Archive for the ‘Opinions’ Category

 

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Hard as it is to believe, Burt Reynolds turned 80 today. Decided this year I’m making it a personal mission to remind everyone how awesome Burt Reynolds is. Last year Burt released his autobiography, written with Jon Winokur (who runs the very valuable Advice To Writers.) I’ve joked around about Burt’s autobiography being the last book I’ll ever need, but there’s a trace of truth to that statement. For a while there, as one of the hugest movie stars on the planet, Burt knew well or at least encountered some of the biggest bold names of the previous century. His book has chapters on both Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, to name just two, and I’m not sure what else a person would need to know before rushing out to buy and read this thing.

 

The book also has a chapter reserved for Donald Trump. Now, let’s be clear: Burt is far more civil towards Trump than I could ever be. To my eyes, as a native New Yorker having watched this character operate for years, Trump is a bully and a liar — in ways that are as provable and demonstrable as physics — and his apparent lack of self-awareness and self-recrimination makes him despicable. Again, Burt is far friendlier. But even the most generous comments about Trump are pretty damning. And in a calendar year where Donald Trump is improbably, insanely, a legitimately possible candidate for the Republican Party, I think it’s pretty telling (and quietly courageous) that while putting together an autobiography, summarizing a life that surely could have spanned several volumes, Burt went out of his way to set the record straight on Trump.

 

Their paths crossed in the early 1980s, when Burt became a minority owner in the Tampa Bay Bandits, a team in the fledgling and now long-defunct United States Football League. The Bandits were co-owned by a businessman named John Bassett. Trump bought a rival team, the New Jersey Generals.

 

So here’s Burt on the time Trump sank the USFL…

 

“There are always guys who come out of the woodwork and take everything they can get. Donald Trump was one such offender.”

“John and Donald were both rich kids but that’s where the similarity ended. Donald was born on third and thought he hit a triple.”

“In my opinion, it was Donald’s fault that the USFL didn’t survive.”

“Now don’t get me wrong. I like Donald. I hold on to my wallet when we shake hands, but I like him.”

“He was interested in only two things: money and publicity. John summed it up when he said Donald’s ‘ego transcended his business sense.'”

“Every time Donald runs for president, I pray he never gets the chance to do to the USA what he did to the USFL.”

 

 

For his part, and if you’d like to see the difference between a gentleman and a lout, here for contrast is the kind of thing Trump has said about Burt Reynolds.

 

If you think Trump is funny, if you think he’s smart, if you think he’s worth listening to, you really need to check yourself, immediately. It’s time to renounce any and all support for this goon, now or else go get a T-shirt printed up that reads “I aim to be a bad person too.” Ignorance of Trump’s record of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and ineptitude — let alone admiration for those same traits — is at this moment in American history a severe moral failing. Let’s toss this guy out with the trash, where he’s belonged all along.

 

And that said, I’m going to watch SHARKY’S MACHINE again. Thanks for reading. Buy Burt’s book. Be kind. Be good.

 

 

On Twitter: @jonnyabomb

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The Newsroom is one episode away from being out of our lives forever, but when it comes to infuriating the more discerning minds among us, it’s not done yet. (A few examples: Here. Here. Here.) To be fair, I didn’t see it, and probably won’t. Life is too damn short. But maybe some of you might like to know why I wouldn’t bother.

This brief piece came from my weekly column on new DVDs and Blu-Rays at Daily Grindhouse. It covers my overall feelings on this particular series:

The Newsroom: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Temporary cover art

The two main characters on this show are named Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale, so I would humbly venture to suggest this show would be overwritten even before any of the characters were to begin to speak.

The central conceit, that this is the story of a fictional team that breaks the news centering around real-world news stories that happened two years beforehand, strikes me most frequently as unintentionally comedic and not remotely as intelligent or as self-aware as its defenders will attest. Here’s something that can be hard to understand, but still true in my opinion: Something can sound intelligent and still not at all be intelligent. No matter how voluminously-composed the monologues are, I can’t help feeling that show creator Aaron Sorkin is what I would call a Bad Good Writer. Obviously he’s a big talent, able to attack social concerns in a way that appeals to a broad audience, and so many fine actors line up to work on his shows that clearly there’s significant merit in Sorkin’s work, to them at least.

