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I’ve been writing more reviews for Examiner, and I was recently named Blu-Ray Reviewer there. My first review was for “Swamp People: Season 4,” and I’ll hopefully be interviewing all kinds of ridiculous crap there soon. If you could subscribe to it by clicking here, I would be forever grateful.

I’ve also been doing more reviews in my Netflix column, like this one about the Mitt Romney documentary. I’ll be posting about “House of Cards” season 2 soon, and should have more up there as Netflix continues to churn more original content out.

Here’s two hours of Norm MacDonald:

 

 

 

The Films of 2013 (UPDATED 2/25)

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Below is my list of the films released in 2013 that I saw. Comments and conversation encouraged! I’m happy to elaborate on everything if you’d like to discuss.

Her – ****

Gravity – ****

The Act of Killing – ****

Wolf of Wall Street – ****

12 Years a Slave – ****

Spring Breakers – *** ½

Frances Ha – *** ½

Captain Phillips – *** ½

Nebraska – *** ½

Behind the Candelabra – *** 1/2

Sound City – *** ½

August: Osage County – ***

The World’s End – ***

Fast and Furious 6 – ***

Iron Man 3 – ***

Pacific Rim – ***

Inside Llewyn Davis – ***

Lone Survivor – ***

Enough Said – ***

Side Effects – ***

It’s A Disaster – ***

Only God Forgives – ***

Rush – ***

Philomena – ***

Dirty Wars – ***

Blue Jasmine – ***

Star Trek Into Darkness – ** ½

Man of Steel – ** ½

American Hustle – ** ½

The Last Stand – ** 1/2

Saving Mr. Banks – ** ½

This is the End – ** ½

The Conjuring – ** 1/2

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – **

The Book Thief – **

Upstream Color – **

Prisoners – **

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – **

We’re The Millers – **

The Family – **

The Conjuring – **

Berberian Sound Studio – **

Olympus Has Fallen – * ½

World War Z – * ½

Place Beyond The Pines – *

Mama – * ½

The Lifeguard – zero

Gangster Squad – zero

Man of Steel / World War Z

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It’s been a disappointing year for movies, according to noted film authority Me. Star Trek Into Darkness filled me with shrugs, Iron Man 3 was shiny but who cares, and the two movies I saw recently were epic, expensive and not very good. At this point, the best movie released this year that I’ve seen has been, no kidding, Behind the Candelabra.

Speaking of gay haircuts, Brad Pitt co-produced and stars in World War Z, based on a book by Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks. Disappointingly, World War Z didn’t feature an epic campfire farting scene like Blazing Saddles, but it really could have used one. WWZ is one of those movies where nobody is really a character. Everybody just kinda talks, but you don’t give a damn about any of it. We follow Brad Pitt across the globe as he tries to find a zombie cure, and the only reason to give a crap  about Brad Pitt’s character is because he’s Brad Pitt and he’s the star of the movie.

WWZ had a rather troubled production history, but unlike true fiascoes like Gigli or Baby Geniuses, the reshoots managed to widdle the film down to a bland nub. (“Bland Nub” is also one of the nicknames of the film’s director, Marc “How Am I Still Getting Work?” Forster.) It plays exactly like a video game, with Pitt going from level to level country to country, facing challenges, defeating the Big Boss and moving on to the next lev–er, country. In fact, the ending, where Pitt has to sneak around quietly in a lab in Wales, plays out exactly like a level in Metal Gear Solid.

I concede that part of me is sick of zombies. I’m already looking forward to NOT watching this season of The Walking Dead, and the genre needs to take a break for a while. Of course, I watched my Blu of Shaun of the Dead just last night, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. Correction: I definitely don’t know what I’m talking about.

Back to the movie, the ending does feature a very funny moment: The final battle culminates in a long hallway, with Pitt on one end and a bunch of zombies on the other. Pitt stops to compose himself, and he’s standing in front of a Pepsi machine. (We know this because the word Pepsi is on all the cans, and facing the camera perfectly.) Pitt then grabs a soda and takes a big swig. This may be the first movie to feature a Pepsi commercial as part of its climax. I half-expected Pitt to turn to the camera and wink. It was hilarious.

