Monday, November 26, 2007

Russians hate throats.............

Well, the people have spoken, the poll is closed and the next DAA marathon will be......................a tie:

Offensive/Creepy Movies

Here's why Nicholas Cage Sucks

I can do that.

In the mean-time, here's a new review................



Eastern Promises

Directed by David Cronenberg

I created this blog only a month ago, so I missed the opportunity to review this movie when it was first in theaters early this year. But it's coming to DVD this Christmas, and so I figured I'd give my thoughts and persuade those who haven't seen it to definitely give it a rental/buy.

As I was walking out of the theater for
Eastern Promises, I went straight to where I always go to think about a great movie. The bathroom. Mostly because I have the bladder of a 5-year-old girl, but also because of the whole thinking thing. Anyway, as I was taking a piss, the guy at the urinal next to me was having a discussion about the movie with his friend at the sink. He said something to the effect of, "Man, it was okay but Cronenberg has lost his edge. He's gone mainstream."

Well I couldn't disagree more, guy I just made up for dramatic purposes. If "mainstream" means creepy Russian mob movies with 14-year-old rape victims and homo-erotic undertones, then I'm kinda worried to know what your idea of a cult movie is. No........what we're witnessing isn't a merging into the mainstream. It's a truly demented director attempting to become a truly masterful one, which is a hell of a lot more disturbing if you think about it. He's always been good with the edge, but now there's actual characterization and cool-filter cinematography and meaty stories that we care about. You just know he'll find a way to use all those things for evil. My, what big teeth you have now, grandma. All the better to scar you for life with.

The bare bones of this flick is that a London mid-wife (Naomi Watts) finds the diary of an unidentified Russian woman who she just watched die while giving birth. The newborn baby is now an orphan, and so she figures the best thing to do is to get the diary translated so she can find any surviving relatives. But she soon finds out that what's in the diary may be more dangerous than she thought. Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is a driver for the local Russian mob boss, charged with the task of retrieving the diary at any cost.

That's all you need to know for now.

Although this wasn't one of my top favorites of the year, I was extremely impressed by Cronenberg's choices. In this film, he shows a newfound deftness for taking every single scene, no matter how small, and bringing out the complex fears and intentions inside each individual in the frame. I would go so far as to say that a majority of the drama in this film is not in the dialogue, but in reactions and mood, which is not an easy thing to achieve. And likewise for the storyline, Cronenberg's discipline is commendable. He's smart enough to allow so much of the action to happen off screen, and not be literally shown or spelled out to the audience like we spent the first half of the movie staring at a urinal cake. This material could have easily been turned into a 2 and a half hour gangster epic, but Cronenberg doesn't indulge. And on the same token, when it comes to the kind of caricatured Russian gangster stereotypes we see in most American films, in any other director's hands this might have easily just been Law and Order: Brighton Beach. While some of the cliches are still there, they are mostly handled with a much more authentic touch than usual.

For a minute, I thought this was a remake
of Blood In, Blood Out. MILKWEED!!

As for the question of whether or not he's lost his "edge", all you have to do is watch the movie to see otherwise. You will see things in Eastern Promises that I'm pretty sure you've never seen in any other film. At least not with so much.........clarity. Enough time has passed since it's release for just about everyone to hear about the infamous bath-house brawl scene. Simply calling it "graphic" would be doing a disservice to anyone who's ever died a horrible death. Gruesome and painful to watch is more like it.

Anyone who keeps up with movies will know that this was Cronenberg's second collaboration with Viggo Mortensen. The other was 2005's History of Violence, a movie that was praised by critics and movie-goers, but not by me. I thought the acting was mediocre and the story was pretty underdeveloped. But this time, everything clicks, and that's mostly because of Mortensen himself. I really think this is a career building role for him. Maybe not as far as audiences are concerned, but just industry-wise, I'm sure a lot more scripts will be sent his way that don't involve him being told to suck Demi Moore's dick. He's incredibly good here, and obviously I don't have to point out that the same is true for Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, two actors who always jump out of the screen.

