Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Freelancin': A Simpsons Guy, An Hour of Tragedy

Apologies about the audio quality this time.  Nothing ever does go exactly right, does it?  It's fine at the beginning and the end, then slowly it builds during the middle.  There must be some static in my mic that I didn't notice in testing, and now it's too late.  Anyway, speaking of incredible laziness, the Simpsons x Family Guy crossover:


Even I do not know how "Family Guy" remains on television.  I don't want to know.  It's bad enough that I'm forced to talk about it once a year as it is.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gone Girl

A few years ago, I came across a news show run a woman by the name of "Nancy Grace".  I found myself captivated by this woman immediately.  There was a magnetism to her that can only be found in the greatest of geniuses or the most dangerous of psychotics.  She was fascinating in all of the worst ways:  the self-assured crusading, the unceasing fiery anger, the clear insanity in her eyes, so obviously marking her as deeply deranged.  I was certain something had gone wrong.  There had been a mix-up, some mistake.  The anchor of this program was wearing a straight-jacket in a cell somewhere while a madwoman off her meds was being allowed to rant unhinged on national television.  The movie "Network" had come true.  Instead of Howard Beale we had Nancy Grace.  Still just as mad as Hell.

I remember grinning ear to ear.  This was all the validation I needed.  Nancy Grace did her wild song and dance against Scott Peterson or Casey Anthony or any of the other poor people she had set her sights upon.  Furious in her unproven certainty, she simply would throw out ridiculous claims.  Logic or evidence were not required.  I don't know what she used to get her "facts" - gut instinct, woman's intuition, coded crossword messages written by the aliens of Planet Zeta-9?  It did not matter.  She was abuse and rail against whatever creature she had in your paws.  She delighted in destroying people.

And the legal system shuddered before this woman and her army of self-righteous fans.  She had reinvented the media circus.  Grace stared boldly through the television set, triumphantly screaming whatever whim came into her mind.  People listened and nodded slowly in agreement.  If I ever needed proof that American society was rotten from top to bottom, I could not have asked for more.  Nancy Grace is on television, and she is allowed - nay, encouraged - to profit off of tragedy.  We love her because she tortures people both innocent and guilty for everybody's amusement.  You don't need to be without sin to throw the first stone anymore, you just need a Southern accent and a worldwide audience.

"Gone Girl", both in book and film form, is an examination on the effect Nancy Grace and her kind have on real people.  The hero of this story is the typical "bad guy" in the narrative that Grace uses so often to sell her moralizing diatribes to her legions of hungry fans.  This is the usual story of a rich White woman, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappearing without a trace.  Slowly everybody begins to suspect her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck) as the killer.  And all the ersatz Nancy Grace in the movie needs to call him a killer is a single selfie taken by a random woman, and a misplaced smile at a press conference.  Forget the actual truth or the real people involved, the Lifetime Original Movie template has very specific tropes.  Everybody has to play their part.

NYFF Press Screenings Week 2: The Princess of France, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Maps to the Stars, Time Out of Mind, Jauja

The 52nd New York Film Festival has opened to the public.  Every film media outlet is out there reporting about the movies, the celebrities, and the movies for the entire world.  The doors opened on Friday night, so now Lincoln Center is awash with celebrity, arthouse, and if you have a VIP card, really terrible white wine (get the champagne instead).

The biggest news so far has been the premiere of "Gone Girl", the new Oscar-buzzing thriller starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.  Being a starstruck fool, I will report that I was in the same room as those super stars.  Affleck couldn't find a comfortable way to sit on his silly chair - so glamorous!  Rosamund Pike was so terrified she did not move a muscle for several minutes.  But who am I to criticize when she just put together the best performances of 2014, and I could not think of a question to ask?  Or could bring myself to even attempt to talk with anybody famous at the premiere party?  (Still got to hang with other Critics Academy peoples, who make for some of the best company I've had at a party.  And great goddamn rum.)  Even so, I have been breathing the same air as celebrities, the 21st century aristocracy, and that has to look good on a resume.  However, not nearly as awesome as "Gone Girl", already one of my favorite movies of 2014.  That's more of a privilege than anything else.

But this post is not about "Gone Girl".  Instead I will talk about the movies that may get washed away in David Fincher's wake, both the good and the bad.

