Friday, July 18, 2008

Column 2 "Iggy Pop as the Devil"

64. "The Dark Knight"
It's good, great in fact. Action from the first scene, a decent story that doesn't get too weighty, excellent shots of Chicago and, like every critic still breathing has said before, Heath Ledger is probably the best comic book villain yet. But like my first listen to Nirvana's 1996 live album "From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah," I could only think, "This is his last performance. I wish there were more performances." Just like that last Nirvana album, I'm sure I'll see this film many times, thinking about the first time I saw the film.

The anticipation for this film has been growing for over a year. The film was shot in the Loop last summer. My girlfriend's workplace was affected by early morning and late night shoots. On a Saturday last August she saw The Joker skateboarding and Batman eating from a Kraft service table while looking for parking. That day was Cal's Fest, an all day garage festival held at a downtown Loop dive bar. For those familiar with Cal's, you'll notice an early scene shot from the corner of Cal's. What's the point of all this? Chicagoans have been following this thing well before Heath Ledger's death.

I didn't count screen time but I think Gary Oldman could be considered the lead actor. The story is based more on him than Bruce Wayne, not a bag thing. Part two of the Christopher Nolan Batman's isn't bogged down with back story. The Joker has no back story, it's part of why he's scary. The only thing you need to know about Harvey Dent is he was once pure, loves the woman Bruce Wayne has always loved and can be a way for Batman to no longer exist. No samurais, underground societies, manors or dead parents. This time it's about catching the bad guy and watching stuff explode. In fact, by having the Scarecrow show up in one of the first scenes was a neat nod to the first film. Once that was out of the way, it was time to bring in the new guys.

"Batman Begins" created its own world. It was obvious from certain ariel shots that the bridges were real, used to cross the Chicago River, and the rest was miniature sets made to look like a poor and desolate shanty town. The train system that the Wayne's set up was the El, but the El in Gotham is three levels and has a lot more graffiti. "The Dark Night" gave up on creating its own world for the better. The El in Chicago is now the El in Gotham. The streets, all the city streets, are Chicago streets. The explosions happened in and around Chicago, not in a controlled studio. By foregoing making Gotham from scratch, Nolan made the film more realistic, a word not usually used to describe a comic book film.

Back to Ledger. He's the perfect villain. He doesn't care about anything, answers to no one and is more than willing to care and cut for laughs. Money or a lack thereof wouldn't change anything. Think of what "Fight Club" was supposed to be and you get The Joker. Even his appearance adds to the manic character. Every good punk singer should take some notes from his fashion. Custom made suits with colors resembling Willy Wonka violently puking. Stringy hair that can only be achieved by a total lack of care and a penchant for tiny bugs. Makeup that is caked on, sweat off and applied in a way that can only be described as childlike. If you encountered a man like this on the street you'd cross the road, but definitely remember the character.

Jack Nicholson was reportedly angry that the filmmakers didn't ask him to reprise the Joker. He thought he could pull off a demented villain again (though looking back on his turn at the role, it seems like he didn't pull anything off). When Ledger died Nicholson was reported as saying he warned Ledger that the role might be his demise. While Nicholson is surely an asshole, he may have been right. Ledger did seem to do something most actors never will achieve, recreate a character everyone knows and may win acting's highest honor.

All of the acclaim is deserved. Will the next Batman be as good? Probably not. Maybe it shouldn't be made. It's difficult to think of a better way to present Batman. It's even more difficult to think of a villain better than The Joker. Will another comic book film be this good? Maybe, but I doubt it'll come from Marvel or DC or any big studio. Nolan has perfected what you can do with 70 year old characters while staying within a PG-13 rating. The genre should be laid to rest for a while. This won't happen. We're going to get at least another five years of super hero films and every reviewer will say, "Wasn't Heath Ledger great in "The Dark Knight?"

He didn't get a cut of merchandising or DVD sales

63. "Overnight"
It's obvious where this film is heading from the first scene. First time writer/director of "The Boondock Saints" thinks he's hot shit, alienates his family and friends, loses what made him the next "it" kid, makes film, film bombs, ends up worse than he was before the film began. It's still a good film. Though I'm not a fan of "The Boondock Saints" I found this story engrossing. Ideal for an afternoon viewing.

Sad and lonely

62. "Super High Me"
I think Doug Benson is a very good comic. I laugh at his pot jokes. I do not get high. I figured the film would bore me and end up turned off within the first 15 minutes. I was wrong. This documentary/experiment was a not-too-pothead friendly look at both the comedians life and the affects of marijuana. Like "Super Size Me," it's obvious what those affects are, the study is the reason for film but not the reason to keep watching. Benson's solitary life as a stand-up is what makes the film engrossing.

Two-thirds of the film is about Benson not smoking for thirty days, followed by thirty continuous days of smoking. The other third is about the legality situation of medical marijuana in California. Since the state said it's legal over 200 shops have sprung up. The Feds do not agree and occasionally shut down stores. That stuff is boring. What's sad and kinda funny is watching Benson smoke up alone, send his mother money because no one else does and perform with his friends.

