Happy Birthday Val: The Slimdown

I can’t believe it’s already that time of year again. Val “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” Kilmer is turning shfiftyfive! 2014 was a busy year for Val co-starring in The Spoils of Babylon and a guest appearance on Psych. Whoa, slow down Val! How does he expect us to keep up with so many quality programs?

But perhaps the biggest news this year is that Val has shed his beached whale weight and now sits at a lean mean 250. At this rate it’s only a matter of time before Val is back in his trademark cowl as Batman, or possibly even Robin? Think about it. Now that Val no longer has his own gravitational pull there’s no telling how many offers will come his way. Hopefully he doesn’t immediately devour all of them. All I know is we could always use another Top Secret or Top Gun movie. Keep on top of it up “Iceman”!

Click here to see Val’s new svelte figure.

C.A.T: I Get Wet

Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet (2001)

Well my friends, we’ve almost reached the end of another year that seemed to fly by fast, but less so when you think about whatever bullshit you were doing back in March.  And perhaps more than most years, for me 2014 was filled with some admittedly low lows, as well as a few satisfyingly high highs.  In a word, it was just another year of the seemingly endless tug-of-war that is being in your 20’s.  And I’m sure like a lot of people, I always had those select few album that I keep in my back pocket to help me get through any given year.  And more than I can remember in years past, Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet was there to remind me to never stop rockin’ and that there’s no reason why we can’t aspire to punch life in the face with a fist full of awesome.

Another more obvious reason that it seemed like a good time to talk about I Get Wet is the fact that tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, which of course is a time to party in which most of the population will choose to party hard.  I would go as far as to say that I Get Wet might be the Citizen Kane of party rock albums, as it exudes a very pure embrace of everything excess, but with none of the sleaze that a lot of Andrew W.K.’s hard-partyin’ forbearers embodied.  Instead, what we get with W.K. is a perpetually sweat-drenched buddy we can count on, who’s capable of music that’s somehow loud and abrasive enough to get your heading banging, but melodic and sugar-coated enough that you can’t help but sing (or shout) along with.

I suppose if you were to find fault in this album — which, come on man, don’t be a dick — you could argue that upon first listen, every song on I Get Wet sounds exactly the same.  In fact, I think that’s the reaction I had back around the time of this album’s release when I noticed a stunning resemblance of I Get Wet’s second single “She Is Beautiful” to it’s first single, the immortal “Party Hard”.  But I think this album’s unrelenting adherence to it’s own awesomeness is what makes it so easy to return to, since you can occasionally zero in on different songs that inhabit some different aspect of Andrew W.K.’s “all everything all the time” aesthetic.  I know the song I’ve been taken with recently is “Got To Do It”, whose refreshingly on-the-nose chorus goes “When you’re down on your luck, you gotta do it / ‘Cause you can’t get enough, you gotta do it / You never give up, you gotta do it / You gotta do all the stuff that you love.”  And with that I implore you all to never stop living in the red and to keep doing all the stuff that you love in 2015.

Favorite Tracks: “Party Hard”, “Got To Do It”, “Don’t Stop Living In The Red”

Kim Jong-Underwhelmed

The Interview

What is the purpose of free speech?  Is it the right to call out and satirize whatever injustices may be going on in the world, or is it merely the ability to make butthole jokes about Kim Jong-un on a national stage?  Because when I watch a film like The Interview, I’m reminded of– Ok, no.  I can’t do this.  Since despite being a headline-grabbing story of international censorship, The Interview taken on its own merits is clearly not trying to be the act of artistic terrorism that those North Korean hackers have labeled it as.  No, instead it’s just another silly Seth Rogen movie, and not even one that can consistently deliver the kind of sharply profane riffing that him and co-director Evan Goldberg have done so well in the past.

The Interview centers (somewhat unfortunately) on Dave Skylark (James Franco), a fluff TV host, and his producer (Seth Rogen), as the two of them initially learn that Kim Jung-un is a big fan of Skylark’s interview show.  After being invited to give an exclusive interview with the cagey (you know, just a little bit) Kim Jong-un, Skylark is recruited by the CIA to kill him.  Though once they get to North Korea, Skylark has a hard time committing to the idea of killing Un, because Un (played by Randall Park) seems like such a lovable honeybear of a dude.

