Saturday, October 08, 2005

Al Gore Meets Post-Modernism And Does Not Like It

Here is the text of a speech he recently gave to simultaneously hype his new TV network while blaming television for all of America's problems. None of his complaints are particularly new and he manages to totally ignore the fact that the Internet solves the anti-democratic problems that TV has that the printed word didn't. He does call Jon Stewart 'brilliant' though.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Movies Of The Year: 1988

1988's an off-year, no really great movies, though there are some very good ones.

50. Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach
49. My Stepmother Is An Alien
48. Caddyshack II
47. Action Jackson
46. The Dead Pool
45. Cocktail
44. Short Circuit 2
43. Rambo III
42. Crocodile Dundee II
41. Red Heat
40. Big Business
39. The Great Outdoors
38. The Presidio
37. Funny Farm
36. Beaches
35. The Seventh Sign
34. Biloxi Blues
33. Twins
32. Working Girl
31. Shoot To Kill
30. Mississippi Burning
29. Big
28. Scrooged
27. Young Guns
26. Hairspray
25. License To Drive
24. Alien Nation
23. Gorillas In The Mist
22. Coming To America
21. Talk Radio
20. The Accused
19. Frantic
18. The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
17. Rain Man
16. The Thin Blue Line

15. Midnight Run - A good, if overrated movie. Frankly, I've always found it a little boring. A good performance by DeNiro, but Charles Grodin gets on my nerves.

14. Who Framed Roger Rabbitt - Warner Brothers cartoons were always better than Disney. It's a shame they don't make shorts like that anymore. The second best Robert Zemekis movie, after Back To The Future.

13. Akira - A good, very influential anime, but I've never loved it as much as a lot of other people do. I find it unmemorable. It's a lot like Blade Runner in that it looks great, I can respect it, I can hardly remember anything about it and what I can remember, frustrates me.

12. Willow - It's a Ron Howard movie. That means it's good, but not particularly great. All his movies are like that. I haven't seen this in years, so I imagine the effects are pretty dated. But there's a great performance by Val Kilmer and some cool action sequences.

11. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Very simple con artist comedy highlighted by great performances by Steve Martin, Michael Caine and Glenne Headly. Another movie that seems to have grown overrated over time simply by virtue of not having any really big flaws.

10. The Milagro Beanfield War - A remember watching a Siskel & Ebert episode when I was a kid and seeing this movie reviewed. I remember quite clearly that it looked like a very serious, dark, boring drama. For that reason, I avoided watching it for years and years. One day, forced to watch it, I discovered that I was remembering a different movie all together. This is a very bright, even whimsical little gem of a movie. I've only seen 3 of the 7 movies Robert Redford has directed (Quiz Show and Ordinary People are the others) but they're all great.

9. A Fish Called Wanda - I have no idea why this gets the raves it does. Sure, its funny, but not hysterically so. Yeah, the performances are all pretty good, but that isn't exactly a surprise coming from this cast. It's a good movie, that's for sure. But one of the best comedies of all-time? No way. Inexplicably the recipient of a Best Director Oscar nomination for Charles Crichton, who directed his first movie in 1944.

8. Stand And Deliever - The best of the great teachers genre of movies, generally an unremarkable group. A great performance by Edward James Olmos, a great actor who seems to have trouble finding great roles. He's been really good on the new Battlestar Galactica series.

7. Beetlejuice - I imagine the special effects and scenery chewing by Michael Keaton and Catherine O'Hara don't really stand up over time, but Winona Ryder's performance is iconic. This film is one of the few times Geena Davis doesn't really annoy me. I can't believe people think she should play the President. Alec Baldwin also stars and is alright.

6. The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad - Without a doubt the funniest movie of the year, Wanda fans regardless. Creepy seeing OJ Simpson in a movie. It's not as good as Airplane! or Hot Shots, but still a classic.