But his work can be howlingly self-important, and overly wordy to the exclusion of telling a good story. To be fair, I haven’t watched anywhere close to all of The Newsroom‘s three seasons, but I did watch all of the indulgent and deathly anti-comedic Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (Sorkin’s show about the making of an SNL-style variety show) in uneasy fascination, and that’s what everything I’ve seen of this show reminds me of most.

In my opinion, the best projects I’ve seen connected to Aaron Sorkin’s name are CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, MONEYBALL, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

Movies.

With directors.

Directors who know how to take a dense script and make it visual.

Sorkin’s TV work is all about pointing the camera at actors, so they can hold forth with his prolonged text-volleys. Sometimes the camera follows the characters as they walk and talk, but that’s about as cinematic as it gets. If Aaron Sorkin had to tell a story without words he’d be dead in the water.

And that’s not to my taste, to say the least. My storytelling inspirations are generally the kind of people who can tell a story without words, as well as with them. In the silent era, Aaron Sorkin wouldn’t have worked a single day. Then again, they didn’t have blogs back then, so there goes half the stuff they rail against on The Newsroom anyway.

Follow me on Twitter, which Aaron Sorkin hates, at @jonnyabomb.

The Spectacular Now (2013)

Stories about alcoholism, if they’re being honest, have no heroes and no villains.  There are protagonists, and occasionally antagonists, but the antagonists are peripheral, really.  Authentic stories about alcoholism must ultimately focus around the protagonists and their loved ones.  A protagonist of such a story can be a hero at heart, but he’s living with an addiction, so his actions are rarely heroic.  They’re tainted, polluted.  It’s the addiction that is the story’s villain, and it’s an inescapable enemy.  It’s always there, with no safe haven to be found.

Addiction turns a hero into his own worst villain.  An addiction narrative is a suspense thriller, where the lead character is in a life-or-death battle to prevent himself from destroying his own life, and the lives of his friends and family.  Any other dramatic conflict, and there will be many, still remains strictly secondary in comparison.  Every tale of addiction is different, but every one of them can have only two potential endings.  The protagonist manages to stop, and that is no easy thing; or the protagonist dies.  Period.  Well, there may be a third option, of sorts.  It’s possible the story ends with the protagonist still alive, and embracing his addiction, but understand that this is a kind of death.  It’s a death of the spirit.

In the most generalized spoiler ever, let’s say that THE SPECTACULAR NOW, in its final moments, rejects the death of the spirit.  This is a movie with life in it.

SUTTER

And please take no offense at the fact that the opening paragraphs emphasized the male conjugation — they were written that way because this particular addiction story happens to be about a “him.”  Miles Teller plays the main character, Sutter Keely, an extroverted young man whose profound problems sneak up on the movie.  By leading with talk of addiction, this review of THE SPECTACULAR NOW robs the film of some of its shock — the movie was sold as a lyrical, regional romance, which it is, but primarily it’s the story of an addict, which isn’t immediately apparent as things play at the outset.  Sutter is outgoing and likable, with a stunning girlfriend (the luminous Brie Larson), a successful older sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, endearing and deep), and a single mother who cares about him in her seemingly brusque way (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a rope-a-dope of a performance). Miles Teller has a kind of Cusack-meets-Belushi soulfulness and affability which keeps you on his side, even as Sutter’s screw-ups multiply as the story continues.  His philosophy, as captured in the movie’s love-it-or-sneer-at-it title, is to live in the “now” as opposed to so many people who fixate on the pain of the past and the worries of the future.  It’s an agreeable philosophy, but it’s flawed.  

SUTTER

Sutter is a high school senior.  He’s at that exact moment in life where people are most concerned with both their pasts and their futures at once.  High school seniors are at an emotional precipice — with yearbooks and parties, they celebrate and reflect upon the end of childhood, while on their computers sit college applications, resumes, and job applications, the entry tickets to the chaotic carnival of adulthood.  Sutter’s fixation on the “now” seems at first like a way of framing the present in a positive light, of appreciating the moment, but in fact it’s a dodge.  Sutter wants to prolong a moment that by nature must pass.

