Thursday, September 28, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 09/29

by Brian
The Science of Sleep (trailer): From Michel Gondry, whose Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the best films so far this decade. This one looks somewhat similar in conception, and that worries me a bit, but it’s still a must-see.

Al Franken: God Spoke (trailer): I’m a big fan of Al Franken, although his last book, The Truth (with Jokes), was relatively weak. It seems that he’s (intentionally) gotten less funny in recent years, which is too bad, because his combination of policy wonkishness and humor is awesome when at full blast. Not sure about the documentary, but the trailer is OK.

The Guardian (trailer): Andrew Davis used to be pretty great; what happened? And did anyone else know that he did Holes? I just noticed that (didn’t see the movie).

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (trailer at official site): A lot of pub for this one, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a doc telling me something I already know. “The ratings board sucks”. Gee, almost as revelatory as “eating nothing except McDonald’s is not healthy.” Everybody has problems with the ratings board (more on that below).

The U.S. vs. John Lennon (trailer): Wells panned this, very persuasively, a few weeks ago.

Azumi (trailer): Here’s one that premiered in Japan three and a half years ago. In fact, the sequel has already showed up in Japan. Now a company called Urban Vision is putting it out here. It’s another in a long line of films featuring female action heroes.

School for Scoundrels (trailer): Looks pretty bad, but I could probably sit through it if I had to. Billy Bob Thornton’s asshole schtick really never gets old.

Facing the Giants (trailer): Very controversial ratings decision here; Christian groups were upset that the film earned a PG due to a religiously themed pep talk that a football coach gives his players.

Open Season (trailer): True or false: There is a less appealing voiceover duo than Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher even theoretically possible.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Heroes Redux

by Count Olaf
A mere 6 weeks after my first post on the subject NBC's Heroes finally premiered. They must have read my review intently and knew what keen insight I had into the mind of AverageJoe TV Viewer. (tongue firmly planted in cheek) Or maybe they released that one to the Internet knowing full-well that some things would have to be changed...

Right off the bat I noticed something different: the font! It's more comic-book style. I'm finally seeing where they want to go with this show.... Also Chapter One is now called "Genesis" instead of "In His Own Image." I'm cool with that. There are minor special effects additions and improvements throughout. Music is different in many places and some other things are edited differently (for the better).

My sarcastic rant about the artist chopping off his own hand no longer makes sense because they merely make him OD on drugs more handcuffs/saw/severed hand. That's definitely for the better. They dropped where he shows his girlfriend the painting he drew of her earlier that morning (showing her standing in the doorway as she just stood moments ago) which was no biggie. It was just another way to drive home that his paintings predict the future. Also his painting of NYC ablaze was enhanced so you could really see what he drew on the floor.

Las Vegas girl with genius son......The son still has the comic book which immediately connects to the Japanese guy, but in seeing the preview for next week you find out that the comic book plays a HUGE role in the whole story. Also the son does not run away and steal $300 from his emergency sitter this time. Instead of the sitter calling and saying the boy ran off it's the boy who calls and says "come pick me up."

They cut back a lot of the Japanese rooftop exercise session, seemed to show more stripping, and changed a few lines here and there. It was a great premiere and looks wonderful in HD. The clincher, however, was the preview for next week (and possibly weeks to follow). There is definitely something real about the comic book feel and references and they blatantly tell you that in the preview...."9th Wonders" seems to be telling the "Heroes" story as it happens. Perhaps the eccentric artist's paintings are merely frames for the next issue?

It's a great idea and I hope they run with it. It looks like their online site is going to help the story along as well with an overly dramatic online comic!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 09/22

by Brian
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (trailer): New film from Zhang Yimou, seemingly quite different from his recent films House of Flying Daggers, which I thought was OK, and Hero, which I inexplicably missed. For pure postcard beauty, this poster from Sony Classics can’t be beat, and I think it’s influencing my wanting to see it more than anything else.

All the King’s Men (trailer): Well-known to be trouble at this point, but it’s hard to believe it’s that bad, even if all evidence suggests that it is.

Haven (trailer): With Orlando Bloom and Bill Paxton. Premiered at Toronto 2004, so it’s been kicking around awhile.

Fearless (trailer): Jet Li’s final martial arts movie, just in case you’ve missed all advertising for this movie and haven’t heard.

