Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Montreal vs. Toronto

Something for nothing in Montreal (August 24, 2004)

Something for nothing in Toronto (August 28, 2004)

I've been busy catching up on the Friday film openers that I missed while I was on vacation in Canada last week and writing for the August 31 NOW PLAYING taping. In the meantime, here are two photos I took. (Clicking on the photos will allow you to see bigger versions and read the signs.)

The first depicts the Hugger Busker doing, in his words, "socially interactive performance art" in Old Montreal. More specifically, his website indicates that this is at the "top of Place Jacques Cartier - across the street from the water fountain next to City Hall, between the Nelson Column and the flower kiosk".

The second photo was taken in downtown Toronto on Yonge Street near the intersection at Dundas. (He was right by the Spirit in the Square activities for the Olympics.) Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of the caped chess master wearing his big hat. It should be noted that on two different occasions I saw him appear to fall asleep briefly only to be jerked awake when his head drooped toward his chest. Maybe it's all part of his strategy.

So which city offers the best freebie?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Live from Toronto!

Just a quick note to let you all know that my adventures in Canada should be documented after I return. I write this with Yonge Street, one of downtown Toronto's main drags, just outside my hotel window. I've seen a couple ballgames with final scores of 8-7 (Expos over Dodgers on 8/23, Yankees over Blue Jays on 8/27) and caught a couple films (CODE 46 and SAMSARA). Saw the Jean Cocteau special exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and done a whole lot of walking in both cities. Split from Montreal on the day its World Film Festival began and arrived in Toronto the day after the subway hostage situation. Thursday night I watched some of the CBC's Olympics coverage on a big monitor in a lot smack dab in the middle of downtown (across from Eaton Centre). All in all, it's been a good time, which is why I'm too busy to bother with this right now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Without a Paddle

Last night's episode of BIG BROTHER featured corporate synergy at its finest (or most brazen, depending on your view). The CBS network program devoted part of the show to a promo for Paramount's WITHOUT A PADDLE. Since the houseguests can't listen to music except for the Head of Household's CD and aren't able to watch TV, they are starved for any diversion. Enter the reward challenge for a private screening of the film starring Seth Green and Matthew Lillard.

This is the best they could do? WITHOUT A PADDLE? Last year's challenge winners got to see RUNAWAY JURY, which wasn't exactly great shakes but at least it wasn't something the studio probably released to clear the shelf. Plus, the houseguests got to see that farther in advance of its release. What, were they afraid that this year's BIG BROTHER contestants would build bad buzz for the film, which opens this Friday? Paramount's September opener SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is in need of a good push, so a well-placed plug on the show would have been better served. Or maybe the execs think that the BIG BROTHER viewer is the targeted WITHOUT A PADDLE audience.

Of course, the houseguests lapped it up, even though being forced to see it is more of a punishment than a reward. Then again, when your other option is thinking about the situation in the house and becoming more paranoid, maybe a bad comedy is a retreat.

WITHOUT A PADDLE (Steven Brill, 2004)

Three childhood friends set out on an adventure to find D.B. Cooper’s treasure in WITHOUT A PADDLE, an alleged comedy steeped in the Indiana Jones films and DELIVERANCE.

As kids Tom, Jerry, Dan, and Billy imagined themselves to be the heroes they saw in the movies, whether it was Harrison Ford’s wisecracking archaeologist or the Ghostbusters. Ten years out of college life hasn’t duplicated those dreams. Dan (Seth Green) runs his own medical practice, but he’s too shy to ask out attractive women and has developed bizarre phobias, like the fear of cellophane. Jerry (Matthew Lillard) is a corporate man whose mind is on surfing rather than spreadsheets. Tom (Dax Shepard) has been in trouble with the law and looks to be headed nowhere fast.

The guys reunite when they learn that Billy was killed in a parasailing accident. Going by the pictures at his funeral, he lived life like it was a Mountain Dew commercial. While reminiscing at their old tree house hangout, the guys come across a box that contains important items they squirreled away. Billy left behind a map detailing where he believed they could find the remaining $194,200 famed skyjacker D.B. Cooper stole. He had wanted everyone to go on a trip the previous summer, presumably to find the money, but it never materialized. In memory of their friend Tom, Jerry, and Dan get a canoe and head upriver to fulfill Billy’s wish.

