Monday, May 31, 2010

FAVORITE FILMS OF THE 2000s - #16-30

Here are my personal picks for the best films of the last decade; one film per director, documentaries excluded:

30. Jimmy Zip
(dir-Robert McGinley)

A street kid is forced to hide out in a junkyard, and turns his damaged surroundings (both literally and figuratively) into a career as a junk artist, completing the living metaphor. This slab of wigger poetry sneaks into the list as the dark horse of the group.

29. Werckmeister Harmonies
(dir-Bela Tarr)

A traveling carnival pays a visit to a small Hungarian town, and their main attraction is a dead whale, and this big fish tears the town apart somehow. It's probably a metaphor for something, or maybe an obtuse Sea World parody.

28. Wonder Boys
(dir-Curtis Hanson)

Michael Douglas in his best ever role as an english professor juggling a nonstop parade of problems over the course of a couple days. It's a drama about writing and writers that is consistently funny without betraying its characters and life lessons. Speaking of which, maybe these people would be more balanced and stable if they gave up drama altogether and got into comedy. Just a thought.

27. The Happiness of the Katakuris
(dir-Takashi Miike)

A family runs a bed and breakfast where every customer ends up dying somehow, and they overcome these little tragedies through absurd musical stagings and a general sense of family togetherness. For instance, mom and dad rekindle their romance by staging a karaoke musical sequence. I guess that's how all young Japanese people fall in love, so maybe it's not so absurd after all that a couple would rekindle their romance through a karaoke machine.

26. Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World
(dir-Albert Brooks)

A perfectly timely comedy that handles important issues (religious retards blowing stuff up) without resorting to hamfistedness, while finding genuine humor in our differences; broaching a common humanity. However, I doubt we'll ever see eye to eye on the whole "chicks wearing burkas" thing. That shit ain't gonna fly on Venice beach.

25. Once
(dir-John Carney)

An unconsummated love affair is explored through song, and a series of mundane events becomes infused with emotion and meaning. I'm looking forward to the sequel, "Twice", where they boink for 90 minutes.

24. Pistol Opera
(dir-Seijun Suzuki)

Untethered Suzuki is where its at, and here he reworks Branded to Kill as a pop kabuki stage show...or something. Who knew a movie about people trying to kill each other could be so nonsensically awesome.

23. Let the Right One In
(dir-Tomas Alfredson)

An unlikely pair of outcasts join forces; a boy who is forced to acquiesce to violence (bullies use him to vent their frustrations about having small penises), and a girl who is forced into violent acts in order to survive (being that she's one of those vampire chicks). Against all odds, they ultimately find tenderness and strength in their relationship, like the lyrics to a Phil Collins power ballad.

22. Amelie
(dir-Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Amelie is painfully shy (pointing to a potential host of self esteem related issues), and plays any number of elaborate ruses to run from this reservoir of horror.'s cute! And it's French!

21. Dogville
(dir-Lars Von Trier)

While usually a hackneyed device, John Hurt's voice-over narration here is the greatest in film history, guiding the viewer through a literary world while subtly providing searing ironic comment along the way. Von Trier also spices things up with one of the better rape scenes in his cannon.

20. Mulholland Drive
(dir-David Lynch)

Inching out Inland Empire, although they could be considered two sides of the same coin, Mulholland Drive shows us what happens when a Hollywood dream (i.e. becoming a movie star) butts up against Hollywood reality (i.e. I live in a shitty studio apartment, and the streets are filled with hookers and drug dealers).

19. The Rules of Attraction
(dir-Roger Avary)

Takes a realistic base (spoiled assholes in college) and layers on a well executed avalanche of bold style. Imagine Godard filming the J Crew catalog, and achieving greatness against all odds, like a Phil, I used that line already. Sorry.

18. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring Again
(dir-Kim Ki-Duk)

The greatest Buddhist-sploitation movie ever made, this Korean masterpiece shows us round-eyes how the whole Zen deal really works.

