Saturday, February 28, 2009

Movie Review: Religulous

Why didn't anyone truly listen to the words of John Lennon? "Imagine there's no countries/It isn't hard to do/Nothing to kill or die her/And no religion too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace." My question is, why didn't Bill Maher place these words at the beginning if "Religulous?"
Even though "Religulous" is hosted by a comedian, it is the farthest possible from a mockumentary. It is a very frighteningly real documentary. In it, Bill Maher stands up to and fights against the once force that won't respond to anything you say: God. Maher travels this country and the world, exposing corruption in modern religion and how modern religious leaders have strayed from the original visions of their profits and used the name of God to justify anything from greed to murder.
Bill Maher seems like the perfect man to debate religion. He grew up with a Jewish mother and Catholic father, never deciding which religion to like best and instead ended up hating them both. And all other religions, as well. He argues that religion is nothing but an "invisible product" and priests are like marketers, desperately trying to see you this product. And you have a variety of products to choose from. Choose the right one, and you might just get into heaven. And that, is truly where the hypocrisy begins.
"Religulous" was directed by Larry Charles. Charles was the perfect choice for director. He began his career in awkward humor with "Seinfeld" and then proved himself a master of it even further with "Borat." "Religulous" is shot in the guerilla documentary style that Charles all but invented with "Borat." "Religulous" could've been shot in an extremely serious form, but Bill Maher knew that even though this was a very dire topic it is one that can be hilarious in the ridiculousness of its subject. Charles films the interviews like those of "Borat" by making the subject feel as uncomfortable as possible and then spew out ignorance. Borat managed to find ignorance in the typical America by using a figure made out of American ignorance. "Religulous" showed a real man, finding the ignorance using the real facts.
Of course, the real center of humor here is Mr. Maher himself. He uses humor not just to poke fun at the interviewees but to also expand his wide case against religion. He takes a creative license here and fills the screen with subtitles to inform you of what someone is REALLY saying or facts to contradict myths. It is overall a way to show that God will not punish him for challenging him. He is not trying to destroy lives but simply expose a lie. The Lie, I suppose. If there was some substantial evidence to prove God's existence (A fossil? A recording of his voice? Who knows.), I'm sure Maher might open his eyes to religion. But for now, there is no proof of God, only proof of evolution. And we can only believe in what has been proven.
Maher shocks even more in this movie by not just visiting religious-nut no-names, but also some pretty big names. You already know Mike Huckabee doesn't believe in evolution; but you'll be shocked when Senator Mark Pryor tells Maher that "you don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate." Maher then just gives a totally blank stare that holds the only emotion of pure shock. It was the kind of incredibly awkward and jaw dropping moment that only someone from "Seinfeld" could make both cringeworthy and somewhat totally hilarious.
As I've said though, this is Maher's movie. He guides it with a voice of reason and wisdom. He shows no fear in saying anything, or traveling to anyplace. He criticizes not just religion but also Scientology, Judaism, Islam, and Mormons. He hits  each with total accuracy. His interview with the gold wearing preacher Jeremiah Cummings, who sells his DVDs of himself during his sermons, was documentary filmmaking at its finest. He catches Cummings with several counts of idiocy and then concludes the interview with the brilliant punchline: "you used to be a Muslim, you turned into a Christian, and you spend money on clothes like a Jew." Cummings accused Maher of twisting his words around and taking them out of context. Even if he did, you still said Jesus wants people to wear clothes and there's not much you can do to reverse that.
"Religulous" works not just because of the brilliant ideas it presents, but also for the movie itself. Maher moves through the depressing topic with a high level of energy and a sense of humor. The last few minutes might've seemed to some like a big rant (and it unfortunately came off as so), but it is a truly cautionary message for the troubles religion has brought to society and just because a so called God justifies it, that doesn't make it true. And it never feels much like a rant if the ranter is saying something valuable. Despite being a well-known Liberal, Maher makes sure not to make this a political issue and not isolate Democrats or Republics, because the actual truth is that religion should be isolated as far from religion as possible.
With "Religulous," Maher turns the political satirist into the modern day philosophe whose lesson is in line with Nietzche and Voltaire. He is like them so much of how he can present his ideas in a form of sophisticated entertainment. The timeless lesson here is that we must kill this horrible new way of God and religion. Like Nietzche once said, "God is dead! And we have killed him." And Bill Maher's not afraid to do it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Quote of the Day: Clint Eastwood is the Coolest/Most Sane 78-Year-Old Ever

