Pop Culture Rants Archives
April 15, 2015
Over the weekend, I watched a little film called Whiplash. I still don’t know what to make of it. It had many admirable qualities: excellent acting, visually interesting (especially for a movie that prominently features dudes banging on drums), surprisingly suspenseful (again, especially for a movie about banging on drums). I liked some of the cliché-defying choices, especially the aversion to the trope of the “knowledgeable friend” (i.e., an experienced band member who shows the newbie the ropes).
There was also a moment, late in the film, where I was pretty much convinced that it was going to have a frustratingly schmaltzy ending. When Andrew (Miles Teller) decides to see Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) play at a little jazz club, and the two talk like grown-up peers for the first time, I thought it was going to turn into that scene where Fletcher invites Andrew onstage to jam, just the two of them, as equals. Fade to black.
I’m glad it didn’t end that way, but I’m not sure I’m happy with its actual ending. I spent a great deal of the movie — far too much — wondering what it was all supposed to mean. I admired Andrew’s drive but hated him for being kind of a douchenozzle. His internal drive is wonky: he doesn’t want to be the best just to be the best; he wants to be talked about. Many of his actions in the film have more to do with trying to impress Fletcher than his internal drive to succeed, another symptom of his desire to please others more than himself.
July 21, 2014
John Lasseter: Greedy Capitalist Pig
The weekend’s release of Planes: Fire & Rescue reminded me of an important factoid: John Lasseter is a greedy capitalist pig who is destroying both Pixar and Disney through his fiendish desire to make as much money as possible. I only read a single review of this film in which I am wholly uninterested, but it brought to mind a couple of big problems I have with both contemporary film criticism and quasi-outsider perceptions of the Hollywood machine.
I don’t mean to slag on the fellow who reviewed this dumb movie. Although he’s not a critic I know by name, I’m sure I’ve read other reviews of his that had no impact on me. This one bothered me, not just for its needless political grandstanding but for the author’s apparent belief that his assertions are inarguably correct, and that such assertions have actual relevance on whether or not Planes: Fire & Rescue is a good movie. (I have a strong suspicion it’s not, so don’t prepare yourself for an argument that I resent a critic for disliking a movie I happen to like.)
March 26, 2012
I hate that juvenile feeling of ownership I sometimes get, which hasn’t really manifested in negative behavior since junior high. Remember that? When everybody was deemed a poseur because they discovered the exact same thing you already liked, but they found out about it two months later through MTV or some magazine, instead of stumbling across it organically like you did, Mr. or Ms. Unique. At the time, it was very serious and only made sense to call out the posing plebes for not enjoying Metallica on as many levels as you do. Now, it seems really stupid. But once in awhile, I do have that annoying feeling of “I saw it first”-style possession.
Such is the case with Dark Shadows. I started watching the original soap when I was 13 and didn’t stop until I was in college and couldn’t find the time to continue watching it. With few exceptions, I watched two episodes a day, every weekday afternoon, and saw the entire series about two and a half times. Long before Buffy or The West Wing, Dark Shadows — low budgets and melodrama aside — showed me the possibilities of television as an artistic medium, and it made me want to write. Numerous sci-fi and horror stories I wrote during this period were “inspired” by Dark Shadows, and it inspired a love for flawed characters and lunatic plots that I’ve carried over into less derivative writing. In other words: everything I write, whether it seems like it or not, stems from the influence of Dark Shadows more than anything else. I cut my teeth on Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino — what a poseur! — but I didn’t start eating solid food until Dark Shadows.
October 3, 2011
On Punch-Drunk Love
In what’s bound to be my most topical post in months, I’d like to talk about Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love. I haven’t seen it since it came out, at which time it ranked as my least favorite Anderson film and my third-favorite Adam Sandler film. (This is the one opinion of mine that hasn’t changed; at the time of its release, I’d only seen Magnolia and every Adam Sandler star vehicle ever made. Since then, I’ve caught up on Anderson’s filmography and found myself blown away by Hard Eight, then There Will Be Blood, and finally Boogie Nights.
About a year ago, I had a hankering to see Punch-Drunk Love again. It’s taken me this long to get to it, and the results will in no way surprise you: it remains a big, ramshackle mess, almost anchored by a career-best performance from Sandler and beautiful, artsy-fartsy cinematography by Anderson’s go-to cinematographer, Robert Elswit.
