Fresh Distractions: Feb 5-12, 2012

image by cr103 - stockarch.com

I’m just a normal guy with a family, a full-time job, and a seemingly chronic pile of media I’m trying to consume. But, like 95% of Internet denizens, sometimes I feel the need to overshare. Here are some things on my mind from the past week in convenient list-y form:

1. PODCAST: WTF with Marc Maron #251 – Guest: Matt Graham
In this episode, Marc interviews Matt Graham, an old friend who left an influential career in comedy – from standup to writing for SNL and Conan O’Brien – to become a world-class Scrabble player, among other pursuits. He has also battled depression, and while he is shockingly frank about many uncomfortable aspects of his struggle, Graham hesitates to expound on suicidal thoughts until Maron approaches him a few weeks later for a second interview (also included in this episode). Maron pokes again at that tender topic and Graham lashes out – stating that perhaps this is the only reason he’s warranted a revisit – because he’s got a juicy, private story to tell. After some initial hesitancy, Graham shares the tale with the same frankness and squirm-inducing detail as before.

It’s hard to say what conversation occurred off-mike to spur either recorded conversation, but it’s more harrowing than other like-minded WTF share-all episodes, which feature those in Marc’s world unburdening themselves of intimate demons. For instance, comedian Todd Glass came out of the closet a few episodes back, and former Onion writer/editor Todd Hanson explored his painful suicide attempt over two interviews. To his credit, Maron has never shied away from delving into dark territory (especially his own) for public consumption. While heartfelt, Glass’ and Hanson’s admissions involved very little prompting—as if the subjects felt compelled to discuss them.

This installment, however, gets rather muddy. Given the venomous reaction from Graham, it appears Maron coaxed his friend back in front of a microphone a second time and into some gut-wrenching waters because he didn’t get the story he wanted. Yet, almost certainly, there was an agreed-upon agenda at some point, and while Maron’s intentions may seem questionable, Graham delivers without much hesitation. To quote Aretha: Who’s zoomin’ who? The audible rawness throughout the conversation makes this episode naggingly memorable, and Maron presents it simply to let the listener decide.

2. WEB: Acute Otitis Media
That’s the proper term for an ear infection. Not the type of media I’d like to think about, but there you go. Our youngest has had several of these in the first 17 months of life, and 4 in the past 5 months. A recent visit to the pediatrician resulted in a recommendation to see an ENT about the potential for ear tubes in order to stave off hearing loss and developmental stagnation.

As a modern parent, you’re constantly concerned and/or reminded that you’re screwing up your offspring. And a simple Google search unearths all sorts of controversy about the need for ear tubes as well as risk factors, not to mention the guilt and worry associated with such a decision. Pick a door, and damnation awaits.

Sure enough, the ENT tested our kid and he’s got signs of some short-term hearing loss thanks to the fluid in his ears from the latest infection. So – over the next few weeks – we’ve got some lovely decisions to make, and hopefully, we won’t break the kid further in the process.

3. FILM: PROJECT NIM (2011, Dir: James Marsh)
Speaking of broken children, PROJECT NIM features a chimp ripped from his mother’s arms in order to raise it as a human. As a character in this documentary attests with a shrug, it was the Seventies.

As a result, Nim Chimpsky (his actual moniker, obviously provided by elitist punk-ass book jockeys) bounces from human to human in an attempt to nurture him out of his natural chimpness in the name of scientific research – to the detriment of all involved. The chimp proves to be too much of an animal, and those of the Me Generation are too ready to bail on the problem they essentially initiated.

Animal activists will eat it up, but may choke on their granola when they realize it’s structurally solid storytelling about hippie backlash, and good intentions going awry.

Advertisements

Welcome Home, Soldier Boys

IMDB

(Richard Compton, 1972)

2.5/5.0

An entry for the 5th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only. Read the rest of this year’s entries here.

The subject of damaged soldiers returning from war has been the basis for many a film.

The Best Years of Our Lives. The Deer Hunter. Taxi Driver. Coming Home. The entire Rambo franchise.

What those films lack that is prevalent in 1972’s Welcome Home, Soldier Boys can be summed up in three glorious words:

Joe. Don. Baker.

Read the rest of this entry

Muriels Wrap-up

This post features links-a-plenty, but it’s the only way I’ll be able to go back and relive some of the great writing that goes into the revelation that is the Muriel Awards. Par for the course, there were surprises, but our little collective made some bold, intelligent choices.

Best Feature Film:

1. The Social Network
2. True Grit
3. (tie) Dogtooth
3. (tie) Toy Story 3
5. (tie) The Ghost Writer
5. (tie) Winter’s Bone
7. Carlos
8. Exit Through the Gift Shop
9. Black Swan
10. Mother

Other movies receiving #1 votes:

12. Everyone Else 14. A Prophet 18. Another Year 20. Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl 26. October Country 27. White Material 30. (tie) Lourdes 35. Father of My Children 39. Vincere 42. (tie) The Strange Case of Angelica 42. (tie) Please Give 56. Waste Land

My ballot:
1. Toy Story 3 2. A Prophet 3. Another Year 4. True Grit 5. Restrepo 6. The Kids Are All Right 7. White Material 8. The Social Network 9. The King’s Speech 10. Bluebeard

Best Lead Performance, Male

1. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
2. Édgar Ramírez, Carlos
3. Tahar Rahim, A Prophet

My ballot:
1. James Franco, 127 Hours 2. Édgar Ramírez, Carlos 3. Tahar Rahim, A Prophet 4. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network 5. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Lead Performance, Female

1. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
2. Natalie Portman, Black Swan
3. Kim Hye-ja, Mother

My ballot:
1. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right 2. Lesley Manville, Another Year 3. Kim Hye-ja, Mother 4. Isabelle Huppert, White Material 5. Emelie Dequenne, The Girl on the Train

Best Supporting Performance, Male

1. John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
2. Christian Bale, The Fighter
3. Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

My ballot:
1. John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone 2. Niels Arestrup, A Prophet 3. Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right 4. Matt Damon, True Grit 5. Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Performance, Female

1. Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
2. Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer
3. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

My ballot:
1. Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole 2. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit 3. Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right 4. Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer 5. Sandra Oh, Rabbit Hole

Best Direction

1. David Fincher, The Social Network
2. Olivier Assayas, Carlos
3. Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit

My ballot:
1. Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 2. Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit 3. Jacques Audiard, A Prophet 4. Mike Leigh, Another Year 5. Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right

Best Screenplay

1. Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
2. Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
3. Yorgos Lanthimos, Dogtooth

My ballot:
1. David Seidler, The King’s Speech 2. Mike Leigh, Another Year 3. Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right 4. Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3 5. Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit

Best Cinematography

1. Roger Deakins, True Grit
2. Robert Richardson, Shutter Island
3. Jeff Crenonweth, The Social Network

My ballot:
1. Wally Pfister, Inception 2. Matthew Libatique, Black Swan 3. Anthony Dod Mantle, Enrique Chediak, 127 Hours 4. Robert Richardson, Shutter Island 5. Marcel Zyskind, The Killer Inside Me

Best Editing

1. Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall, The Social Network
2. Lee Smith, Inception
3. Jonathan Amis & Paul Machliss, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

My ballot:
1. Susan Littenberg, And Everything Is Going Fine 2. Lee Smith, Inception 3. Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan 4. Michael Levine, Restrepo 5. Hervé de Luze, The Ghost Writer

Best Music (Original, Adapted or Compiled)

  1. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, The Social Network
  2. Nigel Godrich, score with additional music by Steve Price, music supervisor Kathy Nelson, songs by Beck Hansen and others, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
  3. Hans Zimmer, Inception

My ballot:
1. Daft Punk, TRON: Legacy 2. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, The Social Network 3. Alexandre Desplat, The Ghost Writer 4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World 5. Carlos

Best Cinematic Moment

1. In the incinerator, Toy Story 3
2. “Burning for You”, Let Me In
3. Nina Sayers IS the Black Swan, Black Swan

My ballot:
1. Facing the furnace, Toy Story 3 2. Zero-gravity hallway fight, Inception 3. Initiation, A Prophet 4. Sitting for a portrait, Catfish 5. Transformation into Black Swan, Black Swan 6. Rancher rant/“I need a day off”, Sweetgrass 7. Refresh ad infinitum, The Social Network 8. Dance sequence, Dogtooth 9. Bank robbery gone wrong, The Town 10. Gunfight at George and Martha’s house, The Book of Eli

Best Cinematic Breakthrough

  1. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  2. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  3. Banksy, Exit through the Gift Shop

My ballot:
1. Giorgos Lanthimos, Dogtooth 2. Tahar Rahim, A Prophet 3. Katie Jarvis, Fish Tank 4. Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, The Secret of Kells 5. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Best Body of Work

1. Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island and Inception
2. Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island and The Kids Are All Right
3. Manoel de Oliveira, director, Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl and The Strange Case of Angelica

My ballot:
1. James Franco, 127 Hours, Howl, and Date Night 2. Julianne Moore, Chloe and The Kids Are All Right 3. Harris Savides, cinematographer, Somewhere and Greenberg 4. Michelle Williams, Shutter Island and Blue Valentine 5. Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island, The Kids Are All Right and Date Night

Best Ensemble Performance

1. The Social Network
2. True Grit
3. Carlos

My ballot:
1. The Kids Are All Right 2. True Grit 3. The Social Network 4. Another Year 5. The King’s Speech

Best Web-Based Criticism (no past winners)

  1. AV Club
  2. The Man Who Viewed Too Much (Mike D’Angelo)
  3. Slant Magazine

My ballot:
1. AV Club 2. Not Coming to a Theater Near You 3. Jonathan Rosenbaum 4. The Projectionist (David Edelstein) 5. Sounds, Images

10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 2000

1. In the Mood for Love
2. Memento
3. Yi Yi

My ballot:
1. In the Mood for Love 2. Memento 3. Almost Famous 4. Chicken Run 5. Traffic

25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1985

1. Brazil
2. Ran
3. After Hours

My ballot:
1. Lost in America 2. Ran 3. Brazil 4. After Hours 5. The Purple Rose of Cairo

50th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1960

1. Psycho
2. The Apartment
3. Breathless

My ballot:
1. La Dolce Vita 2. The Apartment 3. Breathless 4. Psycho 5. L’Avventura

Special Award: Best Film of the 1950s

1. Vertigo
2. Rear Window
3. The Searchers

My ballot:
1. Rear Window 2. Seven Samurai 3. The 400 Blows 4. All About Eve 5. Wild Strawberries 6. Singin’ in the Rain 7. The Earrings of Madame de…  8. Paths of Glory 9. The Searchers 10. Los Olvidados

Kicking off the Muriel Awards

2011 Muriel Awards

I’d like to thank the Academy, er, Steve Carlson of Down Inside You’re Dirty and Paul Clark of Silly Hats Only for inviting me again to participate in the only film awards that matter: the fifth annual Muriel Awards. The awards, named in honor of Paul’s beloved guinea pig (RIP Muriel), feature film lovers and critics across the Web and celebrate the best in film from 2010, as well as much movie geekery along the way.

Daily category awards will be handed out through March 6 at the Muriel community blog, Our Science Is Too Tight. If film is your thing, why not follow along for a fun few weeks? It’s gotta be better than this year’s Golden Globes. Click the banner on the right to head straight over.

Today, we kick it off with a bang, in which you can scoff at my defense of a somewhat surprising — and completely overwhelming — upset in the Best Supporting Actor category.

