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The Pop Culture Addict's Guide to Finishing a Dissertation: MOVIES

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Added 5-02 cover
The source: American Movie (1999)
How I came across it: I love movies and I love documentaries. This one got rave reviews so I rented it. Now I own it!
The gems: At times, I think that I might just be an underachiever with big dreams. This guy is AN UNDERACHIEVER WITH BIG DREAMS.  You have to see it to understand the full extent of what I mean. Mark Borchardt is an ambitious fella who wants to make the best horror movie ever. BUT, he has no money, practically no crew, no actors, a questionable script and personal problems to boot. He has a best friend, Mike Shank who is loyal and entertaining - we should all be as lucky - he rivals my favorite best buddy, Dirk Calloway from the movie Rushmore, fictional yet the best friend anyone could have.
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Added 1/04: I just thought I'd say Bill Murray should've received more recognition for his performance in Rushmore. I'm so psyched for his Golden Globe win and his Oscar nomination for Lost in Translation. His Golden Globe acceptance speech was awesome. Highlights were: "I would like to thank the people at Universal and Focus except there are so many people trying to take credit for this, I wouldn't know where to begin...I'd like to thank Sofia Coppola for writing a film that was so good that every actor in this room says, 'That lucky son of a bitch. It could've been me up there with that damn thing.'...I'd like to acknowledge the other distinguished members of the musical and comedy category that I'm in this evening. But I think it's too often that we forget our brothers on the other side of the aisle: the dramatic actors. And I'd just like to say, without them, where would our war, our misery, our psychological dramas come from? Let's not forget them tonight. Thank you!" I'm happy for Sofia Coppola too. She is a great talent. I'm sure I already mentioned somewhere how good I thought her short Lick the Star was. It's every bit as good as Thirteen.
lost in translation thirteen

Added 3/04: If you know me, or if you're like me, you won't be surprised I want to share a few impressions of my viewing of the Lost in Translation dvd. Bill Murray doing his "boy band" dance to "My Aim is True" is hilarious. Hearing Spike Jonze speaking, having Sofia introduce him while he's making his portion of the "behind the scenes" and seeing him at the first day of shooting party is bittersweet. The stolen shots they got of Tokyo are cool. And watching the movie again (for the 3rd time), was also cool. It still held up. I just read in Sondre Lerche's journal that he has a little crush on Scarlett Johansson, lucky girl. LOL.

I wish there was a way Bill Murray and Sean Penn could've shared the award - uh, Oscars, get it together and make 2 categories for each of the biggies like the Golden Globes - separate "comedies" from "dramas." That's my solution. Anyway, these days, the only way I get to watch late night tv is to tivo the shows and watch them during daylight hours. Lame, I know, what else can I say? However, imagine my delight when I was fast-forwarding (a perk of taping) through the 3/4/04 ep of Late Night with David Letterman to catch a glimpse of Bill Murray lying on the street in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater. We all saw how disappointed Bill was on Oscar night when Sean Penn won and Billy Crystal even commented on his sad face. The fact that Bill Murray could take that and be funny about it is a testament to his everlasting coolness. Highlights of this skit: when Dave said he was hoping Bill would win the Oscar, Bill said,"Well, it's kind of a popularity contest you know. The guy who won was a local. It's kind of a club...now that I'm in, I think I'm gonna get nominated every 25 years." How awesome is that? And then to give us the obvious punchline was so satisfying because it was him when he pulled out his "Oscar acceptance speech" and began reading it. I just had to document his grace and talent right here because it was a reminder to try not to take yourself too seriously because you'll probably be all right.


Added 5-02 cover
The source: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991); Directed by Fax Bahr; George Hickenlooper; Eleanor Coppola (documentary footage); Writing credits: Fax Bahr; George Hickenlooper
How I came across it: I saw it in the theater when it was released. Then I rented it while I was in the middle of my guerrilla data-gathering and felt a connection with Frances Ford Coppola and his film-making woes.
The gems: There are so many steps to getting through the Big D.  You have to survive one committee review after another.  Each meeting results in mandatory revisions that often will bring whatever you were doing to a halt until you receive approval to go ahead.  Once in the middle of data collection, my video camera just stopped working. I had a near melt-down.  I managed to borrow another camera from school and in the end only missed part of one subject's session. I thought I had problems. When Frances Ford Coppola was trying to make Apocaplyse Now (1979), his wife Eleanor recorded all of his trials and tribulations, and they were no joke!  Marlon Brando will only work for an obscene amount of money. He finally shows up with a bald head and molto extra lbs. Martin Sheen, the star, has a heart attack in the middle of the shoot. A tropical storm completely wipes out the main set. It is a nightmare! And the end result was a masterpiece!  I'm not saying what I wrote was a masterpiece, but I am saying that watching others go through misery and then result in something admirable is fortifying.

Added 6/04: I was just watching Dinner for Five with Jon Favreau - a really interesting show (I was a slow convert but now I make sure to watch every episode) and George Hickenlooper, director of Hearts of Darkness, was a guest along with David Cross, Molly Shannon and Philip Baker Hall. I think it was Jon Favreau who asked, how do you direct a documentary like Hearts of Darkness? George Hickenlooper said Eleanor Coppola had sent him and Fax Bahr hours and hours of footage she had shot to shape into an hour-long tv tribute about Apocalypse Now.

George Hickenlooper said at the Coppola estate, there's a place that's like "the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark" with every last artifact from all of Coppola's movies, including the surfboards from Apocalypse Now. Anyway, George Hickenlooper said at the time they were working on the documentary, they were receiving boxes and boxes of material from that room. One day, they received some audio tapes with really private conversations between Francis Ford Coppola and his wife Eleanor speaking in their bedroom. FFC was talking about how depressed he was feeling about how the making of AN was going. That's when George Hickenlooper realized the goldmine they had and that the one-hour tv film had potential to be a full-length movie. He called up Eleanor Coppola and told her his idea from listening to the audio tapes. She seemed surprised and had forgotten about those tapes. After she consulted with FFC, they gave permission for use of everything in what became Hearts of Darkness as we know it.

Jon Favreau added that now that he's ventured into the world of directing, he has felt frustrated and depressed about how things are going on his movies. But then he thinks about Hearts of Darkness and reminds himself he can get through it and that his obstacles aren't anything like what Francis Ford Coppola endured and overcame to make Apocalypse Now.

George Hickenlooper said he wanted to put out Hearts of Darkness on dvd and that FFC and EC were game. However, one thing FFC really wanted edited was the scene when Martin Sheen has had his heart attack, closing down production and FFC says, Martin Sheen isn't dead until I say he's dead. This was taken out of context and it was in response to Hollywood rumors that Martin Sheen had died, and FFC was saying, of course he would confirm news of that magnitude if it were indeed true. But as it stands, it makes him sound like a megalomaniac.

Anyway, I still recommend Hearts of Darkness as a good way to boost yourself. This is one of the films I re-visited when I was writing my dissertation and it gave me the idea for this website! But I had to wait another year or so before I created The Pop Culture Addict's Guide to Finishing a Dissertation. So now you know that story too!

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apocalypse now redux

Added 3-03 cover
The source: Lost in La Mancha (2002) (Dirs. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe)
How I came across it: I just saw it in a movie theater last month (2-03).
The gems: This documentary is about the "best movie you'll never see," aka Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. In case you don't know or remember, Terry Gilliam is a founding member of Monty Python's Flying Circus (aside: I appreciate MPFC but I'm not one of those fans who can quote Life of Brian verbatim) and director of such films as The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen (also writer), 12 Monkeys and the ever-brilliant Brazil (also writer). Lost in La Mancha was supposed to be the "Making of..." featurette we typically see as an extra on the dvd release of a movie. Instead, it became the filmic record of the progressive deterioration of Terry Gilliam's latest directorial effort (he also co-wrote the screenplay). I read that the filmmakers offered to stop filming when things got really tough but TG said, "This is great stuff; keep filming!" In it we see TG's genius, his unique creative and artistic vision and talent. We see Johnny Depp play Don Quixote's reluctant side kick Pancho (even though he's really an ad exec transported through time) and give us a taste of how great he would've been. The giants are awesome! You have to see the footage to understand. We see scheduling conflicts, medical issues, force majeure, personality/ego clashes, etc. You know where I'm going with this. It was very reminiscent of HBO's Project Greenlight (now available on dvd and mentioned in the tv section here). The big difference is that TG had a relatively big budget (compared to the Project Greenlight one) and an established reputation preceding this production. We respect him before, during and after the screw ups. Well, let me rephrase that. I have to admit it is easy to do Monday morning quarterbacking: Why did he trust him? Why didn't he just put his foot down there? The sound! That's so elemental! Anyway, it's encouraging to see that after all that TG goes through, we learn at the end that he is still trying to get the film made. That's the kind of persistence one needs to get through the rough spots that are a-plenty during the dissertation process. So, chin up!

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Added 11-03 school of rock
The source: School of Rock (2003) (Director: Richard Linklater; Writer: Mike White)
How I came across it: Saw it when it was released last month (10-03).
The gems: I'm just posting my brother's review for the Anderson Exchange seeing as it reflects my opinions about the movie as well (and because he said I could):

"School” House Rocks
The latest Jack Black comedy directed by Richard Linklater is the year’s best film so far.
by Chris Koh (10/03)

Just as I prepared to declare 2003 the worst year in recent cinematic memory, “School of Rock” arrived to save the day. What’s brilliant about this hilarious movie? The way director Richard Linklater, writer Mike White and, especially, star Jack Black put an exhilarating, subversive twist on a hackneyed premise – basically “Mr. Holland’s Opus” re-made with Black’s character from “High Fidelity.” In fact, the movie possesses many qualities of a great punk rock album – simple, familiar material re-invigorated by irreverent attitude, acerbic wit and authentic feeling.

The story concerns would-be rock star Dewey Finn (Black), who begins the film in dire need of a job, rent money and, most importantly, a new backing band for the local battle of the bands competition. Through the magic of Hollywood screenwriting, Dewey fulfills all three needs by impersonating his passive roommate (White) and landing a job as substitute teacher at a posh, private elementary school.

Naturally, all of these children are budding musical prodigies, lighting designers, stylists, roadies and business managers. The plot possesses no major surprises, but the expected twists unfold masterfully due to the skill of the filmmakers and cast. This is a crowd-pleaser that earns all of its pay-offs by respecting both its own characters and the audience.

Any discussion of the movie’s greatness must begin with the fabulous Jack Black. This rambunctious whirligig of an actor/rock god sustains an unholy level of energy throughout the duration of the film. Ever since Black broke through with the star-making “High Fidelity,” he’s had trouble finding another appropriate role suited for his manic, slovenly anarchy. “School of Rock” provides him with a perfect vehicle for showcasing his talents.

“School of Rock” also boasts an impeccable supporting cast of mostly non-professional child performers. Besides flaunting spectacular musical ability, these kids show a lot of low-key charm that adroitly complements Black’s exorbitance. In fact, the students appear far more mature and well-balanced than Dewey -- a classic case of arrested development. As the narrative progresses, Dewey finds himself maturing as he unleashes people’s rock ‘n’ roll soul. He teaches the children about sticking it to the man while boosting their sense of discipline and self-esteem. Even the prim school principal (Joan Cusak, in a deft performance that manages to transcend a potential stereotype) finds her inner-Stevie Nicks.

Overseeing everything with admirable economy, Director Linklater keeps the action at a brisk, engaging pace and remains sensitive to the nuances of character and performance. The inspired way in which this movie applies indie film grit to Hollywood formula isn’t just rare in our current cultural vacuum – in the words of Dewey himself, “it’s so punk rock!”

Added 3/04: I just had to write a little something now that I've watched and listened to everything on the School of Rock dvd. I love reading Armond White's reviews even if I don't agree with him because he's a good writer and knowledgeable about the history of film (let's not forget his admiration of Brian De Palma) but it's hard to get over the fact that he didn't like High Fidelity or School of Rock. Yes, these movies were not hip hop friendly as he complained. But Dewey Finn was all about the rock. Armond White is an interesting character with his love of Morrissey and Ice Cube. Anyway, the "Kids' Kommentary" is so sweet and cute because of the kids' thrill with the experience of making the movie and all that followed. I only wish Mike White, who was sick the day Richard Linklater and Jack Black recorded their commentary, had recorded his own commentary at a later date as he was the writer of this wonderful flick. Is anyone else thinking about Chuck and Buck right now?

chuck and buck

I'd also like to say how the "You're Boring" song performed by Jack Black and Will Ferrell was the highlight of the Oscars for me, the standing O for Sean Penn aside. So let me record the lyrics while they're still funny to me:

"This is it. Your time is through. You're boring!
You've rambled on, no end in sight. You're boring!
No need to thank your parakeet. You're boring!
Look at Catherine Zeta-Jones; she's snoring!
You could've rushed up to the stage, but you were lollygagging.
They're turning off your microphone and cutting to a commercial for...
Del Taco, Del Taco, Del Taco!"

Added 3/21/04: Jack Black was the guest on today's episode of Sunday Morning Shootout on AMC with Peter Bart (Variety) and Peter Guber (Mandalay). They called him "the toast of the Academy Awards." They asked him how he and Will Ferrell came up the bit, and he said they got free reign. Jack and Will then kicked around some ideas and decided to focus on the acceptance speech cut-off song since they were presenting the Best Song award. In talking with the Academy Awards director, they learned that the cut-off song meant the person's speech was boring, not that they were going on too long.

"The guy that's in charge of directing the Oscars said, 'The reason that we play that song is not because they go too long, it's because they're boring.'

"We're like,'Really? There's not a time limit?'

"'Not really. If they're really exciting and kicking ass, they're going to let it go.'"

