Monday, April 30, 2007

May the Post Be With You

Upon learning that the U.S. Postal Service, in addition to creating a line of commemorative stamps, was placing special "R2-D2" mailboxes around the country in honor of Star Wars' 30th anninversary, my good friend Erin Julian (host of the blog Lylium) and her housemate/fellow Star Wars fanatic Teal, figured the only logical thing to do was to go out and take the following picture:

I think this is brilliant. Positively priceless.

My family has been friends with the Julians for many years, so I've known Erin since she was a "wee lass" (she's in college now and it really makes me feel old) and for as long as I've known her she's been a big Star Wars fan. I remember when I was in college I went to see the theatrical release of the special edition of Empire Strikes Back and ran into her and her family. I have no doubt it was Erin's first time seeing it on the big screen but, since I was in pre-school when it originally came out, it was my third time. I also recall buying her a Return of the Jedi poster for her birthday. I knew it was her favorite of the three Star Wars movies (it was mine too at her age), and although I tried to convice her that Empire was really the best one, she just wasn't having it (Erin has since realized the error of her way and has come over to the "Dark side"). Hopefully I can convince her to contribute something to the Star Wars Blog-a-thon on May 25th over at Edward Copeland on Film. I know she'll have some good stuff to say. I've already decided on what I'm going to write about.

While I'm on the subject, I think I'll just go ahead and post my personal favorite scene in the entire Star Wars series (a sublime moment, I can't watch it without getting shivers):

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jack Valenti (1921-2007)

Jack Valenti died today of complications from a stroke in his Washington, D.C. home. He was 85. Rest assured, I am not going to post an obituary. You can read a pretty good one here, where you might be surprised to learn some things about Valenti that you didn't know. I sure did (for example, I didn't know he was a bomber in WWII or that he was one of the people in the motorcade when JFK was shot). Nor am I going to use his death as an opportunity to say anything on the subject of censorship (although my opinions might surprise people as they tend to be different from most people's). Rather I am going to relay a few things I read today on the comment-board over at Valenti's IMDB page. Some things that, quite frankly, disturb and sadden me. In fact, in a way, this blog isn't really about Jack Valenti so much as it's about people's reactions to his death and how they tie in with some things I've been thinking about lately.

(Note: There is going to be some langage in the following statements that you do not typically hear on this film blog.)

On a thread entitled "THE BASTARD IS FINALLY DEAD" someone wrote "Allah/Jesus/Buddha be praised. This old douchebag finally croaked."

On another thread entitled "Die From Your Stroke" someone wrote "You suck."

On a thread entitled "At Last" someone wrote "At last this fascist is dead, what a shame for the industry. I hope media (except FOX of course) Talk about him as what he really was, a greedy ignorant fascist."

And finally, for a change of pace, a thread entitled "My prayers go out to him and his family" has someone saying "May he rest in peace." to which someone responded with "Fuck him and his family. I hope they die too."

Clearly, Valenti was not well-liked by a lot of people nowadays. I suspect primarily because of the growing discontent with the MPAA and its ratings system (which is nowhere better represented than in Kirby Dick's documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated), but comments like these tend to depress me because they demonstrate a lack of ability to separate the worth of a person from the worth of their ideas. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Valenti's opinions on movie content and his approach to rating them, whether one thinks that the effect he had on the industry were predominately positive or negative, such personal hatred-such vitrolic sentiments-are completely uncalled for. Jack Valenti's death is not a cause for celebration. In fact, I'm not sure any person's death is a cause for celebration. Even the death of an individual about whom we can honestly say the world is better off without (which Valenti was far from). Even the death of an Adolf Hitler or a Saddam Hussein should be cause for some degree of mourning I think. As I wrote in response to a comment on a recent blog about the Virginia Tech shooting, "I am reminded of that poem by John Donne: 'Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.'"

