Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited. Terrific stuff. Out now. (********8/10)

There is a short film before The Darjeeling Limited called Hotel Chevalier. It is a wonderful addition to a wonderful film. Natalie Portman stars with Jason Schwartzman in the short flim, and she gets very naked. Not that it's worth it just for that, but it sets up the movie beautifully. Portman is in The Darjeeling Limited for a total of one eighth of one second, so the only time we get to understand what she's doing there is in Hotel Chevalier. The first shot of the short film is unmistakably Wes Anderson. The giddily coloured hotel lobby is in perfect keeping with his other work - Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anderson is about the quirkiest and maybe the best director working within the studio system. There are many things that connect his films. First of all, the actors in his movies spend a lot of time sitting perfectly still. There is little movement in the films, and even when there is a scene with action, it seems very understated and the colour of the scene is more engaging than the action itself. Another fixture of a Wes Anderson movie is dysfunctional families, bizarre relationships and aberrant behaviour within those families. The Darjeeling Limited is no exception.

And the third common thread - the actors. Bill Murray has starred in the last three Anderson movies, and he appears here as the first actor we see, running to catch a train. He misses the train, and we never see him again. But at least he shows up. Adrien Brody sprints past Murray to catch that same train (the Darjeeling Limited), and joins Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) and Owen Wilson (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic), who are his brothers. They are on this train because Owen Wilson, who appears to be amazingly rich, has decided to bring all three of them together on some kind of bonkers, misguided "spiritual quest", following the death of their father. Anjelica Huston (Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic) plays their mom, who eventually figures into the story. This journey is totally directionless - to the point that the train, although it is on a track, actually gets lost. None of the brothers truly trust each other, and there is a lot of back-stabbing and gossip going on between them.

There is something extremely childish about Wes Anderson films. Not in subject matter, certainly, but in visual presentation. Every character seems, at the same time, both larger than life and totally insignificant. And so too does the decor on the train, the countryside outside the train, and the layout of the rooms. But the one thing that is consistent about his movies is that they are excellent. Every one of them. There is nothing in Darjeeling Limited that is what DVD boxes would call "laugh-out-loud funny". But then, the entire thing IS funny. It's hilariously funny. And it's the underacting and the overacting, the big reactions to small things and the small reactions to big things, it's the tone and the setting and the minimal dialogue and the ideas that are in the heads of the characters. Ideas that are rarely spoken but that we know about, and that we find very amusing. Scenes that should be massively dramatic are treated with a certain impassiveness by Anderson - there is a scene toward the end, where the brothers are confronting their mother over some wrongs, and Owen Wilson admits that the bandages that have been around his head the entire movie are the result of a suicide attempt, it's all passed over so quickly and so astutely that we are still amused, maybe even more so. The Darjeeling Limited won't appeal to everyone, just like Rushmore and Life Aquatic and Royal Tenenbaums, but it certainly stands with them in terms of excellence.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The shows my girlfriend and her friends watch. On now. (0/10)

I just watched the worst hour of television in history. Moment of Truth is a show where a person takes lie detector tests, and has to answer truthfully in order to make it to 500,000 dollars. That person's wife or husband and family are sitting with them, to make things that much more awkward and brutal. Here is my breakdown of the season finale of Moment of Truth:

Announcer: Coming up, Cindy makes it to the end of a marriage-shattering program with the most unbelievable ending in television history!
One question is asked. Cindy answers truthfully.
A second question is asked.
A recap of another contestant's answers shows, and an update about that person since the show is aired.
Announcer: Coming up, Cindy shatters her marriage and destroys her life on her way to $500,000!
Announcer: Cindy is about to shatter her marriage as she quests for $500,000!
Another update.
Question #2 is asked again. She answers truthfully, and continues.
Question #3 is asked.
Another update.
Announcer: It's the most unbelievable finale in television history as Cindy goes for it all! Coming up.
Announcer: More talk about the greatest moment in TV history!
Another update.
Question #3 is asked again. The same footage we just saw.
Question #3 is answered truthfully.
Here comes Question #4.
Another update.
Announcer: Greatest TV moment...blahblahblah.
Another update.
Question #4 is asked again. Same footage. So far Cindy has said that sometimes she regrets marrying her husband (who doesn't sometimes), sometimes she worries about him cheating on her (who doesn't), and that she has considered hiring a private investigator to follow him. (A thought that likely crosses many minds from time to time.) This question is about whether she would accept $100,000.00 to pose nude in a magazine. She says no. That answer is false. It turns out she would accept that much and pose nude. She loses and goes home with 25 grand. The end.

