Monday, December 19, 2011

World's Greatest Golfer Dies

Rest in peace, Kim Jong-il. I'm pretty certain your incredible record eleven holes in one during one round of golf will never be surpassed. Not even Tiger Woods has set out to surpass you, opting instead to set his sights much lower, like breaking Jack Nicklaus's total major victory record.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My 5 Favorite Christmas Movies of All Time

You asked for it (no, you didn't), so here it is. Brian O'Rourke's five favorite Christmas movies of all time:

5) Lethal Weapon. Richard Donner, Shane Black, Danny Glover, and Mel Gibson make buddy-cop movie history in this tightly-plotted actioner that combines all the cliches in the book and rises above the trappings of the genre. And, uh, it's set around Christmas.

4) Trading Places. Old school Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, er, trade places in this comedy set in Philly during the holiday season. Murphy's a homeless grifter/self-proclaimed "karate man," while Aykroyd's a yuppie stock guru who's next in line to run the big firm and marry the buttoned-up, but not exactly prudish, blue-blood. Aykroyd's bosses orchestrate a switch for both men, elevating Murphy out of the slum and tossing Aykroyd into the gutter, and hilarity ensues.

3)Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It's no coincidence that Shane Black shows up on this list more than once, given his penchant for setting action flicks around Christmas. This one's part deconstruction, part glorious homage, to action movies and private eye stories of old. Eat your heart out Raymond Chandler. My favorite line from the film is delivered by Val Kilmer, who plays a gay PI named, uh, Gay Perry: "Merry Christmas. Sorry I f--ked you."

2) Ernest Saves Christmas. The inexplicable juggernaut that was Jim Varney reached its cinematic peak with this film. Okay, that's not saying much, but still I fell in love with this movie growing up and tuned in faithfully each week to Ernest's Saturday morning show. Sometimes nostalgia trumps quality, and this is one of them times.

1) Die Hard. A total anomaly: an action movie set during Christmas not penned by Shane Black. And a total triumph. The 80s were all about heavily-muscled supermen, like Arnie and Sly, who were able to mow down hundreds of faceless enemy soldiers (not that there's anything wrong with that) and take a few bullets while hardly breaking a sweat, till Bruce Willis showed up on the scene. Officer John McClane is very real, very in over his head, and very much a resourceful, everyman wise-ass who just might save the day. Directed by John McTiernan, this flick went on to become the quintessential action movie, much imitated and never matched. Alan Rickman nearly steals the show as one of the greatest villains of all time. And always remember, it's Gary Cooper that rides off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.

Honorable Mention: Scrooged, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,

Friday, October 28, 2011

Brian O'Rourke as Harold Bloom on The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

My feelings about the Sesame Street film, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, are a matter of public record but after some further discussion with my wife and another three hundred or so viewings with my daughter, I don't think I gave this film the analysis it truly deserves.

If Follow That Bird is the Old Testament of the Sesame Street movies, then the Elmo movie certainly represents the New Testament. Oscar the Grouch is clearly the god-like figure in both texts, as he's his grumpy, fickle self in FTB while revealing a kindler, some would say out of left field, gentler side in TAOEIG. Don't believe me?

Big Bird suffers like Job, losing his home, his family and finally his freedom after being forced into servitude by a couple small-time crooked carvinal goons, and yet Oscar can barely be bothered to lift a furry, matted finger to help our feathered friend, who has shown him nothing but kindness and love despite Oscar's constant rebuffing. Compare that crusty attitude to The Grouch's subsequent behavior when he decides to stir the citizens of Grouchland into action so he can help his friend Elmo ... wait for it ... wait for it ... reclaim his stolen blanket. Big Bird can lose everything and be pressed into avian slavery, but Elmo can't lose his precious wubbie.

Something just doesn't add up here. They say that all writing is a product of its time, and perhaps that's true, but something greater has to be at work.

Or as Harold Bloom might say, the screenwriters of the Sesame Street films could not escape the anxiety of influence ....

You're probably thinking Brian has finally lost it. And I have if I'm speaking in the third person. But all you planning to become parents should take heed. You will watch the same shows and movies so many times that you'll start to see deeper messages buried within the most trivial things. I watch the Wiggles everyday and I'm almost convinced they're part of some Masonic conspiracy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Andy Whitfield, you will be missed.

Awful news about Andy passing away. At 39 years of age, just when he gets his big break, this happens.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Do The Amish Play Golf?

