Lots of Love — Not a Lot of Reality

People with disabilities are portrayed quite callously in the movies: Cliff Robertson’s portrayal of Charlie Gordon in Charly, Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Arnie Grape in What’s Eating Gibert Grape?, Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump and Sean Penn’s less successful title character in I Am Sam. As Robert Downey Jr. also brashly points out in Tropic Thunder, playing a handicapped individual in a serious drama is a sure way to get an Oscar nomination. Not to say the above stated roles were in any way throwaway performances — quite the contrary. Still, it’s best to approach films with such a scenery-chewing centerpiece with caution.

Woodstock's Groovy Glamour

This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, considered a pinnacle event in American popular culture and the latter half of the 20th century. The festival was billed as three days of peace and music, and featured numerous musical groups from Jefferson Airplane and The Who to Jimi Hendrix, CCR and Sly and the Family Stone, all of whom — amidst rain and upstate New York’s humid summer weather — played to 500,000 people on a 600 acre field. No concert like it had ever been attempted, and the name Woodstock to this day is synonymous with the 1960s, hippies and the Flower Generation, as well as a lofty bar for live music events and culture-changing phenomena involving massive numbers of young people.

Test Spin: Municipal Waste

At first listen, the hot-off-the-press new album by Municipal Waste is same old, same old. The band knows their ’80s crossover revival is a huge hit with modern fans of hardcore punk mixed with thrash metal at intensely high speeds for insanely short song lengths. Crossover is a dying art, and the Waste deliver their hardest to keep it alive. Listening to them is like shot-gunning a two-liter of Monster Java through the nose.

Blood, Banter and Basterds: Tarantino's Back

It’s not hard to poke fun at Quentin Tarantino’s distinctive writing style: Choose an obscure pop culture reference, have two odd characters argue about it over coffee, have one provide a radically new interpretation of the reference and throw in as much profanity, sexual slang and the n-word as possible (maybe have one of them comment on the quality of the coffee.) When writing by a particular auteur gets so predictable, it is either a welcome expectation by longtime fans or a glaring revelation that an artist has run out of steam and is fumbling at the frayed bottom of his bag of tricks.

Welcome to the Newsroom

Twists are cliché. So is calling them a double-edged sword, but that’s what they are. Anyone witness to recent horror flicks can attest to how a plot’s jumping the shark can drive one out of the movie theater, wishing the mind could have been wiped blank after the good stuff. But sometimes a twist is masterful, and can subvert the audience’s interpretation of everything they had seen before, changing every future re-viewing of a work while never matching that initial feeling of suspension and enthrallment. Like The Sixth Sense. Not like Hancock. Ever.

Test Spin: Keith Urban

Keith Urban is addicted to defiance. He’s defied expectations (he’s an Australian singing American heartland country-pop with a perfect twang), defied a downward slump (2006’s Love, Pain, and the Whole Crazy Thing was a downbeat disappointment that no one thought he’d recover from), and defied critics of his popularity (he employs enough banjos, steel guitars and virtuoso soloing chops to justify himself as a “real musician”).

Things To Take From Dragonball: Evolution

Things I learned from watching Dragonball: Evolution in the theater:
1. Super Mario Bros. inspired at least one director (James Wong) to attempt to make movies for a living.
2. Chow-Yun Fat (Bulletproof Monk, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) is now tied with Nicholas Cage for number of movies made where he’s willing to do ANYTHING for a paycheck.
3. If you have one wish (to be granted by a flying talking dragon, no less), don’t bring back your beloved dead relative that raised you from childhood, but a perverted useless karate teacher played by Chow-Yun Fat doing a terrible impression of Jerry Lewis.
4. Emmy Rossum is really hot.
5. Emmy Rossum can’t pull off being a badass action hero any better than Kristin Kreuk.

Malkovich (Movie) Magic

Has there been a screen icon in the past 20 years who can convey a mix of sophistication, eccentricity and penetrating intelligence quite like John Malkovich? During his career, he’s played evertyhing from psychos (In the Line of Fire, Con Air) to heroes (The Man in the Iron Mask) to god-kings (Eragon, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) to odds and ends (Of Mice and Men, Burn After Reading, Disgrace). In fact, he’s the only actor to come to mind who is so delightfully willing to parody himself that he participated in a genre-bending comedy about space-time where people traveled down an office corridor through his body into a ditch by the Jersey Turnpike (Being John Malkovich). Yet, somehow, he’s always playing himself.

Crime Scenes and a Touch of Sunshine

There’s a lot of talk at the end of the year about Oscar-baiting. Epic films with dark themes and scenery-chewing performances abound; it’s a time for “serious” films about fresh concepts like the mentally challenged and the Holocaust, or the odd deifying biopic about a drug-addled, recently deceased musical icon.
Well, now there’s Sundance-baiting. The “quirky” films featuring no-name actors aside Hollywood giants moonlighting in miscast sagas about oddball misfit characters engaging in topsy-turvy meditations on life, relationships and art. Shit happens, indie songwriters jangle in the background, and everything ends on a quizzically upbeat, if not offbeat note. A great example? Little Miss Sunshine.