Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

 

 

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Tonight at 9:30pm at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, the monthly Kevin Geeks Out show returns with KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT DEADLY WOMEN!

 

Kevin Maher, a writer and comedian who just plain always puts on a good show (and who has recently become a Daily Grindhouse contributor!), will host the event, which involves a screening of various film clips related to the “Deadly Women” theme, with color commentary from a variety of speakers. I myself will be there to talk about — what else? — Pam Grier movies.

 

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Here’s the trailer for the show:

 

trailer – KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT DEADLY WOMEN at Nitehawk Cinema from Kevin Maher on Vimeo.

 

 

There are still a couple tickets left, but literally only a couple. Hope to see some of our New York people there!

 

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For some idea of what goes on at these things, here are a couple expanded editions of my talks at a couple past KGO events:

 

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These are some words I wrote four years ago about a comedian who many people never got the chance to know, one worth rediscovering.

 

 

 

“You know how it ends? We all die, that’s how it fucking ends, and you can’t bring your iPod. Sorry!” — Mike DeStefano.

 

 

Mike DeStefano was a known name in New York comedy, steadily gaining in widespread fame. I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t heard of him until the seventh season of Last Comic Standing, where he made the final five contestants, and at first, I didn’t even like him that much. His voice was loud and abrasive and exactly reminiscent of those big-mouths who stand out in Bronx crowds, the kind of pricks who spill peanuts and popcorn on you in the stands at a Yankees game. He definitely had a distinctive look, unconventional among many of today’s comedians, with his spiky gray hair and tattooed arms and a furrowed brow that looks not unlike the Scottish actor Brian Cox. DeStefano’s manner was equally brash and confrontational – when he got voted off the show, he told America what they could do with their vote.

 

 

That’s the moment I became a fan. A little late to the party, sure, but I made up for lost time by enjoying the tons of clips of DeStefano’s comedy on YouTube and elsewhere. His one recorded album is called OK KARMA and it remains a refreshing blast of noxious energy and battered honesty. It’s still one of my favorite comedy albums ever. It helped that he was a Bronx guy – I grew up the next town over, admittedly in somewhat more comfortable circumstances, but believe me, I know a ton of guys like Mike DeStefano, so I know a little something about what he’s talking about. I’ve walked the same beat, though his stories are way better. If I say I know a ton of guys like him, I’ve rarely heard anyone express themselves as clearly, as simply, and as recognizably. He might sound a little angry, but that’s good, isn’t it? There’s a lot about this world that should make you angry. If you can live in contemporary American society without getting angry sometimes, then I hope you like the taste of sand, because you’re an ostrich up to your neck in it.

 

 

DeStefano’s comedy was unapologetically angry, born of real hard living and pain. In the startling episode of WTF where he was interviewed by host Marc Maron, he laid out the wreckage of his past in raw detail. DeStefano used Maron’s show, one of the most thoughtful and probing venues anywhere in America, to talk about his HIV-positive status. It was just one more brave admission in a long line of them. DeStefano’s rap wasn’t intended to get sympathy or accolades for himself – he talked about his substance abuse issues and his HIV diagnosis in order to show that anyone could overcome similar histories and still live a worthy life. He spoke about recovery and comedy with the zeal of a preacher, and it was both inspiring and hilarious. This was a guy who was on the front lines of truth-telling. He spoke to his own truth, emboldened with the confidence speaking truth gives a person, and personally speaking, it was a truth that I can recognize and that I happen to believe. Every word I ever heard him say about religion, race, and sexuality was more accurate and concise than anybody I ever agreed with who wasn’t nearly as funny. Maybe that’s why I was initially, temporarily put off to his comedy: Because I knew it was true. This was a great comic who had important things to say.

 

 

Mike DeStefano died on Sunday March 6th, at the age of 44.

 

 

 

 

He had been touring a one-man show based on his life and experiences, to strong reviews. Could have been the breakthrough he deserved. I never met this man, and the loss belongs to his family and friends alone, but I still can’t help feeling a great sadness. We really can’t afford to lose people like this one. There aren’t a lot of people in the public eye who are so fearless in speaking such brutal, twisted, and – yes – loving thoughts. Mike DeStefano was a truth-belching bulldog of zen and comedy, and we can only hope that he was able to inspire enough people and change enough minds in his brief career that losing him so soon makes any kind of cosmic sense.

 

 

Mike-Destefano

 

 

 

 

 

 

GHOSTBUSTERS 2

 

 

My love for the original GHOSTBUSTERS is infinite, and the sequel is the only one I got to see in the theaters, so it took me a lot of distance before I could ever admit to the flaws of GHOSTBUSTERS 2. I get it now. It’s not a great movie. It isn’t the stone classic the first one inarguably is. Fine. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of goodness happening around the edges of the under-cooked main plot about rivers of slime and demon paintings and weirdly-accented demon-painting familiars.

 

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For one thing, I’m not about to overlook any movie where cinematographer Michael Chapman gets to shoot New York City. The man shot some of my favorite New York movies ever — TAXI DRIVER, THE WANDERERS, RAGING BULL, SCROOGED, and QUICK CHANGE — and here he’s taking over for the legendary László Kovács, who gave the original GHOSTBUSTERS (and the New York City of 1983/1984) such a timeless look. Chapman gives us a movie that is more recognizably 1989, but it’s still got more widescreen pop than most comedies ever get near.

 

EXONERATED

 

For another, I will argue for the comic excellence of the opening bunch of “Whatever Happened To?” opening scenes, which establish what these guys have been up to since they saved Manhattan from paranormal ruin five years previous – Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler has gone back to academics, while Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz and Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore are playing kids’ birthday parties. Best of all, Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman is making a living as a TV psychic talk-show host. (Which Sigourney Weaver’s character somewhat predicted in the original, when they first met!)

 

WORLD OF THE PSYCHIC

 

This isn’t a rehash of the first movie; it’s a believable, logical, surprising, and very funny extension of what would most likely be happening five years after the first movie ended. GHOSTBUSTERS 2 doesn’t really get into trouble until the basic plot kicks in, but even then there are still great bits such as Rick Moranis as former accountant Louis Tully, now representing the Ghostbusters in court since he’s all they can afford.

 

ESQUIRE

 

Despite whatever flaws the film may or may not have, all of the character beats between the main guys, and particularly between Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver, feel completely right to me. This is five years after these dudes saved the world and since Venkman got the girl, but in the interim that romance petered out (no pun intended) for realistic relationship reasons. Just because two people kiss at the end of the movie doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be together forever. Is there another sequel that has addressed something this real? As goofy and corny as it is in so many places, GHOSTBUSTERS 2 is also a movie about a guy who realized he let one of the good ones get away. And now she’s got an infant son. Bill Murray plays those moments so well. “You know, I should have been your father. I mean, I could have been. ” Am I the only guy who’s ever gone on Facebook and seen a baby picture on the wall of some long-ago girl and thought something similar? Or is that just more evidence of my own weirdness?

 

ORANGE NOSE

 

More than anything, it’s just a pleasure to have this group assembled again. I’d rather hang with these characters in a problematic movie than most other characters anywhere else. GHOSTBUSTERS 2 gives Sigourney Weaver more of a chance to interact with Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd than she did in the first movie. Harold Ramis didn’t act too much after this movie, nor did Rick Moranis come to think of it. Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray never teamed up again, to my knowledge. And what a pleasure to get to spend more time than before with Ernie Hudson, as likable an actor as I could ever name. (Also, an actor with access to the Fountain Of Youth — he looks five years younger this time around.)

 

DON'T LOOK GOOD

 

 

There are a few regrettable scenes to skip past (i.e. the ghost baby carriage; whatever that pink thing in the bathtub is supposed to be) and Randy Edelman’s score is nowhere near as iconic and lovely as Elmer Bernstein’s work on the original, but I’m a person who’d rather look at the assets than the demerits. I’m an assets man. Perfect movies are pretty rare. Sometimes you have to yield your critical eye a little and loosen up. There’s no way this thing is a total wash. If you’re combining Harold Ramis with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd you can’t help but come up with a ton of hyper-specific and hyper-quotable dialogue, and if you’ve got Bill Murray on board you’ve got the best comedic leading man of the past few decades, and that’s the value of GHOSTBUSTERS 2. So there.

 

For more on the incredible Harold Ramis, who the world lost this year, please see this tribute.


@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

Parts of this piece originally appeared over on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

 

ONE OF THE FETTUCINIS.

ONE OF THE FETTUCINIS.

GHOSTBUSTERS 2

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

 

As soon as it hit theaters, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was met with a surprising and vehement pushback. It’s surprising because a new Martin Scorsese film is generally met with critical reverence, but prominent outlets such as the New Yorker, the Village Voice, New York Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Time, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post all took a dump on this one. And if that sounds like a lot, you ought to see the amount of online thinkpieces scolding the movie’s supposed endorsement of greed, misogyny, and misanthropy. While I love to see people talking passionately about a Martin Scorsese movie in 2013 (and now 2014), I think the people who have been decrying THE WOLF OF WALL STREET for supposedly glorifying its subject need to sit down, take a breath, relax, and then take a second look at it. Does this film, at a breezy three hours, make the story of fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort entertaining? Yeah, at three hours it had probably better. Does it condone his amoral behavior, his criminal actions, his borderline sociopathic worldview? Not for a second.

