Friday, March 16, 2007

Action Guys

I don't have anything against Daniel Craig as an actor,

except that he is boring. Even with his steroided uber body. But I do resent the current producers of Casino Royale for continuing the downward spiral of the action series to the point where I checked out after half an hour and couldn't care less what I might have missed.

Crank is a decidely less ambitious and lower tier escapade, which is part of what makes it much more entertaining than the current 007 franchise product.

And its star, Jason Stratham, a natural athlete with a model's grace and a strong film presence was an obvious oversight in the Bond franchise search for an actor who could have brought off the pre-Connery rough rogue of Casino Royale. Too bad. But I will look forward to the next Stratham actioner and will probably never see another Craig--pumped biceps or not.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The crimes continue

David Fincher extends the Zodiac killer's reach into the 21st Century. The Zodiac committed mayhem on a few innocent bodies but Fincher commits tedium and boredom a few million complicit minds. Let's face it, we even paid for the privilege of sitting through over 2 and a 1/2 hours of drab acting and mindless running about in the rain as if every second counted in gathering material to write a book about crimes that took place a decade and two before. Pointless pointless pointless.

The usual critics were also complicit in touting this dour and hang-dog meandering as something carrying meaning and portent. As least now you have been warned.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

BORAT actually finds time to bore in its 84 brief minutes.

BORAT is okay. It has its good moments. But overall I guess I have to say that my expectations, if not my testicles, exceeded Baron Cohen's grasp.

The effort is there, but the Farrelly Brothers are more entertainingly crude with DUMB AND DUMBER, funnier with THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and way more subversive with KINGPIN than anything in Borat; with Kingpin probably being the best of them all.

The good thing about the Ali G show was its brevity; only the best stuff made it to film. Borat would cut down nicely to about six skits and 40 minutes.

Oscar Watch

I can't say that I thought much about LITTLE CHILDREN. What I thought was that it was a pretty intentional AMERICAN BEAUTY wannabee. It does present some fairly accurate but generally cliche observations of dysfunctional families in suburban America, but I didn't see any arc of purpose or resolution in the story or character development.

I thought the peformances were fairly good, but nothing I would vote any award to. The best performance was by an unseen actor. The FRONTLINE style narration by FRONTLINE narrator Will Lyman is skillfully modulated, inflected and droll, and the movie seems flat when his wry, anthropological comments are not there to enliven the soundtrack and guide us into amused reaction.

This is in that category of films that gives audiences and critics a chance to feel superior to their friends and neighbors. Since we see how badly they suck, it is obvious that we don't. That pandering to the reader and viewer is the only thing this movie is about, it seems to me.


Many years ago I wrote a film for the American Playhouse series on PBS. The title was Labyrinthos. When it was broadcast in 1982 the producers had changed the title to the meaningless King of America. And I mean truly meaningless because the film’s protagonist possessed not regal bearing, ambitions or exalted expectations. He would have been totally happy as a workman at any occupation that would have rewarded an honest day’s labor with an honest salary and a little dignity.

This young Greek immigrant, however, was not to be so lucky. Seduced from his homeland by promises of gainful employment, instead he found himself frustrated and befuddled by the abusive and degrading challenges of industrial exploitation. Something still quite familiar in America.

My thoughts on the labyrinth are generated by a recent viewing of PAN’S LABYRINTH. My earlier use of labyrinth as a metaphor was based on the familiar and usual concepts of the labyrinth as a disorienting place of danger and dread from which the only exit was the point of entry.

As I watched PAN’S LABYRINTH, I was curiously surprised to see that, though the physical appearance of the Faun’s abode was grim and ominous, it was actually a place of refuge, even salvation. The only danger it engages comes from outside sources. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro turns the classical concept of the labyrinth inside out. A more accurate designation for this structure—and title for the movie—would something like “Temple of the Faun”. This would not make the movie any better but it would give me less to criticize.

Actually, I enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth too much to bother with any real criticism. For differing opinions on this film you can check Peterme’s commentary and my replying comment on this site:

I wasn't planning to see Pan's Labyrinth until I discovered that del Toro was also the co-writer and director of The Devil’s Backbone. This story unfolds in a boy’s orphanage in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war. The living conditions are dire and their stark presentation is not for the squeamish. It is, among other things, a ghost story, but the great horrors are inflicted only by the living.Despite the grimness of these two films, I don't feel that del Tory is either a cynic or fatalist. Nonetheless, he doesn't leave his audience with much room for hope.

Good Title

It looks like Babel is becoming the front runner for Best Picture Oscar, but somehow, I still have more regard for the Motion Picture Academy than to believe that those voters will roll over for this particular Critics' Darling. The picture does have a few good moments--none of them involving Brad Pitt or Cate Blanchett--but not enough good moments to override the restless twistings in my seat.

I suggested that the other Guillermo represented at the Academy this year had a dark vision but did not seem to be a cynic, but this Guillermo is not merely a cynic, he is a flat out nihilisitc neurotic. After he puts his characters through some preposterous and idiotically motivated behavior in order to punish them for being human, he signs off his film with a dedication to his children who-- Bring a bright light into the darkness of this world. Gimmeafuckin' break!

As with their previous films, Arriaga and his writer continue to use a story structure that involves cutting back and forth between different plot lines; the better to keep the skimpiness of their ideas from being too easily evident. Of course, each of these characters has some tenuous connection with the others, but these connections, introduced to imply some cosmic significance to the irrelevant little stories, are totally incidental and gratuitous and have absolutely no bearing on the fates of each other.

