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9x9x9: Billy Madison–you gotta get your ass out there and find that fucking dog.

I was in 3rd grade when this film came out and my mom took me to see it in theaters.

It was PG-13, it was Adam Sandler, it seemed acceptable. A few others in my classroom saw it, too, and we were the lucky ones. The upper echelon of cool to third graders.

Since then, this movie became another family classic like Blazing Saddles–one that I’ve seen an innumerable amount of times, that I can quote with regularity, that’s a mainstay for sick days.

But it’s not until now that I begin to consider it critically.

Let’s put it out there, it’s in no way a high-art all time greatest film. But it’s fucking hilarious. And that’s all it needed to be for it to be rendered a success.

Comedy is a genre that can get by with its laughs. Horror gets by with its thrill. Action with its explosions. They are films built for for a purpose and a set reaction. If you can illicit the promised reaction–irregardless of whether or not it comments on some facet of life–then it has accomplished what it promised. The Slasher films or grossout comedies that both deliver on their promise and make some comment on life are the high echelon–Punch Drunk Love, Heat, Cache, etc.

Billy Madison isn’t one those films. But it’s goddamn good at doing what it came to do. Like an excellent carpenter who says he’s gonna build you the best fucking cabinet you’ve ever seen, this movie says it’s gonna deliver gut busting laughs. It does.

This is Adam Sandler at the top of his game in the first film of his late-90’s dominance as the box office king of comedy. He would develop better characters later (Robbie in the Wedding Singer) but this is him just developing his arrested-development character that he’s used throughout his film career.

There is a very interesting element to it, structure-wise.  It’s built as a kid’s film. Like, there’s the requisite life lesson about believing in yourself, and clear cut lines vis a vis the characters. There’s the princess to rescue, the flawed hero, the single-dimensioned villain, the villain’s good-hearted assistant who got hired by the wrong team. There’s even a musical number.

The only real difference between this film and a marketed-as-a-kids movie is that the adult jokes that are subtle in something by Pixar or Dreamworks is overt in this film.

I'll turn this goddamn bus around. Then there'll be no goddamn field trip.

 

It’s interesting to consider, then, that as a child, you didn’t understand those jokes. And, seeing this film, kids don’t understand those jokes–and most everything else that Chris Farley says. They may be far more pronounced/cheeky, but they still remain lost on the child’s limited range of understanding.

When I was in third grade, the only thing that really stuck with me was the fact they said “fuck.” This was the first instance of ever hearing that in a PG-13 film, so it was exciting to experience an “R-Rated” element or whatever I would conceptualize it as as a third grader.

But, then again, any child will get it when Billy makes out with a picture of Veronica and tweaks her imaginary nipples. That didn’t go unnoticed by me, and as a result, I had to close my eyes.

This film, then, is simply a kids movie for adults. One that can be enjoyed by adults and kids alike without the stigma of “seeing a kids movie” even though that’s ostensibly what it is.

9x9x9: Wall-E–WALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL-E

Original Review

Some of these spots played during the NBA playoffs of 2008. Just from them, I knew I had to see the movie.

So I was there the Sunday evening of opening weekend. And then again the next night. And then again a month later. Because I had to.

 

Even if she shuts down, Wall-doesn't give up. Does this count as date rape?

 

From the opening moments, this film sparked an emotional reaction in me. I can’t explain it, but that first half hour is perfection to me. I’ve never laughed that hard before at something that’s basically an anthropomorphic Roomba. And terrible show tunes from Hello Dolly (which I still haven’t seen by itself, though it may make an interesting double feature one day), which turns out to be the last movie on earth. Thank God we work so hard to make perfection, right?

Once the movie goes into outer space and onto the Axiom, it experiences a From Dusk til Dawn-like transition. From sci-fi slapstick comedy to sci-fi action comedy. While two of the three words are the same, the change is nonetheless jarring as the quietude of Earth erupts into the cacophany of Thomas Newman’s weird-ass score and inane chatter of the whales. This makes the movie feel slightly uneven as the back half of it so completely different from the first half.

