Friday, April 28, 2006

The Anthem in Spanish

by Jackrabbit Slim
Today's media tempest in a teapot is the news that The Star-Spangled Banner has been translated and recorded in Spanish. That seems entirely sensible to me, given that a large percentage of residents of the United States speak Spanish. Predictably, though, the troglodyte right has seized this as some sort of rallying cry, and our fearless leader, Boob McNutt, er, George W. Bush, has said it should not be sung in Spanish. Good grief!

First of all, English is not the official language of the United States of America. We have no official language. If, at some point in the near future, there are a majority of Spanish speakers in this country, then those of us who don't speak Spanish will have to learn to habla Espanol. History is fluid, and nothing can be taken for granted. I believe there are models that predict that those of Northern European descent will not be the majority in the U.S. in the next 100 years, and if so, so be it.

Secondly, just because people want to sing the national anthem in Spanish doesn't mean that they can't speak English. Bush says that immigrants to this nation should learn to speak English. That's correct, I would say, as your chances at economic success brighten considerably if you can speak English (although there are many people who go very comfortably cradle to grave without speaking English, particularly in consolidated areas like Chinatowns, etc.) But just because an immigrant learns English shouldn't mean they ditch their old language like an old pair of shoes. The ability to speak several languages should be seen as an attribute. How many can Bush speak? He can barely speak one.

Good old American xenophobia really seems to be inflamed by a fear of the Spanish language. I've witnessed people who are disgusted to see two employees in a store having a private conversation in Spanish. The implication seems to be that if you are on American soil, you should speak English, even if both speakers don't have English as a first language. This reminds me of the British ban on the Irish speaking their native language, or, closer to home, the stamping out of Native American languages when those folks were rounded up and sent to reservation schools.

English will be the language of commerce and culture for this planet for the foreseeable future. There's no need to worry about it disappearing. If we're so proud of being the melting pot or mosaic or what have you then let's have the National Anthem in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Armenian and everything else.

Finally, the Star-Spangled Banner is an odd fixture in our culture. It's set to the tune of an English drinking song, and seems only to be heard before sporting events and when we win Olympic medals. There's nothing about it that compels it to be treated as sacred.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 04/28

by Brian
In want-to-see order:

United 93 (trailer): My most eagerly awaited film in a while. Aside from the shamelessly misleading key art, this seems like a top-notch production all the way. Incidentally, I’ve been meaning to watch director Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday this week, but haven’t been able to find a copy. That’s what online subscription services are for, I guess, but we canceled ours from lack of use.

Hard Candy (trailer): I don’t really want to see this very badly, but it’s a kind of a slow week aside from United 93. I’d be more interested in this if Lionsgate hadn’t spent the past year or so making a conscious effort to brand themselves as the most cynical and exploitative distributor around.

When Do We Eat? (trailer): I remember reading somewhere – don’t remember where – that this was very surreal and funny in a Buñuel-ish sort of way, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a funny drug-induced hallucination outside of The Big Lebowski and that time Homer Simpson talked to that coyote voiced by Johnny Cash. It’s more typically a lazy plot device better left to TV sitcoms, of which “The Simpsons” of course is. For now.

Akeelah and the Bee (trailer): Hot on the heels of last year’s Bee Season comes another spelling bee movie, this one looking like more of a standard underdog story than that movie’s more mystical take on the subject. If nothing else, it’s another chance for Larry Fishburne to play a character that acts and sounds exactly like Morpheus.

Hate Crime (trailer): I never heard of this movie until I saw it was opening here. Trailer looks TV-movie-of-the-weekish, and the IMDb rating is awfully low, usually a bad sign for small, specially targeted releases.

The Beauty Academy of Kabul (trailer at official site): This looks thematically similar to last year’s Mad Hot Ballroom, where we found out that there’s no inner city child’s life that’s so hellish that ballroom dancing can’t fix it. Here, we find out that, sure, being a woman in Afghanistan can be rough at times, but it’s nothing American hairdressers can’t fix! It’s like something I’d expect the Bush administration to commission.

Stick It (trailer): Looks pretty bad.

RV (trailer): Once upon a time (i.e., 1996), Barry Sonnenfeld had just done Get Shorty, which hasn’t held up so well over time but was still pretty decent, and I was eagerly awaiting his next movie. Then came Men in Black, which had its moments. It was OK. Since then, we’ve had Wild Wild West, Big Trouble (which I didn't see), Men in Black II, and now this. So I ask, has there been a worse director over the past six/seven years?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Defending The Proposition

by Nick
I'm sorry to say this but Jeff Wells must be going senile. Maybe it's the L.A. fumes poring into his skin, going to his head. Poor old coot. And he doesn't even like LA.

I just can't find no other explanation for the fact that he can name The Missing "the best film Ron Howard's ever done," "a real class act" and just last year call it "an undervalued, tough-as-nails western," but of The Proposition "all you can think about is how they all need a bath and a shave."

I find it a little hard to take a dude seriously if he calls one film "tough-as-nails" (btw, did he see the same The Missing I did? Or you did?) but can't handle some grime and dust in another.

The main criticism he levels at the film seems to be just that: they're all so dirty and grimy. Eww. You'd expect the great proponent of the classic male values of Dean and Brando to be all right with some shit and filth, but apparently uncleanliness is where he draws the line. Primadonnas.

The best thing Wells can say about the film is that "it's visually distinctive," but just can't allow himself to show even that much love, disparaging the cinematography for the rest of the sentence.

Apparently people are supposed to look (like Tommy Lee Jones in The Missing) as if they just came from a Florida rest home, and not like the dirty pig you would actually be if the nearest water was in the well of a small town in the middle of the desert.

Nostalgics of the never-there call the Wild West "the last great frontier." Watching The Proposition, all I can say is those folks never saw 19th century Australia.

