Archives for the Month of May 2009 on Cereal Monogamist
Reviews: ALL! ABOUT! ACTION!
I am not the audience for this movie. I can complain about it until the day ends, but this movie is designed to hit particular, comic book-inspired notes that, to my ears, sound tinny and unpleasant. And that's nobody's fault; it's not inherently wrong. I just hated it.
The way the characters talk, for example. Almost every scene opens with a character monologuing their heart out, declaring their motivations aloud for no reason other than that the story wants to feel transferred directly from a panel in a comic to the screen. I found myself imagining these stupid lines in a bubble over the character’s head, and they fit that way, they made sense. It’s nothing personal, I just want dialogue that sounds like how people actually talk, not the expository snippets that tell a story in a comic.
What did sort of offend me about this movie was the emotional manipulation required to keep dragging Tobey Maguire (whatever his stupid alter ego was called) back into the fray. Example one: the elevated train sequence. One of the many “scared passenger” extras in this movie is a young, beautiful woman who is holding a baby. A baby wrapped in a blanket. Because nothing looks more vulnerable than a beautiful young woman holding a baby wrapped in a blanket. (Maybe if she’d had a kerchief on her head like a movie immigrant.) But there is no reality to this situation, OK? What woman gallivants around town holding her baby wrapped in a blanket? The kid would be in a stroller or in one of those backpacky things.
Example two: the building on fire sequence. Don’t ask me, first of all, why, exactly, this is Spider-Man’s responsibility, and not the responsibility of firefighters, who DO exist in the universe of the film but for some reason are unable to reach any crime scene until after all the shit’s already gone down. Also don’t ask me whether or not I think the firemen would later tell old Tobey, “You’re a hero!” because they wouldn't. I don’t speak from experience, of course, but I’m guessing that people who risk their necks on a regular, professional basis don’t take too kindly to amateurs, and that the more likely remark would’ve been along the lines of, “What the eff did you think you were doing?”
But worse, the whole “there’s a kid in there!” rescue sequence made no sense from beginning to end. First of all, the kid had parents—we see them, out on the street, huddled and scared—WHY THE HELL did those parents not get the kid out when THEY got out? I can conceive of no situation where the parents end up on the street and the kid is inside the burning building—IN THE CLOSET—that doesn’t immediately point to Child Protective Services. Don’t ask me to care about the parents of the kid, is what I’m saying, because if they had been doing their jobs, Tobey wouldn’t have “had” to do it for them. The problem is, this movie wants to draw explicit lines between hero and citizen, between good and evil, etc., which again, fits a comic book world, but which is just not a world I’m interested in seeing. There’s so much dramatic potential in questioning those roles—see Gone Baby Gone or The Dark Knight, for examples—and so I find these movies where everything fits into its little boxes just really disappointing.
I wouldn’t make such a big deal about it, but it was on the list, and some of the reviews I read afterwards really exulted over what a triumph this movie was (for example, Entertainment Weekly’s). And it made no sense to me.
A better movie than Spider-Man 2, because there was a little ambiguity involved, particularly with the question of whether or not the inventor (of the machines which would eventually rebel) should be killed. That’s all I’m talking about, Spider-Man! A little debate, a little ambiguity! It’s not hard! James Cameron can do it! The guy who said, “I’m the king of the world!”
This is one of the few list movies which Jeremy agreed to watch with me—and which, in fact, he already possessed on DVD. In keeping with the dictum that I’m allowed to watch the movies in whatever frame of mind I choose, I approached this one with a full glass of Jack and tea, and indulged myself in Arnold-themed ridicule throughout. With the accent and all, it’s just so much fun to attribute dialogue to him: “I ahm da tehrminehter; I cuhm fruhm da fewture wehring lehhther.” I know I had cleverer ones, incidentally, but I can’t remember any of them.
