The Wannabe

Aug 21

Un Posto Per I Mostri -

I posted a new prompted short story on my fiction blog.  Give it a looksy, if you are so inclined.

Steven Spielberg to Bring Minority Report to Television - ComingSoon.net -

Make it stop.  Please make it stop.

Aug 19

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Aug 16

Fall Movies 2014

It feels like I haven’t been going to the movies this year as much as I usually do.  A lot of that can be accounted for starting a new job at the beginning of the summer, but a lot can also be accounted for kind of a shitty wave of movies flowing into theaters.  Not that everything has been shitty, but save for a few exceptions, nothing has really been gaga-worthy.  Well, that looks to change this fall, and with the epic amount of films being released, I now make this vow: I will see two new movies in theaters every week, from September 1st to the end of the year.  I will most likely back out of this vow once life gets in the way, but I’m sure the movies’ feelings won’t get hurt.  In any case, here are ten I will definitely be seeing.

10. ROSEWATER—There is no telling how Jon Stewart is as a director, but I don’t have any worries over the amount of passion he has invested in this project.  If that translates well onto the screen, then the one thing I will worry about is whether or not this will affect his status as host of The Daily Show.  Don’t leave me, Jon!

9. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING—Looks to be a combination of A Beautiful Mind and The King’s Speech, which is to say it probably contains a heaping dose of inspirational schlock.  But screw it, the trailer made me cry and Stephen Hawking is an interesting cat.  So, in.

8. BIG HERO 6—Disney continues its attempts to mirror Pixar (kind of funny, if you think about it).  They do their fairy tale thing fairly well (no pun intended…is that even a pun?), but I think they have more success with non-fairy tale flair like Wreck-It Ralph when it comes to the heart factor.  Hopefully this can emulate that.

7. INHERENT VICE—They haven’t released a lick of footage yet, but it’s PT Anderson, so of course I’m there with bells on.

6. WILD—I need to finish the book.  I’ve been so swamped with starting a new job that I haven’t found time to read.  I started this in April; I’m still on page 45.  It’s good and the story is interesting and speaks to me on a personal level, so I do plan to finish it before the December release.  Plus, the director is Jean-Marc Vallee, whose last film was Dallas Buyers Club, so this guy’s on my watchlist for new directing talent.

5. GONE GIRL—Here’s a book I did finish, and while I’ll say I believe it was overhyped, it definitely stuck with me and unnerved me a whole bunch.  I’m a fan of Fincher, but I’m mostly looking forward to seeing Neil Patrick Harris play against type and, fingers crossed, be well on his way to scoring an Oscar nod.  Because the role he’s playing?  *shivers*  EGOT!  EGOT!

4. DUMB AND DUMBER TO—Twenty years.  It’s been twenty years since Dumb and Dumber came out.  I am old.  And so are Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.  This may go the way of Anchorman 2, in that it won’t necessarily suck but it still disappoints and reeks of a lack of necessity.  But so what?  More Harry and Lloyd?  Yes please.

3. BIRDMAN—This will likely go down as the strangest film of the year, but it looks A-MAZ-ING.  The cast, the cinematography (is it really going to be done in only a handful of single takes?!).  I don’t know what to expect…except for greatness, of course.

2. FOXCATCHER—Bennett Miller is one of those quiet, under-the-radar directors in that he’s well known and makes great films, but he hasn’t really blown onto the scene yet.  I’m not sure if I want him to, as a corrupted Bennett Miller might cause me to weep for the sanctity of art, but if any movie makes him a household name, it will be this, because this looks scary, and not just because of Steve Carell’s nose.

1. INTERSTELLAR—Wow.  Shocker.  A Christopher Nolan movie is at the top of my list of most anticipated movies.  That’s never happened before.  My favorite director, taking the cake once again.  I’m soooooo unpredictable.  (In all seriousness, I’ve been waiting for this movie ever since Spielberg was attached, and Nolan’s involvement only amped that anticipation to infinity, so can this come out now already?)

Some other films I’m looking forward to this fall, you ask?  No?  You didn’t ask?  To bad!  Here they are:

YEH: This is Where I Leave You; Horns; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1; The Interview

EH?: Men, Women & Children; Horrible Bosses 2; Unbroken; Big Eyes

MEH: The Maze Runner; The Equalizer; Laggies; Fury

FEH: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Penguins of Madagascar; Annie; Exodus: Gods and Kings

I think it will be a good four months.

