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Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 OUR so-called SPORT Year End Awards

2006 Year End Awards
2006 won't go down as a particularly good year for sports entertainment. The return and subsequent dismemberment of ECW is what stings the most. When you factor in the creative blasé on both RAW and Smackdown, the void left by the departures of several of our favorites from WWE, plus the unwanted return of Vince Russo to ruin TNA's booking, it's been a frustrating year for the longtime wrestling fan.  The kind of year which made us continually question why we're even watching anymore.

The answer? Because we still love it. We still love it thanks to the people and events that made 2006 memorable. OUR so-called SPORT decided those who provided us with our favorite moments this year need their props.  Thus, the coveted OUR so-called SPORT Year End Awards are back to spotlight the truly deserving men, women, and events of 2006.
Those we honor truly have our deepest gratitude. Were it not for them, we'd have found something better to occupy our Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, and several Sundays a month.  You're all Champions who deserve spinner belts in our book.

Wrestler of the Year
Tag Team of the Year
Militant Thugs 24/7 of the Year
Manager of the Year
Match of the Year
Feud of the Year
Monarch of the Year
Woman of the Year
Hero of the Year
Comeback of the Year
Promo of the Year
Best Promotion
Best Alternative, Renegade Promotion
Best Booking of a World Heavyweight Champion
Best Angle
Best Live Sex
Best Erection

Best Farewell to the Greatest Women's Champion Ever
Best Inability to Say "Exhibitionist"
Best Friend
Best Family Member at Ringside
Best Mickie James
Best Love for Another Man
Best Royal Screw Up That Ruined An Entire Promotion in One Fell Swoop
Best Physique
Best Inability to Wrestle a Giant
Best Glass Jaw
Best X-Division Legend
Best Injury
Best Christian Values
Best Prop
Best Love For John Cena
Best Comment


Wrestler of the Year: The Undertaker
Much of 2006 unfortunately seemed like 1992 all over again for the Dead Man.  The Undertaker had to once again toil as a giant killer, spending the bulk of the year dealing with 400 lb wastes of space like Mark Henry and the Great Khali. But those lowlights are forgettable when compared to all he achieved this year: In February the Undertaker battled Kurt Angle in one of the finest matches of his career.  In July the Dead Man invaded ECW for the first time.  He defeated the Big Show in the first-ever Punjabi Prison match and Ken Kennedy in his signature Last Ride match.  And perhaps most amazingly, he hasn't tried to kill Kane yet upon his brother's switch to Smackdown.  The Undertaker is 15-0 at WrestleMania and remains undefeated as OUR so-called SPORT Wrestler of the Year.  Well past the midway point of his second Decade of Destruction, the Undertaker still fucking rules.
Tag Team of the Year: Lita's Rack
It seems tag teams are making a comeback.  In 2006 the Hardy Boyz, MNM and even the Blue Bloods reunited.  That's nice and all, but the best team of the year left WWE along with the rest of Lita at Survivor Series.  Triple H once called them the Booby Prize, but we're think Lita deserves this bigger reward for unleashing her dynamic duo all year long. Constantly threatening to burst free from the flimsy confines of whatever top she was wearing, Lita's R-rated team extreme never failed to hold an entire arena and the viewing audience at home in thrall.  God, we miss them. We'd give anything if they'd come back. 
Militant Thugs 24/7 of the Year: LAX
Manager of the Year: Konnan
The best tag team not attached to Lita's torso were far and away the current NWA Tag Team hefes Homicide and Hernandez. LAX spent the first half of the year in the Mexican border of the Impact Zone and little did the rest of TNA know how safe they were. When LAX crossed the border they killed every gringo and Korean girl they got their hands on, be it the X-Division megapowers of AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels or America 's Most Wanted and Gail Kim.  LAX even made history by being the first “foreign” team to ever defeat Americans in a flag match.  And between the Gringo Killer and the Border Toss, their moves have the coolest names around.  But none of LAX's glory would have been possible without their manager Konnan, who always spoke the truth, usually from the ring apron he rarely climbed down from.  LAX put the mirror up to our racist selves while Konnan very slowly sneaked up from behind and waffled us with a slap jack.  Muy bueno.  Arriba la raza!
Match of the Year: Kevin Nash vs. A Sabin-Like X-Division Star
Truly special moments in sports entertainment are few and far between, but nothing was more historic this year than when Kevin Nash returned to the X-Division he pioneered.  To prepare for his match with Chris Sabin, Big Sexy risked everything for pride and honor as he faced A Sabin-Like X-Division Star of Alex Shelley's choosing.  Though he was at a severe speed disadvantage to his diminutive opponent, Nash brought his A game and gave us a wrestling clinic that should be mandatory viewing at wrestling schools around the world.  From the big boot he innovatively delivered while sitting on a chair to his death-defying bottom rope frog splash, Big Sexy showed us all why he truly deserves to be ranked as not only the greatest X-Division star of all-time but as one of the greatest wrestlers who ever lived. On this night, Kevin Nash delivered only an unforgettable Match of the Year but the single greatest match of his life. 
Feud of the Year: John Cena vs. The Male Wrestling Audience
The most entertaining aspect of John Cena's matches in 2006 was how the male fans reacted to him.  No one since smiling, happy Rocky Maivia has ever incurred the ire of male wrestling fans all across the country like John Cena did this year.  For a while, anyone Cena wrestled became an instant babyface. Cena's opponents' every move was cheered like Hogan had just bodyslammed Andre at WrestleMania III while anything Cena did was met with the equivalent of the hatred of a thousand X-Pacs.  The Cena-bashing by the male wrestling audience crossed all boundaries, from RAW to Smackdown to ECW, even to Cena's hometown of Boston , where the men lustily cheered when Cena failed to beat Edge at Summerslam.  The insistence of the women and kids in the audience in cheering for Cena only galvanized the men, who dueled the women and kids' “Let's go Cena!” chants with “Cena sucks!”  While Cena seems to have gained the upper hand in the feud, the prospect of another year of him as WWE Champion will no doubt rally his ticket-buying male antagonists in 2007.
Monarch of the Year:  King Booker
We've changed the Man of the Year Award to better suit the stature of its royal recipient. Truly no greater King has ever deigned to grace the Smackdown rings. To think that King Booker was once a mere peasant named Booker T until he won the King of the Ring tournament.  Becoming King of the Ring was Booker's equivalent of pulling the sword from the stone.  Perhaps he merely went insane, but we believe he truly at that moment became royalty.  Booker embraced the ridiculous gimmick and became the most entertaining character in WWE.  It was all of it magnificent: naming Finlay and William Regal his royal knights, his British accent he can barely maintain, his royal pinkie, his humble graciousness, his joyous celebrations, and his opulent entrances heralded by a continuous refrain of "All Hail King Booker!"  His Majesty cemented his glory not only by becoming World Heavyweight Champion and the King of the World but by defeating WWE Champion John Cena and ECW Champion The Big Show to become the Champion of Champions.  Were it not for that rogue Batista, we would all continue to bask in the splendor of King Booker's reign. 

