Friday, May 29, 2015

Surprises Let You Know I Care

So, of course, I'll show you I don't care by telling you what reviews are coming up. On the film side, we have Boyhood and Wild, to be followed by Inherent Vice and Two Days, One Night. I'll publish TV entries in between them, for Black Mirror, Utopia, The 100, and Charlie Jade.

Once I've done that, I'm done with my 2014 movie coverage. I don't especially want to watch The Imitation Game or Theory of Everything, I don't think there are any other must-watch movies that were on my radar for 2014, and I am mindful of the fact that it's now almost June.

It's a shame that I won't get to cover more of that year's foreign films (I'm almost annoyed with myself about it), and it's a shame that I couldn't include movies that were kind of on my radar, like Nightcrawler, The Enemy, Laggies, Calvary, Mr. Turner, Goodbye to Language, Frank, A Most Wanted Man...

Worse, though, I feel a little pissed that I didn't see more of Hollywood's films with female subjects. I keep writing here and telling my friends how upset I am with how Hollywood treats women, the female marketing segment, and how they basically think dramatic stories about women won't appeal to anyone. So I should at least see what little they do produce, and mock the offerings when they're inferior. Hell, a big part if why I made a point of including Wild was that I realized my mainstream viewing was a total sausage fest. But, hey that's as bad a bad feminist as I ever get, so I'm still clearly awesome.

Anyway, after those four films, I can complete my 2014 Round-Up, where my opinion on 9 ridiculous movie categories can get parceled out. I'll still do my long-delayed double dips for Gone Girl and Babadook, though I may not get to Lego Movie or Selma (don't worry, I'm sure DJ will publish that review soon). I'll complete my reviews for Carrie, Ex Machina, Mad Max Fury Road, and Avengers 2.

Astonishingly, I will actually try to get all of that posted pretty quickly - in addition to, if I have time, 10 or so further entries that I think are nifty enough to merit the effort.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bad Lip Reading's Redneck Avengers: Tulsa Nights

I haven't posted a fan-made gem for a while, and I can't really comment much at the moment. The part of me that's responsible for thinking and writing is laughing too hard to add anything right now. The way the voices match the faces and the mouth movements, god, the theme song alone... Well, just enjoy:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Birdman Review - What the F--- Was That?!

I never have or ever would take LSD or mushrooms. Despite my lack of experience, I have to think that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the narrative equivalent of dropping acid or eating a ‘shroom, then finding that everything has gone all hazy and impossible and senseless. I can’t say for certain that it deserved the Best Picture Oscar (I have yet to see Two Days, One Night), but I simultaneously think that (a) it is incredibly good and that (b) I can understand why so many people disliked what they saw. There was no way to make a movie that does what this one does without splitting audiences. Division and dissent was inevitable - even the poster was beautifully crazy.

Birdman centers on an intense 2-3 day period in the weird life of Riggan Thompson. From the get-go, this movie operates on a level that’s so “meta” that it’s potentially distracting or pretentious: Riggan is currently a wreck because he’s a neurotic thespian writing, directing, producing, and starring in his potential comeback – a Broadway play based on a short story by Raymond Carver. Riggan is a long-absent actor whose career is overwhelmed by the highly-successful superhero franchise he starred in decades ago... And Riggan is portrayed by Michael Keaton, the same guy who played the lead in Tim Burton’s late 80’s/early 90’s Batman films. The picture’s barely begun and yet you wonder if the writer/director is making fun of the viewer.

I could take ages unpacking this movie. It has a subtitle, but unlike Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, this one is parenthetical. It centers on a Raymond Carver short story, and uses part of a poem of his for its opening text. I have no problem doing the research necessary to look into and piece these elements together – in fact, I take pleasure from it – but I don’t know how helpful any of it would be. We’re talking about a picture wherein the things that just happen are not constrained by a consistent internal logic. Hell, the opening scene has Thompson flying and using telekinesis – while having a debate with an internal voice that’s supposed to be Riggan’s old Birdman role, a voice that’s as “gritty” and “rough” as the growl Christian Bale used in Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

So what can I tell someone who hasn’t seen this movie yet? For starters, it’s a visual masterwork. The CGI is smooth and looks beautiful, used to create various different effects during the picture’s running time. Each location feels real (I’ve been to most of them repeatedly), with set dressing that’s distractingly natural. Many (or most) shots are noticeably beautiful, and it kind of looks as if every single trick – odd angles, forced perspective, use of dark spaces to hide edits – is employed here.

