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REVIEW in need of review (of its soon-to-be lost financing, soon-to-be fired employees and cancellation policies).
I wonder if Andrew Daly realizes he is as funny as a dick rash.
Thankfully, his new TV series, REVIEW, is as painfully devoid of humor as he is, and will be gone long before my dick rash. Daly plays a "life reviewer" someone who reviews not books or movies, but life experiences, like kicking a door in, being a racist, attending an orgy, stealing and addiction. I know what you're thinking, "Wow, someone gave someone else some money to make this into a series?" While people with great, original ideas are starving not in Africa, but right here in Los Angeles (coughme, you idiots!)
Why is someone so devoid of character playing a character? REVIEW is structured like a follow-camera reality show, but Daly is not playing himself, rather a nerdy, socially inept tit named Forrest MacNeil (basically, himself, with the name Forrest MacNeil) who "hosts" a show where YouTubers ask him questions on how it would feel to do certain everyday things, and he performs those acts, then gives them a rating out of five stars. It's humongously pathetic, and even whilst Daly goes through the motions with his one-trick-pony newscaster persona, he seems to be putting in only as much effort as required for a show that will be canceled long before it finds one actual laugh amongst the morass of limp writing and Daly's desperate stabs at improv.
Other people who benefit minimally from this short TV stint (they'll at least get paid and have another bullet point on their résumés) are Jessica St. Clair as Forrest's MILF wife, Kaden Gibson as the son, some douche as Forrest's intern (who no doubt has a long career ahead of him in toothpaste commercials), and Megan Stevenson as Forrest's blonde TV assistant, with legs shaved smoother than Taylor Lautner's chest, who looks like she's riding an Anal Intruder.
Episode 1 features reviews on stealing, smoking, drinking, cocaine, and going to the prom. Upcoming episodes that survive cancellation will feature further activities with the same prosaic writing and unconvincing execution that Daly will turn into desperate attempts at holding down a job as a "comedian."
It rubs the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again
Bullet to the Head (2012)
Bullets On The Brain.
BULLET TO THE HEAD is Sylvester Stallone in Gritty Tragic Mode, an old-school hit-man named Jimmy Bonomo, whose partner is killed by a mercenary after what should have been a regulation whacking. On the other side of the tracks, a cop's partner is killed by the same merc in what should also have been a regulation whacking (cops call it an 'arrest').
In a world where coincidence is spelled l-a-z-y s-c-r-e-e-n-w-r-i-t-i-n-g, Bonomo teams with the Korean cop, Taylor (Sung Kang), to track down the killer of both their bros. It's an uneasy partnership, with Taylor the cop "allowing" Jimmy the hit-man to work his outlaw magic to progress their manhunt, yet constantly warning Jimmy that when their hunt is over, he would come for Jimmy for breaking the law. How's that for two-faced cop?
BULLET claws for a foothold amongst '80's mismatched buddy pics. And slips off, banging its head on lack of chemistry. The closest action movie comparison is 48 HRS where a cop was forced to team with an outlaw, but both Nolte and Murphy were powerful screen presences, whereas Kang's uninspired prissy cop cannot hold a candle to Stallone oozing his veteran Stallion charisma.
Directed by Walter Hill (who directed both 48 HRS films), from a graphic novel by Alexis Nolent and Colin Wilson, BULLET is a stock action flick, with Stallone wading into as many fight scenes as possible. His first one is at a darkened swimming pool where he strips down to just a towel around his waist for no good reason, other than to show off his sweet trapezius-deltoid ink. His usual method of dispatch is - say it with me - a Bullet To The Head.
Taylor the cop wants to keep each thug alive after they've divulged info on how to get to the next thug in the chain leading to their mercenary, but Jimmy is always giving the thugs - lemme hear you, Cleveland! - a Bullet To The Head.
There's a fish-out-of-water undercurrent, as Taylor continues an ongoing intercourse with his smart-phone for esoteric info, while Jimmy relies on - you guessed it - a Bullet To The Head. Besides the usual dinosaur jokes hurled at Jimmy (for not comprehending Google, etc.) Taylor wisecracks a classic, regarding his smart-phone, "You should upgrade from carrier pigeons, or whatever Early Man uses." Strangely, there is no payoff on the smart-phone; a couple of people mention Taylor being umbilically attached to it - and Taylor himself admits he couldn't do his job without it - but he never arrives at a situation where it either comes into play to save their lives, or where he must discard it to avoid a Bullet To The Head.
Stallone narrates. In velvet baritone, he once again repeats his mantra from LOCK UP (1989), "Don't trust anybody." He tells us he's been arrested 26 times, as we see various mugshots through the years. Maybe his new 18-25 demographic won't look twice at these pics, but we've seen them thousands of times as publicity photos for ROCKY, RAMBO, COBRA, except now they've been hilariously Photoshopped wearing mugshot tags.
Mountainous muscle with a smile to melt butter - Jason Momoa is Keegan the killer mercenary (CONAN THE BARBARIAN 2011). Though he works for businessman/gangster Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), he thinks nothing of dispatching even Morel's thugs with a - dare I? - Bullet To The Head. He's either totally insane, or totally on-script.
Christian Slater is a coked playa holding an EYES WIDE SHUT party - for the gratuitous flesh this movie needs to propel it at certain points when the shooting stops. He gives a flash-drive (a key piece of evidence) to Jimmy and Taylor, and Jimmy gives him - refrain - a Bullet To The Head.
