action movies keep on giving. So repent from your Christmas Story marathon watching ways, and watch two Christmas movies with jingle balls and a lot of heart. Will it be a good Christmas? Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!
Funny Story: I’m in this movie! OK… so I couldn’t even fart in the same radius as the guy who plays Crazy Hobo #2, BUT, I was a bonafied extra in Ted. As one of several hundred concert attendees at a staged Norah Jones concert, I got to watch Wahlberg’s character John attempt to woo his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) back by singing (quite terribly) the theme song to Octopussy (Wahlberg did several takes, each laughably worse than the last!) Director Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy), said boo into a bullhorn, and by God did I boo my brains out! I think if you freeze a certain frame you can see my definitively gay fedora in the crowd (I’ll pause for your awe and admiration.) I even met and had a beer with Marky Mark himself, (It was a Michelob Ultra, us studs have to watch our weight!) but that’s a story for another post (coming soon?). ANYWAYS, my amazing film exploits aside, I had high hopes for this raunchy tale of a toilet-mouth Teddy who comes to life and together with Mark Wahlberg, proceeds to wreak humorous havoc throughout my home city of Boston. While Ted didn’t make me piss myself with laughter, he amused me enough to save his cuddly skin from my scathing wanna-be-critic’s typing finger.
Ted is the story of a perpetual man-child John Bennet and his best bud Ted, who both make your 34 year old - garage dwelling - Thunder Cats enthusiast friend Booger seem productive, and who together, take the Bro Code to unhealthy levels of slackerdom, except John is a 35 year old man, and Ted is a stuffed bear who magically came alive to eternally hang out with outcast John as a child (lonely bro’s everywhere get their hopes up). The two best friends that anyone ever had enjoy beers, weed, an exhaustive penchant for Flash Gordon (its funny, but a bit overkill), and plenty of crude banter that makes Family Guy look like Pixar’s latest film. The only real drama stems from John’s girlfriend Lori disapproving of her BF and Ted’s lifestyle… And the very talented Giovani Ribisi shows up as a creepy fan who wants Ted for himself in a side plot that is a hoot, but feels more of an afterthought. Throw in some clever celebrity cameos, plenty of raunch, a hilarious scene in which John and Ted do cocaine with the guy who played Flash Gordon, and a gleeful, nerd-approved narration by Patrick Stewart (ticket might be worth it just to hear Patrick Stewart describe beating up Jewish kids), and that’s basically Ted.
The laughs do come, and sometimes they hit big (ex. Ted mimicking Boston girls having an orgasm: “OHH THAT WAS GREAT, I NEED SOME PEPPERIDGE FARMS!”), but arguably the two best gags, (one in which a frightened Ted and John sing an R-Rated ‘Thunder Buddy’ song, the other, John attempts to guess Ted’s girlfriend’s white-trash name), were both spoiled in the trailers, in typical today fashion. Whereas I found 21 Jump Street to be a hilarious, must-see R-rated comedy, I found Ted to be an amusingly diverting romp with some edge, but one that won’t kill ya to wait for DVD. Still, first time director McFarlane imbues Ted with a refreshing bit of heart, even though his subject matter isn’t really deep at all (a skill he perfected on Family Guy), and that should give Ted some staying power.
But as Patrick Stewart ominously predicts in his voiceover, “whether you are Cory Feldman, Frankie Munez, Justin Bieber, or a talking Teddy Bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit.” Well, hopefully Justin Bieber gets thrown into the fire next time he’s eating fondu (“If I waz yo boyfriend I’d immolate myself!”). I think Corey Feldman was killed by a rabid Goonies fan at ComicCon2007, and I’m pretty sure Frankie Munez made me a stale Au Bon Pain sandwich the other day (I tipped him 7 cents). I don’t wish such a harsh fate for Ted, but I probably won’t hang with him again till he pops up on Netflix. Of course, judging by it’s box office haul, and the woman in the theater who was obnoxiously snorting at every joke (somebody get that broad some freakin’ Pepperidge Farms!), I could be wrong about the masses’ appreciation for Ted. And that wouldn’t be so bad, after all… I was in the movie!