Confetti (trailer): The Hollywood Reports’s Ray Bennett says watching this “is like being sucked into the quicksand of comedy hell” (via the Chicago Sun-Times). So it’s like all those bridal shows on cable, in other words.

Flyboys (trailer): What I really love about this is the shot in the trailer where the guy is running across the exploding blimp (er, zeppelin?). Because it is, you, “inspired by a true story.”

Aurora Borealis (trailer): More from Regent.

Jackass: Number Two (trailer): I would have thought that Jackass’s time was up, since the first movie was 4 years ago already, and it’s resoundingly clear that no one really wants to see Johnny Knoxville in anything else. But, here’s another one, and apparently it’ll make some money this weekend.

A couple more notes for this week:

-- Feast, the Project Greenlight horror film, premieres this week. I’m not listing it with the other openings because it’s doing midnight shows only, tonight and tomorrow. Leave it to the Weinsteins to find new and inventive ways to bury a film.

-- The Viva Pedro! retrospective continues this week with Matador, Live Flesh, and Law of Desire.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sven Nykvist, R.I.P.

by Jackrabbit Slim

Sven Nykvist, cinematographer extraordinaire, passed away. He was 83. He was one of the first cinematographers who I had heard of, as he was best known for being Ingmar Bergman's DP. He won two Oscars for Bergman films, Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander, as well as most of the other Bergman classics, such as Persona, The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence, and Scenes from a Marriage.

His American film work included the Woody Allen films Another Woman, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Celebrity, as well as Chaplin, Sleepless in Seattle and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

His last few films were hardly notable--Mixed Nuts, Only You and Without Honors, but he was a great artist.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Feel the Pressure

by Nick
Man, this game is driving me nuts.

Opening in Dallas, 09/15

by Brian
Half Nelson (trailer): Been waiting for this for a while, since Kevin Smith and Richard Roeper both agreed that this is one of the best films in a decade.

Jesus Camp (trailer): Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady last made the excellent The Boys of Baraka, and now explore youth evangelist camps. The film got some controversy, possibly contrived, when Magnolia Pictures asked Michael Moore not to screen it at his film festival, and he did anyway.

The Last Kiss (trailer): I’ll probably end up seeing this; don’t really care one way or the other.

The Black Dahlia (trailer): Here’s a question: is The Untouchables actually any good? Universal has been constantly referencing that movie and Scarface in the marketing for Dahlia. I’ve seen (and only marginally liked) Scarface, but haven’t caught up with Untouchables yet.

Gridiron Gang (trailer): The People’s Eyebrow returns, looking a bit more stern than in the ads for Doom but not really any less foolish. At one point I thought that The Rock might be an OK actor under the right circumstances, but now I seriously doubt it. Not that we’ll ever find out anyway.

Everyone’s Hero (trailer): The animated film Christopher Reeve was working on when he passed away. As such, I’d like to be supportive, but it really doesn’t look very good.

Queens (trailer): I think I’m just going to automatically skip every movie from Regent Releasing from here on out. I couldn’t tell you when the last time was that they came around with something that didn’t look like direct-to-video crap.

Also this week, three more movies in the Almodóvar retrospective: The Flower of My Secret, All About My Mother, and Talk to Her. Already seen Talk to Her, so Mother is the priority.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Hero For The Modern Age?

by Nick
Courtesy of Kim Morgan's Pretty Poison blog.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

by Nick
Whether or not you agree with Ken Loach's political views, he has been one of the best and - amazingly, considering that he's always been so openly political - most solid working directors for the last fifteen years. Hidden Agenda, Raining Stones, Land and Freedom, My Name Is Joe, Sweet Sixteen, and Ae Fond Kiss are - if you haven't seen them - all recommended viewing.

The reason why Loach is a better filmmaker than those of his British contemporaries that've gone to Hollywood, is seen as well as explained in The Wind That Shakes Barley (winner of the Palme D'Or this year). This is the film Michael Collins tried to be, but never could have. It clarifies the Irish conflict better than any other film I've seen so far, simply by taking it from the perspective of the Irish peasants, those who would come to form the Irish Republican Army, the IRA. Their reasoning is here made horribly clear.
Cillian Murphy, playing the main role, is great as Damien. This is a guy who starts out as a quiet newly-examined doctor, intent on going to London and blacking out the conflict, but ends up as one of the founding fathers of the IRA. I hate to use the cliché of 'quiet intensity,' but the guy really exudes it here. You'll see what I mean by the end.

