Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

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The other day I managed to pull myself away from college application land long enough to make it down to Images to see Ang Lee's recent opus. I can now confirm - everything you have heard from critics about this movie is true, and several things you might not have heard are true too.

One thing that struck me about this picture was the delayed emotional reaction that it stirred in me. Truth be told, even though I admired every aspect of the movie, I felt a little bit emotionally distanced throughout the first two thirds of it. While the ending was, indeed, really heartbreaking, I walked out of the cinema thinking, yeah, that was a really nice bit of moviemaking of great social significance, but not the greatest thing ever committed to film. The next day, however, it's like it took a while for the other shoe to drop. I woke up about 45 minutes before the alarm clock, thinking, "oh my god...those poor guys." I felt so damn sad I could hardly get out of bed! That's the kind of movie Brokeback Mountain is. It's subtle and understated (for the most part... the onoxious, Ry Cooderish twangy guitar score was the only weak spot), it's a movie that doesn't come to you, you have to go to it...and when you do, you are in for one helluva depressing piece of cinema.

The story opens in rural Wyoming in the summer of 1963, where lonely ranch hands Ennis Delmar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) are assigned to tend a herd of sheep on the titular mountain. The islolation gives birth to a friendship between the young men, which eventually blossoms into love. The scenes in the mountains (which were filmed in Alberta, Canada) are simply beautiful to behold, and serve as an idyllic paradise for the two men. Hidden away from the rest of the world, they can be open with one another without worry - it's the epotomie of a young lover's idea that their significant other is all they will ever need. Unfortunatley it can't and won't last forever. Reality comes knocking in the form of their boss (Randy Quaid), telling them to bring the sheep back down a month early, putting an abrupt end to their honeymoon. Quaid, incidentally, is so good here that I didn't even recognize him until I'd seen his name in the credits. I'm so used to seeing him as buffoonish characters in stuff like National Lampoon's Vacation, but was great.

The rest of the story unfolds over the course of about 20 years. Ennis marries a girl from his hometown and continues working ranches to try and bring home the bacon to his wife and two kids. Jack eventually ties the knot with a young cowgirl he meets at a rodeo event. The two wives are almost polar opposites of one another, and their stories are just as well-told and emotional as that of the two men, especially in the case of Ennis's wife Alma (Michelle Williams). She's a delicate and fragile woman who can't seem to put her finger on why things aren't turning out the way she expected with her husband. After four years of marriage, Jack comes up to visit Ennis at his home ("we was fishing buddies", he tells her). The moment Ennis walks down the steps with open arms, then pulls his friend around the side of the house for a long-overdue kiss, it's a emotional epiphany - we realize just how much these two men have truly missed each other. And when Alma accidentally sees the lip-locked pair through the window, she goes to pieces inside. The puzzle has been put together now, she knows she and her husband will never be happy together, and she knows why. It's just as much a tragedy for her as it is for him.

All three of the performers definatley deserved their Oscar nominations, especially Ledger. He's better here than you could ever imagine. Anne Hathaway, an actress I'd gladly watch sleeping for two and a half hours (and I have several videos of this, if you ever want to come over and see them) plays Jack's wife, Laureen, an heiress of a large farm equipment company with a a slightly more ambiguous character than that of Michelle Williams. It's never clearly established whether she's oblivious to her husband's "condition", or if she does, and chooses to ignore it, although her telephone conversation with Ennis at the end seems to indicate the latter. She's also got a bullying asshole of a father who takes every chance he can get to belittle Jack at family gatherings. The pair periodically go off on "fishing trips" back to their utopian Wyoming mountains in scenes that rather cleverly serve to deconstruct the mythos of the American West (there is even a little birthday suit-clad homage to the cliff jumping moment in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), but they always have to return to their so-called real lives, where everyone seems to be either suspicious or in denial of their true nature.

