Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Christian Oscars?

Judging from the number of times God and Jesus are name-checked per acceptance speech, I kind of figured the Image Awards already served as an unofficial Christian Oscar ceremony. (Seriously, God gets more props at the Image Awards than Russell Simmons and Biggie together. That's a lot of props.)

But, no, MovieGuide Magazine had to come along and stake out their own claim to the title of Christian Oscars. Why a Christian Oscar Ceremony, you may ask? What the hell does being Christian have to do with reviewing movies, anyway? Another interesting question. Here's one...Instead of bestowing meaningless awards on Hollywood types who already have dozens of award shows for their mutual glorification, wouldn't it be more Christian for this organization to spend their time and money helping the less fortunate?

Anyway, shut up with all the questions and let me get to the Christian Oscars because this shit is hilarious.

Disney and Walden Media's THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, the WB's 7TH HEAVEN, ABC-TV's EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION, and PAX-TV's SUE THOMAS F.B. EYE won the three biggest honors at the 14th Annual MOVIEGUIDE® Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel last night.

The glittering event, also dubbed “The Christian Oscars,” was held just days before the 78th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood and attracted more than 150 celebrities, Hollywood executives, producers, writers, and directors and their guests.

NOTE: This information is only credible if you consider Pat Boone to still be "a celebrity." If, like me, you consider guys like Pat Boone to be "a historical curiosity," then the number is probably a bit under 150. Anyway, the article doesn't go on to mention a single real celebrity who attended, leading me to believe that Boone and the kid from Millions was the best they could muster.

The main purpose of the annual event is to honor the studio executives, producers, directors, writers, actors, and actresses making the most morally uplifting, redemptive, inspiring movies and TV programs with positive Christian values and content, and to show Hollywood, and the world, that these kinds of movies and TV programs are among the most financially successful and popular every year.

So, that's the main purpose. The secondary purpose is to get really famous by bitching about "morality" and "values" and "content" publicly. By latching on to the enormous popularity of celebrities like once-semi-notable Chevrolet pitch-man and noted whackjob Pat Boone.

Since the MOVIEGUIDE® Awards began in 1992, the number of movies with positive Christian content and overt references to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has increased 374 percent (from 10.4 percent of the Top 250 movies produced by Hollywood to 49.3 percent of the Top 250)!

Holy shit! Those two occurances are definitely connected and not based around nonsensical, random numbers at all!

Also, if they're saying that 49.3% of Hollywood movies make overt references to the Gospels, that can't be a very strict definition of overt. If an alien surprises a Space Marine and he yells "Jesus Christ!," that does not count as an overt reference to the Gospels. Also, I guess you could count serial killer movies when the villain cites The Bible, but I'm not sure that's really the kind of Scripture the Movieguide Awards are hoping for.

Crystal Teddy Bear Awards were flying out the door at the special event. Every winning movie and TV program received one for each producer, executive producer, writer, director, and top studio executive responsible for producing it.

There were also a couple of special Crystal Teddies handed out.

Pat Boone, legendary singing star and actor, received a Special Lifetime Faith & Values Crystal Teddy Bear Award for Dedication to Redeeming the Values of the Mass Media of Entertainment. The Crystal Teddy was given to Pat for his "tireless and superior efforts over many years to redeem the values of the mass media and to present the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the mass media."

Values like hating fags and not complaining when your factory moves to Mexico, giving you and your long-time employee buddies the shaft. You know, Jesus stuff.

TEN BEST 2005 FILM FOR FAMILIES (Best is first, etc.)

Wow...Madagascar...Yikes. Not a great film. Kind of shrill, irritating. But I guess it's not a horrible list. Out of all these, I've only seen Madagascar, March of the Penguins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Valiant. I was going to watch Robots, but the first 5 minutes were so chaotic and noisy, I think I developed hypertension. So I turned it off.

TEN BEST 2005 FILMS FOR MATURE AUDIENCES (Best is first, etc.)

The Interpreter is kind of an odd choice, huh? What's that doing there? Just a random, so-so thriller from the middle of the year. Strange...Also, Pride and Prejudice? Is it just cause it's about women who want to get married to a nice man and settle down? I would have thought Cinderella Man for sure. THAT'S the official safe, asshole pick for Best Film of 2005.

Also...Hitch? It says "mature audiences" right there in the headline. I don't think any movie where Will Smith kicks a girl in the face getting on a jet ski counts as "mature."

A Special Faith & Values Crystal Teddy Bear Award for Dedication to Helping People Around the World Understand God's Love for the Physically Challenged goes to Deanne Bray, star of SUE THOMAS: F.B. EYE, for her winsome, faithful, gracious, and wise efforts to help audiences and entertainers understand God's Love for the physically challenged.

I don't know this show...I gather it's about a physically challenged Private Investigator. Not a horrible idea for a show...

But this is SO LAME, this write-up. "understand God's Love for the physically challenged?" What the hell does that mean? Wouldn't it be just like God's love for a non-physically challenged woman? (Yes, in that neither one exists, but you get what I'm saying...) Why would God love a crippled person less? What kind of fucked up, cruel bully-type God do these people believe in anyway?

[Big ups to Pandagon for the link.]


Sam Mendes' Jarhead presents us with an interesting conundrum. How does one make a successful film about boredom? Can a film communicate the frustration that comes with extended periods of extreme loneliness and boredom without itself becoming frustrating and boring? Jarhead would seem to, no it can't.

It's hard to find specific fault with Mendes' adaptation of Anthony Swofford's best-selling memoir about serving in the first Gulf War. The film looks great, has a few solid performances and strikes me as a fairly accurate representation of the daily life of deployed American soldiers. It's also pretty thoughtful, too, unafraid to ask Big Questions about the American military machine and to depict men in uniform as complex, nuanced individuals.

But the 2 hour movie is just plain boring. Excruciatingly, at times. Choppy, frequently pointless and populated by a mainly-forgettable ensemble of background characters, Jarhead doesn't even seem to care about maintaining a viewer's attention. The entire enterprise is oddly distant and disengaged, not only from any sort of real emotion, but from reality. You would think Mendes was making a historical curio, rather than a movie about an important world conflict that's still going on in the present. The overall effect is like eavesdropping on a veteran discussing his wartime experiences at the table next to you in a diner. You hear a couple amusing anecdotes and get some surface details, but you miss how the story ties together while the noisy kids next to you whine for more ice cream.

In some ways, I guess that makes sense for an adaptation of a memoir. Our lives don't tend to unfold in screenplay format. Any retelling of actual events from a real life are bound to feel a bit more unpredictable and spontaneous and disconnected than a tightly-conceived fictional script. But screenwriter William Broyles Jr., rather than even try to fit Swofford's recollections of near-combat experiences into the framework of a story, has simply pulled out the best bits of the book and strung them together. The film lacks not only basic structure - there is no beginning, middle or end - but any kind of dramatic tension. The characters sit around and wait for a while, then they go for a walk, then they wait some more, roll credits.

We meet 20 year old Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal) in basic training at Camp Pendleton. He's selected for a special scout-sniper program by Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx), who will lead his small unit when they are selected for the first wave of Operation Desert Shield. And once the film arrives in the desert, basically, nothing else happens.

None of this is really a knock on the movie. In many ways, it's the whole point - Marines train hard and get fired up, and then don't have any anything to do. These Marines are trained not simply to do a job, but to kill. To kill without mercy and without thought. That's the entire job of being a soldier - to be able to kill or not kill depending on what a superior officer tells you at a certain time. To turn homicidal instinct on and off like a light switch. And Jarhead seems to challenge this idea at its very root. Once a man has been trained to kill, has practiced the maneuvers and mechanics of killing for hundreds of days on end, there is no going back.

And it's this contradiction that drives all the conflict of Jarhead - men trained and prepared to kill are sent to a hostile area and told not to kill anyone. It's a feeling of intense uselessness and frustration coupled with an existential melancholy. Men with the skills and desire to kill, with millions of dollars of weaponry at their disposal and nothing to do, train by fighting invisible enemies. They run around in the hot sun for hours, and practice taking off and putting on their chemical warfare suits on the off chance Saddam decides to use some chemicals against them.

Swofford and his fellow soldiers, including his best friend Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), spend their days hydrating, training and masturbating. Among one another, they secretly yearn for the "pink mist," the cloud of blood and brain appearing behind a target's head that lets them know the work is done. It's gruesome, yes, and at times sadistic, but Mendes and Broyles try to make it understandable. These men don't want to kill. They just want to do their jobs. Their jobs just happen to involve killing.

Interesting ideas all, and Jarhead has many more insights to share. I liked how Chris Cooper's Lt. Col. Kazinski addresses his men like a motivational speaker at a high school assembly. Is something still condescending if everyone present knows it's supposed to be condescending? And though the film never really addresses the socio-economic situations operating behind the Gulf War, or any Middle East foreign policy at all really, it's not exactly apolitical either.

The military of Jarhead is like any other massive, beurocratic organization. It gets the job done, but at a tremendous cost and in a tremendously chaotic manner. The movie doesn't argue against military intervention, so much as it makes the case that in order to justify using the United States military to accomplish a goal, it must be an extremely important goal. In other words, any time several hundreds of thousands of high-spirited, heavily-armed and well-trained young American males are hastily shipped off to another country, there will be long-term ramifications. (NOTE: I say "males" because there are no female soldiers in the movie and because it comes from an entirely male perspective. Not because I don't think there should be female soldiers or anything like that. As long as I personally don't have to fight, I don't care who the hell they let in there. Take everyone who wants in, I say.)

