Archive for the 'movies' Category

Trailers Can Lie

Sunday, October 9th, 2005

I know one of jbc’s favoite themes is “Pictures Can / Can’t Lie.” So I couldn’t resist posting these spoof trailers from the folks at PS260 (A video marketing production company)…

  • The Shining – A touching family comedy about a young boy looking for a father figure, and a struggling novelist looking for meaning in his life.
  • West Side Story – A Suspense film like no other: In the summer of 1961, 14 square blocks of Manhattan were quarantined due to an outbreak of unknown origin. This is the story of those few survivors who managed to escape from The Infected.
  • Titanic – Horror on the high seas knows no limits.
  • Cabin Fever – A tale of love and loss as a terminally ill girl takes her four best friends on one last summer trip to to say goodbye.

Heinrich: About Animals, About Us

Saturday, August 27th, 2005

I really liked this op-ed piece from Bernd Heinrich, in which he praises the documentary March of the Penguins, while addressing the broader issue of what it means to anthropomorphize animals in movies, and where one might usefully draw the line between things like Bambi and things like Winged Migration: Talk to the animals.

Paradoxically, the cartoonish anthropomorphism of “Bambi,” although it entertained the youngsters, blocked rather than promoted an understanding of animals. In “Bambi” we do not see other creatures. Instead, we are presented humans with antlers, and with our thought and speech. This is what the traditional idea of anthropomorphizing is – expecting animals to feel and behave like humans, which they never will. One look at that penguin with the egg on its toes shows the inadequacy, the outright folly, of wishing they “were more like us.”

Nature is the greatest show on earth, and reverence for life requires acknowledging the differences between ourselves and the animals as well as seeing our relatedness.

Ebert Trashes Deuce Bigalow 2

Saturday, August 13th, 2005

Not that I had any interest at all in seeing the movie, but the following Roger Ebert review is not to be missed: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.

Bialik Outs Out-of-Context Movie Review Blurbs

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

I enjoyed this item in which Carl Bialik of Gelf Magazine traces over-the-top quotes from movie reviews to their actual in-context sources: Blurb Racket 6/24/05.

The Girl in the Café (HBO)
Oregonian: “An endearing romantic comedy.”
Actual line: “This new offering from HBO Films is at its heart a bit of political propaganda wrapped into an endearing romantic comedy that starts losing its laughs when it gets to Reykjavik and decides its teachable moment has arrived.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: You Want Squirrels? Then You Get Burton.

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

Tim Burke of Easily Distracted doesn’t much like Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Woof, Woof! Zap!

I’ve never seen a filmmaker so capable of getting so many things right and then just colossally miscalculating with horrible plot ideas or stagings that rip the guts out of everything he’s done to that point in the film.

Specifically, Burke hates Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willie Wonka, and really hates the backstory about Wonka’s dad, the candy-hating dentist.

Well, even through the haze of the icepick behind my right eyeball that is my particular manifestation of a migraine headache, I managed to really enjoy watching this movie yesterday, and I have to disagree with Burke. This is a great film.

No, it’s not sweetly magical like the 1971 version with Gene Wilder. (Note: Burke doesn’t make that comparison. I’m responding here to some other reviews I’ve seen.) It’s darkly comic and grim. But unlike that earlier adaptation, which stylistically was standard kiddie-musical fluff, this is Tim Burton at his insane best, which means you get Vision with a capital V.

With a few prominent exceptions (mainly, the aforementioned treatment of Wonka’s character), the movie is heart-breakingly true to the book, in ways that the 1971 movie wholly missed. Which isn’t surprising, in that screenwriter John August was a childhood fan of the book who somehow had never seen the 1971 version when he was approached to do the screenplay, and who was stopped by Burton from seeing the earlier film specifically so that his approach wouldn’t be tainted by the earlier movie’s choices.

Anyway, as with Peter Jackson & Co.’s changes to The Two Towers, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Burton and August for fleshing out Wonka’s character, because we didn’t see the movie that would have been produced had they failed to make those changes. It’s all well and good to lament that a favorite book has (gasp!) been changed on its way to the screen, but movies have a different artistic imperative than books do. If this movie had the unchanging, wryly omniscient Wonka of Roald Dahl’s book, Burke might have left the theater vaguely appreciative of the adaptation’s faithfulness, but fundamentally dissatisfied by the character’s failure to connect with him on an emotional level.

In any event, such scenarios must remain hypothetical, because this was Tim Burton’s movie, to deliver as he chose, and deliver he has. At the core of Dahl’s book are the darkly sadistic punishments that Charlie’s four awful companions bring upon themselves. When depicting those fates, the 1971 movie gave us cute. They replaced Veruca Salt’s frankly-unfilmable manhandling by nut-shelling squirrels with the much-tamer golden-egg-laying geese.

But for Tim Burton, ‘unfilmable’ isn’t a warning. It’s a challenge. And Veruca’s on-screen fate in this film is a childhood nightmare made real: at once hilarious and horrifying. As are the catastrophes that befall each of the other naughty children.

Tim Burton\'s squirrels prepare to deal with Veruca Salt

Yes, it’s a Tim Burton movie, with all the pluses and minuses that go along with that. For myself, I give the nod to the pluses. Thumbs way up.

Buy Sven’s Arnold DVDs

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

From valued contributor Sven:

In honor of $chwarzenegger’s 80 million dollar “special election” announcement today, Jenny and I have decided to sell our entire collection of Arnold movies on Ebay:

Movies and Politics

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

With summer approaching, let’s look at some developments surrounding a few new movies. First is the dopiness surrounding “Revenge of the Sith”. It appears that a story originated out of the Cannes Snob Festival that indicated that some anti-Bush dialogue and symbolism may have been intentionally placed by George Lucas in his film. Lucas claims that his inspirations are more historically based, including Nixon, but he doesn’t dismiss talk of modern day comparisons. This has resulted in suggestions that some late-stage dialogue changes could have been possible. It’s his film and his conceptual vision, so he can obviously do as he wishes. As long as his intentional parallels don’t take away from the internal logic and flow of the movie itself, which would cheapen the movie experience and betray his long-time loyal fans, then I really don’t care. Let all the Bush-haters snicker in their popcorn with their perceived insider knowledge. However, all these preening self-important Hollywood blowhards really amaze me with their screeds about the gathering fascist storm. Lucas tries to impress everyone with his world history knowledge as he suggests possible past analogies, but he forgets his US history and discounts the strength of the American people and the ever-changing pendulum swings of power between parties. When there have been dark chapters, such as McCartheyism and Japanese internment, not to mention a Civil War, the resiliency of our democracy and its people has proven itself well over time. So while a number of alarmists (i.e. Democrats) insist we are in such a stark period now, and believe we are on a direct course to dictatorship, let me go on record and say that if Iraq’s democratic makeover should falter, and and troop levels remain over 100,000, and the economy stalls or slips back at all, then please make a note to explain to me how the cowed and mindless masses ended up electing a Democrat in 2008 (there may even be one elected regardless!).

Then there is this story about Jane Fonda’s latest repercussions from her Hanoi Jane days. This is on top of getting a faceful of tobacco juice from a Vietnam Vet during a recent book signing. In that case, the anger is understandable, but the action is quite juvenile. In regard to the article, the movie owner has every right to decide what he will or won’t show in his theatres. And given that his businesses are near Fort Knox, he likely has compelling business reasons to not offend his primary customer base. Those who really want to see that insipid (yet popular) film can go to the neighboring county or watch it on DVD in the near future (so please spare me the censorship speeches). However, it seems to me that the publicity generated by such bans just gives the movie more juice and actually helps its sales, when it would otherwise have died a quick death once Bush Wars and other big Memorial Weekend movies rush in. Plus, its not like you’re crippling Fonda herself. Its not her production company or her finances being sunk into the film. It’s not like her career will be stalled. She pretty much has gotten her money from the film already (apart from any piece of the box office, which she doesn’t likely have the “pull” to get anyway), and will get more in DVD sales.

Regardless of political overtones, let’s hope for a worthwhile collection of summer movie diversions this year!

Cruise, Spielberg, and L. Ron Hubbard: The Spiegel Interview

Monday, May 9th, 2005

Here’s a brief Q and A from the German magazine Spiegel, in which they interview Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg about the upcoming remake of War of the Worlds. Things take a turn for the interesting when the interviewer starts grilling Cruise about his religious advocacy on-set: Actor Tom Cruise opens up about his beliefs in the Church of Scientology.

SPIEGEL: Do you see it as your job to recruit new followers for Scientology?

Cruise: I’m a helper. For instance, I myself have helped hundreds of people get off drugs. In Scientology, we have the only successful drug rehabilitation program in the world. It’s called Narconon.

SPIEGEL: That’s not correct. Yours is never mentioned among the recognized detox programs. Independent experts warn against it because it is rooted in pseudo science.

Cruise: You don’t understand what I am saying. It’s a statistically proven fact that there is only one successful drug rehabilitation program in the world. Period.

SPIEGEL: With all due respect, we doubt that. Mr. Cruise, you made studio executives, for example from Paramount, tour Scientology’s “Celebrity Center” in Hollywood. Are you trying to extend Scientology’s influence in Hollywood?

Cruise: I just want to help people. I want everyone to do well.

Spielberg: I often get asked similar questions about my Shoa Foundation. I get asked why I am trying to disseminate my deep belief in creating more tolerance through my foundation’s teaching the history of the Holocaust in public schools. I believe that you shouldn’t be allowed to attend college without having taken a course in tolerance education. That should be an important part of the social studies curriculum.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Spielberg, are you comparing the educational work of the Shoa Foundation with what Scientology does?

Spielberg: No, I’m not. Tom told you what he believes in, and after that I told you what I believe in. This is not a comparison between the Church of Scientology, the Shoa Foundation and the Holocaust. I was only showing you that some of us in Hollywood have set out to do more than just be actors or directors. Some of us have very personal missions. In Tom’s case, it’s his church, and in my case, it’s the Shoa Foundation, where I’m trying to help other people learn about the mortal dangers of pure hatred.

SPIEGEL: How do you set about doing that?

Spielberg: I think that the only way we’re going to teach young people not to kill each other is by showing them the reports by the survivors of the Holocaust — so that they can tell them in their own words man’s inhumanity to man. How they were hated. How they were displaced from their homes. How their families were wiped out and how by some miracle they themselves survived all that.

Cruise: How did the Holocaust start? People are not born to be intolerant of others. People are not born bigots and racists. It is educated into them.

Spiegel: Mr. Cruise, as you know, Scientology has been under federal surveillance in Germany. Scientology is not considered a religion there, but rather an exploitative cult with totalitarian tendencies.

Cruise: The surveillance is nothing like as strict anymore. And you know why? Because the intelligence authorities never found anything. Because there was nothing to find. We’ve won over 50 court cases in Germany. And it’s not true that everyone in Germany supports that line against us. Whenever I go to Germany, I have incredible experiences. I always meet very generous and extraordinary people. A minority wants to hate — okay.

SPIEGEL: There is a difference between hate and having a critical perspective.

Cruise: For me, it’s connected with intolerance.

SPIEGEL: In the past, for example when “Mission: Impossible” (1996) came out, German politicians called for a boycott of your movies. Are you worried that your support for Scientology could hurt your career?

Cruise: Not at all. I’ve always been very outspoken. I’ve been a Scientologist for 20 years. If someone is so intolerant that he doesn’t want to see a Scientologist in a movie, then he shouldn’t go to the movie theater. I don’t care. Here in the United States, Scientology is a religion. If some of the politicians in your country don’t agree with that, I couldn’t care less.

Obviously, you’re not a golfer.

Friday, April 1st, 2005

Hey kids, Lewbowski Fest just ended in LA and is coming up again in KY in a few months. Mark it 8, Dude.

Tetra Vaal: Better Policing Through Robotics

Sunday, March 13th, 2005

Scary/cool video clip of a rabbit-ears-festooned RoboCop patrolling the streets of Johannesburg: Tetra Vaal robot. I especially like this comment:

I have played this video to quite a few people now. Technologically minded audience instantly tries to determine whether this is real or animated while the general audience (amazingly enough) accepts this footage as a fact! Scary isn’t it.

Teh Oscars

Monday, February 28th, 2005

If you love abusive commentary as much as I do, then you’ll probably find The Superficial’s coverage of the Oscars to be the most funniest thing ever. Dig it: ‘6:01 – Joan Rivers. Botox. “You go girl”. J Edgar Hoover. Brando doing Elmer Fudd.’

‘A Scanner Darkly’ Trailer Available

Friday, February 25th, 2005

I know that valued reader Sven, at least, will be interested in this: QuickTime trailer for A Scanner Darkly.

