Saturday, June 27, 2009

Keepin' It Really Reel Award - June '09

Well, it’s here. Summer is finally here! And that means movies; tons and tons of blockbuster movies. Grab your popcorn and strap in for eye popping, heart pounding, ear deafining action this summer. Not long ago Terry and I discussed our veiws on the modern action hero and the state of today’s action films. On our podcast, which you can listen to here, we talked about men like John McClane, John Connor, and Indiana Jones. What you won’t hear or read is anything about the female hero. Who was she and what, if anything, happened to her? Who was the lady John McClane? The answer is this month’s recipient of the Keepin’ It Really Reel tip of the hat – Sigourney Weaver/Ellen Ripley.

The other day I was watching Aliens on AMC and I was forced - once again - to reflect on the movies of old (by old I mean 70’s and 80’s; yeah, I’m not yet 30). There is just something about the state of movies today that…well, to put it simply: if movies were food they’d be White Castle. You always think you’re getting more than you pay for, you think, “this time around I won’t be disappointed.” But damn it if you don’t always end up on the toilet holding a roll of two-ply like it’s the bible bargaining with the heavens “please make it stop!” That was me after a long list of quickly forgotten action flicks, but this was not the case after my viewing of Aliens. As I said it got me thinking about action, heroes, women in movies and specifically women as heroes.

Lets get it out the way now – a woman is just as able to be a convincing action hero as a man. Of course, they may have to do it in a different way, but I believe in Ellen Ripley as much as I do John McClane. Maybe she needs body armour resembling that of a forklift and McClane chooses C4 and a machine gun, but she is very capable.

My real problem with today’s female heroes is that they’re too glamourized. If you watch Charlie’s Angels or Mr. and Mrs. Smith these women are flying through the air, fighting tons of dudes, all while rarely bleeding and they always manage to keep their air-brushed, blown out, revlon look. Forget that BS! Ellen Ripley torched acid bleeding aliens and got her ass kicked all while in her underwear. Now THAT is sexy! I challenge the man or woman who says they can find something sexier to some form of duel...or at least a heated game of connect four.

Women are naturally beautiful and everyone knows they don’t take crap; it’s the perfect formula for an action hero! Hollywood doesn’t need to force these women to all conform to this same idea of beauty. And don’t tell me or anyone else what beautiful is. I mean if – and no disrespect here - Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti can pull off the ladies man (see Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and Sideways), then shouldn’t women have a little more leeway and varied appearance? I don’t want Charlize Thereon (Aeon Flux) or Charlie’s Angel’s or anymore of Angelina Jolie’s garbage (unless she’s bringin back the Hackers look). Just give me another great female hero who only knows how to kick ass and take names. Everything else will fall into place after that. So let the hair get messy, let the makeup run, and just give us – all of us – more Sarah Connor, more Trinity...dammit, we want more Ripley!

Thank you Sigourney Weaver/Ellen Ripley for always Keepin’ it Really Reel. We tip our hat to you this month June 2009.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Welcome Home...Richard Jenkins

The 2009 Academy Awards used a different format this year when it came to presenting awards to Best Male and Female actors in supporting and lead roles. Five previous winners came up and read something about the nominees and then the presenters said something personal about each of the actors. Personally, I thought it was a welcome change. I’m not a big fan these superstars getting together five or six times over the course of a couple of months to celebrate themselves, but it was nice to see them communicate on a smaller, more intimate level. But who cares about all that?

I want to focus on one nominee in particular – Richard Jenkins. Who the hell is that?! You may not know the name, but you know the face. Immediately after hearing Adrian Brody say, “I’m not a fan of being googled, but if you google the resume of Richard Jenkins you’ll scroll across a career that includes 60 films over the last 25 years” --Woah! Seriously, who is this guy?-- I thought back to the first time I was aware of Richard Jenkins and the earliest I could come up with was 1998’s There’s Something About Mary (he played the psychiatrist in the beginning). I took Brody’s advice and googled/IMDB'd Richard Jenkins and I found out he had been in more films earlier in his career that I didn’t remember him in, and many later in his career that I easily recognized him in. Films like StepBrothers, Me, Myself, and Irene, and Fun with Dick and Jane (he was also in Six Feet Under, but I have yet to watch an episode). And The Visitor, the film for which Jenkins was nominated, is Jenkins’ homecoming 20 plus years into his career.

Watch the trailer and you’ll understand what this film is about. And once you do, know this: Richard Jenkins is this film. In much the same way all the nominated actors carried their films – large or small – Richard Jenkins carries this little engine that could all the way to the top of the mountain. Even though we watch Walter (Jenkins) as he connects with and learns from Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), what we’re really watching is Jenkins’ subtle genius, and what we’re really captivated by is his overlooked talent. We find out everything we need to know about Walter Vale – his successes, his struggles, and his hopes – by watching Jenkins act.

For me this was an amazing film about people. Look, I'll be honest, I know this movie is a little predicatable or formulaic when it comes to changing the life of a gloomy widower. There may not be much dialogue, but a lot is said. Maybe not much happens, but you never feel worn down or like the movie is slow. In fact the final scene(s) will leave you feeling pumped like a sports flick. The Visitor is a simple drama that simply delights. I enjoyed all 100minutes of this film, and I cannot say it enough - it was because of Richard Jenkins. But does that mean he deserved the Academy Award?

