Daniel Arkin

colinfirth

Day 62-I hope that Method Man teaches method acting to meth addicts

Awards season is upon us! Horray? I’m not sure how to react these days during the frenzy that is Awards season. I like movies and I like competition, so one would think that I would enjoy this special time of year. But in fact, recently it has been nothing but a huge bore to me. It’s fun to debate the merits of one movie and/or performance versus another but that is just one small benefit to enduring a season of awarding what is increasingly becoming the same people/movies over and over again. Every year there are clear frontrunners, (these past few years more than ever), who pretty much win every award (Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild, Golden Globes, National Council of the Arts of Movies and Cinema and Stuff etc.) up to the Oscars with few surprises. This year most “pundits” will tell you the FINAL FOUR will most likely going to be Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Done. They’ve won every award so far, why not the Oscar? Truthfully, I feel bad for all the other nominees who have had to sit through countless painful award shows knowing that there is no chance of them winning and having to listen to what’s more or less the same acceptance speech with some small iterations. BORING. The Best Picture/Best Director races are a bit up in the air (GEORGE CLOOOONEY) with Social Network winning all the earlier awards and The Kings Speech heating up as of late. But it promises to be a crazy campaign. The absurdity is that people like to vote for whatever seems to be hot, which means the person who has the most momentum, which means the person with the best PR department who can convince the masses that it’s their year (ie. last year was TOTALLY SANDRA BULLOCK’S YEAR!) So honestly, take the winners with a grain of salt. The Oscars don’t really matter. No one can tell me that Crash was really the best movie of 2005.

The whole reason the Oscars were invented was to have an awards show that could garner up press and make more money for the films and the film industry. That’s still what it’s for. Do you think anyone would have seen The King’s Speech if it had not been touted as an “award winner?” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes a lot of money from the telecast, and the higher its ratings the more money it will make. They expanded the Best Picture category from 5 to 10 so they could include not just the good small films, but the films that were popular and thus would get more people to watch the show. That’s why a manipulative, feel-good, sentimental B movie, which happened to make like $250 million, like The Blind Side, will get nominated for Best Picture. THEREFORE–Oscars are a little about rewarding great art but a lot about money.  Also why they brought in two handsome actors to host the show this year as opposed to the standard funny comedians who spend the evening telling inside jokes.

Assorted Thoughts of This Years Awards Crop:

1- I don’t know what Best Picture means. Does it mean the most important film? The one that people will look back and remember 50 years from now? The one with the best overall writing, directing, acting etc. etc? I don’t know, but taking all those intangibles in mind I really hope The Social Network wins Best Picture. Not only is it a great story with a great script, direction, acting etc, but it’s the film this year that I was the most excited about. The one I had to see opening night (I was more excited about this than Inception. For reals). It didn’t disappoint as it was the most exciting, suspenseful movie of the year, even though I knew the ending beforehand. I know I’m biased because I’m of the Facebook generation, but I really think this movie hit on a lot of today’s cultural nerve. How often do we feel that movies are relevant anymore?

THE FOLLOWING IS MORE OF WHY I LOVE THE SOCIAL NETWORK, TAKEN FROM AN EMAIL I WROTE TO READER DANIEL “PATTON OSWALT IS THE GUY” ARKIN:

I feel like The Social Network is the first all around solid, classic “movie” we’ve seen in a while. It’s not a period piece, so it didn’t rely on that bullshit, it’s not a “action movie” so it didn’t rely on that bullshit, it’s not a war movie, or a quirky love story, so it didn’t rely on that. It’s not an “underdog story” so it didn’t rely on that. No father/son family drama bullshit either.  It was almost devoid of all “award winning movie” cliches which is so awesome. (Except for the writing equations on a window scene.) Just an awesome script with clear characters, motivations, interesting plots, no clear cut hero or villain. And its not an “indie movie.” Its a big studio movie with a great story. It reminds me of like dustin hoffman movies from the 70s (Like All The President’s Men or something). Just a great movie with great actors/directors/writing.

I’m going to add to this that I hope TSN wins because Hollywood just doesn’t make movies like this anymore. They make tiny budgeted indies or huge blockbusters. No in between. Those options provide the least amount of risk. If you’re going to spend $60 million, why not spend $150 million and make it a can’t miss product-based movie (ie. GI Joe)? Or why spend $60 million if you can spend $15 million and gross the same amount at the Box Office? Every year a small-budget, British cast, period piece like The Kings Speech comes out. I hope The Social Network proved that you can make a successful (in both prestige and $) medium budget movie if you have in place a great writer and director. 

2. It’s so hard to choose between best performances. Would you watch Colin Firth wedged between two boulders for 2 hours? I wouldn’t either, and I don’t think he would be able to pull it off. So why is his performance better? I dont know. It was good. Very good. But with all of these films you are comparing apples and oranges.