Woman of the Year: Kelly Kelly
Although she still can't enter a casino or order a drink at a bar, Kelly Kelly won all of our hearts this past year and became a role model for young girls everywhere. In her Exposes, she schooled us on how to sexily dance and deftly remove a bra. Her example showed us not only how to love and be with a real man like Mike Knox but also that's important to keep your options open, as she did with her cunning seduction of CM Punk. Against Ariel, she taught us all a strong woman can stand up for herself and fight for what she believes in. When she was caned by Sandman, she proved she was as hardcore as they come. And all the while Kelly Kelly taught us it was important to always tell the world who and what you are, as when she reminded us she was “only 19” and that “I am an exhibitionist” every time she opened her mouth. She is Kelly Kelly, fans, hear her roar.
Hero of the Year: John Cena
When Umaga and Armando Alejandro Estrada decided to brutalize helpless Maria on RAW, millions waited for a hero to storm the ring and save her.  The most likely candidate was John Cena, Maria's occasional tag team partner and kissing friend.  Umaga hoisted a terrified Maria on his shoulders and waited before crunching her with a Samoan Drop.  No one came to save her.  Unconscious Maria was planted in the order while Umaga set up to charge at her head. No one came. Umaga smashed Maria's pretty little head in. Then and only then did John Cena finally charge in for the too-little, too-late rescue.  After sending Umaga packing, our hero spent a few seconds checking out Maria before grabbing the mic and cutting an unfunny comedy promo complete with poopy jokes.  As a coup de grace, Cena gave announcer Todd Grisham the FU.  Let there be no doubt the very definition of a courageous hero is John Cena.  Why do people cheer for this guy again? 
Comeback of the Year:
The ECW Originals
(Francine, Danny Doring, The FBI, CW Anderson,
Justin Credible, Stevie Richards, Al Snow, Roadkill, Jazz)
Reunited and it felt so good, didn't it?  We all thought the glory days were back.  Just think, ECW had returned, in all its grungy extreme glory.  Smaller venues, hot crowds, ultra violence, and the return of many ECW favorites given the opporunity to earn a WWE paycheck while taking us on a whole new ride to the extreme.  Little did anyone expect that the "Originals" who helped forge the reputation of ECW would be second class citizens forced to job in five minutes or less to every WWE Superstar sent to ECW.  And that's the only time we saw many of our old favorites as they were mostly held off TV before being released one by one from their contracts.  But it was great while it lasted, wasn't it?  We're sure they're all grateful to Vince McMahon for the opportunity and for ECW being able to live on.
Promo of the Year: The Great Khali
Runner Up:  Melina
When the Great Khali burst onto the scene, every pair of eyeballs watching popped out of their sockets in disbelief of how huge he is.  When he wrestled, the world was silenced in reverential awe of his talent.  But when Khali spoke, that's when the real magic happened.  Millions were at the edge of the seats as the words (we think they were words) came grumbling from Khali's lips. It was some kind of dialect that has never been heard on Earth before. Closed caption machines sparked and exploded.  To this day, no one has any idea what Khali said, but no doubt his words were more insightful and profound than we could ever deserve.  Honorable mention goes to runner up Melina, who was given ten minutes on RAW to explain why she turned on Mick Foley.  It was the endless rambling promo that launched a thousand channel changes but Melina's dronings simply cannot size up to the verbal gymnastics of the Great Khali. 
Last Year's Winner: Kurt Angle for "Booker T, I wanna have sex with your wife.  Not just any kind of sex.  That hot, nasty, bestiality kind of sex..."
Best Promotion: WWW
Are we serious?! Yes indeed, Hale Collins, we are. The hell with WWE and TNA and their 99% male rosters. We know the best kept secret in Massachusetts independent wrestling: World Women's Wrestling. One Sunday afternoon a month we get a front row seat for $20, from which we can watch (and yes, ogle) up and coming young stars like Tanya Lee, Tina Marina, Lexus, Kayla Sparks and Portia Perez display their technical skills, enjoy the macabre stylings of Della Morte and Mistress Belmont, or run towards (and away from) Nikki Roxx and Ariel (not the vampire, who's also great) as they tear Good Times Emporium apart in one of the best matches of the year.
Best Alternative, Renegade Promotion: ECW
Just in December alone, Smackdown held a pay per view where MVP was set on fire, Undertaker was thrown 15 feet off a stage, and an ultra-violent tag team ladder match saw Joey Mercury gruesomely disfigured. On RAW, Edge and Randy Orton violently beat DX and Ric Flair half to bloody death with chairs. And in TNA, Sting and Abyss regularly fall into thumbtacks while Team 3D break tables and AJ Styles and Rhino fight all around the arena. Thank goodness for a respite from all that violence! Thank goodness for ECW, where Extreme Rules matches are banned, Hardcore Holly can be disqualified for punching CM Punk too much, and the World Champion is a musclehead who beats people with simple bodyslams. As ECW's old motto used to proudly proclaim: Experience the Difference!

Best Booking of a World Heavyweight Champion: Rey Mysterio
Booking Rey Mysterio to be guided by the ghost of Eddie Guerrero was respectful and inspired.  Booking Rey to put the WrestleMania title shot he earned at the Royal Rumble on the line and then lose to Randy Orton made him seem intelligent. Booking Rey to be reinserted into the WrestleMania title match as a form of charity made him seem like a true winner. But the best booking of all came after Rey became the World Heavyweight Champion. We were all treated to week after week of Rey losing almost every match he wrestled on television, usually in decisive squash fashion.  They all lined up to beat the Champ: Kurt Angle, Mark Henry, The Great Khali, even Sabu got to DDT Rey through a table and nearly cripple him. It was a textbook example of how to book your World Champion so that he and the promotion he carries the banner for look strong in the public eye. Aspiring bookers take copious notes!
Best Angle: Imposter Kane
One day, another Kane showed up on RAW, dressed in Kane's old mask and the red pajamas he stopped wearing in 2003. For a few weeks Kane II stalked the original Kane and we were lead to believe there was something in Kane's sordid past that bonded the two. As tends to happen in wrestling, the Kanes had themselves a match and boy, howdy did it stink up the joint. The next time we saw Kane II, the real Kane unmasked him and kicked him out the door. Kane II was never seen or heard from again, nor did we ever learn what any of it was all about. It was awesome. All wrestling bookers present and future could learn a thing or two from the best angle of 2006.
Best Live Sex: Edge and Lita
Best Erection: Edge
We'll let the pictures tell this story.

Best Farewell for the Greatest Women's Champion Ever: Trish Stratus
Runner Up: Cryme Time holds a Ho Sale for Lita
Both Lita and Trish Stratus held claim to being the best Women's Champion ever as they retired from WWE this year. Perhaps the way their exits were booked might shed some light on who was actually better. Trish got to defeat Lita in one of their best matches ever in front of her hometown crowd in Toronto, making Lita submit to the Sharpshooter to claim her record-setting 7th Women's Title and go out in a blaze of glory.  Lita got to wrestle an eyesore against Mickie James and then have two black guys who have never had anything to do with her before sell her dirty underwear and vibrators to the crowd.  We'd have to say Trish's storybook ending was slightly better, but Lita's exit was also great.  Really really really great.
Best Inability To Say “Exhibitionist”: Tazz
For weeks and weeks, he just couldn't do it. Try as he might, Tazz couldn't for the life of him say the word “exhibitionist.” He gave it the old Red Hook try, but it always came out “expositionist” and sometimes, “expeditionist.” (Neither of which are real words.) Eventually Tazz was able to say “exhibitionist” and overcame his speech impediment, but we're sure it took an expensive combination of a speech coach, hypnosis, and good old fashioned concentration and determination, aided in no small part by Joey Styles making fun of him.
Best Friend:  Melina to Mick Foley
Mick Foley tried his hand at blogging for this past year and curiously went out of his way to mention how much he liked Melina in every entry.  Melina was flattered by Foley's kind words and generously befriended the Hardcore Legend upon his return to RAW.  Though she could do nothing to change Foley's tragic fashion sense, Melina fully supported her new BFF as Foley repeatedly dodged Ric Flair's attempts to get him into a match.  But when Foley lost a bloody I Quit match to Flair at Summerslam, Melina, as best friends sometimes do, had to show Foley tough love. Foley claims he only quit to save Melina from a crazed Flair, but Melina saw it for what it actually was: a weakness in Foley that has long prevented him from achieving true greatness.  She was especially repulsed when Foley agreed to kiss Mr. McMahon's ass instead of Melina getting fired. Melina can't be associated with such losers and did the only thing a true friend would do: kick Foley in the balls and fire him with Mr. McMahon's blessing.  One day, Mick Foley will thank her for being a friend.
Best Family Member at Ringside: Ric Flair's Daughter during TLC
When Ric Flair challenged Edge in January to a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match for a WWE Title, he probably shouldn't have invited his daughter Ashley to watch from front row ringside. Furthermore, Ashley shouldn't have brought her friends along for a fun chance to cheer her dad on. The tears and horror on their faces as hey had to endure seeing Ric get beaten within a bloody inch of his life by Edge were as unforgettable as the match itself.  Ric turned in an incredible performance and nearly won the match but that was of little consolation for poor Ashley, who had to watch her father all but die in the ring. That was a night she'd likely rather forget. Not us, though.
Best Mickie James: Trish Stratus
Trish Stratus put up with a lot from her smothering biggest fan Mickie James.  After getting her crotch clawed and losing her Women's Title to Mickie, Trish decided it was time to give her a taste of her own medicine. Blonde Mickie looked Stratusfactory dressed in Trish's clothes, but brunette Trish looked totally smokin' in Mickie's bohemian garage sale gypsy wardrobe. The months spent with Mickie allowed Trish to master all of her mannerisms, from her bouncy ring entrance to her faux Valley speak. But most important were Mickie's bikini bottoms that crawl up the ass; Trish had those too. She didn't miss a beat.
Best Love for Another Man:  Alex Shelley for Kevin Nash
When Alex Shelley was invited to bring his paparazzi camera into Kevin Nash's hotel room for an interview last year, he never dreamed Nash would become the most important person in his life.  More than a mentor, more than friend, but a partner who would stand by him and be there for him through thick and thin.  Nash and Shelley were peas in a pod for much of 2006 until the Kevin Nash Invitational X-Division Battle Royal which was won not by Shelley but by Austin Starr. Starr so impressed Nash with his prowess that he was invited into the circle, much to Shelley's chagrin.  Shelley and Starr now constantly bicker for Nash's approval. Although Nash broke Shelley's heart, we're hoping that Big Sexy looks beyond this flamboyant new interloper Starr and sees that Alex Shelley is the one who's really too sweet.
Best Royal Screw Up That Ruined an Entire Promotion in One Fell Swoop:
RVD and Sabu get arrested for drug possession
Runner Up:  Vince McMahon bans Extreme Rules matches
In the month of June Rob Van Dam was on top of the world.  He was the WWE and ECW World Champion.  He was main eventing pay per views.  And the new ECW was actually extreme. It was all going so well. So well that RVD just had to light up a blunt and then get pulled over for speeding and arrested for possession.  Almost overnight, RVD lost both his titles and was suspended. Extreme rules matches were relegated to one match a show and then disappeared entirely. Vince McMahon lost confidence in RVD, Sabu, and the ECW project as a whole.  And now we've got an ECW that's anything but extreme with Paul Heyman banished from the brand.  Also, we found out Sabu's real name is Terry Brunk.  We didn't need to know that.
Best Physique: Roddy Piper