So obviously the portrayal here is pretty soft on Kim Jung-Un, as the movie gives him lots of barely-amusing quirks like that he likes to listen to Katy Perry when he’s driving his tanks around.  However, I can’t really fault Randall Park, who plays Un with a kind of charming oafishness and about as much menace as the script ever calls for.  It’s just that I have to wonder what the point of putting a real-life monster like Kim Jong-Un in a movie is if you’re just going to treat him like a cardboard cut-out of a villain, while only occasionally hinting at how the real-life Un has been mistreating the people of North Korea.

But honestly, I’d probably be able to forgive The Interview‘s complete lack of teeth if it was just a little bit funnier.  The biggest gaping hole in the movie’s dearth of laughs has to come from Franco, who plays a character that’s written as a stereotypical showbiz idiot, whom Franco can’t mold into anything other than consistently annoying.  Seth Rogen, on the other hand, seems to be making a career out of being one of the more dependably funny straightmen in comedy, and despite not getting a ton of chances to bring the funny amidst the movie’s unwieldy amount of plot, he does have his moments.  One of which includes the film’s funniest sequence — a very bloody scene that I’ll just say involves several masticated appendages.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg clearly aren’t an infallible comedic writing team (has anyone actually willingly seen Green Hornet?), but I feel like you could blame The Interview‘s incredibly hit-or-miss gags to the fact that Rogen and Goldberg only get a “story by” credit here.  The film’s script on the other hand was written by Dan Sterling, and whoever he is, he doesn’t quite have the ear for motor-mouthed banter that Goldberg and Rogen displayed in last year’s hilarious This Is The End (granted, that movie probably had a lot of improvising).  Still, much like The Interview‘s hit-or-miss grasp of comedy, Rogen and Goldberg seem to be building up a pretty hit-or-miss filmography, and therefore I have faith that their next movie will hit at least a little bit harder than this one.

Pitching Tents 09: Christmas

Hold on to that good feeling as long as you can! We’re now entering that weird, delightful, somewhat bittersweet time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when it’s hard to get anything done at work and the days seem to just fly by if you’re at home. Try to treasure it, try to make every day valuable. Like this one, the day you’re using to read this text. That’s a good start, but may I recommend you listen to this week’s Pitching Tents instead of just reading about it? That’s what Father Christmas would want you to do.

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The Battle of Five Hours

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit could have been many things. It could have been shorter, certainly, like hours and hours shorter. It could have been a more direct adaptation of just the one book, instead of any and all related material that could be found plus some stuff they made up. Most importantly, it could have been a new creative team’s version of Middle Earth, a new interpretation of one of the most beloved fictional universes ever created. But when it came down to it, The Hobbit had to be what Peter Jackson wanted it to be. It’s just a shame he George Lucas’ed it.

I haven’t been as hard on Peter Jackson as I probably should have, for a couple reasons. One is that I know he tried damn hard to pass this series onto someone else, and got pretty close to convincing Guillermo del Toro to do it. I believe he truly loves the works of J.R.R. Tolkein and wanted to do what was best for them, and that meant taking the reigns himself when he couldn’t find a worthy successor in the face of plenty of studio pressure to make this thing happen. The other reason is that I agree with what I believe his idea behind the trilogy is: to frame The Hobbit as a prelude to The Lord of the Rings in a way Tolkein couldn’t. To make something that is tonally and thematically consistent with Fellowship and the other movies while coloring in as much of the universe as possible. That seems like a worthy approach, albeit one that inherently makes it less appealing to die-hard fans of The Hobbit book and people not invested in the cinematic Middle Earth. The problem is he didn’t stick with that single vision.

Like the first Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a passion project from someone who had to fight for everything he got. When they began filming those first movies, everyone considered it crazy; one of the biggest risks in cinematic history. When they started filming The Hobbit trilogy, it always felt more like an attempt to rekindle that former glory, rather than a new adventure. If you go back and watch the Production Diaries on YouTube, it’s just not the same as all the behind-the-scenes stuff from the last trilogy. Does anyone believe that the Martin Freeman and the thirteen dwarf actors feel the same brotherhood as the fellowship did? That last series was a quixotic quest, this one felt like a long job.

Not that I think any of the actors are bad or that anyone made this film as cynically as I talk about it. I think that Peter Jackson, like George Lucas, loves filmmaking technology, and was all too willing to use green screen and CG in place of the more complicated tricks he had to employee previously. Case in point: The Battle of the Five Armies (which is just called The Battle of Five Armies in the book, by the way) introduces a new dwarf character played by Billy Connolly who is entirely CG for some reason. At least it looks that way. What’s going on there? Why would you do this? Why would anyone do this?

