Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Best Films of 2010

Before I go into detail about my top ten films of 201, please allow me to drop a few other lists on you so you can take the actual top ten list with a grain of salt. Mostly because anyone who makes a list such as this knows they are going to get attacked by people who don't agree with or don't understand why things are the way they are. So let me start by making brief lists outlining the films that didn't make yesterday's worst list or forgotten list. Here are what I believe to be the most underrated, most overrated, and the biggest guilty pleasures of 2010.


Most Overrated Films of 2010 (in no particular order):

Black Swan (If you read past this point, good for you. If you want to complain, I have my reasons.)
Kick Ass

The Kids Are Alright

The Fighter

The Tillman Story

Machete

Waste Land

Lebanon

Fair Game


Most Underrated Films of 2010 (in no particular order):

The Square

Solitary Man

Waiting for Superman

Cyrus

Animal Kingdom

I Am Love

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Kings of Pastry

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Let Me In

Guilty Pleasures of 2010 (in no particular order):

MacGruber

How to Train Your Dragon

Get Him to the Greek

Defendor

Best Worst Movie

Daybreakers

Piranha 3D

I'm Still Here

Winnebago Man

The Town

Dinner for Schmucks

The Trotsky

The Next Three Days

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

And now, the moment that according to my best averages 70-75 of you have been waiting for, my top ten films of 2010:

10. True Grit - It is one thing to make a very serious western. It is another to make a silly western. Then you have the Coen brothers who take somewhat silly western caricatures and craft a serious and thought provoking piece around it. This might end up being the kind of film that resonates with general audiences that the Coen's haven't had since Raising Arizona. Great performances all around, especially from Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.

9. Greenberg - I can't stand films where Ben Stiller plays the guy who is chronically embarrassed by everyone around him. It is one reason (amongst many, many others) why Little Fockers made the bottom of my worst of the year list. I like my Ben Stiller to be either a complete caricature (Zoolander, Dodgeball, Tropic Thunder) or to be a c0mpletely normal, non put upon human being. Greenberg showcases his strengths at more serious roles and he turns in what I believe is the best performace of his career. It isn't an easy film to watch since everyone is incredibly messed up on the most basic psychological levels, but I just couldn't look away.

8. Rabbit Hole - I do have some problems with the script for this one (it is very obviously and sometimes painfully adapted from a stage play and the screenplay does precious little to hide it), but Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Weist are all award worthy in this well made domestic drama that really makes one question where grieving for the loss of a loved one ends and healing truly begins. It all feels so painful and real and it firmly establishes director John Cameron Mitchell as a force to be reckoned with.


7. Exit Through the Gift Shop - Is it real or is it fake? Is it art or commerce or a nuisance? Who cares? It is all great entertainment. Banksy's documenting of a man who wanted to document him lives up to it's tag line as the ultimate "street art disaster movie." It is at turns an interesting portrait of artists in relationship to commerce and a laugh out loud comedy. Maybe the two go hand in hand after all?

6. Restrepo - Before Restrepo, I have not been able to engage myself with any fictional or documentary accounts of modern warfare. I never thought that any of them have been able to truly grasp what it is to be involved in what is essentially a futile war. Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's documentary of a platoon in Afghanistan is the best film to bring it all home to the average viewer. These are men who know their place in the army very well and are trying to make the best of being located in the worst outpost possible, named after a guy that not many people in the platoon liked that much to begin with.

5. Winter's Bone - Ozark based film noir sounds like a pretty touchy proposition, but writer/director Debra Granik deserves a lot of credit for making the most relentlessly entertaining and suspenseful film about backwoods folks since Deliverance. This is like L.A. Confidental where everyone is addicted to crystal meth and they all live in trailers. Jennifer Lawrence's lead performace, as a young woman determined to track down her deadbeat father, is also the most underrated performance of the year. The fact that it is getting lost in all the award season shuffle and hub-bub is a real shame.

4. Easy A - There comes a point where if you have seen a film more than 5 times and enjoyed it every single time on a consistent basis that you can't deny that you thought it was one of the best films of the year. Easy A is that movie for me. Emma Stone's lead performance is one of the best comedic turns of the year (her Golden Globe nod was the only one in the Lead Actress in a Musical or Comedy category that was actually deserving of being recognized). The supporting cast is phenomenal and I actually find new jokes every time I watch the movie. I am an unabashed John Hughes fan and this is the kind of film I had wished he made post-Home Alone. It might be only at number 4 on the list, but trust me when I say that I got more entertainment mileage out of Easy A than any other film I saw in 2010.

3. The Social Network - David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's much lauded look at the creation of Facebook is not only a well made film, but quite possibly the most entertaining film ever made where people just sit around computer screens and giving depositions ever made. Fincher's style and Sorkin's dialogue (which before this film, I never really enjoyed on the small screen) play well off one another. Also, bonus points for saving all the moralizing about living in an online world until the final frames of the film. This is a movie that is quite simply about the creation of a business and nothing more, but despite that it still manages to be quite entertaining.

2. Carlos - While technically a French television mini-series, it is hard to imagine Olivier Assayas' sprawling epic as anything short of cinematic in scope. Following the rise and fall of Carlos "The Jackal" Sanchez from a minor player in terrorist plots to a huge figure in Middle Eastern based terrorism, Assayas has created a wholly immersive experience unlike anything I have experienced in years and Edgar Ramirez plays the hardest role of any actor this year and demands recognition in some form or another.

1. The King's Speech - I am not one who gives over to hype very easily (just look at where Black Swan ended up), but all of the praise being heaped upon The King's Speech feels well deserved. It is very easy to make a feel good film about a person overcoming a handicap of any sort, no matter what their social status. To make a film about royalty and make them seem simultaneously regal and human is another trick altogether. Colin Firth sheds the assured persona we have seen from him time and time again to portray a man who can be both prideful and deeply insecure in the same breath. The film looks great and feels more entertaining than pretty much any other film that came out this year. It might be "Oscar bait," but top to bottom there has never been a more engaging bit of "Oscar bait" ever created.


