Movies Archives

December 14, 2002

Adaptation, Equilibrium, and Lord of the Rings

Behold as I post about Lord of the Rings without using the word "epic", Equilibrium without using the word "dystopian", and Adaptation without using the words "postmodern", "auto-deconstructionist" or "meta-fiction".

I am attempting to plow through every feature on all four discs of this Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings DVD set, before I catch the next installment on tuesday. This is one badass movie. The only major flaw I see is they overplayed the comic-relief angle with Gimli, the dwarf. And of course Frodo and Sam should have kissed at the end, just like Eminem should have kissed Mekhi Phifer.

Also I could do without the Enya.


I saw Equilibrium this week, which a lot of people seem to love, but I'm afraid I must align myself with the NY Times review: "If someone left "1984," "Fahrenheit 451," "Brave New World," "Gattaca" and the Sylvester Stallone potboilers "Judge Dredd" and "Demolition Man" out in the sun and threw the runny glop onto a movie screen, it would still be a better picture than "Equilibrium," a movie that could be stupider only if it were longer."

Of course, action movies are supposed to be stupid, and the fight scenes were cool, driven by a mixture of gunplay and martial arts called "Gunkata" (which wasn't quite as cool as "Gymkata", but close). Christian Bale was a solid action hero and unlike Taye Diggs he seemed to understand the premise of the film, that everyone had to take drugs that rendered them emotionless. Taye must not have read that page in the script cuz he was emoting his ass off.

It could be a solid rental if you like goofy action. But anyone who calls this movie intelligent needs their glasses checked.. I knew it was gonna be dumb when it started out with the narrator describing the great evils of the world, and this was illustrated by footage of Josef Stalin and then Saddam Hussein. How poor can your sense of history be, to put a small-time hustler like Saddam next to Stalin?? That was mad corny. I was hoping the next shot would be of Michael dangling his baby, or Terrell Owens signing a football.


The two movies I've been looking forward to the most this year are Adaptation and Gangs of New York. But I've also been worried, cuz they both star actors (Cage and Dicaprio) who used to seem cool but are hard to have faith in these days. Well I saw Adaptation, and I gotta say Nicholas Cage was excellent. He wasn't just less annoying than usual, he was actually really good. I was never conscious of seeing Nicholas Cage on screen as opposed to the character(s) he was playing. The rest of the ensemble is superb, especially Chris Cooper, he better get nominated for something.

The movie as a whole was top notch. Just like Being John Malkovich this was an incredibly fascinating premise that seemed incredibly difficult to execute, and they pulled it off incredibly well. I'm sure some people will find reasons not to like it. The third act of the film arguably betrays everything that came before. And it is the type of hip movie that makes hipsters feel good about themselves, clever writing that makes you feel clever for getting the jokes, so even I was almost hoping I could say it's too clever for its own good.

But I can't front, it not only succeeds as an exercise in demented narrative intricacy, but this Rube Goldberg contraption is also equipped with a heart that is deeply engaging and emotionally resonant. It wows you with its complexity but still works in every way you'd want a simple, straightforward movie to work. Probably the best I've seen this year.

March 14, 2003

Lynne Thigpen, 1948-2003

You probably know her best as the chief on Carmen Sandiego.. and yeah, ok, I also remember her from All My Children. But I bet you didn't know Lynne Thigpen also played one of the coolest movie roles ever: she was the DJ in "The Warriors"!

She was also a major figure as a theater actress, and when I was little I saw her in this very short-lived broadway musical named "But Never Jam Today".

By the way, her scenes in The Warriors were filmed at WHBI 105.9 FM, the NY station legendary for hosting the first Hip-Hop radio shows ever: Mr. Magic, Jerry Bloodrock, The World Famous Supreme Team, The Awesome Two, etc.

March 28, 2003

Movie Review: Raising Victor Vargas

Authentic. It's pretty much impossible to write about "Raising Victor Vargas", the feature film debut of director Peter Sollett, without using the word authentic. Charming will be hard to avoid too. I'm not even gonna try.

On Wednesday I went to a screening of "Vargas", which is based on his now legendary short film "5 Feet High and Rising". I was worried coming into it because I adored his original short, and wasn't sure he'd be able to reproduce that magic. But Sollett pulled it off, big time, and delivered the most, yes, charming movie you'll probably see all year.

For "5 Feet High and Rising" Sollett gathered a cast of kids from his Lower East Side neighborhood, and soon found the kids were much more interesting when the cameras were off and they put the script down. So he threw out the script and let them basically improv the whole film, and his understated presentation was the perfect vehicle to capture his young cast's tremendous charm. In the full-length "Vargas", Sollet has done a masterful job of fleshing out the original while retaining its beautiful simplicity, and produced an incredibly authentic and endearing slice of life in the L.E.S. barrio.

Most of the kids from 5 Feet High and Rising return for this one, including the leads Victor Rasuk and Judy Marte. They look a little older, but have lost none of their decidedly un-hollywood charisma. Again improvising most of the dialogue, they come across as so real, so genuinely innocent, you can't imagine them being any different offscreen. It was shocking when the kids came out for the Q&A, kicking Hollywood actor lingo and seeming so much more worldly and mature than the kids in the film. I kept thinking "oh my god, did little Victor just use the word 'aesthetic'??"

