Thursday, June 30, 2005

Radio reminder

Today I'll be on NPR 820 WOSU-AM's Open Line from 10 to 11 a.m. Go to the show's page--which looks similar to the composite screen capture I assembled from there--and click on the "listen live" button in the sidebar or the "listen" link in the Thursday segment desription. If you can't catch the show live, it airs again at 6:30 p.m. and should be archived online.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Top Films of 2005: The Halfway Point

Since we're almost halfway through the year, it feels like the right time to post what I consider the top films to date. Except for a few stragglers, my mid-year list doesn't seem to mirror my top ten come year's end--most of them drift to the realm of the honorable mentions--although some of these are going to be tough to move down. The usual caveat applies to this in-progress list: films may switch spots for seemingly no reason between now and the end of the year.

1. KINGS AND QUEEN (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004)

A film so maddeningly brilliant that it practically defies description or analysis. Some think it's the art film equivalent of the emperor's new clothes. Perhaps they're right. When I saw it I had such a hard time putting my thoughts into words that I just didn't bother. More than any other new film, I felt my brain's synapses firing like crazy during Desplechin's delirious magnum opus. The Wexner Center is supposedly bringing this back in a few months, so maybe then I can put my enthusiasm into more specific terms.

2. NOBODY KNOWS (DARE MO SHIRANAI) (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2004)

One of my favorite filmmakers tells a harrowing tale of abandoned children with such delicacy and grace that the dark places it goes don't feel oppressive. NOBODY KNOWS seems to owe much to Truffaut, specifically THE 400 BLOWS and SMALL CHANGE. It's sort of like if the first Antoine Doinel film focused exclusively on the time he ran away from home and found a hidden place in Paris to live and play. The children in NOBODY KNOWS are mostly confined to their parent-free home but don't see the gravity of the situation, turning it into their own little paradise. (A tracking shot of the eldest running through the city and the film-ending freeze frame are the strongest tip-offs to any intended 400 BLOWS homage.) Hirokazu dwells on the resiliency of the children, a theme that also resonated in SMALL CHANGE.

3. WAR OF THE WORLDS (Steven Spielberg, 2005)

Spielberg's visually magnificent and utterly terrifying film proves that there's no one better at making event movies. Although it isn't particularly deep in regard to character or theme, WAR OF THE WORLDS rattled and awed me. The unrelenting intensity becomes uncomfortable while the visualization of terror from above and below is technically impressive and believable.

4. CRASH (Paul Haggis, 2004)

Haggis' eloquent examination of race relations posits more questions than answers, but it offers redemption to those struggling with these issues in contemporary America. Superbly acted and fluidly directed to connect multiple storylines, CRASH brings stereotypes and prejudices to the forefront in hopes of breaking them.

5. FEVER PITCH (Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, 2005)

Simply put, it'sANNIE HALL for baseball fans and one of the best romantic comedies of the last ten years.

6. MURDERBALL (Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, 2005)

This brash, highly entertaining documentary breaks all kinds of preconceptions and misconceptions about quadriplegics. Shot almost exclusively from the vantage point of a wheelchair, MURDERBALL introduces the rough and tumble world of quad rugby and the hardnosed men who play the game. It's uplifting and inspirational without being cloying or sentimental.


Weingartner taps into youthful feelings of anti-capitalist rebellion a la FIGHT CLUB, without the violent outbursts, and idealistic self-doubt, the kind that plagued Mark Wahlberg’s character in I ♥ HUCKABEES . THE EDUKATORS consist of two young men who break into the vacant homes of the wealthy, rearrange their possessions, and leave notes proclaiming sentiments such as, “Your days of plenty are numbered.” Their motivation is to make the victims uneasy about their accumulated wealth, not to steal or destroy. Scenes of the political pranksters at work are playful and tense. While THE EDUKATORS has affection for the young radicals played by Daniel Brühl, Julia Jentsch, and Stipe Erceg , the final destination isn’t apparent from the outset because their principles get put to the test when a mission takes an unexpected turn. THE EDUKATORS' complex political message is also sprinkled with humor and a romance that interjects some JULES ET JIM tension.