But it’s the design to the cinematography that probably steals the show - Birdman is filmed so that the camera floats from one scene to another, throughout and over the theater Riggan has rented, as well as the Midtown Manhattan streets surrounding it. Through editing, it appears as if we’re watching one long camera take in and around its setting, and the shots are just f--king gorgeous. As a professional photographer, I can say it: the execution of the camera movement and creating effective transitions from one scene to the next is about as fine a bit of work as I’ve ever seen.

It's also a wildly funny film. Very few actual jokes are made by the players, but you can tell that writer-director Iñárritu has a strong and sharp comic mind. He uses situational humor as nicely as he does comedic lines, employs absurdism and satire, and the nature of the jokes range from gentle to urbane to kind of vicious. Like Gone Girl, Birdman is a very, very modern film, especially in the dialogue - and it's not even González' native language! I'm... really struggling not to spoil any of the lines here, so just know that I'm a comedian and I say it's dead-funny.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recommended: The Flash TV Series

CW Network’s The Flash begins with the most important day of Barry Allen's life: one night, when Barry was a child, his home was filled by a yellow and red tornado. His parents rush their kid out of the room, screaming for Barry to run... And the upshot is that his mom dies, and his dad is wrongly imprisoned for her murder.

In one of the most unlikely conflicts of interest in fiction history, the arresting officer – Det. Joe West - adopts the kid whose dad he sent to prison (awkward!). 15 years later, Allen is a scientist working crime scene investigations alongside his adoptive father. Barry is a bit tortured by his family history - he's convinced his real dad is innocent, which Detective West can't even begin to believe - but he's generally an upbeat, right-minded, good-looking nerd... Until the next major evening in his life, when everything gets simultaneously far better and far worse.

As it so happens, Central City's biggest purveyor of technology – S.T.A.R. Labs – has built their equivalent of CERN's Large Hadron Collider. On the night that Barry is working in his CSI office, S.T.A.R.'s device goes online, disastrously. A blast of energy envelops the city, Barry is left in a coma after being struck by lightning, and the world will never be the same.

What changed? For starters, Dr. Harrison Wells (Thomas Cavanaugh), the director of S.T.A.R. Labs (and Barry's sort-of idol), is left crippled. Bound to a wheelchair and blamed for nearly destroying the city, Dr. Wells' thriving business has been abandoned by all but two of its junior scientists. For another thing, Barry’s coma lasts for months, his vital signs confuse the local doctors, and time starts moving slowly once he wakes up. Also, Central City is now teeming with a new species of criminal – “metahumans” who control the weather, teleport, shoot electricity from their hands, or induce rage in anyone they lock eyes with.

The Flash is kind of a miracle. Much like the first season of its big sister, The Arrow, this CW series tries to bring comic book characters and stories to the small screen, and succeeds greatly. Super-speed is a pretty odd gimmick for a television series – it will require lots of expensive CGI work, as few modern day producers/editors/directors will risk using old techniques that may look dated today. Moreover, it’s also not easy to create tons of tension or intrigue when your protagonist has an ability that should resolve most problems – possessing, in essence, more time than everyone else. Heroes, for example, had a guy who could travel through space and time... and that show handled his mega-super-power with plots wherein he lost his powers or kept him as far away from the action as possible.

Ugh, but enough Heroes flashbacks, we’re here to talk about a show that had a fine first season, as well as a chance at offering up a decent second (or third, or fourth) effort.

Not my work. All credit goes to Dylan Todd's recaps.

It’s quite an accomplishment, then, to see that the FX work is quite good – you don’t see those “oh, it’s got a TV budget” seams at all. Barry’s powers don’t betray him just so the series can stretch things out (oh, god, Heroes flashbacks again – no, must fight it, let’s not do this)... And the program manages to bring its weird world to life – a vivid, vibrant life – with the same kind of confident ease that Arrow showed in its initial run. Above all, I like that Flash maintains an appropriately-distinct tone from its predecessor.

