Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dark Knight: The Imax Experience

Dir. Christopher Nolan

Viewed: From the Balcony

Is it all downhill from here? That's the question I was wondering after The Dark Night, an especially relevant take on the meaning and role of heroes and villains play in society. While the Watchmen movie, the trailer of which is attached to Dark Knight, may prove to make a stronger point with its ruminations on the hero theme when it comes out next spring, I somehow doubt that it will connect with audiences and resonate quite the way The Dark Knight does. This is despite the fact that Watchmen has a better story to tell -- it's simply that you're going to be hard pressed to find a better set of people telling the story than the ones who have given us The Dark Knight.

The acting and directing are all probably better than we deserve. Heath Ledger has given the most singular and hypnotic bad guy to grace a movie screen since Anthony Hopkins fey, erudite Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. (A character who's fire he quickly extinguished in the ridiculous Hannibal.) And I think the Academy will remember Hopkins' Oscar for that role and realize Ledger was just as good, if not better in his performance as The Joker. Will he win? It's only July, man. Will he get nominated? Most definitely. Christian Bale is a better actor than required for the role but he actually does have his moments when in Bruce Wayne mode. It's something that goes unnoticed when you're leaving the theater, brain buzzing from Ledger's performance and the last scenes of the film, but there is great fun in watching him show off a playboy swagger and inspire a conflicting jealous contempt in his would-be girlfriend played by Maggie Gyllenhaal -- another in this movie's long list of secret weapon actors who elevate this movie beyond its seeming genre limitations. Aaron Eckhart plays Maggie's current beau, Gotham DA, and plot lynchpin Harvey Dent. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Batman's rouge's gallery knows things won't be turning out well for him and Echhart plays the arc well even if you're wondering if he was chosen for the role more on his looks. Michael Cane is again re-defining Alfred as more than the wry butler-in-the-know that it once was into more of a surrogate stepfather role; a man with some experience who has to walk the fine line between offering advice while making sure any buttons don't get pushed that might set off an already somewhat unstable guy. Gary Oldman has been on my shortlist of actors that have my unflagging attention ever since Romeo is Bleeding (a wildly imperfect movie, I'm aware) and to see him as Commissioner Gordon simply brings me joy. A joy much richer than seeing him the Potter movies, as here he is actually given some dark material to work with -- the kind of material he knows best. Morgan Freeman? Well, he certainly suits the role... I mean, the movie is already 2 1/2 hours long... Anyway, he's a welcome addition to the line-up even if he isn't given much to do.



So what does this add up to? The plot is simple enough: a mad man (a terrorist?) comes to town -- a town with a well known masked vigilante crusader -- to wreak havoc. Anarchy. Chaos. What comes of this scenario? He (the bad guy or the hero?) probably has a death wish (which is different than suicidal) so that threat doesn't work in any of the confrontational situations. The ying/yang of The Joker and The Batman is the meat and potatoes of this movie. It works well and propels all the action sequences. There's a confrontation between these two characters in a police interrogation room that is pretty damn fantastic. On one hand it's uncomfortable to see The Batman pretty much neutered while having the bad guy completely at his disposal, and on the other it's completely fascinating to watch this "agent of chaos" at work even while, especially while, being pummeled. People have been prophesying this performance since Ledger's death, and in some ways it would be nice to be able to say that this is another Crow case (though the shittiness of that movie didn't stop anyone from dressing like a tool) but this is the real deal. I do see the connection to Alex from Clockwork Orange and I can understand the unfortunate consequences that are going to be happening as a result of this brilliant anti-hero creation. If I were 13 right now I'd probably be headed right back to the next showing of this movie.

Oh, and that next showing you're headed to should be the IMAX showing. I'm actually pretty happy with myself for holding out for the IMAX showing. Not only do you get a building tall projection of the film but the sound is so booming that it's rattling your ass for the majority of the show time, in a good way. And the few scenes that are shot with the IMAX camera are in fact stunning and completely worth the extra bucks. If you've seen it already at your local cineplex (or if you're some fucker stealing the movie) -- I would actually say that indubitably, Yes, it is worth checking it out again at you nearest IMAX theater. Some of the stuff they shot with the IMAX camera is absolutely worth witnessing. They can be a bit obvious but that doesn't stop it from being iconic. There's a ground level shot of the Joker walking in his own peculiar way from the hospital that is absolutely an image to cherish and will undoubtedly go down as a keeper in the cinema history books.


