Monday, March 31, 2014

Saturday Night Jive Podcast! Two New Episodes, Including One Fucking Awesome One!

So, where the hell have I been? Yeah, sorry, took an impromptu vacation away from blogging last week. No real reason, just burning off a little burn out (translation: masturbating constantly). Well, now I'm back, and with two whole new podcasts about SNL. The first is the new regular episode where we talk about the latest one featuring Louis CK.


Next up is a movie cast where George and I talk about the greatest movie ever made, 1988's Dead Heat starring Joe Motherfucking Piscopo. We were blown away. Seriously. If you want to change your mind about Joe Piscopo, watch it on Netflix streaming right now. Or even if you don't, watch it. Its amaze balls. Cast below:


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Cinema File #329: "Divergent" Review

It would be easy to dismiss the new film Divegent, as well as the young adult novel series of the same name, as a cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of the wildly successful Hunger Games franchise. Both stories take place in post apocalyptic dystopian futures ruled by oppressive Orwellian governments in which teenage girls are thrust into high adventure as they struggle to find themselves, free their downtrodden people, and snag the dreamiest boy they can find. Its a bit of an odd subset of the supernatural teen girl wish fulfillment genre brought into the mainstream by Twilight, and seemingly designed to attract a much wider audience with its promise of violence and sci-fi scope, even as it displays the same thinly veiled thematic deconstruction of high school or puberty or what have you. On paper, The Hunger Games would seem to have the leg up considering it has televised murder as its main conceit rather than codified cliques, but in practice, this new "rip off" might just surpass its inspiration.

Divergent opens on a futuristic Chicago walled off from the rest of the world after some vaguely understood world war has supposedly destroyed much of the planet. In order to keep the peace, the citizens have been compelled to acquiesce to a new social order in which everyone is expected to conform to one of five factions representing five positive personality types, each with its own cultural biases and occupations associated with them. When a person comes of age, they are free to choose any faction, but once they choose, they can't change their minds, and before they do, they're put through an aptitude test to give them a better idea of where they might belong. This seems to work just fine for most people, unless you're like our heroine Beatrice, who finds herself with a varied enough skill set that the test labels her divergent, unlikely to accept conformity, and thus a danger to the social order.

Already the high school parallels are obvious, even one might say laid on a bit thick, though no more obtuse than a dark and brooding vampire boyfriend or a contest of literal slings and arrows of teenage misfortune. Then again, science fiction doesn't necessarily have to be subtle to be effective, and sometimes its even a hindrance. Did the obviousness of the racial allegory make the Star Trek episode with the half-white, half-black faced Frank Gorshin any less enjoyable? In fact, this is the one genre that's supposed to wear its message on its sleeve at least a little bit, and for my money, any movie teaching kids that conformity is a bad thing in a culture raised on post-911 "freedom has conditions" jingoism is alright by me, even if that message is a bit muddled by the meta expectation to join all your friends in the nerdy fandom of the franchise.

More importantly, Divergent expands outward from its simple premise and even simpler themes to create a world that is much more interesting than one might think from a basic reading of its synopsis. The Hunger Games films, while certainly well made and entertaining, are somewhat limited in their scope, with the first installment being so self contained that I couldn't help but question how it could even continue, and the second repeating much of the first film's ideas in slightly different variations suggesting that the idea of a trilogy (or a cinematic quadrilogy) might have been overreaching. This film by contrast lacks the punch of killer competitions, but lays the groundwork for its larger story so much better, giving me just enough to entertain me with its introduction of the basic concepts while still leaving me wanting more and leaving room to ask questions and expect answers in further sequels. I want to know what's beyond the wall. I want to know how the equilibrium of this society will change after the climax of the film. I don't care how many more people Katness is going to shoot, or whether a third game is in the offing, or frankly anything else Mockingjay has to offer.

The characters are also a lot stronger and more interesting than the world of Panem, which despite having seen both movies I still had to look up to even remember. Beatrice, who changes her name to simply Tris upon joining up with the militant Dauntless faction, has a more complex and conflicted series of choices to make that prove to be much more personal to her beyond basic survival, contrasted with Katness who is mostly forced into her circumstances and is never expected to make any hard choices that aren't in self-defense. Also, Tris' actress is capable of more than one blank wooden expression, which really makes empathizing with her character a lot easier. Her teacher/obvious love interest is also just a shade more complicated than most guys in movies like this, enough that he comes across as more than just Teen Beat fantasy fodder at least. Special mention should also go to the villains, in particular Kate Winslet's Erudite leader, a woman who genuinely believe in the rightness of her position even as it means exploiting people against their will, infinitely more nuanced than Donald Sutherland's cliche stereotype dictator.

