September 22, 2006

Black Dahlia

From what I've read about this notorious crime, there's not very much to hang a story on anyway. Even the James Ellroy novel centers not on the victim so much as the two L.A. beat cops who obsess on the case (and each other). There just don't seem to be that many facts to use for a story, despite how the gruesome details seem to suggest there was one.

Of course when you get down to it there are not very many solid details about Jack the Ripper, either, (although the number of victims was higher) and there has been many an entertaining yarn about that case.

So if only they'd taken MORE liberties and made more flights of the fancy with this case. They make a start at this - but only after about 80% of the film was over. And by that time I had FAR too many people to keep up with and was making audible Moe Szyslak "WHAAAA-?" sounds.

There was not even a lot of the DePalma flash and style to distract, either. In "Raising Cain," for instance, it was as if he knew how bad the script was and decided to have as much fun as he could anyway. He even takes us into a wild lesbian bar, complete with fantasy floor show - prime DePalma material - and doesn't linger very long.

The acting - Hillary Swank was far better than I thought she'd be. I don't see what everyone's problem with Josh Hartnett is. But Scarlett Johannsen? Not that anyone cares or it will change a thing, but I have not seen anything I thought she was good in since "Lost in Translation."

For the same kind of story but done much much better, rent "8 MM" and "L.A. Confidential" again for a double feature.

Posted by Chris on 09/22/06

August 21, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

I've never been in a rowdier theatre in my life. And thank God, because I imagine the great time we had at the 10PM showing of "Snakes on a Plane" was due mostly to the crowd. This was a group of college students that had come for the SNAKES, and LOTS OF THEM, and QUICKLY. Bring on the SNAKES!

And the movie delivered. When it wasn't serving up snake after snake, dangling from the oxygen-mask slots, coiling around necks and crawling through blouses, falling down on the couple having sex in the bathroom, biting someone else in the worst place just as they were trying to pee, or writhing down through the center aisle so they could bite someone RIGHT ON THE EYEBALL, the audience would make a HISSSSING sound to warn characters that, lucky though they were to be in a snake-free scene, soon they would be ensnaked, but good.

Speaking about the movie as just a movie becomes almost silly, because the whole thing was more of a hilarious hype experience - and a successful one. I certainly got what I wanted from it. It was exactly what it said it would be, no more, no less.

But when I see it again on cable in a year, I bet I'll note that perhaps the movie could have played out the suspense a bit more. In my limited dealings with serpents I have noted that it takes only a small number - in fact, just one - to make everyone go completely bananas.

Maybe it would have been all the more powerful if there was first one poisonous snake... then another... then maybe two more show up... then they realize THE ENTIRE CARGO HOLD IS CRAWLING WITH THEM HOLY CRAP SOMEONE GET SAMUEL L. JACKSON DOWN HERE. Rather than a sudden explosive appearance of hundreds of the worst kind of snake, all attacking the most sensitive parts of their victims.

And even though they wanted to go for the extreme right away, I missed that "Well of Souls" moment I was looking forward to. I wanted there to be a moment when they showed all of them at once, making my jaw drop at how... many.. damn... snakes there were.

Still, I heartily recommend it if you have been anticipating this movie - AND if you can see it at a late-night show in a college town. The sheer onslaught of so many reptiles in any other context might be absurd, but I assure you in the presence of so much delighted screaming and whooping at the screen, it all makes perfect sense.

Posted by Chris on 08/21/06

Yes, a SINGLE SNAKE ON A PLANE would be enough to cause a riot of panic and I would definitely have a heart attack. I almost stepped on a snake by our garbage can the other day. A harmless garter snake, but I nearly lost my shit.

I heard that people are throwing rubber snakes around in theaters during this movie.

Posted by: Leigh at August 22, 2006 11:46 AM

Lucky it wasn't Snakes IN a Plane because that would have upset the passengers and flight crew. Fortunately they were only ON the plane and presumably blew away minutes before takeoff.

Posted by: simon at August 22, 2006 3:14 PM

August 14, 2006


If you're a fan of the creatures-in-the-dark genre of horror, you'll be very disappointed if you don't see this one on the big screen. Finally, a horror film that doesn't involve teenagers being trapped and taught a good lesson by torturers.

Mentioning Jaws and Alien in the reviews of this film is a bit much, but maybe the excitement is over how you just don't get good horror films very often. And this one is very good. Maybe not an A+, but still a solid A.

It's the sort of movie that made everyone in the theatre SCREAM - and then laugh at how we screamed - and then immediately SCREAM AGAIN because something else happened. I felt the strange "revenge" element added in the third act could have been left out entirely, but by then I was sold.

Posted by Chris on 08/14/06

the real question is whether the movie includes long, painfully drawn-out scenes of hyenas eating children. The Exorcist prequel established a new must-have in the horror canon with that scene. Unless, of course, ultra-violent torture scenes from movies like Hostel and Wolf Creek superceded that one. I can't keep track of these things.

Posted by: olmy at August 14, 2006 5:17 PM

I am soooo pleased you liked this film. I saw the British version back in February; and have seen it about 10 times since. Anyone that comes into my movie clutches is immediately made to watch this. It is already on my all time favorites list. I think it's brilliant. Not an original bone in its body; but done so well in every aspect. I have yet to see it in the theatre (I'm a hypocrite), but am anxious to get out there. I am sure I'll like the British ending better than the "let's make it more palatable to the stupid Americans". Keep touting its wares to all you meet. I'm trying to do the same. And, I have a super crush on Juno (Natalie Mendoza). Mmmm.

Posted by: klugula at August 14, 2006 8:16 PM

Klugula! I definitely need to see this British ending. And I, too, have a fan crush on Juno and felt she was treated unfairly in the movie.

Hey - do you realize that you can now SPELL THINGS WITH A ZOMBIE FONT?!?!

Posted by: Chris at August 15, 2006 4:12 PM

I forgot to mention; I adored the revenge subplot. I thought it added a bit of depth and interest; and it was so subtle; which I appreciated. Especially when Beth said Paul's name; you could barely understand her as the blood was coming out of her mouth. LOVE THIS MOVIE!

Posted by: KLUGULA at August 16, 2006 9:50 AM

July 26, 2006

Lady in the Water

Well - at least he showed us the monster this time. I can say that for M. Night at least.

But even as much as I've been leading the charge against Shyamalan in the past, I'm not ready to join in now. I don't feel this surge of negativity towards his latest film that everyone else seems to. Maybe it's just that he lowered his own bar so drastically over the last two films that anything would do for me.

Don't get me wrong - I would not recommend this movie to anyone, but I enjoyed the simple sweetness of it, even as others around me were leaving the theatre halfway through in disgust. The billing gets it exactly right - "Lady in the Water" is a bedtime story. A bedtime story that he made up as he went along. For very young kids. Oh, and starring himself.

I am not offended that he not only stars in his own films but also gives himself good roles. His movies are so idiosyncratic, so weirdly particular to him (and not always in the Great! Fantastic! way of other directors who put heavy stamps on their works) that by the time he himself walks through a scene, it almost just seems like the natural thing to happen. He's no Paul Giamatti, or Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis, but neither is he the worst actor I've ever seen, either.

Is it egotism? I don't know - I assume a certain amount of ego is required to keep up the "written and directed by" label anyway, so I'm not sure where I draw the line. Put it this way - it's not as if his presence marred an otherwise perfect film.

He is so firmly into his own world, visually, thematically, stylistically, I wonder now if I even stand by my own prescription for him, which was - get help with the writing. Maybe he should just continue to explore his own interior Shyamalanaverse.

Whatever else you think about him, he's certainly an interesting case study (along with Kevin Smith) of what happens when a director hits it really, really big with their first film, and then is mobbed by hundreds of yes-men. If only they had assigned at least one no-man to the throng.

Bottom line, I'll see another of his films. But I AM ready for him to leave this "fable" stage and give us a good, simple horror film. He has a talent for that.

Posted by Chris on 07/26/06

But Chris! There was a LADY! IN the WATER!

Posted by: Big Fat Brian at July 27, 2006 12:07 PM

I beg all of you to donate the money you might be considering spending on a ticket to this wretched and offensive movie to your favorite charity. Seriously. I truly wish I had.

It even irks me to think about the dollars wasted on popcorn eaten during the movie's first 40 minutes. Oh, the pain!

Posted by: Wife Ami at July 27, 2006 5:52 PM

One way he could have made the movie better was by adding Cylons. Can you imagine how big a blockbuster it would be if there were Cylons running around?

Posted by: Lee Adama at July 28, 2006 1:26 PM

"Shyamalanaverse" is now my new favorite word.

Posted by: Ben Jammin' at July 31, 2006 11:28 AM

July 7, 2006

Superman Returns

Bryan Singer has picked up the Superman standard from where it was carelessly left at the end of "II" in 1980 and made a new movie that feels not like a re-imagining of the story, but a legitimate sequel to the Donner / Salkind films.

Ignoring the unfortunate Richard Lester slapstick of "III" and the ill-advised "Superman IV: Quest for Peace" (Really more of a tax shelter for Golan-Globus than a film), he's also shown that a superhero movie doesn't have to be an origin story for it to be interesting.

The most brilliant (and surreal) thing about "Superman Returns" is how Singer kept the vast majority of Donner's design and tone, rather than doing the standard thing nowadays, completely re-inventing everything. Krypton designs, of course Brando's performance, the style of the opening credits, and that amazing music that I have hummed to myself for the past thirty years to signify any personal victory great or small, all remain. Bless him for seeing it not as a chance to put a big ol' personal stamp on a franchise, but to continue with some things that were pretty amazing to start with.

The story is clever, although it runs surprisingly parallel to the first film. (Rocket arrives in Smallville, Lois is saved from a disastrous flight, Lex has a real estate scheme, Superman is overcome by Kryptonite and has to be saved from drowning) They took an interesting but minor device from the first film and turned it into the pivotal weapon stolen by Luthor from Superman's fortress. They've also introduced a surprising new character to the mythos - the true identity of whom seemed to be obvious to everyone but me.

Singer was lucky enough to find Brandon Routh, who seems to have been grown from a bit of Christopher Reeve's DNA. He is not as brilliant in the Clark Kent role as Reeve was (maybe it's unfair to compare the two) but has nailed Superman. Still, as much as I could suspend my disbelief that a man could fly, I found it harder to believe that no one saw through the secret identity.

As for Spacey, he became the definitive Luthor. Although the Luthor character is one the animated series has made much more interesting of late. Their Luthor is a C.E.O. who has made himself untouchable and unimpeachable in the public eye; the Luthor of the film is an evil genius who for some reason surrounds himself with a total of three goons and one moll. (Parker Posey doing a hilarious "Eunice"-like turn.)

The movie is thrilling without being a wall-to-wall action flick. One way of measuring the progress of special effects over the years might be in how well they have depicted Superman in flight - and now seeing him speed through the sky is more amazing than ever. It reminded me of the early balletics of the Fleischer cartoons. He glides, he hurtles, he speeds, he's actually allowed to move a bit faster than the eye sometimes.

And the story is also surpringly sad. Rather than making the movie about every single Superman idea they'd ever had, the filmmakers chose to very specifically focus on his solitude and loneliness. Almost the first time we see him, he's waking up in Smallville - and the first thing he sees is a single red star amongst all the other glowing star decals on the ceiling of his childhood room.

Because his five-year absence is so pivotal to the story, I would have liked to have a little more emphasis on the why, how and what of his trip back to Krypton. It seemed important to him but we never talked about it. Also - what could there have been to visit, since we saw it blasted to smithereens?

I imagine this sort of thing will be amongst the deleted scenes on the DVD, of which I get the impression there will be tons. I'm sure there's more of Martha Kent's trip to Metropolis, which felt like a loose end. I wouldn't have minded seeing some of the "advanced alien weaponry" Luthor thought he'd use to defend his new island chains - I hope that's there, too.


My primary complaint is the strange ending. I feel at one point the writers had chosen to kill Superman, and then decided against it. Maybe - and I hesitate to say this because to see such a thing may well have killed me - it would have been a stronger story if they had actually let him die, letting the "new" Superman be the son. It seemed to be where they were going, with the final Jor-El benediction he gives to his sleeping son; and in fact the ending was so ambiguous I almost felt that his triumphant flight over the Earth at the end was symbolic of him going to his final reward.

Posted by Chris on 07/ 7/06

I'm glad to hear Mr. Singer has done another good job bringing superheroes to the screen, he has the touch.

But there's part of me despairing that so many people will go and see this, a harmless and fun filled adventure of a heroic man in red underpants saving the world, but they won't see Mr. Gore's film, about a heroic man making real efforts to save the world. Perhaps it speaks of our need for escapism and entertainment, or our desire for dessert over nutrition. Something's not right, though, when we stop wanting to learn, feel and use our brains. Could Superman save us from devolution?

Posted by: simon at July 11, 2006 8:43 AM

June 20, 2006

Prairie Home Companion

I can see the temptation in creating a backstory and a framing device for the film version of Prairie Home Companion, but it was a poor choice, and made for a boring film. Amazing, considering the people involved. Keillor's long-running show, an American treasure, is vastly more interesting as is than any invented characters and backstage melodrama.

I found myself just wishing that Robert Altman had turned his restless camera on an actual performance of P.H.C. and made a documentary. The parts that were interesting were the parts with Keillor front and center behind his podium, doing his show - and that was it.

I wish that Altman and everyone had been a bit more honest in their approach. If the desire was to do an ALL-STAR Prairie Home Companion, with a lot of big name actors joining Keillor onstage, then I wish they had simply done that. For as much as I admire and love Meryl Streep, Kevin Klein, and wonderful / fantastic / great Lily Tomlin, I'd have preferred them just playing themselves - or slight variations of themselves as Keillor does - than have them in "roles."

I felt sad that Virginia Madsen's "Altman Experience" had to be in this role. I felt sad for ALL the first-time Altman players doing their best, like Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly - but not Tommy Lee Jones. This was one of Jones' Fast n' Clipped roles, the ones where he steps slightly on the other actor's lines with a flat delivery, as if he's literally trying to rush individual moments so he can get through this hell and on a plane as fast as possible, away from this production he is only doing as a big, big favor to someone. Too bad. The man can bring it when he wants to.

I found myself wondering what someone like Jonathan Demme - a man who knows how to turn live performances into movies - would have done with Prairie Home Companion. With greatest respect to the grand old man of movies, and to Garrison Keillor, I must suggest that you not see this movie, but instead rent "Gosford Park" again, or "M*A*S*H" - and tune in Saturday evening for Keillor's radio show.

Posted by Chris on 06/20/06

June 13, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I have been thinking about how to present my thoughts on this movie all day. Because I really, really hope that as many people see this movie as possible, and if I could convince you to go, then how great would that be.

Like all controversial movies, no doubt you've already been exposed to some of the information and disinformation swirling around it, and maybe it's swayed you one way or another.

Tell you what - put that aside and go check out what it actually says.

If you are a Republican and do not care for Al Gore, I hope you are still interested enough in the subject matter - preserving life on this planet - to go and see it. Even if you go and see it only out of a desire to refute everything in it - I hope you see it.

If you are a Democrat and feel betrayed by Gore - maybe you feel he betrayed us by not demanding justice and a recount in 2000, or maybe you think this is naked propaganda in support of another election campaign - well, I hope you see it anyway.

Or maybe you're somewhere in between (or outside) these two parties, and simply do not want to go and see a depressing movie about how we're all doomed to live a Waterworld existence in fifty years because of the greenhouse effect, fighting for gallons of gas so that we can work as soldiers in Dennis Hopper's Jet Ski army, or else live like slaves on some man-made island of corrugated tin, at least until Kevin Costner can liberate us.

Well - I can tell you that the movie DID terrify me as it promised it would. But it also left me with a definite set of things I could personally do to avoid all that, and a feeling of purpose and hope.

If you are sick to death of politics, I hope you believe me when I say that the movie is not very preoccupied with that, except in areas where, well, frankly, it becomes impossible not to note how politics have influenced the issue.

The movie is not the best documentary I have ever seen, but I guess it might be the most important.

Here's the last thing I'll say about it, and then I'll turn it over to a better writer: I think it's an important movie, and it made me want to be a better, more mindful person.

In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Posted by Chris on 06/13/06

I had a friend describe this film to me in the following way.

"I feel like I paid money to attend a lecture."

But in all fairness he said that it was very interesting and he recommends it.

Posted by: Big Fat Brian at June 14, 2006 7:57 AM

I'm not sure why this movie isn't playing in Nashville yet... All those damn rednecks who voted for Bush prolly ruined it for the rest of us. Come on, Al, do some home state reconciling! Some Tennesseans love you! Bless your heart. (And, by the way, I think it's damn cheeky of Bush to bring the Japanese PM to see Graceland. I don't think visiting the King's home should be awarded to an war-monger's war-mongering pal.)

Posted by: Leigh at June 14, 2006 10:30 AM

I think the current president's attitude toward seeing this film (probably won't see it) should be highlighted and underlined. It matches his ignorant response to the previous administration's predictions and suggestions that terrorism would be his biggest agenda.

How did we get leaders who put their fingers in their ears and go la la la when confronted with grim reality and problems they don't don't want to think about? Does it reflect our real deep-down attitude?

Catastrophic climate change? P-shah! What's really hurting America is gays wanting civil rights and lefties burning flags. God ain't going to let the climate destroy us.

Posted by: simon at June 14, 2006 11:14 AM

Brian raises an interesting criticism that he heard. If Al Gore can't make saving the Earth more entertaining, then maybe we SHOULD just let nature take its course.

Posted by: Chris at June 14, 2006 12:16 PM

Yep! No car chases. No explosions. No nipples. Most Americans won't see it. Sadly.

But I'm excited about the new Superman movie too!!!

Posted by: Big Fat Brian at June 14, 2006 12:34 PM

For something completely different, Gregg Easterbrook exposes "The moral flaws of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth." Somewhat disheartening, but also interesting...

Posted by: Leigh at June 14, 2006 2:02 PM

Well - no surprise than an article in Slate would take a reflexively contrary view. Slate would more accurately be called "The Contrarian," in my opinion, with a slogan of "Whatever You Think Is Wrong." I'm waiting for the article that explains why it's really only a yuppie illusion that the sky is blue.

I've noticed that the people that seem to be actually trying to do something about problems in the world get a level of scrutiny and fact-checking that others, the ones who only exert themselves to consolidate power or get richer, seem to avoid. If a CEO or a president defrauds the American people, people roll their eyes and shrug. But if someone suggests a plan, then it's release the hounds time. I'm not sure why that is.

Did Easterbrook write an article about the moral flaws of our current administration's repeated, documented attempts to inhibit scientific evidence that didn't fit with their agenda? Or was it just that Gore was treading with a bit more celebrity on his own turf? I don't know - I'm actually asking.

Still - more facts and opposing viewpoints are always good. I don't mean to say this documentary is unassailable because of its motives, or shouldn't have to work first as, well, a movie. Easterbrook (like Brian's friend) is disappointed because the movie is mainly an unadorned film version of Al Gore's well-worn PowerPoint presentation. The movie is no "Koyaanisqatsi," that's true. I was not stunned by the cinematography in "Inconvenient Truth" the way I was in, say, "March of the Penguins."

But I think the ads are pretty honest about what the movie is, going in. And personally I don't think seeing a presentation by Gore is the worst thing that could happen to you in a movie theatre. (We all know the worst thing that could happen to you in a movie theatre this season would be "Tokyo Drift.")

Easterbrook's other complaint is that the movie dwells on Gore himself too much. It's a "100-minute PowerPoint interrupted by outtakes from campaign ads." Really? It's a "moral flaw" for the movie to spend some time on Gore's personal history with the environmental movement?

Personally, I think the guy has earned a section of the film. Gore didn't just adopt this issue last month after extensive polling to see how it would go over with the voters. (Like say, the "immigration debate.") Let's remember the environment has been Gore's thing all along (Remember "Earth in the Balance?"), even when all evidence continues to point to the fact that Joe Q. Public could not give less of a shit about it. Gore continues to dwell on it at his own political expense.

And won't some critics interpret any appearance by Al Gore out of doors as a shameful, obvious campaign attempt? Certainly.

Then there's the favorite complaint about the movie, what is no doubt meant to be the silver bullet in Gore's shameless attempt to destroy decent, hard-working mom-and-pop auto companies everywhere. Get this: GORE TAKES PLANES TO ALL THE LOCATIONS HE DELIVERS THIS BORING POWERPOINT. Environmentally unfriendly planes! Could anything be more hypocritical?

Well - I suppose it's a valid criticism. Let's take it for what it's worth. In a perfect world if someone wanted stunning footage of Antarctica (And remember that Easterbrook's first complaint is the lack of cinematic presentation in the film) then I suppose they should paddle their own boat there. Also presumably they would bicycle to every university to deliver the message, although good luck with getting to China to discuss open pit mining with environmental experts.

Out of the thousands of flights that already occur every single day, I'd say Gore's might have been worth it.

(Although due credit to Easterbrook for the cleverness of his term "Hummer-Year" as a measure of fuel!)

So beyond exposing how the film is a bit too Al Gorey and perhaps too secretly airplaney, the substance of Easterbrook's "morally flawed" argument seems to be that "Inconvenient Truth" 1) doesn't give us the sunny side of all the great things we've accomplished with fossil fuels, and also 2) exaggerates how much and how soon the oceans might rise.

If it's a vast historical survey of fossil fuels and their impact on our past that he wants, then Easterbrook should make that film himself. Good luck not using too many charts and graphs, too. The scope of "Inconvenient Truth," though, is clearly about the present-day and FUTURE reality of continuing to use fossil fuels at this rate.

And as to the exact timeline and amount of the Coming Deluge? I can't speak to that - perhaps he's correct. Perhaps the film indulges in too much Day After Tomorrowism. Maybe lower Manhattan WON'T be exactly underwater in 50 years. Maybe there'll be less water, maybe it will take longer.

But the movie motivated me. To paraphrase Easterbrook from his own paper "Case Closed: The Debate about Global Warming is Over," which he links to from the Slate article, if there is a chance of an approach to greenhouse-gas reduction, then what are we waiting for?

Posted by: Chris at June 14, 2006 3:49 PM

Take that, bitches! (Oh, wait, I'm the one who linked to the Slate article.) Anyway, good points, man! Well done!

Posted by: Leigh at June 15, 2006 8:00 AM

June 12, 2006

The Omen (2006)

Unfortunately this movie is not an update or a reinterpretation of the weak original, but a faithful reproduction. There's still all this running around to various ancient churches and graveyards, and switching babies, and the Devil knocking off the two or three people that have suspected his infernal plan by hanging, impaling, and decapitation. It was just too tempting NOT to do a remake and release it on 6/6/06, I suppose.

I guess when I heard it was being remade, I didn't have high expectations, but I WAS hoping they'd shed a bit more light on this jackal business. I still don't quite understand why they bothered to bury not only the jackal itself, but also the murdered Thorne baby. It just seems like some pretty damning (ha) evidence to keep around. Particularly since they obviously took pains to not so much hide as highlight the baby's massive head wound for anyone that may some day come a-diggin'.

The movie has a great cast but there was not much point to a remake, except to capitalize on 6/6/06. And on top of that I have to say, my capacity for Revelations dread and horror of big black dogs is not quite what it was when I was a kid.

And is it glib to posit that perhaps a horror film about the Anti-Christ positioning to take over the White House and plunge the world into a period of darkness seems a little quaint these days? It kind of feels like that bird has flown.

Posted by Chris on 06/12/06

I really wish I could find information on your blog about free ringtones. Where else will I get this most impertinent information? WHERE, I ask you?

Posted by: Big Fat Brian at June 13, 2006 8:45 AM

Ha ha HA, my friend. I bet they don't have the comment spam on MySpace that I do. ALTHOUGH - I did note this morning that two people asked me to "Friend" them that seemed to be robots trying to convince me to take surveys.

Posted by: Chris at June 13, 2006 9:56 AM

I've said it before and I'll say it again... "Can I get an Amen?"

Posted by: Vickery at June 13, 2006 1:00 PM

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!
Read My Inaugural Address
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Your jaw will drop!

Posted by: Secret Rapture at June 24, 2006 2:24 AM

June 6, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

Professor X having installed a psychic partition in Jean Gray's mind seems like a pretty big piece of information to just toss out during a scene a half hour into this movie. Did I missed something about this in the other two movies? I am familiar with the "Jean Gray's Powers Are Just Really, REALLY Huge, and That's Getting To Be a Problem" storyline from the comics, but in the context of the films, it seems a little out of nowhere that she suddenly becomes Dark Phoenix and then suddenly hates Xavier.

Xavier's "death" seemed a bit unceremonious for such a major character. When someone like Professor X dies we need bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" with the orchestra joining in as they shoot his coffin out of the ship, we need momentous crowds at funerals, we need hundreds of mutants crying.

Of course that was nothing compared to the short shrift of Cyclops' last scene. Did James Marsden ask for too much money? They couldn't have whisked him out of the story any faster with a giant crooked cane from backstage. The character deserved better. He didn't even get the dignity of an agonizing mournful cry of "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" from Wolverine. Logan mentions that he "thinks" Scott may be dead at one point and that's it? Thanks a LOT.

Mystique, one of my favorite villains, also had a rushed departure. And too bad Angel had nothing to do with the plot. I enjoyed this movie but it made me want to see Bryan Singer's take on Superman all the more.

Posted by Chris on 06/ 6/06

Don't tell me that you didn't stay for the short scene after the credits! Did you miss it?

Posted by: Big Fat Brian at June 6, 2006 12:50 PM

I MISSED THAT SCENE. I have heard about it from multiple sources. And I thought I was Mr. Stay For The Credits!

Posted by: Chris at June 6, 2006 2:09 PM

I'm ASHAMED of you. Frankly STAGGERED!

Here it is on some punk's camera phone...

That'll teach you. Enjoy!

Posted by: Big Fat Brian at June 6, 2006 2:18 PM

I think that the writers had to consider the fact that took about oh, three hundred different comic book episodes to explain the full concept of Phoenix, and then come up with something that ADD America could grasp onto.

I was also startled by the departure of Scott. But as a fan of the X-Men, I know the truth. I KNOW THE TRUTH.

Posted by: friend jessica at June 8, 2006 11:18 AM

May 24, 2006


"Mirrormask" had a great trailer, and great production associations (The Henson Company) but was fraught with the possibility of disaster: this was a Neil Gaiman project, the dark holy man of fantasy, the one the fans genuflect over when uttering his name - but whose works have yet to move me.

I certainly did not want to see his movie in the theatres and later on it did not quite seem worth the two seconds of Netflix browsing and sheer physical exhaustion of inserting a disk into my DVD player. (And let's not even get into the effort of re-inserting the cumbersome disk into the awkward provided mailer to send it back.) So I was prepared to give it a complete miss.

But then it was made available to me by Adelphia through their welcome, futuristic Video On Demand technology, which requires no effort at all besides the pressing of one single button. It seemed the film was practically being thrust into my hands. So I thought... why not?

Well. Let me start with the positive. I'm sure there is a wonderful companion book for this film that shows the conceptual art. I bet that's fun to page through. I bet Gaiman even included his hand-written notes on the symbolic underpinnings of the designs, written in a spidery, eldritch script in the margins.

And that's all I got.

What a surprise, that the man who delighted millions of fans by turning Robert Smith of the Cure into a brooding mythological superhero, has a little androgynous teenage Goth girl as the heroine of his Alice-in-Wonderland tale. And what a shock to discover that his story draws heavily from "Legend" and "Labyrinth" (also grabbing a thread from Stephen King / Peter Straub's "Talisman").

In the story, Goth girl, whose name escapes me but let's just call her "Atreyu," has to do something involving saving a White Queen from a Dark Queen, and along the way there are many amazing creatures and a magic key. And - Surprise! - we spend more time with the Gothy Dark Queen, including a scene blatantly ripped off from "Legend" when heroine Atreyu is "converted' to the Goth Side by the ritual adornment of all the appropriate goth attire, including black fingernail polish and black half-gloves.

I am not sure what really happened with it all, though. I vividly remember some Sphinx cats that were fabulous and menacing. I remember a lot of people wearing Mummenschantz masks, and lots of deeply symbolic talk about masks in general. But the story eludes me.

No, let me be more specific. I know what the story was, but it was so poorly told I did not care about it in the slightest. This is a genre I am interested in and even that handicap was not enough to make the movie worthwhile.

Gaiman's chief strength has always seemed to be that he has superb taste in source materials to reference. He loves to mix and match mythologies. But his consistent weakness has always been drawing all that together into an interesting tale.

You know, if you're going to create a "story," then no matter how fantastic the setting, no matter how deliciously gothy the props, no matter how brilliant the references to other mythologies, you're still dealing with things like "characters," from which springs the "drama." Or maybe it's the reverse. Either way, that's the foundation of the whole thing, and if you don't have that, then - sadly - it's all for naught.

If the "Mirrormask" story was anything but the weakest thread it would have been a monumental achievement. It all looked fantastic and would be a really intriguing thing to see as a part of someone's CGI reel, or perhaps playing in a store window.

Gaiman paired with designer / director Dave McKean to make this in the same way Tim Burton paired with Henry Selick and others to make "Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach." To watch "Mirrormask" is to truly, TRULY appreciate Tim Burton.

You know, on some level, God bless Neil Gaiman. But I always wonder how fantastic his work could be if he would hire a writer.

Posted by Chris on 05/24/06

I think the movie contained a deeper truth that is only apparent to people who wear masks. As you do not consistently wear masks, much of the content sadly fell on deaf ears. Similar to the phenomenon of playing Bach to a sea slug. I'm sorry to be the one to draw this comparison, my freakish unmasked friend, but it is the bitter truth.

Okay, more seriously, I'd have to agree. I watched this movie with a fairly high set of hopes -- as a fan of the genre and some of Gaiman's works. I got bored pretty early on and really could have cared less about Goth Girl's journey to thwart the Goblin King, I mean Dark Queen. It looked pretty cool, though.

Posted by: Masked Olmy at May 25, 2006 11:31 AM

May 16, 2006

American Dreamz

I think the poster for this movie deliberately evoked the poster for the Altman film M*A*S*H, and the tagline also gave me high expectations - "Can you imagine a country where more people voted for American idol than the President?" You don't get a "M*A*S*H" or a "Network" every time someone evokes it because those are hard acts to follow, but still, expectations were high.

The movie ends up being half-baked, and I mean that precisely. There are some truly great elements in there but they have not been fully processed and refined yet. The scenes showing the awakening of President Bush's curiousity are beyond ham-fisted. Only Willem Dafoe as Dick Cheney manages to get a few laughs, and I feel that might be by default. Maybe anyone dressing up so precisely as someone we all know and love to loathe would get a laugh.

And I mention these parts not by character name but by who they lampoon because they AREN'T characters: they're caricatures. I actually felt sorry for the Bushes during this movie.

I am impressed with Mandy Moore mainly for having a sense of humor that draws her to these kinds of roles (Also check her out in "Saved"), but her subplot was the most unfortunate and undone. I'm just not sure what there is to lampoon about "American Idol." Is it that people will do anything to be on T.V.? That people in show business are fake and manipulative? That politics are not far off from entertainment? Those are old, old points to make.

I wish we'd gotten some time to spend with the final three contestants before we went to the inevitable montage. Adam Busch as Sholem Glickstein was too good to waste.

The best part of the movie was Sam Golzari as Omer the showtunes-infatuated terrorist. There were also bright spots any time his American cousin or the terror-cell handler were onscreen. The movie was really treading a line with this character's story, a line I wish they'd crossed more, after having thoroughly earned it. He's a reluctant terrorist whose mother was killed by an American bomb. He rips off his explosive vest in a moment of conscience backstage. This story could have been the whole movie. Maybe a different movie, but a really good one. And yes, it still could have been a comedy.

Posted by Chris on 05/16/06

April 25, 2006

Kiss Me Deadly

I'm not sure I understand the reverence for this "classic" 1955 Mike Hammer movie. It's notable for probably being the inspiration behind the glowing briefcase in "Pulp Fiction," but the movie itself was bad, BAD. It felt like a T.V. show - and a BAD one.

Still - it was the kind of bad that, once we realized HOW bad it was, we could sort of enjoy ourselves.

The key to its baddery is, unfortunately, the acting. Followed by the writing, and then let's round it out with the directing. Besides Cloris Leachman's brief scenes at the beginning (and in her film debut), and also Strother Martin's (I believe uncredited) tiny scene, the acting was so awful I started to wonder if maybe Mike Hammer had a learning disability that I didn't know about. I seriously started to wonder at the 45 minute mark - 'Is Mike Hammer illiterate? Was he known as, maybe, the Idiot Detective?'

It's an honest question; this was my first Hammer movie and I'm unfamiliar with the character. It certainly made the movie more entertaining to think of it as one detective's struggle with his own idiocy. Plus his issues in dealing with idiot assistant Velda. And the idiot Chief of Police.

At one point Hammer marches up to a hotel clerk and defiantly holds up a key. "WHAT IS THIS?" he demands, and my impression wasn't that he was asking what lock it went to, but that he was unclear on the concept of a "key."

Later this hotel clerk is randomly slapped around by Hammer, who did a lot of random slapping in the film. Much is mentioned about Hammer's cruelty by the critics, but very little about his dim-wittedness.

