Like McAdams Loved Gosling

I’m 99% sure I lost an old-ish notebook today covering a big political conference – I had stupidly left the old notebook in the bag with my new notebook, and through some miracle of physics the bag opened its contents to dump nothing – not even some old business cards – but the notebook. But I’m marveling at how little I need the book. I’m wracking my brains and I believe all the information is contained on some form of electronic media – notes I typed into Word, audio from events I was scribbling observations about, video of people I interviewed. It’s not long from now when I might not need to take the pad and paper to events.

28 Weeks Later

A companion piece to Knocked Up, and another brutal example of how kids ruin everything. Kids (spoiler alert!) make a grieving man feel even guilter about his Darwinist decision-making during the zombie outbreak. Kids (fuck it, there’ll be lots of spoilers) break the basic rules of their junta and bring a plague-carrier back to civilization. Kids let a raging zombie into an overflowing room of uncontaminated survivors, dooming their tiny civilization. Heroic soldiers sacrifice themselves to save kids who might have the cure to the zombie plague – a cure that the last shot of the film promises us will prove utterly useless.

There is a right way to use kids in movies, the way Aliens (to which this movie has been compared, thanks to the director/cast sequel switcheroo) does, where they will occasionally be bait but they serve a vital function and we don’t begrudge them. 28 Weeks Later has two likeable child stars (including the stunning Imogen Poots, who gets a 90-minute sponge bath from Juan Carlos Fresdanillo’s lovestruck camera) but the story keeps turning them into accidental villains.

It’s a huge letdown from the follow-up to Danny Boyle’s film. I’m not going to pretend 28 Days Later is some sacred text, and there isn’t actually anything as silly here as the wacky military compound zombie attack in the 2003 film. (It’s a danger whenever you make zombies fast that the audience will eventually start humming “Yackety Sax.”) But I was fond of the way the disease in 28 Days Later was so elemental, never fully explained by one of those batshit scientists who lurk around these movies like panhandlers outside the 7-11, only talked about fearfully and theoretically in short conversations. The innovations in this movie – the possible cure, the “carrier,” the immunity – make the virus mundane and B-movie-ish. And then there’s the matter how the kids’ father, when infected, earns the power to walk slowly and sneak up on people, to pick his victims strategically, to (apparently) teleport – basically, to turn into Jason. And how London is so small that people escaping over the Preston’s Road bridge and the Westferry Road bridge, with no knowledge of each others’ location, will end up 20 minutes later in the same park.

There are a couple of dynamite sequences (the nightvision-lit journey through the underground, for example) but overall it’s a rote and disappointing continuation of a story that didn’t need to be continued.

Sorry bout the Spector

I needed to throw up something dumb and scary to clear my head.

Things I want to do when I send off the first draft of this monster article I’m drowning in:

– inventory my DVDs
– finish the new Michael Chabon
– buy some Jacksons records (i.e. the post Jackson 5 stuff)
– run 5 miles
– Geez, I dunno. Girls?

Sopranos

Well, I liked it.

[SPOILER ALERT FOR WEST COAST PEOPLE.]

Unless Chase wanted to go into predictable tragedy – family member(s) dying – or a less-predictable happy ending, this was the ending that makes most sense. The Sopranos hang forever in limbo. Keep in mind, when Tony enters the restaurant he realizes that he’s got a “85-90% chance of being indicted,” and he seems unusually pessimistic about beating the rap, so the dinner with his family was going to be one of the last happy ones. The only question was whether he’d die, flip, or go to jail. I was not really interested in seeing any of those possibilities work themselves out.

So did Tony die in the very last scene? We have a couple pieces of contrary evidence. On the one hand it seemed like he was looking up in the direction that Meadow was coming from. On the other hand, he could have been looking at her even as the hitman approached, unnoticed, and fired the bullet. And on the evolutionarily-dubious third hand, the screen went black for a long, long time. So the rules of film are screaming to us: “He’s dead! He got capped in front of his family!”

But like Owen Wilson’s character says in The Royal Tenenbaums: “Maybe he didn’t?” We don’t know! And I have to thank David Chase for that.

