Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My TV Buddy Dave

My TV Buddy Dave

I guess there was a part of me that really wanted to believe that David Letterman would always be on television.

My TV Buddy Dave has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Born in 1977, I was unquestionably a child of the 1980’s, and was immersed in everything that would imply. I grew up with the holy trinity of Michael, Madonna and Prince on Top 40 radio, I witnessed the MTV revolution firsthand, and while a big chunk of my sense of humor was formed by early exposure to Monty Python (thanks to the older brothers of my grade school best friend), the rest of it was filled in by the dry, Midwestern absurdism of David Letterman.

I can no longer recall the first time I saw the show, but I can certainly conjure the scene. On school nights, naturally, I had a strictly enforced bedtime. But on Friday nights (and summer vacation!) I could more or less stay up as late as I liked. And on Friday nights, if you stayed up past Carson, you could watch Friday Night Videos, an hour-long music video program. And 1980’s Brent loved music videos.

When it launched in 1982, Late Night with David Letterman ran Monday through Thursday nights, which meant I would only ever catch it during a vacation or school break. Eventually, when I was around 10 years old, NBC expanded Late Night with David Letterman to Fridays (pushing Friday Night Videos back to around 1:30 or so).  And it was around that time that I developed a new obsession.

I started taping the Monday through Thursday shows so I could watch them on the weekends. I was especially fond of reruns of the earlier shows. And during summer vacation, I was up late every night, watching the show. I was hooked. Late Night wasn’t just absurdly funny in a way that a tween could enjoy, it also seemed provocative, even dangerous.

There was simply nothing else like it at the time. The man on the street segments. The tweaking of talk show conventions. The knowing apathy of a host who seemed to openly hold contempt for many of the showbiz phonies he had to parlay with.

But more important was Dave’s GAMENESS, his willingness to wade neck-deep into oddness, acting as instigator as well as observer.

The guests!  Andy Kaufman. Harvey Pekar. “Jungle” Jack Hanna. Marv Albert. Howard Stern. Regis Philbin. CHRIS ELLIOTT.

The bits! Top Ten Lists. Larry “Bud” Melman”. Viewer Mail. Small Town News. Stupid Pet Tricks. Stupid Human Tricks. Piedmont Bird Callers. The pencils through the window. Dropping things from the roof. Suit of Velcro. Crushing things in a press. Visiting GE Headquarters. The contentious relationship with NBC brass. Big Ass Ham. Late Night Monkey Cam. I wouldn’t give his troubles to a monkey on a ROCK. Crispin Glover. Will It Float? Is This Anything? Elevator Races. Mujibur and Sirajul. Rupert Jee. Teri Garr in the shower. Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.

And that’s just the stuff I can recall from the top of my head.

The MUSIC. No one else was booking acts like Paul Shaffer did as music director of Late Night/Late Show. Regardless of whether you think The World’s Most Dangerous Band/The CBS Orchestra is COOL, there’s no question that Paul Shaffer has always had his finger on the pulse of what is happening in music, and the quality and breadth of the roster of bands and artists that the show has booked over 33 years is unparalleled in television history. Better than SNL, better than anyone else, hands down, no contest.

It’s unquestionably the first place I saw R.E.M. and Elvis Costello, just to name two of my biggest influences, and countless other acts that impacted me throughout my life. It mattered to me. It made me.

And what about Dave the Broadcaster? The last of a generation, no doubt. As Dave has gotten older and is less inclined to do the random Man on the Street bits, the greatest pleasure to be found on the show comes after the monologue and before the first guest, when oftentimes Dave will tell a free-form story from his life.  Two huge events in his life, his life-saving quadruple bypass surgery, and the birth of his son Harry, lead to a Dave who was more contemplative, and I’ve found that those times are actually my favorite part of the show these days. Just Dave talking about stuff. The younger Dave would have always gone for the laugh. The older Dave was more given to extemporized reflection. It has been fascinating to observe, and though he is around 30 years my senior, in a way it feels like we “grew up” together.

The watershed moment was, of course, his reflections when the show returned following the attacks of 9/11. The gravitas and simplicity of his reaction set a tone that I have returned to time and again.

