This news release in my email caught my interest. Not a horror movie, but the off-the-safestream story here makes me want to see how the director and scripter handle it.
Sundance Hit Drunktown's Finest opens at New York's Quad Cinema ( 34 West 13th Street) on February 20, for a one-week run.
Drunktown's Finest premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and has since gone on to win a number of awards, including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Narrative and HBO Best First Feature awards at Outfest 2014, as well as Best Film at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. The film has screened at over 50 film festivals around the world, hailed by Twitch as "a compelling snapshot of contemporary Navajo life". Filmmaker Magazine lauded transgender Navajo American writer/director Freeland for her "authentic voice."
Drunktown’s Finest is the coming-of-age story of three young Native Americans – a college-bound Christian girl raised by white parents, a rebellious and lost father-to-be, and a promiscuous yet gorgeous transsexual - as they struggle to escape the hardships of life on the Navajo reservation. This film portrays modern Native American youths struggling to find their place in the world, but, more importantly, reveals the same struggles that many young Americans face while growing up in small town U.S.A.
There's screwball comedy, there's slapstick, there's farce, and then there's The Three Stooges, who took the Depression's stark reality and slapped it silly until it cried "Uncle!" Funny how times haven't changed much: with us a thumbnail length's distance from another Depression this time around, Moe, Larry, and Curly are back, bending reality into stark silliness and absurd mayhem once again. (Note to Roger Ebert: As any fan of the comedy trio will tell you, the key point to remember when watching The Three Stooges, in order to appreciate their low-brow antics, is this: there is no point; just go with it. Knowing this would have helped you find the humor.)
This time around it's Chris Diamantapoulos as Moe, Will Sasso as Curly, and Sean Hayes as Larry. The big question most Stooges fans will want to know the answer to is "Do these newbies have the vaudeville timing? Do they have that endearing rat-a-tat-tat delivery combining physical skirmishing with verbal insouciance down pat?
The anwer is a resounding well,somewhat.
The familiar routines are here but they lack the kinetic smoothness honed from performing the motions a thousand times, like the original Stooges had done on stage. That's not to say they don't work successfully, but there are times they don't seem natural to Moe, Larry, and Curly's beings: I wondered why Curly was doing that antic, or Moe was doing this antic in certain scenes that didn't really warrant that particular aberrant behavior. Hayes's Larry doesn't fully fit the original Larry's shoes, either. Larry Fine, the perennial receiver of Moe Howard's short end of the stick, was a master of passive-aggressive duplicity. Hayes takes a different approach, rendering Larry less passive-aggressive and more dull-witted. At least his Bozo-styled hairdo lends itself as a successful running gag throughout.
Another challenge the Farelley Brothers (not to be confused with the Fratellis of The Goonies) needed to overcome in bringing the Stooges back to the big screen was the short subject movie length Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard (and eventually the shamefully underrated Shemp Howard) normally paraded their antics in. Forget the full-length movies, those came later and were written for juveniles (I mean the real ones) and didn't have Curly or Shemp as foils to energize the slapstick--although Joe Besser and Curly Joe weren't too shabby in their own right. Would all the eye-poking, face-slapping, and inappropriately handled construction hardware hold up past the half-hour mark?
The answer is why soitenly!
Creating a faux short subject approach, The Three Stooges hour and a half movie is broken into segments with titles, but the storyline's excessive cardboard sentimentality stifles throughout. For a moment I thought the Farelley Brothers had watched too many Little Rascals episodes and not enough Three Stooges shorts. (There are even two orphaned kids with Our Gang-sounding names, Peezer and Weezer.) Feelings never got in the way of The Three Stooges, unless they were the result of a badly aimed sledgehammer or a crowbar wedged up Curly's nose. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all was how to make the Stooges relevant again. Would making fun of rich people, beating up mean manly nuns (that would be Larry David as Sister Mary-Mengele), and watching babies peeing with deadly aim still be funny to watch?
The answer here is hell, yes!
In what is perhaps the closest realization of the essence of The Three Stooges's brand of carnage, a maternity ward's babies become surprisingly effective bio-weapons as the boys goes at each other. The timing is impeccable, the scene completely idiotic and hilarious because of its idiocy. Of course, using two hot irons as defibrollator paddles runs a close second. More could have been done, but there's enough physical comedy and wordplay here to initiate those unfamiliar with the Stooges's style of comedy.
The misstep in execution comes from the Farelleys resorting to retro-izing the Stooges world instead of forcing them to cope with the modern one. Using the hoary orphanage backstory, we see the Stooges as hastily abandoned orphans, watch as the nuns initial joy at finding the foundlings turns to fear as the boys grow into unsafe-to-be-around kids, and we're finally brought to present day when the orphanage must close due to their accident-prone behaviors forcing medical insurance coverage to be dropped and the orphanage to owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments.
Moe, Larry, and Curly embark on a journey to find the money. Having been sheltered in the orphanage all their lives, the outside world proves Facebook compared to their phone book approach. All those potentially sublime catastrophic encounters--an Apple Genius Bar or maybe even annoying sidewalk cell phone chatterers, are two that easily come to mind--aren't explored. The Farelley's play it safer by using a standard, but simplified, murder plot and a surprisingly witty meta-stooge scenario with a notable reality television show.
After kicking around in development for 10 years or so, The Three Stooges movie could probably have been written better. But if you go with the flow, you may be surprised and find yourself laughing without knowing why. And that's what The Three Stooges were all about.
Well, this is where you came in, back at that pool again, the one I always wanted. It's dawn now and they must have photographed me a thousand times. Then they got a couple of pruning hooks from the garden and fished me out... ever so gently. Funny, how gentle people get with you once you're dead.
I've watched Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard about 4 times, give or take, but this is the first time I've noticed there are no knobs on the doors--no locks--just round holes where they should be. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I better explain why I'm writing about a non-horror movie before you diehard fans de-Twitter me or minus me from your Google+ circles or deface my Facebook page because I insist on talking about a non-horror movie you really must see. Here's why: the story's narrated by a dead guy, the one you see floating in the middle of the pool at the beginning. How can you not love a story narrated by a dead guy? And he's not even a zombie. He's just really dead. How refreshing.
Why he winds up that way involves a forgotten Hollywood mansion where a forgotten silent film star dwells in a forgotten world of ignorant opulence (maybe not so forgotten). She dreams of returning to the big screen, shutting out any daylight that might wake her up. Those absent door knobs are missing from the big, ornate, doors in her old, brooding mansion. Maybe they all fell off, one by one, over the long years, or maybe Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) had them removed. It's a mystery; oddly enough, it's the only one in this noir crime story with the dead guy floating in her swimming pool, and her first husband (Erich von Stroheim) living with her as butler and chauffeur, and with her "waxwork" friends (like silent film comedian Buster Keaton, playing himself) showing up every week to play a quaint game of Bridge and reminisce. Desperation leads him to this place and desperation keeps him there; not his, but Norma's.
Let's start with the dead guy, Joe Gillis (William Holden). He's a down and out script writer--was, rather. Before he winds up in the pool Norma adopts him as her kept man, mostly because he's a good writer and she has a lousy script for him to fix, but also because he's handsome and she's lonely without an audience. With one leg in Norma's world and the other back at the movie studio with the younger and saner Betty (Nancy Olson), Joe's precarious ambitions start sparking from the friction between the carefree luxury he gets from Norma and the inspirational boost he gets from Betty: she collaborates with him on a script with real potential. And Betty falls in love with him, even though she first fell in love with Joe's friend Artie (Jack Webb). That icing on the cake drips guilty all over Joe when Norma attempts suicide over his interest in Betty because it screws up her affair with him. He likes the money Norma lavishes on him--wouldn't you? He likes the attention lavished on him by Betty--ditto? Which way to go is the tough call he needs to make eventually: live in Norma's made up reality or Betty's real future one? That swimming pool sure is inviting. Lounging by it all day can be intoxicating.
