Monthly Archives: January 2013

I hope these 1D movies are just a fad: ‘Gangster Squad,’ reviewed

Ugh.

Just ugh.

Click on through so we can discuss the weird non-nuances of Ryan Gosling’s whiny East Brooklyn robot voice thing together:

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The Golden Globes are sloppy, drunk, and better than the Oscars

Jodie Foster speech Cecil Demille Golden Globes

Shame on Ben Affleck!

Good for Ben Affleck!

Nope. I’m not gonna do it. I will not complain about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association robbing Joaquin Phoenix of a Best Actor Award or snubbing the score to Cloud Atlas. I’m not gonna do it.

To bitch about snubs is to miss the larger, relevant utility behind “awards season” in the first place: GETTING PEOPLE TO THINK ABOUT MOVIES. In turn, it’s hoped (especially by the Harvey Weinsteins of the world) that the media attention and red carpet douche baggery will get you and your family to shell out $40 to see Amour, ruining a Saturday afternoon that was perfectly chipper before Michael Haneke came and sad-pissed all over it.

I say that about every Awards show: BAFTAs, SAGs, NY Critics Circle, etc. Yes. Even the Oscars, whose ceremonies have been bloated, self-indulgent drivel for some time now. There’s nothing like the sight of a sketchy organization of old white men flail its collective arms to and fro as it struggles to don a flat brim while patting itself on the back. Thanks again, James Franco.

Christ, when was the last solid Oscars ceremony anyway? Hugh Jackman from four years ago? Jon Stewart from five? When they’re not tanking hard with “mirth at gunpoint” humor, they’re wildly inconsistent with praise: No Best Director nod for Kathryn Bigelow? No recognition at all for Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film? And for shit’s sake, you could’ve thrown it in Best Foreign OR Best Documentary Feature. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is so lost inside its own ass, drunk off its $7 jug of Cataracts Wine that I’d only care about them if Oscar himself stumbled into my apartment and passed out on the couch, gurgling up little puke bubbles of cheap Shiraz. Youalll know aaahm ssstill classy yeah? Think of the Panahis and the Bigelows as just the latest turds in AMPAS’ masturbatory toilet bowl.

Yes, that was an intentionally disgusting metaphor.

And yet, despite the terrible writing and disappointing ratings, we still regard the Oscars as far and away the more respectable ceremony. The Globes are like Oscar’s fun but kinda chubby twin sisters. Well maybe it was the drunk goggles, but they were looking damn good last night.

Yes, that was an intentional reference to Tina Fey.

The Globes are great in all the ways the Oscars are stuffy because they don’t take anything seriously. Everyone’s a little tipsy, actors can be candid with each other (even a little mean) — they even throw in some television shit just to switch things up. Just ask last night’s co-hosts, Fey and Amy Poehler. Canoodling with George Clooney, fake mustaches, taking jabs at Taylor Swift’s sex life.

And not to take anything away from a surprisingly solid hosting job but… remind me again why everyone was up in arms about GERVAIS-GATE 2011? Yeah, some of his cracks were a little mean-spirited and would’ve been more justified at the Oscars, where “colleagues” heap minute-long monologues of praise on nominees — not that Gervais would ever be invited to host. Ever. But were we seriously up in arms over a solid Tim Allen joke? Come on. The man’s the spokesperson for Campbell’s and got busted for selling coke in Michigan. (Obligatory mug shot) I’ll take an overly long Kristen Wiig/Will Farrell bit over Kevin Kline telling me how “brave” Alan Arkin’s five minutes in Argo were 10 times outta 10. 

Much Twitter biznass has been made over Tommyleejonesface and whether or not Jodie Foster actually admitted she’s gay. To the former, Sacha Baron Cohen’s mockery of the swarmy, drunken self-fellating that prompted Jones’ face coma was A. awesome and B. spot on.

As for Ms. Foster’s speech, aren’t we all kinda missing her point? About how celebrity sometimes has a lot of bullshit strings attached, especially for those who don’t want E! and Access Hollywood live-tweeting about their romantic McDonalds drive-thru or adoption snaffu. America’s long-standing obsession with fame (Christ, even I’m doing it right now), with people who couldn’t give two shits about that other 99% makes no sense. Jodie Foster wasn’t interested in talking about a new fragrance or a reality show, and certainly not her sexuality. Yet BuzzFeed “writers” are up in arms over how like, weird her speech was. Ya think maybe it’s because she’s making fun of the vapid shit you hate yet can’t stop following?

Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech for the Cecile B DeMille Award lent a jarring amount of honesty to what many consider the laughingstock of awards season. The reality is you’d have to go back to Charlie Chaplin’s Honorary Oscar to find the same from the latter.

That was 1971.

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My Buddy is a Cage – Deadfall (1993)

Eddie Nicolas Cage Deadfall 1

Legally speaking, “Cage” isn’t Nicolas Cage’s real last name — it’s Coppola. As in Francis Ford (his uncle) and Sofia (cousin). Or more germane to 1993’s Deadfall, Christopher Coppola, who’s Cage’s older brother. And you’d do anything for your brother, right?

After misplacing his blanks for real bullets, con man Joe Donan (Michael Biehn) accidentally kills his father (James Coburn) when a heist goes wrong. In his grief, Joe hops on a bus and attempts to con his old uncle Lou (also Coburn), fulfilling his father’s dying wish. While under his employ, Joe meets Lou’s wildcard of a righthand man, Eddie (Cage) and begins a romance with Eddie’s girlfriend, Diane (Sarah Trigger), as he becomes increasingly entangled in a web of deceit, contrivance, and disappointing hair pieces.

If only for the fact that its opening drug deal is hidden in shadows, Deadfall begins on an intriguing if slightly clunky note. The moody music and Biehn’s wooden voiceover make for an instant tip of Coppola’s hand and the noir homages he’s aiming for. But when Joe and his fellow con men spring their trick, the dutch angles and violent camera pushes obliterate any of that admirable will with supreme camp.

Isolate scenes in Deadfall and it’s tough to tell what it wants to be. Sure, the patricide is dark, but when Cage’s Eddie arrives with his toupee and bad card tricks, dramatic tension gets bulldozed over by a ridiculous performance. Not to mention Biehn treats an obvious characterization with ‘gee willickers’ candor and flat deliveries, instilling anything but confidence in our leading con man. It makes Joe seem too out of place and in over his head inside a world that’s far too loud or bizarre to ever really work. Sarah Trigger is a femme fatale only as much as a circle, two dots and a mouth is a self-portrait. This is by-the-numbers noir wielded with all or nothing moodiness; scenes of nighttime plotting feel like Coppola ordered his gaffers to dim the lights, checking off an itemized list of tropes from the director’s chair and calling it a day. And that’s only when he manages to pin down a coherent tone.

It’s difficult to take Deadfall on face value and trust that it was the intended final product all along. It wants to have its cake and eat it along with a New York strip on the side, and it’s never clear if we’re meant to laugh with or at it. Jim Fox’s disengaging bounce of score does no favors. Some of Biehn’s early detective work plays a scene in a cafe like a Judd Apatow punchline, but a later Cinemax-esque love scene with Trigger is smothered in distracting synth tones.  If only by virtue of contrast, the film feels stronger when it goes completely batshit, rather than trying and failing to straddle the line. Take Angus Schrimm’s Dr. Lyme, a diamond connoisseur with a thing for stuffed lion heads, ambiguously ethnic masseuses, and Dr. Evil’s wardrobe collection. And that’s not even counting his metal claw hand. None of it makes sense, but at least it’s more entertaining than another interminable bit of Biehn’s narration.

Dr Lime claw Deadfall

It’s a shame Eddie goes away at halftime, since Deadfall’s watchability benefits tremendously from his permanent grimace and cheap, gas station sunglasses; given his ability to detonate lines wholesale, Cage takes Eddie from “loose cannon” to “oversized RPG.” He splatters on the ticks and epileptic twitches, as if Jackson Pollack were his acting muse, and from his compound accent — West Coast, European, and Cuban  — Tom Hardy’s Bane owes a thing or two to the man. Both Gotham’s Reckoning and Eddie are equally quotable, albeit for different reasons. After hearing of Biehn’s double cross, Cage tears through an S&M strip club with a prolonged “FUUUUUUUCK” and garnishes a karate-chop with “hi-fuckin-ya!” It’s like a hilarious blimp crash, and the flames truly crest when Eddie comes home to Diane in a paranoid, bloody stupor.

The counterproductive dubbing, the bipolar pitches in his voice; even the temper tantrum on the bed makes one wonders if Cage agreed to star in his brother’s movie on the sole condition that he play the role however the hell he wanted.

In Deadfall’s climax, Biehn confronts his apparently still living father at gunpoint, and all while spinning on a carousel. Whether Coppola intended the painted wooden horses and bright lights to clash with noir’s requisite gloom, whether they’re meant as hilariously parodic or whether it’s simply another sign of directorial incompetence, it doesn’t really matter. The final revelation is that the carousel’s punchy circus music could very well have played in any other scene.

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It wants us all to be adults about this, but screw that noise: ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ reviewed

It’s so easy to make a “missing the forest for the trees” cliche but I can’t help think that’s exactly what the national dialogue of torture ended up doing. And that’s a damn shame.

Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal don’t take a stance either way, and regardless of whether or not waterboarding was used to glean information on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, torture was at one point a standard part of the CIA’s protocol. Zero Dark Thirty simply says ‘deal with it’ while analyzing the psychological and physical toll the operation placed on its conspirators. Click on through so we can laugh at Bill O’Reilly and the HuffPo columnists together:

Zero Dark Thirty Chastain flag Kathryn Bigelow

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Va Va Vroom: ‘Death Proof’ Isn’t Tarantino’s Worst Movie

Quentin Tarantino Death Proof girls Kurt Russell end

Last week, IndieWire’s Matt Singer wrote a pretty swell piece on Death Proofspecifically that it doesn’t deserve its label as Quentin Tarantino’s “worst film”:

At the time of “Grindhouse”‘s release, most of these overt nods to the bygone era of exploitation cinema were seen as little more than gimmicks. Just five years later, “Death Proof”‘s aged look feels far more poignant. With digital projection the new industry standard, it’s now a farewell not just to an obscure footnote in the history of cinematic exhibition, but to an entire century of celluloid filmmaking technology. All of Quentin Tarantino’s movies are stuffed with the love of movies, but “Death Proof” is the one most stuffed with the love of film, the tactile, physical medium that became the dominant art form of the twentieth century but was still anything but death-proof.

Until yesterday I thought Singer had merely given an interesting but contrarian take on the less interesting “Grindhouse” entry. How could a film this small, this gimmicky — even for a Tarantino picture — be anything but a disappointing sidestep in the director’s filmography?

As shown in Inglourious Basterds and most recently Django Unchained, Tarantino’s penchant for name-dropping flower child era actresses and TV shows your dad’s probably never even heard of has lent itself to the stories he’s telling. For all of its countless strengths, Pulp Fiction’s pop cultural obsessions occasionally veer into character devices. “Fox Force Five” makes for great conversation between Mia and Vincent, but does it help a fantastic film in any real way? Singer nails it on the head when writes about Death Proof’s heart-on-sleeve “love of film.” Its main title, “The Last Race” is a Jack Nitzsche composition ripped straight from the MST3K-worthy Village of the Giants — i.e. the cheesy low budget double features Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were paying tribute to. The second group of girls (Zoe Bell and Tracie Thoms among them) and of course the creepily charming “Stuntman” Mike (Kurt Russell) profess their fondness for the days of cult car cinema, for the days of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and a time when the letters “CGI” stood for nothing more than a weird acronym from a Star Trek episode. 

Tarantino flaunts his obvious disdain for digital filmmaking — as always, Death Proof was shot on film stock, and this time by the director himself —  and his passion for old school production.

Apart from a single wire, there is no fakery at work when Stuntman Mike tries to ram Zoe Bell off the hood of that Challenger. And it’s also no coincidence that Bell, credited as “herself,” is the one doing the stunts, having served as Daryl Hannah’s double on Kill Bill. Tarantino shows us the old way of doing things, and it’s arguably better. Dangerous and terrifying, but better. So when Stuntman Mike jokes to Rose McGowan about being dumb enough to fall down some stairs and get paid for it, it comes from a real appreciation for practical effects and the crazy people who destroy their bodies to aid in the illusion.

And boy is Stuntman Mike crazy. When he surprises the first set of girls and recites Jungle Julia’s poem for “Butterfly” (Vanessa Ferlito), Ferlito acquiesces to the lap dance, but not out of obligation. Nor from the threat of being deemed too “chickenshit.” Ferlito makes it clear Mike’s car scares the shit out of her, yet she can’t resist falling for his bad boy charms all the same. It’s a devastating “be careful what you wish for” finger wag then when Stuntman Mike’s car tire permanently tattoos Ferlito’s face. Bad boys are bad for a reason.

Jungle Julia Butterfly Death Proof car

Then again, the world has plenty of bad girls, too. Death Proof’s genius comes in its inversion of gender stereotypes, and as Tarantino transitions out of the grainy, scratched celluloid with a black and white gas station sequence, it’s clear this new batch of girls — the aforementioned Bell and Thoms, Rosario Dawson, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead — ain’t chickenshit. Dawson voices her heavy disdain for a slutty Daryl Hannah “stand-in fucker” she used to date. (see?) Tracy Thoms is plenty upfront about ramming the Challenger up Mike’s “bitch” ass. Oh and the girls are plenty resourceful and conniving, often to dickish lengths; when they leave Winstead as collateral for their fateful joyride, they play right to its owner’s sexual obsessions. These are strong, self-assured women, to be feared as much as ogled over.