If you're looking for some flaws -- every movie has a couple, right? -- I would criticize Nolan's lack of grace in filming a fight scene. This might be some sort of tactic of his, to make the scenes of hand-to-hand combat look rudimentary by shooting them in a rudimentary fashion. And I may be more critical of this having just seen Hellboy 2 where these scenes were handled in an enjoyable dynamic fashion. Anyway, it would be nice if Nolan were to complete a Batman trilogy that he take a step back and contemplate staging a cool bout of fisticuffs that isn't just a blur of elbows and knees. And this is coming from a guy that likes the Bourne movies.

I'm curious to know what you think of this one, Paddy. I know you're a big Nolan supporter and despite your claims to the contrary I do remember you stepping out of Nolan's first Batman being quite enthusiastic. Send your thoughts if you can will yourself to take in some commercial film making.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hellboy


Hellboy is easily the best superhero to be created since the golden and silver ages of comic books. His adventures since the early 90s make up some of my favorite reads and Mike Mignola's spin-off BPRD stories are still the one's I most look forward to reading every month. Hellboy's world is at once beautifully original and comfortingly familiar. That Mignola borrows characters and stories from the actual myths and legends that exist in the lands Hellboy visits (having the scorned Baba Yaga of Russian folklore as a major character or dropping Hellboy in the center of an Irish folktale called "Teig O'Kane and the Corpse") is endlessly fascinating and kind of reassuring in a way.

Now when anything I like gets adapted into a movie, I'm well aware things are going to change. Anyone who huffs and puffs about some beloved B-character from a novel getting dropped or two characters getting merged into one needs to clear their head and wake up to reality. I sat through the first Lord of the Rings movie with this guy and all he could do afterward was complain about "Arwen played a much smaller role and they completely skipped over this crucial part..." and all I could think was Jesus Christ, the thing is already four fucking hours long and has 50 different trolls and hobbits I'm supposed to wrap my head around and your looking for more? So I can get over the fact that Guillermo Del Torro wants to play around with the mythology of these characters to spice them up a bit for film such as him wanting to continue to expand upon a love story for Hellboy and Liz Sherman (fellow agent at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) that was never really there in the books. That's fine, and I can happily go along with the idea Mignola has -- that each one of these mediums: the books, Del Torro's movies and the animated movies are each a seperate universe onto themselves. It's a frequent tool in the comic book world.

I'm going to get to my one (or two) complaint about Hellboy II: The Golden Army eventually, bear with me. I first want to say that the movie is a lot of fun. The talent Guillermo Del Torro has for bringing these kinds of worlds to life should not be taken lightly. His skills are downright transcendent. I can firmly say that there isn't another filmmaker out there right now that could bring to life Johann Krauss as effectively as Del Torro does. This is a character that has no face, just some vapors trapped in a glass dome on top of basically an old-fashioned scuba outfit, and yet only moments after he is introduced you're mesmerized and smitten by this bizarre fellow. There's a prolonged sequence and a Hellboy throwdown that takes place in the Troll Market, a sort of bustling town square marketplace where dozens of original creatures and monsters (all played by real live humans, mind you) shuffle around from stand to stand looking for some bargains. Other world-weavers like Lucas or even Peter Jackson can't touch the seamless, enveloping originality Del Torro has going on. It is the stuff of genius.

So what's my beef? Well, what I said above, about my reasons for so fondly treasuring the Hellboy books on my shelf, some of those are missing from this movie. The foe in this film is an underworld prince who wants to reclaim the human world for their own -- "You will remember why you were once afraid of the dark," he seethes before dispatching an audience bidding at an auction off his people's artifacts. To accomplish his goal he will collect the items needed to unlock the Golden Army, machines lying dormant, waiting to spring to life wreak havoc. It's a good enough story, one with many interesting details and when those machines start coming to life they're pretty wicked. But the old world, Lovecraftian vibe is missing. To me, this is the essence of Hellboy -- a character who's world is based on tentacles and evil, conquering worms, grungy witches, backwoods demons and Nazi apes living in dilapidated castles. There ins't any of that old folktale sprung to life feeling that gets me giddy. It gets at some of this towards the end when they travel to Ireland, and it touches on Hellboy's duality which is missing from the most part in this installment. But in the end, the story feels, well, kind of like some sort of movie.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Dir. Alex Gibney

