30 January 2010

Undisputed: Spider-Man - Best and Worst Franchise of All Time

There's been a lot of Spider-Man related news lately, namely a bunch of really exciting casting rumours over Spider-Man 4, then the revelation that there would be no Spider-Man 4, then just a Marc Webb version. Fitting. Spider-Man has always been one of my all-time favourite comics, so with all this shit lately I thought it'd be nice to examine one of our simultaneously terrible and spectacular film franchises of all time. Let's journey in, true believers.

The Weird Kid from Pleasantville Becomes a National Icon

The first Spider-Man (2002) did almost everything right. It was innovative in its genre both critically (far before comic adaptations became stale) and commercially (STILL one of the all-time grossers). Both its degrees of success were mapped onto the entrie genre, further building on the foundation X-Men (2000) started which would shape the popular action film production of the next decade (and counting). It was also very well cast, with the aforementioned Weird Kid (who really played insecure Peter Parker much better than a wise-cracking Spider-Man, but that's besides the point), the little girl from Jumanji (1995) and one of the ugliest men in all of cinema, Denis Leary from Operation Dumbo Drop (1995). Err...make that Jesus Christ in a perfect role. I swear its ending was a total rip-off of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (S2;E22), but Sammy didn't develop the idea of Kirsten Dunst being a whore enough to distinguish dudes by kiss anyway. The story was incredibly faithful to its source material (besides swapping Mary Jane for Gwen Stacy, more on that later). Bravo, at an all time high, we're coming into Summer 2004 with huge expectations - what do we get?

Three Times the Arms, Four Times the Fun!

Spider-Man 2 (2004) was the unanimous best Comic Book Movie ever made until Batman Begins (2005), and even after that it was a good argument (still is). The single weak point for me in this film is Jim Franco's horrendous acting (a basic skill for his profession he seems to have waited until 2008 to develop). I might add here that the video game (specifically the GameCube version) is also one of the greatest ever, providing the open-ended foundation for every subsequent Spider-Man game (as well as other comic games like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction [2005] and completely unrelated games like Prototype [2009]). No future game was nearly as fun, though.

Back to the film, there is actually a tremendous amount of depth added to Doc Ock's character (which is relatively basic in the comics) and a good amount of shit going on without ever being overwhelming. Like any good sitcom, the premise works only as long as Pete and MJ have that continued sexual tension. Spider-Man 2 also works because so much bad shit happens to Pete constantly. Every possible bad thing happens, I mean, he loses his job in the first scene! It lets the viewer relate to and sympathize with the protagonist, a notion that the threequel completely missed. Speaking of...

Who'd Make a Good Venom? I dunno....Forman?

That about sums it up. Spider-Man 3 ended up sucking in so many other little ways though. Watching it again recently, it's easy to pick up on terrible coincidences, like Harry struck with incredibly convenient explosive amnesia and sand technicians (?) assuming that a 'bird' is in their spin machine (then assuming it will fly out instead of you know, glancing inside before resuming what is presumably at least a multi-thousand dollar experiment). All this stupidness aligns with the forcefully sympathetic Sandman (although well cast and played by Tommy Church) and of course, fucking Forman. Fucking, fucking Forman. When I heard that casting I instantly thought 'retarded!' I came around to the belief that Sam desired a similar counter to Tobey for a nice dose of dualism and going into the theaters I was actually pretty into it. As it turns out, seeing a jacked up, monstrous Venom speaking in whiney Forman voice really takes out a lot of the punch.

There were some indications that Brock was a little sick that the film touches upon which is sweet. I love when they reveal that his "relationship" with Gwen is basically stalking; his warped worldview becomes apparent. Speaking of Gwen, this film proves Sam's full-circle journey away from the authenticity of the first film. Spider-Man (2002) demonstrated almost exactly the entire Gwen Stacy story (replace MJ with Gwen and kill her, and that's about right). Gwen is supposed to be Pete's first love, the death of whom (which Pete never knew if he, himself caused) really tears him up. Again, Spider-Man is one of the most shod-on heroes in Comic Books, which works because the guy stays relatively cheery and keeps on fighting again for justice. Even in recent New Avengers comics when he's basically a fugitive with everyone on earth (including J. Jonah) knowing his secret identity, he remains a wise-cracking asshole, something the films sorely lacked in his characterization. Like I said before, the second installment went above and beyond redefining the kind of villain Doc Ock could be, so the potential was there. Ultimately, Spider-Man 3 just kicked the pooch on a lot of these opportunities. At least they didn't decide to defeat Sandman the same way Spider-Man did during their first encounter. Two words: Vacuum Cleaner, baby.

