Archive for the 'movies' Category

Mother’s History of Birds

My colleague and friend Elliott Malkin just finished his short subject documentary, Mother’s History of Birds, the third film in his family trilogy. In it, he tells the story of his mother through her pet birds. (I love Roberta’s taste in eyewear.)

Also, if you haven’t seen it, check out his home movie reconstructions.

Persepolis

Persepolis

From A.O. Scott’s review:

“Persepolis” is a simple story told by simple means. Like Marjane Satrapi’s book, on which it is based, the film, directed by Ms. Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, consists essentially of a series of monochrome drawings, their bold black lines washed with nuances of gray. The pictures are arranged into the chronicle of a young girl’s coming of age in difficult times, a tale that unfolds with such grace, intelligence and charm that you almost take the wondrous aspects of its execution for granted.

I loved Persepolis… the Iranian Revolution was a curious thing to study, in college. Throughout the middle part of the last century, with the Cold War raging, the expectation for “Revolution” was nearly always a marxist concern. Even little Marjane’s relatives in Persepolis expected the Proletariat to prevail. What was new and unique in Iran was the rise of a reactionary, religious authority – that no one in the West, (and also the liberal elite in Iran), saw coming…

But as interesting as the politics in the film are, this is still primarily the story of a young girl, and her personal journey. I loved Ms. Satrapi’s depiction of her anarchist friends in Vienna, (where she attended French boarding school). These Europeans embraced her in part because of her experience with revolution and war, but they had no clue about the personal cost of this experience. Teenaged Marjane struggles with her identity, while they laugh behind her back. And in the end, we’re not quite sure that she comes out on top.

Persepolis is a journey worth taking, and the animation really is wonderful.

HD Trailer »

Halloween 2007

In 3D!

We celebrated Halloween a little different this year – by watching Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D. Thanks to Becca for the idea, and for getting the tickets.

I haven’t seen this movie since it came out almost 15 years ago, but it really is an animation classic. The stop motion method looks just as cutting-edge and inspiring as anything done by Pixar in the past few years, and I love the many homages to Beetlejuice and other Burton films, (details here). [from iPhone]

We saw it at the Pavilion Park Slope, but I think that it is up in other theaters around the city this week. More photos below the fold.

Continue reading ‘Halloween 2007’

Splat!

It’s been nearly 24-hours since I relaunched this weblog, and the feedback has been encouraging. Thanks to everyone who emailed or left a comment.

I talked last night about my desire to use a typographical grid for this design, but I also knew that this had the potential to look quite antiseptic and sterile. I thought of the comment that David Carson makes in the Helvetica film, as he points to the word “caffeinated” that has been printed out in Helvetica Black and hung on the wall next to other identical looking words: “This doesn’t say ‘caffeinated’!” To avoid the trap, I needed to work in a design element that would make things a little more interesting.

Continue reading ‘Splat!’

“No Reservations”

Went to the Common today to see a total chick flick: No Reservations [NY Times Review], starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. I figured, hey, I’ve got lots of expired AMC Theaters gift certificates sitting around that have to be accepted in Massachusetts by law, and I’ve got time… why not?

This film is a quiet, understated emotional triumph. Sure, we all love to watch Mrs. Douglas mope around the screen in a cute Chef’s outfit, and who doesn’t like Aaron Eckhart every moment he’s on screen? The dude made Thank You for Smoking watchable, so he has talent.

But I was really surprised by the downbeat, slow pace of the film. Abigail Breslin breaks your heart, as a recently orphaned pre-tween forced to move in with her emotionally immature Manhattanite Aunt. Still, she finds the energy to scheme and guilt her stunted Aunt into falling in love with the goofy sous-chef that wears CrocsDid I mention that Eckhart wears freaking Crocs in this film?

But, I really focused on little Breslin – everyone knows her from the absurd, hacky Little Miss Sunshine – but that’s too bad. She’s oddly affecting in this film, and her character is much more rooted in reality.

