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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kick-Ass and Human Nature (Kick-Ass Movie Review)

In a movie starring Tom Cruise, does Tom Cruise exist?

This rhetorical question demonstrates an important tenet of film theory. A film’s world is not our world, no matter how much it looks like it. Each film creates its own unique mythology. The characters have histories and experiences beyond what’s on screen. Thus, film, like literature, can be a powerful tool for studying human nature. It provides a control environment in which psychoanalytical artists can experiment with personalities, and then propose theoretical outcomes.

While this is true in all cases, better filmmakers embrace the power of the form and strive to present some new and interesting comment on the human experience. Few films over the years have left me eager to watch over and over again, to study the characters, to analyze the relationships, and to derive meaning for my own life. The first film to do this for me was Alex Proyas’s “Dark City." Others include Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece “Brazil” and Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which I watched twice opening day. This is no comment on the quality of the film, although I believe they are indeed excellent films. These are simply films that, to me, required further exploration and ultimately forced me to reexamine my own character.

The latest film to do this is Mathew Vaughn’s ultra-violent comic book adaptation “Kick-Ass,” which has haunted me since I first saw it over two months ago. By the end of that first viewing, I had that familiar feeling in my gut. I knew that it was special, and I was eager to examine it further. The film's theme is voyeurism. It asks important questions about desensitization to violence, detachment from our neighbors, and responsibility as citizens. Have instant gratification mediums like Youtube, reality TV and 24-hr news made us numb to the plights of our fellow human beings?

Subsequent viewings allowed me to preclude being distracted by the beautiful photography and to focus on the characters: the dialogue; the relationships; the body language; the numerous diagetic clues. Every piece is essential, whether a character’s clothing, a line of dialogue, a name, a prop.

The character of Hit Girl, portrayed brilliantly by Chloe Moretz, is perhaps the most interesting in terms of human nature. She is the product of an unconventional (to say the least) upbringing: Her mother died during her birth while her father (played by Nicolas Cage) was in prison for a crime he did not commit. As soon as Big Daddy (as he is known) is released from prison, he plots revenge on those who framed him, and he trains his daughter, Mindy, as his henchman.

He turns her into an unstoppable killing machine, in just her short 11 years. During her first on-screen battle, she slaughters a dozen bad guys in gruesome ways as the impotent Kick-Ass stares in disbelief. Three times she pauses, blood dripping from her blade, and she flashes Kick-Ass an uncomfortable smile. She’s showing off, obviously enjoying what she’s doing, but her smile reveals an emptiness. Big Daddy is fulfilling his vengeance, but Hit Girl possesses no such motive. She’s only doing what she’s always done, what her daddy taught her. How does she really feel?

In one scene, we see a cop handcuffed to the steering wheel of his car, which sits in the teeth of a car crusher. He screams and pleads for his life, but Hit Girl pushes the button making the machine turn. She looks on coolly as the cop’s blood splatters across the windshield, and she proclaims, “What a douche.” A funny line, sure, but important in conveying this character’s callousness toward death.

The character of Kick-Ass provides an interesting counter-variable to Hit Girl’s unapologetic brutality. He’s motivated by a genuine concern for his fellow man. His benevolent naiveté is captured in the following dramatic exchange between Kick Ass and three gang bangers after he jumps in to save a stranger:

Gang Banger: “What the fuck is wrong with you, man? You'd rather die for some piece of shit that you don't even fucking know?”
Kick Ass: “Three assholes, laying into one guy while everybody else watches? And you wanna know what's wrong with me? Yeah, I'd rather die... so bring it on!”
Meanwhile, observers are more concerned with capturing the brutal attack on their cell phones than getting help for the bruised and bloodied wanna-be superhero.

Kick-Ass has the motivation but not the ability. Hit Girl has infinite ability, but little motivation. Where these characters intersect is where we can have a very interesting discussion about human nature.

When we’re first introduced to Hit Girl, her father is pointing a gun at her. He convinces her to take a bullet so she’ll know what it feels like (she’s wearing a bulletproof vest.) She asks her father if it’ll hurt, and he responds sympathetically that it won’t hurt much more than a punch in the chest. She then proclaims, very subtly, and for a good chuckle from the audience, “I hate getting punched in the chest.”

In a lesser movie this might be a throwaway line, but here it reveals a lot about this character. It tells me that, well, this girl’s been punched in the chest. Clues to her history are placed throughout the film, like when in their war chamber Big Daddy tells her “No more homework” before they go kill some bad guys. On her way out we catch a passing glimpse of this “homework”: a comic book.

When speaking to her father, she does so with absolute adoration. He loves her, and she reveres him. But when he dies in a horribly gruesome way, she doesn’t cry. Moretz, so impressive at such a young age, plays the scene as if she wants to cry, like she’s trying to force out a tear, but to no avail. This, of course, goes against our basic assumptions of human nature, but in her context it makes perfect sense.

The first time she exhibits the slightest bit of raw emotion is toward the end when she’s surprised by a helicopter kick to the face from a grown man (a disturbing image, no doubt.) She’s lying on the floor, dazed and confused, with blood pouring out of her nose. She reaches up to touch the blood with her fingertip, and she looks at it in both shock and deep insecurity. This might be the first time she’s ever bled. Moretz conveys profound emotion here, as we watch this character for the first time embrace her own mortality. She is at this moment pondering the meaning of her own life, a sense of purpose. Big Daddy might have trained her to kill, but he never prepared her to die.

So we have one character who commits selfish, brutal acts with little regard for humanity, and we have another who wants to save the world, but can’t. Where do you stand on this continuum? Where do you see our society as a whole? Where do you believe we SHOULD stand as members in a community? These are all complex questions that have been asked throughout human civilization. The answers are timely, but the discussion is timeless.

-this movie review for Lion Gate's "Kick-Ass" was written by Michael Fallik

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jesse has grown up (Breaking Bad : S3E8 "One Minute")

(image: AMC)

This episode marked a conclusion of Jesse's transformation.  Jesse is now a big player and seems to have his head straight.  He is no longer a lingering peon in the meth game.  The beating Jesse took from Hank in the first moments of this episode was the event that, in my view, propels Jesse to the next level. Jesse's new found direction is conspicuous and sufficiently believable to have (with a little nudge from Skyler) Walt bow down and for first time show him respect. This was definitely the most dramatically demanding episode Jesse's character has had and Aaron Paul nailed it.  The episode presented the longest monologues for Jesse's character, that I can recall, as well as the most intense emotional outbursts.  Jesse displayed his new found strength as well the fears and sadness that dwell deep inside.

On the other hand, all the steam that had been building up within Hank's character finally caused Hank to implode.  We met Hank as an almost goofy character in the first two seasons with a mean edge while at work. This season he had been trekking through darker terrain as he found himself closer and closer to catching Heisenberg. Being fired for misconduct and getting his badge taken away softened him up and threw him into a cloud a self-doubt and fragility. This culminated when he received the 'one minute' phone call and got into the greatest gun fight (with The Cousins) we have ever seen in this show.  It was reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film.  It appears that psychic potato's prediction was right in that Hank was not killed off just yet (see last week's post).

And now for our first rocking potatoes farewell.  It appears that "the cousins" are gone.  You will be missed.  Thus far you were the best character(s) to be killed off in Breaking Bad.  We will miss your mute presence. We will miss your skull-tipped boots.  We will miss your ax-murdering ways. And most of all, we will miss your visits to that freaky chapel. RIP.

(image: AMC)
Also, it looks like Walter is becoming more and more careless about his ways.  He visits Jesse at the hospital, not appearing to be concerned with the dangers of being seen publicly.  He talks to him on the phone very freely.  This seems odd for someone who is coming so close to being caught.  On a sidenote, I just want to give some credit to Bob Odenkirk (Saul) whose character really livens up the show.  His silly antics and demeanor really balance all of the show's violence and dark areas.  If not for Saul the show might come off as too somber.

Finally, psychic potato has a prediction-- something bad is going to happen due to Walt essentially firing Gale. Psychic potato sees that Walt has underestimated Gale and that Gale will catch on to what happened and get back at Walt in a big way.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Michael is a genius in disguise (The Office : S6E23, "Body Language")

(image: nbc)
As a viewer, one sits through this show and sees Michael do a million ridiculous things, but once in a while, like in this epidsode, one is reminded of why this zany character is the manager of the office. There is a genius, method to the madness, type of effect that enables us to still believe that Michael should be boss. This episode mainly revolved around two plots--Michael's true people skills and Dwight's failed plotting skills.