Two other things about WWZ: Mireille Enos plays Pitt’s wife, continuing Hollywood’s streak of useless wife characters. Apparently, even during a zombie apocalypse, a woman’s main role is to look concerned a whole lot, and that’s it. The camera closes in on her concerned face a lot, but somehow, this move still doesn’t turn her into an actual character worth caring about. Also, the 3D in this movie nearly made my wife throw up.

World War Z and Man of Steel both play the same way: Massive setpieces linked with connective tissue that’s impossible to care about. It’s doubly frustrating for Man of Steel, because it’s playing with characters and archetypes that have been established for decades, yet it decides to remove a lot of that and make everyone involved a bland cipher.

One big issue I have with Man of Steel is its bland color scheme. It was blue-tinted and flat, not the big bold primary colors that denote FUN and, you know, FREAKING SUPERMAN. I really liked James Cavill as the Son of Krypton, and would have been interested to see him work with a better script. Man of Steel, more than any recent film, that this whole idea that all superhero movies need to be grim and gritty is stupid, ESPECIALLY for Superman.

In fact, I can say that for the whole movie. The cast is superb, some of the action is mind-blowing and every dime spent on the movie shows on the screen. I wish all of these elements could have been transferred to a different script, which is weirdly schizophrenic: The first half is q re-jiggering of the Superman origin, and the second half is pretty much straight-up Transformers 2, with seemingly the entire U.S. destroyed by its supposed protector. And just like Michael Bay’s movies, it just keeps pummeling the viewer over and over and OVER until you don’t care about anything and just want some aspirin.

Maybe the issue is with Zack Snyder, who has always been able to make great moments in a vacuum, but they never seem to cohere into a great movie. Along with Michael Bay, he’s one of our current great second unit directors, with camera moves and shots and techniques that few others can pull off, yet it’s hard to give a damn about any of it.

Man of Steel may be the most mind-blowing film of the year. Somehow, it’s still not very good.

World War Z – **
Man of Steel – ** 1/2

 

My Examiner Articles

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I’ve decided to start writing articles again for Examiner in a desperate attempt to exercise my brain muscles. I’m writing about classic cinema showing in Nashville, as well as Netflix and Hulu national news and reviews. Look for the Hulu articles to start shortly, but in the meantime, you can subscribe to my other columns:

National Netflix News & Reviews: Click here to subscribe

Nashville Classic Cinema: Click here to subscribe

If you could subscribe to this stuff, that will greatly reduce my constant shilling. Thanks!

I’m also writing a long thing about the films of last year. Will it go up? WHO KNOWS!

 

 

“Arrested Development” and the Joy of Ambition

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Arrested Development Star Warsall those balls in the air! 
how hard can it be? 
so hard you’re gettin’ dizzy 
with those balls in the air! 
keep those balls in the air! 

– “Balls In The Air” by David Schwartz

 

One time, I was online discussing The Master, and a commenter said he found the movie to be “pretty good.” This milquetoast response really irritated me. How could a film that strange inspire such a tepid reaction? I get why someone might love The Master, and I definitely understand why someone would hate it. But to sit through those two hours and come out the other side with your only reaction being “it was pretty good”?  It drove me nuts. How can someone come out of The Master and shrug like they’d just seen Grown Ups 2?

Everyone wants something different out of art, but personally I’m a big admirer of ambition. I’ll take ambitious failure over generic success any day. It’s why I’m thinking of buying Cloud Atlas on Blu-Ray*, and have tried to get through Infinite Jest more than once (I haven’t succeeded yet.) Something like The Master may not be perfect (I’m still trying to grasp much of the second half), but dammit, Paul Thomas Anderson is clearly striving for something more. Doesn’t that deserve more respect than shrugging and saying “Eh, not bad”? I think so. Some people resent difficult entertainment. Those people are art-hating dullards.

