Tuesday, November 30, 2004

One for the road

"Kentucky's soft drink" delivery systems (Mark Pfeiffer/November 27, 2004)

In this day of national distribution for almost everything, it's always interesting to come across local or regional foodstuffs and beverages. Saturday I drove through central and southeastern Kentucky on the way to Abingdon, Virginia. At the gas station I saw the vending machines for the awkwardly named Ale-8-One (or "A Late One") and knew that I had to try it.

"A Late One", not a cold one (Mark Pfeiffer/November 28, 2004)

The bottle's label has a picture of G.L. Wainscott, the soft drink's creator, and this brief description of the beverage:
Our Uncle Lee was an eccentric old gentleman, but there's nothing odd about his creation ALE-8. This unique blend of fruit, ginger, and other secret stuff has been a Kentucky tradition since G.L. mixed up the first batch in 1926.

(Go here for more Ale-8-One history.)

It tastes different than other ginger ales, but I don't know how to describe it. (I drank it Sunday night, so I don't have any on hand to sample while I write this entry.) From a distance the bottle and the label might give the impression that one is tipping back another amber-colored beverage, a potential hazard if you're drinking one of these while driving. (A bottle opener is required too. There's no screwing off the cap.)

Apparently Ale-8-One isn't exclusive to Kentucky. Well, yes, Cincinnati has it too, but the distribution map shows that it is available in Dayton. Hmm, I might have to hunt down some more the next time I swing through there.

While I'm on the subject of soft drinks, I tried the new Pepsi Holiday Spice. To be honest, I didn't taste much holiday spice (whatever that is), but it might not have been cold enough to stand out. Subtle additional flavoring is probably a bonus, but the verdict is still out on this "limited edition" soft drink.

Monday, November 29, 2004

DVD rentals

I spent a few days with family for Thanksgiving and then drove to southwestern Virginia to announce a couple basketball games on the radio, so I'm trying to get back in the swing of things now that I've returned home. In retrospect, it probably is for the best that I will have gone eight days without seeing a film since being bludgeoned by Oliver Stone's boring monstrosity ALEXANDER.

In the meantime, I came across this Los Angeles Times article about Netflix entering into an agreement to distribute DVDs of Independent Spirit Awards nominees to the organization's members. Of more interest to me, though, was some surprising information regarding what Netflix subscribers rent:

Overall, Netflix controls only 8% to 9% of the DVD rental market. But the company accounts for one-third to one-half of all rentals of "indie" and low-budget movies. According to Sarandos, the Netflix executive, specialized films often outperform mainstream studio movies rented via the service.

For example, 1 in 4 Netflix subscribers have rented "The House of Sand and Fog," the critically acclaimed drama that made little at the box office. The New Zealand film "Whale Rider," whose young star Keisha Castle-Hughes earned an Oscar nomination but whose ticket sales totaled about $20 million, has been rented on Netflix more than either "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" or "The Hulk."

I've been a subscriber for almost a year and am pleased with the service. Turnaround time is fast enough--I can drop a DVD in the mail on Monday and get a replacement Friday--and the selection is much larger than any of the nearby chain rental stores provide. (I'm also glad Netflix recently dropped the monthly subscription rate.) My rentals are predominantly the indie/arthouse titles, foreign films, and classics, but my pattern is skewed because I see all of the blockbuster titles when they play in theaters.

Both of these films made my 2003 Top 10, so I'm surprised--and thrilled--that HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG and WHALE RIDER have found audiences that might not have had the opportunity to see these films at their local theaters. Neither film's release pattern would be a textbook example for Jonathan Rosenbaum to dissect if he were to update his book MOVIE WARS, but the theatrical gross versus home video rental performance of each would bolster his argument that more people would see smaller films if they were given better access to them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A Lightbulb Moment

Watching television tonight I had one of those realizations that caused a metaphorical lightbulb to click on over my head. No, I didn't come up with a plan for world peace or hit upon an idea that would make me fabulously wealthy. I figured out where I had previously seen KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER actress Candida Tolentino.

