Friday, March 31, 2006

Random Reviews

by Chris
Mysterious Skin

I am a big fan of Gregg Araki's movies, but I simply could not roll with this one. The story, acting, and direction were all top notch, better than any of his films to date. The problem was that the subject matter was just too goddamned awful to bear. I expect comedy in an Araki movie, and there was none of that in Mysterious Skin. All you get for the 99 minute running time is near-constant child molesting. There are maybe 10 minutes of the movie where a child is not getting molested, and that ain't a good ratio.

Random Rating: 4 N.A.M.B.L.A.s out of 10


Normally I avoid reality TV. I try really really hard, but occaisionally a show comes along that looks genuinely interesting and even enlightening. Black.White. is one such show. The makeup is pretty good, but the really interesting angle is seeing how these people change (or don't) when they don the makeup.

The teens don't make much of it, they behave as they normally would and resist "acting" black or white (Rose even has emotional difficulties pretending during a poetry class and eventually "comes out" to the all-black class because she can't stand it any more). Brian and Rene Sparks are the black parents, and they really bring the perspective to the show. You can tell they really understand what this series can teach us. Brian seems like a smart guy, funny, and he's a fantastic sport about the whole thing. The segments where he works, in makeup, as a bartender in an all-white neighborhood are fantastic. You don't see much of Rene in makeup, I assume because it isn't very convincing, but she provides a lot of insight with her talking-head pieces and is always very good at explaining to us why the Wurgel parents are so ridiculously ignorant.

Which brings us to the real reason to watch this show; Bruno and Carmen Wurgel. Oh my, the pathos! They are the kind of suburban, clueless people who insist that they aren't racist, but exude racism from every orifice. Rather than try to explain, I'll just bullet some tidbits:
  • Carmen, when selecting a tasteful Sunday outfit for church, choses elaborate African dashikis. With headdresses. At church, Carmen and Bruno hoot and holler while doing the raise-the-roof dance during choruses.
  • Bruno Wurgel insists that racism doesn’t exist in today’s society. His explanation: black people have bad attitudes and only see racism because they seek it out.
  • While Rose's poetry class was visiting their home, Carmen became so moved by their words that she felt she had to say something about each of the members. She proceeded to insult each and every one. She calls someone a "beautiful, black creature," and to another she says, "I don't know if you're gay, or straight, or what!?"
  • Bruno will take any opportunity, and will create opportunities at times, to use the n-word around Brian. He really seems to think it's cool, and Brian always lets him know that it is clearly not.
The real meat of this show is watching the mind-boggingly ignorant actions of Bruno and Carmen. The Sparks' reactions are priceless, as they are not afraid to confront the Wurgels when they do something stupid (every 10 minutes or so). When Brian and Rene get to go over the day's events, we share in their incredulity. This is why I think this show is important, because it shows us that we still have a long journey towards equality, if it is possible at all. For the time being, we should recognize each other's differences and try to celebrate them.

Random Rating: 7 dashikis out of 10.

The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks

I've always liked the Kinks but I have had a hard time finding this album in stores (I know amazon is good, but I just like going to record stores). Something Else by the Kinks and Muswell Hillbillies are two of my favorite albums. Everyone I know says that Village Green is their best, and now that I've finally found it and spun it a few time, I agree wholeheartedly.

This is one of the best rock albums. Period. In fact, the Kinks will now be replacing the Beatles on my top-5 musician list's generic classic band slot. I think there are levels of music fanaticism for that particular slot. First is the Doors, then you move up to Pink Floyd, next is the Who or Zepplin (one or the other, never both), then Beatles, then Kinks, then Velvet Underground. At that point the music snob sheds his flesh and becomes a being of pure sound.

Random Rating: 10 phenomenal cats out of 10

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

So I finally got my Xbox 360, microsoft found a new manufacturer so you will start to see more and more units popping up in stores. I have been pretty unimpressed with the games I've played so far, except for Burnout Revenge which doesn't really count since it was designed for the previous generation of consoles. But the killer app has been released, it is fucking rad, and it is called Oblivion.

It is a worthy succesor to Morrowind, actually, a huge step above it. The world is bright and green, not murky and brown like the previous game. The dungeons are improved as well, just the right mixture of dark and creepy, and easy to navigate while still providing plenty of danger and surprises. The textures are crisp and detailed, the only thing keeping the game from being photo-realistic is the weird way the light bounces off of the character's faces. I've yet to see a game that uses dynamic lighting get this right.

The combat and leveling systems are pretty much identical to Morrowind. The more you do something, the better you get at it. You gain blade skill by hitting things with your sword, you gain magic skills by casting spells, and more (you can even gain acrobatics skill by jumping.) The character creation system is fantastic, all of the facial features have sliding scales so you can make your face look however you want. The races are the same as Morrowind, with all the normal human and elf subraces, orcs, cat people, and lizard dudes. There are many character classes that cater to different playstyles for you to choose from, or you can just select your favorite abilities and create your own class.

The story is sweeping, the standard "you are the hero destined to either save or destroy the world" schtick, but there are plenty of twists and surprises along the way. Whether you want to actually do the main story is up to you. The world is 16 square miles, with many cities to get quests from, factions to join, and additional storylines to uncover. Also, you can break into people's homes, kill them, remove their clothes, and use the rag-doll physics to drag their bodies into funny positions on the stairs. Additionally, when you shoot arrows at enemies they stick to the bodies, so you will often find arrows poking out of monsters' butts. Need I say more?

Random Rating: 10 butt arrows out of 10.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Korean Clock

by Nick
Probably not safe for work.

(Requires mp3 software.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

News Coverage of Recent Protests

by Brian
In Dallas, as in many other US cities, there have been protests this week reacting to new measures being debated by Congress to curb illegal immigration. Basically, the House of Representatives passed a bill back in December that would make being an illegal immigrant a felony, and erect a wall along 700 miles of the US-Mexico border. The Senate is now debating two different proposals, one of which (the so-called McCain-Kennedy bill) provides for a "guest worker" program, and another put forth by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that focuses more law enforcement efforts to stop immigration, and does not provide any way for current undocumented residents to stay.

Anyway, the Dallas protests seem to have mostly taken the form of student walkouts. This morning, while getting ready for work, I saw a local news broadcast (FOX 4) covering the protests, and was appalled at the slant of the coverage.

One of the primary angles of the news report was that most students had no idea what the issues were, and were simply using the protests as a way to skip school. By way of evidence for this, there was video of a two kids providing only vague explanations of what they were protesting, and video of kids swimming in the reflecting pool in front of City Hall. The clear message: nothing to worry about folks, just kids acting up.

It should be noted that if the kids aren't up on the issues, it may be because they watch FOX 4. At no point during the broadcast were any of the "issues" explained in any detail. The one reference to the dueling Senate proposals was that the "tougher" one focused more on "security issues." The clear message: who could possibly be against national security?

The only student who was protrayed as knowing the issues was shown saying that it was time to end the protests. The clear message: See, the responsible kids aren't on board with these protests.

Then we got a special segement of "Tell It to Tim", in which recorded viewer responses are put on the air. Four viewer comments were played; all four were stridently opposed to the protests. Afterwards, the anchor (Tim) said, only a very, very small percentage of calls supported the protests. The clear message: you must be crazy if you support the students.

All in all, every effort was made to marginalize both the protestors and the issues at hand. I know it was a Fox broadcast, but it is a local affiliate and thus doesn't have much to do with national Fox news. And immigration is a local issue here in Dallas, so a local affiliate doesn't get off the hook for failing to cover it adequately like they do with most national news.

Regardless of where one stands on the immigration issue, I think stuff like this really does a disservice to our democracy. It is impossible to make an informed choice if our media doesn't provide necessary information and instead lapses into demagoguery and demonization.

It's Strictly Business

by Jackrabbit Slim

I don't play video games. I don't own a PS2 or an Xbox. I do have a Super Nintendo in the back of my closet. But if I were to go out and get a video game system, the Godfather game is what would tempt me. The whole notion of this tickles me tremendously, and that they got some of the original cast, including Brando! is delicious. Are any of you gamers interested in this game? If you end up getting it, let me know how it plays.

Columbia Pictures: Why Do They Hate Us So?

by Brian

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


by Colin

Ok, this horror film totally slipped under my radar, and maybe it slipped under your as well.

According to imdb, the plot is:

A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters. It's written and directed by James Gunn, who also did the screenplay for the remake of Dawn of the Dead (which I liked quite a bit), and the classic Tromeo and Juliet.

The lead is Nathan Fillion, or Firefly fame, and the reviews (which seem pretty positive so far) seem to indicate that he's playing a similar wisecracking character. Elizabeth Banks, who seems just on the brink of becoming a star after a diverse set of performances last year, is the female lead. And Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer's Michael Rooker is listed 3rd on imdb.

The trailer makes it look like great, cheezy fun with awesomely bad special effects. From all indications, this looks like it should be a great time at the movies on a Friday or Saturday night with the right type of crowd. Am I somehow the only one who wan't aware of this movie until yesterday?

Hustle and Flow

by Jackrabbit Slim

Who has seen Hustle and Flow? I Netflixed it last night. As a middle-aged white guy from the suburbs, I know diddly about hip-hop, and don't listen to it. Just by the sheer force of its absorption into mainstream culture, though, I have heard it and am familiar with some of the traits, but I don't seek it out. Therefore, I had no interest in seeing this film when it was in theaters. But because of the Oscars I decided to take a look, and was very pleasantly surprised.

This film has a very standard structure, and is the descendant of films from Hollywood's golden age about star-struck youngsters who want to make it big. Granted, DJay is older and is a pimp, but other than that, most of this story has been seen before in many different forms. What made it work for me was Howard's performance, and the wit of the screenplay, by Craig Brewer. There's a scene where Howard and his producer, Anthony Anderson, are having a bitter argument and they are interrupted by Shug, one of DJay's ho's, who is quite pregnant. She's bought them a lava lamp, and merrily hooks it up in their makeshift studio. The argument is quickly forgotten as the absurdity of the situation makes itself known. I also thought Ludacris' performance as the star rapper that DJay wants to give his tape to was inspired. Based on this and his work in Crash, Ludacris is one of the better rappers turned actors (Mos Def is probably the best).

And damn if "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" isn't catchy.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ask the Dust

by Jackrabbit Slim

Robert Towne, in his adaptation of John Fante's Ask the Dust, seems to be more interested in taking us to a place than telling us a story. This film doesn't flow from point to point, it herks and jerks and turns on dimes, bewildering and boring this viewer. Instead, I was left with the real taste of what it would have been like to live in Los Angeles in the 30s. A downtown boarding house, a beach house in Laguna, a shack in the desert, all of these are vividly rendered, but the tale, about a young writer who comes to L.A. to seek his fortune, I found frustrating.

And it's not Colin Farrell's fault! I actually found him to engaging and interesting, and marveled how he eliminated all aspects of his Irish brogue. Less successful is Salma Hayek, as the Mexican waitress he becomes involved with. I think Hayek is not entirely to blame, as the script requires to change moods and attitudes constantly. The two characters bicker and insult each other, and though I know there are relationships built on mutual contempt, this one I couldn't buy. There are generous shots of Hayek frolicking stark naked in the surf, which is a good thing.

There is also a strange sequence involving another woman in Farrell's life, played annoyingly by Idina Menzel.

I have not read the source material, so it could be that the book was as shapeless as the script.

Observations on the film career of Albert Brooks

by Professor Wagstaff
( warning: spoilers will follow)

I watched the remake of the ‘In-Laws’ the other night and while watching Albert Brooks play his part it got me thinking of his directorial efforts from 1985 to 2000 and the trajectory and development (or lack of) of his films.

Looking back over his 1985-2000 directorial efforts, there seems to be a slow and steady decline in his work. I’ve always loved ‘Lost in America’, one of the best comedies of its time. It has at least 4 great scenes (Brooks gets fired, Brooks trying to convince the casino owner to give them their money back, Brooks talking about not using ‘nest egg’, Brooks at the unemployment office). While the ending of Brooks going back to his old job somewhat anti-climatic, it’s probably an appropriate ending in the context of Brooks’ character – going straight back into the rat race. Probably one of the strengths of the film was that Brooks’ whiny, yuppie character felt quite cutting edge when first explored in 1985.

I remember really enjoying ‘Defending Your Life’ when I watched it on video around a decade ago. I watched it on DVD a few months back and to be honest, it was less impressive and funny then I recalled. It had the usual pleasures one expects from a Brooks film and had a nice performance from Meryl Streep but in the end, it wasn’t as memorable as it could’ve been.

I think the problem with it was demonstrated by a scene where we’re shown how nervous Brooks’ character is before he has to do public speaking. The scene falls down because, instead of Brooks acting out his character’s fear and nervousness, we see him tell another character how nervous he is. It just doesn’t convince and therefore the comic potential of the scene is lost.

‘Mother’ is probably about the same standard as ‘DYL’ – reasonably amusing but lacking the inspiration and great scenes that defined ‘LIA’. It benefits from a good revelation at the end about Brook’s mother (well-played by Debbie Reynolds) which brings the film to a satisfying conclusion.

‘The Muse’ (which I saw at the cinema) was a disappointment as Brooks seemed to be just going through the motions and the dilemma of his character wasn’t particularly interesting. After all, Brooks inspiration from ‘the muse’ (well played by Sharon Stone) inspires him to write what sounds like a ho-hum Jim Carrey comedy. Perhaps Brooks was putting in some subtle criticism of the lowly aspirations of Hollywood types but it didn’t make the film any more enjoyable. The ending like ‘Mother was well done, with the revelation as to who the ‘muse’ actually was (a complete fraud) being a nice comment on Hollywood and giving the film extra context and meaning. But overall, this was a limp, even dreary effort where Brooks seemed to have little new to observe or say.

And then we come to the ‘In-Laws’ – while Brooks didn’t write or direct it it’s one of his rare acting performances so it is notable. I think Jeffrey Wells was pretty spot on with his review on this film – it’s no classic but is pretty enjoyable throwaway thanks to a jaunty attitude, the occasional inspired comic bit and a entertaining performance from Douglas.

But one of the things that stood out to me was Brooks performance doing his familiar whiny comic persona – it was fairly amusing but there was a tiredness about it that suggested, not only that we’ve been here before, but that Brooks perhaps should’ve moved on from this.

And that’s perhaps why Brooks’ directorial efforts have fallen away from 1985 to 2000 – he hasn’t really evolved or taken risks with new territory – instead relying on the ‘same old, same old’ and as a result his persona and films have felt increasingly tired. I haven’t seen his latest film ‘Looking for Humour in the Muslim World’ (hasn’t been released in Australia as yet, if ever), but I hope Brooks has in it him to direct one more film that reaches the heights of ‘LIA’.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Inside Man

by jaydro
Inside Man is a surprising film, most notably for it being a plot-driven tight little caper thriller from, ta-dah, Spike Lee. Coming on the heels of Woody Allen's Match Point, this seems like an interesting time for New York-centric independent auteurs. Lee hasn't sold out, but maybe he is taking a page from some others in creating a stylish hit that will then fund his more personal films.

Anyway, I had a good time (mostly), with the only minus being that I figured out a good chunk of what was going on just a little bit too early in the film for it to be completely satisfying. Oh, and I think I am getting a little tired of the good twenty-five year run that a certain stock all-purpose movie villain category has had, but it didn't really detract much here.

I'm not sure if I liked or disliked the music: many scenes in the bank were laden with melodramatic John Barry-type Bond-esque cues that had me half expecting Blofeld to unveil his latest destroyer of worlds contraption, but they held back just a bit from being too over the top. And I also thought I heard a quote from a Jerry Goldsmith score that I was surprised to see got an actual credit (so perhaps I missed John Barry's credit?).

This is the first digitally-projected film I have seen since The Phantom Menace in New Jersey in 1999. That presentation used an earlier version of the Texas Instruments DLP system used for Inside Man, and at the time it took my breath away. It was even more interesting to make a direct comparison by walking across the hall after the movie and looking at the same movie film-projected in an identical auditorium--the months-old print looked pretty muddy in comparison. Later I was astonished to find some pointed criticism of the system from sources such as The Perfect Vision and others, but I don't get it. Sure, if you have a brand new print running through a perfectly maintained projector with the proper brightness, you might see something that looks better than digital projection. But my two experiences with digital have been about as perfect as I can imagine a theater experience: razor-sharp focus, no framing problems, bright projection, and about as pristine an image as one could ever expect to see. The one other key quality where digital absolutely stomps all over film projection for me is the complete lack of image jitter. I have yet to notice a film presentation outside of IMAX where I could detect no slight movement in the image, and digital delivers rock-solid jitterlessness. In that area the digital trailers with all their titles are sometimes more impressive than the movie itself.

So kudos to Carmike for plunging ahead with digital projection. After being the dominant chain here through the '90's, they fell behind when the stadium-seating craze hit just after they had completed building several new non-stadium cinemas. They debuted digital projection locally last week at the Park Place 16 with She's the Man--that was a big disappointment when I was hoping for V for Vendetta. This week it expanded to three screens at that theater and more will follow. With their THX-certified screens and digital projection, Park Place is my new favorite theater.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What Going to the Movies is All About

by jaydro
It's really great when you can go to movie on opening weekend at a theater that just installed their digital projection equipment in a THX-certified auditiorium (though the assistant manager hasn't a clue what THX is, unfortunately, nor does the theater bother to advertise it anymore or even run the THX trailer), only to have it almost ruined by you pondering during the last third of the movie what exactly you're going to say to the stupid middle-aged middle-upper-class white fat cow in the row behind you who didn't silence her cellphone, didn't think you'd mind her talking on it, then didn't think you'd mind hearing her and her golf-playing balding hubby discussing whatever was so fucking important that they had to talk about it and yet still wanted to sit there and watch the goddamn movie. I know the black guys sitting behind me were pissed, but what were they going to do? I'm thinking, what can I say that will make her never want to go to a movie again, because there's no point in pointing out her rudeness or the error of her ways, since she obviously has enough sense to figure that out so she must think that she's above all that shit. But then they leave when the credits start and before the lights come up, and you never get a chance. Damn.

But anyway, Inside Man was pretty good. Review to come.

What I Care About

by Brian

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Boys of Baraka

by Brian
Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, The Boys of Baraka focuses on three "at risk" seventh grade young men from Baltimore who are accepted as students to a remote boarding school in Kenya. The Baraka School, we are told, annually accepts about 20 boys from inner city neighborhoods and attempts to prepare them for high school. It is plainly apparent that this is an opportunity they would never otherwise have, and the boys' parents are only too happy to give them a chance when the alternatives, put bluntly by a school recruiter, are most likely jail or an early death.

The film introduces one fact at the very beginning that I kept turning over and over in my head, that 76% of African-American males fail to graduate high school. Think about what a complete disaster our public schools must be for that to be true. The only possible explanations for it is that we as a society, consciously or otherwise, must be accepting that those kids can't really do any better. If that belief of inferiority is not the very definition of racism, I don't know what is.

And it's this belief that the film confronts head-on. It may sound like a predictable outline for a film; freed from their oppressive home life, the boys flourish. Meanwhile, of course, because we're dealing with kids, and Kids Say The Darnedest Things, everyone has a good laugh (as in last year's simple-minded Mad Hot Ballroom, which is similarly themed but is put to shame by this film's complexity).

But not so fast. The insight we get from these kids is nothing short of stunning. Most of them are somehow seriously deficient in reading; a counselor wonders how one boy could have gotten as far as seventh grade "without anyone noticing that he's not learning anything." Another boy, after a tantrum, talks about how he struggles with whether he should be listening to the side of him that tells him to be good and the side of him that tells him to be bad. The videos they send home are heartbreaking, because they show us just how hard the boys are struggling to accept real, genuine hope into their lives after their rough upbringing.

And the upshot is that the image of inner-city youth that we're so often shown, that of the gang-banging, drug-dealing thugs, is directly challenged. The film shows us before our very eyes how good kids, with parents (and/or other guardians) that desperately want the best for them, give up hope and are completely written off by our society.

This film was released in 2005, and it's yet another case of a magnificent documentary that is slighted by the Academy. If The Boys of Baraka doesn't challenge the conventions of the documentary form like last year's other major slight, Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man, it shares with it a story that is as gripping and urgent as any fictional tale.

Click "Link" to read the full review...

World's Oldest Tortoise Dies At 250 Years of Age

by Nick
Rest in peace, Addwaita.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page

by Jackrabbit Slim

What's the level of interest for The Notorious Bettie Page? As someone who used to work in skin magazines, Bettie Page is close to goddess status and her story is pretty interesting. Director Mary Harron's track record doesn't thrill me. I hated American Psycho, thought I Shot Andy Warhol was so-so. But I'll probably see this. Also nice to see Gretchen Mol come back after being anointed a superstar, then slipping into complete obscurity.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lonesome Jim

by Colin
Last night, I was luck enough to attend the New York premiere of Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim. It played at the Chelsea Clearview West, which is a really nice, older theater, which actually has stadium seating for it's best screen, which is where the premiere played. When I arrived, I was really shocked at how lax the security was. I just went up, said I won a contest through the New York Observer, and they let me in even though I wasn't on a list. There wasn't even anyone checking for recorders or worse.

As my wife and I entered the theater, we saw a row reserved for Liv Tyler, followed by a row for Buscemi, followed by one for Seymour Cassel. So, we sat on the aisle sets behind the Cassel row. Soon thereafter, we see a guy walk in with an older woman. And the guy looks just like Buscemi. It's actually Buscemi's brother walking their mom in, but damn, the resemblance is striking. Buscemi's mom says, "Aww...they were taking photos of Steven," and I know it's time to hit the concession stand.

As I walk out, I see the press taking photos of Buscemi and Tyler. She looks better than I've ever seen her in a film, and, with her four inch heels, she towers over him in a black dress. I walk to the back of the concession line, and Buscemi starts to make his way over to the line. He walks up to everone in line and starts shaking their hands. He seems like a really cool guy, and he's been one of my favorite actors since 1992, when I saw Reservoir Dogs and In the Soup. The latter film also starred Seymour Cassel, and they seem to like to work together as Cassel has been in all of the feature films Buscemi has directed.

The first of those was Those was Trees Lounge, a nicely observed piece of smalltown melancholy, and Lonsemome Jim is very much in the same vein (today's Village Voice review even dubs it Plains Lounge). It stars Casey Affleck as a 27 year-old New York dog walker cum Applebee's waiter cum failed writer who moves home to Indiana to live with his ladder company owning parents because, well, he's got no place else to go.

I make my way back to the theater, and Cassel soon sits directly in front of us. He was great as the dad in Rushmore, and I wonder if he will give a similar performance as Affleck's dad in this one. Anyway, what I notice now is that he's tearing into his popcorn and seems really famished. Liv Tyler soon comes in and sits a few rows directly in front of us. She comes off as she has in her interviews: very nice and soft spoken, making sure that everyone around her is comfortable.

