And by the way…

I realize I’ve bee posting a lot of material about “The Passion” recently, mostly because it’s again become newsworthy with the Oscar “snub,” and I just wanted to clear something up:

I don’t have a “problem” with Christianity, Christian filmmakers, etc. I am not a “liberal” and this is not a “secularist attack” on religion or people of faith.

That being said, one of the big misconceptions about “Passion” criticism is that it’s all about a liberal/conservative or red-state/blue-state split. Folks, thats just a flat-out lie. The truth is, a host of film and culture critics “from the right” offered up their disgust with the film and it’s messages (upfront and hidden.) In fact, “Conservatives” actively opposed to the Passion-ization of their “side” are probably the great untold story of this year in political film-writing.

So let’s tell it.

Charles Krauthammer is probably the most eloquent spokesperson that mainstream conservativism has right how. If you’ve never read his columns, you ought to. (He’s also a regular on cable news nets. He became invaluable to the “religious right” this year, as a voice for “caution” in the stem-cell debates despite his own condition (Krauthammer is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.) But he also established himself as an independent thinker when he took apart “The Passion” in his Washington Post column:

This is, quite simply, the best review of “The Passion” written anywhere, by anyone, to my knowledge. Krauthammer is not a man I am in the habit of agreeing with, but he is one of the smartest individuals working in political commentary today, and this is why. He elects to take on the subject of the film’s alleged anti-semetism, and cuts through Gibson’s defense against such claims with surgical skill.

Money quote: “When it comes to the Jews, Gibson deviates from the Gospels — glorying in his artistic vision — time and again. He bends, he stretches, he makes stuff up. And these deviations point overwhelmingly in a single direction — to the villainy and culpability of the Jews.”

What makes this work so well as criticism is that Krauthammer is approaching this from a religious standpoint. He knows his Bible inside and out, and he knows where and when to call “The Passion” out on it’s claims of Gospel-authenticity as an answer to all critiques:

“Gibson contradicts his own literalist defense when he speaks of his right to present his artistic vision. Artistic vision means personal interpretation.

And Gibson’s personal interpretation is spectacularly vicious. Three of the Gospels have but a one-line reference to Jesus’s scourging. The fourth has no reference at all.”

Andrew Sullivan is someone you ought to hear of if you haven’t already. A gay, pro-war conservative from England, he’s one of the right’s most impressively varied commentators. He’s never afraid to speak his mind, even when it puts him at odds with the rest of his “side,” and when it came time to review “Passion” he proved it:

Money quote: “The whole movie is some kind of sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino. There is nothing in the Gospels that indicates this level of extreme, endless savagery and there is no theological reason for it. It doesn’t even evoke emotion in the audience. It is designed to prompt the crudest human pity and emotional blackmail – which it obviously does.”

Portrayal of the Jews?

The first scene in which Caiphas appears has him relaying to Judas how much money he has agreed to hand over in return for Jesus. The Jew – fussing over money again!”

And does it give too much of a “pass” to Pialte and the Romans?

“Pilate and his wife are portrayed as saints forced by politics and the Jewish elders to kill a man they know is innocent. Again, this reflects part of the Gospels, but Gibson goes further. He presents Pilate’s wife as actually finding Mary, providing towels to wipe up Jesus’ blood, arguing for Jesus’ release.”

In the end, Sullivan feels that the film is motivated by “psychotic sadism” more than anti-semetism, but in summation:

“Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, this movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics as well as Jews who are determined to confront that legacy. In that sense alone, it is a deeply immoral work of art.”

James Bowman writes for an art and culture publication called “The New Criterion.” I’d never heard of him or the publication before stumbling across his reviews awhile back, and I almost never come to agreement with his opinions on film, but he’s as well-read and talented a writer as any film critic you can name. He disliked the film intensely, as well:

What’s interesting here is, he’s completely unconcerned with most of the political stuff surrounding the movie, he just thinks it’s a bad film. What’s more, he finds it completely the opposite of what it was hyped as! Instead of a work of anti-Hollywood insurgency, Bowman sees a typical “victim chic” movie, and as for the theology at play, well…

“Surely, whatever other heterodoxy he may be guilty of, Mel cannot believe that pity is the same thing as piety?”

So there y’go. I’ll try to make this the last “Passion”-related posting for awhile (no promises if there’s new news,) but I do think these three perspectives help open up the debate a little more.

