Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stuck in My Head: The Pass

Events moved this here song to the forefront of my thoughts.

The Pass
by Rush

Proud swagger out of the schoolyard
Waiting for the world's applause
Rebel without a conscience
Martyr without a cause

Static on your frequency
Electrical storm in your veins
Raging at unreachable glory
Straining at invisible chains

And now you're trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Can't face life on a razor's edge
Nothing's what you thought it would be

All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the stars
Turn around and turn around and turn around
Turn around and walk the razor's edge
Don't turn your back
And slam the door on me

It's not as if this barricade
Blocks the only road
It's not as if you're all alone
In wanting to explode

Someone set a bad example
Made surrender seem all right
The act of a noble warrior
Who lost the will to fight

And now you're trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Done with life on a razor's edge
Nothing's what you thought it would be

No hero in your tragedy
No daring in your escape
No salutes for your surrender
Nothing noble in your fate
Christ, what have you done?

Friday, January 18, 2013

High Pressure

Pygmalion is open. The reviews are quite good.

Of course, what that really means to me is that I'm on to my next project. Peyton Place at CityLit. I was late into rehearsals because of my Pygmalion schedule, so this past Monday was my first night on that project. The rest of the cast had been working for about a week previous.

Hey, great, right? Come in a little late, get into the swing, feeling good.

Then I looked closely at the schedule.

I had exactly THREE (3) rehearsals before I have to be off book. Two (2) of those have already happened.

It'll be'll be'll be fine....

I hope.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Leave Jodie Foster Alone

I am a big proponent of gay rights. I firmly and strongly believe that everyone has a right to live and love as they see fit, without the interference of those who don't agree with their choices. Without the criticism of those who might wish that they would just toe the line, and behave in a way that adheres to the wishes, politics, and beliefs of others. It is simply nobody's business who you love, or who you marry.

It's this belief that whispers in my ear when I hear a few gay voices calling out various celebrities for failing to "come out," and live as openly gay. True freedom is to live without having to bend to the expectations of anyone else, be it the (speaking in generalities, here) religious right, or the gay community. If the goal is true freedom, my personal feeling is that no one should be telling anyone how to live their private lives (assuming they're not harming anyone else).

The latest, of course, is Jodie Foster, who, in a deeply, honest, emotional, and moving speech accepting the Cecil B DeMille award at last night's Golden Globes, kinda came out as a lesbian, and kinda didn't. She also kinda retired, and kinda didn't. That aside, what she did do was assert the fact that her life was hers to live, hers, her family's, her friends', not yours and not mine.

I read some of these responses, and Deb Baer's on The Huffington Post really set me off, and I just get angry. I get angry for Jodie Foster, who probably couldn't give two shits what Deb Baer thinks, making her a better person than me. It makes me so mad that I put aside my general desire to stay out of these conversations, being a straight, white male, and I feel like I have to say something. I have to because this really isn't about being gay or straight, but about being a Goddamn human being, not an asset to be used in forwarding a social agenda

Jodie Foster is an entertainer, and she has been for 47 years, since she was three years old. Her job, be it in front, or behind the camera, was to tell stories. To portray characters with sensitivity and honesty, and help other actors to the same. That is what she owes the public, good work in good films, and, for the most part, that is what she has provided.

That's never enough is it? Where Foster is absolutely correct is in her invoking of reality TV, and tying it to our preoccupation with owning our celebrities. The American public is convinced that, once you attain some level of fame and fortune, they OWN you. Now, the stars of reality TV are more than happy to let the public own them, because they are, in general, talent-free douchebags. Thing is, we've come to expect that every celebrity should be crawling to us, hat in hand, begging for our continued patronage. Scared to death that we may move on to the next flavor of the month.

Jodie Foster is not talent-free, by any reach of the imagination, she got to where she is by hard work and commitment. Therefore, she is not obliged to dance for you like a wind-up toy, in order to hold on to her fame and fortune. I would guess she'd be happy as a clam to let that fame and fortune go away, rather than let you feel you own her. Lest any of us forget, at nineteen years old she found out first-hand what can happen when you fans feel they own you, by being dragged into the middle of an attempted Presidential assassination.

In short, Foster, or any other celebrity, doesn't need to come out in a big, public way unless they, personally, feel that's appropriate. What you or I think about it is utterly, utterly irrelevant. Plus...and here's the real kicker in this particular case...Jodie Foster is, and apparently has been, as "out" as any of my friends. As she said in her speech:

"I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met."

