Thursday, December 30, 2004

Darkness: Notes From Two Hours in the Dark

Jaume Balaguero’s Darkness, from a screenplay by Balaguero, Fernando De Filipe and Miguel Tejada-Flores, finally arrives on American shores a full two years after it debuted in Europe. Despite being made by a Spanish crew and filmmakers and shot entirely in Spain, this is an American film with English-speaking actors, much like Alejandro Almenabar’s The Others. Also like that film, Darkness is a supernatural horror suspense thriller that features creepy kids and the heroines who try to save them, with Anna Paquin filling the role here as Nicole Kidman did in the other.

Ms. Paquin is unique among her young actress peers in truly looking like the girl-next-door, seemingly more attainable, more genuinely likeable and down-to-earth then her like-aged statuesque model associates. As Regina, the teenaged daughter of an American family that relocates to an old, creaky Victorian house in the Spanish countryside, this accessibility helps an audience identify and side with her when the chips are down. Unbeknownst to her and her family, their house was the site of some unspeakable science experiments involving children on the night of a total eclipse forty years earlier. So when her 8 year-old brother Paul (Stephan Enquist) develops unexplainable bruises on his chest and her father Mark (Iain Glen) begins inexplicably banging holes in the walls with a sledge hammer, Regina, suspecting their new abode, springs into Nancy Drew mode with her hottie Spanish boyfriend (boyfriend? They had moved only three weeks earlier!) Carlos (Fele Martinez). Despite a blind-eye turned to these problems by her mother (weird bruises on my son? No big deal) Maria (Lena Olin) and her grandfather Albert (Giancarlo Giannini), Regina tracks down the haunted house’s crusty designer, Villalobos, for some answers. And so on.

Unfortunately for Ms. Paquin, down-to-earth looks aren’t everything; she sleepwalks through most of her lines, robbing the term “scream queen” of its vocal aspect. Indeed, I found myself wishing, at times, that I had stick to poke at the screen to make sure she was still participating. But to fault her fully would be a foolish miscalculation. Admittedly, I am not the biggest proponent of the horror film genre but I know cliché soup when I’m served it. Balaguero uses day-of-the-week placards to demarcate time and to map ascending points of suspense pressure. But the precious few moments in the film that approach horror intensity are immediately destroyed by a placard’s pronouncement of the next day, like a knife chopping possibility in one kill-shot. This same device was used more memorably in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining; but while we learn, early on, of the horrific atrocities committed in the Overlook Hotel, Balagureo feeds us no such story until we are halfway through his proceedings. Until that point we are left to nibble on shadowy figures crossing in front of the camera; disturbing images drawn in color pencil by a kid; echoing children’s laughter; heavy-shaky music-video-style camera work; shots of empty swings; wind-chimes; perpetual rain; unknown crazy guy standing in the rain and an X-files-like music. Cliché unto itself is not a fatal pill, merely just a dirty term used to decry influence. But cliché served alone without something original mutating from its scaly skin can prove, as it does in Darkness, to be poisonous.

By the time the credits rolled, I was left with more questions than answers about the film’s resolution. Sadly, some of those questions included: Why was I here? And, can’t they just warn me next time? If you want to spend two hours with darkness, I recommend doing so somewhere comfortable, watching the back of your eyelids.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Sea Inside: A Review

Traveling in Dublin a few years ago, I found, to my shock, that the hip, young, urban locals drank Budweiser as if it was a premium import, much as Guinness is treated here stateside. This tiny oddity dogged me walking into Alejandro Almenabar’s The Sea Inside. Do we, as an American audience, too easily give a critical pass to foreign film? Is there a subconscious given that tells us anything imported to the art-house is “better,” or, at least, more sophisticated then our own cinema? Would a film, like The Sea Inside, be as critically praised if it were produced here, in English?

The film deals with death and suicide, difficult topics that, along with sex and money, rarely find their way into polite conversation. Based on a true story, Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) is a quadriplegic who, bed-ridden for 28 years, is seeking his own right to die; giving him a dignity he cannot find in a wheelchair. Is his life a right or an obligation? Ramon petitions for his right despite the varied contrarian or salvation efforts of everyone around him: the Spanish government and Catholic Church who vehemently oppose him; the family he lives with and who take care of him (and sometimes vice-versa); Rosa (Lola Duenas), an unhappy single mother who seeks his council and who falls in love with him; and Julia (Belen Rueda) a lawyer with whom he develops a firm bond that grows to mutual love. It is a testament to the quality of the film and its performances that two women falling in love with a quadriplegic raises nary a hair on the eyebrow.

Almenabar, who also wrote the score, tackles this difficult subject matter deftly, infusing an unforced humor found, for example, in the scenes Ramon shares with his nephew Javi (Tamar Novas), and Rosa's two young kids. He also uses several cinematic tools effectively throughout: close-ups to draw the audience closer to his characters; the aria Nessun Dorma from Turandot to hyper-amplify Sampedro’s flight of sea fantasy; and sound editing that morphs Sampedro’s breathing into the crashing waves of the ocean that both abundantly gave and took away much from his life. But it is Bardem's sublime performance that should be remembered. Were this film made by a Hollywood studio – probably as a highly sentimental, maudlin treatment re-purposed for the Lifetime Network – one can easily imagine an angered, emotional protagonist upset over the hand he has been dealt. Bardem's Sampedro internalizes all of that, choosing only to "cry with a smile." Ironically, it is his family, friends and we the audience who are most affected by his choice. Indeed, from almost frame one, he calmly states his objective and never wavers, no matter how much his family, the women who love him or the audience want him to reconsider. Were it up to him, he would have met "a sweet death" in his beloved sea where, 28 years earlier, his accident occurred. The intervening time since has been a long wait at an unforgiving rest stop.

Perhaps there is something to be said for an unspoken bias towards foreign film among the American audiences who go see them. But look elsewhere for a test case, especially considering the thick biopic haze of American-made films considered favorites for this year’s Oscars. The Sea Inside is a demanding film whose merits translate well into any language.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Pop Culture Apocalypse: The Ipod Army

They're cute and they're everywhere, spreading like the fat-faced mid-80's Cabbage Patch Kid craze. They count a Vertigo-inducing, hip-swileving Bono among their denizens, a group whose size knows not the boudaries of race, age or class. I am talking, of course, about the getting-to-be iconic white ear buds of the Ipod; I am talking about the Ipod Army of the Ipod Nation. They are everywhere.

The flip side of this growing gang is two-fold:

1. The term "Ipod" is slowly branding itself to act interchangeably with "MP3 Player" a la "Band-Aid" for bandage or "Xerox copy" for photocopy. For an owner of Rio's 20Gb Karma, it affords me the twin frustrations of red anger and green jealousy (perfect for the holidays!)

2. The spirit of capitalism gloms onto the "new big thing" like muscle cream to professional athletes. An entire accessory-based industry has started and its life-support is the continued success of the Ipod; speakers, cases, little beds to rest your Ipod in at night.

Today's Pop Culture Armageddon takes you to the most ridiculous spawn of this new, a company that will take any of your photos and convert it into an Ipod-silhouette ad as easy as Uno! Dos! Tres! Catorce!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Life Aquatic: Come Aboard, We're Expecting You

There’s a telling scene early in Wes Anderson’s at-times brilliant "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," where Zissou (Bill Murray), an aging, fading oceanographic documentary filmmaker divulges that he never knows what’s going to happen on his seafaring adventures, he just films it – a sentiment clearly meant for "Aquatic" itself. For the resolution of the main plotlines - Zissou and his crew's adventure to find and exact revenge on the mythical jaguar shark that ate his best friend Esteban (Seymour Cassel), and whether or not new Team Zissou member Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) is his long lost son – are subjugated for the two arteries pumping directly into film’s true heart: One, that it’s a movie about the making of another movie; a study, on the ocean, of a declining fictional filmmaker made by rather successful real one, as if "The Voyage Of The Mimi" and Federico Fellini’s "8 ½" had a bastard child. Two, and rather less successfully so, that it’s a vehicle for Anderson to further explore some of the adolescent-inspired themes featured in his previous work ("Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums"): the redemption of an absentee father and a child-like longing to belong.

It’s soon clear that Zissou’s crusty vessel, the Belafonte, is as prepared for oceanic exploration as Marty Mcfly’s tricked-out Delorean. After all, did Jacques Cousteau have an editing suite, soundproof recording booth or camera-wearing dolphins on his ship? Like any real life movie set, the Belafonte features abused interns fetching gourmet coffee drinks; a fiery, demanding executive producer Oseary Drakoulias (Michael Gambon); a watchful line producer, or in Zissou-speak “bond company stooge” Bill Ubell (Bud Cort); and a media-aware, egotistical, self-conscious has-been auteur, Zissou, and his trusty “crew” (boat and film-wise), highlighted by the faithful, funny and very “German” Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe). Indeed, there is a fully palpable artificiality to the movie that makes it clear that Anderson means to show us that we are, in fact, watching a movie. For example, the set of the Belafonte itself (built at Italy’s famed Cinecitta Studios, ironically where Fellini once held court) is shown as one giant cross section - as if a large machete had cut a real ship (or the director's figurative imagination?) in half – revealing its innards to the audience and allowing the camera to follow the characters as they walk and talk from room-to-room and floor-to-floor. While visually stunning, the effect can conversely distract attention away from the dialogue being spoken in those scenes.