A "Passion" for boycotts

More amusement heads our way from the folks at “Passion for Fairness,” a web-based advocacy group started to petition The Academy to nominate “The Passion” for Best Picture. When that didn’t pan out for them, they ominously promised a major announcement…

Here it is:

Short and sweet: They want all their like-minded fellows to skip watching the Oscar telecast and instead rent and re-watch “Passion” instead. They plan to offer tips and suggestions for staging “Passion Parties,” for the occasion which, if nothing else, are sure to be the most pleasant and proper-looking events where people gather to delight in watching film of a man getting stripped and whipped for two hours ever.

As PR manuvers go, it has the potential for doozy-hood. The possibility of news about “surprisingly low Oscar ratings” being juxtaposed with footage of cherub-faced partygoers downing root beer and munching cheeze-puffs to the beat of Caveziel’s flesh-flaying would be appropriately iconic. Overall, though, this is a surprisingly harmless, sensible and creative reaction on their part. But along comes THIS little money quote:

“This is not a boycott. We will not target advertisers of the Oscars. We are not encouraging or discouraging any action toward Hollywood. Rather, we simply suggest a better channel for our frustration toward the Academy.”

Umm… guys? Yes, it is a boycott. It doesn’t matter if you don’t actively target the advertisers, if the ratings go down it effects the ad revenues which is the same thing. The only way it wouldn’t be a boycott would be if you instructed Passion-partiers to leave their TV’s tuned to the telecast while they watched the DVD, so that the ratings would remain unaffected, but that would negate the whole point and be kinda silly. But still, folks… your staging a boycott. Just admit it. Part of being a grown-up advocacy group is using the proper names for things. You wish to inflict symbolic injury upon The Academy, so your boycotting the telecast. There’s nothing wrong with that, but be honest with us already.

(BTW, just my own personal thought here… wouldn’t the real “turn the other cheek” thing to do here be to watch the show anyway, possibly while praying for the souls of those involved? Just a thought.)

Ebert vs. Medved

In terms of opinions on films, I probably disagree with Roger Ebert as often as I do with Michael Medved. The difference between the two men, as far as I’m concerned, more about the quality of their work (which is to give their opinions) rather than the content, i.e. Ebert is an excellent writer of scholarly film reviews, whereas Medved has degenerated into a predictable political commentator who uses the fig leaf of film reviews to push his agenda.

I bring this up because, ever since Medved became newsworthy for his “crusade” to spoil the ending of “Million Dollar Baby,” Ebert has been admirably at the forefront of calling him out about it. It’s no secret that much of the “mainstream” film press is at constant odds with Medved and his allies, but this is the first time it’s boiled over so publicly.

Here’s Ebert’s column on the subject, which I must say is the finest summation of the situation I’ve yet read. (DO NOT CLICK THIS if you haven’t seen the movie)

It goes without saying that I’m with Ebert on this one, but thats not why I’m so fond of this piece. What I like is, Ebert isn’t just making some general gesture of dissaproval for spoilers, he’s giving Medved’s whole act the once-over it’s richly deserved for a long time.

Money quote: “Medved has for a long time been a political commentator, not a movie critic, but he must remember from his earlier days that moviegoers do NOT want to be informed of key plot surprises, and write enraged letters to critics who violate this code.”

Bullseye. Real critics have been much too accomodating of Medved for too long, and it’s time someone with Ebert’s clout said what needed saying: Medved isn’t primarily a film critic anymore, he’s a political pundit who makes his points in the guise of “movie reviews” to get more exposure for his agenda and the agendas of people he considers allies.

As to Medved’s defense of his actions, that he believes that the film’s surprises are hidden to “trick” people into seeing a message-movie rather than for dramatic purposes, Ebert also offers a deft takedown:

“Medved appeared on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” to describe the plot in great detail. The outcome of the movie does not match their beliefs. They object to it. That is their right. To engage in a campaign to harm the movie for those who may not agree with them is another matter.”

On the same subject, Jim Emerson, the editor of Ebert’s website, offers up a most-agreeing second opinion on the issue. It’s a good piece in it’s own right, covering the issue from a broader perspective than just Medved’s transgression, and incorporating the thoughts of a slew of other critics as well:

Meanwhile, Medved hasn’t yet responded specifically or in depth to Ebert, but he’s been busy on his other projects; such as trying to deflate the currently-popular “truism” that the Academy Award’s snubbing of “The Passion” is merely the “far-right” counterweight to the snubbing of the “far-left” “Fahrenheit 9-11”:

His central argument here is that the comparison is flawed because Fahrenheit is nakedly political but Passion is not. I have only this in response: If Medved cannot see anything political in the making of an ultra-traditionalist religious film, focused 100% on pain, punishment and retribution to the exclusion of all other virtues, marketed as a film that “liberal” Hollywood “doesn’t want you to see,” then he is either FAR less insightful than I had thought, or he is being intellectually dishonest with us.