How "dead" inside does a person have to be that they can derive satisfaction from the death of a fellow human being? I know this is a rather radical statement, but I think that the people who rejoice at the passing of Jack Valenti are fundamentally no different from someone like Cho Seunh Hui.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Forgotten Spider-man

As the release date of the highly anticipated Spider-man 3 approaches, I find myself reminiscing about some of my favorite memories associated with the web-slinger (somewhere around here I have a photo of myself, at aged 3 or 4, being hoisted up on Spidey's shoulders at a fair, but I don't know where it is). As I wrote in "They Don't Make Superheroes Like They Used To," Spider-man has always been among my top three favorite superheroes (the other two being Batman and Superman). Whoever occupied the #1 spot at any given moment depended on what "phase" of my life I was going through at the time. I realize I am advertising my hopeless geekiness with this post. I don't care.

Many of us can recall at least one cartoon series featuring Spider-man (be it from the 60's, the 80's, the 90's or the recent computer-animated program), but one particular incarnation of Spider-man that usually seems to get lost in the shuffle, and unfairly so in my opinion, is the short-lived late 70's series. I used to love this show when I was a kid. I have no doubt that were I to watch it again now it would seem (at best) quaint, but at the time it filled that much needed void for a live-action version of Marvel's most popular hero.

I seem to remember that the show wasn't necessarily very "faithful" the comics. There was no Mary Jane Watson, no Gwen Stacy, no super-villians and not even an Uncle Ben. Robbie Robertson appeared only in the pilot whereas J. Jonah Jameson was a regular character (though not nearly the "enemy" of Spider-man he was supposed to be; just more of a grump) and Aunt May appeared only rarely. Peter was still a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle and he still received his powers from a radioactive spider bite, but Peter was no longer a nerdy high school kid. Instead he was a college student in his early-mid twenties and was played by actor Nicholas Hammond (who was actually in his late twenties at the time). Hammond is perhaps most well-known as Frederich Von Trapp from The Sound of Music but he made his film debut in Peter Brook's 1963 Lord of the Flies (television enthusiasts might also recognize him as Doug Simpson, the shallow hunk who turns down a date with Marcia Brady for her "nose" problem). Furthermore, Hammond rarely spoke when he wore the mask. Unlike the comics, there were no "John McClaine-like" wisecracks, no making fun of the "in-over-his-head" situation he often found himself in. He was, for the most part, a "mute" Spider-man. At least his words didn't appear in a little bubble over his head (like in the Electric Company).

One thing the show did get right though, which even the recent films have not, is the fact that Peter's web-shooting is not a talent he picked up from the funky spider (unlike his speed, strength and ability to climb walls) but rather a technological invention of Peter's. Needless to say, this is a change that (like the "raised" webs on the new costume) doesn't bother me. Spidey was also seen frequently wearing a utilty belt. I guess he was taking his cue from Batman in those days. For all its flaws, though, the show was quite cool. I remember loving the climbing scenes specifically. Though they pale in comparison to the aeronautic acrobatics that Raimi's CGI Spider-man can perform, they still had one advantage: they were real. A real guy in a real spider-man costume risked his own real life climbing up a real bulding with the help of a real cable. If somethig went really wrong he could've really fallen to his own real death. There's something about the "reality" of that which I miss in the new films.

Since only 9 episodes and three full-length TV movies were made, there is a misconception that the show was cancelled due to poor ratings. In fact, the show did rather well. It was pulled because CBS (which already had The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman) didn't want to be known as the "superhero network." Shame, because the show was, as I remember, pretty good. Again, nowadays it might seem awfully lame (particularly to today's youth), but I would like to see these shows released on DVD so that I, along with others like me, can relive a pleasant part of our childhood. As much as I am looking forward to the third Spider-man feature (I loved the first two), it would a shame to forget this chapter in Spidey's past.... no matter how "embarassing" it might seem now.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shakespeare Behind Bars

"As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.


As I tend to do with these blog-a-thons, I agonized for a while over what to contribute to the Shakespeare Blog-a-thon at Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee. Being a longtime actor, director, teacher and just general "lover" of all things Shakespeare, the number of topics available to me proved virtually endless. I considered writing a piece on the authorship question since there are still some unfortunate souls out there who labor under the impression that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays (a good book I read recently, entitled The Case For Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question by Scott McCrea, further affirmed my stance as a Stratfordian). I also considered writing something about the play often referred to as Shakespeare's masterpiece, Hamlet, because (as I have made no secret) I believe it to be not only his best work but perhaps the best thing ever written in the English language. As someone who has had the opportunity to live his longtime dream of playing Hamlet two summers ago (from which I put up a few pictures here), I thought about posting a list which I've been compiling for a couple years now of every actor (prominent or otherwise) who has portrayed the tragic Prince of Denmark, whether they be male or female, professional or amatuer. From the very first Hamlet (Ruichard Burbage) to the young kid doing it in the high school production down the street, I wanted to try and create a sort of "registry" of Hamlets. Needless to say, the list is far from comprehensive but it is probably the best list of its kind you're likely to find anywhere.

Fortunately, before I got too overwhelmed with potential subjects, I noticed that Peter Nellhaus (the host of the blog-a-thon) referred to it as the "Shakespeare on Film" Blog-a-thon, which made a lot more sense since it's really the "film blogosphere" that is being invited to participate. Although I was rather annoyed with myself for not realizing this in the first place, it did conveniently narrow the scope of my options a great deal, though there was still quite a few topics left on which to write. I thought about writing on one or more of the many Shakespearan film adaptations that I adore (Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet, Branagh's Henry V and Hamlet, Taymor's Titus, Radford's Merchant of Venice, Hoffman's Midsummer Night's Dream, Loncraine's Richard III) or perhaps the many Shakespearean adaptations that I do not care for (Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, Almereyda's Hamlet 2000, Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost, Nunn's Twelfth Night). I thought about writing on the Shakespearean performances that I love (Ian McKellen's Richard, Al Pacino's Shylock, Kenneth Branagh's Iago, Emma Thompson's Beatrice, Campbell Scott's Hamlet) or the performances that I despise (Keanu Reeves's Don John, Jack Lemmon's Marcellus, Calista Flockhart's Helena, any number of the performances in Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet). There are performances that, while not great, I think are a bit underrated (Robin Williams' Osric, Jessica Lange's Tamora) and performances that, while not bad, I find are overrated (Olivier's Hamlet, Burton's Hamlet). And all of this comes from just the "straight" Shakespearean adaptations. This doesn't even touch on the parodies, pastiches and otherwise unconventional versions like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, "O", 10 Things I Hate About You, Shakespeare in Love, The Lion King, Looking For Richard, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story, Strange Brew, She's the Man, A Midsummer Night's Sex comedy, Kurasawa's films, Moonlighting's "Atomic Shakespeare" episode, the Reduced Shakespeare Company's performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and Richard Dreyfus' hilarious turn as the "Interior-Decorator Richard" in Neil Simon's Goodbye Girl. I also felt compelled to give some special mention to Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing as it is the motion picture responsible for causing me to "fall in love" with the Bard in the first place. To this day I never tire of watching that film.

Ultimately my own arrogant compulsion to be unique got the better of me. I realized that anybody could write about any one of these films and/or performances, whereas I wanted to do something radically different. I wanted to do something to set my entry apart from the rest. I wanted to write about a Shakespeare film that nobody was familiar with, a film that I could perhaps draw some attention to because I felt it deserved more recognition that it was getting. That was when I remembered a documentary I watched about a year ago that really struck me as a remarkable look at a side of Shakespeare with which few of us have ever been confronted. It's called Shakespeare Behind Bars and it chronicles a year in Luther Luckett Prison in Kentucky where a program called "Shakespeare Behind Bars," run by Shakespearean director/teacher Hank Rogerson, provides an opportunity for its inmates ("inmates, not "convicts"; they make a point in the film of differentiating between the two terms) to participate in the production of a Shakespearean play. The Tempest is the show selected for this particular year and the story's themes of anger, revenge and forgiveness have particular resonance with those involved. "Shakespeare would love this group," says Rogerson at one point and it's hard to argue with that contention given that the folks of Shakespeare's community were perceived at the time as sexual deviants, thieves, criminals and the like; basically the "dregs of society." Just as Jesus visited not the "healthy" but the "sick" in his day and age, Shakespeare hung out with the ones who were separate from everyone else. The inmates depicted in the film are also the ones seen as the "dregs of our society" today. Thieves, murderers, rapists and drug dealers make up the gallery of individuals highlighted in this film.