So, her family knew, her friends knew, people she met know, but, according to some folks, there's something cowardly about the fact that she didn't put out a press release. Which, honestly, I find a rather crass and exploitative attitude. It would've served a political purpose, so that means she's obligated to do it?

So, the shots ring out. On top of everything else, Mel Gibson is one of her closest friends! How dare she stand by the friendship of someone she actually knows and cares about? It couldn't possibly be because there's more to Mr. Gibson than what TMZ, for example, reports on? Maybe? We simply don't know, because, if we're honest, we don't know him, we only think we do. Jodie Foster, however, does know him, so I trust her judgement as to his position in her circle of friends.

It just makes me sad that I see so many people who, when discussing a celebrity, don't see a person. They see a thing. They see someone who doesn't REALLY deserve what they have, so screw them. Or, they see a pawn they can use in furthering their own agenda. The growing belief that, somehow, fame and fortune means you no longer have the right to say "no," or even "no comment." That, somehow, entertaining us doesn't stop until we can know all your secrets.

I'll leave Ms. Foster the last word:

"...If you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy.  Some day, in the future, people will look back and remember how beautiful it once was.

I have given everything up there from the time that I was 3 years old. That’s reality-show enough, don’t you think?"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Stuck in My Head 1.11.2013

Shoulda Coulda Woulda
by Flying Colors

Hangin' on a flag pole
Lookin' like a freak show
Everyone of us has done it

Jumpin' into sinkin' sand
Tryin' to forget it
Blamin' someone else
"They made me do it"

Shedding every ounce of faith
Sucking every cell away
Caving into every impulse

Stuck inside this lonely face
Hiding every scar (and) stain
Busted in a Tarantino movie

Shoulda, coulda, woulda, shut up
I wished I kept my mouth shut
'Cause I can't change anything I did
Every secret that I hide
Keeps me locked up deep inside

Starin' at the future
Draggin' every footstep
Maybe there's another way out
Tell me there's another place
Tell me there's another day
Tell me there's another way out

Shoulda, coulda, woulda, shut up
I wished I kept my mouth shut
'Cause I can't change anything I did
Every secret that I hide
Keeps me locked up deep inside

Wanna reach back...

I'll start in the center
I'll work in a mirror
Want somethin' for lust
I'll run from the lust
I'll wake in the mornin'
Walk in the sunlight
Never again, no regrets
Nothin' to make me say I...

Shoulda, coulda, woulda, shut up
I wished I kept my mouth shut
'Cause I can't change anything I did
Every secret that I hide
Keeps me locked up deep inside

Thursday, January 10, 2013

This Just Made My Day

Really, it did. I was in a fairly poor mood before I saw this.

I'm not a huge fan of "mashups," but when I saw this over at Sal Nunziato's Burning Wood, I went crazy for it. Terrific work by "Soundhog." I'd love to have an audio copy of this.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My 2012 Wrap-Up


As I usually point out, movies are my bread-and butter. My love of film is what started me making lists like this. This year's surprise, for me, was that I fell so in love with so many "mainstream" films. I am a fan of blockbuster filmmaking, but I can't remember a year where I had both the top two box office draws in my "Best of" list.

Of course, I also have the biggest box office loser of the year, as well.

The Best:

10- Lincoln
A prestige production through-and-through, but one that defied a few expectations by not simply being a biopic, but exploring a very specific period of time near the end of the Civil War. That being Lincoln's political gamesmanship that led to the ratification of the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery. The film is more slight than it feels, mainly due to Daniel Day-Lewis' truly astounding performance as Lincoln, and Steven Spielberg's restrained direction. However, one must also point out that Tony Kushner's script is full of wit and insights about the man.

9- Skyfall
I didn't really think there would ever be a James Bond movie I liked more than Casino Royale, which managed the feat of totally re-inventing the concept of a Bond movie as something a bit more realistic (just a bit), without stumbling. The fact it managed to pull it off (as opposed to the similar designs when Timothy Dalton took the role in the mid-80's), was exciting. Then to turn around, two films later (after a minor mis-step with Quantum of Solace, no less) and create something that not only honored that re-invention, but also re-introduced many of the series traditional tropes, AND felt like a fitting celebration of 50 years of Bond on kind of astonishing.

8- Bernie
If this movie doesn't make you love Jack Black, nothing will. It's a small film, anchored by really strong performances by Black, Shirley MacClane and Matthew McConaughey, tells the true story of a murder in a small Texas town. A murder with a suspect so beloved, and a victim so hated, that the trial had to be moved so that the prosecution would get a fair hearing. Director Richard Linklater has crafted a wonderful little film about small-town life, and the colorful characters who live it.

