Thursday, November 29, 2012

Skyfall: James Bond is a nihilist asshole

Alright, okay. I suppose I’ll ante up some proof to back up a ridiculous title like that. First I should clarify, when referring to “James Bond” I mean the Skyfall character. That’s it, that’s all. No books, no other movies, no churches will be discussed further.

Where to begin... many things about this film rankled me good. A lot of them point in the same direction though. Basically, James Bond doesn’t give a shit about anyone, anything, or anyplace – except for himself and his mummy.

He wreaks mass destruction wherever his loosely defined and poorly planned missions take him – no matter the cost, human or otherwise. And yes, this is essentially a boiler-plate action movie, and like every action movie, things gotta get blown up real good. But characters, especially lead, pseudo-heroic protagonists must be judged by the choices they make and what events/consequences those choices set into action. Blow up the baddies at the cocaine factory James, don’t kill the innocent people in the market!

Take the chase scene in Istanbul, Bond riding shotgun in a fittingly douchey Land Rover SUV. Sitting back in the passenger seat he lacks a certain measure of control while his female colleague takes the wheel in their chase through the city. And how does Bond’s inevitable choice to control the situation manifest? He grabs the wheel ramming their target’s car into a crowded market stall. Fruit and people go flying – equally important from this film’s pov. Then Bond starts shooting. I hope everyone ducked. He continues this chase through the city with a similar lack of concern for the public. But wait a second, I skipped the opening scene where he begs for a medical evacuation for his fallen comrade – so maybe he only cares about white MI6 agents?

James Bond is a bull in a china shop. A trademark I suppose of Daniel Craig’s Bond, physical and action-oriented, more brawny than crafty. But c’mon, he carries on this rampaging style of espionage throughout the film. I love an anti-hero, but after a while I started to look at him with derision rather than sympathy. Not exactly what they were going for, I don’t think.

Other moments where Bond’s apathy for human life shines through include... crashing through a passenger train with a backhoe, sitting pat while a security guard gets whacked for no reason, and failing to save his sexy lady fling from being murdered.

Oh Sévérine, poor Sévérine. Bond-girl number whatever comes off especially worthless and subservient in Bond’s eyes. Considering her character’s history as a sex slave this is especially troubling, or tacky to say the least. And excuse me if I didn’t find it romantic when he slinks into her shower unannounced. More like, creepy and exploitative. No long after she dies, and Bond remarks that her untimely demise “was a waste of good scotch.” Ambivalent in its tongue-in-cheek way, but considering how Bond operates in this movie, it’s frighteningly sincere.

So I was wrong to say James Bond doesn’t give a shit about “anything”. In fact, he cares about things more than people. Why bother with human breathings when there’s scotch, guns, and automobiles? Shiny, shiny cars. Bond is never more hurt in this movie than when his Aston Martin is destroyed. He hardly flinches when a (presumably people-filled) tube train comes crashing through into the sewer, but blow up his sports car and now you’ve made him angry! Heavens to Betsy man, the thing was already riddled with machine gun holes. Put a tarp over it.

That’s the clincher. After that, the dramatic resolution of his mummy issues pales in comparison to his outrage. Matricide < motorcide. Then again, he does shed a tear in the end for a real live human, so maybe he’s not a complete nihilist asshole, but he’s still no hero.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Jumping the Broom: No White Sharks

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Yeah, but there's all of this horrible racism that white people don't even recognize. Did you see Jumping the Broom?
I’ve seen it now, Joaquin - thanks to you.

Jumping the Broom was already on my watchlist (along with some 600 other films), but Phoenix’s comments in Interview Magazine boosted it to the top of the list. Didn’t hurt either that pretty much the entire cast is head-shakingly gorgeous. Paula Patton, Meagan Good, Laz Alonso, et al.

The movie is a typical wedding-themed romantic comedy, but despite some 3rd act histrionics, it rises above most of the crap in that crop.

It’s easy enough to figure out the plot from the poster, but what surprised me was how refreshingly easygoing the movie plays. This has a lot to do with the fact that most of the the drama and comedy emerges from the characters, not ridiculous coincidences and misunderstandings. Not all, but most. And again, the cast is gorgeous, as well as likeable and often high-larious. Especially Mike Epps (I would’ve taken him over any of the nominees in the 2011 supporting actor category outside of Christopher Plummer).

