31 December 2009

Top 15 Films of the Millennium, Part II

Welcome back to final entry of the Decade, the TOP #7 - #1 FILMS OF THE MILLENNIUM. Now before we get into that, I want to take a moment and acknowledge a few films that I could never in good conscience place on any sort of critically good list but nevertheless give me an immense amount of personal satisfaction. These are mostly guilty pleasures for sure, but there's definitely some legitimacy to a handful. I will never fail to catch these on television and when I do, probably get a lot more enjoyment than some of the films on the official list. Here are my Top 15 Personal Favourites, in absolutely no order:

1. Beerfest (2006)
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
3. Grandma's Boy (2006)
4. Jackass Number Two (2006)
5. Dude, Where's my Car? (2000)
6. Snatch (2000)
7. Saving Silverman (2001)
8. Super Troopers (2001)
9. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
10. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
11. Eurotrip (2004)
12. Waiting...(2005)
13. Pineapple Express (2008)
14. Funny People (2009)
15. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Now with that out of the way, let's get into the Top 7:

#7- Gladiator (2000)

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson

One of the first truly epic movies of the Millennium, Gladiator is full of moments both gradiose and intricate. Joaquin is in prime Bitch Mode and Russell fights around the world. That premise alone should elevate this movie to some lofty heights, but it's also about the excess and corruption of an empire, the love of a family and a man whose life suddenly transgresses from many purposes to one. Maximus is the man thoroughly and consistently, and lives only for personal righteous revenge, though a revenge that also proves to serve his empire and the honour it once held. He fights to regain this diginity of both himself and all of Rome that has been cast in the shadow of Bitch Commodus. It's pretty awesome, and whenever I get hammered I still end up quoting it today.

#6- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Directed by: Larry Charles
Written by: Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer and Todd Phillips

Absolutely offensive and jaw-dropping in every moment, Borat signaled a great moment in our comedic history. Infinitely quotable and racist, there was hardly a comedy this year that made me think or laugh more in theaters. Beyond the ignorance and racism it elicits from everyday Americans, the superficial "point" of the character, the film also plays with reality and narrative, by the end it's hard to know what exactly was real and faked without prior knowledge that say, for instance Sacha is good friends with Pam Anderson. It ends up being brilliant in its execution while maintaining an extremely high degree of hilarity, commitment to character as well as meaning. Much more so than Bruno.

#5- No Country for Old Men (2007)

Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Nearly any Coen movie should be a strong contender for this list (maybe moreso Burn After Reading [2009] and The Man Who Wasn't There [2001] than Intolerable Cruelty [2003] and The Ladykillers [2004]). No Country gets it for going above and beyond revolutionizing character shield expectations to fit its metanarrative structure, updating the depressing Western and having a near perfectly cast and acted movie. Bardem's performance should go without saying by now as an extremely cunning and methodic artist beneath which lurks a soulless machine whose single purpose is killing. It's the kind of universal force they touched upon in Raising Arizona (1987), but without any of the cheeky Cage humour, which makes their point that much more intense. It's a depressing movie for sure but one that captures the spirit of a genuine American land, but one that we have not conquered yet.

#4- WALL-E (2003)

Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon

Clearly the cutest movie on this list, WALL-E scores for innovations in storytelling (a wordless 40-minute intro through which nothing is miscommunicated), art (the most beautiful wasted Earth as well as Space that you'll ever see) and message (don't fuck up our home and get lazy - always present, never preachy in the film). Pixar's second entry on this list I know, but this is the superior film, and the best they've ever done. It's a very epic movie without ever feeling like one, part of that is through its humble voice cast (most famous is probably Sigourney Weaver, though unrecognizeable as the ship's Computer), the other part is through its great restraint in the character of WALL-E. He's continually cute and relatable while never being insufferable or unrealistic, which lets you believe and fall in love yourself with this Robot Love Tale. It's this fine line with its characters that Pixar always walks to more (Nemo) or less (Ratatouille [2007]) success, WALL-E hit it perfect.

#3- The Departed (2006)

Directed by: Marty Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan

Scorsese's best film of the Decade, and maybe his career (probably not), The Departed is one of the very few instant classic films of the Millennium. Every moment is awesome. Baldwin loving the Patriot Act and then fighting his own incompetant asses, Wahlberg chews every word like a strip of prime bacon in his gums. Damon, DiCup, Sheener. That chick from Up in the Air (2009). Then Nicholson and Winstone acting like the sleeziest murderers this side of Gotham. Nicholson especially is just the epitome of bad taste, putresance and ruthlessness (making sexual advances on nuns, sitting in bars just drawing big-tittied women). There was no better cast movie this Decade than The Departed. The entire film is based in sequence rather than scene, an element Marty toyed with and used very well in Goodfellas (1990) but goes nuts with here. I know its a remake and whatever, I haven't seen the North Korean version and I never will, fuck that. The simple fact that when thinking about reviewing this in a paragraph I can think of ten sequences off the top of my head that are awesome enough to elevate it to a level beyond anyone else should serve my purpose. Let's settle with this one and call it a morning.

#2- There Will Be Blood (2007)

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

This film is by every standard a masterpiece. The layers are extremely complex, some of which may be debated here, my favourite being the discussion of the Third Relevation. Much more importantly, though, this movie lead to one of the most popular catch-phrases of the decade, "I drink your milkshake!" which of course gave us SNL sketches like the one above. Lovely. Frankly, that's the only criteria I'm concerned with enough to grant this film the #2 spot. Also Danny Day-Lewis is ok I guess. Tempted to see what Bill Hader could have done with the role.

#1: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Directed by: Pete Jackson
Written by:
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Pete Jackson

I really decided to just cop out on this one, actually. RotK is good, sure, but why is it the best film of the Decade? Mostly because nearly everything about it is technically perfect. It represents a film achievement unlike anything that had come before it (not unlike AVABAR [2009] really, but I've got my own feelings I shall soon share on the stupidness of AVABAR). I feel like it's been ignored on a lot of critics lists actually, so my choice might end up being controversial. Good. RotK is simply put, pretty fucking awesome. It's totally epic, but always classy and completely immersed in its own world. It's consistent, powerful and archetypal. Everything about it lines up correctly, from the tastefully utilized CGI to the fulfilling grand battle where everything about their world comes at stake. You never feel lost among the dozens upon dozens of characters and it wisely skips the shoddy "Saruman's Revenge" ending of the novel. It's important because it goes above and beyond its source material, influenced a ton of contemporary film makers, won an unprecedented (kindof) amount of awards and pointed the Decade in the direction it needed to go. It's also my way of summing up what the entire Lord of the Rings series meant for cinema during the early parts of the decade, and how good the totality of the three films really is. Now lets go get some milkshakes.

As a parting gift, I realise that I rely on this site far too much for good links, but it happens to have a handy pathway to many many other critic's lists, which is pretty neat. Check it out.

