Thursday, April 30, 2009

Burn the Ed Wood


      That guy from Saving Private Ryan.  That’s all I knew Edward Burns was until I saw his first film The Brothers McMullen.  It was good for a first film, obvious in its auto-biographical content, highly indicative of a introductory film.  His other films contained the same content; numerous characters struggling with life’s many problems and where they fit in.  Burns’ films seemed to be trying to achieve the wit, depth and humor of Woody Allen, but continually straggle far behind in all respects.  However, I do love his movies, and just today I finished The Groomsmen; containing a pretty good cast including Jay Mohr, John Leguizamo, Matthew Lillard, Donal Logue, Brittany Murphy and that girl from Brooklyn in You’ve Got Mail, Sheri Albert.  Yet, like his other films there was something off, bordering on cliché and bothering me since it concluded.

            Yesterday my friend and I went to an open-mic at some club downtown.  As usual, some of the comedians were good, but most were terrible. One in particular told a joke that I believe is fittingly analogous to Ed Burns movies. 

He says, “So my girlfriend gets mad at me because I fall asleep after sex.  But that’s the point of my day, what else is there to do?  Next day, I wake up and will pursue the same goal.” 

Yes, I know, this joke is not funny at all.  However, it does hold some potential. For instance, instead of limiting himself to the “me” of the situation he should have focused on the “us.”  As in, while I fall asleep after sex, she does not, why is there a difference between us? And then he could have proceeded into an analysis of why there’s a difference in approaching post-sex activities from men and women.  I don’t know what the joke could have been, that’s not the point.  The point is that he limited the joke to his view, rather than a broader philosophical view; think George Carlin.     

            This is how I feel about Burns’ movies.  Although they contain interesting subject matter, they never go deep enough.  For example, Donal Logue’s character is introduced as an alcoholic, who’s temper is always hanging by a thread.  Eventually, we discover that he is infertile, and because he feels his manhood has been called into question he has been exceptionally angry.  That’s it.  While Woody Allen’s characters contain of lot of depth and personality, Burns characters always seem to be extremely one-dimensional.  Matthew Lillard is a Dad who still acts like a kid, John Lequizamo is gay and estranged from his father because of it, Jay Mohr is 35 and still living at home with no girlfriend or family.  I can just see Burns playing a game of darts, corresponding a character trait to each number - 16 is gay, 20 is infertile, 11 is divorced, bulls eye is suicide and each script he writes involves just throwing a dart in order to choose his character's problems.  In other words, there is no development. 

            Naturally I ask myself who writes these kinds of pictures?  What kind of person so obviously avoids developing depth and personality?  What distinguishes Woody Allen, or even Paul Thomas Anderson for that matter, from Edward Burns?  The simplest answer I could muster is that Ed Burns is like my cousins.  I’ll explain.  My cousins are religious and successful individuals, who aside from life’s daily and typical problems, never really ask the bigger, existential questions or observe the absurdity and depth of other people.  To them a gay is a gay, while to PTA a gay man could be Philip Seymour Hoffman who dresses in ridiculous clothes, and is obsessed with a heterosexual seventeen year old kid, enraged half-way through the movie on account of admitting his emotional sentiments.  Ed Burns, on the other hand, seems like he would say, “He’s gay, and his father disapproves;” about as typical as you can get. 

            Regardless of all of this I will continue to watch his movies, and, in fact, I’ll continue to enjoy them.  I feel as if they are the Terminator’s of the dramatic genre.  You have Terminator and then you have Commando, you have Husbands and Wives and you have The Groomsmen.  

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Burton of Bricks

I thought I didn't like Burton as much as I do, but he's a cool guy, better than that Wes Anderson asshole.  So after finally seeing Sweeney Todd it's time for another ranking.

Although he seems to be getting progressively worse, I'm still extremely excited for Alice in Wonderland; what better man to do it?  (Though I said the same about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and that was a stupid POS).

1.  Ed Wood 4/4 - ‘94

I saw this before I even saw an Ed Wood movie.  Then I saw an Ed Wood movie and understood why this was made.  The opening shot is one of the best in the entire universe.

2. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure 3.5/4 - ‘85

This is just a phenomenal kids movie.  If I’m feeling bad about Metallica suing Napster, I just let this baby role and I’m good. The scene in the magic shop always gives me the nervous poopies. 

3. Batman 3.5/4 - ‘89

One of Jack Nicolson’s greatest roles, goddamn.  Is the movie set in the 1930s? Then why is Prince playing during the dinner scene?  Is this thing on? What is this thing?  You know a movie’s good when Six Flags can recreate a Burton world via a roller coaster.

4. Batman Returns 3.5/4 - ‘92

Ebert only gave this two stars?!  What?!  I know the new Batmans makes this movie look like Dorah the Explorer, but come on - Danny Devito amongst all those penguins, Christopher Walken being Christopher Walken and Alfred.