Viewed: From the Balcony

There isn't a writer I'm more familiar with than Hunter S. Thompson. I've read all his books and over 1000 pages of the personal correspondence he's published in his two "Fear and Loathing Letters" volumes (third and last to be coming out soon). So I'm probably a bit more susceptible to this new Alex Gibney documentary than the average viewer out there with a passing knowledge of the man's work. But what's great about this movie is that it's highly accessible and not the work of a over praising fanboy. It a very level headed view of the author and journalist and is not afraid to doll out it's admiration while keeping a critical eye on the pitfalls he hit in the last few decades of his life.

Though it does pick generously from a couple of documentaries I already own -- namely, Breakfast With Hunter (a great fly-on-the-wall movie made in his later years) and the BBC documentary from the early 80s that is found as a supplement on the indispensable Criterion edition of Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- Gonzo features hilarious and touching new interviews with everyone from his family and landlord to Pat Buchanan and Jimmy Carter. Douglas Brinkley Jr. continues to prove to be the foremost Thompson historian and guides us through his adolescent years leading up to the publication of Hell's Angels. Johnny Depp works as kind of a Thompson voice, reading passages from his work here and there. Of course Jann Werner pops up semi-frequently and though I pretty much despise the guy for shamelessly exploiting Thompson's death to fill his own pockets while screwing over his family, there's no denying the guy was a constant figure throughout his life. But the real surprising treasures to be found in the movie are some of Thompson's own field recordings that he made while on the job in Vegas, on the '72 campaign trail and on that dreaded night in Africa during the Ali - Forman fight that marked the moment when his own wave reached its high water mark and started pulling back.

The movie's great success is in its unflinching portrait of how a man can become his own worst enemy. The BBC documentary features probably the best interview with Hunter that you could ever hope for. In it he talks about how he's created a monster in his Raul Duke alter ego -- the pseudonym he used in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" -- the character that would spawn a Doonesbury caricature and the person that everyone expected his to be whenever he walked through a door. His is ultimately a tragic story. Of course, this is what Thompson chronicled best: the tragedy of a lost America, the fear and loathing you feel when the country you love is spinning further and further away from its ideal.

The movie certainly leaves you a bit bummed out. There's no denying the parallels of the Nixon and Bush eras and more than a few people express their disappointment that Hunter isn't around to stoke the fires of rage over what's happening these days to the America he loved. At the same time, it shows that Hunter was more aware than anyone of his limitations in his old, weathered age. While he was still able to fire off great articles leading up to his suicide in 2005 (some of the work he did for ESPN magazine is brilliant including the eerily prescient Sept 11th article that begins the movie) it was obvious he knew that his voice no longer served as the rallying cry it once did.

The movie captures that authoritative voice he did have in the 70s in a riveting way and with great effect. The footage of the Thompson for Sheriff race that occurred in Aspen is priceless and there's nothing quite as heartbreaking as Hunter's concession speech to his followers when he lost the race by a handful of votes: "Well, unfortunately this proves what I set out to do... the American Dream is fucked." Pan over to young woman crying with her hands in her face. The footage and conversations with people from the '72 presidential campaign trail probably give people the greatest sense of the impact Hunter S. Thompson had on American journalism. His book on the subject is still a touchstone of political journalism -- a scathing look at the fallibility of the system as well as still being funny as hell. The footage of Hunter explaining the Muskie controversy to a talk show host (he wrote that there was a rumor on the campaign trail that a candidate was abusing an obscure drug called ibogaine that was being administered by a Brazilian doctor -- sure, he's the one that started the rumor, does that mean he can't write about the rumor?) makes for one of the more laugh-out-loud moments of the movie.

Any movie that can get across to people that Hunter S. Thompson was more than just a drug fueled, gun loving nut famous for getting loaded in Las Vegas and writing about it is good stuff in my book. While Gonzo is missing any sort of delicate touch in some of it's song choices and juxtapositions it manages to be heartfelt, funny, riveting and inspiring -- just like the man himself.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Trailer 101

I'll be trying to make the most of my Dark Knight watching by waiting to get a ticket to one of the IMAX showings -- all of which are sold out this weekend. Anyway, one of the things they'll be showing during the half-hour of crap they'll be putting in front of the actual movie is something I've been waiting patiently for -- the first Watchmen trailer.

