09 September 2010

Because it was on TV: The Acronyms and Anachronisms of Jersey Shore

I already made a substantial Jersey Shore post over here, but this show just isn't going anywhere so it's worth another one. Under the right lens of analysis, it's also one of the most fascinating on Television today. It's also one of the best showcases of trashy T & A in years.

It's also massively popular. While it's close to dominating Cable, it's actually beating many Broadcast networks for the 18 - 49 year old demographic. Yeah, IT BEATS NETWORK TELEVISION. The reasons for its sudden ubiquity I've discussed earlier, namely the simple fact that its watchers tend to dismiss the show as equally as its detractors. Jersey Shore is a showcase of trash TV, there aren't a lot of folks who actively watch it believing in good drama. It's an escape, a trend-setter and a witness to the mindless excess and poor character that typifies this great nation.

Two interrelated components of the show stand out to me though (having watched um...yeah I've watched this entire season. Mostly prior to the Labour Day Marathon). These are the competing traits of a steady stream of neologisms amongst apparent anachronism. Jersey Shore is a zeitgeist-fueling trendsetter with parameters that fit the show better to a period 15 years ago. I'll explain, starting with the present:

The disturbing amount of Jersey Shore-isms impacting our cultureis obscene. These range from a slew of Acronyms: GTL (and its variations, including GTS), GFF, MVP, IFF, MIA, DTF* to phrasings including "Extract the grenade," "You wanna Smoosh," and "We got landmines, bro!"** If you understand instantly what all this means, congratulations, so do an unbelievable 6,536,000 Americans. The slangy, slurry speech has infiltrated youth culture for sure and it seeps its way up from there. The acronyms especially are almost a code of who is in on the show or not. If I tell someone on the street to go GTL they either get it or they don't. When you've got a show as trendy as Jersey Shore, it's actually a mark of coolness for understanding. Thus this program has sunk its hooks into our culture, refusing to release as long as it's a cool show to watch.

Jersey Shore is definitely the "it" right now. It's right on America's pulse. It's so hot actually that the cast is attempting to trademark their names, to more and less success. Actually reading this article real fans can immediately tell that its bunk - the author mistakes "Grenade Free Foundation" for "grenade-free America." It's part of an active ignorance by the rest of culture that is very willing to write off the entire ordeal as trash without watching it (I mean, c'mon, they could at least watch it and prove their own hypothesis). It creates another standard of viewership as the renegades who can find the delight in the show, not pretentious or snooty enough to dismiss the trash.

Thus, while Jersey Shore is cutting a mean swath through Pop Culture the show itself is anachronistic to zeitgeist. This is in order to heighten drama. Are we really to believe that a group of twenty-something Guidos (another term taken and morphed by the show) have no cell phones, computer access or other technology? The housemates share a single land-line phone and their access to a computer when JWOWW and Snooki wrote a note to Sammi was more rare and difficult than it should have been in this age.

The show looks like it could have been produced in the 90s. It's interesting that this is mostly due to the lack of cell phones. Cell phones are so ridiculously rampant in today's society, even my 10-year old cousins have cell phones. It is really just another mark of the show's "Manufactured Reality" as well as the distance the "characters" these people play (apparently themselves) have from their actual selves. Our culture has gotten to a point where the absence of cellular devices in mainstream media is noticeable.

I thought about this when watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) last month. The eponymous Scott lacks a cell phone the entire movie, which is enough to make it (along with much of the style, homages and themes) anachronistic. Compare this to film like The Departed (2006) which heavily relies on cell phones and the believable importance of their constant use to plant itself surely within the zeitgeist. We reach another question however - is the use or not of cell phones in television and film truly anachronistic or does it only serve to plant the piece of media forever within the current time period? Are cell phones going away or can we expect them to be around forever - affecting how characters get around in TV and movies from here on out? Will we always watch Jersey Shore and think "Where the hell are their cell phones?" as time goes on and they become even more ubiquitous?

This may be a weird thing to notice. In Jersey Shore though, the lack of technology serves many valid production purposes. That is, it causes problems. Taking away phones (presumably the producers confiscated them prior to filming) leads to miscommunication, frustrations (ie if Sammi wants to call Ronnie at Klutch, she's unable to) and generally lets the tensions grow. The lack of computers also lead to less distractions, allowing for both the cast to grow tension by spending constant time with each other as well as disallowing for any outlet for that tension and boredom. When all this is combined with eight of the craziest fucking Guidos imaginable it's a powder keg that only needs a tiny Angelina-shaped match to ignite. That's damn good TV, brother.