So much of the movie is merely incidental that I can't be bothered with specifics. Except maybe one. This entire nightmare is kicked off when a couple of innocent, young North African brothers take mindless pot shots from a hillside at a tour bus on the road below. I mean, what kind of idiots are these? Then the real kicker comes when the rifle sharpshooter takes aim at the bus when it is about a mile and half away. Now the shooter is several hundred yards up a hill on the RIGHT side and in FRONT of the bus when he shoots. When the big bus gradually comes to a stop, it is reasonable to assume that the engine of the driver has been hit. But we learn nothing at that time. Instead, we cut to one of the other stories for a while. Eventually, we return to the bus, but now we are inside it, apparently before the shooting as it is just cruising along and the tourists are engaged in their regular behaviors. Cate Blanchett rests her weary head on the the bus window in the middle and on the LEFT side of the bus. Shortly, a bullet enters cleanly through her window and into her neck area. This means that the bullet from the hillside traveled over a mile at about a 45º angle down toward the front of the bus, overshot the bus, then circled back and slammed into the left mid side of the bus at a 180º angle. This kind of shoddy filming and editing is usually the result of inadequate pre-planning. It can also be the result of indifference and disrespect of the audience, which is what the majority of this movie suggests to me: a false trajectory of story telling through time and space.

Award Season

I don't go into movie theaters much any more. Both the product and the audiences leave a lot to be desired. But the Award Season and its Guild and Academy freebies does draw me out a little.

HOLLYWOODLAND was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Not much of a story, but a fairly good mood and some excellent acting by the whole cast. Adrien Brody got some pretty short shrift from the critics, but his is an excellent performance, so much so that I am looking forward to his future work.

FIND ME GUILTY, now on DVD, is good entertaining corn, though based on the actual trial of a large New York, New Jersey "Family." It was especially satisfying to see Vin Diesel return to a human level character performance. His action personna of recent films has overshadowed his previously recognized acting ability and charm.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is a trite, predictable and irritating feel-good fable of a dysfunctional family that becomes an unmotivated love-functioning family during a serious of improbable and uninventive on-the-road experiences. This movie is the only box-office hit of this group, but then Dr. Phil does reign on TV.


As a high school truant in the late 1940s, I spent many daytime hours in Cleveland's Lower Mall Theater. This specialized movie house at the commercial edge of downtown Cleveland was an absolute treasure trove of foreign and revival films. Having grown up and thrived on the luxury of film revival theaters, I can really appreciate what video, especially DVD, can bring to me.

My revival house experience was not your standard movie-going group entertainment. The Lower Mall, at least in the daytime, attracted very few customers. I sat alone in the dark, relating only to the movie, not the scattered few others in attendance. I think porno theaters are today's comparable experience. It was, like DVD is now, essentially a personal, not group experience.

Watching Knut Hamsun's HUNGER on DVD tonight was much like it would have been in the Lower Mall, that is to say, the only way I would have wanted to watch it. I never even mentioned to Julie that I had the DVD and was going to view it. I know she would never sit still for a 40-year-old, sub-titled, black-and-white downer film from Norway.

I watched it alone and was caught up in every frame of every scene. The only distractions were my own wild thoughts and inner comments on the action, the actors and the intense predicament of the central character. This character is focused on like almost no other in film history. And the performance by Per Oscarsson won Best Actor at many film festivals such as Cannes in 1966 and America's National Society of Film Critics Award in 1969.

DVD, Blockbuster Online, Netflix and a handful of specialized video stores are now the source for the best film viewing experience in America today. The Cineplex be damned.

Friday, July 07, 2006

White Heat

What is White Heat about? About 114 minutes if you want to know the truth. 114 minutes of pure cinema. It is not a story. A story has a beginning, a middle and an end. White Heat jump starts (Cagney's character from a railroad overpass) with a train robbery, then quickly establishes a network of cliché crosscurrents and conflicts; but in the process develops no characters or themes and examines no sociological concepts or values. Nor does White Heat end. There is no resolution of issues gone before. It just suddenly stops. Dead. With the famous explosion, of course, that puts Cody Jarret on "Top of the World, Ma!"

White Heat proves that great movies do not require conventional story-telling, dramatic conflict or meaningful character development. A great movie needs only great acting, clear directing and an action line that allows the viewer to enjoy the details of the movie much the same as the notes of a favorite piece of music.

James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien and Steve Cochran lead a cast of good performances that orchestrate like a Prokofiev Symphony.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


This is a curious, humorous and emotionally touching road picture about a couple of sexual outcasts who think they know what they want out of life, and other people. But on their journey, they discover what they need, more than want, and maybe discover their own selves in the process.

This is not a new or unique premise for a movie, but the performance by Felicity Huffman really is sui generis. Her characterization of the transgender wannabee is the equal to Philip Seymour Hoffman's Capote and it may be that, because the Academy voted him a Best Actor Oscar, they felt they had to go another way with the Best Actress.

After watching the movie on DVD, I checked out the conversation extra with Huffman and the writer-director, and was not disappointed by their comments.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

I posted the following review about two years ago. Curious about what the two sisters who made this film and CLOCKWATCHERS were up to now, I hit IMDB and other sources, eventually coming across this interview, which is informative and a howl!

Screen both movies, and commentaries, then read the interview.

THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING is that rare delight, a movie that must be seen to be believed. It is deceptively simple and familiar, yet complex and quitely surprising at all times. I screened it at home a few nights ago, and its scenes, characters and concepts continue to challenge my imagination and gratify my affection for movies.

The DVD includes a commentary by the two sisters who wrote and directed the film, along with the man who edited it. The editor did a good job with the footage, but is a bore on the commentary. The sisters seem so modest and easy-going a pair, that it's hard to believe they had the chutzpah to get this film made. It is obviously low budget, and they speak a lot about the scenes they couldn't afford to shoot, etc. Yet, they are able to assemble Alan Arkin, Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro and other members of the excellent cast and help them all to give unforgettable performances. This is definitely Must See D V D.

And don't forget the interview.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Two to Tango

It takes two to tango, and that's just what Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey do in TWO FOR THE MONEY.Tango was initially danced in bars, cafes, gambling houses, and quilombos (prostitution places).

