Thursday, December 14, 2006
If ever there was a titularly-challenged movie THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN is it. No, this superb, subtly inspirational film isn't a Biograph biopic about the legendary Jim Thorpe, nor is it a Bollywood sports film featuring a Mumbaian marathoner, nor is it a zany Zucker Brothers comedy about Tonto with a hotfoot.
Simply put, this is a marvelous, unforgettable film about the indomitable human spirit found in an unlikely place, and I don't mean the football stadium at Notre Dame University.
Step aside RUDY, meet Burt.
As in Burt Munro, by all standards a fine fellow in his Golden Years who should be lounging poolside at some retirement community in Auckland reliving the thrilling days of yesteryear. But this Lone Ranger is a likeable, lively, spirited son-of-a-gun with a passion to go fast and a deep rooted love for an Indian -- a 1920 American-made Indian motorcycle to be precise -- that he has lovingly ridden, restored and modified over a period of forty years in an attempt to set a world speed record.
Burt's obsession is brilliantly revealed early in the film when the camera dollies past a long shelf holding a lifetime of broken pistons and other failed, hand-crafted parts that belie the mettle of this man. "Offerings to the God of Speed" the neatly printed words below proclaim, and it becomes abundantly clear that the Achilles' heel in his virtually insurmountable pursuit lies in the flawed aluminum alloy alchemy which takes place in a small corrugated tin shed that serves as a laboratory and a garage and a home.
Yes, he's an underdog of epic proportions, but Burt knows something most AARP members have long forgotten, "If you don't follow through on your dreams, you might as well be a vegetable." It's true, folks past sixty can still have dreams. And skills. And as Burt can attest, sexagenarians can have sex as well.
Anthony Hopkins is cast as Burt Munro and his endearing performance is as engaging and heartfelt and utterly charming as he has ever given. Unlike the diamond in my wife's wedding ring, Hopkins is flawless. Yes, I said flawless.
Written and Directed by Roger Donaldson (NO WAY OUT, SPECIES, DANTE'S PEAK, THE RECRUIT), it is clearly evident that he admires and respects Mr. Munro given the film's virtually consummate execution, especially the exhilarating cinematography by David Gribble and the skillful editing by John Gilbert. Everything considered, this is by far Donaldson's best film to date.
Of course, just getting from Invercargill, New Zealand to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah proves to be a daunting task. This is especially true since Burt is near penniless and suffers from a weak heart. Luckily there is help along the way. Diane Ladd, Saginaw Grant, Paul Rodriguez, Chris Williams and Chris Lawford are just a few of the fine actors whose oddball, eclectic and surprising array of quirky characters assist Munro in his seemingly impossible quest.
Burt soon discovers that Bonneville presents additional, unsuspected obstacles. Welcome, Burt, to the Mormon Mecca for Speed where dreams of conquest dissipate as ethereally and as often as Fata Morgana.
But Burt's accomplishment was no mirage. It was damn near a miracle.
They say fame is fleeting, but this doesn't apply to an old geezer named Burt Munro who was clocked at over 200 miles per hour in a clunky contraption, man and machine as one, the rickety relic and the cantankerous old Kiwi solidly establishing a world's speed record that still stands today, almost thirty years later.
Unbelievable, but true.
Fittingly, for his stunning achievement the little town of Invercargill changed its official motto from "City of Water and Light" to "Where Dreams Come True." An appropriate tribute, indeed, to an inspiring individual the God of Speed took a liking to, just as you will when you see THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN.
Monday, December 11, 2006
For those who find most holiday cinematic fare far too saccharine I present an alternative that just might make the annual not-so-festive trek to Grandma's depressing house a bit more appealing -- the musty smell and dreadful doilies notwithstanding.
Thanks to the writing/directing team of Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa DEAD END is a low-budget Christmas-themed classic that magically manages to masterfully mix terrifying, horrific elements with humorous, laugh-out-loud dialogue. Don't take my word for it; what other film can you think of that has garnered top honors at both the San Sebastian Horror Film Festival as well as at the Pensacola Comedy Film Festival?
While the script is remarkably tight and the directing is simply superb, primary credit must go to the phenomenal cast featuring the fabulous Ray Wise as the feckless father who decides to take an ill-advised short cut to granny's this particular yuletide eve. Likewise, Lin Shaye as the overwrought, wretched wife is nothing short of sensational while Alexandra Holden as the delicious, decisive daughter and Mick Cain as the sophomoric, smart aleck son also deliver exceptional performances that ring remarkably true. In fact, DEAD END should be mandatory viewing for all acting and directing classes -- it is that good.
Clocking in at a mere 83 minutes the tension builds as this totally believable but dysfunctional American family on an apparently endless road to nowhere discovers that, when all is said and done, there are no secrets after death.
Unfortunately, during the final three or so minutes the script takes an ill-advised detour. In fact, the ending is as hard to swallow as a Corsicana Fruitcake. Don't let the disappointing denouement dissuade you. DEAD END is anything but a dead end...
Monday, November 27, 2006
"His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free."
Obviously there is bad writing.
"Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze."
And there is really bad writing.
And, occasionally, there is good writing.
Case in point is STRANGER THAN FICTION, the new Will Ferrell film that is literally blessed with a terrific cast: especially Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Linda Hunt and Queen Latifah. However, it is the screenplay that is the star of this picture. Shot entirely in the Windy City, STRANGER THAN FICTION is a breezy comedy for English majors and anyone else who enjoys a work of literature that is highly creative and cleverly written. In fact, Zach Helm's poignant and insightful screenplay may possibly land him an Oscar nomination this coming year.
Now who would have thought that the words "Academy Award" and "Will Ferrell" would ever appear in the same paragraph?
Sunday, November 26, 2006
No friends and neighbors, it isn't time (yet) to gather 'round the river so we can present Jesus with his very own PlayStation 3 (or whatever the fine folks at nearby Faithville feel is appropriate).
Instead, this glorious headline from MSN's UK correspondent, Brian Laban, announces the arrival of the second-generation MINI making its first public appearance. Just 4 1/2 years after the intitial re-introduction of this British classic, the fun-loving fellows at MINI simply couldn't resist making an already grand vehicle even more grand. As a result, sales are expected to continue to exceed all predictions for years to come. (The MINI plant in Oxford has never been able to keep up with the demand, consistently running at double the original estimates).
Although the changes are visually subtle, this totally new MINI is completely redesigned; in fact, every external body panel and every external detail except the MINI badge has been changed. With a more powerful, now turbocharged engine, the MINI S model is even quicker and more fun to drive than ever. Holy jumpin' Jehosaphat!
Capable of a top speed of 140 mph, the good folks at MINI have even installed "the largest speedometer dial since Flash Gordon." Trust me, if you take one of these babies for a test drive, you'll know why...
Speaking of things large and small, and now turning from the sublime to the ridiculous, I couldn't help but notice recently the horrendously enormous size of Terrell Owens' yapper. Could there possibly be a bigger human orifice anywhere? Probably not. What I do know is that the last time anyone saw a mouth this big Jonah disappeared.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
"Angelina Jolie wearing an eye patch! Scratch off #43 on my 'Things I Really Hope To See Jolie Do Before I Die' list." Keith Simanton, Reviewer for imdb.com
Some dreams do come true. (This was #67 on my list...)
Unfortunately, SKY CAPTAIN is pretty much eye candy and nothing more. Writer/Director Kerry Conran and his art department do a fantastic job of giving us a stunning, futuristic world set in the year 1939. From a purely visual point of view there's flash and panache galore. As for a story, or any semblance thereof, a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet is better written and more entertaining.
The cast for this fluffy fantasy is certainly appealing. Jude Law, as Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan, possesses the look and the swagger of a P-40 fighter pilot par excellence. Gwyneth Paltrow plays perky, plucky Polly Perkins to perfection. Giovanni Ribisi steals his scenes as Dex Dearborn, Sky Captain's know-everything, do-everything side kick. The aforementioned Angelina Jolie (as Captain Franky Cook) elevates the level of fantasy as only black leather and a riding crop can do. And Sir Laurence Olivier even comes back from the grave to play the evil Dr. Totenkopf. Although dead and buried since 1989, he makes a brief appearance thanks to filched footage from previous films. He is by no means the only thing that isn't real.
SKY CAPTAIN was shot almost entirely on a sound stage in front of a blue screen. In fact, just about everything you see (except for Polly's office and the principal actors) was computer generated in keeping with the genesis of this film, a six minute short Mr. Conran produced on his very own Apple computer.
Let's give credit where credit is due. Mr. Conran and his Big Mac aimed high; this tale of an eponymous mercenary wants to be the next RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and it often has the right look. Unfortunately, this "world of tomorrow" just doesn't have enough substance, Jolie's jollies notwithstanding.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
"The biggest problem we face in this country is political correctness. Everyone's being so damn careful not to offend anyone; it's a bunch of crap."
"BORAT! is nothing but a totally offensive piece of crap. I'm not going to waste my money."
The above two quotes were heard recently at lunch -- within minutes of one another. Yes, they were spoken by the same individual.
As Borat might say, some people could use a little "cultural learnings for make benefit glorious tolerance among crackers." One can only hope.
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, BORAT! is essentially a road movie. As far from ROAD TO RIO or ROAD TO ZANZIBAR as one can possibly get, the road taken here is populated with polemic potholes, ranging from anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, racism, cultural elitism and religious fervor. Heady stuff, indeed, yet I cannot help but believe that even Bob Hope and Bing Crosby would appreciate this journey --- because while Borat Sagdiyev entertains, Sacha Baron Cohen enlightens.
Make no mistake. The improvised interactions are as subversive as they are brilliant, as inflamatory as they are informative. There's absolutely no attempt at whitewashing anything. This is NOT 20 Mule Team Borat; this is full frontal and disturbing filmmaking. And it's funny -- snarf running down the nostril funny. The kind of "funny" best shared with an audience. (At my early Monday afternoon matinee the theater was one-third full, and the biggest surprise was that I was younger than most of those in attendance. The theater reverberated with laughter. Who woulda thunk?)
My recommendation is to go see for yourself why BORAT!CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN is a box-office hit. Go on, just do it.
(Here's one hint: It has nothing to do with the fact that the title is the second longest in American cinema history -- DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB -- remains the record holder by one word).
True, you may find yourself offended a time or two. So what? Perhaps David Edwards of the Daily Mirror said it best: "The least politically-correct film since THE TRIUMPH OF THE WILL."
Just what America needs -- or so I've been told.
Monday, November 6, 2006
Needtovent.com is pleased to announce the worldwide release of FALSE RIVER, an independently financed motion picture produced by Robert A. Nowotny. Although we were extremely tempted to publish our own comments on behalf of this film we ultimately decided that doing so would not be kosher. Instead, we bring you the kind words from esteemed author and critic Ed Callaway, whose review of FALSE RIVER is the first to be published anywhere...
by Ed Callaway
Jim Mix, a young, bewildered man battling his own personal demons, has escaped with two other "lunatics" from Science Hill Hospital. His metaphorical journey catapults him into a landscape that is as dehumanized and deathly as any recently seen in cinema.
The slippage of sanity is the judgement of a dark god, and man is always working feverishly to indict himself. The town of False River resonates with a banality and corruption that delineates the individual from his greater self, always lying in wait to destroy such an Everyman as Jim Mix.
Jim is prey. The predatory nature of the environment stalking him is relentless. In this milieu of madness, a vastly entertaining story is splashed across a canvass drawn so tight it nearly vibrates. With originality and wit, FALSE RIVER telescopes the human condition in a way that seizes the viewer with a grip that can still be felt long after the film ends. There is murder here, and deceit, caustic humor and callous regard for that which makes us most human. And there is love.
Jim Mix flits between light and darkness as easily as a butterfly, wary yet unaware, in this surrealistic madhouse of the rural South. For this is home to him, and he comes to realize all too quickly that he has no home. He moves shakily along the precipice that is his destiny. Headache pain wracks him, sledgehammer blows against his brain. Haunted by the tragic memory of his parents' death in a car crash, Jim also holds onto the memory of his love for his girlfriend, Judy Ann Moody. A filament of meaning and hope, something to grip tightly as his fragile mind must cope with a murder for which he has been framed as well as the advances of an enigmatic young local woman who sucks him into yet another inner orbit of this ongoing restructuring of reality, the swirling vortex that is False River.
Inside this funhouse mirror stalks one Dick Crockett, clownish and malignant, the demonic in juxtaposition with the angelic: the Lunatic, Charles.
Charles is a lightning rod of hope, peace, and ultimately, transcendence. A shattered smile creases his face, and his misty dreams spill forth to unwitting ears. He and Jim, together in the mental hospital and now on the outside together, "passing ships" as Charles describes them, are a dyad born of love and remembrance. They share the memory of a former life, a sane and safe place that is surely achievable again. Ripped by psychic and emotional pain, Charles knows he has killed. His bonding with Jim, in a desperate attempt to ameliorate his condition at the eleventh hour, serves as a bridge to redemption, an escape from the pain that rips them both.
We meet Jim on the road, briefly accompanied by a dimwit killer named Pokey. Jim's brutal isolation does not bury him, for he still seeks to understand those forces to which he can only react; his struggle is to keep the spirit intact. In this quest he finds, in the lunatic Charles, a scarecrow-thin exposed nerve, a symbolic representation of humanity and salvation. Charles is a highwire artist of the human spirit, at war with despair, and the breaking of his mind has not yet forced him to relinquish his soul. But in the midst of comic evil and the brain-numbing reality of environmental pollution and floor wax and bean dip that comprises an artery of False River, this is a time of suffering for Jim and his spiritual compatriot and guide Charles, an ultimate test of survival forged in blood and madness, and survival is less important than restoration of the heart.
Under its slippery surface, FALSE RIVER is a transformative journey of mythical proportions, ultimately life-affirming. It is played against a backdrop of small-town American reality that is calibrated to stasis and fine-tuned to destruction. The ironic richness of this stark contrast opens possibilities to the viewer that are not readily available in any form, a small gemstone glittering in the sunlight.
If you are among the curious and foolhardy you can acquire your very own DVD copy of FALSE RIVER at:
http://singahe.com/falseriver.html ---- this should take you directly to the ordering page for FALSE RIVER
(If the website's main page appears, simply click on "New Releases 2006." FALSE RIVER is the sixth film listed from the top in the middle column)
With the amazingly low price of $9.98 (plus $3.00 shipping) you'll find that FALSE RIVER will make a glorious addition to your collection of cinematic classics. In addition, these DVDs also make terrific stocking stuffers, reasonably decent trivets and, because they are nice and shiny, they will entertain your retarded uncle for hours on end.
Monday, October 30, 2006
According to Webster's New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary, the word prestige "is a noun that means a delusion, an illusion, a juggler's trick, from praestinguere, to darken, to obscure."
Christopher Nolan's latest feature film certainly possesses those characteristics, but it is much, much more. THE PRESTIGE is a brilliantly conceived, beautifully executed character study concerning two rival magicians obsessed with outdoing one another in shadowy, gas lit, Victorian England. Clearly this is the kind of movie hack director M. Night Shyamalanadingdong wants to make but proves repeatedly incapable of doing due to his egregious lack of talent. However, in the deft hands of Mr. Nolan we get a motion picture masterpiece so rich in texture that it succeeds in being part murder mystery, part drama, part suspense, part fantasy and part science fiction all at once.
Abracadabra! Even Houdini couldn't have pulled this rabbit out of a hat.
Just as you would expect from a world-class magician, THE PRESTIGE is clever, tricky, and deceitful, but be advised that many of the magical moments are not unveiled in a straightforward chronology. This complexity is extremely rare, especially given the plethora of insipid sequels, prequels and remakes that dominate the nation's theater screens today. It is also risky to make today's audiences have to pay attention and to actually think. However, it is precisely this combination of rarity and risk that makes THE PRESTIGE so rewarding and why it is the kind of movie that is best enjoyed by not knowing too much going in. Accordingly, I will refrain from giving any additional information other than to reiterate that THE PRESTIGE is one of the best movies of the year and that I fully expect it will garner serious, well-deserved Oscar consideration.
One last thing -- I thought it would be fun to close with this quote from Mark Ramsey's review at Moviejuice.com:
"THE PRESTIGE is absolutely one of my favorite movies this year. It's original and engaging and most of the twists aren't nearly as obvious as Jodie Foster's reasons for choosing pants over a skirt."
(I kinda wish I had written that)
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
"Is that what we are? Misanthropes? Lord no, we're a family."
I don't think Howdy Doody would agree...
THE PROPOSITION is a film that Sam Peckenpah would call his own. From the very opening scene, a piercing gun battle that will make your ears bleed and your stomach cringe, this Aussie oat opus is a masterpiece of menance. Writer Nick Cave and Director John Hillcoat combine their talents to revitalize the Western genre and they do so with uncompromising, ferocious carnage that is as pitiless and primal as anything brought to the screen in recent years.
Needless to say, I loved this film.
Cave is best known as the controversial singer/songwriter who first shot to fame in the 1980's as head of a band called "The Birthday Party." He then climbed to greater prominence in the 1990's with "Nick Cage and the Bad Seeds." He's been quoted as saying, "I want to write songs that are so sad, the kind of sad where you take someone's little finger and break it in three places." While that may be true for his musical perspective, I can assure you his on-screen characters' trigger fingers are all in perfectly fine shape.
Guy Pearce (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, MEMENTO) gives a menacing and memorable performance as Charlie Burns, the middle aged of three brothers, who is given the choice of saving either the life of his younger brother or his older brother by the territorial head of police, Captain Stanley. Stanley is poignantly portrayed by Ray Winstone (COLD MOUNTAIN) whose own men are as ruthless and uncivil as any of the so-called bad guys except, perhaps, Arthur Burns, the oldest brother, who commands a cult-like gang of wild Irish outlaws who are intimidating enough to play for the University of Miami football team.
"What is an Irishman but a nigger turned inside out?" asks John Hurt, as Jellon Lamb, a bounty hunter also on the trail of the Burns gang. "I came to this beleagured land and the god in me evaporated."
Yes, 1880's Australia is a bleak, unforgiving Hell made even less appealing by the urine-drenched lens of Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, whose sickly yellow-tinted barren landscapes will do nothing for the tourist industry in Oz. Add in the ever-present flies and I think I'll pass on Quantas' Get-Away Bargain Fares. (Flies even sabotage the bonus segment interviews seen on the DVD -- hasn't anyone down under heard of Vapona pest strips?)
Danny Huston (THE AVIATOR, THE CONSTANT GARDENER), David Gulpili (RABBIT-PROOF FENCE, WALKABOUT) and Emily Watson (GOSFORD PARK, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS) round out the excellent cast -- especially Ms. Watson whose underplayed performance as Martha Stanley, the Captain's wife, is nothing short of remarkable.
The climatic Christmas Day dinner makes this one of my favorite films to re-screen during that harried holiday period. Accordingly, I can assure anyone whose family is a bit misanthropic (or considers themselves Compassionate Conservatives) that they will find THE PROPOSITION not only a worthy addition to the Western canon, but a fine stocking stuffer as well.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
HARD CANDY is a tasty, tantalizing treat that's so hard to swallow you'll find yourself wailing two octaves higher than Andy Devine during a bikini wax.
Let me try and explain...
To set the record straight, there's a lot to like about HARD CANDY (the title refers to the internet slang word for an under-aged girl). In fact, the underlying story was inspired by actual events in Japan where schoolgirls have banded together to ambush predatory men. It's an intriguing premise to say the least, and the first two-thirds of this low budget film is damn near a masterpiece. Reportedly shot in eighteen days for less than one million dollars, HARD CANDY sets itself up to be a cinematic classic.
Ellen Page (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) plays fourteen year old Hayley Stark, a bright young lass who surfs the web and agrees to meet a much older internet pen pal at a local diner. Patrick Wilson (William Travis in THE ALAMO, RUNNING WITH SCISSORS) portrays thirty-two year old Jeff Kohlver, a successful, but lonely photographer. As the film progresses we are given conflicting information on whether or not Jeff is a pedophile. We also must question whether or not Hayley is pathologically insane. She's no Hayley Mills, that much is certain.
Both actors are absolutely outstanding. In fact, I cannot think of any other young actress who could convincingly pull off the frequently stilted dialogue penned by Screenwriter Brian Nelson. (Here's a classic example of an adult male not knowing how to write for a teenage girl). In any event, Ellen Page is both brilliant and mesmerizing; we can expect to see much more of this budding Canadian actress in the future.
So far, so good...
Unfortunately, the final act becomes so maddingly unbelievable and disappointing it defies description, although it does answer the question, "What is less satisfying than a fake orgasm?"
In the case of HARD CANDY the answer is, "A fake castration."
Brian Nelson and Director David Slade inexplicably opt for a POLLYANNA ending that might even gag Ms. Mills. In simplest terms, these guys lost their cojones. Instead of an uncompromising, unforgettable conclusion we get Little Red Riding Hood walking off into the sunset. And what about Jeff? Well, he's left hanging; the same is true for the audience.
If only Roman Polanski had directed...
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
"There's a chance you will find THE LAKE HOUSE laughingly awful, thanks to poorly written lines and Keanu's delivery of the world's least convincing sneeze." Matthew Turner, VIEWLONDON
Mr. Turner is being kind.
Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock purportedly fall in love with one another in what is undoubtedly one of the dumbest movies to come down the pike in years. The main connection between the two lead actors is that they both either live in or have previously lived in the same lake house -- a ghastly glass edifice of maybe 800 square feet that sits on stilts along the bank of a large pond somewhere outside of Chicago. What the art director attempts to pass off as an architectural gem is nothing more than a well-worn, waterfront collection of windows. Pass the Windex, please.
The major problem facing our protagonists is that Bullock is living in the year 2006 and Reeves is living in the year 2004. Thankfully, the U.S. Post Office is somehow able to deliver mail back and forth to one another at supersonic speed. In fact, each time a letter magically arrives the flag on the dilapidated mailbox gets an erection that Bob Dole would be proud of. This signals, of course, that yet another letter has found its way over two years of separation. It's truly amazing what our proud postal workers are able to achieve; take that, internet...
Of course, this doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
The primary culprit in this cinematic catastrophe is screenwriter David Auburn. Mr. Auburn is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "PROOF" which, among other accolades, also received the Tony Award for the "Best Play" on Broadway in 2001. Despite these impressive credentials, his adaptation of a South Korean film (SIWORAE) gets totally lost in the translation. My advice is for Mr. Auburn to stick to the Great White Way and never, ever attempt a screenplay again.
In the final analysis, THE LAKE HOUSE simply doesn't make any sense. In fact, the entire screenplay is full of more holes than a wino's Fruit-Of-The-Looms. And the intended touchy-feely existential romance between Reeves and Bullock never materializes; there is absoultely no chemistry or passion between them. Topo Gigo and Trish Putterman would be more engaging to watch.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Thanks to a fortuitous set of circumstances and the largess of some very good friends, Lynda and I were invited to attend a special preview screening of the latest feature film based on the life of Truman Capote.
Talk about deja vu...
Yes my fellow cineastes, this coming weekend writer/director Douglas McGrath's INFAMOUS will be released in several major cities. It's arrival in selected theaters comes approximately one year after Philip Seymour Hoffman's Academy Award winning portrayal was being projected on thousands of screens nationwide, and not only is the central character the same, both films cover precisely the same period in Capote's life albeit in considerably different fashion.
This, of course, begs the question: Is INFAMOUS worth seeing?
The answer is yes.
Like CAPOTE, INFAMOUS is also a compelling study of the complex and tortured relationship between the famous writer and Perry Smith, one of the two murderers convicted of the brutal slaughter of a well-to-do Kansas farm family. The overall tone, however, is lighter, with numerous scenes of Truman spending time with his "Gotham glitterati" and, especially, some very funny moments when Capote, accompanied by his closest friend, Nelle Harper Lee, first arrives in the Sunflower State. But make no mistake, the ending is a powerful one that draws the conclusion that the strong, emotional bond Truman formed in prison with Perry ultimately brought about not only the destruction of Capote's career, but the destruction of his soul as well. "I've come to feel with deep heart-sickness that there were three deaths on the gallows that night," says Lee, and one cannot help but believe this is true.
The cast is excellent. Toby Jones' portrayal of Truman Capote is riveting and is possibly a better imitation than Hoffman's more nuanced performance. For my money, they are both superb -- had INFAMOUS come along first, Toby Jones might have been nominated for an Oscar as well. Sandra Bullock, as Nelle Harper Lee, will surprise even her harshest critics. She certainly holds her own in comparison with the marvelous Catherine Keener. Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini, Peter Bogdanovich (as Bennett Cerf), Jeff Daniels and Daniel Craig (as Perry Smith) all deserve special mention as well.
Amazingly, Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly earned a staggering $3.6 million to play Peggy Lee singing a three minute rendition of "This Thing Called Love" in the opening scene. This makes Ms. Paltrow the highest paid actress ever for a cameo appearance. The scene is important, it establishes the concept that sadness often lurks beneath the spotlight, a theme which will increasingly pertain to Mr. Capote as the film proceeds. Still, this was money clearly wasted in a film possessing outstanding production values throughout given its relatively low budget.
True, the ground being covered is virtually the same as we've seen before. So what? I recall having traveled the same hiking trail more than once and I inevitably discovered something new and different on each trek. The same analogy holds for these two feature films; both are extremely well made and both provide interesting and enlightening insight into a fascinating and talented personality.
Monday, October 2, 2006
"Why is there no Halloween in India?
Because they took away all the Gandhi."
Albert Brooks is no Mel Brooks; nor is he the "West Coast Woody Allen." However, Albert Lawrence Einstein, the brother of Bob Einstein who is best known for his "Super Dave Osbourne" character, can be funny...sometimes.
Brooks' LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD is a brilliant premise for a movie. In fact, it is just as brilliant as any 2-carat diamond in the Wal-Mart jewelry case -- but, in the final analysis, it is just as flawed.
Brooks' deadpan delivery and hyper-worried persona is perfect for the lead character. It should be -- after all Albert Brooks plays himself. Chosen for a special assignment, Brooks is asked by the State Department to go to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh. Of course, the fact that India is only 13.4% Muslim (less than the gloabal average which is 20%) just highlights the ineptness of the entire mission. Not only is Brooks clearly the wrong guy going to the wrong country, once he's back he must turn in a 500-page report indicating what he has learned along the way.
Brooks ultimately learns nothing. Sadly, we as an audience learn nothing as well, unless it is the fact that any extended scene which goes nowhere can and will bring a film's narrative to a dead stop. In the case of LOOKING, it is a painfully boring and ill-advised audience-participation improvisation that seems to last for an eternity.
Yes, Brooks bombs, and often they aren't smart bombs either. I will, nonetheless, recommend LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD because it dares to take a chance and to clearly break the mold of traditional, predictable and brain-dead Hollywood fare. In fact, if all you watch is the opening scene with Penny Marshall it will be well worth the price of admission (or a DVD rental).
An aside --
Albert Brooks almost always appears in the films he writes. He does so because he quickly learned that once a screenplay is approved for production, there's no one lower on the totem pole than the writer. Hence, this famous quote from Mr. Brooks:
"Being a screenwriter in Hollywood is like being a eunich at an orgy. Worse, actually, at least the eunich is allowed to watch."
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
SOMETHING THE LORD MADE is probably the best made-for-television movie I had never heard of until the title was mentioned over dinner on a recent cruise. Thanks to the unwavering recommendation by new-found friends from Hawaii, upon my return home I immediately began to search for a DVD or videotape of this production which aired on HBO in 2004. Thankfully, I was able to locate a copy at a nearby Blockbuster store.
Let's begin by simply mentioning some of the awards bestowed upon this excellent project that is based on a true and compelling story:
IMAGE AWARDS -- Outstanding Television Movie
IMAGE AWARDS -- Nominated for Outstanding Actor
WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA -- Best Original Long-Form Screenplay
DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA -- DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Movies for Television
EMMY AWARD -- Outstanding Cinematography for a Made-for-Television Movie
EMMY AWARD -- Best Made-for-Television Movie
EMMY AWARD -- Best Editing for a Made-for-Television Movie
EMMY AWARD -- Six (6) additional Emmy Nominations
GOLDEN GLOBES -- Two (2) Nominations
ARTIOS AWARD -- Best Casting for a Television Movie-of-the-Week
PEABODY AWARD -- Best Television Movie
And all are deserved...
How in the world could I have not known about SOMETHING THE LORD MADE? Just as perplexing, how could I have not known about the real-life events the movie is based upon? In my defense, I'll gladly bet that 90% or more of those who read this review will not have known about this remarkable true-life story either.
Special mention must go to Joseph Sargent, perhaps the most consistent director to work in television. Since 1954, his vast directing credits include eighty-one separate television shows, television movies and feature films. Among these credits is THE INCIDENT, written by good friends Michael and James Norell, which is arguably the best made-for-television movie ever. One thing you can bank on is that if Joseph Sargent is directing, the project is going to be a good one. And the better news is that he's still going strong. (He directed SOMETHING THE LORD MADE when he was 79).
The cast is uniformly excellent. Alan Rickman plays Dr. Alfred Blalock, an ambitious, eccentric white surgeon who is willing to go against the long-standing medical orthodoxy that says flat out: "You can't operate on the heart -- that's basic."
Blalock's unlikely partner is Vivian Thomas, a black-carpenter-turned-lab-assistant who proves indispensable in this duo achieving a medical breakthrough. Thomas is portrayed by Mos Def, regarded as one of hip-hop's most introspective and insightful artists. The name, by the way, stands for "Most Definitely," and Mos Def's sensitive performance is most definitely one reason I believe you will be seeing a lot more of him in the years to come.
Focusing on the plight of "blue babies" -- infants with a congenital heart defect that turns their skin blue as they slowly suffocate -- the interracial team of Blalock and Thomas successfully perform the first-ever heart surgery, altering forever the mortality rate of blue babies and, by extension, forever changing medical science as well.
Other cast members are equally as solid. Mary Stuart Masterson as Dr. Helen Taussig is superb as always. The same can be said for Kyra Sedgewick and Charles S. Dutton as, respectively, Blalock's wife and Thomas' father. In fact, the entire cast and crew do an outstanding job.
Last, but certainly not least, I must single out screenwriters Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell who manage to expeditiously examine the evolving relationship which existed between these two men over a period of nearly forty years. And here's the single biggest surprise of all -- Silverman and Caswell elect to not have the ground-breaking operation serve as the climax of the story. Instead, they leave an entire act to establish a heartfelt, satisfactory denouement regarding the specific racial and educational issues which they chose to explore with honesty and compassion. This is a bold structural departure from what just about every other writer would do, and it helps propel SOMETHING THE LORD MADE to a truly memorable and inspiring viewing experience.
Monday, September 11, 2006
WARNING!!! THE PATH TO 9/11 is a long one and far too rocky for anyone susceptible to motion sickness.
Let me begin by stating that I am not in any way influenced by the political controversy that has unjustifiably surrounded this project. As the disclaimer clearly states on three separate occasions, this miniseries contains "fictionalized scenes" for "dramatic and narrative purposes." I personally don't care which president comes across as the most incompetent -- be it the one having bad oral sex in the oval office (yes, in this case there is such a thing) or the one responsible for beaucoup bagged bodies in Baghdad. I predict you won't care either.
Here's another prediction -- you will agree with me that any film or television program shot by a director of photography with uncontrollable epilepsy should be burried under the dung from a thousand camels. I used to think that UNITED 93 and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT held the title, but Joel Ransom's camera work makes both seem smoother than a Bently on the autobahn. He is a self-winding watch's nightmare; within fifteen minutes I was down on my knees praying to Allah to provide him a steady tripod or to provide me a big bottle of Dramamine.
This technique, of course, is known as cinema verite, whereby naturalistic techniques reminiscent of documentary filmmaking (such as the use of hand-held cameras) combine with elements of a scripted film to form a "cinema of truth." As a result, the "look" is intended to be one of factual events being portrayed as they actually took place.
Alas, jerking off isn't Joel's only habitual cinematic sin. Every third scene is shot with his spastic camera bouncing, weaving, dollying, panning and/or peering through something in the foreground, be it venetian blinds, wrought iron railings, clothes lines, wind chimes, fluttering flags, birdcages, rotating fan blades, iron bars, chain link fences, balloon strings, camouflage netting, barb wire, desk lamps, wooden slats or people moseying around the streets of Mosul.
The clumsy, overly expository dialog is courtesy of a self-declared screenwriter named Cyrus Nowrasteh. While Cyrus the Great was the first Achaemenian king of ancient Persia, this contemporary Cyrus should be banned from ever again putting his Number 2 to a Big Chief tablet. On the plus side, I must credit the entire cast for doing its best. Harvey Keitel is solid in the lead role and I was especially impressed by newcomer Prasanna Puwanarajah who plays Istiak.
The special effects are also superior to the average made-for-television film with the one exception of a process shot of the New York City skyline that had the buildings bobbing like Riverdance performers.
This was an ambitious undertaking. THE PATH TO 9/11 could have been an informative and interesting overview of the past decade's overlooked warning signs and damn-near criminal incompetence leading up to the most fateful day in our lifetime. Instead, we get an unsteady, virtually unwatchable whirligig.
Tonight the alphabet network will broadcast the final edition. Expect further capricious cinematography and indifferent dialog. You can also anticipate seeing further blunders among the FBI, the CIA, the past two presidential administrations and others in the collective failure to find and capture Osama bin Laden.
History seems to be repeating itself...we never captured Pancho Villa either.
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
There are many who believe that absolute perfection is simply unattainable -- at least in this life and on this planet. I'm not certain where I stand on the issue, but I do know that I've seen things that come pretty darn close. For example, a Ferrari 550 Barchetta, or Italian super model Monica Bellucci or the "Manager's Special" at Parziale's Pizzeria in Canyon Lake, Texas. But these are topics for another day and another time...
When it comes to filmmaking, however, there are very few films which even come close to achieving perfection. And one of these is, unfortunately, not available for purchase anywhere. In this case I'm referring to a student film that was written and directed by Adam Davidson while attending Columbia University.
"A student film? You can't be serious?"
Winner of the Golden Palm for "Best Short Film" at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival and the recipient of the Oscar for "Best Short Film, Live Action" a year later, Davidson's THE LUNCH DATE is simply a phenomenal cinematic achievement. Throw in two (yes, two) Student Academy Awards and you can quickly discern that THE LUNCH DATE is very special, very special indeed.
Beautifully shot in black & white, this is the story of a white woman and her uncomfortable encounter with a black man in a cafeteria located in Grand Central Station. After taking her tray to an empty table she discovers she has forgotten her silverware. Upon her return she is astonished to find a large black man eating her food. After the initial shock subsides she decides to be defiant and to eat off the plate as well. When they are both finished the black man gets up and walks away, only to return with a cup of coffee for them both. After a sip or two the woman gets up and walks toward the exit. Just before stepping out she turns back and discovers that her own meal was on another table all this time.
