Thursday, August 16, 2007

A star is Bourne?

If you only enjoy action movies that like, make sense, then The Bourne Ultimatum isn't for you. Yes, there are some really clumsy dialogue passages, same as in Supremacy. For instance, when someone really wants Jason Bourne dead, instead of shooting him, they try to talk him to death with exposition. And yet, miraculously, even after massive info-dumps, things are still murkier than a Karl Rove explanation.

The Bourne franchise also suffers a bit simply because of its premise: It's about a guy trying to save his own skin. Most successful action movies raise the stakes considerably higher than that by having the hero of the piece fight for someone else's well being. John McClane had a bunch of hostages and his beloved Holly. Keanu was speeding down the highway for passengers and that chick who told him that relationships based on intense experiences don't last. James Bond takes Pussy Galore for himself but is generally saving the whole world. But Jason Bourne is the perfect symbol of our self-involved generation, because the whole heart of the matter is that he's trying to find himself.

What saves the Bourne films from ridiculousness is that their chase scenes and fight scenes are really freaking good. Choreography and filming mesh together to really make it feel like an intimate assault that can make a collectively experienced audience still lean forward in their seats. And, somehow, Matt Damon can make us root for Bourne.

I can't figure out exactly why I like Damon so much. And I do like him enough that I've tried to pick apart the exact reasons. But just like Bourne's identity, I can never fully grasp his appeal to me. It just seems like he's the antithesis of his no-talent, smarmy pal Affleck. There's something everyman about his looks. He's cute and attractive, but approachable. He never seems to be working onscreen (with the possible exception of The Departed) -- he just is the guy who's up there. Also, who else in his generation has shown such smarts in choosing roles? Even in the monstrosity that was Ocean's 13, his Linus never pissed me off. I still liked him, even if the nose did not, in fact, play.

There's something so blessedly normal about this guy. And yet when he's called upon to play unbelievable characters with unbelievably big brains, his quiet and understated manner works to make it believable. I know intellectually that I'm watching Matt Damon, but he's one of the few actors out there who's so damn unaffected and un-scenery chewing that he's able to uphold my suspension of disbelief for prolonged periods so that I end up watching the character he's playing. And really, there aren't many actors out there today who do that. That's part of what it makes it not-insufferable when he has to deliver such turgid lines like, "Marie used to help me remember the names of people I killed."

Damon has a kind of throwback feel, his style is more casual and laid-back Newman and Redford as opposed to the much imitated Brando-Pacino-DeNiro style that most actors today favor. But I could never imagine that Paul Newman would be willing to strap himself next to Redford to play a conjoined twin in the Farrelly brothers movie Stuck on You. Nor could I ever picture Redford picking up a gun and giggling with glee as he executes a boardroom as the angel of death in Dogma.

Damon's Bourne doesn't have room for silliness like that, but it must say something that people root for Bourne. I mean, yeah, on the surface, he fits the pattern of the modern antihero what with all his past murdering business and all -- and yet not really. He was a killing machine, which is good. But, but, he was programmed to be that way, and he seems awful upset about the murders. In today's entertainment climate where the main characters are either alcoholic narcissists, drug addicts, or vituperative careerists -- and those are just the females -- we clearly like having characters with faults. And yet here's Bourne, this guy who's done awful things, and yet is clearly not an awful guy; he's more like a lost child, really, almost innocent of his sins -- and yet we still like him despite the fact that he seems to be a decent person. What the fuck? He's not a mob boss or polygamist, so what's to like?

I know. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Just like large portions of the Ultimatum script. Chase scenes shouldn't hold that much sway, should they? But just like Damon, already greater than the sum of his parts, I still like it.

Monday, August 13, 2007


So, any other assholes out there who actually kept watching that Deadwood-replacing, Milchatrocity John from Cincinnati? Yeah. I did. What. The. Fuck? The only entertaining part of this show is to read the crappy reviews of it, which it so sorely deserved, and then to hear people defending it with the same old tired cliches. "I enjoy INTELLIGENT programming!" "It makes you THINK." Bullshit. This wasn't about thinking. It was about believing. Believing in whatever was thrown out there on the screen and refusing to think about it, just accept it.

It made no fucking sense, this show. Milch threw his (admittedly funky) dialogue out there and kept repeating refrains and didn't play by any rules. People die and resurrect, people levitate, John keeps saying, "I don't know Butchie instead," and there's a little surfing, and it's cool and explained because that's how John's father wants it! Fuck Milch.