Two for the Money is danced in the boiler rooms of gambling touts who use the telephone like verbal pornographers to seduce their johns into laying down bets and then sending a taste of their winnings to the touts. Of course, a little relief for their losses never moves in the other direction.

Gambling is a fool's game, and Two for the Money makes no bones or apologies about that. If the gambling disease is your problem, then that's just what it is--your problem, not ours.

The main thing about Two for the Money is that it is interesting and entertaining. The characters are rich, the performances are delicious and the production is a professional delight. Pacino and Macaughney perform a spicy and engaging pas de deux.

Julie and I screened it on DVD and when it was over we wondered: what was that all about? About two hours, I think. Two hours better spent that most in front of our Toshiba Cinema Series TV monitor. But I think you might get even more out of it that we did if you take one piece of advice. On the DVD is an interview between the screenwriter and the real life McConaughey character on whom the screenplay was based. I suggest that you view this interview before you screen the movie. There are no spoilers, but you will gain certain knowledge about the characters and the evolution of the film project that will, I believe in retrospect, make the behavior of the characters and the performers more interesting as you watch the story unfold.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Grizzly Man

Timothy Treadwell ran away to Alaska every summer for thirteen years, to live among the foxes and the grizzly bears. He had tickets for he and his girlfriend to fly out in 2003 as the autumn cold set it. But irritating aspects of civilisation caused him to cancel his flight and return to the Grizzly Maze with his friend, Amie, and their gruesome, carnivoral deaths.

Treadwell recorded his years in the Grizzly Maze on tape. And Werner Herzog has taken some of that footage, combined it with after death interviews and created one of the most moving documents ever screened on film.

It is beautiful. And Heartbreaking. And there is no redemption.No matter what you might have heard about GRIZZLY MAN, or what I might add to it, nothing can adequately prepare you for the emotional depths you will experience at its viewing.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck.

Good Night, and Good Luck is two movies, one a little bit better than the other. The better movie is made up of the archival kinescope footage of live television (it wasn't generally refered to as TV back then) coverage of a couple of Congressional hearings that occured in 1953 and '54.

A milestone in its day and still the best political coverage television has presented to this day, The Army-McCarthy Hearings is generally familiar to American viewers through Emile de Antonio's powerful editorial condensation, Point of Order. The other footage is culled from a Senate Subcommittee investigating hiring practices in the Armed Forces. This sequence is also very dramatic in demonstrating the bullying intimidations of "the Junior Senator from Wisconsin" toward witness Annie Lee Moss as contrasted with the protective libertarianism of Arkansas Senator John McClellan.

The other movie shows the behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of presenting live TV, especially in the context of editorializing against the prevailing anti-Communist bullying and professional blacklisting. This, more scripted movie, is good, but not good enough. Edward R. Murrow, his producer Fred W. Friendly, network owner William S. Paley and the other CBS personnel are shown as decent, dedicated one-note stick figures. They seem to be living their lives according to the precepts of the Yale School of Jouralism and Miss Manners. There are no plot surprises or character revelations. As circumstances require, the brave network owner stands tall against his defecting sponsors, and the unfairly harried newscaster commits suicide. But the noble team of the CBS news department strides bravely on.

Just why writer-producer-director-actor George Clooney felt that GNAGL would be a film for our times is unclear. Joe McCarthy didn't create the climate in America that lead to neurotic our anti-communist fear and loathing, but he did capitalize on it. But he is also long ago dead. Maybe Clooney believes there are present day government officials who have re-employed McCarthy's bullying scare tactics and outrageous accusations to serve other ends than true benefits to the American people. Maybe Clooney presents the McCarthy era as a warning of the infringement on rights that America has to be on guard against.

At the end of the film, I sat through the credits, waiting for the character roll that would tell us what significantly happened in the further lives of the senators, witnesses and news personnel depicted. Maybe they are saving that for the DVD release.

Friday, December 16, 2005


A better title for this over-heated mish mash of conspiracy movie cliches would be Serioso. As in mucho serioso, which is how this sophomoric exercise in psuedo sophistication take itself.

The film ads shoutingly refer to its TRAFFIC antecedents. Traffic lite, maybe it is. But its film and story continuity is more like traffic accident. A multi-car pile up on the 405 at rush hour.

The film quickly intercuts between a gaggle of unconnected stories. Since there is almost nothing interesting, imaginative or new in any of the sequences, the quick intercuts are emplemented to distract viewers from its lack of story, character development or continuity.

The one series of scenes that does possess story logic is a curious justification of the 9/11 suicide pilots. As Bill Maher stated on his canceled ABC show, these men were anything but cowards. They flew to their deaths is pursuit of a social purpose. In this one small aspect, Syriana has a kinship with the BATTLE OF ALGIERS, a much, much better and profound depiction of corrupt power and the insurgency it begets.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


I just realized that I screened the Sap City DVD some months ago, I hadn't bothered to comment on it. It was, after all, eminently forgettable. I take into account that it is merely a filmed comic book. But forgive me, I also forgot: it is really an oh-so-pretentious graphic novel.

I only remember a couple of things that might help to warn any tempted DVD renters to save their time and money. Bad acting is one. Horrific make-up is another and the trackiest element is a recurring plot line that could make a grown person groan. That plot line is that ugly men must set them selves up as the saviors and protectors of all women, whether they be young and vulnerable or mature and sexy. Every situation in the film is bassed on that simple equation. It is a teenage boy's wet dream. I am certain that many pages of the graphic "novels" that Sin City is based are permanently stuck together. I hope they weren't checked out from the library.

Friday, September 09, 2005


1)I am not big on Korean cuisine and do not understand its local appeal. In fact you had better not recommend another Korean Bar-B-Kue to me anywhere this side of 37.1N and 126.58E.

2)Korean drivers are also a puzzle to me. They usually drift from one lane to another, usually at a pretty slow pace well below the flow of traffic, frequently make last second turns that cut me off and often burst out of cross streets with no regard for traffic in the existing right-of-way. Kind of like driving in the Bay Area.

