Thursday, July 30, 2009

io9 is riding my coattails.

Well, not really, but I still feel like pointing this out. io9, supreme science fiction blog of the universe, posted the following queery on their website on Monday, a mere three days ago: What if Greedo really shot first?

Their answer is fine enough, I suppose (he keeps shooting, and shooting, and shooting, like a trigger happy Energizer Bunny), but forgets one, important thing: Greedo lives!



What's amazing is that the io9 article has some 38,101 views and no less than 74 comments in three days, while my poor, year-old labor of love has but five comments from 110 views. Here's a random sample taken from both pages, to show you how much praise I'm not getting:

Taken from Careful With That Blog, Eugene:

Han shot first because he is a bad ass.

Greedo is a loser.

Luke saved him from his bad ass ways, much like Jesus, and turned him around to a good citizen.

Pre-Luke, Han is shotting up over grown bugs like Greedo for trafficing inter galactic goods.

Post luke han is saving the galaxy and making it with Luke's sister.

Hot.

-Hampez


Taken from io9.com:

I'm slightly stunned and mystified. Truly hit up George with this for another spin off Christmas special.

-Go Team Venture

Dark Horse needs to give you an Infinities series, or at least a one-shot. Seriously.

-MartaClam

That was the most inspired imaginative kick ass funny or die imagined alternate universe story I have ever or will ever read.

You are one brilliantly inventive writer and frakking hilarious my friend. We all owed you immense thanks. I am splitting a gut!

-SamidhaTheia


My only solace is that, as it stands, I am nestled between Wookiepedia's entry on Greedo and io9, resting comfortably at the #2 spot for the search term "Greedo lives," which nobody has ever searched for. Believe me. I would know. I feel cheated. Slighted. A bit two-shade at this awful turn of events. Greedo Lives was supposed to be my moment in the sun; Greedo's moment in the sun!

But no. It has been stolen from me, from us, just like Indiana Jones stole the Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis. Further rubbing it in my face is the io9 article's heading: "Steal This Pitch." Duely noted, Charlie Jane Anders. You know how you can make up for your sin against me?

Bogart me a case of Tru Blood.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Barack Obama has a serious problem...



Common sense dictates that Barack Obama wouldn't hate white people, being half-white himself, but Glenn Beck hasn't proven that he has a lick of common sense; it's just the title of his new book.

How sad is it when the pushovers on Fox 'n Friends treat your theory like you just said the Hamburglar shot JFK?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tru Blood


Walking around New York City around this time last year, I noticed advertisements for the above beverage plastered around town as a means of promoting HBO and Alan Ball's vampire soap opera/social satire True Blood, which, I'll be honest, I'm 100% addicted to. I scoffed then, thinking that all modern vampires were made alike: Polite, foppish bastards who sparkle in the daylight. Vampires who'd drink strange, synthetic, Japanese-made blood? No thanks.



Of course, HBO's strategy was brilliant. True Blood, while not approaching The Sopranos numbers, is still huge success, and is being credited for revitalizing the network's sagging line-up which, even with hits like Big Love and Entourage, suffered miserable failures like John From Cincinnati while passing on shows like Mad Men. But that really isn't the reason for this post. And I'm not posting to hypothesize about the Japanese's motive for creating a synthetic blood for vampires when vampires were, until Tru Blood was released, were still very much in the casket.

No, this post is about the actual, real world Tru Blood; a carbonated, blood orange drink that costs (drumroll, please) $16 for a four pack. That's $4 for every 14 oz. bottle which, meticulously crafted through it may be, doesn't justify the expense - you have to add your own damn alcohol!



HBO's online store describes the miracles of this drink thusly:

This blood orange flavored soda is slightly tart, lightly sweet and subtly carbonated. Designed to taste great while matching the appearance of Bill’s favorite drink, the drink pours like a regular soda, but with the standing appearance in a glass is stormy and mysterious.