DRIVING

It starts with the soda cup.  The first clue to how substantial a problem Sutter has is the soda cup.  He’s never without it, in the car, at his job — practiced and committed drinkers know what’s in the cup.  He’s mixing booze in there, using the soda cup as a front to hide his crutch.  The acceleration is rapid.  After a whirlwind night of partying, Sutter wakes up one morning on a classmate’s lawn.  She’s Aimee Finecky, a sweetheart to whom Sutter never gave a second thought at school.  Next to Cassidy, his girlfriend, Aimee would be considered plain.  There’s a warmth and a decency to Aimee, though, as there is to Sutter, when he’s conscious.  Cassidy has been distancing herself (she sees the warning signs before he does) so Sutter starts spending more time with the attentive Aimee.  If this were the John Hughes movie one may have had reason to expect, the lawn incident would be played for broad comedy, a meet-cute.  Here it’s perfectly pitched, humorous but subtle, and the kids quickly move on from it.  Aimee, an introvert by nature, isn’t used to spending time with Sutter, an indefatigable extrovert.  She’s entranced.  She’s co-dependent.  She’s in trouble.  By the time she or the audience realize that, we’re all already in too deep with Sutter.

SUTTER + AIMEE

THE SPECTACULAR NOW has an impact you don’t see coming, even if you do know what’s in that cup right away.  Not to oversell such a delicate and genuine film, but it’s one of the best American movies to be released in 2013.   Credit is due all around.  Tim Tharp wrote the novel upon which the movie was based.  Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) DAYS OF SUMMER) wrote the adaptation for screen.  James Ponsoldt (SMASHED) directed the movie.  Jess Hall was the cinematographer.  Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, as the two main characters, play their roles with uncommon maturity and sophistication.  They are surrounded by an extremely talented supporting cast, including the aforementioned Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the strong women in Sutter’s life.  Kyle Chandler appears later in the film, as a character who only existed as rumor beforehand, and he makes the maximum impact in a few scenes with a perfect, knowing performance.  Comedian Bob Odenkirk, in a relatively small role as Sutter’s boss who recognizes a problem employee and tries to hang onto him as long as possible, is positively heart-breaking.  This is a movie where Bob Odenkirk, a monster talent who’s only ever made me laugh, broke my heart.  Wow.  This is a special kind of movie.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Making a good movie is a collaborative effort, done by small armies of craftsmen who have varying degrees of personal investment in the art.  Whether all were deeply moved to make it or only some, THE SPECTACULAR NOW feels eminently personal.  It’s told with quiet, relaxed authority.  There is a keenly-observed realness going on, just as there was in James Ponsoldt’s previous film, 2012’s SMASHED, and in his debut feature, 2006’s OFF THE BLACK.  Those films, though, were about young adults and middle-aged people grappling with addiction.  As terrific an achievement as SMASHED in particular was, Ponsoldt has found more unique, tender material in THE SPECTACULAR NOW.  The novelty of this plot is that it’s been de-aged.  Movies about drunks are almost always cast with characters gone to seed, nearing the ends of their lives rather than finding them at the very start. There’s still plenty of hope for Sutter. He caught this thing early.  Millions have been less fortunate. THE SPECTACULAR NOW ends on a question mark. Where will Sutter end up? Nothing is certain. But there’s reason to hope. This movie gives you hope.

Visit me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Smashed (2012)

In retrospect, it kills me that I didn’t manage to see SMASHED anytime last year.  It absolutely would have clinched for my year-end top ten.  I even know which movie it would have supplanted:  FLIGHT, a movie which covers similar territory.

Like FLIGHT, SMASHED deals with the topic of alcoholism with unusual potency and attention to detail, with an astounding central performance and with harrowing scenes of hitting bottom and going even lower.

Unlike FLIGHT, SMASHED has an unsubtle, lovely soundtrack that doesn’t threaten to undermine everything else good about the movie.

