Monday, December 31, 2012

Blogorium Review: Django Unchained

 Django Unchained is by far the most entertaining of Quentin Tarantino's films. This comes from a fan, an unabashed apologist. I look forward to Tarantino films and I rarely find myself disappointed after finishing each new offering. (The exception being Death Proof, which had the unfortunate task of being immediately compared to Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's crowd-pleasing horror portion of Grindhouse.) As I revisit the films, I find I appreciate them more, and while Django Unchained may not be my favorite - not after one viewing, anyway - it's the most fun I've had watching a Tarantino movie since I saw Pulp Fiction at far too young an age.

 It's worth noting to the five or six of you who read the Blogorium but haven't seen Django Unchained yet that like Inglourious Basterds, its attachment to the title and the adherence to the legacy of the Django series of Spaghetti Westerns is tenuous at best. Yes, Franco Nero appears in the film, but most of the audience I saw the film with (and many of my friends) a) didn't know who he was or b) weren't aware that the title was based in any way on anything, let alone half a dozen movies about the titular gunfighter sometimes - but often not - played by Nero and directed by Sergio Corbucci*.

 That said, you don't really need to follow any of Unchained's cinematic antecedents - or necessarily be aware of them - to enjoy the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) turned apprentice Bounty Hunter by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). If you've seen the trailer, you know the basic beats: Schultz is hunting the Brittle brothers (MC Gainey, Doc Duhame, and Cooper Huckabee), and because they captured and split up Django and Broomhilda, his associate has the benefit of knowing what the brothers look like.

 What I didn't expect was how quickly this particular plot point is resolved, and for the most part by Django without the involvement of Schultz. It turns out that "the kid is a natural" at the bounty hunting business, not to mention the "fastest gun in the South," and by the time Django and Schultz head into the heart of Mississippi to rescue Broomhilda from Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio), the apprentice has surpassed the mentor. When it comes to dealing with the discomforting reality of slavery, and particularly of "Mandingo" slave fighting, Django has more of a stomach for it than Schultz does.

 Since we spend most of the film with Django and Schultz, I'd like to mention Jamie Foxx's stoic, composed title character (until he sees Broomhilda, anyway) and Christoph Waltz's amiable, conflicted Dentist / Bounty Hunter. As if to counter-balance Hans Landa, Tarantino gives Schultz's German dentist an appropriately disconnect European opinion of slavery - he feels uncomfortable at the concept of having to buy Django, even though strictly for legal purposes in order to free him. Until late in the film, when he can no longer help himself, Schultz is a man capable of maintaining whatever ruse is necessary to win legally. Django, he discovers, has a natural talent as a gunfighter, as a bounty hunter, and a fierce loyalty to what Schultz taught him. As he slowly transitions into the character audiences are expecting to see, Foxx earns our good will because he doesn't begin the film as "Bad Ass Django." When we come to the end of the film, he's earned a just victory.

 On the opposite side are Calvin Candie and his house servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Candie is the spoiled, sadistic, and not particularly bright third generation owner of Candieland, the third biggest plantation in Mississippi. While not immediately apparent, it becomes clear that Stephen is the real power behind the throne, and he realizes quickly what Schultz and Django are up to. There's been some debate about the merits of Stephen being arguably a worse human being than Candie, and I'm not sure what side of the fence I land on. It's clear that he's happy to perpetuate slavery on the plantation in order to maintain his own standing, but much of what he does in the film is a reaction to his distaste for Django in principle.

 Much as it pains me to say it, Tarantino really dropped the ball with Broomhilda, the least developed female character I can remember in any of his films. Yes, she occupies most of the first half of the film in Django's imagination, linked to Die Niebelnungen by Schultz's recognition of her name (Brunhilde was in all likelihood "Americanized" to Broomhilda by the Brittles or Candie), but when we're finally introduced to Kerry Washington's character in the present narrative, she's naked and being kept in "the hot box" for trying to escape. Admittedly, she doesn't have it quite as bad as the other failed escapee, who Candie feeds to his dogs after Django seals his fate. Nevertheless, Broomhilda never develops beyond a crying, fainting, screaming, tortured plot device. I don't blame Washington so much as I do Tarantino, because there's just not much of a character there.

 Django Unchained may suffer from that in other instances, as there are a lot of recognizable actors in small roles, many of which you might miss entirely. I saw Amber Tamblyn but not Russ Tamblyn, neither of whom factor into the narrative at all. Candie's toadies include Tom Savini, Robert Carradine, and almost unrecognizable Zoe Bell, and Walton Goggins, who may be the only character that registers at all.You'll also see Bruce Dern, Tom Wopat, and James Remar in two roles - once as the slaver Schultz kills to buy Django and later as Candie's "muscle."

 Tarantino pops up late in the film with another superfluous cameo, this time with a terrible Australian accent to answer the question "could this be any more obnoxious?" He's accompanied by Michael Parks and Wolf Creek's John Jarratt, and if nothing else, Tarantino's (SPOILER) death scene elicits laughter enough to justify his nearly pointless appearance.

 In the past, moreso in the pulpy Kill Bill films than in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has mixed humor in with his violence to keep the audience engaged, but I can't recall anything quite as funny as the proto-Klan scene in Django Unchained. When Big Daddy (Don Johnson) brings together his posse to kill Django and Schultz for (legally) killing the Brittle brothers on his plantation, they quickly realize that wearing masks with hoods on makes it almost impossible to see. The impromptu meeting to complain about the masks is played broadly, with Jonah Hill of all people the straight man, one of Big Daddy's lackeys who tears his eyehole. It's one of many scenes in the film where the comedy is overt and designed for the broad laughter it invariably gets (at least from every review I've seen). Juxtaposed with the at times brutally violent sequences - Candie's introduction, for example, which is accompanied by an exceptionally rough "Mandingo" fight - Tarantino balances entertainment with a sobering truth about the world these characters inhabit.

  But is there a degree of "white guilt wish fulfillment" in the revenge narrative of Django Unchained? I feel like the question can't be avoided. It is apparent that crowd reactions to the movie have been similar - if not identical - to the one I experienced: laughter, gasps, uncomfortable chuckles, and some degree of cheers as Django tears his way through the slimy bastards at Candieland, saving Stephen for last. The audience I saw the film with was racially mixed, but it seems like there is a sense of relief in seeing Jamie Foxx blowing holes into these villains that satisfies a white audience's discomfort over our past.