8. DOWNFALL (DER UNTERGANG) (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)

Hirschbiegel dramatizes much of the same material found in the too-dry doc BLIND SPOT: HITLER'S SECRETARY for this riveting inside story of national political madness. Bruno Ganz's performance as Hitler is nothing short of chilling because he plays him not as a monster but as a human, albeit a profoundly disturbed one who perpetuated some of the past century's greatest evil.

9. ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (Miranda July, 2005)

If Todd Solondz were a humanist, he might make something like performance artist Miranda July's hilarious debut feature film. Dressed in cheerful pastels, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW is a comic look at how people keep themselves apart, stay confused about sex and love, and desperately want human contact but are afraid or think themselves unworthy of it. July expertly straddles the line of edgy humor without taking it someplace really twisted.

10. MILLIONS (Danny Boyle, 2004)

Two motherless boys find a gym bag full of money in MILLIONS, a children’s film that gets the directorial energy that Danny Boyle brought to TRAINSPOTTING. Damian (Alexander Nathan Etel), a mystical lad who converses with the saints, believes it is a gift from God and is determined to distribute the cash to the needy, much to the chagrin of his older brother Anthony. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay crafts a wonderful allegory for the value of money. (With the impending conversion to Euros, the English pound will be worthless.) Boyle demonstrates that a family film with a moral message mustn’t be a musty affair. MILLIONS asks hard questions about faith and charity in entertaining and visually inventive ways.

10a. HEAD-ON (GEGEN DIE WAND) (Fatih Akin, 2004)

Here's proof positive that I should take notes more often. I liked this quite a bit but can't remember enough to write about it. Everyone else has called it a punk rock love story, and well, that's going to have to suffice for now.

10b. BATMAN BEGINS (Christopher Nolan, 2005)

A post-9/11 BATMAN film that succeeds as much in exploring trenchant ideas of fear, both personal and civic, as in fulfilling the comic book poses.

Monday, June 27, 2005

No paranoia here

Note attached to War of the Worlds screening pass

(Click photo for a magnified view.)

Nevermind that pens and pencils constitute recording devices.

At least clothes are permissible.

This week's media appearance

In addition to my weekly stint on Youngstown's Real Rock 104, I'll be making an appareance on NPR 820 WOSU AM's Open Line. I'll join Alive's Melissa Starker and Short North Gazette's Kaizaad Kotwal on a panel discussing summer movies and the classic film series in Columbus. (I'm somewhat amused that of all my outlets--including this blog, WOCC TV3, and DVDMon--I'm being identified as a writer for The Film Journal, considering it's the place where I've done the least.) The segment will last from 10 to 11 a.m.

You should be able to listen online to the live broadcast, but if you miss it, it looks like the programs are archived on the WOSU site. The Open Line page has the links for both.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Elizabethtown trailer, take two

Following up on yesterday's entry, ELIZABETHTOWN'S theatrical trailer is now live on the web. Compare and contrast with the internet trailer. Which makes you want to see this movie?

Yeah, me too.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

How to tease a film without giving it all away

The internet trailer for Cameron Crowe's ELIZABETHTOWN is a thing of beauty. You get a sense of the movie's tone and a vague idea of what it's about, but as far as I can tell, nothing is spoiled. The same probably won't hold true for the inevitable theatrical trailer, but one can hope.

This trailer opens with part of a funeral scene. The bulk of it revels in ELIZABETHTOWN images while Elton John's "My Father's Gun" plays before ending with a brief scene between Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst. It's a lovely compilation of image and sound that does what a good teaser or trailer should do: entices you to want to see more without giving it all away in the process.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro)


HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is the latest film from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. The story focuses on Sophie, an eighteen-year-old girl who is transformed into an elderly woman when she confronts the Witch of the Wastes. Her best hope for being changed back to her age is to visit the wizard Howl. While in Howl’s home Sophie meets the fire demon Calcifer and strikes a deal with him that, if successful, will return both to their normal forms.