But what do you think?

REVIEW: Alone in The Dark

Here’s the first thing you need to know about this movie: Irregardless of the title, no one in the principal cast is ever once actually alone in the dark. In fact, no one is ever alone period and, if they are, is usually daytime. They ARE in the dark a whole lot in the 3rd act, but in teams numbering anywhere between two and infinity (“infinity” being the precise number of heavily-armed soldiers resembling the good guys from “Aliens” that are dispatched to clean up the big Creepy Crawlies who, amazingly, resemble the bad guys from “Aliens.” Hmm…)

The second thing you need to know is that the director is one Uwe Boll (has anyone figured out how that’s pronounced yet?) a German-spawned filmmaker who jumped to the top of Film Geekdom’s “I-cannot-look-yet-cannot-look-away” list with a single film, last year’s “House of The Dead.” It managed to earn the impressive title of “worst film ever to be based on a video game,” appeared to have been assembled on a dare, and grossed somewhere in the negatives despite a Halloween opening. Given this overwhelming evidence against Mr. Boll, Hollywood did the only logical thing: It immediately signed him to make five more films based on video games.

So, then, Boll is something of a unique specimen, a director who has become more famous for making an awful film than many will ever become for making a good one. Even among film geeks, Boll defies easy categorization: His passion for making action movies out of video games being evenly matched with his apparent lack of talent for doing so.

The good news, I suppose, is he seems to have gotten a little bit better. Emphasis on a little bit.

“Alone…” opens up with a narrated title crawl (let that sink in for a moment) that not only provides backstory complicated enough to make another whole film out of, but actually gives away every major plot point the film has to offer, including the villianous nature of a major figure which in the actual movie seems to have been meant as a surprise! But try not to think about that too hard.

Inhale: Christian Slater is Edward Carnby, paranormal detective and former paranormal government agent. He chases ancient golden artifacts around the world at the behest of an elderly historian and his lab assistant (Tara Reid.) He’s also got amnesia about his childhood. “The world” is being invaded by big ugly Gigeresque monsters, somehow related to the golden artifacts, which in turn are related to a long-lost Native American civilization that opened a gateway to “the other side.” Stephen Dorf turns up as Carnby’s former government boss, who calls out the big guns when the monsters turn up.


The thing about Boll is, he shows here he knows how to do certain things. He knows how to shoot action scenes of guys firing machine guns at CGI monsters. He knows how to shoot a choreographed martial-arts duel. He’s got a good eye for gory surgery, and helicopter crashes, and he makes good use of the big, fast-moving, occasionally-invisible monsters. So there are individual beats and scenes here that work. It’s the assembly thats a god-awful mess (the plot-spoiling pre-title crawl is there for a reason: the story is incomprehensible without it.) Nothing fits together, the characters are almost nonexistant (despite the recognizable actors,) and it’s impossible to care about whats going on from frame to frame.

Only part of the blame for this can really be laid on Boll. He’s still nothing resembling a good or even passable filmmaker, but his choice of material isn’t exactly doing him any favors. Over the last decade or so, as video games have become more “mainstream,” they’ve also become progressively less original. The outlandishness of the dimension-hopping plumbers in “Super Mario Bros.” or the speedy “Sonic the Hedgehog,” bred of creative ways around graphical limitations and the natural tendency of geek subcultures toward fantasmagoria in the early days of gaming has given way to a modern age where most of the more popular titles are chiefly trying to be playable knockoffs of existing movie and TV franchises. Films based on recently-popular video games, then, will be copies of copies.

When the “best” your genre has to offer is “Resident Evil,” a Romero-zombie knockoff that even other Romero-zombie knockoffs don’t want to be associated with, you might want to reconsider your genre from the ground up. Not that anyone is, of course. Up next is a Bond-wannabe based on “Spy-Hunter,” and Boll is already hard at work on a Blade-wannabe called “Blood Rayne.”

And, meanwhile, somewhere on a shelf, the rights to game properties with some merit, like “Metal Gear Solid” or “The Legend of Zelda,” are waiting patiently for someone to grow a clue.

Keep waiting.

REVIEW: Hide & Seek

I’m going to do my best not to directly give away the “surprise” truth about what’s going on in “Hide & Seek,” but as this review may by discussing aspects of the film which might clue you in, a MILD SPOILER WARNING is in effect.

