Rotten Tomatoes is On My List

I’ve mentioned before that Julia and I rely a fair amount on what a given movie’s rating is over at Rotten Tomatoes. Given they pull from a significant number of reviewers, you can get a pretty good idea about whether or not a movie sucks before you lay down your hard-earned cash. It’s probably saved us from wasting time on more than one clunker over the last couple years.

Still, the bastards are far from infallible. A couple weeks ago I talked about the movie Whiteout, which was running a scintillating 6% on RT when we saw it, and I came away thinking it was worth a much more favorable rating. Contrast that now with the movie I’m primed to talk about, the roller derby girl-coming-of-age flick (featuring the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore) Whip It, which is running an impressive 81% at RT.

The Backstory: Why We Wanted to Go in the First Place

Julia and I have a history with roller derby. Early in our relationship, when I would visit her in Tucson, she was doing a solo gig at a club called Plush, and I went to see her. When we arrived in the parking lot, this little pickup came careening into it and these rowdy tattooed chicks dressed in skimpy waitress uniforms came tumbling out. They were The Furious Truckstop Waitresses and had just come from a match. I was intrigued, because at that time I was not aware how much of a resurgance roller derby was experiencing (this was probably at least 6 years or so ago), and it had very little to do with the short skirts and fishnets. Julia was friends with a couple of them, and was, at the time, even considering joining the team, I think.

Anyway, another time we actually went to one of their matches, and it was one of the greatest sport events I’ve ever been to. It was in this big warehouse, and there were a lot of people there. The contest was exciting, the energy was high, there were fights, wipeouts right at our feet (roller derby as depicted in the movie is a bit different from the reality; a good comparison is provided in a Nashville Scene interview with “real-life Nashville Rollergirl jammer Ramb0 Samb0” who also happens to be the girlfriend of Eric Powell, the creator of one of my favorite comic characters, The Goon), it was just a great, great time. I’ve considered myself a fan ever since — it was awesome. So when the inevitable movie with the sport a major part of the plot arrived, we knew we were going.

We Just Want to See the Damn Movie!

We had to take two stabs at seeing this thing, which probably didn’t help. The first time, last weekend, we literally had to sit through the trailer for the (steaming pile of shit that was the) 2nd Pirates of the Caribbean movie about 20 times, and that is no exaggeration (because I never exaggerate). Apparently they use that trailer as kind of a test piece for syncing up audio and video, and the audio was royally hosed in the theater we were trying to see Whip It in. Trust me: when you see a guy standing in the projection booth with a puzzled expression and a spaghetti mess of unterminated audio cables in his fists, it’s probably a good indication that your movie experience may be compromised. Ultimately they ran us out of there, but we got free passes to try again later, which we did a couple nights ago (we almost had deja vu all over again, because the video was hosed on our second try, but they sorted that out quickly).

Parts of this movie I enjoyed, but other parts — a majority of parts, in fact — I hated with the heat of 10,000 exploding suns. How it rates an 81% makes me wonder if the majority of these yayhoos saw the same goddamn flick I did! The movie needed way less boyfriend story, and way more toughness and roller derbying. I came away pretty disappointed. It was just too freakin’ cute, and it didn’t need to be.

The Horror

First of all, this Ellen Page that all the reviewers are so ga-ga over was horribly cast, in my opinion. She looks like she’s about 12, and we’re supposed to believe the people in the movie believe she’s 22? I felt a little perverted every time they showed her in a miniskirt, for crissakes, and that takes some work. Apparently she’s the big star of that movie Juno, which I never saw, and has joined Titanic as one of those “great” films I’ve never seen yet have decided to hate for all eternity (I just had to read a couple reviews and look at the Juno soundtrack to know I’d hate it)(at least Titanic found a little redemption when Woody Harrelson says, “I haven’t cried this much since I saw Titanic!” in Zombieland, which is an awesome movie). So I wasn’t blinded by her impish, whimsical cuteness. Nor did I have much sympathy for her character. The movie did a poor job of showing her alienation in her cozy little, two-parent suburban household, where she was apparently pretty free to come and go as she wanted, didn’t really get hassled all that much, and in a world of psycho moms had one that really wasn’t all that psycho. Add that she’s all cute with perfect skin and not greasy or overweight or particularly harassed by classmates, and her life seemed pretty goddamn decent from what I could see. I would have preferred to see the girl who played her best friend, Alia Shawkat, as the main character instead.

