Monthly Archives: November 2009

A Serious Review

I saw this film last week, and have wanted to share it with you all for some time now. The only problem is that I don’t quite know what to say about A Serious Man. So instead of rambling, I thought I’d take a serious look at the latest from Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Coen brothers have been on a bit of a hot streak as of late. After disappointing films like Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, at least disappointing by Coen standards, the brothers returned to form with the ultra violent No Country For Old Men in 2007.

It was a staggering work, a classic that instantly stood beside other Coen works like Fargo and Blood Simple. Then in 2008, they took their talents 180 degrees with the ultra goofy Burn After Reading. It was a spy comedy with hapless blackmailers, despondent spooks, and Malkovich in one of his best roles. Burn After Reading didn’t get the critical nod that NCFOM received, but it actually performed better at the box office. It was a success by any means.

Side Note: This is the real joy of watching a new Coen brother film. After 14 feature films, you really never know what to expect. The brothers have made a career of genre bending and spanning films, each unique from the ones that proceeded it. Blood Simple, their debut, was a stark and bloody (duh) tale of revenge and murder. They followed that up with Raising Arizona, a comedy of domestic insanity. They’ve been doing approximately the same ever since.

Big Lebowski followed Fargo. The Man Who Wasn’t There followed O Brother, Where Art Thou? and so on and so on. Make sense? While each film in their cannon has been similar enough to be recognized as a Coen picture, no two films have really been the same. Ever.

So it is with A Serious Man, 180 degrees. The film opens on a strange prologue that takes place a hundred years ago? Two Hundred? I’m terrible at history. A yiddish couple, from the old country as it were, encounter a ghostly visitor, or is he?

After that scene, we are introduced to Larry Gopnik, a Jewish man living in 1960’s midwest America. Very likely a descendent of the prologue’s characters, Larry’s life is seemingly cursed, unraveling before his eyes, escaping his grasp of control. If he indeed has any to begin with.

The film also focuses a good deal on Larry’s son, Danny, who is preparing for his Bar mitzvah. The son is a dope smoking slack off, very much the opposite of Larry’s straight laced, uptight mannerisms. These two go through their own series of complications and tribulations, though it’s fair to say we care much more about Larry.

Basically, without giving away too much, Larry’s life goes from bad to worse, to even worse as the events unfold. Most of it is all of that everyday stuff that people encounter regularly. A pending divorce, aggressive debt collectors, problems professionally, a brother who has been crashing indefinitely on the couch.

Separately, these events may be approachable, but together they form a constant state of stress and dread for Larry and the audience. For half the picture you are expecting violence, a snap or spark that sets it off. Rather, this film takes a calculated, rhythmic and realistic approach. But still, that dread, that threat is there. Right there.

The best parts of the film are in the Coen’s perfectionist cinematography, brilliantly believable characters, and the superb acting all around. In fact, the actors may be my personal favorite element in the picture. Virtually all of the cast is unknown. The most famous guy in here is Richard Kind, who I only know because I used to watch Spin City for some reason. He’s good, but the standouts are Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry in an incredibly chameleonic performance, and Fred Melamed as Sy Abelman, the overly sympathetic leech stealing Larry’s wife. But, really everyone is great in this film.

Side Note: One of the trends lately that has really bothered me is the movie star roll call. Did you know George Clooney stars in three movies in just these two months? That Matt Damon is an action star at all? Why do only the biggest names get roles now? I love unknown or underused character actors. They lend credibility to the roles they inhabit. One of the worst parts of Burn After Reading, no THE worst part, was Brad Pitt. He reeked in that film.

You take an unknown or someone underused in films, and that character becomes a classic, the wacky clueless hyper gym instructor. But watching Brad Pitt on screen is so distracting, like Clooney or Damon or any of those caliber guys. I just sit there in my head going, “that’s A-list celebrity Brad Pitt on screen pretending to be a character in this film. And he is sucking right now.” (I don’t like Brad Pitt so much) The reason Larry is totally believable may be that I’m not distracted thinking about the last tabloid I read about so and so actor on screen. I am easily distracted.

Back to this movie, it is safe to assume the Coens are playing this one pretty close to the chest. This could seemingly resemble their own upbringing, being Jewish, growing up in that time period, in that kind of midwest neighborhood. It could almost be autobiographical. Things here never get too wacky or far-fetched. Nothing ever takes you out of the movie, though some of Larry’s dream sequences get a little bizarre. Everything carries a certain weight, some of it extremely heavy.

Some have criticized the Coens for being “self loathing Jews” for a perceived critical stance towards the majority of Jewish characters in this movie. But I have to disagree. The fact that the characters in this film range from irritating to buffoonish is no slight on a religion. It’s a slight on EVERYONE.