Robert DeNiro (apparently not having completed whatever penance also compelled him to make Godsend last year) is a well-off Manhattan psychiatrist (psychologist?) with a pleasant but pill-popping wife (Amy Irving) and a precocious daughter named Emily (Dakota Fanning, the child actress with the big Precious Moments saucer-eyes and the disconcertingly mature speaking voice.) One Daddy and Daughter wake up to find Mommy dead in the tub, having slit her wrists. This bothers little Emily, afflicting her with a trauma that manifests itself as a compulsion to bug those celebrated eyes directly into the camera for an extended period of time.

Helpful father, concerned for the big city’s possible negative impact on his daughter’s troubled psyche and, more importantly, mindful that Manhattan just isn’t going to work as the setting for a moody psychological thriller; decides to move them to a more genre-appropriate location: A big old house in a barely-inhabited upstate rural community that backs up to a big, dark forest. Suddenly, withdrawn Emily is all sunshine and giggles again, (well, sometimes,) having picked up an imaginary friend named Charley. Soon enough, she’s keeping secrets, telling lies, playing poorly with others and blaming household accidents on Charley, and “someone” keeps bumping off small animals, threatening people and leaving ironic, elaborate messages on the wall in crayon.

So yeah, here we are in yet another “spooky kid” thriller, watching yet another middle aged actor of note try to solve yet another mystery of what’s wrong with yet another buzzed-about child actor. All mental sparks reminding you of “The Sixth Sense” are intentional and hoped-for by the producers.

All the usual building blocks are there: High-contrast autumnal days, dark blue nights, old houses where doors and drawers open with thunderous sound but footsteps are barely audible, faulty wiring that gives out at just the wrong time, ominous crayon drawings, serial abuse of dimmer switches, big loud hands-crashing-on-organ-keys music when badness rears it’s head, dark cellars, darker caves, superpowered flashlight beams, electric generators with minds of their own, supposedly smart people (these films always make the main characters doctors or lawyers or some other high-end profession because they’ll be more likely to keep classy, atmospheric stuff around the house) making immensely stupid decisions and, naturally, a cast of supporting (and main) characters who spend so much time acting like psychotic killers that you just know they can’t be the psychotic killer who may or may not be on the loose.

Oh, and it probably goes without saying that our characters inhabit apparently the only white-collar upstate New York collective of “summer homes” where news has not yet spread as to the invention of the cellular telephone, nor do I think it will surprise you that this town’s policework is seemingly handled by ONE sherriff, (played by reliable “that guy” actor Dylan Baker, who I suppose comes as a bonus peice in the middlebrow-thriller Erector-Set,) or that the most overused and worn-out psychological malady of all modern thrillers eventually gets called in for the touchdown.

Let me be as blunt as I can be about the surprise element here: There is a “3rd act twist,” it’s incredibly lame, and if you go in trying to figure it out you probably will within the first forty minutes. Just remember the dependable Thriller rule that the person who behaves the most like the bad guy is almost never the bad guy, and the equally-dependable Crappy Thriller rule that the person who’d be the most dissapointing bad guy very often is.

There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before or really need to see again (unless you’ve got thing for watching Robert DeNiro mark time in between worthwhile projects) save for the solid range displayed by Fanning, and really thats the whole point: The producers are hoping to coast this one in on her “wow, that little kid can act!” breakthrough here, operating on a model laid down in bronze by Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense.” Unfortunately, the flaw in their logic is that Fanning, unlike Osment, is a fairly well known actress already and, also unlike Osment, the thriller she’s appearing in isn’t any damn good.

So yeah, I’m going to say firmly that this is worth skipping. But if anyone sees it anyway and wants to disagree, hit the comment button and tell me so. I’m interested to know…


"Passionate" War Against "Million Dollar Baby"

Just behind the richly-deserved smackdown laid upon “The Passion” by The Academy (and pretty much every single major film award of relevance), the second-biggest political story of this year’s award’s season is turning out to be a rapidly-mobilized, thinly-veiled and outright-disgusting campaign being leveled by the storm troopers of the Religious Right against Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

(I’m going to tread super-lightly to avoid spoilers of the film, but if you haven’t seen it yet my advice is that you not click ANY of these links and, in fact, your probably best to skip this whole post until later.)

The first shot was fired by the reliably vile Michael Medved. The fallen-angel Lucifer of Film Geeks, Medved helped invent the venerable pastime of modern geekdom, appreciation of bad movies, with his early book “The 50 Worst Films of All Time.” Soon after that, though, Medved fell and fell hard. He became a full-on traitor to film, art and film fandom by aligning himself with so-called Religious Conservatives (who are neither religious NOR truly conservative, btw) and became a vocal supporter of film-censorship. Medved, since the films’ premier, has indulged in the practice of giving away the 3rd-act twist to “Baby,” under the rationale that he considers the film “disguised propaganda.” This is coded language for: “Medved and his masters disagree with what they see as the ‘message’ that comes with the surprise, and want to prevent it from being seen by ruining it for people.”