In my original version of the review I said:
Aspiring performers should note that while this up-and-coming actress rose from an entry-level role to parts considered worthy of Oscar nominations, a quick look at the rest of the cast reveals non-starter careers. (Candida Tolentino, who plays Lt. Able, looks very familiar from minor roles in recent films, but her Internet Movie Database filmography lists no other credits. Either I'm confusing her with someone else or she changed her name and didn't have this tracked back to her.)

As it turns out, that wasn't quite right. She's one of the contestants on the reality TV series THE REBEL BILLIONAIRE: BRANSON'S QUEST FOR THE BEST. On the show she's identified as Candida, the CEO of a raw foods company. THE REBEL BILLIONAIRE website also says that she is a vegan raw food chef and real estate investor. Somehow "cast member of KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER" didn't make the cut.

Of course, anyone who watches much reality television understands that many of the participants are actors or models. The ones who aren't probably hope to break into those fields. (Just look at the disproportionate number of these folk on the new season of THE AMAZING RACE.) Don't let "bartender", "barista", "hostess", or "waiter" fool you either. The producers can only tag so many competitors as actors or models without shattering the illusion that these are "regular" people. For instance, Chip McAllister, half of last season's winning AMAZING RACE team, was in HAMBURGER...THE MOTION PICTURE.

Don't misunderstand. I don't think any of this is a big cover-up; however, for all the hue and cry about how reality TV was taking jobs from actors (and writers), it appears that the genre has merely distributed gigs to those who failed or those who will.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason


Renée Zellweger returns as the neurotic British thirtysomething in BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant also reprise their roles as her suitors. The sequel picks up shortly after the conclusion of BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY. Bridget and Mark Darcy are a happy couple, although her insecurity strains her confidence. She suspects that Mark may be doing more than taking business meetings with his pretty colleague Rebecca, played by THE REAL WORLD: LONDON alum Jacinda Barrett.

The thrill of pursuing one’s beloved drives most romantic comedies. It isn’t an accident that these films usually conclude when the lovers are brought together. Whether the characters are starting to date or getting married at film’s end, they’ve fulfilled their search, leaving them and the audience satisfied. BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON’S foray into her post-“happily ever after” life then faces the problem of what to do now that the heroine has what she wants. Unfortunately, the solution in the sequel is to contrive a silly break-up and bang out an over the top, ham-fisted replay of the original. Bridget Jones’ appeal is that she’s a regular woman with pluck who triumphs over common embarrassments and indignities. How then do you explain Bridget in a Thai women’s prison singing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, one of the worst scenes in any movie this year. BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY was a charming trifle. THE EDGE OF REASON is toxic swill. It’s one of the worst sequels to a good film.

Grade: D

(Review first aired on the November 23, 2004 NOW PLAYING)


SIDEWAYS (Alexander Payne, 2004)

English teacher and failed novelist Miles Raymond and his actor friend Jack take a week-long tour of California wine country in SIDEWAYS, the new film from director Alexander Payne. Paul Giamatti stars as the depressed and divorced Miles. Thomas Haden Church is the freewheeling Jack. He’s looking to blow off some steam before he gets married at the end of the week. If Jack can help Miles forget about his ex-wife, all the better. Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh play the women the guys meet.

Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor favor prickly characters. Miles joins Laura Dern’s pregnant patio sealant huffer in CITIZEN RUTH, Reese Witherspoon’s excessively ambitious student in ELECTION, and Jack Nicholson’s curmudgeon in ABOUT SCHMIDT. Payne and Taylor excel at getting underneath these tough exteriors and portray these people for what they are, warts and all. Payne’s fluid direction and the four principal actors’ sterling performances in SIDEWAYS bring out the characters’ humanity with humor and deep feeling. Giamatti is especially good as Miles, a wounded man aware of who he is but incapable of letting others see it. The comedy and drama of these rich characters’ lives make SIDEWAYS a film to be savored.

Grade: A-

(Review first aired on the November 23, 2004 NOW PLAYING)

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie


Life in tranquil Bikini Bottom will never be the same unless a sponge and a starfish can come to the rescue in THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE. The popular Nickelodeon cartoon features the squeaky-voiced fry cook SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star. In their first film SpongeBob and Patrick are called upon to find and return King Neptune’s crown so they can save SpongeBob’s boss Mr. Krabs. The stolen crown is part of Sheldon J. Plankton’s scheme to ruin Mr. Krabs’ business and become an undersea overlord.

