Sunday, June 20, 2010

Even Better Than Hungry Like The Wolf

In honor of Bruce Campbell's birthday week, and what is quite possibly the origin of my nautical preoccupation, I give you Bruce Campbell for Old Spice:

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Have to Return Some Videotapes

Seeing the Christian Bale photo in the Empire spread (See, "Empire Strikes Back," supra) made me desperate to watch American Psycho.  Because I obviously own the uncut DVD, I did.  In my tradition of blogging about decade-old movies (See, "I Pierced the Toast", supra), I thought I'd gush about American Psycho, too.

(Note: I'm not going to summarize the movie in full on the blog.  I'm just going to assume that all of my readers have a sick, twisted, wonderful sense of humor and have watched it forty bazillion times like I have.  If you'd like a full plot synopsis with spoilers obviously click here.  But better yet, put it on your Netflix.)

American Psycho is one of those rare movies that's better than the book it's based on.  Bret Easton Ellis' 1991 book is too long, too graphic, and too rambling; it's a stream-of-consciousness, first-person narrative of a psychopath, Patrick Bateman, who sadistically tortures and kills women.  The movie, however, is a sharp, haunting, dark comedy that's as brutal in its social commentary as it is in its murders.  Or, as one reviewer put it
"Against the odds, Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner have succeeded in extracting a viable narrative screenplay from this plotless blank. Almost everything in their film comes from the book, but they have sensibly junked a huge amount...What's left is a brittle and stylised satire of Me-generation values..."
The movie's genius is rooted in its streamlined screenplay which, interestingly, was adapted by two women.  As a girl who loves gory movies, I adore seeing a perfect intersection of satire and violence like American Psycho come out of women's hands.  That Harron and Turner successfully, in the words of Roger Ebert, "transformed a novel about blood lust into a movie about men's vanity" may owe partly to their female perspective.

Harron and Turner's Bateman is less menacing than the book's Bateman.  He's incredibly insecure and frantic, which makes him pitiable and mockable.  But his desperation also makes him extremely scary: Bateman is so sensitive and irrational you never know what (like raised lettering on a business card) is going to set him off.  Harron and Turner's script makes Bateman seem crazy because his priorities are so bizarrely distorted, not just because he kills people.  And that's hard to do.

Much of Psycho's humor also comes from its direction.  Harron (who both wrote and directed) turns terrifying moments from the book into comic (or at least absurd) scenes in the movie.  For example, Harron reported in an interview that she instructed Bateman's prostitutes to be bored, not "in a Penthouse fantasy." Of course, this resulted in the deeply funny sex scene where Bateman obsessively admires his own reflection, much to the eye-rolling of his partners.

Harron also asked Willem Dafoe (who, in a very Boondock Saints move, plays a detective) to perform three distinct takes of every scene: one where he knew Bateman killed Paul Allen, one where he wasn't sure if Bateman killed Paul Allen, and one where he believed Bateman didn't kill Paul Allen.  Harron edited the takes together to give a Dafoe's character an uneven quality, and leave viewers unsure if Dafoe had figured Bateman out.  It worked. 

So what would American Psycho have looked like if it had been directed by someone else?  Some reviewers said Kubrick could've directed it, some said Oliver Stone, but I think it would've made a better Tarantino vehicle.  Kubrick takes his work too seriously, Stone would've made it needlessly cold and trippy and distanced. 

But Tarantino (for all his ego) is the master of seamlessly integrating dark humor, social commentary, and excessive, gory violence.  Paul Allen's murder is as horribly funny as "I shot Marvin in the face!," and as memorably set to music as the Stealers Wheel scene in Reservoir Dogs.  Bateman's tirades about Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston are like pages torn out of Mr. Brown's "Madonna" rant in Dogs.  And, at the climax, isn't Bateman just Bruce Willis if he'd chosen the chainsaw instead of the machete?

Let me show you what I mean.  Here's (what's probably) the most memorable scene in the movie.   Interestingly, it's the only scene Bret Easton Ellis hated.  (Warning: not for the blood-and-violence-averse.) 

The second most memorable scene in the movie.  Trivia: did anyone notice all the cards spell "Acquisitions" wrong?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Empire Strikes Back

The other day I stumbled upon Empire Magazine's 20th birthday photo shoot, where famous actors reprised their most memorable movie roles.  They're all cool, so feel free to check out the whole shoot. These were my favorites:

Monday, June 7, 2010

I Pierced the Toast!

My friend Caitlin and I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies of all time, The Birdcage.  It's  quick and witty and clever, but premised entirely on farce  -- like watching a 2 hour episode of Frasier.  The gags are basic, the script is perfect, the cast is brilliant.  Dropping Nathan Lane's outrageous, over-sized personality into a room of straight-men (pun!) just works. 