In sending the guys to a backwoods town for a canoe trip and having a couple hillbillies chase them, the connection to DELIVERANCE is unavoidable. Burt Reynolds even turns up as a scraggly bearded mountain man. No one squeals like a pig, although the half-clad guys experience gay panic when circumstances force them to cuddle so they won’t freeze. Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones trilogy is a touchstone, although more in spirit and derring-do than in any plot similarities.

WITHOUT A PADDLE also liberally quotes from 80s pop culture. A chase scene evokes RETURN OF THE JEDI. Culture Club and .38 Special songs pump on the soundtrack. There’s just something pathetic about 30-year-olds feeling nostalgic and thinking that life has passed them by. Isn’t that what your forties are for?

Green, who has shown promise elsewhere, is slumming here. A sloppy, lowest common denominator comedy, WITHOUT A PADDLE is exactly the type of project one would expect to see Lillard in. Apparently Reynolds has burned through the last of the renewed appreciation he won with BOOGIE NIGHTS because he hasn’t had a choice role since. Ethan Suplee, the second in command hillbilly Elwood to Abraham Benrubi‘s Dennis, gets a few laughs from constantly barking out “How do you like me now?!” as if he’s Toby Keith’s long lost, pot-farming brother.

The Oregon forests give WITHOUT A PADDLE a gorgeous backdrop, but the film is unattractively photographed. The image is flat, and some of the wide shots even look out of focus. Director Steven Brill isn’t noted for visual panache but for having helmed two of Adam Sandler’s worst vehicles, LITTLE NICKY and MR. DEEDS. Brill also wrote the pro wrestling comedy READY TO RUMBLE, which starred David Arquette. WITHOUT A PADDLE isn’t a departure in quality from those stink bombs. It has a MATRIX bullet-time joke, for Pete’s sake! Hasn’t the expiration date run out on that yet?

Aside from a deserved jab at Creed, WITHOUT A PADDLE is funniest when it takes itself seriously as a message movie. The guys learn the importance of friendship and marriage over money. That’s all well and good, but the platitudes are hard to swallow when Matthew Lillard is finding self-actualization amid gags featuring dogs getting stoned and hillbillies having bags of crap dropped on them.

Grade: D

The Amazing Race in Tanzania

Wow, tonight's episode of THE AMAZING RACE goes a long way toward demonstrating why it's one of the best shows on television and maybe the most exciting. Anything would be hard to beat the season premiere for pulse-pounding tension, but this episode came pretty close.

All six teams were neck and neck for the entire leg. It's unusual to see all of them so close coming down to the end. Typically there's one or two teams straggling behind the others, not all fo them working at the same time on the last task before the pit stop. I've been rooting for the twins, Kami and Karli, so their showdown with the love-'em-or-hate-'em cousins Mirna and Charla put even more on the line as far as I was concerned. Kami pulled it out for the twins, scarfing down the scrambled ostrich egg--the equivalent of two dozen regular eggs, according to show host Phil Keoghan--and allowing them to head for the pit stop before the cousins.

As exasperating as Mirna could be, she was a much stronger player than I ever expected. Charla always put forth a can-do attitude, so her competitive spirit and success wasn't as surprising. OK, she wasn't going to win any foot races, but Charla didn't complain all the time or have quite the persecution complex that her cousin exhibited. Although Mirna came across as flighty and whiny, one show after another revealed how cutthroat and clever she was. Her Spanish wasn't so good, but she communicated well in other countries, leading me to believe she was at least conversant in a few languages. Tonight's episode featured prime Mirna behavior when she tried to convince the airline agent in Cairo not to sell tickets to the other teams and did so in his language. As much as Mirna groused about other teams being out to get them--well, duh, you're in a race--she stooped to some low tactics to try and get an advantage. I won't miss the cousins, but the show won't be the same without them.

Tonight's episode was thrilling not only because the race was so tight but also due to the precarious situation it appeared that the twins and Brandon and Nicole found themselves in. They boarded a bus to take them to a stop in Tanzania, and the driver was obviously scamming them out of a lot of money. The teams put up a fight and tried to get off but didn't appear to be able to do it. They continued to be hassled that they needed to pay $100 per team, even after they were dropped off. (Other teams on two different buses paid $3 or $4 from the sound of it.) Potentially it looked like it could get ugly, although the presence of cameras probably kept the situation more under control than it might have been otherwise. (It reminded me of when a Philadelphia cabdriver locked me in the car and demanded to be paid cash when I thought I was in the cab that I ordered with a credit card. That sounds more dangerous than it was, but I was sweating it for a brief period.)

