Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oscar Talk

by Jackrabbit Slim
Well, another Oscar season over. I did so-so, getting 11 of the 21 categories I predicted. I was bummed Peter O'Toole didn't win, the look on his face after he lost was like, "I can't believe I came all this way and sat through this show again, and for nothing," but I was glad for Scorsese, even if that was catching up for all the times he was screwed in the past.

I liked the show. Every year I watch with friends and we enjoy it and then the next day I read blistering reviews. Ellen was okay, particularly the interaction with Scorsese and Eastwood. I liked the Will Ferrell/Jack Black number, and the Pilobius (sp?) stuff was amusing. I'm not sure what critics are looking for in this show.

Some upsets always help. Even though I picked him Alan Arkin had to count as one, and certainly The Lives of Others was another, especially since Pan's Labyritnth won three other awards. But Foreign Film is voted on by only those who have seen all five films, so it's a smaller sample. Also, it was certainly a big night for Al Gore. It was also probably the only time a female Oscar winner has thanked her wife (Melissa Etheridge).

What did you all think?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Strange week

by Nick
First they found a giant half-ton squid.

Then in San Antonio, Guatemala, a gigantic 130 feet wide, 330 feet deep, hole just opened up, swallowing two.

And now James Cameron claims to have proof of finding the tombs and bodies of, among others, Mary, Joseph and Jesus Christ. And, oh yeah, Jesus' son Judah.

Somehow I thought people would be less focused on the Oscars during the end of days.

10 years since the Titanic phenomenon

by Professor Wagstaff

Later this year, it will be 10 years since the release of James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ which is – despite increasing ticket prices over the past decade - still comfortably the highest grossing film of all time.

And unlike so many modern day high grossing films, it didn’t gain its grosses through a massive marketing campaign and enormous anticipation that ensured, even if it wasn’t particularly well liked, that it would be a massive hit. In fact, as I recall the buildup to the film was quite negative with lots of talk about a troubled production that had seen the budget skyrocket. There was little indication that it would be a major success.

But after its opening, it clearly captured the public’s imagination as it went from being a hit, to a major hit, to a phenomenon. People weren’t just seeing it and recommending it to others, they were seeing it a 2nd and even a 3rd time. To top it all off, it won 11 Oscars.

And yet 10 years late, despite being a film that captured the public’s imagination like few others, its reputation has dwindled in that time. A good statistical example of this is its average rating of 7.0 from the over 124 000 votes on the IMDB site – it’s pretty good there’s very few Best Picture Oscar winners over the past 50 years that would have a lower rating (‘Out of Africa’ is the only one I could find with a lower rating).

But on a broader level, there was a backlash against its massive success as growing segments of people found it an incredibly overwrought, sappy and manipulative film, filled with one-note cardboard characters (Billy Zane’s villain especially so). Specifically critics noted how absurdly idyllic the life of the poor was portrayed and that if it hadn’t been for the Titanic’s sinking, the film implied that DiCaprio and Winslet’s characters would’ve gone on to live a life of harmony despite the vast differences in their backgrounds and personalities.

Also, James Cameron’s performance on Oscar night didn’t help matters. His ‘king of the world’ exclamation became rather infamous but what always stuck in my memory was his self-indulgent request of a few moments of silence in memory for the victim’s of the Titanic. I guess some would say it was well intentioned but there wouldn’t be an Oscar ceremony where an actor or filmmaker could make such a request for the real-life victims portrayed in their film (‘Schindler’s List’ being an obvious example).

One of the reasons why I’m interested in looking back on this film is my personal reaction to it. I went to see it soon after it was released and not only enjoyed but was quite moved by it. In fact, it stayed with me so much that I went to see it again a few weeks later. It’s the only new release film to date that I’ve gone to see more then once during its theatrical run.

However, it is not a film that I’ve maintained an interest in over the years. I haven’t seen it since and don’t really have an interest in watching it again, let alone purchasing it on DVD. When I saw a few minutes of it during a TV screening a while back, it didn’t hold my interest. So it seems my reaction to the film reflects how people overall have reacted to it.

My questions are: what were the qualities in it that made it such a massive hit in the first place and why has its reputation dwindled over the years (or has it)?


2007 Independent Spirit Awards

by jaydro
Okay, I didn't blog it live (or nearly live) like I did last year, because I wasn't watching it anywhere near live. Moreso than last year there were several films I had never heard of (I didn't pay attention to the nominations until just before I watched the show) and even more that haven't played here yet (though for all I know they may already be on DVD). Just to show my ignorance, of the more prominent nominees I was unaware of American Gun, Sweet Land, and Land of Plenty. Okay, that's not so many, but I think last year there was just one.

Just before it started I thought, wow, Little Miss Sunshine is going to clean up here. And I was right. The show seemed like the Oscar Consolation Awards for Little Miss Sunshine.

Oh, and for Ryan Gosling, too. He made light of finally winning against Forest Whitaker, who was nominated, but not for The Last King of Scotland (it was American Gun this time).

Last year Felicity Huffman provided the highlight of the show in her funny acceptance speech, but this year she was the lowlight as she announced winner Shareeka Epps twice as Shakira Epps. Sarah Silverman later announced that Facility Hoffman would be the host next year.

This year's highlight for me was Minnie Driver singing the show song for Pan's Labyrinth: "I Blew a Giant Frog to Smithereens" to the tune of the old Melanie song "I've Got a Brand New Pair of Rollerskates." I watched that three times!


Friday, February 23, 2007

Opening in Dallas, 02/23

by Brian
The Lives of Others (trailer): Yay! Been looking forward to this one since … what, Cannes? Has it really been that long?

The Astronaut Farmer (trailer): Liked the Polish brothers’ Northfork a few years ago. I’m a bit suspicious about this one, but willing to give the benefit of the doubt for now.

Amazing Grace (trailer): I could write something very snide here, but I’ll let it pass.

The Number 23 (trailer): I finally quit on Joel Schumacher for good. I’ll go see this only if someone gives me a damn good reason to.

An Unreasonable Man (trailer): Appears to be Nader revisionism of the highest order. Myself, I don’t blame Nader for running - I blame Democrats for making such a big fucking deal about a fringe candidate.

Reno 911!: Miami (trailer): Never watched more than a few minutes of the show. Used to like “The State” OK.

The Abandoned (trailer): Just another horror movie with a creative poster.


Going Elsewhere

by Nick
Regarding Brians comment in the Lost thread, great minds think alike. Been thinking about that myself lately. Even started doodling potential banners for my own amusement.

Checked out Vox, looks great! I dig it. My own small suggestion would be Wordpress, which doesn't look as cool, but looks more stable (here's an example of a nice site). Not a Livejournal fan, aesthetically and programming-wise it looks like a bitch.

Personally, I'm all for moving.

Vanity Fair

by jaydro
One of the things to look forward to for many years before the Oscars has been the extravagant Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair. In the past they've featured in-depth articles (that were sometimes later turned into books) on subjects like the making of Eyes Wide Shut, the making of Sweet Smell of Success, the rise and fall of various production companies and Hollywood go-getters, etc. etc. Great stuff. Plus for eye candy there was the cover and then the, uh, elaborate photo essay on the inside.

I can't remember last year's issue off the top of my head, and I didn't even buy this year's after I happened across it in, of all places, the public library. (Aside: if only they'd sell coffee there I think they'd make a real go of it!) After flipping through over 200 pages of ads and filler, I finally got to a real article, a bit of a ho-hummer on the making of A Face in the Crowd, a movie worth seeing for those who don't remember Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts or the Original Amateur Hour, which are the roots of the Idol shows today. Anyway, the article tries to make more of the film than I think was there, and I saw it for the first time less than two years ago. You can look at the rest of the issue yourself, but I thought the film noir theme fell flat, with a bit of a perfunctory essay on the genre and their most over-the-top Hollywood Portfolio yet, which did nothing for me, and didn't look as good as the staged shoots HBO does for each season of The Sopranos. The issue's ad spread for Disney theme parks with Scarlett Johansson et al looked more inspired, and was also photographed by Annie Leibovitz no less. Come on guys, just give us Jennifer Aniston soaking wet in the grotto at the Playboy Mansion again, that's all we want! Wow, everything I've talked about here was photographed by Leibovitz.