8/10

The Omen

666Rating: B+

So yea, I went to the movies on 6/6/06, to see the remake of The Omen. I was surprised to find the theater packed on a Tuesday night, but the full house added to the suspense.

Here’s my quick review: ready?

  • The story takes its time to develop, but its not “slow”.
  • The production design was incredible, with on-location shooting in Italy, London, and Jerusalem.
  • Julia Stiles is one of the better actresses of her generation, and it was interesting to see her play a wife and mother.
  • Why is the Roman Catholic hierarchy always portrayed as evil?
  • Kids are creepy.
  • Mia Farrow is creepy.
  • Why are horror films all edited like The Ring now?

The Constant Gardener

Rating: A+

We had the opportunity to see The Constant Gardener (metacritic) a couple of weeks ago, and I neglected to post about it.

I’ve never read a John le Carre novel — I remember him saying on Fresh Air that he was a former British intelligence officer, so I naturally assumed that his politics were more aligned with Tom Clancy’s, than Amnesty International. Now, I’m the kind of Liberal who squirms around radical activist-types, so when we were greeted at the cinema door by Amnesty representatives with their pamphlets and petitions, I wondered just what kind of action pic this was. I ducked the do-gooders, and took a seat.

It was my impression that the film is being marketed as a Ralph Fiennes action pic, (see poster). And while there certainly is a lot of suspense, the true heart of the film lies with Rachel Weisz’s character — the radical activist. The film provides a window into an Africa that we often hear about, but rarely see… sure, the film is indignant about corrupt local officials, warfare, disease, and neglectful (or antipathetic) Western powers. But, it also shows African people who are generous in spirit, and worthy of a better collective future.

Liquid Television

Check out the trailer for the live-action film of Aeon Flux. It doesn’t look that promising, to be honest…

Charlize Theron has a snappy black hair cut, but her outfit looks more PG-13 than the dominatrix-inspired garb Aeon wore in the MTV animated series.

Ah well. If they really wanted to attract 13-year old boys, (and me), they’d do it right, and take the R rating…

Beach

Marci was in town for a job interview at Harvard, so we took wednesday off from work, and headed for the beach in Gloucester.

not crowded
So much less crowded on weekdays…

Blink

Having just finished Tipping Point, I dug into a couple
hundred pages of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink

sangria

…and, we enjoyed a big jug of homemade Sangria.

Ebert & Roeper Podcast

Seems like Apple’s deal with Disney to leverage content into Podcasts is building—I saw today that you can subscribe to the Ebert & Roeper (iTunes link) podcast.

C’mon NPR, let’s get Fresh Air and On Point on board.

John Doe Mexican

I received a message from our friend Karla today, about what her boyfriend Steve is up to this summer. He’s a public-school teacher, and is currently working to produce a documentary titled John Doe: Mexican, on border crossers in the Southwest.

Sounds like an interesting project, which he will be blogging about:

John Doe Mexican is an hour-long documentary that captures the struggle to value human life, even in death.

The dead have no names here. For Mexican border crossers, Southern Arizona’s Sonoran desert is an unforgiving and, all too often, murderous landscape. John Doe Mexican follows a handful of people who have made it their business to end these desert deaths and to name John Doe.

Karla said that he is looking for feedback and questions, so feel free to leave a comment on his blog.

Constantine

Presley was busy studying tonight (damn MBA school), so I figured I’d check out a movie. But what to see? An Oscar winner? Aviator? Million Dollar Baby? nah.

Since I enjoy reading religious texts, I thought I’d check out the latest Keanu movie, Constantine. From the trailer, I thought it looked cheesy, but chock full of demons, and the occult… fun on a wednesday night, right?