A couple more highlights from the interview...Jack Black said Mike White, writer of School of Rock, was a friend of his girlfriend's and would come over and chat with her when they were all neighbors. BUt Jack said he knew Mike While wrote for "Finnegan's Creek" and didn't think it was very good. Jack self-corrected and said, you know, Dawson's Creek. Yes, Mike White did indeed write for Dawson's Creek. Anyway, Jack said, then he saw Chuck and Buck and that totally changed his mind. Lastly, when the Peters asked if he thought about writing movies, he said he was writing one right now entitled Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny due out in 2005. And he got a laugh when he compared it to LOTR because he said there's a devil and a wizard in it. "It's a quest to become the greatest band in the history of rock." What more is there to say? In the meantime, go watch School of Rock!

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Added 1/04 fellowship of the ring two towers return of the king
The source: THE LORD OF THE RINGS WEEKEND, a.k.a. Geekfest 2004; the LOTR Marathon; Butt-numbing mania - whatever you want to call it, I was there and need to write about it! (Director: Peter Jackson; Based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Saturday, January 10, 10:00 am The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 226 min (director's cut)
Saturday, January 10, 3:00 pm The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 236 min (director's cut)
Saturday, January 10, 8:30 pm The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, followed by a Q & A session with the director and cast

Sunday, January 11, 2:00 pm A Conversation with Peter Jackson

How I came across it: In the NY Film Festival program last October (2003).

Disclaimer: I just want to say, I read the books (yes, that means The Hobbit, the LOTR trilogy and The Silmarillion), I saw the LOTR movies and liked them although I found them on the long side. For the most part, I think any movie over 90 minutes better have a good reason for the additional minutes. This is not to say I haven't seen crazy long movies and liked every minute of them, e.g., Apocalpyse Now-Redux, Eureka (subtitled no less!), The Godfather, Part II and I'm sure I could think of more. I did not attend Trilogy Tuesday although a surprising number of other attendees at the Lincoln Center marathon did (Elijah Wood was at both and he took a poll). I did not run out and buy the dvds. I only saw one of them more than once - Fellowship of the Ring - because I took a lengthy nap the first time around. By pure coincidence, I did happen to appear in my junior high school production of the musical version of The Hobbit as a goshdarn singing hobbit. But this I will admit, I like movies and I like movie events. I like seeing celebrities and hearing what directors, producers and actors have to say. So, given the givens, I didn't have to think too long before getting my tickets for the whole shebang - all three movies, the first two with additional footage (yikes!) and the director interview.

apocalypse now redux eureka godfather trilogy tolkien books silmarillion

But let me cut to the chase and own up to my film geekdom. I admit I saw Ringu and it's sequel on dvd first and then in the theater as well as the terrible prequel (it was so bad!). And then I saw the Naomi Watts version with a live Q&A with none other than Naomi Watts. She was stunning and articulate in person in case you were wondering. I was curious to see her after her fabu performance in Mulholland Drive. And even though I thought Ringu was better than The Ring, I will see the sequel and have to say that I know it is supposed to start filming next month (3/04). So, there really wasn't any excuse for me NOT to see the LOTR Marathon of 2004 especially considering I really liked all of these movies through and through.

mulholland drive

The gems:

I'll be honest: I watched Fellowship with great enthusiasm, took a 10-minute nap during Two Towers but enjoyed the rest of it and slept for the greater part of Return of the King, which I allowed myself to do because I had just seen it the previous week and was still getting over my wonky holiday sleep schedule. However, I think I got what I went for: overall entertainment, celebrity overdose and a great memory. I have a couple of really good stories to tell you that apply directly to the art (and struggle) of dissertation-writing.

Let me give the chronology before I jump into the gems: the day before the event, I received this info:

FURTHER UPDATES:

• CAST MEMBERS Sean Astin (Sam), Bernard Hill (Theoden), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Liv Tyler (Arwen) and Elijah Wood (Frodo) will be present at various events during the weekend.

• PLEASE NOTE: Peter Jackson is unable to attend in person, but will participate as scheduled on Saturday night and on Sunday via live satellite feed from New Zealand.

The setting:

The crowd was pumped. Although, as you've gathered, I often attend these geekfests with my brother, this time around, another good movie buddy and all-around pal of mine accompanied me throughout the weekend. Among other things, we share a fondness for a certain arrow-shooting blond elf and for Isildur's heir, aka next king of Gondor. I would say that before this extravaganza, my friend Ed was like me in his enthusiasm for LOTR. It was tempered. He saw all 3 movies and enjoyed them. He totally did not mind the long running times of the originals and was looking forward to seeing all the extra footage. And to his credit, he stayed awake through everything. Since living through this experience, he has become a self-proclaimed LOTR fanatic. It was just a very cool thing to go through together and I admit I caught a bit of the bug myself.

Anyway, back to the timeline. I thought we had very nice seats, fairly central in the orchestra section. Ed would've liked a couple rows closer as he needs new glasses! After the first movie, he asked me who had introduced it - "I know it was Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) but who was the other hobbit - Merry? Pippin?" D'oh! I said, "It was Elijah Wood - Frodo!" Somehow, Ed had missed that crucial detail. But he would get a good dose of Elijah as the day went on. Anyway, what did those guys say to us? Well, people were busy whooping it up so they didn't have to say much except to have fun and do some circulation exercises. Oh, that's when Elijah Wood asked if anyone had been at Trilogy Tuesday and got a healthy response. To be complete, Elijah was wearing jean bell bottoms and jacket with, I think, a t-shirt, and Sean was wearing jeans and a blazer-type thing over a button-down.

After lunch, we returned to see Two Towers. This time, Gollum (Andy Serkis) and Theoden (Bernard Hill) introduced the movie. I'll admit, I had watched Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and Andy Serkis on Charlie Rose the night before so I had actually heard a lot of what they were saying. But it was cool to hear them say it live and hear the enthusiastic response from the audience to every word uttered.

In short, Andy Serkis came out dressed in trip hop gear (okay, it was more like a track suit and trainers and it was probably just his travel gear) and told us the story of how he got the call from his agent that Peter Jackson wanted to hire him for a 3-week voice-over gig. Andy said he asked his agent if there wasn't a bigger role available. He was also wary when he learned that Gollum was to be a completely CGI character. Over time, that changed and he also didn't realize that Gollum was going to have an increasingly larger role as the trilogy progressed. I realize I'm jumping out of the time line but while I'm thinking of it, let me add that, during the Q&A, Peter Jackson said had they videotaped Andy Serkis' audition tape in which he contorted his face and body to deliver Gollum's lines. Peter J said that as the animators got to work, he found that he kept referring them back to the audition tape. Around the same time, his original idea of playing back Gollum's lines to Elijah and Sean while filming the Frodo-Sean-Gollum scenes started changing to actually giving them a real live person, that is Andy Serkis, to play off of as well as allowing Andy Serkis to develop Gollum's character more fully. So that's how the whole complicated process began. And Andy Serkis said he did post-production for 2 years to get all of the Gollum stuff right. Anyway, rent the dvd to learn more about this.

Bernard Hill came out next and was dressed in something more conservative but he was a comedian. He explained that Two Towers was when Man entered the story and became central to the narrative. He also noted that his character was in desperate need of a shave and rather bugged out for most of the movie. But then once he got out from under the evil spell of Saruman, he got to worry about the guy his niece wanted to date. Then everyone left the stage and the second movie got underway.

After our dinner break, we returned for Return of the King. All four actors came out to introduce this. Andy Serkis had changed but I think the rest were wearing more or less the same outfits. Elijah asked us if anyone had fallen asleep and to stand up. This guy in the front stood up and we all chuckled. Richard Pena, program director, reminded us that after the movie there would be a Q&A with the four actors and Peter Jackson via satellite. At the end credits of Return of the King, some people actually booed when Liv Tyler's name came up because they were presumably disappointed that she didn't make an appearance. I thought that was pretty rude. But I guess we were told she would be there and then not given an explanation for absence. But I was still surprised.

The Q&A was interesting. The actors were thrilled to see and talk to Peter Jackson and of course, that was fun for the audience to experience. Peter J said he was in New Zealand cutting together the director's cut of Return of the King. He noted he had about 45 extra minutes and would probably add at least 30 of them. At this point, it was about midnight, Eastern time and Peter J told us it was 6:O0pm in NZ so 18 hours ahead of us. He was wearing a casual, short sleeved Izod-type shirt. He informed us it was summer there so he was dressed accordingly.

Someone asked the inevitable question, "Are you going to make The Hobbit?" PJ responded that no one had approached him formerly about it but he hoped so because if someone else made it, "it'd be really weird." We all laughed in agreement.

Then a person asked, "What happened to Tom Bombadil and the Silmarillion?" People groaned at this question but I thought it was valid although the answer was pretty obvious to me - it was a matter of time. Peter Jackson said they made the decison to streamline the story so only characters and events directly impacting the story of Frodo and Sam remained in the screenplay. As Tom Bombadil and his Hobbit songs were interesting but not turning points in the narrative, they were cut out completely. The same goes with the Silmarillion.

at dawn at rivendell

Another audience member asked, "Will we see more character development for Merry in the dvd because in the book, his character has more of a presence?" Peter Jackson said in the deleted scenes portion of the Return of the Kings dvd, he had plenty of scenes with all of the central characters including Merry to offer us. And Elijah Wood exclaimed, "Wait until I tell Dominic [Monaghan] that you want to see more Merry. He'll be thrilled!"

The last question of the evening was from a seemingly nice 50-something woman who said, "Please clear up the meaning of the nod Frodo gives Gandalf at the end of Return of the King; we've had a lot of discussion and dispute about this." People groaned and someone asked for a different last question, as if any of the other questions would be better (I just think it's hard to sit through the Q part of Q&A's but I love the A part and thus endure them). Elijah Wood said, "Whatever you thought it meant, that's what it meant." And people laughed. Then Bernard Hill said, "I believe it was a reprieve of my nod in Two Towers." I laughed at that one. And then Elijah said, "I think it just meant, 'Everything is going to be all right.'" And with that, the Q&A was over. As we left the theater, the generous folks at New Line distributed a gift of the Two Towers 4-dvd set to everyone walking out. It was a nice little surprise.

The interview: Let me move on to the next day as this is when Peter Jackson inspired me with his tales of trials and tribulations in film-making. This interview spanned across Peter Jackson's entire career although we didn't have enough time to get into each film like I would've enjoyed. This is because Peter J is a skilled raconteur and he gave detailed and engrossing responses to the Richard Pena as moderator's questions.

I should note that before anyone came out on stage, we were shown a montage of Peter Jackson's work up until LOTR. We soon learned he had put it together himself for our viewing. It was schlocky as PJ's tastes and movies tend to run and the film quality was shaky at best but suited the material. As we soon learned, these early movies were made on shoestring budgets, being filmed on 16 millimeter film and then transferred to 35 millimeter film, and thus the film quality was not of the finest ilk.

The first story of note was of how he made Bad Taste, his first movie. Peter J (b. 1961) told us that he'd been making 8 millimeter movies since he was 7 when he got his first camera. However, he said there was no film industry to speak of in New Zealand so he didn't have any role models growing up. When he was little, his family had a black and white tv that only got one channel. Somehow, he doesn't recall the circumstances, although he was about 9 years old, he was allowed to stay up late on Sunday nights and watch Monty Python's Flying Circus. Peter J informed us it was on Monty Python where he saw his first splattered head during one of the skits and he thought it was hilarious. In fact, he said, Monty Python made him realize things were funny that he had never thought were funny before. He also told us that Dawn of the Dead and Evil Dead blew his mind. And so he developed a passion for the shlocky horror film and in his love for the genre, he had written a movie he wanted to make.

bad taste monty python's flying circus dawn of the dead cover evil dead 2

At this point in his life, he had been working in a photography shop doing lithography or something like that for 3 years when he began filming Bad Taste. PJ said he only filmed on the weekends and didn't know any actors so he got his colleagues from the shop to act in his movie. It took him 4 years to finish it and by the time he was able to quit his job at the shop, he had been working there for 7 years. I'm glossing over many details. Peter J had started off making a short but when he finally got around to editing his footage, he said he realized he had about 70 minutes of story. Thus, he decided to just write more, film it and go for a feature film. However, he had been funding it himself and applied for a grant from the New Zealand film board where he met Jim Booth who would go on to produce a number of movies with him. Peter J said as soon as got his grant money from Jim Booth, he went into the photography shop the next day and said, "I quit." In the meantime, Peter J was still living at his mother's place and he said he was cooking up prosthetics in her kitchen smelling up the place with the not so pleasant aroma of burning plastic. The end of that story is Bad Taste was shown at Cannes and was a great success - it was the highest grossing movie in and from New Zealand that year, if not ever, and completely opened up doors for Peter J as a genuine filmmaker.

The next story I want to share is about Meet the Feebles. Peter J said he was merrily working on Brain Dead (better known to us Americans as Dead-Alive) when the funding fell through. Before that, he and his collaborators had made a bunch of puppets, written a script and filmed a short inspired by the idea of what might happen behind the scenes of The Muppet Show. Peter J said during this time when they were all disheartened at not being able to complete Brain Dead, he decided to pull out this short about puppets and make it a feature film. Of course, this is what became Meet the Feebles. But completing this movie also had its obstacles. After multiple extensions of time and applications for additional funding, Peter J and Co. got an ultimatum from their benefactors at the New Zealand Film Commission to stop filming and make a complete movie with what they had without any further financial support or just abandon the project completely. Peter J said they had one more week of filming to complete on The Feebles so he and co. used their own funds and covertly finished filming the film against the wishes of their friends at the NZFC. He said during the day, as his every action was being closely monitored by the NZFC, he had to go to the editing rooms at the NZFC and pretend he was all done filming and edit what footage he had. Then at night, they would film additional scenes and secretly get the film developed. He said they had to rename the film with a code name and called it The Frogs of War so the NZFC wouldn't suspect what was going on. But then the final product was another hit and quickly became a cult fave. Then, subsequently, Peter Jackson was able to get the funding to complete Brain Dead which also became a cult fave.

meet the feebles dead-alive

Then we were shown a lengthy montage of the LOTR trilogy. Let me say that the entire thing looked like a 5th generation bootleg - and I'll admit to actually seeing such a thing - it ain't pretty and it's hell on your vcr. I'm guessing that it was culled from original, unedited footage from PJ's personal stash. I mean, I was laughing outloud at the crappy quality of film. But no one commented on it. It was a stark contrast to the actual movies we had watched the previous day. Following that, the four actors (Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis and Bernard Hill) from the day before joined Richard Pena on stage with Peter Jackson's face still being projected via live satellite onto a gigantic screen in the background.

Someone (or several people) shouted out King Kong references, as it is Peter Jackson's next project, and when Richard Pena repeated that to Peter, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis pretended to jump into Peter Jackson's hand as PJ pretended to scoop them up. We liked that. Peter J was wearing the same shirt from the Q&A. Elijah Wood said to him, "Nice shirt!" And PJ smiled and responded, "Thanks. I only wear the stripes on special occasions!" We all chuckled. Then we moved onto a more structured interview about LOTR.

I'll just mention what stood out to me. Peter Jackson et al. spoke about how J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) wrote The Hobbit (published in 1937) as a children's book. Then his publisher said, hey, that did pretty well; how about a sequel? Tolkien actually had all these ideas circulating in his mind about Middle Earth and who lived there, what happened, etc. so he took this opportunity offered by his publisher to write The Lord of the Rings. However, he took 12 years to complete it and submitted what was clearly not the same kind of children's book as The Hobbit, based on the language and complexity of plot and characters in LOTR. Plus, it was 1200+ pages and he absolutely refused to change one letter or punctuation mark in it and would not let anyone even attempt to edit it.

Thus, it wasn't until 1954, two years after Tolkien had finished writing LOTR, when The Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers were finally published followed by The Return of the King in 1955. Tolkien was deeply affected by his experiences serving in WWI in 1916. He was shell-shocked and never forgot his unique bonds with his fellow soldiers. Lord of the Rings emerged from his desire to explore the traumas of war, the causes of war, the strategies and alliances forced into formation at the anticipation of and existence of war and also the male bonding that occurs during war due to the need to fight side by side and endure the hardships of being away from home. Learning this really put LOTR in a clear light. And everyone I've told this back story to has said the same thing, "Wow, I didn't know that and it really makes sense!"

Tolkien also apparently disliked technology although he was riveted by the "new-fangled" (as PJ said) invention called the tape recorder (maybe it wasn't called that yet but you know what I mean). This is why there is in existence various recordings of Tolkien reading his own works much to the delight of his numerous fans.

Then during Peter Jackson's explanation of how he approached the task of creating the illusion of Hobbits being halflings and Gandalf, etc. being twice their size, the sound and picture from the satellite went out. Let me first give you his response before I tell you how that situation turned out. I had read all this stuff before so it was familiar and I'm sure you have noticed the trickery he employed. Peter J said he spent time and money on a couple of early shots to establish the size differences with CGI technology. Then after that, he resorted to the obvious techniques, i.e., perspective shots, having the non-Hobbits standing on crates and boxes to appear taller than the Hobbits, and using actors of various heights for distance and back shots. For example, I'm sure you noticed that when the Fellowship was walking along the hills, Viggo Mortenson and Orlando Bloom looked like themselves but the Hobbits looked like different actors. That's because they were! It was the same idea as using stunt doubles.

So when the satellite feed went out, the four actors on stage really kicked into high gear and entertained the audience with stories about bloopers, gaffes and general sources of amusement on the set. Someone in the audience had asked when we were going to see the outtakes and this resulted in a fun story-telling session. It turned out that Peter Jackson was able to hear us throughout so he was actually there through this section even though he wasn't able to speak to us which was still cool. And when he returned on screen, he shared his own outtake story.

I'm sure you want to know what were the outtakes, right? I actually didn't take notes during this entire event aside from jotting down a few key words to jolt my memory so let's hope I remember something good. I recall the gist of three distinct stories but am a bit hazy on details so if you were there and remember differently, please allow me the benefit of the doubt of having at least tried my best to re-tell these stories.

Elijah Wood started telling a story about Sean Astin and then encouraged him to take over. In Fellowship of the Rings, Peter Jackson told Sean that Sam's character would stay in the background and not be a central character. Sean said, in his words, that this was "kind of heartbreaking" to hear. Elijah said there was a running joke with Sean always saying, when do I get my close-up? So in that scene when Gandalf pulls Sam through the window and onto the table and asks, have you been eavesdropping? and Sam says, "I ain't been dropping no eaves!" Sean stuck his head into Ian McKellen's close-up shot, much to the surprise of Sir Ian, and said something like, "When am I going to get my close-up?" And then Ian M. recovered from his surprise and gave Sean a big smackaroo. That story got a lot of laughs. And obviously, Sean Astin said, he appreciated the pivotal role of Sam in Return of the King. And to go out of sequence, during the Q&A the previous day, someone asked the panel what their favorite lines were from the trilogy. Sean Astin responded it was the line Sam gets to say to Frodo about how he may not be able to carry the ring for him but he can carry him. Other members of the panel concurred it was a line that stood out and epitomized the heart of the story.

The next story is a little vague in structure but it still amused me. Bernard Hill was saying something about how "the Danish side" of Viggo Mortenson would be present most of the time and he would be very even-keeled, professional and unexcitable. Then "the Argentinian side" of Viggo would emerge and he would be really heated and overtly emotional about something [Viggo's father is from Denmark and Viggo lived there for some time and while his mother is American, his family lived in South America from when he was 2-11] . Bernard said he and Viggo were talking about all of the various action figures and other consumer-oriented paraphernalia that were out there and still in the works with their images associated with them. Viggo was anti-consumerism saying with great disdain that there were "thousands and thousands" of useless marketing objects with their respective images attached to them. Then they were blocking a scene in which Viggo/Aragorn makes his big entrance in Return of the King and pushes the doors open with both hands, hair a-blowing and Bernard/Theoden is standing in the foreground and asks, "how many" (I don't quite remember if he's asking how many of the enemy are out or how many allied soldiers they have - that's the kind of anti-fan fan I am) and Viggo said, in full character, "thousands and thousands" exactly as he had just been saying. I know this story doesn't quite hold together but I just liked hearing about Viggo joking around a bit.

My last story was actually the last story of the day. Peter Jackson's satellite feed resumed just in time for him to add this story. It had to do with filming the scene when Elrond/Hugo Weaving brings the re-forged sword to Aragorn/Viggo Mortenson at his camp but when Aragorn enters the tent, Elrond is seated and hooded so that we and Viggo can't see his face at first. During one take, PJ said he arranged it so that Aragorn entered the tent and when Elrond took his hood down, he was wearing his Agent Smith sunglasses and said something like, "Hello, Mr. Mortenson." Peter Jackson described Viggo as being completely surprised and speechless. I liked this story because honestly, everytime I saw Elrond, I kept thinking about him in The Matrix and I guess Peter Jackson understood that many of us would make that connection.

the matrix and matrix revisited documentary

So someone asked when we would actually see this footage and Peter Jackson said he wasn't sure but now that he knew there was such great interest, he would consider putting it out in some form. Elijah Wood asked the audience, would you buy a separate outtakes dvd? And people said, "Yes." And frankly, before this afternoon, I wouldn't have said, "yes" but after hearing the stories firsthand, it peaked my interest and also made it sort of a sentimental thing.

I am very stingy with my standing ovations. However, I made the momentous decision to give a standing o to the LOTR crew because they really gave a good show and helped entertain us when the main event, Peter Jackson, disappeared from the screen for a good 20-30 minutes.

As you can gather, the actors and Peter Jackson were very gracious. People were tossing mementos on stage for them and taking pictures like crazy (somehow, despite the signs prohibiting cameras, they decided to be lax about enforcing this rule). Afterwards, people were going up to the stage to take more pictures, talk to the actors and give them presents. This is not the sort of thing I do, but I don't think anything negative about people who do. I just can never think of anything truly unique and worthy to say to someone whose work I like and feel like it's all been said to them before so why bother formulating my own words for direct delivery to his or her ears when my presence at related events and support of their work is statement of admiration and encouragement in itself. That's what this website is for. I can state my enthusiasm for whatever or whoever I am enthusiastic about in a self-defined, unrestricted forum with no time limits, no pressure to come up with something meaningful and witty on the spot.

Anyway, the entire weekend ended with Peter Jackson's satellite feed officially ending and the lights coming down on stage and mikes being turned off so the actors could leave the stage. But they all stuck around for the fans. Elijah Wood was still revved up and shouted out to the audience if we had fun, if we had been at the marathon the previous day and if we'd be willing to see a revival/retrospective of Peter Jackson's works. It was all very fun and sweet. And again as we left the building, the fine folks at New Line gave out more complimentary copies of the Two Towers dvd set.

The lessons: I think they are self-explanatory. Vision combined with ingenuity, flexibility, comraderie and persistence are the essential ingredients to seeing your dreams come to successful fruition. You can see that in the story of Tolkien trying to get LOTR published. He was very down about the difficulties he encountered but he stuck to his guns and didn't compromise his vision of how LOTR should be published and luckily, someone saw fit to put them out there while he was still around to enjoy the success and love of his works. And Peter Jackson's stories about making his first movie Bad Taste and his obstacles with making Brain Dead/Dead-Alive and Meet the Feebles are also inspiring. And though many people at first said, huh? Peter Jackson, the guy who made Dead-Alive and Heavenly Creatures is going to make the beloved LOTR trilogy? It seems everything he had done up until then was preparing him to live up the expectations of LOTR fans around the world. So with that extremely long review, I wish you all good luck with your own work!

heavenly creatures

Added 2/04: peter jackson king kong

I just watched Peter Jackson on Sunday Morning Shootout and wanted to talk about it. First off, he was wearing that same striped shirt he wore for our LOTR marathon weekend! He wasn't kidding about pulling it out for special occasions. He was also wearing shorts suggesting he just flew in from New Zealand's summertime. Granted, Sunday Morning Shootout is filmed in balmy LA while I'm sitting in the tundra of NYC watching it.

So first the hosts, Peter Guber and Peter Bart, talked about Peter Jackson's $20 million paycheck for King Kong and if this was an indicator for raises for all directors. They acknowledged that Peter Jackson was also producing it and Peter Jackson said that the budget was $150 million which was about $50 million less than if the movie were made outside of his New Zealand facilities. So, the implication was that he was getting paid for doing his job and also saving Universal money.

They also talked about how PJ was talking about making King Kong in 1996/97 around the time he was about to start making LOTR. So he and Universal are just returning to a project that was on hold. PJ said he saw the original King Kong when he was 9 and loved it. He was inspired to re-make it knowing that most kids today would never watch the original.

Then they asked him if he had shot LOTR footage especially for the dvds and PJ said,"No, we weren't even aware of the dvd at that time in 1999-2000." Instead, they were just trying to deliver a film for the many devoted fans of the books and thus ended up filming longer scenes than were shown in the theater cuts of the movies. PJ said when the idea for him to extend the films for the dvds arose, "I felt like I was sabotaging my own films" because he had worked so carefully to cut out stuff to achieve just the right pacing. But now he realizes that the fans appreciate the extended versions and that the dvd viewing experience is different from the theater viewing experience.

The show concluded with the hosts asking PJ if, after spending 5 years with Middle Earth, he was able to make a movie about regular people. PJ responded with a quote he's used before. He said that his favorite quote is by Alfred Hitchcock and reflects his feelings exactly: "Some films are slices of life. Mine are slices of cake."

Over the closing credits, the hosts referred to Peter Jackson's other homage to Hitchcock in that he always makes a cameo in his films. They said, what are you going to do in King Kong? And PJ said he'd like to be the guy on the plane who shoots at King Kong.

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Added 2/04 the dreamers
The source: The Dreamers (2003; released in 2004) (Director: Bernardo Bertolucci; Writer: Gilbert Adair based on his 1988 "The Holy Innocents" )
How I came across it: Saw it when it was released in 2/04.
The gems: Again, I'm just posting my brother's review for the Anderson Exchange, with his permission, as it literally reflects my opinions about the movie (I saw it just before him and pretty much gave him the same review he settled upon; let me just say here that I saw 50 First Dates and really enjoyed it -you'll understand in a second):

Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004

SEX CINEMA AND THE 60’S
Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” revives the spirit of May 68 Paris
by Chris Koh

Have you always dreamed of re-creating the scene in Godard’s “Band ? Part” where the youthful trio makes a mad dash through the hallowed halls of the Louvre in the world’s first instance of speed gallery viewing? If so, you’re probably part of the ideal target audience for Bernardo Bertolucci’s new film “The Dreamers” – a paean to cinephilia, youth, sex, and 60’s politics. If, however, the “Nouvelle Vague” and arguments about Buster Keaton and Nicholas Ray hold no meaning for you – you might want to check out “50 First Dates” instead.

Like many of the films by the legendary auteur of “Last Tango in Paris,” “The Dreamers” is an erratic and highly divisive piece of work. The film is pretentious, self-indulgent, and occasionally absurd. But it’s also rapturously beautiful, cinematically lyrical, and sexually provocative.

The story concerns a young American expatriate named Michael (Leonardo DiCaprio-lookalike Michael Pitt), who finds himself in Paris just before the May ’68 revolutions that would unify students, cinephiles, and workers. Michael faithfully attends screenings of Sam Fuller movies at Henri Langlois’ Cinematheque until the French government shuts it down. However, Michael meets fellow cineastes Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), fraternal twins who are just a tad too close with one another. The sexy siblings invite Michael to live in their apartment while their parents – a famous French poet and upper-class English woman – retreat to their country home.

