Friday, May 21, 2010

City Island and Misconceptions on North v. South

This week, one of my best Dude Friends from high school has been hanging his hat with me in Crooklyn. He's done with his fourth semester at grad school (a Syracuse poet, la-dee-da), so he ambled on down to my neck of the woods to keep me company and visit our other jerk high school friend who's just graduated law school.

"Other Jerk" High School Friend, Rusty, Me, Ashlee, Carmen, Jaclyn, Cheryl Crabb ;-)

(When I look in the mirror, all I see is: Underachiever.)

When we three buds are hanging out with our Northern friends, I think we feel remiss if we don't talk about the greatness of the South. Somehow, every conversation comes back to the wonders of Texas, even though we have no plans of living back there any time real soon.

Food? We speak of Southern specialties, and bask in our ability to tell the difference between good Tex-Mex and, well, pitiful Northern knock-offs. We've got a hold on all good music and writers, too.

As much as we three'll gossip til everyone in the room's ears are ringing, we've also got the sweetest Southern hearts (ahem); too bad you [Northerner] weren't lucky enough to grow up with the cows, spending every weekend trying to figure out how to have a guilt-free amount of fun.

So, it goes. And, I'm sure we're insufferable.

But I guess the Northern-folk do have some pride, as well. And, after I saw "City Island" a few weeks ago, I realized that while I've lived in New York for all-too-long now, when someone makes a movie about a fictional place nearabouts where you grew up, no matter if it's North or South, we all have loyalties. If you feel a movie slights you and your community, you might take umbrage.

Food Critic thought "City Island" encapsulated much too many stereotypes of Long Island culture to whet his palate.

I thought City Island was pretty great; after I saw it, I called Mama G/Brother G to tell them to get to the nearest theater because they'd surely appreciate the film. It was on limited release at the time, so there's the (one-and-only) knock against the South, but I gave them the gist of the movie.

Andy Garcia plays Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer (he reminds us of the titular distinction between "corrections officer" and "prison guard," or, I don't know, "clink manager" multiple times) during the day, an aspiring actor by night. Julianna Margulies plays Vince's suspicious wife, Joyce. And, for a former "ER" devotee (ca. 1994), it was nice to see her on the big screen.

Emily Mortimer plays Molly, a lady who's in Vince's acting class -- and, she's really sweet as can be and it was comforting that her friendship with Vince doesn't lapse into a typical philandering affair (because I don't like feelings). Rather, the joke falls more on the Vince/Joyce relationship--they have a tightly-knit family (dysfunctional, of course, but still close) yet Vince is too embarrassed to tell his wife that he's taking acting classes.

Their son, Ezra Miller (of TV's "Californication," "Royal Pains"), is endearing in his horrible awkwardness; his best line, with regards to his infatuation with obese young ladies, pertains to wanting to feed his next-door Love donuts.

Ezra, "Donuts," Miller

I don't normally chuckle at those scenes, but in this case, it was out-of-the-blue and the chuckles were certainly warranted.

The film really spins a good little tale about family dysfunction that dissuades you from being cynical, yet lets you sigh in relief about your own familial troubles.

While on the job in the jailhouse, Vince discovers a son whose whereabouts were a mystery; he brings him home, and that beauty of an actor (Steven Strait, or Tony Nardella in the film) is someone who'll--crossing my toes--be gracing my dreams in some fictional future.

I thought the movie was pithy, cute, dysfunctional (not in a "Greenberg" way) and overall "real."

That said, if I were from the NY-area, I might feel how I felt when "Varsity Blues" came out, years ago. That is, I might feel that they got the whole story wrong.

But, for me, [Northern family-dynamics] ignorance is bliss.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Guest Blogger, and Thoughts on the Utility of Bad Directors

Young James Cameron, trying to put a choke-hold on himself

Papa Grice e-mailed this morning. I sighed, readying myself for whatever political debate he was trying to trick me into (ahem). But, no! Pops G bloggled into my inbox, Slice of Grice-style. Having just recently seen "Avatar," he needed to get some things off his chest.

I was almost as appalled by the fact he was just seeing Avatar as I was by the movie itself. This, from a guy who sees almost as many movies a week as I do. But, I forgive, just won't forget.

He had some musings on Cameron, his oeuvre (cough), and the appreciation gained from suffering through bad directors. On to the soapbox!


That James Cameron. The man with the Midas Touch, his alchemy this time turning mere straw into wood—much as with Titantic, where an ordinary seashell was turned into granite. While I think he was aiming for gold, both resulted in something far less, far more forgettable and far more uninspiring.

Though, if the end desire is huge monetary largesse, the products were both diamonds.

Once you have arrived into the rareified climes that he has reached, I would think that you desire more—to leave a true imprint that will make you happy in your very old age. It should be that feeling that Hitchcock, Scorcese, William Wyler (Funny Girl, Ben Hur) must have—or, have had. But Cameron seems to either be bereft of the potential to stir up new ground or just satisfied with the tweaking, albeit with huge bells and whistles, of old, banal themes.

Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, William Wyler ... James "Unworthy" Cameron

I felt like I was back in the roaring 70's, where the big, bad, heartless, misanthropic corporation discarded all that represents real life in its scorched earth march towards a higher EPS (earnings per share) [Editor's note: "Yeah, I know, Dad."]. It seems futile to keep alive the delusion of a runaway, new industrial state that, unfortunately, does seem to dovetail with the Left's lean that has become pervasive--though rapidly unclothed. [Editor's note, "Boo."]