Thus there's some irony that an anachronistic show (either purposeful or not...probably not) has spurred some of iGeneration's most bonus catchphrases. Although that's not the first time that's happened.

Jersey Shore comes on tonight at 10:00 pm EST on MTV.

*Definitions: Gym, Tan, Laundry; Gym, Tan, Sex; Grenade Free Foundation; Mike Vinny Pauly; I'm Fucked Foundation; Miami; Down to Fuck

**Translations: "Get the ugly girl out of here," "Would you like to engage in relations?" and "Somehow large, unattractive women have infiltrated our personal space, my friend!"

08 September 2010

First Impressions: Machete

Machete don't text.

Thus spake Machete in one of the most interesting films this summer, the delightful number by Robert Rodriguez, Machete (2010).

This movie is crazy. I mean, this flick is really really fucking crazy. It's almost how I expected The Expendables (2010) to be, all-star Random Action Cast, ridiculous sex and violence on a constant display with a winking attitude with only the slightest political edge. Whereas it's more clear to me know that The Expendables strove for a more believable universe, Machete leaves everyone in the dust. It's right up there with The A-Team (2010) for a contender for funnest Action Film this summer, while the former is a bit muzzled, Machete flies its Mexican Freak Flag proudly. Let's start with the basic plot, which actually comes close to making sense. Haha, alright, you got me.

The Border Landed on Us:

This film has a staggering amount of villains coming at Machete from all directions. Not all of them particularly like each other nor are they all exactly working with each other. For Machete though, the complications of their conspiracies have an easy solution: Kill 'Em All. From Lapidus to Seagal, Don Johnson for some reason, Tom Savini for some other unknown reason and finally Bobbo himself, half of them kill each other, they all try to kill Machete but he's just unstoppable.

There's this heavy look at the racism and jingoism that fuels American Border concerns although there isn't really a strong argument from the positive side besides the vague notion that American life is intrinsically better than harsh times in Mexico and an idealistic notion that all downtrodden people deserve support ungranted from the politicians, drug lords and law enforcement. Machete works its story in black and white terms but that really just facilitates the story. This isn't supposed to be a deep movie and it wisely steers away from anything too mind-blowing.

There is a ridiculousness to the action and sex sequences unparalleled this summer. This flick delivers on its Grindhouse (2007) roots, not letting up for cell phone placement, grotto action, intestine swinging, as well as more ways to kill baddies with a machete than I previously thought was possible.

Speak Softly with a Big Knife:

I don't have a clue how Rodriguez assembled this dream cast. Along with the bad guys mentioned earlier those helping Machete along his way include Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan (has there ever been a better trio of hotness on display?) as well as Daryl Sabara and Cheech Marin. Many of these cats have had some previous history working with R - Rod but they come together here to perfection. It's fun to see Sabara really get out of that Spy Kids mold with Hard R roles here and in World's Greatest Dad (2009). As for Lindsay, I still can't believe her babehood peaked with Mean Girls (2004) but she's clearly enjoying chewing this role for once.

Alba gives a classic painful pump-up speech the likes of which haven't been seen since At World's End(2007). M - Rod plays the character she always plays pretty well, this time oozing some bodacious eye-patch / huge mid-drift by films' end. They both try to get cuddly with Trejo, who in his first leading role, IS Machete.

Trejo is the only actor ever in the Universe who could have pulled this off. He plays mean and simple extraordinarily. He's a relic, he don't text, he don't love no more, he just kill. He's an anti-hero for sure but with a strong code of honour as well - refusing to bang the slizzard Jessica as well as distributing mercy to those who refuse to fight him. He's a stocky, muscular tatoo'd dude, one of the ugliest mugs to ever grace a Film Poster for sure (not like he doesn't have competition). Trejo is able to sell his character unlike almost any other lead this summer (except maybe Mike Ceratops as Scott Pilgrim), he wears the world on his face and is pure masculine domination for most of the flick.