I won't ask how a drink can be "subtly" carbonated, but goddamn if I don't want to see it standing in a glass so I can marvel at its stormy and mysterious appearance, preferably as it takes one of these suggested forms:

The Fangbanger - Tru Blood, Vodka
Death on the Beach - Tru Blood, Peach Schnapps, Pineapple Juice, Vodka
Plasmapolitan - Tru Blood, Citron, Cointreau, Fresh Lime Juice


This isn't even a first for the show: Since its popularity took off, shirts, jewelry, and pint glasses as seen in each episode have gone up for sale as soon as the credits on that particular episode are done rolling, presumably so you can pretend to have gone to Merlotte's Bar and Grill or the Fangtasia blood bar. I realize that this isn't new. Any nerd can own an exact replica of Aragon's sword, and I'm sure more than a few people have shelled out their hard earned money for Sex Panther, which probably doesn't smell like Bigfoot's dick, and probably works less than sixty percent of the time, every time. However, with the exception of maybe the Goodburger about four blocks from the U.N. (and that's not even officially related to the movie, slogan or not), this is the first time I can recall being able to ingest something created for the purpose of fiction, and as an ardent fan of fiction, I'm really, really excited to drink this make-believe drink. Perhaps more excited than loser fans of dead sodas who discover the secret to making their own batch of Crystal Pepsi.



I'm thinking either two things: One, I act like a good fan and pre-order my four pack of Tru Blood, or two, I use my massive influence over time, space, and the internet to get a sample, like those mommybloggers P&G sends Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to. Yes, I'll submit to the evils of blogger payola to get a free sip of this drink, which is probably going to be the greatest thing of my sad, pop culture fueled life, but I have no idea how to sell my soul. I went so far as to ask Google, and the answer, so far as I can tell, is "be popular."

Well, according to the various Batman-like gizmos I use to monitor the number of people who read this blog, I'm not popular, so that probably puts payola right out, though if the makers of Tru Blood want me to market their drink to the sixty or so people who land on my blog every time I post, or the dozens more who wind up here because they want to know the name of the blonde in Zombie Strippers, or to my friends who, despite my nagging, still haven't watched an episode of True Blood, I'm all ears.



In the meantime, I can only hope that the obscure nature of the search term "Tru Blood" will launch me past the respectable newspapers who have also reported on the reality of True Blood. Considering my previous successes with search terms like "Heathcliff," "Awful Characters," and "Norris-Gate," I anticipate I'll be noticed the next time the makers of Tru Blood Google their site to see if they've usurped the show's official website.

You, the faithful readers of this blog, should either pony up the $16 bucks so I can avoid the unnecessary flattery, or should do whatever viral media thing that lands dumb blogs like mine on the front pages of Google. StumbleUpon? Facebook? Reblogging this like I'm some kind of witty Tumblr blog? I don't care what you do. I don't care what you think of me. HBO's marketing savagery has me in its awful grip. I can smell the beast's breath, and it smells like blood orange.



And if you're wondering to yourself what, exactly, is in it for you, know this: When that sweet orange nectar touches my taste buds and tickles my tonsils for the very first time, I'll raise my Merlotte's pint glass full of Tru Blood to the night sky in honor of all those I walked over to get my bottle.

This blood's for you.



---

Tru Blood's website.
Buy me a 4-pack.
Start watching the show!

And, for kicks, the mind-bendingly awesome opening credits:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Movie Review: Brüno (2009)

The funniest part of Brüno came not from what was happening on the screen, but from the reaction of the audience watching it. Remember the groan of displeasure when Borat’s moustache was made to taste like his assistant’s testes? Brüno, at least to the people in the same theater I was in, played like an 81-minute version of that scene, prompting one angry attendee to relate to his somewhat stunned girlfriend that Brüno was “the gayest shit I’ve ever seen.” Oh, to live in Ohio.