Like Max Fischer’s final Platoon-styled opus in "Rushmore," watching the two action sequences in Aquatic - one a pirate invasion, the other a land-bound rescue - is like watching a lucky group of kids play cops-and-robbers with the coolest authentic-looking firearms and explosions ever; complete with a three-legged dog tagging (gimping?) along with our heroes. This child-like sense of security from belonging to a unit (the academy in "Rushmore," the family in "The Royal Tenenbaums") fits well thematically with the film, i.e. what is movie-making but playing grown-up make believe? On the other hand, what does not fit in as well is Zissou’s evolution from an emotionless, selfish lout into a warm wellspring of paternal feeling. Unfortunately, it is one of Anderson’s strengths – witty, sophisticated and heavily ironic dialogue – that does not deliver the desired affecting end. In fact, there are only a few instances where you can actually feel the film come up for any real emotional air from its idiosyncratic sea. In one scene, for example, Zissou, trying to reconcile with his wife Eleanor (Anjelica Houston) incongruously flicks a stop-motion lizard off his hand - and any hope for a stirring connection with it. That bit is a microcosm of Murray’s overall performance, which is too detached to make you believe he is capable of any real growth.

"The Life Aquatic" is filled with the dazzling touches one can expect from a Wes Anderson film: unique characterizations; sophisticated repartee; an excellent soundtrack (including David Bowie songs sung in Portuguese); and painstakingly detailed sets. But while in "Rushmore," you can, say, easily empathize with Max Fischer’s rejection by Ms. Cross, you get the feeling that in his subsequent films, "Aquatic" included, Anderson is content just to wink a whimsical eye at you while hesitant to portray any real feeling.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

House of Flying Daggers: Our Chinese Fortune

On a line at a Blockbuster Video in mid-town Manhattan, I recently overheard a patron infer that he had interest in renting Zhang Yimou’s Hero because he liked the “first one,” to which he was referring Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If anything, this moment in urban boredom illustrates that the latter Hong Kong-born film’s $130 million domestic intake has been both a blessing and a curse. Ironically, while it has expanded foreign-film awareness, it seems to have fostered a minority “they all look the same to me” bias. The blessing is that cinematic goodies from the East -- like Yimou’s fine House of Flying Daggers –will, in growing numbers, continue to leap over the Pond Pacific and splash onto the local big screen.

Made a full two years after Hero, House, set during the Tang dynasty in 859 A.D., outlays its storyline like a fortune cookie: On the outside, there is a warring conflict – which feels rather timely -- between a chivalrous, yet outlawed, group (The House of Flying Daggers) and the corrupt government that’s in abusively in power. Yimou’s focus, though, is what’s inside the cookie: a building romantic triangle involving the beautiful, blind but deadly Mei (Hero and Crouching Tiger star Ziyi Zhang), a member of the Daggers, and the two undercover cops, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) assigned to take her down. While the Chopsocky-meets-Romeo and Juliet love story provides greater emotional resonance than the messier-plotted Hero, it still feels a bit awkward and immature; especially when compared to, say, the soulful urban emotion conveyed in the cinema of another Hong Kong master, Wong Kar-Wai. For example, Mei and Jin’s sex scene, possibly too hot for Hong Kong’s conservative censors, feels stilted and staged to these American eyes. The amorous dialogue, too, gets easily lost in a translation of multiple “wind” metaphors that grow increasingly tiresome as they appear. On the other hand, there is also some provocative imagery to be found, as when Leo furiously fires a dagger that slices through what appears to be a walnut that Mei has tossed and nails it to a tree.

Please don’t go thinking that this movie is all red roses, happy hearts, and tumbling tears. Ass indeed is kicked, and often, in a mouth-dropping fashion that will make our Blockbuster patron proud (My personal favorites are the “Echo Game” and the scene in the bamboo forest). What sets this film apart is the heightened attention Yimou pays the technical aspects of his breathtaking action sequences, especially in sound and camera work. Nary will such an occurrence pass without some intensive onomatopoeia: the whoosh of a flying dagger, the ping of clashing swords and the crack of splintering bamboo. The fighting sequences are also filled with a clearly audible heavy breathing and deep grunting by male and female participants alike that border on erotic opera. While Christopher Dolan’s cinematography in Hero received much notice for its striking hues, Xiaoding Zhao’s work in House is more natural, autumnal and subtle but equally as effective. Shot mostly outdoors, you can feel and see the seasons change, sometimes from shot-to-shot. Included in the fun, too, are POV shifts to inanimate daggers, arrows, tiny spears or rocks as fly through the air, seizing us in their wake.

Technical mastery aside, House Of Flying Daggers is an excellent thrill ride. But while it seeks a higher ground with a more tender touch, it lacks the overall characterizations and emotions could have made it truly memorable. Certainly, it is of a high enough quality to bring our Blockbuster patron back for another helping.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Notre Musique: A Review

As filmgoers, many of us were programmed at an early age to take for granted that a movie had to have characters, plot and narrative to qualify as a, well, movie. Those safety nets would always be there for you to grasp onto for familiarity’s sake. This includes the notion that you could sit anonymously in the dark while the film’s events unspooled for your pleasure. As Kurt Cobain wrote: “Here we are now, entertain us.” In the works of Jean-Luc Godard, however, these givens are tossed out like bad trash. He lassoes you, often forcibly so, into his cinematic fray - best exemplified by the glorious final shot in Contempt (1968) where a camera inches closer before turning its big lens directly on you. Notre Musique is no different a specimen and is thus a highly unique, interesting yet sometimes frustrating cinematic experience.

Broken into three distinct parts, “Hell,” “Purgatory,” and “Heaven,” Musique weaves in the themes, respectively, of man’s violence at times of war, idleness in post-war, and serenity in after-life. “Hell” is made up of a furious onslaught of images of 20th century war, taken from Hollywood films and real battleground footage; presented sometimes in slow motion, divided by closed-eye blackness, and lyrically set to some hauntingly beautiful piano music. “Purgatory,” set in modern day Sarajevo, offers a vast array of characters, artists, journalists, poets, Native Americans, and Godard himself (giving a university lecture on text and the image) in a collage of varied lingual conversation. “Heaven” pictures a hushed final eternity on the sandy edge of a restless ocean. Watching this cine-poem unfold for 80 minutes is not unlike wandering dreamlike through a museum; presented with a series of images to behold and ponder without any true plot, character or narrative to rely on to guide you. Left alone, though, the mostly fractured dialogue occasionally borders on didactic or dense.

Godard’s most well-known work, the still-fresh New Wave classics (Breathless, Band Of Outsiders, Weekend) that he made during the furtive 1960s, can be viewed as composites of an infinite number of well-known and obscure literary, musical and cinematic influences and direct quotations – the post-modern style that today’s Tarantino only can hope to imitate. Notre Musique is similarly infused. In “Purgatory” there is a close-up of a book called “Minuet” by French-born American author Julian Green whose work often concerned man’s preoccupation with violence and death. In “Heaven,” a young male is reading “Streets of No Return” a noir-ish 1940s pulp novel by David Goodis that was later turned into a film by Sam Fuller, who was given the following dialogue as a character in Godard’s Pierre Le Fout (1963): “Film is a battlefield. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word, emotion.”

Someone once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture – both an encouragement to the reader to experience the subject on their own and an admittance of fear on the writer’s behalf about conveying anything of substance about something substantial. Writing a review of a Godard film and even the film itself can present a similar quandary. So let me say it simply – have this dance.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Overnight: The Fall Of Troy

Success can be an evil temptress; Fame, its twin, a merciless succubus.

The traditional path of American artistic fame and success is as well-worn as it is well-known: Your naive, humble roots and lonely nights of hard work lead to your discovery; your first hit leads to money, power and fame; inexorably you get drunk on those three elixirs which leads you to supreme egotism (marked officially by the first time you hurl an empty whiskey bottle at your best friend); your inevitable rock-bottom self-destruction (or “OD”) which is then followed by apologies, rehab and your even more inevitable comeback. If you are lucky, you can stretch out that path over forty years (See Ray as an example). If you are unlucky, like Troy Duffy, that period can barely last five of your allotted fifteen minutes of fame (See Overnight as an example).

Following in the recent personal home videos turned yummy arthouse dish genre of films like Capturing The Friedmans and Tarnation, Overnight documents the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of Duffy, an unknown LA bartender by way of South Boston, who was paid $300,000 for his first script, The Boondock Saints, by Harvey Weinstein and Miramax. Oh! Miramax would also give him a $15 million budget to direct the movie. Oh yeah! And his band, The Brood, would also release the soundtrack album. He was an overnight success, the kind of rags-to-riches tale that fills newspapers and warms the hearts of hopefuls. Most people might be humbled by this opportunity. Most people also feel that they won’t let such early success go to their growing heads. Troy Duffy is not most people. He grabbed this crown as if it was anointed by mandate of a higher power. The early footage in the documentary (made by two of Troy’s friends, Troy Montana and Mark Brian Smith) depicts the kind of celebrity hob-nobbing and juvenile watering-hole drinking conquests that any new hotshot on the block might experience. But it is Duffy’s unabashed boasts of being the “first” ever to do this and that; check that, it’s the sheer balls of the guy to be planning his Chairman Mao-esque world cultural domination before a frame of his movie has even been committed to celluloid that show his troubling symptoms of megalomania.

Calling Hollywood a fickle town is something that even Captain Obvious might laugh at you for saying. So it is no shock that Miramax eventually put The Boondock Saints in turnaround AKA movie purgatory. Overnight, however, never makes clear what Troy did, specifically, if anything, to draw ire from Miramax. The reality of the situation can be found in the old Corleone family truism: “It’s business, nothing personal.” What is clear, as the film plays out, is that Mr. Duffy took this affront personally; making several desultory, inflammatory comments - on camera - about Weinstein. Rarely has a real man’s self-destruction, layer-by-bloody-layer been so pain-stakingly caught for our viewing pleasure; its like an 85 minute behind-the-scenes DVD extra on acid. That his initial opportunity is one that I, or any other wannabe filmmaker out there would sell his worthless soul for makes this cautionary tale all the more compelling. It automatically prompts you to whisper aloud the “What would I do in his shoes?” question, even if your dream is not to be the next Scorsese. Once in a lifetime opportunity is something we all can identify with and dream of.