Miyazaki films are always beautifully and imaginatively animated. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is no exception. The mechanical castle, war planes, and their unusual weapons are exceptional creations. It’s almost a given that the storytelling in Miyazaki’s films is dense and somewhat confusing, but in the end it usually comes together. That’s where HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE parts company with its predecessors. Most of the time I had no idea what was happening or why it was happening. The visual power of Miyazaki’s animation is as strong as ever, but it’s all for naught when you can’t make heads or tails of the story on screen. Neither the heroine Sophie nor the mysterious wizard Howl make for engaging characters. Sophie is mostly an observer while Howl is a big question mark. Walt Disney Pictures has taken great care in making English language dubs of previous Miyazaki films, and I presume they’ve again done the same for HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. (I saw the subtitled version, which is also playing at the Drexel Theatre.) Whether spoken or printed, I can’t envision either version making much sense.

Grade: C+

(Review first aired on the June 21, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D


With SIN CITY Robert Rodriguez made a comic book movie for adults. With THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL IN 3-D he switches to a younger audience. Daydreaming Max believes that the child superheroes Sharkboy and Lavagirl are real, but no one will believe him. His teacher and classmates change their minds when the duo shows up at Max’s school and ask for his help in saving their home Planet Drool.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL is based on a story conceived by Rodriguez’s seven-year-old son Racer. The juvenile inspiration gives the film its creative spark, making it the coolest home movie project imaginable for a father and son. Via Ray Harryhausen-like visual effects, some Salvador Dali landscapes, a dash of George Lucas adventure, and pun-centered humor, SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL brings to life what could have been a grade school creative writing assignment. SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL is the kind of film I would have loved as a kid. Even though I can see its faults now, I appreciate that Rodriguez has tailored it for children, for better and worse. The positive, youthful spirit and message about working to make one’s dreams real outweigh the slow spots and the dreary 3-D.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the June 21, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

MR. & MRS. SMITH (Doug Liman, 2005)

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie star as Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the film of the same name. John and Jane Smith have been married for five or six years, depending who you ask. Both are bored in the relationship, and no amount of therapy seems capable of repairing the damage. Unbeknownst to one another, John and Jane are professional assassins. Their paths cross on a job that neither completes successfully. With their identities compromised, John and Jane are commanded to eliminate the other or face execution at the hands of their employers.

MR. & MRS. SMITH features some ace action sequences and colors in the rest with an underlying theme about the importance of open communication in marriage. More attention is lavished on the fight and chase scenes than the relatively superficial message, but you don’t go to a big budget summer movie in search of Ingmar Bergman. MR. & MRS. SMITH’S highlights include the battle at home that leads to a different kind of grappling and a superb highway chase scene. Pitt and Jolie have palpable chemistry, and their scenes deliver all the heat that the tabloid gawkers have been anticipating. Jolie owns her role and gives a great movie star performance. MR. & MRS. SMITH gets off to a slow start, but when husband and wife take aim at one another, director Doug Liman finds his groove.

Grade: B

(Review first aired on the June 21, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Sunday, June 19, 2005


I'm not surprised that NAPOLEON DYNAMITE caught on, especially with high school and college students, but color me shocked to hear that already Preston, Idaho is going to hold the first Napoleon Dynamite Festival on June 24 and 25. (At that link you can also hear NPR's story and interview with Preston's chamber of commerce director.) After all, it took four years after THE BIG LEBOWSKI debuted in theaters for Lebowski Fest to get off the ground.

Those trekking to Preston--reportedly six thousand since January--are the definition of hardcore fans.

Some of the festival events include:

-A tater tot eating contest
-The obligatory impersonation and look-a-like contests
-Happy Hands Club performances
-Tetherball tournament
-Moon Boot Dance
-Rex Kwon Do tour
-A football throwing contest
-Sweet Bike & Roller Blade races

Since NAPOLEON DYNAMITE doesn't exactly portray the people of Preston in the most positive light, it looks like they've made lemonade out of the lemons that the film's exposure brought.

Friday, June 17, 2005

This weekend's Columbus film scene

Here are two noteworthy events happening on the Columbus film scene this weekend:

-The Wexner Center's Film/Video Department presents Luchino Visconti's THE LEOPARD (IL GATTOPARDO) tonight and tomorrow evening. This is the same restored cut featured on Criterion's beautiful DVD set. The film looks fabulous on DVD, but I can't wait to see what this is like on a big screen. It's not to be missed.

-With the Buena Vista juggernaut behind him, Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's PRINCESS MONONOKE and SPIRITED AWAY received wider distribution in the US than any of his previous works. His latest, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, opens in Columbus this weekend. As with the other Miyazaki films, the Disney folks have dubbed the voices to make the animated features more accessible. While I have little to no use for dubbed films, I'll give credit where it's due. Much care has gone into the dubbed versions--these aren't cheap rush jobs--and more families are likely to see these wonderful films if they're in English. Both the dubbed and subtitled versions have been included on the DVDs, which should satisfy everyone except for the hardliners.

The good news for purists is that the Drexel Theatre in Bexley requested a subtitled print, which, as I understand it, can be seen at the first and last showings of the day.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Different Kind of Desperate Housewife

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour

As an admirer of Buñuel's films and an ardent fan of Catherine Deneuve, it's something of a mystery why I hadn't seen BELLE DE JOUR until tonight. It lived up to its rep as a world cinema classic. Buñuel's surrealist touches, like his ways of showing Séverine’s fantasies and frigidity, make those moments far more cinematically powerful, and humorous at times, than conventional methods could achieve. Jingle all the way, indeed.

These days "desperate housewife" is a de rigueur tag for writers to apply to any number of public figures or for those women to assign to themselves. Anne Bancroft was dubbed one in an obit mentioning her role as Mrs. Robinson. Laura Bush confessed to being one. As I continued to watch DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES in hopes of spotting the creative genius I wasn't seeing, I grew weary of the series' bloated self-importance and the increasingly cartoonish behavior, so Deneuve's Séverine, a Gallic ancestor to the women of Wisteria Lane, provides a satisfying alternative.

While it's not fair to compare one season of the ABC soap with an established film classic, BELLE DE JOUR, with the "pure", suffocating wife, is a more potent statement about the interior lives of women than the vastly overrated television show. To be certain, Séverine doesn't have much in common with the average American woman--as much due to her being French and the film taking place in the 60s--but despite testimonials by the series' creators and cast, the ladies of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES don't either, except in the most exaggerated ways.

Of course, if the right people make even a tangential connection between DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and BELLE DE JOUR, maybe the show's astounding popularity can convince someone to put out a DVD that uses a better print. The one out there now isn't terrible by any means, but 16x9 enhancement and a little cleaning up wouldn't hurt.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Neko Case in concert

(Photos of Neko Case in concert at Little Brother's taken by Mark Pfeiffer on June 14, 2005)

Neko Case's music is well-suited for late at night during the summer. Her big voice and the dark-tinged music conjure a lonely evening in the middle of nowhere during a heat wave. OK, so Columbus' Short North isn't exactly the empty plains and the current temperatures may be high, although not heat wave equivalent, but nonetheless, a warm mid-June night felt like the right time for Case's blend of country. (Considering the retro tone of her voice, which recalls Patsy Cline, and the music, it's a wonder that Quentin Tarantino hasn't used any of her noir torch songs for one of his films.)

I'd seen Case once before. While she's an impressive singer--her voice is strong and clear--her accompaniment that night was a steel pedal guitar player and a stand-up bass player, who played some percussion with his foot. It was a good show but a little underwhelming. (I also seem to recall the concert being fairly short.) Tonight she played with a full band. They may not have been the ace band--The Sadies--heard on her recent live album THE TIGERS HAVE SPOKEN, but Case's support was a lot better than the first time I saw her live.

Wearing jeans and a black t-shirt inscribed with "This too shall pass" in an engraver's font, Case belted out several songs from her current album, some choice cuts from BLACKLISTED and FURNACE ROOM LULLABY, a Bob Dylan cover, and a few (presumably) new songs. (As you'll see in the setlist, I tagged one of the new songs as "Sparrow". I've found a couple different titles for it online. The three other songs I didn't recognize I'm guessing are new.) Song selection leaned toward the midtempo and slow. While I would have preferred a few more uptempo numbers, the concert was the right thing for a lazy, sticky summer's night.

