Nate’s Review of Cloverfield

Before I get started, be sure to check out Nate’s review of Cloverfield. Make a point to check out the comments – they get to the crux of the argument and Ken Matthews (yes, that Ken Matthews) even weighs in. No, we don’t take celebrity lightly here at The Bookshelf.

Nate, Nate, Nate. So many words. The movie didn’t “work” because of the medium on which it was delivered. It worked (and worked quite well) because of typical disaster movie conventions (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). The “found footage” created a new way to present those conventions; it didn’t make them “new,” but it serves to create a “wall” in the viewer’s mind when he sees the “character presented as initially important dies abruptly and shockingly” so he doesn’t say, “wow, this is like every other disaster movie ever.” Likewise, the whole “cast in the darkness struggles to find a flashlight, then once they find it, they immediately illuminate something that jumps up and wants to kill/maim/eat them” is perfectly fine – it’s been done before. “Found footage” doesn’t change the presentation of that event – it’s always a point-of-view shot and someone either dies immediately or is injured to the degree of eventually becoming a nuisance (or worse) to the group. I didn’t feel any closer to the characters on the screen than with any other well made action/disaster movie. Was it better than “The Day after Tomorrow?” – absolutely, but the difference isn’t in the “medium,” it’s in the competence of the director and the writer to make it compelling. “Found footage” isn’t a smokescreen which obfuscates the director’s lack of talent or the scenarist’s lack of imagination – he’s either a good director or not, the script is either good or it isn’t.

cloverfield
As I’ve said, the monster was looking for delicious human brains. Imagine how disappointed it must’ve been when it realized the meal outside the restaurant wasn’t real or life-size. Kind of like a pedophile outside a Bob’s Big Boy…yikes. I think that one crossed a line.

Why Cloverfield worked was because of the little decisions made in the screenplay and the directing. There’s not “cheese” in the story or the presentation. The “lovey-dovey” story is restrained and as realistic as it could be in a movie about a gigantic lizard making a buffet out of New York. The love story (effectively the pulse of the movie), has as satisfying conclusion as one could hope for, maintaining a reasonable suspension of disbelief inherent is going to the movies. And, no, the “found footage” doesn’t assist in building up the suspension of disbelief. Know what? I sat in a movie theater at the beginning of Cloverfield, and I left that same movie theater. I wasn’t transported (to a dream world of magic). During the movie, I was still in that same theater. I didn’t forget that. I could get “lost” in the movie, but it’s happened in plenty of other movies which were not “found footage”-based.

The success of Cloverfield is due to the director and writer not taking any easy ways out (other than the camera battery, walking distances, and other shortcuts necessary for the mechanics of the story – not the story itself, mind you). A less engaging version of this movie would have the disaster “following” the characters instead of the characters more-or-less being in the middle of it. They try to take direction, but in the end, they’re at the mercy of the situation, not the screenwriter’s goal of killing of some number of characters in 10 minute intervals. It’s not an Indiana Jones movie where there is literally nothing that the hero can do without it backfiring. The characters never got guns, but you know that the writer wouldn’t have stooped to one of them getting killed because his or her gun got jammed. The writer realized that the story was larger than that. The audience doesn’t need manufactured drama in a world in which it has been established that a 60 story, seemingly bulletproof monster with a taste for mammal blood, much less human brains is on the loose. There’s plenty there already without resorting to cheese. In fact, it’s not until the lead-in to the climax of the movie (it involves a helicopter) that the “bad guy” seemingly singles out the heroes. Previously, Smashy McWrecksALot sort of did his own thing, getting mad at the military for shooting at him and causing people to make allusions to September 11, 2001. Suddenly, something very bad and very focused towards the main characters happens. It takes two-thirds of the movie to finally cave in to the demand that the bad guy single out the heroes. And, all things considered, it’s fine by me. The story went that far without something disgustingly coincidental happening, and given the unexpected nature of the actual event, I’m all for it. And, there were B-2 bombers in the sequence, so that’s practically a get out of jail card for the writer as far as I’m concerned (though, it wasn’t even needed in this case). And none of that required first person “found footage” to work.

“Found footage” adds nothing to the final presentation other than “it was a good movie and the video camera part was cool.” I know, that goes against paragraphs and paragraphs of Nate’s review, but in the end, it’s no different than a movie shot in one take, a movie presented as four simultaneous one-take shots, or a movie presented as a documentary which is definitely not a true documentary. Any adds a touch of “clever” to a movie, but the “traditionals” – directing, writing, acting – are what make it watchable. The Blair Witch Project made it so people were ok with a movie being presented as if footage were found after some event, but it lacked the “traditionals”, and ended up being all schtick and no substance. Cloverfield should’ve been the first “found footage” movie, if only for it to get thought of more highly than The Blair Witch Project for the academic accomplishment of making the concept work.

**

Nate’s Review of Cloverfield gets two stars. Basically, the message is the message. The “medium” may add something to it, but in the end, people are attracted to story and emotion, not technique and the ephemera of film production. In fact, I’ve always interpreted “the medium is the message” as the medium says more about “where we are” than the message itself. For example, the fact that someone can be in the supermarket, see someone trip over a cracked egg and knock over a ceiling-tall paper towel display, open his telephone, video record the event, then instantly send it to any number of other people to view on their phones, computers, TV’s, etc. says more about “our situation” than the fact that a movie was made about a monster using New York City for tackle drills and it was presented as if someone found a video camera. Of course, I’ve not taken any media theory classes, much less read that guy’s book, but that’s what I take from his famous quote. And no, when the first mainstream movie presented as if it were “found” cell phone video footage comes out, that’s not saying any more about our current state than the fact that Cloverfield just gave the “disaster movie” genre a big F-U middle finger and said “beat that.” Cloverfield just realized that the key to connecting to audiences is by turning a huge event (monsters attacking a city) on its ear by focusing on a tiny group who aren’t in a position to fix the problem and showing how they handle it and each other. It’s always been assumed that a “bigger picture” perspective with a secondary focus on a small group of charismatic characters was needed for a disaster movie, but Cloverfield is proof otherwise, focusing on that small group and barely even addressing the “bigger picture.”

****½

Cloverfield itself gets four-and-a-half big stars. As I was walking out of the theater I thought to myself that the story and its presentation completely precluded a sequel (wondering about a sequel is a good sign that the movie was well received) – then re-reading Nate’s review, he pointed out that there is plenty of material to be mined from other groups of characters – specifically, not yuppies – affected by the event. As I said above, the movie worked so well by taking a huge event and focusing on a tiny slice of it. This contrasts with Juno, which left me slightly disappointed as it delivered a relatively small event and focused on a small group of characters. (At the risk of digressing, Juno was very good, not great. Witty dialog that writers in their 20’s put on the page because they like to think they were that sharp in high school [they weren’t] aside, it just seemed like a small story presented on a small scale. The big “drama” event wasn’t quite “big” enough. Granted, it wasn’t overwrought, but it seemed to play it slightly too safe.)

