Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jason watches "Persepolis"

And I'll tell you, "Teeth" and "Persepolis" makes a pretty weird double feature. I probably should have seen them in the other order.

Anyway, "Persepolis" is a fine movie and it would've been an insult if it hadn't been nominated for the best animated feature Oscar. In fact, it probably has a great chance of winning. I liked the clean, simple lines of the animation. Hell, I liked the fact that it's hand drawn instead of computer animated. Other countries still do that. Just like other countries tell intelligent, adult stories in animation, instead of just kid's stuff. "Persepolis" is the autobiography of director Marjane Satrapi, who was a little girl in Iran during the revolution. She was a precocious and outspoken girl, proud of her uncle (who had been imprisoned by the Shah, and after a bit of freedom, executed by the new regime) and her kind, witty, outspoken grandmother. She has a number of run-ins with the morality police and leaves to study in Europe for a while. But she's miserable there and almost dies of bronchitis. She returns to Iran, but she's a stranger in her own country now. Eventually she moves to France and told her story, first as a graphic novel and now as this movie. It's a beautiful little story that gives you a personal view into Iran that's very different from what we see on the news. Yeah, there's some fucked up things going on, but the ordinary people don't really want it. There are some jerks in power now, but that's not really the soul of the country (same can be said for us).

Jason watches "Teeth"

Have you ever felt that maybe your entire life has just been practice? That all the joy, frustration, hopes, fears, triumph and failure is just preparing you for a special moment when you watch the movie that makes it all worthwhile? No? Maybe it's just me....

The vagina dentata myth has existed in just about every culture. And if you don't think there are remnants left in our modern culture, look closer. It survives in characters of dangerous, sexual women (such as the stereotypical wicked stepmother, stealing the good but weak father away). And it survives in visual symbols, often in surprising places. Next time you watch Disney's "The Little Mermaid", check out the mouth of Ursula's cave (Ursula, of course, is a classic vagina dentata character). For that matter, re-watch "Return of the Jedi" and think about he Sarlacc pit--probably not intentional, but was there something in George Lucas' subconscious that chose that form for terror? We've even invented an anti-rape device that turns the myth into reality.

Anyway, on to the movie. I just wanted to prove I'm not really crazy for looking forward to this movie. The myth has a long and illustrious history, and I've long thought it's due for a modern revisiting. With this movie, the result is the greatest superhero movie ever! Maybe I'm supposed to be scared, but this is really far more comedy than horror. Dawn is a young abstinence enthusiast, so unfamiliar with her own body she doesn't realize she has an extra set of teeth. When she meets a totally dreamy boy in her abstinence club (which from what I read is the primary activity of such clubs), one thing leads to another...and ends poorly--stump #1! The final stump count is only 7, and that's a little inflated since 4 are fingers. Fingers from the same hand. Yeah, the gynecologist scene is awesome! Anyway, it's set up well for a sequel--which I'd be the first in line to see.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jason draws a funny

And I have no fucking clue why. But don't worry, if I haven't quit my day job to become a movie reviewer, I'm certainly not about to quit to become a cartoonist.

Idea is entirely my own, but the "artwork" is entirely plagiarized from, and even then I couldn't get the chair right.

Some notes about this. I don't know why this super-advanced sentient computer doesn't have a flat screen monitor, I guess I still worship at the Church of the Cathode Ray. Yes, the super advanced computer is amused by playing solitaire. And yes, I routinely name my Word document things like important_file.doc. Shut up!
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Jason watches "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

And as a result, I've now seen every best director Oscar nominee.

Many people have written great things about this movie, so I'll keep this brief. It's an amazing true story, about a man who suffers a stroke and "locked-in" syndrome. He can only move one eye, but dictates an entire book by blinking. His assistant recites the alphabet, and he blinks at the letter he wants (if nothing else, you should learn the French alphabet by watching this movie). It's a gutsy decision to shoot a lot of the movie (especially the beginning parts) from his point of view (an immobile guy who can't even focus well). In fact, it's pretty frustrating for a while, and I found myself hoping the whole movie wouldn't be like that. Fortunately, it isn't. But then I started missing his interior monologue, which is possibly the best part of the movie.

All in all, it feels like a very good semi-experimental festival film (i.e., a little pretentious, but more or less deserving of its self-praise) that somehow made it into a general release. I felt somewhat the same way about "Atonement". I wonder if that's a real trend.

Jason glances at the Oscar nominees

Every year I do the same thing--when the Oscar nominees are announced, I try to see as many of the nominees as I can, then after the ceremony, I don't give a damn anymore (my other tradition is drinking my way through the ceremony and passing out for the second half).

Anyway, my first reaction was that I have to go see "Atonement" now. Done, see my previous post. Now "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is at the top of my list.

However, I can guarantee I won't see every nominee. Chances are the foreign pictures will be impossible anyway, but even if I get everything else there's no fucking way in hell I will ever see "Norbit" (nominated for makeup)! You can't make, and I hate you for even suggesting it! I'm saddened to even live in a world where "Norbit" can advertise as an Oscar nominated film.

I will, however, see "The Bourne Ultimatum" on DVD. I liked the first Bourne movie, mostly because it was one of the few recent action movies that didn't use too much shaky-cam. I could actually see what was going on, hooray! And it was relatively smart for an action film. The second one still had a clever enough plot, but the action scenes drove me bonkers with the shaky-cam. I heard from a trusted friend that the third was likewise shaky, so I skipped it. But I'll give it a chance on DVD.

I'm very happy to see "Juno" get a Best Picture nod. Ditto for Ellen Page. This movie is keeping form as this year's "Little Miss Sunshine" (which was the last highly touted indie-hipster comedy that I actually liked).

Categories in which I've seen all the nominees (now that I've seen "Atonement"): Best Picture, Supporting Actress (BTW, I love Cate Blanchett getting a nomination for a male role), Art Direction, Score, Visual Effects (and I'll kill someone if "Transformers" wins).

"Enchanted" has three nominations--all for songs? Way to split the vote, guys!

For feature length documentary, "Sicko" was a given, but I'm very happy that "Taxi to the Dark Side" got a nod. I haven't seen the other entries (although 2 of them are available on DVD already), but if it came down to those two, I'd vote for Taxi. It's the same team that made "Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room" (which I'd recommend highly) and they have a great gift for explaining the concrete facts of a very complicated issue (sometimes complicated only by media and spin) in a way that makes it very understandable without dumbing it down. They're providing a truly great service and need to be encouraged as much as possible.

I have some lawyer friends who will be very happy about how many nominations "Michael Clayton" got. And it is a very good movie, but I just don't see it winning much.

Okay, that's all my thoughts for now. I'll go into each category later, and at least until the end I'll only go into categories where I've seen all the nominees.

Jason watches "Atonement"

As soon as the Oscar nominations came out yesterday (more on that later), "Atonement" jumped to the top of my list. I figured this was inevitable. As soon as I saw the previews, I figured this was a big juicy glob of Oscar bait. And I guess it worked.

So I went straight to the local cinema right after work and caught this. And for the first 15 minutes or so, I was dreaming up dirty Oscar-bait puns I could use in this write-up. "Oscarbation"..."Oscarbatory"..."Oscar-baiting in my face".... But then it actually became a pretty good movie. Good acting, engaging story, clever editing, a surprising twist at the end, and a horrors-of-war-scene featuring a Ferris wheel? Okay, I don't quite get that one. There are a few dashes of pretension (the dream sequence). But all in all I came out thinking it was a strong, thoughtful, interesting movie.

And then this morning I was thinking about it some more and realized (warning, here be minor spoilers!) Did it actually make the case that if you do something horrible and ruin the lives of two people you really care about, it's okay as long as you write a novel about it 60 years after the fact? Or is the title ironic--there are actually some betrayals so terrible that there is no hope for atonement?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Jason watches "Blade Runner: The Final Cut"

At the Parkway, with beer and pizza. Woo hoo!

It's still a great movie, I can't really remember what's different between this and the movie I've seen on video dozens of times (but apparently not recently enough). I suppose I could bitch about director's going back and re-cutting their movies over and over again. But I don't care, anything that puts "Blade Runner" back on the big screen is good for the world.

Jason previews upcoming event--Noir Fest, Indiefest, and Teeth

Okay, I'm all caught up writing about movies I have seen, so I can look to the future and tell you about upcoming events.

First up, starting Friday, January 25th at the Castro is Noir City, the SF noir film festival. I've heard good things about this festival, but I've actually never been. So I hope to make it this year.

Whether or not I see the rest of Noir City, I will miss opening night, because I'll be at the Rickshaw Stop for the Indiefest kickoff party. Indiefest is the festival that started it all for me, and it's always a good time.

The actual Indiefest festival starts on February 7th at the Castro and plays through February 20th at the Roxie and Victoria theaters. As usual, I am planning to see everything (it's possible, but not trivial, I'll tell you how shortly). So I can list the movies I'm most excited about seeing, but this comes with the caveat that I've barely skimmed the program guide, I just figured out how to see everything. My favorite movies are always ones that I didn't notice when I first read the guide. So this list of movies I'm excited about is really a list of movies that have the greatest chance of disappointing me:
Being Michael Madsen--that looks fun.
A Big Story in a Small City--Always love the Eastern European dark comedies.
Never Belongs to Me--You had me at "From the director of Teenage Hooker Becomes Killing Machine in Daehakroh", but what's it doing as the midnight screening both Friday nights? Are you trying to let me go home early one of those Fridays?
Paranormal Activity--looks creepy. I detect a bit of a theme in my preferences.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation--This actually played at Indiefest a couple of years ago. A shot for shot remake (minus the airplane fight scene) of "Raiders" done by kids. Awesome!
Sexina: Popstar, PI--What's not to love?
Stuck--I remember hearing about this when it actually happened. And it's directed by Stuart Gordon? Awesome! And if you only think of Stuart Gordon as making cheesy horror comedies like "Re-animator" (one of the all time greats, by the way), check out "Edmond".

Anway, see you at Indiefest!

And finally, I want to make a rare mention of an upcoming movie that's playing in general release. When I heard about Teeth, a modern re-telling of the vagina dentata myth, I couldn't wait to see it. Well, it's finally coming to theaters in a limited release, including the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley on January 25th. Now, normally I wouldn't mention this, I'd just write about it after I saw it. But a few days ago I got an e-mail from a promotional company called, informing me about it. Here's the e-mail in entirety (with the e-mail address removed):


Next week, TEETH opens in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Boston, Philly, Portland, Houston and Denver. The much anticipated film from last year’s Sundance.

Roadside Attractions Presents TEETH:

TEETH tells the story of High school student Dawn (Jess Weixler) works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group's most active participant. Her task is made even more difficult by her bad boy stepbrother Brad's (John Hensley) increasingly provocative behavior at home. A stranger to her own body, innocent Dawn discovers she has a toothed vagina when she becomes the object of violence. As she struggles to comprehend her anatomical uniqueness, Dawn experiences both the pitfalls and the power of being a living example of the vagina dentata myth.

The film stars Jess Weixler (GOODBYE BABY, THE BUG BAD SWIM), John Hensley (TV’s NIP|TUCK, FIFTY PILLS), Josh Paris (PHONE BOOTH), Hale Appleman, Ashley Springer, Vivienne Benesch, Lenny Von Dohlen, Nicole Swahn, Julia Garro and Adam Wagner. TEETH was written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (RESURRECTION, PATRIOTIC).

*** TEETH opens in Seattle, Austin, Boston, Philly, Portland, San Francisco, Houston and Denver on Friday, Jan. 25th

Meet Dawn on MySpace:

Digital EPK can be downloaded at:

Trailer can be downloaded at:

Onesheet can be downloaded at:

Publicity Stills can be found at (Please register to log in):
I couldn't have said it better myself. More importantly, getting stuff like that makes me feel like I've arrived. I mean, someone who works in promotions thinks that getting a mention on this blog will help their movie. And hopefully it does. I hope the movie's good, because I'm really excited about it.

Jason watches "There Will Be Blood"

Paul Thomas Anderson has made some very good, critically acclaimed, and at least moderately commercially successful movies--"Boogie Nights", "Magnolia", and "Punch Drunk Love" are the famous ones. But "There Will Be Blood" is his masterpiece.

This movie is about a lot more things than oil. There's family, religion, greed, trust, betrayal, danger, and false pretenses. It's ironic that the hero (or anti-hero) is Daniel Plainview, since nothing is quite what it seems (and Daniel Day-Lewis is excellent in the role). As I said, it's about a lot of things, but if I had to sum it up in one sentence, it's a scathing religious epic with Oil playing the role of God (God is also up for the role of God, but Oil wins).

But you can read plenty about this movie elsewhere, so I won't write more of my thoughts. It's a dense 2 hours, 38 minutes, and it'd take more effort just to organize my thoughts coherently.

and But I do want to mention a new trend I've noticed (that's probably not really that new). It's a carbon neutral movie. I know this has been done before, with "Day After Tomorrow" and "An Inconvenient Truth", but recently I've been noticing movies proclaiming their carbon-neutrality in the end credits. This is the third I've noticed, the first two being "No Country for Old Men" and "Charlie Wilson's War". I did a quick Google search and I could find articles about movies going carbon neutral but no comprehensive list of which movies have a carbon neutral statement in the credits. That surprised me. I'm sure I just didn't look hard enough.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jason watches "Cloverfield"

Okay, this has been eagerly anticipated on the ol' internet, so hopes are up and people are primed to be disappointed. Well, I wasn't. I can nitpick a few things, but all in all I think it's a great movie.

There's nothing I haven't seen before. Monster destroys New York--that's been done. It's really hard to come up with a new monster anymore. And as for hand-held camcorder "found footage", forget "Blair Witch" (I've tried, it's worth it), but I've seen that it tons of film festival movies. But merging the two techniques is something new. Camcorder films have always been from filmmakers who have no money, not enough money to simulate throwing the Statue of Liberty's head across the city (I assume they didn't actually do that!) And I'll give them credit for that, and for making a movie that's fast paced and completely enjoyable. And tons of credit for the SFX guys for blending the sophisticated effects shots with the hand held video. That couldn't have been easy.

The idea is new, but using so many borrowed techniques that it feels inevitable. If they hadn't made this movie, someone would have within a few years. It's odd for a movie to feel this original and this predestined.

Now I know some people won't like this movie (like the guy who got up at the end of the screening and started booing it). It does frustrate the audience in some ways. I know a lot of people won't be used to watching hand-held shaky cam pictures, and there are bits of scenes where it's hard to tell what exactly is happening (other than a lot of panicking). And some people will be frustrated by how you never get a good look at the monster. Personally, I think there are shots near the end that show too much, but the introduction scene is brilliant.

In any case, I think this will be a movie that will divide audiences. Those who can't take the disorientation of the hand held camera will hate it. Some will look right past that and see a plot that's something like the middle of a Godzilla movie, without a proper introduction or payoff. But me, I see it as a fun time and an impressive achievement in movie-making.

Oh, and as for the nitpicking I said I could do. Three things:

First, when Robert Hawkins is trying to check his messages on his cell phone (his girlfriend Beth left a message he couldn't quite hear earlier) he quiets everyone in the store. It gets really quiet--enough that you can hear her voice on the other side of the phone. Okay, maybe everyone in the store was quiet, but there's a giant fucking monster stomping around outside, with military guys firing at it! Are we to believe that the monster and the military both took a break so he could check his message?

Second, when they're all down in the subway system, they stay there for a while before deciding to walk the tunnels to midtown. That was my first instinct, why did it take them so long?! As it turns out, it's not a great idea. But if there's a monster stomping around outside and you can get where you want to go underground, that seems like a good idea.

And third, this is just a general complaint I always have about movies that are supposed to be camcorder found footage. There are times I just can't believe he'd keep filming what's happening rather than drop the camera and run. They try to cover that with the "people will want to know" quote. And I guess it works. I really shouldn't dismiss a whole category of films based on this nitpick, especially since one of my favorite movies, "Jimmy and Judy" uses that technique.

Jason watches More Than a Movie--"Flourish"

Okay, this one is for all you old-school downtown San Jose movie fans--the Camera 3 is coming back!!!

For those who don't know what that means, the Camera Cinemas used to own a 3 screen and 1 screen theater downtown. Cinequest started in Camera 3. A few years back they bought out the 12 screen theater across the street (I think it used to be UA, and then was empty for a while). Then they closed the Camera One and Camera 3, since the Camera 12 was enough (they also have the Camera 7 in Campbell, and the Los Gatos theater, which as I recall is 3 screens). The Camera One has become an art gallery, but the Camera 3 was empty for years (except for an improv comedy troupe called ComedySportz that played there, I've never seen them).

For those who know what that means but don't understand why I'm excited--this means the cafe in the Camera 3 is reopening, too! Have a nice sandwich and sit and chat with other film fans before, after, or between movies. It was a great social spot of Cinequest and film fans all year round, and it's coming back!

For those who know, understand why I'm excited, but don't really care themselves...screw you!

Anyway, last Thursday was their "soft launch" and the kickoff to Cinequest's year-round "More Than a Movie" program. They're playing art house and festival films for one week runs throughout the year. The opening program was "Flourish", a humorous mystery-drama by Kevin Palys, and starring Leighton Meester and a lot of other fine actors, but Leighton Meester was there for the screening. Opening night of each run has some special event, and this time it was snacks and an interview with Kevin Palys and Leighton Meester.

As I said, it's a mystery-drama-comedy. To make it more mysterious, dramatic, and comedic, it's told after the fact by a woman in a psychiatric ward. That woman is Gabby Winters, she is a proof-reader, tutor, and for just one night, a baby-sitter. The girl she was baby-sitting is actually the 16 year old Lucy (Meester), who ended up dead in a pool by the end of the night. Gabby is telling her story to Dr. Kaufman, because in her words the police report is "boring". And of course you have to realize this through the whole movie--this is a story told by a semi-crazy woman who's more interested in telling a fun story with a big finish than in telling the truth. And the story is interesting, with cheating spouses, stolen cars, girls locked in trunks (more on that later), a brother in the army, and a mysterious envelope--the maguffin of the whole movie. It's wild and fun, and the acting is great. It was shot on video, so the picture isn't that good (it looked kind of dark, which might have been a projection problem), and it felt like the sound levels were off, too. But all in all, it was a fun night.

And here's a picture of Leighton Meester and Kevin Palys, being interviewed just before the screening.
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Jason corrects some errors about "The Red Elvis"

Or at least about my post where I wrote about the movie "The Red Elvis". I got this comment from Dale Reed, Dean Reed's older brother. I'll let it speak for itself:
A couple comments about your comments about my younger brother Dean.

1) Dean's first wife "Patricia" was American living in California where they first met.

2) It is unfortunate if the latest movie about Dean said he was a member of the Communist Party. I have no evidence that he was and knowing Dean I remember that he was not a joiner.

Unless he was trying to change it from within. We Reeds are known for fighting our battles from inside rather than throwing rocks from the outside.

As a result shortly after Dean died the East German wall fell and shortly after that the USSR dissolved. Dale

Now I have to explain something. First, I apologize for getting the facts wrong. Second, I'm not by profession a film journalist, I'm not even involved in the industry in any way (other than as a consumer). I'm a physicist for a company building gamma ray cameras for medical imaging. I watch movies for fun, and starting writing about them a few years ago in part just so I could look back and remember what I saw. Enough friends, filmmakers, and film festival programmers were interested in my opinions that I started this blog rather than trying to keep track of who I should e-mail about what movie.

So, to make a long story short, I don't have the training, resources, or time to fact-check everything I write. I'm usually doing this from memory (and help from the film festival guide and/or IMDb), often a few days and several movies after the fact (when, for example, I see a movie early in a weekend series and I don't write about it until Monday, I might see 10 or more other movies before I go back and write about it).

I can't say for sure now that "The Red Elvis" by Leopold Grün actually said Dean Reed was a communist or if I'm misremembering it (perhaps the nickname "Red Elvis" put the wrong idea in my head). I also can't say whether it actually misidentified his first wife. I'm assuming I'm mistaken, not the movie, based on the fact that I've seen 90 minutes of material on him and I assume Leopold Grün did quite a bit more research.

The Internet, obviously, is a great source of misinformation. I hope I'm not doing too much damage. I further hope that by making it easier for people to try to correct the misinformation, eventually the correct facts will rise to the surface. I know this doesn't happen all the time, as the original misinformation is remembered and the corrections are forgotten (But how many newspapers do you know that would write this much for a correction?)

As a scientist, I pride myself in reporting my observations correctly. So it obviously bothers me when I get something like this wrong, even if it's not in my professional setting.

I think the key to gleaning the information from the misinformation is a matter of knowing who you can trust as an authority. Well, let me help you here--I'm not an authority on much of anything. When you read a review here, you can be sure I actually saw the movie in question and I'm giving you my honest opinion based on what I can remember. I can't vouch for the accuracy of my memory, because I don't take notes during the movie. And when I see 6 movies a day and try to write about them all, it's inevitable I will not remember everything correctly. I'm sorry for any errors, and if you notice any of them please feel free to comment or e-mail me with the correct information.

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--closing night

I didn't make it up for the matinees, but I did go to the closing night film and party. Before hand they announced the audience award winners. And since I've been told (although I can't verify this) that I was the first online source to report that "Paula's Secret" won, let me go further and tell you that they also announced the top three runners up. They were all very close, with scores between something like 4.62 and 4.66 (out of 5) and I might have some in the wrong order. But to my recollection they were:

3rd runner-up: "Late Bloomers"
2nd runner-up: "Jacob's Brother" (this might have been 1st runner-up, I'm not sure)
1st runner-up: "To The Limit" (which I missed, it was a weekday noon screening and I have a regular job).
And, of course, the winner is "Paula's Secret".

But for my money, the best could have been the closing night comedy, "Grave Decisions" (the original title, "Wer Früher Stirbt, Ist Länger Tot", I'm told translates to "The earlier you die, the longer you're dead". Unwieldy in English, but I like it better.) It takes place in a small Bavarian town. Sebastian is an 11 year old boy who lives with his father, works in their inn, gets into trouble, is beaten by his older brother, and deeply misses his dead mother. At first he does some experiments to see if he can bring her back. His Frankenstein experiment on a rabbit ends with an explosion (and completes the festival's dead bunny trifecta), and then he moves on to trying to become immortal himself. The inn's drunk regulars explain how procreation is the secret to immortality, intending to explain how his mother lives on through him. Instead it leads to an awkward encounter with his teacher. Later to local radio DJ (and the teacher's husband) explains how rock-and-roll fame makes you immortal, so he gets a guitar and practices like crazy. He's certainly got the rock-and-roll wild streak down (though he's too young for sex and drugs). It's a sweet, crowd-pleasing, coming-of-age story with a touch of surrealism and absurdity that strikes me just right. An excellent way to end a find festival.

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Day 6

This night started with the silent film program of a Karl Valentin short and feature, courtesy of the Film Museum Munich.

Karl Valentin didn't have much success in his life (he was successful on stage, but not in film), but was discovered later and now his movies are fairly popular (for old black and white silents). He was also very tall and had a gigantic nose, both of which he played up in his comedy.

Anyway, first we saw a short film, "The New Desk". Karl plays a clerk who receives a new desk. It's too tall, so he cuts down the legs (he was a carpenter before making movies). Now the desk is too short, so he cuts the legs down. Repeat, until he falls through the floor. Cool.

Then his feature film, "The Oddball". Karl is a tailor by training, but there's no work for him. He's also an avid stamp collector, and a bit of a klutz. He first takes odd jobs to pay the rent, and eventually is hired on as an assistant to a tailor, where the tailor's wife takes a liking to him. Wacky hijinx, of course, ensue. Leading up to the funniest thing of all--attempted suicide! It was pretty funny, but I got the sense that a lot of his jokes that worked on stage were more verbal, and he could have done better in talkies, if he were only given the chance.

Next up was a movie that Ingrid introduced as not a comedy, so I feel kinda bad about laughing at "Import Export". A story (or two stories) that takes place in and between the Ukraine and Austria. In the first story, Olga is a nurse in the Ukraine who moves west and gets work in a geriatric ward in Austria. In the second (concurrent, and interweaving) story, Paul is an unemployed security guard who moves to the Ukraine with his stepfather, looking for a new life. It's not ha ha funny, but it is oh-my-god-that's-kinda-extreme funny. Or at least, it was to me. Yeah, their lives are pretty bleak, but there's sex, death (and the elderly near death), debasement, etc. And it's all played very matter-of-fact, almost casually. Especially the graphic, casual, commercial sexuality. That made me laugh the most.

And we're almost done. Just the closing night remains.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Day 5

Okay, I'm trying to finish this in reasonable time. I've still got 5 more B&B screenings to write up, and another movie since then. So let's just jump right in.

Last Monday night I saw two movies. First up was "Hounds", another dysfunctional family film. This one takes place in the stark beauty of the dead of winter in Uckermark region (a rural area just outside of Berlin). Lars has just moved there with his recently divorced dad. The locals don't take kindly to outsiders, and his dad's idea to rent out his barn to newlyweds seems kinda stupid. Lars' only friend is Marie, a mute girl. But of course her father is dead set against their friendship. Meanwhile Lars' mother comes over for Christmas, insisting despite the divorce she won't miss Christmas with her son. And she brings her lover with her--awkward! It's actually a very sweet, beautiful, and touching film. I also have to mention that it contains one of the festivals mini-themes--dead bunnies. That's sad. Bunnies are cute, and dead bunnies aren't. That's actually been a theme of movies I've seen for the past year, at least since "Your Mommy Kills Animals". Has cinema been killing more rabbits in the past year, or have I just gotten more sensitive to it?

Anyway, here's a pic of Constantin von Jascheroff (Lars) at the Q&A:

And the second film of the night was also about a dysfunctional family relationship. "Twisted Sister". Anne is a successful music producer, but her personal life with her loser boyfriend Philipp is a mess. She goes on holiday to Spain with her 18 year old sister Marie. They have wacky adventures together, fight some, do some drugs, have a little love triangle (or at least sex triangle...but sorry, no threesome). There's also a lost cell phone, pressures from mom and work, and a traffic accident. And in the end, I'm asking 'which sister was supposed to be twisted?' I guess that's pretty much the point. Here's a picture of the co-star (and daughter of Ulrich Mühe) Anna Maria Mühe (Marie, the younger sister):

And that was Monday.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Day 4

Sorry, I've been way too busy to write. I'm 5 days and a dozen movies behind schedule. The festival's already over, and I haven't written up last Sunday yet.

However, the advantage to that is I know how the festival ended, so I can tell you that the first film Sunday, "Paula's Secret", won the audience award. It's a crowd-pleasing (obviously) comedy about a little rich girl, Paula. She has a secret (I hope I'm not going too fast for you). Her secret is that she keeps a diary where she pretends to correspond with a dashing fairy-tale prince. She's robbed on the train, and among other items her diary is stolen. Her lower-class slob classmate, Tobi (who secretly has a crush on her) offers to help her find it. And wacky hijinx ensue, including but not limited to sneaking away from her holiday summer camp, tracking down the kids who stole her diary, finding and foiling a Romanian child slave labor ring, saving the day, and falling in love. Super sweet!

Next up was the improvised movie, "So Long My Heart". Interestingly, co-direction/screenwriter Oliver Paulus admitted that it wasn't intended to be to totally improvised. His previous movie had been improvised and editing was a nightmare. So this time, he had a story arc written, with room to improvise dialog. Then another movie came out just before they started shooting that used many of the same details. So they scrapped it and went with a completely improvised film (and he had to deal with the nightmare editing process again). Anyway, the result is the melancholy bittersweet comedy/drama about a lonely man who moves to Mannheim. He takes a job as a caretaker in a nursing home (and it was actually shot in the nursing home using residents as characters), where he's the only male employee and therefore quite popular. But he's popular in one of the loneliest and most depressing places/times in life. It reminds me of the line from Donnie Darko--"Every living creature on this earth dies alone". But here he finds a ray of beauty in compassion in the last stages of life. Great acting all around, and a great look, although the improvisation does let it kind of meander. Here's Co-director and screenwriter Oliver Paulus:

Next up was a Berlin and Beyond tradition, showing the audience award winners from Kinofest Lünen. First the short "15 Minuten Wahrheit", an eco-political thriller-comedy about the loyal employees sticking it to the evil boss who's planning to fire them. It was excellent.

And then the feature film--also excellent--"Jacob's Brother". A dysfunctional family road trip comedy. Jacob (or Jakob) is the responsible older brother, who now owns and operates a fish restaurant. Lorenz is the kinda crazy wild younger brother. They haven't spoken in a long time (because Jacob got fed up and left), but now their mother is sick and Lorenz goes to find him and bring him home (so that he can be the responsible one again). Car trouble, a 16 year-old girl hitchhiker, and complete psychotic breakdowns ensue. It was hilarious.

Next up was a more serious movie. "And Along Come Tourists" takes place in the Polish town of Oœwiêcim, better known by the name of the concentration camp just outside of town--Auschwitz. It's the semi-autobiographical story of Sven, a German youth who moves there to work at the camp's youth hostel to fulfill his German civil service obligation (writer/director Robert Thalheim worked there for the same reason). There he meets and looks after Krzemiñski, a former camp inmate who started a department preserving historical artifacts--particularly restoring old suitcases. They specifically never say if Krzemiñski is Jewish or if he was in the camp for other reasons. Nor do they get into why he didn't leave. He's really a very mysterious and of course tragic character. The treatment of Krzemiñski (lately his restoration work is destroying more suitcases than it saves, but they're afraid to fire him for fear of offending him) is emblematic of the whole town. It's a town that's afraid at any moment to say or do anything that might disrespect its tragic history, but on the other hand it's a down that's desperate to get beyond its history and finally think of the future again. The disparity is shocking, but understandable, and is handled with great respect. Ultimately Sven finds his place there, but it's an uncomfortable place.

Next up was the relationship comedy "Runaway Horse", but first the short "Forest Cleaner" ("Waldmeister"). The short was not originally scheduled with this, but since co-director and star Markus Mischkowski had to catch his flight, they played it early. It's a hilarious slapstick black and white flick about two guys whose job is to pick up trash in the forest. When there's not enough trash, they have to find a way to survive. A comedy of employment and make-work programs. Hilarious. Here's a picture of Markus Mischkowski:

As I said, "Runaway Horse" is a relationship comedy. Based on a best-selling novel, it's a simple 4-person story. A middle aged married couple (Helmut and Sabine) go to a quiet lakeside resort for a holiday. There Helmut runs into an old school buddy, Klaus, a wild playboy with a much, much younger girlfriend (Hel). This disrupts Helmut's quiet holiday of bird watching, as Klaus manages to barge in on just about everything, making his holiday kinda hellish (no pun intended). To make matters worse, Sabine enjoys Klaus' company, and he seems to be just the man she wishes Helmut was. And Hel flirts openly with Helmut. And hijinx ensue. It's funny, well acted, and a crowd-pleaser. And, of course, it has the German cynicism about relationships, but with a surprisingly romantic ending.

Then I saw "Forest Cleaner" again, in the time slot where it was actually programmed. It's good enough to watch twice and enjoy both times.

And finally, the marathon weekend ended with the documentary, "Heavy Metal in the Country". Swabia (southern region of Germany) has the reputation for small quiet towns. But nestled in the Swabian town of Dunzdorf is the worldwide headquarters of Nuclear Blast records. Markus Staiger founded it, after growing up as a metal fan and selling records to his friends. It's now one of the world's most successful independent heavy metal labels. The disparity is striking, and the movie's editing plays that disparity to the maximum. And the effect is fascinating, funny, and weird. And that's all I have to say. That's the way the weekend ended, and that's the way this post will end. More to come...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Day 3

Yeah, I skipped day 2. I was busy. Anyway, big Saturday full of movies, here we go:

First up was the short film program, titled in the efficient German manner, "Short Film Program":

"Security"--A comedy about supermarket security, theft, and desperation.

"Apple on a Tree"--A musical comedy about an apple who dreams of being a man. God grants his wish, then he finds out that being a man sucks, and wishes he were an apple again. Shot in Soylent Green-imation--where everything is made of people! This movie is awesome! I'm still humming, 'All I wanna be, is an apple on a tree!'

"Fair Trade"--Specifically, trade between Africa and Europe across the Straits of Gibraltar. More specifically, about the trade in African babies to childless Europeans. Ummm..."fair" is meant ironically.

"My Father is Sleeping"--A coming-of-age day in the life of a little boy living on a farm with his sick father and carefree sister. A story of growing up, responsibility, death, and bunnies (and dead bunnies...that was sad. I've seen too many dead bunnies in films this past year). Here's a pic of producer Sol Bondy at the Q&A afterwards:

"Diary of a Perfect Love"--An animated comedy about a loser who gets a dream job designing a realistic robotic toy hamster. He also meets and falls in love with his beautiful colleague. I just have to say, I'm a big fan of German cynicism about romance. Which probably explains why I'm so alone. Moving on...

"Video 3000"--This fancy new remote controls the whole freakin' world! I wonder what happens if I press the power button?

"Mammal"--Mother and son, in a tense but symbiotic relationship. Scale changes everything.

"Women Talk About Themselves"--Specifically, Iranian women. And they talk about their hardships and their hopes.

Next up was the documentary "The Red Elvis", about Dean Reed. If you're like me, you hadn't heard of Dean Reed before. Think of him as a little like an Elvis knock-off from Denver. But he never really caught on in America. He was, however, immensely popular in South America, particularly Chile. With his fame, he felt it was his responsibility to try to make the world a better place. And to him that meant getting involved both in pacifist causes and in the Communist revolution in Chile. He became an active member of the Communist party, and played in Moscow and East Germany. There he met his first wife, and stayed. Although he always claimed to love America, he also spoke out against it quite a lot. Eventually he even abandoned his pacifism and advocated outright struggle. Through it all, he was a matinee idol, playing to sold-out shows and making 20 movies in East Germany. He was also a notorious womanizer and went through his share of wives. It all ended in 1986 under mysterious circumstances--officially ruled a suicide in a lake in East Berlin. A fascinating person and a very well made movie that makes great use of archival footage and contemporary interviews. Look for a biopic of his life coming out soon from Tom Hanks, of all people?! Here's a pic of Director Leopold Grün:

Next up was the Swiss crowd-pleaser, "Late Bloomers". Martha has lived for 80 years, the last 9 months as a widow. She's lost her zest for life, and is mostly just waiting to die while keeping her husband's old shop open. Her son, the local pastor, wants the shop for his bible study group (and to cavort with a female parishioner--oooh la la!). An opportunity to be useful presents itself when the town choir's banner needs to be mended. She used to sew before she met her husband. But as her friends help her with the banner, a more startling revelation comes to light. She didn't just sew--she used to sew sexy lingerie, and dreamt of opening a boutique in Paris. So her friends convince her to do just that, but in their tiny Swiss village instead of Paris. This causes quite a stir for the simple, conservative village. It's a generational struggle, with the twist being that the octogenarians are the ones with the hip, cool, new ideas, and the young people are the stick-in-the-mud hypocrites. It's old age having a go at youth, and although it plays out in rather predictable ways, as I said it's quite a crowd pleaser. In fact, the festival write-up claims it's the most successful Swiss film in 25 years. Neato!

Next up was the bad-skin drama "Neandertal". Guido is 17 years old and has suffered all his life from neuro-dermatitis, a skin condition sometimes called German eczema. It's most prevalent in Germans, and particularly suburban Germans. From what I gathered, it's sort of a psychosomatic disease, in that the extent of the rash can be affected by the stress in the life of the sufferer. While most denizens of Neandertal (the small German town after which the caveman species gets its name) want to leave, Guido just wants to be normal. Not much of a chance of that, though. He discovers that his parents perfect marriage is nothing but, and he runs away, moves in with his older brother, and meets the charismatic but dangerous rogue Rudi. He idolizes Rudi, and with his help begins a quest for independence that actually causes his skin to clear up. But not all is right with Rudi, either. It's a very tense, exciting movie about the struggle between our caveman instincts and our civilized upbringing. Here's a pic of composer Jakob Ilja (I should mention that the soundtrack was excellent) and Director Ingo Haeb at the Q&A afterwards:

Next up was "Yella", which was introduced as a metaphysical thriller. I kinda wish it hadn't been introduced that way, because it kind of ruined the "surprise" ending for me. forget I described it. In fact, forget I mentioned there's a surprise ending. Crap! Anyway, Yella is a talented accountant from East Germany who's just been offered her dream job in the west. Her borderline psycho ex-husband Ben doesn't want her to leave. He insists on at least driving her to the train station, but instead drives off a bridge into a river, nearly killing them both (in a very exciting scene). She runs to make the train just in time, and gets on well in her new job, assisting in business negotiations by discovering business secrets by studying balance sheets (she's darn good at her job). Unfortunately, Ben continues stalking her, and she fears for her life. Especially when she starts having an affair with her colleague, that just pisses Ben off more. Meanwhile any sounds of water sets off flashbacks reminding her of her near death experience. As I mentioned, there's a surprise ending which unfortunately I guessed pretty early on. It still didn't keep me from appreciating the acting and how well the whole thing was put together, it just all felt inevitable from very early on. Oddly, most of the audience seemed perplexed by it, either questioning what happened or accusing it of ripping off "Carnival of Souls" (oops...bigger spoiler, if you've seen that). It must have been a frustrating Q&A for actor Hinnerk Schönemann (Ben), pictured below:

And the final film of the night was "The Lives of Others", part of the tribute to Ulrich Mühe, the great actor who sadly passed away last summer. This was the best foreign film Oscar winner last year, and it's been reviewed pretty much everywhere. So I'll just echo that it's still a great, great movie and I don't know what I was thinking when I predicted "After the Wedding" to win instead of it (I know, I was thinking Mads Mikkelsen is awesome, but that's another story). I take it back, "The Lives of Others" is excellent.

Here's a pic of Anna Maria Mühe accepting the lifetime achievement award on behalf of her father. She's also an actress, and I'll see her tonight (Monday, Jan 14th) in "Twisted Sister":

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--opening night

Kicking off the bay area film festival year, and no one has a more delicious (or more crowded) opening night spread than the Germans. Not just the food, but the beer...and the wine...and the martinis...oh yeah, it was a little tough to stay awake during the movie. Thank god for caffeinated mints.

The film was "The Edge of Heaven", a German-Turkish film about family, hopes, coincidences, fate, and missed fate. It's also Germany's nomination for the Best Foreign Picture Oscar (last year's winner, "The Lives of Others", plays at the festival Saturday night as part of a tribute to Ulrich Mühe).
The (nearly) interweaving stories are told in three parts. The first is ominously titled "Yeter's Death". Yeter (Nursel Köse, pictured below) is a Turkish woman in Bremen working as a prostitute. And old man, after enjoying her services, falls in love with her, brings her to his home, and makes him his live-in girlfriend. She lives there a while with the man and his son, a professor at the local university. But Yeter yearns to bring her daughter Ayten to Germany (she's back in Istanbul). And the title is indeed prophetic (umm...spoiler alert!). Anyway, the son ends up going to Istanbul, looks for Ayten, but doesn't find her. Then the second part of the movie starts, where we learn than Ayten is a communist and a criminal (she fired a gun at a rally). She hides, takes on a different identity, and travels to Bremen to find her mother. This is where coincidence and missed fate plays a role. She goes to the university (not as a student, just getting some cheap food) and takes a nap in the professor/son's class. She's within 100 meters of her mother on multiple occasions, but they never actually meet. The story travels back and forth from Bremen to Istanbul more times, and I won't give any more of the plot away. I will say it's well acted, the story is engaging and told in an innovative way. Despite the obvious foreshadowing in the section titles, the results are still surprising. And it ends on an oddly contemplative note. It's a very good movie.
Here's Nursel Köse in the Q&A afterwards, talking to festival co-founder/organizer Ingrid Eggers.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Jason watches "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" and "Enchanted"

Why do I always feel a little creepy going to a kid's movie alone? Don't answer that. Anyway, these were both highly regarded critically, so I thought I'd check them out, see what I'm missing.

"Water Horse" is actually pretty good. Of course, as a kids movie there's not a lot of surprises, but it's a well told story with a surprisingly mature fell (like it's not just pandering to kids) and a WWII backdrop. Plus the special effects on the monster is pretty darn good. No complaints, and praise for telling a story for kids without treating the entire audience like babies.

"Enchanted" was far and away more annoying. I wanted to see it for two reasons. First, to catch a rare glimpse of old-fashioned 2-d hand-drawn animation. And second for Amy Adams, who impressed me in an under-appreciated role in "Charlie Wilson's War". As for the first part, those who miss the old Disney classics, go ahead and skip this. The animation scenes deeply disappointed me, playing so broad and saccharine that it would be parody if there were actually any jokes. That's a lot of the problem with the movie, it just doesn't know whether or not it wants to parody the true love fairy tale idealism that it genuinely and sincerely adheres to. Once princess-to-be-Giselle is banished to a world where happily ever after never happens--New York--things start to take off, and Amy Adams does a great job. And I give her high praise for playing it sincerely, if not seriously. Anyone can get a laugh out of mocking true love, she gets laughs by championing true love. In New York, it moves up from being a grating failure to being about 70% enjoyable. Personally, I think if they'd spent more effort making the animated scenes as truly beautiful and heartfelt as the Disney classics, the whole thing would've been much better. And again, Amy Adams is an actress to keep an eye on.

In other news, tomorrow begins the Berlin and Beyond festival. A week of German films ought to cleanse my palate of this sugary taste.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Jason watches "The Great Debaters"

And it's okay. A bit formulaic, with the formula coming from any number of sports movies. The twist, of course, is that the sport is debating. I'll give it credit for making competitive debate exciting. In fact, I could've done with more debating and less love triangle and/or union organizing (side stories that just don't go anywhere).

And that's that. Meanwhile, in film festival news, the Berlin and Beyond Festival starts Thursday at the Castro.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Jason watches "The Orphanage"

One of my New Year's resolutions is to not spend so much effort writing about general release movies. If there are more than 50 reviews on, I'll assume you can get a plot synopsis elsewhere.

With that said, this movie is as good as the reviews would suggest (81% on the tomatometer, which is practically unheard of for a horror movie). Full of Spanish Gothic style, some genuine scares, and real pathos. The ads are a little disingenuous pushing it as a Guillermo Del Toro movie--he executive produced but didn't direct (J. A. Bayona does a fine job there). Fans showing up expecting a"Pan's Labyrinth" might be disappointed in the lack of freaky Del Toro-esque creatures (the trailer for "Hellboy 2" should get them excited), but they shouldn't be disappointed in either the story or the telling of it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Jason sells out

I held on to my integrity for one year and over 10,000 visits, but now I've joined the ranks of people using Google AdSense. Note the ads just below my picture to the right. I expect very little money from them, I'm convincing myself that it's an experiment. What will google choose to advertise on my site. For example, if I write that a movie kinda sucks (like I just did for "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"), will they still run ads for it, or is their algorithm smart enough to avoid that?

Since it's actually against the AdSense policy to say stuff like "click on those ads!", I'll just say notice those ads and only click if they advertise a product that might interest you. Thank you.

Jason watches "The Kite Runner"

And it's a very good movie. Very faithful to the book (and features my hometown of Fremont, CA!) It's a gripping dramatic story about a happy childhood in Afghanistan destroyed by bullies, then betrayal, then Russians. And it's a story of moving and growing up in America (Fremont, wooo!). And finally it's about going back to erase the sins of the past, only to find your homeland has been destroyed by the Taliban. It's well acted, well photographed, well paced. So why did I feel a little underwhelmed? Probably because I read the book, and knew what would happen every step of the way. The book is full of surprises, and I'm sure so is the movie if you haven't read the book. So this could be an excellent example of when a movie can be a great substitute for reading. As far as I can tell, you'll get exactly the same from watching the movie as you get from reading the book--no more, no less. And so reading the book and watching the movie is kind of redundant.

Jason watches "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"

Okay, I'm going to address the first half of this review directly to John C. Reilly, the star of the movie. Everyone else can skip the following paragraph.

Mr. Reilly, I'm a big fan of yours. I think you're a fantastic actor, both in serious character roles and your forays into comedy. Many times in the past you've been the best part of a movie. I am very happy for your career that you've finally gotten the starring role in a major release, and I hope that it leads to many more. With that said, this movie is totally fucking beneath you, it's a waste of your talents, and you should know better. Please make a better choice for your next role. I am not yet anywhere close to losing faith in you, but I could. Thank you for listening to me.

Okay, now for everyone else. Ask yourself, does the title make you laugh? You know, "tee hee...hard! Tee hee...Cox!" Okay, would it still make you laugh if it were repeated 100 times, or would it get old? If you'd still laugh the 100th time, maybe you'll like this movie. But if you've graduated from junior high, it'll be tiring. I won't deny that there are a few funny bits, and some of the songs are pretty funny. But the laughs were few and far between.

I will however mention one thing I found interesting--full frontal male nudity. If you see a lot of art house or film festival movies, you'll see it. But penis is pretty damn rare in a wide release studio production. So rare, that the audience reacts by screaming, then laughing. And the art house patron is left wondering what the big deal is. It's not a particularly funny-looking penis. It's not doing anything funny. It's not doing anything at all, it's just hanging there near John C. Reilly (it's not his). And that, apparently, is some form of shock comedy. I don't get it. Oh, and for insecure guys who think watching this movie will turn you gay, it's in the middle of a post-orgy morning scene that features loads of buck-naked chicks. I'm sure if you scream, laugh, and avert your eyes appropriately, you'll still be straight.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Jason reviews 2007 by the numbers

2007 is in the books. Here's how it broke down:

Number of movies each day:

Check out that spike of 10 movies in one day--new personal record! I should clarify that this counts feature-length programs seen on the big screen in some public venue. So a program of 10 short films counts as 1 movie, as does a feature film preceded by a short film. Sometimes the distinction can be murky. "Grindhouse" I counted as 1 movie, although in some markets and on DVD they're released as 2 movies. If I counted it as 2 movies, that would add 2 to my total (since I saw it twice--multiple screenings of the same movie count each time). Some of the nights at the Vortex room get kind of murky--I've already decided it counts as a big screen public venue, but how do you count a TV show, followed by shorts and trailers, followed by a feature film. What if I pass out drunk for much of the night, can I still count the movies that played in that room while I was out (answer: no). Ah, Vortex, you make my mathematics so difficult, but I do my best.

Finally, which day to count a midnight movie is kind of arbitrary. Usually I count it as belonging to the night before (so a movie starting at midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning would count as a Saturday movie). However, for midnight movie marathons that go well into the next morning, I count them all as belonging to the day that's beginning. In particular, that spike of 10 movies started with a six movie midnight-to-noon marathon, followed by 4 more movies later that day, all counted as Sunday, Oct 7. I suppose I could reasonably count the first of that marathon as belonging to Saturday, Oct. 6, giving me a total of only 9 on Sunday, Oct. 7. Then I'd only tie my old record, instead of breaking it. Except that my old record was set with the help of the same midnight movie marathon the year before, so if I counted consistently my old record would be 8 and my new one would be 9. Whatever, I'm sure by now nobody cares by me.

Here's a comparison of how 2007 compared to the previous 2 years, as a rolling average. I'm steadily increasing my movie watching. At this rate, I estimate in 2008 I'll see about a million movies.

Here's how my movies per day breaks down as a histogram:

A total of 431 movies (feature-length programs). Also a new record, and the first time I've ever exceeded one movie per day average for the whole year. But of greater note is the fact that I spent a full 183 days not watching movies. And that means I spent only 182 days actually watching a movie. So, for people who think I'm crazy and/or watch too many movies and/or don't have time for a social life and can't be there for my friends...numbers don't lie--the majority of the time I am not watching a movie (I'll grant, it's a razor-thin majority).

And that's 2007. I'll leave you with this thought. Is it a sign of addiction that I keep careful track of the numbers, but my year-end roundup says nothing about the best or worst movies I
saw? It's mainly because I really can't make that decision. I just don't know.

Jason watches "Charlie Wilson's War"

My final movie of 2007, I saw this with my brother Ryan in Fairbanks--the farthest north I've ever seen a movie (64°50'11.75"N, according to Google Earth).

Anyway, this movie has a lot going for it. For instance, if there are two things I want to see in a movie about the covert CIA operations in Afghanistan, it's tits. The story of the hard-drinking, hard partying Congressman from Texas is pretty interesting. Even the fact that he's embroiled in ethics scandals is played to his advantage--if you give the press strippers and coke, they won't notice the arming of Afghan rebels forces. But he knows the game well, sits on the right committees, and is owed many favors, so over the course of the movie he moves the CIA Afghanistan budget from $5M to $500M--with matching money from Saudi Arabia. He even gets an Israeli arms dealer to work with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to provide Soviet weapons to the Afghans (so that it won't appear that the US is providing weapons). Tom Hanks does a fine job in this role. And Philip Seymour Hoffman is great as Gust Avrakotos, the intelligent-but-undiplomatic CIA officer who provides the brains to put Charlie Wilson's money to good work. In fact, Hanks and Hoffman have better chemistry than Hanks and Julia Roberts--the wealthy Texas patron who pushes Charlie Wilson to get more involved in Afghanistan (introduces him to the President of Pakistan, holds fund raisers, etc.). She does a pretty good job, but is just outshined by the other actors. And finally, Amy Adams does a fine job as the Congressman's personal assistant--obviously hired for her looks, but still a professional in every way.

Overall, it's a pretty good movie, and while it does throw in a message at the end about us not finishing the end game ($1B to kill Russians, but not even $1M to build some schools), the moral comes off as pretty perfunctory after all the enthusiasm over killing Russians.

And that's the end of 2007, hope everyone has a happy 2008.

Jason watches "Sweeney Todd"

Hello loyal readers! I just got back from two weeks in Alaska with my family. Hence I haven't been blogging, but I'm back now. I did see two movies while I was up there. If you want to see a bit of the other stuff I did up there, check out (especially, check out that cool HDR picture of me, my brother, and my sister-in-law in Fairbanks). But this blog is primarily about the movies I see, so here goes:

It's been over 10 years since I saw the stage version of Sweeney Todd, and even then it was not quite the Broadway version. I saw a small Asian-American theater troupe in LA called the East-West Players perform it, and they had to change all references to Johanna's yellow hair (no blond actresses, it was changed to "raven hair").

Anyway, with that caveat, to the best of my recollection the movie version is very, very faithful to the stage version. So faithful, in fact, that one could question whether the movie needed to be made at all. But given that it was made, it absolutely had to be made by Tim Burton. And although I suppose theoretically someone other than Johnny Depp could've taken the role, he was perfect as well. And there's a hell of a lot more arterial spray than any stage production (at least, any this side of the Primitive Screwheads), so I guess the movie's definitely worth something. In fact, I had a great ol' time watching it.