Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Autumn leaves

Autumn has come to New York at last. For a reason that is as yet unknown, the City’s trees change color far later than the surrounding areas. Generally, while leaves in Vermont or South ’Jersey turn all sorts of colors, here in Manhattan they generally just turn yellow then brown before falling off and mucking up the sidewalk.

I’ve always felt cheated by this, for this time of year is the Plant kingdom’s chance to party, and the riot of color can be truly breathtaking. The damn problem is that one has to get all the way to the outer suburbs to even get a really good view. But there’s really no choice in the matter. All we get to look forward to is the decorative cabbage around the end of December.

If done right, leaf watching can be as a rewarding experience as amateur astronomy, except the travel expenses are greater. They start turning in Hudson Bay near the Arctic in the middle of August and end during Christmas time in mid-Florida. Peak color is a difficult proposition to predict due to global warming, but if you manage to hit it just right, the rewards are amazing.
Nature’s artists: Autumn leaves in New York

By eric lurio

The reason this happens is that trees have feelings. Not feelings as we know them, but they can sense changes in temperature and the like, and when the water in the ground or the air reaches a certain temperature for a certain length of time, then they know it’s time to stop drinking the sunlight and get ready for bed. How they figure this out will probably remain a mystery for decades to come.

Each tree is an individual, and they start pulling the chloroplasts, that’s how they feed themselves, out of their leaves at different rates depending on whether they’re lazy or hungry or their roots are too dry. Light and shade have their effect too, sometimes a tree would pull the chloroplasts out of just the areas of the leaves that are shaded by other trees and leave the rest green for a bit longer to drink more sun while it lasts. That requires some really detailed control, which is pretty amazing for something that doesn’t have the semblance of a brain or nervous system!

Color depends on the species and how individual trees are feeling at any given moment. Evergreens, obviously don’t shed their leaves at any particular time, and when they do, they just gulp the green stuff and sugar down quickly into their trunks and let the things turn quickly brown while new needles grow in to replace them. Ginkgoes, those bizarre living fossils descended from the ancestors of Pine clan, turn yellow from the edges inward, and for the most part just abandon the chlorophyll in the leaves when they fall to the ground. Oaks generally turn lighter, but the star of the show is the sugar maple.

Maple trees produce prodigious amounts of sugar, which, if the tree decides to leave it there after it drinks up it’s chlorophyll first turns the leaves bright red. Empty leaves are yellow, thanks to a pigment called from xanthophyll so as the tree drinks up the sugar the leaves turn lighter and lighter shades of orange (some species have carotene, which makes carrots orange in their leave, too). Sometimes a single Maple will be a rainbow of color, going through two thirds of the spectrum. Sumac Ivy acts this way too, and White Ash turns purple, which is kind of perverse but adds to the effect.

Unfortunately, the only places the Native New Yorker can see get a good look are in Central, Inwood and Prospect Parks and the best views are limited, timewise. But now seems to be the time, so go for it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

testing one two three

havent been here for a while.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Document Dump number three: The War

Magnolia Pictures, 90mins, R

Written and Directed
by Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma hates the American military. No not just the American military, everyone IN the American military. Here he's done something few filmmakers have been brave enough to do win wartime, making a film in which the country in which his is living in depicted in the harshest and ugliest terms imaginable. The message of this film is very simple: America, you're a bunch of Nazis!

Had this been almost any other country De Palma would be in jail for something. God Bless the USA.

What De Palma has done is what is called a “mockumentary” a fictional film done in a documentary style, and is very loosely based on what might be an actual rape of an Iraqi girl sometime in 2006.

Starting with the HD video diary of PFC Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) [he wants to get into film school], we're introduced, to his platoon, Corporal Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neill), who spends his time reading John O'Hara's "Appointment in Samarra"; a guy named Lawyer McCoy (Rob Devaney), who has a conscience [GASP!]; and racist a couple of morons: B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll). Their leader, Master Sgt. James Sweet (Ty Jones), is the only thing keeping them in line, Us Yankee scum being barbarians and all. Their mission is to guard the check points, which means that they have to shoot lots of innocent people. [Did you know that in the last 24 months 2,000 Iraqis were killed at checkpoints and only 60 proven to be insurgents?]

So between the shenanigans on Salazar's tape, and a pseudo-Franch documentary with utilizing an inappropriate rendition of Handel's "Sarabande", we are blasted with the full propaganda message again and again. Our boys blast away at a car containing a pregnant woman and her brother, and when word gets out, they go and arrest some of the relations. Not only that Rush and Flake decide to go and rape one of the women in the house.

Things get from bad to worse for our boys from there, and as the racist stereotypes they are, get what's coming to them. The film ends with photos of the carnage in Iraq, just to get the point across that the viewer is guilty of supporting a fascist regime.

Who, on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon would, in his or her right mind, go and see this thing? On the one hand, De Palma is a consummate professional. It's clear he knows what he's doing, but the acting is only mediocre, and the documentary style plays against the film, which really doesn't have much of a plot and characters we don't give a flying fuck about.

New Line Cinema, 121mins, R

Directed by
Gavin Hood

Okay, as to the title: Rendition refers to 'extraordinary rendition' -- a term which means that suspected terrorists in the US can be kidnapped and sent to prisons abroad to be questioned and detained without those pesky fifth amendment rights. In other words, director Gavin Hood and writer Kelley Sane have decided to make a propaganda film about how Evil Americans are. Hooray for Hollywood.

The film is in two parts, done in such a way as to mislead the audience as to what is exactly going on. The film begins with an assassination attempt on a certain Mr. Abasi Falwal(Igal Naor), in which a terrorist blows up everyone in a city square in an unnamed North African country, including the boss of a certain CIA agent named Douglas Freeman(Jake Gyllenhaal), who witnesses it all.

The Agency suspects a certain gentleman, and that fellow has been allegedly making calls to an Egyptian engineer with a green card named Anwar El-Ibrahimi(Omar Metwally), and kidnaps him just before he gets to passport control in Washington. When he refuses to give the right answers to the local spook(J.K. Simmons), assistant director Corrinne Whitman(Meryl Streep) orders that he be taken to a professional, Abasi Fawal.

Meanwhile, Anwar's wife Isabella(Reese Witherspoon) is wondering where her husband is, especially since it can be proven he was actually on the plane when it took off and he disappeared in mid-flight. Fortunately, she has friends in high places, an old boyfriend named Alan Smith(Peter Sarsgaard) is working for lilly-livered liberal Sen. Hawkins(Alan Arkin), and they agree to investigate.

At the same time we get to look at Abasi's home life, as his daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) has a romance with Khalid (Moa Khouas), who just happens to be the brother of a genuine, card-carrying terrorist with a martyr video and everything.

As Douglas watches as Abasi gives Anwar the third degree, waterboarding and everything, it's obvious that somehow the phone number was wrong and our hero is as innocent as the day is long.

It might have been more interesting if there were more intrigue, not just going through the motions of a propaganda exercise. This is to some extent pro-terrorist, and the ending and penultimate scenes are a cheat. The acting is good, but not great, which is what is needed for such an inferior script. Yeah, Hood is a great director, and deserved his Oscar for “Tsotsi,” but this shows why a script is so very important. This is not something that's important enough or entertaining enough to take the time out to blow real money on. Don't bother.

post toronto docurment dump part one

Cassandra's Dream
The Weinstein Company, 108mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Woody Allen

In the fifth year of his exile in Europe, Woody Allen has decided to give up on comedy. He's not in this particular film, and one can tell why. This is a “Greek Tragedy” in which not a single joke is cracked, and things go from bad to good to worse. He's tried murder before, but he's not Alfred Hitchcock, and while the genius of his direction is there, the writing isn't. He's been tired for years, and if it were not for the casting director, he would be in real trouble.

Terry(Colin Farrell) and Ian Blaine(Ewan McGregor) are brothers, Ian works for his parents(John Benfield and Clare Higgins) in their restaurant and doesn't like it at all, while Terry is an auto mechanic with a major gambling problem. On a rare winning streak, Terry manages to get enough money to pay off a sailboat named “Cassandra's Dream” and that gives them a place to relive their youth, and for Ian to romance women, especially the lovely Angela Stark(Hayley Atwell), an actress with an eye for bigger things.

Lurking in the background is the guy's Uncle Howard(Tom Wilkinson), a fabulously wealthy plastic surgeon and philanthropist, and the apple of his sister's eye. It just so happens that he's going to be in town when Terry has just blown £90 thousand on poker and needs a loan forthwith, and Ian has a business deal pending, so Uncle Howard agrees with one condition, a certain Martin Burns(Phil Davis) is going to testify before a commission, and possibly get Howard thrown in jail for a very long time, and thus Burns should be gotten rid of as soon as possible.

What follows is success and tragedy. Allen manages to get some excellent performances, especially McGregor and Farrell, who give one of the best performances of their careers, and a lovely little supporting role by Sally Hawkins as Terry's live-in girlfriend Kate, but he skips any semblance of dark humor, as he used to great effect in earlier films. Unless you're a “completeist” this isn't worth bothering with.

I'm Not There
The Weinstein Company, 135mins, R

Written and Directed
by Todd Haynes

They called Bob Dylan the “chameleon of rock and roll” during much of his career, when he changed his style from folk to hard rock to something else, changing his religion and all. So it when Todd Haynes came to him with an idea to do a fictionalized biopic with half a dozen or so people playing him at various phases of his life, Dylan agreed. This is, believe it or not, an authorized version.