With all this going on behind the surface, I just wish there was more happening on the surface. And I don't mean big actions scenes. Jarhead isn't an action film, and Swofford saw absolutely no action in the Gulf (he never fired his rifle until the war was already over). I mean conflict. Drama. The things that drive movies from Point A to Point B. Jarhead consists of a lot of sitting around, a lot of walking, a lot of uninteresting, profanity-laden inanities shared between soldiers. Like the actaul soldiers during wartime, Jarhead spends 98% of its time hanging out and bullshitting around in the desert. Captivating viewing, it ain't. Roger Deakins stunning cinematography helped to maintain my interest, and Jamie Foxx stands out as the only member of the ensemble to create a truly memorable, three-dimensional character (and that includes Jake Gyllenhaal).

A lot of people complained about this in Mendes' last film, Road to Perdition, that it was a nice-looking film with some good ideas that was unwatchably stifled and dull. It's mannered, yes, and a bit deliberate, but that film's about 20 times more entertaining than Jarhead. At least Perdition feels cinematic. This latest one feels like an audio book that keeps skipping after the first 2 chapters.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Search of the Day!

At one time, I was going to make this a regular feature. Bizarre Google searches that have brought people to my blog. I only ended up posting once, and then I forgot about it, but I think I'm going to start it up again.

Today's Search of the Day comes from just a few minutes ago. Someone arrived at my blog after entering the following into Google:

"strangle urinated into pantyhose panties"

Now, before you start wondering why a search for those words would land you at my blog, it was a movie review. In particular, a review of a Korean police procedural called Memories of Murder. Also, on that page, I confessed that I sometimes liked to steal women's pantyhose and panties, urinate into them, and then use them to strangle myself. It's just something I do.

Arts & Mad Sciences

Am I the only one who is generally disappointed with the way the technology seems to be advancing? I mean, yes, sure, there have been some amazing advances in the late 20th Century. In particular, we're getting extremely good at spying on Americans, blowing up brown people and making consumer electronics really small and thin.

In fact, I think most Americans would join me in saying to our large electronics purveyors..."Thank you very much. Those consumer electronic devices are extremely thin. Well-played. Is there any way you can, you know, make sure they work properly for more than 6 months? Now that you've got the whole really thin, small thing down?"

There's just a whole lot of dreary, actual science and not nearly enough mad science. I feel like, every time I read a news article about the latest scientific discovery, they've found out something else that's simultaneously both dull and seemingly-impossible.

"Researchers from the Kochakahotchee Observation Center have announced their discovery of a distant quark that strongly resembles actor and noted philanthropist Jerry Lewis. If accurate, their discovery provides us with new insight about space, and how occasionally, heavenly bodies will resemble beloved celebrities.

"'Obviously, because of Kreishlachler-Meindorff's Second Principle of Applied Meta-Computational Super-String Quantum Mechanics, we can't be sure if the quark looks more like the nerdy Jerry Lewis of The Delicate Delinquent or the sassy, suave Jerry Lewis of The Ladies' Man and half of The Nutty Professor,' said Elizabeth Jane-Downingford, a member of the team reporting the discovery. 'But at the very least, it's a find of equal magnitude to that nebula that kind of looked like Jesus surfboarding that we spotted last year.'"

You know what I'm saying.

Microchips and super-colliding superconductors and bullet trains...That stuff's all neat, but I can't have been the only one really hoping for flying cars and teleportation machines and time travel, right?

And then I see a photo like this one, and I'm reminded that we're still just a bunch of stupid, backwards-ass apes.

No, I'm not objecting to Miss Emma Watson's brand of beer, although drinking Corona is a touch barbarian. I just feel like we're advanced enough as a species to have developed some sort of ray or whatever to prevent child actors from getting old.

See, here's the thing...Emma Watson plays Hermione in the Harry Potter films. And I was already in my 20's when the Harry Potter books were first published in the United States. That means that, seeing the young actress hired to play one of the characters from those books in the ensuing series of movies growing up and enjoying the fruits of adult life makes me feel goddamn ancient.

Surely, I'm not the only person to feel this way. It would be the same, I suspect, for someone of the previous decade seeing the young cast of "Saved by the Bell" blossom into active, successful...well, into adults, anyway.

What I'm saying is, surely if we're going to make advancement in any major field of research, it should be in the Anti-Child-Actor-Aging Ray Gun Department. Or any actor aging, really, because it's totally depressing to see good-looking people get old and saggy.

And if there are any scientists reading the blog right now, here are some more totally brilliant suggestions:

No-Spill Port-a-Potties

Watching the film North Country recently, in which a group of brutes overturn a portable john with a meek little female inside, I was struck by the fatally-flawed design of these contraptions. Now, obviously, I understand that, by definition, there is no way to actually dispose of human waste within the confines of a portable toilet. But at the very least, could there not be some sort of valve or one-way flap preventing the waste from coming back up in the unfortunate event of a topple? No Mr. Wizard's out there capable of rigging up such a device? You know this has happened to people in real life...I would think the very first victim of such an accident would invent something to ensure that there was never, ever, ever a repeat episode.

Leaf Blower Silencers

I've spoken about my hatred for leaf-blowers on the blog before. (Here, if you must know). What I don't understand is, if we're capable of devising a silencer for a gun - surely among the more noisy contraptions - why not the machine that blows leaves and dirt around?

Stay-Put Socks

They never fall down.

A Computer Operating System That Looks Like the Kind Hackers Use in the Movies

You know how, when people are hacking into computer systems in movies, it always looks like they're exploring this futuristic, 3D computer environment? That's a really cool idea! It would sure make hacking easier, right? Like playing some 80's PC just walk down the right hallway, hide from the cyber-guard, and get in to grab whatever information you need. Make it work in tandem with a Nintendo Power Glove for even better results.

The Hangover Pill

Okay, some of these entires have been jokes (particularly the "Ren and Stimpy" reference). But I'm totally 100% serious about this one. Not only do we know the immediate cause of hangovers - excessive drinking - but we even know the physiological reason for hangovers - dehydration. So how come we don't have a way to just not get hangovers? Everyone has their own remedies - I myself only start to feel better after eating the greasiest-possible meal, a habit started back in my days at the UCLA dorms, when nights of excessive drinking were typically followed by cafeteria Monte Cristo sandwiches and bad coffee. But these are really just rituals to ease the suffering, not actual cures.


I can't tell you how disappointed I am in science for never having once produced a superhero, even accidentally. Isn't anyone randomly messing around with gamma radiation any more? What about mutant spiders? Robotic arms fused into spinal cords? Not only hasn't anyone ever developed crazy powers, but we don't even have any brilliant inventor/vigilantes! You're telling me not one single dot-com billionaire thought to invest in military-style armor, sleek bullet-proof vehicles with mounted machine guns and high gliders emblazoned with his or her personal insignia?

Sexy Robots

I mean, do I even need to explain the dire societal need for this one? We already have robots, but they always look like Hondas with legs. If we're going to bother building humanoid robots at all, then someone needs to get started on building some that are really hot.

Child Forcefields

Okay, let me explain this one...By forcefield, I simply mean some sort of protective zone that would hover around a child, one that could only be penetrated by a parent or guardian holding on to a specialized remote control. This thing would have two main uses:

(1) It keeps kiddie fiddlers, kidnappers and other undesirables away from your kids during those few moments when you aren't looking AND
(2) If properly sound-proofed, it would allow you to shut out your child's irritating and constant noise emissions, thus salvaging your own sanity and earning you the appreciation of any and all persons in your immediate vicinity

Don't ask me how it would work. I don't have a mind for that sort of thing. I'm just an idea man.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


This 2004 British horror movie has received pretty much no attention whatsoever, at all, from anyone. I had not heard of it at all until the DVD came into the store a few weeks ago. The cover is a pretty generic horror movie image, a subway car at night with a red hand pressed against the window. Nothing about it jumped out at me, and I had not (and still haven't) heard anything about the movie from any movie website or fellow cineaste.

But it is, after all, a horror film. And it does star Franka Potente, known to fans of foreign horror films as the star of the German mega-hit Anatomie and to fans of red-headed trotting girls as the star of Run Lola Run.

Last night, I finally got around to checking out Creep, and was surprised to discover that it isn't half-bad. An entirely competant throwback to the simple, exploitation horror films of the 70's, Christopher Smith's Creep does nothing more or less than tell a very old-fashioned horror story well.

Checking out the first bit of Andrzej Bartkowiak's video game adaptation Doom recently (I didn't write a review because I turned it off after a half hour), I was surprised not by how dumb or pointless the movie was, but by its sheer tedium. You would expect a movie based on a game where all you do is wander around and shoot at demons to be simplistic and predictable, but you'd at least expect it to have a certain amount of action, an unsettling atmosphere, some degree of visceral impact. Doom consists almost entirely of people standing around dark hallways in silly suits looking for invisible stuff. I don't ever need to see The Rock turn around a corner while shining a flashlight again, thanks all the same.

Creep doesn't make that mistake. A film with a small cast set almost entirely in the London Underground, it manages to subvert your expectations more than once. Even different sections of the subway system and sewers seem to take on increasingly nefarious personalities, as the hero descends ever-deeper into the dank, forgotten recesses of the city's infrastructure.

Self-absorbed model Kate (Frank Potente) isn't much of a hero at all, really, at least at the film's opening. Callous towards the needy, pissy towards her friends, and convinced that she should be dating George Clooney, Kate's not really the sort of person you'd be likely to sympathize with under normal circumstances.

But the fate that awaits her when she misses the last train, you woulnd't wish on anyone, no matter how bitchy they may be. Kate awakens to discover that she has become locked in the Tube overnight. In a nice little bit of misdirection, writer/director Smith has us believe that it's all a scheme by her perverted co-worker (Jeremy Scheffield), luring her into the abandoned station for a bit of the ol' in-out.

Once Jeremy is disemboweled by a strange, unseen and terrifically powerful foe, however, it becomes clear to Kate and the viewer that something far more disturbing is afoot. The rest of the film finds Kate evading a nasty little specimen known as Craig (Sean Harris), a bloodthirsty monster of sorts whose background never becomes entirely clear. Like Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (the remake of which opens this week), Creep prefers to keep the actual details of the villain's origin secret, perhaps for inclusion in a sequel?

Anyway, we piece together that Craig is the product of either some sort of gruesome medical experimentation or some back alley abortion gone horribly wrong. His body is disfigured and warped. He occasionally emits a weird, banshee-like screech. He's obsessed with unneccessary surgery and mutilation. As Radiohead once said, What the hell is he doing here? He doesn't belong here.

To his credit, Smith handles the violence exceptionally well. Creep features enough on-screen blood-letting to satisfy gore fans, but also remembers that sometimes a substantially moist, crunchy sound effect or well-timed cut-away provides more impact than 20 shots of fake intestines. One intense sequence, probably the best in the film as well as the most disturbing, finds Craig preparing to vivisect a homeless junkie (Kelly Scott), and features very little actual on-screen violence.

Unfortunately, as these films tend to do, Creep feels kind of anti-climactic. It's at its best when first revealing the gruesome Craig and his homicidal ways. Once he's captured Kate in his underwater cage, and she joins forces with a trapped city employee (Vas Blackwood), the movie kind of goes on auto-pilot, falling back on genre conventions on its way to a predictable conclusion. And though Smith's direction is capable, he's not really bringing anything new to the horror film. Everything from the decor (which definitely resembles Mimic and Kontrol) to the lighting to Craig himself feels familiar, like a remix of older films rather than a reinvention or reconsideration.

Also, he makes a classic rookie mistake. Early on in the film, Kate expresses concern about being electrocuted by the subway tracks. We then get a long speech about how you should avoid all of the rails, but particularly the one in the middle. And then...nothing. You can't introduce the concept of someone being electrocuted by a third rail, and then never actually have it happen. Screenwriting 101, dude.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Git R Dud!

[UPDATE: So, how's this for weird. I write a post about how there's a lot of bad movies coming up in the next year, and that very same day, Quint at Ain't It Cool News posts an article about the new Zach Braff movie. It's just as Dr. Thompson said...All energy flows in accordance with the Great Magnet. What a fool I was to defy it.

Anyway, Quint starts the article with this delicious bit of slack-jawed idiocy.

I loved GARDEN STATE. Loved, loved, loved it. Natalie Portman has never been cuter onscreen and that's saying something.

That's nice, Quint. Now why don't you go outside and play? Adults are talking.

Here's the meat of the story:

OPEN HEARTS is a remake of a 2002 Danish flick called ELSKER DIG FOR EVIGT about a man who is paralysed in a car accident and his fiance who ends up having an affair with a doctor in the hospital where he's recovering. To add another twist onto things, the Doctor's wife is the one responsible for the accident which paralysed the poor bastard. I haven't seen the flick, but it sounds complex and right up Braff's alley. A Zach Braff romantic comedy is proving to be a treasure to film, a breath of fresh air to the genre.

Yeah, sounds right up Braff's alley. It's set in a hospital...just like his dim-witted sitcom, "Scrubs"! It's structured around ludicrous turns of fate, odd coincidences and accidental connections...just like his dim-witted feature Garden State! Plus, the original film isn't in English, which could only benefit a Zach Braff feature. Let's hope he'll stick to that in the remake, so I don't have to hear any more painful dialogue about hamster burials and the life-altering greatness of The Shins!]

So far, 2006 doesn't exactly seem to be blowing away the competition in terms of overall movie quality. And I'm not just saying that because there hasn't been a single film released in theaters yet that I've had any desire whatsoever to see. I mean, I know January and February are slow months...but come on, Hollywood, I know you can do better than Madea's Family Reunion and a Steve Martin Pink Panther remake that was held over from Summer 2005 because it's so noxious. I know you can.

I'm also kind of down on 2006 this week because all of the news on upcoming releases is so dire. There are some bright spots on the horizon, particularly in terms of science-fiction, and this Winter does bring us a new Martin Scorsese film starring Jack Nicholson, but overall, 2006 feels kind of bleak. Even a lot of the upcoming films that do sound intriguing don't actually open until 2007 (like, for example, Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers' adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are).

In addition to that atrocious X3 nonsense I wrote about yesterday and Bryan Singer's thus-far-questionable Superman spin-off and Michel Gondry's apparently-disappointing Eternal Sunshine follow-up, The Science of Sleep, check out some other anxiety-causing 2006 releases:

- John Travolta has written a romantic comedy in which he hopes to co-star with Olivia Newton-John. Okay, go throw up, I'll wait until you get back...All better? Okay, good. Anyway, it seems that he is also writing a theme song for the film which he will sing himself. But don't worry...John assures Sky News that "fans will love it." My only question is: Fans of what?

- Ben "Bull Cow" Affleck will write and direct an adaptation of Mystic River author Dennis Lehane's mystery novel Gone Baby Gone. It's about a husband-and-wife team of private detectives investigating how the hell Ben Affleck managed to get himself cast as Jack Ryan in Sum of All Fears. Oh, sorry, I meant they're investigating the disappearance of a little girl. And how Ben Affleck managed to get himself cast as Daredevil.

- Check out the trailer for Larry the Cable Guy's movie debut, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Now, those of you who aren't currently enjoying a wicked glue buzz may notice that this title gives one man, Larry, two different jobs, which is kind of confusing. If he switches occupations, wouldn't he then cease to be "Larry the Cable Guy," and become "Larry the Health Inspector"? Just like how that guy changed his name from "Cedric The Entertainer" to "Cedric the Bloated Overpaid Waste of Life."

- A sequel to Bruce Almighty is in the works, with Jim Carrey out and Steve Carrell reprising his role as "Evan the Forgettable Supporting Character" from the first film. I don't have a good joke here, I'm just stupefied that Steve Carell would want to kill off all his career momentum right now by doing a lame sequel to a Jim Carrey movie that's too stupid for even Jim Carrey. I mean, don't get me wrong, I like him in Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine and The Cable Guy (in which he did NOT play a Health Inspector!)...but this is a man who found Ace Ventura 2 to be a perfectly acceptable follow-up project. How dumb does a movie have to be before Jim Carrey goes, "Hey, you know what? I'm above this. I'm going to go do Fun With Dick and Jane 2, then something arty, and then some different movie where I cram asparagus down my nose and move my asscheeks to make it appear that my butt is speaking."

- Did you know that Lindsay Lohan is making not one but two different films about historical assassinations? She's playing one of the 22 bystanders at the Ambassador Hotel the day RFK was shot in Emilio Estevez's Bobby AND a friend of John Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman (Jared Leto) in Chapter 27. Here are a few other assassinations I think it would be fun to see Lindsay Lohan recreate:

  • After an evening of partying at the Lotus, Lindsay stabs, poisons, burns, castrates and finally drowns Rasputin (Christopher Lee)
  • While spending an exotic, coked-out weekend with Gavrilo Princip (Vincent Gallo) in Sarajevo, Lindsay witnesses firsthand the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, sparking the first World War
  • Driving home, and having enjoyed a few too many chocolate martinis at a Golden Globes after-after-party, Lindsay is horrified to discover that she has hit Jimmy Hoffa (Jack Nicholson) and Natalee Halloway (Mary Kate Olson) with her car, killing him instantly. She, her ex-boyfriend Wilmer Valderama and her former rival Hilary Duff must concoct a scheme for hiding of the bodies.
  • Three words: Lindsay Kills Biggie

- You just know Dave Chappelle regrets ever doing that Rick James episode. Don't get me wrong...I, like everyone else on Earth, find it hilarious. When I first saw that "Chappelle Show," I laughed non-stop. I mean...come on..."I'm Rick James, bitch!" That's gold! But now, everywhere he goes, people yell that shit at him. That sketch has become, in its own way, as popular as Rick James and his music. An entire generation will automatically associate that man and his life's work with the phrase "cocaine is a hell of a drug" and Dave Chappelle in a bad wig saying "bitch." This is the challenge that will face Terrence Howard should he go through with the decision to play Rick James in a movie. That article, by the way, mentions other real personalities Howard might play in films, like boxer Joe Louis or judge Thurgood Marshall.

What's interesting is how much his Rick James character might resemble his pimp character DJay from Hustle and Flow. It's hard out here for a superfreak.

I Think I Smell a Ratner

Is there anyone left who thinks X-Men 3 has any chance of working? Anyone?

Okay, good. I'd hate to ruin anyone's hopes and dreams or anything. Because make no mistake...This photo represents the very last nail in Brett Ratner's cinematic coffin. Incontrovertible proof that this summer's upcoming, and not-surprisingly-final, installment of the X-Men franchise will be among the year's most embarrassing, um, kerfuffles.

Oh, I'm sorry...Didn't mean to spring that all on you at once.

Let's try again. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Maybe close your eyes for a moment and try to calm yourself down.

Okay, now slowly scroll down the page, stopping if you feel any numbness or tingling in your extremities...

