I just recently came across this bit by Bill Hicks again. It illuminates what for me makes a good comic. Observational humor is only the very beginning. What makes a comedian memorable for me—what puts him or her on my all-time best list—is a mixture of good storytelling and philosophy as well as a cynical awareness of the utter nonsense that is the human condition. If you mix that with an ability to deliver hope from the depths of eyes-open cynical awareness, then you’ve got gold. A pity he was cut down so soon.
It's Just a Ride by Bill Hicks (YouTube)
“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace. (Emphasis in original.)”
It’s just a ride. There are proponents everywhere. I remember when I was in High School, my Earth-science teacher, who assigned more reading in one week than a college course had in a semester, who drove her Volkswagen minivan named Beulah all over the country in the summer to sew leather at motorcycle conventions, wore a T-shirt on one of our innumerable field trips—we blew through the budget in no time, but she didn’t care, there was so much to see—with the words Non Illegitimi Carborundum, which she proudly and with a grin told us when we, of course, asked, meant “don’t let the bastards get you down”. I wonder now whether she listened to Bill Hicks too.
- WTC 7 − BBC The Third Tower − Conspiracy Files (2011)
- A documentary putting out the evidence that Truthers provide for Tower 7 and then debunks it piece by piece by piece. It’s quite well-done, letting some pretty damning evidence speak for itself. Availalble online (YouTube).
- The Name of the Rose (1986)
- This is a crime movie that takes place in a 12th-century monastery. The monks are twisted and disfigured and seem borderline mentally unstable. Sean Connery stands out as one who at least looks human; Christian Slater is very, very young (17 at the time) and stares around wide-eyed; F. Murray Abraham is buried under very effective makeup. The coldness and harshness of that world comes through very well. The movie followed the story in the books very closely, including the political intrigue between various factions and sects. Not really very exciting, but a good film nonetheless.
- Django Unchained (2012)
- This is yet another captivating Quentin Tarentino masterpiece, as far as I’m concerned. Christoph Waltz proves himself to have been born to deliver Tarentino’s dialogue. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Inglorious Basterds but it was very well-acted and executed. Recommended.
- The Power Principle (parts I, II and III) (2012)
- An online documentary similar to the recent films by Oliver Stone. You can find the videos on YouTube.
- Bag of Bones (2012)
- A TV mini-series filming of the book by Stephen King starring Pierce Brosnan. He does a decent job and the movie is surprisingly scary—with echoes of What Lies Beneath.
- Legend (1985)
- Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, David Bowie and Tim Curry star in this fantasy film that holds up quite well, even after all these years of being spoiled by CGI. The witch in the water is a brilliant figure and Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness is a wonder to behold. CGI would only have ruined the realism in this case. The plot’s nothing to write home about, but we’re all just watching this to laugh as a young Tom Cruise runs around in very brief pants while wearing full body armor on top, a somewhat curious haberdashery decision.
- Van Helsing (2004)
- A phenomenally violent vampire/werewolf movie starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale (is there a werewolf movie without her in it?). Igor, Mr. Hyde, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster all make appearances. There is a shit-ton of screaming in this movie. Seriously, pay attention and you’ll notice that hardly ten seconds go by without someone screaming from the very core of their soul.
- League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis (2013)
- A Frontline documentary about the danger of playing in the NFL. Quite well done if a bit long.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
- The movie with Kirk’s famous scream is oddly anticlimactic. It has the classic pacing of a Star Trek show and the special effects of one as well. That is to say, it wasn’t terrible but it was a bit slower than the pacing offered by modern sci-fi films—without the gripping acting to keep us entranced. Shatner and Montelban take turns chewing the scenery (with Nimoy taking his bows at the end) and they’re not terrible, but they’re also not very good either.
- 28 Weeks Later (2007)
- Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Imogen Poots and Idris Elba star in this sequel to <em>28 Days Later</em>. Spoiler alert: it’s a zombie movie (type = diseased), so there’s lots of blood flying, quick camera changes and lots of snarling. There is also an unusual obsession with saving only a few people—that is, the full power of a modern military is bent on saving just one or two very specific people, which seems kind of wasteful and inefficient, resource-wise. The pacing is kind of slower than I expected, with lots of moody music trying to spackle over the weak bits. It picks up toward the end, but quickly spirals into the ridiculous—the helicopter abattoir is a fine example. It passed the time, but I can’t recommend it.
