Monday, November 28, 2011

Just saw the year’s best film today

But before I get to that, here’s the Fall Movie Report, half-way through:

Caught Immortals a few weeks back. It’s one of those flicks that was great fun in IMAX 3D, but I wouldn’t make it through the first half if I was watching it at home. I honestly don’t remember a thing about it, other than thinking its debt to recent big screen swords & sandals films like 300 and Clash of the Titans was over-evident.

Caught the new Muppet movie over the weekend with the Bastardson side of the family. It was better than I expected (I only used to watch The Muppet Show if the guest was somebody I really liked) and what little plot there is, I actually remember. It’s a road movie with a “Save The Muppets” theme. It treads well-paddled water with good humor and in terms of sticking the dismount, comes closer to the easy, off-the-cuff vibe of the original Muppet Movie than any other entry in the franchise’s considerable filmography. It’s a shame Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Rolf the Dog) decided not to participate.

While I can hold my head high and report that I will not be seeing the latest Twilight installment, I do have to admit having paid actual American currency to see the most recent Adam Sandler vehicle, Jack & Jill, where he thespianizes-up both himself and his twin sister. I have two excuses. One: Al Pacino plays a send-up of himself in an extended cameo as a pompous movie star who falls for Sandler’s hideous twin sister and Two: Did I mention Al Pacino is in it? He’s slumming, but it’s clear he’s doing it as a lark, as opposed to, say, Robert DeNiro, whose participation in a film used to make it an event, but these days is a red flag as often as not.

Puss & Boots was a gas. Better than any of the Shrek movies, which I disliked very much. But the trailers convinced me to give this one a try and for a change, they left a few good parts out of the trailer to include in the movie. Funniest animated kiddie flick since Rango.

In Time was a rip-off. I thought it was going to be a time-travel flick, and all I remember without checking is that it was not a time-travel flick!

Tried to see Eddie Murphy’s alleged return to form in Tower Heist, but the local theater screwed the pooch on that one. That was the weekend they were transitioning all their screens over to digital, and the 1:45 screening of Tower Heist ended up collateral damage. Oh well. I’m sure it’ll be out on video in time for Christmas.

Want to see J. Edgar, but Eastwood’s record as a director is all over the place, from well-meaning but predictable (Invictus), to overwrought (Mystic River) to terrific (his twin Iwo Jima films; Unforgiven). And then there’s Leo Decaprio’s participation, whose only credible performance since Titanic was in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, which is still technically a fluke, as well as a testament to director Scorsese’s deft touch with his actors, as far as I’m concerned. Probably will wait for J. Edgar to hit video unless it has staying power past the holidays.

Speaking of Scorsese, he has made the best movie I’ve seen all year and it’s honest-to-goodness good, clean fun for the whole family. I saw it with The Boy today, and asked him tonight which one he liked better, between the Muppet movie yesterday and the one today, and our six-year-old Sesame Street fan promptly answered, “Today’s.”

The name of the film is Hugo. I went in expecting nothing other than to give The Missus a couple hours of peace and quiet, and there happened to be a screening at just the right time. I saw it was another 3D extravaganza and grumbled about all the extra damn money this stupid 3D shit has cost this year, mostly for idiotic fluff like The Immortals.

Hugo? This was that rare case of 3D being used both brilliantly and subtly. About 1/3 of the film takes place in a wide-open, mile-high clock tower overlooking 1930s Paris. There are some truly vertigo-inducing scenes that advance the story instead of distract from it. It has all the dream-like visual POW! of a brilliant animated movie (which most of the environments are) and hits all the heart-warming, family values-oriented buttons middle-America could possibly hope for. Everybody is redeemed in the end, even the bad guys, by the love and innocence of a child. Are your eyes misting up yet?

And the CGI environs are eye-popping and dreamlike. It seems almost like something I imagined, rather than something I went out to see at the theater. With a distinctive glowy, sepia palette and sparkly things that float in the air like snowflakes or drunkard fireflies, Scorsese shoots every scene as if it is a painting rather than a moment of narrative fiction.

It features Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen in a B-role as the comical evil nemesis of the film’s protagonist, an amazing child actor named Asa Butterfield, who plays an orphan tinkerer living secretly on his own above the Paris Train station. Butterfield is so good, he holds his own onscreen with Ben Kingsley in his not-in-it-for-the-money mode. The Ben Kingsley of Murderers Among Us and Sexy Beast.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) is also winning as the pal/potential love interest of Butterfield’s character. Rumor has it this young American actress went into her audition with Scorsese and had him believing she was actually a British child actress, until she let on she was just doing an accent. She classes up any film she’s in.

Moreover, the movie is the Oscar bait of all Oscar bait; the Academy is going to wet itself. Hugo is a completely sincere, wet-kiss-sealed love letter to the motion picture industry, past, present and future. Only Marty Scorsese or Speilberg could have pulled this film off with this much conviction. Come award season, it’ll be raining Oscar gold for Hugo, and deservedly so. I don’t throw around words like “masterpiece” casually, but this holiday surprise absolutely qualifies.