Kami and Karli may be the team I'm backing, but I wouldn't mind seeing Chip and Kim do well. Unlike many of these teams, they're enjoying themselves and not constantly bickering. After the last few episodes, I thought that Colin and Christie were prohibitive favorites. They have been on the ball making travel plans and usually complete tasks in a timely manner. His temper is surfacing more and more, which could be what sinks them. Still, I had to laugh when Christie was trying to hurry him along when he was having trouble eating the ostrich egg. (For those who don't follow the show and are still reading, Colin gave Christie a hard time when she had difficulty getting down all the caviar in an earlier episode.)

If you haven't seen THE AMAZING RACE, check it out. It has well-defined characters that you love and hate, and only a superior episode of ALIAS or 24 can beat it for heartpounding excitement.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Reviews in five words or less

Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been busy reaching the 200 film mark (ALIEN VS. PREDATOR on Friday), watching the Olympics, and researching hotel prices for my upcoming vacation. The latter has been particularly time-consuming since I've been looking for cheap (or cheaper) places in downtown Montreal and Toronto. Mercifully, the hotel reservation searches should be complete. That sucked up a lot more time than I intended.

Since I've seen a lot of films that I don't have time to comment on extensively, I'll purge them from my system with reviews of five words or less:

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: you get what you expect C-
DEAR FRANKIE: emotionally honest storytelling B
FATHER AND SON (OTETS I SYN): visually striking but narratively frustrating D+
GARDEN STATE: surprising, well-crafted generational touchstone A-
GREENDALE: admirable, rough-hewn polemic B-
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: The Who could rock B+
LITTLE BLACK BOOK: the year's worst film F
MOTHER AND SON (MAT I SYN): sometimes absorbing, sometimes too stark C
THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT: more Garry Marshall schlock C-
YU-GI-OH!: THE MOVIE: a feature-length advertisement F

And some DVDs:

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: still potent today B
FITZCARRALDO: unbelievable images from mad genius B+
ICHI THE KILLER (KOROSHIYA 1): little there but shock value C-

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Moviegoing statistics

It's a crazy goal, but I'm aiming to see 300 films this year. I suppose that the number is somewhat arbitrary except that it's a nice, round milestone. The basic rules I'm using:

1. Films must be seen theatrically.

Although I'm keeping track of what I watch on DVD, videotape, or television, they are not included in the total.

2. Only feature-length films and shorts of a length deemed appropriate will count toward the total.

This means that I am not including five or ten-minute shorts, not that I see many of them anyway. Call it the tyranny of the feature film if you like--makers of short films are up in arms, I'm sure--but including shorts doesn't seem right. Where it gets tricky is with COWARDS BEND THE KNEE and the IMAX pictures, films that are essentially treated as features when it comes to buying a ticket but don't meet the AMPAS standard for feature classification. I've included them in my count since 45-60 minutes seems like a sufficient running time.

Another sticking point comes with films shown on and made primarily for television. I've counted SWEET OLD SONG, a PBS documentary shown on P.O.V., but excluded AKI KAURISMAKI, a documentary on the Finnish director. I'm fairly certain I saw both on projected video rather than film, so there's no difference in that regard.

All films on my list have presumably been seen on projected celluloid, although in rare cases that isn't accurate. THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED and MC5 * A TRUE TESTIMONIAL screened as projected video from beta and DVD respectively. For the former, this was true to how it was made, and it is a "legitimate" theatrical release. The MC5 film has been pulled from distribution, so a projected DVD was the only option.

You know what, if Leah Mahan's Howard Armstrong doc makes the cut, the Kaurismäki essay should too.

3. Repeat viewings of films do not count unless a viewing took place in another year.

For instance, I've seen BEFORE SUNSET twice this year. Only the first viewing counts toward the total. I saw ELF for a second time in January; however, the first time was counted on the 2003 list. The total number reflects different films seen in a calendar year, not every time I saw something in a theater.

