Sunday, December 16, 2007
Okay, the night started off with Crispin Hellion Glover presenting his "Big Slide Show", where he read along from 8 books he wrote, with titles such as "Concrete Inspection" and "Rat-Catching". Funny stuff. Then the feature was part two in his "IT" trilogy. If you've seen the first, "What Is It?", don't worry this one is much easier to follow. It was written by Steven C. Stewart, a man born with cerebral palsy (who played the dueling demi-god auteur who killed Crispin Glover in "What Is It?"). It's based on his sexual fantasies, his obsession with long hair, his frustration at being trapped in his uncooperative body, and his desire to make a movie where he's the villain. So Glover directed a noir-surrealist film starring Stewart. Stewart seduces women, washes and brushes their hair, but the moment they even consider cutting their hair, he strangles them. Weird, hard to watch (but not as hard as "What Is It?"), but ultimately an affirmation of the dignity of a man with a horrible disease.
Incidentally, this was about 20 years in development, Glover took the job in "Charlie's Angels" to get the money to make this. 1 month after shooting wrapped, Stewart died, so this movie is his legacy.
Oh, yeah. And in IMAX it comes with a 7 minute clip from "Dark Knight" . Looks like it has the same strengths/weaknesses of "Batman Begins". It'll be a well made, well acted, and about as intelligent as a major studio action movie can be. But it'll sorely lack the sense of humor found in Tim Burton's "Batman". Which would be a real shame for a movie featuring the Joker.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Speaking of God, here's a note to all the people out there who are charging that the movie is part of an atheist plot: you're just proving once again that you believe in things that don't exist!
Seriously, for all I know the book is pure atheist agitprop. But the movie has more of an anti-authority message, and the constant talk of souls (in the movie, they're animals called "demons" and they accompany their people everywhere) pretty much makes it hard to take as an atheist story. The closest it gets is the anti-authoritarianism combined with a reverence for knowledge, truth, and freedom (hardly ideals that atheists have a monopoly on). Plus, for a supposed atheist story, there's a hell of a lot of "deus ex machina" rescues.
With that said, Dakota Blue Richards does a fine job in the lead (we're possibly in some sort of golden age of child actors), and eventually the end battle is pretty good. It just takes a long, confusing time to get rolling. But it leaves it primed for a good sequel, and one that I assume won't have all the burden of introducing so many characters. That could be very good.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
But last night the good people at the Vortex Room had an all-night Shatnerthon. Rumor has it, it's the first of many. This is Shatner from the 70's, in the brilliant post-Trek pre-T. J. Hooker years. First an episode of Barnaby Jones where Shatner is the millionaire adventurer who fakes his own death to be with his mistress. Then "Impulse" aka "I Love to Kill", which starts with a little boy witnessing a man attacking his mother. The little boy kills him with a sword, then grows up to be Matt Stone (Shatner), who wears leisure suits, seduces women, cons them out of their life savings, and kills them. Evil, evil Shatner. And finally "Secrets of a Married Man". Shatner is a happily married aircraft designer, with a couple of fatal flaws. First, he's kinda bored with his sex life. Second, his commute for some reason takes him past dozens of prostitutes (even in broad daylight). Eventually, he gives in to temptation, sees a few pros, but always goes back to his wife and children committed to being a better husband and father. That is, until he runs into high class hooker Cybill Shepherd (back when that meant something), who scams him big time. Eventually her pimp comes looking for $5,000 (apparently, back when that meant something, too) and things get complicated.
In between, fabulous Shatner clips and music, including of course his famous "Rocket Man" performance. Rumor has it this is the first of multiple Shatnerthons the Vortex is planning. I'll keep you loyal readers informed. In the mean time, next Friday night they'll show "Omega Man" to "celebrate" the release of Will Smith's "I am Legend".
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I fully expected it to strain my patience for corny bee jokes ("A perfect report card--all B's!" is a real groaner), but quite a few bits about the fast-paced all-work bee lifestyle were pretty clever. The celebrity cameos by Sting and Ray Liotta were kinda cool, but the Larry King bit was absolutely inspired! But most of all I was surprised by how darn Jewish it was. Of course Seinfeld's Jewish, and a lot of that comes through in his comedy anyway. And the goyim probably wouldn't even pay attention to lines about bee-ish humor ("with what we've gone through, if we didn't laugh we'd cry") or concerns about whether his girlfriend is bee-ish. But it's there, it's really Jewish, and I loved it. Of course, you shouldn't read too many Jewish parallels into it, or you'll get an Auschwitz vibe from the scenes of the honey farms, and I don't think that was intended. But all in all (and I didn't think this competition would ever exist) I think it beats out Woody Allen in "Antz" and the most Jewish computer-animated movie about insects ever. Now that would be a double feature--maybe the kids program at a Jewish Film Festival?
Anyway, Happy Hanukkah to all my loyal readers!
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Friday, November 30, 2007
Today's weigh-in: 212 lbs. I lost 10 lbs in 5 days. Wow! I fully expect to gain at least half of that back within a week.
I survived the temptation of free donut Friday at work, and some meddlesome co-worker who gave me a stack of In-N-Out coupons that expire today. I'm practically in the clear.
Today's apple: Ambrosia. A very sweet, and very fragrant apple (I bought this a week ago in preparation, and smelling this apple has been a nice pasttime when the hunger pangs get too loud). Not as crisp as a Granny Smith or a Pink Lady, but not mealy and much better than a Golden Delicious or Rome. In fact, that's my order for best to worst: Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Ambrosia, Golden Delicious, Rome.
Here's the pic, next to my skull mug...which I guess symbolizes the death of the apple project.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Today's apple, after recommendations from co-workers and Brian's comments, I chose a Pink Lady. I have to tell you, once I was at the store the much bigger Fuji apples (the biggest currently at the Raley's in Fremont) were tempting, but I had a plan and I stuck to it.