 Yes, it's not all of our pasts, and not all of our ancestors had slaves, but slavery remains one of the great unresolved chapters in American history, so Django Unchained, like Inglourious Basterds before it, allows audiences to feel comfortable (by proxy) watching excessively violent retribution against two universally loathed types of people (Nazis and slave owners). In both instances, the oppressed turns against the oppressor and systematically dismantles their enemy, regardless of historical accuracy. (Unless, of course, historians have been wildly exaggerating Hitler's final hours.)

 Was it historically appropriate to use the same racial epithet 109 times in one movie? Probably. Does it still feel excessive? Sure, but I might argue it's necessary to. It tempers the escapism a bit, and calls into attention the baggage surrounding Tarantino's use of the "n-word" in his earlier films. Like the flashbacks to the dogs tearing into the runaway D'Artagnan, there is a conscious level of discomfort in place during Django Unchained. The question is what end it serves: to contextualize the fictional narrative in real horrors or to justify further audience catharsis when Django has his vengeance?

 Slavery and the Holocaust were both very real, and while to some degree I can understand Spike Lee's reasons for dismissing Django Unchained as "disrespectful" sight unseen, Tarantino's film is, like Basterds, a movie. Since Kill Bill, Tarantino's output has largely been increasingly operatic tales of vengeance, enacted on increasingly horrendous villains. Django Unchained is more streamlined, more satisfying as entertainment - it's a two-and-a-half-hour extension of the climax of Basterds, and while the film doesn't skirt around uncomfortable imagery, there is a concerted effort to leave viewers cheering at the end. It's escapism, constructed brilliantly, and so I'm conflicted about how much I should simply allow Tarantino's accomplishment to stand as a film and how much of what's behind the hybrid of Spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation influence what makes me uncomfortable while laughing.

 Can I give it a pass because it's just a movie? Particularly when Tarantino doesn't let John Ford off of the hook for putting on a KKK hood as an extra in Birth of a Nation, or the following paragraph (used partially out of context when reprinted by The Huffington Post):

"One of my American Western heroes is not John Ford, obviously. To say the least, I hate him. Forget about faceless Indians he killed like zombies. It really is people like that that kept alive this idea of Anglo-Saxon humanity compared to everybody else's humanity -- and the idea that that's hogwash is a very new idea in relative terms. And you can see it in the cinema in the '30s and '40s -- it's still there. And even in the '50s."

 If Ford and, by extension, Griffith, were perpetuating a notion, that Tarantino is theoretically rebuking with Django, I'm still torn as to how to reconcile the ugly reality present in the film with the heightened reality of a revenge film, one told to provide a cathartic reaction for audiences who feel some degree of discomfort about said ugly reality. It's not whether Django Unchained can have its cake and eat it too, but how we as an audience are complicit in reacting to this disparity. It's not "did I enjoy Django Unchained" so much as "should have I enjoyed it as much as I did" and why?

*   To be honest, it's not really an issue unless you're expecting Django Unchained to be a Spaghetti Western (or "Southern" as Tarantino prefers to call it), but I'd suggest you look a little more locally for direct influences on the film. Specifically, Fred Williamson's "Charley" trilogy, which I  would prefer not to mention by their full names, and of which only the third film - Boss - is available on DVD. They center around a freed slave who ends up on the run (it directly influenced the Blacksmith's backstory in The Man with the Iron Fists) and who alternates between fighting oppression and tormenting the racists he comes across.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents The Movies I've Seen Since Christmas Trailer Sunday!

Dredd 3D The Perks of Being a Wallflower Django Unchained Lincoln John Dies at the End The Silver Linings Playbook Taken 2 Frankenweenie This is 40 Wreck-It Ralph Killing Them Softly The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Judge Dredd

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Woody Allen (Part Four)

Hollywood Ending

Anything Else

Melinda and Melinda

Match Point


Cassandra's Dream

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Whatever Works

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Midnight in Paris

To Rome with Love

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Two Holiday Classics for Your Video Daily Double!

 Greetings, Holiday-tuneers! Cap'n Howdy is back with the final Holiday-centric Video Daily Double for December. Today I have two short films, both instantly recognizable, albeit one more often seen than the other. Settle down with some egg nog or hot chocolate and take a trip down memory lane...


 Our first film, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, probably doesn't need any introduction. Enjoy.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas 1966 by theperminator
Our second film, Mickey's Christmas Carol, has probably disappeared from many of your memories since it debuted in 1983. I remember seeing it as a child and then not again for quite a long time, so I present Scrooge McDuck being visited by spirits you might recognize...

1983 - Mickey's Christmas Carol by theperminator

Monday, December 17, 2012

Two Perfectly Reasonable Answers to Plot Holes in Prometheus (That don't make the film any better)

 Despite my better judgement, I did pick up Prometheus when the fancy Blu-Ray set arrived, knowing full and well that the "questions will be answered" promise was a false one at best. To my surprise, it did answer some questions, like:

  - Is Ridley Scott going to explicitly tie the Alien and Blade Runner universes together (Answer: Yes)
  - Were the effects mostly digital or did they use more practical trickery than you'd expect? (Answer: The latter)
  - Is John Spaihts more than a little peeved that Damon Lindelof took his screenplay and turned it into Lost on LV-223 (Answer: Yes)
  - Does Damon Lindelof know you're going to be angry that the ending is nothing more than a "to be continued"? (Answer: Yes)
  - Does Damon Lindelof care that you're angry? (Answer: No)

 You can learn all of this and more watching the three hour and forty minute making of documentary (The Furious Gods: The Making of Prometheus), plus the deleted scenes and Weyland's "notes" that accompany the viral videos. What you won't learn, in any form or fashion, are answers to perfectly logical questions. Questions that drive fans of science fiction and the Alien series into a frothy rage because of how mind-bogglingly stupid they seem to be.

 Luckily for you, while I was thinking about Prometheus, it occurred to me that there are some reasonable answers to some of the most often raised "plot holes." I will share them with you. So that's the good news.

 The bad news is that they don't actually make Prometheus a better movie; they just provide an explanation for the stupid things that happen in the story. The answers don't really help explain why they happened in the first place from a screenwriting standpoint. But I can only do so much, dear readers...

 Problem Number One: "Why are the scientists so stupid?"

 You'll find this in just about every critique of Prometheus, because it's a plot crippling error that causes the film to collapse almost immediately after the scientific crew of the ship enter the Engineers' pyramid. They don't behave like scientists, or like human beings for the most part. For some reason, either Lindelof or Spaihts took a horror movie script, drew a line through "horny teenagers" and wrote "scientists" above it in pen.