5. Eight Men Out - The second best baseball movie of the year, but one of the best of all-time nonetheless. More historically accurate than most movies, it's a little sappy in that it makes you think these players were treated unfairly, a very debatable claim. It would have been nice for Sayles to dramatize the 'they got what they deserved" side of the issue, at least a little. Maybe something from Christy Mathewson (the great and universally respected Hall Of Fame former pitcher who was one of the reporters who suspected the fix) or Eddie Collins, arguably the greatest second baseman of all-time and one of the clean Sox, he's depicted as nothing but a jerk in the movie. Anyway, the period detail is outstanding, and the cast is great. John Cusak really stands out, but David Strathairn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, DB Sweeney, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, Studs Terkel, John Sayles, and Michael Lerner.

4. Die Hard - Without a doubt one of the best action movies of all-time. There's a reason why movies are still defined in reference to it. Classic performances from Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis. I never did get why he didn't put his shoes on right away though. great string of movies for John McTiernan: Predator, Die Hard, Hunt For Red October. Then he did Medicine Man and totally fell apart.

3. The Last Temptation Of Christ - The movie that the philistine right thinks The Passion Of the Christ is. This is a sincerely devout and thought provoking film that deserved absolutely none of the criticism it received from moronic religious groups that didn't even bother to watch the movie or the book it's based on before protesting it. Willem Defoe is great in the lead role. Harry dean Stanton is a terrific John the Baptist. the weird cast also includes Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, John Lurie as James, Irvin Kershner as Zebedee and Ileana Douglas as an extra. The problem for me is Harvey Keitel. As much as I like him and think he's a great actor, I simply can't by him as a believable Judas. It's the one flaw that keeps this from being a true classic. Scorsese's movie makes you think, Gibson's makes you feel nauseous (unless you get a masochistic thrill out of it).

2. Bull Durham - The best baseball movie ever may not even be about baseball at all. Or rather, it's definitely about baseball, but it's about life also. But baseball's about life too, so this is the movie that most accurately captures baseball in its totality. Which makes it the best baseball movie of all-time. Classic performances from the three leads, which made all three of them stars. Infinitely rewatchable.

1. Dangerous Liaisons - 1988 was apparently a good year for movies about sex. This one is also highlighted by three terrific performances and a remarkably funny script. In addition to John Malkovich, Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer's great lead performances, Keanu Reeves is remarkable appropriate in his role, Swoozie Kurtz is pretty good and Uma Thurman is quite memorable. My favorite of the three versions of the story I've seen, it's the one that best gets the balance of vicious comedy and sincere drama. Valmont is too serious and Cruel Intentions too campy, this one gets it just right. A great looking movie, and I don't just mean the actresses. I had a theory for awhile that Glenn Close's character isn't just pure evil, but is also a proto-feminist hero, her motivation stems from her desire to get revenge on all the men who have wronged her. I don't know if I totally believe that, and it certainly isn't necessary to enjoy the movie.

Not a lot of great Unseen movie this year, as far as I know:

As Tears Go By
Hotel Terminus
The Big Blue
Grave Of The Fireflies
My Neighbor Totoro
They Live
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being
Tequila Sunrise
Dead Ringers
Earth Girls Are Easy
The Accidental Tourist
Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
Mystic Pizza
Tucker: The Man And His Dream
Running On Empty
Another Woman
Bright Lights, Big City
Torch Song Trilogy
Young Einstein
I'm Gonna Get You Sucka
Tetsuo: The Ironman

Movie Round-Up

Been watching a lot of movies lately, as the baseball season has ended and I'm trying to clear space on the tivo for Bravo's rerunning of the whole last season of The West Wing next week.

The Shop Around The Corner - Very good romantic comedy that's more about the Shop than the Romantic Comedy. I imagine the remake, You've Got Mail, was dreadful largely because it failed to focus on the environment and the supporting characters, but I'd have to watch it to find out and that isn't going to happen. A great, low-key performance from Jimmy Stewart, who was in the midst of a great string of performances (Mr. Smith in '39 and this movie and The Philadelphia Story in '40).

A History Of Violence - One of the best movies of the year thus far, and the best David Cronenberg movie I've seen. People seem to either love it or hate it. It's a lot more complex than the haters seem to think it is. My working theory is that it's about repression, how it's both good and bad, which seems to be one of the major issues Cronenberg likes to deal with. great performances by Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, and I think the son was on The OC last week.