Yes, it is still a young adult sci-fi story intended for teenage girls, and thus is bound by its obligation to throw in steamy post-pubescent romance and sexual tension, which is as always with this kind of movie, the part where I check out. This is arguably the one area where The Hunger Games is superior, in that it downplays this element to the point of irrelevance, but even then, the relationship between "Tris" and the equally annoyingly named Four is not nearly as distracting as even the few fleeting glimpses of young love between Katness and Not Thor (or the other guy who paints himself like a tree). Our two clearly much older than teenage leads help a lot, both of whom seem to prefer the interesting action beats to slower mushy stuff, coming to life in battle and shrugging off the moon eyes as quickly as possible. In the end, this is just something you have to accept if you're going to even try to get something out of these kinds of movie, which you should really try to do in this case, because it never overpowers everything there is to like about it.

And there is a lot to like, or at least more than not, and more than you might expect if, like me, you generally start from a position of fearing the worst from a YA inspired film. This isn't The Host or The Mortal Instruments, or even Beautiful Creatures, which was almost decent but only in comparison to so much similar garbage. I can't speak for the book having not read it, though from what I've heard from friends who have, its a fairly faithful adaptation of its source material. The best compliment I can give to the film is that its good enough to actually make me just a teensy bit curious about checking out the novel, despite the section of my bookstore I'd have to brave to find it, which is more than I can say for any of the others I've already mentioned too many times. Divergent is not likely to surpass That Other Movie Series in terms of box office, but already as of this writing its made enough to ensure at least one other sequel, and for once, its actually something I'm looking forward to. Go figure.

And for the record, if I had to choose a faction, it would be Candor. I don't want to farm, fight, learn things, or help people, but all the Candors have to do apparently is be dicks all the time. This I can do.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Night Live Season 20 Reviews: Episode 4 - Dana Carvey/Edie Brickell

“Before we go, I just want to announce that John Denver is dead.”

George H. W. Bush Cold Open/Carvey Monologue

4 Stars: Bush opens the show with a response to Dana Carvey’s impression of him.  After the opening credits, Carvey takes the stage as Bush and the real former president interrupts and continues to chastise him.

I’m lumping the cold open and monologue together in my rating because it’s really just one continuous concept.  This isn’t really so much funny as it is interesting.  SNL viewers had gotten so use to Carvey’s “spastic Paul Lynde” impression that it’s almost weird to see the real man himself.  But while watching this you really got a sense of why Carvey was such a good performer.  He didn’t really do impressions; he did characters that became bigger than the men themselves.  The real Bush actually comes off affable and pretty funny here and he seems in on the joke.  It’s a decent way to start the show and I remember watching this episode live and being excited to see Carvey’s Bush again but it seems dated now and looking at the airdate of the episode, it was dated then, just an excuse to bring out a Carvey classic.

Virtual Reality Reading

4 Stars: Reading a book will never be the same with “Virtual Reading”

Talk about dated; this is before iPads and Kindles so you can excuse how silly the premise sounds 20 years later.  This really worked for me as a bit of nostalgia and as a really good commercial parody commenting on the limits of technology at the time and how corporations were overreaching to market this crap to consumers.

There are two jokes here, one that technology is taking over everything, even something as dull as reading, and computers are slow.  This is also a good use of McKean; I really enjoyed his excitement over reading the Jackie Collins book.

Johnny Carson at the OJ Simpson trial

4 Stars: Wow, they got a lot of mileage out of that courtroom set

Have you ever seen the weaker episodes of ‘Three’s Company’ where Chrissie just walks into the living room and says, “Hey Jack, my uncle’s coming to town and you have to pretend you’re gay”?  That’s kind of what this felt like.

This is funny but doesn’t make much sense.  OJ has decided to hire Johnny Carson as his new defense attorney and it’s really just an excuse for Carvey to bring out one of his old impressions.  Much like George Bush, Carson was not current at the time and this sketch could not have existed if Carvey wasn’t hosting.  If I were going to over analyze this sketch I could go into how they were commenting on the circus and the absurdity of the trial by making it like a talk show, but they probably weren’t thinking that hard about it so, I won’t either.

One thing I noticed while watching this sketch is Mike Myers as Judge Ito.  He seems to be enjoying Carvey’s antics and, oh no, this means we’re getting a Wayne’s World sketch later on.  This could have been staged better, maybe if they cut out the interludes with Kevin Nealon, but then we get Carnac determining the contents of the mystery envelope which is genius.  This sketch is worth it just for that moment and McKean playing Robert Shapiro as Ed McMahon.  I liked this sketch and there are some good jokes but it just seems like a flashback to past glories when I want to see what the current cast can do.

Ross Perot Halloween

3 Stars: Ross Perot hands out candy at Halloween

Ok, so it’s apparently the Dana Carvey show now.  I understand what SNL is trying to do when they bring former cast members to host, bring some good will to the show but when they let the host dominate like this it brings the current cast to the background and just harkens back the old saying, “it was better in the good old days”.