Now what I don't understand is: why doesn't Taylor (oh, technocrat cop with the smart-phone up his butt) COPY the flash-drive so that this evidence is safe? Later, when Morel (the bad boss) retrieves the flash-drive, he doesn't think to ask whether copies were made, let alone torture anyone for the sake of finding out (or to make Dick Cheney hard).
Sarah Shahi is the eye candy, and plot cliché constantly being invoked:
1) She's really a tattoo artist, but with one year of med school, she'll remove a bullet from your shoulder while you swig on whiskey;
2) she tells Jimmy 'I don't remove bullets anymore' then removes a bullet;
3) she's smoking hot, so we WILL see a flash of those magnificent mammaries;
4) she's kidnapped to bargain for the flash-drive.
And we're in a Stallone movie: if we thought we were gonna get away WITHOUT seeing an axe fight in a warehouse, we must be 18-25. Keegan throws down two axes in challenge.
As Conan, muscular Momoa was surrounded by giant spectacle, so we couldn't grasp exactly how big he was. But here, though Stallone is ripped like a bridge cable (the power of good diet, prayer and steroids), Momoa towers over him. (I hope to see this guy in better roles soon; he'll probably end up in a Marvel or DC production.) One would think that Jimmy would beat Keegan by chopping his body or throwing him down a shaft or choking him with a chain (all totally viable kills in a clichéd Empty Warehouse Set), but in keeping with the tenor of the movie, Taylor shows up and shoots Keegan. Guess where he shoots him? Go on, guess. I'll give you ten guesses where he shoots him. Guess guess guess guess --
Heeey, how'd you guess?
District 9 (2009)
A Closer Encounter.
It lacks the epic majesty of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the wonderment of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, the cloying fear of ALIEN, the scientific ineptitude of STAR WARS, it even lacks the funny masks of STAR TREK. But - like 2001, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ALIEN, STAR WARS and STAR TREK - DISTRICT 9 is revolutionary! All extraterrestrial alien movies must now bow down before DISTRICT 9.
Like the deformed child of a documentary and a reality show; a psychodrama with a tongue-in-cheek sense of black humor. No world domination or alien armies, no mighty deathships or hyperspace star streams, no cantina scenes or darth Cheneys - just a real world grit and bureaucratic spit, coupled with racial allegory that holds up a ruthless mirror to mankind's black soul. Much like BRÜNO, only totally Not Gay.
They arrived 20 years ago in their broken spaceship. And just hung in the sky, unthreatening, unknown, un-Spielberg. Luckily, they didn't break down over the country with the biggest percentage of closed minds per boob job - America. But even over Johannesburg, South Africa, livid with the unlearned lessons of apartheid, they became pariahs. The government rescued these one million malnourished, harmless, "worker class" aliens from their own ship and overcrowded them into a Johannesburg shanty town called District 9.
Squalor, crime, interspecies prostitution and black market arms deals between the aliens and Nigerian gangs prompt Johannesburgers to demand "apart-hood" from the aliens.
Multi-National United (MNU), a military/government body, appoints nerdy cubicle boy, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley, in his first major role), to oversee the massive relocation of the aliens 200 miles from Johannesburg.
Wikus storms District 9 with bogus "eviction forms," like Orwell's Thoughtpolice by way of Ricky Gervais, as we try to figure whether this is high comedy or uncomfortable racism. It is both.
Bigots call the aliens "prawns" for their crustacean-like faces, and the unflappably jaunty Wikus seems to be the biggest bigot of all, as he orders the burning of a shack brimming with alien eggs, telling jokes about the baby prawns inside bursting like popcorn as they're trying to escape.
Director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp has assembled a cast of brilliant unknowns, and forged a movie of veteran quality, creatively lensing the story's development through security cam and surveillance formats and news footage; aided by producer and fantasy god-king, Peter Jackson (LORD OF THE RINGS, KING KONG 2005).
It can now be said that Jackson's special effects company, Weta Digital, blows every other effects house back to the age of Pong - this goes for prominent A-Listers like ILM (STAR WARS), Sony Imageworks (SPIDER-MAN), Giant (INCREDIBLE HULK). In DISTRICT 9, we never doubt the veracity of the city-sized spaceship hanging in the sky, the thousands of aliens in full daylight, the 3D holograms, the weaponry...
Alien weapons (which the aliens trade for catfood and hookers) is attuned to alien DNA, so humans cannot use them, which of course, the humans try to do, by mutilating aliens in MNU underground labs in attempts to combine their DNA with humans. (The analogies with Nazis' human experiments are not lost.) While in DISTRICT 9, the Nigerian gang leader (on advice of his witch doctor) eats fresh aliens for the same purpose.
Wikus unwillingly becomes the most wanted man amongst the aliens, the Nigerian gangs and the MNU, when a vial of alien fluid accidentally spurts in his face... Flashbacks to THE FLY, as his fingernails and teeth gradually fall out, nubs of exoskeleton poking through his flesh... alien DNA combining with his...
And an alien that Wikus was terrorizing, named "Christopher Johnson" (wearing a red vest, so I shall call him Red Vest, rather than use his slave name), and his smart little alien son, become unbidden allies to Wikus.
In any alien film, language is the credibility downfall. Here, both parties have learned the basics of each other's speech, but since their throats are constructed differently, do not try to imitate each other, speaking fluently and authentically, picking up snatches of concepts.
