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No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men published on

Knee-jerk reaction: I don’t get it. I’m trying to get it.

Mostly I’m mystified that this movie has gotten such uniform high praise. I would have taken it to be polarizing, at best, like A.I. — not everybody’s cuppa.

Gorgeous and inscrutable. Like Jake the Dog.

Enchanted

Enchanted published on 3 Comments on Enchanted

Quite good, actually. Rousing, catchy, memorable. Generally amusing and occasionally screamingly funny. The animation is face-meltingly beautiful, the singing is fantastic. As packed with superb performances as my car’s ashtray is with protein bar wrappers.

amy adams wistful
I can’t just *stop* being awesome

I would buy it on DVD, and I have, like, eight DVDs. The last one I bought for myself was, I think, Shaun of the Dead, but when your life’s great love gives you “Big Train” for your thirteen-month anniversary, there’s not much reason to hit the Best Buy.

So how am I able to reconcile my affection for this movie with the fact that I found it jaw-droppingly sexist?

I’m so glad you asked.

Amy Adams
How does she knoooow… if your movie’s anti-female?

I grasp that this is a happy-fun family film, geared especially to families with four- to eight-year-old girls who are into pink and ponies and the Disney princesses (Belle does one scene — one scene! — in that yellow dress and that’s all you take her for? What happened to her ponytail and BOOK?). It doesn’t have a message, it shouldn’t have a message, just chillax.

But nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of a discernible message, theme, or point from the writers, the story supplies one so eloquently stated that it could not be more explicit if all the characters had it printed on T-shirts:

Good girls get married. Everything else is secondary.

enchanted phone
If you really loved me you wouldn’t have a phone

Some other thesis statements:

  • You know who’s so five minutes ago? ROSA PARKS.

    And Marie Curie. Square dad Patrick Dempsey gets his six-year-old daughter a book on women in history for her birthday. Oh, dad, don’t you get it? Six-year-olds don’t want Rosa Parks; they want a Pretty Pretty Princess game. But you can’t just name-check Rosa Park and non-ironically dismiss her and not come back to it. No no no. The correct thing to do would be for the daughter to open the book later with renewed interest — perhaps share it with Princess Gisele to help explain what a heroic woman is like. Nope. Book never reappears. Pooh-pooh on Rosa Parks.

  • The more assertive a woman is, the more deserving she is of scorn

    Resident Big Bad is Susan Sarandon’s wicked queen (OK, and she totally kicks ass in this part. She alone is worth the cost of admission) is the powerfullest and evillest of them all. Unfortunately, Giselle fails to exhibit ANY critical thinking whatsoever, and Wicked Queen? Cause of death: hubris.

    enchanted face-off
    Now KISS!

    Plus, Wicked Queen’s death is an homage to Maleficent’s in Sleeping Beauty, so it’s a sin of omission that Giselle doesn’t get to give her the old dagger-in-the-heart. COME ON.

    A bossy black female bus driver gets treated to the indignity of a chipmunk in her big kinky hairdo — and some insulting low-angle shots designed to play up her weight. Serves you right for being bossy. And black!

    Career girl Nancy redeems her selfish, job-loving ways by giving boyfriend Patrick Dempsey permission to kiss another woman. She is rewarded with marriage, which she celebrates by throwing away her Blackberry. WHAT THE FRICK?! I’m married now, forget my job! It’s every girl’s dream! Wheeee!

  • Rape culture: double true

    Little Morgan advises Gisele, with complete sincerity, to “wear makeup, but not too much — because boys only want one thing.” Now, it’s up for debate what Gisele’s virtue is. Ostensibly she’s a free spirit, driven by nothing but her own deeply felt emotions. But I’d think a true free spirit would respond to Morgan’s advice by saying, “Forget the boys! I’ll do what I want!” — after which the two would exit the beauty salon in garish showgirl makeup, all smiles. But no.

  • A woman’s primary value is as a homemaker, object and consumer

    First day in a strange place, and Gisele cleans the house, sews a new dress, and cooks dinner. She’s the total package! Uncool girlfriend Nancy marvels at Patrick Dempsey’s clean house like an anthropologist on Mars. It’s so… wonderful! How could I ever live up to this standard?