Again, Perot is not in the news, this is just an excuse for Dana to do his old thing.  I do have to respect the way Carvey had a way of creating catchphrases for impressions and characters.  Every one who did a Perot impression incorporated “Can I finish?” which he said once and “nagada” became the go to for Bush Sr.  If this sketch had appeared 2 years earlier it would have been great but now it just seems dated and watching it almost 20 years later makes it really dated.  Also, this is a one man sketch and after the cold open, monologue, Carson trial and this, the cast is MIA so far this week.  I say that, and then we get Sandler, Spade and Jay Mohr as teenage trick or treaters and I immediately regret my statement, let’s just see more Carvey this week.

Edie Brickell sings “Green” and hey, check it out, Paul Simon.  I love her voice but some of these 90s slow jams really bring down the energy of a show.  The musical guest is integral to SNL; a good musical guest can really bring the energy to a lackluster show.  I really could have used an energy boost right about now rather than a lullaby.  Her second some, “Tomorrow Comes”, is a little better.  It’s pure Lilith Fair, but if there’s one thing you should know it’s that Georgie loves his girl pop.

Weekend Update

5 Stars: Judge Lance Ito Is A Big Fruit

4th show of Norm’s tenure and 4th reference to Germans loving David Hasselhoff.  This time the audience goes for it and this is probably the best Update so far.  It’s framed with celebrities writing their OJ books including Prince Charles and the Pope and then book ends with Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs And Ham and OJ Is Guilty”

Best Jokes: OJ Books, and after a story about a decadent hotel; “in a related story Motel 6 now has shampoo”

Desk Pieces

Al Franken shows some of the negative campaign ads throughout the country.  Franken was apparently upset that he didn’t get the Update job over Norm and although I can’t picture anyone behind that desk except Norm, this Franken piece makes me think he would have been a good fit.  This reminds me of a Daily Show commentary and this is when SNL was still a place for your political satire.  Franken shows some attack ads against Ted Kennedy (Big Fat Drunk), Dianne Feinstein (She’s A Jew) and Mario Cuomo (He’s A Murderer).  Really funny, really quick and Franken’s deadpan delivery nails this.  Norm’s facial expression after seeing the Cuomo attack ad is priceless.  This is one of the only times I can think of that Norm actually seemed like he was interested in the correspondents.

Unfortunately, we get Hans and Franz, who show up to get some applause and bring another Carvey character to the show that nobody really missed.  Here the two muscle bound nitwits talk about how SNL took their set away and now they are resigned to the Update desk, where recurring characters go to die.  It got very Meta, especially with Nealon getting in a dig that he was kicked off Update in favor of Norm, except that the recurring characters they mentioned were all still from days of old, Coffee Talk, Matt Foley and Stuart Smalley.  This is the 4th episode with a newish cast and it’s not the time to relive the good old days but usher in a new era.


2 Stars: An expert pepper boy at an Italian restaurant trains his protégée.

For the first time tonight, Dana does something new and we get to see Sandler trot out his same old idiot boy shtick.  If you love hearing the words “Fresh pepper” over and over in an Italian accent then this is the sketch for you.  Although not abysmal, this felt 20 minutes long and really only had a couple of laughs.  Carvey’s overtly sexual pepper grinding and Farley’s gleeful over reaction to his pepper were highlights but then it ended in my least favorite way, voice-over read while text scrawls.

64th Annual Nobel Prize Awards

2 Stars: Garry Shandling hosts the Nobel Prize awards in the style of a cheesy “Oscar” type show.

Carvey’s Shandling impression is entertaining and Al Franken’s Henry Kissinger is a hoot but that’s all this sketch has going for it.  This sketch may have worked if the show had a cast that could do impressions.  Here we get Myers as John Denver, Nealon as Charles Grodin, Garofalo as Mary Lou Retton and Meadows as Nelson Mandela.  They are not so much doing impressions but they are really good at wearing wigs.  The best part of this sketch is the recurring cutaways to Chris Elliott as an overly excited Yassir Arafat in the audience, but this felt like a half hour with no jokes.  The basic premise is that award shows are boring, so they are really doing anti-humor here which makes the sketch boring.  The ending of this sketch is also a little grim.  Shandling announces the John Denver has died from bacteria being splashed on his face and they cut to Kissinger laughing.

(Editor's Note: Really George, no explanation for Jay Mohr in blackface? Just gonna throw that out there? Okay...)

Liar At Work

3 Stars: A man makes a lot of excuses for why he’s bad at his job but then confides to his co-worker that they’re not true.

This is almost a reverse Tommy Flanagan sketch, a professional liar who then admits that he lies.  This is a quick little sketch with an interesting turn that comes out of nowhere.  Meadows says the reason he makes stuff up is because he’s hypoglycemic, “hypo means make and glycemic means stuff up”.  Then David Spade comes out to say how hypoglycemia is a made up disease.  Before I could really understand the joke, the sketch was over, short and sweet and a nice little 10-1 sketch.


3 Stars: The continuing adventures of office drone, Milton.

Here’s a Mike Judge cartoon about a hapless office worker.  I remember seeing this live and not getting it but it is fun to see after ‘Office Space’.