There were a total of seven minutes of actual show in the entire hour. What a waste of time. Then we watched America's Next Top Model, which showcases pretty girls and what look like pre-pubescent boys competing against each other to become the next vapid face of Clinique or whatever. This is the worst show in history. Next, apparently, to Moment Of Truth. Thankfully, there were a lot of commercials, and the girls did not mind my constant complaining. Even found it a little humourous, at times. However, it all ended for me when, in the commercial breaks in the Tyra Banks Is Wonderful show, they flipped to the third-worst show in history, the American Idol Results Show. Frankly, I would rather watch that K-Y intrigue commercial over and over than have to deal with Ryan Seacrest taking phone calls from loyal American Idol watchers for the contestants. What is your favourite colour? Well...I like most blue...but some greens are really nice...and I'm kinda partial to that shade of yellow that shines from my tulips when the sun comes in the window just rightCOMMERCIAL! God, I need to go back to work.

Sleuth! Too clever by half. Well, by a third. Out now. (******6/10)

Michael Caine is an all-time legend in the acting world. Lately, however, that is not really a reason to see one of his movies, as he has shown absolutely no discretion when it comes to choosing his roles. He has been in some great pictures (Batman Begins, Children of Men), but that seems to be more as a result of him never saying no to a film role than as a result of any kind of discretion when choosing those roles. As is evidenced by some other films of his - Miss Congeniality, Get Carter. And Jude Law is no better a barometer for the quality of a film. Road To Perdition and The Aviator were great, All The King's Men not so much. One of the few young actors who has been working as hard as Michael Caine. So their names on the marquee were not likely to draw many people in to watch Sleuth. The only thing that one can count on when it comes to these two actors is the quality of their own performance in a movie. And by and large, they are both terrific almost all the time.

And considering they are pretty much the only two actors in Sleuth, that should make this movie that much better, shouldn't it? Not only that, but it is directed by Kenneth Brannagh, and he is one of the best directors of literary films of our time. You can tell that this film is Brannagh's work because he is so very Shakespearean when he does any movie. Sleuth is divided, just like a good play, into three very distinct acts. The first act involves Caine and Law having a conversation-confrontation in Caine's house. Caine's wife has left him, and Law is the younger man with whom she is now shacking up. This scene opens with a series of truly strange camera shots, which make the movie feel artistic while simultaneously irritating me. Mercifully they end quickly, and the scene proceeds with some very witty and entertaining dialogue delivered wonderfully by Caine and Law. It ends with a bizarre confrontation and a very strange but compelling break-and-enter-and-murder scene. Close curtain.

Act II: A cop shows up to investigate the murder. Another one-on-one interrogation scene takes place, where Caine is put on the spot by a tough-talking, hard-drinking Scotland Yard cop, and while the dialogue does not sparkle nearly as much as it did in the first scene, this one ends in an almost equally intense way. I think most people could guess the giant revelation at the end of this scene, but since I am not absolutely certain of this, I will not reveal it here. This scene, as did the one before, makes extensive use of Caines monstrous rich-guy mansion, with all it's hidden safes and elevators and lighting remote controls and buttons and gadgets and gizmos. It is the prototypical rich-guy ostentatious house-that-wipes-his-ass-for-him. The fact that the cop knows where all the buttons in the house are tells us all we need to know, which is why the big revelation at the end of the scene is not so surprising.

Act III: The wheels come off, and this third scene appears to have been tacked on at the end of a movie that had no idea how to end itself. The film plunges out of the realm of entertaining cleverness into the abyss of disjointed narrative and unnatrual actions. Midway through this scene, we stop caring about either character involved, and we hope the movie ends quickly. Mercifully, it does.

I give this movie six out of ten, because I rank every movie out of nine and this one was two-thirds good. (To get a ten, a movie has to cross the line between fantastic movie and all-time classic.) I have always said that if you have say, several verses to a song, and one of them is clearly weaker than the others, bury it in the middle. Don't open with the weak verse, and certainly don't close with it. This movie had used up all it's creativity and intelligence by the one-hour mark. Michael Caine starred in the original, 1970 movie, with Lawrence Olivier. Caine is decent at capturing the character Olivier played in the original. However, Jude Law is nowhere near becoming the next Michael Caine. The best character in the movie, in fact, ends up being the house. And that's not a good thing.

Prayers For Rain. I'm reading all these books, one by one. This one is decent too.

It's no Gone Baby Gone, but Prayers For Rain is a pretty good book. Same characters, same location, same everything. This one picks up pretty much where Gone Baby Gone left off, with Patrick Kenzie separated from his former girlfriend, Angie Gennaro. Kenzie is keeping his private detective business going with little cases and small-time work here and there. One of those cases is a man who is harassing a woman, and Kenzie puts a stop to it. Then that same woman, a few months later, takes a naked header off a very tall building in Boston, and Kenzie takes it upon himself to figure out what drove her to do so. His gigantic cohort Bubba figures very prominently in this novel, more so than in previous ones, and of course Angie comes back by the time the real investigation begins. Better to keep the basic structure of the team intact, eh? However, where Gone Baby Gone is compelling and a real page-turner throughout, this one runs out of steam toward the end. I am still, of course, picturing Casey Affleck as I read this.