    Regarding a woman’s looks being her highest virtue — Giselle reconciles a couple in the middle of a divorce by pointing out how “sparkly” the woman’s eyes are. The husband later cites this as the reason they get back together. Patrick Dempsey warns them not to be persuaded out of their divorce by a brief warm spell, and given how nasty this couple fights it’s hard not to agree with him — was their divorce really grounded in the fact that he forgot he liked her looks? How insulting is that to her? And to *him*?

    Oh — did I mention Morgan and Giselle were in a beauty shop? Their ultimate female bonding — far preferable to that with the uncool Nancy — consists of shopping with daddy’s credit card and getting their hair done. Ew.

    Role model to and beloved by Morgan, Gisele does a lot of cleaning, sewing, cooking, and getting prettied up. What she doesn’t do — ever — is problem-solving. Or reading. Or even simple deduction. She mostly just stumbles from circumstance to circumstance, waits for her prince and cries.

    All of the above makes her way cooler than Rosa Parks, or that big French lame-O Marie Curie. Radium? More like LAME-IUM!

    In the interest of full disclosure, there is a throwaway closing montage moment where we see Gisele in her new line of work. Can you guess what Gisele’s profession is? If cleaning as a profession is too depressing, and cooking too demanding, that leaves — you guessed it — fashion! Big pink plastic fashion! Gisele has her own line of clothing and a great big store in New York City. How fun/marketable/not-implausible!

Other random notes:

  • Wicked Queen’s character animation is lifted directly from Emperor’s New Groove‘s Yzma. But you know what’s wrong with too much Yzma? Not a damn thing.
  • But Wicked Queen can stop traffic and transform into a forty-foot flying dragon, but all it takes to stop her is Timothy Spall putting a sword up to her neck? There isn’t even someone behind her — she could just *step backward*.

    enchanted susan sarandon
    Abbey Road + Gozer = so good it makes me dizzy

  • Giselle approaches a black female stranger, touches her hair and comments on how beautiful it is. The exchange is super-uncomfortable. I mean, everyone knows white people are supposed to ask *permission* first!
  • Why would you have Idina Menzel in your musical and not let her sing?
  • James Marsters is officially underrated.

    James Marsters
    Nicest kids in town

A-a-a-and spent.

Live Free or Die Hard

Live Free or Die Hard published on 2 Comments on Live Free or Die Hard

Middling fare made worse
By one repellent combo:
“Ninja hooker bitch”

john mcclane
It was ironic! I was gloating over her death *ironically*!

Lavigne vs. Rubinoos

Lavigne vs. Rubinoos published on

AH HA HA HA HA.

Didja hear 70s pop band the Rubinoos are suing Avril Lavigne over similarities between their “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and her “Girlfriend”?

You should take a listen to their original.

Go because it’s a pleasant, dense power-pop song. Stay because Lavigne’s is so similar as to be a parody.

Now, I know with the skillion songs in the world at this point, and the narrow parameters of popular music, complaining that one song is like another is sort of like complaining how many movies have the plot of She’s All That (they got together on a dare! But then he really likes her! But then she found out it was a dare!) or the premise of Fight Club/Secret Window/Identity/Hide and Seek/American Haunting/Number 23 (person tormented by a mysterious stranger who is revealed to be… HIMSELF!)

And the popular music necessitates, nay THRIVES ON, borrowing and reinventing itself. That’s why we have jazz, Christmas albums, and the Great American Songbook.

But these two are ALIKE. A LOT.

Because “Ghostbusters” may be like “I Want a New Drug,” and “Caribbean Queen” may be like “Billie Jean,” but they’re at least different enough in lyrical content as to give it the flesh of a different song.

Enough of my opinion. Here’s the evidence. What do you think?