Sunset Boulevard's not only about Joe's predicament (lucky bastard, we should all have that kind of quandary), it's about a decadent past, present, and future Hollywood Wilder and fellow scripters (Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman Jr) penalize everyone in the movie with. It's about fickle celebrity, art versus cash, and the futility of holding out, lounging by the pool when you shouldn't, and not taking a dip when you really ought to. It's all about Norma--but not really, and it's all about Joe--but not really. It's introspective, witty, urbane, and accusatory.
The other mystery--wait, I said there was only one, didn't I?-- is how Billy Wilder got away with it. A lot of people in this movie play themselves or barely cover up the fact: Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper zings as Hedda Hopper; Erich von Stoheim, who plays Norma's former husband now devoted servant, Max, reveals he directed Norma and compares himself to real life directors Cecil B. De Mille and D. W. Griffith. Stroheim not only directed Swanson in real life, he also got pushed aside when talkies took over, a promising director in real life ignored when it wasn't convenient to pay attention to him. A lot of silent film stars were pissed, too. They saw Norma Desmond from the inside out and the sight was too close for comfort. Wilder went with dark humor and let everyone in on the joke, ironically plays it near parody to make the situation more realistic, and grandly delivers brutal honesty. It's surprising he didn't wind up floating in the pool, too.
Joe's observations are bitingly sarcastic, funny, and sadly true; Norma's delusion is bitingly crazy, funny, and sadly false. When she finally does get a call from the studio it's about the Italian antique car (an Isotta-Fraschini) she's chaffeured around in: they want to use it in a shoot. Cecil B. Demille (playing himself) doesn't tell her she's not wanted when she comes to the studio her movies helped keep solvent, he's more understanding; but even he knows she will never do another picture and her script reads like a bad silent movie. Norma's past her prime and those exaggerated silent movie gestures she lives and breathes all the time are so not-the-drama anymore.
The music plays on while Norma and Joe celebrate New Year's dancing across the mansion's empty floor, just the two of them, dressed to the nines. Even when they aren't dancing the musicians keep playing. It's just them, Norma, Joe, and Max, who knows she's two notes short of a full stop. Max directs the musicians to keep playing. He directs Norma's delusion. He knows all she has left is her delusion of returning to the screen. Without it she becomes nothing so he protects her fantasy to the end. Maybe he's the one who removed all the door knobs?
Franz Waxman's (The Invisible Ray, Buck Rogers ) score and John Seitz's camera (Invaders From Mars, When Worlds Collide) bow tie Hans Dreier's (The Uninvited) and John Meehan's (Cult of the Cobra) darkly addressed package of desire, decadence, and demise with a tidy knot, ready to be untied by Norma in ghoulish fashion. She finally gets the close-up she's been hoping for, although not in the way she planned. We get a classic movie about dreams and delusions, and how the difference between both is pretty small in Hollywood.
The bed in the shape of a swan that Norma Desmond slept in was actually owned by the legendary dancer Gaby Deslys, who died in 1920. It had originally been purchased by the Universal prop department at auction after Deslys's death. The bed appeared in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) starring Lon Chaney. (from the Wikipedia entry on Sunset Boulevard)
If Sigmund Freud, Alfred Hitchcock, the Wachowski Brothers, and William Gibson walked into a bar, while Christopher Nolan was bartending with a very attentive ear, you would probably wind up with Inception, a stunningly original yet quite familiar movie that plays with its characters' minds and ours. In a disappointing cinema summer dotted with rote remakes and uninspired beginnings, Inception is refreshingly innovative in how it uses thematic elements from other movies to illustrate its complex but involving premise.
Familiarity comes from its intricate Mission Impossible-styled exploit involving futuristic corporate espionage, frenetically violent chase scenes that would make Jason Bourne flush, and deployment of essential but presumptive technology, normally found in movies like Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, and Dark City. The complexity of its premise comes from the mind games played by Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of lucid dreamers, who are employed by conglomerates to steal corporate secrets by invading and manipulating the dreamscapes of their business rivals while they sleep. In Cobb's world, these "extractions," as they are called, appear to be a routine method of corporate raiding, so potential victims are trained to fend them off. This sub-conscious defense mechanism throws up "projections" which--conveniently simplified for us by Nolan's stunt people--look like car chases and assailants with guns. I'd like to take that MBA class.
