Monday, September 29, 2008

Don't Get Mad. Get Everything.

Believe it or not, up until a couple of days ago, I had never seen The First Wives Club (Hugh Wilson, 1996) or, to tell you the truth, even had the slightest interest in it. But then, while hanging out with a couple of friends, it came on TV and we decided to watch it. In retrospect, I don't know what the hell I was thinking, because not only is The First Wives Club supreme escapist fun, but it also contains a cast that would give any serious actressexual a wet dream: Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Dame Maggie Smith, Sarah Jessica Parker, Eileen Heckart and Marcia Gay Harden. So what if the plot is a little predictable; every minute with these amazingly classy women is an utter joy. The main trio of Keaton, Midler and Hawn handle the overused comedic situations they are given like old pros and give them fresh spins that are funnier than they should have been. The "fall-out" scene where Midler and Hawn hurl non-stop insults at each other, one right after another, while Keaton stands back and refuses to take a side and ends up with a "merry-go-slap" was a thing of beauty. What about that fabulous musical finale? Check out the clip below (don't worry, there aren't any spoilers here) and tell me you don't feel a swell of emotion as they strut their stuff down the street to Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me". These few moments nearly contain as much Girl Power as Spice World and that's never a bad thing. B+

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Confession Sundays

For the lapsed Catholic in all of us- a new series in which I confess my deepest, darkest secrets before Oprah and The Madonna and wait for my atonement.

I like The Madonna's Hard Candy more than Confessions on a Dance Floor

I realize this may not seem like a huge deal, but among Madonna fans, Confessions is the masterpiece and Hard Candy is just a mild diversion until her next, greater album. While I enjoy Confessions a great deal ("Hung Up" is one of the finest songs of The Madonna's career and "Sorry," "I Love New York," and "Jump" are great as well) I just don't find it as stimulating as Hard Candy. I can put Confessions on and play the whole thing without even realizing that there are 12 tracks instead of one long song. For some people, this may be a positive and I have nothing against that, but I like a little variety when listening to an album. Hard Candy has this variety I desire (how many albums can go from the 80's throwback "Heartbeat" to something as deep and personal as "Miles Away"?) and, consequently, I have listened to it many more times than Confessions.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP Paul Newman

Add one more name to the list that makes 2008 the saddest years for Hollywood deaths in recent memory. Paul Newman, film legend since the mid-50's, has passed away after a battle with cancer. Not only was he a 10 time Academy Award nominee (8 for Best Actor, 1 for Best Supporting Actor and 1 for Best Picture) and a sex symbol long into his 60's, but he was also a huge humanitarian, donating all of the proceeds from his line of salad dressings and other foods to charity, among other things. He was a very great man and will be sorely missed.

Paul Newman was a very important figure in my appreciation of classic films. One of my first memories of him was watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when I was getting started with my film obsession. I was about 15 and happened to catch it on PBS late one night and I instantly fell in love. His chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor was electric and they drew things out of each other that I had never seen before. If this was acting back then, I wanted to see more of it. I think his best performance was as the desperate pool shark in The Hustler three years later and his Oscar loss that year is one of the biggest travesties in their long, sordid history.

RIP Paul.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Rental Picks

Broadcast News (James L. Brooks, 1987)
James L. Brooks is perhaps better known today for the mega-weepie Terms of Endearment and the infamous As Good As It Gets, which earned Helen Hunt an Oscar over
a lineup including Dame Judi Dench and Julie Chrisite, but Broadcast News, his nearly forgotten, rarely discussed film from 1987, is his real masterpiece. Broadcast News is about so many things-- male/female relationships, a love triangle, ethics of the TV news, the wackiness that goes on behind the scenes, women in power-- but, unlike most films that would crumble under all that heft, Brooks' film thrives under the pressure. Broadcast News is funny, literate and beautifully done, the type of smart film that we sadly don't see much of anymore. And what a cast: Holly Hunter excels in one of her first big roles, Albert Brooks gives Woody Allen a run for his money as the most neurotic actor around and William Hurt, whom I never thought much of as an actor beforehand, is fantastic as the "dumb jock" who gets by in life on his looks.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra, 1936)
It Happened One Night and It's a Wonderful Life are Frank Capra's masterpieces, but Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is my favorite film of his. Silly, but never ridiculous; dreamily romantic, but never sappy; idealistic, but never preachy- it's the type of film only Frank Capra could do and get away with (as evidenced by the abysmal failure that was the Adam Sandler remake a few years ago). Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur both give their best performances as the common man fighting the corrupt system and the newswoman who first laughs at Cooper's foreigness but later commends it, respectively.

La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1956)
Federico Fellini would quickly become a more sophisticated (and, as a result, less accessible) filmmaker after the worldwide success of this film. To me, however, nothing that I've seen of his (except for, possibly, the first half of La Dolce Vita) has ever come close to the beautiful, humanistic La Strada. Giulietta Masina plays the impish, Chaplin-esque wife of a brutish strongman (Anthony Quinn) and Fellini follows their exploits all around the Italian countryside. La Strada is touching, precious, gently funny and enormously charming; if you're going to try Fellini, this is the perfect place to start.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Eternal Struggle Between Good and Evil Played Out on My Conscious Over the Sex Drive Trailer

Evil: This movie is nothing but insipid teenage/college student trash that Hollywood throws at us every other week.

