Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Bay And The State Of Modern Cinema

What with the deaths of Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Sky Saxon and Michael Jackson, there's a shitload going on in Pop Culture...

But the 24-hour news networks will need content, and I don't want to overshadow them, so I'll move on to another artist who is dead to me: filmmaker Michael Bay.

I'll leave his producer credits well alone, because all producers shouldn't be to blame for the shit other people end up directing and concentrate on his director credits instead - all popcorn summer fare.

Some people see genius in shit-storms Transformers and Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. They are either sarcastic or out of inspiration. Or too inspired. Not only are these machines absolutely not the Transformers of our youth, the action is a blur and rarely makes sense; Megan Fox's clothes go from clean to dirty to clean in the same chase without ever being washed, the minute-to-minute continuity is iffy at best; if you're not into explosions, you shouldn't be purchasing tickets to this at all. Oh, and the U.S. Army not only saves the day but are the best humans on earth.

Then there's The Island. How many movies can you make with the plot from Logan's Run?

The best part of Pearl Harbor is when Ben Affleck gets a champagne cork in the eye while opening a bottle - a fluke accident.

Speaking of fluke accidents, Armageddon is probably the best movie to watch on a rainy Sunday - ever. I don't know if it's Bruce Willis dying, Liv Tyler being Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi being a pervert, Billy Bob Thornton being an asshole - but it all clicks, it fucking works.

Much better than The Rock, anyhow. Dudes want to escape from Alcatraz. Hey, that hasn't been the plot of any movie since the 50s, eh?

And Bad Boys, while unoriginal in the ''two cop friends have a falling out, a girl comes between them and they become friends again'' category, was saved by the acting of Will Smith and Téa Leoni. It may be the best buddy-cop film of the five years prior and the five years after it. It was, however, smeared by the poop that was Bad Boys II.

So how exactly is it that Michael Bay still has a job?

We all know the big studios prefer profits to good art, and, really, who could blame them? Who is to judge what constitutes good art anyway? And with friends like Steven Spielberg, wouldn't at least a little bit of talent shine through on Bay as well?

But it's not that good movies don't make enough money, it's that not enough of them would be made in a year. If every studio only made good, smart films, they'd only release 10 or 15 each per year, and that's no way to make a living, not for companies whose CEOs make hundreds of millions of dollars a year on bonuses alone.

Instead, they release dozens of films per week, hoping to generate the maximum amount of cash from the totality of their releases, be it in theaters or on DVD, by using formulaic screenplays and déjà-vu scenes, remakes and sequels, pretending to update previous creations, not only claiming the original to be groundbreaking (often when it is not), but also quickly adding that the new version is ''so much'' better.

By dumbing down their product, our expectations grow smaller each time, and they're that much easier to satisfy. That is how a piece of trash like Titanic can win hundreds or prizes and 10 Oscars. The acting was great, up to par with the best performances of the past 20 years, but the love story was the most common inane and cliché'd chronicle of that year (especially compared to Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy, Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, just to name three), the direction was a 100-million-dollar version of the Star Wars miniature model school of cheap special effects, and its marketing was just outright indecent.

And we're back to Michael Bay: the same bullshit, without the good acting (except in Armageddon and Bad Boys), and the special effects, instead of using no humans, no real raw material and miniatures of locations, uses no humans, no real life raw material and computer-generated images. Too many computer-generated images, that move too fast for us to decipher any of them, leading to the conclusion that they looked terrible anyway, or he might have taken the time to show them.

So what's the point of making a movie if you're not going to show us what you've been working on? It seems more like a kid that forgot to do his homework and scribbled shit on a piece of paper on the morning bus ride to school rather than a genius who wants to demonstrate the futility of modern film.

But maybe that's just me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reflections On The Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009 Stanley Cup Champions

Vince Lombardi, praised football coach and namesake of the Super Bowl Trophy, was a master at mentally crushing opponents. In a time where coaches would focus on the other teams' weaknesses to win, Lombardi would instead attack their strengths, because if they got through their strengths, the other team would crumble, knowing it was all they had. My favourite saying of his is: ''to be the best, you have to beat the best''.

In today's NHL, the best are the Detroit Red Wings. They're so good, their third liners could be any other team's second liners; they're so good they don't even need a 'name' goaltender in nets to ensure victory. They also have the best 6-man defensive unit in the game. So when Chris Osgood started stopping the pucks in the playoffs, the Wings became flawless. The Cup was theirs for sure.

But nothing is ever certain in sports, it's why we watch them.