There were some acting bright spots on the show, such as Ed O'Neill. And Brian Van Holt ended up being pretty funny if you were able to stomach his ticks and quirks the first several episodes. But most of the acting was bullshit. Though the stylized dialogue was often funny, it often felt forced and just...bullshit. It worked on Deadwood, but drowned in its own self-consciousness on the beach here.

Deadwood was partially so compelling because it was about a time, place, and growing society that didn't have rules or laws. So it was about how people functioned and formed the necessary laws -- or disregarded them -- to suit themselves, and society. In contrast, John from Cincinnat was simply about breaking or ignoring any storytelling rules. Dues ex machina up the everloving yin yan to create any sort of wonderment or tension they cared for.

And don't tell me it's "smart" television that anything goes and we're supposed to find it divine because there's some other cosmic controlling factor. I like stuff that breaks the rules, but there still needs to be rules. Otherwise you've just got a bunch of wacked-out, would-be surfers roaming the beach and waiting for bullshit to happen. And that's what this show was. Bullshit. But oh yeah, it sure did look a lot cheaper to produce than Deadwood. Well there you go. You get what you pay for.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bridging the culture gap with gratuitous voilence and nudity!

M'kay. So now I'll tell you my super-secret hidden agenda for posting about Paglia's nostalgia pageantry. Part of the reason that crotchety "things were better in my day" attitude hit me so hard this week was because 300 came out on DVD last weekend. Me, I'm getting older myself. And I won't lie to you, I had a horrible reaction against this movie when it was first released for a very shameful reason: My nephew loved it.

Petty, isn't it? Oh yeah it is. It was the height of "my old shit is better than your new shit" arrogance on my part. He loved this movie and insisted on me going to see it in the theater. Honestly? If I hadn't had any sort of feedback from him before going to see it, I'd have loved it. Here's the movie: Blood, boobs, brawn. What's not to like about it? It's a great flick!

But me and my nephew, we had recently had a prolonged culture swap that failed miserably. He won't read. He doesn't like Nirvana. He thinks Goodfellas is too slow and boring. (!!) Seriously, how was I supposed to communicate with this kid? So in my small little mind, when he came along loving this movie, I figured since he thought everything I liked was shit, that our tastes couldn't ever parrallel. So I watched 300 with a jaded, crotchety old bitch's eye. It sure didn't have the violence of The Warriors! It didn't have the sex like Showgirls! It was stylized with Bullet-time so it reminded me of The Matrix, which had Keanu Reeves and a superior script. (Shut up! The first one WAS good!) Also, that is NOT how the Battle of Thermopylae went down!

But you know what? Once I got bucked off my high horse and pulled my own head out of my ass, here's what I saw in the movie: Gerard Butler and his ferociously white teeth looking incredibly sexy, especially rounded up with a whole gang of nearly-naked Spartans as they threw spears. Again -- what's not to like? I won't go all Pauline Kael and say that this movie is trash at its finest, because, frankly, though it did have stylized action and fetishized both violence and war, it wasn't exactly revolutionary. It also wasn't historically accurate, but it was extremely faithful to the Frank Miller comic it was based on, which means it was even better. Bonus -- Rodrigo Santoro, also nearly completely naked for prolonged stretches.

But see, I didn't appreciate it until it was jammed down my throat a second time on DVD, after I'd gotten over my snit. I fear these sorts of snits are going to start coming along more frequently now that I'm getting older and more entrenched in my ways and tastes. (How fucking hip and modern can I be expected to be, I listen to Bobby Darin fer chrissakes!) I just hope my nephew tolerates and then slaps me out of my snits so I don't miss out on graphic violence and near frontal male nudity in the future!

The Age of Arrogance

The biggest laugh I got this week was compliments of Camille Paglia and her monthly Salon essay. I've always liked and admired Paglia. Though I disagree with what she's saying just as often as I agree with it, she's an intelligent woman with a strong, almost confrontational writing style. How she got appointed as a great cognoscente of pop culture, I still haven't figured out. Because she most certainly does have a big brain, and an even bigger ego-filled head to contain her big brain. And yet, that doesn't preclude her from being able to take her big old head and shove right up her own ass.

