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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'This is Spinal Tap' Review

Take a moment to be sure that your speakers are at full volume. I'll wait.

But now, since this is a review of This is Spinal Tap, turn those speakers up louder. You're going to need that "extra push off the cliff" for this one.

Spinal Tap follows Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner, also the director) a filmmaker, as he chronicles the journey of the failing heavy metal rock band Spinal Tap, as they tour the USA for the first time in years. Spinal Tap, it seems, has been forever unable to grasp the type of popularity they (and all other bands) crave; and yet the members live in a world of blissful ignorance to their lack of musical skill and showmanship, convinced they aren't the punch line to some great joke.

Spinal Tap lead musicians David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) are best described, by themselves, as visionary poets, out of the mold of Jim Morrison or (a future) Kurt Cobain. Of course, all this is subjective. Spinal Tap has gone through many changes as a band, notably the death of the bands first 3 drummers, but its popularity never seemed to wane. Even on their comeback tour they have trouble selling out 4000 seat arenas, as well as taking second billing to a puppet show. It's all the same, but their commendable ignorance- or maybe straightforward lack of knowledge- helps them to remain upbeat in times of failure. Spinal Tap is a band that no one really knows, but that everyone takes for a joke (it's remarked on in the film with "Remember them as they were and write them off")- the best way to describe them would be to compare them to a Daniel Powter-level celebrity. Remember 2005? It wasn't that long ago, but Daniel Powter owned the radio waves with his song 'Bad Day,' remember? Now if you herd his name in a conversation you might chuckle quietly to yourself wondering what kind of clown you are talking to that would mention Daniel Powter in a conversation. Daniel Powter could probably sell out a 4000 seat arena, but I wouldn't be surprised if floor seats were less than 10 dollars a pop.
If you'll notice these speakers go up to 11...

That got anti- Daniel Powter rather quickly. Sorry about that, let's get back to Spinal Tap.

What makes this movie funny is also its Achilles heel. The stupidity of the band members. Yes, it's funny when they can't fully make sense of the interview question, or something happens to them that is directly correlated to them being stupid, but it also becomes tedious. For me there are parts that are just so filled with stupidity that it becomes hard to watch, and this isn't a drama. It's a comedy, and I want to watch it. It makes me smile to think about a incompetent rock band but, even in 82 minutes, there is only so much I can deal with.

Largely this movie is a great comedic achievement, in fact its mocumentary style has influenced countless other movies in the same fashion, but its 'look how stupid these guys are, isn't it hilarious' motive really overwhelmed the rest of the movie. If for 20 minutes we could have seen the dynamic between Hubbins and his girlfriend, and how it pissed Nigel off, fully explored it would have made the comedy even greater. Comedy lies in truth not in stupidity.

This is the story of Spinal Tap. "And why not?"

8/10-- Need to See

Friday, August 5, 2011

'There Will Be Blood' Review

Sorry patient followers, but after a noticeably quiet absence (slightly due to a Hangover-style liquor induced blackout, but mostly by spending 5 weeks in Europe) in which All of the Lights was turned off, I have returned to once again, as if I ever really stopped, force-feeding my opinions down throat's. Right or wrong as they may be. But mostly right...

Today finds me at odds with a movie widely considered to be the best of 2008, There Will Be Blood. Based, in principle, on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, the film tells the fictional story of Daniel Plainview, from his start as a lowly mineral prospector to a tyrannical oil tycoon, and the personal relationships he destroys as a result of his monumental greed and inflated self view.
I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!

It has now been three years since the film was shafted at the 80th annual Academy Awards by a Cohen Bros. Production (yell at me all you want, I can't hear you anyway), but that is neither here nor there. It's just out there for you too see that even though it has been considered the best movie of that year, it didn't win the right awards to prove it, a la Social Network. However, in my eyes, this is the best film of this past decade, and for the following reasons:

Daniel Plainview (expertly played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in an Oscar winning performance- but more on this later) is the kind of character that any writer wishes they could have dreamed up. He is the worst kind of person, in fact as the minutes drag on we, as the audience, come to see him as the incarnation of what is wrong with the world (depending on your politics). His Cortezian (a word I just made up) greed, and desire for money make him the embodiment of capitalistic system where those in power have gone crazy with it. All this, plus he is a huge dick, shooting down and breaking the spirit of preacher man Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, of Little Miss Sunshine fame) and making life near impossible for his adopted son. And yet, despite my best efforts to despise him, I found myself rooting for the man to get what he wants. Even if it is power and land, and even though I know I shouldn't want to. I couldn't help it. Daniel Plainview is a tremendous character, and his life is one hell of a story.

Paul Thomas Anderson puts this film on his back and really accounts for 75% of the film's viewing pleasure. As the writer of the screenplay (based on a novel, not necessarily adapted from) and the director, he rivals a world class pastry chef. He puts together a winning recipe for Rhubarb pie but has to ultimately leave it up to the oven to cook the desert to perfection. The actors being the oven. From his mind he has created a world of greed and with an unforgiving air rivaling that of only Citizen Kane. From a purely visual standpoint his direction gives the audience the idea that they are watching the world's greatest western, when in fact the two bear no semblance. And within these breathtaking views of arid wasteland lie the film's best moments. The symbolism. Tucked in within the films 156 minute run time are competing religious and fiscal undertones, each at the forefront at one point or another. It's these two main forces that really drive the film forward and it's at their intersection where a life is destroyed.

Seeing as I mentioned Daniel Plainview, the juicy character first, in my glowing admiration for this film, it would be easy to discount the role that Daniel Day-Lewis and the other main actors play in this film. Easy, but ultimately ignorant. DDL as he will be known from now on to me, absolutely kills in this film- channeling everything Daniel Plainview is on paper, on screen. He takes it up a level as well, adding little idiosyncrasies and personal flourishes that make this character memorable, demonstrating to everyone why he is films greatest contemporary actor. Paul Dano is memorable as well, playing both Eli and Paul Sunday, the children of a landowner who is eventually bought out by Plainview. How he doesn't have steady work as a Hollywood actor is beyond my comprehension, and an issue for another time, and another place.

I can give this film no further praise other than to say it has been the best film I have seen. It takes risks with character and story that actually provides for a much improved film (much in the same way The Social Network portrayed Zuckerberg and Facebook), while still taking aim at life's biggest unanswerable questions- does god exist? what makes a person bad?- and searching for the answers.

Highly Recommended.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Favorite 'What the F' Moments in Film

What is the reason I didn't call this blog Biggest Mindfucks? Simply for the sake of discretion, not wanting to offend anyone, and to make the site seem more professional. Clearly this is what it is, well maybe not clearly- but it will become clear as more and more words eschew from my fingertips and onto the screen.

Before I present my top 3 biggest mindfucks (I'm not rolling out a top 10 because a GOOD mindfuck is few and far between, and I wanted to represent that) a quick definition and an even quicker caveat. Mindfuck is a pretty self-explanatory term. Let me explain it anyway: Mindfucks occur when a film (or really any medium) when all perceived notions of reality have been denounced, and quickly. It usually takes about 2-5 minutes for this all to occur, and by the end of it another, unexpected, reality is true.

Now, as with all lists, some rules/ guidelines that have unfortunately been followed. First, I could only include films that I have actually seen. That means no Memento, Sixth Sense, Mulholland Drive or Cars 2 (just kidding... but not really). Second, there is a severe breach of the Thou Shall Not Spoil Film's with Plot Twists commandment, for all the films, so if you haven't seen one of the movies, and you don't want it spoiled for ya, don't read it! Otherwise, it's all good and it's time to jump in.

Let's start with the two Honorable Mentions (it's the law of lists, there have to be Honorable Mentions...):

Fight Club (1999)-
I felt so bad about leaving this off the top 3- because its such a good mindfuck-but, as will be made clear in moments, I didn't want to lose the credibility of my choices by picking two apples that fell close to the same tree. Fight Club is an incredible piece of material (based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk- which everyone should read at some point) in which Ed Norton and Brad Pitt come into constant conflict over, what else, their fight club! It isn't a narrative masterpiece but it's testosterone-fueled, comedic, attempts to obliterate capitalism comes to a head with a big mindfuck. Ed Norton IS Brad Pitt; it's shocking really as Norton shoots himself hoping to end all his lack-of-sleep-caused fantasy. I remember seeing it and thinking: "I don't know what the fuck is going on but god dam was that exciting."

A Beautiful Mind (2001)-
You can easily make the case that 2010's Shutter Island had a better-albeit similar- twist, but A Beautiful Mind did it first, and in this life timing is everything. It won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2001, certainly due in large part to the films upbeat message: 'you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it.' But for those of us who HAVE seen the film, the films message was the last thing on our minds. It was the twist. Much like Fight Club the main character spends the entirety of the film conversing with characters who don't exist, who are fragments of a beautiful mind. The twist was not as sexy as some of the other films on this list, but it was surely a show-stopper. I loved it when I saw it in theaters, and even after all these years, well, it still holds a spot in my top 5.

Now to the big boys.

3. The Game (1997)
Your dam right that's a clown.
When I first heard about this film I thought it was about The Game- you know, the one where you can only lose by thinking about playing it? Confusing stuff. Obviously, or maybe thankfully, that is not what this film is about. It's about The Game, a game that makes life more exciting. There are no clear rules, in fact anything goes. But it's through this mystery that excitement is bread- and eventually succumbing to fear. The film is not hard to follow from a narrative standpoint; but to understand its meaning is another story. Mystery surrounds the film and we, as the audience, are intentionally kept in the dark. Until the end. Really there is no game, its all fictionalized, everything that Michael Douglas' character feared-that we feared- isn't true. In the film it's explained as a metaphor, to me it's a mindfuck.

2. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Something must have been funny.
Before Arnold ever coined the term "mindfuck" in Total Recall (just missed making this list), Charlton Heston was running around- with very little clothing- on another planet. The planet of the apes to be exact. The basic premise of this film is that a crew has crash landed on a foreign planet after a 2000 year journey through space (but not time since the crew only ages 18 months). The planet is, you guessed it, inhabited by highly sentient apes and, once Heston is captured, he plots his escape. As he runs he is eventually stopped near the edge of the ocean and the Forbidden Zone and he takes in his surroundings for the first time. What he sees is tragic. The Statue of Liberty is charred and buried in the sand. The planet of the apes is actually Earth and humanity managed to destroy itself. This film really invented the mindfuck- and the film franchise. So now we finally know who is responsible for Pirates 4.

1. Brazil (1985)
Opening sequence. Not sure where it fits in the film.
This is the film that inspired me to write this post. I didn't feel like doing an all out review of it because I had no idea what to say. It's a visual cornucopia of symbols and motifs- more appropriately it's a satire of futuristic societies and the over-reliance on machines/ technology. Jonathan Pryce's character, Sam, runs amok among the ignorant government attempting to chase him down, really just making everyone look foolish. It's a metaphor for the ineptitude of society but the satirical elements leave the film with a highly entertaining and hilarious 145 minutes- as well as a best writing Oscar. Cut in between moments of action and romance are dream sequences. These dreams usually feature a woman- a real woman as luck would have it- and the film follows his attempt to meet her and try to understand the connection between his brain and reality. What makes this film a mindfuck? Well, about 2/3 of the way through the film Sam is tortured for misusing his government position. A cavalcade of his friends comes to bust him out, and just when he ends up with the girl of his dreams the film cuts back to the torture: Sam is catatonic and singing "Aquarela do Brazil." So what was real? What was fake? What was a dream? We don't know. I guess It's a metaphor- because if I've learned anything from this, it's that all twists have a double meaning. At least that's what I think. I don't really know.

I'm so confused.

Here is a rendition of the famous song "Aquarela do Brasil." It's not like in the film (the horn sound is louder in the film), but you'll get the picture.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Decline of Cinema: Part I -- 3D

Since I'm so pressed for time these days, what with my summer job heating up and my need to see enough of my friends before they head back to school, I didn't have enough time to actually write this review in 3D. But fret not, with the power of technology on my side, I will be able to convert my words into shockingly disappointing 3 dimensions- the only thing is... its going to cost an extra 5 dollars to read this post. Sorry (I'm not sorry).

3D is the newest trend in Hollywood these days, replacing both botox and Zach Galifianakis' hot streak. But the jury is already out on how these big, expensive, 3D films will affect cinema: negatively.

Really the effects driven films that we see today are a result of two main forces: technology and piracy (or really people's adaptation to technology). Both of these factors contribute mightily into what gets put on screen and how people will react to it.

Remind me again why I'm watching Jonas Brothers: A 3D concert experience?
With each passing day, month, year, technology improves and things that were once cutting edge are now garbage. Literally. Go Green! But this new technology offers, to those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy it, fantastically advanced sense capabilities: seeing, hearing, and even smelling (they are working on smell-o-vision... look it up!) to the point where going to the movies has become more of an experience than a social gathering spot. For the average person, and by no means do I mean the devoted cinema goer, what is the point of spending 10 dollars a month for AMC (the television network) just to watch Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Killing, or Walking Dead- shows that NO ONE watches but are quality- when they could spend their hard earned cash on 15 dollar tickets to see, in no particular order, Cats and Dogs: the Revenge of Kitty Galore, Step Up 3D, Legend of the Guardians, Yogi Bear, Sucker Punch, Priest... you get the picture. Right?

It is one thing to say that these movies are bad (which they are), but it is a different thing entirely to say that 3D adds little to nothing to a film. I saw Toy Story 3 last summer, in 3D, and I just felt dirty leaving the theater knowing that nothing about the film was special because it was in 3D. I loved the film, it made me cry and hurt so good at the same time, but it ripped me off. Of 3D films that I can remember, only a select few were actually WORTH it. Avatar for one: say what you want about the film but it was awesome seeing it like that, it definitely made it better. Another classic had to be Spy Kids 3... wait, no, that can't be right.

Hollywood has turned into a 5 year old: simply doing things because they can and not necessarily because they are good ideas. I ask any executive at Legendary Pictures or Warner Brothers to look at me with a straight face and tell me that it was in the best interest of the public for Clash of the Titans (2010) to be converted into 3D. I say it can't be done... but the challenge is out there. I guess it figures into the money side of it (shame on me for taking THIS long to bring it up) and how only movies with explosions, cliched plots, and even cheesey one-liners, make any money- not only make money... but open big! You (my reader) can shake your head all you want at that last sentence but the sad part is, well, that it's true. Even if you don't want to believe it.

Obviously with the inflated ticket prices it had to be the case- 3D's make more money. 5 years ago you might say that making money off a behemoth, like Green Lantern let's say, was quite like fishing with dynamite, in that it was so successful ALL the time.

Like most red-blooded Americans, I too enjoy watching previews for movies before I actually watch the movie I paid to see. Something about it is just so enjoyable. The best part is that different movies have different previews- and different previews mean's more excitement. DVD's are the same, except those previews are like a time machine back to whatever year the movie came out. I watched Dodgeball recently and laughed so hard when the preview for Pauley Shore is Dead came on. It's funny because his career died and that was his last hope, saved forever in my DVD collection. But, as with all DVD's, there is a preview that everyone has come to know (and skip ASAP) as soon as it comes on. The one about piracy, right? It's different depending on how old the film is, but the message is always the same: Privacy is stealing- you wouldn't steal a car would ya?

But it is a real problem- people do it. And they do it often. It drains money out of the Hollywood system and really ruins Independently financed films, and often the careers of their shephards. By a show of hands, who when to go and see Everything Must Go? Midnight in Paris? 13 Assassins? I can go on... The Tree of Life? The Trip? Beginners? Or Submarine? All critically acclaimed, next to none widely seen.

But the system can't be blamed here. In fact, Hollywood is doing everything they can to solve this problem- it just consists (or consisted) of running out special effects laden shit-shows (read: films) hoping that the audience would show just because the film looks so dadgumm awesome. Well, the results don't lie: it worked. Or at least it was working until people started to realize how bad the movies they were paying to see were. That's when Hollywood's version of the Great Depression set in. All these shitty films had been green-lighted but no one wanted to see them. They wanted to see something quality. Remember those Fantastic 4 movies? Me either...

It seems as if there has been a severe changing of the guard in Hollywood. Quality over spectacle, just as long as they are mixed. The summer season this year, a season usually reserved for bad films that somehow manage to take 15 dollars from your wallet, has been good. Above average probably, if only because Green Lantern and Hangover 2 stunk up the joint, but surprisingly quality nonetheless.

So, yes, 3D has done nothing good for our beloved movies thus far. And one can easily argue that 3D is a terrible trend in Hollywood (in that it adds little to nothing to the movie going experience), and that it pushes out other, smaller, talented individuals. But what it does do, and what it can do, is expand the possibilities of what film can be. It's a whole new world.

But until then I wait with bated breath for Green Lantern 2: The First Wasn't Good But We Made a Sequel Anyway in 3D and IMAX.