Good: But James Marsden is in it!

Evil: It's nothing but a ripoff of Eurotrip (and that film was shitty enough)!

Good: But James Marsden is being silly!

Evil: Miracle at St. Anna had a funnier trailer than this pile of dreck.

Good: But James Marsden gets to be a big goofball and remember how much we loved him the last time he did that?

Evil: James Marsden can't save a film as dire looking as this.

Good: True, but if I sat through Prom Night for Brittany Snow, I can sit through anything for my cinematic loves...and James Marsden is so funny!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Today in "No Shit. We Knew This Five Years Ago" News

How is this news to anyone? Kathy Griffin's been saying this for years.

Monday, September 22, 2008

OMG Shoes!

I bought a new pair of shoes a couple of weeks ago. Guess where I got the idea...

I'm pathetic, I know.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Beauty in the Monotony

I hadn't even heard of Day Night Day Night (Julia Loktev, 2007) until Nick Flicks Picks put it on its Top 10 list for 2007 and even then, although he usually has excellent taste, I wasn't exactly rushing to the nearest Blockbuster to rent it. It wasn't until I saw an excellent, curiosity-raising trailer on some random DVD over the summer that really peaked my interest that I decided to put it on my Must See list that's a mile long. When I went to the video store on Thursday, my intention was to find Les Chanson d'Amour, a movie I thought had been released to DVD over the summer but apparently isn't coming out until November (according to Amazon), but when I couldn't find it, I picked up Day Night Day Night and I must say that I wasn't disappointed.

Let me start off by saying that this film isn't for everyone. I don't want to say that you're stupid and ignorant if you don't "get" this film (especially since I'm not really sure if I grasped the enormity of it myself) and its slow rhythm and pace isn't intended for today's fanboy generation, but, if you give it the time it deserves, Day Night Day Night is an incredibly rewarding experience.

Luisa Williams, in an impressive Falconetti-esque performance of epic proportions, plays an unnamed girl who has, for some mysterious reason, decided to become a suicide bomber. She sits in a hotel, makes a recruiting video, tries on a bomb and walks around NYC trying to find the right place to detonate the bomb; that's all that really happens, plot wise, during the 90 minute runtime. What makes Day Night Day Night so special is the manner in which Loktev decides to tell the story. Instead of going after the larger issues that surround terrorism and suicide bombing that someone like Oliver Stone would have gone full force after, Loktev gives the "minor" details major attention, finding beauty in the monotony of taking a bath, eating an egg roll or walking along the sidewalk.

The most interesting moment of this film is when Williams is deliberating when to set off the bomb in her backpack at a NYC crosswalk and the camera cuts around to each individual doing random, inane things like talk on their cell phones or check their nails. Loktev heightens the tension incredibly, almost to the point where I couldn't stand it and all I could do was stare at the screen wondering when the bomb was going to go off. The way Loktev is able to play with our emotions so ably using such simple devices is nearly unthinkable and a true testament to her talent: she is definitely one to look out for in the future. B+

Confession Sundays

For the lapsed Catholic in all of us- a new series in which I confess my deepest, darkest secrets before Oprah and The Madonna and wait for my atonement.

I think Kim Kardashian is really pretty.

Is she as dumb as a box of rocks? Sure. Is Joel McHale correct in saying that she's "famous for having a big ass and a sex tape"? Absolutely. Is her show so trashy that it makes The Girls Next Door look classy? Yup. But, by God's good grace, she's a very attractive individual.

And that ass...


Friday, September 19, 2008

Weekend Rental Picks

A couple of weeks ago, I received this really lovely e-mail from a reader who took the time to compliment my blog and my writing. Needless to say, as I'm sure other bloggers can attest to, this little bit of ego stroking was extremely welcome. In this readers extremely thorough e-mail, he mentioned that there might be young readers just getting interested in film who may not know where exactly to start when at their local Blockbuster or loading their Netflix queue and that I should point them in the right direction. I thought about this for a little while and I decided that this would be a good idea to try. So, every Friday I'm going to offer three movie suggestions for the weekend using my rental methodology (which is, admitedly, a little OCD on my part): I always get one "modern" film from the last 20 years that, for one reason or another, I missed out on, one classic film and one foreign film. I hope this helps out at least one reader who just feels overwhelmed at all of the movies they can explore.

A Room With a View (James Ivory, 1986)
I respected Howards End and The Remains of the Day, Ivory's big Oscar films from the early 90's, but I didn't exactly like or ever have a desire to see them again. When I rented A Room With a View for my Dame Judi Dench celebration last year, I was excited for the Dench, but I wasn't looking forward to the film at all. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot and, lo and behold, it was a magnificent film. Where Howards End and The Remains of the Day are too restrained in their emotions for my taste and tad stodgy, A Room With a View is full of life, humor and color. Helena Bonham Carter is fun as the spunky heroine, but the film belongs to Dame Maggie Smith as Carter's befuddled chaperone and Daniel Day-Lewis as Carter's stuffed shirt fiancee.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966)
Be prepared for this one. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the most intense filmmaking excursions I've ever seen. From the opening moments with Elizabeth Taylor berating her husband, Richard Burton, for not remembering the name of the Bette Davis picture that the line "What a dump!" comes from, you get sucked into George and Martha's intense game of wits and viciousness. Plus, the cast is all in top notch form, giving the best performances of their respective careers.