Many young directors do garner a kind of totalitarian ego and it’s a trait that can serve that director well. Usually, though, you need to make The French Connection or The Exorcist before you can stomp around Hollywood and Vine like you’re William Friedkin. The Boondock Saints did get made, albeit for less money and by a much smaller studio, was barely released theatrically and has enjoyed some life on home video (personally, I think it’s a silly, overviolent, bloody John Woo-slo-mo drenched fury that signifies nothing). Some, myself included, might consider that success alone. But, in the most telling scene of the film, Mr. Duffy berates a class of film students for daring to express that very sentiment to him. By then, of course, it is too late. He has sealed his fate with the kind of fame no one wants: infamy.

Your Mornin' Cup O' Pop Culture

Delivered Fresh - and free!

In the first half an hour of the 11pm EST Sportscenter last night, they showed the ugly lowlights from Saturday night's shocking, despicable melee, brawl, hootenanny (choose your own word adventure) between the Pistons, Pacers and the Piston fans at least ten times. I wish that was an exaggeration. I, for one, am sick and tired of being beaten over the head with these images. So I shut Sportscenter off which, for me, is like saying no to a good night sleep. It hurts, but it hurt me more. Media is everywhere and saturates this land like fast-food restaurants. Common losers can type their thoughts on blogs, pretending to be real journalists. Even here in NYC, there are not one but two free morning daily newspapers. Big stories are covered ad nauseum. The beauty, however, is that no matter how hard they try; no matter if they are seemingly everywhere, these media outlets cannot prevent me from pressing the "channel up" button and watching something that I really enjoy: women's college volleyball. Aaaah.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Godfather Returns: Yay? A Short Commentary

Fact: I love original Godfather novel and the first two films even more.
Fact: The Godfather Returns, a new novel that fills in gaps in the Corleone family history, was released on November 16th. A film inevitably must follow.

Opinion: This is wrong. WRONG! Do you smell the money? Did we not learn anything from Godfather III? Francis Ford Coppola has freely admitted he did it for the money. At least that sin can be slightly forgiven because it was born and raised by the book's/movie's original architects, Coppola and Mario Puzo. But Puzo has since passed and Coppola will not do another Godfather movie. So why this and why now, besides money? Why can't we let the franchise retire and be content with the ability to re-enjoy its already glorious fruits over and over again? Whatever comes now (the new book is written by Mark Winegartner) can only feel fake, forced and for capitalism. It taints what came before. I love this country's modern pop culture for the genius of the works it's progeny can produce, like The Godfather; but I hate it when those works are flogged to death for the almighty buck (I'm looking at you Scarlett; and you, dead digital celebrities in new commercials). This, my friends, is the true crime.

Monday, November 15, 2004

"Finding Neverland?" Here Are Some Directions

Imagination, like money, is something not all of us have much of; but if you are lucky enough to come by a good amount, your life can be the richer for it. It also happens to be the thing that turns my five-minute showers into half-an-hour marathons of staring blankly at a yellow bath tile, enslaved and lost in thought. This magic/curse duality similarly bedevils famed "Peter Pan" author and playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) and forms the central conflict in Marc Forster's (Monster's Ball) Finding Neverland.

Coming off a terrible flop, Barrie is inspired (the magic) by a relationship he develops with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), a widow, and her brood of four young boys; eventually basing his classic fairy-tale on the imaginative adventures they all share. Unfortunately for Barrie (the resulting curse) spending his time with a whole other family causes further strain on his already rocky marriage to Mary (Radha Mitchell); resistance and skepticism from Sylvia's mother, Emma (Julie Christie) and general upper-crust whisperings of impropriety and inappropriate behavior.

For Shakespeare in Love fans, this sub-genre of the fictionalization of the etymology behind a real-life beloved work might feel a bit familiar. Both the protagonists in these films sacrifice much and experience great personal pain in order to achieve great artistic gain. Both films use well-worn plot lines of forbidden relationships; family disapproval and societal pressure as the basis for our heroes’ sacrifices. But while Shakespeare’s take feels new, fresh and lively, Neverland’s adult-themes feel much safer, predictable and sometimes problematic. In early one scene, from nowhere, Sylvia starts to cough uncontrollably. Possible Terminal Illness alert! In another, far greater example, the Barries’ past strained marriage isn’t mentioned until two-thirds of the way through the movie when they talk about it with each other; it never being hinted at, visually or otherwise, previously. The closest evidence occurs in a scene where the two families meet over dinner and Mary comes across as a wicked social climber. But her character is so underdeveloped that it never truly sticks or fits in well. In fact, I ended up empathizing with Mary for the loneliness that J.M.’s dalliances-for-inspiration cause her; something I’m not sure that the filmmakers were going for. Ultimately, it weakens Barrie’s overall motivation to leave her behind. Perhaps the film’s greatest crime, however, is it’s under-utilization of two members of the cinema’s acting royalty pantheon, Christie and Dustin Hoffman (who plays Berrie’s producer). Neither has that scene that can transcend a supporting role from background noise.

On the flip side, I qualified “adult-themes” earlier because it is the kids-play that shines in Neverland. The Fellini-esque fantasy-scenes are excellent and on par with the Fellini-esque fantasy scenes in Big Fish. You would truly have to be devoid of heart or emotion to not be touched by the scene where Berrie asks the young Peter if he could use his name for the new play he inspired him to write; or the sequence where the four boys and Sylvia, bed-ridden with sickness, are treated to a personal performance of the play in their home. All of the scenes Depp shares with the kids are the closest the film comes to the magical inspiration I had hoped for from its entirety. While I will admit to some emotional welling as the credits rolled, is was the kind of sadness that I would have felt had someone relayed similar events to me in a conversation at a bar, not through any achievement of the film itself.

There is an excellent and just final irony to Neverland: Towards the end of the film Barrie laments that kids these days grow up too fast and stop using their imaginations. Frankly, I am tired of seeing this analogy to modern kids made throughout the pop-culture lexicon. Perhaps if the filmmakers, and others like them, had taken some of their own medicine and applied it to create a truly inspiring film, there would be no need to convey that in the first place. After all, imagination is hard enough to come by.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"Sideways:" A Rare Vintage

Wine is the kind of passion that requires subtle appreciation and a refined, sophisticated taste. It takes similar traits to enjoy the full flavor of certain films, too; the kind of films it would be an insult to call mere "movies." Alexander Payne's Sideways is that kind of achievement. Rarely does a film capture the kind of truth that transforms the screen into a mirror; at times causing you to squirm at a character's embarrassment, laugh with their joy and sever a heartstring at their pain. Rarely do "characters" feel more, in fact, like people. Some films can have a precious few of these moments; others, like Sideways, provide them in spades.

Sideways stars Paul Giamatti as Miles Raymond, a middle-aged mope of an 8th grade English teacher, who takes his college roommate, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), on a road trip through California wine country as a bachelor party for his upcoming marriage. Each, and the women they meet on the trip, Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), are all at major crossroads at the middle of their lives. For Miles, he is barely over his two-year-old divorce and struggling with getting his first novel published. Jack is an over-the-hill soap opera actor getting married when he clearly is not ready for the responsibility. Maya is similarly divorced and works as a waitress but studying to become a horticulturalist. Stephanie raises a young daughter, without a father, and likewise is clearly not ready for that responsibility. The men and women are each the opposite of one another. The yin to each of their yangs. Miles is emotive, passionate, deep, intelligent, sensitive and mature; while Jack is juvenile, id-driven, shallow and when he thinks, its often with the wrong head. Likewise, Maya is cautious, strong and wise while Stephanie is more impulsive and aggressive. Like different kinds of wine, they all offer distinct and complex tastes. What expressly makes these "characters" people are those same complexities. They all have flaws, strengths, triumphs and disasters. You often feel like them and for them.

Sideways has no flashy sets, costumes or photography. Indeed, one of Payne's strengths throughout his career has been removing the slick Hollywood varnish from his mise-en-scene, lending a documentary, folksy feel to everything within in his frame. On a related tangent, look for a continuation of Payne's funny awkard-nudity trend; Kathy Bates's disrobing from About Schmidt as a previous entry. This overall style leaves the success of the film to the basics of writing and acting, both of which shine overabundantly here. What a talent Payne has in unearthing actors like Thomas Haden Church (last seen on TV's Wings and Ned & Stacey) and a forgotten Virgina Madsen who both deliver career defining performances. Much has and will be written about Giamatti's towering performance, so I will save my superlatives and instead, cross my fingers and hope that he'll have a gold statuette in his hands come February. The scene he shares with Madsen on a porch, where they analogize their lives to their passions is incredibly intimate, real and soulful; one of the best I have seen this year. For Payne, it doesn't matter if the label on the bottle is pretty, it's the stuff inside that counts.

A great bottle of wine improves with age and likewise a great film can too, improving with repeated viewings. Unlike those vintages, the beauty, power and transcendence of Sideways is readily apparent in the first taste.

Post-Election Pop

Top 5 Songs For The Post-Election:

1. "Ohio" by CSNY
2. "Tell Me Why" by Neil Young
3. "Black Math" by The White Stripes
4. "Ashes of American Flags" by Wilco
5. "Heartbreaker" by Led Zeppelin

Feel free to add any more below.

