31 March 2005


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.