Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012)

I have a bit of a confession. I'm somewhat biased with my love of all things Tarantino - absolutely ALLLL things Tarantino-related, save for his acting - so bear with me on this recent review.

After participating in my usual Die Hard-ing on Christmas, I went with my brother Christmas Night to see Django Unchained, my number one movie I've been looking forward to this entire year. I'd previously acquired a copy of the script on my computer, but unlike, Inglourious Basterds, I stopped halfway. The story is indeed, one of a revenge spaghetti western, except set in the south... Largely inspired by the Italian Sergio Corbucci picture Django - even featuring a brief, sort of mantle-turning cameo by Franco Nero, the star of Corbucci's film, as he talks for a short while with Jamie Foxx's Django character.

Django is a free man. He's become a free man by helping kill white people and now that he's a free man, he's going to kill a whole lot more white folk. When we first see him, he has been sold in retaliation for an failed escape with his wife. The two have been separated and now Django will do anything to get her back and rescue his Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).

Why the fuck does he care for her? My first gripe with the picture is that we don't see any real quality Django and Broomhilda moments. Instead, Washington gets the short end of the stick with her character becoming little more than a damsel in distress, little dimension in her character despite her powerful performance (particularly in a flashback scene where we see the initial consequences of Django and Broomhilda's escape attempt) making her a human MacGuffin. There's nothing really to make us feel the connection between them, save for a fairytale used as an allegory in the picture. Django may care, but I can see why an audience wouldn't.

Then, while slave Django is being moved about by his new owners, suddenly a dentist/bounty hunter Dr. King Schulz (an always charming Christoph Waltz) who kills his captors, frees him, mentors him and then helps him to go to grab his wife. This is looking a lot like the black man's supposed to be the star, but the white man has to save him and I'm starting to think Spike Lee, beside his douchebaggery, is absolutely right in his pre-emptive criticism of the movie's concept.

Of course, there does come a point in the picture when Django is given his chance to be the star and Jamie Foxx pulls it off with flying colors, but at that point, the film feels overtime and the two other leads are gone from out eyes. The final act of the film is basically a problem of pacing and fluidity, but it still somewhat delivers what the movie promised at the beginning, so at some point it can be forgiven. I don't know if this is meant to be present as a flaw because the master Sally Menke has now sadly died in 2010, before she could participate in this movie or if Tarantino seriously just wrote himself into a corner for once and did not know how to get out. Either way, the film has its notable downfalls in editing and writing, both a first for a Tarantino film to me.

The acting, though: fantastic! Tarantino always knows how to pick his actors, for, as much as I was disappointed that the slated Sacha Baron Cohen, Kurt Russell, Anthony LaPaglia, Michael K. Williams and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were not in the final product for different reasons, we got fantastic performances from Jamie Foxx (who I usually don't like - with the exception of Collateral), Kerry Washington (again doing her best with what she's given), Franco Nero's cameo, Walton Goggins, Don Johnson, Laura Cayouette and James Remar (playing two separate characters).
In reaction, we get true scene-stealing performances from Waltz - who plays with Tarantino's dialogue so fabulously, Leonardo DiCaprio - who is hit and miss with me as of recent, but really made a statement with his deviously charming, yet depressingly simple Calvin Candie, and a surprisingly Oscar-worthy performance (though I really hope he doesn't win) as the self-serving Stephen by Samuel L. Jackson.

I just love this still of Candie.

My reasoning for not wanting Samuel L. Jackson is actually pretty harsh. He plays probably the most evil character in the picture, way worse than Candie, as horrifying as Candie is. He's, for lack of a better word, a house nigger in this film. He's probably the closest thing Candie has to a confidant and yet, while it seems like he's an Uncle Tom in the vein of Uncle Ruckus in the Boondocks, which is a fantastic show and I'm certain Tarantino was inspired somewhat by MacGruder's work, it's clear at points that Stephen is hiding things from Candie and his sister. He doesn't like them, and he doesn't give a shit about his fellow man, he is only out for what good for him.

