Monthly Archives: March 2010

Shutter Island

As this is yet another in my ongoing series of delayed film reviews, this will undoubtedly have some spoilers happening. I won’t give it away, but consider yourself warned. So what’s up on Shutter Island?

Director Martin Scorsese is usually a solid bet. His films range in topics and tones, but the work is always fascinating. He has a catalog of great films that attest to his ingenuity, his daring, and his visionary scope as a film maker. Sadly, he employs none of these abilities to Shutter Island.

I expected the film to follow a path of dead ends, deceptions, and red herrings. Just as I was willing to fore go my general disbelief and ride the formulas with abandon. But the whole thing is so labor intensive, so stacked with exposition and explanation, so spelled and re spelled out  to the audience that I could barely keep my attention on it for the excruciating two and a half hour run time.

We begin on a boat, emerging from mist, where Leo Dicaprio is giving us his best seasick impersonation. He steps on deck with his new partner Mark Ruffalo. In a bland one shot, we get all the details necessary to voyage to Shutter Island with them. Why these two Federal Marshells are only now introducing themselves is quickly forgotten as they arrive on the island, tasked with finding an escaped mental patient.

Obviously enough, everyone is acting strange. Well, it is a loony bin after all, but things just don’t add up. Combine this with Leo’s increasingly trippy dream sequences and you have a taught and engaging psychlogical thriller, right?

Sorry, folks. For some reason, Scorsese prefers taking the long road on this one. The very long road. The film is a mish mash of pointless scenes, clues that go nowhere, never to be explained, and characters that show up for the briefest of flashes, also rarely making an ounce of sense and leaving almost immediately, never to be interrogated again. Honestly, I failed to see how most of this movie was driving the plot forward.  There are a few particularly painful moments when info is apparently being delivered, but in such a dull and ultimately forgettable way that it’s rendered useless after the climactic reveal, which itself actually reveals very little that we did not already conclude ourselves.

Most infuriatingly, Scorsese insists on filling this movie with more cliches than you can shake a stick at. I mean, seriously, if I never watch a man scream “NOOOOO” into the sky again, it will be too soon. There’s a lot of raised eyebrows and the inevitable, “what’s with the raised eyebrows?” talk going on. There’s a terribly overstated musical score. There’s spooky yet unrealistic lighting and the cheap scare of things that jump out from the dark, mostly mental patients.

And then there’s Leo’s accent. Yes, he’s playing another Bostonian, just like in The Departed. And yes, there’s a lot left to be desired. I’m sorry, but I have never seen Leo perform a convincing accent, be it Gangs of New York Irish, or Blood Diamond South African. It’s just not his specialty. I have seen Leo do a much better job before, though. In fact, everyone involved in the film has done extraordinary work before, they just didn’t get a chance to bring their A-game today. And ultimately that’s Scorsese’s failure. He is supposed to, if nothing else, make sure every other genius in the room is at full volume.

Shhh...it

All in all, I was sorely disappointed in this film, but others I know were delightfully surprised. Maybe my Scorsese expectations are too high. After all, the man has made some of his best work in the last decade, and I’ve already forgiven this brief rough patch.

But, Marty. Please, please, please try to cast someone else as the lead in your next film. Please. The whole you and Leo partnership is starting to go stale. Maybe it’s time for a change. I blame the comfort zone you’re operating in more than you personally. Try something radical, try something unprecedented. You can do it, they’ll let you get away with anything. You need to embrace that kind of freedom and stop wasting it on remakes and adaptations of already popular works. Please.

-Charlie

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in which I finally see Inglourious Basterds

Of all the films I didn’t get around to watching last year, none was so glaring and inexcusable as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. How this happened I’ll never know. I am a devout Tarantino fan, even preferring Death Proof to Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in Grindhouse. I’ve loved every Tarantino film since first watching Reservoir Dogs at 14 years old. And I wanted to see Basterds, I really did. But it still took me 8 months to get around to it. Man, I’m lazy.