Well, yea… it was fun. Despite what the New Yorker might think:

Constantine turns Catholic doctrine, ritual, and iconograph into schlock… Imagine Jewish version of the spectacle–Angel, starring Vin Diesel, in which God’s messenger stays Abraham’s hand in mid-sacrifice and then earns His approval by lowering himself into cursed pharaonic tombs with tied-together prayer shawls. In a Hindu version–Vishnu, with Nicolas Cage–Shiva unleashes his snakes on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie and starts a war between truck drivers and apple pickers.

Oh, you’re no fun Mr. Denby…

Then again, my particular religious interests tend toward “heretical” Christian texts, such as the Gnostic gospels, so I suppose I’m not as concerned about protecting the Faith.

If Constantine whets your appetite for all things devilish, I’d recommend reading Elaine Pagels’ monograph, The Origin of Satan… oh, and it’s nothing like the movie.

Pauly Shore is Dead

Pauly & Snoop, in a promotional photo.

Pauly Shore is in Boston this weekend, to show and promote his film, Pauly Shore is Dead, at the Coolidge, and we braved the 2 degree-cold to wait in line for the midnight showing last night. During a Q&A before the showing, Pauly spoke very eloquently about the project, which he wrote, directed, produced and financed (from his stand-up earnings).

I think we came for the kitsch value of seeing this fallen icon from our youth — the Wiez… but left having thoroughly enjoyed the film, for what it was.

Ordinarily, movies that feature numerous cameos are quite a drag to watch… (Bruce Willis in Ocean’s Twelve comes to mind). But, not only does Pauly manage to coup some really funny people, he also wedges them into his plot. Rico Suave selling oranges on the side of the highway, Todd Bridges playing the part of spiritual mentor and cellmate, Tom Sizemore & Michael Madsen with young girls, and Kurt Loder playing “diva” during his MTV News updates… all of these are pretty funny.

Go see Pauly & the film, tonight at the Coolidge, 12am. And, the DVD comes out on tuesday, january 25.

The Incredibles

ElastigirlI was incredibly impressed with The Incredibles, despite my well-known aversion to animated kiddie-fare. I never saw the Toy Stories, and Finding Nemo‘s story was stale and Albert Brooks was insufferable, but this film is different — it’s funny, unexpected, and multi-layered. It’s part James Bond, part Spy Kids (never saw those either), and part Rocky V — that is, what happens after the glory days have passed you by. The good news is, this film is nothing like Rocky V.

What can I say? I’m a suckah for Holly Hunter and her gravelly Georgia drawl. For a contrast to her motherly warmth in this film, go rent Crash… talk about range.

Fahrenheit 9/11 & the year of the angry Liberal

Fahrenheit 9/11We went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 at the Fenway 13 on Saturday night, and I became uneasy before the movie, because there were rent-a-cops milling about and checking bags. Were they expecting violence? Like a modern day Outsiders, with MoveOn.org members clashing with the Young Republicans?

There has been much made of Michael Moore, and the controversy surrounding whether he can correctly claim the title of documentarian. On the Today show, pseudo-journalist Matt Lauer nitpicked and argued with Moore as if he were host of Fox and Friends. Truth is, the journalists who think Moore is utterly ruinous, (Gwen Ifill comes to mind), are making this judgment from a pretty skewed, “elite” frame of reference.

It is, after all, a movie, which intends to bring important information to the masses, wrapped in an entertaining package. It is not journalism, and I am fine with not calling the film a “documentary”. Let’s call it Op/Ed.

Moore is shameless, manipulative, and yes, he has an opinion. But I simply refuse to hold him to a higher standard than I do Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. He makes me laugh, he makes me sick, and he presents a point of view that is totally american.

Other reactions:

The Prisoner of Azkaban

'Hold me, Harry...'Review: A+

Yes, we attended last night’s showing of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, at 12:01am. And, despite some suggestions from my work mates, I did not play dress-up.

My reactions and excitement after seeing the 3rd installment on the big screen, directly parallels what I felt a few years ago when I dug into the 3rd Potter bookAzkaban is where the series takes a much darker turn. The Dementors are frightening in the film, though the new director Alfonso Cuar?n devotes far more energy to stoking fear of Sirius Black, than of the prison and it’s soul-sucking guards.