And all of that is how Dave became my TV buddy. I was about 15 or 16 years old when Dave made the transition to CBS and The Late Show, and by then, the cast and crew felt like family. It wasn’t just Dave, and Paul. It was Biff, too, and Gerard Mulligan, Bill Wendall, Robert “Morty” Morton and Hal Gurnee. These were my pals who, on a nightly basis, seemed to be making this wonderful, brilliant, stupid show just for me and my sensibilities.

I owned all of the books of Top Ten Lists. I followed Chris Elliott’s career in earnest. I wrote to the show and got some autographs (still nothing from Paul or Dave yet, gentlemen. It’s not too late!) and felt ownership in MY show with my TV Buddy Dave.

I always assumed that at some point, I’d make it onto the show, as a writer, as a director, as a musician, as SOMETHING. I rehearsed my answers to questions that would ultimately never be posed.

And so the end of the show is also the end of a dream for me, and yet another signifier of my increasing age. As I approach 40, and continue to lose family and friends, each loss is that much more keenly felt. And now the loss of a near-daily presence in my life, a voice of biting intelligence and humor, only confirms my continual aging, and robs me of one more piece of comfort and stability.

But that’s my trip, and I can’t hold it against Dave. He changed the world of comedy forever, and gave us so much entertainment. He’s earned his retirement.  I suspect

But I still want that autograph, Dave.

God Bless.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Brent watches all of the 2015 Best Picture contenders, tells you why they don't matter, picks a winner anyway

When I was a kid, I loved the Oscars. I watched solemnly every year, and what's more, it mattered to me, damn it.

Eventually I got older and realized that the idea of putting individual pieces of art in competition with one another seemed unusual and wrongheaded. A great horror movie may satisfy in a way that’s much different from a great comedy. (And both horror and comedy are more or less invisible to the Oscars.) Does that make one “better” than the other? To be sure, there are basic standards of competency by which any reasonable movie-goer can judge the qualities of a particular film. But to decide that one is better than all of the rest seems unfair.

 And what's more, even if we swallow the idea that artistic expressions (and cinematic manifestations of corporate greed) should be judged against one another, the kind of movies that the Oscars tend to celebrate usually aren’t all that great after all. The aforementioned examples of Comedy and Horror are pretty much invisible to the Academy altogether, with “Serious Dramas“ being king. (Sure, there’s the rare “Return of the King” to appease the nerds, but the Lord of the Rings movies were simply too hugely popular and well-made to be ignored). Biopics are good bets, particularly if the subject suffered some sort of physical, mental, or societal abuse. More often than not, your Oscar winner was going to be an “eating your vegetables” movie.

But do those movies last? Let’s look at the Oscar winners for Best Picture for the last ten years.

2013 – 12 Years a Slave
2012- Argo
2011 – The Artist
2010- The King’s Speech
2009 – The Hurt Locker
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2007 – No Country for Old Men
2006 – The Departed
2005 – Crash
2004 – Million Dollar Baby

Now, of those films, which ones have stood the admittedly truncated test of time? I think 12 Years a Slave is still too new to really judge its staying power, though its grim subject matter and questionable re-watchability (is anyone really dying to sit through it again?) makes me think it will likely be remembered as a good movie, but not an all-time classic. Whether that’s fair or not is up to you to decide.

Argo and The Artist, both fun movies for different reasons, and more excuses for Hollywood to celebrate itself. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (or whatever…I did that from memory and am not looking it up!) like movies about movies, actors and acting almost as much as they like movies about the afflicted. But while there’s nothing inherently wrong about either of those movies, is there any reason to think we’ll still be talking about them 10 or 20 years from now?

The King’s Speech fits into our historical biopic slot, winning the prize based on, I dunno, its Britishness? While there was certainly nothing wrong with the movie, there was also nothing particularly exciting or new about it either. I like Colin Firth just fine, but can you imagine being excited to watch that movie again?

The Hurt Locker, Crash, and Million Dollar Baby are “issues” movies, dealing with war, racism, and euthanasia, respectively. MDB is an ok movie, but not something I see anyone revisiting willingly. The Hurt Locker is a better movie, but another example of “once will do ya”. And Crash? Well Crash is a bad movie, and it still stands as the real head-scratcher of the bunch.