Be that as it may, the insipid, banal theme did provide an easily-understood and, hence, an oft-sold package that has satisfied the masses. With the inclusion of very special, special effects, it was a doozie that had the American Idol mentality all aglow. The formulaic love-hate-love pattern of the designated Love Situation was equally uninspired. The device of duality in time was a tweak on, and on loan from, Terminator et al, but did make for a slight bit of intrigue.

But overall, this movie was a yawner, one that made me so appreciate the Merchant-Ivory's and those who spin great stories that inspire. It is similar to the glitzy, easy-patterned top 40 songs of the past which just do not have the “stuff” that makes them “stick to the ribs.” Instead of shooting for "Dizzy"—though it makes you rich— why not aim higher?

Cameron has shown no real spark that would lead one to imagine such a thing, ala the Coen's or Tarantino, so I expect his bag’s to remain full, getting fuller, as he feeds the dumbed-down masses more of his forgettable fodder.

So as this uninspired trickery will serve as a good contrast and base to judge the more unforgettable directors, this too has its value.


Amen, Pops.

Mama G, Brother G, Papa G, Me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Iron Man 2 and the Power of Charm

Ever since I worked on a PopSci piece about the making of the new Iron Man 2 suit (that doesn't link to the article, but the linked article has such a dreamy headline), I'd been waiting anxiously for May 7 to arrive. When friends or strangers wondered aloud when the film was coming out, I'd snap "May 7th!" often without even looking up.

Then I'd sigh, audibly, and think to myself "God, what dolts!"

Sometimes I forget that people have other things to think about.

So, bright and early Saturday,
Food Critic and I skipped on over to the Kip's Bay theater for some awesome afternoon movie action, in the front row of the IMAX theater, no less.

Was all that
anticipation energy well spent? Correct, sir.

My love for Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man, marches on; Mickey Rourke, as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash -- who I was told is "one of The Ugliest Men" my friend has ever seen in person (ouch.) -- with his betattooed body, speaking in a scary-sounding Russian tongue while wielding electric whips, joins the long list of people I'd like to be
in my next life.

Scarlett Johansson, as sexy Natalie/Black Widow, had remarkably few lines, so I had little to cringe at (she also proved that she can pull off some really awesome martial arts, roundhouse-flipping-wall-climbing fight scenes); Gwyneth, returning as Pepper Potts and the new head of Stark Enterprises, was, well, annoying, but she always is, so what's director John Favreau supposed to do?

Oh, and Sam Rockwell. Rockwell was brilliant -- and briliantly cast -- as Justin Hammer, the wonderfully sleazy weapons maker who smells opportunity now that old Tony Stark (swoon) is off promoting peace and trying to survive his curious health condition caused by his suit. Honestly, Rockwell's ability to channel sleaze is rivaled only by Gary Oldman.

Oldman in "The Professional"

As the film opens, Stark walks out onto a stage in front of roaring fans; he's got sweet shades on, he walks with a strut and swagger only a superhero's alter ego can pull off, and, at that, I knew I was already a little in love with a movie that certainly packs in some unnecessary mini-plot points and lacks a bit of the last script's bite.

The gist: The U.S. government wants Tony to turnover his secret Suit's technology. A walking, talking specimen of Cool, we're treated to a delightful court scene where Tony tells the senator (Garry Shandling) demanding the tech to go jump in a lake, donning his ubiquitous sunglasses, and bowing out with a "But, I have successfully privatized world peace." Bam.

At that, Hammer (Rockwell) recruits Rourke to help develop new technology; conveniently, the Russian has old scores to settle with the Stark family.

Enter, more villains, several sequences that involve Whiplash working on a fleet of new robot suits, many, many close-ups of Johansson's ridiculously pouty lips that are pretty to look at, and, of course shots of Whiplash using those wonderful electric whips to slice cars in half.

I thought it was very, very fun, and rarely did my mind wander during the action scenes, something it's prone to doing.

There's a great little piece over at Entertainment Weekly that discusses the film's notably high appeal to starry-eyed ladies like myself and why they flocked to IM2 and walked out with a smile: The power of the film's characters' overwhelming charm. (And, having talked to many males about the subject, I don't think the seduction of the charm-laden film is limited to ladies.)

According to a studio distribution exec, EW quotes, You would expect such numbers from a film like Sex and the City 2." The author then puts into words better than I could've mustered what I, and most everyone I've talked to about it, seems to agree with:
Iron Man 2 succeeds on the charm of its characters rather than on the ka-chunk, ka-chunk of its warfare and impersonal CG action sequences. And chicks like charm. Heck, everyone likes charm, real charm. Which is why Robert Downey Jr. is currently the master of his domain. It also helps that in Iron Man 2, Gwyneth Paltrow is spunky-charming, Sam Rockwell is smarmy-charming, Mickey Rourke is psycho-charming, Scarlett Johansson is slinky-charming, and Samuel L. Jackson is eyepatch-charming.
For someone who claims RDJ as one of her first loves (Bueller may have come first, and Newman certainly later surpassed him -- but just like with all real loves, some part of it never dies.), it warms my Ice Cold Heart (let's be honest, the only "real loves" I have exist on-screen) to know that RDJ is once again "master of his [charm] domain."

As for the PopSci article on the IM2 suit, the top half of it was engineered by some very high-tech designers who told me in detail about the intricacies of his gloves, down to how many metal braces went around each of his digits; the bottom half of the suit was CGI.

Iron Man/RDJ was pants-less in the filming -- or, at least he wasn't wearing the Iron Man legs throughout. That also kind of warmed the Ice Heart, and made me giggle at the idea of him protecting world peace in his undies.

Movie Trivia: Sam Rockwell was the "Head Thug" in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, back in 1990 (ripe age of 22). Awesome.

TMNT trailer: