Friday, December 31, 2004

Acrentropy Movie Reviews: 2004

Acrentropy has been in business for exactly six months now, and I have finished out the year with a total of 50 full length movie reviews! To commemorate this, I'm presenting a list of all the movie reviews with links. Happy New Year, folks. See you on the other side.

8 Women (2002)8 out of 1009/15
10 Million Miles to Earth (1957)7 out of 1009/20
All About Eve (1950)10 out of 1009/29
Amateur (1994)6 out of 1008/17
The Beast (1988)8 out of 1011/20
Bend of the River (1952)8 out of 1006/29
The Bourne Identity (2002)8 out of 1007/27
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)7 out of 1007/27
A Bridge Too Far (1977)6 out of 1010/13
Bubba Ho-tep (2002)7 out of 1007/20
Chato's Land (1972)7 out of 1007/02
Collateral (2004)8 out of 1010/05
CQ (2001)5 out of 1012/16
Deathtrap (1982)9 out of 1010/11
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)6 out of 1009/20
The First Great Train Robbery (1979)8 out of 1008/18
The Good Earth (1937)7 out of 1006/29
Hero (2002)8 out of 1009/23
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)10 out of 1012/30
The Incredibles (2004)10 out of 1011/09
Juggernaut (1974)7 out of 1008/10
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)5 out of 1007/13
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)6 out of 1012/27
The Lion in Winter (1968)10 out of 1007/23
The Lion in Winter (2003)7 out of 1007/23
Millennium Actress (2001)8 out of 1008/14
Mishima (1985)9 out of 1008/02
Mrs. Brown (1997)8 out of 1008/30
Oleanna (1994)5 out of 1008/05
Pitch Black (2000)8 out of 1010/28
Pride and Prejudice (1995)10 out of 1007/02
Ray (2004)8 out of 1012/08
Reign of Fire (2002)8 out of 1010/21
Richard III (1995)10 out of 1012/02
Robin and Marian (1976)8 out of 1008/25
Robot Carnival (1987)6 out of 1008/17
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)7 out of 1010/06
Run Lola Run (1998)9 out of 1009/09
Sabrina (1954)8 out of 1008/23
Seabiscuit (2003)8 out of 1009/22
The Saint (1997)7 out of 1010/20
Shaun of the Dead (2004)8 out of 1010/18
The Silencers (1966)3 out of 1012/20
Sleuth (1972)10 out of 1007/14
Sliding Doors (1998)8 out of 1009/09
Spiderman 2 (2004)9 out of 1007/12
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)8 out of 1007/18
Ticket to Heaven (1981)7 out of 1010/27
Victoria & Albert (2001)7 out of 1008/30
Wages of Fear (1953)8 out of 1007/17

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Review: "The Hudsucker Proxy" (1994)

The title of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" comes from the 1941 comedy "Sullivan's Travels". In that film, a Hollywood director disguises himself as a hobo in order to write a meaningful screenplay about the human condition. What he discovers is that people didn't want to see that kind of film. They preferred escapism. The Coen Brothers chose that title because after the heaviness and critical raves of "Fargo", they wanted to make films whose raison d'etre was pure entertainment. Fortunately, they had plenty of practice at this sort of film.

"The Hudsucker Proxy" concerns one Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), who has arrived in New York City fresh off the bus and eager to get into the workforce. Meanwhile, Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), Founder and President of Hudsucker Industries, has just plummeted 44 floors to his death. His devious board of directors, headed by Vice President Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), hatch a takeover plan which involves installing Norville as a puppet President until the end of the year. Intrepid reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) smells something fishy almost immediately, and is determined to expose all of these dealings to the public. Little does she know that she'll end up falling for Norville in the process.

When a movie works, I mean really works, there's a giddiness that I cannot contain when watching it. "The Incredibles" and the "Ocean's 11" remake fall into this category. Both of those films are fun in the purest sense, and so is "Hudsucker". Like Norville, the Coen's are so earnest and true in their wish to make people happy with their product that it shows. The laughs come as fast as the characters speak, and we are consistently wowed by the visuals of a 1950's corporate culture run amok.

Speaking of the visuals, some reviewers thought that the movie fails to recapture the feel of screwball comedies because the visuals are too extreme. Trying to completely copy an old movie genre is a tricky business and very rarely works (One exception is "Down With Love", which came very close to it's Rock Hudson/Doris Day progenitors). With "Hudsucker", there are several genres at play. There's a Warner Brothers cartoon vibe to the proceedings as we see characters fall from great heights in the grand tradition of Wile E. Coyote. We see giant clock mechanisms that seem fit for Charlie Chaplin to ride on. We observe swells of music as two characters embrace and fall into silhouette as if in a Douglas Sirk melodrama. But it all fits together and, in the confines of the world this film creates, it never strikes a false moment.

Carter Burwell, who has done the music for all of the Coen Brothers films, is fast becoming one of the most talented composers in Hollywood. Whether it's the mournful Norwegian dirge in "Fargo" or the light Irish melody that pervades "Miller's Crossing", he can truly capture and amplify the spirit of a film thorough his compositions. "Hudsucker", appropriately, has a lot of peppy music that mirrors Norville's attitudes. There's also the aforementioned swells of violins that opens the films that never fails to give me goosebumps. Also of note is Burwell's (and the Coens') use of Aram Khachaturyan's fast paced "Sabre Dance" for a pivotal sequence.

There's not a lot of depth to the characters in this film, nor is there intended to be. Robbins plays the lovable doofus with "big ideas", and brings the perfect amount of naivete to the character. Jennifer Jason Leigh is pitch perfect as the fast talking news gal so well done by Rosiland Russell in "His Girl Friday" (One of Mrs. Mosley's favorite films). And Paul Newman lends the gravitas required for the role of the heavy, chomping on a cigar and looking like the villain he is. And it's also nice to see such likeable actors as John Mahoney, Bill Cobbs and Bruce Campbell in supporting roles.

I've read reviewers that have said this film is really for movie buffs with its references to past classics. With some films I would agree with this sort of evaluation, but not with "Hudsucker". When I watch it, I'm not thinking of the films it may reference but rather the film that it is: A completely perfect joyous movie experience.

Ten out of Ten

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Death of Lennie Briscoe

According to news reports just coming in, Jerry Orbach died of prostate cancer last night at the age of 69. The "Law & Order" star is a dear favorite in the Mosley household, and his passing will be felt for days to come. I present some Lennie-related links for your enjoyment and remembrance:

The Wikipedia entry for Jerry Orbach

The Humble Page of Great Lennie-Lines

Order your own Lennie Briscoe T-Shirt

And finally, so that all of these links aren't just "Law & Order", The Lumiere Fanlisting.

Movie Quotes: "The Hudsucker Proxy"

Christmas time has a tendency to compel critics to recall and talk about their favorite Christmas films, yet I've never come across a movie reviewer do the same for New Years. Maybe it's because they're so close together. There are plenty of films to choose from with important New Years moments in them. "When Harry Met Sally..." comes to mind as one. But my favorite, and a review will be posted tomorrow, is "The Hudsucker Proxy". At the beginning, we see a view among New York's skyscrapers during a snow fall. The camera moves closer and closer to one building and a man that is posed to jump from a ledge. During all of this, we hear the narration of Moses the Clock Man (Bill Cobbs) as he fills us in on the time and place of our story.

Moses: "That's right. New York. It's 1958, anyway for a few more minutes it is. Come midnight, it's going to be 1959, a whole 'nother feeling, the New Year. Yeah, old daddy earth's fixin' to take one more ride around the sun. Everyone's hopin' that this time it will be a little more giddy, a little more gay. All over town champagne corks is a poppin. Over in the Waldorf, the big shots are dancing to the strings of Guy Lombardo. Down at Times Square, the little folks is a watchin' and waiting for that big ball to drop, trying to catch hold of one moment of time. Right now, this is it, i've got it. Of course by then it will be past. But they all happy, everybody having a good time. Well, almost everybody. There's a few lost souls floating around out there. Now if y'all aren't from the city, we've got something here called the rat race. Got a way of chewing folks up so that don't want no celebrating, don't want no cheering up, don't care about no New Years. Out of hope, out of rope, out of time. This here is Norville Barnes. That office he's steppin out of, it's the office of the president of Hudsucker Industries. It's his office. How did he get so high, and why is he feeling so low? Is he really going to do it? Is he really going to jelly up the sidewalk? Well, the future, that's something you can never tell about. But the past, that's another story."

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Sugar plums dancing in your head 24/7

One of the patron saints of Acrentropy made the news today. George Carlin issued a statement that he was entering rehab for his overuse of alcohol and Vicodin. This is a voluntary move on his part to quit the stuff before it gets too far. Anyone familiar with his past will know that he's been there and done that in terms of drug abuse, and his words make it clear he has no intention of going back down that road. I present a snippet of "Carlin at Carnegie" where he discusses his cocaine-fueled heart attacks with the audience.
Here's the latest from the Comedian's Health Sweepstakes: I lead Richard Pryor in heart attacks two to one! But he still leads me in burning himself up! You see, First I had a heart attack. Then Richard had a heart attack. Then Richard burned himself up, and I said F**K THAT, I'm having another heart attack!"
We here at Acrentropy wish him the best of luck and the best of health.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Review: "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004)

The first Edward Gorey book I ever read was called "The Gashleycrumb Tinies". It contained 26 illustrations of 26 child deaths; one for each letter of the alphabet ("M is for Maud who was swept out to sea. N is for Neville who died of ennui"). Though some of his other works are more obtuse, this particular book is a perfect embodiment of Gorey's black humor. Author Daniel Handler decided to combine the style of Gorey with a Harry Potter-type popular novel and this resulted in the successful "Lemony Snicket" series. There was little question as to whether or not Handler's characters would eventually join the boy wizard on the silver screen. The real question would be if the transfer would work just as well.

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" introduces us to the Baudelaire children: Violet the inventor (Emily Browning), Klaus the reader (Liam Aiken) and infant Sunny the biter (Kara & Shelby Hoffman). They learn from the family banker Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) that their parents have died in a mysterious fire. They are soon ushered into the care of distant relative Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), an eccentric actor who has designs on the Baudelaire inheritance. The children's stay with him is brief before they are whisked off to other relatives, but Olaf is not easily deterred. With the help of his acting troop, he follows them and makes more attempts at their lives and the lives of others in pursuit of the fortune.

The thing I remember about Jim Carrey's years on "In Living Color" is that a little Carrey goes a long way. In films like "The Truman Show", he plays it straight and can be taken for the length of an entire film. Otherwise, his shtick best left to the small bites of sketch comedy. Obviously, my opinion is not shared by a lot of people if the box office of the "Ace Ventura" films are to be believed. I can also see how the flamboyance and improvisation of the actor Olaf would suit Carrey's talents. Yet his additional role as villain within the darker tones of the film is hampered by his constant yammering. The children come to dread his next appearance because of his murderous nature. The audience comes to dread his next appearance because we know that the camera will be glued to his mug for minutes at a time while he does his thing.

The overall failure of the film is not completely Carrey's fault. The story for this film is taken from not one book but portions of the first three in the series. However, even without ever having read the books myself, I got the impression of a cobbled-together story while watching it awkwardly unfold. The producers didn't have the advantage of J.K. Rowling's "One book/One Hogwarts' Year" template and had to piece together a plot from a larger story that has yet to completely play out in print form. The film's fractured nature, added to Carrey's atmosphere-killing antics, make the film less enjoyable than it could have been.

A long list of supporting roles in this film are played by recognizable faces that are given absolutely nothing to do. This includes Luis Guzman, Jennifer Coolidge, Cedric the Entertainer and the friggin' AFLAC duck (Gilbert Gottfried). Then there's Dustin Hoffman. One review of the film I have read says that Hoffman plays a theater critic that gets big laughs for his few lines. First of all, if he was a theater critic, then there wasn't much indication of that. Second of all, I could barely hear what he said on the two incredibly brief times he was on screen, much less laugh at it. It's made me consider creating a blog post on pointless cameos and putting him at the top of it.

There are pluses to the film. The child actors that are cast are not overly familiar faces. Instead, the filmmakers opted for attractive and interesting looking child actors who can manage the heavy material. In particular, Emily Browning seems very suited for the role of Violet as her face suggests an Edward Gorey character come to life. The mood and ambiance in the various story locations are perfect and something that Tim Burton would be proud of. Oddly enough, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designer Rick Heinrichs are both veterans of Burton's "Sleepy Hollow", another great achievement in dark atmosphere.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the happy ending. When you base a film on a series of books with "Unfortunate Events" in the title, you would think they would leave well enough alone. Particularly since the series is now eleven books long and the Baudelaire children have far from seen their last unfortunate event. But happy the ending must be, and it leads me to wonder how much more they plan on chopping up the source material to produce any sequels. I imagine the books' fans get chills at the thought.

If you find yourself buying a ticket to this film, then the best advice I can give is to stay for the credits. It is an extended animated segment that I believe was once intended for the beginning of the film. It also has that Gorey feel to it in spades. Best of all, Olaf is mercifully reduced to a menacing silhouette creeping in from the edges; the only visible detail of which is a symbolic eye. Such subtlety is best left to the animation, I suppose, because Carrey certainly doesn't know the meaning of the word in this film.

Six out of Ten

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A Very Merry Steve Martin Christmas

I spent a lot of money this Holiday season, as did many of us. One of the purchases I meant to make but never did was the "Saturday Night Live - Christmas" DVD. It's got some truly classic bits on it, including the Candice Bergen/Dan Ackroyd "Dangerous Toys" sketch. Another classic bit was Steven Martin's 1991 monologue "A Holiday Wish". And here, for your Christmas enjoyment, is the entire text of "A Holiday Wish":

Steve Martin: "If I had one wish that I could wish this holiday season, it would be that all the children to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace. If I had two wishes I could make this holiday season, the first would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing in the spirit of harmony and peace. And the second would be for 30 million dollars a month to be given to me, tax-free in a Swiss bank account. You know, if I had three wishes I could make this holiday season, the first, of course, would be for all the children of the world to get together and sing, the second would be for the 30 million dollars every month to me, and the third would be for encompassing power over every living being in the entire universe. And if I had four wishes that I could make this holiday season, the first would be the crap about the kids definitely, the second would be for the 30 million, the third would be for all the power, and the fourth would be to set aside one month each year to have an extended 31-day orgasm, to be brought out slowly by Rosanna Arquette and that model Paulina-somebody, I can't think of her name. Of course my lovely wife can come too and she's behind me one hundred percent here, I guarantee it. Wait a minute, maybe the sex thing should be the first wish, so if I made that the first wish, because it could all go boom tomorrow, then what do you got, y'know? No, no, the kids, the kids singing would be great, that would be nice. But wait a minute, who am I kidding? They're not going to be able to get all those kids together. I mean, the logistics of the thing is impossible, more trouble than it's worth! So -- we reorganize! Here we go. First, the sex thing. We go with that. Second, the money. No, we got with the power second, then the money. And then the kids. Oh wait, oh jeez, I forgot about revenge against my enemies! Okay, I need revenge against all my enemies, they should die like pigs in hell! That would be my fourth wish. And, of course, my fifth wish would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace. Thank you everybody and Merry Christmas."

And with that, folks, I'm out of here until next week. Take care and Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

"I will fight them on the beaches, I will fight them on the streets."

In a rather weird juxtaposition of two headlines posted by the Canadian Press, It was announced:

Blair makes surprise visit to Iraq; at least 24 killed in Mosul attack
I envisioned old Tony stepping through the rubble of an insurgent enclave in Mosul that he just destroyed with an RPG. Suddenly, half a dozen armed attackers storm through a doorway. Tony quickly mows down four of them with his assault rifle and then clicks empty. The remaining two take aim, but Tony drops the rifle, draws his service revolver and nails the other two in the chest. In the aftermath, he stands in the sunlight that streams through the broken wall and takes a brave and heroic stance, muscles gleaming with sweat.

Yeah, it's silly. But at least with the character of Britain's leader, I can see the slight possibility of such a scenario without my brain seizing up.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Review: "The Silencers" (1966)

Over the years, I have become a big fan of the now-defunct television show "Mystery Science Theater 3000". For those of you unaware, the basic premise of this series was the showcasing and ridicule of really bad movies. The love of this show led me to become a regular visitor to the hilarious and numerous bad movie review sites on the web. For myself, I hadn't purposely seen many really bad movies outside of MST3K episodes. I liked to think, though, that I had what it took to watch these films like the reviewers I so often read. Instead of starting with something hardcore like a Larry Buchanan film, I decided to ease into it this past weekend with a bad spy film from the 1960's. Unfortunately, this didn't do much to lessen the pain.

Dean Martin is Matt Helm in "The Silencers", a spy film spoof based on a series of popular novels by Donald Hamilton. Under the identity of a globe trotting photographer, our hero works for the secret US agency ICE (Intelligence and Counter Espionage). He is soon called on to investigate the recent activities of master criminal Tung-Tze (Victor Buono) and his nefarious organization "The Big O". At his side are his old partner Tina (Daliah Lavi) and a woman named Gail Hendrix (Stella Stevens), who may or may not be one of the bad guys. It'll take Helm's resourcefulness, intelligence and fancy gadgets in order to save the world.

One of the cardinal rules that is repeatedly intoned on the bad movie sites is that there is nothing worse than a bad comedy. At least with bad sci-fi or bad horror, you can laugh at how inept everything is when it's trying to be so serious. With bad comedy, however, there is nowhere else to go in terms of entertainment. In other words, if this were a earnest spy film that just managed to look silly in the process (such as the MSTied film "Agent from H.A.R.M."), then it would be hilarious. As it is, this is meant to be a comedy, and that's where the hurting begins.

Dean Martin really worked better off of other people, such as Jerry Lewis or the Rat Pack. Even John Wayne in "Rio Bravo" managed to get enough out of him to make his performance enjoyable. Of course, Martin's main character trait in "Rio Bravo" was that he was a recovering alcoholic, thus leading some gravity and pathos (and irony) to his character. Here, he's on his own, and is left to stumble through lines and scenes between drinks. You would think that a film starring Martin would feature some songs from him, and you'd be half right. We hear his songs on radios and such, but he never personally sings, which makes it all the more surreal as he listens to himself.

Daliah Lavi, the first of the faux Bond girls, is actually quite decent and sparks some chemistry with the oft inebriated Martin. Her scenes are few, however, as she soon makes room for Stella Stevens. Once that happens, what little existing momentum disappears and the film comes to a screeching halt. The drive that she and Martin take seems to last forever as she argues and complains and does pratfalls, always making sure that her cleavage is in full view. There is also a brief appearance by legendary Cyd Charisse, but she is completely overshadowed by the most hideous showgirl costume ever created.

Since the action packed finale is aiming for thrills more than laughs, we can start laughing again at the ridiculousness of it all. See the enemy agent who uses an electric blanket for a sight gag and then inexplicably continues to wear the cumbersome thing for the rest of the film! View the peculiar choice of lazyboy recliners in the master villain's conference room! Gape at the oddest, loudest, least effective laser in film history! And then there are the other silly spy movie staples, such as golf carts in underground tunnels, that were better parodied by Austin Powers.

In terms of other traits from the Bond films, we have "exotic locations" such as the barren desert landscapes of Mexico combined with... more barren dessert landscapes of the southwestern United States. This, combined with Helm's less-than-cool station wagon, makes this film seem more like a crummy summer vacation than international intrigue. His gadgets, of which there are three, are cool enough and are used quite often, though one gets the impression that Helm wouldn't get much done without them (whereas I'm pretty sure Sean Connery could kick anyone's ass even without Q's help).

Trust me when I say that you're much better off with "Our Man Flint" for this kind of spy spoof. Not only did it have better writing, action and charisma in leading man James Coburn, the producers of Flint had the good manners to limit their series to a pair of films compared to the four Matt Helm films that were eventually made. Oh, the horror. The horror.

Three out of Ten

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Lord of the Rings: My Personal Commentary Track

Mrs. Mosley and I exchanges a pair of gifts earlier this week and saved the rest for Christmas Eve. I gave her the big four disc DVD set of "Gone With the Wind", one of her favorite films. Coincidently, she gave me the four disc "The Return of the King" DVD set, which now completes my collection of all three films in the trilogy.

I won't bother to do a review of the LOTR trilogy, because they all get full tens in my book, and deserve a hallowed place in cinema history. After watching the extended cut so recently and viewing the extras, there are some comments I'd like to make about the third film and the trilogy as a whole.

* I have to say that after watching all these cast interviews, Sean Astin comes across as a bit of a jerk. This is compounded by the fact that all the other actors, without exception, were happy and nostalgic about the entire filmmaking process. Astin, on the other hand, bemoans the conditions and the makeup and the fact that he, single handedly, kept helicopters from crashing into mountains. Mrs. Mosley was also kind of perturbed when he came out with a book earlier this year on his experience doing the film called "There and Back Again". This is, of course, the title of Frodo's book in the film, and you would think that it would be better suited to Elijah Wood's ruminations, not Astin's. And from what I've heard about the book, he's not terribly nice when talking about his fellow cast members. Like I said: Jerk.

* As I stated in the "Richard III" review, I think Ian McKellen is a great actor. Furthermore, I think Gandalf is a great character. Yet, for being a Wizard, Gandalf really doesn't do much wizard-ing in the course of the three films. The biggest trick he has is the illumination from the head of his staff, which does come in handy on several occasions. Still, Harry Potter has that trick perfected by the end of his third year, for pete's sake!

* Alright. I give in. Legolas is hot.

* All three box sets had a hidden Easter Egg that showed a different clip from the MTV Movie Awards concerning the respective film. The best of these is in the "Two Towers" set where we see Andy Serkis accept an award for best villain live via satellite. We then see Gollum quickly jump into frame, grab the award, and curse up a blue streak while insulting everyone there.

* The character I liked the least out of all three films was Denethor, played by John Noble. His character seemed just a little too over the top in his nastiness towards his son Faramir and people in general. One of the most satisfying moments in the third film is when Gandalf brains him with his staff (magical or not, that damn thing is handy) and starts giving orders to the troops. Finally, (minor spoilers ahead) even Denethor's death is over the top as he staggers aaaalllllllllllll the way down that courtyard runway thingy and falls aaaaaaaallllllllll the way down to the battling armies below. Criminy, it made Mel Gibson's death in "Braveheart" look subtle and brief in comparison.

* After viewing the extended cut of the third film, I think Peter Jackson may have gone one "Gimli comic moment" too far.

* And one final tip for Peter Jackson to be used for all his future films: In the last thirty minutes of a movie, do not end every scene with a fade out of music and picture and then go to yet another scene, thus producing ending after ending after ending! It drives the audience a little bit bonkers, is all I'm saying.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Movie Quotes: "The Limey"

Last Sunday, I visited a new store in town called MovieStop. They advertised that they traded used DVD's, so I gathered two dozen titles in my collection that I didn't watch anymore and headed down there. To my surprise, I ended up with over $100 in store credit (which, when compared to trade-in rates I've gotten at used book and CD stores, is pretty damn good). I used it to purchase four new and four used DVD's, and I was very pleased with the deal.

When I got home, I started to look over my collection to make sure if there were any other titles I might want to trade. As with the first time, my eyes went over my copy of Steven Soderbergh's "The Limey". You see, I like the movie well enough, but I don't really sit down and watch it anymore. I still keep it because, every once in a while, I put it in to watch one scene.

The title character played by Terence Stamp is known only as "Wilson". He's just gotten out of prison and flown to Los Angeles in search for answers to the mysterious death of his daughter. While looking into the affairs of a man named Valentine (Peter Fonda) who may be involved in her death, Wilson is confronted by DEA agents that are also investigating Valentine. They bring him in to talk to their boss, played by Bill Duke. The performance of Stamp combined with Soderbergh's perfect editing make this one of the best movie monologues I've ever heard.

Wilson: "How you doin' then? All right, are you? Now look, squire, you're the guv'nor here, I can see that. I'm in your manor now. So there's no need to get your knickers in a twist. Whatever this bollocks is that's going down between you and that slag Valentine, it's got nothing to do with me. I couldn't care less. Alright, mate? Let me explain. When I was in prison - second time - uh, no, telling a lie, third stretch, yeah, third, third - there was this screw what really had it in for me, and that geezer was top of my list. Two years after I got sprung, I sees him in Arnold Park. He's sittin' on a bench feedin' bloody pigeons. There was no-one about, I could've gone up behind him and snapped his f**kin' neck, *wallop!* But I left it. I could've knobbled him, but I didn't. 'Cause what I thought I wanted wasn't what I wanted. What I thought I was thinkin' about was something else. I didn't give a toss. It didn't matter, see? This berk on the bench wasn't worth my time. It meant sod-all in the end, 'cause you gotta make a choice: when to do something, and when to let it go. When it matters, and when it don't. Bide your time. That's what prison teaches you, if nothing else. Bide your time, and everything becomes clear, and you can act accordingly."

Review: "CQ" (2001)

I loved "Lost in Translation", as did many critics and a fair share of audiences. Aside from the joy of seeing a well told story of two lonely people and their platonic romance in the mysterious environs of Tokyo, I was also happy that Sofia Coppola had earned her props as a director. She had already impressed people with "The Virgin Suicides". "Lost in Translation" simply reinforced with people that despite her poor acting in "The Godfather III", this particular apple didn't fall far from the tree. I just wish I could say the same for her brother.

"CQ" takes us back to 1960's Paris where a young filmmaker named Paul (Jeremy Davies) is currently working on a Science Fiction film. His home life is strained as he tries to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) while attempting to shoot a film about himself in his apartment. At work, he's frenzied by a film crew that are all a little bit off and he's secretly fantasizing about the star of the film, Valentine (Angela Lindvall). After awhile, his fantasies about Valentine start to merge with reality and vice versa.

It's easy enough to lay blame at the feet of director Roman Coppola. This is his first film, which he has written as well as directed. His arty camera shots and pretentious dialogue doesn't add up to anything, and this is common enough with beginning filmmakers. The fact that all of these elements are attempting to tell the story of a beginning filmmaker who is similarly self indulgent really puts you into a Moebius Strip that goes nowhere. Francis Ford Coppola directed a half dozen forgettable films before hitting with "The Godfather", and I can only hope that time will improve his son's filmmaking talents, as well.

Far more interesting than the travails of Paul is the cheesy film-within-a-film, "Dragonfly". "Barbarella" is the obvious inspiration for this, with the heroine featured in skimpy outfits and flying around in a spacecraft lined with shag carpeting. There's also a bit of the European spy flick "Diabolique" (whose star, John Phillip Law, has a brief supporting role here) as the title character similarly rolls around naked in a pile of paper money which magically shifts to conceal all the naughty bits. The "Mod" aesthetic of these 1960's films is well maintained, but not well enough to conceal the hollowness of the film itself.

The one really memorable scene for me was when Paul goes to meet his dad (Dean Stockwell) at the airport during a two hour layover. They sit in the airport lounge and chat, his father showing some fatigue from the jetlag. In a film filled with and about artifice, it seemed the only genuine moment, and therefore something to cling for dear life to. Unfortunately, It's over before you know it, and we're back to Paul shooting footage of himself talking to the camera while sitting in his bathroom.

There is one last thing I'd like to remark on concerning the star of this film. I don't really support the trend of plastic surgery, but I think I'd like to see some work done on Jeremy Davies, Henry Thomas or Robert Sean Leonard. These three actors are beginning to so much resemble each other as to be surreal. If not plastic surgery, then may I suggest one of them get into some fights and sustain a broken nose. Hey, it would give them a much darker vibe and set them up for more interesting roles. Just a suggestion.

I'd recommend this only to people only interested in Coppola's offspring and/or the whole "Mod" vibe the film constructs. In the end, it's best to go with the real thing. Go rent Fellini's "Roma" and Blake Edwards' "The Party" and watch them back to back. You'll get the same effect. Sure, it'll take twice as long as "CQ", but quality should count for something.

Five out of Ten

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Skippy of the Day: Cynthia Davis

Oh, boy. This is why "Skippy" was created in the first place. Let us remember our Carlin: "It's all in the language you use. Language always gives you away."

State Representative Cynthia Davis of Missouri is speaking about two new bills that would, among other things, require biology textbooks to include "alternative theories to evolution". I'm not even going to touch the evolution issue today. Instead, let me briefly focus on just the language she uses when describing liberals:

"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she added. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."
"A place where they didn't want to go". What place would that be, Ms. Davis? A boring exhibit at the Museum of Science and History? The sewage treatment facility outside of town? A performance of "Barney the Purple Dinosaur on Ice"? Or perhaps you meant a terrifying, fiery death!!!

Boy, similes are fun when you don't bother to put any thought into what you're saying! Let me try one! When a guy beats the crap out of his wife for no reason after coming home drunk, it's like when a pet owner strikes the snout of a puppy that has piddled on the carpet. Inaccurate. To say the least. Offensive? You bet your ass. And the feeling that women would experience after reading that line, Ms. Davis, is what liberals are feeling when they read your piece of acidic bile in the New York Times.

There is the possibility, and lord knows this is not a new tactic among Republicans, that she meant what she said. If it wasn't meant literally, then maybe it was simply to make a subconscious connection between liberals and terrorists in the public's mind. Or perhaps, if she's a real fire-and-brimstone kinda gal, she does mean it literally as she views the simple absorption of valid scientific theories by children as a one-way ticket to the land of eternal fire.

Let me explain this to you, Ms. Davis. And I'll use nice, simple one and two syllable words so that you understand: When those of us want to put these subjects in schools, we do it to teach, to help, and to show. We do it to inform children of the world around them and prepare them for real life. On the other hand, when the bad men took the planes, they did it to kill. That's it. Not to teach. Not to help. Not to show. They just wanted to kill a large group of people at once and scare the rest.

Now please, Ms. Davis, explain to me what one has to do with the other.

Monday, December 13, 2004

There's only two "Get out of Jail" cards in the game

Since the following quote was from an anonymous "senior U.S. official", I'm not conferring them with official "Skippy" status. I did want to comment on it, however, so here's the story and here's the quote:

"The lawyers looked at all these issues," said the official. "We believed they were not disqualifying."
So, despite the fact that the issues raised with Kerik have been used on multiple occasions in the past to bring down other political figures, somehow the White House thought that he was special enough to get a free pass from both the confirmation officials and the media?

I think Dubya's "mandate" is going to his head.

I have no doubt that, as in the past, the Democratic party will find themselves submitting to Dubya's wishes once in a while even though they should not. I'm also hoping that these instances will be fewer than in the last four years. Still, it's one thing to look the other way on one issue in someone's past, and it's another to simply gouge out your eyes altogether.

As I write this post, the following allegations have been leveled against Kerik (as stated in the above linked article):

" immigration problem involving a family housekeeper."
"...two extramarital with the corrections officer and another with New York book publisher Judith Regan."
"...accepted thousands of dollars in cash and gifts without proper disclosure."
"...had ties to a construction company that investigators believe is linked to the mob."
"...part of a series of lawsuits related to a New Jersey condominium owned by Kerik."
Any one of these could be used as a serious objection in his vetting process, yet the White House (if we are to believe the anonymous official) thought that they themselves and Kerik were immune.

There's a part of me that wants to say that all of this was on purpose. The White House wanted to see how much they could actually get away with after their November victory. Further reading reveals that White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales was in charge of the background check on Kerik. Gonzales is himself about to go through a confirmation process for Attorney General, even though he is thought to be the engineer of the torture that went on at Abu Ghraib. Perhaps he was testing the waters to see how much scrutiny he would soon face?

All of this is conjecture, of course. I'm sure that the White House is not that diabolical. But I have to raise issue with a party that thinks a man with immigration problems and a record of theft is a safe bet for Homeland Security Chief, and that a man who thinks torture is A-OK is a great choice for Attorney General.

Of course, we liberals have already been told we have different values than red state-ers. Thank heavens for that.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Spiffing up the place

Several years back, Jacksonville was chosen as the host for the Super Bowl in 2005. The excitement from this announcement has yet to die down in some circles. For myself, I can't say I'm all that enthused. I like watching FSU college games and the Jaguars play on occasion, but football in general doesn't excite me. As is increasingly typical with viewers, I watch the Super Bowl more for the commercials than anything else.

But this isn't really about Football. It's about the city wanting to become more recognized as a bustling southern metropolis. The Super Bowl announcement was Jacksonville's biggest achievement since...well...since we were awarded the NFL expansion team in 1993. So now the city has been instituting some procedures in order to impress the people who come in for the game. And as cynical a bastard as I can be sometimes, I actually like two of them.

The first is an artistic stroke. Sea Cows for Kids is a program that has placed 50 fiberglass manatees, all of them painted and molded around a different theme, throughout Jacksonville. Sally Corp, which has one of the coolest looking buildings downtown, created the manatees and different Jacksonville businesses sponsor each one. Mrs. Mosley and I went downtown about a month ago to take pictures of some of them. It was a Sunday afternoon during a Jaguars game and downtown, as is the trend for our downtown on a weekend, was nearly a ghost town. We parked and walked from manatee to manatee, taking pictures. The only other people we saw were...also taking pictures of the manatees. Needless to say, we have a long way to go in order to get our downtown jumping again.

The second is a marketing maneuver. The city paid a local PR group $91,000 to come up with a new slogan for the city: "Jacksonville: Where Florida Begins". Not only is this geographically true (I-95 is the busiest artery into Florida, and it first comes through Jax), it's also very elegant in it's simplicity. I've certainly heard worse. Fans of Michael Moore's "Roger & Me" will remember the cheesy "Our new spark will excite you" slogan that Flint, Michigan came up with for their revitalization. Plus, and here's where the cynical part of me peeks through, the slogan doesn't make any high promises. Instead of saying that our city is the greatest thing since sliced bread, it simply puts a kernel of knowledge into people's brains that we exist and that we have great potential. Any other conclusions can be drawn from the visitors themselves.

Jacksonville certainly isn't alone in the area of needing to revamp downtown. Having worked in the are for coming on 18 months now, I can see it possibly becoming a pedestrian downtown, as opposed to the pace where people work nine to five on Monday through Friday. I doubt the Super Bowl will work the overnight miracles people are hoping for, but it can be a decent start.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Skippy of the Day: Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld raised some eyebrows on Wednesday when a soldier asked him a question about insufficient armor. The following is Rumsfeld's response:

"You go to war with the army you have." Besides, he added, "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can be blown up."
He stopped short of suggesting that they might as well leave the Kevlar at home since they could always be shot in the face.

In a "Skippy" post back in August, I mentioned Bush's remark that taxes on the rich were useless since they would dodge them anyway. Rumsfeld's response seems just as cynical, basically telling these soldiers that they're going to get killed anyhow, so why put forth the effort to try and prevent it? Just stop bitching and make do.

Well, such cynicism does not inspire us, Don.

After enduring six months of the Bush campaign yelling from the rooftops about John Kerry voting against body armor, we have Bush's Defense secretary stating that they have all the protection they need and any more would be pointless. As the piece in Slate points out (link above), even if the equipment will not provide complete protection, isn't it the responsibility of the Bush administration to give them the best equipment available? Aren't we always boasting that the American Military is the most well equipped military in the world?

Since the comment, both Rumsfeld and Bush have been frantically backpedaling, with Rummy calling the soldier's complaint "healthy". Old Don learned that tactic from his boss. On the rare occasions when someone gets through Dubya's screened audiences and voices a grievance he's unprepared for, he will automaticly comment that he's proud to live in a country with freedom of speech...and then continue to ignore the issue. Feh.

My hat is off to Spc. Thomas Wilson, the brave soldier that dared voice a concern over the safety of he and his fellow soldiers. If the reaction by everyone else in the audience is any indication, then he is far from alone in his view. Donald would do well to keep his smart-ass answers to himself when speaking to good and honest men who are getting shot at everyday.

And one more thing, Don. You're in danger of further proving to the troops and their families that you don't give a rat's ass about them if stuff like this is true. During a war, the last thing you need to be worrying about is a friggin hand cramp.

Librarian not included

The library I work in is scheduled to move into a brand new building come next summer, which all of us who work here are very excited about. One resulting issue from this is what to do with the old building. To some, it is a very ugly, lime green tribute to 1960's architecture. Nonetheless, it's still in decent shape, and the library administrators are endeavoring to sell off this valuable piece of downtown real estate. Rumor is that Peterbrooke Chocolate is the latest interested party, which seems a fate far cooler than is likely for this building.

This afternoon, I was to host a program in the 2nd floor auditorium. This was eventually cancelled, as the instructor failed to show up, but that's another story. In the half hour before it was to start, I paced on the small stage thinking of opening remarks. As I was doing this, the door opened and two men entered: one of the library administrators and another prospective buyer. He came in and showed off the brick walls and unusual light fixtures and did this for about two minutes before they finally left.

The interesting thing about all this is that the entire time they were in the room they never once acknowledged my presence! I mean, it's not a big auditorium, by any means. They just walked in where this librarian was standing on the stage and they went about their business. Combined with the absent instructor, this could seriously give me a complex. Maybe I blended into the background, or perhaps they thought there was always a librarian on the stage of the auditorium.

It would have been funny if, after a minute of the administrator's pitch, the buyer said, "OK. If you throw in the guy, then it's a deal".

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Be careful not to light any candles near the manger

There was story on the Today Show this morning concerning a nativity display at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London. There is a controversy over the museum's use of celebrity figures in the nativity, including David Beckham and Posh Spice as Joseph and Mary. The concept of Blasphemous Nativity Scenes suddenly reminded me of a scene in "Blackadder's Christmas Carol":

Baldrick: I've been helping out with the workhouse nativity play.

Ebenezer: Oh, of course! How did it go?

Baldrick: Well, not very well -- at the last moment, the baby playing Jesus died!

Ebenezer: Oh, dear! This high infant-mortality rate is a real devil when it comes to staging quality children's theatre. What did you do?

Baldrick: Got another Jesus.

Ebenezer: Oh, thank goodness. And his name?

Baldrick: 'Spot'. There weren't any more children, so we had to settle for a dog instead.

Ebenezer: Oh, dear. I'm not convinced that Christianity would have established its firm grip over the hearts and minds of mankind if all Jesus had ever said was "Woof."

Baldrick: Well, it went all right until the shepherds came on. See, we hadn't been able to get any real sheep, so we had to stick some wool...

Ebenezer: ...on some other dogs.

Baldrick: Yeah... and the moment Jesus got a whiff of them, he's away! While the angel's singing "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Mankind," Jesus scampers across and tries to get one of the sheep to give him a piggyback ride!

Ebenezer: Scarcely appropriate behaviour for the son of God, Mr Baldrick. Weren't the children upset?

Baldrick: Nah, they loved it. They want us to do another one at Easter -- they want to see us nail up the dog.
I have no other point here, really. I just consider any excuse to post Blackadder dialogue a good one.

Review: "Ray" (2004)

A hagiography, which is the story of someone's life told in only glowing terms, simply does not make for good drama. Perhaps my favorite biographical film, 'Malcolm X", encountered some trouble while filming. Malcolm's family protested Spike Lee's plan to show the slain Muslim leader's younger days as a gangster and drug addict. Instead of tarnishing his image, the inclusion of this material ended up making the man more real and admirable for it. Of course, these scenes only occur in the first half, after which he was a clean and reverent Muslim. With other famous men, however, such dark aspects accompany them throughout their professional lives.

"Ray" is the story of Ray Charles, a man born into poverty in rural Florida and suffered two tragedies in quick succession: The accidental death of his little brother and the loss of his sight. His stern but loving mother taught him how to survive in a world without pity, which gave him the confidence to strike out on his own and try to make a living as a musician. His rise to fame is steady and impressive as he meets a variety of good and bad characters along the way. It is his two weaknesses of heroin and women, however, that threaten to strike him down if he doesn't wise up.

The first surprising thing about this film is how the standard blind shticks do not even seem to occur to the filmmakers. By the time Ray leaves home, he is so sure of his movement that blindness isn't even an issue anymore. But he is nonetheless ostracized by members of the band he joins up with and, in an action to prove his manhood, tells them he wants to try the heroin their using. This small moment, where he trades one disability for another, provides the theme that dominates the film all the way to the end.

The drug abuse is interesting in that it is not addressed and dealt with quickly, as with other films. It lingers and becomes essential to Ray's day-to-day living. Repeatedly, he comes to a crucial and deciding moment when he should give it up. These moments pass and Ray continues with his work without mention of his habit, only for it to emerge again twenty minutes later. In this way, we get a real feel of how deep the addiction went and thus makes the scenes of his withdrawal all the more painful.

In addiction to the drug abuse, of course, is the story of Ray Charles's music. And unlike other biographies of musicians, Ray Charles's story is about more than just one or two hit songs. His role as innovator is detailed through his efforts to combine Gospel with Soul, his use of full orchestras when he signed with ABC Paramount, and also his introduction of country music to his fans and, thus, a wider audience. And through the telling of all these steps along the way, we get many elongated music performances to enjoy. It also makes for a longer movie, which could have possibly been trimmed a bit more, but can be forgiven for its exuberance.

Jamie Foxx is Ray Charles. It's such a cliche, but it applies to this film in far more ways than other actors in other biographies. Foxx completely disappears behind those glasses. His body movements, contagious smile and unique pattern of speech completely convinces us that here stands the man that was Ray Charles. One glaring mistake made by this film is near the end when Ray has a dream sequence of being back in Florida. He takes off his glasses and discovers he's able to see again, and the audience is spellbound at the sight of...Jamie Foxx. It's quite jarring after two hours of being completely convinced that you were watching a young Ray Charles to see Foxx standing there, the spell broken.

The supporting players are a distinctly varied lot. The two men that recruit Ray for Atlantic Records are none other than Richard Schiff (Toby from "The West Wing", looking very odd without his beard) and Curtis Armstrong (Booger from the "Revenge of the Nerds" movies, also looking like a whole different person). The MC at the first club Ray plays is none other than dwarf actor Warwick Davis doing a brief role here in between gigs as Professor Flitwick in the "Harry Potter" movies. Finally, special mention should be given newcomer Sharon Warren, who plays Ray's determined mother Aretha in flashbacks. She gives an intensity to this pivotal role that stays with the viewer after they leave the theater.

There is one nagging loose end that is never resolved, and it does contain a minor spoiler. Early on, Ray becomes friends with Jeff Brown, the bus driver for his first band. The man is honest and trustworthy, so Ray recruits him to be his right hand man. Much further down the road, Ray recruits an announcer named Joe Adams to come on tour with him. Adams quickly muscles Brown out of the picture by convincing Ray that he's been pocketing Ray's money. There is an argument ending with Brown leaving Ray and telling him that his actions would cost him dearly one day. Was Brown really stealing the money? Did Adams set Brown up? We never find out, and we never see a consequence befall Ray as a result of his actions (such as Adams eventually betraying Charles). Either the already long movie was trimmed of a scene that answered these questions, or the filmmakers simply decided to make the decision to leave it hanging. In either case, it was a bad call as the question is something that deserves closure.

Ray actually had the script for this film translated into Braille so that he may read it, and he eventually gave this warts-and-all portrait his approval. We should be thankful he did, and it is emblematic of a man who was told repeatedly in his early career to not sound like other people but instead use his own real voice and sound. And when it comes to the story of his life, only his own real story will do.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

More than a few good men

The Daily Kos currently has a link to a report by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board. Some choice excerpts:

· Muslims do not "hate our freedom," but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.

· Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that "freedom is the future of the Middle East" is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World -- but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.

· Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim selfdetermination.

· Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack -- to broad public support.

· What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of "terrorist" groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.

I mentioned weeks ago that the reckless policies of the Bush administration would continue to alienate fiscal conservatives. It now appears that the same can be said for members of the military, which had begun protesting Bush even in the early days of the Iraqi invasion. These people are informed and experienced in the dynamics of nations and cultures in ways that failed businessmen from mean Texas are not. Despite Bush's win, his blowhard talk of "political capital" and "mandates", and his efforts to quickly clean house of anyone who disagrees with him, these people have laid out their case and told him straight out that all of this doesn't change the fact that he's still wrong.

For those who are about to be shipped out and shut up, we salute you.

Monday, December 06, 2004

In the Age of Vinyl

Here's another spell of nostalgia thinly disguised as a substantive blog post. Oh well, if I can't be indulgent here, where can I be? The following is a list of the record albums (yes, actual vinyl) that I listened to a lot when I was a little kid. Some were purchased specifically for me while others were borrowed from my parent's collection.

"Walt Disney's Happiest Songs", "The Wildest Show at Tahoe", "The Empire Strikes Back: Original Soundtrack", "The Big Bands Theme Songs", "Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: The Sting", "Bing & Satchmo"

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Twenty Films for 2005

For the benefit of my meager readership as well as myself, I've had a look at the release calendar over at Greg's Previews page to see what the movie world has in store for audiences in 2005. The release dates, of course, are very fluid and are subject to change. I've picked twenty films that I'm looking forward too, and have categorized them according to the letters bellow:

(A) Is a remake of a film
(B) Is a sequel/prequel to a film
(C) Is based on a TV show
(D) Is based on a popular book
(E) Is based on a comic book series

January - This is usually a very lean month for films. Speaking of lean, the one notable film opening in January is "Assault on Precinct 13" (AA), a remake of the 1976 John Carpenter classic of the same name (which in turn was based on the 1959 John Wayne classic "Rio Bravo", thus the second "A"). There's a lot about this movie that reminds me of 2003's "Dawn of the Dead": It's a remake of a cult classic concerning a group of people fending off a siege. And like the remake of "Dawn", this one is working with a lower budget and smaller actors than most other films. I was totally wowed by the "Dawn" remake, and I also have high hopes for this one. Being released in a slow month, it could become a sleeper hit.

February - The upcoming comic book adaptation "Constantine" (E) brings to mind "The Matrix" in a lot of ways, not least of which from it starring Keanu Reeves. There's a lot of mindblowing effects strung together in the trailer in very much the same fashion as the original "Matrix" trailer. Let's just hope that as far as Keanu Reeves Sci-Fi films go, this is more "The Matrix" and less "Johnny Mnemonic".

March - As I mentioned in my review of "The Bourne Supremacy", if a book that is successfully made into a movie already has a second book continuing the story, then a second movie is a natural progression (as opposed to solely cashing in on the success of the first). Elmore Leonard's "Get Shorty" was a fun flick, and "Be Cool" (BD) promises more of the same. At the very least, it forced Travolta to drop those extra pounds he's been sporting lately. The result: The promotional photographs of him appear like he hasn't aged a day in the nine years since "Get Shorty". Very cool, indeed.

April - Rejoice! The first film to not have any letters! Of course, that doesn't guarantee that "The Interpreter" (none) will be any good. Still, some very intelligent actors such as Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn and Catherine Keener are being directed by Sidney Pollack. The international intrigue vibe in the trailer is giving me flashbacks to Pollack's "Three Days of the Condor", and that is a very good thing. Watch for it.

May - Although I loved the book "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" (AD), I'm unsure of the film. I wasn't as impressed as others were by the BBC adaptation that was done in 1981. It left me a feeling that this work should stay in printed form. We'll see if that opinion changes. "Kingdom of Heaven" (none) also has no letters to burden it, but it also has the distinct possibility of being a brainless Hollywood spectacle if handled incorrectly. Don't get me wrong. I've been waiting for a big film on the Crusades and that's why this is on my list, but I'm trying to stay grounded. Oh, and some film called "Star Wars: Episode III" (CCCCC) is opening, too.

June - "Batman Begins" (E) goes in with a lot of baggage. I only gave it an "E" because it is technically a new story, and therefore not a sequel, prequel or remake. Still, audiences might view it as such after seeing this character so often in the past fifteen years, played by three different people. Of course, that never hurt James Bond. I look forward to seeing what director Christopher Nolan ("Memento") and actor Christian Bale ("American Psycho") can do with this franchise. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Also, the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise collaboration on "War of the Worlds" (AD) will be released. Lord knows that after "Independence Day" did so well in 1996, Summer has become a great time for alien invasions. Let's see what two old pros like Spielberg and Cruise can do with this familiar story.

July - Although I was initially wary of the movie version of "Bewitched" (C), I then learned that the film's plot concerns the filming of a movie based on the series with a real witch cast as Samantha. It sounds like a more comedic version of "The Shadow of the Vampire", and that's a very weird vein to tap for such a mainstream movie. Still, it has me intrigued and wanting to see more. Then there is Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (AD), starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. For me, the unconventional casting of Gene Wilder was the best thing that the original film had going for it. As much as I love Johnny Depp, I'm not so sure about his casting. I'll take solace in the fact that he'll be getting back to Captain Jack Sparrow really soon. Finally, yet another comic book film, this time it's "The Fantastic Four" (E). It looks to be another adventure-type film in the vein of the "X-Men" series. That's a high standard to live up to.

August - Move along, people. Nothing to see here.

September - "The Mask of Zorro" surprised a lot of people as a really fun swashbuckler. So much so that we forgave it's occasional cliche as when all the heros run like hell from the big-ass explosion near the end. "The Legend of Zorro" (AB) will be reuniting all the principles, and I'll be pleased to see them together again. "Serenity" (C) is a feature film based on the now cancelled Sci-Fi series "Firefly". I have been meaning to borrow the DVD set from a friend of mine as I have heard such good things about the TV show. I'll be endeavoring to get caught up on the storyline before the film hits theaters.

October - As my wife and her grandfather will attest to, Nick Park is brilliant. His "Wallace and Gromit" shorts are pure genius, and his first foray into a feature length film, 2000's "Chicken Run", showed that he excelled even outside of his most famous characters. But that cheese-loving Brit and his hyper-intelligent dog are who we love most, so the approach of "The Wallace & Gromit Movie" (B) is very closely watched by many of us. We have every confidence that Nick won't let us down.

November - And speaking of unbroken track records of brilliance, we have Pixar's entry to the 2005 movie season: "Cars" (none). A short preview of this was shown before "The Incredibles" and it looks pretty good. Also upcoming are the rapidly maturing students at Hogwarts in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (BBD). Having not read past the second book, I won't pretend to have an informed opinion on this fourth installment. Instead, I'll just hope that it's at least as entertaining as the first three. Finally, that master of fantasy Terry Gilliam, who has been in hiding since his aborted "Don Quixote" three years ago, returns to the fold with "The Brothers Grimm" (D). To keep the studio suits from getting too nervous, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger star. Gilliam is currently directing a film called "Tideland" and after that...well...I've heard a lot of people voice their hope that he may soon take over a certain magical franchise.

December - The increasing popularity of fantasy films for the Christmas season was cemented over three straight Decembers with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. It's therefore appropriate that Peter Jackson's next project, "King Kong" (AA), also gets a December bow. People think Peter can do no wrong right now, but I'm under no such delusions. It's not that I wish him ill, but a remake of the B&W classic is not a sure thing. Here's hoping he pulls it off. Finally, there is the release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe" (AAD), Disney's attempt to cash in on the "LOTR" success by bringing another beloved fantasy literary classic to it's full CGI splendor. Though "Lion" is considered the best of the books, I'm sure that Disney is very pleased that there are many other books to look to if this becomes a hit.

And there's your twenty. Of course, there are other just as big films coming up that I haven't included due to complete lack of interest. This includes some movie spinoffs ("Elektra", "Beautyshop"), sequels nobody asked for ("Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo", "Son of the Mask", "XXX: State of the Union", "The Fast and the Furious 3", "Jurassic Park IV"), remakes nobody asked for ("The Pink Panther", "Herbie: Fully Loaded"), another TV show based film ("The Dukes of Hazzard") and a big-budget adaptation of a 1983 arcade game (The Rock in "Spy Hunter"). There will also be little films that sneak under the radar: Independent and foreign films that no one saw coming. Let's hope enough of these will make it to the googoplexes so that our sanity may be kept in 2005.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Review: "Richard III" (1995)

"Othello" on a High School basketball court. "Macbeth" in a fast food burger chain. "Love's Labor Lost" as a 1930's Hollywood Musical. Updating the Bard has become a popular pastime for screenwriters. Although purists like to put down such endeavors, they are truly missing out on some great work. After all, it's the stories as much as the language that make Shakespeare's plays memorable, and new interpretations only keep these stories alive for new audiences. Recently, we've had some commendable attempts at updating his plays for the times, with one in particular that I consider a modern classic.

In director Richard Loncraine's "Richard III", the story of the disfigured and vengeful royal is transported from the 15th century to an alternate reality circa 1930's England. In this version of history, a civil war has just ended with Richard's brother Edward crowned as King of England. Richard, however, has other plans for his family, his friends, his enemies and any other living soul that gets between him and the throne. Soon, we see the rise of Richard and his supporters that mirrors a similar regime in Germany at about the same time.

This particular interpretation of the play was first created by McKellen for the stage, where it was a success. When the opportunity arose to make a film version, he was given the chance to reprise his role as Richard. This would become his first staring role in a major movie production long before American audiences knew him as Gandalf the Grey. The charisma and intelligence he would later bring to his "Lord of the Rings" role is in evidence here. And as he would later prove when playing Magneto in the "X-Men" films, McKellen gives such life and passion into his villains that we are on the edge of our seat in anticipation of what he will do next.

Of course, placing the villain as the main character and asking the audience to connect with him is a dicey proposition. As is intended by Shakespeare in his scene between Richard and Lady Anne, we are meant to dredge up some sympathy for this poor miserable cripple, despite his heinous acts. The creators of this film decided to do Shakespeare one better by having Richard directly address the audience and bid us to follow him. We become complicit in his crimes and share in his elation when he finally attains a fleeting happiness. Right down to the memorable last frame of the film (and the perfectly chosen song that accompanies it), we are right next to Richard and are glad to be along for the ride.

The rest of the cast is a crowd of familiar faces including Kristin Scott Thomas, Nigel Hawthorne, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith. Two Americans, Robert Downey Jr. and Annette Bening, play two characters that have been scripted as American interlopers into the royal family. Since both actors were new to Shakespeare, a lot of critics pointed to their roles as miscasting. I think this is unfair, as there are British actors in the cast as well who are new to the Bard and do not receive similar criticism. Bening and Downey do just fine in their roles, and none of the cast deter the production.

Set design and costuming are superlative, with locations chosen to perfectly evoke the period of the film. Cinematography captures incredibly vivid colors with lots of reds and blacks (the colors of Richard's crest) filling the frames in both exciting battle scenes and also the quieter moments. Though some modern Shakespeare films choose to ditch the language entirely, this film manages to retain the basic language while still paring down from the original play. Any resulting anachronisms of the original text are slyly dealt with. The film even comes up with an ingenious way of including the "A horse, a horse" line without it sounding out of place.

It is a common misconception that Shakespeare is not for the masses when the opposite is true. The intriguing characters, dialogue and plotting are all there waiting to be seen by anyone new to his plays. If that means that modern Hamlets will deliver their soliloquies in video store aisles, then so be it. The more attempts that are made, the more likely a superior film will come to light. Then maybe, maybe we'll get to see a work that matches McKellen's brilliance.

Ten out of Ten

Skippy(s) of the Day: Viacom and Gary Cass

The latest story on the liberal blogs is the refusal by CBS and UPN (both owned by Viacom) to air a commercial for the United Church of Christ. It is the start of a new ad campaign to let people know about the UCC's philosophy of acceptance. The following is the statement issued by CBS on it's decision:

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."
It's interesting to note the deliberate wording by Viacom. The Church and their commercial is stressing their view that Jesus believed in acceptance. The statement issued by CBS avoids the positive word "acceptance" or any variation thereof in lieu of linking the church to the negative word "exclusion". There's a mind process going on behind this statement that such infantile wordplay may actually end up tarnishing the church while defending the networks. However, none of this disguises the basic message of the company, which is: "Because the UCC is pointing out the bigotry of others, including the President, we are uncomfortable with this statement of truth and choose not to acknowledge it".

Don't give me any crap about the "liberal media" when this stuff is going on. In the same month that Viacom rejected a simple message of tolerance, the Washington Post accepted a bigoted message of falsehoods. The cultural trend that began with Dubya's campaign of so-called "values" is continuing and will only snowball in the next four years. Bush and company have said that all they want to do is ban gay marriage, but he has made homosexuality itself the issue for his supporters to focus on. He has knowingly empowered these people to finally act on their impulses to strike down and rub out people that make them uncomfortable. They will not be satisfied with keeping homosexuals out of positions as Arabic translators and Scout masters. They wish to make them a much larger pariah on the level of child molesters and rapists.

Which brings us to Gary Cass. In this news story, he voices his view that after Bush's anti-gay rights campaign, his supporters expect more than just a ban on gay marriage:

"Do you want to take your children to a National League baseball game for instance and have homosexuals showing affection to one another? I don't want my kids to see that," he said.
After reading this, you have to wonder what exactly he's getting at here. Is he advocating the rounding up of homosexuals and putting them into camps? Farfetched and absurd, though the venom in his words seem to indicate he may have fantasies to this end. However, a simple ban on gay marriage is not a ban on displays of homosexual affection. What he really wants is a cultural shunning of homosexuals so they become in all practical terms second-class citizens.

Cass goes on to say that God's wrath will be inflicted upon the nation if the government is seen as tolerant to homosexuals. When a victorious football player claims God's grace as the reason for his victory, I have to wonder at the intelligence of a man who thinks a supreme being really gives a rat's ass if the Podunk Hurricanes won their division or not. But just as a mind will actually believe that God wanted their team to win (and, consequently, wanted the other team of god-fearing Christians to lose) so will they believe that God will bless a nation and just as quickly damn a nation for the government's treatment of human beings as...well...human.

Beware anyone who views their own salvation in terms of the punishment and destruction of others. Such people believe strapping explosives to their body and killing a busload of people will send them straight to paradise. Republicans may find that analogy offensive, but I believe it fits. Cass's beliefs may not drive him to the lengths of a suicide bomber in Israel, but that's only because he wishes to fight as long as possible. Click on that link and read the article, and you'll see his passion for erasing homosexuals as equal to that of anyone fighting over the West Bank.

Postscript: After writing all this, I found a second story on how ABC and NBC have also refused to air the spots. ABC gives the reason that they do not "...accept paid advertising that espouses a particular religious doctrine", which is at least a reason that has some logic and validity. On the other hand, NBC states that it "...violates their policies against running ads that take positions on matters of public controversy", which is absolute nonsense. The commercial does not show the UCC ordaining the marriage of two homosexuals, but rather simply welcoming them into a church. Greeting someone is now controversial. If you think for a moment that the Republican attacks will stop at gay marriage, then you've got another thing coming.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Yaphet Kotto Quote of the Month: December 2004

I regret to inform you that this will be the last Yaphet Kotto Quote of the Month entry. If I were to do it for another year, I'd be revisiting the same movies over and over again. Instead, since I originally used this feature to showcase a little known yet great actor, I will be changing to another actor in the new year for my Quote of the Month. As to who that actor will be, well, you'll have to tune in January 1st to find out.

For my last Kotto Quote I have chosen one of his few starring roles and a great unknown movie in its own right. "Across 110th Street" is a crime drama that matches a young black cop, Lt. Pope (Kotto) with an older white cop, Capt. Mattelli (Anthony Quinn) in order to investigate the murder of some mobsters and theft of a large sum of their money. In essence, it's "In The Heat of the Night" mixed with a blaxploitation film which didn't descend to camp (even with the presence of Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas in the cast). By the way, if the title sounds familiar, the title song was used in the beginning and end credits of Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown".

There's a scene where Kotto comes into an interrogation room and finds Quinn beating the crap out of a suspect, who's laid out on the floor bleeding and unconscious. Here's the quote:

Lt. Pope: This kind of thing went out with prohibition. You can't go around belting people.

Capt. Mattelli: Look! I'm sick and tired of your liberal b*llsh*t! You better make up your mind: Are you a cop or one of them social workers?

Lt. Pope: ALL RIGHT, CAPTAIN! Go back to 1940! Pull out the powderkeg; blow up the whole g*dd*mn community!

Capt. Mattelli: Look, the way I work gets results.

Lt. Pope: (motioning towards suspect) I don't hear him saying a g*dd*mn thing.