Friday, January 19, 2007

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

The other day I was speaking to my Mum on the phone. The conversation went a little something like this:

Mum: So, seen any films this week?
Me: Yeah. Smokin’ Aces.
Mum: Smoking Arses?
Me: No. Smokin’ Aces.
Mum: Smoking Anus?
Me: What is wrong with you??

I don’t know what I found more troubling about this exchange: uncovering my Mum’s newfound love of coprohiliac humour, or the fact that she thinks I spend my free time watching movies called Smoking Anus.

Anyway, that telephone conversation was the most entertaining thing that came out of sitting through Smokin’ Aces. Because it’s not good. And here comes the bit where I tell you why.

Smokin’ Aces is this year’s Lucky Number Slevin or Confidence. The kind of movie endlessly and irritatingly described in reviews as “Tarantinoesque” or “Post-Tarantino”. You know the kind of thing – a slew of extended cameos by stars and recognisable character actors dressed as over-stylised hipsters and hoodlums, peppering faux-hard-boiled dialogue with jarring pop-culture references, before everything descends into a melange of double-crosses and twists, bullets and blood all the way to the end credits.

But here’s the thing – Quentin Tarantino takes his love of genre films, whether they are blaxploitation movies or Shaw Brothers movies or heist movies, and not only pays homage to the very things he loves, but he also moulds them into exciting and resilient films that light up the screen and stand up in their own right. Tarantino’s movies may reference the past but they are resolutely modern or, even better, timeless. His inspirations and influences are clear for all to see, but his skill as a filmmaker elevate his films beyond simple retreads of the familiar. The difference between Quentin and Smokin’ Aces is the same as the difference between homage and plagiarism, passion and hackery, creativity and laziness.

What is Smokin’ Aces about? Well, it’s about fifteen minutes of clunky exposition distributed amongst the cast in tedious and unnecessary detail, replete with text flashing up on the screen to tell you who everybody is. You won’t care. Most of the cast are cannon-fodder anyway. The remaining hour and a half of the film is essentially the shootout at the end of True Romance stretched way past breaking point.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some small pleasures to be gleaned from Smokin’ Aces. There are odd moments of weirdness that made me smile, but nowhere near enough to sustain the entire movie. I’d watch Andy Garcia in pretty much anything. (I’m a sucker for that mellifluous Cuban lilt and that steely gaze). Jeremy Piven does his best with what he’s saddles with (but for me his finest hour will always be Very Bad Things). And yet again I’m impressed and frustrated with Ryan Reynolds. He is always very good in poor movies. He’s got a great screen presence and he can do comedy, whilst still having considerable “straight” acting chops. Kinda like a young Michael Keaton, with that same crazed intensity when he needs it. He was by far the best thing in Blade: Trinity. He was great in the passable Clerks knock-off Waiting. Someone needs to show some compassion and give this man a decent movie! Either that or fire his agent.

Other than that, Smokin’ Aces is hollow entertainment, all cordite and quips, but when the smoke finally clears, the biggest con is the one that swindled me out of 108 minutes that I’m never getting back.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blood, Sweat and Tapirs

I’ve always had mixed feelings about New Year’s Resolutions. On one hand, it can only be a good thing to have a cold, hard stare at the year ahead and set yourself some goals. On the other hand, you don’t really need one special day to outline some plans. Self-improvement works all year round!

Nevertheless, at the end of a year, I tend to have a flick through my almost-spent diary and have a last glance at what happened during the previous 52 weeks. 2006 was a quiet year for me in some ways. My social calendar was anorexic. Hardly saw any movies. Didn’t see my friends or take my wife out as much as I would have liked. Sure, there are valid reasons for some of that – time, money, circumstances…

But sometimes, it’s just a matter of inertia. Not making the most of fallow time that ends up being frittered away on the inconsequential and the unsatisfying. In 2007, I want to address that. This means getting of my ass and Doing. Rather than letting the minutes of my life slip away, I’m keen to fill my time as much as I can.

With that in mind, I’ve been forcing myself through the wind, the cold and the rain to get myself to cinemas when I have a couple of hours to spare. So last Sunday afternoon, I dragged myself to see Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

Before I get into that, let’s think about Mel for a second, because I think it’s important to separate the art from the artist. The fact that John Wayne was known to espouse a belief in white supremacy doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of Rio Bravo or The Shootist. Charlton Heston’s role as a spokesman for the National Rifle Association doesn’t taint the pleasure I take from Touch of Evil or Planet of the Apes. And just because Mel Gibson is an alcoholic anti-Semite with a penchant for referring to female police officers as “sugartits” doesn’t automatically contaminate the hypodermic of adrenalin fired straight into my tear ducts by his latest directorial effort Apocalypto.

Now, I was never particularly enamoured of The Passion of the Christ. I respected it and maybe even admired it a little. It’s an ambitious piece of work. But I sure as hell didn’t like it. Brutal and self-indulgent and heavy-handed. I can live with the first two. I’ll only tolerate the latter if you’re Oliver Stone.

But Apocalypto? What a fine, fine movie. I didn’t expect that.

On one level, a cautionary tale about the end of a civilization that destroys itself from within before being pillaged from without. The other level is that of a relentless chase movie through the Mesoamerican jungle. Mel liberally splashes the screen with gore, and I don’t mind that one bit. I’d go into more detail, but this one should be sampled with as little pre-game build-up as possible. AKA says “Check it out”.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mind Adventures

"The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size." Oliver Wendell Holmes

Things have been mighty quiet here at Casa Del AKA, I know. I’ve been busy working hard on my screenplay Rotten Timing.

I’ve got the beginning, I’ve got the ending, I’ve got the spine and the skeleton and the structure of it all worked out. Now, I’m just trying to add muscle and meat to it - the laughs and the horror and the excitement and the drama and the tears.

Mostly, I’ve just been bouncing ideas like a messy ball inside the walls of my skull, letting them ricochet off the ganglia and coming up with wonderful things. Lots of reading, reading, reading. I try and scrape together the time to wade through the mounds of research material that I’ve accumulated, sitting quietly soaking it all up until a flare gun blasts inspiration into the darkness, lighting up the corners that hold things that I never knew were hiding there. This starts a bout of frantic scribbling, before the cycle begins anew with another round of reading.

I’ve been avoiding fiction since I jumped back into this project. Other people’s ideas leak into my own too easily that way, and its best avoided. Instead, I’m mired in quantum physics and determinism and the teachings of Buddha.

Other than that, work is kicking my ass. Getting out of this job has become a priority. It’s become soul destroying. The only thing that gets me through it is the knowledge that I will be back home with my family at the end of the day. Buttercup continues to be an endless source of pleasure and delight. If I’m lucky, I get home in time to read her a Mr. Men story before she goes to sleep, and then we sit and talk about the story for a couple of minutes before I tuck her up in bed.

This morning, I was heading for the door and I could hear her calling me. I went to see what she wanted.

Buttercup: Daddy! Daddy!
Me: Yes, Baby.
Buttercup: I want to play with you, Daddy.
Me: I want to play with you too, darling, but I have to go to work.

She throws her arms around my neck and gives me a big hug. I give her a kiss and disentangle her before placing her back in her mother’s arms. I’m leaving all this for a four hour round-trip commute and eight hours of being ignored or mistreated in the middle of a concrete wasteland?

Walking out of the front door, the cold wind dried my damp eyes.