Anyway, I came away thinking that it shouldn't help the MPAA's fears of piracy that I found the most fascinating article in the Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue to be the long piece on The Pirate Bay. I had no idea those guys were in Sweden, and I thought they had been shut down a long time ago.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

This is a very cool poster

by Nick

It'll probably never be anywhere near as big as South Park, but this is still a damn nice poster. Always good to see someone strive for art in a poster. I'll add a scene from the series that gets me every goddamn time.

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Oscar Picks

by Jackrabbit Slim
Here are mine. If you have yours, post them!

Best Picture: Babel, by a nose over The Departed. I don't buy the Little Miss Sunshine talk.
Best Director: Martin Scorsese
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, although I'm rooting for O'Toole
Best Actress: Helen Mirren. Duh.
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, in an upset over Murphy
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson
Best Original Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Departed
Best Animated Film: Cars
Best Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Foreign Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Best Art Direction: Dreamgirls
Best Cinematography: Children of Men
Best Costumes: Dreamgirls
Best Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean
Best Editing: Babel
Best Score: The Queen
Best Song: Listen, from Dreamgirls
Best Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls
Best Sound Editing: Pirates of the Caribbean
Best Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth

As for the Short Subjects, I haven't a clue.

Lost, Feb. 21 episode

by Jackrabbit Slim
The title of the episode was "Stranger in a Strange Land." Discuss in comments.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I'm a Cranky Old Man Who Doesn't Like Change

by Brian
What the hell have they done to the IMDb?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Opening in Dallas, Weekend of 02/16

by Brian
Breach (trailer): Looks interesting, and if the reviews so far are any indication, it’s actually good! Imagine that - from a major studio! And right here in the middle of February!

God Grew Tired of Us (trailer): I don’t want to be a jerk, but why does this look so insufferable? Am I supposed to laugh when the guy says that he expects using electricity to be very hard? That doesn’t seem funny. In fact, it seems downright condescending to laugh at that. What kind of a world do we live in where grown men have never used electricity? But yet, it gets a laugh every time I see it. Ha, ha, those charmingly goofy Africans with their backwards, non-electricity using ways! Maybe I’m the one that’s insufferable. Yep, that’s probably it.

The Italian (trailer): Talk about insufferable. Might go see it anyway.

Ghost Rider (trailer): Might get dragged along to this, in which case I anticipate 100 minutes or so of Nic Cage amusing himself more than anyone else in the theater. As usual. (Sorry, that last part was mean.)

Music and Lyrics (trailer): Might get dragged along to this, too, but whatever. It’s February, so these things happen.

Opal Dream (trailer): Indy kids movie by Peter Cattaneo, who did The Full Monty, which as far as I can recall wasn’t bad. Only playing daytime shows at one theater.

Bridge to Terabithia (trailer): Not much to say. Don’t have kids. Didn’t like Narnia enough to see every movie about kids in a fantasy world.

Daddy’s Little Girls (trailer): Man, lots of kids in movies this week.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lost, Feb. 14 Episode

by Jackrabbit Slim
Discuss in comments.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Best and Worst of 2006

by Brian
Jumping the gun on this a little bit, since there are still a few movies out there that are technically 2006 releases. But I thought I'd do the hard work of ordering more than 130 movies now. But first, a few comments on the year that was (a month and a half ago):

--If things continue on their current course, I'll remember 2006 as the year that the bottom fell out of the Dallas independent film market. So many movies that didn't play here, that I thought would have in previous years. Of the film's on indieWIRE's Critics Poll, four of the top ten and six of the top 20 have yet to play here. I realize that this sounds like a silly complaint to those who don't even have stuff like Pan's Labyrinth playing near them, but it really bothers me all the same.

--2006 was the Year of the Decent. As you'll see from my year-end list, I found a lot of movies that I was at least OK with, and I saw very few that I strongly disliked. Of course, this is mostly because I try to avoid things that I think I'll hate - there's no Little Man or Hostel to be found on my list. But in general, I didn't feel like a lot of films really let me down.

--On the other hand, nothing really knocked me out, either, except for the top two films, and one of those was made over 30 years ago (but not released in the US until 2006, so it's eligible for the list as far as I'm concerned). Last year, there were 5 that I thought were truly exceptional (see that list here).