Previous totals:

-2001: 238
-2002: 260
-2003: 270

I have kept track of my 2004 moviegoing and thought it might be interesting to break down how many films I've seen month-by-month. I've seen 194 films so far, which does not include ten films from this year that I've rewatched.

2004 totals (through August 10)

-January: 16
-February: 18
-March: 34
-April: 39
-May: 22
-June: 25
-July: 30
-August: 10

The spike in March is attributable to the Lars von Trier retrospective at the Wexner Center. That was also when I became a member, which is partially responsible for the uptick in subsequent months. Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival was held in April, so that's why the month's number is inflated.

To reach 300 I must average 25 films a month. I need to hit 200 by the end of August to stay on track, a number I should reach on Friday.

Needless to say, there's no way I'd be attempting this or capable of doing it if I weren't a film critic. I don't pay to see most of these films, and there's a significant percentage I wouldn't pay to see if I weren't reviewing them. As the goal approaches, I'll continue to update you on my quixotic quest.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring


I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to getting caught up in the fast pace of modern society. Zip, zip, zip. SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING (BOM YEOREUM GAEUL GYEOUL GEURIGO BOM) provides an oasis from contemporary rhythms.

The film is broken into the seasons and the corresponding times in the life of a boy who will evenutally assume his master's role. A Buddhist master and his pupil reside on a platform in the middle of a lake. The lush valley they inhabit is far removed from the rush of society. Here time stands still. If it weren't for the rare visitor wearing jeans or carrying a cell phone, placing the film in a specific Korean era would be nearly impossible.

The old monk (Oh Yeong-su) observes the boy (Seo Jae-kyeong) and instructs him when necessary. One day he sees the boy catch a fish and tie a rock around it, laughing as it struggles to swim. The boy repeats this with a frog and a snake. That night the monk ties a rock around the sleeping boy. He awakens to his burden and complains to the monk. The master gently explains that the boy can now understand what his actions forced the animals to endure. For his rock to be removed, he must find the creatures and untie them. Using a strategy reflective of the film's overall approach, Kim shows the boy learning a powerful lesson of harmonic living with nature rather than having him receive verbal instruction in ethical conduct.

SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING is a film of few but select words. Like the evaporating characters that the monk writes with water, words are insignificant compared to being and action. For another lesson the master paints symbols on the deck with the help of a mewling cat whose tail he dips in ink. He tells his adult pupil to carve out the symbols with his knife as a manner of excising his aggression. The symbols' inherent value is in the pupil's task instead of their denotation.

Seasons change and the boy becomes a young man (Kim Young-min). He meets a girl (Ha Yeo-jin) and abandons his study for life in civilization. Seasons change again, with troubles instigating the adult's (Kim Ki-duk) return to his master's feet. Pupil becomes master, and the cycle continues.

A solemn film, SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING grants time to meditate. Kim encourages us to luxuriate in the valley's exceptional beauty and slower pace of life. The verdant forest provides a soothing buffer from the outside world. The rock formations bespeak of the land's permanence. Baek Dong-hyeon's breathtaking cinematography aids Kim in giving us a greater appreciation for this world. The colors of the changing leaves pop. Ice encases nature in translucent glass and transforms the beauty.

A stunning shot near the film's end reveals a mountaintop view of the lake and the floating monastery. Here Kim puts our existence in perspective. SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING presents the beautiful contrast between nature's time and our time. Things change, things stay the same. The world will go on. We would do well to acknowledge it.

Grade: A-

Monday, August 09, 2004

Three Updates for the Price of One

The quickest way for me to bail on updating this blog on a regular basis is to hold myself to the impossible standard of writing about everything I see. Maybe I ought to hire that therapist Metallica used, except I can't spare the $40,000 a month he was charging them. (Speaking of which, I ought to unearth my METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER review and slap it up here.)

So, for my next trick, I will work toward that goal of writing about everything I've seen in the past week that I haven't commented upon. Perhaps then I can hash out a more thorough analysis of THE VILLAGE. For the time being, check out what my fellow Columbus critic John DeSando's cogent take on the M. Night Shyamalan film. Be warned, spoilers are plentiful, especially for those wanting to experience the film tabula rasa.

OK, time for the lightning round...