I've reviewed The Proposition before on this blog, and while I won't call it a masterpiece, it has its flaws, it's damn close. Its main flaw lies in the dialogue, which sometimes threatens to go overboard with its ponderousness. But I gave that a pass for several reasons. Mostly I got into the groove of it, the whole film is kinda otherwordly in its extremity anyway, and the dialogue serves to give a mystical undercurrent that is oddly fitting considering the film's realism otherwise.

And also because who the hell knows how they talked more than a hundred and thirty years ago? Listening to film and radio from seventy years ago the whole flow and syntax is so alien it takes you a while to get a grip on it. Double that time in a wild terrain with mostly uneducated, or overeducated, expatriate Brits and Irishmen?

The film year has been unusually good this far (three really good films at this time of the year is pretty good), but The Proposition is still the best film I've seen so far. Those who have a problem with The Missing or Cruise should definitely give this a shot.
Addendum: Wells also mentions that he blew off seeing the film because "(the word was on the dismissive side)." Who were these journalists? Looking at Rotten Tomatoes they must have changed their mind. Or maybe they just work for Reel Film Reviews.

And besides, all I have to say about festival-journos ability to spot a classic - Donnie Darko.

The Acting Secrets of Michelle Rodriguez

by LesterG

Obviously, this explains everything...

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
"(In court) Rodriguez apologized for her behavior but also blamed it on steroid injections she had been taking twice a month to treat allergies to "dust and cockroach resin"...She said the effects of the steroids made her "manic," kept her up late at night and caused her to have "menstrual cycles three times" a month."

Hitchcock

by Jackrabbit Slim


My next Netflix film festival will be Alfred Hitchcock films, mostly from the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection. Most of them I have not seen yet. The three I have seen are the three I'm starting off with: North by Northwest, Dial M for Murder and Strangers on a Train. I viewed North by Northwest yesterday, and geez what an entertaining film.

The others upcoming will be I Confess, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Stage Fright, Suspicion and Mr. and Mrs. Smith (not the one with Brangelina). Though it's not part of this particular collection, I'm also renting Notorious just for fun. It's my choice for favorite among Hitchcock's oeuvre.

So, what is everyone's favorite Hitchcock film?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Silent Hill

by Chris

The Silent Hill video game franchise is the cream of the crop when it comes to the genre of survival horror. In these games, you play characters who have found themselves drawn to the sleepy resort town of Silent Hill. The town is always enshrouded by fog, reducing visibility to about 3 feet. This is a problem because for some reason the town is swarming with nightmarish, vaguely-human creatures, and is cut off from the rest of the world by giant cliffs, as if the whole town was torn from the earth by the devil himself. Your only companions are tortured survivors, any makeshift weapons you can get your hands on, a flashlight, and a radio that warns you with disturbing static noises whenever a monster is near. You soon find out that you were brought to this town for purposes beyond your understanding. You have no idea what is going on, all you know is that you are surrounded by unimaginable terror. As you explore, you are occaisionally and abruptly thrust into an even more terrifying alternate reality that can only be described as Hell.

There is a bit that is lost in translation with the movie adaptation, because you don't feel like you are there, immersed in the world. You are simply a watcher. Because of this, the film isn't as scary as it should have been. There is plenty of disturbing imagery but it doesn't have the same effect becuase you just don't feel like you are there. Luckily, Silent Hill is beautifully shot and features some amazingly artistic setpieces and monster designs. There are many scenes of spectacular gore that will surely sate any gutsy horror fan.

There are flaws, many of them. This is not the great video game movie we were hoping for (it is undoubtedly the best video game movie ever made, but that isn't saying a whole hell of a lot). The acting is pretty much godawful; the little girl gives the best performance and that is never a good sign. Christophe Gans doesn't seem to be a very good director of actors, but he almost makes up for it with his disurbingly beautiful vision. Avary dropped the ball with the script by filling it with awful action-movie dialogue (in his defense, that is pretty much in line with the dialogue from the games) and making it just a little too confusing for people who haven't experienced the Silent Hill franchise (the games were very ambiguous as well). For those of us who are familiar with the games, we are treated to an excellent adaptation that totally captures the style of the Silent Hill and gives us a good origin of the town. Many fan-favorite creatures make appearances, and some of the excellent music from the games shows up in the score.

There is something that must be understood about the town of Silent Hill for the movie adaptation to make any sense. Silent Hill is Hell. The people who find themselves there are dead, and are usually being tormented for crimes in their past that they are unaware of committing. It makes sense that the people who are in Hell do not know what they did to belong there, because the torment is that much worse if they are made into victims of heavily exaggerated versions of their own sins. You are never told what these sins are, but there are hints scattered throughout the town that give you a pretty good idea. Rose, the main character of the film, is a slightly different case, but I won't say anymore so as not to spoil plot details.

Don't bother to stay past the credits. Any fan of the game is familiar with the crazy alternate endings that you can get by replaying the games after finishing them for the first time (like this one, where you find a secret door that reveals who is really responsible for the strange happenings of Silent Hill.) I found it pretty disappointing that there was nothing like this at the end of the credits to the film.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Wells on Poseidon

by Brian
Jeffrey Wells surprisingly is surprised about Poseidon’s poor financial outlook:
I tend to shy away from big-budget effects movies, but even I'm half into seeing this thing. I really like Kurt Russell, I've always enjoyed Richard Dreyfuss (especially if he gets angry) and I'm cool with Josh Lucas playing the lead. If I didn't expect to see it at a press screening within a week, I'd be okay with buying a ticket.

Why, then, are the Poseidon tracking figures in the toilet?
To which I can only say, isn’t it obvious?

Who on earth doesn’t already feel like they’ve seen this movie 800 times, and have liked it a little bit less each of the last 799? Does anyone know anyone who didn’t roll their eyes when they first heard of this movie, and say “Another remake?! Doesn’t Hollywood have any original ideas? And didn’t they just do a TV movie of that?”

