random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

DVD REVIEW: Grizzly Man (2005) ****

Grizzly Man (2005) Big Release

rated R (for language)
1 hr, 43 min.
written, directed, & narrated by: Werner Herzog
music by: Richard Thompson

I had heard about this documentary movie last year. I knew it was about some guy who spent a lotta time living with bears in the wild and wound up dying at the paws of on of 'em. That caught my curiosity right there. Then I found out that Richard Thompson did the score. I knew I'd eventually see it. Now, with a newborn at home and some time off work I find myself playing catch up with that list of movies I still have to see.

German director Herzog narrates with such hypnotizing cadence that you simply relaxed and enthralled by the life and death of amateur grizzly expert and wildlife conversationalist, Timothy Treadwell. In "Grizzly Man", Herzog documents the documentary bear-lover who spent at least two months (sometimes more) in the wild tundra of Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve. Treadwell lived unarmed among the bears for thirteen summers, and filmed his adventures in the wild during his final five seasons. In October 2003, Treadwell's remains, along with those of his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were discovered near their campsite, they had been mauled and devoured by a grizzly, the first known victims of a bear attack in the park. The bear suspected of the killings was later shot by park officials.

Founder of the organization Grizzly People, Treadwell devoted his life to the preservation of bears, co-authored a book with Jewel Palovak, "Among Grizzlies," and educated thousands of schoolchildren about bears. Treadwell also used his charisma and growing celebrity to spread the grizzly gospel, appearing on television shows including "The Late Show with David Letterman," downplaying the dangers of his encounters. What I later found out is the DVD I watched stated that "This film has been modified from the theatrical version" which usually means to me that it would not be shown in widescreen. That wasn't the case. What that mean was that the whole Letterman show bit was omitted cuz in that interview Letterman asked, "Is it going to happen? That we read a news item one day that you have been eaten by one of these bears?"."

Timothy Treadwell in Lions Gate Films' Grizzly Man

Sadly it turned out Letterman predicted correctly. Herzog does not support Treadwell's ways or condemn them. He merely shows us his life through interviews with those who knew him, his parents, and through hundreds of hours of Treadwell's own footage. As the film began I was in awe that this guy decided to just immerse himself in such wilderness and danger. But, then as his story unfolded I realized this guy definitely had some inner demons. He had tried to make it as an actor and by his account....failed. In an interview, his father stated that when he didn't get the role of the bartender in the television show "Cheers" (which went to Woody Harrelson) that began his downward spiral. He became an alcoholic and tried many different ways of treatment. Then his interest in bears came and he wanted to "protect them." He decided that these bears needed him sober and that's when he quit one addiction and went to one that proved even more dangerous.

But was Timothy Treadwell a passionate and fearless environmentalist who devoted his life to living peacefully among Alaskan grizzly bears in order to save them? Or was he a deluded misanthrope whose reckless actions resulted in his own death, as well as those of his girlfriend and one of the bears he swore to protect? Guess it depends on your point of view. I see him as someone who passionately loved the animal world. Seeing him play and run with the red foxes that he befriended was pretty amazing. Yet, there was a sadness and disregard for his own life that was alarming. In his camera footage of which he was many times the star, you see him say, " love these bears. I would die for them." Clearly, he has crossed the line that we all should have between humans and wild animals. He wanted to be a bear among the bears. He was lucky to live as long as he did. But, his luck ran out.

During his last two or three years in the wilderness, Treadwell was joined by his new girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. Herzog is able to find only one photograph of her, and when she appears in Treadwell's footage (rarely) her face is hard to see. Treadwell liked to give the impression that he was alone with his bears, but Herzog shows one shot that is obviously hand-held -- by Amie, presumably.

Ironically, Treadwell and Huguenard had left for home in the September when they died. Treadwell got into an argument with an Air Alaska employee, canceled his plans to fly home, returned to the "Grizzly Maze" area where most of the bears he knew were already hibernating, and was killed and eaten by an unfamiliar bear that, it appears, he photographed a few hours before his death.

The cap was on his video camera during the attack, but audio was recorded. Herzog listens to the tape in the presence of his close friend (and co-founder of Grizzly People) Jewel Palovak, and then tells her: "You must never listen to this. You should not keep it. You should destroy it because it will be like the white elephant in your room all your life." His decision not to play the audio in his film is a wise one, not only out of respect to the survivors of the victims, but because to watch him listening to it is, oddly, more effective than actually hearing it. We would hear, he tells us, Treadwell screaming for Amie to run for her life, and we would hear the sounds of her trying to fight off the bear by banging it with a frying pan.

The documentary is an uncommon meeting between Treadwell's loony idealism, and Herzog's bleak worldview. Treadwell's footage is sometimes miraculous, as when we see his close bond with a fox who has been like his pet dog for 10 years. Or when he grows angry with God because a drought has dried up the salmon run and his bears are starving. He demands that God make it rain and, what do you know, it does. Against this is Herzog, on the soundtrack: "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder." And over footage of one of Treadwell's beloved bears: "This blank stare" shows not the wisdom Treadwell read into it, but "only the half-bored interest in food."


"In the Edges: The Grizzly Man Session," a 50-minute documentary on the making of the film's music with Herzog in a San Francisco studio that threw together musicians that have never played to together led by Richard Thompson. These musicians had two days to put together music and none of them had seen footage of the film until then. It's some great studio session workand should appeal to any behind-the-scenes or music fan.

Grizzly Man (2005) Big Early

Monday, March 20, 2006

REEL REVIEW: Eight Below (2006) ***

Eight Below (2006)

written by: David DiGilio
(inspired by the screenplay for the Japanese film 'Nankyoku Monogatari' or 'Antarctica' as it was named in the U.S release. 'Eight Below' is the fictional re-interpretation of the true events of the 1958 Japanese expedition).
produced by: Patrick Crowley, Doug Davison, & David Hoberman
directed by: Frank Marshall

How can you not like this movie? Okay, I know. Not a very objective way to start a movie review. But, just about any movie that is about the Arctic or Antarctic should be appealing to everybody. Why? Cuz it's about a place that most people have never traveled to. We're talkin' South Pole people! A truly incredible place to be much less survive in as we all saw in last summer's Oscar "March of the Penguins." Everything about this environment is amazing, intriguing, and dangerous.