COLLATERAL (Michael Mann, 2004)

Michael Mann sure knows how to shoot Los Angeles, although Thom Andersen might beg to differ. He brings out great texture in film stock and DV to paint a beautiful nighttime portrait of the city. More talking and less rocking, the characters, like improvising jazz musicians, trade existential riffs around some fine action setpieces. The subway chase sequence doesn't match the one in THE FRENCH CONNECTION, but that's setting the bar pretty high.

Jamie Foxx plays the cabbie who doesn't know what he's getting himself into by agreeing to drive Tom Cruise's hitman around the city. Foxx has shown a lot of charm in other films that weren't worth the time of day. Here he gets his best role to date in his best film to date and demonstrates true leading man qualities. The film's opening shows how carefully he maintains his taxi and goes about his job. Then it segues into a lovely conversation between him and a lawyer played by Jada Pinkett Smith. As he wins her over, he wins us over. We want everything to turn out okay for him because Foxx turns on the charisma.

Cruise, in the flashier role, is good too. Frequently dismissed as an actor because of his looks and that million dollar smile, he's been pushing himself over the last few years, working with top directors like Kubrick, Crowe, and Spielberg and playing more complex characters. Even though he's a cold-blooded killer in COLLATERAL, he still snakes his way into our good graces when he flashes those teeth and gives those devilish justifications for his actions.

Grade: B

OPEN WATER (Chris Kentis, 2004)

A couple (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) go scuba diving and are left in the middle of the ocean by accident. Time passes. Sharks circle. Repeat.

Best decision in making this film: using real sharks instead of CGI. There's a palpable tension in the performances and in one's experience as a viewer in knowing that those sharks are really in the water with the actors. Kentis, who also edited OPEN WATER, builds terror through montage. The shots with sharks and humans sharing the frame are important, but the edits suggest proximity and actions that make the film more terrifying. Kentis does such an expert job of evoking the environment that one of the best sequences occurs during the night when we can't see anything except when the lightning flashes.

Worst decision in making this film: shooting on DV. OK, it most certainly made production easier, but where DV can look terrific (COLLATERAL, THE COMPANY), it can also look cruddy when blown up to big screen proportions. There are times when the image is much to pixellated for my taste.

The superficial characterizations and banal dialogue keep OPEN WATER from being a great film, but it's one of the scariest films I've seen in some time.

Grade: B

TIME OF THE WOLF (LE TEMPS DU LOUP) (Michael Haneke, 2003)

Michael Haneke's TIME OF THE WOLF (LE TEMPS DU LOUP) thrusts us into an unknown time and place unsettled by unclear events. A family seeks sanctuary at their countryhouse only to come upon squatters who kill the husband, take their provisions, and send them off to fend for themselves. Isabelle Huppert stars as Anna, the fiercely protective mother of two.

Haneke's formal mastery produces many striking images. Foremost among these is a nighttime shot in which Anna, in the foreground, lights a torch that burns briefly while in the great distance we see a fire burning where she left her daughter. Haneke evokes a remarkable sense of space swallowing them. Later he elicits claustrophobia in the train station where they await rescue.

Huppert was magnificent in Haneke's THE PIANO TEACHER (LA PIANISTE). Her part in TIME OF THE WOLF is just as central but not as predominant. Anna recedes into the pack for the sake of survival, but Huppert still stands out with her intensity.

The unknown often produces a greater fear than the known. (The Russian film THE RETURN (Vozvrashcheniye), which is also currently circulating on the art house circuit, got a lot of mileage keeping the audience in the dark.) Rumors abound at the station. Mystical theories that ordinarily wouldn't carry much weight are considered in the film's ungrounded world.

What ultimately matters isn't whether help is coming or will never arrive but how the people treat one another. Haneke finds humanity in a scenario lacking hope, an unexpected beacon of light in a gloomy film.

Grade: B+

The Adventures of Ociee Nash

I've let this review languish as a draft for two weeks, so it's high time it saw the light of day.


Golly, it sure is mighty hard to shred a mild, well-meaning movie like THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH, but durn it all for being the sort of picture that gives the G-rated family film a bad reputation. The content is unobjectionable, which is all well and good, but watching this is like swallowing castor oil.