DeNiro. I'm not sure how he works that accent, but it's pretty tough for him not to be watchable in a film (again -- it's not like he's never tried). He's a sleaze but just his presence in this film gives it some kind of unforeseen credentials. I mean, otherwise you really do have a film starring Danny Trejo gutting Texans for 105 minutes. It's actually interesting from a marketing standpoint that almost every other actor in this flick is much more famous than the lead.

We could get into a lot more characters here, Cheech shines in the moments he's allowed to, but Seagal showing up is super-ridiculous. His accent is absolutely horrendous, as expected, but he's one of the crazier actors working today. I mean, have you seen Lawman? Every time he activates Seagal-Vision to fight real-world crime...wow. I'm just glad someone already realised how insane Seagal's life is years ago. Spectacular effort, friends.

Grindy Origins:

I suppose I'll chat a bit about where this flick came from for a second here. Machete was this brainchild of R - Rod from the early 90s, right after he filmed Desperado (1995). It's the kind of insane idea that required a much more Post-Modern world to actually create into a film. The 90s weren't a time for this, the action films of yesteryear tended to take themselves more seriously than some of the purposeful schlock delivered today. So Machete was the perfect companion among Thanksgiving and Werewolf Women of the SS to feature as a Fake Trailer for Tarantino and Rodriguez's double feature, Grindhouse.

These trailers are really interesting to me. They exhibit a certain fascination for the bad. They are purposely campy, ridiculous and poorly constructed. It's a carefully detailed way to export an inferior product (ie purposely damaging film stock, bad make-up and gore effects, restricted CGI use). Moreover it's interesting that there exists not only an auteur group who is interested in producing these essentially major studio joke films, but that there is an audience that enjoys watching reproductions of an earlier, shittier, obscure period of film-making.

Of course based on the Box Office Receipts of Grindhouse as well as Machete, that group isn't really that big. Actually that Machete did slightly better than Grindhouse did back in 2007 is telling towards the kind of change the public's attitude has had towards these kinds of nutty films. Without the Tarantino, Russell, or Willis name Machete sliced it up. Not too any super-success by any thought, but when your film is out-performed by the Fake Trailer accompanying it...shit, son.

So Machete is ultra-violent, ultra-sexy, ultra-fun and Trejo is the ultimate fucking badass we've needed for a generation. I mean, even Arnie had a smoothed out face that could get the bitches on his shit you know? Trejo is just a mangled mass of Mexican Insanity.

Rodriguez throughout his career has highlighted the best and worst parts of Mexican culture. From El Mariachi (1992) to Spy Kids (2001) he's actually done a good job casting Hispanics in both action films as heroes as well as in kid's films as normal people. In fact, he's really pioneered the Mexsploitation Genre to its fullest. Whether or not this is actually progressive is debatable, at the end of Machete there's not a whole lot resolved, and treating a serious problem like Border Issues in such a hokey film could be considered offensive in its own right.

Or maybe it's just perfect. Oh well.

Machete don't text.

07 September 2010

Summer Jam 2010: THE CROWN!!

Here we are at last, folks, the final tally for Summer Season Royalty. It's been a long, fun arduous journey but we made it. Let's start with this very handy, very obviously-homemade chart:

Click for biggerness.

So let's count down the final winners here:

#8: "Alejandro" - Lady GaGa

Weeks on Winners List: 6 (5/31 - 7/05)
Peak: #2 (6/21 - 6/28)

Back in April I predicted this song as an Early Candidate for Summer Jam Queen, but this still wasn't GaGa's Summer. Despite an insane video, warm themed lyrics and a decent beat, this never reached the top. This may have done more damage if it had hung out a bit longer, but she basically ruled the Month of June and not much outside of that. She's had decent enough rankings that month to fight for that last spot in the Final Winners Tally. Moving on then -

#7: "Break Your Heart" - Taio Cruz ft. Ludacris

Weeks on Winners List: 8 (5/17 - 6/14, 6/28 - 7/12)
Peak Position: #1 (5/31)

Even when this song fell off the Winners List in mid-July it was never really that far behind. Consistent Summer-y Jam Track this summer, "Break Your Heart" peaked pretty early but hung around enough to creep some spots here. Although it only had a single week at #1 this was always definitely a good Jam. The beat was pretty sick and Luda's flow really worked better than some other Rapper/Singer combinations this summer (see: any track with Pitbull). Whereas the content is kind of miffy for Summer, I always contended that there was a lot more positivity and hope in the subtext and video than the lyrics belayed.

