Saturday, June 30, 2007
On Friday, June 29th, I went to the movie theatre and saw Michael Moore's new film "SiCKO" along with everyone else who helped the film gross about $1.4 million on opening day across a measly 400 screens.
This is Michael Moore's best film to date, which is saying a lot. Whether you agree with Michael Moore's opinions or not, his filmmaking and storytelling ability as a documentarian is unique and second-to-none. He knows exactly how to prove the point he's trying to make as efficiently and touching as possible. This film kicked his game up a notch.
As I watched the film, Howard Beale's monologue from Network kept playing over and over in my head: "You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!'...Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do..."
But when you leave, you shouldn't be talking about the filmmaking.
What you should be talking about is what's wrong with the American healthcare system and how to fix it. It is undeniable that the system is broken. Perhaps you might not agree with Michael Moore's suggestions on how to fix it (although I do) but we can all agree that the system is, in fact, broken beyond repair.
We need to start over and this film needs to be the beginning of that dialogue. (And for those of you who think Michael Moore is a liar, CNN fact checked the film and found it quite accurate.)
The film's central question is this: "This system is broken. Even people in the system are dying and being prevented from getting care because the basis of the system is a profit-motive instead of a genuine care in people. Is this who we've become as a nation? Is this really who we are?"
A lot of conservatives will argue that this film is un-American. I would argue that it's the America that fostered this travesty of a healthcare system is what is un-American. Richard Nixon's America was un-American. George Bush's America is un-American.
"SiCKO" is dripping in pro-American ideals. The most prominent? That we can do better.
How? Well, the film answers that question, too. We take all the best aspects of everyone else's healthcare systems until we perfect it and every American is covered.
Perhaps maybe the solution is even simpler than that, though. What if we just offered Medicaid to every American who couldn't afford health insurance? That wouldn't be enough, but it would certainly be a hell of a start. I had both of my kids with Medicaid and it was an experience as good as any described in "SiCKO" in foreign countries.
What it comes down to is this: Until people can no longer profit from denying people health coverage, the system will remain broken. Until we realize that taking care of each other is better than just taking care of ourselves, the system will remain broken. Until we get over our irrational fear of government run systems, the system will remain broken.
We all need to start thinking about what we can do to reverse these problems.
We need to regulate HMO's until they are out of business. We need to remind people that fire departments, the military, post offices, public schools, libraries, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and hundreds of other government run agencies are already "socialized" and are run so well that our country would be crippled without them. We trust the government to run Homeland Security and "protect" us from terrorists, but we won't let them protect us from sickness and disease?
We need to treat healthcare as the next civil rights frontier and a good step in this direction is to take all of your friends to go see "SiCKO". Your friends don't have to like it, but they sure as hell have to discuss it and recognize the magnitude of the problem we face.
And maybe when everyone is talking about it and everyone understands that their lives have value, then, Goddamnit, maybe we'll do something about it.
Katsushiro (crouching), Kambei and Kyuzo.
If that person were to reply, "Well, aside from Star Wars, what's your favorite?"
Without skipping a beat, I would say, "Seven Samurai."
Yesterday, I was able to catch a screening of the film with an audience in an honest-to-goodness movie theatre in Salt Lake City and it was one of the most moving film experiences of my life. I've seen this movie dozens of times. Because of it's length though, it's hard for me to watch the film all at once. (It clocks in at about 3 and a half hours.) So, I find myself watching one half here and another half there, a piece here, a piece there, etc. I don't think I've watched it all the way through in one sitting in five years.
So, this is the first time I was able to really sink my teeth into the piece as a whole for a long time.
And it was magical.
The audience helps the experience considerably. I'd never seen the film with an audience that was as into the film as I was. They were gasping and laughing and shocked in all the right places and the excitement for the film was almost tangible.
And seeing the film larger than life caught me off guard. There were no less than four moments that caught me teary-eyed or crying, such is the power of the film, even after all these years.
There were three or four things that just completely re-blew my mind upon this viewing, though:
1) The cinematography. It's one thing to see Kurosawa's use of horizons, deep-focus and lighting on a small screen but it is truly something to be marveled at on the big screen. The level of detail and care on a big screen is magnified a hundred-fold and never ceases to amaze me.
2) The use of the weather. Kurosawa's mastery of the weather in this film is nothing short of extraordinary. Every gust of wind, every still frame, every ounce of smoke or fog, every drop of rain has clearly been calculated to obtain the maximum dramatic effect. It's not often you see someone so controlling over every aspect of a frame to such chilling effect and it's no wonder that no one makes movies of this scale like Kurosawa did. I mean, others compete in their respective fields but no one can top the brilliant mind of Akira Kurosawa.
3) The script. The script was as tight as any script I've ever seen put on screen. and I know you're thinking, "But Bryan, the movie is almost four hours long. How in the hell could a script that long be tight?" I'll tell you: every scene is required to get the full effect. This film makes you laugh and cry. It infuriates and frustrates. It involves romance, coming of age, action, intelligence, strategy, battle, morals... Any aspect of a story, this film has it all. And it's paced so well it honestly boggles the mind.
4) Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. It pains me that more people don't know who these guys are. These are two of the most brilliant actors in the known galaxy. They are the Japanese acting equivalent of Marlon Brando and Paul Newman.
So, go back and watch this film.
Let me know what you thought.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I don't know about these storms though. We actually got caught in the rain last night shortly after I caught that fish and it sucked pretty bad.
So, who is coming to see Seven Samurai and Sicko with Jason and I tomorrow in Salt Lake City?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
We're hoping to head downtown soon to do street interviews. Rain be damned.
