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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.