To me, and just about everyone I talk to (which, admittedly, is not very many people), this movie represents everything stale and pointless about Hollywood movies today. NO ONE wants to see this. Even the least sophisticated moviegoer out there knows that they can watch the trailer 100 consecutive times and get the same experience as actually seeing the whole film.

And yet, this is the movie –- this ungainly, Emmerich-level CGI-fest -- of all the special effect-driven summer movies of years past, that’s got Wells going. Unbelievable.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Squid and the Whale

by Professor Wagstaff
(Potential spoilers)

This was released in Australia a couple of weeks back and I managed to catch at the cinemas a few days ago.

There's a lot to like about this film - Jeff Daniels is great as the father, probably the best performance of his career. The film is sharply observed and shows up the foolishness and pretensions of the parents as their naive aims to have a 'respectable', joint custody, seperation dissolves into bitterness and ignorance of the troubles their children are going through. And it goes against the modern trend of being an overlong film (it clocks in at less then 90 mins).

There are some flaws in the film - the mother Joan (played by Laura Linney, who isn't at her best here) is a a hard character to get a grasp on what she does and why she does it, probably because writer/director Noah Baumbach (who based this on his own childhood experiences) blames the father for the breakup and is unable to treat the mother's flaws objectively and instead skims over them. I just get the hunch that the father in reality wasn't as much to blame as is portrayed here. Even if what occurred in the film is the actual truth, I had more sympathy for Bernard (Daniels' character) then most people did.

I also thought William Baldwin's performance as Ivan was disappointingly one-note and made one emphasise with Bernard's view that he was a waste of space and be baffled as to why Joan would go out with him.

While this a film that I didn't find entirely satisfying, it had me engrossed most of the way through and one that I would definitely like to re-watch on DVD.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Opening 04/21 in Dallas

by Brian
In order of moviegoing priority:

The Notorious Bettie Page (trailer): I’m actually very surprised that I want to see this at all. I don’t consider myself a fan of director Mary Harron, having not seen I Shot Andy Warhol, and disliking American Psycho to the point that I had a hard time watching Christian Bale until Batman Begins. And I’m not a huge fan of the biopic in general. But something about this seems right … I can’t explain it.

Silent Hill (trailer): I was OK if not over the moon about Brotherhood of the Wolf, and I’d assume that this movie features a similar technically dazzling, occasionally exciting experience. Not being familiar with the game, though, the subject matter isn’t too appealing to me.

Evil (can’t find a working trailer): Oh, I don’t know. This Swedish film by Derailed director Mikael Håfström was nominated for a Foreign Film Oscar way back in 2003, and is now receiving an arbitrary theatrical release here by Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Pictures. I’ve seen the trailer half a dozen times, and it seems boring, frankly. Our resident Swedish film guru Nick called it “a might bit earnest and glossy” last month.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (trailer): To be real honest, if I knew more about who Daniel Johnston was, I’d probably be more interested in this documentary. But I don’t, other than the vague outlines, so I don’t know what to think. I might give it a go if I have time or if someone makes the case that I should.

The Sentinel (trailer): Beware of action movies with spring releases made by no-name directors, in this case, S.W.A.T. director Clark Johnson. It’s curious that the press for this movie focuses on Kiefer Sutherland as much as, if not more than, Michael Douglas. Wasn’t there a time when Douglas made interesting movies? Ever since that Traffic/Wonder Boys double shot in 2000, he’s been in a lot of crap.

American Dreamz (trailer): I have a decent amount of respect for director Paul Weitz. About a Boy and In Good Company were both very solid. But this movie looks like an utterly misconceived disaster.

Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (trailer at official site): Geez. Great cast, but … geez.

Tamara (trailer at official site): I thought this movie was a joke when I saw this trailer. I kept expecting Tamara to say, “I’m back from the dead to kill you all in horrible ways. But I have some good news – I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance!” But alas, no such luck.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tom-Mania!

by Jackrabbit Slim

Jeff Wells seems to be obsessed with Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible III these days, but I suppose he's not alone. It seems that TomKat and their spawn are the number one topic with everyone. I'm not particularly interested--he's too creepy to be interesting, and ordinarily I wouldn't give a shit about the movie. I saw the first one, and it was okay, but I didn't see the second one. This one interests me for three reasons: J.J. Abrams directing, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a villain, and that Keri Russell is in the cast. I have a crush on her as big as all outdoors that pre-dates Felicity, if you can believe it.

What's everyone else's level of interest?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Quick Takes, March 31-April 16

by Brian
Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas): Oscar nominee for Foreign Film last year, this movie is about a temporary truce struck by Scottish, German, and French soldiers in the trenches during World War One. As one would expect, the film plays rather broadly, and it contains, without a doubt, the worst lip synching ever recorded in any visual medium ever. But it's still fairly powerful despite its sentimental tendencies. Very good performance by Daniel Bruhl, as the German lieutenant; a lot of overacting by many of the others.

Duma: This movie about a boy named Xan and his pet cheetah became a popular cause by Ebert and Roeper last year, and it finally opened in Dallas a couple weeks ago. It’s a very good film, not least because of the animal footage, which is truly spectacular. But it’s also very interesting from a character standpoint, especially in Eamonn Walker’s Ripkuna, who at first seems like a stock “questionable motives” type but turns out to be much more fully developed than that. A good show.

Fateless: Another Holocaust movie, but unlike The Pianist and The Grey Zone from recent years, this one doesn’t really strike any new ground. Still, like every review of this movie has mentioned, it’s impeccably shot, and if it feels like this ground has been covered, it remains powerful ground.

L’Enfant (The Child): Palme D’Or winner last year, and a good film, but I don’t understand how anyone could seriously argue that it’s superior to either Caché or A History of Violence.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days: Another Foreign Film Academy nominee from last year, and perhaps the equal of winner Tsotsi, Sophie Scholl details the arrest and execution of a young anti-Nazi activist in 1943 Munich. I really appreciated the straightforward, unsentimental approach director Marc Rothemund takes here, because the potential for melodrama is always so close. Very well acted by Julia Jentsch as Sophie and Gerald Alexander Held as a Nazi interrogator.