Both are necessary to this story. As awkward a transition as it may be, the first half hour is simply the first act. Had it stayed there for 90 minutes, it would’ve been a completely different film–like a short film dragged beyond its limits (if you’ve ever seen the movie Aaltra, it’d be like that).

Without that last hour of the film, on the Axiom, we also wouldn’t have had as many angry people. Wall-E is cute when he’s roaming the lonesome, trashed, Earth, wooing Eve, but the sociopolitical commentary doesn’t kick into high gear until Wall-E reaches the humans .

Turns out, after seven hundred years in space, people become Orca whales, stuck in their computer screens and completely unaware of the world beyond it. When the computer says “Blue is the new Red,” everyone’s suit changes color. When the computer switches from afternoon to morning, people accept it and restart their day as if it never happened. Everything they eat is liquid. It’s kind of awesome because it’s our current plugged-in culture taken to its logical extreme. We’ll all get fat and sedated. We won’t even know there’s a pool onboard. Or how to swim. Or how to function.

In my original review, I talked a lot about the cinematography–and this is something that still holds up for me. This is some of the best animation in the sense photographic realism. Roger Deakins does some amazing work in live action films, and his consultation on this film is no different to the work he’d previously done. Except that blocking was done with animators and computers versus people and masking tape.

There’s one major thing I’ve uncovered that has heightened my enjoyment of this movie. In a lot of the commercials they use the theme song from the movie “Brazil,” which, sure, yea, was written in 1939 but it’s also something the filmmakers were most likely aware of.

This gives the ads a different context, as well as the movie itself. They’ve basically given homage to what seems to be one of their major influences. The ineptitude of the captain, and the takeover of the government by a corporation basically mirrors all the red-tape clusterfuckery of Brazil.

And I like that they were aiming for the Axiom essentially being the fallout of a totalitarian/corporate regime 700 years into the future that also happens to be shaped like Africa.

This film is about as leftist as Avatar, and just as overt. Turn off the screens, and get in touch with the Earth.

But the funniest thing is that one of my professors at Humboldt State took her four year old daughter to see the movie. When they got home, her daughter immediately began putting on all her clothes because she wanted to look like one of the people on the Axiom.

She didn’t want to plant a tree or recycle, she wanted to look like a whale with thumbs.

I thought that was interesting because people think this movie teaches these kids all these terrible things, but I sincerely doubt any of it. When I was a kid, I never noticed half the jokes let alone the thematic subtext.

The fact that this movie even has a thematic subtext says something about this film. Pixar is willing to make films for all ages, that just happen to ostensibly be kids movies. When I realized this, I decided to go back and watch the rest of their films to see if any of them were political.

Monsters, Inc. is just as political. It’s an indictment of the electrical industry and how fear mongering isn’t as powerful as making someone laugh.

Cars is about the loss of road culture and the destruction of towns.

Those seem to be the only other two that had politics intertwined with their story. Most of them are about coming of age and finding out who you truly
are–either as a toy or a fish or a rat or a half-Japanese Wilderness Explorer.

But this movie. This one remains their crowning achievement. Not to mention the preceding short film, Presto. One of their best ever. I absolutely love that this is a tradition that Pixar is upholding. 

brazil.

Sam Lowry doesn’t have a problem until she shows up.

And that’s usually what happens.

See, this girl has showed up in his dreams where he’s a winged Ziggy Stardust attempting to save her from cages in the sky.

Trust me, it makes sense.

In real life, however, he’s stuck in a society of bureaucracy that is stuck in a war on terror–which, as it turns out, became more apropos twenty years later.

He works for the Ministry of Records, a small-time part of the entire operation that just takes care of people’s information.

But then things go south once he finds out that the woman in his dreams is real. And part of a current clusterfuck he’s fighting through.