Live From New York, It’s The Dana Carvey Show

Average: 3.2 Stars

MVP: Michael McKean (Virtual Reality Reading, OJ Simpson Trial, Fresh Pepper, 64th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Awards)

Best Sketch: Johnny Carson at the OJ Simpson Trial

Worst Sketch: 64th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Awards

How I Would Have Lorne Michaels-ed It: It would have been nice to see the Carvey retro-train “fresh-a-peppered” throughout the show.  It wasn’t until after Weekend Update when the actual SNL cast appeared and by that time the show ground to a halt.  I would have started with an abbreviated version of the Noble Peace Prize Awards and then went into Bush and Perot.  Sprinkle some of the other stuff within the show and brought the OJ trial after Update.  It’s not that the sketches were bad; they were just solo Carvey bits.

Host Analysis: Carvey was good but really overshadowed the cast.  I can only imagine how hard it is to get airtime on SNL when you’re a new cast member and then to have somebody just take full control must be infuriating, you can really see that there is no energy from the cast at the Goodnights.  Only Sandler and Meadows got to headline sketches and pretty much everyone from the cast was relegated to bit parts or sat this episode out.

Final Thoughts

Yeah, when I go see Paul McCartney I want him to sing ‘Jet’ but I also paid $100 for those tickets so I’d like to have some variety.  Carvey just trotted out his greatest hits and it was almost like watching a clip show.  While the sketches themselves were decent and I rated most of them highly, I can’t help but think that this was a dip to the well too early in the season.  You can tell at the Goodnights that they have a cast of people who didn’t really do much this week.  Interesting thing about watching the goodnights, you can see Carvey saying something to Mike Myers, like he’s apologizing about something.  With the Milton cartoon ending the show, and no Carvey in sight for the end half, I can’t help but think something got cut.  You also see Michael McKean in a bald cap that wasn’t in a sketch.

With the Carvey train rolling so strong in the beginning and then disappearing, I have to assume there was another sketch planned for the end of the night.  If not a Wayne’s World sketch, it seems weird that they wouldn't let Carvey and Myers play together at all in this episode.

Up Next

Sarah Jessica Parker hosts.  I’m not sure when in Parker’s career this episode took place, if this was pre or post ‘Sex And The City’, and I don’t know if I watched this one live.  I’m expecting another episode like Marisa Tomei, where Parker stays in the background and lets Sandler and Farley take the reigns.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Cinema File #328: "Muppets Most Wanted" Review

If the sequel to a very good movie is still decent, but not quite as good as the original, does it make it better or worse if the film opens with a meta musical number all about warning the audience of this very problem? This is one of the many oddly specific questions that I didn't expect to have to ask myself coming out of the new film Muppets Most Wanted, a movie that defied some low expectations set by some pretty dreadful advertising by being not only not terrible, but for the most part, thoroughly enjoyable. Of course, as that opening song reminds us, this is not the second Muppet movie, but rather the eighth in a much longer series, and as a Jim Henson devotee who grew up during the mid to late 90's downward spiral of this franchise, if they keep making them like this, I'll keep coming. Okay, I'll keep coming anyway. I saw Muppets From Space in the theater, but you get the point.

Muppets Most Wanted is a direct sequel to 2011's The Muppets, literally starting where the last one left off with "The End" flashing in the sky via fireworks, and the whole behind the scenes affair revealed to be just another movie within a movie. Then they proceed to sing a song about how this is just Disney's way of keeping these classic characters relevant until Tom Hanks can make Toy Story 4, and the little Kermit loving child inside me dies a little. This moment reminded me most of the first trailer I saw for the film, predominantly featuring Scooter singing the very dated "Moves Like Jagger" for some reason. It was not unreasonable after this point to assume the worst, that in the absence of Jason Segel and his unabiding love for all things Muppets infusing every moment of this new one, it would quickly devolve into a mess of pandering pop culture references trying to get by on nostalgia. And then something weird happened.

This very scene that so scared me into thinking this movie would suck, featured as an obvious up front gag in the trailer, was (mostly) cut, just seen in the background, as if the people making this movie realized the error and decided to make a better movie at the expense of an easy reference. This stalwart commitment to actually trying to be funny was strangely all over the place, and the more the movie went on, the more it began to feel like old times again, and not in a forced or strained way, but almost as if the people we've lost who dedicated their lives to making these characters great were somehow still around at least long enough to give their blessing to the thing. Its a little scatter shot and rough around the edges, but the love is there, and in a time when movies don't have to be good or honor what came before in order to be successful, this kind of effort is always something that should be appreciated.

Thankfully, not a screen shot from the finished movie.