LYRICS

I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND

Hey (hey!) You (you!) I wanna be your boyfriend!
Trying to say I wanna be your number one
Hey (hey!) You (you!) I wanna be your boyfriend!
Gonna make you love me before I’m done

Sitting here so close, together
So far we’re just friends, but I’m wondering whether
I, am I just imagining
You, or do you really have a thing for me
Like I think I see when I see you smile
And the smile’s for me, I wanna tell you…

Late at night when I, when I can’t sleep
Picture in my mind, I see you and me
I, I’m telling you what I wanna be
You, you’re saying you’re in love with me
And oh, it feels so good in a dream
That I know in life it’s just got to be
I wanna tell you……

[Bridge:]
Gonna make you love me, yeah I’m
Gonna make you love me, yeah I’m
Gonna make you love me, before I’m done

(c) T.V.Dunbar
& J.W.Gangwer

GIRLFRIEND

Hey (hey!) You (you!) I don’t like your girlfriend!
No way! No way! I think you need a new one
Hey (hey!) You (you!) I could be your girlfriend

You’re so fine
I want you mine
You’re so delicious
I think about ya all the time
You’re so addictive
Don’t you know what I could do to make you feel alright?
Don’t pretend I think you know I’m damn precious
And Hell Yeah
I’m the motherfucking princess
I can tell you like me too and you know I’m right

[Bridge: Sounds more alike than the words indicate]
She’s like so whatever
And you could do so much better
I think we should get together now
And that’s what everyone’s talking about!

(c) I Have No Crappin’ Idea

Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix published on 4 Comments on Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix

JK Rowling
Like Anne Coulter with all the evil sucked out!

In brief:

  • Worthy.
  • In look and tone, like a Harry Potter Lord of the Rings. Very growed up. And I am not the sort of person who thinks visual effects are stunning, but these were totally teh hott. The black smoke vs. white smoke alone was like surface of the sun. Put together, like the overhead shot of the kids in the courtyard with all of Hogwarts looming next to them, this movie created (in my estimation) the closest, most completely realized version of Harry Potter’s book world.
  • Imelda Staunton as Professor Umbridge is like a circus peanut: Awful. But delicious.
  • But Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood rocked me sockless. I want more footage of her explaining things in a high calm voice as soon as possible.

    Luna Lovegood Evanna Lynch
    Nevermind… just foller around Emma Thompson, do what she does.

  • All the kids are growing up super attractive. Neville Longbottom’s massive pre-Goblet growth spurt is continuing nicely, evolving him into the slouching charisma of Nicolas Cage with the hair of Peter Gallagher.

    Dumbledore’s Army
    Knock knock.
    Who’s there?
    More attractive than you…

  • Thestrels thestrels thestrels make you nawww-shuss.
  • Good job of creating an arc and sticking to it. Minimal exposition. Forgotten (by me) faves like Kreacher breeze in and out leaving a light wake of their intended purpose without precipitating any monologues about who they are and what they’re doing.
  • Character-driven humor! Look! There it goes! Make a note!

    Harry Potter Hanna Barbera

    Makes it OK that we’re dressed like the Scooby gang.

  • Whedon moments! You know what I’m talking about. Like the little split-second reaction shots of Inara looking at Mal looking at Jayne looking at Keeley that remind you of the skillion years of backstory with which you’re intimately familiar. Like a fireside belly-rub of writerly affection. Who’s my good audience? Who’s my good little audience?
  • The dude who plays Mr. Weasley looks like a parent version of Martin Freeman. Review. Discuss.
  • Not enough Snape. No no no. Put additional Snape ‘tage with the Luna Lovegood immed pls kthx.

    Harry Potter Snape
    Can it ever be wrong to love?

Knocked Up – A Second Opinion

Knocked Up – A Second Opinion published on

1. As a married person, I resent the fact that Debbie’s big problem with her husband, which was treated as totally legitimate, was that he wanted some time to himself. I mean, lying about it, sure, that’s shitty, because as she said she also would like time to herself, but the fact that he couldn’t tell her about the fantasy baseball league because she’d yell at him? That is what we call controlling. Also, as a corollary to that one, Alison throws Ben out of the car because he won’t agree that this was douche-y of Pete. Weak.

2. If my significant other called me a “f***ing bitch”? When I was pregnant? In front of an office full of people? Not so much. That is not one of those times where the next time you see each other you smile sheepishly and say I didn’t mean it, no *I* didn’t mean it, I’m sorry, no *I’m* sorry. That is a time when you hire a lawyer.

3. I am not big on drugs. I do not take drugs, I am not interested in people who take drugs, I do not find it entertaining to watch people take drugs. A solid 70% of this movie involved people doing drugs, doing things as a result of drugs, or talking about drugs. Seriously, if you’re going to make a stoner movie, don’t make the central story about a pregnant woman.

