Remembering Robin Williams

robin-williams_1I got the news through social media in the late afternoon, Monday August 11. Comedian and actor Robin Williams was dead, an apparent suicide in his home in unincorporated Tiburon. I was stunned, devastated. It seems odd to say I felt devastated by the passing of someone I’ve never met, never seen in person. But, that’s the only word that came across, devastated. I cried most of the next two hours, feeling sad not only for the loss which robbed us of the funniest man of the last half century, but also for the pain that Williams must have felt, the darkness he must have been surrounded in, that he would risk oblivion to escape it.

Yet, I asked myself, why am I feeling this? Why does this one hurt so much? 2014 has been a dreadful year for celebrity passings, but this wasn’t just a celebrity. This was Robin Williams, and he was like family.

I was born in 1983. By then the TV series “Mork & Mindy” was already in re-runs, and Williams was emerging as a movie star. I remember as a young child watching Williams’ manic Mork bounce around the TV screen, a cartoon character come to life. There was nothing else like him. He radiated energy of pure joy. I can remember thinking he was so child-like it was as if we were already friends. I remember my parents laughing too.

Through the years, Williams was a brother who cracked jokes with you, a cousin who lead you on adventures through never land and Arabian nights alike. His rapid delivery and stream of conscious conversations on late night talk shows really did make him seem otherworldly, and his endless energy always felt like it was transferring, through the screen, into a part of me. He inspired so many, lifted so many people across the world with that energy.

By the time I was a teen and Williams was still doing family movies, I guess I left the imaginary childhood friend behind. Then I began to see his other work, films like Awakenings, and then in 1997, Good Will Hunting, for which he won the Academy Award. He was such a true talent, pouring out that same boundless love in dramatic fashion as well.

A lot of the outpouring of love I’ve read over the last day has been stories of brief encounters that people had with the man over the years. How a simple 10-minute conversation or even a wave has changed people forever. I wish that universal love could have saved him, convinced him to go on. In my grief, I feel responsible somehow, like I should have done something, been there for him somehow. If you know of anyone in your life suffering through sadness or depression, call them. Tell them how much they mean to you. Tell everyone. If this tragic passing can serve as anything, it should be a wake up call that depression is real, it kills, and it’s not going away if we ignore it. If you are struggling with depression yourself, there is help. The North Bay Suicide Prevention Hotline is open 24 hours, 7 days a week at 855.587.6373. Please call.

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2 Days at BottleRock Napa Valley

Matisyahu at BottleRock 2014.

Matisyahu at BottleRock 2014.

What a difference a day makes. This year, I attended the first two of three days of the mega music festival BottleRock Napa Valley. It’s the largest event ever to hit the heart of Napa, CA, the still small-feeling town that somehow agreed to again host the event after last year’s famed financial turmoil and logistical woes ranging from crowd control to noise complaints. This year, a new organizer and scaled-down offerings tried to keep the peace, and they succeeded-mostly.

Day One- May 30:

The weather was the first surprise of the weekend; Friday offered a cool, even breezy afternoon that turned to a chilly evening. Four stages played to 24 bands throughout the day. It was a relatively calm affair that likely saw far less attendees as maybe organizers had hoped. For the most part, the logistical aspects of food and drink lines and bathroom cleanliness was kept in good order, and I saw many festival goers themselves helping to throw away garbage and just be generally decent. Maybe Headliners like the Cure and Sublime with Rome(the guy, not the city) simply brought out equal parts of older and more sedated fans who were content to throw down blankets and relax. Either way, lots of great music happened throughout. Jewish rapper and reggae star Matisyahu delivered an effortless and nicely rocking set of smooth jams and authentic beats, many from his upcoming album, “Akeda,” out on Tuesday, June 3. TV on the Radio wowed me with a continuously intensifying set of their eclectic indie rock and soulful electro pop. Gin Blossoms made the Napa County fairgrounds very “county fair” feeling with their set, but all had a great time. Overall, crowds seemed to not know or care about how much has been made (most of it in jest) of the crop of 90’s radio rock leftovers that filled out the lineup. They sang right along with “Follow You Down” and clapped, mostly in time, with the band through their back catalogue of, ahem, lesser known hits.