Arrested Development returned to Netflix, and critic complaints have been fairly consistent: Too slow-paced, too dark, not as funny, etc. I’ve found this to be a bit surprising. For months, Mitch Hurwitz and the cast have said that this will be a different beast, with David Cross comparing the intricacy of the season to Lost, and they were exactly right: This is risky, epic, completely insane television that would be impossible to do anywhere else but Netflix. At the very least, it’s the first time a show has been developed for the Netflix format, and not just a substandard cable show that premiered there.**

Like many people critical of the season, I did find the first couple of eps to be slow going, and I also agree that the George Sr. episodes are probably the worst. Still, even during those expositionary lulls, I knew that everything being said probably had more than one meaning, and that rewatching this in its entirety would be rewarding. How did I know this? BECAUSE I KNEW I WAS WATCHING ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. This has been the show’s M.O. forever. Anyone that’s enjoyed the show knows that rewatching the show brings so many rewards. Hurwitz knew that this would be consumed over and over, and he built a season of television so intricate that it makes Lost look like one of those Christmas videos of a log burning in a campfire.

People have said it’s not as funny, but I don’t know. This season made me laugh harder than I have in years, over and over and over, and halfway through rewatch, I’m laughing even more as I see connections and allusions to things that I’d missed before. You know, LIKE A SEASON OF ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. I get that I’m using all-caps too much here, but COME ON!  The sheer logistics of the season alone are astonishing, but the fact these logistics also include embedded setups for jokes makes my brain ache. Each character has a story and a sub-plot that’s connected to the overall uber-story and there are guest stars and callbacks and nested callbacks within callbacks. This is the work of genius.

Granted, genius isn’t perfect. There are times where I do miss the full cast being together, where the expositional narration becomes a bit too much, and I especially wish there had been a bit more closure to the story. Instead of a complete season of television, Hurwitz created The Most Complicated Movie Pitch of All Time, and hopes to answer some of the loose threads in an AD movie. I’m not crazy about that. However, I think we have to give Hurwitz credit for taking these characters and creating something new that’s also hilarious. Even the callbacks to earlier seasons are either expanded upon or are setups for new jokes. It’s bonkers, and I’m thrilled that Hurwitz got the chance to do it.  Whether you think the show’s return is great or terrible, you have to respect the ambition, or if you’re like me, you’re delighted by it.

Just don’t call it “pretty good”, or I’ll bitch about you in my next blog, which should be up in mid-2015.

* Speaking of Cloud Atlas, I’m thinking about doing a quick writeup on the films of 2012. Would you read it?

** Remind me to complain about House of Cards sometime, too.

Progress Report

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I haven’t posted a blog in a month, and it is frustrating. I think this sample of my most recent writing attempt sums things up neatly:

It’s been a month. So sue me!

Last night’s Oscars were a thing that happened, with Seth McFarlane doing his “Mean jokes n’ show tunes” thing. In fact, the Oscars were more like the Tonys, with showtunes galore and several tributes to Chicago.

Medium double pepperoni
Baked chicken salad with ranch dressing
breadsticks

There ya go.

Inspiration will strike soon, but when? Good question, Me.

“Catfish”

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NOTE: In light of this goofy Manti Te’o thing, I thought I’d re-post my old review of “Catfish,” a film that I thought was bullshit at the time. Now, I’m not so sure. Wait, yes I am . . .  I still think it’s bullshit.

On one of my recent blogs, “DamnitDe’Mun” aka My Only Reader, left the following comment:

Fatty (see me for copyright infringement later),

I did see a movie worth mentioning recently. CATFISH. I just mentioned it. More on CATFISH: I know I’m expected to make the “Fat, Black man from the South thought he was watching a film on the delicacy” joke, but no!*

There was advertised, in its trailers, some huge surprise or a twist of some sort and I went in KNOWING that I would sniff it out before they revealed it. Uh Uhh — still threw me. Three film students, a couple of cameras, the internet and one great story is all it took to intrigue me, dumbfound me and ultimately get the characters. Loved it. No spoilers, just a huge endorsement to go watch it. CATFISH is available for $1 at your nearest RedBox. 

*DISCLAIMER FROM THE BLOGGER: As an Obese Caucasian, I too was hopeful that the film would feature a fish fry, and I resent the implication that fat, useless slobs have a race-specific menu. I eat catfish, my grandfather who dropped dead early loved catfish, and his dad who died at the age of 23 due to a clogged body ate nothing BUT catfish. If we were picky, we wouldn’t be fat. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get political, but that’s what happens when you book a one-way ticket to Edgytown.