There’s a lot more–like Robert De Niro as a rogue HVAC mechanic–but part of the fun is discovering all the little intricacies of the story.

This is a film that stands up against all the other medias that warn of dystopias–1984, Brave New World, Children of Men, Infinite Jest, Fahrenheit 451, the Fountainhead (if you’re batshit)–because it builds a world from the ground up.

And the world is built around fear bred from the government that may or may not be causing all the terrorism that allows them to clamp their hand down against any sort of social freedom.

This is the government that leads Sam Lowry into his dreams which make up some of the more interesting scenes of the film: obelisks arising from pastoral hills, nymphs in cages, and a giant fucking samurai to name a few. The most interesting thing, watching this film 25 years later, is how interesting the physical effects (as well as clunkier-in-a-good-way) are in the way that the lighting is completely different from that of CGI.

There was this interesting Pixar feature on the Finding Nemo DVD where they talk about how they could make something so realistic, but there’s this weird parabola to interest and connection with viewers. If something enters complete realism, like, say any of the MoCap films Robert Zemeckis has done, there becomes a sort of emotional detachment because it looks too real. So Pixar pulls back and allows everything to look a little goofy.

With physical effects, since they’re not animated, you don’t have to worry about this as much because you aren’t creating things out of bits of data, but bits of clay.

It’s kind of the same with digital vs. analog projection. Analog projection is light illuminating an image, thereby feeling easier to the eyes. Digital is trillions of bits of information composed of squares onto the screen to create the illusion of a picture.

Anyway. I’m digressing. The effects in this movie are really kickass. From the random explosions to everything done in the dream sequences. And I like that this was done before visual effects because Gilliam seems to be still wrapping his head around CGI (see: Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Though that may’ve just been because of budget).

This is an affecting film that spirals out of control and gets ever more weird as the universe expands.

And then there’s the ending…

[Get the Criterion 3-disc ultimate fucking edition. The film is complete, the special features are awesome, and the third disc is devoted to a 90-minute version of the film that puts in all the cuts that Universal wanted to make. It’s worth how ever much you find it for (I found it for $30 on ebay as opposed to $65 at Borders. Never buy DVDs at Borders. They rip you the fuck off)]

Best Movies, 2009, Pt. 2

6) Away we Go: Both funny and heartwarming, this film about two 30-somethings is hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. Many reviewers considered the main characters to be smug and condescending, but I really found them to be likeable (maybe I’m smug and condescending?–probably.), and the people that surround them (save her sister) to be worth looking down upon. The cast of characters that this movie flies through is consistently hilarious, with many quotable lines after the fact. But, at its center, is the relationship between Burt and Verona and realism to that relationship is what makes it beautiful.

5) Star Trek: After just re-watching this film last night, and then watching all the special features, I can say that this was an awesome film done by a very passionate group of people. Originally, I wasn’t expecting much. I was never a trekker, my dad wasn’t. Nobody around me was. And so I went into this movie thinking, “Awesome. I get to watch shit blow up in space!” I came away from the film in absolute awe of the visuals as well as the coherent story. Though I didn’t get all the little homages to the original series, I did get the overall sense that this was a very big film with a solid backbone. It further continued this odd renaissance of major motion pictures that encompass both tons of shit blowing up and action packed sequences with a very well rounded out story much like the Dark Knight did last summer.

4) Public Enemies: What can I say? I loved the fact that Michael Mann shot this on digital and I love that he gives Dillinger’s background in a single sentence after Marion Cotillard characters says she doesn’t know him. “I like baseball, fast cars, movies, and you. What else do you need to know?” This is a movie about Purvis vs. Dillinger and nothing else. Its bank robbing sequences and its shootout setpiece were very very well done especially when it came to the ballsy choice for them to be completely devoid of scoring or soundtrack during the set piece. For three minutes straight all one would hear were gunshots and broken glass–something that was so real and so immediate that it still makes me smile in admiration.