I'm sure many people see the poster or commercials for a movie like this, see it's Disney and immediately discount it. Part of that is Disney's fault because at the same time in theatre number 6 in the same multiplex you'll find Disney's "The Shaggy Dog", how pathetic.

Alas, that's another blog. The other fault lies in the moviegoer that sees this as just some kiddie flick. When I first saw the trailer for this last fall, it really had me. I wanted to see this. It looked dramatic and exciting....and indeed it was.

Dr. Davis McLaren (Bruce Greenwood) has come around the world to the most isolated place on Earth - Antarctica - to investigate a meteorite. To do so he's going to need professional Antarctic guide Jerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) and his crack team of sled dogs to get him across the ice. But when dumb McLaren is hurt in an accident, he and the rest of the field team must be evacuated, leaving the dogs to fend for themselves until the weather clears and they can be rescued.

Sure, at first sight it looks like it may be a fun but slightly sappy man-and-his-dogs story, yet "Eight Below" quickly evolves into a well-crafted wilderness adventure reminiscent of Disney's heyday as the dogs roam the naked Antarctic wastes, trying to survive. "Eight Below" moves back and forth between the dogs plight and the lives of the human survivors back in the States, particularly Shepherd, wracked with guilt for leaving them behind.

The sled dogs in Walt Disney Pictures' Eight Below

And that's where the real strength and enjoyment of the movie lies, with the dogs. Their journey is compelling and heartfelt whether its, hunting for food, playing with the Borealis, and in one particularly exciting sequence, fighting with a hungry sea leopard over food. It covers quite a bit of familiar ground, but it does so very well. It works best by focusing on the dogs, all eight of them (hence the title). There's dumb but hard-working, red-headed Buck, the twins Dewey & Truman, the maternal Alpha leader Maya, young Max, poker-playing Old Jack, silver-maned Shadow, and rebellious Shorty. They're all adorable and convey a wide range of emotion. Yes animals, especially dogs, feel and show emotions such as loyalty, anxiety, affection, hunger, and anger.

Shepherd never stops thinking about them, but there's not much he can do. He visits McClaren, whose research financed the dogsled expedition, and he hangs out at his mobile home on a scenic Oregon coast, and he pursues a reawakening love affair with Katie (Moon Bloodgood), the pilot who ferried them to and from the station. To give him credit, he's depressed & brokenhearted, by the thought of those dogs chained up in the frigid night, but what can he do? Meanwhile, the subtitles keep count of how long the dogs have been on their own which is from sometime in January to sometime in July. Yeah.

The movie may seem kinda long for what is given but I think it adds to the feeling if the dogs long endurance. It gets a bit sappy towards the end as earnest movies often tend to do and as this movie should. It's emotional, I shed a tear or two but then again I cry every time I watch E.T. The trip is worth it though, creating a fine piece of wilderness adventure, a genre I grew up with and has languished in recent years.

Could the dogs (six huskies and two malamutes) really have survived unsheltered for five months, scavenging for themselves through an Antarctic winter? I learned from imbd that "Eight Below" is inspired by a Japanese film, itself based on real events, but in the 1958 "true story," seven of nine dogs died. Still, the film doesn't claim to be a documentary, and the story, believable or not, is strong and involving. It's the stuff about the humans that gets a lil thin but I can deal with it because the dogs really pull the movie. Pum intended. However, when Shephard appeals to Dr. McClaren, one would think he'd exert himself a little more to save the dogs, since they saved his life. (How he gets into trouble and what the dogs do to save him I will leave for you to experience; it provides the film's most compelling moments.)

I've heard a lotta people scoff at the acting abilities of Paul Walker. Maybe they see him as just another pretty boy. From the interviews I've read with him and from what acting I've seen him in....I like him. Sure, he's a hunk but he strikes me as one of those guys that other guys would like to kick it with while the girls would like to just stare into his blues eyes. I'm looking forward to see what he could do under the direction of Clint Eastwood later this year in "Flags of Our Fathers."

Director Frank Marshall is mostly well-known for his decades as a producer. He's worked on many memorable hits such as the Indiana Jones & the Back to the Future trilogies as well as the recent Jason Bourne movies with Matt Damon. When I heard he directed this it locked me in. I trust him and he did not let me down at all. Cinematographer Don Burgess did a beautiful job with the overall look. The music by the always great Mark Isham is quite noticeable mainly cuz in the scenes with just the dogs there's no talking. Just three who made this movie seem so much more than another sad, tired Disney remake. This movie succeeds on another level as well. Those of you, like my wife, who aren't "dog people," will find as much pleasure in this movie as those (like myself) who are. When we got out of our seats my wife said to me, "I want one."

"Eight Below" breakdown
In the Future with Paul Walker
interview with Frank Marshall about his various projects

Sunday, March 19, 2006

REEL REVIEW: V for Vendetta (2006) ***

V for Vendetta (2006) freedom poster 3

Rated R (for strong violence and some language.)
2 hrs, 12 min.
written by: The Wachowski Brothers (based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore)
produced by: Grant Hill, Joel Silver, Andy Wachowski, & Larry Wachowski,
directed by: James McTeigue

Back in 1987, I remember seeing the original comic book issues of V for Vendetta at the comic shop I would frequent in high school. I didn't know too much about Alan Moore's 12-issue maxi-series except that I thought it was mysterious and had some cool art by David Lloyd. I recall seeing a cover of one particular issue worm's-eye view looking up a brick wall and seeing a dark figure with a flowing cloak running along or jumping off the wall. I wanted to know who that person was. I found out he was a British vigilante/freedom fighter named "V" and then I wanted to know what his "Vendetta" was. It appears Evey Hammond feels the same way.