- Whiteout (2009)
- Kate Beckinsale is, for once, not hunting werewolves. I know, it seems hard to believe, but it’s true. Instead, she’s hunting a killer across Antarctica. It turns out to be a pretty decent, straight-up crime thriller. Beckinsale is partnered with Tom Skerritt, playing the same character he always plays. It’s way too long, though and takes forever to get to the point.
- Gary Gulman: No Can Defend (2012)
- Gulman is a very clean stand-up comedian with some pretty standard though well-presented material. He’s not going to be a great favorite, but he’s a good guy with which to introduce people to stand-up comedy because he’s utterly non-offensive but still quite funny. Mostly observational humor with some extended bits.
- Insomnia (2002)
- Al Pacino and Robin Williams face off in this thriller about a murder in Alaska during the summer. Pacino is a cop from L.A. who slowly spirals out of control as his lack of sleep and a nagging secret keep him from focusing on his case. Robin Williams plays an author living in the area who’s the prime suspect. Hilary Swank and Nicky Katt are good as local cops. I actually saw this in the theater when it first came out.
- Jumper (2008)
- Hayden Christenson stars as a guy who can teleport himself. He’s a Jumper. He uses this ability to be cool and rich and travel all over the world. It turns out he’s not the only one who can do it and that there are others, called Paladins, who hunt and kill jumpers. These are led by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, in yet another awful role and with an utterly ridiculous dye job. Passed the time, but hard to recommend.
- Todd Glass
- Decent but nothing to write home about. He had his moments, but I can’t really recommend it. Too needy and talks about himself far too much. All comics do this but his style is such that it was noticeable.
- Jim Norton
- A pretty racist comic who almost gets away with it, but is a bit too dumb/non-subtle to pull it off. He works with Opie and Anthony, so that doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. There were long segments of shock/low-brow comedy that did nothing for me. Anyone who spends ten minutes on his knees on stage trying to milk laughs out of prison blow-job rape is not my kind of comic.
- Catch 22 (1970)
- An utterly masterful rendering of the brilliant novel, sticking very close to the main scenes from the book if not maintaining the non-chronological order. There are almost too many great actors to name, most of whom went on to great careers. Alan Arkin plays Yossarian, Jon Voight plays Milo Minderbinder, Bob Newhart is Major Major, Charles Grodin is the perfectly annoying and psychotic Aarfy and Art Garfunkel is Nately—it’s almost too good to be true. The only part that has any logic is the supremacy of the Syndicate, the triumph of capitalism over nation-states. The only possible winner, the only glimmer of hope is in Orr (if you like). I’ve read the book twice, but not in a long time, and this film brought it all back, every twisted, ludicrous detail. Highly recommended.
- Bill Cosby: Far from Finished (2013)
- It starts off slowly but he picks up speed and has some really good material. Another very clean show; appropriate for all audiences and really quite funny.
- The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009)
- This is a straight-up documentary about the guy who release the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, a modern-day analogue to our current batch of whistleblower heroes. He was the one who finally informed the US population of how their lovely little police action was really being run. Recommended if you don’t know the history.
- Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
- Benedict Cumberbatch has an easy time of out-acting Christopher Pike. It’s a solid follow-up to the reboot of the Star Trek series. The various actors are getting into their roles and doing quite a good job of it. It’s a Star Trek movie, actually rebooting an earlier incarnation (spoiler alert: it’s an homage to Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan). The effects are both out of this world (no pun intended) and over the top. As with any modern summer blockbuster, you have to be in the mood for it, but it’s recommended.
- The Wolverine (2013)
- It’s a surprisingly good comic-book movie, actually. The acting was quite good, especially the two Japanese female protagonists. The female villain Viper is one of those characters that can just utterly ruin a movie, though. I hated every scene she was in. She was just clearly a Deus Ex Machina, ready and willing to impel the plot along with horrible dialogue. Jackman was ridiculously buff, almost a bit exaggerated IMHO but that’s what comic-book heroes look like.
- Zeitgeist (2007)
- An nicely choreographed and ably designed, though very overwrought and occasionally very pretentious and silly, documentary that starts as an overview of religious pantheons and devolves into a 9–11 truther video, though on a higher level than most. It segues from there into an anti-big–banking/anti-corporate history. From there, it moves without blinking an eye into coverage of the unconstitutionality of the income tax and then into the lucrative nature of war (with the obligatory quote by good old Smedley Butler). From there, it’s a ten-minute report on media manipulation and then a return to more 9-11 conspiracy. There is little original content in the two hours, but the included clips are quite good, culminating in Carl Sagan and Bill Hicks, which I can hardly complain about.