 

LEO DOLLARS

 

The real Jordan Belfort is in this movie, for the record. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a version of him throughout the film, but in the very last scene, there’s a cameo by the actual guy. He appears briefly at the top of the movie’s final scene, as the one introducing DiCaprio-as-Belfort at a speaking engagement, and I’d like to tell you something about my viewing experience here: I hated that guy on sight. His smirking face, his gratingly irritating voice; it makes my hand curl into a fist just thinking about it. I didn’t even know that role was performed by Jordan Belfort until the end credits rolled. His appearance almost took me out of the movie, and not because I knew who he was. My thoughts went something like, “Jesus Christ, that’s the most obnoxious extra ever.”

 

PIXAR'S WALLEYE

 

So Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t playing Jordan Belfort, not exactly. DiCaprio’s performance is charming and entertaining, and it needs to be, or the movie couldn’t hold its audience for a fraction of its running time. A movie can satisfy the needs of its audience while also delivering a message. DiCaprio’s performance is a vessel which delivers the moral mission of the movie. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET doesn’t glorify Jordan Belfort; it uses him. He’s displayed as a parable. People are angry to think Jordan Belfort got paid for the rights to his life story. I get that. But consider the case of Henry Hill, the man who provided the source material for GOODFELLAS. Sure, he was played by the handsome and charming Ray Liotta, and yes, he probably got paid. Does anybody watch GOODFELLAS wishing they were Henry Hill? In real life, after he came out of hiding, he had debilitating substance abuse problems and basically became a member of Howard Stern’s Wack Pack, and not even one who’s beloved, like Beetlejuice or Eric The Actor.

 

MARTY PITCHES IN

 

When contemplating the moral message of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, we are helped greatly by considering the track record of the man who made it. This isn’t the guy’s controversial debut film. Haven’t we been through this cultural conversation before, multiple times, only to finally come to a reasonable consensus? Martin Scorsese is rightly and highly ranked among the most well-regarded of living film directors. Scorsese is a movie-mad Catholic, one of the most thoughtful artists ever to probe the matter of man’s violent nature. He uses film both as the medium of communication and as the metaphorical fuel stoking the fire. This is the man who made THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, about the thoughts of Jesus while hanging upon the cross. Therefore, I do believe Scorsese is someone who is concerned with spirituality and ethics. This is the man who made KUNDUN, a movie which treats the Dalai Lama with reverence. I do not believe Martin Scorsese endorses dwarf-tossing.

 

KAMIKAZE!

 

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET makes people uneasy because it is so thoroughly entertaining. That’s good. That’s a testament to the movie’s effectiveness. After four decades of making and perfecting excellent movies, Scorsese knows how to work an audience like few others. This film spends the majority of its running time showing how Belfort left Wall Street (making the title a bit inaccurate, ironically) because he wanted to start a criminal enterprise even more profitable than the everyday swindling. It shows how selfish and shallow he was, how he hurt people without a second thought during his monomaniacal pursuit of women, drugs, and especially money. It shows how he won over his trophy wife and lost her (Australian actress Margot Robbie, a stunner who does a pitch-perfect New York accent and should have been in the running for all the awards). This guy hits a beautiful woman, one of the worst things a man can do in a movie. The movie doesn’t condemn him, seems impartial in point of fact. Shouldn’t it condemn him? Shouldn’t someone condemn him?

 

AMERICAN DOUCHEBAG

 

Consider how much time is spent showing Belfort’s punishment. It isn’t much. Belfort’s downfall takes up comparatively little screentime, his time in prison confined to one short scene, and even that takes place on an open-air tennis court. This movie shows us everything this bastard did, in gory detail, and then it doesn’t give us the sight of the punishment he deserves. That’s why so many people are troubled by this movie. Jordan Belfort got away with it. He did all those things, and he basically got away with it.

 

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And he’s just one guy.

 

Implicit in the film is that Jordan Belfort is not the only one who was doing what he was doing, that there are plenty who are still doing it. If that bothers us, it should. One reason we love movies is because they are tidier than real life. The good guys win and the bad guys get it in the end. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET gives us all that pleasure and then denies us the pleasure of seeing Jordan Belfort get his come-uppance. It works us up and then it gives us blue balls. That’s what we, as America, deserve. We let these guys get away with it, every day. Our national economy has been raided time and again by predators easily as bad as Jordan Belfort, and they are rewarded, not imprisoned. That’s not politics. That’s a measurable truth. But it’s an unpopular truth, and so it needs to be snuck into people’s minds inside of a yummy dessert. So very far from being an immoral film, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is in fact the most daringly moral film of the year.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

This piece originally appeared in slightly different form on Daily Grindhouse.

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Not sure if National Geographic will agree, but that’s arguably the nature photograph of the year.  This came from the New York news website Gothamist, which reports that it was taken by someone named Chelsea Williams at a restaurant called Samurai Mama in Williamsburg.  That’s all we know at the moment.  Maybe that is all we can ever know.