7- Marvel's The Avengers
This movie is a miracle. A miracle in that, in so many, many ways, it should be terrible. Yet, Joss Whedon somehow took this mess of back stories and egos, and squeezed a coherent, fun movie out of it. It's almost impossible to even critique the thing. It just grabs you, and shoves you through the adventure. There's no time to stop and think about anything other than how much fun you're having. Which I suppose makes it a quite faithful adaptation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's comics.

6- Goon
A romantic comedy my wife would likely hate. The film is steeped in the brutality of the world of small-time, professional hockey, but also embraces a sweetness and positive energy that was absolutely irresistible. The praise for that, and I'm shocked to say this, falls on the shoulders of Seann William Scott, an actor I have never been able to warm up to. Out of nowhere, however, he gives the performance of his career in this film. Compelling, warm, sweet, brutal, and funny. His Doug Glatt is a character I won't easily forget.

5- John Carter
I'll start off by saying...Anybody who put this film on a "worst of" list is an asshole. It's sheep mentality, "it lost so much money, it must suck." It doesn't, at all. The hatred and venom that have been spewed toward this film simply makes me angry. It's a walloping good adventure yarn with winning performances, and, hands down the best "Disney Princess" in years. Yes, it moves quickly. Yes, it's drowning in Edgar Rice Burrough's pulp-ficton tropes and shenanigans, but I hardly found it confusing. Director Andrew Stanton and his screenwriters (notably novelist Michael Chabon) have crafted a love letter to pulp adventure, and it's so worth seeing. One last note; screw you, Disney, for fucking the marketing on this so badly.

4- The Dark Knight Rises
The second time I saw this film, I went with CByrd. I cried my way through the final reel, and then we went to the car. Where I proceeded to break down completely, sobbing, for about five minutes. This movie struck me, and my love and connection to the mythic figure of Batman, deeply. The fanboy jerkoff complaints about "Batman wouldn't do that" are irrelevant, THIS Batman, Christopher Nolan's Batman, would. Nolan earned every choice he made here, by connecting them directly to the choices he made in the prior two films. Elevating the entire series to, not only the best Batman films we will likely ever see, but an important meditation on the nature of heroism and sacrifice.

3- The Grey
I didn't really know what I was getting into with this film. I suppose that was part of the overall problem, the trailer traded hard on "Liam Neeson punching wolves," when the film is much, much more than that. Some audiences felt betrayed, but I was knocked out by this film. It's a meditation on survival and manhood, and, in my humble opinion, the best film of it's kind since Deliverance. Neeson's Ottway is a man without desire to live, who, though the crucible of this horrifying situation, finds the spirit and will to fight to his dying breath. It's powerful, and anchored by a really outstanding performance by Neeson.

2- The Silver Linings Playbook
This film made me so happy. I mean, just overjoyed. It's a film that's completely life-affirming and warm-hearted. Sure, it's a little cliche and predictable, but what David O. Russell understands is that, by binding us emotionally to Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), all cliche is forgiven. It helps that the unbalanced emotional states of these two characters make every situation a bit fraught with possible disaster. It's also nice that the stakes are relatively small-scale, remaining within the family. I also almost let out a whoop of joy when the real Robert DeNiro, elder statesman actor, returned from that Fockers hell he'd been in, and stole the show with one line.

1- Argo
Ben Affleck has been on his way to this for a while now. With Gone Baby Gone and The Town he established himself as a thriller director to watch. With Argo, he steps out and becomes one of our preeminent upcoming film artists. The man has a command of pace and tension that is masterful, and with this story of the rescue of Embassy workers trapped in Iran during the Hostage Crisis, he's found the story that really made people sit up and realize how good he is. The film has the sweep and scope of an epic, and the intimate moments that give that epic meaning. There's room for great actors (Alan Arkin, John Goodman) to chew into great roles, and Affleck, himself, to show how compelling a leading man he can be. Hands down, my favorite film of the year.