The President of IFC comes up and says how great it was to work with Steve, and Steve comes up and comes off as very modest. He notes how it was an honor to direct the great script from Jim C. Strouse, who is now directing his own movie, Grace is Gone. Buscemi notes that the film is based somewhat on Strouse's life, but it is also fictional, most notably in the fact that Strouse is now a success. He points out that Strouse's parents are in the audience, and has them stand up to applause.

Then, the film itself starts. It's shot mostly with a handheld digital camera and looks appropriately grainy. Buscemi's dircetion never overwhelms the material, but he employs some nice camera angles and shows an affinity for really tight shots that place us (sometimes uncomfortably) close to the action. Not that there is much action. Instead, this is a nicely understated comedy/drama of ennui with laughs that seem genuinely unforced. Some will undoubtedly compare this to Zach Braff's Garden State, but this one is a lot less self-consciously wacky.

As Affleck's overbearing and somewhat cluesless mom, Mary Kay Place (Being John Malkovich) nearly steals the show. If you liked Anne Meara's turn in The Daytrippers, you'll probably eat this performance up, and her interplay with the droll Cassel as the father hits the right notes. Meanwhile Mark Boone Junior (Memento) is great as Affleck's sleazy uncle as he takes his character in several directions you wouldn't expect.

There's also some really nice interplay between Affleck and his even more depressed brother, played by Kevin Corrigan (Walking and Talking). And Tyler, as Affleck's sort of love interest, is charming as always, although it would have been nice if her character were a little more fully developed. Affleck himself is very understated as Jim, and not very likeable. For me, this made sense in terms of the character, but I could see others being put off by it.

The mostly instrumental soundtrack, including a lot of harmonica, seems to be a nice match for the movie. And the actual Indiana locations and $500,000 budget make it feel authentic, rather than a bunch of kind of big actors roughing it.

Overall, this is probably my favorite movie of the year so far, but it's not a movie I recommend for everyone, especially if you're not into small town, slice of life movies. But if you are, I'd say to give it a shot, especially when it turns up on IFC.

The Stars Our Destination

by Nick
Above all, let us pray that they do this one right.

One of my favorite sci-fi stories ever, considered one of the best of all time, The Stars My Destination (aka Tiger! Tiger!) is once again being attempted to be brought to the big screen.

Quickest way to describe this amazing book is "Oldboy in space." Empire has a good synopsis.

It tells the story of Gully Foyle, the last survivor of the battle-wrecked ship The Nomad, drifting in deep space. When a passing spacecraft ignores his distress call, he swears a terrible revenge on the crew and society in general. But his plan of vengeance ends up uncovering a massive secret within his future world.

Bester’s book is widely considered to tackle the themes seen in cyberpunk fiction and other sci-fi stories years before the likes of William Gibson. This will be one tough book to adapt, considering that our “hero” is a raging, animalistic psycho who (spoiler)develops the ability to teleport through space.(spoiler end)

The bad news? It's been bought by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who last year brought us Doom, Derailed, Constantine and Four Brothers. So, jitters.

But the man may have developed some taste in property. He's also adapting Neil Gaiman's Stardust with Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) and Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan with Edward Zwick. And, eh.. Transformers: The Movie with the Bay. All right, so it looks bad.

One can dream that a guy like Fincher or Nolan takes this on, and not some idiot video director whose previous experience extends to Black Eyed Peas videos. But who to play Gully Foyle? For a long time there was really only one face. James Gandolfini. But now he might have finally gotten too old. A friend made a good case for Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson.

Anyone else read the book, or have any thoughts?

Damn Jewish Anti-Semites

by Nick
"Eyal Zusman and Amitai Sandy from Israel followed the unfolding of the 'Muhammad Cartoon-Gate' events in amusement. But when they read that an Iranian newspaper had announced a contest for the best anti-semitic cartoon, they felt insulted.

'We'll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!' said Sandy 'No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!'

"Today they announced the launch of the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest - this time drawn by Jews themselves."

The winner, judged by a panel consisting of amongst others Art Spiegelmann, should be announced shortly.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Flight 93 - Predictions?

by Alex Stroup
Yesterday, Jeff posted a short Wired piece that named The Inside Man and Flight 93 as the two sure things mentioned in some other article.

He has said similar things about Flight 93 in the past. I'm wondering what you all think, predict for this movie.

I've seen the trailer in theaters twice now and both time the reaction around me both times was the same. It really is an emotional trailer, but it left people around me muttering that they didn't think they could sit through the actual movie.

Personally, I've read enough of the blow-by-blows of the real event that I don't really have much interest in seeing a recreation of it. My wife won't see it because she expects she'd be crying from the opening credits to the closing credits.

All in all, I'm left wondering if even though five years have passed that it might still be too soon for such a movie to be a big commercial success.

A trailer for Little Miss Sunshine

by Nick
Just came out on the Apple website.

Trailer doesn't spoil much, a few jokes mostly. Looks very good. Can see why this was the big winner at Sundance. Can't really say if it will earn back all the money it cost (what was it, like $15 million?). Think it depends a lot on circumstance.

Release date is apparently July 28th, and from seeing what little there's available here, looks as if that if 40 Year Old Virgin didn't make Steve Carell a household name, then this just might.

Yay or nay, anyone?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Weinstein Co, You're on Notice

by Brian
All right, Weinsteins. You did a great deal of damage to your image in my eyes when you dumped a bunch of crap on the market right before you left Miramax. Proof was respectable, but An Unfinished Life, The Brothers Grimm, and, especially, Secuestro Express pretty much sucked. And that's not even to mention Underclassman and Venom, which I wisely skipped.

Since then, you've not helped yourselves by releasing a bunch of crap under your own names. Granted, I didn't see Derailed or Doogal or Wolf Creek or Hoodwinked, so they may be high art for all I know. You'll permit me to remain skeptical, however.

On the other hand, I did see The Matador, as well as Transamerica, The Libertine, and Mrs. Henderson Presents, and they were all crap. Oh sure, a few of them got decent reviews but I saw right through them. You can't hide from me.

Which brings us to what may be the final straw: Lucky Number Slevin. No, of course I haven't seen it yet, since it's not out for two more weeks. And no, I'm not complaining about the dumb-ass faux-clever use of "Slevin" in the title, although I do find plays on words in titles annoying. And even though I think you guys are really pushing it with the upside-down "7" in the title on the poster, I won't make a big deal out of it.

No, no, the big problem is something I noticed when I came across the film's website. That's right, I'm calling you out on the "#" in the title - "Lucky # Slevin".

I think I speak for the entire sane world when I say that this, quite simply, cannot stand. It makes no sense, and even if it does make sense, it's just not right. Slevin is not a number! It cheapens your movie, like it tries too hard to look clever and cool and instead becomes tedious and gimmicky. As if the world needs another dumb Elmore Leonard/Tarantino ripoff.

So here's the deal. By the time the movie opens, the title on the film better be "Lucky Number Slevin". Or else you're cowards.

Redemption Song

by Brian
Old pirates yes they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I from the
Bottom less pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty
We forward in this generation triumphantly

Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever had, redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look
Some say it's just a part of it
We've got to fulfill the book

Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever had, redemption songs

All I ever had, redemption songs
Songs of freedom

-Bob Marley

The Other Gay Cowboy Movie: Super Collector's Edition DVD

by LesterG

Kudos to Fox for basing their entire marketing plan on something that seems like the premise for an ill-conceived Trailer Mash-Up.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Radiohead Do Dick

by Nick
Twitchfilm is reporting that Radiohead will be doing the soundtrack and score to Richard Linklaters upcoming A Scanner Darkly. There were rumours (denied) before. Seems definite now. Good news.

And The Bends is their best album.

Friday, March 17, 2006

V for Vendetta

by Brian
NOTE: I'm not really all that good at knowing what constitutes a spoiler, and I'm not prone to worry about it all that much. You might see the movie before reading this review if such things concern you.

So, first things first. I don't know if it's an omen or not regarding the movie's box office, but at the 10pm screening last night, there were maybe 15 people or so in attendance. I was shocked, really, at the sparse corwd, because I think the marketing campaign has been pretty strong. Perhaps it's simply a case of me projecting my own anticipation onto others.

With that out of the way, I'm afraid that I'm fairly disappointed with the film on the whole. There are ideas here that lead me to think that this could have been a great film, and there are moments here and there that almost deliver on that promise. But ultimately, it falls short of the mark.

The biggest problem is the character of V. I'm sure that sounds hard to believe, since his character is what appealed to me in the first place. But as played by Hugo Weaving, he's a bit of a clown. He starts on the completely wrong foot, delivering a silly alliterative monologue (all the words start with V, ha ha!) in his very first scene, and flipping eggs for Natalie Portman in the next. It's a terribly misguided introduction to the character. While things get better later in the movie, the first impression stuck with me, making it hard to really take this character seriously.

V's motivations were also problematic for me. The idea of a citizen uprising against their government is a provocative one in the times we're in, but I felt that the movie was frequently distracted from this theme. There are a lot of murky flashback scenes that kinda, sorta explain V's origins, which I found unnecessary. They make V's vendetta seem more personal and less social-minded, and at times it seems that it's not fascism and oppression that bothers V so much as the individual fascists and oppressors. It begs the question, would he have a problem had he not been so terribly mistreated? I think it's a bit of a philosophical copout to ask that question and not deal with it, but it's not hard to assume that the guys who thought "knife time" would be really cool didn't even realize they were asking it. There's a big difference between "freedom fighter" and "avenging angel"; the movie is never able to reconcile those roles for V, and doesn't really even try.

It also doesn't help matters that the government "party members" are so often cartoonish. John Hurt's High Chancellor is all sneering and ranting, even in the flashback scenes when he's still running for office. I just didn't find it convincing that he could have won the trust of the people, especially in the hard times during which he came to power. Roger Allam's broadcaster and John Standing's pedophile priest are also way over the top. Again, it's kind of a copout to give people like this such transparently evil traits, as if a top role in an oppressive fascist government is no big deal by itself.

All that said, there are some great moments. Natalie Portman's head-shaving torture scenes are completely frightening without being overly graphic and misogynist, and the letter she finds during these scenes comes as close as this movie ever does to making the fundamental case against fascism. V's scene with Sinead Cusack, who plays a doctor from the old days, is quite powerful, and shows that the "avenging angel" storyline could have worked fine on its own. And Stephen Rea's chief inspector has a compelling storyline all by himself, as a man who's just starting to wake up to the evil around him.

As a final note, I take it that it's widely assumed that the Wachowski Brothers were the ones that really made this movie, despite James McTeigue's name in the credits as director. I would doubt that very much. The action scenes here are very choppy, and at times downright amateurish. There's none of the slick elegance found in the Matrix movies.

Click "Link" to read the actual review....

"Enough is enough, I’ve had it with these snakes."

by LesterG

Those are the immortal words that signal the beginning of New Line Cinema's sure-to-be-massive marketing campaign for "Snakes on a Plane".

Not since the "Episode 1" teaser was released back in November 1998 has the world been so amped up for a movie trailer. That movie featured a wooden child actor, a jailbait Natalie Portman and Jar Jar Binks. This movie features Sam Jackson, hot flight attendants and snakes hiding in fat women's dresses.

Gentlemen, the wait is finally over. You will never be the same once you click here.

Inside Man

by Jackrabbit Slim

What is everyone's anticipation of Inside Man? The trailer intrigues me. I've only heard one person's opinion, and that was when Wells linked to Emmanuel Levy, who raves. And, of course, it's directed by Spike Lee, which also intrigues me.

Lee's career has been interesting, to say the least. I loved Do Right the Thing, and I also admired Malcolm X. Since then his record has been spotty, to say the least. Looking at his filmography, I've seen more of his work than I had realized: Jungle Fever, Girl 6, Clockers, and The 25th Hour. Each had something going for them, but were seriously flawed. I also admired his documentary, Four Little Girls. I missed Crooklyn, He Got Game, Get on the Bus, Bamboozled and She Hate Me, which was roundly panned.

Inside Man certainly has a good cast. I'm interested to see Clive Owen as a villain, and Jodie Foster playing against type. Denzel Washington seems to be playing a character he's played before, but we'll see.

The one false note in 'About Schmidt'

by Professor Wagstaff
One of the best films I’ve seen at the cinema in recent years is ‘About Schmidt’. Warren Schmidt’s monologue at the very end of the film is very moving and a superb culmination of what the film is about.

But ‘About Schmidt’ always had one flaw that bothered me – it’s not a particularly glaring one but it was an irritating one as it was so jarring compared with the rest of the film and was easily avoidable.

It’s the concept of Warren’s letters to his foster child Ndugu. I just couldn’t accept that a character like Warren would not be aware of the absurdity of writing such sophisticated, complex letters about such adult aspects of his life to a 6 year-old African child.

Not only that, but it’s the bizarre tone of the letters where he treats Ndgku as if he were writing to an American teenager about to head out to college ( Schmidt writes "I highly recommend that you pledge a fraternity when you go to college") almost seem like they belong in a low-brow comedy where the bizarre absurdity of the letters is supposedly funny (wouldn't he have worked out before the Nun wrote to him at the end that Ndgku couldn't speak English?). I guess that’s what Payne/Taylor were aiming for was to illustrate Schmidt’s self-absorption and condescenion ("You probably can't wait to run and cash this check and get yourself something to eat") but it isn’t convincing at all – he may be a bland, complacent character he’s not a village idiot.

It always been a jarring note on what was otherwise a first-class film - it would've worked better if Warren had written a diary. I really seen any critics point out this issue so maybe I've missing something. What do others think?

On The Trouble of Anthropomorphical Casting

by Nick
Or You Can Cross All Your T's But... (from a quick read of yesterday's Empire Online)

Casting Benicio del Toro as a werewolf is one of those things that just seem so inevitable that you wonder what the point is. You can already picture the performance in the back of your mind, maybe because it's like he's already done it before - The Pledge comes to mind. Having Andrew Kevin Walker script is also a really natural fit, and he'll know exactly how to get in the right amount of gothic horror feel. And they'll probably get the perfect semi-hip director to make it.

Basically it's about as safe a property as Cinderella Man. You know exactly how it's going to turn out and there's no excitement whatsoever. Next they'll cast Robin Williams as a man who gets the properties of a monkey, Tom Cruise as hyena-man and Dakota Fanning as a smurf.
The premise of a girl being "cursed with a pig-face", as Christina Ricci is in the film Penelope, inherently implies a painful predicament for the character, likely being the whole world thinks she's ugly. Problem with this though is that, uh... she looks pretty cute. Cute, close to beautiful, to be honest. Thereby ruining the entire premise, and creating something of a credibility problem.

I'll still see it though, if only cause she looks great.
For those fans of Harry Potter who haven't read Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy, all I can say is you're missing out. Fantastic set of books. Very much regret missing it's run on the West End stage in London (I'm poor, alas). Even the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury praised it to the heavens (if you'll excuse my wording).

With the casting of the main character of Lyra underway in the UK, the film looks like it might actually be happening. Fingers crossed they'll keep the adult tone without losing the atmosphere of the books. Or vice versa.

The most important casting ain't Lyra, though. What will be most indicative of where they're going with this will be the casting of the Iorek Byrnison, an armored polar-bear. Much as the casting of Liam Neeson as Aslan said about how the Narnia films would be, or Andy Serkis as Gollum and King Kong, the casting and treatment of this guy will show where they're going with this series of films. Here's hoping they make some brave choices.

The Death of bicycle bob

by Nick
This happened like a week ago, but it's still worth mentioning.