Picture: Mister Ruckus from the Boondocks
Picture: Stephen from Django Unchained
And yet he plays a slave. If Jackson wins an Oscar, he will win for playing a slave, and a very evil one. When I see an Afro-American honored, I want to see him honored right and it might seem too much of a Gone with the Wind feel if Jackson wins. We hear all these things about how American cinema has gone far in treating races well, and yet, we have this picture exist, where an Afro-American is in the lead and yet it seems like he needs a white man to hold his hand while saving his wife. And he's overshadowed by two white characters and one utterly despicable black man.

Still Stephen hilarious and frightening at the same time. I saw the film with a majority of an Afro-American audience and they all kept cracking up with Stephen, but it was also clear they all wanted him to die. They were laughing at him, not with him. I find that the perfect way to treat Candie and Stephen as villains. Their ignorance is both disheartening and hilarious.

Candie, though, his horrors are more straightforward right there in your eyes. And the only way Django can keep his cover is to be just as horrible as dishonorable as Candie does not realize he is. In fact, there is one scene, which I'd rather not go into detail so as not to spoil, where Django is almost completely dislikable for calling Candie's bluff of atrocity. But it passes and it comes back to bite the characters.
Candie's a man of honor without the honor. And DiCaprio really brings that out. He doesn't know a damn good thing, he doesn't do a damn good thing and he doesn't like a damn good thing.

But the main point to remember in this film is to get the same mindset as the Michael Bay mindset.
The 'fuck it, it's entertainment' mindset.
This film is one of the more rewarding pictures with that mindset because you are both somewhat enlightened and still a hell of a show is given with the shootouts. The climax is an intense piece of work and the violence beforehand is a real shocking instigator leading into this great climax of a firefight.
What might help is the always awesome on Tarantino's part soundtrack, majorly featuring hip hop songs written specifically for the movie. The Ennio Morricone work was fabulous and since I'm in love with Morricone's work I'm going to listen to it every chance I get, but '100 Black Coffins' and the song played during the climactic shootout - an epic mashup of James Brown and 2Pac - really fucking pumped me up... I tried listening to them on ITunes afterward and I simply can't do it without the imagery the movies provided now.

It's not Inglourious Basterds, it simply is not. It's not going to have a barrels and barrels of substance and subtext in it to analyze and love it some more as a masterpiece of cinema. But it's in a unique position to give a subcultural look towards slavery in the South and critique and the movie sort of does that when it feel the critique is called for - and with great humor. The scene where Don Johnson's character Big Daddy tries to explain to his female slave how to treat Django as a free man and yet still looks down on him is a hilarious yet harsh look on racial feelings in the south at the time.
'You want me to treat him like a white man?'
I'm sorry, the dialogue does not say it at all, it's Johnson's delivery of that line that says it all. That one 'No'.
The scene where the Regulators are arguing about the masks, the whole emasculation of what is to become the Ku Klux Klan just from a simple argument and deconstruction via a bunch of guys bitching about bags and masks.
Above all, my favorite instance of this, the one I laughed hardest at, and yet in a theater full of Afro-Americans, I felt depressed that nobody saw how the tables were turned with this...
Candie's lawyer goes into detail about his history with the family, how it parallels his own life and then states with pride 'One could say I was born to be his lawyer.'
And Django just straight tells him 'One could say you was born to be a nigger.'.
It's a moment that nearly ruins everything, but it slides. It didn't slide with me. Django was going to take all these people who took by force. And he was going to do it with his own force.

It's my least favorite Tarantino flick for its flaws, but it's still a great flick that I love and that I'll see again and again and I recommend it again and again. It's funny, it's shocking, it's edgy. The usual Tarantino trademarks are, for the most part absent, but it's still got the feel of a Tarantino flick and you're going to get what you  came for if you came for a fucking Tarantino flick. So enjoy it.

