Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Guest Blog

I didn't post today, but I did guest post on Bethany's blog, Fair Trade Certified. Go ahead and check that out.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Snakes on a Requiem

Snakes On A Plane was a box office dud. And this will, I promise, be my last post on the subject, now that the buzz and fun have finally worn off. But I want to push this out to its full potential, until I've successfully drawn this one event into a poorly conceived analogy about the difficulties of life and the buoyancy of the human spirit. If I play my cards right, I might even get to use "Pollyannaism" in a post again. Man, that was a good day.

Experts smarter than myself has hypothesized over why SOAP didn't work out. It had the buzz - a huger fanboy following than some comic book openings, a much lauded title, crazy stories about a blog influenced script, increasing the rating to an R during re-shoots, and the whip-smart business mind of Samuel L. Jackson. People showed up, cheered, hissed, hollered, and threw rubber snakes at the screen all throughout opening weekend. But it didn't work.

How is it that a movie so intensely hyped by excited, unpaid individuals failed to generate real interest in the movie? I'll spare you the details of my theorizing here, because it's long and boring and we're already in the third paragraph here are there haven't even been any fun visuals to spice things up, yet, so why should you read further? In fact, let's take a break.

Go get him, tiger.

Everyone back? Okay, here's the theory: buzz on the internet means a good deal less to everyone than experts actually think it does. And by everyone, I mean you. Yes, you personally.

Buzz on the internet comes mostly from blogs, which are written by everyday people in between the everyday routine of their everyday jobs, and read by their friends in their free time, though this last item is likely much less than every day. For example, if you are reading this blog, you are in all likelihood a friend of mine, and there's a reasonably good percentage that you might actually be related to me. I don't know how high this percentage actually is, and this is why I don't have a hit counter: I'm scared what it might actually show.

So you, dear reader, probably fall into that group (and if you don't, welcome! I'm glad to have you here. Buy a tee-shirt.) You know me, you like being a part of my life, and you might even enjoy some of my writing once in a while, as long as I don't get too tiresome, take too long getting to my point, or write posts that go forever without ever giving a you a single image to ease the monotony. Therefore, break time so that Michael Moore can send a very special message to "President" Bush.

Go get him, tiger.

Anyway, you read all of this, but it doesn't sway you. I've recommended 20 movies in the past year. How many of those have you seen? I'm not scolding, I'm just saying that we listen to other people's spouting off about comic books, or web programs, or their pet ferrets, or books, or video games, or strange and esoteric art. And we get interested as best we can, and we respond as best we can. But that doesn't mean it entices us to act. People assume that a positive review online means tons more than a single viewing of a trailer, but most of my movie viewing is influenced by trailers and critical buzz and what everyone else wants to see on a Friday night. And even if I am influence by my e-friends, does that mean their opinion means that much more than any other factor? Newspapermen and journalists seem to think it means a hundred times more.

In fact, let's play their game. I've got a rugged enough ego to take the hit that this next exercise will do. I'm gonna go dig up all the movies or TV shows I've ever recommended on 10-4GB. While I'm gone, think about this, because I think your opinion about this transfers out into your opinion on all web blog influence:

How many different opinions to do you hear before you go see a movie? Is just the trailer at a theatre enough? Is it the critical reviews? One or more of your friends or family members pestering you about it? Have you ever gone to a theater, or rented or borrowed a movie based entirely off a friend or random blogger's review online? Keep in mind, even if you see movies extremely rarely, these questions are still valid. I'll be right back after I find those movies.

Alright, I'm back. Here is every movie I've ever given a full recommendation to:
  1. Snakes on a Plane
  2. Half Nelson
  3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  4. Lost
  5. The Office (American)
  6. The Office (British)
  7. Superman Returns
  8. Thank You For Smoking
  9. V for Vendetta
  10. Nacho Libre
  11. Pirates of the Caribbean 2
  12. MI3
  13. Mirrormask
  14. X3
  15. The Break-Up
  16. Looking For Comedy In the Muslim World
  17. Walk The Line
  18. Capote
  19. The Constant Gardener
  20. Match Point
  21. The Squid and the Whale
  22. Brokeback Mountain
  23. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe
  24. Elizabethtown
  25. Good Night and Good Luck
  26. Revenge of the Sith
  27. Phantom of the Opera
  28. Batman Begins
  29. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
  30. Kingdom of Heaven
  31. Sum of All Fears
  32. Fever Pitch
  33. Finding Neverland
And those are just those movies that I liked enough to write a full paragraph or post about them. That's not even including throwaway compliments (or negative reviews).