Delta Rae SIngs their heart out.

Delta Rae SIngs their heart out.

TV on the Radio's lead singer Tunde Adebimpe casually wows the crowd at BottleRock 2014.

TV on the Radio’s lead singer Tunde Adebimpe casually wows the crowd at BottleRock 2014.

TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone gets into the groove at BottleRock 2014.

TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone gets into the groove at BottleRock 2014.

The Cure really was the gem of this show for me. They are a longtime favorite of mine, yet I’ve only been able to see them live twice before, and it’s been 7 or 8 years since the last time. They were amazing. No way around it. They sounded great, and their setlist was a mash of surprises and staples from their 30 plus years of new wave post punk emo goth melodic pop angst. Robert Smith’s hair was a glorious tangled web of aquanet and Napa winds and Simon Gallup’s tight denim and slicked back hair still make him look like he stepped out of a 1982 Clash video. It was sight to behold. The Cure opened with “Shake Dog Shake,” a surprise choice off their 1985 album, The Top. They played for 2 and a half hours with hits old and new, and I realized how much I do in fact like their more recent material, pitch perfect pops songs and raw, soaring rock riffs. Smith also allowed himself to show off a playful side, dancing and making faces throughout the set, they and everyone else was having the time of their lives. It was only when the festival had to cut the power at 10pm (a price to pay for hosting your outdoor fest in a Napa neighborhood) that the Cure finally left the stage, and only after the crowd of perhaps ten thousand helped Smith finish singing the band’s encore of “Why Can’t I Be You?”

The Cure at BottleRock 2014.

The Cure at BottleRock 2014.

The Cure at BottleRock 2014.

The Cure at BottleRock 2014.

The Cure at BottleRock 2014.

The Cure at BottleRock 2014.

All in all, a nice easy festival experience that I looked forward to repeating again with BottleRock Day 2. I had no idea what I was about to experience.

Day Two- May 31:

“Third Eye Blind can suck my dick.”

Of all the things that I could not have expected happening on BottleRock day 2, Smash Mouth lead singer Steve Harwell talking mad shit about his apparent rivals has to be at the top. You see, these two 90’s rock throwbacks were playing at the same time on Saturday, only one was one the Main Stage, and one wasn’t. Guess who wasn’t. Still, Smash Mouth rocked the house like I could never have expected. I was having fun, dammit! At a Smash Mouth set! My God, I had to get out of there! But I could barely move, suddenly finding myself in the middle of a horde of festival goers packing us tighter and tighter with every song. And then it hit me, there’s a shit-ton of people here today!

Estimates on Saturday were leveled at around 30,00 festival goers. Now, Friday could not have had more than ten thousand attendees, but this day was different. The whole vibe of Saturday was opposite that of Friday. It looked like a younger crowd, beefier, more apt for alcohol. Beer and wines lines were a dozen deep by 2pm, twice that by 4pm. The food trucks felt the pinch as wait times for orders hit a half hour. Bathrooms got gritty. The whole thing got gritty. Suddenly, people were competing for space, competing for views. There was a tension in the air, at least on my radar.

Trebuchet play BottleRock 2014.

Trebuchet play BottleRock 2014.

The day started out well enough, Petaluma band Trebuchet played a fun set of folk rock with great harmonies and cute little ukuleles. Brooklyn indie duo Matt & Kim were the highlight of the early afternoon, running out to meet the crowd from the main stage and practically beaming throughout their energetic and hip set of synth rock. Drummer Kim Schifino’s smile infected the whole crowd, and I’ve rarely witnessed a duo able to get a party going more effectively than these two. L.A. noise punks No Age blew out some eardrums, but sounded awesome on the smaller stage, right before Smash Mouth started taking jabs and downing drinks that weren’t Coca-Cola. After that, the mood seemed to change, couples were bickering more around me. People were stumbling, either from not eating right or not hydrating enough in the sun after drinking heavy craft beers and strong Napa wine. I started to watch my step, if you know what I mean.

Matt & Kim get the party going at BottleRock 2014.