And the butler becomes the most important character in Harry's character arc? What the flying fuck? Even if Pete didn't kill his pop, he was still a dick to Harry and horribly scarred his face, why the fuck would Harry go and help and act as if everything was fine when he showed up? How the fuck did Pete have the balls to ask him anyway? This shit will always piss me off. I hate that fucking movie. Where's Spider-Man 2?!

Well, let's Just Start Over then.

2011 should be pretty interesting then. Among many other Marvel films with great potential (basically, Thor), we've got this supposed reboot by (500) Days of Summer (2009) director, Marc Webb. I trust his ability to nail the romance in a rejuvenated Pete/MJ relationship, but as for the action? Who knows. Honestly, Spider-Man's good villains are spent. They were spent after Goblin and Ock. They've got the Lizard and then...Rhino? Shocker? Boomarang? I keep hearing pleas for Carnage, but come on, we need a Sylvester Stallone-directed Spider-Man before we see that kind of bloodshed. Maybe a David R. Ellis version. I was actually starting to get pumped for a Adrian "Malkovich" Toomes vulture (imagine lots of great old-man sky battles), but we'll just have to see.

'Nuff said.

29 January 2010

The Post Addressing AVABAR beating God's Record for Pocket Cash

AVABAR. You fear that name. Recently AVABAR overtook The Dark Knight (2008) to be the second highest grossing film domestically, and is already beaten Titanic (1997) for the worldwide gross. Shit, James Cameron must be rolling in his grave. Oh wait, the fucking dude now has #1 and #2 worldwide. This is insane.

When I first saw AVABAR I thought it was a deeply emotional experience with really little to gain through the plot, characters, theme or message. Looking back on it a few weeks later however, I feel exactly the same way. Granted much of the cash has come from inflated IMAX and 3-D Goggle sales, but hell, so was Battle for Terra (2009). I've already blabbed a lot about this film in this entry, but let's continue here-

AVABAR is like the iPad. Touted as genius weeks before it arrived, no one really asked for it and when it got here it was pretty neat but not really the answer to all of life's problems. As well it should have been. AVABAR has already become King of the Globes, we'll see how its blue fuzz does against Oscar. At any rate, this thing WILL beat Titanic's domestic record. Easily. It will get an extended play once the Academy Award Nominees are announced and anyone left in the country who hasn't seen it WILL see it. I just hope Cameron gets his ass in gear with AVABAR 2: The Reckoning (2011) sooner than later. I'm really jonesin' for the Cat-People colonization and then forced Nature-worship of Mother Earth. Fucking balls.

You can check out its ridiculous stats over here.

27 January 2010

Some Changes 'Round Thar

Greetings loyal readers -- You may have noticed an absent number of posts around these parts lately, but never fret, more ludicrous ramblings are coming very shortly. In the meantime, I have a slightly different position I've been getting off the ground here. I am the new Pop Culture Examiner for a locally run website in my hometown, Rochester, NY. What you'll find there is about the same here, except smaller, more politically correct and credible.

My current plan is to divide time between Morning Wood and the Examiner. Hey, a boy's gotta eat, baby. This site should see much more elaborate, free-flowing posts that could not fit at the Examiner, while over there calls for more precision targeting with a localised focus. Check both, check one (or neither), whatever you will, the unfortunate side effect is a decrease in post volume (and effort) at your beloved Morning Wood.

And Ben Affleck is still a douche.

19 January 2010

Modal Nodes: GaGa, Keisha and the Liberation of Early 21st Century Chicky Pop

This notion has been stewing around in my head for quite some time. Modern "Chicky Pop" Music, as I call it has vastly changed in the past decade. Now, today I am considering a very specific genre of Pop Music, one that is comprised primarily of white, blonde females with little lyrical substance and immense popularity. From what once was a sea of identical-sounding, corporate manufactured blondes swooning about missing guys like candy and getting hit another time ten years ago, we've currently morphed into an extremely independent, aggressive variety of girl music. Before I go any further, I want you to watch and listen to this (as if you haven't heard it a dozen times so far this week on your local Top 40 Station):

Is she Keisha or Ke$ha? I don't think it really matters, but this video in particular highlights a lot concerning the current Chicky Pop movement. "TiK ToK" is primarily a song about getting plastered and hooking up with boys who look like Mick Jagger. This is a departure from earlier "innocent" songs by female artists, songs like "Genie in a Bottle" by Christina Aguilera or "I Wanna Love You Forever" by Jessica Simpson are primarily really just garbage songs with cliched cookie-cutter lyrics. Many of these songs from the turn of the century hinged on these girls loving some boy - always in need of male support instead of true independence (Not to say that on the opposite end of the spectrum bands like The Backstreet Boys were any better).