Cleo de 5 a 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962)
While the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) was receiving worldwide attention, a smaller movement called the Rive Gauche was taking place inside France. Cleo de 5 a 7 was one of the masterpieces from this movenment. The film follows two hours in the life of a young woman awaiting test results that will tell her if she has cancer. During those two hours, the woman contemplates her mortality, escapes her situation for a few fleeting moments with a friend, meets with her accompanist to go over songs she may never record and may possibly find a new relationship with a young man she meets on the way to find out her results. It's true that not much happens, plot wise, but this possibly the most fascinating character study I've ever seen. So many different emotions pour through Cleo during the course of the film but it never feels trashy or over the top; instead, Varda focuses on ordinary life and makes it fascinating.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To James Marsden, On His 35th Birthday

I love you, Mr. Marsden. It's as simple as that. How can it be that I'm more attracted to you at 35 than when you were in your 20's? You are one lucky (and sexy) son of a bitch, Mr. Marsden. Happy Birthday!

For more Marsden birthday wishes (and oogling) check out My New Plaid Pants' tribute.

Book Suggestions

Okay, so I've been a bit of a nerd lately and it seems that I can't go more than a day or two without some type of non-school related book to read. The problem is, I can't think of any books I want to read that badly, so it's up to you, dear readers, to suggest some books that I should be reading. What have you read recently that peaked your interest? What are some of the classics I should be taking a look at? And, most importantly, what are your favorites that you've read over and over? Please let me know, I'm very curious to hear what I should be reading.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This Fall Isn't Just About Great Movies...

....well, I'm not going to lie, the movies do hold a little more importance for me, but the multitude of new CD's coming out by artists I actually like in the coming months is impressive. It's seriously blowing my mind. I've been compiling this list for the past week or so and I still don't think I've covered everything, so if I'm missing a great artist's upcoming album, let me know and if I like the artist too, I'll add them.
  • Pussycat Dolls Doll Domination (9/23) I'm probably in the minority when I say that the Pussycat Dolls' debut album PCD is a near pop masterpiece, but it truly is. It flaunts it's trashiness like Michael Phelps' gold medals and there's nothing I love more than camp embracing it's campiness. The first single from Doll Domination, "When I Grow Up," is almost up to that camp standard (the opening is epic but I still can't get over the crap chorus) so let's hope that the rest of the album is a tad bit more focused.
  • Jennifer Hudson Jennifer Hudson (9/30) OMGJenniferHudson! If the rest of the album is as brilliant as her first single "Spotlight," then we're probably looking at the album of the year.
  • Michelle Williams Unexpected (10/7) Michelle who? Let me remind you, in case you were brainwashed have forgotten that there were two other members of Destiny's Child beside Beyonce. Kelly Rowland released an album last year that was half good, half not-so-good so now it's Michelle Williams' turn to try to steal some of Beyonce's spotlight. With "We Break the Dawn," the amazingly epic song that's burning up the radio and everyone's talking about...what, you haven't heard it? Oh, that's right. When people are given a great track that even fits the current popular taste, it's the American way to ignore them for Kid Rock and Lil' Wayne.
  • Sugababes Catfights & Spotlights (10/20- UK release date) Amazing album title, hot first single and a track with the greatest lyrics I've heard in a long time. Look what you're missing out on, America!
  • Pink Funhouse (10/28) "So What" is my new official angry anthem and Pink hasn't disappointed me musically since...well, ever! Pink defined my teenage years with her M!ssundaztood album so it's stands to chance that Funhouse could start my 20's off with a bang, right?
  • David Archuleta TBA (11/11) In my opinion, this little cutie should have won American Idol this season, but apparently my opinion doesn't matter and America hates me (I'm not bitter!). As a tradition, albums from the second place finishers usually suck, but I have faith in my Davie because of his first single, "Crush." The lyrics and music are pure boy band cheese, but Archuleta sells it like a true pro and, before I know it, I'm singing along with every word and listening to it on repeat over and over again.
  • Missy Elliott Block Party (11/11) Missy always delivers a hot album with a sick singles and visually impressive music videos. These days, she's hip hop's saving grace so we need to treasure every ounce of originality from her.
  • Beyonce Virtuoso Intellect (?) (11/18) I'm not sure how I feel about the rumored title yet, but it's f-ing Beyonce, man. There's not too much info on this one as of right now, although she just shot the video for her first single "If I Were a Man" a couple of weeks ago. The best news: the video is supposed to be thematically similar to her "Ring the Alarm" video (aka one of the greatest music videos of the decade). Oh, don't tell me you've forgotten? I officially can't wait!
  • The Killers Day & Age (11/25) Little known fact: J'adore The Killers. "Mr. Brightside" and "When You Were Young" are absolutely two of my favorite songs ever. If Day & Age offers one song as good as either of them, this will be one hot album.
  • Britney Spears Circus (12/2) Without a doubt, this is my most anticipated album of the year. If Blackout, a true masterpiece if I've ever heard one, was made during her famed meltdown, just imagine the mindblowing album that could come out of her now that she's got her life on track. We'll hear her first single, "Womanizer," on the 22nd, so let's cross our fingers that this will be another winner from Miss Spears.
  • Girls Aloud TBA (TBA) No details have been released about Girls Aloud's newest album, but I literally can't get the first single, "The Promise," out of my head or off repeat. It's so damn catchy and unlike anything I've heard from them or am hearing currently on the radio. Listen for yourself.
I'm going to be so poor by December.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Ladies of Twilight

