Thursday, June 25, 2009

A HAMSTERIAN TRIBUTE TO THE KING OF POP: MY FRIEND, MICHAEL JACKSON


i was seven years old when i met michael jackson. it was 1984. at that age, i did not own my own music. my parents had bought me some disney records and a few bill gaither children's tapes; however, i always turned to chuck berry and elvis presley and buddy holly and alabama and linda ronstadt. even as a toddler, propped up on the arm rest between the front seats of my mother's 1977 thunderbird without a seatbelt, i preferred my parents' music. at the age of five, i stole my dad's SURVIVOR tape so i could listen to "eye of the tiger" on repeat. and i did. over and over, shadow boxing myself in the ring of my lamp-lit bedroom door rocky balboa style. prior to that, at age four, i climbed the countertops to blast eddie rabbit's "i love a rainy night," and i'd stand in the kitchen with my hips sprung out snapping my fingers like i'd seen elvis do on television. the pelvis-elvis was my default dance move from age four to seven. any time the groove caught me, i jutted out my tiny hip bones and stirred my left knee like a silver spoon in sweetened black coffee. and i meant every jagged swirl of it.

however, all that changed when stephanie white, my neighbor from two doors down, gave me two 45 vinyl records as a gift: "beat it" and "billie jean." why a nine year old girl would give a seven year old boy vinyl 45s on a whim is still a mystery to me. call it Divine Intervention. call it predestination. call it childhood puppy love (we did punch each other a lot). all i know is that those 45s burned out the motor in my fisher price record player, and i took the grooves in those vinyls down to a glossy photo finish before my eighth birthday. day and night, night and day, those 45s spun in my bedroom, while all my pelvising elvising flew out the window. in an all too brief time, my mother lost her sweet memphis baby for a motown strut machine. and i never looked back.

bryan stevenson was my best friend at the time. he spent the night at my house once a month. on one of his stays, we practiced moonwalking in my kitchen all night long. the linoleum floor tiles in my house offered too much grip, but we persevered, and we practiced, and we kept MTV burning in the living room in hopes that we could study michael once more before finally getting the moves down pristine. finally, our mutual desire to master breakdancing led bryan to buy posters with step-by-step breakdancing instructions. we watched BREAKIN' and BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO a dozen times; we even bought both film soundtracks with our allowances. nevertheless, on our sleepovers, when the still home became quiet, we conjured up "beat it" and practiced dancing on our toes.

the court cases and sexual allegations and molester jokes flared up nationwide towards the end of my chemotherapy treatments, right at the beginning of my recovery. cancer had led me on a downward spiral of baptist doctrine and prideful christianity. baldheaded and stuck to an IV pole, i made jokes about michael jackson and little boys, about michael jackson and plastic surgery, about michael jackson and the numerous urban legends that followed his fame and fortune. i claimed to still love the music, but i could not support the man. he was evil. he was perverse. he was sinful. i made jokes at the children's hospital in little rock, lauding about my big cross necklaces and christian t-shirts. the nurses grimaced and shook their heads. one nurse asked me what i thought about the way michael jackson cared for the sick, the way he built rooms in his movie theater for kids on chemotherapy, the way he invited the poor and disenfranchised to his ranch to ride roller coasters and pet exotic animals, the way he gave and gave and gave while i stood back and pointed fingers. i did not have much to say. i had never been taught what to say when my curses were challenged.

in college i read about vincent van gogh. he was a loon. he was crazy. he cut off his ear and killed himself in a field. he wore the ridicule of his community, not because of his art, but because of his eccentricities. he loved Jesus and desired to give Jesus' love to as many people as possible. van gogh wanted to love people, but any approach he made to people scared them, offended them, pushed them too hard and too far. once, vincent joined on with a batch of miners and walked beneath the earth in an effort to love them, to show them their worth, to communicate that Christ went further beneath the surfaces for their souls than even vincent could go. he was in the mines for only a brief time before he freaked the miners out and they turned him away. van gogh - the man who redefined the way we see the night sky and fields of blackbirds and sunflowers and dirty old boots, the man who anthropomorphized colors - was dangerous in human skin. as don maclean said in his song about van gogh, "this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

years have passed since my wayward baptist days, since that time when i was all too willing to parse-out ridicule and send the fanatic running from the mines. years have passed, and i have often been the one who merged towards aggressive affection and veered into relational awkwardness. loving people is a filthy fucking job, especially when love looked like so many desperate fucking things in your life. and i say all this to come to one point: i do not know michael jackson's dirty secrets, nor do i want to. what i do know is that michael jackson was a genius. singlehandedly, michael jackson redefined music, dance, fashion, the entire decade of the '80s. he was an icon, a hero, a god - and a man can only reach heights so high before he implodes. the king of pop? only because he did.