Biggest Disappointment (Tie):

I don't do "worst" lists, because I refuse to see films that are terrible (Maybe on Netflix after the fact), but I will point out movies that should've been better.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wonder if, in years to come, "the prequel curse" will be invoked. In both cases we have revered filmmakers returning to properties they rose to prominence with. Ridley Scott with the Alien universe, and Peter Jackson with Middle Earth. Please bear in mind, neither of these films are unwatchable, and both have things to recommend. The simple truth is that they both don't work all that well, as a whole. Scott's film is hampered by trying to be an Alien prequel, and at the same time not really wanting to be. While Jackson buries the wonderful little tale of Bilbo Baggins under miles and miles of foreshadowing and exposition for films we've already seen. Painful.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
Biggest "well, duh" on my list. No matter how one might feel about the film, as a whole, there's absolutely no denying the amazing nature of what Day-Lewis has done...again. I felt like I'd spent two hours with Abraham Lincoln, not an actor playing him. The unerring way in which Day-Lewis seems to be able to embrace and internalize the characters he chooses is nothing but astonishing, and the fact that he's never failed to do so (in my memory) is almost inhuman. I think it's really time to revisit the notion of the "greatest actor of all time." Oliver? Brando? Day-Lewis has reached that level, and, at 55, every role seems miles from any other he has played, and  he has yet to show any signs of the sort of laziness or excess the others fell prone to (to a lesser or greater extent).

Best Actress 

Jennifer Lawrence in The Silver Linings Playbook
For such a young actress, I was impressed with how adroitly Jennifer Lawrence navigated the waters of a difficult character. Tiffany is angry and defensive, yet we must also fall in love with her as Pat (Bradley Cooper) does, AND see why Pat's father (DeNiro) grows attached to her, as well. It helps that she's never looked sexier on film, I'll grant. Still, Lawrence handles all of these challenges and creates a singular character that charmed me, while still making clear she doesn't give a crap if you're charmed, or not.

Best Director

Ben Affleck for Argo
Honestly, just read what I wrote about Argo. Affleck is the real deal, and I cannot wait to see what he does next. Whatever it is, I'll be there opening night.


The Best:

10- Afterglow - Black Country Communion
This is a band that has, for me, gotten stronger and stronger. I was not a huge fan of their self-titled debut, but stuck around because of the talent involved. They finally make an album I liked start-to-finish, and it looks like it may be their last.

9- Everybody's Talkin' - Tedeschi Trucks Band
A terrific live set from the band fronted by the first couple of the blues, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. This is a brilliant document of a live show I'd wish I'd made the time to check out.

8- King Animal - Soundgarden
Much like the return of Alice in Chains, I was unprepared for how much I would enjoy Soundgarden's reunion. King Animal sounds effortlessly like a band who broke up because they felt it was the right thing, at that moment, and regrouped for the exact same reason. If more bands returned like this, the world would be better.

7- Apocalyptic Love - Slash with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators
Good, old-fashioned rock and roll, with one of my favorite guitarists teamed with one of my favorite vocalists. Nothing revelatory, but tight and well-played. Honestly, in a world full of Glee and One Direction, that's enough for me.

6- 3 Pears - Dwight Yoakam
I had really forgotten how much I liked Dwight Yoakam. Like, completely. I'd have missed this record if I hadn't seen it on a year-end best-of list. I am so glad I took the chance, because this is a really fine set of tunes. Yoakam is in fine voice, and the band sounds great. Good stuff. "Waterfalls" just cracks me up.

5- Flying Colors - Flying Colors
A prog supergroup, in the grandest sense. The Guitarist and bassist from the Dixie Dregs, the keyboarist from Spock's Beard, and the former drummer from Dream Theatre. I was a little surprised how poppy the ultimate result was, but it was in heavy rotation for me for quite a while. I have no idea if the band is actually continuing past this project, but I'll enjoy what I have.

4- Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
I'll admit, this one had to grow on me, but when it Tracks I wasn't all that fond of because favorites, and the tracks I loved just became more and more powerful to me. A true protest album, full of anger and calls to action. I'm always sort of in awe of Springsteen when he gets riled up, and this is a good example of why. "Swallowed Up (In the Belly of a Whale)" is still pretty awful, however.

3- Clockwork Angels - Rush
Rush gets back in the concept album game, and comes up with their best album in years (not that they've ever put out a bad album, in my opinion). Powerful, tight playing and grand themes with precise lyrics. I cannot love this band more, and, even as "elder statesmen," they are at the top of their form. Still chasing something new years after other "classic" bands have fallen back to the umteenth variation on their biggest hits.

2- Apocryphon - The Sword
How much do I love this band? A whole freakin' lot. With a new drummer in tow, they've come back to a more "metal" sound (as opposed to the more classic rock of Warp Riders). Yet, as CByrd remarked after we saw them this Fall, so many other bands (including their openers) just try to sound like Metallica, but The Sword sound like themselves. I'm a fan.