 The complaint I hear most often (and while it would take a while to link all of the reviews I've seen it in, let's start here and also use the reviews it links to) is that there is no conceivable explanation why Weyland would hire such incompetent scientists to fly as far out as any human being has ever gone on the research mission of a lifetime. And they are, to be generous, really not sterling examples of their respective fields. That is, when we know what their fields are (more on that in a bit).

 The Answer: Weyland didn't hire them. Meredith Vickers did.

 It's worth noting that while the ship Prometheus is Weyland's, and his money is paying for the expedition, the only people aboard the ship that he was directly involved with were Holloway, Shaw, and David. Everybody else was hired by Weyland's daughter, Meredith Vickers, who had no interest in the mission being successful.

 The first thing she says to them during the briefing is "For those of you I hired in person, it's nice to see you again. For the rest of you, my name is Meredith Vickers, and it's my job to make sure that you do yours."

 She's being facetious, or perhaps saying it for David's benefit, as Vickers knows her father is aboard the ship in hypersleep (Weyland, on the other hand, seems surprised that his daughter joined the Prometheus crew when she comes to warn him that he's going to die). It's evident throughout the film that the only person onboard the Prometheus with no interest in Holloway and Shaw finding alien life is Vickers, so I find it to be totally fair that she's not going to hire the best scientists available for the mission.

 Vickers doesn't even really care if they survived the trip. The first thing she asks David about the crew after waking up from hypersleep is if there were any casualties. When he explains that no one died, she dismissively tells him to "wake them up."

 That explains why Fifield, the geologist, is only in it for the money. It explains why Milburn, the biologist, freaks out when he sees a calcified corpse but then, not six hours later, reaches out to touch something that looks like a facehugger mated with a manta ray. If you don't expect your team to succeed, why bother getting the best and brightest, especially if you know your father isn't going to wake up and meet any of them until after the mission has failed?

 So when Shaw and Holloway do find something, and Vickers tries to put the kibosh on it, we end up with the scene where David and Meredith have a tense conversation about Weyland's instructions. She already hates her step-"brother," but the fact that Weyland trusts David more than Vickers only enrages her when she learns that the message is "try harder."

 Why it doesn't make Prometheus any better:

 From a story standpoint, we understand why the characters are less scientists and more "horror movie stereotypes," but that doesn't make Prometheus any more satisfying. It makes Prometheus a dumb horror movie with characters that spend inordinate amounts of time "doing science" in the laziest ways possible. It also doesn't address the two people that Weyland DID put on the ship: Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway.

 Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that we can guess what their fields are. Holloway is probably an archeologist - it is his expedition in Scotland that sets the narrative off. Shaw is a little trickier - is she also an archeologist? Is she a biologist? Is she just somebody who hangs out with Charlie and provides moral support? The film doesn't ever really address this, just like it never explains why the climate specialist who gives us exposition about the atmosphere of LV-223 is also qualified to assist Shaw and David in an autopsy of the severed Engineer's head.

 While I can shrug and accept that Vickers doesn't give a shit about the secondary scientific crew, alarms bells should go off the moment that Holloway takes his helmet off in the pyramid, and he should be quarantined immediately by the security crew that was presumably driving them from the ship to the site and back. But that doesn't happen, and then everyone else takes off their helmets because the pyramid is creating a "breathable" environment that clearly wouldn't have any unknown diseases or particles that are also in the air. There's not excuse for that, nor is there one for Holloway's sudden desire to give up on the whole mission because he can't talk to the dead Engineers they find in one part of one pyramid a few hours after they land.

 So the question shouldn't be "why are the scientists so stupid," because there's a good answer for that, but "why are our protagonists so stupid?"

 Problem Number Two: "The Movie Takes Away the Significance of the Title 'Alien'"

 So bear with me here: this is a larger argument about where Prometheus stands in the Alien series, but the gist is that what's so scary about the xenomorph in Alien is right there in the title: it's foreign. It's completely unknown to us, and that's terrifying. It is not of human design, we cannot understand it, we cannot reason with it - we can only hope to kill or be killed by it.

 That's a basic, fundamental fear that we share: the monster that cannot be appealed to, that we recognize nothing in. Its life cycle is foreign to us, its biology is foreign to us (let us ignore for the moment the fact that having acid for blood serves no biological purpose) - the xenomorphs are at best insect-like, as Ridley Scott suggested and James Cameron made explicit in Aliens. But they've always been fundamentally, well, "alien." Even when they burst from the chests of humans, the only thing they take on as a physical characteristic is our stature.

 So the issue at hand is that the "monster" in Prometheus, if we ignore the Engineers for a moment (and I'll get to them shortly) is one that comes from Shaw and Holloway having sex after David slips Charlie some of the black oil. (Total Side Note: Did anybody else think of the black oil from The X-Files, by the way?) The proto-facehugger she "gives birth" to during the medi-pod Cesarian is therefore part-human / part-alien, the same way that Fifield is when he returns after a face full of acid and black oil.

 The proto-facehugger then does what facehuggers do to the Engineer, and then a chestburster does what it does, ending the film with something that looks a LOT like the xenomorph we recognize.

 One could reasonably make the argument that the aliens are not "alien" at all, especially if we also remember that the Engineers are the progenitors of the human race. There's nothing about their biological weapon that can't be linked back to humanity in the first place.

 The Answer: That's Not the Same Xenomorph the Crew of the Nostromo Encounters.

 It isn't, and that's one aspect of Prometheus that isn't exactly addressed in the film, but one that is answered as a throwaway line in Weyland's "notes." If you were worried that the ship that Shaw and David fly away in is the same one that Ripley, Dallas, Ash, and company find on LV-426, worry not. That's not where the eventual (and inevitable) Prometheus sequels are heading. How do I know that?

 Well, in addition to Spaihts, Lindelof, and Scott insisting that the film is no longer a prequel to Alien, there's a mention in Weyland's "notes" that while they were probing LV-223 that the Weyland Corporation picked up the distress signal from the ship on LV-426. David, in fact, is aware of this, and LV-426 is actually more of a priority than LV-223, but since Weyland wants to meet the Engineers, they're following Shaw and Holloway's theory first.

 More to the point, this argument doesn't necessarily hold up for another reason, one that has nothing to do with Prometheus. I'm actually going to totally ignore Alien: Resurrection, which already went out of its way to blend together the concept of "human" and "alien" as the central theme of the film, and instead look at a seemingly insignificant line from Aliens.

 Aliens takes place 57 years after Alien, which takes place roughly 30 years after Prometheus. So we're looking at something close to 90 years later, at a point when the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has been terraform-ing and mining planets for quite a while. They were doing it before Prometheus, as is evidenced by the bet between co-pilots, and the Nostromo isn't the first time they've had to deal with a hostile species. How do I know this?

 Ignoring the Prometheus, we can surmise this from one line in Aliens. The Colonial Marines, who protect colonies under the Company, have seen their share of action, and Hudson asks* Sgt. Apone:

"Is this gonna be a standup fight, sir, or another bug hunt?"

When the answer involves a xenomorph, Vasquez mutters "it's another bug hunt."

 So let's say, for the sake of argument, that this nickname for a mission the Marines don't want to be involved in is the result of having to hunt other alien lifeforms, successfully or otherwise. So yes, they're "alien," but we're no longer terrified of them to the point that soldiers are openly bored by the prospect of fighting another "bug" when they could have some real action.

 As Aliens is widely accepted as the favorite entry in the Alien series (not by me, but by a lot of people), we can hardly blame Prometheus for "ruining" the rest of the films by making xenomorphs less "alien." We've been cool with the malaise about the "alien"-ness of the monster for more than twenty-five years.

 Why it doesn't make Prometheus any better:

 That being said, why have the xenomorphs in Prometheus at all? Why have creatures that are so similar in design to the creatures from Alien and Aliens only to tell us that "well, it's not the same monsters, so it's not a prequel!" Why bother making that connection in the first place?

 Since it's really unclear what the black oil can and can't do (it seems to break down DNA and reconstitute it, creating life) or whether it's a part of a ritual sacrifice that begins life on planets or if it's a biological weapon. In Prometheus, it serves both purposes, to no apparent end. It's a MacGuffin that does whatever Spaihts and Lindelof need it to do whenever they need it to do that. More importantly, it's not even fundamentally important to what Prometheus is "about."

 If you pick up nothing else from the film or the nearly four hours of "making of" material, it's that the film is really about "where we came from" and "what it means to meet our makers" and "what happens if we're disappointed by what we find." And oh yeah, that's why David is there, because David is constantly disappointed by his makers, which allows him to do whatever he wants and lie about not feeling emotions.

  No, really, and here's the kicker. It's another one of those seemingly insignificant lines that most people probably missed. After David quotes Lawrence of Arabia, Charlie asks him what that means and he says "It's just something from a film I like." A film he likes, in a movie where David is constantly being told he has no emotions. You could say it's lazy screenwriting, but since the creative team beats you over the head suggesting David is more evolved than he lets on, let's assume he has disdain for his creators.

 So if this is all an issue of finding our place in the universe, and the "alien" threat that we are now complicit in introducing to LV-223 is our contribution to this search, why did it need to be something that looks like it could evolve into the xenomorph we hadn't had any contact with or had even heard about in Alien? If there are enough other species out there to constitute the term "bug hunt" less than a hundred years later, why not introduce that as the lasting contribution of the crew of the Prometheus.

 Oh, right. Because things that look like xenomorphs put asses in seats. Just like Engineers who turn out to be Space Jockeys get people who pored over Alien to go frame by frame through the trailers and to buy midnight tickets. Prometheus didn't ruin the "alien" from Alien, it just exploited the iconography for a story that didn't need it. Now we just need some Replicants in the next film to understand why they're so angry about being lost like "tears in the rain."

 Well, it's like I said: those are the answers, and in the context of the film, they make sense. They don't make Prometheus a better movie, but I hope they help address some of your concerns.

* It's about 35 seconds into the clip.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Woody Allen (Part Three)

Husbands and Wives

Manhattan Murder Mystery

Bullets Over Broadway

Mighty Aphrodite

Everyone Says I Love You

Deconstructing Harry


Sweet and Lowdown

Small Time Crooks

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Another Holiday Dose of the Video Daily Double!

 Welcome back, Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy is back with another holiday themed Video Daily Double. As I said last week, this month we'll be watching some classic short films from days gone by, including some treasured favorites you could probably see on TV, but now you can also watch them here! Isn't that better? No commercials at the Blogorium for you!

 No Commercials Whatsoever!


 Our first film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, was a staple on television when the Cap'n was but a youngin'. Now that it has to compete with the likes of Spongebob Squarepants and Community for your holiday attention, I guess it's trickier for you to see this. In fact, you probably just ignore this because your parents like it. Well, heed my recommendation, I say!

Our second film, also from the team of Rankin and Bass, is called Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. I can't imagine what it's about.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Retro Review: The Other Resident Evil Films

 So when I said yesterday that "The Cap'n has a long and storied history with the Resident Evil franchise," I neglected to mention that none of it made the transition from old Blogorium to new Blogorium. Back in the days before twittering, the Cap'n was delivering bite-sized reviews ("fun" sized?) and when the time came to pick and choose what I thought people might want to read in the "official" Blogorium archives, 98% of all things related to Resident Evil didn't make the cut.

 Obviously there are the So You Won't Have To Reviews for the last two films, and I believe that there are brief mentions of Resident Evil in the "Mission Valley Years" retro review. The first film even made it on to my "List of Movies I Regret Seeing." That said, when I went to look back and see if I wrote anything about it, surely enough I did not. So I will now:

 I saw Resident Evil with two friends who, along with others, made up a consortium of movie-going hooligans known to terrorize otherwise sensible adults. They would pay good money to see Jeepers Creepers, 8mm, and Dungeons and Dragons, and we would descent like a pack of MST3k-aping hyenas, callously commenting on everything in the film. Think of us as the dinner theater equivalent of a Mr. Plinkett review and you have some idea why the ushers had to come down and yell at us.

 (Unrelated to Resident Evil, my favorite "Shush!" moment happened during 1998's Godzilla, when I launched into a tirade about how absurd it was that the French of all people would be equipped to wage war on fake American Godzilla. When I was justifiably hushed from a few rows back, I politely turned around and replied "well, you know it's true!")

 Seeing Resident Evil only made sense, because we played the games and the movie looked stupid and at that point in time WE SAW EVERYTHING. WE SAW IDLE HANDS AND AMERICAN PIE 2 AND THE IN CROWD, for crying out loud. There wasn't a movie so unwatchable (Loser) that we couldn't find an excuse to go see. Resident Evil at least had the pretense of kind of being related to something we liked.

 The movie itself, like every film Paul W.S. Anderson has been directly involved in (by that I mean directing in addition to writing) not named "Death Race", was tedious, over-edited, and underwritten. But, and I will never forget this as long as I live, it provided my friend with the opportunity to use the second most inappropriate nickname for female anatomy during the first of Milla Jovovich's full frontal nudity scenes (scenes which ended when the series moved to 3D, by the way). It is, in fact, inappropriate enough that I won't even repeat it here, but I'm sure the guilty party could be cajoled into putting it in the comments. *coughProfessorMurdercough*

 I tried to watch Resident Evil again on DVD with another friend of mine who hadn't seen the films but liked the games, and he fell asleep. I did not, and I feel like he got the better end of the deal in that situation.