Thank You For Smoking

by Jackrabbit Slim


I saw this over the weekend, and loved it. The director, Jason Reitman, was obviously influenced by films like Election, because he employs many "gadget plays" (to use American football terminology) like subtitles, freeze frames, and the like. That may bother some, but I eat stuff like that up. I laughed a lot at the cynical, satirical humor. I even didn't mind the performance of Katie Holmes. The film also makes good use of a Kingston Trio song that I've been humming since I left the theater.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Elevator to the Gallows, Don't Come Knocking

by Brian
As I wrote last week, I’m a sucker for theatrical reissues. I’ve always felt that if a movie is worth seeing, it’s worth seeing at a cinema, so I’ll go out of my way to see almost anything that’s been restored and reissued.

The unquestioned leader of this market is Rialto Pictures. Most of their theatrical product ends up as DVD releases from the Criterion Collection, and tends to be the kind of obscure foreign films that either never got a proper US release in the first place or have been unavailable here since they did . In previous years I’ve gotten to see gems such as The Grand Illusion, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Band of Outsiders, Rififi, The Battle of Algiers, and others in movie theaters because of these folks. Nothing excites me as a moviegoer more than seeing one of these films scheduled to open here in town.

The other night, I saw the latest Rialto restoration to hit town, Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows. As one would suspect from a French noir released in 1958, it’s highly stylized, at times distractingly so. But it also feels fresh, even after almost 50 years, in a way that the most desperately stylized movies of today don’t feel even on opening day.

And there’s not so much a story as a concept, but that’s not a problem since it’s a heck of a concept; a man gets stuck in an elevator while trying to recover evidence from a crime he committed, while his mistress (played by Jeanne Moreau) wanders the streets looking for him, thinking he’s run off without her. The film oozes with restless anxiety, from Tavernier’s desperate attempts to escape from the elevator to Miles Davis’s score, which accompanies Moreau throughout her heartbroken search.

I think that, in the end, the film has one twist too many – it seems to be building towards a much different ending than the one we get – but it’s the kind of pure cinematic experience that doesn’t come around very often.

That same experience is something that Don’t Come Knocking seems to be striving for, at times desperately, in every frame. Director Wim Wenders, working from a script by Sam Shepard (who also stars), even succeeds here and there.

The movie begins with Shepard’s Howard Spence, a washed-up Western movie star, leaving the set of his newest film. From there, he embarks on a kind of improvised rambling through his past. Various characters drift in and out of the movie: Eva Marie Saint as Spence’s mother, Tim Roth as an insurance guy assigned to retrieve Spence and return him to the film set, Jessica Lange as an old flame, and so forth.

Problem is, none of these characters really provide a thread for the movie to anchor to. As a result, the great moments scattered throughout the film – and a few are really great – exist on their own, standing out from the nonsense surrounding them, but not tying together to provide any sort of consistent mood.

It’s a frustrating film. There’s great cinematography by Franz Lustig that at times has more emotional depth than the scenes it depicts. The actors seem lost amidst the chaos; at times moments of grace and honesty shine through, but at others they seem to barely be scratching the surface of their characters - only Lange and Sarah Polley seem to have a firm grasp of who they’re playing, especially impressive in Polley’s case because her character seems like more of a device than a person. And, in the end, like Spence, the film decides that it doesn’t really know where it’s going and what it wants to accomplish.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Opening 04/14 in Dallas

by Brian
Not so good of a week this week. In order of personal priority:

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days: Nominated for a Foreign Film Oscar this past year, this German film recounts the trial and execution of a young German anti-Nazi activist. Based on a true story, of course. Looks moderately interesting if a bit by the numbers for this sort of thing.

Game 6: I've read a lot about Michael Keaton's fantastic performance, and I'll likely see it for that reason, but I'm just not feeling it. For one thing, the use of the actual Game 6 of the 1986 World Series feels a bit dated and trite. And the trailer (found here) only strengthens that feeling. But, we'll see. It got a very strong review from Robert Wilonsky, who is usually decently reliable.

Friends with Money: A very strong cast, and a trailer that has no point whatsoever. Matter for discussion: Office Space was the high-water mark of Jennifer Aniston's career - true or false?

On a Clear Day: So, a cranky old man decides to swim the English Channel. It's all so gosh-darn inspirational, you see.

The Wild: I'll skip the obvious Madagascar comparisons and simply point out that I didn't see that, either.

La Mujer de Mi Hermano: Spanish-language drama that I know almost nothing about. Seems awfully soap-operaish, though, just from the title.

Preaching to the Choir: A hip-hop artist clashes with his minister brother. Another specialty release pandering to aimed at church audiences.

Scary Movie 4: I skipped the first three, too, and I am considering this yet another brick in the Weinsteins' wall of shame.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Veggies Ripe for Parody

by Count Olaf
Seeing as how I'm living in Seattle-South (it's been raining in Northern California since last year, it seems) the weather was starting to bring on the doldrums. I needed something to put a smile on my face! Then I remembered those high vegetable artisans of satire: VeggieTales.

On the surface these 3D-aminated talking vegetables with no arms or legs can look like they are just for kids, but there's definitely more to them than that. Yes, they are Saturday Morning Fun, Sunday Morning Values. Yes they are created by and (for the most part) for Christians. But I think you'd miss out on some genuine humor by simply dismissing it out-of-hand. Let me give you a quick rundown.

Back in 1992 some college roomies got together and created computer animated vegetables with a tomato and a cucumber (both technically not vegetables) as the leads. They created a company (Big Idea) and started making 30-minute videos that slowly gained popularity across the nation. Bob (tomato) and Larry (cucumber) became household names. The standard format became a 15 minute retelling of a well-known Bible story, a silly song, then an object lesson from literature or everyday situations. They kept adding new veggies and even started a series with penguins in the late 90s.

