Lovely, Lovely Singing Voice

Film, other writing.

Quick thoughts on Sam Mendes’ SKYFALL (2012)

Saw a bootleg of this a few weeks ago that was missing some footage, but finally caught it theatrically. Just a few quick thoughts, and some SPOILERS for the five people who haven’t seen it yet:

  • Getting Roger Deakins on a Bond movie is maybe the smartest move EON ever made. This whole thing looks beautiful, even when the score is threatening to overpower the rest of the movie—i.e. that otherwise-awesome Michael Mann-ish fight scene in the high rise.
  • The “references” in this aren’t as consistently deft as they were in Casino Royale (2006)—pretty much everything with the Aston Martin is really clunky fan service—but there are some bits in this that point throughout the franchise without sacrificing the greater plot, from the Live and Let Die (1973)-esque presence of large lizards to a fight scene on top of a train just like, uh, Octopussy (1983).
  • Javier Bardem’s the most entertaining villain this series has had since Sean Bean’s Trevelyan in Goldeneye (1995), pretty effectively blending menace and high camp.
  • My biggest problem with this one: man, is Skyfall unusually misogynist for a Bond flick (and yeah, I know these movies generally are, but bear with me here). Not even talking about Bond’s cavalier attitude when one of his flings gets offed, but by the movie’s end, you have M replaced by a man and Bond’s field agent partner reduced to a secretary. That’s not even mentioning Bond wordlessly walking into a shower and seducing a former sex slave. Weird, kind of cringey stuff.
  • Some stuff that I wish was expounded upon: there are threads hinted at throughout about the declining relevancy of MI6 and espionage in general, threads that are never really followed up on satisfactorily. I guess that’s more what stuff like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) is for.
  • And what’s good with Albert Finney? It’s nice seeing him, and he acquits himself well, but his character is sort of pointless.

Ultimately, pretty good though! Not as much so as Casino Royale, but significantly better than the woeful Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall was one of the first times I’ve been legit excited to see “JAMES BOND WILL RETURN” at the movie’s end.

- posted by funkyassdicegame

Quick Review: Ben Affleck’s ARGO (2012)

Some quick notes because this movie really isn’t interesting enough for me to throw up a full review. First, the good stuff:

- Ben Affleck has matured to the point where he’s a pretty damn capable director. As fundamentally shallow as the whole movie is, he at least knows how to work with actors and his cinematographer.

- Those actors are great in the first place. Bryan Cranston wrings good stuff out of what’s a pretty thankless role, while John Goodman and Alan Arkin manage not to embarrass themselves in the many scenes where they play to the Hollywood Oscar voters who will most enjoy this movie (expect horrific amounts of “THE SHAH OF IRAN, WELL HE’S NOT THE HEAD OF THE WRITER’S GUILD” knee-slappers). Also, Scoot McNairy! Haven’t seen this guy in anything else to my knowledge—apparently he’s good in this year’s Killing Them Softly—but he gets a lot out of the “skeptical bystander who is SECRETLY HEROIC” archetype.

- As a silly heist movie, Argo is very watchable. Despite the political backdrop, it’s lightweight on the level of Ocean’s Eleven (2001), and expectations should be kept on that level. This is definitely the movie’s biggest flaw, too: it’s watchable, but there’s really not much to it.

Aaaaaand the bad:

- The Iranians are handled in a pretty offensively lazy manner. Most of the time, they’re nothing more than angry window dressing, which really doesn’t do much to assert this as anything other than CIA-loving U.S. propaganda.

- Affleck’s decision to cast himself as the dark-skinned Hispanic Tony Mendez is problematic for reasons I’m sure the rest of Tumblr will be all too eager to tell you. It’s also sorta telling that he chose to play the dude who’s always the smartest, coolest guy in the room.

- The movie kinda wastes its “we’re making a fake movie” conceit. Beyond the inessential Goodman/Arkin scenes, you could pretty much just make the plan to release the hostages anything else and very little in the movie would change. But this isn’t the laziest thing about it!

- If Argo didn’t try to present itself as more than it is, I’d probably just describe the thing as fun but politically irresponsible and then move on. Putting it together as a prestige movie, though—one that throws in some really dumb revisionist history about both the Iran hostage crisis and President Carter’s response to it—and you have a weird, muddled propaganda piece that doesn’t deserve the accolades it’s getting.

I’m writing this in early December, when Argo is still considered the frontrunner for Best Picture 2013. This is the kinda movie that’ll probably win: gives its viewers a pat on the back, ultimately really simple and unchallenging. Don’t even bother with this shit; even among the Oscar-bait, Spielberg’s Lincoln towers over it, and…uh, Zero Dark Thirty isn’t out yet and there’s no way I’m seeing fucking Silver Linings Playbook, even with David O. Russell. But, yeah, Argo. I considered it fun but inessential after watching it, but at this point I sort of hate it now. Funny how that works. If you really need Affleck behind the director’s chair, watch his debut Gone Baby Gone (2007) instead.

- posted by funkyassdicegame

by funkyassdicegame

Mac and Me (1988) is one of the great cinematic disasters, a title almost solely invoked nowadays to denote scenes of grossly excessive product placement. I tried watching this about a year ago, and even as a “so-bad-it’s-good” camp experience it barely passes the test: besides the infamous wheelchair scene that has become a beloved Conan O’Brien running gag, there are just lengthy stretches of undistinguished and totally soulless filmmaking. As a study of product placement, it’s masterful, as both Coca-Cola and McDonald’s bend over backwards to hawk their wares. As a movie—even a camp one—it fails on every conceivable level. (Unless you’re a Jennifer Aniston completist, as she apparently pops up as an extra somewhere in here.)

The one non-wheelchair exception here is the extended dance scene set at a McDonald’s, where everything beautiful and terrible about the film and the decade around it is thrown into sharp relief. Thrill at the protagonist’s inexplicable bear suit! Smile at the various groups’ synchronized dance routines! Bow to the inevitable Ronald McDonald cameo!

And afterwards, get yourself some McDonald’s.

Lost Cinema: I Gonna Fuck You Back to the Stoneage (1989)

by funkyassdicegame

Those who know Christian doctrine may know of the Rosary and its twenty “mysteries.” For those who don’t, Christians have twenty “mysterious” occurrences commemorated by the Rosary: five joyful, five sorrowful, five glorious, and five luminous. Perusing the pages of the famed Internet Movie Database, however, you’re likely to find certain pages that embody all twenty and more. Dead ends with no filmmakers that seemingly exist, ludicrous premises that could never be released without significant legal action, and titles that would guarantee a massive cult following if they were actually seen by people.

The elusive I Gonna Fuck You Back to the Stoneage (1989) is all three.

I first remember stumbling upon Stoneage six or seven years ago on IMDb and being undeniably fascinated by its existence. From the grammatical fallacy on down, it has a legitimately incredible title, and its “memorable quotes” page hinted at something even more wonderful:

Michael Jordan: You can’t do this to me! You can’t do this to me! I will fuck you… 
Nike marketing exec: Sir, please calm down. 
Michael Jordan: I will fuck you back to the fucking stone age! I will fuck you back to the stone age! 
Nike marketing exec: Sounds like somebody didn’t get his latte this morning… 

One of the two reviewers on the site claims the plot concerns Jordan’s “quest to sign deals with sneaker manufacturers just before he hit his stride with the Bulls in 1992.” In a perplexing twist, that reviewer's only two other pieces are on other movies with “fuck” in the title, and both of them seem at least somewhat facetious. So I've gone on assuming that this was a lie, a brilliant lie but a lie nonetheless.

But the film’s genesis in Austria slightly complicates things, along with the presence of director Gabriele Mathes. Searching for the film itself brings almost nothing in the way of useful links, even when listing the director’s name, but Mathes herself has slightly more interesting results. One of her other bizarre-sounding short films, entitled Microwave Doping Test (2008), even has several placements at international film festivals, with at least one of these pages noting Stoneage in her filmography! The stumbling block here is that I can’t find any of her films online—can anyone hook us up with even a Youtube or something?—and that even the pages that mention Stoneage mention nothing about Michael Jordan, Bill Cartwright, or shoes. Even her German-only Wikipedia page is vague and evasive, rendering Mathes something of the cinematic equivalent to Polybius. The “awards” section of her page is translated as such:

For her autobiographical film A million debt is normal, says grandfather [NOTE: A little up the page, the same movie is listed as One million credit is normal, says grandfather, so who knows] Gabriele Mathes received the award for innovative cinema from the diagonal in 2006 and the New Visions Award at cph: dox 2006th For bottle Mathes was the Austrian Short Film Award at Vienna Independent Shorts Award 2012th

That grandfather film definitely exists: it’s available to rent here on Sixpackfilm, and gets both a brief description (it’s a found-footage short!) and some quick analysis. Her most recent film, this year’s Message in a Bottle (or, as Wikipedia calls it there, bottle), is also available, a documentary that is described as paralleling the Occupy movement. If anybody reading this is from England, I hope you folks are willing to pony up the pounds to rent one of these things, as viewing one of Gabriele Mathes’ films would help solve the greatest cinematic mystery since finding out who shot Nice Guy Eddie. This whole thing provides hints at her documentarian style: if any director would be crafting a hard-hitting expose on Michael Jordan’s ruthlessness in gaining endorsement deals, it’s (seemingly) Mathes. But this still leads us only a couple of steps ahead.

So here we are with a hilariously-titled film, a vaguely plausible synopsis—you better believe there’s footage somewhere of Jordan being an asshole in the name of advertising—and nothing in the way of tangible fact. I Gonna Fuck You Back to the Stoneage, by that title and synopsis alone, is one of the great lost films. Did Jordan’s people have the footage destroyed, if it exists at all? Was this actually even from “before 1992,” as MJ became a basketball titan significantly earlier? Is this just a harmless IMDb prank that went out of hand? Who the hell knows. Wondering about this too much, you’re just gonna get fucked back to the fucking stoneage.

Hays and the Gays

» EricAnders

Last fall, I helped give a presentation to the University of Pittsburgh Rainbow Alliance about gay people in cinema with my friend maxgarber. It was structured loosely around The Celluloid Closet, a fantastic documentary about what “gay” has looked like on screen over the years.

It was amazing to me to be standing in front of a room full of LGBT people who mostly had very limited knowledge of how LGBT people have been traditionally represented on screen. They’d seen Brokeback Mountain and Milk and The Kids Are All Right, sure, but most had never seen Cary Grant go gay, all of a sudden! They’d never paid close attention to the longing glances Sal Mineo gives James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Most didn’t know about the tropes of the sissy or the psycho lesbian.

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The LovelyLovelySingingVoice Hall of Fame: Rutger Hauer

Here at LovelyLovelySingingVoice, we feel that there are a select few in the film industry who truly embody what we’re all about here. Whether it’s the journeyman character actor or the nutjob cult auteur, some people just inherently understand what it is that makes film great. This is our Hall of Fame, and this is the first inductee.

» funkyassdicegame

Undoubtedly one of the Netherlands’ most important contributions to society, Rutger Hauer has been steadily chugging along in film since the late 1960s. The guy entertains in pretty much anything he’s in, from the canonized classics like Blade Runner (1982) to do-not-watch-under-any-circumstances fare like Albert Pyun’s Omega Doom (1998). The man’s a cinematic treasure, and one that can easily vacillate between B-action badasses and roles that exude genuine vulnerability (not that casting directors are often looking for the latter from this man, especially in his later years). He’s in that weird class of actors that also includes Lance Henriksen among others, guys with legitimate skills who are content to star in pretty much anything put on camera.

Of course, the man wasn’t always that prolific, at least not in his first decade-and-change of filming. The late ’60s through about the mid-’70s are mostly filled with roles in Dutch film/television or tiny appearances otherwise—a United Kingdom show here, a Sidney Poitier/Michael Caine film (?!) there. This decade’s work is mainly distinguished by his collaborations with his most prominent creative muse, Paul Verhoeven. In the ’70s alone, you have Turkish Delight (1973), Katie Tippel (1975), and Soldier of Orange (1977), a triptych that simultaneously established Hauer’s acting bona fides and cemented Verhoeven as the most beloved director in the Netherlands. I’ve still yet to see DelightTippel reunites that film’s leads to clear diminishing returns—but Soldier of Orange is a genuinely great film, with Hauer clearly relishing his journey from Dutch student to fighter pilot. You can see both his performance and hints of Verhoeven’s later American subversive-camp style in this scene, where Hauer’s resistance fighter Erik meets his estranged classmate Alex (Derek de Lint), now a card-carrying Nazi. Sadly, this clip doesn’t have subtitles, but the resulting dialogue is in the video description (and the bizarre visual of the steely Hauer tangoing with a uniformed Nazi really says it all):