Movies with no script (at the Q&A Sollett said he wrote one but never showed it to the actors) can easily collapse into 90 minutes of aimless meandering, but Sollett's light touch keeps things moving forward throughout. He films with an elegantly simple style: no stylized trick shots, natural lighting, little if any background music. Almost like dogme 95, but instead of the drab visuals we get from those angsty European dudes, cinematographer Tim Orr (of George Washington) fills the screen with warm sunshine and vibrant colors, so that even the grungiest project apartments seem to glow.

The warmth of those visuals reminded me of "Do The Right Thing", and "Vargas" has a lot in common Spike Lee's masterpiece. Just as Spike's love for his people and his community seemed to shine from each frame, every scene and every shot of "Raising Victor Vargas" is unmistakably driven by Peter Sollett's deep love for these kids (and their grandma), and this neighborhood. And just as "Do The Right Thing" was a revelation for me because I saw my world portrayed on film for the first time, "Raising Victor Vargas" should bring that same thrill to a new generation of kids from the barrio, seeing themselves so lovingly and vividly rendered on the big screen.

Basically, yep, this is an irresistibly charming and authentic film. I highly, highly recommend it.

April 1, 2003

Leslie Cheung 1956-2003

Popular Hongkong pop superstar and actor jumps to his death

Oh my god. This is a shock.

Most of you have probably never heard of Leslie Cheung, but he is.. was.. one of Asia's biggest superstars as both a singer and actor. Try to imagine if Brad Pitt or Madonna suddenly committed suicide. What terrible news for folks over there, already suffering so much stress from this virus.

Some you will be aware I am an avid follower of Hong Kong cinema, and Leslie Cheung is in many of my favorite films:

John Woo's A Better Tomorrow, One and Two
Tsui Hark's Chinese Ghost Story, One and Two
The Bride With White Hair
Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together

He played a somewhat scandalous gay role in Happy Together, and rumors about his sexuality hounded him throughout his career. I'm sure now that will play into speculation about his apparent suicide.. but whatever the reason, a terrible tragedy.

May 6, 2003

Racism: The Real Matrix?

Like Morpheus said: "It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window. Or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work. When you go to Church. When you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

Matrix actor felt racist 'vibe'

Matrix star Laurence Fishburne said he felt racism while living in Australia, describing the "vibe" similar to America in the 1950s.

The African-American actor and Oscar nominee said he loved Australia and considered himself a Sydneysider after spending long periods in the city shooting The Matrix sci-fi film in 1997-98 and the two Matrix sequels in 2001-02.

But during his first stay in Sydney Fishburne felt "a little bit isolated".

"There were some experiences that I had and more so than experiences there's a vibe, there's a vibration, there's a feeling," Fishburne told a group of international journalists during a press day in Los Angeles to promote the first of the sequels, The Matrix: Reloaded.

Asked if he felt racism in Sydney, the actor replied: "Yeah".

The actor was not verbally attacked but said he and three African-American members of his staff - a make-up artist, security person and assistant - who accompanied him to Australia for the original Matrix shoot had the same experience.

"There's a vibe. There's no malice," he said.

"The only way for you to really get (understand) this is you need to go to a country where there is nothing but black people and you need to be there for a month-and-a-half or two months and you need to be in a room one day when you are the only white person in a room and then you'll get it.

"But you won't get it by me telling you 'Oh, this happened or that happened' because nothing awful happened and nobody called me a bad name or any of that shit.

"What I'm talking about is something that cannot be described, it can only be experienced..."

May 15, 2003

MOVIE REVIEW: Matrix Reloaded


Wow, what a sensory overload.. I need some time to digest that.

Lincoln Square, 10PM. The crowd was far less geeky than at Star Wars or LOTR.. a surprising number of people who look like they might possibly not be virgins. We got there at 8PM, at which point the line already stretched from Broadway to Columbus.

They let us in about 8:45 and the mad dash for seats began. Two opposing camps of dorky middle-aged guys got into a heated battle over one row.. one guy said "listen, I'm an attorney, and I can assure you the theater's policy would not allow this.." and the other guy triumphantly cut him off with "Well I'm an attorney too!" It was a sad spectacle.

After everyone settled down, finally the curtain rose up..and we watched about 5 commercials, which were heartily booed. Then the trailers.. Charlie's Angels 2 (looked alright), Jason vs. Freddy (the crowd went nuts), T3 (actually looked good in these clips), and some Tom Cruise samurai movie that got clowned.

Then, finally, the movie. As mentioned in most of the negative reviews, they explain the workings of the Matrix in much more detail than the first. This entails a lot of portentous yapping and philosophizing, which sometimes slows the pace to a crawl.

Lawrence Fishburne somehow manages to make Morpheus even more pompous than before, and his speech to the people of Zion is especially comical. I kept expecting him to break into Cyrus' speech from The Warriors (Can you dig it? Caaan youuu diiiig iiiit?). The rave/sex-scene montage that follows is a complete waste of time, and I'm pretty sure it was pieced together with unused footage from the Britney Spears "Slave" video.

But none of this was surprising, actually I expected worse after reading the reviews. The flaws were obvious but easily tolerable, because I came to see phenomenal action and visuals, and on that level this movie delivered like a motherf***er.

The freeway chase scene was ridiculous. The much hyped "burly brawl" was mind-blowing.. yeah the CGI was pretty obvious at times but it didn't detract from it, for me. The movie is packed with so many gorgeously crafted scenes, it was impossible to absorb it all in one sitting. I wanted to rewind every scene and watch it again in slow motion.

The cast was pretty solid.. Keanu was his lovably dopey self once again, Hugo Weaving kicks even more ass than last time as Agent Smith, and Harold Perrineau is a great addition to the crew. Jada is cool but it seems like they are saving her good stuff for the third chapter, along with several other cool characters that are introduced briefly. Once again there are an astonishing number of people of color, for a sci-fi movie. This had more Black characters than most films that are marketed as "Black movies".

All in all, that was easily the most fun I've had at the movies this year. I'm still coming down from the adrenaline rush, seeing it on opening night with the hardcore heads definitely adds a lot to the experience. But I'm pretty sure you'll have a good time no matter when or where you catch it.

Be warned about two things: 1) It ends very abruptly, with no resolution whatsoever. 2) Yes, there is a short trailer for the third movie, after the credits end. Surprisingly, the next installment seems to involve a lot of people floating around in slow motion while shooting and/or kicking each other.

June 7, 2003

And Don't Forget the Brother on "Designing Women"

The Washington Post weighs in on Hollywood's undying love for the Magic Negro:

Too Too Divine

Movies' 'Magic Negro' Saves the Day, but at The Cost of His Soul

Morgan Freeman plays God in "Bruce Almighty;" Laurence Fishburne a demigod in "The Matrix Reloaded," and Queen Latifah a ghetto goddess in "Bringing Down the House."

What's the deal with the holy roles?

Every one of the actors has to help a white guy find his soul or there won't be a happy ending. Bruce (Jim Carrey) won't get the girl. Neo (Keanu Reeves) won't become the next Messiah. And klutzy guy Peter (Steve Martin) won't get his groove on.

In movie circles, this figure is known as a "magic Negro," a term that dates back to the late 1950s, around the time Sidney Poitier sacrifices himself to save Tony Curtis in "The Defiant Ones." Spike Lee, who satirizes the stereotype in 2000's "Bamboozled," goes even further and denounces the stereotype as the "super-duper magical Negro"

"[Filmmakers] give the black character special powers and underlying mysticism," says Todd Boyd, author of "Am I Black Enough for You?" and co-writer of the 1999 film "The Wood." "This goes all the way back to 'Gone with the Wind.' Hattie McDaniel is the emotional center, but she is just a pawn. Pawns help white people figure out what's going wrong and fix it, like Whoopi Goldberg's psychic in 'Ghost.' "

It isn't that the actors or the roles aren't likable, valuable or redemptive, but they are without interior lives. For the most part, they materialize only to rescue the better-drawn white characters....

There goes Todd Boyd again, I guess he's the latest it-boy of Black cultural punditry. There are also choice quotes from Ariel Dorfman and others.

EDIT: Those of you with masochistic tendencies may enjoy the predictably boneheaded reactions to this article at

December 8, 2003

EXCLUSIVE: The Scoop on Tom Cruise's Next Film

Now that Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai was a box office winner this week, looks like they are going through with plans for a sequel. But do you think they might be taking things a little too far this time? Check out the poster:

December 30, 2003

Anita Mui, 1963 - 2003

Wow, I just found out one of the biggest Hong Kong music/movie stars passed away, Anita Mui Yim-Fong. She starred in a whole bunch of my favorite movies:

  • "Heroic Trio" with Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung

  • "My Father is a Hero" with Jet Li

  • "Drunken Master 2" with Jackie Chan

  • "A Better Tomorrow 3" with Chow Yun-Fat

  • "Saviour of the Soul" with Andy Lau

She also won a bunch of awards for her performance in the drama "Rouge", one of my favorite non-action HK films. A major loss, and so soon after Leslie Cheung was lost just as suddenly.

Hong Kong pop queen Anita Mui dies

Hong Kong pop star and actress Anita Mui, well known in Chinese communities the world over, died early on Tuesday less than four months after revealing that she had cervical cancer. She was 40.

She died at Hong Kong's Sanitorium Hospital at 2.50am (1850 GMT), according to her friends, including action film legend Jackie Chan and fellow singer Alan Tam, who were keeping vigil at the hospital.

Earlier reports said that she had been admitted to hospital after slipping into a coma. Other reports said Mui died of lung failure due to the side effects of the drugs she was taking to fight the cancer.

Jackie Chan said Mui died when family members and many celebrity friends were at the hospital Tuesday morning.

"She passed away peacefully and beautifully. She hoped everyone will let her go peacefully and not cry," commented Chan.

This has been a very unlucky year for entertainment, even in the last moment of the year, added Chan...

January 11, 2004

Your "Best Of" List is a Lie

Rambling ruminations from Matt Zoller Seitz on "best ofs" and the nature of criticism:

The Eye of the Critic

...Critics really hate admitting this because it damages our fantasies of oracular wisdom, but the continual evaluation of quality and importance that goes on in our columns is a fancy-pants smokescreen–a ritual that lets us prattle about movies we either responded to or didn’t, often for reasons that have less to do with technical, esthetic or political merit than with our own personalities (and personal baggage).