but that man was broken to a degree no one can understand. still, he loved people. he loved children. he loved life and himself and some unseen order of magic that no one could commune with except michael. and somewhere in all of that, michael jackson became the vincent van gogh who walked beneath the surfaces to love people. that much art and beauty and redefinition can only expand so far inside a man before it claims ownership of his other faculties. in the case of vincent and michael, it demanded their souls. and, for entertainment, we watched them dissolve with laughter on our lips.

i was at work tonight when i received the message from jesse robertson. it only seems fair. we were leaving our kansas city apartment together on the morning of september 13, 2003 when the news about johnny cash came over the radio. at the edge of the driveway, i stopped my car in front of jesse, climbed out, walked back to his window, and told him that cash was home. six years later and tonight, jesse told me about michael jackson. i think that makes us about even.

i am not sure why the lives of strangers affect me so deeply. i've never met michael jackson. i'm not sure how he would carry a conversation or approach my wife or speak to my mother. i'm not sure how he handles his children or how he takes his coffee or what name for god he uses when he means it. but tonight i feel a loss. i felt loss when kurt cobain, layne stanley, waylon jennings, johnny cash, and hunter s. thompson left us. their lives - and deaths - stirred something i did not know needed to be stirred, and i welcomed the oddly flavorless grief they brought to me.

michael jackson is no exception.

tonight i feel a loss. a darkness. an awkward void for something i never actually possessed. after all, the only gift michael jackson ever gave me was hour upon frustrating hour in my kitchen on unforgiving 1970s linoleum flooring, practicing a single mode of moving backwards. and he gave me two small 45 records that spun and spun and spun and spun and, eventually, spun me away from my parents' music into my own preferences. and he gave me speechless wonder at the sight of his dancing. he gave me songs. he gave me curiosity. he gave me a boundless sense of wonder. however, even though i cannot hold any of these things before anyone else, i do not feel that i need to.

i, also, am no exception.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Love Letter from a Fanboy

Sometimes classic films have to percolate a bit. You see it in the theater, you love it, it's a great movie, but it's not that big of a deal. Then, they start showing it on cable every day and you watch it over and over and it becomes a part of the culture (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is the perfect example). Then there's the classic movie that you see once and you just know. It's like love at first sight. You know that this one is a staple from now on. You're gonna buy it on DVD as soon as you can. You know this is one of those defining movies that you're going to recommend over and over - but only to a select group, because you know that not just anybody is going to like it like you do. It's a movie that resonates with some part of you - even if you're the only one in the room that feels that way. That's FANBOYS.

Remember my reaction to BENJAMIN BUTTON? Ok, turn that on its head and you get FANBOYS. If ever a movie was gush-worthy, I'm gonna gush about FANBOYS.

Quick plot summary. It's 1998 and four Star Wars geeks have waited their whole lives for a new Star Wars movie. They hatch a plan to break in to George Lucas' house in California to steal an early print of Episode 1. Hilarity ensues.

The more I think about FANBOYS, the more I realize that it's not a film for everyone. If you're not a dork like me, you might want to stay away. I mean, I'm sure you're a nice person, but you're just not going to get the jokes. You'll do that thing where you roll your eyes and say, "Um, yeah, it was... funny," just to placate me. And that's ok. This movie isn't for you anyway. There's tons of geek humor - note the fantastic convo between Linus and Bottler about whether it was weird or not for Luke and Leia to have kissed.

This is a road trip movie and a buddy movie. It's a teenage, John Hughes kind of movie with formulaic plot lines, which doesn't matter because that's not the point. There's a love story, but it involves Jay Baruchel, so it doesn't count. There's lots of wonderful cameos - I won't ruin them for you, except for one. Seth Rogen is so funny in FANBOYS that I can't stand it.

This is a movie that made me like watching movies. It never felt like work (again, BENJAMIN BUTTON). It's the movie that you pull out at midnight when your buddies are over and you need some laughs. It revels in its geekiness and lets the viewer know that it's ok that he still has his original Millenium Falcon. If you watch the little behind-the-scenes doc that's on the DVD, the cast and director say over and over that this movie is a love letter to Star Wars. And that's exactly what it is - a self-aware homage to something that we insensibly, irrationally love.