This was the first club concert I've attended in town since the smoking ban went into effect. It made a world of difference. How nice to go to a concert and not have your eyes sting from the clouds of smoke and get home not reeking of cigarettes.

1. Favorite
2. If You Knew
3. Outro With Bees
4. (new song)
5. Soulful Shade of Blue
6. Ghost Writing
7. Deep Red Bells
8. Buckets of Rain
9. (new song?) (maybe called “Blood Runs Crazy”)
10. Sparrow (new song)
11. Blacklisted
12. Twist the Knife
13. Hex
14. The Tigers Have Spoken
15. I Wish I Was the Moon
16. Furnace Room Lullaby


17. Set Out Running
18. Wayfaring Stranger
19. (new song?) (maybe called “Holding Out for That Teenage Feeling”)
20. Look For Me (I’ll Be Around)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

One Missed Call (Chakushin Ari)


ONE MISSED CALL (CHAKUSHIN ARI) is the most conventional and accessible film I've seen from the prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike. That doesn't mean it's without merit. Who better to exploit an ominous ring-tone, the thunderous crunch of toenail clipping, an inhaler's whoosh, and a peephole phobia for scares than one of the preeminent Asian extreme directors?

In ONE MISSED CALL young people receive cell phone messages from themselves in the future. They soon learn that these missed calls are omens of their impending deaths. Try as she might, Yumi (Kou Shibasaki) cannot avoid getting one of these messages. She and Yamashita (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi), whose sister was one of the first to fall prey to the deadly dialer, race against the clock to solve the mystery before Yumi becomes the latest victim.

Miike reins in his anything goes impulses--there are no random claymation sequences or other giddily insane developments that made THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS constantly surprising--but still smuggles in his sense of humor and flair for the grotesque, often at the same time. This includes a severed arm dialing a cell phone, a decapitated head in the foreground and the body stumbling around in the background, and a reanimated corpse with chunks of wet flesh sloughing off of it. For good measure, he throws in a vicious criticism of reality television when one of Yumi's doomed friends is whisked away for a live special counting down her final seconds. (As over the top as the show is, it plays like something the Fox network would do in the blink of an eye.) This is what passes for a straightforward Miike film. No wonder this will be the first of his films Hollywood will try to remake.

In ONE MISSED CALL tension builds within scenes and creeps from scene to scene. Miike prefers for most of the scares to come gradually, with a select blast of unexpected jolts to keep the audience off-guard. The film ends with a flurry of frights--and probably a false ending or two too many--that have been laying in reserve.

As tends to be the case with other J-horror films, I'm not sure that everything in ONE MISSED CALL makes sense. Actually, I'm certain that it doesn't. If anything, the ending confuses matters rather than clarifying them. Rarely has a sunny end credits pop song sounded so incongruous with what preceded it. The overall theme deals with the inability to outrun abuse even through the distance of years, but as the story becomes more muddled, the statement about abuse passed through generations also is less clear. Regardless, Miike's dread-inducing skills and handling of tone trump any mystifying narrative turns.

Grade: B-

(Review originally appeared in a slightly different form as part of my Deep Focus Film Fest day 3 coverage)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Fast Film

Recently I reviewed THE ANIMATION SHOW. Tonight I saw something that easily tops anything in that compilation film. Via Movie City Indie I followed a link to UK Channel 4's site to see Virgil Widrich's FAST FILM.

Widrich's experimental short takes photocopied stills from three hundred different films and animates them to make something altogether new. This is pretty amazing stuff. If you have a high-speed connection--you're going to need it--make a point to check it out. His Oscar-nominated COPYSHOP is also worth a look.

