Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Congratulations to Mark Moon, the winner of the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford promotional contest, in celebration of the one year anniversary of From the Front Row.

Mark will recieve a copy of the film's official poster from Warner Brothers.

Thanks to all who entered, and check back for more promotional contests in the future.
From Entertainment Weekly:
A writers' strike may be upon us, but that hasn't slowed Sony's plans for Spider-Man 4. James Vanderbilt, the writer behind David Fincher's gritty thriller Zodiac, has been hired to pen the script for the new Spidey installment. (Vanderbilt may not be able to write during the strike, but the WGA can't stop him from thinking, right?) It's unknown whether Sam Raimi will direct the four-quel, but he's likely to be involved in some way. The studio is scheduling the film for a 2009 release.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I just finished listening to Steve Jablonsky's score to Transformers that I downloaded from iTunes, and I absolutely love it. Yes it's derivative, but boy is it ever fun. Great, heroic, blood pumping action music that is shamelessly entertaining. Not the best score of the year, but definitely one of the most fun.
From The Telegraph:
The ‘Saw’ horror films have been voted scarier than the horror classic The Exorcist.

The series, which has just spawned its fourth film, tells the story of an evil torturer who puts his victims through a set of horrific moral and physical trials to see if they have the will or the wit to survive.

In one sequence, a man must cut the key to a booby trap from behind his eye with a scalpel before he is killed.

At this present time, the series sits at the top of the poll for MSN Movies, garnering 17pc of the votes over the Exorcist’s 16pc.

The Exorcist, made in 1973, tells the tale of a young girl possessed by a demon. It remains notorious today for its blasphemy, visceral horror and depiction of a child swearing and performing a sex act with a crucifix.

The Shining is currently in third place with 14%.

Really? Saw is scarier than The Exorcist? Than The Shining? Than Alien? Than Halloween? One has to wonder what these people are thinking. The Saw series isn't scary. It's bloody. There's a difference.

Are audiences just getting dumber? Seriously...what happened to scary films that truly frightened, that truly got under your skin? The Exorcist and The Shining played with your mind, they were intelligent films that were scary because they took the time to tap into something primal.

Saw films just throw gore on the screen and assume grossing us out is the same thing as scaring us. And audiences are dumb enough to be fooled.

It's just another sign at how low filmmaking, and in turn our culture, has sunk.
I stumbled across this while reading through Benicio Del Toro's film credits on IMDB. It's a weird little short film, with acting that sounds like it came from bad high school auditions...even from talented performers. But it captures the campy, over-the-top decadence of the original, Penthouse funded film. It's not good...but then again it's not trying to be. Worth checking out if you have an extra five minutes.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Just a reminder, the contest to win an Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford poster from Warner Brothers ends tomorrow at midnight. So send in those entries while there's still time! Click here for info on how to enter.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, October 31, the first anniversary of From the Front Row.
Halle Berry's post-Oscar win role choices have been questionable at best, starring in clunkers like Catwoman and Gothika, a far cry from her career defining work in Monster's Ball. So I was glad to see that her role in Susanne Bier's Things We Lost in the Fire was a return to the challenging work that shows off her immense skills as an actress. However the film itself still doesn't measure up. While not a disaster on the level of the aforementioned films, it is still not a film worthy of the immense talent on display here.

That doesn't stop Berry from being stunning in the role of Audrey Burke, a widow grieving the tragic death of her husband (David Duchovny) who takes in her husband's heroin addicted best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro, in yet another great performance) in an effort to finish the work her husband started, but also to fill a void in her life where her husband once was.

It all makes for an acting showcase for those involved, but the final product is little more than a soap opera. Berry and Del Toro are both wonderful, and deserve all the praise they can get for their performances. Del Toro's performance is nothing short of remarkable. His portrait of drug addiction is one of the most harrowing I've seen, and Berry's grieving wife and mother is just as powerful. But Things We Lost in the Fire is dull, plodding, and aimless. If it weren't for them there would be little redeeeming about it. I kept waiting for the commercials and proclamations of it being a "Lifetime Original Movie."