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Aug 14

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Aug 13

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Aug 12

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No Clown Like Him: Some Words on Robin Williams

After I finished screening Get On Up, I started to think about the celebrity deaths that truly affected me.  You know, the ones that were almost like losing a family member, despite never actually having met them, but they were a big part of your upbringing or just touched you in some special way.  James Brown was one.  Roger Ebert was another.  George Carlin.  So then I started thinking about other deaths that would have a similar effect. A grim list to make, to be sure, but considering it was all hypothetical, that seemed to lessen some of the grimness (I hope).  Robin Williams was never on that list.  Not because I didn’t think I would get down over his death, but because it never even occurred to me that the man could die.  He was everlasting in my eyes; he would live forever and ever.

So when I heard yesterday’s news, I just stopped.  I didn’t want to do anything, except maybe go home.  I had to take a walk around the block of my office to try and clear my head, but even that didn’t really work.  Robin Williams was such an important figure in the world.  To have it spin without him seems almost unfair.

He was one of those people that I just always knew existed, even before I knew who he was.  I watched the Mork and Mindy reruns on Nick at Nite.  I devoured Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jack, Hook, Jumanji and Fern Gully.  I considered Jim Carrey my favorite actor when I was a kid, but Robin Williams was more than just a close second; he was like the deity that Carrey was meant to worship, the wise and comedic clown that saw all, knew all and just bled and sweat and energy that was infectious and welcome.  He was on another level.

I literally jumped for joy when he won his Oscar for Good Will Hunting.  I literally prayed to run into him during any trip over the Golden Gate Bridge because I knew he was a local boy and just wanted to shake his hand.  I loved, literally loved Patch Adams probably just because he was in it and caused me to be blind to the film’s schlocky faults.

I was unaware of his battles with depression and drug addiction for the longest time, but it only made me respect him even more when I realized how much perseverance he had.  That he was able to bounce off the walls and riff so organically while fighting back his demons was so brave and inspiring.  Laughing and making other people laugh?  That’s a great way to heal.

But it wasn’t enough.  Robin felt that he had to stop fighting.  It’s a tragedy, a damn, crushing tragedy.  If there’s any silver lining, it’s that this will hopefully open up a loud dialogue about the state of mental healthcare in this country, and really the whole world.  There’s a stigma attached to it, an almost shame for the people who suffer and choose to hide it or find other ways to deal with it, and the people on the outside who just can’t understand the torture it can cause inside.  I don’t want to justify suicide, but speaking from personal experience, when you are deep down in the middle of a crippling depression, it really can feel like the only way to stop the pain.  The point that needs to be hammered over and over again is that is a cruel trick the mind can play on you and there are better ways to deal with it, and those ways are there for you at all times.  Everyone deserves help.  I hope people can take this as a sign that there is another road to take and people are there for them.  Hope is never lost; it’s just buried sometimes.  Keep digging and you’ll find it.

Beyond the tragedy, though, Robin Williams deserves to be remembered for all the good he brought to us.  There’s the laugher—the hysterical laughter (his bit on golf from his Broadway show from 2002 alone is probably one of my top 5 favorite stand-up bits, and maybe even top 3)—and the amazing performances, both loopy and restrained.  Calling someone one of a kind has become a bit of a cliché these days, but it extra applies here.  Robin Williams was one of a kind, and we were all fortunate enough to pay witness to his genius.  I keep thinking about the closing lines from Hook, a movie I consider immensely underrated: “To live would be an awfully big adventure.”  Robin Williams lived, and the adventure he had will let him live forever.  And we are all the better for it.

Rest in peace, you darling and magnificent clown.

Aug 07

My Take on Get On Up

By now, we’ve all likely picked up on how a biopic is going to pan out, the ones based on the lives of musicians, especially.  It’s the same progression: hardship during youth, finding that saving grace (in this case, music, duh, no clarification necessary, too late), lack of respect as they try to make it, eventual success, and then the run-of-the-mill sex, drugs and rock and roll before inevitable redemption.  (In other words, Dewey Cox was pure brilliance.)  The trick of the biopic, particularly the ones where in the subject does some pretty bad things, is to nail that landing of redemption and have the audience like them.  Liberties will probably taken, but everyone needs to come out cleaner on the other side.  If there’s no redemption, then there’s really no point why we’re watching this famous figure’s life story.

This template is what makes Tate Taylor’s Get On Up, the story of The Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, both a success and a failure.  James Brown is near and dear to my heart.  I grew up with his music, his songs were some of the first that I learned to play on drums, and when it came time to do biography reports in a music class I took in eighth grade, he was the first artist to come to mind.  (He also died on my birthday, but that’s just a coincidence and it’s sad, so we can skip that part.)  But even with all that love I have for the man, even I can’t deny one simple thing: he was a prick.  A genius, obviously, and a bit of a kook, most definitely, but above everything else, he was a selfish, temperamental prick.  He was notorious for being a prick to everybody, from complete strangers to those in his band, actually fining them every time they made a mistake.  So how exactly are you supposed to make a film where somebody needs to be redeemed for being such a jerk (I’ll stop saying prick) when he was jerk all the way until the end?  How do you get the audience to like him?