At 90 minutes THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE can be a little much to endure, and it isn’t as clever as the filmmakers think. Still, SpongeBob’s resilient, Pollyana-like nature is hard to resist. The film possesses a generous spirit and successfully uses a go-for-broke strategy in telling jokes. A live action scene in a souvenir shop, SpongeBob and Patrick’s visit to a biker bar, and the songs are among the film’s best moments. These scenes showcase the writers’ strength in supreme silliness. At times THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE’S unconventional nature can seem too carefully calibrated, as if it’s trying too hard to be hip and goofy. The cartoon is so hyperactive that it is probably best suited for watching as a television series than ingesting it all at once as a feature film.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the November 23, 2004 NOW PLAYING)

After the Sunset

AFTER THE SUNSET (Brett Ratner, 2004)

In AFTER THE SUNSET Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are Max and Lola, expert thieves who retire to the tropics after a final job in which they pilfer a diamond from the feds protecting it. Hoping to salvage his reputation, disgraced FBI agent Stan Lloyd, played by Woody Harrelson, tracks them down and tantalizes Max with information about a diamond being exhibited nearby on a cruise ship. Lola wants Max to focus on writing his marriage vows instead of stealing another rock, but the challenge facing him and the chance to embarrass Stan again may prove too great to ignore.

The Onion’s music writers compose an annual feature in which they pick each year’s least essential albums. They’re not selecting the worst, just those that are utterly unnecessary. If there were a least essential film list, AFTER THE SUNSET would be a lead candidate. I’ve seen at least fifty worse films this year but few as mediocre and inconsequential as Brett Ratner’s latest. AFTER THE SUNSET is completely derivative of Elmore Leonard’s books and the film adaptations of his work, like OUT OF SIGHT and THE BIG BOUNCE. The dialogue mimics the terseness without the snap or humor. Almost every word sounds recycled from another movie. The new stuff, such as a Tarantino-like riff on the music of The Mamas and the Papas, is pale imitation. Ratner keeps this breezy caper moving along, but his workmanlike direction lacks excitement. Apparently his biggest challenge was to find how many different ways he could shoot Hayek bending over in low cut tops. There are worse ways to spend ninety minutes than watching AFTER THE SUNSET, but there are many better things to do too.

Grade: C-

(Review first aired on the November 23, 2004 NOW PLAYING)

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Kraa! The Sea Monster

KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER (Michael Deak, Aaron Osborne, and Dave Parker, 1998)

Anyone who has seen the awful B-movies of yesteryear can attest that bad movies hold the potential of being great fun to watch. Why else would Ed Wood's body of work or the poorly executed genre pictures of fifty years ago still find viewers who laugh themselves silly at the chintzy effects work and wooden acting? Unlike the typical standard used to judge art--or popular entertainment if the "a" word seems too high-falutin'--formal ineptitude is essential to the enjoyment of these particular films. Ideally the makers intended to produce good films even if they were working in schlock. Most bad movies are ordinary. The "good" bad movies display that the makers were serious in the efforts. For example, the failed, self-conscious spoof THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA demonstrated that it's not funny when the filmmakers are in on the joke. The humor comes from conviction in incompetence.

I don't hold any illusions that KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER was made with the highest artistic intentions, but the makers of this low budget, straight-to-video GODZILLA-STAR TREK-MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS hybrid turned out a cheap knock-off without the winking acknowledgements, not as if that would have excused the movie's shoddiness.

Lord Doom (Michael Guerin, with the voice of Jerry Lentz) resides on the cold, dark planet Proyas. In an effort to acquire a home with a more temperate climate, he dispatches the two hundred foot tall monster Kraa to Earth. Once the planet wrecker for hire has wiped Earth clean of civilization, Lord Doom and his diminuitive minions will move in.

The Planet Patrol team

Earth's only hope is Planet Patrol, protectors of the cosmos with more than two thousand outposts in the universe. Station 1645's multicultural teenage crew discovers the problem and attempts to intervene, but cannons breach the station's hull and knock the systems out of commission before headquarters can be alerted.