I wanted to like it, I really did. A film that is so masterfully acted should be better than this. But it's not. It is a predictable retread of so many films that have come before it...many that were made for TV. Which is where this belongs.

Every plot development is spotted a mile away, partly out of inevitability but also out of cliche. Bier attempts to create a naturalistic, slice-of-life character piece - but the result is just boring and unfocused.

The supporting cast, however, is also top notch, especially Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry (Halle's real life son) as Audrey's children.

Things We Lost in the Fire is not a horrible movie, but it just goes nowhere. And it could have been so much more. Despite terrific performances, the film sinks without ever developing its own personality. It may very well be the worst well-acted movie of the year.

GRADE - **

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE; Directed by Susanne Bier; Stars Halle Berry, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Alexis Llewellyn, Micah Berry, John Caroll Lynch, Alison Lohman; Rated R for drug content and language
October 29, 2007 0 Comments
My copy of Criterion's Eclipse Series release of Samuel Fuller's first three films, I Shot Jesse James, The Baron of Arizona, and The Steel Helmet, on 10/29 at 5:04 PM, just came in the mail a couple of days ago. I'm already a fan of I Shot Jesse James...I'm looking forward to digging into the other two.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'll admit, when I heard that Ben Affleck was going to be making his directorial debut, especially with such challenging, serious material as a Dennis LeHane novel, I was skeptical. After all, this was the guy who was the subject of a widely publisized love affair with Jennifer Lopez, bringing the once promising, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Good Will Hunting down into the realm of tabloid fodder. On top of that, the last film based on a LeHane novel was Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Mystic River. Not having directed a feature film before, there was nothing really in Affleck's career that proved he could pull something like this off.

But he has. Gone Baby Gone is a taut, superbly crafted mystery about a free-lance husband and wife team of missing persons detectives (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) who are hired by a distraught aunt to augment the investigation of the kidnapping of a four year old girl from a drug-ridden home. The investigation leads them deeper than they have ever gone before, into a world of drug addicts and gangsters, and ultimately to a surprising conclusion that was nothing like they ever expected.

The film falters a bit in the middle when it loses focus as it sniffs down the trail of a red-herring subplot, but Affleck's direction is always solid and the performances are top-notch. Especially Casey Affleck's (Ben's brother), who is having a banner year after his haunting turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He, along with Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild may prove to be this year's great revelations. He projects a world weariness that belies his young appearance, perfect for a character that is constantly being underestimated for looking so young.

The most impressive aspect of Gone Baby Gone, however, is its startling moral ambiguity. Especially for Affleck's maiden film as a director, Gone Baby Gone is infused with a nagging moral complexity that makes it fascinating to contemplate and impossible forget. This is the kind of film that stays with you for days, that sparks immediate discussion. And it raises legitimate issues of right and wrong that stubbornly refuses to be black and white. It exists firmly in shades of gray where nothing is what it seems and no question has a right answer.

And it never feels forced or contrived. Affleck navigates the gritty underworld of Boston like he has known it his whole life, and the questions stem from eerily plausible situations.

By the time the film ends, we are left with a nagging sense of melancholy, our heads filled with "what ifs" and "what would I do?" That is the mark of great filmmaking, when the audience is forced to insert itself into the film and identify with the main character. Gone Baby Gone is no easy film to watch, it is a thinking man's piece that demands attention and reflection. But it is all the more rewarding for it. Ben Affleck has proven himself to be a skilled director, here's hoping this is a harbinger of great things to come.

GRADE - ***½

Directed by Ben Affleck; Stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan; Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Director David Slade's 2006 debut film, Hard Candy, a disturbing thriller about a pedophile (Patrick Wilson) who becomes the prey for a vengeful 14 year old girl (Ellen Page), met with mixed reaction from critics. I found it to be an extremely stylish, almost unbearably intense nerve shredder that showed great promise for the former music video director. However, his latest, the vampire horror outing 30 Days of Night doesn't even come close to capitalizing on that promise.