Medved, thus far, has not only spoiled “Baby” on his own radio program, but also on the Laura Ingrahm Show and a host of other programs where he has appeared (he’s in higher-profile than usual, promoting his new book “Right Turns,” which comes complete with endorsing quotes from the likes of Anne Coulter, James Dobson and, of course, Mel Gibson.) You can read his, and others’, weak defenses of themselves HERE in USA TODAY:


Medved takes the opportunity to AGAIN spoil the movie here in his obligatory Oscar column, amid the expected rant that The Academy’s failure to nominate Mel Gibson’s plotless scriptural sadism, “The Passion of The Christ,” for Best Picture:


This is a preview of coming attractions, folks, as to what the “mode of attack” will be from the Fundamentalist movement. “The Passion” was their (370)million dollar “baby,” a film which they turned into a manufactured megahit by using Churches and preacher’s as unpaid advertisers and literally bussed people to see. Mel and his movie were supposed to lead an insurgency of “moral values” into “secular” Hollywood, and now those hopes have been dashed by the surprise growing of a spine by The Academy.

So the attack will be to trump up, through articles and press releases, the notion that ALL of the other nominees are somehow coded anti-moral propaganda films that “Passion” was passed over for. “Passion For Fairness,” a front group founded to inundate The Academy with “demands” (their words, not mine) has been ticked off for the past two days that their efforts have failed:


They’ve passed on the idea of a boycott, how nice of them, but they ominously promise a “major announcement” in the coming days. Ooh, I’m a’shakin.

By the way, PFF’s slogan is “impose your values on Hollywood!” Nice buncha folks, eh?

More on this to come, I’m sure.

2004 Academy Awards (continued)

Got the rest of the nominations here now, plus some interesting “insight” from around the Web. This will go down as the Oscar year where more digi-ink is spent on what WASN’T nominated than on what was. But first…


John Logan (Aviator), Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry and Pierre Busmith (Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind), Keir Pearson and Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), Brad Bird (The Incredibles), Mike Leigh (Vera Drake)

Boy, thats a sweet lineup. None of these would be a bad or undeserving, but my heart has to go with The Incredibles. That’s a shocker, and the best kind. Far from the “spoof” that many were expecting, Bird’s film was a work of raw fanboy love, an homage to the comic book superheroics of yesteryear. For the Academy to nominate an animated feature here is astounding enough, but to have it be such an unappologetic work of the fantastical is a true treat. Bravo.


Before Sunset, Million Dollar Baby, Finding Neverland, The Motorcycle Diaries, Sideways

My gut tells me this is going to “Sideways,” making up for it’s likely loss in the Picture and Director categories.


As it is In Heaven, The Chorus, Downfall, The Sea Inside, Yesterday.

Sea Inside has the most buzz, being a message movie with a semi-name star. Downfall is a German-made Hitler biopic that has yet to hit the U.S., but supposedly it plays big. The year’s biggest Foreign-made releases, “House of Flying Daggers” and “A Very Long Engagement,” are somehow absent, which is just a damn shame. (“Hero” was nominated last year when it was in limited release, and is inelligible.)


The Incredibles, Shrek 2, Shark Tale

Boy, big surprise here, eh? Incredibles should walk with it and that’s that, but it might get passed in favor of the higher-grossing Shrek 2. Surprised, but not upset, to see Polar Express not turn up here.


Aviator, Finding Neverland, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Phantom of The Opera, A Very Long Engagement

This is very possibly the single worst category this year. Put aside for a moment the once-again snubbing of “Kill Bill,” where the art direction not only flawlessly recreated the atmosphere of multiple distinct film styles but combined them all into an entirely new concoction, and this just a succession of poor choices. Not that the nominees weren’t all decent, they were (save for Phantom, where the overly-stagey set design missed a chance to catch us up in scope to match the sweep.) But, honestly… Aviator and Neverland don’t break any great new ground in the visualization of period peices, and Snicket’s look was ambitious but uneven.

Nothing for “Sky Captain & The World of Tommorow,” the most visually beautiful and original-looking film made this year? Nothing for “Spider-Man 2” or “Hellboy” for so perfectly capturing the hyperreality of their comic book source material? “House of Flying Daggers,” even? This is REALLY the best you can do?


The Aviator, House of Flying Daggers, The Passion of The Christ, Phantom of The Opera, A Very Long Engagement

Mixed bag. “Passion’s” camerawork is nothing special, Caleb DeSchanel or not, Phantom is sort of “eh” much like it’s art design. Nothing for “Spidey’s” diving, swooping cameras, though?