On a better note, I went with Bryan to the last night of the Alamo Drafthouse and drank beer and watched movies. Oh, and I met Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News.
On a worse note, we still haven't heard from the Bates family to confirm our shoot. I literally started not only calling, but texting them today.
But, let's get back to Stardust.
I've been excited to see Stardust since I saw the trailer. I haven't read the book in a long time to the point where I barely remembered it. In fact, I couldn't even begin to discuss the differences between the book and the movie. I was planning on reading it again before I saw the movie but Harry managed to dash all of those hopes. I thought I had a good two-month lead-time to get it done but I had another think coming.
Stardust is the best of everything that '80s fantasy movies were. This film felt so much like Spielberg directing a Terry Gilliam script it was great. This is the kind of movie I want my kids growing up with.
It was simple and it was sweet and it's the kind of movie that you want to watch with a girl. In fact, that was the only thing the film was missing and it was my fault because I didn't bring one with me. It was the perfect date movie. It had plenty of swashbuckling, true-love, fantasy action, bad-ass dudes charging on horses, magic, revenge, etc. In fact, you remember the way Peter Falk described the novel "The Princess Bride" in the film? That's what Stardust is. ("Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...")
But this makes me think that Stardust might have the same problems finding an audience that Princess Bride did. No one saw that movie in the theatres because it truly had something for everybody and they had no idea how the hell to market it. And I have to say, I've showed people the trailer and the reactions are always mixed. And I've tried to convince them that the film would be good despite their misgivings about the trailer ("It's Neil Gaiman," usually works) but there's still apprehension.
Princess Bride found its audience much later on video and I would hate to see the same fate befall Stardust.
Now, I'm going to bust out a spoiler here, so don't read this if you want to enjoy what's probably the best moment in the movie and worth the price of admission hands down.
DeNiro in drag.
That's right. DeNiro has a dance number in a skirt and then gets discovered and has his ass beat by a Prince.
He's a gruff pirate named Shakespeare, but is actually a gay guy, literally living in the closet for the sake of his reputation.
It's really good stuff. The film has the fairly standard fable/myth/star-wars type formula but it's done right here.
Yes, there's some cheesy moments, but by the end of the film, you're so sucked in that I thought I might explode if it didn't end the way it did. Seriously, if Michelle Pfeifer would have been able to cut out Claire Danes' heart I would have seriously formed a posse to go hunt her down with people from the screening, the whole audience felt that into the film.
There really isn't much left to say about the film that you aren't going to hear from everyone else. The acting was all at the very least capable, the effects were great, the story charming, etc….
But I'm certainly going to drag my kids to see this movie the second I can and not a second too soon, if you ask me.
So, I guess you can't get more positive of a review than that.
Well, I'm certainly glad we made it and I'm glad that we were able to get into the event via the standby line.
The Original Alamo Drafthouse was the movie palace of my dreams. It was a combination of my favorite old movie palace (the Academy Theatre in Provo, Utah, which has sadly been torn down) and my favorite theatre/bar (Brewvies, in Salt Lake City. I heard the guy who does projection there used to run projection over at the Tower Theatre, again in SLC and he was the first projectionist at a festival (this was a Sundance venue) to burn Quentin Tarentino's print of Reservoir Dogs and that Quentin was really not all that happy about it since I've heard it might have been the first public screening on the film.). The Drafthouse is the kind of place I would be three times a week if I lived in (or anywhere near) the Austin area.
Sadly though, I don't live anywhere near the Austin area and, in fact, this was my first time in Austin. Actually, this was even my first time in Texas except for a layover at an airport once.
And there wasn't much time to waste, either. We literally got off the plane, got our rental car, checked in to the hotel and went straight to the Drafthouse.
It was easy enough to find and not too far from our hotel.
After much anxiety about whether or not we'd get in and after meeting more than a couple pretty cool people (cute girls even, too) we got in.
The first movie of the night began and I'm not sure I would have been able to wrap my head around it if the Drafthouse didn't serve a very lovely locally brewed Hefeweizen.
Wonder Bar was quite an amazing experience. I had never seen anything about this film besides reading about reactions to it at another BNAT.
I found this film highly enjoyable despite its preposterous racist overtones. I've been watching a lot of movies from this era lately (Stage Door, Dinner at Eight, His Girl Friday, etc.) and I really enjoy the frantic pacing of the comedy and the cartoonish nature of the drama. And it amazes me that films like these can hit both of those notes so well since it's rare in these days to see a filmmaker with the chops to do it right.
Like I said, this film was really charming despite it's racism against any number of people but most offensively so against blacks. The ending musical number with Jolson in his trademarked blackface was beyond belief. The amount of racial stereotypes it walked on the toes of had my jaw dropped to the floor. From the lyrics in the song, to the whole cast of blackfaced actors (and children), the fired chicken machine, the numbers with watermelons…. It was almost too much to bear.
The only thing that kept me from cringing and actually getting offended was the date of the film. It came out in '34 and can be seen through the eyes of history, as some type of artifact, and not the predominate feelings of our culture. Besides, all the stereotypes that are perpetuated in this film about people (Russians, blacks, gays, etc) are all 80 years out of date.
The amazing centerpiece of the film, however, was Busby Berkeley's musical number. It was actually quite a marvel to see the camera tricks they pulled. People would be hard-pressed to pull the types of tricks with cameras and mirrors without CG touch-ups that they were pulling in this dance number. It was so wonderfully over the top that it made the "Anything Goes" number in Temple of Doom seem like it had documentary realism.
Long story short, if you have a chance to catch this movie somehow, it would be worth your time.
The next movie was Stardust, but we can move on to that last.