The Pink Lady is a delicious apple. Nearly as hard and crisp as a Granny Smith, but sweeter (though still a little tart, which I like). It was so delicious, I ate it core and all. Here's what it looked like before I ate it:
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I suppose I could say something about the will to survive and how when people are scared to death they'll follow any fool who says he or she can talk to God, no matter how crazy they are (even when she starts calling for human sacrifices). And I suppose I could try to tie that idea into current events. But really, I just wished the whole movie was as cheesy as the monsters.
With all that said, I loved the ending. Loved it, loved it, loved it!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Today's apple is a Golden Delicious. Sweeter and softer than a Granny Smith, but still a fine apple:
Monday, November 26, 2007
- I may drink as much water as I like
- I may also drink tea, but I can't put any sweetener in it
- I may eat one apple a day
- I may not eat anything else
- It started last night (Sunday, 11/25/07) at sundown
- It ends Friday night at sundown (ummm...because I have a Friday night party to go to--food is too damn social!)
I will try to remember to track my weight during this. At the start, this morning, my weight was 222 lbs. If nothing else, I will report my weight at the end. But I should stress this isn't really about losing weight, it's about testing my endurance in a really stupid way. An epic battle of man vs. his own dumb-ass idea.
In any case, it's day 1 and the apple of the day is the Granny Smith. Really a staple of my childhood and my diet today. Tart, crisp, and hard. Many people consider this a baking apple, too sour to eat directly. I disagree, and if you have a taste for Granny Smith, all other apples are too sweet and cloying. That won't keep me from sampling other apples over the week, but I wanted to start with the one I love.
Hey, if I hold the apple like this, it's bigger than my friend Gerry's head. There's no way I'll be able to eat that!
Ahhh...the first juicy bite. And so it begins:
Saturday, November 24, 2007
If this weren't about Bob Dylan--and possibly if this weren't directed by Todd Haynes--this could come across as a pretentious film school experiment. As it is, it embraces the chaos inherent in any fully realized character, and especially in Dylan. The traditional biopic doesn't really capture who any person really is, it captures the small sample of what the subject means to the people who care about him. In this case, the movie is doing one of two things. Maybe it's trying to bypass that tradition in favor of a truer representation, and showcasing how Bob Dylan (like any truly interesting person) is so complicated that he can't be summed up with one performance. Or maybe it is sticking to the premise that biopics can't really show the subject as much as what the subject means to the people who care about him--but Bob Dylan just means too many different things to too many people.
Either way it's a form-breaking challenge, and hardcore Dylan fans could get much more out of repeated viewings. Or you can just groove to a couple hours of Dylan music with semi-biographical stories set to it. If nothing else, the scene where he goes electric (played by Cate Blanchett) is one of the fucking coolest things I've seen in a while.
But I'd rather talk about Marisa Tomei getting naked. I just wonder what happened to her since 1998 when she used a very obvious body double in "The Slums of Beverly Hills". Now she opens the movie by getting banged doggy-style by Philip Seymour Hoffman (who should not be getting naked on screen--shudder). Come to think of it, she got topless in "Factotum" two years ago, too. Anyway, I have no comment, just feel free to speculate away.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Anyway, "No Country for Old Men" is an excellent movie, just like all the critics have been saying. The Coen Brothers are officially forgiven for "Ladykillers" (if I were more cynical, I'd also forgive them for "Intolerable Cruelty", but I actually liked that movie a lot even though the critics and Coen fans didn't). No need to rehash the plot, you can read about it anywhere. It's bloody. It's deliberately paced to the point that the tension gets unbearable--and then it breaks. But the tension transcends the characters (who are just as rich and idiosyncratic as befits a Coen Bros. movie), and becomes a tension between heartfelt characters (even Javier Bardem's psychotic killer has a code of ethics and just a hint of pathos) and a completely heartless universe. As much as Tommy Lee Jone's sheriff believes that crime is much worse these days, the cold fact is that there's always been horrible crimes committed by horrible people, and the universe doesn't care. And that's what the movie is about. If I could sum it up in one sentence, it's this: Even if everyone in the universe cares about you, the universe itself still doesn't.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Anyway, the premise--Steve Carell plays Dan, an advice columnist who makes bad decisions in his own life--has been done, and this doesn't exactly bring anything new. But it's charming enough and generally works. The most remarkable element is his huge extended family--the reason that no one but Carell, Binoche, and Cook (argh!) gets enough screen time. Carell plays a widower with 3 daughters, two old enough that he just can't do right by them. They take the traditional family trip to the Rhode Island vacation house that his parents (John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest) run. Of course, all his siblings (Cook plays his brother Mitch), nieces, and nephews are there, too. He meets and falls for Anne-Marie (Binoche) before he knows that she's already seeing Mitch. And it becomes a very uncomfortable vacation, until finally there's a big confrontation, and he eventually learns to follow his heart. The end. As I said, nothing new, but it works and it's charming.
Monday, November 19, 2007
First up was a gloriously cheesy flick (which at least had the self-recognition to call itself a "flick", not a film) "Nightmare Man". Newlyweds get a mask representing a god of fertility, as artwork and...inspiration. Unfortunately it's hideously ugly and the wife starts having nightmares about it. Or maybe she's possessed. Cut forward in time, and they're on their way to have her committed to a mental institution. They run out of gas, the husband goes to get some, she stays in the car, and the Nightmare Man attacks. Then some stuff happens, and I won't spoil it. The story is cheesy, the acting is bad, but at least there's plenty of T&A.