The crew is able to contact reserve interstellar police officer Mogyar (voice of J.W. Perra), an Italian-accented, semi-aquatic creature that resembles a turtle if it just had a shell, a retracted head with a rotting flesh-like face, and hands. Mogyar doesn't have any weapons aboard his pyramid-shaped ship, but he has a plan to harness the power of some secret weapons in Naples. Unfortunately he mistakenly crash lands in New Jersey. A biker and a diner owner are willing to help Mogyar, but before you know it those pesky feds have detained them all. Meanwhile, Kraa continues his world-destroying rampage, and Planet Patrol works on repairing their station.

Without a doubt KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER is grade A crud. The inattention to detail extends to the typo-riddled credits. The story is so thin that it must have been written on tissue paper. The production values are mostly laughable, except for a daytime sequence with Kraa that turned out well compared to the city miniatures. The acting and dialogue is hokey, but how else could it be? These aren't seasoned performers reciting Shakespeare.

Released in 1998, Full Moon Pictures likely wanted KRAA! to leech off of Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA remake. (Kraa tears through an advertisement for the competition, if there was any question.) Strangely enough, with the guy in the rubber suit stomping on obvious miniatures, KRAA! is truer in spirit to the GODZILLA films than Emmerich's expensive boondoggle, not that KRAA! merits favorable comparison to those Japanese films.

Even without the shameless appropriations from GODZILLA, KRAA! is thoroughly derivative, borrowing from several sci-fi and fantasy sources. Lord Doom looks similar to Skeletor, behaves like Darth Vader, and opens the film with the line "revenge is best served cold," a mangling of a familiar Klingon aphorism. Planet Patrol is a generic blend of the STAR TREK crew and the Power Rangers. Their station resembles the Death Star. Director Alex Proyas' DARK CITY came out in 1998, which must have been all that was needed to name the dark planet after him.

So yes, KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER is a bad film that wouldn't deserve to darken a theater's screen or air beside bargain basement syndicated television programs. Yet it is eminently funnier,in that special "bad" way, and more watchable than CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS.

Alison Lohman as Planet Patrol member Curtis in Kraa! The Sea Monster

Normally I wouldn't waste my time watching something like KRAA! There are too many great films--or even mediocre ones--I haven't seen to make devoting an hour-plus to this junk worthwhile. Still, I was very curious to view KRAA! because it features the debut of Alison Lohman. She was outstanding in WHITE OLEANDER and MATCHSTICK MEN. I would go so far as to say that her performance in Ridley Scott's film was the best screen acting of 2003, be it leading or supporting, male or female. She's one to watch and can next be found in Atom Egoyan's WHERE THE TRUTH LIES. In her small role as Planet Patrol's psychic empath Lohman is unexceptional. (I expect the same is true in the 1999 sequel PLANET PATROL.) Considering the paucity of the material, this comes as no surprise. Reduced to delivering lame, overused jokes about Curtis' questionable psychic abilities, Lohman earns her first screen credit and adds an embarrassing curiosity to her filmography.

Aspiring performers should note that while this up-and-coming actress rose from an entry-level role to parts considered worthy of Oscar nominations, a quick look at the rest of the cast reveals non-starter acting careers. Candida Tolentino, who plays Lt. Able, has just one other minor credit on her Internet Movie Database filmography, although she is currently a contestant on the reality TV series THE REBEL BILLIONAIRE: BRANSON'S QUEST FOR THE BEST.

Koch Vision Entertainment presents KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER on DVD in the 1.33:1 ratio. I doubt this was shot in a ratio wider than this--it appears to have been composed for 4x3 TVs--but technical information is hard to come by on this title. It's a low budget film released as a budget DVD, so don't expect reference material. The video looks soft and has a grainy texture. All things considered, it looks okay. The 2.0 English language track cleanly presents the dialogue and sound effects. No subtitles are available. The DVD does have chapter stops. Ordinarily I wouldn't consider chapter stops a feature, but with a cheap title like this--I bought it for about $5--you never know.

Six Full Moon Pictures trailers are included. I wouldn't tell any parents that KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER makes good viewing on a family movie night, but content-wise it doesn't have anything unobjectionable for the kids. (The DVD box shows a PG rating.) The same can't be said for the trailers, which promote such titles as THE EROTIC HOUSE OF WAX and THE EXOTIC TIME MACHINE. Almost all of these trailers contain nudity. You have been warned.