4. Why the hell was Debbie’s big character arc about trying to get into a damn club? She is forty! She has two children! Surely there is something more interesting about her as a person than her sadness about getting older! And if she is taking that kind of time for herself, why is she whining about her husband taking time for himself? For fuck’s sake! [See #1.]

5. The nutso doctor in the birthing room did not add any funny. All he did was distract. Yes, I get that he is a tool for Ben to show he is committed and has changed, but did he have to be such a profound dick? He couldn’t have just said it’s too late for meds, we’re going to have to do it this way? He had to have personal psychological problems? What the hell was the point of that? What doctor who specialized in women giving birth would act that way? The whole time he was involved I kept thinking wow, what a poorly written character this guy is. My guess is that is not what they were going for.

Generally I just felt like the characters were inconsistent and all over the place. As much as this movie was supposed to be about a pregnant woman, the women in it were painfully undeveloped and unrealistic. Which is sad, considering Debbie was played by Apatow’s wife. You’d think she’d have given some input. Also, [Mr. Sara] was DYING for her to holler “FRAINCH TOAST” at some point and she did not.

Oh How I Hated Knocked Up

Oh How I Hated Knocked Up published on

No, no. No no no.

Knocked Up - Birthroom
Congratulations! It’s accidental misogyny

No, I didn’t think this was that funny. No, I didn’t like it as much as 40-Year-Old Virgin or A Mighty Wind or even Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. No, I don’t think I’d watch it again, except as a game where you drink when something implausible happens.

It’s a shame, cos all the acting is totally there. Katherine Heigl is just right for being way too hot for the part, all doe eyes and warm-blooded authenticity. Seth Rogen is just right despite playing his least likable character. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are just right, even if the former doesn’t get to say “Freench Toast” and the latter doesn’t get a room-trashing fit of pique. And half the script is really good. Which makes the other half look especially ungood.

Forgive the sexually explicit and way-too-detailed heckle that follows, but I feel a need to be honest and thorough, as this movie was not.

I had high hopes for Knocked Up. It was praised with high praise, strongly recommended, hotly buzzed, and possessed of 40-Year-Old Virgin‘s esteemed talent pool and my “Freaks & Geeks” crush on Seth Rogen.

Knocked Up - Oyfro
Shirt by Hollister. Oyfro by Gamgee

So why, like no-sugar-added ice cream, did Knocked Up leave such a bad taste in my mouth?

I blame a shotgun union of Freaks-n-Geeks verisimilitude with 40-Year-Old-Virgin suspension of disbelief. Apatow and Rogen notwithstanding, between the fantasy sequence and musical number 40YOV’s tone is more consistent with Anchorman or A Mighty Wind than the painful truths of FnG. Knocked Up tries to rejoin the hyper-real (f’rinstance, Rogen goes from being the least attractive guy in 40YOV’s man posse to the most attractive in KU’s) and ends up, like a Daniel Edwards’ sculpture, in a terribly unflattering straddle position.

When the man posse is on screen in KU, the Painful Truth Comedy abounds — simulating sex to celebrate a perceived booty call, fearing pubic hairs in the bathroom, acquiring pinkeye — and it is this movie’s saving grace. When the woman posse (did I say posse? There are two of them) is on screen, the narrative takes a turn for confusing Hollywood convenience.

It’s OK when Jane Lynch’s libidinous manager gets cartoony in 40YOV, because we aren’t asked to invest in her emotionally. But Leslie Mann’s brittle sister controls, snoops, and explains to Alison that you must tear down a man’s self-esteem in order to change him, yet Alison fears commitment because her sister’s marriage is troubled? Geesh. She should love watching people get out of miserable marriages. It’s better than Project Runway.

Knocked Up - Brittle
Honey, I think this coffee tastes brittle… Bitter! I meant bitter

But Katherine Heigl’s Alison exhibits so many weird, arbitrary, and unexplained behaviors that, looking back on it, I sort of worry about her.

