Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There is no such thing as a bad boy.

It was so long ago that I don't even remember what we were talking about, buy I vividly recall my dad asking me something that has stuck with me since the moment he said it. He asked me, his index finger bobbing up and down as he did, Do you think there's more good in the world, or evil? Without hesitation, a young m.brown replied, Good, obviously.

He shook his head. If there was more good in the world, we could do away with the evil. There's equal parts of both. It's a balance. I nodded, because that's what I do when I agree (or more likely, have no f--king clue what to say next). If that's really the case, if such a balance really does exist, then in 1930's Nebraska? Well, there must have been some bad ass motherf--kers. 

Turns out, there was. About five hundred of them.

In 1938's Boys Town, Spencer Tracy plays Father Flanagan, quite possibly the goodest person ever to walk the planet. Fine, goodest isn't a real word, but Father Flanagan as portrayed by Tracy, appears to be the most agreeable, compassionate and understanding man alive. And even more impressive? He never wavers. Not once. 

Boys Town, (loosely?) based on a true story, details the lengths that Father Flanagan went to in creating a place for wayward, well, boys. Initially starting with a half-dozen troublemakers, eventually Flanagan builds a facility/compound housing nearly a hundred times that. Along the way we see ol' Padre use the powers of persuasion to convert many a non-believer. I'm talking adults - investors, and the like, not the kids. 'Cause the boys? They fall in line real fast, see. 

One day, however, trouble blows into the idyllic Town, as Whitey Marsh (an irritating Mickey Rooney, all of 18 years old) struts in, laughing in the face of Father Flanagan's laid-back approach. Whitey, without a doubt, is a real f--ker, Hell bent on destroying every single thing that Flanagan has built, not to mention being a real dick to every kid at the place. In fact, he's such a little shit, I was actually rooting against his inevitable change of heart, even if it made for a real sappy happy ending.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

This is the essence of discrimination.

Last week, I was on the West Coast for the first time in almost twenty years. At dinner on our final night, I saw this sign on my way into the bathroom:

Now, living in the small mid-Atlantic town (/Hellhole) that I do, I'd never seen anything like that before. In fact, it kind of took me by surprise. Not only because of my own ignorance on the topic (I'd honestly never even considered this was an issue), but that a place of business would be cool enough to make it policy. 

I've been home now for almost a week, and it has occurred to me that there are likely dozens, maybe even hundreds of groups that face persecution, that well-meaning (though uninformed) people such as myself know nothing about. We don't know their struggles, and know nothing of what it's like to walk a mile in their shoes. If only mainstream cinema could help.

Please don't think I'm making light of the socially aware movie, because I think that if done properly, they can make a difference.

I was too young to gauge the importance and social relevance of 1993's Philadelphia at the time of its release (I was 14), but seeing it for the first time recently \, I feel it's safe to say that it mattered. Watching Tom Hanks (as Andrew Beckett) deteriorate firsthand while battling not only AIDS but the stigma that comes with it, must have opened eyes. Now, however, it almost feels dated, if not altogether primitive, to see the open persecution of a regular guy simply because he's gay.

Actually, Beckett was more than a regular guy, in fact, he was a damn fine employee. But when an older partner at the law firm where he works notices a lesion on his forehead, people begin to talk. Eventually, Beckett is terminated, not because of his lifestyle or illness (officially, anyway), but due to incompetence. Well, manufactured incompetence, actually. And after trying eight other lawyers to take his wrongful-termination case, Beckett turns to an old rival, Joe "the TV Guy" Miller, played by Denzel Washington. Miller is privately disgusted by homosexuals, but takes the case after seeing Beckett chastised in a local library. From there, it's a heavy dose of courtroom drama, liberally sprinkled with a clear social agenda: to thoughtfully portray the lives of people living (and dying) with AIDS in America.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't just stand there. Kill someone!

I hadn't been to the theater in awhile, so I was willing to see just about anything. But, there were some stipulations...

I wanted to see a character, known only by a single name, wow me with feats no regular person could ever accomplish. I wanted this person to be attractive, with wavy hair and a massive chest. And I wanted them to lay waste to countless, faceless adversaries.

