Friday, November 11, 2011

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop/Punching the Clown

Henry Phillips and Conan Obrien have quite a bit in common. They are both guitar strumming gingers, who’s desire to perform seems in direct opposition to the cerebral nature of their humor. But, whereas O’Brien was plucked from the obscurity of a writers room to become an unlikely icon, Henry Phillips wont likely enjoy that break through. His fiend and comedian, Doug Stanhope, described him to Marc Maron as one of the most interesting talented people who’s lack of confidence makes him immune to success. Perhaps “enjoy” is the wrong word to use in relation to success, since the documentary Conan Obrien Cant Stopreveals one of the late night greats to be so addicted to the limelight that one seriously worries what will happen to him if the current incarnation of his show doesn’t work out. Phillips documentary, Punching the Clown, could be spliced with Cant Stop as a Citizen Kane style epic, the story of a soft spoken decent man, who eventually finds himself consumed by his own ambition. Who could forget 2010, when Obrien’s loss of the The Tonight Show led to an out pouring of public support and the subsequent tour that Cant Stop documents. I caught the tour in Phoenix, and would have been hard pressed to believe that so much of the spectacle was coming from a place of anger. Sure, the guy lost his job, but he was never well suited for the corporate oversight The Tonight Show entailed. I assumed Obrien must have been secretly relived to be released back into the fringe. Apparently, he was really pissed. Can’t Stop shows the comic punching his staff, being a dick to his assistant ( but still being funny), and deeply resenting the amount of energy he was forced to split between his passion to perform and perfunctory meet and greets. Its obvious that Obrien would be happier if he’d stayed behind the scenes these past two decades, but gosh, then we wouldn’t have this. Phillips, on the other hand, can barely muster the effort to go onstage, joking that if people knew how little work he put in, he’d be seen as a genius. He’s soft spoken in a way Obrien probably was pre-Latenight. Punching the clown is a send up of LA’s inherent insincerity, and how ill fitted a comic like Phillips proves to be in a town where perception is everything. Phillips crashes with his brother in LA after a soul crushing road gig. His career begins to advance through a series of miscommunications but ultimately crashes when his buzz shifts from ‘rising comic’ to ‘blatant anti-Semite.” The joke is that every time something does go well for Phillips, it causes several more people’s lives to suck, like when a comment to an agent about bagels fucks up the morning of every underling in the office. Like Cant Stop, show biz is painted as a toxic environment in which no one has any control, and the best an artist can do is to keep moving. Unlike Wont Stop, I did not worry for Phillips well being after viewing Punching the Clown. Ultimately, his triumph is that he gets to keep playing dive bars in obscure locations. The message to take from these films seems to be that a comedian can’t win because, at the end of the day, he still has the brain of a comedian.

The Escapist (2008)

Far be it for me to speak on a director’s behalf, but as Rupert Wyatt directed the 2008 prison drama The Escapist, he must have been thinking “If only I could replace Brian Cox with a CGI monkey. Then I’d have a faucking movie.” Seriously, I can't be the only one who sees a resembance between these two.
Wyatt, of course, did go on the direct this years wildly successful Rise of the Planet of The Apes, and there is surely a you tube video to be made comparing the performances of The Escapist’s British cast and the apes of the latter film. Like Drive, this is film doesn’t concern itself with much back story, everything we need to know about the characters is communicated in body language and posturing (the Netflix synopsis even gets Cox’s motive for escape wrong, citing his daughter’s terminal illness, when in fact the one shred of back-story we receive is that she is a junkie). Without any dialogue, we understand through the spreading of his shoulders that Damian Lewis is the alpha of this particular prison, Brian Cox has a history and shit, and Dominic Cooper is gonna get raped. Stephen Makintosh, in particular, plays one of the more despicable baddies in recent memory, a man with seemingly no control of his limbs, but a strong inclination to literally mash his face into anyone he hopes to influence. I would speculate that his character had cerebral palsy, but he does rape Dominic Cooper, so probably not. The film invigorates its by the numbers escape lot but over laying the actual escape with the days leading up to it. For anyone curious as to how Wyatt, a Brit with only two directing credits, landed a big budget Hollywood franchise, this film is a fairly stellar calling card. Wyatt has made 2 great entertainments, and as of right now, he is the best working director of movies about contemplative, non verbal apes in cages.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Drive. Autistic?

