Posts Tagged‘Review’

gilly-gills

Gilmore Girls: How I Met Your Finale

I realize literally(!) everyone has already written about the latest Gilmore Girls season released on Netflix. Well, it’s still bothering me, and my wife Claire (who is real) and I have discussed it  many times over (a lot of these points are hers). So I decided to write those thoughts down for all the world to see!

I’ve watched the show, but it’s my wife Claire (who is real) was the real fan. That said, I was pulled in by the witty dialogue and endearing, conflicted relationships. The reunion was intriguing on several levels; beyond the character storylines, the fact that nostalgia was being targeted at women rather than male fans was exciting. Hell, I even checked out the surprisingly entertaining promotional materials:

So I wasn’t as amped as I would be if it was a Friday Night Lights reunion or a chance to correct the horrible injustice that was the How I Met Your Mother finale, but I was looking forward to a pleasant T-Give weekend with the Gilmores.

Before we get to what worked, in general, most of the scenes were fine, albeit a little indulgent. Some cameos felt more forced than others, but it’s a reunion show, what were you expecting?

That said, some scenes were painfully bad. Many have already complained about the Stars Hollow Musical scene, but it is worth the rant. This scene went on for a whopping 9 minutes. If it’s an intricate staging of the history of the town starring beloved but nutty residents, you might have an argument. But this was just strangers singing with cutaways to an annoyed Lorelai scribbling frantically in her notebooks. Oh and just to repeat, this went on for NINE MINUTES. Let’s put that in perspective. Remember Lorelai singing to Luke at karaoke?

Yeah, that’s her serenading the man she is destined to be with, telling him that she never stopped loving him and she never will. It’s arguably the apex of Lorelai’s storyline for the entire series – the looks, the banter, the fights, the misunderstandings, everything was building to this.

And it lasted under three minutes.

Oh, and one more thing: How goddamn old were the writers on this show? At times the storylines reeked of email forwards about entitled millennials. Oh no, there’s a trendy news site that really wants to hire Rory, but they don’t have offices!!! AND they have the audacity to…ask her to pitch story ideas. Same for the whole three phones issue (kids today and their electronic devices!!), and Luke’s wi-fi password was a joke that landed with all the topical humor of Curb’s brilliant Bernie Madoff and iPhone apps, only here they appear to be taking themselves seriously. Isn’t it way more effort to pretend to have wi-fi? What’s the endgame?

I digress.

So there were plenty of missteps, but these two storylines flat-out worked.

First and foremost, the Emily Gilmore plot was perfect. Perfect. I assumed this would be the weakest part following the passing of the great Edward Herrmann, but I was way off. Emily’s transformation into the woman she (perhaps) was always meant to be was delightful, poignant, and essential. Her “bullshit” monologue at her DAR meeting was flawless and was directed as much to herself as the other committee members. Throughout the series, Emily was often her own worst enemy, torpedoing every kind gesture with clueless or petty indifference. Here, we see her true self revealed, a brazen, bold, fiercely independent woman determined to find happiness on her own terms…remind you of anyone?

Most of the reunion felt unnecessary, particularly following the excellent original series finale. But Emily’s evolution actually developed her character and strengthened the entire series; suddenly, it all made sense.

There’s this great exercise where you identify someone who you cannot stand and write down everything about them that bothers you. In doing so, the goal is that you realize the list is really a list of things you hate about yourself. This is what we see with Emily. The reason she would lash out, the reason she kept pushing Lorelai toward a certain type of man, the reason she seemed so bothered by Lorelai’s very existence: Emily saw herself in Lorelai, and she saw Lorelai living the life she could have had. She wasn’t mad at Lorelai, she was mad at herself. Because of this reunion show, Emily ended up with not one, but two happy endings. Good for her!

The second successful storyline was Logan’s. I’m not part of Team Logan – he was never strong enough for Rory. I am not on Team Jess – anyone who does hope for those two to reconcile is ignoring how short-lived and tumultuous their relationship actually was. As for Dean…well, I was hoping that the first shot of the series would take place at Dean’s funeral…so no, not Dean. Ultimately, I was hoping Rory would find someone new and amazing and refreshingly, wonderfully different.

But it makes sense Logan would get so much screen time. For as much of an impact as Jess has had in Rory’s life, it was Logan who dominated much of the original series (three seasons – 59 episodes!). And yet, the last we saw of Logan was him walking away from Rory after graduation, seemingly forever. Logan had plenty of flaws – mostly involving his family relationships – but he was also kind and supportive throughout most of his time with Rory, despite his occasional entitled outburst. Anyone who loves Jess likely loves the idea of him, the potential that Jess had, and anyone who loves Dean is a psychopath. And again, Logan is not the one for her. This was underscored by the fact that he was cheating on his fiancé with Rory until like a week before she moved in – completely consistent with Logan’s character.

That said, Logan felt like he never got the goodbye that they both deserved, the goodbye that all college loves deserve. They had shared so much at such a transformative time in both of their lives, I was glad to see them get a true, meaningful farewell. The scene with the brigade went on almost as long as the interminable musical numbers, but the last kiss in Finn’s new bed & breakfast felt genuine and earned.

But few people are discussing those stories because everyone is fixated with those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad final four words.

This ending was a massive, tone-deaf, clueless disappointment. It’s not quite on the level of the disastrous betrayal that was the How I Met Your Mother finale, but it’s still awful.

One of the most important themes of the series was Lorelai struggling to give Rory the opportunities her mom never had, bolstering and supporting Rory’s dreams without smothering her with rules. The idea was to get Rory out of their idyllic town. First it was Chilton, then it was Yale, then it was following Barack Obama around the country. Every once in a while, we caught a glimpse of Lorelai lamenting the life she could have led – the scene at Harvard where she saw a photo of her valedictorian doppelgänger (Erika Palmer) was an especially poignant reminder of what could have been. Lorelai was determined for Rory to dream big, and Lorelai did everything she could to help make those dreams come true. And after all that, Rory ends up in Stars Hollow.

Since the second episode of the series, Rory wanted to be Christiane Amanpour, to travel the world up close and see what’s really going on (Mitchum Huntzberger be damned). It seemed she was well on her way at the end of season 7. Now, I think you can make an argument that she only thinks she wants to be a journalist, and the idea that Rory Gilmore is not a good journalist is an intriguing one. But in this extra season, Rory either needs to become a world-beater journalist, or she needs to find her true calling (she always had a knack for politics) and pursue that dream. Instead we got a Lifetime original movie ending, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Here’s the thing: You can make the Pregnant in Stars Hollow storyline work. Here are three free ideas:

  1. Home Sweet Home: Rory spends the four episodes talking about how much she missed Stars Hollow while she was on the campaign trail, about how she longs for that small-town charm. Now she has seen the world, she realizes that it’s time to come back to Stars Hollow for good.
  2. You Can Go Home Again: Rory is living the dream, traveling all over the world covering fascinating stories in exotic locations (for budget purposes, Rory will mostly be talking about them, with a few photos of her in front of a palm tree). She either tires of her on-the-go lifestyle or the producers regurgitate that time-tested old standby that small-town life is perfect and cities are evil and Rory falls in love with her hometown all over again (I’m picturing a lot of montages).
  3. Rory Saves the Day: Rory returns home after her freelance gigs dried up. She goes to work at the Stars Hollow Gazette because the paper is in danger of shutting down. She vows to not only save the Gazette but to improve it. She lands some amazing interviews, her stories get picked up by the AP wire service, and she is nominated for a Pulitzer. Rory becomes an inspiration for countless budding journalists who learn that you can make a difference no matter where you are. **NOTE** This is my favorite option.

And yes, they tried to shoehorn in an Outsiders-esque ending where she was going to write her own story. Generally speaking, I have no problem with ambiguity, but if we’re getting the whole gang back together for a reunion tour, and we spend the majority of Rory’s scenes with her drifting aimlessly through a career and love life that offers no real answers. She’s going to write the Gilmore Girls book…hey, that’s great. Then what? Nothing in this season suggested she had any other ideas or motivations for future projects. So that leaves us with Rory pregnant in Stars Hollow working for the Gazette.

Here’s a reminder for all you writers out there:

*grabs megaphone*

YOU CAN HAVE A CHILD AND STILL HAVE AN EXCITING CAREER!

But in order for that to work, you must establish one of two things: that your job/career that you love is going to remain the same and you’re going to find a way to make it fit perfectly with a child, or your job/career is going to change significantly to adjust to a child, but doing so will result in an exciting new adventure.

Neither of these things happen with Rory.

And that leads to the biggest problem with this sham of an ending: Rory does not have…a…choice.

Nothing here suggests Rory is going to end the pregnancy – Gilmore Girls has always purported to be a pretty feminist show (lunch basket auctions notwithstanding), but given her talk with Christopher, the signs point to the fact that she’s made up her mind, she’s keeping her baby.

Lack of choice is unfortunately not new to the Gilmore Girls universe – just look at Lane  Kim. Here was a true free spirit, rebelling against her mother’s strict rules in the hopes of becoming a famous musician. All that came to a crashing halt after she had horrible sex one time with her husband on her honeymoon. Several episodes later, the twins were born. But have no fear because as we saw from this season, Lane is now…working in her mother’s antique store? Ugh. And none of this is terribly surprising; bold, amazing over-achieving Paris didn’t get her happy ending either.

