Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nog Observes and Reports on the Works of Jody Hill

"Demented, unfunny, and yet perversely fascinating." --Washington Post review of Observe and Report

The writer Susan Orlean says she's drawn to what she calls the idea of the "tiny master," a person "with a tiny domain over which they are the master." This seems true of writer/director Jody Hill as well. In his first (and funniest) film, The Foot Fist Way, Danny McBride plays a foul-mouthed Tae Kwon Doe instructor whose kingdom is challenged by his hero, Chuck "The Truck." On HBO's, Eastbound and Down, created by Hill, Danny McBride (again) plays Kenny Powers, a former pro baseball star and one of the most narcissistic television creations since Ricky Gervais's David Brent. On first try, I gave up on Eastbound after two episodes. It just felt too...cruel, the humor built almost entirely around Kenny damaging the largely good-hearted people around him. But I went back and, by the end of the sixth and final episode, it won me over. Like Gervais's Brent, McBride's Kenny is so oblivious to the destruction he causes that you can almost root for him, on some strange level. And now there's Seth Rogen's Ronnie in Hill's new film, Observe and Report. Ronnie's a bipolar mall cop who believes, like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (a professed influence on this film) that it's his sworn duty to rid his kingdom of the scum (in this case, a parking-lot flasher) who corrupt its innocent citizens (in this case, Anna Faris, as a mall make-up girl, by no means innocent). It's never quite clear how we're meant to feel about Ronnie and, unlike the protagonists of Foot Fist and Eastbound, his unchallenged rule within his "tiny domain" never feels believable. Can, for instance, his merciless smashing-up of the local teen skateboarders really remain unpunished? But this too is part of the point (I think): the mall's other residents are largely so caught up in their own fantasy worlds that Ronnie's ever-escalating sadism and actual emotional problems barely register for them. The film is crude and often cruel, easy for many to critics to dismiss, but if Hill evolves beyond these already-repetitive characters, I've got a feeling he might do something much more interesting (and actually write a film worthy of the kind of darkly comic character-driven pieces that obviously inspire him).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dr. X's Column: Dr. X. Dares to Watch A Film He Once Refused To Watch!

While Richard formulates some thoughts on Observe and Report and the oeuvre of its writer/director Jody Hill, Dr. X. steps in with a long-delayed review of Into the Wild, a movie he once trashed from afar while refusing to watch (to the annoyance of Richard and Beth) but which he now trashes from close range! His review also suggests that he's seen Twilight. What other dark secrets will we discover about his viewing habits? Stay tuned for this occasional column!

"See, now -- I have seen Into the Wild (I was bored in a hotel room at a conference last year). As much as I thought I would hate it... I hated it even more. I even found Eddie's Soundtrack choices lugubrious. And while I full well understand that the movie is a trueish story... I completely found Hirsch utterly unwatchable, the story stillborn (I know, ya can't change the truth.. but it's Sean Penn, so... Why not?) and the ending as worthless as the prospects of me paying 5$ to watch it.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: we have done this story a million times before. Hollywood continues to pick up properties that they think we'll watch because they have a tried and true tradition... but, in a climate of fiscal non-solvency such as the one we're currently mired in... I'm not looking for the same damned survival story again.

I mean -- I truthfully preferred the pinball game that was Speed Racer over this. Yes, the imagery is shot beautifully. Yes the cinematography was resonant. Yes, the acting was fine. I don't care. The cinematography in Twilight was beautiful (and if you throw a blue-cast lens onto the American NW, it really becomes beautiful) -- and it was still a piece of shit. Into the Wild was not necessarily a piece of shit... but it was an entirely forgettable moment of the year. It's just kinda another of a series of personal Hollywood pet projects where major named stars, auteurs or directors take on something that they have solipsistic passion about and then spend a bunch of money and then try and blame the rest of the world when we don't find the same value that they did.

And, I don't want to hear any of this art bullshit. We are not in the Wilde years. This is not literary decadence. There's no VITALITY to this nonsense. That's why it doesn't resonate even thought it's good. Jack Palence made a hundred films that were spot on and priceless to me... but very few of them were imbued with a timeless and ephemeral vitality that demanded that they be watched (Maybe Cyborg 2). The Duke. Same time period. Same manner of movies. Absolutely vitality. They could give him his own channel.

And I think this is a fairly true distillation of my point concerning the endlessly hip and disposable. For every good cum great piece of film, poetry, art... what have you... everything that makes the selfless grab their fecking PBR and admonish the supposed dilettante for being part of the total scene of which they neither know themselves or really care to explain (But they read that it was important in pitchfork/ New Yorker... and surely THEY know what they're talking about... because the magazine trade isn't dying or anything.)... there is a disposability about it that makes it unprofitable. It doesn't have a grasp of the zeitgeist nor the testicular fortitude to form it.

Great movies can lack soul. The Breakfast Club, god help me, had soul... Into the Wild had a couple of good Eddie Vedder songs and director of Photography that should work for the Nature channel. Is it wrong for one to like it/ love it? Abso-damn-lutely not.

But if someone tries to tell me how important that piece of shit is... well, yon best don your chainmail -- I'm coming at you with a fucking bludgeon.

--Oh, and Happy Easter everyone :)!"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Nog Visits Adventureland! (But Dr. X Will Not Ride the Ride!).

“You take one step and miss the whole first rung.” --the Replacements, "Bastards of Young"

Well, although my “talkback” is already full of Adventureland material, I haven’t officially written about it, so now I will, real quick-like, before we all move on to Seth Rogen in Observe and Report!

Never mind Adventureland's deliberately misleading “bromantic” marketing campaign: the film is more akin to two films that I love: Barry Levinson’s Diner and Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming. In Diner, a group of young men head their various ways after high-school but hold on to their old haunt, the diner, as a sort of place-out-of-time, somewhere they can rehash old conversations and pretend they aren’t growing up and drifting apart. Kicking and Screaming concerns a group of just-out-of-college friends lingering near campus, hitting the same old bars, nostalgic, as one of them puts it, “for conversations I had five minutes ago.” Adventureland is not quite as perceptive as those two films, but it’s a near pitch-perfect late 80’s period piece about a young college graduate, James Brennan, whose knowledge of the humanities, at least in the short term, makes him fit for nothing but a summer job at a run-down amusement park, a waystation on the way to grad school, but one that also puts him in contact with the kinds of people his narrow intellectual world usually keeps out of sight (such as Kristin Stewart’s Em, a sharp girl with a thing for bad boys). Brennan is a virgin, and the film’s opening suggests that it might become an American Pie-ish, lose-your-virginity flick, but it doesn’t play that way. Brennan is not the clueless nerd of those films, but rather the sensitive smart guy who once decided not to sleep with a girlfriend because of an epiphany gleaned from a Shakespeare sonnet (“You mean you didn’t go ahead and fuck her anyway?” asks Kristen Stewart when informed, unaware that guys like Brennan exist). At the heart of the film, of course, is the romance that develops between Brennan and Em, which is threatened by her nowhere-bound relationship with a married amusement park janitor and his flirtation with a beautiful but ditzy employee. Formulaic, sure, but unlike most formulaic romances, it feels honest. Even its happy ending feels earned. Plus, Brennan gets laid, which is nice.

Dr. X retorts: "Admittedly, I bought the soundtrack to A-land... and I broke! I broke hard. But then I foundout it was rarify sissy water and not a fine Kip's Chicken Fried Steak from Montana Mikes... and I passed."