DOUBLE DISCLAIMER: Sometimes, I call my blog Edgytown.

Intrigued, and desperate to please my sole commenter, I added Catfish to the top of my queue. I’d read reviews in the past, and was interested to see it for myself. Here’s how IMDB sums up Catfish.

In late 2007, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost sensed a story unfolding as they began to film the life of Ariel’s brother, Nev. They had no idea that their project would lead to the most exhilarating and unsettling months of their lives. A reality thriller that is a shocking product of our times, Catfish is a riveting story of love, deception and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue.

A little melodramatic, but the “of our times” part is pretty accurate. (Or inaccurate, if you’re reading this in 2017.) The most fascinating aspect of Catfish is how all of the info the filmmakers gleaned during their investigation were from online resources, mainly social media. A majority of the story is told using close-ups of computer screens, and it’s to the movie’s credit that the film stays interesting throughout, even though lots of times we’re just watching a scrolling cursor. The filmmakers (let’s just call them The Douches) are able to investigate the subject using only the Internet, and the dork in me was deeply fascinated, and a bit disturbed, by how easily they were able to track the subject down.

On the other hand, I don’t believe a lot of this. I think the story’s real, but I don’t for a second buy the moments where the camera is conveniently on when certain revelations happen. It feels like an event happened, then they re-enacted it for the camera. It feels a bit neat, for whatever reason.

There’s been speculation that Catfish is fake, but I think the story itself is real. I just think it’s been put together and presented by a bunch of toolbags. I found the brothers to be deeply annoying (the 3rd dude was just forgettable), however, my perception was probably ruined by this interview I read at the AV Club, which reveals that the main guy has a tramp stamp. A dude. With a tramp stamp. Frankly, that’s the kind of decision that calls a person’s entire character into question. I mean, look at this idiot:

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Brutal. I’m guessing the main reason people don’t buy Catfish as a true story is because it’s being told by a guy with a tramp stamp. Critics everywhere have been forced to ask themselves, “He has a tramp stamp! Why should we believe him ever, or take him seriously, or not punch him?” These are perfectly valid questions.  Embarrassing tattoo aside, Catfish is well worth seeing, and as that interview confirms, they edited out the tramp stamp for the most part, so you won’t be punching your screen in an anti-hipster rage.

Check out Catfish, an absorbing story that will remind you to eat more catfish, because it’s called Catfish.

Eat Your Vegetables: A Look At “Lincoln”

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Maybe the most striking thing about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is how un-Steven Spielberg-y it is. This is a film built around a series of conversations, with old guys in wigs harrumphing and posturing around tables. The only action setpiece occurs at the start, where we see some brief glimpses of a bloody skirmish during the Civil War. The rest of the movie is Daniel Day-Lewis telling anecdotes and being wise while people smile or chuckle or get exasperated and yell “Stop telling so many damn stories!”

Lewis is great, but we all know that right? It would be more shocking if Lewis sucked as Lincoln, using the Jerry Lewis “HEY LADYYYYY” voice while constantly farting. But no, Lewis is his usual magnetic, super-good-at-acting self.  He conveys Lincoln’s warmth and intelligence and charisma, and I’m sure he’ll win all of the shiny baubles once award season comes around. What, it’s already started? Eh, who cares.

Lincoln has a cast featuring every character actor in Hollywood giving their all in an attempt to dramatize a pivotal moment in history.Tommy Lee Jones is in the film as radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens is, get this, an old grumpy dick! Of course Jones nails it. James Spader, John Hawkes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and pretty much every male charactor actor in the universe excels in their roles. Oh, and I find Sally Field irritating, but she was good as Lincoln’s probably-crazy wife.

So why did Lincoln leave me so cold? I’m not sure. In terms of craft, the thing is perfect. On any objective level, it’s a good film, masterful even. I think my issue with it is that it belongs to that stuffiest of genres, The Historical Biopic. <—- NOTE: That’s not pronounced “Bi-OPP-ic.” Took me years to learn that.

