“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:

:
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.

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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)

I Don’t Think I Like Terrence Malick

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The Thin Red Line is playing on Sundance Channel right now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like Terrence Malick. It’s not that I’m not a “deep tone poem” guy; I have no problem toning it up. The Master had plenty of tone poem-y moments but I was mesmerized. But Malick, man…I don’t know.

I’ve seen the following Terrence Malick films: Tree of Life, The New World, Days of Heaven and Thin Red Line. I feel this sample size is enough for me to make the lazy generalization (we’ve already discussed this) that 80 percent of Malick’s output consists of drawling rubes babbling shitty poetry over visuals straight from a perfume commercial. Re-reading that sentence, it seems harsh.

Malick’s films are all beautiful and filled with wonderful nature shots and gliding camerawork and painterly precision. I get why some folks slather all over the guy. It’s not like he’s untalented. He also gets some of the greatest actors in the world to appear in his pictures in order to get the films financed before cutting much of their work out of the film entirely. I give him credit for that, because I think that’s funny.

Still, for me, his films haven’t been worth the journey, and maybe that’s because my brain is hard-wired to find a story with a plot. I can sense the ambition in something like Tree of Life, but do I want to see it again? Honestly, no. I’m tired of people whispering questions to their parents. “Mother of the world, do you remember your son? Do you know where I put my car keys?”

I concede that some filmmakers clearly use Malick’s influence. I don’t think The Master would even happen without Malick’s meditations. (“Movies” doesn’t really feel right.) For many people, he’s an icon. But when putting together my stupid list, I never once thought about any of his films.  What does this say about my taste? For a lot of people, it would be proof that I had none.  Considering that I just changed the channel from The Thin Red Line to Wheel of Fortune, they may be right.

(By the way, on Wheel of Fortune, a lady guessed that the title of a song that was spelled “I _a__ The _ine by Johnny Cash” was called “I Have The Wine”. That will stick with me long after close-up Magic Hour shots of grain recede from my mind.)

“The Master”

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THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS GALORE. If you don’t want to be spoiled, I’ll just say this: If you like challenging cinema, you pretty much have to see The Master. I didn’t say you were going to like it but you should see it. It’s certainly Anderson’s most difficult movie, but come on, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson, one of America’s best directors. Check it out. Or don’t. It’s really none of my business. Now onto the spoilers.

Wow.

So, hmmm. Uh..welp. Hm.

I’ve spent 4 days thinking about Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and I’m still trying to process what I saw. The Master is confounding and bizarre and strange and beautiful and frustrating and there’s also a scene where a dude farts.

Joaquin Phoenix gives an awesome, shiny bauble-worthy performance as Freddie Quell, a traumatized former sailor in the Navy who spends his post-war days drinking chemicals and brewing up weird concoctions with paint thinner and Lysol and anything else he can get his hands on. (He’s troubled, you see.) After he poisons a co-worker on a migrant farm (co-farmer?), Freddie runs away and stumbles onto a ship housing Lancaster Dodd (the also-awesome Philip Seymour Hoffman), who leads a Scientology-like group called The Cause and blahblahblah you know the plot already right?

Anyway, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but while the film does have parallels with Scientology, it’s about the relationship between Phoenix and Hoffman’s characters, and it’s superbly acted, but damn is it puzzling. It seems like Anderson made the conscious decision to remove any exposition, so half the time I was disoriented by the film’s woozy rhythm. The Master is hypnotic, like a paint thinner bender. Lots of the scenes in the trailers, some of which seem to clue the viewer in more on the specifics of the story, are gone,   as if the plot PTA originally came up with became boring to him, and he chose to focus on what really interested him, which were the relationships within the story itself.

There’s also lots of bizarre sexual imagery, with Phoenix imagining (I think) a roomful of naked women and Amy Adams whacking off Philip Seymour Hoffman, among other things. If anything, The Master is one of the top 8 films I’ve seen in which a character jacks off in the ocean.

One thing I’ve wondered ever since watching the film: Who or what IS The Master? Dodd is called “Master” throughout the film by his acolytes, but even he is a pawn in the hands (or hand) of his controlling wife, who is in turn subservient to The Cause itself. It’s a tribute to Paul Thomas Anderson that all of this weighty stuff can be found in the film. It has a lot on its mind but it’s hesitant to tell the viewer about them. If you’re looking to be spoon-fed, do not watch this movie. Check out The Avengers and wait until you’re in the mood.

Anderson shot The Master in 70mm, and I’d love to see it on the biggest screen possible, with Phoenix’s pained grimace glowering down on me. Seriously, give this guy all of the shiny baubles. Hoffmann is great (and I often don’t like him), but Phoenix is extraordinary. Freddie Quell is a tortured, mentally unstable mess, and it all comes through in Phoenix’s performance. Well, that and the dude finger-bangs a sand lady.

One interesting thing: It seems that after Freddie goes through these extensive exercises (based on actual Scientology ritual), he does in fact sober up. At the very least, he’s not drinking paint thinner anymore, so that’s good right? At the very least, it’s shown that The Cause had some benefits, but in the end, it seems that Quell remains an impulsive horndog. So, does that mean The Master was his penis all along? I’m only slightly joking.

SHILL: The Master

The Dark Knight Rises Probably Sucks, But I Still Like It

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I rarely go to the theater anymore, because it’s expensive and I have a perfectly acceptable A/V setup at home that allows me to avoid the screaming dullards that inhabit our nation’s cinemas. (That’s a lazy generalization, but I’m a lazy generalizer, and anyone that disagrees with me is stupid and inferior). However, I tend to make exceptions for certain things: The films of Tarantino and Scorcese, or Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers.  I also make an exception for the Batman movies of Christopher Nolan, because they are loud and shiny and cool and an intriguing take on the one comic book hero that interests me. It’s strange…I’m so damn sick of superhero movies, but I had to see the conclusion of Nolan’s trilogy in the theaters on opening weekend. I watched it on a Saturday morning on IMAX, and left the theater invigorated by the loud, busy nonstop sturm und drang of Nolan’s latest.