Some more about the movie from Philip K. Dick’s children: Philip K. Dick – A Scanner Darkly film adaptation.

Finding Neverland

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

I’m not really a Peter Pan obsessive; the real ones pretty much creep me out. And with the Michael Jackson trial in full swing, I don’t think we really need a reminder about how the premature theft of someone’s childhood can warp him for life, which is more or less the meta-story of J.M. Barrie’s life, and of Peter Pan.

With that said, Linda and I went to see Finding Neverland yesterday. If you saw my previous review of the P.J. Hogan Peter Pan, you know that I really liked that movie, for all its darkness and adult themes (actually, because of them). You could probably predict, in that case, that I would really like Finding Neverland, and if you predicted that, congratulations. You were right.

The movie is “a weepie,” as Anthony Lane’s excellent New Yorker essay makes clear (see Lost boys: Why J. M. Barrie created Peter Pan), but that never stopped me from enjoying a movie before. Seeing it in the theater rather than at home, with an assorted crowd of families, teenagers, and older retired couples, I was kind of hard-pressed to keep my steady sniffling and face-wiping as low-key as possible, but I mostly managed.

Side issue: What is it with parents bringing young children to movies that are really intended for grown-ups? It seriously mars my enjoyment of a film to see children being abused like that. At least in the case of Finding Neverland the abuse is of a mild nature; the smallest children in our audience were just bored, and were carried out by their parents fast asleep at the end. But still.

Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are terrific in the movie, but the person who steals several scenes from Depp is Freddie Highmore, the young Johnny-Depp-in-the-making who plays Peter Llewelyn Davies, and whose authentic grief in the film’s final moments is heart-breaking.

Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore

Browsing the indespensable IMDB, I find that Depp and Highmore share a birthday (June 9; Depp was born in 1963 and Highmore in 1992), and that Depp reportedly was so impressed with Highmore’s acting in Neverland that he requested he be cast as Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton’s upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I now can’t wait to see.

Last side note: I attended a screenwriter panel discussion at last year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival, and one of the participants was John August, who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Interestingly, he said that he somehow had never seen the 1971 Gene Wilder version when he was chosen to write the screenplay, and that when Tim Burton heard that he insisted that he not see it until after he’d written his own version. August said that when he’d finished writing his screenplay and finally did see the 1971 film, he was surprised at how different the two were; the 1971 version seemed awfully light, while his grew much more from the really dark material of Dahl’s novel, with the crushing poverty of Charlie’s family and his constant hunger and all that.

Heh. Cool.

David Sedaris’ Boil

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

I’ve felt a certain bond with David Sedaris ever since he almost got me killed. I was driving to work on the 405 freeway, negotiating the South Bay curve on the southbound side, in the fast lane next to the concrete divider (this was before the carpool lane was added — there’s a carpool lane there now, right?). And I was listening to Morning Edition, and they were playing Sedaris reading from The Santa Land Diaries. (I’m linking here to an expanded version of it that was part of a later This American Life episode. It’s a RealAudio stream, which I hate, but in this case it’s worth putting up with the technological suck to get the hilarious content. Sedaris begins at 4:41.)

It was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, and I came fairly close to slamming into the center divider, which would have been interesting, in that I would have made a scuff mark matching the one I’d made on the northbound side shortly after getting my driver’s license a few years earlier. But I guess that’s a story for another time.

One more digression before I get to the actual link this item is about: I finally saw Elf, with Will Ferrell. It was actually pretty good, thanks to (as Adam pointed out in his review at Words Mean Things) Will Ferrell’s complete commitment to selling the joke, at whatever cost.

David Sedaris’ little sister Amy is in the cast of Elf (as Adam also pointed out), and since the movie could well be taken as a riff on Sedaris’ earlier comic mining of his department store elf experience (though they were careful to mix things up by putting Will Ferrell in Gimbel’s, rather than Macy’s), I was alert for any explicit references to The Santa Land Diaries.

And there it was! It came when Ferrell’s Buddy was meeting Zooey Deschanel’s Jovie, as she was decorating the tree. At one point she shoots him a suspicious glance and says, “Did Crumpet put you up to this?” (Crumpet was Sedaris’ elf name at Macy’s.)

