Guns and girls.

This is going to be a very nerdy post: Three reviews of things, the first of…

The Miserable, and the wretched.

Saw Les Misérables yesterday.

Honestly, a musical is not my cup of tea, but the movie was just fine. I have familiarity and appreciation for the story, and the musical, from my youth, so I was curious to see how it would be adapted, and like everyone else, I had heard good things about the performances of Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. I suspect they’ll both get Oscar nominations, but Anne Hathway is the one with the real shot here. She does a lot of heavy lifting with the relatively limited role of Fantine and even in her short time here no one hits the strides and the heights and depths that she can plumbs so easily. Jackman is good, but not as good as her. Plus, he’s got the unfortunate timing of potentially being nominated for Best Actor in the same award season as Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln.

I dreamed a dream.

Tom Hooper, however, is as boring in his direction as he was in The King’s Speech, and possibly less so. Somehow that film was both nominated and managed to win the big awards, but I don’t think that will be the case here. Especially not in a year that produced a Lincoln, a Zero Dark Thirty, and a Life Of Pi.

Anyway, minor flaws of the film that aren’t so minor: Way too fucking long and not interesting enough to sustain that length. The stuff towards the end with the June Rebellion was dreadfully boring, and anytime Jackman, Hathaway, or even Russell Crowe as Javert weren’t on screen, you found yourself checking your watch. I did enjoy Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (she’s just doomed to always play the gothic clown now, isn’t she?) as the Thénardiers, and they did provide some much needed comic relief to the film, but their rendition of the film’s second most memorable song was pretty boring.

Anyway, my second review is of…

Mad hilarity, merciless action, dark cynicism, and incorruptible bravery.

Gun Machine, the new novel by Warren Ellis.

This is a fun, slightly nuts book, which is the usual from Ellis. His first novel, Crooked Little Vein, was a silly but interesting little pulp travelogue through America, and Gun Machine comes from a similar place, but it’s more of a harder crime novel. This is Warren Ellis sodomizing writers like James Patterson and Ed McBain with his ideas, sort of.

The premise is simple: A cop stumbles upon an apartment filled with guns, hundreds of them and nothing else, and each crime can be traced to a different unsolved crime. Somebody has been keeping these guns all this time as trophies.

I believe I read somewhere the book has already been optioned to be developed into a TV show, which is… exciting, I guess. Granted, they’ll take the premise, and they’ll tone it down. They’ll have to. This book is a little nuts, and filled with a lot of little minutiae that’s probably closer to the harsh reality of crime in a big insane urban cityscape, but not the kind of thing that the flyover states are ready to tune into from their local affiliate. The first scene of the book, for example, involves the main character’s partner getting half of his face blown off by a shotgun blast delivered by a ranting naked man.

Gun

That said, there are lots of little ideas and the basic premise that could easily translate into a very interesting serial procedural. That, and I would like to see the type of characters that Ellis writes on either the small screen or the big screen, as they’re usually broken, mouthy creatures who are incorruptibly brave (a nice way of putting it from the Wired review quoted as a blurb on the cover) and very good at what they do.

Half of this book is written in the parlance of the internet, almost as if Ellis got tired of scanning the internet landscape and fueled some of that excitement and anger into a writing frenzy. At the same time, as a fan of his comic books and ideas shared in various places online, I am excited to see him evolving in a new medium, but I can’t say that it feels like he’s challenging himself here. But I have to say that I would secretly like to see Ellis tackle one of his nonfiction books that have more than one foot inside music theory and hauntological futures (which he is working on, thankfully), or maybe some kind of insane sci fi novel – I would love to see Warren Ellis become the new Harlan Ellison – or really get into TV, writing for Doctor Who or resurrecting Quatermass, something like that.

The second review being of…

Victorian values.

“The Snowmen,” the recent Doctor Who Christmas special.

I miss talking about Doctor Who, here or anywhere else. I really need to develop a venue for that, but as far as this episode goes, in short: This was a merely so so episode with great characters in it. Matt Smith is always good and shining with the Doctor, and only improves as he continues to play the character, and Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are welcome ongoing returns to the series, and I can’t say enough nice things about Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara, who is mysterious and a serious breath of fresh air. If I’m being honest, I may be doing this post solely to post pictures of her.

That said, this episode was not great. The webisode prequels were more interesting than a good deal of the regular plot of the episode, and I thought it was brave that the threat that the characters were facing down was given an extreme back seat to the character moments.