  • She has a one-night-stand with a stranger — followed by breakfast at a restaurant! — and utterly forgets about it.
  • While we’re at it, Sis leaves her alone at a bar with that stranger, and Brother-In-Law sees that stranger leave the next morning. But when Alison brings up the one-night-stand with Sis a couple of months later, Sis is all like “Who?”
  • She misses her period — twice, if it’s been eight weeks — and chalks it up to not noticing because of stress. There are lots of reasons not to have your menstrual cycle as evidence of pregnancy. She could have a history of irregular periods. She could have a history of missing her period when she’s stressed out (that’s where I thought this conversation was going, but no). She could have had spotting. Instead of any of these plausible options, Apatow has her just flake. About whether she had a period at all. In the last two months. Weird.
  • She takes Ben along to all her OB/GYN appointments (weird), throws him out of the car en route to one (weirder) and has a screaming match with him in a doctor’s office (weirdest!). Dunno if I’ve mentioned, but characters screaming at each other is a BIG problem for me — the screaming-in-the-rain scene in Chasing Amy killed all my investment in the characters and my interest in the movie, and about the same thing happened here. Who does this? Who yells “f*** you” to each other? And why should I want them to be happy?
  • She doesn’t know what a “bloody show” is. Neither do I, but I never had a baby and bought five books about it and got all mad when my boyfriend didn’t read them. By the rules of this movie, Ben can’t know anything about childbirth that Alison doesn’t know. Alison can know what he’s talking about and still be impressed that he finally read his books, but Apatow has her be all like “huh?”

    This is so like the end of Reality Bites where you’re supposed to sympathize with bitter Ethan Hawke because Ben Stiller’s educated mensch suddenly doesn’t know what Hamlet is and gets all pissy about it. He would know what Hamlet is. Stop violating your internal logic.

    KO - Reality Bites
    Ow, my internal logic

    Furthermore, if you don’t know if your water broke, you probably don’t know if you had a “bloody show” either. Furthermore, if your contractions are seven minutes apart, it’s about hospital time. Furthermore, if your contractions are seven minutes apart after just a couple of hours of labor and it’s your first baby, you might be an alien from the planet Amazing.

I could get behind these weirdnesses if they were acknowledged by the script. But everyone in this movie seems to agree that Ben is lucky to be with Alison, she’s awesome, he sucks, he has to change to be good enough for her, she doesn’t have to change at all. It would be a better story if these people BOTH had to come to terms with each others pros and cons and human crappinesses. Even Cindy Sanders cut the cheese.

Instead, Alison is an entertainment reporter with covergirl looks, upperclass background, miraculous fertility and the ability to orgasm by penetration alone. Hell, I’d marry her.

A few small suggestions for transforming Alison’s screaming saint into a human being:

  • A Rival. A woman this extravagantly beautiful, successful and (at least outwardly) well-adjusted would have some beloved male friend or ex-boyfriend in her life willing to drop everything to marry her and raise her kid. In the most modest instance, this man would cross her mind. In the least modest instance, he would learn of her condition and wage a careful courtship. But considering Alison’s social circle extends only to her sister, maybe she first needs…
  • Some Friends. Why does Ben get *four* screwball friends, plus a semi-brother-in-law, and Alison gets nothing but a sister? Sure, there’s a wardrobe assistant and the guy in the tech booth, but these aren’t the kind of people you tell about your gas (a la Sex and the City) or your hemorrhoids (a la For Keeps?). The effect is to turn Alison into, like, a homeschooled kid kept insulated from the outside world (even her sister with two kids hasn’t explained to her that she’s probably going to want an epidural). Which brings me to…
  • Some Backstory. Maybe Alison lives with her sister and doesn’t have any local friends because she just moved to the area. At her age, it would make sense if she just graduated from college and moved out to LA. But WHOOPS that’s not it, because she bumps into three college friends outside the baby furniture store. Huh. So. I give up.
  • Some more conversation with Mom. Wow, Joanna Kerns looks great. I wonder what else she’s been doing? Whoops, the scene’s over… Telling my mom I was pregnant out of wedlock would be the end of civilization and a source of dread and nausea for a week prior, and I’m almost frickin’ thirty. It would have been nice to see how Alison approached it. At all.
  • An encounter with the discarded condom. Like the answer to “how did Alison miss her period and not know?” the answer to “how did Ben and Alison have unprotected sex?” is unsatisfactory to the point of offensive. On the list of preferable possibilities — a failed IUD. A condom put on backwards at first and then turned around. A condom broken and discarded with neither drunken party noticing.