5. Edward Scissorhands 3/4 ‘90

For an original story, this is one badass fairy tale.  The commentary on surburbia tickles me so hard that it lights my face up like the color of the houses.

6. Beetle Juice 3/4 - ‘88

Between Michael fucking Keaton playing Beetle Juice and the final dinner scene, I like this movie, I like it a lot.

7. Corpsebride 3/4 - ‘05

I recently saw Coraline which was three-dimensionally amazing, I don't know why I'm mentioning this.  I always liked the idea of using CGI to create what looks like Claymation.  It’s a nice October-time flick.

8. Sleepy Hollow 3/4 - ‘99

I haven’t seen this movie since its initial release, but I’m going to go with my instinct on this one - it was pretty damn awesome.  Up there with the headless horseman Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode.

9. Big Fish 2.5/4 - ‘03

Every time I sit down to watch this movie I remember the first preview on television with Salsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel playing, thinking this was going to be amazing.  So I think, “You know, it actually is a great movie" - contrary to all the times I viewed it prior.  But time and again, it fails at delivering.  

10. Sweeney Todd 2.5/4 - ‘07

The last movie of Burton’s I had to finish.  I’m not sure why I didn’t like it, I don’t know what I would have changed.  I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea...or blood? (cause there's blood and stuff).  

11. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 1/4 - ‘05

From the moment I heard that the writer had not seen the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory before writing the script, I knew this picture was doomed.  Its pretty much the exact opposite of the original: too many effects, not dark enough, no creepy knife salesmen, no Gene Wilder.  While Burton relies on atmosphere to create the world, Stuart relied on the story; damn farking right.

12. Planet of the Apes .5/4 - ‘01


13. Mars Attacks .5/4 - ‘96

Horrible attempt at recreating the sci-fi films from the cold war era.  Jack Nicholson, goddamn you.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Color Me Spielberg

I need to finish Spielberg’s filmography.  In fact speaking of S-named directors, I need to finish Scorsese’s filmography.  I don’t know what it is about the films 1941, Sugarland Express, Amistad, The Last Temptation, Kundun, or The Age of Innocence that makes me not want to watch them.  Well, maybe I do; 1941 is suppose to be terrible, The Last Temptation is too long and the content isn’t nearly intriguing enough, Kundun looks boring, and the two times I tried to watch The Age of Innocence I fell asleep.  Sugarland Express I for some reason compare to Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  As of this writing, I just found out it was made in the same year as Sugarland; the period when feminism hits film.  I’m not anti-feminist, but maybe my reluctance would say otherwise. I’d say it’s more attributed to the equation South + Domineering Patriarchy = Depressing.  But then I question why I loved Thelma and Louise. why did I feel the need to see The Color Purple?

Well, after a long hiatus, I watched a few episodes of Dawson’s Creek, and with my competitive, pretentious film-major attitude, I was not going to be outdone by Mr. Dawson Leery who fashioned a poster of the movie in his bedroom.

And it was a gem, Dawson has good taste!  Another movie where I didn’t expect much and it paid off big time; a 5/5 Netflix stars, a “loved it,” 4/4 Ebert Stars, a 9/10 on imdb.  Particularly, I liked that it wasn’t about racism. Not saying anything is wrong about portraying this issue, but it was extremely refreshing to see a “black” movie take place in the early 1900s and not revolve around it.  Spike Lee needs to take a lesson.  There are indeed moments of racism and bigotry, but more significantly, are the poignant moments of family and friendship, ever-memorable characters and perfectly constructed scenes (namely, the final dinner scene). So although I could say I’m going to bite the bullet and finish those last three films of Speilberg’s, I probably won’t.  All I can say is that in the words of Jules Winnfield, Spielberg’s one badass motherfucker. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mamet, Sweet Mamet

I have just finished David Mamet’s filmography; an easy, yet satisfying accomplishment. The strange thing is after accomplishing this task within a month, I don’t find him a great director, and his writing, while amazing, can get a little overboard. In fact, I only give ONE of his films a 4/4 and even that was a bit generous.

But, I couldn’t help myself, I was glued to his style, craving more with each newly arrived red envelope. His dialogue is the type where if you read it on paper its terrible, but when it’s delivered through great actors it becomes golden.

Here are my Mamet’s rankings and favorite lines:

  1. House of Games 4/4

The film that threw me into Mamet’s con-infested world with more twist and turns than a game of Twisted Metal. Somehow he creates a universe which exists solely for the characters in the film; is it because it’s a low-budget shoot with name actors on-location? Or is it the realist style combined with cheesy, yet clever, dialogue? Probably both.

Favorite Line…

Mike: I read a book once which said this: If you're fired from your job, when you're going home, take something. A pencil... Something to assert yourself. Take a memento. Take something from life.

  1. Glengarry Glen Ross 3.5/4

Although not directed by the man, probably his most famous work. Problem is that it just doesn’t transfer too well from the play its based on, which I’m desperate to see. Otherwise, Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris – you can’t go wrong.

