X:Men Days of Just Regular Passed Past

 

A guy comes down the aisle in front of me, stops at the seat where my foot is propped up against, and asks “Do you mind if I sit here?” He’s a big guy, far as I can tell, in the half-light of the preview darkness, wearing a splashy t-shirt that either promotes organized fighting or informs people that he, the wearer, approves not only of organized fighting, but also the clothes promoting organized fighting. There is a woman with him. They are both older than me. But he’s no couch potato, there’s probably a gym membership involved or a weight bench in the basement. I reply, “To be honest, I’d prefer if you didn’t.” Because I chose my seat with care, for the best view, with an empty seat in front of me, so I can put up my foot if I wish. “Well, you don’t own it,” he says. Yes, I don’t own it, that is true. I am aware of this fact. I own nothing in the theater including all the other seats. He wants to sit in the middle, he says, as if this is a desire exclusive to him. So far he’s said nothing that isn’t common knowledge or original insight. We can all sit where we want. Theater goers don’t own individual seats. I shouldn’t put my feet up, but I do. “I’m asking nicely,” he says. His tone of voice implies that I should be grateful for his generosity, that he has done me a favor. “I know all this,” I say, “but I’m just telling you the truth, because you asked. No, I don’t want you to sit there.” Then something changes in the dark, an expression on his face I can’t make-out, and he finally does what he should’ve done in the first place: he sits. I move two seats down. My view of the screen is unspoiled. My feet are propped on the seat-back in front of me.

X-Men: Apocalypse continues the story of teenagers with strange pubescent side effects. Instead of simply controlling acne, mood swings, or over-driven sexual natures they’ve also got to contend with lasers coming out their eyeballs, wings out their backs, blue skin, sharp teeth, and pointed tails. These folks are called mutants and everybody on earth is a tad uneasy about their existence, understandably so because they can cause a lot of damage. Just like normal folk, some mutants are good and forthright while others are not so good and mean spirited.

There are three people sitting over my left shoulder. Their voices have begun to seep into my ear like needles. They will stop, I think. People stop don’t they? The chatter through commercials and previews, then they settle in. And they’re speaking in some language that at first sounds like Spanish then vaguely Eastern European or Middle Eastern? The previews begin, and I wonder why the dude found it necessary to ask my permission.

X-M:A is boring, long, and overcooked, and there’s plenty of tears and betrayal and emotional pleading, for what I’m never exactly sure. One character is begging another not to kill someone, but also begging him to kill the bad guy or at least stop him from killing a million people we don’t see dying in all the collapsed cities etc or something. The bad guy is the show in this one. He’s a kind of immortal super pharaoh with a bunch of generally undefined mutant powers, who some speculate might be the original mutant. He gets buried under his favorite pyramid for a thousand years or so until the CIA, of course, (the fucking CIA is always doing shit like this) lets the sunlight in and gets him all riled up, then he watches some TV and realizes he wants to wipe-out all of civilization and start over from scratch. Naturally, we all feel that after watching a few minutes of television. And naturally, he realizes the best way to wipe out civilization is get rid of all the nuclear war heads. Say what? If the dude wants to eradicate all of human civilization all he has to do is hit a button (or psychically manipulate a sailor with a sharp mustache into hitting a button) that would detonate all the worlds nukes, right? But that’s not how this villain rolls. He wants to do it his way, on his terms, with some style, with some world class CGI mayhem. Just flicking a switch is too easy for him. Nah, he’d rather hire some body guards, build a new pyramid, trade consciousness with a crippled, psychic womanizer, and then destroy all of human civilization.

This here villain is quite the riddle. Apparently his mutant power is controlling dirt. Like Magneto, he who controls metal, this guy controls adobe walls, concrete, and dust. Master of Sand I suppose. He also has the gift of speaking in a highfalutin, sort of European accent that reverberates when he gets really excited. He wears some pretty slick duds too, a cross between a football player and an astronaut, but without the helmet. His helmet is buried in his head or something. Instead of hair he’s got a kind of shell over his dome and some re-bar keeping his neck in place. He looks like the cousin maybe of The Wishmaster, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to see those movies about the evil genie. (Note to Hollywood: more evil genie movies,  por favor). He can pull a building right out of the ground like an old beer can. His go-to trick is getting a wall or whatever you happen to be standing on to kind of elasticize, grab you, then harden up so you can’t move around and you die.

A lot is made in the other super-hero movies about how much damage to real estate these super folks cause when having their little spats. But this fucking guy takes the cake. In one afternoon he pretty much destroys all of Egypt, San Francisco (I think, unless I’m getting this movie’s CGI imagery confused with London Has Fallen or that preview they just showed of Independence Day 2, I can’t tell the difference) and some other places, including the docks of what looks like Baltimore, which I’m sure the union is going to have something to say about.

These X-Men movies have been rolling out for well over a decade now, not to mention a pair of sad, slow Wolverine movies, and the theme has been pretty consistent throughout, established way back in the sixties by the original creators of the comic books. See, the whole thing is this metaphor for feeling like an outcast or nobody loves you, but ironically you know that you’re really some kind of special super-powered talent, if the world would only accept and love you. We’re all just freaks in our own way, peace love and acceptance blah, blah, blah. The notion that despite humble beginnings and feelings of  isolation and doubt, you will find a ‘family’ that loves and accepts you for who you really are, which is of course someone with a fantastic destiny, a being of great talent and power, meant to play a critical role in the savior of mankind and the defeat of evil and tyranny. Teenage day-dream 101. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of Rings on and on and on…your mundane origins exist only to prepare you for the unimaginable heights of heroism, adventure, and meaning your life will one day demand of you.

So yeah, that’s the noble subtext they want you to think is the higher cause of this movie, but we all know what this flick is really about: 1980’s fashion! That’s right. The hair, the clothes, the pop culture. So loud so garish, so 80’s. Everybody knows the 80’s is always fertile ground for sentimental dips into pop-culture euphoria via name checks and period accurate musical montage. Hey, look there’s a Ron Reagan picture hanging on the wall and an arcade version of Ms. Pac-Man. Cool! I love Ronald Reagan! The mutants living underground, hunted, traversing the globe on their secret missions to save the human race that fears them, they do manage to make time for getting their hair styled in the most up-to-date fashion. Professor X rocks a periwinkle v-neck t-shirt and silver sport-coat, sleeves rolled up. He’d be right at home behind the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa in Miami Vice. The main bad guy, who claims to be called many things, none of which are intelligible, has gone for the glam-rocker look popularized by hair bands such as Poison and Motley Crue, wearing lipstick, eyeliner, and that make-up that makes you look like you have cheek bones. There’s a punk rock mohawk chick and a New Wave German kid with the Flock of Seagulls hair in his eyes, sporting the red and black Mike Jackson Thriller jacket. One kid, who runs really fast, wears a t-shirt promoting the Canadian progressive rock trio Rush. Get it? Magneto, the wishy-washy villain of the other movies, doesn’t get his new duds until the latter third of the movie, until then he’s ahead of his time fashion-wise, pre-dating the Seattle grunge style by about a few years with his flannel shirt, worn dungarees, and work boots. And for the fans of homoerotic German heavy metal bands like Scorpions or Accept there’s a guy called Angel, who struts around in leather pants and no shirt. There’s even a nod to contemporary 80’s artist Patrick Nagel, whose clean-lined drawings of ambiguously Asian women graced the covers of Duran Duran albums and hair salon walls across the globe, in the form of Psylock, a ninja chick in a bikini.

The people behind me have continued talking. Not intermittently, not a clearing of the throat every once and awhile, but an incessant, other language conversation. Hey, I get it, sometimes there’s important things to say even during the movie like “I’m so fucking bored” or “Stop touching me” but these folks behind me are going on and on. Let it go, I tell myself. You’re going to turn around and see two linebackers and their little sister. Guns, knives, psychos. Only psychos would be so oblivious to how much or how loud their voices are, right? I count to ten, ten times. Is the theater really this hot or am I about to go ape shit. Wait, they’re slowing down, they’re quitting, they’re…nope. On and on and on. What are they saying?

“Hey. Could you please keep it down?” Whoa, where’d that come from? Who knows. They weren’t bikers or psychos, just kids with confused looks on their faces. Confused about what? Perhaps like me they were wondering what the fuck was the point of this movie, why these actors were strutting around in pop music costumes and shooting fireballs out of their asses. I don’t know, but they were quiet after that, which allowed me to really focus on slogging through the remaining two hours.