Purple leather

61. "Raw"
Maybe I didn't like it because I'm too young. Maybe I didn't like it because I was sober. Either way, I didn't like Eddie Murphy's second comedy film.

Murphy recently announced he was retiring from films and was going to go back to stand-up. It'll be better than his films, but not by much.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cleaning out my bag

In an effort to wrangle up all my pay stubs since March I've been emptying my backpack and messenger bags. Rather than just discard random writings, I've decided to include some.

Early January 2008 in Cleveland with Mike
We could go in as early as 1:35
The outfits alone are in the thousands. He kicked down the door! And we need 2 doors! And smoke machines! NUGE! Sorry I'm not more lively. Like a woman from Tokyo!
Why did he ignore the girl to croon to Weird Al?
Look at the people dancing on the risers.
I'll eat Really slow.
I want to be in Shok Paris!!!
I think stop-action animation is great.
I'll bet you $10 they auto-tuned every vocal track on the song.

December 2007 in CVS, probably something I overheard and felt the need to catalogue since it's written on the back of a receipt
"Hey, you might now want to eat that, I have to bring you home for Christmas."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wal-Mart might not sell this film

60. "Wall-E"
Pixar is really good at what they do.

"Wall-E" is easily the darkest Disney film since "Bambi" or "Dumbo." It's set 800 years from now, when Earth is too polluted for human life. Wall-E is a trash compactor of sorts. He's alone on a lonely planet. His only friend is a cockroach. Everyone who lives in America will know this by now.

Easily the best 2008 film I've seen this year. It made its own world, created wholly original characters, used a song to help tell a story (think "Punch Drunk Love") and had a message that didn't preach and still gives hope. Top that, Dreamworks.

Carefully placing microphones around the room

29. Mick Brown "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector"
This biography exists because Phil Spector 'allegedly' murdered Lana Clarkson. The most boring part of the book is the part where Phil Spector 'allegedly' murders Lana Clarkson. Spector's recording techniques and wacky (serial killer wacky, not Bugs Bunny wacky) lifestyle is the reason to read this book.

Phil Spector is cut from the same cloth as Orson Welles. Both men created something at an early age that they could never top. Welles' life can easily be followed through his films. The same does not go for Spector. The man is confusing and this biography does nothing to sort things out. No book can. Spector is probably certifiably crazy with a drive on par with Hitler.

Mick Brown interviewed Phil Spector for a British music magazine a few weeks before Spector 'allegedly' killed Clarkson. The producer talked for four hours about his recording style, life philosophies, life as a record man, being a father and more. Based on the excerpts in this book it appears that it was an interesting interview. What's more intriguing is the setting of the exchange, Spector's castle. The interviewer was forced to wait for hours, witnessed Spector descend his staircase dressed in a cape to a soundtrack of classical music and dined alone while Spector hid upstairs.

Brown and his team did an excellent job compiling interviews. The first 350 pages don't touch upon the murder. Instead, you learn about what drove this man to become a megalomaniac. His overbearing mother, insane sister, father's suicide and small stature are thoroughly explored. Fellow musicians, friends and employees speak openly to paint a multifaceted picture of the creator of the Wall of Sound. Though the book was published to cash in on the trial (part two begins this fall), it does stand up with the best pop music biography's.

Friday, July 11, 2008

No Jambi, the Genie

59. "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"
Yes, I was a fan of "Pee-wee's Playhouse" as a kid and had never seen the film. I guess I'm not really a child of the 80's.

The Tim Burton 1985 is wonderful is every way. It stars a wholly original character that lives in his own world but grows to be loved in each new one he stumbles upon. The mixture of 50's kitsch, 80's hair and Burton's Dali inspired sets made the film timeless in it's own way. Everyone that has seen this film after childhood would agree. It's sad that the film, show and character were forced into obscurity, but it was probably for the best. Two films and 45 episodes gave us just enough Pee-wee to miss him when he went.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Keep an eye out for a young Sarah Vowell

58. "Man in the Sand"
This is an odd documentary. It's kind of a film about the life and legend of Woody Guthrie. It's partly about Billy Bragg following in the footsteps, figuratively and mostly literally, of Guthrie. It attempts to give some perspective on the making of "Mermaid Avenue," a collaborative album between Billy Bragg and Wilco. It doesn't do any of these things well.

I read Greg Kot's book about Wilco a few years ago. He mentions an interview with Jeff Tweedy about these sessions. The Chicago band was taken aback by an extremely large American flag on the wall of Bragg's Dublin's studio. They thought it was odd that an Irishman was proud of a country he never lived in. The flag is in nearly every scene shot in Ireland.

Billy Bragg fans will eat this shit up. Woody Guthrie fans will call Billy Bragg a cheap impostor but proceed to eat this shit up. Wilco fans, which includes me, will argue that Tweedy should've done this project alone (which couldn't have happened because Bragg asked Wilco to join him) because he wrote the music to "California Songs" and that's much better than anything Bragg did. Wilco fans will also think, "Wow, everyone in that band has aged quite a bit in 10 years."

