Friday, January 09, 2009

Oh, we're movin' on up (movin' on up) to the East Side....

Firstly, I'm sorry, America, for abandoning you. No posts in over a month. I'm ashamed. I have a sort-of excuse though! I have recently been in talks with way-cool awesome web publication Blast Magazine, with a mind to transfer myself over to their auspices.

That's right my friends! Movie Maven is moving! (Say that three times fast.)

I am conflicted. On the one hand, I enjoy exhibiting total control over my blog: changing the font at whim, making up my own libel laws, cursing like a seabound skipper with a hangnail. Such gallavanting and tomfoolery! On the other hand, I am a college senior who needs a quasi-legitimate publication to ally herself with in order to gain employment and hence not starve to death by the side of the road. So there were many things to consider, and I didn't want to make a move (i.e., write anything) before it was all settled.

I'd like to thank the cool nerds at Blogger, as well as Prof. Carlene Hempel at Northeastern University for helping me get this thing started over two years ago. Thank you to my readers as well- all five of you.

So from now on, check Blast for all your Movie Maven needs. You'll see my name is now Emma Johnson, with a whole last name and everything! RSS Feed that baby!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Brave new world, people! According to an article in today's Slate, there are scientists working on mapping the genome of the woolly mammoth in the hopes of someday resurrecting the pre-historic animal using elephant DNA.

My God, have none of these people seen "Jurassic Park"? It's nothing if not a cautionary tale about what happens when scientific hubris is matched against the chaotic forces of evolution (Hint: when Samuel L. Jackson is devoured, it means hubris is losing.) As the great Dr. Ian Malcolm, as played with schlimiel bravado by Jeff Goldblum, says, "The lack of humility before nature that's being displayed here, uh... staggers me." Turn back, fair scientists, before your children are forced to flee vicious velociraptors, with nothing but Sam Neill to protect them!

The story goes on to say that the next logical step would be to resurrect the neanderthals, to, um, learn about them. (?) Of, course this is met with trepidation from both the religious community, and the more squeamish members of the science community. Where will it end? Will we test on neanderthals and use them in experiments? Do we consider them humans? These are all important ethical and philosophical questions. But my fears about this great leap into unknown territories of generative science have less to do with moral quandaries and more to do with my worry that these guys all just got stoned and watched "Encino Man" too many times.

No one, no matter how well-intentioned, should ever take cues from Pauly Shore. It is tempting the fates, my friends.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm all man (or at least 70 percent)

The Gender Analyzer is 70% sure that I am a man.

Quoteth the A.I. program (that I like to think looks like Haley Joel Osment):

We think is written by a man (70%).

In the words of Joe Biden, let me say that again:

I, your Movie Maven, with the blog outlined in pink, who has a photo of Jean Seberg as her handle, who's name is Movie Maven, is apparently a man.

What. The. Fuck.

Perhaps this gross miscalculation in the program's brain just means that the tone of my writing is strong and self-assured. Bad-ass. Perhaps it thinks I'm a man because of my penchant for filthy language, love of Quentin Tarantino movies and discussions of the best films that have shit blowing up for no reason.

Obviously, the A.I. is a filthy sexist.

I demand attention be paid to this grossly discriminatory internet meme! I call for the banning of all interweb robots that think I'm a dude just because I don't like Julia Roberts!

For shame, obviously flawed text classifier- for shame!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I do not like to sully the sanctity of this blog with political discourse. For one thing, it's not the specialty I've assigned it; for another, I didn't want a bunch of crazies posting misspelled caps-lock eloquence about that 'BAMA HAlF BREED MUSLIN!!!1!!

But in celebration, I will bend this rule today only to say this. When my grandchildren ask me about the night a black man first became president, I will have this touching story to tell them:

"Well, kids, grandma was getting snackered on Magner's and vodka tonics, while screaming at Keith Olbermann and refreshing every ten seconds. Then, after they announced that he won, I joined my friends outside to stumble down Huntington Ave., high-fiving strangers in cars and shouting 'WOOOO!!' every time it got too quiet."

Yes, indeed, it was a dignified moment in America.

Nothing can sour my mood today, not even the sobering news that gay marriage was banned in California. Today is a day for America. Obama is not the messiah, but he is a grand message to the world:

We are not as hideously stupid as you think.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bad-ass Soundtrack of the Week

I've reached the point of exhaustion, peaches. On average, there are seven film openings per week this fall, and, frankly, only about 1/4 of those are actually watchable. When I saw a preview of Saw V directly after watching Made of Honor on HBO, where it will play continuously for the next six months, I just about gave up on life altogether. I'm going to see Rachel Getting Married this weekend, and hopefully Jonathan Demme's supposed return to form will help me out of my cinematic slump.