    Knocked Up - IUD
    98% efficacy = Comedy Gold!

    It is an enormous oversight to me that in the morning Alison doesn’t discover Ben’s open but unused condom on the floor where we saw him drop it. Did he throw it away in the night? Did she not notice it wasn’t used? Sorry these are gross questions, kids, but a movie willing to show me a crowning baby head three times needed to answer these.

(For what it’s worth, what *doesn’t* bother me is, as the Slate complains, we don’t see Alison face the abortion question. I think we do. Her mother advises her to “get rid of it,” and when she sees the heartbeat on the ultrasound Alison bursts into tears. Later she tearfully tells Ben she’s keeping it, implying they’ve both considered the option that she wouldn’t. Abortion certainly isn’t treated as the non-option I had been led to believe it would be.)

While I’m slinging beefs:

  • Did Ben have to be SUCH a mook? Did he have to be completely unemployed? Completely dismissive of her job? Completely trying to profit from naked celebrities? He could be a regular guy, and Alison might still not want a second date, and the story would be credible. That doesn’t make her a bad person. Having a one-night-stand and utterly forgetting about it, maybe…
  • I could be wrong here, but my understanding is that, for women, sex with or without a condom feels about the same. I mean, in laboratory conditions we can pass the Pepsi challenge, but if we have reason to believe a condom’s in play then sensation is little evidence to contradict it. So my hackles went up a bit when Ben went on his “dick-skin condom” rant and Alison’s sole argument is “I was drunk.” But this is the same woman who always has sex with her bra on, whose only sexual advice is “harder, harder,” and who can approach orgasm when Muniched with no manual assistance, so I confess this is not a species I’m acquainted with.
  • I haven’t done the one-night-stand thing, so I could be way off here — but if I found out my sexual partner had not used a condom against my wishes I would want to throw up. Dinner table and everything. It felt grossly unfair that Ben comes across as the more affronted party in this revelation scene. Ew. Ew ew ew ew ew.

    KO - Squidgy Fees
    Oooooh I think I’m gonna barf

  • You know what’s awesome? When all Sis needs to come around to liking Ben is for him to swear at her and throw her out of the birth room without Alison’s input on the situation at all! Chicks love it when you yell at them! Wheee!
  • What chemical did the script secrete to make the scenes with Alan Tudyk (as Greg Kinnear) so unpleasant? Making Alan Tudyk unfunny is like scaling the Empire State Building — it’s physically possible, but extremely difficult, dangerous, and best left to professionals. But he’s got a Mighty-Wind intensity, which doesn’t work here, and is exaggerated by the FnG deadpan of Kristin Wiig, which does.

    It doesn’t help that the joke of the first scene — that they think Katherine Heigl’s Alison, of the long and cartilaginous throat, should lose twenty pounds — rings as hollow as the joke of the last — that deceiving your bosses will get you promoted. I got a bleak thrill out of seeing Alison in a cubicle toward the end of the second act — did it mean her cowardly refusal to tell HR of her obvious pregnancy had resulted in her demotion? that this movie reflects the professional world’s contempt for pregnant women and the entertainment world’s contempt for the bloated? — but Alison lives in the Hollywood part of this movie, so no.

  • Just as the “lose weight” joke fails because it’s treated as real and reasonable, the cameos by James Franco and Steve Carell cause discomfort for the same reason. It’s not funny when Franco gets pissed off at Alison’s sickness, because it feels like it’s supposed to be real. It’s not funny when Alison tells Steve Carell he’s “acting like an asshole,” because it feels like it’s supposed to be real. This isn’t the kind of feel-bad comedy I signed up for.

So.

Knocked Up not as good as Forty-Year-Old Virgin.

I have. A theory. About why a director’s second major movie tends not to be as good as the first.

On the first movie, the actors are more experienced than he is, and they’ll test him. They won’t wear the blue jacket unless it’s motivated by the character. They won’t cross to frame left unless it’s important to the narrative.

