Saturday, March 31, 2007

Immigrants, Weather, Apple and Ralph Nader

My column this week focuses on Apple TV, which, I am sad to report, doesn't seem to have the features to do its elegant design justice. Then there are my reviews...

"Climates": A great second effort by the director of "Distant." I had less than a day to review this film and the next one on the list, and was faced with one of those gems that I know the majority of casual readers will hate. Good fun.

"The Namesake": An interesting take on the immigrant experience from Mira Nair.

"An Unreasonable Man": A reverent recollection of Ralph Nader's life bogged down only by the need to apologize and make excuses for costing Al Gore the election in 2000.

On a sidenote, the In This Week webpage slaves have now fixed the star-rating graphics to show that the films are rated out of four, bringing a sad end to my weekly disclaimer that clarified the matter.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What We Always Wanted, Without Realizing It

Though the film's much-rumored sequel looks to be dead in the water, director Richard Donner has informed Entertainment Weekly that his classic tale of adolescent adventure, "The Goonies," could become a musical.

It makes perfect sense, really. The dialogue was already very lyrical...

Up there,
It's their time
It's their time!
Up There!

Down here,
It's our time
It's our time!
Down here!

And I can't wait to hear the hit ballad, "You Know, We're a Lot Alike, One-Eyed Willie."
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On the Opening of 'The Host'

Joon-ho Bong's "The Host" feels less like a movie than a dream inspired by a day spent watching too many movies. The satirical Korean political-monster-family-bonding comedy/drama might not always have a firm grasp on where it's going, but it has a hell of a fun time getting there. Bong opens his film with an absurdly hilarious scene that's so good that he spends the rest of the film trying to top it.

It begins with a wide shot inside a mortuary, where an American doctor on one side of the nearly symmetrical frame lectures his Korean subordinate on the other about his strong dislike of dirt. The outside of all the formaldehyde bottles are coated in dust, so there's only one solution: Dump the formaldehyde down the drain.

The creepy comedy builds on the impending realization that the doctor knows the consequences of what he's doing, but isn't concerned. Every time his subordinate points out a hazard, like "but it drains to the Han," the doctor responds with an affirmation of his insanity. "Yes, let's dump formaldehyde in the Han." It leads to one of the most masterfully insane lines in cinema history: "The Han is a broad river. Let's try to be broad-minded."

With an opening like that, I'd sit through "The Hills Have Eyes" in the off chance that such brilliance would make an encore appearance.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Monday, March 26, 2007

Now I Can Finally Sleep at Night

Thank god we know how Anna Nicole died. I've been a nervous wreck—a la Jake Gyllenhaal in "Zodiac"—ever since the news of her death, driven mad by the mystery.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Reviews Galore

I wrote lots of stuff in this week's In Utah This Week, starting with my column on some recent digital cinema and ending with four...

Reviews (scores seem to be missing on some, and are always out of four, not five.)
"Days of Glory" ***1/2: An excellent study of soldiers fighting for a country that doesn't respect them.
"Reign Over Me" ***: Find Out if the film is exonerated for its lame-ass ending.
"Starter for 10" ***: James McAvoy is all charm in this romantic comedy.
"Pride" **: Good performance, not much of a movie.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Dumbest Fucking Idea I've Ever Heard

So, ABC has apparently been hyping a proposed new method to deliver ads to consumers without them noticing. For example, an ad might pop up on a TV, and then the show will cut in to the TV's picture. Brilliant! People won't even know that they're watching a commercial! Of course, the question would be: If all commercials are integrated into the programs, then they'll have to zoom into another show, and then zoom into its seamlessly placed add. And what if it's a period piece? ABC's "LOST," for example is set a couple years in the past now and all its flashbacks take place even further in the past.

says president of marketing Michael Shaw:

“We want to bring the audiences right to the commercial so they don’t feel they’ve gone into the commercial."

At least one advertiser is smart enough to (sort of recognize that this won't work:

"Shari Anne Brill of ad agency Carat USA, who watched the presentation, remarked afterwards that the examples presented "an interesting idea," but she wondered whether the shows' "writers and producers will help them pull this off. ... I imagine more powerful producers would say, 'No way, Jose.'""

You know why they'd say "No Way Jose?" Because they wouldn't be able to tell a fucking story! Sure, breaks are annoying, and they might cause pacing problems with the action, but at least you can tell a story about a bunch of people stranded on an island without needing them to walk by a TV every god damn 15 minutes. And you know what? ABC has a show with that very set up.

Commercials are enough of an annoyance already. Don't make it worse by invalidating the dramatic value of our entertainment by having John Locke talk about how he's not only in tune with the island, but also in tune with tastey Apollo Chocolate.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Three Amigos to the Rescue

It's been an exciting decade for Mexican cinema, so it's nice to hear that three of the men most responsible for the Renaissance are working to encourage more production in their native country. According to Yahoo News, Afonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñaritu met with the President of Mexico to discuss distribution and production strategies for the Mexican film productions. I agree with one of the key points, that the TV stations should play a stronger part in film productions, as they do in Europe.

The filmmakers—Cuarón in particular—have already done a great deal as producers to encourage the region's filmmaking. If we can discover some more young talents through this initiative, all the better.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Watch at Your Own Risk

Dennis Cozzalio has posted a rather disturbing collection of Youtube videos from the set of David O. Russell's "I Heart Huckabees." If you want to see an actor (Lilly Tomlin) and a director turned to disturbing fits of rage, click away. If not, journey no further.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

How to End a 'LOST' Episode

The ending of last week's episode was deliciously surreal. So great, in fact, that it's got me thinking about all the other great episode endings. Post your favorite surprises and reveals in the comments section, and sometime soon I will compile the ultimate top 10 LOST endings (maybe in preparation for the season finale).

If you aren't caught up on "LOST," stop reading and do it now!

Really, I don't want you reading this if you haven't seen every episode up to Wednesday, March 14.


OK, spoiler warnings on. Skip to the next entry.

The ending of last week's episode was deliciously surreal. The mission to break into the Others' suburban barracks has been accomplished. Next step: Find Jack. Only, what's that off in the distance? Jack is running for the bushes? Does he see his friends? If so, what of all the enemies in the area? Then, like in a dream, one incongruous image leads to an even stranger one. Jack catches a football. And throws it back to Tom! The two are smiling at each other, while Kate, who was so adamant about the rescue mission, looks on in disbelief. Jack catches the ball again, does a little spike-it victory dance and the LOST closing title comes up just like we knew it would.

The conclusion is at once surprising—we don't expect to see the castaways' petulant leader admitting to the enemy that he's having a good time—intriguing—what happened in the day or two since we last saw Jack, and is he (figuratively) playing his enemy or truly converted—and funny. It's funny not only because the image is so unexpected, but because you admire the show's writers and director for finding such an impressive way to manipulate your expectations and get you jonesin' for the next episode.

With tonight's installment looking to explain why Locke's been acting so fucking batshit insane, the show better continue the roll it's been on for the last couple episodes.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

On 'Zodiac' and the Deeper Meanings of Digital

Screenwriter Larry Gross loses me at the very beginning of his Movie City News essay of a few week's ago, hailing the genius of David Fincher's mesmerizing study of fear, "Zodiac."

"Zodiac is an important postmodern work. It's an authentically “new” and even experimental thing attempting, to quote from Susan Sontag's essay Against Interpretation, to put content in its place. It's very very much a film constructed on a 21st century conception of information as a non-substantive, purely relational digital phenomenon, and the fact that it was shot on video and exists immaterially as digital information is thus not a merely decorative issue but crucial to its meaning.

While Fincher's intense character study of the effects of fear is easily one of the best releases so far this year, there's nothing digital about the story or the setting other than a subpar image. (The argument that the film isn't about its period, but about all periods, can be made about a great number of period pieces.) Fincher seems to have chosen digital as his medium of choice because he likes the working process, and is shooting his next effort on the same format. Is it also crucial to that film's meaning? Other than his working method (which I discuss in my upcoming column), I don't see much of a difference in how Fincher would visually approach a 35-mm film.

I also disagree that the film exists "immaterially." Whether a movie exists on a hard drive or on film-stock, it's still stored on a physical device. It comes to life when put through a projector. And 35-mm prints were struck of "Zodiac." Most people who see it in the theater will see it on a material print. If the digital is so crucial to the meaning, Fincher wouldn't allow it to be shown on film.

Like a virtuoso violinist with a child's training instrument, director of photography Harris Savides tries his best to make it look nice, and does a reasonably good job, but the limitations of the medium are still apparent.