So, that leaves us with Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, and The Departed as the three most original films left in the lineup. And even then I use “original” with hesitation, as Slumdog and No Country are adaptations of books, and The Departed is a remake of the also excellent 2002 Hong Kong flick, Infernal Affairs.

That being said, those are the three movies I’d pick as having staying power, and being examples of times when the Oscars got close to being “right”. Of course, that is entirely subjective, and an example of my being fond of emotionally and existentially complex violent crime movies. Could be that you’d prefer uplifting tales, in which case Slumdog and The King’s Speech may be more your bag. Which is just another example of how singling one out as “Best” just doesn’t work.

Of course, taste is subjective, especially if you have some, so I can’t say the Oscars get it wrong more than they get it right, but….they get it wrong more than they get it right. And really, it doesn’t matter at all.

I don't CARE anymore.

 But I do watch, and here's why: I love movies, and will grab any chance to talk about movies, and if the Oscars does nothing else, it at least stimulates conversation about movies. Come Oscar season every person on earth has an opinion about a movie, and is ready to talk about it. And I think that's great.

So, while I won't pretend that the Oscars matter, or that they're even a good idea, I also won't pretend that I don't enjoy talking about them, thus this post.

This year I decided to really make an effort to see all of the Best Picture noms, even the ones that I would normally skip as boring awards bait. Here's how I did, and what I thought.

First, let’s review our Best Picture nominees:

American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Before we get into handicapping our winner, what did I actually think of them?

Let’s get the aforementioned “eating your veggies” movies out of the way first.

The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Selma, American Sniper


FOUR biopics in the running this year, each depicting a real-life person who grappled with adversity. The Theory of Everything = Stephen Hawking, genius afflicted with motor neuron disease. Still alive. The Imitation Game = Alan Turing, genius behind-the-scenes war hero and inventor of the modern computer, persecuted for his homosexuality. Committed suicide after undergoing court-ordered hormone therapy. Dead. Selma = Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., visionary civil rights leader plagued by injustices of institutional racism.  Assassinated. Dead. American Sniper = US Military Marksman Chris Kyle. Suffers PTSD, is murdered by another vet after returning home. Dead.

Isn’t it fun?

So how do the movies in the Depressing as Hell and Probably as Boring to Match category shake out?

First, we must grapple with the fact that each of these films, to varying degrees, has been accused of glossing over facts, distorting the truth, or outright making shit up. There are a whole lotta folks with a whole lotta panties all bunched up over what these movies “got wrong”.

But these aren’t documentaries. They’re films. And to me, I’m not concerned about the facts as much as I’m concerned about whether or not the movie is any damn good.

The Theory of Everything is boring tripe and its nomination is confirmed proof of the Oscar Formula at work. Eddie Redmayne is probably going to steal Michael Keaton’s Oscar, and that makes me sad. Enough said.

The Imitation Game is one of those thrillers that isn’t actually thrilling at all. It’s very quiet, it’s very British. It’s not bad, but it’s certainly nothing special. Turing’s story deserves a great movie. This isn’t that movie.

The fact that I can’t be bothered to write much more about those two should tell you what I thought about them.

Selma is carried primarily by the charisma of David Oyelowo in the role of MLK. He gives humanity and relatability to a towering historical figure, and anchors what is an otherwise mediocre production plagued by stunt-casting (Brits Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth slathered in prosthetics and shaky accents as LBJ and George Wallace, respectively, as well as cameos by Oprah Winfrey and Cuba Gooding Jr that do little except yank the viewer out of the experience). The story being told was interesting enough to keep me invested, and I liked the leads, but the whole thing had a TV Movie vibe going on that I could never quite shake.

American Sniper is the biggest movie in the running, an unexpected “America! F#$% Yeah!” blockbuster that has a lot of people cheering, and just as many crying foul. It could be argued that Clint Eastwood’s film about sniper Chris Kyle is factually inaccurate and xenophobic (if not outright racist), a propaganda tool for rallying people around God and Guns; but I think the argument could also be made that American Sniper is actually an anti-war film that attempts to show the harrowing effects of PTSD. Whatever political baggage you bring into the movie is definitely going to color your perception of its message.