I mean, this woman spent countless pages over the years trying intellectualize her lust for Keith Richards...and Madonna! I have no problem with someone having a taste for Keith...or Madonna. But when you try to wrap it up in psuedo-historical-psychological-grandstanded philosophical crap, you lose me. Not everything needs to be footnoted with Edith Wharton references or have allusions to Foucault or the Peloponnesian war. Get over it, Camille. Keith played a mean guitar, wrote "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and looked kinda hot in a vampiric, overly drug gorged way. He was a bad boy, and bad boys are hot. Madonna? She sold sex. It's called whoring. It's been done for centuries. It didn't make her revolutionary. It made our culture less puritanical by accepting and commercializing whores. You like bad boys and whores. It's cool. We all do.

And yet, Paglia's writings mostly entertain me. When I read her column this month, she got me to bust out laughing with this riotously outrageous passage:
Aside from Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" series, with its deft flashbacks and gritty social realism, is there a single film produced over the past 35 years that is arguably of equal philosophical weight or virtuosity of execution to Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" or "Persona"? Perhaps only George Lucas' multilayered, six-film "Star Wars" epic can genuinely claim classic status, and it descends not from Bergman or Antonioni but from Stanley Kubrick and his pop antecedents in Hollywood science fiction.

Fucking funny, isn't it? Immediately, I thought she was joking. I thought she was intentionally yanking the reader's chain to stir controversy and discussion, and that her tongue was firmly planted in her own cheek, probably getting a giggle as she wrote that. Later in the column, she manages to up her own game when she crowns Kelly Clarkson the savior of modern music. I shit you not here, man.

So it was then, after the Clarkson comment, that I applauded her panache and brass ovaries. To be willing to make such blatantly retarded critically inclined opinion public! But then I started thinking about her big brain and realized that maybe she wasn't joking and that she'd taken navel-gazing to incredible new heights by inserting her own head up her ass and inspecting the interior of her intestines with fatuous fascination. Then, it was the removal of her own cranium, and its passage back out through her rectum, which left her covered in shit. She then proceeded to shake this shit off her head and it landed all over the page. A page which she subsequently submitted to Salon, and which they in turn not only published -- but paid her for!

How does this fucking happen? Seriously. I want to know! How the FUCK does someone reach the stature of a Camille Paglia and then get PAID to write absurdly stupid things on the page that end up stinking not of reasoned intelligence but of self-satisfied nostalgia? Don't get me wrong -- I like nostalgia, man. Clearly, Paglia has a connection with the art of her time, including Keith Richards and Ingmar Bergman. And I like reading analyses of Bergman's work, especially if they're tinted with a "in my day" personal perspective.

What I laugh at reading is when an aging person has the knee-jerk reaction of either condemning or ignoring any film, music, writing, or art that's happened beyond their pinnacle--of-discovery formative years. It's arrogance at its peak. And when it comes from one of our supposed "great thinkers" like Paglia and is published in Salon, it reeks of stunt-journalism, where the need to create controversy is more important than actual relevant commentary and criticism. And that's when I get jealous. Again -- someone, please, tell me -- how the fuck can I get one of these jobs?

I understand that it's an "opinion" piece, and so comes under the protective blanket where it's no longer really required to be relevant or critical or, apparently, even make sense. I understand Paglia and this piece do its job by getting people all frothed up and going there to read it. I understand that I'm part of this machinery by writing about here and providing links. But that's just the point -- it IS fun. And it's fun for me to write on my blog and talk about how shit-filled Paglia's once seemingly-intelligent head has become.

I'm not sure that I'm jealous of Paglia, exactly. If she was joking, I'm jealous as hell, because she's still one clever, calculating broad who knows how to keep herself in the dough. But if she was serious in her statements, I kind of feel a bit sorry for her. Yeah, she's still getting the paycheck and attention, but she's missing out on some really fantastic movies and music that are happening now. The world is passing her by as she lives with her big brain up her own ass.

For real now, though. How the fuck do I get a gig where I can do what she's doing?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What kind of Funny do you fancy?

I found this little test from a link at Maryanne Stahl's blog.

I'm really not big on those personality tests and such, because I have a pretty firm fucking grasp on what my personality is like, so why would I take a test about it? That'd be like consulting a magic 8 ball about whether or not I'm going to graduate high school. But I figured this one might give me some laughs, so I clicked the link.

It's fast and it's supposed to tell you if your sense of humor is light or dark, clean or vulgar, and spontaneous or something else. I didn't get many giggles from it. Nor was it a big shock what they say my sense of humor is like. They don't tell you if you are funny or not, though. I guess there's no way to gauge online if your "blue steel" face is funny or just pathetic.

Anyhow, here's what they've deemed me. What are you?