PETER DINKLAGE

He’s probably there to visit Peter Dinklage or some other famous local, but I like the idea that he’s come to New York to fight crime, the way he did earlier this year in Japan.  Our city needs a protector right about now, if only to stop the out-of-control cartoon characters in Times Square.

BATMAN

Bill Murray versus Batman.  Who would you bet on?

 

@jonnyabomb

Taxi

I walked up the steps from the subway and headed down the sidewalk, the Empire State Building in view. That’s where I work, most days of the week, if you don’t know.  This morning I was running early, which is unusual.  I was checking out a pretty girl walking in front of me, which is extremely usual.  Because I was focused on other things, I didn’t notice the commotion at the corner until I walked right into it.

A small crowd had formed.  In New York, this can mean anything.  A troupe of breakdancers. A cluster of political activists.  An accident.  A drum circle. A runaway sewer wombat.  This particular incident was in fact another instance of that most eternal wellspring of rubberneckery:  A fight.

The man was I think Indian, maybe Sri Lankan.  The woman, it turns out, was from Florida.  I’ll tell you the rest of the story and then you can decide if those details matter.   The man was holding firm to a red suitcase, which the woman was trying to tug away from him.  Their equal but opposing grips formed a kind of clothesline, or human limbo bar, which most of the surrounding civilians were dodging as the central struggle swayed back and forth.  The woman kicked at the man’s midsection.  Once, twice.  He grimaced but refused to relinquish his grip.  She was shouting.  People watched.  None stepped forward.

A thing about me:  If I see a woman struggling against a man, my sympathies instinctively go to the woman.  Huge knight-in-shining-armor complex.

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So I stepped in.  I didn’t much want to, and there was enough time for me to consider minding my own damn business and moving straight past.  And if it were just a run-of-the-mill New York shouting match, I might have.  But witnessing the physicality is what spurred me to action.  I stood between the two and made a call for calm.  I must have had my Moses mojo working, because both of them promptly stopped screaming, although neither relinquished their hold on the suitcase.

With a quick look around from the inside, the situation quickly revealed itself:  A parked taxi cab was stopped in the middle of the three lanes, its hazard lights on, like a pylon in the flow of Manhattan morning traffic.  The man was a taxi driver.  The woman had been his passenger.  She’d flown in to Jersey and hailed a cab in an attempt to make an important meeting, and she didn’t agree with the route he took.  When the cab stopped at a red light, she took her suitcase and got out.  Some of you know that a taxi from any of the airports outside of the city is a pricey prospect.  This lady was ducking out on a substantial fare.  Not only that, but if you know the first thing about taxi companies, you’d know that the cabbie would have to account to his bosses for the lost time.

My point of view immediately shifted.  You’d probably have to hear the way this woman was talking to this man.  “I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”  “Give me back my suitcase.”  “Do not touch my suitcase.”  “I can’t understand a word he says.”  The tone of voice said everything.  ”I can’t understand a word he says.”  In front of him.  To me. To anyone else within earshot. It was the total dismissal of the person she was arguing so viciously with, that rapid turn of the head away from him to talk to anyone else standing nearby, that struck me.  The guy had an accent, sure, but he wasn’t that hard to understand, and besides, his claim was totally reasonable.  She owed him money.  She didn’t like the price — hell, we all get that part — but that didn’t mean she could just kick him and walk away.

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For whatever reason, both agitated parties were looking to me as the arbiter of the situation, like I was some kind of King Solomon or Judge Judy.  All of the other adults on the scene were either staring at the free drama, or yelling their own opinions on the matter as if that’d resolve it.  I can tell you for a fact that all of the yelling was being addressed solely to the cab driver.  If I didn’t see his side of things nobody was going to.  I could understand that it bothered people that he was clamping down on her property, but I could also see why he did it, and that’s why I let him use my phone to call the police.

The saddest, most human detail of the entire experience was the way the cab driver and the blond woman both had their hands on the extended handle of the suitcase until the cops finally showed — which, by the way, was almost half an hour from the time of the call.  You’d think the fact that a stopped cab was blocking a lane on Madison Avenue, one block from the Empire State Building, might have attracted any of the thousands of cops in the area a little sooner.  On this topic, another bystander noted what is of course the subtext of this anecdote, that most potent of calendar dates.  You’d think there’d be more cops, particularly at this moment on this day.

Both man and woman were tethered to that suitcase.  He wanted to go out to the street and move his cab, but he knew that if he did it, the woman would make a break for it without that fare.  So we waited.  And brother, that was a tense wait.  And now, a few hours later, it’s still tense.  The officers on the scene, a man and a woman, took each arguer aside separately along gender lines.  They had the cabbie move his car and took their statements.   They dismissed me from the scene pretty quickly, while that was still going on.

