The Baumbach/Raimi Dichotomy

Every film fan at one point or another has attempted to compile a list of favorite comedies. And every single time, nobody amasses more than forty films without getting disgusted at themselves. At a certain point, everybody begins to doubt their own tastes and preferences, or begins to second-guess their instincts. They begin making observations like, "Why do I have Arsenic and Old Lace two points behind Jackass 2?" or, "I haven't even seen What About Bob? in fifteen years, and I don't remember any of it."

It's not a coincidence; this happens to everybody. It's the direct result of the Baumbach/Raimi Dichotomy. The film rule that comedies cannot be objectively compared to each other.

Let me explain:
Sam Raimi makes films that are funny, which are not comedies.
Noah Baumbach makes comedies, but they are not funny.

Raimi employs heavy black humor, over-the-top acting and ridiculous situations, but ultimately stay in the horror/thriller genre.
Baumbach makes slice-of-life dramadies more akin to the ancient Greek definition of comedy, providing uplifting lighthearted tales rather than belly-laughs. There are humorous instances, but none that provoke belly-laughs or actual guffaws.

Comedy is not a fair or accurate word. The spectrum is too broad, too grand, too all-encompassing to accurately define a film. It could mean any number of things, and does mean any number of things. The word can be used to describe both Noah Baumbach and Sam Raimi's works, but the two filmmaker's catalogues could not be any more different.

The real irony is, neither are truly representative of the modern definition of comedy.


Smile and wave, try to behave, be happy that they've made you a celebrity

There is a pre-requisite for reading this post. I'd like you to watch two separate viral videos:

Okay. On we go.

What does it mean to be a celebrity? A celebrity is anybody whose deeds, actions, or career has made that person known to individuals without having personally met them. There are different grades of celebrity. Most well-known are A-listers, the superstars known by many, even if their fame is not particularly justified. A-list stars are money machines, the result of marketing and exploitation. They're not in the entertainment industry for noble reasons, they want awards and money and fans and more money. When you get a bunch of A-listers together, it usually turns into something like this:




You could firebomb the whole building, and the only loss would be Jeff Bridges and a recording studio. Why the hell is Vince Vaughn even there? Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for playing a musician in Crazy Heart, so he can justify showing up, even if his reasoning is half-assed. But Vince Vaughn looks like he got lost somewhere and needs to call a taxi. And another thing, when did Vince Vaughn start sucking? He was the coolest guy in the world in 2005, then he and Owen Wilson spontaneously decided they would rather suck. Did the awesomeness of Wedding Crashers result in their collective talent collapsing inward and destroying itself like a neutron star?

Sometimes celebrities just fall out of the limelight. The first video is full of this type of celebrity. Celebrities who once had clout and could once grace magazine covers, but either through bad decisions or personal reasons, have receded to the shadows.

Sometimes celebrities and audiences refuse to admit this. Look at Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman. Both of them haven't been in a decent film since 2002 (Gangs of New York and The Others, respectively). Mike Meyers and Eddie Murphy used to be comedy legends, now they couldn't tell a knock-knock joke without crapping all over it. Hell, Tom Cruise used to be the biggest draw in Hollywood with six consecutive films grossing over $100 million, but he couldn't keep his personal life separate from his career and completely screwed himself over.

And yet, despite Vince, Owen, Cameron, Nicole, Mike, Eddie and Tom not having a leg to stand on, they're still considered A-listers and still receive upwards of $25 million per film.

The other type of B-list actor is featured in the second video. The kind who work, and work, and work, but never reach A-list status. They put forth twice the effort, and earn a fraction of the fame. When these types take on a job, it's not for a paycheck, it's an actual honest-to-god career move. They work on the projects they want, they work with the people they want, and they produce quality. Even if this means very few people will ever see their projects.

They usually get a leg-up from the few honest-to-goodness quality actors who manage to crossover to A-list status. While I've never considered myself a Will Ferrell fan, Funny or Die has been a driving forces for aspiring comedians, and has done wonders for the field.

With these two factions clearly defined, we ask ourselves the question: which group of B-list celebrities is the truer representation of the B-list status? If advertisers were clamoring for celebrity spokesmen, who would make a bigger impact: a celebrity very few would recognize, but would greatly appreciate or a celebrity many would recognize, but few would appreciate?

Just some food for thought.


Nine Old Men and a Top Ten List

Recently, a few of my friends participated in a Disney-themed meme on Livejournal. It was particularly designed for girls (many questions devoted to princesses and such), but it's still a lovable subject. Disney remains an essential facet in everybody's life, particularly film buffs like me. I don't know a single person without at least one fond memory of the Disney library, so it's time to pay tribute with a new list:

My Ten Favorite Disney Films

10) Hercules (1997)

I'm not going to lie. This is not a good movie. The myths and characters of Greek mythology are watered down for children, and it hurts the end product. It tries to hard to be subversive without ever crossing over into full-on parody. Established historical figures are completely misinterpreted or else completely fabricated. The jokes are bad, bad, bad. And it's guilty of one of my biggest pet peeves: Hercules was the character's Roman character, Heracles was his Greek name.

Despite all this, I still love it. It's a guilty pleasure, plain and simple. I love the the Muses depicted as a Motown soul group, and Paul Shaffer was genius casting for Hermes. I also like James Woods as Hades, but not as much as everyone else. And how can you not feel the urge to stand up and cheer during "Go the Distance"? It ranks right up there with "You're the Best" from the The Karate Kid, "Danger Zone" from Top Gun, and the Rocky theme.

Ancient mythology has this certain allure; even its worst incarnation, it's still fascinating. I remember enjoying the animated series as well (even though it had the same problems as the film). Consider it a precursor to actual Greek mythology.

9) The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King was a critical darling and box-office phenomena in 1994, an already legendary year in film. It was funny, emotional, and epic; a cinematic trifecta. The voice acting was good, the music was good, the animation was good. But there was a reason it was so good. It was plagiarized. I don't mean it's loosely based on the story of Hamlet; everybody knows that. I mean the entire film was completely ripped off.

Kimba the White Lion. It was a Japanese property in the sixties. It was about a lion separated from home, taking refuge elsewhere until his rightful return as king. Both Kimba and Simba were forced to adopt an all-bug diet to placate their non-carnivore friends. Simba's antagonist was his uncle, Kimba's antagonist was his aunt. There is a huge stampede in both movies. Both Kimba and Simba see their deceased parents appear in the clouds, which then bestow advice. Hell, both properties feature elderly, mandrill sages! Even Matthew Broderick signed on under the assumption it was an American adaptation.

But regardless of all that, The Lion King is a staple of childhood. I cannot imagine anybody growing up without this film (childhoods ending prior to 1994 notwithstanding). Stolen or not, I do indeed like The Lion King. Hakuna Matata, indeed.

8) The Three Caballeros (1944)

Libraries rent out video tapes as well as books. In the suburbs, it's typical practice to abuse this service as a cheap alternative to Blockbuster. Unfortunately, there's a flaw in this plan: all the movies are educational. I actually view this as beneficial for two reasons: A) Smart kids like me were satisfied with educational films, and B) It allowed me to find things like The Three Caballeros.

Donald Duck is awesome. Yeah, Mickey Mouse is alright, and Goofy I could take or leave, but Donald was cream of the crop. The premise of him starring in his own movie was enough to make me love The Three Caballeros before I'd even seen it. Along with Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros was part of an American goodwill endeavor to Latin America helmed by Walt Disney himself. The two films introduced Americans to their neighbors cultures, and in turn, Latin American nations were invited into a Western Hemisphere brotherhood.

I don't remember a lot of this movie. What I do remember is Donald making friends with a Brazilian parrot named Jose Carioca, and a Mexican rooster named Panchito Pistoles. Together, the three avian amigos narrate/interact with various documentary segments about South and Central America. Between these segments, there's cartoon frivolity and wackiness. There was also a penguin for some reason. It's not a traditional film, but that's part of the fun. It certainly taught me more about Mexican culture than an animated Latina child yelling for a half hour about her map.

7) The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Remember how Disney spat out sequels to every animated property it owned? Remember how they were always rushed jobs that didn't make a whole lot of sense canonically, and besmirched the integrity of the original? Well, this is the exception.

The Rescuers Down Under was a sequel to the 1977 film The Rescuers, and the second film from the Disney Renaissance (The Little Mermaid was the first). It was the first Disney film to be colored with computers, and it screamed excitement at every turn. Of course it does; it takes place in Australia. They can't make a cup of coffee down there without wrestling a crocodile.

I wasn't even aware of the original Rescuers movie until years after I saw the sequel. Frankly, I didn't care. All I needed to see was Cody riding the giant eagle, and I knew the predecessor couldn't possibly compare (when I finally did see it, I was sorely disappointed.)

I was always waiting for a crossover between The Rescuers and The Rescue Rangers. Apart from the obvious name similarities, both were about globetrotting rodents who helped victimized people. Sadly, such a crossover never came to fruition.

6) Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia is an art film by the most honest definition. Walt Disney tasked his animation staff to listen to seven pieces of classical music, then animate their interpretations. These seven segments were to accompany The Sorcerer's Apprentice, an animated short in the same vain featuring Mickey Mouse.

Fantasia is often derided by people who don't understand it's purpose. These were music videos before music videos were even a thing. Because the animators were not trained or versed in musical history (not even the specific compositions they were working with), they were able to create unique, stylistic, modern interpretations of already famous works. Some were treated with the utmost sincerity; The Pastoral Symphony features characters of Greek mythology at the feast of Bacchus. Some were lighthearted; Dance of the Hours features alligators, ostriches, and hippos dancing a clumsy ballet. Some are just experimental; Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is represented by abstract patterns and shadows.