And you know what? I loved it! Big surprise, right? Still, I just want to quickly talk about what was so great about this and all of QT’s films.

To begin with, Tarantino’s dialogue is as good as anything that has come before. And the characters he creates to speak it are a uniquely menacing and vibrant batch of… well, bastards I suppose.

Ever since QT put together Clarence and Alabama when he wrote True Romance he’s brought us some of the greatest anti-heroes of our time. Rarely set in a black and white/ good versus evil world, QT instead creates shaded and bloody planes of unreality set within the larger Hollywood frame, and none so much as Inglourious Basterds.

He’s given us characters who jump off the screen, such a the dreaded Col. Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz, who just won the Oscar incidentally) and the vengeful Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent).

In fact, her story was all the more engaging and intriguing than anything the titular Basterds had going on. I felt like Shosanna’s plot and development was itself enough to warrant the film. But of course, the layering of the American forces and the British officer made it all the richer.

This movie is grand, epic in scale. It’s very classic in many ways, but Tarantino has written a revisionist theory to this historical drama. All the plots threading together only heightened the tension and suspense throughout the film. Needless to say, 160 minutes has never gone by so fast.

I loved several things about this movie, and here they are:

I love the names in this movie. Like Mr. Pink or the Bride before them, the major players in this movie are all the more memorable for the sake of their monikers.

I love the use of the cinema in this movie. Many scenes played out like a tribute to the powers of films, and the things they can inspire. When the young German thinks of Shosanna as a fellow cinema lover rather than as an occupied foreigner or what not, you can feel the appreciation and high standing that QT holds for films.

I love the scene in the basement with the card game. With the British Lt. and some of the basterds undercover as Nazi’s trying to keep cool in the face of another German officer, that scene is dynamite! It encompasses everything I love about QT’s style. It’s sharp, it’s funny, it’s almost unbearably intense, and it references a classic Hollywood film. All at the same time, literally simultaneous. And just when you think it’s ok, just when there’s a hint of relief, shit goes down and you get the violent conclusion that has been the standard for tragedy since the Greeks. And if there is one thing that Tarantino knows, it’s how to shoot violence.

On a final note, I know I loved this movie because people like Brad Pitt and Eli Roth didn’t completely ruin it for me. I fully expected to hate Pitt’s performance from the look of the trailers, but I never got too frustrated or annoyed. Good job guys, way to not blow it.

All in all, Inglourious Basterds is a one of a kind. Even if you hated it, you had to admit that you had never seen it done like that. In a lot of ways it’s rewritten the rules of film as much as it did the actual history of the war. Imagine a whole genre of re-imagined historical epics, where instead of going to the movie knowing how it ends, the Titanic sinks and Dillinger gets shot, you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time. Just don’t put it in 3-D and I’m there.

-Charlie

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SNL murders comedy as audience watches on.

Why did do you do it SNL? Why? I was perfectly content in life never watching your terrible, trite skits with no name hacks and confused celebrity hosts. I was very happy to stay as far away as your groan inducing brand of “humor” as possible. But you couldn’t just leave me alone, you had to do it, you had to let Zach Galifianakis host last night. You knew I would watch, you knew and you did it anyway.

A perfect promo picture, as this show was the comedic equivalent of getting punched in the face.

To sum up quickly, last night’s episode of SNL was the worst hour of television I have ever seen. Note: I have not seen Leno’s recent return to late night so you know, maybe second worst.

In detail now: This show promises comedy, merriment, the general state of amusement. But what I saw only angered, only infuriated, only mocked the word comedy, and by the end of it, the laughter had been brutally murdered by SNL.

We open with an Obama skit. OK fine. Most eras of SNL parody their political leaders and this generation is no different. Problem is Obama isn’t funny, not like Palin, or W. Bush or Clinton’s sex scandals or Ross Perot. And the skit last night was pretty par for the course.