Okay. I think I’ve purged most of the mental debris that crowded into my brain when I saw this item by Sedaris in The New Yorker: Old faithful. It’s got nothing to do with elves, or Christmas, but it’s good stuff. Go read it! Thanks.

Le Guin: Sci Fi Channel’s Earthsea Sucks

Thursday, December 16th, 2004

Ursula K. Le Guin doesn’t think much of the Sci Fi Channel’s Earthsea adaptation: A Whitewashed Earthsea – How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books.

Jones on Strangelove and War

Thursday, November 18th, 2004

Michael Williams doesn’t just shock and depress me. He also offers links to interesting stuff like this: A bombardier’s reflection, in which Korean War veteran James Earl Jones looks back on the making of Dr. Strangelove.

Unauthorized DVD Commentary: The Fellowship of the Ring

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

So, yeah; I’m a geek. And when I saw what they were doing at I couldn’t rest until I’d tried it myself.

So now I have. I’m not sure that anyone else in the world is actually going to be interested in listening to this, but on the off chance someone will be, here you go: my unauthorized audio commentary track for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition):

Low Quality/Small File Size

High Quality/Large File Size

There are no small parts…

Thursday, November 4th, 2004

This is from an email written by my buddy Wess, who lives in LA — but don’t let that fool you, this sort of thing doesn’t happen to people in LA every day…

I walked into Sherman Oaks’ Fashion Square yesterday to buy a new watch battery. As I entered the center part of the mall, a man with a headset stopped me and told me to move away from where he was. I had no idea who this guy was and what was going on so I looked at him puzzled and asked, “What?”

He pointed to a spot maybe fifteen feet away and said, “That’s where you should be.”

Now completely confused, I told him, “I’m just here to buy a new watch battery.”

“I don’t care about your motivation, the extras are not part of this shot.”

After staring at him for a second, I looked around and suddenly realized there were five cameras and heavy equipment all around us. The floor was taped up, dozens of people were mulling about, and ten feet away was Felicity Huffman. A big sign read “Desperate Housewives.” I had walked into a TV shooting.

I chuckled and told the man I was just shopping and wasn’t part of the production. I thought he’d be mad.

Instead, he seemed amused and said, “I liked what you were doing. It was very believable.” He turned to a man and said, “Do we have room for this guy in the next scene?”

The guy looked down at his clipboard and shook his head. “We need less extras, not more.”

The first man looked back at me and said,” Sorry. But I liked what you were doing.”

It’s good to know that when I’m shopping I have the look of someone who is shopping.

Why You Really Should See ‘Going Upriver’

Thursday, October 7th, 2004

I (legally! woot!) bittorrented the new Kerry documentary, Going Upriver, today, and just finished watching it. It’s great stuff. If you found Fahrenheit 9/11 preachy, rambling, and annoying, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

It’s very much a real documentary, in the traditional sense. It covers Kerry’s time in Vietnam and with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War; there’s archival news footage, present-day interviews, and so on. Yes, it’s pro-Kerry, but it’s not a hagiographic biopic like they one they showed at the Democratic convention. It’s an attempt to really talk about what happened in Vietnam, and the role that Kerry and others played in the unresolved-to-this-day national conversation about it.

Not mentioned, but ever-present in my mind, was the inevitable comparison between the thoughtful, articulate John Kerry of 1972, and the George Bush of that era, who was accomplishing little more than hard partying and getting bailed out of various excesses by the grownups unfortunate enough to be responsible for him.

Really, there’s just no question anymore. We all saw it in the first presidential debate last week. I’m betting we’re going to see it again tomorrow night, and any other time we stand these two guys up next to each other in an unscripted context. One of them would make a decent president. The other one has no business being anywhere near the White House.

It’s just not even close.

Stone and Parker vs. the MPAA re: Team America’s NC-17

Tuesday, October 5th, 2004

The guys who brought you South Park are close to delivering Team America: World Police, in which Thunderbirds-esque puppets lurch into action in the Global War on Terra. But there’s a hitch: the filmmakers are contracturally obligated to deliver the film with an R rating, and the thought police at the MPAA say a scene showing simulated puppet sex requires an NC-17.

I boggle in consternation. We’re talking puppets. With no sex organs, even.

Anyway. From The Guardian: Puppet oral sex goes against grain for US censors.