For all my life, this question has plagued me. But after spending a few days in Lancaster County with the family, I now know that yes, they do. They don't use clubs; they use "bats."

Not only do they play golf, but apparently they have no qualms with using a golf cart either. I was told this is permissible because technically they do not own the cart; renting or borrowing or leasing such a contraption is perfectly acceptable under the rules.

Bear in mind I've done zero research on this. I'm just repeating what I was told by a fellow non-Amish guy who's lived in Lancaster County for several years after we spotted an Amish foursome on the course.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baby, We Were Born to Run

Just finished Christopher McDougall's wonderful book, Born to Run. Part travelogue, part lesson in human evolution, part runner's spiritual guide, and part inspirational tale, it's a fast-paced read filled with some of the most interesting characters ever committed to page.

McDougall's personal quest to become a better runner serves as the everyman's intro into the fascinating--and insane--world of ultrarunning. The narrative is a journey that takes us from Leadville, Colorado, back in time to the dangerous savannas of pre-historic Africa, and to Copper Canyon in Northern Mexico, where the reclusive Tarahumara (Raramuri) people live, entirely cut off from the modern world.

The athletes that populate McDougall's tale are runners in the most extreme sense. Several of the characters competed in the Leadville 100 (that's 100 miles), and the book is capped off with what McDougall refers to in the subtitle as the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, a mere 50-miler through the sweltering heat, up and down the tricky passes of Chihuahua, Mexico.

My favorite thread of the book deals with man's evolution into a long-distance runner and persistence hunting. I first encountered this theory way back in college and wasn't quite sold. But McDougall, and the scientists he introduces us to, make a strong case for it in this book. The idea is this: before man was intelligent enough to create throwing weapons, he chased his quadruped prey over long distances, till said prey was too crapped out to run any farther. Without going into the specifics of why this might have been so, I will say it's an intriguing theory--that man evolved not to run fast, but to run far. It sounds crazy till you hear about those long-distance races pitting human beings against horses, with man typically emerging the victor.

Another interesting thread in the book is the barefoot running trend. I won't bore you with the specifics, but I got the itch to give it a try. The immediate change in my mechanics while running barefoot was scary, and scarily instinctual. Almost like I was meant to run that way...

Inspiration drips off every page of the book as the characters push themselves beyond all reasonable limits. If, by the end, you don't feel like going for a run, then you just ain't human.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Something in the Water in Northern Ireland?

How is it with a population of 1.68 mill (according to wiki) does a country the size of Connecticut produce three different major champions in golf in the span of thirteen months?

First Graeme McDowell took the US Open last year, then his buddy Rory McIlroy won it last month, and now their forerunner of Northern Irish golf, Darren Clarke, got to hoist the Claret Jug today after winning the Open Championship at age 42.

I've always been a fan of Darren Clarke, and his win today comes as something of a surprise. It was widely thought his best years were behind him, but somehow he managed to put four great rounds of golf together at just the right time for his first major championship. Clarke's a good guy who lost his wife to breast cancer a few years ago. Since then, his form's been understandably off but he never gave up the dream of winning the Open Championship. And obviously that romantic stubbornness has finally paid off.

So what is it about Northern Ireland and its golfers?

I'd like to say it has to do with perseverance. The Northern Irish have had to endure a lot in the past century and it has undoubtedly hardened them. You need to be able to weather the storm of bad luck and bad bounces inherent in the game, especially so in the two Open championships, in order to claim victory. The Northern Irish, to me at least, seem to have a wonderful appreciation for irony and an ability to laugh off the bad breaks. They're also gutsy. It's these qualities that go a long way in the game of golf.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hangover Meets Hitchcock

I checked out the new flick Horrible Bosses this weekend. It boasts a solid cast, including Kevin Spacey, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell, who nearly steals the movie with criminally-limited screen time. But I didn't go to see it for those actors, I went to see it for Charlie Day, who's part of the awesome yet still relatively unknown ensemble cast of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (For all you It's Always Sunny fans out there, Charlie's great in this movie.)

Boiling down the premise to its essentials, Horrible Bosses is The Hangover meets Strangers on a Train. In fact, you can almost see the screenwriter pitching the idea to the studio in just those terms: R-rated raunchy comedy about three guys planning to murder the bosses who've made their 9 to 5 lives a living hell. And the film even has one of those meta-moments, where the characters pause for breath long enough to realize their plan is lifted straight out of a Hitchcock story.