The films that JUST missed the list (in order that they would have followed):

11. Toy Story 3
12. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
13. Please Give
14. A Film Unfinished
15. Inception
16. Marwencol
17. Never Let Me Go
18. Buried
19. Micmacs
20. Shutter Island

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 10 Worst Films of 2010

I think every critic, blogger, and internet asshole secretly loves to create their list of the ten worst films of the year, and when you have a year like 2010 it doesn't feel like as much fun. The problem with 2010 wasn't that there were so many terrible movies that there was a wealth of choices, but that this past year was filled with more films that were so mediocre and bland that I actually had to do research on what films I saw in the past year to make this list. In fact, while I was able to come up with a list of the 10 worst of the year quite easily, the list of films I forgot I saw managed to be just as long as the list of potential worst of the year candidates:

Movies I Forgot I saw in 2010 Until I Saw the Title

Leap Year

Youth in Revolt

The Spy Next Door

Brooklyn's Finest

She's Out of My League

The Last Song

The Bounty Hunter

Gunless

Robin Hood (Seriously, I forgot it even existed when it was IN theatres)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Salt

Devil

The Virginity Hit

My Soul to Take

Those are 14 movies that were so bad they made absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. In a way, doesn't that almost make them worse than the films I am about to list? No. It really doesn't.

The 10 Worst Films of 2010

10. Eat Pray Love - Julia Roberts really doesn't need to be doing these kind of films anymore. She is one of the few actresses in Hollywood that can do pretty much any role she wants. She could probably play any role intended for a man and make it seem like nothing was changed from the original script. So why the hell is she in this horrendously overblown elitist piece of travel and food porn garbage? To make matters infinitely worse, nothing of any kind of substance happens in this film until about the two hour mark. By that point there is only 15 minutes left in the film. The screenplay, co-written by the king of inconsistency, Glee creator Ryan Murphy, is so entrenched in how great and liberating it is to have money that it makes Sex in the City almost sublime in comparison. Murphy also directs, if that's what you call simply pointing the camera at things that look good.

9. Takers - The heist film, a longtime Hollywood staple, has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to the Oceans Eleven franchise. Thanks to Takers, I think such interests are probably dead for good. I don't think I have seen a sillier, more poorly acted (half the main cast are rappers, the other half are white boys lucky to still get work anymore), and incoherent film this year that didn't go straight to DVD. Not even five years ago this film would have been considered unreleasable. Unfortunately, the film was a modest hit and now a sequel is in the works. Sometimes I really hate the American public.

8. Sex in the City 2 - I know that I gave Sex in the City a backhanded compliment while talking about Eat Pray Love, but take all of my misgivings about that film and amplify it to the level of a Michael Bay film and you have Sex in the City 2. This is a film that has absolutely, positively no reason to exist other than to make money. Watching the film gave me the sense that unlike the show, the filmmakers aren't even trying to entertain their core audience anymore. They are simply filming the frame with pandering, racism, and shiny things. It's as if their core audience were kittens owned by Klansmen,

7. The Back-up Plan - If this is the kind of thing Jennifer Lopez was going to use to get back into acting, she should just stop. Whatever charm and grace she once had is gone and she seems perfectly content to schlep her way through the worst of the year's 3 comedies about artificial insemination, which is a topic that doesn't even seem funny on paper to me. There are no laughs. There is no romance. Only sadness and buyer's remorse. I didn't pay for it and I felt great amounts of remorse.

6. Life as We Know It - Katherine Heigl was in three movies this year. All 3 nearly made this list, but for the sake of not shitting all over a single person I limited it to this one. A completely illogical comedy about a couple who find themselves surrogate parents to a young girl after their friends perish in an accident, Life as We Know It feels like a script written by someone who has no concept what a family even is. The writer was probably the result of a turkey baster full of semen falling into a washing machine. Also giving this film the edge over Heigl's Killers and Valentines Day: Josh Duhamel. I really can't fucking stand him. Every time I see his face on screen in anything my heart sinks. He has never and probably will never do anything even remotely good. I would rather watch an Ashton Kutcher festival with a soldering iron in my urethra than sit through anything with Josh DUHamel in it.

5. A Serbian Film - The next person who tries to convince me that A Serbian Film is a political allegory is going to get punched. Really fucking hard. In fact, this film may very well become a litmus test by which I judge people in the future. If you liked this film, I probably don't care to know you in real life. If A Serbian Film was a political allegory and not the shock fest that it is, it would have been made with more craft at the writing level. All this film manages to be is a string of gore and atrocities strung together with very little reason or rhyme. It is a series of skits in search of an overarching theme that it could never hope to achieve.

4. Furry Vengeance - This may very well be the Baby Geniuses of bad CGI animal films. That is all that really needs to be said here.

3. Grown Ups - Adam Sandler might finally be the washed up comedian he portrays in Judd Apatow's Funny People. Sandler does himself no favours by surrounding himself by all his "yes man" best friends in a comedy that manages to waste what infinitesimally small talent that David Spade and Rob Schneider even had left. It is a movie that wastes two of the worst comedians of the past 25 years. Every joke is telegraphed so far in advance that it feels like you are being read the script over the phone instead of having it acted out in front of you. There is no surprise at all in this film that also tries way too hard to be as emotionally manipulative as possible in the final, insipid third of the film.

2. Alice in Wonderland - God, what a terrible movie. Much like Katherine Heigl, Tim Burton needs to stop everything he is doing RIGHT THE FUCK NOW and get his shit together. I can't remember a film in recent memory that I felt assaulted by and that includes the previously mentioned Serbian Film. Johnny Depp's career is on life support in my eyes. Doing another Pirates sequel (which admittedly looks kinda fun) and The Tourist have done this man no favours. Helena Bonham Carter (who is phenomenal in The King's Speech) also needs to distance herself from her paramour. Burton will singlehandedly ruin both of their careers if he doesn't. The fact that this film is nominated at any awards show for any awards at all mystifies me. It is top to bottom bad and utterly unwatchable.