Overall, Cuar?n’s vision is a breath of fresh air — the film is scarier than Chris Columbus’s two films, (it’s a mystery to me how films like this manage to receive a PG-rating), but it’s balanced with a few whimsical moments courtesy the Whomping Willow, and by Michael Gambon’s quirky take on Dumbledore.

How long do I have to wait for the Goblet of Fire?

UPDATE: Capn saw it last night too

Battle Royale

whoaBattle Royale has one of the best plot lines (and fan following):

Ninth grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food and various arms. They have to fight each other three days long until the last one remains and are forced to wear a special collar which will explode when they break a rule.

The Japanese are an absolutely amazing people.

X-mas in Buffalo

Ornament on the familial X-mas tree

Ornament on the familial X-mas tree

Macy and Jeremy at Spot Coffee, Elmwood Ave.

Macy and Jeremy at Spot Coffee, Elmwood Ave

Exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Continue reading ‘X-mas in Buffalo’

Best of 2003

Well, I’m late with my yearly round-up. I’ve enjoyed reading what other webloggers have written on 2003, and hopefully I’ve got something to offer. Here goes:

MUSIC

Yeah Yeah YeahsI won’t bore you with my theories of correlation between poor economic prospects and quality rock music—suffice to say, 2003 was a lousy year to look for work, but it was another excellent year for rock. Without any dominant “ism” (e.g., Alternative, Rap Metal, etc.) defining what was cool, smaller bands were given the chance to experiment.

  • Stellastar, Stellastar —The 80s are back, and I’m thankful for it. But to dismiss Stellastar as a Gothic throwback would be a crime— Shawn Christensen’s voice is more a post-punk David Byrne, (and I love basist Amanda Tannen’s backup vocals). My Coco is a great tune.
  • Blur, Think Tank —Ok, enough New York bands… Let’s talk about Blur. With their seminal guitarist Graham Coxon gone, and the Gorillaz side project behind him, Damon Albarn and crew turned out something no one expected—a melodic, measured, mature album, with some of the best album art by Banksy that I’ve seen. I miss the mod days of Modern Life, but this was a fitting evolution.

FILM

Lost in TranslationSummer movies still baffle me—I never saw The Hulk or X-Men 2—but there were a few interesting films sprinkled amongst the usual trash this past year. There were so many I missed this year, but here are a few worth considering:

  • Lost in Translation—I started a new job this year, and I work closely with a Japanese girl, whose English skills are… well, limited. So, this film was my favorite in 2003. I was rolling on the Cinema floor laughing during the “why do they switch their Ls and Rs” conversation. I’d marry Scarlett Johansson tomorrow.
  • In America—Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobio story of an Irish family moving to New York after the death of their son, was about as sweet and magical an experience as is possible at the movies. I hadn’t expected it to be so emotionally heavy, but there is redemption in the end.
  • Angels in America—I’ve never seen the play, but this 2-part HBO movie was exhilarating, inventive, and gut-wrenching. This film tackles the big questions of faith, love and identity.
  • Kill Bill—Uma and Quentin were back in 2003, and despite rumors that Kill Bill was going to suck, I really enjoyed watching Uma slice and dice her way through her addressbook. Part II is coming in 2004, so maybe we’ll find out who the hell Bill is anyway.

POLITICS

Howard DeanFor those of you in late-primary states who might not be paying attention, there’s a presidential campaign underway. Never in my lifetime have the stakes been so high—2003 showed us terrorism, preemptive war, tax cuts, budget deficits, job loss, and gay marriage (one positive, at least).

  • Howard Dean—Not only has Howard Dean single-handedly handed the Democrats their balls back, he’s re-written the campaign handbook and made blogging an important tool in reaching the Grass Roots. Silly establishment pundits are still dismissing him as the flavor-of-the-week (and weak), but I think he’s going to put up one hell of a fight, and he’ll be walking and talking a lot more like a traditional candidate after the primary.
  • Nothing else good happened in 2003. sorry!