That's Piper in the middle. No, really.
You don't get a body like that waiting for the bus. Actually, you could, if you also ate crap, drank a lot, and generally stopped giving a shit for years before a bus actually came. Sorry about the cancer though, Hot Rod.
Runner Up: “The Leaner, Meaner” Chris Masters
Best Inability to Wrestle a Giant: Sabu
Sabu is best when he's facing an opponent of comparable size and there are no rules so he's free to innovatively utilize weapons and fling his body around without care of consequence.  Remove those factors and we get Sabu when he faced the Big Show in ECW all summer.  We found perverse enjoyment  in the Homicidal, Suicidal, Genocidal Maniac's utter inability to figure out how wrestle a 7 foot, 500 lb giant.  Unable to lift his opponent or resort to weapons because Extreme Rules were barred, Sabu's offense against the Show consisted primarily of vaulting off the ropes and then coming to a dead stop inches before connecting with whatever he thought he'd try.  Eventually he'd just run right into a goozle and take a chokeslam to lose the match. 
Best Glass Jaw: John Cena's Dad
When Edge and Lita invaded the Cena family home in West Newbury, Massachusetts , an outraged Papa Cena confronted the Rated R Superstar and his Sinful Sexpot. Dismayed at the lack of hospitality they were being shown as guests, Edge slapped the elder Cena across the face, which knocked him completely unconscious. A major aspect of John Cena his detractors can't stand is his Wolverine-like ability to take a beating in the ring and then mount a comeback as if nothing had ever hurt him.  John's healing factor and ability to absorb punishment apparently were not inherited from his father. 
Best X-Division Legend:  Kevin Nash
No one has ever done more for TNA's X-Division than Big Sexy.  Though he admits his best high-flying days are long behind him, Kevin Nash saw the X-Division spinning its wheels and took it upon himself to jack the tires.  Focusing solely on Alex Shelley at first and forming a special bond with him that remains to this day, soon Nash took it upon himself to elevate the entire X-Division single handedly.  Nash not only designed innovative strategies like the PCS to boost the careers of foundering young stars-to-be like Senshi and Jay Lethal, but he took the time to really get to know them.  He showed that he cares about their health and quality of life as well as their in-ring prowess.  Unfortunately, Sonjay Dutt still refuses to admit to his addiction to anabolic steroids, despite all the damning proof Nash acquired.  Still, we can take comfort in knowing that as long as the X-Division stars follow Kevin Nash's example, they will all have the kind of careers selling out arenas and main eventing pay per views for many years that Nash enjoyed.
Best Injury: Hardcore Holly
Having already written about this Holy Shit! moment at length, the only thing left to add in hindsight is: They did a great job pushing Hardcore Holly after he made his comeback, didn't they?  In any other year, the foot of a ladder ripping apart Joey Mercury's face would have made him a lock for this award.  They are both tougher men than we'll ever be.
Runner Up: Joey Mercury
Best Christian Values: TNA
Thank God TNA is here each week to show us in whose footsteps to walk in.  When Sting won the NWA World Title he openly declared he would use it as a way to glorify God.  Even after months of animosity, Sting turned the other cheek to former titlist Jeff Jarrett, who disappeared to find the light he has lost in his life. Another man caught in the foul grip of the Devil's darkness is Abyss. Sting has made it his mission to redeem the monster's soul and show him the path of righteousness. Meanwhile, AJ Styles has fallen into a pit of anger and despair and good samaritan Rhino has taken notice of his pain. Styles lamented his frustration that "everywhere he turns, [Rhino]'s there" and the two have engaged in violent clashes but soon even the bitter AJ will hear the call and accept the salvation Rhino offers.
Runner up: Sylvester Stallone for Rocky Balboa
Best Prop: Victoria's List
Though she was practically forgotten for most of the year, the departure of Trish Stratus and Lita gave Victoria the opportunity to do something we've been hoping to see for a long time:  kick the crap out of the useless RAW Divas taking up space in the locker room.  To remind her and us exactly who she planned on mauling and in which order, Victoria made herself a handy-dandy checklist of her victims, making sure of cross off each one as she sends them to the hospital.  It's the best piece of paper on a clipboard in wrestling since Marc Mero's “Contract – Marc Mero, Sable”.

Best Love for John Cena: Joey Styles and Tazz
It was tempting to give this award to all of ECW for the way they parted like the Red Sea when John Cena visited their locker room, but it was Joey Styles and Tazz who continually went above and beyond the call of duty in professing love for Cena. For weeks, ECW's crackerjack announce team trumpeted “The Marine” as the cinematic masterpiece it turned out to be, enthusiastically reminding all of the ECW faithful how much they owe it to themselves to see John Cena on the big screen.  Despite very few people actually venturing to their local movie theatres, Styles and Tazz remained undeterred in their bombastic praise for “The Marine.”  We're sure they're already in line, or at least checking Fandango constantly, for tickets to Cena's next major motion picture extravaganza.
Last Year's Winner: Lance Jr.

Best Comment:  Tazz: “Two thirds of this is phenomenal!”
When Mick Foley surprised Kelly Kelly and invited Melina to join them in a Three Way Dance, everybody won.  Tazz was especially delighted by the impromptu revelrie but maybe there was something smudging his glasses when he made the call "Two thirds of this is phenomenal!"  We wonder which two thirds he's referring to?  To us, it's all good.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Children of Men (****)


Children of Men, a tour de force by Alfonso Cuaron, paints a harrowing possible future of how the world would degenerate if women were suddenly unable to get pregnant. Clive Owen has to awaken the idealist in himself and protect the first pregnant woman on Earth from enemies on all fronts. In a broken world, with the human race 50 years from extinction, society has all but imploded with only England maintaining a sense of order, at the expense of the immigrants trying to reach its shores.

Moe Syzlak: Immigants, I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them!

Children of Men is riveting speculative fiction. And it doesn't need the gimmicks of bald Natalie Portman or a guy in a trick or treat mask who spends his nights blowing up buildings and his days frying eggs in toast. But either way, when the badness finally hits, I'm getting on a boat or plane and going to England. The movies say that's the best place to be when the world comes crashing down. And the movies never lie.

The big question for Children of Men 2:  So, who gets to nail the world's first black baby?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Babel (**1/2)

I might have been inclined to put Babel would have been one of the best pictures of the year if it didn't overstay its welcome. The last half hour or so was a grueling excerise in audience frustration. Babel is a movie about people who made bad choice after terrible choice and suffered the compounding consequences. It's beautifully shot, amazingly acted, and powerful but after a while, the endless misery got to be too much. Of the three main storythreads, including Brad Pitt caring for his wife Cate Blanchett who was shot in Morocco and their children being taken to Mexico by their nanny and almost killed in a ridiculous series of events, the most intriguing by far was the tale of the deaf-mute Japanese girl who is desperate for sexual contact. Rinko Kikushi gets my vote for Best Supporting Actress. For the first time ever, thanks to Babel, we the audience can experience what it feels like to be a deaf-mute teenage Japanese girl living in Tokyo. It's a hell of a lot more compelling than the life of a Morrocan shepherd or a dumbass Mexican illegal alien who's a nanny to two rich white kids.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rocky Balboa (***)