The investigation leads to geniuses and psychiatrists and psychopaths and Hannibal-Lecter like events. Which ought to lead to a Silence-of-the-Lambs worthy conclusion. The whole point of the story was that the people involved in this crime are smarter than the people investigating that crime. But the end is not worthy of the intense buildup. Apparently, although the criminals are masterminds and geniuses and can manipulate the psyches of people at will, they can still be brought down through brute force. You see, you can plan a brilliant scheme, and create a perfect crime, and be as sadsitic and maniacal as you wish, but if someone shows up somehow at the right place and the right time, and is willing to shoot a lot of bullets at you, then your crime was not that perfect after all. And the final revelation was obvious to me the second I saw it, three chapters earlier. Yet not to our detectives. Who are very stupid in that instance, yet incredibly are smart enough to outwit the Hannibal Lecters of the world.

I keep referencing Hannibal Lecter. I just mean in a genius-psychiatrist-psychopath-criminal-mastermind sort of way. Not in the flesh-eating kind of way. Prayers For Rain is decent, but it's one of the weaker books in Dennis Lahane's Kenzie and Gennaro oeuvre.

The Obama book. Fantastic stuff!

I have just finished Barack Obama's fantastic book, Dreams From My Father. Whether you care about his candidacy for president or not, whether you are an Obama supporter or not, this book is close to a must-read for people interested in race relations. Obama has a very compelling style, it's easy to read and yet deep with thoughts and ideas and well...not to be too obvious here but I can't think of a better word...hope. The book is basically an autobiography from the time Obama was a youngster up until the point where he returned from Kenya to the U.S. to go to Harvard. I think most people who follow him politically know what has happened to him since then. His father was a shadowy, mysterious figure in Barack's life as he grew up. A man who was never there when he grew up in Hawaii, who came to visit only once, and who returned to Kenya for most of the rest of his life where he played a controversial, and some may say dubious, role in the government of that country. These aren't my words, they are the words of Obama, who is as candid about his thoughts and feelings as anyone whose autobiography I have ever picked up.

Candid about his thoughts and feelings toward his father, whom he both revered and disdained, at various points in his life. Candid about his thoughts and feelings toward all those around him, the militant black men who preached uprising, the opposite type of black men who blended into white culture seamlessly, or at least as best they could. Obama, at different times in his life, had very mixed feelings about just about everyone on every side of racial relations. His memories and experiences must be virtually the same as most of the other black men in the U.S. who grew up at the same time, but his vivid recollections of not just the incidents but also of their emotional impact on him are what make this book amazing. He is so willing to open up to the things he thought and the events that changed his mind. About the anger and the bitterness and the confusion and the betrayal he felt at various times. And about the stupid things he did at the lowest points in his life. In fact, he is so candid about these things that he writes things like "there was coke everywhere, and when it was gone, we could always go score some more" and things like that. I paraphrase, since I didn't highlight these passages in the book. However, the way he writes about things like drug use is telling.

Can you imagine a politician, anyone other than this man, being so forthright and candid about drug use? I think we all know George Bush was a big coke user, but has he ever said as much, or admitted it in any way? (I'm actually asking, I really don't know if he has or not.) But the fact that Obama is so out there with things like this, and the fact that he doesn't dwell on it in the book at all, but just mentions it in passing, is incredible. None of that oh poor me I was in a bad place and turned to drugs but I'm better now, or any of that baloney. It's just something he did. Let's move on. The book isn't about that. It's about the tenuous relationship that a man had with his absentee father, and more than that it's about being a black man in the United States in the 1970s and 80s. A black man who was able to see very clearly what was going on arround him, what the situation was at that time for black people, and although he didn't have answers or solutions, he certainly had the balls and the determination to work until he found some.

A beautifully written book, and surprisingly a page-turner, Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father is just terrific. Even if you are no fan of the man, or a Hilary supporter, or, god forbid, a neo-con - pick it up. Maybe moreso, in fact, if you're a neo-con.

Chaos! (Theory, that is...) Out now. (****4/10)

Stick Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes and Ryan Phillippe in a movie together, and what do you have? A certified, genuine, authentically stamped no-bones-about-it B-movie. These are B list guys all the way, and although Snipes has had breakthrough moments, he is no longer box office gold. Or even silver. Or copper. And Phillippe, while he once looked like an actor with promise, he has now been surpassed in the very same roles by - believe it or not - his doppleganger Justin Timberlake. He is now best known as the ex-husband of Reese Witherspoon. Bottoms out. And Statham makes forty movies a year, twenty of which are just explosions and guns and fights, and twenty of which are explosions and guns and fights and Big Twist endings. Chaos is one of the latter. Look out! Here comes the Big Twist Ending! I don't mind saying this, because the twist really sucks.

So does most of the movie. It opens with a standoff on a bridge. The hostage is...duhduhduh...a congressman's daughter! A CONGRESSMAN! His daughter! This makes things that much more difficult because you see...he's a congressman! Americans seem to have a lot of love for their congressmen, and a lot of fear when it comes to their Powers. It seems pretty logical to them that if you screw up a hostage situation with the daughter of...a congressman! then that congressman will take your job and ruin your career and possibly, if he has a long reach...get you killed. Can you imagine a Canadian movie doing this? Like, the daughter of an NDP MPP gets kidnapped, and the cops all walk on eggshells because he' MPP! HE's the GUY who controls a portion of the Senior's Secretariat! Better watch yourselves on this one, boys. Don't mess this one up. He's an MPP.