Turns out, I had two choices.

Being that I'm an average schmuck who only uses 10% of his brain capacity, I was unable to slow time and make it to Luc Besson's latest, Lucy. Instead, I ended up at Brett Ratner's Hercules, somewhat bummed, but still happy to be at the theater.

A mostly exposed (female) breast later, mixed in with some early action scenes, and I was feeling a little bit better about paying seven bucks to see this one in the first place (the preview screamed Redbox!). Throw in The Rock and a pretty badass crew of sidekicks, and this year's second Hercules flick actually rounded into a solid PG-13 adventure. Yes, it's goofy, and probably completely unnecessary, but with Dwayne Johnson (and Ian McShane!) kicking droves of ass, you can't really hate it. Okay, you can, but still. Don't be such a dick.

Honestly, I don't think I knew anything about Hercules, other than that he was a strong dude in ancient Greece, but I actually enjoyed the legend as told here. Hercules, as big and badass as he is, is simply a regular dude. In fact, all the heroic feats he's accomplished have been with the help of a ragtag crew of ass-kicking outcasts, in debt to Herc for whatever reason. They like the myth though, as it will only encourage enemies to give up quicker. And then, Hercules and his crew can get paid and call it a life.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How's that supposed to make me feel?

I worked in a hotel for years. Years. Specifically, I worked at a restaurant on the grounds, that had a beach on one side and a dolphin lagoon on the other. One night, minutes before closing, this family sits in my section and the mom dramatically waves me over.

Are you still open?

Um, (I look at the bartender who's formed his hands into a pistol and is aiming it at his own head) well...(I look at the lone cook and he's calmly pointing his largest knife at me out of his tiny service window) yeah. We're still open.

Good. Now listen up.

She begins to tell me how her children have some condition or something, and as a result, everything must be burned. Hot dog? Burn it. Bun, too. Put the fries in the deep fryer as long as you can, take them out, and do it again.

Let me tell you something, dear reader. The only thing worse than entering a restaurant minutes before closing, is asking for every single item in your meal to be well done. But as an indentured servant server at major hotel, my job was to make you happy. The way I saw it, maybe I'd get 15%, maybe you'd put me in your will. Oh, what? My request is ridiculous?

In The Grand Budapest Hotel, writer/director Wes Anderson's latest, ridiculous requests are the norm, and each seems to set off a seemingly endless cavalcade of bizarre people doing bizarre things. While that's generally my cup of herbal tea with the teabag on the side and a thimble full of fresh honey, I'm going to be completely honest with you when I say that it didn't really work for me. Almost at all. I consider myself an ardent Wes Anderson supporter, and with Grand Budapest his trademark quirk lost eventually lost its appeal. Instead of laughing out loud as I had anticipated, I found myself merely smiling politely.

It's not all bad, so please, fellow Anderson defenders, chill the f--k out, okay? Put the meticulously crafted knickknack down and go back to your hardcover book. I didn't hate the movie. I just think that the style finally caught and killed the substance, and it was a bloodbath. But an entertaining one nonetheless

Friday, August 1, 2014

Maybe he could sing, but he couldn't fly.

Thanks to Fisti inviting me to participate in his Twice a Best Actor project, I've been watching a lot of classic movies - which is something I rarely do. But prior to accepting, I hesitated because I felt completely out of my element. I knew I'd be exposed for the idiot, at least in cinematic terms, I am.

And while I'm sure that's the case anyway, I've settled in and seen some fantastic performances in some fantastic films. Recently, we covered Marlon Brando's two wins, and I was excited to revisit The Godfather again (I'd only seen it once prior). After that, I  told a friend, I'm gonna watch that Brando movie with one of the most famous lines ever! Oh yeah. What line? Hey, Stellaaaaaaaaaa!

What's even worse than generally having no idea what I'm talking about, even as I was three-quarters of the way through On the Waterfront, I was still expecting the line. Yes, even though the lead female character's name was clearly not Stella (it's the decidedly un-Stella, Edie), I kept wondering how they were going to pull it off. When it comes to having a working brain, well, it's quite obvious, I coulda been a contender.