And finally, there was "Crazy Eights", a movie with pretty much no T&A, despite starring Traci Lords (I know, apparently after she got old enough that it was legal for her to be naked on screen, she stopped doing it). Six old childhood friends start having strange nightmares. When they get together for a mutual friend's funeral, his will contains a map that sends them to an old trunk that's a forgotten time capsule from their childhood. This isn't really a spoiler, since it's set up in the opening credits, but as children they were committed to an institution that did psychological experiments on them. The trunk unlocks old childhood trauma, and a very literal ghost of the past (hint--the title is "Crazy Eights". There are six of them, plus one recently dead friend...I wonder who the eighth is?) It's actually not that bad, surprisingly competent acting, some good creepy buildup, and a few effective scares. Just nothing special.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
In other news, for you sports fans wondering want happened to the curse haunting the Red Sox, well apparently it got transferred to the New England Revolution, who are now losers of 4 of the last 6 MLS cups. Ouch!
Anyway, it's pretty good. Best recurring line: "I am Shiva, the god of death!"
In many ways, it's a Pacific Theater companion piece to the also excellent "Black Book" (and both feature quite a bit of sex).
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Anyway, as I said I've seen the movie many, many times, but the movie never really gave the sense of claustrophobia the stage version does. In the movie, they wander all over Elsinore and run into everyone. On stage, they mostly stay in one room (there are three acts, on their way to Elsinore, in Elsinore, and on a boat to England) and wait for people to come by, and their impatience and stir-craziness is far more apparent. Somehow that doesn't work as well in the movie when they're wandering all over the place.
And finally, as for this stage production. Well, it's local theater so some of it's pretty amateur. But the leads were great, and the jokes were funny. Oh yeah, and one of the running gags is that when the major players from Hamlet come on stage, they're actually speaking Shakespeare's lines, and it's supposed to be obtuse and confusing to them. Well, pretty much none of the actors were up for Shakespeare, except for the guy who played Horatio and ended the play. Okay, he's actually a friend of mine, and the reason I went up to Berkeley to see it in the first place. But the friends I went with agreed that of the Shakespearean lines, he was the one who delivered his line best.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Okay, that's all I've got to say now. And now I'm finally caught up with all the movies I've seen this year. Time to go watch some more.
Anyway, in a nutshell Casey Affleck (Ben's brother, and supporting player in Ocean's 11 through 13) is a small-time P.I. hired to investigate a missing little girl. The odd thing is the aunt hires him because the mom is an idiot druggie who's an unfit mother and doesn't seem to care anyway (although that's dismissed as her kind of grieving). Well, things go wrong, but life goes on, until little clues pop up telling him he might have had it wrong all along. It's very deliberately paced, and features outstanding supporting work by Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and Titus Welliver (sporting a gigantic mustache).
Also, since every conversation I've had with anyone else who has seen it has involved the ending. I'll try to do this without any spoilers. Specifically, it involves what Casey Affleck does at the end. I'm not saying I agree with it, but it makes perfect sense with his tortured, guilt-ridden, but still idealistic character.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Double wow, there's was actually nobody else in the theater for these screenings. That's sad.
Anyway, first up was a post-apocalypse movie, "Tooth and Nail", again starring Rider Strong (from "Borderland", also in this series). He's part of a band of survivors. The apocalypse, as explained in an opening voice-over, was actually pretty low-key. No plague, no war, we just ran out of gas much faster than expected and society collapsed (a sign in the beginning advertises gas for >$200 a gallon. A little extreme, but the premise is that without gas you couldn't transport other fuels, food, supplies, etc. to where they could be useful...hence collapse). His band is holed up in a hospital (although none are doctors) surviving on emergency rations. On an expedition, they come across a crazy looking guy (Vinnie Jones) attacking a couple. They fight him off and the girl survives. They take her back to the hospital where she explains that the Vinnie Jones character is part of a gang of cannibals. And then the cannibals attack. This movie actually does a great job of building up the tension of waiting for the attack. The attacks themselves are well done, including the work of Michael Madsen. There are a couple of twists at the end that are somewhat telegraphed and have a little too much "what do you mean" expository dialog. The first twist I got maybe a few minutes before the characters. The second I got immediately when it was conceived, rendering the flashback kinda useless and a little insulting. But still, one of the better movies in this series. Actually, having seen all but two now, this puts Rider Strong in the two best movies so far.
Next up was "Lake Dead", a fairly well done but pretty formulaic teens-in-trouble at a vacation spot flick. It starts with an old man running out on his wife and the lakeside hotel they own. He makes some obscure statements about how their family is evil and may God forgive him. On the way out of town, he's stopped by the sheriff who promptly guns him down. Next we learn he's a grandfather and has left the lake house to his three granddaughters. We also learn the family name is Lake, making the lake house an easy pun. We also find out that the granddaughters never knew about him because their father never told them. Also, their father's an alcoholic and they all hate him. But when he learns they inherited the hotel, he begs them each not to go. But of course they do, and bring their horny, drunk, drug-using friends with them. Kill-larity ensues. Again, it's not a bad flick, and many of the scenes are very well done. It's just nothing new.