That applies to both groups of girls, really. Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) has all the self-assuredness and swagger of Eli Roth, in his conviction that a “fucking bitch will drink anything” if he supplies the booze. As Poitier and her gal pals show, this might be true, but the one difference is they’re going to do what they want regardless of how many Jaeger shots a guy buys. And in comparison to Roth and Michael Bacall’s bar stool scheming, Poitier’s hair swingin’ and foot tappin’ are just a different brand of bravado. Ferlito places a moratorium on make-out length with her new hook up “Nate” and even has him dote on her hair mid-rainstorm, and Jordan Ladd’s Shanna will absolutely correct you if you call her “Shawna.” None of which should exclude the planned “girls only” cabin trip. In Death Proof, women can be sexy (see: foot promotion, accentuated butts in booty shorts), but they can also play with the big boys. In fact, the big boys seem kinda dumb.

iMDb is far from any definitive resource, but its easy voting system is a cheap use of populist criticism. So why exactly does Death Proof earn a respectable but uncharacteristic rating for its director? If I may be so bold, when compared to the excess of Kill Bill, the style of Pulp Fiction or the grungy cool of Reservoir Dogs, Death Proof feels smaller, less overt — and perhaps by that token, less stereotypically “Tarantino.” But behind the artificially scratchy celluloid and Sally Menke’s brilliant, bipolar editing there’s a wonderful takedown of male machismo, not to mention a sly jab at how that often comes packaged and sealed inside of gearhead culture.

Yes, Nitzsche’s “Last Race” does play over Death Proof’s opening titles, but Tarantino’s not adapting the song as an omen of Stuntman Mike’s fuel-injected rampage. No. There’s a rage that’s been building in these girls, and Nitzsche’s song is its clarion call.

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My Buddy is a Cage – Werewolf Women of the SS (2007)

Werewolf women of the ss Nicolas Cage Rob Zombie Fu Manchu Grindhouse

It’s got an iMDb credit. It counts.

And marking a rare moment for My Buddy is a Cage, it’s also available on YouTube in its entirety.

Faux trailer or not, I love Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS. Setting aside the irony that the worst of the four Grindhouse trailers was the only one actually greenlit for a feature, those fake coming attractions presented a little something for everyone — at least if you were into Nazis, S&M, Hammer Horror or senseless gore. Sounds like my Friday night.

More than Eli Roth in Thanksgiving — admittedly my favorite of Grindhouse’s trailers– Zombie completely nails the blend of gloomy decadence and fabricated melodrama perfectly. There’s the low budget History Channel intro, a statement about the film’s greatness that’s neither fact nor quote. There’s the inexplicably topless soldiers in lederhosen or the overly serious Nazi pomp. Bill Moseley as Dr. Heinrich von Strasser is also wickedly hilarious. What’s the deal with that weird rigid salute? He’s like this gleeful robot from another planet. “You have been chosen… rejoice!” Genius line reading.

If nothing more than pointless exercise, trying to figure out the plot of Werewolf Women of the SS is a blast:

At some point in his military campaign, Adolf Hitler commissioned a secret science experiment where buxom blonde German women were injected with a gas that transformed them into rabid, hairy werewolf women. Of the SS.

Based on Udo Kier’s warning, I’d guess that this secret Death Camp 13 project begins somewhere after the tide of the war turns against the Axis Powers. See? I’m already going overboard with this shit. And to be honest, knowing too much takes some of the fun out of what Zombie is aiming for, never mind that it totally defeats the purpose of a non sequitir trailer.

Sherri Moon Zombie Werewolf Women of the SS Grindhouse

Werewolf Women of the SS marks a turning point in Nic Cage’s self-awareness. It’s a safe bet Rob Zombie specifically went to Cage for this role, just like it’s a safe bet Cage had a hoot rolling around in his own ham as Dr. Fu Manchu. First appearing in old British fiction, the character of Fu Manchu has become a ubiquitous icon for evil masterminds — He’s your grandpa’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

While an over the top white dude playing such an over the top Asian stereotype seems random, it most definitely isn’t. Zombie and Cage don’t opt for as offensive a take on the character as Henry Brandon, but Fu Manchu has a long tasteless history of being played by white American actors. So really — even looking past Cage’s royal purple robe, the long fingernails, the classic goatee — it all makes sense. In a super fucked up way.

I remember Cage’s cameo catching a lot of laughs in the theater. Part of that is due to the actor, who seems right at home with camp that requires not a shred of restraint. At the same time, Zombie knows exactly what he’s doing, too. When Cage solemnly approaches his vaguely “Oriental” throne, Zombie cuts out the extra sound and succumbs to a Chinese lute; the rest of trailer just seems to get out of Cage’s way and run for cover.

Rob Zombie’s trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS oozes with the exact same seedy stench it’s aiming for. That hard zoom right on Cage’s face is priceless as the “Ode to Joy” chorus kicks back in and Cage’s flaming eruption of zany self-possession pours over everything within earshot. It’s like getting burned alive by a molten flow of marshmallow and chocolate lava. Sweet, sweet, burning lava.

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