Also, he doesn't get to say Dead Nigger Storage this time.
Just Blackie.
This final part I put at the end of an article because it contains large spoilers that you may rather see the movie first before learning, so yeah, feel free to leave now if you haven't seen it.

This part will just be musing over a very subliminal character arc I found joy in discovering, however short-lived that character was.

So, check it out. Schultz, in the scene I pictured above, essentially had to push Django to collect a bounty while the bounty's son is present to witness the death. How does he do this? By reading the man's bounty  poster to Django, explaining what he had done, regardless of who he is now. He introduced an apathy toward human life that is supposed to keep Django alive in the profession the two have taken up...

Fast-forward to one of the harshest-scenes in the movie... Candie is about to feed one of his slaves to his dogs alive. Schultz does not want this to happen, so he offers to pay for the slave, but Django, in his guise as a Mandingo Slaver, refuses to allow Schultz to buy the slave, keeping Schultz from breaking their cover - but at the unfortunate cost of poor D'Artagnan's life.

Fast-forward to Candie's seeming victory over our heroes, having forced Schultz to pay $12,000 for Broomhilda. Schultz is not so much worried about losing, although that does bother him, so much as the slave's fate haunting him. He makes a scene briefly and then insults Candie's self-proclaimed but unvalued Francophilia, before starting to leave with Django and Broomhilda.
Candie insists that Schultz must shake Candie's hand in order for the transaction to be complete as per Southern tradition, but Schultz refuses on the moral reprehensiveness that Candie represents. When all else fails, Schultz just kills Candie leading to his own death by Butch (one of Remar's roles) before the very epic shootout between Django and the enforcers in Candieland.

I found that arc interesting because it meant that what had to save Django's life, as much as it clearly pained our two heroes to witness D'Artagnan's torturous death, was the same thing that killed Schultz, his sudden value of a human life and how he regretted the casualties he once took an apathy to.
One could say that Django gained that apathy, but I'd say it was solely in the heat of the moment the same way he killed the Brittle brothers. Django, later on is seen grasping his handgun in its holster at every moment where Candie showcases his primeval mindset of treatment towards others, and the only reason he probably didn't do it there was that Candie was right there, staring him in the eye while D'Artagnan died. They had to have that staring contest or Django would've blown his cover.

It's sacrifices like that, sacrifice of his own life for honor when talking about Schultz and sacrifice of his own pain - the same pain he begged the Brittles to bring unto himself rather than unto Broomhilda - for his love when talking about Django, that really made the two out to be empathetic heroes of the Spaghetti Western genre.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988) - MOVIES FOR THE HOLIDAYS

So, remember when I said it'd be a bang?
I was right.

I wanted to get onto Die Hard quickly as my go-to Christmas movie. Also, was inspired by this Russian Vanilla Ice music video about the franchise.

It's not as though, the movie needs any real critical analysis. All I'd need to do is explain that John McClane's life-expectancy is FUCKING IMMORTAL, go home and get laid because the libido I get just from thinking about jumping off of exploding rooftops is not going anywhere soon.

But, it's a big deal of a film not just for its raw action movie scenes of savage fistfights and it's literal up-hill struggle up the Nakatomi building. It's a big-deal because it doesn't totally abandon the plot in favor for these moments and, in fact, the plot actually escalates the stakes Bruce Willis' John McClane faces.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. I ought to introduce the plot, first. New York cop McClane goes to L.A. to visit his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) in a surprise Christmas visit. Unfortunately, the distance has strained their relationship severely.
Then Hans Gruber, Alan Rickman's breakout performance, crashes the party with his 'terrorist' buddies and start taking hostages. However, despite their appearance as terrorists, they are only there to rob a significant sum of money from Holly's boss and make an explosive entrance that will ensure Gruber and his team are never caught.
McClane, however, who evades capture early on, realizes 'Hey, I'm John McClane!' and cowboys his way into killing every last one of the robbers before the night is over.