In the end, Fantasia is a wild headtrip, but a must see for animation devotees and classical music aficionados. And I don't care what anyone says; That is Czernobóg, the Slavic deity, not Satan.

5) Aladdin (1992)

I can't make a Disney top ten list without mentioning at least one prince/princess film. It might as well be the best of the bunch.

Aladdin is hero that truly grows as an act of character, not plot convenience. When we meet him, we see he's a caring, decent individual forced into a life of crime by unfortunate circumstances. He can be selfish and mopey at times, but his good heart always shines through.

Jasmine is a respectable female lead. While every other princess waits patiently for her prince, Jasmine makes it quite vocal she neither wants or needs one. She's fine on her own. In fact, she almost gets herself killed trying to prove this. Luckily, Aladdin swoops in to save her. Right from their first meeting, Aladdin and Jasmine have a chemistry, Aladdin playing off Jasmine's thirst for adventure, and Jasmine playing off Aladdin's jocular nature. It seems real.

It's weird how Aladdin can be such a mirthful character, and yet, there are four other comic relief characters; Abu, the cheeky monkey (literally), Magic Carpet, the silent but exaggerated, um, flying carpet, Iago, the loudmouthed assistant of Jafar, and The Genie. My god, the genie. You either love him, or you hate him, but he steals the show.

Like many other Disney films of the 90's, Aladdin had an animated TV series spin-off. It was probably the best among the spin-offs. The characters remained consistent with their film counterparts, and despite a couple glaring anachronisms, it's solid entertainment. I consider it a forgotten classic. Aladdin was also the first Disney franchise to receive a straight-to-video sequel. So... I guess it's not all grand.

4) Oliver & Company (1988)

I don't know why I like Oliver & Company as much as I do. It seems to hit all the marks of inadequacy; a weak central character, poor pacing, pointless musical numbers, nonsensical character motivations, plot holes, unprovoked shifts in tone, and animals dancing while wearing sunglasses. And yet, here it is at number four on my list. I can't explain it. I think 90% of it has to do with Billy Joel. For some reason, I really liked him when I was a kid.

In light of these problems, Oliver & Company is a harmless film. It's not particularly strong, but it's inoffensive, which goes a long way in children's entertainment. I loved the first half of the movie when Oliver and Fagin's dogs are running scams, but after Jenny is introduced, I lose interest. The entire film becomes the story of a girl loving her cat, and I was really embarrassed to watch it. So much so, I had to fast forward through the musical numbers.

The strangest thing about Oliver & Company, a fact I never pinpointed until recently, it takes place in modern society. Every other Disney film takes place in times of aristocracies, the middle ages, or at the very least some rural/wilderness environment. The exception being 101 Dalmatians, but its modernistic 1960's styling ironically dates the film. For reasons I may never understand, Oliver & Company takes the number 4 spot.

3) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Yes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not part of the official Disney animated library. Yes, it is a live-action film first and a cartoon only secondary. No, I don't care either way, I'm still including it. Otherwise I'd only have nine films on this list.

The movie is a postmodern piece of wonderment. It's a formalist film noir set in a world of pure fantasy. It's a satire of the film industry, but it makes everything up. The characters are easily recognizable figures, but independent of any predecessors. Bob Hoskins plays a hardboiled detective so well, I wouldn't believe for years he was actually British. Roger's as annoying character, but it's intentional, so I guess that's acceptable. Baby Herman is a genius piece of writing, Judge Doom is a frightening and intimidating villain, and although I never fetishized Jessica Rabbit (her freakishly out-of-proportion face always scared me off), I can see why she jump-started puberty for millions of young boys.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those rare cinematic experiences where everything goes exactly right. It's a great script on its own, and based on a novel idea. The special effects are cutting edge, and the visuals are top-notch. But most importantly, contrary to all other evidence, it proved Hollywood cares more about good ideas than money. Disney managed to convince Warner Bros, Fleischer Studios, Turner Entertainment, and Universal Pictures to feature their characters in a Disney movie. Nobody would ever have imagined something that insane happening, but here it is. In Technicolor.

2) Robin Hood (1973)

Still my favorite interpretation of the story, Disney's Robin Hood features an all-animal cast that most certainly spawned a dangerous amount of Furries. Squicky images aside, Robin Hood is a character everybody can love and admire. A man... er, fox, who stands up against injustice. A noble hero driven to change things for the better, putting right what has gone and wrong, and hoping that his next leap will be the leap home.

I watched this movie more than any other when I was a kid. There was just something about it so indescribably fascinating. I liked the music, the characters, and even though I could recite the story verbatim, it made me cheer time every time I watched it. The only thing I didn't like was the geeky turtle in big glasses. I always thought he was making fun of me.

I liked Robin Hood so much, I tried to read the official Robin Hood story, only to be disappointed by archaic English in a big, thick book. I tried to watch the 1992 Kevin Costner adaptation on video, but I was too young, and my mother made me turn it off. If only I could go back in time and inform my younger self of the Errol Flynn adaptation.

The animation is kind of weak, but there's a reason. Walt Disney died before its production began, and his passing hurt the studio financially. Animators were forced to copy character designs and even reuse entire sequences from previous films with the new characters drawn in place. As a result, many scenes look exactly like similar scenes from Snow White, The Jungle Book, and Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Regardless, Robin Hood is a cult classic that still holds up today.

1) The Sword in the Stone (1963)

I may have once been obsessed with Robin Hood, but The Sword in the Stone is my all-time favorite Disney film. There is only one reason I showed so much affection to Robin Hood, and only began heralding The Sword in the Stone recently: Disney's crazy-ass home video system. You've all seen the commercials; Disney releases one of its classic films from the Disney Vault, keeps it on the market for 9 months, then removes it from store shelves in favor of something else. If you want a Disney film, you better pick it up during this window. I don't know why they do this. I don't know any other company that does this. Just print your damn movies, and stop teasing us.

Unless I was grievously misinformed, The Sword in the Stone was never released on video when I was a kid. It was at Blockbuster,but always checked out. I had to subsist on the occasional random airings on Saturday afternoons. I always stumbled upon it by pure luck, and always halfway through.

I don't think I ever watched the movie in its entirety. When I was 22, I was playing Kingdom Hearts II, and I figured 'why the hell not?' I torrented a copy, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Merlin is a great absent-minded genius, and Archimedes is hilarious. Both are stubborn, short-tempered, opinionated, and they both deserve each other.

The physical transformations, especially the final Wizard's Duel, are pinnacles of animation, but there are a few questionable moments in production. There are three child actors who voiced Arthur, and none of them sound the same. If that's not bad enough, they switch constantly, sometimes in the middle of the scene.

In conclusion, The Sword in the Stone is my favorite of the Disney animated library; a vast collection of legendary titles, forgotten classics, and timeless stories. And Chicken Little. Despite recent missteps and the overreaching hands of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, the name of Disney stands for quality and grandiose film. It's one of the few brand names in Hollywood to remain untarnished forever, and whatever direction it goes, every adult and child will stand beside it.


The Tete-A-Tete Of The Cineplex!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the incredible match-up you've all been waiting for!

In the red corner, weighing in at a combined 14 metric tons, an all-star cast in a battle royale at least ten years behind its necessity. For those among us who refuse to accept the 80s are over and refuse to let action heroes retire, even in their sixties. Nearly a dozen of the most heralded action stars side-by-side, plus two former professional wrestlers and the dad from Everybody Hates Chris.

Touting serious gunplay, graphic violence, and military overtones, they've recycled the same six plots for their whole careers, and they're doing so once again to defend their title as the reigning action film standards.
They are the cast of THE EXPENDABLES!

In the blue corner, weighing in at a combined 225 pounds, a cast of relative unknowns hailing from parts mostly unknown. For those who like things shiny and new, if only because their parents don't. They're young, but they're wild, and they're out to change the way we see action films. You may not know their names, but you know their faces... if you follow the indie circuit.
They're underground, and that's the way they like it.

They're blazing a trail using over-the-top violence, comedic elements and neo-futuristic art direction. With the exception of not being animated, they're basically cartoons, and they're dropping a safe and the old-timers. They are the challengers.
They are the cast of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD!

This Friday, these two action movie interpretations square off at your local movie theater. For all the marbles, the winner will decide the future of the genre and Hollywood's new direction for the new decade. The celluloid rumble which will decide the future of the action movies:

The Tete-A-Tete Of The Cineplex!

Films, to your corners. Come out fighting.


Putting the Juvenile in Juvenile Fiction

Recently I came across the trailer for Ramona & Beezus. You may also share in my misery. Disney Channel, why do you hate things that are good? Is it jealousy?

Before I rip the upcoming movie apart, let me heap praises on the source material. Let's begin with Beverly Cleary. When I was a kid, there were only two real authors. Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. While they both wrote books for kids of both genders, it didn't really make a difference. No matter how much I lauded Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or The Mouse and the Motorcycle, they were women authors whose most famous books featured girls. It wasn't a good place for a young boy to be, but I didn't care. I was reading, I was happy, screw gender norms.

Ramona Quimby was first featured in the book Henry Huggins. She was a bit character, the younger, preschool kid who often pestered Henry and her older sister Beezus. Beezus was a larger supporting character who apparently struck a chord with readers. Her character was expanded on in the sequel, Henry and Beezus, and by association, so was Ramona.

Becoming something of a cult favorite, in the third sequel/first spinoff, Beezus and Ramona, Ramona was given her first starring role. Reader response was strong, and seven more books were written centering around Ramona, including Ramona the Pest, which many consider to be Cleary's best work (You heard me. Suck it, Dear Mr. Henshaw.) As for Beezus, she was relegated back to her supporting role. Ironically, Henry Huggins became a bit character in Ramona's books, much like Ramona was in his.