Zach Snyder wouldn't be my first choice to direct this adaptation -- my hopes were at their highest when Paul Greengrass was all set to go forward with it. But Snyder has already defied the movie gods by making a Dawn of the Dead remake that was actually pretty damn good so maybe he does have some sort of magical movie karma going on.
The trailer does give one hope. I'm sure the thing isn't even close to done (the reason for all the slow motion and whatnot) so as far as trailers go for a movie that is still some 8 months away, this is a perfect example of giving the fans something to chew on for a good long while 'till the next teaser. There's even an easter egg about halfway through involving a gun getting replaced by a walkie talkie (a'la Speilberg) to appease the MPPA for those people who want to watch it frame by frame -- you know who you are.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Hold Steady and the others...







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Sean

to Padraic
show details Jun 17
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A couple other things I'm happily digging is

Issobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan's two albums of ballads and brooding rockers mixed with shanty's and duets.

and

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Dig Lazarus Dig -- a song of which I'll try to attach here...
11 More News From Nowhere.mp3
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Padraic

to me
show details Jun 17
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Nice tune. I put in on and started surfing, then I heard it in the background after a while and assumed it was on repeat. Nope.

I dig the Hold Steady album a lot, but it lacks the immediately awesome song like Hoodrat Friend or Stuck Between Stations. It's good so far, and it's already made it above disappointment level, but I can't see it going much higher. I'm already looking forward (and looking) for the new Okkervil.

Some dissapointing news for RFC. I was all set to see Paul Auster tonight and tomorrow night, first introducing "The Best Years of our lives" and then his new directorial effort The Inner Life of Martin Frost. Unfortunately, I forgot about those pesky things called tickets so when I went up with some fellow Auster fans (he is huge in France), sold out.

The upside is I saw a great solo piano performance of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms instead by one of the most famous piano players in the world. It was pretty incredible, but I somehow don't think I could do it justice on RFC.

Sean

to Padraic
show details Jun 18
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I wouldn't have guessed Paul Auster being big in France... interesting... sorry you couldn't make it but it sounds like you caught one helluva musical experience.

I think what the new Hold Steady is missing is any of the immediacy of the previous albums. It really doesn't offer much new and upon my first listening when I disliked it it was because I had this feeling that they were actually pandering to their audience (mostly Constructive Summer and Stay Positive). I think I discovered that it works as an album -- the listener becomes more involved in the somewhat rehashed stories he's telling when taken as a whole. But listening to it again on random with other albums I again was not too happy with listening to the songs that popped up. Finn's energy is completely missing -- he used to be a bit unpredictable in the rhythm and phrasing of his delivery which is what made him an interesting singer -- and the production of the album is pretty muddy -- the songs get bogged down the more layers and instruments that get added. I'm not expecting HS to be sonically adventurous but I think they'd be well served by just trying to capture their live show on record than messing with stuff like Navy Sheets and whatever is going on in Joke About Jamaica. Both Crosses sounds too much like trying to ape Bruce. I think I'm giving the album a thumbs down. But it may have to do with having songs like this shining right next to it.

02 Today's Lesson.mp3
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Padraic

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show details Jun 19
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Yep, they love Auster I think because they really like sparse, existentialist kinda of stuff more than narrative based books. He also spent three years there after college and started translating forgotten French authors.

Agree with your general take on SP, but I like Joke about Jamaica! Not so much the wanking towards the end, but it's a great song lyrically: the line that "not every show can be a benefit" is a killer.

Since you suggest that they should stick to what they do best, I'm tempted to make an Anderson reference...but I'll refrain. I really like some of the more adventurous stuff, especially For the Cutters, but I do wonder what the audience is supposed to do during these songs at a live set.

Ok, and I'll bite: how are you sending these tunes?