The plot seems like generic Hollywood action fare, because it is. Hostages are taken, Hero saves hostages, Hero kills bad guy. But the Die Hard formula makes for each cliche action plot-point to connect, so it doesn't just occur as a sudden amount of happenings, but instead as the story flows along with the action. Gruber and McClane's initial face-to-face is such a fun and tense moment in action cinema and, unless I'm mistaken, it's going to be the only time one will hear Alan Rickman in an American accent. And it's hilarious how real it is.
The moment McClane takes off his shoes, you know it's going to be a plot point.

But the movie's main claim to fame is completely the character of John McClane himself. He made Bruce Willis a household and he's the action hero we all love as an audience. He's gets excited with us when he's about to kill another robber, he comments on the ridiculousness of his situation when he's stuck in a vent or when he's about to jump off a 40-story roof to avoid being blown up. He makes up new quips for us to go along with and he puts everybody in their place when they give him shit about the situation.

'Yippe-Kay-Yay, Motherfucker!'

John McClane is one of the great movie heroes. It's a shame that the sequels of Die Hard could never live up to the premier film's greatness. Now, I'm finnat watch it again, without giving this review a proper conclusion. Talking about it makes me excited.

Later, bitches.
And Merry Christmas, I guess.

Friday, December 21, 2012

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jones, 1966 - Howard, 2000) - MOVIES FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Well, I have little to say about the TV special and the movie but they are there to speak about, so I will go ahead and state them and make them quick, particularly with how slow I'm keeping up on this thing.

The TV special is a classic. It has the nostalgia to keep it upheld forever in reverence, but we also need to acknowledge that it still holds up well throughout the years since it had been released. The animations and styles of it just smack of classic Seussical universal elements and the dialogue has the bounce to it that would've kept it memorable, even beyond the rhyme.

I am also a total sucker for anything involving Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, the Lon Chaneys (having named my new kitten after them) and anybody else involved with the Universal Horror classics. Yep, I'm a loser. It's particularly interesting hearing the voice altered, because I've never noted much changes, but apparently Geisel thought Karloff is kind of too scary as the Grinch.

Anyway, moving on to Howard's adaptation, I like to think it's one of the only two recent adaptations of Seuss' tale's that probably won't send the Doc's ashes into a spinning frenzy. The other being Horton Hears a Who!. While The Lorax is not that terrible a movie, I'm thinking Seuss wouldn't be so happy with the many compromises made to the story's integrity for the sake of film. And The Cat in the Hat is just a travesty. A full-blown calamity that damns all involved forever.

But this is not about those. It's about Howard's The Grinch.

And my deal with it is that I enjoy it as a piece of entertainment for the holidays. It has the Seuss look very fantastically adapted for live-action. The make-up was not frightening too much for the Whos, but satisfyingly outrageous. And the acting, particularly on the obvious part of Jim Carrey is wonderful. but it's greatest strength also happens to be its greatest weakness.
That is that it makes The Grinch sympathetic.

The idea of such a tale is to learn the value of the things Christmas is supposed to encourage. Like spending time with family and expressing love, rather than materialism. And the Grinch had never understood that because he had been surrounded by too much hate. Though the two women who raised were pretty cool on him, the treatment the Grinch endured resulted in the love being drowned out and he left to Mount Krumpet. That's what we learn about him.

My problem is that in making him sympathetic... Almost all of the Whos end up being fucking assholes. They're pretty much immediately unlikable until we learn about Cindy Lou Who and her father. They're all kind of selfish, even without disliking the Grinch (since let's be honest, the Grinch never helped his image neither in the subsequent times between his childhood and the film). Maybe it's the Mayor's influence, but they all seem like villain's lackey's caricatures from it.

Still, it does make the message more impactful when the majority of the cast lost the 'meaning' of Christmas and the movie needs to be expanded in some form, but it always bugged me. Though it's made up again, by practically giving true life to the Who's world and all. Wonderful art direction and make-up...