Born Into Brothels, Story of The Weeping Camel, Super Size Me, Tupac: Ressurection, Twist of Faith

Michael Moore took “Fahrenheit 9-11” out of the running for this category, partially in deference to criticisms that his films have become more “opinion peices” than “documentary,” but also to make a go for the Best Picture prize. So the Academy gets to sigh in relief at dodging the bullet at letting the controversy lightning-rod of Moore’s politics take the stage. Morgan Spurlock’s fast food expose, “Super Size Me,” is the heavy favorite here.


Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Collateral, Ray

“Neverland” is a fine film, but nothing about it’s editing struck me as noteworthy when I saw it. Curious, but on well. To me, the biggest omissions here are “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind,” “Spider-Man 2” and “Sky Captain,” especially the last one because of the massive difficulty involved in composing it entirely with digital media. It also wouldn’t have killed them to nominate “Kill Bill” for the cutting between not only scenes, but whole styles.


Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Passion of The Christ, The Sea Inside

What the HELL is with the technical awards this year? Passion is basic-level movie gore, nothing that hasn’t been done a hundred times better in any dozen made-for-tape horror films on the shelf at any given time. The years biggest and best achievement in makeup was “Hellboy,” which features two of it’s leads as full-body makeup FX suits, and it’s been completely ignored, which in my estimation renders this category not even worth looking at this year.


Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azakaban, Finding Neverland, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Passion of The Christ, The Village

Awwww, look. They gave “The Village” a pity nod, ain’t that considerate? Otherwise, “Potter” was the best music of the series yet and “Snicket” had an eclectic musical cool, but Neverland and Passion were standard genre work.

Clint Eastwood’s self-composed minimalist work for “Million Dollar Baby” deserved a nod, as did “Hellboy’s” dramatic dirges and Kill Bill’s gorgeous genre-mixing delights.


Incredibles, Polar Express, Spider-Man 2

“Kill Bill Vol. 2,” “Sky Captain,” and “Hellboy” should all be in here, also the great atmospheric work in “Million Dollar Baby,” but what interests me here is that 2 of 3 nominated films are animated, which is highly appropriate for the category but surprising none the less.


Aviator, Incredibles, Polar Express, Ray, Spider-Man 2

Well done. “Ray” would actually be a good pick here, for the film’s use of subtle sound shifts to suggest Charles’ change of attention within a scene, plus the spectacular integration of music tracks. Don’t count out Spidey, though, or Incredibles (which The Academy definately seems to have caught a fondness for.)


Harry Potter, I Robot, Spider-Man 2




This is just ridiculous. The most groundbreaking visual-effects film of the entire year was “Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow,” and it’s just that simple. To not award it is one thing, but to not even nominate a film comprised of 90% visual effects in the visual effects category is just about the single worst snub of the year. Skipping “Sky Captain” for this award is the equivalent of skipping Jamie Foxx for the acting nods. Academy, this is pathetic.

So anyway…

There y’have it for now. Let’s hear some feedback in the Comments, and I’ll be back in a few with some fun links to OTHER people getting all hot and bothered over this. Enjoy!

2004 Academy Awards Nominations

And here are the nominees, each set to be followed by some brief-esque commentary from moi. Let the games begin.


The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Ray.

Those of us living out our days in the Geek Community were able to experience a different sort of Oscars these past three years, as the sheer unignorable size of the LOTR films finally forced a fantasy film through The Academy’s rigid genre-bias shield. This year, though, we’re right back to the standard formula: Straight drama, “true” stories and star-cast biopics are once again evidently the only genres of filmmaking worth nominating.

Short and sweet: The best film of this year was “Kill Bill: Volume 2.” It has been shut out of this category and all others because it exists in a genre(s) that The Academy does not consider worth nominating. There was no more difficult, nor more excellently-executed, achievement in film directing, writing and acting this year, and to pass it over speaks a thousand words about how narrow The Academy’s perception of the cinematic universe is and a billion words about how far above the pack “Kill Bill” and it’s iconoclastic director truly are.

Occupying, more or less, “Bill’s” place is “Ray.” It’s a decent little movie, above-average, but it doesn’t belong on a best list. It’s a decent, well-made biopic, but just because Jamie Foxx gave (and will be rewarded for) one of the all-time starmaking performances doesn’t make the film automatically equal to the others.