If Rocky Balboa were real and actually owned an Italian restaurant, I'd hang out there all the time. I'd love it sit down to a plate of Italian food made by Mexicans in the basement and listen to Rocky tell the same stories over and over about how he knocked out Clubber Lang and won the title from Apollo Creed. Rocky Balboa is a strange movie; it's about 70 minutes of a first act, a ten minute second act of training for his big fight, and then the fight itself is the third act. And it doesn't matter one bit because the movie works. It embraces the nostalgia those of us who grew up idolizing Rocky have for the character. To see the old man train and go for one more fight where he's the underdog who overcomes impossible odds was awesome. I liked how Rocky was brought into the modern boxing world with all the trappings a real HBO fight would have, including the announcers and the Mike Tyson cameo. I didn't care for how Stallone went for the Sin City-style black and white with color splashes during the fight scene, but that's a minor quibble. It was great to see Rocky one more time and see him resume his place as one of my heroes. He's one of the best movie characters ever. I actually went back and saw Rocky Balboa again the next day just to hang with Rocky once more.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Curse of the Golden Flower (***)

Of Zhang Yimou's last three pictures that received wide release in the United States, I think Curse of the Golden Flower is the least, with Hero second and House of Flying Daggers being the best. (A lot of people would reverse the top two, but I like Daggers better.) I didn't know anything about what Curse was about going in so I was pretty surprised when I realized there isn't a lot of kung fu in the picture, mostly saved for the awesome battle scene in the end. Curse is about betrayal and intrigue in the Chinese Imperial Family, a clan even more incestous and disfunctional than the Bluths or the McMahons. Chow Yun-Fat's emperor was sort of a Chinese Vince McMahon. Watching Curse was a stange experience as there were about 40 people in the theatre and I was one of the 7 or 8 non-Chinese in attendance. The Chinese girls in the audience reacted to Chow Yun-Fat and the other actors in the movie as if Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Timberlake were all sitting in a sauna together. Also, at least one Chinese dude in the audience was pretty slow on the uptake. The unwitting incest between one of the princes and his secret half-sister was pretty well spelled out long before the dude audibly gasped and put his hand over his mouth after putting it together. I bet he was equally disturbed when he saw Return of the Jedi and learned Luke had the hots for his sister in Star Wars and Empire.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Apocalypto (***)


You Could Be Mayan 

A few seasons ago when he guest starred on The Simpsons and Homer helped him edit his new movie, Mel Gibson said "It's hell being Mel." These days it's pretty true and it's his own fault. But what's even more true is "It's hell being in a Mel movie." There aren't too many directors who seemingly beat the shit out of his actors like Mel does. Between Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, and Apocalypto, acting for Mel means you're gonna be filthy, you're gonna get bloody, you're gonna be tortured, and you're gonna get your ass kicked. Jesus had it the worst by far but Mel doesn't take it easy on the Mayans.

The trailers for Apocalypto were remarkably deceptive. I was expecting Mel Gibson to tackle the subject of the end of the Mayan civilization in a way similar to Terrance Malick's The New World. I went in looking for some kind of lyrical or anthropolgical exploration of Mayan culture. The last thing I was expecting was one of the best action movies of the year.  

Apocalypto opens with Mayan hunters killing a tapir and then tricking one of their party into eating the tapir's severed balls. It's all testicle-based humor up front, base and ribald. When the violence starts as a hunting party storms the helpless village of the hero, Jaguar Paw, and burns, brutualizes, rapes and enslaves the villagers, it's terrible and brutal. A lot of the movie hard to watch, mostly because Mayans are gross. They're hard on the eyes. Their civilization, while advanced in many ways, was equally brutal: human sacrifices, slavery, mutilizations. While Mel doesn't shy away from showing any of it, it turned out he's just warming up for what he's really up to: crazy ass action.

When Jaguar Paw escapes from the Mayan city and races home to his pregnant wife and young son, Apocalypto turns into a full-on, balls to the wall, action chase movie, and it's awesome. Almost an hour of pure adrenaline follows as Jaguar Paw desperately runs for his life and the evil hunting party gives chase. It turns out Apocalypto is actually a very simple story: A man needs to race home and save his family from people trying to kill them. It's extremely effective, satisfying, and rousing. 

The transformation of meek Jaguar Paw into a sort of Mayan Martin Riggs, and his progression from hunted to hunter as he is pushed to his physical and emotional limits, finds the warrior inside of him and fights back is simply fantastic. When he survives a waterfall jump, is "reborn", and defiantly calls out to his pursuers: "My name is Jaguar Paw! This is my forest!" and then dares them: "Come on!" I wanted stand and cheer.

Mel Gibson is a hell of an action director; he's starred in some of the best ever made like Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, and he has learned his lessons well. Apocalypto is really not much more than a heart-stopping thrill ride with a unique Mayan gimmick, but it's the real deal. Through Jaguar Paw's hardships and triumphs and the larger-though-vague setting of the decline of the Mayan civilization, Mel spins an action yarn that thrillingly conveys the indomitability of the human spirit.

Does Jesus show up in the movie? No, but when the cross does appear at the end as Spanish ships arrive on the South American shores, it's as if Mel is saying, "That Jaguar Paw is something isn't he? Too bad he's not Catholic."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale **1/2


Bond Begins

Casino Royale is a weird, uneven curiosity. To borrow one of the sad double entendres from the last Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, Royale has no narrative thrust to speak of. Practically three movies in one, it opens with no less than three escalatingly violent and insane action sequences then grinds to a near-complete halt for an hour where all the action revolves around Bond playing poker. Then Royale becomes the sappiest love story this side of Love Story before one more violent action sequence, followed by an overlong coda. 

Casino Royale is also very entertaining and has several tremendous moments. It gives us a jacked Bond who looks older and tougher but behaves younger and more carelessly. It claims it's a stripped down, more realistic Bond, but Bond is the one constantly getting stripped. The movie presents us with wild action such as a building collapsing in Venice and a chase scene at an airport so over the top Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2 would have smirked at the absurdity. And plot holes? We got plot holes royale. And yet there's a lot to like here, starting with the leads. 

Daniel Craig gets better as James Bond as the movie goes along. He's more callous, more reckless, less refined, a work in progress creating as many problems as he brutally solves. Craig's Bond and Christian Bale's Batman should meet for tea in the Batcave, compare bruises and scars, and trade stories of all their fuck ups. While he is the most convincingly physical of all Bonds, I enjoyed Craig far less in the ultraviolent first act of the picture than when he meets Eva Green on the train to Montenegro.

Eva Green is a star-making revelation here and Royale's finest achivement (for a while). Finally, a three dimensional woman in a Bond picture who is not only beautiful but intelligent and has depth and complexity. I think I fell in love with her about the exact same time Bond did. Green and Craig have palpable chemistry and together have the best moments in the picture.

I would gladly trade all the action sequences in Royale for more scenes like their first meeting on the train as Bond and Vesper size each other up and see right through each other while trading witty barbs, zealously and futilely trying to hide their inner selves behind transparent armor. Rather than trade sleazy double entendres, the most cringe-inducing sin of Brosnan's Bonds, Craig and Green actually talk to each other, their eyes and body language saying much more than their guarded, imprecise words. There isn't a more tender, more human (finger-lickin' good) moment in the Bond franchise than Bond sitting with a traumatized Vesper in the shower and holding her. For once, Bond isn't thinking about fucking the girl, but he's empathizing with her, feeling something foreign to him: love. Love of someone other than himself.

Bond and Vesper are magic until the third act when Vesper suddenly devolves from a spirited, confident equal to Bond to a standard issue love interest. Craig and Green eschew their prickly reparte and devolve into lovey-dovey fuck buddies, rendering both the characters and the movie limp until a telegraphed revelation that nastily robs us and the movie of the best thing about it.

What else did I like? I liked the black and white cold open showing how Bond earned his 007 status. I liked Chris Cornell's song, "You Know My Name," a rocking relief from the aural atrocity Madonna commited in the previous Bond movie. In Madagascar, the acrobatics (parkour) performed by the man Bond chased to the embassy he ultimately blew up were fucking amazing. I liked Bond's petty vindictiveness towards the asshole who thought he was a valet by smashing his Range Rover. I liked Bond gradually inventing his trademarks such as his drink of choice, the vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, and how everyone at the poker table ordered one too. I liked the big fat black guy at the poker table. Bond wears some really nice suits. Most of all, I liked Bond when he made mistakes, when he was arrogant, when he was reckless, when he was learning. I liked how Vesper Lynd saved his life no less than twice.

Craig's Bond is more vulnerable than any other Bond ever. He gets hurt and gets so much blood on him when he fights it's almost comical. Speaking of comical, Casino Royale teaches us that an hour is enough time in between poker games for one to get into a bloody fight, kill your enemies, and then shower and change into a fresh tuxedo. And Eric Cartman would appreciate the scene where Le Chiffre is breaking Bond's balls, man, he's breaking his balls.

Problems and questions royale: The biggest one is why Vesper didn't just tell Bond that she made a deal for his life? Much of their conversations revolved around his abilities, the things he can do. Why not trust him to help her? One answer is that she'd already seen him nearly die twice and have his balls pounded into powder and didn't want to put him in harm's way. But still, she was guaranteeing they'd have no life together and his whole idea of retirement would never stick if she weren't in his life. And it doesn't.

Who is Bond's enemy in the movie? Le Chiffre is a disappointment as a Bond villain, especially compared to how Brosnan's debut gave us Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan, 006, a hall of fame Bond villain. Le Chiffre is just a quiet, weird looking guy who cries blood and likes poker. He's sadistic and dangerous but at the end of the day, he's not very interesting. He just wants money because he's in debt to other, more sadistic and dangerous people. Bond ends up against a phantom menace ("the terrorists") represented by a series of thin-lipped European men.

The airport sequence is chock-full of plot holes, such as the terrorists evil plan apparently revolving around blowing up a gigantic new airliner before it leaves the ground. Haha! You have one less airplane! Take that, decadent America!

Finally, the movie is badly structured. It's front loaded with escalatingly crazy action before we have time to properly invest in Craig as Bond. Then the movie essentially hits the reset button for the middle hour of Bond trying to beat Le Chiffre at poker. Eva Green walks into that train and for all intents and purposes it's a new movie. The third act limps to its end. Bond and Vesper make like rabbits and we stumble along towards an unsatisfying conclusion where we lose the second best character in the picture while M gives Bond motherly advice and explains what it all means.

What is up with M this time around? Is she the head of British central intelligence or the den mother of a boy's preparatory school? Do all Double-0 agents get coddled like Bond does? Harry Potter's wizard teachers don't hold his hand and whisper "there, there" to him as much as M does Craig's Bond. 

Casino Royale doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. Its strengths lie in the fine performances by Craig and Green. Brosnan's Goldeneye was generally more successful as an introduction to a new Bond without the radical alterations, but Royale is better and more memorable than Brosan's last three Bond movies.

As soon as I got home, I popped in the DVD of Brosnan's final Bond, Die Another Day, for some perspective. It was the movie I remembered from four years ago: a preposterous cartoon about conflict diamonds, a Korean genetically turned into a pasty-white Englishman, a laser in orbit, an invisible car, an ice castle, Halle Berry foreshadowing her shitty turn as Catwoman, and Bond unable to identify which MI6 agent betrayed him when there's only one other MI6 agent who happens to know all the same villains he does in the movie. This was a series that needed a drastic change.

Compared to Die Another Day's straightforward silliness, Casino Royale, when it's working, is a far better film. But we can already see the seeds planted where Craig's Bond will bring us right back to where Brosnan left us. At least Craig's Bond gives us the impression it won't be a smooth shake and stir.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Marie Antoinette (**1/2)


The Girlie Show

Ever been trapped following your girlfriend and her girlfriends around the mall all day while they shopped and giggled and gossiped, leaving you to carry the bags? Marie Antoinette is a lot like that for the heterosexual male moviegoer. This is Sofia Coppola's Girlie World, circa 1770's France, an age where girls acted like girls and men were also girls. I like girls and I liked the movie, but only up to a point. By the end I started fantasizing about Arnold or Stallone or Bruce Willis bursting into the palace at Versailles and shooting everyone dead with the loudest, bloodyingest machine guns imaginable. Even Tom Cruise rappelling into the palace in one of his latex masks would have been sweet. Some violence - any violence - anything at all resembling machismo would have been pleasant. I was even looking forward to the famous "off with their heads!" moment that never actually came.

No one gets their asses kicked in Girlie World France, but there wasn't a single person there who didn't deserve at least a low blow or a bitch slap. Am I glad I wasn't alive back then! I'd have killed as many people as I could and then myself, in that order, just to get the hell out of there. But I should also point out for the fellas who get dragged to see this by their girls, it's not all bad. Kirsten Dunst gets repeatedly undressed by her courtesans. Nice.

Sofia Coppola has gentle, elegant directing style, and she has really good taste in 1980's New Wave music. Unfortunately, she felt no great urgency in telling the story of Marie Antoinette, a young Austrian princess arranged to marry the Dauphin Louis XVI and become Queen of France, as a narrative. The key events of Marie Antoinette's life are depicted in fitful, almost after-the-fact moments. The focus of the movie is the audience being immersed in the decadent world of French royalty in Versailles as Marie Antoinette herself is. Coppola is much, much more interested in the over-the-top opulence of the food, the clothes, the art, furnishings, and mind-boggling wealth of the time. Marie Antoinette almost feels like a Terrence Malick picture, with long, loving beauty shots of food and the grounds of Versailles, only lacking Malick's lyricism.

Coppola eschews the Hollywood Fish Out Of Water formula of storytelling; Marie Antoinette only fleetingly rebels against the stifiling protocol and endless boredom of her world (the best moment is when she leads applause at an opera, which we're told is frowned upon). Coppola and Kirsten Dunst's Marie is no rebel or radical out to change the system; she's just a rich girl who wanted to have some fun once in a while. Coppola is extremely effective in depicting the wasteful lives of the wealthy rulers of France: A whoring King Louis XV, his fey son Louis XVI, and all the chattering, gossiping, insufferable members of the royal court. Coppola is at her best when staging and blocking shots of the movement and elegance of the characters set to her unique musical choices. But there are no strong performances; when the actors would speak, they mostly sounded like actors from a Laguna Beach school play as directed by Paris Hilton.

Gradually, the decadence of the movie becomes deadening. Midway though, I'd had enough of food, clothes, and beauty shots of the palace. The characters in the movie hadn't; it was all they knew and they didn't much care what was going on beyond the manicured palace grounds. There was no one interesting, no one to root for. The primary conflict in the movie is whether or not Marie can get Louis to sleep with her, after years of angelic patience and failed attempts, so that she can produce an heir and solidify both her position as queen and the Franco-Austrian alliance. Despite looking, sounding, and acting gay, we're pointedly told Louis XVI is not in fact gay, he just somehow can't get it up for Marie. I see... Eventually Louis fathers three children by her, though we never see Marie Antoinette pregnant. For that matter, Kirsten Dunst remains perfectly thin for the entire movie despite consuming thousands of calories a day. I ate a donut and drank coffee every morning this week and felt like my ass was expanding. Somehow, Marie Antoinette can burn all those calories by flitting about her palace and laying about her luxurious satin sheets.

It's clear what Sofia Coppola was trying to say: these were rich, spoiled kids who had no business and no interest in running the country. They were the Laguna Beach castmembers of their day and their conversations were about as deep, interesting and informed. Girls are gonna always just want to have fun. The "men" in the movie are all dandy fops.

Marie Antoinette is genuinely baffled why she's loathed by the people of France. Neither she nor Louie had any real compehension of or interest in the bloody and violent Revolution happening in their midst until the angry mob marched right up to their palace doors and literally demanded their heads. The final shot of the movie is not the famous beheading of the king and queen but of a room of the palace completely trashed. The message is clear: The party's over.

On the way out of Marie Antoinette, I overheard a father explain to his young daughter why the people of France were mad at Marie Antoinette: "She was a bad queen. She didn't care about France." That seems to be accurate, but as a bad queen she was a product of a bad court. The people of France did the right thing. All those worthless people had to go.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Shinning


No TV And No Beer Make Homer Something Something 

This weekend at the Red Bank International Film Festival, we got to watch (a DVD of) The Shining on the big screen.  I don't remember when the last time I saw The Shining was - it'd been over a decade at least - but damn if I don't remember The Simpsons parody of it ("The Shinning") way more.

Probably the most disappointing part of The Shining was the ending, where there was no mention of "television's warm glowing warming glow."  Another instance where "The Shinning" is superior is in the motivation of why Homer went insane and tried to kill his family: Mr. Burns made sure there was no TV and no beer in the hotel.  You can't help but be a little confused as to why Jack Nicholson went insane.  Was it the ghosts?  His alcoholism?  Was he reincarnated from a murderer in 1921?  With Homer, it's very clear.

Homer:  "No TV and no beer make Homer something something"
Marge:  "Go crazy?"
Homer:  "Don't mind if I do!"

Hell, if I was stuck for five months with no TV and no beer, I'd make friends with an ax collection too.  I'd kill you.  I'd kill all of you!  (Did I say five months?  Five minutes might break me.)

A couple of observations from The Shining: 

Jack was really quite a fuck up.  The ghosts really bet on the wrong horse there.  All he had to do was shove an ax into his mousey wife and his spaced out son.  That's it.  Just kill two people.  He could have just gone up to them and said, "Can I ax you something?" and then axed them.  He lived in the same apartment with them.  He could have easily parted their skulls with the ax as they slept.  They wouldn't have seen it coming.  But no, he totally, completely blew it.  His incompetence reflected badly on the ghosts, all of whom killed their families without any trouble.

The poor black guy.  He's sitting in bed in Miami safe and sound with his nudie paintings of black women with huge 'fros hanging over his bed, not a care in the world, then he gets the Shining from the kid.  He puts on a dapper zoot suit, flies all the way out to Colorado, drives five hours in a blizzard, a few more hours on a snow truck to the hotel, and for what?  An ax in the chest.  Him, Jack can kill.  But if the black guy'd never shown up at all, Jack would have been the only casualty of his attempted killing spree.

When Shelley Duvall finds Jack's manuscript, hundreds of pages with only "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," and he sneaks up on her and asks her what she thinks, there's really only one response:

"Jack, you're a really shitty writer."

Can't imagine why anyone would stay at the Overlook Hotel after all the killings that go on there.  But you know, I'd still rather stay there than at a Hilton

Monday, October 9, 2006



A few weeks ago, Jeff asked if I wanted to come check out the SuicideGirls live burlesque show. I'm down for burlesque. Never been to a live burlesque show except for the striptease Dita Von Teese did at the Playboy Club a couple of years ago. (I still have the stocking she wrapped around my head somewhere. I'm sentimental.) Otherwise, I know The Pussycat Dolls used to do burlesque in LA but my familiarity with burlesque came mainly from The Simpsons episode with "Le Maison Derriere."

I'd only tangentially heard of the SuicideGirls before. They're pretty hot.  Tattooed girls with piercings usually aren't really my thing, for better or worse. The 'pretty hot' part won out after a consultation with my penis. He agreed with Jeff and seemed to think the SuicideGirls live burlesque show was worth a look-see. Both of them together know better than me, plus it was only $15, so yeah, I'm in.

The SuicideGirls put on a terrific fucking show. I didn't really have a solid idea of what we were in for on the outset, but the girls totally delivered. First, yes, they are naked, but no, not entirely. They always wear bottoms and electrical tape covers their nipples (they kept asking us if we wanted to see their nipples and then called us perverts. Hey, lady, I resemble that remark.) Besides that, they're as God made them, except for the ink. The SuicideGirls are not Playboy models; they don't resemble the stripper-next-door that Hef became infatuated with as he's grown ancient. They don't have implants and their bodies are all natural. And holy shit, are they hot. They are much, much hotter in person than even their photographs on the SuicideGirls website.

Eight girls performed for us, sometimes in groups, but each had at least one spotlight vignette to herself. The vignettes each told a specific story, always with the capper of the girls removing their tops. Some of the best included the girls dancing on a ladder and one of them using a glowing hoola hoop. Some vignettes were dark and violent, like a recreation of the ear cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs or one involving "Paris Hilton" and her like getting their throats slit by Nixon, the most goth Suicide Girl. The funniest by far involved one of The Middle East's burly security guards getting a lapdance and being dominated. He was absolutely intent on staring straight ahead and keeping a poker face, seemingly willing an erection away. The other SuicideGirls watching from the sides were dying from laughter. He was a pretty good sport.

The girls were diverse enough for various tastes, leaning decidedly towards goth, punk and club styles. They were each in their own way totally awesome. One of our favorites was Austin, the redhead with arms so toned Evangeline Lilly would have to do a couple of hundred pushups a day to compete. And Austin's ass shaking could force Shakira home to Columbia and send her back to the drawing board. Jeff was pretty enamored with Austin 's hotness. My personal favorite was Reagan, the tall, lean blonde of the group. (She's the blonde in the picture above the word "Coming." Apt.)  Reagan introduced us to the rules: no cameras and, like George Sr.'s prison in Arrested Development, no touching. Reagan doesn't just have charisma, she has the extra oomph, what Chris Jericho used to refer to as cha-RAZZ-ma. She laughed and smiled, interacted with the crowd, and looked like she was having the most fun out there. Her Napoleon Dynamite dance was another real crowd pleaser. And she was the one who got on the house mic and kept calling us perverts. That always wins me over.

The girls got us pretty dirty in the end, spraying the crowd with beer and silly string. Reagan is so good at drinking a beer and spitting it out in a cloud, Triple H ought to consider a new finish for his monster ring entrance. The burlesque show ran somewhere between an hour and ninety minutes. But even before the SuicideGirls took the stage we'd already more than had our $15 of entertainment.

The opening act was advertised as RedYellow and they were pretty good. They had a really hot bass guitarist and their lead singer made several forays into the crowd, singing to one guy in particular in the front row who left after their set was over. What we never saw coming was the second act: Tsu Shi Ma Mi Rae, three tiny girls from Japan who barely speak English. They put on a set as bizarre as it was surprisingly musically accomplished. They sang entirely in Japanese. Their crazy bassist convulsed around the stage with no regard for her own physical safety. Their drummer broke one of her drums ("Numba one strong drumma!") and while the roadies replaced it, the nigh-incomprehensible lead singer told stories to the crowd, occasionally leading us in chanting Japanese curse words. They were cute, energetic, and so happy to be there, you had to be a churl not to appreciate them. The churl I speak of, a guy named Seth we were crammed up next to in front of the stage, spent their entire set complaining and burying his face in his hands. He was being quite a douche. Tsu Shu Ma Mi Rae was weird and a lot of fun. After the sheer entertainment and money's worth they provided, the SuicideGirls themselves were all gravy.

One of the benefits to being 30+ is that I can get in anywhere. The line stretched all the way around the block of the Middle East in Cambridge, MA and the show was sold out but Jeff had our tickets on him. Being over 21, we didn't have to wait in line. We marched right past the throng of rave kids and strolled right in, making our way to the front of the stage. Unfortunately, there was no way it was going to be a comfortable night. The Middle East downstairs is a dark, relatively cramped space with bad sightlines. By the time the SuicideGirls hit the stage, there were 500+ raver kids wedged in deeply, all trying to get as close to the naked girls as possible. It was a humid, sweaty, odorous three hour endurance test, though the entertainment was well worth it. Unfortunately, there are always going to be some douchebags in the crowd. One particular asshole kept trying to worm his way to the front of the stage, shoving and elbowing me in the back. Jeff turned to yell at him and he fed us some bullshit about how he was trying to get to his girl. What a lying cocksucker. After three hours of standing in the same spot, we know who was with everyone around us. I stonewalled that piece of shit, he never got past me.

By the end of the show, we were all suffering from the heat and exhaustion; the beer the SuicideGirls sprayed on us was sweet relief.   The silly string made us look extra cool. Normally, I feel I'm too old for this shit. I'd put in my time in sweaty mosh pits a decade ago. But you just don't get to see something like that very often. Damn if the SuicideGirls didn't leave me satisfied and invigorated. And feeling, looking, and smelling dirty, in a good way.

**Three days later, I saw the SuicideGirls again with Alex Merkin, director of Across the Hall, in a dingy club in New York.  Just as much fun to watch, just as dirty coming out. (That's what she said.)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss


September 17, 2006 

Saw The Who last night at the TD Banknorth Garden. Hands down one of the very, very best rock concerts I've ever been to. Those fantastic old men can fucking rock. They've not only never lost it, they maintain a level of quality and ability high above kids a third their age.

Musically, The Who put on a jaw-droppingly accomplished and consummate performace. The presentation, light show, and sensory immersion was top-notch. And look at those two codgers, they look great. They must bathe in formaldehyde. They're not leathery, animated mummified corpses like Jagger and Richards. Nor were they dressed like rock star clowns: Roger Daltrey was in faded blue jeans, blue T-shirt and blue shades; Pete Townshend wore a black shirt and blue jeans. They were dressed like stand-up comedians. They curse like sailors. And holy shit, can they rock.

We also discovered the hidden jewel of the TD Banknorth Garden: The Promenade section. No. it's not a mall in a space station, nerd, it's a hallway that rings entirely around the very top of the arena above the balconies. There's a single row of seats all around with an all-emcompassing view. There are private restrooms, your own snack bar, plenty of space to stretch out, you're separated far away from the rabble; it's great up there. I don't know which band was the opening act but the crowd hated them and let them know it. They even got booed when they said The Who were coming out next before leaving the stage.

Unlike, say, Axl Rose's two hour late arrivals, The Who made us wait a mere half an hour before taking the stage. Speaking of the stage, it seemed very plain compared to a U2 stage, no heart-shaped ramp filled with fans Bono can pull up and dance with, nor a curtain of lights telling us to join The One campaign. (In fact, never once did The Who batter us with their political views or tell us to text message Nelson Mandela's prison number.)