BTW, a lot of ends were left untied, obviously, but I like that A.J. is mobbed up, working his way up a mafia-owned film company on the way to running some mafia-owned clubs. He was never going to become another Tony. He’s the Jersey crew’s version of Little Carmine. And Meadow is going to become the Sopranos universe version of Tom Hagen. Tony didn’t just pass on his putrid genes

As to the google blog searches I’ve done, revealing that some fans wonder if there’ll be a movie – uh, why? The crew is fucking dead. Do you want a new Godfather III with George Hamilton as the “new Silvio”?

Knocked Up

[SPOILERS, even though the movie’s a week old.]

Judd Apatow is a director after my own heart. He cares about jokes and characters; he doesn’t care as much about plots. The best evidence we’ll (probably) ever have is the dada ending of The 40-Year Old Virgin, when Steve Carrell finally gets a piece of the pie* and the glory of the event is captured by an elaborate song-dance sequence set to “The Age of Aquarius.” So the only flaw of Knocked Up is substantial, and it’s the way the perfect pace of the movie slips in the last 45 minutes. Before Ben and Allison have their fight in the car (is that a spoiler? Meh.), both leads are given a similar amount of screen time, the time lapse is marked by title cards (8 weeks, 14 weeks, etc). After that fight it really seems like – and I know movies are not edited this way – everyone was in a room with 24 hours left to finish the cut and Apatow said “Oh, shit! We need to wrap this up!” The stuff with Allison’s job, in particular, stops making sense. She complains about “sacrificing” her job, but we find out she kept her job. When she goes into labor she’s obsessed with natural birth after having never mentioned it.

All that said, I love love loved this movie. I knew 30 minutes in that I’d be quoting to it and referring back to it for years, that I’ll show it to friends and they’ll mostly be glad I showed to them. And let me explain why the other critics are wrong.

– The suspected infidelity subplot. It’s good it wasn’t cut, actually. This might actually be the subplot Apatow handles the best. In the end it’s essential that Paul Rudd’s character (ugh, names) has a parallel storyline and that he ends up falling back into the rhythm of his marriage with such “why not?” ease.
– The “hot girl falls for ugly guy” cliche. She falls for a schlubby guy, yes. She falls for him because he is smart and funny and resourceful (in bars, at least). It’s very, very different than the cliche that I think pisses critics off, the one that pisses me off too – the hot girl falling for the schlubby dumb guy. Ben never does anything truly dumb like you’ll see on an average episode of King of Queens or According to Jim or Scarborough Country. He smokes pot and lazes around, but that’s because he lacks motivation. This isn’t a “fat guy with hot chick” movie. It’s a “nice guy gets the girl and is changed” movie.
– Allison’s life is improved by the pregnancy and the relationship with Ben. Maybe Heigl is just too inexpressive an actress to pull this off or maybe she really isn’t written well enough, but when the movie starts she’s in almost as deep a rut as Ben. She lives with her married sister, she has absolutely zero female friends, she’s shallow and sort of acknowledges it (at one point saying to Ben “I’m so glad I like you, I never like guys like you.” Ben responds: “You keep saying that.”). Her career’s going great, and it seems imperiled by the pregancy, but in the end her prospects actually improve. (Can I say I adore the way Apatow wastes no time on the “woman’s pregnancy imperils her career” yawner plot?)

The more I think about it, the more interesting Allison is. Why doesn’t she have any female friends? Are the old friends she runs into outside the baby-stuff store people she’s abandoned as she’s focused on her career? What rotten experiences did she have with cute guys, un-Ben-like guys, in the past? Maybe only a longer and less-funny movie could spell that out.

Oh, and the final shot of the couple driving to East L.A. on the Pacific Coast Highway? Ha!

*sorry, America

UPDATE: I notice that the Flick Filosopher hated the movie and thinks it’s immature. It’s really obviously not immature. If the movie was three declarative sentences, they would be: “Hey, self-obsessed twentysomethings! Stop indulging yourselves and delaying responsibility and move on to marriage and child-rearing. It seems like it’ll suck, and it sort of does, but only after you take the plunge do you realize how silly you were for delaying it.”