Thanksgiving Prefix

We’re awaiting company for the holiday– Presley’s mom, mom’s boyfriend Marc, and sister Kelly are joining us in a proper New England Thanksgiving.

The pumpkin and corn breads smell wonderful, the turkey is still thawing, and we picked out a few nice wines to go with dinner. Ok, so maybe the Puritans didn’t drink French wine– or wine at all– but I’m sticking to the “proper New England Thanksgiving”.

The funniest part (to me) was that our 1-month old Sears Kenmore refrigerator died yesterday– luckily we were able to shuttle off various bits to neighbors’ fridges, and get a repairman to the apartment today. It’s not going to be Pieces of April (which incidentally is really quite good, and you should go see it).

Larry got it Right in Mystic River

salonlogo.gifAn open letter to the author of an otherwise good review of Mystic River in Salon:

Hello Ms. Zacharek,

I did enjoy your review of Mystic River, and am looking forward to seeing it this weekend. I especially enjoyed your observations on conceptions of neighborhood, and on the film’s sense of place.

While it’s true that Boston’s many neighborhoods are more self-contained than most cities’, I think it’s a leap to assume that this clannishness is total. It’s equally true to argue that all of Boston is insulated from other parts of the country. There is a distinct common Boston culture, which includes things like language, values, and traditions (red sox).

And while there may be an evident us vs. them dynamic between certain groups in the city, there is always a circling of the wagons when Boston is facing outward to the rest of the country. So there must be more to this place than the sum of its parts.

Which leads me to ask you about this:

His partner is played by Laurence Fishburne, who wasn’t told, unfortunately, that black people in Boston don’t speak with a Boston accent.

I know it’s a minor bone to pick, but what experience or knowledge did you use as basis for that comment? An assumption that only Irish-Bostonians drop their Rs and As? Michael Dukakis certainly would debunk that statement.

Visit an elementary school in Chinatown, and you’ll see the children of Chinese immigrants saying cah and pahk, just like many of their teachers. Maybe not to the exaggerated degree that you’d find on the South Shore or in the Kennedy family, but it’s there.

Would you similarly argue that blacks born and educated in Chicago don’t speak with a Great Lakes Mid-West accent?

The Boston accent originated in East Anglia, when the first English colonists came from. It’s been refined and extended by a immigrant groups of all kinds (not to mention a few of us transplants from other parts of the country). I think there is a mistaken assumption here, and I’d hate for non-Bostonians to get the wrong idea when watching this film.

Respectfully,
Ned ned.suckahs.org

Now, I’m not a native Bostonian, but I have been here for nearly a decade — and I know many people that grew up in this town, and share the local accent– be they from hispanic, black, or other backgrounds. Does anyone disagree? Am I overreacting to a small bit in an otherwise good review?

UPDATE: Ms. Zacharek kindly responded to my letter:

Hi Ned — Thanks for your letter. I actually took great pains to make it clear that the clannishness shown in the movie isn’t total — the neighborhood of the movie seems to me very much like South Boston (though plenty of people are writing in saying, “No, it’s Charlestown!” or “No, it’s Dorchester!”) I think the point is, there ARE pockets of Boston that are particularly clannish, and Lehane’s story is predicated on that.

And the L. Fishburne line…I just went in and cut that from the piece, because it seemed to be a bone of contention with several people. I lived in Boston for 15 years (it was only four years ago that I left), and I never heard a person of color speak the way Fishburne does. Then again, all of Boston is set up so that a white person (like me) never needs to come into contact with a person of color unless he or she makes a great effort to do so. So it’s entirely possible that there are African Americans in Boston who speak like Mark Wahlberg and I just never heard them. In any event, it did seem like a misguided acting choice to me.

