What This Blog Be, and Be Not

Woo, quite a little ratings bump the last few days! Hi Y’all, welcome to the blog.

I thought with all these new visitors, I might post a little clarification about what this blog is, and isn’t. I’m not out to draw a line in the sand, unless it’s to help people see where the quicksand is.

What’s Going On?

1. I avoid spoilers on movies less than 10 years old, but anything more than 10 years old is more than likely going to be spoiled. It’s nothing vicious, it’s just because I want to be able to discuss some things without worrying about ruining the endings. I love films, I want other people to experience the thrills of twists and turns, but let’s face it–the chances of some folks checking out the movies I review are kind of slim, especially the older films. The older reviews are in the hopes that someone, somewhere is Googling a movie title in search of interesting commentary and comes across this blog.

This should catch you up on the last 50 years or so.

2. I am a dirty socialist liberal scumbag. I tend to look at movies through the lens of my socioeconomic background, and my politics. I have a liberal worldview but a very working class background–my mom cleaned houses and my dad worked as a lineman for a power company for 37 years, and was a Union man through and through. I take pains to expand my worldview as I can, but there are limits. I think our President is awesome, the war was for the wrong reasons but can’t be abandoned, green initiatives are great, organized religion is okay when it isn’t telling people how to vote or telling people to tell other people how to run their lives, and socialism isn’t that bad. Film is not an objective medium, so my film criticism is not objective, either.

Hot men? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. A movie to base your history paper on? Only if you already gave up on passing the class.

3. My understanding of film theory is kind of superficial– I’ve studied some film theory, but nothing MA-level. I want to be entertained, but I don’t want my intelligence insulted, either. I don’t think an entertaining movie should require me to ‘turn off my mind.’ I enjoyed the first Transformers movie, but I doubt I’ll see the sequels. I apply more literary criticism to film than film criticism — I don’t believe that films are made just for other filmmakers, in short.

4. I don’t read a lot of other film blogs–I read The Onion and Roger Ebert, and that’s about it. I don’t even check Rotten Tomatoes before I see a film, most of the time. After I’ve seen a movie, I read Wikipedia and IMDB, and check on the background of the film. The reason is because I don’t want my opinions colored by too many other peoples’. I may read more blogs as time goes on, I just don’t come across that many.

5. I’m pretty weird and contrary. I liked Transformers but loath Michael Bay. I hate fluff but don’t subject myself to a lot of ‘hard’ movies–I bitch about how much I hate the Sex and the City franchise but I’ll never see ‘Irreversible.’ I try to explore and understand these contradictions as I encounter them.  Even if I hate something, I try to understand why, and tend not to use unhelpful hyperbole like ‘This sucked so bad’ or ‘This movie can go to hell.’

Except this movie. This movie can go to hell.

6. I don’t like movies with lots of rape or an inordinate amount of domestic violence in them. I don’t like seeing animals or people tortured. I can take a lot of weird, even horrible stuff, but it depends on how it’s handled. A lot of horror has let me down recently in this regard.

7. Beauty Standards: I has them, and they are strange. I think the current trend towards tiny waifs and diamond-cut pretty boys is deplorable. It’s all style over substance, and it means there are amazing actors and actresses being passed over for roles because there’s something unique about them–meaning our world of escape is being populated by bland, flawless automatons. I would trade 10 Sam Worthingtons for 1 vintage Nicholas Cage, or 100 Jennifer Garners for 1 Bette Davis. It’s less because I have something against Sam Worthington (although I do-I will never forgive him for Clash of the Titans–EVER) or Jennifer Garner than I wish they would just be famous underwear models or something. They’re pretty people who can say lines–and that’s about it.

Jane Russell and her two costars.

8. Please don’t insult my intelligence. I like to think of myself and the majority of humanity of smart (although many people don’t think of themselves or others as intelligent, I have eternal hope for mankind) so I hate seeing movies where my intelligence is treated as an impediment rather than an asset. In short, it shouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for some director/writer to have a production assistant make a pit stop on the old Information Superhighway to figure out whether something is plausible or not. I use the internet to figure out whether or not my cat’s behavior is normal, and millions of dollars are not riding on the outcome, no matter what he’s up to.

9. I don’t like mean-spirited comedy. Seriously. South Park makes me laugh, and Zoolander, and other things, but I hate Jackass, I hate comedies where everyone is a smarmy asshole out to use or degrade other smarmy assholes, and I am not a huge fan of Norbit-type humor. I like witty, I like slapstick, I like humor where everyone is in on the joke. I might just do a write up of my favorite ‘adult’ comedies–think ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Monty Python’ and the like. I’m not above dick jokes or dumb comedies –I love the Harold and Kumar movies, but again, I’m weird and contrary and some things rub me the wrong way.

So I hope that helps clarify for folks what this blog is, and isn’t about, and more importantly, the kind of things you can expect to find here in the future. I’ve been a little lax the last few weeks with posts, got a lot going on, but I’ll do my best to get back on the ball.

And to the new folks coming over from Twitter or being linked from other people’s blogs, welcome!

The origin of the phrase ‘he was redoing his bathroom’

Anyhow, there’s a section in the book where Campbell recalls a time a fan came up and congratulated him on an appearance in some TV show, I’ve forgotten which. Funnily enough, so had Campbell, and had to be reminded. When asked why he’d accepted the role (whatever it was) he finally remembered the part and responded with ‘I needed a new water heater.’

Several years ago, I read Bruce Campbells marvelously funny and entertaining autobiography, If Chins Could Kill.

If they could, this is the last thing you'd see before you died.

ICCK is a fascinating read, told by a man who’s been front and center in the Hollywood industry for over twenty years. I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Campbell a question at a screening of his film ‘The Man with the Screaming Brain.’ I choked, asked him some rambling inane bullshit, and he shut me down like he was Bruce Willis and there was 1 second until the bomb went off. It was kind of awesome.

Anyway, Campbell, a man’s man if you believe the Old Spice commercials (and we do–there are no Nonbelievers here) made a lot of fascinating points about being an actor in an industry that favors the lucky and attractive rather than the literate and mildly-attractive. He and David Duchovny apparently hung out on an X-files set making fart noises. Not quite up there with Sean Connery punching out Johnny Stompanato, but awesmome in its own right.

Anyhow, there’s a section in the book where Campbell recalls a time a fan came up and congratulated him on an appearance in some TV show, I’ve forgotten which. Funnily enough, so had Campbell, and had to be reminded. When asked why he’d accepted the role (whatever it was) he finally remembered the part and responded with ‘I needed a new water heater.’

This blew my mind.

My notion of actors living out of their cars for the love of THE THEA-TAH was forever shattered–which is good, because it was bullshit anyway. Actors, in other words, are people too.

Not in a ‘TMZ HAS EXCLUSIVE PICS OF LINDSEY LOHAN AT THE BIKINI WAXER OMG SHE HAS PUBES LIKE A HUMAN HOW AWFUL!!!’ but in a ‘Now where did I leave my phone, it was just right here‘ way. I love imagining actors in such situations–getting a craving for Taco Bell and then realizing they aren’t that hungry when they get to the drive-thru, so they order a drink and a single taco to save face; losing the number of the guy who trims their trees and spending a frustrating morning trying to remember his name, or at least what letter it started with; having cookouts, trying to decide if a pair of pants are ready to be thrown out or will last another few days, getting gum in their hair, dropping some freshly buttered toast and it lands BUTTER SIDE DOWN, etc. But most of all, I like imagining actors as people who sometimes do stupid things to pay the bills. There’s no malice in this, no jealousy aimed at a person who had the courage to pursue a dream and is having trouble making it happen–more, it’s just a fun mental exercise, another form of entertainment, if you will.