I've held out as long as I could, really I have. I tend not to get caught up in huge fanboy hysterias, whether in films (Superhero movies, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) or books (I've still only read the first Harry Potter book and that was about eight years ago), but after my friends' relentless insistence, I've finally started reading Twilight, the Stephenie Meyer novel whose readers are growing more rabidly fanatic by the minute. I'm about 100 pages in and I must say that it's a very quick and addictive read. It's not especially well-written-- I hate how the author keeps refering to Edward's "beautiful" face over and over again; why doesn't she rub it in our faces a little more that he's better looking than we will ever be?-- but, like the Gossip Girl novels, they are a ton of fun and if it gets teens reading, who cares? Plus, after falling in love with Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet a couple of months ago, I've become addicted to stories of teens falling in love for the first time but not being able to express it fully. Twilight, so far at least, has been fulfilling my craving beautifully.

As I'm sure all of you are aware, Twilight is being turned into a film slated for release at the end of November, I think (It was December 12th, but someone told me that it got moved up because of the Harry Potter delay). I was looking through the cast on IMDb last night and, although the men are supposed to be the main attraction here, the women are the ones I'm most looking forward to. Sure, my new love Cam Gigandet is there (although I positively hate that blonde dreadlocked rodent on his head that's a sorry- and ugly- excuse for a wig) and Robert Pattinson is pretty cute, although, since I've never seen a Harry Potter film, I have no clue as to whether or not he has any talent (I kinda wish they had taken a chance and cast Gaspard Ulliel becuase, well, he is simply dreamy and who would mind being bitten by him). The ladies of Twilight are where it's at, I'm afraid (not that you should be surprised- I am a devout actressexual after all). So here's a rundown of who I'm looking forward to see come November:

Kristen Stewart
You may recognize her from her brilliant, subdued work as the (kinda) romantic interest of Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild (of which, Vertigo's Psycho has written a beautiful and insightful reading of) but I first fell in love with her in the surprisingly great Lifetime adaptation of Lindsay Halse Anderson's Speak. The role was tricky to pull off- you try making a rape victim in a Lifetime movie look like something we've never seen before- but she did it and did it well. Add to that her impressive performance in last year's slightly underrated In the Land of Women and Stewart is quickly becoming one to watch. Even from the first 20 pages I can tell that she is perfectly cast as Bella, the silently detached narrator who is attracted to the mysterious Edward. Hopefully, her performance will bring her to a wider audience but I'm not holding my breath since teens don't like/understand subtle. Why the hell else would they sit through six Saw movies and all those Disaster Movie clones? At least us indie movie followers will always have and appreciate her.

Nikki Reed
Most may say I'm crazy, and I've only seen the movie once many years ago, but I think it should have been Nikki Reed, and not Holly Hunter, who should have gotten that Oscar nomination for Thirteen. Hell, she should have won the damn thing. It's not that Hunter is bad (of course not, she Holly fucking Hunter) but I was so much more involved and interested in Reed's storyline. Her character was always an enigma, we never really understood what she did or why, and it was interesting watching her lead Evan Rachel Wood down a downward path of destruction. Since she's so close with director Catherine Hardwicke (they co-wrote the script to Thirteen), it's no surprise that she was cast in this film. Her character, Rosalie, hasn't done anything in the book yet, but I'm hoping she gets to do something juicy so that Reed will have something to do in the film.

Anna Kendrick
Anna who? I know you probably haven't heard of her and that's quite a shame because she's a truly remarkable talent. She first caught my eye in Camp (although I didn't know it was her at the time) with her beyond-her-years take on the "The Ladies Who Lunch," but it was in the small indie Rocket Science that I realized she has what it takes to be a great actress. As the manipulative perfectionist who recruits the stuttering Reece Thompson to be her debate partner (ultimately for diabolical reasons), Kendrick was good enough to make my Top 10 Best Supporting Actress performances of 2007 and apparently the Independent Spirit Awards also agreed, giving her a surprise nomination last year. She plays Jessica in Twilight and thusfar she hasn't been given much to do other than talk Bella's ear off and pine after Mike so I'm hoping her role gets expanded in the movie and we get to see another great performance from her.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rants on Vicky Cristina Barcelona

If there's anything to be gained from Woody Allen's latest "comeback" film Vicky Cristina Barcelona-- and trust me, there's not much new here that Allen hasn't done better before-- it's that the moment after Javier Bardem sticks his penis inside you, you will turn into one cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs crazy bitch. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) arrive in Barcelona pretty normal, if a tad bit hung up on the intellectualization of the smallest details of their psyche and personas, but by the time Bardem's Juan Antonio has his way with each of these ladies, Vicky wants to leave her loving, but ultimately boring fiance and Cristina is engaging in a three-way relationship with him and his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). The problem with Vicky Cristina Barcelona is, unfortunately, that Woody Allen doesn't find anything wrong with this situation and whole-heartedly supports Juan Antonio's sexual adventures while the women are treated as silly creatures who can't let go of their hangups and just be sexually free.