The bar manager that Michael met at happy hour (episode 21), Donna, comes into the office for a 'pitch' to sell her a laser printer (and paper I'm assuming). I have purchased laser printers before and it usually does not require a pitch- but I digress. Michael was a complete horndog and tried several things to subliminally seduce her, but they superficially appeared to not work, although I think most people at home gathered that it would work out at the end. Even when Michael and Donna first met it didn't really make sense for Donna to be attracted to Michael in my opinion, but I figure if the writers are pushing it that way then it will probably work. At the end, Michael gets Donna and proves all the doubters wrong.

This episode also put the spotlight back on Dwight a bit and I really enjoyed that. His failed plot to reign in the office was hilarious to follow. The plan was to get apparently easy-to-manipulate Kelly to join an affirmative action type of program that promotes minorities to management. Dwight thought he could get her to win the office's single entry to the program and use her later to take over, but Ryan ended up being the one pulling the strings. (By the way, did anyone else notice that Ryan looks more and more like a hipster with every coming episode? Just an observation.) I really like that this show introduces somewhat politically sensitive issues, race in this episode's case, and provides a nice comedic spin to lighten them up. This touching up on race and racial profiling in very well timed given Arizona's immigration bill that was recently signed into law. These subtle things are what make this show such an excellent entertaining watch.

Finally, there has been no continuation from last show. What is going on with Andy and Erin? Its almost as if nothing happened last week--the lack of continuity distracted me I have to say. I was looking for something to happen between Andy and Erin. In fact, this episode may as well have been inserted prior to last week's.

**On a side note, some comments on last week's post were erroneous since there are still a couple of episodes left in the season; these errors are being fixed**

Monday, April 26, 2010

And there goes the RV ! (Breaking Bad: S3E6)

(image: Season 3 Episode 6 still from amc)
Most of this episode kept me at the edge of my seat; it was the most intense episode of the season.

It began with Walt living his new divorce man and maestro of mass meth production life. His new lab partner Gale is introduced.  I am not sure how I feel about Gale yet but I can say that so far he's been well acted by David Costablie -- definitely a believable nerdy liberaterian.  I loved the coffee machine apparatus he sets up in the lab (wish I had one of those at home!). I noticed a subtle grin on Walt's face as he cooked in the new industrial lab . This is further confirmation of Walt's acceptance of the 'bad-guy' persona.  The man is starting to feel comfortable in his own drug producer skin.

Torwards the beginning of the episode Jesse looked more focused and seemed to have gone through a transition of his own.  When he was talking to his boys you could sense the new position of authority and maturity that Jesse had reached.  His whole demeanor seemed different.

Jesse's apparent change all fell through when the shit hit the fan though. The pinnacle of that moment was when Hank called Walt from in front of Jesse's house and asked him if he knew about an RV.  WTF!  That right there was where the levees broke my friends. The floodgates opened up and it was sink or swim. While Walt was fixing the situation Jesse reverted to the rash stupid druggie we're used to and rushed to the RV with Hank on his tail. Although, to be fair, its half Walt's fault. Didn't he know that Jesse would react stupidly like that? He didn't plan for THAT contingency.  All in all they were able to save the situation through Saul's maneuvering and a little forklift and car crusher action, but Jesse and Walt are still knee-deep in it.  We'll see what happens next-- I refuse to believe that they are just going to kill off Hank in the next couple of episodes. 

On a side note the Diablo twins are my favorite new characters this season. There is an aura of mystery to them that make them extremely intriguing. Who sits in a fast-food store for hours without speaking a word? They definitely add to the show and aren't annoying like Tuco was at times.

Finally, one thing I always enjoy about Breaking Bad is the revolving directors that come through.  They give each episode a little of a bit different flavor.  For example, last week's director gave the show a gritty dark film-noir type of feel (see our entry from last week) but this episode was a bit more fresh and vibing with a great deal more music, tones, and brighter/more colorful lighting. Right now, in my humble opinion, this and Weeds are the best shows on TV.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Baby's still a secret? (Real Housewives of New York : S3E8)

Bethany is engaged!! Congratulations to her and Jason again, married now with a bun in the oven. They seem to really love each other and it looks like they will work out (for a little while at least!). I don't want to say forever cause I don't want to jinx anything. We don't actually get to see Jason pop the question but her and Alex have their moment. It seems they are becoming good friends now, and i can see them still being close a year from now. Bethany is still keeping her baby a secret for now. What's she doing! She's getting into deep water with that if you ask me!I wonder what Jill will have to say about that!