Your Score: the Shock Jock

(66% dark, 42% spontaneous, 42% vulgar)

your humor style:

Your sense of humor is off-the-cuff and kind of gross. Is it is also sinister, cynical, and vaguely threatening to the purer folks of this world. You probably get off on that. You would cut a greasy fart, then blame it on your mom, and then just shrug when someone pointed out that she's dead.

Yours is hands-down the most outrageous sense of humor; you like things trangressive and hardcore. It's highly likely (a) you have no limits (b) you have no scruples and (c) you have no job. Ironically, it's your type of humor that can make the biggest bucks in show business.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Howard Stern - Adam Sandler - Roseanne Barr

The 3-Variable Funny Test!
- it rules -

Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Monday, August 06, 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Darin' to love Kevin

For the three or four people who've paid attention to this blog over the past couple years, the following statement probably isn't shocking. I love Bobby Darin. I mean, I love Bobby Darin. When I'm feeling ground down, and that's been happening a lot lately, a surefire pick up on a particularly crappy day is to go home and throw on Aces Back to Back and swing my blues away.

Occasionally, I take a little heat from people about my Darin love. I'm not sure, but I have a feeling that's because Darin's legacy isn't quite accurate in a lot of people's minds. The reason I think that is because more than once, someone has come over to abuse my pool and vodka bar and when I happened to be spinning some Darin, they wouldn't recognize it. I'd tell them who it was and they'd get a funny face and either say, "You mean the 'Splish Splash' dude?" or, dismissive, "Yeah yeah. Mack the Knife." And from that I infer that he gets a minor blip of pigeonholed name-recognition from many people but not much else. Then, of course, by the time they've heard him sing the holy hell out of "Artificial Flowers," the martinis start going down more smoothly and they start to re-calibrate their opinion of Mr. Bobby Darin.

That makes me happy when people take a second listen to Darin. Because besides having a set of pipes that could blow the roof of the Copa, Darin was the quintessential antithesis of a one-hit wonder. Darin played the piano, drums, and guitar, along with writing plenty of his own material, and songs for others. His early incarnation was that of a teen idol, but his career took a turn when he demanded more creative control and released the jazzy-campy "Mack." And then his career went into full swing. He hit his stride as a vampy showman and sometimes torchy-saloon singer, but he was always best known for his full-swinging, jazzy style. Selling out the Copa, winning Grammys, marrying Sandra Dee, acting, and then eventually letting Vietnam change his hipster ways into that of a full-blown hippy, thus he even conquered folk music.

None of this, of course, is news to you if you've seen the Kevin Spacey biopic Beyond the Sea. And for that, I profusely thank Kevin Spacey.

Beyond the Sea isn't a perfect film. When I first heard of Spacey tackling the role of Darin, I thought, "He's too old." Already in his mid-forties, Spacey was a little long in the tooth to be playing Darin, who died, much too young, at 37. But Spacey mostly overcame this with the construct of the movie to make the pieces fit.

My second thought about the movie, upon hearing that Spacey would be doing his own singing, was, "He's fucking nuts." For real. Who in their right mind would want to be compared to Bobby Darin like that? There is no way, no fucking way, you can win. Worse, you can possibly look bad. Trying to outsing-swing Darin is kind of like trying to drive better than Ricky Bobby, trying to cook more fucked-up than Sandra Lee, or trying to out-Thetan Tom Cruise. Double Oscars are swell, but it doesn't make someone Bobby Darin. But, after seeing the movie, I realized that Spacey mostly overcame this handicap of not being Darin by having a darn good voice of his own.

Kevin, he's not Bobby. But his voice does bear more than a passing resemblance to Darin's when they're in the middle register. His lower notes lack the muscle that Bobby's had, and though he stylistically mimics and bends notes in Bobby's signature style, it's not quite as cool sounding, possibly because although Kevin's range is really good, it's not quite on par with Bobby's. But what he does capture, with both broad strokes and loving details, is Bobby's overall style. The arrangements of each piece of music are spectacular. He takes the film's namesake song and nearly doubles it in length by adding a flouncy and vibrant extended musical portion. He comes off best in the more folky or showtuney numbers, like "Simple Song of Freedom" and "The Curtain Falls." And, notably, Kevin's got a nice touch of heartbreak in his voice for the slower-tempo numbers and ballads. A bit of a nice contrast, actually, because Darin never really strikes me hard as a balladeer, with a few notable exceptions. (His "Don't Dream of Anybody But Me" slays me.)