It is also a film of striking visuals. It's all natural lighting (I think) and the rolling, green vistas of Ireland and its low-roofed clay houses are as much a character here as the desert and sand in Lawrence of Arabia.
Those unwilling towards the film for being 'propaganda,' as IRA-justification, or demonising of the British etc., do the film and themselves a disfavor. It shows the arguments and justifications of both sides. As for the comparisons with the current occupation of Iraq, well that's history for you. What I can say is that the film works just as well without the parallels.

Since this won the Palme D'Or you'd perhaps expect it to be something extraordinary, above the 'ordinary' Loach. And well, it's not. Not that this is a bad thing. What this is is a very, very good Ken Loach-film, one his best so far.

Perhaps Loach's great track record has to do with that unlike most political filmmakers the feeling I always get off his films is that he is craftsman more than artist. That, though they feel organic, nothing has been left to chance. And this film feels crafted to near perfection, despite, or maybe it's because, though the characters actions are unpredictable, they are understandable, and even if the end feels unavoidable, it is surprising and unnerving. Like all good stories it ends where it begun.

This is a film that is hard to grasp and give a fair impression of. I can't quite pinpoint it, but I think it has something to do with it being a great story, but with an uneven and forced plot, if that makes any sense. Even if it has horrible scenes of murder and torture, in a way it feels cold. There are some standout scenes, but none of them warm your heart exactly, and some great performances, even if the characters themselves are somewhat bland. None the less, I left the theatre heartbroken.

I Know What I Did Last Summer

by jaydro
Summer is over. I was going to post this a while back, especially when Nick returned, but then Nick beat me to it. I spent a long weekend last week at the beach, my last beach trip of the summer. Wait a minute--that was my only trip to the beach this summer. Where did the summer go? *sigh*

This past summer I managed to pretty much avoid seeing any new movies in theaters. (You know, I may have snuck a few in there, but right now I'm not remembering them, which also says something.) I'm not sure how I did that. It was perhaps my worst movie-going summer ever in what looks like my worst movie-going year ever. I still want to see Pirates of the Caribbean II, and came close to seeing it last weekend. Seems like my movie buddies and I are all too busy and we all have conflicting schedules or something. I know there were times I turned down a movie outing just because I wanted to enjoy the late summer evenings outdoors.

Yes, outdoors--I meant to post about this back in June to advertise it to a degree, but I kept putting it off, and, well, here goes:

Movies Under the Stars

This past summer I reacquainted myself with the joys of outdoor movies. The NC Museum of Art had a great schedule this year, and my biggest regret is that I didn't see more of them. I did manage to see Good Night, and Good Luck, Pride and Prejudice, Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and Lawrence of Arabia. It's always great to see movies with a big crowd, I think, and being outdoors adds something more. It was great to hear the spontaneous clapping for one of Murrow's speeches in Good Night. It was sublime to see as many shooting stars as I did while watching movies on the lawn. And it was also awe-inspiring to see Lawrence on a giant screen; it reminded me why I've watched it on video so few times--the immense landscapes with their tiny figures just don't captivate the same way at home.

So, next summer you all should make a point to check out your local outdoor movie screenings. The art museum here started it more than fifteen years ago, and now we have several going on every week during the summer. (Note: I'm not counting drive-in theaters because I'm one of those traditionalists who insists on sitting in the car at a drive-in. I'm not yet one of those who brings lawn chairs and a boombox and sits out of the car at a drive-in movie.)

What else did I do this summer? Well, I watched every episode of Veronica Mars. I also watched all but the last two seasons of Six Feet Under--I plan to finish those up soon.

Oh, yeah, and I also continued work on the eighteen-months-and-counting remodeling of my bathroom. It all started with a broken tile in the shower and culminated with it stripped down to the wall studs and the subfloor. This is what happens when you watch too many home-improvement TV shows. I just got the lights up yesterday, so we're making progress.... If I'd known it was going to be this epic, I would have hired a documentary film crew.

What did I not do? Wow, a lot. I had really meant to sneak out to a matinee weekday showing of The Proposition, since I knew I'd most likely have to see that one alone anyway. I never did. Now it looks like Miami Vice might be my sneak-out movie, but time is growing short.