First up was a fascinating and tragic documentary, "Sentenced to Marriage". In Israel, marriage--and especially divorce--between Jews is controlled by rabbinic courts, not civil court. As a result, divorces must be in accordance with Torah law. In a nutshell, this means that the husband must write up a document of divorce and give it to the wife. If he doesn't write up the document (or if she doesn't accept it), they are not divorced. Furthermore, children born of a married woman who are fathered by someone other than her husband are banned from Judaism for 10 generations (their descendants can't even convert, but oddly children of an unmarried woman are just fine. Also, men can have multiple wives, although that's frowned on). If the husband refuses to divorce, the ancient tradition was to beat the crap out of him until he did. Sadly, that's no longer the case, and unhappy wives have only the court, which can be a traumatizing, drawn-out process. 3,000 years ago, these rules might've made sense (forcing a man to draw up a document of divorce at a time when few people were literate actually protected the wife from being thrown out), but nowadays there are potential problems. This movie follows three unhappy wives whose respective husbands refuse to divorce them (even as he has children by another woman). It's a pretty tragic situation. There was a speaker afterwards, Nitzhia Shaked, an Israeli lawyer who explained the marriage laws in more detail including the historic context (the movie made them just seem barbaric) and shed some light on how rare these cases were. It was very interesting. Here's a blurry picture of her:
Next up was a German monologue, "Just an Ordinary Jew". Ben Becker (“Gloomy Sunday”) stars as a Jewish German journalist (how's that for alliteration?) who receives a letter forwarded to him from the local Jewish community center. A social studies teacher is teaching about Judaism, and wanted the class to meet a Jew. Since he didn't know any himself, he sent an invitation to the Jewish community center, who asked him since he's a journalist and hence likes to tell stories. Well, he's at best uncomfortable (more like appalled), and sits down to write a polite letter declining the offer. But he has trouble crafting the letter, and in the solitude of his home he launches into an extended and scathing monologue on what it means to be a Jew in Germany today--much of which is equally applicable in any predominantly gentile country. It's pretty strange to see a 90 minute monologue as a movie (at least, now that Spalding Gray is dead), but about 20 minutes in when I came to terms with the fact that there would be no action, it got pretty good. I could totally see this as a stage performance, and I think it would work very well.
Next up was an even more intense movie, this one from Canada (I know, quiet northern neighbor my ass!). "Steel Toes" stars David Straithairn as Danny Dunkleman, a liberal Jewish lawyer and Andrew Walker as his client Mike Downey, a neo-nazi skinhead who kicked a Pakistani man to death with his steel-toed shoes. Obviously it's more than a little awkward. In fact, it's really fucking tense. In their first meeting, the skinhead says that "in a perfect world, I'd have you killed. In this world, you're my only hope". It's that attitude, and Danny's memory of his father teaching him to fight against that hate in both himself and others, that drives Danny. He quickly realizes that unless he can make Mike show remorse, he has no chance, and so that becomes Danny's goal. Meanwhile at home and at work it's creating tension, as he's mocked as "super liberal" and his wife threatens to leave him unless he spends a little less time with the skinhead and more time with his family. Over the months leading up to the trial, Danny works constantly to break down Mike, and explore the horrible influences of racism. It's not always easy to watch, but the acting is incredible. In fact, if this were handled with anything less than expert care on all counts, it would become unwatchable. As it is, it's intense.
And finally, the last movie on the night, was "Sweet Mud", the Israeli Academy Award winner for best picture. I missed this when it played at the SF Jewfest, but I told myself back then in August that it'll almost certainly come to San Jose, and I was right. It's a wonderfully weird coming of age story set on a dysfunctional kibbutz in the 70's. Dvir is 12 years old, the year when you study for you Bar Mitzvah. His mom is recently out of a sanatorium, his dad is dead, and he lives in the communal children's house on the kibbutz. It opens with Dvir witnessing kibbutz leader Avraham feeding the calves in the barn, including one feeding that becomes sort of unorthodox--in a bestiality sort of way (um...gross!) Well, that's the kind of kibbutz this is, although it doesn't quite get that perverse the rest of the way. When Dvir's mom's boyfriend (and Swiss Judo champion...about 30 years ago) comes to visit, at first Dvir is cautious but quickly he becomes a real and loving father figure. That is, until he defends Dvir--breaking Avraham's arm in the process--and gets kicked out of the kibbutz. The central conflict is Dvir trying to get them back together. But there's also a little girl as a love interest for Dvir, and older brother in the army, and a whole dysfunctional gang of characters. But in the end, it's a sweet story of growing up and escaping your upbringing.
And that was SJ Jewfest for me. There's one more movie, a Wednesday night screening of "Black Book", but I've already seen it so I'll skip it (although it is a fantastic movie).
Monday, November 12, 2007
First up was a documentary co-presented by my beloved San Jose Earthquakes. "Fútbol, el nacimiento de una pasión" ("Footbal--the Birth of a Passion") is a PBS-style documentary using re-enactment to tell the history of all games that were played with a round ball--leading up to modern football (soccer). Playing games with a spheroid goes way back in many cultures--Aztecs and Druids independently used it to worship the sun god. Romans used a violent ball game to train their troops. The Japanese invented a ball game that looks a lot like hackey sack but with a big ball as a form of peaceful meditation. But the roots of the modern game lie in the English school system. Various forms of ball games (often called "the dribbling game") were played on campuses. One fateful day, a player at Rugby school, tired of constantly being beaten, made the fatal decision to pick up the ball and run it into the goal. This was blatantly illegal in the dribbling game (hands were allowed to stop the ball, but not to advance it), but it soon became "Rugby rules". Of course, it was difficult for different schools to play each other, with so many variations of the rules, so representatives from all the schools met (in a pub) to standardize the rules. In a vote, they rejected the more physical Rugby rules in favor of the Cambridge rules (which allowed stopping the ball with the hands but not advancing it, didn't have a goalie, but were the first to allow a rope across the goalposts as a height limit on the goal). Hence a schism formed between the Rugby rules (or "rugby" or "rugger") and the Football Association rules (or "soccer", shortened nickname for Association). Chances are if I weren't a soccer fan already, I'd get pretty tired of this movie and the constant low-budget historical re-enactments. But as it is I'm a fan and this movie was pretty interesting. If nothing else, I at least know why we call it soccer.
And that was me at the Latino Film Festival. Perhaps I'll have time to see a little more this weekend. But if not here's looking to next year.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Last year, despite a huge ad blitz online (and as far as I saw, only online), attendance, at least at the theaters I went to, was pretty low. Personally, I think the kind of audience that sees their online ads is more likely to download pirated versions of their movies than to actually go out to a movie. But that's neither here nor there, apparently they decided they were successful enough to expand (at least in days, if not in number of films), and perhaps they're making their money on the DVD releases of their movies. I doubt they made anything on their other regular theatrical release, the universally reviled "Captivity" (in fairness, I didn't see it and therefore can't comment). Basically, they seem to be a lot more hype than execution. On the other hand, I've seen film festivals grow from next to nothing to big events, so anything's possible, as word gets out--depending on what that word is.
