Sunday, February 10, 2013

2013 Pop Culture Journal: Week 4

January 22-28, 2013

15. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (Tommy Wirkola, 2013) (2K DCP) (3D) (Arena Grand) (January 25)

There are indications within HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS that this was supposed to be a comedy rather than whatever it turned out to be.  Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are credited as producers, which doesn’t mean anything in and of itself other than funny movies being their business.  Then there are the comedic touches hinting at a more irreverent film than the fantasy-action hybrid that dominates.  Drawings of missing children are attached to milk bottles.  When a young beauty is accused of being a witch before the assembled villagers, some of the shouted comments recall Monty Python.  Hansel has diabetes from his youthful captivity and has to give himself a shot on a regular basis.  These elements suggest this might have been developed as an elaborate goof along the lines of CASA DE MI PADRE.  Except apparently it isn’t.

Grade: D/30

16. MOVIE 43 (Various directors, 2013) (2K DCP) (Gateway Film Center) (January 25)

It’s common practice for folks to harp on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE for the lameness of its sketches, but after seeing MOVIE 43, a loosely linked collection of gross-out one-upmanship short films, I think everyone ought to cut them a break.  The worst of what SNL writers come up with in a week is exponentially better than everything in MOVIE 43, which took years to make.  

The ads have touted the galaxy of stars appearing in it, which is true enough and meaningless in the grand scheme of things.  Maybe they were doing favors for friends who needed a break.  Maybe they wanted to make something silly in their free time, except someone decided their horsing around ought to be released to the public.  Maybe a marketer designed it as a test to see if a movie could be sold on the basis of a poster with as many little heads in boxes as possible.

The jokes are supposed to be daring, but this is outrageousness in scare quotes.  Kate Winslet is horrified to discover that blind date Hugh Jackman has a scrotum on his neck that no one else seems to notice!  Anna Faris wants Chris Pratt to poop on her!  ChloĆ« Grace Moretz is having her first period, and the boys and man in the house don’t know what to do!  African-American basketball players don’t realize that they’ll crush their white counterparts on the court!  Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry’s blind date becomes a series of escalating offensive challenges!  Imagine if an iPod was a life-size naked woman with a cooling fan put in an orifice where it might cause damage to its aroused male owners!

The one short with potential features Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts as parents who are giving their son the full public school experience despite educating him at home. They subject the teen to all the bullying he’s otherwise missing out on, which is worth a couple laughs with Watts as a mean girl.  This short is also the only one with any discomfiting content, as mom and dad don’t want to deny their boy a dating life.  It doesn’t all work, but at least it’s shooting for something subversive that the others aren’t.

The through line finds Dennis Quaid as an aspiring filmmaker holding studio executive Greg Kinnear hostage as he pitches his ludicrous ideas and forces him to bankroll it. MOVIE 43 looks extraordinarily cheap and doesn’t have the energy to stick to its barely developed concept by the end.  No explanation is provided for the generic title.  .

Grade: F/16

17. PARKER (Taylor Hackford, 2013) (35mm) (AMC Dublin Village) (January 26)

I’ve probably disliked more Jason Statham movies than I’ve liked, but if he’s the lead, I’ll give the film a shot.  (The same goes for Dwayne Johnson/The Rock.)  Based on a character from a series of books Donald Westlake wrote under the name Richard Stark, PARKER is a more respectable entry in Statham’s filmography than the actioners that could pass for (or are) direct-to-video fodder.  The career criminal Parker could be his James Bond, the defining character he returns to every couple years and eventually passes on to someone else.  PARKER’s box office performance probably scuttles any ideas of sequels, which is unfortunate even though I don’t think this film is good enough.

The heist at the Ohio State Fair gets PARKER off to a good start, and that’s not just me feeling local pride because this part was shot in Columbus.  (Alas, the butter cow didn’t make it into the film.)  From there it’s a decent mix of hard-nosed guys roughing each other up and Parker plotting, plus an inordinate amount of time given to Jennifer Lopez’s real estate agent and her troubles.  Lopez plays her as being too nice for the conniving she gets involved in.  She could have stood to flash her OUT OF SIGHT toughness.

PARKER ends up being to Statham what JACK REACHER is to Tom Cruise: an average, book series-adapted programmer with an above-average cast and ultimately unsatisfying arc.  In other words, it’s a perfect movie to run endlessly on cable TV.


18. KILLER JOE (William Friedkin, 2011) (HD stream) (January 27)

I first saw KILLER JOE at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and was not entirely sure what to make of it.  I found it somewhat off-putting in its excessiveness and funny in a really bleak way.  Mixing uneasiness and humor can be a volatile combination, especially in a film so eager to rub the viewer’s nose in it all, and I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be laughing at parts when I was repulsed by others.   