As for the movie itself, it was not as dumb as I thought, nor as good as it could have been. The narrative was a little looser than I liked. For example, the Robert Patrick liquefying-terminator-guy disappears for about half an hour while the movie is figuring out the whole Sarah Connors: ASSASSIN? thing. This guy is striding so purposefully every time we see him, giving the impression that he will not give up until all are dead; but when we don’t see him, it sheds some doubt on how dynamically he’s really searching. Personally, I picture him kicking back with an iced tea at some highway rest stop. Would it have been so difficult for Cameron to cut to a shot of Patrick, striding purposefully, once or twice during that 30 minute period? It would’ve built the tension and everything…
Also, the relationship between Arnold and the kid (Edward Furlong, later arrested for freeing some grocery store lobsters while in a drunken stupor). The way the kid was endlessly nattering on to this futuristic robot, about his childhood, about whatever was on his mind. It was a very awkward way to relate the history to the audience, and it just made the kid seem sad, like he needed a friend. Still, somebody clearly liked this “gruff accented giant” plus “talkative child” energy, because Arnold replicated it several times.
The movie did have potential, though. It didn’t really explore the technology versus humanity theme, but that hasn’t stopped scholars from doing it—want a link to “Making Cyborgs, Making Humans: Of Terminators and Blade Runners” from The Cybercultures Reader? (And by the way, isn’t academia AWESOME?) Another positive point, like I said above, is that the movie was not afraid to debate. To question what was right or wrong! All you need is a dollop, Hollywood. It’s like cayenne pepper. It goes far.
Incidentally, Jeremy went to see the fourth film in the series (the one in theaters right now) and found it only OK.
Reviews: Classic adventures
Mutiny on the Bounty
I watched these two on the same day; in fact, they were my first two official list efforts.
Stagecoach was not that bad, I guess, fast-paced and full of what in the 1930s passed for action. Sometimes when I watch these really old movies with great reputations, I discover that the story is unexpectedly clever or inventive, though I can’t say that was the case here; the story was fairly average. That could mean either that it was basically a vehicle for John Wayne (this movie was his breakout performance) or (and this is often the case with old movies, too) the movie had a hand in establishing the now-familiar theme. Anyway, it was entertaining enough for 90 minutes; if I was really bored, I might even watch it again.
I can’t say I paid a hell of a lot of attention to Mutiny on the Bounty. I like Charles Laughton, one of the ugliest actors to ever become a movie star, and I love Clark Gable, but, like George Clooney these days (and don’t think I’m the first person to make the Clooney-Gable connection; I’m so not) he’s playing to his strengths when he’s being witty and charming, as opposed to when he’s being Big Action Star or Serious Leading Man. And I really couldn’t tell which of those two this movie was asking him to be (or whether the movie even asked that question; old movies tend to be more generically ambiguous than those of today).
Mutiny on the Bounty was TCM’s Essentials feature, which means it was introduced by this season’s host, Alec Baldwin, and though I wanted to like it for Alec’s sake (he raved), I couldn’t seem to get a foothold in the story. They were on the ship, then they were on an island, then they were back on the ship, and I kept leaving the room to get my laundry (got about four loads done during this flick) and I couldn’t follow. Also, I was expecting some big action scene with swords and whatnot when the actual mutiny happened; I either missed that, or it did not happen. A closer watch would certainly have served me well here, but I can’t say I will prioritize that too highly in the future. Especially this summer when my movie-watching time is at a premium.
Saturday: My birthday
Jeremy decided to gift me with two experiences checked off my 30 by 30 list! So thoughtful, that guy. In the afternoon, I went to a massage, which was wonderful, and afterward, we had dinner at Melt Bar and Grilled. I had the Godfather, basically ricotta, tomato sauce and spices between two huge pieces of garlic bread.
Yes, it is literally a lasagna sandwich. A carb, re-carbed.
We came home and, after some debate, chose Spider-Man 2 (a list movie) for the evening’s viewing. I’d seen parts of that movie, on TNT or whatever, always when Jeremy turned it on and I was reading or otherwise engaged in the same room. I’ve never sat down to watch it for its own merits, and now I can for sure state that I will never do so again. What a crap bag of a movie that is!