Is this a perfect film? Far from it. Like I said, it's probably not going to be on my top ten of the year list (not really sure yet). There are a couple twists that are supposed to be shocking, but I don't think they are even necessary at all, and the ending is too forced in some aspects. But the performances and the direction are brilliant, and wherever the logic may lag, the suspense still keeps you tangled up in the spectacle. Eastern Promises is a gripping gangster flick without a single gunshot, that will surely go down as a benchmark in the careers of both the director and the lead actor. And if I'm not as excited as I could be for the finished product, what I am excited for is the possibilities in Cronenberg's next 10 films. The guy is only 64. He has plenty of time to gross us the fuck out some more.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Interview w/ Billy Mitchell

Last week I reviewed a new documentary called The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Great movie, it's one of my favorites of 2007. It's the story of................just read the review first, and then come back to this post. The point is that after I made that post, I received an e-mail a couple days later from someone giving me great compliments about the review, as well as my amazing writing skills (can't argue with that). It was signed "Billy Mitchell". For real. The same Billy Mitchell who, in the review, I called a "larger-than-life douchebag", and even compared to Big Ern from Kingpin.

I wrote him back, and we carried on a long conversation about the film and how it portrayed him. I didn't apologize for my statements, and he didn't ask me to. He is well aware of what makes a movie good, and that you need a "bad guy" just as much as a hero. I asked him if I could interview him for the blog, and he was all in, so for your reading pleasure, here is my phone conversation with the "gamer of the century" Billy Mitchell.................

DAA Presents:
The Man, the Myth, the Hair

Billy Mitchell: Mr. Sandman! What's your real name, by the way?

Sandman: Mike. Doesn't sound as cool, huh? How are you doing Billy?

BM: I'm doing great, glad to talk.

S: Great, let's get this started. I'm not really too interested in the actual movie since you've already cleared up so many things through public statements and other interviews. But I do want to ask you one thing that sort of pertains to the film and the way you were portrayed. I assume I'm not the first blogger/critic that you've contacted the way you originally did with me?

BM: Oh no, if I see any article or review about me, I always like to send a quick e-mail to the writer, mostly positive.

S: Is that your way of showing people you're really not this villain as portrayed in the movie, or is it something more spontaneous?

BM: It's really just my way of saying "thank you". These people, including you, this is their profession and they put a lot of effort into writing the piece. I can't get too angry because they can only report on what they see. My father was always tough with the "thank you". I learned how important it was very early on, and so I always show appreciation whether it's a journalist or a family coming by my restaurant to meet Billy Mitchell and play a game.

S: But sometimes, don't you read some of these no-name bloggers bashing you online and just scream at the screen like, "What the hell have YOU accomplished!!?"

BM: (laughs) I try not to let it get to me, I stay positive.

S: Okay. Because I've accomplished things, Billy Mitchell. I want you to know that. One time in the 4th grade I got a trophy for baseball. know, all the kids got 'em, it was more of a participation trophy, but I'm still proud.

BM: (laughs) I will say this, though. And this is the first time I've ever told this to anybody about the movie, but what really flipped my lid was when I realized that the producers included Roy Schultz in the film (NOTE: Roy Schultz is a fellow gamer who had negative things to say about Billy in the documentary). For 20 years now I've avoided Roy. He is one of the most unethical and unpleasant humans you will ever meet. I choose not to deal with him because of past threats of violence, and the producers promised me that they would not include him in the film. After the movie was completed I was denied a copy of the screener, although the "hero" Steve Weibe was given one. These producers, I let them into my home and trusted them. So when I finally saw the movie and found out that Roy was involved I flipped my lid.

S: That's understandable. Like I said in our past conversation, I'm a lid-flipper. If I was in your shoes............

BM: I'm not mad at how I was portrayed, but I really didn't like how others were portrayed. They criminalized good friends of mine, claiming that they broke into Steve Weibe's house when even Steve himself will tell you that is false. It's just a movie, it's Hollywood. I mean, you don't really believe that I sit there and answer every call like, "Hello, World Record Headquarters" do you??

S: did it at least once that I know of.

BM: True (laughs). But my point is the odds of catching me in that state even once are about as good as you breaking the world record on Donkey Kong.

S: You know, one of the things I actually thought was missing from the movie was a more in-depth look at this whole underground gaming community. It really seems like a huge subculture that I never knew existed, at least not to that extent. In your own words, how would you describe the competitive gaming community to someone like me who has no idea?

BM: I've been asked that a lot over the years. There was one reporter in particular, a lady who came to an arcade with me and they were filming and she asked, "How do you explain this? This is crazy! People spending every waking hour here playing video games!" And I just looked at her and asked, "Wasn't there something that you did when you were a kid as a hobby?" And she said she used to play softball. So I told her, "Okay, you played softball. And if you weren't playing it, you were watching another team play, or talking about it with friends who also played softball. You played on weekends, in your spare time whenever you could, and you kept those memories after responsibilities took over." She said "Yeah". So I said, "Well, as kids we didn't play softball, we played arcade games. We played 40-50 hours a week, and now that we are grown up we still play if we have leisure time. We have less and less time as responsibilities come but it's still what we remember, a common bond." That's how I would explain it.