Now, which of those have you actually seen?

Alright, now which of those, was my opinion even the smallest factor in that viewing decision? Any? One? Maybe two?

Outside of my older brother and his wife, whom I force to watch a lot of these with me, my influence on you is probably pretty small, if even existent at all. And I'm not saying that to extract sympathy from any of you, I'm making a point here. If it makes you feel any better about this, your opinion probably doesn't influence me that much, either.

Wow, that got heavy. Let's take another break.

Heh. Heh heh. I can't even do it.

Look, I'm not saying that e-opinions, when bundled together, can't cause people to go to movies or rent movies or borrow movies or think about movies or whatever. I believe that my opinion has matter. And that's not just Pollyannaism (woo! woo!). I know that people think and consider what they read. But it's simply not a one-to-one ratio, or, as newspapers seemed to think, one-to-one hundred ratio. Just because one person is excited about a movie does not mean that every one their MySpace Friends read the review and automatically decide to go to that movie. 600 excited SOAP fans do not transfer into a $600 million box office. Sorry.

But strangely, that doesn't discourage me. I'll still review movies because: I like reviewing movies. I hope you like reading them. But it doesn't bother me if you see them or not. Just being willing to listen is more than enough for me. I hope it's enough for everyone else, too.

(I didn't mean what I said about your opinion not changing me. Your opinion means a lot to me. To prove this to you, here's a parting gift before you go. No, really, I want you to have it. It was nothing, don't worry about it. C'mon, click on it, open it up.)

Also, this:

Now go get 'em, tiger.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Snakes on a Wikipedia.

I found out on Wikipedia that the "snakes released in a theater story" was reported incorrectly, and that the rattlesnakes just "found" there way into the movie theater.

Huh. It sounds like a cover-up. But why on earth would someone try to cover-up something like that? I sounds like something where those responsible should have been prosecuted. Maybe because they were going to bring the issue to trial, and they were flying in a key witness, and someone just happened to drop a private message off to the prosecutors that those responsible were prepared to do "anything necessary" to make sure that witness never reached L.A. And even though the feds sent a decoy plane and tried to hide the witness on first class of a commercial flight, it's always possible that something could happen en-route. Maybe they'd even leave 450 poisonous snakes in the cargo hold and spray pheromones onto the leis the passengers wear so that it would get into the air-conditioning system of the cabin in order to drive the snakes into a sexual frenzy that would make them attack and kill all the passengers in coach through the oxygen mask doors, particularly those passengers who were rude or morally bankrupt.

Well. Believe what you will. But it's definitely possible.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Screw DVDs. I now have a one-item list.

I've got a new item for my birthday list*:

Snakes on a Sudoku!

Here's a quick quote from the promotional packaging:

"When we said we wanted to combine the excitement of Snakes on a Plane with the intellectual stimulation of sudoku, everyone said we were crazy. Well, who’s crazy now? We totally took regular sudoku puzzles, got rid of those safe 3-by-3 squares, and replaced them with deadly snakes. There are over 1,500 snakes in this book, and Agent Flynn isn’t here to help you. Are you ready for the challenge?"

I'm going to have the best birthday ever.

* September 8th. Mark your calendars. I'm turning 23. The big one.

This isn't the first time that Xena's broken my heart.

I know everyone's upset about Pluto - believe me, I am too - but doesn't anyone besides me find a lot of the hubbub about it a little... funny? This is an excerpt straight out of The L.A. Times:

..."I feel like something's missing," said Micaela Chambers, 39, of Granada Hills as she played with her son outside the science center. Tombaugh said she too was disappointed. "But they had to get that mess straightened out. There's too many planets."

Though Pluto's taxonomy had always been a point of contention among scientists, it was Brown's discovery last year of UB313, which he nicknamed Xena, that forced the IAU's hand. That's because Xena was at least as large as Pluto, and possibly larger. If Pluto was a planet, how could Xena be denied?

As unpopular as the vote may be, it was the only reasonable scientific choice, he said. "There are eight really large objects in the solar system," Brown said. "They are special."...

Oh, Xena. Look at this mess you've made. Can't you see what you've ruined?

I mean, I just don't think this'll ever be the same - I just want them back like they used to be. When we were all together and happy and no one ever had to go to special "meetings" to decide what would happen to us.

You don't think Pluto had it hard enough already? Poor kid was running a whole different orbit than the rest of us. We barely saw him. Fell in with this new crowd we'd never seen before - he said they understood him better, that they were "more like him" than we were, that we wouldn't understand. Charon went with him, of course, the little guy follows him everywhere.

But now he's gone. I guess he's gone for good.

It's a good thing I had my feet up.

This strikes pure, unadulterated terror into my heart.

"Two live diamondback rattlesnakes were released in an Arizona movie theater during a showing of the new film 'Snakes on a Plane,' " reports the Internet Broadcasting System:

Authorities said pranksters released the young venomous rattlesnakes in a dark theater at the AMC Desert Ridge near Tatum and Loop 101 in Phoenix.

The two snakes caused a panic in the dark theater, according to the report.

"That to me is very scary," herpetological association representative Tom Whiting said. "I would hate to be watching a movie about snakes and have a rattlesnake bite me."

Why couldn't they have been more considerate and released them in the theater showing "Barnyard: The Original Party Animal" instead?

He makes a good point. Except, of course, for the fact that there are children at "Barnyard: The Original Party Animal!" Go ahead guys, release live snakes into a theatre full of kids!

I'm horrified, and yet, deep deep down there's a part of me that goes, "y'know, that's actually kind of a funny idea."

Oh, don't make that face at me! I said it was "deep deep down." I would never do something like...

y'know, if they made a sequel...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to keep reading.

This is a long post that became a very long post, which in turn became a dissertation of a post, which in turn became a number of smaller but still sizeable posts. This is the introduction to the introduction of those posts, and so I'm sure you're tempted to stop right here rather than read further. But you can't. You can't stop.

I've been developing this theory for quite a while. I feel that it's finally time to unveil it.

This could change everything.

The Introduction of the Theory

Or, I could make scathing remarks about famous people, too, if you'd give me half a chance.
There are a lot of film critics in America today. Every major newspaper and magazine has at least one or two, sometimes more than that in order to offset the huge amount of films released by Hollywood each week. These critics are very individualistic, but they have a huge number of similarities: They've seen a lot of movies, and a lot of "films." They know their François Truffaut from their Jean-Luc Godard, their Apocalypse Now from their Full Metal Jacket. They know why City Lights is the greatest of Chaplin's works. They make scathing remarks about the decline of Orson Welles. These people either really know their stuff or are desperately pretending that they do. These people have strong opinions.

But they also all have the same opinions, and I find this a little strange. When a movie comes out, virtually all critics will be united in their opinion of it, a seething mass of cynicism and revulsion, or an applauding crowd of laud, glory, and gold stars. You've probably seen this, and so you know: these people think alike. That's why people refer to "the critics" as a group that seems to combine the worst elements of 1984 and Communist Russia.

On one level, of course they do. These people are intelligent, thoughtful people who love movies, and naturally they will each, individually, appreciate good filmmaking and denounce poor workmanship. So there's a logic behind their solidarity. But each of these critics have a similar thread to their reviews that doesn't follow this pattern, that in fact completely belies this: the pattern of the Free Film.

Keep reading. I'll explain. It gets more fun as it goes. But first, we have to get technical.

FAQ: A Free Film?

Or, I guess maybe I just couldn't think up a better name for my theory, but now it's too late to change it. So I'm stuck with it. Shut up and deal.
The Free Film Theory goes like this: a writer's critique of a film is based not merely on the writer's impression of the movie, but on the writer's past critique of the director/writer/actors involved in the film in inverse relation to the general popularity of those films.

Let me explain.

Suppose that one of the summer's big blockbusters is a unexciting messy windbag clunker of a film (if your imaginations are that good). The critic who sees this movie loathes it on sight, and reviews the movie accordingly. But where they place the blame for this failure is based not on whether the direction was awkward, or if the acting choppy and wooden, or the special effects garish and unconvincing. The blame is placed on the person they most feel should bear a little more blame, shielding the people the critics find deserving. How do they decide which is which? Funny you should ask. These decisions are decided mostly by the box-office results of the movies that critics either panned or praised the last time these actors/directors/writers were around. Really.

I'm sure you're doubting me, but keep reading and I'll give you an idea of how all this works.

The Da Vinci Quandry: How being a waifish French actress can get you through anything.

Or, how you know when it's time to stop picking on Academy Award winners.
The Da Vinci Code arrived this summer to absolutely no critical acclaim whatsoever, as critics across the nation grabbed pitchforks and lit torches with a ferocity no one had seen since, well, The Passion of the Christ. But when it came time to point the finger at someone for the troubling lack of excitement in the film, the critics instead spent the last half of their articles lauding director Ron Howard for his "good instincts." They called him a "maestro," applauding the way he "keeps the narrative taut," and mentioning how solid all filmmaking is when it's in his hands. The reviews that ripped Code the hardest didn't even mention Howard's involvement in the film, which seems a fairly large oversight considering he was the one who directed it.

Stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou also faired reasonably well, as reviews generally referred to Hanks as "sympathetic," "funny," and "immensely watchable," and a good half of them reminded everyone that Hanks is our "most likeable actor." Tatou, the world's most marketable French actress, struggles with her English throughout the film and elicts not a scrap of chemistry with Hanks, an actor capable of having fantastic chemistry with virtually all actresses, most actors, and some dogs. Yet most reviews compliment her excellent screen presence in a "difficult role." In the end of it, about four out of five reviewers pan the movie without ever really placing blame anywhere except on the mediocrity of Dan Brown's writing style. Which really, when you think about it, shouldn't have that much effect on a screenplay.

What gives?

Follow me down the rabbit hole. In 2002, Ron Howard won the Best Director Oscar for his work on A Beautiful Mind, defeating Robert Altman, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch. Critics went ballistic, calling Howard a hack and poking fun at everything about him, from the fact that he used to be "Opie" to the fact that he's bald. They reminded readers that this was the same director who made How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and EDtv, and that it was an insult to the Academy to make Howard "Best Director." Years later, they would still bring it up in articles when they got the chance.

But then Howard disappeared for a few years, and when he appeared again with The Missing, no one went to see it, even though it got mediocre to decent reviews. And critics started to feel a little bad. That maybe they'd worked so hard to push him off his pedestal that he'd never get up again. A few years later, Cinderella Man came out. Critics lauded it to the heavens, mentioning what heart Howard had as a director, and reminding everyone that this was they guy who made Apollo 13. But still, hardly anyone went to see it.

So when The Da Vinci Code finally came out, critics pulled all their punches and looked for other targets. But they couldn't blame the actors, either, for the same reasons. Hanks was the man that they'd slagged years earlier when he was up for his third "Best Actor" prize at the 2001 Academy Awards. They'd called him "undeserving," and tried to sway the vote the other way, even though it was clear that his work on Cast Away qualified him for the award. The problem wasn't that he didn't deserve it, rather the critics were loathe to award him a third prize, since that make him the only actor ever to have acquired that many, and they "weren't ready to declare him the greatest actor of all time." And so Russell Crowe won instead. And the critics felt guilty. And Hanks has been given a free pass ever since.

In the same way, no critic was ready to ridicule Tatou since they'd already spent so much of their time trying to get people to go see her other movies (over 75% of reviews written mentioned that Tatou was excellent in Amélie). So every reviewer was left with the hating the collective whole while praising the sum of its parts. An unusual review, to be sure.

So let's break this down: Ron Howard won the Best Director Oscar, which put him in the doghouse with critics because that meant that the general public had a better opinion of him than the critics thought they should. But when he started releasing movies to no public acclaim, critics began to raise their voices in support of him, thinking he'd sunk too far (which is why Cinderella Man got much better reviews on DVD than in theatres - not that the film was any better, but rather that not enough people had gone to see it). And so when he released a movie that the critics hated, he got a free pass. The Da Vinci Code was his Free Film.

Where Howard goes from here is tricky, though. If he makes an excellent film as his next film, critics will swoon and mention how "revitalized" he is after the mess of Da Vinci. But if he makes another clunker - or, worse, a Da Vinci sequel - he'll be in trouble. Because he's already used his free film.

Next up: the flip side.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Getting Technical: Why do funny when you could be intense?

Or, Robin Williams plays a most dangerous game.
Robin Williams will likely never again be a critic's favorite, and here's why: they've never really forgiven him for Patch Adams. It's true. You can actually see critic's opinion of Williams tail off since Adams was released in 1998, though in some cases it wasn't that high to begin with. But Adams is the real dividing line. And as a result, he rarely gets a Free Film. Why? Because it was his Free Film.
Let's review the critical commentary on William's work since 1998. Pay attention to its gradual pattern:
  • Patch Adams: The movie is so generally disdained by critics that it received a 25% rating at (which lumps all movie reviews together in one place, and calculates the positive versus the negative. Anything over 60% is considered good), and they could only find a few good reviews to put up there. Of the first two, one is from Compuserve, and the other is in Spanish. Not a good sign. But Williams is rarely blamed for it. Instead, they blame whoever else is available (especially director Tom Shadyac, which is why he never gets credit for the success of Bruce Almighty). Most reviews read like this: "Instead of drama, Patch Adams gives us mere iconography, and wastes Williams's iconoclastic dedicated doc." Williams is mostly still on good terms.
  • Jakob the Liar: A 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and even less happy reviews. However, the tone of these have changed. While one had to hunt for bad reviews of Williams before, this time they were much easier to find: "Williams' self-conscious and rather bland performance never comes close to bringing his character to life." And things continue to decend:
  • Bicentennial Man: Slightly better reviews and a 38% rating, but times get tougher for Williams. "Robin Williams is a talented man in danger of becoming a habitual hack," notes one of the reviews. Most of the other reviewers seem to think he's already there.
  • One Hour Photo: This one is key. Pay attention. An 81% rating, and general love from all the critics. But listen to the tone of the reviews. Nothing is mentioned without reference to another Williams movie. "Robin Williams has thankfully ditched the saccharine sentimentality of Bicentennial Man in favour of an altogether darker side," notes one. That's not a glowing expression of approval. The pattern's starting to emerge, but we'll need some more sources.
  • Death to Smoochy: Once again, a low opinion of the movie from critics: a 39% rating. But Williams is spared, because . But even while spared, there's a snarky factor to it: "It is so refreshing to see Robin Williams turn 180 degrees from the string of insultingly innocuous and sappy fiascoes he's been making for the last several years," notes a reviewer. So even when they like Williams in a particular film, they don't like him in general. But he's been playing their game for a couple years now, doing edgier, more serious fare. So if he makes a good film, they might welcome him in with open arms. Right?
  • Insomnia: 91% rating. Bingo. Reviews for Williams go something like this: "Standing toe-to-toe with Pacino, Williams reminds us of the humanity that he has brought to his finest roles in films like The Fisher King or Good Will Hunting." What's that? No mention of Bicentennial Man? So it seems Williams has finally been welcomed back in with open arms. As long as he keeps on this trail, they'll stick by him. But the pattern becomes clearer at this point, because of course he doesn't.
  • Robots: Williams didn't do too much for a couple years, and then reappeared with Robots, which garnered a solid 62% rating for it's excellent visual appeal, and pretty much nothing else. Hidden in these reviews are little hints and jabs at Williams, a signal that he should be careful: " Mr. Williams provokes a few chortles... but with Mr. Williams, less is so often more." This is not a problem yet. But this is a warning flag. So logically, if his next film is more serious and intense, he'll be forgiven. But if he goes the the other way...
  • RV: 22% rating on what is an arguably fun but definitely stupid family comedy. And Williams is burned at the stake. "Williams' appearance in this film is the biggest casting faux pas since Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Kevin Costner in almost anything he does," reads one review. Williams is back in the doghouse, and the critics, twice burned, hit him a little harder. Probably not what Williams was hoping for.
So, here's the pattern - Williams makes a movie that the critics despise. This is a strike against him. But then he doesn't learn his lesson. The first movie's successful, and then he does another movie like it, and another movie like that again. The critics are enflamed, each time ridiculing him harder and harder for having the audacity to make family-friendly cheesy comedy-dramas. Why won't he learn?

But he comes around. He switches gears again, goes back to the sort of movies that critics really love, and they gradually welcome him back into the fold. Because he's playing on their turf again. But when he switches again - well... it doesn't take much for them to turn on him.

Now, to make this example a little clearer, let me show you the other pattern working around through these films: their box-office numbers.
Patch Adams: $135 million (budget: $90 million)
Jakob the Liar: $5 million ($45 million)
Bicentennial Man: $58 million ($100 million)
One Hour Photo: $31 million ($12 million)
Death to Smoochy: $8 million ($50 million)
Insomnia: $67 million ($46 million)
Robots: $128 million ($75 million)
RV: 71 million ($50 million)
5 of those 8 films made money, which is not a bad average in Hollywood: Patch Adams, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, Robots, and RV. Of those, lets take out the three movies out that the critics actually liked - people going to see movies that critics liked doesn't faze them, they naturally assume that if they say a movie is good, people will go see it. So solid returns on a film with solid reviews is unsurprising to them - it's just as they thought it should be.

But when a movie that a reviewer has lambasted ends up making money, it ends up causing a stir. A critic takes it personally when a movie he or she has considered unworthy ends up winning over a large portion of the American viewing public. Clearly, the public needs to be taught a lesson or two.