I've gotten into this quandary ever since a few local Carmike cinemas debuted their excellent digital projection system: if a movie plays one of those screens, I must see it there, even if it's at an inconvenient location or time, and if I miss it then I lose interest. It's silly, but there it is. :-/

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stanley Kubrick Shorts

by jaydro
While looking up the new Star Trek on my TiVo, listed alphabetically just before it was Stanley Kubrick Shorts on Turner Classic Movies, airing Sept. 15th at 10:30 pm. They're showing Day of the Fight and The Flying Padre. I've heard about these for many years and never seen them, and if they've aired before on TCM, then I somehow missed it. Thank God for serendipitous TiVo searches (this happens to me a lot). Years ago someone kept announcing they were going to be releasing The Seafarers on DVD, but that never happened (did it?). Now all that's left is Fear and Desire and Strangers Kiss....

Yeah, I see you can download Day of the Fight, and Flying Padre is available at YouTube! And I might have already watched them that way if the whim had somehow struck me at the right time (I'm generally too busy watching Australian V8 Supercar racing), but you can bet the quality from TCM is going to be superior....

Star Trek 3.0?

by jaydro
While G4 has had a somewhat interesting repurposing of the original Star Trek with their Star Trek 2.0, it looks like Paramount is pulling the rug out from under them by introducing an enhanced Star Trek to syndication with all-new special effects and re-recorded music, etc. It starts this coming weekend.

I have mixed feelings about this. I'll have to check it out to see how it is, but my fear is that they will go too far. I think they would be better off just doing a thorough digital cleaning-up of the old effects, with some replacement of particularly egregiously bad ones, while keeping to the spirit of the originals, like what was done with the recent "director's cut" of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But I have to say that my overall impression from reviewing all the episodes under G4's 2.0 (mostly on fast-forward just to read the trivia items) was that the original effects were surprisingly good. I love those dolly-ins to that giant Enterprise model that leave you certain that the camera lens is going to bump into it and amazed at how far they do go in. And those cool beam and force-field effects that would use flashing of negative image cut-outs still work well for me, as does the original transporter effect--it looks less dated to me than the '80's Next Generation and movie versions.

What's interesting is that a small effects house re-did "The Doomsday Machine" back in the mid-'90's on spec hoping to get enough interest from Paramount for a complete series redo. I guess they were just ten years too early....

I have also been put-off by the recent "remastering" of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series. It's great to use images from the Hubble Space Telescope and all that, but when at one point they throw in clips showing recent news events it all breaks down because then it doesn't make sense to hear Sagan obsessing about nuclear winter, does it?

Opened in Dallas, 09/08

by Brian
I’m back, and need to do some catching up. The most notable film event of this week is the start of the Viva Pedro! retrospective, which is being kicked off by Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Neat.

Hollywoodland (trailer): Already been reviewed by Jackrabbit Slim.

Time to Leave (trailer): A terminally ill man comes to terms with the bad decisions from his life. I’d like to see this, but I doubt I’ll get the chance.

The House of Sand (trailer): A woman and her mother are condemned to life in the middle of the Brazilian desert. Somewhat mixed reviews, but the photography really looks fantastic.

Truce (trailer): I’ve never heard of this, to be honest. Very high IMDb rating, but only 17 votes, so who knows.

The Protector (trailer): You know, this movie was added to the release schedule only very recently by The Weinstein Co., with a date of 8/25. I thought it’d be the one Weinstein movie whose release date doesn’t change at the last minute for no apparent reason. But no luck.

The Covenant (trailer): Uh, yeah, right. Good luck, Renny.

Broken Bridges (trailer at official site): Toby Keith is an actor now, I guess. And Burt Reynolds is in it, too! Isn’t there a Man Law against seeing stuff like this?

Saturday, September 09, 2006


by Jackrabbit Slim

Hollywoodland is most successful at setting moods. While watching it I was easily transported back to Los Angeles of the 1950s. The photography, settings and costumes seemed spot-on to me. It also was successful in establishing a mood around the character of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on television, and whose life ended mysteriously with a bullet to the head in 1959. Reeves was a blandly good-looking man, a decent actor who had a bit part in Gone With the Wind, and found huge success with Superman, but the role held him back from more serious pursuits.