Cloverfield

Pirated video that shows clearly what the monster really is.

It’s been a while since we’ve posted… I know.

To put it simply, Cloverfield is effin’ scary. I would venture as far as to say that it was the most viscerally affecting movie I’ve seen since Children of Men. This isn’t just a monster movie; it’s a movie, that, like The Mist and I Am Legend before it, plays on our greatest unthought-of fear, that something so disastrous could happen that all manner of government protection would be rendered moot. Mass chaos with no way out, and nothing to keep you alive but your own strength of will in circumstances that you’d never imagine yourself in. Cloverfield is so effective at what it sets out to do, reminding us that our modern “civilized” society is one catastrophic event away from being reduced to nothing more than bickering people who’ve been taken over by primitive “fight or flight” survival instincts.

The way the reviewers have talked about it, I’m sure you’ve all heard complaints ad nauseum about the “lack of story”, the “unlikeablility” of characters, the illogical choices made by certain people, and that it didn’t make sense for someone to keep recording through the whole thing. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of those things at all, and it’s a testament to how involving the movie is that I only once stopped to think about the fact that a camera battery wouldn’t last as long it does, and only one other time to think about how long it would take them to walk in a subway tunnel the distance that they said they did. Despite the rich, hipster vibe that the characters exuded, I didn’t really find them all that grating, even though it was basically as if Godzilla interrupted an episode of Felicity (with good reason; both the executive producer and the director were co-creators of that show). If they indeed go ahead with a sequel to be shot in the same style, telling a different story from the same night, I would love to see people from the opposite end of the spectrum and how they managed, how different their priorities were, and just how they would differ in their actions in general.

More often than not though, I found myself sitting in my chair, with my mouth wide open, totally enraptured by what was going on. Would I too be able to climb across a roof of a forty-story building that was leaning at a sixty degree angle from the ground, only being held up by the building next to it? Would I have gone back to save someone from a giant killer spider-crab in a pitch black subway tunnel? Why was this monster movie the first one that ever made me question the lengths I would go to survive? As intense as it was, The Mist, never made me feel this way, despite the fact that the subject material was quite similar. In my opinion, it goes to media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s statement from his book “Understanding Media:Extensions of Man“, that “The Medium is the Message”. To put a very long and convoluted series of the oftentimes contradictory thoughts by a raving Canadian lunatic into a simplistic summary, the method by which a message is sent from one person to another is oftentimes more important to the delivery than the message itself. The best example of this is the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate where the majority of radio listeners seemed to think that Nixon had won, while the television viewers, able to see Nixon’s body language, sweating, and poor make-up job, were convinced that Kennedy won. On a side note, I always wondered if the people who did that study took into account the differences in politics between the people who listened and people who watched, and if that played into their answers to the question.

How this idea of medium applies to Cloverfield is that we’ve been programmed with the language of film over the past one-hundred years. Even if we aren’t aware of it, we’ve come to expect a certain syntax. We don’t notice it though, until a reverse angle of a shot doesn’t match, or an edit isn’t smooth. The Mist lives by these rules, and the whole time it tries to invoke this question of “what happens when the world goes to hell?”, while also playing it like a 1950s B-horror movie creature feature. Issues with the unfocused nature of the plot set aside, it’s the fact that the movie’s presented in the language of Film that makes you step back and realize how preposterous the story really is.

Ironically, it’s the movie inspired by the crude and incredibly repetitive Godzilla series that has effectively transcended this medium and broken out of the box, leaving genuine lasting emotion. The same way that we’ve been trained to understand that movies aren’t real and that we shouldn’t feel anguish when Jason Vorhees, “an unstoppable killing machine“, hacks someone up with a machete, we’ve been trained to recognize video as infallible. Which affects you more: watching an alien pop out of someone’s chest killing them in a movie, or watching a video of a skateboarder falling fifty feet to a hard wooden surface and seeing his shoes explode, but then being able to walk off, relatively unharmed? We haven’t yet learned to apply the same reality filters to video that we currently do to film, and this is what Cloverfield exploits.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself this movie isn’t real, the medium that the message is delivered in contradicts your thoughts and plays to your instincts. What would happen if you took this movie over to undeveloped parts of Africa (as McLuhan puts it, a place where people have not been “immunized” to this medium) or if someone years down the line saw this without the context to put it in? It’s very likely that they might think it actually happened, especially if they’ve seen the 2001 attack footage. Critics (used literally, not film critics) of the movie have been saying that it exploits September 11th imagery, but I would argue that it successfully uses those scenes we have committed to memory to scare us in a very real way, much more than any slasher flick or monster movie has done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been spending a large amount of time in the area that was directly affected in the movie. It’s more likely that I was less able to discern the difference between the two because when the twin towers fell I was watching it on a movie screen in a film auditorium. Watching Cloverfield, it was hard not to think back to this moment and relate the two, drawing all that emotion out.

One of the most harrowing scenes in the whole thing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve walked over a few times. It may very well be the most frightening destruction of a major landmark ever to be created in a movie, far scarier than anything in the modern classic Independence Day or its red-headed step-brother The Day After Tomorrow, completely because of its realism and the point of view of the person delivering the message.

Here’s where the debate rages though. Should a movie be judged on how effective it is at making you feel a certain way, or on the quality of story and characters? If it uses the story and characters as well as technically impressive work to achieve this emotional effect (such as in I Am Legend), then it’s obvious that it’s a good movie. What happens though, when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when character development and a tight story take second chair to exceptional method and incredibly well-realized scenes? Is it still a good movie? This isn’t to say that Cloverfield offered no cohesive story or successful characterizations (the realism in the actors’ portrayals ” not so much film acting, but moreso being in the situation with a natural intensity that you would expect of someone living out this unthinkable scenario””certainly drives the moments and carries the film as much as the technique), but it’s a chase movie in the most basic sense. Something’s attacking, nobody knows what it is, but we’re running from it. There’s really nothing more to it than that, and I would be hard-pressed to say the movie had an effective story to tell, instead opting to give you a few character dynamics and letting them provide the motivation for an hour’s worth of recorded events. I’ve heard completely mixed reviews from friends and film critics in regards to this movie, and it seems as though this question of how to judge is where the basic disagreement lies. For me, the movie was incredibly effective at what it set out to do, and was plenty enjoyable from start to finish (and I loved the epic “Cloverfield Theme” that scored the credits) and that’s all I can ask for in a threatrical experience.