The three career-frustrated characters are little more than archetypes, and the comedy leans heavily on vulgarity and pop culture references. Hearing that you might think it's a bad movie, but it's not. In fact, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Seth Gordon, the director who brought us the brilliant documentary The King of Kong, pulls off the difficult task of making murder funny. The plot zooms along--and it has to or else the sheer absurdity of the story would come crashing down on the audience--and the three leads make the material work. (I'm no Saturday Night Live guy, so I'm new to Jason Sudeikis but thought he was great in this.) There was also a lot of overlapping jokes and asides from the three leads, giving the story a lot of comedic energy, so I'll bet this one's got some replay value, which will bode well for its theatrical run and DVD sales. It's dark, but not too too dark. Some critics have complained about that, but for me, I prefer dark humor when it's in a drama as opposed to a comedy. I want my comedies light, fast, and fun.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What's Next for NASA?

Earlier today, Atlantis lifted off in what is NASA's final shuttle flight of its thirty year program. The general scientific consensus seems to be a begrudging admission that the shuttle program achieved mixed results overall. I'm no scientist, so I can't chime in one way or the other intelligibly, but the idea of humans journeying into space was always cool and admirable to me, regardless of the mission.

I wonder where NASA goes from here? It seems like the wise money will be spent on unmanned probes and satellites and on things like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which looks like it's going to replace The Hubble.

I'd like to see the government spend more on research into interstellar space flight. I know that we theoretically can't travel faster than light, but it'd be good to be able to reach some of these potentially habitable exoplanets in a reasonable, and practical, amount of time. Call it manifest destiny if you want, but I think it's imperative the human race colonize other, already habitable worlds. Because the odds are long we'll be able to effectively terraform any of the other bodies in our solar system, and as a species we don't want to keep all our eggs in one basket. If you've read The Road, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Local Author Interview and Short Story

My buddy Nate Green has got an author interview up here at Apiary Magazine. Check out the great interview, where yours truly gets mentioned, and also take note: Nate's short story, "The Slut Buck" will appear in Apiary online soon.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Promote Whatever You Want

It's been awhile since I last did this, but it's never too late to bring a good thing back is it?

(Put your proverbial hands down. That was a rhetorical question.)

The one rule is that there are no rules. Promote whatever you want by leaving a comment below. In the past, we've gotten mostly authors pimping their books but the random promoters, like the clothing line person and the potentially copyright infringing podcaster, are always welcome too.

Oh wait, there is one rule I forgot about: you can't promote anything for me. Don't worry, I still get plenty out of this just from the traffic alone. Thanks in advance.

And there are no prizes for guessing the identity of the man in this picture. If you want prizes, you must go to my friend Nate Green's blog.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Local Author Appearing in Doylestown Bookshop This Saturday

Fellow local author Jim Kristofic will be at the Doylestown Bookshop on Saturday to do a reading and signing for his memoir, Navajos Wear Nikes. I've recently had the opportunity to meet Jim in a YA workshop and look forward to reading his book myself. Here's the info:

An Evening of Storytelling and Booksigning with Navajos Wear Nikes author Jim Kristofic
WHERE: Doylestown Bookshop
WHEN: May 21st, 6-8 p.m.

Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life

When Jim Kristofic's family moved across the country to Ganado, Arizona, his life changed forever. Ganado was a "Rez-town" on a reservation the size of West Virginia. More Indians lived on the Rez than anywhere else on earth. White people called them Navajo. They called themselves Diné—The People. For Jim's mother, living among the Navajo was a childhood dream come true. For Jim—who'd just barely learned to tie his own shoelaces—it was the end of the world and the beginning of something new and unforgettable.

In this memoir Jim Kristofic introduces readers to the complex world of the modern Navajo Nation, where Anglo and Navajo coexist in a tenuous truce. It is a place of spirits, where witches haunt the valley at night and the supernatural is part of everyday life. But his friendships with local boys lead Jim to understand the wit of the Navajo language, how to make fry bread, how to find hózhó, a beautiful harmony. He shares tales of rescued "Rez-dogs," a captive hawk, a gang-style murder, an Indian Boy Scout troop, a fanatical Sunday school teacher, a sheep butchering in the middle of the school day, and his friendship with the Navajo bull rider and artist who becomes his stepfather. After the births of his Navajo sister and brother, Jim's family moves off the Rez to an Arizona border town, where he and his family struggle to adapt to the Anglo society that no longer feels like the home he left behind.