That's British hooligan/pseudo-actor Vinnie Jones in his Juggernaut outfit. I'm hoping that's his trailer or something, and not an actual set from the film, but with Brett never know...Maybe the X-Men make a pit-stop at Big Momma's House in this new film or some shit. I mean, that guy's an idiot. He's capable of anything.

He thought Rush Hour 2 was funny and worthy of a theatrical release.

Anyway, there were rumors that the X-Men costumes and make-up int his installment would be disappointing after the sleek professionalism of X2. And, of course, previous photos appearing around the Web didn't exactly inspire great confidence.

This was my previous look at ex-tough man Jones as Juggernaut. (I say "ex-tough man" because, once you've paraded around in a major motion picture dressed as He-Man, you're no longer considered a true "tough man." Ask Dolph Lundgren.)

Wait, is this a sequel to X-Men or Near Dark? Now, I'm confused...

Also, there was this promotional shot of Kelsey Grammar made up as Beast, which looked like an ad for the stage production X-Men: The Sassiest, Brassiest, Most Mutated Little Show on Broadway!

Oh, let me tell ya 'bout mutants, baby
We've got crazy powers and skills, oh baby
I mean, look at me, I'm all blue and hairy
Let's just hope Wolverine don't go berzerky...

And the best part is, the entire cast is already filled up with musical theater veterans like Hugh Jackman and Alan Cumming, so there's no need to refill the major roles! It's an all-singing, all-dancing, all-sucking extravaganza...

I mean, I'm not saying that promotional photo is gay...but Heath Ledger is thinking about moving with it to a small sheep ranch in Wyoming, far from the prying eyes of the public. That's all I'm saying.

But now, this shot of Vinnie in the trailer...I mean, it's getting sad. Maybe this is all a big hoax, a promotional gimmick, a spoof of a marketing campaign for the worst movie ever. And then, at the "premiere" of X3, Ratner will come out with Bryan Singer and they'll reveal that this whole version of the movie doesn't actually exist, and a real follow-up to X2 is hitting theaters May 2007! That would be awesome. Think about it! It has never been done before.

For an entire year, people would be talking about how bad that alternative "Brett Ratner" cut of X-Men looked...and how comparatively awesome the real footage appears!

And, of course, the real, Bryan Singer-directed X3 would clearly contain Sentinels.

Tom Rothman, if you're reading's not too late to shitcan Ratner and start over. I'm telling you, people would go for it...

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Rare Three-Peat

I've been on something of a bad run, DVD-wise. It seems like all my rentals from the past few weekends - on films and new - have either been mediocre or excruciatingly terrible. Films like Domino, Elizabethtown, Ice Harvest, Doom, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, Mirrormask, Into the Blue and Rent...I don't mean to say they're all bad, but collectively, they have kind of cooled my film-related enthusiasm recently.

But then, this week, I have been refreshed by a run of awesomeness. It seems like every single DVD I've popped in the last few days has been a delightful surprise just waiting for me. Seriously, these days, I can do no wrong. It has been quite a run.

Here, for example, are three new releases coming to stores today, and all three are very good-to-great films.


Sidney Lumet's film turns 30 this year, and what's amazing isn't so much how correctly it predicted the future of television, but how much worse everything actually turned out. I'm sure, in 1976, the film was a jolt to the system, a horrifying vision of how things might go for American's Favorite Medium. Now, the movie feels quaint, like a naive relic from a time when there might have still been hope for TV as a communication tool and learning aid, rather than a politico-corporate propaganda machine.

I don't mean that as a knock on the film. Lumet's mesmerizing adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's rightfully-lauded screenplay (surely among the most droll ever written) remains a vital, funny, entertaining and insightful film about the collision of business, news and entertainment. It's just that, in their odd sort of optimism, Lumet and Chayefsky failed to predict how rapidly and easily corporations could actually take over total control of the American media.

The sad-funny saga of crazed news man Howard Beale (Peter Finch) touches on so many interesting points about the downfall of American broadcasting, it's hard to know where to begin in discussing everything. Network touches on, of course, corporate control over the media, scrutinizing the merger of the UBS Network with the international conglomerate CCA, personified by the villainous suit Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall, as sinister as he's ever been). We see how the news division's message becomes watered down, and eventually eliminated, by selfish corporate interests and an obsessive quest for ever-greater ratings and advertising revenue.

As well, the film quite astutely predicts the Reality Television craze. Once Howard Beale has a complete mental breakdown on the air, the public becomes fascinated by him, tuning in every week in greater and greater numbers. His collapse thus becomes their entertainment. Is this any different from watching the latest eliminated contestant on "The Bachelor" come apart in the limousine ride to the airport?

One last thing I'll mention is the film's take on post-modernism. Once something has been established on television before a large-enough audience, Network seems to posit, it becomes true regardless of any facts proving otherwise. Beale, in one of his many on-air rants, insists to his audience that they are the real people, but that television has supplanted their notion of reality. They base their actual behavior on the scripted behavior of people they see on television, turning a simulation of life into a replacement for life. It's what Baudrillard would call a simulacrum.

It's not often you can work the word "simulacrum" into a film review, but that's just the kind of movie we've got here. It's one of three amazingly great 70's films being released in a box set this week, along with Lumet's similarly outstanding Dog Day Afternoon and, one of my all-time favorite movies, Alan Pakula's Watergate drama All the President's Men. I haven't checked out those other discs yet, but if the transfers are as good as this Network DVD? Wow. It might actually be worth your hard-earned money (or, if you play poker online for a living like my roommate, your easily-earned money).


Director Alan Clarke originally made Scum, a gritty, mainly unpleasant film about the conditions in a juvenile detention center (or "borstal"), for British television. It aired once and was promptly banned due to its graphic violence and so-called sensationalism. Two years later, Clarke reunited his cast and crew to turn the 70 minute film into a more professional 90 minute feature.

The result is this 1979 underground classic, a film that proposed to show the reality of the British borstal system of the 1970's. Clearly influenced by Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Clarke and screenwriter Roy Minton see the borstal as a conformity factory, a horrifying institution focused on brainwashing its residents through violence, intimidation, cruelty and institutionalized racism. It's not hard to see why the BBC might not want to show this side of British society on prime-time television, but if this was the reality of the borstal system at the time (and I have no way of really knowing if it was), it's clearly a story that needed to be told.

We follow a few offenders as they do their time, but the focus of Scum is on two inmates in particular: the newly-admitted "hard man," Carlin (Ray Winstone of Sexy Beast, in his first starring role) and the crafty free spirit Archer (Mick Ford, in the film's best and most heart-breaking performance). At first, Carlin minds his own business and tries to stay out of trouble, but when he's attacked both by the guards and fellow inmates, he takes matters in to his own hands. During the film, he will transform from a taunted newcomer to the "daddy," the top dog among all the offenders.

Archer, on the other hand, survives by making the other prisoners think he's insane, and taking every opportunity to taunt and irritate his captors. That both of these young men are capable of living worthwhile lives outside of an institution becomes clear. That neither of them have such a happy ending awaiting them is inevitable. The film chronicles the ways in which misplaced power and systematic cruelty slowly wears down their humanity. It's both fascinating and extremely difficult to watch.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Okay, first things first. In any discussion of Kind Hearts and Coronets, one of the best British comedies of all time, you have to talk about Alec Guinness and his unbelievable, audacious performance as 8 different members of the d'Ascoyne family. Not only are the make-up effects seamless, but Guinness himself subtly creates 8 wholly separate, yet related, individuals. And they're all funny!

But perhaps what's most amazing about Kind Hearts and Coronets is that it's a really good movie beyond this gimmick. I mean, none of the Guinness characters is even the main character in the film! It's like there was already this really funny, dark, fiendishly clever story about a man methodically killing off an entire family, and then on top of that, someone had the great idea of casting one terrific actor as all of the family members.

It's almost too much greatness for one movie. If they redid this movie today (and Mike Nichols was considering doing just that a few years ago with...ugh...Robin Williams in all the Guinness roles), the entire film would revolve around the gimmick.

But in Robert Hamer's delirious 1949 film, the focus remains squarely on the resolute Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), who would have been heir to the d'Ascoyne fortune and title, if only his father had not been a poor Italian. As it is, he's been disinherited, and must live in squalor while working a thankless job as a tailor. Once his loving mother dies, however, Louis sets about his plan, to kill every living d'Ascoyne standing between him and his rightful inheritance!

We follow him as he murders several family members, and observe with him the accidental deaths of several others. There's a really surprising amount of voice-over by Price in the film...Because the action extends over the course of several years, and jumps around from family member to family member, the narration is essential to keeping everything straight. But the writing itself (by Hamer, adapting a novel by Roy Horniman) is very dryly funny in its own right.

And the movie is just so wonderfully dark! Like a lot of classic British films, it takes a kind of sick glee in the gentle art of murder. I'm reminded of a Mike Hodges BBC miniseries called Dandelion Dead, that I think I've mentioned on the blog before because it's so awesome and no one has seen it. Hodges spends 4 hours slowly unfolding the true story of a turn-of-the-last-century Welsh lawyer who poisoned his wife over the course of two years. Clearly, he's fascinated by the kind of evil that could inflict prolonged suffering on a supposed "loved one."

And in this film, too, Hamer almost seems to celebrate Mazzini's spirited, cheerful amorality. Whereas Guinness' d'Ascoynes tend towards broad caricatures (particularly the women's libber Lady Agatha d'Ascoyne), Mazzini is allowed the full breadth of emotions. The film's on his side, as is particularly evident during the ambiguous conclusion, which renders the entire enterprise considerably subversive for '49.