One last thing. If in my diatribe about the presentation of the movie I left out the success of The Blair Witch Project, which this movie couldn’t have come about without, it was because that was not a successful movie. Where the difference between the two films lies is that while The Blair Witch created a very real found-footage aura, it was overly-long and for the most part, boring and whiny. Think about it. The bulk of the movie was about kids wandering around the woods and arguing with each other. It took on the found-footage medium and while it succeeded at creating a realistic portrayal of what one might look like (as in “normal people are generally boring and spend a lot of time fighting and talking about nothing at all”), it completely failed as entertainment for all but about 15 minutes. It had a few interesting story elements, but needed to pad out its runtime with lame characterizations and nothing really happening. It was also completely visually uninteresting, giving you nothing to fall back on when you got tired of all the complaining going on onscreen. Cloverfield takes a look at the mistakes of this film and basically imports action movie beats into the style in order to fix its problems, never stopping to let us take a breath or think about all the implausibilities. The people behind this movie have brilliantly created a hybrid “found-footage/blockbuster action movie” medium, and by doing this, it skews our perception of its events, leaving our common sense to duke it out with our basic media instincts, and that is why it truly succeeds.

****½

Cloverfield is not only a genre-redefining movie, but a medium redefining movie that uses the language of video and film together to confuse our perception of events. You know it isn’t real, but once it wraps you up in its swift pace, that notion leaves your mind, making the horror of the scenario all the more genuine. The entire group of people involved were committed to making you believe that this had really happened, and they succeeded admirably at doing it. Now next time, give us some better characters and a more plausible story arc for them.

While I’m at it….

The Mist
*½
I really wanted to love it, but it completely tears itself in two directions, trying to be a giant killer insect horror movie, and a bold statement on how far our civility falls when we’re presented with dire circumstances. Not only that but characters are either underused (Andre Braugher) or completely over-the-top crazy (Marcia Gay Harden), and though Tom Jane gives a strong performance (before he brings it on a little too strong at the end) he can’t keep down all my hatred for the main antagonist, the crazy religious nut-job who wants everyone to repent or die. If it’s supposed to be allegory, it takes a very ham-fisted approach that really turned me off. Subtlety isn’t this movie’s strong point. Visually, it’s spectacular, but unfortunately a great premise is undermined by story issues, probably stemming from the source material. Much like most of the movie, the end sort of rips off of “Night of the Living Dead” in its painful irony, though it may have one of the best “downer” endings I’ve seen in a long time.

I Am Legend
****
Visually, the most realistically drastic transformation of any actual location that I’ve ever seen put to film, I Am Legend decides to “show” us, and not “tell” us about the collapse of humanity, unlike The Mist . By that I mean that while the previous movie spends its time preaching to you about how everyone will turn on one another to survive, this movie shows the result of that, in a devastatingly real fashion. You are left to create your own account of how it all went down, only giving us brief glimpses into society’s fall in flashbacks that serve more to develop Will Smith’s character’s personal story. It was completely refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t give you every detail and leaves some things open to the imagination. Will Smith’s character and portrayal are perfectly subtle in the ways that his past, his loneliness, and his obsession with curing the sick have taken its toll on his sanity, but the critics are correct that unfortunately all of this strong set-up seems to devolve with about twenty-five minutes left into some more action-oriented, less suspenseful version of Signs, right down to the “oh, it all makes sense now, God has a plan for me” revelation. I Am Legend is a completely haunting vision of what life would be like if you were the last person on earth, Zombie storylines aside.

Comic Book Movies Being True to Comic Book Books (aka Spiderman 3)

First things first, I don’t normally care about the “cleanliness” of a comic book’s translation from paper to film. I think it’s good that Sentinels weren’t in the X-Men movies, that the Joker killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in the 1989 Batman movie, and that Peter Parker was magically able to shoot webbing from his wrists after getting bit by a spider (as opposed to him constructing webshooters with his nerdy science skills). Long story short, “the internet (comic book branch)” finds it egregious – in fact, here’s someone’s take on the fact that the comic book has incorporated the detail from the movie. Blasphemy! [the most fundamental aspect of why these “internet people” are wrong is as follows: the movies go out of their way towards unenjoyable awkwardness establishing Peter Parker as an awkward science nerd. Having him construct webshooters in the movies is wholly unnecessary. There are no doubts about just how nerdy he is in the movies.]

sp3
Lycra and rain, never a good mix.

As a disclaimer, it’s been a long while since my comic book “phase” – upwards of 10+ years. I was into Spider-Man when I was little, maybe 6 or so. This would’ve been too young to really process any of it beyond see that he was a guy who could walk on walls and stuff like that. (To really feel old, let me mention that I had Spider-Man read-along record and book set that I practically memorized.) My comic book interest followed the 1991 re-launch of X-Men, The Death of Superman, DC vs. Marvel, and ended with the Age of Apocalypse. As always, ladies, take a number. Anyway, I’m no expert on Spider-Man, and to the horror of true believers, most of my Spider-Man background comes from the cartoon show and the video game Maximum Carnage.

Now, I don’t care about the whole “webshooters” thing – the argument that Mary-Jane in the movies is actually Gwen Stacey is even weaker. But, when there are little interesting details in the story (which would be in no small part inspired by the comics), why not include them? The Sentinel head in the third X-Men movie didn’t require any explanation: it wasn’t important to the plot and it was just a random thing for those who’ve never read the comics or seen the TV show, but it’s a neat little thing to put on the screen for five seconds.

The Spiderman movies are probably the most appealing comic book movies for non-comic book people. That’s fine. The movies are a bit cheerier in style than the X-Men movies or Superman Returns, but they work to the tune of what will soon be more than one billion dollars. Anyway, enough of this disjointed mess. Here’s what’s right or wrong with the movie (from a “movie” point of view, regardless of the comics) and a tiny little thing that would’ve added a lot to it.

I’m about to ruin the movie for you, if you’ve not seen it:

1. If you really liked the first two, you’ll really like this one.

2. After Sandman was “killed” the first time, there was no longer any plot. There was the lovey-dovey stuff, but that’s absolutely a side-show to the Spiderman story. If they wanted to make a romantic drama (it definitely wasn’t funny enough to be even a marginal romantic comedy — except the French waiter scene… HI-larious), they wouldn’t spend $250 million on an action movie.

3. Venom, about whom “the internet” was crazy, was never mentioned by name and didn’t show up until 20 minutes before the end and only came into being by a stupid (stupid) coincidence. I don’t care how he came to be in the comics (Secret Wars, space, etc.), but the movie dumbed it down too much. Even someone who’s never heard the story would say that it’s stupid.