This anecdote is not one with a resolution.  I don’t know what happened after that.  I assume the cops made the lady pay the cab driver and left it at that.  At least I hope so.  She’ll probably get away with having kicked him.  It’s not my job to make her pay for that part.  I’m not Batman.  (Ben Affleck is.)  I did mention the kicking to the cops, but they didn’t seem to care much about the detail.  My concern is that, after I left, it turned into a he-said/she-said two-hander, in which case, the refs in the blue uniforms historically tend to side with the blond person.  But now we’re getting into the arena with all the vaguely troubling things outside my personal ability to do much of anything at all about.

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I know, me, right?  Me, me, me.  This story isn’t remotely all about only me.  Maybe it’s more about a couple issues which are way bigger than me.  Or maybe it isn’t that at all.  Maybe it’s just the kind of dumb thing that happens every day, and maybe I should have stuck with my instincts and minded my own damn business, and maybe the entire reason for that is because I tend to go on these extended post-game philosophical thinking jags.

Then again, if you know me well, or even if you pay any attention to my daily Twitter feed, you know that I tend to find myself inside unusual, dramatic, and/or comical situations pretty much on the regular, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Does everything have its reason?  I still don’t know, even at my advancing age.  Maybe my role is meant to be an embedded reporter in the daily conflagration between the odd and the mundane.  I write, that’s what I do.  If I can spin these things that happen to me and nearby to me into something readable from which someone can infer some kind of meaning, then maybe that gives my day a little extra purpose.  At the very least, it would give some meaning to the fact that this is how I spent this particular morning on this particular day.

@jonnyabomb

sleepy hollow

Sleepy-Hollow

FOX has a new show from the writers of the new STAR TREK which re-envisions Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” for the modern day.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this information.  I grew up on that short story, and on the 1949 Disney retelling.  I grew up not far from Tarrytown where the story is set. I went to haunted hayrides there.  In high school I drew pictures of the Headless Horseman while other kids were trying weed for the first time.  This is a story that has a lot of power for me.  This is a property I know about, more than most.

There’s stuff I like about the promo footage.  I like seeing Clancy Brown (STARSHIP TROOPERS) in anything, although it doesn’t look like he makes it out of the pilot.  I like Nicole Beharie, the female lead, having just seen her in 42 and thinking she made near-angelic sweetness a believable human characteristic there.  I like the idea of the Headless Horseman running rampant through the very bucolic Dobbs Ferry.

But there’s some bizarro stuff in here too.  The premise is that Ichabod Crane, who in this incarnation fought with George Washington, is woken up 250 years into his future, where his nemesis the Horseman has been once again causing trouble.  First of all, that’s Rip Van Winkle, if you know your Irving, but neither that nor the fact that Ichabod has been stripped of his characteristic cowardice is what worries me nearly as much as THE CONSPIRACY.  Oh no, the conspiracy! The back-of-the-dollar-bill spooky-eye pyramid Illuminati conspiracy!  I’m not being sarcastic.  I’m actually concerned.  Concerned that this is going to be turned into NATIONAL TREASURE: THE SERIES.  I don’t watch those movies, the same way I don’t watch DA VINCI CODE movies, because I’m not interested in historical conspiracies.  I’m interested in ghost stories.  Especially when it comes to SLEEPY HOLLOW, I’m interested in the ghosts.  And on top of everything, here they’ve got the spectral swordsman wielding automatic rifles just like he’s Val Kilmer in HEAT.

It’s adequate cause for concern, is all I’m saying.  There are ways to allay worries.  (I am, as always, eminently hirable as consultant on matters of supernatural accuracy.)

Anyway here’s the trailer.  You decide for me.  Keep an eye out for a special guest appearance by the tagline from Tim Burton’s 1999 SLEEPY HOLLOW ad campaign!

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

@jonnyabomb

SALT (2010)

In honor of Angelina Jolie, I’m throwing it back to a good movie worth a look (largely due to Angelina herself), SALT. I originally wrote this in July of 2010.

SALT (2010)

I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this before, but that Angelina Jolie, boy, she is one striking lady. She really does have an uncanny ability to command a camera any time she steps in front of one.  In her new movie SALT, the effect is magnified, seeing as how she happens to be standing in front of a camera that is being wielded by one of the world’s greatest cinematographers, Robert Elswit (who shot all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies and most of George Clooney’s.) Actually, she’s not doing much standing here, but instead running throughout the majority of SALT’s running time, dodging moving vehicles and speeding bullets and loud explosions, but through it all, Elswit never loses track of the movie’s main draw.

This being the internet, you don’t have to look far to read everyone from profound critical types to adolescent droolers and one-handed typers rhapsodizing over Angelina Jolie’s features, particularly her mouth, which consists of full lips and a sly, unpredictable smile. But in truth, the main feature which makes her a born movie star are her eyes. She has eyes which register huge onscreen, and which make you interested to know what she’s thinking. And that’s a large part of why SALT is so effective.