Not all of Vicky Cristina Barcelona is bad. I did enjoy the cinematography (I loved the yellow tint that most of the city was shot through and the landscapes looked free and enticing) and the editing was incredibly sharp with a consistently strong point of view. The most interesting moment in the whole first half of the film was when Vicky and Cristina are coming from the airport and even though they are sitting next to each other in the same car, they are shown in separate frames to highlight the fact that they completely differ on their viewpoints about love and life. They may be close, but there will always be something about each other that they will never understand.

The real problem with Vicky Cristina Barcelona is, rather surprisingly, Woody Allen's lazy, repetitive script. Not only, like his Cassandra's Dream released earlier this year, were most of the themes the same themes we've been exposed to through the last ten years of Woody films, but it is also the laziest, least interesting screenplay I've ever seen from him. The voiceovers gave away absolutely everything about how we should be feeling and what the characters were thinking at crucial times instead of showing us and letting the actors take control. And it's not even like the completely unneccesary voiceover is written that well; I believe at one point, the narrator says something like, "Vicky thought the bulidings were beautiful", could you be any less descriptive? Why didn't you just write "They were good"? Plus, I couldn't believe how little the characters developed through the course of the film. I don't care to remember how many scenes in the second half of the film revolved around Vicky trying to convince herself and everyone else that she wanted to be with her fiance when she really wants to get banged by Javier Bardem. Her character was interesting for awhile, but after five scenes with this same dilemma, I quickly grew disinterested.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona has one saving grace and, just like you've heard, that miracle worker is Penelope Cruz. I grew so bored with this movie by the halfway point that I was just hoping that she enter quickly to shake things up. Needless to say, my high expectations were met and surpassed. Forgive me for being a bit of a blurb whore right now, but let me just say that Penelope Cruz gives quite possibly the best performance of the year so far. She's fiery, fiesty and full of life; whenever she appears on screen the film suddenly snaps back to attention and she actually gives the illusion that this film is interesting or worth exploring. I completely agree with PUXZKKX when he says about Cruz's performance:
I just wish that she had been showcased more in her final scene, but that's what good supporting acting is - when an actor or actress leaves you wanting more. It is a spiky, tangy and exotic performance...
The rest of the cast is adequate, if not exactly as interesting or in depth as Cruz and her Maria Elena. Javier Bardem emits a smoldering sexuality and that's all the role really requires of him. Rebecca Hall starts off with that great berating of Bardem's Juan Antonio when he approaches the two of them in the restaurant but then she becomes the Woody Allen character and I completely lost interest in her. ScarJo looks pretty, I guess? She doesn't really add anything to a role that is just begging for something to be done with. Something has happened to ScarJo, and Woody for that matter, since their success in Match Point nearly three years ago. They haven't been able to duplicate it and, frankly, at this point I'm not sure that they can. C

Two-Time Emmy Award Winner Kathy Griffin!

Fuck yes! D-List Diva Kathy Griffin won her second Emmy Award in a row for Outstanding Reality Show (Non-Competition) for My Life on the D-List last night. After her controversial speech last year, which brought her so much publicity that she was almost an A-Lister, Kathy was a little subtler this year, proclaiming when she got to the podium, "Well, well, well. Here we go again, fuckers!" She then went on to say, "I'm not going to tell anyone to suck it tonight."

Congrats Diva! No one in Hollywood deserves this award as much as you do. Now, all we need to do is get you that Grammy you deserve!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

VMA Video of the Year Rundown: 1999

My new series in which I go through the nominees for the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year in each and every year. Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments!

The reason I chose this year as my next episode in the series is because 1999 is probably the most important year in my development as both a music lover and a pre-teen. 1999 was the first year I started getting really hooked on MTV through the burgeoning beacon of early 2000's teenagedom known as TRL and you can see that influence start to trickle in on the VMA's through the nominations of Korn and the Backstreet Boys. I remember most of these videos from their first run on the channel and it was quite interesting to look back and see how well they held up in time. I must say that my memory was all over the place with this one: Korn and Ricky Martin's respective videos fared slightly worse, BSB and Lauryn Hill were about the same and Will Smith's was actually better than I remembered. Overall, I must say that 1999 was one weak-ass year. Except for the winner Lauryn Hill and possibly Korn, the rest of the videos are quite disposable. Even if on the whole the year was quite mediocre, what were the nominators smoking not to nominate Britney Spears' widely discussed and publicized debut video "...Baby One More Time" (which actually looks better as time passes with that beautiful choreography) or either of TLC's eligible videos from the year: the best song of the year (then and now) "No Scrubs" and the better video "Unpretty" (which scarred me for life with the image of the silicon boob popping out on that plate in the hospital scene).

