Monday, December 29, 2003

I don't have cable TV, mainly because it's not worth the cost for as little as I would watch it. That always makes me sound like an anti-TV snob but really I just don't have time. So visiting my parents is always a dip into the pop cultural mainstream when I can pig out on 140+ channels and, well, still not find much worth watching.

What struck me most this time is how vile VH1 has become. It's not like this is the decline of The New Yorker or what have you but VH1 is now one a celebrity-grubbing whine, sort of E!-Lite if that's even possible and considering that my fingers almost refused to type that perhaps it's not. The whole channel emits a greater stench due to the limping parade of talking-head sub-celebs and "journalists" (the quotes for once fully justified) who have somehow managed to turn zero self respect into a job criterion. Maybe that keeps them from clogging up the suicide-prevention hotlines but watching some shrill nobody ranting about Bjork's Oscar dress as if she's tabling an issue at the Constitutional Convention is just another thing that makes you wonder if democracy really is such a great idea after all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

For whatever reason, I’ve been checking out a lot of blogs lately. Most are pretty useless as you might expect. The best are either ones that are unusually well written (Terry Teachout’s About Last Night at or have a point (like The Obscure Store at In any case it’s the focus or theme that makes for good blogs, or at least for the ones that interest me. If I don’t know somebody then why would I care about their random musings? Why should anybody care about this one?

Laughable blog (or should it be “blog”?) of the month is Fox Searchlight’s at It’s just daily press releases and has nothing blog-like about it. You can just picture some marketing person in a meeting: “Hey, this blog thing is what’s happening. It’s exploding everywhere and we need to get into the action. Let’s make our own!” The sad or maybe amusing thing is that they probably think this is a good idea. I have yet to meet anybody in marketing who wasn’t a bit dim; this site is evidence that some marketing people aren’t even that smart.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

For whatever deep-rooted childhood trauma that caused it, I'm fascinated by lists. Checking, counting, the whole deal. For instance, the Village Voice's new Take 5 film poll. Out of the top 20 films I've seen three, though at least eight more showed in my town (and there are a few titles I have no idea whether they were here or not: I do pay attention but they were either sounded so uninteresting I didn't give another thought or they slipped in and out). At least two more are scheduled within the next few weeks. For the top 50 I can add three more films, up to top 100 add six more. Oddly enough I've even seen three films on the undistributed list thanks to the miracle of imported DVDs.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Since I wasn't blogging when my Movies 2002 list was put together, I'm including it now:

The annual self-indulgence, moved back several months due to a computer crash that wiped out the original file and then, uh, something or another. Usual rules: anything seen for the first time from January 1 to December 31, 2002 is eligible. For a variety of reasons, my moviegoing was pretty limited so films that likely could have made the front list that I hadn't yet seen include: Far From Heaven, Spirited Away, 8 Mile, Audition, In Praise of Love, ABC Africa, Fast Runner, I'm Going Home, Kandahar, Russian Ark, Solaris, Adaptation, What Time Is It There, Bowling for Columbine, Esther Kahn, Punch-Drunk Love, 24 Hour Party People, CQ and the Yasuzo Masamura DVDs.

1. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff 2000)

2. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron 2001)

3. Code Unknown (Michael Haenke 2000)

4. Gosford Park (Robert Altman 2001)

5. Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan 2000)

6. George Washington (David Gordon Green 2000)

7. Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma 2002)

8. A Cloud-Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak 1960)

9. The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin 2000)

10. About a Boy (Chris & Paul Weitz 2002)

11. Kill Bill trailer (Quentin Tarrantino & anonymous 2002)

12. City of Lost Souls (Takashi Miike 2000)

Worthy: American Pimp (Hughes Brothers 1999), Baise Moi (Coralie, Virginie Despentes 2000), Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku 2000), Blind Swordsman: The Tale of Zatoichi (Kenji Misumi 1962), Changing Lanes (Roger Michell 2002), Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori 2002), The End of Violence (Wem Wenders 1997), Gods & Monsters (Bill Condon 1998), Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton 1964), Haxan (Benjamin Christensen 1922), Heist (David Mamet 2001), Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike 2001), The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky 1975), Reign of Fire (Rob Bowman 2002), Replicant (Ringo Lam 2001), Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson 2002), last hour of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (George Lucas 2002), The Sum of All Fears (Phil Alden Robinson 2002), The Tailor of Panama (John Boorman 2001).

