Monday, June 23, 2008

We wuz robbed

I was going to write a post about the unfairness of a world where Rush Limbaugh lives and Tim Russert dies ... then I read this:

George Carlin, dead at 71

And the seven words you can't say on TV just flew out of my mouth in rapid succession.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Worst. Movie. Ever.

Well, I got to experience a personal "first" tonight -- the first time I've ever walked out in the middle of a movie.

We went to a 7 p.m. screening of a film called Memorial Day, an indie flick that was described in the literature I'd read thusly: "A wild Memorial Day weekend takes an unexpected turn in this brutally thrilling roller coaster ride through over-exposed national obsessions."

Sounded like an interesting premise. I figured it would be about a group of people whose vacation weekend goes awry when something horrible happens -- murder, kidnapping, something along those lines. And the resolution would teach us something about our cultural indulgences.

It started out with cinema verite passage as the camera followed young men and women partying over said holiday weekend in Ocean City, N.J. From the setup, the message seemed to be that these kids were overindulging in a "Girls Gone Wild" kind of lifestyle, and I figured the tension would ramp up as one or more of them suffered the consequences.

Only it never happened. It just dragged on and on, 45 minutes of unlikable, unknowable characters -- we never even find out their names -- getting drunk, acting stupid and swearing up a blue streak. And because of the faux-documentary style of filmmaking, you never really knew which of the people were actors and which of them were just random party kids who were caught on film. They just kept being annoying, screaming into the camera, and generally making asses of themselves in a variety of unfunny ways.

I started fidgeting in my seat and looking for the exit about 25 minutes in, when two of the characters had sex in an SUV on the way from the bar to their hotel. The girl was a willing participant at first, then obviously wanted the guy to stop, but he was being cheered on by his buddies and kept at it (yes, it was as bad as it sounds). But when they got to the hotel, they just stood around in the parking lot as if nothing happened, then moved inside to the after-bar party.

There, it went from bad to worse as we were treated to the characters' inane and profane "conversations" about sex, booze, and whatever else seemed to be on their simple little minds at the time. The last straw for me came when one guy ranted for a couple minutes straight about "butt sex" and how he just didn't understand gays. Believe me, it was a lot more disturbing and ridiculous than it sounds -- I truly can't do it justice.

Other people began walking out about 20 minutes into the film -- including the entire front row, about eight 20-somethings who filed out grimly. We bolted and caught the second half of the Celtics-Lakers game in the food court while we waited for our nephew, Paul, who stayed around to see if it would get better.

Sadly, it didn't. Apparently the "unexpected turn" was that the characters suddenly appeared in an Abu Ghraib-style prison in Iraq, torturing the Iraqi prisoners in the manner depicted in those infamous photos. That had to be the director's "artistic intent" -- to show us that a party can turn into war, and war can turn into a party or some such crap.

Frankly, it didn't work. The first 45 minutes could have been condensed into about 10, and from what Paul said, the last 45 minutes also could have been shortened considerably. Maybe if it had been a 20-minute short, it wouldn't have failed as miserably. But it wasn't, and it did.

The weirdest thing was that we were sitting right behind the director and a few of the actors in the movie. It was the film's world premiere, so maybe they didn't know just how bad it would look. Or maybe they thought it was brilliant -- I don't know. I didn't stick around for the Q&A that followed, nor did about half of the audience by my count.

The thing is, I'm not a prude -- I have no problem with sex or violence or profanity in a movie if there's a purpose for it. And I don't mind it when a director takes a chance or three -- hell, I thoroughly enjoyed Your Name Here, even the part where a stillborn baby came back to life and talked to the main character while covered in mucous membranes. Sure, it was weird, but this is a film festival, after all, so you expect directors to push you to the edge once in awhile.

But nothing in this movie seemed to have any purpose to it. Mrs. Gopher and I both noted that the part we sat through felt exactly like being the designated driver and lone sober person in a group of obnoxious drunks. Only, you'd do that voluntarily for your friends, to ensure that they got home safely. I don't know why a director would expect you to put yourself in the same position for a bunch of strangers who are painted in the most unflattering way possible.