Nine-year-old tomboy Ociee Nash (Skyler Day) isn’t the least bit interested in being a proper young lady. The farm girl prefers dungarees to frilly dresses and horseplay with her brother over playing with dolls. Her mother is deceased, which leaves her father (Keith Carradine) concerned about the lack of female influence in her life. Her aunt Mamie (Mare Winningham) concurs, so Ociee is sent from rural Mississippi to live with her in Asheville, North Carolina.

Ociee’s 1898 adventures lead her to some Forrest Gump-like encounters. She meets Nellie Bly and helps solve an engineering dilemma the Wright Brothers are having with their flying machine. (TRADING SPACES fans will recognize carpenter Ty Pennington, who plays Wilbur Wright. He’s on screen for a minute tops.) Much is also made of Ociee inspiring President William McKinley’s saying “make haste slowly”. It struck me as an arcane quote, especially for a children‘s film. I wouldn't have paid any attention to it, but the film dwells on the line, going so far as to repeat it and having McKinley take note of the saying. Either the filmmakers didn’t do their research or assumed no one would realize that it comes from his March 4, 1897 inauguration speech. (Check the second paragraph.)

Ociee takes to her new home like a duck to water, even if she initially grouses about the wardrobe change that her dressmaking aunt institutes. She makes a new friend and helps a carriage driver woo prim Aunt Mamie. Except for missing her father and brothers, life in Asheville isn’t significantly different for Ociee. Which is precisely the problem. THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH is terribly dull because, for its approximate 100 minutes, it is virtually conflict-free.

Adapted from the book A FLOWER BLOOMS ON CHARLOTTE STREET, the film takes a methodical approach, breaking the non-action into distinct chapters. I can’t say how the film compares to the novel, but if you were reading this, you wouldn’t have a compelling reason to continue turning pages. Ociee is well adjusted and agreeable. Her penchant for climbing trees is what passes for mischievous behavior. While a MY FAIR LADY transformation might be anticipated and is briefly suggested, such work appears unnecessary. It isn’t imperative that Ociee should be deeply troubled, that she’s stealing from the general store and crying herself to sleep every night, but conflict is the storytelling engine. As admirable and desirable as good behavior and a relatively stress-free life are, these qualities alone don’t generate interesting viewing.

The title possibly suggests a parallel with Mark Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH doesn’t come close to being as involving as Twain’s novel--an unfair comparison, to be sure--however, it inadvertently adheres to Twain’s introductory admonition to readers. He began the classic book with the warning that “persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” Ociee Nash lacks motive and plot. While it upholds wholesomeness and good behavior, it lacks a concrete moral. Twain also mastered writing in dialect. THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH attempts to reflect the times, loaded as it is with southern aphorisms and slang, but the results are forced and clunky.

THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH was made in 2002 and is now rolling out regionally. Those in the Columbus area would do better to see HER MAJESTY, a 2001 film that played as part of the Drexel’s Summer Kids’ Series and is currently enjoying a regular engagement. In HER MAJESTY, a New Zealand girl befriends a Maori woman whose ramshackle home the townsfolk consider an eyesore, particularly with Queen Elizabeth’s imminent visit. The main characters in OCIEE NASH and HER MAJESTY are virtuous, but in HER MAJESTY it means something. Those without access to HER MAJESTY have better options in two great, overlooked films A LITTLE PRINCESS, from director Alfonso Cuaron, and Robert Mulligan’s THE MAN IN THE MOON.

Grade: D

Friday, August 06, 2004

Ego stroking

Out of curiosity I googled "reel times" and "Mark Pfeiffer" to see what results might turn up. (Don't look at me like that. You know you've searched for your own name too.) I was surprised to find that I have this page at Rotten Tomatoes and am quoted on The Criterion Collection page for THE LADY EVE. Kinda cool.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

A little brother, a little misunderstanding, and a big obsession

Some brief notes on the DVDs I've seen recently...

STEVIE (Steve James, 2002)

While attending Southern Illinois University Steve James was a Big Brother to Stevie Fielding. The director of HOOP DREAMS becomes a subject in his own film when he seeks to reconnect nearly ten years later with his Little Brother. Stevie's home life with his biological and foster families included abuse of some kind. So, it is unsurprising to James and the audience to learn that in the intervening years Stevie has been institutionalized and been arrested for various crimes.

James renews his relationship with Stevie but does not stay in regular contact with him, perhaps due to discomfort with the situation. Then Stevie gets into serious legal trouble. James is forced to make difficult choices regarding how he should be involved and, to a lesser extent, what role he now plays in the film.