"TiK ToK" is a simultaneous affirmation of this man-less independence as well as helping a foundation of the new drunken trashy chick stereotype that has taken hold in the early 21st-Century (See also as well as 80% of CollegeHumour.com). The assertion and value of exhibiting this kind of trainwreck, hungover image greatly contrasts with the precision media control required to maintain the public's conception of the general epicurean virginity of late 90s Pop Icons such as Britney and Jessica. It's very interesting to see these girls break the bonds of propriety and class to essentially write and sing about some things that would shame some of the most chauvinistic male rock groups. Even Britney's latest single, "3," a song about getting drunk and having threesomes with two dudes is accomplished through inference and innuendo rather of forthright novelty. The raw honesty of "TiK ToK" still astounds me, it captures that late teen/early twenty-year old party girl zeitgeist so accurately it's stunning.

Ke$sha is far from the only girl to sum up this movement. A lot of Fergie (B.E.P.) songs capture this pro-feminine movement in pop ("Lady Humps," as generally retarded as that song is, is incredibly anti-male) as does Katy Perry and of course, the current Queen of Pop, Lady GaGa. I believe to track the past few years however, everything is derived from the following:

That is still the dirtiest video ever made. Ever (This is so true). This was way back in 2002, though (if you'd believe it). This yearning for overtly sexual pop icons rather than girl-next-door-barely-legal, creepy uncle kind of shit took some time to develop. I'd place Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" as one of the first songs that I couldn't believe was on the radio. I still love every moment of that song and video, but clearly this was not only a girl casually doing something radical but its mega mainstream popularity signaled that most of our populace was actually okay with it. Katy's flirts with lesbianism didn't matter at all really, which was a great signal to shifts in our culture. I wonder what was to blame for that.

Perry ultimately leads to GaGa. I daily can't decide if this woman is brilliant, retarded or a good mix of both. I consider "Just Dance" one of the greatest songs of 2008, if not the Millennium. I said it. It's a completely "in the moment" song with little regard to set-up or consequence. The "Dance" can be seen as an analogue to "play," which brings forth all kinds of religious and philosophical connotations. I tend to think of Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse as one example, in essence GaGa's command to "Just Dance" is to simply play life with a delightful casualness instead of treating it with a very determined serious disposition. There are also Hindu concepts of many dancing gods creating Cosmos through joyful, meaningless dancing, basically that a world full of the random and absurd must have surely been created by an equally thoughtless act. GaGa incorporates all this into a single hook while simultaneously funding her current culture's zeitgeist and changing young women stereotypes and concepts of spiritual and societal independence. Breathtaking.

"Bad Romance" is also a very interesting song, mostly for its innate ability to not be locked down. It's very similar to GaGa herself in that it simply refuses to be categorized or give an easy impression. Both lyrically and rhythmically it's nearly schizophrenic, switching languages, singing styles and concepts rapidly while remaining thematically unified. It builds the idea that GaGa isn't really part of a genre or movement or whatever (although I certainly ascribe her to one here), but is instead simply herself. It's a revolutionary concept that strains against much of what Hollywood and New York attempts to gurgitate to the public. When everything else must be defined or fail (ie Jack Black and Adam Sandler are COMEDIANS, we refuse to accept them as anything else - see King Kong [2005]), GaGa struggles to just be GaGa, a strong departure point in a world full of manufactured, literal American Idols and predictable strives towards mass market filmaking (see AVABAR's broad storyline and retrod characters). Whatever the hell sort of music GaGa and KeSha are making and regardless if I even personally like it or not I'm glad they're making it. It's an incredibly fresh movement, albeit one that should get stale around the 8th time during the day that I hear "TiK ToK" and "Bad Romance" played back-to-back on the radio. Until then, bring it on.