With compelling honesty, Navajos Wear Nikes tracks a modern life on the Navajo Reservation, from childhood to manhood. Kristofic recounts the painful, fascinating history of Ganado, Arizona and tells the story of a boy trying to understand the truth of a people and the truth about himself.

Jim Kristofic has worked on and off the "Rez" for more than ten years as a river guide, journalist, and oral historian. He has written for The Navajo Times, Arizona Highways, and High Country News. He and his wife currently live in eastern Pennsylvania with—of course—a rescued dog.


"Jim Kristofic combines the spirit of Joseph Campbell and J.D. Salinger to give readers an intimate look at the complexity of life in Navajo country. I rarely have tears when I read the last chapter of a book… with this book I did."
Martha Blue, former Indian country attorney and award-winning author of Indian Trader: The Life and Times of J.L. Hubbell

"This is a story told on many levels. It can be brutally frank, irreverent in places, and funny in others. But it is so serious that it will hold the reader's attention from beginning to end. It brings to Native life a strongly personal and emotional aspect seldom seen, and it will persist in memory long after a first reading."
David Brugge, historian, anthropologist, author of The Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute: An American Tragedy

"Few regionally tied autobiographies have shown as much wit and keen observation as Navajos Wear Nikes by Jim Kristofic." -- Arizona Daily Sun

"Many years ago, a coworker and I thought about preparing a `primer' for non-Navajo newcomers needing to learn the rights and wrongs about living on the Navajo Nation. This book could be used as such a primer."
Ed Chamberlin, National Park Service curator of Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

"The story of how a minority overcame prejudice and made lifelong friends in the process will resonate with many teens." – Booklist

Friday, April 29, 2011

You Tough Mudder

I've endured two marathons, the bar exam, Greek family reunions, Bergman films, Kurt Vonnegut, and the disappearance of Vanilla Coke. (Seriously, why'd they get rid of that again?) But nothing, not even the loss of my beloved soft drink, could prepare me for the masochistic insanity that was the Tough Mudder.

I ran the course in New Jersey back in November, 2010 with my buddy Joe, and in case you're wondering why I'm just getting around to blogging about it now, it's because I've finally gotten over my post-traumatic stress disorder. My therapist has urged me over the past several months to post about the race as a way to purge the soul of the horrifying memories of this particular race. No amount of writing could do that, but I figured I might as well share my exploits because they might be good for a chuckle.

The Tough Mudder is a lengthy obstacle course designed by British Special Forces. Our course stretched 12 miles, and by my estimate, 6 or 7 of those miles were through ankle-deep mud. So challenging are the individual obstacles and the course overall that, before you run it, they require you to sign a Death Waiver.

(Mom, sorry for not telling you about the Death Waiver in advance. I figured you'd just worry.)

Every possible fear you might have is exposed and exploited by the 20 or so obstacles waiting for you. Obstacle number 3 on our course was called Walk the Plank, which required a 20 foot plunge into the muddy, freezing waters of late November in New Jersey. It was a balmy 35 degrees when we ran the course, so that should give you some idea of how frakking cold the water was. The shock of it makes it difficult to breathe, so you're doubly spooked about drowning.

One of my favorite obstacles was the Firewalker, where - you guessed it - you get to run through fire. The presence of the Fire Department at the obstacle was reassuring at least. Aside from Walk the Plank, my two least favorite obstacles were the Mystery Obstacle (more on that below) and the Cliffhanger. The Cliffhanger wasn't particularly difficult, as it only involved scaling a slick, dangerously muddy slope, but I ended up losing my footing, flipping in the air, and landing on the side of my head. Not my most graceful moment and not that big a deal really, right?

Unless you've got another EIGHT EFFING MILES TO GO.

As for the Mystery Obstacle. You can tell by its name we didn't know what it was going in to the race. At the starting line, the man on the squawk box directed our attention to an open wooden structure about half a mile away. From that distance, we couldn't really see it. It looked like people were running under it and through tangles of hanging yellow string.

Except it wasn't string. More like wires. Live wires. As in, there was electrical current coursing through them. Around mile 11, after everything else we'd endured, they made us run through LIVE wires. The website has some of the more nasty video of this, and plenty of candids have been posted on Facebook to memorialize the torture.

There was no way to avoid the wires really. I figured the current wouldn't be too bad so I just charged through. I mean, how bad could it really be? I knew we'd signed a Death Waiver and everything, but financially or legally it wouldn't make sense for them to kill any of their runners. They'd get no repeat customers, right?