- Safe (2012)
- Jason Statham as a cage fighter. James Hong stars as the same character he plays in every movie, the Chinese mob boss. He does this with unbelievable aplomb; always a pleasure to watch a master character-actor at work in his milieu. He asks the main character, a little girl with an eidetic memory, if she can truly remember everything. She cautiously shakes her head “no”. He responds (in Chinese) that he will then “go to her mother’s house and kill her [the mother] for making such a stupid girl”. Priceless. The overdone Russian gang members—and their dialogue—are also just really, really good. It feel like GTA IV all over again. But Jason Statham simply cannot play a bad guy. He’s always gotta be the stand-up guy. Him fighting on an NYC subway? Worth the price of entry. The action-scene direction—especially the car chases—reminded me a lot of Jean Luc Goddard. The fight scenes are relatively realistically choreographed and filmed in single, distanced shots rather than up-close quick-cuts. Statham shines here. The film is surprisingly mostly in Mandarin Chinese and Russian. This is a movie with a kid where the kid plays quite well (Catherine Chan) and the script doesn’t pander. Statham helps here enormously. And just when you thought he was cool enough? He turns out to be a former NYC cop who speaks fluent Russian. Highly recommended for action fans.
- Die große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner (1974)
- A great little documentary (45 minutes) about a Swiss ski jumper named Walter Steiner, who’s a woodcarver (Bildschnitzer) in his other life. In the 1970s, he was so far ahead of the competition in ski “flying” (as the really long jumping was called) that he had to start lower than other skiers just to avoid jumping so far that he landed on flat ground rather than on the hill, endangering himself. You can watch it youself on YouTube.
- Zeitgeist Addendum (2008)
More history of America in the 20th century, with a very long segment by John Perkins, the “economic hit-man”. Heavy on the economics and comprised mostly of long-form documentary sequences with a small handful of people, but relatively well done. The ensuing discussion of energy and how much non-hydrocarbon energy there is easily available is the purest techno-porn babble without much grounding in reality. Whereas he’s right that the market-driven approach we now have prevents us from introducing alternate energy regimes but the treatment is overly optimistic.
The discussion of alternative societal models is very interesting, especially when viewed from a society that’s been monetary-based so long that it can hardly imagine a society without class differences based on money and labor. The notion that lives remain bound to labor and earning one’s way, despite the increasing population and automation, is ludicrous in the long-term. The documentary is correct in saying that our current system will have to go. “The resource-based economy that I propose is not perfect; it’s just a lot better than what we have.”
It’s not terrible and there are good points made about alternative resource-based economies, but it’s only recommended if you’re curious in an introduction to serious alternatives to the simplistic and highly corrupted form of capitalism that we have now.
- Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (2011)
- The first half-hour is a series of long dissertations by various psychologists and neurologists about how minds develop and how that affects the kinds of societies we can have. It was all over the place—more so than the previous two—so I stopped watching. Not recommended.
- Dredd (2012)
- A remake of the original from 1995 starring Sylvester Stallone, this time starring Karl Urban in the eponymous role. Since he didn’t take his helmet off once, you couldn’t tell the difference. There are some nice semi–post-apocalyptic visuals with some nice, long shots of the city. Otherwise, it felt kinda like watching The Raid with far less martial arts or like watching some people play a video game, as they work their way up a building to the boss level (including getting a key code!) The arch-villainess was played by Lena Headey, who also plays Cersei in Game of Thrones. Even as a murderous head of ruthless clan, I found her much more sympathetic in this film. Really a tremendously bloody film. It wasn’t terrible, but I can’t recommend it.
- 2 Guns (2013)
- You’d think that in a movie starring both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in what looks for all the world like a buddy-cop movie, you’d have a hard time figuring out which one to like more. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. Denzel is his usual, laid-back, smooth self but Mark Wahlberg is still better. Edward James Olmos stars as a drug kingpin who Wahlberg says looks like a “Mexican Albert Einstein”. There’s also the weirdly neutrally hot Latina cop from Under the Dome who also plays a weirdly hot cop in this movie, but with more nudity, oddly half-hidden behind hair in what was clearly a play for a lower rating. I wonder if it worked? At any rate, she simpers her way through the film with the most inscrutable looks on her face. Thanks for reminding us that a tight body and really nice facial bone structure coupled with being being vaguely but non-offensively ethnic (sorry Rosie Perez) still sells. Fun movie, decent dialogue, relatively interesting plot and a good ending. Highly recommended.