And to complete yesterday’s Korean trio experience, I realize I don’t understand Korean movies, but I like what I screened on DVD last night. 3-IRON is a pleasant enigma: I film I don’t understand but found absorbing to watch and provocative to think about.

It’s not so much a story, but a presentation about a strange young man and the lives he affects, and is affected by. We are introduced to this Young Man as he hangs advertising fliers on residential door knobs. We assume it is his job, but that is hardly the case. The Young Man has no job. He apparently doesn’t need one. He would appear to be independently wealthy, or at least well off, as he rides a huge and obviously expensive motorcycle on his errands and adventures.

His main adventure is to return to the prepared door knobs and, where he sees his flyer still hanging, he picks the lock—with professional tools—and simply moves into the home for a day or so while it’s owner is away. He helps himself to available foods, but takes nothing else. In fact, he uses his handyman skills to repair objects and appliances he notices the need of. He seems to submit himself to the life style of the absent occupants, always taking photographs of himself in his new surroundings, and moves equally comfortably in rich homes and poor.

His modus operandi gets a bit sticky, however, when one home he moves into is still painfully occupied by a battered and cowed wife. A curiously non-verbal relationship begins between them and the dream quality of the film slowly segues into a nightmare. What 3-Iron is all about from there on is your guess as good as mine, ‘cause I ain’t got none. If you think you have some answers, the buzzer is in your hand.I might find out more about 3-Iron, eventually, since writer-director Ki-duk-Kim does provide a commentary on the DVD which I will dip into later. At this time, I want to express my opinion and recommendation of 3-Iron based solely on what this lowly western mind can comprehend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

2005 Reviews


A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG is a langourous, Loosiana sorta tune. It takes its sweet old time to tell its tale but it do cotton up a mite to the viewer. John Travolta plays the Bobby Long part of the title, and Scarlett Johannson plays the Love Song part, which is a down home duet composed by her recently deceased mother to bring harmony into acouple of disparate lives. It's a pretty wordy film, with much dialogue lifted from, and quickly attributed to a Bartlett's full of literary lights and philosophers. It's also just a plain pretty picture with always something nice to look at, not the least of which is young Scarlett. She easily elevates her quiet poise into a commanding presence that becomes the premise of the story.

Travolta is also something of a revelation. He glides so easily into his alcoholically stupified, self-destrucive loser that he obliterates all the Vinnys and Tonys and Chilis that came before.

So--what is there left to say about CLOSER that hasn't already been said? How about everything. Okay, the good dialogue and acting have already been well commented upon. But when it comes to the story, the thing it is all about, nobody says nothing. Leastwise nothing pertinent. All the reviewers seem satisfied to masturbate on their keypads while watching the surface sexual quadrille, all the while ignoring the homosexual tango that CLOSER is.

C'mon folks! Dan seduces Larry in an Internet chat room saying his name is Anna and she wants to suck his cock. This exchange causes Larry to meet a real Anna at an aquarium and the sexual a quatre is on. Though I was enjoying the snappy repartee, solid acting and directing, I couldn't really relate to the behavior of the ensemble until it dawned on me that I was attending a closet quartette. Although Anna and Alice are less a part of the quartette than they are interactive accompaniment to the passionate tango being danced byLarry and Dan. Larry very macho and Dan very responsive to his partner's every move and mood. Fortunately, they never embrace their real desires or the movie would end prematurely, like Larry's masturbation scene.

I guess CLOSER is about a few other things that I don't get. Why the aquarium, referred to with such seem significance? But Larry being a dermatologist and Anna a portrait photographer seem to share some brotherhood of interest in surface appearances. So, a watchable film, but as coded as a Cole Porter love song.

2003-04 Reviews

What is a good movie worth? I just watched PANIC on cable. It is one terriffic flick! William H. Macy, as good as he gets. And we know how good that gets. Donald Sutherland. Tracy Ullman. Neve Campbell. Baraba Bain. John Ritter. All excellent. And all of them overshadowed by six-year-old David Dorfman. The absolutely best child performance I have ever seen. With no apologies to Shirley temple, Roddy MacDowall, Margaret O'Brien or the great kid in The Sixth Sense. Check into it. Check it out on DVD or whatever. Good writing. Good directing. Great acting. This is the kind of "B" movie that puts the Oscars to shame.

THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING is that rare delight, a movie that must be seen to be believed. It is deceptively simple and familiar, yet complex and quitely surprising at all times. I screened it at home a few nights ago, and its scenes, characters and concepts continue to challenge my imagination and gratify my affection for movies.

The DVD includes a commentary by the two sisters who wrote and directed the film, along with the man who edited it. The editor did a good job with the footage, but is a bore on the commentary. The sisters seem so modest and easy-going a pair, that it's hard to believe they had the chutzpah to get this film made. It is obviously low budget, and they speak a lot about the scenes they couldn't afford to shoot, etc. Yet, they are able to assemble Alan Arkin, Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro and other members of the excellent and help them all to give unforgettable performances. This is definitely Must See D V D.

I don’t know how I happened to pick up a 99¢ DVD rental of DON’T TEMPT ME (Sin noticias de Dios), but it was a priceless serendipity. Though the central story is simple, and classic, it’s telling is wildly complex, intriguing and entertaining. It is a cinematic collision of Tarantino, Scorsese and Bunuel. Sex, violence, comedy, political and religious satire, love, suspense and above all, surprise. And there is not much I enjoy more in a movie than eye-blinking, legitimate surprise.

Penélope Cruz plays a grim reaper from Hell in a contest with Heaven’s reaper, Victoria Abril, for the eternal soul of pug ugly boxer Demián Birchir. Fanny Ardant and Gael Garcia Bernal complete the star line up as the reaper supervisors, and while all the performances are excellent, Birchir’s is one of the most solid and effective of recent memory and Cruz is an absolute revelation of virtuosity. I was not a Cruz fan when I picked up this DVD, but about half way through I realized that if she wasn’t already a star, this movie is what made her one. When your screening ends, you will want to start right back at the beginning to fully appreciate her creation.

A multi-language mélange, writer-director Agustín Díaz Yanes satirically depicts Spain on earth, France in Heaven and America in Hell, and not without a hearty measure of charm and affection. I am eager to see what else he has in store for us.

FAHRENHEIT 9/11, frankly, was not a movie I can get very excited about. The major criticism leveled against it is that it is preaching to the choir. And it does that---LOUDLY. So, being a member of that choir, the sermon was mostly a waste of my time. In over two hours of film time, Michael Moore gave me 80 or 90seconds of new information regarding George W. Bush, his father H.W., his business connections, his (lack of) intelligence and the moral collapse of the U.S. Senate. But he never amplified his media-derived revelations with any convincing insights or arguments to carry his crusade against Bush to a level beyond the knee-jerk "amen" of the choir loft.

I don't understand the film community's overwhelmingly favorable response to Fahrenheit 9/11. It was obviously and admittedly created as a hostile piece of political propaganda to bring about the defeat of the Bush Administration in the coming election. All well and good and I would love so see that result. But I have screened a few good documentaries in my day, and F 9/11 is definitely not among them.

Actually, the most disconcerting sequence in the film was not the relentless and grimly graphic depiction of maimed and dead bodies inIraq, but the relentles banging of Al Gore's gavel when, in January 2001, as President of the Senate, he repeatedly and firmly disallowed members of the Gongressional Black Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives to challenge Bush's election victory. Not one Democratic Senator stood up in support of the disenfranchised voters of Florida or to push for an investigation of that swing state's vote debacle.

America is not a practical democracy. It is a duopoly. Our two major parties are in a close partnership, or a collusion, if you will, to control their mutual financial supporters and special interest groups at the expense of the American public. In their fear and hatred of George Bush, Michael Moore and the Kerry/Edwards supporters are merely fostering that duopoly. Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld and their Saudi Arabia business partner created a fear and hatred of Saddam Hussein in order to cow any opponents in their drive to mobilize an American military force for their own direct personal good and that of The Halliburton Corporation and Carlyle Group.

And now the Democratic Party wants to scare the voters into giving them the ball in the second half so they can score all points and money to be made in Iraq. Sorry, Michael, and all the rest of you duped duopolists. I refuse to play your game. One of your candidates is guaranteed to beat mycandidate, but at least Ralph Nader is a champion of the people, whether they know it or not.

Clint Eastwood is about as linear and traditional a filmmaker as works today. His films are often agreeable entertainments, but with minimal cleverness or surprises. And MILLION DOLLAR BABY is not an alteration of his familiar parameters. The only real surprise for me, is how long its mood and emotions have stayed with me.

I don't know how Eastwood develops his properties or works with writers, but it is obvious after over two dozen pictures that he is the classic director/auteur as defined by the Le Politiques des Auteurs. As for his work with actors, his is also the same technique as that used by the most acclaimed and successful American directors. That technique is called casting. Once the good director casts the right actor in the right part there is not much more he can do for the performance. Maybe a little tweak or suggestion here and there, but mostly just stay out of the way. Morgan Freeman, for instance, is not right for the broken down ex-pug as written, but Eastwood is a jazz man and he must have felt the need of a certain tone in the ensemble, and hired Freeman's instrument to bring that tone. And it is a good tone. Hilary Swank, however, is so well cast it is sometimes almost painful to watch a performance that you can't take your eyes off. She totally inhabits a complex character that is driven to actions of epic and heroic strength, virtue, success and suffering.

Like Freeman, Eastwood, though he does a good job throughout, would not be a logical first choice to play the waning, aging, fairly feckless fight manager. But Eastwood had the perspective to know that no matter what else a character may have to do in a movie, if a hard killing has to be done, when push comes to shove, there is no actor more convincingly able, even at this age, to convey the ability to get the job done than Clint Eastwood. And as the director/producer, Clint gets the job done.

Julie and I tend to attend movies when we travel that we might not even bother with at home. THE INCREDIBLES is one such movie, but the great incredibility about it is its mindless acceptance by younga dults who are so immersed in the American Cartoon Culture that they suspend any intelligent standards of taste or expectations of quality. It is derivative (a lack of imagination that seems to be regarded as a plus by its fans), tedious, visually unattractive and UNFUNNY! There is more full entertainment packed into a one reel Bugs Bunny or Roadrunner that into this elongated obesity.

KINSEY was kind of okay, but seemed to strain in trying to explain more about Kinsey than it was able to.

And then there was AFTER THE SUNSET, an absolutely silly pastiche of cliche caper flicks with more plot holes that a wheel of Jarlsberg, but just as pleasant to nibble on. I recommend it with a nice merlot.

2002 Reviews

I just returned from a screening of AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER at the Writers guild. Despite the early (11:AM) Sunday screening, it was well attended and well enjoyed by the audience. The opening sequence was very funny as well as filmically entertaining. The rest of it was mostly amusing. I know the reviewers found a lot of fault with the bodily function vulgarities, but I think we need more penis humor in films.
And, most importantly to me, while GOLDMEMBER may have been Austintacious, it was never pretentious.

I have screened and enjoyed GOSFORD PARK four times. First in a movie theater with good projection on the Big Screen.. I was unaccompanied for this viewing which, as you may remember is my preferred mode of watching movies. At least for the first time.

Then I rented the DVD and watched it on the small big screen at home with Julie. Since I already knew the plot, of course, I was not concerned with the distraction of a couch companion and could even get an additional kick out of watching her enjoy the flick.

The beauty of DVD is that some movies come through almost as well as in the theater, and GP is one of those movies. Its content is a very detailed and precise but presented with a constantly moving camera in a manner that suggests a lack of focus, yet every movement of every character depicted is actually very significant.
But where this DVD really pays off is in the commentaries. I re-watched GP a third time over the commentary of screenwriter Julien Fellows, and then a fourth time with the commentary of Director Robert Altman and Production Designer son Stephen Altman. Julie, by the way, also viewed these along with me and we enoyed commenting ourselves upon the information and revelations the filmmakers shared with us.

Fellows concentrates his commentary not on the script, per se, but on the history and background of the people and era, and on the research and personal experience that informed the content of his script.
The Altmans, on the other hand, speak mostly of the filmmaking process, basically letting the entertainment effect and quality of the film speak for itself. Like many fathers and sons, they occasionally quibbled and squabbled over what had happened on the set regarding a given scene, but their candor lets you realize how very much creative leeway even a great director gives to his cast and crew: along with the writers, full collaborators all.

The American Beauty DVD was brought to my attention by Peter as having some very good commentaries on the disc. I have put in a lot of years in the movie business as student, writer, actor, producer, director, teacher and what have you; and I can recommend the American Beauty DVD commentaries as about as good an education in the art and craft of filmmaking as you are likely to find. Forget about Ebert and Roeper and trash your Sid Fields. Rent or buy some some good DVDs if you want some real understanding of filmmaking.
Another DVD treat: DIE HARD. It's a 2-disk deal with lots of bells and whistles. Outside of an excellent print of the movie itself, it boasts two major commentary tracks. On one, the director and production designer do a voice over description of the film as it unreels with a muted soundtrack. The other commentary is offered on sub titles under the letterbox frame with full sound and contains pertinent observations by several of actors and crew members of the production. Between these two commentaries, much of the real nature of filmmaking is revealed.

I guess that a hip filmgoer is one who wouldn't bother catching up with FAST AND FURIOUS, newly out on DVD, much less liking it. Okay, so I'm not hip, but FAF is Fast and Fun. The plot is pretty simplistic and familiar, but it doesn't try to be any more than a good excuse to bring cute guys and gals and sharp cars together in a harmless rush of adrenaline and testosterone. There are some excellent road scenes--definitely reminiscent of and borrowed from MAD MAX--and the big one near the end had this couch potato jerking in such kinetic response that I almost broke my glasses and spilled my Bud.

What set me up right away was the fresh look at the Los Angeles cityscape; virtually no familiar and cliche signature shots from the movie book of what L.A. is supposed to look like. It shows much more of the L.A. that I like to prowl around, on foot and rubber, that is always more revealed and revealing with new navigation. Director Rob Cohen and his art director do not take L.A. for granted. Of course, they paint a few buildings and illuminate them with some clever lighting to help sustain their comic book approach to the material, the final result of which is film that is an energizing gonad check--with sweetness.

I do not like driving into West L.A; the worst traffic this side of Boston. But I found myself outside of Cinefile Video and went in to get out of the noonday sun. Right there was a MULHOLLAND DR. onthe DVD shelf. I checked it out and headed for the 405. The South was my ramp, but it was a five-day rental so I took the North. I knew some people who lived on Mulholland Dr. and I ramped off. It was a dark and starless night as I eased around the tight curves above the carpet of lights stretching out over Topanga. Bright lights almost blinded me and forced me to stop in the road. There had been a crash: one car turned over and another perched dangerously over the edge. There were people all over the place. Cameras and police and gawkers. One guy looked especially miserable and I asked him what happened. He told me he was the producer and the director had just staged this scene but didn't know what came next; the writer had been working on spec and just got hired by Disney for the big bucks and had flown off to Cuba to celebrate. I told the producer that I was a writer and would be glad to help out. He ordered chicken kreplach soup for two and we had great sex. My scenes enabled the picture to be completed and go on to lose over $30,000,000 domestic alone. On the beach at Cannes, topless actresses and my mother physically fought each other to pose with me for the news media. Unfortunately, my copy of MULHOLLAND DR. was due before midnight and I never did get to see it.

Alright already, so I really did screen the Mulholland Dr. DVD. Does a lie always begin where the truth ends? Still, I am not going to review Mulholland Dr., but I am going to recommend it. Actually MD can't really be reviewed, though many have tried, none have conquered. What MD can be is discussed, and that is something I look forward to doing with others who have seen it. I will say that David Lynch is a writing and directing master of the film medium. No one can more mesmerize an audience than he. I don't know if he has the technical controls of some of the other good and great filmmakers, but he has all the story and cinematic tools needed to control the minds and hearts and emotions of his audiences.

You don't have to like David Lynch, but you have to love him. There is an early shot of a naïve movie starlet wannabee as she arrives at LAX and I turned and said to Julie, "Don't you just love David Lynch?" "No," she said, and went to bed. Well. I don't think Lynch much cares if we love him or like him as long as we provide him with the wherewithal to continue doing whatever it is he does on screen. Then there is Naomi Watts: a dangerously gifted actress. Her performance in MD is a Masters Class in the art and craft of film acting. It is probably the Best Performance on film by an American (orAustralian) Actress in the Sound Era. All the acting is excellent in MD. And the photography, music and technical elements perfectly serve the emotional text and subtext that grip the viewer. Worth the price of the DVD alone is the Silencio sequence (shades of Mario and the Magician) and the compelling vocal performance of Rebekah Del Rio.

Absent from this DVD is the usual director-writer-actor commentary that often accompanies the feature film. I don't mind that so much, but I do miss the usual line up of chapter selections. It would be interesting to re-order the scenes and transfer them onto tape in adifferent sequence. But maybe that's just what Lynch wanted to keep us from doing. And last, but not least, Naomi Watts is a dangerously gifted actress because a true artist is always dangerous: leading onlookers down uncharted pathways of experience and revelation.

I spent 17 minutes on CHANGING LANES. What a waste. A dreary, water-logged slog through a hyperbolized urban dreamscape. The set-up is gratuitous, unimaginative and clumsy. From what I saw, the plot is just another false urban myth of the type I get in my E-mail every week or so; pointless, predictable and paranoiac.

But if you want to screen a satisfying urban myth, also featuring Samuel L. Jackson, rent FRESH. If you haven't heard much about it --and it is a few years old -- good, because the less expectations you have of it the more open you are likely to be to its unique qualities and surprises. This is an extremely violent film. There are no pulled punches in depicting the violence of contemporary Black life in the projects and in the streets. But there is exceptional artistry in the story construction, direction and performances. And the violence is as cathartic as Aristotle could have ever asked. As the film unfolds, you find yourself thinking Luis Bunuel? DashiellHammet? B.Traven? And maybe, most of all, Little Black Sambo? Don'tscoff. LBS is a great moral fable based on the will and courage of a little black boy who outsmarts and overcomes a group of fierce and destructive lions. Like Sambo, Fresh (given name Michael) is a survivor. But FRESH is no lightweight little amusement and the cost to Fresh, a true warrior-hero is enormous. We feel and share his hurts and his losses and regret these costs of his emerging manhood.

So where does Bunuel come in? There are significant touch points between the ghetto/poverty barrio settings of Fresh and Los Olvidados, and the youthful villains, heroes and fools so poignantly depicted in both films. Where FRESH goes, no other movie has gone since Bunuel'sgreat 1950 masterpiece.

Dashiell Hammett? Young Fresh is a youthful descendant of the GLASS KEY's Ned Beaumont and the Continental Op of RED HARVEST (and it's two foreign film adaptations; YOJIMBO and FISTFULL OF DOLLARS).

B. Traven? FRESH depicts much the same struggle against oppressive authority and exploitation that Traven does in DEATH SHIP and MARCH TO THE MONTERIA. And his heroes must also pay a great price in order to prevail against vicious exploiters, predators and a cruel environment. Curiouly, I just happened to catch FRESH on cable the same night I walked out on CHANGING LANES. What a refreshing development that was.

NINE QUEENS looks to be a current art house film favorite so I suppose it is worth a word or two of comment. It is a watchable little thing, a passable time killer but not amounting to very much. It is not much more than an Argentinian rip-off of David Mamet in his grifter mode. The game is pretty obviously played with the viewer, whose task is to guess who is conning whom. The con, however, when finally revealed, is one that was easy to spot as it unfolded, yet is totally preposterous in the anticipated behavior that is required of the mark for it to be successful. Oops! I've just let the cat out of the bag. Now you know everything. Or do you? If you paid attention to the lessons of two earlier con game items I posted here recently, you should be ahead of the movie. The rules of the con game are rigid and classic and have only one standard requirement for success: the greed of the mark. I will say that writer-director Fabian Bielinsky was more than fair in hipping his audience to what was really happening but I doubt that you, any more than I, caught his first, most obvious and most oft repeated clue as to what was really going on. At least I now know it. And so do you. Or do you?

Most people I know like to go to the movies with a companion or more. I have done that often enough myself, usually with a girlfriend or wife and occasionally while on a double date. But I still don't understand the compulsion to share the movie-going experience with another. My favorite way to watch a movie is by myself, whether alone in a theater or at home. I, personally, cannot fully perceive, experience or enjoy a movie if I am distracted by the company of others. I have to be in my own cocoon in order to really get with and into the movie. I have had the occasional seat partner who needed to be in his/her own cocoon so that we didn't impinge on each other, but that was a rare experience that now seems well in the past. Watching a movie is an experience of perception and emotion, neither of which can have free rein when restricted by the communication needs and attentions of a screening partner. Two of my favorite examples can be cited. Back in 1951, I took a date to see THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Ienjoyed my date very much that night, but not the movie. But a few months later, by myself in another city, something drew me to a solo viewing of the same movie. I was blown away by it that day, and on many days thereafter. I am happy that I eventually came to recognize and enjoy a great motion picture. On another afternoon, in 1967, though I was not a Lee Marvin fan, I wandered into a matinee screening of POINT BLANK. By myself in thattheater, I watched in awe as subtle and extraordinary elements of filmmaking were used to turn a fairly ordinary crime plot into a visceral and compelling action melodrama combining myth, magic and surrealism in a 91 minute masters class on filmmaking. I am inclined to think that had I been in that theater with a companion, I would have surely missed the complex and discrete details that make POINT BLANK the unique film it is. I do like to talk about movies with those who have seen the same ones, but not until I have seen the film on my own. And I definitely don't want to think about what I think about the movie while I am still watching the movie. It does seem to me that most people today who are eager to discuss a film are really more interested in discussing themselves in relation to the movie than in the movie itself. To those persons, I would advise that having an opinion about a movie is not what makes you a special person. Nor does having bad taste in movies make you a lesser person. Unless you are a filmmaker yourself, you will have to find your identity elsewhere.

From everything I've ever heard about him, Steven Spielberg is an honorable and pleasant man. He seems to be a good family man, a good American, a good Jew and a good liberal Democrat. Especially the kind of liberal Democrat that only millionaires can afford to be these days. And I, for one, applaud him for all that. But one thing Spielberg is not is a good filmmaker. Oh, I know he has a certain small talent with the camera and with mindless little stories about extra-terrestials visiting earth, but he has never demonstrated a whit of cinematic artistry on the level that really moves an audience in awe of anything except his superficial energy at playing with movie equipment.

MINORITY REPORT is the current example of his empty-headed approach to non-sensical story telling and human behavior revealed through really silly and unacceptable pseudo-futuristic special FX. Otherwise, this childish exercise can be summed up in a word; flatulence. Not that I don't enjoy a good fart now and then, but only my own.

THE ROAD TO PERDITION is merely a road of pernicious pretension. What a monstrous, bloated hollow piece of fakery masquerading as art. And that's just star Tom Hanks, who displays as much charm and talent in this role as a wet army blanket. Usually something much else on film, I think Hanks has been hanging around too much with Steven Spielberg. I have sat through some bad movies this season, but because of its self-congratulatory pretentiousness, Perdition (Dig that title? It refers to a non-existent town with one house nestled among trees on a wide empty shore facing an open sea where Hanks might have once been Cast Away) takes top honors as the worst of the lot. This tedious road movie has more plot holes than New Jersey has potholes. I don't even want to think enough about it to comment any further.

I finally caught up with BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. As with other Michael Moore docs, it is wonderful entertainment. In addition, however, BFC just might be the most important documentation of the emotional state of America today. Moore presents himself on film as abig, clumsy oaf who doesn't seem to know much more about anything than we do. And that is probably the case. But his peripatetic ramblings and fumblings do provoke questions and concerns while they also provoke icons like Dick Clark and Charlton Heston. I have read that Heston comes off badly under Moore's camera eye. I don't agree. He does come off as a sad old actor who has found a latter day audience by preach-performing at NRA events. The lastshot of him making a shadowy retreat into his mansion looks like that dim shot of Bigfoot scampering from the photographer. Dick Clark is another matter. What a pompous fatuous, hollow example of success in America.Violence in America is the subject of the film and Moore goes about asking Americans why we commit so much of it. The exploitation of fear for reasons of greed seems to provide an answer for many. Itis certainly a factor. But will we ever really have an answer unti lafter the either the problem, or America has disappeared and we can benefit from the hindsight of history?

2001 Reviews

SPY GAME is a gamy little movie, in all of its usual definitions: it's a little bit plucky, a little bit racy, but with more than a little bit of the strong stench of tainted meat. Its pluckiness comes from trying to take a tainted and undercooked "fight the system and save the maverick movie-hero from the foreign bad guys and the CIA bureaucrats who would sacrifice him for the dubious good of the service plot." The raciness comes from the anything but subtle homosexual attraction between the aging CIA agent played by a neat and prissy Robert Redford and the aggressively handsome and ballsy young stud played by Brad Pitt that Redford slyly seduces, recruits, initiates and mentors into the underground lifestyle of covert operations, shirtless adventures and shared intimacies.

The old dude and the young stud succeed amiably in upsetting, for a few years, the stodgy status quo of the straight squares in The Agency; but their relationship falls apart when Brad falls for a rather mannish Catherine McCormack and a miffed Redford feels disposed to dispose of the competition by arranging her capture by a viciously malevolent Chinese enemy. Brad is then forced to decide which way to swing as the dual road is no longer available to him. He makes a clumsy and brash attempt to save the girl that lands them both in the Chinese soup with but twenty-fours to stew before their goose is fully cooked by the stoked up firing squad.

Though the movie seems to play out in 24:00 hours of real time, I did stay awake long enough to see that Redford did the right and noble and generous thing by foreclosing on his own retirement property in the Bahamas in order to pay for the release of the young lovers. There is no final clinch, however, as we see in Brad's eyes the haunting question of where he really belongs.

Director John McTiernan also handles this same theme in his romantic adventure, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, wherein the bearded and rugged Russian submarine captain played by Sean Connery offers to turn over his atomic-powered vessel to the American Government if the pretty and epicene Alec Baldwin is willing to join him in the transaction. Needless to say, they, like Redford and Pitt, prevail mightily against all the crude bullies and bureaucrats who stand in their way, and end the film in intimate conversation on a moonlit, starry night while drifting through calm waters in the conning tower of the now-surrendered sub. Just as they promise to meet again when all the unpleasantness of the cold war is over, I am sure that Bob and Brad will also be reunited in that haven of Hollywood heroes that dare not speak its name.

I'd seen enough bad movies this month I thought I could handle MOULIN ROUGE. And then--Voila! It's a good movie. It is big, wild, rambunctious, audacious, bawdacious, eclectic, energizing and entertaining. I well know--as some critics have aptly pointed out--that Moulin Rouge is far from what a well-made movie should be. But I say, Let Moulin Rouge be Moulin Rouge.

John Cameron Mitchell titles his creation HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, prompting a professional friend of mine named Vanecia to award it 3 ½inches and a shrug on her personal rating scale. But then she always likes to say that the only place where size matters to her is in the bankroll, not the bedroll. I think Vanecia liked the movie more than I did. I think it should be called Hedwig is an Angry Wimp. I found it a tedious, strident, teutonic cry for love and acceptance with Mitchell playing both Siegfried und Brunhilda as a rock opera hermaphodite. But Hedwig is so in love with himself that the other objects of his affection can't handle the competition and always leave him whining. It is said to be pointless to compare a film adaptation to its original production but since I have already seen the stage version it can't be helped. Knowing Vanecia as I do, I think she would have given it up to 8 inches on her rating scale, and, with such a disparity, comparisons cannot be avoided.

HEDWIG on stage was darn good theater. The staging, the music, lyrics, choreography and Hedwig's autobiographical narrative, diatribes and seeming ad-libs combined to create an energy in the audience. Not only entertained, the theater-goer was treated to shock, surprise and a sort of roller coaster sense of danger. None of which came through in the movie which, no matter how chock full of performance energy it is, generates none of it in the audience. I think we were all pretty placid and flaccid throughout.
HEDWIG contains a lot of sound and fury, but it is played at us, not to us, much like the Hedwig Band treats their cartoonish, strip-mall restaurant chain audiences in the film.

The new MOULIN ROUGE seems to be getting the cold shoulder from a lot of critics, but when I screened it in a large theater with a small afternoon audience the other day there was a lot of enthusiastic handclapping popping up throughout. On stage, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH enjoyed great audience enthusiasm and response. Sitting in the backrow of a West Hollywood ( you know, the Gay City, South) movie theater, I couldn't tell if that audience was even awake. Or breathing. Well, as Einstein said, (that's Vanecia Einstein) everything is relative and maybe a 3 ½ inch movie is as satisfying as an 8 inchstage show. Chacun à son gout.
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