The third movie of the evening was Topkapi which was a really cool '60's caper film that started a little cheesy but really got moving and I think it was the best film I saw at Half-Ass-A-Thon (even though I really dug Stardust).
I had enjoyed Ocean's 13 when I saw it a few weeks ago, but then watching this and thinking about it in the context of what caper movies should be, it paled in comparison.
The thing about this movies and caper movies from the era is that you feel like you're in on the job. Soderbergh's Ocean's movies don't allow you that. They offer you scraps of information and then at the end let you know how smart everyone was. That's fine for them, but isn't as ultimately entertaining. Topkapi was a much more engaging and entertaining film that felt more democratic with the dynamics of allowing the audience in on the heist.
And in looking more into the film I found out that Pierce Brosnan is remaking this film as an addition to the Thomas Crown franchise and it actually makes my heart ache just a little bit. I'm just not sure what the point is of remaking movies like this.
Especially since you know they won't let Pierce Brosnan get caught. It was the same problem I had with the first Ocean's 11 remake. The original had one of the most bittersweet endings to a caper film ever and when the new, hip, Clooney Danny Ocean hit the scene, there was no way he could lose. In fact, it would have been refreshing for Ocean's 13 to be the tale of their biggest loss. So, my vote is, if you HAVE to remake this film, you also HAVE to make Brosnan get caught.
Anyhow, I could say all the things people expect to hear about this film (Ustinov really did deserve the Academy Award, it was fun, the heist was cool, etc) but at the end of the day it was just a fun movie that I'm going to buy on DVD and show as many people as I can get my hands on.
The fourth film of the evening was an old Bill Shatner film from his "bottomed-out" period after Star Trek called "Impulse". Unfortunately, this is where jet-lag and lack of sleep factored in, so I was dozing off after the trailer to "The Toy Box" (which was an amazingly pornographic trailer, it was pretty cool) so I left while I could still get back to the Hotel with my eyes open…. Which sucks because I wish I could have stayed awake for the whole thing…
So, aside from wussing out at the end, the evening was everything I had hoped an AICN event like that would be and more.
If you guys ever want to do something like this in Salt Lake, I know all the right people to make it happen…
I'll post my Stardust review separately...
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Like that's news to any of you.
Well, I just finished my breakfast at the Fox Sports bar and restaurant in the airport. Steve is still gone smoking. There are TVs running Fox news everywhere.
I just watched the silliest, stupidest, most biased report I have ever seen in my life. Fox news spent five minutes telling me, as though it were breaking news, that there was a new website on the internet.
Fox news never ceases to amaze me.
What was the new website that demanded a full five minutes of news coverage, including an analyst? It's pro-Hillary website. Here's the link to it and it's pretty innocuous if I do say so myself. Having this as a headline, does that somehow imply that there are so many anti-Hillary websites on the internet that a single pro-Hillary website merits this much attention?
But it's just a website. What's newsworthy about that? Well, what was newsworthy is that it praised Hillary and denounced Hillary's opponents. You mean someone with the wherewithal to start a pro-Hillary website shouldn't say anything about her chief opponents? It's also newsworthy because they mentioned nothing negative about Hillary. It was also newsworthy because they didn't know who ran the website.
They admitted to knowing nothing about those who run the site and then spent a full minute insinuating that the Hillary campaign may very well be the author. They didn't know though. Since they have such an emphasis on professional journalism, they also put out an APB to the viewers for more information if they happened to know of any connection to this website and the Hillary campaign.
And the analyst they had on to talk about this? He was a reporter who covered Whitewater.
What did he have to add? He dredged up all of the accusations from the Whitewater "scandal" and then very quickly admitted that it amounted to nothing, but seemed to think where there's smoke, there's fire despite having found no wrong-doing.
This was a five minute hit piece with no actual reporting to it, whatsoever. And don't get me wrong, I'm not some ardent Hillary supporter. I think she's better than W, but really, who isn't? But she does not deserve this sort of treatment in the media.
Is it really newsworthy if some asshole has a website devoted to something? No. Otherwise there would be a 24-Hour news network dedicated to new websites.
This is really frustrating and infuriating. No wonder our electoral process is circling the drain in the toilet. And this isn't just the electoral process circling the drain, it's journalism, too.
And you want to know what story led into this one? If you said Paris Hilton, you win a cigar. It turns out they've closed all traffic and restricted all parking in her neighborhood because she's being released "sometime in the next day or two."
I'm eating breakfast at the airport in Phoenix right now on a layover on our way to Austin.
This airport is gracious enough to provide free internet.
That's pretty rad.
Steve is hiking out 10 (ten!) minutes to go smoke and then to rush back through security in hopes that we don't miss our flight.
That's actually almost happened before once. We had a layover in Vegas at McCarran Airport and Steve left but he forgot his boarding pass. He had to talk his way back through security. I'm impressed it worked.
Anyhow, we'll be in Austin in a few hours and the real work begins.
Actually, the real work begins tomorrow. We're going to try to go to the Half-Ass-a-Thon still.
Seriously... Anybody got any spare tickets?
Saturday, June 23, 2007
We're leaving first thing in the morning.
Hopefully, we'll be able to get into the "Half-Ass-A-Thon" that Harry Knowles is putting on at the Alamo Drafthouse. We tried to get tickets but didn't, so now we're doing the standby-line thing.
Unless some merciful soul happens to read this and has two extra tickets burning a hole in their back pocket....
Oh well, if you're in the Austin area, shoot us an email and maybe we'll have a drink.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Yes, I was one of the guilty parties that got a hold of the high-res, bit torrent copy of Michael Moore's SiCKO last week. It was given to me, but I won't say by who. So, there, I admitted my crime. Sue me.