Crimes Against Humanity: Analyze That (Harold Ramis 2002), Auto Focus (Paul Schrader 2002), Bad Company (Joel Schumacher 2002), Big Trouble (Barry Sonnenfeld 2002), Black Knight (Gil Junger 2001), The Blackout (Abel Ferrara 1997), Clockwatchers (Jill Sprecher 1997), Cold Eyes of Fear (Enzo G. Castellari 1971), Collateral Damage (Andrew Davis 2002), Comic Book Villains (James Robinson 2002), Death to Smoochy (Danny DeVito 2002), Document of the Dead (Roy Frumkes 1989), Dracula 2000 (Patrick Lussier 2000), The General (John Boorman ), Lies (Jang Sun-Woo 1999), Men in Black II (Barry Sonnenfeld 2002), Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky 2000), The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson 2001), The Score (Frank Oz 2001), Showtime (Tom Dey 2002), Small Time Crooks (Woody Allen 2000), Spy Game (Tony Scott 2001), first hour of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (George Lucas 2002), Stealing Harvard (Bruce McCulloch 2002), Stiff Upper Lips (Gary Sinyor 1998), The Straight Story (David Lynch 1999), Thunderball (Terence Young 1965), The Transporter (Corey Yuen 2002), Under the Sand (Francois Ozon 2000), We Were Soldiers (Randall Wallace 2002), Windtalkers (John Woo 2002).

Expectations: The new Entertainment Weekly (12/19) has a quote from Anthony Minghella on Cold Mountain that it thought worthy enough to pull into a large-case photo caption: "I feel like Michael Cimino must have felt making Heaven's Gate. I can only hope the results aren't the same."

My first thought was: Minghella wants to make a bad movie? No, really. Then it occured to me that maybe he thinks Heaven's Gate itself is bad (which it's not) and therefore he's saying he wants to make a better movie. Typing this out, I wondered if maybe he's saying hopes his film doesn't drive the studio to the brink of bankruptcy. Perhaps reading the article would clear this up but if that's what's required then this was a bad choice for a pull quote, and anyway I have next to zero interest in any of this.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff 2003) – This should have been right up my alley: A scurrilous black comedy with a great cast and a director with a perfect track record. But it’s hampered by a haphazard script, even worse a script with the kind of problems that could have been fixed by another draft, a script doctor, what have you. Just take the problems with the set-up. How is it that the duo have been running this scam for seven years? You’d think somebody would remember a news item about a department store robbed by a black midget, not to mention a drunken Santa. Which only brings up the question of how Willie is able to keep the Santa jobs. In the film, this one instance is explained by a weak manager and a dishonest mall security chief but even then you’d think there would have been parent complaints. And though this starts to get nitpicky, I can’t help but wonder about the elf stopping the security alarm. If there’s a 30 second window, how does he know when to start? In the opening he’s too far away to hear or see the guard enter the code.

Every film has its little goofs and whether or not they add up to what might “really� happen is pretty much irrelevant. But in Bad Santa so many other problems come up that it’s harder to ignore or justify the lapses. For instance, the bartender who is given a few lines of backstory (she has a Santa fetish because she’s Jewish?) but is otherwise purely decorative. What attracts her to a sleazeball like Willie? Apparently the answer is “just because.� Or the ending that looks like there was a desperate re-do to make it more redemptive or at least happier. Willie dying on the front lawn has a sense of closure consistent with the rest of the film but there’s a pretty unbelievable coda where he lives and goes completely unprosecuted, all done with a Billy Bob Thornton voice-over which suggests that the whole sequence was an afterthought and he wasn’t available for actual filming. (Speaking of which, the voice-over at the start of the film is an odd, beginning-writer mistake since it provides no information that’s not given elsewhere—and more logically—in the film.) What about Marcus the elf suddenly developing a bloodthirst? It comes pretty much out of nowhere and one instance relies on the security chief behaving so naively that it borders on self-parody.

A quick check of the IMDB shows that the film was written by the duo responsible for Cats & Dogs, a film phenomenally dumb and almost completely humorless even for a kids movie. So I’m guessing that there was a passable script to start but nobody took the time to make it better; there’s already enough evidence of rushed production in the finished film that suggests the whole project was hurried, possibly to meet a Christmas release date. There is some good stuff here and it’s certainly funnier than, say, The Haunted Mansion or heck most sitcoms. Which only makes the film more frustrating.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir 2003) - I guess the double title is for somebody thinking, "Well, I've read the first book so there's no reason to see the movie but y'know I haven't gotten to The Far Side of the World so maybe this is worth a look." At any event, it's no surprise that the film watered down the book but it is a surprise that it was to this extent. Admittedly, it's a bit tough to get much of the historical detail into a movie (and to be honest much of the detail in the novels is just decorative anyway) but the film ends up as merely a decent action film, not even as good as the barely passable Hornblower film with Gregory Peck. The characters jump this way and that, generally the way you'd expect and with the slightest hints of what's in the books. Jack is merely the stern but just commander, worldly but sentimental, while there's nothing left of Stephen's espionage activities. Inexplicably, the film has gathered rave reviews which says more about the quality of America's film critics than the film itself.
Yep, there may be two or even three new posts here this year. Why are blogs expected to be daily? Why not weekly or monthly?