Extraction involves having an "architect" first create an elaborate dreamscape for the exploit to be carried out, connection to a handy, attache-carried device that administers sleep sedation drugs to victim and extractors simultaneously, enabling them to dream together, and enough suitably conflicted psychoanalytic staples like transference and resistance--also embodied by those projections--to allow for coercion and disengagement as psyches are thrust and parried against each other.
The novelty here is how Nolan's psychological dreamscape, along with his unobtrusive explanation of its laws during a training session for the new architect on Cobb's team, Ariadne (Ellen Page), plays off the natural, visual-storytelling qualities possible in cinema. Matrix-like CGI effects and protracted, precision body-slamming, enhanced with bone-jarring thumps and whumps, is exploited for all it's worth. Scenes eagerly gobble up the screen's symbolic potential in screeching, glass-crunching car chases, a locomotive rampaging down a city street, and endlessly determined pursuers with rapid-firing guns acting--as Cobb explains--like anti-bodies warding off his team's intrusion. It reminds me of a similarly effective suspense-building googaw used in Fantastic Voyage, in which a team of miniature scientists is injected into the body of a diplomat to remove a dangerous blood clot. They must stay one step ahead of the body's anti-bodies eager to dissolve them like any other foreign organism, and they need to exit the body before time runs out and they grow back to their normal size.
In Inception, Cobb and his team must also complete their mission before time runs out. He's given a chance to end the forced separation from his children (he's been blamed for his wife's death). Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires him to do an "inception" instead of an extraction. Inception involves planting a subliminal idea instead of finding secrets. Saito wants his rival, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), to split up the company left by Fischer's recently deceased father, to prevent it from becoming a monopoly that would put him out of business. It's tricky, more difficult than doing an extraction, and carries a greater risk to success because it involves fabricating multiple levels to the dreamscape. And the idea to be planted must be plausible enough for the victim to have thought of it on his own for it to work.
There's more standing in the way: a projection of Cobb's dead wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), keeps showing up in his dreamscapes trying to stop him. Buried deep within Cobb, his Id and super-ego are seething in repressed guilt, conjuring up a monster that threatens his team's safety. Remember Forbidden Planet and Morbius' monster from the Id? Nolan apparently does.
Cobb's elaborate plan for the inception exploit involves three elaborate levels of dreamscape to break down Fischer's defensive projections, each level going deeper, requiring a chemist's (Dileep Rao of Drag Me to Hell) extra potent sedatives to keep them there. One problem with using such strong sedatives is the potential for entering "limbo." Explained earlier, when a dreamer is killed in a dream, he normally wakes up. But going deeper into the dreamscape requires a dreamer to be more heavily sedated, so if he's killed, instead of waking up, he enters a mental place of isolation called limbo, where every minute of waking reality becomes years of dream time.
Nolan expands and contracts time as the inception is carried out aboard a plane in flight. Ten minutes in real time expands to hours in dream time, increasing as each dreamscape level is reached. A carefully orchestrated "kick" (see the Glossary of Terms) is needed at each level to awaken dreamers from that level, eventually bringing them back to reality. Slow-motion turmoil, zero-gravity fighting, scene-freezing a van plummeting off a bridge, and Mal's final interference builds Inception's nail-biting suspense, simultaneously interfering with our perception of time passing onscreen while paradoxically forcing us to pay closer attention to what's happening as it blurs what's real, a dream, or a dream within a dream.
Like he did in The Prestige, Christopher Nolan sets up his illusory dreamscapes' rules, misdirects with them, and then surprises us with its revelations. As one character remarks "you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."
In Inception, the dreams are indeed done on a large and mesmerizing scale.