The Historical Biopic has been done so many times that its formula is ingrained to anyone that has watched a lot of movies: Classically trained actors do expert impressions of some of history’s leading, uh, leaders, in between delivering tons of exposition because the dunderheads in the audience don’t know anything about history. This leads to statements like “Don’t you realize that those historical figures are the Vice President, Undersecretary and Assistant to the Undersecretary of the Confederacy??”, a statement that the actor who played Gale on Breaking Bad says in the film. (I’m paraphrasing it.) I’m always taken out of those textbook-style moments. I get that they’re necessary for the viewer to know what’s going on, but seeing as how the names and positions of those characters are shown in titles on the screen later, is it really necessary? It probably was, but it always takes me out of the film.

Lincoln is old-fashioned. In fact, Spielberg’s last few films have been fairly musty. War Horse was a fine tribute to John Ford that I have no desire to see again, and even Tintin, in all its CGI’d glory, is ultimately an old-timey adventure. Lincoln falls into that same wheelhouse; it’s the best picture of 1958. Lincoln is good for you, like carrots. I look forward to hearing my niece and nephews complain about having to watch it in school in the year 2017.

“John Carter” Wasn’t That Terrible

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The biggest movie flop of 2012 was Disney’s John Carter, which lost buckets of money and was mocked in the press as a gigantic, Heaven’s Gate-style fiasco. The media had a blast trashing this movie, and that’s too bad, because while John Carter isn’t the greatest (or even goodest) thing in the world, it had a lot of charm to it, and some individual parts that worked really well.

The movie is based on the John Carter of Mars series from Edgar Rice Burroughs. In a classic case of dopey corporatization, the title of the film was changed to John Carter, which might be the vaguest name for a film ever conceived. What could a film named John Carter possibly be about? An accountant? A dashing insurance salesman? It’s bland and stupid and awful. In fact, the marketing for this film was a consistent series of screw-ups. John Carter is a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure; Contrast that with the first teaser trailer that was shown in theaters:

[embedplusvideo height=”337″ width=”550″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/b8xblwyKtfo?fs=1&hd=1&#8243; vars=”ytid=b8xblwyKtfo&width=550&height=337&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=1&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep3299″ /]

 

WUT?

This gloomy mess completely misrepresented the film. There are moments of fun and laughter and excitement in John Carter, none of which is present in that damn teaser. What a disaster.

Also, while I love Friday Night Lights, Taylor Kitsch is kinda crappy in this movie. He’s almost like that teaser: WAY too broody for the content of the film itself.  I get that Carter is supposed to have a lot of pain due to the loss of family (which is explained way too late in the film), but Kitsch’s dour buzzkill of a performance brings several moments down.

Still, there’s a lot I like about John Carter. The action is fun and refreshingly clear and easy-to-follow, and the moments of levity are genuinely funny. Carter also has a CGI sidekick that’s pretty funny; I’m baffled as to how Disney couldn’t figure out how to sell toys based off that one creature alone. Another revelation in the film is Lynn Collins, who plays a Martian princess. Lynn Collins is hot. SO hot. She’s also the most fun character in the film, and captures the perfect tone for the movie. Oh Lynn Collins, you’re TREMENDOUS!

The story has tons of dropped subplots and bizarre structure…As I recall, the film has two or three different opening scenes that could each serve as the opening of the movie. It’s very odd. The script of John Carter is probably it’s worst enemy. There’s a scene where Carter kills a bunch of bad guys while flashing back to how his family died. As a standalone sequence, it’s awesomely put together and moving and triumphant and all that jazz. Unfortunately, what’s supposed to be moving and exciting just feels off, a victim of the wonky structure that occurred before it.

This was the first live-action film directed by Andrew Stanton whose Pixar credits include Finding Nemo and Wall-E, and John Carter is at its best when it’s telling the story visually. Any time dialogue or exposition is required, the film grinds to a halt. If you get a chance and have the ability to lower your expectations, check out John Carter. You may not be glad you did, but you won’t be all that mad either.

SHILL: John Carter (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)