More guns.

Steven Moffat’s writing is always great, but if I had one major criticism of his tenure on Doctor Who as the showrunner it would be that everything feels too rushed. I assume that the fickle nature of television and the constant need to up the ante is what causes that, but as much as I enjoyed season 5 as the shakedown cruise for a new Doctor, companion, and way of looking at the show, season 6 seemed very rushed, big on set up and small on payoff, possibly because the payoff had to be pushed forward, forward, forward. Part of me wonders if a lot of that was necessitated by the upcoming 50th anniversary special.

That special lead to a lot of new additions in the Christmas special, including the introduction of Smith’s face in the main credit sequence (which I’m positive they’ve been threatening since he took over the role) and a redesigned TARDIS console room that brought back a lot of the blandness of the poorly executed production design from the show’s earlier regenerations in video with rubber monsters back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Cosby sweaters and scripts

And I’m as curious as the next person about some of the big things to come, like the presumed payoff of the First Question, but eventually it could get tiring to constantly finding situations for characters to say, “Doctor… Who?”

Anyway. That said, I’m looking forward to the second half of the current season and the (re)introduction of Clara, Mark 3. I suspect that she’ll be everything that we had assumed and hoped that Amy Pond will be, and I’m really looking forward it. The show regenerates each time a new Doctor steps out of the ashes of the previous one, but as they keep rightfully so telling us, the show is about the companions and the view they provide, and it really feels like the show could come to life again with the addition of Clara. I’m excited.

Remember.

Who is Natalie Portman fucking these days?

Came across this gem on the internetz the other day:

Oh, that gave me quite the chuckle.

And, from that, I have some points to share with you, all of them only barely related to each other…

1. The other day, while speaking to Benjie, I was just bullshitting and joking around, as I am wont to do, and I retorted to something or other that I should start a single serving website called Who Is Natalie Portman Fucking These Days?

I think I actually called it Who Is Natalie Portman Dating Now? in that conversation, but let’s get right to the bottom of it: No one cares who you’re dating. Or, if they do, that’s only half as interesting who you’re actually fucking.

2. Case in point: Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. They’re still married. They have stayed married for five years past what the expiration date on that joke should’ve been. Congrats! You’re boring celebrities! But now we find out that he’s fucking around or perhaps they’re in an open relationship, whatever. Whoever you’re walking down a red carpet with will always pale in comparison to who you’re rubbing your genitals on. Of course we wish it wasn’t that way, but it is. Right?

1, continued: Meanwhile, Natalie Portman has certainly had an eclectic dating history. I don’t know all of it, which is probably a good thing, but Moby, for one. When I heard about that way back in the day I thought, “Well, great, that’s when I reach for my revolver. Ha ha. Bad joke, sorry.

But she also dated Devendra Banhart, which is… Well, regardless of whatever it is, that’s a thing that happened.

Perhaps she dated Hayden Christensen, an actor of dubious charm, too. I remember that was rumored around when they were filming the Star Wars prequels.

Though, again, were they dating or were they just killing time together while stuck in Australia spending hours and hours surrounded by green screen on movie sets? You can hardly fault an actor for the sexual shenanigans they get up to while filming a movie down under, methinks.

Also, Jude Law. Maybe. Face it, straight dudes, whoever that young ingenue that you have a masturbatory fantasy about, well, Jude Law’s probably gotten there first.

And, possibly Sean Penn. That’s weird, and kind of sad, but I’m not one to judge. At least it’s not Mickey Rourke, you know.

Some fashion designer/former male model or a British millionaire. Or Ryan Gosling or Gael García Bernal. Who cares? Those are less than tremendous choices for an inamorata.

John Mayer. Let’s just be thankful that, as far as I know, she hasn’t gone down this street yet. Thank God. That’s the kind of dead end that far too many cars have ran out of gas on or broken down on. I sincerely apologize for comparing women to cars in that metaphor.

But, speaking of John Mayer, there are a lot of things Natalie Portman is: a competent and incredibly inspiring actor that’s fun to watch, an Academy Award nominee, a good role model, a Harvard graduate, Jewish, someone with an Erdős-Bacon number, a director, a producer, a democrat, a vegan, a fashion designer (she has her own line of vegan shoes), a nonbeliever in the afterlife (good for you, Nat), someone whose birth name is Hershlag, an outstanding spokesperson and fundraiser for many fine organizations and causes around the world, a friend of Lukas Haas, a fan of NBC”s new hit comedy, Outsourced, and fluent in Japanese, German, French, and Arabic.