This film explores themes relevant to all people. It’s a story about a man and the crushing factors that keep him, keep anyone, down. Larry still tries to hold his head up, still tries to comfort others even when comfort is not offered to him. He is stronger than he is given credit for, he is resilient in a way that I surely could not be. The most telling part in the film is the lack of credit he is given for doing what he can. And just remember, things can always get worse. (The final seconds of this movie are some of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in any theater)

Anywho. If you are at all a fan of the Coen brothers, I urge you to see this film. If you enjoy the black comedy side of the Coen’s this is especially a perfect picture for you. If you hate movies, I guess skip it, as you’d probably hate it.

-Charlie

And yes, I realize I just ended up rambling anyways, gotta get an editor or something.

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What to do when you’re hopelessly broke?

The past few months have been rough. Vegas zapped a bunch of funds, some work fell through, other work has been delayed, and just this week I had oral surgery to remove my four wisdom teeth. Ouch. This means I have exactly zero money to go out and do things, you know, see movies, concerts, buy books and games. Nothing, nada. I’ve been sitting in my bed with a Vicodin induced zombie stare and old episodes of Batman: the Animated Series looping for hours. So if I haven’t been talking about anything recently, there you go. And if I don’t talk too much this whole winter, well, same story. I’ll try. I really will, but I also don’t want to be posting pointless entries (like this one) just to feel I’m “keeping up” with this blog. This is my blog, and I’ll slack if I want to, dammit!

Wait, who am I yelling at? Sorry. Everyone who reads this with any kind of regularity is the reason I keep it up. So let’s see, stuff to talk about, stuff to talk about…

Bored to Death

This is easily one of the best new shows on TV right now. It airs on HBO, which means I have to watch it online and risk computer viruses, but for Jason Schwarztman, I’d do anything. Anything. He stars as Jonathan Ames, who is actually the creator of the show, an author suffering a mild crisis after his girlfriend dumps him. Instead of writing the new novel everyone wants from him, he goes out as a unlicensed private detective. Hilarity ensues.

The rest of the cast is great too, Ted Danson is as funny as ever, playing Ames’ friend and sometimes employer. Zach Galifianakis also stars as another friend of Ames, a comic book writer with relationship problems of his own. All of the characters are perfect, they interact so naturally and so brilliantly. There’s also a good number of cameos, like Jim Jarmusch riding a bicycle around a warehouse, and wacky cases to investigate. All together, it keeps the show just off kilter enough, just bizarre enough that we never question the insanity of these characters.

Schwarztman has been something of a hero figure for me ever since I saw Rushmore as a fourteen year old. And Galifianakis is pretty much the best and fastest rising comedian in America right now, so it’s just amazing to watch this all go on. Of course the plots are ridiculous, but you’ll never roll an eye. You’ll be too busy laughing out loud.

Lastly, the story takes place in New York, and having never been there myself, I want to go more now than ever. All the little shops and cafes these guys hang around just feels so right. I don’t know. There’s only been a handful of episodes so far, but I am hoping this keeps up.

 

Community

This show is a little harder to swallow, but still not without its merits. It stars Joel McHale, who has been the best part of the entire E! network for over 5 years now. As the host of the Soup, McHale is always great, but here he seems a little stilted, unsure of where he fits into an ensemble comedy rather than being the only guy on screen for 22 minutes.

There are some other great actors here, most notably Chevy Chase. That’s right. Chevy fucking Chase. The man is a legend, whether you want to admit it or not. You can deny it in your comments, but your heart knows better. From classics like Fletch and Caddyshack, to masterpieces like Three Amigos and National Lampoon’s Vacation series (well, most of it anyways), the chevster is synonymous with funny. And really, he delivers the goods here too. He may be the funniest part of the show. I crack up everytime he’s on screen, like when he dresses up as Beastmaster for Halloween and then trips out on pills. Classic.

The story is basic. McHale gets disbarred from practicing law, and goes back to community college. He meets up with some people, has some laughs, takes Spanish for some reason, and learns a little bit about himself along the way. The show is decent enough, but it definitely has more of those eye rolling moments that Bored to Death steers clear of. It’s a network comedy, it is what it is. It’s one of the better network comedies out there, so it’s not exactly Two and a Half Men or According to Jim bad. It’s just very bright and shiny and wraps up nicely at the end of every episode. Take it or leave it. I don’t really care.

Hannah Takes the Stairs

This is a film in the sub genre known as Mumblecore. That means the characters are young, dumb, and ugly. The dialogue is mostly improvised obviously, and the camera is held shakily and zoomed liberally around the room. This trend came about as struggling filmmakers decided, “Screw it. We don’t need budgets or actors or any of that high falutin’ movie crap.” And they’re right. You don’t. But it helps.