The majority of the final chapter of this trilogy is spent building up to this eponymous battle and then actually showing the fighting – all the big cliffhangers from the last movie are quickly swept under the rug in favor of scenes that begin to feel redundant. We see Thorin (Richard Armitage) stubbornly giving into his greed over and over. Bard (Luke Evans) try to broker a peace over and over. Legolas be a cool douche over and over. This is because they’re trying to turn the climax of the story into it’s own story, and it just doesn’t work. It will never feel right, and frankly I hope that Topher Grace or whoever steps up and edits this trilogy down into one tight movie. That might actually be truly great. Instead we’re left with a trilogy that is exhausting for most, infuriating for true diehard fans, and mildly pleasing for people like me, who are more happy looking into Wikipedia than The Silmarillion.

Fox In The Snow

Foxcatcher

As the podcast Serial has proven, motive is always an important part of any crime, by it isn’t necessarily the end-all be-all.  The movie Foxcatcher takes this idea and runs with it, as it tells the true story of the murder of U.S. Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz at the hand of eccentric millionaire John du Ponte, who as far as evidence has shown, didn’t really have any clear motive for killing Schultz — he just kind of snapped one day.  It’s an interesting challenge that the filmmakers give themselves by trying to make sense of this seemingly unmotivated crime, and I feel like they deal with it by not ever overtly trying to explain everything.  Which makes for a film that might feel a little hollow in the end, yet has so many compelling things hovering around it and such an engrossing sense of dread and uneasiness, that I’ve have a hard time getting it out of my head.

Despite a flashier performance from Steve Carrell and a more genuinely lived-in performance from Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum serves as Foxcatcher‘s protaginist in his turn as U.S. wrestler Mark Schultz that seems vaguely reminiscent of Mark Wahlberg’s “I’m the star, but no one gives a shit” performance in The Fighter.  Not that Tatum is quite that level of forgettable in the face of the film’s flashier characters, but Schultz is a little one note, though the character serves the film appropriately as a consummate example of American meatheadedness.  It’s Mark Schultz who’s contacted initially by Carrell’s John du Ponte, who hopes for Mark to come to Du Ponte’s Foxcatcher estate and train himself into the kind of wrestler that could bring honor and hope to Americans.  Mark is immediately drawn to du Ponte’s ideals (and the fact that he’s, you know, loaded), which leads to the two men striking up an uneasy father-son relationship that leads to Olympic gold.

Even if you don’t know where this story is headed once du Ponte convinces Mark’s brother Dave to help coach at Foxcatcher, you can tell that all of this is headed towards something tragic.  Because despite being a story that involves athletic triumph, director Bennett Miller constantly imbues the movie with this underlying uneasiness, which manifests itself in the film’s dour visuals as well as scenes that sometimes tend to just linger there.  The film also sets up a lot of themes about American masculinity due to the seemingly mousy du Ponte’s interest in wrestling and firearms, though I’m not sure the film ever really follows through on exploring these themes.  What I found more interesting was how the film illuminates the idea of “old money” in our modern times, as du Ponte’s dignified mother (Vanessa Redgrave) stands watch over her son as he succumbs to this more primitive form of competition.

Due to it’s slight strangeness and inherent downer quality, I kind of doubt Foxcatcher will catch on as much of an awards season favorite apart from it’s performances, which I think are deserving of recognition.  To be honest, I’d been waiting a while for Steve Carell to make the jump to a full-on drama, since it only seems inevitable when a comedy star reaches the point of being that effortlessly funny.  And even though the idea of Carell wearing a fake nose does seem a little like the facial equivalent of a fat guy wearing a fat suit, he never merely lets the make-up do the acting, as there’s a quiet complexity to the character that still never really lets us get a handle on him.  Ruffalo’s performance has also started to attract some attention, and it’s the kind of performance Ruffalo does well, as he’s the kind of character that has an easiness to him that tends to squash whatever conflict may be happening all around him.  But as you could probably tell from the tired adjective I keep using to describe the tone of this movie, easiness has no place in the world of Foxcatcher.

Pitching Tents 08: Epics

Have you gone and seen Exodus: Gods and Kings? What about Interstellar? Or The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies? All of them are long-ass epic movies, with gigantic setpieces and even bigger budgets. That’s what people like now, you see. If they’re going to bother actually going to the theater, they want to be stuck there a while. That’s why the Transformers series has done so well. And you want to tap into that money well, don’t you? Don’t worry, Pitching Tents is here to help! Here are some easy ideas on how to get that sweet, sweet epic movie cash.

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