To SAT this thing, Muppets Most Wanted is to The Muppets what The Great Muppet Caper was to The Muppet Movie. Less complete and certainly less novel than its predecessor, it is no less lovable, even if it takes a little more time to find its footing and get you on board for another ride. For every joke that doesn't land, and there are a few, there are at least three more that do, and once it gets going, it never feels like the soulless cash grab explicitly suggested by the intro. Of course, its hard not to love the Muppets, whether you're just a regular fan, a writer/director, or one of the many celebrities lucky enough to work alongside them, many not even showing up long enough to do anything funny, apparently just there to be able to say they were in a Muppet movie. As always, between the madcap there's a lot of winking and mugging at the camera (Ricky Gervais bless his soul can't help himself), but everybody's having a lot of fun, enough that you likely will too.

The music is once again spot on, and maybe even a touch better than the last one overall, or at least much more integrated into the plot than last time. Bret MacKenzie, one half of Flight of the Concords, returns as the primary songwriter, and while there isn't really a stand out number as fun or as powerful as the Oscar winning Man or Muppet, there are more and more memorable songs this time around, without the odd misstep like Chris Cooper's weird non-sequiter rap. They even get close to heartwarming with the ensemble piece "Something So Right" and an out of nowhere fantasy sequence depicting Kermit and Miss Piggy growing old together that came this close to summoning a few tears. Nothing quite as somber as "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" or "Saying Goodbye," but more sincere than this series is typically given credit for.

Another one of those nagging questions presents itself near the beginning of the film as the villain, a Kermit doppelganger named Constantine identical save for a characteristic mole, escapes from a Russian gulag. Is it fair to criticize a Muppet movie for bad special effects? I'm obviously not talking about the mechanics of the Muppets themselves, who are just as adorably flimsy as ever, but rather, the way in which they are integrated into the world. The escape scene in the prison, which I swear is a direct reference to Old Boy if you can believe it, is maybe the first appearance of a CGI Muppet since Waldo C. Graphic (look it up!), and it simply does not work. Then at the end, we're treated to some of the most horrifying green screen work I've ever seen, on par with the creepy young faces of Sly and DeNiro in Grudge Match. Its not enough to take me out of the movie, but enough to beg the question of how this got past a major studio.

This is of course a minor quibble, and nearly every problem that presents itself in Muppets Most Wanted is similarly picayune. On the whole, this is another respectable installment in a franchise that really needed to avoid a sophomore slump after the way it crashed and burned before the reboot. Its not quite as magical as the next most recent Disney effort Frozen, which coincidentally is still in theaters and now on DVD simultaneously as of this writing, but its easily in keeping with some of the few family friendly high points this year like The Lego Movie and Mr. Peabody And Sherman, two movies you should also go see after this one if you haven't already (especially Mr. Peabody, because I'm currently in a Fantasy Movie Mogul league and I'd like to make an imaginary profit on it). The joy onscreen is infectious and the flaws are forgivable once the jaunty tunes kick in, which is really all you can ask for from Kermit and company.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Cinema File #327: "3 Days To Kill" Review

With an uber-producer as prolific as Luc Besson, the law of averages dictates that at this point his output is going to be a bit hit and miss. It would be easy to accuse the director of The Fifth Element of valuing style over substance, and with so many years and so many misses since his best film to ever go stateside in Leon The Professional, it would be even easier to expect the worst whenever his name comes up in association with a movie. If modern Luc Besson is more in line with the lackluster The Family than the groundbreaking Nikita, well, a movie like 3 Days To Kill makes a lot more sense in context. While still just a little more stylish and fun than it has any right to be, 3 Days ultimately fails by being the one thing Besson should never be, which is just plain boring.

3 Days To Kill follows a retired-ish CIA hit man trying to reconnect with his family after discovering that he only has a few months to live, only to be unexpectedly brought back onto one last job in exchange for a miracle drug that might just give him more time to spend with his estranged wife and daughter. Its hard to say which is more implausible, that the now pudgy almost 60 year old Costner can pull off playing a killer for hire, or that he managed to wrangle such a young wife at his age. Neither of these conceits prove to be the silliest of things you have to accept in order to engage with this movie however, because even if you can get past them, you still have narratively convenient heart palpitations, hallucinations cured by vodka, and Amber Heard as a femme fatale trying to pretend she's actually attracted to the guy from Bull Durham.

It probably sounds like I'm being a bit unfair to The Postman here, but he's really one of the biggest problems with this movie. There are certain, very specific contexts in which Kevin Costner still works as a leading man, but high octane action hero isn't one of them. Had this been a vehicle for Besson's Taken colleague Liam Neeson, maybe, but even then, the movie seems to be designed around compensating for the slower requirements of an aging star in a way Neeson's recent Non-Stop proved shouldn't be required. It doesn't help that the movie tries way too hard to justify the need for Costner's character to be there, because apparently he's the only one who has seen the mysterious main villain in person, and instead of just meeting with a sketch artist and letting the much more competent and age appropriate Amber Heard character deal with it, we need the guy who collapses clutching his chest every time he gets in trouble.