It doesn't have to be said again but Drive is awesome, just so damn much so.
Most critics have noted that Ryan Goslings stoic, identity free performance is an omage to certain samurai and western archtypes, but I couldnt help but wonder, was his character just autistic?
Look at these clips.

Sure, his eyes are dreamy, but tis that bad ass cool, or borderline aspergers?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

E.T. Revisited

Scientist in ET: “ He’s got DNA! He’s got DNA!”
I hope that scientist lost her job after the events of the movie, because that’s a dumb fucking scientist.

What an innocent time must 1982 have been that such banter passed as substantial scientific know how.
On another note, someone once said intelligence was the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in one’s mind simulataneously, so that fact that I was thinking such snarky comments while sobbing uncontrobaly for the 45 minutes straight must make me pretty darned intelligent. And did I ever sob.
So I have two modes, sarcasm and emotional train wreck. I never knew I could do them both at once. Moving on.

I now feel I have a profound sense of E.T. The boy is without a father, he has been abandoned. He comes to understand the connection between life forces exists on such a level that to be separated with a loved one means to have to severe all emotional connections or that both bodies will die. The fact that thae loved one is dying because they are cut off from the increasingly distant life force of the tribe to which they belong makes it more devastating because Elliot is forced to realize that ET is both not him in their literal emotional fluidity, and also that ET can only live when incorporated into the emotional life force of his larger community, one that cannot coexist with Elliot’s world. The last plea for ET to stay is pathetic. Elliot essentially becomes an adult when he recognizes that he is dead inside emotionally.
Authortities always approach from up hill and remain faceless throughout, with the exception of Peter Coyote’s character, who its safe it assume is essentially an adult Elliot, a child of divorce who has been awaiting a visitor since he was 10 to replace the void in himself. The fact that the ragtag team of neighborhood kids embrace hills to effortlessly on their bikes is such a poetic usurping of authority that I goddamn near punched out my window when it came onscreen.
I hadn’t seen ET in ten years. I can’tremember how the 2002 theatircal release worked with the digital insertion of walkie talkies in place of the authorities guns at the most climactic moment. I don’t care to revisit it. Also, in post 9/11 silliness they dubbed the mother forbidding elliots brother from tricker treating as a “terrorist” with “hippy” even though that kills the joke that he simply puts on a bowler hat to change his costume from Middle Eastern terrorist to a hobo.
Also, I swear to god that Harrison Ford does the voideover of the teacher with an exaggerated monotone.
No one reads this blog right?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Its a debate for the ages, but in 1973 the central message from Death Wish must have seemed "Bruce Springsteen will rape and kill your family."
Those were innocent times.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I can't believe Zack Galfankis made his TV debut on The Late Show while Janeane Garfolo guest hosted during Letterman's heart thing. Seeing that the lead guest was Bob Oedenkirk, it makes me wonder what it would have been like for 90's "alternative" comedy to have a nightly televised showcase.
And I love the police tape around the desk. It's about the aesthetic motherfuckers! The aesthetic!

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Effortless Brilliance V. Humpday

A Slate article from a few years back noted the disparity between the movies people add to their Netflix cues and the ones that actually make it to their mailboxes. Overtime, people tend to compile a lengthy list of the movies they believe they should see while the guilty pleasures always seem to make it to the top of their list and get shipped. This creates a metaphorical void in the Netflix queue with the bottom of the list (with titles like Le Dolce Vita and Cries and Whispers) representing the sophisticated version of ourselves we wish to be, while the top of the list reflects the reality that, on average, people are pretty average (and like Caddyshack.)
When viewers are actually confronted with a title they feel they should see but have no desire to devote an evening too, that title tends to stay in their possession for an extended period. The Netflix customer will not come to admit that they have desire to choke down quality films that challenge and provoke them, and this is the reason that Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List stay out longer than any other titles in Netflix history. We are almost as likely to ship out as missionaries to the third world as to let those countries invade our home entertainment. Still, we cannot admit to being so shallow and unsophisticated, so we hold on to the disc, waiting for the day when a harrowing yet inspiring story of African and/or Jewish genocide seems more enticing than seeing Point Break for the umpteenth time. Not to say that Point Break isn’t harrowing and inspiring in its own right.

