Update: Alan Keyes

I’m aware that the Alan Keyes stuff seems pretty far removed from the subject of film, but I’m going to continue posting it anyway. Yes, it’s not immediately on-topic, but Keyes is one of the top “culture warriors” in the U.S. and a frequent ally of the pro-censorship forces that threaten all art including film, so if you want a connection there it is.

The developing news story around the former Republican presidential candidate and hardline anti-gay-rights activist, i.e. that his daughter Maya is a lesbian and that that fact has (allegedly) led to her being thrown out of the family home and cut off financially, has hit the mainstream media following TV News interviews involving Maya herself. You may have already heard about the story here, or from bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Oliver Willis.

Worldnetdaily.com, an independent political news site catering to the hard-end of the Religious Right that offered it’s support to Keyes during his recent Senate run against Barack Obama, gives their take on the story here:
http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=42867

The article includes a lengthy quote from Mrs. Keyes, where she fills out some of the details in the story. For example, she has apparently been “out” to her parents since High School, which means that the fact of his daughter’s lifestyle was already known to Alan and in his mind during his recent hard-fought fights against that very same lifestyle. This is not a pleasant thought.

This particular peice from Mrs. Keye’s thoughts on her father strikes me as especially poignant:
“It was weird to see what he said all over the news, but the remarks themselves weren’t any shock to me; it’s no different than what he believes and says at home as well.”

This whole thing, honestly, makes me sick to my stomache and deeply pained for all involved. Yes, Maya Keyes in particular but in a way even her father. I’ve followed Keyes’ career for quite some time, and it was always “one thing” to hear his hateful words about gays under the assumption that they were coming from just the latest in a long line of angry “traditionalists” with little connection to the reality of which they spoke… But to now know that he has said what he said and stood for what he has stood for… to know that when he called an entire group “motivated by selfish hedonism” that he was not only conciously talking about Dick Cheney’s daughter (as the news made hay of at the time) but his own child when he did so… that’s another thing entirely. The picture being painted here is of a profoundly disturbed man, and I find I simply cannot grasp the sorts of things that must be wrong with a person to make him treat his own family in this regard. For me, it is simply beyond words.

Look, I can’t guess at what the political, religious or otherwise beliefs are of people reading this blog entry, and I don’t really care. I imagine it’s mighty tempting for some who fall on the “progressive” side of social issues, like myself, to look at this situation as “good” because it will likely be the end of Keyes’ stature as a figure of record (his own party, which already refused to support his Senate run, will likely cast him aside given the seeming callousness of his behavior here), and while that may be “good news for the good guys” in the long run, I don’t think there can be any legitimate response to hearing of this other than sadness.

I don’t care what you think about gay rights, gay marriage, or what you thought of Keyes in the past or think of him now. The facts here (as we know them thus far) are beyond mere politics: Somewhere in America right now, a family is torn apart. A young woman is out on her own, cast out from her house by her parents. A man is going to bed knowing that he sent his own child away from his home. It doesn’t matter which family it happened to, or for what reason, it’s a plain and simple tragedy. And one that is, sadly, happening in a hundred other homes to a thousand other people who’s names we’ll never know.

REVIEW: Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior

Ong Bak is one of those genre films that critics like to say “you’ll like even if you don’t like ::insert genre here::” Don’t believe the hype. This is an old-school style martial-arts film, focusing on Muy Thai Kickboxing, made in Thailand. It’s plot is a bare-basics creation, existing exclusively to showcase a specific fighting-style and a specific star using it. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, this is a damn good example of such and you’ll probably enjoy it. If you don’t like martial-arts films at all, there’s no reason on Earth for you to see this. You will sit bored to tears, wondering why everyone else in the theater is clapping and cheering.

Now, for those of you who ARE into this sort of film (myself included) it’s my honor to report to you that everything you’ve heard is true, and that if your even a casual fan of good kung-fu movies then you owe it to yourself to get to a theater and see this movie. Now.

Shot in Thailand, Ong Bak plays as designed from the ground-up as a martial-arts film for martial-arts fans. The fights are intricate and uninterupted, the styles are distinguishable and cool to see, the stunts are spectacular. Newcomer Tony Jaa is, indeed, the real deal, and if he can fair in a film where the ambitions of the story rise to his ambitions as a physical performer then we have a rising star on our hands. It’s becoming sport to compare Jaa to the great stars of the past, but in my estimation he most resembles Bruce Lee in his serious, spiritual-stare and forceful fighting-style.

The plot (which also recalls the early work of Lee) would have been right at home in an old-school Shaw Bros. classic: A small village has been robbed of the head of it’s sacred Buddha statue and the local golden-boy, a master of Muy-Thai Kickboxing, is sent to the big city retrieve it. The film wrings a genuinely admirable degree of story and pathos out of this in the simple act of moving this old-school story from it’s more natural home in a period Chinese kung-fu peice to present-day Thailand. The culture-clash undercurrent to the exploits of Ting, (Jaa,) the simple “hick” from the traditional rural village as he navigates the streets of busy, modern, quasi-westernized big city Bangkok really does manage to punctuate the action with moments of real humanity, particularly in the character of Ting’s reluctant ally Hum Lae, a former villager who has moved to the city, dyed his hair blonde, changed his name to George and runs gambling scams.

In a way, the expressive “George” functions as a kind of emotional-core to the film, complimenting Jaa’s position as the driving-force of it’s action. It’s possible, indeed downright easy, to see this character as a kind of humanization of the story’s overall aim of reuniting Thailand’s modern, urban present with it’s religious and philosophical roots though the unifying element of Muy-Thai. As if to drive the point home, Ting at first refuses to use his skills in combat, but changes his tune when a boorish English-speaking “fight club” participant taunts him that “Thai men aren’t strong enough, thats why Thai girls come to my country and become hookers!” Subtlety is not the genre’s strong suit.

All of that doesn’t really serve to make this more than a film about a young fighter punching his way through henchmen to retrieve a stolen McGuffin, nor does it really need to. The film functions fine on it’s own, adhering to the iron-tested formula of the martial-arts genre and delivering all the right beats (and beat-downs) required. There are epic chases, terrific slapstick and jaw-dropping fights. The location-shooting and Jaa’s fearless stuntwork gives the film an air of welcome authenticity: Never does anything happen that appears outside the realm of the possible, and while I dearly love Hong Kong wire-fu it’s absence here really is a mark in it’s favor.

What more can I say? It’s a top-class fight film with a great fresh face in the lead. Action fans in general and kung-fu fans in particular really need to see this. You may have seen the trailers wherein Wu-Tang Clan’s “The RZA” offers you much the same advice. You should listen to The RZA on this one. If you’re not inclined to listen to The RZA about anything, or if you have no idea who The RZA is, you really should see something else.

REVIEW: Hitch

If you ever find yourself counting a Movie Geek among you recent aquaintances and you want to get to know them better with minimal digging on your part, here’s something to try: Ask them if they have any “film theories” that are especially their own. Most of us have them.

By “film theory” I mean, to clarify, a certain opinion about film “overall” that this particular Geek happens to consider his or her very own. Some big moment of enlightenment they once had that they have by now fashioned into what can definately be called an “opinion” but which they are more apt to describe in such detail that it eventually crosses into the realm of a “theory.”

I’m going to tell you mine, because I can tell you want to know me better. I mean, if not, then why are you reading this blog? Exclude yourself from this presumption if you are here because a friend of your’s also happens to be a friend of mine and they gave you this URL, (in addition, if they qualified it with “you might like this” or “this guy is pretty interesting,” please accept my humble appologies for how dissapointed you must be by now,) or if you only came for the review of “Hitch” which, I promise, we’ll get to in a moment.

Anyway, here goes: I believe certain films and genres can be classified by gender. More literally, I believe that contrary to the popular notion that there are some films and films genres “for men” and others “for women,” that instead the works in question can actually be said to have genders themselves, i.e. if films were to suddenly transform into animals, many or most of them would have classifiable genitalia.

This isn’t unusual as theories go. Electrical wiring has “male” and “female” connectors. Computer software (stimulating) is “male” while hardware (nurturing) is “female.” Sometimes it lines up curiously: Personality wise, the “lion” analogue to a human male is a female lion (hunter instinct.) Stretch the bounds a bit, and this can work for pretty much anything.

So it goes with films. There are “male” genres and there are “female” genres, at least in my estimation. And, like with everything else, usually they come in pairs and compliment one-another: Martial-Arts films are the “male” analogue to Musicals, a “female” genre. And there are complexities: It’s a noted fact that the audience for Science Fiction and Fantasy is (still) predominantly male, but I also believe that Fantasy is the “feminine” counterpart to “masculine” scifi.

“Romantic Comedies” are a female genre, in gender and in audience appeal. These films just aren’t made for men. They can be, but almost never are. Especially the “Rom-Coms,” the dominant-subgenre in which popular actors are romanced by popular actresses in entirely-disposable narratives that serve only to pair them up and play off their established personas. You know these films by sight, because their DVD case is usually white while others are usually every other color.

“Hitch” is a kind of rare bird, then, as it is at least in part trying to do something different: Offering up a traditional, utterly-predictable “Rom-Com” from the perspective of it’s male characters. In addition to focusing on the men, the male story is told not by the “goofy romantic chasing the girl” but instead from the vantage point of the obligatory “slick-cool-guy-pal-who-helps-out-messes-everything-up-but-then-fixes-it-sorta,” in this case a self-proclaimed “Date Doctor” named Hitch who’s helping a chubby nerd (Kevin James) woo a Hiltonesque heiress. That Hitch is played by Will Smith has more to do with making the sidekick/helper the lead role than any kind of creative jonesing by the filmmakers, but try not to let that bother you.

SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS follow, continue reading at your own risk.

In the film, Hitch is a guy who has (apparently) learned all there is to know about women, and proudly proclaims that with his advice “any man can sweep any woman off her feet.” Rather than putting this all down in a book, Hitch works with “clients” personally, on an “untraceable” referal-only basis that has rendered “the Date Doctor” into a kind of urban legend whispered about in New York’s female population. Hooking socially-inept Albert Heffernan (James) up with the heiress is to be Hitch’s “masterpeice,” and with that setup and plot the film really has a winning hand. Smith is perfect for this role, and he has real chemistry with James. When the film is concentrated on Hitch at “work” and with Albert in particular, there’s a really great movie going on.

Unfortunately, another movie is going on that’s just typical Rom-Com time-wasting that at first intrudes upon and then nearly crushes to death the more interest Hitch/Albert subplot. This other movie concerns a female gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) for whom Hitch falls hard and who also happens to be investigating the mystery of the Heiress’s odd new beaux and the existance of the Date Doctor as well. This story just isn’t very interesting, and that it seems intended by the filmmakers as the “A” plot is a colossal mistake.

The problem is with Mendes, a capable-enough actress here saddled with the role of the character who has to say and do whatever the script requires to advance the plot, no matter how foolish or out of character. The basic idea is that she’s the “one woman” who’s cynical and removed enough to be immune to Hitch’s charms, but it doesn’t work because Hitch is so well-written as a cool charmer (and played by Will Smith, who doesn’t really even need the good writing to come off as cool and charming) that her character must twist and morph into a frigid, unlikable creep to make the “immunity” even partially believable. Eventually I started wondering why Hitch was bothering, and the film fails to provide an adequate answer.

The problem is also with the simple fact that the requirements of the two stories don’t really compliment eachother at all. For the Hitch/Albert story to function, Hitch has to be a good guy of completely altruistic motives: The film goes to GREAT pains to establish that Hitch is a nice guy who only helps lonely guys fall in love, and refuses to aid those who are only out for sex. It’s a movie, after all; in “reality” this person would probably much more resemble Frank TJ Mackey, Tom Cruise’s “Seduce & Destroy” peddler from “Magnolia” than Hitch.

Thusly, the innevitable 3rd-act complication wherein Mendes misinterprets a situation so as to both discover that Hitch is the mythical Date Doctor and believe him guilty of nefarious doings plays as an unlikely (even pathologically cynical) move on her part, and her actions stemming from these events are simply cruel and petty: There’s nothing that Hitch and people connected to him have done (or even are believed to have done) to deserve any of what happens to them in the third act, and Mendes character in turn does nothing that warrants her being forgiven for them.

As a result, the finale to the Hitch/Albert story, which is really funny and touching and just great in all the ways the rest of that story has been throughout, gets shoved to the side for attempts to salvage Mendes’ character, and it just doesn’t work. The film, overall, would have been infinitely superior focusing on Hitch’s mentoring of Albert, jettisoning the Hitch’s romance with the Mendes character and instead allowing her to assume her more natural role as the villain of the peice.

Still, half a good movie is better than none, and mostly-good is much better than I can usually say about most Rom-Coms. There’s a lot of good in “Hitch,” and while it’s not really worth rushing out to see it’s also not worth avoiding, either.

Final Rating: 6/10

More Mel Gibson Nuttiness…

The common misonception about folks, like myself, who see evidence that something may be “wrong” with Mel Gibson given his behavior surrounding his film “The Passion” is that the “charge” is motivated exclusively by some kind of negative-regard for his religious beliefs. Speaking for myself, this is not the case. Gibson’s public-persona has always been as a star always a little “on the edge,” but this past year it’s trended into territory that’s making him look less and less “wacky” and more and more “in need of help.”

And now we have this most recent story, as reported by those good fellows over at CHUD:
http://chud.com/news/1495

Here’s whats going on: Gibson and his distributors, in a smart business move, are planning to re-release “The Passion” to theaters for the Easter season, hoping to start some kind of yearly-tradition thing. Harmless enough…

But here’s the thing… it’s not the same movie that played earlier in the year. Gibson went back an recut it to be less-violent, apparently in the hopes that it would be more accesible to younger audiences. The MPAA, however, slapped his new cut with an R-rating all over again; which only makes sense because it’s not possible to make The Passion into a PG-13.

Mel, however, seems fully convinced that the new cut is indeed more family-friendly and that it’s something that those families NEED to see, so he’s releasing the new cut Unrated, (the designation usually reserved for the more violent cut of a film,) rather than let the MPAA put the “R” on it.

Let’s just put aside for a moment the notion that Gibson (and alot of his supporters) seems to think that the film’s “message” is so important for the very young to witness feel that a recut is necessary. Lets also put aside the absurdity of thinking that a few minutes of recuts can possibly render a film as gruesome as “Passion” suitable for anything but an R-rating.

Does this not just sack of plain old NUTTY behavior? One of the BIG sub-stories of the movie was the phenomenon of parents and churches dragging their young ones to a feature-length torture-film. Does Gibson really believe that many people who skipped the film did so because it was just slighty too violent for them, and that a few moments of missing bloodspray will fix the issue? Exactly how far out of touch with reality is he, at this point?

PREDICTION: This won’t be the last we hear of this. Dollars to donuts (figuratively speaking) the next shoe to drop will be “Passion”-devotees claiming that the new cut MUST have been good enough for a PG-13 but the eeeeeevil secular/jewish/gay/liberal cabal that “controls Hollywood” still gave it an R just to prevent more people from being exposed to it’s evangelizing powers.

It’ll happen, just wait and see 🙂

OSCAR Predictions – Part 1

Okay, the last three posts have been sort of on the dour, serious side, and only one was totally about movies, so lets try something lighter and more “everyone can enjoy”-style, eh?

Let’s do the “Oscar Predicting” thing, or start doing it anyway. These things take time, and why do it all in one shot?

I’ll start on “Best Picture,” as good a place as any to start, no?



BEST PICTURE



Nominated: “The Aviator,” “Finding Neverland,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Ray,” “Sideways”



Should’ve been nominated: “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind”

Should win: “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (note: yes, “should wins” can and will include “should’ve been” nominees.” Bob’s blog, Bob’s rules)

Likely winner: “Million Dollar Baby”

Longshot: “Sideways”



Analysis: I know I’m a broken record on this, but I’ll repeat it one more time. “Kill Bill” is one of the best films of this young decade, this young century, and far and away the best film made this year. In terms of sheer difficulty, Quentin Tarantino set himself an impossible dramatic task in undertaking the “Bill” epic; and that he pulled it off so well as to be more dramatic, more thrilling, more moving, more comedic, more inspirational and more a work of raw, pure filmmaking than any of the other (worthy) nominees in this category only makes it much more clear what visionary works we’re dealing with here. In the plainest allegory I can think of, not only did Quentin choose the heaviest stone, he threw it further than even the guys throwing lighter stones. The “Bills” are efforts of an Atlas, while the other nominees are merely Herculean.

But it’s not nominated, so someone else has to win. In my estimation, the “someone else” to beat is “Million Dollar Baby.” Not only because I feel it’s the best of the nominated films, but I also believe it is the most likely winner given traditional Academy voting patterns. “Aviator” is good but not great Scorsese, and while everyone knows he’s “due” I’m just not feeling that the momentum is with the film. “Baby” is topical, popular, and is exactly the sort of film that The Academy loves when it’s done properly: A small-ish, character-driven drama full of pathos, drama and a sucker-punch of an emotional hook. It’s also full of actors the Academy has liked before and still likes, (and it won multiple SAGs, so the powerful actors-bloc is behind it) and it’s the most recently-released of all nominees which does play a factor.

The wedge here is that “The Aviator” is still popular in it’s own right, and it’s nostalgiac recreation of Hollywood’s own Golden Age resonates big in Academy circles. And yes, Scorsese is due. While I don’t think “Aviator” has the momentum or the votes to win, what could happen is a split between “Aviator” and “Baby” that would knock both from competition and instead lead to a win for a dark horse like “Sideways.” Don’t bet on it, though.

BEST DIRECTOR



Nominated: Martin Scorsese (“Aviator“), Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), Talyor Hackford (Ray), Alexander Payne (Sideways), Mike Leigh (Vera Drake)

Should’ve been nominated: Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill: Vol. 2), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind), Kerry Conran (Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow)

Likely winner: Too close to call.

Longshot: Alexander Payne

Analysis: This is the toughest race of the year. Eastwood and Scorsese are both “due” in their own right, and their respective films are the 1st and 2nd contenders for the big prize to boot. The recent DGA win speaks heavily in Clint’s favor, but the Academy voters may give this one to Scorsese if “Baby” becomes the assumed winner of Best Picture (the Director award occasionally seems to get used as the “Best Picture Runner Up” prize.)

The same unlikely voter-split scenario could occur here, too, which I can only imagine would favor Payne.

Toss those two around in “comments” for awhile, more predictions and commentary to come on this. Promise.

Did ya hear about Alan Keyes?

If you follow politics at all, you’ve probably heard of Alan Keyes. Or at least you’ve seen him on TV. Short, excitable-looking African American ultra-conservative who put on such a fantastic show running to the right of everyone in the 2000 Republican race? Yeah, him.

Well, Alan is… Alan is kind of special, really. Most public representatives of the “Religious Right” are careful to cloak their agenda of hate in the guise of being traditional constitutional-conservatism, but not dear Alan. Alan is right up front about it: anti-choice, virulently anti-gay, right down the line.

Aaaaaaanyway, the last time anyone heard from this clown was back during the election when Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, Mary, became a brief object of media fascination (culminating in John Kerry’s gasp-inducingly clumsy would-be gotcha invocation of her name in a debate) and Keyes got himself quoted as follows regarding the “gay” issue in an interview:

“The essence of … family life remains procreation. If we embrace homosexuality as a proper basis for marriage, we are saying that it’s possible to have a marriage state that in principal excludes procreation and is based simply on the premise of selfish hedonism.”



Gee, ya think they asked him specifically about Mary Cheney being a “selfish hedonist” next for a money quote? You bet they did. Take it away, Alan:

“That goes by definition. Of course she is.”

See what I mean? How can you not love such openess and honesty from a purveyor of faith-based hatred? Suffice it to say, that last part lit a fire under the media’s butt and they went back for more. An article from Washington Times Online… (from whence these quotes were taken and which you can read in full here:)

http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20040901-093347-1067r.htm

…reports that someone finally did ask Keyes what he would do if HE had a lesbian daughter. As they reported it:

Keyes said if he had a lesbian daughter he would love her but tell her she was sinning.”

Hey, y’know what would be really interesting?

I mean really, really, really interesting?

(oh, hat tip to bloggers Oliver Willis, Andrew Sullivan, and Daily Kos for this, BTW)

Fast forward to today. A gay-equality march in Maryland lists the following for their scheduled events: (bold-highlights are mine)

“March to Lawyer’s Mall (in front of the State House) for the rally, featuring community leaders, Judy Shepard, and Maya Marcel Keyes, the self-described queer activist who is also daughter of ultra-conservative Alan Keyes, whose recent campaign for senator from Illinois included his calling Mary Cheney a “hedonist.”

shorthand: Alan’s daughter is a lesbian.

Well, well, well…

Okay, aside from the obvious schaudenfreud (sp?) of seeing yet another acolyte of Religious Fundamentalism get smacked in the face by a little thing called the real world, the basic story here really isn’t so big: An anti-gay-rights politician has a gay daughter. At best, it’s a TV movie. But then it gets a little tragic…

Unlike Dick Cheney, who made it subtly but unmistakably clear in his Vice Presidential Debate that his administration’s anti-gay stances are not necessarily his doing (remember his near-mutinous moment in the debate when Edwards broached the topic and Cheney merely joined his rival in mutual man-to-man “good family ya got there” praise and refused to even mention Bush’s ammendment to ban gay marriage?) Well, sadly, it doesn’t look like Alan Keyes is quite the closet-progressive so many suspect Cheney is…

Nope, apparently Alan Keyes has approached the issue of gays in his family the same way he and his fellow so-called “religious” right allies seem to want to approach the issue of gays anywhere else: He threw her out of his house.

How do we know that? Well, Maya Keyes has a blog of her own, and she’s keeping the web up to date on her adventures right here:

http://www.xanga.com/item.aspx?user=Xmisled0youthX&tab=weblogs&uid=196061776

Alright, look… I posted this because I find it interesting and relevent. Keyes considers himself a culture-warrior, and part of my mission with this blog is chronicling the actions of those who favor censorship which he certainly does. This is news about him, and it’s going to be a big story.

I want to stress that it’s also a NEW story, and there could be dimensions we don’t know of yet, but right now I think it’s fair to say that IF this is all true, Alan Keyes has revealed himself to be a hypocrite and world-class creep. I respect those who disagree with the various dimensions of gay rights issues, and political issues of ALL stripes, but some things are bigger than politics and this is one of them. If Alan Keyes really did throw out his own child because she’s gay, then Alan Keyes is even less of a man than I thought he was. For all those who look to Keyes because of his supposed Christian values, look to this news and see for once and for all: IF this is all true, Alan Keyes has no business calling himself any kind of Christian.

The bottom line is, as much as I want to see Keyes and all of Keyes’ ilk suffer as much political embarassment as possible, this is ultimately a sad story, made sadder still by the fact that it’s playing out in thousands of homes across the country that will never make the news. It’s true, sure, that Mrs. Keyes will likely find friends and allies in this difficult time in rights groups and other friendly entities who will see her need (and the big potential news story connected to her need, of course) and help her out.

You can bet I’ll be following this one, as more details emerge…

About "The Fantastic Four"…

Did you watch the Superbowl? I watched the Superbowl. I’m from New England, so it was sort of required even though I was technically at work.

I usually don’t watch for the game, because I don’t “follow” professional Football closely enough to really elevate one game above the others even if it is the big one. But I usually at least tune in for the commercials, (am I the only one who’s already sold on the innevitable plush “Esuvees”?) specifically the movie trailers, which are usually early looks at the big summer tentpoles of the year.

The big news this time was the first non-teaser spot for “Batman Begins.” At this point, early praise has become a cliche: Yup, the cast is unbelievable. Yup, I love the cool “Year One”-reminiscient brown-ish color scheme so much of it seems to have. But what thrills me about this spot is our first peek at The Scarecrow. Can I just say how much it thrills me that he actually is a guy dressed like a scarecrow? I know this is something only “fanboys” are supposed to care about but, honestly… the costumes are important. It’s part of what makes the genre cool and different. If your lead is dressed like a bat, it’s fine for the bad guy to go about with a burlap sack on his head. It’s just cooler that way.

But speaking of this… the new “Batman” isn’t the only comic book franchise making a go of it in theaters this summer. Marvel Films, who are still technically the driving force behind the new studio fascination with the genre, has “The Fantastic Four” coming out. It’s a big project, with a budget somewhere in the $130 Million range, and the franchise it represents is one of the very biggest as-of-yet-untapped properties in all of comics. So why didn’t it have a Superbowl spot?

Logically, it’d be because it’s not quite ready for one. But it could also be just the latest in the long string of publicity-related bad luck the project has had. Unlike “X-Men,” which fans approach with cautious optimism, or “Spider-Man,” which had fans largely elated the moment Sam Raimi was announced as it’s director, the project just can’t seem to get any traction among the “fanboys” that the studios claim to so greatly despise but so transparently rely on to build pre-release hype.

Ever since Marvel Film’s Avi Arad got “misquoted” as saying the film was aiming for a “sitcom” vibe, the buzz has been unrelentingly negative and hasn’t caught a break since. Some of this can be, admittedly, chalked up to the geek community being just this side of paranoid about a Marvel project that seems to have so much more heavy studio/marketing influence upon it than the Spidey or X-films, but there’s also the rumbling of something deeper going on. Something that makes me think that those who dismiss the “fanboy” concerns over this could likely find themselves walking out of the theater on “F4’s” opening night echoing Joaquin Pheonix’s astonished utterance from “Signs,” namely: “the nerds were right!”

But let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s do the grownup thing and make a list, or two lists, rather; of reasons to be looking forward to “The Fantastic Four” and also the reasons to be, well… a little worried about “The Fantastic Four.”



Let’s do the happy list first:

REASONS TO LOOK FORWARD TO “THE FANTASTIC FOUR”:
Because it’s “The Fantastic Four!” It’s probably the single biggest Marvel franchise yet not made into a film, and fans know that it’s got the potential to be one of the all-time great superhero action films. A stretching super-scientist, an invisible woman, a guy who lights himself on fire and a hulking muscleman made of orange rock, locked in endless combat with mad scientists, monsters, intergalactic invaders and a power-mad Eurotrash dictator in an armored suit. Even if you’re not a fan, how can you not want to see a movie about that?
Michael Chilkis as “The Thing!” Is this not the niftiest peice of comic-hero casting since Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier? The “Shield” heavy will play a football-hero turned space-pilot who mutates into a superstrong creature made of orange rock. It’s just cool is what it is, and he gets to be the one with a catchphrase!
Because… because… Okay, I’m already all out of reasons to look forward. And I’m not trying to be cute about it. Not a good sign.
REASONS TO BE REALLY KINDA SORTA APPREHENSIVE ABOUT “THE FANTASTIC FOUR”:
Because it’s “The Fantastic Four.” There’s a reason why this wasn’t the first film out of the gate for Marvel. Consisting of a unique fusion between characters rooted deeply in kitschy 1960s familial archetypes and an overall universe rooted in pulp-era popular-science (fiction or otherwise,) it’s never been a surefire bet that the First Family of the Marvel Age could be morphed into a more “21st Century” framework with the same ease with which “Spider-Man” embraced angsty young-adult romance or that “X-Men” connected with culture-war allegory. And you need only look at the boxoffice gross for “Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow” to know why adopting an unstuck-in-time pop-art otherworldiness simply isn’t considered an option for a project like this at the Studio level.
Because of director Tim Story. I don’t mean to beat up on Story, I’m sure he’s a great guy and all that, but seriously, how’s a film geek supposed to respond when a project that (for reasons described above) requires the surest of and most commanding of directorial hands to live up to it’s potential AND avoid the toxic influence of never-get-it-never-will studio marketing buzzards is placed in the hands of a director who’s only prior effort was “Barbershop,” at best an above-average feature-length sitcom pilot? And who’s 2004 release, “Taxi,” qualifies as just about the worst buddy comedy since “Chill Factor.” Bottom line is, Story may yet turn out to be the best man for the job, but he’s got no clout of his own and usually that means it’s the studio driving, not the director. And thats a big problem waiting to happen…
Because the cast, aside from Chilkis, is worrisome. Iaon Grufud is a fine actor, but he looks miscast as Mr. Fantastic. Emphasis on looks. Jessica Alba is bad casting for any role, being that she’s a spectacularly limited actress known only as a garden-variety factory-issue “hottie” in the Shannon Elizabeth/Tara Reid mold. Chris Evans… look, the Human Torch is the broadest and hardest-to-screw-up on a character level figure in the franchise, but isn’t it a little odd that Sue Storm’s younger brother should look so much older than her? Julian McMahon’s turn as Dr. Doom has thus far only been witnessed by lucky fans who downloaded some early footage, such as yours truly, and it wasn’t really encouraging.
Because of the “improved” Doctor Doom. Comics are not movies, movies are not comics, that much is understood by even the most hardcore fan. Thus, often, changes need to be made to get stuff onscreen, including changes to “fundamental” backstory and character elements. That being said, what is known thus far about the “retooling” of perenial F4 bad guy Doctor Doom for the film just smacks of, at best, unecessary interference and, at worst, evidence of a complete misunderstanding of the franchise and it’s appeal. Doom of the movie is yet another “evil corporate magnate,” the go-to baddie for unimaginative action/suspense scripts trying to be more “today” (see also: “The Manchurian Candidate” remake.) Apparently this is to make Doom more “relevant.” The comic-book Doom is a third-world dictator who threatens the Western World with weapons of mass destruction… yeah, nothing relevant about that.
The film’s only trailer is, well… bad. Seriously. Did you SEE this thing? Since it played before “Elektra,” probably not. Look at it here:
The studio doesn’t seem very confident in it: When “The Incredibles” came out, paying homage to Silver Age superheroes in general and “The Fantastic Four” especially, the go-to half-kidding query among film pundits was “the guys making the ‘real’ F4 have their work cut out for them.” But then came the studio’s response, that they… um… indeed have their work cut out for them, and that the film was going to have to be “kicked up” to not be a letdown after “Incredibles.” The movie isn’t as good as someone paying homage to the source material? Hm…
And then the most recent signal of the same: The film was scheduled for the July 4th weekend, in direct competition with Steven Speilberg’s “War of the Worlds.” The competition did have a superbowl spot ready, and it seems the F4 producers took one look at that big crumbling freeway and boldly… backed off, moving the film ahead a week to compete with the “Bewitched” remake. Hm…
Sigh.
Look, I don’t want to be so down on this project, but so far I think I’ve made my point: There’s just not much to get excited about. It could turn out that all the early impressions have been wrong, and if so I’ll be the first to post right here how relieved I am to have my predictions and premonitions proven wrong. But right now, many of us “nerds” are justifiably looking to this as a letdown waiting to happen, and until some further proof otherwise is seen, right now it’s looking like “the nerds were right”… even if they desperately wish not to be.

Don Feder’s Oscar Schpiel

NOTE: As before, this post involves a political pundit taking aim at the Oscar Nominations in order to further his/her own political agenda. Thus, it contains potential spoilers about the film’s in question. I’ll try to tread as lightly as I can over the specifics, but if you haven’t seen some of these films (specifically: Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby”) you may wish to read at your own risk.

Don Feder is a political writer, and at that he’s pretty damn talented. He’s also, by manner of his postings, (which you can read at his website donfeder.com an ally of the so-called “Religious Right,” and at that he’s pretty damn loyal. Yesterday (Friday, Feb. 4th) he posted his thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominations at David Horowitz’s website, frontpagemag.net, and, Mr. Feder, on your rationale here I find you pretty far off base.

Before I get into this, I want to point out that Horowitz is an admirable scholar and that his Front Page site is “fair” in a way that most “conservative” news outlets never are. It’s to his credit that he offers equal time to “hard-right” fellows like Feder and moderates like Andrew Sullivan. Check the site out here:

http://www.frontpagemag.net

Here’s the thing, folks. The “religious right” was planning on using The Passion and The Oscars as a post-election hammer with which to bludgeon it’s Hollywood enemies whether it was nominated or not. In the absence of nomination, the attack has been predictable: Pick peices out of the nominated films that make them appear “liberal” (read: not-explicitly-religious-fundamentalist) and contrast them against the “holy” Passion. Also present is propping up Passion’s boxoffice numbers, in order to turn the standard occurance of non-blockbusters racking up Academy nods into another chapter into the myth that Mel Gibson’s torture-porn zealotry is “a film of the people.”

Feder sticks to this script like glue, and in the end that’s what hurts him: The outline doesn’t fit real life, and anyone with even a basic knowledge of real Academy “politics” can see that. Read his original, whole article HERE: (spoiler warning)

http://www.frontpagemag.net/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=16873

Take a look at his thesis statement here:

“The Oscars are Hollywood’s way of celebrating its values – the agenda of a gang of celebrity cretins who need a teleprompter to think.”

Truth is, The Academy is comprised of thousands of people from all aspects of the industry, not only actors and directors but also writers, crewpersons and technical engineers. While it’s true that actors make up the largest voting bloc, “celebrities” (cretins or otherwise) are a minority and many are too busy during the year to vote on the awards themselves. (you have to see all the nominated films to vote.)

He gives away some spoilers, a’la Michael Medved, in the exact quote about his case studies, but I can tell you he zeroes in on “Million Dollar Baby,” “Kinsey” and “Vera Drake.”

“Two were box-office bombs. “Kinsey” earned an anemic $9 million and “Vera” $2.3 million – one-tenth the box office of “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.” “Baby” has yet to prove itself.”

“Bomb” is a little on the extreme side. “Kinsey” never opened “wide” and “Vera Drake” is a small, independent British film for which 2.3 Million is a respectable take. This is basic business stuff, and standard for Oscar nominees.

Kinsey has a single nod in an acting category, and not even for the actor playing Kinsey. The film is only mentioned here, I suspect, so that it can be feigned that this is about more than The Passion, and because the “religious right” so despises Kinsey that they had planned a year-long assault on the film are a little dissapointed that it doesn’t have more acclaim for them to complain about.

“At the same time, “The Passion” (winner of the People’s Choice Awards) will go down as one of the most popular movies of all time, grossing $370 million in domestic box office receipts, and $611 million worldwide. It received a backhanded compliment from the Academy — three nominations, all of them technical.”



But wait… is he really suggesting that being a big-grosser should qualify one for an artistic achievement award? Does this mean he’ll also demand a Grammy for Eminem?

“Spiderman 2,” the summer blockbuster ($373.5 million) that praised virtue, also got three minor nominations. “The Village” got one nomination (also minor).”

Nice sleight of hand here, attempting to woo action fans and film geeks by trying to create some link between “Spider-Man” and “The Passion.” The only thing they have in common is that “Spider-Man 2” is a better film about a put-upon hero making sacrifices for the greater good than “The Passion” could ever dream of being. Why is “The Village” in here? You’ve got me.

He goes off on “Baby,” playing spoiler for the whole thing so I won’t repost it. But listen to this:

“Eastwood has been in the industry long enough to know exactly how to butter Hollywood’s agenda bread.”

Clint? Is he serious? The actor the New York Times labled as “facist” for “Dirty Harry”? The former Republican mayor? Who campaigned on behalf of Ronald Reagan? Is buttering-up “liberal” Hollywood? Does he honestly believe what he’s saying here?

“Spiderman 2” was the number 2 top-grossing movie of 2004, as well as a rarity — a sequel that exceeded the original. It was fresh, exciting, and dealt with serious subjects in a serious way. It was nominated for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects – rather like being nominated for a seat on the Burbank city council.”

On this, sir, we agree. One out of one-hundred ain’t bad, eh?

“M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie, “The Village,” was reactionary in the best sense of the word – rejecting modernity, while positing the virtues of a bygone era. It was nominated for Music (Score).”

And there’s the answer to that question. He must be joking. The reactionary villagers of “The Village” are the good guys? That he can glean that says an awful lot about how much of an artistic failure “Village” really was and even more about how Feder just doesn’t really have an argument here.

“The Academy Awards are more than Hollywood thumbing its nose at those whose patronage pays for the extravagant lifestyles of actors and directors. Winners achieve recognition they rarely deserve.”

“Deserve?” It’s an industry award, with voted winners.

“Then the sheep flock to the Oscar-winning film – and in turn are indoctrinated in the industry’s worldview. Thus, those adorable statuettes might be seen as an army of little soldiers marching into battle for Hollywood’s favorite causes.”

Okay, so, let me get this right: When people blindly obey the command of Pat Robertson and James Dobson to flock to indoctrination from “The Passion,” their exercising some kind of vox populi dollar-vote of their true feelings… but if they blindly trudge to the Academy Award winner.. then their sheep?

“The spectacle that will take place three weeks hence at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater has nothing to do with art and everything to do with ideology.”

The same could be said, sir, of this and all other politically-motivated “film” columns like this one.

REVIEW: Boogeyman

As always, let’s let it stand that a mild spoiler warning is in effect…

For whatever else may be wrong with it, “Boogeyman” has one of the best opening scenes I’ve witnessed in awhile. Expertly photographed, well-acted and scored, perfectly setting up the visual motifs that one generally expects from a film called “Boogeyman.” It’s one of those scenes that captures an “I’ve been there” childhood-experience moments, then beautifully transforms it into a large-scale “your worst nightmare” sequence; one of those scenes that any good spook story needs.

Unfortunately, the end of the beginning spells the beginning of the end of anything really cool or notable coming from “Boogeyman.”



The story: Our 20-something hero has issues. They seem to stem from having had his father walk out on him, and (it’s implied, then puzzlingly dropped) the resulting mental deterioration of his mother. It’s not that simple, of course: Our hero, as a boy, insisted that his father didn’t walk out… rather, he’s sure that his father was really sucked into the closet by The Boogeyman. Despite an apparently lengthy run of therapy, this belief has left him traumatized to this day, and terrified of closet doors as a bonus. Advised that “spending the night” in his old, now-abandoned house will cure his ills (no, really, thats actually what happens,) he hunkers down for a night at the old homestead to “face his fears.” No prizes for guessing that the house is plenty scary-looking enough without a Boogeyman present, or that suspicious locals and yes, even “the girl that got away” start turning up to propel the story.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I don’t think it counts as the same thing if I tell you something that most definately ISN’T the ending, (or, rather, the “answer.”) I only bring it up because it’s absence is sort of a pleasant surprise. Anyway, here goes: No one in the principal cast of “Boogeyman” ever turns out to actually be The Boogeyman in their previously-unknown schizophrenic alternate-personality. Remember when that sentence would seem like a given? But for the last few years, “the bad guy is really the good guy’s eeeevil other-half” has become the go-to “gotcha” for sub-average thrillers, so I found it sort of a nice surprise that “Boogeyman” doesn’t go for it even though it would easily “fit” the movie.

The flip side of the coin is, sadly, that “Boogeyman” doesn’t really “go for” much of anything. It’s well directed and moves at a fluid pace, and for awhile there it looks like we may actually be heading somewhere interesting; but instead it bogs itself down in a clunky “all hell breaks loose” finale that would be welcome if the film had bothered to give us more reason to care about what’s going on and what it all means.

I was hoping that the film was going to highlight some of the “origins” behind the mythology of “Boogeymen,” (it’s generally thought that the term is a modern evolution of swamp creatures or “boggy-men” of old European folklore,) or at least create an interesting mythology of it’s own, but sadly this is not the case: There’s as little going on with The Boogeyman himself as there is with his titular film. The closest we get to a “big idea” in this case is that the movie seems to imply that The Boogeyman is not only “The Closet Monster” but also “The Monster Under the Bed” and “The Bathtub Drain Monster,”along with a few others I might have missed (he’s also, apparently, “The Runs-Out-of-Ideas-and-Just-Runs-Up-The-Stairs-And-Decks-You Monster,” but I’d never heard of that one before.)

This is one of those scary movies where at (or near) the finale, as surviving characters stand around gravely intoning “it’s over…”, it’s only the audience that seems to think “it’s over… except for how you explain all those missing people and property damage.” For awhile, it looks like the film might even head into interesting psychological dimensions about fear and trauma, but in the end all we’ve got is a gussied-up monster movie, featuring really one of the most dull-looking “monsters” in a good while.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

Evil Dead 4 gossip… again

There are certain “dream projects” that get talked up for so long that, eventually, even eternally optimistic film geeks start to get a little “tell me another one” about them. One such project, or rather, “prospect,” is that of Sam Raimi reuniting with Bruce Campbell to make another “Evil Dead” movie. (prior installments: “Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” and Army of Darkness.”) It seems like not a week goes by that we don’t get yet another report of director Raimi (currently working on his 3rd “Spider-Man” film) either confirming or denying plans to continue the franchise that made him famous.

First it was coming. Then it wasn’t. Then ED’s “Ash” (Bruce Campbell) was going to battle the leads in a “Freddy vs. Jason” follow-up. Then that was dead. Then ED4 was back on. Then it wasn’t. At this point, I’m not believing that ED4 is coming until ten minutes after I finish watching it.

Sometime last month, a new wrinkle was added as millions of web-browsing fans were met with the kind of news that immediately screams “Nightmare Scenario” to geekdom: “Evil Dead remake planned!” Nothing puts a film geek’s shields up like the (lately) all-too-frequent prospect of a “cult” classic of yesteryear getting a “new, hip, fresh” makeover for the masses. The wrinkle to the wrinkle, however, thrust the issue into an entirely different paradigm: It was Raimi himself, and ever-present collaborator Rob Tapert, who would produce the remake through his “Ghost House” productions label, (which became a major financial powerhouse in the horror-movie game after releasing “The Grudge.”)

And now the third twist: “Bloody-Disgusting.com,” who can be counted on to scoop pretty much everyone when it comes to horror movies, has offered up an early tease of a coming interview with Raimi…

http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/index.php?Show=3270&Template=newsfull

…wherein he seems to drop this tantalizing bombshell: “There will be an Evil Dead 4, and there will ALSO be an Evil Dead Remake.”

Ooooo… kay?

“Aint-It-Cool-News’ ” leader Harry Knowles joined in with some rumor-mongering of his own…

http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=19340

…floating the prospect that Raimi is seeking South Korean filmmaker Chan Wook Park to helm the remake.

So here’s what I think is going on here:

In my estimate, Raimi and Tapert (assuming this is all true and not miscomunication of some kind) are trying to recreate for the “Evil Dead” franchise what occured for George Romero’s zombie series when the “Dawn of the Dead” remake came out: The remake wasn’t really quite so terrible as most fans (entirely logically) hoped it would be, it was a big hit with the public and it drew big money and interest toward Romero’s “real” zombie follow-up, the in-production “Land of The Dead.”



So what I’m guessing is that Raimi’s “math” on this is reading as follows: “ED is still primarily a cult item, famous director or not. All the fans are going to go see it no matter what, but who knows who else will? So with a remake we can aim for a big ‘no baggage’ hit for Ghost House, and ED4 can only benefit from that as well.” Good plan, if it works…

What makes me curious (and also cautiously cautious) about the idea of a remake is… as much as I love “Evil Dead”, there really isn’t that much there to “remake.” It’s a “look what we can do” indie horror opus, a showcase for early gore FX, Raimi’s innovative directing style and Bruce Campbell’s manic lead performance. All three of those elements, by design, won’t be present in any remake, so what’s left? A bunch of friends go to a cabin in the woods, read a book they shouldn’t, bad stuff happens. In other words: There’s seemingly limitless room for the right director, the right cast and the right FX team to have a good time and show their stuff, just as Raimi and company did in the first place.

And really, if remaking the first one is what it takes to finally get #4, fine. Do it.