S: Sure. Is it still just as much of an obsession as it was when you were a kid?

BM: The truth is that the last time I played ANY video game was when I broke my last record, months and months ago. My son plays football, daughter plays sports, my wife is doing her thesis for her doctorate........I just don't have the time anymore. I've lived and died in a breath with gaming. Eventually you replace your dreams with other dreams.

S: Well put. From what I have seen in the movies and TV shows dedicated to this topic, it seems as if classic arcade games like PacMan and Donkey Kong are held in a higher regard than newer games. Is that the case, or is the classic gaming thing just more of a small specialized part of it?

BM: No, you are very perceptive. Games of today are definitely looked down upon by many people in the gaming world. I always make the comparison that some people can get by on their looks, while others have to get by on a whole lot more. The games of today have such amazing graphics, the technology is so great, but the result is that many of them are just getting by on looks alone. Many gamers, including myself, argue that classic games had a lot more depth. They weren't a lot of kicking and punching and blood flying everywhere. There was more skill involved in the actual game play.

S: So, you would say it takes a higher skill level to.........

BM: To reach the highest levels in the older games, yes. It's a common saying that "video games" started in 1987. That's when the machines started showing up where you die and you don't really die, you know. It just asks you "Do you want to continue??" And you just put in another quarter and keep playing right where you left off. It was a joke we used to tell guys, "Oh you got a new record? How much did it cost you?" Before 1986, with the classic games you couldn't do that, you had to make every game count. It was about conquering the unknown.

S: Where I grew up, video games were never really a hobby on the level that they are in your world. I assume that it's more of a suburban middle-America phenomenon. Would you consider it a fringe culture, something made up of social outcasts......or is it much more mainstream than I'm giving it credit for?

BM: Oh, classic gamers are definitely outsiders. If you took the Top 100 gamers, what I would call the "inner circle", well over half of them are what many people would consider dysfunctional. Not me.........I don't say that, but other people might. These are extremely introverted people. But the other half are the complete opposite. I have gamer friends who are attorneys, scientists, writers, obviously very functional people. We always say, "Half of us are dysfunctional, and the other half just pretend we aren't." (laughs)

S: Sometimes it can get to the point of being a problem in other areas of social life?

BM: I've thought about this a lot. When people do things with their minds, like psychics and mystics, it's a noted fact that a large amount of these types of people end up in losing their minds and going to insane asylums. I sometimes think that when you play a video game, you are calculating and processing things on a level where maybe your mind doesn't belong. If you can do something to fry or overload a computer hard-drive, maybe that's also the case with the human brain. When I walk into my restaurant, I see things that you don't see. This door is more squeaky than it was last week, 80% of the tables are full. It's not always fun. Sometimes it's annoying.

S: How often do you practice? Do gamers train like football players and other athletes?

BM: Normally when you come under pressure, you perform better. You don't have to practice much.

S: Practice or not, you've accomplished some major records over the years. But what was the biggest failure you've had?

BM: That's a good one, I've never been asked that. I thought at one time that I would be able to make a living at video games, and that's the hardest thing truthfully. I thought I could operate arcades and have fun, earn a living with my passion, and that wasn't at all the case. Even when I had my kids, I thought I could balance my passions with my responsibilities, and it's not even close. My kids took over (laughs).

S: I definitely know how that is. You were in an MTV episode of True Life about gamers.

BM: I sure was.

S: See, I do my research. One thing that stuck out from that show was when you mentioned the "groupies" that you and the other famous gamers were getting back in the 80's. Describe that scene for me.

BM: Well, there were two parts to that, the guys and the girls. With the guys, it was more about comradery and competition. There was one time back in the 80's, I walked into an arcade in San Francisco and there was one guy I had already been warned about. He had it out for me, and he was so on fire. He wanted to hurt me, because the record I claimed on PacMan, he didn't think it was possible. So I had my eye out for this guy. And I didn't know that he was sitting behind me already, watching me play the whole time with this real intense look. Once I got to a certain point in the game that was certain death for anybody, no matter how good a player, all of the sudden I hear him wail, "This guy is FUCKING AWESOME" (NOTE: Billy didn't say the F-word. He doesn't use profanity). He's screaming and getting excited. Every move I make, he's saying it over and over, "This guy is fucking awesome!!" This is a guy who 5 minutes ago wanted to smack me, and now I'm his favorite player. So that's the guys.