But in the end, American Sniper is actually about…30 minutes too long. It’s a snooze, it’s clumsy, and I’m not sure that it really makes its point.  Bradley Cooper is remarkably transformed in the role of Chris Kyle, and worthy of praise, but that’s about all I can bother to single out as having made an impression on me. I will probably be in the minority with my apathy, as most people seem to either love or hate this flick. I couldn’t bother to feel much either way, and found myself checking my watch for the last hour or so.

Now, the movies that actually interested me!

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash

The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s latest obsessive compulsive confection, another picture book film packed with world-building detail. At some point, maybe around The Royal Tenenbaums, I felt that Anderson was getting carried away by whimsicality, but I think he found his heart again with Moonrise Kingdom.  GBH manages to keep the heart while doubling down on the humor and OCD-addled set design. It is every bit as heartfelt as it is meticulous, and while it feels too slight to have a serious shot at the big prize, the fact that it tied Birdman for most nominations could indicate a surprise. And I wouldn’t mind that at all. Or it could be a wash. At any rate, I really loved it, and until Birdman is released on Blu Ray, it’s the only of this year’s Best Picture nominees that I actually purchased for the home library.

While it’s true that Oscar loves movies about movies and actors and movie actors, I remain surprised by the acceptance that Birdman has been shown. Alejandro Inarritu’s film is not a conventional one. It tells the story of Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor best known for his portrayal of movie superhero “Birdman”, attempting to stage his adaptation of a Raymond Carver play in order to salvage not just his career, but also his reputation as an actor, and his sense of self.

Birdman is visually dazzling, edited in such a way as to suggest that it was all shot in one continuous take. Just thinking about the effort spent to coordinate the blocking of the actors and the movement of the camera gives me a movie-boner. It really is a feat. It also has a whip-smart script brought to life by a very game cast. It is weird and delightful. Michael Keaton is career-best terrific, and man I really hope he gets that Best Actor Oscar, because it just feels right, you know?

Which brings us to what was once the runaway favorite to win it all, Boyhood.

Is Boyhood a good movie? Yup! But that doesn't prevent it from also being something of an overlong cinematic parlor trick that you're sorta obliged to decorate due to its sheer existence.

The central concept is impressive: every year for 12 years, director Richard Linklater gathered the same group of actors and followed their trajectory in real time. So you really do see the titular boy “Grow up” before you. It’s a dazzling trick. But is it a great movie?

Probably. I liked it, I really did. And I adore Linklater. I think he’s one of the last real risk-takers in American film, and I’m hopeful he is rewarded on Oscar night. His body of work is so quietly impressive and unfairly overlooked.

But that being said, I don’t expect to watch Boyhood again any time soon. When it wrapped up I thought “Huh. That was pretty cool.” And that was the last that I’ve really thought about it.

So, that brings us to the movie that made me actually stand up in my empty basement and clap to no one other than my television, and that movie was Whiplash. That film made me nervous, and it made me cheer. Nothing else managed to pull that off this year. So while it wasn't as showy, it didn't have as many tricks, one movie above all others managed to combine outstanding performances, hypnotic direction, frenetic scoring and good old fashioned grown-ass movie making into something I loved, and that was Whiplash.

But aside for the locked-in win for J.K. Simmons as Best Supporting Actor, it doesn’t have much hope of winning anything else. It’s not as flashy, it’s not as odd, it’s not as “important” or serious. So, it doesn’t have a chance.

As for handicapping the actual winner, the easiest cut is always to take away the movies that weren't also nominated for Best Director. Although 7 flicks were nominated for Best Picture, there are only five Best Director spots, so I always assume that those are the movies that have the actual shot at winning. (And conversely, director Bennett Miller was nominated for Best Director for his film Foxcatcher. However, in a turn of events I can’t recall happening before, the movie itself didn’t land a Best Picture nom, even though they can nominate up to 10 films every year for Best Picture, and they had 3 spots left. It’s a headscratcher. Regardless, he doesn’t have a hope in hell.)