#6: "Billionaire" - Travis McCoy ft. Bruno Mars

Weeks on Winners List: 8 (6/14 - 7/05, 7/19 - 8/09)
Peak Position: #3 (6/21)

Although this song was never ranked all that high compared to some other tracks on the Final Winner's Tally, it had a really consistent run around the #5 - #3 spot, never sinking lower than #6. Enough consistency to get a pretty good rank here. It tread this line between optimism and despondency that worked to its advantage and popularity this summer. It's still not as significant as some of the remaining tracks coming up though, now we start the real heavy-hitters:

#5: "Dynamite" - Taio Cruz

Weeks on Winners List: 9 (7/12 - 9/6)
Peak Position: #1 (9/6)

Last week's winner had a very successful pair of months the back half of summer, including three consecutive weeks at #2 prior to its ascension to the top. This song seemed to be subtly a great Jam, great dance track that was always lurking in the background during those last few months, finally getting its time in the Sun the Final Week of Summer. Should we be welcoming Taio Cruz to the Hit Club? As the only cat on this list with two Jams here - a total of 16 weeks with one week containing both songs, his combined power is pretty fearsome. Individually though, the songs don't compare to the biggest guns this Summer.

#4: "Love the Way You Lie" - Eminem ft. Rihanna

Weeks on Winners List: 8 (7/19 - 9/6)
Peak Position: #1 (7/26, 8/09 - 8/30)

Four Consecutive Weeks at #1 in August. Rocked Digital Downloads, iLike and Ringtones for each of those weeks. Em debuted at #2 in late July and never dropped lower until this past week, and even that was only down to #3. It loses points due to its depressing anti-fun subject matter, lack of Summer Themes, as well as its relatively late breaking. While it's period at the One Spot is impressive, it didn't dominate the Season as a whole which is the key for any real good Summer Jam.

#3: "OMG" - Usher ft. will.i.am

Weeks on Winners List: 11 (5/17 - 7/26)
Peak Position: #1 (6/07)

Only a single week at #1, but "OMG" gets a good spot here for the sheer magnitude of Weeks on the List. Eleven in a row from the First Week all the way to the end of July, really only missing out on August (which Usher made up for with "DJ Got Us Falling in Love"). In fact, Usher had only one week this entire summer without a song on the List (8/02). "OMG" had seven weeks within the Top 3 and a ton of buzz at the beginning of Summer. It was hindered mostly by its lack of #1 positions and its late fall-off. Still though, Usher's 16 Combined Weeks are pretty sweet.

#2: "Airplanes" - B.o.B ft. Hayley Williams

Weeks on Winners List: 13 (5/24 - 8/16)
Peak Position: #2 (6/07 - 6/14, 7/05)

One of the more impressive streaks on the List this summer, "Airplanes" rocked shit for thirteen weeks during the peak months of Sunny Summer time. Not only that but it managed to grab non-consecutive #2 spots nearly a month apart. During its run it was Top Four or better eleven times, stumping "OMG's" whole run. We can also take B.o.B's other hits, "Nothing on You" and "Magic" which ends up with a total of 15 weeks with at least One Jam on the List, doubling up three times, a feat only matched by our official Queen. We can add Paramore's (Hayley Williams' band) single week at #8 that would extend the duo's feat by another week. When you combine Eminem's Part II contribution, forget about it. This song earns its spot hard.

And the final Queen of Summer Jam 2010 is of course...

#1: "California Gurls" - Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg

Weeks on the Winners List: 15 (5/31 - 9/06)
Peak Position: #1 (6/14 - 7/19, 8/02)

Yeah there's no real question here. It's as perfect as a Summer Jam can be, there never was really much of a debate. This song defined ubiquitous Summer Songs, was the hottest video in years and had an explicitly Summer Context and Subject Matter than like the eponymous girls, was undeniable. The stats are nutty - Six Consecutive Weeks at #1, Ten in the Top Three. While it bowed to Eminem in August it never dropped off the list, instead doubling up with Katy Perry's other single, "Teenage Dream" the last three weeks, which eventually rose to #2. Spectacular track, great summer.