Sean

to Padraic
show details Jun 19
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Click on Attach a File and then select your mp3 of choice. That 7 minute song I sent I think was about the max you can send.
I don't necessarily think that they should stick to what they do best. I actually bit my tongue when I wanted to write how I'd like Finn to broaden his scope a bit -- it's only in regards to their recording/production techniques that I'd like them to sound more like a live band then a studio band -- try to capture the feeling of a first take rather than a 50th take. It's why The Felice Brothers are so engaging even when they're ripping off Dylan and The Band -- they have this ramshackle approach to recording that leaves in the all the endearing flubs, coughs and clinking beer bottles and makes it surprising. HS would benefit from trying this, I think. I do like For the Cutters and Lord, I'm Discourged by the way, definitely the two best songs on the album.
That one apartment rental place that we sent you didn't have any vacancies for us so we're back to searching. We're looking into this one now...

Sean Erickson

to Padraic
show details Jun 19
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Do you have any reservations about this address?
Rue de la Croix de Fer, 12


Padraic

to me
show details Jun 19
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Wow, they aren't lying about a great location! I think I go by that building every day on my walk to the library. It's a nice place to be. Walkable to most everything, close to the tram and subway, but very quiet at night. I would recommend it.

I agree about more spontaneity on the album. There seems to be a sense where they want to create these like perfect songs, but they aren't that kind of band. Thumbs down is too strong, but I'm not going to run around recommending this to many people either. Also. new Oldham is also the only album of his that didn't take me about 5 months to appreciate. I really like that he is letting the folk flag fly a little more.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Shultes

Dir: Bakur Bakuradze
Viewed From: The Balcony

First time director Bakur Bakuradze has made a movie that only a critic could love. After a nice reception at Cannes during the Director's Fortnight, he may have a more difficult time with the general audience. His Shultes is a very very slow story, unfolding at about the pace of your average Dardenne brothers' movie...except slower. As we watch the title character Lyosha Shultes in the opening twenty minutes, we observe: him sitting still, him watching television, him shopping, him watching television with his mother, him changing clothes, him riding an escalator, him knocking on a door. Finally...finally, he picks someones pocket.

I knew from the Prix d'Age d'or festival blurb that Shultes was a small-time thief, but you get the sense that this is meant to be a surprise, as we finally learn what it is he is doing during these long and dull days. Shultes is apparently a lonely and sad man, although the reasons why are hazy. He is good at his job - mostly stealing car keys from jacket pockets - but aside from brief conversations with his destitute brother and ailing mother, he doesn't have much of a life, and Bakuradze is miserly with details from the past (with good reason, it turns out).

Fortunately for both Shultes and the audience, he meets a miniature version of himself - a ten year old stoic pickpocket named Kostik played superbly by Ruslan Grebyonkin. This little guy is the life of the movie, and the scenes where Kostic and Shultes are robbing people are the best in the film. In what is probably intentional, the movie slows down considerably whenever Kostik is gone, as if to indicate how empty Shultes's life really is.

As the two develop a good working relationship, the movie still fails to tell us much about what they are doing. Associated criminals pop up here and there, some keys get stolen, some possibly tense moments are diffused quickly...and then we are back to watching Shultes watch television. At about the one hour mark, I was beginning to question whether the long and deliberate entry into Shultes's life was worth it, whether there was anything to it other than trying to get an audience to empathize with the character's apathy.

Well, there was.

At just about the breaking point in the audience's resolve (one person had already left, making an obvious display of reaching for his jacket, grunting, and slamming his seat), Bakuradze delivered with an amazing scene whose beauty and power stand in such stark contrast to the rest of the movie that it retroactively justifies the deliberate early pacing. It's almost an overwhelming scene, bringing up emotions that had been consistently beaten down in the viewer during the first hour of the film.

The reason this works so well is that the audience and Shultes experience the scene - a recording made on video by a girl who has just died - simultaneously. Shultes, who was not involved in her death, had managed to steal her camcorder earlier, and it's difficult to tell whether the onrush of emotions is getting to Shultes at the same time it hits the audience. Meant to identify with the main character all along - experiencing his boredom alongside him- are we now supposed to break with him? It's unclear really, but Shultes unaffected response might tell us that his apathy is the result of more than just a boring life. It's just an extraordinary cinematic moment - a scene that breaks open a rift between the character and audience after such an exacting process of creating empathy.