Anyway, I only mention the attendance woes just as a segue into my first night at this years festival, where I went to my local Fremont Cinedome and was one of only 3 people in the theater (I did talk a bit to the two kids who were also there, and they planned to go back and see everything over the weekend. I'm going to have to see most of it during the week or next weekend).
So the first movie was a British flick produced by SFX monster wizard Stan Winston, "The Deaths of Ian Stone". It starts with Ian Stone having a very bad day. His winning goal in a hockey match is called off, despite the clock stopping with 2 seconds left. Then on his way home, just in front of railroad tracks, he sees a figure slumped over in front of the tracks. He tries to call 999 (equivalent of 911, I assume), but there's no cell signal. He looks again and the man is gone. Then he's attacked by a giant black winged shadow monster and thrown in front of the train and dies. Then he wakes up apparently several years later in a boring office job. And the cycle starts again. A very promising, mysterious start, but unfortunately nothing else in the movie is as interesting as the mystery presented in the first 10 minutes. Clues trickle out via clunky exposition about creatures who live alongside humans but in a different plane. The exposition becomes more and more explicit, leaving absolutely no mystery by the end. There's one semi-big surprise, and then it devolves into a rather sappy moral. It's pretty close to a good movie. The monsters of course look cool and appropriately scary, the acting is fine. If they just cut out a few lines of exposition and let the audience figure out some things for themselves (trust me, they can) it would be much better.
And the second was an appropriately nasty Mexican-American movie based on an allegedly true story of a drug running gang who believed that demonic rituals involving human sacrifice would make them invisible while smuggling drugs. American college kids go to Mexico on break and of course it becomes a teens-in-trouble flick. Rider Strong ("Boy Meets World", "Cabin Fever"), Brian Presley, and Jake Muxworthy play the teens in trouble. Sean Astin shows up as a really filthy, mean thug working for the gang (looking nothing like Sam Gamgee). Marco Bacuzzi also makes a really bad-ass looking gangster, and Damián Alcázar does a great job as the Mexican cop who tries to rescue the victims. But really, the movie hangs (no pun intended) on the torture and sadism. And on the premise that it's based on reality. I don't really want to believe it really happened, but it makes the movie about 100 times more powerful, and saves it from just being "torture porn". One final note--I hate the term "torture porn" almost as much as I hate the actual sub-genre. And I'm not going to go on a rant here. I'll just say that while "Borderland" has torture scenes, it's not torture porn. It has a social conscience, it's not exploitative, and it looks at the torture with appropriate disgust and the victims with appropriate sympathy/outrage.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Anyway, it's a Grand Guignol stage show, meaning short bloody dramas and sex farces (or combinations of the two--my favorite!) The show opens with a translation/adaptation of a classic from the actual Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, "The Maker of Monsters". A Circus employs an doctor/artist to create interesting animals for their side show--like a dog that he's turned into a sea creature, or a spinning "Dervish Duck". The competition tries to steal him away, and bloody intrigue ensues.
This segued into a modern vignette, "Google: Fetish". 3 short scenes depicting popular fetishes, along with the number of results you get if you googled them. Go ahead and try googling "fart fetish", "ball-busting", or "forced feminization"--I dare you. I don't know if the fetishes are always the same, or if they change it up every night. I'll have to go back to see.
Then intermission, meaning time for another beer (oh yeah, I had a few before it started). Intermission also featured some fun with their player piano, including the oddly post-modern irony of a live woman sing "Material Girl" to a puppet. And then back to the show.
"The Colossus" is a bloody, gory tale of art and tragedy. An artist is commissioned to build a giant statue (including an excellent description of the lost wax casting technique). An accident causes the death of his daughter--his pride and joy (his wife, her mother died in childbirth). He becomes sullen, despondent, destroys his wax statue and starts on a new, deadly project.
And finally, it all ended with "The Bloody Con", a bloody comedy about a group of deranged prison inmates who are forced to undergo medical experimentation. It all ends with lights out glow-in-the-dark thrills.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I'm still working on the settings and making sure it all works right. If I did this correctly, it's announcement-only, meaning I'm the only one who can post. Essentially, it's just a simple e-mail list. Hope this works.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
It's based on an incident in which a squad of American soldiers raped a 15 year old girl in Samarra and murdered her family. The crime was later covered up in the official US Army investigation (hence the title). It's told in a series of video journals, employing a range of styles from security cameras to home movies to news reports to a French documentary to videos posted on the web. This accomplishes a duel purpose--first to emphasize how important non-traditional sources are for uncovering the truth, second it let's De Palma play with different styles. And that's somewhat to the film's detriment. Especially early on, before it gets gross, it is a little too playful. More importantly, De Palma has such a strong visual eye that he's incapable of letting the amateur footage look amateur. Even the security camera footage is well framed and has clear audio. I sorta feel like a less polished filmmaker could actually do a more convincing job with this concept.
However, that's a very minor, niggling point compared to the power of the film. It is raw, tense, and disturbing. And most importantly (and what I predict will make it the most controversial war picture this season) is that it does not portray our troops as heroes. Even the soldiers who oppose the crime are too weak to stop it. It even makes a joke about "supporting the troops" during the rape scene. And unless I'm mistaken, one of the soldiers had an Oscar with a miniature M-16 and helmet. Yeah, this isn't a subtle movie--one of the villains is a big fat dumbass named "Rush"--but fuck it, I liked it's unsubtle guts.
Monday, November 5, 2007
First up was the 30 minute short "Dark Night". A simple but tense story of an Israeli patrol that is ambushed. They take refuge in a house, where they find an Arab man and his wife. One of the soldiers is wounded, and needs medical attention. The Arab man's wife is having a baby and needs medical attention. But calling an ambulance would reveal their location and doom them. A taut, tense film with a pretty good metaphor for the greater conflict.