September 19, 2011
I swear to God, at least two people who barely know me have asked this question, and since I couldn’t think of anything else to write about it, why not make it this?
Zooey Deschanel, my lady love since ~2002*, will be starring in a weekly sitcom called New Girl. This seems ideal, and yet — here’s where the blog-specific controversy kicks in — the creator and executive producer is my arch-nemesis, Liz Meriwether, writer of a script entitled Fuckbuddies. Now, Fuckbuddies made me angry, but one terrible script isn’t quite enough for me to cast aside my beloved Zooey. The fifteen endless, painful minutes I spent trying to watch No Strings Attached — that’s enough to cast her aside, and then some.
September 5, 2011
Let’s talk about likability.
I don’t mean characters. This isn’t a screenwriting lecture. This is an arbitrary observation about the likability quotient of an overall film. A borderline intangible subject, I realize, but I don’t have anything else I want to write about in such a public forum, so this is it. Instead of watching a Cannon film this weekend, I watched The Claim.
August 2, 2011
A Musical Tribute to Failure
I was gonna change the world…
But I’m not gonna change the world…
I was gonna change my ways…
But I have not changed…
I try not to dwell on feelings of failure, which is difficult considering the heady combination of low self-esteem and poor decisions that guides my life. It’s easy to beat on myself for laying out goals and falling short of them, but there’s something to be said for putting forth the effort, even if I don’t achieve what I want in the exact way that I want it.
Let’s have a seat on the porch while I grab my whittlin’ stick and tell you how things were back in Granpappy Bates’s day. I grew up right on the cusp of the touchy-feely era of the blandly supportive “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. When I was a kid and played sports, and sucked at them, I didn’t get a trophy. I didn’t have a cheerful coach saying, “Good effort!” in an upbeat, sing-songy way. I got yelled at by the coaches, ridiculed by my teammates, and ashamed looks from my dad. That’s the way things are supposed to be. Because it undoubtedly contributed to the kneecapping of my self-esteem, but it also helped me deal with rejection, failure, and the abject humiliation of the hilariously incompetent. It motivated me to find areas where I could excel, such as writing terrible grunge songs and beating the shit out of people who were 1-2% nerdier than I was. I miss junior high.
June 26, 2011
Letter to the Editor of Time
[Musings of an elderly crank in the body of a 29-year-old.]
Re: “One Document, Under Siege”
To the Editor:
In his article, Richard Stengel writes, among other things, “The framers…gave us the idea…that South Dakota should have the same number of Senators as California, which is kind of crazy.”
June 20, 2011
Best Buy: Direct-to-Video Mecca?
At one point in our many long discussions about the strategic focus of The Parallax Review, Matt and I decided to target films that “fell through the cracks” with renewed vigor, adding several columns that specifically targeted the direct-to-video (DTV) market. The first, and probably the most satisfying (for me, at least), we called “Bargain Bin.” We both noticed, when scouring release dates for upcoming DVDs to discuss on the podcast, that a handful of DVDs would come out each month featuring major, recognizable stars in movies nobody had ever heard of.
June 13, 2011
Okay, armchair shrinks and hippie psychic types. Time to pull out your dog-eared copies of The Complete Idiot’s Dream Dictionary.
For the past few weeks, I’ve had a dream every other night or so that just seems kinda retarded. I’d be interested in hearing various thoughts about what it could mean, even though I’m pretty sure it just means my brain’s broken. It goes like this: somehow, I am involved in an elaborate stage revival of A Raisin in the Sun. The director has “re-imagined” the play. Gone are the claustrophobic apartment and reams of hyper-articulate, ’60s-stagey dialogue. In their stead, he or she has chosen to set this interpretation in a dank alleyway, under urine-colored lights. The characters are now costumed like a combination of the cast of Do the Right Thing and cheesy ’50s robots. They tell the play’s story solely through interpretive dance.