What the film does not do is tell a compelling story. Well, it tells half a good story. The film begins with Reeves' death, and we then have a parallel track: the investigation of the case by a down-on-his-luck private eye (Adrien Brody), and flashbacks that tell Reeves' story from when he meets Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of an MGM studio boss who treats him like her boy-toy. Ben Affleck, ingeniously cast as Reeves, has never been better as the actor, and his story is interesting. But director Allen Coulter and writer Paul Bernbaum do not manage to make the Brody section interesting. It's like a hundred private-eye novels you've read--gumshoe who is scraping by trailing suspected cheating wives gets a hot case. He meets resistance at every turn, but he doggedly pursues it, even after he's beaten up. Yawn.

In addition, since this is a real case that has no solution, there is no emotional pay-off. The script offers a few suppositions, but nothing with any evidence. To borrow a phrase, there is no smoking gun here. Instead we get a meditation on a time period when children weren't so jaded that they could enjoy watching a somewhat flabby man pretend he could fly, only to have their fantasies disrupted when their idol died with a bullet in his brain.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Twenty Dwarves Took Turns Doing Handstands on the Carpet

by Jackrabbit Slim

Continuing the look at the films of 1991, I turn to Bugsy.

Films about organized crime have served as a dark metaphor for the American rags to riches story almost since the beginning, from the Warner Brothers gangster films to the The Godfather. During the 19th and early 20th century, ethnic groups such as the Irish, Jews and Italians, who were denied access to legitimate corridors of power, used other means to achieve success, by skirting the law and giving the people what they wanted. While many of them were nothing but vicious killers, they have certainly captured the imagination of movie-goers, and continue to popular subject matters for film. This is certainly true of Bugsy, directed by Barry Levinson. In addition, Bugsy also uses another American motif, the reinvention of a person. Several times during the film Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel uses the phrase, “Everybody needs a fresh start.” No one wants more of a fresh start than Siegel.

As the film begins, Siegel is headed to Los Angeles as a representative of Meyer Lansky to muscle on in on the local syndicate. Siegel takes this opportunity to try and reinvent himself, from the street thug he was as a youth, to someone more debonair and sophisticated. When we first see him he is practicing his elocution, trying to get rid of his accent. But Siegel can not escape his past, which eventually brings him down.

I saw this film at the Loews 84th Street one December night, and watching it again I was reminded of how underwhelmed by it I was. Part of the problem is Warren Beatty’s performance as Siegel. While Bugsy was a guy who wanted to be a movie star but couldn’t hide his past as a hoodlum, Beatty is trying to play a hoodlum but can’t hide that he’s a movie star. He just infuses this role with too much glamour. I’ve never been a big fan of Beatty as an actor (I think he’s a better director). Also, and this isn’t fair, once you’ve seen The Godfather, any serious gangster picture is likely to come up short. The script is a little too glib, the direction a little too obvious (such as the scene between Siegel and Virginia Hall shot through a movie screen). I was also bothered by the usually great Harvey Keitel, who gives a cartoonish performance as Mickey Cohen.

I think the best performance in the film is by Annette Bening as Hill. Her characterization has some depth that the others lack. She’s a film extra and good-time gal who has the brains for something better, and Siegel gives her the chance, but she’s ruined by the association.

The film also has some glaring historical inaccuracies, but that’s too be expected in any film about real people. Most notably, Siegel was not killed immediately after the Flamingo opened, he got it about six months later. And whether the idea of Las Vegas as an entertainment Mecca was Siegel’s brainchild, well, that’s also debatable.


by Nick

Ellen DeGeneres to host Oscars

by Jackrabbit Slim
The Oscar ceremony of 2007 has a host. I think the strategy is clear--the Academy and ABC have given up on attracting straight men, like they did with Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, and are firming up their base. I mean, do any straight men watch DeGeneres' show? I think she's capable, easier to take in small doses than over three hours. Anybody else have an opinion?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oh, and by the way...

by Nick
This is apparently what our 'work' has been worth so far.

My blog is worth $2,258.16.
How much is your blog worth?

A Small Dilemma

by Nick
A great (okay, maybe not great, but at least a) dilemma has sprung up on my part regarding The Prestige. It's whether to buy the book or not. Since the rule is that the book is better than the film, reading the book before seeing the film is usually a good idea. And the book sounds very good.

But this time the author himself has remarked (can't find where it was, but I remember he did) that the script he'd read was in some ways better than his own book. So buying it might entail in way ruining an even better film. Kind of like reading The Godfather book before seeing the film (even if I doubt the film will be that great) . I can always read it afterwards, but by then I'll know how it ends, which always sucks the joy out of reading a book, or seeing a film.