And so FANBOYS gets 5 insensible, irrational, loving Windows out of 5.
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A quick note about the anti-Trek sentiments in the movie. They are done in love - and if you can't poke a little bit of fun at the insanity of it all, then suck on your inhaler and move out of your parents' garage (or carriage house).


Monday, June 8, 2009

The Curious Case of Pretentiousness and Thievery


I've tried and tried to come up with some intelligent things to say about this film. I really have. We finished it a couple of days ago, and I've been thinking a lot about how to review it, but I'm having trouble. Fortunately, my lovely wife summed it up pretty well last night. I asked her if she had any further thoughts about the movie, and she said, "Not really. But I like it less and less the more I think about it."

Ladies and Gentlemen - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON! (Janna's quote was a little too late to make it on the poster)
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After doing reviews for THitPB for a while now, I've noticed a couple of things. It's easy to review great movies. It's also pretty easy to review really crummy movies. But movies like this... they're difficult. It's ok. Fair to middlin'. The easy way out is to do a list, and I'm all about doing this the easy way, so a list it is.

The Good Stuff
1. The special effects are stellar. The first twenty minutes or so are worth the price of admission alone, simply for the way the filmmakers create this little old man in a wheelchair, who also happens to be Brad Pitt. Really groundbreaking stuff.

2. Cate Blanchett is, as always, delightful. And Tilda Swinton's very good, too.

3. It's always nice to see Elias Koteas finding work.

4. Fincher's direction is gorgeous.

5. There's a pygmy in a monkey house.

The Bad Stuff
1. Character Development. There is none. Brad Pitt's character is the exact same guy the whole movie. Doesn't change a bit. Neither does anyone else, with the exception of Blanchett (but her development is largely off screen).

2. Hummingbirds? Really? That's supposed to be Best Picture stuff? Hummingbirds? Janna wrote a way better piece about hummingbirds.

3. I'm sure I'm not the first one to see this, but it's kinda the elephant in the room. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that screenwriter Eric Roth is a big fan of FORREST GUMP. Because the similarities between that movie and this one are striking. You've got a guy who is special in some way that alienates him from society. His life is told in episodic vignettes (using cutting edge technology to make it cooler). They both go to war. They both watch advice-dispensing Momma get old and die. Benjamin's tugboat looks remarkably like Forrest's shrimp boat (you know, for that matter, Captain Mike is very similar to Bubba - it's an accent thing). The desired female goes away to find herself in art (Jenny becomes a folk singer, with Daisy it's ballet). Desired Female comes back to seduce main character. There's a "learning to walk scene" in both movies - it's braces for Forrest and crutches for Benjamin. And dang it if there isn't a scene with a balloon that isn't just like the dang feather. It wouldn't be so bad, but I just didn't care about Benjamin. Not like I cared about Forrest.

4. What was the point of including Hurricane Katrina? Anyone?

5. You know what? The whole frame story thing - Julia Ormond, etc. is totally unnecessary. Coulda cut the run time by 30 minutes and not lost a thing. My good friend Misha Perkins Parker reminded me the other day of Strunk & White's indispensable rule for writers: Omit needless words. They should publish a style guide for filmmakers next and include "Omit needless subplots."

In conclusion, I'm probably harder on BENJAMIN BUTTON than is called for, but the movie asks a lot of the viewer, and doesn't give much back. I'm in agreement with the fabulous Janna - it gets worse the more I think about it. 2 wrinkly infants out of 5.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

GENIUS


this is the hardest i have ever laughed in the theater. and that's really all that needs to be said. 

i give THE HANGOVER 6 ill fated jager shots out of 5. and that zach galifianakis is my new hero. totally, totally, totally genius.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

YEAH, I DON'T REALLY KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE SERIES


the wife and i sat in the theater parking lot, eating carter burgers and sweet potato fries. she asked me questions about STAR TREK: the old films and the original shows. i know very little, but i know that i love ranch dressing on sweet potato fries. i also know that i'm three weeks and two posts late seeing the new film and that, surely, theaters will cut STAR TREK from the bryan-college station cinematic-quiver this thursday. so, there in the premiere 16 parking lot, alongside my bride, i ate my carter burger in peace and tranquility, knowing that i am here, i am hungry to learn and wear goosebumps, and though i know vulcan turds about the original "canon" (let janna laugh at me, too!), i'm still happier about this film than an unrepressed spock living long against uhura's prosperities. now, on with my thoughts.