I don't know how much juice was in those things, but the first jolt made the heart flutter and all my muscles tighten up like Zeus had hurled a thunderbolt from Olympus at me.

And that was only the first jolt.

The second jolt nearly floored me, which wouldn't have been good, because then I would have fallen into the tangle of wires, repeatedly shocked till some brave soul dragged my sorry ass outta there. Later, I heard that happened to a few people, but I was fortunate enough to escape relatively unscathed.

On the whole, I think me and my buddy acquitted ourselves well. We made it around the course in 2.5 hours with minimal complaint, even when there was a legally actionable shortage of water at the rest stations. (Not cool, guys.) After being electrocuted, I said to Joe, "I'll bet we look like the effing hobbits when they were scaling Mount Doom right now." Not my best material but pretty good considering the circumstances.

Joe laughed politely at my joke, paused, and then cackled at something else. I asked him what was so funny, and he turned to me and said in a thin voice, "Why did we do this? Why would we ever do this?"

Why indeed, Joe? Why indeed?

So I'm thinking about signing up for the next one...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ghostwriter Publications

For anyone interested in the often seedy underbelly of publishing, check out this terrible story here. I had very similar experiences with the publisher in question.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ego Spartacus Sum!

Starz's relatively new series, Spartacus, is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows. I wasn't sold on the pilot, but once our quasi-eponymous hero (Spartacus isn't his real name) lands in the Ludus of Batiatus, the story really takes off. After having been dealt a crippling blow by the gods, Spartacus finds himself face-to-face with the most lethal, savage, and adept gladiators in Capua, as he struggles to find his place and ultimately assume the title of champion. From there, the show is a combination of brutal, gory, and very stylized fights in the arena mixed in with back-stabbing political and social intrigues.

I'm mostly through the first season, so I haven't watched the prequel season yet, but this show is more addictive than crack. As they say. (I don't plan on finding out how addictive crack is any time in the near future.) Grizzly action sequences are set against the backdrop of a decadent Roman world, where sex is nothing to be ashamed of and grandiose political ambitions are harbored by all.

The dialogue takes some getting used to, as the characters are prone to orate and offer philosophical discourse, but it is rewarding once you get used to it. For you Latin buffs out there, I did read that the writers try to mimic Roman speech patterns as much as English will allow. The writers even try to avoid using the word "Yes" as much as possible because that word did not exist in Classical Latin.

(It's true, look it up.)

I really enjoy the lead actors: John Hannah is positively devious as the owner of the Ludus, Batiatus; Manu Bennett, who is testosterone incarnate; Peter Mensah, who has a presence to rival any actor's, living or dead; Lucy You-Know-Her-as-Xena Lawless; and Andy Whitfield. It's a damned shame what happened to Whitfield: during the first season, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and ultimately gave his blessing to the producers to keep the series going with someone else. He made for an excellent Spartacus, and I hope he recovers quickly and somehow finds his way back on to the show.

The series has inspired many, myself included, to adopt the Spartacus workout as their training regimen. And if you haven't heard, there's now a second routine available as well. It's also rekindled my interest in attempting the ridiculous 300 workout as well. These three workouts will kick your ass and they're perfect for someone with limited free time to exercise: you only need to do them 3 to 4 times per week, and the routines are only 20 to 30 minutes. It might sound too good to be true, but they really are effective and provide the most bang for your buck, because they're can do it all: add lean muscle, improve both your aerobic and anaerobic capacities, and shred fat. You're not going to get big doing these workouts, but you are going to get ripped, lean, and more athletic overall.

And if you haven't seen the original movie with Kirk Douglas, get out there and rent it. It's a classic, despite what Kubrick thought of it, and it's aged pretty well.

My only gripe with the show is this: why haven't they hired me as a writer yet? My Latin's pretty good, I also took two years of ancient Greek in high school, and I'm fit enough to do the Spartacus workout. And most importantly, I'd work for peanuts to write for a kick-ass show like this.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Blockbuster Summer

There's a debate amongst geeks online about whether 2011 or 2012 is going to offer the best blockbuster summer ever. In this geek's opinion, 2012 edges out 2011. But that's next year. Let's talk about some of the major tentpole events lined up for this summer:

Sucker Punch - Zack Synder gives us another visual feast in the style of 300. This one is right up a geek's alley: guns, gals, and explosions.

Scream 4 - Wes Craven is bringing this series back from the dead. Ha ha.