NO + MEW

Director James Ponsoldt, between SMASHED and this year’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW, has cornered the market on low-fi and true pictures that deal with addiction in surprising, disarming, and sneakily affecting ways.  He wrote SMASHED with Susan Burke, and assembled a tremendous cast that includes never-fail ringers like Aaron Paul (“Jesse Pinkman” on Breaking Bad), Octavia Spencer (FRUITVALE STATION), Bree Turner, Mary Kay Place, Megan Mullally, and Nick Offerman.

NO

Those last two, by the way, I am now officially willing to follow to the ends of the earth, due to the fact that everything they do together (Parks & Recreation, Axe Cop, THE KINGS OF SUMMER) is so resolutely charming.  Her role, as a sympathetic school principal dealing with a young teacher who lies and comes to work drunk, is probably smaller than his, as a fellow teacher who helps that troubled co-worker find her way into a support network but has his own weird issues going on.   But both are indelible in this film, as is the entire cast.  Everyone in the movie is funny, sad, and disarming.

MEW

But SMASHED is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s victory most of all.  Already beloved by genre fans for her roles in horror and action movies, she proves definitively that she is one of the most under-utilized great actresses of her generation with her role as Kate, a schoolteacher who decides to get sober despite the fact that her husband and main running buddy (Aaron Paul’s Charlie) isn’t ultimately willing to do the same.  Winstead’s performance isn’t showy or grandiose, which is a sacrifice.  You don’t get fancy awards for underplaying.  Instead, she plays it like a real person.  Kate is a person you could know.  She’s a person you quickly come to care about.  She’s a person you worry about.  She’s a person you can hope for.  That’s more noble.  That’s true acting; playing a part with honesty, without underlining everything for the cheap seats.

MEW + AP

I feel so fondly towards this small, sweet, special movie, but I’m not sure I could express myself anywhere near as well as the late, great Roger Ebert did in his review.  Please seek it out – it’s one of the most beautiful pieces he ever wrote, and it will convince you, if I haven’t, that SMASHED is a film well worth the attention you give it.

@jonnyabomb

MEW + OS

Ben Affleck is the newest actor to take on the dual role of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, taking over from Christian Bale. He’ll be taking on and/or teaming up with Henry Cavill as Superman in a new dueling-superhero epic coming in 2015.

Is it good news?

Well now.

The first thing I’d like to say, because I think it’s important to contemplate, is that this news does not affect my actual life one way or another.

The only time the casting of a superhero movie has ever affected me directly is when they cast a guy who looks like me as Spider-Man, and that’s only because since then, people have occasionally followed me around on the street asking for autographs. Believe me, the fact that most strippers somehow think I look like Eminem has made more of a difference in my personal and private affairs. Sorry. Real talk. But even if they cast Ben Affleck in a remake of 8 MILE, it still wouldn’t cause a ripple in my day-to-day .

Now the longer answer to the question:

Personally, I’ve rooted for Ben Affleck from way back. I don’t know how many times I saw SCHOOL TIES and DAZED & CONFUSED by the time Kevin Smith decided to put him front and center in MALLRATS, CHASING AMY, and DOGMA, the kind of one-from-the-heart movies which at the time I adored. There are film actors who dedicated cinemaniacs put on a pedestal, such as Bill Murray and Clint Eastwood in my case, and then there are those you dig because you first encountered their work around the same time you became entirely dedicated to film as a full-on cinemaniac. These are the actors of your generation, a few years older, but the actors you’ve grown up with. That’s Ben Affleck for me, and Matt Damon too. (Also Ewan McGregor, and Leonardo DiCaprio to a lesser extent.)

GOOD WILL HUNTING came out when I was in college, and the story of Damon and Affleck getting that movie made and finding the success they did was so inspiring to me. I didn’t expect to be as committed, as industrious, or as lucky, but it was still something to aspire towards. Likewise, it’s been gratifying to see Affleck turn around the public perception with his smart, eminently capable directing career to become known as a neo-Eastwood actor-director type. I’ve never crapped on the guy. For better and sometimes for worse, I’m very loyal, both in life and as a movie fan. Unlike most people who make GIGLI punchlines, I actually saw GIGLI (it’s not remotely that bad, and the parts that are, are certainly no fault of his.) I always liked him, if I didn’t always like the movies. I would bet there was a time I’d have been the one suggesting he play BATMAN.

