September 27, 2009

Say Anything (Else)

**If you hear the 1989 cassette cut of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" blaring outside your window, don't call the cops. Find a condom.**

There are few things in this world that make me feel romantic.

1989's "Say Anything" is one of those things I have experienced in my life that accurately, if somewhat ineptly, captures the feeling of falling deeply, and irrevocably, in love. When John Cusack lifts that boombox over his head and makes those nervous facial twitches, I can't help but going week in the knees like Eagles' tackle Jerome McDougle at the prospect of actually playing football.

And to put my statement in context: although I am a sucker for romance films (I cried during "A Walk to Remember" like I hadn't cried since Littlefoot's mother died at the beginning of "The Land Before Time"), I never get involved with romantic subplots. If the badass hero of an action movie is in love with his sexy heroine, I just go along with it without ever actually batting an eyelash. But a pathetic, lovable kickboxer played by John Cusack standing outside my window blaring the top 1000 pop hits of the 1980s one by one from a jimmyrigged cassette player? I would make love to him on the spot, and not just because he's my boyfriend.

But, since I am The Midnight Movie Guy and not The "Sleepless in Seattle" Guy or The "such a pussy, why won't he stop crying in his room every time he hears Coldplay on the radio?" Guy, I might as well point out the aspects of this movie that get me every time.

First, "Say Anything" starts with the great granddaddy of cold opens. It's an ice opening. A liquid nitrogen opening. A breezy day on the north pole of Pluto opening. Starting from the moment the Twentieth Century Fox tag appears, it takes less than 15 seconds for us to go through exactly one establishing shot, two title-overs (the director's name and "Say Anything..."), and a plot-heavy opening line accompanied by someone absently noodling on a guitar. I had to restart the movie THREE TIMES because each time I thought I had missed some sort of exposition, establishing shot, or theme music that would make this opening less frigid. To make it worse, the "beginning" that's supposed to happen after the cold open never actually comes. Instead, we're launched into an incomprehensible mess of cinema verite screenwriting, drunk cinematography, and teenybopper direction which, when put together, could be called "romantic comedy" only by those who have a very forgiving definition thereof. If you're the kind of person who needs to be lulled into suspending your hard-earned disbelief, forget this shit and stick with the slowest film ever made.

And what follows is the mushiest possible romance late-80's realism will allow-- consider, for example the name "Loyd Dobbler." It's as if a group of Hollywood screenwriters locked themselves in a room and brainstormed until they came up with the most awkward combination of sounds in the English language and slammed them together with two capital letters. Cusack delivers his lines with the nervous rush of Dennis Miller with a speech impediment, and comes off simultaneously witless and witty in a way that makes you want to kiss him every time he says "...um," which is far more often than any other actor could pull off.

But by far the most annoying aspect of Say Anything is the screenwriting. The screenwriter uses a trick where each scene begins in the middle of a conversation, and then suddenly cuts off before the end. We never linger or stay to listen, as if the cameraman had such severe attention deficit disorder that he couldn't follow a whole conversation without his head exploding like a David Cronenberg extra. Not only will the scenes suddenly stop, but with them goes the entire soundtrack! If you ever want to hear more than eight measures of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," you better go out and buy the cassette because the sound editor aborts the song mid-lyric like a musical George Tiller.

But for everything bad I could say about the writing or the direction or the music or the cinematography, the last scene could remind even this cold-hearted cynical moviegoer what a good romance should be. I don't care if the rest of the movie feels like a frenetic late-80's music video, When Cusack and Ione Skye sit on the airplane to England together, waiting for the "ding" of the seatbelts sign, suddenly the artfulness of the work shines through in a simple act of symbolic realism. It's like Waiting for Godot except instead of Godot we've got the rest of the 1990s waiting for us, and any artist that could say that could say anything.

I would fly off with John Cusack any day.

September 22, 2009

The Art of "Cusack Booming" Part Two

**Warning. If you wake up hearing the 1986 LP cut of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" blaring outside your window, call the cops.**

I present to you the winning Cusackboom.



...and a few of my favorites.



You know what makes things funny? Middle School boys.



And, finally, one that is very slow to start but has OVER 70 PEOPLE CusackBooming various parts of the city.

September 19, 2009

The Art of "Cusack Booming" Part One

In 1989, John Cusack appeared in "Say Anything" wearing a trench-coat and lifting up a boom-box blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" at maximum volume next to his lost love's window. It was the musical equivalent of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene, except instead of "would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?" we get piano synathsizer, a hi-hat player with an itchy foot, and Peter Gabriel crooning "in your eyes: the light, the heat. In your eyes: I am complete." Best of all: I still tear up at this.