It's not exactly Bob Dylan, of course, it's a slew of people named
Jack/Pastor John(Christian Bale), Jude(Cate Blanchett), Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), Billy(Richard Gere), Robbie(Heath Ledger) and Arthur(Ben Whishaw), all of whom manage to have some sort of relation to a part of Dylan's personality and career.

Going back and forth in time, from when Woody, who's a black child riding the rails in 1959, to Billy, who's living in a Western fantasyland in a timeless present, Haynes tries to mine what Dylan is supposed to be at various times in his life, and to some extent succeeds. I say to SOME extent, because this is an uneven film, and the parts with Christian Bale and Heath Leger barely are touched and the part where Ben Whishaw is married to a version of Dylan's wife Sarah named Claire(Charlotte Gainsbourg) seems like it comes from another movie. However, the main focus is Woody Guthrie the Black kid, and Cate Blanchette as the electrified Dylan.

The Blanchett segments take up the greatest part of the film, when s/he's hanging out with the Beatles [the best gag in the film] and sparring with Edie Sedgewick clone Coco Rivington(Michelle Williams), poet Allen Ginsberg(David Cross), and a British journalist(Bruce Greenwood), who's out to expose Jude for what he really is. Not Andy Warhol with real hair, but something more sinister. This really brings together time and place, Still there's a disconnect, especially with Charlotte Ganesbourg's segment, where the Dylan clone barely shows up, and the Richard Gere one, which has nothing to do with anything and is clearly annoying.

Clearly Kate Blanchette's going to get all sorts of nominations for her brilliant performance here, and it's worth the price of admission, although one might leave shaking one's head perplexed, and I guess that's what Dylan himself would want.

No Country for Old Men
Miramax Films, 122mins, R

Written and Directed by
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

The last time the Coen brothers made a movie it was a version of Homer's “Odyssey,” this time it's a shaggy dog story of a different sort, a cartoonish chase across Texas by a bunch of slightly loopy people trying to get a suitcase full of money. Just up their alley.

The film begins with an unnamed sheriff's deputy(Zach Hopkins) arresting a mysterious stranger, who we later find out is named
Anton Chigurh(Javier Bardem) who is carrying a tank of compressed air. Once they get to the jail, Anton shows us what the tank is for, and we cut to a certain Llewelyn Moss(Josh Brolin) hunting in the desert, when he comes across the tattered remains of what would have made one hell of a cinematic shootout. Apparently, it was over drugs, and there's the aforementioned unattended suitcase full of money, which he takes, and an extra dying of thirst. Taking pity on the fellow, he tells his wife Carla Jean Moss(Kelly MacDonald) he's going to do something really stupid [it's called 'idiot plotting'], which is to return to the scene of the crime and give the extra some water. But of course, there's Anton and a some extras waiting for him. So begins the chase.

Fortunately for Anton, the money has a radio transmitter in it, and he goes around blowing people's brains in with his compressed air device while Llewellen heads off into the sunset in a failed attempt to get away. Meanwhile, the people who own the drugs and the money(Stephen Root and some extras) hire a man called Wells(Woody Harrelson), to find Llewellen before Anton could get him while Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and his remaining deputy Wendell(Garret Dillahunt) try to figure out what's going on.

We think that the introduction of a whole bunch of what appears to be crucial characters would lead somewhere, but it doesn't. There are lots of red herrings that appear out of nowhere and return from whence they came, both confusing and infuriating the audience. The ending, while from the novel, makes things even worse. As was said, this is a shaggy dog story, and the punch line is just as vapid.

The acting is fine, the Coens always manage to get the top of the profession to get into their films, and the dialogue is punchy, especially when it seems that the film is actually going somewhere.

If you're a fan of the brothers, by all means, go for it, but this is not the best way to blow an afternoon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yet More from Toronto

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Focus Features, 115mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Shekhar Kapur

Here we go again. The Tudors are back. It’s the same old thing plowing the same old ground, generally with the same old people. Now I’m not saying that Elizabeth the First wasn’t a major historical figure, or that her life wasn’t dramatic, but when there’s the fifth or sixth film or TV series in as many years or more, it begins to get a bit much. Since 2005, there has been two miniseries; “The Virgin Queen” and “Elizabeth I” both of which plow pretty much the same ground as this one, and going back in time, there are between 25 and 30 films on the subject of the so-called “virgin queen.”

One can see making a film on a certain subject once every five or ten years, but we’ve been having Tudor overkill, what with these and the Henry VIII miniseries on Showtime® and they keep on going over the exact same ground.

The Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla) is extremely mad at English Queen Elizabeth I’s (Cate Blanchett) being an Anglican instead of a Catholic and keeping the former Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) prisoner in a castle, so he sends the Spanish Armada. Meanwhile, spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is doing his best to frame Mary for treason, while that dashing explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) woos both the Queen and her lady-in-waiting Bess Throkmorton(Abbie Cornish). I don’t know if the Raleigh romance has been done much before, but it seems that like it does. HM’s jealous of Sir So-and-so’s playing around with some bimbo lady-in-waiting as the ships from Spain spread preemptive terror before they inevitably sink.

The film, unlike the first one from 1998, is an epic instead of a slasher film. Kapour spends a lot of money on fancy costumes and sheer spectacle as pretty nothing much happens. While Blanchett has a grand old time, and Owen does his best Errol Flynn impression, no one else has all that much to do, especially Morton, who just sits there looking pissed off.

The buildup of suspense as the Armada approaches is disingenuous, as pretty much anyone who’s interested in a film like this knows how it’s going to come out. We KNOW how it’s going to end, so why waste the money? Her great speech could have been done without the shenanigans. They say one way to damn a film is to praise the sets. Let it be done. The sets are magnificent, the acting is rather good, but the script sucks. Wait until it comes to cable.

Lars and the Real Girl
MGM Pictures, 106mins, TBA

Directed by
Craig Gillespie

Lars Lindstrom(Ryan Gosling) is a shy, sensitive soul, who has a bit of a screw loose. He lives somewhere in either the northern Midwest or central Canada in a bungalow just outside the home of his brother Gus(Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin(Emily Mortimer). He’s not violent or really dysfunctional or anything like that, he holds down a job and all, but he has difficulty relating to people and hates being touched.

Everyone in town, wants to fix him up, but that’s not what he wants, well he does, but not exactly that way. When the coworker in the cubicle next to his (Max McCabe) comes upon a website [readoll.com—quite genuine], and shows it to our hero, something strange happens. A large box arrives at Lars’ door and he suddenly announces that he has a new girlfriend named Bianca, whom he wants Gus and Karen to host in the spare bedroom. She's a wheelchair-bound Brazilian-Danish nun on sabbatical to experience the world. The pair are thrilled until they discover she’s plastic.

Poor Bianca has some health problems, so Lars and his family take her to see Dagmar(Patricia Clarkson), the local GP, who also has a degree in psychology. Her advice, play along. Soon, the whole town is into it, and Bianca is having more of a social life than Lars is, and our hero is forced into going on a date with coworker Margo(Kelli Garner). Screenwriter Nancy Oliver has come up with something really strange and wonderful. A film about mental illness where no one gets hurt and everyone is actually rather nice.

This is a story of recovery and growth, not a gross-out comedy like many a filmmaker would do nowadays. The acting is top notch, especially Gosling and Schneider, who could have easily been depicted as one-dimensional cartoons instead of real people. It’s refreshing and extremely likeable. This is one of those films which is worth going full price.

Sony Classics, 88mins, R

Directed by
Kenneth Branagh

Back in 1972, Anthony Shaffer adapted his play “Sleuth” to the silver screen, directed by the great Joseph Mankiewicz, and starring the greater Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. This is a classic film of it’s kind, was made by most of the same people who created the stage play, and stands the test of time. So why does this have to be remade? Surely, Harold Pinter, who’s a great writer in his own right, doesn’t need to piss on someone else’s work, and while Kenneth Branagh has had trouble getting a distributor of late for his previous couple of films, remaking a classic surely won’t help his reputation. So why do it at all?

Okay, as we know from the original flick, an actor named Milo Tindle(Jude Law) goes to the home of fabulously rich mystery writer
Andrew Wyke(Michael Caine), to demand that the latter divorce his wife so the former can marry her. This leads to all sorts of fun and games with that with Pinter rewriting all that wonderful dialogue that Shaffer originally wrote back in the day. Okay, while some tweaking is needed, in order to update a timeless work, Pinter does something completely unforgivable. He tacks on a completely new final act.

Now one can say,” But it’s HAROLD PINTER!!!! He’s a giant of the theater!” and that would be true, but, even though all sorts of things can be done with the staging and such, the text is generally held sacred, and a book isn’t a play, and this isn’t James Bond, where only the title makes it on screen, or a project where the first version was so bad that the original material cries out for a better adaptation. No. This is a movie that really has no right to be made, sort of like a remake of “Casablanca,” which by the way, came out in 1983.

As to the film itself, the acting is perfectly fine. Jude Law gives one of the best performances of his career, and Michael Caine, who was in the first version, has a wonderful time doing the other part. The thing is by no means bad. Everyone does a professional job from beginning to end, but this is still nowhere near as good as the first version. Rent that, or wait until this comes out on cable.

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains
Sony Classics, 125min TBA

A documentary Directed
by Jonathan Demme

When I was 19, I went all the way from Washington, DC, where I was attending college, to Westchester County, New York in order to cast my very first vote in an election. I voted for Jimmy Carter and I’ve regretted it ever since. Jimmy Carter has been a force for evil in the world and his getting the Nobel Peace Prize was a travesty of justice.