So Rory is definitely not trying to get pregnant, she spends most of the final episode insisting she is not back to stay in Stars Hollow, she is soon to be rejected (again) by the baby’s father, and she is stuck at the local paper because there are no other options. As I said, no choice, no agency, only reacting helplessly to life events. Moreover, it seems that she has completely given up and accepted that this is the end of the road. This is embodied her short-lived crusade to not publish a poem at the beginning of each season on the front page of the paper. She fights this for (apparently) three months before her convictions die a mediocre death. Valuable lesson here: If something has always been done a certain way, it’s best not to challenge it.

And the writers failed to give us any semblance of hope beyond the inferred, “Well Lorelai was happy raising Rory in Stars Hollow, so yeah.” For Rory, nothing is going to change, she’s going to trudge to the paper every day, not have anything or anyone challenge here creatively at the paper, and then trudge home, wondering what the hell happened. Somewhere, Christiane Amanpour is weeping.

And here’s the thing that’s most frustrating: This is a TV show. It can end any way you want it to end. My god, Mad Men had a happy ending! Of course in real life there are people whose lives don’t end up being the non-stop adventures they dreamed of having, but this isn’t a documentary. Let Lane go on tour. Put Paris and Doyle back together and have her find something she loves doing, not just something she’s good at. Have Jess marry someone he didn’t date for a month in high school. Murder Dean. Let Rory succeed in her career or love life (or…dare I say…both!). If this wasn’t going to improve on the ending we were given in the seventh season, then what was the point?

I reference HIMYM because that finale was a perfect example of flying a plan into the ground. The creators had great existing footage of their oh-so-clever ending shot in the first season, and so they ignored nine years of character development, relationships, and emotions because by god that was the way the show was supposed to end from Day 1. The same thing happened with Gilmore Girls: The show creators had an idea of what they wanted the last four words to be and stuck with it. And now, we’re all stuck with another tone-deaf ending to an otherwise creative, unique series.

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Walking Dead Finale

So last week the season final of The Walking Dead aired and, in typical Walking Dead fashion, it was filled with potential but never really delivered. Clearly, there are some obvious solutions that would enhance any episode, such as killing Carl, killing Lori, killing Carl again…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s focus on the specifics. I’m going to fix the episode in two simple steps and lay the groundwork for the next season…while not killing anyone. For reals. Obviously, this is about the season finale, and so if you haven’t seen that episode, here there be spoilers. Also, while I’m looking forward to reading the comic books, I haven’t gotten The Walking Dead Compendium yet, so don’t look for any overlap. Let’s do this.

Separate the Group

One of the main problems of the series is that we don’t know much about any of the characters (and care even less). I’m reminded of Plinkett’s epic reviews of the Star Wars prequels, where he asks fans to describe classic Star Wars characters without referring to their occupations or physical appearances. After describing Han Solo and C-3PO, Plinkett asks these same people to describe Qui-Gon Jinn and Padme Amidala. Not surprisingly, the fans with tons to say about Han and C-3PO were at a loss for words with the prequel characters.

You could do the same thing with the Walking Dead cast. Quick, describe T-Dogg, but you can’t use the term “black.” Describe Carol, but you can’t use the term “mother.” Hell, tell me how many people were living on the farm when Carl was first shot (“Let’s see, there’s Herschel, Maggie…Otis….ummmm…).

Unfortunately, most of the characters we can identify don’t fare much better (describe Lori without using the terms “nag” or “shrill”). Why is this? Well, it’s simple: We don’t know anything about them. One of the best shows ever in terms of character development is LOST. Each week, we spent an episode getting an in-depth look at one character (“This is going to be a Sawyer episode”). Initially, this was so we (the audience) could see how the characters behaved before the crash, which informed the decisions they made on the island.

Eventually, the character flashbacks were less about plot and more because we cared about them. Dead tried this in the “Bloodletting” episode, where Lori had to tell Carl that Rick had been shot (and it gave Carl a chance to chew the scenery), but it was thankfully not attempted again, as it didn’t inform the characters or plot in any way. Overall, we’re expected to pick up character traits and flaws from arguments or half-baked philosophizing about the end of the world. Character development cannot be fixed in a single episode, but the season finale had serious potential. After a rousing display of nighttime gun battles and confusion, it seemed like the finale was off and running…literally.

In all the chaos, the farm posse gets separated into five groups: 1) Hershel, Rick, and *sigh* Carl 2) T-Dog, “Lori,” and Maggie’s sister (remember when we totally thought she committed suicide but she didn’t? Powerful stuff.) 3) Glenn ‘n’ Maggie 4) Andrea (a.k.a.: the real Lori) 5) Darryl and Carol In what is only slightly more likely than actual walking dead, everyone meets up back at the highway, even though this was never designated as the official fallback area and even though everyone seemed to drive for hours in opposite directions. Only Andrea didn’t show and, because they thought she might be dead, five minutes after everyone rolled in, they rolled back out. On the road again.

So what about this? The group gets separated…and stays separated. T-Dog heads for the coast (Lori optional), Glenn and Mags find some isolated shack and discuss whether they want to rejoin anyone, Rick and Hershel kill Carl swap monologues, Daryl and Carol form some sort of elite walker-assassination unit, and Andrea just hangs out being awesome. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what they do. This would give us a chance to actually get some quality time with these characters and figure out what makes them behave the way they do. It would set up the entire third season as the group slowly joins back up, only this time they understand one another better (maybe even forming some unlikely alliances)…and so do we.

Zombie Development

This one is more for me, and honestly I wouldn’t have thought of it if not for a user named Mentat on Fark. I had completely forgotten about it. I’m going to quote at length, as it was an excellent point:

“…My one major beef with this season is that the zombies have become the stereotypical generic shamblers. In the first season, the walkers were more tragic figures. Even though they were dangerous, they were once people just like the survivors and a great effort was made to present them in a softer light.

– Bicycle Girl, pathetically crawling through the grass to god knows where. Rick’s first task once he’s recalibrated, is to extend an act of mercy to this person he doesn’t even know. As she reaches out to him, you’re left to wonder if she’s trying to grab him or begging him to put her down.

– Before chopping up the Alley Zombie and smearing his guts on the survivors, Rick takes a moment to go through the man’s wallet. Wayne Dunlap, Georgia licence. Born 1979. He had $28 in his pocket when he died. And a picture of a pretty girl. It was a nice message to the audience as well as the survivors.

– The little girl zombie, picking up the teddy bear, given Rick one moment of hope that someone survived. – Morgan’s wife also seemed to retain some degree of her humanity. Somewhere deep down inside, she recognized the house and knew there was something in there that she wanted. The scene of her trying the doorknob and looking through the eyehole was haunting and I’m glad it was Rick at the door and not Morgan.

– With Amy, they avoided the “I’m a walker now and I kill you” cliche. Amy’s slow return amplified the tension, but it was the way she came back that worked for me. Instead of just lunging for Andrea, Amy reached up and seemed to caress her hair. You were left with the impression that she might have been trying to communicate with Andrea instead of killing her. They tried that sort of thing on occasion in Season 2. Sophia obviously, and Beth’s mom, though that was ruined by the cliched “Ha! I’m not really dead!” thing.

The zombies this season became the typical generic targets for the sharpshooting survivors who a week before couldn’t hit a swinging tree branch. Minor complaint, I know, but I think that trait they showed in the first season was what set TWD apart from other zombie takes we’ve seen.”

I remember the scene when that zombie woman cyclist (who I don’t think had legs) had pulled herself through the woods and fields into the middle of nowhere. Remember her?

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the words of Ted Mosby, that scene was hauntingly beautiful. This woman was a disgusting sight, and yet we felt sympathy for her. She was clearly trying to get somewhere, but wasn’t hunting anyone or anything. She was wildly determined, and even at the end you weren’t sure if she was overcome by walker instinct or if she was pleading for Rick to end it all.

I would have loved it if one of the zombies had shown some sort of humanity (maybe not during the attack on the farm, but a lone straggler later on). Even a brief moment would have made a substantial difference, and again set the scene for the third season. And yes, Walking Dead writers, I am available for freelance work.

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Boring: Los Angeles (Hoorah!)

So, every once in a while, I like to live-blog a movie as I watch it. I wasn’t going to for Battle: Los Angeles, but I was complaining about it so much that it seemed only natural. I should warn you that I started blogging about 20 minutes in, so it starts abruptly.

For background (according to IMDB): “A Marine Staff Sergeant who has just had his retirement approved goes back into the line of duty in order to assist a 2nd Lieutenant and his platoon as they fight to reclaim the city of Los Angeles from alien invaders.” Rottentomatoes has Battle: Los Angeles sitting at 20% with the Top Critics (who the hell would care about the other critics?), and rightfully so. It’s all kinds of stupid, as you’ll see. Let’s get this over with.

• Oh look, the dorky redheaded kid is a virgin AND he vomits. For the rest of my life, I will always remember dumb-looking soldier #4.

• They’re walking down a smoky street and they can’t see. The suspense is killing me—what if something happens to one of the 15 interchangeable main characters??

• Ah, the tension is broken because it was a dog. I’ll bet that’s totally all it is and none of these people are going to be killed. This is like Horror Movie 101 for Dummies.

• And an alien fires an explosive device and kills a couple of Marines. Shocker.

• A little tip to all you directors out there—battle scenes that are entirely shot with medium shots and close-ups are painfully difficult to watch. There are  these things called establishing shots and a long shots, both of which can be used to give some kind of bearing for the audience so we know where the hell the characters are in relation to one another. You taking notes, Michael Bay? Share them with whomever screwed up Quantum of Solace—I don’t care enough to look it up.

• That’s it—shake the camera even more! “Wow! It’s like I’m right in the middle of the battle too! It’s so realistic!

• No worries. Aaron Eckhart got them out of that nasty situation. Aaron, what the hell are you doing in this movie? It seems like the role was meant for someone else. Like John Cena.

• Oh no, one of the Marines isn’t with them. So they’re going to go find him. Oh shit, it’s the dumbass redheaded kid! How could I forget about him??!

• And he just spilled laundry detergent all over himself. Shouldn’t there be like wacky music playing whenever he’s on-screen?

• He found an alien! And they killed it together. Ummm…yay?

• Oh gods, Ana Lucia is here. And she’s sassy! “I didn’t get here just because of my good looks.” ZING! Wait…zing?

• Now they’re searching a police station that is deserted…or is it??? Probably not.

• Nope, they found civilians…including kids. You know what improves every action movie ever? Kids. Just ask Jurassic Park.

• The helicopter took off and left Eckhart, Lucia, and some others (including the kids!). Then the helicopter was destroyed by aliens. Subtle, daring message about how you shouldn’t leave kids behind to be killed. But will America listen????

• This thing is like paint-by-numbers. Now two Marines are arguing about how it’s no one’s fault that the chopper blew up. Apparently, they lost some good men up there.

• Aaron Eckhart wants his commanding officer to be more assertive. Aaron Eckhart is The Decider!

• Now we’re being introduced to the kids. The director has officially given up on having us care about the main characters and hoping that some kind of paternal instinct will kick in and deep down we’ll care about the children out of some evolutionary obligation. Nope. I don’t want to sound like I’m exaggerating or anything, but I would rather see the entire human race extinct then suffer through crappy kids thrown into movies.

• I am absolutely amazed at how much movies like this cost to make, and yet how stupid the alien special effects look. District 9 cost a fraction of this budget, and it looked (and was) absolutely badass

• And the little girl is coloring. Do you get it, people?? She just wants a return to normalcy!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: You’ll notice a bit of a jump here. I’m dead serious: I nodded off. Yeah, I did. Los Angeles is being destroyed, and I was bored to sleep. Let’s see if I can dive back into the action and somehow pick up this oh-so-complex plot.

• More running through the streets. Yawn.

• And now the kids are running.

• And the firefight continues. Jesus, I don’t think I’ve ever been this bored watching a movie filled with explosions.

• The civilian man grabs a gun and is shot. But not before taking out an alien. So easy, a civilian can do it!

• You know, movies with quasi-incompetent aliens aren’t scary. Alien aliens? Scary. Predator alien? Scary. Hell, even Independence Day aliens were badass in their own way.

• Now the lieutenant is decisively dying. But he’s dying bravely like a MAN, so I guess it’s okay.

• Seriously, he shouts out “Hoo-rah” over the radio before he dies. I never understood the phrase, “War is hell” until I watched this movie.

• Now everyone’s sad. Well, not everyone. I’m nodding off again. Come on Josh, you can do it!

• Now Aaron Eckhart is in charge. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

• The civilian is dying and makes the Marines promise to save his son. Save me instead.

• They see news footage of a ship and determine that must be controlling the aliens. If they destroy that ship, the humans win!

• They’re back at the airfield, but everyone has been killed. Seriously, I’m not even joking—they could somehow kill me on-screen (hopefully via CGI), and at this point I would just kind of shrug my shoulders in relative indifference.

• The kid is holding onto the hand of his dead civilian father. Just imagine how much more I could care if: 1)   I had the slightest clue who the guy was 2)   The kid could act 3)   The writers gave me a reason to care about this person other than the fact that he wasn’t an alien trying to destroy Los Angeles 4)   The kid could act

• God, the kid is “crying” because his dad died. Well, it looks like laughing, but I think that’s supposed to be crying. Man, if I didn’t hate the aliens for destroying half of Los Angeles, I certainly hate them now for killing ol’ Whathisnuts! Think of the children!

• Aaron is delivering a soulful speech to the kid that starts off, “Marines don’t quit.” Was this guy really in Thank You For Smoking?

• You know what’s better than a stirring monologue? Another one that follows roughly 45 seconds later. Totally effective.

• Holy shit! Eckhart knew one of the Marine’s brothers who died in another battle. Eckhart rattled off the dead guy’s serial number or whatever. Tears were shed. Eyes were rolled.

• Ana Lucia after running over aliens: “They’re going down like bowling pins!” Is that an actual expression?

• An alien just landed on the hood of her Humvee. She shot it and the head exploded, spraying slimy stuff all over her. Ana Lucia: “I got that nasty stuff all over my mouth!” Guy driving the Humvee: **laughing** “You let him do you on the first date??” I literally almost vomited. Was this movie written by like a computer or something? It has all the necessary elements—textbook, really—but nothing seems to fit together. Seriously, that was disgusting.

• They’re evacuating. Throw those damn kids out of the helicopter and salvage this movie.

• Seriously, say “civilians” one more time. We get it, you’re Marines.

• Now they’re going to recon where the alien headquarters might be, in the hopes of taking out the alien drones so the military can win. In second grade, I wrote a 14-sentence story about a blue whale that learned how to walk so he could play with dinosaurs. This movie makes that look epic in comparison.

• Alien ambush!!!! But the Marines killed them. You know, for as grave a threat as these things are supposed to present, these guys don’t seem to have too much trouble killing them.

• Now they’ve found the main alien ship that, if destroyed, will win the war for the humans. Again, I have to go back to the invincibility of aliens being directly related to the how scary they are. Entire race being immobilized because one ship is destroyed? Not scary.

• Oh noes! They killed that one nameless Marine!

• The aliens have a tank-like thing…that was destroyed by a grenade launcher. How in the hell are these creatures winning the battle?

• Ana Lucia kills another alien. I should have been counting how many aliens this ragtag group of misfits have killed. It’s a lot. I mean, there are like, what, 5,000 aliens? Maybe? Seems like a decent-sized army could make short work of them.

• The Marines are trying to destroy the ship by calling in air support by using a laser-targeting device. They have to put the laser beam on what they want the missiles to hit. I’m sure it’s supposed to be dramatic, but it looks like a gigantic slide projector. QUICK! SOMEONE LOOKS AT THESE PICTURES FROM ALCATREZ  ISLAND! SEE? THERE I AM IN A PRISON CELL! NOW THERE’S MY SISTER IN A PRISON CELL! NOW HERE’S ANOTHER SHOT OF US BOTH IN THE PRISON CELL!

• The last missile brought down the ship, and now all the aliens are dead. For realsies. All gone.

• Generic congratulations from a generic commanding officer.

• Wait a minute—did that officer just say “Hoorah?” Are these Marines? Why didn’t they hint at this earlier in the movie?? I had no idea!

• Ahhh, and even though the Marines are supposed to take a break, they’re going right back to the front lines. This is like boot camp porn. And that’s the end. Thank god.

BlindSide Name

The Blind Rant

You know, I complain so much about The Blind Side I sometimes forget I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen the publicity-hype around Sandra Bullock to snare her the Oscar, I’ve seen the trailers, and I’ve read my share of reviews (this one is particularly good). But I’ve never actually seen the movie.

So, I figured it was time. I am going to type my thoughts while I watch this movie. I should warn you that there is no hint of objectivity here–just sarcastic Joshua T. being bitter at a movie. Oh, and this movie is over two hours long, so this may be a lengthy entry.

Okay, let’s get started.

• Oh, good, the writers awkwardly managed to work in the phrase “blind side” a whopping 3 minutes into the film. Hey, that’s the name of the movie!

• What a lame-ass stretch to show the infamous Theismann/Taylor tackle and then paint it as something other than a pathetic YouTube/Boomer shout-out.

• Obligatory drive through the “bad part” of town. OMG, a lingerie store??!! They must be in the ghetto!

• Maybe this is just Larry Liberal talking, but these shots of suburbia are far more disturbing than the so-called projects we just saw

• BAHHH! You’re right, movie. White people are crazy! Have you ever noticed how White people drive cars like this but Black people drive cars like this? Cutting edge humor.

• Sandra Bullock finally shows up! Chew some scenery, girl from Speed 2!

• Crikey, that kid has spoken eight words and already I’m annoyed.

• Jesus, we learn “Big Mike” can write, but even the White teacher reads it aloud for him. He entitled it “White Walls.” Do you get it people?? Symbolism! I’ve seen more subtlety in a Michael Bay film.

• The kid has a name–Shawn Jr. He’s giving Big Mike pointers on how to be nice to girls. Stellar.

• In case you were curious, we’re 18 minutes into the movie and Big Mike has said exactly 20 words. Shawn Jr., who we met like 3 minutes ago, already has more.

• It’s possible that this Shawn Jr. lowered the bar so drastically that Bullock’s performance was Day-Lewis-esque by comparison. Right now he’s decked out in a full-length American Indian headdress. He’s the second-most offensive stereotype in this movie.