And, in preparation for reviewing "Say Anything" next week, I present a challenge to teh internets. I want you to take this touching scene and remix the hell out of it, and then post the videos to YouTube or any other place you feel fit. Let the world know that you're willing to make yourself heard by standing around in a trench-coat and letting pop music do the self expression for you. What would you express? Who would you Cusack Boom?

Here is a perfect example of what I'm looking for:



And if you send the videos to me or link me, I will embed them.

September 17, 2009

John Cusack, Professional Hunk

**Warning. If you are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant with spoilers, for the love of god keep reading.***

Over the last few days a lot of strange things have happened in my life.

I moved to a new apartment, got a haircut, and started classes. I made new friends, became single, and even watched two straight men shotgun nitrous oxide between their naked bodies during a showing of Wild Zero.

But one very important thing happened in the last few days: I rekindled my love affair with actor John Cusack.

John and I are inseparable. He? An aging but remarkably youthful 80's teen star who never quite transitioned to the 90's. I? A youthful but remarkably aged child born in the 80's who never quite got the whole "sit down and shut up" thing in kindergarten. We were made for each other. So, just for a moment, I'm going to put aside furiously masturbating to Peter Gabriel 8-tracks and talk about my one true love.

This weekend John and I stopped our pointless in-fighting and constant disagreements and bonded over a movie we both loathe: High Fidelity. John loathes this movie because it's a romance that proves that he is little more than just a cute piece of the 1980's who still romances girls who listen to Bowling for Soup. I loathe this movie because it's actually passably good. So passably good, in fact, that there is very little to say about it except that it feels like something John should have done back when he was popular with people other than me.

Why, you ask, do I have a crush on John Cusack? Why is The Midnight Movie Guy infatuated with this two-bit hack who could never quite live up to the few seconds he spent waving a boombox around like that mildly retarded strangler from Do The Right Thing? Because John Cusack is one affable motherfucker. He plays the "well, I dono" hero: he has the ability to let the audience see things through his eyes, just like Keanu Reeves if Reeves could move his face properly.

Also, aside from the aforementioned musical stalker incident, it's really easy to forget that John Cusack is even in the movies he headlines. Can you remember the last time you sat down in a theater and said to yourself, "I'm really looking forward to this John Cusack movie?" Or, for that matter, do you remember the year you last walked out of a movie theater saying: "John Cusack was really brilliant?" What's remarkable about Cusack is his ability to pull an Alan Cumming and be in a lot of different movies, but somehow manage to be so bland, so normal, that you forget he's even an actor. To prove my point, I'm willing to bet one Golden Internet that you can't name three movies starring John Cusack.

(Sixteen Candles, Being John Malkovich, Say Anything)

Okay, yeah, whatever. But I'll bet you two Golden Internets you've seen at least one of these titles and couldn't tell John Cusack from the Key Grip.

(Igor, War Inc, 1408, The Ice Harvest, Must Love Dogs, Runaway Jury, Con Air, Grosse Point Blank, The Thin Red Line, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, True Colors, Broadcast News, High Fidelity)

Winning so far? I'll bet you four Golden Internets you didn't know that John Cusack played Dimitri in Disney's Anastasia. Ana-fucking-stasia.

And another thing: did any of those movies I mentioned pop out as particularly John Cusack? My point exactly.

Currently my boyfriend John is working on "2012," the new film by Roland Emmerich. Roland Emmerich is a filmmaker who has garnered his entire career on exploiting an innate desire in the heart of every New Yorker: the undying, untamed longing to burn that fucking city to the ground. What Michael Bay is to explosions, Roland Emmerich is to giant, city-smashing tidal waves that always manage to knock off the head of the Statue of Liberty, which then goes on to have wacky adventures in various inappropriate Burroughs of New York. It's like Sex in the City except instead of women it's the severed head of Lady Liberty and instead of upscale nightclubs everyone is running for their lives from Godzilla!

Can you imagine John Cusack in that movie? Neither can I. So before I go, I'll leave you with the greatest scene in Cusack's career.

September 10, 2009

TOP GUN Part II

**Warning. This post may be phrased in a way that is offensive to people who know anything at all about military service. Just like this movie.**

Gentlemen.

You're here because you are the best of the best of the best of the best of the best. You are the elite. Nowhere in the world will you find a better group of internet film review blog readers. You rock. No, seriously. If any of you were women I would make sweet honeysuckle Tom Cruise love to you at the time, position, and location of your choosing.