So, pretty fun one this year, I hope you all had as much fun reading these ridiculous lists every week as I had fun writing them. Well, that would probably mean you had very little fun. Next year now is anybody's game, but the Pure Summer Magic of "California Gurls" will be hard, if not impossible to duplicate. Stay tuned, friends, stay tuned!

06 September 2010

The Long Halloween: Labour Day

Here we are folks, it's been a long year but our look at TV's Greatest Holiday Specials has come full circle. For a refresher:

Halloween - The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror V"
Thanksgiving - WKRP in Cincinnati, "Turkeys Away"
Christmas - Seinfeld, "The Strike"
New Year's - How I Met Your Mother, "The Limo"
Valentine's Day - Spongebob Squarepants, "Valentine's Day"
St. Paddy's Day - 30 Rock, "The Funcooker"
Easter - South Park, "Fantastic Easter Special"
Mother's Day - SNL, "Justin Timberlake/Ciara"
Flag Day - Futurama, "A Taste of Freedom"
Independence Day - The Wonder Years, "Independence Day"
Summer - Tiny Toon Adventures, "How I Spent My Vacation"

Brilliant stuff here. Labour Day is another tricky holiday because there's not a whole lot of new TV that goes on. There's also not really great Labour Day Traditions other than eating Hot Dogs and well, watching Television! It's almost ironic that such a Television-Focused holiday lacks a good special. That's the key though.

Labour Day is a perfect Marathon Day, almost every Cable Channel has some offerings. The big one is of course the Jerry Lewis Telethon (does anyone actually watch that?) but you can get a full list here. The best of those options are definitely uh...Jersey Shore? TBS is showcasing a ton of The Office, but really the best way to celebrate Labour Day is with Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel.

It's possible Rowe did some of his best work fucking around on QVC, but his ability to bullshit, identify and joke around with every annoyed Blue Collar worker and willingness to dive into any insane job or situation with a good attitude makes what could have been a very hokey show worthwhile. To get a good look at all the Labour everyone else around this nation is getting a day off from doing, I'd pick Dirty Jobs as my Labour Day show.

Have a fun day off, people, tomorrow we get back to the suckitude of work and school. Fry up some Hot Dogs, stock the couch full of beer and take a load off. For songs I guess you can play this lovely number by Blink 182 for its brief mentioning of a classic Labour Day Fiesta (eating Hot Dogs and shitting your pants). Spectacular, folks, simply spectacular.

As for the future of this on-going series from Norwegian Morning Wood, we might get a little more irregular (Fat Chance I find another Flag Day Special), but if there's something good out there it'll get a mention. Fun year, everybody - keep those TVs on!

Summer Jam 2010: September 6 Winners

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's been a wonderful adventurous ride this summer but here we are - the final week of Summer 2010. Tomorrow with the first day of school across the country we'll announce the official winners but for now we've got one more week of the Top 8 Songs to go through. There is a bit of a shake-up coming down to the wire here so enjoy this final week of Jams!

#8: "California Gurls" - Katy Perry ft. Snoop

Hard times for "California Gurls" this week, but it's not like it's in any real jeopardy at this point of losing a good run at the Crown. It still lingered around this point but has lost a large amount of relevancy. Perfectly fading out of the picture as the weather turns a bit cooler, this is a Sun Song and doesn't deserved to be played around Orange Leaves. Thus its phasing out around this time of the year is working as expected.

#7: "Just a Dream" - Nelly

This is actually a pretty tight song that could be a popular Fall Jam, clearly breaking a bit too late to be a real Summer Jam. It's got a great flow, Nelly has this ability to be pretty legit when he wants to be and doesn't let up here. The hook maybe a bit whack, but for a slower, moodier Hip-Hop track this one delivers some cherry rhymes.

#6: "Just the Way You Are" - Bruno Mars

This has been around for a few weeks now and really for lack of competition is able to jump on the List this week. After singing some hooks to some of the biggest songs this summer Bruno finally gets a chance to showcase what he can do solo. It's not that great really, but popular enough to peak in there this week. Like Nelly though, not really any chance at all of being named King of Summer. That'd sure be outrageous.