28 December 2009

Top 15 Films of the Millennium, Part I

Well my friends, it has been a long time coming now, but as the decade finally closes I present to you, the TOP 15 FILMS OF THE MILLENNIUM. Now, I should preface this list with a few quick notes: There's a ton of internet lists like this around this time of the Decade, most like this will get real real obscure, which may have some merit, but it's not quite my style to brag about a ton of films no one has ever seen (I will give The Playlist credit for making Anchorman #10 for 2004). That's not the best to me, it's necessary to incorporate some kind of cultural influence along with critical success along with personal enjoyment. There's a good amount of my own bias here, which is inherent to any list. Most critics seem to be too pretentious to admit this, but there is no "Official Best" list. Ever. I tried to simultaneously make this list have some obvious choices (there's reasons they should be obvious), along with a few curveballs, as usual.

Before we begin I wanted to present some other site's lists for a second. This is pretty all-encompassing with some absolutely bizarre selections in the Top 10 (Bourne Ultimatum [2007] and Team America [2004]? Really?). This from AP Critics is awful, who the hell knows what films they're talking about, but some picks are spot-on. Of all I've seen I probably like this one the best, its Top Ten is solid, although I wouldn't have placed any of them in that order. By far. Finally, I want to bring attention to this article, which does a phenomenally better job at discussing what I wanted to talk about here.

With that all said, let's get into THE LIST. For Part I I'll cover #15 - #8:

#15- The Dark Knight (2008)

Directed by: Chris Nolan
Written by: Chris and Jon Nolan and Dave Goyer

I didn't really want to rank the greatest Comic Book Movie of all time higher than this but it needs a spot on this list. It's one of the few instantly iconic films of this decade, resonant, thought-provoking and relevant. All from the genre that brought you Wolverine (2009). The Dark Knight proved that comic book movies could be good, if not excellent. Ledger's spectacular performance overshadows equally adept turns by Oldman, Eckhart and Caine but is truly mesmerizing. In terms of critical, commercial and cultural success, The Dark Knight exceeds most other films on this list, my personal anger over its lack of perfection and over-reliance on coincidence and massively strategic behavioural planning and management (looking at you, Heath. Of course to truly examine the Joker's possible series of Plan B's is probably due for another post) brings it down just slightly to only be at #15.

#14- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Directed by: Mike Gondry
Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Gondry and Kaufman, individual innovators, together produced one of the most originally intriguing films of this decade. It's a perfect look at a relationship in reverse with a great discussion of inevitability, science and love. The destinial love aspect is less forced than Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and a non-manic (for the most part) Jim Carrey is a delight. Winslet used this movie to prove she's not just that naked chick from Titanic (1997) while Elijah did some pretty cool non-Frodo stuff. It's a great film that shows that science can't fight love. I dig that.

#13- Gran Torino (2008)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Nick Schenk

Clint has had some great entries to the Decade Catalogue but Torino is by far his best. There is a certain amount of class throughout all his films, a way he demands respect and honour from his audience. Mostly I guess because we're all scared of Clint Eastwood and that is very apparent in this film. I already called Walt one of our greatest heroes, but in a world full of Disaster Movies(2008) and Squeakquels it was so refreshing to see this full of dignity and disgust for an idle generation. It's incredibly well scripted and acted, if not with its own problems.

#12- Memento (2000)

Directed by: Chris Nolan
Written by: Chris Nolan

Chris Nolan's second film in four spots, but it's worth it. Memento is one of the first total mind-fuck films I ever saw, and is one that grows with repeated viewings and a more rewarding good-twist ending than something like The Usual Suspects (1995). It will always be notable for being the backwards movie that turned out to actually be good, along with some statement about how much we trick ourselves into leading the lives that fulfill us instead of lives of truth. Interesting shit that is really about the false interpretation of facts and the simple notion that this world is very subjective. Loses some points for obviously being inspired by this Seinfeld episode. Truly could have used more Lollipop jokes.

#11- Almost Famous (2000)

Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe

What does Rock and Roll mean? Well, who the hell knows but this film comes as close to any to answering that question. Is the greatest music in the history of time really about anything significant or is it really just chicks and drugs? Probably a little bit of both, but the film is full of these outrageous scenes along with intimate moments like the clip above. It's important to realise that despite the artistic contributions of many musicians (and filmmakers), most of their personal lives are absolute shit (as a direct result from the same fuel that drives them to art). It's important to get past mythology and understand that these people are just real human beings, a fact that the rockers do not understand themselves until late in the film. Great job Cam. Also Billy Crudup has the best Rockstar look ever.

#10- District 9 (2009)

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

It's tough to say what the Best Film of 2009 was or what many of the films of 2009 will mean to cinema for the next couple years. I basically wrestled with this film and The Hurt Locker (2009) for a while, but decided that District 9 is the much more important film. This is pretty evident already with the pending deals for films like Panic Attack! (2009). District 9 is a relevant film without being overtly political, it is incredibly well-acted by first time actors, the effects are incredible on a modest budget and the character arcs are strong and determined. I have discussed this film at length here, but needless to say it is a fantastic cultural, critical and physical achievement on both its budget and nature.

#9- Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana

The variety of Ang Lee's career is actually incredible. From Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) to Hulk (2003) to Taking Woodstock (2009), he knows almost no genre and is certainly underrated in general as a director. This is also the second Ledger film on this list, but he probably deserves more. There is so much restrained pain in his performance that rarely finds its way out. He's a man wholly formed by his environment, but whose soul doesn't belong. This movie is difficult to talk about in general however, due to of all the gay stuff. It's a fantastic film by all regards and was robbed of Best Picture, but at the same time it seems awkward inviting over like six dudes on a Saturday night to chill out and watch Brokeback Mountain. It's a tough film about coming to terms with oneself and suffering through a love that's unwanted and completely discouraged in a society. It also spawned a tremendous amount of parody that is still awesome (if not unnerving) to sift through today.

#8- Finding Nemo (2003)

Directed by: Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds

Nemo is one of the most endearing films of this decade. It's adorable while never being cheeky or cutesy, and simple without ever being dumb. It's a fine line that Pixar just nails on this one, and really hadn't pulled off since until Wall-E (2008). It its heart is the relationship between father and son, but it's about much more than that. Trusting your family members to make the best decisions are difficult as is being a safe parent without smothering. The film never really slams you with its metaphors and its story is compact and streamlined. Hank Scorpio does a great voice job and the visuals are beautiful. Top-notch animation in an exciting variety of environments here.

Phew. That's half of the greatest films of the past ten years here. Stay tuned later this week when I reveal #7 - #1!