Oh yeah, there's that. Costner's character has this condition, which sounded like a cancerous brain tumor when the doctor explained it but apparently affects his heart more than anything, and only when he's in a position where the script needs him to be incapacitated in front of a gun toting bad guy. Said bad guy through most of the film is a stereotypical henchman called The Albino, literally a joke from The Heat come to life without irony, and its a good thing the guy chasing him keeps having attacks, because this chalky villain's preferred mode of execution is placing his victims' heads in the way of oncoming hard things like elevators and trains. Because, you know, just shooting a dude apparently isn't cool enough I guess. Also, the attacks cause hallucinations we don't see, and the only way to cure them is to get drunk, with neither malady really impacting him in any specific way that might have made this idea interesting.

All the pieces are there for a good movie, but at no point is anything really done with them. It has a sense of humor about itself and tries to be a wry tweak on espionage action tropes with a man casually killing people while trying to maintain a home life as a husband and father, but every time it feels like its going anywhere or doing anything to fulfill its obvious potential, it pivots to doing nothing. So much of this movie just lies limp, knowing where to go to be more exciting and then deliberately swerving into the opposite direction. A running gag involving an oft kidnapped driver, or a silly interrogation scene where a hostage is forced to give a recipe for spaghetti sauce to Costner's daughter all display the better movie 3 Days To Kill could have been, but like many films Luc Besson has been involved with, it never quite figures out just what kind of movie it wants to be, and ultimately ends up amounting to nothing as a result.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mockbusted #20: "The Hungover Games" Review

Out of all the movies from 2013 that I thought might possibly be mockbusted, I never considered that anyone would ever bother to rip off a Friedberg and Seltzer spoof. Last year, we got The Starving Games, a mostly terrible Hunger Games parody that only escaped being one of the worst films of the year by virtue of it being one of the (relatively) best Friedberg/Seltzer movies (a very low bar, mind you) in a year where Vince Offer also made a movie. Still, that there would be not one but two spoofs of a now two year old movie released just in time for its more recent sequel is kinda weird. What's even weirder is that despite the fact that its written and produced by the seldom funny Jaime Kennedy, its actually not half bad.

Okay, scratch that, it is half bad. In fact, The Hungover Games is probably about 60 to 70% bad all told. Taken out of context purely on its own merits, it is at least more bad than good, and nothing that I would recommend whole heartedly. The problem with that is that movies, especially spoofs, don't exist in a vacuum, and it is impossible to judge a movie like The Hungover Games without appreciating it in the larger context of the Spoof Genre, or rather what the aforementioned Friedberg and Seltzer team have done to it. On its own, its not really all that good, but compared to pretty much every other spoof movie since the Zuckers quit and the Scary Movie franchise started the ball of unbearable shit moving, its practically a masterpiece.

Its juvenile, often crude for the sake of being crude, and clearly targeted at a more puerile mindset that is partial to gay jokes and gratuitous nudity, but all that being said, at least it tries something. You get the sense that even amid the bad jokes, at least the people making the movie find it funny, and don't have disdain for the audience that agrees with them, even if you or I might not be among that audience. They're not just throwing out random pop culture references in place of jokes, but actually trying to, you know, write them. And what do you know, when you actually sit down and try to write a script and make it as funny as you can within a certain rubric, even if you're not very good at it, persistence can pay off with a few beats here and there worth the effort, enough to keep more mature viewers engaged. I laughed at about every sixth or seventh joke, which sounds bad, but for a movie like this is practically unheard of.

This isn't the Movie Movie mold of referencing a thing and expecting you to laugh purely because you relate to it being a thing. The writers of this movie actually understand what parody means. The references are there, but they're actually commented upon and deconstructed appropriately. When Ted from the titular Seth McFarlane movie kills Django and has to justify his apparent racism, its a bit of satire that reflects the actual reality of what's presented, as opposed to The Starving Games, where at some point The Avengers show up out of nowhere, because hey, people remember them from that other movie, so fuck it, who cares? Moments like various characters played by Johnny Depp expressing Johnny Depp fatigue are almost close to brilliant, and while they're few and far between, its enough that I was grateful for the effort taken to actually entertain me.

Even the set up is so much better than its Friedberg/Seltzer counterpart. Instead of just doing The Hunger Games and throwing in the other movies at random, The Hungover Games combines them all into a universe that at least by dumb comedy standards makes sense and feels organic. The games are the result of a public uprising over our collective hatred of sequels, reboots, and spoofs, and the districts are split up by genre, with a superhero district, a Depp district, a puppet movie district, and so on. The heroes are the guys from the Hangover movies trying desperately to avoid another retread (see, satire!) only to drunkenly volunteer for the games during their night of amnesia, and each one of them is legitimately good at capturing the characters they're spoofing, to the point where I could easily see them reprising these roles in a Hangover prequel that for other obvious reasons I hope to God never comes

As bad as it is, I would still recommend that you track down The Hungover Games and give it a watch if you have the time, if only to sit in amazement at how incrementally better it is than every other spoof movie in the past fifteen years or so. That doesn't make it good by any stretch, but then its also direct to VOD, and considering we have another A Haunted House movie coming to a theater near you this year, the fact that this is the one without a wide release is practically criminal. As bad movies go, I wish that this were the worst that cinema had to offer. I'm sure it will get nothing but crapped on by a critical establishment that doesn't know just how bad a bad movie can get, and hasn't been buried under as much shit as I have to find a movie like this such a refreshing respite, but I for one can only give credit where credit is due. They didn't have to try even this hard, and could have easily slipped by with garbage, but they didn't, and that's worth celebrating, even if the end result isn't exactly great.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Dirty Sons Of Pitches, Episode Seventy Seven! Now Available.