Ok. That said, let me now say something about Michael Moore. He's basically one of the reasons I became a documentary filmmaker.
I returned from a two year service mission to Venezuela in December 2000 where I had experienced a crash course in international politics living in the land of President Hugo Chavez. I had seen the worst examples of poverty and despair, yet also some of the best examples of hope and the human spirit. I assisted in the rescue efforts after mud slides, in the state of Vargas, killed thousands and literally wiped out entire cities. I walked down a street in Trapichito that was literally soaked with the blood of teenagers that had been killed by blind police retribution because gang members had killed one of their own. One of the kids was sitting next to his mother watching TV, when the cops broke down the door and blew his head off. He was 16. I was 19.
So I return home to Maryland after two years to find my best friend, John, was studying video production and documentary filmmaking at an art school. One of the first documentaries he showed me was Michael Moore's Roger and Me. And then he showed me Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line. It was at this point that I said, "That's what I want to do." Seven years later, I'm still making documentaries. Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Errol. (It should be noted that my first big documentary is about Michael Moore coming to Utah right before the 2004 election and all the Apocolyptic Republican chaos that ensued over Mike's right to speak.)
But, I digress. Let's talk about SiCKO.
I was only about 15 minutes into Moore's new documentary about health care in America when tears started welling up in my eyes. But I expected that. Michael is really good at pulling the heart strings. A young woman talked about working at a call center for an HMO where people would submit applications for health coverage. Having worked there so long, she knew immediately whether someone would get denied or not just from reading the application. So, a young married couple submits their application and then the husband gets up to rush back to his job, obviously stressed out. The wife turns to him and says, "Don't worry, honey. Everything will be OK, now. We're going to have health insurance." The young wife had a big smile on her face. It was at this point that the girl telling the story starts to cry. "They were so happy, but I knew that their application would be denied just from looking at it. I didn't say anything to them, but I knew they'd get a phone call sometime that weekend and that they'd be devastated." Tears started pouring down her face. And down mine.
This is just one of the many gut-wrenching moments of SiCKO. And it's not Michael Moore's poetic narration or dramatic editing that pulls the emotion. It's simply a very raw sit-down interview with someone telling a story, and that is the method to establishing most of SiCKO's narrative structure. It's just everyday people telling their health care stories while Moore fills in the gaps with historical context and infuriating facts.
There was so much about SiCKO that seemed very "un-Michael-Moore," given Moore's history of heavy-handed editing and cinematic polemicism. Recently, I've had serious issues with Bowling For Columbine, which contains scenes that I would label unethical documentary filmmaking. The bank sequence at the beginning of the film was edited as if Moore simply walked into a bank, filled out paper work, and walked out with a gun. That simply wasn't the case. Moore's editing of Charlton Heston's speech in Colorado was absolutely unjustified. If you read Heston's speech transcript, he actually serves up some good points. Moore edited those out unfairly.
But Moore let's the people do the talking for the most part in his latest documentary, which I consider to be he most mature and disciplined. Of course, there's the typical Moore narration throughout the film, with quips of humor and cutting ironies. But I don't think Moore is shoving anything down our throats, he's merely confirming the obvious: That a health care system, whose primary motivation is financial profit, is inhumane and inexcusable.
And don't worry Michael, I plan on actually going to the theater to see it again. You'll get my eight dollars.
Steven Spielberg snapped this photo.
This film is going to be rad. I don't know what it's about, but the cast is amazing and gets better every time they make an announcement. And I'm one of the few people in the galaxy who thinks Spielberg and Lucas are still as good now as ever.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
That's right. Jon Favreau is using Sam Jackson for Nick Fury in the Iron Man movie. AICN has the scoop.
If they're going with the Ultimate Nick Fury thing for the Iron Man movie this is exactly the right choice. If they're going to use these same actors for the Avengers movie that seems to be planned, then this is an even better sign that Marvel might not be completely crazy. Robert Downey Jr. and Sam Jackson as the backbone for an Avengers team movie would pretty much rock out with your cock out.
Let's just hope that Marvel regains its senses and hires a new director to re-launch the Fantastic Four series. And let's hope they fire the guy who thought Ang Lee's Hulk didn't deserve a direct sequel.
And read Marvel Zombies. It's really good.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
A crowd attacked and killed a passenger in a vehicle that had struck and injured a child, police said Wednesday.Jesus Christ.
Police believe 2,000 to 3,000 people were in the area for a Juneteenth celebration when the attack occurred Tuesday night. The man who was killed had been trying to stop the group from attacking the vehicle's driver when the crowd turned on him, authorities said.
The Austin Police Department identified the victim as David Rivas Morales, 40. The child was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
This guy wasn't even the one driving and these people shanked him.
Did the driver hit the kid on purpose? Even then is that justification for this?
I'm curious to see more details. But, man, this is scary.
Ralph Nader should've been President a long time ago. I just hope he, or someone like him, can revamp the country come 2008. What an amazing man.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
This first piece is the opening sequence to a skate video I produced. It was called "A Black Tie Affair". I'm convinced it's one of the coolest skate videos ever and even if you don't dig skate videos, this is one of the coolest uses of Johnny Cash's "Hurt" also.
So, here's the opening sequence to Tie Affair:
Next is a scene I directed from a screenplay that Elias and I wrote. I directed this back in '04, but it's been sitting in the vaults, as it were. This was to be the first scene of the movie "Infidelity", but looking back on it, it's a bit melodramatic. Shade and Joel, the actors appearing in this, are top notch, but the camera work leaves something to be desired. It's amazing how much I've learned since this. I know if I were directing this again today, it would be about a thousand times better...
Nevertheless, let me know what you think about these videos.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
I read an infuriating article that Seymour Hersh wrote for the New Yorker that once again opens the door on Abu Ghraib and lets the skeletons out of the closet.
I would advise everyone to read it.
Here's a good excerpt:
Taguba said that he saw “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.” The video was not made public in any of the subsequent court proceedings, nor has there been any public government mention of it. Such images would have added an even more inflammatory element to the outcry over Abu Ghraib. “It’s bad enough that there were photographs of Arab men wearing women’s panties,” Taguba said.And here's another good one:
“I followed the bread-crumb trail,” Schmidt, who retired last year, told me. “I found some things that didn’t seem right. For lack of a camera, you could have seen in Guantánamo what was seen at Abu Ghraib.”Both of these excerpts are the words of the investigators the military itself tasked with getting to the bottom of the systemic abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. And the article explains how they were called liars by their superiors in the effort to save face and protect the upper-echelons of the Pentagon and how they were forced out of their military service.
Here's another good excerpt. In this one, Taguba is at a meeting with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and others and is asked if this was abuse or torture. And this was the response of the lead military investigator:
In the meeting, the officials professed ignorance about Abu Ghraib. “Could you tell us what happened?” Wolfowitz asked. Someone else asked, “Is it abuse or torture?” At that point, Taguba recalled, “I described a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum, and said, ‘That’s not abuse. That’s torture.’ There was quiet.”This story is truly infuriating.
UPDATE: Crooks and Liars has posted some video of Seymour Hersh talking about this on television today on their site. Check that out here.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I had the good fortune of being able to see Brad Bird's "Ratatouille" this evening and I must say I haven't enjoyed myself at a movie like this in a long time. After the drought of greatness from the multi-plexes this summer movie season, Ratatouille is that rare mid-summer masterpiece that refreshes you and takes your breath away with laughter and joy at the same time.
I don't even know how to begin to tell you all how good this movie is.
Let's start with Brad Bird.
The man is a bloody genius.
I don't want to sound like I'm hero-worshipping the guy or anything, but let's face it: the guy knows his shit. He served as a consultant on some of the most prolific and best episodes of Simpsons (the ones we all steal one-liners from), he directed the "Iron Giant" which stands up against some of the best films of 1999, then he followed all of that with what is arguably one of the best super-hero pictures ever made... (It was "The Incredibles" for those of you struggling to keep up.)
Now, I'm not saying "Ratatouille" is better than these films. I'm saying "Ratatouille" stands up to them and gives them a run for their money.
The story is both simple and original and that puts it a cut above most of the crap in Hollywood that seems to be neither. I would have never guessed that a movie about cooking, let alone a rat cooking, could be so warm, interesting and fun. Granted, it seemed like once you got into the story there was only one direction it could go, but once you got there you felt so good about how you got there, it didn't matter that parts of it seemed predictable. But these are minor problems and I hesitate to even call them problems, because I didn't really find any flaws with this film. And I was quite surprised and refreshed to see how much gun-play and drinking went on in this film. It's nice not to sugar-coat stuff for kids like Disney seems to be notorious for.
Moving on: I never know how to gush properly about animation. It seems like such a cheesy thing to gush over, but when it's this good you feel like you have to. The character business the animators pulled off was meticulous and really fun to watch. The way the characters moved and emoted was so life-like but cartoon-y at the same time that you just so easily sucked into the world. For example: There's a moment when Skinner is trying to get Linguini drunk and he's trying to be sinister and turn in his chair, but he's too short to have put the right amount of strength into it so he has to take himself out of that moment and spin himself back to the right place and he looks annoyed by having to do it. The fact that I got like four different emotions and ideas out of the character in that one small moment that lasted one or two seconds is a testament to the level of care the animators seem to take with each frame.
And you could tell that every frame of this film was a labor of love.
And to complement each character was a voice that matched to perfection. I couldn't imagine Patton Oswalt being a better choice for the lead and I could never imagine that sentence ever being uttered. Ian Holm I barely recognized because who threw so much life into his character. Peter O'Toole was still Peter O'Toole, but that's just another way of saying it was good. Janeane Garofalo was another surprise (Was that really Janeane Garofalo?).
And the other great thing about this film, among so many great things, is that it might get kids to start thinking about what it is they're putting in their mouths. You don't want to eat garbage, but that's what most people eat now-a-days. It's good to see corn-dogs and microwave burritos and Col. Sanders relegated to what that sort of food should be: a joke.
What I want to know is this: What happened to animation? Why can't it be more consistently like this? Adults wouldn't be so wary to go see cartoons if cartoons were consistently this good. Pixar has raised the bar on animated story-telling and they don't soften things to make it "just for kids."
You'd be a fool not to see this picture. And if this movie doesn't make more money than crap like Pirates of the Caribbean, I will truly lose my faith in the American public more than I already have.
Friday, June 15, 2007
I made the mistake last night of going to see a midnight screening of the crap-tastic Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
You know why. It's because I'm a giant nerd and a glutton for punishment.
This movie was terrible. But it wasn't all bad. The kid who plays Johnny Storm would be amazing if he had a script to work with. His interplay with Ben Grimm was a genuflection of the comic book series as well. And Doug Jones as the Silver Surfer turned in one of the greatest pantomime performances I've ever seen on the screen. I also enjoyed a lot of this film mainly for the fact that it was so God-awful.
But Tim Story, Jessica Alba, the asshole who played Victor Von Doom and the god-damned writers (truly, the writers have a special place in hell reserved for them) need to be keelhauled on a busy Interstate.
Jessica Alba was actually worse than Keira Knightley in a Pirates movie and I was pretty confident that couldn't happen.