This is not a political blog, it's the blog of a disillusioned and distressed American.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Voting Dude: A Quick Thought

By know means is this a political blog, nor will it become one now; there is a glut of places to go to to hear everyone and their mother soapbox about the presidential election. From the standpoint of pop culture, I can't quite think of any other time period in my life where a singular topic was so heavily scrutinized by all facets of media; by anyone with a camera, microphone or keyboard. Even the graffiti in my subway station and on the trains are politically motivated. While it is intriguing to see politics and voting en vogue, the resulting amount of coverage, drama and theater have left me reaching for both Xanax and Tylenol. Which is pretty good considering I don't even live in a swing state and thus have been left relatively candidate-commercial free; instead left to bask in various male-enhancement drug ads.

But I will say that the media-induced headaches, anxiety and nausea were more then worth it when I swung that lever this morning. Say what you will about the fallacies of the candidates or the process, but the act of voting felt truly fulfilling. Many of the people who's eyeballs get to peruse these words enjoy the sweet fruits America can provide, and a vote is only two minutes of repayment. While it may only be one vote, it is the most fundamental act of participation in a democracy, one the original fathers of this country dreamed of and its sons have too often died for.

Go Vote!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

"Team America:" Freedom...With Strings Attached


Hey. You. C'mere. You wanna see some puppets hump? Yeah! For real. I also got puppets puking a keg's worth of green soup. C'mon. Check it out.

Well, you can check that out and much more in "South Park" authors and provocateurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone's new film, Team America: World Police. The movie literally stars visibly-stringed marionettes, voiced by their creators, as Team America, an elite task force whose main goal is to kill WMD-wielding terrorists, without prejudice, no matter where in the world they may be hiding. The biggest shock value delivered by the movie has nothing to do with the Meet The Feebles-inspired inanimate shenanigans illustrated above. That honor instead goes to the amazing irony that, despite it being conceived, created and watched in a post-9/11 world, the movie has less to do with that post-9/11 world and more to do with a satirical, biting look at Hollywood and the famous, overly outspoken, self-important actors who live there.

Consider this: there is no mention or direct reference to the following in Team America: President Bush, or any real or fake American President for that matter; Senator Kerry; the election; the words Republican, Democrat or any political party; there is no mention of any Armed Forces beyond Team America, meaning no stereotyped, stuffy, war-mongering Dr. Strangelove generals. Iraq is mentioned, and only barely, twice. In further eye-winking irony, 9/11 is mentioned many times (as part of what becomes an increasingly tired joke) as a numeral, not an event. While it could be argued that the focus on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and a "World Police" type American foriegn policy put the film squarely in a post 9/11 context, I would argue that those issues were around and were a consideration well before September 11th. Indeed, what at first seems to be a mockery of America's "World Police" policy ends up vindicatation by the time the credits roll. What the current global and political environment does allow, is a perfect womb for this film to be born and to be popular.

What's more readily apparent in the movie are Parker and Stone's desire to skewer and satire Hollywood and the soapboxing actors who live in richly in them thar Hills. For anyone even moderately familiar with South Park, this is not new territory for them; I can recall recent episodes of that show where Rob Reiner, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were targets for their caustic wit. This time, Parker and Stone aim their sharp darts at the more liberal, peace-loving celebrity element, whom they count Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Sean Penn and a half-retarded (and funny) Matt Damon among its ranks. Formulaic Bruckheimerian action films and more specifically war movies like Pearl Harbor receive similar satirical treatment in song as well as the purposefully brainless tone of the action sequences and some of the dialogue thorughout the movie. But it is those actors, however, that receive more of the pointed and poisoned focus for Parker and Stone. It is highly refreshing that this duo can move past back-patting and ass-kissing, remove any fear of killing their careers and put this piece out. Even more refreshing is knowing the movie was put out by the same Hollywood machine that is at the very core of these rogues' barbs. Oh, by the way, the movie is damn funny, too.

The main message I got from Team America, is that it is impossible to have an important political or world opinion if you are rich, self-important and dining on caviar served by your personal chef; especially when you are only well-known because you play make-believe on celluloid (Playing fake? Perhaps the motivation for puppet usage?). This message provides an even greater argument as to why Parker and Stone could not create an overtly political film; they would have been skewering themselves. Ultimately, the lone actor in the film who makes a difference is the one who shuts his mouth and jumps into the action...the REAL action. An even clearer message is conveyed when you consider that this character is the only actor portrayed in the film who is, in reality, fictional.

Your Morning Cup O' Pop Culture: World Series Edition

You may not be a fan of the Red Sox (die-hard and broken-hearted Met fan here) or their fans, but how can you can not appreciate their ability to overcome the pressure of a long history of failure, expected failure to achieve something that even dreams could not do justice to? It's inspiring, the kind of inspiring that transcends the team and the sport. Nothing, as these 2004 Red Sox, these Idiots, have proved, is impossible.

So how long until the Yankees take the field at Fenway to chants of "2000!" "2000!" (Doesn't quite have the "19-18!" ring, does it?)?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Your Afternoon Cup O' Pop Culture

Ashlee Simpson: Is her "acid reflux" induced bout of lip-synching a big deal? Here's a big deal for you: George Martin coming out and saying that he wrote, performed and sang while John, Paul, George and Ringo flopped their mop-tops and mouthed their lyrics. Not Ashlee friggin' Simpson. I mean, would you really be surprised if you found out Ashlee Simpson and her bubble-gum pop-tart brethren had a made a deal with the devil who then hooked them all up to some devil machine that created, controlled and performed their crack-addicting, teenaged-marketed drivel? Would you? Maybe a little, what with the devil machine and all, but you smell my drift.

Pedro Martinez: Was it me or did Pedro Martinez, in the centerfield shots while he was pitching last night and with his hair, look like the Thriller-era Michael Jackson?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Song Dude: Can't Get You Outta My Head

ALERT: Click here for a link to a free MP3 download of one of the most achingly beautiful yet unknown songs released this year : "Tomorrow On the Runway" by the Innocence Mission. The song combines Karen Peris's haunting vocals over a catchy acoustic guitar strum and atmospheric, melodic electric lead. If there is justice in our world a filmmaker will snap this up and use it in the right movie. Enjoy.

The Video Dude: Forever "Eternal Sunshine"

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind: (2004; Dir: Michel Gondry; Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkenson, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood)

Spare. Poetic. Beautiful. One of my favorite films of the year. Like the lead protagonists in many of Charlie Kaufman's produced screenplays (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), Joel Barrish (Carrey) is a social misfit; an outsider; an on-the-fringe, soulful, artistic loner who some might call pathetic and others, well, human. I prefer the latter. If you have not seen the movie, Barrish commits himself to the Lacuna Corporation, a company that, through a medial/technical procedure, can remove all memories associated with a broken relationship. Barrish wants to remove the memory of his ex-girlfriend, Clementine (Winslet), only to realize halfway through that he has made a mistake. If you saw the film in theaters and liked it, then rent it or buy it and see it again. Eternal Sunshine is an excellent example of a film that provides a more rewarding experience upon a second viewing; its gifts are more evident. In this case, it gives you a greater appreciation for the performances of its leads. In Carrey, for example, the rubbery, physical comedic gifts that he's known for are amped WAY down and used only sparingly and necessarily like in scenes where he must portray himself as a child. What's left is a sensitive, nuanced portrayal that I haven't seen evidence of even in his more "serious" roles. In a performance that could have been one-sided or annoying in lesser hands, Kate Winslet takes her character's idiosyncrasies, her impulsiveness, insecurity and penchant for drinking, to shape an incredibly real and multi-dimensional person. Both characters, upon a second viewing, truly transcend the boundaries of the celluloid that hold their images. Like the recent I Heart Huckabees, Eternal Sunshine depicts a character employing a quick fix to explain or destroy peronal pain and unhappiness. Unlike Huckabees (which I liked), Eternal Sunshine develops its story without a hint of irony; leaving a more permanant mark on your mind and your heart.

Monday, October 18, 2004

A Survivor's Guide to "Surviving Christmas"

In Mike Mitchell's Surviving Christmas (Opens nationwide Oct. 22th) Ben Affleck plays Drew Latham, a successful, shallow Chicago advertising executive who finds himself sad and lonely as the Holidays approach. When he visits his childhood home to exorcise demons of Christmas past, he offers the family currently living there $250,000 to faithfully recreate for him a Merry Christmas that he has never enjoyed. Because the plot sounds like the basis for Fox's next foray into reality show programming, I am going to offer up a survival guide based on what I learned from watching the film - just in case you end up a contestant on this spin-off.

1. Ditch Scary Mask and Candy for White Beard and Gingerbread Men: Surviving Christmas is being released a week before Halloween, which is like breaking out fireworks and those red, white and blue ice pops at Thanksgiving Dinner. The point is, they're both bad ideas and may lead to nausea and heart attacks.

2. Use A Map, Any Map: I don't know where Ben Affleck's career is going and it doesn't seem like he does either, so a map may help you find the answer. In this film, his character is so juvenile, annoying and irksome that nowhere does he buy the emotional payoff that comes at the end; nor does he show any capacity for emotion period besides the kind of cutesy, self-serving smugness usually associated with used car salesmen. He does have a few laughs though, and some even seem ad-libbed (more of a comment on the script, then his performance). Hopefully your map leads him to a smaller, juicier, edgier role in an indie film by a credible director a la Tom Cruise in Magnolia.

3. Rely on the fairer sex: The female leads in the movie, Catherine O'Hara and Christina Applegate, are two of the few bright spots. O'Hara, a veteran comedian, plays Christine Valco, downtrodden suburban wife and mother of the "rented" family. She brings some wit and eccentricity to the role, best exemplified by her performance in a scene in which the family is forced to have a scripted, more pleasant than normal, dinner discussion. Applegate plays Alicia Valco, the elder daughter and obviously-eventual love interest for Latham (Affleck). She is at her witty, breath-of-fresh-air-best early on when she is at odds with Latham (and the rest of her family) for his idiocy and the general stupidity of the entire charade.