S: The girls, get to the girls.

BM: When it came to the girls, first of all there was always more guys than girls in these arcades. But the girls would come up and want your autograph, a picture. The truth of the matter is when you're a kid, you have less responsibility. Now that I have a wife and kids, BOY do I have responsibility (laughs). All the guys in professional sports, you don't want to mess up and read about yourself in the papers, you know. I always carry a picture of my wife in my pocket, and I'm not bashful about showing it. If a girl seems TOO happy about seeing me, I just start talking about my wife. You're 22 now.........

S: Correct.

BM: In your "hey-day" you might say.........if you sat down at a bar next to a nice looking girl, and she just started talking about her husband and showing you pictures, you'd go find another bar stool, right?

S: Hell yeah. Maybe a whole different bar.

BM: So you know.

S: Speaking of wives, my wife is from Florida, her family still lives there. I know you have a chain of restaurants down there (Rickey's). Next time we go I might have to stop by. What would you recommend I order?

BM: Gotta have the wings! Matter fact, e-mail me your address and I'll send you the Habanero hot sauce.

S: Dope. Alright, this is a movie blog, and you're somethin' of an 80's icon, so what's your favorite 80's movie?

BM: Too many to name. People always talk about how much time we spent in the arcade, but the truth is every minute we didn't spend there we were in a movie theater. We saw EVERYTHING. We'd watch one, then go back to the arcade again. My favorites? Any action movie, anything with Harrison Ford, all the Star Wars, anything with Sylvester Stallone. To everyone's surprise, not the geeky movies or the ones about computers.

S: So no War Games?

BM: (laughs) That's actually a good one. Anything with Matthew Broderick in it.

S: One of the things that was consistently brought up in almost every review I read for The King of Kong was your hairstyle. Even your wikipedia page mentions it.

BM: Yeah, if you see any picture of me from the 80's, you'll notice that I always had short hair. It wasn't until the mid-90's when I was 30 years old, that rebellious stage, that I started growing this. It's just that most pictures of me are from 1999. I guess I'm somebody who doesn't like change.

S: Fair enough.

BM: It's funny but I always notice that the ones who pick on me the most are always the bald guys (laughs). Sometimes I do wonder if maybe it's time for me to get a haircut, but I think I'll wait until I stop playing games.

S: You like that it's recognizable for now.

BM: Yes, definitely. I was walking through Times Square and people would run up to me and want to take pictures. It's flattering.

S: Do you think you could win in a fight against a real live gorilla who somehow learned how to throw barrels?

BM: I'm sure I could. People don't realize but if you get to the end of the game in Donkey Kong, Mario has a hammer but he also has a gun under his belt (laughs). No, the truth is if I come across a gorilla throwing barrels I'm gonna run like hell.

S: Good answer, Billy. Good answer. Well as you know, I'm a rapper here in Texas, and because of that most of my readers all over the world are Hip Hop fans. Are you a fan of Hip Hop at all?

BM: Actually, I can't say that there's a single bit of music that I don't enjoy. All genres. But when I have the radio on it's usually talk shows.

S: So, you like rap?

BM: Yeah.

S: Can you name any of your favorite artists?

BM: No.

*Uncomfortable silence*

S: Well Billy, thanks again for talking to me. I now officially retract my statement, you are definitely not a douchebag. Anything else you'd like to add before we go?

BM: Well, what I've learned from gaming is that whatever you enjoy, whatever your passion, if you develop an attitude to do that to the best of your ability then you will be successful. The same passion I have for gaming is the same that I have for business, for being a better father and husband. A passion for success doesn't sit in one aspect of your life, it runs through all of them. That's what gaming has done for me. The fact that someone even wanted to make a film about me just shows that's when it's all said and done, I'll still be Billy Mitchell, and they'll still be whoever they are. I can't be mad.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Newness and Fresh-tivity...........

1. New Header^

The first person who can tell me what (great) movie it's from gets a *brand new Cadillac V-series convertible.

2. New Poll

On the right side of your screen. Apparently people liked the whole movie marathon idea, but I can't decide what the next topic should be so ya'll do it for me. It's how I live my life.

3. New underwear

Very nice, tastefully made. Inedible, no catchphrases, no holes in the wrong places.

4. New Song on Myspace Page (free download)

5. New Extremely, Enormously, Insanely dope looking "Ultimate Edition" DVD of the classic film I Am Cuba

Packaged in what appears to be a cigar box-shaped DVD case:

New Special Features:

- Video Interview with Martin Scorsese
- Original Trailer
- The Siberian Mammoth, Vicente Ferraz's Award-Winning Documentary on the Making of I Am Cuba
- Interview with Screenwriter Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Coming November 20th!