Set in a remote Alaskan town where the sun will not rise for 30 days, plunging the town into perpetual darkness, 30 Days of Night follows Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), who find themselves faced with a town overrun by bloodthirsty vampires after the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster) on the last day of daylight.

I'll admit I was intrigued by the premise, and the film's poster is one of the most striking and gutsy horror movie posters of recent years. But the resulting film doesn't really work on any level. It is riddled with plot holes and glaring leaps in logic, and its gigantic leaps in time through the titular 30 days makes little sense. What could have been a genuinely creepy film ends up being ridiculous and downright silly due to poor structure, an even weaker script, and ludicrous, non-sensical plot twists.

Although, just like in Hard Candy before it, I admire Slade's use of light and color. His compositions have a stark beauty to them, but the problem is that Hard Candy was shot-for-shot a vastly scarier film than 30 Days of Night. 30 Days may deliver the blood and gore, but Hard Candy remains the single most unnerving film I have seen in the past several years. Here, Slade is hampered by the nearly laughable dialogue and the fact that his film really makes no sense. There is nothing here to distinguish it from any other sub-par outing other than Slade's superior mise-en-scene.

I did however, also admire the performance of Ben Foster as The Stranger. Foster is quickly establishing himself as one of our most interesting character actors, and after his wonderfully despicable turn as Russell Crowe's right hand man in 3:10 to Yuma, he has definitely proven himself as someone to watch. He may not have been in the film very much, but he left a greater impression than nearly any other aspect of the film. I would like to see what he would do with a character that isn't so sleazy.

Slade hasn't made the worst horror film ever made. There have probably been more truly wretched works in this genre than any other in cinema history (except for maybe science-fiction). But he didn't make one that distinguishes itself either. 30 Days of Night is a sadly missed opportunity, a waste of talent on senseless dreck that made even the always welcome Danny Huston as the vampire leader look silly.

Hard Candy demonstrated Slade's talent and skill at creating tension. 30 Days of Night looks totally inept by comparison, which may have a lot to do with the fact that it was a director-for-hire studio project, and Hard Candy was a more personal independent project. I hope that one day, Slade will make a great film that will make everyone sit up and notice.

30 Days of Night
isn't it.

GRADE - *½

30 DAYS OF NIGHT; Directed by David Slade; Stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Jonathan Bennett, Ben Foster; Rated R for strong horror violence and language

Monday, October 22, 2007

Actual weekend box office totals:

1. 30 Days of Night - $15,951,902
2. Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married - $12,186,011
3. The Game Plan - $8,178,646
4. Michael Clayton - $6,677,272
5. The Comebacks - $5,554,594
6. Gone Baby Gone - $5,501,406
7. We Own the Night - $5,420,793
8. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas in Disney Digital 3-D - $5,330,101
9. Rendition - $4,060,012
10. The Heartbreak Kid - $3,814,636

Source: Box Office Mojo
Thanks to Sasha Stone at Awards Daily for posting these:

Best Feature

Great World of Sound
Craig Zobel, director; Melissa Palmer, David Gordon Green, Richard Wright, Craig Zobel, producers (Magnolia Pictures)

I'm Not There
Todd Haynes, director; Christine Vachon, James D. Stern, John Sloss, John Goldwyn, producers (The Weinstein Company)

Into the Wild
Sean Penn, director; Sean Penn, Art Linson, Bill Pohlad, producers (Paramount
Vantage & River Road Entertainment)

Margot at the Wedding
Noah Baumbach, director; Scott Rudin, producer (Paramount Vantage)

The Namesake
Mira Nair, director; Lydia Dean Pilcher, Mira Nair, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Best Documentary

The Devil Came on Horseback
Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern, directors; Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg, Gretchen Wallace, Jane Wells, producers (International Film Circuit)

Jimmy Carter Man from Plains
Jonathan Demme, director; Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

My Kid Could Paint That
Amir Bar-Lev, producer/director (Sony Pictures Classics)