Sure, he’s done SOME good during his extremely long ex-presidency, building all those homes for example, but for the most part, he’s spent his life coddling dictators and scolding democrats, making sure that American interests are fought at every step of the way. His victims number in the millions.

Late last year, he spewed out an anti-Semitic piece of rubbish called “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid” and then went on a book tour. He got famed director Jonathan Demme to follow him while he flew around the country signing books and fighting the perfidious Jews, who generally were insulted by his bogus and bigoted meanderings.

This is a puff piece, a promotional video for the book. The Jews are generally depicted as a bunch of whining, ultra-sensitive losers, who loudly protest whenever their evil Zionist masters give the order. This goes from Alan Dershowitz to some jerk on the phone.

This is of course SAINT Jimmy, who carries his own bags and takes commercial airlines [okay, so he flies first class—he IS a former President, after all], and is polite to one and all, especially those who fawn on the autograph line.

Meanwhile, Israel and the “occupied” territories are depicted as Hell on Earth, using years-old footage juxtaposed with footage from the book tour in order to show that nothing has changed and that Gaza is still occupied by the perfidious Jews who won’t let the terrorists free access to Israel proper. The SHAME!

This is a promotional film. It was always supposed to be a promotional film, and while it may have a place showing at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum, it has no place getting money at the local bijou. Demme should be ashamed of himself.

Toronto reviews day something or other

The Brave One
Warner Bros. Pictures, 122mins, R

Directed by
Neil Jordan

Where have you gone Charles Bronson? I remember “Death Wish I” which was a hell of a good movie, followed by a couple more, which weren't. But that was years ago, and with the series completely forgotten by those younger than middle age, I guess father/son team of Roderick and Bruce A. Taylor, (with script doctor Cynthia Mort to correct mistakes in gender-related plotting) figured that it was about time for a disguised remake.

So the Bronson character isn't a pacifistic businessman this time, but a radio personality named Erica Bain(Jodie Foster), who goes around New York city with a microphone making aural portraits of various neighborhoods for her NPR-sh show. She's engaged to a nice guy named David Kirmani(Naveen Andrews) and they have a large apartment and a cute doggie. In fact, Erica is cute and mousy, that one's almost impatient for the bad guys to show up and ruin this lovely life they have. They do, in a Central Park tunnel at night, and David is killed while Erica is almost so. But she recovers damaged, gets herself a gun, and becomes a stranger to herself, a vigilante, who finds violence everywhere and does something about it. But there's someone on the case, a certain Det. Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard), who's surprisingly sympathetic. He's a fan of the show.

The film is rescued from mediocrity by the performances of Foster and Howard, Foster in particular, who acts the living daylights out of what's mostly a two dimensional cartoon. Her character isn't really real, but Foster manages to push out an extra dimension out of her while she blows people away, something Bronson couldn't actually do all those years ago, but didn't have to.

Not a great action movie by any means, but worth a bargain matinee.

Across the Universe
Columbia Pictures, 133mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Julie Taymor

You can't say that Julie Taymor lack's guts. She's done some really brave things in her career, the Broadway version of “The Lion King”, A film version of Shakespeare's worst play, some amazingly creative stage-work that has never been recorded properly, and now this, a noble failure of epic proportions.

This is not a horrible film. Well, parts are horrible, but for the most part it's not. The problem is that it careens between genius and gross incompetence with a breathtaking rapidity going from the ridiculous to the sublime and back with panache that is both glorious and heartbreaking. If you look “uneven” in the dictionary, you may very well see this film's poster.

The film does not begin promisingly. The film begins in the early '60s, where Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) sing to their loves [at this point not each other], early Beatles' songs on sets placed on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Lucy's beau (Spencer Liff) goes off to war while Jude goes forth in search of his lost father(Robert Clohessy), finding him at Princeton University, where our hero meets Lucy's irresponsible brother Max(Joe Anderson), who after taking him up north to meet the family, drops out and goes with Max to Greenwich Villiage, where they shack up with Sadie(Dana Fuchs), Jo-Jo(Martin Luther McCoy) and Prudence(T.V. Carpio) where they start an urban commune of sorts.

From here Lucy joins the bunch, Max goes to Vietnam, and everyone gets stoned, and yadda yadda yadda. There's not much character development, and the songs aren't exactly relevant, in fact many seem to be shoehorned in. Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite is absolutely horrible, while Joe Cocker in multiple parts singing “Come Together” is fantastic. It seems that Taymor and writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais don't have a clue as to what the Beatles and the '60s in general were about, and this subtracts to the whole experience. On many a review, mostly in jest, I have suggested that some films might be more fun to see while stoned, but this seems to be the mother of all those. This may get a slew of both Oscars and Razzie nominations. More's the pity. The performances are generally good, but the effect is a complete waste.

King of California
Millennium Films, 93mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Mike Cahill

Miranda(Evan Rachel Wood) is a sixteen year old working at McDonald's. She's been abandoned by her mother years before and her father's in a mental institution, and she's seem to have fallen through the cracks in the system. That's the way she likes it. Then her tidy little world is turned upside down when Charlie(Michael Douglas), that's her dad, comes home and begins to take over her life. He has a treasure map, and in order to make tons of money and restart his relationship with his daughter, he's going to go for it. Miranda, as expected, isn't too thrilled, but decides to go along.

The treasure map leads them to, of all things, a local Costco, where Miranda is delegated to infiltrate.

This is a platonic love story between father and daughter, and as such it works. The reason is that Wood and Douglas have such good chemistry together and the latter has such a good time chewing the scenery. It's really to his taste, and as a lunatic, he brings true joy to the proceedings, which makes the whole silly mess actually somewhat believable. There's talk about Douglas getting another Oscar nomination for this, and it's quite possible, although had it been in a better movie, it might have been a slam dunk.

Meanwhile, it's a harmless bit of fluff that'll be a fine addition to the Netflix cue or on pay-per-view sometime down the road.

Eastern Promises
Focus Features, 100mins, R

Directed by
David Cronenberg

Anna (Naomi Watts) is a midwife working in your average London hospital, when a badly bleeding woman named Tatiana(Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse), who leaves behind a baby and a diary before expiring. Her uncle Yuri (Donald Sumpter), reads Russian but doesn't really want to get involved, but his sister [and Anna's mother] Helen (Sinéad Cusack), convinces him to translate the diary, which holds within it a business card for a restaurant owned by a guy named Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is using the place as a cover for his real job, head of the Russian mob.

The diary, of which Anna gives Semyon a copy, implicates him in all sorts of awful stuff, which leads him to dispatch his psychotic son
Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and smarmy chauffeur/clean up guy Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), to take care of the situation. From here things begin to get complicated. For not everyone is what they seem, and romance, albeit rather twisted, plus internal mafia politics begins to take center stage as layer upon layer of intrigue begins unfold in Steve Knight's nuanced script.

The partnership between David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen is beginning to progress, and although it was brilliant in their previous collaboration, “A History of Violence,” this is something which straddles the line between very, very good and truly great.

While Anna is nominally the main character, it's the relationship between Nickolai, Kirill and Semyon which is the actual focus of the film and the ins and outs of the Russian mob in at the end of it's first generation since the fall of the Communist party, the culture and the human element is thoroughly explored in a particularly graphic way. After all it is David Cronenberg. This is one of those films, which is going to be deservedly showered with award nominations. Definitely worth full price.

In the Valley of Elah
Warner Independent Pictures, 119mins, R

Written and Directed
by Paul Haggis

Always beware the term “based on a true story. I don't know how close to the actual events this film is, but I guess it doesn't really matter. This is an attack on the Bush administration, and the fact that something like this actually happened only adds to it's believability. However, this doesn't make this as good a thriller as it's supposed to be. It's a procedural drama like “Law and Order” or “CSI”.

Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) is a retired Military policeman, who lost a son in an accident years before. He has another son(Jonathan Tucker, who's seen only in flashbacks) who's just come back from Iraq. He and his wife Joan(Susan Sarandon) are looking forward to seeing him again when he gets a call from the base telling him the son is AOL. Hank decides to go and investigate himself.

Det. Emily Sanders(Charlize Theron) is a single mother living with a young son(Devin Brochu), whom she conceived with her boss Chief Buchwald(Josh Brolin), which is something everyone at the police station knows about and holds against her. But that begins to change when a gristly murder is discovered on what turns out to be Army property, which makes it the jurisdiction of Lt. Kirklander(Jason Patric), who may or may not be trying to cover up the acts of to of the victim's buddies(Wes Chatham and Jake McLaughlin). The victim, of course, turns out to be Hank's son.

With the investigation on the one side, and a bunch of videos from the war on the other, this is an exercise in agitprop, political propaganda in the form of theater, and as such, it works. Paul Haggis gets good performances out of his entire cast, and while the ending is entirely predictable, there's still quite a bit of suspense. This is definitely worth a bargain matinee.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Toronto day five.


Written and Directed
by Lee Kang-Sheng

Ah Jei(Lee Kang-Sheng), a young, penniless stock broker, is desperate. All he has left in life is his palatial, apartment, his indoor marijuana forest, and lots of women to have sex with. One of these is Shin (Ivy Yi), who sells betel nuts on the sidewalk dressed as a lingerie model or hooker. Apparently, Taipei betel stores resemble open-air strip joints. Which is the only cool factoid in this movie, which is for the most part both bizarre and boring. Most people would be more than happy with that situation except for the being penniless part. But being broke is a major thing for Ah Jei and feeling really depressed about the fact that he's going to lose his fabulous lifestyle,

So he calls the suicide hotline, where he's given to Chyi (Jane Liao) who's a bit on the zoftic side and has a pleasant telephone manner. Ah Jei falls in love immediately, and sets about stalking her, thinking that she looks like the supermodel-esque betel nut salespeople who we see in clothing that barely exists.