And thus, without further ado, the best films of the year (subject to change, but unlikely to do so):

1) Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
2) Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville)
3) The Prestige (Christopher Nolan)
4) The Queen (Stephen Frears)
5) Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Jonathan Demme)
6) Brick (Rian Johnson)
7) Inside Man (Spike Lee)
8) Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón)
9) Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom)
10) United 93 (Paul Greengrass)
11) Akeelah and the Bee (Doug Atchison)
12) An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim)
13) World Trade Center (Oliver Stone)
14) The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky)
15) Sweet Land (Ali Selim)

Clink "Link" for the rest of the year, meticulously ordered by preference. SPOILER: Running with Scissors was my least favorite. END SPOILER.

VERY GOOD (20): Clean; Volver; Block Party; The Proposition; The Notorious Bettie Page; Little Miss Sunshine; The Departed; Marie Antoinette; Tsotsi; L'Enfant (The Child); Sophie Scholl: The Final Days; Monster House; Fateless; Cars; A Prairie Home Companion; Cavite; The Heart of the Game; Idiocracy; Flannel Pajamas; Letters from Iwo Jima

ALSO GOOD, IF NOTHING SPECIAL (39): Casino Royale; Lemming; Half Nelson; Glory Road; Shortbus; Babel; Little Children; Rocky Balboa; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; The Good Shepherd; Bubble; The Pursuit of Happyness; Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan; Find Me Guilty; Down in the Valley; Duck Season; 13 Tzameti; The Good German; A Scanner Darkly; Factotum; Stranger Than Fiction; The Last King of Scotland; Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World; Why We Fight; Running Scared; Eight Below; Thank You for Smoking; Wah-Wah; Strangers with Candy; Favela Rising; My Country My Country; Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles; The Bridesmaid; A Good Year; Come Early Morning; Fast Food Nation; Game 6; Wordplay; Darwin's Nightmare

DOESN'T SUCK (31): Don't Come Knocking; 16 Blocks; The Devil Wears Prada; The Painted Veil; Notes on a Scandal; Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos; Jesus Camp; Apocalypto; V for Vendetta; Ask the Dust; The History Boys; Venus; Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas); Lonesome Jim; Friends with Money; Art School Confidential; Sketches of Frank Gehry; Peaceful Warrior; Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man; The Illusionist; All the King's Men; Renaissance; Curse of the Golden Flower; The Science of Sleep; Infamous; Deja Vu; The Nativity Story; Winter Passing; Breaking and Entering; Mission: Impossible III; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest; The Da Vinci Code

SUCKS (22): Lady Vengeance; Miami Vice; Drawing Restraint 9; Hollywoodland; Copying Beethoven; Catch a Fire; Factory Girl; Flags of Our Fathers; The Descent; X-Men: The Last Stand; Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus; Trust the Man; Hard Candy; Superman Returns; Dreamgirls; The Break-Up; The Lake House; Firewall; Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor); Blood Diamond; The Architect

REALLY BADLY SUCKS (10): Unknown White Male; Lady in the Water; Bobby; Miss Potter; Man of the Year; Poseidon; The King; La Moustache; For Your Consideration; Running with Scissors


Delivering Movies Over The Internet

by Count Olaf
NOTE: Though long and rambling, not a comprehensive study by any means

Is it really here yet?

I've been waiting for internet-delivered movies to come for some time. Mostly, I've been waiting for the convenience to come for some time. Oh, sure, there have been the Reals, GoogleVideos, YouTubes, etc.... that have been delivering video clips forever. And there were/are movie services that claimed you could download movies for a fee. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew that nothing tickled my fancy quite yet.

Video On Demand blew up big a few years ago and when I finally got it with Comcast I thought my ship had come in. Tons of video content and full movies that you could get any time you wanted! But nothing was in HD and the widescreen versions were actually confined to letterbox within the 4:3 aspect ratio. HD is still coming along in the OnDemand world. Most of it is pay-per-view for new releases and things, so I'm still deterred. Sure there's a lot of content and I still find myself watching some things on occasion, but it still doesn't feel like it's all there.

Also, with Comcast you need the set-top box, cable connection, and television. Same kind of deal with satellite. You can't necessarily take your DISH or cable box in to the kitchen or bedroom to watch tv. So you need to opt for multiple installations or devices or pieces of equipment. And you'll need a DVD player for each one to catch up on your rentals and other sundry movie-watching. But even then you're confined to inside the house or garage. What if you're on a date and Gorman is up to bat?

It would seem as though Slingbox is the answer to all of my prayers. And it almost is as far as satellite/cable-delivered content is concerned. I mean, this thing is amazing! As long as you set it up right you can watch and control your TV from any device that has an internet connection. A problem....How do I watch my rented DVDs? Also, it's another piece of equipment.

Consolidating a few items into Windows Media Center Edition seemed like a great solution a few years back. So I have a computer that can do everything a computer does that is hooked up to my TV. It also plays my DVDs, records TV, plays pictures, all my music, etc... But, again, without a slingbox or ORB (also really, really cool) installed, I can't get access to it anywhere else besides sitting right there in front of the TV.

Without going into all other available options out there that I haven't tried, let me tell you what I stumbled upon last week. Well, really last month. I read an article stating that Netflix was getting into delivering movies on demand over the internet. The idea intrigued me but I was wondering what it would look like and how they would do it, what the costs would be, what the requirements would look like, etc...

Later on I signed in to my account from work to find a notice stating that the "Watch Now" service would be activated for all subscribers by June 2007....just keep checking back. OK. No biggie. Then last week I found an additional tab at the top of my Netflix menu:
The last tab was labeled "Watch Now". Hey, I was activated! I couldn't wait to get home and try it out. That night I fired up my laptop and headed for netflix.com. I scanned the meager selection of movies. I immediately noticed one thing: there was nothing I even remotely wanted to see. However, there was one pre-selected segment called "From your DVD queue" which contained 4 movies. Aha! So there were a few that I wanted to see. At least, a few that I had put in my queue.

As most married men know, getting your wife to "sign off" on technology can only mean good things. It doesn't even have to be a positive embrace, just as long as you don't get the evil eye whenever the subject is broached, you're usually good to go. While thinking about this I spotted a movie in the "classics" section starring Doris Day (The Thrill of It All). I don't know what the fascination is, but my wife is one of many enamored with all things Ms. Day. This had to be my shoo-in! My plan was to turn in early and spring the delivered movie on my wife whilst she sat amazed at her technology king! (not that I played a part in development or even discovery of watch now...those are merely facts)

The interface seemed easy enough: find movie you want to watch, click Play. So I got the site up, logged in and clicked Play. You're first taken to a screen which lets you know you need to install the Netflix Player. This is really a web browser plug-in as there is no external program that gets installed. It seemed harmless enough so I went for it. Unfortunately the installer never lets you know when it finishes. So after waiting around for a few minutes I went ahead and clicked Play again. The new player window opened up with simple controls: play, pause, a volume slider, and a full screen button. A few seconds later I was told I needed to upgrade my media player (which I found odd because I had the latest version of Windows Media Player). But I clicked OK and a few seconds later the "upgrade" was complete (I'm guessing this is another plugin and not a full-blown upgrade). Now, the moment of truth!

From the speakers came the opening salvo and I saw the old Universal logo appear. It was working! But the logo stood still! The sound kept going and the screen went black! Now a still picture appeared and the sound kept going! I was getting crystal clear sound thanks to my high-speed internet connection, but the picture was jumpy to say the least: One frame every 3 seconds. This simply would not do. Now, my laptop is 5 years old. It's a P3 1.2gHz with 512mb RAM. Come to find out these are the minimum specs for Netflix's watch now service. Full screen and windowed mode were the same. My trial was a bust! It wasn't until 4 days later (yesterday) that I remembered my TV has a much newer computer connected to it.

So last night I went through the installation machinations on my Media Center and lo & behold - it works! Like a champ! Flawless! Full screen mode is comparable to satellite TV service and the sound is clear. Mind you, this is only with a movie from 1963, but I can see the potential. And Netflix is literally adding new titles every day. I now see that Sherrybaby, Amadeus, The Matrix and others are all available. Netflix first removed the chore of going to the video store and now it's removing the chore of going to the mailbox. I can get fatter at a more rapid rate!!