Anyway, thank you again for taking the time to write in with your thoughtful comments, and best wishes —

Stephanie Zacharek

I’m humbled that she responded so generously, but now that I think about it, I’m feeling a bit like the PC Police. I didn’t want her to self-censor herself, but I thought that I should say something.

Full Throttle Boredom

Lucy looking juicyCharlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is the most pointless movie I have ever paid money to see… and, yes, I did see Showgirls in the cinema.

Someone explain to me what the hell this movie is about — because I have no clue. Here are my questions:
  • Who is that "Leo" kid?
  • Why is there unrealistic CGI fight scenes every 35 seconds?
  • Who is Bruce Willis’ character?
  • Why did that guy from the X-Files suddenly switch sides?
  • For a followup, why did Crispin Glover switch sides?
  • Why is Drew Barrymore in Mexico?
  • Why does Demi Moore play with her gun like she’s never touched one before?
  • When did Justin Theroux get jacked? Seriously, he’s got some muscles.
  • Why does Bernie Mac turn into more and more of a caricature, as he gets more famous?
  • And yet, why was I laughing at his one-liners?
  • What are those fucking rings, and why would such low-level government workers have them?

That’s all I got right now. Oh, and one more thing: I think Lucy Liu is incredible– but I hope she has better material in Kill Bill.

Cronenberg’s Spider

Over the weekend, I saw David Cronenberg’s new Film Spider with Tbone, who wrote a review. One thing I’d like to comment on, are Miranda Richardson’s several exceptionally noteworthy performances, as both Fiennes’ Mother and Stepmother.

The first character is a model of 1950s restraint and beauty, dutifully preparing dinner for her family and accompanying her husband to the Pub, though she’d rather be at home. This is the boy’s (Fiennes) idealized vision of his Mother. Richardson plays the role much like Julianne Moore did in Far From Heaven. As an audience member, you can’t hardly resist her virtue.

The second character, is a trashy pub-girl that Fiennes’ father picks up for a little action, and eventually becomes the boy’s Step-mom. Wearing a leopard print coat, and stained teeth, this character casually gives a handjob to the boy’s Father under an overpass. She encourages the murder of the boy’s Mom, and becomes the object of the boy’s vindictive intentions later in the film.

In addition, she also steps into the role of the half-way house-master, where she torments Fiennes.

What is truly incredible, watching Richardson, is that you really aren’t sure if it’s the same actress. They are so different in appearance and behavior, that the screenwriter and Cronenberg must’ve been jumping for joy.

It’s a creepy film, about a creepy guy. But, while Ralph Fiennes is mumbling into a journal for an hour, I think Miranda Richardson deserves the credit for holding it all together.

The Quiet American

Review: A

I saw The Quiet American last week, and I wanted to do a quick review. Faithful to the Graham Greene novel, on which the film is based, it’s a complicated movie with characters that are both flawed and heroic.

Contrary to Miramax’s fears, the movie is _not_ anti-American or unpatriotic– still, it’s a film worth seeing at this time of renewed American adventurism. Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser give exceptional performances, and the production design is faithful to the period, without getting nostalgic, ala Auto Focus and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Shoot the Weather-people

OK, so I spent the weekend in Albany, at an interstate Courtyard by Marriott, because I met my parents there (half-way between Boston & Buffalo). I went swimming, shopped at the monstrous Crossgates Mall, and saw The Recruit.

This was all fine. Until I had to decide what to do about the coming storm…

Albany Dan was coming back from New York, and I wanted to go out and have some drinks… so we checked with the Weather Channel, and they seemed to think that the storm wouldn’t start pounding New England until the afternoon, monday. LIARS!

I left Albany at around 11am, and immediately ran into the shit on I-90 East… I mean, do you people plow your roads in New York State? There never was a problem with visibility– only with the road surfaces. So it was 25-40 MPH all the way into Our Fair City. I got in at 4:30pm, a full 5.5 hours later! eek.

Sorry if this comes off as a teenaged rant, but Weather-people must be hanged!