"In former times we constantly made jokes about different races.  You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth otherwise you will be insulted as a racist. I find that ridiculous. In those earlier days every friendly clique had a “Sam the Jew” or “José the Mexican” - but we didn’t think anything of it or have a racist thought."
-Clint Eastwood, on why people should lighten up and stop trying to be so politically correct (yes that means you...Sharpton)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote of the Day: Oscars/ Movies are Art Edition

"I stay up to watch the show and I always felt that this was, this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world because art, in any form, is and has been and will always be our universal language and we should do everything we can, everything we can, to protect its survival."
-Penelope Cruz upon winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" 

And, just for the hell of it:

The Oscars: "Millionaire" is Golden

Unless you live under a rock, you know that tonight was the 81st annual Academy Awards. The winner, as predicted (and deserved), was "Slumdog Millionaire." "Slumdog" took home an astounding 7 Oscars. In addition it took home awards for director Danny Boyle, screenplay, sound, original song ("Jai Ho"), original score, editing, and cinematography. 
All well deserved. I know that this season "Slumdog" turned into the little indie that could that soon became cool to rip on. But, I said it was the best film of the year, and I stand by it. Nothing captured my emotions like it in quite some time. I still consider my experience seeing "Slumdog" for the first time as one of the best movie going experiences I've ever had. I further fully condemn all of those in India who are protesting the film's title as offensive. Like the film's creators brought up in their speeches, this film is made for the people of India and not against them. Maybe if the protestors had actually seen the film and realized it contained a message of hope and progress they wouldn't have protested it in the first place. The Academy is known sometimes for making mistakes but this year, in the Best Picture category, they made none.
As expected, Penelope Cruz won for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." It was an award well deserved. She brought a dark shade of passion, torture, and humor into Woody Allen's film. Also expected as a winner was Heath Ledger. I may sound like a horrible person for saying this, but I still feel like Robert Downey Jr. was most deserving for his performance as "Tropic Thunder." Nevertheless, Ledger was still a deserving winner, and the win was a much needed way to honor the tremendous actor who died too soon. He is without a doubt this generation's James Dean.
One of the bigger wins was Kate Winslet (predicted that!). I didn't see "The Reader" so can't comment on whether she deserved it, but after so many nominations, it was time for a Winslet win already.
Unfortunately, Mickey Rourke didn't get the Oscar he so badly deserved for his awe-inspiring turn in "The Wrestler." While Sean Penn had archival footage to look back at, Rourke created Randy The Ram from scratch. Or really, from his own soul. I do hope Mickey gets his day someday soon, even if it wasn't for his incredible comeback.
However, I was still satisfied with Penn's win. He really captured Harvey Milk in a way few actors could. And he gave an acceptance speech like no other. Who knew the same Sean Penn that four years ago scolded Chris Rock for making a joke about Jude Law could be this funny? Him thanking the "gay commie loving Academy" was the line of the night. 
The speech of the night went hands down to Dustin Lance Black, scribe of "Milk." Black gave a tearful, totally non-phony speech. "Milk" tells the story of gay rights activist Harvey Milk; Black himself is gay. Black gave a moving speech reassuring hope to the gay community (especially in the face of Prop 8). 
"Most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours," said Black.
The awards for "Milk" were certainly a representation of a growing backlash against Prop 8. And I hope that backlash spreads. Mike Huckabee and Pastor Rick Warren were probably not too thrilled by Black's speech. And for some reason that makes me smile very, very much.
This is about movies, not politics, but just one more note. The loss for "Waltz with Bashir" may just show the spreading hatred against Israel amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in very liberal minded Hollywood. This, just makes me very sad.
But back to the show. Let's discuss the show itself. How was Hugh Jackman as a host? Ehhhhhh. I saw promise in his highly entertaining opening number. It went downhill from there. That musical number he said to prove the musical was back did not. It was just minutes of my life I won't get back, filler that should've been filled with something better. The Academy should never hire a "song-and-dance man" to host ever again. They should stick to comedians. Jon Stewart would've been fine for a second year in a row. But during this ceremony, I saw three different possibilities for the host of next year's show. Those possibilities are a pairing of Tina Fey and Steve Martin for their witty banter on Scientology (Scientologists and Mormons were having a pretty crappy night), Ben Stiller for his brilliant Joaquin Phoenix impression, or a pairing of Seth Rogen and James Franco who all but stole the show with their short film (the Judd Apatow directed short further proves that he is God). Hugh, I'd rather see you in Wolverine claws. Hosting the Oscars just isn't your thing.
Until now, see you next year (but keep reading this blog everyday!). What did you all think of the winners? Was Hugh Jackman actually a better host than I think?
A few notes from the after party:
-Robert Pattinson kind of looked like a creepy pedophile while on stage. I know every girl reading this hates me right now but, I speak the truth.
- Jonah Hill makes an E! reporter feel awkward on the Red Carpet. Awesome.
- No one will shutup about Sean Penn's speech. No offense against his speech, but the real speech everyone should be talking about is Dustin Lance Black's speech.
- Zac Efron says he hopes to return to the Oscars one day when he gets nominated. Zac Efron, I now hate you slightly more.
- You may have predicted all all of the winners correctly Ben Lyons, but you're still the biggest hack in Hollywood.
- Cheers to Robert De Niro for being so funny during the Oscars. Your performances can make me cry, but I had no idea you could make me laugh.
- I usually hate children, but the sight of those adorable little Indian children from "Slumdog Millionaire" (or "slumpuppies," as FilmDrunk calls them) are slightly making me change my mind. Or at least proving that little Asian children are cuter than little American children.
- Ben Lyons, I still hate you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Movie Review: Frozen River

The first few shots and most of the rest of "Frozen River" brought "Fargo" immediately to mind. Those shots evoke an empty, frozen wasteland. It seems so empty that it could even take place on the surface of Pluto. But no, it is here on Earth. And it's not in a small town on the border of Minnesota and North Dakota, but rather a small town on the border of New York and Canada.
"Frozen River" tells a story of immigration problems in the United States. However, it tells a story about illegal immigration that few would ever see. Rather than taking place on America's southern border, it takes place on America's northern border. By now we already see one thing that makes "Frozen River" a great movie: it tells the kind of story you'd rarely hear on a typical day. It shows a side of life you didn't know you wanted to see.
Immigration isn't the total focus of the story. The real focus is on Ray (Melissa Leo), a nearly broke single mother trying to raise two kids after her drug addicted husband runs off. Ray's current job barely pays anything so as an act of desperation, she teams up with a Native American woman (Misty Upham) to smuggle in immigrants from Canada through a reservation on the border.
"Frozen River" isn't nearly as much of a heated political story as this year's other film about illegal immigration, "The Visitor." Instead, "Frozen River" uses immigration as a way to further characterize Ray's struggle for survival in a very harsh, unforgiving world. A world almost as harsh as the bleak winter in which Ray transfers the new immigrants through. 
This film is the very first writing and directorial effort by Courtney Hunt, but she works like a pro. The empty snow covered landscapes are filmed meticulously like the empty deserts of the southwestern US or, as mentioned earlier, the Minnesota/North Dakota landscape of "Fargo." And this leads me to believe Hunt was influenced largely by the Coen Brothers. Ray's story reminds me of an even darker version of a typical Coen Brothers' story: the kind of character who will resort to literally anything in order to pay the bills.
"Frozen River" has been most praised for the lead performance by Melissa Leo, and for good reason. She earned the Oscar nomination she received. Leo plays Ray naturally and turns her into a natural human being. You'd think someone would portray a character living in this horrible a way of life by yelling and overacting. Even during some of Ray's worst moments, Leo still manages to play her with a calm demeanor that never the less is extremely stressed out throughout the film's entire 97 minute running time. It is possible that the best acting comes when it doesn't feel like the actor is acting at all. In this case, you could barely tell Leo was acting. All I could see was a good-hearted, washed up woman named Ray and not a Hollywood actress named Melissa Leo.
The one thing that bothered me most about "Frozen River" wasn't about the movie itself, but the MPAA rating it was given. "Frozen River" is rated R for "some language." That some language is a mere two uses of the f-word. That's right, only two. However, one of those uses was in the verb form which by the MPAA's standards automatically merits an R rating. I don't think this should deter anyone from letting anyone under 17 see this movie. I doubt those two uses of the f-word will make any child want to participate in an orgy or shoot-up the nearest elementary school. No, the only reason these words are used is because these are the words people actually say, especially in tough situations portrayed in this movie. To not allow the characters to curse would be in a way censoring reality. 
And this is exactly what "Frozen River"'s R rating is doing: censoring reality. I know it's not a happy film but I guarantee anyone who sees this in the end will feel maybe not like a better person but like a slightly more enlightened person. It will give you an understanding of what it's like to live with only $5 in your pocket. Isn't this what movies are supposed to do? Aren't they supposed to make us face reality, enlighten us, and put us into the shoes of another character for a brief amount of time before taking us back out to face our own lives again?
Recommended for Fans of: Fargo, The Visitor, No Country for Old Men, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada 