June 1, 2011
Shut Up, Crime!Okay, so, I was in a whiny funk yesterday (shocking, I know). I’d like to add that I did watch and enjoy the following films that are decidedly not about cranky old men:
- The Evil Dead
- Evil Dead II
- Army of Darkness
- P2 (okay, this one wasn’t actually very good, but I sure did enjoy extended looks at Rachel Nichols’s pushed-up cleavage!)
- The Untouchables
- The Last of Sheila
- L.A. Story
- Funny People (I seem to remember this getting mixed to negative reviews, and plenty of people I know and respect hated it, but I thought it was great, if ramshackle and uneven — like all Judd Apatow films)
- Me and You and Everyone We Know
- Vampire Hunter D
- Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
- The Woods
- Telefon (okay, this one is about a cranky old man — but Charles fucking Bronson’s Soviet disdain is tempered by Lee Remick’s middle-aged foxiness and somewhat annoyingly chipper demeanor)
May 31, 2011
Old Man on the Back Porch
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched a shitload of movies that I’ve slowly accumulated via 100% legal, non-piratical means — a heady combination of movies I’ve always wanted to see, movies I feel like I have to see despite a lack of interest (e.g., Up in the Air, An Education), and movies I’m revisiting after many years (like, for instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey — not a big Kubrick fan, but I saw the movie when I was eleven and hated it; maybe I’ll like, or at least appreciate, it now).
As an initiative for my reader novel, I’ve been flirting with the idea of including an appendix of Script to Screen-style articles, posing my initial thoughts upon reading a script versus the final product. A requirement of that, naturally, is to watch some of the movies that I’ve covered that have been released. I’ve already seen a handful for the aforementioned Script to Screen, but plenty of them have infinitely more dubious fates than a January theatrical release — plenty of them have either gone DTV in the U.S. or haven’t seen release here at all. That’s not necessarily indicative of anything, quality-wise, but it’s certainly not the best sign when major stars and Oscar-winning actors show up in movies that can’t even get released in their native country.
May 23, 2011
Sandra Bullock: Clinically Insane Like a Fox
Sandy, the aurora’s rising behind us, the pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh, love me tonight, and I promise I’ll love you forever…
I came to a very important conclusion after Tarini dared me to watch All About Steve: Sandra Bullock is either slyly demented or batshit crazy. I’m not usually one to dish on celebs or speculate on the mental well being of Hollywood actors, but this… This is different. I’m not some paparazzo hiding in her bushes, trying to find out if she feasts on the flesh of the recently deceased. This is simply an outside observer looking at her oeuvre and coming to the only obvious conclusion.
The last two Bullock movies I saw — All About Steve and The Proposal (both of which Tarini dared me to watch, because she hates me, and I watched because I hate myself) — are the sorts of films where every single scene prompts the most vital question in all of cinema: “Why?” When the closing credits finally scroll up, it prompts the second most vital question in all of cinema: “What the fuck did I just watch?”
May 6, 2011
Finally, The Beaver comes to Chicago…
Honestly, the script exists in a recess of my brain where scripts that are unmemorably bad reside. It should be the sort of script that makes me say, “What the fuck — when did I read that?” when I glance through old coverage samples. Thanks to its memorable gimmick, I can’t forget it quite so easily. I didn’t like the script, and I was fairly shocked to find it was regarded as the “most favorite” (not to be confused with “best,” whatever that means) Black List script in 2008, but it didn’t contain the rage-inducing qualities of a Butter or a Fuckbuddies (later renamed No Strings Attached).
May 2, 2011
Olivia Dunham might be the worst fictional FBI agent in history. That, in and of itself, doesn’t annoy me. It doesn’t bother me that she — especially in this season — rarely investigates anything, rarely figures anything out using her alleged investigative prowess, and frequently has reams of expository dialogue spoonfed to her by Walter Bishop, Peter Bishop, Nina Sharp, and now even the mysterious bowling alley owner played by Kevin Corrigan (Sam Weiss Gamgee). It doesn’t bother me that she repeatedly learns things she should already know, and her eyes boggle as if her world has just come crumbling down. It doesn’t bother me that she can’t remember, as recently as three weeks ago, discovering that pathological terror is her link to her MAGICAL POWERS when she desperately needs to use said powers and is, one could argue, pathologically terrified vis-à-vis the impending end of the world.