Michael Moore, director; Michael Moore, Meghan O'Hara, producers (The Weinstein Company)

Taxi to the Dark Side
Alex Gibney, director; Alex Gibney, Eva Orner, Susannah Shipman, producers

Best Ensemble Cast

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris, Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brian F. O'Byrne, Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon, Marisa Tomei (THINKFilm)

The Last Winter
Connie Britton, Kevin Corrigan, Zach Gilford, James LeGros, Ron Perlman (IFC First Take)

Margot at the Wedding
Jack Black, Flora Cross, Ciarán Hinds, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Zane Pais, John Turturro (Paramount Vantage)

The Savages
Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Talk to Me
Cedric the Entertainer, Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mike Epps, Vondie Curtis Hall, Taraji P. Henson, Martin Sheen (Focus Features)

Breakthrough Director

Lee Isaac Chung for "Munyurangabo"
Stephane Gauger for "Owl and the Sparrow"
Julia Loktev for "Day Night Day Night" (IFC First Take)
David Von Ancken for "Seraphim Falls" (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Craig Zobel for "Great World of Sound" (Magnolia Pictures)

Breakthrough Actor

Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage)
Kene Holliday in "Great World of Sound" (Magnolia Pictures)
Ellen Page in "Juno" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Jess Weixler in "Teeth" (Roadside Attractions)
Luisa Williams in "Day Night Day Night" (IFC First Take)

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You

August the First
Lanre Olabisi, director; Shawn Alexander, Gabriel "Swede" Sedgwick, Nicky Arzeu Akmal, Lanre Olabisi, producers

Ronald Bronstein, director; Marc Raybin, producer

Loren Cass
Chris Fuller, director; Chris Fuller, Frank Craft, Kayla Tabish, producers

Mississippi Chicken
John Fiege, director; John Fiege, Anita Grabowski, Victor Moyers, producers

Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa
Jeremy Stulberg & Randy Stulberg, directors; Eric Juhola, Jeremy Stulberg, Randy Stulberg, producers

For more info visit the official Gotham Awards website.
From Variety:
One day before shooting began, Mark Wahlberg stepped in to replace Ryan Gosling in "The Lovely Bones," the Peter Jackson-directed adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel for DreamWorks.

Wahlberg has taken the role of Jack Salmon, the grieving father of a young girl. That role was vacated Friday by "Lars and the Real Girl" star Ryan Gosling, who stepped out after gaining 20 pounds and growing a beard for the job. Sources attributed the exit to creative differences.

After reading the script, Wahlberg quickly committed Sunday. He joins Rachel Weisz as a couple whose world is shattered after their daughter is murdered. The girl watches over her family and her killer from heaven. Jackson wrote the script with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

The film begins shooting today in Pennsylvania

Bye-Bye: A strong source tells us that things blew up badly with in The Lovely Bones, the Peter Jackson-directed film based on the Alice Sebold novel. Recall that in May, DreamWorks prevailed in a bidding war by offering a very rich deal to make this film, which tells the story of a child who is raped and murdered. Gosling is out in the role of the child's father, and Mark Wahlberg slid in over the weekend just hours before shooting was set to begin. And apparently, the break with Gosling may lead to litigation, though it's still unclear what the fight was about. Sure seems that DreamWorks has been hitting a few speed bumps lately. The first movie under its own label was The Heartbreak Kid. Things We Lost in the Fire got incinerated over the weekend, opening to $1.6 million. And Kite Runner has been delayed because it put its child stars in danger in Afghanistan. Schadenfreude, Mr. Grey?

This would also seem like worrisome timing for Gosling, who got an Oscar nomination for his role in Half Nelson and is getting a fair bit of praise for Lars and the Real Girl. If he's managed to tick off Peter Jackson and DreamWorks honcho Steven Spielberg simultaneously, that could not be considered a good career move.
Hearing of trouble on The Lovely Bones makes me nervous. It's a difficult enough book to film, but with such a sudden major cast shakeup, there could be problems. Especially if the film is overshadowed by litigation.