Even when DISTRICT 9 tips into "blockbuster" and suffers a TRANSFORMERS moment (when Wikus is inside a giant CGI exoskeleton), the reason for him being inside the robot suit is to save Red Vest to reunite him with his son. Amidst the hail of gunfire from muttonhead military drogues led by a vindictive officer (David James), poignancy blossoms as Wikus almost tenderly (yet with firepower to stop tanks) tells Red Vest, "Let's get you to your son." And by the way, don't humans know by now that regular bullets can't harm alien robot suits? DISTRICT 9 is ultimately a Grande Tragedie, as Wikus transforms into that which he despised, taking "seeing things through another's skin" to a whole 'nother level.
Laden with these metaphors and allegories, DISTRICT 9's stylish brutality may in fact distract from its message: it doesn't take extraterrestrial aliens to bring out the barbarism and racism in humans. Any nominally alien race will do.
Humans were no less brutal in 1948 when apartheid laws were institutionalized; were no less inhumane when burning Jews in 1944 (and probably laughing as internal organs burst with popcorn sounds); are no less single-minded in their brainwashed murder when eradicating Iraqis in George W. Bush's "holy crusades" undertaken by Xe (nee Blackwater) in 2006...
When worlds collide in DISTRICT 9, the beings displaying the most inhumanity - are the humans.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Beautiful mind versus beautiful beard.
All hail the *intelligent* screenplay!
GOOD WILL HUNTING pairs "Bahston" boys Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in their first, and arguably most powerful, bromance to date (excepting maybe their turns as marauding angels in Kevin Smith's DOGMA); written by Damon and Affleck, who deserve every inch of their little gold man (Best Screenplay 1998), a driving story of a disturbed young mathematical genius trying to find his niche in a world that unwittingly ostracizes him for his beautiful mind.
Matt Damon is Will Hunting, a brawling teen by day (with his informal gang Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck and Cole Hauser) and a janitor at a college by night; he is also an autodidactic savant with photographic retention skills and math aptitude to embarrass a rocket scientist. He is "discovered" by physicist Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) who tries to nudge him on a respectable path by bailing him out of jail on the provision that Hunting will help the Professor solve perplexing mathematics problems and also see a therapist.
The math problems are a breeze for Hunting. The therapists are a stickier matter, as they all run screaming from his presence as he pinpoints their insecurities before they can pinpoint his--until he meets Sean Maguire (Robin Williams, unshaven like a bearcub), who brings all his DEAD POET'S philosophic skills to bear on the fast-talking, uncooperative scrapper.
Minnie Driver is Skylar, the Harvard student who falls for Hunting, but whom he ends up pushing away neurotically, in an argument-out-of-nowhere scene that is written so well, it doesn't seem like it was written at all, but escalating right before our eyes.
When Hunting's neurosis is unlocked by Maguire at the end, the revelation is so simple that we marvel at how easy it is to actually connect with someone, and yet how hard it is to find that connection.
The script benefits from being written by two "unknowns" who load it with verve and vitality, realism and dynamism, while still displaying a sound mechanical knowledge of "Hollywood" screenplay construction. Director and pal Kevin Smith aided Affleck and Damon in securing a deal where they had a large amount of control over their story, and director Gus Van Sant would let it play out unobtrusively and intelligently.
The Professor and Maguire are at odds on how to handle Hunting--push him into society or let him find it at his own pace; what could have become a clichéd pissing contest in a passé Hollywood writer's hands remains a revelatory argument of ethics between two men who are battling their own regrets and just want the best for their surrogate son. If we thought we'd seen the best of Robin Williams in DEAD POET'S SOCIETY or AWAKENINGS (as opposed to his worst in NINE MONTHS or FATHER'S DAY), he embraces this sober psychiatrist's role like the bearcub embracing his face; and it took a couple of novices to put words in his mouth that would melt like butter and ring like the bells of Notre Dame. (He would deservedly walk away with a little gold man of his own for Best Supporting Actor.)
The best aspect of the script is that it truly captures the contempt and separation that a virtuoso feels for people who cannot grasp the art or discipline that he finds so awkwardly simple. Hunting describes his aptitude for equations with an insightful analogy: "Beethoven looked at a piano and it just made sense to him; he could just play. I look at a piano, I see a bunch of keys, three pedals and a box of wood--but Beethoven, Mozart, they saw it, they could 'just play.' I couldn't paint you a picture, I probably couldn't hit the ball out of Fenway, and I can't play the piano. But when it came to stuff like that, I could always 'just play'."
Hunting is offered jobs dealing with superstring theory, advanced algorithms, heavy duty CIA stuff, which he isn't interested in, at one point raging into a tirade that connects all the political corruption in the world to the personal level, "...America only over there to install a government who would sell them oil at a good price..."
Of course, the "troubled character" has to find his redemption and it is done subtly, with every payoff hitting elegantly: Hunting's best friend Chuckie (Affleck) laments Hunting is still hauling bricks with him, and hopes for the day he can arrive to pick up Hunting for work and Hunting is not there, "...and you're just gone, no goodbyes, no nothing"; Maguire tells Hunting of how he met his wife by giving up a classic baseball game, "I told my friends, 'I'm going to see about a girl'." When these moments hit, the performances sell them; they are not forced, and create magnificent screen moments for Williams, Affleck and Damon.
We wish Affleck and Damon could once again write something half as good as this masterpiece of cerebral mayhem. Though they've parlayed their grand win into continued success through the years, nothing they've done individually or together yet matches the raw (dare we call it "indie") flavor-blast of GOOD WILL HUNTING. Like Costner, Welles and Lucas, they seem to have peaked at the head of their careers. It's ironic that these two young guys (Affleck and Damon), now renowned for their sex symbol status, shot themselves into the A-List by writing and starring in a dialog-driven mindfest!