Other oddness:At one point a man escapes Mike Hammer by - and I am not kidding - quickly swallowing a bunch of sleeping pills so that he can sleep through the interrogation.

The Chief of Police has a little monologue at the end that I want tattooed on my chest, upside down, so I can always look down at it and marvel at its brilliance:

Now listen, Mike. Listen carefully. I'm going to pronounce a few words. They're harmless words. Just a bunch of letters scrambled together. But their meaning is very important. Try to understand what they mean. 'Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, Trinity.'

(From the invaluable film site called.... A few scenes. Just a few harmless pictures strung together. But put them in a certain order - and va va VOOM what a bad movie.

We did get to see a "recently discovered" ending that allows Hammer and his idiot secretary to live after escaping the atomically exploding house, so that's of note. And two of the actresses in the movie were in attendance, so there's another.

You know, forget that this movie was bad. You HAVE to see it. If you have any interest in noir, you MUST.

Posted by Chris on 04/25/06

I thought Mike Hammer was a TV show....??

Posted by: Vickery at April 27, 2006 1:41 PM

April 11, 2006

Things What I've Seen and Heard

  • V for Vendetta. It would be interesting to see the American equivalent of this film, (although apparently author Alan Moore thought we already were and took his name off the project) because even as a mere Yank the final images of Parliament being bombed I found quite disturbing.

    I'd like to see this story done again, with more emphasis on what makes someone a terrorist vs a freedom-fighter. I was more interested in that idea than the "Phantom of the Opera" subplot. I'm afraid even after reading the book I am confused about what happened to V in the medical experiment prison. And isn't it possible that a government could turn fascist without immediately reaching for the giant red, black and white flags? I think we know it is.

  • Brick. Go go go go. It's rare to see a high-school movie that doesn't use every single cliche in the book. This one has NONE of them. The movie makes a self-contained little world, with lingo and mannerisms that could only exist there. VERY good. Made me want to go back and watch all the classic film noirs again.

  • "The Mating Game" by Bitter:Sweet. A fab new album from a fab new group in the retro-slinky chanteuse vein. On iTunes. As is:

  • "At War With the Mystic" by The Flaming Lips. Also a fab new album but maybe not as fab to me (yet) as "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." If you have not discovered the Flaming Lips and like funny, off-the-wall music, start with that latter album.

    Posted by Chris on 04/11/06

    I haven't seen the film, but I think what happens to V in the graphic novel is left deliberately murky, as is his background and identity and why things were done to him, to allow the imagination to fill in. I think the point is a government (or person) bigoted against one group can just as easily be bigoted against many others; hatred is arbitrary. And what starts off as hatred soon can turn into policies, pogroms and violence. To show what actually happens lets the reader say "well, that would never happen here" when the point is it can.

    From what I've seen of the trailers it looks as if V is keen on a revolution rather than following the vendetta against those who "created" him. I realize there must be changes made in adaptations from page to screen but I've often wondered why that means weakening some of the authors choices (such as blandly turning Evey from a prostitute into a TV station worker). Why have the folks who made the film been suggesting the graphic novel reads like storyboards if they didn't follow the storyboards?

    I also wonder why Alan Moore (who also wrote The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell) sells his work to Hollywood then asks his name to be completely removed when they (naturally) make changes. Don't want it butchered? Don't sell it to butchers.

    Posted by: simon at April 12, 2006 4:31 AM

    I do like the fact that Moore supposedly gives all of his profits from the movies to whatever artist worked with him on the source material. That's a man who seriously does not want to be connected to the film versions of his work. But, you're right Simon, Moore is an intelligent man, what did he think was going to happen when he sold the rights to film?

    Posted by: Foley at April 12, 2006 7:07 AM

    Is the movie keen on revolution? Its keen on the governed just showing up. Instead of sitting at home watching propaganda, they all walk outside and watch parliment explode. Insteading of promoting Anarchy, how about not so much Apathy. At least walk ouside and mildly violate the law. The filmmakers obviously have very little expectations for the Public that they don't include any of the orginal dialoge regarding anarchy vs. chaos (or the land of "do as you please") Obviously, they think the idea of self-governing, or barely independent action as not worth considering. There's one line during a looting/robbery "Anarchy in the UK" that really goes completely counter to the book's themes. So while the emotional content fires me up, the underlying political message is rather sad: "Would a bunch of you do something, even its mildly symbolic but pointless?"
    Jesus, don't we do that now? Free Mumia! For everyone!

    I say all this, but am also aware that the amazing immigrant marches breaking out everywhere are a great show of the public taking constructive action.

    Posted by: fattyfattyfatGEEK at April 12, 2006 9:24 AM

    Yes - but at this point people just showing up WOULD be revolutionary. The only ones who seem to be doing it now are the immigrants willing to work for years and years to be citizens.

    Posted by: Chris at April 13, 2006 8:42 AM
  • April 4, 2006

    "Big Love," so far

    We're four episodes in and no one was more excited about this show than me, but it's not working. All the elements are there for it to be VERY interesting with great characters - but each week this show seems to want to be nothing more than Bill Paxton stumbling back and forth from house to house, forgetting whose night it is, always exhausted, like a libertine in a French farce.

    I get that there are rivalries between the wives. I got that now. I get that it's a hectic household and the kids all have to have their costumes sewn for the school play, and that chores get handed down from wife to wife. Got it. Four episodes and that's been the main thing every show. Move on.

    How about stepping up the conflict with the super-fundamentalist prophet Roman a bit more? How about more with Bill's squeaky-clean son? Their scenes are great. Or the ne'er-do-well brother? The oldest daughter and her new LDS friend are a promising subplot, too. Get on with it.

    I'd like more Bill and son, more Roman, less Chloe Sevigny. I'd like to see some moments where having three wives is working out for him, not just an endless comedy sketch.

    I'd like to see that these guys have a competent plan for dealing with their neighbor's suspicions rather than being caught red-faced and unprepared whenever someone knocks on the door.

    In some ways "Big Love" is very much like the "Sopranos," with its the underlying theme of families. The best "Sopranos" involve Tony caught between his two families - mob and Carmela. And Bill in "Big Love" seems like a man caught between two sorts of families as well - his new one, and his old, fundamentalist Juniper Creek one. More Juniper Creek, please.

    Posted by Chris on 04/ 4/06


    Posted by: Vickery at April 10, 2006 3:01 PM

    March 21, 2006

    Six Bullets for Tuesday

    That is not the title of a film noir*, but the format for today's blogging.

  • Firewall. Sadly, my reaction to this movie is, enh. Just "enh." It had some exciting bits but I felt I'd seen it all before. Probably for obsessive Harrison Ford fans only. And truly, when it comes to that point in the movie where he batters a goon who so richly deserved it, it's done as only he can.

    In fact there should be a Harrison Ford Fight Club, where guys get together and have not these brutal, bloody Tyler Durgan fights in basements, but they show up in sort of nice academic attire and have fights because they have to, to protect their family, with lots of slamming and battering and at the end, you'd grab your opponent by the lapels, pull him close, and say "NOW GET OFF MY PLANE" or "WHERE'S MY WIFE" before delivering that last, solid roundhouse.

  • I am sad to report my most unfortunate and extreme video game addiction ever. Yes, EVER. Including Goldeneye, Adventure on Atari 2600, and all the Zeldas. And it is to a laughably generically-named game called Space Empires IV.

    This is a simple space empire game, like so many others I've played, but it's turn-based. You don't fly ships around or aim guns, you issue orders. And it's not 3D, it's all on a stylized map. You gather resources, design ships, trade or declare war on the other computer players, you open warps to other systems, you blow up their planets or collapse their star, you build space stations, you make plans, you - oh God. It is such geeky, geeky greatness.

    It is like the best board game you ever had that you could never get anyone to play because it took forever and there were jillions of pieces - only the board unfolds to the size of your whole yard and all the pieces are automated. Help.

  • Thank You for Smoking. Very funny. Aaron Eckhart is great. Maybe a little thin on reflection but a good time was had by all.

  • Libertine. Johnny Depp - brilliant. Malkovich? Pike, Morton? Great. But I was not involved in this tale of the Earl of Rochester's debauchery. Here's a man who flaunted society's rules, indulging in every sexual passion, drank constantly - and at the end, who would have guessed, dies of syphillis.

    There was no indication that he was burning himself out at a young age for any real reason. For the first third there's an idea that training Samantha Morton's character may be his great work, that he can only achieve greatness through the very excess that would kill him - but then that sort of fades away. He turns his tribute to the King into a bawdy farce, he falls into disfavor - and then he sort of spirals away.

    In the prologue we are warned that we will not like the main character. It is not that I did not like him, it's that I didn't see what made his life a tale worth telling.

  • The IT Crowd. A friend sent me a link to this hilarious BBC show on Youtube. Check it out - it's just 20 minutes or so.

  • I think Trance has to be one of the most egregiously-misnamed of music genres. Up-tempo oontz music isn't going to put me into any sort of trance state. Maybe it should be called "Migraine." Or maybe I should start taking X first.

    *If it WERE a film noir, it would be a tale of revenge, with a Robert Mitchum-type lead exacting revenge on the six people who conspired against him and left him for dead. The "six bullets" would refer to the bullets he loaded his revolver with, each of them with a bad guy's name etched on it - and the last one he'd save for that double-crossing dame (Barbra Stanwyck) who not only left him for dead, she stole his heart as well.

    Posted by Chris on 03/21/06
  • March 2, 2006

    Melinda and Melinda / Match Point

    "Melinda and Melinda" angered me so much that I was ready to write something about how much Woody Allen has coasted by on his early career. But then I checked with IMDB to remind me of his movies and now I am a bit embarrassed. Good Lord, there are some great films on that list. What's the point of even listing them, there are so many greats.

    But it's at least fair to say that none of the movies in this century have been very good. And there's been such a string of badness that I'm not even sure the "every other film is good" rule applies anymore.

    "Melinda and Melinda" is so God-awful bad that I cannot warn you away from it enough. There is a great idea there but by the first twenty minutes I didn't care about it any more. To say the dialogue in this film is stilted is to do a disservice to stilts. It's like listening to students perform Greek theatre. There's no excuse for it. They should bury this movie and put those gigantic spikes around it, the ones designed to warn future civilizations against radioactive dumping grounds.

    "Match Point" is not nearly as bad as that - it's entertaining and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is very good, but to a large degree what is interesting about the movie is the novelty factor. Woody Allen doing a movie that doesn't take place in NY and that has a murder angle to it? That's new! But when it's all said and done, the story isn't that great. And I'm afraid Scarlett Johannsen is showing herself to be an actress who needs a very good script and a very good director, not just a famous one.

    Posted by Chris on 03/ 2/06

    This reminds me of when OPUS worked as the film critic for the Bloom Picayune and he reviewed Benji Saves Everything.

    And he goes on for panels and panels about how horrid the movie was, and then the last panel is "Well, maybe not THAT bad, but Lord, it isn't good".

    So, really, you're sort of like a penguin.

    Posted by: friend jessica at March 3, 2006 8:41 AM

    February 27, 2006

    Viva Sea-Tac!

    We drove down to Costa Mesa Friday night to hear Robyn Hitchcock and the Minus Five at the Coachhouse. Maybe it's just because I haven't seen a lot of live music in my life, but from that evening I take away one of my life's thrilling moments in rock shows. To that short list which previously just included seeing the Stones do "Sympathy for the Devil" at Legion Field in Birmingham and hearing Living Color play "Love Rears" while I was working their show as a techie at Foster Auditorium, I now add hearing Robyn Hitchcock play "Viva Sea-Tac" at the Coachhouse with Peter Buck on bass. It was a great evening.

    The first Great Road Trip I took was right out of high school - Derek, Walter, Jeb, Stevie and I took Derek's dad's Suburban out from Birmingham, to Dallas, to LA, up to San Fran and Berkeley, I think Sacramento was in there, over to Salt Lake City, then Denver, Boulder, and Telluride in Colorado, although I think I'm forgetting the order, and back. We were gone a month and the fighting began five minutes after we'd all gathered in Birmingham at the beginning. There were some sublime moments and some ugly moments.

    But some of the sublime came from the mix tapes Walter and Jeb had made. At first they grated but after a month I was hooked. I don't remember all the selections (Although if I had a time machine, one of my first tasks would be retrieving that playlist), but two albums featured prominently were Camper Van Beethoven's "Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart" and Robyn Hitchcock's "Globe of Frogs." Ever since then I've associated that band and Hitchcock with complete freedom and happiness. To see Hitchcock in person was a thrill.

    I've always wanted to be the kind of person who goes to see music a lot, but I'm not. I think the reason I don't choose music nights by default is that I tend to find one artist I like - a band, an author, a filmmaker - and exhaust their whole catalog. With bands, it always seems like there's about 700 running around, and who knows how long they'll be together. I'm still upset about Living Color and Camper Van breaking up.

    Posted by Chris on 02/27/06

    Ahhhh, so Elvis still making up 39% of your total iPod then? ;-)

    Posted by: Ranger Dekiion at February 27, 2006 10:33 AM

    February 20, 2006

    Night Watch

    It feels like they announced this movie, the first installment in an epic fantasy / horror trilogy from Russia, about a year ago. And the trailer promised much visual delight. So when it came out Friday I joined the line trailing around the block at the NuArt.

    If you can imagine the manic visual inventiveness of "Amelie," but instead of about French people in a love story fairy tale it's Russian with vampires and ghostly Others and eternal battles between Light and Dark and such, that's what "Night Watch" is like.

    Well - that's what it's like for a while. The opening scenes with our hero visiting a witch to get her help to win his girl back are astounding, but the movie tends to slack off from there - slightly in the visuals, most certainly in the story department. All the best images you'll recognize from the uber-trailer, and there seem to be about three separate plots going on that may or may not be connected. There's a good bit of the super-cool vamp goth fixation but it doesn't just drown in it the way some American vampire movies (with Kate Beckinsale) do.

    In a great touch, a little gift to the foreign audiences, the English subtitles are animated - the words slide and fade like smoke across the screen, when a vampiress speaks her words are in red, and when one character yells, the size of his words increase. It could have been distracting but wasn't.

    I enjoyed the movie but was forgiving because I know two more are on the way. Maybe in one of those they'll explain the owl-woman, the lady who turns into a tiger, and what the vortex had to do with anything.

    Posted by Chris on 02/20/06

    January 22, 2006

    All In: Dennis Miller

    Why did I even watch Dennis Miller's new special on HBO? I guess for the same reason that I still pop over to every now and then - just to see if he's still crazy, and if so how much.

    Not much has changed since he "came out" in "Raw Feed." He must have taken heat for his views on global warming in that HBO special, because he took some pains to explain himself again: He seems to believe that since people don't throw fast-food wrappers out of their car windows on highways much anymore, how could it really be as bad as they say?

    He also explains that we should be able to do whatever we want in Alaska, because who's going there anyway, when you think about it.

    To be fair, later on he indicated that these were just jokes. As if his entire turn to the dark side is just a comic persona, I suppose. Like how Gilbert Gottfried's "thing" is to be shrill and screechy all the time, I guess.

    Like many people, for him the worst thing that has happened in the White House in the past decade is still... wait for it... WAIT FOR IT... Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Boy, was that guy a horny redneck. And that Hillary!

    Just purely from a comedy shelf-life standpoint - Clinton jokes? In 2006? And it's fascinating that for a topical comedian like Miller, apparently nothing in the Bush presidency comes close to Clinton's sexual indiscretions for sheer absurdity and injustice. Nothing about Bush warrants even a slight joke for him? Not even in the interest of equal time?

    I guess not, since none were on display, and to my mind that settles the question of whether red states can have good comedians or not: No, because they have to live in a state of mental denial. Good comedians are all about obeserving the world and reporting back from a fresh viewpoint, not toadying to some party line.

    I can follow the logic of the Neocons for whom Miller has become a favored jester, but his assessment of the issues that matter is so myopic it makes Mr. Magoo look like the Hubble telescope, to borrow his own reference template.

    Most shockingly, he also said that even if he were dead-set against the war, he'd make sure to keep his mouth shut until all our troops were home. Hopefully this was one of the jokes. Because to my mind this attitude overlooks a fairly big logical inconsistency. (Hint: it involves our "freedom of speech" and "representative government.")

    But what do I know - I'm not a professional comedian.

    Posted by Chris on 01/22/06

    David Cross called Dennis Miller what he is: the administration's court jester.

    One thing that always bothered me about Dennis Miller, even before he left comedy for wingnut shilling, was his laughing at his own jokes. Does he still do that?

    Posted by: simon at January 24, 2006 5:35 AM

    There is a good bit of self-satisfied giggling still. And to his credit, I did laugh at one thing he said - when he said James Carville looked like a "muppet washed on hot." OK, I'll give him that one.

    Posted by: Chris at January 24, 2006 3:10 PM

    January 6, 2006

    Movies I saw over the holiday

    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - I am always at the ready to mock this series because it feels like such an obligatory adaptation, but I found this fourth installment in the Potter series... are you ready for it? I'm going to commit to this word, even though it is somewhat emasculating, because it perfectly describes it: delightful.

    Maybe it's because the characters are now dealing with things like dating and dances, but this one seemed somehow more interesting than the rest. Not sure, but I might rank it as #1, or #2, after the previous one. Mike Newell was obviously a good choice for director. The movie made me want to pick the books back up again, after having neglected the last three or so.

    The depiction of the Quidditch game has now evolved to the point that it feels not at all like a video game but exactly like an amazingly popular sporting event, complete with fans spending the night outside before game night, and plenty of painted faces. And even though I am jaded by well-accomplished special effects, I thank whoever designed the sailing ship emerging out of the water.

    Also: what do you do if you're a well-regarded British actor and you are NOT asked to appear as one of the Hogwarts' staff? What recourse do you have? There's always "Narnia," I guess.

    The Family Stone - I am on record as not being a big fan of SJP, but she did a great job. All the actors did, but I'm afraid I didn't buy the family Stone, and that's the fault of the script. First SJP's character was absurdly stiff, then the Stones were completely cruel to her. There were a few standout scenes. It's the best thing I've seen Dermot Mulrooney do. But I felt it could have lost a few characters. I'm a big fan of the many-characters-gathering-for-the holiday genre, and this one I'll study for where it goes wrong.

    Munich - Although Steven Spielberg is known for his ability to make people misty-eyed and awe-filled at some diffusely-lit wonder, he also has a subversive talent for detailed violence that even cinema bad-boys like Quentin Tarantino haven't shown. He only depicts violence this way in his later, "serious" works, when he really wants us to feel it - "Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan," and now "Munich."

    Each murder or assassination in "Munich" includes a sharp, disturbing and sickly fascinating detail to the act. People aren't just blown away, they are shot through a grocery bag, and then the blood mingles with the spilled milk; they are shot and then take way too many minutes to die, as the blood finally decides to spurt through pencil-mark bullet holes; or they are shot right through the cheek.

    Only Coppola has depicted violence in this sort of way - little details that make you gasp in horror but at the same time stare with fascination.

    Posted by Chris on 01/ 6/06

    December 20, 2005

    King Kong

    "King Kong" is not the study in sustained perfection that Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" was, but I think he can be forgiven for the attention he has given to this classic, and for providing another major movie thrill.

    The movie is slightly long - I think Jackson may have skipped the theatrical version and submitted his extended DVD release already. I enjoyed the backstory of the characters in NYC, but let's face it - we're all dying to get to Skull Island. Maybe if Ann Darrow's story started later, like when she arrives at the theatre to find it's shut down? Maybe if Carl Denham's story started with him tearing out of a screening room with his stolen film cans, the executives hot on his heels? And I think maybe I could have done without the subplot of Hayes and Jimmy with their "Heart of Darkness" quotations altogether.

    And then we see Kong and the movie begins to be fairly perfect. Jackson has shown us that for digital characters, it is best to use the CGI merely as a mask applied to a real, live actor - as Gollum was in "Rings," and as Kong is here. Andy Serkis makes Kong a real, breathing creature that you are first terrified of, and later that you begin to empathize with. I didn't think about CGI at all during the movie, not even when they did closeups of the ape's hair (something digital artists love to talk about on the making-of features.)

    The initial rush through the jungle, with Naomi Watts clutched in his hand and being wildly tossed around, was terrifying. The only element missing (which I am thankful for) is Watts throwing up all over herself when the ride was done. Kong seemed for the first time less like a movie monster and more like a giant ape.

    I wanted there to be maybe one more scene between them before she asserted herself with him. I wanted the brontosaurus stampede to be cut in half, (And no more raptors, please) and I wanted a lot less bugs - but still, brilliant. The Empire State Building sequence should be studied frame by frame - it is absolutely perfect. As I watched it I was thinking how absolutely thrilled Cooper and Schoedsack would be if they could see what came from their original seventy years ago.

    Something I forget about this story is that for all the cliffhanger movie-monster fun on Skull Island, the moment Ann Darrow is rescued from Kong, it's all downhill for our title character. The last few reels of the movie are like Ol' Yeller X 100. I remember being deeply upset by the '76 version, and this one is no different. I'm not positive I'd bring a kid.

    Posted by Chris on 12/20/05

    does Kong look like Marge a little bit?

    Sort of?

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 21, 2005 9:07 AM

    all I can say is somebody with initials CAMcC knew who Faye Ray was when he was a toddler!

    Posted by: annie mae at December 21, 2005 2:19 PM

    *cough* ghey *cough*

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 21, 2005 8:09 PM

    December 19, 2005

    Brokeback Mountain

    Too bad many might skip this movie because of its subject matter, because Heath Ledger has totally redeemed himself from his strange turn earlier this year in "The Brothers Grimm." I often don't remember a whole year's worth of my impressions of movies and performances, and I certainly don't write about everything I see, but his and Jake Gyllenhaal's performances have to be the best of aught five. And Ang Lee has also been totally forgiven for "Hulk."

    In this movie Ledger is not only playing a 1960s cowboy dealing with his feelings for another man (tough enough), but doing it with a bare minimum of dialogue. We also see the character age believably maybe a decade or more through the story. I had no doubt we were watching him turn into an old, sad man before our eyes. Maybe not everyone is ready to watch a story like this yet, and if you aren't I'm not one who's going to say you definitely should. But it's a beautiful and heart-breaking movie.

    I think Michelle Williams - who plays Ledger's wife - also deserves a nod in this movie. It was not long ago that she was a WB cutey, but here she is completely submerged as a sweet, somewhat mousey wife, totally clueless about how to deal with her husband's secret.

    Posted by Chris on 12/19/05

    On my way home from work yesterday, I was listening to 97.9 The Loop (Chicago's Classic Rock station). And they were having a contest on the air offering $50 cash to any guy that would call in and admit that he saw "The Gay Cowboy Movie" and could prove it with a ticket stub.

    They didn't qualify it by saying that the contestant had to be a straight man. So I guess they weren't being discriminatory. But I kinda felt like it was 1982 and that I was still living in Toledo, Ohio.

    I'm still not sure if I should be embarrassed or offended. Or... maybe it was funny. I just don't know.

    Posted by: Big Fat Brian at December 20, 2005 6:56 AM

    Brian, I'd be offended. "Gay Cowboy" is redundant.

    Posted by: simon at December 20, 2005 11:48 AM

    December 1, 2005

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

    Burton's film is perfectly shot, perfectly designed, and perfectly soulless. What a surprise.

    There is almost no motion by the actors in this film; Burton positions them against his trademark colorful, warped creations, where they mug to the camera over Depp's outlandishness - and then they are shuttled to the next crazy, wacky Burtonesque set, for the same close-ups to be repeated. That's it.

    A few of the actors (Johnny Depp of course, Freddie Highmore as Charlie) manage to insert something into this process that sparks compassion, but it was clearly achieved in spite of their director, not because of him. David Kelly ("Grandpa Joe") is getting on in years and if this ends up being his last film, it will be a travesty.

    Burton has completely missed the blackness of the Charlie Bucket story, which is ironic considering he is the go-to guy in Hollywood for palatable gothic visions. It's not a dark fairy tale, it's a child's nightmare. And Willy Wonka is not a sympathetic character to have some lame father-son backstory tacked on (nearly identical to the useless backstory in "Sleepy Hollow"), he is the inventor of a special Hell for Children, which he has populated with fiendish imps that help him torture impure kids according to their particular faults. He is the Virgil to Charlie's Dante, and the tour through the factory is nothing less than Charlie enduring a candy inferno to achieve paradise - the salvation of his family from destitution.

    But in Burton's hands "Chocolate Factory" is nothing more than the wispiest visual confection, something without substance that dissolves in seconds. Why do you people prize his work so much?

    The only thing more disturbing than watching something like the Violet Beauregard scene - a grotesque parody of a child choking on chewing gum or in the throes of an extreme allergic reaction - is watching it in the hands of a director who completely misses the horror. Burton lazily hands the scene over to the CGI people (almost with a visual jump cut as they switch away from the human actor), and that's it. The only time the film comes close to what it needs to be is the image of Veruca Salt seemingly being devoured by rodents - but how could you miss with that?

    The score? At this point in the Elfman-Burton collaboration, I see no sign that the two men even bother to confer about what particular project they're working on at the moment. The music is interchangeable and generic, and could have been created and applied by a clever program.

    Still: even in this nothing movie, even though I know he's barely running at 5% of his capacity, Johnny Depp is completely watchable and hilarious. Although I was disgusted by the film, I still queued the DVD back up to some of his choicer moments of revulsion and unease with the kids. And in Deep Roy's multiplied performance, the movie does achieve something like the lunacy it should have had throughout.

    Dear Mr. Burton:

    "Ed Wood." "Beetlejuice." "Nightmare Before Christmas." Those were perfect films, but then you became less a visionary and more a marketing inevitability. Not that you care, but I'd say the next time a project comes to you from an executive with an attached note reading something like "We just think you'd be PERFECT to revive this one!" then that's a sign that you should go another way. You've ruined enough franchises. Thank God you weren't the one to end up with "Superman."

    Posted by Chris on 12/ 1/05

    I agree completely. We watched the film for the first time last week and were both disappointed. It's as if the movie studio said "Here's a bunch of millions of dollars - go take a dump on it". As far as I'm concerned the only decent scene in the whole movie is when the robotic children catch fire when the group is about to enter the factory for the first time.

    You just can't beat Gene Wilder. Even with all the 'action' in the new boat ride it doesn't even come close to evoking the reaction the original conjured out of you.

    As a side note I remember watching the original a couple of years ago and thinking about what a scam artist Uncle Joe was - he laid on his ass for years and years pretending to be an invalid' not doing anything to help the family out and once he found out he gets to go to the chocolate factory all the sudden he's Fred Astaire.

    Posted by: Ben Jammin' at December 2, 2005 6:48 AM

    November 2, 2005


    The next time someone says that they don't make good movies anymore, or in any way goes into that old harangue about all the crap at the cinema these days (a harangue which began about one minute after the first showing of "Train Pulling Into the Station" in 1895), you just invite them to come off their artistic high horse and remember that we live in the time that Cameron Crowe is working.

    I am not putting Crowe on the Cinema God pedestal, but his movies have all been consistently excellent: "Almost Famous," "Jerry Maguire," "Singles," "Say Anything...," and I'm not crazy about "Vanilla Sky," but there it is too.

    Like other great writer / directors, he works a little less frequently, but you know when one of his films comes out it's going to be something special. "Elizabethtown" is not a perfect film, and does not equal "Almost Famous" or "Jerry Maguire," but there is absolutely no reason not to see this, and every reason to go. It's just rare to get to see a movie of this quality.

    The first third or so of the movie is so right-on perfect that it will be the kind of thing screenwriters study. Orlando Bloom gives the best performance I've seen from him here, and to Kirsten Dunst can I just say, you had me at hello. You had me at hello five movies ago. Crowe has put in the same effort in making Dunst's character his vision of a perfect woman as he did with the 'Penny Lane' and 'Dorothy Boyd' characters.

    The movie does not remain at this high level throughout but we're still well in the black, even up to the predictable, almost stand-alone homage to rock music and road trips that Crowe inserts. Susan Sarandon has a misplaced monologue that felt five times too long, unadvised and unearned for her character, but that is the only thing I'd change.

    And when did Alec Baldwin go from being a dashing leading man to a guy who could make me laugh the minute I saw him onscreen? Seriously, which movie was it? "Outside Providence?"

    Like "Jerry Maguire," and also like some of the recent James L. Brooks films, Crowe's movie unfolds without great economy, but you shouldn't much care because even when it strays and rambles, it's great. Of note also is how this movie treats the South, which I'd say was just about the most perfect depiction I've seen.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 2/05

    As you know, I am something of a home theather snob, but I think you may have inspired me to go out in public for this one. Michael used to live In Elizabthtown don't you know. It's a "character" building kind of place.......

    Posted by: Vickery at November 4, 2005 12:30 PM

    October 27, 2005

    Let's hear it for the rapists and the rednecks

    It seems likely that Charlize Theron, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, and / or Frances McDormand might receive a lot of recognition and maybe awards for their performances in "North Country," and that would be great. (Especially Jenkins - I think he's overdue.) It's a very good movie, it's a moving story, and their acting is top notch.

    But let's take a minute and give a shout-out to the rednecks, the rapists, the average small-town dumbass yokels, the girls with big hair, the obnoxious teenagers, and the regular ol' folks - those people that make up the textured background of this story. These are not showy roles, but the thankless ones, and ones that sometimes inspire genuine disgust, pity, and even hatred.

    These actors pulled off their roles without giving a hint that they were just actors and that, secretly, they weren't like this. Nothing against the leads, but it occurs to me in a movie like this, the folks in the background are often ignored. And each of those actors absolutely make this movie.

    Check out this movie and look at Jeremy Renner as Bobby Sharp, who you will hate. Also, how hard would it be to play that same character as a hateful kid, as the little-known Cole Williams did? Notice the guys that pushed the Porta-potty over, or the Union guys that basically just glowered. Check out Michelle Monaghan as Sherry, Jillian Armenante as Peg, and especially Amber Heard as the young Josey - she handles what has to be one of the toughest scenes an actress can have very well.

    ESPECIALLY check out Brad William Henke as the high school teacher in that same scene. Could there be a more thankless role? As you watch him are you thinking about how good an actor he is, or how much you'd like to kill him?

    Posted by Chris on 10/27/05

    Wait a minute...I'm from a small town! No wonder all these big city folk give me the stank eye!

    Posted by: Foley at October 27, 2005 11:32 AM

    If only you'd stop harassing those women down at the mine - but no.

    Posted by: Chris at October 27, 2005 12:04 PM

    Easy there, Chris. You know Foley loves hanging around the shaft.

    (Gob) Come on! (/Gob)

    Posted by: Just Pete at October 27, 2005 2:13 PM

    Oh, no you di'ent!

    Posted by: Foley at October 27, 2005 2:18 PM

    October 14, 2005

    Good Night and Good Luck

    With "Good Night and Good Luck," George Clooney seems to be interested in not cluttering his film with manufactured drama, but to get right to what made Edward R. Murrow the gold standard for journalism. In keeping with this, he makes the unique decision to not use an actor for Joe McCarthy, but actual footage of the Senator in action. And he also gets right to the best part, David Straithairn's amazing, simple intonations of Murrow's "See It Now" commentary.

    The effect is that we don't get merely a modern dramatic interpretation of the McCarthy / Murrow story, but a simple narrative of Murrow's battles with not only McCarthy but CBS. Thanks for that, George.

    At the showing we went to, there was spontaneous applause at the end of three of Murrow's monologues. George Clooney's movie might be a bit heavy on montage, but he deserves heaps of credit for bringing us the exact words of this extraordinary newsman at a time when we deperately need to hear them again.

    Posted by Chris on 10/14/05

    October 4, 2005


    I somehow have managed to miss all of Joss Whedon's oeuvre so far. I've seen bits and pieces of a few "Buffy" episodes, maybe two "Angels," and a few minutes of "Firefly." I'm not bragging that I've been able to resist it in the face of so many friends being die-hard fans. I'm not one of those people that disdains something if it seems really popular. I understand that it's a gap in my pop culture exposure.

    I like to say that I try not to get hooked on shows because TV execs have repeatedly slapped me down for it, moving or canceling a show just after I've become attached, but I think the reality is more that my attention span has just been whittled away by the Internet. I have trouble sitting still at the same time every week, and in these post-Tivo times I miss a lot.

    I have to admit to a 2% hope that "Serenity" would be no good at all. The die-hard Whedon fans intone the legends of their saviour's suffering at the hands of unbelieving executives ad nauseum, and I sometimes feel it my obnoxious duty to point out that he has hardly been the first in all of entertainment history to be dragged around, misunderstood and abused. I also feel some measure of sympathy for anyone who didn't immediately apprehend the whole vision and arc of a character named "Buffy" who was also a vampire slayer. I mean, I think I'd picture the Kristy Swanson movie too.

    But it seems "Serenity" will be my entry point into the World o' Whedon (or at least the "Firefly" DVDs) because it is a complete, exciting, funny, dramatic sci-fi tale of the type that we haven't seen in a while. You can enjoy the whole movie without having any background from the show at all (all I had was the oft-repeated chorus of how Fox screwed him over). There is an interesting backstory to these characters and their situation but you don't need it; more likely if this is your kind of thing you already know it or you'll be asking for it yourself like I was.

    Whedon makes many smart choices in the movie: When you think about it, the "Reivers" are really nothing more than zombies, which we've seen before, but by modulating what and when we see them, they become dreaded and ominous; The mercenaries aboard the ship sometimes use a sort of futuristic frontier slang which, had it not been executed perfectly, would have been laughable; I learn from a friend who's a fan that the reason they curse in Chinese is because China and the U.S. were the last remaining superpowers at this point in the Serenity timeline.

    "Mal" could be compared to another science-fiction mercenary with a battered ship, but he is very much his own character, a man who has an interesting code and interesting contradictions. The film is smartly written, solid, and exciting - a rare movie treat.

    Posted by Chris on 10/ 4/05

    I had barely noticed this movie, but now I think I may go see it - thanks.

    Posted by: Vickery at October 5, 2005 8:47 AM

    October 3, 2005

    A History of Violence

    There is nothing in this movie that is not done more thoroughly and to greater effect in "The Unforgiven." Imagine if William Munny's wife had still been around and she had no idea that her husband was a notorious thief, and killer of men, women, and children - and there you have the basic plot of "History of Violence."

    The movie takes a few efforts to send us down a blind alley of identity confusion, even making a slight feint towards some sort of split personality idea, but it's all a ruse. It ends up being much less than its title promises - a surpringly unsophisticated tale of men who use violence without much consequence.

    Because I like Viggo Mortensen, I am sad to say that he does not give a shining performance in this film. Unfortunately it was flat to the point that I wondered if he was the right man for the job. Never are we given a hint that he is anything other than what wife Mario Bello thinks he is. After his cover is blown there might have been a slight change in inflection to his voice, nothing more.

    In contrast, everything comes alive when Ed Harris comes onscreen, and his take on the scarred mobster Fogarty is so oddly (yet effectively) cartoony that in his scenes the movie seems full of promise, as if it's not just about a man's violent past catching up with him, but about some alternate comic book dimension intruding on small town reality. Another performance to call out: Ashton Holmes as the teenage son.

    Is this going to be one of those films that fans maintain exists to show the true consequences of violence? No, that movie would be, again, "Unforgiven," or "Dead Man Walking." Tom Stall is forced to confront his violent past, but it seems to me that through more violence he pretty much overcomes it. The sequences of Stall defending himself are slick and emotionally satisfying. Tom was supposed to be a mobster but seasoned C.I.A. operative or master ninja is more like it. He doesn't just put his attacker down on the ground, he twists their arm around with lots of crunching sounds, then puts them down and then stomps on their neck; or karates them so effectively and repeatedly in the nose that the cartilage is shoved up into their brain. (Twice after he is done the camera looks down at someone's ruined face, and I'm thinking, was this guy's mob nickname "Overkill?")

    I know we're supposed to be concerned that the son is using violence inappropriately when he stands up to the bullies - but is he really? Seems to me they deserved the professional ass-kicking he gave them, case closed. Are we supposed to feel guilty for rooting him on?

    Posted by Chris on 10/ 3/05

    September 28, 2005

    The Exorcism of Emily Rose

    A great movie about exorcism would be a priest having to take the stand in a modern-day criminal trial and make his case to a jury about why he thought someone was possessed by demons, and why he thought modern medicine could not have helped them.

    What about a story that fully took on the ramifications of believing in the devil in the modern world? That dealt with faith vs. fact in our lives? Why should demonic possession be fantastic to a jury when resurrection, transubstantiation or Mother Mary in a Cheese Sandwich isn't? A movie like that could be the next "Inherit the Wind."

    And practically speaking, is there anything left for cinema to depict when it comes to a young girl writhing in demonic torment, vomiting and uttering deep-voiced curses in ancient Aramaic? No. Better to go the pensive route.

    "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" thought about being that movie, but gave up early. The hero of the film isn't the priest, but the lawyer. But unfortunately the most it can pull off is a C+ effort at having the conversation it seems to start. To its credit, it expertly walks the line between legal drama and supernatural thriller, shying away from full-fledged horror.

    Watching lawyers at work is as familiar in the movies as watching cowboys shoot it out. A film has to work hard to make it fresh, but "Emily Rose" expends no effort here. Because they chose a more analytical approach, I wanted the legal scenes to be very intelligently written. Too bad.

    I found myself asking procedural questions that I should not have been engaged in at all. Would a lawyer really be reading a book about exorcisms the night before a trial? Does any lawyer meet with a witness in a park? Is there no other way to introduce a lawyer as protagonist without setting up the standard assistant D.A. who says her career is riding on the outcome?

    Amusingly, although the judge seems intent on keeping order in the court, there is basically nothing she won't allow to happen. She reminded me of the judge on the Simpsons who, though it goes against all jurisprudence and precedent, allows Lisa to stand up and address the jury, because she can never resist kids.

    Although most of the supernatural elements are done well - which is to say, always with an eye towards plausable deniability - the actual exorcism is as clumsily handled as the legal scenes. There's nothing dramatic about Emily managing to elude the priest, the doctor, her boyfriend, and her father during the exorcism, and then running into a barn, where they manage to finish the ritual, much to the freak-out of all nearby livestock. It just comes off as dumb and sloppy. Not once, despite repeated warnings that she is prone to hurt herself, is Emily restrained in bed.

    The movie needed to either be smarter or just go ahead and be a dumb horror film. By the end I felt that not only could I have tried the case better, I could have performed the exorcism myself as well.

    Other questions:

  • Is "ritual exorcism" redundant?

  • Isn't claiming to be possessed by Belial AND Lucifer a bit much? Aren't those the big guys? Isn't that like a crazy person claiming to be Napolean?

  • Was there no other way to get the important witness out of the movie than having a car suddenly slam into him? It was almost as abrupt as the knight riding in and killing the historian with a sword in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Alternate punchline to this point: I felt like "The Omen" was making a sudden cameo appearance. Second alternate punchline to this point: Was this the Car from that pivotal seventies horror film, "The Car?" Back for revenge?

  • Why is the priest on trial and not the parents? But oy, don't get me started on faith-based medicine.

    Note: It turns out that in the real case this story is based on, which occurred in the seventies in Germany, the parents WERE charged. OK. Read the real story of Anneliese Michel, who was dealt the terrible hand of having Grand Mal Epilepsy AND hyper-religious parents AND an imaginative local priest here or here. It's more interesting than the dramatized version. I would have preferred a Bill Kurtis documentary of Anneliese Michel's case to "Emily Rose."

    Posted by Chris on 09/28/05

    Thanks for getting back to the blog - I missed it something awful!

    Posted by: Vickery at September 28, 2005 12:52 PM

    It's all for you, Damien! All for you!

    Sorry - my head is still in the "devil-movie" space.

    I'm so glad that you like the blog! It makes my day!

    Posted by: Chris at September 28, 2005 12:57 PM

    So, question then: Is the level of child endangerment in this movie more or less disturbing than the Exorcist Prequel? Discuss!

    Posted by: Ranger Dekiion at September 29, 2005 10:55 AM

    Young Emily Rose was of college age, and no children were depicted as affected by her wild ravings, so it lacked that element. However, I do think the actress who played her should have received hazard pay based on the wild contortions they required of her.

    Posted by: Chris at September 29, 2005 12:47 PM
  • September 13, 2005

    A Life Unfinished

    Here's what I need Morgan Freeman to do - take a role that reminds us of how dangerous he was in "Street Smart." I know he has been in some high-profile roles for for a few years and that has landed him some awards, but he's also been playing it safe.

    I don't want to see him in any movies with Ashley Judd for awhile, unless he's back-handing her, and nothing with Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford either, unless he is kicking their ass. Nothing against these other three actors, but Freeman has found a niche and I need him to get out of that and show us what we know he can do. I don't want him playing a gentle soul, dispensing bits of hard-earned wisdom. I don't want any more grandfathers, Gods, or chauffeurs (althought that was a great performance) for a few years.

    I'd like to see him take a role like Al Pacino's Lucifer in "Devil's Advocate," or better yet, Michael Douglas's Gecko in "Wall Street."

    Posted by Chris on 09/13/05

    I whole heartedly agree. I have heard nothing but good things about "Street Smart". Is it worth a look?

    Posted by: KLUGULA at September 13, 2005 3:55 PM

    Morgan Freeman Buys A Pop A Shot Machine

    Posted by: friend jessica at September 13, 2005 5:21 PM

    Absolutely - rent "Street Smart" not just for Freeman, but for Christopher Reeve and Mimi "Rapture" Rogers.

    Posted by: Chris at September 13, 2005 9:12 PM

    I loaned you that movie, didn't I? Did you ever watch it?

    Posted by: klugula at September 14, 2005 7:15 AM

    The Rapture I mean.

    Posted by: klugula at September 14, 2005 7:15 AM

    Yes! Remember, we discussed how it was interesting how creepy the movie was, having stuck so faithfully to the Left Behind ideas. We also discussed the naughty bits of the movie.

    If you've lost that tape, don't you be comin' round trying to tie that around MY neck. I remember bringing it back to you and you said how sad it was that we were to the point of returning borrowed things before moving. SO THERE.

    Posted by: Chris at September 14, 2005 4:56 PM

    No, that was not an accusatory comment. I did get it back. I just could not recall if it was you who had borrowed it. Cuz the other one you borrowed was Smooth Talk. Now I recall.

    Posted by: klugula at September 15, 2005 5:05 AM

    August 31, 2005

    The Brothers Grimm

    I am sad to say that this movie comes across not like a Terry Gilliam film, but a film made by a director who's a really big fan of his.

    All the trademark elements have been included - very dark-humored fantasy, ingenious medieval torture devices (again with accompanying musicians), those super-wide angle lens shots, a few Gilliam regulars in the cast - but the movie meanders like none of his earlier work.

    Amongst other problems, instead of following the single most interesting thread (There is an evil, centuries-old Bathory-like witch Queen in the Dark Tower who is stealing the village's children to restore her youth), the movie gets distracted and bogged down by the multiple references to other Grimm stories. You know those references will be there, and you want them, but they should be woven into the story, not competing with it. Monica Belucci is perfectly cast as the Queen, and deserves more time as the primary antagonist. I would have liked less or no werewolf, no gingerbread man, no evil horse, and more Mirror Queen.

    And I won't say the movie isn't interested in the "Magic Beans" tension between the brothers, which should be the solid underpinning of the whole affair - but the scenes dealing with it were as clumsily staged as much of the slapstick.

    (I should also mention that the part where Belluci is assaulted in an underground tunnel and brutally, anally raped in an unbroken nine-minute shot seemed, well, a little over the top. Oh wait - that's another film, sorry, my bad.)

    Peter Stormare ONCE AGAIN provides the highlight performance of a fantasy movie. Was he overdoing it? Maybe, but on the strength of his Cavaldi he should be invited into Gilliam's regular ensemble, and in fact everyone's regular ensemble. Matt Damon, Lord love him, might be slightly out of place in this movie, but as always he is doing everything he can to be at the service of the story. Heath Ledger, though, seems as if he is in a totally different film. It feels as if he was not a big fan of Python or Gilliam but did a quick study beforehand to get the mannerisms. He seems just as pasted in as the unfortunate CG werewolf.

    But the trees are moving, the trees are moving, don't you see that the TREES are moving. Yes. I saw them. And saw them and saw them. The movie is over-enamored of its malevolent moving trees. I got the point long after Gilliam kept showing them to us.

    It pains me to say it, but all that is left for this film is the inevitable book or documentary dissecting its making, from what has become the What Went Wrong With This Gilliam Film cottage industry. I'm afraid he has only himself to blame for this one.

    Oh well- there's always "Tideland." I'll be there opening day for that one too.

    Posted by Chris on 08/31/05

    Being a fan of this sort of film, I was really excited to see it and hoped to be delighted. I've yet to see it, as yet, and after this review I think I'll wait for the DVD. Glad to hear Damon pulled his weight, however. What a different road the boys from Good Will Hunting took...

    Posted by: Foley at September 1, 2005 9:59 AM

    August 25, 2005

    Hustle and Flow

    This movie spoke to me on a deep level, illustrating something I have said again and again within these very virtual pages - people, it's hard out here for a pimp. When you're trying to make the money for the rent.

    And who amongst us, with the cadillac and gas money spent, hasn't noticed a whole lot of bitches jumpin' ship?

    This is an excellent film, and I was honestly, intensely interested in the story of a Memphis pimp struggling to make a rap demo. It's a world that could hardly be farther away from my own experience, but I was riveted the whole time. The characters were solid, flawed, and earnest. Much credit is due Terrence Howard in the lead and writer / director Craig Brewer. We're hearing tons of accolades about Howard right now, and don't be one of those people that can't see this because everyone loves it. He deserves the compliments.

    Would you believe me if I said it has one of the best movie kisses in recent memory? The next time the Academy does a montage of romantic moments for the Oscars, this one better be there. And you'd think casting D.J. Qualls as the sound engineer would be only to cash in on the joke of a skinny white kid that knows the rap world. Yep, that joke is there, and then they get right past it and he's a real character.

    I had a bit of an issue with the end, though it wasn't a killer for me. Warning - SPOILERS AHEAD. Despite the fact that DJay lived in a rough world, I felt the violence at the end was out of place. I felt if they were going to bring it in, it needed to make the story completely tragic. In other words, if DJay could not rise above his pimp world at the end, then I wanted him to fail completely.

    What I would have preferred would have been him realizing that Skinny Black had betrayed him, but then rise above it to realize it wasn't going to stop him. He didn't need Skinny to make it. I wanted him to smack Skinny around, yes, but then I wanted him to walk away, maybe give up a bit, and then cut right to Nola turning it around by getting his track airplay. This movie takes the easy way out at the end that another rap-to-riches story, "8 Mile," did not.

    Posted by Chris on 08/25/05

    Haven't seen the movie, because you know I don't care for 'different' cultures, but I just wanted to drop in and say: 'hey fella, what's life bringin' to your table these days?'

    Posted by: friend jessica at August 26, 2005 8:42 AM

    August 22, 2005

    Broken Flowers

    One of the aspects of "indy" films that I sometimes enjoy, even if it takes a few scenes to get into, is that the pacing is not beholden to what you usually see in movies. In mainstream films there is a very standard sort of timing that is used in different genres - comedies let their jokes and payoffs build up in the same way, horror films often telegraph their scares, etc. In most films you can tell when it's about the time for the hero and the girl to stop with the misunderstandings and start gettin' it on.

    It's not the same with some indy filmmakers. Some, like Jim Jarmusch, tell their story with a completely different pace. But it's not always a good thing.

    In "Broken Flowers" we go along on a journey with the main character, quite literally. Bill Murray flies across the country visiting ex-girlfriends, and an enormous amount of screen time is spent with him in the car, glancing at MapQuest printouts, driving down back roads, coming out of airports, sitting alone in his living room, sitting uncomfortably in coach, lather, rinse, repeat.

    Why? I don't know. I don't need dialogue and action in every scene. I think to observe a moment of silence with a character can be a good thing. But "Broken Flowers" is a festival of such moments. It's a celebration of the interstitial.

    This is what fans of this kind of filmmaking call "deliberate" pacing. You could make an argument for minimalism, but in this movie it is more like literalism. The main character has to travel to see his old girlfriends, so we see him traveling, and traveling, and traveling. It is not quite the screensaver movie that Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" was; I really enjoyed the interaction between the characters, when it came, and a FEW of the finely observed moments with Bill Murray alone. But feel free to visit the concession stand and the bathroom during this film as needed.

    Posted by Chris on 08/22/05

    I'm going to go visit the bathroom right now...

    Posted by: Ben Jammin at August 23, 2005 6:29 AM

    Godspeed, sir.

    Posted by: Chris at August 23, 2005 7:33 AM

    August 15, 2005


    The difference in my reaction to this film versus its predecessor "In the Mood for Love" is that during "2046" I was detached enough to make mental notes on how you would make a parody of Wong Kar Wai: no establishing shots, a hotel with very very narrow corridors, extremely small rooms, lots of thoughtful cigarette smoking, and the occasional bowl of noodles. Very disjointed. Outside there is the one rainy street. Occasionally a beautiful woman will let a single tear spill down.

    It's a gorgeous movie, but it feels like an expanded coda to "In the Mood for Love" rather than its own distinct story. I'm still very interested in Chow, (maybe because Tony Leung is one charming MF) but the line of women he's with in this film feel like an afterthought to the great missed love of his life from the last film. Perhaps that's the whole point of "2046" - that he's trying to find Su again, and Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li, and Faye Wong are just substitutes. That's fine, but without Maggie Cheung it makes this film dependent on the other.

    The previous film was disjointed but the throughline was unmistakable. "2046" lacks that strong throughline mainly - and I wince to write this - because of the extended Ziyi section. It should probably have been jettisoned in favor of fleshing out the more interesting relationship and story-collaboration with Faye Wong. It is only with her that Chow is ready to move past the memory of room 2046, by starting its sequel, 2047. But overall the movie itself is not ready to move on.

    The three brief glimpses of Maggie Cheung in the movie make it seem less like a choice and more like the fact that the actress may not have wanted to spend years on a mysterious, meandering movie production. Again, I wince to write it, but maybe she should have been left out altogether as well.

    I still count this as a strong, beautiful movie, and if any element of the promotion - the actors, the images, the ideas - are even halfway intriguing to you, start with "In the Mood for Love." It has a lot to do, I'm finding, with who introduced you to the movie, and how.

    Posted by Chris on 08/15/05

    Very insightful review, C. I just swam in the images, myself. That train!

    Posted by: Jennifer at August 18, 2005 2:40 PM

    August 2, 2005

    The Island

    Michael Bay is the sort of director that spends his hefty fees on $100 cigars and a garage full of muscle cars. He dates playmates. He is the sort of man who shoots a million feet of film during production. He is a man of the music video and the beer commercial. I have not even read anything about him and I already know this.

    I like to think of "The Island" as his "message" film. And that message is, "I, Michael Bay, really liked Logan's Run, Coma, THX-1138, and Blade Runner."

    Although I bet one of his assistants helped him with the "THX" part.

    The story of "The Island" concerns the ethical dilemma of cloning, although I doubt Bay realizes that. I would not bother to extrapolate his views on the stem cell debate from the film, because I don't think he has any views, other than Cars Are SO Cool.

    But all this is neither here nor there. After all, this is the director of "Bad Boys," "The Rock," "Armageddon," "More Bad Boys," and "Pearl Harbor." Even bothering to spend time on a negative review is like blaming P.T. Barnum for trivializing wild animals.

    I assume for actors like Ewan MacGregor or Scarlett Johansen, being in this movie is like Yale graduates going down to Gulf Shores, AL for Spring Break and riding the mechanical bull at some redneck bar. There is a certain kitchiness to it, I suppose. Hey, now they can say they were in a Michael Bay film.

    The movie's set-up is cool, if standard sci-fi fare. But in Acts II and III it unravels faster than any movie I've ever seen. It's as if Bay and his screenwriters wrote the first 30 pages as a standard screenplay, and then for the rest of it got bored and just made a list of cool things they'd like to do.

    Flying machine chase through downtown, cars demolished by giant train axles, giant fan blades collapsing, throngs of people in gleaming white suits in a vast desert, shot from a helicopter circling overhead, slow-motion images of characters in dark, dripping hallways... it's all there.

    And does the soundtrack feature Fatima Ululating Mournfully? Come on. Does the Pope wear a funny hat? Does a bear shit in the woods? Does Michael Bay personally own the car Ewan MacGregor drove in the film?

    But you know, it's so easy to trivialize this guy. Sure, the story is less than fluff, but the visuals truly are fantastic, and I know that doesn't just happen. It takes real skill, it takes being able to marshall thousands of people, it takes patience, it takes the right kind of sunglasses and only the finest cigars, it takes knowing when to push a 2nd AD's face into the mud and when to just knee him in the groin, oops, there I go again. Seriously - if you turned the sound off and just happened to catch the film out of the corner of your eye on a bar TV, it would be amazing.

    Interesting Michael Bay trivia from IMDB: He claimed director John Frankenheimer was his father, and when DNA tests disproved it, Bay claimed that the tests weren't sophisticated enough at the time. Ah, and here's an interesting quote: "Actors have often noted that he places more importance on the visuals than on his characters and actors. He is also known to do very few takes of intimate character-driven scenes, as he prefers to spend more time on action sequences and visually-interesting moments."

    Posted by Chris on 08/ 2/05

    I didn't know Mr Bay was claiming he's Frankenheimer's son, how funny. Perhaps he put down his cigar and scratched his permanent five o'clock shadow, pushed the playmate off and, after a moment of soul-searching, decided only nepotism could explain his career.

    Posted by: simon at August 3, 2005 8:31 AM

    Thanks for the review, I will add it the the very bottom of out Netflix list when avaible.

    Posted by: Vickery at August 3, 2005 2:26 PM

    I actually loved it. I knew it would be fluff, so I was not at all disappointed. I enjoyed every loud, overbearing, ridiculous moment. The only scene I had to keep from vomiting was the final exodus. A bit much. Stupid, cheesy fun. Plus; Scarlett and Ewan were wonderful eye candy!

    Posted by: KLUGULA at August 4, 2005 9:06 AM

    Well, obviously I went to the movie knowing it was Michael Bay fare. I knew what I was getting into, but even with that reduced expectation, after a certain point I couldn't even enjoy its fluff levels.

    Were you more interested in the idea that Lincoln-6 apparently had the knowledge of how to drive cars embedded in his DNA, or the fact that he, Jordan, and all those other clones had never discussed or thought about sex? How about the idea that they were "owned" by their sponsors?

    Wasn't it weird that two clones "with the minds of 15 year olds" on foot in the desert managed to evade Black Ops with helicopters? Didn't Jordan give up on the idea of the Island awfully fast? Wasn't Lincoln 6 fairly cavelier about his sponsor being shot? COME ON.

    Posted by: Chris at August 4, 2005 2:04 PM

    July 19, 2005

    The Wedding Crashers

    I am a big fan of the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson-Will Ferrell comedies, especially when they veer into being slightly rude, which I think we need more of in movie comedy these days. And I really liked this movie, but it unfortunately suffers from one of the most horrid of movie cliches: the Wedding Plot Singularity, wherein the entire plot shrinks to a tiny compressed point and is quickly resolved during a wedding ceremony at the end. A congregation of wedding guests, the presiding minister, and sometimes even a bride and groom stand by, silent, while someone declares their love, and all I can think of is how much the bride's family must have spent to reserve the church.

    The "Wedding Crashers" Plot Singularity involves not only the standard unfortunately-timed public declaration of love, but also loud cursing and a fist-fight in the church. If wearing white to a wedding is verboten for everyone but the bride, then surely engaging in fisticuffs in the house of worship is a big no-no as well?

    The movie is generally clever so I have to believe they were aware of the Singularity, but why they felt the need to steer right into it instead of around I do not know.

    I think special notice should be given to Isla Fisher, who has to be cute AND crazy, and Bradley Cooper, the Ivy League villain. I always admire actors who can inspire actual white-hot hatred of their character. Maybe it needed to be dialed back a little bit for this sort of comedy, but I'd not blame him for that.

    Posted by Chris on 07/19/05

    What the F? Is there an actor named Bradley Cooper? FOR REAL?

    :: goes back to change the character name in three of four of my working novels::

    Posted by: friend jessica at July 19, 2005 10:20 AM

    By the way, it looks like I deleted one of your comments below, asking if Dr. Doom did any bitch slaps. I am very embarassed. Sometimes when cleaning out the spam comments the filter gets over-zealous.

    Posted by: Chris at July 19, 2005 10:38 AM

    Vince is on my laminated list.

    Posted by: Vickery at July 19, 2005 11:14 AM

    Did you know that Isla Fisher is Ali G's wife?

    Cool, eh?

    Oh... and Vickery... YOU are on MY laminated list.


    Posted by: Big Fat Brian at July 19, 2005 12:40 PM

    I am flattered beyond words.......... ;)

    Posted by: Vickery at July 19, 2005 1:16 PM

    I'm standing right here.

    Posted by: friend jessica at July 19, 2005 1:53 PM

    Must every online forum devolve into smut?

    Posted by: Chris at July 19, 2005 1:55 PM

    awww chris, you're cute too.

    Posted by: friend jessica at July 19, 2005 2:04 PM

    July 13, 2005

    Fantastic Four

    Perhaps the next great accomplishment by the mavens of movie marketing is to provide a film with plenty of advance lowered expectations, because I expected nothing from "Fantastic Four," and when I got a total of two iotas more, I considered the $9 well spent.

    Iota one: Chris Evans as Johnny Storm. Absolutely perfect as the buckaroo banzai of a pilot, an X-games enthusiast, an arrogant playa, absolutely thrilled with his new powers, a bit of an airhead, I mean shut up, he had me at hello. The movie came alive whenever he was onscreen.

    Iota two: Michael Chiklis. Due has to be paid for anyone who can emote under all that. The character is a contrast to the Human Torch - he got the short end of the cosmic ray stick, and Chiklis plays it right. The Thing has to be the hardest make-up job since Hulk, which they essentially avoided by handing it over to the CG guys.

    Otherwise, wow - it's a shallow rendering. Two scenes in particular (Sue gets undressed on the bridge, the team gets into an argument when Johnny gives them all superhero names) seem to exemplify a laziness in staging that you rarely see. You can almost hear the director saying, you know what? We'll just shoot it right here in the crowd.

    The movie has been in development probably about as long as I have as a human being, and although it's incorrect to say the SAME movie was in development all this time, still, you'd have thought they could do a bit better. For all the hands this movie has passed through, it certainly arrived unburdened by subtext.

    I don't buy into the notion that in order for a movie to be successful it must spawn a franchise in one weekend, but come on. To watch it you are forced to catalog the missed opportunities.

    The afore-mentioned Jessica Alba strip scene is one. Think about the possibilities: you have to be naked in order to use your super-power. But you're standing on a crowded bridge. And also your former boyfriend AND your brother are there. Also: you're Jessica Alba. Come on, that's classic pathos.

    I found myself feeling sorry for Alba when she had to PUSH her force field out at people. I imagine that felt silly on the set, and I shouldn't be worrying about that in the multiplex. And I hope it is not sexist of me to admit that - fellas, if she's supposed to be an MIT graduate, and she looks like that, then, to my mind you have to make mention of it. Something about how the nerds voted her Hottest, Youngest Scientist of the Year. Because I'm generalizing that you just don't see a lot of scientists like her.

    And Mr. Fantastic's stretchy powers. What keeps him together in human form? If he relaxes will he just start drooping like Silly Putty? Is he terrified of the changes to his body? Can he stretch too far? Actor Ioan Gruffudd's answer to these questions: "Hmm?" Nobody seems to care in the film.

    Ben Grimm's unfortunate appearance. The most time is spent on this character's tragedy, but it's undercut when the movie borrows the cosmic hyperbaric chamber from Superman's Fortress of Solitude, the one that lets you turn your powers on and off.

    Also: must every comic book movie be an origin story? "X-Men" thankfully came the closest to answering 'no.'

    Posted by Chris on 07/13/05

    He had a sort of sultry East-Euro thing going. At the beginning of the movie he has a "thing" going with Sue Storm, and it sort of fades away, unfortunately.

    No slaps, just a few of those backhands that send people careening into walls and then plaster goes everywhere. Not really sexy unless you're into the "Backhanded Into a Wall" fetish fiction subculture.

    Posted by: Chris at July 15, 2005 10:49 AM

    Batman Begins

    So here's the Batman movie I've been asking for for years, and now that it's here I don't think I want it anymore.

    I'm not sure why "Batman Begins" doesn't thrill me. Oh, I enjoyed it. But there's something that keeps me from signing off on it as a favorite. I admired Christopher Nolan for invoking the Richard Donner "Superman" as an ultimate comic book interpretation during some of the interviews, but perhaps that raised my expectations too high.

    Maybe I'm just tired of this character and the constant interpretations. We've seen him in Burtonesque phantasmagoria, we've seen him in Schumacher drag, we've seen him in fan films, there are a handful of animated interpretations right now, a handful of comics - maybe I just don't care anymore? Maybe I'd just like to see Batman put in the vault for a decade, along with the Rolling Stones and Elton John, and then let the crazy kids of the future interpret it for themselves. They can have a Batman that rides a skateboard and has the bat-emblem pierced into his chest with rings. It will look infected but it'll be the hippest!

    This is in no way fair to Christopher Nolan, who has delivered precisely what I asked for, or to Christian Bale, who is great, or any of the others. I loved the prison camp beginning. I loved that this movie is the sole version that remembers why Batman wears a scary costume, which is to scare people, and they show him trying to be scary, not just cool. The electric cape? The tumbler? The explanation for how all the other Batman villains come to be? Come on, I should love those things.

    But maybe I'm just Batmanned out. I'm sorry. Maybe after Frank Miller's interpretation, it just gets no better.

    Maybe I feel there's no need to worry if this is going to now be the ultimate Batman, because I know we're going to see another interpretation down the line anyway. For all of Nolan's efforts, I still think of it not in terms of characters but in terms of a Warner Bros. franchise that by all laws of commerce will re-emerge every so often no matter what. So why worry?

    Posted by Chris on 07/13/05

    You're Chris? You wrote that?

    I wouldn't mind seeing a Batman, or any of the other superheroes out there, made into a period film specific to when their comic books first came out. It would be a nice change to the fireballs, hi-tech and punching cars excitement of the recent crop.

    I would make them computer animation too. What distances me from superhero flicks is the attempt to turn comic book into reality, involving "cooling" up the costumes and exploring their psychological beginnings while ditching the sense of awe and wonder.

    Posted by: simon at July 13, 2005 10:59 AM

    In the words of Hugh Laurie:


    that you didn't like this movie. I was literally squirmy with delight at every turn. Particularly, at the end when Gordon said they couldn't catch any of the crazies from the asylum. So there you go. The answer to the lifelong question, how did Gotham get all these zany villains? THEY WERE ALL IN SCARECROW'S ASYLUM


    And Christian Bale? Still my boyfriend after all these years.

    Posted by: friend jessica at July 13, 2005 1:42 PM

    In the words of Stephen Fry: GET... THAT... ASS!

    That has nothing to do with Batman Begins, sorry. I DO like this movie, I am just mystified that I do not love it.

    And I have to say I don't like this review of mine because it all seems based on vague misgivings that I can't really explain. Being tired of the character isn't very specific for poor Chris Nolan, who no doubt is balled up in the corner, crying, after reading my much-anticipated review.

    I can't sort it out, though. I think Simon is on to something with the idea of period comic book films, although "The Phantom" was period and so was "Capt. Tomorrow," and both of those were underwhelming as well.

    For a comic book movie to work, it's a big balancing act for me. If it's going to be a live action movie, I want it to look real - not Tim Burtonesque, and not four-color Dick Tracy, and I want to believe it in the context of the real world.

    But! I also want to retain some of the fantasy. "Batman Begins" was grounded in reality, thanks for that, but I think it lacked some operatic quality that I didn't know it needed.

    I think the balancing act gets tougher as comics change, as movies change, etc. And it could be no tougher than with this character.

    For my money, "Superman" and "X-Men" are still the only ones that do it.

    Posted by: Chris at July 13, 2005 2:22 PM

    I'm drawn to the idea of computer animated, total fantasy, superheroes because The Incredibles was the first superhero film I've seen where the superheroes fit the world they were in. (I'll admit the X-Men are the only other superhero films I've seen since one of those bad neon-lighting nippled Batman films of the 90s so I'm not qualified to comment on most recent releases, but I blame the trailers for keeping me away.)

    I think part of the pleasure of comic books was the drawings. Presenting them as real imagery somehow dampens the impact for me. When they are brought into our real world they drag in a lot of unrealistic elements that compromise the proposed reality - the unclaustrophobic Fantastic Four space station, sprawling underground lairs with technology and gadgets that shatter the illusion of the present day. The old Superman films did a much better job keeping our world real on film while bringing in a fantasy hero.

    That being said, I am looking forward to V for Vendetta which is live action. But V's a terrorist, not a superhero.

    Posted by: simon at July 14, 2005 6:56 AM

    July 5, 2005

    War of the Worlds

    I suppose I'll have to see it again because everyone else seems mightily irritated by the second half, which didn't suck for me. But then I am highly susceptible to Steven Spielberg's films. We know by now that he will make family the thematic center of his every film, so I am not bothered by the dalliances with the son and father. I'm not crazy about alien invasion films that focus only on one person and spend an inordinate amount of time in a basement, but at least he didn't cut away to a reflection in a TV when the aliens finally showed up, YES I'M LOOKING AT YOU M. NIGHT SHAMALAMADINGDONG.

    I'm not sure that this is going to be one of the ultimate Spielberg films, but what I am sure of is that when he wants to be scary, not Temple of Doom scary of even Jurassic Park scary, but REALLY scary, he does it so well it makes my stomach hurt a little bit. And the first appearance of the tripods hurt my stomach a little. This is an alien invasion movie less in the Independence Day mode and more in The Day After mode.

    As usual in his films I am amazed not just by the grandiose visions we're treated to but the smaller details. I loved the way the first tripod was glimpsed behind a tree in its introduction scene, and the way the street light came on when the storm first started to roll in to New Jersey. I am amazed that Spielberg not only considers how an alien ship will look, but how it will sound. Compare the sound the ships made in Close Encounters to the end-of-the-world blaring that these made. The bodies in the river were a terrible, amazing detail to think of adding, as was the dust (ash?) covering Tom Cruise.

    I was not crazy about that sphincter thing that tried to ingest Tom Cruise, nor do I understand what was going on with the birds at the end. I don't remember the book or previous film enough to know if the aliens had buried their ships ahead of time, but that part raised too many questions for me. Like, if these tripods are so smart and have had all this time, you'd think they'd have figured out germs.

    I think if you have any interest in sci-fi or epic films you can enjoy this film, unless you are also of that type that hold Spielberg up to his ultimate standard every time and in fact get weirdly indignant when it's not an instant classic, but will still go and see something like The Day After Tomorrow and have good things to say about it afterwards.

    Posted by Chris on 07/ 5/05

    Thanks! I nearly completely agree - but for my $6.50 (afternoon rates) Boy what a ride! The birds were showing that the shields on the tripods were failing and turning off and therefore we could bomb them. And even though Tom has been a bit of a cradle robbing freak lately - I thought he did a really good job.

    Posted by: Vickery at July 6, 2005 5:30 PM

    I think the birds were in the book; if I recall it correctly they arrived to feed off the martian corpses.

    Did they really bomb the dead martians in the film? Poor birds, can't get a decent meal without interruption.

    Posted by: simon at July 7, 2005 9:02 AM

    The birds meant the shields were down! Ah, OK. Once more nature ITSELF prevails against the aliens! Could we tell if the birds were spotted owls? I bet the tripods that attacked the northerly regions of the planet were somehow undone by baby harp seals.

    Posted by: Chris at July 7, 2005 1:45 PM

    I really enjoyed the film, but hated the fact that the son "just had to" go away. Why? The sound of the tripods was extremely disturbing, and if I could get that to somehow sound outside our windows @ night, loud enough to shake the windows, Elwood would never sleep again. Neat.

    Posted by: klugula at July 7, 2005 4:54 PM

    May 27, 2005

    Revenge of the Sith

    I'm sure Lucasfilm and the entire blog universe is dying for me to weigh in on this movie, so here goes.

    What a thrill. In a way this movie could almost stand alone as a prequel to the original trilogy. Anakin's dilemma is laid out neatly, and for the first time we truly get to see not only his conflict but some unmistakable examples of how bad he will become. This was the guy that could destroy a planet, torture a princess, and freeze a man in carbonite and make him a big worm's wall-hanging.

    In a movie filled with thousands of details, there were still some that stuck out. For the first time after a spaceship explodes I saw a body floating away in the debris. The little vulture-droids in the exciting, lengthy, and uncharacteristic opening scene were a great idea. I liked the way General Grievous's whirring lightsabers gouged scars in the deck. I liked how a crowd of the "mouse" robots that crawl the floor were scooting to get away from Vader when he showed up to clean house in one scene.

    The last two films have had ups and downs, but a definite constant has been how solid Ian McDiarmid is, and this is his movie. The scenes with the Chancellor manipulating Anakin are the best. I've wondered just how Palpatine would transform into the Emperor we know and love, and the moment he made his move, revealing his true day job to Anakin (I'm not just a client of the Sith, I'm also their Dark Lord!) and then telling Mace Windu to STEP OFF in a big way, was fabulous. Worth everything in the movie. I loved the way the big moment with Mace, Anakin and Palpatine echoed the big moment of the entire series in "Jedi."

    If there is one overall thing I would change in the last three films it would be the tendency towards bringing old characters back to tie everything together. I seem to remember that the droids were always going to be a constant, but to give them an origin in common with the central character makes them too prominent, I think, and raises continuity questions that could be avoided. And I am just as thrilled as anyone to see Chewbacca onscreen again, but having him know Yoda somehow shrinks the Star Wars universe. I enjoy that little Luke gets dropped off on Tantoine (obviously the absolute center of the Universe, despite what he will think later) in front of a familiar double sunset, and that the droids end up on the very ship we first met them on, but I didn't need for this film to take me right to the very doorstep of "New Hope."

    Still, the movie delivers on scenes that any true fan or geek has wondered about for years, and that's no small feat. The big Obi Wan v. Anakin duel was not a disappointment. And I will always count hearing James Earl Jones' voice at the end as one of the big movie thrills of all time.

    CODA: I think Lucas is uber-savvy to deny that the film is a commentary on current politics, and I believe him, but when one of the Emperor's lines is exactly the same thing that Tom Delay once said, and when a climactic battle takes place in the very house of government, literally dismantling the Senate... come on.
    Posted by Chris on 05/27/05

    I found the opening scene to be just a little bit too Michael Bay Action Movies for my taste. I love R2, and I think he's cuter than all get out...but the whole bruhaha with the communicator being too loud, and him hiding and fighting with other droids and the quippy one liners from ObiWan and Anakin had me nervous that the rest of the movie would flat out suck.

    But I did get goosebumps at the end when Beru was holding baby Luke on that planet.

    The only thing that could have brought it all home was if someone had gone to the Tashi system for some power converters.

    Posted by: friend jessica at May 27, 2005 11:26 AM

    The opening scenes did all have a very loose feel to them, unlike the stately sort of introductions he's done in the past. But I have to admit I liked it, despite the fact that Artoo has developed yet OTHER powers - the ability to hop out of his spaceship seat, and spurt oil.

    What if the very secret of cheating death that Palpatine spoke of had to do with power converters found only at Tashi Station? What if the man he spoke of was none other than Biggs? Now THAT would have been tying it together.

    Posted by: Chris at May 27, 2005 11:35 AM

    I was particularly sad when li'l R4 got his head blown off, which leads me to my call for protective droid sheilds on these space cars!

    And also, do you think they made Ewan McGregor "Red Leader" because his uncle was Red Leader in A New Hope?

    Posted by: friend jessica at May 27, 2005 11:53 AM

    I agree regarding Ian McDiarmid, it was great to see him take a larger portion of the story and bring his full weight to bear. His voice is like evil honey.

    Lucas was right: this is the one everyone wanted to see all along. Seeing the Republic crumble and the jedi slaughtered I was struck with the feeling I no longer wanted to see it; I wanted the happy Republic back again.

    I like the echoes in the series, whether it's a repeated camera angle coupled with a particular action (Palpatine crouching over burned Vader reminded me of Obi Wan crouching over beaten-up Luke in IV) or entire sequences repeated. I also like that a later film subtley alters the meaning of moments in earlier films.

    Overall, it was clever having IV-VI first because we identified with the rebels. Seeing I-III and the birth of Empire makes the series quite a relevant and cautionary myth for our times.

    Seeing it in a red state, Chris, was there an outcry of 'liberal bias' that the sith have red lightsabres and the jedi have blue?

    Posted by: simon, not isaac at May 27, 2005 12:32 PM

    How DARE you add a coda???

    What line are you talking about?

    Posted by: friend jessica at May 27, 2005 12:43 PM


    I DID see it in a Red State, but fortunately no thematic breakdown of the film was requested or offered.

    Posted by: Chris at May 27, 2005 1:20 PM

    May 12, 2005

    The Amityville Horror

    It sounds strange to praise a movie for how authentically cruel one of the characters is to children, but as in "The Shining," the divide between the father and the family is central to this story, moreso than the supernatural elements. And Ryan Reynolds as the stepfather gets it mostly right. So often movies will tend towards a cartoonish villainry when meanness towards kids is required to show us they don't really mean it, but for the most part "Amityville" takes it seriously.

    It's not to say Reynolds doesn't take it TOO far occasionally. It seems like Reynolds, a mostly comic actor, could be perched right on the edge of moving into a more serious, high-profile kind of role, like Jim Carrey. His missteps over the edge felt more like the kind of thing a stronger director would have helped him reign in. Here's hoping he starts spending less time working on the abs and more on moving into the circles of very good directors and good scripts.

    Speaking of authentic meanness to kids - the few scenes with the drop-dead pot-smoking babysitter who casually tortures the kids with a ghost story were spot-on. I can't find the actress's name, but watch for her, she's perfect.

    This remake is in some ways better than the original, in some ways not, although the original is no great shakes. Still, if every era is going to have its classic haunted house story, the strange tale of the Lutzes and their short stay in Long Island may be the proto- story of the 70s. Perhaps the fact that it has endured (although whether it truly has is a matter of debate) is not due so much to the supernatural elements but to the much more common dilemma the characters face - the horror of buyer's remorse. George Lutz has committed his life to not only a strange new piece of property but also a strange new family. Certainly anyone can relate to feeling completely overwhelmed and possessed by such a thing.

    When the film is concentrating on the family, it exceeds the original, but towards the end when it speculates a new origin for the evil of the house, (which would make a great story in itself, just not here) it feels as if it has strayed from the core.

    Posted by Chris on 05/12/05

    May 2, 2005

    Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    I dearly love these books but do not have them memorized. I knew they were adding some characters and plot points and I looked forward to see how they'd do it. But some of the True Fans are enraged. However, these guys wake up that way each morning and there's nothing we can do for them.

    It's best to realize that with the "Hitchhiker's" series there probably is no such thing as the Definitive Version anyway because Douglas Adams himself loved to tinker and modify things with the story every time it reappeared. I get the impression it's O.K. if you don't own the radio show, the books, the T.V. series, the comics, the other books, AND the Grecian Urns, because this thing is constantly changing.

    The movie could not have been better cast in a million years, from Stephen Fry as the narrator to Sam Rockwell as Zaphod to Martin Freeman as Arthur to Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy, and the list goes on. I liked the new John Malkovich character. And to my knowledge, the movie comes up with the first rationale for Zaphod having two heads I've heard.

    The Vogons are the most amazing movie creatures the Jim Henson people have ever done, and their ships, offices, and devices are absolutely hilarious. They're worth the entire movie. Another thing I loved was that some of the other aliens had a slight "plush" look to them, as if they weren't trying for realistic so much as cute.

    The unfortunate but predictable addition is the enhancement of the "Trillian / Arthur" love story, which is atypically unclever of the movie. It ends up distracting from the amazing way the seemingly random elements of the plot are tied together by the improbability engine. I'd give this whole movie a B, but I do fear it may be for fans only.

    Posted by Chris on 05/ 2/05

    I've never read the books, but I've really been looking forward to seeing the film. I hope it's not for pre-fans only! Thanks for the honest and helpful review.

    Posted by: Foley at May 2, 2005 12:26 PM

    I agree with you here. My favorite parts were the Vogon side comments. Douglas Adams worked on part of the movie script and changed a lot of the lines and plot points himself. The other writer, Kilpatrick I believe, worked on the crappy love story.

    My favorite parts were the Vogon side comments.

    Posted by: Rich at May 2, 2005 1:58 PM

    Did you like the side comments? By the vogons?

    Posted by: friend jessica at May 2, 2005 2:00 PM

    Rich! You went without me?


    Posted by: Big Fat Brian at May 2, 2005 2:09 PM

    Oh, man!

    :: Goat totally jumps out of Rich's arms and trots over to greener, Friend-Jessica-ier pastures ::


    Posted by: Just Pete at May 2, 2005 2:18 PM

    I have to applaud the opening 40's style musical number with all of the dolphins singing "So Long and Thanks for the All the Fish!" Very inspired and very Douglas Adams-like without ever actually showing up in one of his books. I will shamelessly admit to a great big cheshire cat grin on my face for the first 20 minutes of the film just because of that.

    Posted by: olmy at May 3, 2005 5:02 AM

    Did I mention that I liked the side comments from the Vogons?

    Top drawer!

    Posted by: rich at May 3, 2005 9:12 AM

    April 18, 2005

    Kung Fu Hustle

    There are some movies so great that I must have the T-Shirt, the action figures, the soundtrack, the novelization tie-in, the poster, the "making-of" booklet, and the ring tone, and then there are those movies that I must have all the stuff on the way home from the theatre.

    "Kung Fu Hustle" is that latter sort of film. I am sure there are several flaws in the movie - and I'll report back with them on any of my planned repeat viewings. It's a joyful, human kung-fu cartoon of an experience, and we laughed throughout. It's doing it a disservice to just call it a CGI and wire-work kind of movie, but know that if those are your bag, you'd be a fool to miss this.

    Posted by Chris on 04/18/05

    I hate those kind of movies that force you to buy every piece of memorabilia. Unfortunately, 80% of the movies I see, turn out to be "that kind of movie".

    Posted by: klugula at April 18, 2005 5:19 PM

    Are there really action figures???

    I'll be honest, the only 'kung fu' movie I've seen is Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which I didn't much care it's probably 'not in my bag' as they say.

    Posted by: friend jessica at April 19, 2005 8:59 AM

    Wedding receptions will never be the same. I look forward to the "Kung Pao Chicken Dance", as well.

    Posted by: Just Pete at April 25, 2005 7:00 AM

    March 25, 2005

    Reviewed: Palindrome & "Father's Office"

    Note to the burger joint and bar "Father's Office:" Your "order at the bar" system is very convenient! FOR YOU, I mean. For the customers, standing four deep at the bar trying to get someone's attention, not so much. And for those lucky enough to be seated at the bar, I can't imagine having a shifting wall of people brushing up against them while they eat is so great either.

    If that's going to be your system, though, fine. But how about letting people know so they don't sit and wait at a table for 15 minutes? Also know that tipping for no table service joints usually tops out at 10%.

    Further note: The burger really was outstanding, though.

    Note to director Todd Solondz: If you're going to agree to do a Q&A after your movie, the subject of why you're interested in pedophilia is going to come up. The subject of depicting minors in sexual situations is going to come up. It's inevitable. It's been featured in at least three of your last four movies. All the eye rolling and Woody Allen stuttering and surprise when someone asks the obvious question comes off as a little disingenuous.

    Posted by Chris on 03/25/05

    Father's Office is a little bit of a gay name anyway. It would be a good name for a lingerie shop ~ not a burger joint.

    Posted by: Casey Edward Hayes at March 26, 2005 11:34 PM

    If it WERE a lingerie shop that would at least explain the terrible table service, though.

    Posted by: Chris at March 27, 2005 10:20 AM

    I went to a bar once and asked a waitress if she could get me a menu or a drink or something and she said "Yeah, but it's easier to go up to the bar"

    I couldn't help but wonder:


    Posted by: friend jessica at March 28, 2005 7:13 AM

    March 18, 2005

    A Decade Under the Influence

    It was interesting to see this great documentary about the influential directors of the 60s and 70s right after the well-worn topic of Spielberg & Lucas's ruination of American film had come up again. (In the comments here.)

    The focus of the movie was not on the "Jaws" / "Star Wars" explosion, but the "Easy Rider" period just before, when young directors enjoyed a brief period of freedom from the Hollywood factory's churning out of safe, predictable fare. Even Spielberg and Lucas peers like Sydney Pollack, Martin Scorcese, Francis Coppola, and William Friedkin seem to think that the mega-success of "Jaws" and "Star Wars" essentially brought an end to that freedom.

    And it's undeniable that once the movie businessmen saw just how much profit could be realized from one weekend, they tried again and again to repeat the "Jaws" / "Star Wars" formula. Once more the smaller, idiosyncratic voices of cinema were drowned out, and in a crypt somewhere far below the earth, a critic named Jonathan Rosenbaum stirred to life.

    But the difference here is that their fellow directors don't lay the blame for the focus on blockbusters at George and Steven's feet. In fact, among their peers they seem roundly admired as master filmmakers making incredible movies, not corporate drones fulfilling a lifelong dream of keeping Robert Altman's career down. This has always been the missing component of this favorite gripe of a certain kind of critic, and has always been what's irked me most about it - the complete minimizing of Spielberg and Lucas personally by some critics because of their enormous success.

    "Ah, the light!" said Rosenbaum. "It burns! It BURNS!"

    Posted by Chris on 03/18/05

    Say what you will about Lucas, I've always admired the fact that he made Star Wars the way HE wanted it, and he did whatever it took to get that done. Don't forget, Star Wars was an independant film.

    Posted by: Foley at March 18, 2005 10:16 AM

    Yes, and he's never changed on that. The vision is absolutely singular, and he hasn't altered it to please bitter critics or fans with incredibly high expectations. Even in his latest interview, when he's questioned about fan disappointment with the last two films, he says:

    "I never try to anticipate what the world's going to think or even worry about whether they're going to like it or not. That's not my job, to make people like my movies. They either like them or they don't. That's completely out of my hands."

    Posted by: Chris at March 18, 2005 10:24 AM

    I agree, it's too easily overlooked that these are probably the most personal big films on the market. It's odd that auteurism in this instance is attacked as being control-freakism because not everyone agrees with his choices.

    Posted by: isaac at March 18, 2005 10:55 AM

    March 1, 2005


    I have not directed enough movies to know, but I have to assume that when you are on the set of a horror flick, the idea of having the actor walk slowly... forward... forward... towards a door, perhaps... slowly... forward...


    and they turn, and... whew, it's nothing. So they turn back around, and


    I have to assume that this must be the COOLEST DAMN THING to set up when you're doing it. It must look SO GREAT when you're right there. And you JUST KNOW it's going to make people jump in their seats!

    I assume it's great on the set because it has been in every, every, every, every, every, every, every, every, and I DO mean every horror film for teenagers, ever, and as tired as I am of the Brooding Bathroom Hero, I am 567% more tired of this.

    At this point it's the equivalent of the very first piece of film ever, shown in 1895, "Train Pulling Into The Station." The very first time they showed that ten-second movie, people who had never seen or heard of a movie before leapt screaming out of their seats, afraid an actual train was coming in the room to smash them. The second time? They were complaining that the effects looked cheesy.

    In other words, they got it. It's the same with this. It doesn't work anymore. Retire it.

    I'd expect more from a movie directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, who teamed so well on "Scream," but then I'd also expect a halfway decent werewolf flick. Would you be surprised to learn that after the kids get bitten by the werewolf, they begin eating raw meat and enjoying "heightened senses?" Like in every other werewolf movie for fifty years? And that the kid uses his new "powers" to get the best of the bully? (If so, then let me warn you ahead of time, not to spoil "Train Pulling In...," but it's not a real train, and you're quite safe.)

    The one thing I was going to call out as original (bully shows up at nerd's house to make a surprising confession, and the whole movie could have been about this if it was going to be interesting), I am informed by Friend Leslie was taken from "Buffy."

    Oh, there are a few laughs, and since I have a fear of werewolves (Which is I suppose like being afraid of Morlocks, I mean it just doesn't come up much), a FEW chills, but for some reason every cool shot you saw in the trailer is compressed into a 4-second dream montage, never to be seen again. Wha?

    Craven and Williamson also make the brave choice to use their werewolves to make a statement about something people of ALL socio-economic backgrounds can relate to, which is "the evil of Hollywood publicists."

    A huge disappointment. But so as not to end on a negative note, here are my top werewolf flicks:

    1. American Werewolf in London. Not a great movie, but for some reason it still scares me so bad my stomach hurts. As a kid I found the shock and gore extreme, and I still do.

    2. The Howling. Joe Dante had no interest in winking to the audience that everything was OK. It almost feels subversive in bits. The birthplace of the long, piece by piece Rick Baker transformation.

    3. I can't think of another good one. Good Lord, that's it? Why is this subgenre so under-represented?

    Posted by Chris on 03/ 1/05

    The original WolfMan w/ Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi? Hello?

    Posted by: klugula at March 1, 2005 3:54 PM

    I knew that was coming, and have to admit now that while I DO love the old classics like that, they do NOT scare me in quite the same way as newer movies!

    But there are tons of movies I have NOT seen. What classic horror films do you find truly scary?

    Posted by: Chris at March 1, 2005 3:57 PM

    Nosferatu and Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Not so much scary, as creepy. Things did not get scary til the 60's. At least as far as I am concerned. It all got crazy w/ Psycho...pardon me.

    Posted by: klugula at March 1, 2005 4:13 PM

    Horror of Dracula w/ Christopher Lee was a good one. Hammer @ its finest.

    Posted by: klugula at March 1, 2005 4:15 PM

    I agree - things did not get scary until the 60s. Maybe Psycho is the watershed. Nosferatu / Caligari are not scary or creepy to me, but surreal. And Hammer does not provide actual scares but a sort of agreeable Guignol du Fromage.

    Posted by: Chris at March 1, 2005 4:24 PM

    I think "scary" is the films that broke new ground. Psycho, Night of the Living Dead,The Exorcist, Halloween, The Blair Witch Project. You push the right buttons, and you will get the desired reaction, but the films that really tried something new, are the ones that will be remembered and that were genuinely terrifying. All of the knockoffs work, up to a point, but it is always obvious you are watching a knockoff. Scariest film to me is Blair Witch. The realism and hopelessness. The darkness. No idea what is really out there. No gore, no special effects, just horror and the sounds of silence. Good stuff.

    Posted by: klugula at March 1, 2005 4:44 PM

    I am not sure if you have seen this, but a big recommendation for Suspiria. I am not a huge Argento fan, but this is really a great piece. Dizzying...

    Posted by: klugula at March 1, 2005 4:45 PM

    Y'know, klugula, I am really glad to hear someone else give The Blair Witch Project some props. When I tell people that it scared the bajeezes out of me, they all die laughing at me. I attribute it to the fact that they have no imagination. Fact is, I knew it was a movie, unlike some folks who thought it was TRULY a documentary, and it still kept me up at night. Here's the successful recipe that they used--they showed us nothing. Seriously, my imagination can freak me out more than anything you can ever show me on film. The right amount of suspense, the right amount of edge of your seat camera angles, BAM! I'm seeing a kid in the corner everytime I close my eyes for weeks.

    Posted by: Foley at March 1, 2005 5:39 PM

    1. Company of Wolves – I always thought this was erotic and tended to sympathize with the wolf.
    2. An American Werewolf in London – watched it when I was 12 in a double feature at the Egyptian with the Gate. Loved it =D
    3. Silver Bullet – & no, I’m not talking about the popular vibrator
    4. Howling – seedy, but I liked it…
    5. Underworld – Kate in leather… need I say more?

    I don’t suppose ilsa: she wolf of the ss counts does it ;)

    Posted by: leslie at March 1, 2005 6:10 PM

    But if you DO want to talk about popular vibrators, I'm always available.

    Posted by: friend jessica at March 2, 2005 6:28 AM

    See, I did not know anything about it. I saw it when it was in very limited release. I read the tagline, and went in. I was 99% convinced it was real. The only moment that I questioned it, was one of Heather's over the top blabbings. That quickly disappeared though, and the movie left me numb, disturbed and on the verge of tears. I have seen so many horror films in my day, it was a genuine shock that it bothered me so deeply. The chills I had when they were running in the end, and Heather screams, "There's a house!" I thought I was going to die. I have not watched it all the way through since it was first released on video. Don't know if/when I will view it again. Icky stuff.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 6:29 AM

    I heard Hammer Studios is starting up again.

    I agree with The Blair Witch Project being one of the scariest films. It demands an engaged and imaginative audience and works more on an emotional level than most horror films I've seen. Less is more; I've always found the unseen more frightening than creative makeup with extra helpings of blood.

    I thought the first Alien film was pretty goshdarn scary too. The rest of the series veered into action flicks but the first was solid horror.

    Expanding the arena into another area of scary geekdom: Resident Evil on the Gamecube. Cinematic, beautiful design in fixed camera angles forcing you to react to approaching off-screen sound (try it all alone, lights off with headphones) and plenty of panic and surprises. You could literally shit yourself but I don't advise it.

    Posted by: isaac at March 2, 2005 7:09 AM

    I played that once. I am a product of the original Playstation version. I spent so much time on that game, that I found it hard to commit to the same game, but with all new areas, scares, monsters, etc. But yes, the graphics are outstanding, and those games get my motor running. Super scary. I thought the movies were good scary, stupid fun also. Bad, but so good.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 7:21 AM

    "Blair Witch" made me break out into a cold sweat. When I saw it the first time I had to splash my face with cold water after. I hope those guys made a lot of money.

    "Alien" has to be one of the best films of any genre. Between that movie and "Blade Runner" Ridley Scott has influenced just about every sci-fi / horror film that came after. "Alien" also belongs with two other excellent movies, "Jaws" and "Exorcist," that are typically placed in the "horror" genre but stretch over into other categories.

    Posted by: Chris at March 2, 2005 8:24 AM

    Rosemary's Baby. Paranoia, Satanism, chocolate mousse, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy, that stupid Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin), the phone booth scene, the stopping of the cradle rocking w/ the knife (ugh), "he has his father's eyes", all that other good stuff.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 8:45 AM

    Not intending to drag back in the recurring subject, I found it interesting to hear the Exorcist director's intent was to scare folk into going back to church.

    That and presumably to help Mike Oldfield sell so his record.

    Posted by: isaac at March 2, 2005 8:45 AM

    It's not horror but Repulsion horrified me, unlike the Fearless Vampire Killers.

    Night of the Living Dead also deserves some thumb uppage.

    Posted by: isaac at March 2, 2005 8:48 AM

    I have not seen many Polanski films, but I have heard good things about "The Tenant". Isn't that Polanski? Don't get me started on Romero. Chris knows, there will be no shutting up. In a good way of course.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 8:54 AM

    For ultimate apocalyptic scares, the Dawn of the Dead remake. I may get some sneers on this one, but this movie scared me so much. I was trembling when it was over. Not particularly a "good" movie experience, but certainly memorable.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 9:03 AM

    "Rosemary's Baby" is a completely unsettling. It's amazing to look at the many small things Polanski did in that movie to put us off balance. Imagine that movie being done today - we'd see the devil baby jumping out of the crib in dream sequences throughout.

    Posted by: Chris at March 2, 2005 9:08 AM

    When I watched Rosemary's Baby in a college film course, we discussed the scene of Mia Farrow in her bedroom. She is talking on the phone (I don't remember what was happening) and Polanski kept the camera outside the room, lined up w/ the door frame. Mia enters to pick up the phone and then disappears out of the shot. The conversation takes place w/ only the door in the shot. The whole time, I found myself moving my head to be able to see into the room, and what she was doing. Our teacher pointed that out, and we all agreed, that is what we were doing. That was such a great moment, realizing how manipulative great filmmakers can be.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 9:20 AM

    I did a whole term paper on the subliminal manipulations that editors and directors used in The Exorcist to make it twice as scary, things you'd never even recognize or see.

    The soundtrack to the actual exorcism has an underscore of the sound of angry bees and pigs being slaughtered, two sounds that strike fear into the hearts of men. Also the shadows in the room don't match up with anything, and of course, my personal favorite: injecting a bloody skull over the face of the preist every 32nd frame.

    Watch The Exorcist frame by frame and you'll never sleep again.

    Posted by: friend jessica at March 2, 2005 9:30 AM

    I used bees for the soundtrack of "Intervention," too. They weren't angry, though. They weren't making much sound at all, now that I think about it.

    Posted by: Chris at March 2, 2005 9:42 AM

    In fact, all they did was sit around and mess up Kim's apartment.

    Posted by: friend jessica at March 2, 2005 9:46 AM

    I wondered what the honey flavored goo was.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 9:52 AM

    A movie that scared the hell out of me in college, although not techinically horror was, A Clockwork Orange. I remember sitting in a dark dorm room and about half through it I was so disturbed I had to leave the room. So maybe not so much scary as disturbing. Sort of like Rosemary's Baby.

    Posted by: Rich at March 2, 2005 12:17 PM

    I have always heard, that if your eyes did not close when you sneezed, the pressure would pop your eyeballs right out of their sockets. What if Malcolm McDowell had to sneeze when he was being made to watch all the violent images? Think about it.

    Posted by: klugula at March 2, 2005 12:21 PM

    Clockwork Orange WAS very disturbing, except for that part where they caned the bum. I mean, people do that all the time!

    Don't... they? Guys?

    Oh come ON! Tell me you guys have never caned a bum!


    Posted by: Chris at March 2, 2005 1:14 PM

    Oh a hobo. I thought by "caned a bum" you were being euphemistic.

    Posted by: Rich at March 2, 2005 1:39 PM

    February 25, 2005


    I don't know what to say about Keanu Reeves, because it is not obvious to me that he is a "bad actor." He's certainly not an "accents and massive weight gain or loss" sort of actor, and I can see that he's not incredibly expressive. But he's also seemed sort of the appropriate choice for all the roles I've seen him in. What's Tobey McGuire going to do with the "Neo" role, for instance? Too bad Reeves hasn't run into this generation's equivalent of Sergio Leone. Not to draw the comparison out, but Clint Eastwood wasn't being very expressive in those spaghetti Westerns, either.

    I went to "Constantine" unburdened by admiration for its source material. My understanding is that those that ARE fans of "Hellblazer" are severely disappointed, but the odds on that being the case no matter what the film delivered were pretty high. This is a movie with some nifty sections but one that has not inspired any discussion or desire for repeat viewings. I left feeling tired of the whole "secular demon-hunter who talks to angels" genre, without being able precisely to say what other movies that would include besides "Constantine."

    I am also officially ready to never again see someone Wake From a Dream By Sitting Up In Bed and Screaming. I understand the problem of how to bring a dream sequence to an abrupt, cinematic end, and can offer no alternative, but - please. Second to this is the Brooding Hero Splashes His Face With Cold Water Then Stares At His Own Haunted Reflection In The Bathroom Mirror. No more bathroom brooding.

    The filmmakers wisely fill some smaller but key roles with Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare. The two or three scenes with these actors (as Gabriel and Lucifer) are worth the whole movie, particularly Stormare's one and only scene.

    I could be like other movie critics and delight in telling you that this movie is basically the 1980 Peter Strauss TV movie "Angel on My Shoulder" with visual effects, but it amazes me that for all the talk about how some movies are nothing but stupid plots surrounded by visual effects, the ACTUAL visual effects are pretty much ignored. Just because effects are achieved with computers doesn't mean there is a "Hell" button that these guys press and it's all done. This movie's vision of Hell and its soldier demons was detailed and amazingly rendered. It passed the test for me for such things, which is - it made me hope I'm not wrong in my theories about the afterlife.

    Posted by Chris on 02/25/05

    Oh my lord do I HATE the bathroom brooding. That is the worst. For me it's right next to GIRL METHODICALLY TAKING OFF MAKEUP to show everyone with half a brain that she was obviously using the make up as a mask of her real self.


    Posted by: friend jessica at February 25, 2005 12:18 PM

    The best bathroom mirror brooding is Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. It was short, to the point, and powerful. She made up her mind to go. Interestingly enough, it was immediately after a waking up from a dream, screaming moment. Huh?

    Posted by: klugula at February 25, 2005 12:29 PM

    This is definitely a rental for me. I have seen End of Days and Stigmata. They did not do very much for me. This appears to be in the same vein.

    Posted by: klugula at February 25, 2005 12:32 PM

    I think Clint Eastwood's non-expressive Man With No Name comes more from the detachment of the character than a lack of acting skills. Eastwood had once received the legendary advice: Don't just do something, stand there! He also had charisma, currently out of vogue with the action hero pretty boys and muscle men.

    With Keanu Reeves there's a lack of thought behind those eyes. It's as if he doesn't realize the quiet moments are meant to show us inner life. The nonexpressiveness seems to be no more a choice than the dark hair or the single emotion.

    I'm puzzled by rich actors who don't care to improve their craft. Clearly they don't need to to keep working but you'd think they'd want to. Otherwise he seems like a nice fellow.

    Posted by: isaac at February 25, 2005 12:52 PM

    It's a good way of looking at it. I knew the Reeves / Eastwood thing was weak, WHY DID I GO WITH IT?

    I agree about the actors continuing to work on their craft. Tim Robbins has a theatre ensemble out here, which I think must be a great way to keep the craft moving. (Assuming you survive the non profit / guest director hurdles inherent in such things)

    Posted by: Chris at February 25, 2005 1:05 PM

    What kind of a jacked up loser starts a theatre company?

    Posted by: friend jessica at February 25, 2005 1:08 PM

    I think Jeff Goldblum (I've forgotten my mantra)has a theatre company out there too. Tuh, loser!

    I like the rejection of the waking-from-a-nightmare scream and the mirror brooding. You should keep an active list of film cliches (and lines) that have earned their rest. Or something.

    One of my votes: lock and loading. It's the action sequence foreplay I know but there's nothing new you can do with it.

    Posted by: isaac at February 25, 2005 1:57 PM

    to me, lock and load is similar foreplay to the yelling of

    "hang on!" before a massive car chase.

    Posted by: friend jessica at February 25, 2005 2:01 PM

    ...or "let's get (the hell) outta here" before they get out of there.

    Posted by: isaac at February 25, 2005 2:25 PM

    re: Constantine, this was a movie that had an unusually good set of supporting characters. While the 2 main stars neither added nor detracted from the film, the secondary characters really fleshed out the film. Swinton, as Gabriel, was absolutely delightful -- she practically stole the film in just 2 scenes; Papa Midnight was an interesting addition. You're right about Stormare. What a great Satan! A nice change from the urbane, sophisticated euro-Lucifer of the past decade -- as personified by DeNiro, Pacino, Byrne, and Mortensen. In Constantine, he was something much more pasty and squirmy.

    Posted by: Jeff at February 26, 2005 7:29 AM

    It could be that I was reading too much into Stormare's Lucifer, but it reminded me a little bit of Gary Oldman's Dracula. It was as if he was a monster doing his best to pretend to be a person, and occasionally forgetting a detail or two.

    Posted by: Chris at February 26, 2005 10:20 AM

    Will Smith should have to retire the line, "Oh, hell no."

    Posted by: Rich at February 28, 2005 7:11 AM

    I strongly disagree. A Will Smith movie without an Aw Hell No is like a joke without a punchline, a painting without a frame, or a sad clown without a kitten. Until I hear Aw Hell No I don't know how to feel about the movie, the character, the world, anything.

    Posted by: Chris at February 28, 2005 7:45 AM

    Hitch was originally supposed to be called, Aw Hell No, but weaker minds prevailed.

    Posted by: rich at February 28, 2005 8:43 AM

    February 17, 2005

    Review: the sex our neighbors were having

    First of all, well done. Clearly everyone's having a good time.

    But just a thought - I noticed that she seems REALLY INTO IT and then nothing for a long while and then REALLY INTO IT. What's going on during that long nothing for a while? No, I'm not asking you to describe anything, I'm just saying, and I could be way off base, maybe stay with the REALLY INTO IT stuff more, or at least get back to it quicker?

    Just a thought. Otherwise, kudos.

    Posted by Chris on 02/17/05

    maybe they subscribe to that theory of getting RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF EXPLOSION and then backing off...having a sip of water, cracking the knuckles, and then getting back into it?

    Posted by: friend jessica at February 17, 2005 12:38 PM

    Probably, except that it was more like have a sip of water, crack your knuckles, flip through a magazine or check your email, then get back into it.

    Hey, whatever works, and it's always good to catch up on your reading.

    Posted by: Chris at February 17, 2005 12:40 PM

    Since it's all about procreation, perhaps they were trying to make twins.

    Posted by: isaac at February 18, 2005 6:34 AM

    Have you seen what they look like? If not, try to keep it that way. My old apartment had thin walls. (Did I ever tell you this story?) The folks next door sure did like their sex and cigarette smoking. The head of our bed was right next to their apparent "sex and smoking" room. It was a horrible recurring event, and I did not see how it could get any worse. Then one day, I saw them. Suddenly, my world was turned upside down. They were hideous! Now I had to picture them as I heard (and smelled) them. People ask why I gouged my eyes, stuffed my nose with super glue, and pierced my eardrums. Now you you know.

    Posted by: klugula at February 18, 2005 2:45 PM

    I have not seen them, and Lordy I don't want to. You are so right. Because your neighbors having sex is like a box of chocolates. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU'RE GONNA GET.

    Posted by: Chris at February 18, 2005 3:20 PM

    Sorry I'm very late on this one, but I think she might be rubbing the bean and then he comes into the room. She stops and pretends to be reading or sleeping. He rummages around the room for a while and then she starts up again. Just a thought. Either that or they take breaks to watch season one of Everwood.

    Posted by: Rich at February 22, 2005 10:54 AM

    February 16, 2005

    Party Favors for 4703

    Spotted in the Chinese New Year celebration:

    Firecrackers. An obvious traditional favorite. When I heard the first reports several blocks away I thought a mad triple-time Riverdance had broken out, and then my mind kicked in. I wonder what the ratio of Fingers / Hearing Lost is between Chinese New Year and American Fourth of July? When the parade reached the end of the route where we were they set off 300,000 at once.

    Balloons with Buzzers. They work by attaching a party horn to a balloon and then letting it go. Thankfully these were rare, as the squealing was not pleasant, but the idea is great.

    Party Snaps. Not the clever insults but the tiny explosive paper tadpoles. The undisputed champion. The kids went WILD with them. Some threw them by ones and twos, others preferred the stomp method, and I even saw a few kids dissecting them as I used to. WHAT MAKES THEM DO THAT? Second to Mexican Jumping Bean technology, it may be the biggest mystery of childhood.

    When we sat down next to a family and wondered allowed where we could get some Snaps, it wasn't a hint for their kids to share with us from their stash, but share they did, and generously. And past the point that we wanted them to. We started throwing them in bunches of ten and twenty to go through the bounty. By the end of the parade the little girl had discovered that you didn't even have to take them out of the box to get the SNAP. I'm afraid I may have taught her and her brother that you could squeeze them in your fingers, too, and Dad didn't like that. I wonder if, like all explosives, even modern smart bombs, the explosive yield of a Snap is compared to the equivalent number of sticks of TNT.

    Nunchucks (plastic). Nothing says "I have a sense of fun and irony" more than swinging around a pair of plastic nunchucks in Chinatown at the New Year's parade. All the more so if you're an adult.

    Nunchucks (real). Nothing says "I actually think I'm a bad ass" more than swinging around an actual pair of nunchucks in Chinatown at the New Year's parade. But I suppose any time is a good time to REPRESENT, ya dig.

    Samurai swords (plastic or balloon). All the better if you also have a "helmet" made of balloons.

    Samurai swords (real?) Maybe these were actually wooden Kendo sticks, and these guys were giving a demonstration somewhere. I hope. Either way, none of the kids tried to get them in on the Party Snap fun by throwing them at their feet the way they did us. Wise!

    Goldfish in a transparent plastic lunchbox, carried around by a little girl. I only saw one but what sort of tyrant must you have been in a past life to come back as one of these fish? They'd have to rival one of my ant farms for creatures with the shortest life expectancy.

    Kelly Hu - Parade Marshall. Some effort was spent in convincing Wife Ami that this was not the sole reason why I wanted us to attend. I swear I didn't know she would be there until we got there. I came for the dragons and the food. But Kelly doesn't hurt.

    Smoke bombs. Another perennial favorite. Everyone holds their nose but to me the smell is an instant reminder of childhood. Also fun to see the kids try to dissect them once there were done smoking, just like I used to do.

    Silly string. Not a big hit for some reason. It was a windy day and by the end of the parade there were several goodly-sized silly tumbleweeds made of the String and Party Snap papers rolling around the street.

    Posted by Chris on 02/16/05

    January 26, 2005

    Irma Vep

    Irma Vep is not a brilliant commentary on the state of the French, American and Hong Kong movie industries as is often cited, nor is it a "hilarious" work that somehow crystallizes the beauty of cinema as Salon's Stephanie Zacherek would have you believe in one of her typically gushing and stupid reviews, but it IS a chance to be stunned again by Maggie Cheung and to see an authentic depiction of behind-the-scenes chaos on a low-budget film production. It's like Living in Oblivion, but not as overtly comic. And those are good enough reasons to see it.

    Director Olivier Assayas cinches the approval of critics like Johnathan Rosenbaum, who called it a four star "masterpiece," by 1) casting Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, 2) ending the film with a Stan Brakhage-like scratched-film montage, and 3) being French. Not having a conventional ending helped, too. If this had been made identically in America, Rosenbaum would have assailed it as vapid if he had bothered to notice it at all.

    I think what's really going on in the movie is much simpler - Assayas fell in love with Cheung (they were later married), and designed this project as a way to work with her. Every scene is a romantic gaze at her. She stars as "herself" in the film, and it is mostly about her. Nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of worse reasons to make a movie, or see one.

    Posted by Chris on 01/26/05

    I wouldn't call it hilarious either, the comedy is more observational and a mite too subtle for roaring openly. I enjoyed it but now knowing Mr. Rosenbaum liked it I should revise my opinion.

    If they had made it here they'd probably cast Zhang Ziyi as Maggie Cheung, or at least put her on the poster.

    Posted by: isaac at January 26, 2005 2:33 PM

    January 24, 2005


    AMC has been going nuts with The Omen lately so I've had a chance to reconsider its place on the creepy devil movie scale. The seventies were a great time for Satanic movies. It was a time when you could enjoy the idea of the "Antichrist" as a cartoonish horror movie concept, and not worry that millions of people actually fervently believed in it. Also in the seventies horror films weren't afraid to let kids be evil, (something I don't think they really did again until The Good Son with Macauley Culkin in 1993) and is there anything scarier than a devil kid?

    In fact for a bit in the seventies and late sixties they seemed somewhat preoccupied with evil kids: The Exorcist two years before The Omen in 1974, and Rosemary's Baby, 1968. The influence of Exorcist, still the king of all devil movies, can be strongly felt in The Omen, and also another big seventies devil movie, The Amityville Horror (Due to be remade this year, I see on IMDB) in 1979.

    Although I've long held Omen in high regard, after a few repeat viewings this weekend I'm forced to see it in a new light. It's a great story with some truly memorable creepy bits and some incredibly lucky casting - the kind that could typecast an actor for the rest of their career - but ultimately the movie looks now like an above average TV movie.

    Take a look at how ineptly the opening scene with Gregory Peck is played, when he makes the fateful and bizarre decision to secretly substitute an unknown child for his own stillborn son. This sort of awkwardness continues throughout. And a huge portion of the movie is given over to long individual episodes depicting people that know the truth about Damien getting bumped off in accidents more freakish than Satanic. It's long on creepiness (ably helped along by Jerry Goldsmith's score), but short on actual plot. It could by edited down to about an hour, really. This was Richard Donner's first big screen outing after a long career in TV, and it shows.

    What makes the movie memorable, and worth an occasional rewatch, however, are a handful of effective and extremely creepy scenes, and Donner deserves credit for them: Damien knocks Lee Remick (and a goldfish) off the second floor, and because of that I will never climb past the second rung from the top on a ladder EVER; David Warner and Gregory Peck opening the grave and I STILL don't understand what those animal bones mean but it's GREAT; and without question, the nanny hanging herself from the roof during Damien's birthday party.

    The entire Omen series continues in the same vein of near-quality, although Sam Neill certainly did his part to make the third installment a quality scare. (It wasn't until Jurassic Park that I could stop associating him with the Damien character) They could take all three films in the series and edit them into a really effective single movie, but individually, they are all weak.

    Posted by Chris on 01/24/05

    totaling of sums Chris.

    There will be a totaling of sums.

    Posted by: friend jessica at January 25, 2005 8:09 AM

    Perhaps I am insane, but aren't the bones, that of a jackal? Wasn't Damien born from a dog? They do talk about a jackal right? I saw this movie in college, and the only memorable thing was Peck's delivery of "These are knives, he wants me to stab him!" For years, my friends and I quoted that line, and it was a constant reminder of how much I disliked the film. But I saw it again recently, and it did not pain me as much. Although Goldsmith's score was/is creepy, I cannot hear the "dog is near-by" music w/out laughing. Good stuff!

    Posted by: klugula at January 25, 2005 2:14 PM

    I have seen none of the 3 sequels. Am I missing anything?

    Posted by: klugula at January 25, 2005 2:15 PM

    I don't believe it was that Damien was born from a jackal or any animal, I THINK what was going on was that Damien's actual mother had been murdered by the locals in that little Italian village, and for some reason they put the bones of an animal in the grave instead. Maybe because they knew Damien was the child of Satan? That can't be right. I don't remember!

    I think you should see the sequels just once to say you had. The story really is VERY cool - that the Antichrist is being set up to be the President. And Sam Neill really is good.

    Posted by: Chris at January 25, 2005 2:45 PM

    My boy has confirmed that I am correct. He also believes that Damien was born from a jackal. The creepy priest says so.

    Posted by: klugula at January 26, 2005 10:57 AM

    You're right - I found the screenplay online to be sure. ( They find two graves, one large, one small, in the "Grippe De Sant'Angelo" graveyard, which for some reason also has a statue of an "Etruscan Devil-God." In the mother's grave are the bones of a jackal, and in the small grave are the bones of a baby with obvious head injury. And somewhere in here Thorn (Gregory Peck) starts talking as if the baby killed and buried there was his actual son.

    Why would they bury a jackal? Why does he think his real son was spirited away to Italy and killed? Am I going to have to read this whole screenplay now?

    Posted by: Chris at January 26, 2005 5:35 PM

    I do recall the priest saying that Damien was born from a jackal. So his "mother" was buried, along w/ the real son. I think you should check it out.

    Posted by: klugula at January 27, 2005 7:05 AM

    OK, here's the OTHER thing. At the movie's start Thorn and his wife live in Rome, (something I missed) which explains why his real son would have been buried there - if not why the Satanists would keep incriminating remains around, if not why they would bother to bury a jackal, and if not why a Satanic statue would be kept up in a Christian cemetary anyway.

    I have now officially put more thought into this than anyone in history, besides David Seltzer the screenwriter. Thanks a lot. I'd better stop before I realize it's the best movie of all time.

    Posted by: Chris at January 27, 2005 8:41 AM

    Damien's mother was a wild jackal (scavenger, eater of carrion) and his father was Satan. When he was born the jackal died and was buried in the creepy Italian graveyard by Satan's followers. Damien was then swapped with Robert and Kathy Thorn's son so he could be raised by the powerful couple, their real son was murdered and buried beside the jackal. It's all very simple if you pay attention.

    Posted by: Mitzi Del Bra at January 15, 2006 11:11 AM

    Thanks - maybe the reason I had such trouble remembering his jackal heritage is that I STILL think it is dumb that they would have then given the jackal a burial.

    Posted by: Chris at January 15, 2006 2:19 PM

    January 21, 2005

    Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

    I understood that this movie was to be a high-end Brew n' View type, but it's much better than that. I'd put it in the company of "Road Trip" for recent movies that go for that 1970's National Lampoon feel and pull it off. They're smart, funny, honestly brash, and you can find the "message" of the movie but it's secondary. They're not afraid to show young people getting high (in fact the movie seems made for the Currently High demographic) and not above asking some of the actresses to go topless. It may as well be 1979. It strains a bit when it goes for absurdity, but maybe that's because I wasn't in that target demographic.

    They should get John Cho and Kal Penn for other buddy movies. And Neil Patrick Harris deserves respect for the way he patiently endures the mantle of Doogie Howser.

    The DVD design is one of the best non-Criterions I've seen. They shot footage just to use as background for the menus that sort of parallels the story but isn't pulled from it, and the cast / crew interviews go beyond the He Was Great To Work With stuff. The only extra it's missing is some sort of recreation of the meeting that had to take place between the producers and the White Castle execs. I know White Castle is hardly at the top of the fast-food chain, but it took balls to sign on to this movie.

    Posted by Chris on 01/21/05

    January 20, 2005


    Wow - did anyone else watch "Medium" the other night? AMAZINGLY bad. Bad to the degree that the stock of everyone involved - even Jake Weber - is lowered. Bad to the degree that I wonder if NBC is trying for some sort of insurance scam a la "The Producers" when the show is cancelled.

    A plot "twist" stolen from at least two other movies I can think of ("Red Dragon" and "One Hour Photo"), laughable interplay between Tough Cop Who Doesn't Trust The Psychic and The Psychic, they capture the killer and then end up sort of forgetting that plot, and - I'm sorry because I've liked her in other things - a terribly poor showing from Arquette. I kept waiting for it to get better and then I kept watching because it was so bad.

    When someone puts out a show using a tired old genre (Psychic Helps Solve Crimes) you think it might be because they've thought of something new to do with it. Nope. Not at ALL.

    Posted by Chris on 01/20/05

    Sadly, I did not even give it a chance, since the ads did absolutely nothing for me. The crap factor has been confirmed, thank you Chris.

    Posted by: klugula at January 20, 2005 12:13 PM

    I have...never liked Patricia or her trashy sister Rosanna. Both of them can roast in hell for all I care.

    Posted by: friend jessica at January 20, 2005 2:30 PM

    I have never hated them, but have never gone out of my way to see their work. Patricia is all one level. I cannot recall any "intense" scenes in which I was actually convinced by her. Rosanna is ok. But all I have really seen her in is "Desperately Seeking Susan". If I had to choose, it would be Rosanna. But I would choose someone else altogether if possible. You get the point.

    Posted by: klugula at January 20, 2005 3:03 PM

    I liked Patricia in "Lost Highway," "Beyond Rangoon," and especially "Flirting with Disaster," but she did not rise above the writing in this horrid show.

    Posted by: Chris at January 20, 2005 3:51 PM

    January 10, 2005

    Whatever happens... I must not cry

    Some weekend things:

  • Starting Friday and then for the next 24 hours or so some sort of constant beeping was going off in the neighborhood. Nothing as insistent as a car alarm, just a soft three beats, one rest, three beats, one rest. I had just gotten to the stage of planning vandalism to it when it shut off.

  • The next day, ironically, I lost all hearing in my left ear after a swim. The amusing result according to Wife Ami was not that I talked louder to hear myself, but completely inaudibly. Still not a hundred percent on that ear. If it goes on for another day I'm considering heightening my other senses to compensate.

  • I decided to give the side bar comment thing a rest because it embarasses me to come back in the morning and see I've been advertising porn sites for someone all night long. Now, with improved "inline" comments.

  • We rented Shrek 2, and say what you will, and I will, Antonio Banderas made me laugh hysterically. I thought the role of his life was this generation's "Zorro," but it turns out that it's "Puss in Boots."

    Whatever happens... I must not cry.

    Still - like the first one, overall the movie makes me smile but I don't quite see what the fuss is. The best parts remain anything with crowds of the other fairy tale characters (Pinnochio steals all his scenes, as does the Gingerbread man), but they don't stay with them very long. With Shrek I always feel that the filmmakers are definitely above average, but would secretly rather tell you about the new techniques they invented to render hair and cloth than talk about the movie.

    And now to completely undercut myself, I watched the film, noted its beauty but was not over-impressed, then watched the behind-the-scenes extras, and was BLOWN AWAY by the how complex and successful the animation is. Yes, there's lots of talk of cloth and hair and light-rendering, but that's all there in the movie and so realistic and incredible I didn't notice at all. The "Shrek 2" extras include what must be a first, which are not bloopers but "glitches" - instances when a character's face didn't move in time to his body, or when someone's arms were made outrageously long, and for some reason this brought the enormous complexity of what they're doing home more than a "blooper" reel.

  • Saw Napolean Dynamite, another movie I'm glad I didn't wait in line for last year in Utah. I can't wait for this indy-film subgenre to disappear and be replaced by the next one.

    Posted by Chris on 01/10/05

    Having recently seen Shrek II myself I was struck not so much by the hour and a half I'll never get back but the size and enthusiasm of the market for glossy mediocrity.

    I enjoyed the first one (soundtrack, scat-humor and pop-culture-references-as-"humor" aside) and came out of the theatre thinking the only way they could blow it would be to make a sequel.

    The strength of the first seemed to come from its originality and surprises, taking something familiar and twisting it into something new. The sequel ditched the strengths of the first (actually going so far as to negate the central "looks don't matter" message so that, yes he MUST to look like a ogre for her happiness) and served us with more pop-culture-references instead of character development. It might be my old fuddy-duddy ways that make me struggle to find the humor in a joke you can see coming or have seen before (such as a long journey interrupted by a character repeatedly asking "are we there yet?")

    Chris, as someone who writes very funny scripts, do you find yourself censoring your words, removing ideas and clever concepts and replacing them with scat-jokes, sarcasm or empty pop-culture-references, in order to make your writing more mediocre? I mean, do you want to make it in this business, kid?

    Posted by: isaac at January 10, 2005 10:56 AM

    I think it was Eisenstein who said, "Cinema is truth told 24 times a second - also, fart-jokes are pure gold with the 18-35 demographic."

    So yes - if there's a chance for bathroom humor, I take it and thank the Gods of drama for the gift.

    Posted by: Chris at January 10, 2005 11:22 AM

    18-35 demographic? Then I am in the wrong. I have cheated Hollywood in quitting early my demographic love of cheeky fart jokes (the water bubbled up, oh ho ho hee) and other observations on internal and external bodily scents and functions. Forget I said all that, for a couple of years.

    Antonio Banderas was great though. I wanted more Puss-n-Boots and less cringe-bringing Jar-Jarish Donkey.

    Posted by: isaac at January 10, 2005 12:15 PM

    This entry hurts my feelings on so many levels.

    one, isaac, is that my husband calls me Donkey, and so Donkey the character is sort of my...animal familiar if you will. In Shrek, when he says "alright now I hope you heard that, she said STEED" I laughed forever. FOREVER. I AM STILL LAUGHING.

    Secondly, I laughed so hard at napoleon dynamite i nearly peed. FEEDING A LLAMA HAM? The way he drank that gatorade? the way he ran down the hall after throwing the campaign button. Wait until my mother hears you didn't like that movie.

    WOO HOO what a sad crazy day.

    Posted by: friend jessica at January 10, 2005 2:28 PM
  • January 2, 2005

    Review: Closer

    Who cares.

    Posted by Chris on 01/ 2/05

    Don't hold back!

    Posted by: klugula at January 2, 2005 12:01 PM

    was there a bitch slap of any kind? Preferably by Clive?

    Posted by: friend jessica at January 4, 2005 7:58 AM

    You will like Clive in it. He is very good, displaying plenty of the manly qualities so prized by today's women, as well as moments of vulnerability and pathos. He takes us right to the brink of bitchslap, but because it is Julia, the slap is not joined.

    Alas - that still does not make the movie worth it.

    Posted by: Chris at January 4, 2005 8:33 AM

    F. F. F. F.

    All I ask for is a little violence in today's films. Is that too much? Apparently the answer is yes.

    Will you be seeing White Noise? I wet my pants a little bit with terror just seeing the previews

    Posted by: friend jessica at January 4, 2005 9:57 AM

    I don't like the preview to White Noise, especially at night. As I told Chris, the movie to see is Phantom. What a rare joy. I just loved every minute of it. Such good acting and...I cannot continue this charade. The movie bit giant ass. I really tried to like it, but it did not happen.

    Posted by: klugula at January 4, 2005 10:01 AM

    is there a bitch slap in it? Preferably by the Phantom? Does the Phantom do any sexual menacing that couldn't be shown on the broadway stage? The promise of further sexual menacing and kidnapping is all that will get me to go.

    And is the guy who plays Phantom hot in anyway? I mean, aside from the hideous disfigurement?

    Posted by: friend jessica at January 4, 2005 10:04 AM

    Yeah, he is cute, and so is Raoul. But it did not save the hideous acting and the lone (count it, one) hang-dog expression that Emmy Rossum displayed as Christine. A little variety maybe? This was the first film that I can recall that made me want to leave the theatre. My fellow attendees loved it. Not sure what happened. Good supporting cast, Miranda Richardson, and Minnie Driver. God love her, she saved the movie. She was really quite good. No bitch slapping, but I may have missed that part when I was examining my inner eyelids.

    Posted by: klugula at January 4, 2005 12:10 PM

    December 21, 2004

    Review: The United States of Leland

    "The United States of Leland?" Wasn't that, like, months and months ago? Yes, but I saw it, it irritated me, so it becomes a current review. It was one of those films, like "Dopamine," that was accepted into Sundance, so I had high expectations. Then I saw it, and don't get what all the fuss was.

    This movie is proof that being accepted into this or any festival doesn't automatically mean higher quality. What it sometimes seems to mean is a movie reverse-engineered out of available / willing festival-friendly elements: hot indy stars matched with a young director, and an edgy script written to hold it all together. What it sometimes means is just a "relationship" movie - not relationships in the story but relationships between the high-profile producers and the film festival.

    (Although maybe you were not star-struck by the festival event itself and didn't require more proof like me. Of course the idea that any "independent" festival - let alone the top one - would be a totally level playing field, immune from business and insider relationships, is silly.)

    OK - "a script written to hold it all together" is over-simplifying, but say it this way: between Kevin Spacey's "Trigger Street" production company and Sundance, "Leland" got the chance to be developed in a safe and comfortable harbor that it had not earned. Yes, it has good performances, and no surprise, considering: Don Cheadle, Jena Malone (who has seemed destined for great things since she was a little girl), Ryan Gosling, and Kevin Spacey round out the cast and do their best with the material (although I am now officially ready for Spacey to find something else to portray besides smug superiority).

    The story: Leland (Gosling) stabs his ex-girlfriend's autistic kid brother to death. In juvenile prison, his teacher (Cheadle) takes an interest in Leland's musings on morality, and wants to write a book about him. Cheadle also has a brief fling with co-worker Kerry Washington. Meanwhile, the ex-girlfriend (Malone) is hooked on heroin, her sister (Michelle Williams) wants to break up with her boyfriend (Chris Klein), Leland's neglectful father (Spacey) comes back to town, and after while it just feels like a part was written for everyone who wanted to work for Spacey, and the plot becomes secondary.

    Unlike, say, "Primer" or "Supersize Me," Sundance films that truly deserve all their accolades, (and who knows where they could have gone if they were given their own Trigger Street treatment) "Leland" feels more like it was festival-groomed from the start, and still didn't manage to earn its indy Lotto win.

    Posted by Chris on 12/21/04

    December 15, 2004

    Ocean's 12

    "Ocean's 12" makes it official: Julia Roberts is now such an enormous movie star that even the movies she's in cannot suspend their disbelief about it. Like rays of light bent by gravity, her celebrity is so massive in reality that it warps fiction.

    We saw it begin with "Notting Hill," in which she portrayed... a superstar actress. And although Steven Soderberg bravely managed to stare directly into the blinding light of her star for "Erin Brokovich," thereafter he was forced to avert his gaze: in "Ocean's 12" as in his "Full Frontal," she literally plays herself.

    Well, it was inevitable. And let's face it - in a movie as star-studded as "Ocean's 12," the behind-the-scenes facts are just as much a part of the entertainment as the movie. One of the trailers boasted "Yes, they're all back!" Because part of the drama of this movie would be the tension over whether or not the producers could corral this many famous people into one project a second time.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this movie because it amuses me to view beautiful, rich, well-dressed people solving conflicts that take place in gorgeous European suites. I derive pleasure from "caper" films wherein the heroes turn out to have had the thing wrapped up the whole time. That pleasure fades upon reflection, but no matter. I don't need every movie I watch to change everything I knew or thought I knew.

    I also wish I had a job that involved shooting cables attached to crossbow bolts into buildings.

    Posted by Chris on 12/15/04

    does she do the big horsey surprise laugh followed by big surprise horsey smile?

    Hey julia, why the long teeth?

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 15, 2004 8:04 AM

    Here we go again with the Julia bashing. Tut tut.

    Posted by: klugula at December 15, 2004 9:29 AM

    I hate the f-ing whore. AND SO DOES THE LORD

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 15, 2004 9:35 AM

    But George Bush likes her. I have made my choice. Shouldn't you make the right one?

    Posted by: klugula at December 15, 2004 10:49 AM

    December 7, 2004

    Recurring Zhang Ziyi Fantasy

    House of Flying Daggers is another welcome kick to the face in the recurring Zhang Ziyi fantasy series. This makes two for Zhang Yimou, one for Ang Lee, and I didn't see Rush Hour 2 or any of her other films, but let's assume there's plenty of flying, kicking goodness there too, so thanks to everyone involved.

    If you're someone that's not interested or hesitant to see foreign films, even celebrated action / fantasy foreign films, I'd say don't start with this one. In my personal discovery of the Chinese Super Martial Arts Hero genre, this is the third in both ranking and chronology. You don't need me to tell you to start with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and then Hero.

    "Daggers" does not thrill quite so much as the other two, but part of that must be because Yimou successfully raised the bar in "Hero." It still has amazing sequences - just not quite up to the spectacle of it's earlier, better equipped predecessor. But coming in third against "Crouching Tiger" and "Hero" is still high up indeed. I'd still say this is a good bet for anyone looking for something good at the multiplex. At this moment there's nothing else out there like it.

    And now, some random comic ideas I can't figure out how to work into the review:

    House of Flying Chairs - Jerry Springer version
    House of Flying Insults - Congressional version
    House of Flying Insects - Unkempt household version
    House of Flying Circus - Another name for my junior and senior college residence, and why most girls avoided it.

    Posted by Chris on 12/ 7/04

    Fine actor Takeshi Kaneshiro (the mute from Fallen Angels) is in that, isn't he? Does he throw a dagger?

    Posted by: isaac at December 7, 2004 1:29 PM

    In other news:

    two words that are funny in regards to bathrooms and bathroom habits

    "soiled" as in "I've just soiled myself."

    and "feces". Feces is funnier than fecal.

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 7, 2004 2:10 PM

    They're funny unless you're the janitor where you work.

    Whoever that dude is, he's earned his Christmas bonus.

    Posted by: Chris at December 7, 2004 3:02 PM

    Kaneshiro has a lot more talking to do in this movie, but sadly he does not get to throw daggers since he is not in that House. He does get to shoot arrows a lot, and also watch Zhang Ziyi bathe.

    Posted by: Chris at December 7, 2004 3:06 PM

    if you lived in Cambridge like the cool IT kids, you could come w/ us to see Blade:Trinity tomorrow. While you may have seen it once already, you'd be to tell all of your friends on thursday you had seen it twice.

    Posted by: jeff at December 7, 2004 6:49 PM

    I suggest you all see House of Flying Daggers afterwards to make it a Girls Who Kick double feature!

    Posted by: Chris at December 7, 2004 8:14 PM

    Let me ask you this. In all honesty, and you don't have to answer if you don't want to:

    WHERE can I get some great deals online?

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 8, 2004 6:39 AM

    December 6, 2004


    Now that TiVo and DirecTV are gone, we are forced to seek our video addictions from whatever comes over the airwaves for free. These days I am pretty hooked on ABC's "Lost." And not just because of the high proportion of models that were on that doomed flight. I like the characters, the way each episode goes into the backstory of one of them, and the suggestion of something ominous and perhaps supernatural going on with the island.

    But here's where they may have a problem - now that they HAVE hinted at something supernatural on the island, they really have to follow through. If they pull a Chris Carter at the end of the season, no amount of Evangeline Lily will save it. As Ibsen said, and I quote: "If you imply that there is a dinosaur on your island, then you have to show it or something better by the end of season one."

    Posted by Chris on 12/ 6/04

    Also: sex.

    Based on what we've learned so far, the 'supernatural' item is simply going to be the biggest cop out ever: namely: an amalgam of every castaway's worst fears. They started to lose me when the doctor saw his dad wandering around, and when the guitar mysteriously appeared, and, of course, the lame were made to walk.

    I love the show, but I feel it's a sort of tough love.

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 7, 2004 6:20 AM

    What happened to you? Remember all the good times we used to have? Man, we were tight. It was like I could read your mind. Sure we had DirecTV looking over our shoulder all the time, and holding us back from greatness, but it was good.

    I've changed a lot since then. I've been working out and reading a lot. My memory is bigger than ever and I've discovered broadband. I think I'm better than ever before. Without D. I've lost a little of my focus ... can't multitask as well as I used to.

    But hey, I miss you. Look me up sometime.


    P.S. John says "hi". We're still tight as ever.

    Posted by: TiVo at December 9, 2004 1:49 PM

    December 2, 2004

    More Jessica Goodness

    What luck! There was a free showing of Blade: Trinity last night, which stars Jessica Biel and some other people. The movie was about Jessica Biel kicking a lot of ass and looking great doing it. Also, there were other people in the movie doing things related to the plot, but... Jessica.

    I like the Blade movies although they're certainly not pushing any boundaries. Lots of goths in leather and too much eye makeup walking in slow-mo, plenty of CGI-assisted ass-kicking, and Snipes doing his silent loner thing. They have no pretention to be anything else. It's also makes me smile for some reason to watch Snipes and Kristofferson together in this comic book movie, knowing both men have given so many other good performances in serious, dramatic roles.

    I suspect my enjoyment of the three films is akin to what fans of seventies karate movies feel. You're not watching them to see them push the limits of the art form. It's like hearing a band play a good cover of a favorite song - there's only so much variation from the formula you want anyway. Plus it didn't hurt that it was a free showing at the Arclight, best theatre worldwide, and that the director / writer answered questions afterwards.

    In addition to featuring Jessica Biel, the movie also has a pretty frightening demonic Dracula. I'd put it up there with Darkness from Legend in the design department.

    Posted by Chris on 12/ 2/04

    sheesh. I thought this was going to be a nice essay about me, and all the good I do and such.

    Posted by: friend jessica at December 6, 2004 6:16 AM

    November 29, 2004

    Review: Christmas with the Kranks

    What was I even doing at this movie? you wonder. Well, as I mentioned before, family was in town this Thanksgiving weekend, and we needed an activity when rain spoiled our beach outing. What better thing than a completely neutral movie?

    "The Incredibles" had already been seen by most of us, and when someone suggested "Alexander" I QUICKLY pushed through the "Kranks" option. God! There are not enough Conversation-Safe Flash Cards in the world to pull us out of the Bisexual Greek Conversation Abyss!

    "Kranks" fails spectacularly by trying to exist in more or less the same exact space as "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" without being even a quarter as good. Damned if it isn't just a movie about people learning the True Meaning of Christmas, without any twist on that theme whatsoever.

    "Kranks" brings not one new idea to the T.M.O.C. genre, except for the unintentional portrayal of the pro-holiday crowd as a mob of Christmas Nazis. There's the standard Guy Who is Actually Santa Claus, there's the ubiquitous Chicago skyline (which apparently is visible from most Hollywood backlots), there's the complete lack of anything other than the Christian holiday in the envelope universe the movie exists in.

    It's unfortunate that, because the neighbors are such ogres (led by Dan Aykroyd in the movie's only lively performance), most reasonable viewers will sympathize totally with Tim Allen's desire to take a cruise instead of decorate the tree, and sink into depression along with him when he is pressured into staying by the impending return of his genetically perfect daughter. Obviously Allen is supposed to be the Scrooge of this movie, but it doesn't work if all the Bob Cratchetts and Tiny Tims are a bit monstrous.

    At the end I was reminded of Clark Griswold's post-breakdown conversation with his father. Clark wants to know how his dad survived the holidays year after year, and dad admits he had a lot of help from Jack Daniels. Certainly Tim Allen looked like he needed a stiff shot when it was over, and he had finally learned the T.M.O.C.: the holiday is mandatory, there is only one way to celebrate it, and if you deviate, something is wrong with you.

    Posted by Chris on 11/29/04

    While I understand this was an obvious, non threatening choice for the family, all I can say is: Of course it sucked. Was there ever any doubt that it would? Ya know what? How about a rousing double feature of the Kranks and Surviving Christmas? They just don't make Christmas movies like they used to; A Christmas Story, Black Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Am I right?

    Posted by: klugula at November 29, 2004 3:10 PM


    Why do you hate America? And more importantly, CHristmas?

    Posted by: friend jessica at November 30, 2004 6:16 AM

    November 23, 2004

    Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Jessica Biel Edition)

    Let's be honest: much as cigarettes are a nicotine-delivery system, a movie like this is a Jessica Biel-delivery system. People want - nay, they CRAVE - that central ingredient, and will tolerate any amount of something that is bad to get it. So who cares whether it's "good" or not.

    I didn't need to read many reviews to find out that this remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre stunk, but I Netflixed it anyway. And indeed! It's a less than mediocre update of a skeezy classic, but oh that girl. Merely to think about her is to Google around to find that picture of her in the sink again.

    The movie takes the Crazy Killer Redneck genre a bit more in the direction of the House of 1000 Corpses mode, which is to say it's not so much a plot but a long session of torturing teenagers. It's like a filmed version of a walk through one of those community Halloween houses, with lots of Seven production design thrown in: garages and closets filled with jars of sinister-looking doodads like doll's heads, the occasional chicken's foot, and unidentifiable rotten gee gaws, and also water is dripping down over everything.

    And the backwoods people who live there like to kill any young thing that wanders off the road, although why they're so mad I don't know, considering their candidate won again.

    It does take the interesting turn of updating the hitchhiker scene in the beginning (and what she does could be the subject of an entire movie), but after that it's back to the Ten Little Indians plot, with Biel as the Most Valuable and Beautiful Indian, therefore the one that survives.

    Still - I'm recommending it. Because if you're renting this, it's for Jessica, and the movie delivers there.

    Posted by Chris on 11/23/04

    Does the movie feature a violent game of Texas hold 'em?

    Posted by: isaac at November 23, 2004 12:02 PM

    Yes, although it could more accurately be called Texas Hold 'Em Against Their Will.

    Posted by: Chris at November 23, 2004 12:05 PM

    That's my kind of game. If you know what I mean.

    Posted by: friend jessica at November 24, 2004 8:50 AM

    I am outraged that you would recommend this film based on the looks of one of the actresses. Oh, you straight men. This would be like me recommending the 80's howler, "Thief of Hearts", only for the nudity of Steven recommend this film.

    Posted by: klugula at November 27, 2004 5:04 AM

    for my part, I'd appreciate someone recommending male nudity. As a hetero woman, I think the film community thinks I appreciate romantic story lines and gauzy lenses and flowers and whispers of "i love you". What I really want is Cock and TONS OF IT.

    Posted by: friend jessica at November 29, 2004 8:09 AM

    Not even 8:15 AM PST and we have... a QUOTE OF THE DAY.

    Is there not a Mr. Skin for male nudity?

    Posted by: Chris at November 29, 2004 8:13 AM

    I doubt it. All the women I know are like "ewww...naked men are gross". These are women who claim to be straight. They've obviously never seen the nude naked perfection of a chiseled Vin Diesel. rorrwowwwr

    Posted by: friend jessica at November 29, 2004 9:12 AM

    I agree completely. And it's encouraging to hear that it's not been me in particular they're referring to when I've heard women say "Eeeew... GROSS" in the past.

    To address this problem, look for more pictures of Vin Diesel's penis here soon.

    Posted by: Chris at November 29, 2004 10:46 AM

    All this talk of male organs. How is a person to get any work done? This whole conversation has turned un-Christian. Check out "Thief of Hearts" for some of the best male nudity money can buy. Not for you Chris, for Jessica. Duh!

    Posted by: klugula at November 29, 2004 11:11 AM

    Come on - a rated R movie has the best male nudity money can buy? That can't be right. There's a guy out behind our local 7-11 who seems to be willing to go the full monty for the price of a bottle of Mad Dog. Surely THAT'S a better deal for your nudity dollar.

    Posted by: Chris at November 29, 2004 11:28 AM

    I just call 'em as I see 'em. Where is this 7-11 located? Just for research purposes of course.

    Posted by: klugula at November 29, 2004 11:32 AM

    And chris gets the added joy of 'delicate human odor' that warm peen I smell?

    Posted by: friend jessica at November 29, 2004 12:04 PM

    "warm peen"? I realize you must have meant pee, but let's be clear for the sake of others. Hmmm.

    Posted by: klugula at November 29, 2004 1:06 PM

    No dear, I mean peen, as in 'meat stick', 'thingee' or 'bitchsplitter'. A warm penis smells poorly on many ocassions.

    Posted by: friend jessica at November 29, 2004 1:18 PM mistake. I have never heard that term before. I guess it is just my innocence shining through to enlighten all of you heathens.

    Posted by: klugula at November 29, 2004 1:21 PM

    November 12, 2004

    Review: My Week in the Entertainment Biz

  • Last weekend: attended Screenwriter's Expo #3 at the L.A. Convention Center. I don't believe I need to go to this again. The place is packed to the rafters with people who either actually write screenplays or just read books about writing screenplays, and the desperation radiates off us like waves of heat from hot pavement.

    I think next year instead of learning how my screenplay could better conform to the Hero's Mythic Journey or where my characters land on the Enneagram or what's HOT HOT HOT at Warner's this season, I'll stay home... and write.

    I'm not saying I'm above it all, and I know the game has to be played if I want to do this seriously, but I'm not positive this is the only way to play the game.

    If you take as read that you're writing something to be sold, then I appreciate the need to be interested in what the average studio exec is looking for. But in every seminar I attended where this came up, (and it always came up no matter what the actual topic of the seminar, well, that and how to get an agent) it struck me that we may as well have been a group of primeval tribesmen holding a VERY SERIOUS COUNCIL on whether mighty Zeus prefers the flank or maybe the upper shank portion of the oxen that we sacrifice to Him. Which section will best appease him, and keep us safe from his mighty lightning?

    The point is, no one knows. Or maybe you can know for a short period but then it changes, so why not be original? I can understand researching market trends if you're in the shoe business - but writing screenplays?

    And obviously there is value in learning the classical structure of movie scripts, the acts, the arcs, the 9 basic characters, the 36 conflicts of drama, the mythic journey, the archetypes, the "shadow" characters of the protagonist, etc. But what joy is there in using that stuff to write some sort of Universal Movie? It reminds me of the novel-writing machines in "1984."

    In one seminar the lady would periodically stop to tell us the One Big Thing about writing screenplays. She did this so many times that at the end we had about twelve One Big Things, some of them contradicting each other. In another a man famous for his screenplay seminars spent the time ranting about why Titanic sucked. It worse than bores me to be around this sort of thing.

    And speaking of bored several movie luminaries showed up so that we could bask in their glory. Ivan Reitman was there, and although he has a permanent place of honor on my shelf, his attitude during the seminar was almost as if he'd just given us a good rogering and now all he wanted to do was roll over and go to sleep, Lord love him. The guys who've written the Shrek movies and the Pirates of the Carribean movies were there and could not have been happier with themselves.

    I had plenty of time to examine these bad attitudes, as many of the seminars were so boring that I left before they were over and wandered the Convention Center. (I always seem to spend these things wandering a convention hall, imagining how cool it would be to play a giant game of hide and seek there, or maybe laser tag.) There was also an Expo on Cosmetic Enhancement going on, and some other event that was vaguely cult-like, because the participants could be heard yelling in orgiastic unison. In fact I didn't even want to linger too long near the doors to their conference rooms, lest they all come pouring out at once and trample me on the way to do whatever Great Good they imagined the world needed.

  • Monday: The West Coast NYU alumni get together, for members of the Tisch school of filmmaking. Director Amy Heckerling of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless fame was there, exhorting us to revolt against media convergence. And some other big wigs who very reasonably suggested we find opportunity in the brave new world of media convergence, video on demand, and digital production. Can you believe I left this more encouraged than the whole Screenwriters Expo?

    (I didn't go to NYU, my friend Bill did. If I was asked I was still going to lie about it, though.)

  • Tuesday: The 25th anniversary screening of the pilot episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century at the Egyptian theatre!!! With stars Erin Gray!!!, the guy who played Dr. Huer, and the guy who did the voice of Dr. Theopolis in attendance!!!, as well as producer Glen Larson!!! As well as the special effects guy and the costume guy. !!! A GREAT time.

    Rather than a group of rabid continuity-obsessed Comic Book Guy fans, it was a packed house of fans ready to revel in the cheesiness and nostalgia. With an excellent moderator from Cinefantastique magazine. The entire two seasons (which I could have sworn was more like five when I was a kid) is coming out on DVD next week; I WILL be buying it.

  • Wednesday: Lily Tomlin and David O Russell at the Armand Hammer museum, as a part of their "Conversation" series. Very free-form conversation where the two "interviewed" each other. Lily Tomlin has always been one of my ultimate faves. David O Russell is hip and very political. I think it's cool but it annoys Ami that he brings everything back to the Nixon administration.

  • Thursday: weekly screenwriter's group. I had no pages for the group to read again, because I can't figure out how to make the ten page-limit useful yet.

  • Tonight: nothing.

    Posted by Chris on 11/12/04

    I'm glad you went!

    Did you know that you can have Erin Gray call you? Check out I had Lou Ferrigno wish Jessica a Happy Anniversary last year. Best $20 I ever spent.

    Posted by: Brian at November 12, 2004 1:32 PM
  • October 22, 2004

    AMC, Lion's Gate, and "Final Cut"

    Went to see the Robin Williams sci-fi movie the other day, "Final Cut*." We went to a local AMC theatre, that chain that invites you so enthusiastically to Experience the Difference(tm)! and then provides none of same.

    AMC has been using digital projection for their fabulous preshow countdown for a few years. The picture is horrible. I'm sure the projector would be great for the home but on a movie theatre the pixels are the size of your fist. However - since it's limited to this pre-movie presentation I can ignore it.

    The Preshow Countdown of course is when they show some ads, put up the occasional movie promo-trivia for People Who Have Been in a Coma (What latina diva starring in this month's "Shall We Dance?" alongside Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon got her start as a fly girl on the comedy show "In Living Color?!?!?") exhort you to buy popcorn, and occasionally show one of the Fandango Ads Starring Paper Bags or a winning film from the Coca-Cola contest for student filmmakers willing to sell their souls.

    But the other night, sitting through the digital preshow as we waited for the movie to start, I swear I had the tiniest warning flag go up in the back of my mind. "When movies start to be distributed digitally, I hope AMC doesn't think this projector is going to do it," I promise I actually thought. I'm not adding this detail just to sound prophetic, I swear.

    So the digital projection with the preshow melted into a few previews, and then it melted right into the movie. There was decidedly not that moment when you can see the actual film projector has been turned on, when the eye relaxes. They began to show the actual film with this awful projector. It was WRONG WRONG WRONG. That was not a movie - it was a television show! What were they doing?

    I immediately left and found an articulate ticket-tearer. "Oh, they sent this movie on DVDs, so we have to show it digitally." Well, as it turns out, not exactly, but close:

    I went back to the "film" and tried to decide if I could stay. It was that bad. After five minutes of squirming, I decided to ride it out.

    Unlike many film purists I am excited about the coming digital revolution. It excites me that movies can be transmitted this way. It opens up so many possibilities. (And another thing to keep in mind is that it is more or less inevitable.) But it's unfathomable to me that AMC would think that

    "...the quality is good enough as an interim solution," King said. "I would characterize it as high resolution rather then the superhigh resolution that the 2K projectors are delivering. I think the picture on the screen is comparable to a high-definition TV image."

    Comparable to a TV image? Comparable to a TV image? Pal, I have a TV AT HOME. And it may not be High-Def but I also don't have to pay 9.50 per show! Nor do my feet stick to the floor, and nor do I have to shush all the rude people!

    At a time when I would think they'd need to be making the case for digital, they're doing themselves much more harm than good by showing people how bad it can be. Not that we needed the lesson, but they've shown definitively that their concern for showmanship is far less than their desire to save money by avoiding the expensive film medium.

    I'm not kidding, people - this was walk-out-and-boycott-the-theatre bad.

    *It IS a movie about an editor, but is not a movie subsidized by Apple, as far as I can see, even though they makes the fabulous video editing software "Final Cut." In fact the credits thank AVID. ?

    More on AMC's fabulous "Difference" campaign.

    Posted by Chris on 10/22/04

    You make some excellent points. I encourage you to send your article to AMC. And also Greg Laemmle (Laemmle is a small chain out here in the LA area.)

    Ross Anthony
    Film Reviewer (The Hollywood Report Card)

    Posted by: Ross Anthony at October 24, 2004 7:17 PM


    Your ideas are intriguing, and I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Just a friend. No real OFFICIAL standing of any sort.

    Posted by: friend jessica at October 25, 2004 8:40 AM

    August 26, 2004

    The Exorcist: The Beginning

    To give you an idea of the tone of this film, the only thing missing from Father Merrin's costume as a young man is a bullwhip. When we first see him - throwing back shots of whiskey in a crowded Egyptian bar, where someone is trying to convince him to acquire a rare antiquity - he already has the fedora, the scowl, and the whole unshaven, khakified look. Soon the ex-priest and archeologist is discovering a hidden passageway beneath a pagan tomb. He even gets a Short Round-type sidekick later, although Short Round was never suspected of being possessed by demons.

    Clearly this was to be an action / horror film, then. Perhaps this was to be expected considering the director who survived the development process of this film long enough to receive credit - Renny Harlin. He’s turned in more than a few enjoyable action thrillers, so it’s no surprise that the movie would go this way, although I'd have liked he and Stellan Skaarsgard to have dialed back the Indy a bit.

    In no way does "Exorcist: The Beginning" even approach the original, but who said it would? And the last two films in the series have more than prepared us for the letdown. There is an interesting story somewhere in there, but it’s unfortunately buried under a lot of melodrama, horror movie clichés, and none of the ambiguity which made the original so unsettling.

    Even though I was prepared, the missed opportunity is still unfortunate. Unlike many perfect films, “Exorcist” actually DOES beg the question of what the hell that thing was anyway, and what happened before. The title character in the original film wanders through a long, almost dialogue-free prologue, which although mystifying as to its connection to the rest of the story, is also completely menacing and effective in setting the tone and the exorcist’s back story. “Beginning” purported to take it up from there, and although it supplies some good ideas, it mostly wastes it, turning into a standard flick, notable only for its cast, excessive and brutal violence (a lot of it involving children, as if Harlin felt he had to up Friedkin’s ante from the original), and the fact that this is the second version of the film.

    The second version? Considering that “Beginning” seems like a low C script effort at best, how bad could the previous one be? This may be another film that has a more interesting production story than plot.

    Posted by Chris on 08/26/04

    Hey chris, what a great review here! It's really well written! I thought you were quoting someone else since it sounded so highbrow and professional!

    Posted by: friend jessica at August 27, 2004 9:56 AM

    August 9, 2004

    Open Water

    Amazing shark footage, and I literally jumped out of my seat about five times, But to what end?

    Apart from the shock value, what is the point of a survival story in which [SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT]:1. the characters fall into danger through no real fault of their own, 2. Once they are in danger, nothing they do can really affect their fate, and 3. They both die anyway?

    I imagined that if we were going to spend time with two characters floating helplessly in the sea as sharks nose around them, there would be a lot more interpersonal drama, as that would be the only thing the characters COULD do. But that never happens. Compare the interaction of these two characters with those in a movie "Open Water" is being inaccurately compared to, "Blair Witch." There we watched the characters disintegrate, blame one another, and despair against a fate that was essentially out of their hands as well, but it was still dramatically interesting. Imagine "Blair Witch" with Josh, Heather and Mike barely mumbling a word to one another and you'll get an idea of "Open Water." Yep, they were left out there, and yep, they died. So what?

    Worse than that is the abrupt and unsatisfying ending. In the morning when the man has bled out from his shark bite, the woman more or less sends him off without so much as a tearful mini-Titanic Rose Loves Jack 4Eva farewell. And then she takes her own final dive.

    And what is the point of saying this is based on a true story, when it's clear that the filmmakers have no idea what could have happened between two real divers that were stranded by their charter and died at sea? What is the point of seeing their camera emerge from the shark's stomach at the end, when they clearly didn't document their distress?

    Posted by Chris on 08/ 9/04

    August 5, 2004

    Manchurian Candidate

    Has Jonathan Demme ever failed us? Look at his filmography: Silence of the Lambs, Beloved, Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense, Storefront Hitchcock, Married to the Mob, Melvin and Howard, Swing Shift, Wild Things, many others. My. It's hard to find another filmmaker as consistently solid and interesting.

    I give three thumbs up to his Manchurian Candidate. Yes, I liked it so much I've had to install a supplementary thumb to express myself. One remakes a classic at their peril, but he pulls it off with room to spare. He and his producers should be lauded for spotting how this story could still be chilling today, with only minor updates.

    If you're even remotely a fan of the original*, you should see this. If you're not, you should still see it. There are slight updates that will keep the old fans interested, and the acting is top-notch. Watch the whole movie and note how he never once talks about political parties. This version (which you'll note is set four years in the future, if you're watching carefully) actually makes a bit more sense than the previous one. I think now that the lead is Denzel Washington, who's clearly shown a willingness to let his hair get a bit more mussed up in a part than, say, Sinatra, it allows the plot to go somewhere it could have originally. Sorry to say I'm not familiar enough with the book to know if this update is more or less faithful.

    And if you haven't seen the original, you should. It doesn't matter which you see first. It's not a question of whether Sinatra, Lansbury, and Harvey are better than Washington, Streep, and Schreiber - they were and are all equally perfect in their roles at the time.

    This is the movie that Demme's trademark technique of having the actors speak directly into the camera seems made for. If it doesn't creep you out to have Liev Schreiber looking directly at you as he's "activated," something's wrong. Schreiber has been overdue for major recognition (check him out as Orson Welles in RKO 281), and hopefully what he does here will move him up a few notches.

    *The couple sitting next to me certainly were. They seemed to be in their sixties, and apparently had not been to a movie theatre since that time either, because nossir, they didn't care for all these ads they show nowadays. When are they going to show the MOVIE, the woman sighed loudly, as the heavy burden of watching the Fandango ads and bothersome "previews" fell to her and her alone. And then when that newfangled corporate theatre owner finally, blessedly allowed the movie to start, they discussed amongst themselves in fairly audible voices the differences in the two versions, and nossir, they didn't care for any of the deviations. They also didn't care for me asking them to stop talking or at least whisper, and in fact shushed me when I did so. You have to admire it!
    Posted by Chris on 08/ 5/04

    August 2, 2004

    Review: "The Village"

    Note: Movable Type is currently broken, so I'm hand-posting this using plain ol' Notepad and FTP. So if it looks like crap, so be it.

    M. Night Shyamalan made an enormous splash with "Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable," and unfortunately for him, with great entertainment power, came great expectation.

    My disapointment with his junior effort "Signs" was so utterly monumental that I went into "The Village" with one fist already clenched and shaking at the screen. When - and if - the movie met or even fell only reasonably under the barest expectations of one of the most gifted young directors on the scene, I'd lower that fist. Although maybe I'd keep shaking it in my lap until the credits rolled, just to be sure.

    I don't think I was alone in this feeling, because his average score for "Village" right now on Metacritic is terrible - it's just in the high thirties. I think a lot of people were hoping for something a bit more traditional this time. And "The Village" is not that.

    Night's problem lately is that he wants to tell allegorical tales of morality in the guise of horror movies; but what he fails to realize is that they should also work purely as horror films. He wants to do far more than just creep us out - he wants to also relay a very important message at the same time. I say fine! I'm all for a message, but please, Night, don't forget to creep us out like you promised. Because you're really good at that part.

    "The Village" is disappointing, but not in the "Signs" way. It's disappointing that in his strong desire to make an allegory of how fear of an unseen external threat can define a society, he didn't take the steps to create even a barely plausible narrative. And while the plot-holes in "The Village" are enormous, I can think of several ways he might have sewn things up a bit better and still retained the strength of the story. Anyone can - the problems are that obvious.

    Perhaps part of his problem is that he has firmly bought into this idea that his trademark must be his ability to invent plot twists. But that's a one-trick pony, or at most a tired two-trick pony. His real strength is not plot twists, but his mastery of mood. When he shows us that brief flash of a creature in the first reel, whether it's a ghost or an alien or Those That We Shall Not Speak Of, he is utterly in command.

    The failure of "Signs" and to a lesser extent "Village" was that he was still showing us just those half-glimpses in the last reels of the movie, if anything at all. There's a time to just see the shark's dorsal fin and then there's a time to launch the whole damn fish into the cabin of the boat. In "The Village" he picks the exact wrong time to cut away from the creature a few times, but it is nowhere near the lapdance tease that "Signs" was.

    Shyamalan is capable of making a distinctive film, and this one is not without merit. He should be applauded for consistently trying to take the high ground in a traditionally low genre. But he should also be able to look past his own press, and more importantly the efforts of those around him to turn him into a writer / director brand name, and assess his strengths and weaknesses. He would benefit from a strong writing or producing partner on his next creepy morality tale.

    Posted by Chris on 08/ 2/04

    My own feelings on "The Village" are pretty close to some of the sentiments you expressed. I actually enjoyed the first half of the film or so -- we see the mood set, general exposition, a slow unveiling of the town's good points, secrets, some mystery of what exactly is out in the woods, the rules the town must live by. pretty creepy and moody. some good characters emerge. Then, the "twists" kick in and, as each plot twist is unveiled, the movie just gets dumber and dumber -- forecasting itself well in advance. I had a great opinion of the film in the first 20 minutes. I was thoroughly irritated with it by the time it ended.

    Posted by: Jefferson Burson at August 3, 2004 4:31 PM

    July 16, 2004


    How long before Gary Cole is given his own movie? What a funny guy, what a good actor. He can do serious parts (One Hour Photo, West Wing), villainous (A Simple Plan), and of course, comedy. His "Office Space" character mannerisms have been absorbed into common usage. He IS Harvey Birdman, for God's sake. In Dodgeball he steals his scenes as the Ocho newsman covering the tournament.

    This is a movie for pay per view or Netflix, not the theatre. But we giggled at Ben Stiller's hair, laughed at Vince Vaughn's standard casual winking charm, and anyway, is there a sport more inherently comic than dodgeball? Maybe that one where two men QUICKLY QUICKLY polish the ice in front of a rock to make it slide farther?

    This marks I guess the third or fourth role where Christine Taylor has played Normal and Attractive Girl to her husband's over-the-toppery. I enjoyed the movie, but it's time for her to do something else. I also like Jason Bateman a lot, but it seemed like the filmmaker ran the "scatterbrained" idea past him the day he showed up to work on the movie.

    All in all, enjoyable! It made me want play dodgeball, which I guess could only come from someone like me that has never played, except for the occasional impromptu pickup game in P.E. wherein others practiced their skills on me.

    Posted by Chris on 07/16/04

    July 15, 2004

    The 4400

    What does it say about me that in this show about 4400 U.F.O. abductees from the past 50 years all being returned at once, I am more interested in the logistics and legal ramifications of re-integrating them into society than I am learning anything about the aliens or why they were taken?

    It wasn't that way when they all came out of the Mothership at the end of "Close Encounters." Then, I was thinking: Ooo! Pretty lights! and How nice of those aliens to offer them a ride back! But with "4400," I was thinking: What about all of them that were declared dead? Why CAN'T the lawyer have his job back? Why would a restraining order be acceptable just because a Returnee wanted to see her daughter? What about hazard pay? How will they track them, in case they do start to give birth to bugs? What about their social security benefits? How will it effect the election?

    Maybe I've been reading too much political news lately.

    It could also be that it's almost a certainty that USA won't do anything very interesting on the alien abduction theme anyway. Even X-Files sort of did a Chief Wiggums trail-off when pressed on why people are poked and prodded by Mr. Gray, as I recall. Don't look for USA to take a stance, although God bless 'em for trying.

    It appears already that the Returnees have been dropped off with some extra-human abilities, a stalwart "back from space" idea, and they even appear to almost be of the complimentary X-Men-ish type. (Please Jesus don't let them form a crime-fighting team) Michael Moriarty is a Jean Gray who can't quite control it yet, there's a Rogue that can suck the life out of people, and also apparently re-inject it at some points, and then the Eerily Prescient Child, although she has no X-Men analog that I can think of at the moment. As a matter of fact I'm probably reading too much into the X-Men similarities, so never mind that part.

    The pilot did have some above average bits, and, well, I DID watch two hours of it, (That's two Tivo hours, mind you) so it was by no means wretched. Like other shows (Is this to be a series? A mini-series?) there's a slight time-management problem: this show could be called 5 instead of 4400, as they're (wisely) focusing on just five of the Returnees, but they still seem to lose the thread occasionally. And the two leads are... unfortunate. If they are going for some kind of Scully / Mulder chemistry, they can forget it right now.

    And let the aliens come back and abduct the woman, STAT. When the Director of Homeland Security asked her what would happen when the "comet" hit, and she said ominously, "You don't want to know," I shouted at the screen, "YES, HE REALLY DOES WANT TO KNOW, HE HAS TO CALL THE PRESIDENT."

    It's the first show or movie I've seen where the Department of Homeland Security is featured. Maybe that's why I'm looking at it from a political angle. So far it's definitely no C.T.U. I expected to see a big "defcon" score board on the wall like in "Wargames," but instead showing what color of heightened security awareness we were on.

    Posted by Chris on 07/15/04

    July 8, 2004

    Today I can't be bothered

    A few random reviews:

  • Spiderman 2. Yay. Really good. Two strange bits of humor that almost seemed out of place - the really really long elevator scene with Hal Sparks (probably on his way to do a VH1 special*) and the B.J. Thomas interlude. Maybe they spent too much time showing Peter Parker being downtrodden? Did anyone else notice that Michael Chabon worked on the story? Cool!

    As FattyFat mentioned to me, Spiderman's powers seem to be code for male potency in these movies, which kind of makes it almost icky. Makes me wish for the days of metallic webshooters.

  • The man and his family who tried to sit next to me at Spiderman 2. A classic dickhead. When I told him the seat was taken it illicited the most world-weary sigh I've ever heard. HE'S JUST NOW TELLING ME THE SEAT'S TAKEN, he said to his wife. When was I supposed to tell you it was taken? I asked him. You could have told me before I got there, he responded. Leave it to me to not read peoples' minds the moment they get into range.

    Maybe I'M the dickhead here. Because with great mind-reading abilities comes great responsibility, as my Uncle Ben used to say, at least before I didn't save him a seat that time and he was killed as a result. UNCLE BEN NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Medium Cool. I saw it on IFC. Great footage of Chicago in 1968. It's almost surreal to see it back then, almost like being in a time machine. Especially with all we've heard about the police that summer. I'd never seen Robert Forster in his prime, either; my first glimpse of him had been in "Black Hole."

  • The signage in the Atlanta, Birmingham, and both Chicago airports: Really not that bad.

  • My holiday weekend in Charleston. Amazing. Beautiful. Bountiful ribs n' beer. No one really believes it when I tell them we did patriotic skits at the family gathering, and for our skit, we sang "American Pie" and then threw pies of whipped cream in each other's faces. But I swear we did.

    In other news, did I mention that 23% said yes? It's really pretty amazing when you start to think about it. However, WARNING: don't start to think about it. If you even try to parse through the levels of irony, it'll make your head explode.

    *Speaking of VH1 specials, we saw acquaintance Jack McBrayer doing commentary on one this weekend. Now I'm just two degrees away from VH1 fame! SUPERSTAR!
    Posted by Chris on 07/ 8/04
  • June 24, 2004


    Just a few notes and questions for the good folks over at The Chronicles of Riddick:

  • Every single line uttered by the title character was in the format of, RIDDICK WALKS PAST CAMERA WHILE UTTERING POTENTIAL LOGLINE. Let's vary that up a little bit next time.

  • I suspect that somewhere back in the history of this project, while it was being written, someone wisely said "You know what would be interesting? Since the last movie was PITCH BLACK, and Riddick's whole "thing" is that he can see in the dark, let's put him on a planet that has really really bright hot sunlight for a while. See the irony? That way, he'll have to get someone to help him out, because he'll effectively be blind, even WITH the goggles. And that will work against the whole "loner" thing he has going, which will be an interesting character thing."

    But then everyone got busy with the casting and the design and all that and rewrites began to get pushed to the back burner. And that idea, along with others, kind of got lost along the way. A great thing would have been Riddick having to rely on hottie-tottie Kyra to see, even though he'd come there to save her. Oh well.

  • Do two movies really constitute a "chronicles?"

  • What do Elementals do? Besides float around and appear indistinct?

  • Why are the Necromongers destroying everything anyway?

    Posted by Chris on 06/24/04
  • June 22, 2004

    Salem's Lot

    Unfortunately there is nothing in this mini-series to recommend it over the 1979 version (also a made-for TV miniseries, and directed by Tobe Hooper [Poltergeist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974)]), which is a shame, mainly because of the A+ cast they assembled.

    Unlike many other Stephen King adaptations, this wasn't really a movie that begged, practically PLEADED, to be remade anyway. Hooper's version was far scarier than a mini-series in the 70s had a right to be. The image of those vampire kids scratching at the window still stays with me, as does that of gravedigger Mike Ryerson jumping down into Danny Glick's grave and opening the coffin (Marred in the present version by unfortunate editing).

    Salem's Lot 1979 holds up better than Pet Sematary, I think, or The Stand, and a lot of the others. For another production to be worthwhile they'd have to bring something to the table other than just the novelty of remounting it.

    But apart from a few interesting updates - Matt Burke is now gay, Ben Mears was an embedded journalist in Afghanistan - and a few nods towards Stephen King's increasing tendency to provide subtle connections between all his stories (A "Dud" character has been introduced just as in "Dreamcatcher," there are more than a few resemblances to "Needful Things"), there is nothing new here, no good reason for it to have been made.

    Frustratingly, the filmmakers occasionally seemed to be on the verge of using the tireless vampire metaphor and the modern updates to say something meaningful about the "origins of domestic evil," also the subject of Ben Mears' book in the film. They set themselves up time and time again to comment on racism, incest, prejudice, religion (the priest's faith is not enough to stand up to the evil) or even war (Mears' book about Afghanistan resulted in several soldiers being court-martialed), but fail to follow through, instead running back to the old cliches.

    The resonating subtext of the story is that in order for a vampire - and all evil - to flourish, it has to first be invited in. The filmmakers call this out but do little with it.

    The most unfortunate update was changing main vampire Barlow from a wordless, Max Shrekified servant of Straker (not even crediting the actor in the previous version) into Rutger Hauer (almost in a mere cameo), full of European worldliness and charm. One of the best lines in the current film is that the evil in the house is mindless and moronic - a description that fits the 1979 Barlow, but not the 2004 version.

    They give themselves four hours, but the main problem with this mini-series is time management. In all that time they still have a hard time keeping up with only a slightly large handful of characters. The priest's fall from grace is instant, and then unexamined. The most potentially heart-breaking and horrific scenes of Marjorie Glick are barely inserted. The events in the Marsten house are marginalized and seem unimportant. The movie was wildly uneven in tone and plot.

    There are not stand-out performances (because the script doesn't offer anyone the chance), but stand-out moments. Rob Lowe was at the service of the project, but mostly untapped. And I'm not sure I buy Andre Braugher as old enough to have been his teacher, but Braugher makes up for it by providing the best scene in the movie. And Donald Sutherland's Needful Things proprietor removes any memory of James Mason.

    There are two highly memorable creepy effects to be called out, however - I don't remember if King wrote the description of the vampire crawling through the air vent, but it was amazingly visualized. And in the time of Buffy we have seen thousands of vampires staked and watched them conveniently turn to dust - but Barlow's death scene and the "rewinding" of his body through his previous physical forms was fantastic.

    Posted by Chris on 06/22/04

    June 18, 2004

    A few things

  • I dreamt the other night that I was at a small Guns n' Roses concert, and Axl Rose was actually a nice guy. This defied my expectations, and I suspect there was someone else playing the role of Rose, as often happens in my dreams.

    For some reason I was leaning against the keyboards on stage during a break, so that meant I had to play them during the next set. I must have looked a little dismayed when I learned this, because whoever was playing Axl comforted me by saying, "Just have a good time, dude. My only rule is, when people throw things at you, you have to hang on to them so we can check them out later." For some reason I assumed he meant CDs in jewel cases that people would throw at us, and I was wondering if I'd be issued any protective headgear. I also wondered if these would be demo CDs of aspiring bands in the audience, or people returning their Guns n' Roses merchandise in a vehement way when the concert sucked.

  • Dear Expedia,

    It makes me feel like an idiot when automated phone systems require me to speak my responses instead of just hitting numbers. Who are you fooling here? I know it's a robot I'm speaking to, let's cut through the charade and use the universal language of math.

  • I saw The Magdelene Sisters last night, and it's put me right off working in a convent-run laundry. I mean I have TOTALLY stricken that from my "to do" list now.

    Posted by Chris on 06/18/04
  • June 2, 2004

    Elephant / The Day After Tomorrow

    Day After Tomorrow

    Somehow Roland Emmerich seems to have polished his act a bit in this film, his act being "Depict American Landmarks Being Impressively Demolished." There's plenty of that, and "Day After Tomorrow" is predictably guilty of treating everything in the northern hemisphere besides N.Y., L.A., and a bit of D.C. as flyover territory, but it's not exactly the line-up of meticulous miniature destruction that "Independence Day" was.

    Also, what do you expect from this movie? A nuanced, balanced look at the socio-political ramifications of thousands of cultures and monuments in the northern hemisphere being flash-frozen? And I happen to admire the way it chose NOT to deal with the politics of global warming. I paid $9 to see unmanned Russian tankers floating down Fifth Avenue, not hear Dennis Quaid preaching about fossil fuels. The fact that the words "Kyoto Treaty" were sneered authentically by (Vice) President Cheney in the film seemed more than I deserved by this script's standards.

    Something else about Quaid - along with Kurt Russell I think he's an underrated action hero, but he does not fare well in the "character" moments in this film, which is to say the moments when he is assigned the daunting task of dealing with the unwanted human subplots. Usually I blame the director and screenwriter, but at this point any actor that signs on to a Roland Emmerich blockbuster should expect to be shouldering the responsibility for "emotional truth" alone.

    Sadly, as adorable as Emmy Rossum is, she was indulging in action figure acting here: press the button on her back and she gives a doe-eyed look. Well - she's young and unaccustomed to the ways of Emmerich.

    Still - couldn't they have come up with a good reason for Quaid's character to make the trek to Manhattan? Couldn't he have been leading a team looking for, oh, I don't know, another vital paleoclimatologist, or a high-ranking cabinet official unfortunately caught north of Quaid's red slash mark of doom on the map?


    From one extreme to the other. I am not a fan of the genre of film that employs long tracking shots of characters walking, walking, just walking, for the purpose of - well, I guess not imposing false emotion through cinematic grammar? "Elephant" featured so much of students walking, walking, walking down the halls of their enormous school, that it was more screensaver than movie.

    I'm not a fan of this effort not to artificially manipulate a filmed story by not editing very much AT ALL. As if choosing long, unbroken shots is not just as much of a choice or a manipulation. I don't ooh and ahh at the meticulously choreographed long, long shots of "Goodfellas," "The Player," "Bonfire of the Vanities," I thought there was WAY too much of Jackie Brown just walking in "Jackie Brown," and I alienated everyone in Facets by saying Godard's "Weekend" sucked for this reason. I don't call for long long shots to be banned, I just think it's a strange technique to be held in such high regard by filmmakers.

    All filmmaking is artificial, and all storytelling is manipulation; even this movie, and even "Dogma" movies. You can try to minimize it, and God bless you if you're not afraid to leave something ambiguous, but even by trying to remain objective you've already chosen a certain point of view. And I note that Van Sant didn't shy away from supposing the two teenage killers might be lovers.

    I understand Van Sant's desire to simply present the actions of the students leading up to and during a Columbine-like massacre without imposing narrative shorthands - and I do agree that it's brave. I do admire the message that there may be no underlying meaning to such an act. But if this movie is not a story he's telling, then what is it? A "tone poem," that most most useful of phrases for film students?

    Van Sant is cool, Van Sant is pushing the edge, I like Van Sant's movies. (In independent filmmaking circles one must periodically qualify any dissent with this mantra, much as you must constantly assert to Republicans that you DO support the troops and you DO love America.) But I see no way around creating tension in a story like this. Did he intend for me to cringe every time the students moved into a new room because I was sure they were about to get their heads blown off? Because that's what those long Steadicam shots and cross-cutting back and forth through the day achieved for me. I haven't felt so much tension traveling down long halls since "The Shining."

    NOTE: I suppose based on the results of last week's rant I can expect Gus Van Sant to personally leave a polite comment here any day now so that I can complete my journey to the Asshole Side. No - it will probably be Emmy Rossum. I loved you in "Songcatcher," Emmy, I really did.
    Posted by Chris on 06/ 2/04

    May 24, 2004


    1. During this movie I experienced the strange sensation of simultaneously wanting to provide Mystery Science Theatre-like commentary and also really really enjoying it for what it was. I could think of five million ways to make fun of it, but the movie's sheer earnestness really won me over. Any movie that can do the whole Trojan Horse episode with a straight face deserves credit.

    2. To the list of one-click movie scores that must be stopped I now add the "Fatima Ululates Mournfully Over Battle Scenes." To my chagrin this was not just another Danny Elfman module but from the baton of one of my favorites, James Horner.

    3. Standouts include Brendan Gleeson, Eric Bana, and Brian Cox, Brian Cox, Brian Cox. Petersen and Co. wisely realized that Helen was just the match that lights the fuse, and didn't try to turn her into more than that. Orlando Bloom does a good job in the unenviable position of the Trojan's Favorite Nancy. After he fails on the battlefield his costumes began looking more and more like mumus.

    4. I think Brad Pitt is a good actor; but he has a strange inability to sound convincing in anything but contemporary roles. Also - I wish the filmmakers had taken more pains not to travel in the "Legends of the Fall" grooves. And did I see a CGI tear roll down his face?

    5. Sometimes in movies I like to think ahead to what the action figures might be like, and what their "special action" might be when you press the button on their back. Here are my suggestions for Troy:

      Achilles - Special button: He leaps up in the air, and also glistens.

      Ol' King Priam - Special button: He dodders up the funeral pyre and lights it tearfully.

      Agamemnon - Special button: His voice rises slightly in pitch as he decries Achilles.

      Achilles' Number One Mermadon - Special button: Looks incredulously at Achilles when the hero announces that they are leaving.

      Also, the "Helen" and "Parris" action figures would feature embedded magnets which would draw them together.

      Posted by Chris on 05/24/04

    May 11, 2004

    Vampire Babe Rating: 7/10

    My idea of the "Van Helsing" character is basically an elder retired professor advising younger men how exactly to do away with the Count. He doesn't so much do the running and jumping himself, he stays back at the manor and sharpens the stakes. Even Anthony Hopkins' turn in the role was a bit muscular for me. But! I'm always game to try something new, and the new "Van Helsing" looked to be a giant reunion of Universal monsters, and that could be fun.

    Could have been, I said. I did not expect chills from this movie, but at least thrills. But no. Sadly, no. No.

    The problems with the movie... are legion. It begins to unravel within minutes. There's not much to the story, no surprise there, but I also don't care much about the characters. And the CGI was laid on with a trowel. Computer Generated Image-wise, the movie is like a single fat-free cupcake with a wedding cake's worth of icing laquered on.

    Do us a favor next time: dispense with the exposition entirely. Jesus Christ, it was like watching a porn film where you have to watch the studly pizza delivery man get the order, actually make the pizza, then go out to the car, verify directions, then make his way to the neighborhood with the house, and inside, FINALLY, the three blonds that are really really turned on by pizza deliverymen.

    You could pick out the movies that Stephen Sommers cribbed from without straining, and in fact this is what I had to do to stay entertained. Yes, yes, he likes James Bond, so now Van Helsing is a 19th century James Bond working for the Vatican, complete with a secret Vatican "Q" branch run by monks. How clever.

    Yes, yes, like nearly everyone else making fantasy movies right now, Sommers is unduly impressed by "Batman," which is to say, when the villain and hero finally meet there will be much talk of how their origins are intertwined. Dracula doesn't exactly say "I made you? You made ME!" at the climax, but he might as well have.

    He was obviously taken with the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" as well, as he stuffs every movie monster except maybe the Invisible Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon into the plot. And I was put in mind of "Return of the Jedi" a great deal, as Sommers uses Lucas's patented "battle on three fronts" set-up at the end, as well as a funeral pyre and ghostly apparitions of fallen comrades. He finds a way to work in his love for "Alien" films when Dracula and his brides have thousands of alien vampire babies that are stored in gooey, cobwebby egg sacs.

    And, finally, although who could blame him, Sommers loved Francis Coppola's "Dracula." They really should have thanked Gary Oldman in the credits for Richard Roxburgh's performance.

    And, the CGI. Wow. The problem with the CGI in the movie is the same with a lot of movies like this: they rely exclusively upon it for all effect.

    Gravity is non-existent and everyone in the movie seems to be granted provisional superhero status. At one time or another, every single person in the movie is weightless. At one point a poor fellow is morphing into a werewolf (there is a lot of morphing in the movie), and he for some reason slides up a wall to the ceiling as he does so. No reason for it, except that they could.

    If everyone can more or less fly, then it's not thrilling to see someone make a breathtaking swing across a chasm, for instance. I don't care if someone is going to fall, because I know they'll land lightly on their feet. Nor is there a need to worry about a character that has been punched in the face so hard that they fly through a wall - if it happens thirty times.

    Remember the "Superman" tagline? "You will believe a man can fly." Well, I did, and I do, and I don't think it was just because that was a real man suspended by real wires. Chronic abusers of CGI should ask themselves if we will believe their vampire can really fly.

    It fails on chills, thrills, story and character, so that leaves... the vampire babes. The brides of this Dracula rate a seven out of ten, ten being Monica Belluci & Co. in Coppola's "Dracula." Sommers again follows Coppola's lead by casting amazingly exotic European actresses as the brides, or the daughters, or whoever they are. One problem with the vampiresses: when they morph into harpy form, they also conveniently morph a set of modest full-body fur. What a shame.

    The actors: Kate Beckinsale needs an injection of her former Shakespearean gravitas, STAT. She's done serious damage to herself with her latest vampire flicks. Who is she hanging out with that convinced her she wasn't alluring and sexy enough?

    And the problem with casting Hugh Jackman as a dark loner! Looking for the secrets of his mysterious past! While fighting villains with amazing powers! is that he's really already done that. Twice. And very well. Sommers must have realized that on some dim level, but the decision to give Van Helsing a sensitive side does not come off at all.

    Two stand-out annoyances:

    1. We're in the Vatican Q Branch, and David Wenham as "Carl" the friar (Having fallen a long way from "Faramir" in Lord of the Rings, it seems) has been toying with a mysterious device that he has found. "It emits the light equal to that of the sun," he says. "But I don't know what it's for." YES. WHATEVER COULD SUCH A PLOT DEVICE BE USED FOR. OH WELL. WHY NOT BRING IT ALONG AS WE GO OFF TO FIGHT THE VAMPIRES.

    2. The climactic battle between Dracula and the Van Werewolf. I don't mind so much the legend being rewritten so that Dracula can only be killed by a werewolf (sigh), but after all the CGI morphing into Maleficent the Dragon and flying away that Dracula has done throughout the movie, he chooses to follow Neo's Rules of Fighting for the climactic battle: Don't fly away, even if you can. Just stay on the ground and fight it out like a man.

    Is this to be the CGI analog of the Marquis of Queensbury rules of fighting? No biting, no eye-gouging, all punches above the belt, and only sissies fly away. Now spit in your palm, shake, and go at it, boys.

    Posted by Chris on 05/11/04

    I so so so so wanted to love this movie, if only to preserve my love for Hugh Jackman, but as soon as I saw the 'too fluid movement' of Dr. Hyde, I was afraid we were doomed.

    Indeed, I almost laughed aloud when Van Helsing said, with one Wolverine Eyebrow Raised:

    WHO'S HUNTING WHOM?????!??!

    We need a chorus of trumpets just then.

    and...did you notice the subtle nod to wolverine at the end (or was that just another movie theft), when He turns into the werewolf and flicks his claws out with an audible SNIKT sound?

    Come on everyone. COME ON!

    Posted by: friend jessica at May 11, 2004 11:50 AM

    I missed that reference, but now that I think about it, it could be nothing else.

    Another bit of dialogue I'd put up there with WHO'S HUNTING WHOM is when we briefly pause the action for Kate Beckinsale to stare wistfully into the distance and remark how she's never seen the sea. Jesus.

    Posted by: Chris at May 11, 2004 12:02 PM

    May 7, 2004

    Supersize Me

    Of course, we all have the information about junk food. No one is willing to make a case for how healthy it can be except for a lawyer or a McDonald's CEO. But still people go and eat there.

    I am definitely one of those people, but I have not been back to a McDonald's since seeing "Supersize Me" in January. I also started going to the gym. Was it this movie that pushed me into action? Definitely.

    The brilliant part of this documentary is that in addition to all the humorous criticism and perspective, it also tells the truth about McDonalds: and the truth is that their food TASTES GREAT. Their food is AWESOME. I could go ALL THE TIME. It's bad for me, I have all the facts, I know that we're one of the fattest countries around, and no, I haven't been there in months. BUT - that doesn't mean I'm not thinking of going today.

    The flip side of this - and another thing that's great about the film- is the way it reveals how the "healthy" foods are so comparatively bland. I'm sorry, it's true. When the vegan girlfriend prepares a "last healthy meal" for filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, and when she is later preparing a "detox" diet, my thought was, yick.

    This to me is the masterstroke of the movie. I appreciate people getting the information about healthy eating out there, but it pisses me off when they act like the choice is easy. Big Mac, or a cup of rice? Give me a break.

    Coda: I don't want to come across like a born-again healthy person here. I may not have been back to McDonald's, but I HAVE been back to Metro's Pizza (source of the best pizza in the world, if that kind of thing interests you), Leona's for their wings, I discovered a place that sells Krispy Kreme near me, and various other restaurants.

    So do I still eat junk food? Yes - but not NEARLY as often. More like as a Friday reward. But not every Friday. And not at McDonald's.

    Posted by Chris on 05/ 7/04

    brother, if loving a bowl of rice is wrong, i don't wanna be right...get me?

    Posted by: friend jessica at May 7, 2004 11:41 AM

    May 5, 2004

    Review: Godsend

    I was so so excited about "Godsend." It looked to be another movie in the devil-child genre, movies which invariably scare me because of my natural fear of devil-children.

    To be fair, I DID experience a slowly mounting horror during this film - but not in the way that the filmmakers wanted. Damned if they didn't expose their near-complete lack of understanding of what cloning or genetics is or can be; a real shame, since the plot basically hinges on it.

    Watch this movie if only for the purely ridiculous, completely ludicrous scene in the church where the De Niro character - after rather implausibly suffering a man-handling from Greg Kinnear - reveals the true villainry he's been up to in the genetics lab. He may as well have turned to the camera and said "This plot resolution wouldn't have passed muster in a $16,000 Roger Corman film from the sixties. Please forgive me for uttering these words."

    I can think of eight ways that the movie could have been rewritten to make it, if not good, then at least a loosely connective series of plot points, which is more than the "Godsend" folks could. This is the kind of movie that actually lowers the stock of the good actors involved.

    Posted by Chris on 05/ 5/04

    April 29, 2004

    iPhoto Limitations

    There are so many features I love in iPhoto, like the built-in red eye correction, the cropping tools, the ability to zoom in and out, the fancy screensaver function, and above all the ability to export to a web page, that I finally moved my picture-storin' enterprise over to the Mac side of my desk from XP.

    But - and let me first don my full body Haz-Mat suit because I am about to be pelted with rotten lettuce heads and tomatoes from the militants - Apple could take a page out of XP's book on the way iPhoto organizes all the photos.

    1. My biggest gripe is that iPhoto stands between you and the way your Mac actually stores the picture files on your hard drive. Why do the actual folders that hold your picture files not follow the same "album" structure you create in iPhoto? This is the way iTunes stores its music files, and the way XP deals with them as well.

    XP doesn't have nearly as many functions as iPhoto, but it gets one thing right: if a folder "senses" that it is being used just for pictures, additional functions surface (simple picture rotation, thumbnail representation, slideshows). But it is still just a folder on your hard drive, where the pictures can be sorted by size, title, date, etc.

    (iPod stores songs in its hidden folders in a similar fashion to iPhoto, so maybe it has to do with distributing files in a Unix-optimized way for quick access?)

    Why does it matter how iPhoto actually stores images it imports? Because its built-in organizational abilities aren't so hot:

    2. When you import photos, they are all thrown in one gigantic Library. You can pull shortcuts to them into a separate album, which is the point of the whole program, but if you ever want to actually delete the file, such as after you've discovered that it looks like crap, you'll have to go back and find it in the big Library, where everything is all thrown together. After you pass the 1000 mark, there get to be quite a bunch of pictures in there to go through. And there's no way to sort them, unless you want to drag them all by hand.

    3. Sometimes I have little 10-second movies on my camera. It would be nice if iPhoto would help me deal with them, too.

    4. Since there's no sorting ability, I'd like the chance to give image files a certain prefix upon importing - something XP offers - but there's no option for that in iPhoto.

    5. I love the ability to export the pictures to a web page, but some additional features would be nice. I find myself puzzling over the "maximum width" and "maximum height" thing, wondering how it's going to deal with the difference between landscape and portrait images, every single time. And not everyone wants to follow the iPhoto model of thumbnail page linking to full-sized pictures. I invariably end up opening an HTML editor to fine-tune the pages.

    Posted by Chris on 04/29/04

    April 21, 2004

    Little Friend

    The book starts with a strong chapter and never returns to that strength. Tartt sets up the mystery in the first pages - the Cleve family's youngest son Robin is found dead, hanging by the neck from a tree in the front yard. Who did it? How could it have happened when his family was so close by? How could no one have heard anything?

    We never find out, though, because the murder mystery isn't really what Tartt is interested in. Instead we follow Robin's sister Harriet several years later, when she decides to devote her life to solving the mystery; but not really because she's a nine-year old girl with not much of an attention span or ability to focus on a goal. So we follow her as she sometimes focuses on her brother's murder, but mostly goes snake-catching with her friend, hangs around the house being bored, gets sent to a horrible Christian camp, and mourns the dismissal of the family's housekeeper.

    I suppose you could say the plot is purposefully meandering because we are seeing everything through the eyes of a little girl; but no matter what stylistic goals Tartt achieved for herself, it was a bit of a disappointing slog to work through more than 500 pages without a resolution to the murder.

    If they ever make a movie* it will be just like "Mystic River" - the main thing for people won't be so much the murder mystery as, did they get the details of the setting right? Were the accents proper?

    (Note: In thinking about this book I came across a good site that indexes book reviews:

    *And why haven't they made a movie of her first, more exciting novel, The Secret History?
    Posted by Chris on 04/21/04

    I think Jessica read this book. I might have even purchased it for her. But I forget stuff like that. What was my name again?

    Posted by: The Fat Guy at April 21, 2004 12:37 PM

    It's a shame that I had to have Donna Tartt killed after reading this book.

    I will wet my pants a little bit if the Secret History is ever made into a film. Maybe I need to read that again. I loved it so much.

    Posted by: friend jessica at April 22, 2004 12:10 PM

    March 29, 2004

    "Jersey Girl"

    I laughed at parts of this movie, and the little girl was almost über in her adorability. I mean this is the prototypical, utter, complete, Jungian archetype of Cute Little Girl; when philosophers conjecture about a Platonic Ideal of the Cute Little Girl, this is the one they are thinking about. That, plus the charm of Ben Affleck will be enough for a lot of people with this movie. But with every hour that has passed since I saw it, the movie has sunk lower and lower in my opinion, until now, three days later, I have come to the realization that it is just bad.

    So Kevin Smith wants us to know that he is a father now, and to prove it, here is his movie with a father and daughter and some Sad Scenes about the mother, so we will know he is a serious grown-up filmmaker.

    But he has added not one single skill to his bag of director tricks since "Clerks." Which is fine if you happen to be delighted with those tricks, and I admit I was - up until the opening frames of "Dogma," when Smith choose to fill several screens with his written Director's Statement, preparing us, I suppose, for his Big Blistering Assault on the Church. For some reason his monumental immaturity only struck me at that moment, and for the rest of that film I was just embarassed for all involved.

    Smith must have been absolutely mobbed by sycophants after the success of "Clerks," or maybe he had an unassaultable tower of an ego to start with. What else could explain how well he has managed to insulate himself from his own shortcomings and consistently not progress past them?

    The lengthy animated logo for his "View Askew" company says it all, as his beloved Jay and Silent Bob stumble over each other in a little bit of slapstick business that goes on perhaps five times too long. Is there anyone who finds these characters as clever as Smith himself? He is perfectly delighted with everything he thinks up - it is all just too cute for revision. Here is a filmmaker who thinks non-sequitor references to other films are a laudable goal by themselves, who cannot resist scribbling individual personal notes to cast members, God ("I am a fan of His, and apparently He is of me"), and the apparently vicious tabloids in his credits.

    What does it matter if you can repeat a shot from Citizen Kane, if it's in this movie and in support of nothing? Does he even know that he rips off a line and situation from "Kramer vs. Kramer" in one scene? Why does Ebert give him the benefit of the doubt for employing the tired cliches of Character Reconciliations Onstage During A School Play and the Lone Clapper at the end of his movie? Can we not all practically call out the music cues in advance for when he will fade up the Slow Bruce Springsteen Ballad over an emotional scene? Does anyone else read his interviews about how he had to "reign in" renowned cinematographer Vilmos ("Close Encounters," "Deer Hunter," "Heaven's Gate," for Christ's sake) Zsigmond and simply marvel at the arrogance? Why are newspapers asking him what he thinks about "The Passion," as if "Dogma" made him some sort of spokesperson for Catholicism?

    Smith obviously labors at having a distinctive style to his movies, and indeed his dialogue is smarter than most. But the problem with putting so much of your personality into a movie is that if you are relentlessly immature, then so are your movies. Affleck does more than a decent job in this, but he (as well as Jason Lee and Matt Damon) need to realize their debt to Kevin Smith is paid; they need to align themselves with only top scripts and top directors from here on out.

    Posted by Chris on 03/29/04

    "The Ladykillers"

    The Coen Bros. are my favorites, so it pains me to say that the trailer for this film had all the good parts. I chuckled throughout at Tom Hanks and the others, but this was still only a slight comedy, in the same way that "Intolerable Cruelty" was.

    I long for another "O Brother" or "Miller's Crossing," but in the same month that "Scooby Doo II" came out, let's reflect that only a slight Coen brothers movie is better than the best others have to offer.

    PEOPLE! This is why I insist on getting to the theatre early enough to see the trailers! Sometimes that is the best you will have of a movie!

    In fact I suggest that some filmmakers might JUST make the trailer to a film. If it's exciting enough, they can always go ahead with the whole thing.

    Posted by Chris on 03/29/04

    March 26, 2004

    Review: "Ring"

    Not the movie, but the science fiction novel from Stephen Baxter. I was in the mood for some "hard" sci-fi three weeks ago, and as penalty I've been lugging around Baxter's 500-page-plus treatise since then.

    The story would have all the makings of a great read, dealing with the last survivors of humanity going forward and backward millions of years in time in an alien spaceship because some strange force is eating all the stars in the universe. Except that Baxter is much more interested in talking about things like how a G-class star decays or how fast photinos fly or how many superstrings might have been around at the Big Bang than he is dealing with "characters."

    His characters don't so much interact as they do deliver long speeches at each other about event horizons and time-like travel and neutrinos and radiation and what might be going on deep inside the Sun. The book should have been called "The Lives of the Stars."

    To make matters worse, once he has set up a fabulous futuristic society made nearly immortal by an undescribed nanotechnology, he then plunges them into primitivism, so that we're left with people running around a jungle with names like Spinner-of-Rope and Catcher-of-Frogs. And then they're STILL talking about how the stars die.

    He also says the word "baryonic" about ten thousand times throughout the book, leading me to call for a temporary embargo of all such particles. Too bad, as I understand from about a hundred monologues in the book that those are the good sort.

    Here's someone who does this sort of long-term sci-fi thing much, much, much better: Robert Reed, in "Marrow."

    Posted by Chris on 03/26/04

    March 22, 2004

    Review: "Dawn of the Dead"

    Great matinee fun, and it had secret girlfriend Sara Polley in it - what more could I want? Yes, yes, Romero's original had more social commentary (Zombies in a mall! Get it? ZOMBIES IN A MALL!), but so what.

    On the zombie movie scale, this doesn't make it as far as Danny Boyle's brilliant recent flick "28 Days Later," and it never quite shocked the hell out of me the way at least one shot of Romero's did, but it's still a lot of fun. If you love this horror sub-genre, then you should see it, but if you're one of those, you probably already have.

    Also, I saw two trailers that worked me into a frenzy: "Van Helsing," and "Around the World in 80 Days" with Steve ("24-Hour Party People") Coogan.

    Posted by Chris on 03/22/04

    The movie succeeded for me because it amply used the leitmotifs of a) zombies running around, while on fire and b) a montage in which people with no welding experience suddenly weld together metal and turn a minivan into a tank. Random acts of welding! Zombies running around, while on fire!

    I miss slow, shambling zombies.
    I miss awkwardly constructed social commentary - though this movie did have some of that going for it.

    I encourage you to check out to see how well you might fare in a zombie attack.

    Posted by: Jennifer at March 23, 2004 10:02 AM

    Review: "Eternal Sunshine..."

    Push your way past the curtain of universal praise for Charlie Kaufman that surrounds this film, if that kind of thing turns you off - because this is a movie you should see. It's original and good, and we're still talking about the characters in it a few days later.

    And it is the characters we're talking about, not the fantasy elements of the story, or the clever construction of the plot. The story tells us that there's a company that erases painful memories for people, and then it has already moved passed that into what that means for its characters - not how it might work.

    It doesn't fetishize that sci-fi idea with shiny props and redundant exposition for a whole reel. There's never a scene where we see Jim Carrey suddenly realize "You mean... I'M INSIDE MY OWN MEMORIES?!?" to bring the slower members of the audience up to speed.

    Similarly, though much has been made about the timeline of the film - starting at the end, then looping back on itself, and at what points is the main character "inside his head" reliving a memory (as it's being deleted by the memory-deletion techs) or actually experiencing something - the point of it all is not to decode some puzzle or make your way through a labyrinth. Everything is in the service of the love story, which is interesting because it's a story that we can all recognize and have probably lived - not just the standard series of boy meets girl, boy loves girl, girl rejects boy, boy tries something zany to get back together with her, etc. peaks and valleys.

    It is interesting that this movie is around at the same time that I'm debating once again the merits of the mind-scarring "Irreversible" with some friends. It's still beyond me why that film is given the time of day. And here again, like "Memento," is an example of a film that actually uses non-linear chrononology in the service of something - the theme of memory - instead of just a way to distract from the fact that there's little to the film except shock value.

    P.S. I thought I remembered that "Lacuna" was a part of the brain, but I was wrong: \La*cu"na\, n.; pl. L. {Lacun[ae]}; E. {Lacunas}. [L., ditch, pit, lake, orig., anything hollow. See {Lagoon}.] 1. A small opening; a small pit or depression; a small blank space; a gap or vacancy; a hiatus.
    Posted by Chris on 03/22/04

    March 16, 2004

    Review: "Spartan"

    Put aside your fear of David Mamet and your tongue-clucking over his stylized use of language, for this is a top-notch, tense, twisty-plotted exciting thriller with liberal use of the violence that you kids love so much in movies these days. As I left the theatre I was just BEGGING some street tough to try to pull some of his shenanigans for I would have SWIFTLY and PROFESSIONALLY battered him into unconsciousness, much as one Mr. Valerie J. Kilmer did in the film to so many thugs who were not acting in the manner that he'd have liked them to.

    Yes, there are characters not so much using the Normal Talk which is so prized by some drama fans, but in THIS movie, unlike, say, in "Oleanna," where it made you only want to slap, Slap, SLAP, SLAP! SLAP! SLAP! the people, DAMNED be their arcs and DAMNED be their motivations, just TALK!!!! RIGHT!!!! HERE, it serves the notion that you are listening to professionals speak to one another in the shorthand and almost coded parlance of their trade.

    I recommend this movie to all those who enjoy movies. And I can only wonder what conflict my friend Jessica must be in, who is a Known Eye-Roller at Mamet, but then let me inform her that the movie concerns a white slavery ring. A white. Slavery. Ring.

    Posted by Chris on 03/16/04

    Sold me.

    I want to put in a plug for Lana's Rain - local filmmaker, set in Chicago. Some overly-lurid POV tricks and an overly-sappy romance, but still, a solid, gritty-feeling movie that focused on characters and story. Great acting by the lead.

    Posted by: Jennifer at March 17, 2004 10:34 AM

    Review: "Secret Window"

    I didn't remember this Stephen King story, and now that I have seen the movie I remember why: he covered the same territory in a much more interesting way in "The Dark Half." (Oops! That's a bit of a spoiler, sorry.) This one is a little bit obvious. Maybe it was a dry run for "Dark Half?"

    (Don't write in pointing out that one was written before the other or something - I'm not that interested.)

    I like John Torturro, but he was a weird choice for this role. His turn as the shadowy man from Mississippi just reminded me of his character from "O Brother Where Art Thou."

    Posted by Chris on 03/16/04

    March 10, 2004

    Review: The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse

    Thanks to my itchy 1-Click Purchase finger I had this book ordered and on its way from Amazon after reading an interesting review online, but I wish I'd just spotted it in a bookstore instead. You could read all the good bits about strange mental illnesses and quaint folk remedies just standing in the aisle at Barnes & Noble.

    The book unfortunately reads like a term-paper done by a very bright senior more than a professionally-written survey of a lively subject. It's padded out with several useless pages of charts cross-referencing herbs, roots and flowers with what people in ye olden times thought they would cure or kill. It also quotes freely from web-sites and other, presumably better-written books, leading me to wonder, could I publish a book of movie reviews based primarily on things I read on Metacritic? And it lingers a bit too long on the "ickiness" - and apparent pandemic - of tapeworms.

    There are some very interesting sections on "zany" mental problems, especially for those prone to self-diagnosis, but the closer a bookstore positions this title to the counter with all the miniature books about cats, the better.

    On balance, it's not a bad place to start to lead you on to other, more thorough books (or websites) and is slim enough that you don't have to sacrifice too much time.

    Posted by Chris on 03/10/04

    February 23, 2004


    I always feel bad for actors you see that have been hired to work at corporate events or maybe theme parks. Here are guys that have studied Shakespeare and gone through all the tribulations of studying acting in order to be onstage or screen - and now they're dressed up like elves, in ridiculous costumes with giant heads, singing songs to a bunch of wailing, snotty kids. Say what you will about having to pay your dues, I think it's a shitty, humiliating way to have to earn a paycheck between auditions.

    I'm not sure what I was reading a week ago that made me add "Altered States" to my Netflix list, but add it I did and it arrived Friday afternoon. And after watching it I feel that same sort of big-head costume elf-sympathy for William Hurt and Blair Brown in this film. I feel that sympathy for ANYONE that has starred in a Ken Russell film.

    Here are two excellent, accomplished actors forced to make their way through the most unbelievably heavy-handed symbolism, having to utter almost incomprehensibly dense scientific jargon, presented with an obstacle course of abstract imagery to act against instead of meaningful scenes, and doing their best to be as serious and passionate about it as possible.

    When those hippies into TM tried to levitate the Pentagon, are we not sure that what they managed to do instead was levitate this screenplay into some studio exec's "Greenlight" pile?

    Do they keep the same crucifixes and stark backdrops and goat-heads around for every Ken Russell film? I mean, why sell them off? Put them in Ken's Religious Imagery Storage Locker - he's just going to want them again, right?

    A glance at IMDB shows that it was Hurt's first film and Brown's second theatrical film. My congratulations to them for sticking it out and making it past the "Navy Pier" stage of their acting career.

    Posted by Chris on 02/23/04

    January 19, 2004

    Something Definitely Gave

    Review: Something's Gotta Give

    I guess I went to see this instead of "Monster" because I was on my own and knew Ami wasn't interested in "Something's Gotta Give." It went from flat to bad to wretched. I kept thinking - you know, the questions and problems and feelings of a 50ish woman suddenly dating a 60 + man - that previously only dated 20 + hotties - COULD be compelling. Wouldn't it be more interesting to see someone of Diane Keaton's ilk actually deal with that, rather than having to jump through all those gratuitous, obligatory, and predictable screenplay hoops?

    The last hour or so was just embarassing and a waste of two good actors. I tried to have an out-of-body experience by mentally naming every Keaton / Nicholson movie I could. I would have left if I weren't hemmed in on both sides by other customers.

    All this movie needed to actively, completely suck would have been a montage where they all danced to some James Brown song. Oh, it featured a montage, all right, just not a Chris Columbus-type montage.

    And is there anything LESS cinematic than seeing two people send instant messages to one another?

    By the way - I am working and blogging on MLK, Jr. day because we are leaving for Sundance on Wednesday and I need to get some stuff done. Please infer no political statement on my part - I am an active supporter of MLK, Jr.'s tenets and beliefs.

    Posted by Chris on 01/19/04

    January 5, 2004

    The "Evoke Haunting Chorus" option

    Some reviews:

    Big Fish - God bless Tim Burton for making the kinds of movies he does I suppose, but "Big Fish" feels basically the same as all his others, except for "Edward Scissorhands," "Beetlejuice," and "Ed Wood" - long on great visuals, but I'm not too interested in the characters. Luckily I have been trained through repeated severe negative reinforcement not to have high expectations of Tim Burton movies, so I can enjoy them for what they do provide.

    "Big Fish" wants to be in that category of modern Southern fable that "Forest Gump" invented, where Dixieland is a sort of magically backward place with comic exaggerations and adorable impossibilities, like a present-day Uncle Remus story. But the difference between "Forest Gump" and "Big Fish" is that I cared a lot more about Forest in between his magical adventures, and I really didn't care at all about Ewan MacGregor's character, nor relate very much to Billy Crudup's character's complaint about his father.

    But congrats to Danny Elfman for keeping his mouse-pointer away from the "Evoke Haunting Chorus" option for this movie score. Nice restraint!

    Paycheck - Honestly, I haven't seen it, but the first thing I asked FattyFat (who DID see it) was, "Did John Woo use a lot of doves in his slow-motion action scenes?" FattyFat laughed and said that there might have been a dove or two.

    More doves! I mean, come ON! At some point it stops being a trademark and just becomes silly! FattyFat improvised a scenario wherein John Woo has a Billy Carter-like brother-in-law in the trained dove business that had me laughing.

    "Legend" Ultimate Edition DVD - I may have gone a little nuts buying shiny disks for myself in the last few weeks. But I'd always wanted this DVD. I was excited to see the "director's cut" of a movie that I've NEVER thought was really great, or maybe even good, but the atmosphere and subject has always been so cool, that I come back to it about once a year. And I realized a more specific reason that I watch it every so often, despite its hokum: Tim Curry as Darkness as the best devil EVER in the best devil makeup EVER.

    It came with two DVDs, the U.S. theatrical release, which is the old, "bad" one, and the European release, which is the new, "good" one. The new, "good" one is cut differently, and has a completely new musical score, or rather, the ORIGINAL score, by Jerry Goldsmith. I'm glad they gave us both versions, because I frankly find it a bit simplistic to present this new version as the Best version of the movie, and now the old one is the Bad version. Because frankly, I find this one to be just a Different version, which is Better in some ways but Still Bad in others. To their credit, Ridley Scott and the other filmmakers profess a lot of love for the Tangerine Dream score (written and produced in just three weeks?!?), but it is lumped in with the "badness" of the earlier version. Which I think is a mistake.

    (And what is it with the U.S. releases of movies being different? What is it about us that we cannot deal with what the Europeans can? Why do we have the "Triplets of Belleville" and not "Belleville Rendezvous?" Why do people think we will not like a "Sorcerer's Stone" as much as a "Philosopher's Stone?")

    The most interesting question about the legend of "Legend" is, how could Scott have possibly have made such a drastic change as getting rid of a Jerry Goldsmith score based on so little (a bad response from a possibly stoned preview audience)?

    Posted by Chris on 01/ 5/04

    December 14, 2003

    Reviews: A movie, and some TV shows

    24, Seasons 1 & 2:

    We've just finished Season 2 on DVD. I'm very glad that we discovered these on DVD, not on broadcast, for the reason that we got to watch them when we wanted to, without commercial interruption. I'm also not sure if Fox is as bad as NBC about showing reruns early in a "season" to spread it out, but I didn't want to find out with such a suspenseful show.

    Both seasons were great - we were consistently on the edge of our seat, and sometimes had to watch two in a row. Standouts were not just Sutherland but Penny Johnson Jerald as First Lady Macbeth. TIVO was introduced to my home too late to start grabbing Season 3, but I'm not sure I would have anyway. DVDS are the way to go with this series. God bless Netflix.

    I see now what my friends were talking about when they said Kimberly Bauer was a useless character in pointless plotlines in this season. But come on - the show clearly knows that some people are tuning in to see Elisha Cuthbert.

    Battlestar Galactica

    At least the first episode. Sorry, I've missed the other ones. I had low expectations of this show and initially felt I was justified when there was so much kiss-kiss in the first hour and very little bang-bang. They were clearly very influenced by "Species" and "Terminator 3," using "Number 6" Tricia Helfer for all they were worth. But I felt it quickly picked up in the second half hour, and I was very impressed with the effects. Great new Cylons! Great Cylon ships! Great space battles!

    Sidenote: The new thing in sci-fi space battles seems to be the quick-zoom-in to some bit of action that gives the impression that the footage was shot under the stress of battle - perhaps handheld. I've seen it in "Episode II" and now here. If it goes no farther, I'll be happy,

    Posted by Chris on 12/14/03

    December 3, 2003


    The Missing

    Scary cowboy fun, and the creepiest villain for a long time. Again with Blanchett being brutalized! Cut it out, people! We came home and watched "Open Range," so it was a day of Westerns. I could never have made it in this period because of the toilet paper issue alone. I thought Ebert was unfair to this one.

    Matrix: Revolutions

    On second thought this gets a B-. I think I was grading on a curve just to show I wasn't a crab. Great effects but if you can't finish the conversation, don't start it.

    Lies & The Lying Liars Who Tell Them

    What can you say? It feels like being vindicated when you read what's in here. It feels like you aligned yourself with the smarter, righter, of the factions in the country right now. It feels like sharp stuff that will completely go over the heads of those that are targeted in the book, because they are so greedy and evil that their sense of humor has been stunted.

    The Things They Carried

    Scary Vietnam fun, and the creepiest villains for a long time. Just kidding. I enjoyed it, and would recommend it along with Roger Hayes' On Point as a good look at what they went through on the ground.

    Posted by Chris on 12/ 3/03

    November 18, 2003

    Book review

    Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman - C

    I have not been blown away by Gaiman the way others have, particularly with the Sandman stuff, although Neverwhere was enjoyable. If I had been maybe I would have been more into his half-hearted efforts to imitate Adam's flippant style of prose. As it was, it really just struck me as an odd fit.

    But I should be careful not to confuse my disappointment with what I learned about Adams with the style of this rather light biographical treatment of the Hitchhiker series (or incarnations or cottage industry or mythos or whatever). I have always revered the Hitchhiker books, and although one can never know how one would handle the pressures of getting really really famous and successful fairly suddenly, I was really struck with how much Adams blew a lot of opportunities.

    And I don't just mean blew the chance to have a really good movie made of the Hitchhiker's series, because I'm not sure such a thing is necessary or even possible, or blew the chance to write more Hitchhiker books, because clearly he wasn't interested in that. But how he blew the chance to do MORE. One of the main things I took from learning about how he worked was how much time he wasted.

    This from Mr. Galactic Battlegrounds.

    I realize this is heresy in some circles. And probably my disappointment comes primarily from how frustrating and sad it is that Adams is gone, and I loved the few things he did a LOT.

    Posted by Chris on 11/18/03

    Movie reviews

    Master and Commander - A

    Entirely enjoyable and it will serve as a rich source of ambiguous British-sailing talk for years to come, perhaps even supplanting my ambiguous Major General idiom of speaking! Extra points for not dwelling on any of the less savory aspects of 19th-century naval practices!

    Note to movie people, however: one title per movie, please, unless it's a series. I'm looking at the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life people here too. And in case it belongs to a series, your movie gets TWO titles only. I'm looking at you, George.

    Mystic River - B

    Well-acted and enjoyable, but I needed to read some reviews afterwards to remind me that I shouldn't have been so interested in the hunt for the killer as I was the life-like ambiguity of guilt, relationships, abuse, etc. Except that I was.

    This is the kind of movie where people will love to talk about the authentic flavor of the Boston neighborhood, as if that is the sole purpose of movies: to get their settings and accents right. I also sometimes feel Clint Eastwood is a tad too laissez-faire in the visual style of his movies. But the acting IS top-notch.

    Posted by Chris on 11/18/03

    November 6, 2003

    Movie Review

    Matrix: Revolutions - grade: A

    This new Matrix movie is an enormous great white shark: as long as it keeps moving, it is a marvel of efficiency that can't be stopped on its on terms. When it's in action - whoa! That thing is beautiful! Scooping up fish by the dozens, occasionally grabbing a surfer or two, sporting a cone of fear, this thing WON'T STOP! WE HAVE TO CLOSE THE BEACHES, THE FOURTH OF JULY BE DAMNED, THIS THING'S GOING TO KILL US ALL! IT'S JUST THAT GOOD!

    But when it stops moving to deliver a speech about reality, it chokes, starts to sink, and dies. That's because it is built only for speed and action. Sharks don't talk, people. Sharks... don't... talk.

    Every single action sequence in the movie was the best of its sort I've seen in a long time, and overall it was much better than the last film in many respects.

    No matter what else they do, even if they fail miserably, let us always remember that the Wachowskis brought us the Uber Human Aerial Dogfight. Did they watch the fight between Zod and Superman in Superman II as many times as I did and drool? They must have. How many times must the screenplay have mentioned "NEO and AGENT SMITH fly together with enormous force. An ENORMOUS SHOCKWAVE spreads out from them, shattering windows and destroying buildings." or for that matter "The force of the impact sends (INSERT CHARACTER HERE) flying across the room, smashing through the wall." Who cares? It was great.

    They gave us the Slow-Mo Gunfight Amongst Poorly-Plastered Columns (Taking Place Partially On The Ceiling) in this movie. Just when you thought the slow-mo bullet-ballets couldn't be any more gorgeously choreographed, they thought of something different to show us. Hey, what would happen if the bad guys could stand on the ceiling?!? It would rock! It wouldn't necessarily make you less of a target to be on the ceiling, but - rock on!

    And they showed us what it would look like if thousands and thousands of flying mechanical squids attacked our underground city and were bravely held off for a period by hundreds of Robocops. That battle sequence alone was worth the price of admission - great stuff. For these sights, the Wachowskis must always have a place of honor.

    The problem is that it took the movie about a half hour to transform fully into the shark that it needed to be. Up until then, up until the Agent Smith-infected man attacked Trinity part, we had to do some sort of penance in the form of listening to the Oracle talk a lot about nothing - but in a convincing way. Mainly she made a lot of excuses for why she was being played by a different actress. But as far as I can tell, although it has been pointed out that I don't remember many details about the series, nothing she said advanced the plot much in any way at all.

    And for that matter, what did the Oracle EVER add to the plot of any of the films? Can someone tell me what she ever revealed to any of the characters that was hard data and not New Agey-Zen Doublespeak? I'm stopping short of actually looking it up in the screenplays online because, well, I don't care THAT much; but I wouldn't mind someone telling me. I'm probably wrong about this, and I'd love to hear it.

    I'd have liked it if one of the characters not in awe of her had suggested that there is a difference between an Oracle and a Counselor. An Oracle pretty much reveals hidden information; they don't just ask you how you feel about it or tell you you're not ready to hear it or say that it all depends on the choices you'll make. I'm afraid I suffered some Orbital Strain during all of the scenes with the Oracle, and perhaps rudely giggled. Perhaps before she was an Oracle she had an MBA and worked for a consultancy?

    ORACLE: I foresee that you will open up a vast new business space.
    CLIENT: Wow - that's great! When? Q2? Q3?
    ORACLE: I can't say. With choices, it is difficult.
    CLIENT: OK, but can you tell me where this new business space will be?
    ORACLE: That's up to you. Where do YOU think it is?
    CLIENT: I think it might be in the financial services sector.
    ORACLE: Perhaps. Perhaps you will find out when you are ready to know the truth.
    CLIENT: Jesus, this lady's good.

    I mean, it's all well and good to prattle on about how the spoon is not a spoon, but how about some concrete facts that Neo could go on? "Neo, don't throw out that burlap sack, because it's going to be your entire wardrobe once you make it to Zion." THAT would have been useful information. Where was Ben Stiller from Mystery Men to point out that the Oracle was probably just The Sphinx in disguise? "She's just repeating what I just said back - in the form of a QUESTION!"

    Speaking of useless windbags, the Zion Council! Sorry to interrupt the Love-In, fellas, but we've got some giant drilling machine moving towards the Day Care. What was the point of bothering to fill them in on the status of the squid attacks, when they were all clearly busy mounting the annual production of Godspell? Leave the aging hippies alone, Angry Army Man! They've got hemp to sell! Bracelets to make! Pots to fire in the kiln! They're using checmicals to expand their consciousness and you're harshing their groove! Jack on! Jack in! Jack out! Jack off!

    And how about that Frenchman and his luscious Italian girlfriend! As I suspected in the last movie, they appear to have been completely superfluous. What did they actually contribute at all? I'm ready to be taken to school on this, honestly. Maybe Mr. Mother of All Spoilers can tell me. (What's HE doing today? Is he angry that he was wrong? Happy? Sad? Needs some time alone to think about it?)

    Another vast improvement with this film over the others is that what really mattered to the plot happened in the "real" world. My main problem with the first movie - and maybe the second one, although I don't remember much of that one - was that once you figure out it's all an illusion, the next logical step is to take action in the REAL world, not the illusory one. In Revolutions, the only battle of note in the Matrix was with the Smith program, which is as it should have been. And the Uber Human Dogfight finally suggested that they were not bound to the laws of reality, or to an arbitrary contest (We shall settle this battle of wills the only way we can - WITH KUNG FU!).

    The last bit with Agent Smith and Neo was a tad unclear, but by this time I know the mythologies they are referencing and know what they must be suggesting. I think. Who cares?

    Overall, I loved it - I'll buy the comic, the action figures, the screenplay, but maybe not the t-shirt.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 6/03

    October 30, 2003

    Prime Shorts

    I avoid local festivals of film shorts partially because I am lazy but also because the quality of the movies is sometimes spotty and not worth hanging out in a bar I don't like. And I always feel out of place amongst the filmmakers, my bretheren, and wishing I didn't.

    But I went to "Prime Shorts" last night, which is held the last Wednesday of every month, at different places I think but last night at the "Hideout" bar - and had a pretty good time. It's a small place, with a warm and excited vibe, as opposed to somehow aloof and arty. (A' la the vibe of "Jinx" on Division.) There was a girl there doing a Shadow Puppet presentation of famous celebrity deaths - I'm not kidding - and they were selling popcorn and caramel apples. And the apple / popcorn vendors gave a hilarious intermission presentation about their declining sales - complete with a chart - and how they needed everyone to think about buying more caramel apples.

    The shorts: "Secretly Blonde." This was a three-minute short made for the Fast Forward Film Festival, which is one of those "make it overnight" festivals. I think of myself as not being interested in such a thing, because I really do enjoy putting time into a script, but the simple laughs this one got made me think I could be a lazy idiot just afraid to work fast.

    "The Potter's Meal." A long documentary about a man who makes pots, and how natural things are good, and how we come from the earth and so do pots, and that's good. I can't help smirking at these kinds of things. If Christopher Guest had done the same exact movie with the same exact lines delivered the same exact way, it would have been hilarious. But why am I such a cynical ass? This man's living the life. Although, in my defense, the film opens with the memorable line "Sometimes I think too much is said about pots, especially by those that make them." That's funny! Isn't it?

    "The Vest." One of those depressing shorts because it's done by someone that knows movie stars and a cinematographer, and has a budget, and it looks great and is funny.

    I think I usually feel out of place at these things for a big combination of reasons including, I'm not very social anyway and don't hang out; the movies usually seem to be made for much younger sensibilities than mine, and sometimes without much of an eye to quality; that makes me feel old; they are usually held at bars and those are my least favorite places to hang out; that ALSO makes me feel old; I'm jealous of people that can make movies with spontaneity and energy, and don't have to turn it into a months- or years-long production involving long scripts, revisions, rehearsal and post production; sometimes the movies ARE good, which leaves me no excuse.

    Sometimes little fests like this legitimately ARE cliqueish and insular and you get the impression that the kids have been playing with dad's video camera - there was one called "Undershorts" that was the epitome of this. And although there definitely seemed to be a Prime Shorts following, it was not insular but instead fun. I felt a bit like I was down the rabbit hole (especially with the Shadow Puppets) at times, but then I'm a mole-person that never comes out of my cave. I doubt they'd be interested in my movies, but it made me want to try to work in that vein.

    Posted by Chris on 10/30/03

    October 14, 2003

    Review: Kill Bill & Intolerable Cruelty


    It was great to be out with all the fans this weekend. There was a palpable excitement in the air as we entered the theatre! Everyone was there to show their support for Tarantino and the Coens.

    What can I say about "Kill Bill?" It was exciting, super-hip, fun. I want the screenplay, the t-shirt, the soundtrack, and the action figures. I'm going as one of the Crazy 88s for Halloween. My friends and I loved it so much that after we left the theatre we went and immediately turned a car over, and torched it. GO TARANTINO!

    True, the Coens were a little off their game with "Intolerable Cruelty," but I say the Coens off their game are still stronger than others fully on theirs. George Clooney is now my favorite movie star, replacing Harrison Ford. We liked this, but not as much as "Kill Bill;" when we left the theatre, all we did was smash a few store windows and loot a bit. Still, GO COENS!

    The experience as a whole was a bit dampened - or was it improved? - when one of the other movie goers taunted us, sparking a theatre-clearing brawl before the 9PM showing. You should have seen the pile-up in the lobby! It was great, but now I'm suspended from seeing movies for the rest of the month.

    Posted by Chris on 10/14/03

    September 2, 2003

    Review - The Woman In Black


    What spooky fun this play was! By far the most favorite play I've seen here so far. And regular readers will remember an earlier play that I was quite taken with, so that's saying a lot.

    The story in brief: a man hires an actor to help him stage a "performance" of a story that's been weighing heavily on his mind, causing him nightmares for years. He believes by finally getting it out, he'll be rid of it - and the performance will be just for family and friends. The story is of the time, as a solicitor, he visited a remote English manor accessible only when the tide is low, and of the mysterious spectral woman he saw there... and also how it affected his life later.

    The brilliant part of the play is the framing device of the man hiring an actor to help him "perform" the story. They spend a few scenes fussing over the main character's stilted delivery at first, and then hit upon the idea that the actor will play the man's part - whereas the man will play every other part. So the entire play is done with two actors (and one spectral woman). They tell the story at first merely using a single wicker basket that serves as a bed, a horse carriage, a desk, etc., and a coat rack full of jackets. The idea - and the beautifully realized effect is to have the story unfold mainly in our own minds. It was not a play of spectacle so much as haunting mood.

    They also have great fun with sound effects. After leaving the theatre I felt I'd actually spent the night in the haunted mansion with the main character. Three times a blood-curdling shriek made everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - in the theatre sink into their seat. The show also makes liberal use of moody single lights - sometimes candles - and fog effects. The set design is brilliant and bare, and reveals itself very slowly over the course of the play. The back scrim reveals a graveyard behind it, then an enormous staircase up to the mysterious locked room.

    And then there is that ghostly third character. The man is awakened by a thumping upstairs. He creeps up the stairs and finds the room that was locked before is now open. Inside is the room of the child that drowned 50 years ago - and all the toys and clothes look as if they've just been played with. And there in the corner is the rocking chair, rocking by itself. He stops it, then goes back downstairs. He drops his flashlight, and everything goes black. He finds it, turns it on, then turns it around - ILLUMINATING THE FACE OF THE SPECTRAL LADY STANDING RIGHT BEHIND HIM.

    What a play!

    And then there is the history of the theatre itself. This show was at the Fortune, just across from the market at Covent Garden, and Drury Lane. Good grief, the history. It didn't really hit me where I was until I read that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore premiered "Beyond The Fringe" in that theatre. Good God - I'm going to regret not knowing more about the theatrical history in about two weeks.

    Posted by Chris on 09/ 2/03

    September 1, 2003

    Movie reviews

    CYPHER - grade: A (review underway)
    ROGER DODGER - grade: A (review underway)

    STRAW DOGS- grade: A

    Finally saw this classic on BBC, along with an accompanying documentary. Excellent. Like "Roger Dodger," which I compare it to because I saw them close together, it's great to see a movie with not a single wasted shot or line of dialogue.

    SIGNS - grade: C

    I rented this again to find out if my negative feeling towards it has changed. It hasn't - it's still fundamentally disappointing, even though there are good performances and suspense.

    M. Night Shyamalan has done two TOP NOTCH supernatural / fantasy films, and although you may blame my feeling on the marketing of the film or an unfair assumption by me of how the film would deal with its subject matter, I say if Shyamalan does a film ostensibly about alien invasion and then only peripherally deals with the aliens, then I have a right to be disappointed.

    It seems clear he set some strict parameters for himself in the making of the film, stating that he would show as little as possible and let our imagination do the work. Conventional cinematic wisdom holds that this is usually a good course of action (Hitchcock's "Psycho," Spielberg's "Jaws," etc.), but it takes a steady hand. Many moments in the film stick out awkwardly because of how hard he has to strain not to show us something. For instance: The final appearance of one of the aliens becomes frustrating to watch because Shymalan is so intent on showing us only the creature's reflection in a T.V. screen as long as possible. Then: at the height of the tension of aliens forcing their way into a cellar, he refuses to focus on anything but a flashlight and the scuffle of feet. Tension turns to irritation. These are clear stylistic choices that come across as just awkwardly staged moments.

    But that's not the worst of it. The central theme of the film is such a vastly oversimplified cosmology that it became hard for me to keep interest. Shyamalan offers us two choices: believe in a God that has His hand in every detail and who gives clear signs that add up to a happy ending if you follow them, or wallow in an atheist's fear that these aliens represent the End of the World. There's no room for anything else in this story, such as believing in a supreme being that may not offer dream-clues; or aliens that may not have come here to kill us. It might have been different if Shyamalan chose to be subtle about his thesis, but it is firmly foregrounded in the struggle of Mel Gibson's lapsed priest. In fact it is dealt with to the exclusion of the alien invasion portion of this story.

    What is actually worse than THAT, is that Shymalan's demonstration of God's signs that lead the family to salvation is weak and tacked-on. His set-up of the various strange details that eventually add up to the saving grace - the dying wife whispered "swing away," which reminds Joaquin Phoenix to hit the alien with a bat; the little girl has a strange habit of taking one drink of water and then leaving the glasses everywhere, and by the way the aliens cannot stand water - is annoyingly frail.

    Does it really require a woman to be killed and have a final moment of prescience as she dies for someone to get the idea to use a bat hanging beside them on the wall to dispatch an alien? Do the randomly-placed glasses of water strike anyone else as less miraculous and just sort of a plot convenience? Only the son's asthma working to immunize him from the alien's gas attack had any resonance, and by the time it came in to play I felt we'd only really heard about his condition a few scenes before.

    I just changed the grade from a D to a C because, oversimplified thematic elements and alien invasion afterthought aside, Shyamalan truly has a great sense of suspense and visual flair, and there are some great character moments throughout.

    FREDDY VS. JASON - grade: B

    I won't apologize for seeing this, although I will mention that 1) it was an EXTREMELY hot day in London and I just wanted some air-conditioning, and 2) this is only the THIRD Freddy or Jason movie I've actually seen at the movies and not on cable.

    That said, I ended up seeing this on opening day, and it was a whole lot of fun to see with its fans. The moment the two theme songs - really just a few notes for Freddy and then the chi-chi-chi-bah-ah-ah of Jason's theme - were combined over the studio logo at the beginning drew cheers, and that sort of characetrized the whole movie. Something about combining characters from different stories is really big right now.

    In terms of story... who cares. There was a bit of an Othello / Iago thing going between Jason and Freddy that was really fun to watch; and the filmmakers took some time to explore. But when they went after each other in combat, it was truly the Immoveable Object vs. the Unstoppable Force, and there's only so much fun in watching that. Overall, though, it was a clever interweaving of the two different characters, and was REALLY well photographed, if you can believe it.

    I like an occasional teen slasher movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.

    Posted by Chris on 09/ 1/03

    August 11, 2003

    Review: The audience for "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday" at NFT

    I can't seem to find an acceptable audience here. I admit that I'm a bit of an Uncle June when it comes to audience behavior, but if it's not Americans loudly debating whodunnit in the lobby during the "Mousetrap" intermission, it's people giving out giant enormous wheezing guffaws of laughter at Jacques Tati's antics in the French classic "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday."

    Don't get me wrong - it's a great movie, worthy of its classic designation. I will smile fondly and chuckle at this gentle comedy for years to come. But it doesn't really seem like the kind of thing you utterly bust a gut laughing at.

    The key is that it's a Classic. That means that people know it well, and more importantly want to make sure everyone else around them KNOWS they know it well. To emit a bray of Max Cady from Cape Fear laughter every time the main character adorably tips his hat means that you wish to be known as a Discerning Audience Member that is moved by the Great Works.

    One of the few times I wish I'd seen a classic for the first time on the small screen.

    Posted by Chris on 08/11/03

    August 6, 2003

    The Subsequent Review

    So I saw it, thanks to iFilm, a pair of PC speakers stolen from a nearby desk, and a hastily-found AC adaptor with appropriate UK adaptors.

    I give it an A! Good for this guy! Although it really isn't THAT different from Burton's, besides the costume and Batman spitting a good bit, is it? Do Batman and Joker argue about "who made who first" every time they have a battle?

    But I moan needlessly - very nifty.

    Posted by Chris on 08/ 6/03

    August 3, 2003

    Recent films I've seen

    The Hours

    I'm not nuts about this movie the way everyone else is. Does it matter that I have negative interest in Virginia Woolf? Should it? But Julianne Moore is a standout for me. And then I happen to catch...

    Psycho (Gus Van Sant remake)

    On BBC that night, so I get to see her again - in the Vera Miles role. How have I missed the fact that she's such a beautiful woman for so long? Like others, my knee-jerk reaction to this remake was outrage that Van Sant would dare, but it's a cool exercise. Plays get to be remounted again and again with different casts and directors, why not movies? I wish he'd taken it a bit farther afield, though. It's shot-for-shot, I think, except for the two murder scenes, when we get glimpses of some really weird imagery. Ultimately though - an exercise.

    Veronica Guerin

    Perhaps there will be a sub-genre of Cate Blanchett movies, ones where she is beaten bloody by men. She's great - like Julianne Moore just amazingly beautiful - but despite Joel Schumacher's hilarious candor about himself in Esquire magazine, he's not the director for this movie. Neither is this the script for this movie. I knew nothing about Veronica Guerin before the film, having only watched John Boorman's "The General," which deals with Martin Cahill. Cahill is only a peripheral character in "Guerin" and makes a fairly swift and violent exit. I am glad the movie at least tried to preserve the foolhardiness with which this woman went after the drug mob in Dublin, and does not turn it into an Elliot Ness-like crusade. But the complete lack of her film family's reaction to her putting herself and them under threat bothered me. Movies where the wife gets harmed make me squirm in my seat - I needed to see the husband rage at someone - even Veronica.

    Sex is Comedy

    Blech. Movies about making movies are generally fun for me, but I wanted to slap the director - both the character and the actual one - by the time this completely unfunny and boring look into the trials of shooting a sex scene was done. NOTE TO MODERN FRENCH CINEMA: Consider yourself on probation.

    Posted by Chris on 08/ 3/03

    July 15, 2003

    My Brief Conversation with the Lawyer Yesterday: A Review

    Overall, I give my performance on the phone with the lawyer yesterday a B-.

    I definitely could have been more on my game. Dealing with the lawyer who "represented" us during the Landlord Ordeal of '99 was good practice.

    So - Lawyer for Chase Bank gives me a call yesterday, and without preamble begins berating me over how long he's been trying to reach Ami and I. It's a good technique, and my failure to see it as a technique MAY be understandable - but I would have liked to have been quicker. Unfortunately I rose to his taunt, and wasn't extremely articulate. This, more than anything else, is what has lowered my grade.

    I assured him that I had no idea who he was, what he was talking about, and that my phone had been hooked up for quite a long time, but only after a few rounds with him. He should have been more easily and quickly dispatched on this point. Noted.

    (Still, and I'm not disputing the grade, I feel it's worth mentioning the difficulty involved in this area. There's always the problem at my house in separating the telemarketers from those potentially legitimate callers regarding my wife's independent financial affairs, so I'm never quite ready to give someone the COMPLETE heave-ho. It's hard to have one's shield up and at the same time peer out over the edge for those legitimate volleys. And this guy was legitimate - the Saturn WAS, after all, I learn, kept over its allotted lease time [GRRRR].)

    Legitimate or not, he was the very picture of the Asshole Lawyer. (I'm not lumping all lawyers into this category, but let's all admit that this is a very broad demographic.) While I'm still reeling with his claims that we've been completely inaccessible to him, he brushes aside my claims of ignorance of the matter. I AM after all on the lease of this car as well. Fair enough, and well played. Point to him. However, I parry this one well by simply asking that he get to the point. Nicely done! Continue play!

    He then hits me with the one-two-three punch of 1) you owe $2300* 2) Possibly $3400* as you would be liable for court costs as well if Chase Bank chooses to pursue it, but 3) they are willing to settle for $1800*. I handle this well, considering the shock, by demanding that he repeat the only amount that pertains at this point - the final figure. I am ignoring his blustering about court fees. Nice.

    (I find merely jotting down the bullet points of what they're saying helps me to focus on the content and not the asshole delivery, thereby formulating the pertinent questions quickly. This I did, although not without a slight hesitation in looking for a damn piece of paper and pen. Official Dictum Going Forward: Let there always be a pad of paper and a pen near every phone! As I have spoken, so let it be done!)

    He also cuts me off when I begin to ask a question, and I cut him off right back. This is all happening two minutes into my call with this complete stranger; one minute ago I was innocently cleaning the bathroom, mind elsewhere! And it's taken me just seconds to get into fighting form with this creep! A star and a happy face on my paper!

    So, we've bottom lined it all. I get all his contact info and he, mine. (I fumble when looking for a fax number he can send his slimy document too - bad form, that. Addendum to Previous Dictum: Keep current business cards of family on hand for all working fax numbers! Let it be so!)

    In conclusion, the somewhat low grade of B- basically reflects letting Mr. Nice Suit in New York bait me into irritation at his initial smokescreens. But in the comments section of the paper I write "After an initial fumble, young McCaleb managed to get to his feet and defenses fairly quickly. Good work on recognizing this person fairly quickly for what he was. Next time work on cutting through their bullshit quicker."

    *All values are estimates

    Posted by Chris on 07/15/03

    June 24, 2003

    Look Into the Eye

    I saw "The Eye" last night. The movie fails and falters a bit in the last reel*, but it provides three solid scares and some great atmosphere up to that point. So I'm going with: I enjoyed it.

    *I'm not sure actually how much time is on "a reel." Let's assume a half hour.

    Posted by Chris on 06/24/03

    June 23, 2003

    Don't make me confused - you wouldn't like me when I'm confused

    I saw "Hulk" this weekend - I think I liked Ang Lee's multiple camera angles inside moving comic frames - but I wouldn't argue very hard with anyone that found them distracting. Speaking of distracting, CONNELLY. Lee is clearly just as smitten with her as I am, because he lets his camera LINGER and LINGER on her. I'll have to see it a few times (on cable - I probably wouldn't pay matinee prices again) before I can decide.

    I think that the addition of the David Banner part really muddled things. Perhaps it was just too simple to let this be a Jekyll / Hyde story centered on Bruce alone, but I'm not sure the idea of the father meddling with the son's DNA resonates as well as Bruce having to control his OWN self. It's also complicated by the fact that Lee instructed or allowed Nolte to play him just like his homeless character from "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," or perhaps just like himself in real life. I don't think I need Nick Nolte stomping through this superhero movie with his hair flying everywhere and delivering loud, impassioned political speeches.

    What was up with the frog on Banner's hat at the end, too?

    Posted by Chris on 06/23/03

    June 3, 2003

    Big rounds of laughter

    Big rounds of laughter and applause for Lasseter and his team. We saw "Finding Nemo" this weekend. Pixar is just consistently good! Wow!

    Not that there HAS to be something negative in this, but their movies just have something Shrek didn't. Shrek felt a little half-baked to me, even though it has some really funny parts. Pixar movies always just feel really really well-developed.

    I also think it's great how this is three movies in a row now for Pixar where children are depicted as sort of these little ogres to be feared. Great!

    Posted by Chris on 06/ 3/03

    May 13, 2003

    Geek review of "The Program," the animated samurai episode

    I didn't like it - it reminded me of all that I didn't like about the whole "Matrix" story. It's the same problem as all those Star Trek - Next Generation stories that centered on something that happened on the Holodeck. I never feel anything is really at stake in a place where you can be or do anything. Sure, you can die in "real life" if something happens to you in the Matrix, but if you can download how to be a super-mega-Ju Jitsu artist in a second, or how to fly a Huey chopper, or have any weapon at all at your command, what are the chances of dying? You'd actually have to be a big uber-klutz to die. I choose to download the "superhero" program - there. Now you can't hurt me. Nyah.

    The overriding point is, really one shouldn't be questioning it that hard in the first place. And I didn't question it during the other three episodes for some reason. I was just totally into their story. The samurai one brought nothing more to my mind than some geek that wanted to see a hot chick fight with swords.

    Also, I didn't get the logic - the warrior wanted to go BACK to the Matrix with her? Where were they? I thought the Matrix WAS the shared multi-user illusion where you could do things like fight skimpily-dressed women?

    And another thing - no one likes an "It was only a dream" ending.

    Posted by Chris on 05/13/03