A critic declares a movie The Year’s Best Film (as I did recently with Tim Burton’s Big Fish) not because he really thinks it’s the year’s best film but because he really, really, really liked it, usually for personal reasons he can’t or won’t explain, and desperately wants to get word-of-mouth going and make the movie a hit...

...It’s all part of the same transparent game: We’re trying to wrap our personal, in some ways inexplicable response with an outer layer of importance. The essence of every piece of criticism is the same: You might not like this, but I sure as hell did. Unfortunately, that doesn’t sound as grand or compelling or near-omniscient as "the film of the year" or "one of the most moving dramas of recent times" or "a litmus test for serious moviegoers."

I’ve been a professional critic and journalist for 13 years now. During that time, I’ve probably watched thousands of contemporary theatrical films and thousands more on tv or home video. I’ve learned a lot about different filmmaking styles and historical trends, and I’ve read and thought a lot about how politics and money affect films (and filmmakers). I’ve gotten into who knows how many arguments about the merits of particular directors, writers, actors and processes. (Spielberg vs. Kubrick is a fun one; so is ‘Scope versus flat.) I’ve read god knows how many books on film history and theory. I’ve also made features, an experience that has required me to learn a variety of technical skills–from lighting and shooting to sound recording and editing–that I did not have before. I wish I could say this combination of experience and enrichment brought me closer to understanding what makes a movie great as opposed to good, or enabled me to more effectively persuade readers of a certain movie’s merits, or improved my ability to predict which current releases will still be watched and discussed after I’m dead and buried. (That’s what all those yearly critics’ awards are: a charming attempt to jump-start historical consensus.)

But the truth is, I’m no closer to those goals than I was 13 years ago. And I’m beginning to think that the goals themselves are illusions that critics and wannabe-critics have been conditioned to believe in... Criticism is such an inexact science, more like a cleverly disguised form of confession than a sincere or quantifiable attempt to separate wheat from chaff. (That’s why my yearly 10 Best list is titled 10 Favorites.)

I’ve gotten to the point where I now read critics not because I trust their opinions, but because I feel that I’ve gotten to know them well enough to be able to split the difference between their opinions and mine, and make a decision on whether to see a particular movie (or watch it again). When a critic steers me wrong, or fixates on particular details for reasons that strike me as counterproductive, I don’t feel mad or betrayed. I remind myself that everybody is different and every day and every week is different, and that if that critic had written the review in a different frame of mind or experienced a different upbringing, his verdict might not have been the same. (If you think critics don’t occasionally pan movies because they saw them after having a nasty fight with their significant other or writing a big check to the IRS, you are naive indeed.)

In the marvelous interview book Moviemakers Master Class, John Boorman, director of such films as Deliverance and Excalibur, admits: When I made Hope and Glory, which is about my childhood memories, it wasn’t until I saw it finished that I realized that my obsession with the Arthurian legends could be explained by the fact that my father’s best friend was in love with my mother. Like filmmaking, criticism is an art, and all art is autobiographical. Whether a critic intends to or not, each time he writes a column, he’s writing a diary entry that happens to be published. He is systematically revealing his prejudices, preferences and fears. He is, in some sense, an actor playing a part, and like any actor, the act of performance renders him simultaneously concealed and exposed. Human thought and action are part of an ongoing mystery, one that only gets solved years after the fact, if ever.

I think the weed was really starting to kick in when he wrote that last paragraph.

January 16, 2004

Superfly, R.I.P.

The man of the hour had an air of great power...

"Superfly" film star Ron O'Neal dies at 66

Ron O'Neal, whose role as cocaine dealer Youngblood Priest in the 1972 film "Superfly" epitomized the so-called "blaxploitation" film genre of that era, has died. He was 66.

O'Neal died Wednesday evening at Cedars Sinai Medical Center after a long bout with cancer, according to his wife, Audrey Pool O'Neal.

Born in Utica, N.Y., O'Neal was raised in Cleveland, where he became involved in Karamu House, an experimental interracial theatrical troupe.

He headed to New York in 1966 and became involved in theater, teaching school in Harlem to support himself. The payoff for the young actor came with a 1970 Obie Award for his performance in Joseph Papp's Public Theatre production of "No Place To Be Somebody."

His performance in the play brought O'Neal to the attention of the producers of "Superfly," who fell in love with his street-smart, rugged interpretation of an ultra-violent cocaine dealer who wants out of the business after one last big score...