Of the nominated films, “Million Dollar Baby” is my favorite though it’s a fine list overall. Far and away the nicest surprise is that The Academy has elected to ignore the clarion call of the Christian Fundamentalist media to nominate Mel Gibson’s plotless exercise in anti-semetic sadomascochism. The film has been passed over in all major categories, as it deserves to have been, which is just about the ballsiest move The Academy has pulled in a long time. The ramifications of this will be ugly, look for the likes of Falwell, Robertson and Dobson to spend the next month and a half to whip their flocks into frenzies about how “unholy” the mythic liberal/jewish/gay “cabal” in Hollywood is for skipping “their” movie. There’ll be a lot of hillarious and frightening things spewed about this, and when I find them I’ll post them here.

So, they ignore “Bill” but skipped “Passion.” Thus, I hereby declare that the Academy now officially has ONE ball-of-steel, and maybe this means we can look forward to the other one hardening up sooner than later.


Don Cheadle, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx wins, and anyone who bets against him is either a fool or brave as hell. A fine list of actors overall, though where’s Paul Giamatti for “Sideways?” His cohort Thomas Hayden-Church is up for supporting, and this really feels like a missed opportunity. Still, I suppose I can’t see who’d have been passed in his favor. It was a good lead performance year.


Annette Benning, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Imelda Staunton, Hilary Swank, Kate Winslet

Uma Thurman gave the best female performance of this year, and passing her over for this is the most egregious of all the “Kill Bill” ignores, and with no disrespect to the nominees her absence really kind of invalidates this for one for me. It’s a good list, but everything every actress here did she did better and often all at the same time while dangling from a stunt-wire. She was required to do comedy, drama, stylized and straight dialogue, plus physical acting and real human pain in three different languages, plus she had to be the “real” grounding force in a fundamentally unreal flight-of-fancy film.

Genre-biased disrespects aside, Kate Winslet should get this one but my money is on Hilary Swank if “Baby” becomes a runaway juggernaut type-thing.


Thomas Hayden Church, Alan Alda, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Clive Owen

Three guesses what I’m about to say.

Yes, definately, David Carradine should be in here for the title role in “Kill Bill.” As for who should go… Alan Alda? Are they joking? Don’t get me wrong, I like Alda. He’s a fine actor with a distinguished career, but he’s here because the industry likes him as a person, not because he did anything great in Aviator. His role amounts to a 3rd-act cameo, and it’s just another “slimy politician” riff that he and others have done to death before. Also, Foxx is a lock for Actor, does he REALLY need to be here, too? Yes, fine, it’s “his year” and he was great in Collateral, but this is overkill. Clive Owen would be a nice win here, but my gut says Morgan Freeman, which would be fine as well.


Laura Linney, Cate Blanchett, Virginia Madsen, Sophie Okendo, Natalie Portman

Good lineup, no complaints from me right now. I think Portman takes it for a “breakout” role, but I’d be even happier with Laura Linney for “Kinsey.”


Clint Eastwood, Taylor Hackford, Mike Leigh, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese

Clint or Marty are walking with this, too close to call. Mike Leigh is just there so Vera Drake can get some good airtime. Hackford? People, this is getting out of hand. “Ray” is the pretty good stage on which Foxx gave a great performance. Payne and “Sideways” are nice to see, but it’s the “we watch indies too, see?” nod this year. This would’ve been the place to either pay Quentin back for snubbing his magnum-opus otherwise OR to play damage control with the CBN-crowd by nominating Mel Gibson. Boo on the first count, well done on the second.

Chew on that for awhile, I’ll be back later with the “rest” of the nominations.

2004 "Razzie" Awards

The Oscar nominations are due in a few hours, and I’ll have some thoughts on all of them up as soon as I can. Until then, the “Golden Rasberry Awards” (aka “Razzies”) have released their annual nominations list. For those not familiar, the Razzies are a “joke” award ceremony that purports to award the “worst” films.

This has been going on for about 25 years, and it’s billed as this big deflation of Oscar pomp and self-importance but, really, I’ve never found it especially clever. There’s a great OPPORTUNITY to take down some inflated egos in this premise, but all the Razzies ever tend to do is simply rubberstamp what the mass culture and mainstream entertainment press has already agreed was “bad” that year, and this time around is no different: Leading the charge are “Catwoman,” a universally-panned bomb, and “Alexander,” ditto. Boy, didn’t see that coming, eh?

For my money, if the Razzies wanted to show some “berries” of a more substantial nature, they’d toss the nods in the direction of some films that were crappy but ALSO hugely popular and “important.” For example, why not take the opportunity and raise a righteous middle-finger to Mel Gibson’s Religious Right torture-porn epic, “The Passion of The Christ”

This year brings us the added attraction of watching the Razzies not only be groan-inducingly unoriginal in their film-related jabs, but since we just got done with an election we’re also afforded some groan-inducingly unoriginal political jabs via some wink-wink nudge-nudge nominations for George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld for “Worst Actor” and “Worst Supporting Actor,” respectively, in “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Ha. Ha.