Matt & Kim get the party going at BottleRock 2014.

Weezer plays BottleRock 2014.

Weezer plays BottleRock 2014.

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo rocks out at BottleRock 2014.

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo rocks out at BottleRock 2014.

De La Soul connects with the crowd at BottleRock 2014.

De La Soul connects with the crowd at BottleRock 2014.

But, I’ve totally buried the lead here. Day 2’s headliner was the recently reunited hip hop dream team of Andre 3000 and Big Boi, aka Outkast. The duo have been headlining all the festivals lately, and the general consensus is that they were the big “get” of BottleRock this year, playing it over other major Bay Area festivals like Outside Lands. They were crazy, introduced to the audience in a giant glass case like Magneto at the end of that first X-Men movie. Soon enough, they escaped their confines to perform a blistering, dizzying and all-out electrifying set of hits. The other big evening act was classic rock sister act Heart. Let me tell you, Anne and Nancy Wilson still got it. They sounded amazing, looked spectacular, it was a rock and roll show every step of the way. They, too, got the cut-off treatment at 10pm. But that slight wasn’t nearly as bad as when attendees tried to get out of the festival that night, as 30,00 people attempted to form ONE line that led to shuttles taking folks to the parking areas located out of town. I got the bright idea to leave a little bit early, and still took a good 45 minutes to go from festival gate to car door. I heard reports of people waiting three hours, and fights breaking out over line cutting and such. Not a good way to end the day.

Outkast at BottleRock 2014.

Outkast at BottleRock 2014.

Outkast at BottleRock 2014.

Outkast at BottleRock 2014.

OutKast at BottleRock 2014.

OutKast at BottleRock 2014.

I’m actually glad that I did not get to go to the third and final day of Bottlerock. I know there’s some great acts playing, like Deerhunter and Thee Oh Sees; there’s also some horrible bands playing, like Spin Doctors and Barenaked Ladies. It would have been awesome to see LL Cool J if  for no other reason than to say you did it. But, after two long days of escalating madness, its best I stay out of wonderland this last day. I must say it was much more fun than I anticipated, although I knew for a fact I was going to love the Cure already (biased reporting I know, sue me). Would I try it again next year? Maybe, we’ll have to see the lineup. If you can get Crash Test Dummies to come out for 2015, you’ve got my ticket already spoken for.

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My Take on “the Five Sci-Fi Films You Must Share with Your Teen”

Yesterday, I read a list on the fantastic web site sciencefiction.com about the five sci-fi films to share with your teen. While the list is a great compilation of the best films of the last fifty years, I could not agree with a single entry on the list. Not one. It’s a list that unfortunately takes personal preference over what an actual teenage human would want to watch or even care to sit through. Here I offer my rebuttal: The five films I would share with any teen to actually get them to love science fiction movies.

 

Their list: 2001: A Space Odyssey – This movie will likely kill any teenager who tries to watch it with boredom. I myself, a film buff who loves sci-fi more than most, couldn’t get through 2001 when I was a teenager, no matter how hard I tried. The film is simply too complex, too slow, too abstract to show to a teenage mind. They will hate it.

My choice: Akira – If you’re going to confuse the teenage mind with crazy visuals and an abstract ending, I’d recommend Akira. There’s a lot to speculate about the what actually happens, but trust me, teenagers will respond to the young characters trying to find their way in a world that has nothing to offer them much more than they will to apes and astronauts in business suits. Teenagers will also like the anime style they are used to seeing from late nights on Adult Swim and the freaky musical score. Most importantly, the pacing is far more on their level, especially in the first half of the film-as compared to the silent floating spaceports and slow monotone computers of 2001.

Their list: Alien – A great film, yes. No doubt. But a teenage mind will only really grasp onto the gory chest burst and the “old school” creature design. Teens nowadays don’t appreciate the latex costumes and practical effects the way we do. They’ve seen too much computer effects, even of the same alien creatures from this film. They also won’t sniff a whiff of the feminist undertones; they will simply see another monster movie in space. They’re teens, what can you do?