Anyway, they're both grand holiday classics, even with Ron Howard's films flaws. So sheck them out... I'm going to blast into the next article to keep up with my goal... It's gonna be an explosion, y'all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

20 Years of Cinema-Watching: Part 1: Favorite Scores

So, I'm 20 now. The year is coming to an end and I want to make a capsule to myself, an overview of how my taste in film has changed throughout these 20 years, so I'm going to start slow with an overview of certain aspects of cinema and then end it with a list of my 100 favorite movies (at the time, since let's be honest, our favorites are always changing along with us). Simple enough? Well, yea, there will only be one other time I intend to do this... when I inevitably intend to end this blog. So, yea, let's get started on this little checkpoint of my favorite things in film.

The music of a movie is almost the biggest thing to me. A catchy song, a song that'd attract me in a movie, no matter what, would be one of the first things I'd look up after I finish said movie. The best scores they say don't stand out. They subtly move your emotions into the picture. I'd have to agree, but my favorite scores are the ones that I'd put on my ITunes next to my Foo Fighters and Led Zeppelin and all. Sure, they'll sway my heart out to the characters trying to save the day, but they'll do with style, with rhythm, with catch.
They'll get in my face and tell me, see that? I made that scene, not the cinematography, not the acting. I MADE THAT SCENE! Got it?
This list only applies strictly to original scores (if I make a mistake, please feel free to comment on my error, I'm just a man as Faith No More says). No soundtracks, yet. The score needs to be credited to the composer and it needs to have made up a significant portion of the film's musical cues.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Ennio Morricone. Oh come now, how can you not expect something by Morricone, above all his most well-known work? It's a classic. When you hear it, no matter what, you're going to think back to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And you're definitely going to enjoy that thought. Because it engulfs into the world of the Western through the eyes of the outsiders.

Van Helsing - Alan Silvestri. Say what you will about this movie... I'll agree with you. It was my favorite movie at one point in my childhood but now it's a chore to finish the film with all the flaws I couldn't see before. But damn, if that isn't one mighty sound, the sound of the damned en chase throughout Europe. The sound of the afterlife that awaits everyone surrounding Van Helsing, the one that he'll never be granted.
It's a bad movie, but I think the music blinded my younger self into thinking it was incredible. And I'll still watch it just for the score. Ooooo, dat 5/4. Dat acoustic guitar.

Note: After posting this link, I've played this song over and over 
obstructing my completion of this article. I'm a doofus.

Back to the Future - Alan Silvestri. 'Course Alan Silvestri has better, namely the absolutely recognizable adventure tracks and sublime mix of 50s and 80s rock a hoo ha in what's probably one of the best movies ever made.

Star Wars - John Williams. John Williams is the most recognizable name in cinema. He pretty much earned those stripes though. His music is irreversibly sealed to key scenes in film history that we recognize his fingerprint in almost any piece he composes from here on forth. Yet they are still distinguishable to avoid such a critique as 'heard one, you heard them all.' Star Wars is the epitome of his genius. Every single piece is a memorable one and it's a bitch and a half to pick just one, trust me.
Course it's somewhat made easier that Duel of the Fates is technically Star Wars Episode I.

Raiders of the Lost Ark - John Williams. Now this is a tricky one. It's not exactly Western, but it's not entirely adventure. It's like a ditty that looks at you and goes 'Trust Me', before showing exactly why you shouldn't be trusting said person as go down a dangerous slide.
But everything turns out fine in the end. The hero is always on top and knows somewhat he's doing. Maybe.

Fight Club - The Chemical Brothers. Just as large a trip as the movie itself was. Words can't describe it, it changes too much to let us.

Jurassic Park - John Williams. It's a movie score for children. This is the specific kind of score that Williams probably thought, y'know what? I want the kids to have the nostalgia factor with this one. And it does. Still fits with the film perfectly, what with the trembling bass and the little sounds of the winds lifting our spirits almost like the sounds of the woods themselves.
But it's a children's score. And I love it for that.