With minimal dialog (and none between the two main characters), Davidson manages to tell a complete, complex, compelling and compassionate story in a mere ten minutes. He initially entertains the viewer by masterfully crafting a concise screenplay that contains a surprising twist and an even more surprising reversal. And then, just when it isn't expected, he astounds us with a stunning resolution that will not soon be forgotten.
Since his graduation Davidson has established a successful career directing a whole host of prime time television programs, including episodes of LAW & ORDER, MONK, SIX FEET UNDER, DEADWOOD and GREY'S ANATOMY to name only a few. With his obvious talent I, for one, would welcome his being given the chance to write and direct a feature film.
Surely that day will come.
Friday, August 25, 2006
First there was KILL BILL Vol 1. Then there was KILL BILL Vol 2. What's next -- KILL QUENTIN?
Quentin, as in Tarantino, is the director of both these films and a man glaringly in need of some editing skills. At two hours and sixteen minutes KILL BILL Vol 2 is at least ninety minutes too long. It's o.k. for a filmmaker to indulge himself a little, but Quentin has abused the privilege. To make matters worse, most scenes develop so slowly it is like experiencing a 45-rpm record being played back at 33 rpms. To be honest, I cannot recall any other motion picture that even comes close to being so painfully s-l-o-w.
Rather than kill the guy my suggestion is to incarcerate him -- yes, let's lock him up with all of the editing manuals ever printed, let's allow Thelma Schoonmaker non-conjugal visits on a weekly basis and let's keep Quentin imprisoned until he is certifiably reformed. The final step is to provide a rehabilitated Mr. T the opportunity to repay society with a new film that reflects his new-found understanding of an important concept commonly called "pacing." This seems like a win-win situation all the way around.
Quentin incarcerated in Editing 101 prison? Why not? Movie audiences can surely get by "Sans Quentin" for awhile and this might just save a career whose feature film debut was the explosive and sensationally savvy RESERVOIR DOGS which broke new ground in contemporary, cutting edge, cutthroat cinema. Throw in PULP FICTION and you obviously have a filmmaker with inherent talent; yet over the years there has been a decline and fall, not only of western civilization, but of this once promising darling of film critics everywhere. Early, well deserved success has obviously led to bigger budgets, bigger disappointments and a baleful, ballooning hat size. With an ever-growing ego rapidly approaching the magnitude of the Hindenburg, I truly fear Quentin's head may explode sometime soon.
(Out of respect this recent "head shot" was downsized using state-of-the-art computing technology provided by the Krell technicians at Altair IV. It was the only way we could successfully reduce Mr. Tarantino's super nova noggin to a dimension that would fit on the internet)
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
C.S.A. -- A Haiku Review
by Robert A. Nowotny
Willmott and Weinstein
Ignoramos and Dandy
Blackface barbs backfire
Once again an old saying proves true: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."
Kevin Willmott is an Associate Professor of Theater and Film at Kansas University. His premise for this film is brilliant -- what would things be like now if the South had won the Civil War?
"Holy Mackeral, Kingfish!"
This is more than an intriguing concept given the on-going racial disparity and unresolved tensions which continue to exist in America. In the hands of someone competent, i.e. Dave Chappelle or Carlos Mencia, this would clearly be a can't miss hypothesis unless, of course, the filmmaker in question is totally inept. Take a bow, Kevin, you have singlehandly managed to mangle this endeavor beyond belief. Your application to be admitted to the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge is hereby rejected. Hopefully the same will occur if you ever surface again with another idea for a film.
And as for you, Mr. Weinstein, what on earth were you thinking? Eighty-nine minutes comprising sophomoric, sophistic "slice of life as it could be cinema" certainly tests the stamina of anyone I know -- white or black. What have you to say for yourself, Harvey? Katrina got your tongue?
Sunday, August 20, 2006
"SNAKES ON A PLANE is a cheese crust pizza with double cheese topping. It's so bad it's gouda!" Jim Slotek, Jam! Movies
Replete with green-tinted ViperVision and some good old fashioned "hissssteria", SNAKES ON A PLANE is a throwback to the glorious days of the highly entertaining Hollywood exploitation pictures that dominated the release schedule of a number of smaller studios in the 1950s and 1960s. Think American International and Cannon Films. Think Roger Corman, even Russ Meyer (God rest his soul), and you will understand why SNAKES ON A PLANE possesses such strong appeal. If only they had shot this in 3-D! If only I had seen this at a drive-in theater! My, oh, my, wouldn't that be something?
Of course, the first thing you should know is that prior to boarding Pacific Air Flight 121 you will need to not only check your baggage, but your disbelief needs to be safely stowed in the overhead compartment as well since continuity problems could diminish some of the fun. Simply stated, several scenes don't make any sense, and the not-so-climatic landing of this big old Boeing 747 at LAX lacks not only plausibility, it may very well be the worst directed non-pilot landing of a commercial airliner in movie history. But guess what, I didn't care and you won't either because now that the aircraft is safely on the ground all you will want to do is paraphrase Herve Villechaize's immortal line, "De Plane! De Plane!"
Within twenty-three minutes the ophidian orgy begins, and a mere four minutes later a poor schmuck meets with an especially humiliating, dehumanizing demise.
Gamboling Gaboon Viper -- 1
Dangling Trouser Snake -- 0
A big part of the fun is to guess which of the passengers will survive and which will not. There are few surprises, although I will admit that I was wrong concerning several of the characters. That's good; it keeps things interesting. And the body count is staggering -- not even a gaggle of circus geeks could have thwarted the hundred or so venomously voracious reptiles from wreaking havoc.
The bottom line: One of the greatest movie titles in cinema history delivers exactly what it promises. As the film's tagline says, "Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the fright."
An aside: I was thrilled to see that one of the primary casting directors for SNAKES ON A PLANE was Coreen Mayrs. Several years ago Coreen won the Bob Award at the Crested Butte Reel Fest for her short film, THE REMEMBERER. Since then Coreen has become one of the most successful, sought-after casting directors in Canada. Way to go Coreen...
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The worldwide staff at Needtovent.com is pleased to announce the winner of the inaugural SCHIAVO AWARD for the most pathetic, lifeless and brain dead movie of the past twelve months.
The hermetically sealed envelope was delivered earlier in the day by a representative of the prestigious accounting firm of Ernst & Whinney. (Yes, Whinney the Pooh actually helped oversee the tabulations given the immense importance of this award). The results were unprecedented, with THE WEATHER MAN winning the SCHIAVO AWARD in a veritable landslide over runner-up THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.
If you are among the lucky ones to have not seen THE WEATHER MAN and thus have not had to reach for a bottle of Pepto Abysmal (a necessary elixir for anyone who has the stomach to actually try and watch this cinematic calamity), the film stars Nicolas Cage as a self-centered, insecure yet oddly narcissistic weatherman who has a troublesome relationship with his father, with his wife, with his two kids and an even more troubling relationship with himself. Michael Caine plays the father in what is surely his most embarrassing screen appearance ever. Perhaps he somehow wandered onto the wrong set -- that's as good an explanation as any to why Mr. Caine would agree to participate in this fiasco.
Director Gore Verbinski has his troubles as well, failing to elicit the least bit of sympathy for anyone appearing before the camera. It is behind the camera, however, where the real problem lies -- Steve Conrad's angst-ridden, lugubrious screenplay holds less appeal, less raison d'etre and even less sustenance than you'll find in an Ethiopian dingleberry. A rhesus monkey with an IBM Selectric can do better...
Thursday, July 13, 2006
RABBIT-PROOF FENCE is an unforgettable film about an unforgivable governmental policy that will stay with you for a long, long time.
Director Phillip Noyce (DEAD CALM, 1989; PATRIOT GAMES, 1992) helms this true story of three young half-caste girls who are abducted from their Aboriginal mothers in 1931 and relocated 1,200 miles away as part of an official government policy that is designed to train them as domestic servants and to effectively integrate them into white society. Almost immediately the three -- ages 14, 10 and 8 -- escape their forced internment and begin what can only be described as an epic trek across an unforgiving landscape. Constantly pursued by authorities including Moodoo, the Tracker (played perfectly by David Gulpilil who you will remember from his screen debut in WALKABOUT), the resourceful young girls follow the "rabbit-proof fence" which bisects Australia in their determined struggle to return home. This is an almost unbelievable journey of over one thousand two hundred miles, entirely on foot, with nothing but grit, determination, enough luck and enough pluck to actually accomplish the impossible.
Kenneth Branagh portrays A. O. Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines, a man blinded by Anglo-Christian certainty and a misguided evolutionary world view. His performance is nicely understated and surprisingly sympathetic.
The three young Aboriginal actors who portray the escapees do so with charisma, nobility, intelligence and stength. All are exceptional -- especially given the fact that none had prior training of any kind. Everlyn Sampi as Molly is simply outstanding; I cannot help but believe she will have a long career ahead as an actress on both the stage and the screen.
Peter Gabriel (of Genesis fame) was nominated for a Golden Globe for his effective and evocative score. It is just one more element of many that makes RABBIT-PROOF FENCE a remarkable cinematic experience. So grab yourself a couple of Foster's and a RABBIT-PROOF FENCE DVD, kick up your legs, sit back and marvel at what the human spirit can accomplish.
Thursday, July 6, 2006
Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's best selling book, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is a delightful and thought-provoking contemporary folk tale about the Holocaust and Jewish diaspora diluted by a decidedly disappointing denouement. Still, the journey is worth taking and this directorial debut by Liv Schreiber will leave you smiling and, most likely, scratching your head just a little bit.
The superb cast includes Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz (who "hurts" the English language like never before), Boris Leskin and Laryssa Lauret. You may not be familiar with these last three actors, but you will surely remember them for a long time to come.
Although this relatively low budget, independent feature contains a number of flaws, it is highly recommended by Needtovent.com. The shift from a Fellini feeling to a Bergman burnout doesn't quite work, but Schreiber and company deserve praise for taking risks and hitting more often than missing. And how can anyone dislike a film whose budget for Ziploc Bags is unparalleled in the history of world cinema?
Perhaps the highest praise we can give EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is that WylieWayne will surely hate it. We can assure you that's reason alone for anyone tired of the typical Hollywood formulaic special effects extravaganza to seek out this semi-precious gem.
Get ILLUMINATED -- you will be glad you did...
Friday, June 30, 2006
The staff at Needtovent.com is surprised that CARS has received mixed reviews from many of the nation's top cinematic critics. Seems to us that most of these Typo Marxists don't have a clue as to who put the "pun" in pundit. Here are just two examples:
"The makers of DOC HOLLYWOOD called. They want their movie back." Christy Lemire, Associated Press
"Is there a script mechanic in the pits? I've heard of funny cars, but CARS just isn't funny." Thomas Delapa, Boulder Weekly
O.K. -- I did stretch it a bit to quote Boulder Weekly. This Colorado rag certainly doesn't possess any more right to exist than the ubiquitous bikey boys in Spandex who populate that part of the Rocky Mountain West. But I digress...
Approximately 60% of all reviewers have praised CARS and the creative team behind this spectacular animated offering. Terry Larson of the Detroit Free Press wrote, "It's characters may be made of steel, but this movie is made of sturdier stuff: heart and art." And John Venable of Supercala.com agrees: "Pixar is the Ferrari of animation studios...another winner!"
So which is it? To paraphrase two famous films --
Is CARS what Strother Martin declared in COOL HAND LUKE: "What we have here is...failure to carburate."
Or does Bette Davis best describe CARS with her memorable line in ALL ABOUT EVE: "Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a Humpy Wheeler night!" (This is for the NASCAR fans out there in cyberspace. Yes, one can log on to the internet at most trailer parks these days...)
The answer is undeniable; we side with Ms. Davis. CARS is as good as a panoply of Panhards.
Boogity! Boogity! Boggity!
Monday, June 12, 2006
Pictured above is ex-Formula 1 race car driver David Purley. On July 13, 1977, David experienced a horrific crash at the Silverstone Raceway while on a practice run in preparation for the English Grand Prix. Veering off track his race car went from 108 mph to zero in an astonishing 22 inches.
Listed in the Guinness Book of World's Records -- David Purley survived an unbelievable g-force of 179.8. He sustained 29 fractures, three dislocations and six heart stoppages, yet he ultimately made a full recovery.
One hundred eight miles per hour to a dead stop (figuratively) in a total distance of only twenty-two inches...
Experiencing one hundred seventy-nine point eight times his body weight...
Without benefit of a HANS Device or a SAFER Barrier...
Impossible -- and yet it is true.
David's "luck" (for lack of a better word) came to an end in 1985 when he crashed his Pitts Special aerobatic biplane into the sea off Bognor Regis, West Sussex, England. Bognor Regis, by the way, was accorded 28th place in THE IDLER Magazine's "Crap Towns" list of UK municipalities.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Earlier today history was made when the Needtovent Headquarters received a disturbing dispatch from Tulsa, Oklahoma. We admit that anything to do with Tulsa is automatically disturbing, but this communication went way beyond the norm. In fact, it was so shocking, so scathing, so salacious that Ann Coulter wishes she had sent it. We will keep the identity of the sender secret for fear of Pixar Police retaliation, especially since three cots at Camp Gitmo became available yesterday thanks to a trio of hanging chad jihadists.
You might ask: What could be even more upsetting than another POSEIDON remake?
Not much, except maybe this: "Last night I watched TOY STORY 2 on ABC. It's Winnie the Pooh taken too far. Anything that makes you feel so guilty about a toy really sucks."
To pooh-pooh TOY STORY 2 is beyond comprehension. Almost. After all, what in the name of Toya Ulrich is going on here?
This got us to thinking -- does anyone else share the same opinion?
In trying to find a negative review of TOY STORY 2 we had to dig deeper than a Bulverde soccer mom's belly button. Alas, one reviewer out of the thirty-six we checked agreed with our Tulsa Troubadour -- the ever surprising Mr. Cranky. Here's what Mr. Cranky wrote. We couldn't have said it better...
"I'm sure that you are familiar with the confusing practice of translating the title of American movies into Japanese. For example, TERMINATOR 2 becomes MAN WHO SHOOT BIG GUN and FIGHT CLUB becomes BOYS WHO DO NOT WASH. This is how I felt watching TOY STORY 2 -- as if the movie I was sitting through had two entirely different meanings to two entirely different segments of the population.
For instance, about an hour into the film, after Woody (Tom Hanks) is taken by an evil toy store owner (Wayne Knight), he finds out that he was once part of a television show with Jessie (Joan Cusack), Prospector (Kelsey Grammer) and Bullseye the Horse. Woody wants to leave and return to his owner and somewhere during his explanation Jessie reminisces about how she once had an owner and breaks into a song about it.
If you're a kid, the title of this segment is "Jessie Breaks Into A Song About Loneliness." If you're an adult, the title of this segment is "Randy Newman And Filmmakers Conspire To Win An Oscar For Best Original Song." The only way it could have been more obvious would have been if an academy ballot shot out of my chair after it was all over.
Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the gang attempt to rescue Woody and naturally end up in a toy store. The kids see "Toys In A Toy Store," I see "Capitalism Enema." I mean, why not just sell the damn dolls at the theater? Given how much people are willing to pay for popcorn, Disney could easily suck the weekly paycheck out of most poor losers just so their kid has the latest thing. One has to wonder whether the reality of millions of kids clamoring for a Woody isn't some sinister conspiracy between Disney and the porn industry."
Thank you, Mr. Cranky. And thank you, Tulsa, for giving us something to ponder beyond Oral's Opulent Oratorium.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Just about the time you think you've seen it all along comes a movie that redefines everything.
RESERVOIR DOGS, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, STRAW DOGS, PULP FICTION -- none of these films compare to the astonishingly disturbing FUNNY GAMES, the 1997 Austrian film written and directed by Michael Haneke.
There are lots of descriptive words that leap to the forefront: harrowing, distressing, uncomfortable, chilling, compelling, unbearable and gut-wrenching are just a few.
The acting is outstanding, especially Susanne Lothar as the mother of a family terrorized by two sadistic but-ever-so-polite young killers. And Haneke knows how to clinically ratchet up the inexorable tension while, at the same time, irritating the viewer beyond what I thought possible from a screening experience. Yes, I said irritating -- in the same vein as Ms. Fundis streaking chalk across the blackboard in seventh grade -- where every nerve ending imaginable is zapped to the fullest extent.
FUNNY GAMES is also infuriating because Haneke tries something incredibly stupid at the 90-minute mark. Some ersatz film critics have applauded the director for his decision to break the fourth wall -- as if this hasn't been done before. One example is MR. SARDONICUS from beloved schlockmeister William Castle. For Mr. Castle it was a gimmick that worked, at least to a degree. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Mr. Haneke -- even Film 101 students at the University of Texas know better (although I'm not so certain that's true about the over-rated faculty).
In closing, let me assure you that should you chose to see FUNNY GAMES you will hate it for what it does to you. But, I also can assure you that you will not be able to turn away.
An aside --
I've tried to think of something that could equal the incessant, inflammable, visceral irritability of FUNNY GAMES. About the only thing I've come up with is to have Topo Gigio do a Bowflex commercial narrated by Fran Dresher with Ms. Fundis providing the sound effects. On second thought, that doesn't even come close...
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
A devoted Needtovent reader recently sent us an article appearing in "The Wall Street Journal" which began with the intriguing headline: "Film's Know-Nothings." The author of this essay, Joe Morgenstern, lamented the fact that "today's filmmakers know very little, and care less, about the real world. Their movies derive from other movies."
Morgenstern goes on to declare that "the shallow careerists of contemporary Hollywood, fixated by whatever seems to be selling at the moment and striving to sell more of it...ultimately produce and direct movies that are made of interchangeable, recyclable and utterly disposable parts."
This phenomenon is not all that new. Over the years I've personally run across scores of film projects being described along the lines of "This script is a cross between THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE" or "GODZILLA meets LOLITA". Another commonly used short-hand description is the verbal-pie-chart, i.e. "It'll be one-third BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and two-thirds WEDDING CRASHERS."
It is a shame. It is a damn shame.
While much of the blame must go to the recent spate of film school graduates who know their cinematic shorthand, but who haven't lived or experienced or learned much from real life vs. reel life, it should be pointed out that many studio heads are equally as guilty. Two examples follow; the actual names of the executives are withheld because I'm still trying to keep a career going. (Tsk, tsk, it isn't polite to laugh so loudly).
Example Number One -- Frank Q. Dobbs loved to tell about the time he pitched his script titled KLONDIKE to a very well known studio mogul. During the course of a full thirty or so minutes Frank described in detail how each of the central characters were lured to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush in an effort to strike it rich. The treacherous Chilkoot Trail was highlighted, along with many other references to the actual historical events which took place in 1897-1898. It wasn't until Frank mentioned a steam engine that the executive suddently stopped him and asked, "Is this a period piece? We don't do period pieces at this studio." Frank was promptly shown the door.
Example Number Two -- When I went in to pitch a project based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel, THE MAGICIAN, the studio guru opposite me asked in all seriousness, "Maugham, Somerset Maugham, should I know that name?" My meeting was fleeting to say the least...
Despite this myopic miasma, every once in awhile a truly unique, totally surprising film comes out of Tinseltown. My favorite example is THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, the truly offbeat movie once described as "a silly film for smart people," starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin and Jeff Goldblum. How BUCKAROO BANZAI ever received the green light from a major studio defies all logic, even to this day.
Perhaps an even better example is the incredible body of work from Terry Gilliam, the only American-born member of Monty Python. In addition to that troupe's wonderful films, Mr. Gilliam has individually brought to the silver screen a number of non-traditional, creative, entertaining and thought-provoking cinematic triumphs including TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE FISHER KING and TWELVE MONKEYS, among others. Yes, this Python ex has given us a full monty of stunningly original movies. We should be thankful.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is an extremely well crafted motion picture that is worthy of almost all of the Oscar attention it received.
Director Ang Lee has mounted (no pun intended) a beautiful production. His directing is a marvelous example of telling a story straightforward (again, no pun intended) without the use of any annoying gimmicks or cinematic tricks. The music by Gustavo Santaolla is spot-on perfect; it is evocative and haunting and it will stay with you a long, long time without ever becoming too flashy or intrusive. Quite simply put, this is what film scoring should always strive to accomplish, yet so rarely even comes close. In addition, the screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana is a pure gem -- these writers took me to a place I have never been before. I don't mean geographically, but emotionally, and they accomplished this by creating two exquisitely-drawn characters whose shoes I will never walk in, but who I have come to better understand. Yes, there's no question that all four were deserving of the Academy Awards they received.
As for the Oscar Nominees, Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto's sumptuous cinematography is breathtaking, as are the performances of both Heath Ledger (nominated for Best Actor) and Jake Gyllenhaal (nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Only Michelle Williams' nomination for Best Actress seems to be a stretch.
And what about Randy Quaid? He has recently dropped his lawsuit seeking more money for his role as Joe Aguirre. In this reviewer's opinion, Randy's pathetic performance is the only flaw in an otherwise nearly perfect movie. Whatever he was paid, it was too damn much.
I know quite a few individuals who refuse to see this film because of its underlying subject matter. I understand and respect their decision. It is unfortunate, however, since BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the best love story since BRIDE OF CHUCKY ("Chucky Gets Lucky" was that film's hip tagline -- one of my all-time favorites).
All kidding aside, I hereby award BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN 4 1/2 Dingleberries on a scale of 5. It doesn't get much better than that...
Monday, May 8, 2006
"There isn't enough Visine in the world!" -- Elitestv.com
Wes Craven's RED EYE isn't the worst thriller to come down the runway in recent years. It is, for example, a slightly better film than FLIGHTPLAN -- and it is considerably better than the recently released UNITED 93. Tepid praise, to be sure, but what else can one say when virtually all of today's Hollywood directors resort to a "paint-by-the-numbers" mentality. This adherence to formulaic filmmaking insures that today's movie audiences experience far more trill than thrill -- with obligatory music cues laden with the deepest of bass to heighten the suspense that should have been present due to a quality script. Bring on the timpany, cue the organ, let the subwoofer do what the screenwriter and the director can't...
An interesting comparison can be made if one watches LES DIABOLIQUE (THE DEVILS, 1955), directed by H. G. Clouzot. This acclaimed masterpiece is more frightening than waking up in bed with Leona Helmsley by your side. Here the suspense eminates from a terrific script performed by outstanding actors under the direction of someone who thoroughly understands all of the cinematic arts at his disposal. Unbearable suspense drives the 'killers' (and the audience) up the wall with a host of unexpected surprises and genuine terror. Cloying audio cues are not needed; they are not missed.
An aside: I do not know the record for "goofs" in a mainstream motion picture. RED EYE is riddled with them. Beginning with Rachel McAdams boarding a wide-body Boeing 757 cabin (incorporating 2-3-2 seating separated by two aisles) and then cutting to an exterior of this plane taking off (they filmed an Airbus A-310 -- a conventional one-aisle aircraft with three seats on each row separated by a single aisle just like a Boeing 737). Serious suspension of disbelief issues right off the tarmac, with at least another dozen or more continuity errors that follow.
And did I mention the name of the fictional airline? FRESH AIR -- sounds more like a feminine hygiene product than a company providing scheduled passenger service.
Sunday, May 7, 2006
I may have once been booted out of the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freepoint, Maine for complaining about the high price being charged for a Mepps Timberdoodle, but that will never happen again. You see, my life has changed forever as of yesterday when I was admitted into one of the most powerful families in America. As Aretha Franklin gloriously sings -- I now have "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" -- and the L.L. Beaners wouldn't dare lift a hand or a foot ever again.
In fact, I must turn to another women's anthem (also sung in English) to further articulate my euphoria: Helen Reddy's lyrics (slightly altered):
I am strong!
I am invincible!!
I am Nielson!!!
Yes, as of Saturday I am now an official member of the Nielson Family. I am no longer impotent; overnight I went from a faceless and voiceless non-entity to someone possessing meaningful, bona fide sway over television programming decisions. Unlike the local rigged elections held at the Comal County Reichstag, my vote will actually count, and it will count for something that impacts virtually every man, woman and child in this here U. S. of A. Television ratings will never be the same.
Actually, President George W. Bush describes my new empowerment best of all:
"I am a Decider!"
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
It is almost a full twenty-four hours since I left the Marketplace Theatre in New Braunfels after seeing UNITED 93.
I am still shaking.
Yes, I continue to shake uncontrollably from this intense experience -- but the cause is not for any of the reasons you might logically assume.
To begin with, my trembling has nothing to do with the inherent nature of the story. When it comes to a deeply visceral screening experience you can find about as much emotional intensity in an old SKY KING rerun.
Nor is my malady a result of witnessing once again just how inept and incompetent the US military, the FAA and this nation's government was on 9/11. For example, hours pass by and, ultimately, a grand total of four jet fighters are scrambled. Yes -- only four jets can even get into the air -- and two of these were unarmed. You'll normally find that many zipping past at the opening ceremonies of a NASCAR event each weekend. It's enough to make the average person quiver like an aspen leaf; but this is old news and it isn't the cause of my current woes either.
Finally, let me reassure you that my spasms are not a debilitating reaction to observing every passenger's cell phone working perfectly and without interruption as their Boeing 757 rockets along at over 550 miles per hour, across several states and at altitudes ranging from 33,000' down to 3,000' and less. This technological accomplishment is Cingularly unfathomable to me, but I have elected not to dwell on my personal cell phone experiences and so the cause of my present condition lies elsewhere.
You see, the real reason for my ongoing involuntary twitching lies solely with Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd's unrestrained cinema verite style of filming that has the camera shaking more violently than Nancy Pelosi's vibrator. Not even fans of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT could possibly appreciate the excessive jerkiness, in-your-face-but-out-of-focus cinematography found not only in the not-so-friendly skies, but also on the ground, in the terminal, even in the NORAD bunker. Ninety plus minutes of wide screen, uninterrupted visual chaos will leave you shaking, too.
I find it fitting that Cinematographer Ackroyd's next project will be an Irish/UK co-production titled THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY. What do you want to bet he wears a self-winding watch?
PS Whatever happened to Herkie Walls?
Monday, April 24, 2006
Question -- Do any of you loyal readers actually know someone who has purchased a Saturn?
I'm thinking in terms of a relative. Or even a neighbor, perhaps. Someone you can vouch for as being relatively normal or, at the very least, someone who is of this earth.