For six months My Person Brilliance has been the Hotel Rwanda I can no more watch than bear to send back unmolested. Yes, I am going to stick with that word choice. My brother, who spends most of his time in Alaska and the rest of it bored out his mind while he visits family, recently came to me after committing to the 2009 Mumblecore late one night. The next day, he was almost hostile that I had allowed him to commit to a film with “Absolutely no point to it.”
All I could say was “Yeah, I know. It Mumblecore.” As if the hipster genre of late were a problem we simply had to deal with nowadays, like the economy or global warming. My prediction is that mumblecore is about six months away from becoming a pejorative term, like hipster; something easily identifiable that no one will want to cop to. I’m saying this as someone who likes many of these films, but I don’t see much of a future for a subgenre that serves mainly to remind us why we prefer escapist fare to seeing real, inarticulate, meandering life represented on film. I’m amazed that I Can Do Bad All By Myself ended up being the title to a Tyler Perry film and not a Mumblecore opus, because that has been my response to most of these movies; I can be inarticulate and twenty something all by myself, why does this exist?
Watchiing Lynn Shelton’s two efforts as a director illustrates exactly how Mumblecore can make or break a movie. Her first film, My Effortless Brlliance (2008), is essentially a home movie that ruined 80 minutes of my brother’s life, whereas Humpday (2009) takes a concept (two straight friends agree to have sex on film) that would flounder as a broad comedy but works because the tension between the actors is so palpable.

In My Effortless Brilliance, Sean, an extremely effeminate, somewhat successful novelist, asks his college friend ,Dylan, to bring over Indian takeout. Upon delivering the food, Dylan announces that he thinks his friend is an asshole and leaves. A year later Sean arrives unannounced at his estranged friend’s rurally isolated home and then just stays there despite the fact that his friend clearly (and correctly) thinks he is still an asshole. That’s it. There’s some business about hunting a cougar and I half hoped the film would end in the highly unlikable cast’s violent mauling but the climax is actually the two men doing a crossword together and Sean driving off in his Prius. You can see why my brother was pissed.
The only feature on the DVD is a short making of documentary. There’s an heir of self satisfaction from all involved that they were improvising all of their dialogue and shooting the entire film for only a few thousand dollars (I’m guessing all of that went into catering) and far be it for me to tell these well adjusted arty types they shouldn’t be out there making naturalistic movies that capture the “real” moments of life, I just don’t know why the end result needed to be shared.
Humpday is another improvised story of an unwanted houseguest but avoids those meandering pitfalls by using actors who are actually skilled at improv and giving them situations that allow the scenes to unfold.

Andrew is a self styled Bohemian type who seems to have been couch surfing for years when he arrives at Ben’s home late one night. Ben is trying to make a child with his wife, Anna, and seems equally annoyed by Andrew’s presence and embarrassed that he didn’t do down a similar Bohemian road.
After a night if indulging in red wine and pot with some of Andrew’s earthy artist friends, someone brings up Boinkfest, a festival of homemade erotic films that Ben, in a drunken bid to win back some of the avante gardiness of his youth, declares he will enter with Andrew.
Two straight men agreeing to make a porn together. Played more broadly, this concept would just be a list of contrivances ( “We have to save the orphanage and gay porn is the only way!” or something) but in the context of Humpday it is totally believable that these two men could egg each other on to the day in question as a mode of getting back the artistic edge.
Some of the funniest moments come from Andrew’s dawning realization that, although he avoided Ben’s nine to five lifestyle, he really isn’t all that hip or progressive. At one point he is invited into threesome with two fairly attractive ladies, only to realize his sexual mores are not as advanced as he thought. My Effortless Brilliance would have had some momentum if Shelton had thought then to have a character whip out a dildo from time to time.
Although I’m usually annoyed when a film is about the creative process instead of the result of one, I liked that Humpday seemed like Lynn Shelton’s very entertaining answer to My Effortless Brilliance. Why do people go out and pursue these creative projects of no commercial and limited artistic value? Apparently because it’s the only way they can think to bond with their college friends. At least her end product is improving.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

6:13 PM.

