Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Rise and Fall of ECW

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s there were two major wrestling organizations, WWF (now WWE) and WCW.  They each had their own weekly show on major cable networks.  The ratings fight of that era is legendary and if you’re interested in learning more about that check out The Monday Night War.  But there was a third organization that nipped at the heels of those giants, ECW or Extreme Championship Wrestling.

ECW was by far more violent and wild with their entertainment offering.  These guys would get bloody on just about every show and endure more pain than the average WWF or WCW match.  The wrestlers at ECW would come up with crazy shit like lighting a table on fire and then slamming someone through it.  They also broke new ground in the story department as they apparently came up with the first lesbian storyline in wrestling. 

They were very good at what they did which would often result in WWF or WCW snatching their wrestlers away.  Couple that with the fact that ECW was only on Philadelphia public access and it’s a miracle that this wrestling outfit was as big as it was.  They eventually got Pay Per Views and a show on TNN (anyone else remember that channel?) but it all eventually ground to a halt because the owner and mad scientist behind it all, Paul Heyman, was a poor business man.  It’s a real shame.

This doc is fucking fantastic and goes through in detail the history of ECW.  These guys put everything they had into this organization and it shows.  I felt for all the people that worked there because it seemed like they had a magical, albeit unsustainable, thing going.  A whole lot of wrestlers like Mick Foley and Chris Jericho got their start at ECW and in the interviews they look back on it fondly as being one of the most fun things they were ever involved with.  It seems that everyone gets to tell their side of the story including Paul Heyman, the wrestlers, Vince McMahon and even                                                                      Eric Bischoff weighs in.

The only complaint I have is that the music is too loud.  Whoever mixed this did a terrible job as the music is blaring over all the interviews and it’s hard to hear what people are saying a lot of the time.  And I should give fair warning that it’s 2 hrs and 50 mins long.  But I don’t think of that as a con.  I think of it more as totally engrossing and all encompassing.  You guys should see this one, you’ll like it.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Exit Through the Gift Shop

This one chronicles street art and Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash (MBW).  Thierry was just some guy that followed street artists around filming them and then decided to become one himself.  But he tried to do it overnight and actually achieved instant success.  This documentary is really interesting and thought provoking.  It raises so many questions about art and how it’s perceived.

Because MBW didn’t hone his skills for years and go through a period of finding his own style the film’s director, Banksy (also a famous street artist), resents him.  And I’ll admit that I felt that way too at first.  We learn that an artist should suffer at least a little for their art.  It’s all about emotion and conveying that feeling or idea in a meaningful way.  But what about lack of emotion?  I guess that could be art too.  Everyone responds differently to the many art forms out there.  If it means something to you it’s art.  If not it’s not art.

And that’s the ultimate question that the movie poses: what is art?

If an artist seemingly puts very little effort into their work but someone is willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for it, does that count as art?  Is it all about money?  If so what’s the dividing line?  If I pay $5 or $5,000 for someone’s painting does it make a difference?  Can an artist skip the suffering period and shoot straight to stardom?  Does having a gallery show mean you’re an artist?  Does the amount of people that attend your show make a difference?  When is it a rip off and when is it something totally new?  These are all questions that people have been debating forever.  I don’t know what the answers are.

Art is an extremely personal thing.  I’m pretty confident with that statement.  The rest is a mystery. 

At the end Banksy sums up perfectly the feeling that this film gives you, he says that MBW broke the rules but then again there aren’t any rules.  What Banksy is implying is that the popularity and success of MBW diminishes his own and others popularity and success.  The real kicker is that MBW is kind of incompetent too.  More than anything he’s imitating and doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  But the public doesn’t see that.  All they see is a great new artist.  At the same time you could argue that what Banksy is doing also diminishes other artist’s works like Warhol or Picasso.  I mean it’s sort of what Banksy is all about.  He’s a rebel that likes to make fun of society and point out absurd notions.  And you might say that MBW is doing the same thing.  If you think of Banksy’s work as anti-art then MBW’s is like anti anti-art.  MBW was able to make a million dollars on his first show out of nothing in a couple of months.  It makes what others like Banksy do look like bullshit that’s easily and thoughtlessly done.  And maybe it is.  Maybe MBW truly is creating some wonderful works of art.  It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