--Poffy The Cucumber
Courage Under Fire (1996)
Gutless Under Cliché
Yes, I know it's trying to be inspiring and heroic and poignant, but COURAGE UNDER FIRE is one of the most blatantly gutless movies ever made. About a soldier investigating whether a downed female United States helicopter pilot in Desert Storm deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor. So I ask you: in which universe will America ever make a movie where a Medal of Honor is investigated and NOT awarded?
So it's a foregone conclusion--all the mystery and mayhem and maybes are simply wasting our time more than the actual war this story was set in--as it leads inexorably to the melodramatic military funeral, the flags, saluting, tears of the family, proud shiny buttons and white gloves, the flyover with one plane breaking formation, and that bilious, bleating orchestra swell. And the Medal. The End. Cry me a river; cry me a patently meaningless award, military swine.
Then the coda: the investigating soldier visits pilot's grave, salutes grave, tiny flag, voice-over of dead pilot to American Pie Mom and Dad, talking of the Big Push and hero hero hero hero hero hero another blithering orchestra swell I'm going to vomit...
Denzel Washington is the investigating soldier, with demons of his own. (Well, they're not really demons; they're roiling stabs of conscience he feels for stupidly shooting one of his own tanks during a skirmish, killing his own men in the hilariously black euphemism "friendly fire," and then having the military cover-up his blunder.) And whenever he has visions of that po' boy he fricasseed in that tank (Mmm! Soldierboy, the other white meat!), he heads straight for the alcohol... uh, cos he's a hero, see.
When he's asked to investigate whether Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) is worthy of receiving the Medal of Honor for "courage under fire," the story ends right there. Of course she's deserving of it. She's the first female officer recommended, she's regarded as a hero for sacrificing her life for her men--and she's Meg Ryan. As if the movie would go to all the trouble setting up her heroism and feminism and Ryanism and NOT award her the medal.
And every cliché in the military lexicon is thrown at us like grenades lobbed into foxholes: the tragic family; damaged goods investigating damaged goods; the novice (Matt Damon), the toughguy (Lou Diamond Phillips), the hero-worshipper (Tim Guinee) and all the other bumboys like the Benetton passengers of SPEED; the hospitalized guy (Seth Gilliam) whose seen one battle too many; the military cover-up. And everyone's got Movie PTSD.
Denzel wants to find out "what really happened," so COURAGE is constructed like a RASHOMON for rednecks, as we see all the alternate flashbacks with a coy Walden, an indecisive Walden and a butch Walden barking orders and trying not to look like a sex object. Not one of the scenarios is ambiguous about her Hero status--no matter if she threw Iraqi babies at walls or defunded the G.I. Bill. If we can call football players heroes, and people who jumped from the Twin Towers heroes, then this chopper pilot must be a shoo-in, so I ask again: what compels viewers to spend 120 minutes *pretending* there's any doubt?
Denzel visits Walden's helicopter bumboys, who all give differing accounts of My Night In The Desert With Captain Walden. Diamond Phillips claims he was the toughguy, as he lies and plies himself with alcohol and commits suicide (cos he's a hero!); Damon claims Walden was a strategic hardnose, as he admits to being a junkie and afraid to go flying again (cos he's a hero!); Guinee relates how Walden sacrificed herself for them, even as he reveals how she got them shot down by taking another pass at an Iraqi tank when she could have flown away--cognitive dissonance rules!--while constantly telling his wife to shutup for calling Walden butch (cos he's a hero!); while Seth Gilliam pounds his medication to numb himself out of the running as a reputable eyewitness (cos he's a hero, see!).
What's in it for her bumboys to report that she was a coward? Nothing. But saying she was a HERO makes them vicarious heroes alongside her. Ooo-rah!
And here's a note to all you military wardogs whose first reaction is to Spock-chop me for "disrespecting" you (such heroes, fighting for peace!): When are you going to realize your own government, who pays you hypocritical lip service, regards you with even less respect than I do? I just consider you deluded and egotistical and sometimes uneducated, while they consider you cannon fodder!
It's the United States government that fools you into getting your asses shot off for them in the first place; it's the United States government that refuses you and your family financial benefits when you return from war; it's the United States government that stop-losses you, reneging on your stipulated leave time, over and over and over again; it's the United States government that cuts your medical funding; it's the United States government that evicts your family, that lies about friendly fire, that doesn't provide armor for you or your vehicles; it's the United States government that kicks you out for being gay after you've dedicated your life to them; it's the United States government that supposedly trains you for PTSD and then all of you return from war with PTSD (Who are the a-holes? You, who are either failing your training, or the government who are failing to train you properly?).
Is that what you bitches call "respect"? Under fire from your own government, it's about time you showed some real Courage Under Fire and tell them where to shove it next time they want to exploit you for political gain. That is, unless you really are as dumb as they consider you to be.
--Poffy The Cucumber
Malcolm X (1992)
Malcolm in the Shizzle
Before MLK, Before O, there was - X.
MALCOLM X. A black man fighting for the black man in a white man's world.
Denzel Washington is Malcolm Little (whom everyone calls "Red" for his conked red hair), a petty thief, cocaine addict, prostitute peddler, and all-round small-time gangsta before the term was invented. During the War Years, Malcolm falls in with West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo), plying his trade in Boston and New York, eventually being busted with his long-time friend and accomplice, Shorty (Spike Lee) and sent to jail.
In jail, about the time that Jackie Robinson made the major leagues in baseball, Malcolm Little becomes Malcolm X, to shuck off his "slave name." So begins the rise to power of one of America's great black leaders. But it is in jail that the movie MALCOLM X falters, as Malcolm's criminal outlook on life flip-flops to that of Islam, schooled by a pushy, annoying, racist fellow convict, Baines (Albert Hall).