I won't tell the ending to you, but if you've been reading so far, you've probably already figured out that there's no way it can end happily. The world that these men live in forbids their relationship; it can never happen. As a matter of fact, the people who insist that it is a love story and "not a gay cowboy movie" are actually doing it a well-meaning disservice. It's a tragedy in every sense of the word, and one that uses the timelessness of a period setting to get across a very timely and important message. Like Good Night, and Good Luck used the 1950's-era CBS News station to get us to think about the nature of televised news today, Brokeback Mountain takes the setting of the 60's and 70's South to remind us of the hatred and prejudice towards homosexuals that, sadly, still exists today. I really hope this wins the Oscar for Best Picture (and I predict it will, seeing as how last years win was a similarly small, understated, and very sad film about a rather controversial subject), because it will be a terrific victory for tolorance, acceptance, and the gay community. Hell, If I had my way, I'd make every red state-dwelling, homophobic jackass in the country sit down and watch this film.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Doctor C's Trailer Shakedown

From the dark, murky world of trailers on the interweb, I have personally taken on the noble task of weeding out the "what looks good" from the "what looks bad, or boring, or just plain horrible". So, here we go.

Based upon the testimonies of those who are fortunate enough to have already seen this movie, I'd have to say this might be my most looked-forward-to film of 2006. It's a revolution story set in a totilitarian future England, and from what they tell me, there are a lot of hard-hitting parellels to the current American government which will no doubt cause a huge amount of controversy when it's released. I can't wait, personally - I'm a big fan of "message" sci-fi movies, epsecially if the message a heavy "fuck you" to the Bush Administration. Hugo Weaving stars as V, the titular character, and Natalie Portman co-stars with her adorable shaved head.

A satirical comedy about a lobbyist for a giant tobacco corporation who is paid to come up with ways to make smoking look "cool". The trailer looks brilliant and the cast is great - Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, William H. Macy, Sam Elliott and Robert Duvall. Best line from the trailer tha made me laugh out loud was Macy proclaimng "The great state of Vermont will NOT apologize for its cheese!"

A concert film of the iconic rock singer directed by Jonathan Demme. I'm a huge fan of both Neil Young and Demme's famous Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense so this one looks like a real keeper.

The Asian shock film fanboys will soil their trousers with glee over this one...a short horror film anthology directed by Chan-wook Park, Takashi Miike, and Fruit Chan. Okay, I admit - I have no idea who Fruit Chan is and have only seen a handful of movies by the other two guys, but this still looks rather exciting, in a "Tales from the Crypt" meets Oldboy sort of sense.

Naomi Watts is fast becoming one of my favorite contemporary actresses. Not only is she incredibly talented and damn beautiful to boot, the fact that she's not quite as famous as, say, Nicole Kidman or Renee Zellwegger allows her to back and forth between uber-blockbusters like King Kong to independant tiny-budget productions shot with a Mini DV video camera. Ellie Parker is a comedy about the adventures of a struggling Los Angeles actress, and the trailer looks just hilarious. I will definatley be seeing this one.

A modern-day western directed by and starring Mr. Woodrow F. Call himself, Tommy Lee Jones, as well as Barry Pepper (very underrated in my opinion) and Dwight Yokam. The plot deals with Jones making a Quixotic journey into Mexico to bury a friend.


Dennis Quaid plays a dim-witted American President similar to someone we know, and Hugh Grant is the host of the titlar TV show, a thinly-veiled takeoff of "American Idol". To boost the ratings, they get the President to guest-star on the show as well as an Iraqi teenage contestant, and there is some kind of assasination plot, etc. Directed by Paul Weitz of About A Boy fame, this looks more along the lines of a Team America style of lightweight comedy than a hard-nosed political satire, but should be a lot of fun nonetheless.

Out of approximately 50 horror trailers they showed before I saw Hosel, this recent independant thriller/drama was the only one which, in fact, looked any good at all. A 30-something man picks up a 14-year-old girl on the internet and takes her over to his house, but ironically enough, the trailer seems to suggest that he ends up getting the raw end of the deal in the creepy situation.

The third of what have so far been my favorite of all the superhero-based movies for their skilled balancing of social relevence alongside all the special effects and ass-whoopin'. Granted, t's a bit of a dissappointment that Brett "Rush Hour" Ratner is going to be directing this one instead of Bryan Singer, but it still looks extremely promising, and once again, Kleiser-Walczak will be handling the effects for Mystique.

A Native American comedy of mistaken identity which looks similar to Chris Eyre's films. A young woman travels to a small Native-run hotel to meet her pen pal, an old man in his 60's, and mistakes his son for him. The son mistakes her for a hotel critic and the whole crew frantically tries to impress her - shenanigans ensue. This looks funny, kind of Smoke Signals meets "Fawltey Towers" - and the wonderful Graham Greene plays a chef.

Another project that Kleiser-Walczak did the odd bit of work on, this alien/small town/virus/zombie flick looks like it will literally be one of the grossest movies ever made. From what I understand, there's ver little CGI in the picture, it's mostly makeup, prosthetics and animatronics, with creatures that look like a cross between Spaceballs' Pizza the Hutt and your worst nightmare.

A French thriller with Daniel Auteil (great in The Girl on the Bridge and The Closet) and Juilet Binoche, about a man who recieves anonymous videos of himself and mysterious letters. From the looks of it, it seems to be shot on video as well, presumably to bring you closer to the action and give it a documentary-style feel. Looks very interesting.

Here's a marriage of talents that seems almost too good to be true - Richard Linklater, director of my favorite film of the 90's, Before Sunrise, helming an adaptation of a story by Blade Runner author Phillip K. Dick. The cast includes Winona Ryder (I'm so thrilled, I haven't seen her in a film in ages), Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and *cough* Keanu Reeves, and the movie is animated in that trippily rotoscoped Waking Life style. Let's hope that it's as good as it sounds.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Hostel" & "The Shining"

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Despite what everyone would have you believe, Hostel is not an exploitive piece of "torture porn" - it's a good little movie with no self-doubt about what it is: a pulpy, unpretensious but scary and effective flick, made for horror fans, by horror fans, with no attempts to try and pander to the general public.

I won't lie to you - the torture scenes are pretty goddamn gnarly, and in a couple of places even downright disgusting, but in truth they only make up a very small portion of the film, and the picture has a lot more going for it than just blood and guts. For starters, characters are all pretty likeable; I felt actually concerned for them, which is more than can be said for 99% of horror movies post-1980. The scares don't come as much from single, indivual acts of torture and depravity, but from an overall feeling of dread of being a million miles from home, in a European village where everyone is in cahoots and is against you. It's the kind of fear that I'm sure everyone has experienced at least a little of when they've gone on vacation.

I saw this in a theater full of teenagers, and I for one really like horror movies with an audience because I get a kick out of the shared reaction. The girls screeched and ewwed in all the appropriate places, and when the villains got their blood-soaked comeuppance at the end, there were actually cheers. Of course, my horse!

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I was also fortune enough to go to a big-screen screening of Kubrick's immortal horror classic The Shining at Images Cinema, which was, in a word, absolutely fan-fucking-tastic. This is the fourth film that I've seen theatrically after I'd watched it before on video (along with Men In Black, the original Godzilla and Raging Bull), and has, for me, become the final word on the subject of big screen vs. home viewing. It's like the difference between seeing a photograph in a book of a stained glass window, and actually being there in a cathedral and seeing it for real, being in its presence...art in the flesh. There is something about the flickering of celluloid that is more emotionally provocative than video, and with a horror pic as scary as this one, I was plain terrified. The terror in this film builds and snowballs gradually into insanity and to its inevitable conclusion, with magnificent effect. It's quite possibly the greatest horror movie ever made. Incindentally, while Googling for an image to use in this post, I stumbled across a brilliant review by Danel Griffin's Film As Art website, with some great things to say about its themes and questions. I highly reccomend everyone read it.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Shelley Winters 1920-2006

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Legendary actress Shelley Winters passed away today from heart failiure. She was 85 years old. She had starred in over 130 films, including Lolita, The Big Knife, I Am A Camera, Alfie, Pete's Dragon, and The Posiedon Adventure. She won two Best Supporting Actress awards for her roles in The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959 and Patch of Blue in 1965. She was a regular media figure who stood up for many political and feminist causes. At one point, Robert Mitchum was to have commented, "Shelley, arguing with you is like trying to hold a conversation with a swarm of bumblebees."

Out of all the roles she played, my favorite, without a doubt, is that of lonely, naive widow Willa Harper in Charle's Laughton's Night of the Hunter. She had such a beautiful vulnerability in that film; the scene where she waits in bed for her death is nothing short of incredible. A wonderful actress, who will be sorely missed.

Friday, January 13, 2006


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Spent a pleasant evening last night parked in front of the woodstove with this 1953 John Wayne pic. The Duke plays a half-Indian U.S. Cavalry n scout who wanders out of the desert to the ranch of Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her young son. Hondo tells her that the treaty between the whites and the Apaches has been broken, and that she and her boy ought to escape to safety, but she insists that she'll be safe, as the Indians have always left them alone. When Hondo rides back into town, he unwittingly has a run-in with Angie's reprobate husband, who he kills in self-defense. After he rides back into the desert and tangles with the Indians, he agrees to pose as Angie's husband so that the chief, Vittorio, won't kill them, but he knows soon enough that he will eventually have to tell the truth to them both.

This is kind of an interesting movie which shows a bit of growing maturity in Hollywood westerns' depiction of American Indians. Whereas the Indians of the silent era up to the early fifties were essentially expendable cannon fodder, they are shown in a bit more of a sympathetic light here. For one thing, they're played by real Native American actors, as opposed to white guys in dark makeup, and are sympathetic towards the family, as Hondo, who explains that he lived with the Apaches for five years and had a wife he was deeply in love with, is sympathetic towards them. On the other hand, though, the Indians still talk in a "Me Tarzan, you Jane" fashion, and, the "end" of their way of life in the interest of making way for white settlers is shown as something of a neccesary evil.

Although, if you're able to enjoy old movies without an obsessive sense of political correctness, this movie is quite a lot of fun because of Wayne's cool persona. His frequent co-star Ward Bond is in this, too, and he kicks ass, and the action scenes, are very nicely choreographed. Apparently this film was shot in 3D, I'd love to have scene the climatic final horseback-shootout with the bullets and knocked-over horses jumping right out at the screen at me. All in all, this is a fun film, and fans of The Duke will appreciate it.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Shining and Trois Couleurs on 35mm

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Just a quick heads-up to anyone who lives in or near to Berkshire County, Massachusetts and gets a boner for old movies on 35mm. On January 30th, Williamstown's own lovely little Images Cinema will be showing The Shining at 4:15 p.m. and midnight. Additionally, on Jan 29th, the Clark Art Institute is going to be showing all three of Kyzystof Kieslowki's Trois Couleurs trilogy: Blue, White and Red, in one afternoon, starting at 11:00 a.m. And if that still ain't enough for ya, MASS MoCA is running a film series this season called Extreme Documentary, with Frederick Wiseman's fly-on-the-wall bootcamp doc Basic Training coming up next week on the 12th, and The Fall of Fujimori, Werner Herzog's The White Diamond, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and Touching the Void coming up on various Thursdays throughout the next couple of months. Unfortunatley, MoCA's Cinema Lounge series facility only has a video projector, not a 35mm one, but you'd be hard-pressed to beat the civilized atmosphere, great food, and couches (!) in the little B-10 theater.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Chronic (what!)-les of Narnia!

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I just got back from seeing this at the theater. SO good. To say I loved it might be too strong of a word, but I really, really, REALLY, really liked it. I read the book when I was a spud (but only this one, and none of the others, for some reason) and I found it to be very faithful and exceedingly well-executed. It's not a flawless film - like King Kong '05, there was the occasionall unconvincing performance and phony-looking effects shot, but I was so happy to be wrapped up in the magic of both respective worlds that I didn't care. A few things I'd like to comment on:

- The Christian Allegory. When I read the book as a wee'an, I enjoyed it simply as an imaginative fantasy story with your typical lessons about courage, heroism, family etc, and didn't pick up on the Xtian morals and stuff until somebody pointed them out to me years later. It's definatley very apparent when you know about it - Aslan is very much a savoir figure, with being executed and brought back to life, and Edmund being tempted by turkish delights (sins of the sweet) and redeeming himself. But I don't think it takes away from the story, and I don't think it takes away from the film either.

- The Kids. Not the ones in the movie, but the ones in the cinema. As I watched the theater fill up about 3/4ths full of little kids and their parents, I was expecting another daycare center nightmare like the one present when I went to King Kong, complete with fidgiting, screaming, and a popcorn bucket percussion section in the front row. However, none of them said a peep - I was actually really taken aback by how quiet the little blighters were, but they were totally captivated by the story.

- Tilda Swinton: what a fucking bad ass. I consider White Witch to be one of the greatest evil women in all fiction, period. She'd chop up the Wicked Witch of the West and Cruella DeVille and eat them with her cornflakes. Swindon pulled her off beautifully. She's not a "conventionally" beautiful actress, which is good. I wouldn't want some damn fashion model looking broad playing the Queen. She was evil to the core with an icy stare that grabbed you and wouldn't let go. Scary scary scary. Other stand-out roles for me included James McIvory as the 70's art school dropout-looking fawn Mr. Tumnus, Ray Windstone and Dawn French (of French & Saunders) as the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and Jim Broadbent as the old Professor.

- I am a huge vagina, but some moments actually made me get a little bit teary-eyed and lumpy-throated. Such moments included Lucy and Susan's coming onto Aslan's sacrificed body, and Mr. Tumnus turned into stone, but for some reason, the biggest weeper for me was towards the beginning when Lucy and Edmund come out of the wardrobe, and Edmund tells the other kids he's just playing along, but she's making this up. The look on her face, man, there's something about little kids getting shafted by older kids that just cracks my heart to bits.

- It's staggering how much better this movie is than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If they had chosen to devote an entire third of this movie to Edmund's working up the courage to ask a cute centaur chick to the Yule Ball, and had an angry Aslan shouting his head off and slamming Peter aginst the wall, I think I'd likely have gone up to the projection booth and strangled the projectionist with the film.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy New Year from Homefront Film School

Another year over, a new one just begun.

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I'm happy to report that, having finished both the showreel of feature film and commercial clips, and the mini-documentary on The Thing's armpits for Kleiser Walczak (which will hopefully be viewable from their website very soon), I'm about to begin the year of 2006 with my very first job on the construction of a major motion picture. I'm going to be a digital file clerk of sorts keeping track of the status of the Mystique shots in X-Men 3. As they've done on the two previous films, Kleiser Walczak will be responsible for Ms. Romjin-Stamos' shape-shifting, as well as a digital yellow eye replacement for the character.

I'm pretty excited to be working on this, as I consider the X-Men films to be head and shoulders above nearly all the films of the recent superhero movie explosion. I adored the Fox Kids cartoon when I was a sapling, and really appreciated Bryan Singer's visions of the films; they placed the heroes in a real-world setting and really took the social/political themes seriously, but didn't skimp out on the action and fun. Singer was replaced for this film by Brett Ratner, of Rush Hour 1 & 2 and Money Talks fame, which probably means we're going to see more action and slightly less intelligence, but to see these characters on the big screen again (not to mention a crop of new mutants including Kelsey Grammar as Beast, one of my very favorite characters) it'll surely be worth the price of a theater ticket.

In addition to working on big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, I'm continuing my Homefront Film Education with selections of classics on DVD. I recieved a whole crapload of discs from the benevolent fat red man, and every time I watch one of them it's like Mario landing on one of the magic mushrooms. Here's what Santa brought.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Full Metal Jacket
Paths of Glory
Rebel Without a Cause
The Wild Bunch

I had seen a few of these before, but most, I hadn't. Let me tell you, Onibaba and are both extremely highly reccomended, a pair of the finest Japanese horror films you'll ever see. Onibaba, directed by Kaneto Shindô, is a chillingly moody and atmospheric story set in feudal Japan. Filmed in gorgeous black and white (beautifully accentuated by Criterion's restoration job), it's a brilliant, chilling, and massively erotic folk tale-type story set in an ocean of ominous, waving grass. Matango, on the other hand is definatley more of a "b-movie", directed by Ishiro Honda with the help of many of the skilled men who put together the original Godzilla movie. It deals with a group of castaways who get stranded on a mysterious island, and as their situation gradually develops into a Lord of the Flies-type situation as they search for food, try to stay alive, and do their very best to resist the temptation of eating the cackling, whispering supernatural mushrooms that grow in the forest. It's a great movie that mixes rubber-suited monsters seamlessly with moody atmosphere and great drama. Kaiju aficionadoes definatley owe it to themselves to see this, but will appeal to those who aren't fans of Toho's monster movies because of its character-driven story. Great film.