The documentary and albums (the first album came out in 1998 to critical acclaim so a second volume was released in 2000) exist because of Guthrie's daughter Nora. She comes off as an idealistic hippy that probably wants to sleep with Billy Bragg. But what do I know? I didn't grow up around Bob Dylan.

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is a much better documentary.

Welles deserves the acclaim

57. "F for Fake"
Orson Welles visual essay on fakery is the last film he ever saw completed. It is unlike any other film. It is quite a feat.

The first hour of "Fake" is about the world's best art forger, Elmyr, and the world's most well known lying writer, Howard Hughes 'biographer' Clifford Irving. The last half hour is about Picasso and the woman that scammed him into painting twenty-two portraits of her and got to keep them. One of these stories is fake.

It's difficult to give anything away about this film. It's non-linear, uses footage from a different documentary, has magic tricks and features narration and commentary by the film's director, co-star and editor, Orson Welles. The film is like the conversation you wish you had in philosophy or art class about art or philosophy. In a way, the film is just pure fun. It doesn't take itself too seriously and features some of the most important artists of the 20th century. A wonderful film that is definitely not for everyone.

Heroin addict, alcoholic, deadbeat dad 'artist'

56. "Imagine"
I watched this John Lennon biography because Phil Spector is in a few scenes. It was not worth watching.

Unless you're a big Lennon fan and haven't seen or read "Anthology," there's no reason to watch this documentary. It does nothing but cater to the Lennon legend. He's tortured and great and childlike and a jealous guy and an artist and saves lives and doesn't believe in Beatles. It's all been said and seen and is boring and self-serving.

A New York Times reporter interviews Lennon about his billboard campaign. He says he has saved lives. The reporter calls him on being full of himself. The should have ended the film.

There are tits in the first scene for no reason

55. "Lethal Weapon"
He is getting too old for this shit.

For the other three people that haven't seen this film, let me give you some story notes. Mel Gibson is a suicidal cop with a loaded gun, a lethal weapon so they say. Danny Glover is a veteran cop who is getting too old for this shit. The two become partners. The two have to bust a drug cartel that happens to have some of Glover's old Nam buddies as middlemen. Shit goes down.

The film is dated. Besides Gibson's mullet, the cars, dialogue, film stock and music scream 1987. Those are the bad parts. Gary Busey is the great part. A henchman for the main smuggler, Busey is krazy, where Gibson is just crazy. He lets his boss burn his arm to set an example for another drug dealer. He has horse teeth. What more could you want from a villain?

I did not enjoy "Lethal Weapon" as much as I thought I would. Maybe it's the 500 parodies that I've seen.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I hate him! I love him! He's a scoundrel! He's a saint! He's crazy! He's a genius!

54. "Citizen Kane"
Preface: I'm writing this within an hour of seeing the film. I'm going between this and reading three reviews/critiques of the film in addition to some history. Be warned that this thing will probably be all over the place.

I've finally watched the greatest film of all time.

At 26, Orson Welles created his masterpiece. Coming off the success of his "War of the Worlds" radio play, he had complete control over his directorial debut. This did not happen again in his career.

I've known about this film, the history and the stature, since I knew that film was an art form. I knew that "The Simpsons" parodied the story of Kane when Mr. Burns yearns for his childhood plush bear 'Bobo.' I had a feeling that I had heard the song about Kane sung by a chorus line (I had, the White Stripes used to sing a verse or two at live shows). In other words, why haven't I seen this thing before? The only reason I can think of is fear, the fear that I won't understand the praise.

I do understand the praise. The cinematography alone makes it ground breaking. The story structure is still interesting. Welles' performance as Kane is probably taught in any self-respecting acting class. The audio is realistic and scary, specifically in scenes in Xanadu.

I do not completely understand why this is the greatest film of all time.

If I saw this film at 1941 and understood why Hollywood did not want to see a film that in any way resembled William Randolph Hearst, I might consider this the greatest film of all time.

Do I not think it's #1 because so many films have borrowed techniques that Welles created?

After seeing this and "The Lady From Shanghai" I see Welles love of mirrors and will probably steal some shots he's used.

Of the films on the AFI Top 100 Films list, I would say that "Singin' in the Rain," "It's a Wonderful Life" and "High Noon" should be moved to 1, 2 and 3. I would also add "The Thin Man," which isn't on the list, to number 4. "Citizen Kane" would be in the top 10.

I have a feeling that "Kane" will become more resonant the older I get. The idea that someone my age wrote (with Herman J. Mankiewicz) the greatest film of all time, lines that resonate today, lines about aging that only a dumb youth could stumble upon, makes me think there's something I won't understand till I'm on my deathbed.

Like I've been doing since I was thirteen, I'm once again looking to Roger Ebert to explain to me what I think I understand.