Spoilers abound: The story of Hannah (who by the way never takes any stairs that I could see) is one of confusion and awkwardness. She dumps her boyfriend, even though he really likes her and is super nice, presumably because he is broke and directionless. Cause she has it all going for her. She then promptly takes up with co-worker #1 and sleeps with him. She doesn’t actually seem to like this guy, and who would? He’s dull. Enough said.

So she gets to know co-worker #2 and he’s totally cooler. He talks in audible phrasing. He doesn’t look fourteen. He’s a catch. So she does him and dumps numero uno. Too bad they all three share an office space, as in one room, one table, one couch. So the film ends without resolution or any real conclusion. Hannah is a selfish little girl who rather than reflect on her life decisions and their consequences before she makes them, just goes for it. Breaking hearts and fouling work environments.

Lessons learned? Don’t sleep withthe girl in your office who just got out of a bad relationship. It will not go well.

That’s enough for now, thanks again to everyone who reads this stuff. It means a lot to me.

-Charlie

 

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Where the Wild Things Are

wild things are movie posterThe film version of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, has been in theaters for almost a month now. This means that most of you reading this have already seen the film if you wanted to to begin with, and also that I am proving myself to be one of the tardiest reviewers on Earth.

To begin with, I love Spike Jonze. As far as his feature film directorial work I can say that Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are two of the most original, thought provoking works in recent years. Even though it has been seven years since Adaptation hit the screen, Jonze has kept busy directing music videos and other projects, including a documentary about Sendak. So the guy is on top of his game. He brings an immediate authenticity even before stepping into the theaters, because this is a Spike Jonze film, and this guy makes amazing films.

Secondly, the subject matter, the book itself, is popular like no other children’s book seems to be popular. For the outcast child, Where the Wild Things Are is a comfort and an inspiration. For everyone else, it’s a damn finely drawn and written thing. It’s images are indelible. Everyone knows what this book looks like, even if it’s been twenty five years since you saw it.

Where the Wild Things Are

I mean, look at these guys? Who wouldn’t want to party with them? Ever since I was small, I have wanted to see the Wild Things in action. So why was the Wild Things film so tame?

The film begins with Max, the crazy kid in the wolf suit. Cat suit? Some kind of Wendigo perhaps? Either way, he’s beating the shit outta that dog in the opening titles. We follow Max around at his level, low to the ground, around parked cars and in snow huts. We see his world though his eyes, and its refreshing to be rooting for the kid instead of wishing their parents had some discipline.

Seriously, I usually hate kids just like Max in the grocery store or at the bank, but I don’t hate Max. I can understand and sympathize, hell I was rooting for him. “Bite her, yeah! Bite your mom!¬† You’re a wild thing! Now run for it! Yeah! Get on the boat, it’s your only hope. Ride Max, ride like the wind. Yay! Max made it, let’s party with the Wild Things!”

There’s only a few problems with this party. When Max sneaks up on these Wild Things, they’re having a discussion. And not a “let’s get wild!” kind of discussion. More of a “I’m mad at her. She’s a meany.” kind of discussion. So they’re not really being wild so much as wildy emotional.

Our main Thing, who is named Carol for some reason, is throwing¬† a fit. This fit is voiced by James Gandolfini, a master thespian and angry fit thrower. I swear, Tony Soprano is TV’s biggest baby. But I digress.

The other Things also have regular (i.e. not wild) names like Alexander, and celebrity voices like Forrest Whitaker to Paul Dano, but these voices come out too much like people. Adult paople. Actors in fact. Reading dialogue as they jump around foam sets in their workout clothes. Yes, the actors playing the Wild Things actually moved around a set while lending their voices, but this only means that they come across as winded and fatigued. You can hear Gandolfini panting between practically every line, desperately trying to keep up with Max on set.

And the problem in this film lies in the relationship between Max and the Things. They ask too much. They fight too much. The Things are too easily wounded. Too easily enraged or depressed. They all act like teenagers!

Hear me out. Max is a kid. He wants to party. The Things are a teenage clique. They want to be popular. They want their leader, Max, to be their best friend. They shit talk, they betray and insult, and injure each other with too much malice. There are boyfriends and girlfriends among the Wild Things, there are toadies and unpopular pipsqueaks that no one is sure who keeps inviting to the party. Basically, these Things are not wild. They’re emo. They’re fucking sad is what they are.

where-wild-things-are-tree

Max actually needs to escape from the island, like the real world he ran away from an hour and a half ago. Only this time, he might get eaten if he doesn’t. And then there’s the eventual return and reconcilliation with mom and then Max shares a look like he, you know, he grew up just a little, able to appreciate his human parent all the more after the dramatic, confusing, and all together unwild expereince that was Where the Wild Things Are.