overall, the general hamsterian consensus concerning the new STAR TREK is that, possibly more than any other film i viewed this year in theaters, i intensely liked this new STAR TREK. granted, and please remember, i am saying this as someone who has very limited star trek schema. as a child, i do remember being deeply affected by the death of spock, while also being extremely terrified of the little black crawfish that crawled in people's ears. both scenes had a profound effect on me, perhaps even eliciting some form of emotional outburst. other than that, i was a newbie walking into a trekkies' world tonight, yet i loved the experience. 

due to the fact that this is the eleventh STAR TREK film released since THE MOTION PICTURE in 1979, i thought i would celebrate my birth upon the enterprise by exploring eleven things i liked about the new STAR TREK film, in no particular order of preference or time sequence.  

1.) the opening sequence. i was in tears and goosefleshes five minutes into the flick. it was just like going to see the new FRIDAY THE 13th, when jason has this amazing return and slices all these potheads one after another in old school fashion and then suddenly, after 25 amazing machete minutes, the opening credits roll. the same damn thing happened in this STAR TREK. i was moved, instantly drawn in and drained dry - and then the opening credits roll up. amazing. very few films have ever sucked me in that quickly. in fact, maybe only two. who ever knew FRIDAY THE 13th and STAR TREK could have so much in common?

2.) best use of "sabotage" since the actual video. and the best use of a cliff-dive since THELMA AND LOUISE, which was the best since DUAL. plus, the best use of a hovercraft racer since RETURN OF THE JEDI. not to mention, the best use of iowa since its acquiescence to the nation in 1846. that scene right there made me wish i was twelve again, but in the future a bit.

3.) let's be honest: i liked the green alien girl. i do not have sons to shield from this film, so i thought the green alien girl was weirdly cute. what can i say: i like tattoos.

4.) after that one scene when the enterprise comes up through the brown dust and floats before the rings of saturn, i leaned over to my friend ryan urban and said, "you know they were proud of that shot." it made the hubble telescope look like a fun-party-barbie polaroid. 

5.) any chance to watch simon pegg is solid gold greatness to me. john eluded to the reviews beaming pegg's performance down to rubbish. bullocks. pegg was great. he was endearing. he was funny. he was everything i remember scotty being: jovial, spicy-tounged, and rotund in the face. 

6.) any chance to look at zoe saldana is solid gold golden to me. and while we're at it: as the unglamorous half of biracial couple, i am about damn good and ready to see more hot black women jumping up on awkward white men in films. art is not imitating real life as often as it should, people. or, at least, it's not imitating my life.

7.) warp speed is freaking awesome. especially when no one in the front of the ship is suddenly thrust to the back of the ship when warp speed is engaged. physics mean nothing in space.

8.) when kirk woke up on the ice planet, i thought it would be funny if a tauntaun scampered by. but then that crazy half-PREDATOR-half-lobster-half-spider thing erupted and i nearly spat a sour patch kid. that thing was wild! it was like an ambulatory sarlacc pit. very cool.

9.) i like how we all walked in thinking that this was a big sci-fi geekfest about ships and blackholes and galatic war and blacker holes and sneaking sour patch kids in through the wife's purse and green girls in lingerie and interracialisms, only to find out that the new STAR TREK is really a buddy flick. it's about the love shared between men who do not kiss or play with each other's tooshies. it's about kirk and spock. it's about trust and overcoming first impressions. it's about putting your life in the hands of a man who possibly hasn't earned the right to hold your life, but he will cause you met him as an old dude in a cave, even though you still know him as a young dude on a ship and his young version shot you down near the cave in a little pod close to the running sarlacc pit, and his old version implores you to put your life in his young version's hands cause he's old now and his planet's gone and his poker nights are blasted and there's no more good-buddy bars to visit on pint night (or whatever measurement they used in vulcan) so, hell, why not love the younger version guy on the space craft? that's the kinda friendship i'm talking about, people, the kind that last for at least two or three sequels. i nearly grabbed ryan's hand a few times, and not just to push his elbow off the arm rest. 

10.) leonard nimoy, yes. william shatner, no.

11.) i'm a sucker for time travel. i love the whole idea of going forward and going backwards and altering time's natural course. that piece of the puzzle moved a little too quickly for me there, and, thus, it bid me to come back before thursday to see the film again, or maybe to go back to last thursday and see it when i really was just dinking around the house and altering very little except my alcohol intake level. you never know: i may soon have my chance to return.

that's all i got, people.