Wednesday, August 22, 2012

R.I.P. Tony Scott

Sunday nights are usually a high point of the week for me -- friends, drinks, and bar trivia (more often than not a victory). Not so this past Sunday. We had just wrapped up a second place finish when I found out that director Tony Scott had killed himself. Any sense of revelry immediately fled. I leaned back in my chair and let out a heavy sigh. What the fuck.

For those who don't know, Tony Scott was an action movie director. Wait, that's not exactly right -- Tony Scott was *the* action movie director. Simply put, the modern action movie -- love it or hate it -- is what it is because of Tony Scott. Scott's combination of slick, stylized visuals, frenetic camerawork/editing, and elegant action choreography set the template later followed by myriad directors, including Michael Bay, Guy Ritchie, and Oscar winners Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow. His fingerprints, while not on any Oscar statues (unless it's an honorary one down the line) are nevertheless on billions of dollars worldwide since he first splashed onto the scene with Top Gun (the best bad movie of all time) in 1986.

But enough of the history lesson. I'm not writing this because he influenced some of my favorite directors, or made billions of dollars, or was indirectly responsible for Kenny Loggins's "Danger Zone," a timeless ballad and metaphor for the fragility of human existence. While most of that may be true, I'm writing this because I felt -- and still feel -- a personal connection to some of his movies. He's just an action movie director, I know -- Beverly Hills Cop 2 isn't exactly Schindler's List. But just like certain moments in your life have a soundtrack, some have video cues. And Tony Scott's movies are playing on the walls of my neural networks.

One of the first non-kid's movies I have distinct memories of is Top Gun. I couldn't have been more than 4 or 5, but I definitely remember my parents watching it on VHS at our shitty place on Windsong Dr. in Sedona, AZ. ("Danger Zone" is almost definitely responsible for me remembering this -- see? Timeless.) This leads me to wonder if my mom was a Tony Scott fan, because I remember watching The Last Boy Scout and The Fan for the first time at her place after my parents split up. She was the "cool mom" of divorce story clich├ęs, the one who let us watch rated-R movies. It's very likely I wouldn't be the cinephile I am today if I were only restricted to the PG-13-and-under fare my dad allowed. So, uh, thanks, Mom (and Tony).

But far and away the movie that gets the most synapses firing for me is Man on Fire (probably his best film, right up there with True Romance). I first saw Man on Fire a few hours after my first girlfriend and I broke up for good (and a few years after my mom died). I thought it would be just what I needed -- loud, dumb, and violent -- to help me avoid thinking about the emotional turmoil I was going through, maybe provide an outlet. Man on Fire is loud and violent, yes, but one thing it's not is dumb (and Scott's movies rarely are). In fact, it it's pretty smart, and I found myself relating to the "man on fire" conceit in the theater that night. I saw a little bit of myself in John Creasey (Denzel Washington), a man who'd lost everything and was just sort of adrift in life, drinking his way through life with a burning in his soul. I mean, I was only 20 -- I really thought I had just lost everything.

And I won't lie, I lived like that, like Creasey, for a few years -- drinking, burning, trying to find the bottom in a new city. I eventually did, and, like Creasey, found that the bottom sucks pretty bad, as well as the means to pull myself up again. While I didn't save Dakota Fanning, or have sex with Radha Mitchell in a deleted scene (damn she's fine in that movie), I did finish grad school and eventually become a teacher. I've even shown Man on Fire in a class or two and gotten my students to see beyond the loud and violent parts and see it for the smart movie it really is.

And that's the thing about Tony Scott movies, and why he'll be missed so much as a director -- there was always more to his movies than just gun fights or explosions. You can't say the same for most Hollywood directors (especially not Michael Bay, whom I still love though). His movies had heart -- and I won't pretend mine didn't hurt a little on Sunday night when I first heard the news, and then later on the drive home when all those memories coalesced in my mind and I realized exactly why this celebrity death had me reeling.

Celebrities die all the time, and there's never any shortage of Facebook updates, Tweets, even blog posts when they do. I usually find these "tributes" trite at best, and narcissistic at worst. But sometimes someone whom you've never even met dies, and only then do you realize that they've made an impact on your life. That's what happened on Sunday, and it's taken me until now to put it into the right words. So, Tony, thanks for the movies, the memories, and the indelible connection the two will always have in the auditorium of my mind. Sad to think there will never be more. I hope you're partying with Heath.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

2012... So Far

We're a little past the halfway mark of 2012, and that much closer to the end of the world. So, just in case I don't get to do my usual year end listmania, I figured I'd give y'all the lowdown on my favorite pop culture of 2012 so far (as well as look forward to what I'm... looking forward to). Here goes...

My reading pace has slowed considerably since I started teaching, so I haven't read as much as I'd like. Here's what I've knocked out so far (roughly in order).

Saturday - Ian McEwan (started in 2011)
1Q84 - Haruki Murakami
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Preludes & Nocturnes - Neil Gaiman (Vol. 1 of The Sandman)
Shakespeare: The World's a Stage - Bill Bryson
You Don't Love Me Yet - Jonathan Lethem
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Preacher - Garth Ennis (bulk of the series)

Saturday was gripping, but no Atonement ... I know it has its detractors, but I think 1Q84 is just stunning. So many threads and it *almost* came together perfectly. Just be prepared for a prolonged Act III stall ... The Hunger Games is the most overrated pop culture phenomenon since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which is far better, both book and movies). The book reads like an outline for a longer, better book ... Issue 6 of The Sandman -- 24 Hours -- is the single greatest comic book I've ever read ... Bryson is effortlessly readable on just about any subject ... You Don't Love Me Yet is minor Lethem -- there are a few great passages though ... Of Mice and Men: never read before, but wow ... Preacher is flawed, but fun.

Looking Forward To:
Honestly, with four fall classes, I doubt I'm going to get much reading done. I'll mostly be focused on my Banned Books class. Here's the reading list I assigned:

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Preludes & Nocturnes - Neil Gaiman (Vol. 1 of The Sandman)
The Language Police - Diane Ravitch (currently reading)
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut

It's actually been a pretty strong year for music. I had to cull this list down from about 20 albums.

10. Bear Creek - Brandi Carlile
9. Women & Work - Lucero
8. Arrow - Heartless Bastards
7. Celebration Rock - Japandroids
6. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
5. Comet - The Bouncing Souls
4. Handwritten - The Gaslight Anthem
3. Rize of the Fenix - Tenacious D
2. Gossamer - Passion Pit
1. Synthetica - Metric

Carlile's record blends dirges and ditties, all held together by her haunting voice ... A disappointing Lucero record barely hangs onto a top 10 spot ... Heartless Bastards do their best Led Zeppelin III, which is pretty darn good ... Japandroid's album is aptly named -- whoa-oh-ohs over a big slab of rock 'n' roll ... Frank Ocean could easily rise a spot or three before the year is out ... The new Souls record is lean and mean -- and also, typically, a damn good time ... Although a bit samey, Handwritten has all the care and craftsmanship the name implies ... I was as surprised as you are, but the new D record ROCKS ... Passion Pit has obviously never heard of a sophomore slump (which I was more than half expecting) ... Good luck to ALL OF MUSIC in dethroning Metric -- a perfect sequel to Fantasies, one of my favorites of the last decade.

Here's a playlist of my favorite jams from 2012 so far. Maybe I'll find some time to put it on Spotify or something. Maybe. (Roughly in order of release date -- also fits onto a CDR... handy!)

"Cut You" - Cloud Nothings
"Skin and Bone" - Heartless Bastards
"Paddling Out" - Miike Snow
"Closer Than This" - St. Lucia
"Take the Heartland" - Glen Hansard
"Like Lightning" - Lucero
"Lost & Found" - Eve 6
"Roadie" - Tenacious D
"The House that Heaven Built" - Japandroids
"45" - Gaslight Anthem
"Take a Walk" - Passion Pit
"Yesterday (Circa Summer '80 Something)" - Cory Branan
"Friends of Friends" - Hospitality
"Rise Again" - Brandi Carlile
"Dead" - Jukebox the Ghost
"In Sleep" - The Bouncing Souls
"Flowers in Your Hair" - The Lumineers
"Timelines" - Motion City Soundtrack
"Breathing Underwater" - Metric
"Sweet Life" - Frank Ocean

Looking Forward To:
Infinity Overhead - Minus the Bear
Coexist - The xx
The Sound of the Life of the Mind - Ben Folds Five
New Kanye/Jay-Z/GOOD Music/whatever
Lightning - Matt and Kim
New Tegan and Sara

It's been a pretty good year for pretty good movies. There have been a lot of strong genre entries, but no real memorable Films (capitalization intentional), at least that I've seen (which is not a ton). We'll see what Oscar season brings.

10. Haywire
9. Savages
8. Moonrise Kingdom
7. Magic Mike
6. The Dark Knight Rises
5. Prometheus
4. 21 Jump Street
3. The Avengers
2. The Cabin in the Woods
1. The Grey

Haywire has all of Soderbergh's style, and very little of his usual substance (which sounds like a jizz joke) ... Savages is an orgy of style and just enough substance, flawed ending aside ... Wes Anderson is a one-trick pony -- but it's a pretty good trick ... Remember the thing about substance? Magic Mike has it (rimshot), and style to boot ... [avoiding Aurora joke] Rises is the weakest of the trilogy, but still damn good ... Prometheus is probably the most polarizing film of the year so far -- I admire it for its ambition and wonder what could have been without the obvious flaws ... 21 Jump Street is perhaps the funniest mainstream comedy of the last 5 years ... The Avengers -- comic-book spectacle done right ... My husband's bulge for Cabin in the Woods hasn't gone away yet ... Totally not kidding, The Grey is the best movie of the year so far -- who knew Joe Carnahan could pull off an existentialist thriller? Also, NEESON FIGHTS WOLVES.

Looking Forward To:
The Master
Cloud Atlas
Silent Hill: Revelation
The Man with the Iron Fists
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Djando Unchained

Lots of good stuff to look forward to until the end of the year... whether it's December 21 or 31. Let's just put it this way -- if I don't get to see Django Unchained because of some stupid Mayan Calendar, I'm going to be pissed. Maybe I should find a sneak preview just to cover my bases. Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to check in with a movie review or random babbling here and there before the end of the year lists. Until then...