1- Celebration Day - Led Zeppelin
I. Can't. Stop. Playing. It. The Golden Gods return and just nail a one-night-only show at the O2 arena in London. Everybody sounds great, with Robert Plant's voice seemingly getting stronger as the night goes on, and Jason Bonham finally truly filling his father's shoes. I'm actually glad they didn't try to continue on, but I'm also glad, even after a five year wait, they let us hear how much they nailed it.

Missed in 2011:

What does that mean? These are albums I discovered in 2012 that would've been on my best of 2012, if they hadn't been released in 2011. Both of these come with my highest recommendations.

Don't Explain - Joe Bonamassa & Beth Hart
Worth it just for "I'd Rather Go Blind," which is about the single best song I've heard all year.

Three Mountains - Tres Mts.
Dug Pinnick (King's X) teams up with Jeff Ahmet (Pearl Jam) for an album that is, in turns, rocking, soulful, and funky.

Overrated/Biggest Disappointment:

A Different Kind of Truth - Van Halen
I'm sorry. I know a ton of people think it's great. I wanted to think it's great. However the combination of David Lee Roth and, as I mentioned above, "songs that sound like re-writes of the hits," just makes it hard for me to get behind. Yes, Ed is playing terrifically, but I just don't feel like the songs are there, and Dave....he's shot, folks. It's not TERRIBLE, but it's also not that great. All that said, "Big River" fuckin' rocks.


Favorite Book Read in 2012:

Conversations with Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood, 1979-1983
Edited by Kevin Avery

I ate this book up. The Way Eastwood opens up to Nelson. Nelson's deep understanding of Eastwood's filmography and craft, and the fact that these interviews were conducted during one of Eastwood's most fruitful periods. It's a perfect storm of elements to make a deeply interesting book. I highlighted and took notes on more quotes from this book than any I have ever read. It's a gold mine for Eastwood's philosophy on acting and filmmaking. Terrific.

Biggest Disappointment:

Not a book, but my own inability with time management.

I have not yet finished Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.

I am the WORST FAN EVER. I have had this book since it's release date, but I am only now about half way through it. I can offer a litany of excuses, I've been extremely busy with shows, etc, but the fact is, I haven't found the time to finish the damn book.

I certainly love every bit of it that I have read so far. Sorry, Mr. Chabon.


Best Ongoing Series:

If you'd have told me even two years ago that I would solidly view a Marvel book as the best on the market, I'd have told you that you were insane. However, I just can't get over how much fun Mark Waid has brought into my reading with his Daredevil run. Waid and the various artists who come and gone on the book have succeeded in making Matt Murdock vital, fun, and all without "rebooting" their way out of the various "darker and darker" stories that have happened in the last decade, or so. Waid also gets best clifhanger of the year with the sequence of Matt trying to escape Latveria, while all of the senses he relies on (being blind, for those not in the know), are stripped from him. With a final splash of him being dragged back to Castle Doom, completely stripped of all his senses, smiling...believing he had escaped. Awesome moment.

Best Mini-Series:

Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy
Tony Donley, an artist friend of mine, told me at SDCC this year, "you need to pick up Punk Rock Jesus!" I'm not one to run around picking up new books at Comic-Con, monthlies are just easier to get at home. To my shame, I didn't act on his advice for several months. I spotted the book on the shelf, and, remembering Tony's recommendation, I grabbed all the issues up to that point. Tony, you were so right. Punk Rock Jesus represents the best sort of political/social commentary, in that it's wrapped in a compelling story with  characters you can relate to. It's also the kind of story that comics, being a mass media that actually serves a niche market, can tell best. I may be wrong, but Murphy's ideas, incendiary as they are, makes me doubt any major studios have optioned this book. So worth your time.

Best Graphic novel:

Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke - based on the novel by Richard Stark
Honestly, I can't imagine this category going to anyone else as long as Darwyn Cooke continues to adapt Richard Stark's Parker novels.  This is the third hardcover volume, and the quality has not slipped. Cooke's, stylized, retro artwork is perfect for Parker's world, this, combined with Cooke's love of the era, and absolute mastery of the noir form, makes every one of these books an event. I cannot wait for the next one, or, honestly, anything Cooke wants to do.

Best Writers: 

Mark Waid and Scott Snyder
Hats off to these two gentlemen, who've really just shown what great writing, not deconstruction, or non-linear storytelling (Looking at you, Grant Morrison), can do. Waid and Snyder write good stories, understand the characters they're writing, and always give you enough to make each issue feel worthwhile.
Comics needs more writers like these men.

Best Artists:

Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner
Perennial favorites, I admit, but Mark Bagley and John Romita Jr, my other favorites, have been a little uninspired this year. Very different artists, but they came together for Before Watchmen: Silk Specter, and made it the best book in that line. Cooke, as mentioned above, has a very retro feel, while Conner embraces a anime-influenced style. Both are brilliant.