1. Little Fockers - You know how I just said Johnny Depp is on life support in my eyes? Robert DeNiro is dead to me. Really fucking dead. I don't care how many great films he has made, after watching the abomination that is Little Fockers, I just don't think the man has a good film left in him. To watch him stumble his way through what is easily the most unfunny mainstream comedy of this or any of the years in the past decade makes you feel like you are at a funeral. Scratch that, I have been to funerals with far more laughs than this one and I have also attended solemn funerals far more entertaining than this. Little Fockers is a film that feels made by a machine and not by people who know anything about filmmaking. It simply parades around gags from the first two films and combines them with the most offensive parenting jokes I think I have ever seen. When critics say that Little Fockers is a culturally more damaging film than Date Movie and Epic Movie, I can safely say that they are in no way lying. Those films seem downright creative alongside this. It is quite easily one of the worst films I have ever seen in my entire life.

Dishonourable mentions: Valentines Day, Kites Remixed, Killers, Jonah Hex, Case 39, Stone, Nutcracker 3D, The Tourist

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Burnout Movie Club #2: Cocktail

Andrew Parker recently suffered a severe case of burnout. He retired for a week to a house in the middle of the woods with hundreds of DVDs of films he had yet to see. All film titles were placed into a hat and picked one by one regardless of merit or bias. If he never saw the film, it was fair game and none of them could ever be vetoed.

The 1980s were full of films that became box office blockbusters that were forgotten mere weeks after their release. The Tom Cruise star vehicle Cocktail was such a film, making $100 million worldwide and having a best selling soundtrack, but it had the cultural impact of a vapor trail. I have a feeling that had you polled Cocktail viewers the following day and asked them to remember anything they had seen, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who remembered anything more that a few really ridiculous scenes, that the film starred Tom Cruise and that the Beach Boys song "Kokomo" (second only to Mannequin's Starship warbled "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" as the most annoying film related song of the 1980s) was played for only several seconds during an aerial shot.

Cruise, in a role he never should have played coming right after Top Gun, stars as Brian Flannigan, a military academy graduate who heads to New York City in hopes of landing a high paying 1980s themed job (stock broker, ad executive) despite not having a degree or experience of any kind. Brian eventually lands a job at the pub of philosophical bartender and all around asshole Douglas (Bryan Brown in a role that would be overwrought and embarrassing no matter who played it) who teaches his new young charge the art of serving $15 cosmopolitans to the Manhattan elite.



Flannigan flunks out of business school probably because he studies with a bottle of vodka next to him, but the script covers for his alcoholism by concocting a ludicrous "follow your dreams" storyline. Brian becomes a great bartender who, following a very public falling out with Douglas over a girl, goes to Jamaica to tend bar over the New York winter in hopes of raising enough capital to open a pub in New York that mimics the experience of his Uncle's Irish dive bar. 3 years after the falling out Douglas reconnects with his former protegee much wealthier (thanks to marrying rich) with a mind to talk Brian out of his newly blossoming relationship with Jordan (Elizabeth Shue) and into a relationship with a dangerous cougar looking for a trophy husband.



There are very few films on Earth I could say I honestly cared less about watching. I was forgetting the names of characters and plot points even though I had been taking notes the entire time. There is really no shred of plot structure since actions seem to take place at random without anything to really connect them and the characters are so wooden and incoherently categorized that it couldn't even play itself off as a character study.

The script is full of misogyny and 1980s gung-ho capitalist leanings that it probably didn't even age well as people watched the film in theatres (but they probably even forgot that, too). All women are shrill and overly emotional for either no reason or because some ludicrous plot device dictates it so. It is the kind of movie where the lead character calls a woman a bitch and the woman later thanks him despite the fact that Brian is utterly incompetent as a bartender when he says this. Also, money and success are the only things in life worth having, but you have to hate yourself and marry the right rich woman for it to all work out. The script also pulls one of the most insidious, cynical, and nonsensical plot twists of all time. That is something I will never forget or forgive. It is Patch Adams "lets kill off the nameless love interest" bad.

Cruise is on cruise control here. All he has to do is flash his pearly whites, flirt, recite bad poetry, and philosophize. His relationship with Shue couldn't be more botched than a 3 year old's attempts to map the human genome. Their sex scene is so laughably unerotic that it might have done some damage to my own sex drive. Sadly, i will also never forget or forgive this, either. As for Brown, I know you are meant to want to punch his character in the face, but having seen this film I just want to punch his agent in the face.



Cocktail is a special breed of blockbuster. It promises good times, but amounts to a massive hangover. The biggest tragedy might be that for a film so heavily marketed on sunshine and bikinis that over half the film takes place in cold, inhospitable New York in winter. Say what you will about "Kokomo." At least it keeps it's promises about warm climates and tropical drinks.

Rating: *

Next pick: Really? Again?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Kings of Pastry

I think most food critics can agree that the Food Network might not be the best thing to happen to cuisine. When you start elevating chefs to a certain level of celebrity, it becomes less and less about the food than it does about the egos of the people making them. Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay, and Alton Brown create works of art out of food that most people can attempt, but are quite simply too lazy to, instead feeling content to just watch the food they create with equal degrees of admiration and hatred. Food Network has also managed to play up the competitive aspects of cooking in hopes of tricking people into thinking cooking is actually a sport. It is a real shame that this very concept is what is holding back a lot of people that I know from seeing the documentary Kings of Pastry, from acclaimed documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, The War Room).



Kings of Pastry isn't merely about an Iron Chef cook off with a secret ingredient or just about creating a world class Disney themed cake in a certain amount of time. The film is instead about the time honoured MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France, of Best Craftsmann in France), the highest honour bestowed upon a pastry chef in France. The competition to vie to wear something as simple and meaningful as a collar is as grueling and heart wrenching as almost any sporting event I have ever seen. The film more or less follows two potential MOF's as they gear up for the competition: Jacquy, an older family man who has vowed to never compete again if he does not make the cut this year and Philippe, a younger man who has always used baking as his only source of creativity.