"I would believe only in a god who could dance." - Friedrich Nietzsche

12 January 2010

Tops: Small Moments in Big Movies

While doing that whole "best of millennium" thing last month, I realised how many good movies there really were in the past decade. I also realised that more often than not, there are some great moments in movies, shitty or otherwise that either encapsulate the film's meaning, twist something in a new direction or are just pretty damn cool. The following seven films have some incredible tiny lines or scenes that elevated the film into something special. Thus I'm bringing you today, my picks for the BEST SMALL MOMENTS IN BIG MOVIES:

#6: Superman sweats in Superman Returns (2006)

I didn't even notice this the first time (I'm apparently an idiot, Singer zooms right into it), but maybe that's just because a bead of sweat dripping down the hero's brow as he's about to confront Luthor on a brand spankin' new Krypto-Rock Continent seems natural. It's the precise moment Superman goes from God to Man, allowing Luthor to rock his ass with some goons and Krypto-Daggers. It's notable that its key to Luthor noticing it as well, buying his time chatting with Supes until he sees the sweat and brings the beat-down. The fact that Supes doesn't notice his own sweat or steadily increasing weakness is generally retarded, but that's besides the point. In a movie about a man's balance between being the God that a city needs (or doesn't) and the man a woman needs (get some Lois), the sweat becomes a crucial point. Or I just read too much into things.

#5: "¡No me gusta!" in Team America: World Police (2004)

Team America is a constant delight, but the funniest part by far is the small, almost forgotten "¡No me gustaaaa!!!" screamed during the Panama Canal terrorist attack. It's so incredibly stupid and blissfully disrespectful and ignorant of foreign cultures, down to the languages (see also: "durka durka Muhammad jihad!"). It really demonstrates how America views the other parts of the world and its limited knowledge of culture based on general impressions instead of careful research. In essence, it's perfect for a movie all about perceived American World pompetance. Righteous.

#4: Diesel shook up in XXX (2002)

I still have no idea why this is in the movie, but its a crucial part. Just after the Diesel disarms the Ahab missile-boat launching thingie he emerges on the shore of the river in Czechoslovakia or wherever shaken, scared and cold. It's the only moment in the whole movie where the Diesel shows an inch of vulnerability but it makes him human, if only for a second. The following moment is similar:

#3: "I need help" in Jackass: The Movie (2002)

I need to talk about Jackass a lot more, because I'm an unashamed big fan of the general goofiness and cleverness matched up against sheer unabated immaturity. Similar to a shaking Diesel though, the most endearing moment comes from a very small look to the vulnerability of the stars. Set to "If You're Gonna Be Dumb" by Roger Alan Wade, the end credits show some of the aftereffects of the sketches, including Johnny Knoxville severely concussed after a Department Store Boxing Match with Butterbean. He lets a whimper out, "I need help," and it's so humbling to see this man who puts his body and soul through hell for entertainment to admit he needs assistance when he's down. It's an awesome tiny moment showing a brief hint of the reality behind the humour of the show and movies.

#2: "What phone call?" in Frost/Nixon (2008)

This is a great moment that ends up shifting the entire tone of the movie and sets up a superb ending. In the film, reporter David Frost is basically a schmuck interviewing Nixon and doing really shitty the whole time against his awesome power. A few nights before the final interview, Nixon is hammered and drunk dials Frost, revealing some of his insecurities and intimidations. Frost doubles his efforts and prior to the final interview mentions to Dick, "Well, if today's session is anything like our phone call, it should be explosive." Nixon, completely blank face, "What phone call?" Complete black out, oh haha Nixon has problems. In that one moment, Frost has already won. He finally caught Nixon off-guard and is at an advantage in their verbal brawl. The look on Langella's face is the perfect mix of astonishment, fear and incredulity that both surmises the movie's driving theme and cements both Frost and Nixon's character arcs. It's brilliant.

#1: Flaming Trucks/Trains in The Dark Knight (2008) and War of the Worlds (2005)

I lumped both these together at #1 because they're pretty similar, but also probably my favourite parts in both films. In War of the Worlds, after Tom Cruise's house/life is wrecked, he's wandering with his family and a bunch of other vagabonds when they come to a railway crossing. The guard goes down and a train passes through, completely engulfed in flames. It passes and they trek on. It's a grim reminder that even though Tom and Company are safe at the moment, hell is happening elsewhere across the country (also a reminder than in that movie, somewhere HELL IS ALWAYS HAPPENING). It's part of a handful of impressive scenes in what should have been a good movie.