Throw in this scrawny hipster asshole in a horrible indie hipster band that was terrible as a love interest that gets totally overdone with some of the most overblown stupid scenes I’ve ever witnessed and my rage gurgled like the lava in the deepest pit of the most irritable volcano on the planet. I was trying to fastforward the damn movie with my Blackberry every time those scenes were on screen. The l-a-m-e “romantic” swimming pool seduction scene (which took place entirely underwater) was the penultimate in stupidity. I was hoping it would end like the swimming pool scene at the end of Let the Right One In did, but unfortunately it didn’t. And when she ultimately slaps him across the face, it was a blow so weak that I’ve seen mosquitos die with more force at 3rd grade day camps. Little Ellen probably didn’t want to make the actor playing her “boyfriend” cry. Jeez, I’m getting all angry just recalling it. I may need to go streak around the block just to cool off, seeing how it’s about 20 degrees outside and dark.

The Awesome

Hey, I like Drew Barrymore a lot, so I’m glad the movie is successful. And I think Eve is pretty cool too, and she has a small role. But the true highlight for me, and the big surprise was that Zoe Bell was in it.

I love Zoe Bell, who got her start in movies as a stuntwoman. She was the double for Lucy Lawless in Xena — The Warrior Princess. She was Uma Thurman‘s double in the Kill Bill movies. She was also in Tarantino’s Death Proof (where she did the awesome “ship’s mast” stunt on the hood of a speeding car) which was the first time I saw her play herself. She also did this movie called Angel of Death, written by Ed Brubaker (of Captain America fame; yes, not only does the motherfucker get to write Captain freakin’ America, but he also knows Zoe freakin’ Bell! What an asshole. . . . ), that came out in serial installments online that is now available via DVD. Here’s a picture of her on the set of Angel of Death, about to kick Ed in the face, plus a couple other shots:

Here’s an interview with Zoe about the movie, plus a few other things, well worth checking out. One thing Julia and I talked about afterwards (or, at least I did, Julia was probably grinding her teeth) was how Zoe seemed like an amazon among all the other women. Just tall and buff, and, I don’t know, imposing. But getting online afterward, I learned she’s 5’8″, which really isn’t that tall. Lucy Lawless is the same height as Julia — 5’10 1/2″. Drew Barrymore is only 5’4″. That means Ellen Page must be about a towering 4’9″ or so, and weigh all of 85 pounds. Yikes. Someone get that girl a baconator!

It probably sounds like I hated the movie, but I didn’t — it’s always fun to go to the movies on a week night, and Julia and I usually have a good time when we go out, one way or the other. I wouldn’t recommend it to be seen by anyone other than as a rental, and I’d give it a thumbs-down, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It was fun in parts (I love the big pig on the roof of the BBQ joint where the main character works, because I dig that kind of thing), and it made me want to go back to Austin; I could envision exactly where the camera crew was set up to shoot the outside of Waterloo Records in Austin, since I’ve been pretty much in that exact spot. But an 81%er it damn sure wasn’t! In the end, even Zoe Bell couldn’t save it.

Sometimes Critics are Okay, But Often They Can Suck It

Whiteout

Last weekend I managed to pout my way into convincing Julia to go see the movie Whiteout with me. She’s generally game to see most of the things I want to see, depending on the ratings. By ratings I mean the percentage that a given movie is running at Rotten Tomatoes. Often it isn’t good enough for the movie to be seen as favorable, it needs to be running at least into the high 70s or 80s. In this case, the movie was running at a dismal 6%. That means of all the critics who had ranked it, 94% of them rated it unfavorably.

I’m not going to say this is a great movie, but it is easily as good, or better, than any number of higher-rated blockbusters in recent memory. I really can’t understand the backlash against it. I blame inept marketing, because the ads I saw certainly didn’t go very far toward showing what it was about. I’m familiar with the source material, but for people who aren’t, how would they know? The trailer would make one think maybe it is a horror movie, but it isn’t — this is a straight up murder mystery.

Whiteout is based on the graphic novel written by Greg Rucka. Rucka is a crime writer, both as a novelist and in comics. He is the writer for Queen and Country, another fantastic comics series that is an espionage story set in the UK. What I find particularly interesting about Rucka is that he writes some strong lead characters who are women — and not just cheesecake women either. In the boys’ club comics has been traditionally viewed as, it is fantastic to see a writer stepping up. Right now he is just killing it for DC writing, among other things, Detective Comics featuring Batwoman, who happens to be the comic’s first openly lesbian superhero (can’t mention this comic without mentioning the mindblowing art by J.H. Williams III either; this is one of the few books I buy monthly).