The year is 2020. America is left decimated by a plague. London is under the totalitarian grip of a police state government that enforces nightly curfews complete with surveillance cameras, sirens, and loud speakers on every corner. The local news is cleverly spun to make the citizens feel rest assured that "England prevails." Every part of the media is controlled and every event is spun for the benefit of keeping the public in fear and the government in power. Until one man decides to fight back. He is the shadowy figure whose identity is unknown. He wears a mask frozen with a permanent smile resembling Guy Fawkes. He introduces himself to Evey (Natalie Portman) one night in an alley after he rescues her from a gang of police agents known as "Fingerman", her would-be rapists.

He is known only as "V".

As much as Eve is scared of V (Hugo Weaving) she is also convincingly forced to join him. He is polite and to the point with Evey. He sees something in her. Possibly a connection. There is some mysterious sense of security that V's presence gives Evey. It seems strange but makes sense once we see her back story as she tells V of her harsh and traumatic childhood. Of course, V's got his story as well that slowly unfolds (rather well) as we see just who will specifically will reap the vengeance of his vendetta. One aspect of his mission in his rebellious crusade is to send a message to British ruler Sutler (John Hurt) and his tyranny. Sutler appears in these fascist posters and media programs to the people and on an IMAX-size screen to all the government lackeys that report to him. The other aspect would be to remind people that ideas can still have strength. There's more to the world than just blindly following the government and media as they spin what they want you to know as truth. That people can still act upon their ideas of freedom and liberation.

Natalie Portman as Evey and Hugo Weaving as V in Warner Bros. Pictures' V for Vendetta

The movie is dark and stylishly visual. It's violent because of the way the world has become. Peaceful demonstrations are a thing of the past and just wouldn't work in this world. It pulls you in just as V pulls Evey in with his muffled yer alluring voice in all its enunciated cleverness. V tells Evey that "sometimes you can use violence for good," as he admits that, yes, men were killed in his methodically-planned attacks. We see V's world and actions through Evey's eyes from the beginning as they witness his "orchestrated" destruction of British landmarks like the Old Baily courthouse on November 5th. Is he a freedom-fighter or an anarchist? What's his agenda for his vendetta and how is it that he knows so many words with the letter "V"?

Besides Portman and Weaving, there are some supporting roles that flesh out some side plots. Investigating V's attacks for Sutler are Finch (Stephen Rea) and his partner Dominic (Rupert Graves). Both characters are more fleshed-out in the graphic novel but the actors portray enough of their character's essence successfully. Finch is world-weary and loyal to England and gradually less loyal to the law whereas Dominic is more by the book. One of Evey's only other confidants is a friendly older man, Dietrich ( Steven Fry) who works at the station BNT, British New Television she works at. There's also a character named Valerie (Natasha Wightman) who is important to both V and Evey in a dramatic way. All of these various roles help give the world of the film its character and adds a reality to this future, albeit a grim one.

Critics are saying alotta things about this movie. Some compare the relationship that V and Evey have to a kinda "Phantom of the Opera" style while others dismiss it as a film that "promotes terrorism." I could see the "Phantom" meets "The Matrix" comparison, but the terrorism stance is a bit misleading. This is a work of political science fiction with a alotta dramatized action and suspense. It's not based on a true story like the terrorist acts seen in Speilberg's "Munich". Was Speilberg promoting terrorism? Some said that he did. The point is to look at the perspective of those committing terrorist acts. We don't like to cuz it's easier to write them off as evil but alotta times we should. Once we see the environment V and Evey live in and all that they have lived through thus far, it is apparent that they don't see these "acts of terrorism" as anything more than "declarations of independence." Remember the Boston Tea Party? It's a celebrated historic event now but I'm sure back then some may have considered it an "act of terrorism". I'm not condoning violent acts. But, I'm just saying that through certain perspectives you can understand them.

Director James McTeigue has experience working with Portman, Weaving, and The Wachowski brothers. He was the 1st Assist. Director on the Matrix trilogy and on Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. So, once may thing that he was handed the directing reigns through association. Maybe that had something to do with it but he surely showed he's capable. What this movie owes its look to though is the amazing cinematographer Andrew Biddle (Aliens, The Princess Bride Thelma & Louise, & the Mummy) who really captures the look and feel of the graphic novel. Biddle died on December 5th, 2005 and was never able to see the movie released. At the end of the film there is an honorary mention to him and rightly so.

Moore has disassociated himself from this film as he has his other adaptations ("From Hell" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen") and confirmed himself as a disgruntled genius writer. I guess he's entitled, it's his baby. Despite some plot holes which is bound to happen in any novel to film translation, the film delivers very well. I wanna see it again just to pick up other nuances about this futuristic world. It'll be the number one movie in it's first weekend due to the ads promoting it as some kinda new "Matrix-type" movie. Once that all washes over I'm hoping the film has legs and people see the messages of freedom, vengeance, and rebirth that the film has. Their not necessarily "right" messages but their enough to make you think for yourself....much like Evey had to.

V for Vendetta (2006) freedom poster 4

V for Vendetta (2006) freedom poster 2

V for Vendetta (2006) release

V for Vendetta (2006) new teaser

V for Vendetta (2006) big teaser

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

REEL REVIEW: 16 Blocks (2006) ****

16 Blocks (2006) big release
PG-13 (for violence, intense sequences of action, and some strong language.)
1 hr. 45 min.
written by:Richard Wenk
produced by: Randall Emmett, Avi Lerner, Arnold Rifkin, John Thompson, Jim Van Wyk, & Bruce Willis
directed by: Richard Donner

Ever wake up in the morning and feel like ya just can't make it? I'm not talking ya just can't make it outta bed, I mean ya just. can't. make. it. You're eyes are heavy and dry. You're body just aches all over. Every noise affects you. Well, that's how New York detective Jack Mosely, badge number 227, feels and he looks it too. Mosely is a middle-aged cop who is ready to retire. He feels that "life is too long" and seeks therapy at the bottom of a bottle. He's written off by his peers as a man who has already quit.

Mosely is forced into taking a happy, but down-on-his-luck witness "16 Blocks" from the police station to 100 Centre Street, escort talkative witness Eddie Bunker to a courthouse to testify against other corrupt cops, who obviously don't want him to get there. It's a fairly high concept, but done in a way that allows the characters to really come through. I found the story to be more of a redemptive tale for characters who are polar opposites. Mosely (Bruce Willis), a dark guy and a heart attack waiting to happen, who is escorting this witness (Mos Def) who is a 14-time loser with a "sunny" (as Mosely puts it) outlook.

