Monday, August 27, 2012

#453. Tony Scott, Part 3

So as you know, the death of Tony Scott seems to have hit a nerve with me.  I'm probably as guilty as anyone of taking him for granted while he was alive.  In two previous posts, I've tried to atone for that now that he's dead, because in looking at his legacy I've begun to appreciate what he actually accomplished.

This time I'm focusing on a single film, 2005's Domino.  This was actually one of those movies I was always meaning to watch, admittedly mostly because of my ongoing obsession with Keira Knightley, although later because it was another link in the chain of Mickey Rourke's comeback.

Now that I've seen it, Domino is clearly Tony's effort to make another True Romance, an indy-style and which is to say a Quentin Tarantino style flick.  More personal isn't really the way to phrase it, but more intimate, a clearer portrait of a life that's a little screwed up.

The life in question belongs to Domino Harvey, daughter of the late actor Lawrence Harvey, who somehow ended up becoming a bounty hunter.  For most critics (saying that there was ever any other kind of audience for Domino is probably being generous), none of it made sense.  It makes perfect sense.  Tony deliberately uses footage from Lawrence Harvey's performance in The Manchurian Candidate as a counterpoint to Domino's life.  Domino herself explains how she ended up becoming a bounty hunter, rather explicitly, a direct reaction to her loss of faith in the world, facilitated by a father who died early and a mother who made decisions that made no sense to Domino.  There's a running gag about Beverly Hills 90210, and two of the actors from the show even end up becoming a part of the story.

For Domino, life only started having meaning when she quit worrying about it.  (She died in real life not long before the release of the movie.)  She rejected the very culture that modern society seems to have embraced in earnest (see: the Kardashians, everyone's obsession over the royal wedding last year).  Bounty hunters are a uniquely modern version of law enforcement.  They're our cowboys, samurais.  The funny thing is, Hollywood has pretty much stayed away from them.  Maybe that's thanks to Dog.  (Thanks Dog!)  So Domino is unique as a rare glimpse into that world.

Yes, it's extremely unconventional (at least at the time; Joe Carnahan did this movie on steroids in Smokin' Aces), highly stylized.  Some critics seem to think these are cardinal sins.  Well, as I said, this was Tony trying to make a more Tarantino style of movie after his experience with True Romance.  He made it nonlinear, which Tarantino's script for Romance had been and Tony had deliberately undone.  More than a decade later, he made good.  It's worth noting that he was trying to make Domino for a decade.  The dude knew when to take a hint.  Some people actually wanted to see Domino.  When he actually made it, those same people forgot.  That's the kind of career Tony had.  He just couldn't get any respect.

Knightley is gnarly in the movie, and Rourke is typically awesome.  I'd go so far as to say that if you want to understand what kind of actor he became versus whatever he'd been before he went back to boxing, then Domino is essential.  Edgar Ramirez is the third lead, and Knightley's love interest, and he's got exactly the look Gerard Butler had in several of his movies before hitting big with 300.  Actually, it's the same one Russell Crowe had in The Quick and the Dead.  Sadly, Domino is probably going to define Edgar's career for English speaking audiences, but it's a good way to be remembered.  Also, Lucy Liu is in it.  Lucy Liu is the mark that a movie is worth noting.

Long story short, Domino was worth the wait.  I kept hesitating because I didn't know what to expect.  When I finally settled myself down and realized what kind of filmmaker Tony Scott was, I stopped avoiding it.  Thank goodness.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

#452. Tony Scott, Part 2

I've continued to think about Tony Scott's legacy.  I'm watching True Romance as I write this.  Last time I wrote about him, I tried to help redefine his legacy, which has always been mired in the conflict between popular entertainment and critical approval, best signified by Top Gun, his most notable and enduring success.

That was his second feature-length movie, by the way.  He followed it up with Beverly Hills Cop II, which made the real trend from all his films the most obvious it was ever going to get.

Tony Scott made movies about relationships.  This might be due to the fact that he would forever be identified as "the brother of Ridley Scott."  Even Top Gun is better known as a Tom Cruise film than a Tony Scott film.  Beverly Hills Cop II, in case the title isn't clear enough, is the sequel to a buddy flick starring Eddie Murphy (and some white dude, just like 48 HRS and Trading Places).  Buddy flicks were huge in the '80s.  Top Gun is a buddy flick, actually.  Of course, it's got a lot of relationships in it: girlfriends, rivals, mentors, all of them revolving around Cruise.

Don't believe me yet?  Tony's first movie was The Hunger, which is a vampire relationship movie.  Following Beverly Hills Cop II, there's Revenge, which might be considered The Hunger without vampires.  Then there's Days of Thunder, in which Tony tentatively dips his toes back into the big action of Top Gun, again with Cruise, though it's better known as a Cruise/Kidman flick.  Then there's The Last Boy Scout, which is another buddy flick, this time the '90s version, when the formula was no longer so successful.  True Romance is Quentin Tarantino's love story, and also Tony's version of Tarantino, Terrence Malick, Coen Brothers.

Then there's Crimson Tide, the movie where Tony realized Top Gun could be done as a serious adult drama.  The Fan has the misfortune to star Robert De Niro, whom critics have tried really hard to hate since the end of the '80s.  Otherwise it's another quintessential '90s movie, what Oliver Stone was doing, and what Tarantino was doing, except this was Tony's version.  I figure it'll be rediscovered.  As was usual in his career, when Tony struck out with a different kind of movie, he went mainstream again with Enemy of the State, which is a Will Smith version of a '70s movie, complete with Gene Hackman doing a version of one of his own '70s films, The Conversation.  Tony was always a big fan of Hollywood tradition.  That's why he was one of two directors (along with Stone) to direct a Tarantino film other than Tarantino.  Spy Game was another attempt to redo the '70s, with Brad Pitt pinch-hitting for Paul Newman as Robert Redford's buddy.

What Tony finally started to realize at this point that he'd made a huge impact on Hollywood lore with his own instincts.  That's what Man on Fire is all about, Tony getting back to his own style, and doing it with style, and Denzel Washington.  The relationship this time is with a little girl (but not in that way!), something last successfully attempted in the '70s, with Bob De Niro.  Then there was Domino, about all kinds of strange relationship; Deja Vu, which is really about Washington's relationship with time; The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which was a dreaded remake, and so again Tony's relationship with Hollywood lore; and Unstoppable, about everyone's relationship with a runaway train.

Now, even though I started to be a little lighthearted there, I hope you get my point.  Roger Ebert wrote in his review for Days of Thunder that it was like a copy-paste of Tom Cruise's greatest hits to that point in his career, as if that's a bad thing.  I prefer to believe that a creator ruminating on the same themes has the constant chance to perfect their vision, that seeing variations on anything has the chance for anyone to see something more clearly.  Some people seem to think that's lazy and unproductive.  What's unproductive is refusing to see quality when it presents itself.  That would be something of the career of Tony Scott.

Most people are so busy promoting their own awesomeness that they walk around with a big dark set of blinders their whole life.  The world is always going to be open to interpretation, but sometimes there really is a wrong way to view it.  Who's ever going to argue that Hitler was anything but a delusional nutbag and be taken seriously by an objective standpoint?  But stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, have a look at Tony Scott's films.  Go ahead and start with Top Gun, but by all means, figure out your own relationship with him.  I'm sure you'll find something useful there.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

#451. Watching Bad Sci-Fi Movies

Having a fairly substantial movie collection can sometimes lead to analysis paralysis.  There are so many options that it's difficult not to overthink what you want to watch.

Blockages of this nature can sometimes be solved by watching those entries that you haven't gotten around to for whatever reason.  For instance, I've gotten several collections of older movies, but I don't necessarily like watching older movies, since they invariably show their age.  This is made more difficult when said older movies aren't exactly Citizen Kane.

One of these collections is 50 Movie Pack - Sci-Fi Classics.  You know what I'm talking about.  "Classics" is a term used very loosely, or not by every definition.  Completists and enthusiasts will no doubt thoroughly enjoy themselves with the included films, but they're a little harder to swallow for those merely dallying their way through them.

In short, it can be something of a chore.  I've watched the first six discs of the 12 included in the last few days.  I have few positive things to say about the 26 movies I've watched so far.

One of those positives is the increasing awareness that Star Trek did not invent the sci-fi babe.  The highlight of that theme so far has been Helga Line, who costars as the villain in Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon.  I'd include a picture of her here, but she looks infinitely better in this movie than any of the assembled Google images (which is not to say the appearance is basically her Blue Steel).

She Gods of Shark Reef is one of the films dominated by beautiful women, but it doesn't compare to Horrors of Spider Island.  For the record.

Side B of Disk 2 is the real money so far.  It features Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, both of which are re-edits of an earlier Russian film, the latter directed by Peter Bogdanovich.  They're both fascinating, and I have little doubt that I'll be watching both of them again. The first one features Basil Rathbone, who appeared in The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn.  (For some reason, I frequently reference Errol Flynn when talking about movies and movie stars, even though I'm not actually a huge fan of him.)

Attack of the Monsters is the fifth film for giant Japanese turtle monster Gamera, who apparently comes to the defense of children.  It's kind of morbidly fascinating.  Gamera returns, or rather debuts, in Gammera the Invincible.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians obviously cashes in on the holiday cheer of the period, with its own (fairly thin) jingle (half of which is kids spelling "Santa Claus").  It's actually worth a look.  On the flipside are two flicks crafted from Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, a short-lived TV show.  They're also worth a look.

The fifth disk is full of Hercules.  Four different actors portray the mythic hero (none of which are Kevin Sorbo).  The other thing notable about Tyrants of Babylon is that Hercules this time looks very much like Henry Cavill (Superman in the forthcoming Man of Steel) as seen in Immortals.  Steve Reeves, not to be confused with George Reeves (another Superman) is the final Hercules, and the only one I know by name.

The whole sixth disc is a huge waste of time, including an early film from the late Brandon Lee.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#450. In My Life

I've had a strange year.  I'm counting back literally to last August, just so you know.

A year ago, everyone knew Borders was going out of business.  It was kind of hard to overlook, with all the shiny banners declaring liquidation and all.  I guess I'm still not a hundred percent over that.  Most people will say it was inevitable, either because of the economy or the continuing transition to e-readers, but a part of me wishes for reasons beyond the fact that it was my job for five years that Borders could still be open today.

A year ago, I thought a lot of things would be different today.  I had a friend who made me a verbal agreement to work in his starter business.  A year ago I still believed I was going to have that waiting for me when the company permanently closed its doors in September.  As a result of that belief, I did not make a very strong effort to begin looking for new employment until we closed for the last time.  A year ago I made used up the last of my personal time spending time with my sister, whom I've lived with or close to since 2005.  Her husband was deployed (he's been deployed or otherwise elsewhere for a good chunk of their marriage).  The sales were crazy.  I could use a break.  I had no idea that I would spend the rest of the year living with her.

Actors will say that it's murder going through the audition process.  It's worse going through the job search process.  Last year we all became familiar with the "Occupy..." movement.  By last fall I was so completely sympathetic with that cause I seriously considered becoming a beatnik and joining them.  Except I had to look for a job.  I also wrote Yoshimi during that time.  It was my own preoccupation, that and looking for a job.  I didn't go on a flood of interviews (strangely enough), but it was always a terror when one came along.  Is it me or do interviewers not get that the person in front of them needs that job more than they need the interview?  (Rhetorical question, but believe me, I could wax on that subject for ages.)

I actually was hired in December, and started a new job in January.  Or, I should say I started in Hell.  I don't particularly want to go into the details, but suffice it to say, but Mike Rowe shouldn't be concerned with dirty jobs.  He should be concerned with psychologically terrorizing jobs (as in Office Space).  I think the greatest condemnation of humanity in the past twenty years is that Scott Adams has only succeeded in amusing the forsaken.  Call me Dilmonk.

Anyway, that didn't last.  In May, and partially due to my own temperament (let's not quibble, though), I was back on the hunt.  This time it was worse.  This time it was more desperate, partly to the fact that my sister and her husband, newly returned, started making bold sweeping changes in their own lives.  My safety net, in effect, was rolling itself up.

Last month, when I imagined the walls falling in on me, I sold my comic book collection (haven't quite gotten around to writing at Comics Reader since, for some reason), for what amounted to an appalling return on a lifetime investment.  The good news is that it got me what I needed at the time, and helped clear some space.  It was something I would never have imagined myself doing, not in total like that, but I've been managing.  I've still been trying to convince myself that trying to recapture some of those lost memories isn't necessary, and certainly not right away.  I am still not exactly made of money.

Some of this has been a little grating on the ego.  Last fall during the start of this I started to try and make improvements on my self-sufficiency, branching out and trying some things to extend the brand, as it were.  I launched the Austen Paradise online bookstore (no link, but if you really want, you can find one elsewhere on this page), which has still gone absolutely nowhere, and Hub City, the latest spin-off blog, writing about my books, perhaps as a coping mechanism, now that my most direct source to books was gone.  I started trying to find new ways to make my name more visible s a writer.  That's how I edged that much closer to being published in comics (still waiting to hear back on how that's actually going, which may explain why I still haven't gotten around to writing about Dr. Seuss).  Earlier this year I started a collaboration on another comic book venture, and that's taking its time, too.  I get it: Patience, young Padawan.

And of course last month I released another self-published book.  Last April I did A-to-Z, which got me some new readers, the first dedicated ones I've ever had here, even though this is the decade anniversary of Scouring Monk.  This week I started a new job, one that I always swore would be a last resort, and so that's exactly where I am at the moment.  There aren't any tropical drinks here, but at least I'm working again.

In a lot of ways, I've come full circle since last August.  I'm back exactly where I started, sitting in the same apartment, working another low-paying job, and really no closer to my goals than a year ago.  The only thing that remains the same is my self-belief, the inner voice saying that none of this really matters, that I've known exactly who I am since high school, and what I'm going to do with my life.  The outline is fine, it's the squiggly  marks filling it in that keep changing.  I've always been that kind of artist anyway.

Am I writing any of this for sympathy?  Absolutely not.  Even if you care, you can't possibly really care.  In an abstract world, it's impossible to be anything more than passive about the majority of the things you come across on a daily basis.

I guess that's what I'm coming to terms with.  I've been struggling to figure out what this blog still means to me.  If anything, my new readers are something of a mixed blessing.  How do I entertain you, now that I have you?  My philosophy has always been, entertain myself first.  During A-to-Z, that's exactly what I did, and yet somehow I started believing that my readers suddenly had expectations.  Then I tried to figure out what they were, and that started limiting what I ended up writing about.  If I wrote the wrong thing, it risked alienating these readers.  I'm not a blogger who does what the most popular bloggers do.  I don't gush over other bloggers.  I figure if that's what you want, there's always Facebook.  I'm not here to make friends.  I'm here to be myself.

Maybe I can get back to blogging that.  My job situation has been a mess during the past year.  I've gone over the gamut of what anyone can feel about employment, about feeling like the world thinks they can make a contribution.  That's not what I want to feel when I type away at something that's supposed to just be me being me.  This is not a job.  I think even I started to miss that point.

Hopefully I won't do that again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

#449. Tony Scott

I was more than a little shocked to learn of Tony Scott's death earlier today.

He apparently committed suicide yesterday.  I for one could be more shocked or saddened.  He was one of those great talents Hollywood has enjoyed in recent years that critics could just not figure out.  For most critics, the only way to make a good movie is to either make it so completely slick that you could ride it in a water park missing its water, or so dramatically serious that only critics will ever care about it.

Tony Scott did not make movies for critics.  He made them for mass audiences, and he was usually exactly on target.  Some filmmakers working for mass audiences are more successful (Michael Bay), but they're also a lot harder to appreciate once you get past the big theatrical run.  There's a reason why Tony was working on a sequel to Top Gun more than two decades later.  That's a movie that still resonates.  Maybe its plausibility gleefully hurdles through several leaps of logic, but that's one image Tom Cruise will never be able to sabotage, no matter how people can't swallow Scientology or his increasingly convoluted public association with Katie Holmes.

Like a lot of people, Ridley Scott was always my favorite out of the brothers, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Tony was brilliant in his own right.  True Romance is one of the early Quentin Tarantino movies directed by another filmmaker, but it's still exactly Tony Scott.  Tony was someone who understood the chaos of big egos and big events.  It's a wonder he never produced the Academy Awards.  He worked with Denzel Washington several times.  Other than Spike Lee, it's hard to see another director who has better shaped Washington's career.  My favorite collaboration between the two is Unstoppable, Tony's last film.  It's about a runaway train that requires a fair bit of heroics, from Washington, Chris Pine, and even Rosario Dawson.  In reality, it would only have taken one Tony Scott.

Why he ended up taking his own life is a matter for people who actually knew him.  All I can speculate on is how tough it must have been to watch his brother get all the respect.  Tony definitely deserved more, and he will receive more in the years to come, when fans new and old will have the benefit of examining a career in full.  His were always efforts that I wanted to make time for, and now I have that much better a reason to do so.

I know I have some funny ideas about quality, but Tony Scott is a talent that successfully blurred the line between popular art (which can too easily be dismissed as brainless) and the stuff critics like (whatever that is).  As long as it's done well, what's the difference?  Rest easy knowing that not all of us have such a problem with that, Tony.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

#448. Upcoming Movies

I've been reading Entertainment Weekly since 1996, and my favorite issues are always the seasonal previews for movie releases.

Naturally I'm writing this now because another such issue has just been released.  Surprisingly, I've never done this before at Scouring Monk, but here's a breakdown of the movies I will either definitely see or catch eventually or just hope enough people catch, because they are the most interesting projects of the bunch:

Looper (slated for release 9/28)
Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
Much has already been made of this movie, mostly to the fact that Gordon-Levitt plays a younger version of Willis with a little help from the makeup department.  It's got a cool sci-fi twist to it, and perhaps more significantly, features Blunt, whom I've adored for years now.

The Master (9/14)
Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
The hook for those in the know is that this movie's about Scientology, but what I care about is Phoenix's big comeback, which I've been waiting for.

Liberal Arts (9/14)
Elizabeth Olsen, Josh Radnor
Radnor stars in How I Met Your Mother, and previously put together the film Happythankyoumoreplease, and if that's not enough to interest me, I've been meaning to give Olsen a chance.  She's the younger sister of the twins, and has serious buzz.

Argo (10/12)
Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston
I just saw the trailer for this movie, Affleck's third directing effort, and it looks like nothing else I've seen.  Could be very interesting, like Munich crossed with Galaxy Quest, if you can picture that.

Cloud Atlas (10/26)
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent
The latest from the Wachowskis is a mindbending adaption of a mindbending book.  Sometimes ambition is itself worth the effort.

Taken 2 (10/5)
Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace
The first was a revelation.  Even though Neeson has been doing this kind of movie ever since, it's impossible to not be at least curious about the second.

Seven Psychopaths (10/12)
Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson
The only way critics like Farrell is if he's being a hooligan in a smaller release.  I'm there for every Farrell movie regardless, and he always delivers.

Alex Cross (10/19)
Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns
Perry impressed me in his limited Star Trek appearance.  I've yet to see a Madea movie, but I respect the success Perry has received from them.  This also features Fox, another actor I'll follow anywhere.

The Big Wedding (10/26)
Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Katherine Heigl
Even if I don't see all of them, I try to stay abreast of De Niro and Heigl's movies.  I find them to be more reliable than is generally reported.

Chasing Mavericks (10/26)
Gerard Butler, Elisabeth Shue
The above statement holds true of Butler.  Plus this one comes from Curtis Hanson.

Killing Them Softly (10/19)
Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini
Pitt and director Andrew Dominik previously collaborated on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  That's enough to make me a guaranteed viewer.

Life of Pi (11/21)
I loved the book.  It's directed by Ang Lee.  Seriously, who wants to say they missed out on this?

Anna Karenina (11/16)
Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
It's got Knightley, for one, continuing her crushing of period dramas, and is directed by Joe Wright, who released the awesome Hanna last year.

Silver Linings Playbook (11/21)
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Director David O. Russell is dependable talent, and he's got another fine cast to support him.  You do the math.

Lincoln (11/9)
Daniel Day-Lewis, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Directed by Steven Spielberg.  That for one ought to sell people on it.  That and the subject.  That and Day-Louis playing the subject.

The Man with the Iron Fists (11/2)
Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, RZA
I love me some chop-fu, and this one features Russell Crowe.  I mean, seriously.

Rise of the Guardians (11/21)
Voices of Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine
I love to dabble in the animated flicks when they truly look interesting, and this one looks interesting.

Skyfall (11/9)
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem
It's Craig's third Bond.  I mean, c'mon.

Flight (11/2)
Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle
Washington returns to dramatic movies, and Robert Zemeckis returns to live action movies.  Hard to miss.

Les Miserables (12/14)
Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Every single line of dialogue could be sung, and I'd still show up for that cast.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12/24)
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis
I'll show up for this one, just to see if Peter Jackson has gotten better control over his artistic sensibilities and meshed them with a more cohesive story.

Zero Dark Thirty (12/19)
Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler
This is the bin Laden movie, but more important my next big opportunity to see Chastain, who owned 2011. And it's directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Django Unchained (12/25)
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Quentin Tarantino's next movie.  And a terrific cast.  'Nuff said.

On the Road (12/21)
 Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst
I've never read the book, but I'm game for the movie.

Hyde Park on the Hudson (12/7)
Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams
Check this out: Murray plays FDR.  I mean, what's not to love about that?

Deadfall (12/7)
Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde
If it stars Bana, I'm there.

Playing for Keeps (12/7)
Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel
What I said about Butler earlier.  Plus it's got Biel in it.

Twenty-seven movies for the final four months of the year?  Not too shabby, 2012.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

#447. The Artist

The Artist was deemed by the Academy Awards to be the best film of 2011.  Should you care?

It's a silent movie made by the French, and if none of that concerns you, then maybe it's safe to proceed.  Basically, it's a movie about change.  The lead characters symbolize the stars of the silent and emerging "talkie" era, whose careers cross paths and lead to a romance that almost stubbornly doesn't really happen.  In many ways, it's a deeply conventional experience that draws on nostalgia and charm to work, and generally speaking, it succeeds.

There's a lot of distortion necessary to make it work.  The French actress representing the "talkie" era is probably the last person anyone would have cast or accepted at the time to represent the mainstream.  She's a more convincing flapper than anything.  The French actor who represents the silent era is cast in the Douglas Fairbanks/Errol Flynn mold, but curiously spends the whole film with a remarkable resemblance to Walt Disney.  Since it's mostly a silent movie, the actor's troubles are more about pride than ability.  The actors who didn't survive the transition were the ones who discovered their voice really wasn't their greatest strength.  The Artist takes it for granted that the audience will just assume it was always a matter of audiences and studios and not the talent in front of the camera who made it impossible to make it in both forms of film.  Then, it's extremely simplistic in almost every sense.

Is it worth your time?  As a novelty, absolutely.  It's a movie that thoroughly understands that audiences now expect dialogue as a matter of course, with a recurring theme of the actor refusing to speak at key moments, as if the underscore that it knows that the audience knows that you must understand that it is a silent movie, and not even specifically about silent movies, though they are used as the main plot device.  It's a gimmicky experience in exactly the way Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or 300 were, but one that critics will adore because there's no chance the unwashed masses will embrace it.  It's downright cloying, but mostly in a good way.  There's an adorable dog in it!

Memorable films experiences are as much about capturing the moment as creating one.  It just so happens that we often look to the past in order to understand the present.  The Artist is by definition backward-looking, but it's also a movie that examines the struggle of accepting change, which is something everyone in every era can appreciate, and it does so in a way that for its own time is so far from the common and unlikely to be duplicated very soon that it can't help but stand out, and you don't have to be a snooty critic to appreciate that.

Like any foreign film, with or without captions, the audience for something like The Artist will always be limited.  By taking an experience that in so many ways is a product of the past, this is a film that reclaims history and gives it a new context.  Silent movies can still be relevant.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

#446. Total Recall

I finally saw Total Recall today. You may know this movie as what many have labelled another unnecessary remake. The thing is, the 1990 version wasn't even the first one. It was originally "We Can Remember It Wholesale for You" from one of Hollywood's favorite writers, Philip K. Dick. The only relevant item to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film is the title. Why people are suddenly so hot about the holiness of that film is a little beyond me. It would be like saying Predator can only be remembered for Arnold's participation.  I love the Governator as much as anyone else, but it's something of a stretch to say that Total Recall as a film property cannot be considered in any other sense than the version starring a gigantically-muscled actor who somehow managed to convince some people that he can be an everyman.

The new Total Recall stars Ireland's everyman, Colin Farrell, the guy everyone in Hollywood was falling all over themselves a decade ago to work with.  He's the epitome of the commodity that creative types love but whose commercial appeal is limited.  He's never been Tom Cruise (but was his costar in Spielberg's Minority Report, also based on a Philip K. Dick movie, and arguably the precedent to Farrell starring in this one), and he probably never will be.  Hey, he's starred in a Woody Allen movie (Cassandra's Dream), and Woody has never had a blockbuster.  Sometimes it's really about the quality of the product.

I would want anyone to argue that the first Total Recall will really stand up in quality a century from now.  The new one could make that case.  It's not a classic, but visually, it will endure far longer.  It has a timeless sensibility that cinema has only started to reach on a consistent basis (visionaries like Orson Welles were doing it seventy years ago, and as such were lightyears ahead of their time).

Well anyway, I'm not here to talk about the first version.  As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason at all to talk about the one while talking about the other.  I won't go so far as to compare the new Total Recall to Humphrey Bogart's Maltese Falcon, but it's enough to say that there were two earlier versions of that movie, and they might as well not even exist today.  They're anecdotes.  To say that a movie, especially a hit movie, cannot be remade is to suggest that there's a perfect version of anything.  No, what that really says is that one is completely incapable of removing their own memories from an idea that existed before them and will exist long after they're gone.

Which is kind of funny, because Total Recall is all about memory.  Actually, this Total Recall is also about revolution, and so it's more timely than timeless just at the moment.  I've been reading a string of literature lately about revolution, entirely by coincidence, and I've begun to alter my views of revolution.  People are always going to be unhappy with the status quo.  It goes with a lot of historic ignorance to say that today is much worse than yesterday as far as the social injustices we must face on a daily basis.  Yes, we must always struggle for improvement, but to suggest that the only way to achieve it is through radical methods is something we're uniquely suited in the post-9/11 age to reexamine.  Total Recall in some ways speaks to a revolution more than two hundred years older, the birth of America, and perhaps it's a little odd to suggest now that maybe those Tories weren't so wrong questioning all those radicals, those agitators.  No, our Founding Fathers weren't terrorists, but some instances they might as well have been.  The new Star Wars films also have a thing or two to say about revolution, from a number of perspectives.  What are we to make of it?  Well, what does Total Recall say?

In many ways, Colin Farrell's character doesn't care a thing about revolution.  He should, presented as being a member of the oppressed colonists trying to make a living in unfair working conditions, being denied promotions as a wave of cheaper replacements threaten to bring about what can be considered a sinister new world order, all under the control of a corrupt government.  Yet he really doesn't.  He chooses to be a secret agent, working both sides, when he finally goes to the illicit headquarters of the memory drug program at the center of the story.  Yes, this is a drug movie, a drug story.  Philip K. Dick was always writing about the corruption of perception, and what is that but an allegory of the effect drugs have on the mind?  What else have we as a society been grappling with for the past forty years?  There's the argument that making it legal solves every problem still plaguing us about it, but it doesn't touch the central issue: what does taking drugs really say about us?  It's an escape.  Farrell's character doesn't want revolution, he wants escape.

As a byproduct of his trip to Rekall, he ends up having to escape one crazy situation after another.  His touchstone from one life becomes the enemy in another, and vice versa.  By the end of it, he no longer care what's real and what isn't.  All he wants is stability and peace again.  He doesn't care that the revolution has won.  The guy who prods him to do it in the first place says he's done it three times.  I'd say as an addiction, that number's a little low, but Rekall is a different kind of drug.  Total Recall would be the first time a movie has fully immersed us into someone losing themselves under the influence.  Sure, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Requiem for a Dream went there, too, but they settled for the surreal rather than trying to discover the destination, and if it's worth it.

Farrell doesn't need to do a lot of acting so much as reacting, taking the rollercoaster ride, and at a certain point, he's virtually swallowed whole by the experience.  Maybe that's the point.  If any actor can pull off a performance like that, it's Farrell, who's either the guy people resent or the one they begrudgingly love.  Maybe that makes him the perfect star for a movie like Total Recall, which will be dismissed in its original release, but will come to have greater meaning in years to come, much like Farrell's whole career.

If you're still wondering where Mars went, then maybe you're one of the people still waiting for the revolution to be televised.  The planet you're looking for is right here.

Monday, August 06, 2012

#445. Spending Some Quality Time w/Flickchart

I've been obsessing about flickchart for a while.  Trying to make it complete, mostly, I've spent a good deal of time ranking movies on the site, until finally I just started adding them in, no longer content to take the Zen approach and trust that the algorithms of the system worked in my favor.  I now have 1,420 movies ranked, some of them more loosely than others.  There are some movies that are not movies as such, not theatrical releases, and some of them have bloated my numbers.  Flickchart estimates that I've spent 113 days watching movies.  No, that's just the amount of time I spent ranking!

Anyway, I've got my top ten back under control.  You'll see in the earlier post linked above that I seemed to have come up with what was for me an entirely new composition of my ten favorite movies.  That was all fine and good, and I would have been content to keep it that way.  Except Alexander kept calling me.  Alexander has been my favorite movie for seven years, and it does not want to give up the spot, even to Quentin Tarantino.  Alexander stars my favorite actor, Colin Farrell, and is directed by my favorite director, Oliver Stone.  It has a terrific cast, terrific music, and a terrific story (no matter how it's arranged; there are three distinct cuts to enjoy).  It is generally despised by everyone else.  But it is still my favorite movie, no matter how much flickchart wants to manipulate things.

The rest of my revised but fairly familiar (to me) top ten are:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
(my favorite Brad Pitt)

The Truman Show
(Jim Carrey is my second favorite actor, and this is his best film)

Star Wars
(lifelong favorite)

(Eric Bana & Steven Spielberg, more of my favorites)

Star Trek: First Contact
(my favorite Star Trek)

(Russell Crowe & Ridley Scott, more favorites)

Man on the Moon
(yes, Jim Carrey appears twice)

The Dark Knight
(Heath Ledger & Christopher Nolan, more favorites)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(my favorite Harry Potter)


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