*offer void in all 50 states and every country on earth except Taiwan

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DAA Documentary Double Feature!!

Today we're gonna do a double feature, two of my favorite documentaries that have just been recently released on DVD.



King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Directed by Seth Rogan

Some of the greatest documentaries of all time succeeded on the strength of bringing the viewer into a strange subculture. Maybe one that they never knew existed, maybe just one that they hadn't been interested enough to explore before. King of Kong is in that tradition, and the subculture in question this time is competitive gaming. Imagine a world made up of thousands and thousands of Dwight Schrutes, and you might get an idea of where this is headed.

In this world, Billy Mitchell is king. Mitchell had 15 minutes of fame as a teenager in the 80's after grabbing the highest recorded score in the world on the original arcade version of Donkey Kong. In 25 years, nobody ever came close to beating that score, elevating Billy to the level of poster-boy. He's essentially spent the last couple decades showing up at random conventions and arcades, wearing tight pants and talking shit to 12 year olds. In 1999 he was named the "gamer of the century".

But now it's the new millennium, and finally a real contender has risen to the challenge, threatening Billy's longtime record. That man is Steve Weibe, a white bread suburban husband and father of two who has a small chip on his shoulder. Well, maybe not so small....the guy has pretty much failed at everything he's ever done. But he's determined to stake his claim at something, and if it wasn't baseball or garage band super-stardom, then goddamn it, it's gonna be jumping over barrels thrown by a cartoon gorilla.

Steve Weibe, being watched
by the creepiest referee ever

If Mitchell is the reigning king of this underground world, then his kingdom is Twin Galaxies arcade in Iowa, which we find out is widely considered to be the epicenter of competitive gaming across the globe. Yes.....Iowa is the epicenter of something. Get out the permanent markers and make your signs, you earned it.

There is a kind of shameless hero-worship going on at Twin Galaxies that really is hilarious. In the minds of these fanatics, their arcade is CBGB's circa '74 and Billy Mitchell is Lou Reed. You know........without the creativity and heroin and actual vagina contact. They literally believe that Mitchell and others are just one step away from posing on Wheaties boxes alongside legendary basketball and football stars. And as condescending as I'm being right now, and will no doubt continue to be for the rest of the review, one thing this film makes very clear is that not just any average person can gain this level of skill on these arcade games. It takes a person of extremely high intelligence and coordination. And just like virginity, that's something that nobody will ever be able to take away from you, "gamers".

Some critics have claimed that this is a one-sided film. And believe me, it is. In the best possible way. It's very obvious that director Seth Rogan set out from jump street to turn this almost laughable situation of obsessive gamers competing for bragging rights on the internet into the classic underdog story, complete with suspense and emotion and a villain. It really works, maybe better even than the large majority of scripted fictions released this year.

But hey, you gotta give credit where credit is due. This dramatic "battle" only flies because Weibe truly is a decent and mature person, and Billy Mitchell truly is a larger than life douchebag. The only way I can describe him to you accurately enough is.....just imagine Ernie "Big Ern" McCracken from Kingpin, with a mullet and less acne scars (amazingly, *rimshot*). The "referee" team at Twin Galaxies are given a little more slack in the movie, but still they are mostly shown in the middle of enormous nerd-style delusions of grandeur. Which, to be fair, is how most people (and by that, I mean me) would see them even without fancy editing or direction from any filmmaker.

Yes, this is Billy Mitchell.

The climax of the film starts to really build when the good people at Guinness Book of World Records contact Twin Galaxies and announce that they are taking submissions for top scores on classic arcade games like Donkey Kong. Mitchell and Weibe both make a pilgrimage to another famous arcade called, and I quote, "FunStop", where they will spend 4 days attempting to out-Kong eachother.

This film was a million times more entertaining than it had any damn right to be. It's easily one of my favorites of the year, and if you look hard enough you might still be able to catch it at the smaller arthouse theaters in your city. Go see it. Rent it. Whatever you have to do.

Deliver us from Evil

Directed by Amy Berg

"Remember, the only time Christ ever got angry is when he went to church."

This next amazing documentary film from last year's pile of great ones is nothing like King of Kong. It's not uplifting, or suspenseful, or funny in any way. Frankly, it's horrific and infuriating.

