Monday, October 23, 2006

Borat: a review

I caught Monty Python and The Holy Grail again when it was shown last month at the Film Forum (my pity to those of you who still haven't seen it). What they did with a little bit of money was create the look of a medieval epic on the outside. But inside the writing of the jokes about funny knights and the French, there is a severe mistrust of authority, an attack on hypocrites, people who go blindly into war with no plan, and self-important types who twist laws and ideas to their own end. Nothing was taboo for a joke, and when in doubt, the Pythoners would attack no matter who gets offended.

Carrying on this fine tradition is another British comedian, Sasha Baron Cohen, in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This isn't the first time Cohen has made a film out of one his characters from Da Ali G Show. I believe that was Ali G Indahouse from 2002. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you've been spared from the horror. Let's instead bring up Borat, the best comedy so far in 2006.

Shot in the mockumentary style that helped make This Is Spinal Tap a classic, we see our intrepid, anti-Semitic reporter learning what it is to be an American. Though really, Cohen manages at times to bring out the worst sides of some people, just by bringing up a more radical viewpoint then they themselves have. Several scenes at the rodeo highlight this, from the anti-Semitic gay bashing cowboy, to a crowd's cheer that every Iraqi is wiped off the face of the Earth in the name of democracy.

And the people's reaction don't appear to be scripted. Most likely, the Kazakhstan scenes and scenes involving Borat and his producer are scripted, or at least the scenes have their stories fleshed out with some key lines, just like "Curb Your Enthusiasm". Not surprising that Borat director Larry Charles directed 8 episodes of that series.

But the rest of the movie's fish-out-of-water-Crocodile-Dundee motive has the improvisational feel that gives the film energy. In Borat, the fish fights back with a satirical bite. And the camera appears to be out in the open all of the time, so people's true nature at that moment is out there, for better or for worse. If it's all honest reactions, or just reactions that took a lot of pushing by Borat/Cohen to get for the camera, or even if it's scripted, I couldn't care less. It's just too funny. And I'm guessing most of the people depicted here don't have HBO, where Cohen did his Borat character. But considering how Sex and The City ended in a whiny whimper and The Sopranos's quality remains inconsistent, no wonder they don't watch the network anymore. But I'll save the rant about HBO's continuing irrelevance in the realm of series television for another time . . .

Going into more detail about the film spoils a lot of the fun. I was worried, and slightly hopeful, that a scene involving some graphic nudity might get cut, but after hearing about both BORAT's R rating and a defecation scene in Jackass 2, methinks the nude scene will stay intact. Us New Yorkers definitely come off as being fearful of physical contact (not inaccurate). And in the preview I caught in Manhattan, there is one joke that left the NYC crowd in stone silence for about 5 seconds. You'll know it when you hear it.

But the candid camera style antics come off hilarious, showing off America as a royally screwed up, and yet, passable country to live in. It does this better then most documentaries, any propaganda for your own individual political party, and films like American Beauty, combined. It makes recent comedies like Wedding Crashers look a little toothless. Thank you Sasha Baron cohen, the comedic love child of Monty Python and Peter Sellers, for a funny film.

So go out and enjoy it. Unless you're a male over 50, or a female of any age, or an overly sensitive Jewish person with no sense of humor or irony. I hope you'll enjoy it, but will you be too offended by some moments here and there, I wonder. I think you might still enjoy it, but consider yourselves warned.

Friday, October 20, 2006

October revivals second half: revised

Mike here with an updated list for the second half. Now that the Mets are toast (disappointed but it's better to be in the playoffs then not be there at all), and I know what theaters are showing Nightmare before xmas, I can give a better idea what to catch. Here we go:

TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS- Regal Union Square Cinema- Fri Oct 20 at 7:30, 9:20, 9:50, 11:30, 11:50 and Midnight, Sun Oct 21 at 5:10, 7:30 and 9:20 and 7:30 9:20 and 9:50 during the week- Also AMC Lowes Raceway 10 in Westbury- for at least a week starting Friday at 5:45, 8:15 and 10:45- Also College Point Multiplex Cinemas- for at least a week- at 4:45, 7, 9:15- plus 11:30 on weekends-

Here are the majority of the theaters playing Tim Burton's (created but not directed by him) cult hit that became a huge hit on home video. Since the 3-D process is coming mainly from a projector, I guess not many theaters are willing to take a chance on a 13 year old film. No idea how long this will play, but with this few theaters, I guess it will be thru Halloween and then who knows. Oh joy.

The Regal Union Square is the only convenient theater in Manhattan to catch this. I'm guessing this will play next week, but who knows. The only convenient theater in Queens is College Point, but it may not play the 2 weeks to wait for Bart's SAG card to kick in. Also playing out in Westbury. But only if needed and depending on who actually says yes.

For fans of the film, or animation fans here who have NEVER seen it, I can't say enough that I'd really like to make time for this.

I should correct myself regarding one part of this in the previous list. Danny Elfman did the singing voice of Jack Skellington, but NOT the speaking voice. That was Chris Sarandon (Child's Play, Fright Night, The Princess Bride).

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD- Fri Oct 20, Tues Oct 24, Wed Oct 25 and Mon Oct 30 at 7:30 and 9:30- Film Forum- More chances to see the first team-up of Kinski and Herzog. Scroll down to the previous blog list and read more. But since it's playing this many days, it would be a shame to miss it.

RASHOMON- Fri Oct 20 at 7:30- AMMI in Astoria- 35 Ave at 36 St- This Kurosawa-Mifune classic is also playing on Friday night. A shame that this is an afterthought, but it's a crowded list. Nevertheless, this is an option. Moving on.

WALKABOUT- Tues Oct 24 at 1- Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center- The excellent film from 1971 from director/cinematographer Nicholas Roeg. I'm not cutting and pasting the rest. Scroll down to the previous list blog to read more.

MEAN STREETS and/or MANHATTAN Wed Oct 25 at 6 and 8:15- MOMA- The Scorsese- De Niro- Kietel classic, and/or the Woody Allen 1979 film. Can see one or the other, or both films for one admission and one long night. Plan for a very late dinner if you do that. But considereing the cinema feast, not too shabby.

CARRIE- Fri Oct 27 at Midnight- Chelsea Clearview Cinemas for 6 dollars- You know this one. You decide if you want to do it.

CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON- Sat Oct 28 at Noon- IFC Film Center- W. 4th st and 6th ave.- This film is playing as well. Scroll down to the previous list to read more.

ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER- Sat Oct 28 at 9 for 5.50- Film Forum- Part of a retrospective, honoring the best documentaries that received money from the Soros/Sundance Documentary Fund, and made an impact at the Sundance Film Festival. If you're a fan of the Spielberg film "Munich", or fascinated by this moment in history, this 2000 Oscar winner for Best Documentary is worth catching. It won't fail to engross, and won't fail to piss you off on some level.

An additional note; all tickets for this screening is 5.50, so my FF card isn't needed.

HALLOWEEN Mon Oct 30 and Tues Oct 31 at 8pm- Regal Union Square Cinema- A special screening of the John Carpenter horror classic. If you can tell me a more perfect film to see at this time period, I'd like to know. OK, aside from Nightmare Before Christmas, but anyway. Not the headiest or highest brow of the previous films on this list to be sure. But consider this low on the art, high on the execution (no pun intended). Few horror films work this well. Great use of lighting, or lack of. You would be surprised at how bloodless it is, and how much of the deaths you have to imagine for yourself.

To quote from the regal cinemas website: "THE HALLOWEEN CONTENT IS A DIGITAL VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL MOVIE AND WILL BE SHOWN IN ITS ORIGINAL FORMAT." This will also include interviews with some actors from the 1978 film, plus director Rob Zombie, who's about to shoot the remake. All that presumably before the film.

Yes, CORPSE BRIDE/PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, SQUIRM and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTIEN are also options, but I don't feel like writing about them; just scroll down to the previous list.