Check out the latest episode of The Dirty Sons Of Pitches. This week in lieu of a pitch or an Eric, George joins us to help us unveil a new game called Movies Against Humanity. We proceed to spend the rest of the episode arguing things we don't necessarily believe in an attempt to sound less offensive than when we say the things we claim to actually believe in the first half. Sounds convoluted? It is! Enjoy!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Thirteen!: "Would You Like To Take A Bite Of My Sausage?"

Hey everybody, this week Saturday Night Jive is once again without a new SNL episode to talk about, so that means we tackle another classic movie featuring an SNL alum. This time around its Boat Trip featuring Horatio Sans, and believe it or not, we both kind of liked it. Its certainly not nearly as homophobic as we thought it would be, and easily the funniest movie we've watched so far in this series. Also, little dog tuxedos.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

An Open Letter To People Who Bitch About File Sharing

Recently I came upon an article online addressing Kurt Sutter, the creator of the FX show Sons of Anarchy and his stance on file sharing, or what some erroneously call piracy. His ire was mostly targeted at Google and its many legal attempts to erode copyright law in the facilitation of said piracy, but the larger issue was the idea that as a creative person working in Hollywood, online downloading of paid content is slowly chipping away at the system by which creative people are rewarded for their efforts, and as such threatening the creative enterprise altogether. As a creative person who regularly produces independent content including many free podcasts, online short films, and essays, and one who hopes to one day be in a position to earn a living off of my work, I can't help but feel a little put off by his stance, even as I can sympathize with his plight.

The crux of the thing for me comes out of what he himself calls a "clunky analogy," comparing the commercialization of his art to a luxury car first sold at market price, and then for considerably less, and then given away for free, contending that while a free car might be great, eventually the quality of those cars will diminish as those once responsible for making them great could not sustain themselves giving away the product of their talent. Forgetting for a moment that cars and art are two different things and even a shitty free car is worth something, I can't get away from the cold declaration of art as first and foremost a commodity. Now, I understand that the film and television industries are about business, but it seems to me that the drive to create great art exists prior to the need to earn a living from it, and to suggest that art will suffer if its not rewarded as exorbitantly as it currently is in certain circles seems to forget the Vincent Van Gogh of it all.

Not to compare myself to one of history's greatest painters, but when I write something or work to produce something that I genuinely love, my first impulse is to show it to the world for free. That's why I have a blog for the record, and every short film I've done or other project I've worked hard on has appeared here because the whole point of making them was so that people would see them and enjoy them. Now, that being said, I also have several scripts in the pipeline that I hope might one day be picked up and sold so that I may one day be in a position to make bigger and better projects, but at the end of the day, my desire to earn a living on my work is not an end, but a means to an end, and if it never happens, I'll still be doing whatever I can to turn my weird ideas into weird stories or movies or comics or whatever I can make for others to experience. The idea that I might one day Go Galt, or whatever the creative, non-douche equivalent is, just because there isn't a market for what I do or the rewards aren't good enough seems completely alien to me.

I shouldn't have to explain why digital downloading isn't stealing, but fuck it, because some people are too stupid to understand it, I will anyway. If you sell, say, DVDs, presumably you bought them at a lower price from a wholesaler in order to make a profit on them. If I physically take one, I have stolen not only the merchandise itself, but also the money you spent to buy it, and the potential profit you could have made from its sale. Now, if I download that same DVD online, what have I taken from you? You still have the item, and you can still sell the item, just not to me. The most you have lost is a possible customer, the same is if I'd simply gone to another store or borrowed a copy from a friend, and even that assumes that I definitely would have bought the DVD if not for the ability to get it another way, when its just as likely that I might have done without. This gets even muddier with TV, which is supported mostly by ad revenue rather than the sale of a physical thing, not to mention an antiquated ratings system that makes the success or failure of most shows completely arbitrary.

More than that, the business of making art seems to be a unique one that I would think would be immune to the sort of gradual degradation Sutter describes. There have been great shows and there have been terrible shows since the inception of television, and the greater degree of one over the other in any given era has never had anything to do with the ease with which viewers had access to them. The whole idea of paying for TV is relatively new in the scope of television history, and even newer the idea of TV shows living on in DVD/Bluray and digital form. Like any business, the order of the day is always to innovate or die, and I wonder if the problem might be more about an industry that would rather whine about the sudden inequality of being beholden to a technologically savvy public than actually work with them toward a mutual benefit. Add to this that its an industry built upon artists, ideally anyway, which is to say people who can't help but do what they do, and you have the perfect platform for evolution of the medium. Sutter's argument seems to hinge on the idea that most people who work in television only do so for the money, and maybe that's true, but maybe that's also the problem.