Chyi's husband(Dennis Nieh) likes to cook all sorts of weird dishes, and she's forced to bathe with eels, who are hanging out in the bathtub while waiting for the next fancy dinner (PeTA will love that) aside from this an a whole lot of gratuitous simulated sex, nothing much happens. Three's no character development at all, and as to the sex, there's not enough.

The whole thing's a tremendous waste of time, and it's probably not going to get a theatrical release in the “States anytime soon.


Written and Directed
by Anahi Berneri

It's an old story, hick chick goes to the big city. She becomes famous, then he goes home to no acclaim whatsoever because everyone thinks she's too big for her britches.

Aging B-list actress Encarnacion “Erni” Levier (Silvia Pérez) is getting by. Sure she's no longer Ms. Firecracker sex goddess, but she's still doing TV and commercials and getting in the gossip columns. When her niece
Ana (Martina Juncadella) sends her an invitation to her quincenera [a Hispanic bat mitzvah equivelent], she decides to pay the folks back home a visit.

Ana is thrilled, of course, and so is the guy who runs the hotel she's staying at(Luciano Cáceres). However, her sister and in-laws stick up their noses. This is a painful tale of rejection, which has a bit of genuine humor here and there, but is mostly a sad bit of business indeed. However, it will probably get the remake rights sold as a vehical for some ageing starlet who's glory days are past and needs a bit of a career boost.


Written and Directed
by Golan Rabbani

Bangladesh is one of those contries that seems cursed. Each year half the country gets inundated by floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, you name it. It's prominently depicted on commercials for missionary “adoption” programs, and is generally at the bottom of every list of prosperous countries outside of Africa. So of course, one would find filmmakers promoting the notion of money being the root of all evil, and this is about as blatant as you can possibly get.

Fazlu (Mahmuduzzaman Babu) hawks tiger balm with the help of young son Ratan (Ratan). They do okay, but not great in their land of intense poverty. One day, they get enough to get Ratan a new pair of used pants. This makes everyone in the family very happy.
But since the pants are used, Mom (Prachy) has to wash them. So she goes to the well, and empties out the pockets only to discover some strange banknotes denominated in the hundreds of thousands. There's a Black general on them, Zaire [Nowadays, the “democratic” republic of the Congo]. To be exact, which tells the foreign viewer that these things are completely worthless, but they of course don't know that.

So Dad goes to his old pal Siraj (Fazlur Rahman Babu), a local mucky-muck, who, for a slice of the proceeds, agrees to help our protagonist find out how much the bills are worth and where to have them changed into Bangladeshi rupees. The prospect of immense wealth soon begins to take it's toll on Fazlu and his family, as Siraj's gold-digging sister-in-law Rehana (Shamima Islam Tusti) starts doing her thing and Fazlu begins to fall in love, starting the local tongues wagging.

The film is reminiscent of many a tale going back to Mark Twain's “The Million Pound Note” and before, and with one or two exceptions concentrates on a gentle humor that's not all that common in south Asian cinema. It probably won't see an American release.


A documentary
by Guy Maddin

Winnipeg, Manatoba is one of those cities which has very little to recommend it, and Guy Maddin's very personal portrait of his hometown doesn't help the cause of tourism there. It is a poetic meditation - a docu-fantasia, if you will of what it was and what it is. A piece of twisted nostalgia which is both weird and unsettling, a place which has seen better days, but can't really remember when.

Madden, who's previous films have been off-the-wall explorations of defunct genres, is still adverse to color film, although he does use a clip of it or two in his otherwise black-and-white clip show. The new footage is of a person playing himself trying to escape from the town and failing, while reminiscing about multi-level swimming pools and disbanded hocky teams. There are some strange and silly reenactments of conversations between him, his siblings and their mother, but for the most part, the whole thing is rather parochial. The film was produced by the Canadian Documentary channel and is most unlikely to be seen outside Canada, which is just as well.

Chop Shop

Written and Directed
by Ramin Bahrani

HD video has revolutionized the movie business. With only an inexpensive camera, one can make a film on absolutely no budget which has the look and feel of a major Hollywood product, which is perfect for budding auteur Ramin Bahrani, who's “Man Push Cart” won great acclaim and made almost nothing at the box office. So another zero-budget feature might make the festival circuit and after that lead to a REAL movie.

Willet's Point, Queens, right near Shea stadium, where the Mets play, is a vast wasteland filled with garbage and auto repair shops. One can see why it interested Baharani, the place looks as exotic as India. Here 12-year-old Alej (Alejandro Polanco), an orphan of sorts who hustles his way through life in order to support himself and his sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzales), who also has to do a lot of things she's not proud of. They aren't homeless though, they live in a tiny apartment in Rob's (Rob Sowulski) garage, where Alej works grabbing customers. Isamar generally works selling food in a lunch wagon, while in the evenings, she has more lucrative and less savory ways of making money.

The main conflict in the film is between the siblings and the American dream. They want to get themselves their very own lunch wagon, which Alej's friend Carlos' (Carlos Zapata) uncle wants to sell them. The quest for money leads our hero to do some things he shouldn't.

This film was done, as was said before, on a zero budget and with ameture thespians. The two leads do a reletiveily decent job at it, and the script is more than adequate for something this intimate and exotic. It's worth a place on the netflix cue, but not full price, mainly because it looks like it's made for TV, and thus is better on the small screen.


Written and Directed
by Tamar van den Dop

Marie (Halina Reijn) a young albino woman struggling with her looks is hired to read books to a blind man named Ruben (Joren Seldenslachts), who's mother(Katelijne Verbeke) is very rich and is himself a violent brat. It's Marie's job to tame him. As she has low self esteem, she takes the job because she considers herself a monster and he can't see her. Thus begins an overly literary love story that's both glorious and horrible at the same time.

The glorious part is the acting. Both Reijn and Seldenslachts give bravura performances, especially after the plot twist and Marie's fleeing the mansion. But the film is itself maudlin and rather unbelievable. This is an above mediocre film, just above the “gilded turd” category. Don't expect it to play around the local arthouse anytime soon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Toronto: stuff you're going to actually see.

Galas and stuff:

Michael Clayton
Warner Bros. Pictures, 120mins, R

Written and Directed
by Tony Gilroy

The people who brought you “Erin Brockovich” have returned with another anti-corporate melodrama, this time it's entirely fictional, which means that it can get a bit nastier in it's storytelling.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is what might be called a glorified janitor. He cleans up the messes that the major law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen can't exactly litigate above board. For this, managing partner Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) is eternally grateful.

One of the messes our hero has to clean up was made by master litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who disrobed in front of everybody at a deposition and scared the heck out of everyone, and so Michael is called in, but this doesn't happen until later, although we hear much of Arthur's rant. However, we do see our hero's car blow up in the first ten minutes, which is when everything goes into flashback…

The problem with Arthur is that he's been working defense on a case in which the evil U/North corporation allegedly poisoned a whole bunch of innocent people with it's pesticide sprays. Arthur knows that the charges are true and so does U/North chief council
Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who knows that her career is on the line and Arthur has to be stopped.

Now this is compelling enough. The parts about our hero's other problems are to some extent killing time. Sure the kid who plays his son is cute, and the part about his being 80 grand in debt is certainly intriguing, but they detract from the main thrust of the story, which is really worthwhile in and of itself. Clooney gives a splendid performance, but it's Wilkinson who's the real star of the show. It's one of those performances which has “Oscar” written all over it, and there's no doubt that he's going to get at least a best supporting actor nom. His performance is sooo good it's worth the price of the movies in and of itself. Thus you should go see it.

The Jane Austen Book Club
Sony Classics, 105mins, PG-13

Written and directed
by Robin Swicord

How to be literary without being literary? Well, that's the mission of many a chick flick, and as this is one of those, why not focus on the inventor of the genre? Jane Austen is just below Shakespeare in the pantheon of British writers and has been in print longer than any woman in the history of the world, so using her oeuvre as a scaffolding on which to construct a slight romance seems like a good idea.

Jocelyn (Maria Bello) and Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) have been friends for, like, ever, and when we meet them, the latter and her husband Daniel (Jimmy Smits) are attending the funeral of one of Jocelyn's dogs. While laughing about the thing at dinner afterwards, Dan tells Sylvia for a divorce. He's in love with someone else. Syl is, naturally devastated, and in response, Jocelyn and her old pal Bernadette (Kathy Baker) decide to distract her by starting up a book club, where they'll discuss the works of the divine JA.

So, with three members already accounted for, plus Sylvia's lesibian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) [this is the '00z, remember, we have to have at least one lesbian in one movie], who's recovering from a parachuting accident, they need two more members to lead the discussion on the two other novels [Austen's snarky “History of England” doesn't count], a mousy French teacher named Prudie (Emily Blunt) and an SF fan named Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who is single and straight, and recruited.

So we go through six months where everyone gets their consciousness raised through the good graces of JA and, with some expected bumps on the road, everyone lives happily ever after. It's cute, and almost too saccharin for words, but that's almost, and as such is quite tolerable. This is something that a guy can bring his honey on a date to, and that way she'll be grateful.