26 December 2009

First Impressions: Surecock Holmes

A fitting end to this decade and our intro to the next is Surecock Holmes (2009). This is an extremely fun movie with tons of playful 19th-Century action, nefarious Imperialist plots, secret societies and Robert Downey Jr giving his best non-blackface performance in years. The acting and casting is spot-on (although I still don't belive Rachel McAdams in this mature of a role yet), and the plot in general makes sense from one scene to another. I sadly realise that in a post-Transformers world this has become the standard for action fare, that is, a movie becomes good simply if motivations and sequences make sense. In this sense, Sherlock is a great film. Let's continue now a bit deeper, as with all my First Impressions, Spoilers abound and I don't care who reads 'em:

First of all, this was a good movie, but I'm careful not to call it a great one. This reminds me of Star Trek (2009). Star Trek wasn't really a great movie, it certainly has its share of pretty serious flaws (ie how the fuck did Kirk find Spock on Hoth) and deserves no place on this years Best-Of Lists (maybe it does, have you seen the movies this year?). I feel again, simply with a year where the biggest other action fares are Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (2009) that when suddenly a big blockbuster movie has a congruent plot it's one of the greatest movies of all time. This is simply untrue. Sherlock Holmes by its end is formulaic and has little to no innovation on the genre. Is it fun? Sure. It's a lock (ho ho), but neither it nor Star Trek are ultimately that great.

Let's start with the directing. I'll give Guy a lot of credit here in streamlining a movie that could have easily favoured style over substance (looking at you, Zack's Watchmen [2009]) based on his previous directorial efforts (Snatch [2000], RockNRolla [2008]). The super-slowmo creeps in occasionally, but it's almost always to good purpose. The first being Holmes planning on his physical attacks in a best, most effective way to incapacitate an opponent, and then performing said attacks in real-time. This part was actually pretty neat. The sequence is done twice to perfection, I almost would have liked a third time and a Holmes screw up, but the essential message of the film seems to be that Holmes DOES NOT SCREW UP, so I suppose that fits with the theme. The second slowmo is during a big explosion, which is pretty sweet and presents this very real threat of fiery death. Very thrilling to behold.

Let's get right to the core of this piece now, namely, Downey Fucking Junior. I am astounded by this man's current ability to just carry any film he's starring in. He has gotten to a point where he is nailing the devilishly charming smart-alec hero with a heart of gold. You can guess that this will very soon border on parody (for a prior example of this acting phenomenon see Bruce Willis' development into the gruff hungover cop. In five years Downey will play only wry smart-alecks). In Downey's hands Holmes is basically a 19th-Century Tony Stark, but I find I don't have much problem with that. Unparalleled genius in his field, horrendous personal relationships and generally an asshole to all around him. Downey can sell the intellectualism as well as assholery so well however, its a rare actor that could pull of this role.

I enjoyed how this movie wasn't really a "re-boot" or "first adventure" or any other bullshit that it could have easily slipped into. Guy trusts that the audience is generally familiar with a character that has been around for over a Century and instead places us towards the possible end of Holmes and Watson's professional relationship. This along with the "thrown-in" treatment of the opening scenes serves to trust and respect the audience, which I also enjoyed. I'll also mention here the wonderful Jude performance, stark in contrast to Downey's loose, almost spaced-out Holmes.

There were a few themes I noticed that are pretty sweet. Where the story is pretty thin, the characters are strong, and the film is about who Watson and Holmes are more than anything else. There is this sense of intellectual loneliness about Holmes that Downey really sells. You can see this best at the dinner scene, where he is able to ruthlessly analyze Jude Law's fiancée, to which she gets pissed and throws wine in his face. He never really knows when to turn his brain off (also see Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz [2007] yes I went there). There's this place for Holmes at the top of London's intellectual community, and you really get a sense of his frustration with incompetant police chiefs and other members of the Lordship who can't keep up with him. It's tough to be the brightest person in the room, able to see what's wrong with everything else. Holmes doesn't really get a lot of enjoyment out of human interaction, evident from his rare personal relationships and obsession instead with experiments, study and analysis. These kinds of themes are present in a lot of Simpsons episodes (Guess with which character! See "Lisa the Vegetarian" [S7;E5] and "Lisa the Simpson" [S9;E17]). It's a pretty interesting idea.

Spawning off this, there is a bit of debate between the forever battle between Logic and Magic. This is a common Comic Element (see Superman's little-known vulnerability to the inherently chaotic effects of Magic). It's also interesting me to compare to Downey's other major franchise character, Iron Man, whose chief Comic villain is the Mandarin. The Mandarin was set-up precisely to be an adept user of magic that would clash with Tony Stark's faith in machines and techology. This same shit is in Venture Bros, a story arc in New Avengers, the pop culture list is endless. Thus it should be expected that the great logical Holmes should find his villain in the Dark Sorcerer Lord Blackwood. I was relieved at the end that most all of Blackwood's sorcery was reasoned, I think it preserves Holmes' world as one that abides by Holmes rules. This is the same way that the Seinfield universe must abide by Jerry's rules, not the drama of villain Newman. Have I made enough allusions yet?

I think this movie fell apart towards the end. While the opening respects the audience, the ending shameless sets us up a sequel, classic blueballs. It is actually identical to Batman Begins (2005) in how the minor villain is done away with while the iconic one (Moriarty) is set-up with his own sinister intro. Holmes is a fine imitator, but I'll take innovation over imitation. Also the end credits had the exact same principle as Tropic Thunder (2008), which I thought had one of the best of the decade. Again, it's some shameless imitation over innovation. If you've seen Holmes recently, keep that in your mind and then watch this video. It's an uncanny similarity and also amusing that Tropc Thunder looks and is coordinated better.

But with all this in the can, I think it's safe to say that Holmes will carry us into the Tweens well. The Downey Decade is officially underway, and although the plot and structure of Holmes is a mere facisimile of films like Batman Begins, I believe the sardonic and assholish yet incredibly competent hero as typified by Downey is here to stay. Keep watching, my fellow filmlovers, over the next ten years and we will see. Here's to the epic Robert Downey, Jr Lumberjack movie (which you know is a role he can pull off) that will outgross Titanic (1997) by the year 2016. Can't wait.

25 December 2009

Because the Morning Calls For it: Christmas Movies

Good morning boys and girls. Hope you're having a tremendous little morning with piles upon piles of Transformers toys and other charming Hasbro products under your Christmas tree. Whether ye be Christian, Jew or Wiccan or what have you, Christmas morning is a time when all must come together and worship the birth of Santa. Magical time by all. For many families, this necessitates some kind of Christmas Special Viewing, whether it be CBS-funded arbitrary Rudolph mythology creating, commercializing Grinch tunes or 24 hours of A Christmas Story (1983) on TBS the Superstation.