All these Hollywood phonies....
I already miss Mo'Nique.

Friday, January 21, 2011

John Williams: Hack

The year was 2005 and my skills as a Lothario were at their peak. Due to my notoriety as a high level actor in local theater, I was often invited to parties, held right in people’s apartments, where other men and women in their early twenties consumed alcohol and tried to close the gap between two human souls and their genitals.
On one such evening I met a young honey who’s considerable rack was being groped by some gay dudes because that’s something that they like to do at parties. I corrected their technique and sent them on their way, breaking out everything in my charm repertoire to seal the deal with this aspiring opera singer.
We engaged in something I like to call Hep Talk, where I break out my knowledge of classic authors like Beverly Cleary until its clear that dry humping is underway. And did we ever - dry hump that is- we must have gone on for fifteen minutes until the party's hosts asked us to leave so they could go to bed/not be grossed out anymore.
Sadly, my swinging lifestyle was not to last. Once it became clear that I didn’t have the chops to be a college thespian, I quickly retreated into a state of boozy recluse and all but gave up on dry humping my was to infamy.
It was almost a whole year before I remembered something that opera singer had said that night that didn’t jive with my worldview. When I told her my favorite musicians included The Shins and John Williams she haughtily dismissed the world’s greatest composer as “Okay, but really derivative.”

I quickly sough out whether this could be true, and the truth was truer than I could deal with. According to this Slate article Mr. Wlliams, the plucker of our youthful heartstrings and pied piper of wonderment, actually is pretty derivative of Max Steiner, the first great composer of the talky era, who himself was sort of a hack asshole. Steiner “could emit late-19th-century music, redolent of Strauss and Mahler, by the kilo. Outside Skull Island, that plush orchestral sound would dominate film scores for the following decades: the Austro-German-Hollywood grand style epitomized by Steiner and another Austrian, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.”
I don’t know who any of those people are but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they probably ended up being Nazi war criminals.

Not knowing who else to turn to, I contacted the opera singer on something we used at the time called MySpace, to concede that, yes, maybe John Williams was “sort of derivative.”
She praised the accuracy of my research but pointed out that, since I had avoided her at every turn for the past year, she wanted nothing to do with me and she hoped I learned to treat people better.
This has nothing to do with the larger point. I’m just a sad person.
So who else has John Williams raided for a dose of whimsy?
The Two Gomers Run a Marathon podcast is way unfunny and light on information about running. This episode, however, cracked the JW scam wide open. About 11 minutes in, one of these Gomers beaks just how William’s scores are mere stand ins for the classical pieces from when music was just being invented. Home Alone is clearly evoking the Nutcracker throughout, stealing both key and meter for basically every sequence.

It turns out that George Lucas is fairly easygoing with licensing out the rights of Star Wars for theatrical productions. I learned from the Proudly Resents pod cast, that the Dark Room, a fifty seat theater in San Francisco, was granted permission to do stage shows of Star Wars, the only restriction being that none of the original music could be used. No matter, it turns out that audiences have little ability to decipher the original score from The Planets, the composition it clearly lifted.

Am I actually disillusioned that John Willliams is a fucking hack? Not really. While he was the first musician I ever doled out money for a cassette recording of when I was 12, I never presumed he was a great innovator. Just because the Superman theme make me feel like I imagine a coked up bull rider does God massages his temples, doesn’t mean that the source needs to be 100% original. If anything, it fills me with great hope that I could one day rip off a major talent lost to the ages. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself as I put the finishing touches on my new manuscript, War and Not War.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From the mind of Uwe Boll: Rampage