The Best of the Nominees:
Lauryn Hill "Doo Wop (That Thing)"
# # # # #
Directed by Big TV! (Andy Delaney and Monty Whitbloom)
The fact that MTV went for Hill over the special effects heavy "Freak on a Leash" or the inexplicably popular "I Want It That Way" probably has more to do with MTV trying to look respectable after her recent Grammy wins than because they felt it was truly the best music video of the year. Nevertheless, "Doo Wop (That Thing)" remains the freshest video nearly a decade later and the only nominee in this weak ass year that actually adds something to the song. By using a split screen and showing Lauryn Hill singing the same song in two very different time periods (the 60's and "modern" day), I think it's trying to reflect on both the duplicity of both the song and the singer herself. "Doo Wop" borrows from 60's soul and combines it with modern hip-hop to astonishing results with Hill proving yet again that she has the chops to carry off each genre without a hitch; the video does nothing more than exploit this heavily potent combination and does it absolutely beautifully.
(Watch here)

The Rest (in order):
Korn "Freak on a Leash"
# # # # #
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Davis
Back in the day, I actually thought this was an interesting video, even if the music genre was way out of my taste range (then and now). When I decided to do 1999 as my next installment of this series, I was positive that this would be the video of the year, the one that just completely blows everything else out of the water. But then I watched the video again for the first time in many years and I would be lying if I didn't say I was a tad bit disappointed. Individually, all the elements of "Freak on a Leash" are wonderous: the animated opening is visually compelling, using its crude animating style to highlight Korn's crude style of music and the magic bullet special effects are extremely well-made. Together, however, it becomes just one big mish-mash of visuals that leaving me feeling rather meh. Not nearly as yawnworthy as many of the nominees in all of the categories, but not exactly the masterpiece I remembered from years ago.
(Watch here)

Will Smith featuring Dru Hill and Kool Moe Dee "Wild Wild West"
# # # # #
Directed by Paul Hunter
The scope of "Wild Wild West" is nothing to shake a stick at and I wish that more music videos would try to integrate a plot of some sort, no matter how silly or ludicrous, into the video. That being said, this video kind of cheats in that respect since it's basically using the sets and costumes from the movie it's based on and completely condensing the two hour movie into six minutes (which, I must say, basically erases any need to see that shitty movie...yowza, it's bad). Although there's no real sense of danger for Will Smith (or Salma Hayek, for that matter, although I myself would be paralyzed with fear if those tarantaluas were on me) and any video that has cameos from both Steve Wonder and Carlton is just completely shameless in its intents to rope an audience in, "Wild Wild West" is a completely fun time that, like the movie did so epically awful, is only meant to entertain you and that's fine.
(Watch here)

Ricky Martin "Livin' La Vida Loca"
# # # # #
Directed by Wayne Isham
I can't exactly blame the VMA's for nominating Ricky Martin's English-language debut "Livin' La Vida Loca" because not only did it launch a Latin craze that brought us Enrique, Marc Anthony and a pre-J. Lo Jennifer Lopez but it also suckered me into thinking that this video was the real deal. As an 11 year old, I thought that this video was fun and carefree and the song, with its blazing brass, sultry delivery, unapologetic frankness about sex, was unlike anything I had ever heard before (I must say that I was quite sheltered in elementary school). Looking back now, the song is still pretty catchy and not quite as embarrassing as you'd expect, but that video is the complete epitome of cornball. There's not one stereotype about Latin music or Latin men in general that director Wayne Isham doesn't hit on: Is Ricky a good lover? Check. Is Ricky a bandleader a la Ricky Ricardo? Check. Is there a bunch of Latinos doing crazy salsa moves and looking quite slick? Check. Fine, if not respectable during its time, but lets just leave "Livin' La Vida Loca" in '99 and never mention it again, okay?
(Watch here)

Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way"
# # # # #
Directed by Wayne Isham
Except for possibly "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" and "Larger Than Life," it can be argued that the Backstreet Boys never really contributed anything substantial to the music video artform. Borrowing from the Take That "Back For Good"-style of standing around, doing generic "boy band" poses and a couple of small choreographed routines, the Backstreet Boys' videos were often throwaways that were only used to capitalize on the frenzy surrounding them on MTV (and, most importantly, TRL). I can see why the VMA's went for this back in 1999-- the song was an enormous success on the channel and the album it came from, Milennium, was the first album to sell one million copies in its first week-- but today it's just inexcusable that this complete waste of a video took one of the Video of the Year spots. In "I Want It That Way," the Boys literally stand around and do nothing for the entire 3 and a 1/2 minutes. There's a couple of poses and ten seconds of the lamest choreography, but mostly it's them standing in front of an airplane, standing in front of a crowd of rabid fans and walking along the airport terminal. And it doesn't even have the shamelessness of the rain sequence in "Quit Playing Games," the amazing pop song in "As Long As You Love Me" or the bright colors of "All I Have to Give" (sorry, that's the only positive I can come up for that video). "I Want It That Way" is a complete and utter waste of time that's so bad I can't believe someone actually got paid to think of this concept and direct this piece of trash.
(Watch here)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

In Like With the New 90210

So, the new 90210 premiered last week to huge ratings (well, for the CW anyways) and generally decent reviews that were basically glad the show wasn't a huge bomb. I've already shared my excitement about the new series, so did the show meet my expectations? Here's my list of pros and cons about the premiere.

+Mr. Matthews (Ryan Eggold) can keep me after school anytime for a little one-on-one time, if you know what I mean.

+The insult "bitchlips" has been added to my vocabulary. And there never seems to be an inappropriate time to call someone that.

+Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord) is the most extraordinary, fiercest, dramatic, over-the-top creation since the re-invention of Tyra Banks. Seriously, how can you hate a woman this devoted to being the biggest bitch in West Beverly High (and, somehow, doesn't seem to be that horrible). And, as a bonus, that scene in the bar contained the greatest homage to 80's hair since Amanda Overmyer last year on American Idol.

-They totally pissed all over the original theme song. In updating it for today's teens, they took out all of the cheesy epic-ness that made it so compulsively listenable.

-Except for Naomi and the grandmother, the characters are all kind of one-dimensional and boring. I'm already sick of Annie and Dixon's goodie two-shoes act, Silver has the potential to be interesting but she's not there yet, the most interesting thing about Ethan is that he got a blow job before school on the morning of Annie and Dixon's arrival, Adrianna's (I think that's her name...the one with the lead in the school play) problems are just too weird to even start discussing and the mom and dad are definitely no Sandy and Kirsten Cohen.

-I wish they would just get on with the Jeannie Garth/Shannen Doherty storyline. I guess it would mean more if I was super familiar with the original series, but it just reeks of the shameless.

The Verdict: It's no Gossip Girl yet, but it has the potential to get better. If Naomi gets to do more fabulously bitchy things a la Blair Waldorff and the rest of the cast becomes more interesting, 90210 could be just as big as GG.

Monday, September 8, 2008

How Sweet It Is

Just how much is everyone on board for the Second Coming of Britney? Let's count the Moonmen:






In other news, wasn't the rest of the VMA's just a complete snooze fest? I think it was even worse than last year (which is saying a lot). Except for the Pink and Christina Aguilera performances (Wasn't that remix of "Genie in a Bottle" epic? I think I love it more than the original), Miley Cyrus not winning Best New Artist (which I thought she had in the bag) and Jordin Sparks's "Oh snap!" moment to Russell Brand when she said, "not every guy or girl wants to be a slut, OK?" the highlights of my evening were talking about going to jail with my friend Sammi for being a pedophile because we both think Nick Jonas is the cutest Brother Jonas and squealing with delight with J.D. over every Britney win and then slamming all the shit that was going on. I mean, where do I even start? Russell Brand and his shitty, unfunny comedy that was more political commentary and less poking fun at the music industry? Katy Perry butchering, putting through the grinder and then pissing on The Madonna's "Like a Virgin" for a way too long 30 seconds? That completely retarded Lil' Wayne performance? Kid Rock? That lead singer of some band I had never heard of called Tokio Hotel that neither J.D. nor I knew its sex? The stupid idea that all of the performances had to be on the movie sets to be interesting, when we all know that the best ones have all taken place right on stage (like this Madonna performance of "Vogue" that I discovered a week ago)? Blurg. The VMA's need to get back to basics next year, move to New York and focus completely on the awards and the performances. All the other stuff is extraneous bullshit.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Message to Hollywood About Horror Films

Dear Hollywood,

Prom Night (Nelson McCormick, 2008)
This is not how you do horror movies. Seeing horribly boring and trite caricatures of modern teenagers being randomly slashed to death by a psychopath is not scary. At all. And when you're actually so bored with the movie that you get up while the film is playing, toast a bagel, come back and realize that you haven't missed a thing, that's a pretty tell-tale sign that things aren't working. Don't even get me started about that screenplay, ugh. What was the point of introducing that bitchy prom queen wannabe when the killer wasn't going to kill her (or get anywhere near her for that matter). And why would you go back in and grab a shawl when there is a fucking fire alarm going off and why is no one at all concerned that the building could errupt in flames at any second. Brittany Snow, please, for the sake of our relationship, pick a good movie next time. You are so above this crap it's not even funny. F

Bug (William Friedkin, 2007)
This is how you do horror films. Friedkin, director of what I consider the scariest movie I've ever seen (The Exorcist) is back and better than ever. His slow buildup to that frightening third act (you can definitely see Bug's stage origins, but it's surprisingly not much of a problem) perfectly brought us into a state of mind that made Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon's decension into madness some of the most unsettling and nervewracking shit I've ever seen. Oh my God, it's been a week and I'm still a little shaky just thinking about it. It may seem a little farfetched, but in the right vulnerable state of mind, this could probably happen to anyone. B+

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My (Vaguely Distracted) Thoughts on Never Back Down

Never Back Down is basically a modern update of The Karate Kid....

Wait, what is Volchock doing here? And, more importantly, when did he get so hot?

Oops, sorry for that diversion. Just had to get that off my chest. Let me start again:

Never Back Down is basically a modern...

But, damn, he is really hot in this movie. I'm not much of a ogler by nature, but I just can't help it.

Oh shit. Sorry guys. I know you're just dying to hear my thoughts so lets try again.

Never Back Down is basically a modern update...

Awww, look how sweet Volchock (aka Cam Gigandet) is when he smiles. It's so strange-- he was such a prick on The O.C. (and he excelled at that, I must say) and he's supposed to be the antagonist here, but I actually find him quite nice (except for when he's beating the shit out of the comic relief friend, that was kinda douchey).

Fuck, why can't I stay focused on Never Back Down? Cam isn't supposed to be the whole damn show. Sean Faris, looking like he wants to become the next Tom Cruise, and inexplicable two-time Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou are both in this movie for probably far longer than he is and are infinitely more integral to the plot.

But Cam is just so pretty.

Focus, James, focus!


I'm in love.