The Killer Inside Me

IMDB

(Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

2.5/5.0

Mumble, mumble, murder. Mumble, mumble, murder.

Sex mixed with violence mixed with misogyny, like A Clockwork Orange set in West Texas. If you took Orange‘s Alex DeLarge, added a Stetson and subtracted the window to the main character’s soul, you’d get Lou Ford as portrayed by Casey Affleck. Given the notoriety of the source material, there’s really nothing new or memorable about this film, other than the cinematography of Marcel Zyskind and the disturbing acts of violence towards women. The Killer Inside Me seems a bit patched together, and overall, a missed opportunity for director Winterbottom.

I have not read the original Jim Thompson novel, but am familiar with his cold, sparse style showcased in other Thompson adaptations such as The Grifters and After Dark, My Sweet. I wonder if it’s fair to presume that the film misses the author’s mark. There’s a noted lack of noose-tightening as the lead character descends into doom, and Affleck seems unsure in his portrayal of such a complex criminal, and choosing to do so by alternately grinning warmly, bantering without moving his lips and stewing silently. The filmmakers certainly attempt to establish just why Affleck is so emotionally scarred, involving some creepy sexual discoveries, but ultimately, he isn’t nearly as diabolical as he should be. While Affleck’s violent actions are intentionally jolting, the film stays at the character’s surface rather than digging deeply into the coldness and randomness of the killing mind.

It’s probably unfair to expect The Killer Inside Me to resemble other fictions featuring serial killers, like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or American Psycho. Yet I can’t help but wish Winterbottom, et al, had come just a little closer to glimpsing the strength of those films in creating memorable characters as well as notorious acts of fury.

The Girl on the Train

IMDB

(André Téchiné, 2009)

3.5/5.0

The odd second-act twist about anti-Semitism that becomes the film’s focus nearly derails (har, har) a compelling tale about the struggles of a young suburban Parisian woman seeking independence and meaning in her life. Émilie Dequenne, 10 years after starring in Dardennes’ ROSETTA, has a great face for cinema. Her expressions are subtle but telling, and quite similar to that of her co-star Catherine Deneuve. Worth a watch for the lead actresses and Téchiné’s storytelling skill.

Also features a rare scene of stalking by a creepy rollerblader. What year is this again?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

IMDB

(Michael Pressman, 1991)

2.0/5.0

An entry for the 4th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only.

It’s sort of a cruel joke that I ended up with a movie aimed at children for the White Elephant Blogathon. With one young child and another on the way, my life is already bombarded with all things Disney, SpongeBob and Dora. As the good folks at Pixar have proven, kiddie movies don’t have to suck. But for every Wall-E, there are dozens of Space Chimps, Marmadukes and Squeakuels released each year to the chagrin of parents all over the globe destined to shell out for them.

As a child of the 70s, I can recall being on the other side of the conversation, which consisted of two words: Star Wars. There were the movies, and then there was the STUFF. There were Star Wars wearables, video games, comic books, trading cards, and fast-food tie-ins. Those little George Lucas projects introduced a generation to the collectible action figure — fun to play with, but more valuable if they were simply purchased and preserved for eternity. Of course, Star Wars merchandising set a new standard, and didn’t stop when the movies left theaters. Due to this over-saturation of product and the general crappiness of entertainment aimed at children, I’d never consumed a single Ninja Turtle-related film, cartoon or comic. So, as a Teenage Mutant Ninja virgin, were my fears realized? Or was I able to see the light?

The verdict came after the opening sequence.

Our story begins in the city of New York Only Seen in the Movies (TM), where a pizza delivery boy is dispatched to a female reporter’s apartment. Upon arriving, he witnesses some bad guys in masks in the midst of a robbery, which he attempts to thwart using his martial art skills. Unfortunately, he’s completely outnumbered and quickly overcome. However, then the Turtles arrive to save the day, and my soul started to weep. The ass-kicking reptiles proceeded to dispatch every baddie with a lame catchphrase delivered surfer-style. THUD! “Yee-ha, ninja cowboy!” POW! “Awesome!” In retrospect, Keanu Reeves could’ve sued.