What bothers me is the show’s repeated insistence that she’s great at what she does. She’s special, according to Walter. She’s one of the finest agents Broyles has had the pleasure of ineffectually monitoring from a safe distance. Nina Sharp believes she’s brilliant. Peter Bishop has inexplicably fallen in love with her. All of this despite repeated demonstrations of raging, comical incompetence, without counterbalancing her blunders with equal moments of actual brilliance.
March 28, 2011
It’s hard to deny that, since I’ve relaunched the site, I’ve done little more than complain. Most of you should be used to that by now, but I told myself that I wanted to do more with this new site than merely vent my frustration about things that, in large part, make me quite angry at the time I’m ranting but evaporate quickly. For instance, I forgot I even wrote anything about Glee, because I stopped caring almost immediately after I hit the “Publish” button. (To that end, though, I do still think Murphy’s comments point in the direction of him being a terrible human being, and I’d have started boycotting his show even if I didn’t already find it unwatchable.)
So I’ve decided to devote today’s post to things that I love. Because, you see, even as I was bitching about Glee, I was in the process of binge-watching movies I hadn’t seen in awhile: Galaxy Quest, Moon (an unintentional Sam Rockwell sci-fi double feature!), The China Syndrome, Giant, and Rabbit Hole. Watching all these films in the span of a single weekend reminded me of something quite wonderful: I fucking love movies. It’s quite easy to lose sight of that when mired in draining pursuits designed to rob people of their love of the artistic power of a film. It’s really nice to just let a movie wash over you like a warm ocean wave, without having to analyze its artistic merits or commercial prospects, or thinking about how it fits into the current spate of releases, or thinking about anything other than what the film is offering.
I loved Rabbit Hole the first time I saw it. I couldn’t be sure whether or not I overvalued it, because I’d been mired in a sea of shit at the time I saw it. My viewing of it was surrounded by a handful of other theatrical releases — Casino Jack, Somewhere, Black Swan, and All Good Things — that were fucking awful, and I generally can’t stand Nicole Kidman. I had zero interest in seeing it, but I was the only one who could review it (being that it was released around Christmas), so I took the plunge, and I fucking loved it.
I watched it again, and I still fucking love it. It comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray on April 15th, and it requires your immediate attention. It got largely (and undeservedly) ignored at the Oscars, barely got a theatrical release, and was mostly dismissed, even by critics who liked it, as a dour, 21 Grams-esque film about grief. But that’s not what it is. Read the review I linked above if you want more information. My second viewing reaffirmed everything I felt the first time I saw it.
March 18, 2011
[Sorry, Megan (and probably others). I know you love this show, but I just can’t get on board…]
This evening, I read a lot — perhaps too much — about these alleged dust-ups between various rockers and Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy. It started, I guess, with Kings of Leon (full disclosure: I’m such a square that I’ve never heard a Kings of Leon song, though to my credit I have heard of them), who received a verbal tongue-lashing from Murphy after turning down the opportunity to have their music featured on the show. Instead of taking it lying down, they got up in Murphy’s Twitter grille, making me wonder (not for the first time) how anybody can report on social media without laughing hysterically at the idiocy of it all.
But mine is not to reason why. Mine is to continue rambling about Slash, one of the greatest rock guitarists in the history of time, who further endeared himself to me by saying, “Glee is worse than Grease, and Grease is bad enough,” after which Murphy cattily responded, “Usually I find that people who make those comments, their careers are over; they’re uneducated and quite stupid.” Says the man who’s begging to feature his music…
Finally, the Foo Fighters weighed in on the controversy, after they, too, turned down Murphy’s request to use their music.
June 30, 2009
The A.V. Club on Woody Allen
I don’t usually write long, ranty responses to articles unrelated to Juno, but I read one yesterday that really stuck in my craw. This will possibly sound obnoxious, whiny, and defensive, but deal with it — this article offended me deeply, on a personal level. (Note: I’ve included the article link, but feel free to not waste your time reading it, since I plan to quote from it extensively and respond to each of their “points.”)
Longtime readers know of my deep and abiding love for Woody Allen. Despite the oddly inconsistent quality of his movies over the past, let’s say, 20 years, his body of work from 1969-1989 more than makes up for a few dark spots. Even now, he still occasionally makes great movies; mostly, they range from “decent” (Small Time Crooks) to “unwatachable” (Scoop). So, defensive though I may be, I’m not blind to the man’s flaws (both personally and artistically). Keep that in mind if what I write after this sounds insufferable.