But, for today, I'm not going to talk about movies. I'm going to talk about music in movies. (Yes, I know, I'm a renaissance woman.) Some of my favorite albums are actually soundtracks, cohesive artistic endeavors in their own right. I've decided that to open up my world beyond the classic film review (and in a desperate attempt to blog regularly) I am instituting a weekly column about notable soundtracks, and why you should listen to them.

Here are the rules I shall obey by: No musicals. No biopics about musicians. No concert films. Yes, this means I will be skipping some terrific music. But the point is that I will be highlighting soundtracks that are not the main focus of their respective film, yet become inextricably linked with them all the same. Also, I'll try not to highlight soundtracks that everyone and their mother already knows. This means no long speeches over the brilliance of John Williams' Jaws theme. It is brilliant, but you've heard it before.

I'm going to begin this week with Quentin Tarantino, perhaps the Zen master of the compiled soundtrack. Can any film buff listen to Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and not think of the twist contest scene from Pulp Fiction? Or hear Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle" without remembering Michael Madsen cutting off a cop's ear in Reservoir Dogs? Tarantino's soundtracks are key ingredients in his film making, and an ideal method of conveying the retro-hip pastiche he does so well.

Perhaps Tarantino's most unsung project is Death Proof, his stunning homage to the fast-car exploitation films of the 1970s, and one-half of the highly underrated Grindhouse program.The film is nothing less than the heterosexual male id in cinematic form: a purposefully grainy montage of squealing wheels, flaming rubber, blood, sex, and plenty of T&A. Yet Death Proof is most charming for the way it seems to gain retribution the (hundreds?) of actresses during the 70s who reached their untimely cinematic end lying in a bloody pool along Highway 1. I'm not giving anything away when I say that you haven't really lived until you've seen Kurt Russell roundhouse kicked in the face by a girl.

Like the film, the Death Proof soundtrack is a compilation of possibly the best road music in the world. Rhythmic guitar and horns pump through all the tracks, starting with Jack Nitzsche's title score "The Last Race". "Race" pulsates ever so slightly, the beat matching the fetching twitch of DJ Jungle Julia's ass (seen in close-up in the first scene, of course). Smith's "Baby, It's You" and T. Rex's hilarious and bewildering "Jeepster" exemplify the rhythm and blues tones of the soundtracks first half, before delving into the more rock-oriented second half, with Willy Deville's "It's So Easy," and "Hold Tight," by the fascinating Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich and Tich. The feisty final track "Chick Habit" rounds out the line-up.

But perhaps my very favorite track is the Coasters' "Down in Mexico," played during the too-sexy-for-theaters lap dance scene. "Down in Mexico" is an ode to slumming, in which lead vocalist Carl Gardner's silken voice wraps around your hips and refuses to let go. True to the R&B stylings of the 1950s, the song is pure as the driven snow- except, it isn't. The sex is all between the lines- there's something about the lyrics describing a Mexican chick dancing with three fishnets tied around her waist that makes you feel vaguely dirty. Even if your not watching Vanessa Ferlito grind into Russell while you're listening to it.

So now it's your turn chickens- let me know what soundtracks I should feature here and why.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hot Blogger Alert

Hello, all, miss me? My life is consumed with the profession that actually pays me for a living so I haven't been able to post. No excuse, I know, but it's hard work keeping myself in the lifestyle to which I'm accustomed.

Anywho, I'm just checking in to alert you to an excellent blog, written by a good friend of mine and contemporary in the art of entertainment reporting. The title, Entertainment Writers are Journalists Too is a rallying cry for all the cultured intellectuals, who, yes, like to talk about Miley Cyrus.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Smiley Face

Directed by: Gregg Araki
Written by: Dylan Haggerty
Starring: Anna Faris, Danny Masterson, Adam Brody, Roscoe Lee Browne

I'll be seeing "Pineapple Express" this weekend, though mixed reviews fill me with trepidation about relinquishing my precious $10. But I'm too intrigued to see a stoner/action flick to not take the risk.

I am a connoisseur of the stoner flick, ever since I was a freshman in college, spending evenings in my buddy's apartment "chillaxing" in her inflatable chair and watching "Half Baked." After deciding to see "Express" this weekend, I was inspired to watch "Smiley Face," a movie that was completely ignored when it came out, but which I had heard about from several people as the best stoner movie action around.

A homage of true pot cinema, it is the story of Jane F., who gets really baked off of her roommates cupcakes, and then must travel to a hemp festival to convince her dealer not to take her furniture cause she hasn't paid for her drugs, because she spent all her money on this really awesome sleep number bed, which is the one thing she really doesn't want her dealer to take, and she also has to pay the power bill, and buy enough pot to remake the pot cupcakes that her roommate made so he doesn't know she ate them.

So, basically, the story is a story your buddy would tell you if she was high and you were chillaxing on her inflatable chair, Supertramp playing gently in the background.