One of the excellent aspects of the documentary is that in most cases it familiarizes the audience with the men themselves before revealing their crimes. We get to know them as human beings first and as criminals second. For those who are more acquainted with fictional representations of prison life (such as Oz) this is a very eye-opening experience. These are not "monsters" we are following around here, though it is very easy to label them as such, these are people who are just like us. Thinking, feeling, breathing human beings ("If you prick us, do we not bleed?") who, admittedly, have done terrible things, but who are paying for what they have done. I do not like to use the phrase "it humanizes them" when referring to a film like this and the men in it (or like Hitler in Downfall or Kevin Bacon's character in The Woodsman) because that seems to suggest that they are not human to begin with, that they have "lost" their humanity. Watching this film it becomes all too clear that this is not the case. These men have not lost their humanity; indeed they are all very much in touch with their humanty, perhaps even more than most.

I have seen the film three times now and there are moments that still grab me. Hearing these inmates tell their stories is both harrowing and frightening and yet there is something oddly moving about these scenes because not a single one of them relays their crime without obvious sorrow and regret. At one point one man is asked "So, why are you here?" (a question that was actually inquring as to why he was placed in solitary confinement, but which he mis-interpreted as asking why he's even been imprisoned in the first place) he hesitates, closing his eyes for a long time, taking a deep breath, opening them and admitting "I sexually molested seven girls," before starting to cry and adding "It's the worst thing I've ever done." These are men who are only too aware of the horrendousness of their actions and the consequences to them. They are genuinely grieved by the pain and suffereing they've caused for others and not (to echo the thoughts of Morgan Freeman's character Red from The Shawshank Redemption) simply because they are being punished for it or because someone says they should be, but because they have faced into what they have done, accepted responsibility for it and are searching for some meaning, some hope, some validity to their lives outside of their indentity as a criminal. They don't want their crime to be the defining aspect of their lives and they are trying desperately to make amends, to find something deeper to themselves. The concept of self-forgiveness is one that surfaces quite frequently in the film. Before any one of these men can expect forgiveness from others, they need to forgive themselves. Without this they could never hope to become assimilated into the "outside" world once again. As several of them confess, it is this very assimilation that they seek more than anything else because it represents to them a sort of validation of their own worth. At one point, one inmate admits that althoguh he managed to eventually forgive himself for what he did (he murdered his wife), there is something very "hollow" about that.

The film manages to present these men without excusing, and certainly without glorifying, their actions. The filmmakers adopt a very non-judgmental attitude toward their subjects. They are not here to make these men look any better or any worse than they really are. The disciplined objectivity of the film is very noteworthy and allows audiences to make up their own minds about what they are seeing, though I suspect a person would have to have ice in their veins to not find themselves responding somewhat to the humanity of these men, who couldn't in some way identify with their desire for forgiveness, redemption and acceptance. Watching the film one is reminded of that classic phrase "There but for the grace of God, go I" that so often comes to the fore in some of Shakespeare's own great works. I myself realized watching the film that there is nothing substantially different between these men and me (besides perhaps some of the circumstances surrounding their lives) that would prohibit me from ending up where they are now. I could just as easily commit the exact same crime that they did were I in their shoes. I am not made of "sterner stuff" than they and it would foolish of me to think otherwise.