I really want to make an effort for NIGHTMARE, and find the time for AGUIRRE, ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER, HALLOWEEN and if anything else can be caught, great. Let me know. Later.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Illusionist: a review

Quick summary of the story of the film The Illusionist. A magician, Eisenheim, in turn of the century Vienna falls in love with a woman. To win her, he must use all his skills to defeat her fiancée, a Crown Prince with violent, petty tendencies. Maybe not the kind of film you expect to pack them into the multiplexes. It has found something of an audience in the U.S. But based on the lack of crowd that watched this with me at AMC Lowes Raceway 2 weeks ago (counted the entire audience with both hands.), you wouldn't know it.

That being said, 3 feelings came to me after The Illusionist was over. One, this looked like a handcrafted film. Shot on location in Prague and elsewhere in the Czech Republic, director/screenwriter Neil Burger is aided by both wonderful locations and great work from his cinematographer Dick Pope and the art direction team.

Two, the performances never failed to keep one engaged. I enjoyed Paul Giamatti in Sideways and even in Lady in the Water, but I admired his range going way back to Broadway in a revival of The Iceman Cometh. As the Inspector investigating Eisenheim, Giamatti looks just as home in this era as in modern day. As the arrogant prince, Rufus Sewell works overtime to rise above the stereotypical fop, and mostly he succeeds. Any time he doesn't, I blame the need to fulfill the needs of the plot. Jessica Biel was a pleasant surprise as the love interest. Lord knows I'm not the only one to write something along those lines, and I can imagine that being infuriating for her if she's read or heard that regularly at this point. I'm sorry, but there was nothing in her work in either Seventh Heaven or Blade:Trinity to make me think otherwise.

But as much as I liked all those performances, Giamatti, Sewell and Biel all looked like they were working, next to Edward Norton as the lead. The three of them were trying to be their characters, Norton simply was. As I was watching him, he seemed to make it effortless.

Unfortunately, that leads to my third feeling. I never believed for a second that Norton's character was in danger. They made pains to settle up obstacles; the anti-Semitism in that era. The class structure, of which Eisenheim was at the bottom. The flashback method, of which I'd guess 4/5s of the film is comprised of doesn't help. With no credible threat, the film starts to become more of an exercise in style. There's another beef I have regarding how what the reaction to the death of someone Royal would be, but this involves possible spoilers, so I can get into it.

But then there's the end. I've never read the short story, Eisenheim the Illusionist by Steven Millhauser, that the film The Illusionist, is based on. But here, let's just say that if you've seen The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense, you now have a good idea how the ending will go here. It left me with feelings of been there/done that, as well as a little disappointment. Overall, I was entertained and I got a lot more out of this then say, Jackass 2 or The Guardian. But Norton and the look of the film aside, best to watch this with low expectations coming in.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

October revivals: 2nd half.

Mike here with a list of films to catch for Oct. Can't say for sure I can catch all of them. Some conflict, and there's the little matter of the Mets in the playoffs. But we'll see. Here we go:

REAR WINDOW- Fri Oct 13 at 5 and Tues Oct 17 at 8:15- The Ziegfeld for 7.50- I know this was already done, as those who were involved in our movie night session already knows. But if there's a major interest, let me know. My personal favorite Hitchcock, and in my top 25. Also the best film in Jimmy Stewart's career, with a knockout entrance from Grace Kelly that matches or tops anything done today. An AFI Top 100 film.

MANHATTAN- Sat Oct 14 at 2- MOMA- 11 West 53 St, bet. 5th and 6th ave- Part of the films in New York retrospective. The last of the 70's Woody Allen-Diane Keaton romantic comedies. It's hard to find a bad review for this, but all of them single out Gordon Willis's cinematography. The title borough probably has never been so attractively photographed. Nominations for the screenplay (co-written by Marshall Brickman) and Supporting Actress for Mariel Hemingway (who lost to co-star Meryl Streep for her performance in another 1979 film, Kramer vs. Kramer).

THE BIRDS- Sat Oct 14 at 2 and Thurs Oct 19 at 8:15- The Ziegfeld for 7.50- 141 West 54th St- I saw this Hitchcock film, his last big commercial hit, already this year. But if there's a major want, let me know.