Quote of the Day: Conan's Farewell Edition

"We're going onto this next gig and sometimes I read that it's time for Conan to grow up because he's going to 11:30. And I assure you that's just not going to happen."
-Conan O'Brien amidst holding back tears during his final moments on Late Night

Friday, February 20, 2009

When "Push" Comes to Shove: The "Push" Title Confusion

In January, I blogged about an absolutely superb movie I saw at Sundance entitled "Push." Not long after that movie swept the Sundance Awards, another movie entitled "Push" hit theaters. This movie wasn't a realistic story of an inner city teen trying to break free from her horrible home. No, it was a pretty dumb fantasy about a bunch of teenagers with superpowers.
I worried that the far superior Sundance "Push" would hit confusion with the other "Push." Indeed, it did. But who would get to keep the title of "Push." Thanks to an earlier release date (not to mention, a big studio backer), the FX laden, Dakota Fanning version of "Push" gets to keep the title of "Push." And what about the Sundance "Push?" Well, that has to change its name to "Precious." This makes sense, because Precious is the name of the film's main character. However, they should've kept the original title as "Push." Why's that? Because changing the title to "Precious" from "Push" takes away the original meaning. While "Precious" only expresses the name of the character, "Push" is meant to be symbolic to how Precious pushes herself to break free and succeed. How she pushes through abuse and poverty to get an education. Also, as one website points out, changing the title to "Precious" might give the movie a more positive feel. This is leading me to believe that studios are tampering with the original product to make it more uplifting and therefore, more unrealistic.
I believe changing the name of "Push" to "Precious" is wrong. Director Lee Daniels shouldn't be forced to; Daniels could also cite the fact that the novel the movie is based on is called "Push." Therefore, the "Push" released just a few weeks ago is actually ripping off the title of the novel and therefore has no right to the name "Push." Plus, two of the biggest backers of "Push" (excuse me, "Precious") are Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey. They have money and power. So my only wish is that they fight for the film they so fell in love with. Because a title is more important than you might think.

Your Last Chance to Watch: Late Night With Conan O'Brien

Don't worry, Conan O'Brien's not leaving the late night talkosphere forever, just his "Late Night" show. Tonight is Conan's last night on "Late Night," he'll be taking over "The Tonight Show" for Jay Leno on June 1.
This is your last chance everyone to see Conan at his very best. I'm not saying that Conan won't do well on "Tonight Show," but he definitely won't be able to display some of his best routines that he could with a 12:37 time slot. 
That being said, tonight is the last night ever we get to see Conan at 12:37. It'll be a sad night, but at least Conan's not gone for good. Unfortunately, I now have to choose between two shows to watch at 11:35: Conan or Colbert. And believe me, it's not an easy decision.
Soon, Jimmy Fallon will be taking over Conan's slot on "Late Night." Will he be good? I can already say he won't be as good as Conan, but I'm keeping hope alive and wishing him success. Fallon has proved he's good at zingers and punchlines with his stint on Weekend Update on "SNL." So Jimmy, do Conan well. I hope you do.
Below is a clip of one of Conan's very best shows. All I can say is, I hope Triumph's coming to LA, also:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Oscars: The (Predicted) Winners List

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Mickey Rouke, The Wrestler
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Original Screenplay: Milk
Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
Best Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Costume Design: The Duchess
Best Makeup: The Dark Knight
Best Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Original Song: Jai Ho
Best Achievement in Sound: WALL-E
Best Achievement in Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
Best Visual Effects: The Dark Knight
Best Foreign Film: Waltz with Bashir
Best Documentary: Man on Wire

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oscars: Who Got Robbed

Josh Brolin: “W.”