Serenity - About what I expected it to be, which given the hype and how much I liked the series, is about all I could hope for. I think it worked better as a series, but that's just because it was conceived as one. I imagine you'd like it without having seen any of the episodes first, but not as much as if you had, which you should because they're great.

The Battle Of Algiers - Good, almost eerily relevant. Sad to think that our method of combating terrorism have not evolved since the 1950s (kill a bunch of people and torture the rest). Very effective use of the neo-realist/cinema verité style to create a real documentary feel to the film. Jean Martin is great as the Jack Bauer-esque paratrooper Colonel who implements the torture policy to eliminate the terrorist networks.

Black Narcissus - Another great Powell and Pressburger film about nuns who move into a Himalayan castle and all go a little insane. Great performances from Deborah Kerr as the leader of the nuns and Kathleen Byron as the craziest nun of all. Great looking, like all Powell and Pressburger movies. They topped it a year later with The Red Shoes, but not by much.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Fear And Loathing In The Killing Fields

Just finished watching Salvador, a movie I've wanted to see for a long time and has been saved on the tivo for at least a month now. I've certainly missed the non-crazy Oliver Stone. This was released in February of 1986, and Stone also had Platoon released in december that same year. Off the top of my head I can't think of any director who's had two films this good come out in the same year. I'd rank it right now as the number 5 film of that year, just behind Aliens.

James Woods stars as a Hunter S. Thompson-esque photojournalist named Richard Boyle who drags his DJ buddy (james Belushi, who does not ruin the movie) to El Salvador to get drunk, smoke pot and try to get a job taking pictures of the revolution. No one will hire him because he's either too drunk, too dishonest or too leftist to be relied on to take pictures of the various atrocities committed by right-wing death squads, left-wing guerillas or the American military-intelligence 'advisors'. It's by far the best performance I've seen Woods give. He's like Sam Waterston's Sydney Schanberg (from The Killing Fields, who Boyle mentions several times, claiming to have been "The Last Man In Cambodia" while Schanberg was in New York celebrating his Pulitzer) except he's more like a real human being than a walking, preaching conscience-machine. What Stone, Woods and Boyle (who co-wrote the film with Stone, based on his own experiences) tap into is the same thing Thompson did in the best of his work: use the crazy sex, drugs and alcohol stuff to hook the viewer/reader into the story, then hit them with the overwhelming truth of their message without them noticing that you've turned all serious. The point is that happened in El Salvador was bad enough to sober up Dr. Gonzo.

Another thing I loved about this movie was the depiction of the photojournalists at work. John Savage plays John Cassady, a journalist based on John Hoagland, about whom you can read at this site and who took the above photo, and watching him and Woods at work is fascinating. Not just the way they drunkenly stagger through the war zones, or the way they constantly have their cameras out, ready for The Big Picture to need to be taken at any moment, or even the way they use their cameras as their only defense against the death squads that would probably enjoy killing them (Cassady and Boyle routinely get out of trouble by offering to photograph the petty fascists threatening their lives, offering to make them famous in exchange for not getting murdered). The climax of the film, when Woods and Savage are running through an all-out battle between the guerillas and the US-supported government troops is remarkable. In the 20 years since, I don't know that I've seen a battle sequence as good as this. It's as good as anything in Saving Private Ryan, and much more compelling.

The movie almost loses it when Woods gives his big speech to the US military and CIA representatives about how wrong they are for supporting the death squads. A later Oliver Stone would give in to his need to preach and this would turn cheesy and ineffective, as Sam Waterston's speech is at the end of The Killing Fields. But this pre-JFK Stone was still feisty. He actually gives the military guy an argument I hadn't heard before: that letting the peasant rebels take over is exactly what the US did in Cambodia, and those peasants turned into the Khmer Rouge and killed millions of people. It isn't a particularly compelling argument, but at least it's something. And it gives Boyle a chance to refute that argument, which only makes his indictment of our government that much stronger. Instead of preaching, Boyle argues. Roland Joffé, in the Killing Fields, doesn't allow the US the benefit of making even a specious argument in its own defense. Instead, we get Sam Waterston's righteous indignation. The ultimate effect on the audience is totally different: The Killing Fields makes you feel depressed and guilty, Salvador makes you angry. That's what the left needs, as much now as ever.