CALIFORNIA SPLIT- Sat Oct 14 at 3:10, Mon Oct 16 at 9:40 and Thurs Oct 19 at 7:30 and 9:40- Film Forum- 209 west houston- bet. 6th and Varick- A new 35mm print of a possibly forgotten Robert Altman film from 1974. A character study of 2 gamblers (Elliot Gould and George Segal in giving some of their best performances), and how they live their lives when things go generally wrong and (surprisingly?) go right. Perhaps it's more relevant now that poker and online gambling are popular. Also known as the first time a film ever used eight track stereo, perfect for Altman's style of overlapping dialogue.

Being screened in its original, uncut form, as opposed to the current DVD. That is three minutes shorter, due to problems with music rights.

THE 7 SAMURAI- Sat Oct 14 at 7:30 and Tues Oct 17 at 6:30- Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center- Part of the New York Film Festival, honoring Janus Films, the premiere art house distribution company, and the best films they introduced to America. And this film, the first modern action film with a script to match, deserves the attention. In my personal Top 15.

Ed, once again you cannot avoid this Kurosawa classic; one of the best films ever made.

THE SHINING- Sat Oct 14 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- 143 East Houston St bet. 1st and 2nd Ave.- The Kubrick-Nicholson classic gets a midnight screening.

DIAL M FOR MURDER- Wed Oct 18 at 8:15- The Ziegfeld for 7.50- For this, i quote an old pitch from the film forum website (no it's not playing at the forum, stop getting confused . . .) "Flat-broke husband Ray Milland, jealous of rich wife Grace Kelly’s friendship with Robert Cummings, plans the perfect murder. And, despite an errant pair of scissors, things look good until Inspector John Williams arrives . . ."

Don't know if it's regular screening or in 3-D, but it's good Hitchcock, therefore it's here.

TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS in Disney Digital 3D- Starting Fri Oct 20- Theaters TBA- For the record, Burton didn't direct, but he did produce this fun film, as well as write the story and create all the characters. Standout stop-motion animation with good music and songs
from Danny Elfman has kept the cult status of Disney's modest hit alive.

Elfman also does the voice of Jack Skellington, Pumpkin King, ruler of Halloweentown, who happens upon Christmastown, and decides to change Christmas into another Halloween. He kidnaps Santa Claus, and with a song in his heart and a twinkle in his eye(socket), takes it upon himself to
deliver some alternative gifts to unsuspecting children. Watch and enjoy.

This is not a revival, but a re-release, being shown now in 3-D. If you've never seen it, this is a good intro.

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD- Fri Oct 20 and Thurs Oct 26 (tentative) at 7:30 and 9:30- Film Forum- The highly praised first teaming of director Werner Herzog and star/madman Klaus Kinski. We see how the title character leads an expedition in 16th Century Peru, for the lost city of gold. We see how obsession leads to madness, then tragedy. That is if the lead character wasn't an evil son of a bitch.

Star and director hated each others guts, but apparently that didn't stop them from working with each other again. I've never seen it, but I'm curious. In a new 35mm print.

RASHOMON- Fri Oct 20 at 7:30- AMMI in Astoria- 35 Ave at 36 St- I wrote the following in a pre-blog list. I think i cut and pasted portions of it, but I don't remember where exactly. Just writing this so I don't get into any possible trouble. Basically, I only came up with parts of the following paragraph on my own, but I find the words to be true:

"This highly acclaimed film, set in feudal Japan, presents a tale of violent crime in the woods, told from the perspective of four different characters - a bandit (ToshirĂ´ Mifune), a woman, her husband, and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura). Only two things about the incident seem to be clear - the woman was raped and her husband is now dead. However, the other elements radically differ as the four participants and/or witnesses relate their own stories (with the dead man, eerily enough, speaking through a medium). As each account is revealed, what seemed black and white turns to various hues of gray, leading to surprising - and confounding - revelations. Put Kurosawa on the international film map, with a plot device and/or story-telling style that has been copied ever since. Memento, most Tarentino films, and Catch-22 are only the most famous variations."