Sure, he deserved to be nominated for his creepy turn as Harvey Milk’s assassin, Dan White, but his best performance of the year was as former commander-in-chief George W. Bush. Brolin’s performance was more than just an imitation; it was a re-creation. Brolin brought out all of the small mannerisms of Bush from his Texas accent to the way he moves his hands. Most importantly, he brought a surprising layer of sympathy; portraying him as something deeper than just a man famous for uttering “is our children learning?”

“The Wrestler” By Bruce Springstein

 Some say that music can make a movie. In “The Wrestler,” this song, that played over the closing credits, encapsulated the entire movie in about three minutes. It’s a beautiful song about redemption that should have been a shoo-in in the Best Song category. For now, Springsteen will just have to live with his Golden Globe, victorious Super Bowl halftime show, and the Oscar he won in 1993.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"  

Despite approaching his mid 70s, Woody Allen still manages to make at least two movies a year. “Vicky Christina”’s story about two different kinds of love paid close attention to character and balanced a sense of humor without overdoing the drama. For achieving this, the “Annie Hall” scribe should’ve earned his 15th Best Screenplay nomination.

"Gran Torino" 

Now, this is just perplexing. At the age of 78, Eastwood makes one of the best films of his career, and the Academy totally overlooks it. "Torino" is similar in theme to "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby" as it tells the story of a man coming to terms with old age and the idea of death looming around the corner. Eastwood deserved a nomination for his grunt filled performance as well as his dark directing, and the screenplay deserved a nod as well for managing to turn a dark concept into something surprisingly funny.

 The Songs of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" 

A few months ago, I wrote a For Your Consideration column for the songs of "Sarah Marshall": "Inside of You," "Do Something," and "Dracula's Lament." Of course, the Academy didn't listen. These three hilarious songs are easily the most singable of any original song in a movie this year, and "Inside of You" even manages to outwit "J**z In My Pants" in ridiculous sexual innuendos. The Academy has never been too nice towards comedies. However, this year they were nice enough to recognize "Tropic Thunder." Why couldn't they go a little further and nominate another great example of comedy. I mean, there are still two empty spots in the Best Song category. Why keep them vacant?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The "Saturday Night Live" Experience: A Night in the Cold

This weekend, I was lucky enough to attend "Saturday Night Live." Yes, I waited for an entire night in brutal cold weather so I could see a two hour show. Was it worth it? Despite a few poor sketches, yes it was.
The host was Alec Baldwin. The musical guest was (blech) Jonas Brothers. It was a night to remember. It wasn't just the show that was great, but the events that surrounded it.
SNL doesn't give out tickets to most long before the show starts. The only way to get in is to wait on a standby line all night Friday night until they hand out passes at 7 am. You then come back that night and if you're lucky enough, you get in. I was lucky enough.
But before we get to the show, lets back it up. This was the kind of event that was worth waiting in line on a freezing winter night all night long for. The bitter cold was warmed up by many surprise guest appearances outside. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow walked by. Both stopped for a few minutes to talk. Maddow joked about her lack of makeup, while Olbermann wished us good luck. The usually angry Olbermann was surprisingly mild-mannered. Earlier in the night, the legendary Tom Brokaw stood about five feet away from me, and Brian Williams ran by as well. 
But the real best appearances were from the people who were the reason I was there. Lorne Michaels, the genius who started SNL 34 years ago, came by. Twice. The first time, he was so impressed with our shouts and cheers to him, that he sent out some chefs to bring us out hot soup. It was his way of saying thank you for waiting all night. What a nice guy. He came by again later. Even though he was in a hurry, he still stopped for a few moments to sign autographs and take a picture. At some point, I also encountered newcomer Abby Elliot (probably best known for her hilarious Angelina Jolie impression) and Bill Hader. Hader spoke with us for a few minutes. He answered questions and took photos. He was somewhat awkward yet lively and kind. Those five minutes with him certainly were not enough.
Well, onto the show itself. I did not go to the live show, but rather the dress rehearsal. In fact this might've been even better. I was able to see a few good sketches that were cut from the live show. Also, Michaela Watkins performance as the obnoxious blogger was much funnier in the dress rehearsal. In the dress rehearsal, she was much more serious while in the live show, she was on the verge of hysterical laughter and breaking character.
The show itself was mixed, yet overall hilarious. The cold open left me feeling a little cold, but the rest of the show went uphill from there. I am still no fan of Jonas Brothers,  but their performances in their two sketches managed to be quite funny. Their Digital Short nearly stole the show. I still hate Jonas Brothers as musicians, but it is good to see that they can take and make a joke about themselves. It shows that they are not only funny, but human too. 
Other highlights of the show included the Wii sketch, the TV land/Vincent Price parody, and a Sarah McLachlan/dog commercial skit that didn't make it to the live show.
Maybe what was so great about going to SNL was seeing how it all works. Seeing how quickly they have to get everything together before the commercial break ends. Hating on SNL has become a popular practice nowadays. However, people don't give the cast/crew of SNL enough credit. Doing what they do every week is probably the hardest job on Earth. Getting out of costume that quickly seems like a nearly impossible feat, but somehow they pull it off. Sometimes of course, it doesn't turn out that well. But that's what SNL is, it's a hit-or-miss sketch comedy show. When a sketch is a hit, it's classic. When a sketch is a miss, it's painful. But just being in the audience, with Kristen Wiig and Alec Baldwin within shouting distance, it felt like every skit was a hit. And that whole two hour moment, was classic. 