The business reached its zenith in 2002 with the release of its first full feature-length movie Jonah. Then much of the empire crumbled under the weight of too much debt brought on by rapid expansion and BigIdea was sold to a classic cartoon company. Since then, the videos seemed to be struggling to return to the glory days of the mid-nineties.

Last November I think they released their most hilarious parody since the early days: The Lord of the Beans. Here's the copy from their website:

It's a tale of good versus evil ... with beans! Lord of the Beans follows the fantastic journey of a Flobbit named Toto Baggypants (Junior Asparagus) who inherits a most unusual and powerful bean. With the help of his mentor Randalf and a spirited group of friends, Toto embarks on a mission to discover how he should use his gift.
On their quest, the group encounters many challenges, including crossing the Mountains of Much-Snowia, and facing the dreaded Lord Scaryman -- who seeks the bean for misguided, selfish reasons. Will Toto discover the purpose of his gift, or will the scary dude and his Spork army capture the bean and wield its awesome powers? Find out in VeggieTales Lord of the Beans.

If you've seen LOTR and want a good laugh I would highly recommend Netflixing this bad boy. If you are new to VeggieTales and you want to see their hilarious takes on well-known Bible stories, I'd say you could do no better than Dave & The Giant Pickle (which has one of the best Silly Songs ever).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cheeta, We Still Know Ye?

by jaydro

After Nick posted about the 250-year-old tortoise, I had wanted to leave a comment about Winston Churchill's 100+-year-old parrot, only to find when re-looking up that info it was now called into question.

But now I find that one of the stars of the 1930's Tarzan series with Johnny Weismuller is still with us: Cheeta, recognized by Guinness as the world's oldest chimpanzee. Cheeta turned 74 on April 9th.

Cheeta isn't getting his full credit at IMDB, and a female "Cheetah" is listed as appearing in Tarzan Escapes. It would seem that there is a Cheetah (II), though I can't find an entry in IMDB....

Monday, April 10, 2006

Wells on Chinese language

by Alex Stroup
Does any understand what Wells' point was in posting this Wired item about an Al Gore quote in Vanity Fair?

I'm just wondering if it's relevant that what is said in the quote isn't actually true but a kind of linguistic urban legend used by corporate buzz-word speakers.

Top 100 Screenplays

by Jackrabbit Slim
The Writer's Guild list can be found here:

http://www.wga.org/subpage_newsevents.aspx?id=1807

The problem with Casablanca as number one is that it was written as it was shot, the happiest accident in movie history. If we're talking about transcripts of finished films, yes, I can buy it as number one, but if we're talking about shooting scripts, well, no.

My choice would be Hannah and Her Sisters. Of all Woody Allen's screenplays, this one is the most rich and novelistic. I would also rank Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, A Hard Day's Night and Fargo high on the list.

The best films to be ignored at the Oscars

by Professor Wagstaff
I was thinking of this topic after watching a recently bought DVD of one of my all-time favourite films 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'.

I won't go into detail as to why I believe it's a masterpiece as what I wanted to mention was my surprise at how it was almost totally ignored by the Academy when it was released. I'm astonished how it was only nominated for one Oscar (Best Costumes), let alone not even getting nominated for Best Picture.

And that got me thinking: what are the best films ever to either not get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, or not get nominated for any Oscar at all?

In the first category (apart from TMWSLV), is 'Singin In the Rain' - it's been fairly well documented that it was mysteriously ignored for honours upon its release and only in later years did it get the recognition it deserved.

As for the latter category, my vote would definitely have to go with 1967's 'Point Blank'. I had the good fortune to first see this at a cinema a few years later and was totally blown away by its daring and constant brillance. Perhaps it was too far ahead of its time to get feted at the time but how it didn't at least get some technical awards when it was so groundbreaking in areas like editing is beyond me.

What are some of the best films that you've seen that have gone unrewarded or totally ignored by the Academy over the years?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A New Miyazaki This Summer?

by Nick
(Been slacking off lately. Try to make up for it this week.)

Studio Ghibli is busy at the moment with what now can almost certainly be confirmed to be a big-screen adaptation of one of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels (I'm guessing the third book, The Farthest Shore, incidentally my favorite of the series, but could turn out to be mix of all of them). I wasn't sure when I first heard about the announcement, but this seems to settle things.

Here's a video clip from some documentary tv-documentary of some sort on Studio Ghibli, focusing mainly on the producer Toshio Suzuki, with the senior Miyazaki now concentrating on designing and building stuff like enormous clocks. Unless your japanese is way better than mine, the main good thing to be had here are some glimpses into the film, mostly in the first three and last minute of the clip. Looks like classic Miyazaki, perhaps the sign of a tradition of animation being passed on to a new generation (this film being directed by Hayao's son Goro)? That would be the best news of all.

If you check out the lower text of the poster it says "2006 7" Does this mean the film will be released already this summer in Japan? That case this would have landed way high on my upcoming list.

(Shit, here's some more footage, better and longer this time, showing the making of the trailer for Gedo Senki as the film is called. All in japanese, again, of course. You can read more about it over at Ghibli World.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

She's a Superbit, Superbit!

by Count Olaf
she's superbit-tay, yeow....

Back in August I posted about my recent HDTV purchase and how plain DVDs were looking on it. The wait for high-def DVDs was still on. With Blu-Ray and HD-DVD fighting it out, I'm not budging anytime soon. Let the format wars shake themselves out and I'll purchase a player at the end of it all.

So, while all this was going on in my mind, there was something else going on in the back of my mind. I remember seeing Superbit DVDs for sale 5 years ago and wondered what all the hubub was about. It seemed like a good idea: double the bit-rate of encoding and you get a higher-quality picture. At that time I read that there may have been some incompatibility with old players and that people with standard TVs really couldn't tell the difference....so I held off again. Plus there were no extras and it just didn't seem worth it.