17. Adaptation
(dir-Spike Jonze)

Maybe the best film ever made about the creative process of writing, pushing meta-analysis into slapstick territory. Charlie Kaufman does it again, fulfilling the old adage of "writing what you know" and, in this case, it's "knowing about writing".

16. Inglourious Basterds
(dir-Quentin Tarantino)

For its minor flaws, Quentin does here what he partially failed with Kill Bill; that is, construct a cinema of set pieces that still retains a literary narrative. Christoph Waltz gives the greatest performance in Nazi-sploitation history, easily besting Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler and Dyanne Thorne as Ilsa, she wolf of the SS.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

THE SEVEN-UPS (1973) - pre-dating French Connection II in the "French Connection-sploitation" sweepstakes

whoever is driving the car apparently doesn't think much of Coppola's use of citrus symbolism in The Godfather

When a movie stars Roy Scheider and Tony LoBianco, and it's about a group of cops that work on the proverbial edge (i.e. search warrants are for chick officers), and it's directed by the producer of The French Connection, and it's loaded with NYC street grit, you know the film is grabbing the "French Connection-sploitation" ball and running with it, plowing over Billy Friedkin on the way to the end zone.

Ripping off The French Connection may seem like an easy task at first glance, but several issues become apparent right off the bat. For one, the dude that made this movie seems to think he assimilated Billy Friedkin's style by watching him direct. This approach rarely works, as it is the internal vision that makes a director successful, not their on set commands and shot list. Secondly, getting good sound when shooting location exteriors in NYC must be nigh impossible, considering the amount of looped dialogue in the film. It makes sense though; you're trying to record a conversation near the Hudson River, and on top of the sound of the water, there's a ferry sailing by, loud ass pelicans carrying on rude conversations, and fat fucks complaining about their sports teams ("whattsamatta u A-Rod!"). Not to mention, it's pretty hard to keep a scene going when a dead hooker floats to the nearby surface.

The villain here is played by Richard Lynch, who can easily be identified as such, being that his face is burnt. You know a guy with a burnt face is the bad guy, because, for one, he must've done something pretty awful for someone to want to burn his face like that, and, secondly, he must be pretty bitter about having a face that looks like an Eggo waffle left unattended in the toaster. Richard, despite being a superb actor, always seems to play the heavy in a film, and his face always seems to be burnt, ergo...don't fuck with the crispy headed dude.

The plot involves Roy Scheider and his group of Seven-Ups, a "top secret police organization" (or so the police chief announces to the press), as they become embroiled with Mr. Lynch's money making scheme; that is, kidnapping mobsters and selling them back to the mafia (I think "ransom" is the legal term). I would imagine there are safer ways to make money (like hunting for grizzly bear pelts), but I guess Mr. Lynch is a special breed of bad ass. I, for one, would never do anything to upset the Cosa Nostra (or, to stay on the safe side, the Cosi Fan Tutti for that matter).

What separates the film from being a mediocre made for TV entry in the "French Connection-sploitation" genre is a pseudo-horror score (maybe not the best fit, but pretty cool on its own), and a bad ass car chase scene through NYC traffic (basically a cross between the French Connection car chase and the Bullitt car chase). Unfortunately, I have to knock the scene down a peg, being that a bunch of kids are narrowly missed not once, but twice. I am a bit offended that such a golden opportunity was wasted; I would've stood up and cheered to see a kinder-collision and aftermath, complete with a severed kiddie arm still clutching a teddy bear, twitching on the open road.

I was also glad to see Joe Spinell in a minor role, although I believe he was in every single NYC movie shot in the seventies, probably by union rules (never fuck with a Spinell teamster, btw). Also, the always reliable Roy Scheider does his best with slim material and confused direction, but I doubt he currently views The Seven-Ups in the highest regard...oh wait, he's dead. Never mind.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) - breaking down the greatest scene in the history of filmed comedy

looks like man's chain of evolution still has a couple of holes

Everybody has their own notion of what makes something funny. I'm no different, and I've even been able to quantify comedy into some sort of system, reducing untethered guffaws into simple, easy to understand terms. So, here goes:


Not to be confused with jokes about abstract expressionism, these are jokes about our "friends" from Poland. Polack jokes are to comedy what a good lead off hitter is to baseball; a consistently safe bet, a good chance you'll get on base, but very rarely a game changing play.