January 30, 2004

Fear of a Black Prefect

Reaction on slashdot to the casting of Mos Def in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy":

A black Ford Prefect??? Are we ready for this? - BiggsTheCat

Mos Def is actually one of the few rappers who has a brain. - Shant3030

Can't we have ONE f***ing movie without a rapper?? Just make (for lack of a better word) music, you a**holes! Leave the acting to REAL actors! Especially when the movie in question is a screen adaptation of a beloved novel-- did they try to slip Ja Rule or another one of those generic, mush-mouth f***tards into LotR? NO! [ed. note: I guess he missed Bushwick Bill's cameo in the Prancing Pony scene]
- An Anonymous Coward

Mos Def actually came from the theater community before he was a rapper... I agree that the "stick a rapper in every movie" trend is getting old - imagine if that were popular during the '80s hair metal days. But Mos Def doesn't qualify. No punishing him just because his music career fared better than Nimoy's. - AvantLegion

Im not racist but what the hell?? [ed. note: anyone who says that is guaranteed to be racist] I thought the whole character was based on an english school boy? Is this another American plot to add in a token black (american) guy, but alas he wont get killed in this? As a proud and English Douglas Adams fan I think he would be turning in his grave. Hey dare I say it but even Hugh Grant would have been a much better choice or they could have chosen a talented English actor. - femmefatale27

If I remember the books properly, Ford is basically uber-cool, slick, a total bad motherf***er but kind of loopy and obnoxious at the same time. I can definitely see Mos Def in that part. - the_gnat

(thanks to Chr0me Kitten)

Shabba Doo Weeps

Is it really possible that the NY Times critic Dave Kehr never heard of breaking before, and thinks this movie is documenting a recent "development"?

A Hip-Hop Dance Team Duels Some Menacing White Boys

"May the dopest crew win!" proclaims the hip-hop star Lil' Kim somewhere near the welcome end of "You Got Served," which opens today nationwide. She is not referring to sailors on steroids, but to dueling hip-hop dance teams, one led by African-American teenagers from an unspecified Los Angeles neighborhood and the other by sinister-looking white boys from Orange County, who face off in an MTV dance contest at the climax of this modest programmer directed by Christopher B. Stokes.

The natural heir of 1960's dance-craze films like "Twist Around the Clock" (memorably parodied by John Waters in "Hairspray"), "You Got Served" showcases the latest development in street dance, which, much like rap music itself, seems to be a predominantly masculine affair.

With neighborhood crews battling one another for audience approval (and a hat full of money) in a hall that looks more like a boxing ring than a ballroom, "You Got Served" frequently recalls the muscular ballet style pioneered by Gene Kelly and Jerome Robbins — except that the pirouettes in this film are more likely to be performed by dancers spinning on their heads than on their toes.

Apart from a few token women in the chorus, the boys dominate the performances with cutting, slashing, robotic moves that evoke both Chinese martial arts films and Michael Jackson's undying moonwalk. The presentation is aggressive and confrontational, and the dancers perform without ever breaking their scowling, angry street faces...

Cmon dawg, even the pope knows what time it is!

And the "Longest Answer to a Yes or No Question" Award Goes To

You've probably heard about the various controversies surrounding Mel Gibson's new joint, "Passion of the Christ". One issue is that Mel's father is a religious leader of sorts, who among other things is known for allegedly denying that the holocaust took place, ar at least claiming that the numbers are greatly exaggerated.

So in her interview with Mel for Reader's Digest, right-wing speechwriter Peggy Noonan (the one who coined "thousand points of light", i believe) tries to set the record straight: "You're going to have to go on record. The Holocaust happened, right?"

I'm not sure that Mel's response quite puts me at ease:

Gibson: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

Well, I guess that was sort of a "yes", kind of? He is agreeing that there is evidence of holocaust-related program activities? I dunno, kinda sketchy.

February 7, 2004

There is No Klingon Word for How Bad This Casting is!!

Beyonce, who will indeed be joining Prince onstage at the grammys, also confirms that contrary to reports she was out of the running, she is still up for the Lois Lane role. Comic book geeks across the world are once again shuddering with dismay.

Beyoncé on Grammy and Movie Plans

..Beyoncé has some top-secret plans for Sunday night. She says, "I have a couple of surprises. I can’t wait to do the performance."

We did learn, however, that Prince will open Sunday night’s Grammy Awards with Beyoncé.

Beyoncé also announced that she is kicking off a tour with R & B sisters Alicia Keys and Missy Elliott. And she is also about to step up her movie career.

The superstar is up for a big role in a superhero franchise—Lois Lane in "Superman." Beyoncé says, "I hope so. Everyone pray that happens for me."

February 22, 2004

Note to Mel Gibson: Comment-Spam is Not Christlike

A number of my friends in Livejournal have been bombarded with comment spam promoting Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" (which garnered rave reviews from Ebert and Roeper) Has anyone else seen this? Here's one of them, with the links removed:

hey [username inserted here]. what's up?

The Passion of The Christ is in theaters soon - this week on Wednesday.. what do you think about this movie? I'm going to see it for sure - the trailers were enough to convince me. I read somewhere that it's the widest opening ever for a subtitled movie; I have a feeling subtitles won't detract from the full effect of this movie though. After looking at the trailers which have no subtitles or english at all, it was reinforced for me that lack of spoken english in this film won't hurt one bit. To sum up my impression of The Passion: it's a work of art.

Good Website

Another fascinating aspect to this movie is all the controversy that has been generated about it. Some people, not really representative of Jewish people, but rather self appointed Jewish spokespeople, such as Abraham Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League, seem to have been attempting to denounce this film for months as being anti-Semitic. The news reported that they even stole the script last year! But here's what some Jews say (Jews who don't make it their job to tear apart other people): Protesting Gibson's Passion Lacks Moral Legitimacy by Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

Nice to see some people speaking rationally.

So what do you think of all this?

*** Kyle

I think you suck, Kyle! Thanks for asking!

It's pretty much identical everywhere I saw it, with minor variations on the intro. Is someone affiliated with the film paying people to go out astroturfing? I hope not, cuz that would be mad corny.

February 24, 2004

Lost in Translation, Reconsidered

I think I liked Lost in Translation more than Sharon and O-Dub, but their critique of the film has a lot of meat on its bones, and helped me pin down what was bothering me as I watched the movie.

Although certainly overhyped, I found it a charming little film.. it is a movie where not much happens, but like Virgin Suicides it does a great job of setting a mood and gradually washing over you, keeping you engaged and striking an emotional chord without a lot of narrative pyrotechnics. Such a relatively uneventful film can look easy when you get it right but I'm sure it's much harder than it looks, and Sofia Coppola deserves mad props for pulling it off so well. And of course Bill Murray's performance was superb (the only part of this film that truly deserves an Oscar nod), and yeah I did come away with a little crush on Scarlett Johansson.

But I did have this nagging feeling that something was a little off, as I watched their interactions with the Japanese people around them and how they were affected by the environment, and this review helped me isolate the problem and figure out how to express it concretely.

Like Sharon and O, I think my problem with Coppola's characters is they were a bit too comfortable being continually bemused by the "otherness" of everything around them, rather than being compelled to look at themselves any differently. The movie is sold as portraying the experience of an outsider in a foreign land, but in truth the characters never come to terms with their outsider status. Stranded in a world where everyone else is different from them, they just keep on thinking "wow, I'm normal and everyone else here is so weird," and are never given reason to feel like they are the weird ones here. They are never forced to question the assumption that they are the center of the universe, that their American whiteness is normative.

I had forgotten this, but their review reminds me that I was especially struck by the hospital scene they cited, where Bill Murray tries in vain to communicate with two elderly women in the waiting room. I was on the edge of my seat throughout that scene, aching for him to redeem the film by finally making a human connection with someone, and laughing with them instead of at them. I tried to convince myself afterwards that this scene helped fill the void, but I wish they had used the alternate take Sharon and Oliver describe, I think it would have made the film much stronger.

Any thoughts on this from my ever erudite readership? For full disclosure I will note that I haven't seen it since it first hit theaters, and tried to rent it before I wrote this tonight, but it was all rented out.

February 26, 2004

Hong Kong Movie Roundup

I recently rekindled my love affair with Hong Kong cinema, which had been dormant for a few years. Just happened to pop in one of my old Stephen Chow dvds (Hail the Judge), and somehow it put the jones back in my bones.. so in case some of you are also into this stuff, here's the latest HK movie news I've come by as I renewed my vows:

The Guardian just did a pretty cool interview with Tony Leung (Chiu-Wai, not to be confused with Tony Leung Ka-Fai). He tells how Wong Kar-Wai "tricked" him into playing the gay lead role in Happy Together, and talks about their loooooooong-awaited latest project 2046, a sequel to their masterpiece In the Mood For Love. Tony also mentions his next film with Wong Kar-Wai will be "an action movie, with kung-fu, which will be very exhausting." Word.


2046 is set to debut at Cannes this year, and it may be joined by Zhang Yimou's follow-up to Hero, another martial arts/wuxia epic named Shi Mian Mai Fu (literal translation: "Ambush From Ten Directions"). If you haven't gotten to see the visual feast he offered in Hero, you better swing through Chinatown or look for an import online because stupid ass Miramax has the American rights and they've been sitting on it forever.


Kevin Smith is working on a movie version of "Green Hornet", and is hoping to bag the Blastmaster Yuen Woo-Ping for fight choreography. I'm not sure what to think about that. Hope (a healthy) Jason Mewes is in it though.


In the meantime Yuen Woo-Ping is finishing up Kung Fu Hustle with my favorite HK star, the master of "mo lei tau" comedy Stephen Chow. Chow's Shaolin Soccer is another gem now collecting dust in the closet of stupid ass Miramax.


Jackie Chan will make a "triumphant return to his Hong Kong roots" this summer in New Police Story, this could be promising. He's also got a Hollywood production of Around the World in 80 Days on tap, not sure how promising that is. The Governator is in it, hopefully Jackie will kick him in the face at some point.

Meanwhile Jackie's son will make his acting debut in Twins Effect 2, rumored to feature a climactic 15-minute fight scene between the proud papa Jackie and Donnie Yen. Which would rock.

February 29, 2004

Haiku-Blogging the Oscars

Hundreds of people
Will be blogging the Oscars
But none in haiku!

Joan Rivers causes
Unbearable nausea yet
I can't look away

8:10 PM
Here comes Billy Bush
Suddenly I'm longing for
Joan's incompetence

8:20 PM
"Hey Naomi Watts!
Watt's up??" Billy Bush just asked.
I'm buying a gun.

Mildly amusing
All I can ask from Crystal.
Next year, Dave Chappelle!

That big boat movie?
you mean there are people who
actually saw that?

I guess long ago
In a land far far away
Bob Hope was funny?

Damn you, Liv Tyler.
Your Lisa Loeb impression
has stolen my heart.

And winning New York's
Democratic Primary..
Return of the King!

I've been nodding off
Did Lord of the Rings lose yet?
oh, ok then... *zzzzzzzzz*

And in first place for
The Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee
Return of the King!

All hail Seabiscuit!
Greatest movie of the year
for me to poop on.

Film that mocks asians
ironically awarded
little yellow man.

Peter Jackson beams
"There is no word in elvish
for the joy i feel!"

"They stole my precious!"
Bill Murray growls with a sneer
"they are so tricksy!"

Now let's all just hope
Peter won't get the rights to
The Silmarillion.

March 24, 2004

A Baadasssss Evening with Mario and Melvin Van Peebles

Melvin and Mario Van Peebles, Immortal Technique in background ------------------------

Warning: Excessive namedroppery ahead.

I went to a screening tonight for a new movie named "Baadaasssss," that tells the story of Melvin Van Peebles' adventures infiltrating Hollywood with his breakthrough film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," Melvin's son Mario directed the film, and stars as his father.

It was a much more high-brow affair than I expected.. instead of the usual frumpy press people and mid-level execs I found myself sharing a table at a cocktail party with Ken Burns and the junior Van Peebles, who discussed the Jayson Williams case with a Fox News host while waiters in black suits brought us trays of wine and sushi. On my other side were Ed Bradley, Gloria Reuben and Salman Rushdie, telling a gorgeous blonde that he hadn't seen Pirates of the Carribean yet but City of God was Amazing. I was feeling underdressed, and underfamous.

Padma Lakshmi, Ken Burns, Melvin Van Peebles and Salman Rushdie ------------------------

Thankfully I found Immortal Technique in the back with his usual t-shirt and camouflage cap, plus a few more hip-hoppers to balance out the celebs and bigwigs. Still a bugged-out scene though, with a squadron of photographers who broke into a frenzy every few minutes as the famous faces walked in.

After we finished our cocktails the Sony folks ushered us into the plush seats of the screening room, where Stanley Crouch and Ken Burns stepped up to introduce the movie. My expectations were not very high as the lights went down, but I must say "Baadasssss" really moved and impressed me. Easily Mario's best work, telling a story so close to his heart must have brought out the best in him.

After the film, Stanley Crouch and Ken Burns came back up for a Q&A with Mario and Melvin. This was the highlight of the evening, the mix of personalities (euphemism for egos?) was great fun to watch. Ken Burns kept cutting Stanley off to praise the film's portrayal of their father-son relationship, stressing how it "transcended all the racial and political themes." Then before Crouch finally got his turn Melvin cracked everyone up saying "wait before we go on, let's give Stanley a drumroll, since he has this big ass bombshell question he's been dying to lay on us."

Mario, Melvin, Stanley Crouch and Ken Burns ------------------------

After Mario provided the proper drumroll, Stanley predictably aimed his bombshell squarely at the hip-hop nation, starting out with "well, we are in an era now where Black people are being bombarded with dehumanizing images like never before.." and Melvin cut him off incredulously, asking "what does that mean? did something happen I don't know about??" apparently wondering how today's media climate could possibly be worse in Stanley's eyes than the one their generation grew up with, that made Sweetback so revolutionary and so necessary.

Mario told his dad to let Crouch finish, and Stanley went on "I'm talking about the bad extremes of rap, without dealing with the good extremes, which are far less visible, in the bad extremes we are seeing 50 Cent dying and going up to Pimp Heaven, and you can trace a direct path from Blaxploitation movies (which your work was not a part of) down to what we are seeing now.. so I want to ask, in this movie [the original Sweetback] you were portraying a character very diferent from yourself, what were trying to achieve with that character?"

Melvin talked about being involved in the spoken word scene that led up to hip-hop, which he sees as a broad and diverse form of expression that was severely narrowed as it got co-opted by he mainstream, and Mario agreed. Mario said when they screened this new film in Chicago he spoke with former Black Panther leader Bobby Rush, who said what he loved about Sweetback was how it portrayed a flawed character who learned and evolved, was transported from a "me mentality" to a "we mentality," and the movie's great contribution was making it seem hip to be a revolutionary, through Sweetback's evolution.

Then Mario pointed out that right after Sweetback's success Hollywood took a movie named Shaft, originally meant to star a white actor, and turned it into a Black film that aped all the coolness of Sweetback but none of the substance. Instead of making it look cool to be a revolutionary, Shaft made it look cool to work for The Man.. and right after that came the even more counter-revolutionary Superfly, making it look cool to be a drug dealer. Thus Hollywood co-opted Sweetback by reproducing the "icing on the cake" but abandoning the substance that was at its core. And this, Mario said, is exactly what has happened to hip-hop: as it is increasingly co-opted by the corporate mainstream, it is increasingly reduced to little more than chocolate frosting.

Mario and Melvin were having a great time joking around with each other, and Mario seemed excited to have his friends Ernest Dickerson and Warrington Hudlin in attendance, working them into a lot of his stories. I felt honored and humbled to share this time with two generations of Black cinema pioneers, and especially feeling the love everyone there had for Melvin.

After the Q&A wrapped up I went to shake Mario's hand, waiting behind Immortal Technique and Gene Shalit. Needless to say, Immortal Technique in a cypher with Mario Van Peebles and Gene Shalit is an image I will carry with me always.

A few more pics:
Padma Lakshmi
Stanley, Gloria, Padma and Mario
Tia Texada of "Third Watch" - extra points if you can spot Ed Bradley in the background.

March 25, 2004

Donald Goines Rediscovered

As one of his books is brought to the big screen by DMX and Juice director Ernest Dickerson, Lola Ogunnaike introduces Times readers to Donald Goines, the godfather of Black pulp fiction who should be familiar to any hip-hop listener. The best coverage of Goines I've seen was in FEDS magazine, where they scored interviews with a bunch of his family members, I wish that was online somewhere. This Times piece is cool although the headline annoys me for some reason:

Credentials for Pulp Fiction: Pimp and Drug Addict

His was undoubtedly the path least traveled toward literary
achievement: Pimp. Armed robber. Convict. Heroin addict. In
his abbreviated time on this earth, Donald Goines, murdered
in 1974 at 36, was all of the above. And yet he became one
of the most popular black pulp-fiction writers of the
1970's, producing 16 paperback novels in under five years.

Tomorrow the movie "Never Die Alone," adapted from
Goines's 1974 book of the same name, is to open across the
country. It is the first Goines work to become a major
motion picture. (In 2001 the movie version of his "Crime
Partners" went straight to DVD.) Starring the rapper and
actor DMX as King David, a ruthless drug dealer, and David
Arquette as Paul, a reporter whose fortunes are suddenly
changed by a chance encounter with King David, the film is
told in flashbacks and is a dark look at one man's
fruitless search for redemption.

"Never Die Alone" comes at a time when Goines's novels are
experiencing a resurgence in popularity, fueled by prison
literacy programs, hip-hop music and now academia. In Crime
and Punishment in American Literature, a course at Rutgers
University this spring, Goines's debut novel, "Dopefiend,"
will be taught alongside classics by Upton Sinclair, Herman
Melville and Frederick Douglass. His books, which
painstakingly explore society's sordid underbelly, are
must-reads for prison inmates across the country.

"Donald Goines is across the board our most requested
writer," said Mary Driscoll, an outreach librarian who
works with the Dane County Jail in Wisconsin. "Because he
lived the life, his books really speak to that population..."

The film, meanwhile, is getting trashed by AP and Hollywood Reporter, but Newsday and the Times' own Elvis Mitchell give a thumbs up. Mitchell's penchant for random pop-culture allusions has become a running joke, but he kept it to a minimum here unless you count the Big Daddy Kane reference.

May 19, 2005

Revenge of the Sith Review

Okay, the hype was a little overrated. But only a little.

Not better than the OG Star Wars. But way better than Phantom and Clones. As promised, this chapter is dark and lovely. A sumptuous feast of death and dismemberment.

Ian Mcdarmid steals the show, as advertised. And I never thought I'd be saying this but Hayden Christiansen actually stepped his game up. Outside of the scenes with Natalie which were brief but painful as ever, he was quite tolerable as Anakin this time.

Everyone else, uhh, does their best with the lines and guidance they are given. As always with Master Lucas the dialogue is brutally (often hilariously) clunky, and the only good performances from his actors seem to come despite his work directing them.

The weaknesses of Master Lucas are as obvious here as they were in the other 2, the other 5, really. All these flaws were there in the old ones too (go back and peep young Luke whining about his "power converterrrrrs"), but back then the flaws were outshined by his strengths.. and after Master Lucas' dark side overpowered him in the last two, his strengths finally won out again this time.

George has never been adept at manipulating the little pieces of storytelling, writing lines of dialogue and such.. but when it comes to working with the big pieces, molding the basic elements of a story into a structure that holds together and resonates, he's never lost his touch. Or maybe he did lose his touch and we're just lucky he wrote this whole story back in the 70s. Either way it all works out in the end.

That mastery of mythmaking combined with his gift for visual splendor has allowed him to create a mythology with truly lasting power.. The Matrix seemed to promise this before ultimately betraying us, and Lucas flirted with the same disaster but I think he's pulled it together in the end.

Just as parts 4-6 must now be viewed as the story of Anakin's redemption, for me the end of this trilogy brings the redemption of Jedi Master Lucas. Balance has been restored at last.

October 17, 2005

Chronicles of Narnia: Good Old (Racist) Christian Values?

This admission is sure to lower my standing in the geek community, but I somehow made it through my childhood without touching a single Narnia book. For the rest of you who are more culturally literate, does this critique ring true?

Chronicles of Narnia Stirs Controversy

...To millions of readers of the original C. S. Lewis books, the story is a childhood tale of wonder and triumph, but a celebrated fantasy author, Philip Pullman, has warned they are stories of racism and thinly veiled religious propaganda that will corrupt children rather than inspire them.

He complained at the weekend that Lewis's books portrayed a version of Christianity that relied on martial combat, outdated fears of sexuality and women, and also portrayed a religion that looked a lot like Islam in unashamedly racist terms.

"It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue," Pullman told the Observer. "The highest virtue, we have on the authority of the New Testament itself, is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books," he said...

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