Malcolm leaves prison as one of Islam's greatest exponents, an articulate, intelligent, outspoken community leader, preaching fire and damnation against the White Man, causing so much civil discomfort (even whilst awakening the self-respect of the black community) that it leads to his assassination by the Nation of Islam.
Proving my point about religious hypocrisy.
As I write this in 2009, there are "two" Americas - pre-Obama and post-Obama. Films like MALCOLM X created righteous outrage - but in a post-Obama world that outrage is obviously diluted. The Dream has been realized - where else is there to go for the Black Man? Yes, there will be racism - always. The human animal is built that way. But what more can be done or said than achieving the highest post in the world?
The point of films like X was to create righteous outrage so people would aspire to the goal of equality. To that point, X served its purpose bodaciously - in a pre-Obama world. In a post-Obama world, well, the struggle may not be over completely, but the "outrage" part surely must be. X opens with a burning American flag - power to the peeps an' all dat - but if you burn a flag NOW, isn't that just disrespect to the Black Man? Who happens to also be THE Man?
Spike Lee directs MALCOLM X from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley. Though it is not Lee's fault, Malcolm's messages were garbled in religious hypocrisy and overt racism, and the messenger himself precluded this movie becoming an epic due to his small-mindedness; due to not being King: He called the Kennedy assassination "justice... the chickens coming home to roost," saying it didn't make him sad, but glad. He called for "complete separation between the black race and the white race" and subscribed to juvenile mythologies like the Tribe of Shabazz, an ancient race of black kings and queens from whom the Caucasian race descended. (Nowhere nearly as sensible as the Tribe of David where an olive-skinned virgin gave birth to Jesus the Magic Caucasian and started a white race of Christians even though he was a Jew...)
Malcolm preaches, "The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us the white man is the devil." He doesn't say "some white men" - he says ALL white men are devils. These are the lessons he learns from that idiot Baines in jail. (I call him an idiot because religious fanaticism is a form of idiocy.) You could play a drinking game to this movie, on every time Malcolm X says, "The Honorable Elijah Muhammad" and by the end of the movie, you'll be drunk enough to convert to the Nation of Islam.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, though treated like a deity, was a flesh-and-blood guy, supposedly the apex of spirituality, his exact words: "I have built this nation under the divine guidance of Allah" - but the old Honorable Elijah Muhammad turns out not so honorable when news is leaked of two teenage girls who have sired children through his heavenly sperm. Malcolm meets with the girls, learns the pornographic truth, and is so disappointed in the Honorable Elijah Muhammad that he splits with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. (Jesus in Purgatory! Now he's got ME doing it!)
Malcolm X was a fiery political leader - Denzel's sexuality and charisma are tuned to breaking point on the podium, a perfect role for a perfect black panther - but it's unfortunate he had to resort to the crutch of religion to unite people. After he splits with the Honorabl--yeh, that guy, he has to maintain that his words are now not the Honora-- geez, there's no escaping this guy-- and that his words are his own. Why couldn't he do that from the start? Was Malcolm that weak-minded he needed to lean on the platitudes of a philandering old goat to unite people under a false aegis?
Spike Lee's movie-making is stupendous, Denzel's performance, electric. Malcolm X was charisma and brimstone and an inspiration for the black movement. But his message of Islam was plain stupid. I don't take away from the man - he is greater than I will ever be - but the delusion of religion obfuscated his underlying messages and this movie is shot through the prism of Malcolm's religious journey, which weakens the movie.
Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965, in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom the same faction who called him a religious hypocrite for splitting from them, The Nation of Islam "under the divine guidance of Allah." Need I say more about religious hypocrisy, the godlike manner in which they silenced him, or the Honorable Elijah Muhammad? A messianic eulogy ends this powerful film. But it's too late. I'm already drunk.
--Poffy The Cucumber
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
A Giant in a midget's movie.
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE has become a national treasure due to its deceased star. I'm here to prove that the title itself is a misnomer and that the movie's status has been conflated with its star's talents; movie itself is dated, embarrassing, out-of-touch and very, very gay. And not in that fabulooouus way either.
"Teen" Jim Stark (23-year-old James Dean) is a new kid in a rough town. His parents have moved many times due to him "getting into trouble." Unfortunately, this new town - Los Angeles - seems like the same old story when Jim encounters the local "teen" thugs and falls into all sorts of trouble involving knife fights, stolen cars and wearing his dress pants too high.
Jim also finds two kinds of love: the generic puritanical kind with Judy (Natalie Wood), who falls for him two days after her boyfriend goes off a cliff - on the rebound much?; and that other kind of love that dares not speaketh its name in 1950's movies. One word: Plato. Sal Mineo plays outcast Plato like his pants are on fire and only Jimmy Dean's wet lips can put them out.
Jim is challenged by the local gang, led by Buzz (Corey Allen, with his pompadour set on stun), to drive a stolen car off a cliff and leap out at the last minute. When Buzz dies in this stunt, Jim wants to report it to the Man (Edward Platt - The Chief from GET SMART - here playing, uh, The Chief) but Jim's parents (Jim Backus aka Thurston Howell III, and Ann Doran) don't want him to get involved, which sends Jim into a hissy fit - his parents raise him to be principled yet don't display principles themselves - and precipitates that infamous scene where Jim wails, "You're tearing me apart!"