A perfect example of this takes place in Albert Brooks' excellent Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World. On the streets of India, Albert tries to find out what makes the locals laugh. While most of his jokes fall flat, he gets a solid chuckle with a potent Polack joke, and tells his assistant to write down the revelation that "Polack jokes work everywhere". Yes, they are sort of a universal language. Probably not in Poland though.
If you happen to be telling one of these within the borders of Poland, you might have to substitute the Polack in the joke with a Russian.


I don't know what it is about dudes in monkey suits, but they are funny in every possible context. If you have a guy trying to impersonate a monkey...funny. A guy in a monkey suit performing regular human actions (like reading the morning paper, for example)...funny. A guy in a monkey suit standing on a street corner doing nothing...still pretty funny.

Hell, even
real monkeys are pretty funny by proxy. Take, for example, Every Which Way But Loose. Clint Eastwood's orangutan (close enough) sidekick is consistently amusing by virtue of his close approximation to the species known as the random asshole in a gorilla suit.


Here it is; the greatest cache of comedy gold - the put-upon Jew. A hebe is thrust into an uncomfortable situation, forced to hem, haw, and kvetch his way through an insufferable existence. Look no further than Larry David, who built a dual fisted comedy empire based on this concept (Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm). The beauty of the put-upon Jew is that it presents a razor thin dynamic between comedy and tragedy, all presented through the point of view a character we, assuming a non-antisemitic audience, can identify with (this dynamic can work with non-hebes by proxy, but never as well).

Woody Allen is certainly no slouch in the put-upon Jew department. I could mention many a scene, or indeed, an entire film of Woody's, that fully showcases this comedic dynamic at work. However, it is one single thirty second scene, buried in Take the Money and Run (one of his early funny ones), that defies all odds, combining the two greatest rules of comedy into a scene of distilled comic perfection.

While golden rules #1-2 are brilliantly effective on an individual basis, they normally cannot be combined, like comedic oil and water. You see, the put-upon Jew is an urban creature who stays clear of the jungle, or the zoo for that matter. He would never willingly put himself in company with a large, potentially dangerous animal (fake or otherwise).

ANYWAY, the film stars Woody Allen as Virgil, an incompetent career criminal. He finds himself in jail at one point, but agrees to be injected with an experimental vaccine in order to get out on parole. Luckily, the vaccine only temporarily turns him into a rabbi (figures), and he is back on the streets. Of course, since his job prospects are approximately zilch, he resorts to petty crime to sustain himself.

Sure enough, a voice over proclaims: "desperate and broke, Virgil tries to support himself with small crimes. Here he attempts to rob a local pet shop." We see Woody approaching a pet store, holding a gun hidden in his jacket pocket. He nonchalantly looks around as if casing the area. With no security or law enforcement in the vicinity and carrying a firearm, surely this small store will be easy pickins. He quickly pounces into action and enters the store. His plan goes awry when a dude in gorilla suit chases him out of the store and down the street, flailing his arms about in a wild fashion, "going bananas", as it were.

Here, the Virgil character is hopeless in his attempts to lead an honest criminal life. He finally has a golden opportunity to succeed at his chosen profession, with all of the odds seemingly stacked in his favor. Tragically, the least likely scenario imaginable occurs, and Woody is chased away by the funniest, and most tangential, figure you could associate with a pet store: a gorilla. It's so pathetic, you can't help but laugh. On top of that, the monkey guy is hilarious all by himself, as is Woody Allen, and watching the monkey furiously chase Woody for a moment is comedy squared. All of this is conveyed in a mere half minute; the simplicity and purity just adding to the scene's greatness.