Anyway, I enjoyed On the Waterfront, even if I didn't watch it under ideal circumstances (I started it at 1:30 in the morning, after work). The story revolves around Terry, a handsome and likable, do-nothing guy, doing odds and ends for one of the local union heads. One night, he unwittingly sets up one his pals to be murdered by some unsavory individuals, and slowly vows to make that right. Terry isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but he used to be prizefighter, and the kid's got heart. And with the encouragement of an energetic (and possibly insane) priest, not to mention the affection of the dead guy's beautiful kid sister, Terry's gonna see this through. Even if it could cost him his life to do so.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Something cool!

Last Tuesday, just before the movie started, I got to see the trailer for Dumb and Dumber To for the first time (I don't watch trailers online...ever). It was kind of jarring at first, seeing Lloyd and Harry again twenty years later (you don't even know what kind of kick in the balls that is), but my initial thought was I have to see this. Immediately. But right after Lloyd blew the dust off his hand, I leaned over to my friend and said, mildly irritated, it's the same f--king movie! 

But since I loved the first one so much, my question is, who gives a shit if it's the same old thing? It's those two guys that I love, doing the shit that I love, again.  As far as I'm concerned, why not? 

For 22 Jump Street, I didn't wait decades to see the first movie rehashed, Hell, I'm not even sure I waited a month. So, if anyone should be pissed and hate this movie, it's me, as the original gags and characters were entirely fresh in my mind as I sat down for the sequel. But like a wise man once said soon to be twice said), when it comes to this movie, I like it a lot.

Maybe it was the lukewarm responses from other (trusted) bloggers that lowered my expectations, or maybe it was the fact that with no one else in the theater, Grunden and I could laugh like a-holes, but I loved 22 Jump Street. And just like the first time, for me, it was all about Channing Tatum and Ice Cube, as almost everything they said (or did) killed me. That's not a knock on Hill, as he's hysterical as always, it's just that Tatum and Cube get to let loose even more, and each guy really delivers.

The plot, as likely everyone involved with this movie (both on and off screen) would tell you, is completely secondary, as it's the same f--king this as the first time. Instead of infiltrating a high school to break up a drug ring, it's a college. And instead of Hill's performance as Peter Pan, it's Tatum playing football. But outside of those colossal differences, and a bigger budget, this whole endeavor is just another excuse to hang with Schmidt and Jenko again. Oh, and Captain Dickson. I love that motherf--ker.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thanks. They're actually very informative.

I ran. At the time, I felt like I had no other choice.

I turned my back on a building full of crazy kids, put my head down, and ran. Fast. And for a while it felt good. Real good. But just last week, I got caught. And now they're hauling me back inside. In the nearly ten months since I made my move, I was free. No inherent sadness, no teen desperation. No messed up kids. But here I am again, being led back to a place I thought I'd escaped.

I'm teaching middle school. 


I'm not sure if you're ready for Short Term 12. I know I wasn't. Repeatedly mentioned by the awesome and insightful Brittani over at Rambling Film, I knew I had to see it. And while it's not at all about middle school English, or even school at really, it is about some of those kids I've taught over the years. It's powerful, it's intense and it tapped into every single feeling I've experienced working with 'underprivileged kids'  for the better part of a decade. In short, you'll smile, you'll laugh, but you may never want to experience it again.

Presented in a very drab, very unspectacular way, deliberately of course, Short Term 12 tells the story of what it's like working in a halfway house for troubled youth. It opens with Mason (a charming John Gallagher, Jr.), a goofily handsome counselor happily telling the story of when he shit his pants following a kid who fled the premises. And in under two minutes, this movie had me. Done. Because in that quick scene, I saw the perverse joy and satisfaction that comes from something awful happening to you in a low-pay, high stress job, where literally, you're covered in shit. People don't give their lives to 'horrible' jobs like this because they want to, it's because they have to. They have to help these kids.