Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Picking a Bone with Padma

Happy New Year’s Eve all! As today is a Wednesday, one thought weighs heaviest on my mind: Top Chef. Alas, it is not to be. It won’t be back until next week, but I figured I would satiate some of your craving for the show by discussing something that has been irking me ever since the new season premiered. Yes, that’s right my qualm is with Padma’s wardrobe. Quite simply, what is she thinking?

Whether classy, gaudy, or just plain ridiculous,

her clothes from the seasons of yore were always provocative. And as she so proudly proclaimed ages ago, she has no stylist, which - through hit and miss - I admired her for. Yet this season she has done nothing but disappoint and suddenly I am thinking she should have someone doing her wardobe, perhaps Rachel Zoe (sorry, bad Bravo joke). Her sudden turn of blandness is especially vexing considering that the locale of season 5 is New York City which is by far the most fashion conscious of any of the cities yet to be frequented by Top Chef. Take a look at the drab ensemble below:

What is that? What are all those weird stringy things? This fashion-faux-pas was made worse by the fact that this was the first outfit she wore of the entire season; it was as if she wanted us to renounce her status as fashion icon of the food community! Also, just before she was shown, we were treated to an irony-filled speech by Cheftestant Richard in which he proclaimed: “The inner queen inside me was screaming to know: where's Padma and what is she wearing?” Poor, poor Richard and poor, poor us.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Case of the Sleeping Spectator

First, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for posting so sporadically. In regards to this I will say two things:
  1. I have been very busy with holiday debauchery and
  2. I am in general a bit of a flake, so while I may have a legitimate excuse this time, I cannot promise to post regularly. I wait for inspiration to come to me, and you cannot rush that sort of thing!
Onwards! Yesterday I went to see David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and whew what a soporific waste of my precious time. In case you didn’t already know, Button is about the journey of a man who ages backward, progressing from an arthritic infant to a handsome adult and finally to a young boy with an aged, Alzheimer’s-plagued mind. I was mildly intrigued by the premise and was in the mood for a heartwarming film that – with the concept of time so heavily woven into its narrative – promised to inspire me to live each day to its fullest (I love movies like that). But no such luck. More lackluster than epic, Button is stultifying when it should be sentimental, and vague and removed when it should be resonating with its audience.

Button’s most glaring failure is its entirely underdeveloped protagonist. Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt) is the least riveting character in the entire film. Amidst a vivid ensemble of personalities – ranging from Benjamin’s surrogate mother Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) whose sweetness is second to none, to his father (Jason Flemyng) who has lived most of his life with intense guilt, to drunken, aspiring-artist Captain Mike (Jared Harris) – the main character blanches in comparison. Despite the film’s massive running time, Benjamin fails to become three dimensional; he passively shuffles along with little discernible aspiration, character or direction. Perhaps Fincher thought Benjamin would seem capricious when he signs up to work on a tugboat or later to go to war, but because these choices were made without impetus or joie de vivre, they merely seem arbitrary.

The weakness of Benjamin’s character ruins the film’s entire plot by rendering the romance between Ben and his love Daisy (the always talented Cate Blanchett) baseless and unbelievable. Meeting when (chronologically) both are children, the two form a life-long bond and finally have a relationship when they "meet in the middle" and both look the same age. The way the two weave in and out of one another’s lives is supposed to give the film its heart but, sadly, I just stopped caring because the two had no chemistry. If the two lovers had any bond as children, it was not conveyed to the audience. The two exchange a maximum of ten meaningless lines of dialogue in these childhood scenes and seem only mildly fond of one another. Later in life when they again meet, Daisy is a beautiful and talented ballet dancer with a full social life and a hot boyfriend. Benjamin is an ugly, old (looking) bore who has nothing interesting to say. Yet somehow she is attracted to him! If Fincher had done a better job with depicting their earlier connection, or if Benjamin had an iota of personality, then perhaps their relationship would have resonated with viewers.

The film also attempts to echo its screenwriter Eric Roth’s previous (and hugely more successful) effort Forrest Gump in terms of structure. However, the film again falls short of its goals because of the weakness of its main character. In both Button and Gump the protagonists have "conditions" and look at things from a slightly different perspective than those around them. Both men meet a variety of people and touch their lives in unique ways. However, Forrest is a soulful, relatable character whose impact on others is easily understood by the audience. Benjamin’s effect on those around him is less evident; one woman he meets is Mrs. Abbott, a wealthy, unhappily married woman who feels she has never done anything with her life. After a brief affair with Ben, she goes on to follow her dream of becoming the oldest woman to swim the English Channel. How knowing Ben inspired her to do that is totally mystifying to me when all he made me want to do was sleep.

Benjamin’s character was so flat, so lifeless, so ruinous to the entire film that I began to wonder just how such a remarkably dreadful personage was ever brought to the silver screen. It couldn’t just be blamed on a poor script and directoral choices, could it? This got me thinking about last year woefully abysmal piece of squalor The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and how that protagonist was eerily equally devoid of personality. What’s the common denominator here? Brad Pitt! At last I had hit upon what precisely made both these films such abhorrent bores. Despite his good looks, the man cannot carry off a "straight man" type of role. When given strongly written characters (like in Fight Club), he is altogether adequate, but when given a nondescript personage, he is unable to inject charisma, likeability or empathy into it and, in lieu, delivers a bland performance.

In essence, Button was an insipid film made worse by the poor writing, directing, and acting of the main character. Readers! I urge you: skip it. Or if still want to go against my advice, well, at least maybe you'll get a nice nap out of it. But seriously, don't go. Your money and time would be put to better use by seeing that terrible looking Marley & Me movie. Trust me, it can’t get any worse than this.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Eastwood's Latest Clunker: Changeling

My dad has been trying for weeks to get me to see Changeling, espousing praise of its directoral brilliance and Angelina’s stellar acting chops. Though my father and I usually agree on such subjects as film and music (he’s the one who clued me in to my beloved Scissor Sisters), I was wary to say the least. If you know me but at all, you know that I have an age-old axe to grind with Clint Eastwood. I think he is a clunky, unrefined butcher of a storyteller with a propensity for spiraling, un-succinct narratives that fail to evoke any sort of emotional response. So it was for this reason – and the fact that I do not like to support megalomaniacal, husband stealing Big Lips in her filmic ventures – that I was disinclined to see the film. However, after my father offered to pay me $10 if I went to see it but didn’t enjoy it, I finally relented.

The film relays the true story of Christine Collins, a single mother who – after leaving her child alone for a few hours at home – returns to find him gone. After months of searching, the corrupt Los Angeles police department – in an effort to repair their grizzly reputation - “reunites” her with her alleged child. The only problem? It’s not really her child. The more Collins protests, the more the police take action to keep her silent – they even lock her up and subject her to extreme maltreatment in a mental institution. It is only after a killer who potentially murdered her son is discovered that she is finally released. And that’s only the first half of the movie! At the risk of spoiling the end to any who will still want to view the movie after reading my critique, I’ll say no more.

The film’s principal weakness is Eastwood’s desire to preserve the historical facts of his subject matter. Though Collins’ tale is admittedly a phenomenal one, Eastwood tries too hard to include all the painstaking real-life details, and in the process ends up creating a film that sprawls too broadly over a number of storylines, themes and characters and - in consequence - lacks any real focus or emotional impact. Is Changeling aiming to tell a character-based story of the personal quest of one woman? Is it an exposé on the dark underbelly of the Los Angeles police department? A psychological study of a crazed and deranged lunatic (played deftly by Jason Butler Harner)? In theory, Changeling is all of these. In actuality, it is none. The film straddles its focus between each of these themes without pulling any of them off. Christine Collins – though one identifies with her plight – remains a cold and remote figure that never manages to become anything more than a one-dimensional victim rather than a nuanced human being. (To her credit, Jolie’s acting is more flat than bad, which I attribute to the screenplay and direction rather than to her inherent capabilities as an actress.) And though the film does succeed in scathingly depicting the police corruption of the 1920s, and in creating a thoroughly blood-curdling psychotic villain, neither of these subplots demands enough screentime to be considered the heart of the film. The result of these competing themes is a film that strives to include as many real life facts as possible without noticing that the outcome is a disjointed, ineffectual product.

Eastwood’s desire to keep the facts of the case intact also affects Changeling’s pacing. The film starts out briskly enough, but as soon as Collins becomes enmeshed in the corrupt ways of the police department, the film grinds to a standstill. Seeing Christine in the asylum is really a pointless exposition. We can all infer what sorts of horrors go on in such a place, and showing them is a waste of precious narrative time especially since the whole ordeal is peripheral to the overarching plot.

The film reaches a climax at about the 60% mark when a young boy confesses to witnessing and participating in the murders of several young boys, one of who may have been Collins’ son. That scene and the subsequent one in which the boy is forced to dig up the remains of the bodies serve as the film’s narrative and emotional pinnacle. I figured Changeling would be over soon thereafter, and was incensed to discover that I still had 45 more minutes to sit through!

The remains of the film prove to be the most tedious and the least focused. Eastwood drags us through not one but two separate courtroom trials and then subjects us to several lengthy scenes between Collins and her child’s potential murderer that are factually accurate but serve zero purpose in furthering the plot of the film. By including such pointless wastes of time into his film, Eastwood clearly shows that his propensity for telling a factual tale outweighs his desire to relay a captivating, efficient narrative.

The film also includes several classic Eastwood cringe-worthy moments. One happens at the asylum, when Collins’ hard luck hooker pal tells her that there are times when a lady has got to say “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on” to authority. In the following scene, Christine repeats this line to her power-tripping psychiatrist. The effect of this line is so clichéd, so trite and so irksome, I could have left the theater right then and there. It is as if Eastwood is winking at the audience hoping that the payoff of this repeated, obnoxious dialog will awaken audience sympathies by depicting Collins as a strong female despite her generally wooden character. In another needless scene, Collins listens to the announcement of the Oscars over her radio and – in a completely out of character fashion – delights when her underdog choice of It Happened One Night wins Best Picture. Again this stale attempt to lighten the otherwise downtrodden mood feels like a cheap and nauseating way of appealing to the Academy for a nomination. These moments – as well as the film’s overall weakness in structure – elucidate that Eastwood is a director who is out of touch with how to captivate his audience’s attention. His attempts at being visceral feel hackneyed, his humor pedestrian. Needless to say, I got my $10.

Tasty Look-Alikes!

Is it just me or does dreamy cheftestant Jeff from this season's Top Chef look uncannily similar to my favorite doc-on-the-block, sexy Australian House actor Jesse Spencer? Either way, both are way yummy. And just look at the stellar job of photo cropping that I did with each of the above photos!

I DO Feel Like Dancing!

I love, love, LOVE this song and am driving family and friends crazy by playing it no less than 30 times every day. But I just can't help it. This song is so smashing, so divinely danceable, so gloriously reminiscent of the Bee Gees that it has driven me into a state of continuous, frenzied, foot-tapping revelry. Friends and strangers alike, listen! Live! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Drank the Blogger Kool-Ade

It was just a few short years ago when I took a sacred, moral oath never to become one of the pretentious, self-absorbed windbags who inflict their oft-moronic, miniscule ideas upon the masses via blogging. And now look at me! So what, you ask, has led to this massive break in my convictions, this Benedict Arnold act of personal treason? Have I changed my opinion on blogs, or decided to attempt an oxymoronically non-pretentious one? No and no! I still feel that most blogs are frivolous wastes of time and cannot promise that mine will be any different. The reason for breaking my own moral code and jumping on the blog bandwagon is simple – I'm bored. And my morals were never that strong in the first place.

Having perhaps said too much already, salutations and welcome to my blog! On the off chance that you are not personally acquainted with me, I shall provide some very brief but delightful choice tidbits about myself. I am an inveterate cinephile, music obsessee, carouser, over-opinionated TV watcher, shower singer, knitter, whiner and a drunk. And - as I am currently a gainfully unemployed scourge upon my family and humanity at large - I have dangerously large amounts of time on my hands. Thus, the blog!

Apologies for the affected blog title. For those sadly not versed in French I shall elucidate: en français, noix means nut, thus the title is jointly referencing my own status as a film nut, and the 1940’s genre of film noir of which I am fond. I ran the title by my dear friend Zander over at Zandervision and he decried it a mite pretentious, though exclaimed that our demigod ex-professor Andrew Sarris (who, for lack of any other worthy photo candidates, is pictured above) would be proud of my clever witticism. As the title gently hints, the blog will pertain to film. Truly though, I intend to write about anything that strikes my fancy. I am opinionated to a fault, and therefore intend for this blog to be a place for me to air my various thoughts, no matter how trivial or asinine. Reader beware! This blog – like so many blogs before it – will be insufferably inconsequential, self-absorbed and probably hideously uninteresting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.