The writers and the director deserve to keelhauled because of how they deal with villains. Because they don't do it well. Galactus wasn't exactly a storm cloud as early reports led everyone to believe. He was just shrouded in them. He looked like a giant tornado. Why do this? There is no good reason. If an audience will suspend their disbelief long enough to believe that Galactus can exist in the first place, I'm pretty sure they'd be okay if they saw the iconic Galactus they knew and loved from the comics. And Doom. Doom, doom, doom. Jesus Christ. Never have I seen a character so screwed up on film. Never. I'm so angry about how they deal with Dr. Doom that I'm not even going to write about it.
And the guy who played him was even worse than the treatment of him....
All that aside though, I enjoyed myself seeing the movie, although I did not enjoy the movie itself.
I've heard that J. Michael Straczynski (an admitted fan of This Divided State....) is writing a Silver Surfer spin-off and that should be pretty cool. But if they make another Fantastic Four picture, they better do it sans Alba, Story and their dumb-ass pretty-boy Dr. Doom.
In fact, they should let Elias and I write it.
We couldn't do any worse that's been done.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I was so frustrated by the idea that the American military is now arming terrorists that I had to write this. I was so pissed I could spit.
You can comment about it here or there.
I was shocked to find out tonight that the United States was arming Sunni insurgents in Iraq so long as they promise to use them against the bad guys and not us. I was doubly shocked to find out that they've quietly been doing this for the last few months. Not only does the military admit that, they're sure that at least some of the insurgents have participated in attacks against American forces.I'm going to move past the fact that arming Sunnis is how Republican administrations got us into this mess in the first place during the Reagan administration and come to the following question: Are we really arming insurgents?
I read this piece on Crooks and Liars and was so distraught by this idea that I had to make sure this was the truth. The New York Times, the UK Guardian, The Washington Post. All of these reasonably credible agencies were reporting the same thing.
It would seem that we really are arming insurgents.
U.S. military commanders seem to think that this might work better than training the Iraqi army. That might be true in the short term, but this is inviting both betrayal and more terrorism. Even those on the receiving end of the weapons admit that America isn't the enemy for the time being. It's both al Qaeda and the Shiites.
But what happens if a Civil War breaks out and these weapons, paid for with our tax-dollars, are used in to kill members of competing political and religious lines? What happens when America is the enemy again? What happens if this is all just a front to put more weapons into the hands of al Qaeda? Where does this put our neutrality in efforts to broker any sort of democracy between these varying sects?
And doesn't this appear hypocritical in a time where we're breathing down the necks of half-a-dozen other countries for arming insurgents to be arming insurgents ourselves? It just goes to show how misguided, short-sighted and downright hard-headed the Bush administration is willing to be in order to gain even a small amount of progress in Iraq. Even if it turns against them on a dozen other fronts, a few shallow victories that they might be able to point to because of this strategy will be a major victory for them.
My last question is this: Where is the news media?
When I heard about this, I Googled the keywords to the story and could only find stories about Iran arming the Taliban. Then, I put on MSNBC news for a couple of hours to see if there had been any coverage of it. I saw three different segments on Paris Hilton's stay in jail and a satirical internet music video of a Paris Hilton look-a-like, but nothing about America arming insurgents.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this has been covered and I was just the last person to find out about it. Somehow I doubt that, though.
And maybe I'm wrong to think that this is as big of a deal as I think it is. Maybe I shouldn't be sick to my stomach with the thought that I live in a country that would arm militias in a civil war conflict. Maybe I should be doing something more pro-active than writing a blog about it. Maybe I should be doing a lot of things...(Bryan blogs daily at the official blog for "This Divided State".)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Don't make me pull a Greenstreet and bust out reviews of our films on you.
If you asked every filmmaker that enjoyed the Prequels to quit making films, not many films would be made any more. If I worshiped Alien Vs. Predator, you might have reason to ask me to switch career paths, but the Prequels?
Karsoth posted a mildly persuasive argument that Darth Vader is not, in fact evil. You can read it here.
Obviously, I think he was evil, but also misunderstood. He made horrible decisions, did evil things and stood complicit while evil things were being done in the name of "his empire." The most compelling argument made is that he's more insane than evil. It's not an argument I buy, necessarily.
Vader tortured Leia and Han, both prisoners of war. That's pretty much against the code of ethics for war (if ethical war isn't an oxymoron, I don't know what is) and certainly against the Jedi code. Torture is inherently evil.
Vader made not a peep of protest when Tarkin ordered the destruction of Alderaan. Granted, it's not clear if he had the authority to countermand the order, but he certainly had the clout to at least voice contempt for the idea of genocide. Standing idly by while genocide is being perpetrated when you are in a position to do something about it is inherently evil.
Allowing innocents and captured prisoners to be killed in the name of a war is evil. Purposely killing them is doubly so. So, when Vader killed the younglings and ordered the execution of the entire crew of the Tantive IV, that was evil.
Let me bring politics into this for a minute. George Bush has all done things comparable to these. He supports and allows people in his name to carry out torture, which is both against the rules of war and the rules of morality. He's stood idly by while Genocide in Darfur has occur ed even though he is in a position to do something about it. And he's allowed more than 655,000 Iraqi civilians be killed in the Iraq war conflict with no more remorse than a kid who knocked over a few little green army men playing in a school yard.
I would say that Bush is evil. But he is not insane. You don't have to be insane to do horrible and evil things. And you don't have to be insane or schizophrenic to perpetrate evil in the name of something you think is good even though it's bad for pretty much everybody but you and your buddies.