I guess I feel compelled to respond because it’s hard enough to get people of my generation to watch Woody Allen movies without a complete hatchet job of an article discouraging them from ever taking the plunge. Typically, I enjoy A.V. Club’s reviews and articles, but this is just a flaming turd.
October 12, 2008
Sexist Straw Man
Remember how I hated Juno? Turns out, this makes me some sort of sexist and/or misogynist asshole**. See, because I’m a male, and I found fault with a screenplay written by a woman — and a feminist woman, author kvoynar is quick to point out in the comments! — this means that my problems with the movie have no merit. It’s really just a “thin guise” covering the quiver-inducing rage I feel whenever I think about or discuss anything having to do with women. Many of the comments I received came from women in total agreement, and although I’m sure I haven’t joined the ranks of “male-dominated film blog[s kvoynar] read[s] regularly” (possibly because this is not really a “film blog”), this did not stop me from leveling some criticism at Reitman — but put that aside for a moment. I have a confession to make about how much I hate women.
Would it also make me a woman-hating thug to find fault with kvoynar’s blog post about how much I hate women because I did not fall in love with Diablo Cody’s screenplay and do not know her personally? I only add that last part because, apparently, if I took the time to get into one of those deeeep late-night dorm-room conversations with Ms. Cody, she would charm me to such a degree that I would forgive the many flaws in her Juno screenplay and say, “Yup, she deserved that Oscar on account of being so darned nice.”
In particular, I take issue with the baffling argument that I’m a sexist asshole because I didn’t hate the scripts for current movies like Burn After Reading or Tropic Thunder, because clearly they’re worse movies because they have slightly lower ratings on the Tomato Meter. Wouldn’t a more apt comparison be the variety of other Oscar-winning screenplays? Because nobody took issue with Crash or Little Miss Sunshine or The Pianist or A Beautiful Mind, right? These were movies not just universally beloved — but beloved because of their flawless screenplays written by members of the clearly superior male gender. Let me turn off the sarcasm for a second and ask: are you high? For Christ’s sake, as recently as five months ago, I took another look at American Beauty and retroactively trashed its screenplay with as much — if not more — vitriol as I did with Juno. Some of them (Crash) instantly reveal themselves as about a thousand times worse than Juno*. And even if the idea of sampling summer popcorn fare instead of making it go toe to toe with fellow Oscar winners, you only have to go back in time as recently as one month for “current releases” to fare better on Rotten Tomatoes — WALL·E, The Dark Knight, Iron Man. Doesn’t this make the “legitimate” critical establishment sexist, as well? They gave more positive reviews to movies about rich white dudes who fight crime! O, the injustice! Even the female critics are merely unempowered husks trying to make it in a man’s world by kowtowing to their desires… Right?
So I guess I ought to just take Ms. Cody’s “defense” lying down. I made no valid points, had no real reasons to dislike her objectively great movie, I am both a sexist and a misogynist, and I should apologize right now. And I should not, at any time, point out that I only stumbled across kvoynar’s post because Ms. Cody links to it on her blog, which suggests she fully buys into the notion that her flawless screenplay is under attack by the evil cabal of misogynist male bloggers and that, if we really got to know her, we’d take back all the nasty things we’ve said about her. That doesn’t, in any way, weaken her position as a feminist! In fact, with an attitude like hers, she’d make one hell of a vice-presidential candidate!
(And for those who notice the dates on all these blogs and believe I’ve spent the past few months stewing in my own juices — think again! Despite my usual obsessive tendencies, my caring about Juno and the misguided people who love it ebbed by, let’s say, May. Now, a few people did send me links to Ms. Cody’s initial “outburst,” but at that time I just chuckled at the stupidity and moved on. Today, that popped in my head, I decided to check out the blog for any potential blowback-related hilarity. Instead, I found an obnoxious defense of her own defense, plus the link to the other blog, and it got my rage boiling.)