Bruce Willis and Dante 'Mos Def' Smith in Warner Bros. Pictures' 16 Blocks
From the trailer and because Bruce Willis is in the film, one might automatically think, "Aw, man, here's another action flick," or "What is this a remake of 'The Gauntlet' ?" Well, I'm hoping people will realize that despite Willis being popular for his action roles he's also made some great choices that have brought him roles with quite a bit to work with. Ever seen the movie "In Country" or "Nobody's Fool"? Great character movies that really showed that Willis is more than just either a comic or action star. Just look at all that Willis brings to the role in just his eyes. Every emotion that Jack Mosely feels is right there. He's spent. He's had it. We know he has some kinda dark past that's made him who he is but Willis does such a great job with the roles that we're not concerned with the specifics. He's given up on himself and his assignment to walk this witness (with his gimpy leg) unintentionally wakes him up to that fact.

Writer Richard Wenk doesn't stereotype these characters in any way which breaks it apart even further from any type of action-drama, buddy convention. The dialogue is real. There's no typical lines given for this wino cop as well as there's certainly none for Mos Def's motor-mouth character. What's great is I think we all have known or know, or at least have seen characters like this in real life. Could be a co-worker, a friend, a family member....heck, it could be you. The mile-a-minute, nonstop talker who tells you every detail about their life and assumes you're interested and still listening. Or the grizzled, sardonic, and cynical character unconsciously desperate to reconnect with what is right.

With these two characters being the protagonists in the film there of course needs to be an antagonist. I mean, a 16 block trip with a cheery witness has gotta be a walk in the park, er, I mean....city, right? Nope. Enter the perennial corrupt cop, Frank Nugent (David Morse) who turns out was Mosely's partner for twenty years. Yeah, he's a dirty cop but even he has his reasons for the way he is. His immoral justification adds to the tension he and his crooked-cop-cronies permeate as they pursue and thwart these two on their perilous journey. Just like Mosely's darkness, these cops didn't wake up one day corrupted. You can see this is a character element that is quite dense and layered. Great character for the ever-capable Morse to slide his way into. We've seen him in great character roles such as "The Rock", "Contact", "The Green Mile", "The Negotiator", and "Dancer in the Dark" for years. Always reliable and often taken for granted, I believe.

There's a great scene in a bar towards the beginning of their "walk" that takes place just after the catalyst scene. Mosely and Bunker are joined by Nugent and his gang in a kinda standoff that builds to set the pace of the rest of the movie. Some great expressions from all three of these guys here. Nugent tries to pat Mosely on the back and take Bunker into his own hands but Mosely notices something is up as he sees Bunker's _expression. Def masters this scene where we see just how pure and real his emotional response is to the tension and danger of the moment. What I was surprised about was how much I really liked these characters and their interaction. I wasn't too surprised I enjoyed the movie cuz I'm a huge Richard Donner fan.

Donner and Wenk make this movie into something so much more. With Donner's eye we taken to busy Chinatown, densely layered buildings, and streets. Similar to the city feel of his great "The Conspiracy Theory" we see the city as a character as well. Donner has developed at great shooting style as well. He has honed his craft on film classics like "Superman: the movie", The Goonies", "Ladyhawke", as well as the "Lethal Weapon" movies. If Donner had not directed this I may have been hesitant to see this. Combined with Wenk's superb script which drops any conventional norm and instead and character and depth. When Bunker enthusiastically tells Mosely that he has plans to open up a bakery specializing in birthday cakes in Seattle where his sister lives, he asks Mosely, "What kinda cake you like, man." Mosely looks at him in annoying disbelief and replies under his breath, "I don't like cake." Bunker is dumbfounded, "What? Who doesn't like cake?" It's moments like these that balance out the tension of the story and give these great actors opportunities to shine through these wonderful characters.

Ultimately, the movie is less about police corruption and moreso about what good can survive in a bitter and corrupt world and how redemption can be available when you least expect it. I saw this movie last night with my wife and Faith and they enjoyed it just as much as I did. The crowd at this premiere had a great time. Donner delivers!

Bruce Willis interview
Richard Donner & Richard Wenk interview

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

REEL REVIEW: Firewall (2006) **

Firewall (2006) poster 1

PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence)
1 hr. 40 min.
written by: Joe Forte III
produced by: Armyan Bernstein, Basil Iwanyk, & Jonathan Shestack
directed by: Richard Loncraine

Alright, okay, I got suckered. I shoulda learned from the last time I went to a new Harrison Ford movie on opening weekend. It's just that, well, I grew up with the guy. Yeah, he was my hero. When I was 5 years old he was a Corellian space pirate. At age 9, he got me into archeology. The next year he had me dreaming of electronic sheep. When I was 13, I saw that being Amish could be cool. The next year how a man's obsession can overcome him to the point of losing his family. At 21, I saw him wrongly accused and on the run in the Windy City. But, Harrison, ya lost me at, "Get off my plane!" Since then you've had this grimacing, constipated look with a deep growl for almost every movie. Alright, it's not like he's gonna be reading this. But, man listen to your fans ya curmudgeon! Ah well.

So, me and Donzell went and saw Ford's latest attempt at staying afloat "Firewall" and it was....good. It didn't surprise me. It didn't necessarily reveal anything new to the whole thriller genre. My theatre experience was revealing though. Growing up, Harrison Ford films meant big crowds and lots of people....my age. Not any more. As I sat down in the theater and looked around at the balding, blue and white-haired crowd I realized that wasn't the case anymore. Has my generation given up on Ford? Am I seeing this with his peers? Am I just seeing his films now for nostalgia in an attempt to relive the Ford experience of my youth?
Well, it is what it is. "Firewall" is a formulaic thriller with not a whole lot of new elements (funny, considering the movies title was originally "The Wrong Element") to offer. As far as comparing this with other Ford's other films, it's currently being called a cross between "Patriot Games" and "The Fugitive." I guess that's about right.