On second viewing I felt like I had a better grip on the tone William Friedkin is striving to maintain.  It is primarily a comedy, just an exceedingly dark one.  I also realized I’d made one major misinterpretation.  I mistook the age of Juno Temple’s character, who’s given to the contract killer as a retainer in case her father and brother can’t pay.  At one point she says she claims to be a twelve-year-old.  She means that’s her mindset in a specific moment, not her actual age, but I thought she was speaking literally.  KILLER JOE goes pretty far in trying to shock, but even it has limits.

So KILLER JOE played better to me this time, and the performances of the four main actors look all the stronger for it.  The film’s view of society is pretty jaded, but this is a fairly accomplished, if nasty, piece of work.  (Review)

Grade: B/66



I’m trying to stretch myself as a viewer, so I went back to the Wexner Center for another round with experimental cinema.  Chalk it up to physical weariness--I worked out for an hour before the program--or the struggles I can have with non-narrative works, but I had to fight off the desire to fall asleep.  The ideas of both films play better to me in memory than they did during the experience of watching them.  Maybe that just means I was tired, or maybe it’s indicative of me only being able to appreciate this type of cinema to a point.  Time will tell.
10s. SIDE/WALK/SHUTTLE (Ernie Gehr, 1992) (35mm) (Wexner Center for the Arts) (January 24)

In theory SIDE/WALK/SHUTTLE should be a good gateway film for me.  The strong horizontal and vertical lines that make up downtown San Francisco are displayed like an architectural Mondrian, and the shifting perspectives of these buildings and streets grants unique views of the urban landscape.  The camera rides up and down on an elevator to provide different, sometimes disorienting ways of seeing the space.  Ernie Gehr doesn’t need any CGI to make INCEPTION’s folding city.  At least for me on this night, though, a little of it went a long way   

11s. BARN RUSHES (Larry Gottheim, 1971) (16mm at 18fps) (Wexner Center for the Arts) (January 24)

A little going a long way applies tenfold (or more) to BARN RUSHES.  This study of light presents virtually identical tracking shots of a barn at different times of the day and year. While there is an aesthetically pleasing element to seeing how the object transforms according to the quality of the light, the repetition wore on me.  


12. Frank Ocean CHANNEL ORANGE (2012)

Noel Murray wrote about how his reaction to this good album didn’t match the extraordinary reception and wondered if the hype ultimately is doing a disservice to the artist and record.  In reading what he considers the albums shortcomings, I found he was pointing out why I never embraced CHANNEL ORANGE with the enthusiasm that the music press did.  Listening to it again, I appreciate it more than I did last summer, but it still sounds like a rough draft.  If the album’s highs were plucked out and sprinkled throughout a playlist, I’d be tempted to agree that it’s the contemporary R&B classic that many believe it to be.  On its own I find plenty to like and enough to be frustrated by in its incompletion or doodling.

Key tracks: “Sweet Life”, “Pyramids”, “Lost”, and “Bad Religion”

Live Music

2. BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY (Wexner Center for the Arts Performance Space - Columbus, Ohio) (January 25)

I know what kind of music Will Oldham plays and some of the various names he releases his work under, but I’m not well acquainted with his artistic output.  Watching OLD JOY is probably the most time I’ve spent with anything he’s done.  I had no intention of going to this concert, but a preview article about this show in the next-to-last issue of THE OTHER PAPER, a Columbus alternative weekly, convinced me that I really ought to check it out.  That was the right decision.

Accompanied by Cheyenne Marie Mize and Emmett Kelly, Oldham’s somber folk songs cast a spell over the room.  His occasional stage patter lightened the mood, even when he favored saying darkly humorous things about the end of the world.  The best live music can catch you in the moment and transport you.  This performance did that for me in a major way.  It’s a greater achievement because I was coming into the concert unfamiliar with anything that would be played.  Guess I have some digging to do into the music of Oldham and his collaborators.

Live Sports

2. NHL: Dallas Stars at Columbus Blue Jackets (Nationwide Arena - Columbus, Ohio) (January 28)

What a difference a week makes.  The previous Monday the arena was sold out and rocking.  In my regular seat this night, I had the entire row to myself.  (My seat is about as low in my preferred section as it’s possible to get in a package, so it’s not like it’s out of the way.)  Attendance was over 10,000, so the crowd wasn’t nonexistent, just spread out and more subdued.  For good reason.  The Blue Jackets came out really flat early yet somehow managed to pull out a regulation win.

You always want your team to come out on top--no complaints there for this game--but live sporting events are more fun when the whole place is into it.  I’ll give credit to game operations for working hard to keep folks engaged, especially when the play on the ice is less than stellar.  Having been to two games this season, it seems like they’re emphasizing the sport more during breaks and being more judicious in peppering the audience with ads and silly time-fillers.  In other words, it seems like there’s a bit less pandering to the casual fans.  If there’s one thing that can be tiresome at games these days, it’s the scoreboards and sound systems practically screaming, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” when there’s the briefest lull in the action.  If the Blue Jackets are dialing it back a little in favor of game-focused content, that’s terrific.

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