4. Be Original. Think Outside Of the Box: Unfortunately, the 164 credited screenwriters (there were actually only 4 - never a good thing) do not heed this advice. The film is littered with stale jokes. For example, a bit where involving the introduction of the "understudy" of the actor hired by Latham to play the family's grandfather can be seen a mile away - by a blind guy in the dark. It seems the filmmakers were going for the kind of tasteless humor that made Bad Santa a good Holiday yarn; instead they've concocted a low-carb, low-fat diet substitute - barely. And for the love of the guy born on Christmas, is it possible to make a Holiday film that does not include the song "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," especially if its being used as part of an ironic hardy-har-har montage sequence? Is it? Please? Pretty please? While in reality that song may not be as overused as claimed, it is a commentary on the quality of the film when it feels over-cliched.

Christmas films can be dicey; Christmas reality shows based on Christmas films can be even dicier, so I hope this helps. By the way, since you have read this far, you are hereby legally bound to split any winnings you get for being Fox's "Surviving Christmas" reality spin-off. Don't hate me, hate capitalism. Now if only I could get an MP3 of the jungle-yell that opens "Survivor."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

To "Huckabee" or Not To "Huckabee"?

Damn my titles are getting weaker (2nd place: Wherefore I Heart Thou?); I feel like the crazy grandfather elbowing you for a laugh.

Have you ever had that odd, seemingly unique NYC experience of running into an acquaintance or seeing the same stranger on the street at two different times in the same day? Have you ever taken a break from your busy city-brain to ponder the coincidental or possibly cosmic ramifications of that event on your life? If not, then I ask you to stop reading this review, do not go see I Heart Huckabees and click on the following for entertainment: For the rest of you (and me), we all have something in common with Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) in David O. Russel's (Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster) sugarhigh-paced, ironic, what-does-it-all-mean funfest I Heart Huckabees.

Albert, a loner environmentalist social misfit, seeks the help of an Existential Detective (!) husband and wife team, Vivian and Bernard (Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman), to help him explain his coincidence of running into the same Sudanese man three times over a short period. Vivian and Bernard feel these coincidences have a lot to do with the main stress in Albert's life; the proposed linking of his environmentalist non-profit company, Open Spaces, with the franchised Huckabees department store, faced by souless corporate mongering, always-on-my-A-game Brad Stand (Jude Law). Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), another Vivian and Albert "case" is soon assigned as Albert's "other" (think of it like an AA "buddy") and the two become friends, cohorts and co-miserables. Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts) is Brad's girlfriend and the pixie-modeled commercial face of Huckabees. Oh! And noted French actress Isabelle Huppert plays Catherine Vauban, the yin to Vivian and Bernard's yang, a more decidedly bleak Existential Detective, who tries to bring Albert over to her "darker" side.

Caught up? Breathing still? Take a sec. Good. Let's go on.

What I love about the film is that it squeezes and throws a lot at you politically, religiously and philosophically for its 106 minutes, often in a pastiche of Altman-esque overlapping dialogue, without ever leaving you overloaded or feeling patronized. It is a film of opposites and transformations. As it unspools, many uniquely-American conflicts play out: "Surburban Sprawl" vs. environmentalism; Catchphrase-teenaged & celebrity obsessed-logo driven short attention span-ism (whew!) vs. poetry, Kafka and philosophy; motor-mouthed corporate personality vs. quiet, sensitive soul. These conflicts and opposites are personified in Albert and Brad, extremely different people...or are they? Many of the main characters exposed to these Detectives go through a life transformation of sorts, most interestingly is Dawn Campbell's (Watt's character) transformation from an overexposed, brainless, one-dimensional model to what is, in the film, referred to as an "Amish Bag-Lady," the exact literal and figurative opposite of her original and Huckabee's total image.

While the film's ironic tone may not lend an automatic gooey emotional center, there is much, especially in Schwartzman's Albert, that can be identified with on a personal level by a tuned-in audience. After all, at the end of the day, wouldn't we all want the ability to seek out a "Detective" who can help us with the greater questions of the purpose and meaning of our own lives? Are we not, in the big picture both consumers at strip malls and advocates of the environment? Or victims of short-attention span filled television and advertising and lovers poetry and art? Are we not participants in both the sad human drama and moments of silly, spontaneous "pure being?" Aren't we sometimes talktative, funny, aggressive and "on our games" and other times lonely, sad and pained?

I Heart Huckabees is the kind of film that, I predict, will grow in acclaim as the years pass and as today's twenty-somethings (whom I think this film would have a greater appeal to) grow older and into a greater position in our country's intellecutual cultural elite. Without a doubt, it is already the kind of film that will greatly reward you upon successive viewings, the way only a truly excellent film can. Therefore, I highly recommend you experience that unique coincidence of running into the movie at your local 'plex now and at your DVD player down the road.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Quickie Dude: Find "Lost"Again

I am coming to you live , in a brief moment of sobriety, from Rochester for my 5th year college reunion. For those of you who have not jumped on the "Lost" bandwagon (see my brief review post below) and want to, I have enclosed a link (click on the title of this post) to the show's site to catch yourself up. Do it, it's good for you. Then watch on Wed, 8pm, discuss and repeat.


Movie Dude

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Forgot-eleven Minus The Forgot-one Equals "The Forgotten?"

It's 11pm. Do you know where your children are?

I sure as hell don't and neither does Julianne Moore in Joseph Ruben's haunt-a-thon thriller The Forgotten. Moore plays Telly Paretta, a grieving mother whose young son died in a plane crash the year before. Or did he (cue Twilight Zone Music)? Paretta has greater cause for concern when her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards), psychiatrist Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise) and neighbors tell her she's never even had a kid and the crash never happened. Even Ash Correll (The Wire's Dominic West) an ex-professional hockey player who supposedly lost his own daughter in the same crash denies their existence. It seems that Telly has been suffering from a year long case of Barren Von Womb's disease (my own diagnosis), creating these fantastical notions to fulfill the ghosts of pregnancy troubles past.

Given the suspenseful ghostly-kid centered plot, the marketing wizards behind the film unsuccessfully want you to think Sixth Sense; but the film is not without its charms. Moore, for example, an excellent actress who can usually be found in juicy roles during Oscar-bait season, believably portrays a pained mother who will stop at nothing to find out what did or didn't happen to her son. To Ruben's (The Good Son, Money Train, Sleeping With The Enemy) credit, he creates a well-paced suspenseful mood in the first hour of the film, quietly grasping us and bringing us along for the ride with Telly and Ash (whom she soon convinces of his daughter's existence) as they out-run government baddies and get to the bottom of why the world denies their children's existence. There are also two feverish instances where the tiny hairs on my neck (I call them "Hairettes") stood at attention: the disquieting character-turning sequence where Ash realizes that he indeed had a daughter and the truly jolting manor by which mettlesome types who try to help our heroes are expunged from this planet.

But the film troubled me as well. First, is the continuing of a recent, noticeable trend of cinematographer's draining color for the look of the film (save for the color-infused flashbacks), leaving us with a mix of cold steel blues, grays, blacks and whites. There are also moments that are obnoxiously dark. I understand you are trying to set a mood, but the DP's of the Golden Age of Hollywood must be spinning in their graves. Secondly, those marketing wizards' "twist" ending is really just an ending, sans twis. The big secret is hinted at throughout the film and if you are still guessing by the end, well, lock up your sharp objects. But most offending, in my opinion, is the film's ultimate message about the lack of strength in the parent-child bond. Without spoiling the fruit for you, take the true glorious heart of a film like A.I. where a child searches the entire film for his mother and turn it on its literal and figurative head.

Despite an excellent first hour of suspense-building, the succeeding screen time unfulfills that initial promise and the film's ending leaves you downright disappointed. Throw in a good performance by Julianne Moore and you have a two out of four star film; good enough for rental on weeknight and a few appearances by your own "hairettes." Just make sure you know where your kids are before you watch it, ok?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Observational Dude: How Many Dudes is That?

Five I think, not counting my "evil, bent on world-domination" dudes.

Anyways, I watch the "Daily Show" like its a potato chip laced with crack with hot dark chocolate poured on top (Movie Dude translation: addicting). Last night, Jon Stewart had Nobel Prize winning, civil and world rights activist Bishop Desmond Tutu as his guest last night. In this current murky, sludgey cable news channel, simple-folk soundbite era led by Darth Cheney, Cowboy Dubya, Well-Chinned Kerry and Handsome J. Edwards, it was supremely cold-water-in-the-face-on-a-hot-day refreshing to hear the unironic, sublime human optimism that this man, who has seen the extreme best and worst humanity has to offer, conveys with an ebullient personality that would stick to you like glue that was stapled to you for reinforcement if you were lucky enough to get close to it.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Video Dude Strikes Again!