One trick is to switch up the template.  There are dual narrative gimmicks going on here that feel both crowded and necessary.  First, the film is told non-linearly, choosing instead to focus on the emotional arcs rather than the story, a la La Vie En Rose (which I regrettably have yet to see, but a friend described the film as using such a technique, so hopefully I’m not wrong in this comparison).  This is fine, but it jumbled up the journey the story was trying to present, and I felt like I wasn’t going along for the ride and instead watching from the ground.  The second trick is James Brown breaking the fourth wall.  This I preferred, as it appealed to the vanity Brown held; it gave off the impression that he thought, or knew, that he was in control.  He was telling this story.  He was the man.  The world was his.

The film can’t avoid all the tropes of a musician’s biopic, though, and yet somehow they don’t hit like they’re supposed to.  The jumpy narrative glosses over a lot and chooses to refer to supposed “big moments” only in passing or retrospect.  There are a couple brushes with the law, but the second, more serious offense is used more as bookends, and once it returns, it’s gone just as quickly.  Brown remarries, but we don’t see any romance between him and his new wife, Dede (Jill Scott).  We didn’t even see any with his first wife.  Then there’s the moment where Brown is suddenly physically abusive towards Dede.  Again, this happens and then is silenced from the story, with Dede acting like it’s business as usual, so it doesn’t really register; believe me, I don’t want to come off as cavalier here when it comes to spousal abuse, but it’s treated like nothing here, and not because it wants the audience endeared to James, but because it doesn’t know what to do with the information.  It’s a storytelling mistake among many storytelling mistakes.

However, the main relationship between Brown (Chadwick Boseman) and Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) is ripe with dimension.  Brown was not really raised by his parents (Viola Davis and Lennie James), so even though he had a mother-figure (Octavia Spencer, unfortunately wasted here), Brown grew up with an air of self-reliance, raising himself and never needing anybody.  Byrd, on the other hand, grew up fairly privileged and learned how to share.  So while the two have a friendship that is full of real loyalty, it’s still very one-sided.  Brown, the control freak, lacking in self-awareness of his actions and counting on nobody but himself, and Byrd, taking Brown’s abuse at great expense to his self-esteem because he believes he is sharing in the splendors and will one day get a taste of the spotlight.  If there’s any sort of character arc here, as well a glimmer of redemption, it’s James learning to become a better friend to Bobby.  Unfortunately, this only becomes apparent toward the tail end of the film, so by that point all we’ve witnessed was a disorganized Wikipedia article—informed, but not immersed.

However, in spite of all these flaws, the film won me over, for the most part, due in part to its performances.  This is a supremely well-acted film, and Boseman and Ellis give two performances that will likely stand out as some of my top favorites of the year.  Ellis conveys all the pain from his friend and bandleader’s neglect with a perfect subtly, stuffing everything down, letting bits out here and there, but still having to bite his tongue.  When he eventually does blow up at Brown, it feels cathartic, and that’s thanks to Ellis’ restraint.  Boseman, meanwhile, is a revelation.  Every inch of him is dripping with James Brown.  He’s got the moves, he’s got the voice, he’s got the swagger—he’s a douche, but it’s near impossible not to fall for that charm, so maybe the film relies to heavily on his portrayal in order to make up for its script problems.  But Boseman does indeed give Brown dimension.  There are moments when he realizes his mistakes, but it’s all in his eyes, as though he knows he’s being watched (and in a sense, considering the Bueller-narration, he is).  He’s a showman and has to put on a show for everybody, on or of stage, but it’s the quieter moments where he really breaks through.  He more than deserves to be remembered during awards season.

The movie that kept running through my mind while watching Get On Up was Raging Bull.  There, too, we have a remarkably unlikable lead character that does and says awful things, and yet we root for him just the same.  (Bull was definitely on Taylor’s mind as he directed this, and the direction is fairly Scorsese-esque without coming off as copycat, give or take a mirror pep talk).  This film obviously doesn’t come close to matching the classic quality of Bull, but it reveals an inherent aspect of going to the movies: we’re predisposed to like our protagonists.  We want them to come out the other side okay so we can leave the theater feeling okay.  James Brown may have been a shitty person, but when it comes to his place in history, it’s hard not to enjoy that funk.

Rating: Three stars