In the apartment, the young trio debates the politics of the time which include Vietnam and the Cultural Revolution. They also argue about Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. But most of all, they share their exorbitant passion for cinema. Isabelle and Theo are so taken with the expressive power of film that they try to recreate their favorite scenes in a series of kinky games that resemble a cross between “Truth or Dare” and “Name That Movie.” Bertolucci underscores how great movies can overtake reality for audiences by intercutting the actions of his characters with actual scenes from such films as Godard’s “Breathless,” Hawks’ “Scarface,” and Bresson’s “Mouchette.” The result is somewhere between lyrically poignant and utterly trivial – depending on your cultural context.

While the movie’s ads (like the coffee cup holders down in Roma) titillate by suggesting the possibility of a ménage à trois between the characters, the majority of the erotic action takes place between Michael and Isabelle. Indeed, there are healthy doses of both male and female full frontal nudity to please people of every gender and orientation. However, prurient audiences intrigued by the NC-17 rating should be warned that there’s a lot of arty onanism to overcome to get to the sex. Ultimately, the movie disappoints by going nowhere with its story or themes. Still, “The Dreamers” distinguishes itself from most contemporary films in its ability to employ eroticism for artistic means.


Added 3/04 the passion of christ
The source: The Passion of Christ (2004) (Director: Mel Gibson; Writer: yeah, we know)
How I came across it: To be honest, I haven't seen it and don't really feel like seeing it based on what I know of it. However, my brother saw it and wrote an interesting review so I'm posting it here for those who are interested.
The review:

PASSION OR PREJUDICE?
Exchange writer reviews the year’s most controversial movie
by Chris Koh (3/3/04)

By now, it’s obvious that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” is a bonafide cultural phenomenon. Even before its release on Ash Wednesday, the film inspired heated debates between cultural pundits and religious leaders over its allegedly anti-Semitic content – including angry criticism from people who hadn’t seen the film yet. After the film’s first week of release, domestic box office grosses stand at $125 million and counting. However, critical opinion remains sharply divided. Controversy exists over the film’s extreme graphic violence and unorthodox interpretation of the Gospels.

Originally, I intended to evaluate the film solely on its formal merits since I feel unqualified to comment on its theological accuracy. However, it’s clear that this film’s form cannot be divorced from content. Furthermore, this may be a case where the film’s actual impact rather than Mel Gibson’s stated intentions ultimately matters more.

First, I will comment on the film’s strengths especially with regards to its cinematic qualities. Undeniably, the film is a work of tremendous power and visual beauty. Gibson and his cinematographer Caleb Deschanel took inspiration from Renaissance painters such as Caravaggio to create painterly images projecting bold iconic power. Lead actor Jim Caviezel gives an intensely physical performance in the title role that anchors the film. One of Gibson’s riskiest creative gambits, the decision to have all spoken dialogue in Aramaic and Latin, pays off handsomely. Unlike many Biblical epics which suffer from an awkward, phony stiffness due to archaic language, “The Passion” establishes instant credibility in its dialogue. Finally, Gibson’s imaginative androgynous depiction of Satan reminded me of a Hong Kong movie villain – and I mean that as a compliment. Even the film’s strongest detractors cannot easily dismiss it due to its level of craft and commitment. However, these qualities do not insulate the film from valid criticism.

In many ways, this is the “Braveheart” version of Christ’s final days. Gibson’s method is to depict the events and characters with a simplicity that makes the material extremely accessible and dynamic. While this style lends the film a punchy impact, it also makes the film borderline comic-book especially with regards to its one-dimensional characterizations. Everybody is either satanic or holy. The one baffling exception is Pontius Pilate, who Gibson decides to portray as a pragmatist who reluctantly condemns Christ to death solely to avoid a rebellion amongst the Jewish people. Although all the characterizations in the film tend to be cardboard thin, the Jewish authorities led by Caiphas come across as especially vindictive. The half-baked attempt at humanizing Pilate and his wife (who urges Pilate not to harm Christ) only makes the Jewish mob that cries out for Christ’s blood seem worse in comparison. Does this make the film anti-Semitic? Some critics argue that the rest of the Jews in the film – such as the people who cry out in his defense along the way to Golgotha - come across as sympathetic. To my eyes, the blame for Christ’s crucifixion didn’t come across evenly distributed between the Romans and the Jewish authorities. Perhaps Gibson is not intentionally anti-Semitic, but the film’s depiction of the events certainly could fan the flames of audiences pre-disposed toward bigotry.

Furthermore, Gibson’s direction is relentlessly single-minded in its emphasis on the bloodshed. Gibson obviously wants the audience to be aware of every agonizing moment that Christ endured on behalf of humanity. Gibson shows us each punch, lashing, and tear of the flesh in excoriating detail. It’s like Gibson pounding every nail in the cross over and over for 126 minutes. After the fiftieth or so beating, the savagery stops seeming harrowing and simply becomes numbing. As a result, the brutality overwhelms the supposed message of tolerance, love, forgiveness, and understanding that Gibson alleges is the takeaway from the film. Unfortunately, I never felt the sense of genuine spiritual struggle and humanism that Martin Scorsese expressed in “The Last Temptation of Christ” or that Carl Dreyer exemplified in “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” Ultimately, the film will act like a Rorschach test and confirm your spiritual proclivities. In that sense, this film may be preaching to the choir. My own feeling is that the film will be more divisive than unifying and ecumenical. However, any film that can inspire healthy debate and discussion about the big issues may be worthwhile.


Added 3/04:making of the passion of the dumpty

I just watched the most hilarious satire of The Passion on SNL's Saturday TV Funhouse (3/13/04). It was "The Making of the Passion of the Dumpty" by Robert Smigel. I still haven't seen The Passion but I'm sure this spoof encapsulates the experience of watching it. It takes Mel Gibson's interview with "Primetime" and intersperses images of him saying his sound bites with Robert Smigel's animation.

A week later: Before you read the transcript, The Passion of Christ has grossed $300 million worldwide with a projected gross of $400 domestic before worldwide and dvd sales. But, the remake of Dawn of the Dead surpassed it in the #1 spot in box office draw over the weekend. So maybe the Passion crowd is winding down. Anyway, I was watching the 3/21/04 episode of Sunday Morning Shootout on AMC with Peter Bart (EIC of Variety) and Peter Guber (founder of Mandalay Pictures). They were pointing out that all of that money goes directly to Mel Gibson as he financed the picture himself as well as being credited as a writer, producer and director on the film. Also, the film made back the $50 million or so budget within the first 48 hours. So it looks like no one's career is "ruined" over this controversial movie. The Peters were saying the controversy surrounding this film will fade away into the background and only the power of the star will be remembered. They also both agreed that they'd like to see Mel put his money where his mouth is and make ecumenical contributions.


Okay, here's the transcript of The Making of the Passion of the Dumpty:

Mel: I did it with God's help. I mean this is my version of what happened.

Image: A shadow pushes Humpty Dumpty off his brick wall. We see his shadow approaching the green grass. Slow-motion image of HD's impact with the ground and each crack of his shell spreading throughout his body.

dumpty sitting dumpty falling

Image: Then HD's yellow yolk mixed with the whites of his insides splashes slowly onto the spectators.

dumpty crowd

Mel: I wanted it to be shocking.

Image: We see HD's shell/body splayed on the ground with his eyes separated by a jagged crack. Bits of his shell and yolk surround him.

dumpty splayed

Mel: I also wanted to be extreme. I wanted it to push the viewer over the edge and it does that.

Image: A nun/egg lady with hands clasped in front of her has a tear run down her face. In the background, we hear the crowd yelling. Image shown of HD's mouth as he spews up more yolk.

dumpty nun dumpty spews

Cut to "Bush-Cheney 04" ad with voice over, "The last few years have tested America in many ways" then series of images such as MJ dangling his baby, Liza and David making out at their wedding, a clip from Gigli shown. "Pres. Bush: steady leadership in times of change."

Image: Back to Making of Passion of the Dumpty. Panning of crowd covered in yolk cheering/yelling.

Mel: It's not about pointing fingers. It's not about playing the blame game.

Image: A man wearing a starred hat standing behind the wall.

dumpty blame game

Mel: I believe that the Holy Ghost is real. I believe that He's looking favorably on this film.

Image: HD is still splayed on the ground. Now his "intestines" are unraveled outside his shell. His leg is quivering. One of his eyes/eye-shell pieces cracks in two and falls down his face.

dumpty guts

Mel: And He wanted to help.

Image: A horse's foot stomps down smack in the middle of HD's kisser, smashing it into even more pieces.

dumpty with horse's foot in kisser dumpty's kisser

Cut to another version of the Bush-Cheney ad. This time there are clips from cartoons and a dog walking a dog and two cats boxing.

Mel: You either accept the whole thing or you don't accept it at all.

Image: People (and horse) at table with giant sunny-side up egg on a plate in front of them. One guy (Pontius?) has a knife in hand.

dumpty table

Image: The egg disappears from the plate. We see it become a "ghost" and lift up into the sky as it turns back into HD - we see his legs dangling.

Mel: It's about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. It's a reality for me. I believe that. I have to.

Image: Looney Tunes drum logo with song in background. In center of drum, we see Mel's mug from Lethal Weapon. He says, "You think I'm crazy? You want to see crazy? I'll show you crazy," and then we see him do his Three Stooges impression.

dumpty looney tunes

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Added 3/04: south park

South Park's satire is airing tonight so I haven't seen it yet. But I thought I'd just post the synopsis here for now (I think this is from IMDB.com but it's all from the press release so it's probably similar to related articles):

'South Park' To Offer "The Passion of the Jew"

The controversy over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ spills over into Comedy Central Wednesday night when South Park offers an episode titled The Passion of the Jew. A news release issued by the Viacom-owned channel on Monday described the episode this way: "After weeks of pressure from Cartman, Kyle finally sees The Passion and, much to Cartman's delight, is forced to admit that he has been right all along. Inspired by Kyle's change of heart and a powerful love for Mel Gibson, Cartman incites many of the film's hardcore fans to band together and carry out its message. Meanwhile, Stan and Kenny also see the movie and embark upon a quest to find Mel Gibson."

I guess we'll see how it is. More to come...

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Added 5/04: kill bill volume 2 cover
The source: Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004) (Director: Quentin Tarantino; Writer: Quentin Tarantino)
How I came across it: Saw Volume 1 and had to see the conclusion. Once again, here is my brother's review published in the Anderson Exchange and reproduced here by his permission. Personally, I liked Volume 1. You'll read that he wasn't that impressed. But we both liked Volume 2. I think QT could've blended the two and mixed up the pacing a bit. Anyway, here's the review:

Date: Sat, 1 May 2004 19:12:39 -0700

FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL BILL!
Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Volume 2” brings the epic to a satisfying close
by Chris Koh

As someone who found the previous installment of Quentin Tarantino’s revenge epic a disappointing step backwards, I am pleased to report that “Kill Bill Volume 2” is an immensely satisfying follow-up that improves upon the flashy nihilism of the first film.

For those who haven’t seen Volume 1, the bare bones story concerns a female assassin called “The Bride” (Uma Thurman) who emerges from a five year coma, determined to get her revenge against her former employer, Bill (David Carradine) and his “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” (Vivica Fox, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, and Darryl Hannah) after they gun down everyone (including her) at a wedding party in El Paso, Texas. Basically, the film is a roundelay of elaborately choreographed fight scenes as “The Bride” whose real name we eventually learn in this film – kills off various foes in bloodily inventive ways. Her ultimate goal is to “Kill Bill” – her former boss and lover. Volume 2 picks up as she makes her way down the second half of her hit list.

While his statuesque protagonist is hell-bent on vengeance, Tarantino is hell-bent on creating the ultimate genre-film. He mixed up all of his movie geek influences into a giant cinematic blender and attempted to synthesize the ultimate movie-movie. “Kill Bill” was originally intended to be one epic film that digested a lifetime of watching Shaw Brothers kung-fu films, Sonny Chiba’s “Street Fighter” movies, Seijin Suzuki and Kinji Fukasaku yakuza movies, anime, Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, Roger Corman exploitation flicks, and Brian DePalma genre exercises into a fanboy’s wet dream. Some even compared the experience of watching Volume 1 to being stuck in a room with Tarantino while he gabbed away about his DVD collection.

In fact, I found myself distracted and exhausted by the compendium of trash film references that kept piling up along with the bodies and severed limbs in Volume 1. Despite the kinetic whirlwind of action that filled the screen, the entire film felt curiously remote and unaffecting. This was exacerbated by my own familiarity with Asian trash cinema – which diminished any feeling of freshness. My overriding reaction was “who cares?”

In all fairness, the lack of character development and concomitant emotional detachment was probably an intentional gambit by Tarantino that made more sense in the original design of the film as one whole. But standing on its own, Volume 1 felt like the work of a punk rocker trying way too hard to prove that he’s still hardcore. I missed the brilliant dialogue and sense of nuance that is Tarantino’s true genius – not his baroque sense of violence.

Which brings us to Volume 2: all of the omissions of Volume 1 – character, inventive narrative structure, witty dialogue, graceful humor, and actors showcasing their talents – are corrected and then some. It’s a relief to see that Tarantino’s enormous talent remains undiminished. In fact, his directorial powers have developed to the point where he’s actually transcended many of his influences. His biggest influence now may be himself.

The greatest joy of Volume 2 is watching actors in roles tailor fit to their idiosyncratic strengths enjoy the pleasure of conversation. The film is a beautifully constructed series of scenes that usually have two characters facing off one another in a uniquely Tarantino way. Punctuations of violence occur, but they are given less emphasis than dialogue. Tarantino even finds hilariously inventive ways to justify his famously long monologues for a few of his characters.