Fast Five - I could point to the impossibility of reconciling the idea that god is all-powerful and good with the idea that evil exists in this world to posit that the Judeo-Christian god as he is understood cannot exist. That argument has fallen on many deaf ears over the years, so I'll offer this instead: they've now made FIVE Fast and Furious movies.

Thor - An adaption of the comic book that pulls our mythological hero out of Valhalla and sucks him into the real world. Sounds kind of cheesy until you look at who's directing: Kenneth Branagh. I like that the studios are starting to make some creative decisions with their hiring of directors for blockbusters. (Along similar lines, Shane Black has been hired to direct Iron Man 3.)

Pirates 4 - Johnny Depp plays Johnny Depp in a pirate costume.

The Hangover 2 - Probably a bad idea, but the first flick is so hysterical I'll see it regardless. Mel Gibson was slated to have a cameo until one of the cast members raised his objections. Which is kind of strange, because if Iron Mike Tyson should get a second chance, why not Mad Max?

Kung Fu Panda 2 - Jack Black is back as Po....alright, I'll own up: the first one was pretty good.

The Tree of Life - Just kidding. The word blockbuster and Terence Malick should never appear in the same sentence. Except, er, that sentence.

X-Men: First Class - James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto, respectively? Sign me the hell up.

The Green Lantern - Just when you thought there were no more superheroes left to pilfer from comic books. Martin Campbell is directing, the same man who gave us Casino Royale and Goldeneye, so this could be good.

Cars 2 - Yeah, this'll make a crap ton of money.

Transformers 3 - Okay, still not convinced that an all-powerful, benevolent God is incompatible with the fact that evil exists in this world? Michael Bay brings us Transformers 3.

Harry Potter - How long until Warner Brothers decides to reboot this series and make billions more dollars? I give it three years, tops.

Captain America - Along with Thor and Iron Man, another origin story that's also setting us up for 2012's The Avengers.

Cowboys & Aliens - A ridiculous premise that is intriguing beyond all reason. Daniel Craig as a mysterious gunslinger, Harrison Ford as a crotchety sheriff, and menacing aliens.

The Smurfs - One word: Gargamel.

Conan the Barbarian - Jason Momoa has some pretty big shoes to fill here. It's slated for an August release, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

Spy Kids 4 - Like Cars 2, this'll make some serious coin.


And the one I'm most looking forward to? Super 8. For a lesson in how to make an awesome trailer and perfectly capture a mood, watch this. Directed by JJ Abrams, this one's supposed to be a throwback to early Spielberg, who is involved himself. If this is anywhere near as good as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it'll be awesome.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Reviews of the Best Pic Nominees

I was going to post this before Oscar night. I swear. Really. Anyway, here are my reviews of the 2010 Best Pic Noms I saw.


INCEPTION - I'm an admitted, unabashed, fawning Nolan fanboy, so take my review with a 50 pound bag of rock salt, the kind that could eat a whole through your kitchen floor, poison your dog, and actually destroy Carthage. So with that out of the way, here goes: Inception is the most original film I've seen in years. It's by no means a perfect film, or even Nolan's best film. But enough disclaiming. This movie is a lot of fun. Always entertaining, never dull, and different. Remember the last time the Hollywood machine produced something ORIGINAL? Yeah, I can't either. Inception should have failed at the box office: it's a sci-fi movie, you've got to pay attention or you'll be lost, and it's not based on a comic book, video game, graphic novel, or previous movie. And no, don't tell me it's just like The Matrix, or Solaris, or whatever. Inception is without the pseudo-intellectual philosophy of The Matrix series, and god don't even get me started on that one. If a doctor performed a physical on Solaris, he'd have to declare that film clinically dead because it has no pulse. The same cannot be said for Inception - just the opposite. My main problem with the film is that it cheats a teeny, tiny little bit halfway through by changing its own internal rules, but I'll forgive this misstep because the game-changer ups the ante and imperils the characters in a very real way. And, the rotating hallway fight scene is so good the Academy should have created a category called Best Rotating Hallway Fight Scene because that sequence alone was Oscar worthy.