4. Here’s my little detail (also Venom-related): the movie never called him by that name (that’s fine), but the whole symbiote thing (in the comics and TV show) made it so he always talked in the first person plural, leading to the following exchange. “Who are you?” – “We are Venom.” Now really, how tough would it have been to include that? Instead, they wanted to humanize their villains and frequently show Eddie Brock appear through the suit. Now really, does this movie need its villains to be any more humanized with Sandman (“I did it by accident, but even so, it was for my sick daughter”), (New) Green Goblin (“I got amnesia and love you guys. Wait, you killed my dad. Wait, no you didn’t because my butler finally told me the truth after I spent millions of dollars assembling a woefully impractical flying glider and pumpkin-shaped grenade launcher.”), and Eddie “slimy, but not evil until the last 20 minutes of the movie” Brock? Oh wait, Spider-Man himself is over-the-top “deep” as well. It’s not complexity, it’s painting in shades of grey because it keeps everyone smiling. Redemption for the win!

**½

Comic Book Movies Being True to Comic Book Books (aka Spiderman 3) gets two-and-a-half stars because there are some things that enhance a story, but for the most part, the correct decisions in terms of translating from “page to screen” are made. The Starjammers have no place in the serious, grounded in a sort-of reality (within reason) X-Men movies, so distilling the Dark Phoenix Saga into a silhouette in a lake and a crazy chick in X-Men 2 and 3 worked wonders for making money. But, that isn’t to say that there aren’t cool little details that shouldn’t be added. For example, Spider-Man’s black suit looks a whole lot snazzier with a big white spider on it than with grey details, but oh well…

2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations


This year, the movie that I chose to not see, but still complain about is “Dreamgirls”, a movie that wasn’t even nominated for best picture… and I’m not really even complaining about it… which makes me feel real strange.

The academy awards nominations came out this morning. And for some reason I decided that I don’t really care this year. It’s weird because I don’t know why. In fact, I wrote most of this review on Sunday, before they were even announced. I’ve become jaded to the whole celebrity scene this year, and I’ve stopped seeing this show as an affirmation that the movies that I enjoyed over the past year are good, and more as a means of keeping up the guise of celebrity importance. (review of the near future: celebrity feuds)

Maybe it was seeing people argue about which movies deserved which awards the way I used to, and thinking, “Wow, do these guys see how completely stupid they look, rooting for something that they think they have partial ownership in, just because they kinda liked it? Did I look that stupid, phony, and in over my head when I was complaining about how undervalued “The Man who Wasn’t There” was, or how that ridiculous “THEY MAKE THE RAIN AND SAY IT’S RAINING!!!” rant from Cold Mountain won good ole squinty-eyed Renee Zellweger her academy award? Well, chances are I did for the last one, because I totally used to do an impression of that was intentionally unintentionally hi-larious, and which has since failed the test of time, seeing as how nobody even remembers the movie a mere two years later. This also goes to show the unimportance of these awards, because I highly doubt that all the people that argue about these sort of things could even tell me without looking it up, who hosted the 2001 awards (held in 2002), let alone who won best actor and actress. Whoopi Goldberg hosted by the by, and I don’t even think I could tell you what movie won best picture ( Chicago maybe?) let alone the acting awards. The only reason I remember Whoopi is because my friends and I were watching in a TV lounge filled with people who actually thought she was funny. We couldn’t take it and ended up leaving in a huff. That’s beside the point.

All this is not to say that I’m not going to look and see who’s nominated or who wins. I’ll probably even watch the show. But at this moment, writing this review, do I think it’s worth having an Oscar “party” or doing an awards pool (in which I have participated numerous times)? Not really. Do I find that a little disheartening? Of course I do. Three years ago at this time, I was in the center of celebrity culture. I was in the bleachers for the Screen Actor’s Guild red carpet. I stood by the limo security checkpoint at the Golden Globes to get a glimpse of anybody relatively famous. I can’t say for sure if I would do it again. Maybe just to say I did it. Then again, I never really got “star-struck” to begin with. Most of the pictures I took of people were either for bragging rights, or because I knew friends might want them. But still, even the following year I went in on an Oscar pool.

What’s my point in all this? I’m not quite sure. All I know is that at this specific minute of this specific day, I’m thinking to myself “Don’t we have enough other things to be interested in or worry about than awards for millionaires (I know that the tech award winners are mostly non-millionaires, and the people who make the shorts and documentaries are probably even less well-off) we’ve never met and mostly think they’re better than us anyway?” I suppose you could argue the same of sports, but to me the difference is that football and baseball are designed to be competitions, and film isn’t, or at least shouldn’t. Why should it matter to us if a movie we like wins an award? Shouldn’t liking it be enough? Maybe it’s the validation that comes with being behind something that is regarded by professionals to be the best. Maybe it’s the ability to say to our friends “I totally knew Marcia Gay Harden was gonna win for Pollack, even though I’ve never even heard of the movie because it sounds boring and was only playing in 8 cities”, thereby coming off as knowledgeable, even though you just got lucky or read a newspaper article. Maybe it’s just that feeling that you know a lot about a subject, even if you really don’t, but just know a little bit more than your friends. Besides, ten years from now, “Saving Private Ryan” will be remembered even though it lost to the completely forgettable “Shakespeare in Love”, which was lauded by the pretentious set.

This pretentiousness is something that the Oscars and other awards do spur on, and I guess this is where my whole complaint starts. Soon enough, the debates will rage over which arthouse movie that nobody was able to see was more overrated, which one deserves more attention etc. And all these people will be arguing over the fact that we love a movie that we haven’t even seen, just because of the talent attached to it. And that “you’re” (the royal “you”) stupid and less important because you’ve never even heard of it. And that’s just wrong. I really don’t want to do that again. (Update: I was flipping through the morning shows today to see if anyone was talking about the noms, just to prove my case, and the new FOX morning show had on their two Oscar Experts… two women who looked to be a mere few years older than I am. Of course there were raving about how great Helen Mirren was in “The Queen”… and to make matters worse, the audience erupted in applause. Now, you have to be sure that in this situation, maybe 25 percent of the audience at most has seen this movie, and the rest are either being egged on by the stage manager/audience warm-up guy, or just don’t want to seem like they don’t know anything about anything. Strangely enough, I’m looking at the box-office tallies for this weekend, and “The Queen” is actually playing in more theaters than “Children of Men”, “Alpha Dog”, and “The Good Shepherd”.)

And maybe I’m upset that somehow I’ve grown to see something that I used to see as the Holy Grail of Film-making achievement now as a way to sell movies that otherwise wouldn’t have an audience. I mean, would anyone have gone to see “The Last King of Scotland” otherwise? It’s all part of the self-promoting hype machine, and I don’t know if I’m still down with that. Maybe in a case like this, yes, but that silly red carpet image stuff always seems to undermine the gravitas of the “talent-based” awards.