Mark my words, even if it tanks in its initial release—I can’t imagine how they’re going to market an almost black-and-white, 2-hour-plus European period piece with non marquee-name actors to American audiences—it will be discovered over time, the same way the Wizard of Oz was, and for the same reason.

Movie magic this potent is timeless.

Monday, November 21, 2011

In defense of a One Percenter

It’s not pretty, but that’s my job.

As most people who might stumble across this blog probably already know, there is a national-news level story going around right now about peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed—repeatedly and at close range—by cops at a Northern California university.

The footage is shocking. The cop walking back and forth in front of the kids sitting on the ground looks he’s using a garden hose, and holding it about a foot from their faces. One early official excuse was that the police had to zap ’em because the protestors were creating an impediment they couldn’t get around, until footage surfaced of cops stepping over the sitting protestors in order to pepper-spray them in the face instead of their backs.

This is some very bad policing. The cops involved should be fired, the hiring process examined—the dope in H.R. who thought this cop would be a good hire should be let go, too—and maybe establish a student/civilian oversight panel, to remind the police that we’re watching them as they watch us. Heads should roll, but they ought to be the right heads.

Why do I mention this, when it should be obvious? Because now there is a hew and cry brewing up for the Chancellor to resign, and if this example of police misconduct is the only reason why, I have to call Bullshit. They must have other axes to grind with their boss already… imagine that. Wouldn’t it be cool if in every work environment, the employees could get together and fire their boss?

There wouldn’t be a boss left employed in America.

The school’s faculty association, which is calling for the Chancellor’s resignation, described the incident as “a gross failure of leadership.” I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet she didn’t personally hire the bad cop(s) in question, nor green-light the pepper-spraying of sitting protesters.

What it was, was a gross failure of policing. It was a couple of douchebag bully cops, too stupid to remember that in 2011—especially on a University of California campus—everybody is walking around with a video camera in their cell phone. These pepper-sprayers should be fired for their sheer stupidity, even in the unlikely event some review panel eventually proclaims their actions warranted.

I’ve also read complaints that the police provoked the protesters by showing up in riot gear. Come on. It only takes one or two bomb-throwing anarchists to turn a peaceful rally into a violent free-for-all. “Occupy” rallies in other cities have taken violent turns (probably started by douchebag anarchists) recently, even in hippie cities like Berkeley, just down the road from Davis. What’s a law enforcement officer to do?

If I’m the Top Cop in town and I hear an angry mob of students is gathering to protest, and in the wake of other similar, nearby protests turning violent, I’m not going to send my crowd-control officers in wearing Hawaiian shirts and open-toed sandals. They’re gonna go in hoping for the best, but outfitted for the worst.

And if I’m the Chancellor, I’m probably relaxing in the drawing room of my million-dollar mansion sipping a martini, and the first thing I hear about the incident is when all my phones start ringing at once.

Which is not, to my way of thinking, a firing offense.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Party of Ho-Ho-Ho

When the history of this election’s Republican primary race is written, it will read like an SNL sketch, even including the part about going on for way too long and ultimately having an unsatisfying conclusion.

The parade of dingbats, nutjobs and knuckleheads the GOP have apparently seriously considered for President so far reads like a Who’s Who of What The Hell?

Remember, it all started a hundred years ago with Donald Trump.

Yes, that Donald Trump. ’Nuff said.

And defying astronomical odds, things got even sillier from there.

The next fart bubble to pop to the surface of the race was Michele Bachmann. Despite being transparently, obviously crazy—and having a husband who was bound to be a liability with the base in the general election—she was given a serious look after winning the Ames Iowa straw poll.

As a political party, when your front-runners start with candidates the caliber of Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann, you may be in for a rough ride. Which doesn’t necessarily mean you should go looking for a rough-rider; poor Rick Perry proved that. His unforgivable sin wasn’t his consistently egregious debate performances, however—remember W’s first run for the White House?—no, his unpardonable gaffe was to help the children of illegal immigrants in his state receive higher educations and then not even have the decency to back away from said unpopular action. In the party of Lincoln, going soft on Brown-skinned people is a career-killer this year.

While continuing to not coddle the Brownies, new this election cycle is that the GOP is granting Black-skinned people a shot at their top slot. Any Black-skinned person. Hello, is this thing on? Seriously, is there anyone of color in the room who only got in the race to sell more copies of his book and hopefully procure a contract with Fox News afterwards?

I’ve never seen anyone as eager to get out of the front-runner slot as Herman Cain—who has done everything but get caught with both a dead hooker and a live boy—in my life.

This week it’s Newt Gingrich.

Newt at least has a head on his shoulders, but it’s massive in proportion to the size of his body; somebody wrote last week that Newt was less a man with an ego, than an ego with a man. I don’t know what kind of President he’d make, but at least the mere thought of it doesn’t make me chuckle.

The thing about all their other serious contenders so far is, just the mention of their names elicits spontaneous gales of laughter from about two-thirds of the country. Try it yourself. Look in the mirror and attempt to say with a straight face, “President Sarah Palin.”

