Kicking the Tweets

A Throwing the Remote Special Comment

Challenge of the "Glee"-bots!

Hey, Gang! It's really me. I'm not dead. My wife and I have been busy moving into a new house, so I'm a little behind on movie reviews; with any luck--and a lot of sleep--I should have a couple new pieces up this week.

Did anyone else watch American Idol last night? I did, for two reasons. First, it was "Elvis Night", and I just knew someone would butcher my favorite song from The King, "Suspicious Minds"; here's a tip, Siobhan: that's not the kind of song one smiles through while singing; It's a bummer tune, and you looked like an idiot--an idiot who can't sing.

The second reason I watched was because I noticed that much of the cast of the hit Fox TV series Glee was sitting in the front row of the audience, right behind the judges! I'm a Gleek, I admit it. It's a solid show with some great music (though, honestly, I've been waiting since last May 19th for an episode that had the perfect balance of comedy and emotional honesty as the pilot--there's a reason their version of "Don't Stop Believin'" is a hit).

Keep in mind, I dind't see the cast's appearance on Oprah last week (we got new cable boxes during the move, so we lost a ton of awful television), but I did read the Glee cover story in the new Rolling Stone. I found the article to be rather catty and not incredibly well-written. But watching Idol last night, the article's thesis struck me: the Glee cast may well be an army of perfectly engineered entertainment robots.

Did you notice how they all sat in their seats, staring blankly into the middle distance until some outside force (usually Ryan Seacrest) either addressed one of them or said something that riled the audience? They were like human motion detectors, and it creeped me the fuck out. I was a big fan of Matthew Morrison, who plays Mr. Shuester on the show--until last night. With his hipster hat and dour expression, he looked not like an exuberant showman, but rather like R. Crumb at a shopping mall--so bewildered by everything around him that he shut down until called upon to do something famous-y.

Cory Monteith (Finn on Glee) looked particularly lost; at the punchline of some lewd joke, he turned his head from side to side, as if the sensor that explains why things are funny had shorted out and he couldn't decide whether to laugh or melt the audience with his Lockheed-designed whitened-teeth lasers. I feared for the safety of everyone in the Idol audience last night; not the first emotion I thought of when thinking to myself, "Hey, it's the Glee kids!"

What's the point of this screed? Don't know. I haven't written anything in awhile and I'm getting cagey. But, hey, what's the Internet for, if not to serve as a launching pad for wild speculation and off-base celebrity gossip?

Maybe I'll ditch my evil-Glee-robots theory after I see the mid-season opener tomorrow night--we're holding out to watch it with friends. I hope I forget about that Rolling Stone thing, too, 'cause I'd like to believe that the show's cast is full of regular people who love to act and sing. But I suspect they're all robots, and until I'm proven wrong, I'll hold onto that feeling.


A Tribute to Corey Haim

I'll Be the Sun Shining on You

One of the kitschiest thrills of my life happened last year. I met Corey Haim at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis. My friend Chad and I circled his table, eyeing the various glossy photographs he had for sale; there was a decent-sized line of adoring fans keeping Haim occupied, so our vulturing didn’t seem completely ridiculous. Chad picked out a nice two-shot of Corey Haim and Jason Patric from The Lost Boys. I opted for a still of the main cast from License to Drive, the film that, in 1988, cemented Haim’s status in my eleven-year-old mind as the coolest kid on earth.

When it came time for Chad and me to get his autograph, I was giddy and a little nervous. I’d watched both seasons of his reality show, The Two Coreys, in which he struggled with drug addiction and a shaky career comeback, and I wasn’t sure which version of him I’d encounter: the personable optimist or the bleary eyed freak show. While waiting in line, I saw him smile and take pictures with fans, and I was ready for a really nice experience with one of my childhood idols. When my turn at the table came, though, things got a little weird.

I don’t know if I gave off the wrong vibe or if he thought I was having a laugh by getting his autograph on that particular picture. Whatever the case, my sincere “Nice to meet you” and “biggest fan” small talk was met with a chilly reception, and I was instantly reminded of the cliche of the dangers of meeting one’s heroes. I can’t speak for Chad’s feelings on meeting Haim, but in the picture that he took with us, it’s clear the actor was nonplussed. Walking away from the table thinking about Haim’s disinterest, and contrasting that with the smiling, confident face in the signed photo in my hand, I felt cheated and a little angry—as if I’d just paid $20 for a forgery.