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» BrendanGFord
I don’t mean to mention Super two posts in a row, but I just wanted to mention something. The rumors are everywhere that Marvel is talking to James Gunn, director of Super for their announced Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I just wanted to explain real quickly why this is a very, very, very good thing. 
The thing is, Guardians of the Galaxy is kind of a weird choice for Marvel. It’s more bizarre and more cosmic and more blatantly supernatural than they’ve gone yet. Sure, there’s magic and sci-fi in the films leading up to the Avengers, but there’s always something grounded about them. Iron Man and Captain America and The Incredible Hulk all have their core premises dipped in at least a little bit of pseudoscience, and the bits of THOR set in the frosts-giants realm is pretty universally considered the worst part of that movie. Thankfully, the Marvel movie universe has never gone particularly dark or gritty, but there’s at least some realism at work. 
That means the biggest challenge with Guardians of the Galaxy will be balancing out the surreal, goofy nature of the comics with the more down-to-earth tone of the Avengers movie franchise. This kind of balance between realism and fantasy, without seeming jarring, is what James Gunn is secretly best at.
We remember Super as a movie about a guy who fights drug dealers while dressed in red spandex. But, remember that one incredible scene where the top of Frank’s head opens and he’s visited by a tentacle-monster straight out of some Japanese pornography? Or how about Slither, his other big directorial job, which was pretty much a live-action cartoon? Or the two live-action Scooby Doo movies he wrote, which are literal live-action cartoons? 
My point is, to varying degrees, James Gunn movies are filled with scenes that are so bizarre and fantastic and surreal that they have no right working in any serious movie. But they do. 
In my opinion, that’s just what a superhero movie starring an anthropomorphic raccoon needs. 

» BrendanGFord

I don’t mean to mention Super two posts in a row, but I just wanted to mention something. The rumors are everywhere that Marvel is talking to James Gunn, director of Super for their announced Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I just wanted to explain real quickly why this is a very, very, very good thing. 

The thing is, Guardians of the Galaxy is kind of a weird choice for Marvel. It’s more bizarre and more cosmic and more blatantly supernatural than they’ve gone yet. Sure, there’s magic and sci-fi in the films leading up to the Avengers, but there’s always something grounded about them. Iron Man and Captain America and The Incredible Hulk all have their core premises dipped in at least a little bit of pseudoscience, and the bits of THOR set in the frosts-giants realm is pretty universally considered the worst part of that movie. Thankfully, the Marvel movie universe has never gone particularly dark or gritty, but there’s at least some realism at work. 

That means the biggest challenge with Guardians of the Galaxy will be balancing out the surreal, goofy nature of the comics with the more down-to-earth tone of the Avengers movie franchise. This kind of balance between realism and fantasy, without seeming jarring, is what James Gunn is secretly best at.

We remember Super as a movie about a guy who fights drug dealers while dressed in red spandex. But, remember that one incredible scene where the top of Frank’s head opens and he’s visited by a tentacle-monster straight out of some Japanese pornography? Or how about Slither, his other big directorial job, which was pretty much a live-action cartoon? Or the two live-action Scooby Doo movies he wrote, which are literal live-action cartoons? 

My point is, to varying degrees, James Gunn movies are filled with scenes that are so bizarre and fantastic and surreal that they have no right working in any serious movie. But they do. 

In my opinion, that’s just what a superhero movie starring an anthropomorphic raccoon needs. 

Why I Didn’t Like “God Bless America”

» BrendanGFord

So I finally got around to seeing Bobcat Goldthwait’s new movie God Bless America last night. Now, Bobcat Goldthwait is great. His World’s Greatest Dad was one of the best comedies of 2009. His debut, Shakes the Clown is the Godfather of alcoholic clown movies. And his other notable movie Sleeping Dogs Lie pretty damn good too. When I first heard the Bobcat was making his angriest and most controversial movie yet, a black comedy about a man so disheartened by contemporary American culture that he goes on a violent killing spree, I figured we had one of the greatest comedies since The Whole Nine Yards coming our way.  The only problem: God Bless America isn’t very good.

FAIR WARNING: I AM GOING TO SPOIL THE ENDING OF TWO MOVIES BELOW. 

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Good Thru FOREVER.

Good Thru FOREVER.