Will "Parks & Recreation" Be Good?

Simply: Amy Poehler+Greg Daniels ("The Office")+Mockumentary Style+Small Town America Satire=Yes. Good

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Seth Meyers: Criticizing Hypocrisy Done Right

For the past few days, I've thought about writing a post in defense of Michael Phelps and the whole "I smoked marijuana once for God's sakes I'm just a kid scandal." Instead I'm just going to let Seth Meyers say everything I've been thinking. Meyers isn't always the best actor, but when it comes to delivering punchlines, he does it like no other on "Saturday Night Live" today. His "Really?!?" segment on Weekend Update feels a little half-empty without Amy anymore, but last night, he still managed to deliver the goods. Mainly, by dissing out everyone making a fuss about those photos of Michael Phelps smoking a bong. There wasn't enough anger toward Elisabeth Hasselback's tirades against Phelps, but I digress. Meyers's observations that Kellog, who recently dropped Phelps as a spokesperson, have the characters of a bunch of elves who live in trees and think of new things to put cheese on is like stoner heaven, was genius. But, Meyers deserved a standing ovation for this line:
"If you're at a party and you see Michael Phelps smoking a bong and you're first thought isn't 'wow I get to party with Michael Phelps' and instead you take a picture and sell it to a tabloid you should take a long look in the mirror because you're a dick. I mean really."
Zing. Why haven't more people besides "SNL" decided to stand up for Phelps. And if A-Rod testing positive for steroids doesn't create as much of an uproar as Phelps getting high, than I'm waging war on the media (mainly, Elisabeth Hasselback). Here's the clip if you missed it:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Movie Review: Frost/Nixon