How many of us read The Hot Blog? As I've no doubt mentioned before, I really respect Poland, even though from time to time his role as holier-than-thou ombudsman of film journalism gets a bit rich, none the less, the man can dredge through a lot bullshit that would be impossible to comprehend otherwise.

I was happy when Poland decided to start blogging - even if it seemed to be in response to Wells' newly formed Hollywood Elsewhere - since maybe that'd give him some more freedom and leeway to his opinions, like in the good old days of Roughcut. The Hot Button sometimes got a bit long-winded for my tastes. After a while some commenters started to show up, and after some initial missteps it looked like this could actually become the hub of serious online discussion of movie politics that Wells failed to build up on our own former forum.

One of those commenters was bicycle bob. Now, there was something that I initially found quite endearing about bicycle bob. Not just the username (genius), but the fact that he made ignorance a point of pride. bob would throw out short little platitudes, always written without caps, and whenever these were confronted, he would counter with unfounded ad hominem attacks. bicycle bob was the ultimate caricature of the hillbilly Republican.

But even though bob was amusing, The Hot Blog was still supposed to be about the serious discussion, and there were guys there who had some interesting opinions - people like Stella's Boy (critic Paul Doro), Joe Leydon (sometime film professor), Lota and Poland himself. Sometimes guys like Drew McWeeny dropped by, usually to defend themselves. Problem was that bicycle bob kept dropping in, and most sane people found it impossible to let his outrageous statements go unquestioned. And what I initially took as caricature, was in fact honest-to-god opinion. An even bigger problem was that bob was gaining supporters.

Even before blustealer, Bruce and joefitz84 came into the picture, there were suspicions - or just outright belief - that Mark (Ziegler) was another of bicycle bobs aliases. Rare was the time they disagreed, especially with Poland, and frequent the similarity in opinion, and spelling mistakes. This came to be one the 'tells'; the shared spelling mistakes. But the shit really hit the fan when the user named Chester began a personal campaign to oust bob and his (supposed) aliases. It could also be, perhaps rightfully, claimed that Chester was out to ridicule Poland.

I won't go into the twists and turns of the Chester debacle, or whether or not he really was Jeff Wells, but it all culminated around mid-august. Shortly after that, Chester went away. Don't know whether it was his own volition or not.

But bicycle bob and his ilk still hung around, and after a while people started giving up. Stella's Boy started posting less frequently, and even Joe Leydon went away after that. bicycle bob found new targets, such as jeffmcm and whenever I would drop by I'd feel a bit sad. I even tried to help out, appealing to Poland directly, even though that wasn't much appreciated by him. He told me to e-mail him, and I felt a bit dumbfounded. If he didn't read the comments we wrote on his site, what chance was there of him taking an e-mail seriously? So I gave up.

Then suddenly this week I dropped by, after having left it alone for weeks, and saw a post called Internal Blog Business. I don't know what finally got Poland to do what he should have done a long time ago, but whatever it was, god bless. bicycle bob was outed. Towards the end there he was using over 15 aliases (although the real figure was probably closer to 20).

Was Poland as ignorant of the identity abuse as he wants to give off? I doubt it. And why did he condone it? Anyone's guess. The more important question though is - what does this mean for The Hot Blog? Who knows. But maybe now some great discussions can start taking place. There are some pretty intelligent, or at least opinionated, people there. I look forward to reading what they have to say.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dream On Silly Dreamer

by Alex Stroup
Just finished watching Dream On Silly Dreamer for a DVD review I have to do for MousePlanet.

This isn't a movie that is going to be of interest to many people. For the most part it is a headshot documentary with Walt Disney Feature Animation artists in the weeks following the announcement in 2002 that Disney would be abandoning traditional hand-drawn animation almost completely. Artistically there isn't much of interest here though the animated sequences are very nice but if you have any interest in the history and inner-workings of Disney or just the animation industry in general then you should really try to lay your hands on a copy of this just for the insider's look it provides.

Quick Vote

by Brian
Sidebar on the right, or the left?

The Bounty

by Nick
Went and rented these yesterday. Video store has a good deal where you can rent four films for four days for forty-four crowns (around $5.50). That's what them yellow stickers say, anyway.

Haven't seen Meet the Feebles, despite repeated rentals and several opportunities, so that's fucking first. Only seen parts of Seabiscuit and Wrath of Khan, or I just remember them pretty badly, so that might be some well earned restitution. On theirs or my part, don't know. And though the word on Intolerable Cruelty was mixed and mostly negative, it's a Coen brothers I ain't seen.

All in all, with this and V for Vendetta booked tomorrow, might be a good movie weekend.

How bad will this suck?

by Jackrabbit Slim
Lucas plans Star Wars TV spin-off

From the Guardian:

George Lucas... still not done with Star Wars.

And you thought the Star Wars saga finished with Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Wrong you were, my youngling friend.
George Lucas and his team are currently hard at work on a Star Wars live-action TV series. It will be set between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope. The plot would centre on Luke Skywalker's early years growing up on Tatooine.

Yesterday, producer Rick McCallum announced the tale would be spun over at least 100 hours. "Hopefully if we can make it work and everybody's excited and watches it, we will keep on going," McCallum told BBC Radio 1. A writing team will start sweating on a script soon, with filming scheduled to begin in 2008 for transmission later the same year.
McCallum said there would be "a whole bunch of new characters" and the series would be "much more dramatic and darker". The actors from the films are not expected to take up their roles again.

The live-action TV series is not the only spin-off in the offing. Last year, at a Star Wars fans' convention in Indianapolis, Lucas also said he was preparing a 3D animated TV series called Clone Wars, about the battle led by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and other Jedi knights against the army of the Republic at the end of Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Clone Wars is based on an existing animated series, made up of five-minute episodes, broadcast on the Cartoon Network TV channel. It is set to be ready next year.

Before work on the live-action TV series can begin, Lucas needs to work on his long-cherished project Red Tails, a drama about African-American pilots in the second world war. He has also just approved the script to Indiana Jones 4, which will see the return of Harrison Ford at the whip and Steven Spielberg in the director's chair.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yikes! Bitter much?

by Chris
The people connected with Brokeback Mountain, including me, hoped that, having been nominated for eight Academy awards, it would get Best Picture as it had at the funny, lively Independent Spirit awards the day before. (If you are looking for smart judging based on merit, skip the Academy Awards next year and pay attention to the Independent Spirit choices.) We should have known conservative heffalump academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture. Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good. And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash - excuse me - Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline. Next year we can look to the awards for controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over free silver. - Annie Proulx

Despite the sore loserish feel, this is still a good article and very much worth reading. Annie Proulx is an excellent writer and the main reason that Brokeback was as good as it was, and it shows in this scathing critique of the Academy.

I still stand by my belief that homophobia played a miniscule part in Brokeback's loss compared to the biggest factor: The Academy's disdain of realism and subtlety in film. They only like movies that are loud, showy, and transparent.


by Jackrabbit Slim
I recently purchased the Frankenstein Universal Legacy collection, which consists of five Frankenstein films from Universal's Golden Age of horror. It is impressively packaged, and contains lots of good extras (although there is a feature with hack director Stephen Sommer, who made the god-awful Van Helsing). Film historian Rudy Behlmer provides excellent commentary, and there's also a commentary (which I haven't listened to yet) for Bride of Frankenstein.

Frankenstein, now a cultural icon, is an interesting to film to watch these days. At the time of its release, it was a sensation, and scared the bejeesus out of people, particulary the first appearance of the creature. The film wouldn't spook a six-year old today, I expect. It's difficult to not think of scenes from Young Frankenstein. There is also an incredible gap of logic when the monster, on the loose, manages to find Frankenstein's home to menace his fiancee. Apparently, Frankie can read a phone book.

