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Warning: spoilers ahead!
I know you’ll be thrilled to hear that I finally saw Hesher. Since you and I are respectively Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s #1 and #2 fangirls, I figured I should see it ASAP. Also the opportunity to see a shirtless JGL striding around to a soundtrack of pure Metallica is, as far as I’m concerned, the stuff that wet dreams are made of. Unfortunately there is somewhat less Metallica than I had been led to expect. And equally unfortunately, I’m still not sure if Hesher is a good movie or not. It’s interesting, there are moments of genuine tension, the acting is simply fantastic, and the characters are compelling. But the film doesn’t quite resolve in a way that works, and the end loses steam and devolves into something that is, at the same time, outrageous and formulaic.
It’s never really clear whether Hesher is a failure or a philosopher. He clearly has a different view on life than that of the middle class family whose grief stricken stupor he invades with such destructive glee. Unfortunately the plot is fairly formulaic. It’s unquestionably a reworking of the mysterious stranger shows middle class family what it means to really live trope, albeit a somewhat twisted one.
When you boil Hesher down it becomes apparent that this is another story about boundless grief being expressed by the breaking of boundaries. The film that did this best was Death at a Funeral, which broke every boundary, pushed every envelope, and challenged every taboo in the book. And Hesher is clearly, especially in the funeral scene, hearkening back to that trope. The family grieves in inadequate but seemly silence, while their emotional traumas fester away. And their inexpressible grief is given voice by an uncouth sociopath who violates every rule and shows up drunk to grandma’s funeral to tell it how it really was. Familiar, right? (We all know that story. In fact it’s pretty much exactly the story John Cleese satirized in his eulogy for Graham Chapman. “Anything” he said, “but mindless good taste.” )And that, for all the extreme violence, disgusting jokes and severed noses that have gone before, is exactly how Hesher ends. The raging, angry, injured, unspeakable pain of their loss is manifested in Hesher, externalized in the form of a dirty, drunk, tattooed, heavy metal enthusiast who invades their lives when they are least able to cope with him and sets up shop in the middle of their house. There are even some interesting scenes where Hesher is literally sitting between TJ and his father, like an impenetrable brick wall.
But the movie falters when you realize that the flaws which motivate the plot are mirrored in the structure of the movie as a whole, and what might be interesting as a statement about resolution becomes simply irritating when inflicted on the viewer in the form of an unresolved plot. The family is stuck in a limbo state after the tragic death of TJ’s mother, and they seem unable or unwilling to escape the slough of despond (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase!) that they find themselves in. And Hesher, an uncivilized barbarian of a man, who knows no limits and respects no boundaries, is supposed to arrive in their lives like a storm and force some sort of resolution. And he does. The arrival and antics of Hesher does serve to shake TJ and his father out of their shock.
So Hesher is an agent of resolution, but then the plot totally fails to resolve Hesher! Which is a problem, since the grief of the family has been comprehensively upstaged by the mysterious and enigmatic title character. Who the heck is Hesher? What is his deal? Is he actually insane? How the hell old is he? Actually ages are one of the biggest problems in this film and made it difficult to fully engage with the characters. How old is this kid, really?
TJ seems to be a child. He certainly shops in the children’s section. But then he’s shown in what appears to be a high school. I originally thought he was maybe 10, but I guess he’s meant to be trembling on the verge of adolescence, as they say.
And then there’s Natalie Portman as Nicole. How old is she supposed to be? Frankly she could be anywhere between 17 and 30. Is she a high school student? She say’s she can’t make rent so maybe she’s like, 27, but then what the hell is she doing hanging around with TJ? This is compounded by the awkward love that TJ develops for Nicole, which is either puppy love, adolescent lust, or a desire for a new mother figure, and the film never really decides which. Maybe it’s meant to be all at once, and to be expressive of TJ’s confusion and volatile emotions. But it just came off as befuddling.
Then there’s Hesher. Like Nicole, he hovers awkwardly and somewhat ominously between misguided youth and felonious adulthood. He drives a terrifying van, blows things up, lives completely alone, with no friends or parents. And then there he he is in the high school with TJ. Is he a fellow student? I’m unsure. I understand setting a film in Anytown USA, and Anyyear AD, in order to make a story universal. And I guess I see why you might leave the ages uncertain, since then you can’t know what’s subversive, transgressive or rebellious and what isn’t. But it’s more likely that it will lead to a confused and irritated audience losing their engagement with the story as they wonder why the unemployed, violent drifter is hanging out in a high school.
