Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Curses! Broken DVD Strikes!

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. We watched the second disc of The Wire over the weekend but I can't figure out how to keep talking about this show without just giving away every detail of the plot. So...I think I'm going to keep renting it but will leave it out of the Motley Queue at least until I'm done with the entire first season.

Second...we got our disc on Monday for this documentary I've been dying to see, Small Town Gay Bar. But sadly, the disc was broken in two so we're playing the mailman waiting game with Netflix to get a fresh disc. Sigh.

I promise, new posts will be coming soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Week 43: Into the Wild

Years ago, hubby and I went on an impromptu camping trip deep in an Ohio state forest. We were young and poor and could only afford the tiniest of tents, which forced us to leave all our gear and food outside all night. Lucky for us, our poverty probably saved our lives as somewhere in the vicinity of 3am, a huge black bear paid us a visit, growled menacingly outside our tent and ate our food while we lay paralyzed by fear on the other side of a one-millimeter vinyl barrier.

That was, needless to say, the last time I went camping. These days, my idea of camping is staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Hyatt. So you can imagine that watching Into the Wild left me feeling like a bit of a pansy. If you don't already know, Into the Wild is based on the true-life story of Chris McCandless, an upper-middle-class college graduate who decides to chuck all the trappings of his comfortable life in favor of traveling to Alaska to live off the land. And when I say chuck, I mean literally: burning his money, cutting up his social security card, giving his savings account to Oxfam.

It's a pretty noble gesture on one hand. I felt a little sad sitting in my suburban home while he's out petting bald eagles and kayaking on wild river rapids. On the other hand, as you watch Chris disappear off the radar and completely cut ties with his family without ever letting them know what he's doing and if he's alive or dead, I found myself hating him a little. The premise of his story is that Chris' parents had a very rocky and sometimes violent marriage that left him pretty scarred. Scarred enough to walk out of their lives without a trace. It comes across though as a little bit of a spoiled rich kid who doesn't have enough life experience to see that other people have a far worse situation than his own. But I digress.

Sean Penn directs the film and just as I would have guessed, he falls a little bit in love with his own ability to direct things. Like two hours and thirty minutes in love with himself. Much of the scenes in the movie are long with scenery and contemplation and short with action and dialogue. I guess Sean Penn wanted the viewer to get a true feeling of the loneliness and isolation Chris experienced in the wilderness all alone. Mission accomplished. We got the point though, Mr. Penn, after about a half hour. Beyond that, we started fast-forwarding here and there to move things along.

I can't stop thinking about whether or not to admire or loathe McCandless, which I suppose means the film was a succss at stirring up debate and making us question our own life choices. It's a riveting story and the scenery really is amazing to watch. Just keep your fast-forward button handy.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Week 43: The King of Kong: A fistful of Quarters

Pictured: Donkey Kong Legend and
First-Class A-Hole, Billy Mitchell

Warning: if you have a strong aversion to the desperate smell of adult virgins, the Motley Queue highly encourages you to avoid this film. However, if you love the idea of startlingly outrageous nerds waging the nerdiest of nerd wars as they battle for the title of World Champion Donkey Kong player, then pull up a chair my friend; you are in for a treat.
In my history of watching documentaries, I have to put Spellbound, Supersize Me and now King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters in my top three. This is one of the most mesmerizing movies I’ve ever watched. Motley Husband and I were glued to the screen as nice-guy nerd, Steve Weibe, humbly goes about winning the highest recorded score of Donkey Kong ever while his poor children stand over his shoulder and beg him to make eye contact with them.

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed rock star of the championship gaming circuit and former Donkey Kong champ, Billy Mitchell, has been holding onto a videotape of himself allegedly recording an even higher score.

What follows next is a bitter battle over the championship title in which legions of nerds loyal to Billy Mitchell set out to discredit and humiliate Steve Weibe. I’m not kidding you; it even involves sending secret agents to Steve Weibe’s garage to take apart his Donkey Kong machine to see if he tampered with the motherboard.

What else makes this movie so great? Two words: Billy Mitchell. If you don’t remember what 1982 was like, don’t worry. Billy Mitchell is still living there, right down to his mega-mullet and high-waist jeans. Someone should give this douche a talk show if for no other reason than to give him more of an audience for talking about how great Billy Mitchell is.

I won’t spoil the results of the final battle between Weibe and Mitchell, but let’s just say that the air was thick with the smell of Aqua Net, comic book ink and loneliness. I can’t stress this enough: rent King of Kong right away. You won’t be disappointed.

On a related note, this blogger would like to mention that she once held the high score on the Centipede machine in the lobby of Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse here in Columbus. Does that make me an uber-nerd? Possibly. But nonetheless, I’d like it to be mentioned in my obituary just the same. I mean, c’mon, high score!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Week 42: American Gangster

Russell Crowe, you just won't leave me alone, will you? Quit popping up in good films and tainting them with your ego-stink, you naughty Aussie. Although I didn't loathe you in American Gangster, I couldn't get over how much your '70s hairdo made you look like a ghostly incarnation of the late Croc Hunter, Steve Irwin. Crikey.

All that aside, I have to give American Gangster serious props. The plot is huge and it was so enjoyable to watch the action unfold. I don't care much for Crowe or Denzel "my sh*t don't stink" Washington, but I actually enjoyed both of them in this film. Denzel, starring as self-made drug lord, Frank Lucas, does a pretty amazing job of balancing his character's murderous temper with his deeply empathetic side. Crowe's role as detective Richie Roberts is pretty one-dimensional. Wow, he's an honest cop who doesn't take bribes. I have shivers.

It's really Josh Brolin, who plays the dirtiest of dirty cops, who electrifies every scene. I would imagine that having Barbra Streisand as a mother-in-law would give an actor a few pent-up rage options to work with. Like I bet if she's making a sandwich and finds that her stepson used up all the mustard THERE IS HELL TO PAY.

What I loved most about American Gangster is that the plot is based on the true story of Frank Lucas's rise and fall as the biggest crime boss in America. I love this kind of true-life drama almost as much as I love imagining what happens at the Streisand/Brolin house if Barbra catches James eating Ritz crackers on her $5,000 sheets...or goes to the bathroom and finds someone used up all the toilet paper and didn't put out a new roll...or if Josh insists on standing on Barbra's right side...or if the gardener makes eye contact with her...

...I could really do this all day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Week 42: The Wire Season 1, Disc 1

Confession time. I am addicted to the blog Stuff White People Like. The posts are hilarious and so achingly true that it hurts. Hurts me in particular because it's like they're inside my white mind, right down to my Kitchenaid Mixer, my love of Arrested Development and the fact that I constantly carry a water bottle around with me. I'm Whitey McWhiterson. So imagine my surprise when they added the HBO series, The Wire, to the White People adoration list, and I'd never seen it. Does that make me kind of brown? Hmmm? A little black, perhaps? Maybe a touch Asian?

As you can imagine, I burned up my formerly white fingers adding The Wire to my Netflix queue. We watched all three episdoes on the first disc and loved it, naturally, BECAUSE WE ARE LILY WHITE. The Wire is a cop drama set and filmed in Baltimore. What sets it apart from other similar dramas like The Shield, for me, is how ultra-realistic it feels. The Shield is great drama and fun to watch, but it's way, way over the top. I wouldn't describe The Wire as necessarily edge-of-your-seat drama, but I didn't mind because the meat is so good.

The plot revolves around a detective, Jimmy McNulty, who is determined to take down Baltimore drug lord, Avon Barksdale. The cool thing is, Barksdale is completely under the radar. No record, no photo, no history. No one has ever seen him. The Wire flips between watching McNulty's team begin to assemble their strategy against the mysterious Barksdale and watching Barksdale's crew traffic heroine and evade the police from their side. I would almost describe this as watching the Sopranos in reverse from the police's side.

I feel great for having finally tapped into this great series. My whiteness has been restored. Now I'm off in my Toyota Prius to get an expensive sandwich. Just kidding. Even I'm not that white.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Week 42: Death at a Funeral

Oh, how I love a good dose of witty British humor. And any movie involving a blackmailing gay midget is right up my alley. My only question is, how wasn't this movie a lot more popular? It's so much fun to watch and is perfect light humor fare, but most of us have never heard of it.

Death at a Funeral is set during the funeral of wealthy British patriarch. His two sons are bumbling around preparing for the funeral while several guests are having problems of their own, including a niece whose nervous boyfriend accidentally ingests a huge hit of LSD that he mistook for Valium.

When a stranger--a midget (why he had to be a midget, I don't know, but it does ramp up the comedy factor)--shows up at the funeral, the sons are confused, until the midget reveals a very shocking relationship to the deceased father, then attempts to blackmail the family for 15,000 pounds.

I won't reveal the surprises that follow next, but they're pretty funny and reminiscent to me of old British slapstick sitcom humor. Not quite Benny Hill here, but a lot of naked/sweating/poop gags are involved. You'll recognize a few of the actors in the film, namely the midget, Peter Dinklage, who was in The Station Agent and Elf. "Call me an elf one more time!" Ah, love that line. I must say it at least once a week to Motley Husband.

Go rent this film.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Week 41: Sarah Silverman - Jesus is Magic

Every time I watch Sarah Silverman I feel like I've just been caught doing drugs in church. It's like wearing your brand new karma and getting a big fat stain on it that you know won't come out even if you soak it. It's much the same way I used to feel back in the day when I'd listen to Howard Stern (Hey, it happened and I'm not proud of it. No judging.) I didn't want to turn away but part of me was afraid to listen.

Jesus is Magic is a quasi-movie/stand-up routine. It's peppered with loads of musical interludes of Silverman's own writing, which are hilariously offensive. Her style is to go to ANY length for a joke. And while that makes for great entertainment from the safety of my living room, if I ever found myself, say, stuck on an elevator alone with Sarah Silverman, I'd be terrified that she'd try to make me lick her armpit or swing upside down from an elevator cable.

I'd recommend this movie if you're a fan of her standup. But if she generally offends you, steer clear because you'll be horrified. She's not afraid to take swings at anyone, especially Jews and blacks, which is pretty funny given that she's a white Jew. It was my cup of tea but I'm basically a thirteen-year-old boy when it comes to finding things funny. On a related note, if you haven't seen Silverman's song with Matt Damon she made to tease her boyfriend, Jimmy Kimmel, take a look below. I could watch this all day. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Week 41: Black Book

It’s not easy to willingly rent a movie directed by Paul Verhoeven…the same man who directed Showgirls, which I will admit I’ve watched at least a half-dozen times. Like a stinky cheese, it only gets better and better with age. Seriously, is there a better line in all of film than, I’m not a whore; I’m a DANCER!?

Lucky for Verhoeven, he completely redeemed himself in Black Book. Officially titled Zwartboek, Black Book is an incredible, action-packed Nazi-resistance film that was a sheer delight to watch.

Did I just use Nazi-resistance and sheer delight in the same sentence? Awesome.

Black Book stars a smashing German actress, Carice Van Houten, as Rachel/Ellis, a Jew in hiding who watches her family get mowed down in a botched escape plan from Holland. It spurs Rachel to pass as an Aryan named Ellis and join the Nazi resistance to find out who set the trap that snared her family and a boatload (literally) of other wealthy Jews.

Verhoeven’s cast has chemistry to the hilt, especially between Ellis and the SS Commander she works for/falls in love with, Commander Muntze. And you never really forget that you’re watching a film by the guy who showed us Sharon Stone’s nether regions in Basic Instinct Black Book drips with steamy eroticism and yes – as part of Ellis’ attempts to blend as an Aryan, she dyes ALL her hair blonde. ALL of it. Thanks, Verhoeven, I was worried for a few minutes that I wouldn’t see a woman’s pubes in this film. Whew. What a load off my mind.

The plot of Black Book is filled with twists, turns, double-crossing spies and a whole lot of action. At some points it plays a little like an old-timey war flick. And it’s hard not to compare Van Houten to film legends like Garbo and Lana Turner. She oozes that magnetic glamour of the old Hollywood vanguard.

Be warned before you watch Black Book…it’s incredibly long, but we didn’t mind the length a bit. In the wasteland of terrible films out there right now, it was refreshing to be excited about a truly engaging film. Paul Verhoeven is redeemed in my book. I for one can’t wait to see whose crotch he's going to show us next.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Week 40: Flight of the Conchords, Season 1

It seems like everyone I know has been bugging me to watch Flight of the Conchords, a half-hour series on HBO chronicling the lives of the two members of a struggling New Zealand band who relocated to NYC. I've been trying to watch it forever but being "liberated" from HBO (read: can't afford it) means that I have to wait to get it via Netflix. Hence the long delay. Sorry.

We finally watched the first season this weekend and of course, loved it. The two leads, band members Jemaine and Bret, are dead-pan dry and lovably nerdy, clueless and obsessive. Their songs are hysterical, especially in episode 1, "Part-Time Model", which is the funniest thing I've ever heard. You can read the lyrics to it here.

The best gag in the entire show is that Jemaine and Bret have only one fan. Her name is Mel, and she's a complete psychotic. She is terrific in every scene and in my opinion, they should use her a lot more. By the way, the girl who plays Mel, Kristen Schaal, just joined the cast of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She's a dead-ringer for a deranged Chelsea Clinton, if you're into deranged Chelsea Clinton look-alikes. Which I am.

It was probably a bad idea to watch so many episodes in one stretch together. After a while the shtick started to wear off and we were fast-forwarding here and there to move things along. All of the songs, while hilarious, are basically the same, so it wears thin after five or six episdoes. This is definitely a show that is perfect in a single half-hour dose each week, so lucky you if you get HBO. Me, I'll have to keep waiting for Netflix, but I'll happily do so.