Bush is also nominated for “Worst Onscreen Couple” alongside either Condoleeza Rice OR “his pet goat.” Boy, these guys don’t miss a months-old beat, eh?

You can read the full list here:


Look, it’s not that I want to rain all over the Razzies parade. I’m sure they all have a lot of fun, but in the end really, guys… they’re selling themselves as this sharp slam on the Hollywood hype machine, when all they do is fuel it by contributing to the same conformity of viewpoints in regards to “bad” film that similarly irrelevant awards like the People’s Choice or Blockbuster Entertainment shows enforce in “good” film.

REVIEW: Hotel Rwanda

Yay! First review! First review!


So, by now we’ve probably all heard about “Hotel Rwanda.” You’ve heard it’s a big, outside-the-studio-ish fact based drama about a recent tragedy you’re probably not familiar with. You’ve heard that it’s going to make you feel really, really down about not being familiar with it beforehand (the word “sobering” has probably been used.) You’ve heard it’s good, you’ve probably even heard that it’s great. You’ve heard that Don Cheadle, as expected, shines in his dramatic lead performance. You’ve may have even heard the appolation making the rounds that it is “the black ‘Schindler’s List,’” a turn of phrase that, while innacurate, does more-or-less prepare for you the broad outline of what your getting.

So, I heard all the same things you have. And I saw it today. So, then, I can report back that most of what you’ve heard is true, though as is often to case with these things, it’s best to go in expecting it to be simply “good” given how widely opinions can vary on “excellent.”

The film takes place during the Rwandan genocide of the late 1990s, when a breakdown in peace talks between the country’s Hutu majority and Tutsi minority led to a full-scale massacre of Tutsi’s by the Hutu military and roving machete-wiedling street gangs. Cheadle stars as a real life figure, the House Manager of a resort hotel who found himself concealing some 1000+ refugees from the violence inside the hotel when the United Nations (and all other foriegn nationals) fled the country.

The film has two main modes of operation: firstly, to make Westerners feel bad about not paying much attention to this when it was going on. The film is in English, it’s leading roles are cast largely with American and European talent, and it holds itself rigidly to the established structure of True Life Tragic Stories made in the U.S. (usually for TV or cable.) Make no mistake, the primary target of this film is Western (read: American) folks who heard about this on the news, as opposed to Rwandans or other Africans who may have lived through it.

On the one hand, this is probably the best way to present the material to achieve the overarching goal of drawing overdue attention to an overlooked tragedy: This is the template by which mainstream America is used to recieving it’s bad news recap, so the artful dodge here is to tell them a story that is “alien” to them in the most familiar way possible.

On the other hand, is does reduce the impact of some potentially powerful scenes because anyone remotely familiar with the “beats” of the genre will see them coming. It’s innevitable, for example, that the film’s early attention to Cheadle’s pride in putting on his suits and ties for work is a setup for a later scene where tearing them off is used to visualize his primal breaking point (complete with popping buttons, no less.) Whenever Joaquin Pheonix’s BBC (?) reporter character asks a question, it’s understood that he’s doing so for the benefit of the audience and that the slightly-preachy answer will be followed by a “think about it, won’t you?” pause. When a pair of lead characters find themselves alone and surrounded by fog, you just kind of know that the camera will pull back and reveal something of corner-turning hideousness.

The film’s impact is also slightly undercut with a PG-13 rating which, as you might imagine, renders the film’s central image of mass-villiany, the Hutu machete death-squads, as a bit less frightening than you may be expecting them to be. The film is, of course, not about gratuitous violence, but there are moments where the film seems to be willfully holding back, and it plays as a mistake.

The film is much MORE successful at it’s second mode of operation: “Don Cheadel is The Man.” Chealde is a powerful force as an actor with a seemingly inexhaustable range, and here he takes one of modern cinema’s more worn archetypes (“the practical man who doesn’t want to get involved until he does”) and turns it into one of the best characters of the year. The film is fine, well made and written, but it’s Cheadle who grabs “Hotel Rwanda” by the scruff of it’s neck and pulls it up from the level of an above-average USA Network “true story” to a real film of power and depth. The film is great because he makes it’s great, and otherwise it’s merely “good.”

“THE great film” about the Rwandan genocide is probably yet to be made. This isn’t it, and really, it’s not trying to be. This is a story about a remarkable person, embodied in a remarkable performance by an actor finally getting his proper due. See it because the story is important, yes, but also see it because Cheadle is only going to become a bigger star, and you owe it to yourself to get familiar with him.