Now let’s get back to why Joaquin loved it so...
I feel like all white people have to see the film just because I've never seen a movie in which most of the white characters in the movie were just working. It was fucking great. It was almost comical. There was a scene during the wedding reception, and there are, like, eight white people just carrying stuff. The main white character with some dialogue was the ditzy, stupid assistant. I enjoyed it so much because you never see that. 
Yes. Julie Bowen from “Modern Family” (and Happy Gilmore) fame plays the wedding planner. She’s an inept wedding planner, and throughout the film her character displays an outlandish curiosity in her black clients that usually results in her putting her foot in her mouth – musing about sisters with different skin colors or stroking someone’s weave.

It’s as if she’s in her own separate movie within the movie. To the extent that she is often talking to herself or is the only one on-screen after a scene has ended for the main characters. The filmmakers obviously had a blast turning the tables on the usual race dynamic, and they successfully make this white character “other” in a way we are not used to seeing in the movies.

This subversive twist lends a swiftness and comfort to the primary action in comparison to Bowen’s awkward bumbling. It’s a subversion that sticks out even more in such a conventional genre as the romantic comedy. Compare it, for instance, to the very similar ensemble piece This Christmas, where it’s lone white character is also isolated, but otherwise bland and insipidly at ease with her otherness.

I’m on board with Joaquin. All white people have to see Jumping the Broom. That or someone has to remake The Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries with all black actors and a lone white actor in the best friend role.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Grammys Got It Wrong: Best Albums of 2011

15. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

Probably would be higher on the list if I didn’t already fall for some of these songs on last year’s Future Weather EP.

Key Track: “Black Water”

14. The Horrors – Skying

I wish Interpol were still this ambitious and interesting.

Key Track: “Monica Gems”

 13. Lil B – I’m Gay (I’m Happy)

A master class in endearing weirdo rap from the bay area “BasedGod”.

Key Track: “Unchain Me”

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Who is Vanity? A tribute.

Recently I was fortunate enough to watch the film Action Jackson - thanks to including its final scene on a list of the worst action sequences of all time. It's a supercop action film starring Carl Weathers - its stupidity knows no bounds. But amidst the rough there lies a diamond, and her name is Vanity.

Vanity? Yup. Soak it in.

Probably most infamous for being Prince's girl but she started off as a pop star, explaining her drawn-out musical numbers in Action Jackson and The Last Dragon (maybe her biggest movie). Seems she ended off doing too many drugs, so now of course she's born-again and has renounced her Vanity period. Here's a passage from the autobiography Blame it on Vanity by Denise Matthews (her real name):
"The devil’s perversities snatched up what little strength that lay within me [...] i lowered myself to that of a squatting dog, dare i say sucking up his own vomit."
To illustrate her point, here she is naked in a lusty triangle with a man and a monkey... in Tanya's Island. (sorry, video removed)

Maybe you've known and seen all this already, and Vanity is just another blip in the pop culture landscape. But it boggles my mind to think that at some point people were accustomed to Vanity's existence. And I think it's different with contemporary passing B-stars like say Ashanti or JWow or whoever. Perhaps the only difference is in degree or excess, but nowadays everything is so controlled that even though Snooki or whoever could be crazier than Vanity, twenty years from now one will look at their context and clearly see the choreography, the strings being pulled. With Vanity, it seems aimless, chaotic.

Only in the 80s I guess.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Best Bruce Springsteen Covers of the 2000s

It's nothing new for musicians to take a crack at Springsteen's songs, but through his resurgence in popularity and influence over the last few years even more artists are covering the Boss.

I guess his tunes are so damned fun to sing. And since the original versions are all so identifiable they immediately take on new life when performed by a different artist. It probably doesn't hurt either that a lot of his work can be quite dated by their production styles - especially his 80s stuff.

Anyways, here are my favorites from the last few years...

Kurt Vile - "Downbound Train"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Music That's Not Christmas Music

'Tis the season for the same ole crappy holiday music that bombards us each year. Tripe like Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" invades our ear-brains over and over again.

But just because the typical Christmas jams are clunkier than a fruitcake, it doesn't mean I don't like to get my merry jolly on.

The solution? Re-purposing non-Chritmas tunes. I'm a sucker for seasonalizing my music listening anyway, and you always hear people talking about summer music. Well, the same can be said of winter music and more specifically Christmas music.

Here are some artists and albums that get me into the Holiday spirit even if the content is decidedly non-Christmas.

The Concretes - The Concretes
Although they're better known as a "summery pop" band, this album is perfect for the cold, snowy months. Same can be said for other bands of the Belle & Sebastian/Phil Spector variety.

"Warm Night"