Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan the Entertainer

Late-night TV wasn't funny to me until I started watching Conan O'Brien's show years ago. The unfunny old guy and the annoying dick who jacked Bruce Campbell's chin are not entertaining in the least. (The guy from The Drew Carey Show is great, though.) Conan's damn funny. He used to write for SNL years ago and his seasons of The Simpsons are by far the pinnacle of that series (which today is put a hollow shell of what it once was). Conan's strange humour and self-deprecation made his late-night program immensely enjoyable. Nothing was taken seriously because everything was fun, even the really messed-up characters, such as Vomiting Kermit, the Insult (occasionally) Comic Dog, and the Masturbating Bear.

Flash forward a few years. Conan gets to take over The Tonight Show, which is a huge deal. I watched the first episode, laughed like hell, and loved it. It was great to see Conan with Max and the band at an earlier time doing the same kind of gags they usually do. The bits about Conan dicking around in the studio backlot were hilarious - pretending to do an exorcism on cohost/sidekick Andy Richter as the studio tour bus drove by, turning his desk into a go-kart and drag racing a forklift operator, and taking a tour group out on the town, to name just a few moments. Don't forget his other escapades: going guitar-hunting thanks to Craig's List with his buddy Slash in tow, and pimping around LA in his green '90s Ford Escort, getting girls pregnant by just looking at them and making Fabio himself feel jealous.

Remember the BIG events outside his studio? The human cannonballs? The Grave Digger monster truck leaping over a ramp to stomp a giant pumpkin? The "Conan, Please Blow Up My Car" contest in which they actually blew up the winner's old clunker? (Don't feel bad. The winner received a brand new car as a prize.)

Well, all that's over. You know what's been going on. And it's not funny.

Last night was Conan's final episode on The Tonight Show before it will return to the humourless drivel it was prior to his arrival. Conan had a few jokes about what will become of their new studio, suggesting they leave it empty as a metaphor for NBC programming. How fitting.

His guests included Steve Carrell as an NBC bureaucrat, followed by a tired, nostalgic Tom Hanks, who emerged from backstage with round sunglasses and two glasses of scotch - one for Conan and one for himself. Sidekick Andy Richter, of course, carries a flask in his breast pocket. Tom Hanks and Conan spoke about the good old days, when Hanks hosted SNL and Conan, "the Irish kid," would write sketches for him.

The musical number was an incredible performance by Neil Young. Yes, the Neil Young. When he heard the news about the NBC late-night fiasco, he was the first to offer Conan support.

The closing act of the show featured Max and the band and guest Will Ferrell performing Free Bird, with Conan on guitar. While Ferrell's overall unfunniness and inability to sing ruined what should have been a powerful finale to Conan's stint on The Tonight Show, the most powerful moments of the episode was the montage of various unforgettable moments from the seven months Conan hosted (including some of the clips mentioned earlier), Conan's farewell speech, and the audience's unstoppable roaring applause. I've never cried watching late-night talk shows, but if any episode ever gave me a reason to, it would be this one.

Farewell, Conan. Thanks for the laughs and the good times. Best of luck in the future. I can't wait to see you on my TV screen again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Funny Games Hedges Its Bets

As I type, I have just finished watching perhaps one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. Written and directed by Caché's Michael Heneke, Funny Games is a powerful deconstruction of the presentation of violence in the media, and the expectations of the audience. Those of you who have seen either Caché or any other of Heneke's films know that he likes to disrupt the audience's experience by giving them the unexpected in the most powerful way possible, and Funny Games does just that.

A happy, wealthy suburban family George (Tim Roth), Ann (Naomi Watts) and their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) are just beginning their holiday in their beautiful summer home when two creepy and soft-spoken teenagers, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet) invade their home and proceed to toy with the family for their own twisted amusement.

Ann: Why don't you just kill us?!
Peter: Never underestimate the importance of entertainment.

Exactly. Heneke is clearly toying with the audience's desire to see a film where the family is tortured (physically and emotionally) with the real possibility of death. This is done in a fashion which can only be described as "soul destroying" as you watch the family desperately trying to get free from the grasp of these insane people, whilst simultaneously making the audience uncomfortable with some very unexpected moments of breaking the fourth wall from Paul. The film comments on how violence is seen in film and on the news, how the audience is separated from the violence by the television screen, but that doesn't stop it (philosophically) from being real.

Paul: [Fiction] is just as real as reality because you can see it too.

Overall the film is stylistically brilliant and very well scripted, but definitely not for the faint of heart. Although the viewer is uncomfortable for almost all of the film, it is still (for lack of better terms) an enjoyable watch - that is, if you don't mind your soul being just a little destroyed. Mahalo.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

An Accurate Look at: James Cameron's "Avatar"

Last year, I got into a free screening of a 15-minute preview of James Cameron's Avatar. You might remember that I wasn't particularly enthused. Hence my not reviewing the film when it came out in December, instead waiting until the New Year to bother seeing it. Was it worth it? Let's find out.

Avatar takes place in the future, on a dangerous, distant alien world called Pandora (note the name). Humans are there for the sole purpose of robbing it of its natural resources, an element called "unobtanium" (note the name). Along with the military forces is a team of scientists, lead by a lady named Grace (note the name) who wishes to learn of the planet rather than rape it.

The humans are obviously at odds with Pandora's natives, a race of blue anthropomorphic cats, hereafter referred to as "furries." The furries are primitive, living with nature, wearing little clothing, and fighting with bows and knives. Some uptight people would probably get upset and draw comparisons between the furries and African tribes (and there's a lot of evidence for them, believe me).

To get closer to furries and attempt any kind of communication, Grace's team technologically transmits their consciousnesses into some lab-made furry bodies. With these "avatars," they are able to roam Pandora and interact with the natives. But not all goes well, as you'd imagine.

The world of Avatar is very well-designed and feels complete. The humans have incredible technology: holograms, cryosleep, badass mech suits, and of course, the avatar technology. The furries have their own culture, their own customs, their own language, and their world is beautiful. Some of the scenery is breathtaking. And the animals of the world are frighteningly unusual. There's a real sense of being on another world. This isn't just New Zealand with a giant fibreglass tree, people.

But a fleshed-out world is nothing without characters. Unfortunately, Avatar's characters are dull archetypes. You have the Unlikely Hero/Chosen One (complete with troubled past!), the Geek Who Learns to Be A Man, the Hotshot Driver, the Gruff Drill Sergeant military guy, the Profiteer, etc. None of the characters are particularly fleshed out. They all feel very flat and uncompelling. The story has been done before. Ever seen Dances With Wolves? Then you've seen Avatar. Combine uninteresting characters with a generic, predictable lacklustre story, and what do you get? A letdown of an overhyped blockbluster.

But what about the amazing IMAX DIGITAL 4-D? Surely the stunning visual effects will redeem Cameron's flick? While I enjoyed the 3D of the 15-minute preview, those scenes were obviously chosen to demonstrate said 3D. In the final film, though, the pop-up visuals really don't stand out. While other 3D flicks milk their AMAZING 4-D GRAPHICS for all its worth with gimmicks such as axes flying "through" the screen and other objects "reaching out" towards the audience, Avatar features none of that crap. You will notice the 3D and in some scenes it looks great - just look at the hologram projectors. But as they've avoided obvious shots such as spaceships flying out of the screen, nothing in particular stands out. The 3D ends up feeling underused, and, outside of a few scenes, you'll wonder why you bothered paying so much for an Imax 3D ticket in the first place. Don't get me wrong. The 3D is constant throughout the film, it just doesn't seem to add much. Perhaps it would have ha dit not been so subtle.

Avatar is an overhyped version of Dances With Wolves set in space, with elements of Alien thrown in and some freaky furry crap off Deviant Art somehow made the cut. The good action scenes and terrific creature design do nothing to save the film's uncaptivating story and flat characters. Yet another disappointing overmarketed blockbluster.

Make Way, Make Room for the Brothers Bloom!

It is very rare to encounter a film which so immediately becomes one which you can watch and rewatch without its contents becoming tired and bland. Even rarer is it to come across such films whilst on a fourteen hour flight between Sydney and Los Angeles. As I flicked through the entertainment system on my flight, I came across an interestingly titled film called "The Brothers Bloom" which I had never heard of. This was strange to me, as I like to keep up with new films, and it had a cast including Adrian Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz.

To use the words 'cute' and 'endearing' to describe this film would be an understatement. So would 'hilarious' and 'quirky'. The film opens with a fairytale-esque sequence of the main characters Steven (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) as children, with narration that rhymes in a cadence similar to that of Disney films or other such children's films, but with a distinct dark humour to it. After this and as soon as the film opens properly, you are met with a story so intriguing and characters so compelling and likable that you are actually disappointed when the films ends, wanting more. The brothers Bloom are conmen who find their final mark in the form of eccentric (and beautiful) shut-in, Penelope (Weisz).

Although there are moments with the intricacy of the plot is confounding, it can be revealed upon further viewings, which will be wanted as a result of the overall sweetness and enjoyability of the film as a whole. It is a thoroughly enjoyable film and will leave you with tears of joy and the laughter of sadness. Mahalo.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

On behalf of all of The Nail Gun's staff, I would like to wish all of our readers a very Happy New Year and I hope you have had a great holiday season.

2010 content is on its way, so stick around!