Harrison Ford and Mary Lynn Rajskub in Warner Bros. Firewall

It's "24" season....30! Chloe still helping Jack-any Jack!

Ford plays a computer security expert named Jack Stanfield who works for a large Seattle bank. Jack's got a great job and he has Beth (Virginia Madsen) his beautiful architect wife and his two children, 14 year-old Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and 9 year-old Andy (Jimmy Bennett). Turns out the bank he works for is about to merge and he doesn't get along with the corporate guy,Gary Mitchell (Robert Patrick) from the other company. Jack and his partner Harry Romano (Robert Forster) meet a tall young guy by the name of Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) after work for drinks on a typical rainy Seattle night. Aware of the impending merger Cox offers them both consulting jobs.

After the meeting, they all walk out in the rain. Jack gets in his car and Cox quickly jumps in his back seat and tells him, "You're wife has beautiful eyes," and then shows him an image of his panicked, screaming wife on his cellphone. He tells him he's kidnapped his family and he must do whatever he says to ensure their safety. They both go home to Jack's house where he finds his family bound and gagged by some of Cox's armed lackeys. Jack still has no idea what Cox wants him to do.

He is eventually told that they will be using him to loot his own bank. They wire-and-camera him up and see him off to work the next day and let him no they will be in touch with him. He must do exactly as they say or his family dies all while making it seem that everything is fine. His bow-tied boss Arlin Forrester (Alan Arkin) gets suspicious and also asks him to kiss and make-up with Mitchell which makes Mitchell kinda suspicious. Even Jack's assistant Chloe, er, Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub) finds his behavior peculiar.

After Jack makes attempts to secretly alert others for help, Cox shows up at the bank unannounced for a meeting with Jack. He tells him to stop screwing around and give him a tour of the bank. Meanwhile the wife and kids are at home with their uninvited guests making themselves at home. Cox tells Jack to go home and await further instructions. No matter where he turns he is being watched. They've wired him in such a way that they can here what he's saying at anytime. He's trailed anywhere he goes.

Back at home Jack is told to figure out a way to make this theft happen. He eventually engineers some escape attempts for the family that go horribly awry and put them in greater danger. The family is developed more than you might expect, which is not to say that they ever get beyond the cut-out stage. Madsen is so much the loving wife that I was immediately suspicious that she was behind the plot. Oh well. I guess that was "Presumed Innocent".

While Jack is jumping through Cox's hoops, his family is now being taken from his home with Cox away from the city. We know of course that Jack strikes back as he finally figures out how to flip the tables and tells Cox, "You'll get the money, when I get my family." The line is delivered in such a Ford way. With the help of Chloe, er, Janet, he eventually finds where his family is with the help of Rusty, the family dog's trusty GPS collar. What a plot device as is little Andy's peanut allergy.

Jack and Janet drive out to some cabin by a lake where they find his family and Cox and a coupla lackeys. Janet stays at the car with Rusty (who they find walking around) and calls 911 while Jack opens up a brutal can of 'whup-tushy' on the baddies. Cox and Jack wrestle in the cabin. They fall down wooden stars. They're thrown out a windows. Thrown on the ground. Kicked, punched, & stabbed. Felt like I was watching a Peckinpah film. Sheesh. It all ends quite typically with happily-ever-after.

So, the movie delivered. It wasn't great. It was all that ya saw in the trailer. There was plenty of product placements for Chrysler, Dell, & Equifax which I'm use to nowadays. Just not used to it in a Harrison Ford pic. It was funny to see Rajskub play basically the same role she plays in Fox's "24" where she helps out Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer as Chloe O'Brien. Hmmmm. Overall, the acting was solid. Bettany is great. It's just that there wasn't much to it. No, it doesn't necessarily have to be believable I guess. But, it should be a lil more thrilling, surprising, and not so plot device laden.

In a recent interview, Ford was asked why it took three years between his last flop, uh, I mean, film "Hollywood Homicide" and this one. He said something to the sort that they had to another director and get the script right and blah blah blah. Okay the director thing I can understand but be real. The final script was not that good. He was probably just too bust flying his planes and playing with Calista. Feh.

Is Ford getting to old for this? Well, he's older and in pretty good shape. He did all his own "physical acting" as he likes to call it. He says he doesn't do "stunts." Okay. Think about this, at 64 years old, Harrison Ford is the same age Sir Alec Guinness was when he played the role of Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi back in 1977, when Ford was 35. Interesting. Yes, there will be another Indiana Jones which will most likely come out in 2008. Next up for Ford is a movie called "Manhunt" based on a Civil War book that was just released this month. Ford will play a Colonel Everton Conger who leads the hunt for Abraham Lincoln's assassin. Guess that's why he currently has that goatee.

Firewall (2006) poster 2

Friday, January 13, 2006

REEL REVIEWS: Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) **

Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) early poster

PG-13 (for brief language, some sexual humor and occasional humorous drug references).
1hr. 25 min.
written by: Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller, & Peter Tolan
produced by: Jim Carrey & Brian Grazer
directed by: Dean Parisot

This past Tuesday a bunch of us fellas high-tailed over to the five dollar theater to catch a movie. It was kinda slim pickin' as far as choices. Some have already seen this while others didn't wanna see that. So, we decided on this here flick. Everyone figured it'd be good for a laugh. I went in not expected too much and it turned out I was neither disappointed or surprised. I had "fun" hanging out with the fellas but not so much with "Dick and Jane."

In the year 2000....Dick (Jim Carrey) and Jane Harper (Tea Leoni) are living the ideal life in Southern California. Dick has an executive position at mega-corporation, Globodyne. Jane works as a travel agent. Both successful careers.They live in a beautiful house complete with a huge flat screen HD TV and a newly laid-out lawn turf with affluent neighbors all around. They have a stereotypical Latin maid/babysitter and have a clever little Latin-obsessed son (hmmmm, wonder why?).
Who they are and the world they live in is all established within the first coupla minutes. It's all up on the screen for us to read....literally.

Yes, everything is looking great, possibly perfect for the Harpers.