Final Rating: (out of 4)
You love him or you hate him. If you’re of an age and disposition to watch the show Glee, chances are you’ve never heard of him at all. As a screenwriter and director he has created some of the most commercially successful and innovative films of the past 50 years (see Platoon, Wall Street, JFK, donate Alexander to Salvation Army). Many times criticized, he fearlessly attempts to translate his vision to his films, is a strong candidate for auteur theory, and one of my top 3 favorite directors. His name is Oliver Stone, and success or failure, he always creates a stir. Stone augments his filmography with this week’s Savages, a visceral, Californian crime-thriller that manages to make nihilism feel stimulating. Sure to polarize audiences per usual, and not without its problems, Savages is highly entertaining in a brutal way; an example of an old director who manages to make a film feel hip, whilst retaining his creative distinction.
Enough about the man behind the camera: Savages is an R-rated thriller worth your attention in this summer blockbuster season. The plot centers around two Orange County pot-dealers: a pacifist Ben (Aaron Johnson), an ex Navy Seal, Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and their shared and spoiled love, Laguna babe, O (Blake Lively). The three live a life that’s basically the embodiment of a Bret Michaels wet dream, drinking, surfing, sharing the love, and of course, growing weed. Ignoring the advice of a DEA agent with mercenary allegiance (dependable John Travolta), their MTV cribs version of Three’s Company is soon destroyed, when they fail to obey a ruthless Mexican cartel run by femme fatale Elena (a sadistically sharp Selma Hayeck), and her henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro). O is kidnapped at the mall (oh, the irony!) and her two men are forced to resort to increasingly violent measures to get her back, finally confronting the savage consequences that arise from their actions like a dangerous swell, crashing through their Orange County bubble. All bets are off when greed and desperation take control, and moral reservations are tossed into the ocean like relics of the past.
The acting is generally applaudable, with Johnson, Kitsch, Hayek, Travolta, and Del Toro turning in solid performances that keep the plot fluid (Del Toro is terrifyingly awesome to behold). If my synopsis sounds sarcastic, it might be a result of Blake Lively’s opening narration in which she spews off lines that sound like rejected Rhianna lyrics, intoning the cadence of Orson Welles, (after he ate about 5000 too many rib-eye steaks and drank his net worth in fluid ounces of Scotch). Blake Lively does this thing where she tries to mix being sultry with being ‘super serious’, and the perceived result is something that resembles constipation. I had a hard time taking her serious in The Town, and I still do, but there is something inherently sensual about Lively that translates on screen. Of course, the same could be said of a cucumber in the right scenario, but Lively at least infuses her character with an ‘I’m not supposed to be here’ attitude that lends itself to the story, and a bewildered beauty that a man could understand fighting for. That might not sound deep, but Savages is about the surface stuff: the satisfaction of selfish urges, and the surprisingly volatile reactions when such satisfaction is thwarted.
Savages reminds me of No Country for Old Men in that, once any shred of civility is removed from a situation, every immorality is possible. But where No Country bemoans this societal degeneration, Stone refreshingly resists the urge to get preachy. Savages simply portrays a lawless struggle, from the human perspective of those toiling within the madness. That is what makes Savages an effective film: by not casting judgment, Stone is able to have fun with dark material, employing humor, some experimental shots (just the right amount), a killer soundtrack, and a stunning use of color in its cinematography and production design, that endows Savages with a vibrance to counteract the ugliness, and match the kinetic energy. The violence is heavy, but feels topical (mirroring the current drug-cartel violence in Mexico), thus not gratuitous. I’m not crazy about the ending… but the ride is pretty bitchin’.
So what’s the message that Savages is trying to get across? Drugs are bad? Maybe. When a rich white girl gets kidnapped at the mall, everyone LOOSES THEIR MIND? Possibly. Savages calls attention to our societal apathy towards violence by embracing it. Visually engaging, emotionally thrilling, and morally ambivalent, Savages is content to simply tell a story, albeit not one fit for saints.
Final Rating: (out of 4)
I’m of the sometimes-scandalous opinion that if you can’t find something to watch on Netflix Instant Streaming that at least mildly captivates you, you either lack imagination, wit, or are hopelessly undetermined. That being said, is Netflix the authority on film catalogues or taste? Far freakin’ from it. Many favorite movies are sadly missing from Netflix’s online annals, and big budget hits are a selective minority. (Commercially well-known titles currently available, that this blog recommends, include: Thor, The Patriot, and Drive.) Despite the obvious blockbusters and enthralling TV shows available on Netflix Instant, a wealth of more obscure, merit-worthy movies, exist under the radar.