This little scene stands tall and majestic amidst the labored horseshit that qualifies as comedy nowadays. That is, at least until someone comes up with some sort of ripoff of The Defiant Ones, with a stammering Jew shackled to a Polish guy shackled to a fake gorilla; forced to go on the lam as a most unlikely, yet unspeakably funny team. On second thought, maybe a film like that would prove too much for human consumption, hitting some sort of humor vortex, imploding the comedy cosmos from within. Probably still worth a shot.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (2010) - an uplifting story of a boy and his beans (supplemented with Gilbert Gottfried and some ninjas)

comic genius Gilbert Gottfried branches out with a dramatic, Golden Globe-worthy turn as some sort of dandy Jew-chicken

u may have noticed a dove seal on the occasional "family" DVD release (pictured left). The seal comes courtesy of "The Dove Foundation", a collective that promotes the notion of "family-friendly entertainment". Supposedly, their standards are based on "Judeo/Christian" values, as, god forbid, someone might have their retard beliefs shaken while watching a piece of fiction.

For starters, can we drop the word "Judeo" from the phrase "Judeo-Christian" already? We all know that these groups that expound on "Judeo-Christian values" are hardcore Christian groups whose knowledge of Jewish culture is limited to a host of irrational stereotypes (and the occasional bagel sandwich). Look no further than the casting of national treasure Gilbert Gottfried as a kvetching goose that lays golden eggs (I guess the goose and the gander are indeed interchangeable). Apparently, the Jews hoard their fortune at all costs, resorting to jamming gold up their asses if need be.

This dove seal has found its way onto many a "family" flick, including the anti-evolution doc Expelled. Apparently, parents don't want to have to expose their children to facts and shit. If I had a child, I would rather force them to watch a Saw 1-6 marathon then expose them to Ben Stein's little retard opus. Then again, maybe there's a good reason why I don't have any kids.

Regardless, Jack and the Beanstalk is surprisingly free of any right-wing Christian propaganda, and even has a Ken Loach-ian character in the form of Jack's mom (played by Peggy Bundy), who loses her job because of a bunch of elven scabs, and later chains herself to the beanstalk to protest a mob of lumberjacks who plan on hacking it down out of panic and fear. This shows a gentle subversive slant to the material, along with little tweaks of other fairy tales, and the usual pop culture allusions (like when Christopher Lloyd is teaching a class with a diagram of the flux capacitor behind him on a chalkboard).

However, there are a couple of scenes that give me pause in terms what they might teach children. When a real goose turns into Gilbert Gottfried wearing half a chicken suit, much is made of his new opposable thumbs (he even uses them to raise the roof in celebratory fashion at one point), clearly pointing out the important value distinction between humans and other animals. In other words, animals are a bunch of thumbless asshats who deserve to be barbecued.

Also, Chloe Moretz, as Jack's ass kicking partner in this adventure, pummels a group of pseudo-ninjas in a pillow fight (I guess you gotta maintain that G rating at all costs). This hardly presents an ideal picture of how to deal with foreign cultures, and paints Asians as a bunch of pussies that gang up on an 11-year-old girl and still get their clocks cleaned. Then again, considering both Jack and the Beanstalk and Kick-Ass, Chloe Moretz might just be that much of a total badass. I'll have to remember not to piss her off, lest I want to end up with a shattered kneecap and a broken crotch. As an aside, I was also pretty offended by Chevy Chase's check cashing cameo, though I doubt this would ruin the mind of an innocent child (or an evil asshole child, for that matter).

While substantially removed from its source, Jack and the Beanstalk doubles as both a worthwhile updating of this timeless tale and a surprisingly potent vehicle for Gilbert Gottfried and his immortal blend of joyful misanthropy and Jewy awkwardness. It not only appeals to children, but also contains little smartass references to appeal to adults (as a half child/half adult, I get it from both ends).

In the end, I guess these timeless stories have run into a problem, in that children stopped reading years ago, and filmed fairy tales can date pretty quickly. Therefore, these stories need to be remade every couple of years, in order to keep passing on important life lessons to children (including the one about book reading being a horror best avoided).

