17 June 2005

Looking for a spoiler -- The Forgotten

Did anyone see "The Forgotten" (the Julianne Moore, M. Night Shine-a-lemon-style one, not the one about POWs)??

I am looking for a spoiler -- what the heck was the difference between the theatrical release ending and the alternate ending?

We played the endings 5 times and couldn't figure it out (or maybe we couldn't figure out how to properly operate the DVD).

06 June 2005

STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH

A fun sump. Humorless and tiresome. Nearly snapped a tooth gritting my teeth when I heard the word 'mitachlorians' in the dialog. Samuel L. Jackson is not allowed to turn his head left or right, or nod up or down. Sucked all the life out of him. Would have snorted at the ideas and dialog if I had not been so exhausted watching it.

Big. Really big. Therefore, a terribly deep hole to fall into.

Heard a robot cough. Thought that was nice, until I realized he was a cyborg. Then I went back to waiting for the end.

Joins the two Matrix sequels at the bottom of the barrel that is UNDER the barrel that you usually look into the bottom of looking for bad things. Marginally better than PHANTOM MENACE and the other one, but still less entertaining than Modern Farmer or infomercials.

TOKYO GODFATHERS

A 13-week-soap-opera's-worth of plot, coincidence, and flapdoodle, with wild shifts in tone without snapping under the stress, and engaging themes, striking art, and a mixture of hyperbole and understatement that makes me green with envy. Christmas-New-Year's themes, homeless people, gangs, car crashes, cute and brute, haiku, and sweet sap.

I became enthusiastic for Japanese animated films years ago... mostly for science-fiction, robots, florid fantasy, and lurid action-opera. That stuff mostly embarrasses me nowadays, except for brief flourishes of style and color. Miyasaki's animation still charms, however [eg, SPIRITED AWAY and PRINCESS MONONOKE]. And now Satoshi Kon. I've seen two other films of his, both odd, remarkable flights of fantasy... PERFECT BLUE and MILLENNIUM ACTRESS. These two show their anime roots. TOKYO GODFATHER, on the other hand, is a modern melodrama, with only the lightest touches of fantasy... stock stereotypes exaggerated into grand scale by a VERY vigorous plot. Light-hearted and satisfying... at time, elegant and touching.

This is a fine candidate for a Rolston movie night... the sort of film most folks wouldn't think to see, and would be pleasantly surprised and charmed by.

03 June 2005

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004)

Okay, so I have a weakness for singing and dancing. I admit it! But this film... yuck. I think it's easier to figure out what it has going for it rather than what it doesn't.

So here's the good:
- the actress playing Christine has a lovely singing voice.
- the production design is pretty cool.

The bad:
- everything else! Where did they get this goon who plays the Phantom? He's not a good singer, and his character leaps back and forth between pouting, sulking, brooding and stalking. One minute you think you might feel sorry for him, and then he's just immature and overdramatic.

And while I admire the production design, I had to laugh at the Phantom's bachelor pad under the Paris opera house. So the guy lives in the bowels of the place, and never sees the light of day... but he has a rather fancy hovel that looks like it's out of the Victoria's Secret catalogue.

Finally: the music - Andrew Lloyd Webber, what happened to you? How can someone write Jesus Christ Superstar, which features some of the most moving music EVER, and then such drivel as this?

16 May 2005

KING ARTHUR

Saw this in the theater, and somehow failed to see what a stinker it is.

Saw it again on DVD, and the stench was unmistakable.

Even the thing I liked the most, the Saxon war chief and main antagonist, wasn't as good as I remembered him. Good, yes, distinctive, yes... but soaked in cheese.

Everything about the film, from the script to the staging of battle scenes to the score, is false and grandiose rather than dramatic and subtle. But it worked for me the first time, in the theater. I don't recall liking it, particularly, but I do recall looking forward to seeing it again.

Maybe there's a lesson here.

Maybe if you go into a film WANTING to like it, Hollywood grandiosity is like an overly salted and greasy dish... at first, it is filling and satisfying, and it only on reflection that its gross nastiness swells uncomfortably in your stomach.

If the movie made money, it is a good argument for making fast food.

LOOK AT ME

From the French filmmaker of the recommended TASTE OF OTHERS, a very good movie.

The music is beautiful. Singing is the heart's expression of the two primary protagonists, a not-good-looking and not-charming young girl, daughter of one famous writer and bad guy, and a vocal teacher, patron of the not-charming daughter, admirer of the famous writer, and wife to an upcoming writer who falls under the spell of the famous writer.

The famous writer is a real jerk... not a villain, but a plausible and unlovable man. The upcoming writer disappoints us by withering in the shadow of celebrity. But the young girl sings, and we love her, and the vocal teacher shivers in the wind of celebrity, but is of Stronger Stuff, and her spirit survives, too.

Good guys, good music, narrative resolution through the passions of music. Yum yum.

09 May 2005

HERO

I wouldn't watch it twice...

I suppose I'm taking the contrary view, here. This was awful purty to look at and all, but I had a hard time taking it as seriously as it seemed to take itself. Maybe it was the bloodless, Chinese flavor of the fight scenes. My first exposure to martial arts on film was THE SEVEN SAMURAI, in which the sword play felt realistic, even if it was executed with an almost magical dexterity. I have no idea whether samurai can really do what they did in Kurasawa's film, but I sure as hell believed it at the time.

When the Nameless one and Broken Sword battle by the lake, I had to suppress chuckles as they swooped through the air and danced on the water. I'll grant it a few great moments: my favorite was the empty, man-shaped space on the arrow-covered wall of the Great Hall, a sad shadow that perfectly suggested the human pincushion that was somewhere off camera. (For some reason, it reminded of the volleys of gunfire that mark the final moments of Butch and Sundance.)

But "an action move for the ages?" (Michael Wilmington), "an exemplary feat of filmmaking" (Wesley Morris) or "a masterpiece" (Richard Corlis)... I don't think so.

For those interested in related reading, check this article on CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, stumbled across in the course of some Knowledge Management research.

27 April 2005

KUNG FU HUSTLE

Not since MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL has there been a movie farce with such energy and scope.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL is the greater movie, because it includes within its scope the conventions of film itself as well as the medieval romance genre. KUNG FU HUSTLE confines itself to the conventions of martial arts and Hong Kong gangster movies. But WOW does it do a lot with those elements.

Oh, it's really funny. But I had the good fortune to have a pair of big lugs sitting behind me who were Totally Into the kung fu aspects of the film, and they COULD NOT keep quiet.

"OHHHH! That's gotta hurt!"

"HA HA HA! Ow, man! That's heinous!"

So it is really good action, too... just hugely exaggerately for comic purposes. But that does nothing to diminish its action charm.

I think back about my favorite comedies in the past few years, and come up with SNATCH. SNATCH is lovely in its off-beat, off-rhythm humors and sharply particular setting. But SNATCH is a comedy. KUNG FU HUSTLE is a farce. The volume is set to '11'. Even though MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL had the volume set to "12", KUNG FU HUSTLE is still a hugely entertaining film.

**** Pure Entertainment. Worthy as a model of excess. Will stand the test of time, though may not ascend Parnassus.

THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA

An affectionate homage to the cheesy SF films of the fifties and sixties.

Made for $100,000, and it looks it. Uneven, but hugely entertaining at its best. Just tough it out until the aliens change themselves into Earth people and visit the Nice Scientist and His Wife in the cabin.

*** for effort, genuine strikingly original entertainments, and making a movie for a dollar. WARNING: Some of this dialog betrays a writer's tin ear, or the absence of an editor, or having been written in five days. Don't be surprised. But some of the situations, characters, and dialog are a pure hoot.

20 April 2005

MEDEA

Recommended as exploration -- Greek Tragedy played in somber, soggy style on the salt marshes of Denmark.

This is a short (76 minute) film made for Danish television in 1988, by Lars Von Trier, and it got on my list via Mr. Rolston's omnibus recommendation posting from earlier this year. I don't know Von Trier's work, but I now have a heap of new stuff on the queue.

This was an occasion where my weak knowledge of the classics came in handy. I didn't know how the story was going to play out beforehand, although the end was inescapable by the half point. I don't think I'm giving anything away... Jason (he of Argonaut fame) returns home with the Golden Fleece, bringing prosperity to the land and earning the hand of the king's daughter. He'd never have accomplished this mission without Medea, who in addition to helping him bring home the bacon, has borne him two sons. Not unreasonably, the king's daughter wants Medea gone before she'll take Jason to bed. Media is more than a little creepy, knows the dark arts, and wanders in the marshes a lot. So Medea is banished. Before she goes, she takes down the princess with a poisoned wedding gift, which also does in the king and an innocent bystanding horse. Medea heads for the border, giving her sons the last word. She hangs them, leaving their bodies dangling from a tree. "By their death, I can strike at their father."

Lots of memorable images, powerful in their simplicity. The poisoned horse running itself to death. Looks like it was all done with available lighting, and very minimalist costumes and sets. Most of it's played outside, on that gloomy, windswept marshland.

It left me thinking more about the underlying story than this particular production. How would it have played out, if Medea had given birth to daughters? Is she willing to murder her own children, even though she loves them, because she knows they can only grow up to become men?

18 April 2005

THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD

How did I get here? Why did I watch this movie?

a. Vincent D'Onofrio, the star, is a remarkable actor I saw first in THE SALTON SEA, an excellent modern noir recommended to me by Don Riemer. Vincent D'onofrio is a mesmerizing villain in that film.

b. I was surprised to find D'Onofrio with several producer credits. I checked them out, and found one of those producer credits is on THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, in which he also stars.

c. I learned that THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD is about Robert E. Howard, a celebrated pulp writer, creator of Conan. Since in my day job [designer of lurid computer roleplaying games], I create Conan-like heroes and narratives, I had a professional interest in the subject.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover a delicate personal romance between Robert Howard and a woman, Novalyne Price, who later became a college teacher. And I found that the screenwriter, Michael Scott Myers, had once been a student of Novalyne Price. Myers dedicates the movie to her, and her memoir, 'One Who Walks Alone', of her time with Howard during the last years of his life, was the basis of the screenplay.

So the story is very personal, and the film is deeply touching and affecting. Renée Zellweger is splendid as Novalyne Price.

Recommended **** for exploration.

Today I was working hard on preparing a script for our upcoming game, OBLIVION. Patrick Stewart is the voice for the role of the emperor [a sort of Julius Caesar figure]. And I found myself arguing desperately with my producer that we COULD NOT stray from the tight, controlled, Stoic personality and dialog I had written for Stewart because games just flat CANNOT communicate any range of emotional depth in the faces of our actors.

And watching THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, it was clear how film CAN produce that emotional depth.

Of course, Conan doesn't need any great depth of emotional expression. Neither do Gandalf or any of the characters in LORD OF THE RINGS. Not many people will want to see a film like THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. They would much rather skip the deep emotional stuff and see some tough, wooden-faced Stoics beat the livin shit out of some orcs.

Sigh.

I really would like to try making a computer game with some emotional depth. But I doubt there's a market for such, even if we had the technology to produce animated, emotional faces.


NETFLIX BLURB

This Dan Ireland-directed film stars Renee Zellweger as Novalyne Price, a Texas schoolteacher with literary ambitions who falls for pulp fiction scribe Bob Howard (Vincent D'Onofrio) -- a man who gracefully traverses a world of words but can't seem to fit into real life. Howard's most famous literary hero is Conan the Barbarian; he, too, is a barbarian of sorts. He's a capable writer, but is he capable of love?

04 April 2005

SIN CITY

Marv [Mickey Rouark!] and Jackie Boy [Benicio Del Toro] were perfect and adorable characters, and their stories are perfect while they are on-screen.

Visuals are amazing... perfect.

Screenplay was very good. It often went over the top... which is okay, in some ways, because that's where the film wanted to go, but sometimes it went far enough over the top to draw attention to itself in a distracting way.

INCREDIBLES was a perfect movie. SIN CITY was not. And for me, the difference was the degree of love I felt for the characters. I loved everyone in INCREDIBLES. In SIN CITY, some of the characters were caracitures with either too little humanity or painted with too broad a brush to make me love them. In particular, the villains and women need to be lovable in film noir. Jackie Boy and Devon Aoki [Miho] are perfect. The stooges and gnomes and broads are comic, and serviceable as comedy, but they weaken the drama.

Still, to put my negative comments in context, I will probably see this film three times in the theater... the next time for pure visuals, and the third time for re-experiencing the characters, story, and dialog.

DEAD MAN

[BTW: Really glad you turned me on to this, Chris.]

Dead Man is a Jim Jarmulsch western featuring:

a. Johnny Depp as William Blake, an Easterner lost in the West,
b. a screenplay that is at once lyrical-romantic and deadpan farcical, and
c. a compellingly loopy Indian visionary named 'Exaybachay'... or "Nobody", or "He Who Talks Loud, Saying Nothing," who is William Blake's poetic guide on his journey into the literal, figurative, and spiritual West.

The screenplay is the primary delight. The First Nations poetry -- the rhythms of the untranslated language and Nobody's goofy visionquest poetic speech -- is by turns comic caricature and mythic gravity.

Nobody: William Blake, do you know how to use this weapon? [a six-gun]
William Blake: Not really.
Nobody: That weapon will replace your tongue. You will learn to speak through it, and your poetry will now be written with blood.

When Nobody discovers the disabled Johnny Depp in the wilderness, Nobody is shocked and disbelieving when he is told the white man is 'William Blake'. Nobody quotes a Blake poem, and it is immediately clear that Blake has no idea what Nobody is talking about.

Gary Farmer plays Nobody, and why am I not surprised to find that Gary Farmer also plays a character named 'Nobody' in Jarmulsch's Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai?

There are several delicious comic scenes with odds characters and incredible dialog... one featuring Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jared Harris as an amazing bunch of backcountrymen gathered round a campfire... but my favorite group of running gags are the three hired guns sent out to kill William Blake. After one falls by the wayside, the remaining two continue on, painstakingly making their way on horseback from one edge of an extreme long shot frame to the other, and all the time, hearing the persistent drone of Conway Twill, an amiable killer and non-stop blather-box. Imagine you are Cole Wilson, legendary steely-eyed, cold-blooded killer, traveling the wide open spaces of the Great West, a slow, steady pace on horseback, in the company of Conway Twill as he talks on and on and On and ON, as the horses slowly make their way in extreme long shot from one side of the frame to another...

"Anyhow, gettin' back to the beginning of the story, my granddaddy come over from Scotland, you see. He was actually part of the Mactwill clan. Uh, the, uh, clan tartan was kind of gold and purple, if I remember correctly. I never wore a lick of it myself. Dropped the "Mac" part of the name when he decided to come out West... on account of he figured it'd get him more work and all. How 'bout your family history there, Cole? Let me guess. Kind of figured you for a German, huh? I mean, am I right? Am I close? Austrian?..."

At the end of this extreme long shot of seemingly interminable duration, as, the horses exit frame left, cut to black, and you hear a gunshot. And you understand why.

My favorite set in a Makah village, with its Northwest Coastal Indian long houses made of wide spruce planks, its totems, and the icon-decorated walls, garments, and hats of the Makah Native Americans.

It's a beautiful movie, a funny movie, a movie in the tradition of the American western, and a charming piece of visual and dialog poetry. Watch the deleted scenes, too. There is another delightful extreme long shot of Conway Twill's persistent droning, a not-so-pleasant and graphic scene showing what happened after the cut to black and the gunshot that i'm really glad they cut out of the film, and a couple nice scenes between William Blake and Nobody... one that actually makes explicit the dramatic structure of William Blake's journey. I'm glad this scene was cut, even though it is a nice one, because I like figuring out the structure of his quest as it unfolds more than I would have enjoyed being told about it and then watching it unfold.

[BTW: I collected the lengthy dialog excerpts from the English subtitle files I found on the internet. That's my favorite source of dialog clips from surrent screenplays i admire.]

03 April 2005

UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

I was coming into this film as a pretty big Ken Burns fan. I’ve found the numerous episodes of The Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz to be responsible for some of the very few moments in my life when I felt that America was a narrative, a grand story, a story with a meaning . . . and not merely a catalog of atrocities, greed, narrowness, and superficiality rouged up Tammy Faye Baker style in the colors of the flag. Not only have these films rather boldly implied that there is a narrative of America and then convinced me of the fiction, they also (in doing so) made me feel like an American, like I could see myself in relation to the national drama . . . not wholly alienated from it, but as one of its billions of cells. Ken Burns’ vision of America is one large enough to accommodate real individuals . . . even when America, as it has been defined by its powerful elite, has chosen to attack, reject, and destroy some of those individuals. America, a nation antagonistic to its real heroes and mythmakers, the actors in its theater, has grown its soul by opposing these inconsumable creatures, by trying to wolf them down its throat, and then gagging on them. America (as controlled by its elite) has always been a monstrous whale, but its Jonahs, surviving in spite of its appetite, end up being the real heroes of the American story who define the real American consciousness.

This tendency has its pitfalls, of course. For instance, the powerful elite have increasingly learned how to use our mass overanxiousness to focus too much attention on highly-visible individuals so as to establish a politics of misdirection (e.g., Republican NeoCon hawks courting the religious right with talk of “values”, usually prejudicial intolerances, to build up enough voter support to finance their true goals of colonial global corpocracy . . . which is not at all in the interest of the majority of the Republican voter base). When the individual in the spotlight is a meaningless, non-dangerous, petty indulgence and distraction, some celebrity or rich fool, all the better for the powerful. But, there is always a chance this approach will backfire, because individuals are not necessarily damned to be beholden to groupthink or to serve the whims of those “in charge”, to play as willing pawns. America has granted individuals a substantial right to power, and the elite have hoped that those empowered individuals simply wouldn’t recognize an enemy in the wealthy elites. But when the occasional American harnesses some of his or her mythic individualism and directs it against The Powers That Be, all of the players can come forward to the front of the stage, and the disguises fall away. Where the masks have fallen, America flashes its elusive, unadorned visage, and we get to glimpse the strangely familiar features lining its face . . . and the sudden truth of our parentage pours down on us like a bucket of ice water.

Jack Johnson was that kind of player, that theatrical individual, unswallowable, who pricks the country into looking straight back at us, into briefly revealing itself on some essential level. Ken Burns is a master of illuminating these moments, pointing each out as a nexus where numerous threads of the American story tie together into a knot. He is a maker of the proverbial “picture that’s worth a thousand words”. His best films are both a mirror for the American everyman and everywoman and a portal into that smithy where America is forged. They achieve what is, in my mind, maybe the highest purpose of art: the connection, the unification of various disparate and opposing things under the eye of a consciousness that transcends individual or party perceptions, attitudes, opinions, and beliefs.

Of course, it isn’t just the writing or interpreting of these American stories that Burns does so well, he also tends to get great interviewees, chooses excellent pieces from literature, newspapers, correspondence and puts these pieces into the mouths of the best voice talent available. And, of course, he locates an abundance of superb film and photo footage out of which he creates narrative motion and emotional gravity. To my inexpert eye at least, he seems to pull all this together into a film in a way (with a formula) that is incredibly simple, but never cowardly or cheap.

Unforgivable Blackness struck me as on par with his best work. In Jack Johnson, Burns finds a microcosm of a stage of American stagnation. White bigotry, after being shaken by Johnson’s “outrageous” defiance, unquashable individualism, and undeniable supremacy in the sport of boxing, finally got to actualize its fantasy of his defeat . . . but in winning that battle it ended up losing the war. But it takes a portrayal of the man like the one Burns gives him to expose this. It was an ugly, ugly episode in our history. One in which, as the Jungians might say, the white man’s shadow rose up to land a stinging blow on the cheek of unconscious white prejudice. And, as always happens in the face of the shadow, the white man overreacted and proved with all available force that he himself is, in fact, the dark, raging animal, brutal, stupid, hateful, wrong.

Jack Johnson became the archetypal symbol for white fear of blacks in his time, the ultimate scapegoat for the evil of racial hatred, which had persisted beneath a shellac of pseudo-civilized posturing and political, “intellectual” rationalization. I’m not sure there was ever a more widely hated man in America. And it wasn’t just the whites who hated Johnson. The middle class blacks could be just as bad, just as intolerant . . . and in some ways, their attitudes toward Johnson were even more damaging to black consciousness at the time. Burns casts the two main black ideologies of the time as a conflict between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, who advocated approaches toward black consciousness that were more humble and compromising or more defiant and demanding of equality, respectively.

We don’t have any individuals in our society today that are so large or so dangerous (to the establishment) as Jack Johnson, but to look back on a time when a man could rise so high and do so in the face of horrendous oppression and hatred, to do this and come to mean so much . . . to his race, to the country, to individuality, and to humanity . . . casts some light on the American myth of the individual: the individual as the maker of American consciousness. Maybe this will never be possible again as the powerful become wiser and more adept at suffocating or marginalizing the voices of individual dissent, yet I think it should be looked on with a least a crumb or two of hopefulness. We are, each of us, responsible for making America. Our individuality is not just lonely, fruitless navel-gazing. We are not worthless when we defy or refuse to serve “the system”. Our country may be looking increasingly Orwellian, but ultimately, there is still a chance of keeping it from utter self-annihilation (and the annihilation of the rest of the world) by, first of all, being unpalatable, by thinking and evaluating individually, by seeing America and Americaness not as its cumulative material wealth or global might, but as the drama of its story of consciousness, as its characters and conflicts. The good story, the transformative story woven from American individuals, not the propaganda, not the PR of the wealthy elite.

As in any scenario where story is the “truest truth”, we need, desperately need, great storytellers, men and women who can take stock of all the characters and events and weave them into a narrative of consciousness by seeing the potential connections, comprehending their worth, and by staying vehemently opposed to pimping for some political force demanding partisanship. I think Ken Burns does that as well as anyone else I can think of. He is one of . . .maybe even the greatest American storyteller of our time, this time in which big stories, like the myths before them, have largely faded into the subconscious of the language, and agendas, party platforms, self-serving think tanks, and other rhetorics of power are defining all the words we use to think, to create ourselves, our own Americas, our consciousness.

02 April 2005

Serving Two Masters

I've been thinking about the views expressed a ways back, in which several of the Usual Suspects objected to the idea of burying their thoughts in the normally hidden Comments screens. I think if Pam can get them working the way they do on her son's blog, that will be a good compromise.

But I also recognize that I had two, possibly conflicting things in mind when setting up this forum. I saw it both as persistent conversation, and as information retrieval system. I thought it would be nice to capture some of our witty and charming rambles, so we could be entertained by them more than once (as well as share them with the rest of the world). I also wanted a way to tap into the knowledge these rambles represent, by establishing some organizing principles.

Now I'm thinking that a Search is the best way to manage the latter objective. I also appreciate it's in the nature of the blog for people to read what's on top. So I'm withdrawing my request for any particular protocol on the use of comments versus posts. Just do whatever the hell you want!

01 April 2005

WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW?

According to the creators of this film, it is the beginning of a new genre. If that is so, then let this be called, Quantum Evangelism. Really, Quantum Evangelist sounds like a pretty cool occupation. I can just imagine Leo bringing me in for show and tell some day. "My dad is a Quantum Evangelist." Then I could spend the next 10 minutes explaining to a bunch of 2nd graders just exactly what it is I do.

Ah, but that will never happen, I'm afraid, because I am a quantum misfit. I just don't get quantum physics. Possibly because my only contact with it is through documentaries like this one. I have also previously failed to comprehend String Theory . . . even after watching The Elegant Universe. It isn't that I refute such theories; I'm simply not convinced. And even more significantly, my mindset bends toward a more "phenomenological" light, so I often come away from these speculative theories saying, "So what? So how does this affect me and the world I actually live in . . . live as opposed to exist." This all derives form (or else results in) my preference for psychological ideas over philosophical ones. Unless I can hammer an idea into applicability, then it remains forever insubstantial to me, never attaches to emotion or valuation.

Oh . . . say no more, say no more! A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat! Because "What the Bleep" advocates application! That is, it throws down some talk about influencing reality with our thoughts and feelings. The film itself is only very subtly evangelical in this claim, but the special feature interviews with the filmmakers on the DVD demonstrate a good bit of zeal to the tune of "It changed my life!" and "Every day I go out and create my reality with positive thoughts!" and "We want 100 million people to see this film . . . because it will enlighten them!" (my paraphrasings). It may be this behind the camera zeal that allowed them to take a leap from the speculative science of quantum physics to altering the material environment with your thoughts. That's a leap I won't be taking. In fact, clinically speaking, I think it is kooky.

Now, I don't think or understand “quantumly” enough to represent the filmmakers' line of reasoning accurately, but it seems to have something to do with electrons being in either one state or another, but never in between . . . thus, the positing of a mysterious "in between" existence (other dimensions, etc.). On top of that, there is this idea that, on the quantum level, observation affects reality. So, as I am told, light (for instance) appears to behave like a wave when we do not directly observe it, but like a particle when we do. It is thusly that observation affects reality. Ok, maybe so. I'm not dissenting, but I think extracting from this speculation that some form of active observation can affect non-quantum reality, and that harnessing such reality-affecting observation should be a "spiritual" goal is neither justified nor entirely healthy.

On the other hand, "What the Bleep" did deal with other topics that I could understand and even appreciate. For instance, that states of mind and emotionality can affect our physical bodies. This doesn't require quantum science to be explained, merely a bit of neurology and biology. It has to do with peptides and proteins and stuff (I'll spare you my lame attempt at explaining it). Some of the interviewees expressed the idea (my paraphrasing again) that human beings are addiction machines, and that, on the level of the brain, all sorts of repeat emotions (regardless of how pleasurable or not pleasurable they are) are chemically addictive. Even (and maybe especially) self-destructive behaviors, feelings, and thoughts can become addictive. Such habitualized emotions can have an impact on the way our bodies’ cells grow and reproduce. That is, the more we indulge particular states of mind/emotions, the more our cells will grow to become receptive to the neural chemicals that accompany those emotions . . . and less receptive to alternate chemicals/emotions.

Another thing I partially dug was the expressed notion that creation is the purpose/right/duty of the human animal. I have written extensively (though unscientifically) about this topic, so I was surprised and pleased to see other people (other wackos?) voicing similar ideas. But I say “partially”, because I ultimately felt that I meant this a bit differently than the interviewees in “What the Bleep” did. Some of these folks seemed to suggest that “creation” was a kind of determination of reality, a willful “ordering”. To Jungian-esque thinker like me, this is an invitation to disaster. The individuation process as Jung described it is specifically NOT to be mistaken for an act of will/ego that serves to “conquer” realty or the unconscious. Rather, the increase of consciousness involves an increase in flexibility, fluidity, and acceptance.

Jung thought that westerners operated on a different psychic paradigm than easterners. In the west, our struggle for consciousness is often symbolized as a battle against the darkness, a conquering of the darkness, so when we get our psychic paws on eastern philosophy that talks about perfecting mind or expanding consciousness, we mistakenly apply our conventional psychic paradigm. As a result, we too easily fall pray to a kind of “Orientalism” and apply our puritanical self-punishment to the “quest for enlightenment”. This results in discipline, maybe, but not enlightenment, because (psychoanalytically speaking) it is a repression of what needs to be a naturally emerging, consciously cultivated intelligence.

“What the Bleep”, I felt, leaned in this direction. To contrast, my personal experience has led me to see creation as the result of an increasingly large and increasingly “audible” dialog between the ego-self and the other-self, a cooperation, if you will. From that cooperation, a story is spun, a narrative fiction, which becomes the creation as it ceaselessly evolves . . . not into a unified or perfected thing, but into an elaborate eco-system of self and the connection of that self to others, The Other, and the world. This is maybe a bit more complex, poetic, and faith-driven than the New Aged take in “What the Bleep”, but it works better for me, seems more tangible, less . . . quantum.

So . . . in reacting to this film as I have so far, I have indulged the filmmakers’ intents. I have used the film as a capsule of ideas, swallowed it, and “dialoged” internally (and now in blogsville) with its statements, its contents. Now, many would find such an approach simplistic or even inappropriate. I think specifically of the conventional contemporary academic attitudes toward art: art for art’s sake, art as an aesthetic pleasure, not a statement, not something with an agenda.

As a piece of art (sans agenda), “What the Bleep” is also interesting if ultimately not epiphanic. Along with the interviews, the film integrates a fictional narrative (starring Marlee Matlin) about a photographer (get it? An “Observer”, as the Quantumites say) set upon by a functional depression/existential crisis/reckoning with self. She’s uptight, obsessive, and self-hating . . . and it seems the immediate cause for her existential ailment is an ex-husband who cheated on her. As a result, she is “addicted to” seeing all men as betrayers and anyone who might want to get to know her as a potential invader/violator. With the help of some time, a few synchronous events, and a number of CG “quantum visions”, she comes (we are led to believe) to a better place by the end of the film. The space-time continuum heals all wounds, as they say.

The narrative adds some entertainment value (although a “climactic”, surreal Polish wedding sequence was too drawn out for my taste) but doesn’t entirely transcend its sideshow status or really even bring any further illumination to the ideas being discussed. Those ideas and the interviewees who espouse them are the real stars. And these espousers were given a pretty ritzy treatment. The film seems to have a pretty sizable budget ($5 million according to the filmmakers) for a documentary.

Ultimately, I think a film about ideas that intends to make people think is a good thing . . . especially if that goal is achieved (and it seems this is the case). Of course, any such film must develop some relation to its own potential to propagandize for its cause . . . and there is some awareness of this in “What the Bleep”. But, whereas they have a few interviewees giving hasty, superficial, but not altogether unwise critiques of Christianity, they don’t provide any anti-quantum thinkers. I don’t mean to suggest that they should toss a few fundamentalists in out of some prefabricated sense of “fairness” . . . I’m talking about real thinkers who understand quantum ideas and can offer scientific alternatives, or at least provide a sense of debate. In fact, although the film deals pretty extensively with theological issues, the theological talk is pretty narrow in its perspective, hoping (I assume) that because the ideologies expressed are not mainstream, they can be expressed without any real debate (i.e., they are the debate against the mainstream). So, on the God issue (that it purports to take on), I found “What the Bleep” rather lame, simplistic, superficial, and trendy. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that we don’t live in a very theologically complex age or place, but the film doesn’t do anything to counter this deficiency.

I would give the film 3 stars for achieving its agenda (spurring people to think and debate complex issues), but only 2 stars for failing to consciously recognize its own tendencies to be propagandistic and spurious, and also for failing to bring all the necessities of a legitimate, logical argument to the table. I glanced at a few Netflix reviews before I wrote this, and there were some angry Quantumites grousing about the “weak science” in this film. They are correct as far as I can tell. I might not know the science, but I know rhetoric pretty well (remind me to be forever grateful for my English degree), and such knowledge is all one needs to start gaining a critical perspective on “What the Bleep”.

Also, some Netflix folks brought into question the credentials of the interviewees. Some interviewees struck me as more loopy than others, but the obvious one stands out: the woman who is supposedly “channeling” some mystic dude (Ramtha?). When one has lived in California too long, maybe such things begin to seem perfectly normal. Alas, I am a Pennsylvanian, born and raised in an industrial age coal town (since retired). We do not channel mystical swamis in Pittsburgh. Non-corporeal mystical swamis must find the psychic climate of Pittsburgh a bit too polluted . . . too much lousy weather, too many potholes, too many French fries served on sandwiches or salads. Needless to say, the medium/mystic was (in my opinion) the worst interviewee. She spouted a lot of vague babble that was similar to the Quantumites, but less defined, less useful . . . and she did so in that oh so passé dramatic mystic swami voice, which is the same old run of the mill mystic swami voice that my friends, my family, and I all use when we are hanging out, channeling mystic swamis on weekends after dinner parties.

Still, 1 or 2 star ratings don’t do justice to what this film does achieve: the offering up of some ideas to think about. Very few films make us think . . . especially think philosophically or existentially. And really, if the dialog we adopt is one primarily of dissent (as is mine), is this actually such a bad thing? We are still thinking. We are still formulating our own reactions and disagreements. And if we do that with honesty, integrity, and consciousness, the result can only be positive.

31 March 2005

DOWNFALL

About Hitler's last days. There are several good reviews for those interested in the plot and overview. [The Washington Post review off the rotten tomatoes site is good.]

It is very long, and very grim. Half way through, I had to start exercising my shoulders because I was so tense. I get emotionally worse in the second half, but I was, I think, a bit numb, and so didn't suffer as much physically.

It's hard because the characters are sympathetic, and you get involved in their drama. I'm not saying these are likeable people. I'm not sure how that could be done. But they are humans, in a a human situation. A horrible and twisted one. But not so you can't understand the characters.

The performances are riveting. In particular, Geobbels and his wife are shocking and compelling. They are True Believers. In the current political climate, that is a very chilling thought.

But it is unforgettable, and powerful. Five stars for Exploration. Not fun. But extremely memorable. A grim reminder that I am only one generation away from those people, and from that time. And I have seen very few films about the Reich made in Germany. Man, oh, man. This is really serious.

I wonder how they feel about it in Germany. I did a cursory web search without finding anything meaty. I'll persist, though.

DOOR IN THE FLOOR

I've been brooding on this. I liked it a lot. So I was trying to figure out why.

1. based on a novel by John Irving, WIDOW FOR A YEAR, it is a literary adaptation, and of interest because it is a good one, and because it takes a slightly unconventional, but very sound approach.
2. Jeff Bridges, who is a charming lout
3. a splendid cast
4. a fine story
5. excellent DVD features that helped suck me deeper into an appreciation for the film, including how it got made, and why.

The movie is based on the first third of Irving's novel. It works really well structurally, and I had to go out and get the novel, and am reading it with pleasure. The movie is very different from the book, but the movie gets the book exactly right. I'm fascinated at a narrative technical level.

Jeff Bridges the charming lout is a character I'll keep for later use in my type-character folder. I love him, and despise him. I love characters like that.

And Kim Basinger, is also great in this, by the way. I'm not a fan... I barely noticed her in LA Confidential... but she is swell in this.

The narrative is complicated, with lots of characters and movements, and a great way of moving you along towards inevitable climaxes. The story within the story is great, too... the children's book that the protagonist has written.

5. I watched all the special features, fascinated, then stayed up until two AM watching again with the commentary. Never did that before.

I suspect my response to this film is in me as much as in the text. But nonetheless, I think it's a good and interesting film, especially for fans of filmmaking and narrative craft.

KRONOS

This isn't an alternative version of the film Ken just reviewed, it's an old science fiction number from my yoot. It's neither a good film, nor is it bad enough to be good in the wrong way. It's just sort of well-intentioned and cheerful (filmed in Regalscope!), with an innocent, Big Science faith that man will trimuph over Things From Out There That Have Come to Destroy Us. Directed by Kurt Newman (who would do THE FLY a year later), it was released in 1957.

I remembered the basic plot, and also that the giant, energy-sucking robot first arrived in Mexico. That had me wondering if there was some Cronos-Kronos connection. There isn't, but I still love a lot of things about films like this.

I like the big, old control panels with the oversized switches and knobs; you can hardly tell the props from the stock footage, because the real stuff looked home-made, too. I like the scientists in their coveralls with Labcentral written in script across the back. I like the computer named SUSIE (which naturally stands for Synchro Unifying Sonometric Integrating Equitensor). And I like George O’Hanlon, SUSIE’s handler, who would later give voice to the animated George Jetson.

I also like the faintly surreal mix of newspaper headlines that punctuate the plot. They come spinning out of the background with banners that scream "GIANT ON RAMPAGE!!" or "NO POSSIBLE DEFENSE!!" The other heads say "Mayor Outlines New Project" or "Limited Farm Bill Favored." Life goes on, I guess.

And it gives one pause to see those B-52s taking off, knowing that we're still using them in Iraq today. I guess you can't keep a good airframe down.

It's what my old colleague Sal Impalli would call a good shoe-polishing movie. Sal liked to polish shoes, and that's what he did on Sunday nights. His own, his wife's, the kid's. He liked a good shoe-polishing movie in the background.

30 March 2005

Hyperlinks, Good!

I read somewhere around the time of the Blogger acquisition that Google thinks blogs are good for the Internet. The theory is that blogs present another, highly personal, somewhat incorruptible dimension to the connectivity of things, thereby adding more neurons to the beast and making it more alive (as it were). So here at The Usual Suspects, we encourage the use of hyperlinks.

I mentioned this to Mr. Rolston, and he said something like "Well, yeah but you have to tell us how to do it!" So that's what I'm doing here.

While creating (or editing) a post, select a piece of text. Then click the little hyperlink icon in the tool bar (looks like a link of chain on top of a globe), and you'll be given a pop-up box that's prepopulated with http://. If you're going to type in a URL, type now. If you're cutting and pasting, do that. Just be sure you don't end up with http://http://, because that wouldn't work, would it?

If you're using Internet Explorer, I assume you're using the Google Toolbar. If not, for shame! On the Toolbar, there is a "Blog This" button. If you click it, the page you're viewing will be delivered, complete with link, right into your Blogger screen. How cool is that? If you're using Firefox, good for you. The same feature is available as an extension, but instead of a button, the Blog This option will be on the context menu behind your right mouse button.

Happy linking, folks. As Bill Bly once said to me, "Everything is hypertext."

(Does it strike you as odd that Blogger's own spellchecker doesn't recognize the words blog or Google?)

29 March 2005

DEADWOOD

I love romantic fantasy films. So I love westerns. I love the myths and stereotypes. I love the familiar genres elements, and how it is possible to turn endless variations on them for subtle and original effects. It may be associated with my affection for folk music. And American myths, like gangsters.

The first season of DEADWOOD was sheer pleasure for me. It was a while back, so my responses aren't fresh any more. But I loved the sense of place, and the brute force of the language, and the odd quirky characters. The First Season is available on DVD, but it costs a pantload, so try one from netflix first, to see if you like it. For western fans, it's going to satisfy, unless you hate modern, anti-heroic westerns, and can only picture Gregory Peck as the leading man. For others... I don't think it will fly. In fact, my wife is a self-described fan of westerns, and she hasn't shown any interest in DEADWOOD. But I do think she likes the old-fashioned Norman Rockwell versions from the fifties rather than spaghetti westerns, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven, to name a few modern western exemplars.

I wasn't quite happy, however, with the first episode of Season Two Deadwood. It felt like they spent a whole episode building up tension to a final climax of the two main character's major arcs. Now, I think they should resolve these arcs, sure, but I don't want them spending the whole damn episode cutting back and forth amongst various points-of-view. I want the conflcits resolved, and I want to move on to the army of colorful characters and THEIR conflicts, which is the meat of the experience.

However, Episode Two satisfied in every way. Characters just started showing up every minute or so, popping off their conflicts like firecrackers. And the dialog is a charming blend of fuck-studded profanity and pretentious Victorian high diction, vigorously dramatizing their lofty aspirations and and self-images, and at the same time deflating them with their comic malapropisms and gutter language.

I think DEADWOOD and WEST WING share common features that attract me. There's a complex brew of inter-personal conflicts aligned into factions, producing a nice political stew... an ever-shifting ferment of new issues revealed and resolved. And they are, for me, both basically comedies with witty bursts of high diction and felicitous phrase... maybe like a Capra comedy. At its best, West Wing could also float a substantial theme or human drama... no for long, but sometimes affectingly. Not so DEADWOOD. The characters are sympathetic, yes, but not the themes.

I note, also, that DEADWOOD squandered two strong characters in the first season... the seizure-wracked preacher, and Wild Bill Hickock. They each had an epic dignity and seriousness that will be missed in the second season. Epic dignified and serious characters carryng substantial themes are needed to balance the comedy. Or it will just start to feel silly.

CRONOS -- A Mangled Travesty

Guillermo Del Toro is the director, and in good odor because HELLBOY is visually splendid and narratively charming. If you haven't seen HELLBOY, stop reading, put it on your netflix queue, and come back here.

I saw the original CRONOS in theatrical release, in its pre-mangled state. It's a Mexican vampire movie. And it is Good. Stylistically, artistically, thematically, and entertainmentically Good.

I have never seen any other Mexican vampire movie, but it is a genre which is generally not associated with the notion of 'good'. Or, perhaps, Mexican vampire movies may be 'good' in the same way that zombie movies can be 'good'. But they should never win Oscars or Cannes Film Festival awards... like CRONOS did.

The theatrical release I saw began with a long, lyrical introduction... a piece which introduces the 16th century alchemist who creates the Cronos [a device for achieving immortality]. In the VHS edition I have, the introduction has been brutally chopped to incoherence. Without the original to compare, I can't be sure, but I think there may also be other cruel chops and slices. About the introduction, there is no doubt... an emotionally compelling and logically charming introduction -- an introduction that simultaneously partially disarms your defenses against the silly supernatural premise and sets the sober, epic tone for the film -- this introduction has been murdered like a dog in the dirt.

So I'm torn... I want to tell you to see the film, because it nonetheless has many charms, but, at the same time, I flinch to contemplate your viewing a bowl of cinematic chowder.

My suffering was somewhat more greatly embittered by viewing four trailers that preceded the film in its VHS version. Each of the four trailers was for an amazingly bad movie, all the more striking for the fact that I had never heard of any of them. How often do you see four trailers for a movie and recognize almost nothing about them? I DID see Hulk Hogan in one -- the only person I recognized - and through imdb.com, discovered the film was 'THUNDER IN PARADISE II. It was a sobering and humbling experience. Seldom do I come face-to-face with the horror films that are bad, yet not fun because they are bad. Films that sap the will to live. The film distributor, Vidmark, shall henceforth dwell in Infamy.

This tragic experience sent me searching to find an untrammeled original version of the film. In the process, I discovered:

Amazon has online versions for Canada, UK, Germany, France, Japan, and China -- but not for Spain or any other Spanish-language country. The original CRONOS did well in Mexico...

"In its native country, the film swept the Ariel de Oro Awards with (Mexico's Oscars), taking the Best picture and First feature prizes as well as Best Director and Screenplay for del Toro; it was also Mexico's official best foreign film entry for the Academy Awards in 1994." [http://www.horrordirectors.com/]

...so I hoped to find an original Spanish version. I abandoned the quest after a short time when I realized I wasn't even sure a Mexican DVD would play in my DVD player[ Damn the Regions!], or whether Mexico or Spain used PAL or NTSC.

I did discover a French two-DVD director's cut set, which I might have sprung for, except it was a Region 2 DVD, AND it looked like the run time was the same as the chain-saw-amended English version I have. CURSES!

Okay. I have calmed down.

A version of CRONOS is available on netflix. It appears to be the chopped version. I will order it to make sure. But it at least is in Spanish, with subtitles, which my horrible VHS is not. and it's widescreen, with director's commentary. So perhaps there is hope.

I like what one netflix reviewer has said: a horror movie that is...

"...sad, haunting and humane--and also humorous in the right places."

It is also unconventional, refreshing, and creepy... not in a shocking way, but in a humane way.

Here also is a link to Robert Ebert's review, which has lots of spoilers, but summarizes well the film's virtues.

Confessions of a Misfit Poster

As to Chris’s post regarding diminished participation on this blog (“Critical Mass?”) . . . I've been feeling a bit guilty, myself. Of course, Christy and I have that new baby thing going on (Leo says "goo" to you all) . . . but, on top of that, as you said, Chris, there haven't been a lot of new blog-worthy movies of late.

We are avid NetFlix junkies, but much of our renting is dedicated to television shows (and primarily older movies, which I suspect many have already seen, and probably don’t need to be belabored or even recommended). We have been crawling through the old, cold war spy series, Danger Man/Secret Agent Man with Patrick McGoohan, which we like very much (we were huge fans of The Prisoner). At times, John Drake's one punch knock outs and some of the other dated conventions are a bit funny, but this is more than made up for by the often fascinating take on cold war espionage and (colonialist) politics, which is so multifaceted and conflicting for the protagonist, that the creation of The Prisoner seems to be an inevitability). The show still seems poignant . . . especially with the "Come on back to the cold war" Bushites livening things up for those of us who don't remember what that whole fascism thing was about way back in that other era . . . in that other continent across that ocean.

Our most recent indulgence has been the HBO series, Carnivale. We just finished the first season on DVD, so we are a bit behind, but both Christy and I are enjoying it quite a bit. As someone mentioned in one of the Carnivale special feature interviews, this is potentially a great era for television, since much of the artistry previously reserved only for the novel can been spun into a complex and unusual series like Carnivale without commercial interruption (or corporate content meddling). In fact, this era of TV on DVD is immensely exciting for me, allowing me to increasingly see the tremendous potential in an excellent series for the development of complex issues and characters . . . a thing (rightly or wrongly) often thought to be an artistic weakness of the film genre.

Of course, there are still a number of shows that tend to fall apart under the burdens of a more "novelistic" style of creation. Alias comes to mind. It started very strongly, we thought, but lack of a long term vision and some eccentric silliness with a plot too twisted for the writers to untwist (brings back the X-Files let down all over again) have started to take their tolls . . . and now I hear the sound of grave shovels biting into the dirt. My comment (as of this season’s new opening credit sequence dedicated to Sydney Bristow’s abundant yet scanty wardrobe), to paraphrase the great Marge Simpson, was, “Alias turned into a soft porn show so gradually I didn’t even notice.”

J.J. Abrams’ new show, Lost, currently holds the most promise for our camp. But it has a tough (and winding) road ahead of it . . . so I’m not holding my breath.

The corporate mentality behind the television studios is frightening. In fact, it is a wonder to me that anything interesting and strange (like Lost) every gets made. When I see a show like Carnivale given a nice, glossy, and, I hope, patient treatment by HBO, I start to feel a little match head of hope flare up inside me. And this leads inevitably to my ultimate television fantasy: that HBO would hire Joss Whedon to make a show for them. If that ever came true, Christy and I might be forced to get cable.

My only comment on “livening up” the blogging here (of course, a larger community would help, too) would be to expand the range of potential input. For instance, as this post hints, television (past and present) could be included . . . and maybe even more along the lines of Ken’s “Is the Blockbuster the End of Cinema?” citation. We are film lovers, but because we are human, we have a relationship with the whole ecosystem of film that stretches beyond small, “quantitative” critiques and recommendations of the movies we’ve seen . . . stretches, maybe, to “how do our experiences of/with film inform our personal universes?”

I know I am specifically renowned for having a few philosophical and abstractly speculative bugs up my ass (so maybe I’m a poor example), but I find that I only rarely have a recommendation for or against a film. More often, I am interested in how the film “means” to me (and might mean similarly to others), in how the film affects or even restructures my life (or fails to do so) insomuch as I chose to participate with it.

Speaking now as an artist myself, I wouldn’t want people who read my poems to merely give them a thumbs up or down, nor even to simply like or dislike them . . . I would ideally want them to engage with them, wrestle with them, try to tie them to aspects of their own lives (not just academically to a “literary tradition”).

In general, that’s the way I try to engage with the art of others, as well . . . to lift the experience of that art out of the realm of my personal opinion and place it into the context of usefulness, association, connection to a web of humanness . . . and then only resort to judging that which isn’t substantial enough to live with relationally.

Of course, that’s pretty romantic . . . especially coming from a guy who likes bad kung fu movies (and has been known to utilize snake and crane method, drunken boxing, and monkey kung fu in mythic household battles against his dog) and feels he can somehow make a distinction in quality between The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (not so good),Van Helsing (a little bit better than not so good), and The Mummy (quite fun . . . in fact, we own it) . . . despite the fact that these movies are all up to a lot of the same things in a lot of the same ways.

Oh, also, I have mixed feelings about the comments being hidden beneath the facades of the original posts they are replying to. In some ways, it’s tidy, but it also limits the feeling of the posts functioning as a true dialog, or rather, multilog, of voices. I think it might decrease the spurring of reactions, instead nipping in the bud the process of communication which brings the films and thoughts about them to bear in our consciousness. But this is maybe just my lack of blogging experience outing itself. It’s not the convention I am most familiar with.

Whatever the solution may actually be, I hope The Usual Suspects keeps on truckin’.

27 March 2005

A Convenient Six Pack

INTERMISSION -- Charming Irish comedy, with lots of lovable characters. Not Ned Devine lovable -- more urban and accessible. At its core it's the story of a marriage in trouble, exploring the laws of unintended consequences. Young John breaks up with Deirdre, who takes up with a much older (and married) banker. John's friend Oscar (as a last resort after even pornography fails him) visits a "mature" singles bar where he meets the banker's wife. Intersecting this odd quadrangle is a violent but entertaining hood played by Colin Farrell, who has the stupidly brilliant idea of kidnapping Deirdre and demanding a ransom from the banker. This was a film where I was never sure what was going to happen next, a truth that's established right in the opening scene. Highly recommended, for good performances, a great ensemble cast and a well-crafted story.

DEAD MAN -- Slow, but watchable Jim Jarmisch Western, with Johnny Depp in the title role. He plays an accountant named William Blake, who's traveled to the town of Machine to accept a job in the local factory. He is accidentally involved in a shoot-out, killing the factory owner's son, and then has to take it on the lam. While lamming, he's befriended by a very literate Indian by the name of Nobody, who mistakes him for the poet of the same name and agrees to help him on his way. A lot of over-the-top performances by a lot of great character actors, and a bleak, black-and-white view of the West that feels right, even if it's as far as you could get from John Ford's Monument Valley. Highly recommended for Jarmish fans, mildly recommended for others.

TRAINSPOTTING -- Very funny, but sometimes grotesque, and it took me a while to get past the impenetrable Edinburgh accents. A sometimes surrealistic story of low-life drug addicts, who seem to be having a good time even though they're crawling through filth and slime. It's been criticized for romanticizing drug use, but it didn't seem too romantic to me. It's clear from the film that shooting heroin feels good. (I mean, if it didn't, why would anybody do it?) But it's also pretty clear it destroys whatever one has in the way of humanity. Recommended, but not for the squeamish.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION -- I don't understand why I never got around to seeing this until last month, since it seems to be playing almost every weekend on at least one of my cable channels. Although maybe that's why... In any case, I assume everyone's seen it already, so I don't need to say anything about it. Recommended, and hopeful, if not exactly a feel-good movie.

YOJIMBO -- One of my favorite Westerns, which I haven't seen in maybe 25 years. It struck me as less serious and more fun this time, perhaps because I'm older and wiser, or perhaps because I was seeing it without a scholarly critique from a Professional PBS Film Expert. Toshiro Mifune is the lone swordsman who flips a stick at a cross-roads and follows its chance direction to the next town. The locals are split into two factions, he offers his services to each, plays them both, and leaves after they destroy each other. "Now this town will be quiet," he says. See Also A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS. Recommended, and one of the best samurai pictures.

THE BICYCLE THIEF -- One of those must-see films, the title of which I first heard in a Woody Allen movie. It took a looong time for me to get around to it, but thanks to Netflix, I finally did. Engaging, despite a very small story. I was perhaps most intrigued by the hero's almost childlike assumption of a just world. After his bike is stolen, he still believes he'll be able to find it again, even if it's been broken into parts. He expects the authorities to help him, even in the sun-bleached chaos of post-war Rome. See Also PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (just kidding). Recommended, in the interest of cultural literacy.

Critical Mass?

Well, the blog has been around for a little over two months now, and I find even my own participation to be much less than I'd like.

I was wondering how people feel about it at this point. For the non-posters, do you think you might post sooner or later? If yes, great! If not, do you still like reading what does get posted (mostly by the inestimable Mr. Rolston)?

Maybe it's worth continuing, but perhaps it should be retitled. Maybe Cinema Rolstonisio? I'm going to try and do some short takes myself. I haven't stopped watching, but nothing I've seen lately struck me as particularly blogworthy.

I think if we had more folks involved, it might generate more energy on its own. So if anyone would like to nominate new members to the group, that's fine with me.

24 March 2005

SCHULTZE GETS THE BLUES

Big surprise, under the radar. I walked in cold, dragged by a friend who assured me I would be Happy, because it had accordions in it. [A current obsession, BTW.]

It is the kind of loving, quirky comedy you'll not see in the US much. It moves slowly, patiently, with exquisite comic timing. It loves its character to pieces. It has wonderful redeeming spirit. It has glorious screen composition, with delightful tension and asymmetry. It has long patient periods without dialogs, just watching movement and faces, charmed and burbling with humor. The audience was small... maybe 20 people... but there were constant, separate moments when the pleasure would be just too much, and someone in the audience would break and giggle and groan with pleasure... usually one at a time, because the humor is not from gags, but from situation, anticipation, and lingering irony.

I'm not going to tell you what it's about. You can find that out from internet research if you want. But it's the kind of movie I'll show as a Rolston Movie Night some time, because I'd love to watch people's reactions, and because music is at the heart and soul of it, and because it is the sort of movie most people will never hear about or think to go see themselves.

Four Stars for Entertainment... with possible elevation into the Five Star category, if it satsifies me as much on the next viewing.

BILLIONS

I won't tell anything that isn't in the trailer.

There's a little kid who cute and British and has freckles. And he builds a cardboard-box-house by the railway and a huge athletic bag full of British pounds sterling crashes inside. [It just so happens that the pound is about to turn into the Euro in a couple days, which is a nice twist.] Anyway, this cute kid and his slightly larger brother, who is also cute, in a predatory and smarmy way, with not so many freckles, got to figure out what to do with all this cash. A pretty little puzzle, and the clock is ticking. There's a lot of saints in this movie, like Francis of Asissi, and the littlest kid is pretty much cuckoo for saints. So you can guess what he wants. The older brother is a little more practical and cynical. Anyway, there's some very clean Mormons in the film, too, who get some stuff they think God thought they should have. AND there's a Christmas pantomime, for which I wish I could have been wearing Depends.

Very funny, clean, wholesome, full of surprises, and sufficient vinegar to keep the sweet sap from cloying. Four Stars for Entertainment.

17 March 2005

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE

Be a Teen Loser in Idaho.

A pleasant comedy with vivid, exaggerated comic characters. Genuine sense of place and of the burden of being a loser despite the broad comic exaggeration. Done on the cheap, with some really appealing details... like the opening credits being presented as meals on plates, marked with names infood-pasty squiggles. A Sundance independent film, and an inspiration for how a good story... a story with a distinctive style and voice... can be written and produced for modest money, find an audience, and make Big Bucks.

NOBODY KNOWS

Japanese film, based on real events, but fictionalized. A mom and son move into an apartment. They open suitcases, and out pop three more children. The stealth children are supposed to be quiet and not appear on the balcony so they won't be discovered. No school for these kids. Mom goes out to work early and comes home late. The eldest son [at the edge of puberty] is left in charge.

Pretty soon Mom decides she will spend some time out of town with a boyfriend. She leaves the kids with some money to take care of themselves. The kids struggle, but they get along.

Then Mom disappears altogether, and the kids are on their own. Money keeps appearing, but the structures of maintaining a sense of normal life begin to break down. Life goes on. Problems arise, and are solved... but the costs are evident.

This movie goes on for two-and-a-half-hours. It's slow and resolutely understated in its dramatic events. It is the opposite of a Hollywood weepie or feel-good... straight-forward and compelling.

I liked it a lot, but can't say it was entertaining... definitely exploration.

28 February 2005

CONSTANTINE

Not as bad as VAN HELSING. Five minutes shorter. And the music was nowhere near as loud or bad.

Not as bad as VAN HELSING, and therefore, less memorable. Less instructive.

Never at any moment a more terrible experience than VAN HELSING. Never any out-of-body overwhelming paroxysms of disbelief that any movie can be so bad.

Never actually entertaining or persuasive. Only for a few minutes, just at the beginning, when the creeping assurance that Very Stupid Things Were Happening was only a low background rumble, did I see something that I thought might be fun or interesting. A guy is hit by a car in a New Way. And then the movie returned to a uniform flow of complete lack of interest.

22 February 2005

CITY OF GOD

Highly recommended, as a field trip to a place you'd never want to be.

This is a Brazilian film released in 2002, directed by Fernando Meirelles. It's an episodic view of life in a Rio slum -- a place where everyone is poor, the police have only theoretical authority, the economy is based on drugs and prepubescent boys get to have real life shoot-outs. Think GANGS OF NEW YORK, with a Latin beat.

The stories of Cidade de Deus are told by Rocket, who's found a way out and become a press photographer. His chatty, self deprecating narration tells us how things came to be the way they are now, and he presents a Runyaneske bunch of characters which includes the Tender Trio, Benny & Li'l Dice and Knockout Ned.

The background narrative is consistently horrifying, but the film is not. It just watches, closely. Every year the gangs get younger, and by the end of the piece, they've evolved into "the Runts," feral children with sidearms and an attitude.

You should see this one.

It also gets high marks for technique. The first thing we see (and hear) is a knife drawn over a stone. Chickens are being slaughtered for a cookout by Li'l Dice's gang. One chicken escapes and runs down the alley. The gang pursues, taking potshots at it along the way. They chase the chicken into an avenue where Rocket and a friend are walking toward them. The gang yells "Catch that chicken!" Rocket crouches to grab it, and behind him, police cars pull up to block the end of the street. The gang draws its weapons, the cops draw theirs, with Rocket and the chicken frozen between them.

And so the movie begins.

18 February 2005

HELL'S ANGELS

Mildly recommended for historical interest.

No, it's not a motorcycle movie; it's a 1930 film credited to Howard Hughes. I haven't seen THE AVIATOR yet, but I understand the making of this film is featured in Scorsese's piece. It came up in a conversation with friend Mike Agranoff, and I checked Netflix, et voila!

What passes for a plot involves two brothers who are students at Oxford. We have high-minded and courageous Roy (who will fight a duel on his brother's behalf, just to help him save face), and sybaritic whiner Monte (who gets to moan a lot about how he wants to live, live!).

When WWI breaks out, Roy enlists in the RFC and somehow Monte ends up in the same squadron. Roy is terribly in love with Helen, brought to the screen by Jean Harlow, the only name I recognized in a fairly large cast. It was her first film, in fact, and in the big party scene she's wearing a dress that would still seem daring today. She's no damn good, and everybody knows it except Roy.

Harlow's chest notwithstanding, the airplanes are the real stars, and we get to see lots and lots of them in many interesting variations. Some are miniatures, others are real, but in either case, they're pretty good. The burning wreckage of a dirigible falling slowly to earth looks amazingly like newsreel footage of the Hindenburg.

So while the story is unlikely to hold your interest, and the performances are broad enough for vaudeville, and the English characters all have American accents (although unusually, the Germans generally speak German, without subtitles) it's not without its moments.

15 February 2005

ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR

A merry, thigh-slapping action romp involving quite a lot of muay thai boxing, Buddha heads, amazing stunts replayed for us several times from different angles, a villain with no voice box smoking through a hole in his neck, a crazed Burmese bad guy [my local expert on Far Eastern movies assures me it wouldn't be a Thai film without a wicked Burmese guy for us to hate], a 30-mile-an-hour chase scene with many three-wheel motorcycle rickshaws, and a lot of other thoroughly foreign stuff going on. Alternating entertaining for its window on another culture and for its cheerful cheesiness. And I'm going to say it didn't feel very violent, despite the fact that there was some serious beating and bashing going on a lot of the time, because the good guy doesn't kill people [to keep him pure and honorable]. It was very nice and earnest and innocent in an endearing way.

14 February 2005

RETURN OF THE KING [XTREME VERSION]

Things I'm glad I was spared in the shorter screen version:
1. Clumsy denouement for Wormtongue and Saruman -- particularly the impalement and rotation-on-the-wheel.
2. The Mouth of Sauron as a poster child for bad dentistry.
3. Aragorn's unchivalrous beheading of the Mouth of Sauron.
4. The cumulative debasement of the characters of Sauron's henchmen. They seem silly rather than terrible and evil.

Things that held up well:
1. Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in Mordor [Frodo and Sam's suffering and burden; Sam's unsuccessful attempts to recall the Shire; Gollum's profoundly human monstrosity]
2. Shelob
3. Theoden's death scene [he won't be ashamed in the halls of his fathers]
4. theme of Arwen's forsaking immortality for mortal love

Things I will be forever bitter about:
1. Making Gimli into a clown
2. Making Legolas into a ninja-acrobat

THE THING

Thanks, Chris.

Chris loaned me this DVD, and shared his favorite part with me... the first seven-or-so minutes. It is a great example of exposition. Something strange is going on. You see it very clearly. And you have no idea how to interpret it. It perfectly produces the encounter-with-the-unknown feeling necessary to make the story work.

Kudos also to the performance by the dog. Understated, precise, and otherworldly.

Apart from a couple of nice plot points... particularly the hot-wire-blood test scene... and the general air of intrigue, distrust, and manly-problem-solving throughout the movie, nothing is so fine as the opening minutes. But it is very watchable and entertaining all the way through.

I'm told by my pals that the computer game based on the movie is notable for two features: 1. a grotesque and embarrassing [and funny, if you are a Bad Person like me] presentation of Black English in one of the characters, and a genuine sense of paranoia and reckless violence, since you never know which of your companions is going to start twitching and and start sprouting spider legs and eyestalks.

11 February 2005

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Okay, it's a comedy, but none of the comedy bits make the film worth seeing. In fact, they are pretty weak, both in the original text and in this production.

Al Pacino's Shylock, on the other hand, is a lot of fun to watch.

The trailer was unappealing... probably because there's not much in the play a trailer maker can work with. So I came with low expectations. And was pleasantly surprised when it was not painful, and was, in fact, riveting when Shylock was on screen.

As a costume period drama, it's fine. It begins slowly, with too much music... always a bad sign. But once Shylock gets on the screen, it's absorbing. I guess he's the villain. But I sure was rooting for him more than the silly protagonists. He's sympathetic and mistreated, and we're in the Jew's corner in a way that neither Renaissance Venice nor Elizabethan England would appreciate. I only wish he'd gotten a good lawyer. "I will not take a drop of his blood. Does anyone have a cup? I will save every drop, and feed it back to him."

Here is a good opportunity for a sequel. THE REVENGE OF SHYLOCK. I figure he makes a golem, and it goes on a rampage in Venice. I am also sure that it appears in disguise before the Duke as a young doctor of law. In the end, however, Shylock is overcome by remorse for his creation and enslavement of the golem, and his displacement of his vengeful cruelties upon its innocent 'soul'. He sets the golem free, after creating a 'soul' for it [a la WIZARD OF OZ]. Then Shylock goes off and kills everyone involved with the screenplay and production of 'VAN HELSING' and 'LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN'.

09 February 2005

Is the blockbuster the end of cinema? [excerpt]

On blockbusters making their profits in the first weekend:

The big features now open on three thousand-plus screens, in order to maximize the benefit of their promotion. Before the word of mouth has made it around the block, the movie has already taken in, from the opening weekend, typically somewhere between twenty-five and forty per cent of its total gross. “Hulk” set a record with a seventy-per-cent decline in ticket sales between its opening and the second weekend, but the average drop-off for all movies is fifty per cent, and it is almost the definition of a blockbuster that the first weekend is a make-or-break proposition. Marketing costs for the “Matrix” sequels exceeded a hundred million dollars. The reason that those movies had such enormous grosses, despite terrible reviews and negative word of mouth, is that each opened on eighteen thousand screens simultaneously worldwide. As Shone says, about the typical blockbuster, “By the time we’ve all seen that it sucked, it’s a hit.”

Comparing 'successful' midsize films and blockbuster turds:

Every once in a while, there is talk about the return of the midsize film—the picture that costs twenty million or so to make, and that attracts interest and attention on its own merits. “Sideways” is this season’s poster child. “Sideways” is reported to have cost around sixteen million dollars to make (exclusive of marketing costs). After ten weeks, it had grossed twenty-two million dollars. You might be able to get Tom Cruise to walk across the street for twenty-two million dollars, but that’s about it. “Elektra,” a widely panned fantasy adventure which opened in the middle of January, the deadest month in the business, grossed twenty-two million dollars in two weeks. “Sideways” was unbranded by stars or title (and was not, in marketing parlance, “toyetic,” susceptible to merchandising deals). In those first ten weeks, it was shown on three-hundred and seventy screens. “Elektra” was based on a comic-book character, and it opened on thirty-two hundred screens. To put both pictures in true blockbuster perspective: “Troy,” which is considered a failure, has grossed just under half a billion dollars. The poor reviews for “Troy” didn’t matter, because seventy-three per cent of its box-office revenue came from overseas.

Summation and final paragraph:

The blockbuster is a Hollywood tradition, but blockbuster dependence is a disease. It sucks the talent and the resources out of every other part of the industry. A contemporary blockbuster could almost be defined as a movie in which production value is in inverse proportion to content. “Troy” is a comic strip, but what a lavish, loving, costly comic strip it is. The talent, knowledge, and ingenuity required to make just one of the battle scenes in that film, or one mindless James Bond chase sequence, interchangeable in memory with almost any other Bond chase sequence, would drain the resources of many universities. But why doesn’t anyone put more than two seconds’ thought into the story? The attention to detail in movies today is fantastic. There is nothing cheap or tacky about Hollywood’s product, but there is something empty. Or maybe the emptiness is in us.

08 February 2005

I, ROBOT

Recommended, if you like to see a lot of scrabbling, ant-like robots swinging from the rafters.

Most of my Quality viewing these days comes to me via Netflix. However, when I'm between shipments, or in the mood for something lite, I still resort to the video store. (They won't be with us much longer, I suppose. Like the slot-car parlors of my youth...)

I, ROBOT delivered exactly what I expected, so I have no complaints. It was "inspired" by Isaac Azimov's story of the same name, and it gives a lot of attention to his three laws of robotics (while crediting them to one of the film's characters). We see these laws as text in the opening credits, and are told about them in detail and get to read the slogan "3 Laws Safe" emblazoned on the trucks of US Robotics. If you've seen the trailer, though, you'd not be surprised to find these laws being violated. Why else would they need Will Smith?

Smith is the very model of a certain kind of smart-ass movie cop, who insults other cops, his boss and the CEO of US Robotics ("Wow, the richest man in the world. I've seen you on TV!") without serious consequences. The story is not particularly surprising, but it moves along at a brisk clip, and has at least one action sequence that was worth watching twice: Smith in his Audi, pursued through a tunnel by two gigantic automated vehicles, each one carrying hordes of robots.

I liked the irony of Smith as the robot-hating bigot, and I liked Alan Tudyk (who played Wash in the Firefly TV series) as the voice of a thoughtful robot named Sonny.

So it met my expectations throughout, and exceeded them once or twice. It's interesting that the same story also inspired an episode of the original Outer Limits. There, it was a courtroom drama, considering whether a robot could be charged with murder. That's the fundamental premise here as well, but in the film, the question is explored without benefit of judge and jury.

02 February 2005

Clint and the Critics

Million Dollar Baby . . . is not Rocky, but it is an archetypal boxing movie. Can I string any words together on its behalf without thinking (a la Coen Brothers masterpiece, Barton Fink), "Wally Beery, B-Movie, Wrestling Picture, Big Men in Tights!!!"? No. But this is a personal weakness of mine, and I realize that.

Now, I have no problem with "archetypal" movies . . . and MDB is archetypal. But, although not a true B-movie, it's archetypicality is (at least in some ways) a weakness of the film. So, what we get is the full gamut of "Boxing Movie emotions" . . . which, again, because I am demented, reminds me of Barton Fink. What we also get is a glimpse of Eastwood's character, Frankie, that "transcends" or at least sidesteps the genre. Think of it as Clint working the Rope-a-Dope on the B-movie premise.

I love complex and conflicted religiosity in a character (I tip my hat to dearly departed Firefly's Mal Reynolds and godsend, Joss Whedon, who bravely eked out his TV space western steeped in Existentialist philosophy for nearly a season). We have a very simplistic conventional view of religion in America, which has it that religious feeling is either a matter of blind, compliant faith (God conquers us) or bitter dismissal (we conquer God). Most movies follow one of these paths, and the dichotomy serves to define American religiosity, at least as far as it's reflected back to us in the media. But in this climate, Eastwood's film making has always been defiantly about irreconcilable divides in morality and indefinable moral positions. I definitely applaud him for that.

Frankie brings some of that irreconcilable conflict inside a more or less conventional Catholic scenario. My favorite parts of the film were the ones in which Frankie displays his compulsive priest-stalking (and baiting) during daily attendance of the local Catholic church. I could choose to see this more simplistically (i.e., the proverbial "need for atonement"), but instead I like to see his attempt at "getting religion" as more genuine. He doesn't want to be shepherded. He wants to play the role of the black sheep, the devil's advocate. But the characterization in MDB states that this is indeed a spiritual role. Frankie is an integral part of the church and of the Christian philosophy. The development of his character throughout the movie is the evolving self-definition of the Luciferian, black sheep role. That is, he is growing, becoming more conscious . . . but in a manner contrary to the teachings of the Catholic church. In fact, when he is forced into the climactic dilemma, the "path of light" that the Church offers is insufficiently complex to suit the infinitely more complex moral ambiguity inherent in the situation (apologies for the abstract language . . . which I apply out of respect for the "no spoilers" policy).

This on-going (and somewhat marginalized) story was, in my mind, part of a "great movie", a movie with edge and depth and guts that refused to acquiesce to the simplifying, archetypal, genre-collared rigidity of the "B-movie, Boxing Picture" format. Part of that format is the duality of victory and defeat. It's like Comedy vs. Tragedy in Shakespeare. If the fighter loses the big one, it's a "tragedy"; if the fighter wins, it's a "comedy". In MDB, regrettably, the complex, ballsy sub-plot line (the challenger) gets knocked out by the Boxing Movie Genre (the undisputed, heavy weight champ). The movie about moral and religious complexity amounts to little more than a short tacked on to the genre flick.

I'm not saying this is a bad movie. It's a pretty decent movie, and well worth seeing. But it disappointed me by letting a young, inexperienced "fighter with heart" go into the ring too early with the soulless juggernaut of the Hollywood Boxing Movie. I'm not sure if this is Eastwood's "best since Unforgiven", but I do know that it is not nearly on par with Unforgiven. That classic was a film which did indeed transcend the genre it was embedded in, illuminating and crystallizing its vague uglinesses and beauties with the wonderful character of William Munny. Munny was a kind of byproduct of the Western genre, its degenerate grandchild, a hero and villain fused together. He "was sent" to divest the Hollywood machine of its power to impose its popular morality onto the Western genre. Instead, we, the viewers, are left to make the moral judgment of Munny at the end of the film . . . and we find ourselves utterly unprepared to accept this responsibility. The conclusion of MDB is a slight shadow of this by comparison. But it is, nonetheless, a solid 3-star movie.

I wonder if the critics have been especially generous to Clint in recent years, because they weren't ready for his earlier films back when they were released. Pale Rider, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and High Plains Drifter specifically come to mind. These are all great films in my opinion, but they each suffered from the same coincidental problems: they were a bit "outside the (Western Genre) box", and they were made in the vast shadow of the Man With No Name Trilogy. For the latter reason, I suspect they might have been treated by some critics as derivative. But those films are better now then they were then (since the baggage is less heavy). The critics are starting to catch up with Clint . . . and they are atoning for old sins.

Eastwood is a much more polished filmmaker now. Everything he's done lately has been solid. But, to my taste, his recent work lacks the transcendent weirdness of some of his older films. That missing quality is impossible to define or quantify, it's true. But it is the searing brand of artistic inspiration . . . that inspiration which is the product of an artist trying to come to terms with an art that is larger than him . . . and more mysterious. The control that comes with mastery is both rewarding and seductive, but it means the artist ends up clearly on one side or the other of a well-defined boundary line. Thus, a sense of safety and predictability can creep in. The old master of moral ambiguity may need to relearn this lesson.

01 February 2005

THE LEGEND OF THE SWORDSMAN

A Hong Kong martial arts classic with Jet Li. Also known in the US as SWORDSMAN II. I've foisted this and its predecessor [SWORDSMAN] and successor [SWORDSMAN III] on my pals as shining exemplars of the genre. This version was well-dubbed, and for the first time I could figure out what was going on. I've always loved these films because they are purty and busy and wacky and alien. This one has a lovely transgender villain/ess, Asia the Magnificent. Sensible folks with low dopey-ness threshholds should just keep walking. But fans of action films, fantasy films, martials arts films, Hong Kong films, should enjoy this a lot.

Anyone who hasn't seen a Hong Kong martial arts flick but wants to see one should ask me, and I'll try to recommend one. This would be as good as any for that task, I guess, and particularly because it is well-dubbed and comprehensible... virtues I could not have found in my first viewings of any other films of the genre.

MILLION DOLLAR BABY

A good movie. But slight. HOTEL RWANDA and THE WOODSMEN were my last comparable experiences, and both were stronger and more moving. They kept coming back into my mind the night of the viewing and the day after. Don't think this will.

I don't see what all the fuss was about. Two of three NY Times guys put it on their top 10 of the year list. It truly didn't have much bad about it [though I thought his usual sure touch with soundtracks abandoned him; some of the music in sensitive scenes felt forced and awkward]. Good performances, plenty of folks to root for, and a plot that makes some demands on the viewers. But not rewatchable.

I love his films. He doesn't make bad ones. That's distinction enough. I own and rewatch his genre stuff, like OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. His current work is deep, mature, and persuasive. But maybe not memorable.

31 January 2005

KILL BILL Vol. 2

I have just one word:

"Why, why, why, WHY, why.... WHYYYY?"

My husband says that given the least opportunity, the third grade boys in his class tend to write about murder, mayhem and violence. Obviously Quentin Tarantino has found a way to make it pay.

I admit that I fell asleep about 1/3 of the way through. But as I was drifting off, pretty much all I heard of dialog was Ms. Thurman's grunts and moans. I thought it was about as boring and pointless as an extended car chase scene.

And what is it with those nostrils?

I did think that "Pulp Fiction" was a great work -- it at least provided context for the violence and was frequently LOL funny. But Kill Bill 2 was just an indulgence of an auteur who's become big enough that he's not subject to editorial review (sort of like Stephen King, who never says in 10 pages what he can say in 200).

"Two nostrils down" from me.

THE SWIMMER

Cautiously recommended as a dated but touching tale of Big Romantic Ideas (what Don and I used to call Le Grande Bullshite) and how they play in the real world. See Also A THOUSAND CLOWNS.

This is a small film from 1968, and could almost be a TV movie given its production values. (As interesting side notes, it's the first full score credited to Marvin Hamlisch and the IMDB lists Stanley Pollock as an uncredited Director on one scene.)

THE SWIMMER is based on a John Cheever story of the same name, and was directed by Frank Perry, who a few years earlier did DAVID AND LISA (a film which I believe was well thought of by my sister Sue). Burt Lancaster is the tragic hero, who on a fine Spring morning appears out of nowhere at the home of a neighbor, wearing a pair of swim trunks and a smile. He accepts a drink, gazes into the distance, and observes that there's now a chain of pools forming a metaphorical river all the way to his house. He tells them he's going to swim home, something that may be both an adventure and a form of penance. "That's more walking then swimming," another character tells him later. "Not walking...portaging," he says.

By the time he reaches the headwaters of his Lucinda River (named for his wife), he's not quite the man he was. He expects everyone along the way to be glad of his company. He expects to be remembered, even loved and at the very least forgiven. It doesn't always work out that way.

I remember seeing this film for the first time maybe 30 years ago, on a 12-inch black-and-white Sony TV, probably late at night. I found it then both Deep and Significant. Now I'm not so sure it's either, plus I was shocked, shocked to see that it's actually in color. I think it was bigger in black and white.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
** 1/3 - Mostly, but not completely, Lame

I must begin with a disclaimer: I did not watch the entire movie. I fell asleep the first time through. When I asked Matt, who had stayed awake for the duration, if I should bother watching the rest, he said no... but I was curious enough about the film to give it another shot.

The second time through I stayed awake, but missed about 20 minutes, partly because I went to get something to eat and didn't bother to pause, and also because the disc skipped quite a bit.

The film is an impressive technological achievement: everything on screen (except the actors - well, most of them) is a digital effect. That combined with 0the retro-future, mostly b&w noirish look makes for a visually attractive film.

But as we've heard dear old Robert McKee say... if people come away from your film talking about the cinematography, score or costumes... you have failed as a writer.

Is it too much to ask to have a concept film be more than just concept? In this case... yes. The story has something to do with a robot invasion and the efforts of some stock characters, zealously played by Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi and Angelina Jolie, to thwart said sinister robots... but really, neither the story nor the characters merit much more analysis than to say... yawn. There isn't a single twist or spark of originality to any of them.

So I would not recommend watching this film in its entirety, but it could be worth it to watch a few minutes just to appreciate the look of the CG world. Maybe turn the sound down and choose your own score instead.