Through most of the season, I would have seen no reason to bet against Boyhood. It swept most of the early critic awards, and while it may be a bit overlong or too ponderous for some voters, it could serve as the sort of Lifetime Achievement award that the Academy likes to bestow upon directors that it has overlooked for too long.

However, although Boyhood had all of the early momentum, the pendulum has swung heavily into Birdman’s favor, as it has swept the PGA, DGA and SAG awards. And as we noted earlier, Birdman is a movie about movie actors, and movie actors make up the largest percentage of the Oscar voting body. Actors like to reward actory things. I see no reason why Birdman’s momentum should crash at this point.

All that being said, our two-horse race is actually a three-horse race now, as it is impossible to deny the blockbuster American Sniper, which has made more money than all of the other Best Picture nominees combined. Although its general vibe may be off-putting to a left-leaning Hollywood crowd, you can’t argue with the fact that it will be the most viewed film in the running. Also, it’s wise to remember that the Academy has a longstanding crush on Director Clint Eastwood. So while I don’t really see American Sniper pulling off the win, I also wouldn’t be surprised at all if it happens.

So for all intents and purposes, those are the three movies actually in the running.

But who would I give it to, from this “real contenders” batch? It's hard to say. I didn’t really care for American Sniper, so that’s an easy cut. I liked Boyhood, I admired Boyhood, but I don't see myself revisiting it, at least not anytime soon.  And I loved Birdman, but I think I loved it more for its virtuoso directorial flash than its heart. I look forward to watching it again soon, as I think there is a still a lot about that movie to unpack.

So of the real contenders, my vote goes to Birdman. But if I had my druthers, Whiplash would walk away with it all.

Have fun watching the show, don’t take it too seriously, and make a point to go see some movies that didn’t get anywhere close to an Oscar nomination. At the end of the day it IS a popularity contest, and there are some remarkable movies out there that need your attention more than the cool kids do.

But most of all, watch movies, love movies, and talk about movies. It’s pretty much all the Oscars are really good for.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cynicism Killed Dead by Christmas Joy - A Classic BrentIsAngry Tale

I originally posted this way back at the inception of this blog, circa 2010, looking back to the events of a year prior. It was one of my earliest, as well as most popular, pieces. Today, as we prepare to enter the time known to public school employees as "Winter Break" (aka "WOOHOO! WOOHOO! WOOHOO!")  it seemed like an appropriate time to share. Please feel free to pass this around the internet and turn me into one of those popular holiday storytellers like Jean Shepherd or David Sedaris.

 And now...

In the winter of 2009, I was in my fourth year serving time as a secretary at an elementary school. Ordinarily the job filled me with rage and/or existential angst, as I grappled with traditional office chores such as the payroll and OSHA report, and less traditional chores such as tending to children who crap their pants every single day.

It was the Friday before our two week Christmas break was to begin. I typically viewed this day with a mixture of anticipation (yay, no more work!) and anxiety (I have a lot of stuff to do before I leave for two weeks!)

But on that final Friday in 2009, all of that apprehension was wiped away by honest to God Christmas cheer. The real kind you've seen unconvincingly portrayed in the less awful Lifetime TV movies.

Our school was located in an area commonly known as "Rubber Town", where the air is monitored daily due to its toxicity. Many of our kids came from lower income families. (For instance, our free/reduced lunch count that year was around 99%. Even I, a relative dullard when it comes to numbers, can see that is a very high percentage). It was, by and large, not an ideal living environment, and a lot of our families, perhaps even most of our families, struggled in nearly every sense of the word.

However, that year, as part of the new Parent Choice initiative, in which schools in disparate areas were given new "magnet programs" utilized to attract a diverse group of students and families to areas they may otherwise shun, the school received a new Environmental Energy Studies program. In short, we had "gone green".

There was a $6 million renovation, in which the entire building was put on geothermal energy, along with receiving a new roof, new floors, and a brand new office and library media center. There were gardens, outdoor classrooms, Environmental Labs, the works. It was actually all pretty great.

This magnet program had also lead to partnerships with many of the local chemical companies, who may have been driven by guilt, or greed, or perhaps even genuine kindness. Who can say? I'd like to say it was kindness.