As for the specific nominations themselves, they seem generally fine across the board, as far as the movies that I’ve gone to see, and those are really all that I can discuss.

**

The 2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations get two stars for being a way to generally promote smaller, higher-quality movies. As far as awards competition goes, I’m not really a fan of how devisive it makes people, including myself, about movies we like, versus ones we aren’t planning on seeing, but dislike just for the sake of it . As far as this year’s specific award nominees go, I’ve got no major complaints, other than the lack of “Children of Men”, but I can live without it, knowing how the voting process, and awards campaigning go. Oh… and the fact that THREE freakin songs from Dreamgirls are nominated…. now that’s something genuine to dislike… but still, does it really matter?

Lady in the Water

This happened to be one of the five movies shown on the way back from Hong Kong/China. Remembering Nate’s review about the critical hub-bub over this movie, I decided to write notes throughout the movie. I hadn’t read Nate’s review for a long time and was unable to access it on the plane, so this is definitely not a review of his review.

I was in that sort of delirious state where you’re really tired, but unable to sleep, so the following reads as a combination of the notes one would take during a screening of a movie and a stream-of-consciousness scribbling for however long the movie was. I was too tired to keep track of the context in the movie for some of the notes, so some seems sort of random. Anyway, here we go:

lady in the water
If the Lady in the Water were actually a guy, there’d be a solid NAMbLA joke here.

This opening animation/cartoon certainly doesn’t seem like the beginning of a Will Ferrell movie – maybe there’s some sort of ironic, humorous twist at the end. [I had thought that when they announced the movies they were showing, they were announcing them in order.]

Hmm, this movie certainly isn’t Talledega Nights. Judging by the opening titles, this looks like “Lady in the Water.” Nate you’re about to be served.

This looks serious.

Paul Giamatti seems to play the same character in every movie: tortured, middle-aged man who’s best friends with that guy from Wings. Maybe there just aren’t that many roles for unattractive middle-aged men.

Get out of the darn pool! He’s so serious, he goes in with all of his clothes on.

Cleveland Heap’s name should really be “BlueCollar McWorkingClass.”

Apparently, there’s some sort of monster in the pool. Drain the damn pool. I’m sure the tenants would be okay about the pool closing if there were a monster in it.

Your mom is the lady in the water.

Can’t really make out many details: numerous people towards the screen have their shades open or reading lights on.

He stutters: looks like Paul G is looking for an Oscar – “I JUST WANT TO BE NORMAL!!”

Chinese people are funny (the people in the movie) – real Chinese people? (not so much)

Your mom is a Narf.

TURBULENCE!

Something about a “chosen one” – man, I wonder if the 2nd and 3rd Matrix movies are still as bad as I remember them being.

Whispering = dramatic.

So the guy who sees the water nymph is the “chosen one” – gee, I wonder who that could be…because Cleveland certainly has no idea.

Bob Balaban was funny in Waiting for Guffman.

If they made soup out of butterflies, I wonder if rich white people would eat if only because of its extreme expense.

9 letter word to “in human form” – CORPOREAL – hey, wait, the movie says “INCARNATE” – we’ll see about that, movie.

The guy next to me loves his armrests.

Paul Giamatti has a different voice when he yells, not unlike a certain German teacher I know.

I’ve seen WWE Wrestlers who can do the stuttering disability better than Paul Giamatti.

I think the movie is something about a story about writing a story – something smells recursive.

If M. Night Shyamalan would’ve made Franklin, he wouldn’t have revealed Jefferson as a traitor until the very end, and it might’ve sucked even more.

I spy: a pretentious director cameo!

Right next to my head is a great place to place your screaming, newly adopted Chinese baby after you’ve decided that the people sitting near you are probably sick of hearing it, and you want to take it for a walk.

Real janitors who are introspective are usually just crazy.

Finally, someone is calling out the fact that Cleveland is hanging out with a teenaged girl who has a proclivity for not wearing clothing.

Your mom is a narf.

Monkeys!

Cleveland happens to have an underwater flashlight — and the lung capacity of an orca.

Tagline for future water movie: Under water, no one can hear you scream…unless they’re under water with you.

I think the Chinese girl’s accent is fake – it’s too thick considering how solid her English grammar is.

Scrunt? Madame North? – what the heck is going on?

How can people have such serious conversations about such ludicrous things?

M. Night Shyamalan has one face he makes when he “acts” – pensively concerned. Why can’t he do non-speaking cameos like Martin Scorcese in Gangs of New York.

I bet the end of the movie will coincide with Cleveland finding out about the end of the Chinese story.

Why do I smell vomit? Oh yeah, a plane full of adopted babies. It’s stinky enough that I don’t feel bad calling this flight “The Infertility Express.”

This movie is stupid.

“Is the eagle going to come back for her?”

One character says, “There’s no originality left in the world.”
-He’s calling the story and the viewer out.
-What’s the point of the story calling itself out? Self-awareness is a trite, easy avenue for movies to take.
-Will there be a big stupid surprise ending?

Would the movie be more or less creepy if the character named “Story” were a guy? (answer: probably)

When did all of the people from the apartments not think this was all stupid and decided to try to decipher the story.

They should make a sequel to Apollo 13 where the astronauts who didn’t make it to the moon try to blow it up.

It might’ve been a better idea to go through the details of attacking the scrunt instead of being told on-the-fly.

Bob Balaban’s character again: is he talking about all movies or just this one?
-Family Guy and the Simpsons make fun of themselves, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Uh-oh, someone killed Cleveland’s family.

It’s the ultimate, indulgent writer thing to think that you’d write something so powerful that someone would kill you over it.

I think Hal Sparks is the muscle head in this movie.

One time I got mauled by an invisible fantasy creature.

Logic challenge: a “good” movie is in which you want to keep watching until the end (so you can see what happens). If I want to keep watching this movie to see how much stupider it gets, does that make this a good movie?

Bob Balaban gets called out for being the type of person who sees through bad movies – then he sees so far into the movie that he gets mauled.

This kid interprets cereal boxes. That’s a life skill, Junior.

Man, that girl’s good and dead – how inappropriate.

They should just show the Star Wars movies on airplanes.

I think this is supposed to be about how traditional stories can be perfectly entertaining…. but this one isn’t entertaining.
– only people who aren’t clever would think that this clever.

Looks like the same creature from Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Okay, that’s NOT Hal Sparks.

James Newton Howard?! I would’ve never guessed.

*

Actually, the end is pretty strong (everything after when Cleveland “heals” the Story character). Looking back, it doesn’t seem that bad, but boy, was it ever. The ending is simply testament to “film-making” skills, not “film writing” skills. Self-indulgent nonsense that’s made even worse by him trying to be “clever” by defending the problems of the movie inside of the movie.

The Promotion of ‘Borat:Cultural Learnings of Ame’rica for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’


Maybe this ridiculous outfit is what I need to get the womens. High Five!

This guy is everywhere! I mean it. I mean it. Not just the ubiquitous ads for the movie, either. He may very well be the first person I’ve seen promoting one thing on Letterman, Leno, Conan, and The Daily Show, and a half-hour appearance in Opie and Anthony, in less than two weeks. And not only has the actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, been on all of them, he’s been on all of the as Borat, and done so in multiple segments on at least two of them. On Leno, he made a bed with Martha Stewart, and on Conan, he chased Conan around the stage with a pair of scissors, followed by one of the most bizarre musical performances I’ve seen on his show. In all four appearances the interview topics were different and fresh. Here’s a compendium of all of the media appearances. The guy even had a “float” in the NY Halloween parade, which is basically just a costume showcase and giant party. The “float” consisted of about 20 Borat impersonators. Completely ludicrous. I’m sure he’s got a myspace thing going as well. I have never seen an ad campaign for a film that was so in your face. The thing is, the movie was so inexpensive that it made up its cost in the first week. They can throw all kinds of money into the advertising, and it’ll still come out on top. And it’s an hilarious movie to boot. Congrats on getting everyone in the country’s attention.

*****

There isn’t a person in the country who doesn’t know about this movie. I’m nearly certain. Five stars.

The Cinemax Star Wars Promo

quick intro: Cinemax will be showing all six Star Wars movies in high definition starting in November. Being that this is the first time all six movies have been shown in HD, they’re making a big deal about it, and have a page setup with various promotional videos. The video in question is entitled, “Original Trilogy.” For lower quality, but faster viewing, watch it on YouTube. The video is also embedded in this page. As will become significant later in this review, the song in the video is Fix You by Coldplay. Note: the audio level is very, very low in this file, so turn your speakers up.

9 Bulleted Reasons Why This is Probably the Best Star Wars Promo Video Ever (and one reason why I say ‘probably’)

Turn your speakers up, this is a quiet one.
  • Slow-motion makes everyone a good actor. Star Wars movies (old and new) were never known for their quality of their acting, but in slow motion, these are all Oscar-worthy performances. Notice at 0:41 when Natalie Portman’s character is about to cry: when I saw this in the theatre, there was laughing. And this was the buy-tickets-in-advance very first in the zip code midnight showing of the movie – in other words, people that drink the George Lucas Kool-Aid. But in slow motion… it gets ya.
  • It doesn’t use the all-too familiar Star Wars music for once. We know the “Star Wars opening crawl song”, Darth Vader’s music, and those that truly believe can pick out Yoda’s and Leia’s themes as well as the sort of singles from the prequels. As long as I can remember, Star Wars promos have used this music – it’s common brand recognition, people. But these Cinemax folks, they did something blatantly obvious, yet something that no one had thought of. Just choose the most-overused trailer and commercial band ever, Coldplay!
  • Surprisingly, Coldplay is not a bad choice. I’ve long held that Coldplay is more about the “sound” than the “song.” Of their random recordings and three major albums, they have about five really good songs among an unremarkable but perfectly solid collection of songs. The Cinemax people picked a good one, maybe the best one. Sure, picking this particular song isn’t exactly cutting edge for setting to video, but when was the last time Coldplay was set to non-contemporary images? We see new movie trailers, commercials, wrestling hype videos, and sports highlight packages out the wazoo (it doesn’t seem like people archive these type of videos, so no links), but already familiar images set to the music? — it works because as familiar as Coldplay is, this is a new way to present their style.
  • The video takes advantage of the fact that everyone already knows what happens in the movies to focus on some of the smaller moments. For example: they show the targeting computer footage from the original movie (in slow motion, of course), then Luke is shown reacting immediately after he shoots the torpedoes into the Death Star (using the force as guidance instead of the computer). We all know what he did, what it looked like, and instead of focusing on the destruction, we see the moment of relief when he realized he just really did it. A quick, quiet moment in a movie seemingly lacking nuance like that. Then we see the real big explosion, but we don’t hear the sound effects.
  • Finally, a Star Wars commercial that doesn’t focus on fight scenes and “THEN IT GOES BOOM” moments. It’s nice to see other aspects and moments of the movies highlighted…even if it takes slow motion to make them resonate. (disclaimer: I think I remember some love-ish related commercials to try to get women-folk interested in episodes 2 and 3, but those were as subtle in their appeals for women’s attention as the explosion-heavy commercials went after guys)
  • Again, the scene selection is top quality. The fact that they show Luke coming across the dead bodies of his adoptive parents says a lot about the shot selection. Considering that their death is probably the second most forgotten plot point in all six movies (the first being all of episode 1), and it’s the reason that Luke left his home planet to inadvertently join the Rebellion, it’s nice to see it given proper treatment. And the slow motion certainly helps. Also, instead of showing Luke fighting Vader, or the more famous scene where Vader’s mask is removed, they’ve selected the shot of Luke struggling to drag a dying Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker at this point, I guess) to his shuttle to save him. This isn’t exactly what a beginner would pick from that sequence.
  • Attention to detail: To movie enthusiasts, the Star Wars movies are known for their attention to detail in sets, sound design, and art direction . The video showcases one of the finer details that’s wholly unnecessary in The Empire Strikes Back, but adds something to the “cold, hard, computers” motif seen on the Imperial warships. At 1:28, we see Darth Vader kneel down as he is about to begin his long-distance conversation with the Emperor (who, I’ll point out, is not seen at all in this video, prequels or original movies). It’s a significant moment in the original movies because, after seeing Darth Vader as the ultimate bad guy in the first movie, he’s shown bowing down to someone who really must be bad (as you can imagine, there’s more significance there if you’ve never seen the prequels). This plot point actually isn’t the detail in question though; it’s the fact that the set designer chose to progressively illuminate a four-segment ring of light on Vader’s platform after he knelt down. All of this a considerable amount of work for the carpenters what with the fact that the lit platform was shown in all of two shots. Now, whether the people that worked on this video read that much into it, I don’t know, but at the minimum, it’s an interesting shot from one of the less prominent sequences in any of the movies.
  • It makes the prequels look like movies that mesh with the originals. The fact that the old and new movies have almost completely different “looks” has been beaten to death, but the video merges the two styles into one organic universe (as it’s supposed to be between the trilogies). The Millenium Falcon taking off from the original movie followed by a ship from the prequels doing the same provides a connection to the big picture similarities between the movies. (Yes, I know the Millenium Falcon shot was from the Special Edition, but I’ve never heard of anyone complaining about that replacement.) Shots from the prequels are sparse, but well selected; there’s nothing there to remind you of the bad parts.
  • The music of the song really matches the video well [note: I’m talking about the music, not the lyrics (see below)]. To be honest, this isn’t a challenging song to mesh with images; it starts slow and simply with vocals and an organ, then builds as layers are added to the soundscape with guitars, bass, drums, echo, reverb and other studio magic. The key is that the song has energy, even with a slow vocal part. Simply, good trailer music is too slow to regular dance to, and too fast to slow dance to. Like many Coldplay songs, this sits at that neither-here-nor-there perfect-for-trailers tempo.
  • The lyrics are matched to shot selection too well. Someone at Cinemax said, “wouldn’t it be cute if when the lyrics say ‘I will fix you’, we show Chewbacca fixing C-3PO?” Unfortunately, no one said, “it would be, but that’s a stupid idea.” Though not exactly a metaphorical song, the lyrics can safely be called “evocative,” especially the “lights will guide you home” part. Pairing “when you try your best, but you don’t succeed” with Luke failing to lift his ship out of the swamp, again, is cute, but is ultimately an annoying choice. I’m not believer in the “power of lyrics,” but matching a video of someone trying and failing so literally with that phrase implies that the song is about a specific time when someone tried and failed, and without any sense of generality, that little phrase loses any poetic meaning. It would be like if a greeting card company began printing cards that said, “You’ll be my best friend until the end of time” because a gigantic meteor was on its way towards Earth in one week with a 100% chance of total destruction. The phrase loses any rhetorical weight it might have had because it’s addressing a very literal situation [I’ll pause here to let that one sink in…]. This also goes for “stuck in reverse” while showing R2-D2 rolling away with his back to the camera. BUT, the shot of Obi-Wan smiling (in slow motion) when he’s decided to sacrifice himself to Vader to allow Luke to escape during the first “lights will guide you home” line (1:07) works perfectly, as does the focus on the targeting computer as the song reaches that point a second time (2:09). *Special gross comment: Being that the song does include the “and ignite your bones” lyric, I’ll say that with the movies offering three four different instances of burned bones (the Owen and Beru Lars invitation-only BBQ of the original movie, Anakin totally forgetting that Obi-Wan had the high ground in Episode 3, and Luke getting his hand ginsu’d off in The Empire Strikes Back and Vader Flambee at the end of Return of the Jedi)), I’m surprised they didn’t have thrown a few frames of those shots in the video at the (overly) appropriate times.