What Kings of Pastry gets right that so many Food Network Challenges get wrong, is that Hegedus and Pennebaker actually let the audience get to know the people competing. They get inside the heads and minds of the competitors and show why they are so stressed once they finally get to the competition. It isn't simply a time limit and a theme. It is months of preparation, training, and torment. The judging criteria is light years harder than it seems and there is no such thing as perfection. Jacquy vacillates between his desire to keep going and to throw in the towel and Philippe has confidence in spades, but as the audience finds out, his confidence is very tenuous.

Kings of Pastry might not be anything you technically haven't seen on Food Network, but it is far more intense, better made, and interesting than a thousand Throwdowns. It is also vastly more entertaining and hunger inducing.

Rating: ***

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hey, Remember That Movie? #4: No Holds Barred



In the interest of full disclosure, I should let it be known now that I am a casual wrestling fan to this day. I will still watch from time to time, especially as Wrestlemania approaches. Even being a fan of the spectacle of wrestling, I can’t defend the 1989 film No Holds Barred in any way other than a so bad it is AMAZING way, but I can offer some slight perspective as to its general appeal amongst cult film aficionados.

Everyone has days that take their toll; days where everything you try goes wrong, or you are dealt a crushing blow to your physical, social, sexual, financial or psychological well being. You feel so low that you swear your life is becoming a country song.

You come home and throw your keys down on the table in disgust. No one is home and your cat is ignoring you. You open the fridge and find nothing but milk and condiments and the freezer holds only ice, frozen salmon, and that last Philly cheesesteak sandwich pocket in it’s half opened wrapping since you learned the first one was terrible enough on its own. Instead, you opt for ramen noodles made in an already dirty bowl and a pot of coffee because you can’t afford any kind of alcoholic or carbonated beverages.

You slump down in a chair by the television staring off into space and thinking that you need to do something to break out of the rut you are in. You begin to think of things to watch that could make you happy, or make you laugh and feel better about yourself. In my darkest hours and in the most crippling of depressions, this is a movie that can bring me out of my funk.

Which is funny because when it comes to being a wrestling fan, I was never that huge of a Hogan fan. When I was a child and really interested in wrestling, I would always gravitate towards more technically accomplished wrestlers like Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, and Chris Jericho. These were people who were great entertainers. They could perform feats the likes of which you would probably never see again. They could talk on a microphone and instill fear and envy into the hearts of men everywhere. Hogan knew three or four moves and his matches were often as boring as sin. As for his microphone skills:



Hogan was a man who always went into business for himself on the microphone and used fairly cheap tricks to get people to buy into his act. As a face (or a good guy as some people call them) he always said the same things in a two minute interview without really saying anything at all. He always talked about how he would persevere and the prayers, the training, the vitamins, and all the little Hulkamaniacs and how they would help him through every challenge. There was an affable and comfortable familiarity to what he did, but even as a child he bored me. Even his appearance was something that seemed too well planned out. The bleach blonde hair was almost a direct rip-off of Flair and made the fairly young Hogan look like a grandfather. His almost chronically sunburnt look always grossed me out, and you could argue that his self proclaimed “largest arms in the world” led to a rise in steroid usage once he became popular.

Even backstage in the locker room, most people would tell you Hogan was the biggest kiss ass there was. He was always looking for some new angle to work that would keep him on top. He was the only person who had full creative control over the outcome of his matches. If he didn’t want to lose, he wasn’t going to. He had several friends that tried to backpack on his popularity, but for the most part Hogan never interacted with his co-workers and during his entire tenure was one of only two people who had his own private dressing room (the batshit crazy Ultimate Warrior being the other one).

At the height of Hogan’s popularity, a movie seemed like a can’t-miss proposal. Vince McMahon commissioned a script be made for Hogan, and so they were given a treatment for what was to become No Holds Barred. Vince and Hogan liked the story, but were unimpressed with the script itself. McMahon and Hogan then rewrote the entire script over the course of three days in a hotel room. I don’t know what the script looked like before that fateful day at the Doubletree Inn, but what came out of that room is a movie so terrible that it has become a camp classic. It is a movie so idiotic that I could just show you the whole movie and end the column now. It is a movie like Plan 9 From Outer Space or Troll 2 that manages to be likable by being terrible. You feel bad for the people involved, and you almost want to forgive them.



It takes less than two minutes for the movie to go to shit. The movie starts off with Hogan screaming and growling in slow motion and as far as I can tell, it was meant to be serious. Hogan plays Rip, who is the WWF champion in the film, which begs the question, if the WWF produced this movie, why don’t they just have Hogan play himself? The film’s first gap in logic happens there, but the come at a pretty good clip after that.

Rip’s entire back story is set up in the first few minutes as he comes to the ring with his brother Randy, a young man with such an “aw shucks” attitude you just want to punch him in the face the moment you see him. You know, ever since their mother died Rip and Randy have been more than just brothers? The movie fails to go into specifics, but their relationship doesn’t make any sense. Randy looks nothing like his brother and seems to only be there to set up character motivation later in the movie.

Much like Hogan was known for hulking up (where he seems defeated and mounts a miraculous comeback while being impervious to pain) and ripping his shirt, Rip has his own signature taunt: the Rip ‘Em hand gesture. Which is nothing more than saying “I love you” in sign language. This further illustrates how out of touch with reality this movie is by assuming that the viewer knows less sign language than the average two year old.

The ridiculous nature of the film continues when we meet Brell (played by Kurt Fuller) who is the head of the World Television Network. Apparently, in this magical fantasy world, professional wrestling has made the only other network in the world more popular than Brell’s. Brell knows that in order to be competitive in today’s spandex and sweat marketplace, he needs to have Rip on his network.