Still, though, the direction by James Whale is fascinating to watch (note how he uses several close-ups to introduce characters in an early scene, rather than using an establishing long-shot). The makeup and sets, which we automatically associate with the character and story, were original to the film, and still hold up as terrific innovations. And the performance by Boris Karloff is quite moving.

Bride of Frankenstein is considered by many to be the better of the two Whale Frankenstein films, while the other three trail off in quality. Karloff, after Bride of, only made one more film as the creature, Son of Frankenstein. Bela Lagosi, who initially turned down the role because he didn't want a non-speaking role, finally played the monster in the last film.

This collection is a worthy purchase for those who are interested in old horror films.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Back from Japan

by Alex Stroup
Well, I'm back from Japan so I'll be able to contribute something now.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to cram in a visit to a Japanese movie theater during my week there (though I looked at posters outside a couple) so my movie viewing for the last week was limited to the flights back and forth from San Francisco and Tokyo.

One thing about flying, it gives me a no-shame excuse for watching bad movies. Unfortunately, Japan Airlines shows the same movies in both directions so I was scraping bottom by the time we landed in San Francisco. A quick rundown:

Two for the Money. I actually like Matthew McConaughey (at least quite a bit more than Mr. Wells) but man is this an awful movie. There is some interesting thoughts in it but zero execution.

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. First of all, I can't believe they actually made "Inspired by a True Story" part of the title. I think I will add that to my general policy of avoiding movies with "The Movie" as part of the official title. Not bad for what it was (and what it was was a way of staying up through the hours my body thought to be 2a.m. and 4a.m.).

The Legend of Zorro. I love Catherine Zeta-Jones (and count Intolerable Cruelty as one of my personal favorites just for the way she looks in it) but even just watching her through half-closed eyes as a 747-400 tried to rumble me to sleep couldn't give this movie a single redeeming element. I resist labeling films as "god awful" since it burns my atheistic soul. But if there is a god this film was a reminder evil still walks the earth.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I don't understand why they would offer this movie and not the other two since all combined it would make for a good use of a 10.5 hour flight. The Fellowship of the Ring was the movie I liked best of the three (from a standalone film perspective) but seeing it again for the first time since the theater just emphasized that they were probably one-time only extravaganzas for me.

Harry Potter and the Blah Blah Blah. Didn't like the most recent installment even a little bit and really didn't like it upon second viewing.

I also watched a Japanese television quiz-show (with no subtitles). Not understanding a single word of a trivia-based game show was a better viewing experience than all of these movies except Dreamer.

A Random List of Good Songs

by Brian
Blues From a Gun - The Jesus and Mary Chain
Mystery Girl - Roy Orbison
Portland Oregon - Loretta Lynn
Land - Patti Smith
History Repeating - Propellerheads
Bird on a Wire - Leonard Cohen
Something I Can Never Have - Nine Inch Nails

Hollywood continues to be bereft of ideas

by Jackrabbit Slim
News comes today that two more films based on bad television shows are in the works: Welcome Back, Kotter, this time starring Ice Cube (this time, will the Sweathogs be packing heat?) and Dallas, starring John Travolta as J.R., also starring Owen Wilson, Shirley MacLaine, and Jennifer Lopez. Those are two movies I'll never see.

What is wrong with this picture?

by Nick
Ron Mwangaguhunga seems to have noticed it first.


by Nick
I feel somewhat afraid of being guilty of overpraise in regards to the films I've reviewed so far. Tsotsi is a better film than Strings, but my review of Strings reads more positive. I don't know if one gets across the correct opinion in one's reviews.

Still, I'm very sure history will prove me right (ohey, did that sound desperate) on Fly's social class trilogy.

The difficulty with reviewing films without the benefit of knowing other people's views is that you don't know if anyone else will agree with you, or if you're just plain wrong. I mean, I kinda liked Wild Wild West first time I saw it. Then I found out how bad it was. And I still like watching Forrest Gump, even if I know what its perspective on what the hippies achieved is, and even sort of felt it when I first watched it. Can I then be counted on as someone who should even be reviewing films? It's one thing, after all, to have a different taste in film. It's another to have none.


by Nick
In my review of Storm I wrote about a journalist who claimed the Danes were continuing to beat the Swedish film industry. It's true. Pathetic, of the Swedes, but painfully obvious.

To go somewhat back in history; I don't know how many of you read, or even remember, the last Viking Gangbang column. But anyway, in it I mentioned Per Fly's trilogy on the social classes, at that point comprising of The Bench and The Inheritance, dealing with the under- (some would rather say working-) and upper class, respectively. Like I said then, "these are dark, pitiless films" well worth checking out.

Now with the release of the concluding part of the trilogy, Drabet, Per Fly sets his focus on the middle class. Drabet basically translates into 'The Manslaughter', but something tells me that won't be the English title.
Carsten (Jesper Christensen), a former radical leftist, is a midddle-aged high school social sciences teacher, married to a Swedish woman (Pernilla August) with whom he has a nice villa and an adult son. And on the side he is having an affair with former student Pil (Beate Bille), a leftist activist with who - it is assumed - he relives his youthful days fighting American imperialism, discussing politics.

Pil though, it is made clear in the beginning, is not satisfied with simply talking, but believes in action. But something goes very awry, when she and her fellow activists are arrested for the manslaughter of a police officer, after having thrashed the offices of a missile manufacturer. Carsten leaves his family to be with Pil, and from there on things go more and more complex.

Jesper Christensen, magnificent in The Bench, is once again in the lead role, but now plays a very different man, with a very different set of values. It has to be said that the man has one of those exquisitely weathered faces that instantly evoke a sense of pathos.

(I've had professors like Carsten, and always found them to be hypocrites, so there was a certain not-entirely-guilty satisfaction in watching him, bit by bit, abandon his righteous values.)
The question of whether there even is such a thing as social class is of course a discussion worth having. In the context of Drabet, and Fly's two other films, seeing them out of that perspective gives these already great dramas even greater depth; Drabet becoming a reflection on not only individual but collective self-deception, guilt and lies.

But now, with the trilogy concluded, what seems to be a main theme and message Per Fly tries to get across is one of self-honesty and responsibility. And he really strikes it home.

If there ever were some contemporary films that deserved the epithet 'Modern Classics', and an immediate treatment for the Criterion Collection, these are it. Together they form a body of work on the level of The Celebration and Lars von Triers trilogy of suffering women. They are simply that great.

A film Craig Schwartz would've been proud of?

by Nick
Strings might be the greatest string-puppet film ever made. Whether you find this statement to be great or dubious praise pretty much decides if this is for you or not.

Of course, it's the Danes who are responsible. Again. (sigh) It's getting kind of sad.

Using Epic Fantasy Plot A1, Strings is the story of a prince who must journey to an enemy kingdom to avenge his fathers death. Yet back home treason is afoot as the King's brother makes ready to assassinate his nephew, marry away his sister and take the throne for himself.
And it's all done with string-puppets, and the occasional well-chosen cgi.

The film's stereotypical plot may be its greatest weakness, and its almost total lack of humor might not be to everyones taste. It ain't Team America, exactly.

But Strings is a film that is very much aware that it is a string-puppet movie, if that makes any sense, making its obvious weaknesses a strength. The clichéd plot allows it to focus on other aspects of the world itself. For the people in this world their strings are apparent and cherished, a tie to life, to destiny. And how do you kill a string-puppet? You cut off its strings, naturally!

At one point of the film I found myself grinning. There truly are new things to be seen in film.
Because most of all, Strings is just gorgeous to look at. Great care has gone into not only the puppets but their surroundings. A frozen battlefield riddled with wooden-soldiers and strings covered in snow is certainly one of the more unforgettable images I've seen in a film lately.

Anyway, Strings is a strange little film, but it has its charms. Fans of films like The Dark Crystal should take note. I actually prefer it to Dark Crystal. Hell, I prefer it to Team America. At least this film has a point.