Whatever you watch is pretty important, you're going to have a lot of family over and talking to them beyond a simple "What's up" is going to get awkward and painful. Thus, let us let magical Mother Television fill the void in our holiday. The following are my picks for the greatest Christmas Movies to Watch Instead of Talking to your Family:

#5: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

First of all, the first Home Alone film is probably superior only because it was a uniquely original idea. The sequel is one of the most sequel-y movies of all time. The basic plot is identical, down to the creepy old person that scares, then befriends starchild Kevin McCallister (Shovel-killer neighbor in the first one, Wacky Pidgeon Hobo in the second). It successfully ups the ante in every way, putting this small vulnerable child in the Big City while keeping all the heart of the original. It really adds nothing new to the mythos, but neither does it detract. Pesci and that guy from Bushwhacked (1995) are brilliantly on their game and a movie that could have easily given in to gimmicks and traps retains a lot of the spirit of the original (this kind of shit was exactly why the third and fourth installments failed so miserably). Great movie with a lot of Christmas Spirit, best watched with a cool glass of 12-year Glenfidditch by a light fire.

#4: Die Hard (1988)

By and large the greatest Christmas movie that isn't really focused on Christmas. Perfectly capturing that awkward spirit of Office Christmas parties that are so often interrupted by German terrorists, Die Hard is a landmark action film as well as a well-done Christmas story of family, heroism and helicopter crashes. I've already talked about McClane's immortal line a bit here, but it's really incredible. The sequel works like Home Alone 2, raising all the stakes (this time focusing on troublesome Holiday travel) whilst not losing any of the heart. Adorable. Best enjoyed with minimum 13 Coors Originals. Cans.

#3: ELF (2003)

Elf is the kind of film that every part of is awesome. Infinitely quotable and even more infinitely aired on the USA Network, Elf was Ferrell at his least overexposed and most earnest. Exposing on the proudest of CBS Christmas Traditions, the film is all about the natural expressions of love the Season entails and notes the kind of positivity that should be year-round. Okay, maybe not but it's pretty damn funny. Despite a classic "Dad-works-too-hard" trope the film swings on by its cuteness, honesty and Ferrel's classic man-child naivity. Best enjoyed with spaghetti, Kahlua and syrup served over a smattering of Pop Tarts.

#2: A Christmas Story

Everything about this movie is iconic. The lamp, the bunny pajamas, the swearing. Every moment is pretty legendary, from Scut Farkus to Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra. It's also a great testament to what the true meaning of Christmas really is, getting presents. It's great to notice the little things, like how Ralphie's father is the only one not to warn him he'll poke his eye out, naturally subsequently buying him the air rifle. It's such a perfect movie that captures the spirit of the Season for every kid who ever wanted a gift that would hurt them. It's perfect that Ralphie actually does shoot his eye out, perhaps a grim reminder that our cruel parents probably actually know what they're talking about. Of course if we were to do that we'd never have any dumb fun. This indelible classic is best served with a host of vodka cranberries, pork loin and mashed potatoes.

#1: Bad Santa (2003)

This should be a contender for best movie of the year, if not decade. Maybe. The movie doesn't pull any punches ever and retains a sentimental Christmas message while upholding its laconic ending. It's the redemption of an unredeemable Santa, the best sort of character played brilliantly by Billy Bob Thornton. The kid is pathetic, that chick from the Gilmore Girls is still hot, swearing and inappropiate drinking galore, every part of this movie rules. It's also incredibly hilarious in a dark and troubled way, which gels perfectly with the miserable portions of the Holiday Season. For this film you need to clean out the rest of the liquor cabinet you had left from the other four movies and finish the asses of all the scraps you have leftover. Optional additon of children's cough medicine and flame to round out the evening.

Honourable Mentions: I get a lot of guilty pleasure out of Jingle All the Way (1996), as well as The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs Clause (2002). The most exceptional facet of The Santa Clause movies has got to be its consistent casting. It's absurd. Naturally, the last movie I will mention, probably a strong #6 has got to be National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), which is currently to AMC as Elf is to USA and A Christmas Story is to TBS. Oh wonderful television. Happy Watching everybody!

23 December 2009

The Long Halloween: Christmas

Today is very special day for many people all over the world. Today is the Blessid day of Festivus. As such it is only honourable that we acknowledge it with our year-long look at the greatest holiday television episodes of all time. Naturally, for your Christmas Season, none with do better than Seinfeld's "The Strike" (S9;E10).

"The Strike" is full of both character insight as well as exemplary stories from the four main characters. The title comes from Kramer's end to his longstanding strike against H & H Bagels which finally ended when they started paying $5.35 an hour (the contemporary minimum wage) and let the strikers use their bathroom. It's a great relevation that Kramer once had steady employment, which is simultaneously insignificant because he never really works and is eventually fired for kneading his gum into some bagel dough (which he relishes). Elaine is also supremely slutty, giving fake numbers out to strange men, but then seeking to recover them so she can get a card for a free sub back. It's so hard to summarize Seinfeld episodes, there's so much going on at once. Let's quickly get into the Holiday-ness:

"The Strike" works not necessarily as a great Christmas episode, but better as an episode devoted to all Late December-like Holdiays, Festivus being emplemic of this. There's a quick mention of Chanukah at Tim "Converted-for-the-Jokes" Whatley's place and of course the awkwardness of Office Christmas gift exchanges demonstrated by George's Human Fund Cards. Kruger scenes are an immense pleasure in the final season, quite possibly George's best boss. Jerry is also in classic superficial mode, generally ambivalent towards his break-up with "Two-Face" due to bad lighting on the porch. I always wonder how long Jerry would stretch out that relationship, clearly he's just in it for a lot of fun while she is trying to be serious. By Season 9 that character was down so incredibly well.

Then we get to Festivus itself. It was born through Frank Costanza as a reaction against the frenzied materialism of Christmas as an alternate peace-bringing holiday. Of course the evening ends with the Feats of Strength but that is neither here nor there. His story of the first Festivus is priceless:

Frank: "Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way!"

Kramer: "What happened to the doll?"

Frank: "It was destroyed. But out of that, a new holiday was born. A Festivus for the rest of us!"

Kramer: "That musta been some kind of doll."

Frank: "She was."
Not only does "The Strike" touch upon all the other Holidays (They might have missed Kwanzaa. And Diwali. Maybe I should have picked that one.)but it pretty clearly outlines its own. From the pole, the Airing of Grievances, and the Feats of Strength, Festivus is a joyous time for all.

Every part of this episode is funny. From Kramer's Festivus "Miracles" to the typically exquisite Seinfeld dialogue ("Yama hama! It's fright night!"), it's a beautifully crafted episode that demonstrates the core determinations of each character that I've previously described. It also readily spoofs the Late December general malaise towards holidays. Jerry and Elaine, among the other OTB characters all assumingly attend the Festivus dinner without much distraction, readily buying into this ridiculous holiday. There's a "go-with-the-flow" feel during the dinner that captures a lot of Seinfeld's later years, just riding out the glory.

So tonight, my dear readers, may your Festivus Poles stand straight and may your grievances be aired! Hooray! A Festivus for the rest of us!