After seeing the movie a couple of more times, I think it’s safe to say that I was wrong, and this movie kinda sucked. I hate the “kinda” addition, like when people say “I kinda hated it.” Either you hate it or you don’t, Mr. Too Many Extra Words. Still, The Dark Knight Rises is only kinda terrible. There are parts of this movie that I LERRRRVE. Anne Hathaway kills it as Catwoman, Tom Hardy’s Angry-Walrus-With-A-Gas-Mask performance as Bane was fun and memorably odd. I found a lot of the action to be much clearer and easier to follow than The Dark Knight, despite TDKR’s dopey story.

And that’s the thing: The story is dumb. Well, maybe not “dumb”, per se, but so convoluted and silly and jam-packed that it becomes like homework, and it was especially tough to sit through when I rewatched it. Dark Knight Rises is one of the most rushed three-hour films I’ve ever seen. It’s like they had a six-hour story, but they had to cram it into a too-short running time. It’s the exact opposite of Peter Jackson Syndrome.

I hate to break this down with a checklist, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do, so maybe I don’t hate it all that much? Anyway, here’s what I liked and didn’t like about Dark Knight Rises:

ME LIKEY

Anne Hathaway. I always thought Anne Hathaway was a good actress, but she never gave me a case of the “DAAMMMMMMN GIRL!”s until this movie. She’s funny and sexy and calculating and pretty much perfect, as perfect for Catwoman as Ledger was for Joker, although I concede that Ledger was in a better film.

Batman gets a happy ending after 8 hours of grim grimness. I thought this was actually the ballsiest possible ending: A Batman movie that ends with Bruce Wayne being (GASP) happy? I found it unexpected and earned. Wayne spent 3 long movies getting his ass kicked. He deserved a vacation.

Some thought it was cheesy, and maybe it was, but many of those people also thought dressing up like Ledger’s Joker was cool. We’re all lame for different reasons.

When the Batplane goes PEW PEW PEW and the other stuff goes KA-POW! The action in this is big and bombastic, a satisfying capper to the end of a comic book trilogy. I also cringed when Bane broke Batman’s mask. It was as thorough a beatdown as you’ll ever see, which makes their mano-a-mano rematch twice as silly. (More on that later.)

– Tom Hardy and that weird-ass voice he uses. I was especially impressed with the way Hardy used his eyes to convey so much of what Bane was thinking. His stuffy British professor voice was an acquired taste, but I liked it, although I recall his voice being much muddier in the theater; his lines have been noticeably overdubbed for the Blu-Ray.

– The Joseph Gordon-Levitt storyline, to a point. It was an interesting idea to attempt an origin story in the middle of wrapping Bruce Wayne’s story, but I don’t think it was as effective as it could have been. It feels muddled, and giving the guy the middle name of Robin made me groan. Like the other subplots, it isn’t given enough time to be fully felt. This movie could have been a trilogy by itself.

– The callbacks to Batman Begins. I especially liked Bruce Wayne being trapped in a pit of doom similar to the Bat Cave in the first movie. Another idea that works on its own but ends up being muddled once all the other crap is piled on top of it.

ME NO LIKEY NO WAY UH-UH

– The lack of Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. I would have rather spent time with them than with Matthew Modine’s awful character.

The “just go with it” pacing. As I said above, this film is overstuffed, and there are moments where it feels like the authorial fast-forward button is pressed just to get on to the next thing.

Bane destroys Batman in a one-on-one fist fight, and Batman comes back and beats him in a one-on-one fistfight. Really? That’s all he had to do? Punch harder? Bane threw him around and smashed him to bits, but in the rematch they have equal strength?  Oh wait, I remember that Batman dislodged Bane’s mask thingie. None of Bane’s other hundreds of fighting opponents tried to do that in the last few decades?

– Bane was in love all along BA-DERRRRRP. So it turns out that Marion Cotillard’s character is Talia Al-Ghul and Bane’s her guardian protector and zzzzzzzz. I would have preferred that this had been revealed earlier rather than delayed for the sake of mystery; as it is, it comes across as a cheap twist. I kept thinking, “So why have we spent 9/10th of the movie with Bane?” It’s something I might not have quibbled with from a lesser film, but this all felt so sloppy.

– Bruce Wayne’s Magic Spine. One good kick to the vertebrae and just like that, he’s good to go!

– Nolan Ain’t Funny. Nolan often goes for those “movie” comedy moments, like the old cop in this one saying “YER IN FER A SHOW TONIGHT SONNNN” or whatever, and they always come off awkwardly. I hate bad jokes in action movies, because they’re almost always spotlighted, and when they fumble, they fumble badly. Like that callback joke in Batman Begins: “Didn’t you get the memo?” OH SHUT UP

– The Mincing British Kid Singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Maybe the most tin-eared moment of Nolan’s often tin-eared career, the fact that Gotham would hire Oliver Twist to sing before a damn football game made me wish, nay, demand that Bane would take over the city and box the ears of all its citizens.

Flawed and bombastic, exciting and silly, The Dark Knight Rises is filled with flaws, but for me, the loud outweighs the dumb. Of course, while I was typing this, I was sent a video that sums up the movie’s flaws much faster than I could. (“HIEST”?)

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NOTE: The Blu-Ray version of the film cleans up Bane’s voice a lot. This led to complaints that Bane’s voice was TOO clear. You can’t win on the Internet.

SHILL: The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins / The Dark Knight / The Dark Knight Rises) [Blu-ray]