In this post, Ewoksgetabadrap will highlight 4 movies on Netflix Instant that deserve your attention. None of them are perfect by any means, and may not have been critically or commercially successful. But all possess an originality, a creative vision, or some filmmaking component that will work overtime to win you over. These 4 films represent a spectrum of different genres and couldn’t be more different. I dare say they will captivate you, and may even entertain, as they did for me.
I Melt with You (2011) Directed by Mark Pellington, Starring Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven
This one is a roman candle. The film equivalent of an Anthony Kiedis-like bender. Four college buddies reunite at a tropical destination and proceed to reconnect, relive glory days, and party like Lindsay Lohan at a bat mitzvah. All 4 men enjoy a reasonable level of success, but what starts as a joyfully hedonistic weekend, gradually deteriorates into an emotional mad house of violent consequences, as the quartet of friends bring forth the demons that are really haunting them. And thats kind of how I Melt With You proceeds as a movie.
The entire movie is beautifully shot, infused with an avant-garde visual flair by director Mark Pellington (Mothman Prophecies). I Melt With You bursts with energy and boasts strong performances from its four leads. But what starts as an intimately candid portrait of reunited friends, suddenly nose-dives its tone, from a rollicking good time, to a psychedelic nightmare. The narrative soon grows very dark, and the audience’s confusion mirrors the sporadic shake-up of the plot. Sure to polarize viewers, I Melt With You inspires intense reactions. I was very frustrated with many of the directing/editing choices and suffered from some whiplash like confusion, but that’s because I was 100% captivated. I Melt with You is an extreme creative commitment and its director and cast give it their all and then some (Thomas Jane is a warrior poet!) I have to admire such risk and energy put into a creative vision. I Melt with You says fuck it, I might melt to nothing, but I’m gonna burn hot.
District 13 (2004) Directed by Pierre Morel, Starring Cyril Raffelli, David Belle
From the director of Taken comes a ferociously kinetic action movie like very few you’ve seen before. Probably the most complete package of these 4 films, in terms of what it is, District 13 is a critically acclaimed parkour-action ride. It tells the story of a cop and a criminal, who must team up to stop a madman within the treacherous District 13, a walled off ghetto in dystopian Paris. Dialogue is wisely kept to a minimum, and the actors succeed by not overdoing it. Blitzkrieg paced, District 13 is really a showcase for the physical stunt practice parkour, and all the fight scenes are choreographed without the aid of special effects or CGI. For those of you who thought parkour was for d-bags who like to kick over trashcans, it is, but this is real parkour (star David Belle is the founder). The end result is a nonstop martial-arts hybrid, with epic fights, shootouts, car chases, and a flavor-inducing dystopian theme. Think Escape from New York without excessive gloom. Its like a Guy Ritchie produced, Wachowski penned flick for French fanboys of Hollywood bravado. If you like action movies with signature style, District 13 is a must-see.
A maelstrom of hype heralds Sir Ridley Scott’s return to his science fiction roots with Prometheus, a coyly independent prequel to his quintessential genre staple, Alien. Prometheus is a visual marvel, an intellectually stimulating thriller that blasted into the summer box office as if Lt. Ripley “blew it out of the god damn air lock!” (Aliens nerd fist bump to nobody). And so, the viewer asks, are you not entertained?! Entertained, yes, but… Despite an entrancing performance by Michael Fassbender as devious android David (DUDE, like stop, I can’t fight these man crush feelings), Prometheus is wrought with needless convolution and silly moments, thus falling short of keeping me entirely engrossed.
Don’t get me wrong. Prometheus is a much cooler movie than anything you might have seen lately. It’s beautifully shot, managing to blend the epic feeling of grand landscapes, with the eerie noir claustrophobia of Scott’s earlier work in the genre. Shot in 3D, Prometheus might be one of a handful of movies I’ll ever recommend seeing in the medium, as 3D fits the feel of this film. Either way, the end product is a seamless visual creation.