20 December 2009

Tops of the Millennium: Good Films with Shit Endings

By popular request (one person requested) today I bring you the inverse of this post. The following are spectacular (if not...ok) films that really were twisted into horrible freakish abominations against God by crappy, crappy endings. I found that most movies I thought of and researched were pretty predictable, everyone already knows and complains about these movies all time, but each one could have been truly great with a salvageable ending. Spoilers obviously abound all over this place. Let's get started, ranked in order of how good the movie COULD have been:

#5: Jurassic Park III (2001)

A lot of this movie isn't bad. The Raptors are smart and nasty, Spino dominates Rexie like a bitch and it's awesome to finally see some Pterosaurs eat some human meat. Does it have the sheer "wow" factor and originality of the first beautiful movie in the franchise? Of course not. But by all standards it's not a terrible movie, Grant is back and pretty grumpy, Hammond is near death, all is well.

Then the ending. Grant in the midst of a Spino drowning muffles into a radio to Ellie Sattler back on the mainland "ELLIE! THE RIVER!" That's all he gets out. Next thing you know, the Army's on Isla Nublar bailing them out. What the hell happened? The Lost World (1997) had a pretty sweet child-wish fulfillment ending with Rex stomping around San Diego. JP3 is the worst deus ex cop-out I've ever seen. Makes me want a fourthquel to just wash that bad taste out of my mouth.

#4: Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returns really sucked. My problems with this movie originated when someone pointed out to me that all Supes does is lift three big things and that's about it. Which is exactly true. It's also full of cheeky, dumb "ho ho" lines like the "It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's -" and then Clark walks in. It's really dumb, but could have been spectacular if A) Supes fought someone or B) it simply didn't end with Supes being Professor Creep-O outside Lois' house using his hypno X-Ray vision to stare at his sleeping illegitimate son for hours and hours during the night. The ending to Luthor's story is clever and funny and I'll give credit to that, but for Supes it's bland and cliched. Next.

#3: Signs (2002)

M. Night Shamalamadingdong could very easily own every spot on this list for a Millennium's worth of bad endings (while The Sixth Sense [1999] should be high for best of the previous decade). Signs is easily the worst though. Shammy took a pretty unique concept that no one had really touched yet, and loaded the first half with creepy nuanced portrayals of these alien attacks on a small family of children. Even the first alien "footage" at the birthday party has an understated creepiness to it. At the same time, you think about that scene for ten more seconds and you realise how moronic it is and how horrible the CGI looks and the movie is lost. Any kind of subtlty is thrown out the window, the whole aliens are shown (ugh take some cues from Jaws, dammit, the monsters are way scarier when unseen), and not only that, defeated by water. WATER. What's next, a worldwide plant attack?


#2: Identity (2003)

This was a really cool concept through and through. Basically the idea is that all these strangers meet up, but then it turns out they're all inside some crazy dudes head. It seems played but it toys with this notion really well, the inability to escape the rainy motel and the slow death of all the major characters eliminating personalities, classic whodunit with a psychiatric twist. Then it turns out the kid did it. Shit. It's pretty unfulfilling and as it starts with seemingly cool places to go, it gets no where.

#1: War of the Worlds

This movie gets the number one spot for a few reasons. First off, it's the easiest problem to fix. Robbie dies. Boom, great movie. By the same nature it's the ending that fits the least with the rest of the film. Every scene in the first half of the War of the Worlds is incredibly dense. Tom Cruise has a strong desire to both provide for his children and shove them off on his ex-wife. He's always trying to prove himself as a father but he really isn't that good at it. His kids know this, too and resent him for it. The whole movie ends up being interesting because the whole point in Tom traveling to Boston is to get rid of his kids so he doesn't have to be responsible for them anymore. It also benefits the kids, because they don't have to deal with his incompetence anymore.

Anyway, the ending is a kick in the balls on a few accounts: First, Boston wasn't touched by the Martians. At all. Is Tom really a poor father because his house got destroyed and his ex-wife's didn't? How would the children have been more safe with their mom, out of luck? Tom gets hardly any thanks for braving the War and sacrificing his most basic human decencies to deliver his children. Robbie being alive also justifies his desire for independence and proves that Robbie would have been a better leader in their situation than Tom was. That's a straight shot to both of Tom's nuts and only demonstrates that his family is better off without him. This is all incredibly depressing. The second half of the film pushes Tom even further, going to murderous extents to protect his family, which at that point is essentially the only connection to the world he has left. He murders Tim Robbins because he lost Robbie, the fact that Robbie lives makes his murder more meaningless. This sucks.

I have less of a problem with the aliens being killed by bacterium. I personally feel it's reasonable that Martians wouldn't have been able to test our atmosphere for all types of bacteria, although its certainly a lazy narrative device, even if it was the original ending as well. It certainly doesn't help the film's case.

Honourable Mention:
Sunshine (2007). Incredible movie about space, loneliness, duty and science until it decided it wanted to be a stereotypical slasher for the last ten minutes. What the hell. We can also probably throw in I Am Legend (2007), of which this ending is far superior. There actually is a good alternate ending, but YouTube is too full of joke Will Smith videos for me to actually find it. Hoorah for humour clouding reason. Luckily, that never happens around here. Eva eva.

17 December 2009

Because it was on TV for Two Decades: The Simpsons XX

Today, right now, at this very moment in time represents a very auspicious point in our Television Culture and Heritage. Twenty Years ago today to the second the first episode of the full television version of The Simpsons premiered to stunned viewers everywhere. The episode was "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (S1;E1) and it was...well it was ok.

But what spawned hence was a big part of my life and a shaper of American Culture for the past two decades, up to today. From Halloween Episodes to ever declining quality, for many of us we have never known a world without this spectacular escapade.

It is due to The Simpsons that I know what Schadenfreude or Deng Xiaoping is, laughing all the while. I'll quickly get too sickeningly nostalgic for the likes of this blog, so let me get to the point quick.

I typically avoid talking about this show in some of my entries here, the simple fact is that in any given episode there is a lot to talk about. Analyzing and determining this show, with 400+ episodes is a tremendous endeavour, although I'm sure very rich in its rewards. There are so many good episodes, it's hard to pick a favourite. To get this entry done on time, let's start with the first Ten that come to mind:

"Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in "The Curse of the Flying Hellfish" (S7;E22)
"Duffless" (S4;E16)
"The Homer They Fall" (S8;E3)
"Treehouse of Horror V" (S6;E6)
"Lisa's Sax" (S9;E3)
"Last Exit to Springfield" (S4;E17)
"22 Short Films about Springfield" (S7;E21)
"Bart vs. Australia" (S6;E16)
"Cape Feare" (S5;E2)

and just for the hell of it and the holidays, how about

"Skinner's Sense of Snow" (S12;E8)

So go home right now, watch all those episodes, there are so many better ones, even more worse ones, and don't worry, because this show will be on for many many years to come. At least until it becomes unprofitable.

06 December 2009

Undisputed: Nic Cage, This Universe's Greatest Actor


One syllable that should elicit a tremendous range of responses. Charming, annoying, heroic, smelly, dynamite, poorly-groomed. Cage is simultaneously one of my all-time favourite and most-hated actors. He's got a handful of incredible performances and much much more extremely awful performances. As Roger Ebert says though, he's fearless. This is part of his edge. Always a superb actor even in terrible films. If acting truly is wholly becoming another character in another world, Cage legitimately like no other actor does become a whole other person for his roles, regardless if the worlds that character then inhabits are crummy and full of plot holes.

Anyway, in honour of both The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans (2009) recent limited release (hate movies with titles this long by the way, looking at you The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 2007) and his recent bankruptcy, I thought I should take a moment and look at his intriguing career. I tend to separate his movies into two major categories with a few whatever films strewn in between (feel free to debate me). Thus we have the Sweet and the Shit:


I haven't yet seen The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans but it looks pretty damn good (here's the trailer), probably good enough to be considered a solid Caging. It's the kind of performance we get every few years out of the Cage just to remind us that he does actually know what he's doing sometimes. The last time he did us the favour was the spectacular yet sod upon by studios Lord of War (2005). Besides the phenomenal opening scene, Cage carries the film with just the right amount of dignity and crazy that not a lot of other actors could. His laughable charm also rings through with Matchstick Men (2003).

Going back in time, it's hard to remember that he's batting .500 at the Academy, winning one nomination, Leaving Las Vegas (1995) out of two, Adaptation (2002). Both of these really are great performances that in some way are very un-Cage like. He's not on his knees with smoke flairs or making inane jokes and chuckling to himself. He's shedding a part of his humanity and you instantly lose the Cage Shield and become one with the Cage. Breathtaking.

The final performance I'll group into the Sweet Section is Raising Arizona (1987), where we get to see a young demure Cage play with the common Coen theme of abandonment, miscommunication and misinterpretation. His swagger is perfect and the film was the early start of what was close to being this reliable, quasi-indie nuanced actor. Then Cage met Michael Bay.


Cage needs praise for the sheer volume of work and substantive oeuvre he's come up with in his Shit Category. Now, by shit I generally mean any action film he's been in where the Cage Persona is played up. Basically the opposite of Adaptation (demonstrating decent range here), Cage is the calm yet quirky leader of some action gang or on his own against the world, often cracking wry jokes and oftentimes again hiding an inner insanity over an outward tranquility. I give you the following, of which I will discuss a couple in detail: The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), Face/Off (1997), 8mm (1999), Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), National Treasures (2004 and 2007), Ghost Rider (2007), Next (2007), Bangkok Dangerous (2008), Knowing (2009). I know, I know. Impressive stuff. You'll notice how progressively bad his films have become lately, The Rock and Face/Off are arguably still great movies, there's hardly a soul alive that could make a good case for Bangkok Dangerous. It's also a well-established fact that most of his roles are solely dependent on his hairstyle, the worse his hair, the worse the movie (the exceptions of course being Raising Arizona and Adaptation where it fit his character). Anyway, I'm backtracking, let's talk about The Rock:

The Rock by and large remains Michael Bay's best film. Pending Transformers 3 wins the Academy Award (which I'm predicting it will), it shall remain his greatest opus. Cage is also incredible. He actually does only a little action ("It's not mine.") and its always pretty unwillingly, he'd rather be listening to Beatles albums with his hot Preggers wife in a lab somewhere. He's got that edge though and when his spine grows enough to stand up to Connery's general assholery, you root for him. Face/Off is probably the best example of hiding the inner insanity behind the calm veneer, the struggles Sean Archer makes pretending to be the man he despises, Castor Troy. It's brutal to watch the Cage channel his anguish over blowing coke with scumbags into the exhilaration Troy should be getting from the same act. Stunning.

The rest is just pretty goofy. The National Treasure movies are shit, Next and Bangkok Dangerous are basically B-Movies filled with A-List actors, 8mm and Gone in 60 Seconds tend to comply with that "extreme" fast car-obsession we had with action films of the early decade.

Lastly, we have the very special case of The Wicker Man (2006). The Wicker Man is hands down one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies of all time. No question. I live for clips of it on YouTube, the following is probably the funniest video on the whole internet, it works best without any kind of context at all.

Also note this and this. The woman's face during that bear suit punch is priceless. What a feast. Now, the original The Wicker Man (1973) starring Chris Lee is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The Cage couldn't stand for this however and really delivers one of the most awkwardly intense performances of his career. Is it really any less enjoyable? Of course not. The Cage carries us through the hellish script unscathed and laughing all the way. Oh hum di do.

Cage really should get more respect that he deserves. Or maybe less respect to be honest after watching those Wicker Man clips. Either way his impressive career is certainly undervalued (hey, they're giving Roger Corman an Oscar for volume, why not Cage?) and will always have a place in my VHS player.

Now, with that said, I may not be able to post for some time now, a little break if you will as I am currently between computers, relying on Public Libraries to make these last few posts. I'm not sure they enjoy me blasting Cage Wicker Man scenes so I may be some time before I post again. Never fear dear readers, never fear, because the Cage will still be with you...always...and forever.

04 December 2009

It's Come Down to This: The Necessary Post Addressing Twilight

I tried avoiding this for a long time. But it must be addressed.

Today let's talk about Twilight.

Now, right off the bat you dear readers should know that I've never seen a Twilight Film, read a book or even drank out of one of their special cups at Burger King. Yet I can name all the principal characters, actors and piece together the plot mostly from commercials and sugar packets. What a culture. Anyway, I feel like covering it, maybe just briefly here (relatively), mostly due to guilt over reading this article. I'm always honest with you, dear readers.

Twilight's really actually pretty interesting, from what I gather the story is actually kind of ok, but the movies basically forgo all that in favour of catering to 12-year old girls. It's hard for 23-year old guys to understand that demographic, but ultimately you can imagine how pissed all those little girls must have been when the rest of the internet was buzzing about The Dark Knight (2008), Watchmen (2009)or countless other fanboy-phenoms (maybe not, they probably didn't care too much). Unfortunately, our demographic has had the spotlight for a real long time, it's not necessarily a bad thing for a new group of interested culture-obsessed idiots to undyingly follow a poorly run franchise. I do have a few issues with the whole shebang, though, so if you came for the real Twilight bashing here it goes, just know that I think it is a perfectly legitimate franchise if you are in fact, an imbecilic 12-year old girl. Start by watching this scene carefully:

That was from the South Park episode "The Ring" (S13;E1), an episode I didn't think too much of during its first airing but after merging deeper into the tweenie obsessive culture, it rings remarkably true. Replace "Jonas Brothers" from the clip with "Twilight," Mickey Mouse with Summit Entertainment, and purity rings with...I don't know, pensive hugging and the effect is identical. Twilight works by selling sex to little girls. Which is kind of fucked up and my main legitimate problem with it.