The great thing about Star Wars though, is that even the most evil person can find redemption if they truly have good in their hearts. So, I guess, even at the end of the day, Bush might have a chance to redeem himself. I wouldn't hold my breath, but stranger things have happened.
I'm going to try to come back and site more examples, but this is enough for you guys to chew on for now. Right?
So, last night Steve and I went to go see Ocean's 13.
It was entertaining. There's not much else to it than that. It wasn't, by any means, a great film, but it was a fun way to blow a couple of hours. I doubt I'd ever see it again. I mean, it was sort of clever, but it just wasn't as clever as the original film from 1960.
The original was clever enough to respect the audience enough to let them not get away with the crime. Audiences would be rioting in the streets if the Clooney 11 lost all of their loot in the cremated coffin of a fallen comrade. But in the time of the Sinatra 11, people seemed to be able to laugh with them.
I just wish that if Soderbergh had to make a sequel to a movie, it should be "The Limey". The world of cinema needs more "Limey"'s and less "Ocean's" sequels.
I'd say more about it, but there really isn't all that much to say about this film.
So, having said that, we'll move on:
Paris, je t'aime.
I was really looking forward to this film and when I found out that it was playing in Salt Lake City I pretty much had to go see it.
The concept for the film is simple. A number of film directors each direct a short film about love in Paris. Then, someone takes them all and puts them together in a feature film. You end up with this wonderful mish-mash of sentiment, comedy and love. Each director was able to present a moment of love or hopefulness or what-have-you and if there was one that bored you or you didn't like it, before you know it, there's another segment.
I think the highlights of the film include the segment that the Coen brothers directed, Alexander Payne's segment and the segment that featured Bob Hoskins. (The one with Natalie Portman was good, it just wasn't the best.)
My little brother and I had a disagreement over what I thought was one of the best segments which was the one with Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe.
There were too many stories in the film to comment on each of them in any depth, but I would recommend the film to any lover of short films or of interesting film experiments.
I wish directors would get together and make more films like this. It seemed like an expanded version of the Scoresese-Coppola-Allen effort "New York Stories" but it was still delightful to see. I would really like to go see this film again. And maybe another time after that.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The only thing I object to (other than his opinions about Star Wars) is the "nanny state liberal" thing. I don't get why that's a problem. And what does that even mean? Is it some type of slur for socialist? How is that a bad thing? I just don't get it...
(I'm also pretty sure the author is also the same "RBW" who called me a retard in the comments below.)
I'm just saying, I think people would take your opinion more seriously if you were nicer about it.
Anyhow, without further ado, here it is.
(BTW: It was interesting to find out that my editorial got "Farked.")
I want to respond more in depth to some of the comments I’ve received from people who don’t have an appreciation for the Star Wars Prequels. This lack of appreciation, for some, even extends to Return of the Jedi.
First off, watching a film is a subjective experience. We all take whatever baggage to the theatre with us. There are very few instances where I will flatly say, “This movie was bad and that is a fact, not an opinion.”
The Matrix films fall into this category. Curtis Hanson’s “Lucky You” fell into this category. Most studio comedies fit into this category.
But, there is merit to Star Wars, whether you like the style of acting and writing or not. Yes, the special effects are mind-blowing and the story is on an epic scale. Yes it has deep themes of religion and mythology that resonate in the core of our spirituality. Above all, it’s fun.
How many horrible movies are there that people have made for kids? Kids movies are terrible. And there can be no argument that Star Wars is a series of kids movies that adults like seeing, too. And so, when you watch this film as an adult through the eyes of a child, as I asked everyone to do in my editorial, you’ll see that it’s a cut above the crap we’re passing for children’s entertainment these days.
My argument is that Star Wars, prequels included, is a cut above the stuff we’re normally showing our kids and it offers us a platform to talk to them about issues.
Someone specifically called me out on the fact that I couldn’t let my son learn lessons from a movie where the principal character is evil. I would argue that this is a wonderful lesson to teach my son. Darth Vader is evil, truly and wholly. But should we hate him blindly? Or should we learn why he’s evil and come to know and love thine enemy? The commenter took issue with the idea that I would use evil people to teach my children any lessons, but the bible is filled with evil people to learn lessons from.
I think a lot of people problems with humanizing Anakin stems from the fact that they hate to learn more about things they hate.
It’s the same as the slow disgust that grows in people’s stomachs when they learn about the staggering amount of civilian casualties perpetrated in our name in the War on Iraq. Or when people realize that Baghdad is the size and population of Los Angeles and has approximately the same level of advancement, they get uneasy about the fact that we launched 1000 bombs on that city in the first 24 hours of the war.
People don’t like putting a human face on their enemy and the prequels served to humanize a monster. And monster’s are so much more interesting when you can actually see where they came from and what made them what they are.
So, for me to be dismissed about my opinions because you didn’t like the movie is silly. Just because you don’t like movie doesn’t make it a terrible movie. There are movies I didn’t like but understood that they were good. Take, for instance, “The Good Shepherd”. That movie was good. But it was way too dry for me to enjoy it. That doesn’t make it bad. It means I didn’t like it.
I hope this addresses at least some of the problems people had with my reviews and I would again ask that people just give them a chance and watch them like they were 12 years old again.
Trust me, it works.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Here's a first glimpse:
Obviously, it's called "Gamma Rae" and is about a little girl, monster-hunter, bounty-hunter type chick that kicks a whole lot of ass.
I'm excited to see it done soon since we had our scripting sessions late last year. But Derek has been really busy working on art for movies and other commercial endeavors and so this has taken him a while, but it's quality work.