There is a bit of an anti-climax in the last twenty minutes, as a few "reveals" fill us in on what was really going in Shultes's life, but the movie could have ended with that scene. That's far from a complaint, however, as this is a fine debut. Bakuradze, who won the top prize at the main Russian film festival Sochi, may have the chance to break out, though an American release of this film is unlikely (The Russian debut isn't even until July 17th). Sad really, because this would be almost an impossible film to watch at home, taking the extraordinary attention span that is rare in the home, but automatic in the theater. Maybe Shultes - with his admirable ability to stare at the TV from his couch - could handle it.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ahem


A few weeks back, Sean profiled the Beligian European Film Festival that was to take place in Brussels. It looked like a great set-up, and I had had so much fun at the short film festival here that I was planning on a major commitment...

Well, the BEFF has pretty much come and gone, sans a single viewing. But...BUT...I may have a chance for redemption as the RFC-recommended Cinematheque Royale de Belgique, the much frequented cinema that shows old and new movies here for two euro apiece. The wonderful folks at CRB are running a sort of tie-in to the BEFF, entitled the Prix de Age d'or & Cinedecouvertes, which is showing some of the same movies (including Sean-recommended Night and Day) as the BEFF. Here is the lineup.

In addition, the PdAd&C also is adding movies from India, Hong Kong, and hell, even the States, many of which will be available with English subtitles. And so not only with this festival be cheaper and closer to the RFC Brussels-office, but it should be better too! A quick glance seems to reveal that a lot of the fun-type movies by young and precocious European directors from the BEFF have been replaced by the super-serious depressing movies favored by this corner of RFC. The BEFF brings in a lot of the kids, but I have a feeling only the hardcore cinephiles will be at the PdAd&C. I'll make no pretensions about seeing all twenty films in competition, but since this week happens to fall in between visits from friends and family, I should get to a lot.

Starts tomorrow, July 6th, with Revanche, a three-time winner at this past year's Berlin Film Festival. The picture above is from the film, so, yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day Rejects - The Hitcher & The Return of the Living Dead

Growing up in the 80s, word of mouth was crucial. VCRs were a luxury item so much that you could rent the thing for a weekend. HBO was the cock of the block and we all congregated to the lucky bastard who had it to see the 2 minute Mike Tyson fight. It was around this time, say 1986, that movies like The Hitcher started popping up. HBO is all over this movie starting from the opening credits. This is not a bad thing. Straight to cable these days is still a highly superior thing than straight to video. Whether or not C. Thomas Howell should have ever gotten a legitimate movie career off the ground is a different debate.


God bless Rutger Hauer. The guy makes everything better -- he's like movie bacon. There are people out there that think Blade Runner is a boring movie. If Rutger Hauer didn't blast his forehead through that wall... I hesitate to think... Today I'm exposing about The Hitcher, staring C. Thomas Howell. The Hitcher is the perfect movie to illustrate the power of Rutger Hauer.

C. Thomas holds this movie together with a tenuous string between the scenes where Rutger Hauer brings the whole thing up to greatness. That's not a very pull-quote ready sentence but it's the truth. Hell, C. Thomas looks about 16 in this movie and he doesn't completely fuck it up so I guess he deserves some credit. He's playing a guy who is attempting to drive a car from Chicago to San Diego. He starts falling asleep at the wheel in Texas and decides to pick up a hitchhiker.

Enter Rutger Hauer (official website!?) who completely makes this endeavor worthwhile but makes C. Thomas' life a living hell by killing everyone around him and making it look like he's the killer. Once he enters the car you cannot help but be hypnotized by him. Watching this movie I completely understood Anne Rice's old claim that she always envisioned Rutger as Lestat. Not that I haven't appreciated Rutger whenever he shows up -- in fact I demand his brilliance to show up more often. I don't think anyone has given him the kind of scene he has when he first gets picked up by Howell or when he meets him later on in a diner when C. Thomas is losing his shit and Rutger laughs at his patheticness.

One of the problems with the movie is C. Thomas Howell's pathetic ridiculousness. Granted, it plays a little bit better now than it did when I was a teenager when you just wanted this guy to get his shit together and start kicking some ass rather than crying about it and rubbing sand in his hair. But it is one of those movies that relies on those crazy twists of fates to be pulled of by a C. Thomas kind of guy. The Hitcher gets a few extra points because it tries to give him an arc where he slowly turns from normal guy who repeatedly calls a drive-away company to get his pathetic ass to California into a unrepentant vigilante. C. Thomas almost pulls it off. It certainly helps when Jennifer Jason Leigh is around. But unfortunately that isn't very often.