Corey Haim passed away last week, at the age of thirty-eight. The circumstances surrounding his death have yet to fully come out, though it was just announced that illegal drugs were not involved. For his fans, myself included, this is a relief. It doesn’t make what happened any less tragic, but at least he seems to have died on the noble side of his own personal war on drugs.

He was a known-substance abuser, an addict whose very public lapses and relapses destroyed the career of one of the 1980s’ brightest and most charismatic stars. He was Lucas, for God’s sake. And had it not been for a series of bad choices—personal and professional—he might have broken from the confining Tiger Beat mold and matured into something more substantial. I’m not saying Haim had leading-man chops, but hell, even Charlie Sheen has a sitcom.

Haim and long-time friend and partner Corey Feldman proved themselves at the box office with a number of hits, but the toll of fame and drugs drove both actors to excess; they burned bridges and found themselves doing direct-to-video comedies and thrillers of the kind that spawn Family Guy jokes. Feldman eventually cleaned himself up and managed to work enough in the ensuing years to claim some sort of relevance. But Corey Haim’s resume during this period was a head-scratching melange of projects you’ve probably never heard of. He resurfaced briefly on the anniversary DVD of The Lost Boys a few years ago, and shocked fans with his appearance: the once slim teen idol had ballooned to well over 200 pounds (by the actor’s own admission, he’d hovered around 300 for a time).

Thus began the freak show stage of Corey Haim’s career. In 2007, Haim and Corey Feldman starred in The Two Coreys, both seasons of which seemed to promise a major comeback for both performers. Haim was excited about getting off drugs—prescription medication, his latest vice—and pitching a sequel to The Lost Boys, with he and Feldman returning to kick vampire ass. The show also featured constant blow-ups with Feldman’s wife, Susie, who became a sort of third wheel in the newly re-formed relationship between the two dysfunctional friends.

The show was like a cross between Intervention, The Real World, and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. The Two Coreys would alternate between, say, getting everything read for Corey Haim’s surprise birthday party and therapy sessions where Haim and Feldman hurled teary insults at one another regarding who failed to stick up for whom during multiple sessions of mutual childhood sexual abuse. The show didn’t know whether it was itself a tabloid punch line or an earnest attempt to heal two wounded souls.

Unfortunately, the answer to this conundrum came during one of the final episodes where, on the set of Lost Boys: The Tribe, we hear Corey Haim wrestling with a couple of lines of dialogue for multiple takes; I don’t recall how long the crew waited around for him to get his act together, but it may have been hours. The shot went uncompleted, and Haim retired to his trailer. With the microphone still transmitting, he could clearly be heard snorting something.

The sensationalism of this scene cemented in my mind that, even if there were to be a third season of the show, I wouldn’t watch it. It was too weird to see Corey Haim on the skids, trying so hard to perform. In his prime, he lit up the screen with wide-eyed, Reagan-era optimism; he was the quintessential clean-cut movie teen. In his best roles, he didn’t play the cool kid; he played the nice kid, the average guy who hung out with wacky friends and aspired to plant a PG-13 kiss on the lips of the girl of his dreams. The sniffling, pale, awkward fiend of The Two Coreys was too harsh a caricature for me to stomach.

In that way, Corey Haim is the 80’s-teen-Elvis, a once-popular figure of tremendous potential whose later years are glossed over by history—and the need of pop culture junkies to have their heroes preserved in amber. Thirty years from now, when some teenager puts on The Lost Boys for the first time, I doubt they’ll see Corey Haim electrocuting a vampire and flash on a bloated, glassy eyed addict with a needle sticking out of his arm.

It’s sad that Haim never channeled his young fame into a more lasting career. With a bit of luck and a lot of fortitude, he could have navigated the ups and downs of Hollywood and become either a major player or at least a well-paid, consistently working actor—Robert Downey, Jr. and Kiefer Sutherland are proof of that. Instead, he became a guy that I met at a horror convention. That’s not a slam on Haim or on horror conventions, but there are definite gradations in the echelons of notoriety, and the only current poster at Corey Haim’s table was a miniature one-sheet advertising his cameo in Crank 2.

He’s gone now, and I hope that wherever he is, he’s found the peace that he couldn’t attain in life. Despite his later troubles, Corey Haim made a handful of pretty wonderful movies that impacted a generation. That smiling, confident kid will be with us forever, leaving his tragic adulthood lost in the shadows.


Im-pec-cable Showman!

Yes, kids, your dreams can come true!

I've just returned from the 8pm screening of The Room at The Music Box Theatre on Southport, where I met my hero of two days, Tommy Wiseau!

The movie was a blast. It was my first experience with an audience participation event (no, I've never been to Rocky Horror; sheltered, suburban child that I was), and The Room's crowd didn't disappoint. From the countdown of seconds during numerous, interminable establishing shots, to the torrent of plastic spoons filling the air every time the camera caught a glimpse of the framed spoon picture in Johnny and Lisa's apartment, the place was a madhouse. By the time Wiseau liftend his shirt to show off his sculpted, oddly veiny body on stage, I thought for sure the rabble would start ripping up the seats.

I'm so glad I saw the movie a couple days ago; as I figured, a lot of the best lines were drowned out by mimics and random booing. Every time the character Denny entered a scene, he was greeted with "Hi, Denny" (and "Bye, Denny" when he exited). We all sang "Happy Birthday" to Johnny during his surprise party scene. Best of all, whenever a character would talk about hurting Johnny, the audience got riled beyond anything I've witnessed regarding a fictional character.

Wiseau did a couple of brief Q&A sessions--before and after the show--where he muscled through a thick accent, bad fan questions, and a host whose mic was busted for half the presentation (Capone from Aint it Cool News). Tommy Wiseau, it seems, is in on the joke of his own film, and proudly basks in both the ridicule and the accolades affored him by hipsters of all ages. The Music Box was sold out tonight, and he got a standing ovation; not bad for the creator of one of the worst movies ever committed to celluloid.

When the time came to meet the man, I'm only kind of ashamed to admit that I cut in line. I'd exited the theatre to say "goodbye" to my friends, Graham and Meghan, and when I tried to get back in and head for the back of the line, I got stuck--at the head of the line. Peering over peoples' heads, down to the last person, I figured I'd just stay put and get back home before midnight. The paranoia of the people around me noticing that I wasn't supposed to be there subsided gradually, and the guy in front of me was even nice enough to snap my picture--I returned the favor with his iPhone.

The only downside was that Capone and the management were trying to speed up the process, so they announced--one person ahead of me--that there would be no more individual photos and no more conversations. So I only got about twenty seconds with the icon--though he was very nice, and he signed my TALKING TOMMY WISEAU BOBBLE-HEAD DOLL! He said his signature on the base wasn't that good, so he insisted on personalizing the box to me. A "thank you" and a fist-bump later, and I was back out on Southport, headed to get some Valentine's Day chocolates for my girl.

Goodnight, everyone. May your dreams be full of footballs and tuxes.

Update, 2/13/10: For any die-hard Chicago fans who missed out on the fun, The Music Box has just added a midnight screening tonight. Check the Web site for details and tickets (yes, Tommy will be there, too!)


Best Picture

Coming Soon to a Birthing Suite Near You...

As an answer to all the cheap, derivative crap that Hollywood puts out, my wife and I decided to create something original...a baby!

We're very excited to announce our own little summer blockbuster, which is sure to bring us thrills, screams, and memorable moments to savor for a lifetime.

So far, our little gal/guy is healthy and developing quite nicely; I dare say the baby is "ultra sound" (sorry).

And don't worry: My having a kid won't affect the quality or quantity of film criticism you've come to expect from Kicking the Seat. You might just see the names "Miley Cyrus" and "Elmo" a bit more frequently!


Kicking the Seat's Top Ten Films of 2009

Don't Look Back in Anger

The year is over, which means it’s officially “Best-of” season. So here is Kicking the Seat’s Top Ten Films of 2009. Keep in mind, these are the best films that I’ve seen this year; while I try to get out to the theatre as often as possible, there are some movies that I’ve simply missed, like Precious, The Hurt Locker, and An Education.

You’ll find full reviews for many of these in the archive (with the notable exception of Big Fan, for which I inexcusably neglected to write one), so if you’re still puzzled by my choice of, say, 2012, I invite you to calm down and read what I have to say.

No doubt, some of my omissions may also prove frustrating (Avatar, District 9—both of which would top my “Worst” list, were I to write one, which I won’t). I can only say that my standards for movies are weird, but also very high and very consistent. Spectacle and hype don’t carry water with me, and if I’m bored numb by a movie that looks amazing, then, to me, that makes the film bad. These are, after all, reviews from the last guy anyone asks, so if you’re looking for someone to agree that James Cameron chose the absolute best script to go along with his Crayola-blue Thundercats movie, you should probably go somewhere else.

These ten films engaged my heart and my head, challenged my preconceived notions about their stories, and in some cases compelled me to return to the theatre for an additional viewing or two. Most of all, they entertained me. They are the reason I love movies, and the reason I love so few of the many that I see each year.

Before I get to the list, there are two honorable mentions that deserve, well, honorable mentions. Big Man Japan would have been near the top, had its last fifteen minutes not spiraled into an incoherent mess that almost completely destroyed the good will the rest of the picture had built up. And Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell was a fun time at the movies, with a truly memorable ending; as a whole, though, it didn’t quite measure up to some of the lower films on the list.

10. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant: At last, a young-adult-novel adaptation that doesn’t play like it was written for the kids who were held in school. The first in a franchise whose poor box office means it will likely never be resurrected, this story of teen vampires and a traveling freak show has more blood and teeth than Harry Potter and those annoying Twilight mopes combined.

9. 2012: The movie where John Cusack outruns absolutely everything is not nearly as dumb as it ought to be, and is certainly never boring. Aided by a great cast and a screenplay that turns disaster-drama tropes on their heads, 2012 slams the door on end-of-the-world entertainment.

8. Halloween 2: Rob Zombie finally puts his stamp on the Halloween franchise in this sequel-to-a-remake. No longer hiding in the shadow of John Carpenter, the writer/director delivers a weird, spirited, and more realistic take on iconic killer Michael Myers.

7. Big Fan: Patton Oswalt proves that he’s got dramatic chops that are just as legitimate as his comedic ones in this story of a New York Giants fan who goes off the deep end. Funny, moving, and seriously dark, Robert Siegel’s indie gem is worth seeking out.

6. The Informant!: Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon team up for this farcical telling of a true story about corn and conspiracy in the early 90’s. If there is any justice in the world (which there isn’t, really), Damon will be recognized this Oscar season for his nuanced, paranoid performance, which would be worth watching even if the rest of the movie were a dud.

5. Where the Wild Things Are: This is Spike Jonze’s love letter to dysfunctional childhood. WTWTA creates a world of fantasy, wonder, and horror by letting loose the brains and emotion that James Cameron only wishes he had at his disposal.

4. Up: The best Pixar film to date, Up plots a wholly original course and conveys the youthful spirit of discovery of its characters. Like Where the Wild Things Are, Up deals with adult themes very well, but also knows when to be cute (not cloying) and silly.

3. Star Trek: This film and Up both had me wiping away tears in the opening ten minutes. J.J. Abrams has reinvigorated the franchise with adventure, comedy, and a cast with genuine chemistry; the villain and plot make more sense on multiple viewings, and I’m sure the next movie will provide more steak to match the sizzle.

2. Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino’s Jewish revenge fantasy was my most thrilling moviegoing experience this year. The action and story are superb, but the real reason to check out this picture is Christoph Waltz, who will mesmerize and terrify you in four different languages!

1. A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers delivered the most satisfying film of the year with their story of a Pittsburgh professor’s mid-life meltdown in 1967. Michael Stuhlbarg brings Larry Gopnik to life in a movie that is itself in love with movies; the textures, performances, and, yes, even that beyond-frustrating ending, make this a case study in craft.