#5: Like a G6" - Far East Movement ft. Cataracs & Dev

Alright, this song isn't doing that well on the charts but I heard it a ton this week and there's a ton I want to ramble about it. Kind of like "Whatcha Say" by Jason Derulo last year, it takes phrasing from a much better song as the chorus, which naturally becomes its best part (Derulo of course sampled a line from Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek"). "Like a G6" in a similar vein borrows from Dev's "Booty Bounce," which is in itself a video just interesting enough to grab my attention. There's a lot of ironic humour in this white hipster rapping chick's track which is pretty cool. It also seems to be one of the first uncensored vids on VEVO, which is also cool.

Anyway, "Like a G6" is ridiculous. It's full of all these Hipster Asians most famous for putting a track on The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). It's already a weird mix of cultures which continues with "G6."

The vid is slick, and while the Asian Rapping Contributions may be a bit lacking, Dev is solid and the beat is righteous. Actually it reminds me a lot of the theme to Buck Bumble (1998). Yeah, that's the only Buck Bumble reference you're going to read in this internet. The terminology on display is real goofy, apparently "slizzard" has been around for a while but I've never heard it before. I'm also glad I know what a G6 is from watching Tropic Thunder (2008). It's a pretty true track though and if it had come on a few weeks earlier it may have had a better chance to make a dent in the action this summer, although it really may be just too electro-out there to last too much longer.

#4: "DJ Got Us Falling in Love" - Usher ft. Pitbull

This song is gaining popularity this week and has got a nice little run here at Summer's End. Almost a contender for Top 3 this week, Ursh comes through although not nearly as much so as "OMG." Still though, in time this could be equally as popular but it won't be pegging a Summer Crown from one week here.

#3: "Love The Way You Lie" - Em ft. Rihanna

Big slip up this week for Em but he's losing a bit of steam finally. It's not like he's a total dud though, this track was played enough this week to snab the Three Spot. Some of this other tracks on Recovery deserve some recognition, "Untitled" especially. There's a lot of substance in this shit, which is really Em at his best. Anyway, after a pretty incredible run at the top these couple weeks he's started to fade along with the chilly weather. Maybe he can still try out for some new Human Torch role.

#2: "Teenage Dream" - Katy Perry

Finally flip-flopping her hits this week, Katy's managed a pretty good second hit this week. She actually surpassed Eminem on Digital Songs, iLike and the Billboard Top 200 Album list. Impressive enough to dethrone Marshall for the last week of Summer. Katy's got momentum out her ass right now, she should be rolling easy the next couple months.

#1: "Dynamite" - Taio Cruz

This song was everywhere this week, blasting on the radio, out of everyone's mouth and #1 on Pop and Dance Charts. You had better make space for Taio Cruz's hands, the lyrics are really dumb here but its catchy infiltration of Summer Brains is unparalleled. Conquering the final week of Summer is Cruz and his army of really hot girls.

So that's that, my friends. Nicki and Mike missed out this final week but all the big names are pretty secure. Tomorrow, for the Final Day of Summer in most parts of the country we'll showcase the Final King of Summer. Stay tuned for the Big Announcement (as if it's even debatable!).

04 September 2010

Profiles: Val Kilmer - From Tuna to Whale

For reasons that escape me Val Kilmer has been on my mind the past couple weeks. This is a really weird thing to say, I know, but call it some residual effects of watching MacGruber (2010) opening night, his performance has just hung with me that long. So, basically for no reason at all today we're talking Val. Well, it IS the five-year anniversary of the French Release of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). That's excuse enough.

Now the way I figure it, our buddy Val's got about three major phases. In the mid-80s he was this sort of playboy sexy comedy and action star. Then he's got this big streak from the start of the 90s to the mid-2000s full of heady dramatic roles with some consistent action here and there. Then of course, ever since 2006 we've been in the middle of Val Kilmer's Fat Period, which to be honest, is my personal favourite. Let's dive in.

1980s: The Stud Muffin Years

Val burst onto the scene in the mid-80s with two great sexy comedy action films with "Top" in the title: Top Secret! (1984) and Top Gun (1986). Top Secret! was his first film role, a pretty funny one that he actually really never returned to. He was able to play this young dumb guy pretty well though, continuing to morph into the brash Iceman in Top Gun. Providing the blonde oily counterpart to Tommy, that film wouldn't be the same without Val's constant asshole presence. He provided a tradition in his filmic roles here, doing just enough to accomplish what the film needs from him without overstaying his welcome or selling himself short. He's got this edge with understandable justification lying underneath. He's much more interesting to watch than Tommy. And that's not just because he's taller and oilier.

