Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Richard Fleischer 1916 - 2006

Multiple genre master director Richard Fleischer passed away recently from natural causes at the age of 89. He directed countless films in the horror, science-fiction, fantasy, crime, thriller, comedy and musical genres including Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings, Fantastic Voyage, The Boston Strangler, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and the beloved sci-fi classic Soylent Green.

As much as I love the aforementioned films, I'd have to say that my personal favorite Fleischer film is the 1967 fantasy-musical Dr. Dolittle starring Rex Harrison. It's certainly not a popular opinion, but I loved the movie during my childhood and it still holds up a sense of wonder when I watch it today. Great movie.

Fleischer was born in Brooklyn, NY, the son of pioneer animator Max Fleischer and nephew of Dave and and Louis, who created Betty Boop, Popeye, and the early Superman cartoons. He directed more than 50 films from 1944 to 1989. His book, Out of the Inkwell, a biography of his father, was published last year. He will be fondly remembered.

Friday, March 24, 2006


As is ususally the case with those of us who live way the heck up in the boonies, the best movies of any particular year don't usually make their way around to us until February, March, or April of the following year. Michael Haneke's Cache is such a film. Compelling, scary, and feeling incredibly true-to-life being shot on video with no musical score to speak of, this film is really a masterpiece which I won't talk any more about, because I want you to see it. It's the kind of film which is best seen with zero expectations, so I won't give you any. Seriously, I'm not going to write any more of this review. Alright? I'm going now. Goodbye. And don't IMDb it, either, okay? I've got my eye on you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Popcorn Bucket Vol. 3

- The trend of internet parody trailers continues, this time making Speilberg's timeless great white shark classic look like a heartwarming family-animal movie in the spirit of Free Willy. Very funny stuff - might be my favorite parody trailer that I've seen so far. Must Love Jaws

- According to Images' website, there are a whole mess of great films coming up from my favorite little local theater. They're going to be running a film series of contemporary Chinese films on Monday nights in April, including and Farewell My Concubine, The Heat of the Sun, Happy Together and Eat Drink Man Woman. They'll also be showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight on April 14th, and Dreamer: A True Story and Seabiscuit on April 1st and April 9th, if heartwarming horse movies are your thing. For me personally, they're not. But I'm pumped as hell about the Chinese films.

- Kojiro Abe has been featured on yet another episode of Patrick Macias' Hot Tears of Shame podcast. This time he teams up with filmmaker, media artist and assistant professor at Cogswell Polytechnical College David Cox to discuss Godzilla: Final Wars, the most recent entry in the big green monster series.

- Bunch of new trailers on Apple's website, and personally I think the most intriguing is for the comedy Little Miss Sunshine, about a family who drive across the country to try and get their seven-year-old daughter into the finals of a little girls' beauty pageant. It's an interesting concept to comprise the trailer mostly of clips of what appears to be a dinner scene at the beginning of the movie, and next to nothing from the bulk of the film (which I presume is the road trip and the actual pageant) is shown. It's definatley a nice change from comedies which tend to condense the whole film into a three minute collection of the funniest punchlines, not to mention the fact that it's Steve Carrell, Greg Kinnear, and Alan Arkin in an arthouse comedy. I think it'll be great.

V For Vendetta

The Wachowski Brothers, who proved with The Matrix trilogy to be masters of two of my least favorite things, pretensious gibberish and masturbatory special effects, have fully redeemed themselves in my eyes. V For Vendetta, which the brothers adapted from Alan Moore's graphic novel and was directed by their assistant director James McTeague, not only leaves all three of the pair's popular cyberpunk movies in the dust; it's one of the finest science fiction films to come out of a mainstream studio in years.

Set in a totiliarian future London where the people are controlled by an iron-fisted Chancellor, the story concerns Evey, (Natalie Portman), a young assistant at a TV station who is rescued from a group of crooked cops by a Zorro-like, knife-throwing, masked vigilante who calls himself V. For reasons beyond her understanding, but likely because her parents were also outspoken political activists, she becomes drawn to the mysterious man and his plan to blow up the Houses of Parliment, as Guy Fawkes attempted to do on the 5th of November, 1605. He gatecrashes the TV station where Evey works, and broadcasts a message all over London inviting the people to stand with him as he destroys the building, ensuring that the common person has the power to change his country as he sees fit.

The design of the film makes it very clear that this is the not-too-distant future - with a background pallette of mostly browns and greys, as well as a decidedly un-stylized cinematoraphy and editing style, the whole thing seems eerily feasable, like it could very well happen. There is a bullet-timey slowmo knife fight very late in the film which stands out a little in constrast, but the movie has been so great up until that point that I thought it had earned it.