Bruce Campbell has a great story about Gene Hackman doing this with Sam Raimi on the set of “The Quick and the Dead.” And I’ve heard a couple of stories from NCSA-bred movies where the name actor arrives and production slows down because he challenges the director.

But that’s not a bad thing! Especially if you can be prepared for it. The best possibility is meeting and rehearsing with the name actor before production, so you can earn his trust and get on the same page about costume, props, performance, etc.

Often that’s not possible, because you only got your name actor at the last minute because he wasn’t offered a more profitable/prestigious gig and decided to throw you a bone. So you have to work these things out during production.

What challenging the director does is force him to understand his story, which is his only job. He should be able to tell you why you would wear the blue jacket, or at least start asking those kinds of questions himself. If your production can handle it, a “difficult” actor is well-worth his difficulty. Asking why the blue jacket is important is the difference between a valuable addition to your cast and a hired gun.

And then you get Gene Hackman in your cult western. Gene Hackman!

Knocked Up - Gene Hackman
IM IN UR MOVIE STEALIN UR SCENEZ

A-a-a-a-and spentitude.

Grindhouse

Grindhouse published on 2 Comments on Grindhouse

You have to see this movie.

In the theater. It is worth $7, although be warned you may want to see it again with friends who haven’t seen it already, because you’ll want to watch their faces as the movie BLOWS THEIR MINDS.

Grindhouse
You would make out with ALL OF US.

The technical achievement of “Children of Men” but with relatable characters and no CGI babies. The using-your-expectations-against-you of “Sixth Sense.” The terrible-things-dogpiling of “Babel” but with momentum and emotional payoff.

I’m gonna go on to Raleigh to see my people for Easter. See “Grindhouse” so we can talk about it.

_______________

Okay, I’m back. What can I say about this movie that doesn’t give its many merits away? I went in with no knowledge but the trailer, and that’s safe, because the trailer is such an inscrutable mess of actors and explosions that I couldn’t tell what was feature and what was faux trailer, making it perhaps the mathematical opposite of the trailer for, say, 1408, which looks interesting but I can tell you now that 1) I’m gonna spend the first twenty minutes waiting for them to get to room 1408, and 2) if it’s based on a Stephen King short story it’s going to have some good scares and then an annoying deus ex ending that makes me mock Johnny Depp forever.

Johnny Depp
The mysterious stranger tormenting me is… MYSE-E-E-ELF!

Anyway. Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror, the first feature, is like a zombie movie calculus problem, an origami crane, a dodecahedron, a New York strip — precise, effective, and lean. Every moment is either setup or payoff, and most of them pull double duty, like Cherry’s (Rose McGowan’s) expository exit from the go-go club that pays off line-by-line in the last act.

Rose McGowan
She has a gun. For a leg. People.

This is what Sin City was supposed to be, and maybe the gleeful melee of mess is what Sin City needed. Maybe 66% fewer on-camera castrations is what Sin City needed. Who can say.

The women are impossibly hot. I don’t know how. Something about the long shag hair and glimpses of skin and occasional jiggle is terribly effective, moreso than any straight-up nudity or sex or whatever in any movie I’ve seen in years. The Crazy Babysitter Twins alone were seared into my memory from the trailer. Even Fergie was burnin’. What is going on?

Fergie
Whatchagonnado with all that plas’?

Freddie Rodriguez is ridiculagood. Can’t think of real words to describe him. Every actor rises above the cliche that his (or her) character is [intentionally] based on by turning in an amplified but sincere performance. Heightened reality, not self-awareness.

I really don’t know how actors do this. The more I learn about acting (not for myself, for actual actors — don’t be scared) the more I’m baffled that anyone can act in a movie at all. I don’t know how you can be completely in character AND in the moment AND STILL hit your mark AND stay in frame AND keep your voice in the volume limits you did in rehearsal so the sound editor doesn’t get mad AND remember the last note the director gave you AND try not to break the prop wristwatch because art department doesn’t have another one.

I WOULD PASS OUT BEFORE LUNCH. It must take more focus and trust than Jake’s got butt-fluff — and as soon as I get video of me pulling out the gray clumps of hair he’s shedding you’ll see what I mean.


