Welcome back.

That was more to myself than to you. I’ve been holding off on my end-of-the-year wrap-up thing because I’ve been fighting a ferociously infected index finger, and it makes typing and adventure. I’ve also been taking the time to ruminate, and make a battle plan, which goes thusly; I’m going to post series of smaller blogs focused on various elements from 2011, like work, relationships, etc.

Will each one be its own short story? Probably. But this will keep them from becoming a single, full novel. So there’s that.

To kick things off in my normal, light, fluffy, incredibly acerbic tone, I thought I’d start with movies. To me, this wasn’t a great year for film. At this sitting, I haven’t seen a few things I really wanted to like Dangerous Method, J.Edgar, Ides of March… but that being said, I’ve only been truly impressed by two films this year.

This isn’t everything I saw this year, but it’s everything I had something to say about. It also helps that the Oscar nominations came out, so I can bitch about Contagion, my favorite film of the year, getting the big middle finger. War Horse? Really?

Okay, okay…

The Mechanic

This wasn’t spectacular by any means, and it had a bullshit Hollywood ending tacked on, but for a remake of a really tight, well done Charles Bronson film, it’s surprisingly unshitty.

Adjustment Bureau

This, on the other hand, was incredibly shitty. Pointless, frustrating, and built on a plot that makes no fucking sense whatsoever. Hollywood has had some egregious magical negro movies, but never one where the MN in question was literally the only black guy in the film.


Wow. Yeah. I have to give Rango credit; it’s a helluva lot more than a movie about a CG-animated lizard version of Johnny Depp’s Duke character. If Gabriel Garcia Marquez had written this screenplay, it couldn’t have had more magical realism. I can’t say I actually liked it – in fact, I don’t know what I thought if it – but any movie that delivers its deus ex machina in an actual machine (in this case, a golf cart) embodied by the spirit-form of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” deserves a modicum of respect.

Battle: Los Angeles

Every bit as stupid and pointless as everyone says it is.


Simon Pegg should be ashamed of himself.

Attack the Block

People raved about this movie as if it were the hope and savior of modern genre film. It isn’t. A story about a completely indistinct pack of underage refugees from a Guy Ritchie film fend off a handful of alien attackers who come after them in the block of London council flats.

Unfortunately, there are too many characters, too many dead spots and too many lapses in logic. It also wasn’t lost on me that, once you know what the aliens are after, they actually have the moral high ground.

This is a well-done, entertaining movie, but contrary to fanboy opinion, it doesn’t transcend its genre trappings.

Sucker Punch

Finally, everyone else was able to see what I’d been saying about Snyder all along; he’s an emotionally and sexually retarded 14-year-old boy.

Source Code

When you just can’t get enough of a train blowing up. Duncan Jones, director of Moon, hit his sophomore slump hard with this one.


It isn’t sarcasm to say this is the best adolescent female killing machine movie I’ve ever seen. Smart, tight, and (except for the slightly Hollywood ending), really well done. Looks amazing with pacing to match the visuals.

Killer Elite

It takes balls to remake an utterly obscure 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie. It takes even bigger balls to not only set the movie in 1980, but to shoot it as to look like a 1980 film in every way. Like The Mechanic, this is far from great, but it’s a creditable attempt.


I never would have believed that I would see a big-screen adaptation of my favorite comic from my youth. I would have had an ever harder time believing I’d get one that was actually good. Is Thor perfect? No, but it’s everything King Lear-cum-superhero film should be in the hands of a director like Kenneth Branah; it’s brash, loud, full of sound and fury and spectacle. Yes, the town was ridiculously tiny and shy of inhabitants, and yes, Natalie Portman seems to have been rendered incapable of real emotion at the hands of George Lucas, but I still thought Thor was a blast.

X-Men: First Class

After the abortions that were X-Men: Last Stand and Wolverine, I never thought we’d see an even half-decent superhero flick from Fox, much less a solidly excellent one. First Class is a James Bond film with mutants, and it does a better job with the characters than I could have hoped. Yeah, the women all kind of stink (I call it Sin City syndrome, except the women in that movie were cast because they’re hot… these girls… notsomuch), and Kevin Bacon was an odd casting choice, but the movie is great.