The thought hit me again this year as I was buying a DVD for my wife. Try not to decry the choice in movies, but we had just been talking about Hook so I thought I'd pick it up. At Best Buy they had the regular and Superbit versions. Both were the same price, and there no real extras to speak of on the regular DVD, so I picked up the Superbit. This was my chance to see real improvement on my "big" screen. Looking back, it was probably not the best choice.

Upon putting it in last night I was amazed at how...ordinary it looked. The transfer was not the best. My guess is that it just hasn't aged well, but the quality looked like something out of the 70's. Nothing was sharp; everything was grainy; I wondered if they just transferred it off the VHS version. OK, that was a bit harsh. It looks fine by no-frills 1998 DVD standards, but this was supposedly a 2003 edition. What gives?

Perhaps The Fifth Element or Crouching Tiger would look better on Superbit, but thus far I am unimpressed.

Has anyone else had any experience with Superbit? Is it just a marketing ploy? Any ideas?

More on Slevin - Outragous commercial

by Alex Stroup
When I reviewed Lucky Number Slevin the other day I studiously avoided anything I thought was a spoiler other than noting that the movie could be spoiled (which is a bit of a spoiler in itself). No reason for me to interfere with the enjoyment of others unless it is really vital to some discussion.

And then I'm the end of the baseball games (A's vs. Mariners) tonight when there is a commercial for Lucky Number Slevin in which the voiceover explicitly details the plot of the movie as revealed by the "twist" in the third act. This isn't a case of scenes from the end of the movie being shown (as is currently happening with Thank You For Smoking) but actually narrating and summarizing the conclusion of the movie.

While the twist isn't as "surprising" it is kind of like if the pre-release commercials for The Sixth Sense included a voiceover line that said "Is it possible that the guy who hangs around with a kid who sees dead people might himself be dead?"

I'm just amazed at the stupidity of this commercial. If the director (Paul McGuigan) cares about his movie and he sees this commercial it must just send him into a rage.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Finally V for Vendetta

by jaydro

[Crap, posted a comment to Brian's review post, but that's so old now it's dropped off the bottom of the page. Only thing to do is a new post....]

Finally saw it, finally read Brian's post and comments. I'm more in agreement with Nick. While I didn't think it was great, I thought it was far above average--another example of "every film should be this good." A lot of reviews around have mentioned the troubling aspects of V being a terrorist and we get to see Parliament blown up--I actually wasn't as troubled by that within the context of the film as I was in the past by some of the imagery of wanton violence committed by the hero terrorists of The Matrix Reloaded as they cut a fine swath of destruction in a world they knew was not real, as perhaps some religious zealots might feel.

As for tracking down the source of ordering all those masks and tons of fertilizer, I imagined that V must have been adept at tapping into various computer systems and that the bills all ended up at the Ministry of Defense or something like that.

After seeing Inside Man I was struck by the similarity of V's ruse of putting his mask on his hostages. And if two films out at the same time had some hip-hop Indian music playing over the end credits, would you believe that the one also playing Malcolm X over the music was not the one directed by Spike Lee?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Opening 04/07 in Dallas

by Brian
In order of personal priority:

Elevator to the Gallows: I'm a sucker for reissues, and anytime something from Rialto Pictures comes along, I'm there. This week, Louis Malle's debut film comes down the pike after a long wait (was originally supposed to open last month), "in a new 35mm restoration supervised by the Malle family." Yay!

L'Enfant (The Child): Palme d'Or winner in 2005, with a very bizarre trailer that has me fairly intrigued. Opening at the Inwood Theatre, a perfect place for a gritty French art movie.

Brick: Teen noir film that was a hit at Sundance last year, also with a solid trailer. I'm a little afraid it'll be a bit too cute for its own good, but I'm looking forward to it nonetheless.

Lonesome Jim: Steve Buscemi-directed movie that looks like it has a very appealing performance by Liv Tyler and an irritating one by Casey Affleck. Reviewed on this site previously by Colin.

Don't Come Knocking: New Wim Wenders movie with Sam Shepard and a bunch of other name actors. Thinking about it now, I don't think I've ever seen a Wim Wenders movie, except for the first half of Wings of Desire.

Lucky Number Slevin: I'm still watching, Weinsteins. Alex reviewed this the other day.

Take the Lead: Hmm ... a remake of Stand and Deliver with Antonio Banderas in the Edward James Olmos role and dance in the calculus role. I'll probably pass.

The Benchwarmers: I have nothing to add to this.

Phat Girlz: I debated whether to put this or Benchwarmers last. I decided on this because I think it's dishonest and degrading to use "Phat" in order to pretend that you're not really saying "fat". Also, Fox is releasing it under their Fox Seachlight label, as if this is an art film or something, and that irritates me.

So, five will-sees, and might-see, a probably-not, and two no-way-in-hells. Really, that's a pretty good week.

Typecasting

by Jackrabbit Slim

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (AFP) - An Indian movie director said he hopes to persuade Paris Hilton to play the role of Nobel laureate and prospective Catholic Saint, Mother Teresa, in an upcoming film.


"Her features resemble Mother Teresa," director T. Rajeevnath told AFP from the southwestern coastal state of Kerala.

The filmmaker said Hilton is on his shortlist after a computer-generated image showed a close facial match between the hotel heiress and the Albanian-born nun.

Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, worked among the poor in the teeming slums of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, with the Missionaries of Charity. She was beatified by Pope John Paul in 2003, a significant step on the road to sainthood in the Catholic church.

"A meeting with Paris Hilton is scheduled for the end of April," Rajeevnath said.

The 54-year-old director is well-known in India for his Malayalam-language films, including "Janani" (Mother) -- the story of seven nuns who care for an abandoned baby, which won a national award.

Hilton's prior movie experience includes appearing in a home-made sex video made by a former boyfriend that appeared on the Internet, and parts in several Hollywood B-films.

The blond socialite, who is often the focus of US celebrity gossip columns, also starred in the US reality television show "The Simple Life".

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Lucky Number Slevin

by Alex Stroup
I saw this yesterday at a press screening and while I don't think it will be a strong mark against the Weinstein Company, it is a pretty mixed bag.