Finally, there is the show itself. The rehearsal scenes and the final performance present what I would venture to say is some of the best Shakespearean acting you're ever liable to see. Not necessarily because of its technical brilliance, its emotional power or its subtle complexity, but because of its raw, visceral intensity (not to mention its sincerity). Again, the fact that these are men actually guilty of the same things as Shakespeare's characters provides a level of reality that could not be found on any other stage in the world. While most actors can only use their imagination and pretend to understand what it feels like to have committed an atrocity, these men have lived it. To see murderers, thieves and rapists playing murderers, thieves and rapists is a remarkable sight indeed. What is also remarkable is how most of them turn out to actually be good actors, giving performances worthy of any professional theatre company. It is all the more tragic to think that any one of these men could have participated in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland or even perhaps the Royal Shakespeare Company in England had their lives not gone astray.

I want to end this post with a somewhat personal anecdote. For reasons I won't go into, the latter half of my senior year in college was a very tough one for me. I was very lonely, very afraid and very much in pain. It was a time in which I was capable of doing some rather harmful things to others as well as myself. However, with the help of a few influences (my own personal faith, the support of my family and a theatre group I got involved in) I "came out the other side of it all" relatively unscathed. I look back at that period of my life with horror, amazement and embarassment, but also with gratitude and appreciation for those things which helped get me through. Theatre was a huge part of that. I can honestly say that theatre saved my life (interestingly, Hamlet was one of the plays I was involved in at that time). The redemptive power of Shakespeare, of theatre and just of art in general is something one can't help realize watching Shakespeare Behind Bars. William Shakespeare's profound knowledge and understanding of human nature provides an opportunity for these men to confront their own misdeeds and work through them. Almost like a form of therapy, it holds the "mirror up to nature" allowing them to see themselves reflected in his poetic words and characters and turn the painful reality of their own "ugliness" into the sublime beauty of a fine work of art, which is truly something to behold. It's easy to forget that Shakespeare has the power to change lives, to reveal manifold truths and to serve as much more than just entertainment or intellectual stimulation. It can indeed "set you free," which is something that these men want more than anything else in the world. Indeed, I would argue that it's something we all want.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Separated at Birth?

(The following is a conversation I had with myself only a few moments ago.)

"Okay. So, let's see which famous people are celebrating birthdays today. I'll just pop on over to the IMDB and... Here we are. 'Celebrity Birthdays.' Hmmm... Kate Hudson... Ashley Judd... Hayden Christensen and... WHAT? James Franco? Hold on a second! Christensen and Franco were both born on this date? I knew it! I knew it all along! THEY'RE TWINS! No wonder I used to get the two of them mixed up for a while. Well, I must say, this explains a lot. Now I feel a little better about not... Uh-Oh. Wait a minute here... Nope. No, it looks like they were born three years apart. Hayden turns 26 and Franco turns 29 today. Well, there goes that theory I guess. Dang it! I guess my first clue should've been the fact that one of them can act and the other can't."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In the Aftermath of Tragedy

I was at work in the video store when I first found out about the shooting at Virginia Tech. My dad had just seen it on the news and, knowing that I don’t really watch television or listen to the radio, called to tell me about it. As I listened to him briefly re-cap what had happened, there were several things that I immediately knew, just instinctually, were going to be the case:

1) That the killer was probably going to be dead by suicide.
2) That this tragedy was going to dominate the cultural consciousness for the next several weeks/months, particularly in the form of round-the-clock coverage by the 24-hour news channels, as details get revealed regarding the killer’s identity, how the exact events of that day unfolded minute-by-minute and family/friends of the victims are paraded in front of the camera for interviews.
3) That certain questions were going to be asked about what was "behind" the event; questions like “Why did this happen?" and "What were the signs that we should've seen it coming?" and "How could it have been prevented?” with emphasis being placed on finding someone or something (beside the gunman himself) to direct anger at; in other words, that people are going to be looking for someone/something to blame.

I remember only too well all of these things being true in the case of the Columbine massacre that occurred eight years ago and the second two things being true when the shooting took place at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon a few years back (at the time of which, incidentally, I was attending college in Eugene, which is more or less “right next door” to Springfield;” a couple of my friends actually knew some of the victims). In the case of the latter, fortunately, the assailant was eventually subdued before he could inflict too much more damage or take his own life. Otherwise, I suspect all three things would have been true of that shooting as well. At any rate, it is the third realization in particular that I would like to talk about right now.