And for that reason, I have assembled you here in order to turn you into the best our military has to offer. You are more than just a generic super-team consisting of one tough, independent yet ruggedly handsome guy, one awkward nerdy guy, one cynical hard-boiled veteran, and at least one but less than three smart-yet-sexy women who only wear glasses to look smart. You are the best of all those super-teams put together. You're my team.

At this school you will take your already l33t protagonist powers and, over the course of a few short montages, become powerful enough to fulfill your super-secret, plot-irrelevant mission. What's that, you say? You demonstrated sufficient strength, skill or understanding in the beginning of the film to easily defeat the final bad guy? Hogwash! You're the best of the best, which is why you obviously are here to become better.

Not only that, but you will face demons from your past and become a better person for it. Don't you want to find out what happened to your mysteriously dead or missing best friend/parent/spouse? Don't you ever want to get past your paralyzing fear of whatever it is that traumatized you as a child by finding out that trauma was caused by our underdeveloped enemies? Don't you want those sepia-tone slow motion flashbacks of a running woman with a concerned look on her face to stop, or at least not happen while you're in the middle of battle?

But being the best has it's cost, however. At least one of you will die dramatically before you're done here. This will not actually affect the outcome of your mission, but it will teach the rest of you the value of friendship. Harsh? Yes. But you must make sacrifices to be the best of the best of the best of the best.

Also, don't make a lot of jokes. You can tell from my gruff, paternal voice that I don't like jokes, people who play jokes, or anything the rest of humanity considers funny. As a result, if you're the comedic foil, you're ten times more likely to die.

Horribly.

In addition to your offscreen combat training, we will also train you in the art of diplomacy. Look at all the women around you. You're going to fall in love with one of them, but then have a shaky, improbable relationship that culminates with a long, dramatic confession that might actually happen in the middle of combat. Accept this as part of your training.

Now, let me introduce you to whomever it is who is in charge of the gadgets you're going to break as soon as you touch them. He's going to tell you all about the laws of physics you're going to ignore, and give you a primer on using your super-secret military technology in highly improbable, wildly illogical ways. He's an expert because he's older than you and wears a jacket, and probably has a voice at least half as gruff as mine.

At the end of your training you will be put through one last test, which will either be something simple you were unable to do at the beginning of the montage, or something incredibly dangerous that will get you killed. You will be trained for this, but you'll still feel the terrible wining of abused violins every time you gulp hard or start sweating. These are the things you have to do in order to be the best.

That's it, gentlemen. Welcome to the Top Gun Academy for Protagonist Cockbags!

September 8, 2009

TOP GUN Part One: The Soundtrack

**Over the next few weeks, I will be posting three spoiler-filled reviews of the 1986 blockbuster TOP GUN. Did I mention the spoilers?**

There are a lot of good things that have happened to me at sunset.

I had my first kiss at sunset. Before my grandfather passed away we watched a long orange sunset disappear over the icy Atlantic. Just last year I shared a beer with a beautiful woman and watched the sun go down over the spring leaves of Oregon. But not once, not in all the sunsets I've seen in my entire life, did the Top Gun Anthem fail to start blaring out of my ears like the half dead ghost of Glam-Rock out of the 80's. It's become part of the experience.



If you're like me and suffer from Top Gun Soundtrack Syndrome, I suggest that in lue of downing a bottle of roofinol with a bottle of Jack every morning, you seek professional consultation in the form of a wildly superior John Williams soundtrack.

Every single freakin' time that "nao-nao-nao-na-na-na-na-nao-nao-na-na-NA-na-na-NA-NAAA-NAAA" plays in my head, it's like my inner DJ just OD'd on painkillers after locking the booth and putting in the most annoying record ever made. Okay, so it's not that bad. I just wish I could enjoy the image of a setting sun without thinking of Maverick and Goose attempting a 4G Inverted Dive against a MiG-28 for the express person of giving someone the finger.

Top Gun is a Tony Scott movie produced by the legendary Jerry Bruckheimer, a man so powerful he once took a Technical College of Passidena dropout whose only claim to fame was a few "Got Milk" commercials and an unintelligible Meatloaf video and turned him into Michael Bay, Power Director. Top Gun was Bruckheimer's attempt to captured the essence of the 80s. In fact, I would venture to say that the seminal moment of that whole decade occurs within a single scene of Top Gun. That moment is when pre-Scientology Tom Cruise makes awkward love to an excessively permed Kelly McGillis as blue-tint silk drapes billow in the background and the retarded thumps of Take My Breath Away start... for the sixth time. I dare you to respond with something more essentially 80's than that.