Favorite Line…

(one of my favorite monologues of all time) All train compartments smell vaguely of shit. It gets so you don't mind it. That's the worst thing that I can confess. You know how long it took me to get there? A long time. When you die you're going to regret the things you don't do. You think you're queer? I'm going to tell you something: we're all queer. You think you're a thief? So what? You get befuddled by a middle-class morality? Get shut of it. Shut it out. You cheat on your wife? You did it, live with it. You fuck little girls, so be it. There's an absolute morality? Maybe. And then what? If you think there is, go ahead, be that thing. Bad people go to hell? I don't think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won't live in it. That's me. You ever take a dump made you feel like you'd just slept for twelve hours?

  1. The Edge

Yet again, not directed by Mamet (which may be saying something), but an amazing movie. I’ve probably seen it over ten times, and I’ll never forget when my dad first brought it home, not knowing what to expect. As the VHS tape rolled, I discovered one of my first favorite scenes of all time - where the cabin owner asks Charles what’s on the other side of the paddle.

My favorite line use to be from the above scene, but it actually changed. Come the conclusion, upon being asked what happened to his friends, Charles says, “They died saving my life.” It took me twelve years to understand this line.

4. Things Change 3/4

This was plain and simply a very warm and touching movie. It made me want to find an elderly Italian man and force him to be my best friend and/or go on a road trip with me. Considering the movie revolves around two people heading to a casino for a night on the town, it’s also where the famous line from Swingers comes from: “This is the guy behind the guy.”

Favorite Line…

IMDB doesn’t have it and I didn’t write it down, but it involves Ricky Jay telling the old man “What am I about to tell you is public knowledge…What I’m about to tell you is not public knowledge.” The entire movie is worth renting for this line alone.

  1. Heist 3/4

Why Netflix said this would be a 2.8 out of 5 stars is beyond me, but it was extremely well done. Not the best heist movie, but definitely up there. It’s one of those, “I’m getting old, so this is the last time” type of movies.

Favorite Dialogue…

Coffee Cart Man:Hey buddy. You forgot your change.

Joey Moore [Takes the change] Makes the world go round.

Bobby Blane: What's that?

Joe Moore: Gold.

Bobby Blane: Some people say love.

Joe Moore: Well, they're right, too. It is love. Love of gold.

  1. Redbelt 3/4

Mamet’s latest movie and probably most interesting. He somehow combines a martial arts picture with a philosophical drama containing Tim Allen playing a serious role. I have no idea how he pulled it off.

Favorite Dialogue…

Chet Frank: Booze, women - what in this life that doesn't get you in trouble?

Mike Terry: Turn to the side. Everything has a force. You embrace it or deflect it. Why oppose it?

  1. Spartan 3/4

This was my last Mamet film to watch and was a let down. But if you want to understand the style I’m talking about see this film. Although it contains a socially massive plot involving the President’s Daugther, he makes the movie feel like a small get together at the local tavern. Sadly, the ending and twist did not deliver well in the slightest.

Favorite Dialogue....

Curtis: I fucked up. I tried to help.

Scott: That's usually when people fuck up.

8. The Spanish Prisoner – 3/4

This was the movie I was most excited for, saving it for last. For some reason, I felt like I had seen this movie way back when it was first released in 1997. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing how strange the release date of the movie is. While The Edge was made in the same year and aged extremely well, this movie epitomizes the late 80/early 90s. Fark it, makes The Edge all the more better. Reminds me of David Fincher’s The Game, but yet again, not nearly as good.

Favorite Line…

George Lang: We must never forget that we are human, and as humans we dream, and when we dream we dream of money.

  1. State and Maine 3/4

I haven’t seen this movie in about two years so I don’t remember much. I remember I wanted to be like The Amateurs, I also wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman to dominate the screen, but it did neither. Regardless, it was pretty good.

Favorite Line…

Considering its Alec Baldwin

[after emerging from an upside-down station wagon he has just crashed]

Bob Barrenger: So, that happened?

  1. The Winslow Boy 2.5/3

Yet another movie based off a play. While Ebert’s review paints this movie to be an ultra subtle take on the nature of feminism and its drive for sex, while also praising its slick dialogue for not being all too obvious in its illustration of the sexual inclinations between Catherine and Robert, it was just a boring movie. Though it does contain an amazing scene when the “Winslow Boy” is interviewed by Robert.

Favorite Lines…

None, just the favorite scene.

  1. Oleanna .5/4

This movie was terrible and made me completely doubt Mamet’s talent. I have been undergoing a complete reexamination of his films to judge whether it’s the actors or his writing which make them good; I still haven’t reached a conclusion. This is a 90 minute movie taking place solely in a professor’s office with dialogue that dances so obscurely around the issue you wonder if Mamet even went to college. Lines are awkwardly repeated verbatim from the opposing character, indirect phrases are horrendously used in failing attempts at cleverness; this is a movie I would show on how NOT to write.

Favorite Line...NONE!