For all intensive purposes, Never Back Down is really nothing more than your average Karate Kid (which I didn't even like in the first place) ripoff with more teenage angst and violence than you can shake a stick it, middling to average acting and characters that you really can't root for. Somehow, though, I stayed involved with the movie and I only audibly groaned once or twice, if that. Never Back Down somehow turns all of its cliches into a film that passes for above-average teenage entertainment. Who knew? C

Thursday, September 4, 2008

VMA Video of the Year Rundown: 1984

My new series in which I go through the nominees for the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year in each and every year. Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments!

Generally, with the first year of any awards show, the nominators try to pick nominees that will make a statement and pave the way for future ceremonies. From the five nominees here, you can see the VMA going for the types it will love the most in future years: the innovator ("Rockit"), the epic ("Thriller"), the comic relief ("You Might Think"), the deadly serious ("Every Breath You Take") and the bouncy breakthrough ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun"). My only source of puzzlement is the choice of winner; "You Might Think" is decent enough and would be an acceptable winner in most other years, but not in a year with both "Rockit" and "Thriller." If you need an Oscar equivalent, the win for The Cars would be the same as if the slightly above-average Dark Victory had beaten both Gone With the Wind and Stagecoach in 1939.

The Best of the Nominees:
Herbie Hancock "Rockit" # # # # #
Directed by Godley & Creme
One of the many great things about the early days of MTV is that, through interesting and innovative music videos that they chose to show, they brought attention to songs that their teenage audience never would have sought on their own and actually made them cool. Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" is one of those videos and, somewhat surprisingly, its still an exciting and visionary video that shames many modern videos' lack of originality. "Rockit" is disturbing and scary in the same way that
Metropolis' way too ahead of its time vision of a futuristic utopia gone wrong creeps me out but it also manages to effectively combine the surrealism and commercialis of the early scenes of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The success of this video and its nomination here was visual proof that in such a short time, the music video was starting to bloom into something more mature than ever thought possible.
(Watch here)

The Rest (in order):
Michael Jackson "Thriller" # # # # #
Directed by John Landis
Is "Thriller" the greatest music video ever made? Three years ago, I probably would have enthusiastically said yes; now, I'm not so sure. I will give it that, along with "Rockit," "Thriller" pushed the music video forward ten years and made it acceptable as an artform (much like
The Birth of a Nation proved that movies could be more than Keystone Cops shorts). But what do you say about the music video in which the music comes in second to the story? There has to be some kind of balance, otherwise we're just watching an above average short film with a couple of musical breaks. I would argue that "Billie Jean," although smaller in scale, is the better video since it is both iconic (the dancing, the light up squares) and music-focused. Still, these are minor squibbles for such an innovative and technically superior video as "Thriller" was compared to most of its competition of the time- and that dance sequence looks just as fresh 24 years later as it did back then (even after the countless imitations we've been subjected to over the years).
(Watch here)

Cyndi Lauper "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" # # # # #
Directed by Edd Griles
I've gone back and forth on this video so many times that I'm not even sure what I think anymore. Technically, the video is nothing special and I suspect that even by 1984 standards people had seen this type of video more than once. What "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" has on its side is the one-woman show that is Cyndi Lauper and an infinite amount of personality. The early shot of Cyndi she-bopping along the street with her crazy red hair and bouncy dress is almost like a battle cry for Girl Power. Combined with Madonna's own emergence in the very same year, Lauper's achievement with both this video and the eventual nomination proved that the women of the MTV generation were ready to be heard. Interestingly enough, this was the only female Video of the Year nominee until Madonna's "Like a Prayer" in 1989 (and there wouldn't be a winner until a year after that with Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U").

(Watch here)

The Police "Every Breath You Take" # # # # #
Directed by Godley & Creme
I love the choice to shoot this music video in black and white and parts of the video-- most notably, the shot where Sting looks directly into the camera-- play really well into the creepy stalker aspects of the song (which most people probably didn't realize until they saw this video). Looking at it now, however, I just wish there was more to excited about. The clip is deceptively simple; the directors, Godley & Creme, are magicians at using the black and white cinematography to cover up the fact that absolutely nothing happens in this video. The most movement we get is the aforementioned turn towards the camera by Sting, which is actually kind of annoying since the switch between lights is a touch too obvious. "Every Breath You Take" is on its way to becoming a great video; it just needed a tad bit more thought about its intentions.

(Watch here)

The Cars "You Might Think" # # # # #
Directed by Alex Weil
It would be easy to make fun of the special effects in this video since, by 2008's standard, they are pretty laughable and too cartoonish to be taken seriously. I wasn't so much negatively affected by that (it was 1984 for Christ's sake- the computer as we know it was just starting to take form) as I was by the fact that, overall, the video is just kinda lame. The same one joke keeps getting repeated over and over again (Oh, look, Ric Ocasek just popped up in her tube of lipstick! Now, he's in her prom photo! That's hilarious!) and each time we're supposed to pretend like it's a whole new gag. And tell me I wasn't the only one who wanted to slap the girl in this video. I realize that the video is hokey by nature, but her reactions (or, should I say, overreactions) were mindless and completely took me out of the song and video. With a chance to honor two of the most important videos of the early 80's, it's
so MTV to go with the one that probably felt outdated just a couple of years later.
(Watch here)