Thursday, February 17, 2011

True Beliebers: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D

On the set of Lethal Weapon 5: The New Batch

Justin Bieber has become such a common, easy target for ridicule that I don't really have any desire to attack him. He's constantly the butt of jokes of varying degrees of mean-spiritedness about his age (he's an infant), voice (he had a sex change), his rabid fans (they're... well, rabid fans), and so on. It's not that they can't be funny, it's just that it's something that doesn't take a lot of effort or originality. For my part, I'll say that he seems benign enough and that he's put out a few very solid, enjoyable pop songs.

So it's with a little snark- though, and this is important, not merely snark- that I say that the first analogue to Bieber documentary Never Say Never that came to mind was, yes, Triumph of the Will. To be clear, Bieber is no Hitler, and director Jon Chu is no Leni Riefenstahl (for one, Riefenstahl didn't make Step Up 2 The Streets), but damn me if the feeling isn't the same. This is not simply a nearly two hour commercial for Bieber and his brand- this is exuberant spectacle in the service of out and out propaganda. It's fun (and easy) enough to compare the legions at Nuremberg heiling their Führer with crane shots of a sold out Madison Square Garden flying over thousands of pairs of hands making the same heart gesture that's one of Bieber's trademarks. Less obvious- and more troubling- is to realize how alike are shots of Hitler greeting admirers and kissing babies to the similarly well edited, obviously staged shots of Bieber as "just an ordinary kid," walking the streets of his hometown Stratford, Ontario eating pizza and offering banal platitudes like "Don't give up on your dreams" to the shell shocked fans he comes across (and, in one of the queasiest moments in a film full of queasy moments, dropping some pocket change into the violin case of a girl playing on the same street corner where he once performed). Both films, essentially, are well-staged, well executed documents of rallies, and both camouflage an insidious agenda with layers upon layers of feel-good spectacle.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I, Schlub: Louis CK's Hilarious & Todd Glass' Thin Pig

The nearly hour and a half of all-new material in Louis CK's Hilarious feels divided into three distinct parts. The first is made up of finely honed, self-effacing bits about CK's single life after his recent divorce mixed together- for no discernible reason- with some of his blandest, laziest work in his career. The second, more socially motivated segment features the track "Cell Phones and Flying" that many will recognize as the material CK recited on Late Night with Conan O'Brien that eventually went viral as "Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy." The third segment could possibly be the best thirty or so minutes of CK's career, and some of the best comedy I've heard in years. It's not a surprise that this material revolves around the raising of his two children- Louie's terrifically, vulgarly honest take on child raising has consistently been the most memorable part of his last few specials, and here it's breathtaking just how powerful CK is when he's spitting bile at stupid, careless parents (including, of course, himself) and how deftly he talks about his children with equal parts tenderness and utter resignation.

The Great Gatsby, for NES

Oh, hi. Are you reading this? You shouldn't be (at least not right now). Instead, you should be playing The Great Gatsby, for NES, brought to you by my buddies Charlie Hoey and Peter Smith.

I have your best interests at heart.