Anyway, that takes up only about six seconds, and ends abruptly, so we know that we will be getting the rest of the snippets from that event throughout the movie, and we know that if we saw the entire scene at once, we would instantly figure out the Big Twist Ending, so we wait. The fallout from the big Congressman's Daughter incident was that one cop was fired, and another was suspended. We see this cop's house, and he has used up an entire wall by plastering it with newspaper clippings from the incident. He does this not because any rational disgraced cop would do so, but because it makes it easy for a camera to pan over the collage, letting us in on the beginning of the story without having to resort to a narrator. The fact that not one of the six hundred newspaper clippings actually says anything about the incident itself, or has any pictures that would give things away, makes sense. THAT information has to come out SLOWLY, over the course of the movie!

Then Wesley Snipes robs a bank. Snipes seems to really relish playing the bad guy lately, and he's basically playing Blade, only as a bank robber. The cops show up and there is a standoff...just like every other standoff in every other bad movie, no cop listens to the commander. Once the order has been given to go in, the SWAT team cowboys will not stop. They will then ignore all subsequent orders. This has happened in maybe seven thousand movies, and zero times in real life. Some great lines ensue, like "Are you ADD?" Apparently, judging by the way this line is delivered, ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, is the new "retarded". Only more PC, because it doesn't mock the intellectually challenged. The bad guys get away, of course, because they are super-well organized and have it all figured out. The WAY they get away - never really explained. And if they think they HAVE explained it, they're ADD.

There follows a car chase. This is one of those chases in which a motorcycle chases a car. The motorcycle starts off six feet behind the car. What this motorcyclist believes he can do to apprehend the suspect once he catches the car, we are not sure. However, he decides that being six feet behind the car is not good enough. He must take a shortcut in order to make up that distance. This shortcut goes through buildings, alleys, fruit stands, windows, and causes hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to the city, but it was worth it! Because he emerges from the window into the street and ends up...six feet behind the car! The chase continues...I sure do love these movie scenes. They make terrific sense.

Then there is the cop who will do ANYTHING to get his man, the elimination of the suspects, the murder of the witnesses, and this incredibly silly and stupid bit about chaos theory. The movie thinks this is a smart idea to throw on top of the movie - the concept being that what seems random on the surface is, upon further investigation, actually a pattern that can be quantified. Which would make sense only if what we see on the surface appears random, or if the subsequent underlying pattern existed. Neither is true of this movie. The ending is more than predictable, and given how smart they think their cops are (chaos theory!) the whole thing should have been as painfully obvious to them as it is to us, the viewers. Chaos is just silly, and that would be fine for a movie, except that it thinks it is more than that. It believes it is smart, but really it is just ADD.

A Global Warning. Yes, it's about the environment! (*******7/10)

A Global Warning is about so much more than Global Warming. But of course, it comes down to that. No, this is more a film about the history of weather and the environment, about the great heating and cooling periods in the history of the Earth, and how that affected the life on the planet. Mass extinctions, the temperature of the world over the past 200 million years, and the causes and effects. This is fascinating from a historical perspective, and also in terms of how it affects us today. It's a History Channel documentary, and interviews dozens of scientists and paleontologists and climatologists about the events of the past and the impending global catastrophe. There are certain things that are giving cause for alarm. For example, just a little bit of globalb warming raises the temperature of the oceans just a little, which could end up releasing massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, which would then accelerate the heating process an amazing amount, and put us past the point of no return almost overnight. There are other ideas, but I'll leave it to you to watch this film. I think enough has been said about climate change so far, and the facts are out there, and it is now up to each of us to decide whether we heed the warnings or give up. This film is merely a good place to start heeding the warnings.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. Out now. But be careful, this movie involves property damage! (****4/10)

The back of the box I got from Rogers when I rented The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is hilarious. It's a kids' movie, about time travel and enchanted stones and bad guys and so forth. So the parental "flags" are listed on the back of the box. Mild nudity! (I saw no nudity, mild or otherwise. There was a bare elbow, I think.) Drinking! (It took me a while to realize that this meant that at one point an old man had a brandy in his hand.) No objectionable words or phrases...then this:

violence/scariness: knocking others around, property damage.

Yes, the young boy DID knock another boy down. And there WAS property damage. A house was flooded. Which was very scary and violent. Well, for a flood it was, anyway. Don't let your kids watch this movie! There is property damage!

This is the story of a young boy (Alexander Ludwig) who turns fourteen. And in movies like this one, for whatever reason, a certain birthday for certain young boys means that certain things happen in the world, and in this case it means that he now has superpowers. He discovers these superpowers when two cops take him in to interrogate him for shoplifting. (Don't worry, he didn't actually shoplift. There might be property damage in this movie, but there is no theft.) The cops start to grill him, then shoot crows out of their mouths and pants. Which is awesome. But he gets away with some kind of super strength, and then hides at his house. These are some pretty intense scenes that are marred by weird editing and dizzying camera angles. Young Will Stanton - what a perfect name for the saviour of the world, eh - sees a vision of the world ending without his help. You can tell the world is ending because the Statue of Liberty gets smoked. Whenever the world ends, the Statue of Liberty is always first to go. Curse of Planet of the Apes, I suppose.