As I get more details about when the anthology is coming out, I'll be sure to let you guys know.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
First up is Bill Willingham's Fables. Fables is a really well put together series that takes most of the worlds fairy tale characters and puts them in present day New York. You see, an adversary has taken over their homelands and a fortunate community has escaped. Well, they escaped a couple of centuries ago, but they're living in New York, hiding from the mundane world and hoping that one day they can launch a counter-attack to take back their home.
Old King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown, Snow White is his administrator and Bigby Wolf (AKA The Big Bad Wolf) is the sheriff. The first volume is written with tight noir beats and unfolds a compelling mystery. Volume two is where things get really good and the animalistic fables living on the farm plan a Communist revolt...
Eight Volumes of Fables are currently available, plus two side stories. They're really good and getting better. I've addicted most of the people around me to them and I'm hoping you'll find the same thing happening to you.
Next up is Robert Kirkman's Invincible. This book is probably the greatest Super-hero book in the Universe. It has all the best aspects of Superman and Spider-man all wrapped up into a nice neat creator owned book. I can't say enough good things about it. The writing is top notch and the art, drawn by fellow Utahn Ryan Ottley, is excellent.
It's a refreshing new take on Super-hero books and it's worth your time. And they've got two hardcover collections of issues out and a third on its way next month. The best part about the book though is that it takes its time in paying off all of the subplots that are constantly starting each month and every time a story wraps up, it's well worth the wait.
The book started when I still owned my comic-book store and I couldn't tell people to read it enough.
Last, but certainly not least, we have another Robert Kirkman book. This time it's his ode to zombies, The Walking Dead. The idea behind this book is that zombie movies are cool, but they never delve into the long term survival issues that one would hope to see. This is a zombie movie that never ends. This follows a rotating cast of characters and their continuing story of survival in a world over run by zombies. Kirkman is a master of tone and offers completely plausible, engaging and preposterously well-written characters who keep you guessing what they're going to do next. The great thing about the book though is that it manages to feel like this is really how things would be were zombies to attack.
It's emotional and violent and probably one of the best comic books being published today.
So, like I said, if you're not reading these series' then you're truly missing out on something. These are more than just comic books, these are works of literary mastery. I would hold these up to any number of classic literary works and conventions and they could stand toe-to-toe.
So, buy them and check them out.
(Also, everyone should read Nealfrom Leftwich's books, too. Also Pirate Club, which I help script.)
Thursday, June 07, 2007
It's sort of an inevitable thing. It just happens now and again.
And I thought that I needed to write something in defense of how great I think the prequels are.
So I wrote the following editorial for the entertainment section of Huffington Post:
In Defense of the Star Wars Prequels.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
And that goodwill will last all of five minutes before an sex-tape of an orgy with her, four guys and Lindsey Lohan's passed out, drunk corpse comes out.
And then Nancy Grace will spend three hour long shows discussing how disgusted she is with young Hollywood.
It'll be pretty awesome.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
You can read it here.
I thoroughly encourage you to do so. Also, comment on it.
UPDATE: It's the featured story on the Huffington Post Entertainment page.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Yesterday I went and saw Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up".
I'm not a big fan of studio comedies like this usually, but I was keenly interested in seeing this picture. Elias and I had spent a few months plotting and writing quite a bit of a Woody Allen sort of comedy screenplay that had a number of the same story beats that "Knocked Up" featured in the trailer. Young slacker has a one night stand with an upper-class working girl, pregnancy results.
As soon as we saw material come out for the movie, we shelved the idea but after watching it I think we can still carry on with our idea.
I didn't hate this film. I didn't like it all that much either.
It was over two hours long and unless you're Woody Allen, you don't really deserve to waste two hours of my time on a comedy film. And you certainly don't deserve to waste my time with your comedy if it isn't all that particularly funny.
I could count the amount of chuckles this film got out of me on one hand.
The guys who made it seem really, really cool. I think it would be cool to hang out with these guys and nerd out about movies with them, but their sense of humour just isn't the same as mine. I mean, the movie was fairly competent and it hits all the story beats in the trailer exactly as you'd expect, but it just doesn't get any deeper than that.
I think that's what's great about most Woody Allen movies is that it teaches you something about people that you didn't really know before, he's a backwards moralist. Take, for instance, Hannah and Her Sisters or Match Point, he creates these really deft characters that you think you know but then consistently pulls the rug out from under you. But in Knocked Up there are no surprises. Everything is presented as the same old cliche you would expect from this film as soon as you hear the log line.
But it wasn't a complete waste of my time.
I just feel really middle of the road about the film.
I felt the same way about Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It exists. I have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. I'll never need to see it again and I haven't decided if I needed to see it in the first place or not.
Yeah. Knocked Up. Lukewarm. On a 1-10? My neutral feelings about it demand I give it an even 5. Right down the middle.
On a final note: This proves my point that much smaller, lower budget films can make a ton of money. You don't need to blow $200 million on a picture to have a strong summer opening weekend.
Friday, June 01, 2007
I've watched the video like four times now and it still just takes my breath away with how awesome it is.
Seriously. And be sure to pay attention to Ken's vitals...
Oh, hey, I was just driving and they announced on the radio that Lindsay's new boyfriend was video taped snorting cocaine with two hookers dressed as school girls in London. Huh...
I hope those hookers had AIDS and gave her boyfriend AIDS and then he gives Lindsay AIDS and then there's a big Lohan-Spears-Hilton-Abdul orgy and they all get a huge batch of super AIDS and die.
Cuz the last thing we need is more news stories and blog posts written about these hoes.
It was Keith's daily "Worst Person in the World" segment and Sean Hannity won the badge of honor. But look at the picture Keith used of Hannity! It's from THIS DIVIDED STATE!!!!
No fucking way...