The short played with the feature documentary "Cardboard Squares". Tamar Paikes never knew her father, he died in the Six Days War. She also lost a brother to war, and another brother to a rock-climbing accident. She's never visited any of their graves, nor really dealt with any of the death in her family. She points the camera at herself and her remaining family--especially her mother--to deal with the complex grief she feels. The end result is part therapy and part painfully intimate auto-biography. Her mother provides the title in pointing out that cardboard squares (the frames for slides of her departed family) are no substitute for people.
Next up was a clever low-budget youth-in-trouble thriller from Israel, "Someone to Run With", based on the novel by David Grossman. It starts with a scene of teenage Tamar shaving her head and becoming a street musician. Despite talent at the guitar and a beautiful voice, she makes just enough to survive homeless. Cut 2 months into the future when clumsy Asaf, working for the summer at the animal control shelter, is tasked with finding the owner of an unlicensed dog and delivering a summons. Letting the dog lead the way through its typical haunts, he discovers that it belongs to a girl named Tamar, and that Tamar is possibly in trouble. Their two stories unfolds in parallel, inevitably meeting at the end (okay, not Euclidean parallel lines). In Tamar's story, she's taken in by an evil Fagin-like character named Pesach, who has an army of child street musicians as a cover for his dope-dealing ring. We also learn she's trying to track down a dark, handsome, junkie kid she knows. In Asaf's story, we learn he's clumsy and accident prone, but determined. And as he learns more of Tamar and that she might be in danger, he becomes infatuated and makes it his mission to be her unlikely hero. A good story, well told, that even holds a few surprises at the end.
And finally, the documentary "Six Days: June 1967, The War That Changed the Middle East". I had always known of the Six Days War--how Israel, though badly outnumbered, simultaneously fought Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and defeated them all in six days. How they gained territory--the West Bank, Golan Heights, and all of Jerusalem and basically rewrote the map of the area. But this documentary by Ilan Ziv goes deep but even-handed into the factors that led to the war, the events in the war, and the repercussions of the war on the whole region. He focuses mainly on the men in charge of the two nations--Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt (portrayed as a populist hero and the greatest hope for a modern, secular, united Arab world in the past century) and Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister (and initially Defense Minister, before being pushed aside for Moshe Dayan) of Israel (portrayed as a competent, intelligent, but uncharismatic manager who tried at all cost to avoid war). It also squarely puts the blame for the war not on these people, but on their military leadership, Field Marshal Abdel Amer of Egypt (who gave Nasser unrealistic assessments of Egypt's strength) and Moshe Dayan for Israel (who knew from the beginning that despite the numbers, Israel had the tactical advantage in weapons and training, and in fact could not only defend itself but take land). Ultimately not lost in the details of battle is that both leaders ended the war bitterly disappointed and broken--Nasser by the crushing defeat, and Eshkol by the fact that it happened at all. Both died within three years, both from heart attacks. A fascinating, thorough, but concise document of an important week of history.
And that was SJ Jewfest for November 4. Just one more week (Sunday and Wednesday) of the festival left.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
First, I have a thing about needles, so watching so many people do heroin give me the heebie-jeebies. Second, despite it's 2 hour, 37 minute running time and it's methodical pace, it still moves well. Third, it feels oddly epic for a story that takes place over just a few years (Frank's heroin empire was based on shipments coming directly from southeast Asia smuggled in on troop transports from the Vietnam war. He was stopped just as the war ended). Fourth, having the heroin processed by naked women was just a bit gratuitous. Sure, it's explained by saying with no clothes they can't steal anything, but still...not that I'm complaining. Fifth, about halfway through I noticed that Russell Crowe was wearing a pendant with a Star of David on it and suddenly realized he's Jewish! This is confirmed with an anti-semitic slur near the end of the movie. And then I thought, 'Wait, he's Jewish and in the beginning he confiscated $987,000 and turned it in rather than keeping it (establishing that he's an honest cop)? Way to break stereotypes!' And finally, spoiler alert: over 3/4 of the NYPD narcotics unit was caught for corruption at the end? That's a hell of a story, and is the B plot of this movie. This was a long movie, and there's a whole second movie to be made of the parts that weren't told.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
"30 Days of Night" was actually pretty good. In a nutshell, vampires attack Barrow, AK during the middle of winter when the sun doesn't rise for 30 days. There are parts where the story is kinda thin, and parts where it drags on. But the vampires are actually scary, the atmosphere is effective, and I'll even defend Josh Hartnett as perhaps the most underrated young star today. I think he got harnessed with a pretty boy reputation, but he's actually a good actor. What really strikes me is how odd it is to see a vampire movie that only sympathizes with the victims. I hadn't thought about it before, but it's become so cliche to sympathize with the vampire--at least partly. These vampires are just (literally) bloodthirsty monsters who kill and feed (and do so with vigor). And now I'm racking my brains trying to think of the last vampire movie that didn't at least try to make you feel for the vampire a little bit. Vampires had become heroes, not monsters. Well, at least in "30 Days of Night" they're monsters again.
Then I saw a stupid movie that tries waaaay too hard to make you sympathize with the killer. "Saw IV" is just as ridiculous as all the rest. It must be weird being the editor on a Saw movie: 'Here, take this seemingly innocuous line and put it in the beginning. Then put this gory twist that references it at the end. Now choose three or four Rube Goldberg killings from the hundreds we shot, and call it a movie. We'll call you again next year.' I don't even believe the filmmakers cared about the bullshit 'those who don't appreciate life don't deserve it' philosophy until the third movie, and by then I couldn't care if I tried. The whole "Saw" series is a case study in how a twist does not mean clever, and even if they did clever does not mean smart. I suppose I should say something specific to this entry rather than the series as a whole, but if the filmmakers aren't going to do anything new, I'm not either. Right now, I'll only watch the fifth and sixth (they're already greenlit) just to see how Jigsaw becomes a deadlier version of Barry Convex.