Will quickly finds out that he is the seventh son of a seventh son - how original - and that this means he is the only one who can find the "signs" which appear to be rocks of some kind. He is the latest in a line of warriors who must bring light to the world to stave off the forces of darkness. He is being helped by a group of people who can travel through time to find these signs. Through his travels he is pursued by The Rider (a terrific Christopher Eccleston) who represents the forces of darkness. Of course, there is a final showdown, one that really lets the steam out of the movie with it's brainless simplicity. Oh wait, I know the answer. I win. The end. There is also a subplot that is just about completely useless, about a twin brother that Will has who was abducted many years ago but whom the family seems to have completely forgotten. The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is yet another in the terribly unchallenging series of mystical children's movies that are a dime a dozen. Children might not care that it plays strictly by-the-numbers, but you will. This movie will bore you to tears.

Redacted. Very brutal. Out now. (*****5/10)

Brian DePalma seems to be slipping. His last movie before Redacted was The Black Dahlia, which starred Scarlett Johanssen and Hilary Swank, two of the greatest actresses ever, and it still blew. Redacted is different. There are no stars in this movie. I would go so far as to say that there are not even any great actors. There are a few decent ones, but the pictures tell this story far more than any actors would or could. And the pictures in Redacted are interesting, if not always good. It's a pretty cool way to tell a story, as though there was no film at all, but rather a documentary pieced together from footage found all over the world. The main footage is taken by a soldier in Iraq, who is filming everything that happens for a documentary that he believes will be his ticket into film school when he returns to America. There is also online video blog footage, news camera footage, and webcam shots between husbands in Iraq and wives in America. Together, the bits and pieces add up to the story of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl by American soldiers in Iraq. Another device DePalma uses very effectively, both in the opening credits and the closing scenes, is little black lines obscuring faces, facts, and transcripts from the event. The real story is not so much the rape and murder as it is the cover-up of the incident by the government and the media and of course, more than anything, the military.

There are some good moments near the beginning, like the scene where one of the soldiers is reading from Somerset Maugham's "Death Speaks". Then the movie gets going, but it's hard to care about it. It's so heavy on the anti-Iraqi sentiment by the U.S. soldiers, two in particular, and you end up hating them. Which is fine, because they are the ones we are supposed to hate by the end of the movie, but it feels like the horrific events that are to come are being telegraphed. The movie seems to be saying that it isn't war that turns these men into rapists and murderers, but rather that it is these type of men who want to go to the war. The movie moves extremely slowly, which makes some sense because Iraq must be, for the most part, extremely boring for the soldiers stationed there. And in that context the brutal scenes should seem that much more brutal. But somehow they don't.

And there are some seriously heinous scenes in this movie. The rape scene is almost graphic, and is certainly brutal. The murders we don't see, but we know they took place. And there is a beheading scene later on, like the ones that the insurgents have shown on their internet tapes, that is nothing short of sickening. The movie leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The cover-ups, the sadistic nature of the military culture, the sickening things people do to other people. And yet, it still doesn't work. It's such a high-minded film. It wants to shock and to assault people with the reality of Iraq, but it never makes it there. The closing sequence in the film is the most powerful, with actual, horrific pictures from the Iraq war, pictures that close with the shot of the girl that was really raped and killed by American soldiers, the true story upon which this film was based. Here is the main problem with these message-movies about Iraq. The only people that will watch a film like Redacted are those who are plugged into the world, and are already outraged at the actions of the United States. And so the movie maybe will make them feel more outrage, but so what? People who would actually be affected by this movie, who might have their opinions changed, would never watch it. 10/10 for concept. 2/10 for execution.

Things I do on my vacation.

Finally, some time on my hands! A week to do whatever I feel like what do I do? This - create the worst song ever recorded. I have been doing this with my buddy Eric St-Cyr for many years now, and we have a substantial library, a massive collection of songs which all could vie for the title of Worst Song Of All Time. I think this time we have a champion. Recorded at Eric's Music Academy in Orleans, here is the latest offering from our rap group, O-Face, as we stuck to our strict rules. No song can take more than an hour to do. From finding a song to sample, to matching a beat, to writing the lyrics, to recording and producing, if it takes more than an hour it might become...I don't want to say good. But better. Sobriety is optional, but more often than not we tend to do this while drinking. Also, we don't sample cool songs. Ever. This particular sample, (and we gave her a whole verse in the tune) came from a CD that was dropped off at Eric's Music Academy by the singer, who insisted that it was getting lots of attention from record labels and the music industry in general. I can't remember her name now, or I would give her credit, where credit is due. Anyway, here is the latest O-Face tune, The Ballad of Professor Doctor Octogenarian. This is, unusually for us, safe for work, if not for your reputation:

I have no idea if that worked. I have been trying to do this link from my computer, and frankly, it has taken me far more time than it should have to figure this out. Let me know if this works! If not, I will try something else.