As always, Tarantino’s deep love and appreciation of actors comes shining through. While the industry has largely marginalized such actors as Carradine, Hannah, Madsen, (and even Thurman to some degree) Tarantino is able to ferret out their particular strengths and allow each to do career-topping work. Tarantino generously allows his cast to relax and find every grace note between the exchanges of dialogue. His cast gladly returns the love and provides robust iconic performances.

In addition, the film is visually bolder and more accomplished than anything else in the director’s oeuvre. This is no small part due to the exemplary work of ace cinematographer Robert Richardson, fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, and production designer David Wasco. However, Tarantino clearly made enormous strides in the visual arena while working on a wide cinematic canvas.

Volume 2 contains one of the most rousing pure movie-movie moments I’ve ever seen. (I won’t spoil the surprise). However, while I was tipping my hat to Tarantino for his ingenuity, I had to wonder if he has anything deeper in his bag of tricks. There’s no question that Tarantino knows how to entertain an audience with remarkable élan, but can he ever make a truly meaningful film?

Many of Tarantino’s idols were able to use genre to serve deeper meaning. Sam Fuller employed his tabloid style to highlight a sense of moral and social outrage. Scorsese’s films ultimately express spiritual conflict and yearning. Francis Coppola used the gangster genre to provide the definitive commentary on the American Dream. Even Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale” – a movie that Tarantino admits deeply informed the making of “Kill Bill” - offered a trenchant commentary on Japanese society. To be fair, there are worse things than just being an incredibly skillful entertainer. Plenty of other filmmakers built healthy careers on virtuosic technique that didn’t necessarily serve a higher purpose (arguably Hitchcock, most of the Coen Brothers’ work, pre-Schindler’s List Spielberg). Tarantino’s love of cinema is unquestionably pure – but does that love extend beyond the screen? Only time will tell. For now, we’ll have to settle for dazzling entertainment.

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Added 5/04: super size me
The source: Super Size Me (2004) (Director: Morgan Spurlock)
How I came across it: I first read about it when it started hitting the festivals. It sounded riveting and I told my brother about it right away. I haven't seen it yet. Of course I wanted to see it the second I heard about it. But now that it's actually out, I haven't gotten around to yet. I'm still recovering from the end of Angel. Boo-hoo. Okay, here's my brother's Anderson Exchange review:

Date: Thu, 20 May 2004
FAST FOOD NATION
Morgan Spurlock unveils the evils of Mickey D’s in “Super Size Me”
by Chris Koh

If Fast Food Nation didn’t make you lose your appetite for fast food, then I suggest taking a look at “Super Size Me.” This entertaining and disturbing documentary presents the first hand account of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s experiment with a McDonald’s only diet. For 30 days, Spurlock ate only McDonald’s meals three times a day. The result: Spurlock gained nearly 30 lbs, his cholesterol levels skyrocketed, his liver became “pate,” and he suffered from depression and mood swings.

Ok, so big deal, right? Everyone knows that fast food is bad for you. Only a moron would stuff his face on a regular basis with junk food and not expect his health to deteriorate. Nevertheless, it is still shocking to behold Spurlock’s transformation before our eyes. Nobody – not Spurlock’s three physicians or the nutritionist and trainer that he engages for the experiment - predicted the results to be this bad.

Spurlock admits he was inspired by the spate of lawsuits brought against fast food companies by obese people for damaging their health. While we blame an overly litigious society that tends to abdicate personal responsibility for this recent trend, the movie does score some key points. It’s hardly a shock that McDonald’s is basically toxic for our bodies and that you’re going to end up fat and unhappy if you eat too much of it. But it is startling to see how addictive it is when consumed on a daily basis through Spurlock’s wild mood swings and to witness just how awful he looked in the midst of his diet. Clearly, the movie offers strong evidence that we can control our destinies when it comes to our health. Prior to the project, Spurlock was a healthy young man who ate right and exercised. He ceased to do both – and the results speak for themselves.

While we clearly have the choice to eat properly and exercise, does society always make it convenient and easy to do so? I ruminated on this as I thought about my own expanding waistline. Those of you who have read my travails with the Zone Diet know about my own struggles to lose the extra pounds gained during b-school. I don’t blame anyone else for my own bad habits that created this dilemma. But there are aspects about my lifestyle that make it harder. LA is simply not a pedestrian friendly city. Consequently, I do not walk very much here. Second, my erratic schedule forces me to eat on the run at odd hours. Unless I bring my own food – which I rarely have the time to do – I am forced to deal with a severely limited selection around campus for meals. If I am unable to grab a salad or healthy sandwich from Roma earlier in the day, I might be forced to eat at Ackerman late at night. It’s usually a choice between an extremely unsatisfying, not very fresh salad and some fatty fried food. If it gets late enough, my only real choice is a fast food drive through. Quite simply, it’s easier to eat unhealthy. That doesn’t excuse me since I could just plan ahead by shopping and cooking when I do have time. However, my point is that eating right takes real effort and often costs a premium. Whereas, eating crap is more convenient and often cheaper.

The most disturbing part of “Super Size Me” focused on school lunch programs and how much crap children are served by their schools. Kids are offered heaps of chips, fries, sodas, fried food – and rarely given balanced alternatives. Meanwhile, genuinely healthy lunch programs struggle to gain acceptance across school districts despite costing the same or less than competing programs. Not only are children aggressively marketed to by fast food companies, they are weaned on addictive and fatty food at an early age even at school.

I can sense that I’m about to get moralistic and didactic. I don’t mean to suggest that Spurlock’s film shares those qualities. It’s primarily a really entertaining and funny movie. But I do think it could serve as a wake up call and should be seen by any one who plans on marketing food products. But any one who eats bad food on occasion ought to watch it as well.

Added 5/04: I still need to see Coffee and Cigarettes (I heard the great parts are really great and the parts that don't work, well, you forgive Jim Jarmusch because at least you know he's put out what he truly wants to put out there for us to see), but I managed to catch up on movies and finally see Super Size Me. What did I think? First of all, I felt really, really fat (like the Violent Femmes song says that plays near the end). It was certainly entertaining. I must say, and I'm not being moralistic at all, I'm not a big fast food person. I'm a big food person - make no mistake. But good life that I have, I would say I eat fast food only a few times a year and that's when I'm travelling and it seems like the best airport/road option. I should also say that I read Fast Food Nation and thought it rocked. However, I barely remember the details. (Please see what I wrote about The Ben Stiller Show for further explanation about how my brain works.) Incidentally and tangentially speaking, I also finally got around to reading Reefer Madness. The most fascinating section was the adult entertainment one. The book as a whole didn't quite hold together like Fast Food Nation but it definitely had some good parts to it.

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What else can I add about Super Size Me...well, I would say it's worth seeing. The audience was a bit Woody Allen-ish in that they were on the smug side. That's to be expected. I admit to some smuggery (read anything I've written on this site!). But I also admit the movie is not going to deter me from my occasional fast food outings on the road. However, as a movie, it's tight, captivating and educational. I look forward to the dvd and hope there's a director's commentary on it.

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Added 5/04: Troy
The source: Troy (2004) (Director: Wolfgang Peterson; Writer(s): Homer; David Benioff)
How I came across it: Who hasn't heard of it? I admit, I haven't seen it yet so I have nothing to add except Eric Bana was entertaining on Conan. Apparently he used to be a stand-up. Aha. That explains his timing. Okay, here's my brother's Anderson Exchange review:

Date: Thu, 20 May 2004
ACHILLES’ HEEL
Brad Pitt flexes in “Troy”
by Chris Koh

For a movie based on an epic poem, “Troy” is utterly lacking in poetry and makes a questionable epic. One of the first of this summer’s $200 million productions, “Troy” isn’t a horrible movie – but it fails to deliver the goods in a truly satisfying manner.

The screenplay by David Benioff (“The 25th Hour”) is “inspired” by Homer’s The Iliad. Adapting Homer for modern audiences is a huge challenge, and taking liberties is not only natural but necessary. However, Benioff and director Wolfgang Petersen make some huge tactical errors. This is an outsized story with larger than life characters that doesn’t operate with the psychological realism to which modern audiences are accustomed. We’re not dealing with historical fact, but with the hyperbole of myth. However, this version of the Trojan War story removes the Greek gods from the action. Allegedly, the filmmakers wanted to convey a greater sense of realism and avoid the cheesiness of “Clash of the Titans.” This is flawed logic for several reasons. First, “Clash of the Titans” was an entertaining movie – far more successful at adapting Greek mythology than “Troy.” Second, “Troy” manages to be pretty damn cheesy by reducing some of the most memorable moments in Western culture to the level of a soap opera. Third, not only does the film fail at “realism” – it shouldn’t have tried to be realistic. By removing the gods, the filmmakers undermine the mythic aspect of the material. One of the great things about Greek mythology and literature was how the gods were as petty and flawed as the human characters and intermingled on a regular basis.

The movie tells its version of the story of the Trojan War which begins when the douche bag of a Trojan prince, Paris (Orlando Bloom in an embarrassing performance that made me lose respect for Legolas) decides to steal Helen (the vacantly pretty model Diana Kruger in her film debut whose face might inspire sales of Vidal Sassoon but probably wouldn’t launch a thousand ships) away from her husband, Spartan king Menelaus (the great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson wasted in a lame role). Understandably, Menelaus is pissed off and asks his brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox giving an enjoyably hammy performance as a complete bastard) - power hungry ruler of the Greek nation – to go to war to retrieve his no good tramp of a wife. 50,000 Greek soldiers show up on the shores of Troy including the legendary Achilles (Brad Pitt tanned and buff and making all the female audience members drool) and his fellow Myrmidons. A lot of fighting ensues. People die. Lovers cry. Oh yeah, there’s a big horse. I don’t know if I’m spoiling the ending, but Troy burns.

The dopey love story between Helen and Paris is one of the movie’s huge failures. Paris comes across as a major weenie, and Helen is a whiny trophy wife. So we don’t care about either of them – making the causes of the Trojan War seem awfully silly. Their scenes aren’t quite as god-awful as the love scenes in “Star Wars: Episode 2” or the infamous animal cracker scenes between Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler in “Armageddon” – but given the importance of Helen to the story – it’s a major letdown. Plus, on a superficial level, Diana Kruger doesn’t have the looks to convey Helen’s preternatural beauty. Then, there’s the Achilles character. Brad Pitt certainly looks right for the role. In many ways, Achilles was the movie star of his day – in this sense, Pitt’s casting is inspired. However, someone made the unfortunate decision to make Achilles a tormented anti-hero who seems to feel cursed by his legendary status. As a result, Pitt spends a lot of time brooding “Method” style which doesn’t play to his natural strengths as an actor. Worst of all, some one told him to affect some kind of weird fake British accent – that gradually disappears by the end of the movie. In his defense, Pitt is saddled with some ungainly dialogue (“Immortality! Take it – it’s yours!”) that perhaps only a young Marlon Brando could pull off. On the positive side, he certainly has the action hero physique and has one really cool move where he leaps in the air to attack his opponents. However, we never truly root for Achilles.

The one character that we do root for is Hector (Eric Bana in a star-making performance). A truly noble and tragic figure, Hector is a warrior who hates war but is fiercely devoted to his family and country. He attempts to live by a code of honor in which nobody else seems to believe. Not only does Bana have a formidable physical presence, he delivers his lines magnificently and convincingly conveys the pain of a man weary of war and fearful of his country’s doom. Anytime Bana was on screen, the movie was on target. The mano-a-mano between Hector and Achilles is the film’s highlight, and one of the few key sequences that succeeds spectacularly.

There are also a few nice scenes with Peter O’Toole as King Priam of Troy. The scene between O’Toole and Pitt is genuinely moving, and Pitt manages to hold his own. And Julie Christie makes an all too brief appearance as Thetis, Achilles’ mother. We can believe that these actors belong in Greek myth because they are truly larger than life and bring with them the gravity of life experience and legendary film roles.

However, most of the movie consists of gaudy looking sets and costumes that look expensive – yet come across “cheap.” Furthermore, the battle scenes are largely underwhelming. Petersen relies on hack moves like sweeping helicopter and crane shots. This movie needed the kinetic talents of a Kurosawa or Spielberg to give clarity and moral weight to the action.

The movie is filled with a lot of rhetoric about the futility of war, but ultimately it plays like another cgi-filled action movie. Still, I didn’t hate it. For a bad movie, it’s reasonably entertaining. If you have three hours to kill, you could do worse. However, you could certainly do better.

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Added 6/04: five obstructions dvd
The source: The Five Obstructions (released in Denmark in 2003; released in US in 2004; directed by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth; written by: Sophie Destin, Asger Leth, Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier)
How I came across it: I saw Owen Gleiberman from EW review it on NY1 and wanted to see it immediately.

five obstructions - Jørgen Leth

The gems: In the middle of the movie, I thought to myself, I believe I’ve just developed some sort of cinematic crush on Jørgen Leth, a person I didn’t even know existed until seeing this movie. Who is Jørgen Leth, you ask? He is an award-winning Danish filmmaker (b. 1937) who, among other things such as being a poet, novelist and tv commentator for the Tour de France, mentored filmmaker Lars von Trier (b. 1956).
five obstructions Lars von Trier

It is relevant to state at the top that while I was intrigued by Dogme 95, filmmaking rules a group of nutty Danes cooked up to purify their craft (I’ve raved about Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (Festen, 1998) elsewhere), I’ve always found the work of Lars von Trier less than satisfying and to be honest, I think he’d be thrilled to hear that. I recognize that he is an original mind and really works (maybe contrives is more accurate) to make films that are jarring and unforgettable. I’m curious about what he puts out. I saw Zentropa and at the end of it wasn’t sure what I thought of it (it was disturbing). I saw Breaking the Waves and thought there was something there but the fundamental message bothered me. I saw Dancer in the Dark and found it amazingly depressing and pretentious but still loved seeing and hearing Bjork dance and sing her way through it. And I will eventually see Dogville. But all in all, I think Lars von Trier is full of himself and it’s kind of annoying. Case in point, the "von" in his name was adopted while at Danish Film School.

celebration breaking the waves dancer in the dark

Okay, let’s face facts, many, many, many people change their names for various reasons. Why should I care if Lars von Trier changed his name? I mean, Willem Defoe changed his name from William Defoe. Isn’t that pretentious? But he doesn’t irk me. In fact, I go out of my way to see him in Wooster Group performances, work that could be construed as the utmost form of self-indulgence (of course I think it's all genius through and through). Re: Mr. von Trier, I’m just tossing this fact into the mix to get my point across. I’m not the biggest Lars von Trier fan but despite that, I am drawn to his work and The Five Obstructions is an impressive work of art all around. I have nothing but compliments for Mr. Supercilious himself, Lars von Trier.