Deliver us from Evil tells the story of Oliver O'Grady, a priest in California who (let's just get it out of the way now) screwed more little boys and girls than No Child Left Behind. Over a 30-year career in the church beginning in the 1970's, it's believed that he molested and raped literally hundreds of children. I won't go into details, but when they begin to (tastefully) lay out the worst of O'Grady's offenses, it's almost unthinkable what this man did.

Many of the victims of O'Grady's abuse are interviewed in depth as adults, and just the scenes with those men and women alone make this as heartbreaking a movie as I've ever seen. As one psychologist explains in the film, worse even than the basic trauma of sexual abuse itself is the "spiritual trauma" that comes from being abused by a priest, someone who to a child represents God in the flesh. These now-grown victims will never be fully stable or mentally healthy.

If you are religious to any extent, perhaps what may frighten you most in this film is that a few "bad apples" could thrive within an institution of faith. And that is certainly a fair and optimistic outlook. But if you are not religious, what might frighten you most (as it did for me) is the fact that there is this second power structure inside American society that is, for lack of a better word, allowed to handle it's own "problems", even when those problems are serial child molesters like O'grady. Predictably, if you give any such power structure an option, it's going to protect itself before anyone else, including children. And that's exactly what happened. All of the bishops and cardinals supervising O'Grady during his two decade-long rape fest chose time after time not to report him to the police, or even to do so much as warn the local authorities that there might just be a semi-sorta-kinda-maybe dangerous man living in the neighborhood. Not even the smallest amount of precaution was taken to keep him away from children. On the contrary, O'Grady's is one of the classic cases of the catholic church moving a known sexual predator from one parish to the next, with much more intention to prevent bad publicity than to promote public safety. In this movie we see clip after clip after excruciating clip of bishops and cardinals lying in police investigations and court depositions, claiming that they had no knowledge of recollection of that.....never knew the extent of this...... all of which is proven to be complete bullshit through court documents and even letters written by the priests themselves to O'Grady and others.

Less than halfway through the movie it becomes painfully clear that even with his monstrous past, O'Grady is the most honest priest we will see in the film. And make no mistake, he is VERY honest about his past, treating the camera as an impromptu confessional booth.

O'Grady crying and apologizing for years of..........naw I'm just
playing, in this scene he's joking about being aroused by little boys in swimsuits.

Technically speaking, of the two documentaries I'm reviewing, this is by far the more well-crafted (weller-crafted?) one. The music score, the graphics, the pacing. It is beautifully made, which makes it all the more disturbing. The most discomforting scenes in the movie are not with the victims describing what happened to them, but with O'Grady himself walking the streets of Ireland (he was deported to his home country after serving only 7 years in prison) standing next to children in the park and on street corners, and he's just smiling and enjoying life. You can almost see his head turn to catch a glimpse of a young boy walking with his mother in one scene, and you think, "If these cameras weren't here right now....."

It makes you want to punch the closest person.

That being said, I'm not recommending this movie on entertainment value. I'm recommending it for it's importance. I think everyone should see it and share it. We all think we know enough about this topic, but there is a huge difference between reading an article in the paper or hearing it out of a comedian's mouth, and actually following the trail of despondent victims, sacrificial lambs left in the wake of a seemingly remorseless pedophile-priest and his near endorsement from church superiors. If I owned a video store I would keep this in the horror section.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tomorrow they'll wrap a fish in it..........

OK my people, got some fresh new category-headers for the blog thanks to Colin in Canada. Thanks dude. Let me know what ya'll think.



Death at a Funeral

Directed by Frank Oz

Frank Oz doesn't exactly have a hip cult following as a director. But I guess there's no real easy way to bring together fans of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Yoda, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. So if you're already in such a situation as a tough box office draw, it's hard not to see it as just a little masochistic to make your next movie a British comedy about death.

It's obvious from the title where and how we'll be spending our time in this film. The man in the coffin was the patriarch of a family full of enough sons and daughters and relatives and friends to fill up an hour and a half. Daniel is the eldest son responsible for the funeral arrangements, and therefore, the one under the most stress. Robert is his successful novelist brother transplanted from his New York party life back to England for the funeral. While everyone in the family naturally expected Robert to deliver the eulogy because of his literary talents, nervous Daniel is the one given the honor instead. This causes a conflict that makes up the meat of the first half of movie.