And as Prometheus may serve as an origin tale for Alien, its plot revolves around a futuristic expeditionary team searching for the origins of humanity on a distant planet. Method of transportation: High tech ship, Prometheus. Crew: Everyone’s favorite android David, an idealistic couple of scientists who seem foolishly unqualified to be on this mission (Noomi Rapace and an unlikeable Logan Marshall-Green), a seen-it-all sarcastic captain (Idris Elba), and a high-strung corporate overseer who apparently left her Midol pills on Earth (Charlize Theron). Mission: Following clues left on Earth in the distant past, find the alien architects of humanity, to answer the question, why? Obviously, ‘why,’ is one loose question. The answers follow suit, with the plot often forcing viewers to ask why, why aren’t you answering my questions?! The Prometheus crew does indeed find remnants of the mysterious architect civilization, as well as some elite alien tech, and a sinister organic substance that can best me described as goop. Note to intrepid space explorers: don’t fuck with alien goop! A combination of naughty robot hijinks and human curiosity not only can kill the cat in this instance, it can transform it into… well I won’t spoil it for you, (plus I’m not sure myself)! Things just get more intriguing from there, as the crew of Prometheus learn that some things are best left undiscovered.
Generally, Prometheus operates with marvelous performance, balancing blockbuster action with provocative dialogue, broad entertainment with scary suspense. It has all the makings of an instant classic, but every time Prometheus is about to reach its destination of being an awesome movie, inconsistency rears it’s ugly head. Plot twists are introduced and never explained. A character will suffer a traumatic incident and then there is no more mention of it. Some of the crew will suddenly be attacked by a ferocious creature, and then appear calm and silent in the next scene, without so much as a “Hey, remember crewman Jones? Yeah, he just sprouted extra appendages and a realllly bad attitude and forcefully vomited acid into Crewman Barnes and Crewman Craig’s faces, before disemboweling them with a socket wrench. Just FYI.” And I’m just not buying that a group of specialists prepare 4 years for this expedition, and then do stuff as stupid as rushing, balls to the wall, into a potentially hostile environment, without so much as a “Lets be logical,” or a “hello, anybody there?”
Prometheus is at its best when it takes itself seriously. That’s not always the case with movies, but Ridley Scott specializes in presenting dark narratives and characters, whose humanity is illuminated through the serious conditions they struggle to endure. My intuition is that Scott, feeling the pressure to satisfy contemporary audiences, gave into a few cheap gimmicks and cut a few corners in attempts to give Prometheus a faster pace and hipper edge. He should have just stayed true to his roots. That being said, Prometheus is cool, atmospheric, thought provoking, and one of the best movies this year. Theron’s character is the film equivalent of a hangover, but Noomi Rapace exudes a refreshingly feminine heroism, and Fassbender is riveting as a robot who is undeniably up to no good, but whose true nature is less black and white. Similar could be said for Prometheus: it may not deserve your admiration, but it does deserve respectful consideration. And if the film’s conclusion is any indication, Prometheus may have struck enough sparks for a whole span of sequels. That prospect is terrifying for so many reasons, yet too exciting to ignore. As David the robot says, “Big things have small beginnings.” Prometheus may have started a fire after all.
Final Rating: (out of 4)
Stumbled upon these on stumbleupon.com. Very cool hypothetical posters, imagining the cast, crew, and production design of popular movies today, as if they were made in Hollywood’s Golden Age. There’s a bunch more, but these three intrigue me the most. Who wouldn’t want to see Shatner win the hearts of the Naavi people with.. his.. undeniable.. oratory.. skills. He’s already bedded green women, time to conquer the blue. And The Hangover setup looks priceless. Check out the rest here.
You’ve seen that scene in Deer Hunter. You winced for Daniel Craig’s beleaguered balls in Casino Royale. You grieved for the destruction of Leo DiCaprio’s perfectly manicured hands in Body of Lies. Well my friends, prepare your psyche and your stomachs for this…
Nah just kidding. Here’s a little student homage to those cringeworthy hostage scenes in our favorite movie thrillers. Made as a Final Directing Project for a senior directing class at Emerson College.
Shot on a Canon 60d, for a budget of just under $75.
Written and directed by Jon Hewett.
Starring John Cortese and myself, Alex Whitney.
Look out for these guys! Jon Hewett is gonna be editing Hollywood films someday, and John Cortese will be writing them and getting kicked out of the premier for drunken-disorderly conduct. Until then, here is the short “Hostage,” not meant to be taken too seriously, just a fun little effort from some film enthusiast students. So check it out, MOW MOW!!! (thats a Deer Hunter reference for all you Twilight Fans)
The cabin in the woods: a respite from the monotonous grind of reality, an incubator for lust and frivolity, a really creepy shack in the middle of nowhere where sinful young-folk go to die. To visit the cabin in the woods is the sociological equivalent of a colonoscopy, in which society rids itself of its more toxic and impure elements (said sinful young-folk), in a process that is often painful and always messy. Now don’t get me wrong, the next time Uncle Fester offers you his forebodingly quaint cabin in (insert ominous name here) Woods for the weekend, by all means, pack up your mom’s mini van with beer, coeds, and lube, and make a bender out of it. In 2012, its a lot cheaper than Vegas. But in terms of horror movies, the ‘cabin in the woods’ plot mechanism is more putrid than zombie flesh, so played out, that even fictional unsuspecting victims are self-aware enough to avoid its trappings. To employ this overused plot device in a contemporary horror movie is lazy enough, but to actually name the movie that? Thats just a whole new level of Hollywood uninspired! But in terms of producer Josh Whedon’s cheekily gory and blackly funny The Cabin in the Woods, that’s kind of the point…
The Cabin in the Woods isn’t a horror movie, well not just. Picture one of those Comedy Central Roasts, but instead of the Hoff, its the Horror movie genre in the hot-seat, and instead of Lisa Lampanelli spitting out derogatory one-liners, cult-favorite Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) tweaks the genre from the inside, making fun of the genre and all of it’s tired conventions by following them, until the viewer gets hit with the wild card. Its hard to get into Cabin’s plot without revealing spoilers, but the general synopsis is this: 5 stereotypical college students, the slut, the jock, the burnout, the diligent student, and the virginal girl, escape the bustle of collegiate life for a weekend vacation to a secluded cabin in the woods. From the moment the intrepid group of future-victims stop at a gas station and receive a cryptic warning from a hick who could make even Chris Hemsworth squeal like a piggy (WEEE WEEE!), the familiar trappings of a recycled horror plot are all in place. The hick snarls, spits tobacco, makes racist comments, and generally exudes that quirky ‘I could rape you at any moment’ charm,’ while issuing cryptic warnings to Hemsworth’s character and company. Hemsworth’s all like “Fuck you, I played Thor, lets go party,” So sin is ripe for the sinning and the pieces are set as the kids continue to the cabin and the creepy hick… calls his front office to let them know everything’s on schedule? Yup, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford infuse Cabin with needed character as head office honchos in a mysterious corporation that has an… investment, and (without spoiling much) substantial influence in the circumstance surrounding the cabin in the woods. They set the scene so to speak, planting all the horror essentials (sharp rusty objects, secret basements full of grim clues, undead summoning artifacts, a giant containment forcefield, the usual). These overseers go about their work day with absurdly humorous nonchalance, and observe with conveniently hidden cameras to make sure the Cabin is optimized for prolonged horror orgasm and that their student-loan encumbered stereotypes behave as expected (via hormone and pheromone dispensers that make the confident jock enhance his inner jerk and the promiscuous girl make Nelly Furtado go all Nelly Hot in Here, available at your local Home Depot). So what’s the deal? Do they do this just for kicks? Well maybe, as evidenced by an office betting pool as to how our naive protagonists will meet their end, but the final answer might be more complex than you think.
So what does this all amount to? Well, sluts get their comeuppance, virgins are terrified, Hemsworth exudes bravado, and the victims make stupid decisions… but the difference is, they acknowledge that they’re bad decisions, and every cliche enacted is accompanied by a wink and a reason what for, as it is all part of the master plan. The end result is a very self aware (though not as much as it thinks) horror/comedy, that draws courage and ironic wit from the exhausted film catalog of its predecessors, both embracing its origins and making its own mark on the genre. And when you think you’ve seen it all, you literally do see it all, as the movie culminates in an onslaught of Horror symbology, as if the collective unconscious of Hollywood’s horror genre ejaculated with disastrously entertaining results in the film’s climax… Just realized I’ve used a lot of sexual imagery in this review… Well hey, horror and sex go hand in hand my man, but thats a topic for another day, or, more poignantly, of the movie I just spent 3 paragraphs reviewing! Bottom Line: Cabin doesn’t redefine the genre, but it sure gives it a welcome kick in the ass! So don’t be afraid to spend a couple hours in the The Cabin in the Woods.
Final Rating: (out of 4)