I'll start with the good this time and begin with "Maps to the Stars", the new film from my favorite director of all time, David Cronenberg.  It is his second collaboration with former vampire, Robert Pattinson, after the truly awful "Cosmopolis".  This time luckily, it is not entirely a film about Pattinson in the back of a limousine.  He's instead of a limousine driver, and has a much smaller better-cast role.  Cronenberg moves from a movie about the disconnect of Wall Street Masters of the Universe to the disconnect of Hollywood celebrities and the phoniness of it all.  And somewhere while moving across the North American continent, Cronenberg also remembered how to be clever, funny, and extremely disturbing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poll: New Blog Title Needed

Okay, let us face facts here.  I am the world's worst brand marketer.  The name "Planet Blue" is terrible.  It was pretty much just a place holder from the beginning, because it was either that or just "BlueHighwind's Blog".  (And as for "Tales From the Q?", there are some things best left forgotten.)  Ultimately there are simple goals that a title must achieve.  #1 Be memorable - this isn't.  Nobody can remember the name of my blog.  #2 Be easily reached at the top of a Google searches - and I have failed even more miserably at that.  I mean, look at these jerks, stealing my title!  And calling it "Official" too.

We are nearing five years now at this blog.  There have been successes, but clearly improvements need to be made.  Some of those improvements have been embarrassingly basic, like actually re-reading and editing my text, to aesthetic such as the addition of screenshots and the new BH avatar.  Clearly though one of the worst problems this blog has is its title, and that needs to change.

Unfortunately, I am the world's worst namer for things.  I wrote up a list of fifty titles, nearly all of them terrible, and I'm down to about six ideas, none of which I'm hugely in love with, but they could be worse:

1. The Blog from 20,000 Fathoms
2. It Conquered the Internet
3. A Clockwork Blue
4. Blue Highwind's Lonely Hearts Club Blog
5. The Highwind Empire
6. The World Ends With Blue
7. EDIT:  Blog Highwind (suggested by Technobliterator)

Anyway, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I can have a conversation with everybody instead of carrying the burden alone.  Instead of making the decision myself, you all can!  (I am psychologically unable to make a decision, actually.  I cannot pick paper or plastic, let alone a name.)  So leave in the comments below which title you like most, or if you can come up with something even better than my attempts here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

It has been five years since "Taken".  At this point I need to accept the novelty of Liam's Neeson's career recreation, a former Oscar contender turned pulp action movie star, is no longer an elaborate gag, but a permanent state of being.  Oscar Schindler and Qui-Gon Jinn have become a grizzled angry man punching people in the face, and any level of irony ran out around the time Neeson was racing cars through Berlin in "Unknown".  So as long as he's become a crowd-pleasing gruff voice with sharp features and a gun, Liam Neeson is going to do crowd-pleasing genre films.  We have had the shooting wars in European cities ("Taken"), the nonsensical thrillers ("Non-Stop"), the survival adventures ("The Grey"), seems that we are overdue for a pulpy hardboiled detective noir, right?

"A Walk Among the Tombstones" is everything you would come to expect from a basic pulp fiction crime thriller, the kind that authors spend entire careers cultivating franchises around.  You know the drill:  a tortured detective, a city, and their battles against maniac serial killers, selling volumes after volumes.  Be it Alex Cross, Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, Kinsey Millhone, etc, it is a genre made with obvious tropes, repetitive storylines, and read by a half-interested public who just want something saucy to read while at jury duty or the waiting room of a dentist's office.  Specifically this film comes from the Matthew Scudder novels, written by Lawrence Block, whose star is a divorced alcoholic private eye with a dark past.  Standard stuff.  This makes for the second attempt to adapt Scudder to the big screen, following the very poorly received 1986 Hal Ashby effort, "8 Million Ways to Die" starring Jeff Bridges and written by Oliver Stone*.  Will thirty years be enough time for a true franchise to begin?

Neeson is definitely the right actor for this material, carrying with him a dry air of veteran menace and bitterness in every scene.  Director and writer Scott Frank designs his film with an older era of noir in mind, with much of the cinematography resembling angular crime films from decades past.  Set in New York of 1999, the film returns to a traditional kind of investigation.  Scudder walks the streets and travels step by step from conversations with witnesses, with the case evolving like an episode of a police procedural from the pre-CSI technocrat era.  However, "A Walk Among the Tombstones" never reaches beyond it's generic origins.  A standard crime novel becomes a standard crime film, as disposable in this medium as it was in the pages of a five dollar paperback.