Monthly Archives: May 2013

Just do it … right

“To put it country simple …” – William S. Burroughs

When my brother, a musician, introduced me to the above Gary Clark Jr. performance, we talked a bit about the blues. Clark’s Bright Lights, Big City is nice, but the performance is what really elevates it. Or, as my brother put it, “The blues isn’t about re-inventing the wheel. It’s just about doing it right.”

I thought of my brother’s comment when I read a recent blog post by Margaret Atwood. The post itself is about dreams, but at one point Atwood mulls whether or not you should allow your characters dream. She notes it’s somewhat forbidden, or at least frowned upon, and that you can’t necessarily control the interpretations of the readers. But her final line in that brief section of the post is what nails it for me: “As in so many things, it’s not whether, but how well.”

I’m a fan of the CW’s Nikita. It’s something of a guilty pleasure. Lots of gorgeous women – Maggie Q., Lindsay Fonseca, Lyndie Greenwood, Melinda Clarke – as well as more than its fair share of explosions and fights. It’s a guilty pleasure because the relationship stuff is incredibly soapy, so much so, in fact, that I’ll be disappointed if Susan Lucci doesn’t make a guest appearance at some point. And Nikita definitely isn’t re-inventing the wheel. It’s pretty similar to what you’d find in the Mission Impossible and James Bond movies, as well as Alias.

But I’m not looking for the same depth of engagement I get from critically acclaimed shows such as The Walking Dead, Fringe or The Wire when I watch Nikita. I’m looking for pure escapism, where a tiny, beautiful women in shoes so ridiculous you wonder if they might actually be instruments of torture takes a piece of pipe and beats the living snot out of half a dozen, roided-out giants whose lunch weighs more than Maggie Q does, probably while she’s holding a 10-pound bar bell. I’m looking for a race against the clock, a hero to save the day, over-the-top villainy, subterfuge, seduction, laughs, bullets flying, cars exploding and, if I’m lucky, the occasional surprise.

What I guess I’m saying is, they’re “getting right.” Nikita has figured out “how well” to do what they do, and they do it. Fulfillment of potential. As writers and as fans, can we really ask for anything more?

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Finding value in ‘Noise’

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I recently watched the Swedish film The Sound of Noise. It’s damn near impossible to describe, so here are some of the thoughts that passed through my head as I watched.

* It’s kind of like the Magnificent Seven, except A) there are only six of them, B) they aren’t really the good guys (even though they aren’t all that bad) and C) instead of the wild, wild west’s greatest gunslingers, they are Sweden’s greatest drummers.

* It’s an unlikely, organic mix of heist film, rom com, police procedural, Pink Panther-like absurdist humor and performance art. How that mix ends up being organic and not a messy cluster fuck is a mystery to me, but it is.

* I now want to take a pair of drumsticks and beat on Muncie.

* What’s really funny is, while The Sound of Noise is solidly in the corner of inventiveness and fearlessness in music making, the hero is tone deaf and loathes music. And he gets the happiest ending.

* Musical terrorism. A bomb isn’t ticking; a metronome is.

* The Sound of Noise is to Stomp what Motorhead is to Carly Rae Jepsen.

* I’ve watch all sorts of violence on film, but when Inspector Amadeus Warnebring’s ears start bleeding after he is blasted with loud noises, I was very uncomfortable.

* The writing is phenomenal. The directing makes it come to life in a way you’d never believe if you didn’t see it.

* “Funk bass.” Watch the movie. You’ll laugh your ass off.

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South Carolina values: A play in once act

INT. HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM – DAY

A harried, white-haired male TEACHER stands at the front of the classroom. His students are chatting, checking their phones, preening before handheld mirrors, etc. They are mostly caucasian and, judging from their clothing and accessories, wealthy. The bell to start class rings.

Teacher: Good morning class.

The teacher is roundly ignored, and all activities continue as if he doesn’t exist.

Teacher: I’d like to talk about the special election in South Carolina this week.

Crickets.

Teacher: It’s an interesting case. The newly elected Republican congressman is former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Mr. Sanford lost his gubernatorial powers in 2009 after he was found in Argentina with a girlfriend when he’d told his wife and staff that he would be hiking the Appalachian trail. It was also discovered that he misused taxpayer funds to take the trip to visit his mistress. And after this particular affair was uncovered, Sanford admitted to being unfaithful previously to his wife, the mother of Sanford’s four sons, on more than just this occasion and with more than just this one mistress. Then, this February, Sanford’s ex-wife filed trespassing charges when she found him breaking into his former home.

He looks around. Seemingly no one is paying attention.

Teacher: It’s often been said by Republicans themselves that  they are the party of “family values.” Yet Republican voters re-elected Louisiana Rep. David Vitter after he was found to be paying for the services of prostitutes. Republicans have repeatedly voted for Sen. John McCain, who cheated on his crippled wife – who had been faithful to him while he was a prisoner of war – to the extent that it so concerned and disgusted President Ronald and Nancy Reagan that the couple refused to continue to socialize with him. Georgia voters elected Newt Gingrich even after he’d filed for divorce while his wife was in the hospital fighting cancer, a divorce which left her and his daughters destitute to the point where they had to rely on their church for assistance. And so on. So can anyone tell me why the voters of South Carolina’s first district, likely people who would consider themselves folks with solid family values, would choose to elect someone who had lied to voters, cheated on his wife repeatedly and misappropriated public funds?