 Now here's the funny part: I would imagine you think I hate all of the Resident Evil movies, but the truth is that I kind of like Apocalypse and (to a lesser degree) Extinction. What they have in common is that Paul W.S. Anderson didn't direct them, probably because he was off ruining Alien vs Predator and something else that wasn't Death Race*. He produced them and was involved in writing them, but in the hands of someone not named Paul W.S. Anderson, the first two sequels were kind of dumb, but had a kinetic energy to them, a vague sense of scale (especially in the third film), and action sequences that didn't make me want to fall asleep.

 The following link takes you to a review of Resident Evil: Apocalypse by our own Professor Murder, which features what may be my favorite SPOILER ALERT ever.

 As to Resident Evil: Extinction, a film that I have even less to say about than I thought I did, the Cap'n did manage to dredge this up:

 Resident Evil: Extinction - Here's the best instance of "yeah, like I was going to watch that", so I did it for you. What can I say? It's trying really hard to further the Resident Evil story from the first two movies, while trying to be scary and action packed. Well, it's not really scary. There's not a lot of action. What there is amounts to lots of shots of crowds of zombies, tons of people dying, and Milla Jovovich shooting and slashing anything that moves. RE:E has a decent sequence that reintroduces Jovovich as Alice, both as a cloned experiment and as the real deal, and it seems like the movie might be building to a really cool action sequence in what's left of Las Vegas. Then it abandons pretty much all of that in favor of a REALLY rushed "stalk the monster" sequence which makes up the last 3% of the movie. It's like someone said "we need to get this over with" when the movie's barely 90 minutes long, and it feels like a reel is missing or something. Still, I guess if you liked Resident Evil: Apocalypse, you might want to rent this.

 Also, it the following made it into my Year End Recap for 2007:

Resident Evil: Extinction - I'm on the record not liking Resident Evil. I think Resident Evil: Apocalypse was a dumb antidote to the "trying to be smart" first film. Resident Evil: Extinction has some good ideas that don't really get the attention they should. It doesn't help that the film feels like it's missing a reel near the end.

 And that's about it. I'm actually surprised that I remember the film at all, because it only really comes to me in fits and bursts. The kid named after a store, Mike Epps being eating by zombie crows, Milla Jovovich falling into some kind of trap with zombies, and the introduction of the Alice clones that Afterlife promptly did away with in its prologue. Wesker is in there somewhere, and I think Claire (Ali Larter) but don't hold me to that. I'm not invested enough to go back and be sure. Foggy memories seem to function best as it pertains to Resident Evil films.

 Now you have a better idea of my "long and storied history" with Resident Evil, and perhaps that give some context to why I think the fourth and fifth movies are gigantic turd sandwiches you don't need to see. Ever. 

 * I'm not kidding or being sarcastic about Death Race. I actually think it's the one good movie he's ever made, one that openly embraces its schlocky nature and is actually fun to watch. It is the antithesis of the type of movies Paul W.S. Anderson usually makes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

So You Won't Have To: Resident Evil - Retribution

 Cap'n Howdy has a long and storied history with the Resident Evil franchise, and while I'm not proud to say I've seen all five films (three of them theatrically), I have seen all five of the Paul W.S. Anderson VGINM* "adaptations" of the Resident Evil games. Now, until the character of Alice (Milla Jovovich) appears in a Resident Evil game, it's not actually an adaptation of any game so much as cramming in characters, monsters, and locations into a vaguely related story.

 As I mentioned in my Resident Evil: Afterlife review, the series is getting to the point where it's almost impossible to know what's going on if you haven't played the games. Afterlife, in particular, was chock full of unexplained plot elements you could only follow if you had finished Resident Evil 5, even though the movie itself had nothing to do with the story of Resident Evil 5. So while the movies don't bother copying the increasing theatrical nature of the games, "What Script" Anderson just takes things that wouldn't make any sense and using them as significant plot devices, like why returning hero Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory from Resident Evil: Apocalypse) is now a villain working for the eeeeeevil Umbrella Corporation.

 But it doesn't matter, I guess, because people that still come to see Resident Evil movies at this point are either slavish in their devotion to the series or want to see how much stupider the films can get. I can't help the first group, but for the people I know who make a habit of seeing these as an example of "how can they make it worse than the last one?" you can sit Resident Evil: Retribution out. I promise. Allow me to explain.

 Resident Evil: Retribution isn't a movie. Resident Evil: Retribution is a 95 minute trailer for whatever Anderson decides to call Resident Evil 6, since he already used up "Apocalypse," "Extinction," "Afterlife," and "Retribution."

 How is it not a movie, you ask? Well, a movie has a plot, generally speaking one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Retribution is missing at the very least two of those, and the other bit barely qualifies as "story." Filler, maybe.

 There's no retribution in this "film," by the way, just a lot of recycling of elements from other Resident Evil movies, and the appearance of two characters from the games who hadn't yet been dragged into this mess, Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand)**.

 Let's take a look at the "beginning" of the "story" of this "film": Retribution opens with the battle between Umbrella and Alice that Afterlife left as a cliffhanger already underway.


 Yes, as in "played in reverse" and in slow motion in its entirety, until the helicopters approaching the boat Alice, Claire (Ali Larter) and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) were on at the end of the last movie. Then we pull back into a room full of monitors while Alice explains the last four movies to us (I'm not kidding) in order to catch us up to the battle we've already seen, which then plays out (in slow motion) but forwards this time.

 If that wasn't bad enough, after Alice is knocked into the water by a helicopter she causes to crash because we had to see the shotgun that fires quarters one more time, she wakes up in a suburban household with different hair. And she's now married to Carlos (Oded Fehr), but his name is Todd now, and they have a daughter, Becky (Arianna Engineer) who doesn't appear to be deaf but they still communicate with through sign language.

 None of that really matters because this is all a prelude to Paul W.S. Anderson's remake of the opening of Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead. Why? Because the Resident Evil films are in theory based on the Resident Evil games which were, at one point, about zombies. So we need zombies attacking the suburbs, zombies who run fast and break down doors and cause cars to crash and explode in almost exactly the same way that it happens in Dawn of the Dead. Because people liked that, right?