The first question will be how much you think about a movie while you're watching it. If you're good at just going along with the flow and taking it as it comes then you stand a much better chance of enjoying everything. If, like me, you tend to try to fit scenes together as you go along you stand a fair chance of figuring everything out within the first 20 minutes and then all you have to go on is the film's attitude and that may not be enough for a lot of people.

The setup is simple, in a case of mistaken identity Slevin (Josh Hartnett) ends up stuck in the middle between The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), two mob bosses engaged in a war of vengeance. Bruce Willis plays a hitman that is somehow involved in all the goings on, Stanley Tucci is a cop assigned to watch the mob bosses, and Lucy Liu is a cute neighbor girl that gets caught up with Slevin. Pretty much exactly what you've seen in the trailer.

Of course, that isn't where the movie ends up. Ultimately the movie ties itself into a neat little package that will, as I mentioned, be much more impressive to those who don't figure it out almost immediately.

So how about the attitude? The attitude of every character is one of casual indifference. Slevin seems only slightly bothered by the fact he's has ended up involved in all of this. Liu's character seems to think it a great lark that she has run into this guy fending off two giants of the mobster industry. Even more casual are the mobsters and Willis in their casual attitude towards violence. It is just something you do in the course of the workday and particularly early the bodies fall fast and furious. There are three separate acts of murder over the opening credits (which, by the way are very well presented).

So casual is the violence that by the time a character shows any hesitation at all it could have had some real emotional impact if anybody involved with the movie had interest in emotionally impacting the audience.

And ultimately that is the problem with the movie. It is so above itself, saying "all this doesn't affect me" that it can hardly expect anybody in the audience to be affected either. There are some good lines, and even a couple good scenes. It strikes me as the kind of movie that will appeal to a certain class of teenager but there just isn't enough substance to keep me happy (and I certainly have no problems with casual violence in movies).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bird Flu Reaches France

by Nick

Five Most Anticipated American Non-Blockbuster No-Awards-Expected Films of 2006

by Nick
Wells came out with his preview of the summer blockbusters yesterday ("Not-So-Bad Summer"), which didn't say anything I'm guessing most of us didn't already know. Most of the great films usually come out of left-field, so I figured I'd list the small Hollywood films I'm anticipating this year, which aren't expected to sweep the box-office, or win any awards, but could turn out to be gems none the less.

1. Borat

Man, if you don't know Borat...

Release: November

2. Crank

Let's see if everyone agrees on this one:

Jason Statham is the modern heir to the action-hero mantle laid off by Schwarzenegger, Willis and Stallone. He may not have Willis' charm, Schwarzeneggers über-brawn or the sympathetic working-class quality that Stallone had, but he has something in between. The Transporter films have made at least his face known among action fans, the only thing that's been missing is a proper hit. I'm betting that Crank might be it.

In the film Statham plays the assassin Chev, who at the start of the film is injected by a disgruntled victim in LA with a poison that will kill him unless he keeps his adrenaline flow high and going for 24 hours. So Chev goes on a total rampage throughout LA.

If done right this could be like Falling Down without all those moral issues making a mess of things towards the end.

Release: September

3. Fast Food Nation

Along with making A Scanner Darkly Richard Linklater filmed this one, an ensemble drama on - you guessed it, you genius you - fast food. Something about the whole package here has me anticipating this one, a lot. I think it's the thought of "Traffic - with hamburgers". That and a cast consisting of Luis Guzman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Cannavale (who was great in Station Agent), Ethan Hawke and Avril Lavigne(?).

Linklater going back to doing a film about modern day youth is reason enough, really.

Release: Summer?

4. Children of Men

I'm of the persuasion that even with science-fiction films that go really wrong, I can usually find something interesting or watchable. Even movies like The Island, Aeon Flux and Sky Captain, terrible as they were, had some cool ideas and sequences. Sue me.

And when they go right, they go really right. Films like V for Vendetta, Serenity, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Donnie Darko were all sci-fi films released this decade. None of them won any Oscars, but they were all great films.

The premise of Children of Men may sound like a potential yawner: in a near future where mankind is unable to have children, a woman has gotten pregnant. The film follows her and her bodyguard's journey through a ravaged England to deliver her to safety.

Two things make this a must-see,

1) It's being directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

2) The cast: Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Peter Mullan, Danny Huston and Chiwetel Eijofor (whey!).

Release: September

5. When The Levees Broke

The talk about United 93 is mainly over whether it's 'too soon' (don't agree with this, but I'm not one of the wounded parties, so). I hope the same sentiments won't apply to future coverage of the Katrina disaster. And is it irony or tragedy that the same sentiments probably won't?

Spike Lee has been working on this for HBO since september last year, and will show it on the channel for the disaster's one year anniversary.

This being Spike Lee one can guess what his focus will be, and I hope he stirs up debate, I hope he sets out to be controversial, but mainly I hope he sets out to do something more than a filmed Kanye comment. There were admirable deeds done during those days, but compared to 9-11 this was a very different aftermath, and why was that? Spike shall deliver.

When it comes to what happened in New Orleans there's no 'too soon.' There hasn't been enough.

Release: August 29th on HBO

3/29's episode of Lost

by Chris
I don't really consider this a spoiler, since it answers nothing and brings to light about 8,000 new questions. In the last episode of Lost, there was a major lockdown in The Hatch that trapped Locke and the prisoner. While Locke was holed up, all the lights went out, some emergency blacklights came on, and this became visible on the blast door (you can see a bigger picture of it by clicking here):

The typed text in this picture was added by someone, but I have seen other screen caps and the translation is perfect (the original scribblings had to be clarified, they were very hard to read.) The guy also added translation of the latin that was written all over the thing.

This "map" did not stay up for very long, but you could tell that Locke was trying his damnest to memorize it. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Goddamn, I love this show!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

What I've Seen

by Alex Stroup
I've unexpectedly been on the road a lot the last couple weeks so I haven't been saying much. In the vein of Brian's Quick Takes here is what I've seen recently.