Brüno, if you know anything about Sacha Baron Cohen, is an extremely exaggerated caricature of gay culture; in effect, the character is a funhouse mirror, a skewed collection of stereotypes tends to give a skewed reflection of the person or people placed in front of Brüno. I sincerely doubt that a group of people would join in a rousing round of “Throw the Jew Down the Well” without prompting from a naive, sweet looking foreigner, much like I doubt Congressman Ron Paul would call somebody a queer in full view of a recording video camera, had not said queer tried to seduce him in a hotel room. It is important that a movie like this exists, but it’s clear that Cohen, in his quest to offend everybody in his field of vision, isn’t exactly playing fair.

That’s not to say that he ever did play fair. A guerilla comedian, Cohen has relied on ambushing his subjects since the inception of Da Ali G Show, where both Brüno and Borat originated. There, one of his characters would pose as a crewmember of some sort while a producer went through all of the prerequisite contracts and waivers. Just before cameras would roll, Ali G, Brüno, or Borat would sit down before their bewildered subject, and the segment would be off to the races. There are several clips of real, famous, professional public figures getting so upset with Cohen’s characters that they call off the interview. There are several more, particularly in the case of Brüno, where Cohen seems to be in no small amount of danger.

Yes, it takes balls of steel to make a movie like Brüno, but it takes something else entirely to make a good film from the premise, which may actually be Cohen's weakest, but it took balls to make Freddy Got Fingered, too, and I don't see a whole lot of Tom Green apologists out there begging for an eventual 10th Anniversary Edition. So, the big question: Does Brüno work?

If you went into the theater expecting very basic jabs at the nature of celebrity worship, celebrity ego, and homophobia in the United States of America, then yeah, I suppose it does.

Brüno, the host of a TV show on Austria Gay TV, is exiled from his homeland when he is blacklisted by the powerful Austrian fashion industry for ruining a show by wearing a suit made entirely out of velcro, which sticks to everything and results in his stumbling out onto the catwalk wearing every piece of clothing yet to be modeled that evening. His assistant and husband leave him shortly thereafter, right before he chooses to go to America to become a world famous celebrity. He is accompanied by Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), his previously unnoticed intern.

From there, Brüno tries every conceivable thing to do in his quest to become a celebrity, each one failing miserably. He interviews Paula Abdul for the pilot of a talk show, tries to star in a sex video with Ron Paul, adopts a black baby, attempts to become straight in a number of ways, and launches his own Mixed Martial Arts promotion in the heart of the Deep South, where he finds his true love.

Only one of those scenes really goes for the gut: The MMA sequence that bravely ends the film. I laughed through a good part of the first act of the movie (until I realized I was the only person laughing), but it wasn't because of any profound truths Cohen was seeking to expose. When I stopped laughing, I was left to wonder why he didn't go the extra mile. Instead of asking Paula Abdul what she thought of his furniture (the Mexicans who, minutes before, had been working on his lawn), he cuts to a scene where he runs down the Hollywood A-list, looking for somebody who hasn't blacklisted him. "Bradolf Pittler?" he asks Lutz, who shakes his head solemnly. Brad Pitt wouldn't have sat down on the Mexican man, but Paula Abdul did! What does that say about her? The movie doesn't say.

Similarly, when Brüno visits reverends who give him advise on how to become straight, there is no mention of the sort of camps that seek to "cure" gays, and his stint in the Alabama National Guard doesn't even bring up Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And the scene where Brüno and Lutz stumble through a God Hates Fags protest in full bondage gear serves as a set-up for little more than the two splitting up.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh. Really, I liked the movie, but I couldn't help but feel that Cohen was revisiting familiar ground. Saying that the South is homophobic is really not that far of a stretch from Borat's subject matter, but here it feels more forced, more scripted, and yet somehow less coherent. I highly doubt that the interview with LaToya Jackson, cut due to Michael's death, would have had something to say beyond that LaToya will do anything for publicity; a dead horse topic if ever there was one. What I'd rather know is how the gay community reacts to Brüno. Were there no pride rallies or gay bars he could stumble across? I understand that, pop culturally speaking, the gay community is pretty plugged in, but I get the feeling that Cohen didn't want to try anything too risky, which, in a movie that has apparently required a prepared speech be delivered to theatergoers brave enough to buy a ticket about the risque content the theater was forced to exhibit, is disappointing. Maybe people like the guy I mention in my first paragraph couldn't handle something beyond level one, but I know I can.

I look forward to this movie's eventual release on DVD. My hope is that in making a movie that could make it past the tyrannical, anti-sex, anti-gay MPAA, Cohen and director Larry Charles left the movie's heart in an uncut version that will be seen by the people who saw the occasional moments of genius and were left wanting more.



Far Fucking Out

Thursday, July 23, 2009

HULK SO MISUNDERSTOOD. HULK ONLY HERE TO HELP.

SO MANY TIME IN HULK'S LIFE, HULK HAS BEEN CALLED BAD NAMES BY PUNY HUMANS. "MONSTER!" THEY SCREAM. "HELP, POLICE!"

SO MANY DON'T UNDERSTAND THAT HULK SIMPLE BEING. HULK IS NOT A MONSTER. HULK HAVE FEELINGS. LIKE PUNY HUMANS, HULK'S FEELINGS GET HURT. UNLIKE PUNY HUMANS, WHEN HULK'S FEELINGS HURT, HULK SMASH!

BUT HULK DIGRESS.

MANY WANT TO KNOW WHY PUNY BRUCE BANNER BECOMES HULK. WHY, EVEN AFTER YEARS OF ISOLATION, BREATHING EXERCISES, AND LIVING IN PLACES LIKE BRAZIL, HE LETS HULK OUT OF CAGE LIKE HULK SOME KIND OF TOY POODLE. FACT OF MATTER IS THIS: PUNY BANNER HAVE NO SELF-CONTROL. HE LIKES BEING HULK. HE THINK BEING HULK SOLVE ALL OF PUNY BANNER'S PROBLEMS.

PUNY BANNER IS CORRECT: HULK SOLVE ALL PROBLEMS. TAKE, FOR INSTANCE, THE FOLLOWING TWO SCENARIOS WHERE HULK SAVE PUNY BANNER, EVEN WHEN HULK WOULD RATHER BE NAPPING OR OGLING AT BANNER'S EXTENSIVE LIBRARY OF BETTY ROSS FANTASIES:



PUNY BANNER HAVE VERY IMPORTANT MEETING IN DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN. TRAFFIC VERY BAD, SO BAD BANNER NEARLY LOSE HIS LUNCH. HE STARTS GETTING ANGRY WITH CAB DRIVER FROM "ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK," WHICH HULK SAW AND LIKED, SO HULK FIGURED HE'D DO CABBIE A SOLID AND SHUT PUNY BANNER UP. WHAT'S MORE, BANNER GOT TO MEETING WITH MINUTES TO SPARE, JUST IN TIME FOR INTERVIEW WITH BIG, FANCY SCIENTIFIC FIRM.

IF THAT NOT CONVINCE YOU, MAYBE HULK'S SECOND VIDEO CLIP HELP:


PUNY BANNER ALWAYS BLAME PROBLEMS ON WOMEN. HERE, HE WANT TO PLACE CALL TO ESCORT SERVICE, BUT LOST NUMBER AND LOST DIME. WHILE BANNER ONLY NEED 25 CENTS TO COMPLETE CALL, HE IS NOTORIOUS TIGHTWAD, CARRYING ONLY PENNIES AND THE OCCASIONAL DIME, BUT IT NOT MATTER. HULK SEE PRETTY GIRL BEING DRAGGED FROM WAREHOUSE. HULK SMASH PHONE BOOTH. HULK GRAB PRETTY GIRL. BANNER WAKES UP NEXT DAY AND ACTS LIKE HE NOT IMPRESSED, BUT PRETTY GIRL WAS, AND WAS DISAPPOINTED TO WAKE UP NEXT TO PUNY HUMAN LIKE BANNER. NOT HULK'S PROBLEM THAT BANNER SO UNAPPRECIATIVE OF EVERYTHING I DO. COLIN FARRELL WOULD KILL FOR HULK TO CO-STAR IN "PHONE BOOTH," BUT HULK OBJECT TO CODPIECE JOEL SCHUMACHER WANT HULK TO WEAR. PUNY HUMANS JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND HULK. MAKE HULK WANT TO CRY SOMETIMES, BUT HULK IS STRONGEST ONE THERE IS.

HULK IS STRONGEST ONE THERE IS.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Funkenstein


George Clinton is 62 today. If you have to ask why that's important, do yourself a favor and grab the whole of Parliament-Funkadelic's 1970's output, then listen to just about any classic rap album - odds are that P-Funk is sampled somewhere.

I recently saw Parliament-Funkadelic in Urbana, IL. While George has slowed considerably since his peak (when he came down to the stage in a space ship), he and the band still put on an incredible show. I'll post my recording of it when I figure out the 90's material. Until then, here are some videos.

Parliament-Funkadelic - Flash Light




George Clinton - Do Fries Come With That Shake?



George Clinton - Atomic Dog



George Clinton & The Goombas - Walk the Dinosaur



Funkadelic - I Got A Thing



Funkadelic - Cosmic Slop

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Philadelphia Freedom



I'm in Philly this weekend. See you when I get back.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)




Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Directed By:
David Yates

Starring:
Daniel Radcliffe: Harry Potter
Michael Gambon: Dumbledore
Jim Broadbent: Slughorn
Rupert Grint: Ron Weasley
Emma Watson: Hermione Granger
Alan Rickman: Snape

Rating:

Really Tied the Room Together

While Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth movie in the nearly complete Potter franchise, it's the first one I've seen. I can certainly see an argument that an absolutely fair review would only be possible had I seen the previous five films, there'll be some people like me who, for one reason or another, are seeing this movie with only a minimal amount of pre-existing knowledge.

That being said, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a beautifully shot, wonderfully atmospheric movie that, at times, looses track of what matters in an ill-fated attempt to be a teen comedy about coming of age while trying to retain some semblance of the thrilling adventure stories you'd expect from a movie about a gaggle of wizards. It is easier to spin both plates in a full-length novel, but, in a movie based on beloved source material, one adapts and hopes for the best. Subplots and characters are buried or given small moments in an effort to create a coherent movie that will please fans. Here is a movie that seeks to give each part equal time, but something is still missing.

It could be that the plot is put on the backburner so that Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) can come to terms with puberty and grow into being upperclassmen at Hogwarts. After the first act, it seems like the actual story arc is interrupting the high school stuff, which is content to hold itself to snogging, conversations about snogging, and moments of awkwardness.

There are two things I really like about all of that. In the movie's opening scene, Harry Potter is reading a newspaper that mentions him as the possible Chosen One. He wants to (and does) ask out an incredibly cute waitress, but then the movie happens, and no more cute waitress. Harry spends the rest of the movie pining after Ron's sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright), who, no offense, is a serious downgrade from the waitress. There is also a scene where Ron eats a box of chocolates meant for Harry. The chocolates have, of course, been imbued with an incredibly powerful love potion, which is exactly the sort of thing I'd expect a young witch to imbue her gift to a young wizard with. I thought that was cute.

Unfortunately, that's one of the few times that the movie allows itself to smile at the thought of magic. Sure, it allows Harry to strut through Hogwarts not unlike Peter Parker with the Venom suit on underneath his clothes, and yeah, a bit of magical gibberish results in a powerful burst of blue energy or some other effect to come forth, but there is almost nothing charming about magic beyond the chocolates. Harry's wand spends much of its time masquerading as a flashlight.

The movie's real purpose is to move everything closer to the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. To get us there, Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) hunt for a particular memory belonging to one Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who may or may not have told a very young Voldemort,then known as Tom Riddle (Frank Dillane, whose haircut, I'm sorry to say, reminded me of Hitler), the secret to eternal life. Once they have the memory, they must search for the means to destroy Voldemort, who is content to wait until the final movie to make his presence felt.

Instead, Harry and Co. must deal with threats much closer to home in the form of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who has been charged with the task of killing Dumbledore. He goes about doing so in less-than-effective ways, in moments designed to remind us that serious things are afoot at Hogwarts. One of the toys he plays with throughout the movie is a teleportation device, which is amazing even if the movie doesn't think so. I've heard that an earlier movie/book's gadget was a time machine, which means that the wizards simply aren't thinking hard enough in their quest to defeat Voldemort. They have The Twilight Zone in their closet, but are content to let it gather dust.

Harry is on to Draco's scheming, but Severous Snape (Alan Rickman) is always there to vouch for Draco who, at the very least, looks like he's due for an appointment with the counselor. Why would Snape continuously stick his name out for the young Malfoy? You probably know, but I'm not telling.

There's plenty to like about this movie. Jim Broadbent is his usual, whimsical self; balancing between bumbler and troubled man, though his penchant for stealing biological samples of things in the name of science comes from nowhere. If Alan Rickman were to narrate the audiobook, I'd buy it just to hear him twist every word to its utterly macabre end. It's a crime that Helena Bonham Carter, playing Bellatrix Lestrange, exists merely to yell things and point her wand at stained glass windows Hogwarts would likely rather not replace, but she looks like she's having fun.

I adore how everything looks. Hogwarts is gloomy, cavernous, and mysterious, though individual rooms have an undeniably homey feel to them. The special effects are (mostly) clever - I like that photographs in newspapers and on shelves move like newsreel footage, and the zombie-like creatures who attack Harry and Dumbledore look like they crawled out of a Mike Mignola comic. The cinematography is spectacular, always finding a way to capture the larger-than-life qualities of the school and Harry's adventure. An unexpected Die Hard tribute had me absolutely giddy.

But I get the feeling that the people responsible for the movie's plot were burrying their lede. The title mentions a Half-Blood prince, but the movie only does so maybe five times. I don't know if it was a larger subplot in the novel or not, but I felt that the movie cheated, ignoring what mystery there could have been right up until they absolutely needed to pull the curtain up.

The fact that the movie didn't end there was also a bit of a puzzle. I don't understand this trend in movies where the decision is made to drag on after a logical ending point instead of rolling credits. The revelation of the Half-Blood Prince, combined with the fact that he appears to be an incredibly powerful threat, was a gut punch. It's a down note, but life isn't all sunshine, rainbows, and conversations about kissing. I'd much rather walk out of a theater wondering how a character is going to get out of a situation he wasn't expecting than watching said character discuss his plans for the future. Imagine if Rocky ended with Rocky Balboa in the pet shop, telling Adrian that he planned on facing Apollo Creed again after such an incredibly emotional post-fight scene. There's no way anything that came after that scene could top it, so why even try?

Because it's in the book, I guess.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Perhaps he should take it up with the Hutts...



Somebody has to get this one, right?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Michael Bay may actually be in on the joke...



The problem is that it still isn't a particularly good one.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)



The flashing lights. The cheesy music. The mooning, needy host, desperately clinging to his last bit of relevance. I hate most network primetime game shows for plenty of reasons, but my biggest pet peeve, without question, are the participants. When a person on "Deal or No Deal" is offered six figures to stop choosing briefcases at random, a once-in-a-lifetime offer, and they do the unthinkable and refuse because they’re convinced their next briefcase is going to be one of a low denomination, I want them to fail. When a person exhausts their lifelines on a blindingly easy question, I hope the next one they face is one even I don’t get. If game shows were a window to the soul, they’d reveal that I’m a pretty terrible person; so I stopped watching them.