But this still isn't the end-all. I'm still tied to my media center, though I am no longer tied to the postal service. Theoretically with a beefier laptop I can have ubiquitous entertainment (netflix combined with aforementioned media extenders)! But is that even really what I want? Am I just dissatisfied for dissatisfaction's sake? Do we need more ways to get entertainment?

Lost in a sea of gadgetry and convenience the answer is probably No on all counts, but it sure is fun to see what they will come up with next!

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Opening in Dallas, 02/09

by Brian
I suppose that after I see the two Weinstein movies (i.e., the top two, although Hannibal Rising is also Weinstein Co.) this week, I'll be able to consider 2006 closed, and start writing a year in review post. In mid-February! At least I'll still beat the Oscars.

Factory Girl (trailer): I don't get all the skepticism about the idea that Sienna Miller is good in this movie. I've seen Layer Cake, Alfie, and Casanova (ugh), and she seems perfect for this kind of role to me.

Breaking and Entering (trailer): I'd consider myself an Anthony Minghella fan, having really liked The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, and even Cold Mountain to a lesser extent. I don't expect this one to be all that great, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't well-shot and well-acted enough to roll with it.

Hannibal Rising (trailer): Weinstein Overload Week (W.O.W., ironically) continues with a movie that can't possibly be any good. Can it?

The Last Sin Eater (trailer at official site): Yes, I want to see Norbit so little that I'd rather go see something from Fox Faith. Neat title, though.

Norbit (trailer): Hard to think of something that's come out recently that I've wanted to see less. This looks worse than any of the Wayans brothers stuff, cheap-ass horror movies, stupid crass kids comedies, the last three years of the Weinsteins' output, Pokemon movies, direct-to-video American Pie sequels, that movie that tried to make Dennis Rodman an action star, or even anything else that Eddie Murphy has been in over the last five years or so.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Simple Plan

by jaydro
My plan for Tuesday night was to see Pan's Labyrinth after a dinner out, in which case I would have been searching for a photo of Guillermo del Toro on the set, preferably with at least one person in the photo pointing (these are getting harder to find as film websites love to embed publicity materials inside flash animations, ugh--for The Queen I had to go their French website). Unfortunately, I arrived at the theater short on cash and confronting a sign that said "no credit cards or debit cards accepted" despite the fact that the box office was equipped with a PC connected to the internet and a little thermal printer that looked just like the ones used for printing credit receipts. It was colder than a witch's teat that night, so I didn't feel much like hunting around for an ATM, and I went home. So much for my getting back to the cinema-going rate of a hundred films a year.

For some suitable cold-weather entertainment I pulled out my DVD of A Simple Plan instead. I first saw this film in early 1999 and enjoyed it, but it wasn't until I received the DVD as a gift a year later that I realized how much I liked it. I've probably seen it at least seven times now--it's one of those films that creeps up on me how many times I've seen it, and while I may not laud it the way I do, say, Citizen Kane, 2001, or Lawrence of Arabia, those repeated viewings mean something to me the way they do for What's Up, Doc?, The Great Waldo Pepper, Diner, and Apollo 13.

What impresses me on repeat viewings of Simple is how it continues to induce stomach-twisting tension in me for such a high percentage of the movie--and I've seen it before! The plot may not be airtight, but it's believable enough to me every time I see it, I love the performances (I always cringe when Gary Cole makes his entrance), the score, and Tuesday night I was especially noticing the cinematography, and the way so many of the outdoor scenes have this quiet stillness about them; they look like little tableaus from Andrew Wyeth.

People praise thrillers in which characters don't do the usual stupid things that serve to move plots along; in Simple a lot of stupid acts are committed, but the viewer is sucked into a feeling of dread for the protagonists as things reach their inexorable conclusion.

I think the film would have received a lot more recognition if it hadn't been orphaned by its production company. Oh, yeah, that was the year Shakespeare in Love dominated the Oscars, remember?

And now Sam Raimi is Mr. Spider-Man....