3. And besides, the only awards show that really matters is the Kids Choice Awards. Where kids rule!

Enough Oscar Talk. I’m sorry if you didn’t care about any of this. I’ll try and make it up to you with some Glee-derived humor.

Will Schuester is best-known as the musical director of Nude Erections. Excuse me, I mean New Directions. For reasons simultaneously altruistic and creepy (see screencap–right), this–that is, being a glee director–is his passion. Yet Will Scheuster only became the director a year ago. He had been a teacher long before that. What kind of teacher? A Spanish teacher. Which leads me to ask a few questions. 1. If this Will Scheuster character loves being a glee director so much, why did he wait 10 years into his career to start? If singing was his favorite part of high school and the reason the pilot gives for him wanting to become a teacher, then why has he been teaching Spanish? Clearly a man as passionate as Will would only do what he was passionate about, which leads me to think that he must be also have been passionate about Spanish. If this is true, then why haven’t we seen any Spanish or Latino culture permeate through Nude Erections? Why isn’t Santana the lead singer? Why aren’t they singing any Santana? Why does it seem like Will barely even knows Spanish? But there’s more. If Will loves being a teacher simply because he can give advice to students, then was he mentoring kids before? Did he just ditch these other kids when he heard Finn knocked up Quinn? How is he such a good singer/dancer if those skills in him had been lying dormant for 10 years? What was Will doing from ages 21-31? I need to know. If you have any ideas (I’m looking at you CARA) the please let me know.

While these questions are certainly perplexing, they are minuscule in comparison the the ones brought up by the following facebook ad that came up on my page:  “Click ‘Like’ and catch an exclusive, free Matthew Morrison show on 1/29, the first of his solo career, brought to you by Oscar Mayer!”

First I laughed. Then I thought. Then I laughed some more. TOO….MANY….JOKES. Here are some of them:

1- Let’s get a wiener to sell our wieners! or Let’s find the biggest wiener on television…

2-Clearly Matthew Morrison is compensating for something.

3-The same kids who’s parents don’t have time to pack them lunches and therefore have to give them lunchables are the same ones who find solace from their miserable lives in GLEE!

4- Way to pander to the gay market Oscar Mayer.

5- Matthew Morrison loves wieners.

6- Matthew Morrison’s acting is really bologna.

7- Is Glee a Wiener-mobile?

Can you think of more?

Until Tomorrow—

Day 23- Funny how I mentioned Clarissa Explains it All last post, because just today I saw Marshall Darling on "Mad Men"

Hi everyone. Today I am trying out something new. My good friend, who I have mentioned before as Daniel “I wish I were a Coen Brother” Arkin, although now who I will refer to as Daniel “If I could have dinner with two people living or dead they would be Keith Olberman and Jason Bateman” Arkin, is one of the people I respect and trust most when it comes to movies. That’s him on the right. In fact, many of the topics I have written about here have come from our random conversations. For example, in ninth grade we came up with the David Paymer/Kevin Pollack connection. Yes, I was that big of a movie weirdo in ninth grade.

Anywhozelbees, I have offered him the opportunity to be a guest contributor to my blog and today he has taken me up that offer. As you will read, he also is a phenomenal writer. So here it is. Daniel’s article:

What Is This Shit?: The Films of Paul Verhoeven

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I browsed the aisles of Taschen Books in Beverly Hills, a publishing house best known for turning out the second-most-expensive book in Western history: G.O.A.T., a 75-lb, $12,500 tome on the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali. Less imposing is Taschen’s series of books about important film directors – from giants like John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock to contemporary masters like Roman Polanski and Michael Mann. I spotted all those titles in the store, along with a suspicious little ditty dedicated to – you guessed it, folks – the films of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. After an involuntary double-take that would make John Ritter smile from his cloud in heaven, I thumbed through the pages of that hardcover novelty in complete disbelief.

Really? Paul Verhoeven, the braintrust behind the Razzie-wining camp classic Showgirls? The sci-fi visionary who brought us the big-budget B-movie Starship Troopers? The man responsible for Sharon Stone’s infamous leg-cross in Basic Instinct? Yes, that fellow, an auteur for our trashy times – or, as Taschen calls him, the mind at the helm of some of the “most courageous and contentious films of recent years.”

If you say so. No doubt Verhoeven churns out a sleazy genre flick like the best of them (or the worst of them), but I don’t think his work merits a hardback tribute, flanked by curios about Fellini and Renoir. So I thought only a few weeks ago, before I spent an embarrassing slice of my summer break returning to some of the director’s most well-known cult favorites. Now, after that mini-retrospective, I definitely don’t think Verhoeven deserves a flashy coffee table book. But, hot damn, the guy can make a memorable movie! And I guess that’s worth something.

