Sunday, June 29, 2008

Be Kind, Check this Out

I don't know if BE KIND, REWIND was screwed over by the marketing department or if director Michael Gondry was making a point about the way we brand movies. What I do know is that a movie with Jack Black, Mos Def, and an extraordinarily wacky premise isn't supposed to turn out as a loving treatise on the importance of community.

Quick summary: Mos Def works in a video store where Jack Black (who becomes magnetized in a great scene involving ingenious camouflage) accidentally erases all of the videotapes. Because no one carries VHS anymore, they can't replace the tapes. So they do the only logical thing: they remake the movies themselves with an ancient camcorder and a process they term "Sweding." They begin with GHOSTBUSTERS and by the end, they have Sweded over 200 movies, including ROBOCOP, KING KONG, THE LION KING, and, DRIVING MISS DAISY. The community comes to like the Sweded films better than the originals and a phenomenon is born.

Everything about this film screams unconcerned about whether people actually come to see it. Jack Black, Mos Def, and all the rest treat the movie as a kind of love letter to both film and to community. They have the aura of artists who so truly love the material that they are doing this for free, and the result is an electric kind of chemistry that shouldn't work, but manages to defy all logic and does anyway. A movie that includes Jack Black's magnetized urine shouldn't be lovely and touching, but is.

Gondry, who also wrote the script, turns Hollywood stereotypes on their heads throughout the picture. When Danny Glover's video store (which only carries VHS) is on the brink of demolition by a developer, every other movie ever made would have portrayed the developer as a money-hungry Texan who has no sympathy for the people and culture he's displacing. Gondry treats the character as a sympathetic man who is truly trying to improve the quality of life of the people of Passaic. Mia Farrow's character, an old lady that is the impetus for their movie-making (she's the one that wanted to watch GHOSTBUSTERS) is a beautiful woman that cares selflessly for the young black men of the community.

Race, although always present in the film - the three main stars of the Sweded movies are white, black, and Hispanic - is never discussed directly, but wonderfully and hilariously shown in context, such as during the filming of DRIVING MISS DAISY where Jack Black is the Jessica Tandy character to Mos Def's Morgan Freeman. When Jack shows up in blackface to play Fats Waller - he figures he's the right man to play him since he too is fat, Danny Glover takes him outside gently to discuss the problem. We don't hear the reprimand, but we do see it in what may be the best scene of the movie.

BE KIND REWIND ends with a scene out of a Frank Capra film, a scene just short of sappy, but so lovely that both Janna and I had the beginnings of tears in our eyes. Overall, the movie is a paean to interconnectedness. It's a simple film with a small budget that is more than the sum of its parts. It's a sort of anti-HAPPENING for me. Rather than liking it less and less the more I think about it, I like and admire BE KIND REWIND more and more.

4 and a half magnetized drops of urine out of 5.

Friday, June 27, 2008


i'm not sure when latonya off and decided to fall for angelina jolie, but she did. and i let her. i've been way too busy over the years with linda hamilton and liv tyler to go mucking about with angelina jolie. still, because i love my wife, and because my wife has a big flaming girl-crush on mrs. pitt, we take in every angelina jolie flick that comes about.
but not anymore. after sitting through WANTED, my wife and i have one more thing in common: we're both ga-ga over this woman. i don't mean to be shallow here, but - to quote a better poet - "if she lived in france, she would be called le renard and she would hunted with only her cunning to protect her."
alright, alright, i didn't come here just to drool over angelina's tattoo work, and there's plenty of it in this film.
listen, people, honestly, this movie is absurd. it's ridiculous. it's totally over-the-top, completely unbelievable, and too far fetched even for what it hopes to accomplish. and it is worth every penny of the admission price.
in my book, WANTED is the definition of big summer blockbuster. dude, this flick has bullets curling around rooms, exploding sewer rats used as weapons, knife fights, fists fights, computer keyboard fights, brains exploding out of people foreheads and side of heads and back of heads in slow motion, and - some of the bossest scenes in the whole deal - cars flying over buses and into moving trains and even into position for fly-by assassinations. this film has everything that has ever happened in action movies crammed into one film.
and all this by angelina in high heels. could an action film be any better?
but the wife did not buy it. she was utterly disappointed and said it was just way too much. to which i replied, but, dear, way too much is exactly what we paid for! to which she replied, no, that's exactly what you paid for - i don't pay for pure dumb.
i give WANTED four and a half stillettos out of five. see this one on the big screen, people. and tell 'em the hamster sent you.