That’s one of the many reasons I was surprised with Danny Boyle’s Academy Award winning 2008 effort Slumdog Millionaire: Not only did I want Jamal (Dev Patel)to win the money, get the girl, and dance his ass off, I was heavily invested in his doing so. Never in my wildest imagination would I ever think that the traditional camera and music gimmickry of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (a universal language, even if currency isn't) would have me gripping the armrests of my chair, but there I was, doing just that.

Of course, there's more to Slumdog Millionaire than the game show scenes; there is a story behind how Jamal got to be in the hot seat, and it is as fascinating as it is sad.

Yes, I found the movie to be sad. Not life-affirming. Not heartwarming. Not a tender love note written and sealed with soft kisses to the nature of the human spirit. Slumdog Millionaire has a happy ending, but everything leading up to that fairy tale ending exists in a pure, Dickensian nightmare world. I left the film happy, feeling good about what transpired, but a limp-wristed tearjerker this isn't - DVD blurb writing defies it.

The movie's framework is thus: Jamal, an unlikely contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" answers a series of questions that no person raised in the slums of India should know. Some Americans, if quizzed, would guess that Andrew Jackson was the subject of the first digital presidential portrait, so why would Jamal know who was on the American $100 bill? How could he know that without knowing who was on the 1,000 rupee bill (Ghandi)? The police, and the show's host (Anil Kapoor, whose pronunciation of "Millionaire" really is heartwarming) suspect he is cheating and interrogations commence to get to the root of the problem, all before the show Jamal might just pull it out on.

As it happens, Jamal's life experiences are the reason he knows the answers to all of these questions. Flashbacks detail not only how he knows the answer to these questions, but why they matter to him - all of them are tied to one experience or another in his life, a tragic one that sees his mother die in a riot, his brother become a gangster, and his best friend/soul mate stolen away for future prostitution. Jamal has been trying to pick up the pieces for 20 years. He appears on "Millionaire" not for the chance to become one, but because he knows Latika (Freida Pinto), the soul mate, watches regularly.

This is a film with many ambitions. It rarely misses the mark. This is a film bursting with subplots. It doesn't forget any of them. This is a film that takes risks. They were certainly rewarding.

What can you say about the performances of the film's untrained, unwashed child stars, plucked from the slums of Mumbai? They carry much of the film's weight, waging an epic struggle against their harsh reality, not knowing just how rough they really have it. For every indignity they suffer, there is a smile. For every atrocity they witness, there is some moment of happiness - the kids are still kids, until they're forced to grow up. Even then, there are young adults who are corrupted and killed, and there are those who refuse to be.

The scenes involving the children are shot mostly using Dutch angles. On the Wikipedia article for the technique, an unverified claim has it that there are more Dutch angle shots than ones where the camera is level. Those shots lend a largeness to the flashbacks, the same sort of largeness most people lend to their own childhood memories. There's another reason for those shots, I think: Distorting the world around Jamal, Latika, and Salim serves to illustrate the impossible world they were dealing with at an age where the concern of most American children is getting another hour in front of their X-Box 360.

This is not a perfect movie. The cynic in me says that the ending was contrived and that the Bollywood-lite dancing at the end of the movie robbed the film of some of its gravitas, even if it put a big, goofy grin on my face. The movie left me wanting to know more. How does Jamal deal with his sudden fame? How do the mob associates deal with a late-movie bloodbath? Danny Boyle wraps this movie up with nice, shiny paper and a big, red bow, but there were elements of the story that begged for more than the story book ending it was given. I understand why this was the life-affirming movie of 2008: Walking out of the theater to the strains of "Jai Ho" amidst cute dancing and smiling people evokes good feelings. My only hope is that the people who see this movie wake up remembering the two hour nightmare that preceded that finish. What’s the use of a fairy tale ending without the struggle that came before?