All in all, it was a craptacular evening, although at least now we've got a story to tell when somebody complains about a movie so bad they had to walk out in the middle. We can now join in that conversation. The Verdict: negative-infinity stars.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lights ... Camera ...

and plenty of action at the 10th annual CineVegas film festival, which kicked off Thursday night here in the valley of sin. It's probably my favorite local event of the year, because we don't really have an art-house theater the likes of the Lagoon or Uptown back in the Twin Cities, so it's my only chance to see movies that don't feature Ashton Kutcher or an explosion every three minutes. Or, as in the case of Strangers With Candy two years ago and Oceans 13 last year, we get a sneak preview of movies that will be released nationally later in the summer.

We've seen three movies so far -- here's a quick recap:

The Rocker -- Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute of "The Office") sort of takes on the Jack Black "School of Rock" role, in that he helms a group of precocious musical prodigies, except here they're teenagers playing in a straight-up rock band. Wilson's character (Fish) was a drummer for an 80s hair band that kicked him out just before they surged to international stardom. Fish broods about his dashed dreams for 20 years before his nephew asks him to fill in on the skins for his band's first gig. Hilarity ensues.

And lots of hilarity. It's a brilliant sendup of 80s hair metal and the music industry. SNL's Jason Sudekis is fantastic as a slimy label rep, and the kids more than hold their own. But this is Wilson's show, and he's dynamite as the dinosaur drummer stuck in the 80s who embraces (literally, and sweatily, as you'll see) his second chance to live out the rock star lifestyle. (National release: August 1) The Verdict: 4 stars (out of 5)

Big Heart City -- An ex-con returns to the real world after six months in the can, only to find that his pregnant girlfriend has gone missing. Did she leave on her own, or has something terrible happened to her? That's the basic plot summary, but it's not nearly as suspenseful as it sounds. The movie is basically a look into the psyche of the main character, who seems to be living in his own little dreamland. By the end of the film, you wonder if that's literally what was happening. The Verdict: 2.5 stars

Your Name Here -- This one was a real mindf--k. Bill Pullman stars as a sci-fi author (loosely based on Phillip K. Dick) who in the process of completing his masterpiece snorts a little speed and blacks out. When he wakes up, he finds himself trapped inside some kind of alternate reality that mirrors the twisted, conspiracy-filled world of his novels.

Visually, it's a treat -- it's set in 1974, so you get plenty of sweet disco-era duds and hair, as well as a strong dose of Nixonian paranoia. Pullman is brilliant in a role that pushes him beyond the affable supporting roles that he typically plays. The plot is likely too confusing challenging to appeal to a broad audience, but those of you who like a movie that makes you think -- or allows you to get out of the way and let the plot and characters just wash over you and carry you away -- will get a kick out of this. Pullman's performance alone is worth the price of admission. The Verdict: 3.5 stars.

After the last movie, we checked out the CineVegas 10th anniversary party, poolside at the new Palms condo tower. Decent crowd -- saw Pullman and his wife, as well as the star of Big Heart City. But the big buzz was the presence of one Britney Spears, who was holed up in a cabana with three beefy security guards keeping the crowd at arm's length. In the one glimpse of La Spears that I got, she looked healthy, sober, and appropriately attired. So, there's that.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'm ba-a-a-a-a-a-ck!

And while I was away, I got a little ESPN cred! From a Jayson Stark blog post:

• And loyal reader Patrick Donnelly noticed something cool about Twins starter Nick Blackburn's season. In back-to-back starts last month, he beat both World Series teams, the Red Sox and Rockies. But thanks to the miracle of interleague play, that also happened just last year, according to Elias. The last man to do it: Jamie Moyer, by beating the Tigers on June 16 and then the Cardinals six days later. Nevertheless, the fact that all of this stuff unfurled, in real non-fictionalized life, is just one more reason baseball is the greatest sport there is. Don't you think?

OK, it's pretty nerdy of me to be excited about this, but hey, I'm pretty much a nerd when it comes to baseball.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Our long national nightmare is almost over

The Blue Ribbon project is done. (Sneak preview of my four teams: Mizzou will be really, really good. Kansas will just be really good. Colorado might be good. Iowa State might be mediocre.)

The book project is about 75% complete, and now that I'll be able to give it my undivided attention, instead of my divided attention, it should wrap up in a hurry.

But first, we celebrate -- I'm off to Atlanta for another baseball weekend with the boys. I'm leaving 90s and dry for 90s and humid, but I'll survive.

Stay tuned: What Happens In Henderson will return in a moment (or four days).