SALT (2010)

For a good length of the movie, you don’t know what the main character, Evelyn Salt, is thinking. Salt is a super-competent CIA agent who is accused by a captive Russian spymaster (played by veteran Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski) of being a sleeper agent for the KGB, which immediately puts her at odds with her mentor, Winter (played by the great Liev Schreiber) and his colleague, Peabody (played by the great Chiwetel Ejiofor.) The Russian spymaster is named Orlov, which immediately made me think of NOSFERATU, which, if intentional, is only one of SALT’s gloriously over-the-top touches that is played totally straight by several great actors and is therefore totally convincing.

Salt claims to be innocent, but she refuses to sit still for the standard interrogation, claiming that she needs to get home to protect her husband (and dog). This is how the chase begins. Winter and Peabody and a small army of heavily-armored agents chase Salt throughout New York City, unable to trust her motives. That’s pretty much the plot. What makes the chase so thrilling and rewarding is the tenor of the thing: We the audience are kept at emotional arm’s distance the whole way, even as we’re given front-row seats to the excellently-staged action. We look in those evocative eyes of Angelina’s and we want to see a good guy there, but we can’t quite trust it, and a couple of very reliable character actors are being convinced on our behalf that she is indeed on the wrong side. Salt’s very behavior begins to be suspect, even though Angelina couldn’t really be a bad guy, now, could she? Could she really be Russian? Are the Russians really still out to get us? (Apparently…) And does Salt really care about that husband after all?

(Maybe not: It’s another canny move on the filmmakers’ part that the husband who Salt is racing to get back to isn’t exactly a perfect dream. He’s written and shot sympathetically, but he’s also a German entomologist, which means he loves bugs and he’s German.  This ain’t exactly Brad Pitt here.)

SALT is a movie about consummate professionals that also happens to be made by consummate professionals. The fast-moving script is by action screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, with uncredited rewrites by Demon’s Resume favorite Brian Helgeland. The effective score is by James Newton Howard. The film was edited by a trio of expert editors, Stuart Baird, John Gilroy, and Steven Kemper. And at the helm is director Phillip Noyce, the strangely-underrated Australian craftsman, who is best known here for his two Jack Ryan movies with Harrison Ford (PATRIOT GAMES and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER.) Noyce also made a much smaller movie back in his native Australia called RABBIT-PROOF FENCE, which is a special little film that I highly recommend.  RABBIT-PROOF FENCE is the work of a director who is interested in human beings, not just the espionage and action and suspense and machinery that he is obviously so skilled in capturing on film. That’s the human touch that he brings to SALT, along with the performance he gets out of his lead actress – fiery yet cold, sensitive yet emotionless, tender yet violent.

SALT (2010)

It’s interesting that, as all the pre-release press has mentioned, SALT was originally meant to star Tom Cruise. If I hadn’t have known that, I wouldn’t have thought it. It doesn’t feel like a Tom Cruise movie. SALT is definitely a star vehicle, and it plays perfectly to the strengths of its star. Angelina Jolie is the main reason that people will (hopefully) come out to see SALT, along with the thoroughly satisfying action setpieces, and having seen it, it’s hard to imagine it with any other lead actor. I thought that KNIGHT & DAY was ultimately the better choice for Tom Cruise – even though, despite it working pretty well as a star vehicle in its own right, it hasn’t really caught on with audiences. A good star vehicle has to serve its lead actor, to bring out what you love or find interesting about them while still finding ways to surprise you.

SALT is a great star vehicle for Angelina Jolie. It’s convincingly badass yet more emotional than the average spy thriller. I don’t know anyone who isn’t an Angelina fan, but in case you somehow aren’t, please give SALT a chance anyway, and do it on the big screen. After the tidal wave caused last week by  INCEPTION, it’s hard to imagine where action movies can go next. Maybe right now and for the time being, the only way to compete is to be thoroughly competent. SALT does that. It’s a great time at the movies, a BOURNE movie with a feminine twist, and if it’s successful enough to earn a sequel, I’d be very happy to see one.

SALT (2010)

@jonnyabomb

 

THE SQUID & THE WHALE (2005)

 

Here’s a movie with some personal relevance to me.  It’s not like I recognized much in THE SQUID & THE WHALE as familiar – Brooklyn is part of my family’s history but it’s not where I personally grew up, my family is smart but not remotely this pretentious, and none of the dramatic specifics of the story have much at all to do with my own upbringing – but the significance of the unusual title turned out to have a whole lot to do with my memories.

 

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THE SQUID & THE WHALE” refers to something that is familiar to any kid who grew up in and around New York City – the “Clash Of The Titans” exhibit in the Museum of Natural History’s Hall Of Ocean Life, wherein a giant squid grapples with a sperm whale, miles under the ocean’s surface.  In the movie, Jesse Eisenberg’s character suggests that he found this exhibit to be scary – I of course loved it.  I definitely preferred the humongous blue whale that hangs suspended over the center of the hall – I would ‘tempt fate’ by standing under it, wondering how the heck that big monster could be held up by such tiny strings.  (I loved learning about animals as a kid, but I preferred to leave physics and engineering mysterious.)

 

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So it’s not the most immediately awesome title, but it carries a subtle evocativeness that I really appreciated.  Writer/director Noah Baumbach was very clever to choose a title that so serves so blatantly as a metaphor for the central conflict of his movie, but by obscuring its meaning with such a specific reference.  The movie is equally smart and thought-provoking; I’m sorry that it took me all this time to get around to seeing it, but I’m glad that it was so worthwhile once I finally did.  The performances by the young actors, Owen Kline and the now-deservedly-ubiquitous Jesse Eisenberg, are startling and brave.  Laura Linney, as their mom, is always good, and so is Jeff Daniels, one of the most quietly versatile and unfairly underrated actors anywhere in movies.  Even Anna Paquin is good in this movie.  I also really liked the sunny, autumnal NYC photography by Robert Yeoman, on loan from THE SQUID & THE WHALE‘s co-producer Wes Anderson.

 

THE SQUID & THE WHALE

 

If you’re like me and you held out this long, check this movie out.  It’s deeply personal and at times EXTREMELY uncomfortable, but somehow it’s still accessible and palatable because it gets to some really universal feelings.

 

And that museum looks so great on film.

 

Squid Vs. Whale

 

 

THE SQUID & THE WHALE is playing today at BAMcinématek as part of their series, Brooklyn Close-Up.

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

Peeples (2013)

Peeples (2013) Peeples Peeples (2013)

Much as I’d like to keep this apolitical and just talk about the movie, the way it deserves, I don’t think I can resist it this time.  Here is a statement I’m going to underline:  I paid to see PEEPLES opening weekend.  I am lucky to have a lot of chances to see movies for free, and quite frankly I need to take those chances whenever I can, because I don’t get paid much from writing yet, and my time-consuming day job pays me a barely-survivable wage.  To say I don’t have a lot of money (or time) right now is an understatement.  But I paid to see PEEPLES.

The main reason I did that is because I really love the main trio of lead actors, Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson, and David Alan Grier. They are actors who constantly make every scene they’re in a scene worth watching. In my opinion, Kerry Washington is an uncommonly passionate screen actor, with an unfakeable decency, whereas Robinson and Grier are two of the most consistent scene-dominators in all of comedy. These are guys who have shared screens with some of the most famous comedians in modern history and have stood out against them every single time. I would watch almost anything any of these three were in, and the three of them together is an irresistible prospect to me personally.  Happily, that instinct paid off for me, and their movie brightened up a gloomy, drizzly Saturday morning.

Kerry Washington

Craig Robinson, who you probably know from NBC’s The Office or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, plays Wade Walker, a musician who plays very Craig-Robinson-style songs to school-children as a way to give them life advice.  He doesn’t make a lot of money but for the past year he has been dating a woman who does, glamorous lawyer Grace Peeples — Kerry Washington, most recently from ABC’s Scandal and DJANGO UNCHAINED.  Maybe you’re the type who’d look at the two of them and see a mismatch, but they have a sweet, eminently believable relationship in the opening scenes.  I’m not a romantic comedy kind of guy, but that’s not really because of my love of Clint Eastwood Westerns, monster movies, and ninja flicks.  It’s because most modern romantic comedies feature lead actors who go with their worst instincts and writers who can’t write relatable dialogue or scenarios.  I find either one, or both, of the romantic leads in most of these movies to be people in whose company I don’t want to spend an entire movie.

PEEPLES eradicates that reservation quite simply, with the power of good casting.  Every single actor in PEEPLES comes off well, even when they’re disagreeing with each other within the story.

Peeples

Grace comes from a high-achieving family.  Her father Virgil (David Alan Grier) is a prominent judge.  Her mother Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson) released a successful R&B album in the 1970s.  Her sister Gloria (Kali Hawk) is an on-camera newswoman.  Her little brother Simon (Tyler James Williams) is a brilliant inventor and an aspiring musician himself.  Her grandmother is Diahann Carroll and her grandfather is Melvin Van Peebles!

Wade has heard a whole lot about “The Chocolate Kennedys”, as he calls them, but he hasn’t met them yet, in a whole year of dating Grace.  This is weighing on his mind because he wants to marry Grace.  (Who wouldn’t?)  He has a romantic weekend planned, where he hopes to give her his grandmother’s ring, but she tells him she has to head home to Sag Harbor to celebrate her father’s beloved Moby Dick weekend.  (Yes, David Alan Grier dresses up like Ahab and reads from Moby Dick, yet another reason for me to feel warmly about this movie.)  When Grace heads off without him, Wade decides to crash the celebration and shows up uninvited, which immediately earns him Virgil’s disapproval, especially since Grace has never once mentioned Wade to them!

The rest of the film is a series of comic shenanigans and hijinks, as Wade struggles to endear himself to Virgil and continues to make things worse.  All of the main characters have secrets:  Wade is hiding his intentions, Grace is hiding her relationship and most of her history, Gloria is hiding the fact that she’s in a committed relationship with a woman (Kimrie Lewis-Davis), Simon is hiding his kleptomania, Daphne is hiding some recreational habits, and even Virgil is hiding… well, you’ll have to see.

Peeples

This is Tina Gordon Chism’s first movie as both writer and director.  (She previously wrote the screenplays to ATL and DRUMLINE.)  If I had to be critical, I’d say her facility for staging scenes of farce is promising but not fully formed — some of the gags are hilarious, others could be more sharply carried off.  And to be honest, this is more of a showcase for Craig Robinson than for Kerry Washington, who gets less screentime and slightly less comprehensible motives.  But what quibbles I could come up with are overshadowed by my appreciation of this movie’s warmth and affable watchability.  That comes from a script which treats every character as a full human being, and direction that encourages every last actor to shine.  There are no villains here.  Every character is his or her only real enemy, but all of them have the ability to improve, and we get to see most of them do so before the movie’s done.  It doesn’t feel forced or unearned. That’s an increasingly rare experience at the movies. I laughed out loud several times throughout the running time, uncommon for me, and that happened because I enjoyed the characters and the performances.

Peeples

Right this moment, PEEPLES is flopping at the box office.  That’s why I need to write this piece.  It’s not a perfect movie, but it does not deserve to flop.  It’s a generous movie about likable characters any audience would be happy to know.  For PEEPLES to flop, that means two things are happening:  People who like Tyler Perry are avoiding it, and people who don’t like Tyler Perry are avoiding it.  If you don’t like Tyler Perry, you are seeing his name on the poster and staying away.  Guess what?  I don’t much like Tyler Perry.  I’m the guy who wrote this, after all.

But Tyler Perry didn’t write or direct PEEPLES — Tina Gordon Chism did — and he sure doesn’t appear during it — an amazingly talented ensemble cast does — and very genuinely, I give Tyler Perry a ton of credit for trying to get this movie out in front of people.  To Tyler Perry’s diehard audience, I give no credit at all, since they have demonstrated with their dollar that they prefer exaggerated caricatures over believable characters and judgmental homilies over the loving themes of acceptance and honesty that PEEPLES encourages.

To me, those are themes worth supporting with my hard-won cash.  To me, it is worth supporting with my cash a film that gives Craig Robinson a long-deserved leading role.  (Judd Apatow didn’t give me that!)  To me, it is worth supporting with my cash a movie that maybe doesn’t represent my face specifically, but does represent faces resembling people in my life, dear friends of mine: teenage characters that aren’t sex-crazed morons, gay characters who aren’t mincing stereotypes, black characters who act like witty, successful, loving human beings rather than total fools.  To me, it is worth supporting with my cash the very rare case of a woman, and a black woman no less, writing and directing a feature comedy, especially a comedy that promises a career full of more to come, if only she gets another chance.

Peeples

See, this is where I have to get political.  In the age of Facebook and Twitter, in the age where everyone has a blog or writes for one, in an age where we get to see and hear everyone’s opinions twenty-four-hours a freaking day, I’m not seeing a lot of put-up-or-shut-up.  In the last day alone, this Jezebel article excoriating misogyny in comedy has been in front of my eyes about a hundred times.  I happen to generally agree with what is being said in that article, and in most of the articles like it.  I’m not sure all of them apply to me specifically, but that’s not for me to decide.  I tend to think that a man who is willing to read an entire article like that in the first place is one who is friendly to the cause and interested in ways he can change if need be.  I love movies and I am trying hard to be a good person and I believe sometimes that means putting my money where my mouth is.  That last part is an important distinction, I think.

Maybe I’m overstepping a bit by suggesting it, but I’m going to do it anyway:  If you are so committed to the principle of furthering women’s roles in comedy, then will you not get out of the house and vote with your own dollar?  Will you not go pay for a movie written and directed by a woman?  Especially because I, someone who normally loves “guy’s” movies and who normally does not love movies with Tyler Perry’s name on them, is insisting that it’s a movie worth your time?  Maybe my opinion doesn’t, won’t, shouldn’t matter.  It’s true: I’m a very heterosexual male and my skin is pretty pale.   But still, the fact that a woman broke through and managed to get a comedy made and nobody’s going to see it is something that doesn’t feel right to me.  I want to do what I can about it.  Here’s one indisputable truth, feminists and fellow feminism-friendly men:  It’s not your blogs or your re-Tweets that are going to encourage studios to make this kind of movie.  It’s your hard-earned dollars.

@jonnyabomb