Alice Sebold's novel is a complete masterpiece, and I would hate to see this ruined. The book had already brought me to tears 3 times before page 100...Jackson's film has a lot to live up to.

Friday, October 19, 2007

For my readers in North Carolina, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford opens today at the Grand 18 in Winston-Salem, and the Carousel Cinemas in Greensboro.

From my soon-to-be-published review:
This is no run-of-the-mill western. This is a breathtakingly beautiful rumination that totally immerses its audience in a bygone era. As shot with painterly brilliance by Roger Deakins, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is the single most gorgeous film of the year, and the screenplay by Dominick takes minimal dialogue and turns it into pure organic poetry.
Drop what you're doing and go now. This film deserves all the attention it can get.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Variety is reporting that actress Deborah Kerr, who was most famous for her role in Fred Zinneman's From Here to Eternity, died yesterday from complications from Parkinson's Disease.

Kerr's role in From Here to Eternity, in which she kissed Burt Lancaster on the beach in one of the screen's most iconic moments, has brought her the most fame over the years, as well as appearing opposite Yul Brenner in the musical The King and I, but I will always remember her most for her roles in the Powell/Pressburger films The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (in which she played 3 roles) and Black Narcissus, where she played Sister Clodagh, a prim young nun who starts a hospital in the Himalayas only to see it descend into madness brought on by isolation and sexual tension - a very brave topic for 1947, and the most absolutely stunning use of lighting I have ever seen in a film.

Kerr was a great screen presence, and will be missed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Without giving anything away, I just want to say that Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton has the most pitch-perfect ending I have seen in a long time. It rivals The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for the year's most stunning final moments. And the two could not be more different. Jesse James' ending is breathtaking in a haunting, elegiac sort of way - the kind that leaves you with your heart in you throat and a tear in your eye.

Clayton's ending is much more unexpetedly quiet and thoughtful. For a film that is so distinguished by its whip smart dialogue, to end the film in such a way is a ballsy choice, and it works. It is a complex film that would probably benefit from multiple viewings (I have only seen it once), but it leaves you with so much to contemplate, and actually gives you the time to do so.

Kudos to Gilroy for such excellent work.
Weekend box office estimates:

1. Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married - $21,500,000
2. The Game Plan - $11,506,000
3. Michael Clayton - $11,010,000
4. We Own the Night - $11,000,000
5. The Heartbreak Kid - $7,425,000
6. Elizabeth: The Golden Age - $6,183,000
7. The Kingdom - $4,566,000
8. Across the Universe - $4,000,000
9. Resident Evil: Extinction - $2,650,000
10. The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising - $2,150,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

After the near riot I saw in Manhattan over a sneak preview of Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married on Wednesday night, its surprise box office victory this weekend doesn't seem so surprising. Perry has a very devoted fan base that carried him past other high profile openers, We Own the Night and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, as well as the expansion of Michael Clayton.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I finally saw Andrew Dominick's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford tonight at the AMC Empire 25 in Manhattan, and there was very nearly a riot outside the theater. Not because of Jesse James mind you. No it took me a while to figure out what was going on because I was afraid they weren't going to let us in, since they were starting to lock the doors and bring in the police. It turned out to be a sneak preview of Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married, which was sold out and causing unrest amongst the Perry fans who had been waiting in line for hours.

It wasn't much better inside, as there were people on several floors without tickets trying to get in, to no avail. They were getting pretty rowdy when they closed down escalator and wouldn't allow anyone to go up at all.

I must have understimated the zeal of Tyler Perry fans, but I had no idea the movie would be that popular. I doubt it will inspire such passion across the country, but will be a moderate hit. Perry has a very specific niche market (i.e. African American women), and it will do well with its target audience.

But the point of all this is, despite the riot I had to fight through to see it, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a flat-out masterpiece. It is an essential American western, a film of such lyrical beauty and power that it is far too good for the treatment it is getting. Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood-Elsewhere is calling it the most lauded, worst-treated movie of the year, over the fact that Warner Brothers will not be screening the film for critics in several cities as it begins its slow roll-out into the top 25 markets this Friday.

This is the kind of treatment you give a film you want to hide - i.e. a second-rate horror flick or throwaway kiddie comedy that is going to haul in the family audiences no matter what you do.

This is not the way you treat one of the best films of the year. There has got to be some kind of explanation for this, but I half wonder if the film is just too good. People just don't know what to do with it because it is so above and beyond. After all, Citizen Kane was beaten to death when it was released and look where it is now.

It is a slow-moving film, probably too much so for a chunk of mainstream audiences. And there were a couple of walk-outs in the screening I was in. Which may explain the seeming tentativeness of how to handle the film by Warner Brothers. But if only people knew what they were missing. And they even have Brad Pitt to use as a marketing tool.

This is a movie that deserves to be seen - and I think if people could see it and the word got out there, then maybe people would get out there and see it. The word needs to be spread, it needs to be shouted from the rooftops - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a movie for the ages, a masterpiece without an audience.

It is the best movie that no one is watching.

Don't forget to enter my Jesse James contest, which will be up through October 31.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I will be in New York until Sunday so posting will be slow down quite noticably until then. I will still post when I get a chance, maybe post short reaction pieces on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (which I plan to see tonight) and Lust, Caution. But I won't say too much on that one until I publish my review.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Winston Salem Cinema Society, in conjunction with the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, will be screening Alain Resnais' Private Fears in Public Places this Sunday at 2 PM.

From my review:
...under the surprisingly nimble direction of 85-year-old Alain Resnais, a veteran of the French New Wave (a movement that gave rise to the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut back in the early '60s), "Private Fears" skillfully avoids any cliché that might have brought it down. If anything, it resembles a less grim version of "Closer," itself a much darker examination of failed relationships, crossed with the upbeat and cheerful "Love Actually." "Private Fears," despite its rather bleak subject matter, is never depressing or hopeless. Resnais has crafted a tender and bittersweet mosaic not just of loneliness but of the unexpected connections we find when we least expect it that have nothing to do with romance. I'm talking, of course, about family and friends - two subjects that often take a back seat to romantic love in the film world.
For more information, visit

Thursday, October 04, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 3 — The studio distributing “The Kite Runner,” a tale of childhood betrayal, sexual predation and ethnic tension in Afghanistan, is delaying the film’s release to get its three schoolboy stars out of Kabul — perhaps permanently — in response to fears that they could be attacked for their enactment of a culturally inflammatory rape scene.

Ahmad Jaan Mahmoodzada, father of Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, an actor in “Kite Runner.”
Executives at the distributor, Paramount Vantage, are contending with issues stemming from the rising lawlessness in Kabul in the year since the boys were cast.

The boys and their relatives are now accusing the filmmakers of mistreatment, and warnings have been relayed to the studio from Afghan and American officials and aid workers that the movie could aggravate simmering enmities between the politically dominant Pashtun and the long-oppressed Hazara.

In an effort to prevent not only a public-relations disaster but also possible violence, studio lawyers and marketing bosses have employed a stranger-than-fiction team of consultants. In August they sent a retired Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism operative in the region to Kabul to assess the dangers facing the child actors. And on Sunday a Washington-based political adviser flew to the United Arab Emirates to arrange a safe haven for the boys and their relatives.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Want to have your world rocked? Then check out this silent Russian short film from 1912 about marital infedility among insects. Yes...insects. Director Wladyslaw Starewicz was known for animating the bodies of dead insects to create these wonderfully quirky little movies.

I was introduced to The Cameraman's Revenge in a film class a couple of years ago, and was delighted when I found it on YouTube. Enjoy!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Currently in Theaters and Now on DVD sections on the right hand bar of the page, now includes links to my review of each film listed, whether they were published in The Dispatch or posted here. Movies that I have not written a review of simply link back to the main page of the site. Hopefully this will give my reviews more visibility and easier access from my blog page.
The Gurus of Gold are up and running, and their top ten possibilities for the Best Picture Oscar are:

1. Atonement
2. No Country for Old Men
3. Charlie Wilson's War
4. American Gangster
5. Into the Wild
6. Sweeny Todd
7. Juno
8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
t9. There Will Be Blood
t9. The Kite Runner

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and In the Valley of Elah clocked in at # 14 and 15 respectively, and I would rank them both much higher. Definitely above The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Kite Runner.

But it's WAY too early. Only time will tell.
More on The Kingdom from The Sunday Times:

Mindful of the sensitivities, Berg has prefaced his film with a three-minute history lesson, a computer-animated sequence that charts Saudi-Western relations from the discovery of oil in the 1930s through to the cataclysmic events of September 11, 2001. At this particular screening, though, as the introduction concludes with the image of an airliner gliding towards the towers and a respectful fade to black, the reverential, pin-drop silence in the cinema is punctured by a gleeful “ba-boom” from the auditorium.
Ba-boom? This is one of my main problems with The Kingdom, it had so much potential to explore foreign relations and the current political climate, but it decends into a "rah-rah shoot the ragheads" actioner.

Berg said that was not his intention, but what did he expect a majority of American movie-goes to think? The sad truth is Americans go to the movies to turn off their brains, not to contemplate themes of global implication.

In The Kingdom, the fictitious but very plausible atrocity is the suicide bombing of a compound in Riyadh (similar attacks happened there in 2003), in which the deaths of 100 or so American workers, slaughtered while playing baseball and the like, must be avenged, if not judicially, then at the point of one of Mann’s beloved M16s. Of course, its makers deny any John Wayne leanings. “It’s not a jingoistic Team America Destroys Paris movie,” defends Mann. Neither is it, adds Berg, “a bloodthirsty, pro-American sense of, ‘Let’s go and kill some f***in’ Arabs.’ It’s not. It’s truly not”.

Try telling that to the enthusiastic early reviewers and patriotic bloggers (“In a season sure to be dominated by Meryl Streep movies about the war, it was nice to see one that actually bothered to have us as the good guys,” reads one). Preview audiences have been equally yee-ha (“The numbers were so high that the studio was confused,” says Berg). Which suggests that, for all Hollywood’s liberal posturing, the American public might just be a bit tired of all that self-flagellation and prefer to have a good old-fashioned, guilt-free crack at the baddies.
That is part of what's wrong with this country today. Our "enemy" has become so dehumanized that we no longer see them as people. When we can no longer understand what we're fighting against, what we have is an endless cycle of violence and misunderstanding - a point The Kingdom tries to make in its final moments. But it is too little, too late.

Berg, however, seems to know this:

Indeed, Berg has since expressed regret about choosing a patriotic, heroic outcome for his film over several bleaker alternatives. “I do think it’s not entirely realistic,” he apologises. “I boxed myself into a corner. Next time that won’t happen.” Like it or not, he seems to have made the first war-on-terror film simply to accept the conflict as an unchangeable reality, the backdrop for a buddy cop flick – CSI: Riyadh.
I'm glad he realizes the mistake. Berg is obviously a talented filmmaker (I was very impressed with his previous film, Friday Night Lights), but this case sounds like he bowed to the wishes of low-minded test screening audiences.

The following quote especially gave me pause:
“We had an incredible screening,” Berg recalls. “We very concerned that we were perhaps going to have a more negative reaction than we wanted. But the cheering and laughing and clapping that was there in the American audience was all there, and then some, in London.” Afterwards, a focus group was asked to explain why they had rated the film “excellent” on their score-cards. “A Muslim woman put her hand up – full head covering, the robe. She leaned forward and said, ‘Kick-ass action.’”
I guess it should be a good thing that Muslim audiences were not offended. But honestly, it bothers me that people can be okay with anything as long as it offers "kick-ass action."

Who cares if it sends the wrong message?