Brell arranges a meeting with Rip and tries to entice him to jump ship by offering him a blank check. But Rip is such a man of high integrity that no amount of berating from Brell (even calling him a “jock ass” repeatedly can get him to cash in on his popularity. Rip’s disgust is punctuated in a classic scene where Rip stuffs the blank check down Brell’s throat and telling him “I won’t be around when this check clears.” Rip gives them the Rip ‘Em sign and leaves.

On the way back from the meeting in a limo paid for by Brell, Rip is kidnapped and taken to a warehouse where a bunch of thugs have been hired to do something to Rip. It’s not really clear if they were going to kill him or beat the shit out of him, but their plan fails horribly as Rip is able to burst through the metal fucking roof of the limousine and lays waste to everyone in sight. He even makes the driver shit himself in the one scene the movie is best known for. If you only watch one film clip I ever post in this blog, make it this one:

Needless to say, Brell is shit out of luck in more ways than one. Brell needs to get into the wrestling game, but he needs some sort of extreme angle to bring viewers in. One night Brell brings a bunch of his creative team to the No Count Bar, a honky-tonk bar with a ring in the middle where drunken rednecks fight to the near death for free beers. The viewer knows the bar is dangerous because it is a Patrick Swayze away from being Road House. Also, because like Fenway Park, they still have trough urinals.

Brell creates “Battle of the Tough Guys” and soon finds his star. A large black man named Zeus (played by Tim “Tiny” Lister, better known for his role in the Friday films and as the president in The Fifth Element) who looks like the evil twin of the guy from The Green Mile. He allegedly has just gotten out of prison for killing a man in the ring after their match was over. He also has a patch of hair on the side of his head shaved into the shape of a Z.

Still not satisfied with his own success, Brell sends a corporate spy named Samantha, played by Joan Severance, to try and seduce Rip and cause him to... well, actually, I don’t know what the point of having her there is other than to have her turn against her former employer and fall in love with Rip. Samantha falls for Rip because... well, shit. I don’t even know why she does that either? Is it his love of charitable work? His way to stand up to snooty waiters in French restaurants when he finds out he can’t order a hamburger? Maybe it was his astute observation when they find themselves sharing a room together and saying that she has “set up more walls that I ever could.” Rip gives her the Rip ‘Em sign and leaves.

His plan having failed, Brell sends someone to take out Samantha, but just like a superhero that happened to be in the area on his motorcycle, Rip is there to save the day by grabbing the aggressor, dragging him through town on the front of his bike, and throwing him through a tree. Rip gives him the Rip ‘Em sign and leaves.

Despite attempting to assault and possibly rape or kill his quasi-girlfriend, this is still not enough to goad Rip into accepting a fight against Zeus, so Zeus decides to beat the holy hell out of Rip’s brother after one of his matches.

This touching music video that pretty much shows you the entire movie, as well as the clear pain that Rip feels before knowing what he has to do:

The outcome of the movie is never in question. Rip agrees to fight Zeus in a no holds barred match; a match with no rules at all. Rip gets his ass kicked for most of the fight before finding the will to win (because his now apparently paralyzed brother is able to move his pinkie) and wins because Zeus falls and Brell electrocutes himself. You just need to see it to believe it.

The movie was enough of a success to turn a small profit (opening only behind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the box office), but as with everything Hogan touches, you get the sense he thought it was going to be a lot bigger than it was. McMahon and Hogan must have though that this piece of shit was going to somehow legitimize profession wrestling, where they probably set back it’s progression by about twenty years.

Hogan, being the master of promotion that he was, pitched the idea to Vince that Zeus should be able to fight the real Hulk Hogan, and while Vince was keen on the idea, the fact remained that Zeus couldn’t wrestle his way out of a paper bag. So in the interest of packaging the movie when it came out on home video and pay-per-view, a match was put together involving Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake (who plays Jake Bullet at the beginning of the movie) against Randy “King of Bad Career Decisions” Savage and Zeus in a cage to run after the movie. Nothing takes people out of the illusion that what they are watching isn’t staged like creative camera angles designed to creatively block Zeus from sight every time he does something or has something done to him.

In conclusion, this is a film that probably never should have seen the light of day. It feels like it was written by a six year old that has no concept of reality whatsoever and has a penchant for jokes involving bodily functions. As shitty as it is, however, it still stands as a testament to just how shameless Hulk Hogan is, as well as standing on it’s own as one of the best bad movies ever made.

Now, as final viewing enjoyment, please direct your eyes to the centre of the ring as a clearly happy to be there Hulk Hogan gives one of the worst television interviews to a clearly mortified Arsenio Hall. This clip also includes the “I won’t be around when this check clears” line and Brell saying “jock ass.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Open Letters to Ex-Girlfriends and Hook-ups #1.5: M.S.

I shouldn't even include you. By all accounts you don't even really qualify as an ex or as a hook up. But you sure made a lasting impression. I never used to think it was all that bad of one, but after my most recent romantic failure I realize that you were the worst thing to ever happen to my sex life.

I don't know why I pined for you all that time or why you always showed me so much physical affection. I guess that's why my young and screwed up mind went along with everything you said and did. All those 3am phone calls and borrowing cars to discreetly meet you in the middle of the night to complain about how your ex-boyfriend blew off hanging out with you so he could go to a strip club or how your parents were forcing you to go to Maine yet again and thus taking you away from your friends.

I did like you, but I waited too long to ask you out. I was devastated, but we managed to remain inseparable. I had just graduated high school and you were still a senior. Despite all this we still saw each other five out of seven days a week. Even when you had a boyfriend (that ridiculous slicked hair swing dance lover) and even when I had those two "dates" that went so far nowhere that they don't warrant any sort of inclusion here, we rarely parted. At least you taught me confidence enough to get to those two "dates". Plus, I was actively trying to ask ever girl out that I possibly could in hopes of forgetting all about you.