Sunday Night's Entertainment:

-Man on Fire (Dir: Tony Scott; Cast: Denzel Washington; The Walken (that's all you really need); Dakota (insert name joke here) Fanning; Marc "I Will Be Your Hero, Baby" Anthony; 2004)

Happy family comedy (drip sarcasm, drip) about a boozing, down-on-his-luck, shady-past-going-nowhere-fast ex-Marine named Creasy (Washington) who finds himself in Mexico accepting a low-paying job as a body guard for the daughter (Fanning) of a rich family who fears she may the next victim in a rash of kidnappings taking place in Mexico City. The Walken plays the old friend who hooks Creasy up with the gig. Guess what? She gets kidnapped. Guess who's gonna get to the bottom of it in a murderous revenge-rampage? No, not me, silly. The film is two and half hours long, which is perfect if you're watching Lawrence of Arabia, not Man on Fire; it's just way too long. You'd also think in 147 minutes we'd learn a thing about Creasy's shady past, like what caused him to be a drunk, jobless, smile-less, etc. But no. The direction, look and feel of the movie is totally overstylized: way too-many unnecessary tracks, pans, zooms, jump cuts, etc. you get the feeling that if Creasy went to McDonald's to order a Big Mac, Scott would shoot it from under a glass floor looking up with the camera whizzing around or something. Certain times I felt like I was watching a too-hip for its own good jeans commercial. I rented this because I was in the mood for it and got I wanted. If you have two hours and half hours to kill, I'd recommend community service instead.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Is Sky Captain the World Of Tommorow?

Ladies and gentleman, whether you are aware of it or not, we are in a new era of filmmaking. In an industry and art form where the most significant advance in its first hundred years was the addition of sound, the dawn of the proliferation of digital filmmaking into the mainstream is a similarly earthshaking evolution. Kerry Conran's Sky Captain and The World Of Tommorow is a signpost of this new era, being the first film shot entirely in front of a blue screen. Is this capability a positive or a negative influence for both the artistic and commercial viability of today and tommorow's American cinema?

Digital Cinema, in a very generic sense and for the purposes of this article, can include two clear pools of evolution. On the one hand it can mean the marketplace proliferation and availability of high-quality affordable digital video cameras, advanced editing suites like Avid and Final Cut Pro and digital distribution channels evergrowing on the internet; on the other it is the highly advanced (and more expensive) digital animation/CGI graphics that a select few filmmakers have access to create a new world (like the one created by Conran) that may not necessarily exist in our real one. The immediate pros of both of these pools is the increased access they afford their masters. The availability of digital cameras and editing software literally give the access of opportunity to thousands of amateur filmmakers to tell their stories where none had existed before. The capabilities of CGI mean more advanced filmmakers have greater access to their own imaginations and unleashing whatever stew it has cooked up; boundaries heretofore limited by location/set/early special fx have been pushed and now, thanks to the likes of Sky Captain, seemingly eliminated. Indeed, the advances of Digital Cinema overall seem to have divided the film world into two camps: those "purists" who hold onto celluloid as a sacred living, breathing parchment and those who are welcoming its evolution into bits and bytes.

So is this movement, this newfound access a good thing for artist and audience? Like every new technology there are inherent trade-offs. On one hand there has been an explosion in amateur filmmaking; festivals filled with the short films made on the cheap spring up like Barbara Streisand comeback tours. One could argue, however, that it is not a good thing for any Tom, Dick, Harry or Akbar to be able to tell their stories (or write reviews on their own blog...ouch, me!) much like you don't need yet another Starbucks to open across the street from the one already open right next door to you. But as long as talent, hard-work and luck cause the cream to rise from an ever-growing crop then it should be no issue. A problem does arise, however, when young directors rely on this technology and never learn the how to use real film. While films shot on DV are creeping into the mainstream (Blair Witch, 28 Days Later, Pieces Of April) the overall quality of the look and feel of the films suffer when compared to traditional film; today's digital cameras can still not match the amount of color and contrast you can achieve the "old" way. It could, nevertheless, be argued that the lower-fidelity image in those films mentioned above evoked a certain mood the respective directors were shooting for. When digital cameras can one day completely mimic the image a 35mm motion picture camera can create, eliminating the large expense of film purchasing, processing, etc., well then, folks, the use of film may die out with the surviving members of this generation of purists who wrap themselves in it today; much in the way the days of flatbeds, miles of footage and scissors have given over to a flickering screen and a mouse click in editing universe. Shooting on film in that possible future will become something an auteur would do to be "retro," to make a film like his ancient forbearers. Sad, but probably eventual.

There exists an undeniable "kiss-off" factor by learned film critics and filmgoers in this land towards films saturated CGI. The sentiment goes something along the line that these "products" are heavy on eye-candy and light on the fundamental foundations of good cinema: story and character development. Any fan of those hariy-footed Hobbits could tell you that this is not always the case, that indeed the effects serve to incredibly enhance the world these stories and characters exist in rather than bully the film with their "look-at-me" coolness. Animation is another film genre that has recieved quite an adrenaline shot in the arm thanks to the digital evoultion; as evidenced by the 3D success of the Pixar and the Shrek films. The immediate tradeoff of this new world of animation is the that the hand-drawn 2D Disney-fied animation we grew up on and loved is dying a slow death. Even 2D adventures like last year's Spirit: Stallion of The Cimarron look downright antiquated to these 27 year-old eyes, you can imagine what a 10 year-old thinks who knows no different. I think that we can, however, agree somewhat with the "kiss-off" critics. There is an undeniable artificiality, even with today's available technology, to many digital effects and shots in today's Hollywood films; and anytime you are taken out the film long enought to think "Hmmm...that looks fake" or "Those tech wizards don't know what a real spaceship looks like," is a moment any filmmaker dreads. Digital effects can, in post-production, remove any mistake, blemish or happy accident that occurred during the production of a film, shrinking the most vital element that these films and filmmakers have in common with their audience: humanity. It's analogous to the cliched set of a sci-fi future-world: all the convenient, shiny and flashy exterior hide something much, much worse behind it.

So where does our Sky Captain fit in this digital buffet? Someplace in the middle. First off, it is almost a coup for a studio to end up giving $70 million dollars to a first time filmmaker who had a vision of creating something that had't quite existed before. It's seems like the least calculated risk a non-risk taking entity could take. So kudos to Conran. The film is about reckless pilot Joe Sullivan (Jude Law) and a adventurous reporter-dame Polly Perkins (Gwenyth Paltrow) who team up (with help from Angelina Jolie's Capt. Frank Cook) to remove an army of bent-on-destruction-of-the-world robots (who is their leader? Who Dammit!) in a pre-World War II art deco-looking New York and beyond. The CGI visuals are, at first, stunning...and big. The first sequence of these robots attacking New York can be breathless at times. The problem is that with each successive sequence in the film Conran seems to try to outdue himself and wow us with an even bigger, more outlandish digital set creation. He also tries, somewhat understandably, to squeeze in every exisitng precipitation, eco-system and mode of transportation into the filter of his CGI-created and imagined world. There are some charming pieces fit into that world as it wears its bygone-era Hollywood nostalgia on its sleeve; indeed, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights both can be seen directly quoted in the movie; although I would be hesitant to say I would be happy if I was a descendant of Sir Laurence Olivier, archive footage of whom appears as a character in the film (the morality and future implications of this and John Wayne appearing in beer commercials has been debated before and will again). One thing I took umbrage with is Conran's portrayal of his two main women characters who fall at the extreme end of the female character spectrum. On one end, Paltrow's Perkins is the stereo-typical juvenile "girly-girl:" always scheming or whining to get her way; always hitting the wrong button, getting herself into trouble, needing to be rescued, making noise when she should be quiet; and leaving her stuff beyond (namely her trusty camera) at the least opportune time. On the other is Angelina Jolie's Capt. Cook: an androgenous, barely feminine, desexified (hair up in a cap) militeristic commander of a floating air carrier; she is, in fact, referred to first as "Frank" only. Where is a strong and sexy female character in this made-up world. Where!?

Ultimately, I would side with the "kiss-off" critics stereotyped earlier: Conran's vision and CGI world are the stars of the film, the story and the characters are just fixtures in its gigantic big-ness. But that bigness is worth seeing on an equally big screen; a movie meant to be seen, well, at the movies.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Video Dude: Weekend Shorties

No, not those shorties. Short capsules of some DVDs from this past weekend.

-Anna & The King (Dir: Andy Tenant, C: Jodie Foster, Chow-Yun Fat, 1999): Beautifully shot (by Caleb Deschanel of The Natural fame) based-on-true-events-story of an intellectual English teacher (Foster) brought to 19th century Siam to teach the 58(!) kids of the King (Fat, huh-huh) based on the same diaries that famed Broadway play The King and I (and a previous filmed incarnation) is based. At 147 minutes, the film is about a half an hour too long, bloated by too many expanded subplots and a somewhat hackneyed ending. If you loved The Last Emperor, then check out this decent knock-off.
-Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring Again (From South Korea; Dir. Kim-duk Kim, 2003): Aaaaaaah. A quiet, peaceful, poetic film which, on the surface, centers around a floating Buddhist monastary and the relationship of the master and his young protege who live on it. Heavily influenced by Eastern and Buddhist thought and meditation, the film filters through the cycle of life, karma and redemption. Few words are spoken, but if you are in for an insightful moving experience far from our own normal Western existences and, thus, films, check this out.
-Pieces Of April (Dir: Peter Hedges, C: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, 2003): A short (eighty minute) flick about a 21 year-old rebellious black sheep (Holmes) who cooks a Thanksgiving dinner for her unforgiving, disfunctional family with whom she has a highly contentious relationship with. Even more strained is her relationship with her terminally-ill mother (Clarkson). Luckily, the film does not take pity upon Clarkson's character, nor sink into melodrama. Instead, we are left with a funny, real portrayal of a two familial ships trying to establish a new bridge over a cavernous sea of the past. God that sounded terrible...but it is worth a look around Turkey time or whenever your folks drive you to hang dead chickens upside-down out your window.

TTPBMPCVTW (Things That Passed By My Pop Culture Visage This Weekend)

Ok. I admit it. The title is a rush job. But you only have so much time to post a "post-weekend" post and in order to create the post, you must post something quickly.