Hey, just in case it didn't work - I just discovered, through my ridiculous computerizings that have taken me the better part of the afternoon today, that O-Face has a myspace page! And 1,293 "friends". I haven't used myspace in about a year, I think. And I'm pretty sure I never created this page...perhaps the other Eric did. Anyway, you can hear the song we did three vacations ago if you go there:

Weird. Clearly, I have WAY too much time on my hands and I need to get back to work soon.

Things I see on my vacation.

I get exposed to so much more bad TV when I am on holidays. I have learned to avoid Tyra Banks wherever she is, and I can usually find a reason to skip Dr. Phil and Oprah, but some things sneak up on you. Commercials, for example. I recently saw a commercial for a new K-Y product. It was called K-Y "intrigue"! For most of the commercial I was convinced I was watching a perfume commercial - the same exact commercials as the perfume ones. A couple doing non-descript in-love type stuff, touching each other while they laugh on a beach, or they smell flowers together on the apartment balcony, or they form silhouettes behind shower curtains...come to think of it, it was more like those diamond commercials than it was like a perfume commercial. Anyway. It was a commercial for a new type of personal lubricant. K-Y intrigue. Kinda sounds like a new brand of Toyota, doesn't it? They could have advertised it with a serpentine road and wind in the couple's hair and the lady's feet out the window and the guy playing with the radio...people would be out looking for the new Intrigue car within hours. As I'm sure they are out looking for Intrigue perfume or diamonds right now.

So I was a little upset. How different could this be than regular K-Y? WHY would I need a new, sexier-sounding personal lubricant? Frankly, I'm not interested enough to find out. Then my girlfriend flipped channels, and got stuck on something that was even worse. Tracey Gold (of Growing Pains fame), Maurice Greene (at one time the World's Fastest Man), and some lawyer were the actual jury in an actual trial on one of those court TV shows where a dog bit another dog and there were vet bills...I watched in horror for six seconds, which was just long enough to realize that this was serious, and I buried my head in my book so as not to have it explode. What level of celebrity do you have to be when you are not a B-list star (Dancing With the Stars), a C-list star (your own reality show - Gene Simmons, Tori Spelling, et al) a D-list star (I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here), an E-list star (guest appearances on Law and Order)...does that make you F-list? When you appear on a court TV show as a Celebrity Jury member? This is very sad. Not so much that they're willing to do it, but that people are willing to watch.

I wonder what Maurice Greene thinks about liability for veterinary bills in a dog attack incident? I wondered as I woke up...and lo and behold...this show did teach me one thing however. There is absolutlely no point in becoming an Olympic athlete. Quick! Name five famous 100-metre sprinters! name five NFL wide receivers! I wonder which you can do become the Olympic gold medallist, and the Fastest Man In The World, you have to train. An awful lot. If you are that fast, and training that much, go into football. At least then people will know who you are. And maybe, like Jerry Rice, you become a B-lister and end up on Dancing With The Stars. Otherwise, you will become an F-lister, like Maurice Greene, and end up on whatever that show was called. I don't know the name of it, but I do remember seeing that if you go to the right website, and enter in the right code or maybe the name of Tracey Gold, you can win a hammock. A hammock! I wonder if Doc's enjoying San Diego.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

DVD new releases today! April 1st 2008.

Sweeney Todd (8/10): This will be the best movie released today. Johnny Depp + Tim Burton = awesome, always, and this movie is great. Bloody, crazy, dark and with singing.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Live-action chipmunks movie. With Jason Lee. Who was also in the live-action Underdog movie. Which also really sucked.

Automation Transfusion (4/10): Splattery gore-fest where zombies rip and eat flesh, tear off heads, and do numerous extremely disgusting things.

The Cutting Edge: Chasing the Dream: Championship figure skater Zack Conroy is a brilliant but dangerous competitor, ignoring all risks in pursuit of perfection. Somehow, I doubt this movie attains perfection.

The Good Night: Lots of great actors in this film, a movie that just about no one saw when it was first released. Penelope Cruz, Simon Pegg, Danny DeVito, Gwyneth Paltrow. Could be very good.

Harold And Kumar Go To Whitecastle (7/10): Extreme! Unrated! Edition! The word "extreme" might be used ironically here, which would be for the best.