Like anything popular and profitable, Hollywood got their grubby mitts on Cleary's bibliography. Before now, Cleary's works have been relegated to ABC Made-for-TV movies, which were really low quality, and seemed insincere. Flash forward to today, and the previously mentioned, forthcoming Ramona & Beezus film. It will also be low quality, insincere, but with a much larger budget.

Let's start with the title. Ramona is the bankable character. She's the one everybody recognizes, she stars in eight books, and that's why the title was reversed to give her top billing. However, in the book Beezus and Ramona, she's only five years old. Kindergarten. And there aren't any bankable actresses that young. Even though Ramona stars in the film, she's not actually starring in the film.

Hence, the second problem. Selena Gomez, the girl with the scary eyebrows who Disney Channel will soon be replacing Miley Cyrus with, has been cast as Beezus. Gomez is a cash-cow. A media whore. If you don't believe me, did you watch the trailer? She introduces the trailer. She appears in the trailer. She is performing the paint-by-numbers theme in the trailer. This isn't an adaptation of Beezus and Ramona, it's Selena Gomez Vanity Project #7. She's not an actress, she's a commodity. Actresses like her are bought and sold, the same as gold or pork bellies.

Problem three, Selena Gomez is Hispanic. Does nobody else see that? Will a major plot point of the film consist of characters wondering why the Quimby family birthed a brown-eyed, wavy/raven-haired daughter of such dark complexion? Her name is Selena freaking Gomez! The only name more Latin is Conzuela Tortilla-Ortiz.

Problem four, and this is the biggie: based on the trailer, the majority of Ramona and Beezus doesn't actually come from Beezus and Ramona. The commercial audition and the largest picture in the world come from Ramona and Her Father. The wedding occurs in Ramona Forever. Ramona running away happens in Ramona and Her Mother. The very fact that the movie has to exorcise material from across the franchise just to fill a single movie does not bode well. There cannot possibly any cohesiveness. It's the cinematic equivalent of Frankenstein's monster. It's just a series of events tenuously strung together with loose regard to an overarching story, if they bother to include one at all.

The works of Beverly Cleary are classics, and deserve better treatment than what is being offered here (If this pattern continues, I anticipate a Dreamworks CGI adaptation of Ralph S Mouse starring Jeff Foxworthy). As a 23 year-old man, I have far too much invested in something tailored for six year-old girls. But I'm not so far gone from childhood that I don't remember wanting, earning, and deserving a minimal amount of respect. A privilege today's children may never experience.


And To Think, Mattel thought Toy Story Would Be a Flop

10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing Toy Story 3

  1. It's a character driven movie.
    The reason Toy Story 3 exists can be found in a single line of dialogue from Toy Story 2: "Do you really think Andy is going to take you to college, or on his honeymoon? Andy's growing up, and there's nothing you can do about it."

    Even though Toy Story 2 ends on an up-note, we can't shake the feeling that someday, eventually, Andy would grow up. He would tire of his toys eventually. This is the beginning of Toy Story 3, where we catch up to the characters 10 years on, and find out how they confront this situation. All the characters we know and love are here, so we get to jump directly into the plot.

    That being said...
  2. The plot is kinda weak.
    There are two types of movies, the kind that feature great characters, and the kind that feature great adventures. Typically, the kind featuring characters get sequels that transpose them into awkward new scenarios in an attempt to liven them up. This is what Toy Story 3 is.

    There's a lot of recycled elements here regarding the Pathetic Fallacy. So much so, I couldn't help but feel Pixar was ripping off The Brave Little Toaster, simply replacing appliances with child's playthings. I would list examples, but I'm trying to be spoiler free. There are lots.
  3. ...But the last ten minutes redeem it all.
    I'm critical of Toy Story 3, but that's only because Pixar has set themselves upon a plateau practically unreachable by anything short of monumental filmmaking. As such, the dark comedy premise of Daycare being equated with Prison fails to reach the apex, despite its grand comical execution.

    But this is hardly Pixar's fault. As mentioned, the movie exists to finally and precisely answer how Andy says goodbye to his beloved toys. But, this plot offers twenty minutes maximum of potential story. As such, the movie needs to be padded out. And that's what Sunnyside Daycare delivers, enough drama and comedy to make the final goodbye even more worthwhile.

    The final ten minutes, where Andy ties up the loose threads and makes good to Woody, Buzz and the rest is exactly what Pixar promised, what we the audience expected, and what the characters and franchise deserved. I don't want to give away too much, but this tearjerker of an ending will satisfy all. It was the perfect ending to the franchise.
  4. The marketing is Really Overselling the new characters.
    Look at the poster. How many characters are jam packed in there? Could they possibly fit more in, maybe a few plastic army men in the crevices? That's not even the worst part. The worst part is marketing has lead us to believe each of these characters is equal in importance to the story. The truth is, with the exception of Lotso-Huggin-Bear and Ken, these characters are barely characters at all. They're just there to fill the role of "Other toys." They have no personality, and could easily be replaced with no impact.

    Even more ridiculous, Pixar made the common animation mistake of hiring big-name celebrities to voice these characters. How many dollars could John Lasseter have saved if he didn't hire James Bond to voice Mr. Pricklepants? Did Whoopi Goldberg really need to voice Stretch the Octopus? She had three lines, and was never mentioned by name.

    Thankfully, a lot of these minor characters are voiced by professional voice actors, or Pixar staff. But still, half of the characters on this poster are glorified extras, and the marketing staff is hoping franchise opportunities don't care either way.
  5. Pixar tries two-tier storytelling, and succeeds.
    In Toy Story, Woody wass the main character with Buzz as the secondary. In Toy Story 2, it was the opposite. Buzz had all the major scenes while Woody had several existential crises. In both films, one character stood in the foreground while the other stayed on the sidelines, supporting them. One had the action, while one drove the plot.

    In every Pixar movie up until this point, plots have been straight and narrow. This isn't a bad thing, but the Toy Story franchise very clearly has two, equal protagonists. There should be opportunities for both Woody and Buzz to share the limelight. Well, Toy Story 3 tries this and succeeds. There are moments where Buzz and Woody separate, each taking a portion of the plot, each meeting their respective conflicts and fulfilling them to their own abilities. When the two diverging paths reconnect, the movie as a whole benefits. It's an advanced narrative technique, and for a first attempt, it's executed masterfully.
  6. Andy finally gets some development.
    In Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Andy is little more than a plot device. A MacGuffin. The characters are toys, and Andy is the child who plays with the toys. We know little about the child, other than he has an equal appreciation for cowboys and astronauts, and is not above integrating his sister's Barbie dolls into his playtime routines.

    While we don't get a full biography of Andy in Toy Story 3, he at least evolves past his previous niche as a prop. We see how much Andy cares about his toys, viewing them as more than possessions or playthings. He has actual emotion invested in them. He realizes he has no use for a Mr. Potato Head or piggy bank at college, but he can't bring himself to detach them from his life.

    Andy's toys are an extension of his soul. His existence is equally defined by them as they are by Andy. We don't learn a lot about Andy (after all, it's not his movie), but we do learn everything we need during the film (especially the finale). Also, college-aged Andy is voiced by the same actor who voiced Young Andy in the first two Toy Stories. A great detail further driving home the point.
  7. Sid returns. Sorta.
    I was really hoping Sid appeared in Toy Story 3 as an adult. Preferably as a psychologically scarred individual who goes into a mental frenzy after seeing Woody crossing the street.

    It doesn't happen this way, but Sid does indeed return (I know it was him, he's listed in the credits.) It's not an obvious cameo, so you really have to look for him. But he's there, and he winds up pretty much exactly where you'd expect a kid like Sid to end up.
  8. It's not getting the Oscar.
    Toy Story 3 was great, I thoroughly endorse it, and it is a great finale to the franchise. But it's not getting the Academy Award.

    As much as it pains me to say it, Dreamworks really upped their game this year, and How to Train Your Dragon is the better film.

    Edit: Hah ha! Boy, was I wrong about this one!
  9. Don't bother with the 3D.
    Toy Story 3 went down the same path as Clash of the Titans. The 3D was shoehorned in, and the film suffers. Not one critic recommends spending the extra two dollars on the 3D version, and I agree with them.

    It's just not a 3D film. Things don't pop out at the audience. Up had moments where the 3D gimmick was a benefit, but the majority of Toy Story 3's action was designed for, and executed well in glorious 2D.

    Besides, those glasses never work properly with people who wear prescription lenses.
  10. Toddlers really are frightening, terrifying creatures.
    Way to endear yourself to your target demographic, Pixar. Although I do agree with you. Toddlers are quite literally the human equivalent of maggots. They're young, wriggly, disgusting, and they secrete ooze.


Going Against the Family

There has always been one scene in Fight Club that I found particularly engaging. Amidst the scenes of anti-consumerism, neo-facism, psychological debate, nihilism, bitch tits and bouts of fisticuffs, there is a scene where Fight Club begins to grow in popularity and notoriety (despite this being a direct violation of Fight Club's first two rules). In doing so, Fight Club is visited one night by a local mob boss. I don't care enough at the moment to look up his name, so I'll simply call him Johnny Mafia. It doesn't matter, anyway. Johnny Mafia senses opportunity in Fight Club, and he hopes to persuade Tyler Durden into seeing things their way, but Tyler wants nothing of it.

In the Chuck Palahniuk novel, there are two unwritten rules to Fight Club never mentioned in the film

A) Nobody is the center of the fight club except for the two men fighting.
B) Fight Club will always be free.