-Things I thought I'd never write on this blog and actually mean: I caught a rerun of SNL (That's a now acceptable acronym for Saturday Night Live...if you didn't know that then please immediately stop reading this) with Justin Timberlake as host and dammit, JT has talent as a comedic actor, real talent. I will now go take an hour-long shower and scrub my skin till it bleeds.

-Things that trouble me: I read somewhere that there is a plan to remake Revenge Of The Nerds. OK, I can understand Alfie (coming soon to a theater near you), a film that most of my generation (I'm 27) have not seen nor are that familiar with. Fine. But Revenge Of The Friggin Nerds?!?! I can still hear Booger's joyous "We've got bush (the non-presential kind)!!" ringing in the eardrums of my forgotten pre-adolescence. I propose a rule that before Hollywood remakes a film the producers must put it to a vote of the nations's literate 18-30 year olds. If less than 25% have not heard of the film, then go knock yourself out.

-Things that smell conspiratory (is that a word?): Taking a cue from the above, I honestly think Hollywood is churning out remakes in order to release the DVD of the older film and pump up its sales based on the (hopeful) success of the remake. How many times have you seen that happen? A hundred? A thousand? A google (remember when that word only meant a nonsensical number? Ah, innocent days)? Speaking of conspiracies, I think the razor companies of this country have us men tied around their greedy little fingers. Somehow, every year it seems they release some new technological advance (Peels cheek from bone...for an even CLOSER shave!!) that requires a big marketing campaign in order to force us to buy a new $30 razor, the Sensor Excel Edge Advantage Pump. Seriously, we're talking about friggin shaving here not a cure for cancer which requires the seemingly unending research and capital these companies dump into their next "innovation" and don't even get me started on the cold remedy companies. I'm onto those guys; find a cure and they all go out of business. You're on my list, Robitussin!!

Thursday, September 23, 2004


Fact 1: I am not a fan of most network television series. I think the sitcoms are mostly stale and boring; reality shows like repugnant hits of crack (are there any other kind?)...take one and next thing you know you would rob your mother to watch the next episode.

Fact 2: I did not breathe during the first 20 minutes of "Lost" (ABC, Wed. 8pm). It was one of the few times that I forgot I was watching network television and was shocked when a commercial break came. That's maybe happened once before that I can recall (Whoa! This talking baby show has a commercial? Blasphemy!)

Fact 3: There is some "Oh C'mon!" stuff. Way too many beautiful women on the plane (one eight months pregnant! Of course!) and the scene that irked me the most: Main man-know-it-and-do-it-all stallion Jack (Matthew Fox) getting a nasty wound stitched up by the comely Kate (Evageline Lilly) who just happened to be walking by, premeditating a boat(plane?)load of sexual tension and innuendo.

Fact 4: The pilot was so action packed and tense there was no namby-pamby time to "get to know" our characters...instead you are given tiny hints of traits and motivations that you KNOW (or hope) will develop over the run of the show.

Fact 5: I WILL watch the next episode.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Music Dude: Stick This In Your Ear!

Someone once wrote: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

True. But I can't help telling you a bit what new stuff and old stuff I've been listening to on my 20GB Rio Karma (PLUG-PLUG):

Rubber Factory by The Black Keys: The Black Keys are a drum-guitar duo from the (midwest)Akron, Ohio who play a new mutation of romp-stomp-blues-rock and if I read one more review eliciting those similarities between them and the White Stripes, this will not be a weblog, but a webpuke (million dollar idea? Anyone know investors?). Rubber Factory is their third album and crinkles with a kind of dirty, fuzzy, stick-to-your-ribs blues mutated through the looking glass of modern, independant music. Made up of Dan Auebach's crunchy-made-to-sing-the-blues voice and guitar work and Patrick Carney's able drumming (two members...that's it!), the music is indeed firmly rooted, without being derivative, in the original African-American blues experience. But Auerbach and Carney have had the further benefit of arriving well after those '70s white rock bands that further Darwin-ised (or ripped off....your choice) the genre while being firmly planted and influenced in the current furtive period in indie rock where many different genres are being revived in a new, exciting and original way. I dare you you to listen to the second track "10 AM Automatic" and not be won over. If you dig the album, go pick up Thickfreakness, the band's previous, if slightly less original, step in their continuing and growing evolution.

The Video Dude: BEYOND Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls

RIP Russ Meyer

Q: Movie Dude, is the rumor true that you watched a bootlegged, low-fidelity, low-quality copy of a movie starring several Barbie dolls renacting the rise and fall of a 70's pop-icon?

A: Um, yes.

Q: Movie Dude, did somebody slip insanity sauce onto your daily dish of catnip?

A: Don't knock the helps my suffering pass easier. And I haven't touched my dolls in months.

"Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," an early film from noted director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Safe, The Velvet Goldmine) indeed plays like a combo platter Behind The Music-cum-anorexia documentary about the struggles Karen Carpenter endured with the eating disorder during her heydey as part of the successful recording act The Carpenters (along with her brother Richard)...using dolls. OK....that will be the last time I say that sarcastically, because, dolls or not, this truly is a creative and effecting film verifying its status as one of Entertainment Weekly's Top 50 Cult Films (It is hard to find and not available commercially...if I remembered the bootleg DVD site that this copy came from, I'd post it here, not that I condone that stuff).

The film's economic (it's only 45 minutes long) rise and fall arc is similar to and almost as effective to that of many similar films told over a period of time in the protagonist's life (Boogie Nights, Goodfellas, Sweet Dreams, La Bamba, etc., etc.) by employing similar techniques. Most importantly is the set and costume desgn which easily let us know that time has passed and also where we are in the 70's or 80's. For example, Karen opens the film as a teenager with a long, large flowing brunette mane; much later in the film we see her hair cropped short; her costumes get more elegant as she gains fame and you can also actually see her face age and wither as she gets sick. Haynes also gets excellent readings out of his voiceover talent. What intrigues more is the sheer creativity that shines through the piece. On an obvious low budget, Haynes conveys a wide ranges of his characters' emotions and their physical motions through quick intercuts and stock footage...none of which is overdone or wasted. Necessity is the motherhood of invention.

What I also found engaging is the factual treatment of anorexia, its causes and possible solutions and how it interacted with Carpenter's story. The film is peppered with info-mercial type intercuts (away from doll-time) that offer bits and bites of basic facts about the disease...presented in an engaging fashion. Meanwhile, for many celebrities, the trappings of fame mean new people in your life, all trying to get a piece of you and pushing you into bad things...drugs, crime, whatnot (at least that's wat tv, movies and tell-all books have taught me). In Karen's case, it was food, or maintaining what she felt was a positive body-image as a celebrity in a highly image-concious society. There's a scene early in the film during her rise to fame where her mother makes her wear a tighter dress then she wants too. Indeed, this scene of familial pressure bears out into Karen's obsession with her weight and self-image. It is the frustrations and quick fix attitude of the controlling family enviroment, I also learned, that enables and prevents an anorexic from coming to grips with their affliction and onto the road to recovery. The usage of dolls to play the roles in the film, underscore an anorexic's distorted self-image.

It seems that Todd Haynes has a thing in his films for presenting a characters and situation where seemingly happy, normal outside appearances mask larger ugly problems. Take, for example, the supposed perfect suburban housewives Julianne Moore plays in Safe and Far From Now mask larger, affecting social issues (Moore's character's enviromental exhaustion in Safe and her husband's homosexual activity in Far From Heaven). In Superstar, Karen Carpenter seemed to have it all: a family that loved her, her head on her shoulders and a very successful career as a recording artist. But behind that squeaky clean-teen image lied a darker secret that reared its ugly head.

Recommended for the hard-core (due to low availability & technical limitations).

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Harold & Kumar Go To...Fight White Power?

Despite the current popular, political argument that life imitates art (or see: kids smoke and kill people because they are influenced by what they see on a screen at the local-plex) Hollywood has notoriously been behind the social times in reflecting what is going on in the moment when their films are released. For example, the overt personal artistic expression that littered art, literature and music in the 1950's and 1960's in this country only flowered in American Cinema in the 1970's. While Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1946, it took years after that before African Americans stepped out from the stereotypical roles they were usually relegated to on film...ironic for a supposedly liberal-leaning town. Part of the reasoning for this social delay is because of the time it takes to produce a film, but more importantly because major studios have often treated us, its audience, like kids with too much money in our wallet; by providing us with a two-hour escape from society rather than inciting us to question it. Plainly, it's just more profitable that way. However, Hollywood does sometimes catch up...and indeed the stoner-comedy Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is an excellent example of the freeing of two otherwise forgotten-on-film minorities from the stereotypical ties that had previously bound them to anonymity.

Despite current continuous, necessary and vigilant calls for more roles and roles of power for African Americans, Hollywood has slowly integrated and enfranchised the African American on film. There is a stronger African American voice in Hollywood today then there has been ever before; actors like Denzel Wahington and Halle Berry have broken through racial-character stereotypes and play racially indifferent lead roles; roles that probably would have gone to an Anglo actors even fifteen to twenty years ago. Is there any doubt that a Manchurian Candidate remake or The Pelican Brief would have featured white lead actors had they been made in a different era? That Mario Van Peeples can make a film today (Badassssss!) about the independent, albeit meager beginnings of African American filmmaking is truly a signpost of how far things have come. The crossover mainstream success of films like Barbershop has proven that Hip-Hop culture is hip enough or, more importantly, a viable enough money-making product that major studio executives have noticed and responded.