The Architect
Extraordinary Rendition
Marking Time

Harold and Kumar Go To Whitecastle. Extreme Unrated Remastered edition! Out today. (*******7/10)

Harold and Kumar will soon be going to Guantanamo Bay, on the big screens. So it would only make sense that Alliance Films would release the original movie, yet again, in time for the new film to hit theatres. Whitecastle, for those of you who don't spend a lot of time in the States, is a burger joint that sells these cute little square hamburgers that are delicious. The name-dropping in the title of this movie is not (I am assuming) some kind of nefarious product placement, it is merely an indication of the love that the counter-culture in the U.S. has for this particular fast-food chain. (The Beastie Boys have referenced Whitecastle several times over the course of their career.) It is the ultimate stoner fast food, and fat guys like me love it as well because we can eat eleven or twelve burgers at a time. The reference to Whitecastle in the title of this film is more an indication of the popularity of the chain among the stoner crowd, and not a random fast-food selection at all. Harold And Kumar go to McDonalds? No. Burger King? Don't think so. Wendy's? Please. Were it not Whitecastle, Big Kahuna Burger might be the only other place that would make sense.

And there is set the tone of the film. Yes, there have been hundreds, even thousands, of these irritating teen-stoner comedies. Or college-stoner comedies, or young-man-in-a-boring-job stoner comedies. But few of them have been as funny as this one. There are definitely stupid, pointless and terrible moments. Riding a cheetah? The old guy with the sores on his face? Come on. Horrible stuff in an otherwise excellent movie. What makes Harold and Kumar work are the stars, Kal Penn (who was recently very, very good in The Namesake and very, very bad in Van Wilder The Rise of Taj) and John Cho, (who was really irritating as the "MILF" guy in American Pie, and has been very good in small TV roles ever since). The chemistry between Penn and Cho is terrific, and they come off as our buddies. We all know guys just like this. Guys who are great, regular, fairly boring guys in everyday life, but who become a little crazy when the idea of getting stoned enters their head on the weekends. They are not the totally useless stoners who sit on their couches and eat Doritos and barely get up when you come over, but rather the ultimate weekend warriors who want to think weed is their way of life, but are wrong. They are stoner-poseurs. Or, at least, Cho is.

So the quest, while it begins as a search for Whitecastle, turns into a search for weed, which then becomes a hunt for girls, and then an escape from the law, and then returns, full circle, to Whitecastle. And while there are the obligatory gross-out jokes (battlesh**s), and the over-the-top moments (hang-gliding), it's the little things that make this movie better than average. Doogie Howser - Neil Patrick Harris - shows up. As himself. With cocaine and hookers. And he steals their car. An inspired bit of casting. The scenes with John Cho trying to avoid the young woman his family wants him to date are perfect in their realism and simplicity. And the writing of the dialogue between the two stars is bang-on. This new Extreme! Unrated! Edition! is really nothing new. The special features are actually more juvenile than the movie, with the exception of a "back-seat" interview with Cho and Penn. And for those who are Harold and Kumar fanatics (you know who you are, ya stoners) there is a pretty extensive sneak peek at the upcoming Guantanamo film. If you've already seen this movie, don't bother. If you haven't, at least this gives you the chance to do so again. Just be ready to totally shut off your brain.

Automation Transfusion. Out today. (****4/10)

Automation Transfusion is coming out today! No, don’t get too excited and leap up and leave your house yet, let me explain first! I assume most people have been, up until now, blissfully unaware of the impending release of this film. And with good reason - It isn’t exactly Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Although, in it’s own way, in it’s own niche, it’s a better movie. But it’s a niche that is awfully small. You see, there is a small but influential group of people who are into films like this one. I say influential, because this clique is just big enough, and definitely loyal enough, to make films like Automation Transfusion profitable. Profitable enough, in fact, that now studios like Alliance Films are in on the act. (Alliance released this one today).

The film genre is a little tough to pigeonhole. Some would call this a "splatter" film, or a "gorefest", or some such thing. Basically, it is a low budget horror movie that relies almost entirely on blood, guts and gore for the scares. Very often these movies are made by just-starting-out filmmakers who really want to shoot a scene where somebody chews off another guy’s head. At other times, a talented director can make something like this into a work that transcends the genre - like Peter Jackson (now famous for Lord of the Rings) when he did a movie called Dead Alive, which involved some seriously funny splatter scenes, most of them involving a lawn mower. These films almost always involve zombies of some kind, female frontal nudity, and buckets of blood. They also seem to always have a black-metal or death-punk soundtrack. I assume the film makers usually just put on the songs that they like. A REAL twist on this genre would be pretty easy to do - just put some Roy Acuff or Desmond Dekker songs on your soundtrack.

The idea here, more than anything else, is low-budget. There are going to be actors no one knows, horrible dialogue, questionable acting performances, and over-the-top sight gags. Automation Transfusion is no different - the most over-the-top sight gag in this film is a scene where a zombie punches through the belly of a pregnant woman, yanks out the fetus, and devours it in front of her. Peoples heads are ripped off - very often the spinal cord is attached, which seems medically unlikely, but provides some entertaining gags as well. (Also well done - the ripping off of the lower jaw of a topless girl. Very gross.) This is a movie (as are most in this genre) that really can’t be taken seriously. To actually enjoy this, you have to be someone who can find the humour in a zombie being beaten to death with the head attached to the spinal cord which he has just ripped out of a person. It takes a certain kind of twisted individual to be able to laugh at stuff like this.

And I am not that person. At least, not very often. I can enjoy this for what it is for a few minutes, and maybe have a chuckle or two, but I can rarely take a whole movie’s worth. And toward the end, I was decidedly sick of Automation Transfusion. Actors who are barely good enough to star in porn, yet not attractive enough to star in porn, tearing out chunks of each other’s flesh and feasting on intestines and organs can get tiresome. Mercifully, however, it’s a short movie. At just over an hour, it manages to end before it becomes too much to handle. There is nothing scary about Automation Transfusion, because once you go over-the-top, there is nothing left with which you can shock or startle people. But as far as this genre goes, it’s pretty solid. It’s no Dead Alive (which remains the benchmark of splatter-gore-gross-out horror), but it will do. If you’re into this stuff. You weirdo.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Out today (********8/10)

Johnny Depp is amazing. On paper, some ideas seem idiotic. Edward Scissorhands. So...there’s a guy who has scissors, where his hands should be. And...he loves a girl, and clips some hedges. Sound good? Or as moronic as Pirates of the Caribbean. We’d like to make a movie out of a Disney theme park ride. After all, you can only do so many remakes of movies and TV shows, right? And Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. So, there’s this barber, who murders people. Violently, with lots of blood and gore. Oh, and he will sing first. And it will star Johnny Depp. What? But Depp has proved that he can turn even the most half-baked bad idea into something great if he has something to work with. And that something, in Sweeney Todd, is Tim Burton. Ever since the two collaborated on Edward Scissorhands, they have been the greatest actor-director tandem of the past two decades. The Scorcese-DeNiro team of the new millenium.

Sweeny Todd is not their best film together. (That would be Ed Wood.) By the way, did anyone out there know that Tim Burton directed "Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure"? Watch it again. Knowing that now, it’s easy to see. OK. I’m endorsing Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. On with the Sweeney Todd review. This movie is dark. But then, it’s Burton. The sets that represent London at it’s grimiest and most malevolent could have been lifted from The Corpse Bride or even Batman. And they are strikingly bleak and gothic, as is Depp himself. His Sweeney Todd is as bizarre looking a character as there is in a movie. So too is Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the woman who helps Depp murder dozens of London residents. Speaking of Carter - the cast of Sweeney Todd, apart from Depp and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) is almost entirely taken from the Harry Potter movies. Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy familiarity with them as Harry Potter regulars gave an even creepier edge to this film.

And Sweeney Todd is certainly creepy. Based on the gigantic hit Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, it’s the story of a barber named Benjamin Barker whose wife is taken from him by an evil judge. The judge then throws this barber into prison and makes off with his wife and daughter. Benjamin Barker, released from prison, makes his way back to London where he has now re-invented himself as Sweeney Todd, a maniacal killer who will stop at nothing to avenge his family. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett, a baker who makes the worst meat pies in all of London. She tells Todd about the fate of his family, and helps him plan his murderous revenge. However, that revenge is, to borrow another movie phrase, a dish best served cold. Sweeney Todd will have to bide his time before he can have his satisfaction. But his murderous psyche can’t be contained, and before long he is killing just about anybody. Anyone who sits down in his barber chair who won’t be missed gets the ol’ slice and dice from the straight razor.

The slaughter of these people is absolutely brutal and bloody in a horror movie sort of way. And if Sweeney Todd were not a musical, and this murder was taking place without the singing, it just wouldn’t work. But for some reason, here it does. As a by-product of these killings and the mounting bodies, Carter, in her meat pie downstairs, discovers a terrific way to kill two birds with one stone. The delightful idea that she can both find a way to dispose of the bodies AND stop buying meat to make her pies at the same time. Everybody wins! In an interesting sub-plot, we learn that Todd’s daughter is being held prisoner by the evil judge in London’s version of Rapunzel’s tower. The young man who helped Todd return to London is in love with her, and they conspire to break her out and run off together. There is also a creepy old woman who keeps showing up and cackling. Perhaps the best supporting turn in the film comes courtesy of Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat himself, who plays a rival barber and quite the sinister character himself. His demise, while untimely, is perhaps deserved and certainly unpleasant. But in a weird way, kind of funny.

When watching Sweeney Todd, one is constantly aware that it is a Broadway musical. But that is not a bad thing. The songs are terrific, the staging is precise and fantastic, and the movement of the characters in the individual scenes is magnificent. The main reason this works is that there is what seems to be an intentional disconnect between the audience and the subject matter. We can’t really identify with any of the characters, but we are not really supposed to. Just like watching a musical on the stage, where the singing itself creates that separation, so too does the movie keep us at arm’s length. Which is ideal. We don’t want to become too invested in these characters. With whom would we side? With Depp, who is murdering dozens of innocents, with Carter, who is serving them as pies to other innocents, with Rickman, who is evil and malicious as the judge? The only characters who are in the least sympathetic in the film are Todd’s daughter and her would-be lover. And in the violent, bloody climax, they are the lone gleam of hope for happiness in the entire film. But Sweeney Todd is not supposed to be a happy movie. It is supposed to be a good movie. And it certainly is that.