Captain America

The best Marvel Comics superhero flick ever. Joe Johnston, who has been a hack for his entire career, pulls it out to make Cap such a great, involving ride I might have to take back some of the awful things I’ve said about him. From the design to the Easter eggs (the original Human Torch, for fuck’s sake!) to the alterations made to help this film fit in as the “grandfather” of the celluloid Marvel universe, Captain America is spot on.

Green Lantern

A glowing green pointless pile of tedious garbage.

Super 8

JJ Abrams does Spielberg better than Spielberg has in years. Much as I dislike the guy (don’t get me started on Dawson’s Trek), I enjoyed this a lot, though a cleaner emotional through-line for the Cloverfield monster’s uncle at the end would have been helpful.

Cowboys & Aliens

The director’s cut is… less bad… but this will never be a good movie.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Except for James Franco, who is so painful to watch I just can’t stop cringing, this was an excellent attempt to wipe all previous Apes sequels from the public consciousness.


The. Best. Movie. Of. The. Year. Without exception, without reservation. Contagion is smart, serious, brilliantly shot and acted, and scary as hell. A fantastically real take on the near end of the world.


I’m so tired of fighting this battle. Was Drive a good film? Except for the retarded falling-in-love section that gave me Attack of the Clones flashbacks (skipping stones in the river? Really?), yes, it undeniably is. Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston are both great. Ryan Gosling is… well, vacant, which is what he does so well. But I can’t forget or forgive that Drive is also a beat-for-beat rip-off of Michael Mann’s far superior Thief. Even the title treatment is the same. The only difference is the opening, and Gosling’s character… which are lifted directly from Wlater Hill’s The Driver. If you’re a fan of Refn’s “modern-day noir,” take a look at either of these originals and you’ll see what I mean.


I hated this movie as much as I love Carpenter’s original.

Three Musketeers

I hated this even more. My friends John & Brusta drug me to this shitfest, and I still haven’t forgiven them. From the ridiculous performances to the moment when the screenwriters just threw out the laws of physics en toto, this is a deeply awful film.

Margin Call

Wall Street for our times, only all the way ’round better. Because, y’know, Oliver Stone is a fucking hack. If you don’t believe that, check out his Wall Street for our times, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Ugh.

Rum Diary

Jonny Depp continues his love affair with Duke, but in a more linear, but less entertaining, Hunter S. Thompson adaptation.


When the director of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow decides to make a movie about Shakespeare, you know you’re in trouble. At least the effects were good.


Incredibly pretty and mildly dull, Scorcese obviously wanted an excuse to get the lovingly restored A Trip to the Moon in front of audiences. He should have just made a straight biopic of Georges Melies.


I was so much less impressed with this than many critics, because I am not gay and am not in love with Michael Fassbender. Slow, ponders, pouty and incredibly self-absorbed, this movie has no characters, and no structure. Director Steve McQueen seems to have forgotten to have things happen.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The second movie that impressed me this year. I’m a huge fan of the original British miniseries, but this is actually tighter, and manages to leave nothing of substance out in only half the time. A fantastic films.


Yes, I saw this primarily to see the Dark Knight Rises prologue in IMAX, but the fact is, Mission Impossible 4 is like a really stupid, really hot blonde you just want to fuck; dumb as a bottle of dirt, but a lot of fun for a few hours. Thank god for Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner, who voice most of the audience’s “bullshit” moments aloud, saving them the trouble.

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I love David Fincher; or rather, I used to. Lately, our romance has run cold. I’m not a huge fan of The Social Network, and I greatly preferred the original Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo, particularly the extended cut. It’s brilliant, and Fincher’s is… well… flat. And Rooney Mara is an unfit comparison to Noomi apace in the same way a Beetle is an unfit comparison to a Bentley, even though they’re made by the same company.

Young Adult

This is an incredibly polarizing movie, and I consider that a good thing. I love Jason Reitman, and Up in the Air is one of my favorite films. He and Diablo Cody have painted a portrait of a truly awful woman, and then had the guts to not redeem her in the audience’s eyes by the end. This movie is bold and shameless.

The Descendants

I’m not quite sure what all the hoopla is about this film. Is it a drama? A comedy? Is the moment at the end when Clooney decides not to sell an apotheosis, or just fear of change? I honestly don’t know. And what’s with the narration at the beginning that vanishes after the first twenty minutes? The hell is that? This felt like a movie that was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

So that’s it for the 2011 movies. I’ll be back shortly with a wrap-up of my career, such as it was, in 2011.

Here’s a joke that was very popular with the tech crew at the Grady Gammage Auditorium in Arizona:

What do ballerinas use for birth control?

Their personalities.

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is being hailed by some as the best film of the year, and a brilliant psychosexual thriller. Sadly, that’s far more hype than the movie deserves, and maybe that’s part of my problem. If I had been sold a creditable – but largely rote – film about psychological self-destruction, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.

It isn’t that Black Swan is awful; In fact, I think it’s Aronofsky’s best film. But given that I have largely hated his previous efforts, I suppose that’s not much of a compliment.

This movie got off on the wrong foot with me early because of the way it’s photographed. Shot by the extremely talented Matthew Libatique, Swan lifts the “camera bouncing along behind the protagonist” aesthetic that we first saw in The Wrestler. I didn’t like it in that film, either, but at least I understood it. It was motivated. In Black Swan it simply feels self-conscious and recycled.

I also had a hard time overcoming Natalie Portman’s character. Portman does a truly inspired job of being absolutely true to the character of Nina, but that character is weak, simpering, self-obsessed and fantastically uninteresting. Her reaction to every hurdle and pitfall is to curl up into a ball and cry. By the end of the movie, I didn’t care if she lived, died, succeeded, failed, ate her mother or took wing and flew away. I was just tired of watching Nina break down and sob at every opportunity. Had Black Swan been about Mila Kunis’ much more interesting and self-sufficient Lily, I probably would have had more patience with what I consider to be the movie’s huge failing: the symbolism.

I’ve said before that I think Aronofsky is similar to Zack Snyder in that they both have a very childish understand of human emotion and motivation. Look at the oh-so-shocking (yawn) dildo-show scene in Requiem for a Dream and tell me a 13-year-old sexuality didn’t conceive that. Black Swan is full of metaphor as distilled through the eyes of a child and then purveyed – supposedly – to adults. From the all black & white set dressing that adorns much of the movie to Natalie Portman being the only dancer in white the first time we see the company assembled to Mila Kunis being the obvious “black sheep” dancer because of her wing-like tattoos (oh, the subtlety) to the moment when Natalie Portman has a tantrum which ends with a shot of the shattered ballerina from her bedside music box, Black Swan is jam-packed with such heavy-handed sledgehammer leitmotif that I often found myself laughing suddenly at the ridiculousness of it all.

Is it a terrible film? No. Is it a work of genius? Certainly not. But would I fuck Mila Kunis senseless given half a chance? Oh, hells yes.

For my birthday I took myself out to see RED last night, and it was great. I haven’t read the comic, but you can see Warren Ellis’ fingerprints all over it. I’m a sucker for movies about old farts anyway, but RED is a terrifically entertaining amalgam of Sneakers+Ronin+Grumpy Old Men.

And let me just state, categorically, that at 65 Helen Mirren is still just about the goddamned sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie, and I would bang the doors off that woman in a heartbeat.

I also had the treat of sitting through the worst trailer I have seen for a movie since Next of Kin. If you haven’t seen the trailer for Drive Angry, you owe it to yourself. It is absolutely ridiculous, and proves yet again Nicolas Cage’s insatiable urge to embarrass himself. This is the first trailer I’ve ever seen worthy of its own Rifftrax.

If the movie is half as bad as the trailer, it should be The Room of car/driver from Hell movies (and, yes, there’s a long precedent of precisely that; The Car, Christine, The Wraith… shall I continue?)

This morning I looked at the news and discovered that Dino De Laurentiis had died on my birthday. Despite being 5’ 4”, Dino was a giant in the film industry, and was a huge influence on my childhood. He was one of the last old-school independent producers. He never directed a film, and probably never wanted to, but he was the driving force behind hundreds.

Some – la Strada, Serpico, Ragtime – are brilliant films, true classics. Some – Maximum Overdrive, Red Sonja, Lipstick, place easily among the worst movies ever inflicted on an audience.

Many of the movies De Laurentiis produced are cultural icons, pieces of gaudy fluff that have become cool or camp or kitsch because of their shamelessness or over-the-top style. Movies like Danger: Diabolik, Barbarella, Flash Gordon, Dune or Mandingo. I personally dislike every one of these films, but each has its following.

Like many Italian filmmakers, De Laurentiis didn’t distinguish between the pomp and the circumstance. All art was opera, and all stories were to be told on the grandest, loudest, most gaudy scale possible. Every painting deserved a bigger canvas. If De Laurentiis had been a jacket, he would have been made from red velvet and gold lamé.

For me, De Laurentiis was Conan the Barbarian, Death Wish, The Shootist (the first time I cried in a movie), Three Days of the Condor, and his awful remake of King Kong that I watched in awe and disappointment at the age of 8 in the biggest theater in Phoenix.

Tycoon, shlockmeister, showman and crook, Dino De Laurentiis was a bastion of Golden-Age Hollywood bombast and we’ll never see his like again.

A few months back we got word that Chris Nolan was producing the re-re-boot of Superman from a script by David Goyer. Now, I’m personally of the opinion that Nolan is one of the finest filmmakers in the world. I can go on for an hour about everything that was right about The Dark Knight, and I would fuck Inception if I could. David Goyer has written a lot of… stuff, some of it genius, some of it… not… so much…

But I had hope.

Yesterday, Warner Brothers officially announced that the director of Superman: The Man of Steel would be… Zack Snyder. Y’know, the director of the pointless, ridiculous gay Fantasia know as 300, the new CG-Fest Owls of Ferngully or whateverthefuck that retarded Owls-in-Armor movie is called, and The Watchmen.

I’ve avoided spending six hours writing the full, doctoral-thesis version of why I hate The Watchmen as much as I do. But I really, really hate it. I mean words fail. The last time I was on the Warner Brothers lot I walked past Snyder’s parking spot where his convertible was parked with the top down and it was all I could not to take a dump in it.

I hated everything about that movie. I mean Every. Single. Frame. I hated the look, the script, the design, the acting, the music (dear lord, the song cuts…). As much as I want to have sex with Inception, I want to drag The Watchmen  into an alley, stab it repeatedly in the abdomen with a chunk of shattered glass, reach in the hole, yank out its intestines and hold it by the throat as I watch its eyes grow cold and dead.

“Hate,” you see, is far too mild a description.

So it was distressing to say the least to think of Snyder, who has the emotional depth and resonance of a Spencer’s Gifts thank-you card, tackling the continuing saga of the Father of Superheroes. Yes, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns is a flawed movie, but at least it has a story. Emotional clarity. And, I would still argue that the rescue or Richard Branson’s 747 is one of the greatest action sequences ever shot.

The thing I really can’t fathom is how Nolan, who is making some of the most adult-driven and thoughtful cinema today; movies with FX sequences designed to be real and serve the story; movies intentionally shot never to be released in 3D because Nolan believes (as do I) that it’s a pointless gimmick that interferes with the storytelling; how is this man going to produce a movie being directed by the King of Emotionally-Retarded 8-Year-Olds?

Zack Snyder believes that every movie should be a fucking video game, and I’m sure if you could see into his tiny little frantically-masturbating monkey brain and asked him to imagine “compelling human drama,” the result would be a mental catalogue of the cast of Jersey Shore.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and Nolan will beat him to death with a copy of Filmmaking for Beginners.

I just found out that I missed Hickey & Boggs on June 20 at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

This is the kind of movie film festivals still exist to serve up. Directed by Robert Culp, and written by Walter Hill, Hickey & Boggs was released in 1972 and is one of the finest 70s anti-hero, L.A. noir films ever shot. It stars Culp and Bill Cosby obliterating their I Spy good-guy facades. In fact, this is one of the last times in his career Cosby did any real acting, and he’s brilliant.

Cosby & Culp play two miserable, apathetic private eyes awash in the cesspool of their own abject failure. When they catch a break with a missing persons case which subsequently turns bloody, they cope with the same whiskey-tinged dystopic coldness that colors their lives. If you’ve ever wanted to see Cliff Huxtable gun down a mothafucka in cold blood, this is your movie.

Unfortunately, it was released once on DVD in a tiny pressing (the discs go for hundreds on eBay and Amazon), and that was a really shitty, unmatted transfer of an even more shitty hacked-up broadcast print. That same shitty transfer is available for download on Amazon, but it’s a terrible way to see the film. I haven’t seen it in a theater in 20 years, and I can’t believe I missed my chance.

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