PROS- 80’s nostalgia, Polish sing-a-longs, plenty of demolished real estate

CONS- No Wolverine. Why these jackasses decided to make an X-Men movie without Wolverine is beyond me. It will be their downfall. Perhaps after the success of the other movies the creators have gotten just a bit cocky, thinking, we don’t need Wolverine, we got all the other X-Men. A decision they will regret, mark my words.

Louis Gossett Jr., if memory serves, would’ve been the only African American male speaking role in the movie. So, that would’ve been something.

 

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Soldiers For Love

A great teacher once said that “the true artist creates worlds.” Now, to be fair, he was referencing Vladimir Nabokov not Super Hero movies, but the same thing is happening with these Marvel movies they got now. Terms like sequel, prequel etc. have been rendered obsolete. Different characters are introduced in their own movie then share screen time in another character’s story, thus creating a world, or shared universe as they like to call it nowadays. (The gang over at Star Wars HQ is finally picking-up on this. They got a movie coming out with the tag line ‘A Star Wars story’).

Hey, I know what you’re probably thinking, “Whoa, what the fuck? Is this guy comparing great literature like Lolita to pop culture amusements like Marvel comic-book movies?” Yes, yes I am. See cuz Lolita is about the illicit love affair between an old man and a prepubescent girl. Not exactly the status quo. But this condemned romance isn’t exploited, it’s told with taste and sensitivity. The romantic coupling is merely hinted at or implied. We learn of the narrative through the characters, we of the audience bearing only mute witness to the harrowing emotional journey experienced by the lovers.

This is precisely what happens in the new Marvel movie titled Captain America: Civil War, a tale of forbidden love spanning decades between the battle-torn Europe of World War II all the way to the present day. But the illicit affection of CA:CW is not between dirty old man and innocent youth but between two men, both aged to consent, both scarred by lives of violence, pawns of their governments, trained to fight, taught to kill, sworn to duty, brainwashed by code words or patriotic fervor, nearly all of their sensitivity and intuition buried, each man finds in each other the love that both their souls yearn so desperately for.

As young men, Steve and Bucky grew up in the repressive, macho climate of Brooklyn, then came of age in the shadow of Nazi Germany. Moved by the threat of tyranny, both joined the U.S. Army with all the virile fury their strong youthful physiques could muster. Unfortunately, through a series of events too convoluted to attempt to relay here, they are now in 2016, their longevity, superhuman strength, and nigh-invulnerability a result of cerebral programming, government issued steroids, and rigorous calisthenics such as lunges, dips, jumping jacks, and Bulgarian split-squats. Steve, despite having to conceal his secret longing, has succeeded in becoming Captain America, the most alpha dog of a group of super heroes called The Avengers. While Bucky, haunted by his shameful acts and unable to be honest with himself about who he is, has gone underground, lurking in dim hallways and street corners, doing what he must to earn money.

Meanwhile, Super Bitch Tony Stark aka Iron Man, soaked with guilt over some incidental collateral damage, has decided that it will be best for he and his Super Acquaintances to be overseen by the United Nations. Steve doesn’t agree. He’s a rebel just like Marlon Brando or Bette Davis. But he does use this rebellion as an excuse to track down the obscure object of his desire, the reclusive Bucky. The Enhanced Individuals fight each other for two hours. It’s all very butch. Ra Ra Ra. Yawn.

The advertisers have positioned this movie as a ‘civil war’ because the plot centers around the Avengers splitting into two factions grudging over proper legislation. Be forewarned, this is simply a ruse. The true message at the core of CA:CW, what this “mass market entertainment” is really about, is the war within. The actual ‘civil war’ of this movie isn’t fought on a battlefield with fisticuffs, blunderbusses, and rapiers — oh no — but in the hearts of Steve and Bucky, each man tearing at himself and each other, fighting their urges tempered for so, so very long.

Steve and Bucky make a great pair. Their opposite styles contrasting nicely. Steve with his All-American, clean-shaven, Aryan looks, his hair just-so, tips frosted, his apple pie sincerity and rock-hard…disposition. Then there’s Bucky, the shadow side, the bad boy, with his five-o’clock shadow and his long black mane greasily obscuring the mystery and turmoil behind those poet eyes. Moody and dark, he could just as easily slip into a literary phantasia, trading quips with Lord Byron or Boudelaire, lounging in a sumptuous salon, as the odours of passion and smoked opium mingle on the air.

Alas, the conclusion is not the happy Hollywood ending one would hope for. Instead of professing their love, followed by whole-hearted acceptance by everyone, followed still by an opulent wedding ceremony and smashing reception, Steve and Bucky have to flee to a fictional foreign country in Africa run by black people (perhaps finding common ground in their both being treated as second-class citizens in the U.S.). Bucky does get to wear white but it’s just a skimpy little nighty-thing, and then he’s locked away in a glass case just like in a faerie tale, there for Steve and only Steve, their love sealed forever. A near tragic yet hopeful conclusion. Sigh.

PROS- the costumes were fabulous! the physiques sublime! And some very, very special effects (wink, wink)
CONS- all the punching and kicking and loud noises and bloodletting were insufferable.

You’ve got a whole fucking fictional African country and you can’t find a role for Louis Gossett Jr. That’s bullshit.

Cos-Play

In the case of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, bitching about CGI is like bitching about skin in a porno. It’s just there, man. Accept it. The real stuff is only there to be swept away and discarded for the real show. You don’t like it? Then you’re in the wrong theater bro, or website.

A few things I learned from Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice: the cities of Metropolis and Gotham are right across the bay from each other. Who knew? BM and SM are practically neighbors. Lois Lane considers Wonder Woman a threat. Check out that look on her face when she sees a giant Amazon dressed in battle lingerie, hanging with her boyfriend, “Well, who the fuck is this ho?” she seems to be thinking. Superman/Clark Kent is a boring, insufferable, hipster person. But hey, nobody is perfect.

This one is about how the world (and by world I mean the United States, which is the only really important part of the world anyway, let’s be honest here) might react to the existence of a superman. People are freaking because SM is kind of God-like (except no one has started religions, cults or even fan clubs for him) in his power. (Has no one approached him with marketing opportunities? Shoes, sodas, headphones, a line of clothing. There’s got to be knock-offs of his outfit. Little kids running around at Halloween. Supes doesn’t get a piece of that? I’m sure if he was around nowadays a big talent agency or Jay-Z’s company would be knocking down his door. Not to mention football scholarships or professional sports teams or the fucking Olympics. I guess he considers himself a citizen of Earth and just hanging in the U.S. I don’t know…)

Anyway, people are fed up with all the collateral damage he causes while saving lives, all the architecture he destroys and people he puts in danger etc. Sounds reasonable. Easy fix though, I’d say. SM just has to start using doors instead of making holes in walls and ceilings. Though some of these innocent bystanders deserve what they get. For example: in the first five minutes we’re introduced to this white-haired businessman type hanging out on the 50th floor or whatever, watching a giant fucking alien spaceship crush skyscrapers like they were made out of gingerbread. Does he say ‘Oh shit!’ and get the fuck out of there? Nope. Only when his boss, Bruce Wayne, calls him and tells him to start evacuating the building does he actually do it. But he stays for some reason. Not exactly management material if you ask me. First of all, I know good jobs are hard to come by nowadays and loyalty is admirable and certainly nobody wants to be the first one running out screaming like a little girl, but c’mon guy, if you’re in a skyscraper and all the other skyscrapers in a three block radius are getting knocked over by a fucking alien air-yacht, your boss would probably understand if you went home sick without a doctor’s note. Obviously, this guy gets killed. Instead of hightailing it out of there, maybe even before Mr. Wayne orders him to, he’s chillin’ by the Xerox machine and internet box praying his ass off until he gets toasted by the alien super-laser. This little vignette sets the tone for the movie’s overall anti-God/anti-religious theme. Look, man, I’m from earth and a lot of people on earth pray to one God or another. So all these stuffed-shirt Hollywood types talking shit about being religious doesn’t sit right with me, okay buddy.

Alright, we got God/religion represented by SM. Science and greed is represented by Alexander Luthor, a rock star from the 1980’s who inherited his fathers billion dollar tech company and who is pretty smart himself. He better be smart because one look at him you know he’s not going to be trading any punches with SM or BM. He’s also a cackling psychopath which helps. Then there’s BM, representing the psychiatric community. Whoa Nelly, this guy is a fucking loon. He’s another billionaire inheritance kid, who happened to see his parents get shot outside a theater showing Excalibur (that alone would’ve been traumatic enough for a little kid. And awesome.) BM has got some serious mother issues and a latent homosexual relationship with an old British guy who futzes around his apartment “fixing” things. Uh-huh. Anyway, BM agrees with Kentucky Senator that Supes is a liability and should be liquidated. But then you think, what the hell is BM gonna do about it? He’s got a neat-o gadget belt, bullet-proof S&M gear, and his Nerf string-ball gun and all these stunt men lining up to get their teeth knocked out, but he’s still just a man. Well, ya see BM got his hands on some frozen Jell-O from outer space called kryptonite that SM is allergic to.