Kelly, oh, Kelly. Burning pancakes (and a spatula) while her daughter got them right, lol.

From their lunch it seems Ramona and Sonja have alot of history together knowing each other for 20 years- from the time they were both young and single. As old friends they both know what to expect from the other, so I do not see them getting in to any quarrls any time soon. I can't say the same for Kelly though. (MEOW!) Sonja  was talking about her hooking up with Max again, the Argentinian who we briefly saw Kelly with last season. It seems that Sonja wants some kind reaction out of Kelly but Kelly doesn't like to kiss n' tell and I guess also has more important things on her mind than Max. Sonja may get along with Ramona, LuAnn, and maybe even Kelly (most of the time) but I think Bethany might have a comment or two about this wild woman.

Kelly hosted a party this week for Gotham magazine. LuAnn asks Mario, in Italian, about the "count-less"  comment he made, and he still did not apologize. Mario really lacks class if he can't bring himself to say a simple "i'm sorry" That is all the woman asks for, and deserves. Bethany announced her engagement and she got her congrats from everyone, yes, even Jill, who actually tries to get a grip and manages to catch Bethany as they are on their way out. I guess Bethany realizes that she no longer wants to try to be Jill's friend. I have said that I want them to be friends again but really think they are too different women and perhaps now Alex is a better fit. In the end, not too much drama tonight but it looks like there is plenty left for next week.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Season almost over but where's the big bang? (The Office: S6E25, "Secretary's Day")

(image: nbc)
After all these (6) seasons The Office still cracks me up.  Such a well written show.  Gotta love the randomness. This is the almost the last episode and there is nothing building up at the moment.  Psychic Potato predicts something big will happen at the end of the season (next couple episodes) with Sabre.  Breaking off of Sabre perhaps?

In this episode Pam gets back from maternity leave after having Cici. To be honest I enjoyed the break from Pam; the show lost a lot love from me when it essentially became a rom com focusing on Pam and Jim the last couple of seasons.  We’ll see how it proceeds now that they're parents and the romancing has cooled off a bit.  Is it just me or has she aged? Also, what happened to Toby? He looks like he gained 30 lbs.

This episode definitely featured Erin and for the record I have not been a big fan so far.  I think in order to keep The Office funny there needs to be a balance between off the wall characters like Dwight and Michael and lower profile characters like Stan and Angela.  Erin creeps me out – I feel awkward just watching her.  She’s rarely funny and odd most the time. Michael Scott definitely saved the scene before the commercial break (“i’ll have what she’s having”) where Erin was being weird at the restaurant (room of hair? really?)... and for this I was very grateful.

So as far as Gabe I was confused for a bit too.  Not sure what he is for Sabre...guess not IT guy.  One wiki says he’s director of sales and another says he’s  “coordinating director for emerging regions”.  I'm still ambivalent about him. On the other hand can I have some more Jo (Kathy Bates) please? I think the back and forth between her and Michael Scott is one of the funniest things that's come out in The Office recently.

Finally, I was just curious so I looked it up and Secretary Day is actually a real holiday lol.  Its the third Wednesday of every April. Apparently it not that unknown as my girlfriend sitting next to me exclaimed "yeah its a real holiday! you didn't know that ?".

Monday, April 19, 2010

Is Breaking Bad tv noir? (Breaking Bad : S3E5)

(image: Breaking Bad, Season 3, Episode 5, still from AMC.)
I have followed this show from the beginning and it just gets better and better.  The show has really come into its own, with every season (and episode it seems) an improvement over the last. The directing (although it rotates), cinematography, acting, and dialogue all keep improving.  From my viewing experience this show comes closest to film noir than any tv show and this episode was a testatment to that.  From the dimly light scenes to the moral struggles of the characters its noir- if it were a movie I think it would go under that category. If you pay close attention many of the rooms are much darker than they naturally would be. For example, take the dinner scene where Walt ends up holding his baby.
This episode may have been the biggest change in Walt we have seen.  After struggling with himself the first episodes of this season it seems Walt has finally accepted he is a corrupt 'bad' guy.  This change was most explicitly demonstrated by Walt wearing all black as he enters the meeting with Jesse and Saul.  Recall that earlier in the series Walt would have a Heisenberg 'getup' (remember that stupid hat and sunglasses?) but this was more of a costume while now Walt is dressing like a bad ass by choice. Signing the papers for Skyler was another obvious indication of his acceptance as the bad guy.