Really, who cares? Oz has proven that he knows how to make great comedy, but NO director could have made that main plotline that I just described interesting. At least not in the context of black comedy. But that's just one of the major conflicts between characters that doesn't work in any developed way. There are others. For that reason, it's safe to say this is far from one of Oz's better films. The more I think about it, it's really sort of like a wealthy-white British version of a black 'hood' comedy. All the same elements are there. Overblown stereotypical characters, kiddie-pool depth dialogue, forgettable storylines, and when all else fails, have someone make a funny face or say something inappropriate in front of a priest. Or a preacher if you're LL Cool J. Zany antics!!!

Don't get me wrong though, there are laughs in this flick. Good ones, and more than a couple. But the actual writing of the jokes will have nothing to do with that. It's all in the talent and timing of the actors at work and their performances, or more specifically, two of the performances. The great Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Elf) has by far the most interesting sidelined story as the dead father's secret gay midget lover in search of a pay-off, with the threat of airing out the father's dirty laundry at his own funeral. That's just good stuff.

The other great comedic performance of the film is by Alan Tudyk, who we also saw this year in 3:10 to Yuma, where he played the veterinarian Doc Potter. Not the best role of that particular film, but maybe the best of this one. Most of his time on screen is spent tripping balls from an accidental dose of mixed hallucinogens (which he thought were Valium pills). Has it been done a million times before in other movies?? Sure. But this one should go down in film history as one of the more entertaining, and that's no small compliment. I really enjoyed the whole sequence. When it's all said and done though, it still simply remains in the realm of a running side-gag and nothing more.

Tudyk (middle)

By the time the film gets to it's obligatory impassioned ending speech that's supposed to bring the family down from chaos, we really don't care about the characters enough to find it profound or conclusive. If only Oz and the screenwriters would have put as much effort into the heart of the film as they did into the ass, it could have really came to life.

Wait for this one to come out on DVD. You'll definitely laugh, but not nearly enough times to make you feel better about ticket prices.



Ace in the Hole

Directed by Billy Wilder

50 years before Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta attacked the lack of ethics in news journalism in Mad City, the great director Billy Wilder and Kirk Douglas were already delivering knockout blows with Ace in the Hole. And although it was never officially presented as such (that I know of), Mad City is as close to a remake of the latter as any film has gotten in those 50 years.

Kirk Douglas is Charles Tatum, a disgraced loud-mouth newspaper reporter from New York City who has been fired from 11 different papers for everything from wild drunken behavoir to sleeping with the boss's wife. He wanders into a small daily newspaper building in Albequerque, New Mexico, offering his services for a fraction of what he used to make in the big cities. His plan is to wait. Wait for just one big story to fall into his lap so he can earn his spot back in the big leagues. His chance comes when him and a young journalism grad happen to be the first on the scene at a crisis situation in a small town in the middle of the desert. A man was trapped after the walls of the cave he was digging in collapsed on top of him. The man's father sees it as a tragedy, but Tatum sees it as the best thing that could've happened. He knows this could be the big story he needs, and he gets his wish when thousands of people start flowing in to see the rescue effort. It's the biggest story in the country. But for how long? How far is Tatum willing to go to keep his story on the front page?

Without a doubt one of Wilder's best films, Ace in the Hole has incredible social commentary for it's time, not to mention fantastically sharp and layered dialogue. Check it out if you can find it.

The Illusionist

Directed by Neil Burger

The Deep Impact of *magixploitation movies last year, The Illusionist basically played second stage to Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, and in many ways rightfully so. The latter was much more epic, action-packed, and memorable. But The Illusionist was by no means a bad movie just because it was the lesser of the two. I loved it, and I actually just watched it again last night.

One of the biggest reoccuring problems critics claimed to have with the film was that the magic tricks were "impossible" or "too unbelievable", and that this somehow took away from the film. And true enough, the illusions that Edward Norton's character pulls off are well outside the realm of realism. But that's ultimately a huge part of what makes the film work, and what sets it more in the tradition of great fantasies than The Prestige, which was more in the tradition of great thrillers. In other words, you will most definitely be asked to suspend your disbelief here, but if you can do that for movies where alien robots turn into fucking deisel trucks, I'm pretty sure you can do it for a nuanced period piece.

At this point it goes without saying that Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti are two of the greatest American actors working today, so you won't be shocked at their pitch-perfect performances. But besides those two, the director took a big chance with some of the other choices for the main players. To be more specific, Jessica Beal and Rufus Sewell. Niether of them have ever shown me anything special, mostly working in summer blockbuster throwaways like Stealth and A Knight's Tale, respectively. But they both do great jobs in this movie, especially Sewell who plays a sociopathic prince, as if there's any other kind. You really hate him, but more importantly, you really don't know whether he will get his in the end or not (haha!........."get his in the end"), which has been a great thing for any movie to accomplish as long as movies have been made.