April 14, 2008
Television Without Purpose
I don’t visit many Internet message boards anymore because, as I failed to mention the other day, message boards are just too time-consuming, especially if you participate. The few I look at, I don’t read regularly, and I participate even less frequently. But there was a time, when I was working one of my many dead-end jobs and had assloads of time to kill, where I became obsessed with a website called Television Without Pity. For those who aren’t aware (because you have better things to do with your lives than obsess over TV), it’s a site where folks write long, snarky recaps of television shows. At their best, they approximate the experience of watching a show, simulating the things that run through your mind so you can say, “Thank God I’m not the only one who didn’t think a single moment of 24’s fourth season made sense.” At their worst, they descend into rambling, pseudo-intellectual garbage overanalyzing the kind of reality shows most people half-watch as they do laundry or cook dinner.
April 11, 2008
Tonight, I watched a Quantum Leap rerun that started making me think about the potential for a remake. I’ve heard rumblings of remake attempts in the past that are detailed enough to make me think they at least had one in development at one time, but obviously it’s never come to fruition. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time, but there were always a few elements to “leaping” that went unaddressed. (And yes, being that I loved the show, I fully understand that this was a show with a science-fiction premise that had very little to do with science-fiction. Probably for the best, since the attempts they made to explain things scientifically — most notably in the earlier episodes, and dropped pretty quickly before the end of the second season, then resurrected it when the “Evil Leaper” showed up and tried to ruin the show — were pretty retarded.)
February 18, 2008
With the critical accolades, awards nominations (and wins), boffo box-office, a can’t-lose premise, and a fine ensemble directed by the man who made 2005’s best movie (Thank You for Smoking), I don’t think I was looking forward to anything more than Juno. I even had usually reliable friends raving about this thing. One said, “It’s the rare movie where you can believe every good thing said about it.” He has very discriminating tastes, so it didn’t even seem as much like quote-whoring as it looks there, nakedly in print. He acted astonished and impressed, and I decided, “I must see this movie.” Unfortunately, laziness prevailed, so I didn’t bother to see it until two weeks ago…
…and then I nearly walked out before the first scene gave way to the opening credits. The only thing that kept me there, aside from hardly earned money that could no longer be refunded, was all the external goodwill this movie had built up. But right off the bat, my first thought: “This is some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard.” Seems like as good a place as any to start.
June 9, 2007
I Stand Corrected
Recently I reported that I hadn’t heard a worse song than Brian Wilson’s “Smart Girls.” I can admit when I’m wrong, and my unfortunate prolonged exposure to Top 40 radio over the last few weeks has given me some perspective. In fact, the absolute worst song ever recorded (or, at least, the worst song ever to be a #1 hit) is “The Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani. [Downloadable file removed 3/13/08 because certain websites were direct-linking.]
May 28, 2007
The Worst Song Ever Recorded
Everyone knows I am a fan of the Beach Boys in general and Brian Wilson in particular. Seriously, I’m really annoying about it. Almost as annoying as I am when I talk nonstop about Guns N’ Roses history. But the history of G’N’R, while hilarious, can’t quite match the bizarre saga of the Beach Boys. It also can’t match the multiple accounts from various band members, friends, family, hangers-on, and industry insiders. Even more, nothing in the Guns N’ Roses musical canon can match the absolute horror of the Beach Boys’ lowest lows.
May 9, 2007
The BailiffIn which I discover the bailiff from “Judge Mathis” committed suicide form unknown reasons.
April 29, 2007
Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean BlueIn which I describe the greatness of Dennis Wilson’s lost album, ‘Pacific Ocean Blue,’ and the history leading to its creation.
April 22, 2007
Bulletin!In which I notice the strange questions on a MySpace bulletin and wonder why anyone would fill out this survey.
January 9, 2006
Coffee ArticleIn which I respond to a frustrating article about coffee.
March 18, 2003
Five Steps to a Better Blog!
I have a lot of friends with LiveJournals. And they have a lot of friends with LiveJournals. And they have a lot of well-wishers with LiveJournals. The LiveJournal community is fascinating, if not utterly baffling, but it really did make me realize that, as a blogger, I am not maximizing my emo potential. So I’ve constructed a series of rules that will alllow readers to really feel my bland white-boy pain, instead of just reading and laughing uproariously.