I Like Your Style, Dude

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

I'll be out of town until Monday night, which is just in time for the LAMB's upcoming Danny Boyle blogathon, which I am running.

If you have any entries, please send them to me at marchhaire@gmail.com

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Movie Review: Goodbye Solo (2009)

Goodbye Solo, the third film from director Ramin Bahrani, is, one hopes, the sort of film that will benefit from the Academy's recent decision to increase the field of Best Picture Nominees from 5 to 10. This isn't the kind of movie that crops up in multiplexes across the country. According to Box Office Mojo, Goodbye Solo has yet to make $1 million. It's widest release? 34 theaters. What if a movie like this were playing in 100 theaters? 500? 1,000?

The movie begins like a blind date. Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané), a Senegalese cab driver with aspirations of being a flight attendant, has picked up William (Red West), an old, white man who offers Solo a thousand dollars, cash, if he'll pick William up in 10 days and drive him to Blowing Rock National Park, where legend has it that the wind causes the snow to fall upwards and makes sticks thrown from the cliff fly back to the thrower's hand. There will be no return fare.

Solo takes William's deposit payment, but wants to know why he wants to go out to Blowing Rock. William doesn't want to tell him, but Solo is a persistent cab driver, and after getting some sad, wear-beaten looks from his fare, jumps to the worst possible conclusion. This is an awkward conversation, it feels awkward watching it happen on screen, and it only gets worse when Solo tries to goad something, anything out of William, who only wants to go to the movies. As he gets out of the cab in front of the theater, William is handed Solo's cell phone number. "You're a preferred client," Solo says, all smiles.

And so he is. Whenever William needs to go anywhere, which is usually to the movies and back to his apartment, Solo is the one to drive him. Always smiling, always chattering, Solo puts his cabbie charm through the paces in trying to crack William's armor, and slowly, he does. Eventually, William meets Solo's wife, ex-wife, step-daughter, and friends. He comes to know Solo's hopes for the future. He winds up living with Solo. He says he doesn't give a damn about Solo's personal life and requests some privacy when it comes to his, but over the course of 10 days, Solo and William wind up being like family.

If the 10 day span seems fast for such a relationship to develop, consider that William is an old man with no family, and that Solo is an immigrant who has a small family and a number of connections, but no true friends. Solo explains to William that in Senegal, the old are taken care of by their family. Seeing an old man with no family, Solo takes pity on William and tries to include him in his own.

The movie could have taken on a sappy, sentimental tone, but Rahmin Bahrani, who directed, co-wrote, produced, and edited his film, avoids that trap by focusing on real characters at the margins of society. There is no swelling music as the two men give each other significant looks in the rearview mirror of Solo's taxi. William's behavior doesn't change as the 10th day approaches. There is no scene where the old man breaks down and cries, because Bahrani understands that many old men are too tough and too foolish to shed a tear, even if their own particularly sad nature warrants a bit of self-pity. William's stubbornness only spurs Solo to continue seeking the truth behind why his friend wants to go out to Blowing Rock, but he remains a puzzle.

This is a tough, uncompromising film about people, no descriptive adjectives of phrases necessary. Bahrani, who grew up in Winston-Salem, where the film takes place, shows us places and people that many would avoid. He gives us a movie about those people and why they end up in those places. He filters nothing, even to the point of shooting scenes in natural sunlight, allowing the sun to wash out Solo's surroundings.

I liked every aspect of this film. How it starts uncertain and queasy and dark, how it opens up in the middle with a bit of charm and humor, how it lets the plot cook in the background so that the characters can take over. Souleymane Sy Savane and Red West are tremendous in their roles, so much so that they don't seem like actors playing a role in a movie, but people trying to figure out their role in life. This movie hits, and it hits hard

If this movie makes its way to your city during its slow trickle through the U.S., go see it. Otherwise, this kind of thing is the reason Netflix was invented.



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