In America when sudden, random acts of violence like this are perpetrated not by terrorists but by “ordinary” people in seemingly innocuous environments, some very familiar arguments get resurrected about what might have “caused” it. Fingers are almost always pointed at certain potential “contributors” to the problem: namely, parents, guns and, of course, the media. Some politicians will most likely launch into some rather passionate criticisms of the way violence is portrayed on television, in movies, in video games and in music. I vividly remember, for example, movies like The Basketball Diaries, Natural Born Killers and The Matrix, as well as the music of Marilyn Manson and the video game Grand Theft Auto, being mentioned in past dialogues on this very subject.

There is also often a “circling of the wagons” in Hollywood wherein age-old responses are reiterated: “The media does not cause violence, it reflects it,” and “Violence has been around as long as human beings have” and “Violence in art can actually serve as a kind of catharsis for individuals who might have such tendencies,” etc. (It did not surprise me at all to see Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore utter these exact words at a press junket for the Lee Tamahori film Next which is coming out soon). Understand that I am not necessarily refuting these arguments, I am just trying to describe the “pattern” that I see emerging whenever something like this happens.

Sooner or later you know that the “D-word” will get mentioned, the one that seems to anger and frighten people in equal measures... de-sensitization. Questions like “How de-sensitized are we as a culture really?” and “What effect (if any) do violent images, words and sounds have on us?” I don’t think one can deny that here in America we are saturated with violence on a daily basis. Whether that violence takes the form of entertainment (movies, video games, music) or of information/education (journalistic photographs/videos in newspapers, magazines and on the television/internet), it just feels like it is surrounding us to a point where it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid. We seem to be unwillingly bombarded with violence at an almost constant rate. Again, I am not saying that this is necessarily a good or bad thing. I am just trying to point out that it is a reality that exists, an undeniable fact of living in a media-dominated society.

I have to say that all of this has transpired at a rather interesting point in my life given that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “zeitgeist” of our culture and the part that I personally play in it. I only recently announced my intention to avoid any more Eli Roth movies (based on my general concern for what I consider to be a lack of “moral perspective” on the sexual sado-masochistic violence in his films) as well as expressed my utter contempt for Michael Bay, who is essentially one of the “masters” of the high-octane, ultra-violent action genre (to be fair, my disdain for him has nothing to do with any moral convictions; just the fact that I think he makes crap). I have also been following a rather fascinating dialogue over at House Next Door on Quinten Tarantino and, as fate would have it, it touches on the character of the violence depicted in his films. It has provided some good food for thought since, as people here probably know already, I am not a big Tarantino fan. However, I also wrote a post in which I expressed my excitement over the fourth Die Hard film that is being released this summer. Oddly enough, my anticipation for the film has not diminished one bit in the light of this tragedy. Am I being hypocritical here? Am I talking out of both sides of my mouth?

Violent acts happen every day in every country in the world, but whenever an act of this magnitude occurs “so close to home,” it has a tendency to shake us up a bit and heighten our awareness to things that we are otherwise not quite as bothered by. I was struck by something Ross said in a brief post over at Rued Morgue. He wrote: “I was set to go see Grindhouse this afternoon, but simply couldn't bring myself to sit through three hours of imaginary, violent mayhem." I suspect that this phenomenon is probably occurring with a lot of people here in America right now. I know that I myself am feeling similarly. Without trying to sound crass (again, I am merely trying to analyze/predict the sequence of events that typically ensue at a time like this), I highly doubt that this is going to do much to help the box office intake of films like Grindhouse, Vacancy and Next over the coming weeks.