Which brings us to the representation of Asian-Americans and Indians (the ones from India, not the reservation) on film. Has Hollywood similarly enfranchised these minorities in movies as much as African Americans? I would argue not. For years in American movies, there was an unwritten policy that Anglos played major character parts that were clearly identified or intended to be other minorities: David Carridine's "Caine" comes to mind; Twenty years ago, Ben Kingsley, an Englishman, played famous Indian leader Mohatma Ghandi. Even today, in a more "enlightened" era, many films that feature Asian Americans or Indians place them in squarely stereotypical supporting roles. While actors like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan have made names for themselves as lead actors in Hollywood, it is surely not based on their acting skills first, but for their martial arts prowess. The stereotypes of these minorities portrayed in modern film and television seep into public consciousness and into popular culture. Among the oft regurgitated lines in pop culture and, especially, male-fraternizing conversation, are from The Karate Kid. Pat Morita's (Shock! Another Asian in a popular martial arts movie!) Asian-cum-Hollywood "philosophies" like "Wax on, Wax off," "Sand The Floor" and "Karate here; Karate not here." How many times have we seen Indians portrayed in film and popular culture as cab drivers, one-dimensional sentimental losers or comic foils (up to Kal Penn's character in Van Wilder, Apu from The Simpsons)? Is there a more over used "go-to" for a laugh then an Indian accent? Somehow, these minorities have taken the current mantel for a "bookish" or "nerdy" character in a film...which seemingly represents a step-up on the Hollywood evolutionary minority-ladder from "non-existence" to "let's laugh at them." There are millions of people in many areas of this country whose ideas and images about these minorities come from what they see on mainstream film and TV...only!

In Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle we have an excellent leap forward in an effort to smash this ideological barrier. In fact, the film does a complete switcheroo, stereotyping white people while ascending the protagonists to multi-dimensional character status. For example, there are the "Extreme" dudes (representing skateboard youth culture), the cops (representing patriarchal authority), and the business executives (representing corporate America) all of whom constantly fight to squeeze our heroes back into the squarepeggish-holes they came from. What ammunition do they use? Some of the very same pop-culture references mentioned above (Both The Karate Kid and The Simpsons are cited) and the stereotypes they foster ("What kind of name is "Kumar" anyway?). Even members of Harold and Kumar’s own racial minorities try to reclaim then and mold (or hold?) them back into the stereotypical clay figures they are breaking away from. Consider Harold’s repeated abhorrence of an Asian club trying to recruit him. Indeed, the members of the club are first portrayed in the typical pre-established minority light (tending towards dorkish) until we see them later partying as hard as any bunch of white-baseball-hat wearing frat guys; another example of the filmmaker’s opening the book you were judging previously by its cover. For Kumar, his immigrant-turned successful doctor father fights hard to force his son to focus onto becoming a doctor (a program his older brother already submitted to) himself and little else. Kumar is more than bright enough, as evidenced by the sequence where he performs a difficult surgery without breaking a sweat or training. There is also a powerful passing of the minority-enfranchisement-mantle in the film. There’s a scene where an African-American offers Harold sage words of racial tolerance advice in prison; the only time in the film when another character offers encouragement instead of hatred. Harold and Kumar are our heroes in the film, the protagonists the filmmakers ask us to identify with...and we easily can. They are bright, young, urban professionals fresh from the womb of college who just want to get high and eat some burgers! That's me! Or at least it was a few years ago... and I am neither Asian nor Indian. Thus, both Harold and Kumar enjoy all the rewards bestowed normally upon their heroic brethren at the end of a movie: the girl, triumph over their enemies and, for the sake their own story, tons of White Castle burgers.

So what is the easiest, most subtle way for the film establishment to welcome these minorities into mainstream characterhood? The cinematic tablet easiest to swallow (and responsible for the negative images in the first place): the comedy or more specifically, the stoner comedy. Amazing to think a dime bag, glass bong and some hamburgers can try to right the wrongs of previous media injustices for a whole new generation of eyes and minds.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Braff-fest of Champions

I love "Scrubs," the NBC dram-com about residents in a hospital. You should love it too. Therefore, I like Zach Braff, that shows star and the writer/director/star of "Garden State", his first feature film. His character in "Scrubs" has a self-deprecating style that a self-deprecating jack-ass like myself can appreciate. He is about my age, so I cannot hide a bit of pulsating green jealousy that the guy got to make his film and I get to sit here 8 hours a day and type my knubby fingers into carpal-tunnel hell. Oh well, maybe the flourescent lights will give me skin cancer first.

Anyways, Braff's film centers on an tv actor (Braff) who returns home to Bon New Jersey for the first time in 9 years because his mother has drowned. He visits old friends! Dude! Let's get high! He has a strained relationship with his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm) who has prescribed him tons of mood-alterting behavior medication. My dad sells insurance....which you can't get high off me I've tried. He meets local, strang-o hottie (Natalie Portman) and develops cutesy romance. Aw! Much like I have devloped with my MP3 player (Rio Karma Plug).

I liked this movie because (A) Braff has good taste in music: Coldplay, The Shins (!), Iron & Wine, and Simon & Garfunkel. By the way, if any of the preceding bands do not sound familiar to you get your ass to your local free peer-to-peer download site and start stealing! (Legal disclaimer: I hereby free myself of any legal responisbility to that last remark). (B) Braff has good taste in movies...the army scooter/bike thing he rides and Natalie Portman's character clearly are influenced by "Harold & Maude" (Hal Ashby R.I.P., brotha) and the scene at home after the funeral are a clear homage to "The Graduate." (C) I'm 26, so is Braff, so is his lead character. I easily identify with the disillusionment with life and family/lost in society/struggle to grow-up (You can start by acting like a man!)/lost little boy crying in the corner/get the razor away from my wrist feelings and (D) because, most importantly there are some genuinely really funny, well-written moments that all can identify with and Braff does a stand-up job on a first feature.

Now for the other shoe. It is a first feature=problems. Natalie Portman's character was either written or she plays it like she is 16. When I saw her with a beer later in the movie, I wanted to rip it out of her hand and suck it down myself. More importantly, its the kind of idea that about 1000 26 year-olds write scripts about all the time....ya know I'm lost in post-graduate/real world adolescent maturity sludge that forces me to do things like create this damn blog. Zach Braff got to make his lost 26 year-old soul script beacuse he is Zach Braff. More power to him. I just got the feeling that in 10 years, he's gonna regret the things he said in it....much as I'm gonna wanna expunge this thing forever some day. The world he creates in the film felt thin at times, not enveloping me as a viewer...characters are introduced and disappear (cop buddy scene?)...and supposedly Ian Holm was in the movie too.

I'm so happy that dude got to make his movie and there is some good stuff in it too. Go see it to support the man and young filmmakers everywhere. Besides....what the hell do I really know anyway?

Monday, August 02, 2004

"Bourne" Again

Yum-Yum...this is crispity, crunchity, butter-topped summertime entertainment with few stubborn unpopped kernels. Matt Damon returns again as hitman/spy/amnesiac/goverment tool Jason Bourne on the run from Russian oil baddies and wicked CIA types. Can't they just let him be with his tormented quarter memories, hottie Euro chick and beachfront bungalow in India?

There are a few reasons why this movie escapes the traditional hum-drum sludgy sameness that afflicts most yawn-ful Hollywood special fx action "products:"

First, an uncluttered plot. Pay some attention! Pay no attention! You'll be fine. It turns out that ironic answer to the elusive mix of "balls" and "brawn" that many similar films aspire to is keep the plot simple. Simple! This film refuses to hold all of its cards to the end...instead it deals a few out throughout the movie, keeping you in the hand.

Second, strong like bull action sequences. Many times in a car chase/gunfight/boat explosion/cat scratching scene you can tell when the actor is in the frame and when the stuntman is while the star is off in his trailer tagging the local Starbucks "Coffee Artist." "Supremacy's" action sequences, most notably the two car chase scenes feel totally seamless as any I've seen on film.

Third, speak softly and carry a big chip on your shoulder. Damon's Bourne character is given little to say in the movie, his actions speak volumes and, when is commanded to speak, his words are curt and to the point. Even better are the small scenes where nothing is being chased/blown-up/killed/maimed/molested, and you can catch your breathe, which are done very well. For example, the one between Damon and the young hot Russian daughter of a family from his past: "My, I didn't think you would be that old...mmm-mmm."

The director, Paul Greengrass, who made the excellent small-budgeted Irish docudrama "Bloody Sunday" shows that he can take a bigger budget and maintain. I have rarely seen scenes shot from so many different, but very interesting (and mostly hand-held) angles and cut together in such a way that drives the incredibly frenzied pace.

Studios spend billions and billions of dollars on just getting your $10.25 ass into the theater often to beat you over the head with a 2 hour exploding, dummified trailer for the video game and the forthcoming special/limited/boo-ya-ka-sha edition 6 disc DVD set with the caterer's commentary. Finally, we get a movie that will outshine either.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Quick Review: "Metallica...Some Kind Of Monster"

Saw "Some Kind Of Monster" last night....the Metallica doc. I am not big Metallica fan, but the doc is completely engrossing and fascinating. Truly, PT Barnum would love this's like going to a heavy metal zoo and watching one of the biggest American bands of the last 20 years in a cage for two hours. The film encapsulates two years of the band dealing with family, losing their bassist, rehab, and egos while trying to record a studio album.

There are many funny moments mostly supplied by the fact that the band hires a psychiatrist to be with them night and day at $40,000 a month. To see the band sit around at a session trying to talk about their feelings is truly priceless. Most interesting is watching the dynamic between the members and their egos while they record....the stereotypical strangle-hold control of the frontman, the drummer's constant challenging of that control and lead guitarist's zen-like, almost stupefying indifference to that conflict.

Consequently, I kept asking myself what I would do if I were in their situations analogizing to my own life...which tells me the filmmakers did their job. The film is candid, not worshipful...a rare insight, yet ultimately, you walk away with total respect for the subject.