Bring in Patch Adams and RV. The trouble with those films is not that critics hated them. It's that they made money even though critics hated them. That's a pretty cardinal rule for getting in on their bad side. And so their bitterness for this makes them dig deeper into Williams in Jakob the Liar and Bicentennial Man than they normally would've. Which bodes not well for Williams.

Next year Williams will voice a penguin in Happy Feet, try on being a Jon Stewart-type on Man of the Year, and play Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum. And he has no idea how much trouble he's in.

Here's what the critics will say: On Happy Feet, they'll talk about how Williams hyperactivity makes them long for the solemness of March of the Penguins. When Man of the Year comes out, they'll talk about his less-than-slick comic stylings make them long for the slyness of Stewart and Colbert. And they'll snicker that his pure gonzo manic energy drains all enjoyment from Night at the Museum. They'll call him "tiresome," "aggravating," maybe even "washed-up" if they're feeling particularly vicious.

I guess that'll teach him. The lesson: never make something the whole family can enjoy.

Summing Up: Ryan Gosling's Startling Turn of Affairs

Or, how the exception proves the rule.
Now, I'd previously pointed out how being successful with a movie that critics loathe is a bad idea if you want to get good reviews in the future. Here's the exception to that: the critic's re-think.

The Notebook premiered in 2004 to middling reviews. While a few critics said they liked it despite the schmaltz, most dismissed it as a mediocre piece of craftsmanship. Tellingly, they dismissed the two romantic leads, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, in an offhand fashion. "They make a nice couple," said one reviewer, who couldn't seem to be bothered to mention any more about it. Most reviews spent their time focusing their time on how much they hated Nick Cassavetes' direction.

But then The Notebook hit, huge. It made $81 million over the waning months of the summer (it's budget was a mere $29 million, which is tiny for a studio picture), and it quickly reached cult status before it even reached DVD release.

According to the Free Film theory, this should have been a bad sign for both McAdams and Gosling. But fortunately for them, the success of the movie didn't harden the critics against them, but instead made them feel like they might have missed the boat.

When each of the actors made smart choices on their next films, the critics welcomed them in with open arms. McAdams saddled herself with the right sex comedy, Wedding Crashers, which went well out of its way to make sure that audiences noticed the caliber of actress they had in the lead. She followed with the unremarkable thriller Red Eye, but by that time, the critics had already welcomed her in. "She's got that indefinable something extra," cooed one.
"Most of the credit goes to her," announced another. Even Roger Ebert got into the act. "She brings more presence and credibility to her role than is really expected;" he says, swooning.
"She acts without betraying the slightest awareness that she’s inside a genre." He goes on to theorize that the reason for this may be because she's Canadian. So that's why we missed her!

Gosling's rise is even headier. If you watch the excellent trailer for the Next Great Indie Hope, Half Nelson, you may be a little surprised. "A tour de force by the brilliant Gosling, surely one of our greatest young actors?" "Ryan Gosling gives an astonishing performance," "Gosling is one of the most exciting actors of his generation?" Who said that? What? The New York Times? I'm sorry, but I'd completely missed what happened here. Isn't this just a mid-twenties B-list celeb with a penchant for doing indie flicks?


Gosling was the hidden star of the Notebook, but he didn't use that pull to push himself out of the world of intense indie dramas. For that, the critics love him. Adore him. Gosling would have to take a couple pretty big steps out of that world for those critics to leave him now. He played the hand dealt him perfectly - he didn't jump from the notebook to the next big blockbuster that came along. He instead went for the next big indie vehicle that fit his style. He'll never need a Free Film. His movies will always get good reviews (when was the last time you saw a Stand and Deliver-type movie get an 87% rating? Granted it is, quite literally, Stand and Deliver on crack). These guys are always going to be rooting for him.

And that, sports fans, is how you keep those pesky critics on your side.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

A Three-Dollar Review

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of those movies with so many levels of irony built into it that you can't even begin to really fathom where the edge of believability ends and deliberate cynicism begins. The trick is this: Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is narrating this story about himself and his partner, Perry, the gay detective (Val Kilmer). But he's not narrating it in the traditional sense, his character is well aware of the fact that he's narrating a movie, and responds accordingly. Early parts of the film jump around a bit, there's a sardonic edge to every bit of information that Harry releases, and there's the constant sense that what you're watching is a movie, and thus shouldn't be taken too seriously.