The plot, for those of you who haven't had the pleasure, is that the son of two South Beach Miami gays (one is a drag club owner, the other is the drag star) decides to marry the daughter of a Moral Majority Republican Senator from Ohio.  And it's time for the parents to meet.  It's like Guess Who's Coming To Dinner without the weighty racial undertones. Enter hilarity.

Maybe it's so funny because everyone plays it like a drama (at the direction of the magnificent Mike Nichols, who pulled moments of the same naive, deadpan humor out of Benjamin Braddock).  My old acting teacher always directed us to "play the opposite."  Drunk people don't try to be drunk, she said, they look drunk because they are trying so hard to be sober.  When overcome by emotion, people don't try to cry, they try NOT to cry.  The more someone feels, the harder he has to work to hold it back -- that's where acting comes in.  So maybe The Birdcage is so sidesplitting because everyone in it takes it so seriously.

Or maybe it's just really funny to see men in lady wigs.  I'm not sure.  But, I will give a clip from my favorite scene in the movie, and one of the funniest in movie history.  Bear with me, straight men, and just watch this one scene.  It's brilliant physical comedy -- the really rare, wonderful kind that's subtle and exaggerated at the same time.  And the last line makes me laugh every time.

Robin Williams teaching Nathan Lane, his longtime gay partner and star of his drag show, how to act like a straight man: 

If you like that, watch the whole "act like a man" scene here. Immediately.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Phelps, You Got Some 'Splainin' To Do!

Nope, Michael Phelps isn't getting sued for smoking more reefer; this is a different Phelps.  (Btdubs, if you haven't seen Seth Meyer on SNL's Really?!? about Michael Phelps, take a blog pause and go watch it ASAP). This is Fred Phelps, one of the most close-minded, fanatical idiots our side of Kim Jong Il, whose cruel, belligerent protests are challenging free speech rights to their very core.

Fred Phelps is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka-based group of crazy, interrelated fundamentalists who remind me of the Compound in HBO's Big Love.  Their whole mission is to carry around fluorescent picket signs and let you know God hates you.  I was going to link their website, but I'd rather provide the URL so you can go there on your own:  (That's not a joke. It's too laughable to be a joke.)

Westboro became a national symbol of hatred when they protested Matthew Sheppard's funeral (a gay high schooler beaten to death in Wyoming whose murder was the basis for the play The Laramie Project). But the "Church" isn't just another homophobic Christian group: they broke out of that stereotype when they started protesting the funerals of American soldiers. 

Yes, that's right.  Fred Phelps believes that God is killing soldiers in Iraq to punish America for abandoning its morals.  In 2006, Westboro picketed the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, a 20 year old marine killed in Iraq.  Snyder's family sued Phelps for defamation, invasion of privacy (intrusion upon seclusion), and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

A Maryland District Court found Phelps guilty of the latter two torts and awarded millions of dollars in damages.  But, on appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the award was overturned on the grounds that Phelps' speech was constitutionally protected.  "Adding insult to injury," the Fourth Circuit ordered the Synder family to pay $16,000 for Westboro's court costs.  (In a rare moment of NOT being a douchenozzle, Bill O'Reilly offered to pay the entire amount.  And I bet Fred Phelps made "Pinhead" of the day.)

This case is poised to be interesting for a number of reasons:

First, Westboro is a group without a political backing.  Say what you want about "Separation of Powers," but the Supreme Court is particularly politicized this term (and maybe ever since Bush v. Gore).  Sotomayor's confirmation hearings and a number of recent cases (Citizens United, the McDonald Second Amendment case) illustrate the prevalence of politics in legal decision-making.  But Westboro stands alone, marooned on the island of Crazyville.  The religious right hates them because they protest the deaths of soldiers; the liberal left hates them because they protest gayJewbortions.  I hate them because they dress soooo badly.

Second, despite being the organizational equivalent of a mustache-twirling Disney villain, Westboro is shielding itself behind the most deep-seated, beloved basic right of American law: the freedom of speech.   Fred Phelps is so hateable that it's actually hard to muster language to describe him (I had to thesaurus "hate," "crazy," and "stupid" like 14 times just to write this blog post and yes, I just used "thesaurus" as a verb).  So, the case will depend on the ability of Phelps' lawyer to frame the issue not in defense of these obtuse extremist morons, but in defense of America's favorite civil right: speech.

Finally, SCOTUS has granted cert on some really important constitutional law issues.  Merging of IIED and intrustion torts with First Amendment protections poses complex legal questions (way more interesting than merging IIED with cat-food-related deaths, am I right, UGA Law 2010 grads?).  The Court has to determine if Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, which held that public figures can't claim IIED damages, applies to private people in private matters.  And, even if only implicitly, the Court will have to pick their favorite First Amendment right: is free speech more important than freedom of religion or peaceful assembly?

The case will probably not be argued until October, but I wanted to get you guys fired up about it.  And give you plenty of time to make your own signs: