Friday, December 23, 2005

Will Brokeback Mountain come to the bible belt?

I haven't gone on a rant for a while so here's one. Brokeback Mountain still hasn't come to Tulsa and it's getting a little ridiculous. Maybe I'll have to wait until it comes out on DVD since it might offend religious folk, homophobes and other narrow minded individuals who live in the region known as "The Bible Belt." I just want to see what is being hailed as the best film of the year.

I love westerns. I love director Ang Lee. I love novelist Larry McMurtry (he wrote the screenplay). I don't care that it's a love story between two men. Big deal. Two actors kissing and cuddling by the campfire. Yawn. It's 2006 people. The movie, from what I know of it, is less about the "men" and more about the turmoil of their love and the secrets that exist around them. Besides, a great movie is a great movie--I just want to be able to see it!

There are often cultural events that make me ashamed to be an Okie--the whole Tin Drum episode for example--and the absurd wait to get this lauded and mainstream--that's right, mainstream--movie because of its subject matter and where I live is just frustrating and wrong. Believe me, not everyone in the state of Oklahoma is a conservative who gets worked up in a lather about a movie about two cowboys in love. There might actually be film lovers, gay or straight, who want to see what might be one of the year's best films and maybe one day we'll get to see it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Heart Jennifer Jason Leigh

After talking about Fred Ward and Miami Blues/Short Cuts, decided I must write something about a co-star of those films—Jennifer Jason Leigh.

I first developed a crush on Leigh in 1982 when she played Stacy, the sexy as hell girl next door, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Since then I’ve watched her in anything—from period dramas to junky roles to sci-fi to seeing her onstage on Broadway. I’ve watched her in lead roles and in supporting roles. She’s just one of these people I love to see and try to watch her in every movie she’s in.

Leigh’s not perfect in my book though—I loathed The Anniversary Party (2001) with a passion when it came out. Early in her career she was involved with some lurid and cheesy b-films (The Heart of Midnight--1988, Buried Alive--1990, The Men’s Club--1986, Grandview U.S.A--1984). She was also in some good genre pictures over the years like The Hitcher (1986), Single White Female (1992,more guilty pleasure than good) and The Big Picture (1989, a great satire of Hollywood from Christopher Guest).

What I’ve always loved about Leigh is she is up for anything as an actress and has been fearless in what she does on screen. I admire that. Her career is littered with characters that are whores, prostitutes, killers, junkies, drunks, depressives—you know, bad girls. She's also known for her research and preparation for roles which I always find interesting.

Watch Leigh in the adaptation of Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) playing the local prostitute “Tralala” to see what dark depths Leigh will go to. “Tralala” is a heartbreaking character and Leigh is like a caged animal in the film, full of rage and a deep sad, desperation. Or catch her if you can in the TV movie The Best Little Girl In the World from 1981 where Leigh starves herself so extremely she looks dangerously ill.

The strange thing is I’ve read that Leigh is rather bookish and introverted in real life. Isn’t that always the way? The most daring performers are often the most reserved people when not performing.

Leigh’s heyday was the 1990s. She had nine films in that decade that I recommend as being really good. Nine. Miami Blues (1990), Rush (1991), Short Cuts (1993), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Georgia (1995), Kansas City (1996) and eXinstenZ (1999). Is that not a great decade for an actress or what? If someone can find me an actress who did better or more varied work in the 1990s please feel free to try and convince me.

Leigh was completely robbed of Oscar nominations for Mrs. Parker and for Georgia. I’m not even counting the terrific time travel and romance tv movie she did in 1998 with Campbell Scott called The Love Letter. Heck, let’s add that and make it an even ten for great movies in the '90s.

Leigh is 43 now and that’s a weird age for a female actress in Hollywood. She’s doing a lot of supporting roles and she’s still great. I have the feeling she’s going to be a good character actress as long as she wants to be and 23 years after I first saw her as a teenager, I still have a crush on her.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The squid and the whale

While I wouldn’t call The Squid and the Whale a “fun” movie to watch—it is acerbic and wryly humorous as it chronicles the breakdown of a family in 1986 Brooklyn, New York. It’s one of the best films of the year and one that never removes us from this family’s tense, dysfunctional splintering apart.

Meet the Berkmans: Dad Bernard is a bushy bearded Jeff Daniels. Bernard is the intellectual patriarch of an intellectual family whose own career as a writer has hit difficult times just as his wife (Laura Linney) has hers take off.

The two kids, Walt—a teenager—and his younger brother Frank—are as messed up as their parents and act out in various ways. One steals song lyrics as his own and spouts out Bernard’s opinions and alienates a nice girl he’s seeing; the other curses like a sailor, masturbates in school and wipes his semen on lockers and library books as if he’s marking his territory. As you might say—the kids are f-ed up.

Bernard and Joan are having flings soon after the separation—Bernard with a 20 year old student (Anna Paquin) who writes short stories about her vagina (at least according to Bernard and his over-analytical mind); Joan with the tennis pro Ivan (Billy Baldwin), who is a “philistine” according to Bernard, and who likes to call everyone “brotha.”

Any movie with repeated use of the word philistine is okay in my book.

When Bernard and Joan separate, the kids are literally split between to two parents and they become even more difficult as both are faced with all kinds of complicated issues of loyalty. No kid is ever ready to face, or should have to, the issues that they have to face when parents divorce—but that doesn’t stop the adults thinking kids should choose one parent or the other.

The Squid and the Whale is one of the more honest, cringe-inducing films regarding divorce and the bitter hostility that seethes below the surface in a family when it breaks apart. It makes a film like Kramer V. Kramer seem as if it is a silly TV melodrama.

The Squid and the Whale is honest, or blunt, in how it portrays the hidden rages of these people and might be too realistic for some. Anything may cause the rages to bubble to the surface—ping pong, tennis, talking about books, anything. I found it refreshingly bitter to the very end. It would have been very easy for writer/director Noah Baumbach to soften the story but he never does. Good for Baumbach as softening the story would have denigrated from a very smart, caustic little movie.

I’m a long term Jeff Daniels fan and he gives one of the best performances of his career as the opinion-spouting father who is full of just that—opinions. It seems as if all the enjoyment of “discovering” is lost to him and all he can do now is analyze and suffocate all around him. It’s a complex, joyless performance from Daniels and one of my favorites of the year.

It’s interesting The Squid and the Whale was released in the holiday season where we get cheer and pleasantry in release after release. I loathe the phoniness of Christmas “spirit” that sometimes exists, so I love to see something running against that current. It’s a great antidote to the “perfect worlds” often created in films out now and is an honest, dark, smart, funny, bitter look at a family crumbling apart at the seams. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Heart Fred Ward

I’ve been meaning to write something every now and then on favorite actors, actresses, directors and other film people so decided to start with a career appreciation of one of my favorite character actors: Fred Ward.

While I’m not opposed to writing about “stars,” I’ve always been drawn to character actors. They always seem to do some of the most interesting, unheralded work in film acting and Fred Ward fits into this category as his career stretches back to the early 1970s. He always provides a grizzled, off kilter, “everyman” presence to any film he's in.

My earliest memories of Ward would be in Walter Hill’s Cajun revenge picture Southern Comfort (1981). Ward plays one of the National Guardsmen (along with Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe) who are hunted down and killed by a bunch of pissed off swamp Cajuns. As a kid, this was just great, great stuff.

A year later Ward was in a movie I also loved as a kid—Timerider. In it he plays a motocross rider who goes back in time (while still on his bike!) to the old west and gets into a mess of trouble while getting to ride this bizarre looking machine around while everyone else was on horseback. In ’82 when I first saw this I thought it was such a kick ass film and I still hold a special place for it in my heart as time travel is something I always love seeing in films.

1983 was a good period for Ward as he was in some very prominent movies such as Silkwood and The Right Stuff. Ward spent some time in the Air Force and military or cop roles would become a staple of Ward’s through the years.

In 1985 he was in two more favorites from my youth—the toss away teen comedy Secret Admirer (I remember going on a “double-date” for this one at age 16) and Remo Williams. Remo Williams was intended to be a franchise action-comedy in the Indiana Jones mold that should have been more popular and made Ward a star. But, box-office didn’t come and doomed Ward to more character roles.

The early 1990s were Ward’s biggest in terms in the quality of films he did. Big name directors had noticed him and cast in films by Philip Kaufman in Henry and June (1990) and Robert Altman in The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993). Henry and June is notorious for being the first film ever released in the newly created NC-17 rating and Ward had the role of Henry Miller in the controversial film.

1990 also saw two cult films from Ward in Tremors and Miami Blues. Miami Blues to me is kind of a lost treasure of the 1990s with a young Alec Baldwin playing an oddball criminal and Jennifer Jason Leigh as his sweet-hearted hooker girlfriend. Ward plays a cop on their trail who is missing his teeth. Ward has had a long history of great roles but his Hoke Mosely in Miami Blues is probably my all time favorite.

Unfortunately, Ward sort of drifted into the world of b-film and TV in the mid-1990s and has never fully gotten out of it. He did have a nice little comedic role in Sweet Home Alabama (2002) but sadly he hasn’t gotten the kind of roles he did in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

It’s a shame too as Ward is so appealing a character actor and just delivers great, interesting, watchable performances. I have discussed Orlando Bloom’s lack of screen chemistry a few times lately and while Bloom doesn’t have it—watch Ward in one of these films I’ve mentioned and he jumps off the screen in a way Bloom only dreams of.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lowlights of 2005

I see hundreds of movies a year and not all of them are good. Actually, most are kind of average with a small percentage being really great and a percentage being really bad. The good ones will come later—now is the time for the awful movies or performers of 2005. The fact that some of these made a lot of money is like a dagger in my heart. The first Android will be handed out to one of these films below when we get the statues delivered to the offices. Let the ridicule begin!

The Pacifier
Hands down one of the worst pieces of garbage I’ve seen this year belongs to this unfunny and unoriginal Vin Diesel comedy. Diesel comes from the Sly Stallone school of acting which often means monosyllabic grunts in place of actual lines of dialogue. The man is just an awful actor who has more screen chemistry with his biceps than he does with other actors. Everyone and everything else about The Pacifier is just second-rate moments stolen from other films and a leading candidate for the worst movie I saw in 2005.

Sahara is a complete mess of an action film with probably the silliest, most full of nonsense story all year (I know, action films don’t have to make sense if enough stuff blows up but when you see 250 films a year—blowing up stuff is not good enough). Probably the biggest negative for Sahara to me is the worst actor in Hollywood cast in the lead. That’s right Matthew McConaughey I’m talking about you. McConaughey is so bad an actor he makes Vin Diesel seem like Robert De Niro in his heyday! McConaughey should stick to bongo playing, worrying about his hair weave and rogaine treatments and leave the acting to people with talent. Did I mention the story of Sahara is just an absurd excuse to blow stuff up? Even the great Steve Zahn can't save this disaster. Awful.

Orlando Bloom
When making the list of the worst of 2005 I quickly saw that Orlando Bloom happened to be the lead actor in two of the films so why not make him one of 2005’s worst? He deserves it for foisting two bad films like Kingdom of Heaven and Elizabethtown on us. Do teenage girls swoon at the knee regarding Bloom’s pretty boy looks? Probably, and it’s likely more than teenage girls. The problem with Bloom is that he has absolutely no screen chemistry. None. Zero. I don’t care how good-looking you are, looks have nothing to do with the mysterious quality known as “chemistry,” and Bloom is lacking in it. Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven and Elizabethtown makes weak movies even weaker by his being cast in the lead as he can't create chemistry with the romantic leads either in Eva Green and Kirsten Dunst. Any male who can't generate sparks with Eva Green must not be human. One thing that makes these two movies so disappointing and qualifiers for worst of 2005, they were made by very talented directors—Ridley Scott and Cameron Crowe. They are too talented to put out bad films like this but they both have a good excuse if they want one—Orlando Bloom.

Lord of War
While probably not the worst film of the year for me, I disliked this vile, heartless, soulless piece of satire that falls flat and is just a misguided waste of time. While I appreciate the “guns are bad” message of the film, it’s done with such a smug, sanctimonious way that it just filled me with bile while watching it. Nicolas Cage unearths a bad toupee (does he ever wear a good rug?) and pompous narration to send Lord of War into the range of one of my least liked films in years.

The Island
I actually kind of liked this in the beginning as it stole from two movies from the 1970s I love—Logan’s Run (1976) and THX 1138 (1971). Unfortunately the director was Michael Bay and anyone familiar with the name of Bay knows he likes to shoot and blow stuff up. And when I say blow stuff up, I mean blow stuff up. Bay has such a fetish for fire he should be put on wanted posters for being a pyromaniac. The Island devolves into a typical Bay film with everything that moves being shot or blown up with beautiful slow motion shots of the explosions. Jeez Bay, get help from a therapist and stop making us watch your obsessions with explosions and actually make a film with a good story that is worth spending 90 minutes of my life watching (I’m not holding my breath, Michael Bay is Michael Bay after all).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Let the people speak or forever...

Long layoff. Sorry. Kind of busy. December will be a month of lots of posts once I get going. I promise.

Curious to see what other people think has been the best/worst in film for the is your chance to infuence the voters of the first ever Android Awards that I will be doling out over the next few weeks. So, what movies have you loved or hated? What actors/actresses have stood out? What film has been overrated or completely annoyed you? Any overlooked films that you loved in 2005?

Monday, November 14, 2005

You want great acting?

If you want to see the performance that will likely win the first ever "Android" for best acting (it's my own CineRobot film awards to be called "Androids"!) go see Capote and soak up Philip Seymour Hoffman's unreal capturing of Truman Capote. Hoffman has delivered a lot of terrific performances in films and on stage (I was lucky to see him and John C. Reilly on stage doing True West a few years ago) but this might be the highlight of his career.

Playing Capote is a difficult role to pull off but very early in the film Hoffman just sort of "becomes" Capote and you forget it's acting you are watching. Great, great stuff from a long time favorite. Catherine Keener also gives a standout performance alongside Hoffman and the movie as a whole will be in the running for an Android for best film of the year.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jarhead and the changing culture of being a soldier

Jarhead, a military war film that begins like so many other military films, with a stone faced drill instructor screaming insults at a young recruit, never quite makes the leap to being a great movie. Still, it’s an interesting, entertaining, testosterone fueled look at being a marine in the early 1990s and the Gulf War that many might find enjoyable.

Jarhead was a memoir a few years ago by Anthony Swofford about his family connection to the Marines, his boot camp experiences and the dragging on forever experience he had during the Gulf War that soured his opinion of what it was to fight in a war. As a kid growing up, all he wished for was to fight in a war like his grandfather in World War Two and his father in Vietnam. When he was finally in a war, his reaction is one that completely spins him around and changes his opinion.

A beefed up Jake Gyllenhaal plays Swofford as we see him from boot camp, in sniper training and then as he and his unit ship out to the desert to sit and wait to attack Iraq. The troops wait and wait and wait and boredom causes all kinds of festering tension between the men, their relationship with women back home in the states and their opinion of the Marines. Not everyone is feeling so Semper Fi when they’ve sat out in the sun for 3 months tasting sand every single day.

An interesting aspect of the book that the film attempts to explore is the entire male culture of the military in general and the Marines specifically. These men are so pumped up and full of testosterone and have been force fed a steady diet of what it means to be a soldier and to fight for America that it’s almost impossible to satisfy their lust for combat.

Soldiers now are different than any soldier that has ever fought for the United States. First, technology has rendered combat into warfare of distances, of air strikes without close fighting. Marines are constantly sniping about this in the film. They want to “get some” and are angry the jets fly over to bomb the Iraqis before they get the chance to fire their weapons toward an enemy.

The second change for modern soldiers the book and film tries to address is that these young men have been so completely washed in the culture of war through films, video games, books and historic lore that it is virtually impossible for them to stack up against what has come before them. As a Marine, how in the world can you compete with what happened in WW2 when all you are doing is sitting in the desert week after week?

One of the best scenes in the film plays into this notion as the Marines assemble to watch Apocalypse Now as they wait to be shipped of to the Middle East. The Marines, who have obviously watched this film (and others like it) over and over, shout out lines and grin at each other like kids with the hope this will soon be them kicking tail and taking names. These soldiers have built up such expectations about what war is, because of the “culture” of war, it’s impossible for them to live up to the ideals of Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter.

The book explores these ideas in more depth than the film and that’s why I felt the film was missing something as I watched it. I expected director Sam Mendes to put more teeth into the satire aspects of the story. Mendes does put in subtle reminders from time to time that there is another war going on in the desert at the moment and the first Gulf War did little to remedy the restlessness of the region.

The photography is really washed out with sun-drenched vistas of vast desert and it fit the film’s location perfectly. The supporting cast was quite good with Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black and Chris Cooper all giving solid help for Gyllenhaal in the lead.

Jarhead is worth seeing as it’s got some funny dark comedy moments and has some interesting issues regarding the changing culture of war in the testosterone fueled world of the Marines, but it seemed to lack the depth of the book. But you know, the always present complaint of someone who has read the book first lives here—the movie is never as good as the book.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Prime Cut: 1970s american pulp

A few months ago I read about Prime Cut being released on DVD. I’d never heard of the movie but it sounded interesting—Lee Marvin plays an Irish tough guy sent to Kansas City by the Chicago mob to collect $500k from Gene Hackman and some local country types. What I wasn’t expecting as I put the DVD in a couple of nights ago was to love Prime Cut as much as I did.

Prime Cut is just a straight up, charge you like a bull, 1970s attitude, full-on American pulp filmmaking and it is terrific from start to finish. Directed by Michael Ritchie, who helmed one of my all-time favorite movies in The Bad News Bears--so how could I have never heard of this film?

The set locations alone are worth watching Prime Cut for as it’s like a snapshot into the early 1970s with parts of Kansas City you never see—slaughterhouses, dingy flophouses with sacked out winos, swanky downtown hotels that are long gone, rural country fairs and the huge cinema marquees that blink with so many lights they resemble Las Vegas signage.

While Prime Cut exists at its heart as just a gangster film with tough guys (although Marvin dons a pair of white leather shoes that lessons his toughness, or makes him tougher as you have to be a bad-ass to wear shoes like that when beating people up) wanting money they are owed. This is not a normal “give me my money” picture as it turns sleazy, strange, darkly funny, gritty and reeks of the 1970s mentality that made that decade such a blissful decade for filmmaking.

Early in the film Marvin shows up at an auction house to find Hackman (whose name is Mary Ann in this, which should tell you this is a different gangster film) eating a hot plate of cow guts with a bunch of completely naked women laying in drugged stupors in cow pens full of hay. Men stand around the pens and eat sausages and ogle the women in preparation for buying them for all kinds of criminal doings.

One of the naked women is named Poppy and it’s Sissy Spacek’s first credited role in a film. She soon joins up with Marvin’s crew and gets to deliver some odd, spacey ‘70s style dialogue and scenes while Marvin attempts to get the money owed his employer.

Prime Cut also has a great scene with Kansas wheat and a chase sequence involving a giant thresher. The first post I ever did in CineRobot was about wheat so it’s a no-brainer I loved watching this scene. There’s something about wheat blowing in the wind that completely captivates me. I've said it before and I'll say it again: more wheat!

I sometimes wish I had access to a time machine and could use it whenever I wanted. I would hop in it and go back to 1972 and watch Prime Cut at the drive-in because it is the perfect kind of drive-in movie. Prime Cut is an example of pulp American cinema that is trashy and slightly dated, yet is still hard to take your eyes off of and so, so much fun.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Evil Dead midnight movie photos

Leatherface shows up at Saturday night screening to attack (or by this photo, grope) victims in the Circle lobby. <10.29.5>

These were the youngest two people at the Saturday midnight Evil Dead screening at the Circle. Have to start 'em young...
Circle Cinema lobby as people wait for Evil Dead to start at midnight. This was our first midnight movie sell out!!! All hail the Deadites!

October 28, 2005
Tulsa, Okla.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The five obstructions

I watched The Five Obstructions a few nights ago and really loved it. This is a fascinating documentary that sees the Danish director (and trickster) Lars von Trier challenge Jorgen Leth to remake his 1967 short film The Perfect Human five different times.

What makes it interesting is each version von Trier comes up with rules or obstructions that will challenge Leth in an attempt to trip him up or make him suffer while making the film.

For example, remake number one has a series of obstructions with one being no cut longer than 12 frames (film exists with 24 frames per second so that’s a lot of very short cuts for the entire film). To see what Leth does with each of these five groups of obstructions is terrific to watch as Leth is inspired by von Trier and makes interesting short after interesting short. Leth comes off as a very talented man after watching what he does with von Trier’s obstructions.

The Five Obstructions deals into subjects such as the deconstruction of film and the recreation of it as something new, different and better—yet still oddly the same almost thirty years after it was originally made.

The Five Obstructions is one of my favorite documentaries of the year and is a must see for anyone who loves seeing the behind the scenes, creative aspects of filmmaking.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Elizabethtown--another of worst of 2005

This was a flaming disaster. Has writer/director Cameron Crowe drank some kind of dangerous elixir that is causing him to make completely awful and shite movies all of a sudden?

Vanilla Sky was horrible from start to finish and now Crowe delivers Elizabethtown, which is even worse. I guess with Crowe and company I expect the film to be much, much better than what I witnessed, but after these two recent duds, maybe I should rethink that?

Elizabethtown isn’t funny, it’s not emotionally engaging, not a single character has any depth—it’s basically one of the most artificial and phony films I’ve sat through in a long while.

A big problem is the male lead, Orlando Bloom. The man is an awful actor. I don’t care how pretty he is or how he can make the cheeks blush when you look at him—the man has absolutely no screen chemistry as a leading man. After seeing Kingdom of Heaven earlier in the year and now Elizabethtown I’m convinced that Bloom will only do a movie no harm if he is in “elfin” mode ala Lord of the Rings. The funniest scene in the entire movie is when Bloom attempts to cry. Now that was comedy!

Crowe’s script is a hodgepodge of story directions—does he know what kind of story he wants to tell here? There is way too much bland narration from Bloom that comes of as smug and adds nothing to the film (as most narration does—it’s lazy screenwriting the vast majority of the time). The film is too long as well but that goes into the nest that Crowe was unsure what kind of story he wanted to tell.

And let me address the use of music in the film. Crowe pumps Elizabethtown full of so many musical background moments it’s as if he can only reveal his characters by finding some obscure/classic song from his or his wife Nancy Wilson’s record collection. Jeez, man, if you want to make videos go make videos, I was hoping to watch a movie here.

I’m not even going into Kirsten Dunst and the "there one sentence, gone the next" Kentucky accent of hers. Why even try to do a Southern accent, any accent, if you aren’t going to stick with it for the FULL movie? Plus, the completely ridiculous scene with Susan Sarandon at a funeral eulogy. I mean, tap dancing for God’s sake?! I think Crowe has lost his mind with that bit of nonsense.

I did like seeing Tulsan Gailard Sartain, the Round Barn in Arcadia, Oklahoma and My Morning Jacket showing up as “Ruckus” to do “Freebird” at the earlier mentioned memorial service. But that’s not enough to save this disaster of a film.

Elizabethtown might be the worst film of the year, considering the people involved, its high profile release and the amount of sheer train wreck quality it maintains throughout.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Flightplan--possible worst of 2005

So this is what Jodie Foster has become? Foster, the Academy Award winner, who was once thought of as one of the best actresses working in Hollywood, is now officially making movies for C-A-S-H-O-L-A.

Maybe she had dinner with Robert De Niro as he’s completely gone the same route with sludge like the woeful Hide and Seek. It’s a sad day when De Niro gives one of his best recent performances on a bleeping American Express commercial!

It’s not that Flightplan is poorly made technically or just flat out bad, it’s just dull, uninteresting and lifeless. Often that’s the biggest sin and timewaster of all a movie can have.

With Flightplan’s predictability and the absurd twists that are pure screenwriter 101 invention, Foster has fallen to unseen depths. I’m sure there is a willing sponsor to see her act in a commercial extolling the virtues of beer, credit cards or financial investment that she can fall back on. Mr. De Niro’s agent has those numbers for you Jodie whenever you are ready for them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Originals better despite age

Screened a sometime scratchy print of Alien at Circle Cinema for the midnight series and I really enjoyed it after having not seeing it in well over a decade. On Friday night, a young woman who works there came out after 20 minutes saying it looked “too ‘80s” for her taste.

The next night I watched it and loved the colorful, yet low-tech view of the future as conceived by Ridley Scott in 1979. The movie is a claustrophobic, tense journey into the unknown that combines horror and psychological thriller in ways often duplicated since.

I’ve heard this kind of complaint a lot from younger people and classic older horror/thriller films. They will claim the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre was awesome but the deranged 1974 version was boring or unprofessional. During the re-release of The Exorcist a few years ago teenagers were laughing during certain scenes, yet, I hear their peers say how scared the middling knock off The Exorcism of Emily Rose made them as we exit the theatre. When I hear these kinds of statements, I just want to shake some common sense and taste into the lot of them!

What makes Alien better than Alien Resurrection or Halloween better than Halloween 9 (the list goes on and on) is that the early films have an originality in story, attitude and execution that the following sequels can’t even sniff, despite the new ones having all the advantages of komputers to aid their graphics.

It’s not all about graphics and high-powered komputers young movie watchers.

The early films have a subtlety and nuance to them that the remakes/sequels do not. The later films tend to go the blunt, in your face route as they feel they have to be so “full on” they have to top the originals. This doesn’t make them better movies; it just makes them noisier.

The early “classic” films often realize it’s the quiet moments that are the most terrifying. It’s in these quiet moments during Alien when “Ripley” is battling these alien beings alone in some empty part of a deep, black, silent space, when we let our imagination take over. The imagination is more terrifying than any amount of noisy, komputer generated effect can ever dream of producing.

So, as I sat in the tiny, darkened Circle Cinema and watched the low-budget effects/set design I found comfort, tension and fear in its well-aged flicker from the projector.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Slow-motion overdose

I finally got to see 2046. Watching a Wong Kar Wai movie, 2046 particularly, is kind of like visiting a foreign country where you do not speak the language. There is a period of adjustment to become settled in while in this place--watching 2046 is the exact same thing. The first 30 minutes were a mess as I was trying to get my bearings in the story as it flew all over the place. After that, I settled in and the images started to cascade to the screen and 2046 became enjoyable.

2046 is loosely connected with In the Mood For Love (loosely is appropriate as you do not have to see the first one to watch 2046). The story really isn't a story--driving narrative force is not a strength of Wong Kar Wai--as we see a man and his loves in 1968 Hong Kong. The man also exists as an alter-ego and character in a pulp novel in the future while riding a superfuturistc train filled with beautiful "love" androids. I liked the sci-fi aspect of the film and wish it would have had more of that in there rather than the 1968 stuff. The light train just looked flat out cool.

People walked out of 2046 left and right as I guess it's not for everyone with its aimlessness and jumping around. I never thought I'd say this about a Wong movie but he used slow motion too much! Like always, incredible cinematography by Christopher Doyle and others. Loved seeing Faye Wong in something again as I have a big crush on her.

While I don't like this as much as In the Mood For Love, 2046 is still an interesting, puzzling, hyper-romantic, slow-motion drenched tale that leaves a lot to the viewer to decipher.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Serenity is a movie that should never have been made. In 2002 it was a doomed television show called Firefly that was allowed to make only 12 episodes before getting the axe. Never mind it had a rabid following, critics loved it, or Joss Whedon, the man behind the popular shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, created it.

In a way, Serenity is a landmark kind of movie because fans of Firefly were so fanatical about the show—they wanted justice. They wanted the story to continue whether on another channel or the big screen. They called themselves “Brownshirts” and immobilized themselves on the Internet. Three years later Serenity arrives in theatres everywhere. Can it please the already on board Brownshirts and new people as well? The answer is a resounding yes.

I was a fan of Firefly but had my doubts regarding the movie. I was worried it was going to be a rehashing of the series plot just ramped up to “movie” size for people who hadn’t seen the show. Early on in the film, these concerns were gone and I got to just enjoy the story and the characters I wasn’t expecting to see again.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, that’s kind of a space western” or something similar? Serenity is that space western. Even though it’s set hundreds of years in the future—this is a western. Serenity has that same pluck and spirit of westerns of yore and use slang, speech mannerisms, technology and weapons that have a direct connection to the old west.

The story concerns a rag-tag group of individuals who scrape along by doing petty robbery and illegal freight running to isolated outposts at the edge of a planetary system’s frontier. Their ship (named Serenity after a defeat in a war that several of the crew were involved in and are still haunted by) is a bit dodgy and rundown. Their survival depends on the success of their next job—legal or otherwise.

They bring along passengers from time to time and they happen to have a doozy with them in a young, damaged girl named River. River can read minds. River is also a killing machine who the ruling planetary government wants to get rid of. A ruthless assassin is dispatched to slaughter the crew and anyone who stands in the way of getting to River.

That’s the gist of the story but Serenity is so much more. Serenity deserves to be seen. It’s leap years better than the over-hyped mess that has become of the Star Wars franchise and other middle of the road science fiction releases.

Serenity is interesting, funny, smart, surprising and exciting science fiction and should please anyone whether you want lots of action and space explosions or if you want great characters. It’s just a great story that was a great television show and now it’s a great movie. Thanks Brownshirts, I owe you one for letting us see more of the crew of the Serenity.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bob Moog 1934-2005

(A few weeks ago Robert Moog passed away. Being a huge fan of synethesizers you can
not avoid Moog's
impact on what could be done with electronic instrumentation. He had
more influence than anyone else
and his Moog synths happen to be the end all, be all
for me and many other electronic music fans. I
wrote this piece earlier in the year when
the documentary
Moog came out and wanted to post it here on Cinerobot. Enjoy and
long live the Moog synthesizer!)

I'll admit it: I'm in love with a machine. It's a love affair that has lasted over twenty years
and began one early teenage day when I watched a group of men from England stand
behind a bank of
synthesizers. They pressed keys. They twiddled knobs. Waves of
electric sound erupted from their
machines. I was awestruck.

The man who did more than anyone else to give birth to the modern analogue synthesizer,
Moog, is the subject of a documentary recently released on DVD. Moog (pronounced
like rogue) began
making modular synthesizers (he coined the phrase, meaning a synthesis
of previous ideas into one
instrument) in 1964, but these early synths were huge systems,
that due to expense, few people could
afford. This changed with the introduction of the minimoog
in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The minimoog,
and its variations, helped usher in modern
electronic music as young musicians were able to afford the
smaller, more mobile synths.
Soon, artists such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman were performing extended
solos while German band Kraftwerk were showing what analogue synthesizers could do in a more

traditional pop song format.

When I hear good electronic music created with analogue synthesizers I think I am hearing
from the future. To see a person standing in front of a machine that takes up half a
wall, cables
and wires plugged in everywhere, notes surging from the keys--this is an
exhilarating thing for
me. It is the sound of the future, of science fiction and of the unknown.
Robert Moog is the mad
scientist creator of the possibility of such a sound, and to paraphrase
Moog at one point in
"Moog", to play a Moog synth is like being a current of electricity inside
a machine. It's that
idea that makes analogue synthesizers so fantastic. When you play one
you are not playing a
string, drum or traditional instrument--you are playing electricity. What
is more futuristic than

It is that futuristic element that people thought was so frightening when the Moog synth first
came into being. Moog states in the documentary that traditional minded musicians and the
public thought of the synths as "harmful" and possibly ruinous to the future of music.
It took
until the late 1970s with bands emerging from the punk rock aftermath to spread the
sound to a more mainstream, youth friendly pop market. In England bands such
as Fad Gadget, Human
League, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan (the huge sweeping notes on
"Cars" are from Moog synths),
Orchestral Maneuvers In the Dark and John Foxx, as well as
the Japanese band Yellow Magic
Orchestra were at the forefront of a new electronic music.
Current bands such as Toronto's Solvent
and England's Ladytron are examples of the usage
of the instruments in the 21st century. Virtually
every dance band on the planet uses it in
some shape or form to create its grooves. The analogue
synthesizer is such a key instrument
now it will never disappear and hopefully will retain its
futuristic quality.

The documentary is a short (72 minutes), bare bones affair that comprises interviews with Moog
(who often does not look comfortable on camera), old footage of the early days of his work,

interviews with other people who love the instrument and live footage of bands playing various

Moog synths (Stereolab, Money Mark and Mix Master Mike, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman
among others).
I loved that there were theremin bits (an instrument played with the magnetic
fields of
electricity--you literally play air when playing a theremin, think "Good Vibrations" by the
Boys) in the film. I personally would have loved more old footage and live performances
to at
least push the running time up to 90 minutes but am just happy to see anything about Bob
Moog and
his groundbreaking Moog synthesizer. When you are in a lifelong love affair, like I am,
any amount
of time will make your heart happy. If you see this, maybe you'll too fall in love.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The trouble with free screenings

Last night I happened to be at one of these promotional screenings that are populated with people who are there for one reason: free movie! When the film is some brainless popcorn blockbuster this is fine with me as I don't need to pay much attention to write a 500 word review and don’t become bothered by the chatter and noise that will come from the audience.

But last night I was trying to watch the new David Cronenberg movie, “A History of Violence”, with a packed theatre and it was rough going (I should have known there would be issues when I saw that the crowd was culled from the listeners of a local sports station known as the “Sports Buzz” and an urban top 40 station called “Powr95”). Brutish, loud behavior erupted continuously from the emotionally stunted and just rude people who were there because it was free.

For example, there is kind of a heated sex scene between Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello that involves oral sex in a more ramped up way than is normally seen in American films. Giggling and cackling erupted all over the theatre like the audience was nothing but hormone drenched junior high boys. It was embarrassing. I was embarrassed for these people. One guy sitting next to me kind of moans out loud during the scene while saying to anyone within earshot, “That’s what I’m talking about right there.” Thanks for sharing you moron.

Bello later does a brief full frontal nude scene and you would have thought the first lady Laura Bush was baring her pasty, robot-ass pubes up there the way people gasped and guffawed.

And people act surprised when Americans are accused of backward, prudish thoughts regarding sexuality? Come watch a free movie in Tulsa with adult themes with (gasp!) naked people and those stereotypes will hit you full on in the face.

Even the violence in the story drew protests and shock from the people around me. This was a David Cronenberg movie people! But, as I said, the audience was here because it was free, not because the film is getting seriously good reviews or because of Cronenberg’s previous films. The shame is I was there as an avid film lover and an adult who can handle adult themes. Unfortunately, these repressed yahoos couldn’t.

I was at another free press/public screening a few months ago for a film called Me and You and Everyone We Know. I loved this movie but it is not for everyone, as it is a hyper-quirky meditation on love and how people connect or disconnect from one another in the 21st century world.

Well, an aspect of the film involves children and sexuality—a taboo subject if there ever was one. I counted six walk outs during one scene in particular.

I felt kind of sorry for those people leaving. I can see them muttering to each other during the film: “I don’t care if this is free, what in the hell is this junk? Some 8 year old talking about poo in and out of butts forever and people pay for this garbage? Let’s get the hell out of here and go watch Flightplan, now that’s some real moviemaking!”

Do people ever look and see what movie it is they are getting free passes to? My experience says no, they just show up and expect the formulaic dreck that usually comes down the road. When they come face to face with something odd or surprising, they turn away, get up and leave or sit and giggle like teenagers.

Here’s hoping that next time I’m at one of these screenings every single person will get up and leave the theatre who is shocked, freaked out, disturbed, offended, sickened by what they see. If I’m the only person left in the darkened theatre after they’ve left in a huffing-mad horde, that would be fine and dandy by me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lord of war = lord of crap

There’s always a multitude of reasons why a big Hollywood movie fails to draw a crowd and is labeled a bust. Some of the more popular ones include horrible marketing, wrong choices regarding release dates with too much competition or an uninterested, apathetic viewing public. My personal favorite and the reason I think Lord of War has tanked in box office return—the film is terrible.

No one involved in any movie before it is released is thinking the film is going to be a disaster. They are dreaming of the moolah that will be flowing into their bank accounts. Embarrassing acting or clichéd and poorly written scripts never enter into it until it’s too late and negative reviews pour in while theatre seats remain empty.

Lord of War has a combination of bad elements—acting, story and writing—that make it one of the least enjoyable bits of cinema I watch the entire year. Worse films may come my way, but on just enjoyment factor, Lord of War is just wretched from its smug beginning to its smug ending.

Nic Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, a dissatisfied Ukranian-American living in Brooklyn. One day he’s hit with an epiphany after watching local Russian gangsters carry out a hit in a restaurant. Days later he’s somehow scored an Uzi and is selling it in some low-rent hotel.

Soon after he’s running guns in other countries and we never see how he engineered these connections. Who knows, maybe in Brooklyn in the 1980s you could just spread the word that you are ready to run some guns and poof, machine guns and grenade dealers just show up at your stoop. Lord of War was in such a hurry to get ahead in the story it couldn’t fabricate a plausible back-story and this makes Yuri’s rise to riches/power completely ridiculous.

Lord of War attempts to be a revealing satire so we see messages hammered into us like “guns are bad” and “governments are corrupt” and “guns used by governments kill people” (oh wait, I used that one already). I’m not opposed to films with this message on an international, or local, level but when they are delivered in such a forceful, humorless, soulless way all I feel is revulsion.

What makes this even worse is it uses this “smugger than thou” narration by Cage that attempts to explain the motivations of Orlov and how to run guns to foreign dictators. The narration is often played for laughs with lame quips about Bin Laden and weaponry but it falls flat the entire movie. At times there was more narration than dialogue in the film and it just did not work.

Nicolas Cage is awful in Lord of War. He delivers a performance that is so distracted and bored I am curious why he even agreed to do the film (cash money baby!). His speech is spoken with teeth clinched tightly so often I wonder if he had some kind of dental issue going on while this was filmed. I won’t even bring up his toupee as that might be hitting below the belt. You’d think with a budget of millions that a better toupee wrangler could be found wouldn’t you?

I don’t know what has happened to writer/director Andrew Niccol. The first two films he wrote or directed were The Truman Show and Gattaca—two great, interesting movies. Since then it’s Simone and Lord of War—two horrible movies. Who knows what his next one will be like but I’m losing interest in a hurry after watching Lord of War.

Lord of War is a heavy-handed, soulless, vile satire that fails on nearly every level—writing, acting and story—that is an unpleasant thing to have to sit through.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My kind of science-fiction

To put it simply, Code 46 is my kind of science fiction. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton, it’s sci-fi that puts ideas over CGI bombast that tells a romantic story set in a future of restrictive laws and extremely controlled genetic manipulation.

Code 46 is atmospheric as all get out and is a bit on the slow side (something I enjoy) as the story itself isn’t all that gripping—the film is more nuance than thrilling adventure. I don’t mind that, as I like seeing the future portrayed in realistic ways without shootouts with high-tech weaponry.

The film shows the future as it might be in our lifetime—society is rigidly controlled; people either live in cities of neon and glass or are shunted into empty desert wastelands; DNA is monitored so completely that who you sleep with, marry or have kids with is administered by government law; people take a “virus” to know a language, become psychics or learn something; languages have become global with people using English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese as they speak; it’s a future of architecture and design that varies wildly between those who have and those that do not.

Despite some clunky narration from Morton, Code 46 is an interesting reality-based future that we might see in our lifetimes. Forget flying cars or jetting off to Mars or that kind of sci-fi, this is sci-fi that is attainable, as it’s much like the world we live in, only buried in the technological future that we careen toward as a culture and planet.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The whereabouts of 2046

I've been waiting to see 2046, Wong Kar Wai's follow up to In the Mood for Love, for what seems like years (which is how long I've been reading about the project). A couple of months ago I was watching uninteresting trailers before a film when the trailer for 2046 came on the screen unexpectedly. My heart exploded in my chest and I almost jumped up from my seat and hollered out to the smattering of people, "Yes! Wong Kar Wai!" like I was some kind of Star Wars nerd about to watch George Lucas' latest cash cow product tie-in.

I still haven't seen the movie and I'm starting to get angry about it. I might have to drive somewhere to see it if it doesn't hit Tulsa soon. Has anyone else seen it or want to see it?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Weeks and weeks of movies

I’ve been quite busy the past few weeks so here’s a group of short reviews of some of the things I’ve watched worth mentioning.

It’s the ten-year mark for Martin Scorsese’s Casino, so I decided to watch it again. It’s a great movie from him and one that belongs next to the other high marks in his career--my personal favorites being Raging Bull and Good Fellas. I don’t see how a film can be made that can completely cover the dead era of Las Vegas in the ‘60s and ‘70s better than this unbelievably detailed and nuanced film. Scorsese even makes Sharon Stone turn in a good performance and that is miraculous since she is so unrelentingly awful. Oh, and never let Joe Pesci put your head in a vise. Bad things will happen, particularly to your eyeball.