What can make it even better? Dick gets sent to the 51st floor of Globodyne to be told that he's getting promoted to Vice President of Communications. Whoa! This is it, they think! Now Jane can quit her job and get more time with their boy. Dick gets invited over to CEO, Jack McCallister's house for breakfast where Jack (Alec Baldwin) and his business partner Frank Bascom (Richard Jenkins) tell him how wonderful he is and how great he is for the job. They sit him down and tell him that his first duty is to go on live television and tell the world the current status of the company. How great for you Dick!

But it turns out McCallister has secretly transferred and depleted funds from Globodyne leaving....nothing. Dick is humiliated and devastated in an on-air interview and comes home to find that Jane has quit her job. All the money they had was in Dick's company. Jane freaks out! They lose their savings, their lawn, and their HD TV!

After many humiliating job interviews and getting fired the day he was fired at what was supposed to have been a Sam's Club, Dick realizes that there are no jobs and then comes to the revelation that if stealing worked for McCallister....why can't they?

Hilarity ensues in ways only a movie with Jim Carrey can and should. There's plenty of funny moments as we see first Dick then Jane then both of them commit various acts of thievery. Yeah he robs a convenient store. That was funny. They rob a coffee shop and order drinks while at it. That was funny. They dress up as Sonny and Cher at a car dealership and steal money there. That was funny. They steal the neighbors Mercedes and ram it through a jewelry star dressed up like the Blue Brothers. That was funny. They even break into one of the guys Dick interviewed with, tied the guy up, and stole a bunch of stuff from him. That was funny. Yeah, it was all funny and after a while it was.....tiring. Really, how many times can we see them doing this? I mean after a while it's just funny, that's it. Nothing new. Just different locations. It got me tired and kinda bored.

Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni in Columbia Pictures' Fun with Dick and Jane

Part of it was I didn't really care about these characters. I saw them as one-dimensional, materialistic go-getters. Their priorities were all messed up. Dick is obviously a deadbeat dad cuz he doesn't even care that his housekeeper has more influence on his son that he or Jane. Jane seemed like she had a little more common sense than Dick but then she goes and joins him in his criminal pursuits.

Yeah, sure it's funny Jim Carrey schtick but if you want that go see the funnier "Liar, Liar" or "Bruce Almighty". In those movies at least the audience can connect a lil more with his characters but here, this Dick Harper is a big baby. I was quite impressed with Tea Leoni's comic timing here. I feel she matched Carrey each step of the way which I imagine for any actor is not easy to do. She's done good comedy before like "Flirting with Disaster" but here her physical stuff is really funny. Overall, the acting was good but the characters were annoying.

Now that I think about it, there's nothing really that funny about the aftermath of an Enron-like style meltdown. Trying to hold on to your life as everything comes crashing down around you is not funny either. I guess that's why there was something a lil unsettling about this remake. Yeah, this is a remake from the 1977 movie of the same title starring George Segal and Jane Fonda as Dick and Jane. Never saw it. Not gonna break a sweat to see it, either. So, yeah, I'd say this is kind of a rental or netflix of whatever you kids do out there.

By the way, some of you may know the name "Dick and Jane" from the controversial series of textbooks written by Zerna Sharp. The books were used to teach children to read from the 1930's through the 1960's. The main characters were Dick and Jane, a little boy and girl with supporting characters including Mother, Father, Spot the Dog, Puff the Cat, Jack the Clown (ew, creepy), and Tim the Teddy Bear. By the 1950's, these books were used by 80% of first graders. The books relying heavily on "sight-reading" and "repetition" using phrases like "Oh, see. Ph see Jane. Funny, funny Jane."The infamous phrase "See Spot run" was from these books as well. After a while, they were put aside cuz they were seen as kinda remedial.

They were controversial because of the way life was depicted or rather idealized. White-picket fenced families living in white suburbia. Kinda like in the movie. Hmmph. Black characters were not introduced till 1965 when the books were declining in popularity anyway. In 1955 Rudolph Flesch criticized the "Dick and Jane" series in his book, "Why Johnny Can't Read." First editions of the books are now worth as much as two hundred dollars. The books were reissued in 2003 and over 2.5 million copies were sold, but this time the publishers had warned against using them to teach reading to children. Related merchandise, such as shirts and magnets, also gained wide popularity, particularly among people who had never been exposed to the original series but were familiar with catch phrases like "See Spot run!"

Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) poster

Thursday, January 12, 2006

REEL REVIEWS: Capote (2005) ****

Capote (2005) poster
R (for violent images and brief strong language)
1 hr. 54 min.
written by: Dan Futterman (screenplay) & Gerald Clarke (book)
produced by: Caroline Baron, Michael Ohoven, & William Vince
directed by: Bennet Miller

A coupla Fridays ago, Adrian and I went and saw this movie after work.

My intention was to play catch-up with the list of all the movies that I've been wanting to see and this film happened to be one of them. Primarily those films that have received acclaimed reviews and award noms. It's hard to convince others to go see a movie that has been little seen but widely praised and is about a person not too many know about. I did my best to sell Adrian on it and after he saw the trailer online, he was up for it.

The movie is a biopic based on what Capote and those around him went through as he did research for his book, "In Cold Blood." In the movie, Capote coins the foreign (at the time) term "non-fiction novel". The book and his approach would go on to change the way people looked at and wrote about true crime and non-fiction stories.

"Capote" was on my list mainly for the talk of Philip Seymour Hoffman giving such a superb performance as American writer, Truman Capote. It was announced yesterday by the National Society of Film Critics that "Capote" had won the best picture award of 2005 and Best Actor for Hoffman. he also won Best Actor at the Critics Choice awards last night for this role. In recent weeks it has been awarded nominations for Best Actor from the Screen Actors Guild and Best Director for Bennett Miller from the Directors Guild of America.

