Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dr. Slumdog or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Blog Again

It has been a very trying week for me. On Monday, my wallet, cell phone and iPod were stolen out of my car. I went thru an abbreviated version of the steps of grief or coping or whatever you might call them. When I realized the iPod was gone, I was irritated. It's the second one that's been stolen from me, BOTH gifts from my mother. When I figured out that the wallet with ATM card, driver's license, forty dollars in cash and my cell phone with all my numbers in it were gone, I was enraged. And then when it dawned on me that all my pictures, videos and most importantly text messages from my sweetheart were now in the hands of someone else from whom I would not get them back, I became so depressed, I skipped work for two days. Then I began the process of getting my life back together, cell phone by debit card, one piece at a time.

Until I walked into Chase bank this morning. I went to go check on my claim because someone had taken four hundred dollars out of my account on Monday morning and the person over the phone assured me that I would have it back in a few days. However, after sitting and talking to a helpful young man at the branch, he called the claims department and put me on the phone with them. They explained to me they would not be crediting my account and listed a few frivolous reasons as to why they wouldn't. After some back and forth in which they explained they would not be able to help me any further and that they would not re-open my claim, I hug up the phone, calmly closed my account and walked across the street to Bank of America.

What does this have to do with movies? I'm getting there.

Let's switch topics again for a brief moment and get it out in the open. Terrorism is bad. We can all agree on that, I'm certainly not disputing it, but I want to say it, so everyone knows I'm on board when I say that I really don't concern myself with it. I don't know if it's living on the West Coast or having spent time in the Middle East, but let's table that for now and say I have a far more personal and valid reason for having an unfair prejudice against Middle Easterners. For as long as there is a heavily accented customer service rep NOT servicing me as a customer, I will hold these prejudices. For every slumdog that yells at me because he can't fix my computer, tells me I am eligible for a great new rate on my wireless plan or tells me that checking the ATM camera installed at their branch is "not what they do," I'll lump them in with the terrorists. And some of my very best friends, close friends are Filipino and that's close enough.

So, as I was driving home, cursing said slumdog, it occurred to me that if that awful movie's lasting legacy is a racial epithet against the very people the film exploited, then maybe there is some justice in the world. Or as they would call it 'karma.' Is this an outwardly racist post? I don't think so. Does it necessarily have to do with movies? Kinda. But, if it does tell you how movies play a part in forming my world views and shaping my personality, then I think that's a pretty good blog. And maybe I should start doing more of them like this.

Unfortunately, I was the one covered in the proverbial shit.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Better Not Bring Your Kids!

I had the day off from work and rather than go out to the movies, I stayed inside. After reorganizing three stacks of DVDs about three feet high each, I still couldn't pick one, so I threw in season two of Chappelle's Show, intending to watch it until my cousin called me. He texted me back hours later, but by that time, I was already too deep into the DVD to even care.

If you haven't never seen the show, you're missing out on one of the funniest shows of the past decade. Controversial, groundbreaking and genius were some of the adjectives used to describe the show at it's height and it holds up well even today. With the dearth of quality sketch comedy on television, Dave delivered strong quality episodes every week. His commitment to excellence drove him hard enough to walk away from the show after the season, but it remains an amazing testament to his talent and vision. Here are some of my favorite highlights from the second season.

Samuel L. Jackson Beer - I can't watch ANY Samuel L. Jackson movie without thinking to myself, "mmm-mmm bitch!" Especially when sitting in a quiet theater during a Sam Jackson trailer.

Law & Order - This is where the line between jokes and social relevance start to thin to the point of disappearance. From the 'jury of your peers' to Tron's pleading the 'Fif', this sketch is a comedy of absurdity, turning everyday well known conventions of then head and making a mockery of the government's pursuit of justice.

Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories - There was talk and rumors of Dave actually doing a Rick James biopic in the style of these sketches. If only they had come to fruition, we would've had the funniest musical biopic ever.

Making the Band - Trust me, the sketch is far more compelling than anything the actual show ever produced.

KneeHigh Park - I would probably let my kids watch KneeHigh Park. Lots of good lessons there.

Wayne Brady - There may never be a better skewering of a celebrity's public image than Wayne Brady's Training Day-inspired sketch. And if you get the DVD, watch the special features to see Wayne positively squirm at the thought of delivering his now infamous catch phrase.

Black Bush - Possibly the best political sketch of all time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coppin' Out (Of Creating A Clever Post Title)

I have always been a fan of Kevin Smith's movies, his scripts, his regular cast and his Askewniverse in general. I like it when he challenges himself with a film outside of his comfort zone, such as Dogma or Jersey Girl, so I was really looking forward to Cop Out. In his first large scale studio movie, he gets to direct one of the biggest stars in film in his comfort zone of playing a cop. And the teaming of Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan may have soured some people, but it pays off.

Those expecting Die Hard 5 or even Beverly Hills Cop 4 will be disappointed, but anyone who wants to see a comedy about two cops trying to recover one's stolen baseball card and test the fidelity of the other's wife will be hard pressed to find a pair of actors do it better. From the opening scene of Tracy trying to interrogate a suspect by quoting movies from The Color Purple and Schindler's List, the style of Smith's comedy is apparent, but clearly retrained as a result of working with a large budget and limited creative control. But, Willis and Morgan play well off of each other, and even better off of Adam Brody and Kevin Pollak as rival detectives. And my personal distaste for all things of The O.C. aside, I really want to see the movie where Adam Brody and Kevin Pollak star as a team of detectives. Although there are a lot of good supporting actors, including Rashida Jones, Seann William Scott and Jason Lee, they feel underdeveloped and are really just a way to steer us back to Willis and Morgan. By the end, it does become a bit predictable, but that doesn't take away from enjoying to movie up to that point.

And really, who wants a twist ending anymore? People see a movie like Cop Out and whine that's it predictable, then see a movie like Shutter Island and either lie their ass off saying they saw it a mile away or are at least gracious enough to admit their ignorance and complain that the movie didn't make any sense. And moviegoers of this generation, more than any prior, should be embarrassed by the spoils of riches the movie gods have blessed us with! We see more movies in one summer than used to be released in a whole year and you can watch almost any movie, any time you want! If you can find a cheaper way to kill two hours, be my guest.

Sorry about that but back to the movie. My two favorite bits in the entire movie were Willis' character saying he'd never seen Die Hard and Tracy Morgan doing his Cary Grant impression.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Godfather of All Podcasts

On the third episode of Big Mike's Movie Podcast, my friend Andrea and I talk about arguably the greatest film of all time, The Godfather. What more is there to say about the movie or the podcast, except listen to it now!

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Oscar Mission Statement

Last night, while watching The Hurt Locker win Best Picture for the 82nd Academy Awards, my excitement was subdued my the reminder that it’s not the destination, but the journey. And it was a long winding road last night to get The Hurt Locker into the winner’s circle. Lots of people have lobbed criticisms at the Academy for the show and the nominees, the voting/selection/viewing process and the eventual winners. While the Academy does have a host of concerns (pun intended), I am here to help with my guidelines for producing a better Oscar show.

We start at the top, with the host. If you’ve listened to my podcast (and you should), then you already know that my choice for host is Robert Downey Jr. Except for Baldwin, can you think of a host whose career and public image has been as low and as high as his? All the obligatory jokes at the audience members would work better because people have a genuine affinity for the man. Everyone in the town loves Downey and people at home love Iron Man.

On that note, he and Tina Fey were the best presenters of the night. Not just because I harbor crushes on both of them, but they engaged in the kind of witty banter that presenters can get away with. More importantly, they represent two types of stars that should present, A-list movie stars and respected industry stars.

No more Disney channels stars (no matter how long Disney owns ABC), no more children or siblings of celebrities, no reality stars and nobody who hasn’t worked in an Academy Award nominated film. Period. It is not that hard to find recognizable actors to give away the biggest prize in the world not named after Alfred Nobel. Presenters for next year will include, but not be limited to – Nicole Kidman, James Caan, Cate Blanchett, James Gandolfini, Anne Hathaway and Bruce Willis.

Furthermore, in continue to embrace the tradition of Oscar, the lifetime achievement awards will be brought back. If you can include a five-minute montage to horror films that inexplicably includes Twilight and excludes Shaun of the Dead, then you can good and goddamn well give five minutes to Lauren Bacall. Oh, and the In Memoriam montage should not exclude ANYBODY! Sure, Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur might have been TV stars, but they were in movies as well and when are they going to get another chance to be seen on that stage again?

Speaking of montage, and visual presentation in general, the YouTube mash ups for the best supporting nominations are ridiculous. I remember when you used to watch a movie and there was one scene that made you sit back and say, “There’s the Oscar clip.” It’s cliché for a reason and it needs to return. One clip per nomination. While I quite like the actor-to-actor testimonials for the leading nominations, you must make room somewhere and cutting clips for cinematography is not the place to do it. Removing the song performances could work, but not when you give the Jabbawockees (not even sure I’m using that reference correctly) some cardboard and let them dance through five score nominees. That is counterproductive.

Along with that, some awards can and should be awarded in tandem. Documentaries, long and short, animated, long and short, sound editing/mixing, costume and make-up, even screenplays or effects and art direction can be lumped together for the sake of the average viewer. Picture, director, acting, cinematography and editing should stand alone. Again, this will make more time for other things, including acceptance speeches and the same three commercials I saw all night long.

I know I will take some heat for this, but I must say it anyways. Though I have my own issues with the films of John Hughes, he is without a doubt an important American filmmaker. That being said, he probably does not warrant a fifteen-minute tribute in the middle of the show. Because unless I missed the same tribute last year for Ingmar Bergman, these types of tributes should be consistent or non-existent. The Gene Siskel tribute a few years ago was very effective. But, if Kevin Smith dropped dead tomorrow, I would still not round up Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Shannon Doherty and Liv Tyler to talk about how he changed the way we looked at the world through his unique vision. I believe it is safe to say that even without last night’s presentation, we won’t forget about John Hughes.

There should be more surprises. Sure, all of us in the blogosphere were surprised at the upsets in the screenplay categories, but that was about it. The lead up to Oscar season takes away from the suspense of Oscar night and though we may be part of the problem by handicapping the races and picking upsets, it is on the Academy to continue to shake things up in both the nominating and selection processes.

The ten Best Picture nominations was a good idea and it did work. As long as we continue to have five director nominations, there will always be five frontrunners for BP, so including five other nominees will only help will mainstream audiences, to highlight movies they haven’t seen and include those they have. You can show love for An Education, while showing love for The Blind Side, but we all know that neither of them is going to win. Picking The Hurt Locker was the right choice. People who think Avatar should have won because it made a lot of money and looked awesome are wrong. Oscar occasionally gets things right and they got it right this year. Which means…

The Academy Awards are awarded to recognize excellence in filmmaking. Not in making popular movies or pretty movies. It’s not about making movies with a message or movies that make stars out of unknowns. Embrace the traditions of Oscar and forget about ratings. It’s on TV anyways, who watches that? More actors, less stars, more films, less movies and more awards winners, less box office winners. Let us get back to what the Oscars really represent and if certain people cannot get on board with that, then leave them at the fucking station.