*****
Too literal video to lyrics issues aside, this is the video which shows why people like these movies. Coincidentally, there’s no dialog, but there’s also very little action; it’s the characters and how they deal with their sneakers-too-large-for-their-feet problems and come out on top that pulls the people in, it’s the effortless attention to detail, it’s the entirely unreal yet very real world and characters created in the movies. Enough of my soapbox. It’s also really cool when the video shows the starfighter from the prequels (2:04) breaking off to blow stuff up, then immediately follows it with the point-of-view shot of the Luke entering the trench of the first Death Star with that same organic, rolling motion. Highest recommendation.

Other People Stealing Your Ideas Without Ever Having Met You or Knowing that They Stole Something Part 2

Mini-Review (no exclamation mark)

Yet one more instance of the Bookshelf® being a step ahead of the mass media.

Last week, the latest “internet phenomenon movie,” 300 released its first official trailer. Without judging the movie, of which I only know a marginable amount, it looks like someone decided to make a bluescreen movie, but this time, turn up the dynamic range.

300
Just imagine how mad he’d be if someone unknowingly stole his idea…Without asking!

Anyway, take a look at the trailer here, and give it a nice listen. Yep, the music might sound a bit familiar for those of you that remember a semi-but-now-quickly-being-un-disowned movie trailer put together by your favorite group of (not so) local idiots. That’s “Just Like You Imagined” from Nine Inch Nails’ album, The Fragile. These “300” people stole my idea without even having met me or knowing that they stole something.

*

They get one star because they’re movie looks pretty darn cool, but they lose four because of the aforementioned idea-stealing, and the fact that they didn’t take advantage of the fact that the song already has the “quiet, loud, quiet” dynamic good for making movie trailers dramatic (or in our case, confusing) and just recycled the beginning of the song at the end. Bad form, Hollywood. Bad form.

*to be fair, the song was used in a trailer before we used it, but it was a trailer for a Nine Inch Nails concert DVD, so I think it’s safe to say that that doesn’t count. I’d send a link to that video, but it’s buried within the Flash in the “clips and trailers” section of the DVD’s website.

Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media Or The Critical Reception to Jackass: Number Two

It’s well known that aside from some misinformed old-cootedness about video games, we hold Roger Ebert in pretty high esteem around these parts. His cancer-surgery-turned-surgical-complications has taken him out of the reviewing game since mid-summer, and though no announcements have been made, I’m guessing he won’t be back until “Oscar season” starts in mid-November. Regardless, I’ve taken issue with very few of his reviews, though his “thing” for Angelina Jolie’s lips awarded both of the Tomb Raider movies three undeserved stars, even looking at those movies in the “brainless action” genre. That tick of his aside (a soft spot for threatening-looking women), the only other time I’ve not taken his side was when he decided the original Jackass wasn’t worth reviewing. Unfortunately, I can’t find the actual article that includes the quote that I think I remember, but it went something like this (notice the single-quotes – journalistic integrity is listed as a category for this review) ‘I am a movie critic. I review movies. As funny as Jackass is, it’s not a movie.’ In short(er), just being a collection of skits, none of which tells any sort of traditional story, it’s more accurately a “video” as opposed to a movie. I couldn’t find that quote, but I could find him answering a reader’s question about why he didn’t review it. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Ebert said, “If I laugh, I have to tell you it’s funny. I went to see ‘Jackass,’ a shameful movie. I laughed all the way through it. I mean, I have to tell you that.” At the end of day, instead of giving Jackass a positive review (what with it being a successful movie, one where the audience is entertained) and being on the record as having condoned something like that, he chose to not review it at all.

jackass
I don’t get it.

Now, speaking as a principled person myself, I perfectly recognize the need to occasionally throw all principles out the window if there are extenuating circumstances. Ebert simply didn’t want to be someone associated with a movie like Jackass. Luckily, his on-screen partner in reviewing all things cinematical, Richard Roeper gave probably the best critical quote about it: “Jackass: The Movie is a disgusting, repulsive, grotesque spectacle, but it’s also hilarious and provocative. God help me, thumbs up.” Hallelujah. That’s even more positive than my review would’ve been. (for the record, having seen both of the movies, I’d say that I could do without the poop and the pain for the sake of pain stunts)

I’m not one to find profundity for the sake of profundity, but my stance on the movies is this: they’re not profound, but there’s something to be said about the sociological aspects of what a bunch of suburban-ish white guys found to entertain themselves and the business acumen it took to make what they were doing marketable outside of the skater community.