It's on the swinging tunes that Bobby shined brightest, and I have to say, I never would've guessed that Spacey had it in him. After all that Keyser Soze and Lester Beauty business, I kind of thought he was a bit...I don't know... serious. But Kevin, he can seriously swing. He doesn't have the same chops, but he sure doesn't drown when he goes up a "Lazy River" and it's actually not a charade when he sings "Charade." Frankly, not only does Spacey have it in him, he clearly loves it. And he does it well enough that I've found myself listening to the soundtrack a few times.

If you're looking for a historically accurate picture about Darin, that's not what Spacey made. But that's also clearly not what Spacey was going for. It's romanticized, particularly his relationship with Sandra Dee. What Spacey did was give us an artistic rendering of Bobby, and in that capacity, the film is both joyfully good and heartbreaking sad. Which, of course, means it's a smashing success.

Spacey had built up an awful lot of respect, capital, and clout in Hollywood, and he cashed it all in on this one movie. Passion projects and labors of love can be dangerous territory for stars like Spacey, because they can reveal the laughable banality, off-putting ego, or utter lack of other skills that were always masked by repeating other people's words in front of a camera. But, happily for Spacey, and luckily for the audience, Kevin had the skills as a filmmaker, humility of love for his subject, and understanding of his subject's foibles to pull this all off. Every frame of the movie and every cut on the soundtrack drip not with reverence but with care and often joy.

As for Kevin's acting like Darin. Well. My frame of reference is different from Spacey's, because I was a baby when Darin died. So I never really knew much of the man as a person. But I'll trust Spacey on it. I don't really know if the big old schnoz he plastered on his face was necessary as part of the rendering. Yeah, we get it. Bobby had a nice Roman nose. Thing is though, Bobby's nose fit him and he was still kinda cute. But Spacey deformed his face a little with that nose and it was just distracting. But, Spacey didn't do it to mock but because his instincts told him it was right, so I can accept that. Also, okay, maybe it was a little funny. And, really, how can I question his acting? He's Keyser Soze, man! I always liked Spacey, even if he didn't really hold a place as one of my lovable favorites. But with his singing and dancing and fighting with Sandra onscreen, he really did bring the man to life for me in a way I'd never known him.

Honestly? It all kind of makes me jealous of Spacey while admiring the hell out of him. I'm jealous because he was able to go ahead and create something he was so obviously into, and do it so damn stylishly. But I also admire him because it would've been an awful lot easier for him to not take the gamble and just keep cashing paychecks for bullshit like "K-Pax." It's just so very clear that he followed his heart on this, and his heart took him to a great place and gave an awful lot to other Darin fans like me.

I don't think the flick was a huge commercial success, but I know that Spacey kept saying his major intent was to introduce a new generation to Bobby Darin. And that is a worthwhile goal. Part of me loves Kevin now for making me feel like less of a dork for having such an affinity for Darin's music. You know, because movies totally validate our existence and all. Maybe only fans flocked to the theatres for its initial release, but as the movie now pops up on cable channels every so often, I can't imagine that at least a handful of people who watch won't be piqued enough to look into Darin a bit more.

And if it brings even one person around to checking out and discovering the awesome that is "Darin at the Copa," Spacey oughta feel damn good about himself, because he just increased the happiness in the world by a little bit.

Bobby Darin said that his wish was "to be remembered as a human being and as a great performer." And that's why I now also love, love Kevin Spacey. I don't know if he realized he was doing it as he was making Beyond the Sea, but Kevin has helped make that last wish for Bobby Darin come true.

Spacey has recently said that he no longer cares about his acting career. I think people have misinterpreted that comment to mean that intends to not act in film and continue his work at London's Old Vic. What I think Spacey was really saying is that he hit the peak and did what he wanted and he's not into the game of being tops in Hollywood anymore, but that he'll still take roles. Whatever he meant, I wish him nothing but the best.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Secret Confessions in Paperback!

Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA by Ellen Meister -- I loved this book! And you will, too. And now you can get it in paperback!

Seriously. You will LOVE these crazy characters. And you'll laugh a whole bunch, too. For more info, visit Ellen online

New Zealand -- Why Not?

Are you watching Flight of the Conchords? They kill me. Whether Jemaine is dressed up as Ziggy Stardust David Bowie or Brett is trying to learn to flip the bird, they're just funny. This week's race war with the fruit vendor was too much, man. I wish they had the other song -- "Mutha Uckas" -- for download this week, because Brett getting all badass and singing "he's gonna wake up in a smoothie" is just the best. But they do have "Leggy Blonde" up. So, enjoy.