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Lost, February 7 episode

by Jackrabbit Slim
Discuss in comments

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rental Quick Takes

by Brian
First things first, Blockbuster is officially On Notice. I signed up for their online subscription a couple weeks ago, and things were running along smoothly until Werner Herzog's Stroszek came along. I noticed before I even put the disc in that it had a weird crack on the side of it, but it wasn't that big, and it was close to the edge, so I thought maybe everything would be OK.

Well, it wasn't, and with about 10 minutes left, the movie froze up, and I couldn't get it to play any further. I thought, what the hell, these things happen, and reported the disc as unplayable and sent it back. Three days later, I get Stroszek back in the mail and ... it's the exact same disc. Still cracked. Still doesn't play.

I sent them an email, and am awaiting a response. Better be good, guys.


Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Fun movie, in the sense that it's not really very good but knows how to push buttons and screw with your expectations. It's like Soderbergh's career all makes sense to me now.

Brief Encounter: As (almost) always, I was impressed with the efforts of the Criterion Collection for this movie, but honestly, the movie felt rooted in outdated attitudes and acting styles. I tried to put myself in the position of a conservative 1940s viewer but I couldn't really get there.

Reds: Here's one that was easy for me to put myself in the mindset of the contemporary viewer. This is because, despite the events in the world during the past 20 years, Communist paranoia is still alive and well in the fever swamps of American right-wing politics. This movie must have caused quite the stir back in 1981, but I thought it was a good reminder of just how great Warren Beatty can be. Also, interesting to watch Diane Keaton play someone I didn't hate.

Donnie Darko: Finally got around to seeing it (I rented the director's cut). I loved the first two hours of it, but felt cheated a bit by the last ten minutes. Incidentally, I really enjoyed this essay on the film buy RogerEbert.com's Jim Emerson, although it didn't really help me with the last ten minutes.

The Princess and the Warrior: Enjoyed it as much as I could, but I have to chastise Sony for their DVD. It seemed that it wasn't encoded for progressive scan, so there was an incredible amount of of digital artifacts, scan lines, etc. I fought through it the best I could, but it probably made the movie seemed longer, slower, and uglier than it actually was.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Casting the inevitable "Insane diaper-wearing Astronaut stalker" movie

by LesterG
Toni Collette as Lisa Marie Nowak

Tony Schloub as Cmdr. William Oefelein

(These should be up on Defamer shortly as well)

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Queen

by jaydro
It's taken me forever to see this, as it came to arthouse theaters here last fall, and it premiered in Puerto Rico the weekend I left (I honestly thought it would be interesting to see both The Queen and The Last King of Scotland with Spanish subtitles, but alas ;-) ), and now it's migrated into multiplexes. I would have posted a comment to the previous thread that included this film and some comments on it, but I've done that before to old posts and the comment seemingly goes into oblivion (except that Brian might notice it).

I loved it. Now that's not to say I think it's a great film, and I can see watching it over only in some edited version that removes all the extraneous documentary footage of Diana, because I was getting very tired of that. But as a sort of "The West Wing" meets the Royals, I thought it was very well done.

My viewing companion had a more mixed reaction, while agreeing that it was good, but was too turned off by further dwelling on the death of Diana. She had thought that the plot sounded like something completely uninteresting to her, but sometimes the plot doesn't matter if the film is good enough and you can just admire the acting and the craft of the film, but in this case she thought the plot did matter.

Maybe I have a bit more fascination with the royal family. While all the hub-bub over the death of Diana caused irreparable damage to my opinion of what was then supposed to be serious news media (Time magazine had her death on their US cover two weeks in a row!), I was also someone who had gotten up early to watch her wedding live on television.

And while I'm against a flag-burning ban amendment to the Constitution, I also complain about businesses and organizations that bother to fly the flag but can't seem to do it properly--something that comes to light most starkly when we have any situation calling for flags at half-staff. I guess that's just the old Cub Scout in me. And so there was one moment in The Queen that definitely had me, when there was all the back-and-forth over the flag at Buckingham Palace.

At first while watching the film I thought, oh, yes, as with Forest Whitaker and The Last King of Scotland, Helen Mirren is giving a performance that, while not her best, is certainly showy in just the right way to get an Oscar. And by showy in this case I obviously don't mean the sort of visibly straining neck muscles and throbbing temples bit, nor do I mean Nick's observation that she's showing off how well she renders internal conflict, but rather that she's playing the reigning British monarch in a front-and-center starring role, and doing it rather believably. But as the film went on I came to think that she was actually doing such a subtly good job, and I found myself particularly affected by the two scenes in which she's looking at the flowers left for Diana.