The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
Warner Bros. Pictures, 160mins, R

Written and Directed
by Andrew Dominik

Bob Ford shot Jesse James in the back in the spring of 1882 and instead of being thanked for getting rid of Missouri's worst terrorist, he has been saddled with a reputation as a coward and a turncoat. The murder of the murderer has been forever the stuff of legend, and auteur Andrew Dominik has decided to dissect said legend in the only way it deserves, in a three hour epic that doesn't actually seem that long.

It's the waning days of the Garfield administration, and Frank(Sam Shepard) and Jesse James(Brad Pitt) are preparing to do one last robbery before calling it quits after 14 years. They've brought along the membership of their usual gang who aren't already in jail, Ed Miller(Garret Dillahunt), the James' cousin Wood Hite(Jeremy Renner), Dick Liddil(Paul) and Charley Ford(Sam Rockwell), who brings his hero-worshiping baby brother Bob(Casey Affleck) along, much to Frank's disgust and Jesse's chagrin.

This is the story of hero-worship gone wrong. The great man not only has feet of clay, but is a sociopathic monster to boot. As an epic, the film goes forward on a leisurely pace, letting us get to know the characters in a way that we expect only in TV series.

This is Pitt's best role since “12 Monkeys” He manages to chew the scenery with a panache he doesn't always manage to have, and his chemistry with Affleck is an interesting one. The supporting cast is excellent, with Renner and Schneider giving surprisingly strong performances. Rockwell is great as comic relief, but it's Affleck's movie, and here he far surpasses anything his brother Ben has ever done. This is the year's epic western and one wonders why it took so long to get out of the cutting room. See it.

Run, Fat Boy, Run
Picturehouse, 95mins, PG-13

Directed by
David Schwimmer

Okay, first the bad news. The “Fat Boy” in the title is actually thin. Not anorexic, mind you, but Simon Pegg looks fit during the entire film. It's an insult to fat boys everywhere. Then there's Michael Ian Black's script, which is actually rather predictable. Our hero Dennis (Mr. Pegg) leaves extremely pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) at the alter, and his life goes downhill from there. Fair enough.

He's now a security guard at a clothing store, and is still in love with Libby and their son Jake(), and of course, she's in love with someone else. That someone else is a rich stockbroker named Whit(Hank Azaria), who is perfect in every way so just has to be the villain. The usual competition starts out, and it's clear that our hero is going to have a time of it, but as this is a comedy, he has to win right? But how to do it.

Now marathon running is popular nowadays, and even London has one. So when Whit announces that he's going to paricipate, Dennis decides to get in the game as well, and so he's stuck. His friend Gordon(Dylan Moran) has money on him, and his landlady Maya (India de Beaufort) says that if he doesn't do it, she's going to throw him out on his ear. So her father, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel), and Gordon start coaching, and there follows a number of minor laughs before the slightly surprising, but inevitable ending.

This is not Pegg's best work, or any of the cast's, but it's a harmless enough comedy, and as such works as a pleasant bit of fluff. Worth a bargain matinee.

toronto: foreign language crapola.


Written and Directed
by Bernard Émond

A woman is covered in blood and refuses to speak to the police inspector. There may have been a murder. So who dunnit?

International capitalism and globalization, of course! The woman, Réjeanne (Guylaine Tremblay) is a switchboard operator, and she and her truck driver husband, Gilles (Guy Jodoin), buy a beautiful house somewhere in the Montreal suburbs, and are about to live happily ever after when Giles has a stroke. They try their best to make ends meet, but the evil, heartless capitalists sell the company to another one, leaving Réjeanne and Gilles in a bit of a bind. Then he has another stroke.

We go back and forth in time between the inspector investigating and the sad decline and fall of our couple while we wait for her to do something really violent, which is why the film is so disappointing. There's little drama milked out of what is very fertile material. The thing plods along, and while Jodion does a serviceable job as a stroke victim, Tremblay and the rest of the cast just walk around in a daze, and that's when Tremblay isn't supposed to be doing that.

Emond just can't get the script to rise above the level of mediocrity, even though there's an actually interesting idea there. Oh, well.

CORROBOREE, (96', Australia)

Written and Directed
by Ben Hackworth

A dying theatre director hires a young man named Conor (Conor O'Hanlon) to visit him in a meditation retreat and perform scenes from the director's life. Why he does this is a mystery. But this is an obtuse art film, and auteur Hackworth isn't here to entertain but mystify us with his astounding intelligence and insight. He's clearly over our heads.

Now, Conor must visit different rooms over the weekend and in these rooms, and with five actresses who portray key women in the
director's life, live it, so when they actually encounter each other, Conor won't have to fake “compassion” for the old man. Hey, as long as the kid gets paid, why not? The conceit lets Hackworth film what has to be some of the worst acting ever put on film, or at least on film that made it to a major film festival. The women are far better than Conor, but that doesn't make them anything above mediocre.

The ending is out of left field, but it makes as much sense as the rest of the movie, which is none whatsoever. Exactly what is the great message here might never be known, but one thing is for sure, it's not even worth a look when it comes out on cable, assuming it ever does.


Written and Directed by
Adoor Gopalakrishnan

Apparently, somewhere in Bollywood, auteur managed to snag Nandita Das for her latest bomb. I'm sure that Ms. Das will survive.

This film is, in a word, horrible. Based on a quartet of short stories that, if the film is a guide, must all be less than a page long. The episodes are about half an hour long each, and they seem padded. Nothing happens at all through most of them (I walked out during the third one, so I can't tell if the last was any good) and the second one especially, where a groom spends half the episode eating food while everyone else looks on. Why waste the time and expense to film this?

The acting is horrible. India has a huge film industry, and there are plenty of excellent thespians running around. None of the people in the 2_ episodes I saw could emote. This was zombie city here, everyone sleepwalking through their lines, except for one guy in the second episode, and that was for about ten seconds. That doesn't help.

The chances of this actually getting a theatrical release in the United States is slim to none, so don't worry about this.


Directed by
Hana Makhmalbaf

Amidst the wreckage beneath the fallen historical statues of the Buddha blown up by the Taliban, a six-year-old Afghan girl named Baktay (Nikbakht Noruz) goes on a quest to get to school. She's convinced by her neighbor Abbas(Abbas Alijome) to go abandon her little brother, who's she's been watching for an absent mother, and procure school supplies.

No one really seems to care. This is Afghanistan, where nothing has been right since before the mother was born. The kids are all feral, and gangs of pretweens terrorize everyone else pretending to be the Taliban. It's clear to see what happens when a country is bombed back into the stone age. This is more sad than cute, and very exotic, although it's not all that interesting, but that's what makes Iranian cinema so endearing. This is about as far as they can go and not end up in the poky or in exile.

It's whimsical and has cute children, which are allegorical. However, as Freud famously said: Sometimes a “cigar is just a cigar.”

toronto again!

This is the eighth year I've attended the festival, and everything is routine, except of course for the bedbugs, and even then I've had them before once up here, so without further adoo, here's the first batch of reviews:

My Kid Could Paint That
Sony Classics, 82mins, TBA

A Documentary by
Amir Bar-Lev

There's a story I heard about a famous abstract artist who sold a piece to the Museum of Modern Art in New York somewhere between a half and a quarter century ago: It seems that years after he sold the thing, he was visiting the museum and noticed the work. He complained the thing was hanging upside down. One of my earliest memories was of my mother taking us to the selfsame museum and commenting that one of the pieces hanging looked exactly like the thing I had brought home from kindergarten some weeks before. How's that for a segue?

Abstract art has always to some extent been a fraud. It's more about marketing than anything else, or at least since about 1950. The famous “white on White” where someone with a puts up a blank canvas and everyone ooo's and ahh's isn't over by any means. There's just an alternative by people with real talent at painting and drawing. Sometimes it appears that this stuff is sooo bad that it might have been done by a slightly challenged child, someone like little Marla Olmstead.

Marla was two when her father began exhibiting her work at a local coffee shop. The stuff seemed so good that gallery owner and artist
Anthony Brunelli, offered to have a formal show at his gallery in mid-2004. This caught the attention of the editors of the local paper and they sent journalist Elizabeth Cohen to have a look. She wrote a piece, which was picked up by the wire services and then all hell broke loose. Little Marla was getting up to twenty five grand for her work, and everybody who was anybody wanted one.

Now Mark and Laura Olmstead were, and are rather protective of their kids, and Mom seems very wary of the term “prodigy”, something that the documentarian demonstrates by briefly showing old footage of little children playing violins and such in front of rapt audiences. But while everyone in the world seemed to agree that Marla was adorable, whether or not she was actually painting those so-called masterpieces was another question, and here, we get into problems. Was Mark Olmstead perpetrating a hoax on the artistic intelligentsia by painting the works himself and signing it with his daughter's name?

No less than Charlie Rose tries to debunk little Marla and does a pretty good job at it. The film switches gears as the Olmsteads and their entourage go on the defensive, and while there's a happy ending of sorts, it's still kind of fishy.

The film is really fun to watch and makes you wonder, which is what a good doc is supposed to do.


A documentary by
Neil Ortenberg and
Daniel O'Connor

Have you ever wondered why there are R-rated movies? Well, once upon a time, the definition of smut was a lot broader than it is today. What would now be considered PG-13 would be pornographic, you know the song: “in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking…”
Well that was the way it was as late as the 1950s and '60s, and then a hero arose to change it all. His name is Barney Rosset, and around 1948 he bought a tiny, failing publishing house called Grove Press and with it changed the world. I think for the better, but not everyone agrees with me on that account.