Jaws - John Williams. This is the big one. The one everybody's heard even if they haven't seen the movie. No two notes will ever provide as much cinematic dread as the keys in this movie's theme (closest that came to it was the Joker theme in The Dark Knight). But we forget about the other great things about this score. How familiar it sounds, how friendly it is when we're exploring Amity Island and finding out all about the people there.
Y'know, get to know them better before the shark fucks 'em up

Serenity - David Newman. This is just the right blend of Western jangle and futuristic anti-civilization. Newman put out all the stops and used probably a plethora of toys around him to make the sounds this score elicited.

Mulholland Dr. - Angelo Badalamenti. Brooding, haunting, mysterious. Everything a David Lynch film should be this particular movie's score is in spades. The Twin Peaks score may be the more well-known of Lynch and Badalamenti's collaboration, but Mulholland Dr.'s excellent in defining exactly what emotions and atmospheric elements that collaboration was made up of and producing.

Psycho - Bernard Herrmann. Alfred Hitchcock later said 33 percent of Psycho's effect was the music. He was so right. It goes without saying.

Taxi Driver - Bernard Herrmann. It may or may not be harder to empathize with Travis Bickle if it weren't for Herrmann's final score. It's a soothing jazz lullaby trying to help us sleep through the grime and muck of the city. It doesn't work, but the thought is pretty nice.

Brick - Nathan Johnson. Very interesting score, very expansive. Very out there. When one hires a family member for his film, some would think favoritism, but Rian Johnson knew what he was doing bringing his cousin into the mix with pieces made from drawers and coke bottles and all.

Kill Bill - The RZA. Come on, son. Wu-Tang Forever, y'all sucka MC punks know dat shit. Pulp Fiction may be the best soundtrack of all time, but Kill Bill's is so blatantly who Tarantino is, it's not even funny. It calls back to all the things that made his movies fantastic and blasts them into this beat-beating masterpiece. And the RZA really brought up his game since the also-fantastic Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Batman - Danny Elfman: The absolute classic superhero score, accept no substitutes. It sweeps, it leaps, it soars alongside the Dark Knight and the camera with its introduction to the gothic city of Gotham City.

Spider-Man - Danny Elfman: This is my definitive superhero score, though. It was soft and poignant when it needed to be, but pumping and suspenseful when the opportunity rose of course. It was inspiring with its choral backgrounds and crescendos and descendos that seemed rapid at the moment. The tribal esque Goblin theme probably drove the audience nearly to the same madness as Osborn did himself, I know it had that effect on 10 year old STinG.
Most of all, that cue just as Goblin states 'We're gonna have a hhhhhheeeellll of a time!' and Spidey rises back into the fight. I want 'awww yea, shit's going down!' when I saw that.

Yojimbo - Masaru Sato. Just as much an animal as the titular character himself, rolling and a tumbling along with his steps like a jazz band that got lubricated a bit too much and can't exactly speak the same language as each other so they can't. Ladies and gentlemen, John Zorn's kind of samurai music.

Blade Runner - Vangelis. Neo as all hell and absolutely beautiful as a little saxophone opera translated into the synthesizer. It's the feeling one gets when the rain starts to digitalize all around us.

Oldboy - Choi Seung-hyun, Lee Ji-Soo and Shim Hyun-Jung. Oh man, the mixture of classic and driven cues makes this quite a underrated gem of a score. The music is so modern but it calls back to the German composers and then gives it that Kafka-esque twist of content that makes it fit perfectly as the final piece to why this movie is so fantastic.

Phantasm - Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave: I generally have a wish of wanting to cover film cues that I usually find myself attracted to in a very rocker way. Phantasm's title theme just beeeeeegggs for this.