I'm giving two grades for KRAA! THE SEA MONSTER. Obviously a film this bad merits Grade: F. Working from that assumption, it's more like Grade: C. Not a prime "good" bad movie, but one that has its moments.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Odds and ends

Glowing leaves at Ohio State (Mark Pfeiffer/October 28, 2004)

A bargain bin’s selection of a photo, some ramblings, and links…

Are you keeping up with LOST? As with ALIAS, a family drama masquerading as a spy series, it isn’t what it appears. Oh, sure, the characters are stranded on a mysterious island, but that’s just the attention-grabbing scenario so that the creators can tell stories about people adrift in their personal lives being confronted with and forced to move through their past problems. LOST’S simple yet brilliant stroke for remaining viable through a season with twentysome episodes is to focus each show on a different character. With more than forty castaways and the secrets of the island, it can easily sustain multiple seasons without keeping them lost for years. LOST boasts some of the finest character-based storytelling that serial television offers. Bully for the ABC programming executives who are wisely moving ALIAS from 9:00 Sundays to Wednesdays. Bringing the J.J. Abrams shows together should give a ratings boost to Jennifer Garner and company.

I love, love, love WAKING LIFE, Richard Linklater’s transporting animated existentialist film. Wiley Wiggins is the main listener and participant in the philosophical discussions. He’s also a real person who keeps this blog. The first time I came across his blog he was linking to a news item about the lawsuit filed against Linklater by some guys who were the basis for characters in DAZED AND CONFUSED. (The Yahoo! News link seems to be dead. The AP story is also here.)

I took the photo of leaves during the John Kerry rally at Ohio State. There was a lot of waiting and then some more. Finding interesting things to shoot helped pass the time. (Not having to be selective with your shots is one major area where digital far exceeds film.) The bank of lights flooding the stage was also illuminating the leaves so that they gave off this glow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down

This past weekend the Wexner Center hosted Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and showed three of his feature films, including this year's Cannes entry TROPICAL MALADY (SUD PRALAD). Weerasethakul possesses talent, but I'm not sure that TROPICAL MALADY, BLISSFULLY YOURS (SUD SANAEHA), and MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON (DOKFA NAI MEUMAN) realize his potential. All three films are difficult, which isn't a problem unto itself, but the oblique non-narratives become tedious after awhile.

Using the exquisite corpse technique to propel MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON, Weerasethakul tells the closest thing that amounts to a story in any of his films. On top of this construct he mixes documentary and fiction so that the disctinction between them are blurred. He interviews the people of Thailand and has them develop the story about a teacher and a crippled boy. The result can be ragged, but Weerasethakul effectively captures the spirit of the people. A girl who tells her part of the story via sign language is absolutely adorable, and a group of school kids concoct a hilarious conclusion that would be expected from boys of any culture. Of Weerasethakul's three films I felt most positive toward MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON, although seeing it split over two nights may have improved my opinion of it. (A reel and a half remained on Friday night when the power went out.) That said, I'm mixed on it.

In introducting BLISSFULLY YOURS and TROPICAL MALADY Weerasethakul advised the audience to absorb the images rather than think about what is being shown. That may be the right strategy, but it doesn't help after yet another long sequence of people driving. (Since GERRY was my top film of 2003, I realize the inherent hypocrisy of me being critical of such things. The difference is that Van Sant's film had a foreseeable destination whereas this film doesn't appear to be going anywhere.) When a credits sequence started about fifty minutes into BLISSFULLY YOURS, I thought I might have slept through half of the film. Instead it's a signal that the film is leaving the humdrum everyday world and entering into its Edenic section. Weerasethakul skillfully uses the sound design to evoke an otherworldly place in nature and has an eye for beautifully composed shots, but it feels like eternity is passing.

TROPICAL MALADY is more of the same, except this time the two sections are split into two male lovers enjoying themselves out on the town and a metaphorical tale of a soldier hunting a heavily tattoed young man who can also assume the form of a tiger. Weerasethakul's visual mastery comes to the forefront in the second half with the jungle sequences. Some of the best shots, like the moon's illumination of the contours of the soldier's face, are in almost total darkness. A wide shot of the tiger in a tree and the soldier below holding up a flashlight is stunning. TROPICAL MALADY'S second half contains Weerasethakul's strongest work, but his preference for the experimental over narrative too often gets in the way for my tastes.