I highly recommend this documentary guys.  Some people might think MBW cheated at art while others might think he’s done some beautiful work.  It’s an extremely interesting debate. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Prometheus (well, half of it anyway)

Man, people were pumped to see Prometheus.  It got a lot of hype and at the theater I frequent there were lines of moviegoers with their 3D glasses in hand eagerly waiting to get in.  I didn’t know people still give a shit about the Alien franchise.  But I don’t think that’s it actually.  There are a lot of people that wanted to see this just because it’s a summer blockbuster that looks a bit intriguing.  Those that recognized that it had something to do with Alien and saw the film only piled on to the crowd.  And with something like that there’s inevitably going to be disappointment, it’s just a matter of how much.  Well it seems the general consensus that I’m picking up is that this picture ain’t so great.  And that the more you think about it the worse it gets. 

Now some of you may know that I’m a fan of the Alien series (I even dig Resurrection) so of course I was curious about seeing what Prometheus had to offer.  Unknowingly I performed a little experiment with it over the weekend.  Instead of watching the whole thing I only saw about an hour of it which comprised mostly of the second half of the picture (I was in between movies at the theater and had an hour to kill).  I came in when Shaw and Holloway (I think that’s who it was, I didn’t have much time to learn names) were having sex and I left as Shaw was racing back into the destroyed alien ship to get David’s severed head.  It looks like I got the meat of the film which is perfect for this test.  Here are my thoughts from the one hour I saw:

I’m gonna get the good stuff out of the way first.  This picture is being universally praised for the way it looks and I’ll agree with that.  A lot of the visuals like the bad guy alien ship crashing back towards LV-whatever looked pretty goddamn cool.  So good job Ridley Scott, the one thing I liked is that you made a beautiful looking movie.  Well, and the self surgery scene was cool.  That seemed to be a real crowd pleaser and others are calling it the best part of the whole thing.

Alright now that that’s done let’s see what’s bad.  The first thing I noticed is that everyone in this film is too pretty.  A lot of times (especially the last five years or so) in movies I find good looking people to be distracting.  Unless they’re a helluva an actor or the story is totally incredible, I can’t stop thinking they’re just some beautiful woman or handsome man playing a part in a film and not the character that we’re supposed to be engaged with.  Between Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba it looks more like a beauty contest than a team of scientists/space pilots.  I mean look at the cast of Alien.  Fuckin’ Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt and Yaphet Kotto are the perfect un-pretty people to give the movie more believability.  Even Sigourney Weaver isn’t very good looking in my opinion.  I’m not saying that everyone should fill their movies with ugly people, that’s just as stupid as only casting beautiful people.  But depending on the role, the tone, the type of picture, etc the filmmakers should cast appropriately and not just stick the prettiest actors they can find in front of the camera.

Look at this fuckin' ragtag group
Now check out these gorgeous motherfuckers

Next is something that I’m not going to get too into but the plot seemed too confusing and unnecessarily complicated.  After reading some other reviews on the movie it seems that the black goo, the vases, the huge head statue, the albino snake cock, the idea of aliens creating humans, Holloway turning into some sort of zombie and a million other things aren’t explained.  And it’s not in a cool mysterious kind of way but more in a “why was that in the movie?” kind of way.  I think the bottom line is there’s just a bunch of shit thrown in your face.  What’s the reasoning behind any of it?  Ridley Scott thought it would be cool.

That part where the two expendable scientists get attacked by the penis creature from the black sludge is a little frustrating.  I mean why would one of them try to touch it?  It’s not a shocker that the thing attacked these guys and even though we know what’s about to happen it’s not exciting to see the white wang kill these dudes.  When they both died I was happy.  I have no sympathy for dumb motherfuckers that do dumb shit.  Fuck ‘em, they deserved it.

Did anyone else think that using a flute to call up information on the giant alien conference table was fucking silly as shit?  Yes, clearly they are the advanced race.  A button is so primitive.  Oh wait, they do have buttons.  Seems like it would’ve been a little easier to just push one of those buttons to call shit up than to memorize and play back a melody.  But what the hell, it’s the future right?  I guess alien beings might do something like that.

If David’s a fucking robot then why is he in total amazement when he discovers the alien information on the conference table?  I mean I get that this is the future and that technology has advanced a great deal so robots could act more human-like but David acts like a kid in a fucking candy store.  There are no humans around for him to put on an act for.  Plus I think everyone knows that he’s a robot anyway (was that established in the first hour?).