Nicklas Lidstrom - perhaps the best defenseman of all time - got injured and missed a few games. Pavel Datsyuk, the league's best two-way player and MVP candidate missed seven games. Four rookies who had started the year in the minors had to suit up for the Wings to start the Finals against Pittsburgh, so when games 6 and 7 came, the veterans were out of juice.

They were close games, but the Pens won both of them, en route to a record-breaking championship: the youngest captain ever to win a Cup, the only team to win despite trailing 2 games to none twice.

I was rooting for the Red Wings myself, because they were reigning Champs and the closest thing hockey has to a dynasty these days. Also because their coach, Mike Babcock, went to university here in Montréal, and because they are beautiful to watch. And, as a Montrealer, I'm used to cheering for the team in red.

But mostly I was rooting against the Penguins. Against a coach (Dan Bylsma) who wasn't even coaching his team on Valentine's Day. Against a goalie who has a tendency to choke in big games. Against a team who went bankrupt once already and nearly did it again until they were so terrible that they ended with the first overall pick four years in a row and got to draft players like Fleury, Malkin, Staal and Crosby. Against a team based around one powerplay unit (Crosby-Malkin-Gonchar-Letang) instead of the best 20 players available. Against a GM who didn't give his head coach (Michel Therrien) a chance to have his best players back from injury before firing him and only then making the obvious trades to improve the team.

Despite a calendar that was to their disadvantage, the Wings took a 2-0 series lead in Detroit despite the injuries to key players, but the Pens tied it in Pittsburgh forcing perhaps an early return for some. And when the Wings took a 3-2 series lead with a 5-0 dominating win, most thought the series was over. But that proved to be the last bit of energy they had in store, as they lost the final two games and looked so much slower than usual, despite keeping those games tight. They seemed extenuated.

Perhaps the injuries had taken their toll, players who usually would be asked less from had to play over their heads and had no gas left in the tank. Perhaps it was the constant foul play of the Penguins who would chip, slash and six-inch every chance they had, during and after the play, and the bruises came to be too intense. But a fact remains: a lot of Penguins' foul plays went unpunished, as if the referees had a mandate to let the Pittsburgh crew win.

But win they did. Hail the champs.

Now, if only their captain could learn what being a leader is all about...

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Jenn Fiasco

Ah, the summer of '94. That was a busy one.

15 years old, almost 16, between grades 10 and 11. The summer that may have made me the man I am today. 125 days in which I lived enough to go through 4 years...

But most of it started in the winter before it, making friends with hockey teammates Nick and Todd. Most of our weekends were spent together, and my friends and theirs meshed and became a big whole bunch. Of their friends, another goalie, Eugene, that I sort of ran out of town the next year by taking his place as the neighbourhood's star and starter in nets, and a couple I liked, Chris and Jenn.

Chris was a short and aggressive fellow, often out looking for a fight, usually one in which he'd end up victorious - or less beaten up than his opponent. And when it went sour, Eugene and I, as resident giants, were there to get him out of any additional trouble. The only thing shorter than his temper was his hair - shaved bald.

Jenn was more reserved, seemingly always glued to Chris' left arm, or standing right behind him when trouble came calling. A pretty brunette with shoulder-length straight-ish hair, she seemed to have character, her eyes exuded it, but her demeanor was laid back.

It was a fine winter and spring, filled with plenty of action and commotion, underage drinking, arcades and late night movies. Summer was gearing up to be magical.

There was one night where a bunch of guys gathered at Todd's place to watch a Pay-Per-View special (UFC 2, March 11th) and most crashed there. There was little sleep, plenty of beer, and enough guys' talk to not have to scratch our balls for a week afterwards. Innocently enough, I mentioned to Chris at some point that I found his girlfriend attractive, but nothing was made of it - there was nothing to make of it, it was in innocent enough comment.

In June, however, it was brought to my attention that they no longer were an item, although I really paid no mind to it. It was Finals at school and in hockey, my time was well taken care of, and I was looking elsewhere for lady-fun-times - every so often with some measure of success.

There was one instance where most of our gang went out for drinks on Crescent street - Todd, Dan, Nick, Rachel, Chris, Eugene, Jenn and a few others whose names elude me fifteen years later - and Jenn asked me what ''my comment'' was about. It took me a while to understand what specific comment she was referring to, but once it was clearly established, we moved onto bigger and better subjects.

Over time, we saw less and less of some people (Nick, Chris, Eugene) and our immediate circle got tighter. Our activities were more entertaining and mature, too - less time playing pool in arcades and crashing at people's houses, more time going to midnight movie showings and hanging out in parks - where we met fun, quirky and at times disturbing characters.