I started writing about movies online not long before GONE BABY GONE came out. My post on that movie is lost to time (or lack of know-how), but it was one of my favorite movies that year, as was THE TOWN afterwards. [Click here for my rave review!] By the time I saw ARGO I was a bit underwhelmed, because I had nitpicks with it that I didn’t have with his previous two films, but I still admired the wider global canvas Affleck took on. It’s still a very solid film by a very promising director, one with an interest in human stories and sociopolitical issues. What I’m leading up to is that getting back into superhero movies feels like a lateral move at best. The analogy would be Clint making a Dirty Harry sequel after LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA.

When I said Ben Affleck is a talent I’ve grown up with, that implies something which may or may not be entirely true: that I’ve grown up. I’m much more interested in more adult stories now. I still love superhero stories (I recently called Batman the coolest pop-culture character ever) but not remotely as much as I used to. I’ve seen plenty of superhero movies by now, particularly this summer. There are plenty of guys lining up to do those, and plenty of people lining up to see them. But there aren’t as many filmmakers making movies like GONE BABY GONE, THE TOWN, and ARGO, certainly not with Ben Affleck’s profile and clout. We need him fighting that fight. In a weird way, Ben Affleck going back to superhero movies feels more like a victory for the bad guys than the good — unless, as some have speculated, he’s doing it to get more freedom to make the kind of movies he wants; in which case, suit up, my brother.

The real problem for this production, as far as I’m concerned, is that the whole question is totally irrelevant. I don’t have an issue with Ben Affleck as Batman. Under different circumstances, I’d be all for it. No, for me the issue is that I highly, highly doubt I’ll pay to see a Zack-Snyder-directed Superman movie after MAN OF STEEL. I haven’t gotten around to writing about that movie, primarily because watching it once quite literally gave me a headache and I’m concerned thinking about it at length may cause similar symptoms. MAN OF STEEL is a migraine movie, overlong, overwrought, and overloud. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was a migraine movie, same deal. Now you’re telling me those two headaches are going to be merged into one big loud mega-movie? I’m not interested. The last thing they need to do is make these superhero movies any bigger. They need to scale this motherfuckers back. I’m pretty sure I’d rather see a movie where Zack Snyder plays Batman, with Ben Affleck directing, rather than whatever they’re planning now. I’m not anti-Ben Affleck. I’m anti-BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN, or whatever goofy title they end up slapping on the thing. Ben Affleck is in point of fact the only major player here I have any investment in, and I’m afraid even he may not enough to get me through those doors.

You might say, “Yeah sure, you’re complaining now but when it comes out in two years you’ll be in the front row.” I say, “Try me.” I almost didn’t see MAN OF STEEL, believe me or don’t. I was coerced. Left to my own devices it may never have happened. Why? Because I’m weary of superheroes onscreen, something the 15-year-old me would never in a million years imagine he’d one day be putting into print. In two years I’ll only be that much closer to being a grown-up! Barring major regression, which is always possible, I can’t see myself more excited for “BATMAN v. SUPERMAN” than LIVE BY NIGHT — unless it’s a Mamet-scripted courtroom drama of course.

Some related articles which may be of interest:

My take on Tim Burton’s BATMAN.

My take on THE DARK KNIGHT.

My take on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. (Scroll down to see how I’d cast a far less solemn Batman movie.)

My take on Zack Snyder’s last three movies pre-MAN OF STEEL:

WATCHMEN,

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, and

SUCKER PUNCH.

And find me on Twitter, where I will hopefully not be talking about this subject any further: @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

Bill Hicks Sane Man (1989)

If one were to step back and truly consider the unceasing patchwork of entertainment news clobbering our eyes, ears and minds twenty-four-hours-a-day, it would serve as a disturbing reminder of how little has changed since Bill Hicks prowled comedy stages, serving as a lonely voice of sanity out amongst the wilderness of institutionalized idiocy.