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE and PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE- Sat Oct 21 at 11AM(Corpse) and 2pm(Pee-Wee)- The Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space- W. 95th st. and Broadway- 2 films back-to-back from Tim Burton. It's part of a full day and night of his work. But I only have time for those two together. The first, an Oscar nominee for animated film. A terrific contrast between the Victorian era type look and the world of the dead. Good visuals, some highly underrated songs and score, and strong voiceover work (Johnny Depp, Emily Watson, Albert Finney, etc.)

Followed by the sleeper hit of 1985. The story of a crazy man-child and the love he has for his bike. Better then I make it sound.

One admission should cover both.

WALKABOUT- Mon Oct 23 at 9 and Tues Oct 24 at 1- Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center- Excellent film from 1971 from director/cinematographer Nicholas Roeg, depicting the clash between Nature and civilization, and the clash between the modern and "savage" world. A teenage girl (Jenny Agutter- Logan's Run, An American Werewolf in London) and her little brother (the director's son) are stranded with no supplies in the middle of the Australian Outback, and are forced to rely on an Aborigine teenage boy for survival. Cultural and sexual misunderstandings play out to devastating effect. Agutter started to be considered a British beauty legend (only 17 or 18 at the time) with her terrific performance. Roeg's best film.

MEAN STREETS- Wed Oct 25 at 6- MOMA- Part of the Filmed in New York retrospective. The Scorsese- De Niro- Kietel classic gets a screening that for once gets a screening at a reasonable hour.

CARRIE- Fri Oct 27 at Midnight- Chelsea Clearview Cinemas for 6 dollars- The Brian De Palma classic where Sissy Spacek(Oscar nominated) goes nuts and wont be laughed at anymore, gets a screening. With John Travolta, Amy Irving and Nancy Allen when they were all quite young, and Piper Laurie (also Oscar nominated) as the mother of all demented mothers.

CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON- Sat Oct 28 at Noon- IFC Film Center- W. 4th st and 6th ave.- Getting tired, so I'm going to IFC Film Center website, to cut and paste a review from Roger Ebert:

"CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON, the last of Eric Rohmer's "Six Moral Tales," is the best of those I've seen. It is also the most fully rounded, lacking the one-dimensional tone of some of his earlier tales. It's as if he were striking notes in the previous works, and is now bringing them all together into a chord; the final scene in CHLOE is his last comment on the series, and Rohmer is telling us to, for god's sake, stop playing games and embrace each other with honesty.

"Game playing is always his subject. He doesn't approve of it, but he's become obsessed with studying it. He isn't interested in making movies about people with shallow motives and obvious personalities (which is to say, about 90 per cent of the characters in movies). Rohmer's work contains surprises. People develop in unexpected ways. We don't know how to relate to them until well into the movie; they don't telegraph their intentions.

"Rohmer's hero this time is Frederick, a pleasant if somewhat cool business executive who inhabits a marriage of the greatest simplicity and mutual respect. He and his wife, Helene, live like students -- not because they can't afford better, but because they enjoy the lack of bourgeois physical and mental clutter. It's one of those marriages that outsiders call "perfect."

"But then Chloe materializes, right there in the middle of Frederick's afternoon. Frederick is a man who loves Paris, and who has arranged his work schedule so that he has his afternoons free for a sandwich, a little wandering, and his fantasies about the women of the city. It isn't that he desires them (although he daydreams of a magic amulet that could seduce them all), but that their beauty affirms his choice of a wife.

"This description of the movie may make it sound inconsequential and meandering, but then Rohmer's movies always sound like that. What makes Rohmer's films so sparkling and intelligent is the way in which he watches his characters. Nothing escapes him, and he uses the angle of a glance, the tilt of a head, the precise set of a mouth, in order to create wonderfully complex characters." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times.

ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER- Sat Oct 28 at 9- Film Forum- Part of a retrospective, honoring the best documentaries that received money from the Soros/Sundance Documentary Fund, and made an impact at the Sundance Film Festival.

Oscar winner for Best Documentary for 2000. One of those rare types, a documentary thriller. For those of you who have seen Munich, you have an idea of about the Munich Massacre at the 72 Summer Olympics in West Germany. But the true story is more engaging then Spielberg's story, and probably more disturbing. We see how the terrorists planned it and got in, how the German police screwed up and the German government kind of played both sides of the fence. How the Olympic Committee were at best indifferent and did worse, and how media helped influence what happened as it happened, for the worse.

Mixes footage from back then with modern interviews. 2 of the most notable is a widow of one of the slain athletes, plus the only interview ever given from the terrorist leader of the Black September group, who I believe still hasn't been caught.

SQUIRM- Mon Oct 30 at 7- Two Boots Pioneer- If you're into bad films, here's this whopper from 1976. Basically, you have man eating killer worms, knocking off rednecks. Not very attractive rednecks. Proof that this was done in the 70's: the leads are cute (especially the red headed girl Patricia Pearcy), but not model beautiful. Not saying they're good actors, but they'd be lucky to be crew members in a modern remake. Snakes on a plane, but with no stars, no budget and worms instead of snakes.




The kind of film that would have destroyed Kim Basinger's, Sly Stallone's and Martin Sheen's careers had they been cast as originally hoped.

Tacky fun. The writer/director Jeff Lieberman (from Stoney Brook) will be doing an appearance. Hopefully to explain himself.

ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN- Tues Oct 31 and Fri Nov 3 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- If you want to try something off beat for halloween, try this comedy.

For those who know me, let me know. With so many choices, you have to speak up. And don't be afraid to click on an ad once a day. Hopefully an ad for a real-life Jesus Camp won't be there. Who knows, I might get a newspaper out of it. Later.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Jesus Camp: a review

JESUS CAMP tries a fly on the wall approach. No obtrusive narrator. Keep the cameras on their subjects, and let them show and express themselves however they wish to. We meet several kids, mostly home schooled, as they eventually attend a camp run by Becky Fisher that teaches them more about the Bible. And how to preach in mass. They get to learn how to be part of God's Army by smashing coffee mugs with the word "government" on it. And how to have tape placed over their mouths, with words like "Life" on them. They get taken to Washington D.C., and are almost like little weapons. Pastor Fisher talks about how Islamic kids are taught in camps how to kill, and we see how she will use these American kids in a similar manner. As borderline tools. We see kids isolated from not only culture, but from most people. These blank slates get to pledge themselves in the fight against Abortion.

We meet some of the kids, fear for them and how they're being raised. A little girl talks about how she enjoys dancing, but has difficulty seeing the difference between dancing for God and "dancing for the flesh". How a girl knows the difference, or what is the difference as she perceives it, we can only wonder. A boy talks about how glad he was to find Christ at 5 because he wanted more out of his life. At ten or twelve I could buy a kid making a statement like that, BUT AT FIVE!?!? I had to see it to believe it.

The kids are cute, but passionate (programmed?) in their fervor.The sequence where they idolatrize a cardboard cutout of President Bush hit the audience the hardest into a gasp or silence. Touching, praying, bursting into tears, as they're being told about this Warrior of God. Oy vey. The audience at the sold out AMC Empire also gasped when we saw one home schooled child being taught how there's no such thing as global warming, and that Science has never proven anything. I guess no one has ever been sick there . . .

The directors try to show that not all Christians are this extreme, with the framing device of radio host Mike Papantonio. It doesn't completely work, until the end when he interviews/confronts Fisher; she doesn't come off well in the interview.

You get to see the kids' innocence slowly going out the window. It would be interesting to see the kids in 5-7 years. If a film screams for continuation in the 7 Up, 14 Up, 21 Up etc. method, this is it.

I can see why some Christians feel this is an attempt to demonize all of them. The film makes only a minimal effort to differentiate. But it appears the directors covered this particular group accurately, with minimal if any, interference. I don't know where they got the stat that 75% of home-schooled kids are Evangelical. I'd like to know where they came up with that. And the ending, a LITTLE heavy handed, to say the least. But overall, this a compelling must-see.

Below are 2 links; one of the films website, and the other is a link to an ABC news report involving the movie (about 3 minutes long).