Widrich has his own website, which I'm going to explore at a later time. FAST FILM and COPYSHOP are available on a region-free DVD that also contains a Widrich feature film and one more short. The DVD is PAL format, so you'll need a region-free player, like one of those cheap, wonderful CyberHome machines, or a computer that does PAL-to-NTSC conversion, a trick I was surprised to find that mine does. Using the handy, dandy Universal Currency Converter, it looks like the DVD costs around $24US plus international shipping.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants


In THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS four friends swap a pair of jeans that magically fit them all. Since the summer brings the first time the girls have been separated from each other, the pants provide a connection during their adventures in Greece, Mexico, South Carolina, and their hometown Bethesda, Maryland. Each girl writes a story of her experiences with the pants and then ships them to the next wearer. Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, and Blake Lively star as Lena, Carmen, Tibby, and Bridget.

The bulk of director Ken Kwapis’ experience has come on episodic television, which is appropriate since THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS feels like a supersized TV show. The film shifts efficiently among four familiar coming-of-age stories. The pleasant actresses compensate for the originality and surprises that SISTERHOOD lacks. Bledel gives a nicely understated performance as the demure one. Tamblyn registers some touching moments in a role that amounts to an extension of her JOAN OF ARCADIA character. Ferrera finds the right tone to play the daughter who doesn’t feel she’s a priority in her father’s life, especially when she meets her future stepfamily. Carmen’s storyline could have scaled down the injustices piled on her—dealing with her oblivious WASP stepmom-to-be and siblings, overhearing the casual racial insults her stepmom and a dress shop worker say, and returning home to a seemingly unconcerned father and stepfamily after she had run off—and not have resolved the problems so tidily, though. Only Bridget’s section feels underdeveloped. SISTERHOOD is better than most recent films at depicting regular teenage girls so it can be forgiven when it sometimes takes on an excessive “you go, girl” attitude.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired in a shorter version on the June 7, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Lords of Dogtown

LORDS OF DOGTOWN (Catherine Hardwicke, 2005)

With his 2001 documentary DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS Stacy Peralta recounted the days he and his skateboarding friends revolutionized the sport in 1970s Venice, California. Now he’s written LORDS OF DOGTOWN, a fictionalized account of that time brought to the screen by director Catherine Hardwicke. Skateboarding was stodgy until the Zephyr team, including future superstars Peralta and Tony Alva, showed off their surfing-inspired moves. A drought left many pools empty but gave the Z-boys the perfect place to hone their skills and styles.

LORDS OF DOGTOWN is a kinetic film that glides along on the heels of the boys’ boards. Propelled by a pounding classic rock soundtrack, the sharp sounds of wheels on hard surfaces, and camerawork that often grants a subjective perspective, the film captures the visceral experience of skateboarding. Purely as a study in speed and movement, LORDS OF DOGTOWN is a gnarly ride. Character depth suffers, subsisting on distilled adolescent energy and hormones, but Emile Hirsch brings power to his role as a Zephyr team member who resents the success of Peralta and Alva. Heath Ledger plays the surf shop owner who organizes the Zephyr team and initially capitalizes on them. For his performance he seems to be channeling Val Kilmer, a move that’s neither good nor bad but definitely amusing. Hardwicke’s last film, THIRTEEN, was a hysteria-infused depiction of troubled teens and their ineffective or absent parents. (As the elegantly wasted mother of Hirsch’s character Rebecca De Mornay is practically a carbon copy of Holly Hunter in THIRTEEN.) Although she brings the same worldview to LORDS OF DOGTOWN, it’s less problematic since this film is a snapshot of a particular time and place, not a sweeping statement about the nation’s youth. In deifying the skateboarders LORDS OF DOGTOWN tends to gloss over the trouble that some of the Z-boys got themselves into. Peralta’s documentary more completely chronicles the Z-boys’ stories, but LORDS OF DOGTOWN stands as a worthy companion piece.

Grade: B

(Review first aired in a shorter version on the June 7, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

The Longest Yard

THE LONGEST YARD (Peter Segal, 2005)

Robert Aldrich’s 1974 prison football flick with Burt Reynolds is remade as the Adam Sandler movie THE LONGEST YARD. Sandler stars as disgraced quarterback Paul Crewe, who was booted from the pros for shaving points. In an alcohol-fueled fury Crewe leads police on a high-speed chase that ends with a big cop car pile-up and his imprisonment. A Texas warden with political aspirations works the system to get Crewe transferred to his penitentiary. He wants the former QB to help with his prison guard football team. Crewe refuses but eventually is put in charge of assembling a ragtag squad of convicts to scrimmage the guards.