Kate Beckinsale plays a US Marshall stationed in Antarctica who is about to leave, but then a couple bodies show up and she has to figure out what is going on as a huge storm rolls in. Pretty simple, really. The movie certainly has its problems, but for me it delivered the 90 minutes of entertainment I wanted out of it. There were some edge-of-the-seat moments, and some plot twisting here and there. The landscape is beautiful. I was satisfied, and based on the low ranking, I felt smugly superior to all the critics blasting it so vehemently. Hollywood took some liberties, but does anyone really expect them not to? In my opinion, the liberties here — and the movie overall — is still stronger than 07’s Will Smith vehicle I am Legend, which butchered the Matheson story and still came in at 68% on RT. That movie left me pissed off for all the pointless bullshit they introduced.

Some of the acting is a little wooden, sure. Yes, there is some exposed skin given how cold it is (the only skin Beckinsale shows is in a shower scene inside of the first 5 minutes that really doesn’t show anything; from there onward she is completely bundled up. That probably warranted a negative review from the likes of many pimple-faced critics). But the premise is cool enough and the movie delivers on it just fine. So it isn’t perfect . . . but who goes to a movie like this wanting perfection? Legendary author Michael Moorcock has a quote I love:

“We don’t, after all, read these stories for information or moral understanding, but for escapism. Thus we enter into a pact with the author, in which we suspend all disbelief or we suspend none!” — Michael Moorcock

That quote sums up my relationship to plenty of the stories I read or movies I see. I’ll buy into the premise of a work and suspend my disbelief. As long as the creators don’t stray outside of their own boundaries, or are just flatout horrible, then I’m with them. I’m willing to see characters with their faces uncovered so you can a) tell them apart, and b) hear what they’re saying. There are no more “that wouldn’t happen” or “they wouldn’t do that”s in this movie than there are in the latest Tarantino flick — probably fewer. And don’t get me started on Crash, which won the Best Picture however many years ago.

If you want Antarctic realism, check out Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World (which is fantastic). If you want a solid, exciting murder thriller set in a unique environment, you can certainly do worse than Whiteout. For an entertaining afternoon matinee or night out, I’d recommend it.

The Dark Knight

We went to the midnight showing of the new Batman flick last night, and it was a great time. I was trying to recall, but while I’ve stood in line plenty of times for movies I’ve never done the midnight preview thing. It was well worth getting home at 3 AM and only getting 4 hours or so of sleep, I loved it. My only criticism of it is it probably runs about 30 minutes long; there is a lot of stuff going on at the end that really didn’t need to be there. Still a top shelf flick though, no doubt about it. Very, very dark . . . and definitely pushing the limits of PG-13. There are some laughs, but this is a grim, serious gangster movie that touches on a multitude of themes very relevant to today’s world. I will absolutely see it again.

Heath Ledger, wow. I’m going to say his portrayal of a villain is one of the best “bad guy” performances, ever. The menace and tension he brought to every scene he was in was captivating; that he was portraying such an iconic character as the The Joker only made it better. All the hyperbole over his performance is justified. Go see the movie, if only to witness the last work of an actor who was on the cusp of true greatness.

What a bummer he’s gone. Julia and I were discussing his death last night, and where it measures for our generation in relation to the generations that have mourned their artistic heroes like Lennon, or Jerry Garcia, or Marilyn, etc. Kurt Cobain is certainly part of my pantheon of dead artists, though at the time, while I was bummed, I had such a low opinion of drug addicts that, frankly, it left me with an attitude that he got what he was ultimately after. Of course I’ve become more enlightened since then, but I didn’t buy into the entire “voice of a generation” bullshit he has been often tagged with. Kurt — and Layne Staley, for that matter — is a tragic loss, but it isn’t something I lament much because he never really touched me with his art.

Heath bummed me out, though. He seemed like a genuine person to me, and I’m no celebrity worshiper. The first role of his that utterly blew me away was his portrayal of Skip Engblom in the movie Lords of Dogtown. It was one of those roles where you don’t even recognize the actor in the character, and I thought he was brilliant. At the end of the movie, where all the young superstars he helped get started are basking in adulation, the scene of him working on a surfboard as an employee at the shop he had to sell to get by, broke my heart.

Then, of course, was his performance in Brokeback Mountain. What a magnificent movie, and what a tragic, heartbreaking performance he delivered. The surest way to earn my loathing is to be one of those people, usually guys, who uses the “no way I’ll ever watch that fag movie” line. What an ignorant fuck that reveals a person to be. I don’t see how you can be a person with love in your heart and not be devastated by that movie.

I hope Heath gets the posthumous Oscar, because he deserves it. What a talent. What a loss, and what a waste.

