Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Movie Review: 21

My biggest problem with 21 may seem like a really trivial insignificant one but upon discovering it, it wouldn't get out of my head, nor could I find any explanation for it, hence it drove me nearly insane trying to figure it out which is why I'm just going to spill it out here because if I think about it one more goddamn run-on sentence longer, I'll "break my cheekbone with a hammer"* and here it is:

If Ben is supposed to be hard up for cash, why the hell is he carrying, of all messenger bags, a Freitag bag?

I'm a little ashamed to admit that one tiny oversight from the wardrobe department bothered me so much since it was nowhere near integral to the plot or direction of the film, but I suppose knowing how much one of those babies cost (Ben's bag in particular is going for about US$190 on the website), it was really distracting to see this 'poor', yes, I'm breaking out the quotation marks, dude struggle to earn cash.

I thought about it throughout the movie. Was it perhaps a gift? A shopping splurge? Did he get it off a second hand store? Discounted? By using a Freitag, are we supposed to glean off Ben's life philosophies? Did the wardrobe department not expect common movie goers to know about Freitag? Why Freitag and not a plain canvas bag? For a movie that only rolled out brand names after the Blackjack team started winning at Las Vegas, why was there mention of a brand now? Ben's entire wardrobe, short of the winning streak in Vegas, was completely nondescript and brand-less. He wasn't even wearing Chucks or some other easily identifiable footwear. So why a Freitag bag?

I couldn't understand why I was so fixated on this. Was I merely pulling off Lost fanboy tendencies and inflicting meaning into every single happening? Have I perhaps chanced upon some kind of anal-retentive brand association characteristic that was previously lying dormant? Why was this Freitag issue holding up so much of my attention?? And then it dawned on me.

The reason why I was wasting my efforts focusing on one minute detail that occurred four minutes into the film was because the other two hours of the movie as a whole was simply not riveting. At all. For a movie to be about cheating the institution at high stakes gambling, 21 was very dull and lacked any real suspense. Everything about the film was very by-the-numbers, observe:

Insert one bland but pretty main protagonist; Check.
Insert one love interest who will inexplicably end up falling for bland pretty main protagonist; Check.
Insert background team members with random quirky behaviour; one kleptomaniac, one 'other female' and jealous loser, all present.
Insert evil antagonist with mysterious past and dead eyes; Kevin Spacey, there you are!
Insert flashy scenes of Las Vegas montages, yay!-we're-rich-watch-us-now sequences, unimportant background actors, people from 'The Man'-type institutions; all here.
Final double cross action during the climax? Yawn.

It should have been gold. I remember watching the story of the MIT Blackjack Team way back when and being completely absorbed. What went wrong between transcribing the story from real life to celluloid, well, a weak script and an even weaker director would be my guess. And as much as I adore Jim Sturgess, casting him as a 21 year old works about as well as casting Jessica Simpson in any other role but the chesty dumb blonde. But not to worry. At the rate Hollywood is revisiting old material recently, there should be a new updated version of this story in, say about five years. Three, if they get really desperate, and they decide to stop making Adam Sandler-type movies featuring Adam Sandler. Let's hope that messenger bags aren't the sole attention grabber in the next hypothetical film.

* = The threat is a direct line used in the interrogation scene in the movie. I'm keeping it and using it for future references.

[edit]: Read this article by Wired Magazine instead. It's infinitely more interesting than the movie.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Movie Review: Smother

(a Google Image search for the movie poster turned up a bunch of explicit pictures. Something tells me my kid-safe search option is not turned on.)

Anyhow, we're talking this Smother, starring one laconic Dax Shepard, one gorgeous Liv Tyler, one [adjective] Diane Keaton and one underused Mike White. A recipe for comedy gold, if you were me, would be fooled into thinking. Oh, but what a mistake!

Let it be known that death by smothering is more enticing than sitting through another minute of this insult to film. Unless the intention was to glorify lazy comedies with an overly-convoluted plot that relied heavily on overacting to deliver the set up, punch line and entire gag. If that was indeed the intention, bravo, dear Tim Rassmussen and Vince Di Meglio, for you have achieved a film unlike any other; It is virtually the anti-thesis to a comedy. Film-making schools will look upon it in the future and analyze what not to do in making a film of this genre. I think I speak on behalf of my generation when I say, thank you for your contribution. May you pave the way to a future filled with quality comedies that actually incite laughter.

That is all.

Friday, May 9, 2008

For Your Consideration: Michael Jackson

Shaaaaamona! (This is how I remember Michael Jackson best.)

I recently purchased 'Michael Jackson Number Ones' from JB Hi-Fi and as ridiculous as this sounds, considering I like to consider myself quite the little pop culture trivia enthusiast, I just found out that that song that I never knew the title of which always annoyed me whenever I hear it on the radio is 'Human Nature'! I feel like an absolute retard, but what else is new?