The Who's stage seemed very simple until they arrived, then a sea of lights changing color would bathe the arena while enormous, crystal clear high definition screens broadcast amazing vintage 16mm video of The Who's lives, the places they've been, the people they know, and all the eras of history they've rocked in. (Swinging 60's London seemed like it really was incredibly cool. I understand now how disappointed Austin Powers was in the world after he came out of cryo in 1997.) The effect of the lights, sights, and music was so immersive, you couldn't take your eyes of the stage. They pulled the 17,000 strong in attendance right into the show and never let us go.

Daltrey's not as agile as he was back in the day but he can still swing a microphone around like nunchucks. His mike control is excellent. And no one windmills his guitar like Townshend. Also, I had no idea Townshend loved to shoot the shit on the microphone as much as he does. Between every song, while Daltrey was stretching or pacing the darkened stage, Townshend got on the house mike and spun yarns. He name dropped Jagger and Richards (who got booed - Keith Richards is a heel in Boston?) and the Flaming Lips. Half the time, between the acoustics and his accent, he was unintelligible, but still fucking entertaining. The only thing missing from Townshend's chat's with the audience was an armchair and a fireplace. Also a laptop and some kiddie porn.

The Who are touring to plug their new album which drops in October and most of the new songs are pretty good, as was a tribute to Elvis Presley and a cover "Can't Help Falling In Love". But like any concert, especially by a superband that's been around for decades, the crowd came to hear the hits. The Who delivered "Behind Blue Eyes", "My Generation", "Pinball Wizard", and of course the CSI theme songs: "Who Are You", "Won't Get Fooled Again", and "Baba O'Riley".

"Baba O'Riley" came in about midway through after The Who tore through a medley of six short songs. It was one of the greatest out-of-body experiences I've ever had at a concert. Unforgettable. They carried the entire crowd in the palm of their hands. What was left out of the show was a bit of a disappointment. No "Bargain", "The Song Is Over", or "Love Reign O'er Me", the omission of which traumatized Jeff's brother Alex as we were leaving the Garden. The Who's encore was a few songs from "Tommy".

During the show, I was reminded of the concert held to honor the police and firefighters in Madison Square Garden after 9/11. They carted out people like Jay-Z, Beyonce, and the Backstreet Boys to entertain our brave public servants who put their lives on the line and lost so many of their peers that day, and I remember thinking what a miscalculation it was to have hip hop acts and boy bands out there. The cops and firefighters don't care about the fucking Backstreet Boys. Maybe their daughters did, but the concert wasn't to honor them. When The Who came out to close the show, I remember the pure joy on the faces of those cops and firefighters. They were so happy to hear The Who. Now I know how that feels. I hope those hard-rocking English coots stay healthy, keep rocking, and come around again. And play "Magic Bus."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Last Kiss (**)

September 12, 2006

Ten years ago there was a movie called Beautiful Girls. Timothy Hutton comes home to a snowy New England town, reunites with his old gang, is tempted by 13 year old Natalie Portman and Uma Thurman, and comes out of his personal crisis with a new understanding and affection for his fiance. There's a subplot about adultery, where Matt Dillon is cheating on Mira Sorvino with married Lauren Holly and gets his ass kicked for it. Hutton, Dillon, and their friends struggle with their relationships, hopes, dreams, and the realities of being in their 30's, becoming better people in the end than they were at the start. That was a good movie about good people.
The Last Kiss is about shitty people. It touches on some of the same themes as Beautiful Girls: men afraid to grow up, being tempted to throw away your relationship over fleeting lust for a younger girl, and adultery. Especially adultery. Adultery takes center stage. This movie is populated by jerks and assholes fucking their loved ones over. Zach Braff plays the lead asshole, engaged to Jacinda Barrett, who is three months pregnant. He's terrified of turning thirty, of being a husband, being a father because such a life will have "no surprises." What a shortsighted fucktard this guy is. At a wedding for one of his buddies, Braff is inexplicably hit on by Rachel Bilson, a bouncy hot college sophomore who inexplicably wants to do him. Braff hems and haws about how wrong this is but doesn't hesitate for a second to make dates with Bilson, go to frat parties with her, and make out with her, all the while continuing to hem and haw about how wrong it is. Then Barrett finds out and Braff lies to her face until he realizes the lies aren't working. She throws Braff out, so he decides to fuck Bilson, and then realizes he really loves Barrett. Kicking Bilson to the curb after finally telling her about having a fiance and kid on the way, Braff runs back to Barrett and sits on the porch of their condo until the movie ends and she forgives him for no good reason after rightly hating him for half the movie. What a treat it was to spend two hours with this guy. And what a treat for all these shitty things being done by shitty people to be played as a "dramedy", with jokes and humor erroneously and jarringly woven into the scenes of people screaming at each other over their adultery.
Meanwhile, Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkenson play the Jewish mother and Irish father to Barrett, who is incapable of hiding her Australian accent. Danner is jealous because Braff enjoys fucking his daughter and she wishes Wilkenson would fuck her more while the old man just wants to read a book in peace at bedtime. Danner throws a glass at him, reveals that she fucked Harold Ramis behind his back, and moves out of their house. Wilkenson's reaction to his wife fucking a Ghostbuster and then leaving him? He doesn't really have one. Neither does Barrett, who finds out over the phone and is pretty non-plussed about it. Nor does she react when she finds Danner suddenly back home and forgiven by her father after she finds out Braff cheated on her. Why did Danner have a change of heart and come back home? She couldn't figure out how the treadmill in her hotel gym worked and she burst into tears, I shit you not.
Meanwhile, Braff has some uninteresting friends who are in the movie mostly to pad the running time. One of them used to fuck Marley Shelton, makes an embarrassing scene at the wedding where Braff meets Bilson, and then decides he wants to go to South America. There's a second friend who is a big pussy hound but when his fuck buddy asks him to meet her parents, he suddenly also decides to go to South America. Finally, there is Casey Affleck, who is stuck in a loveless marriage with an infant son. He decides he has to leave his wife and go to South America. The three of them rent an RV and head off to drive from Wisconsin to South America. But Affleck, who it turns out is the only decent guy besides Wilkenson in the whole movie, decides to do the right thing and stay with his son, but not with his wife, who he can't stand. The other two assholes decide to drop Affleck on the side of a road so he has to hitchhike home. What the fuck is that? They couldn't turn around and drive their friend Affleck home? What, did they have a strict timetable to make the drive to South America? Also, the first friend, the one who used to fuck Marley Shelton, has a sick father who dies. The father's funeral is a meaningless throwaway, used a backdrop for Barrett finding out Braff has been cheating on her with Bilson. Braff never finds out or much cares his friend's father died and they left for South America. Who the fuck wrote this shit?
The big moral of the story, the big lesson Braff learns from Wilkenson after swearing up and down his cheating on Barrett had nothing to do with how much he loves her, is the exact same lesson from another, much better movie Wilkenson was in last year. What's the lesson, Mr. Wayne?
Bruce Wayne: It isn't what I say, it's what I do that defines me.
There you go. What matters is what you do. Children the world over learned that lesson thanks to Batman. Braff must not have seen Batman Begins. You can say you love someone all you want, but if you get them pregnant, agree to marry them, and then go fuck a hot college student because you're afraid your life will have "no surprises", then you're a fucking asshole. Hell, everyone knows that already, but Braff acted like this was somehow a new idea. If there are people in the theatre seeing The Last Kiss who slap their foreheads at that moral revelation and say, "I learned something from this movie", get up and sit far away from them, they're probably date rapists.
The Last Kiss got a few things right. Braff acted appropriately creepy and uncomfortable hiding in the bushes of a college campus waiting for Bilson to get out of class. Affleck had a scene where he figured out Braff was cheating on Barrett and wanted nothing to do with helping him lie. Barrett's anger at Braff hit the proper notes, although she had no reason to forgive him in the end. Also, there was a good bit of gratuitous nudity, both female (and unfortunately some male bare ass). But no nudity from Bilson as the lighting and use of body double go out of their way to hide her in a sex scene that demanded nudity.
To earn Barrett's forgiveness for cheating on her and throwing their entire future in disarray, Braff's penance is to sit on the porch of their condo until he's forgiven. At first he can't come in because she locks the chain on the door. He spends a few days lying on the porch, never leaving it, even when Barrett leaves the house to go to work. Apparently Braff, an architect, is free to not go to work and sit on his porch for days. This makes even less sense since he has keys to his condo and can enter when Barrett is away because the chain in the door isn't locked. But no, instead of doing anything logical, Braff stays out on the porch until Barrett forgives him and lets him back in so they can start over. If Barrett had half the sense she's supposed to have, Braff should sitting out there until the cops drag him away. She deserves what she gets for letting him back in. And I deserved what I got when the movie suddenly faded to black and the credits rolled; I got to leave.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Miami Vice (***1/2)


I can feel it comin' in the air tonight

Here it is, finally, what I've been starving for.  Pirates and superheroes, narfs and clerks, impossible missions and sinking ships, none of those slaked me.  Here now is the nourishment I've sought, probably the best movie of the summer; a grim, gritty, sad, immediate, relentless, sexy, stylish, flawed, violent, visceral tour de force of crime and the brave, enigmatic, tragic men and women who fight it by pretending to be part of it; pretending too well and always on the blinding edge of falling in too deep.  