At this end of this sequence, perhaps 10 minutes into the film, the turtles were completely unfamiliar and indistinguishable to me, and more or less remained so for the duration. All I knew is they were freaking annoying.

The reptiles apparently wore out the welcome of their female reporter friend as well, saddling her with housing and feeding them pizza after pizza in her luxurious New York Only Seen in the Movies multiple-level apartment (TM). The turtles and their spiritual guru/teacher, a rat voiced by Kevin Clash (the voice of Elmo from Sesame Street), vow to find different digs in the near future.

On top of this, there’s the title ooze, shown in eerily glowing canisters, which is being unearthed and disposed of by a nerdy scientist employee, played by David Warner. Apparently, it’s the original ooze that was responsible for the Mutant part of TMNT many years ago, which produced super-strong but freakish walking, talking turtles, among other crimes of nature. Last but not least, a shrouded nemesis called Shredder is back and angry enough to seek revenge against the crew, by stealing the ooze in order to create more mutant monsters at his beck and call.

Overall, TMNT II improves after its opening, but never truly engages the viewer, because the action and dialogue are pretty danged lame. The “ninja” violence is quite tame and comic and our heroes are never really in any danger. Upon many hours of research (read: Wikipedia), I discovered that the action in TMNT II was toned down from the “darker” original film. As a result, fight scenes seem rather empty, since there’s really no logical resolution. Veteran character actor Warner carries off his scenes well, and I was pleasantly surprised by a goofy performance from Vanilla Ice, timed perfectly when my attention was flagging.

With a child entering into this very target market, I see multiplexes filled with movies like this one, disguised as entertainment and merely the origin for parental bilking. I’m tired of seeing insulting movies aimed at a family audience. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze isn’t terrible, just dull, forgettable and driven right at your wallet. Sure enough, it killed at the box office.

Finally, TMNT II is dedicated to the memory of then recently-departed Jim Henson, whose Creature Shop supplied the mutants in this film. Don’t get me started about the injustice of this. RIP Mr. Henson, not for TMNT II, but for your impact on other green creatures.


The Terminator

IMDB

(James Cameron, 1984)

4.0/5.0

Currently #259 on TSPST Top 1000.

Well, James Cameron is nothing if not ambitious. On this, my first viewing – I know! Shock! Horror! – I was struck by this ambition, as well as the tense pace. Bad 80s fashion and music prevail, and it suffers a bit from multiple-ending syndrome, but overall, worthy of its status.

But, my God, the dialogue. Given Cameron’s tin ear, it’s no wonder Arnold’s monosyllabic utterings steal the show.

Date Night

IMDB

(Shawn Levy, 2010)

3.0/5.0

Basic citylife-is-hell comedy (e.g. After Hours, The Out-of-Towners, Adventures in Babysitting) whose appeal is all in the casting.

Date Night is held aloft by the performances of Carell and Fey, who appear to have improvised the majority of their scenes together. I’m assuming this is so, since their riffing is light-years ahead of the tame script. James Franco and Mark Wahlberg also deliver consistent laughs in supporting turns.

Kick-Ass

IMDB

(Matthew Vaughn, 2010)

3.5/5.0

It’s The Greatest American Hero on film with more cussing and a**-kicking.

Kick-Ass is a dissection of the nature of heroes with creative action sequences, and a bona fide scene-stealer in Chloe Moretz. In fact, the B-story of preteen Moretz and her father (Nicolas Cage) is more interesting than that of the main character (Aaron Johnson), who is pretty dull before and after he puts on the suit. It also becomes a rather standard shoot-em-up after a while, but manages to deliver on its title.