The teacher scans the room. Surprisingly, a hand is up. It is the hand of WALLACE, the lone non-white student in the classroom.

Teacher: Yes?

Wallace: Because South Carolina hates niggaz more than it loves family values. Mark Sanford could have beat his wife, raped his neighbor, killed his preacher, sold crack to Catholic school children, converted to Islam and wore a Georgia Bulldogs sweatshirt for his entire campaign, but in the end, what mattered to South Carolina most was that they elect a good, white male Republican who would go to Washington D.C. and make sure the nigga in charge didn’t get too big a head and think he could just boss around good, white, Southern Christian folks.

Teacher: Anyone else have anything to add?

Another hand raises.

Teacher: Yes?

Student: Is this going to be on the test?

THE END

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The remake trap

He's good, but he's no Patrick Swayze.

He’s good, but he’s no Patrick Swayze.

I recently watched the Green HornetTotal Recall and Red Dawn remakes. Yawn.

Why bother? Philip K. Dick’s original story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, had the great reveal at the end that saves the protagonist’s life. The basic idea – the implantation of false memories revealing a secret agent who has lost his real memories – is used in the first Total Recall movie, as well as the focus on the mystery and promise of Mars. Director Paul Verhoven’s version chose to take a slightly different direction, focusing more on the idea that the main character’s memories and current thoughts and actions may or may not be real, and we can’t be sure which it is. The film did a nice job of hewing to the original story without following it note for note, even if the camp factor is a bit high.

Then there’s Len Wiseman’s recent version. Mars disappears from the picture completely. We never really doubt that Colin Farrell’s character is indeed the secret agent he is revealed to be. To tell you the truth, I’m not even entirely sure what his mission was after having watched it. Because it wasn’t important. What the movie was about was Farrell, Jessica Beal and Kate Beckinsale strutting around looking hot and shit blowing up in the background periodically. Which, if you can get paid obscene amounts of money for it, isn’t the worst job in the world. However, it’s mostly a waste of everyone’s time when you try to turn it into a movie.

Red Dawn, the original version, holds up fairly well after all of these years. Yes, it’s a bit of a survivalist fantasy piece, but the casting is good, the screenplay does a good job of giving some historical context, the conflict felt by the senior Cuban officer who is not sure he likes going from occupied to occupier is a solid secondary plotline, and the background of the northern plains states really gives it an empty, frightening feel. A classic by no means, its has some legs. Patrick Swayze also does a good job of bringing some maturity and command to the eldest of the young, bratty Wolverine rebel group.

The new Red Dawn is much like the new Total Recall: Just kind of an average action flick with an old movie’s name. It has a real chance to discuss some serious things – the difference between being a terrorist and freedom fighter, to name one – but glosses over that sort of nonsense quickly to get on to the next gunfight. I love Chris Hemsworth as Thor, but he didn’t bring much to role as the lead Wolverine. He very much lacked a certain … Swayze-osity, a Swayze-ness that the role requires. The idea of healing the brotherly bond and the maturation of Hemsworth’s younger brother, played by Josh Peck, was nice, but again, there wasn’t much focus on it. It was addressed briefly and never developed, like pretty much every other thematic or plot thread introduced throughout the movie.

The Green Hornet was different for me. I remember watching a few of the original episodes as a kid, but the show doesn’t hold the same place in my youthful heart as Red Dawn and Total Recall do. In this case, I was in it for the talent behind the camera, director Micheal Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) and writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Gondry has made a living creating unique, gorgeous videos for any number of musicians – The White Stripes (Fell In Love With a Girl), Bjork (Army of Me) and Radiohead (Knives Out) – as well as some interesting, quirky features (mentioned previously). Rogen and Goldberg are the writers behind two of what I consider to be the funniest movies of the last decade, Pineapple Express and Superbad.

Yet The Green Hornet is an unfunny, unoriginal, slow, dumb piece of crap. It’s awful. At least the Red Dawn and Total Recall remakes were watchable. The Green Hornet lacks center, the writing is appalling and the direction seems to be focused more on making a film for 3D than it does making a film worth watching.

Of course all of this is really my fault, because I fell into the trap, didn’t I? Hollywood remakes films and TV shows in an attempt to capitalize on the sentimentality of folks like myself who are in some way attached to the originals.

But it didn’t work out as well as Hollywood hoped. I didn’t pay movie theater prices to watch any of these. I didn’t rush right out and purchase them. I waited until well after the DVD release to watch all three of them.

And while Hollywood is generating profits from these films, they’re also creating something self-destructive: Aware consumers who become less and less likely to spend to see what they now expect will be disappointing films at best, complete crap at worst.

Hollywood, ask the music industry how that worked out. You might want to reconsider what you’re doing.

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