The Hills Have Eyes - I'm not really a fan of gore films and I have never seen the original 1977 version, but I had a couple hours to kill between meetings and this fit into the time slot so I figured I'd give it a try. It actually does a decent job of building and maintaining the tension but I still don't really understand the appeal of a movie that seems to have goal other than filling the screen with gore.

Pollyanna (1960) - I hadn't seen this Disney saccharine classic since I was maybe 10 years old. I remember rolling my eyes at it back then but I was surprised to find that up until the super-sweet ending it's actually a decent family film. Watching it highlights the regrettable fact that much of "family entertainment" made these days is done ironically and I don't know that this is so good for the kids watching it.

Inside Man - Spike Lee is a mixed bag for me. Some films are brilliant (Do the Right Thing (1989), Clockers (1995)) while others are just a mess (Jungle Fever (1991), Summer of Sam (1999)). But I am very interested in seeing what Lee will do with such an overtly commercial film. I think it was Ebert who noted that the tangents are more interesting than the substance of the film and I would have to agree with that. The heist itself is tight and only once resorts to the "Omniscient Villain" copout that I so despise. But it was also obvious and with insufficient payoff for having sat through two-hours of movie. Also, Jodie Foster's presence in the film was pointless other than to pad the time. Overall I liked it though.

A History of Violence - This one has been sitting with me and I'm still trying to decide what I think of it. Before I'll be able to decide for sure I need to come to terms with what I think was going on with the Maria Bello character after she learns the truth. I suspect that the other 90 minutes of the movie is merely the vehicle for delivering to us those 6 minutes of film. I enjoyed the movie while watching and am intrigued by what I'll find in her and myself in thinking about it further.

Good Luck, and Good Night - My bachelor's degree is in American History and while my main focus was the antebellum period from Andrew Jackson to the Civil War I also spent a lot of time on the anti-communism immediately following World War II (Russia had only recently fallen and very interesting primary source documentation was starting to come out of there). So perhaps I have too much of an understanding of the events of that time period to place as much importance on Edward R. Murrow's McCarthian defiance. It was important but it was much more an imprimatur on an existing defiance than the movie depicts. Still very tightly made by Clooney and I love the decision to go black-and-white and use actual McCarthy footage. Also, I think the film mostly sticks to the important lesson of the period. McCarthy was actually right in his general accusations more than the left likes to admit, but that is completely irrelevant since he was wrong in his methods every time. The movie, by focusing on the latter does well.

Thank You For Smoking - I've read the book on which this is based and while the satire in that was biting, I felt that it simply tried to carry the joke too long (like a bad SNL skit) and began to fray by the end. I was hopeful that the more time limited nature of a film would help with this but apparently it just made it worse as I felt the joke was played out about halfway through the movie. And worse, the satire, even while it was going strong, wasn't as sharp as in the book. I try not to review movies in comparison to the source material but in this case I'm failing and was just left disappointed by the movie.

Hair (1979) - Watched about 40 minutes of this musical before turning it off, putting it back in the mailer, and having it on its way back to Netflix 10 minutes later. It was just that bad.

Slither - I saw this one solely because my wife wanted to. And she wanted to see it solely because it stars Nathan Fillion (of Serenity and Firefly) and also because the TV commercial compared it to Tremors (1990), a movie she loves. The comparison to tremors is actually a pretty good one and if you liked that movie you have a fair chance of liking this one (even with more of a focus on the gross-out). On a scale of one to ten, where ten equals Tremors and one equals Eight Legged Freaks (2002), I'd call Slither an 8.

Quick Takes: March 10 - March 30

by Brian
The Libertine: Very dull and very unpleasant, from Johnny Depp's undisciplined performance to the very ugly cinematography to a third act that makes one wish man had never acquired the sense of sight. I've admired Depp for a long time, but like with a great band, part of being a fan is recognizing when someone's lost their touch. With this and Charlie released in the last year, and two more Pirates on the way, I really have to wonder about the guy. Oh, and this is yet another nail in the Weinsteins' coffin, too.

Winter Passing: Another movie that doesn't quite seem to have a reason for existing, and proof positive that Will Ferrell cannot act. He's absolutely brutal. And director Adam Rapp never figures out basic things like "mood" and "tone", making the material seem even more sketchy than it already is (and it's pretty sketchy).
I find Zooey Deschanel very appealing, though, so it's not a total loss.

Find Me Guilty: I've got to hand it to Vin Diesel, as this is a tricky part and he actually handles it quite well. The movie itself works OK, because Sidney Lumet does know things like "mood" and "tone". But again, when all is said and done there doesn't seem to be much of a point. Mobster tells jokes in court for a year, and then ... the trial ends, everybody slaps each other on the back, credits roll. Franky, it's not really all that compelling of a story. Still, great, great acting in supporting roles by many, but especially Peter Dinklage, who should get an Oscar nomination next year (fat chance, though) and Raúl Esparza, as a key informant.

Unknown White Male: Deathly dull documentary about an amnesiac, directed by some schmuck who thinks he's the next Darren Aronofsky. I've never seen a documentary that's so over-directed. And, I'm sorry, but the premise is lame. A guy can't remember anything; sucks for him, but the film doesn't try to make anything of it, aside from some overwritten pop psychology in the prologue and epilogue about identity and what makes us unique and so on. Instead, it mostly consists of him meeting friends, while he says, I don't remember them. He meets family, and puzzles about being unable to remember. He looks through his stuff, and says he can't remember. You can see where this is not exciting.

Duck Season: Small, reasonably charming black-and-white Mexican film about a couple of bored teenage kids wasting an afternoon. One of the neighbor girls invites herself into the kitchen to bake a cake, and a delivery man brings them pizza but won't leave. Hijinks obviously ensue. The film doesn't really go anywhere, but hey, that's life.