The performances are stellar, multi-dimensional, and compelling. Natalie Portman, who I've always liked, and can be a fine actress when she tries hard (such as in Garden State and not in the Star Wars prequels) is terrific here. Stephen Rae does an excellent job as a detective assigned to go after V but gradually begins to come around to his way of thinking, and Stephen Fry is great as Mr. Deitreich, Evey's boss, a popular TV show host with something of a hidden agenda. The most notable of all, however, is Hugo Weaving as V. Whether he's throwing knives at lightning-quick speed, or cooking fried eggs on toast in a flowery apron, he dominates every frame of his screentime, displaying a wide range of emotions while covered up for the entirety of the film by his grinning white plastic mask. It's no easy feat, for sure, but the way he pulled it off is a thing of beauty.

The film has understandably sparked a good deal of controversy in Britain and America for depicting a sympathetic and heroic terrorist. Many conservatives in this country have read it as an attack on the current United States government. Alan Moore actually concieved it as an attack on Thatcher's England, incorporating imagery from Nazi Germany and George Orwell's 1984, so it's a testament to him that great controversial art continues to last. In my opinion, whether people embrace the ideologies in this film or storm out of the theater in disgust, this is exactly the kind of film we need right now. It's both a greatly entertaining and highly philosophical sci-fi political thriller masquerading as a comic book action blockbuster, which will draw in audiences (as it already has - its $25 million gross this weekend has put it at the top of the box office) who will come for the fun and stay for the mental workout. And in a time of sequels to Basic Instinct and movies starring Larry the Cable Guy, it couldn't be invited more.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Popcorn Bucket Vol. 2

- For those of you who can't hold in your anticipation for V For Vendetta, here's a little something to tide you over. What can I say? I love this woman.

- Caught both The Hills Have Eyes remake and the recent French WWII pic Bon Voyage in the theater recently. Both were more or less lightweight movies that don't necessarily warrant a lengthy review. Bon Voyage was the fifth and final film in Images' Beoyond the Femme Fatale series. Set in Paris at the beginning of the war, it deals with a bratty, manipulative film actress, her escaped convict lover, and a professor and his young girl assistant who are trying to smuggle their solution for heavy water into England. There's never really the sense of danger that one feels there should be, but it is still a fun flick, not the least of reasons is because of the beautiful Virginie Ledoyen. The Hills Have Eyes, on the other hand, just plain kicked ass. It looked like Tobe Hooper had gatecrashed Sergio Leone's desert and made a kickass monster movie. Great popcorn flick, 'specially if you like your popcorn bloody.

- Kleiser-Walczak's Sun Maid raisins commercial is now completed, and the finished product can now be viewed on the company's website. The fine digital craftsfolk who work here have knocked yet another one out of the park - the animation is beautiful, and the newly CGI'd Sun Maiden joins Faye Valentine and Daphne from Scooby-Doo as an animated woman I'd love to go out on a date with.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Kojiro Abe A-Go-Go!

My esteemed compatriot, cult film guru, and aspiring filmmaker Jules "Kojiro Abe" Carrozza was recently interviewed on two episodes of Japanophile bloggist Patrick Macias's podcast Hot Tears of Shame. Abe spills the beans on his upcoming film projects, including the animated WWII drama Gen-Y, a shelved sequel to Ishiro Honda's desert island horror flick Matango, and a twisted and demented re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, which yours truly will be starring in as an in-bred hillbilly. He also shares with us his thoughts regarding the state of Otaku culture in the U.S. today, his annual video festival of the most disturbing films ever made, and his crush on Shaw Brothers actress Shih Szu. Check it out.


Additional Links:


Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Observations

Nice little Oscar get-together at Jess and Andrew's house last night. A fun time was had by all.

Jon Stewart was a hoot - least I thought so. The audience only seemed to really be giving him the "polite laughter" treatment, and probably found some of his cracks hit a little too close to the mark. While commenting on the number of remakes this year, Stewart mentioned "War of the Worlds, King Kong, Walk The Line....Ray with white people." When they cut to Joaquin Phoenix's facel, he didn't look pleased at all.

Given that most of the nominees this year were for independant pictures that most people still haven't seen unless they've got an art house theater close to them, they tried to bridge the gap a little by having most of the awards presented by women who had been the cover of Maxim, and men who had starred in high-grossing pull-my-finger comedies: Jessica Alba, Jennifer Aniston, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, etc. One of the high points of the evening was seeing the Wilson Brothers walk onstage and namedrop Bottle Rocket before they presented the award for Best Short Film.

Lots of montages - could have done with less montages. There was a montage of noir clips, biopic clips, gay cowboy clips (although I gotta admit, historically speaking, Red River lays claim to being the first gay western in history), and a themeless array of snippets from "classic" movies with a reminder from the President of the Academey of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to get off our asses and go see movies on the big screen. Thanks a lot, dude. Maybe if a remastered print of Ben Hur was playing at my local cineplex instead of The Last Holiday, I might.

Phillip Seymor Hoffman got Best Actor for Capote. I wasn't wild about the film, but it was a very well-crafted and admirable little picture that I can definatley respect. While I'd have been happier to see Ledger or Strathairn win, Hoffman's award seems to be more for a terrific and highly under-appreciated body of work over the past decade, which is great by me.

King Kong got its much-deserved Best Visual Effects award, as well as Sound Mixing and Soudn Editing. I'm certainly glad to see this happen, but a little dismayed that I will not get to watch a video of my esteemed colleague Mr. Jules "Kojiro Abe" Cazzorra eat his shoe, as he said he would if Kong walked away empty handed.

Land of the Dead undoubtedly has better makeup than Chronicles of Narnia, but as it happens, most of the respectable members of the Academy just aren't that keen on horror films. Whatever floats their boat. Memoirs of a Geisha, got three wins for Cinematography, Art Direction and Costume Design. I didn't see it. From the clips they showed, it looked pretty beautiful, but was it The New World beautiful? It looked like a big budget adaptation of The Mikado to me.

George Clooney got Best Supporting Actor for Syriana. I can't tell you how much I love this guy. Even if he wasn't so admirably outspoken about his politics and had been in some great movies to boot, he's got more of that Old Hollywood Clark Gableish/Cary Grantian charm than a thousand pretty-faced boys today. What a cool guy.

A lot of things which I pretty much expected to happen happened. Some I was very happy about, such as Ang Lee's Best Director win and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit getting Best Animated Feature. Some others I was less pleased about - I found the not-even-nominated Grizzly Man and Ballet Russes to be far better documentaries than March of the Penguins, but what're you gonna do? And while we're on that subjetct...

Reese Witherspoon took home the Best Actress award for her June Carter impersonation, gushing, crying, stammering and yammering as she accepted her award before clearing the stage. There was never a single doubt in my mind that she wouldn't, because, as was the case with Jamie Foxx, the Oscars love young kids who try their hand at Serious Acting after years of making movies like Booty Call and Sweet Home Alabama. It's like awarding a baby for taking a crap his potty instead of in his diaper. I don't really care; to tell the truth, I'm pretty indifferent to all the Best Actress nominees. Most of them are pretty girls who up and starred in a Miramax costume drama, and Judi Dench seemed to squeak by exclusively on the being Judi Dench. I'd rather have seen either Michelle Williams or Naomi Watts get the award, but one was nominated for the wrong category and the other wasn't nominated at all.

Best Moment of the Whole Eveing: Robert Altman's Honorary Oscar speech. I know some people consider it something of a gyp and/or an ass-covering attempt to give out Honorary Oscars, but I think it's actually quite sweet. Better to award a frequently neglected great filmmaker for his body of work than for a mediocre later movie, and I hope Scorsese gets one too. Altman's likening filmmaking to building a sand castle - you get all your friends down to the beach, you build a beautiful structure, and then you sit back, and let the tide take it away and do what they will with it - was so beautiful I came close to tears. I also really liked his final comment about having 40 more years in him due to his heart transplant. What a guy.

As predicted, Munich, the real best movie of the year, didn't even win so much as a stuffed panda. They cut to Speilberg in the audience a bunch of times and the poor guy just looked like he wanted to go home and put his feet up. The general Academy Attitute towards him seems to be that he made Schindler's List, his big, prestigious, "something to say" film, and now he's only good for making popcorn flicks for mass summertime consumption, which anyone who's seen Munich can tell you is definatley not true. I'm not worried, though, because I think in 10 to 20 years, Munich will have endured as a true classic, whereas Crash........oh yeah....Crash.

Crash won Best Picture, which I've got to say, really surprised me. No, I haven't seen it yet - I've heard hugely mixed things from equally intelligent people - but I was certain it would go to Brokeback Mountain. The only explainations I can think of are that everyone who was in Crashvoted for it and told their friends to vote for it too, or, maybe Hollywood isn't quite as much of an open-minded, liberal place as some of us might have thought. All I know is, that Jess's cat Elijah came to sit on my lap during Jack Nicholson's intro, and when the winner was announced, both Jess and Drew shouted "NOOOO!" so loud he jumped off my lap and dived out of the room. It's definatley one that people are devided about - Ebert put it at #1 on his list of movies from last year, but both Jess and Andrew and a whole bunch of other people I know have called it the worst Best Picture winner since Cleopatra. At the very least, I'm intrigued to see it just to find out what all the fuss is about.

Good to see that no single film hogged all the awards, and all-in-all, a nice and not hugely surprising evening.