And thankfully there are a lot of things that Natalie Portman is not and one of those Jennifer Aniston.

And, of course, I made up the part about her liking Outsourced. Nobody likes that show.

I just typed “Natalie Portman” and “boyfriend” into google the other day and was informed that she is presumably currently dating a professional ballet dancer.

3. I really want to see Black Swan. It looks interesting and kind of b-movie cheesy brilliant. That perfect sweet spot where artsy films meet b-movie plots and Roman Polanski-esque level creepiness (I’m referring of course to the director’s movies, which I’m a fan of, and now his IRL creepiness).

4. Benjie Light and I were discussing that the other night and ruminating on what a poor year it’s been for movies. Also, we were kind of upset that we find ourselves having to say that thing every single year, it seems.

But 2010 has especially been strange since it seems like The Social Network, which is a fine, solid movie, will probably have serious Oscar potential (certainly Best Adapted Screenplay, but I’m talking Best Picture here too, party people)  just because we’re not going to have a lot of just stupendously great movies to nominate. Black Swan will probably be there somewhere in the Best Picture nominees too, I bet.

That said, I’d still prefer to see Aronofsky doing Superman rather than Zack Snyder, but that’s also kind of like saying I’d like to keep typing rather than sticking my hand in a blender, I know.

from here.

5. Because of The Social Network (and it’s strong success), I think a lot of blogs are having to step back and get a little meta maybe and also start thinking about the story of themselves. The amateurs map themselves onto the percieved personas of your Mark Zuckerberg/Jesse Eisenbergs and your Eduardo Saverin/Andrew Garfield/Peter Parkers, but that’s something you do after running around in the yard and peeing on plants and right before it’s naptime.

The big leagues is analyzing yourself, really getting into the dark and nasty places of your own blog/website, the twisted nitty gritty of your own origins, and pondering who’ll play you when your story of internet conquest hits the big screen.

Seriously, blogs o’ the interwebz, I am posing that question to you.

Benjie Light and I were contemplating that the other day ourselves. In a fucked up scorched earth production of the Counterforce story, we’d probably cast Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau as ourselves. But that’d be just so we could be dicks to each other about it.

Or, the recession era variation of that casting would probably be Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, I guess. And directed by Ron Howard. Ugh.

6. And Jeff Goldblum as Occam Razor.

7. And Kristen Stewart as Peanut St. Cosmo.

8. No, I’m just kidding about that. I wouldn’t even presume to guess at who could capture the bold essence of either Peanut or Maria, nor do I want to risk my testicles in the gambit of making a choice they’re not pleased with. They know who should play them far better than I could ever hope to guess, I imagine. That is, of course, if they’re too busy to not play the parts themselves.

9. But if they don’t comment on my fucking post then I swear to God I’ll combine them into one amalgamation character as played by Christine Hendricks!

10. You could probably cast any old twink as August Bravo. As long as they smell like straight up mayonnaise (that’s an inside joke that you don’t really want to nor need to get too inside on, believe me). Or maybe his favorite character on Mad Men (see above)? Or maybe one of Will Smith’s kids?

11. And, August Bravo, before you even say it…

…trust me, it could be worse. It could be Vince Vaughn playing you.

12. That said, I’ll say this in defense of Vince Vaughn: He’s probably the hardest working actor in that particularly bleak game of comedy films these days. Unlike the Owen Wilsons of the world, Vaughn is the long distance runner in this game. Just look at a sleazy guy like Bradley Cooper and tell me that you honestly think he’s got Vaughn’s stamina at this shit. No fucking way. That said, I’d say that Vince Vaughn is a lot like Magic Johnson in that he’s not necessarily great on his own, but he’s a great team player. If you pass him the ball in a really interesting way, then he’ll do something extra interesting when he shoots for the basket. And a little sleazy, as that’s the default of where his comedy riffage always seems set at (but still feeling classier than your average Bradley Cooper… anything). If he’s got no one to work with then it’s just a sad study in a man running up and down the court while dribbling.

13. Extreme side note there: I feel like every time I see a picture of Winona Ryder now, I’d describe the look on her face as if you had literally just caught her in the act of shoplifting.

