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After a couple of days of late nights at work, I finally got home at a reasonable hour and decided not to spend the time watching the news. Mostly because it reminds me that when I’m 65, my kids will ask me where I was when Obama was inaugurated, and I will tell them, “On the toilet, because I really had to finish drafting those tax certification forms, and once I was done, I couldn’t wait. Shouldn’t have put all those raisins in my oatmeal.”

Here’s what I’ve learned watching basketball and mildly surfing the internet:

1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is the number one movie in America. I don’t regard that as some sign of the apocalypse or anything, I actually thought it didn’t look bad…as a rental. Look America, I know it was cold out, but do you think Kevin James is really an A-list movie star? Because that’s what you just made him.

2. I’ve seen none of the Oscar-nominated movies. Looks like I have to get on that if I am going to anger moviegoers with contrarian blog postings. I still get the occasionally shitty email for my reaction to “There Will Be Blood.” Although I’ll say this right now: No “Benjamin Button”. I saw “Meet Joe Black” in the theater many moons ago, and Brad Pitt, “three hour movie”, and me will never go together again.

3. If you like basketball, and you think Charles Barkley can’t be replaced, check out the comedy stylings of Chris Webber and Gary Payton on TNT while they sub for him.  Here’s a look at their little-seen NBA TV work:

We may have just found the new Wayans Brothers.

4. Jim Beam has a series of ads that are kind of jaw-droppingly sexist, basically, they represent the worst of male fantasies and thoughts, and proudly associates Jim Beam with them. In the one I saw tonight, a scantily clad, hot woman speaks of how she likes slightly fat men with back hair who go to strip clubs. It then says “the girlfriend”, and Jim Beam is “the bourbon”. Yeah, okay. You gotta be drinking a bottle of Jim Beam to think that’s going to happen. When I think sexy girls, I think Jim Beam, that’s what they drink. Yeah, sure.

What’s even worse is they’re trying to mask it as “ironic” by having a video contest where you make fun of these plodding, pathetic, and obvious ads.  So you can make fun of how impossibly sexist they are. Because you know it’s not true, right? Way not to man up, Jim Beam.

The ad campaign that is now bombarding me when I trudge through the Union Square station on my morning commute is the one pimping the film   Notorious”, about the life and times of the rapper  Notorious B.I.G. It opens January 16th.

 

 Half-awake as I made my way through the station, I thought to myself, doesn’t the word “history” mean anything anymore? I mean, somebody’s dead five minutes and they’re making biographical epics? Honestly? Okay, at least this guy is actually dead, unlike George W. Bush, but still, can we get a little perspective on the timeline before we take someone’s life story to the big screen?

 

Then I realized that he died almost 12 years ago.

 

That’s probably more of a testament to my being old and forgetful than a lack of perspective on my part. Still, it was stunning. Twelve years! Earlier this year, I admitted that I wasn’t quite ready for ‘90s nostalgia with the release of The Wackness”, a movie about a guy coming of age in Giuliani’s New York. I guess with the arrival of this movie, it’s here and it’s never going back. Besides, I’m sure the public has been clamoring for an on-screen remembrance of Biggie.

 

What better time for it than before Martin Luther King Day weekend, and the one right before America’s historic inauguration? The only way it could get better is if there was a re-release of “Juice” in theaters. Now that would be a double bill!

 

Not sure if I’ll see it. While biopics can be very predictable, and it’s generally hard to bring anything new to the format, they can be successful if well-done. I saw “Milk” and thought it was very well-done and compelling, so why not the story of BIG? After all, they both end the same way, and half the fun will be in hearing some moron audibly gasp in surprise when it happens. (Slight difference: I would expect far, far, less man-on-man action.)

 

I think once upon a time I might have railed about this movie, But I guess enough time has passed and he’s still an important figure in the hip-hop community. I just hope it brings a little more to the table than just re-enacting scenes from his life; it needs to either give us a sense of the man or the movement. Anybody can re-enact the studio session where he recorded, “Ready to Die”, what needs to be done is to convey they moment, the urgency, and the thought and creative process that leads to a hip-hop classic. What made him unique, what was his vision, if he had one? Or was it a lack of that same vision that led to a beef that ultimately ended his life? This movie has to do more than make you go “Man, it was nice to hear Hypnotize again.” It has to make you understand or interpret the person in a new and different way, enhance your understanding and your appreciation of the artist as a person.

 

I guess I’ll see it if I’m assured I’m getting more than just a really hot soundtrack. It would be nice not to recoil this time from my ever-more distant youth and begin to be able to enjoy a little hip-hop history lesson, mixed with some nostalgia.

 

I’m not going to lie, I am not expecting that.

 

In the meantime, since there’s no biopic for Tupac anytime soon, I’m just going to have to work the following phrase into my vernacular more often in remembrance: “It’s all fun and games until you go to the MGM Grand to watch a Mike Tyson fight.”

 

What? I haven’t even pointed out that I am amazed they managed to find another human being that has fat on his eyelids to play Biggie. Or that the guy’s rap name is “Gravy.”

 

Sometimes, the jokes write themselves…

Was on the Upper West Side getting ready to see “Tropic Thunder” with a few members of the gang when the previews started rolling. most of it was standard fare, along with the usual snide commentary. (“College” prompted me to say, “it’s like Superbad, but not good.” Superworse, if you will.)

Then one trailer came on about a young boozehound whose life was in a tailspin. It looked intriguing, actually, and I soon realized it was Oliver Stone’s new movie “W.” , a film about the current Preisdent. It looked like it could be funny and it was interestingly cast. I would not rule out seeing it.

However, as soon as the title of the movie came on the screen, many people in the audience started cheering loudly and applauding.

That’s when I said, “What the hell are you people cheering for?” I’m sure I would have gotten in a shouting match had I not been drowned out by the applause.

Look, I hate George W. Bush as much as the next guy. More than the next guy. I think that if the next President doesn’t get this thing turned around, history will look back on the Bush 43’s presidency as the end of America’s leadership of the free world. He’s such a crappy president that Jimmy Carter laughs at him.

All that being said, how do you know this movie will be any good? Did you not see “Alexander”? Of course you didn’t, it sucked! So does that Comedy Central show “L’il Bush”, but I’m sure you sheep probably TiVo that as well. Heck, you don’t even know if the movie will be all that anti-Bush. Maybe it’ll be a sympahetic portrait of an ideologue who just wanted to believe in trickle-down economics, “starving the beast” of smaller government, and a neoconservative foreign policy to fight terror by spread democracy one invasion at a time, but in the end is let down because it turns out those ideas sucked and didn’t work.

Perhaps it’ll say that his failue is our failure, and he reflects us and the seduction of cutting taxes, pro-war bluster, false piety, and anti-intellectualism that much of this electorate seems determined to fall for every time. Perhaps the true villain will be an uninformed electorate who fell for Republican election-year shenanigans.

Maybe not. Maybe it’ll be the hard-hitting satire we’ve been waiting for that will play to an audience of people who already know how bad a President he is. The kind of people who would just cheer for the preview of an Oliver Stone movie about George W. Bush, blindly, not remembering that this is the guy who gave you “U-Turn”.

In either case, some actual thought on the part of the audience would be nice.

It’s been a while, but I haven’t forgotten you, my readers. I am carelessly neglecting you, as I’ve said before. I used a vacation day to create a three day weekend for myself, so I thought I would get you guys caught up:

  • Here’s how it works, people. You go up to the counter. You order the tacos. They call your name. You pick up the tacos, and then you eat the tacos. Simple enough, no? You’d be surprised at what shots of Jagermeister can do to make that process not go smoothly.
  • Went to PS 1 this weekend, and some guy’s idea of art was to show video some fat dude boxing with a topless woman. I guess I should be happy the fat guy wasn’t topless, but, really. Because you open said video installation with some observation about how it could be about your father but it’s really about your mother, it’s art? As opposed to, say a “documentary” called “Big Titty Fight Club?”
  • At this point, if you give out huge-ass, two-foot long straws with your drink, (I forget what Rusty Knot officially called it, but it was essentially a soup tureen full of of ‘zombies’), then you can’t complain about the fifteen minutes of “I drink your milkshake!” jokes that will inevitably follow.
  • You know, the party doesn’t officially start till the sloppy drunk blond albino girl falls all over your friend, who is scared half to death. Then she hits on him, and the fun really begins.
  • Ardbeg Scotch: If you like your scotch to taste like old cigars strained through through sweat socks, this is your drink. They were giving it away and the bartender was stunned when I asked for another. Not for the faint of heart.
  • A solemn but hopeful goodbye to Mickie, my favorite late-night bartender at San Loco. You’ll be missed, and good luck in Austin!
  • The number of black people we counted at the Sunday night Bruce Springsteen concert I attended at Giants Stadium other than myself and Clarence Clemons (not including concessions, security, ushers, and parking): 4
  • The essential dilemma of the middle-aged rock concert with middle-aged patrons: Sit, or stand? A fight nearly broke out in front of us. Luckily, it happened during “Tunnel of Love”, not necessarily a crowd favorite.
  • For a nearly 60-year old dude, he puts on a top quality, fun, energetic show, especially for his Jersey people. I don’t think I’m saying anything new by saying if you ever have a chance to see him live, do it. But I said it anyway.
  • Props to Max Weinberg, who we swore was gonna have a stroke, he was working so hard.
  • What do you get when you go to White Castle at 1 a.m. on a Sunday? Well, aside from indigestion, the line of the night from a very, uh, let’s say flamboyant gay man to someone who was harassing him and his tranny pal outside: “Oh no! You don’t mess with me! I might walk like Tina, but I fight like Ike!” He later bragged about his boxing trophies. Good times.
  • Cost of seats at Bruce Springsteen concert: $68. Having your white friends from Indiana clown you for engaging in what might possibly be the whitest activity alive, apparently: priceless.
  • “Step Brothers”: If you liked “Anchorman” and “Talledega Nights”, you’ll like this one. It might be the funniest of the three, I laughed pretty consistently, I have to say. And I went in quite worried, to be honest.
  • After the gym and some dinner, I decided to take the one of the movie tickets I gave blood for and see another one rather than sit around the house. After finding out that “Indiana Jones” is indeed long gone from the theaters, I decided to see “Hancock”. Review: I liked the beginning. I liked the ending. But they seemed to belong to two completely different movies. It wasn’t bad, but I think if they had stayed on a more comedic path, they would have had a better chance a  more consistent, classic comedy. In the end, it just ends up being okay. If you want to check out my spoiler-filled musings on the twist and ending it’s on my tumblr.
  • Also on my tumblr, I detail some really bad news about my living situation. And by bad, I mean a comedy filled train wreck that may leave extra cash in my pocket.

So, what’s the overall point of this weekend: 1. I need to take more days off, 2. I’m not going to apologize for liking Bruce Spingsteen, 3. sometimes it takes an albino damsel in distress to divine the line between good and evil, and 4. there’s still time for me to write the truly Great American Alcoholic Superhero Movie.

Occasionally, I like to get my hate on in advance, often before seeing a bad idea. Oftentimes, I am wrong about the actual popularity of the product, and sometimes I can be wrong about the product itself.

And if you think that’s going to stop me, well, welcome, new reader!

Anyway, I was reading a New York Times article about film comedies that are coming out this spring and summer, and one in particular got my attention, and not in a good way. The one that made me upset? Made of Honor.

Made of Honor

The short, unbiased version is this: Some loser played by Patrick Dempsey is asked to be the maid of honor at his best friend’s wedding. Yes, his best friend is a woman, you evangelicals can stop hyperventilating. But it turns out that he’s in love with the bride and decides to try and win her heart.

Okay, before I rip this film I have not seen, a bit of disclosure: In my previous Internet incarnation, I wrote a fictional short story about this very subject. I don’t think they stole my idea or anything, so I’m mad for different reasons, and you’ll see why in a few paragraphs.

In my short story, the ‘man of honor’ (that was my term, I think) essentially spends the whole story trying to convince everyone that he is not really in love with the bride and they are just good friends. It’s probably not very good (I can’t bring myself to actually read it right now), but at least I went against the grain…a story about a guy trying to prove he’s not in love. (I think, in honor of New York’s fallen governor, he even bangs a hooker! Very tenderly.)

In this movie, as previously noted, the guy appears to be too much of a pussy to have made a move on this girl until she gets engaged. Of course, then he decides to try and become her lover. Aside from being trite and predictable, which chaps me creatively, this movie, if it proves popular, is basically going to cause nothing but trouble for people who have good friends of the opposite sex. And by people, I mean men.

As someone who has had dates wondering if I have something going on with one of my female buddies based on them punching me in the stomach, let me tell you, this is bad business. Especially if you happen to meet a woman who either has not had friends of the opposite sex, or if they happen to be safely gay. A movie like this is not going to help. It just gives more ammunition for the suspicious mind.

“But Well Whiskey,” you  say, “what about My Best Friend’s Wedding? That didn’t cause such behavior.” To which I say, of course it didn’t. For starters, it’s actually a quality movie with a quality star. Admittedly, I’m clearly no Patrick Dempsey fan, but in terms of likable star quality, he’s not Julia Roberts, whatever you think of either of them as actors. Second, the reason the movie works so well is that it isn’t all that predictable. At no point do you ever really think Julia Roberts was going to steal that dude from Cameron Diaz. The movie’s real tension comes from the fact that you’re essentially waiting for Julia Roberts to snap out of her delusion and grow up, and that’s a little smarter and more complex. Yeah, you heard me.

Are you expecting any such thing here? Are we really expecting Mighty McDreamy to strike out? Maybe if it wasn’t the director of “City Slickers 2” and the writers of “Surviving Christmas” and “Josie and the Pussycats”, I’d be more confident.

Even if he doesn’t ultimately get the girl, (Other likely-to-be-used cliche: he settles for the nice-girl fellow bridesmaid who loved him all along.) the fact that the man of honor and her best friend is secretly pining for the bride is a lame movie cliche to often gets applied to real life by idiots. And I hate to give idiots material. But Hollywood doesn’t. If this film’s a hit, a guy who helps a girl he’s not sleeping with is going to be looked at sideways with ridicule and suspicion. Well okay, even more than he is now. And while that’s sometimes the case, it’s not always the case.

But in the end, maybe it’s my fault for not getting my story published, for not catching the eye of movie execs, and for not getting my little writing experiment made into a movie. After all, evil reigns when good men do nothing, as Edmund Burke kind of said. Or maybe he said, “if you think a movie’s crap, don’t go see it and shut the hell up”.

So, seriously, while I wasn’t paying attention, were all the rules of American film comedy abolished?

Apparently, another dagger at the heart of real film humor comes out on Friday, the latest in a series of parody films. Never having watched a single second of these movies (I guess it starts with “Date Movie”, then it was “Epic Movie”, and now “Meet The Spartans”), it appears that they are made on the cheap with no-name casts and b-list celebrities willing to whore themselves out, and all they do is make fun of movies you might not have even seen yet.

To which I say, has it come to this?

Have we really gotten to the point in our self-referential, pop-culture addled society that the need for some semblance of originality is gone, all that needs to be done is to refer to the happenings of the past two weeks, throw in a few cheap pratfalls and dick jokes, and voila! We got comedy?

I guess this was eventually going to be the result of the rise of the pop-culture reference. It’s gone from occasionally used in a deft and artful manner to some fool badly impersonating Donald Trump going “You’re fired” to Spider-Man (?).

Where are the guys who made “Airplane!” They must be rolling over in their graves! Whaddya mean they’re still alive? Honestly? That’s a shame. Regardless, we all do it now; you can’t display some sense of knowing your culture in this day and age unless you do so. But to do so without context and without originality in no way, shape or form means that we may have post-modernly painted ourselves into a little corner here, no?

It’s one thing to use the past as the fuel to move forward. It’s another not even bother going forward, but to just throw in a gratuitous poop shot or hot piece of ass and call it comedy.

I mean Family Guy does that, but at least what semblance there is of original plot is at least driven by the poop and shock value. I love the show, but let’s be real, without pop culture references, you’ve got a third-class “Simpsons”. The show seems to have barely just enough original material oftentimes for a screenplay credit.

But, in the end, I guess I’m asking, are these movies actually funny? I mean, I’m not really old enough yet to foresee the end of the world just because a few crappy comedies are being made. If that was the case, existence as we know it would have ended around the time Chevy Chase made “Deal of the Century”. So, they’d better bring the funny, so someday in a future far, far away, maybe some second-rate hack screenwriters can rehash their rehashing of pop culture, then throw in some jokes about poop, global radiation, and sex with androids, and make a fortune.

There Will Be Blood

 THIS IS A SPOILER FILLED REVIEW OF “THERE WILL BE BLOOD”. IF YOU INTEND TO SEE IT, DO NOT GO PAST THE FIRST TWO PARAGRAPHS.

So, I caught a 9:45 pm screening of “There Will Be Blood” tonight (or yesterday, technically) with DrunkBrunch and Brian Van. Right now, while I think it is worth seeing, and quite an excellent and ambitious piece of cinema. I’m going to have a real problem considering it the best movie of the year over “No Country For Old Men“.  Daniel Day-Lewis is outstanding, as always. The movie may be worth seeing for his performance alone. Day-Lewis doesn’t just seem to act, his characters are true creations, and I will always look forward to movies he is in. He doesn’t disappoint here, friends. He manages to communicate a very complex character in oilman Daniel Plainview, and show all sides of him. Also excellent is Paul Dano as his sort of rival, a religious man of dubious integrity.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has a few outstanding sequences, and as the story of Plainview’s acquisition of land and discovery of oil advances, the price to be paid with his soul, with his dignity, and some point, with his family, grows more and more powerful. Adapted from the Upton Sinclair book Oil!, it serves as a commentary on the building of empires and what it often took to build the great fortunes of the turn-of-the-century. It also, I think, might be a commentary on Big Oil today and that essentially, what it takes for that industry to succeed is often the plundering of the earth and of the soul.

That being said, SPOILER TIME, the ending of the movie, well, how do I say this? Sucked. Sucked Hard. It was an atrocity. I mean, really. Awful. God-awful. Just horrendous.

What the hell was Paul Thomas Anderson thinking? I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie so good end worse than most of my relationships. Just a freakin’ train wreck. It’s so bad, all I am left with is these cliches.

The movie loses its sanity once his son gets married in 1927. First, Plainview has essentially turned into fat Elvis at the end of his life without the television to shoot out, and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I guess this is to show the toll of his hatred for humanity and his essential loneliness. Look, we know Plainview hates people and is distrustful, but that doesn’t explain his descent into dissipation at all. It just seemed like the thing to do. In a movie that had presented him as such a complex character, this reeks of the easy way out.

Then, we find out that his son is not really his biological son, but a baby he found and adopted to help make deals. This is not a surprise, nor is the sequence where his son wants to strike out on his own, more for the sake of saving their father-son relationship, only to be told there is none, even as you can tell Plainview clearly has affection for the man/child. It’s clear that through all of Plainview’s hatred, he still desires to connect with someone, someone by blood (there is a subplot earlier about a person who impersonates his brother.) I could have lived with this part, though it doesn’t feel particularly developed past anything you’d see in, I dunno, a soap opera.

But, ultimately, the final scene, set in the bowling alley of Plainview’s mansion, has to be seen to be believed, and seen to realize just how close this movie came to greatness. It is, and there’s no mincing words here, completely stupid. Eli Sunday (Dano), still a religious figure, supposedly of some fame, comes back to Plainview with the intention of getting himself and his church some money. To strike the deal, Plainview demands that he admit that he is a fraud, and do it like he means it. What follows is akin to the scene in “Silver Streak” where Richard Pryor teaches Gene Wilder how to “act black” in blackface. Except not as funny, and has no place in the denouement of a serious epic. I totally appreciated that the film was able to be funny in telling such a downbeat story, but that was absurd.

That’s right, they bad!    Then, Plainview admits he tricked Sunday; there is no oil deal to be struck because he found a way to get oil from the land he claimed he was only using for a pipeline. And then, it what is undoubtedly the low point of Daniel Day-Lewis’s career unless he was in some “Benny Hill” sketch from back in the day I don’t know about, he makes a metaphor about two milkshakes that a greeting card writer would be embarassed to take credit for. You’ve got Daniel Day-Lewis, and you give him a half-assed speech about milkshakes and straws?

And finally, to top it all off, he eventually, for no reason I can really figure, he kills Sunday with a bowling pin. Because a “Clue”-style ending is how you have to end a great American movie. I guess killing the two-faced Sunday was a commentary on everything Plainview hates about humanity, and how that hate built up and finally comes back to haunt Plainview. If you’re buying that, you must really want to like this movie.

I wanted to buy, because 90 percent of it, in my opinion, is great. But the ending is so bad, so bad, so bad that you can’t call it great, and you may even have a hard time justifying it as good. Seriously, it’s that bad. The movie is a beautiful melange of subtlety and patience, only to be ruined by an over the top ending that looks more like a pathetic stab at greatness rather than actual greatness. Poor DrunkBrunch had invested so much in the characters, only to feel that the whole thing was ruined and that she had essentially, wasted her time. She might have been angrier than me. Brian Van, firmly in the corner of “No Country for Old Men”, found all the ammo he needed to declare a TKO for Coen Brothers’ film. It’s a testament to Dano and Day-Lewis that this ending has not been more roundly mocked and derided than it has been. Day-Lewis probably needs to call T.J. Hooker if he doesn’t win an Oscar, because he will have been robbed.

The absolute worst thing you can do when ending a movie is to make everything before it seem pointless, which is what happens in “There Will Be Blood”. Oddly enough, this has happened to Day-Lewis before, in “Gangs of New York”, that also provided an ending that essentially said, “You know the last two hours you spent here? Yeah, it really didn’t matter.” But at least I understood that one, that the gangs were deemed irrelevant once the draft riots and the Civil War began. But audiences who invest in characters aren’t trying to hear that. This ending, I can’t even justify.

Oh, P.T. Anderson, you came so close  to something truly outstanding. Unfortunately, you can’t leave the audience feeling like P.T. Barnum directed it, and that he saw three hours’ worth of suckers coming.

Finally got my butt into the theater to see consensus American movie of the year “No Country For Old Men” (I hope to see what appears to be #2, There Will Be Blood, sometime this weekend), and I’ve got some thoughts. If you haven’t seen it, you may possibly be spoiled if you read too much. All six of you.

I really enjoyed it, it’s visually quite stunning. While the story of the average Joe in over his head against a ruthless, psychopathic criminal is nothing new, I think what gives the movie its heft and meaning is the excellent job the file does of evoking the legend and majesty of American West as the backdrop for modern-day savagery. The source material by Cormac McCarthy needs to be credited for that as much as the stunning cinematography.

Also, there’s never not a moment of dread and anticipation in the film once it gets going, even in its calmer scenes. That’s always impressive to me in this day and age when it’s pretty hard to find new ways to keep people on the edge of their seats. The performances are all very good.

The bad news: the ending. While I didn’t hate the ending, and may have a bead on what they were trying to do, I’m not sure if it was the best ending. Having Tommy Lee Jones tell a story about meeting his dad in his dreams probably was meant to continue the theme about the reality versus the legend of the West (it’s just as savage now as ever, there just isn’t any varnish of faded memories on it now) and kind of works.

The final scenes involving Anton Chigurh, and whether he spares the widow of Llewelyn Moss, the ensuing random car accident and interaction with two youths much like Moss’ earlier in the film…I don’t know. I guess it was trying to show that a psychopath has no choice in his fate, it is just who he is, and he’s like the coin flip…wherever it lands, the decision is made for him. Not really sure it worked. But it has engendered discussion, and for a movie to do that after you leave is never really a problem.

So, overall, I can see why many consider it the yeatr’s best movie. I just haven’tt seen enough films this year to say it is, but it doesn’t seem particularly irrational to me.  I definitely classify it as “worth seeing”.

Note: At some point, my buddy Joe and I will make up alternate absurd endings for this movie. It’s been a tradition of ours since we saw “Million Dollar Baby” and amused ourselves for hours afterwards by creating alternate endings. The clear winner in that one, by the way, was Joe’s scenario where Morgan Freeman winds up stealing Hillary Swank’s insurance money from Clint Eastwood and says “…and that why she was my Million Dollar Baby.” Then of course, fade to credits.

Or maybe you had to be there. In any case, next time I see Joe, we’ll do the same, and I’ll share the results with you.