One of these companies in particular had chosen to sponsor us, as a school, for the holidays. They took "wish lists" from teachers for stuff they would like to have for their classrooms.  The official word was that the company "would see what they could do."

And what they did, on that fateful Friday, the last before our Christmas break, was back a trailer up to the rear of the school, filled with every single thing everyone had asked for.

They bought ALL of it.

Every single thing that the teachers asked for. And more.

Art supplies. Furniture. Games. Technology.

The hallways were PACKED WITH STUFF. I wandered around the school marveling as these ordinary folks in Santa hats wheeled in a nearly comical number of dollies and carts. I was filled with a happy disbelief, a silent awe of the generosity that  Christmas should inspire every year, but seldom does.

But it wasn't over yet, not by a longshot. Because not only were they wheeling in carts and flatbeds full of goodies for the teachers, but they had actually enlisted the services of two deities, Santa Claus himself, and the official Louisville Cardinals Cardinal mascot, who went systematically throughout the school, moving room to room, giving out presents to every single kid in the building.

It was the craziest damn thing. I was wandering the halls just soaking it all up, and every few minutes I would hear screams, actual SCREAMS of delight and excitement, completely natural and not coerced, as Santa and the Cardinal entered each classroom, the "helper elves" following close behind with carts full of presents.

I honestly can't describe it as anything other than magical. Have you ever seen actual magic? Nope. But this was magic, the real stuff, tapped straight from the spirit of human kindness. My heart was genuinely touched by the pure joy expressed by little kids who still fervently believed in Santa. Kids who may not have gotten anything for Christmas other than what they were brought that day. Kids who had somehow not managed to be crushed by their living situations, who possessed the resilience to believe in magic and still feel undiluted glee.

And it just grew increasinlyg intense as the day went on, as I talked to the kids throughout the day to see what they thought.

I heard one of the kids say "I will treasure this forever." That's a fairly well-composed thought for a little kid, and the thing is, I believed it, completely. What kind of kid says "I will treasure this forever"? A kid who has been genuinely touched inside, that's who.

Another kid told me that it was his dream to meet the Cardinal bird because his grandfather was supposed to take him to a UofL game, but he died a couple of weeks before he could take him to the game. So he got his picture taken with the Cardinal and his Christmas wish came true.

I can you not believe in Christmas when you hear something like that?

Now, there are probably still some grumps out there who are thinking something along the lines of "Sure, these chemical companies poison the air then buy the kids off with presents." I had a similar feeling as the day began.

BUT, here's the thing: The company itself didn't sponsor the giving. This wasn't a corporate tax write-off or publicity stunt. This was all the work of THE INDIVIDUAL EMPLOYEES. They had 100% employee participation in raising funds, and several employees selected one classroom to sponsor. So, disappointing the cynics, there wasn't even any evil at play. Just pure christmas cheer! Can you believe it? Most of the time you can't get 100% participation for anything. I've run the UNICEF campaign often enough, trust me, I know. But every single person at the company decided to make a kid (and a school's) life much brighter, just because it was a good thing to do.

The kids were crying, the teachers were crying, the people bringing the stuff in were crying. Everyone was crying. I'm crying now just remembering that day.

Christmas joy. I will never forget the sound of it. I wish I could share it with you today, as it echoes in my head the same way it echoed in the halls on that chilly winter day at the school. As an adult, Christmas has been all about my family and friends, spending time with my loved ones.  And that's a legitimate reason to enjoy the season.

But for one day I remembered what Christmas was really about: it's about kids, and magic that only kids can really believe in. And for one special day, I believed again as well.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Celebrating Four Years of Anger! Random Reviews: The Colony, Kill List, You're Next, much more!

Insert here my semi-annual apology/explanation of why I don't post as often as I once did. I am only one man, friends. But Halloween is my favorite movie-viewing season of all, so, stirred by a fondness for terrible horror movies and a need to share my inane thoughts with others, here we go!


The Colony

The Colony should have been a home-run for me, as it combined some of my favorite tropes: post-apocalypse, wintery isolation (ala The Thing), cannibals, and Bill Paxton. And yet, there's something about this movie that I couldn't put my finger on, until I realized that it was a Canadian production. And there you have it. This movie is very...Canadian.

Earth has been consumed by snow thanks to malfunctioning climate control machines. Or maybe in spite of functional climate control machines. I'm not sure. Suffice to say that there are giant weather control machines, and they're not working correctly.

Small bands of survivors are cloistered in subterranean bunkers, where they grow seeds and hope to find a way to reverse the seemingly endless winter. However, their already diminished numbers are threatened by disease, which leads to an Orwellian nightmare scenario for the inhabitants. If you start coughing, chances are you're sick. And if you're sick, you can either elect to be shot, or you can wander out into the wasteland to freeze to death. Of course, this being a movie in need of dramatic thrust, it isn't long before the healthy start making that choice FOR the sick. Blam.

Laurence Fishburne is your stoic commander, trying to do the right thing. Bill Paxton is your trigger-happy survivalist, hellbent on keeping the Colony safe at any cost. And then there's some other guy who is the hero, but I can't really remember his name or the actor, because Canadian Movie.

A distress call comes from a nearby bunker, and Larry, good guy that he is, decides that they must go investigate. After a suspenseful journey across frozen wastes, (this being arguably the best part of the movie, highlighted by some neat images of the giant weather machines, which gives the whole thing a sense of proportion) the away team makes a gruesome discovery.

Cannibals! Yes, cannibals are eating survivors, moving from colony to colony, their eerie, wordless shrieks of hunger lending some eeriness to the proceedings. The introductory scene in which one of the freaks is discover hacking into corpses like sides of beef is particularly chilling.

But at the end of the day, it's just not enough.

The Colony is a solid premise betrayed by obvious budget limitations. Some bad CG gore here, some dumb looking green screen effects there, and an overall generic pass at dialogue leads to a movie that is less than the sum of its admittedly formidable (Winter! Apocalypse! Paxton! Cannibals!) parts. That being said, it's definitely not terrible, and if you think you'd like this sort of thing, you may as well check it out. You can definitely do much, much worse, and you get the feeling that everyone involved was really TRYING, gosh darn it.

Kill List

 One part In Bruges, one part Wicker Man, Kill List is a satisfying mix of hit man and cult genres.

Jay and Gal are former soldiers who were involved in some bad shit in Kiev. Gal is a contract killer, but Jay hasn't been doing much of anything. Urged by his wife (and a need for $$$), Jay joins Gal on a job, only to find that things aren't exactly what they seem. Oh, and also, he is a psychopath who manages to take even the contract killing of slimeballs a bit beyond the pale.

Kill List isn't the most original idea in the world, but it works, due in large part to the easy interplay between the two leads, and the pervasive air of dread. Atmosphere is everything, and pacing and score do a lot to crank up the unease. The actors have good chemistry, and there is a great deal of humor that comes naturally from the characters, which does a good job of grounding the more horrific scenes.

I liked Kill List. Would it kill you to watch it? See what I did there? I'm sorry. I'll shut down the site now.

You're Next

Speaking of movies that somehow miraculously escape the low bar of their respective genres, You're Next is yet another home invasion movie (albeit a home invasion movie with animal masks) that is somehow much, much better than the sum of its parts.

A well to do family reunites at their Missouri vacation home, at the same time a band of psychos in animal masks is murdering their way along the countryside. You're Next mixes the "What do they want and why are they doing this?" home invasion motif of The Strangers, with the masked killer trope of, uh, every horror movie ever made.

But the film is extremely well made, offering surprises, shudders, laughs, and clever kills. Along with his buddy Ti West (who guest stars here), Director Adam Wingard has become one of the big names to watch in horror. You're Next delivers on the promise of V/H/S. I haven't had this much fun watching a dumb horror flick in quite some time. Highly recommended.

Escape From Tomorrow

Escape from Tomorrow recently gained some notoriety due to its central conceit: this tale of a distressed middle aged father going through a midlife crisis/total break in sanity while on a family vacation at Walt Disney World was actually, honest god, shot AT Walt Disney World.

This fact is, naturally, the most interesting thing about the movie, and everyone involved seems to know it. That's why you keep hearing about how they got away with shooting inside the park, and not, like, how good the movie is.

EFT was shot guerilla style on digital cameras within the actual Magic Kingdom and Disney Land. The filmmakers did not have permission to film inside the park (because surely it would have been immediately shot down), and they wear that as a badge of honor. In fact, it's pretty much the only badge that the movie can wear.

Strip away the "Hey, that's Splash Mountain!" aspect of the film, and all you're left with is a fairly amateurish production with dinner-theater acting and a storyline about a middle aged Dad who keeps chasing around some seemingly underage teens which will set the pseudo-pedo alarms of most viewers a-ringin'.

At the end of the day, the fact that Disney's only comment about the film is that they are "aware" of it, and that they have instead let the film die on its own lack of merits, should tell you all you need to know.

That being said, if you're a big WDW nut like me, it's worth at least one viewing just to play the "Hey, I know where they shot that!" game. I'd also wager that if there's a home video release, any Making of or Commentary tracks would be fascinating. But the movie itself? Not so much.

The rest:

Paranormal Activity 3 & 4; Insidious Chapter 2, Machete Kills -

These movies are bad, and not in a fun way, but in a bad way. Do not watch them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Summer Superhero Kickoff: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

It took me forever to get around to watching The Amazing Spider-Man. Something about it just left me apathetic. Maybe it was my love for the Raimi flicks, and my resistance to the idea that a reboot was necessary so soon after the end of that series of movies. Maybe I was just super-heroed out. Maybe the preview just didn't grab me. I can’t say. I just couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for it.

When I finally watched it, there were things I liked about it (Emma Stone, Denis Leary, the web-swinging sequences, the return to the mechanical web-shooters and Peter Parker’s origins as a science nerd), but the things I didn’t like (the ugly ass Koopa-lookin’ Lizard, Andrew Garfield’s snotty Spidey) were more distracting. This was not my Spider-Man, and while I liked parts of it, I really didn’t care for the movie over all.

So, I was surprised to find that The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is taking a critical beating, was a much more enjoyable experience for me. Spidey seemed like less of a dick and was actually funny; there was more delving into Peter’s science acumen; Electro, Green Goblin and Rhino were much more interesting than The Ugly Ass Lizard; the fights were more exciting, the web-swinging was cooler, the relationship between Peter and Gwen more fleshed out. I dunno, I know a lot of people are hating this flick, but I actually liked it.

Now, it’s not perfect.  Before he turns into his superpowered Electro form, Jamie Foxx’s nebbish Max Dillon is played at a Schumacherian level of camp. I also never really understood the disease that is turning Norman and Harry Osborn green.  And I would have liked a lot more Paul Giamatti.

But that being said, I laughed a lot more at this movie than the first one, I “woo!”’d a lot more at this movie than the first one, and I was apparently emotionally invested enough in this flick that when the story reached its climax (a conclusion that is no surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the history of Spider-Man comics) it actually affected me emotionally. It took the wind out of my sails. I was sad.

And that’s something, right?

So, with the caveat that I didn’t like the first one very much, and no one else seems to like this one, I can say that I liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  So there.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This movie is a month old by now, so no one cares what I have to say, but let the record reflect that as both a popcorn movie fan and a Captain America nerd, I was delighted by this movie. Delighted. It was delightful.
Marvel continues to make interesting choices with their director hires, and the Russo Bros (who bring their experience directing the endearingly meticulous TV show Community to bear in the form of tons of throwaway gags/references and amusing character interplay) knocked this one out of the park on their first swing.

Using the now classic Ed Brubaker run on the Captain America comics as a springboard, The Winter Soldier mixes espionage flicks and 1970’s style political thrillers into their superhero stew to make a very satisfying, well made action film.  You don’t just bring Robert Redford on board for any ol’ shit show. This movie earns the nod of approval that his presence suggests.

In his third outing in the Steve Rogers character, Chris Evans has finally made the role his own, and everyone else brings their A game as well.  This is the smartest and most entertaining movie Marvel has made since the first Iron Man. I was satisfied, and I am rarely satisfied.  I couldn’t have been much happier with it.