Listening to MJ's major hits reminds me that behind the myth and tabloid fodder of the freakish persona lies one really talented pop star. When he's got it, oh, he can't stop till you get enough, alright. Personally, I like the guy. I think he's really misunderstood, and as a result of growing up in a non-traditional environment, doesn't always act according to the traditional rules that govern life. I mean, cut the guy some slack. He's been groomed to be a star at the age of us when most of us are only starting to learn the difference between our toes from our arses. All that inappropriate sleeping arrangements around young children at the Neverland Ranch, I believe, he did with innocent and pure intentions. If I had to guess, I suppose the behaviour stems from an underdeveloped sense of right/wrong that comes from the bizarro toxic spotlight of fame acheived at a young age. Drew Barrymore, another victim of that dreaded light, was an alcoholic by age 13! When you pair the excesses of fame with unhealthy mentors or lack of guidance, you get, well, Britney Spears circa 2007 (who by the way contributed to some of the best pop music in the late '90s- early '00s, coincidentally).

It shouldn't matter what skin colour he was/is. Or that he named his kids the awesomely ostentatious, Prince I and Prince II. Hell, it don't matter if he may in fact not have a nose left. We need to take a step back, separate the weird from the talent and realize that when push comes to shove, Michael Jackson deserves your respect for being a total badass and making some of the best damn songs in pop history.

In the disposable arena of pop music, MJ churned out some of the most definitive hits of our entire generation. I'm pretty sure most of us can remember the exact moment we first witnessed the insane 'Thriller' music video and our reaction to it (1994; "WHAT THE FUCK?! WHOAAA" was mine). How about 'Black or White'? As a child of the 90s, my family owned a copy of HIStory on laserdisc and that poor music disc was played to every inch of it's brutally short plastic life. Maybe it's my own bias. I've heard the saying that the music that you end up loving most will be the one that you grew up with. So my memories of MJ are his prime days from the late 80s/early 90s period, which thankfully, was his best.

It kinda was all downhill from there but revisiting Michael Jackson past all the scandals, shenanigans and accusations, I'm happy to report the self-proclaimed 'King of Pop' remains just that.

Verdict: An oldie, but a goodie.

Random trivia: At age 9, I won a trivia contest because the final question was "Which pop singer is infamous for wearing one glove on his hand?"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Linkety LinkLink: Childrens Books and Vanity Fair

"I don’t know why I enjoyed killing teenagers so much, then I realized I have one at home."
- R.L. Stine, children's book author extraordinaire
via Yale Daily News.

As a young bookworm working my way to really, really, ridiculously bad eyesight, I devoured the Fear Street series in its entirety. The Goosebumps appeal was just slightly out of my age group and Christopher Pike, was way more explicit than I could handle (seriously, read it again now and you'd be surprised at how porn-y and sexed up the content is), so it was all about that one weird street where the supernatural and freaks reside.


And completely unrelated but this retrospective of the annual Vanity Fair Hollywood covers by the Film Experience blog provides a really good indepth coverage of those featured, pre- and post-VF cover.

Annie Leibovitz shot the very first cover back in 1995. Every year since, she's continued to shoot the three page layout for Vanity Fair featuring Hollywood's up-and-coming talents of said year. While some of the actors featured haven't gone on to do much, it's really interesting seeing the trajectory of everyone's career and the Film Experience blog does a great job of chronicling just that.

This is 1995. Featuring from left to right: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Uma Thurman, Nicole Kidman, Patricia Arquette, Linda Fiorentino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julianne Moore, Angela Bassett and Sandra Bullock. Read about it here.

This is 1996. Featuring from left to right; Tim Roth, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthey McConaughey, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rapoport, Stephen Dorff, Jonathan Schaech, David Arquette, Will Smith and Skeet Ulrich. Read about it here.

This is 1997. From left to right; Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Claire Danes, Renee Zellweger, Alison Elliot, Minnie Driver, Jada Pinkett, Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron and Fairuza Balk. Read about it here.

This is 1998, one of the better covers with most of those featured still relevant in the industry at present time. From left to right; Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn, Natalie Portman, Djimon Hounsou, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Claire Forlani, Gretchen Mol, Christina Ricci, Edward Furlong and Rufus Sewell. Read about it here.

This is 1999. Left to right; Adrien Brody, Thandie Newton, Monica Potter, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Stiles, Leelee Sobieski, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Polley, Norman Reedus, Anna Friel, Omar Epps, Kate Hudson, Vinessa Shaw, and Barry Pepper. You can read about it here.

This post will be updated when more covers are released by the self-described Hollywood Historian.