Michael Mann's new Miami Vice is as if the 80's television show never happened.  The difference between this movie and the Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas series is the equivalent of throwing away your old 20” Sony Trinitron color TV with the rabbit ears and upgrading to a 50” Sony plasma HDTV.  The old set did the trick then but that was yesterday.  Yet, the upgrade isn't entirely smooth and without kinks. 

Mann's high definition video cinematography is erratic, occasionally lovely, most often off-putting.  There are some shots that are rather beautiful, specifically the daylight photography as Tubbs's airplane soars above the clouds. The imagery of the perfect blue sky and milky white clouds made me wonder why Superman Returns did not do the same thing:  mount their HD cameras onto a plane, fly as high as they can into the clouds and then digitally insert Brandon Routh into the shots in post.  The real sky is always going to be more magnificent than a CGI recreation.  But then there was the multitude of nighttime photography which was occasionally riddled with lush colors popping in the distance but most of the time was a grainy eyesore. 

Miami Vice percentages 60/40 in favor of Crockett's story.  Yet even with less screen time devoted to him, Jamie Foxx blows Colin Farrell off the screen in terms of sheer charisma.  The movie even sort of takes this position in the first meet with the sub-villain Jose Yero, when he sizes up drug traffickers “Sonny Burnett” and “Rico Cooper” and decides he trusts Foxx and not Farrell, that something's off about Farrell, there's something he just doesn't like.  And he was right; he was right in terms of the story and in terms of the movie. Who do you like more, Ray Charles or Alexander the Great?  The answer is obvious.  

Not to knock Colin Farrell.  Farrell is a good actor.  He doesn't hide behind his mullet and Fu Manchu; he works hard and he's sincere but there's something about Farrell that is just lacking while Foxx's star power crackles effortlessly.  There's a reason why one of them has an Oscar and it's evident.  Tubbs repeatedly regards and reassures Crockett and the audience: “I will never doubt you.”  But I'm not so sure he doesn't.  I know I do. Tubbs is a rock, he says what he means and does what he says with style to spare.  Meanwhile he has to deal with his partner suddenly asking out their Chinese/Cuban money laundering business associate and then disappearing for days, to Cuba, of all places. 

The imbalance between Crockett and Tubbs is also reflected in their love relationships with Gong Li and Naomie Harris. There's dueling shower sex in Miami Vice, simultanously sensual and awkward. While Foxx's sex scene with Harris is played for a big laugh, Crockett gets to tear down Gong Li's hardened emotional walls and makes her cry during sex.  Although they're both accent challenged – Farrell's Crockett, a Floridian, claims in his Irish brogue he's “a fiend for mojitos” like I'm sure any Floridian would, and sometimes it was impossible to tell what Li was saying – they have some touching conversations about how there is no future between them.  She sadly rebukes his chivalrous speech when he speaks “as a man… who if he were your husband… he'd never let you within a thousand miles of anything that can hurt you.”  She knows that's impossible, that's not the people they are or the world they live in, and so does he.  Plus he's lying to her anyway, he's a cop pretending to be a drug trafficker.  

Later on in the final shoot out, when Isabella hides from the gunfire and looks for him, sees him with the badge around his neck barking orders to the SWAT team, she's devastated because he was never honest with her as she was to him.  "Who are you?!" And what does Farrell do?  He shoves her in a car, drives her to a safe house and sends her back to Havana. I'd like to ask my friend who's a federal prosecutor in Miami if Crockett shouldn't have instead questioned Isabella about her organization and placed her under federal protection.** Instead he has Uncle Sam pay for her boat ride back to the communist country he illegally visited with her.  Meanwhile, I wish Foxx's sweet, playful relationship with his co-worker Harris received the same amount of emphasis.  

Miami Vice piles on the awesome from the get-go, dropping us with no preamble right in the middle of Crockett and Tubbs undercover in a club with the Linkin Park/Jay Z song from the trailer blasting away.  I loved how they were in the middle of an entirely different case when they got the call that feds were murdered by white supremacist drug suppliers when their informant gave them up and Crockett and Tubbs are yanked off their case into the new one.  I loved being immersed into the Miami Vice world right away, having to pay attention, watching what Crockett and Tubbs are looking for, figuring it out as we go along since so much of their line of work means throwing away the playbook and making it all up as they go. The story, motivations, betrayals, and reversals were pretty straightforward to me. 

The peril of working undercover is palpable as we follow Crockett and Tubbs into Haiti and Columbia.  They are all alone, meeting with the powerful heads of cocaine cartels,  hoping their aliases hold up against the drug dealers' technology. One wrong move, one false note, and their cover is blown. And they're dead. While being undercover and always in danger of being compromised must be a living hell, it's not like there aren't perks. Crockett and Tubbs get to drive Ferraris with dual rear jet thrusters, speedboats, and lear jets repossessed by the government for law enforcement use.  Even Batman must feel a little envious, all his toys come out of his own pocket.

There is an incredible moment when Jose Yero watches Crockett dancing with Isabella and sees through his watery eyes that “this is more than casual”, that they have fallen for each other. All that's needed is the look on his face to convey that he's always lusted for Isabella. When he shows the footage to the main drug lord with the piercing eyes, Archangel de Jesus Montoya, Mann keeps the camera behind him so we never see Montoya's face and have to imagine what he's feeling about his mistress falling for a gringo. And then the depth of their vengeance is laid out as Montoya lets Yero have her to do with as he wishes, to “carve her up and send her head one way and her leg the other.” 

Mann must have visited the set of every HBO original series, grabbed a bunch of the actors, and shoved them in a van to the Miami Vice set because it's a regular HBO actor jambearoo around here: Ciaran Hinds from Rome, John Hawkes, and the telegraph operator from Deadwood, a couple of actors from The Wire (no need for these guys to get out of costume.)

A cover version of “In the Air Tonight” plays over the closing credits but if I could have wished for just one callback to the television show, I'd want the Phil Collins version of that song to play right as Crockett and Tubbs rolled to the final shoot out with Yero and his men.  Similarly, nothing against Barry Shabaka Henley's fine work as Lt. Castillo, but Edward James Olmos was missed.

The violence is off the charts in the final act.  In the same way I believed the dinosaurs were real in Jurassic Park, I could almost swear Michael Mann actually killed people in this movie.  The bodies being riddled by a torrent of bullets, holes bursting through people's heads, the violence couldn't feel more authentic.  The assault on the white supremacists' trailer to rescue kidnapped Naomie Harris was the most bad ass thing I've seen in forever. I'm not sure if normal vice cops get to do SWAT-style raids but who cares, it's fucking awesome:  Foxx disarming the kid with the knife charging at him, stabbing him repeatedly with his own knife, taking out the guy behind him and popping him in the head in under five seconds - amazing!  Tubbs is the shit!  And then his partner Gina calmly telling the other guy that she would shoot him in the base of the skull and he'll be dead before his body even knows it, and then POP!  She caps him right there. Fantastic. Then right when it looks like Harris is safe and sound Yero remotely blows the trailer to kingdom come with Harris still in the doorway.  Holy shit.

Foxx is no less incredible in the final, eye-level "you are right there in the middle of it" shoot out when he sneaks up behind the enemy's line and blows a bloody, gaping hole right through Jose Yero. When it's all over, Mann doesn't relent, doesn't let the audience breathe as Crockett takes Isabella away to the safe house while Tubbs returns to the hospital for Harris's recovery. We can breathe when the movie suddenly stops as Crockett joins Tubbs at the hospital. 

It's an ending for us but not for Tubbs and Crockett.  They won this battle but not completely, they'll never win completely.  Montoya is still out there, as are countless other drug lords.  One line of drug smuggling has been cut off but there'll always be more.  For the men and women of Miami Vice, tomorrow is another day undercover.

** "Crockett should have questioned Isabella about her organization and placed her under federal protection.  Man, she would have been a wealth of intel.  She knew where all the money was.  If there is one thing Uncle Sam is great at it's going after money.  We could have frozen all that fucker's assets and brought his organization to its knees.  Instead she gets to spend the rest of her days sipping mojitos under the protection of Castro."