So what did I think? Meh, it was alright. I can’t wait for Spike’s next movie, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Quick Top 5

The top five other movies with the word “Wild” in it.

5. Into the Wild – This is the movie that inspired the list. I watched this film the day after Where the Wild Things Are, and was like, “wow, how many movies do you see with the word wild in it? And I just watched two in a row! I wonder what other movies have the word wild in it???”

4. The River Wild – A staple of TNT’s afternoon cable programming for almost ten years, this movie is merely ok, but it does have Meryl Streep in a kick ass role, and it’s the only movie with Kevin Bacon to make the list (Sorry Wild Things, but there’s just not enough room).

3. Wild Strawberries – The artsy film on the list, this is a classic from Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. The dream sequence alone is one of the most brilliant things ever put to film. About an old man facing death and the fact that he’s never loved anybody. It’s not a happy picture.

2. Wild at Heart – One of David Lynch’s great love stories, this film is all entertainment. It’s bizarre, creepy, unforgettable. It also has Nick Cage and Laura Dern and Willem Defoe, each in some of their best roles ever. A thouroughly awesome movie for one end to the other.

1. The Wild Bunch – On my short list for greatest film ever, The Wild Bunch redefined violence in cinema. It also redefined the western, the anti hero, the use of editing, sound effects, basically everything. If you’re at all interested in the history of film, this is a must see. It’s a landmark. I like it a lot.

-Charlie

 

 

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I went to Las Vegas for Halloween…

And all I got was the stupid flu. Seriously. It’s been years since I got the flu, but when I go to Vegas for my friend’s wedding and fucking Halloween, I go down.

Good news is that I had a solid day and a half of revelry before my illness took over. In fact, it was probably the hours of continued drinking that did me in, but here’s a quick look at my first (and likely last) trip to Sin City.Blaire House

We originally had a reservation at the fabulous Blair House Suites, seen above. See it? The little sign in the corner? Shadowed by the golden towers? That one. I liked the name, it made me think of Linda Blair, which makes me think The Exorcist, which then leads to the idea of something good. It is not. Not good at all. The place was a joke, and beyond that a dirty, smelly, lumpy pillows and no cable kind of joke. Bye bye Blair House. We got out of there and joined our friends at the Hilton, a real hotel.

The first night out we kept it old school, visiting the classic strip casinos like the Sahara and the Riviera. We passed by an ominous looking Circus Circus, complete with giant clown and crazy calliope music, but some in our group were against it. So it’ll have to wait .The Sahara

No ifs, ands, or...

Bright Lights

The next day was Halloween, and I was still feeling good at this point. We had a great wedding ceremony for Ben and Nicole, who was given away by Elvis. Then we hit the strip. We travelled down to Paris, MGM Grand, New York, New York. All that crap. It’s the fancy new Disneyland-esque part of Vegas, where every casino is another part of the world. They also have Cesar’s Palace, Excalibur, and any number of other theme parks, I mean casinos, to take your money. What a town. It’s seriously just a giant amusement park for degenerates. Weird.Paris

New York

Lots of costumes. Mostly among the order of Sexy Cop or Sexy Prisoner. Vegas ain’t really the most original town for that. I must have seen two dozen ghostbusters, three dozen batman and robins, and God knows how many of these two guys…Mario Brothers

It was at this point I stopped asking people for their picture. All I was getting was gangsta poses and other ridiculous shit, so I gave up. What I went after instead was the coolest Vegas Slot machines I could find. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you the nerd centric slots of Vegas…

star wars slots

There were Star Wars slots in every casino I ventured through. Most of them had only to do with the prequels, which hurt me to no end. But these beauties looked about as classic as I was going to get. Meaning they were from the original trilogy re-release editions. You can’t see it here, but the artwork on the side was such. Good enough for me.

alien slots

Fuck yes, an Alien slot machine. This little baby is maybe my favorite. I especially like the Alien Hunt and Egg mini games you can pretend you’re playing as you press the “repeat bet” button over and over and over .

star trek slots

This one is hard to see, but it is a Star Trek slot machine, complete with artwork of the original crew that almost looks like the actual actors. Ryan likes it anyways. There was actually a whole Star Trek Experience installation at this casino, or so I heard, but they tore it out recently. Still there were remnants like doorways and wall panels that I was too stupid to photograph. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

enchanted unicorn slots

Ummmmmmmmmmmm… No comment.

The next day was the day I caught this bug. I laid in bed all day and watched TV as my friends and Annie went out and lived it up. The next morning it was an early flight home and a welcomed return to Portland, the town that doesn’t need a gimmick to get dirty. God bless ya.

That was my weekend. Now it’s back to whining about movies and such. See ya real soon!

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