It's All (not) Happening

Eberto the Pirate says "Arr, there be spoilers ahead. These be dangerous waters. Mind your spinnakers!"

THE HAPPENING - A Tale of Trite Shite

"Class, welcome to Great Directing 101. This week, we're discussing the concept of denouement. Now who can tell me what denouement means? Steven? Marty? Wilder? Clint? Oh fine, Alfred."

(class groans, murmurs of "teacher's pet" abound)

"Professor Kubrick, it means the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot, as of a drama or novel."

"Good, good, Alfred. Now, let's discuss examples. M Night, can you give me an example of the proper use of denouement? M Night? Has anybody seen M Night? Dang it. This'll come back to bite him one day. Ok, let's move on. Joel, Ethan, can you give me an example?"


Oh, THE HAPPENING. How I wish thee had not been a bad movie. How I wish that you had lived up to thine wonderful opening scenes. Those bodies falling like raindrops,the calm of shoving a knitting needle through a jugular, the idyllic, foreboding images of nature. The first five minutes or so were excellent. Then Marky Mark opened his mouth and everything began to fall apart.

I wonder if Marky Mark was thrust upon M Night, or if M Night chose Marky Mark. Either way, it turned out bad. He simply can't carry a movie. He has one emotion - incredulity. Fortunately for him, it helped in some scenes - that was the required emotion. But incredulity can only carry you so far. The unfortunate part is that Jon Leguizamo was excellent, if wasted. His role is far too limited, as if M Night didn't want him stealing scenes from Marky Mark. Zooey Deschanel is wonderful, of course, and her bright blue eyes dominate the screen.

I do think, though, that THE HAPPENING could have survived Marky Mark. But the story is really the low point of the film, and not even Zooey's eyes can save that. It's almost as if M Night (who my boss at work calls "Midnight" as if the M stands for Mid) came up with the concept and figured that the kinks would just get worked out along the way - "An ending? Don't bother me with details!"

Here's the plot in a nutshell: People start committing suicide en masse, and no one knows why. Marky Mark, his wife Zooey, and their buddy's young daughter attempt to flee from New England to escape what's HAPPENING. They progress in smaller and smaller groups until they are alone and assured that they too, will die. (SPOILER) They don't. Everyone lives happily ever after. What was killing everybody? You guessed it, the plants. The plants are mad that people are mistreating the earth, so they start killing folks (actually, getting people to kill themselves). We find all of this out in a third act that lasts all of four minutes - very reminiscent of Speilberg's crappy WAR OF THE WORLDS. In fact, the whole of THE HAPPENING is reminiscent of WoTW. So much so that Stevie might want to check out some plagiarism lawyers.

Oh, M Night can still build suspense. There are some excellent, tense scenes. They effects are nice - a guy gets run over buy a riding lawnmower, etc. There's a really great scene involving three individual suicides with the same gun.

M Night's strength has always been that he's an excellent storyteller, but I'm afraid he's lost his mojo. The movie really feels like a student assignment - "Do a film about global warning. Make it a metaphor." 2 Marky Marks out of five.

(Sorry Kevin)


I’m going to say some things blatantly and simply here. I’m going to write more about myself than this film, because, honestly, I feel like my internal response to THE HAPPENING was more about me and all the filters this film had to pass through than about Mark Wahlberg’s slack acting or Zooey Deschanel’s mesmerizing blue eyes.