On the plus side, I visited SimpsonizeMe.com and Simpsonized Jeremy and myself.
Hee! Jeremy is blond Milhouse! I couldn’t get mine to look like me no matter what I did to it, but I’m posting it anyway because it’s a flattering non-resemblance.
Monday: Memorial Day
Jeremy made burgers and hot dogs on the grill and homemade fries, and we had s’mores for dessert; classic Memorial Day fare.
In other news, we have our new address now and I’ll be e-mailing it around to friends and family this week. Moving day is set for Sunday, May 31! It will be a relief.
30 Before 30
Today’s my birthday. I’ll wait while you offer me best wishes and congratulations. …Thanks!
Anyway, I’m 28 today, which is unbelievable to me. I’m still convinced that I’m in my early twenties, to the point of accidentally checking the wrong box sometimes on forms (20-25 or 25-30?). Also, a few weeks ago my mother made reference to something I did as a baby and I said, “That was 20 years ago…30. 30 years ago.” So the idea that I’m exactly two years away from the triple decade score is still kind of unfathomable.
Me being me, this rapidly approaching milestone prompted me to think about what I’ve accomplished, and what I haven’t. Though I know well enough that I’ve got plenty of good years ahead of me, I feel like I’ve reached a point where putting things off until the future is…at best, unnecessary. I’m a full-on grown-up these days, with the intelligence and the capability to accomplish (within reason) pretty much anything I desire to do.
In that spirit, I created this list of 30 things I hope to do before I hit the age of 30, on May 23, 2011.
And on a non-irate note...
I just discovered that my Summer Movie Watch website was still password-protected. It's been taken care of, and everybody's free to view it. Enjoy!
My daily outrage
Some group called the National Organization for Marriage produced this ad--I didn't read much about it, but just flew to my blog full of indignation, like The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy after a particularly bad episode of Xena--but from what I understand, it's meant to convince New Hampshire to vote against a gay marriage bill.
As people who know me know, I am a huge follower of award shows, and of “best of” lists. I love to see stuff ranked, and to see quality get celebrated (or even debated: I’ve argued with a good many people over the years about whether Shakespeare in Love should have bested Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture at the Oscars back in ’98). Award shows and “best of” lists are great guides for someone who wants to actively seek out movies with great reputations.
One of the best movie list-makers is the American Film Institute. They release a new list pretty much every year (they’ve done 100 Best Comedies, 100 Best Characters, etc.) and they have two 100 Best American Films lists, the original from 1998, and then a revision in 2007. The difference between the two lists is 23 films, some of which were movies that people thought had been overlooked, and some of which first appeared after 1998 (for example, Saving Private Ryan, mentioned above).
Entertainment Weekly also has a 100 Best list, but they do not compete with the AFI; the Entertainment Weekly list is “new classics,” all films originating in the 25 years between 1983 and 2008.
I am a notorious goal-setter and list-maker, and these kinds of lists indulge both of those attributes (or flaws, depending on how you run your life). So, the first in a series of goals I’ll be releasing out into cyberspace (check back on my birthday for more) is this: see 91 specific movies, the ones missing from those three lists, and thus become master of three “best of” lists.
Before I began the project, my record was as follows:
AFI 1998: seen 58, not seen 42
AFI 2007: seen 54, not seen 46
EW: seen 61, not seen 39
With overlap (Schindler’s List and Unforgiven are two movies I haven’t seen, which both appear on all three lists; some other movies appear on two) the number of movies I need to watch to lay waste to these lists is 91.
I created a website where I’m tracking my progress; I've linked it on the sidebar as well. I’m off to a pretty good start, having seen five new movies since my summer vacation began.
A Celebration of Dudes
Hey, did you know that there is a Lebowski Fest? It’s a two-day celebration based around worship of the Dude, the protagonist of the Coen brothers’ 1998 cult film, The Big Lebowski. Lebowski Fest involves a viewing of the film, followed by drinking, bands, and bowling. And probably more than a few controlled substances.