Then came the tipping point. I admit I was partially to blame for it. You really wanted to get drunk with some friends for the first time. You knew I had alcohol at my apartment (that I shouldn't have even had at that age). I obliged and came over as soon as I got out of work. We hung out at your house watching the stars on the trampoline in your backyard on one of those rare weekends your parents didn't take you to Maine that summer. You got up for what I thought was a trip to the washroom. You were gone for a really long time. Christine, the only other person left there that night, went to check on you. You guys were gone for such a long time that I thought you had ditched me or were playing a prank on me. I was miffed and went inside for a swig from a bottle of vodka. When I picked the bottle up, I noticed it was almost empty. When we went outside, it hadn't even been opened yet. Then I knew something had gone terribly wrong.

We never told anyone what happened that night. All evidence was washed, lost, or destroyed. Even though I had to work in a few hours and your parents were coming back in a little over a day, we still made it through despite your two day long hangover. In hindsight, I should have taken you to the hospital, done the right thing and taken that bullet for the both of us.

You told me what I did for you that night made you change what you thought about us as friends. You constantly danced around the idea of us being more than friends. I remember that morning, after we had stayed out all night, when you kissed me in my driveway at 5am and took off conflicted; needing to talk to your gay, best friend former first boyfriend. You couldn't see us as friends and you couldn't see us as a couple. You pulled this same stunt three times that entire week. You would make out with me for several minutes and then take off suddenly without an explanation or a good-bye. I still don't know what was going through your head. Thankfully, I don't care that much anymore.

Truth is, I had an omen before the big rumor about us sleeping together caused us to stop being friends for a year. You were there when it happened and I am surprised you didn't take it the same way. The night when we were cuddling on your parents couch, just about to fall asleep in each others arms for the first time and that skunk came into the living room. It had gotten into the house through the doggy door. Skunks are pretty cute up close, but deep down you know what they can do and you surely don't want in your house. The skunk didn't end up doing anything, but I never forgot how hard it was to get that image out of my head. I didn't sleep at all that night.

That entire story about us losing our virginity to each other was a farce from the start that neither of us had anything to do with. You were wrong to blame me. You knew they person who did it was perfectly capable of doing it. You know they made it up just so they could be with you. You never even once thought it was shady that he was the one spreading this lie one week after you shot down his romantic advances. How in the fuck could you not put two and two together? Even worse, the only person you started hanging out with after that was him. We didn't talk for over a year because of that. You left me a wreck and when you finally came to your senses and said you knew what happened, I didn't even get so much as an apology. I don't even know why I felt so bad about it now. Oh, wait, it was because I genuinely liked you (possibly even loved you) and you made me feel like I did something terribly wrong when I didn't.

We hung out a handful of times following our year of not talking. I'm not going to lie when I say your coming on to me at that house party you threw (while I actually had a girlfriend) was more than a little creepy. Every time I saw you I tried so hard to be amicable and although I could see what I saw in you initially I always wanted to thank you for something. Thank you for teaching me that love isn't fair and that it is incredibly fucked up. Thank you for teaching me about co-dependence, heartbreak, and the worst kind of unrequited love in one shot.

My opinion of you has soured more over time than anyone else who will find their way into this column. You had more of a negative impact on my mental state that the rest of my exes combined. I know you are married now to that military man you introduced me to the last time we hung out. I do hope you are happy and that you have learned something from all of this. I know I sure did. How is the New Mexico real estate market? It seems like real estate is the go to business for the less talented members of talented and famous families with M.A.'s in psychology and neurology.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Fighter

The Fighter opens December 10th in selected cities. It opens December 17th everywhere.



I genuinely enjoyed The Fighter to some degree, so the criticism I levy against it probably shouldn't be judged too harshly. David O' Russell's new film about the rise and fall of boxer Mickey Ward is a perfectly entertaining and extremely well acted boxing film and family drama. There are, however, some major flaws that just can't be overlooked.

Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a struggling fighter trying to make his way back from a losing streak. In the fight game, if you lose more than 6 or 7 fights, your career is pretty much finished. He lives not only in the shadow of his formerly successful, currently crack addicted older brother Dicky (Christian Bale), but also his manager mother (Melissa Leo) and his seven sisters. Mickey feels that he is being held back by his brother's unreliability and his mother's utter lack of knowledge in the boxing business (as well as her knowledge of her son's own personal needs). Mickey is constantly torn between his familial loyalties and what will help his career before it is too late.

Wahlberg has never been better. It would seem that O' Russell is often able to bring out the best in him. As Mickey, Wahlberg is vulnerable and insecure. He isn't a pushover, but everyone around him thinks he is. Wahlberg creates a sense of palpable exasperation that is mesmerizing to watch. Bale is just as electric, shedding numerous pounds like he did for The Machinist, in a very credible depiction of a narcissistic Boston (or in this case Lowell, Massachusetts) crackhead. You want to root for Dicky to get back on track, but just by his attitude alone, you know he is just going to screw it all up again. Don't be shocked if both actors find themselves up for nominations at numerous awards shows and critics banquets.

Unfortunately, the movie around them occasionally lets them down. It might just be me, but after The Town and The Departed it seems like every film taking place in and around Boston has to be a parade of people with funny accents talking about how messed up a city it is. Yes, it is pretty screwed up in parts, but there are also a lot of great things about it. The level of "Boston crazy" on display here is so high that the characters become weakened by it and by the film's halfway point it starts to get more than a little grating. Also, if you have ever seen either of the two films I just mentioned, you automatically know how anyone will react to any given situation. Adding to the film's predictability is the fact that this is a very cookie cutter boxing film. Despite the best efforts of the cast, everything is telegraphed well in advance of something happening. If you have ever seen a boxing film or a film set in Boston, you know where the story is going at all times.