I’ve written about Bill Hicks once before. I was impressed by David Letterman’s 2009 tribute to Hicks, where he brought on Bill’s mother and personally apologized to her for the infamous incident where Hicks was kept off The Late Show due to Hicks’s propensity for inflammatory material. I thought it was a classy move on Letterman’s part – if belated, since Hicks died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer. I then went on to describe why I believe that Hicks’ brand of inflammatory material would have been necessary to broadcast, as it still is, because I think Hicks’ perspective, and those like his, demand to be heard.

Television, today more than ever, is absolutely flooded with mediocrity and moronity. Since television is only ever a reflection of what the American people are most concerned with at the time, that is a disturbing statement. It’s not a crime to enjoy turn-your-brain-off entertainment – but it IS a crime when the balances are off so badly. Mediocrity is rewarded and morons are everywhere, and even though we’re in the future, nothing’s changed. Some of the same exact same morons are still prominent, in fact!

It’s almost eerie that so many of Bill Hicks’ favorite targets back in the late 1980s and early 1980s are either still lingering, or have made their moronic return. The Bush family and the Iraq War are in sequels. Billy Ray Cyrus has returned with an even more ridiculous haircut, in a new role as world’s creepiest stage dad, pimping out his daughter to the world. The most recent Doritos ad, which was a huge hit at the SuperBowl, was the most-watched ad of all time. The New Kids On The Block are back on tour, clearly not recognizing the obvious irony in their name (or the obvious double-entendre in the name of their tour). And creepy Jay Leno and his gargantuan head are still clogging up the late-night comedy world, an unkillable milquetoast cockroach with a face the size of a parade float and a frame of reference the size of a peanut.

Watching the Bill Hicks concert film Sane Man, I was filled with growing irritation.

That’s not true. Watching Sane Man, I was laughing constantly.

It’s only afterward that the irritation struck, when I realized that all of the aforementioned morons are happily moving into advanced age with ever-thickening wallets, while Bill Hicks was struck down in his prime by an insidious disease. So many people have nothing useful or interesting to say; meanwhile, Bill Hicks was only getting started on expanding our brains and enlightening our perspectives. It’s just plain not fair.

But no one wise ever said the universe was fair. All we can do is keep Hicks’ work fresh in our memory, and luckily, there’s plenty of it available.

Sane Man is a concert film from 1989. It’s basically a rudimentary VHS recording of a typical Hicks performance, live, in front of a typical nightclub audience (with some amazing mullets), for a truly impressive length of time. I generally listen to Hicks’ CDs on repeat, so what struck me about watching him on screen for nearly two hours straight was his amazing confidence in front of a crowd. Hicks owned that stage. He clearly had absolute conviction that his words were worth hearing. (If he felt any personal reservations, it sure didn’t show.) His words were worth hearing, as always, but it’s nice to see that he seemed to know that too. If you like neurotic comedians, this ain’t your guy.

Sane Man probably isn’t my favorite Bill Hicks performance I’ve ever seen – for one thing the dated video elements and imperfect recording make it tiring to watch after a while. Also, a lot of the material Hicks performs here will be very familiar to diehard fans — a lot of it appeared in slightly different form on his albums — although it is a treat to see him act out his Jimi Hendrix routine. And this isn’t one for mixed company – Hicks gets particularly vulgar at a couple moments (understandable considering the fact that he’s playing to a drunken audience.) Personally, I never get tired of hearing any of Hicks’ bits and I’m not offended by his bluer material, so predictably, I loved Sane Man. I just wouldn’t recommend it as someone’s first exposure to Hicks’ brilliance. Start with any of the albums instead – they’re all still in print and available in most any music store that has a comedy section. Look for them (and more information) at the official website.

What I love about Bill Hicks is that, while his anger and disappointment were palpable, it was always clear that he was an optimist at heart. He wasn’t bitter about how things were; he just wanted things to be better. Bill Hicks left this earth too soon, but he left plenty of peerless comedy and immortal inspiration behind. He is as alive as ever, on his albums and videos.

Hear them.

And if you want to read more about Bill Hicks, I recommend tracking down Cynthia True’s terrific biography, American Scream, or this collection of Bill’s writings.

From June 23rd, 2010.

@jonnyabomb