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek is not Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. It is a mix of Star Wars exuberance and Battlestar Galactica grittiness. With rapidly-repeating ship's lasers blazing away in debris-strewn space battles, and revolver-like phasers shooting energy bullets, Roddenberry's wagon train to the stars concept is taken to heart, but do not look for moral or social introspection here: in this reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Abrams puts aside the morality plays, for now, and points both warp nacelles to the action-filled stars, creating an emotionally charged adventure that brings together Roddenberry's memorable captain and crew again for the first time. This Star Trek boldly goes where no movie in the series, odd or even numbered, has gone before, and keeps the heart of Roddenberry's creation beating strongly and, ironically, more sure than much of what followed the original series' next generation: Abrams remembered that the characters are always more important than the mechanics, and the story must be told through them, not about them.
Timewarp: some time in the 1960's I stand in front of a small stage in the bomb shelter of my grade school, St. Mary Mother of Jesus. Star Trek, the television series, is hot, and every boy wants to be Kirk or Spock and put on school plays with them, us, fighting vicious Klingons. For this school play I do not get to play Kirk or Spock. I get to play the Away Party sap of the week; the guy who gets phasered or blown up in the opening minutes of the episode. This time, though, the principal, a nun whose temper is more feared than Klingon grooming, shoots down the play because the boys take the fighting part to heart and she will not have such science fiction tomfoolery in her wholesome school.
Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, put the overused time-warped- cheat in use again to make it all comfortable enough for long-time fans and fresh enough to entice newbies. By revolving the drama around Spock, both young and old versions of him from this and that universes, this movie's alternate universe and timeline allows the good old days and the new good days to comingle, leaving elbow room for growing the characters we know so well into those characters we know so well, while retooling the franchise with today's sensibility for special effects and space drama.
The opening minutes blast furiously across the screen as the USS Kelvin encounters Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan with mean tattoos and a bad attitude, who reminded me a little of Shinzon from Star Trek: Nemesis. (Is it just me, or does every foe encountered in a Trek movie want to destroy Earth?) Kirk's father is captain of the Kelvin for only a few minutes before he dies, but its what he does in those minutes that saves baby Kirk, mom, and many others; he rams Nero's larger mining spaceship, the Narada, to give time for the lifeboats to get away.
On earth, Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up to become a reckless, directionless, bad boy. On Vulcan, a young Spock is taunted by his classmates for being part human. When he loses his temper and pummels his tormentor to a pulp, he begins to question his place in Vulcan society. Spock (Zachary Quinto) eventually joins Starfleet, turning down an invitation to join the Vulcan Science Academy after he is insulted one last time. Kirk is chided by Captain Pike (Chris Pine), after a barroom brawl with Starfleet cadets, to do better. He does, and on the way to Starfleet Academy, Kirk and Bones (Karl Urban uncannily channeling Deforest Kelley's likable doctor) hook up. To complete the introductions for this classic trio, Kirk and Spock lock egos over Kirk's creative and humorous solution for Spock's serious Kobayashi Maru no-win training scenario, with Kirk exclaiming he doesn't believe in no-win situations.
Timewarp: it is 1973 and I stand in a long line waiting a long time to get into the second Star Trek Convention held in New York City. This time the original crew is on hand to boldly celebrate Trek geekiness. Thousands of Trekkies turn out, seriously upsetting the notions of Star Trek's fanbase with organizers. Yet, it is comforting to find many others who also think the Spock's Brain episode sucks. I feel vindicated. I feel empowered. But I still don't know who I want to be for Halloween; maybe Kirk, maybe Spock; much debate ensues as we reminisce about the first interracial kiss on network television, and who would win in a battle between Romulans and Klingons. Seeing William Shatner get a pie tossed in his face was kind of fun, too. He handles the situation like Kirk would have and we love him for it.
The reason Nero is so hell-bent on destruction is the usual one of revenge, triggering the near pixelated storyline which allows everthing to happen in-between timelines in the story in a way that broadens the action while neatly setting up the Enterprise crew's relationships, and moving the light drama along at warp speed. There is a lot more comedy here than in previous Trek movies, but it helps define the endearing and recognizable qualities of each youthful crewmember; although it is a bit strained for Scotty (Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead) and his alien engineer. The Transparent Aluminum paradox from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home gets a nod with Spock and Scotty's timejumping transwarp equations. While the science is far-fetched, the action is not. It is hot and heavy with more Star Wars inspired monsters and aliens and clarity.
Much detail is given to the Enterprise's engine room and interiors, providing a greater sense of the immense technological innards housed in the ship, and the transporter scrambles things up in a different way, but many of the original sound effects can be heard, along with new ones, and the all important viewscreen on the bridge is now a window to space on which images can be projected as needed.
Leonard Nimoy as the imperturbable Spock provides the critical mass that ties this movie to the series while also freeing it to explore new worlds and new adventures. It is bittersweet knowing this ends the original crew's voyages for good, but heartening to know Star Trek will continue. Maybe this Halloween I'll be Kirk; or Spock; or maybe a Klingon. I like Klingons.
Jet Li and Jackie Chan on screen together for the first time generate entertaining chopsocky mayhem in this light-hearted actioner fantasy from director Rob Minkoff and writer John Fusco. Get a big bucket of popcorn, add liberal amounts of salt and butter flavor, and just enjoy this fairytale story that's short on logic but long on fun and mind-blowing kick-ass artistry between Li and Chan.
From the opening over-the-top credit roll parading martial arts movie posters in all their pulp-saturated color glory, highlighted by upbeat heart-thumping music, to the whimsical, so bad it's charming wirework of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King's aerial combat on a mountain top against the Jade soldiers sent by the evil Jade Warlord (played by Collin Chou with suitable evilness), this movie doesn't take itself too seriously, but relishes the frenetic Kung Fu energy generated by Li and Chan as part homage to the countless kick-block-punch-jump-fly movies that have brightened up many a Saturday matinée.
Young Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), martial arts dreamer and fanatical fan, visits his favorite hookup for bootleg, undubbed Kung Fu films, a pawn shop run by an incredibly old Chinese gentleman with a penchant for drinking a lot and keeping the golden Jingu Bang, the Monkey King's magical fighting staff, in his back room. Telling young Jason the staff needs to be returned to its owner, the story is set and put into action when Jason is bullied by the neighborhood bad boys to rob the pawn shop. The staff and Jason connect big time, sending him through the gate that has no gate to an ancient and mystical China, complete with understandable natives after he meets up with Jackie Chan, who promptly slaps some language speaking skills into Jason's head when Chan tells him to pay attention and listen.
The hunt is on when the Jade Warlord gets wind the Monkey King's staff is back in action. Said fighting staff would bring the Monkey King back to life, thereby ending the Jade Emperor's continued gloating over his despotic ways.
Before Jason can take on the arduous and dangerous task of returning the staff, he must learn the ways of the force, which, in this case, means dealing with two bickering martial arts masters and their differing styles. Chan's Drunken Master-styled moves come up against Li's precision strikes early on in a lively exchange between the two as each attempts to claim ownership of the staff. One humorous bit has Chan and Li disagreeing on the best technique for Jason to use, leading to humor for us and frustration for him.
Villainy is well represented with Jade Warlord's witchy main squeeze, the iridescent Bingbing Li, swinging her long white tresses to bedevil Chan and clan as they battle her nefarious antics, the Jade Warlord's soldiers who keep showing up in annoyingly larger numbers, and Jason's lack of chi-confidence in being able to best the overwhelming odds. The mood and pacing throughout fits the PG-13 rating well, and satisfies with its simple but pleasing tale of positive thinking surmounting any obstacle. Liberal use of eye-pleasing cinematography, adequate CGI (with a matte painting tossed in here and there), and colorful costumery add to the overall above average production values for this slugfest that first pits Li against Chan, then both against the Jade Warlord. Sideline love interest between Jason and comely Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) provides requisite pathos and secondary story of vengeance fulfillment.
For fans of period piece martial arts action and straightforward characters, The Forbidden Kingdom is a welcome entry in the summertime sweepstakes for their movie-going dollars. For fans of Jet Li and Jackie Chan, it's a must-see first time collaboration between two genre greats whose consummate skill with a numbing number of Kung Fu styles is sharply choreographed and recorded for posterity in this minor gem of good versus evil and nebbish boy makes good while saving the kingdom.