The film is a glorious meandering through Los Angeles, a place that in itself looks like a bad trip. Faris is wonderful precisely because she doesn't at all seem concerned with seeming either pretty or likeable. Her hair looks like it hasn't been washed in a few days; her eyes are perpetually bloodshot and her movements are slow and deliberate without ever seeming graceful. Her inner monologue is a masterpiece of stoner logic; in one delightful scene she decides that owning a picture of President Garfield to display her love of lasagna would be "totally meta."

When you actually think through what happens in "Smiley Face" you don't come up with much. But that's actually a good thing. Weed is special in that it makes every movement of your body seem like a momentous, arduous task, so it makes sense that taking a bus across town to Venice Beach could be construed as an epic rivaling "The Odyssey."

Faris leads, or rather is followed by, a sparkling supporting cast, including ur-straight man John Krasinski, post-"OC" Adam Brody as a pot dealer with hilarious rasta dreds, and Roscoe Lee Brown as both the narrator and existential muser within Jane's toked-out soul.

The most fascinating part of "Smiley Face" is really the paradox of portraying marijuana in film. It's hardly a social commentary on drug use: pot is demonstrated as a funny, and primarily harmless drug that just makes people stupid for a little while. When Jane asks if not paying back her dealer Steve will get her killed, Steve scoffs. "Oh, come on Jane, I deal weed. I'm not gonna break your kneecaps. At the most I'll, I dunno, take your furniture or something."

But there is something to be said for how pot also can make you extremely unlikeable once you've had too much. No one likes the lazy, self-involved idiot who borrows your money and doesn't pay the power bill cause she spent it all on weed. So we don't mind when Jane gets her comeuppance for her escapades at the end of that sun-drenched day in Los Angeles. Though we do hope that maybe she'll replace her furniture with inflatable chairs.

Black Snake Moan

Written and Directed by: Craig Brewer
Starring: Christina Ricci, Samuel L. Jackson, Justin Timberlake

If I had to describe "Black Snake Moan" in one word, the only one that seems remotely fitting is "writhing." The Southern Gothic fable about a wild girl and the God-fearing bluesman who tries to cure her of her wicked ways is a tale that, for the first half at least, moves forward like the titular snake, slithering and undulating in ways you didn't know could appear in nature.

When we first see Rae (Ricci), she's making love to her boyfriend (Timberlake) for the last time before he joins the army. It's a lovely intimate moment, but the second he drives away, she falls to the ground, clawing and moaning like an alley cat in heat. The cicadas in the background swell in time with her wailing, and oh, she just can't help herself, she needs it, she's gotta have it now. She goes on to a party where she takes all manner of hillbilly meds, fucks a guy on a football field and ends up beaten on the side of the road in just her confederate t-shirt and dirty white panties within the first 20 minutes of the film.

Watching Rae self-destruct is both terrifying and fabulously fun to watch. Ricci and Craig Brewer, who wrote and directed the film, understand the special paradox of melodrama: it's so serious it becomes absurd, and its absurdity becomes an somewhat accurate portrayal of truth. Rae embodies sin and inequity, but in actuality she's a victim, and the message is beautifully buried underneath all the dirt and sweat. What follows is a deliciously surreal turn when Jackson's Lazarus finds Rae, takes her home and chains her to a radiator in order to "heal" her. The most remarkable thing about this turn of events is that Brewer miraculously manages to avoid the obvious icky racial issues surrounding the image of a large black man keeping a white girl chained up in his house. The only shame is that about halfway through the film, the reason for Rae's affliction is neatly "explained." After this, the film begins to take itself too seriously, which is a little disappointing.

But, oh, this cast. Samuel L. Jackson is fabulous as Lazarus. Jackson does his own singing and guitar-picking, and his voice is a striking mix of longing, hate and sheer sexual virility. I have a theory that if you simply put Samuel L. Jackson into the frame, the mise en scene immediately becomes 45 percent more bad-ass, and this film goes a long way to prove it.

I think Justin Timberlake is a little overrated as an actor (people seem to fall over themselves when they realize he can actually deliver a line) but there is a delicacy to his performance here as Rae's cuckolded boyfriend Ronnie which I wasn't expecting. He surrounds his character with the thinnest veneer of machismo, which, when stripped away, reveals a hot ball of pain and insecurity. It could have been a throwaway character, but Timberlake manages to hold his own nicely with Ricci and Jackson.

The last good part of "Black Snake Moan," is set in a honky-tonk, with Jackson singing a raging version of Stack-o-Lee and Ricci whirling in a trance-like (and entirely sober) state. Yes, Jackson's singing her pain, he's singing the wickedness out of her, and in that moment you can practically wipe the Louisiana humidity off your foreheads and smell the warm spilled beer cooking on the bar. Jackson's role may be to lead Rae back to God, but Brewer never lets us forget that this is a movie about humanity.

Photo courtesy of Collider.