What was Charlize Theron’s purpose in the film exactly?  From what I saw she didn’t do jack shit.  The only thing was she burned a dude alive but he came back to life to wreak havoc anyway.  Can anyone explain to me why she was in this flick besides to be just another pretty face to look at?

Ok let’s wrap this up.  My conclusion is that this movie looks great but the story is crap.  It’s comprised of these ideas that weren’t fleshed out very much or thought about beyond their initial conception.  But the real big problem here is that there’s no legitimate reason why this film should exist.  Does anyone really fucking care about what happened to that destroyed spaceship on LV-something-something, how it got there or the origin of the alien species?  I certainly don’t.  In fact it’s part of the reason why Alien is one of the best films ever made.  There’s just enough mystery there to stimulate your brain and get it engaged.  If you pull back the curtain on that mystery it better be something really goddamn good otherwise you’re just fucking with the fabric of a classic.  Scott provides bad and very murky explanations to questions that no one really wanted to be answered.

By the way I do not understand why Ridley Scott still gets the amount of respect and praise that he does.  In my opinion Alien is the only good picture that he’s made.  And since he only came through once I could even chalk that up as a fluke.  But his other work tells me that he’s not a total fucking idiot.  Genius though?  Definitely not.  He knows how to make a film look very nice.  I’ll certainly give him that.  But it’s weird for me because I feel like I’m the only one that sees that overall he’s not a very good director.

I dunno guys.  It’s hard to resist something that expands the Alien universe but at the same time we’re better off not knowing the back story to the ship that Ripley and co. encountered all those years ago.  Because whatever we come up with in our own minds is going to be (most likely) way simpler and (definitely) way more satisfying than anything that these filmmakers could come up with.    

So I think my experiment worked for the most part.  I was able to understand who these characters were and (very generally) what was going on.  I wouldn’t recommend skipping the prologue and diving right into the main event for every film but in a sense I feel pretty comfortable with what I saw.  From what I gather virtually nothing is explained anyway so maybe it’s better this way.  The way I saw this thing maybe it yielded a more satisfying experience than if I had seen the entire picture.  I guess I’ll never know.  But it was interesting and I would like to try this method again to see how the results stack up.

Oh, and don’t let anyone tell you that Prometheus isn’t a prequel to Alien.  Scott was trying to play it off like it’s this other thing but it’s totally not.  This film is in the same timeline and the events occur directly before Alien.  It’s a fucking prequel.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Men in Black III

Okay I know this is old news by now but I just saw Men in Black III (it’s always better to number your sequels in roman numerals than regular Arabic ones).  And you know what, I really enjoyed the first half where Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back together doing their thang.  When Will goes back in time I started to lose interest though.  I like Josh Brolin ‘n all but the forced 60’s references were a little too much for me.  Also as the film when on it became more evident how rusty Will Smith is at comedy these days.  I mean it’s been like seven years since he’s done a straight up comedic performance (Hitch).  Overall though this movie was a fun watch and actually one I recommend.  It’s got a menacing bad guy, a couple of funny jokes, an awesome shootout scene in a Chinese restaurant, likable protagonists and a tense storyline.  It’s pretty much everything I’m looking for in a film.

And after watching this third installment in the series it made me realize that I really dig the Men in Black universe.  The movies haven’t been spectacular but the characters and the world they live in are memorable.  I like the idea of alien cops solving alien mysteries (that somehow always involve destroying Earth).  The different creatures that the filmmakers come up with and how they interact with human society is clever, interesting and humorous.  I feel like the Men in Black series should’ve been like Ghostbusters or some shit.  People were hyping up the first film to be a destined action sci-fi comedy type thing for the ages but instead it seemed to be something that everyone saw and no one liked.  The Men in Black pictures aren’t terrible but they haven’t nailed one either which is frustrating because it’s a good concept.

One last thing, part of the reason why I think I’ve come around on this franchise is because of the Men in Black: Alien Attack Shooting gallery/dark ride at Universal Studios Orlando.  It’s quite impressive and the best of its kind (here’s a tip: if the line is too long and/or you want to skip the pre show because you’ve already seen it, hop on the single rider line and you’ll get on in no time).  Having affection towards that ride in turn gave me respect and a sense of how great the idea really is for the MIB.