I don't believe Weerasethakul is staging global cinema's equivalent of PUNK'D, with the world's critics and cineastes as the unwitting participants, but his films' affectations--subtitled monkey chatter in TROPICAL MALADY--and slow pulses, followed by the subsequent critical gushing, provide perfect ammunition for those who believe foreign film lovers think they're smarter than people with less adventurous tastes. Weerasethakul's films are important viewing for those keeping tabs on world cinema, but based on these films, I'm not sure he has yet become all he's cracked up to be. MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON, BLISSFULLY YOURS, and TROPICAL MALADY demand repeat viewings, and I can see revisiting them another time to see if they've revealed themselves more clearly. For now, the verdict is still out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Today's special

Pollo frito made by yours truly

EVERYDAY ITALIAN is one of Food Network's better shows, by which I mean the food seems relatively simple to make and I won't have to run to the grocery store to buy a bunch of ingredients that I don't have. Tonight I took a crack at making pollo frito. In other words, fried chicken. The difference in this recipe is marinating the chicken in lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil for a minimum of two hours and frying it in olive oil. It took longer than the instructions stated, but I didn't put as much oil in the frying pan as directed. Yes, the chicken was delicious, and no, I haven't eaten it all.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


BIRTH (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)

BIRTH delivers Nicole Kidman as Anna, a woman who appears to be finally moving on from the death of her husband ten years ago. Anna is engaged to Joseph, played by Danny Huston, but she hesitates at the marriage when a ten-year-old boy named Sean tells her that he is the reincarnation of her deceased spouse.

Director Jonathan Glazer focuses a glimmer of Kubrick onto this sober chamber drama and floods it with Buñuel to evoke BIRTH’S heightened unreality. Invoking the Spanish surrealist master is by design. Co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière wrote BELLE DE JOUR and THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, among other Buñuel classics. BIRTH channels the style and tone of those films exceptionally well, but ultimately the dramatic resolution is unsatisfying. Kidman again demonstrates why she is one of the most interesting contemporary actresses. As the gamine Anna, she slogs through an emotional muddle. In one of BIRTH’S best moments Glazer holds the camera on her face for a long time to allow an intimate view as she processes the idea that her dead husband has returned. The film’s formal qualities are second to none. Harris Savides’ cinematography casts a gorgeous pall over the family’s baroque apartment. The use of music, including Alexandre Desplat’s original score, complements the darkened physical and emotional interiors. There’s much to admire in BIRTH despite its storytelling shortcomings.

Grade: C+

(Review first aired on the November 9, 2004 NOW PLAYING)


RAY (Taylor Hackford, 2004)

Taylor Hackford’s biopic RAY looks at the most important years in the development of Ray Charles into one of the nation’s great entertainers. Jamie Foxx stars as the popular singer and musical innovator whose personal life was riddled with drug addiction and womanizing.

RAY is packed with terrific music, a quality that helps the bloated running time pass by more easily. It was a wise decision to have Foxx lip sync to Ray Charles’ recordings. Any imitation of a voice as distinctive and familiar as his would distract. Foxx’s performance came prepackaged as one of the year’s best and the prohibitive Oscar favorite for Best Actor. Without a doubt, he is very good. Foxx is restrained as someone who exists in the popular imagination as larger than life. On a technical level he has Ray’s gestures and body language down. As the film gets deeper into its two and a half hours, the shapelessness becomes a problem. Hackford doesn’t have an end in sight, just more markers that must be reached along the journey. RAY is a flawed film, but Foxx’s captivating acting and a bustling soundtrack smooth the rough spots.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the November 9, 2004 NOW PLAYING)


ALFIE (Charles Shyer, 2004)

Jude Law stars in the remake of ALFIE thirty-eight years after Michael Caine played the title role of the unrepentant womanizer. Alfie drives a limousine for a living, but he’s more accomplished at and more interested in steering women into bed. Alfie wants freedom and a variety of women rather than a long-term relationship, but he reaches a point where he is forced to reexamine his way of life.