14. In conclusion: Going back to point #1, Vince Vaughn, thank you for not being John Mayer. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’ve gotten pretty fucking close to that territory more than few times, but you’ve still yet to fully cross that line and we appreciate it. I don’t think I could quite believe you as the romantic companion of Natalie Portman, but then again, I’ll believe just about anything these days.

“The biggest Austrian Superstar since Hitler.”

The nice thing about going to see a Sacha Baron Cohen film, like Brüno or Borat, is that it feels like watching live theatre. But live theatre where something has gone horribly wrong, then horribly right in that wrongness, the train is off the track and it’s wonderful.

And that’s what Brüno is, absolutely wonderful. Is it offensive and foul and mean-spirited at times? Yes, but wonderfully so. Horribly beautifully so in a crudely justifiable way.

The film, which was also known by the fake working title of Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt, should have perhaps stuck with that longer fake title. It sums up the film perfectly.

Cohen’s ability to expose and skewer religious intolerance, the desire for fame, and homophobia is genius. And in this film, he ratchets up the gay energy to an almost nuclear level. Not in an offensive way, I don’t think, and I hope others don’t either, but in an almost celebratory way’s. He’s not simply playing a gay character here, he’s playing what some would consider the ultimate stereotype of gay characters.

He’s then throwing those stereotypes into the faces of unwitting victims on camera, pulling out the true responses of these people, usually blazing homophobia and he’s putting it on the wall of the cinema for us all to see, like a glimpse through the cultural looking glass of the funhouse mirror. He’s saying, “look at their reactions. Isn’t that ridiculous?”

To share individual moments with this film to anyone reading who hasn’t seen the movie (and wishes to, or will hopefully someday be forced to) would be criminal. But if you’ve seen the trailer to the film, or seen Borat or Da Ali G show before, you’ve got an idea. And, you have no idea at all.

Put vaguely, here’s just a tasty taste of what to expect: Austria, the ultimate advice from a nutritionist, a pygmy lover named Diesel, possibly the greated lovemaking scene to ever grace the cinema since Team America, a lot of people being held hostage by their shock at seeing such outrageous things, how to defend yourself against a man with two dildos, pure guerilla cinema, what it looks like to attempt to make a sex tape with Ron Paul, the happy accidents of fashion, Paula Abdul, Mexican furniture, people who “cure” homosexuality, a great interview with Harrison Ford, a lot of nudity, a sex act performed on a spirit, the hunt for a new cause célèbre (Clooney’s got Darfur, so Brüno wants Darfive), the Dallas area talk show that left a lot of people beautifully upset, a swinger party, parents who want their kids to be stars, and the Sex And The City-esque foursome of good ol’ boy shitkicker hunter types. And maybe, just maybe, some love among the cultural ruins that is MMA gatherings.

Sadly, what you won’t see is the LaToya Jackson scene that was recently cut in lieu of her brother’s death, and Brüno taking on Prop 8 in California. Or whatever happened at the senior bingo game that has one woman suing Cohen because she says the prank left her disabled. I know that at certain points while watching the film, I certainly felt disabled with laughter.

A friend texted me earlier, responding to a text from me saying that I was seeing the film this afternoon, and asked if it was less funny, as funny, or more funny than Borat? About the same, but in a different way, I’d say. And much tighter, packing a lot in a very economic runtime. Walking out of the theatre, Conrad Noir said to me, “Come Monday, a lot of the people who were in that film are going to be suing?” He was specifically referring to parents of aspiring baby actors, but he could’ve been referring to just about anyone. Recalling an account I had read of the trials and tribulations of getting Borat off the ground, I’m glad that Sacha Baron Cohen and Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld‘s Larry Charles found each other. I’m not entirely sure what their working style is, but I can only imagine that it’s a lot of mutual enabling and a lot of crossing their fingers. Too many of their stunts and pranks require a lot of set up and could’ve only illicted one take, one shot to hit or miss.

Hours after seeing the film now I’m still chuckling at some of the moments from it. The perfectly created awkwardness of some of the scenes and the confusion and intolerance of people that’s so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh at it. But it makes you want to examine yourself for a moment. You’re laughing at the silliness of others, but you’re almost uncomfortable, worried what you’d do if you were trapped in a similar situation. Chances are good that within every one of this there lays some kind of prejudice or ignorance. Let’s just hope that Sacha Baron Cohen keeps making films until he exposes all of them.