The cynic might try to dismiss STEVIE as exploiting a poor family's problems and James as constructing a testament to his altruism. The Fieldings wouldn't be out of place on the daytime TV talk show circuit, but despite their faults, James displays great empathy for them in his filmmaking and personal actions. Although they are shown warts and all, STEVIE refuses to take a derisive view of these people. James may decline to bail Stevie out of prison, but he counsels him as best he can so that Stevie gets the legal and psychiatric help he urgently needs. While James again becomes an active participant in Stevie's life, he expresses reservations and wonders if the turmoil is why he distanced himself from his Little Brother after graduation and their reunion.

Ultimately STEVIE serves as a powerful depiction of what results from the cycle of abuse and how the system can't always succeed in saving troubled youth. The conclusion isn't a victory, yet it's probably the best for all parties involved.

Grade: B+


In LOVE ME, LOVE MY MONEY (YAU CHING YAM SHUI BAAU), Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Qi Shu become amorously entangled due to a familiar romantic comedy case of mistaken identity. Leung plays Richard, a miserly business executive who wishes to find love with someone not blinded by his bank account. Complications set in motion by a vengeful ex-girlfriend leave Richard with no cash and no access to his credit cards. Choi (Qi) is acquainted with Richard but does not know his true identity. She encounters him at this low point, even seeing him beg for money from a pregnant woman.

A stockbroker whose main priority is divesting herself of a tubby admirer, Choi pretends that Richard is her boyfriend. She gets rid of her suitor, but word reaches her father that she is dating someone. Choi and Richard strike a deal in which she pays him to pose as her boyfriend so as to convince dear old dad.

Leung and Qi are appealing, but they're saddled with an inane script and an unconvincing romance. Their actions are functions of the screenplay rather than natural choices. Even when allowing for the coincidences the genre thrives on, Choi's discovery of Richard's true self stands as a major continuity error, if one wants to get picky. (And I do.) Conveniently a DV camera captures Richard's announcement of his desire to find a woman who isn't a golddigger. The morning after a big party at his house, which he explains away as a favor he collected from a filmmaker, she stumbles upon the camera and watches scenes of the night before, which also happen to have the film's soundtrack on them but nevermind. Then she sees him talking about women and his money, something that took place days before and wouldn't have been after the party scenes on the tape. It's representative of the carelessness in the film's plotting and direction.

If you don't speak Chinese, the DVD subtitles leave a lot to be desired. Sentences pick up in midstream with sometimes half of the dialogue lines seemingly omitted. The translation is imperfect too. For instance, "either" means "too", as far as I can tell.

Grade: C-

DAMAGE (Louis Malle, 1992)

Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche star in a tale of erotic obsession. Is there any other kind when a French director is on board?

The sparks are immediate when Anna Barton (Binoche) introduces herself to Parliament member Dr. Stephen Fleming (Irons). Problem is, she's dating his son Martyn (Rupert Graves). Or maybe it's not a problem. She calls Stephen. He arrives at her apartment. They engage in rough, dispassionate sex. They repeat this scenario many times, even after Anna and Martyn become engaged and plan their wedding.

DAMAGE is handsomely mounted and boasts fine, emotionally cool performances from Irons, Binoche, Graves, and Miranda Richardson as Fleming's wife. Malle rhymes an incident in Anna's past with an important third act development, so I get the point of obsession's senselessness and destructiveness. While I appreciated the formal aspects, I was never engaged with the film.

The DVD offers the R rated and unrated cut. (The unrated version is about a minute longer.) I assume that the vigorousness in one scene is what deemed some trims for an R. Granted, the film was released in 1992, but 1999's R-rated release of EYES WIDE SHUT contained more intensity and considerably more nudity than the unrated DAMAGE.

I'm aware that DAMAGE has a solid critical reputation, so the film may be worth revisiting at some point. For now, though...

Grade: C

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Kerry/Edwards ticket and Affleck in Zanesville

Ben Affleck, John Kerry, John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards and John Glenn at a rally in Zanesville, OH (July 31, 2004) Posted by Hello

I went to the John Kerry rally in Zanesville and snapped this photo. Dead tired to talk about it right now, but here's a long distance look at some of what was taking place in front of the courthouse.