The Five Obstructions is a movie you'll love or hate. There's no middle ground here. Read the reviews. Armond White hated it with a capital "H." Owen Gleiberman gave it a sparkling review grading it with the rare "A." I walked out of it and wanted to see it again immediately.

While it's a shame I can't just leave this "review" without divulging details of the "plot," I recognize the need to say some sort of summary because it's not something you'd walk into cold. So, in sum, Lars von Trier contrives (yes, that's a deliberate use of that word) to give his teacher, his Yoda, his film raison d'etre, aka, Jørgen Leth, an assignment that will literally turn him batty. Perhaps it would even be fair to say that Lars von Trier was actively trying to create a source for his own schadenfreude, i.e., the glee in Jørgen Leth's inevitable misery in attempting this assignment.

Okay, what the heck was the assignment? Lars von Trier said, remake your 1967 12-minute short Det Perfekte menneske, (written by Ole John and Jørgen Leth; starring: Claus Nissen and Majken Algren Nielsen), from here on out to be referenced as ''The Perfect Human,'' using the parameters I, your humble student Lars, force upon you.

Is this making sense? So let's break down the film title: Lars comes up with "five obstructions" to filmmaking, which are really more like five different sets of rules, and asks Jørgen to remake his short five different times adhering to these rules. I hate to give away the rules but I understand you need some examples. So, for example, Lars said, you can only have 12-frame shots meaning the longest a shot could last was about half a second. Another rule was you must go to the most miserable place on earth to film it. Another one was you must make it animated. "But I hate cartoons," Jørgen protests, "So do I," Lars concurs and repeats, "You must make it a cartoon." You get the idea.

What results is fascinating and completely riveting. The original short, The Perfect Human, is this groovy, New Wave-y, philosophical, artsy piece about what makes a human perfect (it might be tongue-in-cheek or it might be earnest; you decide). The five remakes, are five completely different yet related shorts that show the genius of Jørgen Leth. For example, the "cartoon" is animated by Bob Sabiston, the Texas-based computer genius who collaborated with Richard Linklater on his beautiful, mesmerizing ''Waking Life.'' This is why I think I now have some sort of crush on Jørgen Leth despite the fact that I don't even know how to pronounce his name. It's more like a profound admiration I've developed for him and his creative mind - the sort of respect I give Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.

waking life

Anyway, as for inspiring those in the process of dissertation-writing, this film is in essence a how-to on problem-solving. It won't tell you how to solve your unique dissertation problems but it will inspire you to look within yourself to let the answers come to you.

Added 6/04: I was just watching Dinner for Five with Jon Favreau - a really interesting show (I was a slow convert but now I make sure to watch every episode) and Philip Baker Hall was a guest along with David Cross, Molly Shannon and George Hickenlooper. Jon Favreau, I think, asked Philip Baker Hall what it was like to work with Lars Von Trier on Dogville. PBH said it was a good experience and that LVT was sane, unlike what he expected from seeing his previous work, and clearly had an inner vision. PHB noted that LVT had built the town set for Dogville, set in a small Colorado town, inside an old Volvo factory in Sweden which had been converted into a movie studio.

Apparently, LVT does not fly and thus has never been to America. To get to Sweden, LVT had to be driven across a 5-mile bridge. And even to do that drive successfully, he needed to be sedated to calm his nerves. I guess he just doesn't like to travel long distances. I wonder if he would travel by water. PHB relayed that when LVT is asked how he can make movies set in places he's never been, he refers to the fact that Casablanca was not filmed in Casablanca and that none of the key players in that production ever even visited Morocco. Anyway, I found this of interest and thought I'd add it here.

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Added: 8/04 some kind of monster

The source: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004; directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky): Sneak Preview sponsored by NY Film Society followed by a Q&A by filmmakers on 7/6/04

How I came across it: I read about how it played at Sundance and couldn’t wait to see it based on the subject matter. I didn’t know much about Metallica aside from their Napster escapade (and I can’t said I thought very highly of them based on it) and their Good Will Hunting connection (Lars’ wife Skylar once dated Matt Damon and is the basis of the “character” Skylar in Good Will Hunting. Once I saw Lars on MTV saying he wasn’t promoting anything but he was in town because his wife was interviewing for her medical residency. Funny the random things you can remember about people you don’t really know anything about.). But as a fan of documentaries and music in general, I thought there would be enough to keep up my interest. Since seeing the movie, I’ve been listening to them and could probably name a song or two and possibly identify James Hetfield’s voice if tested.

good will hunting kill 'em all some kind of monster soundtrack

I specifically found out about this showing via the NY Film Society e-mail list which you can join without being a member. So you’ll still get early notices but you don’t have to feel committed. I think the sign-up is at filmlinc.com.

The gems: The thrill that came over me when Metallica hit the stage at the end of Some Kind of Monster was pretty unbelievable considering I didn’t know any of their music until I saw the movie. I’m not counting that cheesy song they wrote for Mission Impossible 2. This scene is the one and only time when a song played out in its entirety – a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers. They said they didn’t want to use any conventional “concert film” techniques because they weren’t trying to make a concert film. By the time Metallica goes on stage for the first concert of their tour, you, as the viewer, have watched them struggle with everything from writer’s block, interpersonal conflicts, familial issues, substance abuse and good ole existential angst not to mention lack of a regular bass player for most of the movie, which spans about 2 years, and lack of a lead singer for about a year. I mean both are present in some form. But as a band, they are far from cohesive. So the triumph they felt actually finishing their album, St. Anger, and getting it together enough to tour, just washed over me.

st. anger

There’s been lots of talk about how Metallica underwent group therapy during the course of this movie. I think it’s great that they did it. Even though we see parts of sessions in the movie, we don’t really see the therapist/performance enhancement coach, Phil Towle, do much. To give him the benefit of the doubt, 1) ok, therapy, per se, is not a tangible thing; it’s a process so of course we’re not going to “see” it before our eyes; and 2) the band seems to feel like his assistance was necessary and useful to their “healing” and smoothing over rough edges and fortifying fragile and tenuous spots in their working and interpersonal relationships. They paid him something like $40k a month to hang out in town and be at their beck and call.

Let’s talk a bit about Phil Towle. I wasn’t that impressed with him but I’ll admit that he’s certainly well-intentioned. He does try to get them to listen to each other and facilitate communication. The only reason why he’s effective, IMO, is because the band is ready and willing enough to try. They already have the tools to make their interactions and relationships better and they are in the mindset to give it their best shot. So, ultimately, Phil Towle does facilitate emotional growth for the band. Basically, Phil Towle works with professional sports teams, or as Lars puts it, guys with big egos who need to work together as a team in order to bring in the money for the company. So the record company hired him to work with Metallica. Maybe the record company foot the bill initially but I got the impression that by the end Metallica was paying him out of pocket (can you imagine having a spare $40k in your pocket every month?). The filmmakers said that by the end though, Phil Towle was experiencing some boundary issues and thought he was a member of the band. They said that it seemed like he needed the band more than the band needed him. See the movie, you’ll see what happens when the band tries to ease off the therapy.

Next, how did this film come to be? Both filmmakers, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, introduced the movie but one of them had to go home early so only one them (not sure which one) was left for the Q&A. These are the same guys who made the documentary Paradise Lost (1996) about these troubled teenaged boys who committed murder and in their trial the fact that they listened to Metallica arose. Apparently, Metallica had never licensed their music for any movies at this point. The filmmakers said they had been listening to three specific Metallica songs while editing the movie and decided to find out if they could license them. They faxed Metallica’s management company not thinking they’d be successful, and they received an immediate response saying, hey, we know your work from Brother's Keeper (1992) and respect it, Metallica knows your work and respects it, what’s up? So the filmmakers sent over some footage of Paradise Lost and said, we’d like to use your music in our documentary. Five minutes later, Metallica contacted them and said they could use their music free of charge.

paradise lost

So the relationship between the filmmakers and the band began. They started talking about the obvious – how about a film collaboration? Time went by. Years went by really. Then one day Lars Ulrich (b. 1963) called up Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky and said, we are about to start recording our first album in 5 years, our bass player just quit and we’re starting group therapy; this might be a good time to start filming. The band said they were finally ready "to pull back the curtains." At first Elektra paid the filmmakers something like $2 million to make a promotional film for the new album. Then after James Hetfield (b. 1963) checked into rehab and the fate of the album, band and film were in limbo, the filmmakers had their own crisis about what to do and what they were doing. In fact, the filmmakers admitted they were bickering among themselves and actually living through a similar crisis to the band. As you can guess, they decided to take the risk and keep working on the Metallica documentary but make it into a feature-length movie. The record company said how about an episodic tv reality show and the band said no way and the filmmakers weren’t interested either. So Metallica bought the rights of the footage so far from Elektra and then gave free reign to the filmmakers based on a 20-minute segment they had seen. The band understood the direction the filmmakers were taking and trusted them implicitly. That is, Metallica decided to produce the film themselves and funded the rest of the budget directly. They put out another $3 million to complete the film and total budget including advertising and distribution totals about $7.5 million of their own money! Incredible, isn’t it?

The band didn’t view any more footage until the members were shown a longer unedited cut of the film, something like 3.5 hours or so (the end running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes) which was cut from 1600 hours of raw footage and asked to provide notes. James Hetfield said, I don’t ever need to see this again. I’m glad I did it but it’s all yours. I think the messages are important but I trust you guys to edit as you see fit. Lars said, keep it all in. It’s real, it’s true. They even gave him a chance to edit out the scene when he auctions off his beloved Basquiat collection at Christie’s (or was it Sotheby’s) for a whole lotta cash-money in case he thought he came off too un-metal. But he said, leave it in because that’s who I am.

basquiat

What else was notable? Even though I don’t know the original line-up, when Dave Mustaine, formerly of Metallica and founder of Megadeth, attempts a rapprochement with Lars Ulrich, it is still very interesting. I won’t spoil the surprise but the filmmakers said Metallica fans totally changed their opinion of Dave Mustaine based on that scene. Oh, the filmmakers weren’t Metallica fans in the beginning in that they didn’t go out of their way to listen to their music or follow their story, but once they started doing Paradise Lost and began their friendship with the band, their interest grew as well. The audience asked about what die-hard Metallica fans were saying about the movie. The filmmakers (I know I keep talking like they were both there at the Q&A but I did feel like the other was talking for both) said they had a special screening just for the hardcore fans and these tough-looking, beefy guys had tears in their eyes and said things like, it was so meaningful to see the human side and fallibility of a tough-looking beefy guy like James Hetfield and that they could relate to his struggles with addiction and trying to keep his family life intact. Another fun fact is that Lars' "f***" speech goes on for 5-10 minutes in the film but in actuality, it went on for over 3 hours. What else was asked...oh, they worked with a skeleton crew when filming but a larger one when editing, etc.

The actual studio footage is pretty cool. Imagine someone filming you sitting at your computer trying to piece together your discussion section. Okay, that sounds kind of boring. But doesn't it also sound nerve-racking? I mean, here you are trying to create something and it's all about waiting for the muse to hit you, brainstorming, epiphanies, flow and of course, analyzing your data for meaning, in short, finding order out of chaos. That's what it's like watching them write music and lyrics and seeing James Hetfield record them within the same session. To hear him vocalize is fascinating. You go from hearing his speaking voice to him doing his vocal exercises, yes those same ones everyone does, to turning his metal voice on. There's a scene when Lars, I think, is telling Kirk Hammett (b. 1962) that the traditional metal guitar solo is dead. And Kirk is like, what? I am all about the guitar solo. There's a hilarious scene when Lars is drumming some odd syncopation because he thinks traditional drumming is boring and James tells him he sounds terrible. You get the idea. It's the band, warts and all. Yet, you see their strengths. You see their weaknesses. You see why they work and need work as a group.

Believe it or not, I think after a month of not writing this, I’m finally done with all of the points I wanted to make. So, by now maybe more of you have seen it. I think the national release date was set for July 30th. Oh, I read somewhere that Phil Towle has been on tour with them. The carefully worded statement was that he is currently working with “a band member.” So maybe James still feels like he needs his guidance. I’m just speculating. Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing Some Kind of Monster again on dvd with commentary.

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Added 3/05:
The source: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004) DVD Edition
I originally posted this on the
Pop Culture Addict's Blog but it's really meant to be right here.

I love Metallica...

These are words I never thought I'd utter. Okay, maybe "love" is an overstatement. I like Metallica. Even these are words I am surprised to say. And to be more specific, this is my reaction to Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the dvd edition. To be honest, I still don't really know their music that well but what appeals to me about them is their attitude. I like them for allowing themselves to be documented in an honest and open way. I like them for not taking themselves too seriously. I like them for loving what they do. And it's cool to see that they are good. It's not that before seeing the movie I thought they were untalented. They just didn't register on my radar because of what draws me in musically. But like you, I try to keep my eyes and ears open because you never know what will grab your attention at any given moment.

My original response to the movie from when I saw it last summer (7/04) is here: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. And I wrote some other stuff in the mini-blog: SKOM thoughts.

There are two commentary tracks and both are worth listening to: the band commentary and the film makers' commentary. More on this in a moment.

On Napster I'm sure diehard fans know all this but for someone on the other side, to hear Lars react to his Napster footage makes him more sympathetic re: this issue. He says in the film it wasn't his goal to become the most hated figure in rock. In one of the Q&A's he said it all started from a brief phone call in which someone called him about how something they had just recorded and wasn't even out yet had been made available on Napster. He said it was about control over their material. And their reaction to it became construed as an anti-fan sentiment. Kirk, who is normally less talkative, steps up and supports Lars saying despite all the controversy and anger towards them, their stance hasn't changed.

I guess Lars' reaction was the quickest and strongest because he is most involved in the business end of the band. It's a tricky line because if you think about fans trading music for free without giving royalties to the band, but then consider that these fans will shell out millions to go to the concerts, buy the t-shirts, see this movie and even buy the albums, then isn't that a trade-off? There are artists, I think Jason Mraz is one of them, who says, feel free to record my concerts but please don't charge anyone money for the footage or recordings. Just keep them for personal enjoyment and trading with fellow fans.

Going with the theme of this site, imagine if someone you didn't know got a hold of and then posted part of your results section of your dissertation online mid-analysis. That's not right. It's your work. You obviously didn't feel ready to publish it yet because you would've turned it in already if you did. So it's that feeling of someone taking your stuff without your knowledge and showing it to people without your permission. I mean, now that I'm done (with my results section and everything else), obviously, I'm fine with people seeing what I did.

Anyway, let's not get hung up this. Next...

On Phil Towle, the therapist Hearing the film makers express their gratitude to him makes me feel like he was better than he appears in the film. As I said before, it's clear Phil Towle is well-meaning. He thinks he can help Metallica mend themselves and he wants to help them. And more importantly, one by one, Lars, Kirk and eventually (after a 6 months in rehab) James, believe it and want it. That's what makes it work. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky talk about the rift between them during the filming of this caused by Joe Berlinger having gone off on his own to do Blair Witch 2. They have a long-time partnership and they said Phil Towle helped them find a way to keep working together.

More on the DVD Extras In the commentaries and extras, it's cool to hear the band members cringe at how fat they look or how funny their hair looks, etc. It's very humanizing and makes them interesting and real. At one point, Lars says how he's a little bit desensitized because James says, what does it feel like to watch yourself onscreen with your father? And Lars says, I've seen this so many times now, it almost feels like I'm watching 2 characters on screen, not real people. But in a way, that's a defense mechanism and a functional one at that. If he kept feeling all the emotions he felt the first time every time he viewed it, it would be distracting and maybe overwhelming. Anyway, it's fun to hear the band reminisce.

They have a hard time with the Jason Newsted footage. I think not enough time has passed for the band to be objective. That's perfectly understandable. But the film makers thank him for being available for the film despite the fact that he left Metallica, and upon consideration, as a viewer, it is cool that Jason Newsted agreed to be interviewed for the movie, knowing how the rest of the band probably felt towards him at that point. And what really comes out is the fact that the band never got over the death of original bassist Cliff Burton who they had known since they were teenagers. Imagine the pain they were carrying around. And though through Monday morning quarterbacking we can say, obviously, Cliff Burton's death had a huge impact on the psyche of Metallica as a whole and individually on the members, let's allow that people are more complicated than that kind of 30-second analysis and go on.

If you're a fan, you've already heard about the fascinating scene with Dave Mustaine, the lead guitarist who was kicked out of Metallica way back when. Again, it's honest and touching. And Lars says they had spoken on the phone before filming the scene and had something of a relationship. But what Dave Mustaine says to him in the context of trying to work out past conflicts, is still news to him and to James (after the fact). Unfortunately, it seems Dave Mustaine found the process too painful. This is me editorializing. I think he felt too exposed. The film makers say that once the movie came out, Dave Mustaine called it "Some Kind of B.S." and refused to let them use any Megadeth footage in it.

There is a fantastic deleted scene showing producer Swizz Beatz working with producer Bob Rock in the studio piecing together what eventually became a Ja Rule/Metallica joint um... I think it was called We Did It Again. I can see why it was cut from the final film. It would've cut the flow of the story. But being privy to the creative process is very cool. It made me respect the talent of Swizz Beatz. And it's very interesting to learn that pre-rehab, James had firmly expressed his dislike of hip hop. Yet, in his absence, the band proceeds with this project. Hm. No word on James' reaction to the end product.

Just a couple of more observations:

Another great deleted scene, definitely better cut from the film but perfect as a dvd extra, depicts the process by which the band and the film makers decided whether or not to press forward with the film upon James' return from rehab. Basically what changed James' mind was viewing 20 minutes of the film in progress. It would've been too jarring to see it within the film but to see it afterwards is cool. You see the reactions of Lars, Kirk and James as they see the footage for the first time. Amazing the trust they had in the film makers.

One last thought... I would've enjoyed having MTV's Icon: Metallica show as a dvd extra because they talk about it in the film. I didn't watch it originally because I didn't care. But after viewing SKOM, I totally care and short of going to the Museum of Television and Radio archives, I don't have easy access to it. But, it must've been a Viacom/financial issue. The band foot the entire bill of the movie and rights to an MTV production most likely costs a pretty penny.

So, initially, I thought the film ran a bit long, as I typically do, but upon second viewing, I thought it was just right. And when I first read about the 10 hours or so of footage on the dvd, I thought, yikes. But they did a good job of including interesting stuff. I still stand behind my recommendation of the film as a form of entertainment and as a source of creative inspiration.

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Added: 10/04 i heart huckabees
The source: I Heart Huckabees (2004) (Director: David O. Russell; Writer: David O. Russell)
How I came across it: I've seen David O. Russell's other movies and read a screenplay or two of his. I've said how much I loved Jason Schwartman's performance in "Rushmore." Given the givens, this one looked worth checking out. I think there's a lot going on in David O. Russell's brain. He's one of those who is constantly filming others and his interactions with others (you can see that happening in the behind the scenes section of the Three Kings dvd; btw, have we already talked about the Ice Cube acting clip on there?). I know it's not a movie for everyone. But it does keep moving, it's entertaining and it's a basic "what is the meaning of all this?" tale that doesn't take itself too seriously and yet is presented in all seriousness. Ebert hated it. As for me, all I can say is, "You rock, rock." Here is my brother's review:

Date: Sun, 10 Oct 2004
"I Heart Huckabees" review
by Chris Koh

The fact that “I Heart Huckabees” is virtually impossible to reduce to a simple plot summary is both its greatest asset and liability. Wildly overambitious, genuinely chaotic, impossibly heady, undeniably self-indulgent, and yet improbably affecting – it’s amazing that this film even got made. It’s not surprising that you might have trouble figuring out what this film’s about from the ads because after seeing the film, I’m not entirely sure what to tell you either. Although this movie may be a marketing department’s worst nightmare, it yields enormous pleasures for patient and open-minded viewers. Writer-director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”, “Spanking the Monkey”) returns to the absurdist screwball comedy of “Flirting With Disaster.” He could have easily named this film “Flirting With Disaster” too since the movie threatens to come apart at several points. Some might argue that the film actually does collapse; remarkably, however, it somehow comes back together again in a satisfying manner.

The movie is billed as an “existential comedy” with protagonist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman in easily his best role since “Rushmore”) torn by a series of weird coincidences in his life and feeling enormous anxiety about the state of the world and the purpose of his existence. Albert is environmental activist/poet who works for the “Open Spaces Coalition” that is devoted to fighting “urban sprawl.” However, lately Albert wonders if any of his efforts mean anything.

Albert engages the services of a husband-wife team of “existential” detectives (deftly played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin). The mystical snoops, Bernard and Vivian Jaffe, follow Albert around and examine every minute detail of his life to uncover the meaning of it all. The Jaffes embraces a quasi-Buddhist philosophy that suggests that everything is interconnected. Their investigation leads them to Albert’s arch-nemesis, Brad Strand (the ubiquitous Jude Law), a suave, corporate PR man for the Huckabee’s chain of superstores (basically a stand in for Wal-Mart). Golden boy Brad usurps Albert’s position as Open Spaces leader by charming the rest of the coalition into accepting his corporate compromises. However, Brad’s life isn’t as perfect as it might seem. His attractive girlfriend, Dawn (the versatile and always reliable Naomi Watts), is having self-esteem issues that center around doubts about being just a pretty face and starts to question her role as the Huckabee’s spokes model.

But wait – there’s more! Albert is paired up with his “other” – Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg giving his most soulful and funny performance since “Boogie Nights”), a fireman experiencing his own existential crisis since 9/11. Tommy is equally disillusioned by the state of the world, particularly by the direction his country has taken since that tragic day. Together, Albert and Tommy stand in for the emotional/spiritual/moral/intellectual confusion that many people currently feel. Eventually, Albert and Tommy cross paths with the Jaffes’ arch-enemy – the French nihilist Catherine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert – taking a break from her humorless ice queen roles for Claude Chabrol and Michael Haneke). Disillusioned by what he feels is the misleading optimism of the Jaffes, Albert is seduced by the liberating pessimism of Vauban and eventually becomes her lover. Still with me? If this wasn’t exhausting and confusing enough, I still haven’t mentioned the tall Sudanese refugee that Albert keeps running into or the mystical portal that allows people to see their inner selves.

As you can gather from my verbose plot description, “I Heart Huckabees” is a bit of a mess. Still, it’s the mess of an extremely gifted and intelligent filmmaker – which is preferable to the perfectly disciplined work of an inane hack. If Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace, Charlie Kaufman, David Lynch, and Jean-Luc Godard all got together and played the surrealist parlor game “exquisite corpse,” this is the kind of movie that might result from their collective subconscious. The movie is bound to be alienating and exasperating to the majority of the audience – even intelligent, sophisticated viewers. However, for this particular viewer, “Huckabees” is redeemed by its extremely good-hearted and soulful nature. Despite the self-awareness and frantic nature of the film, it’s not the least bit cynical and offers a surprisingly uplifting message that doesn’t feel cheap. Furthermore, I forgot to mention how outrageously funny and consistently entertaining the whole thing is – there isn’t a dull moment. Russell is also enormously generous to all of his characters and their points-of-views. Accordingly, each member of this dream cast gets to shine and take part in the inspired wackiness. When most movies are so homogenous and formulaic, it is difficult not to applaud a completely original and audacious work – even one as erratic and frenetic as this one. Ultimately, there’s something refreshingly honest and appropriate about how much “Huckabees’ manages to reflect the messy feelings and thoughts of our troubled times.

-30-

Addendum: I'm sure my brother would approve. I can't resist adding this here for inspiration:
"Nobody sits like this rock sits. You rock, rock. The rock just sits and is and that's what we need."

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Added: 11/04 the incredibles
The source: The Incredibles (2004) (Director: Brad Bird; Writer: Brad Bird)
How I came across it: Pixar is beyond cool and always surpasses my expectations. Toy Story 2, anyone? So good! Anyway, I haven't seen The Incredibles yet but that's only because I have to make an extra effort to go to the digital projection showing which is easy to find in NYC but still a bit of an effort.

Added 1/05: I've seen The Incredibles twice now in the theaters. First time I saw it non-digitally projected. It was still superior to all movies I've seen this past 12 months. But then I managed to make it to a theater with the DLP showing and really saw The Incredibles as it was meant to be seen. It was filmed digitally so it only makes sense to see it digitally projected if possible. My movie-mate was skeptical about my exuberance but afterwards was like, I need to see this again! Ah, another satisfied customer.

Here is my brother's review (as of 1/05, he's seen it 3x in the theaters, all 3x with DLP):

Date: Tuesday, 9 November 2004
"The Incredibles" review
by Chris Koh

Amazing, fantastic, spectacular – I hate to sound like a studio flack, but “The Incredibles,” Pixar’s latest entry in an astonishing, unprecedented dynasty of digitally animated classics, is an incredible film. You may sound incredulous when I tell you that writer-director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant” & many episodes of the “The Simpsons”) has created Pixar’s most remarkable creation to date. However, believe the hype – it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a more entertaining or inspired movie this year.

As with all Pixar films, “The Incredibles” is technically dazzling, setting new benchmarks for computer-animated films. Its visual beauty and imaginative design literally takes the breath away in scene after miraculous scene. I saw the film projected digitally which made the pristine images pop out with hallucinatory clarity. However, simply being a technical marvel wouldn’t be enough to give this movie its significance. Nor would it be enough to simply be a kinetic tour-de-force – though “The Incredibles” offers more visceral exhilaration and adroit action dynamics than any film since “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

What truly distinguishes this movie and makes it all the more miraculous is how invested the audience becomes in the characters and how enthralling the storytelling is. There’s plenty of heart and soul driving the engine of the film, making it so much more than a piece of eye candy or escapism. Above all, the movie is a celebration of excellence and idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, there’s plenty of visual and verbal wit to delight audiences of all sensibilities. Basically, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be glued to your seat in excitement and anticipation.

The story of the film concerns a family of superheroes led by the powerful patriarch, Mr. Incredible aka Bob Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), who is married to the pliant Elastigirl aka Helen Parr (voiced by Holly Hunter). The Incredibles have been forced into retirement by a series of lawsuits and now live a frustratingly quotidian existence in the suburbs. Bob works a humiliating desk job processing insurance claims in a bureaucratic hell. Helen takes care of the house while watching over the three children: young prankster Dash who is capable of running faster than the visible eye can capture, sullen teen girl Violet (voiced by NPR’s Sarah Vowell) who can generate force fields and become invisible at will, and the seemingly normal happy baby Jack Jack. All of the protagonists feel suffocated by the middlebrow demands of suburban life and by a society that seems to celebrate mediocrity at the expense of the extraordinary. A series of events brings Mr. Incredible out of retirement to battle the forces of evil once again. And somehow, his entire family gets thrown into the mix.