The movie is that good to warrant all those noms and awards but it's not for those with short attention span or for those who are used to whiz-bang special effects out of there movie experiences. It's about real people and the effect one individuals self-absorption and obsession has on others.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote and Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee in Sony Pictures Classics' Capote

By 1959, Capote (pronounced Ka-poe-tee) was writing for The New Yorker and was already quite famous for writing the novel that inspired the film, "Breakfast at Tiffany's." He was a well known figure among the wealthy Manhattan social circles. He was an eccentric character, openly gay, as much known for his high-pitched voice, outrageous manner of dress, and wild fabrications about acquaintances and events, as he was his literary talent. It was because of these characteristics that he was considered an outsider pretty much wherever he went.
Around this time he was looking for his next "great work" to write. He found it on November 15th, as he was reading he noticed an article about four members of a Kansas farm family who were shotgunned to death. This intrigued Capote enough to contact his editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban) and convince him that he should be sent out to Holcomb, Kansas to do an article on this story. He feels it presents an opportunity, he believes, to test his long-held theory that, in the hands of the right writer, non-fiction can be as compelling as fiction.
Capote also sees this tragedy as a clash of cultures coming together. There is the killer (or killers) and then there is the Clutter family, a middle-class, well-respected, small town family. It was reported that the entire family was murdered in the middle of the night after a break in. Why did this happen? Why was this family picked? What impact has this had on the townspeople? These are the questions that Capote initially takes with him as he travels to Holcomb.
Accompanying him is his friend from his childhood, writer Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) who kinda keeps Capote "in check. Because the personage of Capote is such a contrast, Lee acts as a sort of, translator. She understand him. She gets him where no one else would. Kansas folk may not know what to do with such a charismatic and eccentric character but they and she knows it. She is there for Capote and everyone around him in an effort for the well-known writer to be not necessarily respected but at least understood. She also serves as his conscience as he becomes obsessed in his pursuit of the story in an effort to help him keep any type of morality or sensitivity intact. Truly we see the story working on Capote as well as him working on the story.
First stop for Capote and Lee upon arriving is the local law enforcement where they meet Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) the agent from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in charge of the case. As others around him are kinda put off by his peculiar behavior, Capote wins the acceptance of Dewey, yet not by much. In hopes of letting him know that he's just doing a story on the community, Capote tells Dewey, "I don't care one way or the other if you catch who did this," which doesn't sit too well with Dewey. It's his case and his community and he is determined to find out what happened to this family.
The way in which Capote goes about researching the event is often quite manipulative and at times creepy. He tried to relate to a girlfriend of one of the Clutter daughters, when he says, "Ever since I was a child, folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk." Lee is there with him, she can see it but he does indeed succeed in gaining the confidence of the girl. He even somehow manages to view the four dead bodies in the funeral home. We see him look underneath the cloth wrapped around the mutilated heads of the family members. Later, he tells his lover, writer Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) over the phone that he found his private peek fascinating.
Then two drifters, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pelligrino), are apprehended and soon sentenced to death. Finding himself increasingly drawn to the story by the sentence, Truman begins personally interviewing the murderers, particularly Perry Smith, at their maximum security prison. Avoiding discussion of the murders themselves, Capote learns more about their lives outside of crime, finding a humanity never put into print before and causing him to extend his article into a full-length novel. It would be the first True Crime novel ever written.
His extensive interviews with Smith lead to a strange relationship open to many terms of controversial interpretation. He feels compelled to assist the men and lead the world's opinion away from demonizing headlines. Capote even goes to lengths to find them a decent lawyer for their Supreme Court appeal although that act seems to be more an effort to prolong their lives for his novel. Yet, it kinda backfires for him in a way. When we see him give a reading of the book in New York, the audience was unprepared to deal with such a humanizing look at such vicious attacks. It certainly reinforces for some Capote's reputation for the peculiar.
Cinematographer Adam Kimmel opens the film on a gray prairie where only the Clutter's lone house stands. It sets the color palette of dark tones and earthy colors that portray a quiet, cold feel for the film even in the New York scenes. At times, it was almost like watching an Edward Hopper painting come to life.

The film is yet another biopic that succeeds in peeling the layers of a famous character to reveal (in Capote's case) the insecurities and selfishness that propels him to greatness. There is no typical hard living, drug addictions, or affairs here that are common in most "based-on-a-true-story" films. Instead we see a talented master manipulator face himself and his muse in a way unseen till now.
I mentioned above that the movie isn't for everybody. that's probably why not too many have heard about it. Some may walk out and think it too depressing or slow. Well, that may be the case but it is also one of the most well-acted, character-driven, and enthralling stories on the screen in 2005. Unfortunately, this will never be a movie that will be number one at the box office (which is kinda fitting considering the main character was such an outsider) but it will be a movie that will linger with you long after it envelopes you.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

REEL REVIEWS: Walk the Line (2005) ****

Walk the Line (2005)

PG-13 (for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency)
2 hrs. 15 min.
written by: Johnny Cash, Gill Dennis, & James Mangold
produced by: James Keach, & Cathy Konrad
directed by: James Mangold

It was kinda nice to have the day after Christmas Day and New Years Day off work this year due to the fact that both holidays fell on Sundays. It gave me an opportunity to recover from holiday festivities and also (like many of you) to catch up on some films. So between going to the theater or staying put on the couch, I found myself trying to catch up on some films I haven't had the chance to see. Being a fan of Johnny Cash, people were quite surprised that I had not seen the this biopic yet. As I always say, I don't get paid to see movies. I like movies. But, like anyone else, it takes time and money. Those two factors were aligned on both of these recent post-holiday days and I finally got a chance to see this here film.

Now, lemme first say that I did not become a Johnny Cash fan upon hearing about this movie or it's release. I've known of Cash and his music for quite a while. My father turned me on to Cash at an early age. I remember him humming the classic "boom-chicka-boom" sound that Cash originated way back when I was a wee lad. I had known about his legendary live concert prison albums from Folsom and San Quentin. I grew up in a time when Cash's life was known more for his legal and drug trouble rather than his great music.

Regardless of alla that, I knew when I heard his voice I was hearing something real. Cash's powerful voice resonated something true within me that made me wanna listen to him. His voice came from the blackest of nights with a stark solid beam of light hitting just the right chords. Cash sang of the down-trodden, of the guilty and of the wrongly accused, as well as songs of love and hope. His music and behavior would pave the way for rock, country, Folk, punk, and rap.

Cash has written about his personal transformation from self-destructive pop icon to the iconic "man in black" in both "Man in Black" and "Cash". He's a man who's faced down his demons, stubbornly fought for love, and learned how to walk the razor-thin line between destruction and redemption.