Ba-da-bump clish!

The Republican Party is pantsing itself in front of God and the world. Besides Mitt Romney, whom they hate, their bench is non-existent. There was even an intense, unrequited period of wooing the governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, for Pete’s sake. Besides being both fat as well as jolly, I never saw what the attraction was.

Speaking of Romney, his unforgivable sin is two-fold: Omnibus health care package passed in his state while he was governor, and the GOP base doesn’t like his religion. They’ll even come right out and say it. I guess now that The Gays are getting formal recognition, Mormons are the next socially acceptable group to look down society’s nose upon.

Their best, most winnable candidate, and they fucking hate him because his Big Book Of Crazy has a few more chapters than theirs.

My guess is, The Big Money Guys will saturate the airwaves with commercials closer to voting time and give Romney the boost he needs to secure the nom.

Poor Ron Paul; among his peers, he’s the elder statesman. There was a time not too long ago when he would have been the craziest guy on the stage, but now he’s not even crazy enough to be given a couple weeks of front-runner status. 

Not yet, at least. Next debate is tomorrow. If Newt chokes on his necktie or trips over a shoelace onto the moderators’ desk, Rep. Paul may yet have his day in the sun.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I’m being Kindergartened to death!

As I’m sure I mentioned before, we won an actual lottery and got The Boy into arguably the best K-8 school in town. (I wouldn’t ague, but I’m sure people from other schools in town would.)

Because this school is so progressive and hands-on, everything is great as great could be. The Boy is flourishing socially and scholastically, his teachers love him and he them, the after-school art program is all he ever talks about… you’d think everything would be great.

Except for, along with all the cool greatness comes a lot of extra parental responsibility, usually in the form of me having to drag my lazy ass out into the elements at least once daily to go pick him up and bring him home. That means, among other things, having to put on actual clothes at least five times a week. This week there will be six because one day I had to drive him in, too.

And at school, there are expectations—stated up-front—of a lot of parent involvement.

With which I am down, don’t get me wrong.

But today’s special event, the second in three days requiring parental attendance, kinda did it for me. I have reached my limit on public appearances for the moment and need to take a step back. I’m really glad school is closed next week. They wouldn’t dare schedule extracurriculars during vacation week, would they?

Anyhow, I wasn’t gonna go today. I had a solid-gold excuse all lined up, but then I stopped for just a moment and thought about The Boy. The Missus had already said that because of her work schedule she expected to arrive just on time, and I don’t want to risk our kid to be the one sitting there, scanning the crowd in vain, alone in a sea of happy families.

I really don’t feel ready to debut my new grille in public yet—especially at an eating-themed event—but again, this isn’t about me. I figure The Boy will be happier having a defective Daddy by his side than none at all.

Goddammit to hell. I hate it when it’s not about me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rick Perry is going, going….

…mostly gone. I mean, real gone, baby.

I actually felt bad for Rick Perry in the otherwise deadly dull GOP primary debate last night.

The big news was supposed to be Herman Cain getting beat up for his recent Bimbo Eruptions by his fellow candidates, but when given the opportunity by the moderators, the other candidates passed. The question itself even drew “boos” from the Republican faithful gathered to watch the show.

It seems allegations of sexual predation are only an outrage when it is a Democrat accused of same.

And CNBC insisted on inserting that howling jackass Jim Cramer on the moderator’s panel. Every time he asked a question, I looked up because it sounded like the TV had switched itself over to professional wrestling. For that, I felt bad for all the candidates.

But Herman Cain—with the audience’s hearty approval—slipped right past the current scandal dogging his presidential bid, and the governor from Texas grabbed last night’s headlines instead.

In all the wrong ways, as is his wont, but even worse than usual this time.

We’re used to seeing him not in command of the facts, being smarmy and condescending, mangling his native tongue ala his predecessor in the Texas governor’s mansion… but this is the first time I’ve seen him suffer what honestly looked like an Alzheimer’s Moment.

It wasn’t pretty or fun. The clip embedded below is not for entertainment purposes, although I am sorry to disclose that a presidential candidate’s dreams were harmed during its production:

I’m not joking about Alzheimer’s. Between his freewheeling address that made news last week:

…and last night’s performance, I am convinced we are watching a sick man. I hope to God it’s only substance abuse, but that’s not what it looked like last night.

And believe me, it’s not easy for me to summon sympathy for probably the greatest mass-killer in the history of the state of Texas, natural-causes aside. I would wish anal warts on the man, but not Alzheimer’s.

So I reckon Rick Perry will go riding off into the sunset of his career in the next few days—in order to spend more time with his family, of course—with only history to eventually reveal whether we were watching a man in the early stages of a terminal illness, or just someone who couldn’t hold him his Jaeger and Ambien.

Ahh-dios, partner. Whatever your heath situation is, good luck with it. You may want to relocate to Massachusetts, where I understand they really coddle their sick.

And sorry again about Jim Cramer.