Friday, November 2, 2007
First up was the 21 minute short "Poslední lup" ("The Last Theft") by Jirí Barta with soundtrack by Spoonbender 1.1.1. Eerie hand-tinted black and white silent film (oh yeah, old technology but made in 1987) about a thief who breaks into a church to loot it. An early shot of a spider devouring a fly telegraphs where the story is going, but the execution totally dropped my jaw. No spoilers here, I'll just end by saying this is one of those movies where I said "I must own this--now!" Not just "I hope it comes out on DVD some day", but "I must have it!". Fortunately it is out on DVD (in a set of all of Barta's work), because if it wasn't I was just about ready to break into the projectionists booth and steal the film (and, I guess, the projector so I'd have some way to see it).
Next up was the most fucked-up beautiful surreal masterpiece I've ever seen. "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders" with a live score by the 10 piece ensemble "The Valerie Project" (dedicated, it appears, to playing just the soundtrack for this movie). Wow! I loved, loved, loved this movie, even though I don't quite get it (but I've ordered the DVD and can't wait to watch it over and over again until I do understand it). But I'm kinda dreading writing this review. Actually, I'm regretting the traffic I'll get from search engines because of this review. Anyway, here goes...Valerie is a 13 year old girl who undergoes a surreal sexual awakening involving rape, possible incest (with her brother, father, and mother), vampires, and magical earrings that keep her safe. But really, it's not sick or pornographic, it's art, it's fantasy, and it's stunningly beautiful. And to all you perverts who found this post by searching for "13 year old sex rape incest", welcome and I might just be forwarding you IP addresses to the FBI.
This did leave me in a bit of a quandary, just in terms of official record-keeping. Could I include "Psychomania" on the list of movies (feature-length programs) I've seen this year? Was my total now 392, or was I still at 391? After some soul-searching, I decided I can't in good conscience count it as a movie I've seen this year. But I did add it to my Netflix queue.
Anyway, happy birthday to me!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Anyway, I'm back from Houston. I saw this show just before flying home. I went with my friend (okay, my sister's friend, we'd met once before) Rebecca, pictured here...just look to the right...further to the right...stop staring at the giant fuzzy hooters, she's to the right of them:
By the way, as I was writing this, the earth started shaking, and all I could think of was "Go Quakes!"
So anyway, I have an extra DVD of a movie I already own, so I'm giving it away. Here are the rules: It's a contest of how well you remember every damn thing I've written--or of how well you can use the search box at the top of the page. "Adam's Apples" is a Danish film starring a famous Danish actor whom I'm a big fan of. Just leave a comment in this post stating:
- The name of the actor--spelled correctly!
- The titles of at least two movies he has starred in--other than "Adam's Apples" which I have seen on the big screen. (Note that it's not enough to look up his filmography on IMDb, you must list two movies I've seen on the big screen, not just two movies he's done.)
Oh yeah, and if no one even tries, I'll be really depressed.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I don't know why the gubmint is interested in me, but now might be as good time as any to say how much I love my crazy atheist Congressman. Yep, the guy who said that Bush sent kids to Iraq to get their heads blown off for his amusement is my Representative! I've voted for him before, and I'll vote for him again. Suck it, sanity!
Actually, I know this guy. His name is...Guy. In fact, I would've shared my personal struggle with futbolitis with the makers of the PSA, but I was too busy feeding my movie addiction.
You can see more tragic stories like this at
Fortunately, a cure is coming soon.
Monday night I went up to the Roxie to see the Egyptian youth comedy/drama "Leisure Time". A surprise box office hit back in Egypt, it features mostly unknown actors (very unknown here, but unknown even back in Egypt) and a 19 year old writer. It follows a meandering slacker group of Cairo University students, who should be studying and planning careers but instead drink, smoke pot, and chase girls. Sort of a multi-threaded Egyptian slacker story with funny and somewhat pathetic characters who are recognizable in any culture. Even tragedies of different scales can't bring them to get their lives on track, and without giving anything away the closing scene is a perfect metaphor for their go-nowhere lives. Also, it features a really kick-ass pimped-out car.
And then Tuesday night I went up to see "Why, O Sea?", a non-linear semi-amateur (as far as the acting) Moroccan film about a group of fishermen. For them, the sea is a magical force--the source of their livelihood but also a constant threat. It's a meandering, non-linear barely narrative meditation on their relation to the sea. The story is difficult to follow at times, and really the closing monologue--unrelated in all but theme from the rest of the movie--is more powerful than anything else that happens in the movie (and director Hakim Belabbes was there and admitted as much). Perhaps the rest of the movie is necessary to put you in the right frame of mind for the monologue from a widow who lost her husband and two out of three sons to the sea, but really I think that monologue alone would make a great 10 minute short.
And that was my time at the Arab Film Festival for 2007. The festival continues through the weekend, and then for the first time ever plays for a half-week in Los Angeles. But I'm out of town starting tomorrow, and I'll miss the rest of it.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Now I'll have to give a major spoiler, but it's really the whole point of the movie. So if you don't like spoilers skip this paragraph and just continue thinking it's a nice documentary about a cool blues bar in Tel Aviv. Okay, everybody gone? Here we go. Suddenly a suicide bomb attack rips through the bar. The movie is suddenly about that attack and the aftermath. I've seen plenty of movies--fictional and documentary--about terrorist attacks, not to mention all the news coverage. I've never seen anything that captures the absolute shocking suddenness and devastation of an attack. One minute everyone is dancing, the next moment everyone is bloody and three people are dead. I've also never seen a movie that lets you fall so much in love with the victims before the attack. I'm still a little broken up about Dom, the waitress who'd moved there just months ago from Paris and died in the attack--and I'd only known her (on film) for about 20 minutes. Or the friendly doorman who apparently prevented a much worse attack by turning the terrorist away and preventing him from detonating in the middle of the crowd (he survived, but was in critical condition for a long time). The filmmakers are by no means immune. They all survive but Baxter is in the hospital for a long time. Joshua and Pavla break up in the stress of the aftermath, and she returns to Prague. But through it all, there's also a spirit of survival, as Mike's Place works to re-open (despite finding new bits of human flesh in the nooks and crannies every few days) and finally does. Security is of course tighter now, but it's still the popular hangout and inclusive escape from the outside world. An excellent movie, but tough to watch.