It was a full TWO MINUTES of talking before a joke was even uttered. You had Fred Armison as Obama stating flatly and basically the situation of health care reform. No jokes! Not one. Then when jokes do eventually appear, they’re carbon copies of Chris Farley’s Weekend Update character Bennet Brauer, who would use air quotes with his fingers. One skit in, and we have exactly one joke that was done exactly the same way fifteen years ago.

Now some people call these jokes "rip offs" or "lazy writing" or just "stupid attempt at humor"

It’s at this point I fear for my beloved Zach. You see, Zach (I’m using his first name as Galifianakis is too hard to type and read constantly) has quickly become a star with movies like the Hangover (hang “over rated” if you ask me) and internet shows like the insanely uncomfortable Between Two Ferns he does on funnyordie.com. I have been a fan of his for a little while now, seeing his awkward piano playing brand of stand up online and on DVD. It’s great.

And to be fair, his opening monologue was terrific. It was actually the funniest part of the whole show, mostly because it was recycled jokes from all that stand up he’s done over the years. In fact, the above video- from NINE years ago- has several jokes used in his monologue. He even did the “That’s so Raven” joke, which has even been done in Twitter form. So nothing new there. Let’s get to the skits!

The skit where everyone is just kissing each other was atrocious (Whoa! Two dudes tonguing? Hilarious!). The skit where they repeat the word bidet over and over again was funny for 30 seconds tops. The skit with a drunk Kathie Lee impression was too painful to watch. Too fucking painful. I mean, it’s as if the writers were really trying to be unfunny. These are professional entertainers, paid money to write and perform fart jokes and homophobic skits. It’s appalling. The very worst was the Whats up with that? Skit. You guys. Seriously. It hurt. That skit ruined comedy for me. It was sooo fucking bad, so abysmal, even to the point of overt racism, I couldn’t really go on.

You have Paul Rudd in this skit, first of all. Paul Rudd. People, just let Paul and Zach chit chat for five minutes, off the cuff, and you’ll get results. What transpired on that stage of pain was not comedy, I submit it was psychological torture and no less.The premise is a talk show on BET, and our host, played by token SNL black actor Kenan Thompson (see also: Tracy Morgan, Tim Meadows, Chris Rock, etc.) comes on in full soul singer mode, with a fake jerry curl and leisure suit. Nothing offensive here. He then proceeds to sing the skit’s unusually extended theme song. “What’s up with that? What’s up with that? What’s up with that?” Just fucking repeating the title of the show over and over and over.

HOW IS THAT FUNNY?

In what universe is straight repetition of a phrase, which itself has zero humor value, a means of comedy? There’s no innuendo or double meaning, no misunderstanding of the sounds to make it appear otherwise. It’s just four boring words, repeated. And then two minutes later, he does it again. AGAIN! That’s the whole skit. That song was the entire reason for the whole thing. Fuuuuck! Everything in this entire episode was just a phrase or a joke repeated and explained. As if that’s comedy. As if that’s anything that anyone wants to see.

And poor poor Paul Rudd is just sitting there, next to a cardboard cut out of some NY columnist no one outside of Manhattan has ever heard of, just sitting there! Doing nothing! Why SNL? Zach wasn’t enough? You had to take another genuinely funny actor and ruin him in front of a live audience? Why do you hate comedy SNL? Whose responsible this?!?

And what was Zach’s contribution to this particular skit? He comes on and dances in a wig! Not funny! And what was Zach’s contribution to the very next skit, a boring as all hell CNN parody? He dances in a t shirt! Still not fucking funny.

Go to Hell SNL. I mean it. You guys are fucking fired. Get out of my office before I have security throw you out. You make me sick.

P.S. – This week’s musical guest Vampire Weekend still sucks too. But we already knew that much at least.

Let me leave you with some really funny Zach Galifianakis material. It may restore my faith. I hope it restores yours.

-Charlie

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Don’t call it a comeback

This is the first thing I’ve written in a while, so I fully expect to be a bit rusty. Let me see. Ok.