But why do I associate this movie with sunsets, you ask? Because Top Gun is a movie about three things: Fighter Jets, Tom Cruise sex, and the Jeopardy category "Things that Happen at While the Sky is Orange." Every single scene in this movie, from the opening credits to the very last shot, happen with a setting sun in the background. There are even scenes where the opening shot happens at sunset, then the scene is shot during the day, and then the ending shot is at sunset again. Sunsets in the real world last for 8 minutes. Sunsets in the Jerry Bruckheimer world last longer than the breakfast shift and Denny's.

But there is one song, beyond the Top Gun Anthem, that has stuck with me through those many long years. That song is Kenny Loggin's Danger Zone, which is an 80's power ballad whose lyrics appear to have been written on the dare to incorporate every slang term in aviation into one highly repetitive verse.

Danger Zone isn't just a little bit repetitive. It's very repetitive. The refrain goes: "Highway to danger zone. Gonna take it right into the danger zone. Highway to the danger zone. Right into the danger zone." This feeds into the first of the 6 rules to the Top Gun drinking game, which is to drink whenever anyone or anything says the word "dangerous" or any variation thereof. If you played with this rule alone, you could be decently buzzed by the time the (8 minute) opening credits are over, and be unconscious by the time Maverick is going through his aviation crisis.

Nevertheless, for all the invocations of "danger" in this movie, none of the scenes actually make the audience feel any of that danger. A practiced movie viewer will know from the moment the jets streak across the sky and a generic military voice fills us in on the plot exactly how things are going to go down. By the last scene, watching Tom Cruise blow up Russian fighter jets like pinatas filled with bombs is not only tired and unsurprising, but markedly uninspiring as well.

But there is more to this movie. Next Tuesday.

September 3, 2009

Enemy at the Gates (or Behind the Lens Cap?)

**Warning. This review contains epic amounts of fail. So much fail, I might add, that it is questionable whether or not there is room for anything BUT fail in this movie. Also, spoilers.**

I first watched Enemy at the Gates on my couch in my apartment, after finding it free on one of those sketchy offshore servers that have been holding down the music industry like a dominatrix during Burning Man. It was a nice night. Then I was thrown into a violent rage.

Enemy at the Gates, a A-list historical drama from 2001, was supposed to be for the Battle of Stalingrad what Saving Private Ryan was for D-Day. Both are films that are epic in scope, filled with soldiers and the people who love them, and feature "sympathetic" looks at the gruff-and-tumble vets with cigarettes dangling out of the side of their perpetually mud-covered faces while they complain that "they're getting too old for this." Though don't be fooled into thinking they're equivalent movies, however. Saving Private Ryan won Best Picture and was, at the time, the most realistic war movie ever put to film. Enemy at the Gates featured a Jude Law sex scene.

Saving Private Ryan focused on American troops deployed in France on a mission for country and brotherhood, facing harrowing combat that taught them the true nature of patriotism and the meaning of freedom. Enemy at the Gates spends so much energy bashing it's communist characters that the Nazis look like schnitzel-eating good guys who want to conquer Europe in the name of puppies.

Saving Private Ryan discussed deep-seated issues of patriarchy and fraternity in the American military institution. Enemy at the Gates had a love triangle so inane that it made Pearl Harbor's subplots look like an epic romance.

Did I mention that, in the worst makeup decision since Orson Welles smeared shit all over Charleston Heston's face, both films use mud as the primary cosmetic device? Were the filmmakers not aware that even people on the battlefield have been known to wash their faces? (How did their faces even get that dirty in the first place? Are their pillows made of coal?)

Enemy at the Gates is about Jude Law, a naive Russian boy, who grows up to become the Soviet Union's most famous sniper with the help of his good friend, a commissar in the Communist Party. Between them there is a woman, Rachel Weisz, who is actually a very talented actress if you watch any other movie, especially if she's not in it. The movie takes place entirely during the battle of Stalingrad, one of the most heroic battles in the war's history. Even Cold War American historians thought that Stalingrad a heroic tale of survival and defiance in the face of Fascism. Enemy at the Gates doesn't buy into that rhetoric, however, and prefers to show wave-after-wave of Russian soldiers getting mowed down in slow motion while dramatic music plays like a cheap knockoff of a Sam Peckinpah movie with slightly fewer Mexicans.

But when it comes to crowning achievements in badness, the ending of this movie takes the cake. I won't reveal it, but I will say that one of the main characters makes a speech about how socialism will never work because of love triangles, and then kills himself. I raged. I threw a fit. If I had been in the theater, I might have actually punched something in the face. This movie pretends so hard to be good. It tries so hard to be that seminal big-budget film about WWII that could get post 9/11 audiences to open their hearts and pocketbooks to the War on Terror. Unfortunately, some war movies just don't know when to quit. The rest of us, on the other hand, should quit before we're at the gates.