The Dark Knight contains a vaguely similar scene. While transporting Dent (who everyone thinks is Batman) through Gotham, the GPD find in their path a lone flaming Fire Truck, causing them to divert to an underground tunnel, like sitting ducks. It might be my favourite scene in the film and here's why- firstly there's the irony of a vehicle designed to put out fires engulfed in flames. It's the kind of contradiction perfect for a Joker scheme as well as demonstrating that he's going to corrupt the best they have (fooorrreeshaddoww), turn their greatest defense into his best offenses. It's also his means to control their situation. He uses Chaos to impose his own order. The fire burns seemingly randomly, but in fact it diverts the caravan right where he wants them. It's a form of control that stems from Chaos, another contradiction inherent to the Joker's modus operandi. It's sweet.

08 January 2010

Trends: Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 2004 - Present

Today I'd like to talk about something that is very important to every man and woman in the world. I speak of course, of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or MPDG. According to this accurate article, the term is derived from critic Nathan Rabin's review of Kristen Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005). He describes it as "That bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." In response to today's premiere of Youth in Revolt (2010), which I have not seen but looks slightly interesting and I presume to contain a version of the MPDG, let us now descend into a look at every stiff man's fantasy (hey oh), the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.


This stock character dates back very very far in cinematic history. Some version is present both in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Annie Hall (1977). In both films the girl is a wild and free spirit who unchains the stuffy male character. Since both are also very good films as well, the MPDG was set as a great way to make some fun character arcs to guarded, brooding angry males, thus providing hilarious romantic comedy situations for years and years to come. Oh crackerjack.

Modern Interpretations:

The easiest way to understand this trope is to look at Natalie Portman in Garden State (2004). I should really be able to stop this post here now. It's a fantasy for that emotionally and socially maladjusted male to find the cute, quirky funny girl that will liberate all of their inhibitions and then scream shit on car hoods in the rain or something. Again, there is the aforementioned Elizabethtown, as well as Along Came Polly (2004) is an absolutely fabulous example of a free-spirited woman loosening up the business-minded man. Almost Famous (2000) with Kate Hudson's portal to the world of rock 'n' roll against the safe suburban domicile is another great example. Not to mention Mila "Jackie" Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). This list is actually endless.


I really loved I Love You, Man (2009) for spinning the MPDG on its head, using Jason Segel as the MPDG to the socially-awkward-with-men Paul Rudd. If that film was done the same way with a girl in that Jason Segel role, it would have been the most typical romantic comedy ever. The Bromance, as it were, puts it on a different playing field and loosens the trope to something like "people teaching other people how to be more spiritually unhinged" instead of "girl teaches boy," which is pretty cool. This was also a film by John Hamburg, the same director as Along Came Polly. Fun stuff.

Youth in Revolt seems interesting because the just of it that I'm getting is that the chick in it is at least more sexually experienced than Michael Cera (or at least appears that way to him), which forces a shift in his awkward personality. This shift however, is quite literal, causing him to make an entirely new persona. Whether or not the girl fulfills all the characteristics of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is yet to be seen (ie, she should be very peppy, approachable, talkative and listen to a constant stream of indie music). We'll just have to see.

06 January 2010

What Life was Like 6 Days Ago: 2009 in Review

Slightly late but without lacking any of the pizazz, I'd like now to welcome you, dear readers to Norwegian Morning Wood's Official Review of 2009. Now, admittedly the following lists are going to be 85 - 90% complete bullshit. This will become immediately apparent, but follow along with me anyway.

I will take you know through the greatest parts of our collective pop culture over the last year, going through the best songs, television shows and then movies. I'll admit really knowing next to nothing about modern music beyond Top 40, so do with the following what you will:

Top 3 Songs of 2009:

Consider these either the most popular, crazy songs that should serve zero purpose towards the advancement of our civilization:

#3: "Poker Face" by Man GaGa (#1 on Billboard Hot 100 April 25) - This shit was everywhere, gave GaGa a career and an incredible South Park appearance.
#2: "I Gotta Feeling" by The Black Eyed Peas (#1 on Billboard Hot 100 July 11) - Summer 2009's Champion Song certainly gets an automatic place here.
#1: Clearly "New Divide" by Linkin Park reached an unforeseen peak of artistic creativity for the music industry.