Vampires have always been about sex. That's really it. All the classical monsters usually had something behind them- Werewolves satisfied latent animalistic urges, Frankenstein was man's quest to become God, Dracula is always sex. Whereas werewolves kill you violently and savagely, vampires are crafty, luring and seducing young women to their pads and sucking on their necks, exchanging vital bodily fluids which ultimately lock the woman into servitude. Sounds almost like the plot of Knocked Up (2007), really. That might be a stretch, but hopefully you get the idea. The underlying theme behind most vampire stories is sex. Boo yah.

Twilight is no different. You've got the immortally uber-hottie Robbie Pattinson brooding over ratlike Kristen Stewart while uber-machismo werewolve Ty Lautner sulks and rapes when he's ready. It's pretty basic stuff, constant wish fulfillment for the ratlike teenage girl fans to gush over being taken away and boned by a swarthy little vampire. It's like the reverse of what happens to insecure 40-year old men watching 300 (2007).

Anyway, that's about all I have ever to say about Twilight. Unless they pull a Michael Bay and win the Academy Award for the 3rd installment, Twilight: Bonestorm (2010). In the meantime, get your necks clean and keep watching the skies!

03 December 2009

Tops of the Millennium: Endings

Welcome loyal readers to the final posting concerning the many wonderful films of the current Millennium before I announce my final Top 15 List. Today I'm looking at endings. Now, when I made my picks this time, I decided to go for mostly crappy or otherwise forgettable movies saved by incredible endings. Think of this as the "Best Endings to Crummy Movies" entry.

This is also basically my chance to expiate many movies that I absolutely loved from this Millennium, but really have no place even on my own dubious lists. Many of these are comedies that ended really really well, that I am now able to read a lot into and make outrageous philosophical stretches with. Shine on, my friends. Shine on. You can also scroll down to see a half-legitimate list of the Best Endings to the Best Films. Of course by its very nature, this list is full of spoilers. In fact, it's nothing but spoilers. Let's get going:

#10: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

I'm a big unabashed Apatow fan, naturally, and I absolutely loved Walk Hard, but I'll admit I feel like you had to be in on the joke to actually get it. Dewey Cox is not dissimilar to Spinal Tap, in that his songs work because in part they're genuinely good within its genre. The ending to the film is sweet because its a constant counter to the terribly jaded rock star life Dewey had lived, while he slowly becomes relevant as a legendary musician without even realising it. The final song, like most of the dialogue elucidates the plot as its unfolding, more making fun of the faulted biopic genre than rock itself. There's a lot going on both on the surface and within the general metanarrative, but the film makes sure not to take itself too seriously, killing Dewey three minutes after his performance.

#9: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

This list is getting stupid fast. Stay with me. At first glance nothing happens during the course of Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon is still in school, unpopular, Grandma's back to health, Uncle Rico back to the prairie. On a second (seemingly obvious) evaluation though, Napoleon's entire world changes, but more importantly, he affects all those around him. Rico and Kip get some interracial babes, Pedro becomes El Presidente and Summer Wheatley has to pout and cry. The crushing ennui of Idaho High School life is broken and Nappy D finds a probable soul mate in the little girl from Waterworld (1995). Bangin'. There is actually a great deal of change in the mental attitudes of each character, while maintaining strong character relations, which is all done with incredible subtlety. Ending of the Millennium? Maybe, but let's stick with No. 9 for now.

#8: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

"I want that feeling. The feeling that comes over a man when he gets exactly what he desires. I need that feeling."
Harold and Kumar's quest isn't just for little delicious patties with flavour crystals that explode in your mouth. It's a quest for respect, dignity, freedom and manhood.

Not unlike Napoleon, Harold and Kumar are often derided by their peers, parents and other authority figures (Kumar's speech to the cop on the corner gives some great insight towards this). Their quest for burgers isn't about satisfying the munchies, it's about getting exactly what they want for a change and not taking shit for it. It's about controlling their destiny (also see Kumar's family's pressure to go to med school), standing up for themselves (Harold both denouncing his co-workers and getting to first base with Maria) and finally not kowtowing to social pressures (stereotyping). The entire movie is basically Calvinist, as the universe unfolds as it should. Maybe.

#7: Team America: World Police (2004)

I think some shit that Team America took when it first came out was its expectation to be a complete denouncement of Bush Politics (premiering weeks prior to the 2004 election). Not only was Bush not mentioned at all, but the ending justifies some American World Policing through the greatest speech ever put on film. I understand this speech better than any Political Science textbook I've ever read. For that, it gets some honour, giving pride to a country that, while full of dicks, are necessary to fuck a world full of assholes. America does a dirty job (see The Dark Knight 2008 for an approximately identical closing speech by Gordon) that someone's gotta do.

#6: School of Cock (2003)

Err...Rock. That embedded vid is in German, which is decently funny. Anyway, School of Rock is the kind of movie that people kind of throw to the side, but if it's ever on TV stick around to watch it. The final song is legitimately good (see the Dewey Cox/Spinal Tap effect) but also serves to not only justify the talents of most of the kids as well as Jack Black (Haha, I think his name is also Dewey) and is a way to not compromise the spirit of Rock and Youth while filtering it into a very productive and justifiable medium. Brilliant.

#5: Blades of Glory (2006)

Something about this ending in particular works for me. I didn't even really care for most of the movie, but like Chazz Michael Michaels, it sucks for most of the run, then sticks the landing. The video above centers well on the difficulty of the Iron Lotus stunt, which the ending features prominently as the epic move to clinch the Doubles Figure Skating Championship. I've never been able to put my finger exactly on it, it just works. Maybe it's something in-between Ferrel seeing the Virgin Mary or Poehler's Scowl but it's solid.

#4: Constantine (2005)

Constantine was a shitty movie essentially nothing like its genuinely awesome source material that featured among other things a whiny, Pre-Bumblebee owning Shia LeBeouf as well as our Lord and Saviour Keanu Reeves. I dig the ending, though. It works out neatly that Keanu summons Satan as the Deus Ex Machina, but only because Satan's the only one that would claim Keanu's soul itself (I have a feeling the real world also works like this). The self-sacrificing shit can be seen a mile away, but I love Constantine's rugged bird he gives Hell's Tyrant as he's lifted off to heaven. Remnants of the comic character coming back into the fold.

#3: Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)

I've already talked about and posted the ending here, but Beezleboss rules and fits as another Satan-battle ending. I didn't think Pick of Destiny was funny at all and was pretty willing to forget it until this crucial scene. In a way, it sums up what both the band and film are all about, blasting the Forces of Evil with Righteous Rock 'N' Roll. Party on, Wayne.