3) Avatar: Okay, so this movie may slot higher one day when I see it on home video and I’m still impressed. The story, sure, it’s a little bit overtold and undercooked, but who cares. It makes bold leaps forward visually and contains a political message so far left that Joseph McCarthy is rolling over in his grave. This was a film that makes every attempt for us to side with the Na’vi to the point that, when the third act story-abandonment rolls around, we’re so invested in the characters that we want to see them fight more than we want them to grow. I’ve never been so affected by the visuals in a film before. Some of the shots in this film will give you goosebumps.

2) Funny People: I loved this movie. It was slotted as #1 for a long time before I had a change of heart. See, this is a film that was packaged as a movie. This is the first of Apatow’s films whose story wasn’t a vessel for dick jokes. Instead, this movie is about the people–about their situations and their relationships (instead of how well they can talk about their genitals and their marijuana smoking habits). As a result, it was something that no one expected. I loved that the bridge between the film’s halves is a poignant cameo by Eminem. I love that we see Seth Rogen at his day job. I love that Adam Sandler got to show his soul a second time. I love all the home video and the Yo Teach! episodes and the clips from his movies. Sure, it has its weaknesses (Leslie Mann was either underwritten or miscast), but those are far outweighed by the film’s heart. Plus, it still has dick jokes because it’s about stand up comedians.

1) Up: Gene Siskel, I think it was, talked about how difference in opinion can shift into error of fact once it’s about something so beloved or hated. This movie was another one that Pixar knocked out of the park, and to not like it just seems wrong. This film has such a huge center, and so much care and time and consideration was put into every aspect of this film that it’s hard to hate it. I love that the dogs talk through their collars and not through some kind of movie magic. I love that Kevin’s a girl bird. I love the floating house. I love the imagery. I love Dug. I love Mr. Frederickson (so relatable). I love Russell. They’ve created believable characters and some of the most powerful imagery during that first montage explaining all of Ellie and Carl’s relationship which should be taught in film schools one day during a lecture on juxtaposition of images in films. This takes Battleship Potemkin and heightens it. And the score! Michael Giacchino is an awesome composer and this was his year between this and Star Trek and the absolutely awesome score for Land of the Lost. Up will be a movie I will raise my kids on.

If you were wondering, the only two albums I got into that were new this year were Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest and mewithoutYou’s “it’s all crazy it’s all false it’s all a dream it’s alright,” so I guess they’re my top 2 of the year.

Wall-E

I first saw this film the Sunday of its opening weekend. There was something “full shine and full of sparkle” that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

The next night, I saw it again. My head was filled and crammed with bits and notes of words that I was going to write down.

But, still, after seeing it twice, I didn’t feel like I had the correct perception about the film–that what I felt about it was succinct.

I finally saw it a third time this afternoon and I think I’ve figured out why I love this film geared towards children about an easily synergized robot.

It’s not the silent humor that takes over the first half of the film, even though it’s spot-on hilarious.

It’s not this song that starts the film and is a piece of music that is used as a motif along with another song from Hello Dolly. It’s not the fact that this song, and the portion used, is one that I find absolutely hilarious.

It’s the work that Roger Deakins did when he came in as a cinematographic consultant. See, unlike most CGI animated films, the guys at Pixar brought in the Director of Photography for most Coen Bros. films post-Sonnenfeld (Barton Fink, The Man who Wasn’t There and No Country for Old Men to name a couple) as well as the beautiful Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford that came out last year.

I’m about to wax technical, so you can skip this part if you want. What his work does is give the movie a sense of photo-realism. When you pay close attention to the depth of field and the focus on certain shots compared to similar shots in, say, the torturous trailer for Bolt that seems to play before every goddam movie I see, you see that every shot is meticulous angled and setup to look as if a camera filmed it and not someone at a computer playing with numbers and pictures and wireframes.