The very fact that Johnny Mafia wants to violate both these ordinances by assuming control of Fight Club and capitalizing it is in direct conflict with Fight Club's ideals and purposes. We've all seen the film, so we know what happens next. Tyler refuses the offer, Johnny Mafia starts beating the shit out of Tyler, then Tyler goes bananas and starts screaming, drooling and spitting blood on the Italian American gentleman's face. Reasonably disturbed at the batshit craziness in front of him, the mafia disappears from the film and is never mentioned or heard from again.

It wasn't until recently that I realized why this moment has stuck with me. This wasn't just a throwaway scene to demonstrate Fight Club's presence in society, or a punctuated illustration of Tyler Durden's unstable nature, this was a cinematic changing of the guard.

Before 1999, the manliest man movies possible were westerns, war movies, cop films, and mafia movies. By this time, westerns were distant memories, war movies were transitioning into Oscar Bait, and cop movies were little more than 90-minute cliches. As such, the most adrenaline fueled, testosterone pumping, ball-scratching pieces of cinema were laced with references to mob bosses, families, and made men. Basically, everything by Quentin Tarantino.

But the 90s changed things. While the decade opened with Goodfellas (in my opinion, the best mafia film ever), culture norms began shifting. The word 'Gangster' no longer elicited images of beefy Italians in pinstripe suits. Gangsters were street thugs. They were Crips or Bloods, they lived in the inner city. They didn't have number games or heists, they mugged people, murdered people, dealt drugs, and were concerned with street warfare over family honor.

This was indicative of the 90s as a whole. As the decade progressed, people were less concerned with formality and regulation. People just wanted to be people. They couldn't be bothered with full-on commitment. Technology and lifestyles created a mindset of speed and impulse. Everything was sample sized. This even rippled out to the latent proto-anarchist impulses of society. In films about crime, audience didn't want an entire history spanning back to the old country. We wanted hedonistic bad dudes blowing shit up and creating mayhem.

Returning to Fight Club, released at the tail end of the 1990's, let's examine the previously mentioned changing of the guard. Giving into societal pressure/demand/disinterest, we have Tyler, the personification of 1990's hedonism and impulse squaring off against Johnny Mafia, a caricature of the soon-to-be-retired mobster motifs. It begins with Johnny telling Tyler to give up; he owns the town, he made the rules, he has power and influence. But Tyler just shrugs it off. Tyler is younger, stronger, and better connected to the people Johnny erroneously believes he governs. More importantly, Tyler just doesn't care. He's a nihilist. Johnny's power of persuasion and deliverance of physical harm is completely ineffective as Tyler beams his blood-soaked teeth, terrifying and emasculating the once proud Don.

Movie audiences made it clear; we don't want long monologues about character and honor, we don't debates about respect and obligation, we don't want redemption and justice. When we want crime, we want criminals and fuck all else. We want brash, we want bold, we want cocksure, we want arrogant. We want small time crooks forced into big situations. We want nice guys forced into bad decisions. We want people knocking over liquor stores because they want money, not because the shopkeeper didn't pay for protection.

We just want somebody to hit someone as hard as they can.


Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin

After seeing The Runaways at SXSW (yeah, I'm still name-dropping that), I gave it a review of 3/5. I'd like to amend that.

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart are two of the finest young actors working in Hollywood. Possibly the two best under 21. While both appeared together in some little-known Vampire franchise, possibly a SyFy channel original, here is where they display their acting prowess in full force.

Both Fanning and Stewart, together, in their primes, should be admired and acknowledged by even the mildest of movie fans. I say without hyperbole Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Joan Jett is Oscar-caliber. And while Dakota Fanning's depiction of Cherie Curie gets overly dramatic in the third act, it hardly sullies an otherwise fine film.

My other large problem with The Runways was the implementation of the standard musician biopic formula. Practically every film documenting a musicians life follows the three-and-a-half act formula:

1) I'm Nobody
2) I'm Famous
3) I'm on drugs
3.5) I'm dead/I'm clean/I'm nobody again.

This isn't the fault of The Runaways, and the film shouldn't shoulder the blame. It's inescapable. It's an overused structure because so many musicians invariably fall victim to this lifestyle. While it is a tad tiresome projected on the big screen for the 822nd time, it's at least honest and accurate. Would it be better if the third act began with Joan helping Cherie kick her drug habit, then swearing off vice altogether, traveling the country warning young girls of the dangers of drugs and alcohol?

As a result of my recent softening, I hereby redact my previous rating of The Runaways from 3/5, and replace it with 4/5.

But why now? Why wait three months to change my mind? Simply put: The Distributor fucked up. Of all the SXSW films, very few wound up getting distributed. Even fewer would be distributed to theaters. As mentioned before, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning are very talented actresses, but more importantly, they're popular. Popular means bankable. Bankable means returns. Returns means profit (take note, Underpants Gnomes).

All over SXSW, I saw posters and heard buzz about The Runaways. It was one of the headlining films. People wanted to see this movie. When The Runaways made its way to my homestead, St. Louis, I heard nothing about it. Nothing. With the exception of a listing in the movie timetables of the newspaper and a poster inside the theater in which it was currently playing, The Runaways received no press.

And who is at fault for all of this? None other than Apparition, a newly-formed distribution company and subsidiary of Sony Pictures Worldwide. Focusing on arthouse cinema, Apparition completely dropped the ball concerning The Runaways. With the legion of fangirls who would empty their piggy banks for the privilege of seeing a new film starring Fanning and Stewart, regardless of content, the film would have retaken it's 10 million dollar budget in a single weekend.

But that's not all. In addition to catering to fangirls, the film would also appeal to audiophiles with its depiction of one of the most famous, game-changing rock bands in history. It also had great writing, powerful acting, and a strong feminist undertone. The Runaways should have been widely released. It should have been a Summer release and surprise blockbuster. It should have had magazine ads, and radio ads, and TV ads, and trailers before other blockbuster films. Instead, it played on a total of 244 theaters. It barely grossed 3.5 million.

Has Apparition heard of marketing? The process of attracting consumers and informing them of a products existence and quality?

Circling back to my original point, The Runaways needs all the support it can get. Apparition doesn't know anything, including how to distribute a film. Audiences barely had a chance to know the movie existed. And critics, like myself, were probably too harsh concerning the genre and its pratfalls. The Runaways does not deserve the hand it was dealt, and while my efforts may be futile at this point, I'm at least making an effort to espouse the quality of a good movie. Which is more than Apparition can claim.


B D D E E A Ab A Ab A Ab D D E E

Here is Why I'm Looking Forward to Iron Man 2:

I have my tickets to see Iron Man 2 this week. Hell, I'm seeing a double feature; Iron Man followed immediately after by Iron Man 2 (the refillable popcorn bucket pays for itself.) Like all superhero movies, I go in with the rosiest of glasses. Superheroes are my weakness; anything remotely related to superhuman powers utilized to fight evil gets my adrenaline pumping. I even have nice things to say about Daredevil.

Because Iron Man is one of the premiere examples of the Superhero Movie, a sequel utilizing the same director and actors will assuredly be just as miraculous. Right?

Here is Why I Should Be Worried About Iron Man 2:

Like any blockbuster sequel, lightning rarely strikes twice. Filmmakers forget what it was about the original that made it such a legendary film, skimp on storytelling and narrative, and instead use the dramatic increase in funding towards spectacle: fighting scenes, special effects and actor paychecks. Look at all the trailers and commercials; Scarlet Johansson doesn't have a single line of dialogue, she just wears leather and does a choreographed fight/dance down a sterile hallway. What could she possibly have to add? Gwyneth Paltrow barely did anything in the first film, but her screentime seems to be ramped up considerably for the sequel. And Samuel L. Jackson is there too. For those not in the know, the film world is planning to tie together every Marvel Superhero film into a giant diegetic universe with Jackson serving as the crossover element until the final Avengers denouement, but no one seems to realize the repercussions of having so many A-list actors eternally on retainer.

In addition, there's the seemingly mandatory element that must be observed by every superhero sequel: Double the villains. While the first movie is reserved for the strongest, infamous or most iconic villain in the hero's rogue gallery, the sequel has to compensate by dividing the plot between two lesser foes. Here, we have Whiplash and Justin Hammer each vastly different in operation and execution. Plus the American government is attempting to terminate Tony Stark's night job, serving as a third antagonist to an already bloated story. But Iron Man 2 goes one step further by doubling the heroes. Along with Iron Man, there's War Machine, who is exactly the same as Iron Man in every way, except gray and piloted by a marine.

All this, plus Iron Man 2 seems to take itself less seriously than its predecessor. Iron Man goes skydiving. Iron Man goes to Monte Carlo. Iron Man goes to the VMA's. The original Iron Man was written by the same guy who wrote Children of Men. The sequel is written by the guy who wrote Tropic Thunder. The differences show. I'm not saying the film about the guy with a nuclear reactor in his chest who puts on a suit of armor with a built in jet-pack to blow up terrorists should be grounded in reality, I'm simply stating that the filmmakers should be aware of where the line is drawn.

Here is Why I'm Not Worried About Iron Man 2:

Trailers give away way too much information. Instead of trying to entice audiences, trailers summarize and compress the entirety of a film into a two-minute synopsis. Comedies give away the best jokes, action films give away the best scenes, and the ending to romances can be guessed before the announcer says "From the people who brought you..." I've only seen one exception to this in recent years: Pixar. Think about it; Wall-E's trailer revealed it was a film about a little robot cleaning up the Earth, but made no mention of the anti-consumerism rhetoric. It never even showed the Axiom. Up made mention of Carl flying to South America in his house via thousands of balloons, but you would never guess a majority of the plot had to deal with poachers. And you can tell Toy Story 3 is going to have more to it than Woody and Buzz surviving a daycare center.