TRUE GRIT - It's as if Charles Portis, reclusive author extraordinaire, had a crystal ball and gazed some forty years into his future before writing True Grit and his vision fell on the Coen brothers and he decided he could write a book that they would one day read and realize was the answer to all their box office prayers. Like Peter Jackson was put on this earth to direct the Lord of the Rings movies, so too were the Coens put on this earth to direct True Grit. It's a western, it's a religious parable, it's a glorious piece of decidedly American fiction. Call it whatever the hell you want, just don't try and Hooraw it. (If you haven't read the book, you should. Portis is one of the best under-read American authors.) It's a very simple story about justice, revenge, character, and life not so long ago in America. Every year people say the western is dead. This film proves otherwise.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK - David Fincher brings his immense and considerable talents to a film about...Facebook. At first blush, you have to wonder why the man who directed Seven and Zodiac would be interested in the subject matter, but it turned out alright. Aaron Sorkin penned a great screenplay full of snappy dialogue and populated it with unsympathetic, but fascinating characters. Emotionally, the film is a little hollow but that's probably the intention: these characters, with a few exceptions, geniuses they may be, all seem pretty hollow. I thought it was a good movie but not quite Best Picture material.

THE FIGHTER - Story-telling at its best and most basic: raw performances, no sentiment, no bullshit. You know how this one's going to end going in, even if you're unfamiliar with boxer Mickey Ward's story. But that doesn't stop you from cheering Mickey on as he slugs his way to the top. Bale is a force of nature, Wahlberg is understated but effective, and Melissa Leo is the mom you love to hate. You feel every punch, you cringe during every family argument, you feel bruised and battered, but ultimately, triumphant by the end. If Rocky and Raging Bull produced a child, this would be it.

BLACK SWAN - In keeping with the movie's duality, here are my two takes:

White Swan: Lurid, melodramatic, heavy-handed, ham-fisted, non-sensical, pornographic, nauseating, pretentious tripe. Why did they bother spending millions of dollars on a story the show runners of General Hospital would have rejected? When the film's not playing to your baser instincts, it's cheating you. Over and over and over. It keeps on cheating till the climax where it REALLY cheats you. Yes, it's possible for (SPOILER ALERT) Portman to stab herself and yet continue giving the greatest ballet performance anyone has ever seen. (END SPOILER ALERT) This is all things ugly rolled into one film as some sort of twisted attempt by Aronofsky to shock you into submission. I wanted to tap out, UFC style, at about the hour mark. The performances are loud, the music is loud, the story is loud, everything is loud, loud, loud. It's about as subtle as a tsunami. Don't let the critics fool you - this is nothing more than a soft-core horror movie with outstanding production values, tantamount to something you'd find on Cinemax (a.k.a. Skinemax) around 2:30 in the morning. Or so I'm told.

Black Swan: Unrelenting, unremitting, tour-de-force, roller-coaster of a ride that knocks you on your ass and keeps kicking you while you're down. This movie is supposed to be a ballet: it doesn't have to make literal sense because it's going to bypass that snooty, rational part of your brain and tap right in to that collective unconscious and make you feel something. Remember the last time you just FELT a movie? You'll be uncomfortable, grossed-out, frustrated, and, if you let it, the film will devastate you the way it should. Why does everyone pine for gritty realism in movies and art? If you want realism, go watch an effing documentary (but not a Michael Moore one, we're talking realism here). Art is supposed to shock. It's supposed to be challenging. If you want something transformative, sublime, and visceral, watch this movie. And yes, it IS a horror movie. Of course it is, you prude, White Swan. It's a damned good - maybe even a great - horror movie, and how often do those come along?

THE KING'S SPEECH - I find the UK's fascination with and rationalizations of the continued financial support of the royal family baffling. I find America's fascination with the royal family even more puzzling. I have trouble sympathizing with a bunch of wealthy, pampered people who are treated like celebrities because of their birthright. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying they're bad people, in fact, some of them have done some great things. I'm just saying I don't get it. Non-royal philanthropists aren't treated the same way, which means that yes, birthright has something to do with it. And yes, The King's Speech is stereotypical Oscar bait: literate British period piece about the royal family combined with a story of one man's perseverance in overcoming a handicap. And's simply brilliant. Firth and Rush are excellent, Firth especially, the camerawork is interesting, the dialogue is smart but never cute, and the underdog story IS compelling. You'll be on the edge of your seat during the climax of the movie, which is nothing more than a man giving a speech. Yes, the story-telling's that good. The English are often accused unfairly of being shut-off and bottled up emotionally, but that trope is used here to great effect, resulting in a very poignant moment of personal triumph.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Where did all the money go? Not to the screenwriter, I hope

As a relatively new parent, I've been subjected to all kinds of new experiences (horrors) and have picked up quite a few interesting habits along the way: co-workers have caught me singing "C Is For Cookie" in the kitchen, I get cranky around 9 AM and again at 1 PM (the same times Fee takes a nap), and my ever-suffering wife constantly walks in on know, when I'm practicing my Elmo voice.