So, lately I have been thinking a lot about bands, at least the ones who’ve broken up. The bands I discovered after they had parted, quit, died, etc. It’s always been the fan’s dream for a reunion. Of course! Who doesn’t want to see the good times again, those times you were unaware of or not yet born to be a part of. The times that have been so well documented after the fact, the acts whose influence and tremendous power is felt only after they’ve given it up. The reunion.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about ever since I heard that Pavement is having a reunion tour. This was some time ago now, and the thought had strayed, until the Lineup for Sasquatch was announced. And right up at the top, crowded around My Morning Jacket (yawn), Vampire Weekend (yaawn), and Ween (really?), Pavement would finally be within my reach.

Being the ripe old age of 10 when Pavement were at their height (sorry if that made you feel old) I only discovered the band some six or seven years ago, too late to see a show. The band called it quits in 1999. And now a decade later they are playing shows together. Yay! I get to see them now! But, why do I feel this conflict within me?

Is it cool to see a band after they’ve reunited? I get to thinking. Well, I myself saw the Pixies at Coachella, but I wasn’t really there for them, and basically sat around in the polo field listening halfheartedly. But by then, the Pixies had gone from an underground sensation to a sold out festival headlining spot right off the bat.

And others have done the same thing. Mission of Burma were hardly known outside of Boston in the 80’s, but when they returned, everyone had heard of them. Pretty convenient if you ask me. Reuniting right when the next generation has discovered and marketed your old life.

Dinosaur Jr. are ooooold. But still cool. How do they do it?

Then I get to thinking, you know there’s really two types of reunions, those that stay relevant, and those that don’t. Dinosaur Jr. and Mission of Burma both came back and released a good number of quality albums. Then you have the other side, like the Pixies, who reunite, but only for a brief moment, reliving (or cashing in on) the glory days and the best of times.

So what? Do I go see Pavement or not? Let’s get to it. And bottom line, courtesy of Mr. Eric Ritz, ” They were never a good live band to begin with!” They were a great album band, every album sounds supreme, and the songs are expertly wrought, but live they turned into a lazy jam band of sorts, just fiddling around, not taking it too seriously. But that’s who they were. And this can be attributed to their scene, to the early 90’s in Stockton, CA.

Guy I know, he grew up in Stockton, saw Stephen Malkmus’ high school band before Pavement, saw them play local clubs. They were deeply in the scene in Stockton, whose defining motto, as this guy put so eloquently, “Fuck everything, man. Fuck school, fuck work, fuck it.” Nice.

At the core of my argument is this. Seeing Pavement today will never be as cool as seeing them fifteen or twenty years ago. Standing at a festival, surrounded by children and yuppies dancing around in their sun glasses at night is not the way to see Pavement. It just wouldn’t be right.

Alas, I will not be seeing Pavement. I don’t want another Mark Kozelek experience just yet**. But I will be seeing the Appleseed Cast playing their albums Low Level Owl Volumes One and Two, back to back in their entirety on Monday.  I am seriously stoked. Those albums are amazing, I can’t wait.

Listen to these albums now!

So there you go. A lot of my favorite bands, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, Flaming Lips, Radiohead, they’ve all been doing it a long time. And I really respect that. If you retire in the NFL, you should stay retired. If you retire, especially if you simply walk away from music, don’t expect me to come crawling back later. I don’t know if I can go through that again.

That’s about it. Oh yeah…

**I saw Mark Kozelek at the Great American for Noise Pop. It was awful. He came out and couldn’t play through most of his songs. He forgot entire verses, and then second verses. He even forgot “All Mixed Up,” probably his most popular song ever. He made everyone get patted down at the door, and demanded that no pictures be taken, not even by IPhone or whatnot. Then he admitted to “rolling out of bed” before coming. He talked shit about Noise Pop at their  show that they asked him to play. He even gave away that his fingers were too cold to pluck the strings. Umm, that’s why people “warm up” before a show, asshole. I’ve waited years to see him play, and now I’ll never have to wait again. Cripes.

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