To add further layers of irony, the movie is good - so good, in fact, that one falls helplessly into its trap, as each twist and turn brings you further in, and you keep believing, even as things get less and less believable, because the movie is actually much better than the movies it's parodying.

The reason for that is that the writer/director of the film, Shane Black, actually wrote those movies that he's parodying. He's the guy who wrote all the Lethal Weapon movies, and Last Kiss Goodnight. But he's so self-effacing that he's capable of brilliantly lampooning all the action movie cliches that he himself created. Though we shouldn't be suprised, he also wrote Last Action Hero - you know, the one where the kid goes into the Schwartzenegger movie - so he's already entrenched in the knowledge of what makes a successful parody.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is thrillingly fast-paced, uniquely funny, and capable of so indiscernably not taking itself to seriously that sometimes you barely notice it's a farce. Bravo.

Three-Dollar Value: $2.58

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Red Sox are damn near finished.

I'm so glad I didn't watch the Red Sox series this weekend. It would've just broken my heart. Instead, it just deeply depresses me. I don't even know if I want to put forth the old "Minnesota and Chicago are going to play each other a lot over the next month and a half, that leaves us an open door to get back in this" theory. In fact, I don't.

In lighter news, I'm sure that there's a joke about the connection between the lovely Sasha Cohen and the not-quite-as-attractive Sacha Cohen, but I don't know what it is.


On a similarly egotistical note, I just discovered I am now on IMDB. This is actually not as exciting as it sounds. But you can still check it out, as well as the film I'm connected to, "Stolen Moments."

By the way, the one review of "Stolen Moments" that's up is actually mine.

This is actually the smallest amount of power to ever go to someone's head.

So I received a nifty piece of mail the other day. The actual contents were not that cool, but the address was memorable:

Ben Wyman
Ten-Four Good Buddy Films
20 Hermsdorf Ave.
Goffstown NH 03045-2001

I don't know where they got that from, or how they found me. But believe me, it made an impression. I was absolutely thrilled. In fact, from now on I'm insisting that all mail sent to me feature that title. It does wonders for my self-esteem, though I think I'm the only person who feels that needs boosting.

I've already set up my Netflix to send me all my mail this way.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Review: Snakes On A Plane (2006)

It's never wise to start a movie review with "I went into the movie with really low expectations and then this movie blew them out of the water!" But it's true. Except the movie blew my low expectations out of the water by being even worse than it actually was. Which was awesome. Let me explain.

Snakes on a Plane (or SOAP, as I shall call it for the rest of the post) is a movie so awful that it attracted a huge amount of publicity and attention for it's utterly hokey B-movie status - months and months before it came out. Word leaked out that Samuel L. Jackson had done a movie named "Snakes on a Plane," and that he only agreed to do the movie because it was named that. When he arrived at shooting to discover they'd renamed it "Flight 121" or something like that, he'd immediately called up the producers and explained "the only reason I'm doing this movie is because it's called 'Snakes on a Plane.' Change it back."

Flash-forward. After shooting the movie, the producers are disappointed. It's not edgy enough. Jackson, reminding everyone that he suggested this earlier, pushes for making the film into an R-rated gorefest during reshoots. Maybe people could die in gross and disgusting ways, such as having their eyes eaten out by snakes, or snakes chomping on their genitalia. Done and done.

They also held a SOAP fan contest to pick a line of dialogue to add to the movie. The winner: "I want these motherf---ing snakes off this motherf---ing plane!" All movies should have this contest. Think of the possibilities.

If you know me at all, you a) already knew all this information, because I'd told you. Multiple times. And b) you knew no one could possibly be as excited for this movie as I was. But you were wrong. Because everybody at my theatre was wildly enthusiastic for this movie. Far more so than I was.

I've never had a movie - not even opening night at a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movie - that generated this much excitement in the theatre. We burst spontaneously into applause at various points in the movie (such as "we need to form a barrier between us and the snakes!"). People made fun of the movie to each other out loud, no matter how far down the row they had to talk - heck, people shouted stuff across the theatre at each other. When Jackson dropped the line, people applauded wildly, yelled encouragement, and threw rubber snakes at the screen. It was mayhem. It was awesome.

I can't review the actual movie seriously - no one can. Samuel Jackson thought that the only people who should be allowed to review this movie should be 13-year-old boys, and he's probably right. He was right about everything else. It's safe to say this, though: I've never had more fun in any movie theatre, ever (don't snicker. We don't all have to be 13-year-old boys here. Pervert.), even though I was spent half the movie trying not to cover my eyes from the low-rent but extremely disturbing computer-generated serpentine violence ("my God, it's got him in the penis!"), I spent the other half laughing my head off. It was so worth it.