#2: Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Fucking hated this movie. It's just way to whiny and quirky for me for most of the shitshow, but the ending is stellar beyond belief. Going through this video, first of all, the revelation that her now-dead grandfather (Academy Award-Winning performance by Alan Arkin) taught her these ridiculously dirty moves is hysterical, as is her childlike innocence in performing them. The cool thing about the ending is the family's final acceptance that they are real fucking weird and have no place at a Pageant like that, but that's okay. A lot of Simpsons episodes are like this. Families are weird and scary and oftentimes only other family members can understand that. The key though is that that's alright and accepting your family and your own weirdness is the only way to find some happiness. Let your freak flag fly.

And the best part of the whole film (nay the decade) is the final dude in the crowd LOVING it cheering at the end. In general this movie is probably the only reason I really made this post. Hated the whole movie and loved the ending. Let's move on.

#1: Step Brothers (2008)

"You got it, dragon." I watch this scene probably at least once a week, if not more. Everything about this movie is legendary, this is clearly one of many scenes and songs that are incredible (second favourite is Ferrell's "Let's Give Them something to Talk About" over "Boats 'N' Hoes"). The song works for its instant oddity to the stunning effect it has on all the main characters, giving them positive thoughts, memories or fantasies. Other highlights are John C. Reilly's Yoda shirt, Rob Riggle reduced to tears and Lumberjack Ferrell's massive boner. All really incredible items here.
"Rock the fuck out of those drums, Dale!"
It's an important scene that showcases Brennan's natural but shy singing talent as well as both step brothers need for juvenilism over the professionalism that just suffocates their spirits. It's an emotional high point that not only brings the main two characters down to earth but also puts every other character into a greater frame of mind. Basically the song is powerful enough for Ferrel to Deus Ex Machina the entire cast. Spect-fucking-acular.

Now for a slightly legitimate list of what probably should be the greatest endings of this Millennium in no order with absolutely no explanation: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003), The Dark Knight (2008), No Country for Old Men (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Departed (2006), Training Day (2001), Gladiator (2000), Iron Man (2008), for kicks, Memento (2000) and A History of Violence (2005). Let that simmer for a while.

I was reading a lot of different articles trying to come up with this list (clearly I used none of them), but one of them mentioned Batman Begins (2005). Now, while this is a very good ending, I want to take a moment to distinguish this sort of "Blueballs Ending" from an actually legitimately good finale. This is the kind of cliff-drop ending that really only tricks you with anticipation for the next film in the franchise, leaving you only with the impression that the movie you just saw was good. Hence the following: The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), X2: X-Men United (2003) and the first two Spider-Man films ('04 and '07).

So only a month left then we have a whole new Decade to sink our dicks into! Let's hope for more of these astounding knock-out endings. Then I woke up.

01 December 2009

Terminator 4 and the Blessid Failure of Major Franchises

Today we see the release of one of the most disappointing movies of 2009 on DVD, Blu-ray and presumably VHS, Terminator 4: Shitstorm. T4 just about blew all opportunities to be a great film, from the missed major themes to the general dumbness of the basic plot. I actually had some enjoyment watching it, mostly for really nailing the gritty apocalyptic world and some cool effects on Sammy Worthington's half-man half-robot battle damage. All in all, though really an incredibly bad movie.

But what's sweet is that this didn't kill the franchise. That honour is of course reserved for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). In essence, the series can never be ruined now, because T3 already ruined it years ago. We can all rest easy. But what went wrong, and is that a bad thing?

Let's travel back to 1991. T2 is incredible as a genuinely good action film. I contend that the computer-generated imagery still looks good today (even against T4). The plot, the fights, "Hasta la Vista" (what fucking kids actually said that in the early '90s as an actual slang term before that movie?), everything is instantly iconic. I think one of the biggest achievements that many people tend to forget these days is the first act twist that the evil Terminator from the first movie is the protector of the second. Leading up all the way to that mall hallway scene audiences had no idea who was what, which is sweet. James Cameron in his prime, awesome, kick-ass.

T3 in many regards is a good action movie. It's just really not Terminator good. Nothing is really incredibly groundbreaking (although I do think that Arnie's late battle damage face is pretty damn good [#24 what]). There's also some sweet naked babe re-entries, graveyard fight and Elton John glasses. That's about it. It sucked because nothing special really happened, although it progressed the story in a natural, decent if not great way. The biggest thing that marred it was probably a public's obsession with nostalgia for Schwarzenegger and atmosphere (funny, it seems Skynet in T4 wanted to kill John Connor with the same ideas). T3 lowered expectations for T4, and T4 lowered our expectations for any more of these monstrosities (which we'll definitely see in this Millennium or the next).

It's very difficult for franchises to keep going after the core story is set. Oftentimes characters or situations end up just becoming a parody of themselves (see John McClane in Die Hard: With a Vengeance 1995). What's sweet is that when franchises are ruined there's no where to go but up, mostly in the form of re-boot / re-make / re-imagining whatever. James Bond is pretty famous for doing these about once a decade (thank you Martin Campbell). Considering that Quantum of Solace (2008) was a little on the weak side, I expect another slippery downfall pretty soon. Don't worry though, the franchise was already ruined by Die Another Day (2002), wait...I meant The World is Not Enough (1999), or no, no A View to a Kill (1985), no shit, definitely You Only Live Twice (1967). The sweet thing about the franchise is that for every License to Kill (1989) you've got a GoldenEye (1995), for every Die Another Day a Casino Royale (2006). The Bond Series can never be ruined. It's been ruined literally dozens of times before. Many franchises are like this.

Godzilla is notable for pretty much throwing in the towel at their third film, then proceeding to make twenty-five more. See also Spider-Man 3, on pace for the same result. I shouldn't even have to mention Indiana Jones...yeah that movie lost me at gophers way before refrigerators. And now Indiana Jones can never be ruined. How about that?!

Some studios though are on incredible hot streaks. Pixar's had an incredible fourteen-year, ten film streak that never ceases to astound me. Likewise Marvel Studio's self-produced films have been very good so far with much more in development. Unfortunately this creates a pretty high standard to live up to. The glass hasn't broken yet. The other foot's gotta fall and it's gonna fall hard. Shit. You've got to love a series like Terminator that blows away any hope of redemption instantly in favour of shitty shitty storytelling and failure to innovate after remolding the entire industry. Such spectacular failure surely funds the next re-boot or whatever happens that can then be truly great. Beware an excellent franchise, their eventual failure will be spectacular. Shitty films are where the true genius lies. Somehow I can follow this logic.

Of course you've also got a series like Transformers that instantly starts out shitty and then goes downhill from there. Now, Michael Bay may be on to something here, if the third installment is somehow incredibly good and blows away all kinds of expectations, he will be forever praised as a golden god walking among mere mortals and I'm sure will be granted an instant Oscar. It's all about the expectations. We'll see, dear readers, we'll see.
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