Saturday, October 01, 2005

My Top 101 Favorite Directors, 61-70

I do a lot of last-minute shifting around on these lists, and sometimes I come to regret it later. I'm not sure which judgement is better - my initial thought on where a director belongs or my last-minute reconsideration. Am I more honest when I make a snap decision on where to put someone, or when I second-guess myself right before actually publishing the post to the blog?

Anyway, a few of these guys were higher on initial consideration, and have moved way down. I'd say it's still an honor to be in the 60's, but that's just me...

70. David Gordon Green

He's only made three films total, but they are all breathtaking, fanciful works that deserve more attention. Though he's often compared to Terrence Malick, another Southern Gothic director whose movies encapsulate the mysterious, languid atmosphere of their settings, but only Malick's Badlands is, to my mind, on a par with Green's first three films in terms of intelligence or sophistication.

MY FAVORITES: George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow

69. Ridley Scott

I hate that thing Rid does now all the time with his action scenes, where he shoots them in slo-mo and removes frames to make everything look like a vaguely Russell Crowe-shaped blur...But there's no doubt he's one of action-adventure filmmaking's most, well, adventurous auteurs. He makes oversized, grandiose and visionary productions that are, well, sometimes unfortunately kind of shallow and dumb. But, hey, the guy made Alien. Who am I to talk shit?

MY FAVORITES: Alien, Blade Runner, The Duellists

68. Clint Eastwood

Clint's movies (particularly his early movies) kick such unholy amounts of ass. He learned by working on so many great speghetti westerns and action films over the years, I suppose. He's a really subtle, simple, direct kind of filmmaker, which makes his Westerns stand out in particular, and his straightforward, unshowy style really brings out the best from his actors.

MY FAVORITES: High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven

67. Michaelangelo Antonioni

His movies aren't for everybody. They're long, they aren't much for actual narrative, they're full of odd symbolism. His characters are lost and adrift within expansive and imposing settings. And yet Antonioni movies have a seductive kind of stillness to them - you find yourself paying more attention to the movie the less there is going on.

MY FAVORITES: Blowup, Red Desert, L'Avventura

66. John Boorman

Okay, so Beyond Rangoon isn't really all that. Back in the 70's and early 80's, John Boorman helped define arguably the greatest decade of American film. His movies were outrageous, brutal and hallucinatory, and some of the imagery in his films has become nothing short of iconic. Though he's generally associated with violent crime films and thrillers, he's also responsible for, thus far, the definitive King Arthur film, Excalibur.

MY FAVORITES: Point Blank, Deliverance, The General

65. Elia Kazan

Kazan made some of the greatest human dramas of all time (and has the distinction of being my grandmother's favorite all-time director). One look at his filmography lets you know this guy's importance to film history, and particularly to the concept of Method film acting. He directed two of our greatest actors, James Dean and Marlon Brando, in their most iconic roles, and the nuanced social commentaries underlying each of his films were light years ahead of their time.

MY FAVORITES: East of Eden, On the Waterfront, Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in the Crowd

64. Todd Solondz

Solondz makes extremely awkward comedies. Or, to put it another way, he makes horrific tragedies that just happen to be hilariously funny. Solondz manages to find universal, relatable themes within stories about desperate, pathetic or perverse people. His comedies aren't caustic satires (like Alexander Payne's) or harsh moralizing tracts (like Neil LaBute's), but rather compassionate portraits of weak, horribly flawed individuals. And that's why he made the list and those two guys came close, but didn't quite get there.

MY FAVORITES: Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Palindromes

63. John McTiernan

3 sensational movies in a row. That's the only reason McT finds himself on the list. Seriously, you guys thought I came down hard on Rob Reiner for his shitty present-day output? McTiernan today makes that guy look like goddamn Sergei Eisenstein. (By the way, Sergei Eisenstein? Not on the list!) Words can't even describe how deeply it hurts me that the guy who made Rollerball is on my list of all-time Favorite Directors. But what can I do? Those 3 titles all completely rock; they're among the most distinctive and effective of modern action and suspense films.

MY FAVORITES: Die Hard, Predator, The Hunt for Red October

62. Jules Dassin

Dassin started his career in America, where he made some of the definitive film noirs, beautifully warped stories about the seedy underbelly of proper society, the hidden world of criminality. After being declared a dirty filthy pinko commie red in the early 50's, Dassin moved to France where he...kept right on making smart, graceful noir-y crime movies. One of the great geniuses of the noir genre, and one of the key architects of the modern caper movie.

MY FAVORITES: Theives' Highway, Night and the City, Rififi

61. James Whale

My favorite of the classic Universal horror directors, Whale's films aren't so much scary as witty, audacious and strange. These films were made around 70 years ago, and they are still eye-popping marvels of ingenuity, particularly the 1933 classic The Invisible Man. It's clearly one of the greatest effects films ever made. Whale is one of the more underrated directors on the entire list, a guy I never see on lists of the greatest directors who has clearly earned his place in the pantheon.

MY FAVORITES: The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Man in the Iron Mask


In the past, I've been pretty mean to Joss Whedon here on the blog. I've implied that he's kind of a pompous windbag, that he has only achieved his current status in the entertainment industry because of his family's connections and background, and that his acclaimed TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is more campy than groundbreaking.

Tonight, when I went to Century City to view Joss' new film, Serenity, based on his cancelled TV series "Firefly," I went in without expectations either way. Sure, I'm not really predisposed to liking Joss, but I'll freely admit to mainly ignorance about his work. I saw a bunch of "Buffy" episodes (some friends in college were big fans) and didn't care for them, but I had never seen "Firefly," and Serenity marks the guy's first venture as a big-budget film director. So it's unfair to declare him a failure before he's even had a chance to succeed.

Now that I have seen Serenity, though, I can call him a failure without remorse or doubt. This is the worst mainstream science fiction film I have seen in many years. We're talking Battlefield Earth bad. I'm completely at a loss to explain Mr. Whedon's massive popularity among the geek community. Seriously, those guys should know better.

Whedon, like his father and grandfather before him, started off writing sitcoms, and this is painfully clear from his script for Serenity. Whedon isn't just a slave to standard screenplay format, he's a slave to that tired old sitcom setup-punch format. This isn't just a film where the big story points are telescoped and obvious, it's a film where even the dialogue beats are obvious, where you can see the quips coming a mile away.

And there are a shitload of quips. You would think that a movie based on a TV show that ran for an entire season would have a well-developed character or two, someone with a perspective or something to say. Instead, what we get is like a spaceship populated entirely by failed open-mic comics. Every hair-raising, adventurous situation they encounter is met with not one, not two, not three but as many as five or six snarky, disaffected and sarcastic comments from the crew members.

Here is my impression of every single scene in Serenity:

CHARACTER #1: Are the coming?
CHARACTER #2: I think we lost them.
[Loud banging on the doorthe door]
CHARACTER #1: You thought wrong.
[Even louder banging]
CHARACTER #2: They sound angry.
CHARACTER #1: I'm gonna be angry if we don't get out of here.
[Spaceship blows up in background]
CHARACTER #2: Was it something I said?
[Girl runs through the room doing kung fu movies]
CHARACTER #1: What's she up to?
CHARACTER #2: Oh, I don't know...Saving the world again, maybe?
CHARACTER #1: Saving the world?
CHARACTER #2: Well, saving your ass, anyway.

You get the idea. It's impossible to care about characters who do nothing but quip. In fact, it's impossible to even tell these characters apart. Let's see, there's the sarcastic captain who acts selfish but actually has a heart of gold. The sarcastic pilot who acts stupid but is actually smart. The sarcastic first mate who is a beautiful woman. The sarcastic hired gun who acts tough and mean but is really a softie. The sarcastic doctor looking out for his quiet but occasionally sarcastic and psychic sister. And, of course, all of the sarcastic, insincere people they meet across the stars.


With all this sarcasm, it's a wonder Whedon has time to squeeze in a story at all. He conserves time by not bothering to think up anything original and just pasting together elements from other, better science fiction adventure movies. And this isn't some sort of Tarantino Kill Bill homage to older films, where you need a Leonard Maltin guide and a pause button to spot all the references to obscure cinema. Whedon prefers to rip off genre classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, The Fifth Element and the anime favorite Cowboy Bebop.

Let's break down the set-up of Serenity, shall we?

The story concerns Mal (Nathan Fillion), a veteran of a harsh intergalactic war against a superpower called The Alliance, haunted by a poor decision that led to the death of many men, who survives now as a thief and smuggler operating his own starship.

That's a backstory so stock and familiar, they were making fun of it in Airplane and Airplane II. Remember? Ted Stryker lost it over Macho Grande, and now his safe piloting of the airplane (spaceship) will make up for his old mistake? Also, Mal is clearly based part and parcel on Han Solo, another affable ruffian who opposed a powerful pan-planetary Alliance (known as The Empire) at first as a scoundrel and then as a soldier for the revolutionary underground.

His loyal team is compromised when he allows on board a doctor (Sean Maher) and his strange, psychic sister River (Summer Glau), who have just escaped from the Empire's...(oh, sorry, The Alliance's) clutches. Amazingly, Whedon used to write X-Men comics and yet no one has brought up the fact that River's story exactly mirrors Wolverine's.

They have strange powers, which caused an evil secretive government agency to kidnap them, perform all kinds of wacky experiments on them that wound up giving them crazy powers. Now they have escaped and the same agency that screwed up their wiring in the first place and made them into weapons have to track them down and kill them to prevent the secret from getting out.

River isn't just psychic. She's also capable of dispensing Buffy-like beatdowns to any attacking foes. She doesn't do it all the time, and for a while it seems she's only capable of administering the pain when she's professionally "triggered," but by the end she can turn her bloodlust off and on like a faucet.

Oh, sorry...did I just blow the story of Serenity for you? Well, it's not like you haven't heard it before. It's also the basic conept behind Milla Jovovich's character in The Fifth Element and, I might add, The Iron Giant. Oh, and Towelie on "South Park."

You get what I'm saying here. This material is beyond familiar. That's not to say it couldn't have been elevated. Plenty of great adventure movies have been made from well-worn formulas and old-fashioned storytelling. Hell, I gave a fairly positive review to Sahara, which is composed of nothing but familiar cliches. But that film is light, occasionally funny and above all unassuming. It has no pretensions of being anything other than a goofy thrill ride, and it succeeds (barely) at that modest aim.

Serenity, on the other hand, shoots for emotional science fiction epic, which makes its woeful tedium, repetitiveness and sloppiness all the more noticeable and trying on the patience. It's not just a tired retread of a story, but a bad story poorly told. Whedon lacks any sort of eye for visual storytelling. Serenity is one of the most bland, and even ugly, films I have seen all year. It's not just cheap, TV-style special effects that are the problem, although such effects abound (particularly the poorly-realized "heat waves" emanating from the vehicle's engines, which are wholly unconvincing). It's TV-style framing, where all the characters stand around in a semi-circle and converse. Like in this scene:

LOTS of the movie looks like that. Whedon obviously knew this, so he tries to fancy it up by adding unneccessary elaborate shots just to make the thing feel more cinematic. In one sequence, we spin rapidly around the characters as they stand around in a semi-circle, talking. In another, the camera darts around between characters as they...stand around in a semi-circle, talking. Sometimes, Joss quickly intercuts shots of skeletons or half-remembered action sequences in the midst of scenes where...characters stand around in a semi-circle, talking.

Thankfully, I'm not fooled so easily.

Now, I'm not saying that Whedon's massive rabid fanbase of hardcore admirers are being fooled, neccessarily. There's obviously something about this guy's writing that connects with people that I'm just missing. I don't propose to know what it is. My instinct is to say that people are just starved for science fiction stories, that very few modern filmmakers have demonstrated any real ability to bring mature, intelligent sci-fi to the screen, so fans must make do with either childish movies that play to teenage boys or cheesy, tired retreads like Serenity that at least try in some way to engage an older audience with sexy girls, sidelong political references and one-liners.

But that wouldn't really explain the passion of these fans. What do they see in Serenity that pleases them so?

It can't be the dialogue, which all begins to sound the same after a few minutes. Whedon repeatedly goes back to the same joke concepts over and over again. For example, he loves the bit where a character says something aggressive and bold, then another character does some small gesture to prove his or her superior strength, and the original character backs down.

Like, Mal says, "You want to shoot me. Well go ahead!"
Then his antagonist cocks his or her gun.
Then Mal retorts, "Or, we could keep on talking."

Get it? He thinks the other guy's bluffing, but they're not! Ha ha! Whedon tries this same joke at least 4 times.

And for some reason, all the characters talk like they're auditioning for Season 3 of "Deadwood." Now, I get the "frontier" aspect to the film...Many of these planets are just being settled by humans, so they have kind of an Old West-lawless-frontier feel to them. I'm told, in the show "Firefly," characters even ride horses to make the Western motif more explicit. But it is still the future...Why would language have regressed to the way it was in the 19th Century just because these character's living situation resembled the 19th Century?

One much-discussed aspect of the dialogue is how characters use Chinese slang, presumably because China was the most influential culture in the time when humans left Earth. I only know that from reading reviews. Though characters occasionally mumble under their breath, it's never even made clear during the film that it's in Chinese.

This brings me to the final massive failure of Serenity that I'd like to dissect...It's clearly designed for fans of the TV show and not a mainstream audience unfamiliar with "Firefly." This makes little sense to me. If you want to make something that only appeals to people who have discovered "Firefly" on DVD, why not just bring back the show to television? Or make a "Firefly" mini-series and send it direct-to-DVD or something?

If you're going to put a movie in theaters and sell it as its own entity, it really ought to work as its own entity, right? It doesn't. Whedon's clearly been forced to far simplify his vision for the screen, but it has been so simplified that the universe has no sense of lived-in detail whatsoever. Frankly, it seems to me exactly like the Star Wars universe but with no aliens.

There are lots of isolated, frontier-like planets, most of which resemble Earth deserts. A large despotic and corrupt government runs the majority of the galaxy, centered in a highly populated cluster of planets. Rogues, drifters and criminals operate independent spaceship crews and tool around doing mercenary work for gangsters and syndicates.

And even the physical aspects of what Mal and crew call "The 'Verse" resembles Star Wars. It's a world of futuristic technology but post-industrial, rusting hardware. Lifelike robots provide comic relief. Spaceships have engine malfunctions and other such problems generally related to automobiles. Astoundingly fast interplanetary travel is not only possible but commonplace.

I have no doubt that, in a season's worth of 40-minute episodes, Whedon was able to spice up The Verse, make it feel more like an original creation and less an amalgamation of the usual sci-fi notions of the future of space travel. In Serenity, I'm sad to report that he doesn't even try.

As well, he doesn't really make much of an effort to provide newcomers insight into the characters, even the film's main characters. In the third act, a number of people who I guess were regulars on "Firefly" are killed. It seemed to me, in terms of the film, a last-ditch effort to raise the stakes. The actual workings of the plot don't make a ton of sense - The Alliance needs to keep a secret in order to safeguard their absolute power, yet they are already so totalitarian and militarily dominant, such PR concerns seem unneccessary. So rather than rely on just this thin exposition to invest the audience in the drama, he takes out a few people and threatens the lives of everyone else repeatedly.

There are some scenes in the end here that are absolutely ridiculous. I think Whedon pretends to kill off just about every character in the film by the time the final credits roll. Again, he doesn't have any concept of overkill whatsoever. Fake-out almost kill one character? Effective. Two characters? Bold, but sometimes effective. Three characters? Um...well...probably not worth the risk. Four or more characters? Get the fuck out of here!

From the reactions I heard around me, it seems at least one of the victims was a beloved "Firefly" character. I certainly couldn't tell just from Serenity, where all the characters save Mal and River feel like afterthoughts. Honestly, I couldn't tell you anything about the crew's resident tough guy, Jayne, except that he likes grenades and he's played by a guy named Adam Baldwin who is not related to all the other acting Baldwins.

And even Mal and River aren't really fully-formed, don't ever come alive as people. They're placeholders - he's there to constantly make bad jokes except when things get really dire, and then he's there to squint and run around and grunt and hang from cables. And she's there to look sullen and sunken-eyed and cute in a faraway sort of way, until things get really dire, and then she's there to do bad kung fu kicks and twirl around like Buffy.

This is pathetic. Seriously. A pathetic excuse for science fiction. The generally-reliable Moriarty on Aint It Cool News stated in his review that "Firefly" was informed by "SF literature." I have no way of knowing if this is true. Perhaps "Firefly" was a more literate, astute, intelligent show. If so, I can't help but wonder why fans of the show have so embraced this new film version, which seemingly has no influences that extend beyond A New Hope and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. There's more Card, Gibson, Dick and Heinlein influence in a random episode of "Tiny Toon Adventures" than Serenity.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Best News I've Heard All Day

From The Hollywood Reporter via Aint It Cool News:

Michael Clarke Duncan is in negotiations to co-star with Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder in director Todd Phillips' comedy "School for Scoundrels" for the Weinstein Co.'s Dimension Films. Duncan would play Lesher, a cohort of Thornton's character. Jacinda Barrett already has signed on for the project, which centers on a down-on-his-luck meter maid (Heder) who enrolls in a confidence-building class in order to woo the girl of his dreams. The class ends up being more than he bargained for when he finds out his professor (Thornton) is interested in the same girl.

Rushmore meets Bad Santa? Napoleon Dynamite meets Sling Blade? Only time will tell, but Billy Bob and Heder starring in a Todd Phillips movie basically guarantees them my $10 (plus $5 for parking).

Ditching the Show

For the third time in my life, I'm ditching a concert for which I had already purchased a ticket. The first time, I had bought a ticket for a show featuring The Walkmen at the Glass House in Pomona, but after working an entire day in my office (at the time, I worked in an office doing subtitles...), I just didn't feel like driving out to Pomona. Oh well...

The second time, I had a ticket to see Morrissey at the Wiltern Theater. I was extremely excited to go see this show. But I felt incredibly ill on the day of the show. Incredibly. I went to work anyway, and put on a brave face all day, because I thought I could convince myself I wasn't too sick and could go see the Mozzer. But, alas, it was no good. I sold the ticket to my friend Steve, who went and had an amazing time.

Tonight, I have no excuse for not seeing The Fiery Furnaces at the Troubadour. I have a ticket. I love The Fiery Furnaces. The Troubadour isn't far away and I don't have a car. But I just don't feel like going.

I bought the ticket during a brief frenzy of ticket-buying after I won that screenplay contest. I've already attended the other shows for which I purchased seats - a performance by The Decemberists that was nothing short of mesmerizing, and that woeful KROQ Inland Invasion nightmare. From that experience, I have learned not to go on celebratory ticket-buying sprees, because you wind up getting tickets for a bunch of shows that, in retrospect, you really don't need to attend.

I'm not going to The Furnaces tonight because I don't have anyone to go with. When I bought to ticket during my little Ticketmaster bender, I assumed my friend Jason would go with me. I knew he was going to The Decemberists, and he had come with me to see The Furnaces once before (it was great), so I figured we'd go again. Alas, it turns out he has tickets to some other show happening tonight. I don't remember what band he's seeing...was it The Notwist? Maybe...Are they even still a band?

But I've had at least a few weeks advance notice that he wasn't seeing the show tonight, so I could have tried to convince someone to go with me. But I'm lazy. I think that much is perfectly clear from this entire anecdote.

Anyway, I've been to the Troubadour to see a show by myself once before. It was Mike Doughty's Band, right around the time Doughty totally sold out with that cheesedick adult contempo garbage on his latest album. Seriously, dude...You're the guy from Soul Coughing. Why do you want to be Dave Matthews Imitator #49582? Let David Gray and that idiot John Mayer ride Big Dave's coattails, and you get back to making actual music, okay? Deal?

The show was okay, although those songs just don't sound as good with an entire backing band as they do when Mike's just out there with an acoustic guitar. I know that's what they used to say about Bob Dylan when he played with the Butterfield Blues Band, but in 1966 they were wrong and now, I'm right.

I wound up getting kind of drunk at the Doughty show, because I didn't have anyone to talk to during the opening act or between sets, so I just drank beer. I never really realized how, when I'm usually in a bar, I'm sipping beer during lulls in the conversation. So when I have nobody to talk to, I wind up drinking a lot faster. Slugging, even. I think I had four or five beers by the time Mike himself took the stage, which is a lot for me to have in 90 minutes or so. So, yeah, I remember the show, but not terribly well. Fortunately, I had the entire 90 minute set to sober up.

So partly because I don't want a repeat of that scene, and partly because I don't feel all that guilty about wasting $20 that I paid on my credit card a month ago, and partly because my friend Matt from Chicago is in town tonight and I haven't seen him in ages, I'm ditching the Fiery Furnaces show. Sorry, kids.

It's This Fall's Feel-Good Family Hit!

Check out this trailer for the heart-warming new romantic comedy, Shining. I'm really looking forward to it. It's about time Hollywood gave us some uplifting entertainment instead of all this senseless violence all the time.

My 101 Favorite Directors, 71-80

Is it too soon for the next update? Some of the regulars are already laying bets as to what's in the Top Ten, so I figured I'd pick up the pace a bit. I've actually now composed the entire thing, so it's just a matter of staggering the updates enough so that this incredible amount of work I've set up for myself earns me at least two weeks worth of occasional posts. Might not work out that way, as we're going to be 30 directors deep after only about 4 days. Oh well...

Today's list is all over the place, a really really diverse group of filmmakers. Which is good, because it makes my tastes seem diverse, when in reality I spend most nights watching reality TV and old episodes of "The Muppet Show." (I thought about it, but no, I can't in good conscience put Jim Henson on the list, no matter how much I still dig Labyrinth).

80. Terry Zwigoff

I can relate to Terry Zwigoff movies in a very real and palpable way. He's a curmudgeon, a misanthropic crank who cherishes the world of intimate, nerdy counter-culture while, at the same time, resenting all those normals who don't appreciate him. At least, those are the kinds of people he makes movies about. His films feel like comedies, but really speak to feelings of loneliness and alienation.

MY FAVORITES: Crumb, Ghost World, Bad Santa

79. Chris Marker

Yeah, okay, he's an experimental French filmmaker and documentarian. But I'm no snob! Robert Zemeckis is in the Top 50 of this list, okay? And anyway, Marker is a genius, an artist who works in the medium of cinema. His movies are highly conceptual and often surreal, sometimes even baffling. But they are also unforgettable, stories from a crooked perspective, full of strange and disquieting imagery. [Oh, yeah, and his La Jetee short film inspired the Terry Gilliam time-travel fantasy 12 Monkeys.]

MY FAVORITES: Grin Without a Cat, Sans Soleil, La Jetee

78. Mike Nichols

I've met Mike Nichols, and in person, he's kind of a dork. But his movies are so goddamn sharp and incisive and dark when they want to be, so insightful, that I think maybe he acts that way on purpose to better observe human behavior from a distance. He's made several movies of which I'm not a huge fan (particularly Regarding Henry...yuck...), but the ones that are good are, like really seriously good, funny and poignant and quietly subversive.

MY FAVORITES: The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, Closer

77. Billy Wilder

I think maybe Wilder's a bit high. To be honest, I don't really like a lot of his movies. (Some Like It Hot, for example, which is often held up as the greatest all-time film comedy, but which I find tiresome, juvenile and flat). The few Wilder films I do like, however, are so good, I found myself moving him up several times from a lower position. Though he's best known as a comic filmmaker, his best films are the ones without all the schtick and the farce, which focus on likable, relatable characters in more realistic situations. And, of course, Double Indemnity ranks among the all-time great noirs.

MY FAVORITES: The Apartment, Sabrina, Double Indemnity

76. Fritz Lang

His silent masterpieces, with their blunt social relevance and abstract, German Expressionist style, kind of define the entire era for me. The imagery and designs in Metropolis are as striking and memorable as anything I've seen from the silent era, haunting and painterly. And unlike many innovators of the silent era, Lang became more productive after the advent of sound, directing a number of memorable Hollywood noirs and melodramas.

MY FAVORITES: M, Dr Mabuse: The Gambler, The Big Heat , Metropolis

75. Mike Leigh

Because he goes into pre-production on a film with only a rough outline of the actual script, Mike Leigh films are always kind of cagey and unpredictable. During months of rehearsals with his primary cast, Leigh develops the characters from scratch, and then sets about the business of deciding how they will confront the situations presented by the plot. Obviously, the rehearsal time and freedom to improvise makes the performances more fleshed-out and natural, but the technique as well produces movies that feel freed from the constraints of formula and traditional storytelling, to explore the often-uncharted little moments of everyday life.

MY FAVORITES: Naked, Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy

74. Jean-Pierre Melville

His tight, dryly funny French capers influenced not only the future of con and caper movies, but also the French New Wave. A highly intriguing, fun and influential filmmaker who is cited as an influence by directors as disparate as Francois Truffaut and John Woo. The Good Thief, which I cited as one of my favorite Neil Jordan films, is itself a remake of Melville's classic Bob le Flambeur.

MY FAVORITES: Bob le Flambeur, Le Circle Rouge, Le Samourai, Un Flic

73. John Frankenheimer

Frankenheimer got his start on television, and to be perfectly honest, his work never lost that TV kind of feel. It's very cinematic, don't get me wrong. The guy is a genius with action sequences, and in particular, car chases. But I mean that his work has the immediacy of television, the urgency you usually get with a live medium that is desperate for you to stay tuned through 20 minutes of commercials, so they have to make the drama extra-riveting.

MY FAVORITES: The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Ronin, Seconds

72. Christopher Guest

Did you know that Chris Guest directed the Chris Farley/Matt Perry mash-up Almost Heroes? Me neither, until I just looked him up on IMDB. Let's pretend we didn't see that, and focus instead of Guest's trifecta of unstoppable improv comedies, full to bursting with some of the most funny, sharp and quick-witted actors on the planet...He's currently in production on a fourth installment, For Your Consideration. I can't wait. Also, many forget that he directed the weird and rather charming Kevin Bacon comedy The Big Picture, and played the Six-Fingered Man in Rob Reiner's classic Princess Bride.

MY FAVORITES: Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind

71. Michael Curtiz

Yes, he's the guy who made Casablanca. But there's a lot more to the career of Michael Curtiz. He was a studio director in the days before directors controlled their own projects, when that position entailed coming aboard a wide variety of films and making them work through an intrinsic understanding of film style and the mechanics of storytelling. The three I've listed below as my favorites are a perfect example - there's a fast-paced, whimsical adventure film, a serenely tragic romance and a James Cagney gangster film.

MY FAVORITES: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Angels With Dirty Faces

Contractual Obligation

I received the contracts from my new management company in the mail today. It was an odd experience. I have been writing for most of my life, and once I was even paid a few thousand dollars to adapt a novel into a screenplay. For real. It was a spy novel that a family friend purchased, and he saw enough promise in me at 21 to pay me $2500 to try and turn the book into a script.

I'm afraid it didn't turn out so well. I think the script is okay, but it lacks focus. And frankly, at 21, I wasn't really the best with dialogue, and I was still kind of immature, so it's not really fun or sexy or clever in the way a good spy movie should be. Though, if made, I dare say it would still be better than Spy Game.

That's been my only other experience in life getting paid to work as a screenwriter, and really my only experience of writing scripts for anyone other than myself to read. (And now a lot of things are happening pretty fast, and my stuff is being read by dozens of people all over Los Angeles. I haven't really had a lot of time to wrap my head around it all.

I can't understand these contracts too well. I mean, I can read them and figure out what they mean. A paragraph in which I promise to pay them what I owe them, check. A paragraph in which I promise not to work with any other managers while I am contracted with them, check. A paragraph in which I deliver unto them my first-born for ritual sacrifice, check.

You know, standard Hollywood stuff...

But I'm still going to have a lawyer look it over, because they're all so goddamn sneaky. You never know what a lawyer is sticking in there that sounds perfectly reasonable but actually, if you read the fine print, guarantees the company the right to remove your spleen.

I don't personally know any entertainment lawyers, but my Dad is going to show it all to his regular lawyer. I kind of feel like, how different can it be? It's all the law, right? This contract can't be TOO confusing. We're not hammering out the foreign DVD rights for the Fantastic Four sequels or anything. I'm just signing up with this company.

Clearly, this is wrong. Apparently, the way it works is, people who are training to become lawyers figure out really early on what kind of law they want to practice, and then they just focus exclusively on that stuff and ignore everything else. This is kind of a weird system. I mean, doctors all have specialties, but they also all know about general medicine enough to give you a semi-formed opinion about a simple matter.

You wouldn't ask a friend who's in medical school about what to take for a scratchy throat and have them say, "Gee, I don't know...I'm an internist, you need an Ear Nose and Throat guy." They'd say, "Take some Robitussin and stop blocking the TV, you big baby...'Fear Factor' is on." At least, that's what my friend who was in medical school would have said. And he'd have been right, too! "Fear Factor" was on!

So I'll have to figure out a way to get this in front of a real entertainment lawyer, I guess. Which is kind of a challenge, because I really want to get it back to the company ASAP in case they come to their senses and cut off all contact with me immediately.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I Hate the Kids

There's a new girl working at Laser Blazer, Dina. Today, she was telling me about her other job, at one of those Gymboree-type places where kids go to goof around and do gymnastics and stuff. (It's not actually a "Gymboree"-brand children's athletic center. I don't remember the name, but it's some other punny kind of word play based around the notion of young children doing gymnastics).

Anyway, she actually has to go to a seminar in a few weeks to better learn how to play around with other people's kids. Seriously. In Nevada. I started to think (after Dina was done talking, of course) about how patient a person would have to be to work that job. I mean, I get fed up when adult customers bother me at the store.

Like this one big, fat, slovenly weirdo who comes in all the time...He always wants to lean over the counter and chat with you about some dumb crap, like what was going on in the "Roswell" episodes he watched the previous night or what movies he saw over the weekend that were, of course, unsatisfying, or why such and such old Western hasn't come out in widescreen format or something.

But you never want to actually talk with him, for several reasons. He's really stupid, for one, but not just dull and boring like most stupid people, but also opinionated! There's nothing worse than a lame guy without critical thinking skills who considers himself an intelligent individual with worthwhile observations about the world around him.

Also, he kind of smells. Not in that way like he hasn't showered in days. We occasionally get one or two of those guys, but that's a story for a different post. He just kind of smells funny, like he's wearing unwashed clothes, or he was just locked in an airtight container with a corpse, a French soccer club and a gorilla smoking a hookah. You know, just generally stinky.

One day he came in and, I swear to God, he had chocolate smeared all over his face. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. (I ended up doing neither, but just turned around and pretending to be busy cleaning discs, hoping he wouldn't notice me. But he did.)

Anyway, that's how annoyed I get with regular, grown people. I can't imagine a job where I was forced to deal not only with them but with their ill-tempered, disease-infested, mean-spirited, spoiled, petty, immature, barely-potty trained demon spawn. I'm not saying that all children are this way. Just all the children I've ever encountered. Those kids who work the sweatshops in China and the Phillipines? They're probably exceedingly well-mannered.

I couldn't really stand kids, even when I was a kid. Now that I'm grown and I recognize my hatred of children, it has given me a newfound understanding of my childhood. I was a self-hating child. I realized my general ineptitude, my lack of understanding of the world around me, and found it constantly frustrating. I'd always want to sit at the grown-up table, to read the grown-up books and to see the R-rated movies.

I hated being forced to hang out with other children, with whom I could never really relate on any level. I always hated sports, playing them and watching them. Even though I liked video games, as did many other children, I liked playing them by myself more than head-to-head competition with friends, which I found frustrating and unsatisfying.

It all makes so much sense now! As a kid, of course, if you hate kids, find them spazzy and obnoxious and impossible to spend any time around, you become anti-social. Which is exactly what I was. At the time, I thought I had done something wrong, that I couldn't make friends because I was somehow incapable of acting a certain way around others. Now I realize it was more my own lack of interest and enthusiasm.

So, if at 8 years old, you're already unable to talk to other children, imagine how you get when you're 26. I can honestly say that it's easier to communicate with reptiles at this point in my life. I have more in common with 26-year-old apes than 6 year old humans. ( guys can't see my bedroom right now, but TRUST ME.)

And then there's Dina, around my age but somehow capable of not just interaction with kids but pleasant, mutually-enjoyed interaction. How is such a thing possible? She told me that a kid was calling her name the other day, and when she turned around to see what he wanted, he sneezed right in her face. That would be the day I resigned from Gym-Play-sium or whatever the fuck they call it. For her, it was just another day at work. Amazing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My 101 Favorite Directors, 81-90

Here we are...The second edition of the My Favorite Directors series...Some good entries this time...I have a feeling this version is when some of the picks will start getting controversial - some guys too low for some of you and others too high. Anyway, it's evident that this is when my 80's favoritism is going to come into play. 6 of the following 10 directors had their prime creative periods during my formative youth.

What can I say? I might have only been 7 or 8, but I was already paying attention...

90. John Sayles

Michael Moore did not quite make the final cut, because out of all his various projects, there are only two great movies...Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine. The others are interesting as political tracts, but not terribly interesting from a cinematic perspective. Nor are they terribly successful for winning new recruits to the causes of the American Left. John Sayles movies, on the other hand, present progressivism in a far more artistic, comprehensive and nuanced way. His movies are all about community, and how communities of people can either lift one another up or push one another down, and about how most do both of these things at the same time.

MY FAVORITES: Lone Star, Matewan, Eight Men Out, Brother From Another Planet

89. John Hughes

He only made 8 films, and they are just about the only comedies people remember from the 1980's. These movies are so memorable and iconic, people my age quote them sometimes without even realizing they're quoting a movie. It's easy to think of them as pure nostalgia cheese, but Hughes' teen movies and broad, slapstick farces hold up pretty well, particularly when he was given the chance to work with promising or underutilized comic actors.

MY FAVORITES: Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club

88. Paul Thomas Anderson

So low? Unfortunately, yes...Anderson has made 4 films. Two are absolutely fucking outstanding, one is cool but somewhat slight, and one is an abysmal failure, an almost unwatchable, nearly 3 hour ordeal...Can you guess which is which? He gets big ups for ambition, natural ability and creativity, he steals from (um, I mean, references) all the right people, and he's got a wicked sense of humor...but he needs to make some more goddamn good movies. Like, now!

MY FAVORITES: Punch-Drunk Love, Boogie Nights

87. Abrahams, Zucker & Zucker

These three goofballs changed the face of movie comedies, though two and a half decades on, I'm not sure if it was for the best. When Airplane! hit in 1980, no one had ever seen anything quite like it before. An entire film that was just a direct parody of another film, and this one was filled with wacky sight gags and silly props and slapstick comedy in every scene. Nothing in the entire film could be taken seriously. Somehow, it worked, even though it really shouldn't if you think about it...I mean, a movie with no real story, with no relatable characters or dialogue that isn't one-liners or referential humor? After 1986, the trio all went their separate ways (Abrahams did Big Business and Hot Shots, Jerry Zucker did Ghost and Rat Race), and none has made a film as good ever since (though David Zucker came close with The Naked Gun in '88 based on their short-lived TV series "Police Squad.")

MY FAVORITES: Airplane!, Top Secret

86. Kinji Fukasaku

One of the so-called "Japanese Outlaw Masters," Fukasaku directed hard, tough, unforgiving and gritty crime films and social satires from the early 60's all the way to his death in 2003. His movies are among the most relentless, visceral and entertainingly spastic of all the Japanese films I have seen, and have had a profound impact on Japanese and American crime cinema ever since (including , yes, the work of Quentin Tarantino).

MY FAVORITES: Battle Royale, Graveyard of Honor, Blackmail is My Life

85. John Landis

I defy anyone my age nerdy enough to botheri makign a list of Favorite Directors to not include Landis. No one who worked with Eddie Murphy and John Belushi this much in the 80's failed to get some reflected glory. Plus, he made the Michael Jackson "Thriller" video. Nuff said.

MY FAVORITES: Animal House, American Werewolf in London, Three Amigos, Coming to America

84. Jim Jarmusch

You have to want to get into a Jim Jarmusch movie. He's not the kind of guy to meet you halfway. If you allow yourself to relax, stop worrying so much about figuring out what's going on, and just trust that he's showing you something for a reason, the movies can be a trippy and sometimes provocative delight. I haven't seen his 2005 Bill Murray film Broken Flowers yet because I am terribly, terribly lame.

MY FAVORITES: Ghost Dog, Dead Man, Down by Law

83. David Fincher

He is perhaps the single most definitive movie stylist of the moment. You can instantly recognize a shot from a David Fincher film. It's dark, it's sleek, it's gloomy, it's close-up from an askew angle, and maybe there's some Nine Inch Nails music in the background. But he's not just some empty-headed music video director designing odd framing and unusual shot compositions. He's a smart, subversive guy with a really wry, cynical and sometimes playful attitude who makes challenging, daring films.

MY FAVORITES: Fight Club, The Game, Seven

82. Rob Reiner

It has now been 15 years since Rob Reiner has directed an even passable movie. That's not easily forgivable. Seriously. That ought to get you flat-out banned from any list of Best Directors, making films for 15 years without any of them being good...And yet...Reiner's first films were so ridiculously warm and funny, so quotable, so lively. How could I not include him? He's friggin' Marty DiBergi!

MY FAVORITES: This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Misery

81. Wong Kar-Wai

Wong Kar-Wai made the transition from gritty, angst-fueled crime films to dreamy art-house romances so gradually, no one really even noticed. What hasn't changed about his movies is the tremendously lush atmosphere and an astute appreciation for small aesthetic detail. The curl of cigarette smoke hanging in the air, the way a tall woman in a blonde wig offsets a room's beet-red wallpaper, the shock of seeing a droplet of blood spray land on the camera lens and lingering there for a moment.

MY FAVORITES: Fallen Angels, Chungking Express, Happy Together

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bad Timing

With a new Criterion DVD hitting shelves this Tuesday, Bad Timing will be readily available in the United States for the first time since it was produced in 1980. It was intially shut out of most commercial theaters on its release because of its overt sexuality, and though there was an off-brand British Video and then DVD available, no company bothered to bring the film to America.

Watching it now, it's clearly one of director Nicholas Roeg's best movies, but also among his more difficult. He really goes all-out this time with the non-linear storytelling, and he asks a great deal of his actors, requiring a wide range of emotional terrain and also frequent scenes of the two leads writhing around naked together in extraordinarily compromising positions. I can understand why an audience would find the film provocative and challenging, but not why so little apparent interest has existed for the film among American audiences for the past 15 years.

Hello? Roeg is a brilliant, visionary and important contemporary director. Criterion, why did this take so long?

Yes, okay, fine, the movie stars Art Garfunkel, of the cleverly named all-star rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, which he started along with some dude named Simon. It was Roeg's third movie starring a rock musician - Performance featured Mick Jagger and The Man Who Fell to Earth featured David Bowie. Linklater had been in a few movies before, most memorably Mike Nichols terrific Carnal Knowledge with Jack Nicholson, but he had never been given a role like this. Psychology professor Alex Linden would be a tough part for any number of actors, but for a relative amateur like Garfunkel, it's a near-impossible task.

He's good in the film, particularly during the first half, but it's clear he's a bit out of his depth as the film progresses and the relationships get more complicated. Theresa Russell, who plays the woman in Alex's life, Milena, kind of blows him out of the water in terms of depth and nuance.

Russell and Roeg fell in love while filming this movie in Vienna, Austria, and married after it was completed. That's pretty odd when you consider the actual content of the film, which dissects a failing romantic relationship that shifts into a deviant sexual obsession. At the film's outset, Milena is comatose, having overdosed on pills. Her lover, Alex, gets her to a hospital and files a police report with Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel).

As Alex relates his story to the police and considers the possibility that Milena may die, we see their relationship unfold, jumping around through time from when they first meet at a cocktail party to the immediate events that led to her suicide attempt. The story is not a happy one - at first, Alex is drawn to the wild and overtly sexual Milena, and she in turn is attracted by the intensity of his attraction. She's already married, to a much-older man living in Czechoslovakia (Denholm Elliott, best known in this country as Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones movies), and Alex definitely seems an odd man with whom to be unfaithful - he's very prissy and also really emotionally needy.

As their relationship grows more serious, Alex starts to become unhinged. He obsesses about the idea that Milena may be with another man (and she very well may...) He starts spying on her frequently. Whenever they are together, he belittles her and insults her. Sometimes, he begs for sex and becomes hostile when refused.

And then, there is Natusil, the cagey detective who has a problem with Alex's version of events. Between the time of Milena's overdose and the time of Alex's phone call to the police, there is time for which Alex can't account. Why would he wait to inform the police of his girlfriend's suicide? Why, when pressed, does Alex refuse to admit Milena even was his girlfriend, calling them "just friends"? And why doesn't he seem more agitated or surprised?

The genius of Roeg's use of jumbled-up chronology isn't just that he turns a story that's already occured into a mystery. He delays the single most important, telling event of the entire film (which I won't reveal here) until the very end, giving the movie a satisfying, emotional arc even though the plot mechanics are all mixed-up and out of order.

Looking at the entire span of a relationship in flashback, focusing on the most salient details for one party while the other lies in a coma, gives everything a desperate kind of immediacy. We, like Alex, scan these reminiscences for "clues," indicators as to what went wrong for who, as to when the love between these people died and their co-existance became impossible. It's made clear during the film that his is an intellectual love. Milena is passionate, but Alex experiences everything cerebrally; he enjoys knowing he is in love far more than actually being in love.

Perhaps that's why he likes to stare out windows at Milena, spying as she flirts with other men. In those moments, his passion is palpably real, more so than when the two of them are actually together.

In one of the most famous moments in Roeg's entire filmography, in his brilliant 1973 thriller Don't Look Now, Roeg cuts between a couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) making love and then the same couple, later on, getting dressed to go out for the evening. The combination makes the sex appear mundane - it's just another activity for a married couple, just like putting on nice clothes and going out to get something to eat.

Steven Soderbergh in Out of Sight reverses the effect. He cuts away from a couple (George Clooney and J. Lo) flirting in a bar to that same couple, later on that night, having sex in a hotel room. The effect makes the flirtation seem less casual and everyday. These two people are really making a connection in this moment, so we pay more attention to the details of their facial expressions and their mutual chemistry.

In Bad Timing, Roeg repeatedly uses these sorts of juxtapositions to infer things about male-female relationships. (In one sequence, while Alex and Malina fight in flashback about her possible infidelities, in the present doctors insert a swab inside Malina's vagina to test for trauma while she in unconscious.)

The message is clear: Alex's questions and insinuations are a violation, which might be why he asks them in the first place. Not everything in the film is so striking (or obvious, for that matter), but it's an example of how much depth, insight and meaning Roeg has invested into this film. It's a difficult and challenging movie, particularly in the troubling final 30 or so minutes, but it's also a movie of tact, grace and fierce intelligence with fantastic performances from Theresa Russell and the always-reliable Harvey Keitel.

Keitel's character kind of reminds me of Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity. He's a relentless snoop who relies on his gut instincts to get the truth out of people who don't want anyone to know the truth. It might be one of his best 80's performances.

This is pretty much the last GREAT Nicolas Roeg movie, though Track 29 is admirably fucking weird and The Witches is a far above-average kids movie and Roald Dahl adaptation. Between this one, Don't Look Now, Walkabout and Performance, he's cemented his place in the cinematic pantheon...But is it enough to make my Top 101 Directors List? Only time will tell, dear readers...

The Best Hour on TV

Well, now that "Big Brother 6" is over, it would have to be HBO's new Saturday night team-up of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and Ricky Gervais' new import "Extras." And, as I was disappointed in the horribly unfortunate winner of BB6 (ewww....Maggie...), HBO would probably win out even the CBS reality juggernaut continued into the Fall.

Last night's "Curb" premiere was brilliant. You would think after so many years on "Seinfeld," and now five years of having his own show, Larry David would have run out of little minutae to joke about on TV. I mean, how many little silly everyday frustrations do people really share? Apparently, a shitload, as every single episode of "Curb" manages to strike that right note of exaggerated relatability.

For example, in last night's episode, Larry has just accidentally spilled coffee on the floor at a party and wants to go home. He tells his friend Jeff, with whom he carpooled, that he wants to go.

"Why," Jeff asks. "We just got here."

"It's enough already," Larry answers.

Brilliant. Perfect. I can't believe he improvised that line! That's exactly how I feel at every social gathering I attend. I get there, I say hi to everyone, I get a drink or a cup of coffee...and then I start thinking about how long I have to hang out there before I can go home. Because it's enough already...I get the idea...

And the new show from the genius behind the BBC's "The Office," "Extras," had its American premiere right after "Curb" at 10:30. It took about 15 minutes or so to get going, and it's very strange to see Gervais playing a character who is so similar to "The Office's" David Brent, but in a new environment surrounded by new characters.

But by the end of the episode, it became perfectly clear that, even if it's never quite as good as the landmark "The Office,' "Extras" is going to be a pretty hilarious show. I particularly admired how guest star Kate Winslet was actually given a really funny role (as herself), and wasn't just there as a "guest star."

Most of the time, when TV shows have celebrity guest stars, there really isn't a great character for them to play. It's just, "hey, look, it's friggin' Bruce Willis over here..."

But Winslet really gets to go all out...She mostly makes serious films, so I never really thought of her as funny at all until I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. "extras" even gives her a chance to work blue, and even the crude humor comes off naturally. That's a talent enjoyed by only a select few actresses.

So, HBO went two for two on this one. I still haven't had a chance to check out their new drama series, "Rome," but most people I talk to compare it to "Deadwood." That's high praise indeed, as I think "Deadwood" is clearly among the best dramatic series on TV (and might be the best dramatic series on TV, if not for the upcoming new season of "Sopranos").

Vertical and Horizontal Love

My friend and co-worker Ray got married tonight. We closed the store early and went down to Long Beach. The wedding was held on the Queen Mary. When Ray first told me he was getting married at the Queen Mary, I thought he meant in the little park beside the boat. That's where the main stage was when I saw All Tomorrow's Parties at the Queen Mary (it was curated by Matt Groening!), so I figured that's where the events went down.

No. It was on the Queen Mary. At the top of the ship. It's a really nice view, even though you're essentially looking out over a shipyard. You barely even notice, though, on a Sunday with no ships around. Ray and his new wife Erin waited until just around sunrise to actually come out. In the Industry, we call it Magic Hour. Hey, they're both actors.

And everything went really well, except for the guy running the ceremony. They had this kind of strange Reverend guy doing the service who kept bringing the subject back to Jesus even though everyone at the ceremony clearly wanted to hear about Ray and Erin. He will heretofore be called The Ramblin' Marryin' Reverend. Please picture him with a silly goatee and that lame local pastor way of speaking, where he makes a lot of obvious, folksy jokes and lowers his voice at the ends of sentences to let you know what he has just said is important and insightful.

To start with, he announced, "We're all here to celebrate the union of Ray and Erin, but more importantly, we're here to celebrate God."

Um, excuse me? I was there to celebrate the union of Ray and Erin and that's about it. Well, okay, also to celebrate the union of free booze and my digestive tract. But mainly Ray and Erin. God, and his kids or whatever, they didn't really enter into it. I don't waste Sundays celebrating fictional characters, okay? Unless I'm seeing an all-day film festival, in which case I totally waste Sundays celebrating fictional characters. But those are samurai, so it's different.

But okay, well enough, fine, whatever. Ray and Erin are a bit more religious than me (which isn't hard to do...) I'm cool with it.

But it just kept going. Someone reads a passage from the New Testament about how Jesus turned the water into wine, which happens at a wedding but doesn't really have anything to do with actually getting married. It could have happened anywhere one might require wine. Like, say, an Italian restaurant.

"Hey, Jesus, Son of Man, paisan, I'm about to enjoy this delicious veal scallopini and we've completely run out of vino. Mamma mia! This is a no-good! My method of speaking, she is egregiously stereotypical, you know? Fuhgeddaboutit!"

But that wouldn't mean the story was about an Italian restaurant. That's just the setting. It's about Jesus and how he's miraculous, innit?

Anyway, then there was another Bible passage about how Jesus said that your first priority and duty was to love God, but you should also love your fellow man, cause that's really the same thing. It's a very nice sentiment, really, and Christians seem to forget pretty frequently that their Lord and savoir was all about forgiveness and love. Except, you know, for fags and the children of fags. "Fuck the children and adopted children of fags," Jesus was fond of saying.

So, still, I was doing okay. Lots of Jesus talk, but I can take the Jesus talk for a little while as long as it's not too in my face or intolerant. But then they reverend guy came back on and started doing this really painful, long, rambling speech about vertical and horizontal love.

Here's the best I can explain it...You love God and God loves you. Ditto Jesus. That's what we in the Industry call "vertical love." I know, Vertical sounds like an Ace of Base song, but it's not. Apparently, it's a common theological term. I think St. Augustine might have thought it up. Also, it can be perfectly inserted into Steve Miller Band lyrics:

Vertical love...
It's drivin' me mad
It's makin' me crazy (crazy)

So, man-on-God love, that's vertical love. That's the kind the Old Testament Bible is ALL ABOUT. Love God a lot. Don't just kind of make googly-eyes at God from across the room at the big freshman dance. You should be making out with him under the stairwell before they even crown the King and Queen. With tongue.

I mean, Old Testament God wants you to love him way more than your family. He told Abraham to kill his own kid, and Abraham was like, "no," and God was like, "yeah, or I totally won't like you any more." And Abraham was all, "you like me?" And God was like, "I like like you. But only if you kill your son."

Old Testament God was a co-dependent God, which is totally a contradiction in terms, which is why Judiasm is so weird and fucked up and confusing.

But back to Christianity and why that's weird and fucked up and confusing. According to the Ramblin' Marryin' Reverend, Jesus came along and switched everything up. He said that loving your "neighbor" was the same as loving God, that you could express your love for God by being really cool to everyone around you! Brilliant!

That means that, when you get married, you're committing to love someone forever, therefore you're committing to loving God forever. Which means that getting married is secretly all about loving Jesus even more than you did before! Sweet! He's tricky, that Jesus. Here you are, you think you're marrying some girl, but instead you're committing yourself to love the Lord. Cheeky bastard!

That love for your fellow man stuff, by the way, is called "horizontal love." Yeah. Seriously. Horizontal love. Now, this guy wasn't a priest, so he's allowed to get married and have sex. And you can't tell me that someone who has had sex before in their life doesn't realize that the metaphor "horizontal love" is going to cause people to snicker.

You probably snickered when you first read it, didn't you? ADMIT IT!

Yet on and on this guy went, talking about how Jesus loves horizontal love. Finally, he went into a paragraph that was scientifically designed to make my goofy fellow video store clerks and I begin laughing. We couldn't, of course, because you can't laugh in the middle of your friend's wedding ceremony. It was scientifically designed, all right, by evil Nazi scientists.

I swear, here's what the guy said as close as I can remember it. The last part of the speech was in the form of a direct prayer to God on behalf of Ray and Erin. [NOTE: To fully understand the prayer, please note that, in accordance with Ray's Filipino traditions, Ray and Erin are covered with a veil that is tied up with a cord]:

"Lord, please grant Ray the ability to please Erin as she needs to be pleased, and in a way that is pleasing to you. Lord, allow Erin to please Ray as you see fit, in a manner that pleases you and is above all pleasing to you through Ray. As this rope and cord cover their, so let them be coated in God's love."

All this talk about pleasing God...I thought Zeus was the one that was always coming down off the mountain to screw human girls, not Yahweh. Keep it in your pants, Lord.

Mercifully, after that, the ceremony was almost over. All that remained was the actual business of, um, marrying Ray and Erin. That wasn't the most important thing, as you'll recall, so Ramblin' Marryin' Reverend thankfully made time for it after we all heard about Jesus' pearly white God juice.

And the actual marriage part went off without a hitch. It was the first wedding I have attended since childhood, and what surprised me most was how composed everyone was.

If I was getting married, I would be so fidgety that most of the guests would assume I was some crazed drifter looking for spare change for a crank fix, who just coincidentally happened to have a tuxedo on. Not just because long-term relationships frighten me, but also because any massive, life-changing decisions cause me levels of anxiety generally reserved for bad LSD trips or Hitchcock movies. The Three Stooges handle important ceremonial occasions with more poise and confidence than I do.

Ray, though...steady as a rock. You'd think the guy was celebrating the installation of a new muffler or being the 10,000th customer at Cinnabon. I've seen people significantly more fired up and excitable over the birth of puppies at the apartment of someone they barely know. Erin, too...They just handled themselves with such grace and tact, it was really something to see. Apparently, they have dated for about 9 years now, so I guess this won't exactly be a life-altering moment for them. Things will be as they have been, except now they'll wear rings and think lame, middle-aged comics who do "wife and kids" humor are funny.

Otherwise, no real changes. Well, that whole true love lifelong commitment thing. I guess that's kind of new.

There was an open bar for the first hour of the reception (nice!) so I had a few cocktails. I asked initially for a "Seven and Seven," one of my personal favorite drinks, only to discover they had only one of the two required "sevens." Whiskey, yes. Seven-Up? No. We had to make do with Sierra Mist. I'm happy to report that, if you drink it really fast, and chase it with champagne and flavorful little prosciutto-wrapped melon balls, the taste is nearly identical.

I talked mostly with my boss (who sat to my left) and my co-worker and co-Cinegeek Ari (to my right), but also to a woman I later discovered was Christian Bale's sister. I can't really decide if that's interesting or not. It sounds like it would be kind of interesting, but then you think about it and realize it's not, really. But she was interesting, even if meeting her brought me no closer to meeting Christian Bale, which in and of itself wouldn't actually be all that interesting because he's not really like Patrick Bateman or Bruce Wayne.

My Mom once went to a wedding and wound up meeting author Tom Wolfe. He was there in one of his trademark all-white suits. Now that's interesting.

At one point, I was reluctantly brought to the dance floor by the bride to participate in YMCA. I went with, mainly because a girl was grabbing my hand, and I tend to just blindly follow whenever that happens. But also because it was a bride on her wedding day, and you basically have to do what they say.

Regrettably, I had to flee a few seconds thereafter because The Chicken Dance came on. I'm sorry...I look ridiculous enough dancing in the first place, but dancing to the Chicken Dance? There's only so much public humiliation one guy can handle. Plus, hearing the Chicken Dance reminds me that, in my apartment tomorrow morning, I'll be awoken by loud, blaring Mexican polka not unlike the Chicken Dance before 7 am.

I feel like this report is relentlessly negative. Is it? Because, really, I had a good time. Some free drinks, I checked out a big-ass boat, the store closed a few hours early, there was some chicken and potatoes, Ari came away with a vase and I got home with "Extras" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" waiting for me on the DVR. Plu,s you know, a friend married a smart, beautiful actress who makes him happy, and that's a nice thing that even a bitter troll like myself can appreciate, kinda.

I'm just a sarcastic ass that can't take in a beautiful ceremony bringing two people together without turning it into an opportunity to bitch and moan and amuse myself with snarky commentary.

By the way, don't you think the Ramblin' Marryin' Reverend is a good idea for a kid's show? Every week, the Reverend wanders around, giving long speeches and marrying people and singing songs about the number 4 and why God wants you to love geometrically. I think it would be something sweet for families to enjoy, unlike those unwholesome Teletubbies.