If ever there was someone born to be a movie star, Jude Law has to be it. His timeless good looks and effortless charisma make him the kind of leading man that Hollywood would produce from genetic experiments if they could. Law’s ability to charm us while we disapprove of Alfie’s actions is his greatest strength. Alfie directly addresses the audience throughout the film. This tactic could have been a tired gimmick, but instead it endears us to him. We become part of his very small circle of friends. Even if we question his decisions, there’s a thrill in seeing what’s it like to be a ladykiller of his caliber. Director Charles Shyer doesn’t judge Alfie or reform him. Rather, he depicts him warts and all to discover what’s beautiful and sad about his life.

Grade: B-

(Review first aired on the November 9, 2004 NOW PLAYING)

Friday, November 05, 2004

Trailer Park

(I'm going to give the politics a rest because I can't muster the energy for it, or anything else really. If ever the Hugger Busker was needed here, now is the time. I do have a few movie-related thoughts--imagine that--to plop down here, so we now return to our regularly scheduled programming.)

Since I've become a film critic, one aspect of moviegoing that has lost its luster is seeing trailers. Chances are I've seen some of them dozens of times, so the prospect of sitting through a two-minute preview of TAXI or RAISING HELEN becomes an endurance test. It isn't unusual for me to welcome a bad film's opening just so I won't have to suffer through the trailer again.

Nevertheless, I was interested to see the new STAR WARS trailer before my second viewing of THE INCREDIBLES. The theater where I saw it didn't have the EPISODE III trailer attached. I did get an early look at next year's Pixar film, CARS, which looks to be another sure thing from a studio that has yet to make a misstep.

Over at the arthouse I saw the trailer for HEAD IN THE CLOUDS yet again. I've always had a laugh at one line in the trailer, and this time I made a point to write it down. The voiceover includes the purple, parodic statement, "Forced to choose between desire and duty, they chose both." This is funnier than anything in that Jimmy Fallon-Queen Latifah movie, by the way.

The trailer for SEDUCING DOCTOR LEWIS reminded me of the strategy taken for foreign-language films. Don't let the audience know the film isn't in English. (The film in question appears to be a French-Canadian production.) The only dialogue we hear from or between characters are names, English words or those incorporated into the language, and easily understood foreign phrases (bon jour). Otherwise the plot is revealed through voiceover or text.

The trailer for VERA DRAKE, the new film from Mike Leigh, goes to great pains to obscure what the title character does. It's not for fear of spoiling the film but rather to smooth over content that would probably have people running from the theater than lining up to see it. If you're paying close enough attention you can probably figure out that Vera Drake is an abortionist. In all fairness, the word 'abortion' or a variant is only spoken three times in the film. Still, how many people plan to spend a Friday night watching a film about an abortionist, even if it is balanced and well made?

One other observation... The SIDEWAYS trailer adds another beat to the joke when Paul Giamatti asks Thomas Hayden Church's character if he's chewing gum while they're doing a winetasting. In the film the scene ends when he asks if he's chewing gum. The trailer cuts to a reaction shot of Church responding affirmatively and Giamatti telling him to spit it out. For what it's worth, the film's version works better.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Here we go again

I just returned from downtown Columbus, about a block from the statehouse. Needless to say, the state capitol is likely to be the focal point of the nation and the world as the election mess of 2000 repeats. (The statehouse's west side was satellite truck central, if it's any indication.) Like all good sequels, we have a new location for counting votes and other legal challenges post-Election Day. At least the Democrats learned something from last time. The same goes for ABC, CBS, and CNN.

To say that I'm deflated would be understating things. I worked the phone banks for ten hours and was getting positive results. I felt like things were going the right way and fully expected a fun evening. Not quite. Jerry Springer was at the election party, though, for whatever that's worth.

My brain's totally fried at this point, so it's time I get some much needed sleep. Can Kerry pull it out? I have no idea, but the fight's still there.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Day

I had a political diatribe percolating, but I have neither the time nor the rancor for spleen-venting this morning. It's probably for the best as I'm not interested in engaging in some political war of words. So, go out and vote. I'll be working the phone banks here for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in hopes of swinging this state the right direction. I feel confident in the Democratic party's chances. Hopefully there'll be room for celebration here later tonight.