Suspiria - Goblin. I just love it when horror themes are so fun like Goblin makes them. It's really part of what makes me a horror buff.
Requiem for a Dream - Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet. This has to somewhat give you shivers. Somewhere in the album, there is one piece that does so.
Inception - Hans Zimmer. Interesting usage of Piaf. Worth noting.
The Mummy (1999) - Jerry Goldsmith. The poor man's Raiders of the Lost Ark, except more exoticized.
Bad Boys II - Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams. Pumped me up nearly everytime that little bass and violins came dropping while Mike and Marcus would be creeping around. That shootout in the Haitians' home was intense as it was, but the razorblade esque music during the scene pushed it towards the edge more.
Finding Nemo - Thomas Newman. I can't put my finger on it, but I liked the style that made it feel comfortable and homey.
Slumdog Millionaire - A.R. Rahman. When I say scores I want in my IPod, this is absolute number one in my book.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Black, 2005) - MOVIES FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Sex and violence in the City of Angels on Christmas...

What the fuck is not to love about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?

It's Shane Black's directorial debut after a career of writing major action films like the Lethal Weapon intial duology, the incredibly misunderstood Last Action Hero and late action blockbuster titan Tony Scott's The Last Boy Scout. So Black is no stranger to mixing the quips and relationships between the characters in with the thrills and the fights of the nefarious plots.
But what happens when you have to mix in the attributes of noir, now? Seems a mystery, maybe, for someone who has ridden on oh so many staples of action now needing to slow it down a bit? Especially on his first time behind the camera and not behind the typewriter?

Turns out to be no problem for Black. He brings such a outrageously obvious nighttime feel to Los Angeles that when all the other mystery attributes are shoehorned in, we're game. What is missing, though, is a little dash of the hardboiled detective, fresh off the styles of Chandler and Leonard...

No wait, it's there. It's there in the character of 'Gay Perry' van Shrike, one of Val Kilmer's best performances as a jaded, sarcastic Private Investigator who gets the short end of the client stick being hired by a film company to take the recently cast Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) around on the job to research for his role.

'Still gay?'
'Me? No, I'm knee-deep in pussy. I just like the name so much, I can't get rid of it.'

Gay Perry deserves his own paragraph, so here it goes. As an Arab, I do at points get exasperated at the stereotypes pointed out frequently towards my race. While some do it for parody (The Mummy, Team America, You Don't Mess With the Zohan) or avoid the stereotypes all together (Body of Lies, Three Kings, The 13th Warrior, Kingdom of Heaven), others just do it because it happens to be easier to write with (Network, Click, True Lies). It even happens with some of my favorite movies (Back to the Future, Iron Man, Borat). I have gotten used to it, but I don't not completely approve still. One sort of social group I feel can relate to me on this might be the homosexual community. Almost everytime I see a gay character on tv or movies, he seems to only take the frail or flamboyant type of persona. Since I'm not gay, I can't really speak for that group of people, so I don't know if they take offense. But if it were me, I'd be pretty pissed.
Gay Perry is, easily, the badass of the film. He's not frail. He doesn't scream and run in flamboyant fashions. He doesn't get excited for nothing. He is definitely gay. If it wasn't his nickname, it would still be obvious from subtle lines or the way he talks, Val Kilmer did an excellent job like that. He's takes the bad guys down, he finds his way through the case. He's a gay character in the sense of a black person being black, but he's not a gay character, that's not his defining trait at all, that's not why he's in the movie. He's a hard-boiled Sam Spade-charming detective, who happens to be gay. The only other gay characters I can think of who fall under this are Omar Little from the Wire and Frank from Little Miss Sunshine.

Perry's insults towards our unreliable narrator of Harry, Downey Jr.'s out of water criminal-turned-actor-turned-detective, make Val Kilmer the star of the movie. They are sharp and constant and biting. The real deal behind the movie is it's banter between the two, the kind of stuff 'buddy cop' films are made of at their peak, now that Black is at the top of his screenwriting game with this project.