This may sound like a familiar mix of “Spy Kids,” “X-Men,” James Bond movies, and various comic books. While “The Incredibles” tips its hat respectfully at all of its influences, it clearly transcends all of them to become something far more imaginative and satisfying. It even surpasses the high bar set by this summer’s superlative “Spiderman 2” to become the greatest superhero movie ever made. Like Sam Raimi, director Brad Bird understands the value of strong characters and storytelling balanced with virtuosic action sequences sprinkled with healthy doses of humor. We’re caught up primarily in the dramatic anxieties of the characters while following a fast paced action-packed plot.

Granted, the movie does end somewhat conventionally with a big action finale. But that doesn’t mean that the movie succumbs to mediocrity. It merely satisfies the genre requirements with a great deal of panache.

I should warn anyone planning to take a young child to this film that it’s by far the darkest and most adult entry into the Pixar family. Not only does this movie pile up a considerable body count for an animated film – the stakes of death and destruction are given their proper due. I found myself genuinely worried about the well-being of the characters whenever their lives were thrown into peril, and it’s likely that small children will be terrified by the intensity of some of the action sequences.

However, for the rest of us – “The Incredibles” offers state of the art pop entertainment that restores a good name to creativity and imagination in these decidedly unimaginative and depressing times.

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Added: 1/05 film and video
The source: gold starMy Brother's BEST FILMS OF 2004 gold star

BEST FILMS OF 2004 by Chris Koh
Thu, 6 Jan 2005 20:55:19 -0800

We need another 10 best list like we need another reality series on TV, but here it is. Yes, I have a lot of time on my hands, and so do you if you’re bothering to actually read this. Many of these titles are now available on DVD, so queue them up on Netflix or ask me if you can borrow a copy. In more or less arbitrary order:

1. THE INCREDIBLES – Having seen the movie three times now (always digitally projected), I stand by my statement that this is the year’s best movie. Maybe because it’s so pleasurable to watch that people don’t fully recognize what an amazing, involving piece of work it is.

2. 2046 – Ok, I’m cheating a bit by putting this on this list. I didn’t see this movie in a theater, and it hasn’t been released in the US yet. However, after watching it on DVD (bought in HK), I feel compelled to extol the virtues of Wong Kar Wai’s latest triumph. This movie was greeted in May at Cannes with derision and indifference due to its alleged self-indulgence and superficiality. Don’t believe the hype, it’s still a work of heartbreaking beauty, and Wong Kar Wai remains cinema’s reigning romantic poet of missed connections. Tony Leung confirms his status as the best actor in Asia by grounding the movie’s sensuous surface visuals with genuine emotional weight. I’ll write a full review when the movie finally makes it to US shores.

3. MILLION DOLLAR BABY – Clint Eastwood’s film came out of left field to deliver a quietly devastating punch. The exemplary acting by Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank and spare, clean filmmaking help transform this borderline cliché story about down and out boxers into something akin to a melancholy jazz riff on love and redemption. It’s best to go see this movie knowing next to nothing about it.

4. KILL BILL, VOLUME 2/ ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN– As someone who pretty much hated Volume 1, it was a welcome surprise to see Quentin Tarantino’s considerable talents vindicated in this year’s superior installment of his genre-blending epic pastiche. However, a part of me still feels like Tarantino is the world’s greatest rip-off artist. As virtuosic and witty as he is, there’s something elusive that he can’t quite pull off that an authentic piece of Asian genre filmmaking (like Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi remake) captures effortlessly.

5. SPIDERMAN 2 – Sam Raimi and company came up all aces with this triumphant sequel that’s easily the best comic book movie ever made. It’s also a fine example of the virtues of American studio filmmaking blending the idiosyncrasies of a homegrown independent auteur. Yes, the action sequences are superbly orchestrated, but there’s plenty of personality and nuance in the characters too.

6. THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS/BAADASSSSS!/TARNATION – Each of these films failed to reach a wide audience, and each is a testament to the art of filmmaking. Bratty provocateur Lars Von Trier gave his idol, the retired Danish master Jorgen Leth, the challenge of remaking Leth’s 1967 short film The Perfect Human five different times using “five obstructions.” The result is a inspiring, witty, and poignant cinematic game where Leth meets each challenge with astounding grace, elegance, and classical cinematic verve. Mario Van Peebles made a thrilling and passionate fictional account of his father Melvin’s efforts to create the era’s first genuinely political genre film (Sweet Sweetback’s Baadaassss Song). Van Peebles doesn’t whitewash or sentimentalize his father’s crustiness or obstinacy, but his movie is clearly a love poem to the blood, sweat, and tears behind independent filmmaking. Finally, Jonathan Caouette’s painful, but unforgettable film is virtually unclassifiable (is it a film diary? Collage? Act of cathartic self-therapy?). Whatever it is, it’s a remarkable example of DIY filmmaking. Initially made for just $200 using an iMac, this is the kind of film that makes you wonder how many other extraordinary homegrown artists will emerge from behind their DV cameras and laptops. Now that technology has made it easier for artists to express themselves, it’s impossible for would be filmmakers to make excuses any more.

7. SIDEWAYS – Although this may be the year’s most overrated film, it’s still a terrific movie. Writer-director Alexander Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor may have produced their most acerbically funny and truthful work yet with a pitch-perfect cast including Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden-Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh. The movies pleasures are modest, but genuinely satisfying.

8. THE AVIATOR/COLLATERAL – Two of America’s finest filmmakers apply their considerable talents to limited material to produce superior examples of Hollywood filmmaking. Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic isn’t a masterpiece torn from the director’s soul ala Taxi Driver or Raging Bull, but it is a spectacularly snappy, and snazzy piece of Old Hollywood entertainment. Gorgeously mounted in two, three, and four tone Technicolor, the film also provides an unexpectedly commanding star performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. Plus, Cate Blanchett’s deft portrayal of Katherine Hepburn transcends mere imitation. I’m not really sure if the film says anything meaningful about Hughes, aviation, or America – but it makes for an enjoyable three hours at the movies. Meanwhile, Michael Mann returns to the neo-noir crime genre he does so well. Plus, Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise both do crackerjack work. The result is another mesmerizing study in alpha male lone wolves and urban alienation. Nobody knows how to shoot LA at night better than Mann – even if the movie eventually succumbs to idiotic genre conventions and Hollywood formula.

9. I HEART HUCKABEES – A brilliant, fascinating mess. I can’t help but have affection for this almost incoherent comic disaster from David O. Russell. Somehow, its chaotic frenzy seems spot on to me. Plus, I laughed a lot.

10. TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE - The subversive satirists behind South Park concocted this cinematic cherry bomb that managed to anger and offend partisans on both sides of the aisle. Not bad for a movie starring a bunch of puppets that curse, drink, smoke, vomit, blow up the Louvre, mutilate one another, and fornicate like illustrations from the Kama Sutra. Oh, and I loved the songs. Especially the one sung by the puppet version of Kim Jong Il.

The honor roll of runner ups:

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND – Charlie Kaufman’s best script yet that hits all the right emotional chords with a brilliantly realized premise. I just wish the actual love story was more affecting and that the film’s couple (Jim Carrey & Kate Winslet) had more chemistry. Plus, it seemed at times that director Michel Gondry didn’t really understand the dialogue – resulting in surprisingly flat scenes.

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT – Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s follow-up to his worldwide smash Amelie is being slammed in many corners as being too calculated and arch, especially given the gravity of its World War I subject matter. However, there are many scenes of rapturous beauty, and the storytelling is consistently compelling. Also, the ending had unforced kind of bittersweet simplicity that is rarely seen.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST – The year’s most culturally significant movie was its most controversial. It may be impossible to separate its content (implied or otherwise) from its form, but there’s no denying that Mel Gibson’s biblical epic is a powerful piece of cinema.

GOZU (opening and closing sequences only)– Takeshi Miike, cinema’s most perverse filmmaker (who makes a weirdo like David Lynch look like Frank Capra in comparison) may be the world’s most erratic (and prolific) filmmaker. But when his films work – nobody can pull off the audaciously surreal moments that make your jaw drop, the way this master of the sick and twisted can.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU – As someone who found The Royal Tenenbaums disappointing and self-indulgent compared with the perfect Rushmore – I’m a little dismayed by the current critical backlash against Wes Anderson. This movie isn’t in the same league as Anderson’s earlier work, but it still has plenty of charm and originality. Plus, Bill Murray delivers yet another sly but affecting performance. It’s not a great film, but certainly an enjoyable one with considerable oddball pleasures.

BEFORE SUNSET – The movie flirts perilously with irritating navel gazing, and I admit that I often felt like punching Ethan Hawke in the mouth, but there’s a lot about Richard Linklater’s real time sequel to Before Sunrise that I found poignant. If you’ve ever met someone briefly who made a huge impression on you, and then wondered what if – this movie will resonate with you. Also, the ending is near perfect.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE – I was skeptical of this movie since I regarded a remake of John Frankenheimer’s Cold War classic as somewhat sacrilegious. However, this represents a return to form for director Jonathan Demme. Denzel Washington and Live Schriever deliver outstanding performances in this surprisingly relevant update of paranoia, and wartime political confusion. If I had actually seen it in 2004 instead of on DVD in 2005, I might have put it on my best 10 list.

DAWN OF THE DEAD – this was a shockingly good remake of a movie that really shouldn’t have been re-made. Still, Zack Snyder did a bang-up job in his directorial debut and the opening sequence scared the bejesus out of me.

SPARTAN – David Mamet’s provocative political thriller deserved a much wider audience, and Val Kilmer did some of his best work since The Doors.

BAD EDUCATION – Almodovar’s twisted melodramatic noir is perfectly executed. I just prefer a lot of his other early works.

GARFIELD – just kidding! But for a movie I watched on a plane ride from Seoul to Hanoi, it wasn’t half-bad.


Added: 4/05 best of youth eros
The source: Reviews of Best of Youth and Eros

MOVIES WORTH YOUR TIME & MONEY
Some Movies You've Never Heard Of, But That You Should See
by Chris Koh
Wed, 13 Apr 2005

I had sort of recused myself of any involvement with the Exchange, but the new editors recently asked if I was going to write any articles this quarter. So here I am weighing in on a few movies that I guarantee that you've never heard of and probably won't ever see - but deserve your attention.

First, let me try to convince you to see the six hour plus Italian epic "Best of Youth." Originally commissioned for Italian television, this family saga traces the parallel fortunes of the cheerful, open-hearted Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and his more brooding, volatile brother Matteo (Alessio Boni) from 1966 to 2001. Miramax is distributing the film in two separate three hour parts that can be seen separately. Both parts are highly recommended as six of the most entertaining, emotionally rich hours you could spend in a movie theater.

The story begins with the youthful idealism of both brothers who begin as students in Rome who attempt to "save" a beautiful psychiatric patient named Giorgia who is being abused with unnecessary electroshock therapy. The brothers are unsuccessful in their attempt to take Giorgia with them on their travels to Norway after graduating from university. The failure embitters Matteo who departs to become a police officer. Meanwhile, Nicola deepens his commitment to reforming the field of mental health and becomes a psychiatrist. The film traces the intertwining destinies of the brothers, the rest of their extended family, their friends, and lovers as they move from Rome to Florence, Turin, Sicily, and Tuscany throughout the decades. Their lives reach various turning points marked by historic events in Italian history and include both tragedy and triumph.

Director Marco Tulio Giordana and screenwriters Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli make all of the action clear and accessible and take full advantage of the extended length to achieve a density of character and incident that would not have been possible in a shorter film. Narrative seeds planted in the first half hour of part one receive satisfying emotional payoffs in the final sixth hour of part two. The superb ensemble cast ensures that there is not a single false note. This film is truly worthy of the Italian Neo-Realist tradition of DeSica and Rossellini and the novelistic epics of Visconti and Bertolucci. But even if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I guarantee that you will become absorbed in the lives of these warm, charismatic characters as if they were members of your own family. Plus, there are worse ways to spend six hours than watching attractive actors (of both genders) and beautiful European scenery.

The other film worthy of your attention is actually just the first third of an omnibus film called "Eros." Conceived as a three part tribute to the erotic imagination of another Italian master, Michelangelo Antonioni, "Eros" consists of three films directed by Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Antonioni himself. However, only the Wong Kar Wai film is worth your attention. The first segment, "The Hand," stars a ravishing Gong Li (who proves once again that she's among the world's great actresses) and an elegantly introspective Chang Chen (who you might remember as the dashing desert bandit who steals Zhang Ziyi's hair pin in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Gong Li plays Ms. Hua, a 1960's era courtesan who engages the services of a young, virginal tailor Zhang, played by Chang Chen. Early on in the film, she performs an act upon the inexperienced tailor using her eponymous body part to insure that he remembers her while making her clothes.

The fifty minute film is vintage Wong Kar Wai - a mini-masterpiece of sensuous and seductive filmmaking. However, there is no nudity or anything else prurient in the film. Instead, Wong and the incomparable cinematographer Chris Doyle use carefully placed compositions and gorgeous color coded lighting to imbue each scene with the emotional weight of desire and loneliness. Furthermore, the impeccable non verbal acting of both Gong Li and Chang Chen conveys the profound sense of longing and heartbreak that overtakes both characters. You won't see a more perfect piece of cinema this year. Just make sure you leave right afterwards because the Soderbergh film (despite some witty b & w cinematography and pleasurable banter between Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin) is disappointingly inconsequential, while Antonioni's contribution is a complete embarrassment: boring, pretentious, and completely inane.


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