Without further ado, some thoughts on two of the most bizarre, brutal, and bombastic Verhoeven flicks out there:

Robocop (1987)

This dystopian action thriller stars Peter Weller (a.k.a. Jack Bauer’s nemesis Christopher Henderson) as the title character, a stern Detroit police officer gunned down in cold blood by a high-profile gang lead by one Clarence Boddicker (a.k.a., Topher Grace’s curmudgeonly father on That 70’s Show) Murphy’s dead body is swiftly appropriated by a venal techno-corporation as the “organic basis” for a metallic, indestructible crime fighter called … Get it?

There’s a scene early in the movie that sums up the visceral sucker-punch that is Robocop: in a penthouse boardroom, a throng of smarmy executives test out a giant robotic prototype called ED-209 (a hefty hunk of metal that looks like a mash-up of an AT-AT and Mr. Potato Head) on a meek junior executive. The results of the test-run are horrifically violent, shamelessly grotesque, wildly overblown, and darkly comic. The rest of the movie proceeds accordingly.

On the surface, Robocop is a fairly straightforward genre exercise with a few touches of wit and decidedly unsubtle satire. But a torrent of recent scholarship on Verhoeven’s work suggests that the movie may be something more – a rich allegory about corporate avarice; cultural glorification of hyper-violence, the decay of urban American life; Reaganomics, and its associated mid-80’s decadence (see character actor Miguel Ferrer snort coke off a glass tabletop, make out with two hookers and have a ticking bomb shoved in his mouth!) Take your pick, because there’s something for everyone. And oh, how could I forget: the plot is occasionally interrupted by a fake tongue-in-cheek newscast starring two vacuous “Tom Tucker/Diane Simmons” types, who winkingly comment on the action.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy re-watching Robocop, because in the end it’s an entertaining mess of loud noises and hammy weirdness capped off by an extremely violent, truly disgusting climax. The satire is coarse, the subtext is overexplicit, but Robocop is fun. Its crudeness forecasted the second stop on the Verhoeven tour, arguably the director’s most derided . . .

Showgirls (1995)

(ED. NOTE: You’re welcome for the picture) Presumably looking to cast off the shackles of tweendom fame (courtesy of a starring role on Saved by the Bell!), Elizabeth “Jessie Spano” Berkeley signed onto this deliriously campy exploration of the Las Vegas underbelly in the role of Nomi Malone, a fast-food-loving exotic dancer with a dark history. But who really knows why – maybe she figured the role would propel her to stardom like Sharon Stone’s turn in our guy’s Basic Instinct only three years earlier. But whatever: the results are legendary in their own right.

You’ve probably seen the heavily edited cut of Showgirls on VH1, which frequently airs a truncated, neutered version of the profanity-laced, boob-laden NC-17 record-holder for most Razzie wins. The plot is true pulp fiction: Nomi shows up on the strip looking for a dancing gig in a casino nudey show; comes to blows with the reigning queen of the revue, vindictive bisexual/attempted murderer Cristol Connors (played by Gina Gershon, who’s been in the tabloid news lately for her alleged affair with Bill Clinton); seduces Kyle MacLachlan in a unintentionally hilarious hot tub sequence; and traipses around naked with a lot of other naked people.

Showgirls has inspired college drinking games (Author Naomi Klein reports that “trendy twenty-somethings were throwing Showgirls irony parties, laughing sardonically at the implausibly poor screenplay and shrieking with horror at the aerobic sexual encounters”), numerous YouTube parodies, a deluxe “VIP edition” DVD for the true pervert, and the ardent devotion of midnight-showing enthusiasts. The movie remains one of the top 20 highest grossing home video releases in the MGM catalogue, which means a bunch of James Bond titles aren’t really that popular.

Like Robocop, Showgirls has also inspired a healthy stream of academic criticism, with many scholars and some critics praising the film for its self-reflexive look at American movie sleaziness, bold investigation of modern eroticism, and good-natured satire of showbiz nihilism. I’m willing to grant that Robocop has its moments of legitimate satire and even some philosophical seriousness, but Showgirls is all sex and snuff – it’s an exercise in hedonism from the same screenwriter who penned Basic Instinct, a far less contentious but comparably sleazy throwaway movie that doesn’t have all that academic pomp and circumstance attached to its legacy.

So, to sum up: Showgirls is bad . . . just not nearly as bad as you’re lead to believe.

That concludes my little Verhoeven piece. Thanks to Ethan for letting me take up real estate on this here blog. If there’s demand I might be back with more . . . I didn’t even get to Neil Patrick Harris’ supporting role as a fascist alien-fighter in Starship Troopers!

-Daniel Arkin

Wow right? Daniel really knows his stuff. And he has a great vocabulary. He makes the New Yorker’s David Denby sound like Gene Shalit. And in case you were wondering, yes he is related to Little Miss Sunshine’s Alan Arkin. And no, he has never met him.

Until Tomorrow–