1990s to mid-2000s: Moody Actor

These are Val's peak years and it starts with his second greatest role, Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991). His commitment to the character is staggering, especially nailing Jim's distinctive voice. Reportedly Val sent Oliver Stone recordings of Doors songs, some sung by Val, some by Jim and asked Oliver to pick out who was who. After Oliver gave his picks Val revealed that the entire tape was himself singing. Crazy shit right. From what could have been a very easily portrayed story Val elevates the character with a youthful mystery, arrogance and tortuous character flaws that keep us intrigued. I mean, c'mon, it's The Doors. Who else could have pulled off that combination of hack, genius, poet and sociopath that was Jim Fucking Morrison? Greatest Rock N Roll Band of all time, man. The Doors also sets a standard of Val being exceptional in films that aren't necessarily that good.

From there he's got bit but important roles alongside some great actors in True Romance (1993) and Heat (1995) as well as a poignant turn in Thunderheart (1992). Throughout all these he emits this coolness along with some vulnerability. He's always a tough guy that retains a nervousness behind his eyes. His leading roles during this small time period are highly underrated. Also during this time we have what I consider his best role, Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993).

Tombstone, by the way, is far better than Wyatt Earp (1994) and Val is the best part. His soothes in and out of Doc effortlessly, pulling everything he can out a thick Georgian Accent that doesn't seem flawed or forced. He's ruthless but loyal but more importantly, always cool and confident, even when suffering from Tuberculosis and 36-hour Poker Matches.

His last really notable 90s flick is the much maligned Batman Forever (1995), which is a complete Affront to God and Heaven, but I'll contend that Val was actually a decent Batman. It's extremely hard to extract Val's performance out of incompetent direction, writing, set design and horrendously hammy acting all around him. Take a gander at a fan-made Darker Cut and see for yourself. Val portrays Bruce Wayne as a much more flawed, insecure man fighting for his own redemption as well as the world around him. He's also able to play intellectual far superior to George Clooney or Christian Bale (maybe not Michael Keaton). It's tough to find a Batman that has all of these characteristics, the neurosis, the Righteous Rage, the darkness and the detective. Kilmer comes close to nailing, I would have loved to see him in a good film.

Okay, so this trend continues through the early 2000s. Beyond a similar repressed intellectual in Red Planet (2000) he has two magnificent underseen roles in Salton Sea (2002) and Spartan (2004). He comes and goes in Alexander (2004) then returns to a hilariously good role in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Besides Alexander, these are all pretty fantastic movies (except maybe Red Planet as well actually). I think Val was largely written off from his role in a terrible Batman film as well as the growing novelty of Top Gun and controversy over possible liberties he and Oliver took during his portrayal of Jim in The Doors. Either way, these roles are solid, but his career during this point never really achieved mainstream success.

Late 2000s: Fat

Val has starred in three major films since 2005 that I'll mention here. The first is Denzel Washington vehicle Deja Vu (2006), which is actually a pretty cool movie. The major noticeable part of Val's performance though is his massive weight gain. Yeah, that picture is horrifying. He does slide into this older position pretty easily, probably too easily, he was only like 45 when he filmed this.

It's sweet to see two washed up, now desperate great actors from the 90s banter with each other in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans (2009). Nic is off the fucking deep end here but Val is ready to jump off right behind him. He plays fat, corrupted and nihilistic pretty well. There's only two major scenes with him and The Cage, at the first he balances Nic by providing much more sanity, by the end he actually balances him by being much more crazy. It's a cool dynamic to watch.

Finally, we have this post's inspiration for some reason, MacGruber. Val is back in comedy, completely hamming it up to ridiculous effect. It's become pretty entertaining to see the dude who once took his craft very seriously, portraying an assortment of subtly nuanced characters just go balls out as a dude named Dieter Van Cunth. His fat period is in full effect and if he uses this to as great extent as his oily sexy period, we haven't seen the last of Val for a long time.

Maybe not.
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