Rating: I have absolutely no idea. Four stars out of five. Why not.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I'm not ashamed.

Far be it from me to use this blog as a place for self-promotion (I'm sure this will besmirch a previously unblemished record in your mind), I'd like you - and I mean you, dear reader and friend - to help me win a free iPod.

All you do is click on the link, sign up for one of the promotions, and I get some credit. And then you, in turn, can start working on trying to get your own free iPod/Laptop/Gift Card/etc.

I'm familiar with scams, I really am, and I've gotten fooled a couple times, but I'm pretty sure this one is really legit. You can judge for yourself.

I personally recommend Netflix - you can cancel after the 14 days without penalty, so the whole deal is free, plus you get to watch a bunch of hard-to-find movies in the meantime. You know you've always wanted to. And, if your family has a group plan and you're tired of your picks getting pushed down the queue, you can do the trial and get all the movies you want. For a change.

Go ahead. Click the link.

Leonard Nimoy - The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

This takes Shatner's "Rocket Man" and completely blows it out of the water. Is there any celebrity more one-dimensional than Nimoy? Imagine him trying to scrape out a career without playing Spock. No one's benefitted more from prosthetic ears since, with the possible exception of Orlando Bloom.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Just so you know.

I got the call this morning. TWUMC is going to fly me in next week to visit their church in Houston, see their media department and their new youth addition, and scope me out. If all goes well on both sides, they'll offer me the job - and, barring any surprises on my part, I'll take it.

Just so you know.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gay Marriage and the Like

Queue has calmly and logically stated her opinion on the church and gay marriage, and I find it remarkably parallel to my own. I'd always thought about putting a long and emotional post here about the subject, but I like her style of bullet points much better.

This is part of a larger beef of mine, that all moral and environmental issues have become the property of political parties and no longer reside in the realm of private opinion. Abortion. Global warming. Separation of church and state. Prayer in schools. People argue - persuasively - for their viewpoints, but their viewpoints are always the same. Few Democrats will voice an opinion to overturn Roe V. Wade. An occasional Republican announces how inspired he was by "An Inconvenient Truth." But it's rare, it's incredibly rare.

I know that everyone holds pretty tight to their convictions, and firmly believes that they arrived at these choices through their own decisions. But the fact remains that pretty much everyone in America falls into one of two groups on all of these issues.

If we all really arrived at our own moral conclusions, there's no way that would be possible.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What Does It Mean to Fall out of Love?

I have an agenda on this question, I'll admit, just not an emotional one. I've been talking to some friends of mine who are on completely different pages with this question, and I realized that the answer to this question may not be the same for different people. Or there may be a right answer, but I just don't know it. And I'd like to, I'd really like to.

What does it mean to fall out of love with someone?

Seriously, what does that entail? Is it easy to do, or impossible? Is love just an emotion? Is it just a decision? Is it more than just feeling something until you commit to it forever?

What's the difference between loving your best friend and loving your wife? What's the difference between falling out of love with your wife and falling out of love with your girlfriend? And what's the difference between falling out of love with your girlfriend and falling out of love with Wendy's new Chicken Sandwich? Are these differences night-and-day or shades of gray? How many of these can you fall out of love with?

And can you fall out of love with God?

Monday, August 07, 2006

They Found Laura!

Here's a post to the story on FindLaura.Org. Not much is known too much yet other than she was living and working in Florida, which I guess makes some sense since the Mackenzie's have family down there.

One way or another, she's found! I'm thrilled about this since it's been weighing on my heart the last few months, as the Mackenzie's have been going through so much with Laura missing for... exactly 5 months, and their son Lloyd sent to Iraq two weeks after the fact.

I know it sounds silly to say this now, but I've always felt that she was alive, though there wasn't much proof or hope in that fact. I just always thought she was out there somewhere, hiding, and that eventually she'd be found. I don't know if it was any more than this damn unsinkable human buoyancy that we all posess, even the more pessimistic of us.

There's something in us that believes that there can always be a happy ending, that the white knight really will slay the dragon. And I'm glad it's not just Pollyannaism. I'm glad that sometimes our faith is justified, that our prayers and dreams meant something. It's what makes a sanguine life worth living.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Mackenzie family. I'm glad she's coming home.