Jenkins never stood a chance at actually taking the Oscar home with him - that was always reserved for Rourke or Penn – but he deserves the recognition and praise just the same. So next time someone asks “Who is Richard Jenkins?” make sure you say to them, “He’s a pimp." And that's the thing about a pimp - you may not know his name, but you always respect the game. That is who Richard Jenkins is. Rent this movie and respect the technique! -- 4 Reels out of 5

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Hey isn't that the chick from..."

Every once in a while I will notice an actor or lady actor who is not a household name by any means and yet I will remember them from some other small role they've had in the past. It's not exactly like seeing an old friend, but more like seeing someone you saw throw up in a sink at a frat party junior year. What tends to make it even better to me is I am usually one of the few people who notices this scale paid thespian.

When I was watching "The Hangover" (which you can hear Eric and me discuss here!) saw one of these "God bless them, they're still trying" actors. At the end, a woman appears as a character's wife and I instantly recognized her. Her name is Gillian Vigman and her three movie credits are pretty impressive for someone you'd probably never give a second look.

I first noticed Gillian as the main character's wife on the short lived ABC sitcom "Sons and Daughters" (it was about a dysfunctional family, to put it simply it was "Deep Impact" and "Arrested Development" was "Armageddon"). I didn't see her again until she began the storied film career that inspired me to write this post.

Gillian was one of the speed daters Steve Carell talks to in "40 Year Old Virgin" (she was the "Are you f*cking retarded?" one). Then she was one of the interviewers in "Step Brothers" ("You shouldn't tell the person interviewing you to shut their mouths"). Finally, she was in "The Hangover" (no lines).

So take a moment to notice Ms. Vigman the next time you watch one of these films and wish her luck. I know there was a lot of build up in this post to not much payoff, but hey I am sure Gillian feels the same way about her career so it's fitting.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Last Action Hero

I am a child of the ‘80s. Other than listening to one-hit-wonders, wearing zubaz, and consuming mondo and bubbletape, I pretty much spent my time watching heroes from 80’s action films. Time passed and I grew up. But the more things changed the more they stayed the same. I traded my zubaz for jeans, my bubbletape for a much healthier diet and stowed away the mondo for… well, let’s be honest - who can resist a mondo? But one thing that never changed was my love for the 80’s hero. Original heroes, not the ones from tv series or comic books. Men like John McClane, John Connor, and Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones.

At a young age these movies were the epitome of action for me. Though I never actually saw John Connor in action, it was the myth and the legend of the man that enticed me. Plus kicking the hell out of Terminators is always a good way to spend your day. McClane was a no b.s. cop that flipped the script on the good vs bad dynamic -- he was the reckless mess, but he always fought on the side of good. And then there was Dr. Jones – he always got the girl, always saved the day, and looked cool as hell doing it too! None of the movies required crazy graphics. All the stunts were just enough “over the edge” that my young mind thought it to be plausible, but only for these men. As the years went on these movies began to mean a lot more to me. Die Hard was a quintessential action film served with the comedic garnish, which is something that never got old. I began looking into the art and science of film making and Raiders of the Lost Ark became one of the greatest screenplays - more specifically, one of the best opening acts I’ve ever read or seen. And the themes within Terminator resonated with me, especially the idea of “no fate but what we make” and the constant play and influence of/on time. Even though each of these heroes saved the day in different eras in their movies, they represented the original action hero of the 80’s. And with their adventures they took us on an incredible journey and delivered a great story, and for that I loved them well into my young adulthood.

June 27, 2007 everything changed. That was the day Live Free or Die Hard was released and the day my heroes began to fall one by one. You see, our original heroes cannot survive in today’s entertainment environment. Is the modern world too tough for them? No, in fact it’s too soft and over-glamorized. Our tough guys cannot make it in a world that turns rated-R movies into PG-13 popcorn flicks just to fill seats over a long weekend, and they cannot make it in a world where dollars are pumped in in hopes of getting more dollars out. It is no secret that sequels often fall victim to the “bigger and/is better” strategy, but all of these films made it passed that quite successfully. It was the 4th installments in all of these franchises that were their ultimate downfall. Studios accepted mediocre products just to monetize our loyalty to 80’s classics. It isn't fair and it doesn’t work, no matter if the movie takes place in 2018 or during the Cold War – It Just Won’t Work!

Perhaps it’s because the generation before mine created the good stuff and my generation, as we have done with most things, has only extracted bits and pieces of the great arts and turned them into fluff. Our Woodstock sucked. Our Rock n’ Roll has been shot to hell and has so many sub-genres ripping off specific elements of Rock n’ Roll that it’s gone from groundbreaking to comical to seizure inducing. Even our inventions are worthless - yes, I’m looking at you snuggie. To borrow a quote from one of “my generation’s movies”: God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars.

With no purpose or place we’ve taken our heroes with us. We have nothing to say and they have no stories to tell. Generations before us knew what struggle was and their heroes reflected it – those were the guys we grew up on. Now it’s our turn to take the helm and we’ve turned the perennial badass into a softy with a CGI addiction who uses unoriginal one-liners as a chaser. The McClane’s of the world cannot survive in our day where stunts and explosions matter more than the story, where 20minute action sequences mean more than “how the hell did they get from point A to point B?” We have killed off our original 80’s heroes one by one.

To summarize my feelings in a sentence I look to the end of Tyler Durden’s quote: [I’m] slowly learning that fact. And [I’m] very, very pissed off!