Friday, October 29, 2004

Skippy of the Day: Jonathan Goode

I, myself, was never very enthusiastic about science fair projects, but at least I never did anything as stupid and insulting as this:

Jonathan Goode (grade 7) applied findings from many fields of science to support his conclusion that God designed women for homemaking: physics shows that women have a lower center of gravity than men, making them more suited to carrying groceries and laundry baskets; biology shows that women were designed to carry un-born babies in their wombs and to feed born babies milk, making them the natural choice for child rearing; social sciences show that the wages for women workers are lower than for normal workers, meaning that they are unable to work as well and thus earn equal pay; and exegetics shows that God created Eve as a companion for Adam, not as a co-worker.
On normal Skippy posts, I go into a long analysis of the quote. I'm not doing that here because (a) this is not really a quote, (b) the weekend is nearing and I am tired and (c) really, what else can I add to this?

It's a weird note to end a week on, but then again it was a weird week. See you all for the big show on Tuesday. Have a great weekend.

(Postscript: After some online research, it would appear that the website I linked to might be a parody site. If it is, then it's an incredibly subtle parody and I have chosen a fictional seventh grader as my Skippy of the Day. But, after having checked the Acrentropy bylaws, I have discovered that the entry is not in violation and will stand as-is. At the very least, I want to keep that link intact for future reference. Bye.)

Chicken Caesar Review: Mudville Grille

The Mudville Grille is a chain here in Jacksonville which has a downtown location that me and some coworkers visited for lunch today. They serve a Caesar Salad that includes fresh romaine lettuce, creamy Caesar dressing, seasoned croutons and Parmesan cheese. You have the option to add grilled chicken, which will bring the total of the salad to $6.99.

To begin with, the salad is not tossed. The lettuce, which seemed to be more iceberg than romaine, was crisp and spread out on a platter. The dressing that was spread over was decent, about halfway between creamy and oily. The croutons were store bought and very small, so that it was difficult to eat them with a fork. Also, if they were indeed seasoned, I didn't taste it. I didn't detect any Parmesan at all, so they might have forgotten it. The chicken which was cut into chunks, was perhaps the best part. Although I think the chicken might not have been fresh, it was still tasty and tender.

A totally unremarkable salad. One my coworkers mentioned that the chicken breast sandwich they were having was one of the best they've ever tasted. I suggest you order that if you are ever at the Mudville Grille.

Deliver us from "Evil"

"I'm Alonzo Mosley and I approve of this message"

There is a moment when what little of my remaining respect for George W. Bush evaporated away. In the days after the 9/11 attacks, Americans were angry, distraught and confused. Most of all, we were physically and emotionally drained. And we were still grasping for one piece of information: Why? A good president would have kept a level head and looked into all that led up to it in order to prevent it happening again. But our president, like a guy moving in on a girl on the rebound of a relationship, took advantage of the situation. When we asked "Why", this very simplistic man gave us a very simplistic answer: Because they're evil.

And many Americans actually bought that.

Most of us were too out of it to look into particulars. We WANTED a simple answer. "Evil" was a concept that people could get their heads around. Instead of going against the grain as he is often boasting, Dubya gave Americans what they wanted. Kill them all and let God sort them out. Meanwhile, the rest of us wondered how our modern society got transported to 1690's Salem.

Guess what, folks? The terrorists were not evil. Neither are Klu Klux Klan members or Nazis. You see, even devoid of its religious connotations, the concept of Evil is an absolute. There's no going back: No redemption, no forgiveness, no nothing. There is not a shred of anything that resembles something human. The people who view others in this way (Whether they be Muslim zealots in the Mid East or Christian zealots in the Midwest) are dangerous.

Mrs. Mosley will occasionally see something in the news or a film that depicts racism at its most brutal, and she will turn to ask me with genuine bewilderment how people could act that way. The answer is that these people have been taught to regard certain classes, races or what-have-you as not human. Two teenagers, who had been raised to think that homosexuals were devices of the Devil instead of people, tied Matthew Shepherd to a fence in the middle of nowhere, beat the living crap out of him, and left him for dead. Once you have a view that concrete and clear, you are capable of all sorts of horrific acts without the slightest feelings of remorse.

Though I don't like the term, I feel that it can be used to describe acts that people commit. The Holocaust is evil. Lynchings are evil. And 19 people making a concentrated effort to kill thousands of civilians is definitely EVIL. The actions of the highjackers are unthinkable for most of us (yet not beyond the reach of a non-Muslim mind, lest we forget Oklahoma City), yet they themselves are human beings just like you and me, albeit with very different backgrounds and experiences.

In order to prevail against the terrorists, you need to do much more than just increase airport security and institute color-coded alerts. You need to look at their mindset and understand how they see the world. THAT is how you defeat them. If their claims are just and true, then you needs to hash that out. If their claims are baseless and false, then the knowledge of their motivations is still useful when you fight them. Study your Sun Tsu and Know your enemy.

This election will boil down to two kinds of voter: those that see the world in shades of gray and those that are terrified of such a world. The latter sees the former's viewpoint as weak and indecisive. The latter does not wish to bother themselves with geopolitics and what their government does behind their backs. The later would rather just trust them to do the right thing and continue to believe their government is infallible.

The later sacrifice the safety of their nation and their fellow man just so they don't have to think too much.

They're not evil, either, folks. But they are incredibly stupid.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Review: "Pitch Black" (2000)

One of the new TV shows that is getting a lot of attention this season is ABC's "Lost". In it, a passenger plane flying from Sydney to Los Angeles gets diverted 1,000 miles of course and crashes. The survivors are left to fend for themselves, but this is complicated by unseen beasties in the jungle and bitter secrets held by members of the crew. People can look at this scenario and scoff that it's been done so many times before, but the important thing is what they do with an old scenario. The makers of "Lost" have put new twists on it and, oddly enough, they're not the only people to do so recently.

One of the surprise hits back in 2000 was "Pitch Black", a smallish budget sci-fi/horror film. A passenger spaceship crashlands on a barren desert planet surrounded by three different suns. Among the survivors are the docking pilot Fry (Radha Mitchell), the dangerous prisoner Riddick (Vin Diesel) and Johns (Cole Hauser), the man escorting Riddick back to jail. They initially have the basic problems of finding water and such, but soon discover that dangerous creatures inhabit tunnels below the surface. They also learn that although the creatures hate light, there will soon be a total eclipse and that the survivors will need to get off the planet before the long nightfall arrives.

The beginning of the film is very conventional, complete with narration by Riddick to introduce the setting and a few of the characters. However, there are a few touches that set it apart once the ship lands on the planet. The overlit, washed out visual technique for the sundrenched planet's surface goes to heighten the contrast when does go dark (I can only imagine how wonderfully effective this was in a theater). Scenes move very quickly and don't seem to be stuffed with filler material. When a quick fifteen second scene can effectively put across a plot development, they don't lengthen it to one or two minutes.

Most of all, with a few exceptions, the characters in the film are a notch above the fodder in other horror films. Only the British antiques collector comes off as annoying, and even he gets an interesting death scene that adds some pathos to his character. The rest of the characters are believable, including a family of Muslims and a kid who begins to emulate Riddick. The cliche of infighting within a group that sometimes claims as many lives as do the enemy is smartly addressed by the film. At one point, Riddick tells Fry, "I do know that once the dyin' starts, this little psycho family of ours is gonna rip itself apart". Riddick's pessimism about human nature doesn't play out here as it has in other films (as with the previously reviewed "Chato's Land")and it's not as easy to guess who the remaining survivors will be as with other horror films.

One last point to discuss is Riddick himself, played by Vin Diesel. For better or worse, this is the role that brought him his greatest attention, from which "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX" would follow. He does a fine job here as the criminal who can see in the dark, but I fail to see why people got so excited about him. There's a desire to see a new musclebound action star who could fill Stalone's or Schwarzenegger's ammo belts. Vin Diesel and The Rock have lately become the prime candidates. Diesel's career has recently stalled, hurt no doubt by the failure of the totally unnecessary "Pitch Black" sequel. Viewers should skip the bloated, messy "Riddick" and go back to this initial work.

The basic gist of all this is that the film, despite the pedestrian plot, remains surprising throughout, and that's unusual. Moviegoers can become jaded, including your truly, so a film like this is a breath of fresh air. It's simply good stuff.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The True Vanguard

I've been pleased to see many prominent Republicans come to their senses and come out in support of Kerry (or, at the very least, against Bush). I ran across a story about Jack Bogle, founder of mutual fund giant Vanguard Group. Although it's very brief, he gives a very clear and rational argument of why he's supporting Kerry. Here's an excerpt:

But "there's a fine line between boldness and recklessness," cautions Bogle, a Republican who intends to vote for John Kerry. Boldness must be tempered by foresight and deliberation, Bogle says.

"We can't have a country run by philosophers," says Bogle, who chairs the board of the National Constitution Center. "But a good leader is thoughtful. He seeks the counsel of others and is capable of introspection. Before making a decision, he walks around it and tries to see it from all sides."

A sense of fallibility helps a leader, Bogle says. It inhibits arrogance, tames boldness so it doesn't lapse into recklessness.

"If you can't admit you're wrong, you have a problem," Bogle says, "because we're all wrong so often. Why is admitting it so awful?"

If only all conservatives were so rational.

Review: "Ticket to Heaven" (1981)

Other than a passion for film in general, one of the big reasons I write movie reviews for this blog is my desire to discuss smaller films most people have never heard of. I thank Greywizard over at The Unknown Movies website for inspiring me in this direction. While I enjoy adding my two cents to the reams of text written about "Spiderman 2", I am much more satisfied telling people about a nearly forgotten 70's thriller like "Juggernaut". Ideally, I'll be doing this blog for a long time, and I hope that my reviews of some of the more obscure titles will be found and valued by those searching the internet for scraps of information.

"Ticket to Heaven" is a film whose story focuses on a cult not unlike the disciples of Reverend Sun Myung Moon (aka the Moonies). David (Nick Mancuso) is a young man who has recently broken up with his girlfriend and is in need of some direction in his life. He goes on a trip to San Francisco to see his old friend Karl only to find him living in some sort of odd religious commune. David thinks they're basically harmless and goes to join them out in the countryside. Over a period of days, however, he is brainwashed and is soon cutting ties with his family and friends. In retaliation, his best friend leads a group who know and love him to steal him away from the cult and de-program him.

This is a film that takes its time and is all the better for it. In order to connect with this film, we need to (a) get to know and like David and (b) know in detail how he was brainwashed. We're with David every step of the way as he's deprived of sleep and led through endless and varied group activities. Little soundtrack music is used during these early segments and the camera creates the claustrophobic feelings that David must have felt being hemmed in on all sides by cult members. We feel as if we survived the process that David did not, and we are eager to bring him back as his friends go into action.

Nick Mancuso deserves credit for making the character, and thus the movie, work. His David is a tall and handsome young man, who, like many people his age, are without direction. It is a startling moment when we first see the converted David: His long hair is cut extremely short and his eyes are wide and smiling as if on a drug high. We also feel pain for him as he's put through the process of rejecting the cult and is administered the necessary tough love. Also memorable is R.H. Thomson, who plays expert deprogrammer Linc Strunc (love that name). When he arrives to treat David, he is in total command of the situation. He conveys the wisdom of someone who has been through this process so many times and knows the many bitter truths of those who have been turned.

You're not likely to recognize many faces in this film since it was a small Canadian production. The most obvious face is a very young Kim Cattrall, just one year before she made her memorable appearance in the first "Porky's" film, as one of the more enthusiastic cult members. Two other recognizable faces are character actors Saul Rubinek ("Unforgiven"), who plays David's best friend Larry, and Meg Foster ("They Live"), who plays leader of the commune Ingrid.

There are some minuses to this film. The group that seeks to deprogram David ranges from well established characters (like his best friend, his ex-girlfriend and his parents) to people that simply appear out of nowhere and are given no introduction, no lines and no personality. On the other hand, It's disappointing that David's friend Karl, who is the chief reason David was brainwashed, disappears entirely halfway through the film. There will also be people who scoff at the silliness of the rituals that the cult members perform. However, if you take into account the culture of the time and how some of our current self help language might read in twenty years, you're likely to be more forgiving.

The topic of cults and brainwashing is not a popular one in Hollywood. The last major film to deal with these subjects was Jane Campion's "Holy Smoke" in 1999. Admittedly, the audience for such a film is a limited one, and I would recommend this film only to people who are interested in the subject matter. The bright side is that those that are interested will find this film a compelling and satisfying character study.

Seven out of Ten

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Election 2004: Prologue

It's an interesting time to be a Floridian.

Four years ago, I was still renting a house with two friends of mine and about to embark for another city to begin graduate school. As it happened, that city was Tallahassee and I arrived on the 2nd of January, 2001; mere weeks after the droves of reporters had left.

Flash to today, where another Presidential election is in the mix. Most everybody here can feel the eyes of the nation burning on the backs of our necks. This year we have pre-election voting, which quite frankly still blows me away. Nevertheless, I decided to take advantage of it this morning and get my vote cast (The fact that the library I work at is a block away from the Supervisor of Elections office is also a nice incentive).

The actual and final Election day is exactly one week from now, and I'll be glad when it's over. No matter how passionate you are about your candidate, the negativity from both sides begins to wear on you after awhile. I'll be pleased as punch to anticipate movie release dates again with the nervousness and impatience which is currently spent on November 2nd.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Chicken Caesar Review: O'Charley's

O'Charley's is yet another festive bar and grill restaurant like T.G.I.Fridays, but one I had never gone to until recently. O'Charley's Classic Caesar Salad is made up of crisp romaine lettuce, grated Parmesan cheese and crunchy croutons tossed with their Caesar dressing. The basic salad is $4.99, but added chicken brings it up to $8.49 total.

The addition of the chicken means an extra $3.50, which seems steep, but I will say that the chicken is easily the best part of the salad (I would have felt more gyped if I had paid 5 bucks for the salad alone). The chicken is tender, juicy and marinated for a full flavor. It was in strips on top of the salad and didn't seem to be a full chicken breast, which is another gripe against the price. The lettuce is nicely chopped and tossed with an oil based dressing that didn't have a lot of flavor. It was almost too watery, and you taste the lettuce far more than the dressing. The cheese is also not very strong and was just kind of there. Finally, the croutons were seemingly store bought and a bit tough, even though they seemed to be soaked in dressing beforehand.

This is a high price for a Chicken Caesar of such middling quality. If you're ever at O'Charley's, then do yourself a favor and get a club sandwich or something.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Goin' down south

Even though it hasn't appeared on the local news sites, George W. Bush is coming to speak at Alltel Stadium at 4pm. The event is free to attend, but there will be substantial security searches and people have to be in their seat by 2:30 and wait there for 90 minutes.

With all respect to the Bush campaign, this city can't manage to get enough people to fill our stadium for Jacksonville Jaguar home games. What makes you think that locals will put up with sitting in uncomfortable plastic seats for 90 friggin minutes in order to listen to some political yahoo from New Haven, Connecticut?

Oh, sorry, excuse me. I meant to say Crawford, Texas, because it's impossible for such a down home country boy to have been born and raised in liberal-infested New England!

OK, I've reached my limits for italics for today. I'm through.

(Addendum: Like pre-pubescent girls excited to see Nsync, people apparently lined up at 8am for this, so I stand corrected. I could say something about how this proves there's nothing to do on a Saturday in Jacksonville, but I'll instead chalk it up to the Republican fervor that dominates this town and call it a day. See you on Monday, folks.)

Chicken Caesar Review: Perkins Restaurant & Bakery

Perkins caters to both the breakfast and lunch crowds in order to give a number of different restaurants a run for their money. They offer their Chicken Caesar, which costs $7.59, in a distinctive fresh-baked bread bowl. This bowl is filled with grilled lemon-peppered chicken breast, romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, croutons and Caesar dressing.

The most outstanding part of the salad is the lettuce, which is incredibly crunchy and flavorful. It is tossed with an oil-based Caesar that is quite light. The whole salad is light and fresh, in fact, which has the benefit of not sitting heavy in your stomach like some of the creamier ranch Caesar salads. The tomatoes are unusual but nicely chopped and compliment the acidic nature of the dressing. The chicken was cut in long strips and are seasoned reasonably well. Also tossed with the salad is long shreds of Parmesan which are just strong enough in terms of flavor. To compliment this light salad is the heavy bread, which as I said is freshly baked. If nothing else, the bread can be seen as an emergency resource if the salad fails to fill you up sufficiently. One final note is that the cook apparently forgot the croutons to the salad, but I had more than halfway finished before I noticed, so I didn't ask for any.

This is a very distinctive Caesar and, as I said, quite a light one. If you're dieting or just don't feel like getting bloated on food, this salad may be right up your alley.

And here's Stephen Hawking with his Latest Country Hit!

Recently, I've been sorting through my old collection of recorded audio cassettes, about half of which are unlabeled. I've found some old recordings of SNL's "Weekend Update" (whatever happened to A Whitney Brown, anyway? Oh, there he is!) and some songs that I'd forgotten that still hold up pretty well (for that matter, whatever happened to Digital Underground?). Then I came across the strangest tape of all.

(Cue Flashback)

Back in 1992 when I was at the University of North Florida, I was fiddling with the radio in the dorm lounge with my friends David and Clay. We suddenly came across this on one of the frequencies:


And so on. It was an electronic voice reciting these numbers. The only interruption to this was every fifteen minutes or so when the station played brief recordings of people calling in and asking what the heck was going on. No answers were forthcoming.

The three of us never listened to the radio much, so we couldn't remember what station it was. We soon discovered from someone else that it was a country station (probably another reason we didn't remember it). Putting that fact aside, this gave us a new topic to discuss for the next several days. Although it was a ridiculous, we even discussed the possibility that it was some sort of countdown to an attack from Cuba (Hey, we were bored and didn't have the internet to play with, whadaya want from us?!).

We eventually did some figuring and estimated that it would hit zero sometime during one of my early morning classes. So, I set up my tape player to record the block of time it would most likely end at. When I got back from class, I played it and heard the following after it reached zero: A brief bit of "Hallelujah", then John Wayne saying the pledge of allegiance (?!), then the sound of a radio being scanned with various formats tuned in and out of until it settles into a distinctly modern country song, then an announcer proclaiming the arrival of the new and improved KROO Rooster Country!

Man, what a gyp!

Much to Mrs. Mosley's chagrin, I really can't stand modern country. Older country is a different matter as I love Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but the newer stuff seems totally different. This seems to be acknowledged by the people who ran the station, as you can hear them surfing through a Tammy Wynette song as quickly as they do Led Zepplin.

Ah, well. I don't listen to radio much these days anyway what with audiobooks and CD's and, as of the current moment, song curiosities on old tapes. You'll excuse me now, I think I want to listen to that Art of Noise collaboration with Tom Jones again.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Review: "Reign of Fire" (2002)

When discussing actors who make physical changes in order to play a movie role, most people point to the 60 pounds put on by Robert De Niro for "Raging Bull". On the other side of this coin is what audiences will see when "The Machinist" premiers later this month. Christian Bale, in order to play insomniac Trevor Reznik, looks positively emaciated after having lost 60 pounds for the role. That's commitment to your craft, and I expect nothing less from Bale as he's one of my favorite actors. But I have to wonder if he might have been inspired by a past costar when making such a complete physical change.

Which brings me to "Reign of Fire". The year is 2020, and it's the end of the world. Bale plays Quinn, the leader of a community of refugees holed up inside a derelict castle in northern England. The world didn't end by nuclear annihilation or biological plague, but rather the re-emergence of dragons. Once the first one was unleashed beneath London, they multiplied like mad and scorched the earth. Quinn's people are struggling and starting to lose hope when a line of tanks rumble towards their gates. Led by Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), they are an American group of Nation Guard troops who have traveled across the ocean to find the spot where it all started, for they have a plan to end the reign of dragons for good.

When I reviewed "The Saint" yesterday, I mentioned that Val Kilmer's disguises were used more for comic effect and were not all that convincing. I probably shouldn't be so hard on him for this, as it is probably because audiences know the actor's face so well. However, I'm willing to bet that many people who first saw McConaughey in the trailer for "Reign of Fire" could not peg him as the same man who played Jake Brigance in "A Time to Kill". McConaughey is shaved bald with a scruffy goatee and chomping on a cigar butt. He wears a sleeveless bomber jacket, which shows off the numerous tattoos on his incredibly muscular arms. He's about as far from the Mississippi lawyer as you can get (well, except for the cigar).

His performance matches his looks as he bravely leads his men, and he isn't afraid to charge straight into the danger when he's needed. He strikes a sharp contrast with Quinn, who is quieter in his leadership than Van Zan. Both actors approach their roles as two men who want the same thing but have radically different approaches to accomplish it. They are also shown to be brave leaders who care deeply about the people under their charge. As a result, Van Zan doesn't come off as a megalomaniac and Quinn is not portrayed as a weak.

The real villains, of course, are the dragons themselves, and they look very good here. One of the most exciting sequences is when Van Zan's team demonstrates their method for killing dragons. It involves a helicopter and a trio of skydivers armed with nets. I have some quibbles with the practicality of these methods (the dragon in this scene is eventually dispatched with by more conventional means), but it gives the movie a chance to showcase the dragons in flight high among the clouds. It's a great action scene and is also emblematic of the unique visual sense of the film.

The film ends up bringing to mind a number of different genres through the set design and plot. The dragons are obviously a fantasy element, and this is reinforced by the refugees choosing a medieval castle as their home for defense. With the grey landscape and the plethora of ash covering both buildings and people, you at times feel like you're watching a coal mining drama. The coal mine resemblance is also brought to mind by the group's use of a stationary hawk (just as miners used canaries to detect gas leaks) as a warning signal that a dragon is approaching. Also, the images of British women and children going deep underground during attacks have shades of London during the Blitz to them. WWII also comes easily to mind as we watch the British and Americans band together to fight a common enemy.

The finale didn't have the punch I was hoping for in terms of excitement, but this was made up for by all that came before. This is a very solid end-of-the-world fantasy film, and very distinctive from the many other entries in the genre. And, acting wise, it features a pair of men who are willing to go all the way for the success of a project, much like the characters they portray.

Eight out of Ten

Because I don't work in a bar

A man walks into the library.

Man: "Excuse me. Could you point me in the direction of the Immaculate Conception Church on Maria Avenue? I've seen it once or twice, but I can't remember how to get there."

Librarian: "Well sir, there is an Immaculate Conception Church about three blocks north of the library, but there's no street named Maria anywhere around here."

Man: "That can't be right. I distinctly remember a sign out in front of the church with the street name along the top."

Librarian: "What exactly did it say sir?"

Man: "Well, they actually had it backwards for some reason, so that it read 'Ave Maria'."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Review: "The Saint" (1997)

In 1926, Leslie Charteris wrote a novel about a world class thief named Simon Templar (aka "The Saint"). This first book evolved into a successful series that eventually was turned into a number of films in the 30's and 40's. Both the novels and movie adaptations of the Simon Templar character predate James Bond by decades. It's probable that there was some inspiration for James Bond in the success of his predecessor, but there are plenty of distinct differences between the two. In the latest film version of the character, which fills in a background story that Charteris never wrote about, the differences are made even starker.

"The Saint" begins with Templar as an orphan, who is given his name by the Catholic priests who raise him. He funnels his confused identity and nimble fingers into a career as a thief-for-hire who is also s master of disguise. He's hired by a corrupt Russian oil tycoon (Rade Serbedzija) to steal a formula for cold fusion from an American scientist (Elisabeth Shue). When he uses her vulnerability and loneliness in order to enter her life, he finds himself being analyzed, in turn. This development unnerves him, and he ends up falling in love with her. As you can imagine, complications ensue.

Oddly enough, when "The Saint" became a popular television series in the 1960's, the role was played by a pre-Bond Roger Moore. In the 80's, when Moore attempted to resurrect the character for a feature film that he would produce, his top choice for Templar was Pierce Brosnan. Echoes of Bond remain in this latest version. Aside from all the gadgets that Templar produces for every situation, there is a dramatic tune heard repeatedly throughout the film that is just a few notes off from being the "You Only Live Twice" theme. And, of course, the trailer and marketing campaign tried to sell the film as a Bond by any other name.

Yet Bond was, and continues to be, an incredibly suave yet superficial character with lots of flash and little substance. Templar, on the other hand, is a slick yet troubled and flawed figure. There is far more character development in "The Saint" than any Bond film. The drawback to this is less action. I don't consider this a flaw in and of itself, but what action there was didn't seem all that exciting. Only the opening segment, in which he infiltrates a building, steals a microchip and stages a daring getaway by jumping off the roof, really worked for me.

In terms of believability, Elisabeth Shue just pulls off the shy-but-pretty brilliant scientist, (For the pinnacle of ludicrous female scientists, check out Denise Richards as a Nuclear Physicist in "The World is Not Enough"). Then there is Kilmer as the Master of Disguise himself. His different makeup jobs are used for comic effect more than anything else, so the talent itself is not spotlighted. Rather, it is a convenient metaphor for his non-identity: His masks are stripped away and he is made naked in front of Shue. At one point this is done literally as she tears off his cold and wet clothes to save him from hypothermia. Although Kilmer's damaged psyche is overplayed at times, it works well enough for the film and both actors are able to successfully convey their growing relationship.

As far as the ending, I would have been happy with a slow zoom out of the country cabin where Kilmer and Shue hook up. Instead, we get an additional ten minute scene of Kilmer donning a disguise to needlessly engage the police at the University and then get away. This extended scene no doubt was considered a lead up to sequels (and considering the plethora of source material, who can blame them), but these sequels never materialized. It is perhaps just as well, for the advantage of the Bond series is that there is a new girl for each film. For Templar, he's found just the one, and he has no problem with that.

Seven out of Ten

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Hey! I just got a flu shot!

And all it took to qualify was a splenectomy and several weeks recovery that I endured two years ago!

Still, you know, a FLU SHOT! WOW!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Review: "Shaun of the Dead" (2004)

Earlier this year, I read a book called The Zombie Survival Guide. Penned by Saturday Night Live writer Max Brooks, it is a humor book disguised as a dead serious guide on how to defend yourself from the undead. The book comes at a time when the zombie film is making a resurgence, thanks in part to the success of last year's success innovative zombie film "28 Days Later". It seems appropriate that since a British film helped, ahem, resurrect the genre, it should also be a British film to put a whole new twist on it.

"Shaun of the Dead" is about Shaun (Simon Pegg), a 29 year old with a dead end life in a dead end job. His girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) doesn't like hanging out with him in the same pub night after night. She would rather have romantic dinners with him alone than hang out with Shaun's sloth-like roommate, Ed (Nick Frost). When Shaun screws up a simple restaurant reservation, she says she's had enough and breaks up with him. Just when Shaun thinks things can't get any worse, the living dead begin walking the earth.

Unlike most zombie films, the buildup to the zombies is slow as they establish the characters and the lives they lead. The audience begins to see the growing signs of trouble, while Shaun and Ed remain characteristically oblivious. Critics and fans have often pointed out the underlying social/political messages to all three of George Romero's "Dead" films. At the very least, "Shaun" can be viewed as taking a wry look at the similarity some living people have with zombies as they go about their mind numbing routines.

Congratulations should be given to Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the film. His performance goes the extra yard as he has to deal with loved ones falling to the growing horde. These moments are far more touching and convincing than any in the "Dawn of the Dead" remake that came out last year (though I still consider the remake a very exciting action film). His interactions with Liz are also realistic and heartfelt, albeit in extreme circumstances. Instead of the usual romantic comedy machinations of two beautiful people meeting, bickering, then joining up together, we have two everyday people dealing with a relationship in a rut. It goes the extra mile to help the audience identify with these characters.

As for the details of how the characters survive the zombie onslaught, a lot of the old cliche's hold sway, but not without a wink to the audience. At one point in the film, Shaun and his group of survivors come across another group led by Shaun's friend Yvonne (Jessica Stevenson). The camera shot lines them up opposite each other to showcase how the two groups have somehow managed to assemble the same amount of people with the same personality types. Indeed, once the group gets to the pub, the resultant bickering between characters plays out as it did in the original "Night of the Living Dead" and nearly every subsequent zombie film. Some things, and characters, never change.

Sharp eyed zombie movie fans will be able to spot nods to Romero's "Dead" films as well as Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" Trilogy. Movies directed and written by film geeks can go overboard and obvious with film references, but "Shaun" proves to be very subtle in this regard. Particularly, there is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to the original "Matrix" film. Although it is quick, the audience I was with got it immediately and goes over so much better than yet another bullet-time knock off.

Despite having a soft spot for such movies, I can objectively say that this is a damn good film in its own right. Those looking for the horror of a zombie plague should rent "28 Days Later". However, for pure entertainment value, this film goes up against the best of Romero's work, and that's saying something.

Eight out of Ten

Friday, October 15, 2004

Aligning of the Planets

When I spent a year in Tallahassee attending Florida State University, the biggest perk I enjoyed was the Miracle 5. This was a theater in town devoted to foreign films and the like, something that you often find in college towns. I ended up going there quite often, and regretted leaving it behind when I returned to Jax. Aside from the Pablo 9 theater at the Beaches, the theaters in town here are strictly mainstream.

So imagine my surprise when I looked to see what was opening today and found not one, not two but five (FIVE!!!) quirky, alternative films getting screen time in town and at an AMC googoplex, no less:

Bright Young Things - This is a study of the London youth culture during the 1930's. It's directed by actor Stephen "Jeeves" Fry. It's an offbeat British film, but not in the vein of "The Full Monty", which is what usually makes it into our theaters.

Donnie Darko: Director's Cut - I didn't see the original when it was in theaters, but I'm quite aware of the cult following it has gained since then. I know enough to say that it's got some serious fantasy and dark humor elements to it.

The Final Cut - Robin Williams goes dark again in this small, sci-fi thriller about a man who edits the memories of the dead in order to present a memorial film to the friends and relatives of the deceased.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence - This is the sequel to a much respected Anime title. Although I've mentioned before how mainstream Anime is going, this is still a surprise since most Anime that makes it to theaters these days are family-friendly Disney properties ("Spirited Away") or kid fluff ("Pokemon"). If this sequel is like the original, it doesn't fall into either category.

The Last Shot - A Hollywood satire done with many recognizable faces such as Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin. I suppose the plot could rightly be compared to "Get Shorty", but from what I've heard it's still not your average, predictable comedy.
This is simply unheard of around here, and I am quite delighted. Jacksonville is trying to go back to it's film roots and create a community of fans. I attended the Jacksonville Film Festival for the first time last summer and caught "Napoleon Dynamite" at the marvelous Florida Theater downtown. The movie was a laugh riot and I swore to myself to see more than just one film the next time the festival is held. To be sure, l be posting reviews when it does.

The irony of all this is that I'm probably going to see a small film at an entirely other theater tonight: "Shaun of the Dead" at the Cinemark. The reason being that it's the film I'm most interested in seeing (and most willing to lay down $8.00 for). If I have a chance, then I'll try and see one of the five above later on in the week. At the very least, I want to boost their box office to compete with "Shall We Dance", which is based on a beautiful Japanese film they had no damn business remaking, especially with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez.

Expect a review of "Shaun" sometime next week. Until then, have a fun weekend, folks.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Wink and a Smile

I admit it. The debates made me nervous, and I'm glad they're over. Yes, it was obvious while watching the first one that Kerry was doing well, but that didn't mean he couldn't screw up at any moment by hesitating at an uncertain question or loosing his cool. Of course, my worrying was for naught as he won that debate and arguably won the other two as well.

Watching footage the morning after, however, brings up a phenomenon I have yet to wrap my head around: Dubya's purported charm. I've seen it written about countless times and, frankly, I can't see it. I can objectively recognize and respect the charm possessed by Presidents such as Reagan and Clinton, regardless of political party. But Dubya's style of speaking has always, always been off-putting.

In the debates, his efforts to look relaxed and casual were so forced to the point of being grotesque. His face gets quite a workout as he sneers and grins and winks and looks for all the world like he's having some sort of attack. Do the party faithful truly look at this and see something that could be called normal? Do they see him smirk through every charge Kerry levels at him and see him as Presidential? There was so much hoopla about Gore's sighing during the 2000 debates, yet this could be considered subtle compared to Dubya's performance this year and yet his supporters continue to say he looks just dandy.

For me, the most satisfying moment of these debates came last night. When Kerry spoke of Bush's dismissal of Bin Laden as unimportant back in March of 2002, Bush responded that he never said that. Kerry was absolutely correct, of course, and this moment is being played up by Democrats as a major mistake by Bush in the debate. My attention, however, is on what he said after his denial. He said "It's kind of one of those exaggerations".

The printed word does not do the quote justice. He says this last word, well, in an exaggerated way. It's clearly meant to be a big joke as he smiles and puts so much emphasis on it. But this was a presidential debate, not one of his crowd-controlled stump speeches. There was no response to his quip. Rather, it produced a silence you could almost hear crickets in.

It's an ugly sight to see a joke fall so flat, and it was emblematic of his debate performances in general. There will be those that continue to see him through rose-colored glasses, but there will be others who start to see the real him and shamefully turn their head in revulsion. Glory be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Review: "A Bridge Too Far" (1977)

Let me throw some names at you: James Cann, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O'Neil and Robert Redford. Movies with a cast this huge and prominent simply do not get made anymore. Salaries are too high to hire so many name actors for an ensemble piece. Soderbergh's "Ocean's 11" was an exception since its cast was willing to take pay cuts, but those circumstances are few and far between. Perhaps this is for the best, as there can be such a thing as a film so laden with stars that it becomes too awkward and ungainly to work.

"A Bridge Too Far" is based on an actual campaign waged by Allied forces in 1944. With German troops on the retreat after the success of D-Day, there was a great desire by commanders to finish them off, and consequently the war, very quickly. Operation Market-Garden involved a massive airdrop of troops and supplies in order to seize and hold five bridges until the second wave of tanks and ground troops could arrive to secure them. Innumerable problems hindered their efforts and when all was said and done, the allies suffered about 17,000 casualties, which was twice the number of D-Day.

The title comes from a quote by Lt. General Browning after the operation had failed, and so does it also apply to the film. The operation failed for a number of reasons, one of the main being that they spread their forces too thin and tried to capture one bridge too many. With the film, we are constantly going back and forth between at least six different groups at one time and, save for the recognizable actors, it soon becomes confusing. Even people who have studied WWII can easily become lost in the midst of this film. Although the movie clocks in at just under three hours, the overload of scenes and subplots make it feel twice as long.

Yet there are moments here that are unforgettable, such as the image of one soldier scouting a bridge ahead of his comrades while holding a cane umbrella. Then there is the horror of paratroopers jumping over a field infested with Nazis and being shot in midair, unable to do anything to protect themselves. The most memorable moment for me is the scene of a group of soldiers held up inside a mansion adjacent to a long, wide lawn. On either side of the lawn are thick woods where the Nazis lay in wait to pick off anyone who ventures out. When a much needed air drop deposits their plain metal supply canisters in the middle of the lawn, someone has to make the call to go out and get them. The results are tragic.

There are too many great actors here (In fact, this is the rare DVD cover that features no faces of the stars, but instead a battle scene), so I'll only pick out a few for mention. Gene Hackman has a memorable, albeit brief, appearance as the commander of the Polish contingent. Anthony Hopkins is perfectly believable as a the "gentleman" soldier who is out of his depth with this next mission. And Elliot Gould, who has become familiar to current audiences in the aforementioned "Ocean's 11" remake, takes a gruff but comic role as a cigar chomping Marine for whom absolutely nothing is going right in this war.

As with a lot of films I review, I'm being a little kinder than I should be with this film's rating. It's best to watch it in small chunks over a period of days instead of one sitting. The film is of greatest value to WWII buffs who relish any chance to root for the heroes in exciting battle scenes. For them, sit back and enjoy, but don't expect anything too coherent.

Six out of Ten

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Our house may be too small for a dozen drummers.

Aside from the cool weather finally arriving here in Jax, October is one of my favorite months because of my birthday. This year I turn 31, and to make it special, Mrs. Mosley is doing a "12 days of Christmas" type arrangement where I get twelve days of gifts. Although she doesn't consider this terribly inventive, I've been enjoying it very much.

The final tally of gifts included:

Four DVD's ("Road to Perdition", "Galaxy Quest", "A Few Good Men" and "Blazing Saddles")
Three CD's (The "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" soundtrack, a "Best of Johnny Cash" CD and a collection of different renditions of "Danny Boy")
Three Gift Certificates/Cards (Panera, Blockbuster, Firehouse Subs)
One Book (Coraline by Neil Gaiman)
One Bag of Gourmet Hazelnut Coffee
It's a fine list of gifts, but I suppose, as practical as my listing is, I should put it in the proper format:

On the twelfth of my birthday, my true love gave to me,
Twelve Saddles Blazing,
Eleven Cashes Singing,
Ten Pipes A-Calling,
Nine Bagels Toasting,
Eight Judes A-Limping,
Seven Brits A-Slanging,
Six Stars A-Questing,
Five Co-ra-lines,
Four Steaming Subs,
Three Good Men,
Two Rental Films,
And a Bag Full of Co-o-of-fee.

Yes, we're that sickeningly cute. Just thank your lucky stars you have the internet to filter us through, otherwise I'd have to post a warning up top for any diabetics tuning in.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Review: "Deathtrap" (1982)

This past weekend, actor Christopher Reeve died at the age of 52. His passing has been very emotional for a lot of people who viewed him as the very definition of the word hero. To their endless praise, I would like to add this: In terms of activism, he succeeded in bringing the debate over stem cell research to a broader populace. In terms of the Man of Steel, he succeeded in filling the tights better than anyone before or since. In terms of an actor in general, however, the man is mostly forgotten. Because of this, I am offering my own small tribute to the talent of a man who could play other roles beside that of hero.

"Deathtrap" concerns Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine), a once successful playwright that is currently in a slump. On top of all his other troubles, he's insanely jealous of a brilliant play he's just read that was written Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), a young student he once taught in a writing class. Bruhl tells his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon) that he could invite Anderson over, kill him, bury him in the garden and then take the play as his own. He then proceeds to plan out all the little details. Myra thinks he's just kidding, but she's about to find out how serious he really is when Anderson arrives one night.

The film "Sleuth", which I've previously reviewed here, is remarkably similar to "Deathtrap": Aside from both featuring Michael Caine, both are based on stage plays taking place in the home of an older writer of mystery/thrillers who goes toe-to-toe with a younger rival. Also, both films have surprising turning points halfway through. "Deathtrap" actually steals it's surprise from the finale of a classic thriller made in the 1950's (and, no, I'm not telling you which one). Suffice to say that, as with "Sleuth", I'm cutting my review short at the risk of revealing too much.

In terms of acting, Caine is captivating as always. It's also interesting to see the tables turned as he plays the older man role after his younger turn in "Sleuth". Cannon is, well, Cannon. I've never considered her anything special, and I sure as hell can't see what Cary Grant saw in her. And then there is Reeve, who used this film as a departure from the role that made him famous just four years beforehand. He got to show a bit of his darker side here, and it's great fun to watch him tear into it. In terms of what their known for, some actors are able to rise above such iconic roles (Consider Sean Connery and James Bond), but Reeve was never able to. I only hope that he knew some of us appreciated and enjoyed his work in other films.

In short, see "Deathtrap" for the mystery, the thrills and, most of all, for Reeve. It would be a fitting tribute.

(A DVD sidenote: In the early days of the new format, studios rushed older films into the market to see how they would sell. These discs mostly contained average transfers, bare bones supplements and, worst of all, were full screen. Even though DVD has broken through in a big way and more people are requesting widescreen, many of these select titles have not been re-released and nor do the studios have plans to do so. Truly great films like "Deathtrap", "The Paper" and "Fearless" all fall into this category. For the sake of these great films, Let's all hope this is corrected soon.)

Nine out of Ten

Abusing Utilities, Butchering Pumpkins, and Playing with Fire

A little bit about the Sunday Mrs. Mosley and I spent together.

After lunch with my folks, we went over to The Cummer Art Gallery to check out an exhibit on the history of film in Jacksonville. Way back during the Silent Era of film, Jacksonville was a hot spot for filmmaking and we were close to becoming a Hollywood before there even was a Hollywood. Alas, a number of factors eventually drove filmmakers to California. Also, it appears that the locals didn't care for the filmmakers too much. The most amusing anecdote was how directors would make phony emergency calls to police and firemen whenever the film they were shooting needed those kinds of extras. Ah, well. At least with Camp Blanding nearby, we can still attract the likes of Colin Farrell and Ridley Scott.

We then decided to start the Halloween traditions early and buy a pumpkin. We got one from a local church sale, brought it home and started carving. It had been quite a while for both of us since we had last carved a pumpkin. It was a messy yet satisfying experience, and had me quoting Linus throughout: "Ohh. You didn't tell me you were gonna kill it!".

Finally, we indulged in a first for me: Fondue. Mrs. Mosley, a big fan of this particular dining experience, had been coaxing me to go for awhile. My verdict? The cheese course at the beginning and chocolate course at the end were excellent. The middle course was simply good, not mind blowing. Of course, we opted for the healthier bullion instead of the traditional mixture, so maybe that makes a difference. Still it was a memorable night, not least of which for the very drunk couple that sat and cackled in the booth behind us.

Stay tuned for more posts, including a memorial review of Christopher Reeve's greatest role that wasn't Superman.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

From Deep Inside the Toy Box

And now, since it's a very slow day and I'm bored out of my wits, I present some toys of my childhood:

Crossbows and Catapults, Tabletop Popeye, Milton Bradley's Mystery Mansion, The Radio Shack Armatron and The Death Star Playset.

And a few from college:

The Illuminati Card Game and The Talisman Adventure Game


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Review: "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" (1990)

I respect Roger Ebert and his reviews. His pure love of cinema is something that really shows in his writing. Also, he can easily straddle the line between popular commentary and deeper analysis when it comes to viewing the latest feature. Yet, as with any reviewer, there are times when I disagree with him. Then there are times when I really disagree with him as on an occasion when I looked through his archived "zero star" reviews and came upon the following title.

The film "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" is based on a play of the same name by Tom Stoppard, who also co-wrote "Shakespeare in Love". This story also involves Shakespeare, namely the two characters of the title (played by Tim Roth and Gary Oldman) who happen to play a minor role in Shakespeare's play "Hamlet". Like two characters being written on the page for the first time, we see them emerge out of nothing with no memory of their past and only a vague inkling of their purpose. They're not even sure which one of them is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern. They are quickly met by a band of traveling actors who is lead by a man known simply as the Player (Richard Dreyfuss). Unlike our two main characters, the Player knows exactly who they all are and what is going on. He expedites our two characters into the play and acts as a mysterious guide to them as they try to find their way.

The play is a very existential work that plays with the character's reality. They soon realize something is amiss when they flip a coin 157 times and it comes down heads every time. When they arrive at the castle, they are drawn into scenes with the other characters. When they are not needed in a scene, they watch the action from afar and comment to each other about it. Then there are occasions when they leave the action entirely in order to spend some time analyzing their situation. With all respect to Samuel Beckett, It could have been called "Waiting for Hamlet".

The script is very clever and funny. It's full of the kind of verbal wordplay that resembles fencing by two skilled masters, and it often comes fast and furious. There is a scene where they come upon a tennis court and one asks the other if they want to play "Questions". As we soon discover, this is a game where two people conduct an entire conversation by only asking different questions (Whether it was inspired by this or not, the same game was adopted by the British and then American game show "Who's Line is it Anyway?"). Sometimes the dialogue is too fast and its all the audience can do to keep up, so be sure to keep your rewind button handy.

On one level, the film is enjoyable for its showcasing of two actors right before they became much larger stars in Hollywood. Oldman, though he made a big impression with "Sid and Nancy" four years before this, would make the more popular "JFK" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula" in the years immediately following. Oldman has shown such an incredible knack at playing villains that he's been typecast for most of his career. Despite his talent for it, I yearn to see him do lighter roles. His role in this film gives audiences a glimpse of what he's capable of. For example, a running joke in the film is how he keeps "discovering" scientific principles, only for the demonstrations to fall apart when he tries to show his partner, are simple yet hilarious slapstick.

Tim Roth was confined to small British films until two years after this one when he was tapped by Quentin Tarantino to play the pivotal Mr. Orange in "Reservoir Dogs". He has since followed up on this with roles in films great ("Rob Roy") and not so great ("Planet of the Apes"). I've been a fan of his since I unknowingly rented his first film years ago, a hitman drama called "The Hit" with Terence Stamp and John Hurt. Maybe, since Oldman has gotten himself some mainstream attention as Sirius Black in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", Roth can snatch up another Rowling role in a future installment. Perhaps we could even see the two of them on screen again, if but briefly. I, for one, would pay to see that chemistry again.

Surprisingly, all of the metaphysical stuff is not what soured Ebert on the film. Indeed, he thinks the script is brilliant. His gripe, rather, is that the translation of the play from stage to screen is an utter washout. I have never seen the stage play, so I cannot comment on this. However, I think I can see where he's coming from. There is a certain energy in a stage performance when all there is are the actors and the audience. Even if the actors are not speaking directly to the audience, there is still active communication there. In the film, that energy is zapped. Instead of a stage, we see two actor wander aimlessly through a gigantic and mostly empty castle. As Ebert observed in his review, this can make the minutes really drag in certain spots.

Still, I cannot agree with such a complete dismissal when, even in this filmed form, the script alone deserves a listen. I've tried in my reviews to point out specific audiences that certainly films should be viewed by. Any fan of Shakespeare, and anyone who knows "Hamlet" pretty well, should seek out this film. All others, well, may want to check out "Shakespeare in Love" for some Stoppard that is more accessible and better paced.

Seven out of Ten

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Skippy of the Day: Paul Bremer

Paul Bremer, who served as Presidential Envoy to Iraq for President Bush, created quite a stir recently with comments stating that our troops in Iraq were not sufficient. The following is a paragraph from the article:

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," Paul Bremer said in a speech reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday. "We never had enough troops on the ground."
No doubt that this important Bush appointee will now be slandered by The White House because of his comments, as was Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neil before him. I could say that it took guts for him to finally admit to mistakes, but it strikes me as "too little, too late" when he could have pressed his case back when it could have done some good (instead of announcing it now to cover his ass). And as with anybody else in this administration that have made comments about things going poorly in Iraq, Bremer was quick to add the standard "We're better off without Saddam" postscript, as if that can excuse gross incompetence.

For those of us who watched more than just FOX News in the days following the invasion, we knew that things were going poorly in the aftermath. How poorly? The Baghdad Library was looted and burned, including artifacts and manuscripts that were thousands of years old (a vast collection that Donald Rumsfeld belittled while flippantly referring to the looting with "Stuff Happens"). Many government offices were looted and destroyed, save for the Oil Ministry, while American troops stood ill equipped to deal with it. And, most incredible of all, after our proud claim that this was to prevent Saddam from supplying terrorists with WMD, we allowed nuclear energy facilities we knew existed to go unguarded for weeks after the invasion. When we finally got around to sending troops to guard them, we found them to be looted of dangerous documents and materials. Brilliant.

We once thumped our chest and barked at France, Germany, etc. that "we don't need your stinking support". This attitude sounds now the same as it did then: immature, unrealistic and dangerous. Now, with a coalition of the willing shrinking and fatalities rising, we need all the help we can get. This is the reason we should have built the coalition first, and this is also the reason why Dubya's "go it alone" attitudes to foreign policy is likely to get this country into even deeper trouble if he get's a second term.

Kerry and the Democrats are currently touting their claim that Bush would reinstate the draft if re-elected. I once thought that, although this was a good scare tactic, it wasn't likely. Now I'm not so sure. Despite all that has happened in Iraq, there will come a time when we will really need those troops to fight terrorists. As it now stands, they'll be too busy dodging RPG's in downtown Baghdad to be of any help.

Review: "Collateral" (2004)

Cities at night have a whole other vibe to them. If you're like me and live in the suburb-strong city of Jacksonville, then you have a downtown that completely shuts down when the sun goes down. I've only briefly tasted the vitality of cities that never sleep, most notably on trips to Toronto and London. That vibe is like nothing else, and there are only a few films that can really capture it.

"Collateral" is set during one long night in Los Angeles. Max (Jamie Foxx) is a cab driver who also happens to be a nice, thoughtful guy with dreams of owning his own limo company. His big fare on this particular night is Vincent (Tom Cruise), a stylish businessman who offers him $600 to use him and his cab for the whole night. Reluctantly, Max agrees. He soon finds out, however, that Vincent is actually a contract killer. As Vincent forces Max to drive him to the five hits he has to make that night, they both get under each other's skin and encounter a lot of trouble.

Director Michael Mann understands Los Angeles, as has been proven in his previous films "L.A. Takedown" and "Heat". In "Heat", he shot scenes at all times of day and in 65 different locations around town without one soundstage. Yet it was those scenes at night, with DeNiro and Pacino driving the streets and meeting at coffee shops that had that special feel to it: The megalopolis in repose, but never completely motionless. This new film differs from "Heat" with the advent of digital photography for most of the scenes shot. This process, in addition to natural lighting, gives a you-are-there look to the film that captures well the two characters in the confined space of a taxicab.

(Sidenote - There are two other major touches that recall "Heat": Cruise looks and dresses like the unemotional criminals that worked with DeNiro's character, yet he shares his first name with the cop played by Pacino.)

Although there's a subplot involving cops following the trail of corpses left behind by Vincent, it doesn't amount to much. In terms of actors, this is all Tom and Jamie's show. Cruise effectively plays the bad guy here and does a nice alteration to his standard "look", though the salt-and-pepper hair works much better on him than the beard stubble. He still can't shake that cockiness quality to his characters, though it is of a different shade here. Suffice to say, anyone coming into this looking for your typical Cruise character will be disappointed.

Fox, meanwhile, is as revelatory as critics said he was when this was released. He's required to run through many more emotions than his stoic counterpart as the tension rises between the two men. This makes his first starring dramatic turn all the more impressive looking. Before seeing this, I was already jazzed to see him in the Ray Charles biopic later this year. Having now seen him as Max, I'll probably see "Ray" on the first weekend (which is a rarity for me).

The ending was my biggest gripe: Too many coincidences and implausibilities for it to be halfway believable. The story, though, holds up overall and fits in well with the atmosphere conjured by Mann. "Collateral" is an experience that will leave after images on your brain for days and weeks after you have left the theater; images of the neon-lit streets of L.A.

Eight out of Ten

Monday, October 04, 2004

Chicken Caesar Review: Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse is the very popular chain of restaurants which has an Australian theme. Their Brisbane Caesar Salad is a larger version of the their side salad and includes romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, shredded Romano cheese and seasoned croutons. You have the option of adding grilled chicken to your salad in two different sizes: The regular grilled seasoned chicken breast addition totals $9.29 and the "Aussie-sized" chicken breast addition totals $10.29. For the heck of it, I chose the larger for this review.

As I said before, the breast itself is an addition to the salad and not integrated into the tossing. Instead, the whole breast is placed on top of the salad. The larger size that I requested was indeed quite big, and was very tasty as well. I actually asked the waitress about the breast not being cut up, and she responded that they would happily do that for you if you request it, so take note. The salad itself was well chopped and tossed with a very tangy Caesar dressing that dominated with the strong taste of the Romano cheese. The croutons were buttery, crisp and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. They are, in fact, very similar to the croutons used at The Loop restaurants, whom I have previously reviewed.

Most people would probably react to the Outback salad along the lines of, "For 10 bucks, it darn well better be good". Well, I'm happy to report that it is a fabulous salad. Again, it's a bit pricey, but so are a lot of other items on their menu. So the next time you're there, go ahead and give their Chicken Caesar a shot.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Yaphet Kotto Quote of the Month: October 2004

Another early film for Yaphet Kotto was "Blue Collar", which detailed the lives of three assembly line workers at a car plant. In one scene, he tells the character Jerry (Harvey Keitel) the reason why they all come back to work day after day:

Smokey James: Because the finance man's gonna be at your house on Saturday, right? That's exactly what the company wants - to keep you on their line. They'll do anything to keep you on their line. They pit the lifers against the new boys, the old against the young, the black against the white - ANYTHING to keep us in our place.