Everyone knows Richard Nixon for his extreme criminal act. He forever tainted the executive branch. Even every great president that succeeded him can't clear the fact that a man like Nixon used his power for corrupt purposes. But the one thing people need to focus on more: his smugness. The day Nixon left the White House not a tear of sadness or any remorse seemed to hit his face, just a "I'm getting out of this clean" smile.
Of course, I wasn't around to actually see this. I could only assume these things from photos taken and videos shot. The only way you could really decode that smug demeanor is by exploring his character and by, well, making a movie. Because that is what movies do best, capture someone's inner workings and state of mind. All I can say is that what "Frost/Nixon" aimed to do, and succeeded at admirably.
Now, I'm probably going to spend a large portion of this review praising Frank Langella's portrayal of Nixon and how spot on it was. But before I go onto that, it's necessary to look at the movie itself, not just the person seen on screen.
As the title suggests, "Frost/Nixon" tells the story of Brit David Frost's now legendary interview with post-resignation Richard Nixon. Frost is portrayed as Michael Sheen. Frost was not the world's most highly respected journalist. He was a talk show host and an entertainer. No one knew going into it that Frost would be the man who broke Nixon down. But, he proved everyone wrong, and deserves to be mentioned amongst the hall of fame of journalists just for that.
"Frost/Nixon" itself is based on a play, using pretty much all the same actors the play had. I didn't see the play so I can't really compare the two. The only parts of the movie that really seem theatrical are the interviews themselves. Ron Howard decided to shoot the movie more in the style of a documentary rather than total traditional narrative form. He has characters doing interviews in the way future, and reflecting on the events. Unfortunately, having those interviews leaves less for the audience to discuss about Nixon (especially his facial expressions, more about that soon), but they do seem necessary in a movie that is documenting a behind the scenes look at how journalism works. Praise Howard for going beyond just recreation and actually exploring. You can watch the actual interviews to see what Nixon was really like, but you can see the movie if you really want to explore and understand how it all happened.
While watching "Frost/Nixon," I was reminded of the other great movie about exposing Nixon, "All the President's Men." It is apparent that Howard studied that movie deeply. "Frost/Nixon" makes a great use of lighting and shadows to express mood and characters. Take for example the scene where Frost has a telephone conversation with Nixon, one that will set the course of the final interview. Frost, despite being extremely stressed, sits in a nicely lighted room. Nixon on the other hand, is shrouded in shadows, only a small portion of his face is visible. Truly menacing.
What this movie is really about is the fall of Richard Nixon. Had they not gotten a convincing actor to play Nixon, the movie probably wouldn't have worked. But, they did the right thing and got Frank Langella. Langella gets his voice as close to Nixon's as any human possibly could. Langella manages to use that voice, as well as his facial expressions, to actually become Nixon. Not at one point did I think I was looking at Frank Langella, but rather that someone had decided to pull a creepy Frankenstein like reincarnation of Nixon. He even walks (with that slightly hunched back) like Nixon.
Mostly Langella uses these characteristics to not just become Nixon, but to dig deeper and figure out his inner workings. You can't become Nixon, but actors can study their character and just look at their face and find a way to crawl under their skin. It felt like Langella not only got under Nixon's skin, but walked around in it, too. He captures that very arrogant, "I'm not guilty" vibe that Nixon always gave off. Even after being pressed by hard questions, he walked out with a pure smile as if nothing had happened. It was eerily similar to the recent trials of Rod Blagojevich and some of Bush's final press conferences. 
Langella not only captured his arrogance, but his very complex emotion as well. You could tell Nixon's defeat after Frost's final interview not just from his very slight tears, but when he went over and pet a dog's head, and asked if it was a dachshund. You could see this man suddenly snap out of his feelings of king-like power, and realize his wrongdoing. He had officially become human.
The one scene of Langella's portrayal of Nixon I will never forget is at one point when he makes some small talk with Frost before the interview begins. He asks, deadpan and without a smile about Frost's night, "did you do any fornicating?" Langella never once snaps into a smile. This man was serious.
Movies can often transcend the idea of just merely being a piece of entertainment and become an encapsulation of history. The parallels you could find in this movie between Nixon's resignation and the Frost interviews with the aforementioned Blagojevich impeachment and Bush press conferences, are undeniable. It is with this that "Frost/Nixon" fits the famous saying "those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it." "Frost/Nixon" makes its audience aware of its history, and then connects it to the present day. And it will do that, hopefully for generations to come.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Today's Sign of the Apocalypse: Another Pointless Remake

Last week, I announced plans of a remake to "Bonnie & Clyde" with Hilary Duff. Today, I am sad to announce that a remake is a go for the Paul Newman classic "Slap Shot." "Slap Shot" was made in 1977, which is apparently too old for Hollywood. So far, the remake carries the writer of "Fun With Dick & Jane" and the director of "21" and "Be Cool."
"Slap Shot" is a movie that still remains funny and only remains outdated in the cars that the characters drive. It also happens to be a way better sports comedy (or sports movie, in general) than most that are made today. I doubt anyone could top the originality and brilliant slapstick that made the original "Slap Shot" such a classic.
Also, who could replace the Hanson Brothers (if you say the Jonas Brothers, I will no longer allow you to read this blog)? But most importantly, how can you replace Paul Newman? Newman's death has shown us all that he was truly one of a kind and no person could ever replace him. But, really? Who do the people behind the "Slap Shot" remake think they can replace Paul Newman with?
Note: Apparently, there was a direct to DVD sequel to "Slap Shot" that starred Stephen Baldwin and Gary Busey. How about getting Busey and the other Baldwin brother (Alec) to star in the remake? It obviously won't beat Newman and will still make me angry, but at least then audiences could have one big question answered: what happens when you give Gary Busey a hockey stick?