So often I will review a terrible film in which a respected or decent actor will appear, and wonder what the hell they were thinking. Since I know that sometimes in filmmaking the script that is written is a far cry from the finished project, I guess that had a lot to do with it. And sometimes you’ll wind up with someone Oscar-caliber making something terrible just for the fun of it, or the costumes or effects or chance to go somewhere foreign and exotic, or because they want to make movies their kids will enjoy. I’m pretty sure that 8 out of 10 films Nicholas Cage does are based entirely on his liking for the  wig he gets to wear. I don’t know these people, I just know their work.

But sometimes it’s nice to sit back, nod to myself and say ‘Ah, she was redoing her bathroom.’

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Many people will watch the film and treat it as a huge joke; a drug-frenzied romp in the tradition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which the ends justify the means and the hero overcame all odds, including his crippling addiction and gambling habit. There’s a certain charm in laughing at the character after all, but for me it was more like whistling past the graveyard. We laugh at things for different reasons–sometimes it’s because something frightens us or makes us uncomfortable, and that could certainly be applicable here.

In another universe or dimension, Werner Herzog’s remake would have made a truly amazing horror film; in certain communities, I would hazard, the unfolding events are more terrifying than any vampire, alien or zombie.

Think about it: An unhinged, drug-addled cop with a gambling problem and a predilection for shaking down citizens for drugs, who steals from the evidence locker, terrorizes the powerless and ignores rules he doesn’t like. This character is essentially a boogieman of the ghetto, a story the disenfranchised and economically/racially oppressed tell their children to keep them from a life of crime. ‘Drop out of school, or steal a car, and Officer McDonaugh will get you!’

In one scene, McDonaugh shows up at someone’s house (I honestly don’t remember the context) and proceeds to smoke weed in the man’s bedroom with uniformed officers waiting outside. The former rambles a terrifying and unhinged theory on life, the universe and everything after sending out the other officers so he can ‘be alone’ with the frightened suspect, even offering him a hit.  The fellow is being coerced into giving up information, with the veiled threat that McDonaugh will plant the very weed he’s smoking on the man once he’s being arrested.

This plays into the general populace’s ambivalence about The Thin Blue Line: we all want to believe in Office Friendly, but movies and TV have convinced us that at their worst cops are a sadistic brotherhood who viciously protect their own, and at their best are brave men and women who secretly daydream about vigilantism after years of witnessing horror.

Perhaps that is the entire reason the film (ostensibly a remake except for the fact that Herzog insists it isn’t) is set in New Orleans, a city whose pre-Katrina police force was legendary for being the most corrupt in the United States. McDonaugh’s actions certainly have consequences, and the descending steps of his downward spiral are less news to his peers and colleagues than cuneiform. But we aren’t interested in seeing him punished for his misdeeds; after all, it’s more than clear the character’s life is punishment enough.

Nicholas Cage’s performance has been widely discussed and praised; indeed, the story and other characters take a backseat to McDonaugh’s unraveling, and really aren’t missed. In one scene, a slowly closing door reveals him lying in wait for an old woman and her nurse in order to interrogate them. His eyes are wide and unblinking, his clothes and hair disheveled as he hasn’t showered, slept or eaten in days. As he menaces them from behind the door, struggling not to let the effects of the heroin he accidentally snorted get to him, while running an electric shaver over his face. Never has an act of self-maintenance seemed so menacing, so cold, and so hilarious at the same time.

Many people will watch the film and treat it as a huge joke; a drug-frenzied romp in the tradition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which the ends justify the means and the hero overcame all odds, including his crippling addiction and gambling habit. There’s a certain charm in laughing at the character after all, but for me it was more like whistling past the graveyard. We laugh at things for different reasons–sometimes it’s because something frightens us or makes us uncomfortable, and that could certainly be applicable here.

Upon my viewing I found a monster much more terrifying than any of the paltry CG threats crowding the big screen these days. Dirty cops rank somewhere above ghosts and below flesh-eating bacteria on my ‘Nightmares’ hierarchy.