Johnny Cash , the subject of 20th
 Fox's Walk
 the Line

When I heard they were gonna make this movie I was quite nervous. I mean who could possibly portray the larger-than-life Cash respectfully let alone successfully. But, then I heard that Cash specifically selected Joaquin Phoenix to play him. I know Phoenix to be a talented, capable actor and with Cash hand-picking him, I wasn't gonna be too upset. Then it was announced that Reese Witherspoon would be playing June Carter Cash and somehow I just knew that'd be fitting. As the movie was released I had read that these two actors actually did their own singing as well. After watching the movie, I gotta admit it was one of the most dead-on performances I have ever seen. More on that later.

The movie starts out at Folsom Prison in Sacramento, CA on January 13, 1968. From outside the concrete & steel, we hear the roaring and cl aping of inmates combines with the thundering "boom-chicka-boom" of Cash's band as they all await his appearance. Cash is seen in what appears to be a shop room that he's using as a backstage room. His brow is sweaty and his gaze is fixed on the razor's edge of a table saw blade. Something keeps him there. Blocking all other sound he runs his finger along the blade and you just know there's somethin' goin' on behind that steady stare.

Then the movie takes you back to Cash's childhood years in rural Dyess, Arkansas where his hard-working parents raised him along with his brother, Jack and his sisters. He and his brother were best friends. He looked up to him and often felt like Jack was a better boy than him cuz his father, Ray Cash (Robert Patrick) often favored him. They grew up listening to gospel music on the radio and went fishing together. Young Johhny's world would forever be changed when in 1944 Jack died from wounds he received from a horrible table saw accident in the mill they worked at nearly teared the poor boy in two. The death was devastating to Cash because that day he decided to go fishing instead of help Jack work. It didn't help that the hard-drinking Ray blamed Johnny and even said to that God "took the wrong son." In the movie you sense that the drive behind a Johnny Cash song was defiance. He was going to sing it no matter what anybody thought....especially his old man.

Maybe it was his despair over his brother combined with his spite toward his father that drove Cash on his journey. He leaves Arkansas to join the Air Force in Germany where he writes his first song "Folsom Prison Blues" inspired after seeing the B-movie "Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison." When his service ended he came back to the states and married his first wife Vivian Liberto (Jennifer Goodwin) in Memphis and Johnny took a crack at selling appliances door to door. No success. At the same time he was trying to start his recording career and would practice songs with his band at night. Yet when he referred to "his band", Vivian would say, "your band is two mechanics who can't hardly play." Sadly, she was kinda right.

Cash happened upon Sun Records in Memphis where legendary producer Sam Philips (Dallas Roberts) reluctantly gave them an audition. After Philips didn't even let them finish their rehearsed gospel songs, he asked Cash if he had anything besides gospel songs. He starts playing "Folsom Prison Blues" and his poor guitarist, Luther Perkins (Dan John Miller) and bassist Marshall Grant (Larry Bagby) didn't know how to follow along as this was the first time they were hearin' it. It is at this audition where Phoenix's performance shows us that this is where Johnny found the sound he needed to be real. As they do their best to keep up with him and back Cash up you can hear the infamous sound come together.

"Walk the Line" isn't too far from many other musical biopics, in that there's childhood trauma, drugs, romance, & too much success. Then there's the recovery from the addiction (hopefully), finding and keeping love, and claiming a lasting stardom. The difference in each of these movies is that it's always different characters and music. Although they may go through the same drama, it's how they handle life's situations is what separates them and draws you to them.

Just like in real life, the movie would not have been the same without June Carter Cash in it. Witherspoon's performance is filled with endless energy and fierce vulnerability. June was a part of the famous Carter Family, the founding voices of country/gospel that he would listen to on the radio as a boy. By the time Cash finally meets her he is both starstruck and captivated. We see in the movie that June had developed a comedic persona onstage to make up for what she thought was sub par vocal talent. She is seen as having a knack for hooking up with the wrong men as she goes through a coupla of marriages. It would appear that Cash is just another wrong man despite how well they work together onstage. She holds him at a distance due to his marriage and even after his divorce, all the booze and pills.

The film's most harrowing scene shows Johnny onstage after an overdose, his face distorted by pain and anger, looking almost satanic before he collapses. What is most fearsome is not even his collapse, but the force of his will, which makes him try to perform when he is clearly unable to. You would not want to get in the way of that determination. When Cash is finally busted and spends some time in jail, his father is dependably laconic: "Now you won't have to work so hard to make people think you been to jail."

Although Cash's father (played with merciless aim by Robert Patrick) eventually does sober up, the family that saves him is June's. The Carter Family were country royalty ever since the days their of broadcasts from a high-powered pirate station across the river from Del Rio, Texas. When they take a chance on Cash, they all take the chance; watch her parents as they greet Johnny's favorite pill-pusher.
Knowing Cash's albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. Phoenix and Mangold can talk all they want about how it was as much a matter of getting in character, of delivering the songs, as it was a matter of voice technique, but whatever it was, it worked. Cash's voice was "steady like a train, sharp like a razor," said June.
The movie fudges some on the facts, but I was surprised to learn that Cash actually did propose marriage to Carter onstage during a concert; it feels like the sort of scene screenwriters invent, but no. Other scenes are compressed or fictionalized, as they must be, and I would have liked more screen time for the other outlaws, including Waylon and Willie. Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis make brief excursions through the plot, but essentially this is the story of John and June and a lot of great music. And essentially that's the story we want.
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter in 20th Century Fox's Walk the Line
Whether you're into country music or not....the story of his life is compelling enough to move you as well as entertain you, of course.I saw it with my wife and she thought it was great and she isn't even as big of a fan as I am. Like last years "Ray", it doesn't matter whether you like the music, it's the characterization and the amazing acting that makes the this the best biopic of 2005 (sorry "Cinderella Man"). Now, "Capote" was great but to nail a role in both acting and singing is truly a feat that not many can do. Go see this for Phoenix and Witherspoon and see if you can't get caught up in a burning "Ring of Fire."

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