Homogeneity Threatens Democracy

Running a week behind, as usual, I read David Sirota‘s column from last Friday today. I can’t agree more with what he is saying; read it here. This bit really paints the picture I see everywhere I go in this country, and it is a gripe I’ve been voicing to just about anyone who will listen for the last few years:

— the contemporary road trip tells the tale of hegemony better than even shared holiday experiences. Turn on your car radio and your listening experience is standardized. No matter where you are, you find yourself unable to find much other than either Rush Limbaugh rants or Bad Company songs on a dial now owned by a tiny group of conglomerates. The off-ramp pit stop — once the spicy outpost of local flavor — today seems mass produced from a Chinese factory, a bustling harbor of franchise commerce astride Jack Kerouac’s endless road. Towering signs for Applebee’s, Wendy’s and Bob Evans are the boat masts on a sea of corporate food below.

To compare and contrast; Higgins Avenue downtown is what America should look like, in my view. It is what the America I like is all about — the look, the feel, the energy of a vibrant place where people live. Like last night, with Downtown Tonight or whatever was going on, there were people out everywhere. And it is like that practically every time I go downtown, which is a couple times a week. Compare that with Reserve Street. Rows of big box stores that look the same, right down to the architectural flourishes, whether you are in Arizona or Iowa. You really don’t see people, just cars. And it sucks. I’m grateful I rarely have to venture out there.

What amuses me about the Sirota piece is the use of the word “homogeneity.” Way back in 2001, the first song I wrote post-9/11 is a tune called Dissent. It is basically a rant against the common notion of those times, still prevalent today, that basically said “you are either with us or against us.” So I was pissed about that, and I also went off on a tirade about how this country was being led down the path to homogeneity. Jimmy and Bubba thought that was hilarious and didn’t believe it was an actual word. But it is. So suck it, boys.

Oh, and here’s the song, in case you’re interested in hearing it. It is on the first LAZERWOLFS album, Get Mad.

Day of the Dead Benefit

Hey before I forget, everyone in the Missoula area needs to realize that this weekend, Saturday, in fact, is the Day of the Dead Benefit Show at The Badlander.

This little bit I recorded for an ad running over at KBGA; if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for the likes o’ you:

On Saturday, July 19th, after the Hip Strip Block Party the party moves downtown to The Badlander for the 1st annual summer Day of the Dead Festival fundraiser! This show is to raise money for the big Day of the Dead parade that happens every November 2nd right down the middle of Higgins Avenue.

The Badlander show starts at 10 PM. Festivities kick off off with a performance by local bellydancers. Next up is Nashville-by-way-of-Missoula banjo picker, Danny Wildcard! Missoula’s very own dirty rock/hillbilly family band TATER PIG follows, and the show is closed out by the infamous Black Velvet Elvis.

This show is graciously sponsored by KBGA, The Badlander, Habbilis Records, The Catalyst Restaurant, and Bernice’s Bakery. For updates, make sure and check MissoulaEvents.Net. And remember, all proceeds go to fund the Day of the Dead Festival in November. See you there, it’s gonna RULE!

I have a vested interest in all this. Yes, TATER PIG is playing (we are also playing the Hip Strip Block Party @ 2:00 PM earlier that day as well), but it’s bigger than that; Julia is actually organizing the entire Day of the Dead Festival this year, which means I can’t wait until November 3rd, the day after it is all over. Raising money is a big deal to make it go, so hopefully some of you will come out. It should be a great show.

HELLIANA

Last Friday Sid played his first show with his other band, HELLIANA. They were actually a lot better than I thought they would be because they don’t practice very much. It was fun watching them.

They had the usual problems of a young band; last minute problems securing a PA, people telling them to turn down, etc. I helped as little as I could — it was hard to not just step in and solve stuff for them, because they need to learn on their own. A phone call did secure them a PA, though I made them follow up to finalize it, pick it up, set it up, etc. And I also fought back my irritation when their guitar player left early making Sid and the other guy, Dustin, handle the tear down. Sid was ready to bolt too (“I didn’t use the PA!” he said) but I lectured him in band etiquette; all for one, one for all, and all that. It was pretty cool, though.

Speaking of Radio

I was on the radio with Whitney Fisher, a friend of mine who does the Local 406 show on The Blaze in Missoula. I was on for the entire hour, played some LAZERWOLFS stuff from the new album, talked about the DotD Benefit show, etc. It was fun. We recorded it last Tuesday but it didn’t air until Sunday. Of course the best parts were things that got screwed up and left on the editing floor, but it was still a good time.

It was an interesting contrast. We were there kind of late at night, and walking by the various radio studios showed that all this entertainment was going on, but there wasn’t a single body on premises — it was all taped, or syndicated from somewhere else. Kind of a bummer, really, when one considers the rich history of DJs and radio entertainment in this country. The flipside of course was KBGA, the college station; a tiny little room with weird stuff going on at all hours, driven by real live people; the mic I talked into was held in place with packing tape, for example. I love that! I don’t always like what comes over their airwaves, but I sure like that little college stations exist.