 Almost everything that happens in Resident Evil: Retribution seems to be based on that idea. People liked seeing zombies attack, and they liked the big guy with the hammer / axe from the last movie. They loved the Licker, so that's in there too. And hey, let's bring back Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Oded Fehr (Carlos), Boris Kodjoe (Luther West), Bingbing Le (Ada Wong), Colin Salmon (James "One" Shade) and The Red Queen, played by a different little girl than in the first film although I honestly thought they just made a shitty digital version of the effect from the first film.

 Oh, and Wesker (Shawn Roberts) is back, but this time he's a good guy.

 "But didn't Shade die in the first movie? Don't they show him dying during the exposition scene in Retribution?"

 Hey! I told you that it wasn't necessary to see this movie and you did it anyway?

 Well, then you know that it involves clones - thousands and thousands of clones, and not just clones of Alice - that was the pointless subplot in Extinction and Afterlife. In addition to creating the T Virus, the Umbrella Corporation also runs underground facilities that can replicate Tokyo, Moscow, New York City, and "Suburbia" to run "doomsday scenarios" using clones of virtually every major cast member you remember from previous Resident Evil films.

 With the exception, it would seem, of Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, or Mike Epps***. They must have been busy that day.

 They developed this facility in an abandoned Russian submarine factory so they could film these scenarios and sell their bioweapons to global superpowers, thus creating the zombie apocalypse that we hear about all the time but rarely see. Seriously, if you think The Walking Dead is short on scale and scope, most Resident Evil movies take place in Umbrella facilities with white light paneled walls. Almost ALL of Retribution takes place in this environment.

 Now, this might just be me, but it seems like a MASSIVE waste of resources to clone thousands of people in gigantic underground facilities just to demonstrate your T Virus turns people into zombies with tentacle mouths, but how else are you going to explain to the producers why you need to film in Moscow, Tokyo, and (maybe) New York City?

 And now we come to the "plot," a term I use loosely because when you "adapt" a video game into a movie, that means you can leave out the "we need to get through this stage and this stage so we can rendezvous with this team and escape before the timer runs down and the facility blows up." Paul W.S. Anderson clearly missed that part of screenwriting 101, so that's literally what Alice and Ada Wong have to do - clear the "New York" and "Suburbia" sections of the Umbrella facility to meet Leon, Barry, Luther, and some other Red Shirts in the Moscow stage.

 That's it. Jill and clones of characters are in hot pursuit but none of them can die until our heroes get to the elevator, and a Licker shows up. Oh, and Ada and Alice have to fight TWO of the huge guys with hammer axes, because that's twice as cool, right?

 Now I'm going to ask some reasonable questions that aren't answered in Resident Evil: Retribution.

 Why is Wesker helping Alice? How did Umbrella attach the brainwashing mechanism to Jill? How did Luther escape from the tunnels in the last film and end up recruited by Ada's team? Why does Alice feel the need to bring along the clone of her nonexistent daughter other than to make part of Retribution also a ripoff of Aliens? Why does the Los Plagas virus now create zombie soldiers wearing Russian Infantry uniforms? Why are those zombie soldiers more interested in shooting people than eating them?

 If evil Michelle Rodriguez clone can punch people hard enough that we get an ESPN Sports Science-style CGI shot of broken bones and that also causes your heart to stop, why is Alice able to get up but Luther is (presumably) killed? If Wesker had the ability to restore Alice's superpowers at the end of the film when she gets to the White House, why didn't he have Ada inject her with it in the underground facility? Wouldn't that make their escape MUCH EASIER? In fact, since Wesker also still has his stupid super powers, why does he even need Alice to be the "ultimate weapon"? He took her powers away in the first place, and apparently decided that she needed them back when he took over as President of the United States? What the fuck is going on in this movie?

 Anyway, so Alice gets her powers back, Jill is returned to normal, and everything we spent the last hour and a half watching is basically undone. They go to the White House where Wesker is preparing for "humanity's final stand." There's an obviously digital camera pull-back that shows monsters preparing to attack Washington D.C., and we cut to black. That's it, movie's over. See you for Resident Evil: The Alamo or something like that.

 Imagine, if you will, that The Two Towers left out everything related to Helm's Deep until the last ten minutes of the film, then cut to the Orcs and Uruk-hai marching to the walls and preparing to attack, and then Peter Jackson stopped the movie right there. No battle, not this time. Sorry guys, it's been 90 minutes and my shift is over. We should totally get together and finish this in like two years. You cool with that?

 Okay, please stop punching me for comparing Resident Evil to The Lord of the Rings and answer the question.

 You aren't? Well, I'm sure you won't remember how you paid twenty bucks to see a 90 minute trailer when the next movie comes out. Why don't you go rent Death Race when you get home? That movie was fun, right? And Event Horizon! You always trot that out when people say "Paul W.S. Anderson never made a good movie in his life!" Now you guys make sure to buy the 3D Blu-Ray next month so you can relive when Alice shot the quarters at that pilots face again!

 So yeah. Maybe this So You Won't Have To review is suddenly causing you to NEED TO SEE THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW, but I can assure you that it's a waste of your time. What the previous paragraphs don't convey is how tedious, unengaging, and perfunctory the "action" in this "action movie" are. Not only does it not make any sense, but like almost all of Paul W.S. Anderson's films, it can't even be vexing in an entertaining fashion. It's just lifeless and bland, and it makes me long for the terrible yet gonzo charm of Ghost Rider.

 Yeah. Ghost Rider. Get it now? That's why I watched Resident Evil: Retribution.  

 So You Won't Have To.

 * Video Game in Name, Mostly
 ** To be fair, I didn't realize that was who Durand was playing until he pulled out his signature pistol, RIGHT BEFORE HE DIED.
*** Maybe you can't be cloned if you were eaten by zombie crows.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Woody Allen (Part Two)


Broadway Danny Rose

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Hannah and Her Sisters

Radio Days


Another Woman

Crimes and Misdemeanors


Shadows and Fog

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Celebration with the Video Daily Double!

 Welcome, Educationeers! It's December, and the Cap'n thought he might do something different this year. Since I spent most of October sharing horror shorts, it seemed like it might be fun to do the same thing for the last month of the year. Except maybe not with horror shorts... maybe... We'll see. But in the meantime, let's spend the next few weeks watching different winter themed short cartoons and films, selected by me, for you edu-joyment.

 On with the merriment!


 Today we'll start with two shorts featuring famous animated characters.

 Our first film, Donald's Snow Fight, features a duck, and his mischievous nephews. The title probably explains itself.

 Our second film, The Art of Skiing, was one I shared last year, but has apparently disappeared from circulation. Fortunately, I found it in French, so not only can you enjoy the antics of Goofy, but you can learn another language in the process!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Retro Review: Batman (1989)

 Independently of the impending release of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, I had the urge to watch Tim Burton's 1989 reinvention of Batman last week. It's been a while since I watched what amounted to the first major re-launch of the Dark Knight on screens since the 1960s, and despite the fact that I've written at some length about Batman Returns (here, for example), there were certain lingering assumptions I'd made about the film that I wanted to test.

 One of the arguments I've long held (and one that appears in the Batman Returns review) is that Burton's first go-round with Bruce Wayne was filtered by studio involvement, including the prominence of a Prince-heavy soundtrack that doesn't really match Danny Elfman's score. I also contended that Michael Keaton was overshadowed throughout most of the film by Jack Nicholson's iconic take on the Joker, and that as a result the sequel represented a more "pure" expression of director and material. It's an easy position to take when you haven't watched Batman in its entirety for several years, so does that judgment hold up after revisiting the film?

 Well, I think I let memory dictate a lot of what I thought to be true about Batman. It is true that making Jack Napier (and by extension, the Joker) the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents elevates his role in Batman's origin story (thus allowing a "you created me, I created you" motif), and that Nicholson dominates every scene he's in, even ones with legendary scenery chewer Jack Palance ("You... are my numbah one guy!"). However, I allowed memory to disproportionately increase Nicholson's screen time, so it was a bit surprising how much of the first half of the film is devoted to Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) trying in vain to track down something, anything about the mysterious Batman. We're introduced to Bruce Wayne through them, accidentally at that, and in more than one way - they go to Wayne Manor in order to track down Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams), the Mayor (Lee Wallace) and get them on the record about the vigilante terrorizing criminals.

 What's interesting is that Burton and screenwriters Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren set up Batman as the more important component of the Wayne / Dark Knight dynamic, but then devote most of the screen time to Michael Keaton with the mask off. Yes, the film begins with Batman in action (after a clever misdirection regarding whether we're starting with the origin story up front) and then shifts largely to Wayne and Vale, interrupted by the Joker's romantic advances. Unless you count the final showdown in Gotham Cathedral, the interactions between this unorthodox love triangle are split evenly between Batman (in the art museum) and Bruce (in Vale's apartment). While the art museum sequence is more visually dynamic, the Wayne / Joker showdown has more character resonance.

 The museum sequence is, for the record, the first of two (and only two, unless you count the closing credits) Prince songs that appear in the film. Despite my lingering memories of "Batdance," "Party Man" and "Trust" are the only songs featured in Batman in their entirety, and both are linked to the Joker, who dances along, making them diegetic to the world. So let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Joker is a big Prince fan. So much so that he has Prince songs you've never heard before that are, in one form or fashion, very appropriate in the scenes they appear. If we accept that the Danny Elfman score represents Bruce Wayne / Batman and the Prince songs are expressions of the Joker, I can overlook the apparent clash of styles. Also, while I don't love the way Nicholson gyrates to "Trust" in particular, it is a good fit for his attitude and style.

 I also found myself more fond of Keaton as Batman than as Wayne (even though the lack of a strong chin and smaller frame make him look like a skinny guy in a suit). Maybe it's that Wayne, while being in a LOT of the movie, doesn't register much as a character until the inevitable flashback to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne (which happens more than an hour into the film). In fact, Bruce Wayne doesn't have much to do other than look intense or deep in thought between his charming introduction to Knox and Vale and when he unleashes on the Joker ("You want to get nuts? Let's get nuts!") and is blindsided by the clown's reply ("You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?").

 But watching the film again, Batman himself isn't all that interesting - he's not a lot more than the sum of his "wonderful toys." The fight scenes aren't very memorably, his movement is a little awkward (watch him sneaking around Axis Chemicals or even when he lands on the rooftop in the beginning of the film) and without his grappling hook, Batman doesn't even defeat the Joker or save Vicki Vale at the end of the film. He's thwarted by his nemesis and left dangling as the Clown Prince of Crime escapes in a helicopter. The most impressive detective work done by the Dark Knight happens offscreen, as Wayne and Alfred crack the secret chemical reaction that causes Gotham's beauty products to become lethal (and effectively so - those frozen death grins stick with you).

 Additionally, I like how Billy Dee William's Harvey Dent is introduced in such a way that never indicates he'll ever become Two Face. He's just the District Attorney of Gotham City, trying to nail Carl Grissom and to contend with the new threat of the Joker.

 Still, Batman is not particularly the ineffective setup to a better sequel for Burton and Keaton. I found myself frequently engrossed by the film, by the world and art design of Anton Furst, and it was a strong reminder of when a Danny Elfman theme really stuck with you. I've been trying not to compare Burton's Batman to the Nolan films (in particular Nicholson to Ledger), but I do think that Batman is more successful in relaunching Batman the icon than Batman Begins is. Batman Begins is a great Bruce Wayne story, but Batman does a better job at balancing the necessity of the myth that Wayne must become. It doesn't always balance the two as well, but then again neither does Batman Begins. I can't help but wonder what Batman would be like if the necessity of linking Wayne to Napier hadn't been in place, or if the film had focused more on characters on the outside experiencing the vigilante (as much of the first forty five minutes is), but the film still works. It still entertains, and I'm amazed how dark this "family friendly" movie is, considering I saw it when I was ten.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Blogorium Review: Argo

 I was listening to the radio the other day, and a sports commentator decided it was a fair point to compare a team he wasn't fond of to Ben Affleck.

 "Sure," he said "they're having a great season right now, but you can't ask me to forget about what they were doing a few years ago. It's like Ben Affleck - yeah, The Town was great, Argo was great, but you can't just make me forget about Gigli, Reindeer Games, Jersey Girl, Pearl Harbor and Daredevil*."

 The general point (and I know this because sports radio is mostly about repeating the same point over and over again for three hours) was that just because things are good now doesn't mean that we have carte blanche to forget about when they (being it Ben Affleck or the Atlanta Falcons) were terrible. Or, I suppose, maybe it's that we shouldn't forget that they WERE terrible, therefore their recent success needs to be tainted by that.

 It seemed funny to me, because for one thing I don't really see the point in that, but more importantly it seems to reinforce a theory that there are no second acts in show business** (let alone sports, which is a ridiculous notion considering how frequently the makeup of teams change over time). As someone who followed Ben Affleck from small parts in Dazed and Confused to a high school / college student that saw every Kevin Smith movie to a guy who watched his friend lose his grip on reality during Gigli***, I was as skeptical as anyone when Gone Baby Gone came out. I bought into the "Ben Affleck is snarky asshole who makes terrible decisions in film roles" conception of the actor, willfully forgetting that I had seen him in movies I really enjoyed.