My choice: John Carpenter’s The Thing – All the tension, all the paranoia, all the claustrophobia and dread of Alien, but the effects of the Thing surpass in terms of sheer gore and horror. This film even has its own chestburster scene if that’s what you really wanted your kid to see, but, if you remember, this one is a bit different; in that one dude’s chest opens like a gaping maw and literally eats another dude’s hands before a head falls off, grows spider legs and crawls away. The kids will love it.

Their list: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – WHY HAVE YOU NOT ALREADY SHOWN YOUR CHILD THIS MOVIE???  What are you waiting for? If your kid is a teenager by the time they see freaking Star Wars, its too late for them. Just abandon hope of making them a geek, because it’ll never happen. You blew it. Kids, both boys and girls, should know all the words to this movie by the time they are ten years old.

My choice: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – This movie rules, but the ear worm scene in the beginning is way too heavy for kids. Trust me. I still get the willies thinking of that scene and I’m 31 years old. But, by the time your kid is a teen, they’ll love Khan’s smooth yet menacing villainous tones and they’ll instantly get the humor behind Captain Kirks infamous “Khaaaaan!” More importantly, they’ll learn everything they need to know about friendship and altruism from Spock’s selfless actions at the climax, and it’s a lesson so dearly needed in our times. (And, yes, Star Trek Into Darkness does a lot of the same stuff but it fails to convey the same emotion or impact.)

Their List: Blade Runner – Again, this is a near perfect movie, one of the best ever to be sure. But, these kids today, they don’t respect the classics like they should. And this one is just a little too… how do I put it? It opens with a conversation about a turtle on its back. Throughout, we are presented with a bunch of creepy animatronic dolls, weird synth jazz music and Harrison Ford (their hero from Star Wars, which they’ve already seen a million times, right?) getting rough with a woman. Not sure that screams “sci-fi is cool” for todays generation.

My choice: Children of Men ­­– I really shouldn’t have to say anything. This is the best sci-fi dystopian film of the last twenty years, hands down. It’s gritty and gripping–from the opening blast, to the long takes of street warfare, to the haunting images of lost art delicately hanging in the background. This amazing film feels more real than anything else on this list,  and it’s one that any teenager can instantly obsess over.

Their list: The Matrix – The author of this list himself starts off this entry with “Let’s get this out of the way: Keanu Reeves is not a good actor and the Wachowskis are not good directors.” Okay, let me stop you there. The Matrix is a cool idea splattered on screen by a slop bucket of a production that never feels real or authentic, and is only further embarrassed by unwatchable sequels. The at-the-time revolutionary bullet dodging effects will be ho-hum to any teen today and the whole thing just feels dated, like the trench coats these “hackers” all wear.

My choice: Dark City – This film is both sublimely directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow), and amazingly acted all around by the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt, with leading man Rufus Sewell delivering the performance of his career. This one is probably most responsible for my love of sci-fi as a teenager. I saw it when I was 15 and it’s still one of my all time favorites. The film sets such a perfect noir mood in a sinister city that literally bends to the will of mysterious entities. There is not one single minute of Dark City that is not immensely satisfying and unbelievably intriguing. It’s the kind of film that allows your own mind to wander through the black horizons of imagination, searching out that one perfect day at Shell Beach.

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MusicfestNW 2011 In Review

This last week/weekend found most of downtown Portland and beyond dominated by the massive musical festival that is the annual MFNW. Set over 5 hot and muggy summer days and dozens of venues around the city, it featured an outdoor stage in Pioneer Court House Square and acts ranging from the local to international. Here’s a smattering of what I caught, a fraction of the action to be sure.

Sebadoh by Daniel Cronin

My first show of the fest was one of the biggest. A headlining set by the recently reunited Archers of Loaf and a supporting set by Sebadoh, with local duo Viva Voce opening. Set in the sweltering Crystal Ballroom, the show was a shot of nostalgia with both “The Doh and The Loaf,” as Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow put it, sharing the bill at a venue show for the first time in, well, ever. Sebadoh’s set was marked by Barlow and compatriot Jason Lowenstein switching off from sludgy, slanted indie pop, to straight up punk thrashing. The trio perfectly set the stage for Archers of Loaf, and the influential 90’s rockers shot through a catalogue crossing set featuring a band that is a little older, and a little easier on the gear, but no less exciting. The wide eyed grins coming from generations of fans after the show spoke of that.

Friday was a younger version of Thursdays events, starting at the Star Theater with Seattle troublemakers BOAT cruising through a set of catchy, hooky indie rock with a Pavement-esque appeal and a deadpanned passion that had audiences signing along and throwing confetti like some kind of  house party. To contrast to that, Dirty Beaches played a set over at Dante’s with a minimal and anti-pop approach. Songwriter Alex  Zhung Hai utilizes prerecorded beats and a dissonant guitar to accompany his growling vocals in what could be a primordial soup of rock and roll. A very surreal set of music. Following that, back at the Star Theater, San Francisco psyche rockabilly band Thee Oh Sees absolutely tore the place apart with their hyperactive roots and punk rock.

Thee Oh Sees by Andy Wright

For all the frenzy and excitement of the first two days, the weekend was downright pleasant, though no less scorching. Saturday saw an outdoor show at Pionner Court House Square that featured some local and not-so-local acts. Opening up was ambient producer Eluvium, aka Portland’s Matthew Cooper, who makes wonderful music to watch shadows dance across buildings to. Next up, beloved Portland ensemble Typhoon played an appropriately rousing and spirited set. After that followed sets by Brooklyn scenesters The Antlers and Austin’s instrumental post rockers Explosions In The Sky. From there, Avi Buffalo and Blind Pilot played at the Crystal Ballroom. While the young and eager Avi Buffalo suffered from both equipment and banter failures, not to mention a sloppy set, Portland’s Blind Pilot saved the day by putting forth a solid set of both folky harmonic tunes and and their newer, more rock leaning soon-to-be-hits. This show was their official album release for We Are The Tide, and by the reaction they got at the Crystal Ballroom, bet on Blind Pilot to really take off this year.

OK, enough puns, down to the last day. With festival fatigue setting in, it was nice that Sunday was the shortest day of the week, with only the outdoor show downtown happening. Cass McCombs delivered a sublime set of music, most of it off his recently released album Wit’s End, and all of it stunning in it’s melodic simplicity. An artist who can do very much with a minimal effort, it would be nice to see him again live, maybe in a more intimate setting and one with less distracting circumstances. Headliners Band of Horses were the main attraction of the show,  and they played a fun and lively set to be sure. Thankfully, a few cuts off their superior debut album made it on the set list, as well as a few new as yet still untitled tracks that could have been worse. All in all, a fitting end to the long week.

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The New 52: DC Comics Starts Over (Sort of) with Justice League #1

As you may know by now, DC Comics is scrapping (almost) all of the last 80 or so years of their Comics and starting over with a fresh batch of 52 different #1 titles, including re-boots of every character from Superman on down. It’s a bold move, a polarizing one, with the potential to cost the publisher as many fans as it awards them. I, for one, am exactly the kind of reader DC is trying to pick up. I’ve been collecting since I was 12, but for the last ten years only pick up a handful of books a year due to budget and continuity concerns. For example, I tried following the ‘Death of Bruce Wayne’ plots last year but got lost quickly and gave up. Now, with all new plots and clean slates, I will be (tenatively) checking out a  few titles to see if this is something I can get into. After reading Justice League #1 however, it’s no sure bet.

This #1 is officially the first title of the new Universe, the only one released this week before DC starts pumping them out a dozen a week. This is our first look at a new, younger, more current group of classic superheroes. With seven figures blasting off our cover, we delve into Justice League #1. And we get…cops chasing Batman.

Huh. That…that seems like pretty familiar territory. As the text tells us, it’s “Five Years Ago” and Batman is leaping after an unidentified figure, Gotham’s finest following in helicopters, ordered to “bring them both down.” Rough. So, yea, it’s very much Year One styled mayhem here, as Bats dodges the cops and keeps up with the creep. His first line of the new Universe by the way?

what you talking 'bout?

Here’s the thing about this new Universe that I didn’t really explain yet. It’s all new…sort of. See, the minds behind this move have chosen to keep certain things going here, and set up certain characters as they were at odd times. Best case in point. Barbara Gordon is again the original Batgirl, going back on the events in Killing Joke. But, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is still Nightwing, his persona after he grew up. So, we are to presume that within the first few years of Batman’s existence, he had several Robins, a Batgirl, a Batwoman (don’t forget her) and a slew of other adventures that previously took him decades to accumulate? Does this Universe have a Jason Todd? Is he dead? Too many Questions to begin, and that’s only one character.

Anyways, Batman grabs his prey, an alien looking brute with glowing eyes, and proceeds to question this creature like it’s a regular street thug. “What were you doing at the docks?” Uh, there’s probably more pertinent questions here, Batman, like what Hell is that thing? After the alien bashes him around a little we are introduced to Green Lantern, who drives a truck through the bad guy, and seems positively stunned to find the Batman really exists. So now it’s clear what we’re doing here. Each and every member of the Justice League has to actually meet face to face. Oh man, you guys. This could take awhile. I mean, we spend the next dozen pages exploring these two beloved characters like we’ve never heard of them. Green Lantern can do what? How? Wow!

It’s totally necessary, I know, if you’re acting like no one knows each other. You gotta do it right, but this gets tedious quickly. Although I do love Lanterns reaction to finding out Batman has no actual powers.

Basically, both these guys come off as cocky, self absorbed power trippers. Lantern especially takes a cavalier attitutde to his power, much like Ryan Reynolds did this summer in theaters. Can’t help but feel like writer Geoff Johns isn’t really trying anything new as much as retelling an old tale with new dialogue bubbles. And really, that is what makes this #1 a fairly underwhelming read; it’s entertaining yes, seeing Batman do anything is entertaining. But, we are just meeting our old characters in new tights, I guess I need to know why.

So, the alien they’re kinda sorta going after as they banter (the cops are long gone threats) blows hisself up real good while Batman presumes rather than deducts everything and Lantern just acts all “I got this bro” showy and we get a brief cutaway to some high school football game outta nowhere. Well, this four page detour is all a set up to our token black hero, football star kid named Vic Stone who’ll soon com to be known a Cyborg when some crazy accident or something makes him get all bionic. I’m just guessing all that, all I now for sure is his daddy is too busy studying superheroes to come to his games, wah wah.

Anyways, the alien is dead, but he left a box. Batman presumes it’s a computer, and Lantern’s all, “hmm, it’s alien technology. You know who’s an alien? That guy Superman in Metropolis. Let’s go ask him about it.” OK, I guess that’s a good reason to go meet Superman. They do and yep, they find him, and Superman immediately looks for a fight. Typical Kal-El. And that’s where we end, with a young looking Superman ready to rumble with Batman and Green Lantern. At this pace, it should take about 8 issues to meet everyone and probably another 8 to get them to stop fighting each other and form a League of heroes. I just don’t know if this story is good enough to commit to yet. I figure that DC Comics is a pretty big beast at this point, being 52 titles strong. Surely, that’s a helluva load to get off the ground, but if Johns and crew can get it up in the air, we might get to see some interesting places. Just don’t hold your breath.

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Rubber

“In Steven Spielberg’s film, E.T., why is the alien brown? No reason.” The opening question and answer from Lieutenant Chad is a seemingly innocent one, but it drives right to the heart of the film he introduces. An homage to the “No Reason” found in films, Rubber is an insanely absurd horror comedy, a bizarre and addictive  film that’s not as dark as it could have been, but not as silly either.

The brilliance in Rubber, a movie in which a tire truly does come to life and kill people, is the finely walked line of ridiculousness that writer/director Quentin Dupieux masters fom the opening moment. A moment that begins with Lt. Chad getting out of a car’s trunk and dumping a glass of water in front of a group of spectators. Apparently, this group is also going to watch the movie with us. They are given binoculors and left to themselves to try and figure out exactly what the Hell is happening throughout the film.  They work things out the same as we do, even echoing conversations I had internally as events unfolded. Soon, though, there remains only one of the group, as the movie tries to deceive and dispose of it’s own audience. Why? No Reason.

The events that they-and-we follow are simple enough, a tire comes to life, rolls around the desert and figures out how to kill things with it’s mind(?) I guess. At least, we’re lead to think that, though all we see is a shaking tire and an exploding noggin as evidence. As our tire follows the mysterious French woman he encounters on the road (Roxanne Mesquida), it is in turn pursued by the diligent Lt. Chad, (a perfectly deadpan Stephen Spinella). This performance alone is worth the film, as Lt. Chad, aware of the staging these events are under, tries to convince his deputies and everyone else that it’s fake, made up by unseen masters and presented before an audience for undisclosed purposes. And, until that audience dies, Lt. Chad and the rest of the cast have to grudgingly play along in their parts, reading lines and hitting cues until the story is over. Having actual audience members in the film itself is a remarkable sly way to break the fourth wall without ever having to actually do something dumb like address the camera (hint hint Funny Games!) and makes for a crazy existential undercurrent to the whole “Scanners with a tire thing” the movie already has going.

Besides, the “Scanners with a tire thing” that Rubber rolls out with is the best kind of horror comedy. In fact, in the Inanimate Objects That Come To Life And Kill People subgenre of horror, Rubber is maybe the best of the bunch, and that includes such classics as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Carrie. It makes for fun viewing, if you’re a little sick in the head like me, and a Hell of a drinking game, since this tire explodes it’s fair share of brain buckets. If you can find it, watch Rubber for yourself. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, in it’s weirdly out-of-body way of storytelling and darkly themed explorations on what it means to make a movie, and watch a movie. Why do we do it at all? Why watch a movie about a tire that kills people? No Reason!

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The Fighter

There’s two things you need to know to figure out The Fighter. One: it’s based on a true story. Second: it’s a boxing movie. Put together the plot yet? Can you guess how it ends? There’s not a single surprise in the entire course of this movie, except how good it all is.

Ever since the days of Rocky, America has loved the underdog, the regular Joe who comes out of nowhere to win one for the rest of us little people. So when a story as good as that of small time boxer Micky Ward, played here by Mark Wahlberg, actually exists, it makes instant fodder for the masses. But, that’s only half the story. In the film we are first introduced not to the titular fighter, but his older brother, the  big talking former hero of Lowell, Mass, Dicky (Christian Bale). Turns out Dicky is the subject of a documentary chronicling his comeback to the ring, or so he assumes. In reality, Dicky is a crack-head, training Micky but more often than not found jumping into dumpsters out the second story window where he gets high.

And it’s quickly revealed that Dicky is the real heart of the film, played by an almost unrecognizable Bale, in one of his finest performances since, well, ever. He dominates the screen when he’s around, pushing Micky into the sidelines and out of the focus. In fact, Micky’s whole family is casting a shadow over his life. His high strung manager mother (Melissa Leo) and legion of harpy sisters, seven of them, have stunted him almost to the point of having no real personality. Only when Micky meets and begins a relationship with Charlene (Amy Adams) does he really stat to find his own voice and take on an active role in his career as a fighter.

The film takes all of the usual steps in exploring the dynamics of Micky’s family. There are the predictable beats in the movie, like  fights lost and relationships on the ropes, but The Fighter is good enough to keep our attention even through these labored cliches. In fact, once Dicky is finally faced with his addiction, the documentary was on his crack use, not his comeback, he makes as big a turnaround as Micky does,  and everything ends in a predictable but surprisingly satisfying climax.

Director David O Russell has made some of my favorite movies and showcased some of Wahlberg’s best performances to date, the dynamic Three Kings and the hilariously philosophic I Heart Huckabees. And while The Fighter is nowhere near as imaginative as his previous films, Russell still excels at every aspect of film making here. Yet, again it’s Bale who should be receiving more recognition for his role, he disappears into the skin of Dicky. Seriously, my friend didn’t even know it was him until I said something. And it doesn’t get any better than Dicky trying to con a group of Cambodians or screaming “WHEEAD YA PAAHK THE CAAA-AAHH?!?” in a wicked New England accent. It really doesn’t.

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