So, after two and half hours of some very serious discussions about subplots that you don’t really care about, between minor characters that don’t really matter, and a few segues into some absolutely bonkers dream sequences that come out of nowhere and go on forever, BM and SM actually throw-down. (The dream sequences’ are what really made me love this movie. They’re so indulgent, crazy, and unnecessary that the movie teeters on the edge of surrealism. If there’s anything I love more than surrealism it’s giant, multi-platform, commercial packaging, tent-pole, franchise event movies that somehow manage to stumble into surrealism. One second you’re sitting there watching a straight-up Hollywood blockbuster then BAM! you get that WTF is going on moment where BM is a resistance fighter in a possible dystopian future, railing against a totalitarian regime headed-up by SM. Or, ambivalent about his place in the universe, SM does what any white, upper-middle class urbanites do when in such a conundrum: they stop off at REI, then go for hike in the fresh mountain air, where they run into Kevin Costner building a pile of rocks. (( And what the fuck does SM need a warm hat for? Or backpack? What the hell does he have in there? Pb&J? Cliff bars? Water purifier? Isn’t he fucking invulnerable? But he gets cold. But it’s a dream right. Or is it?)) Anyway, point is this movie would’ve been crazy on acid.) All it takes for BM to get up to SM fighting shape is some Crossfit and good old fashioned free-weights. You’d think Bruce Wayne could afford a personal trainer or access to HGH but nope, the dude is old school. Tractor tires, hammers, and chains for this guy. Sweating in the basement. Road work. Eye of the tiger. Machines are for old ladies.

At one point SM warns off BM, telling him to hang-up the crime-fighting ways, to just stay home. You know, the whole alpha dog thing. And BM asks him if he bleeds. Does he bleed? Really? That’s all? The movie raises all these questions about how the world might “realistically” react to SM hanging about, the practical realities of being an invulnerable, super-powered alien being stranded on Earth, and all BM comes up with is “Hey, bro, I know we just met and all but I was kinda wondering if you know, bleed?” What about ‘Do you pee? Do you poo? Do you shave or fart? What razors work on your hair? Shouldn’t you have a gigantic fucking beard? Do you get tired? What’s your sleep cycle like? Is it different on your planet? Have you had to adapt? What do you think of the food here? Democrat or republican? (Probably Democrat since he’s part of the liberal media) Pro choice or Pro life. (Pro-choice, cuz you know Lois is.) I mean where are all the motherfucking scientists, universities or international think tanks clamoring for a chance to experiment on this motherfucker. That would make an awesome movie. Or a really good reality TV show. Keeping Up with The Kryptonian or Hangin’ with Supes.

My point is, why put limits? It doesn’t just have to be all cross-county fisticuffs, ruined real-estate, and intergalactic warfare. Can SM drown? (BTW if all these questions were addressed in the other SM movie from a few years ago then disregard. I didn’t go see that movie) Can he breathe under water? Motherfucker, if I was SM I’d find the deepest, darkest spot in the ocean , you know, where the Kraken lives and all the animals are translucent super-size crab-spider hybrids, and just check it out for awhile, maybe take some pictures if they gave me a special camera that could withstand the water pressure at that depth, of course (whoa, nerd alert).

If SM really wanted to make a difference why the fuck is he writing for a print newspaper, which nobody reads anymore. And why doesn’t he live in India or South America where thousands of people are getting killed every week in mudslides, mine collapses, and earthquakes. Or how about Indonesia, where tsunamis and nuclear reactors are always taking a giant shit on people every time I turn on CNN (I don’t think I’ve ever actually turned on CNN. I’m talking in-general, like at the airport or the gymnasium.) I know he gets around pretty quick, that it’s no big deal to fly from Metropolis to Timbuktu but wouldn’t he be able to help more people if he lived in their neighborhood.

Does he smoke weed? Would it affect him? And what’s with the goddamn capes? Just stop it already. Screen-writers, directors, whatever, just make something up where he gets that shit ripped off in a wood chipper or something. At least for BM alright. It’s just fucking dumb.

PROS-totally wacky and dumb, BM being sort of clever about fighting SM (except for the whole fighting SM thing. That seems ill-advised). All the technical/FX/sound/editing stuff is first rate and the pictures are really pretty.

CONS-none that I can think of

Louis Gossett Jr. would’ve been better than Larry Fishburne as the newspaper boss and he’d be a better Lex Luthor. LGJr rocked the dome before it was cool to rock the dome.

Geography with Gerard

I was sitting in my hammock, perusing the dictionary and it opened on the entry for awesomeness. There was no designation of noun, verb, or adjective; simply the title of a movie: London Has Fallen.

We are only in March, still yet to come are the summer block busters and the prestige pictures and holiday movie season, but I think it’s time we cease the debates, and still all further discussion of what good and bad cinema is or could be. London Has Fallen has exploded any such conversation.

The main dude in this is a U.S. Secret Service agent name Mike Bannon (or Banning or Banner. Does it matter?) He jogs with the president, is extremely competitive, and tough. This extreme competitiveness will come in handy later during wrestling matches. He has become toughened by a lifetime of “bad decisions and bourbon.” Perhaps the result of said bourbon and bad decisions is a pregnant wife who is more concerned with the color of the baby’s room than the unborn child’s safety. Mike Bann…wants six baby monitors and a Kevlar mattress for his offspring. (Whether it be Bannon or Banning, just saying the guy’s name is awesome. It’s like tearing off a piece of stale, gas-station beef jerky then spitting it out because it’s not fucking disgusting enough. Which is funny, because the actor portraying Mike B. is actually named Gerard Butler, not a very bad-ass named person. Gerard Butler sounds more like a vaunted stage actor representing her majesty’s thespian acumen in an Italian production of Mann’s “Death in Venice.” Hmm? Yes, quite.)

El Presidente must attend a funeral in London for the Brit P.M. Also does a bunch of leaders from the western, white, capitalist allied countries of the U.S. Obviously these are not favorites of the bad guy who isn’t exactly an Islamic fundamentalist or belongs to any country specifically (the movie is very careful about this) he is simply a lowly criminal, an arms dealer, who supplies any terrorist who pays him, so it’s okay to kill him and hate him and not fret about any political or social consequences because no matter what you pray to everybody hates a war profiteer, right?

Anyway, the bad guy, or whom we shall call Him Who Shall Not Be Attempted To Pronounced, is ornery because some Western government zapped his daughters wedding with a drone missile. The drone bomb in this case miraculously appears to have killed every servant, wedding guest, non-combatant, bridesmaid, and caterer, leaving only the dangerous people — the bad guy and his three sons — alive to exact their revenge.
Shit gets hairy in London. The bad guy blows up a bunch of CGI landmarks and kills the leaders of Germany, France and Canada. Mike B. has to escort the Prez through the martial law-ed city, circumvent an army of terrorists impersonating the police, and do it all in dress shoes. But that is okay because that’s how he rolls. He digs this shit. The first ten minutes of the movie has Mike hanging with his babies’ momma, scenes of strained domestic bliss etc. to evoke sympathy, or stiffly creaking around the President’s pad trying to appear civilized. He looks grumpy, confused, and uncomfortable, craving that action. So when shit hits the fan he seems relieved. When the presidential chopper, seconds before it’s brought down by a Stinger missile, Mike says to his charge, “Sir, we’re going to take a hit. Brace yourself for impact.” The president is noticeably pooing inside of his pants (excellent acting by Aaron Eckhart). But Mike, the old salt, looks to me like he can barely contain his joy. What he really wants, is to scream “Fuck yeah! We’re about to crash and then have to kill a bunch of fucking terrorists!” like a kid on his first rollercoaster.
As our two disheveled heroes wander the war-torn, treachery-laden avenues of London, stabbing, shooting and grenading, Mike cracks jokes, engages in sadistic revenge killing, and borderline racist bravado, all of it delivered with the deft awareness of a sociopathic hippo. It’s awesome. If you ever feel frustrated by the news, if you watch the horrible and real imagery of people blown to shreds by terrorism, and you feel powerless and angry and you want to lash out, you want someone to pay, then this fantasy has been spun for you. After slowly stabbing a man to death over the radio so his terrorist co-worker can hear the groans of agony, and therefore anticipate what sort of anguish awaits him at the hands of America’s most brutal Secret Service agent, the president queries his guardian, “Was that necessary?” To which our hero replies, without hesitation, “No.” But he means Yes! Yes! as in the orgasmic pinnacle of a lusty embrace. Yes! To video game-styled, over the shoulder violence. Yes! To Gerry Butler, bug-eyed, hysterical with bloodlust of righteous killing. Yes! To those damn raghead cockroaches, sneaking around setting off bombs getting what’s coming to them. Yes! To the dying Angela Bassett, here playing our hero’s doomed supervisor, with her last breath, imploring her prize employee, “You get those fuckers.” Yes? Oh, yes indeed, my friends. Yes to Morgan Freeman, deity-like in his elderly aplomb as the Vice President, addressing the universe, “We live in a dangerous world and we must engage in it.” Engage. Yes, go into a movie theater, sit in the dark, shut out all that is real and ambiguous and without answers, and engage.