This episode was also the calm before the storm.  I think Jesse is bound to do something crazy to get back at Walt for cutting him off the game and of course Hank's new discovery puts him very very very close to catching them.  A shitstorm's abrewing my friends.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fashionable Baby Mama Drama! (Real Housewives of New York : S3E7)

So there's a new housewife tonight, Sonja, and the only thing I could think to say about her is that she loves being rich and single. Jill talks to Bobby about her meeting with Bethany, and I don't know what Jill's problem is but I wish that they would just be friends again. Bethany seems really sorry and I feel like maybe there's some hidden agenda on Jill's end- but she does say here that she's trying to get over it, so who knows? Luann may have found the young Mr. M she was told about from that psychic. In the mean time Ramona asks Mario to recommit to her as a part of her whole "renewal".
It's finally Brooklyn Fashion Week and it's time for Alex, Kelly and Ramona to hit the catwalk. Bethany is out of town but Jill shows up, and only to say nothing nice, maybe part of it was that she felt out of place, maybe she was jealous, she could have had a more positive attitude. When the ladies walked Kelly's shoulders did look a little linebackerish in the strapless yellow dress, but I thought she worked it. I don't know how much modeling experience Alex has but she did not do bad and Jill said Ramona "looked like an alien had invaded her body" lol and it was pretty funny, the eyes were bulging, the neck was stiff and it made her walk look even more awkward.
Bethany peed on the stick and got the wonderful news that she's pregnant!, and Jason was m.i.a.!! I would die if my man chose that moment to not answer the phone, but good for them. To top off the night Jill is having a release party as she represents Kodak and Ramona wants to fight. Maybe its payback for the fashion show but her and Jill get in to a little spat and then in the middle of Jill's speech she decides to confront Kelly and make a scene in the back of the room....Jill was "betrayed"...who will be the first to bump heads with Sonja I wonder?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats

i had been curious about this movie and so finally decided to rent it. the fick wasn’t bad, i guess, but it wasn’t good either. i would give it 6 out of 10. it had a good cast so the acting was there. the plot... not so much. ewan mcgregor is a reporter trying to get a good story out of iraq to prove himself to his wife, whom left him for his not-so- cute, overweight editor. george clooney is part of an exclusive team in the military, of which he was the best, but there is a point where I am not sure if this story is true or if he is just insane, or maybe it's even a mix of both. throughout the movie the pair get stuck in the dessert and kidnapped as mcgregor’s character narrates clooney’s character his tory in the army. the movie had a few funny moments, if you know their humor, but most of those were in the trailer. i can't say much about how the movie ended though since i fell asleep. i can't remember what happens with clooney’s character, only that he was on a mission all along, and mcgregor realizes that he just needs to get over his ex. all in all since it was based on a true story it was not coming from a bad place, it just was not executed very well.

Heat Couldn't Handle Ben Gordon Again

last night the heat fell victim to ben gordon (and the pistons)again and ended their 9-game win streak.  doesn't matter if he's wearing a bulls or a pistons jersey. he's a closer the heat have difficulty dealing with (as do the celtics; remember last year's playoffs?). that means the heat will probably go in at 6th seed and play the hawks or boston. most likely the hawks and if that's the case it will be a tough series with too athletic teams. the hawks are riding an 11-game home win streak. the heat would be much better off playing the aging celtics although they wouldn't have much of an answer for rondo. overall though, between the growth of d wright and j anthony and j o'neal getting back in the swing of things the heat should be formidable and dangerous rival.

Friday, April 9, 2010

First Post

we've been watching a lot of tv and felt like it was time to put some of our opinions out there so here you are. a blog on some of the latest and greatest. we'll be blogging about music, tv, movies, and other entertainment related topics