From the adrenalized soundtrack to the hard-hitting football sequences, THE LONGEST YARD brims with testosterone. In keeping with the film’s macho pose, Sandler gives his usual puppy-eyed little boy schtick a much-needed rest, but nevertheless, THE LONGEST YARD is still very much a film in keeping with his juvenile brand of comedy. The cartoonish way in which the characters are played drains the film of any grittiness the setting is supposed to provide. It’s more like a summer camp for rappers, wrestlers, and ex-athletes. Even behind bars a Sandler film works in more than a few front and center product placements, with a fast food restaurant being the main beneficiary. The repetition of prison rape and gay panic jokes plays like the worst sort of audience pandering. In spite of a major screenplay stretch—Crewe commits his crime in California yet ends up in the Texas penal system—THE LONGEST YARD is one of the more competently assembled Sandler films. (PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is the notable exception to the rule.) It’s likely that this film will hold higher appeal for those more susceptible to Sandler’s routine than I am. While THE LONGEST YARD plays its audience like a piano, it’s a tune that sounds uninteresting to these ears.

Grade: C

(Review first aired in a shorter version on the June 7, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

The Animation Show 2005

THE ANIMATION SHOW 2005 (Various, 2005)

Co-producers Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt have again collected their favorite animated shorts and named the compilation THE ANIMATION SHOW. The 2005 version marks the second program of what is anticipated to be an annual touring animation festival. THE ANIMATION SHOW features a variety of styles, including Hertzfeldt’s stick figures in the traditionally animated THE MEANING OF LIFE, the claymation of Peter Cornwell’s WARD 13, and the computer animated ROCK FISH. Bill Plympton may be the best known animator whose work is showcased in THE ANIMATION SHOW. Plympton’s Oscar-nominated short GUARD DOG is about a canine’s paranoid fantasies of the dangers facing his owner as they go a walk.

Animators seeking to get their work seen still face the perceptions that animation is primarily for children and that it begins and ends with the Disney and Pixar styles. Those who make shorts are also marginalized because theatrical exhibition is almost the exclusive domain of features. THE ANIMATION SHOW serves as a corrective to the limited views of what animation is and provides an avenue for worthy short subjects to be seen on a wider scale and where they were intended—on the big screen. Plympton’s GUARD DOG is far and away the funniest of the ten shorts in the program. Cornwell’s sci-fi nightmare WARD 13 is essentially one long action scene, but it’s a superbly edited and conceived piece that also utilizes some well-placed humor. Jennifer Drummond, one of the animators on WAKING LIFE, uses the same painting-over-rotoscoping technique for her distinctive short about food education demo specialists in a Texas grocery store. Georges Schwizgebel’s THE MAN WITH NO SHADOW produces the loveliest images through acrylic paint on cels. Hertzfeldt made my favorite entries in the 2003 ANIMATION SHOW. His THE MEANING OF LIFE is more head-scratching than humorous, but it’s a memorable way to end the 2005 edition.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the June 7, 2005 NOW PLAYING)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

You love me, you really love me

Or maybe not.

I came home from Tuesday night's screening of LORDS OF DOGTOWN, and in between monitoring my fantasy baseball team and going through e-mail, I checked my site traffic report. My eyes nearly popped out of my skull when I saw that the number of visitors and pageloads had passed my previous daily record by a substantial margin. Was I the unknowing beneficiary of a link on a prominent site? Had word made its way around that this blog was worth reading?

Or maybe my list of reviews, which includes Mira Nair's VANITY FAIR and the 70s porn film documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT, made for a fortuitous combination of words for those using search engines to locate news about a glossy periodical's reveal of a certain Watergate informant.

A hit is a hit is a hit, and I'm glad to have them all. (It's even netted ad clickthroughs amounting to nineteen cents in my Google AdSense account. Ch-ching!) So, if you're new to the Reel Times blog, please feel free to look around. If you're a regular visitor, thanks for stopping by. I'll try to write something more meaningful next time.