I’ve been working on this writeup, on and off, for a month now. The extra time made me certain that this series is easier to discuss than its sister show – which is a real blessing for me, because I only have limited time, and I still need to review four more films for my 2014 roundup. But I’m not saying that The Flash deserves less attention than Arrow got (which included a Double Dip about why I dropped it) - it's just that it's a much simpler show, in concept and execution, and its pleasures are easier to describe.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Foxcatcher Review - A Different Shade of the 80s

Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher got a critical response that clashed with its box office reception. Made for $24M, the movie featured Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell in the fictionalized adaptation of an incredible true-life story – how two brothers, both gold-medal Olympic wrestlers, were affected by wealthy heir John du Pont’s love of their sport. Released at the very end of 2014, it only earned $15M in theaters.

Yet the buzz from my friends was persistent and positive. That and all the awards attention were what motivated me to make time for it. Miller took the best director award at Cannes in May of that year, it received three major Golden Globe nods, and its Oscar nominations included Best Director, Best Actor (Carell), Best Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), and Best Original Screenplay (E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman). Odds are better than not that it doesn't stink, y'know?

As its narrative unspooled before me, I felt a great sense of admiration. Every element I would use as a cinematic benchmark was more than satisfied. By roughly the middle-end of the film, sequences can feel a bit too much like vignettes, but the performances and cinematography were stellar. I had expected Foxcatcher to be good, but I hadn’t expected that its strengths could render its flaws nearly invisible.

I already wrote my most efficient plot summary ever above, but let me expound a little. Mark Schultz is an Olympic wrestler with a simple, humble life. His apartment and car are as spare as can be. When not scrounging up whatever cash he can, or eating by himself in sh---y little rooms, Mark trains at the gym run by his older brother, David.

Dave is smaller than his sibling, yet he’s the stronger man, the one people are more interested in, and he’s the one with a business, a wife, and kids. Mark’s opportunity to step out of his brother’s shadow stems from John du Pont wanting to sponsor the next American Olympic wrestling team, but no one can predict how this unexpected patronage will impact the Schultz boys.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Recommended: Video Game High School

Variety is as necessary in entertainment as it is in diet and exercise. I'm pretty sure that a bunch of the worst jerks I've ever met watched lots of reality TV and based their behaviors on the failure-masterpieces they saw therein; similarly, watching only crime procedurals and shows about murderers (e.g., Fargo, Hannibal) probably colors one's thinking after a while. The chance to watch something silly and light-hearted was why I jumped onboard the Video Game High School train - and those qualities are why I'm recommending it to you now.

Brian D (Josh Blaylock) is a teen who lives on a very odd alternate Earth. The nameless American city he's from possesses technology 10-15 years ahead of what we have in the real world. Even more strangely, video games are massively popular there - important news is interrupted when a well-known player has a big scoring spree. This is the wonderful cold open of season 3, episode 1, and it epitomizes the creators' humor - please don't watch beyond the first two minutes:

Somehow, I respect Tony and Joel even more now.

As much as this sounds like a teenage boy's wonderland, it's not a perfect place. Brian D has no father, and his mom is completely obsessed with her TV. Bullies regularly steal Brian's gamer points and items. And not only is Brian late to his multiplayer deathmatch team, he's asked to do chores as soon as he signs in. Yet, in the first episode, it's this same mundane routine that affords Brian a priceless possibility - one through which he can achieve his greatest dreams, or fail spectacularly in public.

After beating one of the best gamers alive, Brian receives an offer straight out of Willy Wonka - a scholarship to Video Game High School, the elite institution where players go to become professional superstars. It's the opportunity of a lifetime, competing against the best of the best in a focused environment with access to great gear. This is like Harry Potter, but with imaginary guns and capture-the-flag scores...
Brian: Low profile, that's my game.
Calhoun: Really?? *Calhoun opens a window shade to reveal dozens of BrianD posters*
Calhoun: Does that game incude a mini-game about being full of crap?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Post #888: Great Moments In... Horrible, Horrible Lines

And the award goes to Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance, as performed by Ryan O'Neal. Although I've never been much of a fan, I can't blame Ryan here at all. I've heard Mailer is supposed to be an amazing writer, yet this writing is just... pure crap:

I'm sorry that I showed that to you. I suppose that was unfair of me. But, hey, let's salvage the moment by seeing if Mailer himself can talk his way out of that writerly s--tstorm:

Nope. Everybody loses.