Perusing a Redbox machine recently, my unassuming brother inquired whether a film titled Darfur was worth seeing. Considering how many films completely miss a theatrical release in recent years, he was being perfectly reasonable to assume a film they had never heard of could be an under the radar gem. So he was a little shocked when I squelched “No, that’s a Uwe Boll film!” with a pitch and urgency usually reserved for “ No, don’t touch those rusty AIDS needles!”
Somehow I knew - simply by virtue of being directed by German doctor of literature/ super prolific director Uwe Boll- that the film Darfur had to be equally offensive to the actual events of Darfur. That I have never seen a Uwe Boll film is beside the fact. Since House of the Dead (2003), Boll has chruned out several films a year and earned a reputation as one of the all time great hacks. To be so hated for his lack of talent, in an era when plenty of schlock films are making it to DVD, is perhaps more impressive than actually making quality features would be. Boll should be easy to ignore as his films are only receive scant theatrical runs and yet in 8 short years he has captured the ire of the interweb as if his films were compulsory viewing in public schools. Something about Boll’s penchant for catching once A list actors in need of a quick pay check and inserting them into completely inappropriate rolls and his exploitation of a loop hole in the German tax code that funds all of his features have made into some sort of schlock filmmaker super villain.
And yet I have never seen a Uwe Boll film. Just by dumb luck, I managed to avoid the string of movies being touted as some of he worst ever made. Also, I’ve mostly only watched reruns of Made on MTV in the years that Boll has been making movies.
So when I saw that Rampage (2009) was streaming off of Netflix, I thought I would watch the first 10 minutes to see exactly how inept a filmmaker Boll actually is. 100 Minutes later the credits rolled and I did not know what to make of what I just saw.
Rampage does not have a brain in its schlock head. This I know. Yet it is deliriously stupid in a way that I could not aver my eyes from. Boll clearly hates his audience and creates a protagonist he probably thinks mirrors them and carries out their ultimate mean spirited fantasy.
Rampage is filmed in a cinema verite style that disguises it as a film of far greater nuance than it comes close to being. Our protagonist Bill Williamson (who’s Germanic mug is not so dissimilar from Boll) is working out in his room. I have to say that a character exercising almost always sucks me into a movie. As portrayed by Brendan Fletcher, Bill is about as douchey and aloof as they come, but I couldn’t stop wondering “What was he getting in shape for?” We learn that Bill is a college drop out who’s super-on-the-go parents think its time for him to get his own place. Bill is reticent.
Bill works at a garage where his boss wants him to abandon the van that is his pet project even though Bill has totally fixed, like, 3 cars that day!
The local barista doesn’t make Bill’s macchiato with enough foam even though he claims to make the best coffee in town. When he meets his only friend to discuss philosophy over fast food chicken, the counter girl ends up spilling soda all over his lap. It seems as if Bill is being pushed to the edge by societies demands and poor customer service.
Rampage really doesn’t deserve much more of a synopsis other than to say that Bill assembles a bullet proof suit , blows up the police station with the van he has been rigging with remote control, and goes around killing everyone he encounters for an hour or so. He then frames his philosopher friends for his killing spree/ bank robbery and fakes his suicide.
This is all filmed in a style similar to a Paul Greengrass film and I was actually surprised that Rampage had a fairly engaging visual style. But, oh boy, was this ever a contemptible movie.
I don’t know if Rampage would still be on my mind if I had not watched it the night before the Tucson shootings. In the past two weeks there has been a public discussion as to whether pundits and politicians are advocating the common man to take up arms and in the process fetishising a revolutionary motif to advance a fairly status quo political agenda. Despite it meandering and meaningless philosophical discuassion in the first act, Rampage does not even try to link its violence to any political movement. Here’s a list of what seemed to push the protagonist to the edge.
1. Parents wanting you to et your own place.
2. Boss telling you to do your job.
3. Asshole Baristas.
4. Fast food girl spilling your drink.

Boll seems to think that American’s (and yes, I’m going to assume he is targeting America) are motivated by no greater cause than inconvenience while at the same time giving those assholes the brainless entertainment they crave. Rampage basically plays out like Columbine if it had gone well for the shooters and I can now rightfully hate Uwe Boll like everyone else because he seems to think this is the hero an American audience will get behind. I don’t think I feel the need to go any further into the Boll oeuvre, but he did get me to watch 90 minutes more of this film than I had planned, so who’s the dupe?