Rosset fought titanic battles in court so he could put out some of the most forbidden works of the explosive post-war decades, including Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch, all of which are considered today to be classics. The documentarians interview Rossit and a bunch of literati from both past and present, to tell the story of the rise and fall of one of the unsung heroes of free speech, because, after all, the term “banned in Boston” actually was true. Along the way, Rossit and his magazine, the Evergreen Review, introduced the wider world to underground comics and Allen Ginsburg, Waiting for Godot and I am Curious (Yellow). America is a different place because of Rossit.

This is one riveting documentary, and it should be seen by pretty much anyone who's the least bit interested in American history.


Written and Directed by
Lawrence Johnston

Night is dark. I bet you didn't know that, right? Oh you did. Well, then I've spoiled the movie for you. That IS after all the great revelation of this turkey. Every filmfest needs a stinker and that's why they invited this.

Award winning director Lawrence Johnston should be ashamed of himself and so should composer Cezary Skubiszewski, while the cinematography is okay and the score isn't horrible, the film is. It starts well, with an explosion of sorts, reminding one of “Koyaniskiatsi”, but then the narration starts and the film begins to lose it's way. As was said before, the main revelation is that night, unlike the day, is generally dark and most people actually don't work at their professions, but go out to the local pub or the movies, or even-¬GASP!-go to sleep! Who knew?

The thing starts getting old in the first fifteen minutes and gets lamer and lamer, with the possible exception of some pictures of the moon. The same pictures of people walking around Sydney and Melbourne is boring, and near the hour mark becomes well nigh impossible. Even the part where someone describes a murder she witnessed is tedious as can be, and well, why would anyone want to see this thing? That's the real mystery. Stay far away.


A Documentary
by Parvez Sharma

Yes, folks, there are homosexuals in the Moslem world, and they don't have pleasant lives, that is unless they live in India or Pakistan. If you happen to play for that team, this may be interesting in a kind of “National Geographic” kind of way, but for the most part, there is no there there. We know that most religious fanatics aren't particularly gay friendly, but that's not any real news. The same thing happens in the Christian world, and the reactions and situations are surprisingly the same, and this despite the fact that the Christian world is currently the far more tolerant of the two.

So we follow a gay imam in South Africa, some lovers escaping Iran in turkey, some Algerians in France, and some Lesibians doing research on exactly what the Koran has to say about THEM (apparently nothing).

It's all very nice, but there's not actually anything to write home about. Don't bother.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

the cruise, part three: Venice

Among the weirdest cities in the World, Venice, Italy must rank among the top five. I don’t mean this in a BAD way actually, but the place is completely so unlike anyplace else in the world that it cannot be called anything else.

Other cities have canals. You’ve got Amsterdam and Stockholm, both of which are strewn with canals close to the water’s edge, but they have streets, and trams and other forms of mass transportation, which make those towns seem relatively normal. Also, while they have museums, they are not, of themselves museums. Venice, having lost its independence and its livelihood over two centuries ago, is.

The “serene republic” lasted a thousand years and a century before being actually invaded for the first time by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. The reason for this was because of its intense weirdness. It’s a bunch of islands in the middle of a lagoon, connected by a series of bridges. Here, it developed a unique culture and set for the to build an empire which ruled over the islands of what are now Croatia and Greece, trading with the Byzantine and later, various Moslem empires in the east to become the cultural portal of the western world during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Even as new trade routes made Venice less lucrative, the serene Republic continued to thrive, attracting artists and architects, poets and visionaries. But that’s all gone now…

When the French finally destroyed the old Republic, they destroyed its reason for being, stole it’s art, and chiseled out many of it’s ancient symbols from the walls. When the Napoleonic wars were over in 1815, it was decided to give the city to the Austrians, After a couple of decades of poverty and the revenge of it’s ancient enemies, the Venetians decided to make the place over into a tourist trap.

Which is what it has been ever since.

If you get off in either the Point de Roma, where there’s a bus station an a few cars, or the train station on the next island over, you will notice a change once you get to the Vaperetto, or waterbus, station. With a few exceptions, All the buildings are really old. Not that they actually all are, but the weirdness of the place much be preserved. The Medieval and Renaissance architectural designs are faithfully recreated on the facades of many a new Palazzo. Tourism is all that the city has left, and the glory of this ancient Disneyland must be preserved. When the great bell tower, which is right in the middle of St. Mark’s square mysteriously and suddenly disintegrated 998 years after it was built, it was replaced by an exact replica (well, not exactly exact, there’s an elevator now) and with a few exceptions like the train station, this dictum of architectural ultraconservatism has been scrupulously followed.

Which brings us to the Gardens of the Biennale, where the Biennial art fair has been taking place every other year since 1895 as a way, naturally, to attract tourists. As a park on the eastern edge of town, the various countries that have participated over the years have been allowed to set up permanent pavilions where hundred of temporary exhibitions take place. This goes for the off years as well, why waste valuable space, right? But the big show is in odd years.

The Gardens aren’t the only place for exhibits, there’s a place called the Arsenal, where they have some too, and finally, on the Lido, which is a large island nearby with some pretty nice beaches, is where the film festival takes place every August and September. More on that later…

The Biennale’s theme for this year is; “Think With Your Senses, Feel with Your Mind.” Which is another way of saying “This is all bullshit! Give us your eight euros and deal with it.” Granted, not all of the works shown this year’s suck. There are some excellent works to seen, particularly Austria’s Herbert Brandl, who’s an abstract expressionist, or Svetlana Ostopovici, who’s more realistic, then there’s lots of other stuff both interesting and “interesting.” Then there’s lots of what I like to call “con art” in which some talent-less jerks with sharp tongues con certain curators into putting the most godawful crap up, from anti-Semitic graffiti to give-away posters by California artist Felix Gonzalez Torrez, one of which symbolizes the end of art by having a black rectangular frame of nothing.

Much of the work shown is heavily influenced by advertising and comics, which is where, after all most of the money for creativity is coming for nowadays, but for the most part, there’s nothing really new here, just inarticulate recycling of concepts that have been floating around for the better part of half a century. Granted, I didn’t have the time to give everything more than a cursory look. The Biennale, like the city that surrounds it, requires far more than the day or two most people give it.

Due to the big show, the Biennale’s film department has been rather tardy with the printing of the posters and programs for their big film festival, which is supposed to start in only two weeks. The oldest of Europe’s many film festivals, Venice’s dates back to 1935, and, with the natural break for World War II, had been giving out it’s prestigious “Golden Lion” awards ever since. Taking place on the Lido, where there are fewer architectural restrictions and an actual beach for beautiful women to parade around in their bikinis. This year, as in most, there’s an eclectic selection of Hollywood, Independent, and European government sponsored films which are going to start generating buzz for various awards like the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

If you only have a day or two, just go to St. Mark’s square and hang out for a while, and go left towards the Rialto bridge in the direction of the train station. Then head west along the Grand canal, stopping at various churches to look at the art, which, as every good agnostic or atheist knows, is the only saving grace the Catholic church has ever had. You will also notice that there are no streets, just sidewalks and canals, and a very strange and beautiful landscape.

The Cruise, part two: Dubrovnick

Once upon a time there was a land called Yugoslavia. It was full of enchanted forests and beautiful scenery and was ruled by an enlightend despot named Joseph Broz Tito. It was nominally Communist, but they didn’t really care all that much about ideology, except, perhaps for keeping Tito in power for as long as he kept breathing. He kept the peace and the Soviets out, and sometime around 1950, his regime decided that tourism was something that should be encouraged for it’s own sake, and right there on the coast was a little walled town surrounded by beautiful hills and an azure sea. The place was Dubrovnick, and is as cute a resort town as you’ll find in these parts, and developed a reputation as the coolest place in the Eastern bloc.

Tito died in 1980, and Yugoslavia was kept together by fear of Soviet invasion. Then in 1989, the Soviets let it out that they weren’t going to do that sort of thing anymore and all of a sudden the Eastern bloc had fallen apart, and so had Yugoslavia. The central government tried to keep the country together by force, there’s a big sign on the walls of Dubrovnick showing exactly where Yugoslav bombs hit. (It wasn’t just Serbia then). The whole thing would get a whole lot uglier to the north in Bosnia, but the Serbs pretty much gave up on Croatia in general and Dubrovnick in particular, leaving a bizarre-but-delightful mixture of medieval Europe and the Caribbean on this small peninsula near the southeastern tip of the Croatian coast.

With Communism long gone, the locals have gotten into tourism big time. Outside the walled village, to call it a city would be a little much, there are dozens of resort hotels up and down the peninsula catering to anywhere from movie stars to backpackers, getting oneself into one of the ritzier resorts would be a challenge, but as I only had a few hours, I would have to concentrate on the old town, which after all is the main attraction.

Dubrovnick’s secondary attraction is its size. The whole town is tiny, with the possible exception of the main square, and with the streets on the northern side little more than sidewalks, or in some cases, stairways, there’s an intimate, claustrophobic feel to everything, there are churches everywhere, baroque things full of centuries-old paintings, and little room for more than a few dozen worshipers at a time. There’s also a synagogue, but mostly what there are, are museums, restaurants and internet cafes. I’ve never seen so many of those things in a single place before. Computers everywhere! Very strange indeed. The prices for food and drink aren’t all that bad either. There are lots of places which offer really good seafood, or so I’m told, and the place I did go to had excellent fried squid. The people working the multitudinous cafes are rather nice about letting one sit there for extened periods of time, assuming of course you buy a drink or two, and this is a wonderful town to practice the art of people watching. There is also an secret entrance in one of the seaward walls to a beach, this has an excellent view of the harbor.

I’m not really sure if you can stay in the old town, but there’s a really good, if always crowded mass transit system, so getting to a hotel is easy. Dubrovnick is undoubtedly just as nice a resort as you can find anywhere else in the Adriatic.

The Cruise, part one

“You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” so they say, and actually the opposite is true. Generally gift horses come with strings attached, like being forced to buy what it is that you’re supposed to be getting for free, or worse. That’s what happens 98 times out of a hundred and one lives for the other two.

I was supposed to go to Greenland, and had a bunch of actual venues line up and everything, but at the last minute they fired the PR guy and disavowed any knowledge of my existence. I was ticked off about it when I was checking my spam filter and found something that seemed to be legitimate, RSVP, the largest Gay travel agency, sent me an email inviting me to join their cruise of the Mediterranean, I told them I wasn’t Gay, in fact just the opposite, but if they were going to pay for the whole thing, I would put any biases I had aside and go along. It turns out that they weren’t. I knew it.

I would have to pay for the airfare myself, but that wasn’t all that bad. I was able to get a really cheap ticket. But in the meantime, there was what seemed to be long gaps in communication. There were eight rooms reserved for press, and I got one. Two weeks with a thousand gays, If they could take me, I could take them. No problem.

Now the people at RSVP had told a little fib when they sent me my free ticket. They said that for my connivance, they had a discount bus transfer from either the airport at or downtown Rome for eighty-four bucks. This is undoubtedly true about the cost of a ticket, but discount? No way in hell. The cost of a train to the cruise ship port of Civitaveccia is only FOUR euros, about five and a half bucks, per person, and there’s a free shuttle bus from just below the station to the docks half a mile away. I’m not sure if it was RSVP or Holland America who told the whopper, but it doesn’t help matters, as to Citivaveccia itself, this is a small town with an incredible beach. Apparently, it’s one of the very few places in the Mediterranean with decent surfing. I didn’t really see all that much of the town itself, but it had a slightly moldy look, which is typical for tropical climes. Once I got on the ship, and it IS a ship, things changed quite a bit.

The Westerdam is one of the bigger ships in the Holland America fleet, ten stories high, it is, as the cliché goes, a floating luxury hotel. I’ve never been actually been on it’s like before. Oh, sure, I’ve been on ships before, but usually in steerage or sleeping on deck.
Getting there is supposed to be half the fun on these things, and the people at RSVP have managed to get the standard entertainment for the crowd they’re catering to. Gay men looking to get laid, mostly, and the stops on land along the way are mostly extras. As one passenger described it: “It’s not as tacky some other cruises I’ve been on.”

I was invited to the media party the first night, and someone slammed me as soon as she heard my name. It seems that she had invited me to a free dinner at an extremely fancy schmancy restaurant in Manhattan on the dime of the Brazilian government, and I told our hostess that I was primarily there for the free meal. It seems that a person was nearly fired because I was honest and upfront with people I was doing business with. Next time I’ll say I’m the financial correspondent for Life Magazine. But the people at RSVP knew I was straight and they were okay with that. There are very few of us on board outside of the crew. After a few days aboard, I’m very comfortable with my sexual preference as none of the guys on board is the least bit sexy, in fact far uglier than I am, and most of the lesbians are pretty old. But the problem with cruising on a tub as big as the Westerdam is that there’s not actually enough time to see all that much unless you fork out a sixty to a hundred bucks on a tour. There are cheaper alternatives to be sure, but at 75¢ a minute, using the internet for anything except briefly checking for emergency emails.

What is being offered is basically summer camp for grownups, with an emphasis, in this case on “ethnic heritage and culture,” I.e. leather bar recreations and bad disco, with halfway decent singers and drag acts.

But the reason I came on this thing was to see the ports of call, most of which have changed a great deal since I last visited them, some of which was back in the ‘80s.

The cruise was for the most part a circumnavigation of Italy, one of those countries that has a little too much history for it’s own good. Three thousand years of food, art and architecture, where one can get some of the best meals in the world for under a hundred bucks. It used to be twenty, but I’ll get to that later.

The first stop on any major tour of Italy is Rome, the Eternal city. Rome has more art per square inch than any other place in the world. This was once the sole property of the Catholic church, and before that was the capitol of the Classical world for about five hundred years. It’s unbelievable what one can see there, this greatest of archeological sites in the world. Unfortunately is expensive as all hell.

Not necessarily for the Romans, for the Romans know where the supermarkets are. The street vendors selling water and juice and the like charge through the nose, up to four bucks for a coke, something you can get in a supermarket for a quarter of the price.

The eternal city is the tourist town to end all tourist towns, and it knows it. There’s too much too see and too much to do, and all that money to take from the unsuspecting. I heard someone tell of a thief throwing a baby at a guy and robbing him as he caught it. I myself have seen similar acts of villainy with my own eyes. But if one’s careful, one can take in some truly amazing sights, The Coliseum at night or St. Peter’s basilica at anytime are breathtaking.

But I had about a day and a half, I wasn’t here for Rome, but for a cruise, and it was off to Civitaveccia on that five-dollar train, free shuttle bus, and expensive drinks.

Our first stop is Naples, which was once the capitol of it’s very own kingdom, something the locals aren’t too thrilled remembering, as the graffiti on the bases of two equestrian statues of a couple of them, across the way from the Royal palace, will attest. In fact graffiti, most of which is of either the “Joanie Loves Chachi” or “Fuck the Government” variety, is on pretty much everything there, but here it’s more specific to the monuments. After a hundred and fifty years, people still hold a grudge.

But the reason that most of tourists go visit is for something else, something much older, the notorious Mt. Vesuvius and the two towns buried by it back when years had only two digits. Most of the best stuff from the excavations are supposed to be at the Archeological museum, some of the best frescoes left to us from the Roman era, but they’re all in storage in the museum’s basement. They claim they’ll be back up next spring.

I would like to go on about Naples, but unfortunately, I didn’t actually have enough time there, which is one of the major problems with the cruise. There isn’t enough time at any of the ports of call. On the one hand you don’t have to pack and unpack all the time, but getting into port at ten in the morning and having to be back at, say, FOUR in the afternoon just doesn’t leave for much time to see more than a couple of things before you go back. Sure, Places like Dubrovnick, Croatia CAN be seen in a day, or you can inspect St. Mark’s Square in Venice in the better part of the afternoon, but what about Malta or Corfu, which have some really nice beaches and incredible scenery? The fort, the archeological museum, which is unusually half closed because of needed repairs, an expensive lunch (Americans make better pizza than the Italians), and a brief hunt for cheesy souvenirs.

For the rest of the time you’re trapped on the boat. Between Venice and Valletta, Malta, there was a day at sea. The problem was that the entertainment was rather tacky, the pool overcrowded, several hundred gay men looking like a flock of walrus, (I know that sounds homophobic, but there were a few lesbians there too, who also looked like walrus, as did I) didn’t make going for a swim all that appetizing. The gym was overcrowded too and most of the immunities were NOT included in the price, and that included the spa, which cost over a hundred dollars, hell, it cost almost a hundred and fifty bucks to just check my email every day! It’s expensive and boring, especially if you drink, or gamble, which is where the cruise line makes a good deal of its income.

This is not to say that seeing Europe by boat isn’t a bad idea, Far from it. There are plenty of overnight ferries where you can see spectacular sunsets over the glistening Mediterranean, and smaller cruise lines actually dock for longer than a few hours in any one place, so you can actually get to see and do more. If one wants to stay on a ship, there are plenty of “cruises to nowhere,” and going all the way to Europe to be on one seems like a waste of time and money.

San Diego

It goes without saying that comicon isn a comic con. As in Comic Book Convention, It was never supposed to have become the monster it has become. Back in the old days, and that means Clinton’s first term as president and before, nobody thought about movies all that much. Oh, sure there was Trek and “Wars and all that stuff, but most of the people were geeking out on Superman, the Fantastic Four and Fritz the Cat, not to mention that goumet imported stuff from France and Japan. It was a convention, people would come to hang out and dress up in silly costumes, and oh, yeah, buy stuff.

I would say that it’s all changed, but for the most part it hasn’t. It’s just that the movie companies discovered that San Diego was the biggest one of these things close to Hollywood, and that meant that it didn’t cost that much money to promote their stuff as it might at the ones in Chicago or Atlanta. Plus, despite the fact that San Diego is generally run by conservative Republicans, they LIKE comic book fans. The Big Apple Anime festival was murdered by the Republicans for the 2004 Convention in New York, something the Republicans tried to do to the San Diego con eight years before. The Mayor refused to go along, and Comicon, now Comicon INTERNAIONAL, is now one of the biggest events of the year.

The evolution of sequential arts since it’s nadir in the early 1960s has, on the one hand, from a medium primarily for children or the partially illiterate to a major form of self-expression and storytelling has been rather phenomenal. The rise of the “graphic novel” i.e. a square-backed comic suitable for hoity-toity bookstores and the New York Times Book Review, is one of the major trends in popular culture, and is something that the US has been lagging behind in much of the World.

However, be that as it may, the reason that Comicon has been in the news recently is movies and TV. Paramount, Warner Bros, and all the major Hollywood studios except Fox, gave presentations showcasing the latest in expensive and fantastic entertainment. Mostly this stuff is either based on comic books or fantasy novels, Stuff like Indiana Jones and the long-awaited adaptation of “Watchmen” which came out in the middle ‘80s. (Yeah, I know that Indie wasn’t a comic book character until after the first movie came out, but so what?). Comicon is now the place to be.

So when they sent me a letter offering me free entry, I went. There was a probem, however. Most of the places were full up, and had been for the entire year. I had to book two youth hostels and a hotel, and that was before the big day for the con, that is Saturday, even took place. Which is just as well, The place is busting at the seems and they literally didn’t have enough room to fit in any more people in San Diego’s convention center that day.

As in most conventions, San Diego’s is divided into three parts: The parties, the panels and the huckster room. I’m not sure that I went to the first, but I’m completely sure that I went to the other two.

The reason why I’m not sure about the parties, after all one should remember at least part of that thing, is that the big party I attended wasn’t exactly part of the con. In fact it was over three thousand miles away in the Hamptons, where a rich dude named Ivan Wilzig was having a party in order to celebrate his being chosen to participate in the second season of the game show “Who Wants to be a Superhero?” The guy is the son of a big time banker and lives in a genuine faux castle, and he hired a small fleet of buses to ferry a bunch of us nonplussed writers and others to come see the first episode on a giant screen he set up in his back yard.

There was booze and nubile young ladies wandering aimlessly around the back yard, adding to the absolute beautiful scenery that one can only see in Eastern Long Island. “Come! We must save the Sun!” our host said as he led us to the roof. That was a hell of a sunset, which was just about over when we got to the top. Then we went back downstairs where we feasted on orderves. (You can have a nutritious and filling meal on those things) until the sky was dark enough to see the TV show, then the thing went on until midnight, when we went on the bus for home. There was a panel for the show at Comicon.

I heard that most of the major movie studios had receptions. I wasn’t invited to any this time out. I actually didn’t have the time even if I had, although because of the other two parts of the Con.

The main hall, or the “huckster room” is the grandest in the world. Everyone who’s anyone is going to be there, from some of the more venerable comic shops to a number of historically important illustrators. The main attraction are the freebies, which are given out with wild abandon in order publicize films coming out in the next year or two.

Finally, there are the panels, and while most are arcane, a few are making real news, like the return of “Michael” to the cast of “Lost” or the guy playing “Sklyer” from “Heroes” getting cast as the young Spock on the next “Star Trek” movie. The main hall can seat five thousand or more, and the place in generally filled. (you have to be careful with a crowd that big, the guy moderating the New Line panel was justly booed when he insulted the audience). They also had a whole bunch of screenings, mostly of small SF flicks but a few major films like “Stardust” and “Shoot’em’up”, which is one of the most gratuitous films of the year.

With the exception of the hotel hopping, which ended up in a lawsuit (it was settled out of court in my favor), the whole thing was a rather decent experience. Truth justice and the American way were definitely served.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More from Tribeca, part something...

I spent some time in Bermuda, which I'll talk about later, but here is the penultimate batch from Tribeca...kind of late, Sorry:


Written and Directed
by Talia Lugacy

Revenge fantasies are nothing new. There are lots of them throughout the history of literature and cinema. What's different about this one is that it's a chick flick. It's quite simple that Talia Lugacy is one of those feminists that hates men and wants to get her rocks off by degrading a few here and there. This is a movie, it's supposed to be fun, even though it isn't.

Maya (Rosario Dawson) is the perfect woman. She's a college student who's so wonderful, she is almost a TA as a sophomore. Also, the fact that she's black is a plus. Perfect to make her victimhood nobler than it might otherwise be. She meets Jared (Chad Faust) at a party. He's all charm and caring, and she initially resists, but there's that charm again, and with the title we know that it can't be a positive development.

He shows his true colors, and she, now broken, turns into a slut who is saved by the local bartender's(Marcus Patrick) personal cult. Cut to the next semester….

Adrian is now the focus of the picture and is taking the class where Maya is now a TA. She's running the final exam and he of course, is cheating. This leads to her brutal revenge, which is extremely graphic.

That's it. What's supposed to be somehow a deep psychological drama is in fact just a wind-up toy going through the motions. The acting isn't all that great, although Faust makes the most of what he's given. Yes the great betrayal is a bit of a shock, but the foreshadowing is such that something like that happening is expected. This is a feel nothing movie that's just repellent. A complete waste of money, don't bother.

The Grand

Written and Directed
by Zak Penn

It's quite obvious that Zak Penn is tiring of superhero movies. Otherwise he wouldn't have decided to do a mockumentery on of all things, poker. Now Poker as a spectator sport has become rather popular [why I don't know, it's worse than golf] and this isn't the first poker movie to come out in recent months. So with pop culture going in that direction, this sort of thing is to be expected. This film is all about the expected.

This is primarily about One Eyed Jack Faro(Woody Harrelson), a permanent resident of a rehab center who's heard that his grandfather's casino is going to be bought by the evil billionaire Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean) if our hero doesn't pay off his megabucks debt within a few days and the only way this is possible is to get into the eponymous poker tournament and win it. He gets in and then the film changes direction slightly to start having profiles on the other players in the tourney.
Lainie(Cheryl Hines) and Larry Schwartzman(David Cross), who are twins, trained by their father(Gabe Kaplan) to be ultra competitive, Deuce Fairbanks(Dennis Farina), a gangster of the old school, The German (Werner Herzog), a nazi of the old school, Mike Werbe (Michael Karnow), who's borderline autistic, and last and least, Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), who likes to play on the internet, and so, following this far-from-merry band the story of the Grand goes on.

Quite simply, the mockumentary has played itself out. Sure this has some good points, but for the most part the jokes fall flat. Ray Romano, as Lainie's husband, is just grating, as is Gabe Kaplin, who at one time was considered a genius. I guess it's Matt Bierman's writing which fails.

This is probably going to come and go faster than an inside straight.

The Killing of John Lennon

Written and Directed
by Andrew Piddington

The revelation here is that Mark David Chapman was married. We always knew that he was a nutcase, and there's nothing here that's much of a revelation. Although, this film documents a major event in popular culture, it's lacking something very important. Suspense. Yeah, we know the Titanic sinks, but it's what happens the characters around that which is interesting. This is an attempt at understanding, to make sense of the murder of John Lennon, but it fails. With all the words that Chapman wrote over the years, he's still primarily opaque.

The film starts when Chapman(Jonas Bell) was a security guard in Honolulu. He and his wife Gloria(Mie Omori) seem to be having a decent life together. True, his mom (Krisha Fairchild) is a bit of an airhead, and his job isn't particularly glamorous, there doesn't seem to be anything especially wrong with it. Then he gets religion.

The religion in this case is Holden Caufieldism. He falls in love with the “Catcher in the Rye” and his grip on reality begins to disintegrate, he goes on and on about this and that in the book, driving his poor wife to distraction. Then he falls in hate with John Lennon.

What's scary here is that his criticisms of Lennon are actually somewhat logical, although his solution is not. We know that there is madness here, but there doesn't seem to be anything but pure logic behind each and every action. This is a madness the audience is sucked into. He doesn't seem like a nice guy, but where he's coming from is rather clear and concise.

The film goes on too long. I'm not sure that keeping the film going well after the crime is a good thing. It feels like a denouement and as such it goes on and on and on. Okay, we know why he did it, enough already!

This is an uneven film, Well done technically, but missing something, and that unknown something ruins it.

Illegal Aliens

Directed by
David Giancola

I don't usually review direct-to-video movies, but there was a reason to make an exception for this one. Anna Nicole Smith had just died and was being treated as a martyr. Although she wasn't an actress by any means, she was one of those celebrities who were notorious rather than famous, and pretty much everyone had forgotten why she became famous in the first place. So when I received a press release for it a few months back I was intrigued.

The DVD screener had the film and the trailer, so I took a look at the trailer and it looked as bad as I feared. Then the publicist called me up and asked what I thought. It sucked, I said and I probably wasn't going to review it because he was nice to me in sending it and I didn't want to give him bad publicity. He said that I should review it anyway, “but give it some respect.”

Okay, here it is. I respect the producer because he had the cajones to get all that money out of unsuspecting people to finance this piece of garbage and thus is a far, far better salesman than I ever can hope to be. Having seen the film in its entirety, I cannot comply with the publicist's request. This is pure unadulterated crap.

Cameron (Lenise Sorén), Drew (Gladys Jimenez), and Lucy (Anna Nicole Smith) are the eponymous superheroes from another planet, who fight to protect Earth from baddies from other planets, but their day job is as stuntwomen in Hollywood.

In this case, it's Rex (Joanie Laurer) who goes around shooting people for no reason and wants to blow up the Earth. She has a good reason too. So the IAs go off to save the day yet again. Yadda, yadda, yadda. This has all the looks of a failed TV pilot, and probably was at some point.

This is a sloppy film. Yes sloppy. It appears as if the first draft of the script was written while the writers were drunk, and the second pass was just to correct typos and spelling errors. The editing is slapdash. Anna complains to the director about a dumb line and breaks out of the story, which is something everyone does at the end. The acting isn't actually inept, it's just not very good, and Ms. Smith is just as “fine” as everyone else. That's sad, as some of the people appear to have talent, despite their working so hard to hide it. Why do they DO this?

This is what “Grindhouse” films were all about. Crap. Tarentino take note.