Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Snakes on a Plane: The Dialogues

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

I recently had an email debate with a friend that I will refer to as "Mike." Mike and I spent a good part of the day yesterday shirking work debating the pros and cons of Snakes on a Plane both as a title and a potential cult classic. Here are the complete transcripts, edited only for clarity and to make me seem smarter. (Just kidding.)

MIKE (11:45 am):
FOOD FOR THOUGHT (and I’m NOT saying Snakes on a Plane is going to definitely be bad):

The following is an off the top of my head list of movies that were about EXACTLY WHAT THE TITLE WAS and still sucked.

Starship Troopers
A Bug's Life
Turbulance
Pinero
Fried Green Tomatoes
John Carpenter's Vampires
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (debatable)
13 John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13
John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.
Ray
Dirty Dancing
Lambada: The Forbidden Dance
Angels in the Outfield
A Kid in King Arthur's Court
The Passion of the Christ
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Batman & Robin
Supergirl
Catwoman
Napoleon Dynamite
Air Bud: Golden Receiver (or any of the Air Bud saga)

All of these movies have TWO things in common.... They all suck, and they all have ZERO irony in their titles. So let’s just say... The jury’s still out on Snakes on a Plane.

I’m sure there are more... But that’s all for now
SERGIO (3:06 pm):
I don't think I agree. Snakes on a Plane is a far better description than Starship Troopers. I define it this way: Can the movie's title also be used as the movie description in the TV Listings? Like this:

CH. 2 / 8:00 / SNAKES ON A PLANE (2006) Snakes on a plane.

I don't think this applies to the other titles in your list. Sure Starship Troopers is about starship troopers, but it doesn't give any indication of the arena or plot direction. I think the title most similar is Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle which is a terrific title, but not as funny (to me at least) as Snakes on a Plane.

And by the way, Starship Troopers didn't suck. It is awesome. I actually just watched the first hour again a couple weeks ago. It is one of the funniest satires in a long time. I call it "A good movie disguised as a bad movie."
MIKE (3:39pm):
I knew a girl who tried to sell me that “satire” line about Starship Troopers. She even tried to tell me that I “didn’t get it.”

It’s funny that you pick this particular flick out of ALL the ones I listed, because back when that was coming out I was one of the few admitted geeks in my circle who DIDN’T think it was going to be all that great. I was even told at one point “You’re On Crack if you don’t think that’s gonna be the best movie of the year (swear to god).” Mind you... This was two months before it even came out. THAT guy wound up admitting to have spoken too soon, and now, like many others, refers to the film as Starship Poopers. But who knows, maybe I’ll give it another shot. But until then I still maintain that the “Bad Movie Disguise” it wears is a pretty good one.

I’m just saying that just because a movie’s title describes a certain degree of plot does not AUTOMATICALLY make it good. This is not to say the movie is DEFINITELY going to be bad either (I want to make that ABUNDANTLY clear).

Let’s put it this way... If the aforementioned Air Bud was called Dog That Plays Basketball would that have made it better??

If The Terminal was called Tom Hanks Plays Foreign Guy Trapped at an Airport would that have made it good??

If Ishtar was called Two Singers in the Desert would it have made more money?

If Waterworld was called World of Water would that have made it awesome?

If Pinero was called Blatant Oscar Bait with No Real Narrative would it have been ANY good? Well... Maybe.

All Snakes on a Plane really is, is a working title that escaped onto the internet and captured the hearts of the geeks.

If SOAP winds up changing it’s title to Flight 121, which is likely, It’ll still be the same mediocre horror movie that 9 times out of 10 would have wound up premiering at Blockbuster if it weren’t for the rabid internet following. The REAL difference is that if it WAS called Flight 121 the same people who are now pledging allegiance to it’s “brilliance” would be dismissing it as yet another lame Sam Jackson movie that will have a four day theater run at the most.

So I, personally, am going to wait until the movie actually comes out to get behind it. And I hope it is cool, because those t-shirts ARE pretty sweet.
SERGIO (3:58 pm):
First off, I'm not saying a movie is automatically good because it's title is a description of the plot. Air Bud would still suck no matter what it was called. And secondly, it is not just the the title is Snakes on a Plane that makes it funny, it's that the concept of people fighting snakes on a plane is very funny. Of course, no one would be interested in this movie if it were called Flight 121, least of all me. As you said, it would "still be the same mediocre horror movie" that no one cares about. But because they are calling it Snakes on a Plane, they are giving the audience a wink and saying "Yes, this is a crappy C-level programmer, but we know that sometimes these kinds of movies become beloved because they are so trashy." If New Line changes the title back to Flight 121, they eliminate this goodwill are go back to selling us something that we'll feel guilty spending our money on in theaters. By calling it Snakes on a Plane, it becomes a point of pride to see it in with a paying audience. Flight 121 is just another crappy Samuel L. Jackson sell-out movie. Snakes on a Plane is another classic Samuel L. Jackson so-bad-it's-good movie.
MIKE (4:29 pm):
I’m curious about these “Samuel Jackson So Bad it’s Good” films you speak of. But that’s not important.

In short: just because there is an admission of CRAP, a filmmaker should not necessarily be rewarded for creating said CRAP. If it looks like crap, and it smells like crap, and stars Samuel Jackson... Chances are... It’s CRAP.

Now look here... I plan on seeing SoaP out of sheer curiosity but my expectations are as LOW as they would have been had I bought a ticket for The Man. I like movies like that. I liked Anaconda. I liked Lake Placid. I just question the hoopla surrounding this particular barrell of cheese.

I think much of it, is more out of a need that many geeks have to be in on the ground floor. You know what I mean... To be the ones that stood by something. So when the masses all come in and start liking something, We can be the one’s to whip open our shirt with the Bootleg SoaP logo on it, and say “IN YOUR FACE, TURD, I LOVED THIS MOVIE WAY LONGER THAN YOUR POSER ASS!!!”

This is the VERY reason that websites like AICN, COMICS 2 FILM, etc. (sites I visit daily by the way) exist in the first place. Because there are geeks out there that want to say “YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST.”

And in many cases, out of a need NOT TO BE PROVEN WRONG, geeks (like me) sometimes can’t admit when these movies strike out. But that’s what makes it more intriguing, no?? To be the one guy on the planet who LOVES and defends a movie when everybody else thinks they’re total crap.

Why else would I have both Death to Smoochy and Joe Versus the Volcano on my DVD shelf. Two movies that are almost UNIVERSALLY hated, and I LOVE THEM!!! If I were a betting man, I’d say you probably like those titles too.

Bottom line: I asked the same friend that MOCKED me for not being into Starship Troopers, what he thought about SoaP. He said simply: “I say Bring it on Sam Jackson.”

YES! Sam Jackson... Bring it on indeed.
SERGIO (4:49 pm):
Deep Blue Sea is a classic good/bad Sam Jackson movie.

Now I'm exhausted and want to take a nap.
MIKE (4:55 pm):
Deep Blue Sea. Indeed. From Finnish “Super-Director” Renny Harlin. Good call. But I’ll leave you with this... Most of SLJ’s starring efforts are so bad they’re bad.
That Snakes on a Plane can provoke this much enthusiasm nine months before it comes out is proof that they've caught lightening in a bottle. Now lets just pray they don't change the title to Flight 121.

PREVIOUS SNAKES ON A PLANE POSTS:
08/24/05 - Ssssssssssssss.....
10/04/05 - Snakes on a Plane UPDATE
11/08/05 - Snakes on a Plane UPDATE 2
11/24/05 - Snakes on a Plane UPDATE 3

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

We Do! We Really Do!

MANIFESTO

The Hartford Courant this morning decided to headline comments by Connecticut's junior senator wherein he stated that the Bushies really do have a plan for Iraq.
Lieberman, ... who spent Wednesday and Thursday in Iraq, saw strong evidence that a workable American plan is in place.

"We do have a strategy," he said. "We do have a plan. I saw a strategy that's being implemented."
Although Senator Sanctimony was by no means clear about it, he evidently was referring to
the remarks of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who last month told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the strategy in Iraq was to "clear, hold and build: to clear areas from insurgent control, to hold them securely and to build durable, national Iraqi institutions."
This "plan," which Clueless Joe so heartily endorses, has already been shown to be pretty vapid on its face. (After all, how does one "hold" territory that's been "cleared" if it's the intention of the powers that be to reduce troop strength in the region in time for the 2006 elections?)

At any rate, it's striking that the junior senator from Connecticut is so strident about progress in Iraq when we look at something like this.

Monday, November 28, 2005

HOF 2006

SPORTING GOODS

The 2006 first-time nominees for the baseball hall of fame have been announced, to much fanfare as Pete Rose has now officially fallen off the ballot. Interestingly, it doesn't look like any of these guys will get the nod, but it's still fun to look at the list:

Rick Aguilera, Tim Belcher, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Alex Fernandez, Gary Gaetti, Dwight Gooden, Ozzie Guillen, Juan Guzman, Orel Hershiser, Gregg Jefferies, Lance Johnson, Doug Jones, Roberto Kelly, Mickey Morandini, Hal Morris, Jaime Navarro, Luis Polonia, Mike Stanley, Walt Weiss, John Wetteland, Mark Whiten

There are three guys on this list who looked like hall of famers for a several year span: Albert (Joey) Belle, Will Clark, and Dwight Gooden. It will be interesting to see if we ever learn that Belle abused steroids, as the signs are all there. We all know what happened to Gooden, and Clark was a fabulous player for a few years, and actually ranks among the second or third tier of greatest first basemen ever (there is a surprising shortage of truly great first basemen through history).

So with this very weak first-year class, we may see some of last year's holdovers get additional attention. That would include Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell, Bruce Sutter, Keith Hernandez, and Dale Murphy.

Last year, I said I'd vote for Jack Morris and Jim Rice, and maybe Gossage. Guess I'd hold to that.

In 2007 we get Ripken, Gwynn, and McGwire up for election. That should be much more interesting.

Sergio's Movie Power Rankings

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

ESPN and SI do it, why not me? Introducing Sergio's Movie Power Rankings. Here's a list of the top 15 movie I've seen so far this year. I'll update the list as I see more or change my mind. (Because whose opinion doesn't change over time?) Click the list to enlarge for easier reading. (You don't even want to know how much time I wasted trying to format this in html.)

Anyway, enjoy and please feel to chime in with any comments or opinions.

Friday, November 25, 2005

I wish I'd said that

MANIFESTO

Kevin Drum on the José Padilla charges:
The corrosion of civil liberties highlighted by [the Padilla and Yaser Hamdi] cases is bad enough, but it's not the only problem they've caused. Every time a dramatic set of charges turns out to be baseless, it sends a very public message that the war against terrorism is just a sham, a campaign of partisan fearmongering being used as little more than a political club. This is the same message sent by the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence, the lack of WMD in Iraq, the politically motivated orange alerts, the strategically timed marketing campaigns, and the transparent political stunts played by congressional Republicans last week in response to John Murtha's speech.

The American public can hardly be expected to take terrorism seriously if it's obvious that the Bush administration itself views al-Qaeda as primarily a political opportunity rather than a real problem.
While it's consoling that Americans are apparently finally understanding this political gamesmanship, we've still got to put up with this nonsense for more than three more years.

And like that, he's gone

Manifesto

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is clearly gearing up for a run at the Presidency. He's already got the self-indulgent autobiography and gives all of the right non-denials when asked about it. But if I were Gov. Richardson, I'd be reconsidering right about now:
For nearly four decades, Richardson, often mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate, has maintained he was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics.

The claim was included in a brief biography released when Richardson successfully ran for Congress in 1982. A White House news release in 1997 mentioned it when he was about to be named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And several news organizations, including The Associated Press, have reported it as fact over the years.

But an investigation by the Albuquerque Journal found no record of Richardson being drafted by the A's, who moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to Oakland, California, after the 1967 season, or any other team.
Really, is there anything to say other than goodbye. Seriously? Padding your resume. With something as stupid and verifiable as that you were drafted by the A's.

And this is your response:
In the summer of 1967 he played for the amateur Cape Cod League's Cotuit (Massachusetts) Kettleers. The words "Drafted by K.C." appear next to his name on a faded team program, the Journal reported.

"When I saw that program in 1967, I was convinced I was drafted," Richardson said. "And it stayed with me all these years."
Goodbye, Governor. Hopefully Mark Warner doesn't claim that he was drafted by the NBA in his biography.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Snakes on a Plane UPDATE 3

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

Snakes on a Plane fever is spreading. I have put my money where my mouth is. Only 264 days until opening night!

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

PREVIOUS POSTS:
8/24/05 - Ssssssssssssss.....
10/4/05 - Snakes on a Plane UPDATE
11/8/05 - Snakes on a Plane UPDATE 2

The Whispers about MUNICH

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

Steven Speilberg has announced that there will be premiere, no marketing junket and, biggest of all, no Oscar campaign for Munich. He is going to let the film speak for itself. This is a risky move for a film that is certainly one of the most anticipated critical/commercial releases of the fall. But the move has had past success. Spielberg used this same tactic on Schindler's List and that film went on to win seven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. This tactic automatically draws attention to itself with Academy voters who will undoubtably now look at it as something different (and perhaps more special) than the average Oscar hopeful carping its own brilliance. Or maybe they will see right through Spielberg's ploy and not fall for it. In the end, it's about the movie and no one has seen it yet.

There is also a rumor that he has bagged the cover of Time magazine for his film (though current events have a way of getting in the way of things like this). Spielberg has still said nothing publicly about his film (or the historical sources he used) other than the carefully parsed statement I ran in my Fall Countdown write-up so if there is a cover story, surely he will give details and those details are bound to be controversial in one circle or another.

Munich is going to be big.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pump the Brakes

SPORTING GOODS

I am very happy with the Josh Beckett trade. I like Mike Lowell a lot, and Beckett is one of the guys like Prior and Felix who was hyped before he even reached the majors, due to his nasty, nasty stuff. I'm also encouraged that many of the rumoured Manny trade components (Delgado, Cameron) are no longer available, and that the Sox are unlikely to go for a third-baseman (Glaus) now that Lowell is around.

But, before we get too excited about Beckett, here's a list, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, of the 10 most similar pitchers to Josh Beckett, through the age of 25.

1. Lynn McGlothen
2. Jack McDowell
3. Jim Lonborg
4. Joel Pineiro
5. Hank Gastright
6. Rick Reuschel
7. Bill Stafford
8. Bob Knepper
9. Rick Rhoden
10. John Denny

A nice solid list, but these aren't exactly hall of famers. Just a little perspective.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Le Bien, Le Mal

SPORTING GOODS

UConn has its first big test of the season tonight, taking on top-10 ranked Arizona (who are at least good enough to be on the cover of SI's West version of their college basketball preview). You can catch the boys in action on ESPN at 9.

Last night's late-night victory over "former national champion" Arkansas had its good and bad moments. The good? Winning, of course. And Rudy Gay, who all off-season was subjected to talk that he is the most talented player in the land and will be the number one pick in the NBA next year, if only he can learn to be aggressive, take his shots, and show true confidence. How's this for a response? A career high 28 points on 19 shots, scoring on three circus shots, and basically willing the team to victory. His confidence?

Gay was asked about the last of the spectacular plays, a move where he grabbed a rebound under the basket, went right up and flipped it off the glass as he was falling to the floor.

"Oh that one," he said, preparing to make his creativity even better. "The guy punched me in the stomach then poked me in the eye. He broke my nose and I set in back in place on the way down."

Now for the bad. Without Marcus Williams, the team let Arkansas back in the game by allowing 22 turnovers. That is worrying. But perhaps more upsetting to me, is that Josh Boone, who seemed to disappear at the end of the season last year and actually looked frightened in their season-ending loss, scored 4 points in 28 minutes. Four shots taken, four turnovers. No blocks, and 7 rebounds. That is not playing big.

Gay is going to be a star. The team has no point guard. Those are certainties. Josh Boone is now an uncertainty, and he needs to play big if this team is going anywhere this year.

What is a Democrat?

Manifesto

So I've been more of a visitor than a contributor here for the last month or more. Thanks to Sergio for holding down the fort with what is so far the definitive moment in this blog's short history. And welcome to Monocle from In One Eye. He authored the first blog I ever read and is the reason I wanted to blog in the first place. (See the short lived Things that keep me up at night.) I could not be more honored that he is willing to contibute to this site.

One of the reasons for my incredible lack of posts has been my utter disillusionment with it all. There has been so much to talk about but never is it positive. Every day it just seems like the same mistakes are being made again and again. I've completely lost all capacity to criticize (quite an acheivement) because the criticism never leads anywhere. What's the point, right? Bush is an idiot. Obviously. Cheney supports torture. Really? Collectively the leadership is turning this country into an unrecognizable shell of its former self. Most striking is the fact that this administration has stolen the less objectionable pages from the Stalinist playbook (and occasionally some of the more objectionable). (Disclaimer: I do no think the Bushies are Stalinist, nor do I think they are as vile as Stalin. Thanks for not taking this out of context.) All of this is well-known. And none of it seemed to matter much.

It used to be that I thought the Democratic Party could be successful just by pointing all of this out; that America just didn't know, that Democrats should simply pull back the curtain and expose the "wizard." That has been done thanks not to Democrats but to a natural disaster and public's own realization that they were lied to about Iraq. And now Democrats have finally started to do what they should have been doing all along and attack the rot at the core of this administration. Good for us.

But I'm afraid that the delay in doing so tells us a lot about the modern Democratic Party. The Democratic Party lacks vision (and possibly courage since it took this long to stand up. It is quite easy to kick the bully when he is already on the ground.). Until recently when I would hear others say this I would object. I would point out all the obvious differences. But now, I think I was wrong.

Look, I know what I believe in. And the reality is that I'm a Democrat for one reason. The individual candidates that run for election and come closest to my views also happen to be Democrats. That is the reason. It has to be. Because when you think about it, other than Anybody But Bush, what is the Democratic platform? Oh we have ideas, but the Democratic Party expresses all of its ideas in some form of, "Aren't the Republicans horrible for doing X?" Lately, it seems like the Democrats can't define themselves without the Republicans. And that just makes me sad. Democrats need to be Democrats, not "not Republicans."

In short, Democrats need to find a vision and they need to promote that vision not in the first instance as a way to point out differences with the G.O.P. but as a way to point out what the Democrats believe this country is, what it represents, and what it could do if Democrats were in charge. This will necessarily be in opposition to the Republicans. That is to be expected and to be welcomed. But I think we need to stop saying, "Look the Republicans are horrible, we would be different." Democrats need to say, "This is what we believe in. Look at how the Republicans are destroying what we believe in. Why the hell would you ever want to vote for a Republican?" I think there is a subtle but distinct difference. The contrast remains. The whiny-ness is cut out.

So here is what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to try to post ideas for the Democratic Party's positive vision. These ideas are going to be rough and rudimentary. They are going to lack proper sourcing and be based solely on conjecture and my belief in how the world works. They will likely expose more of my ignorance than anything else. They may also be outlandish and mostly impossible. But hopefully they will get us all thinking about who Democrats are, what we believe in, and what this Country could do if we were in charge. I hope to post every time and good idea comes to me. So, unlike Sergio, I don't expect this to be a daily endeavor. And I invite anybody who wishes to do the same. Hopefully this will be something to get us talking and will be a way for me (us) to define our beliefs and the reason for those beliefs. And for that reason, maybe this post isn't about the Democrats lack of vision, but my own. This may be more of a chance for me to debate with myself (and anybody who wishes to comment or post) and try to justify what I believe it.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Good Night, Gracie

MANIFESTO

From today's Times:
Former Aide to DeLay Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy Case
Michael Scanlon, former aide to a powerful congressman (Tom DeLay) and onetime partner of a wealthy lobbyist (Jack Abramoff), pleaded guilty today to a federal conspiracy charge as part of a deal in which he agreed to cooperate with an investigation into possible wrongdoing by some lawmakers.
I was talking to a couple of journalists friends over the weekend and they both think the this scandal is going to be far more damaging to the Powers That Be than the Fitzgerald investigation. Couldn't happen to better douche bag.

Now if they could only flip Scooter...

I meant to do that

MANIFESTO

I know that this has been posted by every liberal blogger in America, but, my God, this is funny.

MOVIE REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is easily the best of the film series. The first two movies were weak, almost religiously faithful renderings of the books. Hackteur Chris Columbus seemed terrified to leave anything out for fear of reprisals from millions of second graders. The third film, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, was excellent, in part because of how much it diverged from the source novel. It seemed more stream-lined and focussed. (There is nothing worse than a bloated suspense story and that is essentially what all the stories are. Author J.K. Rowling starts by introduces readers to some new aspect of wizarding life and eventually a mystery unfolds until the eventual confrontation in the last act.)

Golblet of Fire strips away all the excess and jumps right in. Instead of opening in the Muggle world of the Dursley's (which I've always found tedious, both in the novels and especially the movies), the film starts at the Quidditch World Cup which is almost immediately attacked by Klan-like Death Eaters. From there, we jump right back to Hogwarts where danger is around every corner as Harry competes in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The tournament acts as the spine of the story and is very well done. I usually hate CGI crap, but this one really works, especially in the first challenge when Harry has to fight a dragon. It looked about as good as this sort of thing has ever looked onscreen.

The most impressive thing about the film is its intensity. Not just in its pacing, but in its performances. Everyone is amped up, yelling and manhandling each other. All theperformers are terrific. Brendan Gleeson steals the first part of the movie as new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Mad-Eye Moody. I couldn't help being reminded of R. Lee Ermey's horrifying performance as the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket. Gleeson does a great riff on that type of character here. But his performance is no match for the appearance of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in the third act. In what the New York Times says "may be the greatest screen performance ever delivered without the benefit of a nose," he is sublime. As the snake-like villain, Fiennes give an award-level performance. (He practically usies his perfect diction as a weapon.) He was a perfect choice to play the ultimate villian of this series and his one-scene apearance is a mere preview of great things to come.

As I said before, this is easily the best of the Harry Potter films and the first to reach a Lord of the Rings-like level of quality. It was tied for tenth on my list of films to see this fall. If I see nine films better than this one between now and the end of the year, it's going to be a great season at the movies.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Big Brother eBay

MANIFESTO

Here's an interesting tidbit from this morning's New York Post:
Fugitive Peter Braunstein bought enough potassium nitrate to blow up a small building just five weeks before the twisted Halloween-night sex assault in which he's the prime suspect, The Post has learned.

... Braunstein spent more than $500 on eBay since August, buying many of the same tools cops say were used in the crime, according to online records obtained by The Post.

... Braunstein purchased the potassium nitrate, commonly known as saltpeter, under the eBay account name "gulagmeister." He paid $20.95, according to online records obtained by The Post.

Seven days later, he sent confirmation to the seller saying he'd received his purchase, his online correspondence shows.
While I certainly don't sanction Mr. Braunstein's actvities, it's striking to note that his eBay purchases could be discovered with such ease.

This snooping situation isn't all that different from the powers given authorities in the heinous USA PATRIOT Act whereby they can identify potential criminals (or "terr'ists" as the Bushies would have it) by examining the books they've taken out of a library.

This scenario is just another example showing how the myriad electronic trails we leave can be so easily followed, and it's not particularly consoling.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Jacklin?

MANIFESTO

Connecticut News Junkie reported yesterday that the Chicago Tribune Co. has offered the Hartford Courant's inimitable political writer, Michele Jacklin, a severance deal. If this is so, this is a great loss for the people of Connecticut.

Jacklin is by far the most prescient of Connecticut's political writers. She knows where all the bodies are buried and has shown time and time again her insight into the machinations of Hartford's politics.

She pulls no punches and is certainly not afraid to cast aspersions toward both parties when such accusations are appropriate. (Examples of her work can be found here, here, and here.)

In the final analysis, this decision shows just what a rag the Courant has become. The Jacklin decision is symptomatic of the aggrandizing of American newspapers. That is, although the Courant purports to be the state's newspaper, in fact, decisions regarding its operations are being made in Chicago with an invariable glance at the bottom line.

With the Woodward episode showing yet again just how chummy reporters have gotten with politicians, the dismissal of a truly independent reporter like Jacklin is all the more disheartening.

(By the way, I'm looking forward to blogging on this site. Thanks to all who invited me.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#1

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In the last entry of his epic series, Sergio reveals the film he is most looking forward to this fall.

1. Munich
directed by Steven Spielberg
opens 12/23

War of the Worlds was the first Hollywood movie about the 9/11 attacks. Sure, they dressed it up like it was another piece of Steven Spielberg summer escapism, but in reality it reenacted how we all felt on that most tragic of days. Sudden, devastating attacks on civilian rather than the military targets, complete uncertainty of where to go to safety, the very real possibility of other more dangerous attacks; these were all the things we went through on September 11th. Star Tom Cruise even went on to play the role of a deranged nutjob ("Matt, Matt, Matt...you're glib.") intent on changing the world through religious fundamentalism, just like Osama. And the ending was ending was a letdown and just as phony as our "War on Terror" is destined to be. Spielberg very much made a 9/11 movie. On December 23rd, exactly six months after the release of War of the Worlds, he tackles Israeli/Palestinian relations head on.

Munich focusses not on the abduction and eventual killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics at the hands of the Palentinian terrorist group Black September, but rather on how Israel reacted in the aftermath. (For a great primer on the massacre, see Kevin McDonald's riviting, Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September.) Israel was going to play hardball.

Eric Bana plays a Mossad officer Mike Harrari who is charged by a high-ranking group of Israeli officials known as "Committee-X," lead by Israeli premiere Golda Meir and Defense Minister Mosha Dayan, to lead a secret team of agents on an assassination campaign against every strategist and supporter known to have supported Black September's Munich operation. It was known as Operation Wrath of God. It's goal was to strike fear in the hearts of those that would attack Israel. Harrari was committed to keep collateral damage to a minimum, but along the way more than a few innocent lives were taken either by mistake or miscalculation.

Obviously this is highly-charged material. Is Spielberg the right director for the job? Perhaps a provacatuer like Oliver Stone would have been better, someone a little less interested in maintaining a populist reputation. But then again, Speilberg is perhaps the only filmmaker alive who could have gotten the movie made. (He literally has carte blanche to make whatever movies he wants.) And he has continually delivered the goods with this kind of material. I'm thinking of Saving Private Ryan and, in particular, Schindler's List. (He won the Oscar for Best Director for each of these films.) They could very easily could have turned into maudlin mush. While having moments of overt sentimentality, in the end they became powerful pieces of popular art that both recreated their times and commented on them. Munich will have to walk a very fine line. It can't have these men gleefully pursuing vengeance, nor can it soft-peddle the reality that Israel made a morally questionable choice to sanction murder. This film will inhabit and a very, very gray area of morality. These are not Red State/Blue State, black-and-white issues. Spielberg knows this. Some films have more riding on them than others. Spielberg knows Munich will be compared to Schindler's List so there is no way he's going to try to create something other than a complex, morally probing masterpiece.

Which is why it is very encouraging that Spielberg hired Tony Kushner to write the screenplay. Kushner won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Angel in America and is no stranger to controversy. That play, which was later made into a terrific mini-series for HBO, fanned the fires of the culture wars without compunction. All the characters, from the heroes to the so-called villains were completely three-dimensional and all highly flawed. That is why they were so arresting. I can't see Kushner writing a by-the-numbers, payback procedural. He's too much of a humanist for that. Nor can I see him writing something that, on its face, seems like such black-and-white material. A you-killed-us so we'll-kill-you mentality is way too simpleminded for a talent like Kushner.

Movies set in the past are often more interested in telling truths about the times they were made rather than the times they recreate. Robert Altman's brilliant MASH was set in Korea but was about Vietnam. This year's Good Night, and Good Luck is about the press standing up to McCarthyism but is really a critique about the current media's lapses in covering the Bush administration. By going back to the past, you can shine a brighter light on the present. Israel responded to the Olympic massacre with assassination. We responded to 9/11 by going to war with Iraq. Both are highly troubling responses. Spielberg has said in his only public comments about the film so far:
"Viewing Israel's response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy adds a human dimension to a horrific episode that we usually think about only in political or military terms. By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff we find ourselves in today."
Mark my words, as with any Spielberg film, this movie is going to be all over the media. It's going to be on magazine covers and on television and everywhere in between. There will be countless interviews with the filmmakers and the real-life participants. They will all be trying to sort out the lessons of the "Munich" retaliations and if any of those lessons apply to today's world.

To me, the biggest thing impeding the artistic success of Munich is Spielberg's tendency to lapse into sentimentality. The teaser shows a few flashes of this (as Bana talks to his young daughter on the phone), but seeing it out of context makes it it is impossible to tell how offending it may be. I hope he keeps the emotional underlining to a minimum. I hope he not only has us relishing the vengeance of Israel, but also feeling the guilt of everyone involved. If Spielberg pulls his punches and has everyone hugging at the end, he's dead. The best filmmaking delivers contradictory emotions. The rides are never smooth. The outcomes are never certain. No one has seen this film yet so who knows if it deserves the top ranking. But if Spielberg challenges viewers and our (mis)conceptions, he may add another essential film to his canon. And that is what makes it my number one movie of the fall.

RECAP:
  1. Munich
  2. Syriana
  3. Brokeback Mountain
  4. Walk the Line
  5. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
  6. The New World
  7. The Family Stone
  8. Match Point
  9. Bubble
  10. King Kong/Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (tie)
These aren't even all the movies I want to see. Some that didn't make the list include (in no particular order) The Producers, Memoirs of a Geisha, Jarhead, Shopgirl, Rent, Freedomland, Aeon Flux, Rumor Has It, Fun with Dick and Jane, The Matador and Cache. I could only pick ten for the list. (Okay, eleven.)

I've enjoyed writing this series and hope everyone has liked it. It turned out to be a lot more work than I thought but was all worth it since I was able to refer to myself in the third person. Sergio will follow up with reviews/thoughts about all the movies on the list as he sees them. It will be interesting to see where they fall come January.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#2

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

2. Syriana
directed by Stephen Gaghan
opens 11/23 in select theaters, nationwide 12/9

Get ready for Fat Clooney. "Fat Clooney is one of the greatest things you'll see in a movie all year" said one anonymous journalist to Jeffrey Wells. Clooney plays a CIA intelligence officer that has spent his entire career tracking international terrorists. His story is part of the jigsaw puzzle that is Syriana, written and directed by Oscar-winner Stephen Gaghan (Traffic).

Gaghan spent eighteen months and $70,000 of the studio's money researching Syriana. He was initially introduced to the subject through Robert Baer's book See No Evil. (Clooney plays a slightly fictionalized version of Baer in the movie.) But the book had little narrative and gave no help in terms of plot. From Time:
For a year and a half, (Gaghan) read books on the Middle East in his Malibu beach house and then, at his leisure, jetted off to meet people he had read about. He crossed Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on the first anniversary of 9/11, dined with men now suspected of killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and sipped cappuccino in the kitchen of former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle. Being a guy from Hollywood was often all it took to get people talking.
Like Traffic, Syriana has a multiple storyline approach. In addition to Clooney's CIA operative, the film follows a young energy industry analyst (Matt Damon) out to make a deal with an Arab sheik and a Washington lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) investigating a merger between two huge oil companies and the corruption that comes with the territory. Films like Jarhead and Three Kings have taken on the difficulties in the middle east, but each of them came out years after the actions they depict take place. Syriana could be happening today. Or even tomorrow. This story will never get old. The tagline for the movie is "Everything is Connected." You better believe it, brother. Am I paranoid? You're not paranoid enough.

Syriana has one of the best trailers of the year. (The poster is terrific, too.) The line that gets me is spoken by Tim Blake Nelson playing an oil-company hack.
"Corruption? Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why we win."
Dialogue like this give me chills. I love it in movies when people take the Indefensible Position. They try to seduce you into thinking up is down and black is white. Michael Douglas' "Greed is Good" speech from Wall Street is probably the best example, followed by Jack Nicholson's rant at the end of A Few Good Men. Syriana takes the issues and arguments of the middle east and the oil industries off the op-ed pages and puts them into a geo-political thriller that will be one of the most talked about movies of the year.

This is an angry film that demands attention. It is the kind socially aware thriller Hollywood used to make in the 70s that is virtually extinct today. It is going to be the kind of movie that draws attention to itself and forces people to ask questions. Look for "Syriana" to become the catch-all buzz word regarding oil industry malfeasance a la "Wag the Dog." The great William Goldman famously said: "No one wants to make a movie that depends on you pulling it off." Well, it looks like Gaghan and company have pulled it off. Get ready for Fat Clooney.

TOMORROW: After making his 9/11 movie, Hollywood's biggest director takes on the Israeli/Palestinian problem in the most anticipated movie of the fall.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How to Market a Love Story

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As I referred to in my earlier post, Brokeback Mountain is going to be a difficult movie to market. Normally, a western would be a "guy" movie but this is obviously a different kind of western. In fact, the movie's trailer is often snickered at by men when it plays in theaters. In a Newsweek article, producer James Schamus is asked "how do you get those guys to see the movie?"
You don't. "If you have a problem with the subject matter, that's your problem, not mine...It would be great if you got over your problem, but I'm not sitting here trying to figure out how to help you with it." In an early meeting, Schamus told Lee that, from a marketing standpoint, they were making this film for one core audience. "Yes, of course," Lee said. "The gay audience." No, Schamus said. "Women."
He then gives a facisnating bit of insight about the poster.
...Schamus didn't research posters of famous Westerns for ideas. He looked at the posters of the 50 most romantic movies ever made. "If you look at our poster," he says, "you can see traces of our inspiration, Titanic."
The result is certainly uncanny. Star Jake Gyllenhaal has an interesting theory about why men are soooo uncomfortable with a movie like this:
"I suspect it's a fear that they are going to enjoy it. They don't understand that you are not going to become sexually attracted to men by recognizing the beauty of a love story between two men."
So come on guys, strap on a set and see this film on December 9th when it opens. It's just a movie.

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#3

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In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

3. Brokeback Mountain
directed by Ang Lee
opens 12/9

Brokeback Mountain is the story of two poor ranch hands who meet in Wyoming in the 60s and fall into a passionate affair. Neither on considers himself a homosexual, but both are unprepared for their relationship to come to an end. One dreams of buying a ranch together. The other thinks they'll be killed if anyone suspects their relationship. So they both marry and have children, but never stop longing in their hearts for each other. The movie covers twenty years of their lives as they try to come to terms with these unexpected emotions.

Normally, I would think a "gay cowboy" movie sounds kind of lame, but this movie absolutely has the best buzz of any film this fall. It killed at the Toronto Film Festival and won the top prize in Venice. It was adapted by Larry McMurtry from a short story by E. Annie Proulx. Both are Pulitzer Prize-winners, McMurtry for another western, Lonesome Dove, which happens to be my favorite book of all time. This guy knows cowboys. And I hear it pulls no punches with the depiction of homosexuality. These guys apparently really go at it, which will be something of a first for a Hollywood movie.

I've never been a huge Ang Lee fan. His films are almost always adored, but they are always a little too repressed for my tastes. Films like The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility are good, but I don't really want to revisit them. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. I'm as sick to death of all the martial art "flying movies" as anyone, but this one was spectacular and had amazing performances. Lee's last film was Hulk. It was, in no uncertain terms, a disaster. By all accounts he rebounds mightily here.

I've read the short story "Brokeback Mountain" and it is truly beautiful. It is spare and poignant and heartbreaking. Newsweek has said:
"...its raw masculinity, spare dialogue and lonely imagery subverted the myth of the American cowboy and obliterated gay stereotypes(...)

...(it) feels like a landmark film. No American film before has portrayed love between two men as something this pure and sacred. As such, it has the potential to change the national conversation and to challenge people's ideas about the value and validity of same-sex relationships."
I am very curious to see how McMurtry has fleshed it out Proulx's short story into a feature film. This guy can do westerns in his sleep, but the story isn't really a western. The guys work on a ranch, that's all. You could put this story in almost any repressive environment and have a similar result. Jeffrey Wells says "the film is about denial and shutting down your feelings, and how this finally leads to the shriveling of the soul." It's about the characters, not how they make a living.

Heath Ledger(!) is said to give a brilliant performance as the more repressed of the two and is a lock for a Best Actor nod. Expect this to be a Best Picture nominee and one of the best reviewed movies of the year. There is some concern in Hollywood about how a film like this will play in middle America. Those who've seen it say it is not really about homosexuality but love in general. There are already stories about people who have attended screenings and wept in the bathroom afterwards. I'm not sure I'll ever react to a movie quite so dramatically, but I will definitely check it out. Gay western. We'll never look at another John Wayne movie the same way again.

NEXT: My favorite movie star gets fat and gives one of the most acclaimed performances of the year.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I hope everyone has an ethical weekend

MANIFESTO

Christopher Buckley, author of the hilarious Thank You For Smoking, has a brilliant take on the White House and their "ethical" problems. I won't even try to paraphrase, just read it for yourself.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#4

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

4. Walk the Line
directed by James Mangold
opens 11/18

Johnny Cash is a true legend in music. Like Elvis Presley, Cash made his first recordings at Sun Records in Nashville, Tennessee. And like the King, there was something different about the Man in Black. His voice is spare, his lyrics often simple. But they created indelible images of men and women and their Biblical-like struggles with love, hate and death.

Like all legendary figures, Johnny Cash was a person of extremes and full of contradictions. He was a deeply religious man who got into brawls, drank too much and was a drug addict. He was lucky enough to meet the woman of his dreams but to his misfortune he was already married with kids. He gave renowned concerts in maximum Federal prisons like Folsom and San Quentin. Perhaps part of him knew there was very little difference between his demons and those of the prisoners who cheered him. By performing for men the rest of scoiety wanted no part of, he acknowledged this. He was both a fighter and a poet.

I came to Johnny Cash at the end of his career. His cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" profoundly moved me. The video, directed by Mark Romanek, is the most haunting I've ever seen. It focusses on Cash's old age and contrasts it with images from throughout his dynamic career. From there I bought all the "American Recordings" albums produced by Rick Rubin. Cash and Rubin were an unlikely pair. At the time, Cash was seen as a has-been and Rubin, co-founder of DefJam Records, was known mostly for his work in hip hop and heavy metal. Together they created albums that are spare masterpieces. From there I travelled back in time to the prime of Cash's career and fell in love all over again. I'm not normally a country music fan, but Cash seemed different. Sure, he played country songs. But they had a different energy than I expected. I still remember when the "Hurt" video was nominated for a passel of MTV awards in 2003, they ran a piece where artists from every genre testified to his greatness. It's one thing for Sheryl Crow to appreciate him, it's another to hear it coming from from Pharrell and Snoop Dog. (Snoop called him the original "gansta" or something like that.) I was struck by how musicians listen to and enjoy all different kinds of music, not just the kind they create themselves.

Which brings us to the movie itself. Luckily, Walk the Line is a known quantity. It has already played at festivals and been praised by critics. Joaquin Phoenix nails Cash's artistry and his volatility. Reese Witherspoon plays June Carter Cash, the love of his life, and makes it clear why he went to all the trouble. The movie covers all four corners of Cash's career (his childhood, his music, his addicitons, and his love life), but the main storyline is his decade-long pursuit of June's heart.

The buzz is strong for Walk the Line. Phoenix and Witherspoon are said the be locks for Oscar nominations. There are many who are comparing it to last year's Ray, for obvious reasons. I liked that movie and admired Jamie Foxx's performance but I think Walk the Line will be better. Ray's overlength dampened its power. I don't think Line will make the same mistake. If they're smart, the filmmakers will follow the model of one of Cash's songs and keep is simple and to the point. Exactly the way the Man in Black would have wanted it.

NEXT: Two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors give new meaning to the word "cowpoke."

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#5

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

5. The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada
directed by Tommy Lee Jones
opens 12/14

Like The New World, The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada is going to put a heavy emphasis on the natural environment in the telling of its story. It is a modern-day tale set in western Texas and northern Chihuahua, Mexico. Tommy Lee Jones plays Pete, a ranch foreman whose friend Melquiades (Julio Cesar Cedillo) is killed by a corrupt border patrolman named Mike (the always terrific Barry Pepper). Honoring his promise to bury his friend in Mexico in the event of his death, Pete forces Mike at gunpoint to disinter the body of Melquiades and deliver him to his hometown south of the Rio Grande. "I don't want to be buried among these billboards," Mel once told him. Thus begins a dangerous and quixotic journey into Mexico.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada began when Tommy Lee Jones was on a Texas deer-hunting trip with the writer Guillermo Arriaga and the producer Michael Fitzgerald. "We said, hell, we got enough talent in the cab of this pickup truck to make us a movie," he said, "and that's when we started." The journey they began that day has so far been an artistic triumph.

Three Burials' script won the prize at Cannes for Best Screenplay. It is by Mexican writer Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote Amores Perros and 21 Grams. If you've seen these films, you can be certain Three Burials will be a profoundly soulful piece, full of deep emotion and compassion. Redemption will be a major theme here. The movie is said to be similar in feeling to the writings of Cormac McCarthy (the brilliant All the Pretty Horses). It is set in the west and is populated with men who seem to come from an era that has passed by. They see the world in simple yet truthful terms, and when their code is violated, they take action in violent ways. Three Burials has been called "old-fashioned" by Roger Ebert, who raved about it at Cannes. He means that in the best possible way.

Tommy Lee Jones directs as well as stars. It always a little dangerous when a star directs himself. It often comes out indulgent or myth-making. (See Kevin Costner's The Postman.) But Jones has apparently delivered the goods here. He won Best Actor at Cannes and is a certain nominee for an Oscar. I've always been a big fan of Jones, especially Lonesome Dove, The Fugitive, and JFK. He has an uncanny ability to let the audience see him thinking. (A trait shared by my movie girlfriend, Rachel McAdams.) Lonesome Dove is one of my top three favorite movies of all-time. If this new western is half as good, we're all in for something very, very special.

TOMORROW: The story of a guy that shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Theory of Gravity

MANIFESTO

From Hendrick Hertzberg in this week's The New Yorker:
In the three elections that produced the current lineup—those of 2000, 2002, and 2004—all Republican candidates received about ninety-five million votes, while all Democratic candidates got almost ninety-eight million. The perverse result is a ten-seat Republican majority. The worst that could happen is that the Republicans would abolish the filibuster for judicial nominations, a big first step toward abolishing it altogether. In the long run, or maybe not so long, that would be good for liberal governance. What goes up must come down.
This stunning fact drives a stake through the heart of the Republican argument that they represent the majority of the nation. I only hope Hertzberg's Theory of Gravity is correct.

(By the way, The New Yorker's Op-Ed section, "The Talk of the Town," is one of the best-written around. It doesn't get as much play as the New York Times or the Washington Post (or even Atrios for that matter and he barely writes anything), but I find the arguments made on its pages to be the most eloquent and persuasive in all the media. I highly recommend readers of this blog to add it to their must-read list.)

Snakes on a Plane UPDATE 2

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

This poster is a joke but I had to share. Only 282 days 'til opening night!

(I'm not the only one feeling the power of SoaP. These guys are selling T-Shirts!)

Movie Review: A History of Violence

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David Cronenberg depicts violence as a virus. Once it is unleashed, it consumes an entire family. First it is unleashed by the father. Then it infects the son. The mother tries to reject it and begins throwing up in the bathroom. The father says he thought he was cured years ago in the desert. But there is no cure.

A History of Violence is a very good movie, one that shows violence in a very different way than most films. The violence here happens very quickly and is often gruesome. Cronenberg is well-known for his pre-occupation with "the flesh" and that theme continues here. When someone gets their face blown off, it is really blown off. He forces you to look at it and confront your own feelings about violence and screen violence. There is a crucial difference.

I've never personally been in a truly violent situation but I've observed plenty of fights and know that most people's reaction to conflict is to freeze. Very few people are comfortable in these situations. That is how the people in A History of Violence behave, even some of the "bad guys." In most movies, people are quick to join in the fight and know exactly what to do, exactly how to throw a perfect punch. Screen violence is more about choreography than realism. It is more about fulfilling the fantasies of the audience.

Violence is not a perfect movie, in fact, some of the action at the end seems over-the-top. It would fit perfectly in a Lethal Weapon movie, but not here. (Cronenberg falls into his own trap.) The performances are uniformly excellent. Viggo Mortenson is fine in a role that Harrison Ford could have played 20 years ago. Maria Bello gives another strong performance. And William Hurt is very funny as an unlikely gangster. But for me Ed Harris steals the movie. His performance as the outsider with the scarred face and glass eye who comes to town to settle old scores is chilling. He has been a consistently great actor now for over 25 years.

In addition to violence, the movie also has two very powerful loves scenes. The first is surprisingly kinky and goes on a lot longer than you expect. The second is very raw and has provoked various responses from people I know that have seen the movie. One person called it rape, while most others saw it as rough sex. I agree wholeheartedly with the latter. There is a moment where, as if intoxicated by the violence around them, the couple stop hitting each other and begin to f*ck. (There is no other word to describe it.) At the end, they act like strangers to each other, emptiness filling both of them. It is one of the most intense sex scenes I've ever seen.

The biggest disappointment I had seeing A History of Violence was not the movie but the audience I saw it with. I was watching a movie that was condemning violence while most of the audience was watching a movie that was condoning it. When people were hurt, they literally cheered. It's a depressing thought, but I think it is impossible to make a film that depicts violence without celebrating it. Audiences are too conditioned to react with pleasure. They simply can't be trusted.

I appreciate the maturity of Cronenberg's direction. He stages violence then forces us to look at the aftermath. He depicts two very difference love scenes and makes us compare and contrast the different emotions that can send people to bed together. Few filmmakers are willing to show these things because they are uncomfortable. But they are honest and that is why they are so memorable.

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#6

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

6. The New World
directed by Terrence Malick
opens 12/25

Now that Stanley Kubrick has passed on, Terrence Malick is the Most Reclusive Genius working in films today. He has only made three films in 32 years, never gives interviews and has rarely been seen in public by those outside his close circle of collaborators. While Badlands and Days of Heaven are his two masterpieces, The Thin Red Line is probably more familiar with modern audiences. His films contain some of the most haunting and beautiful images ever to grace the screen. His work is often transcedent.

Badlands (1973) is a the story of a killer and his teenage girlfriend (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) on the run from the law across the midwest. Days of Heaven (1978) is about two young lovers (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) who plot to steal from a dying rancher (Sam Shephard). It was 20 years before he finished another film, 1998's The Thin Red Line. (While it is impossible to dismiss the beauty of the images, I'm not a fan of the epic Line; it never reaches the cohesion and brilliance of his earlier, shorter films.) All three films rely heavily on voice over. What is different about Malick is his narrators are not wise nor eloquent (like say Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby.) Badlands' Sissy Spacek spoke with the naivete of a teenage girl and Days of Heaven's Linda Manz sounds downright uneducated. But their lack of eloquence was more than surpassed by a sense of feeling. Their words were not spoken by someone with all the answers in front of them. Rather, they came from the point of view of someone in the middle of the mist, someone who was living these feelings right at that moment. I rarely use "poetic" to describe writing in movies, but it is unavoidable here.

The New World is Malick's take on the Pocahontas legend. Colin Farrell plays John Smith, 17th century founder of Jamestown. Newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher plays Pocahontas, who famously saves Smith from death at the hands of her father, then has a affair with him. For a movie so close to release, there is little or no indications about what the final product will look like. Malick is famously protective of his work and hasn't yet screen it for critics. But the trailer is simply gorgeous.

Terrence Malick is truly one of the most original voices working in film today and serious filmgoers shouldn't miss The New World. If you only know his work from The Thin Red Line, I highly recommend getting the DVDs of Badlands and Days of Heaven. You'll then understand what all the fuss is about.

TOMORROW: An Oscar-winning actor dons his director's cap and heads south of the border.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#7

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

7. The Family Stone
directed by Thomas Bezucha
opens 12/16

Rachel McAdams is my movie girlfriend. (She replaced my long-time love Uma Thurman earlier this year after I saw The Notebook and Red Eye back-to-back.) I'm going out with her not just because she is beautiful (of course) but also because she is a really good screen actor, probably the best of her age. There is always something going on in her eyes that tells you her mind is working. (This is particularly true in Red Eye. This is not a quality you can underestimate. If an actor can make you believe they are actually connecting the dots and not just following the script, they are doing something great.) The Notebook could have been schmaltzy crap, but McAdams' performance (alongside Ryan Gosling) had real spark. It was one of the few love stories in recent memory where you really felt these people were both in love and in lust with each other.

The Family Stone is about a hippie-ish family uniting in common cause when their favorite son (Dermot Mulroney) brings his uptight girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the Christmas holiday, with plans of proposing. Overwhelmed by the hostile reception, she begs her sister (Claire Danes) to join her for emotional support, triggering further complications. McAdams and Luke Wilson plays the siblings, Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton play the parents.

If you watch the trailer for The Family Stone, it looks a little sitcom-ey. From what I've heard, this is deceiving. The film was produced by Michael London, who also delivered The House of Sand and Fog, Thirteen and the brilliant Sideways. This guy knows classy, personal filmmaking and isn't going to waste his time on junk. The buzz is Diane Keaton is a lock for a Supporting Actress nomination. By the trailer at least, it looks like Luke Wilson is going to steal the show. Of the Wilson brothers, I've always been a bigger fan of Owen. Luke always seemed so boring, so blah. But he really came around for me in Old School and he looks hilarious here. The film is being sold as an emsemble but I've heard Wilson's role gradually becomes the lead by the end.

Writer/director Thomas Bezucha is a complete unknown. He directed a little-seen indie a few years ago and almost made this one on two different occasions outside of Hollywood. I'm glad he was able to hang in there and get this made with a decent budget and an A-list cast.

You know by the end of the movie, Parker is going to loosen up and the rest of the family is going to accept her. There will probably be hugging and crying. But I am confident it will happen honestly and not in a Nora Ephron-ish bullshit way. (The original title of the script was F***ing Hating Her, which doesn't exactly sound sentimental.) Jeffrey Wells says it is...
...a home-for-the-holidays family pic with smarts and feeling and humor that's simultaneously sensitive, abrasive and "real." Tight, sharply written, enjoyably acted. I've seen it twice so far and I'm looking forward to more viewings.
He's usually pretty tough and doesn't normally abide any sentimental crap. (He hated March of the Penguins.) Here's hoping he's right. And hands off my girlfriend, I saw her first.

TOMORROW: The reclusive poet laureate of American film goes native.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

If...

Universal Remote

If there is a better movie from the last ten years than Three Kings I don't know what it is. That is all.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#8

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

8. Match Point
directed by Woody Allen
opens 12/25

Woody Allen is back. I know he makes a movie every year so he never really left but his work has been so sub-par lately (by anyone's standards) that it's good to know a master has returned to form. Everyone who has seen Match Point says its a knockout. It played to ovations at Cannes and Roger Ebert called it one of Allen's best films, right up there with Annie Hall and Crimes and Misdemeanors. High praise indeed.

It is the first movie Allen has set in London. It concerns a young, poor tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who marries into a rich upper-crust family and then proceeds to have an lustful affair with an American actress played by Scarlett Johannson. Cue the lying and deceit. Eventually, shotguns come into play. It also is said to have a devastating twist ending. (From what I can tell, it's not a Sixth Sense, Pull-The-Rug-Out-From-Under-You twist, but rather of the You-Are-Screwed-And-You-Never-Saw-It-Coming variety. We'll find out.) This is definitely a different kind of Woody Allen movie. Roger Ebert has called it:
"...a literate Hitchcock story. Tension coils tightly under the surface as the pleasant young man becomes a liar, an adulterer, a betrayer of trust, and finally a man who thinks it might be convenient to commit murder. Allen toys with the audience in scenes where Chris seems about to be discovered, exposed, trapped or disgraced."
Woody Allen has now made 36 movies. Almost all of them are good, and a few are exceptional. (My personal favorites are Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Everyone Says I Love You, in that order.) Crimes is probably the closest thing Allen has come to making a thriller. (That film was more about the guilt associated with commiting a crime rather than the fear of getting caught. In the end, all thrillers are about fear.) I know Woody Allen is a particular taste and many people simply do not like him nor his sense of humor. It would be a mistake to use that as an excuse to skip this one. (He is not in it nor is it a comedy.) Too bad the trailer is so lame.

Match Point should be a welcome change of pace for one of the most distinctive voices in American cinema.

MONDAY: My girlfriend starts acting funny.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What is up with this sentence?

whatever

Nobody else cares, but what is up with this sentence from the AP story on Joey Buttafuoco?
He was a New York auto body shop owner in 1992 when his 17-year-old lover, Amy Fisher, shot his wife, Mary Jo. Fisher, nicknamed the "Long Island Lolita," served seven years in prison.
Seriouly, if you didn't know what happened would this sentence help you at all? It is sad when I point out bad writing.

Update:(by Chill) I'm a moron. One, this is two sentences. Two, I didn't notice that when I read it which led to my confusion. I simply didn't see the period after Jo. With that, this PARAGRAPH makes sense. Again, I'm an idiot, please move on to the next post. Thanks.

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#9

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

In a continuing series, Sergio reveals the ten films he is most looking forward to this fall.

9. Bubble
directed by Steven Soderbergh
opens in December (TBD)

We go from the two highest budgeted films on the list to the lowest. Bubble is Steven Soderbergh's return to the low-budget filmmaking. It is only 79 minutes long and was shot on video by a crew of about six using non-professional actors on actual locations. In addition to directing, Soderbergh also produced, shot, and edited the film. It was paid for (in part) by 2929 Entertainment, a new company co-owned by Mark Cuban that is trying to change how movies are made and distributed. The plan is to release Bubble to theaters, DVD and cable all on the same day. (The date still has not been announced but will be sometime in December.) Soderbergh has said he is hoping this new strategy is successful because it would essentially cut the studios out of the process and allow art-house filmmakers to have more freedom to make less traditional movies. This would be a very good thing.

Bubble is a tale of jealously and violence involving three people who work at a doll factory in rural Ohio. Sort of a Heart-of-Darkness thing in suburbia. Sounds cool, huh? Obviously, a movie like this is going to focus less on melodrama and more on atmosphere and subtext. It played at the New York Film Festival is September to good/very good notices. Personally, I think smaller films like this are essential viewing. It is will interesting to see what about this material inspired such a well-known director to turn his back on big-budgeted Hollywood films with huge stars. I'm sure Soderbergh wanted to recharge his creative batteries. He did a similiar thing back int he early 90's when he made Schizopolis, a crazy handmade film that he also starred in (playing two parts, no less). After that, he made Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. We should should be so lucky if his next films are as good as these. I'm a die-hard Steven Soderbergh fan and am loking forward to see a more experimental side of him. I just haven't decided whether to see it in theaters or to go out and buy the DVD.

TOMORROW: One of the greatest comedians in film history gets serious.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sergio's Fall Movie Countdown--#10

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

There are about 20+ movies opening between now and the end of the year that I want to see in theaters. This does not includes a handful now playing (A History of Violence, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, North Country, Shopgirl) that I haven't caught yet. So for the next ten days, I'm going to count down of the ten best and/or most interesting movies coming out this fall.

10. (tie) King Kong/Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
directed by Peter Jackson and Mike Newell, respectively
opening 12/14 and 11/18, respectively

Okay, so I've already started off with a bit of a cheat by having a tie. (I can assure you it is the only one.) These two films sort of lump together in my mind. They will undoubtably be the two biggest grossers of the season, if not the year. Both are effect-laden extravaganzas of the type that often produce better trailers than films. (See here and here.) I personally hate CG movies because they look so fake. Give me Yoda as a Muppet or the Alien as a tall guy in a suit any day. But the times are what they are and these are the movies they are making.

I don't mean to sound down on either of these films. (Films? They're not films. They're movies!) I think they will both be a good time and a great excuse to eat popcorn. On paper, King Kong seems like the surer thing. Peter Jackson is coming off the Lord of the Rings trilogy and really knows how to tell these kinds of stories. But I'm very concerned with the big ape being CG. I didn't really get all that excited about Gollum in Rings (because he looked fake! Am I the only one that sees this?), but he was only a supporting character. Kong is the main attraction and he's nothing but ones and zeros created on some hard drive in New Zealand. Eventually someone is going to make the perfect CG movies. Maybe a truly gifted filmmaker like Jackson with a $200+ million dollar budget will be the guy who can pull it off. Bladder warning: this one is said to be three hours long.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is based on everyone's favorite book in the series that features Harry competing in the Tri-Wizard tournament. (You may remember it was the first really long one that had third graders doubling over across the country.) Warner Brothers considered splitting the movie into two parts before director Newell convinced them otherwise. So they had to cut a lot, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. (The reason the first two, directed by hackteur Chris Columbus, were less than stellar partly because they were too faithful to the books.) The last Potter film was terrific, raising my expectations. And this one is rated PG-13, raising them even more. And to top it off, Ralph Fiennes plays the human incarnation of he-who-must-not-be-named. So there you have it, the two biggest bluckbusters of the season just barely cracked my top ten.

TOMORROW: An Oscar-winning director goes low budget and plays with dolls.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Capitol Gains

MANIFESTO

Bill Frist is not the first politician to become ensnared in a shady stock deal, nor will he be the last. But he is probably not the only politician who should be under investigation for acting on insider information. Last week's The New Yorker magazine had a very interesting story by James Surowiecki about the seemingly superhuman ability of politicians to ride Wall Street to huge profits.
Last year, Alan Ziobrowski, a professor at Georgia State, headed the first-ever systematic study of politicians as investors. Ziobrowski and his colleagues looked at six thousand stock transactions made by senators between 1993 and 1998. Over that time, senators beat the market, on average, by twelve per cent annually. Since a mutual-fund manager who beats the market by two or three per cent a year is considered a genius, the politicians’ ability to foresee the future seems practically divine. They did an especially good job of picking up stocks at just the right time; their buys were typically flat before they bought them, but beat the market by thirty per cent, on average, in the year after. By those standards, Frist actually looks like a bit of a piker.
The report is then forced to conclude some of these investments were made “based on information that is unavailable to the public” or as its known to the rest of us: Insider Trading. This isn't really a partisan issue. I have no doubt that just as many Democrats are guilty of acting on insider information as Republicans.
There are relatively simple ways to reduce some of this activity—for instance, requiring that insiders disclose in advance when they plan to trade and how much they plan to buy or sell. But ultimately we don’t seem all that interested in doing much about it, unless someone sails too close to the wind too publicly—or you’re Martha Stewart. Perhaps we want to keep the insider’s advantage intact because we all want to be inside. The choice is between a system in which people get rewarded for the work they do and a system in which people get rewarded for who they know or for what they’re lucky enough to stumble into. And in Washington today that’s no choice at all.
It is just another example of how politicians are often in the business of governing for no reason other than themselves.