There’s a deeper problem with it too, which is that it keeps you from knowing Hesher’s level of rebellion. Is this a lifestyle choice? Has Hesher rejected society and chosen to live outside it, in abandoned houses and garages, with no job, and his penchant for arson as his only entertainment? Or is this the result of neglect? When he barges into TJ’s house is he there to act as a fucked up mentor to TJ, to take revenge on him, or is it because he really needs a place to stay because he’s a kid too. Basically, is Hesher Hesher because he chose to be, or as a reaction to abuse? I think it makes a huge difference, but the story leaves that question not only unanswered, but unasked. It isn’t necessary that we understand Hesher, arguably he’s better as an unknowable force of nature, but it’s important that we get some idea of how much of this is intentional. Hesher makes a lot more sense as a jaded adult who has checked out of the rat race than an angsty teenager.
In fact, what would be really interesting is if Hesher turned out, many years ago, to have been Brendan from Brick. Crushed at the death of his girlfriend, surrounded by a drug culture, with enemies everywhere, Brendan begins a downward spiral that ultimately leads to him becoming Hesher.
And this is where the disconnect with the movie becomes a problem. The character study of Hesher and the plot of Hesher don’t actually coexist very well. Hesher is interesting enough to be worth a whole movie on his own, and Hesher as a study in externalized grief is also pretty good. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is versatile enough to play either of those roles, which is basically what he ends up doing anyway, and it’s a tribute to his amazing abilities that he comes so close to pulling it off. Either of those movies could have been good. But unfortunately Hesher the enigmatic psycho completely upstaged Hesher the movie, and the two got confused.
So in the end I don’t really know what to make of Hesher. I wanted to see it initially because it combined two of my favorite things- nearly naked Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Metallica. And I’m not sure what I got instead. Some seriously amazing acting, that’s for sure, and whole bunch of production stills of JGL looking like this:
So it’s not all bad. I think Natalie agrees with me. She and I are both thinking the same thing. “I never thought that Tommy from 3rd Rock from the Sun could ever in a million years grown up to look like that.” I really wish my 17 year old self could see this.
I hope you get to see it sometime soon Torte. The acting alone is worth it. Heck, JGL’s unexpected pecs alone are worth it.
When I first heard about the new X-Men movie, I was terribly excited. Professor X and Magneto back when they were BFFs? That’s probably one of the most interesting storylines in all of the Marvelverse (Civil War aside). Sixties era setting? I appreciate go-go girls as much as the next person, and besides, this makes Magneto and Prof. X contemporaries with a certain Mr. Bond. Happens BEFORE the X-Trilogy takes place? Even better: Cyclops is still alive out there somewhere, we don’t have to deal with Rogue’s emo-tantrums, and we can all pretend that Wolverine: Origins just never happened. (And seriously, they came up with marketing stuff like this- MacGuffin). Then I saw these posters. I probably should have given up any expectations then.
Who thought this was a good idea? I get that this movie focuses on Charles and Erik’s roles as mutant forefathers, but did they have to make that point literally, by having their faces sprout from their loins? Unfortunately, these posters seemed to accurate predict the movie itself as a series of missed opportunities. I don’t know much about movie reviewing, but I do like to think I know a bit about storytelling. And I can recognize a missed opportunity when I see one.
1. Professor X and Magneto
In my opinion, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were excellent for these roles. Fassbender’s Magneto was a brutal, sexy version of James Bond, except darker and more vicious. McAvoy’s Professor X was perfect. Snarky and pretentious, I was delighted to be suppressing my urge to punch him in the face throughout the movie. Nobody can be that sanguine without having been a complete prick at some point; it was refreshing to see Professor X portrayed as something besides a saint.
Unlike some of the other characters (but more on that later), Professor X and Magneto were actually well developed. To be fair, given their detailed history in the comics, how could they have not been? What was disappointing, however, was that their relationship was not as well developed as they had been individually. Maybe the writers intended to emphasize each man as his own maverick. I’m not sure. What I do know is the main reason why I gave this movie a chance was because I was curious to see what the writers had come up with for the enigma of how Charles and Erik became friends.
The best we got was a cheap friendship montage: the young mutants get trained, Charles and Erik become best friends, and a good time is had by all until Kevin Bacon strolls by and rains on everybody’s parade. Instead of rehashing the first movie (yes, I think we can all take for granted by now that Magneto was a victim of the Holocaust–and by the way, when did that become a trope instead of a tragedy?), maybe they should have spent their efforts developing actual relationships between characters. Furthermore, the ending was a major disappointment. Rather than Erik blindly tossing bullets over his shoulder, it would have been more interesting if Erik, lost in a blind rage, intentionally shoots Charles. At the very least, it’s better character development than a mere accident. Once he has realized what has happened, he is penitent–but he also has a moment of recognition. He sees that Charles’s path of peace and reconciliation could never be his own. The moment becomes poignant because Erik sees himself for what he is: a monster. In one moment, he is horrified by what he sees and hates himself for paralyzing his best friend, but also is strangely excited and relishes in his power. The sun eclipses; the dark side wins. Charles grieves for his friend, but more importantly he grieves for himself and can’t help but resent Erik for what he has done. He knows he will spend the rest of his life confined to a wheelchair. He tries not to hold his condition against Erik, but he knows deep within him that he will never be able to rise above it. The actors were talented and certainly could have dealt with such a complex scene–its a shame that the writers couldn’t.
2. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique
I’ve heard such promising things about Jennifer Lawrence. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of it during First Class.
Mystique’s development was such a missed opportunity in the movie. Yes, we get that she is young and vulnerable. We get that she wasn’t always the vicious, savvy villainness we typically see. And I don’t argue with her initial portrayal as your standard insecure teenager–I just wish that somehow throughout the movie, she moved beyond that. For being what turns out to be one of the most powerful female characters in comicbookdom, Mystique was sadly one-dimensional. She essentially played a stock character: insecure teenage girl with body image issues who has difficulty accepting herself for who she was. For Chrissakes, that’s the plot of She’s All That.
Her mutant power is a physical manifestation of a woman’s body image issues. Rather than using it to objectify herself in pathetic attempt to win attention by playing up male fantasies, we should have seen her using her power arbitrarily, recklessly, for the mere reason that she could. It would have established Mystique as a loose cannon and shown that she was more dangerous than the men had estimated her to be. Yes, appealing to male fantasies by shifting into female forms would have been a nice way to have her start the movie, but it would have been interesting if Mystique recognized her potential wasn’t limited to her feminine form. If she had shifted into the shape of a man, it would have been symbolic of her liberation and allowed her to evolve into Mystique, as I know her: an uncontrollable, unpredictable force to be reckoned with. She’s completely unrecognizable as Charles’s docile lapdog, cowering in the corner when any fighting occurs. And by the way, if Emma Frost remained the ditzy companion of Sebastian Shaw, this version of Mystique would have been a great foil to contrast the docile housewife to the independent, self-realized woman.
3. The Rag-tag Gang of Mutants
Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but I was under the impression that the reason comic book movies are made and funded is because they promise epic action scenes. X-Men boils down to the promise that the audience will see a handful of impressively powered mutants fight an all out battle with another group of somewhat less sympathetic mutants with equally impressive but slightly different mutant powers.
Somehow in First Class we ended up with Banshee. Banshee? Really? We also managed to snag butterfly girl and toanrdo man, too. The only person who could have been lamer than these sorry mutants would be Jubilee (sparkles!). I get that the first trilogy exhausted many of the more interesting and better known characters, but were these mutants really the best in show? There must have been lesser known mutants with cooler powers. Hell, they could have made up mutants with cooler powers.
In addition to having really, really lame powers, none of the auxiliary mutants were developed. At all. If the excuse for having less cool mutants was to introduce new characters to the franchise, then I don’t know, actually create real characters that are interesting and have some depth to them. We get it. Angel has daddy issues. (I’m still not sure why she defected. Was it because she saw some sort of acceptance from Shaw that she couldn’t get from the X-Men? Was that ever made clear?) Havok can’t control his powers. (But why? Could he maybe be trying to prove something/steal attention from his saint of a older/younger brother Cyclops?) Banshee… pretty much has no personality. Darwin is black. (Seriously–that was the extent of his character development. When did basing entire character profiles off race become okay?) I wasn’t compelled by any of these characters.
Instead of having the the ragtag team of no-name mutants, they should have just started off with the classic lineup. I get that we’ve seen Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel (Warren Worthington III) in the later films. It doesn’t matter. Cast them as their younger selves. We’re already tossing chronological consistency out the window by having Havok (who must have fallen into some sort of wormhole in order to be a teenager in the 60s if he’s Cyclops younger brother) and Emma Frost (who must have added backwards aging in addition to diamond form and telepathy to her powers since she’s about 12 in Wolverine) in the movie.
The classic lineup is good. And who cares that we’ve seen them before; we could have gotten a different spin on the characters. I would have loved to see a younger version of Jean Grey that foreshadows her development as Dark Phoenix. Wouldn’t it have been great if she were this rebellious, Beatles-crazed teenage terrified and fascinated by her power and throwing herself at poor Cyclops much to Charles’s dismay and Erik’s interest? She could have been what Rogue should have been in the first movie. I know we’ve seen this group of mutants before, but let’s be honest, their substitutes in this movie weren’t good enough to justify eliminating the classics. Jean could have been a rival for Charles’s affections with Mystique. Clearly, Jean Grey would ultimately win–which would provide more impetus for Mystique to leave and go rogue. All in all, the movie wasn’t terrible…but there were many things that could have made it great. For seeing all of its lost potential, it seems somehow a little more disappointing than if it had no promise at all to begin with.
MacGuffin here: as far as I’m concerned, this was the only good moment in the whole film. Click to see the animation, because apparently WordPress doesn’t like Gifs.
I have never watched The Jersey Shore. I have no desire to watch The Jersey Shore. I could care less about The Jersey Shore. I do, however, have a profound desire to Oscar Wilde-ify everything I come across in life, which may explain why my vocabulary inexplicably expands the moment I get even the slightest bit inebriated. You remember the penguin joke incident of 2006, I’m sure. Hence my utter delight at finding these videos from Playbill: transcripts from The Jersey Shore preformed in the style of Oscar Wilde, by the cast of the current Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
The lads of Broadway’s The Importance of Being Earnest — namely Santino Fontana and David Furr — have created a video series exclusively for Playbill, asking the question: What if Oscar Wilde’s famed comedy-of-manners characters talked trash instead of epigrams?
Fontana (as Algernon Moncrieff) and Furr (as John Worthing) swiped real lines from the reality series “Jersey Shore” — MTV’s thick slice of Italian-American stereotype mixed with twentysomething testosterone, booze and pasta — and dressed up in their Victorian best to deliver the lines.
“Jersey Shore Gone Wilde,” a five-part video series, launched April 18 on Playbill.com. It was shot in the lobby of the American Airlines Theatre, where the acclaimed and extended Brian Bedford-directed revival of the classic plays. A new chapter launches daily through April 22.
From the Playbill write-up, here.
Update: Ahahaha, I found a working link for the fifth part!
MacGuffin, who is nearly sick with laughter. Never has the phrase ROFLMAO been used so literally.
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I tend to think of Matt LeBlanc like this:
But in Showtime’s new series Episodes he’s more like this:
And you know what? Hes really good. I honestly didn’t expect ‘Joey’ to age well, and my opinion of him couldn’t have gotten any lower, even before the spin-off-fiasco-that-shall-remain-nameless. I didn’t even like him on Friends. I could never really figure out what he was doing there, and I always got a weirdly classist vibe from the way the character was written. And I just didn’t like him.
Episodes is a good vehicle for him though. He basically plays himself- the character’s name is Matt LeBlanc and they made about as many “how you doin’” jokes as they could fit. The premise involves two English TV writers whose extremely popular English sitcom is picked up for a remake in the states, where of course everything goes hilariously wrong. Most notably being strong armed into casting Matt LeBlanc as the erudite headmaster of an elite boarding school, who of course magically translates into a hockey coach in the American version. Sounds like one of those self indulgent navel gazing TV about TV shows. But it works. Its a little bit meta, a little bit unusual, and it turns out Matt LeBlanc can act. The rest of the cast is excellent, but he’s the spark that keeps you coming back every week (altho there were only 6 episodes this ‘season’, WTF Showtime?). None of the characters are wasted, and they’ve done a good job crafting personalities and histories for each role and keeping you invested without getting lost in a spaghetti bowl of tangled plots, which is the major flaw of my other favorite Showtime series, Californication. It also scores several million points with me because it does not have a laugh track.
Showtime has the whole first episode up here. The rest of the cast is Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, John Pankow, and Kathleen Rose Perkins.
Also can we just pause for a moment to reflect of the crazy unfairness of people who age this well? I have a long list of perpetrators, starting with Helen Mirren, moving on down to Robert Redford, George Clooney, Emma Thompson, Alec Baldwin, and ending with Betty White. Matt LeBlanc just made the list as well. Look at him.