But enough about me. All you Dads know exactly what I'm talking about, and all you non-Dads are preparing to go Oedipus and stab your own eyeballs out due to the overwhelming sentimentality of that opening. What I really want to talk about is film. One film in particular. It goes by the name of The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.

Let me start by saying that the film sucks.

Before you all you Elmo band-wagoners get your muppety fur in a bunch, just hear me out.

When will they ever learn that story is key? The plot centers around this Johnny-Come-Lately, a.k.a. Elmo, trying to recover his lost/misplaced/stolen blanket. Our hero, for lack of a better word, must have grown up listening to Bob Dole, because he (is it a he?) continually refers to himself in the third person. Elmo this, Elmo that.

My first problem with the story is that it's horribly contrived. Early on, Elmo bares his selfish teeth in not sharing (i.e. giving away) his blanket to his best friend, Zoe. And then the blanket just so happens to be magically transported to Grouchland, where everybody's favorite Oscar originally hails from. Grouchland just so happens to be ruled and terrorized by an evil selfish man, Huxley, who's played by pre-Criminal Minds, post-The Princess Bride Mandy Potankin. (Yes, his first name is really Mandy.) Elmo, with the help of his sidekicks (i.e. the rest of Sesame Street anymore), must reclaim what is rightfully his and thus defeat out-selfishing him, of course. But my main beef is this: what are the chances that Elmo would have a problem with selfishness and that his blanket would be accidentally transported to Grouchland, which just so happens to be ruled by a selfish man and which just so happens to be the perfect venue for Elmo to learn his life lesson?

I mean, come on.

Problem number two: Since when did Sesame Street start feeling the need to have a moral to every story? Seriously. Did Steven Spielberg secretly wrest control of this property from Jim Henson?

My third issue is with the moral of the story itself. Basically, Elmo is evil because he believes in private property. And his enemy is the ultimate straw-man, as one-dimensional as they come: a tyrant who steals from everybody else and has no friends. It's like they made this movie for kids or something. WTF, right?

Apparently, in the universe of Sesame Street, you can either be selfless and good or you can be an evil, sadistic, self-loathing man whose only pleasure in life comes from taking what is everybody else's. Elmo's victory in reclaiming his lost blanket from the clutches of Huxley - what we've been waiting for a whole 73 minutes and what should be so satisfying! - rings hollow. That is, it's hollow until Elmo offers his most prized possession up to his best friend Zoe. He's only allowed to be happy when he's denying himself - Ayn Rand is rolling over in her grave. They might as well rename it Communist Street.

Finally, Elmo breaks the effing fourth wall repeatedly. How annoying is that?! I don't want to be reminded that I'm watching a movie. Stop turning to the audience and asking us questions, because you're just calling attention to the artifice. I want to maintain the illusion. I don't care that it's a bunch of puppets and stop-motion and ridiculous sets and actors playing parts...I just don't want to be pulled out of the story!

All of this would be forgivable of course if it weren't for the fact that the rest of the gang gets such short shrift in the story. Grover/Super Grover is relegated to a slapsticky cameo, reminiscent of Jerry Lewis way past his prime. Cookie Monster, the fucking king of the one-liner, gets to speak twice. You can tell this career-turn is having an effect on Cookie too, because his performance just ain't up to snuff. And everybody's favorite enormous yellow bird - he's gone from centerpiece in Follow That Bird to the punchline. All of our favorite characters are being nudged off the stage, because it just isn't big enough for them and Elmo's enormous ego.

I want to know where they spent all the money on this movie. According to wiki, the budget was a whopping $26,000,000! With $26,000,000, we could take over Cuba for God's sake, and that way, none of us would have to sneak these cigars past airport security anymore. IMDb lists the film's budget as a more modest 17 mill. They had to shell out some scratch for Vanessa Williams's five minute turn as the Queen of Trash (type-casting, much?), and of course some serious dough went to Mandy "You Killed My Father You Sick Serial Killer" Potankin, who does a lot with a little...but where did the rest of it go? And, if box office and reviews and Internet gossip are any indication, I am not alone in my opinion about this movie: it only made back 11 mill at the box office and enjoys a generous 5.5 rating on IMDb.

How the mighty have fallen....


Of course I'm taking the piss with this post. Fiona adores this movie, which means I do too. All you non-Dads can now proceed to stab your eyeballs out.