My own festival with James Garner is still going strong as I’ve seen 16 of his pictures this year. Saw Victor/Victoria, Duel at Diablo, Decoration Day and Tank the past month. That’s four different films from the talented Garner that vary greatly from a Blake Edwards film to the silly tank driving picture. The man is just a solid, solid actor and makes me proud to be a fellow Okie.

Enjoyed The Constant Gardener. This was a pleasant surprise that had Ralph Fiennes’ best work in years and maybe Rachel Weisz’s best ever. It’s an artistic, lively, challenging mystery directed by Fernando Meirelles and is worth checking out.

Saw Junebug and was kind of lukewarm toward it. I loved the performance of Amy Adams as a talkative, pregnant Southerner. She is just so unbelievably open and honest in this film. Other elements I found put upon and the dude from the O.C. I wanted to punch in the throat. He should stick with trashy tv. Loved seeing Will Oldham show up for an unexpected cameo. The weird folk art painter and his “erotic” Civil War battlefield scenes were great. I wanted more of that guy and his crazy accent!

I also saw one of the filthiest and funniest films I’ve seen in a long while with The Aristocrats. Proud that Circle Cinema is the only place in Oklahoma showing the documentary, as everyone else is too scared I guess. It’s just language people. Although, it is one of the nastiest, crudest, vulgar things I’ve seen in a long while. It’s also frequently hilarious as a bunch of comics try to top each other in how filthy they can make an old joke that’s been around forever. The Aristocrats is as much about the way comics work as it is about the joke. Hilariously filthy!

Swede director Lukas Moodysson’s Lilya 4-Ever is about the most heart wrenching, bleak and depressing film I’ve seen in a while. The film is about this teenage girl that is abandoned by her mom and she resorts to prostitution in some hellhole in Russia. She thinks she is escaping to Sweden but it just gets worse for her. Powerful, yet, the sort of unrelenting film that will make you shove a handful of prozac into your mouth after you’ve seen it.

Frank the evil bunny

Here's another photo from the Donnie Darko screening. I got to Circle Cinema about 11.15 that night and this person was already in the lobby waiting for the film to begin. It made me think that a good turnout was soon to come despite the looming thunderstorms that hit the city right as the movie was starting.

Midnight movie turnout

Sorry I haven't posted anything in a while but I've been busy busy busy.

The turnout to Circle Cinema's first midnighter was great! The theatre holds 105 and we drew 91 on night one; 86 on night two. I was very pleased and happy with the response. Thank you Donnie Darko!

Here's a photo of the first crowd a few minutes before the film started.

Alien is this months film if anyone wants to come lose sleep on September 30/October 1.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Midnight movies in tulsa

If you happen to reside in the Tulsa area and want to attend a midnight movie, this Friday and Saturday (august 26/27) will be the first screening of a monthly series I am programming at Circle Cinema. We will be screening the director's cut of Donnie Darko. Circle Cinema's website is if you want information on where the theatre is located or want to see how it is being fixed up. The theatre was built in the 1920s.

Future films in the next few months will be Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, Run, Lola, Run and Harold and Maude.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The 40 Year Old Virgin and the drive-in

Before I discuss this week’s review of The 40 Year Old Virgin, let me praise the most American of movie going experiences—the drive-in. I decided to go to the Admiral Twin to see the movie and from the retro commercials; the cars streaming by on the neighboring freeway; the stars dotting the blackening Tulsa night sky; the movie on the massive, peeling white screen; this is the make-up for the perfect summer movie going experience. If you haven’t been to a drive-in recently—go! I don’t get overly patriotic often but going to a drive-in makes me proud to be an American as this is something only done in the U.S.A.

Now, on to director Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year Old Virgin and what turned out to be an extremely enjoyable movie that had me laughing out loud all the way through it. I'm a huge fan of a couple of tv shows Apatow was involved in--Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared--so I had high hopes for this one. The 40 Year Old Virgin is gleefully filthy and frequently hilarious and is by far the funniest movie of the year.

Steve Carell (Anchorman, The Daily Show) plays Andy Stitzer, a 40 year old electronic store employee who is content to surround himself with time consuming hobbies like collecting toys, playing video games and painting miniatures. He doesn't even drive a car for pete's sake, he likes to bike around town instead. Women do not enter into the equation. In fact, women have never entered the equation, hence the title of the movie.

Stitzer’s buddies at work find out he’s a virgin while playing poker and begin to attempt to rectify the situation by involving him in a variety of schemes that degenerate into comic horror and mayhem that usually sends Stitzer running away in extreme embarrassment. This is good for us as the events are very funny.

Stitzer meets Trish (Catherine Keener) in the electronic store and the two hit it off after some false starts. Trish actually has three kids and is a grandma (a “hot granny” as is said in the film) but this doesn’t frighten off Andy. The film moves forward on a couple of different levels—will Andy ever have sex and what will happen when Trish finds out he’s a virgin.

I expected The 40 Year Old Virgin to be kind of a one-joke pony with nothing but “virgin” related jokes—but it’s so much more than that. The backbone of the story is actually a sweet love story (yes, punctuated with lots of graphic language that might offend some) as Andy is just this great guy—who cares if he’s never had sex. In fact, the film’s message has kind of a pro-celibacy, sex is overrated lean to it that may get lost in all the other dirty shenanigans that occur.

Carell is perfect and believable as a man who has not had sex. He’s part geek, part sweetheart. The supporting cast (Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd and Romany Malco) is also up to the task as the buddies get significant moments in the film to ham it up and act/talk naughty as their romantic lives are too messed up to be giving advice to Andy.

While The 40 Year Old Virgin is not for everyone because of the frank, graphic language (think of Something About Mary only with more cursing), it is still a sweet, charming story filled with memorable characters and is hands down the funniest film I’ve seen this year. And it's even better if you go watch it at a drive in.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Terrence Howard's duel roles in 2005

I've been meaning to write something about the two great performances Terrence Howard has turned in this year but have been waylaid by activity. I saw him on the cover of an entertainment magazine this week and figured I'd join the praise heaping.

Howard has given two of the fiercest performances I've seen this year in two of my favorite films of the year--Crash and Hustle and Flow. In Crash he was playing support in a stellar ensemble cast whereas in Hustle and Flow he was the lead and in virtually every scene. Both films show Howard as an actor to watch in the future.

I loved Crash. It's a rambling, multifaceted story set among a variety of people in Los Angeles (and can stand beside other great L.A. films with lots of characters such as Short Cuts and Magnolia of recent years) that tackles some tricky subject matter such as race and class. Howard plays a successful television director who has his outlook on who he is turned upside down when a racist cop (in a great role from Matt Dillon) accosts him and his wife late one night.

All of a sudden the director is thinking about his own "blackness" in the "white" world that he lives in and he explodes in a fit of rage, letting loose all the frustration and pain in a tense few moments that might get him killed.

It's a great performance that sees Howard stewing and boiling inside, just below the surface, waiting to unleash this frustration that is obviously tearing him up. In a film with a lot of great performances, Howard's might steal the show.

In Hustle and Flow, Howard taps into some of the same qualities--the frustration and anger--but gets to express them in completely different ways. He plays a small time pimp and drug dealer named DJay in a run-down section of Memphis. After running into a friend from high school who has some recording equipment and DJay starts to dream of doing more than pimping and tries to do some rappin'.

The film is kind of a rap filled, urban Rocky that might have flopped had it not been for the charismatic lead performance of Howard. He gives a very assured performance that his him drawling a syrupy, slow, Memphis drawl as he encourages his woman, scolds them and promotes himself. DJay is always promoting, whether it's women or his efforts to record some tracks. Howard's performance is subtle, raw, full of nuance and flash yet honest from beginning to end and it's hard to take your eyes off him.

I'll be watching for Howard's name in the opening credits based on these two great performances this year.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Murderball is an electrifying new documentary about men who play a sport I have never seen before called quad rugby (aka murderball). I love certain sports--baseball is at the forefront--but watching the all out violence of a quad rugby match played by men known as "disabled" is both thrilling and kind of inspiring.

The documentary introduces us to a variety of people--from those who play the sport, to their families and even their girlfriends. All topics of these men's lives are covered including how they were injured and its impact on their daily lives. And yes, this includes some frank discussion of sex (which was great to hear as its absence would have left a void in the film).

There are a lot of reasons this is a great documentary and one is the fact the film doesn't try to make the audience feel pity for these men. These guys are just normal guys who curse, make jokes and insult each other, talk about getting lucky with women, are as complicated as the rest of us and have the same competitive juices throbbing in their veins as other athletes.

The sheer emotion and passion that explodes out of these guys during matches is often riveting to watch. I would have loved to have seen even more of the actual game images as it's a compelling, violent sport with these metal, tricked out wheelchairs battering into one another over and over.

The film is centered on a feud/rivalry between one time USA player and now coach of Canada, Joe Soares, and the USA team--particularly player Mark Zupan--and who will win the gold medal at the Para-Olympics in Athens in 2004. The USA team is used to winning and Soares is seen as a traitor after switching sides to Canada.

Zupan is a captivating subject and just reeks of screen chemistry with his badass quad rugby ability, massive tribal tattoos, long goatee and penchant for dropping f-bombs. Zupan's face is usually a blazing scowl or this terrific grin he unfolds from time to time. Without Zupan this would not have been as interesting (of course the same can be said for Soares--a complex, screaming like a banshee while coaching, bull of a man).

Murderball is a raw, honest, lovingly crafted documentary about the testosterone-fueled sport of quad rugby and is one of my favorite films of the year.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Broken Flowers

I was in Dallas over the weekend and got to see Jim Jarmusch's latest, Broken Flowers. I really liked the film as it is a deceptively simple story (as a lot of Jarmusch films are), is peppered with lots of wry comedy, utilized little camera movement and has long, slow passages. In many ways, Jarmusch's style fits in with foreign filmmakers as he doesn't dwell on story resolution, plot twists/gimmicks or by blowing stuff up like a lot of American directors. If you have the same taste as I do, this is a good thing.

Broken Flowers tells the story of a man (Bill Murray as Don Johnston) who finds out he might have fathered a son 20 years earlier after receiving an anonymous letter from an ex-lover. Urged on by his mystery loving neighbor Winston, played by the talented Jeffrey Wright, Johnston goes on a quest to find the woman and the son.

It's a very simple premise and what follows is a loosely connected series of re-connections with people long lost in the fabric of life. Some of the meetings are comical, some are sad and some are extremely uncomfortable. All of them are painted with Jarmusch's love for everyday moments of life. From the shots inside the various houses of objects to the great p.o.v. shots from inside the car as Johnston drives in different parts of the country--Jarmusch has crafted another lean, beautifully spare film. In this day of flashy, show-off, video style directing, it's great to see someone so confident that restraint becomes more striking than any amount of hollow, wham-bam visual theatrics.

Another interesting thing in Broken Flowers is the acting of Bill Murray. Murray is on an interesting roll at the moment by creating these detached characters who often seem at odds with the action that is occurring around him. At times, Murray seems to be in a completely separate film than the actors in the same scene. I'm not sure how far Murray can take this approach--he's used it in various degrees on his last 4 films--but it is interesting to watch.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Michael Bay is a talentless hack

An interesting thing happens about an hour into director Michael Bay’s latest film The Island, he remembers that he is Michael Bay. At this point of recognition he reverts to his usual strategies that largely involve wrecking or blowing up anything that moves. It’s a shame, as The Island could have been his best film but it ends up being just another massive waste of time that degenerates into a 90-minute orgy of explosions.

The film starts out promising as Bay is obviously channeling George Lucas’ icy 1971 bleak science fiction film THX 1138 as the look of The Island is a virtual copy—no colors as everything is white or black, the future is a cold place with nothing but concrete, glass, steel and our society is rigidly controlled with few personal freedoms.

Ewan McGregor plays Lincoln Six Echo, a man in this sterile future world who begins to question all around him, including a contest known as "The Lottery", that will decide who gets to go to an island paradise and escape the confines of the city. The dream of winning the lottery to get out of this place and onto the utopian island is the driving force of people’s existence.

The moment Lincoln Six Echo escapes the control of this world, and takes Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) with him, the film becomes a kind of a Logan’s Run dosed up on massive amounts of steroids. It’s at this point to the stops being about an idea and just becomes a silly prolonged chase scene that Bay is infamous for.

Quick history lesson on Bay: he is the man who has given us crimes against cinema such as Bad Boys and The Rock and that embarrassingly bad Pearl Harbor. To think that Bay could make a film about ideas rather than about explosions, I guess I was kidding myself.

Bay just has to be himself. And showing us sweeping helicopter zooms, cheesy slow motions of explosions, cars flipping over again and again, machine-guns and rockets blowing even more stuff up is just Bay letting us see how macho he can be. Bay is as subtle as a jackhammer to the skull and it’s dull, soulless and insulting cinema to anyone who loves movies.

The true star of a Michael Bay film isn’t the actors or script—it’s the person who sets up all the various explosions or destruction that is going to ensue. That person needs a vacation after working on a movie like The Island because they will have pushed the “explode” button so much their finger will be sprained. I’m not kidding. Bay will blow or shoot anything up—cars, buildings, helicopters, more cars, train-stations, streets. Anything. It becomes exhausting at a certain point and not at all thrilling or exciting, as Bay believes it might.

The Island is just further proof that Michael Bay is a hack director. He takes an interesting idea about a utopian future world and ruins it by making it a cliché ridden exercise in excess with him just blowing things up. Any ideas that the movie tries to develop is lost by the end of the film, just one more thing Bay blows to bits.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The joy of the f-word

The most refreshing thing about the raunchy comedy that often takes place in Wedding Crashers is that it is R rated. We actually get to hear cursewords! We live in a PG-13 world during the summer (and most of the year unfortunately) with Hollywood sticking sequels, comic book adaptation after comic book adaptation (really, when will it end?), a various assortment of action films and the recent summer pre-requisite--teen horror film--down our collective throats. To actually hear the word "fuck" pop up that second time (therefore assuring the movie a R rating) almost fills me with the subversive feeling of danger as I sit in a darkened theatre. "Did he just say what I think he said?" I ask myself.

In fact, Wedding Crashers, like so many recently released R rated comedies, is pretty one dimensional and relies on seeing how much humiliation it can unleash on its main characters. But who cares? The actors spout out "dirty" words, get into naughty situations, multiple breasts are exposed (hey, if you are gonna go for the R, you might as well toss in some nudity too!) and the very funny Vince Vaughn experiences a variety of uncomfortable scenes where he gets to curse in all its glory (unfortunately, the tiresome Owen Wilson is in this too. He has two acting expressions: the squint--which he does so often I often doubt his has eyeballs--and the pursed lip pout. Both acting strategies are really annoying and I'd rather he said nothing in movies, regardless of if he's cursing or not.).

So I'm hoping Wedding Crashers does big business in the next few weeks after it had a solid opening weekend. In this ever increasing sanitized world we live in, it's nice to have the choice to actually see something not made for 14 year olds but for adults. Now, don't even get me started on the NC-17 rating as I can go all day on that topic, it's just nice to have some R rated comedy every now and then.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Jackie Brown eight years later

When I watched Jackie Brown when it was released in 1997, I left the theatre kind of swamped in disappointment. You see, it was writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s first film after his beloved Pulp Fiction and anything coming post PF is bound to appear not as good considered all the hype and anticipation that swirled around its release.

I watched Jackie Brown a second time over the weekend and admit right here and now: I was dead wrong in 1997. Jackie Brown is a really good movie and I don't know what in the world I was thinking eight years ago. It has aged incredibly well--or my taste has improved--is all I can say.

While I still wouldn’t put it in Pulp’s league, Jackie Brown is a gritty, interesting film with great dialogue, a wonderful cast of game actors (aside from Bridget Fonda who is hard for me to watch in anything—she better be glad her last name is Fonda is all I can say) such as Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Pam Greer and a low-key Robert De Niro set around an attempt to get money out of Mexico with some doublecrosses along the way.

The vibe of the story reeks of its source material (Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard) and then taken through the Tarantino cultural blender circa mid-1990s. In 1997 I thought the story was too slow in the first half with Tarantino taking too long to get to the actual criminal hi-jinks. What was I thinking? Now I think that is the strongest aspect of the film with the last third almost being anti-climactic as I was hoping to see the relationships between the characters further developed.

In fact, it's Tarantino’s patience directing this film that is the most surprising thing for me as I watched the movie 8 years later. He lingers over scenes and shots in ways I really loved. Combine that with his usual attention to atmosphere and detail and you get a great mix of filmmaking that makes me guilty I ever put this movie down at all.

Tarantino is kind of a polarizing figure in film. He annoys me to no end when I watch interviews or listen to him or see how he apes elements of other films. Yet, I admire his film geek passion/obsession for cinema and think he genuinely loves movies in such a level other directors pale.

His movies can elicit the same kinds of reactions. I didn’t like Kill Bill I/II at all as I felt they were lacking all the great elements of Tarantino’s films—the dialogue? What dialogue? It was too self-conscious for its own good. Kill Bill was Tarantino in love with his own swagger and showing off for his over adoring fans. On the surface it was quite pretty and alluring, but look below, the films were heartless, soulless, characterless exercises in Tarantino trying to be hipper than anyone else and showing he can reference other genres of films more than anyone else. Kill Bill I/II were failures and that feeling was immediate for me upon watching them. Jackie Brown created a more vague response from me after I watched it and who knows, in eight years maybe I’ll sing the praises of Kill Bill—but I doubt it.

I now think Jackie Brown is a better film than anything Tarantino’s done other than PF—that will never be topped—and shows how far Tarantino fell from this to Kill Bill. Maybe his next film will return to characters talking in wonderful ways but I've heard he's doing a kung-fu film in Chinese, so that's not happening. I have high hopes for a WWII film he keeps mentioning, but I'll believe that when I see it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The romance of a Budapest subway

Kontroll (2003) is an interesting film from Hungary that I saw tonight. The entire movie is set in various subway stations and lines below the city of Budapest as it follows a group of lowly ticket checkers as they attempt to check passengers for subway tickets. This is possibly the worst job in Budapest as they are yelled at, spit on, harassed, physically attacked or ignored (compared to what might happen, being ignored is the easiest on the workers).

Written and directed by Nimrod Antal, Kontroll is a lot of things at once--it's dark, it's romantic, it's a bit sad, it's got funny bits. The one thing that runs through it from start to finish is the chaotic atmosphere of the subway, all eerie artificial lights, dirty floors and oddballs who do not want to pay for a ticket to ride.

My favorite elements of Kontroll were some of the less serious ones. Particularly the romantic story between a pretty woman dressed in a pink bear suit and one of the ticket checkers who is clearly dropped to rock bottom on this job. She's sweet (gives up her seat on the subway to the elderly), she's feisty (fights off 4 ticket takers at once) and she seems to like the brooding Bulcsu despite the fact he's always a bit bloody from his subway shenanigans.

I've always wanted to meet a woman on a train or in the subway and fall in love with them. Not a bus for love or jet airplanes for me. Trains and subways. Rail travel. When I lived in London or New York--nothing. When I traveled by Amtrak across the United States multiple times--nothing. Being underground or below ground in various places in Europe--did not happen.
I refuse to give up hope though, losing hope would weaken my claims for being a "romantic". So, naturally, I took to the romantic story of Kontroll like a fish to water.

I really liked this film. Helping my enjoyment is the fact I've spent a few months in Budapest and have spent hours upon hours in the subway. I've skirted away from the arm-band wearing checkers when I haven't paid my fare. I've pulled the ol' "oops, I should be going the other way" strategy to avoid being caught. I even tried the "I don't speak Magyar" that is shown in the movie to get out of a ticket. These people are not popular but I didn't realize the level of public disdain until watching Kontroll.

Kontroll is a dark, romantic film with a pulsing score and energy that should be the start of an interesting young director's career and gives me hope I'll meet some woman dressed in a bear suit I can fall in love with.

The Fantastic Four is fluff

>>>I am writing reviews in a paper nearby, here is my review for The Fantastic Four.<<<

Hollywood’s latest foray into the world of comic book adaptations, The Fantastic Four, raked in around 149 million bucks over the weekend. Its strategy was clear: go for the light hearted vein of summer cinema rather than the more introspective big budget releases such as Batman Begins, Star Wars or War of the Worlds.

The Fantastic Four ends up being a harmless fluff-a-thon action blockbuster that should appeal to the masses (hence the huge opening box office) while not reaching the status of the much superior comic related films such as Spiderman I and II, X-Men or Batman Begins. The masses sure are stupid sometimes.

The film wastes no time with character development as within minutes we’ve met the villain (Victor Von Doom) and are in space. While in space, a group of scientists, are struck by an unexpected radiation storm. After they return to earth, the scientists realize they have odd new skills such as invisibility, turning to flame, elastic ability and super strength. The fantastic four are soon saving lives and fighting crime!

Unlike the comic book films I mentioned earlier, there is no attempt at developing a character arc in how the scientists are altered on earth except for Ben Grimm (aka "The Thing"—I was glad to see actor Michael Chiklis in a large body suit rather than going the CGI route). We get to see how turning into “The Thing” costs Grimm his wife and what he perceives as kind of a public sideshow. It’s the only moment in the film where there is any heart in the story.

You certainly won’t find any surprise or spark in the predictable love relationship between “Mr. Fantastic” and the “Invisible Girl”. The movie tries to engage the viewer in their story as they were once in love, but it’s so obvious the course the story is taking that these forays are just distracting to what’s happening overall in the movie. The two leads--Jessica Alba (who can't act a lick but fills out the F4 suit rather nicely) and Ioan Gruffudd (who can't act either based on his performance in F4)--recite hokey dialogue all the way through the film that is a waste of time.

The big showdown with Von Doom (which should have been good considering his name resembles a nasty pro-wrestler) was completely lacking in suspense and was one of the most underwhelming face-offs between good v. bad I’ve seen in a long time. When it was over I was thinking to myself, “Is that it?”

The Fantastic Four attempts to create such a lighthearted, feel good, funny action film that it forgets to ratchet up any kind of tension whatsoever. Rather than delivering humorous quips maybe we could have seen that The Fantastic Four were in actual danger when the showdown hits. Never did it seem that Von Doom was capable of doing anything to them or the city.

If you like your summer action blockbusters full of lighthearted fun and fluff, then The Fantastic Four is for you. However, if you want to see more character development, tension and action scenes that deliver thrills and apprehension, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The beauty of wheat on screen

In my first post ever on CineRobot I mentioned the film Days of Heaven (1978) regarding my newfound appreciation of the b-film actress Brooke Adams. When I watched that film for the first time one of the first things that jumps out to me is just how beautiful director Terrence Malick made wheat look on screen. I have never seen wheat look so captivating before as the way Malick made it look. Honestly, the parts of it shimmying in the wind, all green against the flat terrain of the film is some of the most breathtaking moments in cinema history for me. Why do I find the wheat so beautiful to look at?

Maybe it's me tapping into some kind of primal, early film appreciation as the wheat in Days of Heaven reminds me a little of something that early film pioneers the Lumiere Brothers might have filmed and released. The early "hits" in penny or nickel houses were not stories but real life events: trains moving, trees swaying in the breeze, panning shots of a cityscapes or rural horizons.

When Malick lets his camera stay on the wheat for long periods of time I am reminded of these short films in the early days of cinema. I could watch the wheat move for hours. A few years ago I was lucky to see a restored 35 mm print of Days of Heaven (after having to watch it on tv the previous times I'd seen it) and I was blown away by its meditation on nature and love (and how Malick lingers over wheat like he's lusting after it!).

I thought I'd never see Malick's wheat topped but a few months ago I saw a great little film from Italy called I'm Not Scared (2003). I'm Not Scared is worth seeing as an interesting coming of age thriller and character study as a young boy discovers something about the people close to him that changes him forever.

But, the first thing that stood out to me regarding I'm Not Scared is the unbelievably gorgeous use of wheat by director Gabriele Salvatores. It's the closest I've seen to matching the wheat in Days of Heaven. Salvatores uses the wheat just as Malick does (it's clear he's seen Days of Heaven) as a way to create isolation and lushness in the film's setting at the same time. Wheat can present this duality of meaning when it's filmed in such a concentrated way and connected to the film's story.

In these two films, the wheat is a character in the story and you can't help but notice it, admire it, and if you are like me, wish that you were standing in the field itself. Check out these two films to see wheat filmed the way it dreams of being filmed.