Ten Fall Films To Look Forward To?

by Nick
So, since the summer season is over (boring and disappointing as it has largely been), I was wondering who is looking forward to what this fall and winter?

Thus far into the year it's these for me, even if I'm prepared that at the year's end the 'best of' list will probably look a whole lot different.

1. The Prestige

I don't think I even have to get into why, but suffice to say that, amen Brian, when I saw that trailer, man, I was so sold.

2. The Departed

Even if the trailer did not make my heart do summersaults, and Nicholson's Boston Irish dialect did not falter at times, and it appeared to be just a straight off remake of the original, this would still be one of the must sees of the year.

3. The Fountain

It's dividing critics up in love-or-hate camps. I'm betting on being in the love camp. I mean just look at that trailer again.

4. Pan's Labyrinth

The trailer for this film, plus the promise of it being a spanish talking weirdo take on Alice in Wonderland set in the Spanish civil war by the amazing Del Toro, makes me giddy. So cool.

5. The Good Shepherd

Also ranted about this one before. No trailer for this one yet, just set-pics, but so far nothing's come up to change my mind. James Jesus Angleton's story must be told!

6. Babel

Alejandro Gonzales Iñarritu. There, I said it.

7. Borat

Funniest trailer of the year? Yes, my humor is low and I am prejudiced.

8. History Boys (new)

Just squeezed in this one. After seeing the trailer (flash though it be), basically just had to. Looks like a winner.

9. Casino Royale

Seriously, who isn't going to see this? Also Craig looks like a great new Bond.

10. Running With Scissors

Surprised by this, never was a fan of Nip/Tuck, but the trailer makes this look like a quality drama-comedy in the vein of Royal Tenenbaums. And that can't be a bad thing.


I know there are quite a few other interesting looking films coming out, but in a top ten, these are the ones I want see now.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back, and to the Left

by Jackrabbit Slim

Continuing my look at the major films of 1991, I now turn to JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. I saw it on its opening day, a few days before Christmas, at the Paramount Theater in Columbus Circle. I remember the marketing people handing out pieces of paper and little pencils to ask us what we thought of the film. Fifteen years later, I’m still not sure.

The assassination of John Kennedy is the great American mystery. A forest has been sacrificed to make all the paper for all the books and articles that have been written about it (26 volumes of the Warren Report alone). And still we are no closer to a definitive answer than we were 43 years ago. It certainly is a great subject for a film, but I think Stone makes a few key errors.

One is to make Kennedy too saintly. As years have gone by, the more we learn about him the more his legacy was tarnished. He and his father certainly cozied up to the mob, and there is good evidence that the election of 1960 was crooked (to be fair, there were phony votes for Nixon as well). His sexual proclivities make Bill Clinton look like a Boy Scout, and while that is a failure of character that doesn’t necessarily translate into an ineffective leader, it does when you share a mistress with a major Mafia figure. Secondly, Stone’s entire premise for the motive in killing JFK is his belief that Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam, had he lived. This is disputable. Kennedy was a hard-line cold warrior when elected. And, given all the philandering he did, wouldn’t have been easier to blackmail him, rather than kill him in a conspiracy that must have been known by hundreds of people? Finally, that Stone made Jim Garrison the hero of his film makes it a little shaky. Garrison, many believed, was a zealot and not playing with a full deck. Stone works around this by having Garrison’s character tell us that people are making him look crazy.

I vacillate on what I believe. There are a couple of problems with the lone gunman theory—namely the magic bullet, and that Oswald couldn’t have possibly fired off that many shots with a crummy rifle in such a short period of time. Also, it is well established that Jack Ruby, who offed Oswald, was mobbed up. I did read a book about ten years ago called Case Closed, by Gerald Posner, who answers all these questions and maintains Oswald acted alone. I don’t remember the particulars, but the book was very convincing.

But what of the film? On the extras disc, New York Times report Tom Wicker sums it up best, I think, when he says it is certainly well put together, but he doesn’t consider it art, it is propaganda. Stone has fish to fry and the film is constructed toward that end. It is frequently very stirring, at times irritating. The domestic scenes between Kevin Costner and Sissy Spacek are especially clumsy, and recall the funny scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen gets dumped by Carol Kane because of his obsession with the assassination. But I will admit that the twenty or so minute scene toward the end, when Costner makes his speech to the jury and lays out the entire theory, is quite breathtaking.