Anders Rønnow (pronounced 'ruh-nov') Klarlund's upcoming film is a total 180 from this film, the very anticipated (even before I saw this one) How To Get Rid Of The Others. It's to be released 2007. Can't get done soon enough.


by Nick
Not as excellent as I'd anticipated but still pretty damn good.

Those with high expectations of this being the South African City of God should perhaps lower them a bit. This is a much smaller story, taking place over a much shorter span timespan. It doesn't have the frenzied pace of that Brazilian film, and elects to tread a more mainstream path.
The film starts, and mostly takes place, in the shantytown of Johannesburg (a slum with a population of over one million people), where a young man calling himself 'delinquent' ('Tsotsi') is the leader of a small gang of thugs. After a robbery gone wrong, the gang begins to dissolve and Tsotsi, through a series of mistakes and mishaps, lands himself the caretaker of a wealthy suburban couples' baby.

As I said before, though it shares many outward similarities to Meirelles' film, this is a much more internalized story, though no less ambitious for that. Like the poster of the film says this is a story about redemption, but not just if it's possible for the main character, but South Africa itself, a country still torn apart by social injustice, with one of the highest crime rates in the world, only beaten by Rio de Janeiro.

Presley Chweneyagae is convincing in the title role - 'tsotsi' may look like he's posing, but he's got quite the killer instinct, even if he may not be as cruel as his actions suggest. I was initially a bit annoyed with Chweneyagae's 'cold stare', but you get it later on.

The cinematography's also managed to catch the, pretty dangerous, charm and allure ofmodern Africa, its shantytowns and slums more specifically, even if it's beaten by - there he goes again - Meirelles' Constant Gardener.
Some of the supporting characters feel a little etchily sketched, but this is a story that is almost fable-like in its simplicity.

The film's complemented by a pretty good, bombastic, soundtrack.

I have a hard time imagining anyone not liking the film, except perhaps someone actively involved in African politics. Found it a worthy winner of Best Foreign Picture, at least among the alternatives.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Meet Famed Japanese Director Kurosawa (the other one)

by LesterG
Some fairly cool news for any Asian film fans who live in the Northeastern US: Kiyoshi Kurosawa will be participating in a three day lecture / screening series at Yale University from March 24-26.

Anyone who has followed Japanese film in the past decade knows Kurosawa as the genius behind behind "Kairo" (Pulse), "Cure" and "Bright Future".

Yale will also be hosting the North American premiere of the director's new film "Loft" on Saturday with a Q&A immediately thereafter. All screenings / workshops are open to the general public free of charge. Pre-registration information and a schedule of events can be found on Yale's website here.

What can I say? Three days with one of my favorite directors ten minutes from my house. Sweet.

The Sex Pistols Were No Good

by Chris
Let me just preface this by saying that I know I'm not the majority on this one. Many people with great taste in music love the musicians that I am about to shit all over, and although I respect those people's opinions, I disagree with them.

"Oi! Let's piss in people's ears an call it music!"

I think the Sex Pistols are at best, the third or fourth worst thing to ever happen to rock music. They couldn't play for crap. They were awful, unlikeable people. Their songs and lyrics were so poorly written that...well, I don't know if I can even call them "written" at all. They coasted by on that now-tired image of rebelliousness and anger that is always guaranteed to sell buckets of tickets, records, and T-Shirts to ignorant and hormonally moody teens. The Sex Pistols were not the first to do this, and unfortunately they would not be the last. What gets me is that they did it so poorly, and are looked back on so fondly. I can't see how someone could have actually heard a Sex Pistols song and still say that they were good or relevant in any way.

Punk was such a wonderful thing when it was new. The movement was a backlash against overproduced, glitzy stadium and glam rock. Punk was a new sound, inspired by bands like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, driven by reckless energy and the desire to create music that was unlike anything people had heard before. There wasn't much of a form to it, it was more of a musical philosophy than a particular sound.

Television (the first punk band to play at CBGB's, legend has it that they even built the stage there) caught people's attention by playing rock epics with great lyrics that managed to avoid the fakeness of arena rock. The music was a little rough about the edges but was still played skillfully and with an energy that had never been felt before. This was before the Sex Pistols came along and made it okay, and profitable, to perform and act like you didn't give a shit.

You must own this album.

Patti Smith was another of the great punk pioneers. Her music was surprising to hear, influenced by beat poetry, folk, reggae, and even the stadium rock that she was rebelling against. She was the anti-Bowie; a woman who looked and dressed like a man, she made down-to-earth rock songs about the confusion of everyday life, sexuality, religion, and death. From the subject matter you would think her songs are downers, but they aren't because she is singing from a position of power and strength that women didn't have before. "This is what I see, I don't fuckin like it, we're gonna change it." When she sang sad she did it with the forced sadness of a teenage girl, and when she sang mad she did it with the gleeful rage of an empowered young woman. At 19 years old, she had practically created the punk scene.

Then came the Ramones. We all know about the Ramones; they made punk a big thing by playing short, catchy, sloppy songs about stuff that everyone could identify with (partying, fucking, irresponsibility). It was music so accessible that anyone could buy a guitar and learn to play in a week. I'm not sure how I feel about the Ramones. For one, they did a lot for punk by selling a ton of records and showing that it is possible to make a living by playing this music. They got radio play so they brought new fans to the scene. They are a bunch of really cool Brooklyn dudes and not once did they ever pretend to be anything else. I just don't particularly care for their music. They had little concept of rhythm or timing, the lyrics were doggerel, and they just weren't very good musicians. I blame the Sex Pistols on The Ramones for this reason. "Oi! These Brooklyn guys made wads of cash by playing shitty music, I bet it would be easier if we got rid of the music part and just sold shitty attitude!"

Soon after punk started gaining notoriety in New York, the London punk scene came and pretty much fucked everything up for everyone. London punks started giving themselves awful haircuts, tearing up their clothing, and going for days without showers because they thought it was in fashion. The NY scenesters just couldn't afford haircuts and new pants, and often could go days without finding a place to crash and bathe! This is what the Sex Pistols come from, this fashionability that ultimately killed the great punk movement. Back to that later.

Ah, the Clash. Listening to their first album, it is easy to see how it happened. It was easy music to play, but not so easy as to sound crude like the Ramones or Sex Pistols. It was loose, quite sloppy, and Joe Strummer's voice was downright awful. But all you had to do was pop it into the record player and you knew that you were on to something special, that you were listening to something important. The lyrics were exceptional, the Clash were one of the first bands to actually come out and say what was happening in the world without clouding it up with metaphor and allegory. The songs were all well written with catchy hooks in all the right places. They were successful, but I think people confused Joe's terrible voice and the sloppy style of playing their instruments with a lack of talent, and that led to the final nail in the coffin:

So good it hurt.

London Calling. The greatest punk record ever made. At the time the Clash released London Calling, punk was wildly popular all over. The problem was that the successful bands were the ones that stressed accessiblity, the ones that sounded like music anyone could play in their garages. Bands like the Sex Pistols. The punk fashionistas saw this upgrade in the quality of music from very good to great as "selling out." They had never heard the great early punk acts, and were confusing punk with poorly made rock music and not the genre-defying force of creativity that it was. So when London Calling came around, the Clash were said to have "transcended" punk rock. It was great music so therefore couldn't possibly be considered punk.

From this point on, no great music was ever called punk. Now when a punk act makes a record that is musically relevant (Violent Femmes, the Pixies, Pavement, the Flaming Lips, Green Day) they are said to have "broken free from the limits of their genre." This is really ridiculous to me as I've always seen punk as a movement that was never really supposed to have any limits in the first place.

This says it all

by Jackrabbit Slim

This was John Lydon's reponse when the Sex Pistols were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They won't be attending. Can't say as I blame him. Gotta love them!