PROS: tight 80 minutes, no apologies, no pretension, no bullshit

CONS: those first ten minutes or so of domestic bliss are a slog. The president was kind of a wuss.

Louis Gossett Jr. would’ve been a better Vice President and cheaper too.

P.S. I was going to make this a 2 for 1 and go see Gods of Egypt because that also has Gerard Butler and the name of a place in the title. But then I realized I would have to go see Gods of Egypt, so there goes that idea.

Thank you, Mel Gibson!

Thank you. For your passion, your commitment, your dedication; for proving to the men and women of Hollywood who hold the purse strings, that there does indeed exist an under-exploited market for Christian themed filmed entertainment content. If it weren’t for you we never would have gotten Heaven is Real or Soul Surfer or the one with the talking lion. We never would’ve got to see the guy who made Requiem for a Dream interpret the word of the Lord in Noah — that totally fucking bonkers acid Bible nightmare that still makes my balls tingle. Or Exodus: Gods and Kings, the movie equivalent of a golden retriever: classic, dopey, energetic, and loyal. And thank you, Mel Gibson, for Risen. Though your name be not on thy credits, your holy visage doth not grace thy screen, your influence and vision doth make such a movie possible.

See cuz, a couple years ago Mel made The Passion of the Christ. Paid for it, produced it, directed it. Everybody thought he was nuts (which he was/is, but that’s neither here nor there). T. P. of the C. made so much freakin’ money, mostly from entire church congregations going to see it by the busload (literally by the busload), that movie people scratched their heads and said, “Damn, all those Bible-thumpers are a fucking goldmine.”
But, as we all know, it wasn’t all rainbows and crosses for ol’ Mel. The devil got the better of him. His inner demons etc. And also he got wasted, insulted women, gays, Jews, and cops, beat up his girlfriend, and got divorced by his wife to the tune of 400 million smackers. Holy shit indeed. Maybe he made a deal with the devil to bring the Passion to the masses. Wouldn’t that be ironic. Or maybe that whole “easier to pass through the eye of a needle” thing is legit. Anyway…Risen isn’t like those other movies. Those are just Hollywood trash, secular forays into the sun-ripened branding opportunity that lies buried in the rich and loamy soil of the Holy Bible. There are others out there, unsullied by the Gomorrahan woe of Hollywood, artists striving to bring the good news to multiplexes across the globe, to literally preach to the choir. B-list actors, independent producers, and directors most known for legendary flops have pooled their substantial resources to offer us Risen.

The nice old African American lady who sold me my ticket felt compelled to mention that Risen was really good. She had witnessed people exiting the theater with smiles on their faces. Did she often debrief the audience after a showing? “I just like to find out whether ya’ll wastin’ your money or not.” How thoughtful. Her concern touched me. She had a calm way about her, a pleasant gaze, and a kind, easy smile; a relief from the usual sullen, acne-riddled teens tearing a ticket at you like beef jerky. I approached the concession stand with a glow around my heart. The young Native American boy, wearing glasses, sold me some candy and also inquired as to my viewing choice. (That’s two employees at the same movie. I don’t know if this happens to everybody, but it never happens to me.) He had not seen Risen but had heard it was good. Astonishment. Wonder. What the hell was I walking into? Had the love of Christ, the forgiving spirit, the brotherhood of man already permeated this hall of iniquity? Had the simple act of going to a Christian-themed movie tipped the karmic balance toward that of peace and understanding?

Risen is so fucking awesome. There’s sword fighting and crucifixion and broken bones (because if T.P. of the C. taught us anything, it’s that everybody, be they Christian, non-believer or simply curious stoners with nothing better to do, all love the blood and guts routine) and a whore and a lot of fish. Running only a tight two hours, it’s kind of a murder mystery (or an execution mystery might be more accurate, or maybe a resurrection mystery — anyway it’s a fucking mystery kind-of, unless you read the Gospels. If you’ve read the Gospels then the plot is probably spoiled. Sorry).

The actor Joseph Fiennes (he was the main character in Shakespeare in Love, what’s-his-name…) plays a Roman soldier kicking-it in Jerusalem around 33 A.D. I can’t remember what his name was, something like _____ccus (all the Roman names are like that) but everybody calls him Tribune. He’s sort of the sheriff in town. His boss, Pontius Pilate, he of the sneering sarcasm, world-weary cynicism, and lusty glares at bathing males, tasks Tribune to keep the peace in town. Seems the natives are restless: a self-proclaimed messiah is causing a ruckus and talking all kinds of shit about the Roman Empire. To make matters worse, after he’s killed, the rabble-rouser’s body vanishes and Tribune gets the shit job of finding out what the hell happened. So he hunts down the “dead” guys’ entourage, here called “apostles”, and asks them “Hey, bro, what the fuck?”

The rest of the movie is Tribune being amazed by the miraculous, his skepticism threatened as he settles into a grudging, but hard to deny sort-of/maybe belief. The filmmakers are savvy enough not to serve-up a free and clear conversion of him in so short of time. Because that would be unbelievable. They wisely spoon feed us the narrative of his amazement and confusion, his doubts and hope, as he learns from J. C. and his crew. I rather liked that, them pulling back on the preaching. This is a Christian movie aimed at the skeptics and the fence-sitters, not the devotees. It’s simple, dramatic, old-fashioned movie making. And hell, if you can ignore the agenda, you might enjoy the story. (Also good is that Jesus is played by an actor named Cliff, which is awesome. He looks sort of Middle Eastern but he’s actually a Maori from New Zealand who gets cast a lot as Mexicans. Remember Smiley from Training Day, that guy. Dude’s got range. But he better watch-out he doesn’t get type-cast. Like Jesus, Smiley also had a spiritual leaning. I seemed to recall tattooed crosses, apostles (but only two, and more scary that Jesus’ homies’), and a thing for mercy and forgiveness evidenced by him not shooting a man in the face with a shotgun.)

Most of these Christian movies coming out nowadays look like hokey, overt recruitment posters for the gang, but Risen keeps the witnessing good and toned down. I liked the story. I saw this because of the director, Kevin Reynolds (and because of that spooky coincidence with Hail, Caesar). Back in the 90’s he made Robin Hood: P of T, Waterworld, and The Beast, among others. (Quick segue: The Beast is this movie from way back in 1988, based on a play(!) about some Soviet soldiers stuck in a tank in Afghanistan back when they tried to take over the Middle East and got their asses whooped. Astounding, completely forgotten, gut-wrenching war movie. Check it out.)

After seeing Straight Out of Compton I didn’t go right out and buy a bunch of gangster rap. After Risen, I didn’t go to church. But afterwards, out on the streets of downtown Albuquerque, when a crazy drunk with a face like ground beef addressed me, hollering his story of missing the meal time at the shelter, then asking if I could or would spare some cash to help him eat, I actually felt guilty about saying ‘No.’ So perhaps, indeed, the magic power of love promoted by Risen and movies of that ilk had not only sown a mustard seed in the employees of the theater, but in my soul as well.

PROS-Very professional. They keep the proselytizing to a minimum. Miracles are cool. The period details – the blood, the dirt and grime etc. – all aid to the “reality” or authenticity. Sincerely acted.

CONS-If anything remotely Christian makes you gag then none of the other stuff will matter.

I don’t know how many black people were around Jerusalem back in J.C.’s day, so Louis Gossett Jr. might’ve had to sit this one out. But he would’ve made a killer Jesus if they wanted to go the avant-garde route.

The Movie Within the Movie Within the Movie Within…

Nobody wants to read a love letter. I’ll do my best not to write one. I’ll just relate some facts. Saw Hail, Caesar, the new Coen brothers movie. The Coen Bros. are the writers, directors, producers and editors of their movies, so they get a lot of credit for how the finished product turns out. That’s why they call it a Coen Brothers movie.