I mention all of this to make one final point, which is that I see file sharing not so much as a challenge to the corporate entertainment structure as much as the ultimate expression of Capitalism. Capitalism is, as I understand it anyway, a situation in which the market, I.E. we the consumer, dictate the value of commercial products. The enemy of Capitalism is Monopoly, where the purveyors of commercial products set the price as they see fit. In the past, the creators of content had a monopoly on its distribution and we paid whatever we had to because we had no other choice, but in the age of file sharing, we the people dictate what our entertainment is worth. The fact that most of it is worth nothing isn't our fault! Instead of carping about our ability to take away their monopoly and get around their desire to shovel so much crap down our throats so they don't have to work as hard, they should be trying to make their product so good that we can't refuse them. Make a movie so awesome that an online cam isn't enough and I have to buy a ticket to the theater. Make a CD so great I need to see you in concert. Make a TV show so amazing that seeing it the next day for free online isn't an option. If they can't do that, then what the fuck good are they anyway, and why should we pay them anything?

Yeah, okay, sorry. End of rant.

The Cinema File #326: "300: Rise Of An Empire" Review

Zach Snyder movies tend to bounce around the bell curve of quality more than most directors. For every criminal abomination like Man of Steel, we get a criminally underrated Watchmen, and for every style over substance misfire like Sucker Punch, we get a stylish masterpiece like 300. Almost a decade after that film scored surprising success and practically created a new genre of epic action movies, 300: Rise of an Empire is a valiant attempt to re-capture some of that bloody, ballsy, vaguely homoerotic spirit for a new audience well used to the tropes after so many imitators. Unfortunately, without Snyder at the helm, the kind of risky exuberance that makes him so hit and miss is replaced by a dull, safe, and thoroughly disappointing effort that never takes any chances, and as a result never had a chance to be good.

The new 300 is all over the place, in pretty much every sense of that term. For one thing, the chronology of just where we are in time in relation to the first film is a bit jarring and overly complicated. It's not a straight sequel, but rather a prequel, midquel, and sequel all rolled into one. We get three flashbacks before we even get to the main story, which hits at about the half hour mark as the two armies face each other down, as if all that set up was just gotten out of the way so that the rest of the movie could consist of one giant battle, which is pretty much the case, for better and for worse. Good luck figuring out who you're supposed to root for though, as the film is clearly structured with an obvious good guy and bad guy in mind, but then does everything it can to muddy the waters, not in a way that's cleverly ambiguous mind you, just haphazard and poorly thought out.

The problem is not, as it would be in a good movie, a matter of moral complexity. It is not that the good guys have flaws and the bad guys have saving graces, even though this is technically true for both sides. The problem is that the good guys are just too goddamn boring to care about, and conversely, the villain is too interesting and charming to condemn. I defy you not to take the side of Eva Green's invasion force after hearing the story of just why her character hates the Greeks so much, and if you can bring yourself to even stay awake through any of the scenes where the hero has to do anything but stab people, you deserve a medal, or at least your ticket money back. Everyone else remotely interesting, including returning characters played by Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro, are relegated to pointless extended cameos just to remind us they were still alive from the last one.

The action is where the heart of this series lies, and to be fair it is more than passable, relatively similar to the first one save for the exclusively maritime battlefield. If all you care about is seeing a bunch of people gored to death with comically large bursts of CGI blood exploding out of them, then this is the movie for you, and I honestly don't say that as a judgement, as often this is enough for me depending on my mood. That being said, there's something just a bit tired about watching the same thing now after eight years and a million rip offs. When the original film came out, you could argue it felt like a glorified video game, but really, it was like we wished video games would be, and now video games are if anything better than this, and wouldn't you rather play these guys, or some other ancient equivalent, rather than just watch them? The absence of a great story didn't feel quite so painful when the style was still a novelty, but now this just feels like a highlight reel in search of a movie.

Apparently, 300: Rise of an Empire is actually based on an as-yet unreleased graphic novel by the original author Frank Miller, called Xerxes. The fact that this is the case despite the character Xerxes barely being in the movie at all might be the perfect metaphor for just what a failure it is. To say that a 300 movie drained all of the potential substance and just left the flashy ephemera seems like a silly complaint considering just what kind of movie we're talking about, but there's still something to be said for the basic rules of storytelling and character. This one stretches your ability to stay interested in a story bereft of characterization or plot development to its absolute limit, hoping you'll stay for the carnage and have so much fake blood in your eyes by the end that you won't notice how little has actually happened. As hard charging, gratuitous battle porn, it more than delivers, but if you want anything else even remotely resembling a movie, don't bother.
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