The Good Idea/Bad Idea Award:

DC Comic's Before Watchmen event
Everybody predicted disaster. It should've been a disaster, but I don't think that people considered the level of talent being thrown at this thing. Now, granted, it's not like it's on the tip of everyone's tongue. I don't think you can call it an unqualified success, but the joys of Minutemen, Silk Specter and The Comedian make me glad that DC at least tried it. Even if stuff that should've worked, Brian Azzarello writing Rorschach, for instance, never quite gelled.  

Silk Specter wins best of line, hands down. Cooke and Conner really brought somethign special there, that added to what we'd seen in the original mini-series. Plus, Conner's costume re-design was an absolute winner.

I don't think you can call the project a "hit," but I don't think you can call it an embarrassment, either. We got terrific and terrible books out of it. Alan Moore's gonna be pissed either way, so....

Monday, January 7, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

I'm more than a little conflicted on this one.

On one hand, Kathryn Bigelow has made a really powerful and precise re-enactment of the events that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Starting with audio of the 9/11 attacks, right to the aftermath of the raid on his compound. It's sharp, extremely well-made, and feels authentic. You can't argue about Bigelow's skill with the camera, she is a master, only now, finally, getting her deserved attention. There is nothing wrong with this film, and individual scenes work like gangbusters.

I'm also sort of torn, because unlike The Hurt Locker (yes, it's unfair to compare, but I cannot help it), I was never really emotionally engaged by what was going on. Intrigued? Interested? Sure. The Hurt Locker, however, felt revelatory and powerful because it made me understand what William James (Jeremy Renner) was enduring and experiencing emotionally. After a pretty shattering and frightening use of telephone audio from the Twin Towers in the opening moments, Zero Dark Thirty works very, very hard to make the events unemotional and clinical.

I understand that must've been an intentional choice. I also understand why you would make that choice. thing is, the movie sort of fell in the middle for me. It's not a "puzzle" challenging the audience to keep up, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (though it obviously is for the characters), and it doesn't emotionally suck me in. It's a fictionalized documentation of the recent past, and precious little more than that.

It's not like it doesn't raise issues, because it most assuredly does. The loudest voices have been about the film's "jingoism," and portrayal of torture by the CIA.

On the first issue, I can only say that the film is far too cold and clinical to really be jingoistic. It presents what happened, and how various people responded to it. The CIA analyst we follow through the story "Maya'" (Jessica Chastain - who's quite good), has a laser-like focus on her target, but we never know why. All we ever really know is that she is a professional who does her job well, even after she has friends killed by an Al-Qaeda bomber. There's obviously politics involved, you couldn't tell this story without them, but I never once felt any sense of "America, FUCK YEAH!!!" This is what happened, according to "first person accounts," Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker) document it, period.

As to the second issue, all I can say is this: The film clearly, and unflinchingly, shows the techniques of torture used by the CIA on detainees. It also shows that information gleaned from these detainees led "Maya" to Bin Laden's compound. It also shows us, in the character of  "Dan" (Jason Clarke - who's the absolute best thing in the movie), operatives who do not take joy in these sessions. It's almost a mantra for the film, this is their job, they do it well. They understand the horror of it, but they see it as their duty to do it. "Dan," in particular, being the primary character engaging in these tactics, seems haunted for the entire film, and "Maya" is clearly sickened at first.

I think an audience who would rather see an indictment of the practice will be upset or outraged, and the supporters will be upset because they would rather not have ever seen waterboarding, for example, dramatized. I, personally, will give the film high marks for making the torture of the detainees as messy and complicated as the "issue" truly is. This is what happened, it was ugly and brutal, and it may have saved lives in the long run. Certainly, these characters felt it did.

That sort of clinical detachment continues to the actual raid on Bin Laden's compound. The SEAL team (Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt are the most recognizable faces) is precise, brutal and thorough. Again, I'm sure some will find the way they coldly put and extra bullet in each downed body off-putting, or even offensive, but I recognized the idea that you need to make sure that when you put a hostile down, he stays down. Ultimately, however, the clinical nature of what we're seeing makes the entire sequence less than immediate. Everything feels at arms length. To be clear, I never expected to be thrilled, or exhilarated by this sequence, but I did expect more tension than I felt was there.

Like I said, I see the reason for these choices. This idea, again, of watching these events through the eyes of professional people simply doing their jobs, is interesting. Yet, ultimately, I felt like I might as well have watched a news report. Bigelow and Boal's film feels more like a documentary than most of the documentaries I've seen lately.

I guess for me, personally, I feel like a fictionalized, dramatic film should do more than simply relate events to us. Fictionalizing true events, at it's best, allows us to expand the human feelings that massive historical events tend to steamroll over. To find the way these events impacted, and changed, the humans caught up in it. It exposes something beyond facts and details. The Hurt Locker did that with the Iraq War, in my opinion. I think Zero Dark Thirty, while being a truly outstanding work of cinema craft, fell short.


I really don't give a crap about how "accurate" this film is. My discussion of the as being "realistic" seems to be construed by some as that I think everything is accurate. I don't. I also don't think that matters.

Zero Dark Thirty is a FICTIONAL version of true events. Yes, the filmmakers have attempted, via research, to be as accurate as they could, however that does not make the film a documentary. It makes it a fictional film that strives for a hyper-realistic, psuedo-documentary feel. That "feel" is what I have trouble with.

I don't know how accurate the film is, in terms of detail. Don't care, at all. However, I, personally, wish Bigelow and Boal had strove from more emotional connection, rather than aiming for an accuracy they could never really achieve.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Samuel L. Jackson REALLY Wants an Oscar

"I really don’t know many people who can not only remember Ed Wood, but remember what Martin Landau did in it,"

Samuel L. Jackson said that.

Classy, Sam. Classy.

I'll tell you what Martin Landau did in Ed Wood, he became Bela Lugosi. Every time I watch that movie, I am not watching Martin Landau playing Bela Lugosi, I am watching Bela Lugosi. In a career that had many high points (including a tremendous and heartbreaking performance in Francis Coppola's utterly brilliant Tucker: A Man and His Dream), it was likely the highest. In a film that also represented Tim Burton's best work, and, for my money, Johnny Depp's, as well.

I remember Ed Wood.

Ed Wood is a wonderful, sentimental, sincere film about a moment in time where a grab-bag of truly bizarre people came together and created something that is God-awful, but still lives on to this day. It was a film that put aside "being cool" to just embrace the bizarre reality of the people who are drawn to, and ultimately cannot escape, Hollywood. I'll take it any day over the slick strip-mining of 70's B-grade schlock that your buddy Quentin does. I'll also take Landau's embrace of  Lugosi as a deeply flawed, and deeply wonderful man, full of pain and joy, over your Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, who was interesting in his own right, don't get me wrong, but also, in retrospect, was another variation of the "badass" shtick you've been beating into the ground for over 20 years.

Somebody online said, "Sam Jackson is the black Jack Nicholson. Same character, every movie," now I will not dismiss either of you like that, because you're both capable of really tremendous work, but there are similarities. Both you and Nicholson obviously have two modes of operation, projects that will make you a lot of cash for trotting out "Jack Nicholson" or "Sam Jackson," and the projects that inspire you to bring your A-games. 

The difference is, as Nicholson has gotten older, he's made fewer films, but he's also made less garbage. Since 2000, he's made seven films, and only two of those (Anger Management and The Bucket List) are absolute dreck, and The Departed and, especially, About Schmidt rank with some of his best performances.

Schmidt is kind of a miracle, really, it's not even close to a "Jack Nicholson" performance. Great stuff. 

That could be you, but I think I have to go back to Changing Lanes in 2002 for the last time I really felt something uncalculated, honest and vulnerable from you. That's thirty-seven movies ago! You got close with Black Snake Moan, and I loved you in The Incredibles, but that was voice work. I'll admit I haven't seen everything you've made in that time, but my history with your performances leads me to believe that at least 75% of the time, it's not worth watching.

You thought Snakes on a Plane was a good idea, for Christ's sake!

Vulnerability, Sam. We all know you can be a "badass," but your greatest performances allowed vulnerability. Unbreakable, The Caveman's Valentine, Changing Lanes, The Negotiator, The Long Kiss Goodnight, A Time to Kill, Jungle Fever, the roles that made you a star, allowed us to see the human underneath the "badass" posturing.

I'm gonna give you a pass on Shaft, too, because it was fun as hell. The "what's my name" scene is an absolute classic. However, it also pretty much started this whole problem for you.

If you want to win an Oscar, find those roles again. Let us see something other than "I'm muthafuckin' Samuel L. Jackson!"

And , look...I find a lot of Quentin's stuff fun, I guess. I understand that you guys get along, and you enjoy working together. That's terrific, but I will tell you this, Quentin, and the way he repeatedly uses you as a performer, is part of the problem. I know it's made you an icon, and that's something to be proud of. 

However, if you really want an Oscar, it might be wise to think beyond the icon, and especially to stop trying to belittle an old man who deservedly won for a performance that is truly marvelous.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Your Regularly Scheduled Notification of the Regularly Scheduled Delay

The "Best of" blog is coming.

I have one more film I want to see before I feel I can really crack it.

What? You expect punctuality from me?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jack Reacher and Not Fade Away

Caught two films over the weekend, Jack Reacher on my own Friday afternoon, and Not Fade Away with CByrd on Saturday evening.

Jack Reacher

I have a fondness for the 70's, both in music and in film. Many of my favorite action films are from that decade, and exist in a time before "blowing shit up" became the primary goal of an "action" picture. I love the methodical style of, for example, Clint Eastwood's 70's "action" pictures. Dirty Harry and The Outlaw Josey Wales weren't afraid to slow down and build a plot that had to be unpacked, rather than inane banter to tie wankfest CGI sequences together.

Jack Reacher is very old-school. Little to no CGI, and what there is of it is used unobtrusively. A storyline that is compelling, and rather shocking (after recent headlines, having the film open with a sniper brutally taking out five seemingly random people is unsettling). It's also, while admittedly far-fetched, logical and watching Reacher investigate his way to the core of the case is compelling.

The film also greatly benefits from two really strong performances. No, Tom Cruise does not look, at all, like the Jack Reacher of Lee Child's novels, but he does make the character a formidable screen presence. I don't really care what Cruise's beliefs are, or the tabloid stories, only that he is a truly fine movie star. He knows exactly how to play this stuff, and be credible. It's a dynamite star turn. Cruise is one of our best, and I think people need to keep reminding his detractors of it.

On the opposite side, I want Werner Herzog to play the villain of every movie from now on. His "The Zec," with very little screen time, is unsettling and powerful. You are fearful of the character, just because Herzog seems to completely understand human depravity and evil. It's just a stunning performance. Kudos to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie for using him to the fullest extent.

Jack Reacher is hardly ground-breaking, nor is it likely to make anyone's top ten list, but it is an highly entertaining old-school action thriller. Yes, Jack Reacher is a rather generic title, I would've much preferred if they'd used One Shot, the title of the novel.

Well worth your time, if you like that sort of thing.

Not Fade Away

You ever have one of those experiences where you're watching a movie, and it's perfectly fine. It's entertaining enough, not setting the house on fire, or anything, but a perfectly pleasant evening at the movies. Then, out of absolutely nowhere a choice is made in the final moments that makes you almost absolutely loathe it?

I'm not even talking about a "twist" that feels unearned, or an unhappy ending, but a choice that displays a sense of preciousness and pretension that feels absolutely unearned. That feels so very unconnected, in any real, or logical, thematic way, to that film you've just watched, that you feel like somebody just scammed you.

So it is with David Chase's (The Sopranos) motion picture writing and directing debut, Not Fade Away. I'm absolutely serious that, if you lopped off the final minute or two of this film, I'd probably be giving it a positive review. The story of Douglas (John Magaro), a New Jersey teenager in love with the Rolling Stones and blues. He forms a band with several other guys (notably Jack Huston, Will Brill and Gregory Perri), starting as the drummer and them moving to vocals, with dreams of reaching the top. There's great fun had in the deluded visions of impending stardom in all of these kids.

It's basically a realistic take on That Thing You Do!, they play some local gigs, write and record some songs, and unlike the wish-fulfillment Wonders of Tom Hanks' film...nothing happens. They plug away, getting high and talking about "their image" and "doing interviews." Douglas falls in love, terrible accidents occur, and the band's dreams get fairly well squashed by a New York agent (Brad Garrett). Douglas' father (James Gandolfini) gets cancer. Then Douglas moves to LA with his girl, almost meets a couple members of the Stones, and, it's inferred, becomes David Chase (I had no idea this was an autobiographical film until after I saw it).

This is all pretty well acted, even some outstanding performances, and the murky cinematography by Eigil Bryld has some nice "earthy" moments. The soundtrack, put together by Little Steven Van Zant is really, really fun and exciting. Like I said, it's a perfectly pleasant coming-of-age drama, with rock and roll as a backbone.

Then you get to the final moments, and you just want to find David Chase and punch him in the nose. It's that awful. That unearned. That tin-eared. That pretentious. That unconnected to the perfectly pleasant movie you were watching up to that point.

There's lots of good parts to recommend about the film, but I just can't recommend it as a whole.