One such character was a chick called Morgan that I really got into, another was an Indian girl her brother nicknamed ''Me Too'' because as a kid she would follow his every footstep. There was also Sylvie, an ex-girlfriend's best friend, and Jill, who is a whole other chapter - maybe even her own book. Heck, maybe even a Trilogy.

I was hanging out with Jenn at least every other day and she quickly started having feelings for me, but the more I was with her, the more I realized we weren't on the same wavelength at all. Everybody had already warned me, but I guess I had to see it for myself, and I surely did: she was just fucking crazy.

She was into Grand Gestures to show her appreciation of me, but every single one brought me closer to one of the other ladies - and to regretting having ever known Jenn. But it was livable, for most of the summer, because humans can adapt to most situations - and I hadn't really been dating any of these girls.

Then came Shannon. We met Shannon while hanging out in a park in Montreal West. She was 18, tall, platinum blonde - she looked just like Kim Basinger (albeit with much bigger boobs), and every single one of my male friends wanted to get in her pants. But she only had eyes for me.

She was at the other end of that park in the wee hours of the morning on that warm July night with her (even hotter, redhead, looking like an early Alanis with even bigger boobs) friend Veronica when she realized a guy we were hanging out with, Nathaniel, was a mutual friend. Introductions were made and I spent practically the rest of the night with her, side by side on a swing set, getting to know each other. Jenn was fuming!

It only took a couple of days before Shannon and I decided to start ''dating''. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of blondes (apart from Samantha Fox, of course, I'm her #1 fan), her thick set of lips were full of promise. Well, that and the massive chest. But unfortunately for us, no one wanted this relationship to work out: her parents hated me (maybe because I was 4 years younger than she was, maybe not, but anytime we were at her place, we could never be alone for even a minute), my male friends would all just try to hit on her behind my back, hers were inventing rumours about me so she would dump me and try them on for size (some included Jenn) - and Jenn wouldn't leave us the fuck alone, like a fly on sugar-covered shit, either imposing her presence with our approval or showing up impromptu.

Needless to say, when all was factored in, we didn't last all that long. After a month of trying to get it on and never getting to it, at our age, we went our separate ways. A year later, I met Veronica while walking downtown and asked for news... turns out Shannon had had a kid, and was already pregnant with her second. So the break-up wasn't all bad...

On a side note, one thing I regret was not asking Veronica out right then and there. She was the one I really got along with at that time, smart, funny, sarcastic, longer and darker hair, tall, bigger boobs, three years older than me as well...

But back to the main story. August was coming to an end now, and Jenn had managed to split the friends we had in common into two factions: 1. pro-Jenn/Seb used me and he's an asshole and a liar, and 2. Seb's friends, who didn't care about what did or didn't happen but would rather be friends with a sane person and trusted his judgement. Seems stupid and juvenile, I know, but I guess the mid-90s were a magnet for that sort of behaviour.

Until school was well back under way, I'd get bizarre offerings from Jenn in my mailbox, ranging from angry or sad letters to empty morning-after pill receptacles. It was odd, but strangely humourous, on my end anyway. Until late September, early October, at least...

Then came The Erica Situation. Erica, for totally different reasons from Jill, also probably deserves her own book. She'll likely get her own entry here in the future, so I won't go into the whole details of it, but she was the girl I dated for most of Grade 11. She attended a different high school than mine and, again, was a couple of years older than I was.

But she wasn't an Amazon like Veronica and Shannon were, she was barely five feet tall (if that, come to think of it). So, when Jenn totally blew her gasket on her case and started stalking her and following her around, not just during leisure time but also during school hours, it turned psychopathic. That's where a whole bunch of people had to tell her to back off, some even resorting to threats; even The Law got involved, and eventually it waned, then disappeared.

And here's where it gets really bizarre: a former friend of mine/ours/our summertime gang, Dan, must have found something cute in her dedication and passion, and she must have turned her obsessive-compulsiveness onto him as well, because I heard they dated for a while that year, maybe even for longer than a year, I'm not sure anymore, and I'm sort of glad I don't recall.

It was a weird few months but every day brought on new adventures and new people to meet, each more fucked up than the next. Adult-sized babies, circus freaks, hermaphrodites, teenage sex, third nipples, underage alcoholism, amusement parks, going sleepless then taking prescription drugs to compensate, violence, hiding from cops then running from them, walking on railroad tracks in near-total darkness and surviving... and always good company to be around, regardless of who went nark that day.

125 days. A summer I'll never forget, with memories I'd rather not remember. Good times.

You burden me with your problems
By telling me more than mine
I'm always so concerned
With the way you say
You've always go to stop
To think of us being one
Is more than I ever know
But this time, I realize
I'm going to shoot through
And leave you
- EMF, Unbelievable (1990)