Monday, May 17, 2010

SHUTTER ISLAND (2010) - a fevered take on the "exposition-sploitation" genre




Uh huh.

I got some naked pictures of Sharon Stone saved on my hard drive if you wanna check 'em out.


Well, no matta. Anyway, it's about freakin' time you got that academy award. When I saw that, I was like JOISEY REPRESENT!!!

I'm not from Jersey.

Yeahhhh...I saw your new movie
Shutter Island. Marty...IT WAS AWESOME! FRIGGIN' LEO! Yeaaahh...I bet he gets laid like a wildman!

I don't know.

I gotta ask...what's with the creepy kid and stuff? It reminded me of those twin girls in
The Shining...and what was with that old dude with the bear? THAT WAS FRIGGIN' CREEPY MARTY!

I don't know.

Yeaaahhh...hey Marty, you wanna sign my Giants jersey? I think I got a sharpie in my ride over there.

I gotta go.

Yeah, I bet you gotta go make a gangster movie or sumthin'...THAT'S SO FREAKIN' AWESOME! Hey Marty we should hang out sometime. I can throw some movie quotes at you; "WHO YOU FRIGGIN' LOOKIN' AT OVER HERE!"

No, I have to leave (runs away).

Marty! Marty? MARTY PLEASE STAY! Marty...I'm so lonely.


Martin Scorsese may stay in touch with the common man through his tough guy pictures, but he has just as many movies that feature his take on a particular genre: the musical (
New York, New York), the woman's picture (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), the screwball comedy (After Hours), the psycho-thriller (Cape Fear), and, of course, buddhist-sploitation (Kundun). Marty tackles a gothic thriller novel for this latest project, and it can be filed under the heading of the "it may or may not be all in my head, and I'm hardly cognisant enough to be able to tell" genre, or possibly "Leo-sploitation".

So basically, Leo heads to a fake Alcatraz filled with nutballs, trying to find an escaped psychopath that is presumably hiding out somewhere on the island (although she may have already constructed a raft out of bamboo and coconuts and since landed in the "sane" world). There is a long introduction to the island and its residents, where Leo and his partner meet all the doctors, nurses, and security and what have you (with the occasional babbling psychopath), asking some pertinent questions along the way, jotting down "clues" in a little notepad. When the world is finally established, the screenplay resorts to providing a long parade of "nudge nudge, wink wink" moments, Monty Python-style, for Leo's benefit (and concurrently, the audience's).

You see, poor Leo is too thick headed and self deluded to not see a big ass twist coming, so it is up to an army of side characters to drop hints and innuendo. The job of the audience during all of this is to remain completely oblivious until the protracted ending, at which time they are finally allowed to assemble these "clues" into a big jigsaw puzzle (minus a few gaping holes) with the prolonged assistance of Ben Kingsley (playing a medical official in charge of exposition and plot holes). He even resorts to using a chalkboard at one point, as explaining a twist ending can sometimes be difficult to communicate, even within a twenty minute time frame, and visual aids are a dumbass' friend when forced to deal with such weighty material. I, for one, get frustrated when I've solved a convoluted mystery and continue to get hamfisted hints for an hour and a half, and yet the fabric of the plot remains cobbled together with denim patches and home ec stitching.

The whole enterprise reminds me of Brad Anderson's excellent
Session 9, and a comparison of the two shows contrasting approaches to similar pieces of genre material. Session 9 plays things close to the vest, hinting at horrors along the way while maintaining a realistic world gone slightly askew. Shutter Island, on the other hand, relies on an exposition heavy, clunky script, and Scorsese tries to overcome this by injecting some operatic style into the proceedings. The former film acts as if it is scared of an impending horror lying just behind the door; the latter smacks you in the head with them, through flashbacks, dream sequences, and dialogue. It's hard to be scared of something fictitious when it's repeatedly nudging you in the ribs, like some annoying ten-year-old.

Friday, May 14, 2010

KICK-ASS (2010) - because the collective posterior has already been pummeled beyond repair

You make your own luck...Punk.