Finally, as with many of David O' Russell films, there is a very thick layer of misogyny that is damn near inexcusable. There is not a single female character in the film (including a really good, but utterly wasted Amy Adams as Mickey's bartender love interest) that could qualify as a decent person. Even worse, O' Russell shoots every young woman in the film like he was Meir Zarchi or Eli Roth: a slow pan up the backside that starts on a tight shot of someone's ass. At least Zarchi and Roth had films where shots like that made sense both within the context of their films, as well as in a detached ironic sense. O' Russell has no excuse other than pandering to the testosterone charged viewers of Spike TV. In the fighter, all women are either sex objects or shrill harpies that are designed to hold the men in their lives back. I am honestly shocked the film doesn't try to blame women for Dicky's crack addiction. Maybe that is implied. I don't know. But when someone who still occasionally watches professional wrestling is able to call your movie out on how sexist it is, you have some problems.

Despite those complaints, The Fighter is quite watchable and the performances would be enough to make almost any film worthwhile. Everything is well done on a technical level across the board and the boxing sequences themselves are some of the best on screen fights in years. But those looking for the best picture of the year, should keep looking elsewhere.

Rating: ** 1/2

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Burton Blitz

Beginning on Friday November 26th at 7pm and until 11am on Sunday November 28th, Andrew Parker joined a rotating cast of friends for the TIFF Bell Lightbox Burton Blitz. This is his story of survival in the face of watching all 16 of Tim Burton's films back to back.

6:30pm, Friday: Arrived at the Lightbox. Met up with my good friend and fellow blogger Sasha James and her friend Lev. Sasha and I seemed like we were in this together at least until the end of Sleepy Hollow at around 7pm Saturday night. Lev planned on watching the first film, taking off, seeing a few more films, taking off again, and coming back for Alice in Wonderland on Sunday morning. Sasha has had way more caffeine than I have. She was so jittery she couldn't even figure out how to properly open the door. I played it smart and came in with a game plan. Eat something after every movie no matter how small and have something caffeinated only after every second or third movie depending on how I was feeling.

7:00pm, Friday: The lights go down on Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and it becomes apparent that Sasha is caffeine wasted. Everything is relentlessly hilarious to her. It was kind of endearing in a cute but psychotic sort of way. She is laughing at everything and I am afraid she is about to have a pretty bad caffeine crash relatively soon. I am also almost positive our catty banter is annoying the ultra serious guy sitting right in front of us.

9:00pm, Friday: Lev took off to go to a friend's house and left me alone with Sasha, which under most circumstances would have been okay, but she was bouncing around like she was about to replicate a Grand Theft Auto melee. Beetlejuice is starting and within 5 minutes ultra serious guy shushes us so loudly that it is embarrassing. To this man's defense, he did (probably) pay for a ticket but did he honestly expect every person in the theatre to stay silent for 36 hours? Also, he looked like a real douche. Not to pass judgment. Just saying.

10:45pm, Friday: Tim Burton's Batman is starting and Sasha is in full on free fall from her previous caffeine and sugar high. I was originally taking notes on all the films as they screened, but partly through this film, my notes started getting catty and half assed. Partly because the last 20 minutes of Batman was patently ridiculous, but also because Sasha ruined Batman for me by making me think he was a rapist. I will let her explain this one. I don't even want to think about it again. Lets just say I had to leave the theatre so I wouldn't be laughing uncontrollably. I simply lost my shit.

1-something am, Saturday: The days have now changed and we are up to Edward Scissorhands, one of only two films this night I had not seen. I honestly loved it. Lev came back halfway through with snacks and Sasha began to grow weary; excusing herself to the lobby halfway through the film to charge her phone and goof off. I ate potato chips. It was all good. Fatigue was starting to set in.

Between movies Sasha and I braved the cold, wind, and blowing but not sticky snow to go to Tim Hortons. We saw two really drunk girls. One of them was vomiting into a soup bowl. Who gives soup to a drunk? Honestly. That just makes no sense. Between that and the one person who was working, we ended up getting street meat instead. Sasha paid in exchange for the fact that I bought popcorn at the start of Beetlejuice. I was so tired I didn't even remember buying popcorn at all that night.

Upon returning Sasha and I discover that laying across the handicapped accessible seating is a perfectly viable way to sleep.

3:45am, Saturday: Actual notes taken during Batman Returns in the dark with a dying pen:

Why the fuck am I here?
Sasha threw a boot at me. Well in the vicinity of me.
So tired!
This print is ust the w rst
N -Nosfo, + Man u haua
Even Walken's ton does a u
Is Catwoman really crazy or
o
Better than I thought

When the movie ended (which really was better than I remembered it being) I went back to Tim Hortons for food. The drunk girls that were there were replaced by new drunk girls. Still only one person working. Fuck it.

6:30am, Saturday: Actual notes taken during James and the Giant Peach (a film I actually like a lot) before passing out from exhaustion 30 minutes into the film:

ANGRY RHINOSERAS AT 6AM!
RANDY NEWMAN?!? NOOOOOOOOO!

9:30am, Saturday: Long gap for breakfast. Sasha and Lev can't take it anymore and are taking off after the next film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I bought an egg sandwich from Canteen that exploded all over me. I had to physically take my shirt off because I was that covered in egg yolk. Not one of my finest moments. More people, including my friend Peter show up thanks to it no longer being an ungodly hour of the morning. The people who remain stumble upon an awesome fact. If you are wearing 3-D glasses, no one will ever know if you are sleeping through a movie.

I have lost track of time but I guess it is 11ish am, Saturday: Ed Wood is up next. One of my favourite movies of all time. Followed by Mars Attacks! which is one of my most hated films of all time. I have made the executive decision to take off after Ed Wood. I am barely conscious after the first hour and almost pass out, but I manage to pull through.

What time is it? No. Seriously, Saturday: I was going to leave. I was really going to leave. But a friend I see so rarely is now here and is going to watch Mars Attacks!. She was going to join us last night but apparently we did not see each other. I decide out of the spirit of friendship to stay. I managed to stay awake through Mars Attacks and not totally hate it.

4:45 pm, Saturday: My friend planned on coming back for Big Fish and with little to no interest in sitting through Sleepy Hollow or Planet of the Apes (both of which I planned to write separately about anyway) I decided to go home and sleep for 3 hours to meet back around 10:30 for Big Fish. Thank God you could come and go as you pleased. It would have been pure hell otherwise.