Let's face it, inculcated hordes: It looks a lot like Jim Stark is no rebel (he wants to follow societal protocol by going to the police - Lord knows, he looks exactly like one of them with his skinny tie, white shirt and slicked back hair), and he's got quite a "cause" (to report the stolen car that went off a cliff and killed a greaser boy-man). Thus: the movie title that young punks and old aficionados have been adopting as their ethos or thesis over the past half-century - is moot.
Though it has informed a wealth of cultural media (GREASE, HAPPY DAYS, BACK TO THE FUTURE), remove the aura of its star, and it is ridiculous, padded with poorly-staged fight scenes, tiresome love-talk, laughable acting, watery motivations, intrusive soundtrack, and Sal Mineo in the most overtly gay-but-not-called-gay performance of the 1950s.
To enjoy REBEL, separate James Dean's Brando-esque firebrand performance from the movie; it is an entity all its own, overwhelming the melodramatic "theatrical" styles of all the other principals. Dennis Hopper would cite Dean as the best actor he ever worked with.
The iconic Griffith Park Observatory features in key scenes. It is here Jim encounters Buzz's gang (featuring 16-year-old Dennis Hopper, and Natalie Wood almost strangling in her pointy bra) and partakes of a knife fight so exciting I nearly woke up. Meanwhile, Sal Mineo cheers on Jim, looking like he's ten.
Natalie Wood's character Judy is supposedly from a callous family environment. And the best the filmmakers can come up with to illustrate this is her father slapping her for trying to hug him. William Hopper (no relation to Dennis) is Judy's father; he's not drunk, not mean, not even mirroring social mores - just giving Judy an excuse to be discontent at home. Or maybe he's also latently gay and can't stand the touch of a woman. So that's why Judy's out on the streets running with gangs and wearing those pointy bras!
Plato is a rudderless, troubled youth - but the tragedy of his backstory and his unconscious search for a mentor/father figure in Jim Stark is only apparent in the dialogue of his black slave (Marietta Canty - listed as "family maid" but no one's foolin' anyone). Hollywood at the time called gay characters "troubled" (code for latent or repressed); they were damaged goods that needed to be eradicated, rightly or wrongly. Witness Plato's fate: gunned down by police (admittedly by mistake, but again - no one's foolin' anyone).
In one scene, Plato and Jim playfully chase Judy around a deserted mansion. Gaily. I mean, Jim is chasing her to cultivate Panty, but what is Plato going to do if he catches her? They do catch her, in a group snuggle that ends up in a kind of threeway pieta. It's truly disturbing how Jim doesn't discourage Plato's unwarranted closeness when he's with his chick. Are they're readying themselves for a threesome, with Dean the man entering both Judy and Plato?... "You're tearing me apart!"
REBEL is the out-of-touch grownups' version of troubled youth. The writers (Stewart Stern, Irving Shulman and director Nicholas Ray) couldn't even conjure compelling reasons for the teens to be "rebels." Put 'em in leather and pompadours and make them wanna have The Sex - that oughta scare the grown ups!
Film World, re-view REBEL and ask yourself whether it stands up to modern scrutiny: Plato lying on the floor and falling asleep, sooo tired after chasing Judy; or hiding from thugs with knives - when he's armed with a gun; Judy asking Jim "Is this what love is?" after knowing him two days (Try chiseling off that pointy bra and we'll find out?); the childish blocking of the final police standoff; the unnecessary confusion over Jim's red jacket in the final killing scene I beg you, stop calling REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE a classic, without any cause to do so--
You're tearing me apart!
--Poffy The Cucumber
The Avengers (2012)
Shakespearean lightning and thunder arrows, red white and blue shields and golden armor, emerald rage and badass Morpheus long-coat, and Scarlett Johansson's leather Pearbottom.
Oh AVENGERS, how sweet thou fury! The god Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Brit-leering and still looking like Data from STAR TREK GENERATIONS) has come to Earth from Asgard to conquer and destroy. And Earth's mightiest heroes are there to punch him a lot.
Seems kinda ineffectual and unimaginative that against literal magical/divine foes, the best retaliation that can be mustered by the writers of this mega-superhero tale (Zak Penn and Joss Whedon) is that the heroes "punch" demons flying around on bad motor scooters. (Even the grand resolution, though a jaw-dropping sequence, is nothing more than the old "destroy-the-source-to-destroy-the-minions" gambit.)
And what does Loki want with Earth anyway? As we saw in THOR (2011), Asgard was a pretty bodacious LSD-colorized dazzlegarden. Is he here for the fabulous Grilled Prime Côte de Boeuf at Spago? Is Loki after our Arab oil? Our blood diamonds? Our white women? Taking his cues from Dick Cheney, his plan seems to be conquest for the sake of conquest, no exit strategy, no goal. And he's using a cutting-edge science concept to do it: the tesseract (or hypercube theory), a wormhole joining two distant points in space-time. Loki allies with a croaky guy named The Other (whose helmet looks like it was fashioned from dog turds) and they order their demon-riders to spurt through the wormhole to Earth and break things. Some plan!
Dim plot aside, THE AVENGERS is overseen by Marvel (the studio that can do little wrong when pumping out A-List superhero blockbusters) and fashioned by writer-director Joss Whedon (the man from FIREFLY, who can also do little wrong with his iconoclastic approach). Highly enjoyable movie experience ensues.
Not only are there big stupid CGI things and Pretty Orange Explosions aplenty, there is heart and poignancy and humor, uncertain alliances between heroes, petty arguments, snappy dialog, human frailty and godlike wrath. And Scarlet Johansson's leather Pearbottom.
Whedon does it again - imbues this ostensibly kickapoo punch-em-up movie with real personality. Even if you did not meet the individual heroes in their own films over the past few years, they are each presented as a throbbing personality crisis, no emotion spared. Except maybe for Captain America (Chris Evans), whose wooden delivery makes us suspect he landed this job on the cerulean dreaminess of his eyes. You see, he's frozen his facial muscles in place, for fear that if he moves them one iota, he'll stop looking super-pretty. And Jesus! - look at the size of his biceps!
And then we see Chris Hemsworth's biceps - and they're even bigger! Hemsworth once again brings the hammer as thunder god Thor on mad steroids; half-brother to Loki, and therefore forced to speak in a British accent (for an Aussie, that's an eternal annoyance).
Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark/Iron Man, now plonking his ginger assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow cameo), and bequeathed the best dialog; so cheeky, arrogant and sarcastic that Brad Pitt called from OCEAN'S ELEVEN and wanted his insouciance back. His armor is the damned coolest thing about this movie, and when he is flying up into the wormhole firing his hand-blasters at demons, his power is awe-inspiring. Now if only he had an iron Pearbottom...
Bruce Banner/Hulk is dork-cool Mark Ruffalo. Love that guy; perfectly cast as the most unruffled guy in the room (unruffaloed?), even though harboring the most internal rage. In this third major movie featuring the Hulk (after HULK and THE INCREDIBLE HULK), he can apparently change green at will. "That's my secret - I'm always angry!" (Hey, I must be a Hulk!) Banner and Stark exchange much tech jargon that means absolutely nothing, but their quiet moments are powerful.
Matter of fact, all the heroes have their portion of quiet time, which director Whedon effortlessly makes compelling, and their dissent is the most interesting element of the movie. Marvel Comics were always canny at setting up Marvel Team-Ups where the moral ambiguity of the situation set heroes at odds with one another - and Whedon somehow captured that lightning.
Down the list, we have archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who can apparently claim superhero status because he has good aim and his arrows explode. I guess Rambo can fill out that application form then. Hawkeye and thigh-jitsu expert Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) have been re-rendered by this movie franchise as two CIA assassins with a spanky sexual tension. One would think these two mere humans would get lost amidst the super soldiers, iron men and gods, but again, Whedon gives us even their little patticake moments and doesn't lose our interest. And did I mention Scarlett Johansson's leather Pearbottom?
Samuel L. Jackson's role as Nick Fury, director of SHIELD (some kind of unnecessary homeland security contrivance), has been elevated from that of annoying eye-patch cameo during the stinger of Marvel movies, to annoying eye-patch starring role; wearing his custom leather, flying around in his invisible aircraft carrier, and constantly whining that Earth can't handle these threats so we have to assemble a team that can. May I suggest Angie's List?
Clark Gregg appears for the umpteenth time as SHIELD Agent Coulson, now with a first name, Phil, and a predilection for Captain America trading cards (like the rest of us he-men, going bi for Cap's biceps).
Cobie Smulders is here as eye candy. I guess one leather Pearbottom just wasn't enough.
In the final telling, THE AVENGERS will thrill with its stunning action, thoughtful characterization, and the simple fact that Marvel managed to cram all these colorful icons onto one bombastic piece of celluloid. And did I mention Scarlett Johansson's leather Pearbottom?...
--Poffy The Cucumber
First Blood (1982)
The OTHER Rocky.
Hey, all you skatepunks and facebookers and under-30 neo-hippies: you know that word "Rambo" that you toss around to describe tough guys? It's an unquestioned part of modern English vernacular: you use it as sarcasm, insult or deflective compliment; newscasters use it to sprinkle their reports with humor; sociologists use it to identify unnecessary brutality; the word is in the Oxford English Dictionary, fer chrissakes! Rambo.
This is where that word came from - FIRST BLOOD.
It didn't originate with any of those misnamed sequels sporting the "Rambo" dog tag. It originated in a novel by David Morrell (First Blood, 1972), subsequently made into this effective, primal, unlikely hit.
FIRST BLOOD would not only augment Sylvester Stallone's existing tough-guy career (by this film's release, he was already up to ROCKY III), it was a tectonic cultural ground slam, spawning the sequels that would bear the "Rambo" moniker and entrench the archetype in world consciousness. "Rambo" virtually wiped out the other metaphors for tough guys: Hercules and Tarzan.
Viet Nam is over. A bedraggled ex-Special Forces operative, John Rambo, (Stallone) tramps into a hick American town, searching for long-dead friends and a hot meal. The antagonistic sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) wants Rambo to keep walkin.' When Rambo refuses, Teasle (that name just kills me!) hauls him to jail, where all the small-town redneck officers (including Bill McKinney and David Caruso) beat, berate and bully the compliant Rambo to his breaking point.
And then all Italian Stallion breaks loose.
It is established that Rambo is a "war hero" (whatever that means - maybe that he has big muscles) and the movie is a slight nod to post-war trauma and the difficulty in assimilating back into society - especially redneck Amuuurican society that is the least likely to accept you, that you are most apt to have come from. But that theme will only surface towards the end, when Rambo gives his Grand Soliloquy. For the most part, FIRST BLOOD is an adrenalin punch in the face, appealing to our primal revenge instincts.