One time when I was in China I told God to go do Himself, only I didn’t say “do.” I told God I was done with Him and with being a Christian and with all those damn other Christians that just make a damn mess of everything. And, I swear to you – hand on the Holy Word: I heard God laugh. It was one of those, “you couldn’t be done with Me if you tried” kinda laughs. And then a few days after God laughed, I watched DOGMA with some friends and there at the end, when God walks out of the church and it’s Alanis Morisette, I nearly fell out. Tears and snot and dry-heaving swelled up later because, when I saw Alanis standing there as God, some light went on inside me that exposed all my ignorance about who God is and who I am and why God and I are so joined at the hip. And I realized right there that, more than anything in my life, I wanted to know God and I wanted God to know me. And now when people ask me why I stayed in China a second year when I only intended to be there one, the first thought in my head is, “because when I saw God wearing a skirt I knew I had a lot to learn about Him.”

Fast forward to a few weeks back. I walked into THE HAPPENING with all this expectation to be blown away a la UNBREAKABLE, or totally freaked like in SIGNS, or utterly delighted to the hilt as in THE LADY IN THE WATER – but none of that happened. And I can’t even get into a debate about the merits of Shamalyan’s film because, like that viewing of DOGMA, THE HAPPENING hit me at a place that was very deep and very secret and very dark, and when it hit that place, just like seeing Alanis walking out of that church, some light went on in my gut and I had this massive realization, as if for the first time in my life, that, “holy shit: the Kingdom of God is REALLY near.” I’m still not sure what to do with all that, but I came out of THE HAPPENING on my knees and with my hands covering my head. And that’s not a normal reaction to a film.

I believe this film can be a great deal louder than an environmental public service announcement. I believe this film, at least in my life, echoes John the Baptist’s words to repent, to get ready, to listen as the earth squeals with birth pangs and cries out for salvation. The rocks are crying. The trees are groaning. There is a need, in us and in the earth, to be ravished and rescued. There is a need to look one another in the eye, especially those closest to us, in our smallest circles, and confess and pronounce love and truth and preparation. And that’s a good word. That’s a hopeful word. That’s a word I want to hear from as many mouths as possible. And if my spirit desires to hear that word in a Summer blockbuster, even if that was not the intended message, I won’t argue. And if God wants to show up wearing a skirt, flopping over in a handstand, then I'm okay with that, too.

Just Going Across the Border for Some Pooteen

My girlfriend's neighbor is one of the true Renaissance men. Seriously, it's unfair that one person has so many talents that he can continuously exercise at will. David Wilmington is a good friend of mine in the grad program I'm in and enjoys a good beer, so this was the basis of our friendship--that, and he lives next door to the woman I love, so I started seeing him and his family as much as I saw Sarah. Aside from being a clear thinker, he plays soccer, the clarinet, taught high school literature, and writes screenplays for films. I'm not making this up.

I say all this to preface that this Saturday, in Waco, he's inaugurating the first segment of the Waco Film Festival, which will be me, him, and two of our friends in town sitting around and watching a lot of movies. David, being the true student of film among us, suggested comedy for the first round. He's thinking Woody Allen, Cary Grant...the subtle comedy of yesteryear. My contribution? Only because Jackass isn't worth watching after the first time, my selection is the movie that never stops being funny: Super Troopers.

The first time I saw this movie, it was started at 11 on a school night. I was skeptical. The premise is simple: Vermont state patrol cops who pull all kinds of silly shenanigans try to keep their station from getting shut down, while trying to thwart a drug smuggling ring. But like a good comedy, that's just the premise, an excuse to do other ridiculous things which shall not be named.

I could ruin the good parts, of which there are legion, but since I've posted the above clip, I'll limit my comments to that one part. The driver in the car is none other than Jim Gaffigan (HOT POCKETS), which makes this scene even more funny, that he's the straight man in the sketch. As the scene unfolds, the cops try to keep a straight face while acknowledging that saying meow ten times in two minutes is funny exactly because IT'S COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS. And therein lies the genius of the movie: pulling together elements that are totally juvenile into 'adult' situations and keeping a straight face.

There's some comedy with a sharper edge, satires that go for the dark underbelly. There are dramadeys, comedies with a serious tone. There are slapsticks, dry comedies, spoofs, and so forth. But the essence of comedy, as I see it, is blurring the line between the juvenile and the adult with a totally straight face. This is precisely where Will Farrell movies mostly drive me crazy, Old School and Stranger than Fiction excused. In Farrell's movies, you have this total buffoon being juvenile and having no idea that there's anything wrong with it. In Super Troopers, the juvenile behavior is done with a straight face and total internal logic, acknowledging that chugging syrup or chasing down pot smokers in costume is, of course, absurd, but that if you're going to have fun, you should try to do it in a way that doesn't tip your hand that anything at all out of the ordinary is going on. And in doing so, you communicate that there's a great deal in life that's inherently absurd that people take far too seriously.

Police hats
Roller skates
Waffle fries
Lapel pins
Marketing schemes

All Super Troopers does is tell us the obvious: that a lot of things in life are ridiculous already, and thus, the best way to undo them is to mock them with a straight face. And seriously: who hasn't wanted to pistol whip Farva?

Thursday, June 26, 2008


"It took centuries for us
to make them believe
we were only bad dreams.
We cannot give them reason to suspect.
Destroy them all."
- Head Vampire Dude -

Let’s just be honest here: something happened to vampires in the past twenty years. And I’m not sure if we should blame Anne Rice, Joss Whedon, or Keifer Sutherland for this (notice, I did not mention Wesley Snipes, I will not even dignify the tragic BLADE trilogy as a possible culprit), but somewhere along the way vampires became something other than a monstrous nightmare: they became a freaking social fetish. Vampires are no longer the blood-thirsty un-dead with a history of manslaughter predating the time of Christ. No, now vampires are sleek and sexy; black-leather clad pigmentationless trance clubbers; Hot Topic discount rack career day possibilities; batty fodder for bad internet poetry. Vampires have become practically human. And cute-human at that.

(Alright, alright. Before making myself out as some nail in the fun-coffin vampire purist, I should confess: I rather enjoyed Kate Beckinsale’s vampirism in UNDERWORLD. We all reserve our exceptions.)

But then, in our hour of darkest need, a savior arrives. The film 30 DAYS OF NIGHT may boast the distinction of single-handedly saving vampire lore. In this film adaptation of Steven Niles’ same-titled graphic novel, vampires strike a small town in Alaska at its weakest moment: the span of constant night in deep winter. Only in this story, the vampires are not cute, nor do they have much interest in rationing out their food supply. These vampires are old creatures from a far country, arriving on boat with a barely human guide to pave their way. They speak an ancient language and wear the evidence of their kills like bearded trophies soaking their jowls. They do not dance. They do not fly. They do not smoke designer cigarettes, swagger their hips when they walk, or wear Catholic schoolgirl skirts while flirting with their tongues. They do not entice their prey. They just hunt and descend – the way good vampires should.

I will add that 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is not for the WB’s average Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Violent and gruesome, both in visual and sound effects, this film leaves little to the imagination. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is literary, hungry and shockingly atypical of the modern horror genre. Pressing all its weight into storytelling and character exploration, this film reads more like a sickly twisted bedtime tale than merely the next horror film flavor-of-the-month. Leading roles by Josh Hartnett and Melissa George also allow the film to skip the bored genre antics that cause most vampires films to feel cartoony, rather than rich and echoing with ancient monster lore.

To put it bluntly: this film is the real deal. Scary. Dark. Bloody. Jugular in the places it hits. After two decades of playing goth-shop dress-up games, this film resurrects a lore that remains fortunately un-dead.


I have to confess that this blog wasn't my idea, but I like the idea none the less. In college, I looked to Mr. John Barber for many of my cues as to what movies I needed to see to supplement my transition into young adulthood. It was through Barber that I became acquainted with the miracles of John Hughes and countless others. Similarly, it was Kevin that convinced me that sometimes scary flicks are really worth watching and that Wes Anderson wasn't crazy. I've always been slightly behind the curve on the movie front, but given that I'm now the only one of this triad who's not married, maybe there's time yet to catch up.

Quick story: once I was watching a movie with John and Janna and Sam in the student center at OBU, following a large dinner of what I think were chicken wings with some crazy sauce on them. I don't remember what movie we were watching, because the chicken wings killed me halfway into the movie and I wound up throwing up in the bathroom during most of the flick. I think it was actually The Usual Suspects: I wouldn't find out for another six months how that thing actually ended.

So, here's to good exchanges, witty banter, and an excuse to watch movies that I wouldn't have any reason to otherwise.