10:30pm, Saturday: Arrive for Big Fish
12:30am, Sunday: Big Fish ends and I feel accomplished that I did not feel as sleepy as I thought I would. My friend, however, is quite sleepy since during her break she went to a family outing to watch the latest Harry Potter flick. In a way, her day was more hardcore than mine. At least I had napped quite a bit. Plus we both thought we could sleep through the next film.

3:00am, Sunday: You just can't sleep through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is so loud and bright that neither of us got any rest.
3:45am, Sunday: Corpse Bride! There. Now we can sleep. And I did quite well. That is until the projector broke and they had to make an announcement for the people still awake. A hushed groan was let out by the multitude of people just trying to rest.

My friend went to get coffee at some point. It didn't help.

Sometime around 6am, Saturday: I passed out in the middle of Sweeny Todd. I didn't really like the movie that much anyway, but I didn't even know I was falling asleep. I honestly think I just blacked out and when I woke up the lights were on.

9am, Sunday: Lev is back for Alice in Wonderland, which is the only film other than Scissorhands that I had not seen before. I answered a trivia question and won one of the programs for the Tim Burton art exhibit downstairs. Such a shitty gift but I will carry it as a badge of fucking honour after this night.

10:55am, Sunday: I want to hurt Tim Burton right now because ending with Alice in Wonderland is like ejaculating tacks when you orgasm. I can not think of a more unpleasant movie. Not in a mean spirited way, like Mars Attacks!, which is happy to be misanthropic. I mean in an annoying and stupid way. It made me come close to really hating Johnny Depp, who after this night, i don't want to see for a very long time. Ending with Alice in Wonderland was like winning a marathon only to get beaten down with bats and being picked up and told you had to run it all over again. Fuck Alice in Wonderland. Fuck it in the face. I am just too tired to deal with this shit right now. God do I have that movie. Now let us never speak of it again. Not only will it remind me of how bad it is, but also stand as just how stupid it was to do this whole thing in the first place.

Final tally:
Eaten: 1 Italian sausage, 1 bag of popcorn (shared), 1 bag Ruffles chips (plain), 2 handfuls of Jalapeno popper Doritos, 2 sandwiches, an entire pack of chewing gum (bubble gum flavoured)
Drinks: 8 coffees, 1 creme brule latte, 2 cans of coke, 2 bottles of water
Times shushed: 3
Boots thrown at me by colleagues: 2
Films ruined for me : 1
Drunks or drug addicts spotted on King Street in the middle of the night between shows: 7
Number of Tweets made: 3
Pages of notes lost: 5
Pens gone through: 3
Movies "watched": 14 of 16
Movies I stayed fully conscious for: 10

Music and Memory #2: Citrus



And so it was. The cats had been packed up and very little furniture remained. The coffee table was leaning against the side of the wall and the two bar stools we had bought off of Craigslist were still sitting in front of the kitchenette. The pull out couch remained since neither of us wanted to haul it down the stairs of our fourth floor walk up again. We both remembered just how foolish we were to walk that couch down the street from the Salvation Army. It was a pretty nice couch by goodwill standards. For $50 you probably wouldn't have turned it down, either. We rarely had company but it was a great place to pass out drunk on if neither of us could have made it the 15 feet to our separate bedrooms.

In the final days that couch also became a great place to cry. She lied down on the couch numerous times, completely bereft of feelings and full of things she wanted to say, but refrained from doing because deep down she knew that I knew every word that would have come out of her mouth. She was starting to resent me and with good reason. Some of it was my fauly and some of it wasn't. That is passed now and the feelings, while still there, are irrelevant. In the end, it was all said anyway. It damaged a friendship, but it certainly didn't kill it.

It was one year ago. It was Christmas and everything had been moved out except for what I had mentioned, a television set that was connected to nothing because the picture was so dark and unfixable it was just going to get thrown out anyway, and a lonely mattress in my room that I wasn't particularly attached to. She was gone for the holidays and I was all alone in an empty apartment watching holiday specials online and fighting off tears.

I didn't have to stay there, you know? I could have left at any time. I had the keys to a friend's house. He was going back to Calgary until after the new year and he said if I needed to crash in his room I could. I was once friends with his roommate, now not so much. If I had alcohol I would have been drinking a lot that day, and as we all know, drinking alone is the worst thing anyone can do. At least if I went there I would have alcohol. There wasn't any here.

Sometime after the start of It's a Wonderful Life being watched on mute while listening to "Citrus" by The Hold Steady on repeat and thinking about how much I want a drink, the phone rings and it is the roommate of the guy whose keys I have. He has locked himself outside of his apartment in a stoned haze. Without his shoes on and in the middle of one of the coldest nights of the year. Luckily the laundry room was open and he could go in there to warm up.

I bundled up and prepared to make my way down to the apartment a thirty minute walk away. Luckily most of it downhill. Watching the snow slowly swirl across the nearly empty streets in the wind. My mind started to clear as soon as I got closer to the apartment, but the song kept playing in my head. It was low key, but as far from a Christmas song as you could possibly get. Eventually I stopped thinking about drinking thanks to a song about drinking. Instead I was focusing on dealing with my problems, how cold it was, and fixing myself some hot chocolate and watching something at a house that had not only a working television, but cable as well.

Everything came together. I let my friend back into his house and he promptly warmed himself up before going to bed. The cold had pretty much killed any buzz he might have had. He was never a stupid stoner and in all the years I had known him, he never once locked himself out of his house. He just didn't want the cold to get in and he pulled the door shut behind him without thinking twice. He wasn't going outside for more than five minutes. His dad had just left and he wanted to give him the Christmas present he was supposed to give him before he left.

With my friend in bed I started watching television. I had no clue what I watched. All I could hear was the refrain of the song that was stuck in my head. I spaced out and I remembered nothing else. I was alone on Christmas again like so many other times. Merry freaking Christmas. At least I wasn't drunk.