The issue I do take with Ebert’s (lack of a) stance is that his book of “The Great Movies” (quotes because that’s the actual title of the book) includes the 1929 short film, Un Chien Andalou, notable for its lack of coherent structure and (more so) co-creation by one Salvador Dalí. I won’t compare work by Salvador Dalí to the content of Jackass, nor will I insinuate that Jackass somehow deserves to among “the great movies,” but I will say that for someone who is very quick to condemn the supposedly increasing closed-mindedness of the American movie going public, not giving a movie you liked the critical time of day because it was “different” isn’t the strongest philosophical ground to be standing upon. (I know, it’s sort of lazy of me to not include links to examples of “very quick to condemn…” but, in short, look up any of his Adam Sandler reviews other than Punch Drunk Love.)

The loose thread between the “Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media…” and the movie itself is the fact that in the AP review, the writer actually invokes a comparison between Jackass: Number 2 a scene from Un Chien Andalou. There’s not much more to it than the fact that I said the same thing in 2002. And, I was reasonable enough to give the comparison with a bunch of qualifiers instead of trying for some sort of faux-intellectual comment.

****½

Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media Or The Critical Reception to Jackass: Number Two receives four-and-a-half stars due to my thinkin’ brain and its whooping of the critics by four good years. In actuality, the whole mess with Ebert’s take on the first movie is sort of unrelated to this, but it does serve as backstory as to why I had done any thinking on the subject. If you’re thinking about seeing the movie, it’s as simple as this: if you think you’ll like it, you will. If you think you won’t like it, you won’t. If you’re not sure if you’ll like it, you’ll like it.

Late-breaking, sort of related reviewing: Jim Emerson, the sort of backup on rogerebert.com has his own blog (aside from the corner he gets on the Ebert webpage). On his blog, he has a cute little entry entitled, “Aint-It-Cool-Times” (his emphasis) bemoaning the Los Angeles Times for including a script review section on their website. He’s so put off by it that he says the newspaper has “jumped the shark” (and I thought Emerson was a movie critic! buh-ZING!), becoming yet another head of the hydra that is the modern movie industry (my metaphor, thank you very much). There’s a bunch of resentment of the “traditional” journalists (print, TV, radio) towards the “new” “journalists” on the internet. Sure, any schmuck can run a website and spout off whatever nonsense he wants and claim to be a journalist (note: Nate and I don’t claim to be journalists. Adam? Maybe.) What with journalism degrees being real degrees, the “old guard” doesn’t like the instant credibility that the internet offers. Aintitcoolnews, the target of his sort-of pun of a title is one of the more successful “home made” websites, and in fact, in the years it’s existed, it’s sort of a “real” site, though it does seemingly serve as a mouthpiece for the studios marketing departments sometimes.

He goes on: “No. It’s not. Fernandez [the writer of the script review section of the Los Angeles Times] isn’t a journalist and he isn’t a critic [and this just became a run-on sentence]; he’s a leech, on the level of those self-aggrandizing amateur web trolls who think their premature, uninformed opinions about an unfinished work are ‘news.'” Amateur web trolls? eh. Premature, uninformed opinions? meh. Self-aggrandizing? MR. EMERSON, YOU HAD ME AT ‘HELLO!’ We here at the Bookshelf® … wait, hold on, I like seeing that with the registered mark after it…. wait….yeah. We think you’re wrong and are probably just bitter that you had zero web recognizability until you became Roger Ebert’s second-in-command. Consider yourself called out by the Bookshelf® (you join such luminaries as the New York Times, Humanity, that horse, and Pitchfork Media).

The Ubiquitousness of Nic Cage



I honestly think I’d rather see LUKE Cage than Nic Cage right now.

Right now Nicolas Cage is everywhere. It’s hard to turn on the TV and not see his long, thin mug. At the moment, he’s got two movies out… The Ant Bully, and World Trade Center, in which he adds a creepy moustache to his physical repertoire. He’s been doing interviews galore, “waxing philosophical” if you will, about the September 11th melodrama, and the merits of “storytelling about history” as opposed to “entertainment”. Not that he doesn’t have a point at all, and I’ve heard mostly good things about the movie, but his pompous attitude is enough to make you wonder what Tom Cruise and Ben Affleck are doing at the moment. But I just gotta say thank God he no longer has the moustache. It’s been replaced though, with this long, straggly hair, that I can’t find the picture of right now but might have to do with one of his next movies, or maybe he’s taken on some work as an old-age Elvis impersonator.

But in case his grandstanding, pompous interviews for “WTC” weren’t enough, I just started seeing commercials for his NEXT movie, a sure-to-be crappy remake of a terribly over-dramatic British suspense-“horror” movie from the seventies, called The Wicker Man. Now, I’ve seen the original, and I have a feeling that audiences are going to loooooove this movie, because there’s nothing that Americans find scarier than a bunch of pagans dancing around a May-pole with masks on. OOOOOOH. Don’t worry. If you haven’t yet seen the commercial, I’m sure you will soon enough, and over and over again. It will be in movie theatres in about three weeks. By all counts, Nicolas Cage could have three movies out at one time. Who does this guy think he is? Will Ferrell?

You’d think three movies at once would be enough. It probably isn’t, because I’d be willing to make a bet that when you go see The Wicker Man, you’ll probably see the new trailer for Ghost Rider, Cage’s “been in production for five years” superhero movie about a guy who rides around on a skull-and-bones motorcycle fighting the brooding neighbor from American Beauty. It’s directed by the guy who did Daredevil, and wrote Jack Frost and Big Bully. Okay, so the guy also wrote Grumpy Old Men, and did that Simon Birch movie, but citing them does not suit my needs. Ghost Rider is due in February.

The point is this: I am sick of seeing and hearing Nicolas Cage. I don’t hate the guy. I do know people that do, but I happen to like Matchstick Men, Adaptation, the first half of Snake Eyes, The Rock, and theoretically Face/Off, Con Air, The Weather Man, and Raising Arizona. Lord of War was alright, but he’s been in his share of bad movies too… really bad movies. The thing is, he can be really grating when you’re over-exposed to him. When he’s all over the place. And it just seems to be getting worse.

One movie in 2004, two in 2005, three in 2006, four on the slate for 2007, and already four on the slate for 2008. Next up after Ghost Rider, is appropriately titled, Next. After that, Time to Kill, and of course the “obligatory” National Treasure 2… I guess the founding fathers didn’t bury all of their treasure in New York… or they had two treasures. In any case, there goes Washington never telling a lie.

*½

The ubiquitousness of Nic Cage gets two stars because I am fed up with seeing him all over the place. It could be worse though, and the movies that Cage is doing aren’t all that terrible. I would much rather see more entertaining and versetile actors appearing in 5 major movies a year.