Jim Emmerson had a better grasp on the film in his commentary on Gross's piece, comparing the digital impact on "Zodiac" compared to the aesthetic in "Inland Empire":

'Zodiac,' on the other hand, impressed me as very much an analog film. Yes, it was shot on HD video (though with few of the showy CGI tricks Fincher played with in 'Fight Club' and 'Panic Room'), but the narrative, technique and structure of the film are inexorably linear and chronological."

While I consider "Zodiac's" deconstruction of the psychological effect a killer has on a city to be far better than the self-parody that is "Inland Empire," the latter clearly does more interesting things with its visual medium. The digital revolution might be in better shape if more filmmakers could better mesh their style, medium and message.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

The Director of 'Norbit' Schools the Critics

A whole day before the next issue of In Utah This Week hits the streets, my Cinema File column from last Thursday is up. If you didn't read it in print, you finally have the chance. It's quite a bit out of date by now, but whatever.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Revolution of Butchery

According to the New York Times, Julie Taymor is none too happy with producer and Revolution Studios head Joe Roth's treatment of her new film, "Across the Universe." Roth apparently recut the film—which has been in post-production for more than a year now—and tested it without mentioning his plan to the woman who directed "Titus," "Frida" and the hit stage version of "The Lion King."

According to the article, Roth decided that "Gigli" was such a disaster because director Martin Brest had final cut, and so takes it upon himself to re-edit each and every Revolution release himself. (I may have embellished the last part.) While Taymor declined to comment beyond a cautious written statement, Roth said the uppity bitch should get her panties out of a bunch.

"'She’s a brilliant director,' he said. 'She’s made a brilliant movie. This process is not anything out of the ordinary. Her reaction through her representatives might be. But her orientation is stage. It’s different if you’re making a $12-million film, or a $45-million film. No one is uncomfortable in this process, other than Julie.'"

So, the film's great, just half an hour too long, I guess. Roth loves Taymor, and isn't being nice just because he doesn't want worse publicity for his $45 million movie.

Another interesting fact: If you double click a word to select it in an NYT article, it seems to open up a search page for you.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Monday, March 19, 2007

Film Outsource Make Bad Viewing Movie

Fresh paper London Times report bad subtitles outsourced to India and Malaysia create nonsense.

"Kenn Nakata Steffensen, of London, subtitled the British film Sixty Six (from English to Danish) and Spirited Away, the Oscar-winning animated film (from Japanese to English). He said that quality was being sacrificed. In one film, translated from English to Danish, the line 'Jim is a Vietnam vet' became 'Jim is veterinarian from Vietnam'. In another film 'flying into an asteroid field' became 'flying into a steroid field' and in a television programme 'she died in a freak rugby accident' was translated into 'she died in a rugby match for people with deformities'."

Outsource not make all bad. Mr. Mathews money me seven cents for 10,000 words. Very nice.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Culture of Surveillance

Well, I guess to remind us all that it's primarily a print publication, In This Week's website is missing my column, about how bitter the director of "Norbit" is that people aren't hailing his movie as the cinematic masterpiece that it is. But they do have my four-star review of "The Lives of Others." (As always, reviews are out of four despite the superfluous star on the web version. Fixing this apparently requires an elaborate reprogramming of the entire database.) It may be hard to swallow after "Pan's Labyrinth" Best Foreign Film Oscar loss, but this is quite a sharp movie—way better than "Tsotsi."
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Bad Time to Buy 'Tideland?'

Word on the street is that Terry Gilliam's divisive "Tideland" hasn't been released in its proper aspect ratio in the U.S. or Canada. The film was exhibited in theaters in 2.35:1, but the DVD is in "full frame 16x9," the dimensions of 1.77:1 HDTVs. Since many cinephiles who don't live in a major market (myself included) have yet to see the film, their first opportunity appears to be a bastardized edition. Seeing as the film has inspired hatred from many, the people willing to dive into it are probably the same kind of people who don't like to see their aspect ratios fucked with.

There has been some debate on the Gilliam fansite Dreams about how much information is missing and how much is added (UPDATE: An article with screenshots is now up, precisely showing what is missing.) Since the film was shot on cropped Super-35mm instead of the anamorphic Cinemascope format (which uses the full space on the film negative instead of cropping), there is visual information on the top and bottom of the frame that could be opened up, although (1) the filmmakers didn't intend for it to be shown and (2) depending on the perf pulldown used during shooting, a zoom on the picture may still be required to fit it to 1.77:1. Gilliam has sent statements to Dreams saying that the image was opened up to a less-wide aspect ratio closer to 2:1 for the U.K. DVD because he thought it looked better on small TVs, but then said that the U.S. version doesn't reflect the version he approved. Since Gilliam doesn't seem to have a clue what's going on right now, I'm not going to guess. I'll just wait to watch the film until someone figures out what the hell is going on with the DVD or a 35mm print shows up at my doorstep (email me for my address, THiNKFILM.)
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Missing Limbs and 'Miss Potter'

From what I can tell, "300" is targeted at males who are worried they may be homosexuals. (And from the film's weekend gross, there must be a lot of them!) The film is basically a collection of sexy male torsos to look at while pretending to enjoy nonstop violence and stilted dialogue about manliness, infrequently punctuated with the promise of a tit, just to keep things on the up and up.

Zack Snyder, the director behind the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, attempts to adapt Frank Miller's graphic novel (which I haven't read) with over-processed images and lots of elaborately shot, slow-motion action scenes. The visual design clearly stems from other films that use highly stylized digital worlds, including "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and "Sin City," a much better Miller adaptation.

But those films had a sense of the styles they were reinventing (Saturday morning serials and exploitation noir, respectively). The filters on "300" make the movie look grainy, punch up the contrast and accentuate light so those torsos glare in your eyes, daring you not to look at the supple chests of those sexy soldiers. I guess ancient Greece was gritty. Some of the action scenes are interesting, but that's all there is. (Unless you count the utterly pointless sideplot, which feels like an afterthought when the studio asked if they could add a love story.)

In the ultimate counter-programming move, the sweet "Miss Potter" came out in Salt Lake City this weekend as well. I saw "Miss Potter" way back in December, at the end of the awards-screening season. Since "Children of Men" hadn't screened yet (way to campaign your film, Universal), I'd been treated to the likes of "Dreamgirls," "The Good Shepherd" and "The History Boys," and was beginning to wonder if a good film would ever be made again. "Miss Potter" may not be great, but it's a well-written and well-acted drama that isn't trite, boring and/or ridiculous.

Director Chris Noonan ("Babe") and actress Renée Zellweger lovingly portray the life of Beatrix Potter, the author and illustrator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other hit childrens books from the early 20th Century. Endlessly innocent and perhaps a bit nutty, the independent woman nevertheless managed to forge her own career path while her upper-class parents tried to keep control of their unmarried daughter. The supporting performances by Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson alone make the film worth watching, but there's more going on. "Miss Potter" is an honest character study instead of a standard biopic loaded with clichés. Unfortunately, Ewan McGregor's torso does not make an appearance.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Articles I Wrote This Week

...for In This Week

The Cinema File: Eddie Murphy on how to lose gracefully: "A comedian at the Oscars is the saddest, bitterest, alcoholic clown." This quote opened the article, but is missing from the online version.

Review: Seraphim Falls: The reviews are still scored out of four despite the appearance of five slots. The webmaster tells me they're working on fixing it.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

'Inland Empire' Crumbles

Watching "Inland Empire" is basically watching David Lynch masturbate over and over again. The only thing to differentiate the movie from a Lynch fetishist's student film is that the student film probably wouldn't last three hours and star Laura Dern. To be fair about the runtime, however, I should point out that Dern's blank-stare reaction shots to the film's so-weird-it's-art nonsense adds up to one of those hours.

Despite all the critics who have fawned over the movie, Lynch's only cinematic ambition is to give digital video a surreal aesthetic. In effect, the director plays with the limitations of the format and emphasizes its shitty quality. It isn't really dreamy, but it creates an effective tone to go along with the Lynchian cliché that makes up the non-linear, random structure.

Even the sound design is hackneyed. Low, rumbling noises, pseudo-sinister ambient synth music, feedback and line static change off as the background of choice. Where is something as inspired as the ticking clock in Buñuel's "Belle de Jour?"

Meanwhile, Lynch's visual experimentation is remarkably banal. Superimpositions and dissolves reign, and occasionally Lynch really tries to blow our mind. The image shakes, the loud rumbling noise gets louder and we see some flashes of light—maybe even a distorted picture of Dern's grimacing face for the super freakout. As a commentary on form, it's a 15-minute short at best. In terms of its structure and dialogue, it feels like a parody.

Lynch has basically created the surreal equivalent of bad melodrama. "Inland Empire" aims to manipulate its audience in the same way as "Crash" or "Dead Poets Society," but since the director targets for a more sophisticated audience, he works in trite mood rather than trite plot. In Dern's first scene, her character, a Hollywood actress, receives a visit from her new Eastern European neighbor—an old lady with creepy puffy cheeks. She tells her some parables about evil and prostitutes, informs her that she will get the part she's up for and then that she can no longer tell whether it's today, yesterday or tomorrow. This sledgehammer of a setup informs us that the film will soon degenerate into a mess of uninteresting story lines, the only hope for respite being that some of Dern's friends/colleagues/fellow prostitutes will show their tits for the hell of it.

It's derivative, predictable in its nonsensical dreamscape and unable to say anything compelling. If that's the point, Lynch shouldn't take three hours to make it.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Sunday, March 4, 2007

23 Bad Marketing Decisions, Oscars and Reviews Galore

Here are some of my recent columns and reviews from In Utah This Week. Please note that the web graphics remain messed up, but all film reviews are scored out of four, not five.

The Cinema File column: Number 23's idiotic marketing: The publicists sent this AP article about a 23-month old girl freezing to death in red with the two occurrences of "23" in grey. So I spent several hundred words complaining about how stupid this was.

Review: "Breaking and Entering" (I didn't write the headline and I don't think the headline typo is in the print edition): My original take on this film was reservedly positive, but by the time I finished my review, it was affectionately negative. The end of the film just undermines the plot too damn much.

Last Week's stuff

So with all the excitement around the giant Oscar article, I neglected to post my other stuff.

The Cinema File column: How to erase your Oscar credibility: Hey Jennifer Hudson, while I don't think you really have any, you might want to read this.

The shorter Oscar article: If you don't have the balls to read the one that's four times as long.

Review: "Breach"
Review: "Amazing Grace"
Review: "The Astronaut Farmer"
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Friday, March 2, 2007

"I Wonder if Best Buy Sucks." "I Wonder if You Wonder."

This post is part of Filmscreed's Billy Wilder Blog-a-thon.

I have never had a good experience at Best Buy. My most recent nightmare—which was nowhere near the worst—grew out of an attempt to use a Christmas gift card to purchase the two-disc edition of Billy Wilder's masterful noir "Double Indemnity." I assumed this wouldn't be difficult, until I couldn't find the DVD. It wasn't in drama, so I looked for a classics section, a thriller section—maybe a WIlder section?

Eventually, I asked an employee, who immediately started fiddling with his computer. "Who's in it again? Michael Caine?" Michael Caine? What the fuck was he thinking of? I could have taken this opportunity to mock this numbskull and tell him that he should have a basic sense of cinema history if he wants to work at a video store. Instead, I just told him that Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck starred in it. "Anyone else?" he asked.

He eventually concluded that Best Buy once had the DVD, but they sent them back to the warehouse and now no Best Buy locations carry it. If "Double Indemnity," one of the canonized Wilder films, wasn't available, I wondered if non-film-obsessives would ever have the chance to experience Wilder's lesser-known gems like "Ace in the Hole," "Witness for the Prosecution," Howard Hawks's "Ball of Fire" and many others. It's easy to forget, wrapped in my cinema bubble, how many great films most people will never see.

"Sorry we have such a low quantity of good stuff," the employee said snidely and inexplicably as he walked off. Then my sister ran over to ironically show me a special edition of "Grease," with the a special little leather jacket case cover sleeve. I'm afraid the employee doesn't even begin to understand how sorry he is.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Some of the Stuff You Missed During 'Children of Men'

If you still don't believe all my whining about how "Children of Men" should have been nominated for (and won) Best Production Design, check out this collection of moving ads that appear on buses, billboards and other locations throughout the film. Alfonso Cuarón prepared these particular elements with the fine graphics folks at Foreign Office.

I've seen the film three times, and hadn't noticed all the details.
bxAv110 bxAv110 bxAv110