Honourable Mention: I will give kudos to "That's Not my Name" by the Ting Tings for being one of the most legitimately brilliantly catchy pop hits of the summer, one that was completely unavoidable during the week of July 11 - 18.

Top 3 Albums of 2009:

#3: Malice n Wonderland by Snoop Dogg (December 8). Doggfather at his best, heralding an era of rap that relied only on weed, rims and real gangsta shit, less autotone and candy innuendos. Yes, Snoop is not replete of those.
#2: Incredibad by The Lonely Island (February 10). Enough joke songs to become a legit great comedy album, including funding enough SNL skits to aid the production one of the show's greatest seasons ever (34).
#1: Backspacer by Pearl Jam (September 20). Because it was Pearl Jam and it was ok, best of the year.

Top 5 New Shows:

#5: Parks and Recreation (NBC), might as well be an Office spin-off but with enough original characters, ideas and their own gut-busting commentary on shitty local government to make it worth watching.
#4: Sit Down, Shut Up (FOX). I actually enjoyed the irrelevance of this show a lot during its five-week run in Primetime. The animation style, some character treatments and Miracle's boobs were pretty original, if not trite half the time.
#3: Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (NBC) Despite some recent awkwardness, the first few weeks of this show was the greatest Late Night talk I've ever seen. Period.
#2: Secret Girlfriend (Comedy Central). 'Nuff said.
#1: Community (NBC). Clearly the best show of the lot, this is quickly gaining its footing to what it wants to be in the comedy world. Ranking already among some of the greatest Halloween and Christmas specials of definitely all time, I'd love to see this get picked up for a significant run. See Also.

Top 5 Returning Shows:

#5: Now since cancelled, Life on Mars (ABC) was just getting interesting during the earlier half of this year.
#4: I flatly don't believe this show deserves its three Emmys (and counting), but 30 Rock (NBC) is still one of the greatest shows of our time.
#3: LOST (ABC) somehow got more ridiculous, and probably made more threads than it tied up, but the way they handled time travel without skipping a beat and hardly a paradox was incredibly impressive last spring.
#2: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (F/X) keeps getting better, and its Fifth Season this fall was flat-out incredible. There isn't a funnier new show on television.
#1: Without a question, The Venture Bros (Cartoon Network) is alone at the top of great television shows today, and not simply for these reasons. No other show has able to sustain this much consistent character growth and consistency through four seasons while simultaneously maintaining a facsimile premise and constant nerdy shout outs.

Honourable Mention: How I Met Your Mother keeps getting better and has in its own found a great little niche avoiding normal sitcom conventions in storytelling, tone and narrative while maintaining the classic three-camera / laugh track system. It's how three-camera sitcoms should be these days.

Top 4 (6) Movies that will Influence Everybody:

#4: 500 Days of Summer (July 17): Romantic comedies don't have to be like this.
#3's: The Hangover (June 5) / Paranormal Activity (September 25) / District 9 (August 14): You don't need to pour money into a film to make a good film. Or to make your money back. With all this recession bullshit, studios will start finding more and more directors and films like this to make their money.
#2: AVABAR (December 18): Besides you know, the insane special effects, the way this thing is making money, almost solely on cool word of mouth and the name of its director should effect marketing, promotion, not to mention the simple fact that this is the highest-grossing WHOLLY ORIGINAL film in years.
#1: Taken (January 30): The same principle goes for Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Fast & Furious, and others. You can make money in the first quarter. What the hell?

Finally now, we get to my Personal Top 10 Picks of the Year. Without adieu:

#10: AVABAR. Shit story and characters really couldn't stop this movie from being the most beautiful I've ever seen.
#9: Observe and Report (April 10). I've never seen a film more sharply divide critics and audiences (half my friends nearly walked out, I loved it). Great dark, tortured comedy and Seth showing some range (scruffless).
#8: I Love You, Man (March 20). We need more bromances.
#7: The Great Buck Howard (March 20). Colin Hanks doing his Orange County (2002) schtick to better effect, Emily Blunt beyond gorgeous and a solid story about the perceived and unperceived failure of a great entertainer.
#6: Up in the Air (December 4). Clooney is the best at doing Clooney, here he's the best. A movie about ignoring little but significant problems, personal, social and spiritual and the shit that causes. Awesome.
#5: Funny People (July 31) is the best movie to take seriously the lives of funny people, a lot of personal identification here and Sandler's most un-sandler like Sandler role. That makes sense.
#4: Zombieland (October 2) was so fucking refreshing it should have just been called Cool Pepsi in Baghdad. Unwarranted product placement aside, this did everything from prove that Zombies will always be cooler than Vampires, give new life into the genre and provide one of the funnest theater experiences in years.
#3: A Serious Man (October 2) found an intimate version of the Coens and the year's single greatest trailer. Tough to beat in any year.
#2: Inglourious Basterds (August 21) among others will cement 2009 as return to form for many directors (see also: Sam Raimi). Every moment of Basterds is carefully pulled out and executed, and what could have been a mindless gore-pron flick turned into one of the most meditative thoughts on the appreciation of media violence this universe has ever seen. That and it's extreme historical accuracy make it spectacular.
#1: I already named District 9 one of the best films of the Millennium, looking over this list right now it's tough to even call it the best of the year. Nevertheless, there are no real winners with movies (except for that award show), but if the prize has to go somewhere it might as well go to Neill's freshman effort. Tiny budget, awesome effects, alien acting more real than we had seen before to that point, District 9 should stay with us a long time.

2009 was a pretty nutty year all in all. It was great to see the uncontrolled egos of a few celebrities topple (see tiger and kanye) as well as the resurgence of a few longstanding shows whose once high-quality had been on the decline (The Simpsons and SNL). I'll leave you with one of the most poignant SNL moments in years, the Season 34 Finale. It ultimately shows Will Ferrell's ability to still hold together a cast full of insane talent, a great feeling of community and personal connection to some of these actors and a high point in class, music and depth for the culture. Enjoy for yourself:

02 January 2010

First Impressions: AVABAR


These impressions are a bit late I'm sure, but there's a lot to AVABAR and I'll try to get in as much as I can. This is by every right an absolutely massive film. Its scope is tremendous, the locations, the creatures, the effects, everything is extraordinary. There's a lot that's really nice to look at going on around the world and the one thing Jim Cameron does that I haven't seen in a film in years is truly establish and then cement a world that looks like it could exist, regardless of its fantastic elements. Let us journey deeper, SPOILERS probably abound:

The visuals are by and large AVABAR's greatest strength. It's been said hundreds of times all over the internet and papers by now, but this really is quite a feat. The CGI realism is astounding and the monsters and hovering rock mountains and shit are all very new and exciting. Seeing it in 3-D slightly enhanced the film but I'll tread some deep water here and say it was not essential to the experience. I will say, however, that seeing it on a huge movie theater screen IS essential to the experience, so go give Jim $10 of your money and watch this thing in theaters, it is worth it.

Where the visual experience is stratomospheric, the film falters due to its lackluster story and characters. It feels like something that we've seen a few times before. I've read other articles comparing it to FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) and Dances with Wolves (1990), both of which are spot on. It's got a lot of typical characters, from the spunky Indian Princess, the gruff Indian boyfriend, distant Indian father, angry Army Colonel, greedy Corporate dudes. While the characters at times are bland, though, the performances do shine through very well. Sigourney Weaver has a great deal of depth to her empathetic yet demanding scientist as does Joel David Moore as a fellow AVABAR to protagonist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) who is able to conceal his justified jealousy behind a mask of duty and desire for knowledge. Actually, his character arc I really enjoyed and would have liked to see more of, of course pushing that into an already two and a half hour film is a bit taxing.

I'll also praise Stephen Lang as making Colonel Miles Quaritch probably one of the greatest villains of the decade. He is absolutely a product of a militaristic and patriotic tradition, driven by his duty alone without regard to what life may come in his way. He does elevate his archetype to a bit higher level than what may have been done with someone more typical. His hatred for Pandora is justifiable, but you can tell he really was merely biding his time until he was able to get the go-ahead to wipe out the natives. Jingoistic and soulless, Quaritch is a delight.

Strutting down this path, I took some issue with the ridiculous anti-military message of this movie. It's so unforgivingly pro-green and pro-environment to the point of ludicrosity. Now, I'm a liberal guy who's a big fan of Kyoto and all that shit, but I would have liked to see some more balance between nature and machine. But that wasn't really the point of the film, instead Jim tries to purely distinguish his troops (with a few exceptions), which in the end is fine, if not showing immense bias.