Young Chloe
Moretz, in her role as Hit-Girl, presents a rather futile dilemma to paedophiles the country over. Namely, they would like nothing more than to finagle their way into her heroic spandex, due to her ability to stomp ass up and down the highway, yet stand to get beaten into a pile of chickenhawk mush should they try anything "fresh". It is this catch-22 (or make that catch-11, with all apologies to Joseph Heller, or Mike Nichols for that matter) that keeps these diaper sniffers at arms length and, resultingly, maintains the illusion of a "safe" performer/audience relationship.

The failing of the film (apart from the script being haphazard and shitty) is that it revolves around a title character, namely "Kick-Ass", who is an annoying schmuck that models himself after Peter Parker. We are supposed to believe that Mr. Ass, despite being played by some Calvin Klein underwear model, is the biggest nerd in the history of the world. He can't so much as walk down the street without getting his face pummeled, and female contact is but a beautiful dream repeatedly being snuffed out by a pyre of self-concocted loserness. His golden ticket out of this ghetto of lowly self-esteem is to become a super hero himself, since, as he puts it, "what if someone decided to fight crime while wearing a costume?" (keep in mind I tend to paraphrase for emotional effect).

Well, Mr. Ass, there is already an army of said crime fighters roaming the streets, "upholding the law", as it were. They're called COPS. PIGS. The fucking OINK PATROL So, your license plate has a dent and a chickenshit ticket needs issuing. Who comes to the rescue? Well, the boys in blue, of course; armed with bureaucratic initiative and armor piercing rounds, ready to uphold the law at a quota's notice.

Since Mr. Ass' reason for existence is effectively rendered moot, and since he is also a giant pussy that doesn't stand a chance in affecting this urban society's forward trajectory into an abyss of rampant hopelessness, this leaves Hit-Girl and her father (that snakeskin jacket dude from
Wild at Heart) to take care of beeswax the old fashioned way; cutting people's fucking limbs off. After all, you don't really need your lower extremities if you're gonna be tossing salads in the big house for the rest of your life.

Another superhero is eventually introduced (played by the
McMuffin guy from Superbad), and, interestingly, he is also a fake superhero like Mr. Ass, but from the other direction. Instead of a poseur with good intentions, Mr. McMuffin is a poseur with bad intentions; an evil decoy used to lure Mr. Ass to his doom. The McMuffin character attempts to be an interesting, Watchmen-lite deconstruction of the superhero mystique, in the sense that Kick-Ass establishes the "useless pussy in spandex vowing to serve good" paradigm, to which McMuffin contradicts with a "useless pussy in spandex vowing to serve evil" paradigm, thereby throwing the audience for a spandex-clad fruit loop; two birds of a masked feather flocked together, indiscernable to the naked eye.

HOWEVER, a useless vagina is still a useless vagina, regardless of intentions, and it is the superhero that continues unabated through swaths of danger, a noble samurai unswayed by menace or obstacle, that eventually hopes to add some sheen to humanity's rusting moral compass (by way of
cartoonish John Woo-isms). It is Ms. Moretz, trained from birth by the fake Elvis with the mustache, that purely embodies this resolute force, and does so with a playful panache and a plethora of F-bombs (not to mention a well timed cunt missile). In addition, Hit-Girl is musically accompanied on her quest by not only The Dickie's "Banana Split Song" and Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation", but also a snippet of Ennio Morricone's "For a Few Dollars More theme". So goes our post-Tarantino universe. Either way, at least SOMEBODY is showing some balls.

Kick-Ass proves to be a launching pad for Ms. Moretz as this decade's new breed of action hero, let me suggest teaming her with Zombieland's Abigail Breslin; a Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme pairing for a new generation. The film could be called "Dirty Harriets", involving two new F.B.I. trainees who have had enough of the limitations of our justice system, and decide to take the law into their own hands; not as badged sadists in the pork officer tradition, but, rather, two young moralists bound by a collective empathy. These new breed of heroes could inspire not only 13-year-old girls, but also jaded cynics of an older vintage, providing a most unlikely communal melding of psyches.