Iron Man 2 seems to follow the same formula. We see Iron Man dicking around with his superpowers because that is totally what the hedonistic Tony Stark would do. Until Whiplash shows up at Monte Carlo and strikes some sense of responsibility into him. I'm guessing the entirety of what we've seen in the trailers only occurs in the first thirty minutes. After that, we have free range for an entire plotline. Who knows what it will be. Maybe it'll be epic, maybe it will suck. Either way, it will at least be worth seeing.

Plus Nathan Fillion gives it his personal endorsement, so that has to be worth something.


Veronica Mars

I like television, but when it comes to actually watching new shows, I fall criminally behind. I first noticed this flaw when the series finale of Battlestar Galactica aired, and I realized I had yet to watch a single episode. It made the Battlestar Galactica finale party quite awkward.

As such, I periodically interspice my steady stream of home-delivered cinema from Netflix with entire seasons of the TV shows I've missed. This past week, I've been watching Veronica Mars.

For those like me who missed out the first time around, Veronica Mars is the story of a southern California teenager who moonlights as a private investigator. Using her father's professional detective equipment, her journalistic skills, and connections to access both clandestine and criminal information, Veronica is tasked with solving any number of crimes and cases that cross her path.

Each episode features two different mysteries, one unique to the episode, and one encompassing the entire season. It's a delicate balance giving equality to each story without ever sweeping the other under a rug, but from what I've seen so far, the show does it very well. Never is the season-long story arc forgotten amidst the mystery-of-the-week arc, but never does it take unnecessary screentime.

I didn't watch Veronica Mars when it originally aired for two reasons: It debuted in 2004, and it was on UPN. In case you don't remember, 2004 was the peak year of America's 21st Century Imbecility. Bush was in the white house, Larry the Cable Guy was becoming popular, and Ashton Kutcher was everywhere. Such notions as taste, intelligence and culture were being swept away in favor of easily marketable pablum extolling shallowness, greed, narcissism, and pride in being ignorant. It was a three-way race between the proud-to-be-a-redneck bumpkins, the bleached-blonde Aeropostale boneheads, and the 'I can't distinguish between culture and heritage' urban ghetto crowd.

The WB was the worst offender at the time, a mantle soon adopted by MTV and VH1. But UPN was almost as bad. It's hard to pit The WB against UPN precisely, as both were always on the periphery of the mainstream, never quite making a blip on the cultural radar. Even if Veronica Mars was a good show, a good show on UPN was the equivalent of a mediocre show on Fox.

It's amazing how perception has changed, especially after only six years. While Veronica Mars looks comparable to modern society, there are still small, almost unnoticeable details indicating this is the product of another era (including a notable cameo in episode two by she who must never be named). I recant my original stereotype of UPN, as several worthwhile shows actually did emerge, Veronica Mars being the crowning glory. It stands up against the test of time, and I imagine it will continue to do so. It's well-written, well-acted, and engaging. If you have the means, check it out.


That's a Fair Gloopy Title

A few months ago, I watched A Clockwork Orange for the first time. I liked the film, but there's one thing about it that pisses me off.

Every single source I've come across labels this film as Science Fiction.

I don't get it. I watched this film intently, and except for a few pieces of mis-en-scene, this film cannot justifiably be called science fiction.

Before I begin this lengthy diatribe, let's establish what science fiction is exactly. Science fiction is a branch of speculative fiction, wherein fictional worlds exist with their own fictional rules, and in these differences from our normality, drama lies. In order for a particular piece of speculative fiction to be considered science fiction, a storyline must contain one or more of the following:
  • A setting in the future, or alternate timeline that differs from or contradicts historical facts.
  • A setting in outer space, or other alien world.
  • Technology or scientific principles that violate the laws of nature.
  • Extra-terrestrial creatures.
So let's break it down a bit: A Clockwork Orange takes place in 1970's era London, has no space travel, and has no aliens. So the final remaining element that could possibly qualify it as sci-fi is futuristic technology. And what's there? Not much. As mentioned, there are a couple futuristic, mis-en-scene elements but all are negligible.

The Korova Milk Bar is the first such example. It's where the film begins, and the first lines of dialogue refer to it. The milk in question is infused with recreational drugs, totally legal, and even sold to minors. I haven't read the original novel, so I don't know the full importance of this aspect, but in the movie, it's mentioned and forgotten. It has no bearing on the plot, and for all intents and purposes, might as well have been plain old milk.

Second; the decor. Fusing a 1950's amalgamation of pop art with 70's era glamour, Kubrick tries to create a retro-futuristic setting. This is abundantly clear in all scenes set at F. Alexander's home (the writer). But more than anything, the architecture, hairstyles, wardrobe and general demeanor just scream 1970's London. What may have looked sci-fi back then might as well be a period piece, now.

Next, the brainwashing. This is the central plot point of the film, and it's probably the best argument for the sci-fi nature. There's only one problem: It's not science fiction, it's just science. Brainwashing and other forms of psychological manipulation have been documented as actuality. It's totally possible to coerce someone away from violent behavior using operant conditioning, the people in the film just used a very roundabout method. By this logic, The Manchurian Candidate would be science fiction.

Finally, the notion of dystopia. Many film and literary experts include dystopian novels and films among the ranks of science fiction. And while a number of science fiction stories do in fact take place in dystopian societies, it's not an automatic signifier. In my personal opinion, dystopia does not a sci-fi film make. It's just another segment of speculative fiction. Dystopias are characterized by totalitarian rule, a lack of personal freedoms, and constant military force. That's not science fiction, that's China!

There are probably other aspects I'm forgetting, but I believe I've made my point clear. A Clockwork Orange is a great movie with great art direction, great directing, great acting, a great score, but is nowhere near a science fiction film.

So what is it then? I'll call it a surreal crime film. Good luck establishing an entire shelf at Blockbuster with that name.


SXSW Part 4: The Final Chapter

22) Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil
Yet another midnight film using the VS naming structure. Only here, it doesn't work. Luckily, this is the only grip I have about the movie. T&DVsE is destined to be another legendary horror/comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. It's equal parts hilarious and gruesome. If The Pink Panther were about a serial killer, it would be like this. It also addresses one of the most common horror tropes that pisses me off: Why the hell are all the college students fucking douchebags? Here, we see a group of eight going camping in the woods. All eight are materialistic, airheads, and judgmental of the Appalachian populace around them. After a couple of misunderstanding with Tucker and Dale, a pair of woodsmen refurbishing a long-abandoned cabin, a series of accidents begin to transpire. And of course, because Tucker and Dale are the outsiders, they shoulder the entire blame. Tucker and Dale try to figure out what the hell is going on while trying to avoid any future calamities. Alan Tudyk is great as Tucker, and Tyler Labine is sure to be thrust into prominence with his portrayal of Dale. The entire film is about communication and judgments. We're quick to assumption, especially in moments of fear, and we forget that even off-looking people are still people. Except frat boys with popped callars and shell necklaces. They suck.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Doozy

23) Waking Sleeping Beauty
This was the last film I saw at SXSW. I stayed an extra half a day in Austin just for this one film. As a result, I had to drive through an ice storm on the way home. I nearly crashed three times. But was it worth it? Probably not, but I enjoyed the film nonetheless. Waking Sleeping Beauty is a documentary concerning The Disney Animation Studios, particularly from 1984 to 1994. During this period, Disney animation went from an absolute low to the strongest juggernaut in Hollywood. The director stated he wanted to take a new direction in documentaries by avoiding two major pratfalls: First, no talking heads. Second, no old people reminiscing. It's probably my already biased opinion towards the subject matter, but this new technique worked. I loved every single moment, and it never left me dissatisfied. It even reinforced my personal dislike of Jefferey Katzenberg, and how he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near animation. It did stop right after The Lion King debuted, which started a slippery slope again for Disney, and it did paint Michael Eisner a little too Messianic, so it's not the absolute truth. But I still enjoyed it, regardless.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Colorful

...And that's my SXSW experience. It was absolute heaven, and one of the greatest weeks of my life. Assuming things go well in the upcoming year, I will be returning. Until then, I'll spend my time detoxing and acclimating to movie theaters which do not deliver beers and hamburgers to my seat.


SXSW Part 3: The Search For Spock

15) Crying With Laughter
I toss around the words "Black Comedy" a lot, but what can I say? Filmmakers like Schadenfreude. Crying With Laughter is a Scottish film concerning memory. Our hero and villain are old school friends who reconnect after several years. Our antagonist is tortured about an incident he can't forget and manipulates our protagonist, who can't remember, into rectifying the problem. All the while, the narrative is driven by the protagonist's creepily honest stand-up routine. The tragedy and horrors of a suspense thriller, abduction, senility and child abuse are literally turned into joke fodder. Unfortunately, trying to attempt this tangent on perception and perspective drowns out the original theme of memory as a subjective force. Still, it's exciting and paced perfectly.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Memorable

16) Barry Munday
This is a film for all the Apatow fans. Titular character Barry Munday is an unashamed womanizer, living his life vicariously through his penis. After hitting on the wrong girl, Barry finds himself castrated in a fit of rage by a jealous boyfriend and his trumpet. Yes. A trumpet. Prior to the unwilling removal of his testes, Barry inadvertently knocks up Jennifer, played by Judy Greer, who looks and acts exactly like Kitty from Arrested Development (I was expecting her to rip off her shirt in anger and reveal two askew nipples). Due to these two new events, Barry is forced to radically change his life, accepting his new role as a father and disowning his sexually deviant ways. The film is absolutely hilarious. With the exception of a few cringe-worthy awkward moments, the film is comedy genius from beginning to end. If you enjoy this type of comedy, join the grassroots movement to get this distributed.
Final Score: 5/5
In an Image: Photobucket

17) Barbershop Punk
A film with a name like "Barbershop Punk" could be about any number of great things. In this case, 'Punk' refers to dissidence and rule breaking while 'Barbershop' refers to the A Capella musical genre. This is a documentary, following Robb Topolski, a software engineer who blew the whistle on Comcast's violation of internet autonomy. Certain individuals (read: Big Business) were given priority concerning connection speeds while other individuals (read: People standing up to the man) were routinely denied service. Robb was uploading barbershop quartet music to the internet. He, like other pirates, were frequently denied reliable internet service because of their actions. By doing so, Comcast was called out by the government for fraud, violation of privacy, accepting bribes, and attempting to hide the entire ordeal from the public. This is a film about rights to privacy and the privatization of the internet. Piracy is only a small portion of the film. Yet the piracy issue never fades away. The film knows where it wants to go, but never actually gets there. It's interesting to watch, especially to fellow pirates and computer geeks, but it's more explanatory than informative. Basically, net neutrality is good. That's the movie. Plus Robb owns a minimum of three pairs of Crocs, which makes him an asshole, no matter how noble his endeavors.
Final Score: 3/5
In a Word: Neutral

18) This Movie is Broken
Very rarely does a movie come along with a title as applicable here. This Movie is Broken is supposed to be a concert video of the Canadian band Broken Social Scene (who are awesome, by the way). Instead, the movie is a puree of a Broken Social Scene concert vid, and a lame plotline poorly ripping off Before Sunrise and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. Just when I think the movie is going somewhere important, they interrupt with the band playing a song. And just when I'm getting into the band playing, they interrupt with the plot. The plot, by the way, is terrible. Boy loves girl, boy is too chickenshit to tell girl, girl finds out anyway and tells boy off for not being honest, boy has completely inexplicable and unexplained gay experience, boy gets girl anyway despite girl finding other boy in bed with first boy. It's stupid and it ruins what was supposed to be a great concert film. This Movie is Broken most certainly is.
Final Score: 2/5
In a Word: Portmanteau

19) The Runaways
First, let me dispel all fears: They did not ruin the Runaways story. Second, let me just say this was a very good half of a movie. The biopic of Cherie Currie and Joan Jett's game-changing rock band, The Runaways, is a semi-honest portrayal of punk rock that follows all the stepping stones of the musical-drama genre. Kristen Stewart is, for all intents and purposes, Joan Jett. She completely becomes her character and it almost makes me forgive Twilight... Okay, it doesn't even come close, but she's terrific nonetheless. Dakota Fanning is less impressive. She plays her part with disinterest, hamming up the film halfway with overly-dramatic deliveries and halfway with blank stares. Michael Shannon, however, steals the show with his performance as manager Kim Fowley. Whenever he is onscreen, magic happens. As far as I'm concerned, this film gets punk rock dead-on. Wearing a black t-shirt does not make you punk. Getting blitzed, having random sexual encounters, erupting in spontaneous violence and ending the night covered with a minimum of four bodily fluids makes you punk. For that, I love it. It's no-holds-bar punk rock goodness, and the cast delivers on all accounts... for the first half. As I said, it's a great half-movie. Near the midpoint, the film slags as it follows Cherie's descent into drug abuse. It's the standard musical-drama formula. Again, we have to endure a long, long exposition of "Oh, I'm a genius, but I'm destroying myself." The movie becomes less about entertaining and more about wrapping up the loose ends to coincide with history. For example, when Joan gets the idea to form The Blackhearts, you can all but hear the metaphorical light bulb go "ding." The Runaways is a great idea and a great execution, but it's nothing new.
Final Score: 3/5
In a Word (more or less): Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb

20) The Parking Lot Movie
Following in the style of TV shows 'Ace of Cakes' and 'American Gun,' The Parking Lot Movie is a cinema-verite documentary about the employees of a workplace and the unassuming events they encounter. While the escapades of parking lot attendants doesn't sound like great cinema, you'd be surprised at the entertainment value present. This film is a nugget of 1990's era Slacker-dom temporally dislocated by fifteen years. It combines cultural apathy with consumer rage, and produces one of my favorite films from the entire festival. It touches on subjects including cars, license plates, class struggles, capitalism, anger, justice, drunkenness, and existence. It also holds the distinction of being one of the few films I wish was longer. If you have ever worked a menial McJob, this film is a must see.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Enterprising

21) Saturday Night
Saturday Night is a documentary helmed by James Franco, following the creation of a single episode of Saturday Night Live from start to finish. From 2000-2005, Saturday Night Live was my favorite TV show (I lost interest in college when I made friends and finally had something to do on Saturday nights besides watch TV.) I read a book on the production of the show, and had a pretty solid understanding of the process. That being said, the process brought to life was still an incredible revelation. The level of dedication going into one episode of a TV show often maligned for its low quality is astounding. While my admiration of SNL is still in the highest regards, seeing the inner workings raises my respect to astronomical heights. My only grievance was the final composition of the film. To me, it seemed less like a documentary and more like a DVD extra feature. At any rate, the film was captivating, entertaining, and assured me that the unsettling terrors gleaned from the Empire Carpets jingle are totally normal.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: J'Accusi


SXSW Part 2: SXSW Harder

8) American: The Bill Hicks Story
This documentary about one of the most underrated stand-up comedians was one of the few must-sees for me. I was expecting it to be a by-the-numbers documentary about Hicks' private life, his struggle with alcohol, and his battle with media. But it was actually engaging and informative. While it did play the Walk The Line "Oh, I'm a genius, but I'm destroying myself" route, it portrayed Hicks' entire career from his teenage origins to his rise to (if you can call it that) prominence. As is the nature with documentaries in which the subject is deceased, an overwhelming portion is comprised of stories and laments from close friends and family. But breaking up the tired monotony is animation consisting of hundreds of photographs of Hicks throughout to life, bringing the monologues to life. Overall, very informative and entertaining for any fan of Bill Hicks and his game-changing comedy.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Vitriolic

9) MacGruber
The second-most hyped film at the festival, MacGruber is the first film based on a SNL sketch since the string of laughably unfunny travesties from the early '00s (Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, The Ladies Man). Will Forte brings the MacGyver not-quite-a-parody parody to excellent heights. The film is funny, paced just right, and is sure to be quoted incessantly by high-schoolers for the next several years. My only qualm about the film is nothing really astounded me. This is a big problem for comedies. The jokes get me in the door, but unless there's something else, I don't want to hear the exact same jokes again later. It's funny, but not legendary funny. At the very least, people will stop telling me how much they love lamp.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Celery

10) Erasing David
A documentary about the pervasiveness of surveillance and the subtle Big Brother nature of the modern world. Filmmaker David Bond decides to drop off the face of the world for one month, and hires two private investigators to try and find him. Tracking him using credit cards, mobile phone records and other technology, the chase is on for David to escape the watchdogs. While he does hide out in a grass hut in the countryside for two days, this isn't an experiment about disappearing, this is an experiment about privacy. Throughout the chase, David interviews experts on privacy, surveillance, safety and bureaucracy about why information about us perpetuates eternally, why it's collected, and who has the ability to find it. It's terrifying how little things we take for granted are being compiled and waiting to be used against us. It's a real wake up call for everyone in the digital age, whether you're tech-savvy or not. It's half 1984, half The Fugitive, and it's all non-fiction. I highly recommend.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Startling

11) Harry Brown
Michael Caine is awesome. He looks like my grandfather, he's smoother than Rupolph Valentino, could outcharm Hugh Hefner, and now he proves he could kick Jet Li's ass. Harry Brown uses the blueprints of Gran Torino, but makes a unique prefecture. An old man sullied by the decrepit nature of his environment decides he has had enough. Using his military training and forty years of pent-up frustration, Harry Brown sets out to rid the streets of gangs, teenage asshats and drug runners. Travis Bickle couldn't do it better himself.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Stabby

12) Trash Humpers
I... I have no clue what this is. The press billed this as a horror film, but... I don't know what the hell this is. It's insanity captured on a VHS tape. Four elderly people go about stomping radios, eating pancakes, lighting fire crackers, reading bad poetry, shrieking like banshees, hitting things with hammers, and humping trash cans. It's absolute insanity. It's experimental, I guess. Think of it as Tim and Eric making a film without jokes. I laughed at times, I cringed at times, and when I wasn't looking at my watch wishing it to be over, I guess I was entertained. It's hard to say. Entertained the same way someone is entertained by a snuff film. Again, I really have no fucking idea what the hell this was. It's trying to emulate Found Art via a video cassette of grotesque imagery. Think of it as Rubber Johnny stretched out to 78 minutes. I can't accurately score this because of the confusion, so I'll give it a score of:
Final Score: Banana/5
In a word: ....?

13) World's Largest
This documentary focuses on roadside marvels, particularly of the gigantic variety. Towns facing bankruptcy give one final financial hailmary by constructing the "World's Largest _____" in an attempt to get passing motorists to stop and visit. Amidst all the examinations of tourist traps is the tragic tale of Soap Lake, Washington. One of the poorest towns in the state, Soap Lake is at a crossroads whether to hunker down and hope for the best, or go nutso and create the World's Largest Lava Lamp. We see all sides of the issue; do we put all our money into a silly adventure? Will people actually stop and see this thing? Is this lava lamp going to cheapen the image of our township? Is this even a feasible idea? Quite honestly, the film never takes a stand. It presents all ideas, but the rhetoric is absent. It's an objective, unbiased documentary, and that's its weakest point. It doesn't have anything else to say beyond the standard "America's Small Towns are in trouble" lament, which frankly has been done to death. It criticizes big box stores, but in an unnoticed irony, Target donates the resources to construct the Lava Lamp. If nothing else, it is a great composition of the artistic oddities which could only originate in America. An interesting film, but with nothing to say.
Final Score: 3/5
In a Word: Shantytown

14) Music Videos
I'm fudging a bit calling this a movie, as it's just a collection of music videos. But what is a music video but a short film completely choreographed to a one-song soundtrack? Plus, it brings me back to my high school days when I would watch FuseTV for hours on end because nothing else was on. No review here, just a list of the videos shown. I'm sure you can find them on YouTube or Vimeo. My five favorite are noted.
- Heypenny, 'Copcar' (Director: Joey Ciccoline & Paul Padgett) (My Second Favorite)
- Grizzly Bear, 'Forest' (Director: Allison Schulnik)
- Writer, 'Four Letters' (Director: Brad Kester)
- Hunter Cross and the Strays, 'Twisty Ties' (Director: Paul Ahern)
- P.O.S, 'Drumroll' (Director: Todd Cobery & Scott Wenner)
- Chris Garneau, 'Fireflies' (Director: Daniel Stessen)
- The Diagonals, 'Clones' (Director: Nick Smith)
- N.A.S.A., 'Spacious Thoughts' (Director: Fluorescent Hill)
- Man Branch, 'The Gym Is All She Has' (Director: Matt Leach)
- Truckers of Husk, 'Person for the Person' (Director: Casey Raymond & Ewan Jones Morris)
- Passion Pit, 'To Kingdom Come' (Director: Mixtape Club) (My Fourth Favorite)
- Kevin Devine, 'I could be with Anyone' (Director: Ray Machuca & Sherng-Lee Huang) (My Favorite)
- These United States, 'Everything Touches Everything' (Director: Maxwell Sorensen)
- Fatback Circus, 'Brain Damage' (Director: Rodney Brunet)
- Socalled, '(Rock the) Belz' (Director: Kaveh Nabatian)
- Fires of Rome, 'Set in Stone (M83 Remix)' (Director: Matthew Lessner)
- BRONTOSORUS, 'Amy' (Director: Pete Scalzitti) (My Third Favorite)
- Cinnamon Chasers, 'Luv Deluxe' (Director: Saman Keshavarz) (Winner: Best Music Video)
- WHY?, 'These Hands/ January Twenty Something' (Director: Ben Barnes)
- Height, 'Mike Stone' (Director: Justin Barnes)
- Apes and Androids, 'Golden Prize' (Director: That Go - Noel Paul & Stefan Moore) (My Fifth Favorite)


SXSW Part 1

Greetings from Austin, Texas, a slice of Hipster Nation in the center of Bush Country. I'm attending the South By Southwest (SXSW) 2010 film festival. I get to see an onslaught of independent films before their distribution, and all for the low, low price of 375 dollars! My goal is to see a minimum of twenty films to somewhat offset this steep, steep, steep admission price. Here's what I've seen so far:

1) Skeletons
An English film, but I don't hold that against it. A black comedy about a private corporation who expose the metaphorical skeletons in their clients' closets. It's marginally sci-fi, but deals mostly with intrapersoanl and interpersonal relations. While this film has some fine moments and some good chuckles, it's all over the place. At some points, it's trying to be Ghostbusters, at others it's Little Miss Sunshine, at others its Persona. There are three independent subplots throughout the film, and while they all originate from a single starting point, there's no real cohesiveness between them at the end. It's like someone tied a braid, then got bored and walked away. The effects were nice and the pacing was fine, but the largest achievements here were camerawork and sound. All in all, it was okay, but would have benefited from another once-over during the screenwriting process.
Final score: 3/5
In a word: Disjointed

2) The Thorn in the Heart
This documentary by Michel Gondry chronicles the life of his aunt, a schoolteacher from small-town France. The film is a personal project for Gondry, so don't expect it to be a wild spectacle such as Eternal Sunshine or The Science of Sleep. It's uplifting, but also sad, and utilizes the stereotypical filmmaking credo: "It's a story that needs to be told." There are some moments purely Gondry, though. Animations and scene constructions occur occasionally through the nonfiction narrative. Bloopers and behind the scenes footage are integrated into the film for entertainment value. The shattering of the fourth wall reminds us that his aunt's life is a celebration, and is being heralded by the film, not mourned. The only downside is, as is the case with all films of this nature, no matter how well-constructed the film, the subjective feelings concerning the subject can never be fully amplified and shared with a mass audience. No matter how we feel about Gondry's aunt, we will never feel the way he feels.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: Heartstrings

3) Cannibal Girls
This lost classic from Ivan Reitman has resurfaced thanks to the efforts of his son, Jason Reitman. Jason claimed he was attending SXSW not as a director, but as a film fan this year. In his words, "it's the perfect way to relax after going 0/3 at the Oscars." Cannibal Girls is just as the title suggests. A young couple traveling in the country stop in a small town and are at the mercy of three sisters who like to eat flesh. Also, the entire town abides by this quirk, with many meat-related incidents injected throughout the seemingly ordinary town. Andrea Martin and Eugene Levy of SCTV star. Eugene Levy spends the entire movie looking like Gene Shalit, which to me is hilarious. Unfortunately, the film has all the pratfalls of typical B-movie schlock. It's gory, and has rampant black humor, but also plot holes, storytelling faults, bad acting and contrived narrative gimmicks. It has a certain entertainment value, but in the end, it's really stupid.
Final Score: 2/5
In a word: Jewfro

4) Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission
You may know Richard Garriott as the man who created the Ultima video game franchise. But this film shows him as the eccentric video game mogul who spent 30 million dollars on a space voyage. As a suburban white boy and a fan of all things outer-spatial, any film combining space adventure and video games is okay by me. Garriott spends the entirety of the film dealing with the psychological and physical demands of becoming an astronaut, working with the Russian space program, and spending two weeks aboard the ISS. Garriott is a real character, the kind you don't mind following around. He apes for the camera, but always has something wise, relevant or important to say. Most important, he shows that space travel and other such technological adventures are slowly becoming a reality. If you can afford it.
Final Score: 5/5
In a word: Rat-tail

5) FutureStates
FutureStates is a collection of six short films, each created by different filmmakers with the intention to show a possible future. Not science fiction per se, but as it possibly would happen. Three of these films concern conservation, one details illegal aliens, one biogenetics, and one the housing crisis. Needless to say, the six films are depressing. During the Q&A I asked one of the directors whether they were personally pessimistic about the future or if dystopian futures just make for good drama (the question got some laughs, which surprised me because I thought it was a completely serious question). Long story short, it's just more fun to see the future in shambles. That way, when the totally middle-ground future arrives, our preservation efforts paint ourselves as saviors rather than imbeciles fucking everything up. All in all, the films were enjoyable. Mister Green was the worst of the bunch, but still really good. Tent City was the best.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: Guilt

6) Elektra Luxx
This was a sequel to a film that debuted last year, which surprised the fuck outta me, because I never heard about it. The film stars Carla Gugino as Elektra Luxx, a retired porn star forced into the public sector after discovering she's pregnant and some other vague events covered in the first movie. Going in with no knowledge of the original wasn't completely jarring, but I felt there were certain elements left unexplained. I can't complain about that; it's my own damn fault. According to the director, the film was created to give female actors strong, smart, powerful characters, and that's exactly what it delivers. The women are objectified, but in all the right ways. The film is hilarious and weirdly personal. My only grumble is the pacing seems more akin to a television show than a movie. We follow a couple of supporting characters completely independent of the main story, for no other reason than jokes. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but an odd choice for a film.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: *Porn soundtrack wah-wahs*

7) Jimmy Tupper Vs The Goatman of Bowie
After a night of heavy drinking and pot smoking, Jimmy Tupper is driven into the woods and abandoned by his friends as a prank. When Jimmy goes missing, his friends go out searching for him. Deep in the woods of Bowie, Maryland, they find Jimmy: scathed, shaken and disturbed. Jimmy claimed he was attacked by a creature in the night; the infamous goatman. Now a laughingstock of his social group, Jimmy heads out into the woods again ready to find the Goatman, prove it wasn't a drunken hallucination, and clear his name. Eleven years after The Blair Witch Project, JT Vs TGM utilizes the same "found footage" format. Unlike its predecessors, JT Vs TGM has a certain level of randomness and pacing that suggests this may actually be non-fiction. The first third of the movie is a completely asinine log of drunken partying, Jackass-type stunts and mugging for the camera; the kind of shit you'd expect to find on an amateur's tapes. But that's part of the charm. It creates the reality, and once we begin the second and third acts, it all seems worth it. This film is intense, and entertaining. We know there's no Goatman, but seeing Jimmy Tupper's pride degrading into slow, drunken insanity makes for damn fine cinema.
Final Score: 5/5
In a word: Paced


Ten Films From AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies List Most Likely To Be Bumped

What signifies a film as great? It's a rhetorical question easy enough to answer, but surprisingly complex to do so thoroughly. Obviously, the film must be well made. It also has to entertain and inspire people, move them emotionally, influence other filmmakers, make a mark on society, and above all else commit to the ages. Beyond that, the decisions are purely subjective.

For me, the benchmark for Great Film Lists is the American Film Institute's. Just the name seems to encapsulate cinematic excellence. Just say it aloud: American, Film, Institute. These are experts whose opinions I can trust.

In 1997, right when my film obsession began percolating, the AFI aired a three hour special on CBS, counting down their selection of the 100 greatest (American) films of all time. Partnered with professional filmies and clips from the prestigious winners, the countdown was just gravy for me.

In 2007, ten years later, AFI updated the list, wanting to see what difference ten years made on the cultural scale. Some classics were bumped, some new classics were added. With a film school education now at my disposal, it was fun seeing the format in an entirely new light. Since then, these AFI lists have ceased, with the implied exception of further updates to the Top 100 List repeating every ten years.

All in all, the project succeeded by portraying exactly what they claimed: Film is an ever-growing art form. Times change, tastes change, but the true greats are great forever.

As said before, the list will most likely be updated again in 2017. New films from the past decade will be included among the greats, and older classics will be seen in new lights. But in order to make room, some films will have to be bumped. It's not easy to predict which (if any) will get the axe.

Ten Films From AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies List Most Likely To Be Bumped

10) Spartacus (1960)
dir. Stanley Kubrick
The Reason: Great, Not Top 100 Great

The title "100 Greatest Movies" is a very selective list. This isn't just a list of great movies, it's the list of the greatest. Of all time. Each film is squaring off against each other; any flaw is magnified a thousand times. Spartacus is a great film. It's directed by one of the all-time greatest directors, it's epic in scale, majestic in execution and is the quintessential gladiator movie (suck it, Russell Crowe).

Unfortunately, when stacked up against the rest of the list, it's cracks start to show. Around the middle of the 198 minute runtime, it slows down and the intense sword-and-shield action is replaced by dialogue drama. It's artistic, but it's long, slow, and while those are not necessarily bad things, it's such a sudden shift in what we've been promised. Stick with Ben-Hur, and give Spartacus' slot to something else.

9) The Sixth Sense (1999)
dir. M. Night Shyamalan
The Reason: Too Strong a Genre Film.

I'm not one of the people who jumped on the 'I Hate Shymalan' bandwagon. I think the man is still a strong director with a signature style, and still has the potential to resurrect his career (as long as he stops writing his own scripts). The Sixth Sense remains his seminal work. It's dark, chilling, suspenseful, eerie, and it's surprise ending is quite possibly the most famous in movie history. It is one of the greatest horror films of all time, no exceptions.

But, unfortunately, it excels so well at being a horror film, it does little else. The Sixth Sense draws inspiration from many films preceding it, but it has not directly inspired any films itself. The Sixth Sense is not a bad movie, but on the 100 Greatest Films list, genres are given a royal screw job. On a list majorly composed of dramas, a few genre films sneak in, but can only do so by completely and perfectly encapsulating their specific field. And maybe, for the moment, The Sixth Sense does just that with the horror genre. But that's it. On film as a whole, The Sixth Sense has done very little. Even on the AFI telecast, the only thing film experts had to talk about was the twist ending, and how it shocked America, and how the internet makes such a spoiler impossible in today's world (Because there was no internet in 1999, apparently).

Ten years from now, something else will fill the 'Reserved-For-Horror' slot. Maybe its a horror film from years gone by (Night of the Living Dead, Dracula), maybe its something more recent (Jurassic Park, The Shining), or even something which hasn't been made yet. The only thing I'm certain is the film which will replace The Sixth Sense will exemplify less the horror genre, and more of film as a whole.

8) Modern Times (1936)
dir. Charles Chaplin
The Reason: The Department of Redundancy Department

Of the ten films on this list, this is the one I sincerely hope I'm wrong about. Modern Times is a terrific and hilarious film. It dissects 1930's society, shining a light on the guilty pleasures and ignored shames of urban life in a manner that freakishly remains applicable today. It's fun, it's insightful, and now that I've defended it, I hope I'm wrong about what I'm about to say in the next paragraphs.

Charlie Chaplin has three films on the AFI list: City Lights, The Gold Rush, and Modern Times. Each of these films features Chaplin as his trademark Little Tramp character, and each one is a great quality film. It's near impossible to pick the worst among the three. Unfortunately, the ranking system of the 100 Greatest Film list can, placing Modern Times below its brothers. It's not that Modern Times is worse, its simply because something has to be last. Statistically, it's clear the voters prefer City Lights and Gold Rush slightly more.

Thus, when push comes to shove, three Chaplin films may seem like excess to the voters. One, he definitely deserves. Two, he certainly deserves. Hell, Chaplin deserves all three, but as more and more landmark films fight for a mere 100 slots, Chaplin's bountiful excess will be trimmed. Chaplin supporters will be forced to make cuts, and since Modern Times trails behind The Gold Rush and City Lights, it will eventually disappear. Modern Times is a great film, but Chaplin can only hold three positions for so long.

7) Platoon (1986)
dir. Oliver Stone
The Reason: The Vietnam War Isn't So Great Anymore

As my brother pointed out while watching the AFI telecast, there are a lot of movies about the Vietnam War. I can understand it; the Cold War, and by exstension the Vietnam War, were a tumultuous era for America that affected a wide array of people. It makes for good drama. It makes for a good war movie, too.

But my brother's right. There are too many movies about Vietnam on AFI's list. As Baby Boomers slowly fade out, passing the torch to a generation reared in a time when Germany was always one country and the USSR was always referred to in the past tense, certain elements deemed culturally significant are less vivid and vibrant. The Vietnam War ranks right alongside WWII (which also has too many films on the list).

Of the Vietnam War movies on the list, Platoon ranks the lowest, so it has to go. Nothing's wrong with it, nothing's bad about it, and nothing diminishes its impact. Simply, society doesn't focus on Vietnam with heated intensity it did ten, twenty and thirty years ago. Times change, and the list changes as well.

6) Swing Time (1936)
dir. George Stevens
The Reason: It's People Dancing For 103 Minutes.

In the first half of the 20th century, cinema was in an odd place. People craved variety, and variety they got. When attending theaters, ticket-buyers got two movies, newsreels, PSAs, short films, serials, cartoons, and a bunch of other goodies. They could go in whenever, watch the loop of features, and leave when they started to repeat. This variety was trying to compete with Vaudeville.

Vaudeville was the premiere form of entertainment from the late 19th century until the mid-30's. It featured showmen, comedians, acrobats, actors, etc. all touring and performing together. Cinema tried its hardest to mimic the variety and scale promised by Vaudeville, touting convenience as its number one selling point. If you can't come to the show, the show will come to you. Swing Time is the embodiment of this promise.

As is the entire repertoire of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the movie features a low-key plot completely overshadowed by dramatic dance numbers. It wasn't a movie, it was an excuse to get dancers and dance fans away from Vaudeville and into cinemas. Swing Time isn't so much a movie but a marketing relic from a bygone era. It's culturally significant to be sure, but not a great film.

5) Shane (1953)
dir. George Stevens
The Reason: America Doesn't Appreciate Westerns Anymore

Westerns are an offshoot of the Epic genre; a film set in a bygone place and era, grand in scale and highly detailed. Setting a film in the wild west or frontier prairie was so popular, a whole new genre was created for it. Cowboys were the most popular aspect, but desert towns, bank robberies, cattle herding, covered wagons, sheriffs and outlaws, Indians and westward expansion are all signifiers of the genre.

But times change. We don't cast aside the great westerns of the past, we just focus exclusively on what we know and like. America loves John Wayne. We love Lee Marvin, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood. We want ten-gallon hats, six-shooters and triple-x whiskey. We want a black-and-white dichotomy regarding good and evil. We don't want a literary analysis of morals. Yes, there is gunplay in Shane, but not gunplay as modern America expects from a classic western.

Shane reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Homer rent Paint Your Wagon; it's not what we want, and not what we expect. There are lots of other westerns, all more in line with modern America's love of the genre; Shane may not be coming back.

4) Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
dir. Michael Curitz
The Reason: It's Time For Something Else

With the exception of the AFI telecast, I have never heard about Yankee Doodle Dandy. I've never heard anyone talk about it, I've never heard anything reference it, and I know nothing about it. From what I've gleaned from IMDB, it's a biopic about American patriotism and Vaudeville. And that's it. Not even IMDB can tell me more than that.

I'm hesitant to call this film completely alien; after some research, it's apparently favored heavily among those who have seen it. That said, there's no specific reason for it to be eliminated, but I equally can't think of any reason for it to stay. There are plenty of other films, including other significant musicals to take its place.

3&2) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
dir. David Lean
The Reason: They're Not American

Both The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia are excellent films. But they don't belong on The American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American films. Not because there's anything wrong with them, it's just a technicality: they're British. British production companies, British director, British screenwriters, British actors, even British characters. How did AFI make such a glaring oversight? Even more comically, The British Film Institute included both films on their 100 Greatest British Films list. Sure, films can have more than one nation of origin (like A Clockwork Orange), but these two don't even come close. They're more British than Elton John eating Figgy Pudding at Windsor Castle.

On the 1997 AFI list, The Third Man was included, but was mysteriously absent from the 2007 incarnation, presumably for this reason. At least The Third Man had American actors, giving credence to its initial inclusion. I may be splitting hairs arguing about this rule, but it's a rule for a reason. If we're ignoring it, let's go whole hog and include Seven Samurai and The Grand Illusion on the next list. Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia: great films, but not great American films.

1) Tootsie (1982)
dir. Sydney Pollack
The Reason: It's a Bad Movie

Of all the movies on the AFI list, Tootsie is the most baffling inclusion. My best argument for its iconic of the modern, hard comedy genre. But why this film? Why not Caddyshack, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ghostbusters, Young Frankenstein, or anything else even remotely popular?

In addition to Some Like It Hot, Tootsie is one of two comedies from the AFI list featuring men in drag. There cannot possibly be that many drag enthusiasts on the voting committee. At least Some Like It Hot is enjoyable. I don't even like saying the name "Tootsie." It's a very unpleasant word.

When I think of all the films that didn't make the cut, then I think of Dustin Hoffman's Peggy Hill impression, I spiral into a state of confusion. Tootsie is boring, not nearly funny enough to be considered a comedy classic, and nowhere near noteworthy enough to be anywhere near the Top 100 list. It has to go, and the 1997 and 2007 lists must be retconned.