 So when Gone Baby Gone, Affleck's directorial debut, was pretty good, I was taken aback a little bit. The concept that a quiet, reflective Ben Affleck had been hiding there all along, that the possibility that Affleck and Damon were more than what anyone expected of them after Good Will Hunting (and certainly after Dogma) was a little revelatory. Matt Damon spent most of the 2000s becoming the action star that Affleck failed to be with Michael Bay and John Frankenheimer, and Affleck sat out leading roles after Surviving Christmas, not because he had "given up" but because he needed time to prove he had more to offer****.

 My polite skepticism continued through The Town, although I will admit I was more interested in seeing The Town than Gone Baby Gone. It was one thing to see Affleck direct a film, it was another entirely for him to direct and star in his sophomore effort, but I'll be damned if that wasn't also a really good movie. Neither are my favorite films of their respective years, but I own both of them and have seen them again since. For whatever choices he made as an actor in the late nineties and early 2000s, Ben Affleck has a fine eye for direction, for choosing compelling stories, and in casting the right actors for the roles. What he may have lacked in front of the camera he certainly made up for behind it.

 Which brings us to Argo, the reason for our unnamed sports pundit's rant. Ben Affleck is (deservedly) getting a lot of positive buzz for his third film, and it may well carry over into awards season, and maybe that rubs people the wrong way. "How dare this Ben Affleck, who I said was a fraud for Good Will Hunting and who was in all those bad movies be the talk of the town now? How dare he???" Well, sports and movie critics, I have to say it's because Argo delivers the goods. And more importantly, Ben Affleck went the extra mile and proved that he isn't just a very good director - he can still carry a movie too.

 Instead of rehashing what Argo is about, or how politically appropriate the story turned out to be our current global climate, I thought I'd focus on something I wasn't expecting from a movie about the Iranian Hostage Crisis: how funny the move is.

 There are large stretches of Argo - mostly while Tony Mendez (Affleck) is setting up the titular fictional film that gets him into Iran - where you'll find yourself laughing quite a bit. Mendez recruits Hollywood makeup effects man John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to help him buy the script for Argo from writer Max Klein (a great cameo by Richard Kind) and drum up enough publicity to convince the Iranian government that he really is part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations in Tehran, and not just a specialist for the CIA that rescues hostages like the ones hiding in the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber)'s basement. Most of the midsection of the movie, while Mendez is creating the ruse, is a prolonged jab at Hollywood and movie-making in general, and it lightens the tension of the beginning of the film (which recreates the raid on the American Embassy) and the end of the film (after Mendez touches down in Tehran).

 What I was so impressed by is that it doesn't dilute the tension in the second half of the film, despite the fact that information about Mendez's success or failure is readily available in the public record (or, at least, it is now). Even if you've accidentally heard how the story ends, Argo succeeds in keeping you on the edge of your seat as our protagonist(s) head towards their plane out, even if part of what really happened was "augmented" for cinematic purposes. Affleck maintains the fine balance between self-deprecation and serious business as Argo needs it, and the film is by my estimation more successful than Gone Baby Gone or The Town as a result. They feel like very good dry runs, and Argo is the culmination of what Affleck knew he could do as director and actor. He succeeded, as far as I'm concerned, and I look forward to whatever he chooses to do next.

 If Argo becomes the second "welcoming" by Hollywood to its prodigal son, I have to say I'd be okay with that. If it was a chocolate Easter Bunny movie - all good flavor, but no substance, then maybe I'd be a little more hesitant, but Argo is both entertaining and substantive. You don't just move on to the next digestible piece of cinema after you're finished, and I look forward to seeing Argo again. If I had my druthers, I think The Master is more ambitious, but it's also more difficult to enjoy, if more interesting to experience. It's easily my favorite Ben Affleck film and is a strong contender to be one of my favorite films of 2012.

 Since I brought up Arkin and Goodman, and so as to not make this entire review about Ben Affleck, I'd like to also point out the fantastic cast of Argo, in large and small roles. Richard Kind (who most of you would remember recently from A Serious Man) has a one scene cameo, and you probably noticed Bryan Cranston (Red Tails - that's what you know him from, right?) and Titus Welliver (The Town, Dinosaur Island) in the trailer, but let's take a look at the many other familiar faces of Argo.

 There's Zeljko Ivanek (In Bruges, Heroes, everything), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Creepshow), Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Michael Parks (Kill Bill), Chris Messina (The Newsroom, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and lest I forget the hostages themselves. Affleck intentionally went with actors that looked like the actually hostages and weren't very "well known," which is odd because I immediately recognized Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused), Clea DuVall (The Faculty), Tate Donovan (Love Potion Number 9), and was later able to pick out Christopher Denham (Shutter Island, Sound of My Voice) although I initially mistook him for someone in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. My mistake.

 Well folks, if there's a lesson to be learned other than "never listen to sports radio," it's probably that even if we all assumed that Ben Affleck was the problem (and not Michael Bay or Kevin Smith), and even if he maybe was for a while there (*coughBennifercough*), it is possible to break free of your negative stigma and to be successful doing what you really want to do. And if you're successful at that, you end up in a Terrence Malick film that people are already raving about. And not be the guy who made Red State or Transformers 3.

 Non-Directly-Affleck related post-script: Even though this experience has taught me to be less cautious at the mere presence of a name associated with dumb tabloid stories or crappy movies, I continue to be hesitant every single time I see a trailer for a Tom Cruise movie, even when I really enjoy it (Mission: Impossible: III / Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol). Jack Reacher, not even the Affleck Theory is changing my mind about you...

 Non-Directly-Affleck related post-post-script: At some point, I should also explain how this theory applies to Brad Pitt, who is continually viewed through the "hunky leading man" image cultivated during Legends of the Fall even though he frequently chooses to work with fascinating writers, directors, and in films you wouldn't expect "that" Brad Pitt to be in. Maybe when I see Killing Them Softly...

 * He also mentioned 200 Cigarettes, although I strongly suspect he never saw the movie because that's not exactly a Ben Affleck vehicle...
** Because, y'know, nobody ever heard of that Robert Downey Jr. guy again after he relapsed during Ally McBeal.
*** Seriously. He went temporarily insane and put a 12 pack container on his head, declaring himself the Sprite Pope. He then marched around my room issuing decrees, because Gigli snapped his brain.
**** For the record, I'd like to say I really enjoyed him in Hollywoodland, Smokin' Aces, and Extract, all of which happened between Surviving Christmas and Argo.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Woody Allen (Part One)

What's Up, Tiger Lily?


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)


Love and Death

Annie Hall



Stardust Memories

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy