Monday, October 31, 2005

Meet your DOOM

Doom- Director- somebody awful
Starring- The Rock

What do you say when you witness a marvel of American cinema in person? You say "Wow!"
What do you say when you see Doom? You get your gun and go kill some space demons created by horrifying genetic experimentation. The first hour of this movie was actually not that bad. It was much better than a few other movies I have seen inspired by video games (Resident Evil anyone?). They do a relatively good job of building up the story, operate with a very nice wink the camera about the cliched versions of the Space Marines going to find some extra-terrestrial evil and destroy it. Even the backstory involving a mild bit of flirtation between a marine and his cohorts' sister effectively generates some chuckles.
The movie really loses its way about an hour and twenty minutes into the narrative. At this point the Marines have succesfully unmasked the psychotic genetic plot at the heart of the collapse of the scientific plot on Mars when a major (read: crappy) plot twist takes place. After a lot of bizarre stuff is sorted out, we are "treated" to an action scene filmed entirely in the first person. I have seen the remake of Rollerball featuring the totally unecessary night vision scenes, and I even saw Cabin Boy (represent Paroske!). Nothing in these two movies can even come close to comparing the utter garbage that is this first person action scene which tries to transplant the video game experience to the big screen in the name of Doom. I would definitely say that this movie is undoubtedly worse than another spacefaring power adventure without peer: AVP.


Sunday, October 30, 2005


Not sure if you all have seen this, but there's a blog that has stolen this idea and is making money on it. :-) Check out Cinematical. Of course, the reviews here are way better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Weird Science


Dir: John Hughes (Sixteen Candles; Breakfast Club; Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles)

A movie from all of our teenhoods, as it turns out, does not hold up upon adult inspection. The story of two dorks who scientifically engineer a woman who proceeds to make them cool is a fair enough idea. And I am not faulting the film for its surrealism or fantastical nature. Far from it; that is the movie's redeeming quailty. But this film is just a plain mess.

Why exactly do these two kids, who have unlocked the secret to creating the perfect woman, bother with the insipid high schoolers that they had mild crushes on? I mean, I am all over the need to have a socially repsonsible resolution to the story, but please.

One of the things that bugs me most about movie characters is when they fail to learn from their mistakes. All right, Kelly LeBrock is magical, can manipulate time and space and generate matter. And yet, after the fourth or fifth time that she performs a miracle, our heroes are still incredulous. "How did you do that?" Uh, the same way she conjured the ferraria and did all the other stuff. Mad Max types storm the house party, and it is some big test of courage for the dorks to stand up to them. Look, if LeBrock can conjure futuristic Hell's Angels, she can make them go away too; stop acting like you are in any danger!

The story requires that the kids grow from her challanges. But they are so stupid that they don't realize that these are not challenges at all. And they let the magical supermodel take off so they can have a couple of teenage Madonna wannabe's. That is just evil.

The movie, though, is worth watching for Anthony Michael-Hall's "blues man" character, the one chance to let an actor with some actual marginal talent flex his muscles a bit. His counterpart, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, is the worst actor ever.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sin City


Dir: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

The first five minutes of this movie tell you all that is good about it. The look is so unique, the direction so striking, the technology so artistically deployed, that one cannot escape the conclusion that something truly different is afoot. Once that initial shock is assimilated, what is left is really a boilerplate neo-noir, as lacking in nuance as the comic books that were the source material no doubt were. Not that I have a problem with that, but the overarching impression I take from the film is that it is entertaining and spectacular, but not potent enough to truly be transcendent.

Rodriquez wants to be as faithful to the Miller comic style as he could. Realistic cinematic techniques cannot capture the abstraction of the original. So, turn the the computer. Since things in CGI never look as good as the real thing, then what happens once artificiality becomes the goal? What emerges is the only green screen movie that I have ever thought truly worked as an artistic vision and is the most appropriate application of digital technology ever in film. Here is technology in the hands of a truly groundbreaking film maker, not just as a shortcut to a superhero scaling buildings in ways that the laws of physics do not allow. Taking the limitation of a medium and transforming it into a strength is a bold and important move by Rodriguez, one that blazes a trail for further film makers.

However, the film is so faithful to its source that it seems stuck within it. The movie is an exercise in adaptation only. And while I can dig the pulp, I am not ready to proclaim Sin City as a great movie in the way that Crash was a great movie. Sin City tells me nothing about humanity; it creates an entirely fictional reality that plays on the voyeuristic and the macabre to entertain. I would have loved the full creative force of Rodriquez or Tarantino to have been brought to bear on this movie, extending beyond the comic to make the stories about more than basic vigilanitism or violence. Here is the creationg of an atmospheric universe that can motivate a narrative in untold ways that film cannot. And yet, the stories are simple and trade shock for character development.

Sin City is an important film and a giant artistic leap forward. But as a narrative, it remains mired in the universe of the adolescent. I can't help but feel that I have punished the movie for only going most of the way toward genius and then coming up short. That is a fault of mine that may fade after subsequent viewings. I did love the movie, but cannot place it among the elite films of the year.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Nowhere in Africa

2003 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Film

Dir: Caroline Link (Beyond Silence)

Ah, back to classic Oscar form. Europe works through the war. Now that's a foreign movie!

A family of Jews flees Germany in 1938 for Kenya. The culture clash, and the pressures of global war, force the characters to reckon with their identities and each other. Epic in both narrative and direction, the movie is both intriguing and beautiful visually.

As the Germans assimilate into Africa, there are many observations on identity that were thought provoking. The young daughter easily fits in, and over the course of her adolsecence becomes more African than Jewish in many ways. The father, robbed of his comfortable job and forced into farming by the relocation, deals with imasculation. And the mother must deal with her own racism even as her situation was the product of racism. Plus, ex-patriots of all stripes must reckon with their allegiances thousands of miles away from their former homelands. Each character grows in intersting ways, is forced to make difficult decisions, and in my mind the movie illuminates aspects of intolerance and identity construction quite well.

The African actors are especially strong, cheerful and loyal and engaging. Very sensitvely written, the movie exposes their particular customs and refuses to pass judgment.

The film is solid, without a doubt. Not quite transcendent. But better than Hero? Uh, no.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

An addendum

I forgot to post this story

So as we are leaving this movie, a bunch of people walk out behind us and start to badmouth it- one of them is like "Awww we should've seen Elizabethtown". But two comments stood out

1. During a scene where some blood runs out of a body and pools, a Southern gentleman behind us exclaimed "OOOO look, its like puddin!"

2. While leaving the theater, someone said "that was no Kangaroo Jack- now THAT is a movie"

A History of Violence (Late I Know)

A History of Violence (Dir. David Cronenburg, Crash)

A string of thoughts about this movie:

1. Made me think of the old Winesburg, OH (i think thats it?) set of Americana stories from the early part of this century- depictions of "American Life" with an underbelly found in alcoholism and other social ills- there is also an old Bruegel painting called "The Peasant Dancers" that depicts a Belgian town in the midst of a massive celebration in the foreground people dance happily, but in the background a fight is developing, folks are totally wasted, adultery is being committed- the "obscene underside" as Henry would quote is exposed. Anyway I though this movie was so complete in its depiction of ordinary life before the "incident" (the vibrant but edgy sex life, the long working days, the travails of teenagerdom) and intentionally stereotypical in the interpersonal interactions it depicted in the town (everyone knows everyone else). Is violence the currency required to make this system function? Maybe I am just reading too much cultural studies stuff.

2. Maria Bello's character has the hardest acting job I think because she has to go through the biggest seachange over the course of the story -also the guy who plays the teenaged son was really good I thought.

3. I like the Godfather analogies- this movie could easily be called A Heredity of Violence- I almost viewed it as a nature vs. nurture debate on the nature of violent personalities with a very clear answer to the question on the interpersonal level, if not the social. I hesitate to read more into it because I have not seen Videodrome which I hear probably helps to inform a lot of what Cronenburg is trying to do at the intersection between culture and violence.

4. Stuff I'd like ruminations on:
A) Is there anything sweeter than a movie scene where a bully gets his comeuppance?
B) The final Act seemed a bit forced- almost like if this was not a movie that needed an ending, we might not have gotten the one we got (basically the ending we did get minus the Prodigal return)
C) The initial playful sexuality demonstrated versus the encounter after the History of Violence is uncovered- society finds violence to be very attractive I suppose?

This movie blog idea is pretty good.



1998 Oscar Winner Best Picture

Dir: James Cameron (Piranha Part Two: The Spawning)

Hello bullet. I'd like you to meet Marcus' molars.

The first in what promises to be a series of irrational prejudices overcome. In this movie, a big boat sinks. And some folks fall in love. The former is way more convincing than the latter. This may be the most bifurcated movie I have seen in a long time.

The first half is trying to be Wharton novel. Rich white girl yearns to escape society. Wharton's books were insightful, clever and complex. This part of Titanic is awful . Every character is a cliche; the poor DiCaprio is so carefree and the evil Zane is so callous as to defy belief. I made a mark of it; 1:13 into the movie do we have any character development that violates the rises above that of a lesser sitcom. Winslet's mother speaks for 16 seconds about the constrictions of being female in society. But that's it. When I am rooting for the bad guy, that's a bad sign for a love story. And the class points are about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Silly, really. Truly laughable (I have empirical first hand knowledge of that).

But then the boat starts to sink. And this movie soars. I mean really hits the mark. The set design is spellbinding. The direction is breathtaking, I was mesmerized. And the writing is revelatory; seeing impending death through about 40 different eyes was a tremendous experience. I am amazed at the tension created over 1 1/2 hours over one event. A true feat of filmmaking. I also found the love story much more satisfying in this part of the film. Count here the kiss (a truly great film kiss), the sketch (a wondefully feminine moment) and the sacrifices (3 or 4 times).

What a tale of two movies. Love and death are the two great themes of art. Cameron has flubbed one, but triumphed on another. Reading love through death redeems the whole film, and earns my recommendation. But Best Picture? I reviewed that year; it was the best of the nominated films, but The Sweet Hereafter deserved much more attention.


Monday, October 10, 2005

All About My Mother

2000 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Film

Dir: Pedro Almodovar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!; Talk To Her)

What a treasure of a film. Almodovar has done the nearly impossible. He takes characters that in another's hands would be cartoonish or utterly unbelievable and makes them like close friends. He gets us to accept their universe on its own terms, and in the process normalizes their lives. Most other movies about these people (transsexuals, the HIV positive, lesbians, prostitutes) would either (1) camp it up for laughs making the characters spectacular and therefore distant or (2) club us over the head with its consciousness raising politics "see, they're people too you heartless bastard" which is still an "otherizing" move, preventing personal connection. Almodovar just lets us in to observe them. In so doing, he is far more subverive than almost any film I have seen. Before you know it, you cannot judge the characters because they are truly humanized.

When Manuela's son is killed in an accident, she sets out looking for his long lost, and quite notorious father. Along the way, she encounters a cast of people gendered as women who all become interconnected, presenting a complex view of femininity and motherhood. Masculinty is forever vanishing and removed: absent fathers, lesbianism, the physical transformation from man to woman, dementia eating away at a marriage. All force these women to carve out lives in the abscence of men. The movie is like Steel Magnolias but with a brain. It was rare to see an entire cast of women, and even more so that the are treated not as stereotypes.

Technically the film is very contemporary but not gimmicky. Just enough interesting camera work to be hip, but no Tarantino stylistic elements that overwhelm the common humanity of the story. I really can't say enough about how impressed I was that the movie was so free of judgment, both of its characters and most surprisingly of its audience as well. No preaching, no scolding, just a matter of fact story of the modern age. Time capsule this one as a cultural turning point, like the first movies that had interracial romances but the movie was not about interracial romance. When the unknown becomes commonplace.

Fascinating and moving film. I give it my highest recommendation.


Sunday, October 09, 2005


1998 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Picture

Dir: Mike van Diem

The Dutch steal a page from Hollywood in this story of an ambitious young man whose powerful father thwarts his upward mobility. And I mean steals from Hollywood in a good way; there is a sense of conventionality that one does not associate with the Continent, where high metaphor can sometimes override a good orchestral swell at an emotional plot point. The whole movie has a "Road to Perdition" feel; winter overcoats and shafts of light streaming through the broken windows of abandoned waterfront buildings and silent men moving about their dark business.

An evil local bailiff fathers a child out of wedlock. Out of resentment, the mother refuses marriage and the boy grows up with no knowledge of his father. Once the truth is made known to the young man, he vows to succeed without his father's help. The story is told as a flashback as the movie opens with our hero under suspicion for the bailiff's murder. Was he able to break free of the father's influence, or did he succumb to frustration and kill the man?

The movie is technically very good, beautifully playing with light and shadow. The acting is fine, except perhaps for the wild eyed lead (who is a dead ringer for Robert Downey, Jr.) who overdoes the whole "no one's going to tell help me, I'm gonna make it, by golly!" routine. The supporting cast is quite good, especially Victor Low as the ambitious young man's mentor. Low has a very cool underbite that is worth watching the movie to see.

The movie is slow in the beginning, but the ending is rather satisfying. I am having a hard time reacting to this one; it would be a very respectable is not brilliant movie if filmed in the US (a la Perdition, actually). Very accessible to the American taste and accomplished in its own right.

Very good but not transcendent. I recommend it, but not highly.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

A History of Violence

Dir: David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers, Videodrome, Naked Lunch)


I wish David Cronenberg would make more films like this one. Unlike many of his other films, A History of Violence does not descend into the absurd to provide us with stirring insights. AHOV is equal parts Godafther (I and III), Unforgiven, Blue Velvet, and American Beauty. An odd mix, but it works.

The film centers on Tom Stall, a loving family man who raises his precious, obedient children in a small, idyllic Indiana town. Sacchrine familial interactions are commonplace in the Stall household (the introductory sequence finds all members of the family rushing to comfort the youngest daughter as she wakes from a nightmare about monsters). Tom's peaceful world is unsettled as two men attempt to rob his diner. Tom (played by a wonderfully understated Viggo Mortonsen) attempts to placate the robbers, who are established in the opening sequence as VERY bad men, but they will have none of it. Tom kills the robbers with stunning aplomb, saving his loyal patrons. His heroics quickly become media fodder, his face is splashed across all news channels. This attention brings out the riff-raff who believe Tom is a violent gangster. But, is he? Is he a stranger in this life?(There are numerous diagetic clues, such as the intials of Tom and his wife Edie that are displayed around the house--"ET").

Cronenberg makes some intriguing insights about the nature of violence. The film articulates society's complex relationship violence, never really condeming or condoning violence. Inaction during the robbery would have surely doomed Tom and his friends, ergo violence necessary. Media coverage glorifying the heroics of violence brings on more violence, ergo violence bad. I believe that there exists a strong undercurrent of relating violence to gender roles. Men commit violence, women hate it, attempt to control it (the wife is the town attorney), but in the end, find it stimulating (a savage love scene illustrates such).

There is a clear, yet complex interaction between violence and the American "dream" (Cronenberg is Canadian). In fact, faithful reader, we can have a long conversation on the title alone. Is it "A" history of violence? Are there mutliple histories? Is it about Tom, who has a history of violence? Is it how violence is passed on (there is a solid, but underdeveloped subplot involving his son and the local bully)? I think it is the subtitle to a larger treatise, America: A History of Violence.

Cronenberg borrows from numerous other films. There is a shot reminiscent of the final scene in the Godfather, but this time we get to see what is behind the closed door. Well shot and Well acted. Cronenberg is an underrated director; but, I think is trying to cast of the shackles of the anti horror-director bias.

Soild film that is a great conversation starter. I think it is your kind of film (no pretense of an audience larger than one).

Friday, October 07, 2005

Dee Snider's Strangeland


Dir: John Pieplow (Jurassic Women)

Is it wrong to laugh at a movie about torture? I pose that philosophical question to my faithful reader.

The title ought to tell you everything you need to know about the film. Twisted Sister's own decides to turn his hand to producing, acting and screenwriting. He plays Captain Howdy, a serial killer who lures his teenage prey in through internet chatrooms (see, the story is different!). It is, of course, laughable in innumerbale ways. A personal favorite is the complete ignorance of basic police procedure on the part of the homicide detectives. It's 1998, and they do not know what a chat room is. One drop is a sea of complete incompetence at even the basics of narrative or character development.

The film is also morally suspect. Snider has his killer engage in long ruminations about the nature of body modification and sadism. He believes that piercing, tatooing, and the like is a return to primitivism, a spiritual rejection of modern society through pain and scarring. OK, fair enough. But the killer is captured halfway though the movie and rehabilitated through therapy. After four years the killer is released (yes, Snider envisions a criminal justice system that releases insane serial torturers after four years treatment). But society rejects his return and a drunken Robert Englund lynches the seemingly changed man. It starts to rain (bear with me folks) so the angry drunken mob leaves Dee swinging from a branch, only mostly dead. Society's prejudice reincarnates Captain Howdy through the experience of transcendental pain, who goes on another series of kidnappings and tortures. Oh, I get it, society cannot accept that the guy has changed, so it perpetuates the violence that created him in the first place. Oh, I get it, society made him do it! When the crowd chants that God will punish him in hell, that's a product of the same mindset as ritual torture. Thanks for the consciousness raising Dee! The Marilyn Manson thing has already been done.

Some reviews I read critiqued the movie for gratuitous violence, but that is stock politically correct criticism. The torture scenes are incredible tame, since the are clearly the only reason the movie was made. There is more gore in a Tarantino film than this, so even the pornographic appeal of the film is absent.

In short, there is nothing redeemable in the movie except accidentally. I laughed out loud often.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005


1997 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Picture

Dir: Jan Sverak (Dark Blue World)

This Czech movie is "Kramer vs. Kramer" meets "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" A down on his luck musician (Louka) enters into a fake marriage for money. When the bride bails, the ladies man is stuck with five year old Kolya. What would have been your typical "little kid teaches the cynic to love" movie is made more intersting by the cultural context of Prague right before the Velvet Revolution. Kolya is Russian, and Louka must come to grips with raising a boy and living with an occupier. Still, the movie is essential Hollywood stock, with some unique cultural elements added for flavor.

Oscar likes comedic and light heatred movies more when they are foreign, especially when they add elements of cultural reflection. The film is by all means tender and amusing. And the exploration of how the Czech's had almost become used to occupation, where resistance was passe until the youth movement rekindled it, is intersting as well. There is nothing wrong with the film; it was an enjoyable movie watching experience. But it won't be cracking any top 100 lists, I wager.

If Indochine was an opera, Kolya is a Cole Porter love song. Witty and sophisticated, but also sentimental and trite. I listen to opera, but I also listen to a lot of Cole Porter. Kolya does what it does well and for that I commend it, even if that is all it does.


Sunday, October 02, 2005



Dir & Writer: Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby: screenplay; Walker, Texas Ranger: creator)

Boy. What a smart script. This man's last two writing projects are both among the best I have ever seen. Yet another subject matter that you had better do right if you are going to do at all, and Haggis does it right.

A day and a half in LA racial relations are chronicled, with many different stories and most importantly different perspectives intersecting throughout. The first half of the movie had me wondering if the vision presented would be too depressing to be very enlightening. All of the characters expose their inner hatred, anxiety, ignorance and cruelty to us. But the film's glorious second half turns every single character on her/his head, finding redemption and temptation in surprising ways. What emerges is a deeply interesting and truthful composite of the variety of approaches to race in the US today.

The jaw dropping scene of Matt Dillon's redemption is so powerful that it makes the movie itself (no spoilers). It adds a depth and complexity to his character that makes him so real. None of the characters are prefect, none are evil, and all have their own reasons for behaving the way they do. The movie refuses to construct a strawperson and savage it, but rather indicts the whole society; everyone has some streaks of both hatred and love in them, and put in the right situation anything is possible.

I can't say the acting is particularly memorable, especially the always poor Sandra Bullock and the sometimes good but not this time Brendon Fraser. Dillon is like always great, and Don Cheadle tackles the emotionally distant detective well enough. The direction is fine and in some places inspired. But, as is usual with movies I love, the writing overshadows all in this film.

Not only a high recommendation, but I will suggest this as required viewing for those who care about contemporary culture and social relations. An important and ambitious work, one that deserves our gratitude.