Apparently the Coen brothers based this character around a film producer they knew named Jeff Dowd, who attended a west coast Lebowski Fest a few years ago and wrote about it here.
This year’s LA-based fest (which transpired last weekend, although other fests occur through the summer) featured Dowd, the rug-pissing thugs, and little Larry of the mediocre history essay. (I could quote the line of dialogue most associated with Larry, but it’s insanely inappropriate in this forum. Google it if you are curious.)
Anyway, all this talk of Lebowski makes me happy, because I associate this movie with good things: Jeremy and I have a Lebowski tradition.
Despite the relative brevity of our relationship, we have moved together (by which I mean changed houses) a couple of times already. During the first move, from our separate abodes into a shared apartment back in Kalamazoo, we had a 12-week-old puppy to contend with, among other difficulties, and the move was a strenuous one. Our moving day goal was aimed as low as possible: just get all the crap out of the old places, and into the new one, and we’ll deal with it all in the morning.
In that mindset, after all the boxes had been piled high into our new shared living room, we decided to doctor up a couple of White Russians and put on The Big Lebowski, just to wind down. The 12-week-old puppy was uncharacteristically cooperative, falling asleep in Jeremy’s lap and not stirring for the entirety of the movie. It was, all in all, an enchanted experience, and a lovely way to begin our cohabitation.
And so our tradition now is, every time we move, we pack one box of immediate necessities, the bare minimum of things we need to make it through the night so that we can leave all the rest until the morning: that’s sheets, toilet paper, our cell phones, and the DVD of The Big Lebowski. It’s really a nice juxtaposition: a new start in a new house, celebrated with two guys (Walter and the Dude) who haven’t evolved since the 70s.
We’ll watch The Big Lebowski again May 31. I’ll let you all know how the tradition holds up.
Why am I watching this? 2nd edition
Today was Sunday; school is over. I haven't started any of my summer projects or found a job yet. So I had no problem sleeping in until noon today, or wasting the majority of the afternoon (and well on into evening) by watching a House marathon on USA.
First of all, I only watch House in syndicated form; the occasional weekend marathon, the two or three episodes that air on Friday nights--basically any time I'm looking for something to watch, anything, I'll watch House, but I have no interest in watching regularly.
The show is unapologetically formulaic. This is the kind of show where you say—“That’s not really the solution, though, because it’s only 9:25.” For every episode that subverts our expectations (and, to House’s credit, I’ve seen a couple) there’s sixteen that follow a precise template. First five minutes: average person engaging in some kind of average person activity, though occasionally the activity is less average. Next ten minutes, the doctors spar and verbally abuse each other, and declare conclusively that the patient’s problem is Simple Condition That Just Needs Simple Treatment X. About ten minutes later, the patient’s body rejects the treatment in a gross and/or explosive manner, such as expelling blood out the ears.
And so on, and so on, until five of ten, when the doctors discover that, in fact, the patient has some exotic disease brought on by some alarmingly common action, such as eating mildly spoiled food, or using over-the-counter antihistamines. Occasionally it will also be some genetic disorder that lay dormant in the patient’s system for thirty years before dramatically shutting down their kidneys and presenting misleadingly as a headache. This diagnosis may be accompanied with the discovery that the patient is adopted, or that the lawyer isn’t their father, the mailman is.
What really struck me today, though, is how misanthropic the show is--I mean, that's been the hook of the show all along, of course--but this marathon was particularly illuminating about how little the show thinks of women and mothers in particular. It took me a few episodes to understand the day's theme, but I eventually figured out that all episodes which heavily featured a mother character were chosen for the marathon without any consideration of how the mother character came off. This is why I was treated today to the episode where the domineering single mother needs to back off her control freak tendencies and learn that other people know better than she does (actually, there were two of those); the one with the woman whose brain told her to kill her baby (so she did, and then died herself as self-imposed punishment); and finally the one where babies—the need for babies, the desire for babies!—makes a woman completely irrational. I wonder if the network found the idea of a Mother’s Day marathon of a show that hates mothers funny, or if they just didn’t plan well. Anyway, Happy Mother's Day, everybody!