I'm 57 years old. I have traveled to all 50 states and 30 foreign countries -- from China to Columbia, from Iceland to Italy -- and I have never, ever personally known a Saturn owner. Let me also add that those I have witnessed in parking lots or observed on the highway have all appeared to be a bit "unusual" -- there's something about them that reminds me of the Putterman family.
I am beginning to think that all Saturn drivers may actually be aliens from another world -- maybe even from Saturn itself, or, more likely, from one of its moons like Titan or Mimas or Iapetus. At the very least I believe they belong to some obscure secret society like the Knights of Maccabees or the Ancient Order of Zuzimites.
Beware my fellow man -- something is amiss and I fear it isn't a good thing...
Sunday, April 23, 2006
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.
This is George Clooney's second attempt at helming a feature-length motion picture. Like his previous film, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, when it comes to directing Clooney remains clueless. Both of these cinematic efforts tackle interesting subject matter that should have carried their audience on a wonderful, entertaining and thought-provoking journey. Unfortunately, both projects fail miserably when the underlying narrative in each gets derailed about as often as Amtrack.
David Strathairn's on-screen portrayal of Edward R. Murrow is brilliant, but his performance is ultimately wasted in a film that simply possesses more defects than a thalidomide baby. Clumsy pacing, poorly blocked scenes and some truly horrific editing are just a few of the most obvious and repetitive problems. And let's not overlook the supposedly major "surprise" that is telegraphed so blatantly Warner Brothers must surely have paid a fee to Western Union.
Overriding everything, however, is the total lack of a coherent structure. You'll know what I mean if you elect to subject yourself to watching a film that is so lame it couldn't even get into a Special Olympics.
The end resuslt is that Clooney's homage to Edward R. Murrow, clearly one of the most distinguished and renowned and pioneering figures in the history of American broadcast journalism, fails miserably. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK might just as well have been about Anderson Cooper -- a more damning comparison escapes me.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Step aside Nostradamus. You too, Madame Pilar. We now have a new prognosticating prophet -- a beady-eyed, balding Babbleonian named Ted Baehr. Make that "Doctor" Ted Baehr -- the degree is always emphasized -- President of the Christian Film & Television Commission.
As a public service I will give you his exact words regarding the upcoming theatical release of THE DA VINCI CODE:
"A cultural phenomenon is occurring, and on May 19, that phenomenon will thunder into movie theatres around the globe. On that day, THE DA VINCI CODE movie will open. This fictional filth is not just a lie, this is deception aimed at condemning millions of people to eternal damnation. The book is full of pagan propaganda. Many Christians are already theologically malnourished; how will they be able to withstand the assault of distortions, lies and bigotry? We must break THE DA VINCI CODE!"
We can't have millions condemed to eternal damnation now can we? How will Christians withstand the assault? Here's a thought -- maybe they can do so using the "f" word -- "FAITH".
Did you ever think about that, DOCTOR Ted?
Thursday, April 20, 2006
I recently screened Eric von Stroheim's first talking motion picture -- THE GREAT GABBO. Produced in 1929, just prior to the onset of The Great Depression, von Stroheim plays the title role -- an egotistical ventriloquist who uses his dummy, Otto, as his primary means of expression. As he relies more and more on his wooden puppet the increasingly delusional Gabbo starts exhibiting dangerous irrational behavior. I don't want to give away the entire ending; suffice it to say that something happens that causes Gabbo to go completely insane in a dramatic climax.
Yesterday I witnessed the resignation of Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan. This wooden dummy has yet to be replaced. Of course, it really doesn't matter who the new mouthpiece will be -- I feel a great depression on the horizon.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Loyal readers will recall my March 1st posting titled TELEVISION TORTURE. This article denounced the current state of television copywriting whereby almost half of all current commercials resort to the same terribly overused, lame, uncreative word -- "introducing." Talk about lazy -- as I said then, it doesn't matter if the ad is for a Volvo or a vulva itch suppressant the word "introducing" will be used more likely than not.
This egregious state of affairs is endemic of the incompetence found in today's hallowed halls of America's ad agencies, but just last night the "Fat Boy" of exasperating advertising exploded on my 48" Mitsubishi courtesy of some bonehead at the Leo Burnett Agency. A 30-second Allstate commercial used "introducing" not just once, not twice, but three damn times -- and get this, it wasn't enough that Dennis Haysbert said the word repeatedly, it was also written across the screen in big letters each and every time the word was spoken.
Let me uncategorically declare to the folks at Allstate that when it comes to their advertising representation they are by no means in "good hands" unless jerking off within the confines of the copywriter cubicle has appeal to their senior management.
By God, this is the agency that brought us the Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant. What a decline in creativity...
It was Leapin' Leo himself who once said, "I've learned that any fool can write a bad ad..." It appears the agency bearing his name has elected to hire about every damn "fool" they can find based on their handling of the Allstate account.
"Big ideas come out of big pencils" is another Leo quote. That may be true. What is abundantly apparent is that big ideas don't come from pathetic pencilers under the supervision of Jeanie Caggiano, Leo Burnett's current Executive Creative Director. I can't help but believe that if she ever ran into the Jolly Green Giant he'd give her a jolly green finger. And deservedly so.
Monday, April 17, 2006
"I'm going to put off reading LOLITA for six years. I'm waiting until she turns 18." -- Groucho Marx
Based on Vladimir Nabokov's "famosum opus", the incomparable Stanley Kubrick was the first director to tackle this provocative, controversal and eminently entertaining best seller. This was not an easy undertaking, especially in the repressive social and sexual climate existing in 1962. As the movie's official tag line declared, "How did they ever make a film of Lolita?"
This was pretty hot stuff, indeed, especially in the early sixties. Nabokov even remarked that to bring his work to the screen it might very well require that they "make Lolita a dwarfess." Thankfully, that did not occur.
Over 800 young girls auditioned for the title role, including Tuesday Weld, but the part was ultimately handed to Sue Lyon. Her vulnerable portrayal as the yummy nymphet evokes uncontrollable stirrings in Professor Humbert Humbert, brilliantly portrayed by the often-underappreciated James Mason. Prof. Humbert is so smitten by this vixen he resorts to marrying Lolita's mother just so he can be close by and cop an occasional sniff. Alas, Humbert soon realizes that his marriage to Charlotte Haze is a stiff price to pay.
Shelley Winters plays the porkish Charlotte with typical verve. Trust me, this is one female you want to stay away from -- her insufferable smothering is Everyman's nightmare.
Charlotte: "You just touched me and I...I... I go limp as a noodle. It scares me."
Humbert: "Yes, I know the feeling."
And so Prof. Humbert finds himself in the middle of opposite ends of the spectrum in lovely, luscious Lolita and the sexually cannibalistic Charlotte whose web is being woven ever so tightly.
And things get even worse thanks to the arrival of the marvelously malevolent pervert, Clare Quilty. Peter Sellers, in one of his earliest multiple-character roles, nails the deranged humor embodied in the novel by improvising much of Quilty's dialogue (a high honor from Kubrick). It was this collaboration which later led to another pairing of Kubrick and Sellers -- DR. STRANGELOVE -- where Sellers once again mastered several diverse characters in what is arguably the best Cold War comedy of all.
LOLITA -- Forbidden fruit but Everyman's dream. A wonderful film by a master filmmaker and filled with innuendo such as this overlooked line of dialogue illustrates:
Charlotte, speaking to Clare Quilty in an early scene: "Lolita's going to have a cavity filled by your Uncle Ivar."
There was no mention of a dentist...
Monday, April 3, 2006
(Famous photograph of Jimmy Piersall running the bases backwards)
There are literally dozens of truly good baseball movies. Among the best, and far too often overlooked, is the heart-rending, intense biographical drama which chronicles the mental breakdown of Jimmy Piersall -- FEAR STRIKES OUT. Superbly directed by Robert Mulligan, who later went on to direct TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, this compelling true life father-son story is brought to the screen with Oscar-worthy performances by Anthony Perkins and Karl Malden.
What makes this exceptional movie even more special to me, personally, is my friendship with Karl Malden and his lovely wife, Mona, which dates back almost 20 years when I Co-Produced another father-son drama -- BILLY GALVIN. Shot in Boston, the same city where Jimmy Piersall goes gonzo, I can honestly say that my limited time with Karl, both on and off the set, ranks among my most cherished film experiences. Simply put, there is no finer person in the business.
Ironically enough, I have also spent several days in the company of Jimmy Piersall when, as a "rookie" at the Chicago Cubs Fantasy Camp, I had the privilege of having him serve as my outfield coach. In those friendly confines of Wrigley Field I was amused and verbally abused (what fun!) by Mr. Piersall who remains incredibly intense in everything he says and does. From first-hand experience I can truly say that Piersall's acerbic scarcasm has no peer. Even in his mid-70s or so, he was more tightly wound than a Tesla coil; I have never met anyone like him.
Do yourself a favor and tune in the next time Turner Classics screens FEAR STRIKES OUT. It is a superb film that will stay with you far longer than a couple of Dodger Dogs.