In the meantime, the rest of the cast, featuring Michelle Monaghan as, in the words of Toad from American Graffiti, 'a bitching babe' - a girl that Lockhart had pined for since high school but slept with practically everyone except him, the kind of girl that goes to L.A. to avoid her horrible life and live like a moviestar like those old Hollywood stories - provide that L.A. nighttime characterization that Perry is always one step ahead of and Harry is always trying to figure which side is up in. It's slick and it's funny - the cinematography looks like a wish you were here card, except it's only showing you crime and behind closed doors you'll never get to open again. It plays off pretty much like a parody of a pulp novel. It pretty much is a parody of the pulp novel. It's welcome entertainment for me and the fact that it's a story that takes place around Christmas (featuring the most twisted Christmas celebration yet - that I love it so much) makes me right snug keeping warm for the holidays watching this.

Again, sex and violence in the City of Angels... What the fuck is not to love about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?

'Come for the movies, stay for the dead bodies that need hiding.' - L.A.'s former head of tourism

"Thanks for coming, please stay for the end credits. If you're wondering who the best boy is, it's somebody's nephew, um, don't forget to validate your parking, and to all you good people in the Midwest, sorry we said fuck so much." 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Snow White (Fleischer, 1933) - MOVIES FOR MY HOLIDAYS

So, it may seem somewhat like a cop out to begin once more with a short, but if one's losing steam, better to start slow and work your way up one more time. So, here goes...

Snow White is not, strictly speaking as the fairy tale, a winter tale. But from their originality and really impressive, even for this day and age, animation, the Fleischer Brothers make it work. Instead of trying to make a straight-away adaptation of the tale, they use it instead as a blueprint and from there create a story that works as both a Betty Boop tale and a relation to the fable of Snow White.

Of course the bigger part of appreciation is the work put into it by Roland Crandall, the animator. This was his absolute baby and he took painstaking care into it for a half a year. It was more or less all on him to make such a short piece of entertainment, filling it with joke after joke after joke, without the gags seeming outright asphyxiating to the story being told. Instead, it seems more like the jokes and the gags go and accent certain aspects of the cartoon's story.
That's something when the main plot is not a Looney Tunes standard of causing havoc towards one another.

Being a music enthusiast, however, the single highest point is what I personally believe to be Cab Calloway's greatest performance - His rotoscoping, dancing spotlight in singing 'St. James' Infirmary Blues'. What a powerful chesty tune that he brings out, a catch to the audience amongst the drowsy and downward musical accompaniment.

The short's finale proves to be a huge trip in the final outcome, starting from that particular performance. When the Queen reveals her witchy visage and then turns into a beast that attacks the main trio, before Bimbo just turns the skeleton inside out, I would think that particular scene would be stuck in some children's minds, but that's just me.

Anyway, it's just how I like to start the holidays and the short is available on youtube. So just check out yourself and enjoy, you won't regret it. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

GOAL-SETTER: Christmas Movies to Review

So, it's December. After the terrible post turnout I provided the past month, I will do my best to keep up and, ever more so, I will do my best to make a Holiday list of movies for me to review, given the obvious season for it. I add this list with the most vaguest possible movies to be related to the Holiday season, so yea, some might not appear to be appropriate, but I feel so, and the more to post about the better... So, if I may, here's my list...

  • It's a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946)
  • Bad Santa (Zwigoff, 2003)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Black, 2005)
  • Snow White (Fleischer, 1933)
  • Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988)
  • Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jones, 1966)
  • Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Howard, 2000)
  • Jingle All the Way (Levant, 1996)
  • Home Alone (Columbus, 1990)
  • Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Columbus, 1992)
  • Lethal Weapon (Donner, 1987)
  • When Harry Met Sally... (Reiner, 1989)
  • 'Twas the Night (Castle, 2001)
  • Elf (Favreau, 2003)
  • Edward Scissorhands (Burton, 1990)
  • American Psycho (Harron, 2000)
  • The Apartment (Wilder, 1960)
  • In Bruges (McDonough, 2008)
  • L.A. Confidential (Hanson, 1997)
  • Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (Warren, 2008)
I may add more goals for me to review as I watch more movies... Feel free to suggest any, good or bad.
Well, here goes...