• Sandra Bullock doesn’t swear. I’m sure that won’t be a running joke/dramatic speech later on

• But the gym is closed, Big Mike! BAM! Sandra Bullock: P.I.!

• Bullock glares (stares thoughtfully? What the hell is she trying to convey?) at her husband (Tim McGraw/Shawn). Tim: “I’ve seen that look many times.” Yeah, so has anyone who has seen any Sandra Bullock movie ever. She’s got the acting range of Hayden Christensen.

• Oh, her husband sleeps on the couch when he’s bad. No doubt who runs this household!

• Of course they have a book of Norman Rockwell paintings sitting on their coffee table. Who doesn’t? Nothing like being beat over the head with clunky metaphors. It’s about CONTRAST, people!

• Wow, he folded the sheets. Diamond in the rough indeed!

• Big Mike is sitting at the dining room table while the family is watching football! WHAT??! Now Bullock has brought them all into the dining room too. Man, they can learn a lot from this guy. This is what family is really about. Seriously, I’ve seen less heavy-handed writing in a Danny Tanner monologue. Keep ’em coming, Blind Side. I’ll keep throwing out references if you keep doling out this bullshit.

• Hesitation by the daughter, but then she metaphorically takes Big Mike’s metaphorical hand to say metaphorical grace metaphorically.

• Oh ZING! Bullock is taking Big Mike shopping because he “obviously doesn’t know how.” She’s so outrageous! She’s saying what everyone is thinking!

WORD COUNT: It’s 30 minutes into the movie and Big Mike, who so far has been in practically every scene in the movie, is up to 36 words. Seriously. That’s okay, Blind Side. Let’s just let Whites characters talk about racism–what could a Black character possibly have to offer?

• Ahhh, Big Mike doesn’t like to be called Big Mike. He prefers to be called Michael.

• Oh PG-13 ghetto–you are terrifying. Loud music and people sitting outside??! Take that, Hamsterdam!

• Shopping for clothes. A purple shirt on Michael? Sandra, what were you thinking?? You know what they need? “Pretty Woman” playing in the background. Kind of an homage to Julia for her bullshit Oscar.

• Oh, but don’t worry–he has picked out a shirt that they’re not showing the audience, and Sandra seems incredulous. Oh, man, when they show that shirt, it’s going to be outrageous!

• Here comes the pay-off…OH NO! A striped shirt that is gold and maroon? I’ll bet the audience was rolling for hours.

• Sandra talking with her haughty Southerner housewife friends. I’m sure this will end well. Jesus, is everything in this movie a walking cliche?

• Oh good, they’re talking about Sandra’s interest in the “projects” with disdain, suggesting that she’s just taking on another “charity case.” (And yes, the character in the movie used scare quotes). Oh, and Sandra’s already indignant. How could they possibly be saying these kinds of things? My god, she’s been living with a Black man in her house for almost two days and she just drove him to his place on the so-called wrong side of town. She’s so much more enlightened than they are.

• They’re looking over Michael’s scores and, after testing in the third and fifth percentile in everything else, he tested in the 98th percentile in “protective instincts.” Ummm…they test for that? In the 8th grade? God, I’d love to see those questions.

WORD COUNT: 40 minutes into the film and we’re at 85 total words that Michael has spoken. Awesome. Seriously, the guy has been in every scene except for the shots of the teacher’s lounge, Sandra and Tim talking in their bedroom, and Sandra’s scene with the school counselor. 85 words.

• Fantastic–Shawn Jr. is suggesting that his dad (Tim) donate leftover food from their restaurant franchises. All those employees, all the people he consults with, and all this time all Tim had to do was ask his son. His ridiculously annoying son.

• And now for some product placement at Borders®. Where they find a book. A book they used to love. Ferdinand the Bull. Let me assure you, America, I’m positive that this isn’t some heavy-handed metaphor and I’m sure this will never be mentioned again.

• Michael sees someone at the restaurant where he just worked. Someone Black. But that person wasn’t eating there…he was working there!

• And it’s his brother. Seriously. His brother. What a small, contrived world.

• Seriously, that was his fucking brother.

• Now they’re back at her house, and Sandra Bullock is reading Ferdinand the Bull to her family. And Michael is laying there too, listening obediently.

• Move ahead to Tim and Sandra in the bedroom. PG-13 sex. Hot.

• Family portrait at Christmas and Michael’s not in it. Oh, I’m sure Sandra will have something to say about that.

• Yep, she did. And a freeze-frame of the family picture with Michael. I’m sure it’s heartwarming, but all I can think is the Christmas card at the end of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 6. What a good show.

• And we’re back to the Southern housewives at the hoity-toity restaurant. And they’re making comments about Michael. Uh-oh, Sandra’s getting offended. “Is this some sort of White guilt thing?” one of them asks. You know, that’s actually a valid question. Anyway, Sandra scolds them and responds, “I don’t need you to approve of my choices, just respect them.”
They apologize. One asks, “Isn’t it amazing that you’re changing his life?” Sandra’s writers reach into their Hallmark bag and pull out, “No, he’s changing mine.” *vomit*

And now one of them asks if Sandra is worried that Michael is going to rape her daughter. Sandra sneers at her and says, “Shame on you.”

*PAUSE MOVIE*

You know what, Blind Side? Shame on you. This scene offends me on so many levels it hurts my brain.

Go to hell, Blind Side. Racism in the United States is a ridiculously complex issue encompassing practically every facet of our lives. It is everywhere, and…brace yourself…it’s not just people who are in the KKK. Shocking, I know. It’s something that needs to be explored and discussed, but this piece of shit film actually shuts down the conversation. It completely glosses over issues of wealth and poverty in exchange for some trite epiphany about Michael never owning a bed. It belittles the education discussion by suggesting that if teachers only tried harder, it would make up for the massive disparities that students of color experience. And, worst of all, it depicts racists as thoroughly unlikable people who we can spot a mile away and avoid. They act like they’re better than everyone, they’re hyper-privileged, and they are completely disconnected from reality. This way, suburbia-types can shake their heads in disapproval, reassured that racism is safely segregated in the 1960s and maybe elite social circles in the South. Vindicated! Whew! That was close! Now they can go back to talking about “urban youths,” the “bad part” of town, and talking about how stereotypes exist for a reason. Way to go, Blind Side. Build up that straw man and then burn it to the ground. Oh, and get that Black guy to shut up! We came to see Sandra tell it like it is to racist caricatures!

*PLAY MOVIE*

WORD COUNT: We’re at 50 minutes and Michael has spoken a whopping 154 words. Wow. To put this in perspective, in broadcast news the average speaker talks at around 130 words per minute. For reals.

• Oh boy, the daughter (whose friends have mocked Michael because, you know, everyone in the South is racist) is warming to Michael. She sees him pushing the girls on the swings.

• Wow, that happened quickly. She defies her friends while studying in the library and defiantly walks over and sits with Michael. METAPHORICALLY! Take that, society! Defiance is not just a city in Ohio!

• You know, whenever Sandra walks on-screen, I am just blown away that she won an Oscar. Seriously.

• And we’ve hit the football scenes. But there are problems. Michael doesn’t know anything about football. Seriously. Not a thing. And I’m not talking “girlfriend stereotype from a beer commercial” clueless, I’m talking “aliens from another world who never discovered competition” clueless.

• And now he’s distracted by balloons. Seriously. Balloons.

• Sandra sure has some sass. But she’s insightful! Michael doesn’t want to hit anyone…because he’s Ferdinand the Bull! Just like the book they casually pounded into the script earlier! This is officially no longer a movie, people. It is a film!

• Dear gods, Shawn Jr. is in charge of training Michael. I liked this racism better the first time I saw it, when it was called The Toy.

• Do they still make training montages? Apparently so. I liked South Park’s much better.

• And now they’re going to adopt Michael. I think the problem with this movie is that it’s too much like real life.

• Hey, it’s a sassy Black woman in a Hollywood movie! How uncommon!

• Sandra is indignant that the State would let her adopt Michael without even asking Michael’s mother! What a horrible loophole! I can’t believe it even exists! I’m sure it’s not for any logical or serious reason.

WORD COUNT: One hour into the film, and Michael has said 186 words. I really can’t even believe this.

• “Mrs. Orr, you’ll always be Michael’s momma.” You can cut the condescension with a knife.

• Now they’ve adopted him. And Michael said something funny! If there’s something more awkward than child actors laughing, I don’t know what it is

• Shawn Jr. is using condiments to learn about football plays.

• Now Shawn Jr. is singing “Bust a Move” with Michael in the car. And they’re in a car wreck. It looks like the kid will be fine, though I was kind of hoping his voicebox would be temporarily disabled (for about another hour or so)

WORD COUNT: One hour ten minutes into the film, Michael has said 228 words (though about 20 or 30 of those came singing “Bust A Move” with Shawn Jr.

• Michael can’t play football. They need Coach Bud Kilmer out there! (or, better yet, Coach Lance)

• Sandra Bullock explaining how to protect the quarterback by equating the team with her family is easily the most condescending, contrived, idiotic thing I’ve ever seen on film. Utterly unbearable. You know, I saw clips of this in the trailer, but I had no idea how bad it was going to be. This is weapons-grade stupid.

• And now he knows how to play the game! Cinematic gold!

• Racist fan in the stands! That’s right, Sandra–“sticks and stones!”

• Racist football player on the field!

• Holy shit, it’s the aforementioned fan’s son!

• Sandra called her coach on the sidelines on his cell phone. She’s so outrageous!

• Don’t worry, America–she told off that stupid fan. But Shawn Jr. pointed out the “sticks and stones” comment. Oh, Shawn Jr.!

• Racist player is racist! And so are the refs! But coach stood up for Michael. And now Michael will protect him too! But not before Sandra’s voice echoes in his head. Literally. Ugh.

WORD COUNT: 247.

• Don’t worry, White people. Michael took the racist football player out of the game. We’re safe from the racists!

• Another montage of SEC coaches. This is a really long movie.

• Now Michael needs to get the grades. But he’ll have to make all A’s or else he can’t play college football.

2 thoughts:

1) <sarcasm>Yeah, because the SEC has been really stringent with academic standards and football.</sarcasm> “If Michael doesn’t pass his ethics class they won’t even consider him for USC!” If he’s the world-beater like they portray him, I’m sure a team would make it happen.

2) Timmy McGraw suggested that he go to a junior college, but Sandra wisely points out that “most inner city kids who go to junior college drop out in the first year.” Yeah, Sandy, because Michael’s life is exactly like that of other inner city kids going to junior college. Idiotic.

• Kathy Bates: tutor. You know what this movie needs? Another White person spouting knowledge!

WORD COUNT: One hour 30 minutes into the movie, and Michael has said 256 words. Using the earlier estimate, if he said his lines in a row, it would almost be 2 minutes. If someone pays me thousands of dollars, I’ll watch this movie again and count Sandra’s words.

• In case you’re wondering, Shawn Jr. just sat down with Michael and Nick Saban. The scene with the three of them takes exactly 45 seconds. Nick Saban says about 80 words. Shawn Jr. says about 45 words. Michael says 0. My 130-word estimate may have been way off.

• More football. You know, when the movie is about an individual and not a team, football scenes are incredibly boring.

• The coaches are all pitching their offers to Shawn Jr. Phil Fulmer getting fired was apparently not the low-point in his career.

• Now Sandra (a huge Ole Miss fan) is giving the inside track to the Ole Miss coach. She actually said that, on one of the recruiting trips, she said they “took him to a titty bar” and “he had nightmares for weeks.” She advised the coach to take him to a movie “but not Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he’ll just cover his eyes the entire time.”

*PAUSE MOVIE*

My GODS, this movie is going to extremes to make sure the Black man doesn’t scare audiences. Give him a fucking personality! Must everything be absolutes? The family is unnaturally perfect, Michael is a puppy, and racists are loud and obnoxious. The fact that this movie is being touted than anything other than a Lifetime Original Movie is a crime. Seriously, put Penelope Ann Miller in Bullock’s role and that baby’s airing after the Jessica Lynch Story and a Mary K. Letourneau event!

*PLAY MOVIE*

• Who thought this kid was a good idea? It’s Hayden Panettiere in Remember the Titans all over again.

• He chooses Ole Miss. Wow, that was suspenseful.

• Isn’t this movie done yet? Crikey, it’s like watching Transformers 2.

WORD COUNT: One hour 40 minutes into the film, and Michael is up to 259 words.

• Tim McGraw…breaking down “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Interspersed with shots of Shawn Jr.

• Holy crap, Michael’s paper that he wrote he read (in a dramatic voiceover) was almost longer than all the words up to this point combined

• “Way to go, bro” from the daughter after Michael graduates. Oh dialogue…so natural-sounding.

• This movie just keeps on going! He graduated! What a natural ending! Now they’re prattling on about Ole Miss and potential NCAA violations. Ugh.

• This NCAA representative is accusing Sandra and Timmy of being boosters. You know, it kind of sounds like they are. Way to go, movie.

• I think he believes what this NCAA representative is saying. Why did I ever think watching this movie was a good idea?

• And now the movie has a misunderstanding of romantic-comedy-esque proportions. OMG, Sandra said something in a tone she didn’t mean!!!1!!

WORD COUNT: Well, it’s much better this time, thanks to Michael’s narration of his paper. In one 10-minute segment (and really only a few minutes of that), Michael more than doubled his word count with 295 more, for a grand total of 554 words. Just imagine if he had been allowed to speak the whole movie!

• Christ, Timmy is comforting Sandra, and here comes the Full House music. Make it stop. This is so amazingly bad. Seriously, how in the holy hell did she win an OSCAR for this???

• Now Michael’s at a party in the Blind Side hood. Oh no! Alcohol is also attending the party! And he took a sip! I’ve been to karaoke parties that were scarier than this.

• Oh, Blind Side. Now the head Black guy (the one who was making eyes at Sandra earlier in the film) is suggesting that Michael had sex with Sandra’s daughter. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

*PAUSE MOVIE*

Just to clarify. Just so we’re ALL on the same page, the film first creates these ridiculous cartoon racists who ask in a restaurant in front of their friends if Sandra was concerned Michael would rape her daughter. And, with that underhand pitch, Sandra knocks it out of the park, storming off with righteous indignation. But now, about an hour later, there’s actually a fucking Black character who is suggesting and encouraging this exact thing happening. This movie is so ridiculously racist I don’t even know how to handle it.

*PLAY MOVIE*

• Michael loses his temper because this dial-a-bad-guy keeps talking about doing Sandra and her daughter. But not before the bad Black guy says he’s going to “bust a cap in yo’ ass.” Because, you know, they have to use painfully outdated slang that the White theater-goers would recognize (and quote). “Hey Michael, that’s a radical shirt! NOT! Waazzuuuuuuppppppp!”

• Apparently Sandra’s accent kind of optional. Anybody can use an accent the entire time!

• And now Sandra is telling off the evil Black guy. And she said something that I’m sure was meant to be witty (Sarah Palin-style). Something to make housewives across America pump their fists in the air. Absolutely disgusting.

• Ferdinand the Bull reference. Again.

• Seriously, writers, cram in the word “family” one more time. It might have an iota of meaning left.

• And Shawn Jr. eyes some college women. Don’t worry folks, he’s straight! It’s okay to still like this movie, Bible Belt!

• I’ll be honest, I stopped counting Michael’s words. He hasn’t said a ton more. It’s 2 hours into the movie. I just want it to end! MAKE IT STOP!

• Another Sandra narration. How powerful. *Yawn*

• Oh, and what the hell happened to his brother?

• And Shawn Jr. gets the freeze-frame. Painful.

And it’s done.

That movie was Phantom Menace-esque in its god-awfulness. Remember the movie’s valuable lessons:

1) Blacks should be seen, not heard.

2) Metaphors are defiantly metaphorical

3) Stereotypes are bad, unless they bring in money at the box office.

Worst Best Pictures

It seems everyone has a list of Best Picture snubs, especially around this time of year. Well, “everyone’ includes me, and so here is my list.

But first, a couple of clarifications:

First off, this list does not include movies that were not nominated. There have been countless injustices for Best Picture nominations (Babe and Apollo 13 nominated over The Usual Suspects???), but if I start listing movies never nominated the possibilities become TOO endless. Plus, I’m working on that list for a later entry.

Secondly, each movie needs a replacement from the list of those nominated for Best Picture—we just can’t say a particular year didn’t have a Best Picture that year. A Beautiful Mind was a lame-ass choice for Best Picture, but 2001 was a horrible year for movies. What would you have rather selected? Gosford Park? In The Bedroom? Not every year is going to be of 1939, 1976, 2005, or 2007 caliber.

And lastly, the disparity between the actual winner and the deserved winner must be significant enough to warrant attention. I think Shane is better than From Here to Eternity, but not enough to warrant making an issue out of it.

Okay, let’s get started.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

I get it. It’s an epic film and it practically invented the concept of the cameo (“Wait a minute…that was Frank Sinatra. But he wasn’t listed as a star in this film!”).

But the film wasn’t that good. It was bloated, repetitious, and a bit racist. However, the real crime is that this film won…against Giant, The King and I, and The Ten Commandments. It’s like Sesame Street’s “One of these things just doesn’t belong here.” No real preference for me—I’ll take the field over 80 Days.

KRAMER VS. KRAMER

I get it. The Deer Hunter won the year before and you didn’t want back-to-back Vietnam movies winning Best Picture. You have the star power of Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman in an American Beauty parallel (some have said this is film was a continuation of The Graduate if Benjamin and Elaine had gotten married). Why wouldn’t this film win?

Two words: Apocalypse Now. Even the backstory is compelling—the monumental effort to bring the film to the screen (documented in the wonderful Heart of Darkness documentary) that included budget issues, a typhoon, and Martin Sheen having a heart attack.  But forget all that – the movie itself is a masterpiece and anyone thinking this is a movie about Vietnam is sadly misinformed.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE

I get it. Following the personal struggles of two runners (one Jew, one Gentile), culminating in a single event to determine the winner…that’s based on a real story? That’s a guaranteed Oscar, as evidenced by its Oscar.

That said…Chariots of Fire: classic song…and that’s about it. It’s not even one of the top five sports movies ever made (none of which won Best Picture), let alone the best picture of the year. That honor, in 1981, should have gone to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tell you what—instead of me doing all the work, why don’t you tell me why this shouldn’t have won. Oh, and you cannot hold the genre against it. Give up? Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.

A great action-adventure movie is like a great comedy—overlooked, derided, and incredibly rare. What was the last good action-adventure movie you saw? (if you even think Transformers 2 then you are no longer allowed to read this blog. Seriously.) Raiders of the Lost Ark was an absolute masterpiece, a relentless, thoughtful adventure that has never been equaled. Roger Ebert wrote this review of Raiders and, if it doesn’t sell you on the film’s greatness, nothing will.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE

I get it. Solid performances and a script laden with Shakespeare references. I mean, come on—it’s Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet WHILE HE’S LIVING IT! BOOM! Consider your mind blown.

Yeah, watch this one again sometime. Seriously. And while you’re watching, put a little Post-It® note on the TV so you can occasionally look over and be reminded that this was selected as the best movie of 1998. For added fun, count the number of times you say to yourself out loud, “Really?” My average is 17.

Saving Private Ryan was released in the summer, but that shouldn’t be held against it. Ryan is the Best Picture of 1998, and the only movie that was even close was Thin Red Line (slow but underrated). The first 20 minutes of Ryan are undisputed genius, the closest thing to wartime captured in the cinema (<sarcasm>except, of course, the gritty war epic The Green Berets</sarcasm>). The fact that the rest of the movie is pretty damn good (carried by wonderful casting) after the soldiers stormed the beach is nothing short of amazing.

FORREST GUMP

I get it. Cutting edge special effects (“Wait a minute…Forrest Gump never met the President!”), a heartwarming story, and an underrated performance by Tom Hanks (paving the way for actors to “never go full-retard”) combined to form a genuinely enjoyable movie.

The Best Picture award is not about an enjoyable movie—otherwise, Back to the Future would have swept the Oscars. Being Best Picture is about greatness, and there are few films (if any) greater than The Shawshank Redemption. There’s no way that Gump should have beaten Andy and the gang. None whatsoever. Shawshank is a gripping, powerful film about friendship, hope, and determination. Gump is a two-hour tribute to the self-importance of the Baby Boomer generation.

GLADIATOR

Notice how each one of these entries has a suggestion as to why a particular film could have feasibly been chosen? I would on this entry, but I have absolutely no idea what in the holy hell the Academy was thinking on this one. For reals.

Call me naïve, but the Best Picture should be something looked back upon as a timeless classic, something we can watch decades later and have it still move us,, affect us, or at least tell us something about that time period. I love Ridley Scott (literally!), but Gladiator was an above-average action film that never tried to be anything more. For gods sake, Scott actually forgot about the dog (named “Hell”) when he released the movie and had to throw him into some dvd alternate ending. For reals. The movie drags on for 30 minutes too long, the special effects are laughable (remember the tigers?), and the ending is preposterous (A slave fights the emperor in the Coliseum…TO THE DEATH!).

So what nominees instead? Traffic? Sure, that would have been better (almost anything would), but it never achieved its own lofty aspirations. Chocolat? Really? Erin Brockovich? Two hours of Julia Roberts playing a slightly louder version of every character she’s ever played? Sign me up!

No, the rightful winner of 2000 was a foreign film by the name of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is a film of unspeakable beauty and whose sweet, understated storylines (and acting) were astoundingly effective. In a year of boring and bland (did you see the list of nominees?), Crouching Tiger was something radically different. Characters were flying, balancing on trees, and sky-fighting somewhere other than the matrix. And, because of the film’s sincerity and intentions, people invested themselves in it. I watched this in a movie theater in Columbus and, apart from occasional (appropriate) laughter, the audience was absolutely mesmerized. And rightfully so.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Crash (2005): Over Brokeback Mountain? News flash: When you have a story where every plotline revolves around race, it’s just as bad as a movie that ignores race completely.

The Departed (2006): Over Letters from Iwo Jima? Were you that afraid Martin would never direct another movie? The Departed is a well-done film, but if we’re handing out Best Pictures then Heat and Collateral should be up in arms over this.

Ordinary People (1980): Over Raging Bull? This one doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers other people, but they definitely have a point.

My Fair Lady (1964): Over Dr. Strangelove? I realize the Academy would never risk selecting Kubrick’s masterpiece when a safer film was available, but this is probably the most vanilla victory ever.

Are You My Mother?

How I Met Your Mother is one of the best shows on television right now and, in a television landscape where the elite are defined by dramas (Mad Men, Dexter, LOST, Friday Night Lights…), the fact that HIMYM is still among the top shows (with a laugh track no less!) is nothing short of incredible. Its wonderful writing, unique story-telling methods, and pitch-perfect actors combine to form a show with genuine laughs, characters, and human moments. Its Arrested Development meets Friends, and I can’t get enough of it.

This season has been utterly fantastic, with only a few episodes approaching subpar for the series. It’s also advanced the plot of Ted Mosby actually finding his mother more than the other four seasons combined. Message boards across the Information Superhighway® featured a number of users who were positive that the anonymous mother was Rachel Bilson (who would have made an excellent choice) but, as we saw this week, the ex-OC-star was a red herring. The mother’s identity remains a mystery.

Figuring out this mystery is not an easy thing to do. At this point, the choice has to be perfect. Think about it: Ted Mosby has dated Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) and Stella Zinman (Sarah Chalke), and even briefly courted Amy Adams (the one who made Enchanted halfway bearable), yet none of those worked out. So it has to be someone better than Robin, an amazingly awesome character who (despite the first episode) we all assumed was the one, better than Amy Adams, who continually dazzles critics and is often singled out from asstastic movies as the one shining point, and better than Stella, who starred on Scrubs as Elliot (who was arguably the most perfect combination of smart, funny, sexy, and vulnerable ever to appear on TV).

So, what are the qualifications? Well, the actress who ultimately plays the mother has to be:

1) Someone recognizable. After the recent guests and the shows popularity, the days of Victoria from Season 1 are long gone.

2) Someone already likable. Similar to the first requirement, the actress has to be someone well-liked by TV audiences. After Robin and Ted broke up, I was disappointed and ready to attack the next girl who Ted dared to date; after all, how could she compare to Robin?? But then Sarah Chalke appeared and all was forgiven. She carried the likability from her (ongoing) stint as Elliot on Scrubs onto the show, and it worked wonders. There was no need for writers to try to make her uber-awesome or ideal – she had been doing that for seven years already.

3) Someone the right age (Ted Mosby just turned 30). This seems fairly obvious, but it does make the search that much more difficult. Sophie Marceau is amazing, but she’s also out of the age range. On the other edge of the spectrum, Keira Knightley  might pass the “half your age +7” rule, but her dating Ted would be all kinds of creepers.

As you can see, this is not an easy decision. But it’s one that I wanted to figure out, with the help of one Jared R. Trubee (photo). Here are some possibilities:

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Natalie Portman

Why it might be her: Ummmm…It’s Natalie Portman and she’s perfect. *shakes head*

Why it’s probably not: It might be hard for her to jump from film to TV, especially if it’s something other than a small (near-cameo) role.

jessica albe

Jessica Alba

Why it might be her: Jessica Alba is hot (especially Into the Blue Jessica Alba. Yeah, that’s right, I watched the movie. I even own it! BAM!). Plus she made a foray into TV on The Office (another great show) and could probably use a break from filming a Meet the Fockers sequel. For reals.

Why it’s probably not: Jessica Alba is not the shiniest coin in the fountain and makes Hayden Christensen’s acting seem decent by comparison. She’s got nothing to offer HIMYM but looks, and there are plenty of actresses who can do more. I mean, if we’re going on hotness, why not just get that girl from Time Crimes. Oh yeah, and one more thing: Jessica Alba is not funny. She’s a beautiful woman who has been told that she is funny, which is all kinds of worse.

MilaKunis

Mila Kunis

Why it might be her: Mila Kunis is (obviously) attractive, but she’s also hilarious. She was wonderful in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which also starred Jason Segel), she’s the right age, and would make an ideal choice…with one possible exception.

Why it might not be her: Kunis was wonderful as Rachel Jansen in Sarah Marshall, but most people still remember her as Jackie from That 70s Show. Rachel was awesome, Jackie was annoying. That would probably be the only hesitation (other than scheduling conflicts).

Those actresses definitely all have potential. However, they didn’t make the cut.

As near as Jared and I can figure (after much discussion and debate), there are two finalists who would be fantastic:

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Kristen Bell

Why it could easily be her: Kristen Bell was also in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and she was also hilarious. She is beautiful, has great comedic timing, and was born in 1980. Jackpot!

The other one (and my personal favorite):

91_isla_fisher_3034

Isla Fisher

Why it could easily be her: She’s a cutie and, while she was great in Wedding Crashers (her breakout role) she was also wonderful in The Lookout (talk about underrated film!). HIMYM has had its share of dramatic moments, and someone like Fisher would have no problem playing an actual character rather than a face that appears for the first time on the final episode of the series. She’s funny, genuine, and has just enough of a low profile to be a wonderful unexpected surprise.

Much like Lily’s “front porch test,” I could easily see her with the rest of the gang at McLaren’s. I hope it’s Fisher, but knowing HIMYM it will probably be someone I’ve never even considered…and who’s better than I could have ever imagined.

Best Worst Movie

Three years ago, my former roommate (and current cousin) decided to hold a movie competition. We got together, ordered pizza, and each watched our submissions. Jake’s was Gymkata, a film filled with combat so bizarre that Cracked actually featured it as the best fighting style “too awesome to actually exist.” Mine was Dracula 3000, featuring Casper “Hard Jaw” Van Dien, the long-lost Coolio, and one of the most bizarre endings in movie history. This was followed by much Patron, drunk dialing, and even drunker karaoke, and by the end of the night I was the winner. I had found that year’s best worst movie.

When asked what makes a great movie, legendary director Howard Hawks said, “Three good scenes and no bad ones.” If you think of the great films out there, Hawks is surprisingly spot-on. Unfortunately, it’s easier to find a great movie than a great bad movie.

The trick is that the bad movie has to be enjoyably bad, not just bad (like I’ve talked about scary movies). As wisely discussed on the fantastic How I Met Your Mother, when people think of the worst movie ever there are two main camps: Plan 9 from Outer Space and Manos, the Hands of Fate. Both groups have great arguments, but no consensus is ever made because they are talking past one another. Watch either one a few times (without help from the MST3K crew) and it’s clear that both movies are horrible. However, Manos is painfully bad – the plot is painful, the dubbing is like watching a foreign film without subtitles, and the film itself doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. Plan 9, on the other hand, is the best worst movie because, at some level, it’s actually enjoyable. It’s got heart. Ed Wood was clearly going for something – he just took Suck Ave. to get there. The effects are hilarious, not pathetic. The acting is poor, but earnest. The plot is ridiculous, not stupid. And as a result, the film provides an opportunity for others to mock it (in a non-resentful way).

Jake and I tend to lean more toward the Plan 9 format. So, for our annual competition, the bad movie has to be enjoyable (e.g., Commando (which I argue is the best worst movie ever made) or Death Wish 3). As an extra twist, the movie also has to feature at least one recognizable actor/actress.

My entry this year was Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which is a gut-wrenching tale of a mega shark fighting a giant octopus. For reals! Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that. I mean…there’s the…ummmm…I mentioned the shark, right? And the octopus? Yeah…that’s about it. Think of it like Boa vs. Python, but instead of a boa and a python, it’s an overgrown shark and a huge octopus. Awesome!

Needless to say, it’s a great bad film. It features, among other things, the giant octopus swatting a helicopter out of the air using a tentacle and it even has the mega shark attacking the Golden Gate bridge. For reals!

size mega-shark

And, for an extra bonus, it has one of the most ridiculously awesome scenes in the history of cinema. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed:

All kinds of craziness. Throw in the odd performance of Lorenzo Lamas and the romance between characters (featuring the most erotic scene since Leslie Bibb and Joshua Jackson showered together in Skulls), and I thought I had victory all but guaranteed.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. While Jake was blown away by the aforementioned ridiculous scene (he just stared at me in disbelief and said, “Are you going to win again this year, you SOB?”), the movie’s ridiculousness peaked too early (that scene was within the first half-hour), and so it didn’t have the impact of my epic victory from last year: Shark Attack 3: Megalodon.

It didn’t help that Jake’s film was Howling III: The Marsupials, which was hilariously bad. Granted, it didn’t feature a recognizable actor, but that was because last year my entry didn’t contain a recognizable actor (though I maintain that the actor Ryan Cutrona was recognizable, given that he was Betty Draper’s father in Mad Men, and was also in Changeling, 24, and a commercial for Cancun). This is an ongoing feud, as it was my response to the first year when Jake said his recognizable actor in Gymkata was that the film was directed by “the director who also directed Enter the Dragon.” Nice try, jackass.

IRregardless, next year we’re back on track with actor name-recognition and bad movie hilarity. One year to find the next best worst movie. I had better get started.

Underrated: Pitch Black

Forgive the lengthy introduction, but this is not the first of these entries I hope to make.

Good science fiction is tough to track down these days. You have horror movies trying to be science fiction (and failing at both), which results in The Happening (only tolerable if you watch with Rifftrax), superhero movies trying to be science fiction (sorry, Will, but Hancock was rough), and science fiction that we all wish wasn’t science fiction (I dare you watch Hayden Christensen in Jumper. Seriously. I dare you.).

Some science fiction tempts you by starting out strong; Event Horizon had great potential and Sunshine was gearing up to be one of the best science fiction films ever made until the last 20 minutes (imagine Episode I disappointment without the suck). And then there are some science fiction films that approach perfection for the entire length of the film and receive the critical praise they so richly deserve (WALL-E and District 9 immediately come to mind).

But this entry is about underrated movies, and I’ve selected to highlight a little film released in 2000 called Pitch Black, the story of a group of passengers marooned on a planet where they struggle to survive on a sun-scorched world. Featuring Vin Diesel, the movie was met with indifference: $39 million at the domestic box office and 36% approval with the Cream of the Crop. The effects are a little dated, no one threatened to sweep the Oscars with their performances, and you won’t find this film on any Top 10 lists.

So what’s to like? What makes this movie so underrated?

THE ACTORS.

With the possible exception of Vin Diesel, no actor or actress stands out in this movie. And, when it comes to science fiction and horror, that can be a good thing. Quick, name me an actor not named Wilford or Kurt in The Thing. Someone not named Sigourney from Alien? Hell, name one actress from The Descent.

A strong story negates the need for a strong performance—everyone just needs to do his/her job. Pitch Black is no different. Because no one takes it over the top, the cast fuses into a plot delivery device that is neither memorable for being good…or for being bad. As a result, the actors disappear and the characters emerge; characters without boisterous secrets or petty dramas, but with personal issues they prefer not be made public. They react to the situation, not the script, and don’t bore us with their petty problems. It is refreshing.

THE PLANET

By far the strength of this movie, the ship crashes on a (seemingly) deserted planet. But this isn’t like most films where the surface is surprisingly like earth except with a slightly higher Nitrogen count or whatever. This is a truly alien landscape, complete with three suns, no water or plant life, and a ringed planet on the horizon.  To quote one Ted Mosby, it is hauntingly beautiful, without some bullshit oasis or friendly humanoids to help these survivors out of their bind. There’s only a colony, long-deserted (though not voluntarily).

Horizon Rings Small

THE ANIMALS

There are no flora, but plenty of fauna on this seemingly lifeless planet; this ultimately serves as the threat to the population. In a precursor to Peter Jackson’s epic King Kong remake, the creatures themselves have clearly evolved. It’s not one dominant life form, but multiple forms on different parts of the planet. There are the slugs donning exoskeletons and a phosphorescent glow nestled safe in the ground.

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The winged, blue-blooded creatures who rule the skies, fighting one another after they’ve run out of torsos:

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And the monsters who stalk above the ground, seared by light but immune to everything else (except for Vin, of course).

Ground Creatures Small

There is even evidence of other creatures who were clearly not fit to survive long-term on the surface, with huge, hulking skeletons bleached by the suns as a reminder of their downfall due to docility.

Skeletons Small

And, best of all, this is all information that we gathered as audience members. There isn’t some scientist who’s studied these beasts, some survivor who learned how these brutes think. It’s purely visual evidence, giving us the freedom to construct our own narratives. Subtlety and imagination triumph—Michael Bay fans need not apply.

THE TENSION

Finally, some real tension. Without the stock characters that plague these monster movies, survival becomes a genuine uncertainty. The monsters remain in the dark, where our minds can create far scarier demons than any CGI bullshit. Instead of looking for flaws, we can focus on how the scene unfolds; we replace skepticism with escapism, something that is sorely lacking in most modern horror movies.

Pitch Black won’t change your life and you might not even want to recommend it to your friends. But Netflix it and you just might be pleasantly surprised.

New Tricks?

I hate to be “that guy” and rip on a movie that I’ve haven’t seen before. So I won’t.

The movie I won’t tear into is Old Dogs, the latest winner from the dynamic comedy duo of Robin Williams (RV, License to Wed) and John Travolta (Lucky Numbers, Wild Hogs). In case you’ve been fortunate enough to miss the god-awful previews, here they are.

I’m not going to attack a movie that is essentially a giant steaming cliche, with writing that’s so tired that they actually write out the characters’ descriptions to save time like it’s some sort of a Sweet Valley High book (Jessica is a wild child, Elizabeth is studious!). For reals:

Dan Williams

Charlie Travolta

It’s like watching a preview for a Tim Allen movie – all that’s missing is a botox joke. Just to be sure, let’s run down the list:

√ Shot to the nuts (and you’re to blame)

√ Supporting actors who are funnier (Seth Green, Justin Long, zombie Bernie Mac…)

√ Fainting at the sight of kids (See!? He’s not ready to be a father!)

√ Prescriptions with unlikely side-effects consumed through a totally believable plot device?

√ When animals attack

√√ Second nut shot (“Football in the groin!”)

_ A heartfelt lesson? Only one way to find out!

Oh, but if you are feeling like watching this piece of crap, you may not want to check out this article (especially the last paragraph). BAM!

“Scary” Movies

I’m not going to go on a rant about how horrible horror movies are these days–I’m not that old. More importantly, no era is impervious to criticism–for every Halloween there are 50 Kingdom of the Spiders.

That said, it seems that recent horror movies have glommed onto certain ideas about how to scare audiences, and those ideas are failing miserably. The Unborn, A Haunting in Connecticut, One Missed Call…the list of suck just goes on and on.

I think the underlying problem is that the writers and directors of these films have confused “scary” and “startled.” Being startled happens when something occurs on-screen that surprises you: someone appears in a mirror or behind a door, a dark shape moves across the background accompanied by a loud blurt from the soundtrack, or a human-like figure is shown with unusual attributes.

I’m going to geek out for like a paragraph or so. Children go through three different stages in terms of fear. From ages 3-8, kids are frightened of unrealistic, fanciful stimuli, such as monsters, mutants, or supernatural creatures; in other words, things that do not typically appear in the world. From ages 9-12 (of course, these ages are approximate and are not steadfast for everyone), children are scared of more realistic stimuli in the form of bad things (murder, abduction) that could happen to them or loved ones. Children ages 13 and over scared of more abstract stimuli, typically on the psychological level. They’re scared of physical harm as well, but overall their concerns have spread to include people everywhere. In short, the progression goes from discomfort of the initial image to a deeper fear of something bad happening to anyone, including strangers.

Looking at these recent films, it’s easy to see that they’re only accessing that first level of fear, which is normally restricted to young children. Those disturbing images of malformed victims don’t frighten adults–they startle adults. But, the more those images are on the screen, the more time our brains have to work on figuring out why this individual doesn’t look like others. The most logical conclusion (which is also most-easily reached) is that the image is fake. And, suddenly, the movie isn’t scary, just annoying and insulting.

So here are my random thoughts for scary movie filmmakers(albeit incomplete and jumbled) on how to fix the horror genre:

1) Develop tension. Seriously, it’s actually not that hard. Create a character that’s moderately likable (hell, sometimes it doesn’t even take that) and build some tension. Give us viewers some information that the characters do not have. Let us see the person lurking in the background (as opposed to a loud musical screech as a shadow rushes by in the background). Take your time. Slowly pan the camera around slowly. Let us see that something in the room has changed. Subtly give us a clue instead of beating us over the head with the obvious.

2) Enough with the mirrors. We get it–the character looks down to wash her face, she looks back up and OMG THERE’S A PERSON IN THE MIRROR!!!11!!1!!1! Yeah, you’re not even trying anymore. At least, if you do it, have the guts to play with the audience a little bit (like in the underrated Orphan).

3) Technology still exists. At some point, a meeting was held with all of the horror movie producers and directors to address the fact that it’s not 1999 anymore and everyone now has cell phones (including potential victims in the films). Unfortunately, the meeting lasted only 12 seconds, which was just enough time for someone to blurt out, “Yeah, sure, but what if they lost service?” and for everyone else to agree on the genius fix. Seriously, the “no service” solution has to be the laziest script remedy since amnesia. Unless you’re in the middle of Montana with a Zach Morris cell phone, you can get service. Period. You’re being ridiculous and you’re embarrassing yourself. Find a way to adjust.

4) Nicholas Cage sucks. Nothing to do with horror movies. I’m just saying.

5) Enough with the CGI. Did you learn any lessons from The Haunting? When you use CGI, it doesn’t look real. Period. And, if you start out the horror movie with CGI, most directors use the effects more and more as the movie continues, often building to some sort of epic tornado of suck, like if Carlos Mencia and Tyler Perry were hanging out at Nickelback concert. So, while the CGI effects were a bit bothersome, they become so annoying that you end up resenting the movie.

6) Kids aren’t scary. With very exceptions, kids are not scary. Giving them a bowl cut and slapping on some mascara doesn’t make them scary any more than having an old lady swearing in a movie makes it funny.

There are plenty more, but this should get you started. Work on it, Hollywood.

Stranger Danger

As evidenced by my lengthy discussion of The Descent, I love a good horror movie. There’s something about the creepiness and the ability to tap into fears effectively really fascinates me, and I’m always on the lookout for a good, underrated horror film (I’m looking at you Isolation and Vacancy). In that ongoing quest, Claire and I checked out The Strangers this past weekend, a movie I had seen advertised and, from the look of the trailer, had really strong potential. Jared was not a fan, but what does he know?

Apparently, a lot.

Strangers starts out with the claim, “inspired by true events.” Now normally this is a phrase reserved for Lifetime Original Movies or some Disney knockoff, but when you drop those words on a horror filmwellthat means something. Or at least I thought it did.

The movie’s premise is that a couple has just made it back to a house in the country after attending a wedding, only to be terrorized by strangers (Hey! Just like the title!) for no apparent reason. The first 30 minutes or so had great potential—the couple was dealing with a marriage proposal rejection (Hello worst nightmare, what are you doing in this movie?) and the setup for the scary moments was definitely effective. But what I liked most was that the director went to great lengths to kind of lay out evidence (presumably like a crime scene)—the discarded engagement ring, bloody knife, shattered car window. They even started with a 911 call about finding the bodies. It was a lot of fun trying to figure out how the police pieced together the series of events in real life.

Well, the last half hour got to be a little much. Then they tacked on an ending that was so heavy-handed it read like a seventh grade essay about hypocrisy. Then they let Liv Tyler actually live. It really went downhill fast.

Oddly enough, the movie’s real downfall occurred when, out of curiosity, I wiki’d Strangers to find out about the true events that inspired the story. Apparently, “the film was inspired by an event from director Bryan Bertino’s childhood: a stranger came to his home asking for someone who was not there, and Bertino later found out that empty homes in the neighborhood had been broken into that night.”

So, just to recap: The “true event” that inspired the story is that some people broke into some homes when no one was home? What. The. Hell. Thanks for nothing, Strangers. I award you no points, and may god have mercy on your soul.

The Descent

This should speak volumes about my relationship with Claire: we watched The Descent together this weekend. BAM!

As we all know, The Descent holds a special place in my heart. That was the weekend we were in Bloomington, IN, visiting Nate for Snakes on a Plane. Well, not all of us were there but, despite missing the fourth, we had a blast playing catch, grilling out, playing a marathon game of Mille Bornes, and watching one of the best horror movies ever made.

The movie is incredible. Seriously. Just incredible. The only man in the entire film (except for Scar) is impaled and killed three minutes in. The entire movie is 95 minutes long, but the crawlers don’t appear for 47 minutes. Juno’s affair with Sarah’s husband is telegraphed in three looks, each less than two seconds: Juno to Paul, Beth to Juno, and Paul, Juno and Paul again. It’s mercilessly graphic without being grotesque, gritty without being disgusting, and poignant without being cliche. It is completely, relentlessly compelling, from start to finish.

Interpretting films is a large part of my field. Bordwell & Thompson argue that there are four levels of interpretation, with the fourth (symptomatic) being the most complex, representing a manifestation of a culture’s ideology. In other words, a movie often represents a lot more than a literal translation of what is on the screen.

So, how to interpret The Descent? There are so many questions. Most notably, what’s with the faces, the eyes keeping a silent watch on the characters in the film (and, at times, the viewer). Here’s a picture of a face when Sarah enters the cabin:

And here’s another, a little more subtle. This one happens after Sarah has a disturbing nightmare and sits up abruptly in her bed in the cabin. After she lays down, this is visible (even more so in dark lighting):

These eyes are disturbing and (I would argue) deliberate on the part of the director. My friend Jared has also pointed out a face-type shape in the bullet holes on a road sign. What are they supposed to mean? Furthermore, what about the crawlers? Peter Travers of Rolling Stone openly wonders “Are they inbred mutants or the longtime grudges among the women made creepy flesh?” This point is made all the more salient by the fact that the crawlers have no vision and can only kill based on sound–fascinating in a group of friends where each has issues with the other (the affair, guilt of lying about the affair, the sister rivalry, a hidden lesbian crush) but are left unspoken.

Clearly, there’s something more than just spelunking going on here. This becomes all too clear with the theatrical ending (Juno in the car) and the dvd-release ending (Sarah with her daughter in the cave). Well, I stumbled on a review (and some miscellaneous comments) that had some interesting suggestions:

• Sarah’s friends each represent a part of her psyche

• Sarah was mortally injured in the car wreck and the film is about her “descent” into death (with Sarah mentally killing off each of her friends as she grew closer to dying)

• Sarah never regained consciousness after falling into the hole (when she was knocked out) and therefore hallucinated about all of her friends being killed. This means she woke up at the end, mentally unbalanced, and settled in to eat cake with the image of her daughter (possibly dead, possibly just giving up in order to die).

The most intriguing is the idea that the crawlers never existed. The reviewer suggested that Sarah murdered all of her friends in the cave, which would explain why she was covered in blood. The reviewer asked us to see her like we would see the lead in Carrie, an outcast pushed too far. While initially I was against this idea (hardcore against it, actually), it’s a lot of fun and has some merit. For instance, Sarah wasn’t around when the other friends were killed–she was only physically around for Beth and Juno, both of whom she was responsible for killing. Furthermore, Sarah is not hurt by the monsters and actually begins crawling around silently like one (as evidenced when she temporarily rescues Juno).

I don’t know if I completely buy any of these, and I certainly dismiss one or two. However, by taking bits and pieces of what we know, we can assemble our own take on what really happened. Ultimately, it’s what we think that truly matters. As one reviewer wrote: “That’s what makes these kind of films so much fun. They may mean nothing at all (as unlikely as that is in this case), but they so carefully lay the groundwork to believe the exact opposite, that we’re fools not to give it a go.”