So what do I get out of this show? I like a few of the characters, Robert Sean Leonard's in particular. He's witty sometimes. He's cuter today than he was in Dead Poets Society in 1989, and also I love the classic movie posters in his office (Vertigo! I have that one! Touch of Evil! That's a good movie!). Hugh Laurie is pretty charismatic, although I don't know that's he really doing anything different anymore with the character, just hitting marks at this point and collecting paychecks. (Someone who watches more regularly or more closely can certainly refute me on this point.)
I think probably the show hits me on two fronts. First, there's the horror factor. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, and this show gives me all new diseases, conditions, contagions, carcinogens, etc. to fear. It's like watching the slasher flick where the guy sneaks up slowly with a knife in his hand: awful to consider, but fun to watch. Second, there's the formula factor. As much as I love a twisty narrative (see my How I Met Your Mother post from a few days ago for proof), when I'm kind of tired and disengaged I want to watch something predictable and easy. This show is a surefire way to pass that hour before Ocean's Eleven begins on TNT, or to put on in the background while I do today's Sudoku. And it's better than the other ubiquitous cable TV staple, which is Law and Order.
Which I also sometimes watch.
Tally of accomplishments, vol. 6
I had to postpone writing the Killers day-after review for a couple days because I had work left to be done. Of course. My grades were submitted around 3am early Friday morning, and I submitted my ABET assessment (it has to do with engineers; it’s boring; you don’t care about it) yesterday afternoon around 4. Since then, I’ve just been letting it all sink in. Case is done. Case is done until late August.
Except for studying for my MA exam. I’ll be doing that all summer. Shout out to Spenser’s The Fairie Queene! Yeah, man!
Anyway, now that I’m at my leisure...the Killers!
Just eight hours to go!
Tonight is the night we've been waiting for...the Killers are in town!
I've been seeking out reviews of their recent shows, looking for playlist information, etc. They played St. Louis on Monday night, with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch loving the show and the Riverfront Times finding it a bit cheesy and overblown. (But the RT columnist made fun of their lyrics which means she's not a fan in general.)
Last night, they played Columbus, and the Columbia Dispatch loved the show as well.
Also, I've looked into the opening act, Chairlift, and discovered that it's their song in this commercial:
I had assumed that was Feist singing, but apparently not. Anyway, awesome! That's a really cute song, and it's possible that tonight the opening act will be as enjoyable as the main attraction. Which never happens! I still get nightmares about that group that opened for Coldplay in '03.
How I Met Someone Who is Definitely Not Your Mother
Lots of debate going on about Monday’s episode of How I Met Your Mother, specifically about whether or not the show revealed the “mother” of the title. I’m here to say that it’s not true, they did not; on the contrary, the show executed a massive misdirection, a maneuver entirely in keeping with every other episode of this show, ever.
Cases in point:
The Pilot – How soon we forget. In the first episode of the show ostensibly all about how a guy named Ted pursued the mother of his future children, Ted meets a cool lady named Robin, takes her out, tells her he loves her on their first date, and steals a blue French horn from a restaurant to give to her as a gift. (Events did not necessarily occur in this order.) In the last few moments of the episode, Ted in voiceover reveals to his children the major twist of the show: “That’s how I met Aunt Robin.” Who is not the mother of the children. You’ll watch this episode again, and realize, like rewatching The Sixth Sense, that we were never explicitly told the information we were inferring. Of course Robin’s the mother—she’s a girl, she’s there, he’s pursuing her. Of course Bruce Willis is alive. People in movies are alive unless we are told otherwise.
Need more examples?
Why I will always love Ghostbusters
This may sound utterly ridiculous, but seeing Ghostbusters on the big screen last weekend has really prompted me to realize how terrific a movie that really is.
It’s a comedy, and a silly one, at that, which is an immediate disqualifier for some people. Not for me, of course, because smart-silly is my absolute favorite brand of comedy.