Also unfortunate is that Rutger Hauer isn't in every other scene but when he does show up it's go time and he's bringing his A game. Even in fleeting moments when he shows up to shoot down a helicopter while driving a pick-up on a desert side road. Yes, he smiles and lights a cigarette afterward like we didn't already know. Rutger and Jennifer only have one scene together when C. Thomas and her are hiding out from the cops in a truck stop and Rutger curls up next to her while C. Thomas is in the shower. Brilliantly creepy and damn if it doesn't make me want to watch Flesh + Blood again.

The Hitcher made me think about The Last Seduction which made me think about Hard Eight which made me think about the whole "Indie/Hollywood" thing. It really is a bunch of bullshit. Once cable came around, that was it.

Equally brilliant, if not more so, and sitting in the adacent spot on the DVR queue, is the original The Return of Living Dead. A movie that immediately puts itself in the debt of Romero's movies and takes off to build an entire new genre of its own -- the knowing, ironic, comedic horror film. Yes, now this genre is pretty much dead along with j-horror remakes but keep in mind in 1985 The Return of the Living Dead was two years ahead of Evil Dead 2.

While it still holds up as a pretty damn funny zombie movie it dates itself in a punishing way that the Evil Dead movies were smart enough to avoid. Most of the zombie food in The Return of the Living Dead are laughably exaggerated punk rockers (being nine in 1985 and tucked away inside a hidden New England suburb I can't speak from knowledge, maybe every other teenager was like one of these characters, who am I to say?) though it tries to use this to its advantage by putting date stamps on scenes and having a disclaimer at the beginning saying that what you are about to see and all the names are true.

It's the non-punk rockers that make this movie sing. Burt, Frank and Ernie. Arguing about how bringing upon the zombie apocalypse is going to affect business is always going to be funny and these guys sell it brilliantly. The greatest scenes in the movie deal with these guys trying to cope best with the whole zombie situation and treating it in the most matter-of-fact way that really makes the comedy sing. How do you deal with a bag full of zombie? and dealing with the practical aspects of a mortician's crematorium are both dealt with with the utmost severity.

It's a movie that has its obvious icons while you're watching it - characters that you can see right away standing next to any of the Rocky Horror characters, and being a big fan of Rocky Horror in high school I think Return of the Living Dead is easily a better movie and if it were released in the 70's would've had just as big a following. As it stands Return did have a big following, enough to spawn countless sequels both legitimate and not and enough imitators to spawn an enormous graveyard full of unwatched cut out bin vhs tapes. How romantically tactile those old-fashioned old days were. Anyway, the movie sits with you like a good meal afterward. You've been fully nourished with some authentic cinematic history.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Beer of the Month: July

(sometimes, once a month, every other month, twice a year, or when it's that special time, there's a post about beer and it's called Beer of the Month)

Miller High Life: 16oz


I don't think it's a secret to admit that Miller Brewing Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin produces a
superior 16oz can than that of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Champagne of Beers is a tall can of refreshment on a 90 degree day like the one here in and around my bungalow. Especially after the Palo Santo Marron Dogfish Head I just drank. The Palo Santo is a beer to contend with, no doubt about it. Things like wooden brewing vessels and 12% abv need to be dealt with in a serious and professional manner. The Palo Santo is a business partner that will reward greatly but takes pity of no fools. Miller High Life is a much friendlier associate for these summer times.

It doesn't pour with any certain intoxicating color or head strength. This is because even before the can is open it is deposited squarely in a beer cozy -- one that suits my mood -- like the one I have before me now that screams BECAUSE WE CAN! to me -- and it stays there.

In harsh economic climates like these it's important to take into consideration a beer that establishes itself well to the price of a six dollar six pack. As well, I believe 16oz to be a superior delivery measurement for a beer of its variety. Their canning might not be as awesome as Dale's, of my beer cozy fame, but the flavor of the beer isn't as canny as you might think. It's almost tart and quite bubbly and refreshing. That champagne claim is not quite completely, utterly off. It can be a good change of pace or simply your first beer of choice, who am I to look down at that, either way it's highly quaffable.