Another strength, though, lies within the empathetic element. Some of the best moments come from little scenes between Worthington and the Blue-Cat Lady, and discovering these little wonders like big ballooney flowers or force-raping monster pterodactyls into doing their bidding. The film's length aids in this regard, it feels like a journey in itself and these intimate moments are sandwiched (and sometimes in the midst of) these huge epic scenes.

The sprituality is very high and ultimately very real. I liked how there were both spiritual and biological explanations for the connectivity of the planet. It's something wholly alien, and the deus ex of the planet coming together as one to repel the foreign invaders seemed less forced after both these spiritual and biological explanations were given at earlier stages in the film. You can't help but leaving the theaters a bit touched by how the Cat-Smurfs live in such harmony with their world while it is impossible now to treat ours the same way.

I have some lasting complaints here: Firstly, the mineral the Corporate Military dudes were seeking is called "Unobtanium." Ugh. I wouldn't have as much of a problem with the name if it hadn't already been used as such in The Core (2003). It just seems like an unoriginal sci-fi standard at a point where Jim could have easily made up a name as equally iconic as the rest of the film. The point of course, is that it doesn't really matter what the name is or what it does, just that it's there and valuable. Yes, this movie will be used for the next fifty years in film schools to teach what MacGuffins are, it's so easily emplified as such. Going back to The Core though, I guess my main problem is that in that wretchedly awful Sci-Fi movie they treated the name "unobtainium" as the stupid punny joke it is, but AVABAR takes it so seriously and it shouldn't. This whole thing should be a minor issue but I'm nitpicky and it still bothers me. A lot.

The last thing I'll mention here is sex. AVABAR is a fucking sexy film. But it's weird inter-species sex that gives my dick all kinds of strange feelings. The intimacy of Blue Cat-Lady and Sam Worthington moments, including their sweet Tree of Voices getting-it-on-jungle-hump fest really push this boundary. I am wary, however, for this a slippery slope here, Jim, I'm not sure you know exactly what you're fucking with. Hey, I don't either. Are the Cat-People even mammals with good sets of junk? They're modest about it at least, I don't know. This ultimately is just one of many unanswered questions about AVABAR.

I guess we'll have to wait until the fabled AVABAR 2: The Reckoning (2011) to find out. Boy howdy.

01 January 2010

The Long Halloween: New Year's

It's my pleasure to drag you away from your revelry on this fantastical New Year's Evening to bring you the latest installment on Norwegian Morning Wood's continual look at the greatest Holiday Television Specials EVER. Now, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day I've kind of clumped together for January's entry, as the key moments happen of course, when that clock hits midnight. New Year's wasn't as obvious as some of the other holidays I've covered so far, but cleary, the greatest episode comes from the undersung CBS show, How I Met Your Mother, "The Limo" (S1;E11).

I don't really watch enough of How I Met Your Mother. I can't really ever get past the programmed sets and laugh tracks anymore, which I realise is shamefully pretentious. When I do give the show a chance, though, I'm always rewarded. "Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap" (S5;E9) should have been a strong contender in the Thanksgiving Competition. It's one of the only television shows, however, to not only have a New Year's special at all, but to have a really good one. Check it out here, courtesy of Megavideo:

Ok, let that sink in for a while. The episode captures a few significant elements of New Year's: 1) It basically sucks. There's so much anticipation and planning that always falls through or gets out of whack and it pretty much always lets you down if you get too psyched. This is true for many holidays. 2) It's the friendships that matter. Contrary to Point #1, to prevent significant suckage, spending the evening with a few lifelong friends is going to be more fun than losing yourself into the chill of the night. And finally, 3) if you're going to the same party Moby is at, there's something wrong. That something may be that this fake Moby has a gun and steals your pump-up mix.

There's a lot of great moments here, Jason Segel screaming about hot dogs, Barney becoming pensive after losing his pump-up mix (see the whole mix here), and Ranjit claiming that he doesn't want Ted to "see him pissed." It's also sweet to notice that the entire episode takes place in a single set, in and around the eponymous limo. There really hasn't been an episode like that since "The Chinese Restaurant" (Seinfeld S2;E11). Pretty impressive. It ends on a very sweet note, capturing the purest of New Year's traditions, a faux-unintimate kiss with a close friend of the opposite sex that creates more complications in a relationship. The memories should just instantly rush back into your head.

The episode hits everything about New Year's perfectly, so go out and enjoy the night, kiss someone you shouldn't, but who cares, it's New Year's and time to go nuts. Here's to 2010!
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