You love my butt fluff

The point is that, like The Sixth Sense, this movie uses your experience with previous movies. You know and accept certain tropes (hero has a dark past, dancer has a heart of gold, last refuge will catch fire) and explaining them wastes time.

The exposition in action movies tends to be so unrelated to events that we’d be just as happy without it. F’rinstance, it’s like how in most James Bond movies the action bits are black boxes. There’s one piece of input (the assassin just got on a speedboat) and one piece of output (the assassin got away… but left a clue!). What happens in the middle doesn’t affect any other part of the movie — there’s no character development, no momentum — plot, not story.

This is why Casino Royale was so damn fine — segueing into motivated action sequences that express character, and leaving James Bond with consequences for his actions — and in my opinion better than:

  • 1) The Departed (named for the departure it takes from both character and theme in the last ten minutes)
  • 2) Babel (where gritty realism [piss! gangrene! pubic hair!] meets fantastic contrivance [let’s wait here instead of taking the bus! let’s not go into shock! let’s pretend you’d even feel a needle piercing your bullet wound! let’s drink and drive! let’s evade border patrol! let’s have a firefight!])

    Babel
    let’s all SUFFER UNIMAGINABLY FOR THREE HOURS WITH NO CHARACTER ARCS!

Planet Terror is smart because it leverages what you know about movies to make itself leaner and more effective. I’d like to do that. Since watching The Village I still have a fantasy about writing a script that uses your tolerance for bad filmmaking against you — where foreshadowing is hidden in continuity errors, anachronisms, etc. Unfortunately, writing something that sophisticated is going to take talent and experience, so don’t let dinner get cold waitin’ on that one.

Okay. That was an awful lot of analysis with nothing to do with Planet Terror. I’m-a take that as evidence that it’s a thinking man’s zombie movie — maybe because you have to do some thinking to explain to suspicious acquaintances why they should come with you to see it while you sneak peeks at them during the parts that will make them yell.

Speaking of yelling.

Death Proof.

Kurt Russell
Don’t call it a comeback. I been here for years

I’ve cried at movies. I’ve laughed at movies. At Little Miss Sunshine I laughed, cried, then laughed ’til I cried, then laughed at how hard I was crying. I can still work up some water if I think about the last scene.

But at Death Proof I YELLED. I don’t want to get too into it because I don’t want to give anything away. But most of the sounds coming out of me were wild laughter and very loud yelling. My heart pounded. The movie kicked my butt. And I liked it.

It’s art to Planet Terror‘s craft, and a perfect complement. Tarantino uses what you know about Tarantino movies against you. You recognize his tropes, his self-references, his cameo, his underrated star, his endless dialogue, his self-indulgence. When we see Jungle Julia text-message in real time, it’s mostly a parody of the slow-build-to-nothing of seventies horror movies like The Wicker Man, and partly a parody of his own rambling verite approach to characters.

Edward Woodward
They can’t all be Breaker Morant

I thought it wouldn’t pay off. I thought I got one good movie out of this double-feature and one clunker.

I was hella hella hella wrong.

I see it as the ultimate meta-horror movie. Jaws preys on your fear of sharks, the ocean, what you can’t see, et cetera, et cetera. Death Proof preys on your fear of being stuck watching a crappy movie.

I was filled with dread. I thought, “Do I want to spend another hour with these characters? I’m kind of done with them.” My endocrine system didn’t care where the dread came from — and the dread multiplied the movie’s satisfaction of my desires.

Then… it did it again. And I was so excited I started yelling.

Then… it did it again. And I was so hella satisfied I nearly died of excitement.

Then… I had to think. About what it means if my loyalty isn’t to the most moral characters, but the most exciting ones.

Then… I had a series of cinematic and human questions after watching a zombie movie and a fast car movie that made me laugh, scream and yell. YOU CAN’T ASK FOR MORE THAN THAT.

And that is why I like Grindhouse more than Children of Men — which left me with no questions other than why a movie about the emotional necessity of babies didn’t use a real baby, or why they staged the reveal of a pregnant woman in a barn full of cows (OW THE SYMBOLISM), or why they diverged from the book by making women infertile, sidestepping questions of female power and the relationship between literal and figurative male impotence. BUT WHATEVS.

Clive Owen
Going from depressed to dead is not a character arc

A-a-a-and. Spent.

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