Escaping the police station, Rambo flees into the forest, Teasle on his tail (I kill me!) and the whole sheriff's department as posse. Like a baleful wolf blending into the forest, Rambo stalks the namby-pamby officers, putting them out of commission one by one. And as surprising as it may sound, Rambo actually "kills" no one! Though this movie has a violent reputation (garnered in retrospect by its sequels), in FIRST BLOOD, only one officer falls from a helicopter and dies accidentally. Body count: 1! This sends Teasle into revenge mode - even though he was the one who started the conflict by provoking Rambo. The story ignites our sense of perverted Justice very well indeed. We're on Rambo's side from minute one.
I'm sure David Morell did not intend to rip off CHATO'S LAND (1972) - Bronson's Apache picking off his white pursuers one by one - but that is the brutal template FIRST BLOOD is fashioned on. The hunted becoming the hunter.
After Rambo puts his infamous gigantic hunting knife to Teasle's throat and warns, "Don't push it...or I'll give you a war you won't believe!" - the military are called in. Hoo-rah! With them comes Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), who was Rambo's trainer, therefore someone who can presumably hit Rambo's PAUSE button. Unfortunately, Trautman can only talk in clichés and dynamic one-liners that involve doing a camera-turn before he exits the room; he overacts so much that five extras got their SAG cards.
Trautman can't do much with Rambo over the walkie-talkie, except cause more flashbacks for him. Rambo maintains to Trautman that he didn't start this fracas - that "they drew first blood!" After destroying the whole town, Rambo comes face to face with his beloved commanding officer and cries like a baby. He's trying to fit in - he says - but the society that he fought to preserve refuses to conform to his new PTSD lifestyle. Oh, so it's OUR fault the military trained the humanity out of you and lied to you that you could one day return to humanity psychologically unscathed...
You gotta respect Stallone for his business acumen, and how he turned two shallow movie characters into worldwide phenomena. But it was here, in FIRST BLOOD, where we also realized what a grand orator Stallone is, when he gives an impassioned monologue in the finale, on the death of innocence, that went something like this:
"Nothing is over! Nothing! Yucan swish it oohh Wozen my Waar I didn't ask you And the Wooma Gooma maggots protesting and the Waahoouy baby murderer code of honor! You wash my back, l wash yours! Heahh, there's nothing! All dese gray guys Chevy Convertible we wanna drive until the tires fell off And the Woouy Mogam Oosh body parts flying everywhere! Ouuuy l wanna go home, Johnny! But I Coonafy Hih legs! l can Geeah oww my head Oyoou..."
And Lawrence Olivier wept.
--Poffy The Cucumber
In the Loop (2009)
So you like a little politics with your swearing...
IN THE LOOP is a thunder-paced, dialog-driven British comedy with corruption more insidious than SYRIANA and dialogue more fierce than PULP FICTION.
Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is a small-thinking, mealy-mouthed, indecisive, powerless British politician (i.e. your average politician, British or otherwise), craving to be taken seriously in the worst way. After a war conference between British and American movers and shakers which he is "allowed" to attend as "a piece of meat" (to his chagrin), he is accosted by reporters and sees his chance to prove he is In The Loop with the big boys.
On the spot, stuttering like a motorboat, Foster blurts a statement, "To walk the road of peace, we must be prepared to climb the mountain of conflict," seemingly advocating Allied war with the Middle East. But the war council (euphemistically named the Future Planning Committee) spins a contrary stance; Foster's statement goes from damage control to viral to bumper sticker in a matter of hours. And he suddenly finds himself being taken seriously. In the worst way.
From trying to get his feet wet, to trying to keep his head above water...
Foster is the foot-in-mouth device that sets IN THE LOOP in motion, but the movie belongs to one man amongst this unquestionably stellar cast: Peter Capaldi as British Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker. With his guttural denunciations and his blackly humorous manner of direct confrontation, Capaldi propels this movie like a saw-toothed shark, all in his proximity quailing before his grievous-bodily-harm loquacious embrace: "This is a government department, not some f**king Jane f**king Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse c*ck!" Capaldi makes IN THE LOOP the SEXY BEAST of political farces.
And everyone rises to the occasion to keep up. With four writers credited to the screenplay (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche and director Armando Iannucci), dialogue is more syrupy vicious than Tarantino's wet dreams. It's almost distracting. I could listen to these guys creatively insult each other all day, screw the plot.
The lovely Gina McKee is Tucker's executive assistant; David Rasche is an American politician, playing it like an evil Ed Begley Jr.; rosy-cheeked young Chris Addison is the fresh-faced new junior assistant to Foster, who tells him at one point that the situation will be "easy-peasy lemon-squeezy" to which Foster replies it will instead be "difficult-difficult lemon-difficult" and then gets caught having to explain what he means to the whole war council...
When Foster flees the limelight back to his local council, where he must listen to old ladies complain about septic tanks and concerned citizen Steve Coogan complain about a council wall falling into his mother's backyard, he realizes being a flustered meat puppet wasn't half bad after all, and returns to the abrasive pounce of Tucker.
Only one man can stand down Tucker's acid tongue--Tony Soprano! As a Senior Military Assistant--James Gandolfini, who realizes that only those who have not experienced war crave it so glibly, and whose bearlike presence and quiet, overbearing certitude swiftly puts Tucker in his place. "You're his little English b*tch and you don't even know it. Bet if I came to your hotel room tonight, I'd find you down on all fours, him hanging out the back of you." Bada-bing!
There are no explosions, car chases or murders--these people are much worse; explosive, unchaste and backbiting, their covert, duplicitous war decisions apt to cost many more lives than simple explosions, car chases or murders. And the whole cast is shot through with an ambiguous badness that just reeks of life on the beltway.
If you like your comedy intelligent, witty and frighteningly rude, IN THE LOOP is your bacchanal.
--Poffy The Cucumber