Theaters also show commercials now before the movie. But I don’t let it bother me anymore because if it weren’t for the revenue created by these commercials, theaters wouldn’t be able to compete, what with all the television or streaming digital content they got nowadays. Or they would have to raise the price of movie tickets to $30. (It was $5 Tuesday in downtown Albuquerque. I walked to the theater, deftly maneuvering past the Greyhound station, the city bus depot, a construction site, and a pregnant drug addict.) There was a classic from Diet Coke. A businesswoman, a careerist, by the look of her power-suit and ambitious disposition, was near frozen against a white background, reaching, extending, desperate to catch her very own limited edition designer Diet Coke bottle. Then “IT’S MINE” was stamped across the screen. You get a two-for-one though. There’s a slogan after the commercial that says: “TAKE WHAT’S YOURS.” Sound advice. Soda is empowerment and mobility. I am given the secret elixir of conquest and fulfillment, on a Tuesday afternoon, at a three-week old movie. The dream is real.

The Coen brothers don’t make bad movies. I don’t know if they’d allow themselves to. They’re perfectionists. They’ve done some hollow, empty movies, rich in style and precise execution, but they’d never make a mess. I don’t like all their movies. I’ve been disappointed by a few. Some are sarcastic, some are sincere. Some are both. Some have more balance than others. Over the years they’ve developed the skill enough to tone themselves down to earn awards and money. They even made a few bona-fide pop-cult hits, the gift that keeps on giving. Very few of their movies have not been period pieces. I think this is because they are concerned with exploring themes constant to human experience, rather than contemporary or topical ones that are, by their nature, temporarily relevant.

Hail, Caesar takes place in early 1950’s Hollywood. The main character is Eddie Mannix, the dutiful head of production at Capitol Pictures, struggling to maintain all the day to day chores reality requires to keep the dream alive. He’s a sympathetic character; hardworking, savvy, and capable of guilt. A family man who loves his job but regrets the time it keeps him away from his wife and children. Many actors appearing in Coen brothers movies seem unhinged, exaggerated, or over the top. Mannix is played by Josh Brolin, and like he did in No Country For Old Men and True Grit, balances the farcical elements of Hail, Caesar with a modest, sustained performance of measured intensity. It’s refreshing to see this character dealt with in a new way. Usually in movies studio heads, moguls, producers etc. are one dimensional stock-types; ogres, egomaniacs, capitalist villains, crushing the creativity of all the artists around them. The artist characters here are the ones being selfish, petty, frivolous, or naïve, expecting someone else to be accountable for their actions. They are, literally, living the dream.

Hail, Caesar won’t shock. There are some broad topics skimmed over (family, history, economics, integrity, laughter, the rewards of doing what is difficult, and faith; just to mention a few). Everything is tight and polished. There is little ambiguity or loose ends. But you have to be on your toes. It does assume a great deal about the audience. It assumes the audience has a sense of humor, patience, and won’t jump to trivial offense at unusual juxtapositions you don’t often see in movies. It assumes the viewer can sit with uncertainty, tolerate gaps in information later explained, or absorb critical information about the plot and characters delivered in quick, period accurate vernacular. Beware. You may be required to do more than watch. You may have to listen. You may have to think. You may feel at times like you just don’t get it, that it’s stupid. You may have to resist the urge to turn to someone close to you and say things like “Who is…” “What did…” or “Why did they…”, the source of your confusion so overwhelming that you don’t even have time to form a question before there’s another character on screen saying something else you don’t quite follow. And like that, you’re lost. So stay frosty, be alert, and if you’re up to it, you might have a good time.

Context and subtext are big in this one, too. They mingle, collude, bleed into each other. Down the hallway there is a movie playing called Risen. A sincere drama about a Roman soldier during the time of Christ who, in trying to unravel the mystery of Jesus’s missing corpse, is forced to confront what he himself realizes might be the nature of faith. This is the plot of “the movie within the movie” in Hail, Caesar. I am not kidding. Can this be an accident? Is that fucking possible? A spiritually bent acquaintance of mine likes to say there is no such thing as a coincidence. Maybe he/she is right. Both movies are rated PG-13. Both are historical. They both have Roman costumes. Both have heroes who struggle with their own concepts of faith and find validation in what they discover about truth. Coincidence? I think not. Obviously God him/herself intends for you to see Hail, Caesar (and Risen too maybe. I don’t know.)

I know it’s asking a lot, at the end of the day, when all you want to do is fuck and eat ice cream, and the kids won’t shut-up and that goddamn Trump or goddamn Obama is doing whatever you might find intolerable. But if you can get up for it, if you can will yourself into a place of focus (or mindfulness, that’s a hot phrase right now) then Hail, Caesar might entertain you.

On my way out of the theater I stopped in on The Revenant. It was about forty-five minutes in. I’d seen it already. On screen, some actors were pouring water on the Oscar nominated prosthetic wounds inflicted on a movie star by a CGI bear. I stood against the wall, watching a few minutes before becoming bored and numb, wondering why I’d felt nothing at all for The Revenant despite its harrowing production history, army of hardworking professionals, and recent collection of Oscar awards, while Hail, Caesar had rejuvenated me. I was looking forward to bursting through the exit, out into the white sunlight and grime of downtown Albuquerque, full of hope and forgiveness, stimulated by awe and questions. There would be two more hours of The Revenant. Two more hours of staring at ponderous imagery. Two more hours of being preached at about the mistreatment of people and land; a speech, a lecture, a lesson plan, an assignment, a punishment. Hail Caesar, is more like a visit with interesting friends. You will be required to interact, to listen. They invite you in, have a seat. Conversation ensues. There is a back and forth, an exchange, some disagreements. Topics range from the mundane and trivial, to history or science, and finally onto things of serious or still unresolved nature. Totally worth five bucks.

PROS-I don’t know, pretty much everything. Not very long at all.

CONS- Subject matter. Look, if you don’t give a shit about history or movie history, then it’s just not going to work. If the Coen Bros. style irritates you then this one won’t change your mind. So that limits the audience. I’d be bored out of my mind if I was between the ages of 13 and 31 probably. Hey, whatever, different strokes etc.

Louis Gossett Jr. would’ve been great as the narrator, but Michael Gambon did well enough. No complaints. Did you see LG Jr. on the Oscars? Man, what an incredible voice. He must hate that Morgan Freeman guy.

The Healing Power of Laughter

I love kid movies. Little Mermaid, Eladdin, Grease. I can even sing parts of the songs. But my new favorite is called Deadpool. But this one is different. Waaaaayyyy different. For one thing, a lot of it isn’t even animated! There’s real live actors and sets and stuff! Another thing – and here’s the kicker — it’s rated R!
I know, I know. How can a rated R movie be a kids movie? That doesn’t even make sense. But it does make sense. Or should I say cents, as in, lots and lots of motherfucking money. Because what kid doesn’t love titties, dirty talk, and gore? And all of it delivered wryly by a helium voiced ninja?

Deadpool is a movie about a person, a man, who used to be in the “special forces” and if that’s the outfit that trained him to not only be a super badass, flipping, jumping, spinning killer and still allowed him to keep his jolly-go-lucky ‘tude in the meantime, then indeed they are special and indeed they are a force. Also, he is really good at sewing. He puts together his own fighting costume and sews it himself. Not only does it fit but it really looks cool too. The more I think about it, the more special these Special Forces are. But Deadpool is just his secret name. His real name is Wade. Wade earns his post-special force living as a for-hire bully and spends his down-time drinking liquor with a nerdy barman. Life is pretty sweet. Then two things happen: he falls in love and gets terminal cancer. Whoa, when it rains… Anyway, drastic measures are called for and because things must progress plot-wise, drastic measures are offered. Wade agrees to be experimented on by some shady Euro-trash goth types. The experimenters are creepy and their workshop is a dirty place. Wade even comments, as he’s strapped to a gurney, that their operating theater looks sterile. But he says this in a certain way that lets us know that he means the opposite of what he said, so that what he actually means is that the place does not look sterile. So even though it’s not sterile and he’s strapped to a gurney, he goes along with it. But you can’t really blame him because he’s going to die anyway, right. The experiments deep-fry his skin and he swears revenge. So, while being very unpleasant and painful torture, the results of the experiments turn out not so bad, especially when you compare it to what he might have gone through dying of cancer or radiation therapy. (I don’t know exactly if the torture he gets in the movie is as bad as cancer treatment on a 1:1 comparison but I’ve heard it’s pretty bad even if you do live) See cuz, not only do they cure him of cancer but he also gets a super-fast healing power. Now when he cuts his thumb opening a can of cat food he won’t need band-aids. So, when you think about his situation before the experiments compared to what he got after, then swearing revenge seems like just a tad bit of overkill. The only thing bad really is that he’s not as pretty as he was before and he don’t have hair. I get it, we all want to be nice-looking. But for a professional badass, wouldn’t being scary looking and nigh-invulnerable be an advantage? Especially if you’ve got a knack for sewing your own masks. Chill out, Wade. Count your blessings. Beauty is on the inside etc. etc. But here’s the rub, see, because of his bad skin Wade gets worried that his sweetie will dump him. And he’s pretty mad about this. So mad in fact that he wants to kill the people who cured him of cancer and gave him a super-fast healing power. For such a jokester, this strikes me as a distinctly glass-half-empty move. Where’s the gratitude, Wade? How about taking the good with the bad?

Maybe the filmmakers thought that fucked-up skin as a motive for revenge, despite being cured of cancer and made nigh-invulnerable, would be relatable to the target audience of males between the age of fifteen and twenty five, give or take a few years. Pimply-faced nerds, spinning obscure pop culture references and sarcastically zinging everybody they come in contact with, while still maintaining peak martial arts physique without any work, and having super great porno sex with a hot babe you met at your favorite hang-out spot, shit man, it’s a teenage boys wet dream. I wish I’d seen this when I was in ninth or tenth grade, before I got old and bitter about life, when movies were still magical journeys to far off lands filled with interesting and violent situations where I risked nothing.

A lot has been made about how this “super hero” or “comic book” movie is R rated. But I don’t see why it’s R rated. There’s nothing disturbing or shocking that happens. The tone is casual and breezy. Deadpool addresses himself directly to the audience any chance he gets, reminding us that we’re just watching a flick, getting entertained, nothing at stake, nothing risked, nothing gained. There aren’t any complex adult themes, ambiguity, or consequence to cloud the waters of escapism. It’s pure. It’s innocent. And I don’t mean naïve. No fucking way. There’s way too much money on the line and knowing wink-winks from the filmmakers for naivete. Only kids should be allowed to see this. Only kids could really appreciate it. Only kids would get swept up. All this ingenuity is wasted on people over thirty. Hey, I laughed some. Some of the jokes were funny. But, goddamn, if I was like fifteen, I would’ve pissed my pants, rolling in the aisles. I still get tickled by novelty deaths, especially when it’s the good guy dealing out the death. I mean let’s give kids some credit nowadays, they’re not stupid. Any gags or references they don’t get they can look-up a detailed explanation and probably an HD demonstration on the internet in less time than it takes for some old fart to shake a finger at the desensitization of the young. We don’t need to protect them from this. If I had kids I’d take them to see Deadpool. Save me the hassle of trying to explain death or pegging.

 

PROS It’s short! It’s fun! Highly recommended!

CONS I would’ve liked if the villain had been some great Shakespeare actor hamming it up but I guess they had to get a guy who looked like he could fight.

Louis Gossett Jr.!! C’mon man! Deadpool’s roommate, the old blind lady. LG Jr. was born for that role.

2015 Movies in the Rear. View.

Well it’s that time of year again, where people with nothing better to do look back at the movies they saw the previous year and decide on a hierarchy for how their time on earth was wasted. This involves lists. I too will make lists. Some of these lists may not be lists at all because there might be only one thing on the list. The only criteria for inclusion on these lists are that the movies were released in 2015 and that I watched them. Most were seen in theaters. Some on DVD and others via the digital sewer we call the internet.

BOTTOM FOUR LIST

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD — Man, for a movie promoted as a big summer non-stop action spectacle I was bored out of my mind. I kept wishing it was Waterworld, that old Dennis Hopper movie that MM:FR stole all its ideas from. At least in that one the sacred patriarchal order of action movies is preserved. MM:FR’s main character is a girl. What the fuck is that about? In an action movie? Yeah, I know she’s got short hair and a cool mechanical arm and an Italian name but c’mon, who you trying to fool? I did cry when the baby died though. Not enough CGI. If I’m going to a big-ass studio summer mega-pic I want to see some goddamn Computer Generated Images. Oh, and save the ‘subtle’ socio-political analogies that reflect on modern times for Oscar season buddy. I went to college. I took intro to Political Science. My professor had a beard. He already told me oil and guns and money were bad. But movie critics and just about everybody I talked to since I saw MM:FR were cleaning the jizz off from coming all over themselves about this movie so I kept thinking I should reconsider. But every time I reached out to rent the disc or hit the Netflix button I would think about the hours spent squirming in my theater chair trying to stay awake and I just couldn’t do it again.

CRIMSON PEAK – I left this one before it ended. I sat through more than two thirds thinking “there’s no way they would make a movie where nothing happens. Surely not a whole feature length film where people talk and production design and costumes are displayed with the pride of an NBA player’s shoe closet.” But they did. And it wasn’t scary or even gory. Look, if you can’t make it scary then you better make it fucking gory, ok. What the fuck.

THE REVENANT: Pretty pictures don’t mean shit to me. I can drive ten feet, walk out in the fresh air, and see all the pretty pictures I want; and they aren’t stupid looking CGI skid marks. Long. Jeezus Christ, it was long. And hokey as hell. This is the worst kind of crap that Hollywood turns out. Your basic exploitation movie dressed up and promoted to appear respectable, a ‘prestige’ picture. You got a direct, brutal, simple story of two guys and revenge. You put Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin or somebody who hasn’t been dead for twenty years in there, you edit out all the bullshit, and boom you’re in-and-out in eighty or ninety minutes. Fast, cheap, and dirty. But no, they spend nine months, hundreds of millions of dollars, and try to awe us with tales of movie stars being wet and cold, as if the reality of a film’s production has any relevance to what is actually on screen. Every movie is hard to make. Even the bad ones and the short ones and the stupid ones. They all are harrowing, brutal campaigns where thousands of people are employed for ten or twelve hour days, for months, often on location away from their homes and families. Am I supposed to be impressed because Leonardo and Alejandro and Tom did it. That’s what they do. They in duh movies. That’s why they get paid the big bucks. Shut-up and enjoy you’re private jets and artistic accolades and groupie blow-jobs.

VACATION – Like horror movies that aren’t scary, comedies that aren’t funny are kind of a problem. I think Hollywood has this bet going against itself to see if they can remake movies that were good, identify all the things that made said movie good, and do the opposite just to see if it matters. I personally love remakes of classic, universally beloved movies. Who doesn’t love to watch something good turned into hot feces in the sun?

TOP FOUR LIST

BLACK SEA – just a story, about people, and them trying to get the things they want. Suspenseful, scary, surprising, hell, damn near tragic. I’ve never seen a submarine swimming around under water. I don’t know what it would look like compared to a CGI submarine swimming around in water. But I know what a real deer looks like and CGI deer look like shit.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – I was pretty surprised I enjoyed this, cuz this fuckers pretty long too. But I never got bored even though I kind of knew the story cuz I think I read half the book at some point while being educated. So I was pretty familiar with the basic set-up. A chick wants to be independent and she’s got dudes after her. One dude is stable and kind of boring but basically a good guy so she passes on him. Then she meets this Bad Boy soldier who gets her hot but things don’t work out. There’s a rich guy who is desperate and kind of insane. There’s seriously beautiful pictures in this one, strong period production design and costumery, but none of it ever feels like the point of the movie, just there to let the actors do their thing and tell this story. Sad, funny, tragic. Lot of those moments where you’re like Damn, that’s fucked-up. If you watched that TV show The Bachelorette while at the same time on another TV watched the history channel and a really good play on PBS on your phone, that would kind of be like this movie. Man, that description sounds kind of lame now that I think about it. I don’t know maybe this one isn’t for everybody. But I guess if you’re one of those people who has tried to do what you thought was right and it didn’t work out, or if you liked having sex with someone but knew you didn’t love them but didn’t want to be honest, or if you were a badass because you’ve been hurt in the past by someone you loved and decided you’d never let that happen again or maybe you’re somebody who decides that integrity is more important that popularity then maybe you can relate to the characters and the stuff they do and learn something about yourself and what it means to be human. I dunno. Hey, Ant-Man is streaming.

STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON – I don’t listen to rap, never have. Had a friend in high-school who had Easy-E and The Chronic playing sometimes when we were getting high. But I’d heard stories about all the shit that went down with all these rap guys. Like them or not, SOOC is a pretty good movie. Maybe you hate black people and gangster rap or just don’t give a shit. Maybe this movie is a complete fantastical scrubbing of the myth of these guys, I don’t know. But it’s damn entertaining and kind of moving and for all the fortune these guys came into, it apparently wasn’t without a price. I didn’t run out and download a bunch of rap music or anything but I was reminded that art comes from all different kinds of people and all different corners and neighborhoods and just because I don’t get it or don’t like it or don’t care doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful to somebody. Also F. Gary Gray directed and it’s his best movie which is saying a lot for the guy who gave us Set It Off and The Negotiator and Friday. (Queen Latifah rocks by the way, her acting chops have always been underestimated and her screen presence larger than life. Taxi anyone?)

SPOTLIGHT – I like movies that have talking and characters and story and the characters have to make hard decisions which I think is what people mean when they say drama. Movies with heroes are cool. Movies with heroes that don’t have super powers, aren’t from another planet, or wear S&M animal costumes because they’re bored rich psychos are cool too. Movies where decades of criminal activity, the systematic victimization of children, institutional duplicity, corruption and hypocrisy are exposed by the grunt work of normal folk just doing their jobs are pretty rad in my opinion. And then when they make those movies interesting and not boring that’s even more rad. So that’s why I liked Spotlight and thought it was good.

4 MOVIES THAT WERE AS LONG AND STUPID AND EMPTY AS YOU’D EXPECT LIST

Ant Man, Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Spectre

4 MOVIES THAT WERE JUST PERFECT AND FINELY DONE LIST

Sicario, The Martian, The Big Short, Black Mass

4 MOVIES THAT FELT LIKE EATING YOUR VEGETABLES LIST

Bridge of Spies, Concussion, Steve Jobs, Pawn Sacrifice

4 MOVIES THAT MAKE YOU SAY ‘WHAT THE FUCK! THAT WAS SO FUCKING AWESOME! I THINK.” LIST

The Boy Next Door, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Bone Tomahawk, The Hateful 8

4 MOVIES THAT LEFT NO LASTING IMPRESSION WHATSOEVER LIST

Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Spectre, Star Wars
Ant-Man, Jurassic World

4 MOVIES THAT SURPRISED ME

Creed, The Gift, Bone Tomahawk,

BEST MOVIE ABOUT DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

End of The Tour

GREATEST MOVIE EVER LIST

THE BOY NEXT DOOR – Rented this one for free from the public library in downtown Albuquerque, had to knock a homeless lady out of the way to get it but it was totally worth it. I was hoping for some Jennifer Lopez body shots (girl works out you know) cuz it was R rated and everything, but no such luck, just the usual leg and lingerie show. So this one introduces us to the world of a hot high-school English teacher who is separated from her husband because he banged his secretary on a “business” trip. They got a son who is just entering manhood so he needs a father figure around to show him how to throw spirals and turn wrenches and kiss the bosses ass but J. Lo’s not having any of it so the hubby is sent packing. Providence arrives in the form of a young stud neighbor who our heroine spies lustily from on-high through her boudoir window as he greasily works under the hood of his grandpa’s car. One thing leads to another, she gets drunk and humps the dude on the couch. He’s up for it as you’d expect he would be but something is awry in this suburban paradise of wanton coupling. Turns out her randy neighbor is a psycho and A STUDENT IN HER CLASS!!. Fuck! What is she going to do. Well, first things first, she feels a lot of guilt, which is important because humping a nineteen year old student is an act worthy of guilt (movies do get some things right some of the time, thank the lord) then she tries explaining that it can’t work and she made a mistake and the usual “It’s not you, it’s the movie” or “Let’s just be neighbors” line. Dude is not having it though. He’s in love. Fortunately J. Lo has an older, wiser, and more morally flexible cougar girlfriend (who’s the principal of the school!) She tries reading the stud the riot act but only succeeds in becoming killed by him. Well, before it’s all over someone does lose an eye and a barn gets burned down so there is someone for everything. So. Not bad for what it was but I wonder if it might not have worked better as a charming farcical romp starring say, Tina Fey, as the mom and that stacked blonde from Trainwreck as the principal. And instead of her being guilty and remorseful and the movie scary it would be like a screwball comedy, where Tina Fey is running around getting into all sorts of hi-jinks and lying her ass off to hide the fact that she’s stuffing her holster with a young gun. Either way they’re both funny. And awesome.

PROS every frame

CONS not even a body double? C’mon, man

Louis Gossett Jr. could play the grandfather next door and Andy Samberg could play the boy

Bear/Bare Puns

The Revenant is that rare movie where the hero gets killed at the end. Our hero, Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy, with all the southern charm of a hungover Waffle House cook, is a proud and pragmatic American capitalist plying his wares in the U.S. wilderness circa 1800 something. His eyes ablaze with visions of Manifest Destiny and fortunes untold, he enlists with a crew of corporate fur traders. When their party is attacked by wild Indians, they’re forced to abandon the bounty of their plunder, escaping only with their lives. Most of his coworkers are killed by arrows going through their necks or eyeballs because that looks good on camera. Fortunately, present in their band is a savvy tracker named Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo D. Caprio, who guides the survivors to relative safety. On the trek back to their fort, Glass loses a wrestling match with a Computer Generated Bear and they have to carry him through the wilderness, up mountains, and across rivers on a stretcher until they admit that he is slowing them down. The leader of the party asks for volunteers to stay with Glass as he convalesces. Nobody signs up except Glass’ son, a half Indian named Hawk, and one of the traders named Dumb Young Kid. But that’s not enough so the leader offers a cash bonus to any man who stays. Fitzgerald, ever the practical opportunist, agrees to stick around and help-out Dumb Young Kid who says he’ll do it for free of course because he is Dumb Young Kid. But Fitzgerald makes a business decision to stay, realizing he may be able to recover some on his investment in pelt gathering. Sounds reasonable. Once they’re alone Fitzgerald humanely offers to euthanize Glass and end his suffering. But his son Hawk disapproves and attacks Fitzgerald who must defend himself and in the process stabs Hawk in the stomach a few times until he is dead. Realizing that Dumb Young Kid won’t like how things went down, and doesn’t feel like arguing about it, Fitzgerald employs a clever ruse, saying the Indians are nearby and they have to run away before they’re killed. Dumb Young Kid is obviously torn because he has to leave Glass and Hawk, concerned as he is with the welfare of his eternal soul.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald has never seen Hard To Kill starring Steven Seagal. If he had he would know that if you’re going to kill a guy’s family and fuck him up real good and leave him for dead, you best make sure he’s dead because if he’s not he will go through an incredible, quasi-mystical rebirthing process from which he will emerge slaked with an unquenchable thirst for vengeance.

Fitzgerald does though graciously help Dumb Young Kid back to the fort where they tell the boss what happened, sort of. Along the way our hero uses the opportunity to instill life’s hard lessons and Manhood 101 in Dumb Young Kid, for which he doesn’t appear particularly grateful. But sometimes the people we hate are our best teachers. Mm-mm. Yes. So true.

Meanwhile, Hugh Glass, imbued with mystical power rises from the dead and spends a few weeks hiking and swimming in the wilderness, pausing now and then for a snack of bone-marrow, sushi, or fresh buffalo hump.

Well, the rest is pretty much paint-by-numbers. Good prevails. Evil gets what’s coming to them. Justice is delivered. Fitzgerald has a great last line: “You came all this way just for your revenge. Well, I hope you enjoy it, because nothing will bring your boy back.” Quite correct, sir. But Glass realizes that if he kills his betraying murderous rival, he may also be condemning his soul to eternal flames and remembers that “revenge is in God’s hands”, a quaint little nugget of insight he picked up in the wilderness from an Indian and fellow gourmand. So, Glass chickens-out at the last second and tricks the wild Indians who’ve been tracking him the whole movie into doing his dirty work for him (yet another example of the white man screwing the Natives). Which is kind of fucked-up because, do they know that now their souls are going to roast in hell? I guess Glass doesn’t feel the need to mention that to them does he? Nope. But lucky for him, those damn savages don’t believe in God anyway and have no problems with revengeance.

CGI animals always look fake and silly. I don’t know why they keep putting them in movies. Maybe they’re cheaper to make than bringing real animals tanked on tranquilizers to the set for a couple days, and you don’t have to abuse them. I don’t know, I’m not a professional Hollywood animal wrangler (but what a life that would be. Especially back in the heyday of Tarzan and Lassie and that movie with Clyde the orangutan). The director, Alejandro G. Inarritu, realizes this also, so wisely keeps the CGI herd of buffalo, pack of wild dogs, and elk at a safe distance from the camera, giving only slight glimpses so as not to ruin the illusion and remind us that it’s just a movie. (He does ruin this illusion though by having the character’s breath fog the lens of the camera. But I’m told this technique was chosen to increase the enjoyment for people who wear eye-glasses because they will be like “Oh, yeah, exactly. I get that. Fucking hate when that happens.”) Just like what Spielberg did on Jaws: “Yo Steve. We got a serious fucking problem, man. The shark, man, it looks fake and like total shit.” “So, we won’t show it unless we absolutely have to.” Brilliant.

The bear attack (not to mention the other 90% of the movie) is shot in close-up-extreme-shaky-camera style, a technique used by filmmakers who are bored and who are afraid you may also be bored so they move the camera around a great deal to make you feel like you’re having a good time and distract you from what is lacking; like the lover who lights the candles, dims the lights, deploys the oils and incense and flowers and all the positions and techniques from the Kama Sutra when all you really wanted was just a good fuck.

The cinematography is so incredible. Every image is a breathtaking marvel. The previous two sentences were in reference to 8 billion feet of nature footage shot by the National Geographic society since the beginning of time.

Leonardo D. Caprio should get nominated for Best Teeth Gnasher. He gnashes his teeth a lot and, I must say, is very accomplished at it. Tom Hardy keeps up the good work, but he gets all the good lines and his character is interesting. Fitzgerald doesn’t appear to take pleasure in being bad; his actions and decisions are consistent with his world view. Hardy presents Fitzgerald as a man who reluctantly chooses his own survival even though sometimes that choice costs the lives of others. His campfire philosophical salons with Dumb Young Kid reveal he is a man of great depth, insight, and moral complexity. God is a squirrel? Indeed, sir. Indeed.

PROS- lotsa purty pictures. Horse guts look real and gross. Makes you grateful for outdoor fashion attire conglomerates like REI, Merrell, Columbia, North Face etc. We’re pretty lucky nowadays with all our slick duds.

CONS- way to fucking long. Pretty much a precise replica of the trailer except one hundred and fifty one minutes longer.

I don’t know if there was a role in this one for Louis Gossett Jr. but that doesn’t mean he can’t walk on screen and fog up the lens with his breath and write fuck-you motherfucker on it with his finger.

True Stories of Bad News

These two movies came out, both based on actual events and actual people that lived, and shit that went down in the last ten years or so, mostly on the East coast. Both concern the lengths to which billion dollar companies will go to hide their deceitful ways of getting paid.

One is called The Big Short, about a bunch of asshole money managers who realize that the housing market, a historically stable thing, is going to take a giant shit. So they bet against it and make a ton of money while the rest of the U.S. goes down the tubes except for the guys who caused the-going-down-of-the-tubes, who get bailed out by the government etc. etc. You know.

The other movie, Concussion, is about an African CSI agent, played by Will Smith, who uncovers a shocking truth: playing professional football can have adverse effects on your health. Not so shocking, I know. The shocking and illegal and unethical part comes later when it’s discovered that the National Football League has hidden or misconstrued information that says head trauma caused by playing professional football can actually, over time, cause you to lose your mind and die early. Everybody knows football hurts you, but the fact the NFL knew and concealed it until a heroic CSI agent uncovered medical evidence which proved it, and then tried to ignore/conceal that, is the real nut of the story. Not cool, as Keanu Reeves might say.

The heroes in The Big Short are all fucked-up, funny, greedy dudes, who are basically a twee bit less scummy than the other money managers in the movie. One guy, played by Christian Bale, has a mental disorder which requires him to not wear shoes, dress comfortably, and feel awkward around people. Another character, played by Steve Carrell, is cynical and depressed because of a tragedy in his family. Also there’s a just plain crazy asshole played by Ryan Gosling. These people are interesting and despite their flaws at least their greed stays within the bounds of legality which is how business works, so no biggie. It’s sad to watch, knowing what’s going to happen. Most everybody is going to get fucked, the big banks are going to get saved, and our protagonists will makes some money and feel slightly torn about it until they get that bling or new Maserati or boat or whatever people do when someone hands them a check for 47 million dollars.

Will Smith, the most likable movie star whoever donned custom made form-flattering costumes, plays CSI specialist Dr. Bennett Omalu, and right away we hate him. He’s a fucking super-nerd, goody two shoes, overachiever, who lives alone in a nice little clean house, doesn’t watch TV, goes to church, and can’t dance. Dude’s got hall-monitor written all over him. He does drive a fly Mercedes which at first makes you think alright this dude’s got some game. Then you see his boss drives the same car, just in a different color and you realize he’s just a giant kiss-ass. Anyway, a goody-two shoes is what we need sometimes in life to expose duplicity and injustice that will be totally ignored by those who perpetrate and benefit from it (the NFL) and by those who enjoy the fruits of that injustice (NFL fans). It’s like he thinks America is all about hard work, perseverance, truth, and justice instead of sitting on the couch, soaking up all the gravy, watching TV, and blaming others for why you ain’t rich. Fucking commie is what he is.

The best part though, is how completely onboard the NFL is with this movie. Their logo and all the team logos are all over the place. The Pittsburgh Steelers take a particularly bad beating. The NFL’s willingness to be the bogeyman proves how invincible a money making machine pro football is. It’s like “Sure, we’ll go along with your little movie. It’s not like people are going to stop watching football and we’re going to stop making money. As long as there are huge, angry, poor people with no better prospects toward making a living than strapping on the pads and banging, go make all the movies you want. Besides who’s going to want to see this movie anyway? You got Will Smith? So fucking what. Hasn’t had a hit in years. Bad news? Nobody cares, especially not at the movies. Football fans watch football. Non-football fans don’t give shit. Fuck this, I’m taking my kids to see Finding Nemo 2.”

Alright, real simple, the Will Smith equation. Will Smith having fun=Money. Will Smith not having fun=No Money. Will Smith ain’t having fun in Concussion. He looks sad and he’s got an accent that makes you giggle for most of the movie because at first you think he’s just playing around then realize oh shit, he’s really sounding like a guy from Africa. Alec Baldwin is in this movie too. He gives a nice impression of an old southern ball doctor who used to patch-up pro-footballers back in the good old days so they could get back out on the field and crack some heads. But now he realizes the error of his ways and yearns for redemption from the driveway of his awesome three car garage that he doesn’t even use because his awesome cars are parked in his awesome looking driveway in front of his giant, awesome looking house on a giant piece of property with its own fucking rolling hill. Why is it rich people are always the ones yearning for redemption? You never see broke people yearning for redemption or struggling with the emptiness that all those stacks of cash bring. A lot of bums live on the street outside my house, maybe I’ll go take a survey to see if any of them are yearning for redemption. Here’s a baloney sandwich and a blanket, hope you don’t shit yourself tonight while you’re freezing in the alleyway because the shelter is full.

The Big Short is a lot of fun. Them actors are all having a blast. Its subject makes you want to blow your brains out though, so the filmmakers wisely keep the tone light and breezy. A similar tactic is used in confined spaces when someone farts, opening a window to allow for the stink to dissipate.

Woman are a bit of an afterthought in both these movies. Wives, strippers, cheer leaders mostly, giving their men encouraging/do-the-right-thing/ tell-the-truth speeches especially when the stocks they bet on (their husbands) begin to show the signs of a decrease in value (self-doubt, eroding of confidence). There are two women characters who have small but prominent roles in positions of power in billion dollar banks. In the beginning they’re portrayed as powerful, in control, respected, and even feared. At the end though, after all the shit goes down, they’re a little more humble, baffled, and teary because they’ve misjudged everything so bad. So, one can reasonably draw the conclusion from this movie that women are handy if you’re feeling down and need a pep talk but if you put them in a position of authority or huge responsibility they’re gonna fuck it up. According to these movies that is.

PROS- both offer reasonable running times which is a nice shift from self-righteous Hollywood Oscar-bait movies which usually bloat into the three hour range. Concussion feels a lot longer than it is though, like a visit with an elderly relative. Everybody acts really actorly and sincerely and accomplished and good. The editor of The Big Short is a fucking champ. Dude, you crushed it. Both movies are complicated narratives stuffed with facts, information, and characters distilled down to more or less essential dramatic elements. No easy task, but done well.

CONS-The feeling you get when they’re over. Nothing has changed and maybe things have gotten worse and you’re still just a little poor person at the mercy of billion dollar corporations.

Louis Gossett Jr. would’ve been great as Will Smith’s dad, puttering around the house, being a curmudgeon, getting all the great lines about the grid-iron and hand-in-the-dirt stuff. But I don’t think he’s allowed on Wall Street.