Don't get it twisted though, I'm not reviewing this one over The Prestige because I think it's the better film. After seeing the Prestige twice, it's honestly one of my favorite movies of the last 5 years. I just think that in the jumble last year, The Illusionist got lost partly because of critics unnecessarily comparing the two, and partly because it was just a damn jumble last year, period. If you haven't seen this one, I suggest you go grab it.

*you like that one? COPYRIGHTED BITCH!!

Monday, November 5, 2007

You digitally restored my heart, Criterion. My heart.

This might be the first time I posted twice in one day, but I had to point something out that you might have missed............November 2007 is the SHIT!!!

Scientific fact.

5-6 of my most anticipated movies of the year are being released this month in theaters, and to top it off, Criterion finally got around to finishing/releasing my second favorite Akira Kurosawa movie ever, Drunken Angel. Here's what the cover will look like:

To be released November 27th, full digitally-restored transfer. And straight from the Criterion website, here are just a few of the special features...........

- A 30-minute documentary on the making of Drunken Angel, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create

- Kurosawa and the Censors, a new, 25-minute video piece that looks at the challenges Kurosawa faced in making Drunken Angel

- New and improved English subtitle translation

Have you ever wanted to take a release date, lay it down next to a fireplace and make sweet love to it?

You have? That's just fuckin' sick. I was just joking........Jesus Christ. I'm gonna have to ask you to leave now.

Won't get fooled again........

Well, I got a couple e-mails and messages from people who want another DAA movie marathon. So that is coming very soon. But for now, here's one I really liked from early this year that was recently released on DVD:

The Hoax

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

Clifford Irving is a failed novelist. Rejection after rejection from the publishers leaves him desperate and tight for cash. But then, one day he excitedly informs his agent that he has been contracted to write the book of the century.........The Autobiography of Howard Hughes. And this is during the early 70's, a time when Hughes was maybe the most secluded and sensationalized socialite on earth. People literally thought he had died long ago and been replaced by an impersonator, ala-Bubba-Hotep. In other words, anything written about his life (with his consent) would be guaranteed gold.

The problem is, Clifford Irving has never met Howard Hughes, and he's just making it all up as he goes along.

The Hoax is the true story of one of the most memorable cases of fraud in American history, ironically profiling the infamous man who damn-near-successfully scammed one of the biggest publishing houses in the world with his own fabricated profile of an infamous man. Granted, we've seen plenty of movies about bullshit artists over the years. A good deal of them based on true stories as well. But what separates The Hoax from another similar film like, say, Catch Me If You Can, is that you can really see how people would want to believe Irving's absorbing lies (thanks in no small part to a great performance by Gere). He was obviously a talented man, although more so in mouth than ink. There are scenes where Irving's researcher and partner-in-crime Richard Suskin (played by the underrated-due-to-ugly Alfred Molina) just sits silent in meetings, in awe at his friend's ability to talk his way into literally millions of dollars in advances for this fake biography.

And who the hell was going to argue with him? Howard Hughes was insane as far as everyone was concerned at the time, even his closest friends. So if his lawyers came out and issued public denials, it wasn't too hard of a task to convince people that it was all part of Hughes's "big crazy plan". He had a lot of those back then. What's one more?

Director Lasse Hallstrom doesn't just make movies with flawed characters. He makes movies about the flaws. To that end, I've always considered What's Eating Gilbert Grape to be his most successful film. And after a steady stream of epic almost-too-heartfelt Oscar snacks (Cider House Rules, Unfinished Life, etc), I guess it's kinda nice to see him return to a smaller story, at least in scenic scope.

Just off the strength of Hallstrom's name I had already expected this to be, at the very least, an interesting character study. But what I didn't expect is for the movie to be as funny as it is. Gere impressed me immensely, he plays it to perfection and shows us Irving as he was.....a likable but insanely audacious man with balls the size of baby pandas.

There are a couple side stories working in the film, all of them interesting and fully developed. We see Irving's own decietful relationship with his wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden), and his eventual paranoia that Hughes is out to kill him for his fraud. But this man's panda-balls are the real heart of the story. Well, not literally, although some scenes like that in the movie might have won it a lot more festival awards. But as it is, watching Irving almost crumble beneath the weight of his own lies as people confront him, and then watching him work his magic once again leaving everyone in the room satisfied and sanguine, it's just one of those "shocking true story" films that really lives up to that description. Check it out.