When was the last time the roles of "king" and queen both won Best Acting Oscars the same year?

The contrast between the lives of the Queen and Prime Minister Blair also left me to ponder if we're really better off in the US for not having a monarchy, for we tend far too much to elevate the President to that role, when we might be better served by having someone in that role who possesses no real power, and leave the business of running the country to someone who is not entitled to the royal treatment. Of course, we could take the route of those countries that elect a figurehead head-of-state without having a monarchy....


Friday, February 02, 2007


by Brian
The question occurred to me while watching Venus last weekend - what exactly is acting? Peter O'Toole's performance in the film, of course, has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, but I had mixed feelings about it.

Just to get it out of the way, I don't think the movie is really all that good. It's fitfully amusing, and there are nice moments here and there (mainly the ones O'Toole shares with Vanessa Redgrave), but on the whole I didn't feel it adds up to much. Frankly, I think a big problem is that the character of Jessie, played by Jodie Whittaker, just isn't that interesting. She's a terribly ordinary girl, boring even. It's hard to know why Maurice (O'Toole's character) cares to spend any time with her at all; I was progressively less willing as the movie went on.

So I got to passing the time wondering if anyone would have noticed O'Toole's performance if he wasn't "Peter O'Toole", with all the history and baggage that the name carries with it. It seemed clear to me that he and director Roger Michell were leaning less on O'Toole's actual acting than his image as a legendary, but feeble, old actor. It didn't seem like a natural or sincere kind of performance; it felt like an old man with a bag of tricks playing to the audience.

Yet, I don't necessarily mean that as a criticism, at least not completely, because they're still impressive tricks. I mean, how do we judge performances anyway? If the intent is to play off of one's image, is it still "acting"? Is a performance any less noteworthy (or Award-worthy) if it depends on what the audience brings to the film, instead of what they find there?

Like I said, these are the things I was pondering while watching an otherwise dull film. Wish I could say that I came up with a decent answer, but a week later I'm still scratching my head.

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If I Were A Casting Director for the Dark Knight

by Nick
Casting for The Dark Knight (aka Film Most Likely To Be Seen By Brian 2008) is apparently under way. Edward Norton appears to have passed on playing Harvey Dent.

Rumoured to be running are Jamie Foxx, Josh Lucas and Aaron Eckhart.

Out of those three, I'd pick Foxx. Eckhart sounded good at first, but then the thought of him as a friend/nemesis to Bale's Wayne doesn't really get the vessels pumping. What Nolan could do with Foxx could be very cool, though.

Of course, Paddy Considine playing Two-Face could be the most awesome thing on God's green earth.

Opening in Dallas, 02/02

by Brian
Super Bowl weekend, meaning of course nothing worthwhile opens. So I'm completely phoning it in; this will probably be the first time since I started doing this that I won't see any of the movies listed.

The Messengers (trailer)

Because I Said So (trailer)

Constellation (trailer at official site)

Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds (trailer at MySpace page)

Go Bears!


The Bad German

by jaydro
Well, somehow it has happened. I always eagerly look forward to any new Steven Soderbergh film, and early buzz on The Good German had me psyched. Of course, as I saw clips for it I got a sinking feeling--they looked like everyone was trying way too hard, too caught up in an homage to The Third Man etc. The Good German came here two weeks ago, with an "exclusive engagement" at a multiplex I've never visited, because I've heard that it's the worst of the three from that chain in this area, and while their best one is okay, the middle one is detestable, so.... But I still meant to go see it, even though the theater was bad and out-of-the-way for me, and now, well, now it's gone. After just two weeks.

I think Bubble had a longer run here than that (at an arthouse cinema). Given the investment in it, I would say that The Good German has to be a pretty big flop. Guess that's why they've got Ocean's 13 up next. *sigh*


Thursday, February 01, 2007

February Movies

by Count Olaf
It's my birth month and to me the list looks worse than January with few bright spots. But there is one that I'm DYING to see....