One amusing footnote: the TV show Seinfeld did a great parody of the film when Kramer and Newman tell their story of being spit on by baseball player Keith Hernandez, and Jerry presents his theory of the “second spitter.” What I hadn’t realized was that Wayne Knight, who plays Newman, was in JFK as one of Costner’s assistants, and is one of the dummy figures in the “magic bullet” demonstration, just as he is on Seinfeld (except in this instance it is the “magic loogie”).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Illusionist

by Jackrabbit Slim

Stories about the history of magic, particularly in the pre-television era of entertainment, are like catnip to me. I've read several books about Houdini, and enjoy watching and reading Ricky Jay's work about magic history. I've also read several novels like Carter Beats the Devil, which is about a stage magician getting involved in political skullduggery. So I enjoyed very much The Illusionist, a tale of a magician and his lost love and an evil prince.

I have no interest in what passes for magic today, the spectacles that are on the Vegas strip or the attention-seeking David Blaine. Although Blaine is certainly an heir to Houdini, his stunts seem to be far more craven (maybe it's because he bangs a lot of models). But I'm a sucker for the old hocus pocus of yesteryear.

The appeal of magic, I think, is that those who like it want to believe it's real, and the best stories about it leave that up in the air. So this is with The Illusionist. Edward Norton is Eisenheim, the title character, who has a somewhat fairy-tale past. As a youth he was in love with a girl far above his station, and was forceably separated from her. Later, as a famous performer, he meets her again by chance, and she is a duchess engaged to the villainous prince. The prince, clearly a rationalist, watches Eisenheim's show and wants to know how he does it. After a command performance at the palace, Eisenheim shows up the prince, and he earns an enemy. Through all this the police inspector (Paul Giamatti), who is a toady to the prince, keeps an eye on the magician's comings and goings.

The film is directed lushly by Neil Burger, who is unknown to me. Set in fin-de-siecle Vienna, the cinematography is reminiscent of old photographs, slightly diffuse, and rich in earth tones. The music is by Philip Glass, and while it is certainly recognizable as his work, it is not overtly contemporary.

Edward Norton is excellent as the illusionist, but it is Giamatti who steals the show. He expresses the many layers of a man who knows he is the puppet of power but is inherently decent. Rufus Sewell does well with a part that is essentially a cliche, how he resists twirling his mustache I don't know. Only poor Jessica Biel sticks out. Certainly lovely to look at, her performance is flat and doesn't create much chemistry with Norton.

This film requires some effort from the audience, it is not for the passive movie-goer. It starts slowly, but slowly absorbs you if you are willing to take the ride. It even has an ending that suprised me.

Interestingly, before this film there was a trailer for another film about the magicians, The Prestige, which is directed by Christopher Nolan. It looks good as well, so for those interested in magic the season is ripe.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Opening in Dallas, 09/01

by Brian
Idiocracy: The term “long gestating” doesn’t even begin to apply to this one. Mike Judge’s long, long, long-awaited follow-up to Office Space has been completely buried by Fox. There’s no trailer that I know of, no TV ads, no website, not even any mention of it on Fox’s website that I can find. How bad can it really be, I wonder?

Lassie (trailer): In a desperately weak week (which is good since I’ll be out of town for a week anyway), an apparently well-made Lassie film gets second billing.

Only Human (trailer): Spanish comedy distributed by Magnolia Pictures, who generally seem to pride themselves on putting quality above box-office prospects. The trailer for this is all over the map, but it might be funny. Or not, I don’t know. Reviews have been pretty decent.

Trust the Man (trailer): Good cast - Duchovny, Moore, M. Gyllenhaal, Crudup - in what otherwise looks like a very boring movie. Reviews have been less than kind.

The Wicker Man (trailer): I was thinking about it the other day, and I think that Neil LaBute’s Nurse Betty was the last movie that I actually walked out on. That was a long time ago, but I think I’ll steer clear of this one, just in case.

The Quiet (trailer): I don’t know what to make of this one. It looks like a daytime soap opera transferred to the big screen.

Crank (trailer): Whatever.

Crossover (trailer): Ditto.

Another Gay Movie (trailer at official site): A gay American Pie. Just in case that’s not obvious enough, the key art even has the dude holding a pie, Biggs-style. I can only imagine the creative energy that must have gone into that one. And yet, strangely, neither the Weinsteins nor the Wayans brothers seem to have been involved.