Next up was the award-winning Israeli film "Aviva, My Love". The title character is your typical busy woman, torn among roles as mother (to her variously troubled children), daughter (to her crazy mother), sister (to her wild sister), hotel chef, and aspiring writer. Writer is what she really wants to be, what she should be, but what she has no time and no self-confidence to be. Her sister finds a great solution, when an established writer friend of hers agrees to help read Aviva's writing. At first it's a good coaching relationship, but eventually ulterior motives creep in. Seems he hasn't written anything in a while, and has lost inspiration. He proposes that he re-writes Aviva's stories, publishes them as his work, and gives her some ambiguous "stories by" credit. It's a story of a woman being pulled in all directions at once, and the compromises she makes for her family and for herself. Assi Levy completely earns the Ophir (Israeli Oscar) she won for her work. This movie also won several more Ophirs, including sharing Best Picture with "Sweet Mud", which plays later in the festival.
And the final movie of the night was "Olga", a biopic on Olga Benário, the German Jewish communist in the 30's who fell in love with the Brazilian communist rebel Luís Carlos Prestes (while serving as his bodyguard on a circuitous trip from Moscow to Rio de Janeiro), became his common-law wife, and helped him lead an unsuccessful revolution attempt. When the revolution failed, President Getúlio Vargas deported her to Germany, where she died Ravensbrück concentration camp, but not after giving birth to a daughter in prison (a daughter whom she never knew was actually adopted by her mother-in-law). This is a sprawling epic biography, 2 hours and 20 minutes long, but it's surprisingly good at maintaining energy. And it wisely lets the politics of communism fall into the background and focuses on the humanitarian side. Communism might be bad, but gassing people is much, much worse (and deporting someone to a country where you know they'll be executed is just as bad).
And that was last Sunday at the SJ Jewfest.
First up was a music program, starting with "Heart and Spirit". It's a documentary about a popular Tunisian group that performs a traditional Islamic chant called Hezb Al-latif. The Hezb Al-latif is traditionally performed to dedicate any new project (a new home, etc.). So when a new recording studio wanted to dedicate their space, they brought in sheik Ahmed Jelman to perform the chant with his group. And hey, why not record it? That recording became incredibly popular, and so did the group. And Ahmed is a fine example of staying grounded while balancing his faith, his art, and his success.
Next up was "Qater al Nada", about a Palestinian Dabka dance group. They live in the only remaining Palestinian neighborhood in West Jerusalem, and while other dance groups compete internationally under the Israeli flag, they are adamant about being Palestinian, not Israeli. I'll just skip over the politics and say they're really good dancers.
And the third movie was "El Tanbura, Capturing a Vanishing Spirit", and unfortunately this one was plagued with technical problems. It's the story of a group reviving traditional music and folklore in Port Said, Egypt. Unfortunately, there were multiple audio glitches and the DVD froze up a few times. I could still follow the story somewhat through the subtitles, but when the real draw is the music, audio glitches are very bad. It was a shame.
Anyway, the next show was the children's program, starting with "Carthage Castaways". It was obviously originally a TV cartoon show, about a group of time-travelling adventurers from Carthage. The movie version was three half-hour episodes crammed awkwardly together, but if you consider it a sampler of the show rather than a 90 minute narrative film, it's okay. Actually, the show looks pretty good, although much heavier on history than would appeal to American kids. But that's not a bad thing. Most Americans wouldn't get a reference to the library of Alexandria, but I really, really wish they would. And of course shows like this could change that.
Then the next technical glitch was that they couldn't get the short "The Magic Crop" to play, so they replaced it with "Kemo Sabe", the story of an Arab-American kid who really wants to play on the cowboy side in the game of cowboys and Indians (of course, all the ethnic kids are the Indians). It's a touching story with no easy happy ending.
And then the third program of the night, featuring the first ever Lebanese vampire movie. But first the excellent short, "Garbage". It's a story of sexual obsession and frustration, as the hero steals the neighbor woman's garbage and uses it to learn all about her, having a surrogate relationship with her. And for those who think Arabs culture is all conservative, this movie has a man humping a bag of garbage. There's something I haven't seen in an American movie.
Then finally the movie I was most eager to see, "The Last Man" is billed as the first Lebanese vampire movie, and is a very strange vampire movie at that. It opens with a shot of waves crashing against a sea wall shot in a manner that makes Beirut look really Gothic. In fact, the camera work throughout the movie does an excellent job of portraying the city as a mysterious, foreboding force. It then launches into a fragmented, non-linear story of a murderous monster killing people and sucking their blood. Mild-mannered doctor and scuba enthusiast Khalil Shams (Carlos Chahine) is afraid he might be the vampire, as his eyes become increasingly sensitive to sunlight. The movie jumps around in time and place, with no scene flowing directly into the next. The overall effect is jarring and surreal, and over time the visual echoes give a sense of history continuously repeating itself. I can appreciate the movie for these elements, but I fear I'm missing the key knowledge needed--an understanding of what it's like to live in Beirut. I feel this is very much a Beirut film, about Beirut and for residents of Beirut. And as much as I liked this movie, it certainly doesn't make Beirut look inviting enough for me to spend time there to understand the movie better.
And that was my day at the Arab Film Festival.