But let’s look at the facts:
The script is perfect. The narrative progresses perfectly, with a relatively slow build to the establishment of the ghost-busting business, the period of success with just small hints of obstacles to come (in the form of the EPA guy, the big supernatural event on the horizon) and then the grab bag of problems that hit them in the third act which they have to work through to reach the film’s resolution. And just when the audience is begging for a climactic moment, we get a giant marshmallow man stomping through the streets of New York City.
Speaking of which, this movie loves New York City. The film’s got sort of a gritty look to it, like they didn’t clean up the garbage in the streets before filming, and all the extras look like real people. Compare this to the New York of some glossy chick flick like The Devil Wears Prada—that’s a young, sleek, rich, clean New York and it’s not real. But when these guys battle with the mayor for the chance to be allowed to save the city, it’s truly affecting. This same theme cropped up—much more literally (supernaturally animated Statue of Liberty, anyone?)—in the sequel.
Also, the movie is sort of legitimately scary. I mean, I can remember watching this movie without any fear at the age of like, six. But in the theater I was really struck by how effectively ominous some moments are—like Ray and Winston talking about Judgment Day, and Egon describing the rituals that rendered the building possessed by spirits.
I also love that that backstory is so plausible—I mean, for what it is. The movie sets up only one “just go with it” conceit: ghosts are real. And everything else is completely logical within that conceit. OK, a worshipper of this ancient god built the building as a conductor of supernatural energy. A door between dimensions has been opened. They’ll reverse the streams, and send the energy flowing back where it came from. It sounds preposterous, but in this world that they’ve established, it all works!
And the way the characters talk to each other—they really sound like scholars, bouncing ideas off one another. They sound like people who know how to do research. They talk like scientists, weighing evidence and making logical conclusions.
“Ray—pretend for a minute that I don’t know anything about metallurgy, engineering, or physics.” “You never studied.”
Do you think any character in the average (for example) Adam Sandler movie even knows that there are such things as metallurgy, engineering, or physics?
Jeremy asked me at the end where on my “best movies of all time” list this movie falls. I said it had to be top five, at least. It’s just so, so good, and so, so funny—and the good serves the funny, and vice versa. Here's a 3.5 star review from Roger Ebert (circa 1984) which says some more about what separates this movie from the rest.
And I promise the next post will not be about Ghostbusters.
Tally of accomplishments, vol. 5
That's right, my Shakespeare paper finally got finished (except for some little editing things, like citations and stuff that I'm going to fix tomorrow) and I went ahead and celebrated that accomplishment thusly:
YES! I went to cult film night to see Ghostbusters, and it was incredible. An entire theater of people chanting along with Bill Murray as he says, "The flowers are STILL STANDING."
Here's that scene.
The theater was showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show tonight, too, so the lobby was full of Ghostbusters people and Rocky Horror people mingling (you could tell who was who because the Ghostbusters people had greasy hair and glasses, and the Rocky Horror people were wearing fishnets).
In addition to seeing the movie and the nine hours I spent finishing the Shakespeare paper (really), we also signed a lease this morning! We are the proud renters of the first floor of a house in Cleveland Heights! Such a full day. Incidentally, the house is right around the corner from my new favorite movie theater.
Tally of accomplishments, vol. 4
I just submitted my final essay for my theory course, essentially closing the book on that insanely difficult chapter of my education. This essay was no big thing, a final reflection where I basically got to muse about how hard and it was, and what, if anything, I learned. The reflection is for my professor, of course, so it's nicer than what I've written here about theory so far, but still accurate.
I don't have time right now for any kind of outlandish reward, so this has had to do:
I'm in my office right now, finishing up the final paper for my Shakespeare course--this one an honest-to-God seminar paper, with critical references and fresh ideas and whatnot and it's been a difficult slog. It's due via e-mail at midnight and it will be done. It will be done.
You'll have to wait until I finish the paper officially to see what my reward is; it's a doo-hoo-hoozy.
For anybody who's been following the narrative of "Erin struggles with theory" and is dying for resolution, here's the text of the reflection I handed in:
Final reflection (Word file)