A prime example of the beauty brought to this film is a scene that was in the final trailer where Wall-E is getting chased by a bunch of carts in a broken down Buy N Large store. And I want you to observe a little quirk about this scene that I found absolutely wonderful: at one point during the shot, the camera falls out of focus as it tries to zoom and correct itself within the shot.

Now, you could say, “Why the hell would they want to fuck up a shot by blurring a portion of it?” Well, I have the answer: See, when you’re doing a tracking shot, especially one from such a distance, you’re going to have to refocus as the object leaves the field of focus. And you just might fuck it up. We’ve seen this in countless live-action films.

And it’s a little piece of extra effort put into this film that I found absolutely fantastic. Shit, this whole movie is fantastic. I was laughing the whole way through, I was in awe of the visions that they were putting on celluloid.

But it was my dad who made the most succinct comment. That is that the movie is about computers taking over for what humans do (Leon Trout from Galapagos would blame our stupid big brains for such a thing) and yet it’s a film done on computers showing how far they’ve come in such a field as animation. Obviously, this is something that Pixar has acknowledged and is probably the reason why they’re dipping into the live-action well of films in the future.

This film, unlike the Dark Knight, I can safely say that you should see. If you haven’t, drop everything and go to the cinema. Right fucking now. Cut work early, gather up your spawn, and take them to see this jawdropping and hilarious film.

westerns, horror, animated 2008

So last year, I did a straight top ten list of my favorite movies… But this year, I’m going to give out “awards” and then choose my favorite of the year.

In 2007, I saw 41 new films. That’s nothing compared to what some reviewers see in a single month, but it’s still a solid amount of movies to make an opinion out of. But I know I’ve missed some really good ones and a lot of the movies I saw this year were ones I finally got around to seeing (like Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, the Prestige, Factotum, The Saddest Music in the World, etc).

2007 also had a solid amount of Westerns released–all of which I dragged my friends to. There were three typical westerns (There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma, and the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and one atypical neo-western (No Country for Old Men). So, the first category will be “BEST NEW WESTERN,” and it will be a shoot-out between these four films.

4) 3:10 TO YUMA — A great, badass, slick movie. Christian Bale has really come into his own as an actor and I really enjoyed all the various elements of this film involving his son and Russell Crowe’s character and how everything ended. There was nothing overly magical about this movie: it was rough and quintessentially western.

3) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — You choose the show-time you wish to see the movie knowing its ending, you buy the tickets knowing the ending, you sit through the movies 2 and a half hours knowing the ending. So why did people subject themselves to this movie? Because it’s a commentary on today’s culture of Thirsty Scavengers looking for any and everything they can read about their favorite stars. All the gossip, all the trash, is contained in this film and is embodied by Casey Affleck’s character who in the kills Jesse James and then subsequently lets it eat him alive. What we let consume us will eventually finish us off. We always let the beast in, but it’s our choice whether it escapes with everything we have. And this movie tried to get at people in the same way, as if to say, “Do you see what you’re doing to the actors? They’re just people, goddammit!” And having Brad Pitt play Jesse James was a priceless meta tool through this whole movie-game of “Look at yourselves.”

2) There will be blood — Daniel Plainview is a sick, sick, asshole of a man. I don’t even know if he is a man, but instead an embodiment of greed. That can’t be true though, because there are moments in this film where that hard shell of meanness and money crack and you see that he really does love his adopted son. Eli Sunday is his synthetic opposite–he wants all the same things: money power and fame and control over the people, but he’s chosen the religious route instead of the Black Gold Route. This movie is long and slow and it tears at your patience, but if you’re able to sit through it without getting up and going out for a smoke or leaving altogether, you’ll come to realize that this is a great multi-character study set against a beautiful backdrop of the old west.

1) No Country for Old Men — The neo-western wins out. Why? Because I love how scary Anton Chigurh (as played by Javier Bardem) is in this movie. He made me shit my pants every time he spoke. He made me cry everytime he killed someone with his compressed airgun thing that they used to use to kill cows (see that creepy scene in the van in Texas Chainsaw Massacre). And Llewellyn Moss(as played by Josh Brolin) isn’t his antithesis, but instead, his equal. One who will kill and exploit to get out of his situation and do whatever it takes to bring vigilante justice. And one step behind is Tommy Lee Jones’ character as the elder sheriff, slowly realizing that this world is going darker and darker and darker by the moment and there’s nothing he can do about it. He hates it, but he knows that if he continues to work, it will just eat him. So he retires. And that’s how the movie ends. In anti-climax and letdowns galore. It was a big slap in the face to the viewers who wanted the final shootout and to have some sort of justice prevail. But that’s just more blood for the sake of it.

So those were the Westerns released this year, and the one that wasn’t even really a Western was my favorite. But it grew on me after I read a National Geographic article about how crazy West Texas is. This lady there lives at the end of a 40 mile dead-end road. No shit. People there are weird, and the murders are even worse.

Next up are the Horror awards. If I didn’t have to choose movies that were released in 2007 but instead the ones I saw in 2007, the award would go to Dawn of the Dead, the original from 1978. That’s one hell of a horror movie. Or it would go to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a beautifully atmospheric horror movie where not everything is killed by a chainsaw.

But I have to go with movies that were released this year, and so the list is as follows:

5) Planet Terror — Funnier and more fun that it was scary, but it exuded all the right horror elements: sex and gore and violence. It was great as a setup into Death Proof and as the first half of Grindhouse. But I don’t know about it away from the overall experience. However, there were some really good performances and some really great scares throughout the film.

4) 30 Days of Night — Scared the crap out of me. Maybe it was because all day I was psyching myself out for it by saying, “I’m going to get scared, I’m going to get scared” but it was actually really creepy. The methodology of the vampires didn’t seem to make any sense. Why would they want to kill everyone on the first night and then starve? Is a 29-day Disco Dance Party that much fun with out sustenance? Maybe it is, but I’m just hypothesizing. The scares were there but not much else was…

3) 1408 — Overall, not the best movie. However, I have to admit that I do have a soft spot of John Cusack after he was in High Fidelity. His character has a lot of skepticism and doubt going through this project, and all of it is torn apart by this single room of horror. Stephen King knows what we hate, and he does a great job of writing them. And then people do an even better job translating it onto the screen. Unless it’s DreamCatcher. That movie sucked.

2) El Orfanato — A horror movie in the vein of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Everything is scary but you don’t know why. The atmosphere just simply exudes fear. And the last third of the movie is when everything kicks into high gear and it just straight up kicks your ass.

1) 28 Weeks Later — I have to admit something else: I also have a soft spot for zombies. The zombies in the original “Dead” trilogy where this movie and its predecessor draw a lot from are scary in their ominous way, loafing around and gaining in numbers. The zombies in these movies RUN. They RUN. And that’s probably the scariest thing is that these zombies will sprint after you and chase you and keep at you until you fall and they have at you. One reviewer was right in saying that this movie makes you want to get into shape. Y’know, just in case something like that happened. But it wasn’t even the zombies that brought this movie to the top of the horror list. It was the US Government and the whole idea that they were running less from the zombies and more from the people who have a total moral and ethical code within them. But they’re trained opposite, trained in rage, and thusly become zombies to “The Man.” That idea fascinated me, for sure.

And let’s run out the one animated feature of the year that deserves any sort of mentioning….

Talking Rats! Talking Rats! I love Ratatouille. It was a great kids film about striving to be your best no matter the obstacles, no matter whose hair you have to pull (har de har). This film was so broad-base emotional that you couldn’t help but let Remy and his struggles wiggle their way under the door sill into your heart.

Okay. Comedy tomorrow or tonight. In a different post.