So, what am I saying with this post? Truthfully, I don’t know. I just felt compelled to say something. For some reason, I can’t help but feel that in some way I am part of the problem, that I need to think very seriously and very honestly about what effect (if any) this will have on my own movie-viewing philosophy and if so, whether that effect will be short-lived or long-lasting. I am not trying to offer any profound insights with this post and I am certainly not making any definite claims about the relationship between violence in the media and violence in real life (that’s a debate that I am sure will continue to the end of time). I think such gestures might be arrogant, futile and ultimately unimportant in a period of REAL people enduring REAL pain, suffering, grief and mourning. Perhaps it is best for me to simply offer my condolences to the families and friends of the victims, to express my sadness and sorrow for their losses and to keep them in my thoughts and prayers in this dark period of their lives.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

As If I Needed Yet Another Reason to Hate This Man

Being that tomorrow is Friday the 13th, Jason movies are already starting to go out here at the video store. Now, although I am proud to say I have yet to see a Friday the 13th film, I did manage to catch a few scenes from the original on AMC a couple years back and my God, it was awful. Not only hands down the worst acting I have ever seen in a film (and Kevin Bacon was in it too; poor guy) but during the 10-12 minutes that I saw, I found myself saying: "If I hear that annoying music ONE MORE TIME, I'm going on my own rampage." Fortunately, I turned it off before that happened.

Aanyway, after the lousy box office performance of Jason X, I thought we would all be spared any more exploits of the machete-wielding, hockey mask-wearing killer. No such luck. As I just found out today from a friend, another Friday the 13th film is currently in production. It's directed by Jonathan Liebseman, the talent behind such fine fare as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (which, mercifully, I haven't seen) and Darkness Falls (which, unfortunately, I have).

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that I think the Friday the 13th series is probably the worst franchize in the history of movies, with its closest competitor being the Police Academy series... which, incidentally, they are also making another one of (*sigh*). Perhaps then it is entirely appropriate that the worst director still making movies (or maybe I should say, still being allowed to make movies) is now involved in "resurrecting" the series. That's right! The anti-Christ himself, MICHAEL BAY, is producing the latest Jason movie. All I can say is: I am not the least bit surprised. The master of crap (whom his father the devil, a.k.a. Jerry Bruckheimer, has actually had the audacity to compare to David Lean) is attaching himself to more crap. Astonishing.

The only thing that could possibly tempt me to view this film is if Bay makes a cameo appearance as one of Jason's victims.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Screen Saviors

Well, today is Easter Sunday and I was planning on posting something really deep and profound and insightful about the various cinematic incarnations of Jesus... but the truth is I'm too tired right now. So, I'll just lazily put up some images of a few big screen (and in some cases small screen) representations of our Lord.

H.B. Warner, King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927)

Claude Heater(?), Ben Hur (William Wyler, 1959)

Jeffrey Hunter, King of Kings (Nicholas Ray, 1961)

Enrique Irazoqui, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)

Max Von Sydow, The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens, 1965)

Ted Neeley, Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973)

Victor Garber, Godspell (David Greene, 1973)

Robert Powell, Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zefferelli, 1977)

Graham Chapman, Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)

Brian Deacon, Jesus (John Krish/Peter Sykes, 1979)

Willem Defoe, The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

The "Buddy" Christ, Dogma (Kevin Smith, 1999)

Christian Bale, Mary: Mother of Jesus (Kevin Connor, 1999)

Jeremy Sisto, Jesus (Roger Young, 1999)

Phil Caracas, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (Lee Demarbre, 2001)

Henry Ian Cusick, The Gospel of John (Philip Saville, 2003)

Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004)

"Jesus and Pals," South Park (Trey Parker/Matt Stone, 1997)

Thanks for your indulgence, all! Here's hoping your Easter is a happy one! God bless.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Meeting an Old Friend for the First Time

One of the reasons I look forward to weekends is because of the "Friday Screen Test" that occurs over at DVD Panache. It's a weekly feature in which Panache's host Adam Ross focuses attention on one of the many cinephiles ponitificating out there in the blogosphere. Since I love reading about people who love movies I headed over there today, as I usually do, to see which devoted admirer of all things filmic was going to be profiled this time. You can imagine my surprise when, lo and behold, I discovered that I was the subject of this week's screen test!

Well, after I got over the initial shock, I debated whether to find out what it had to say about me or move on to a more comfortable subject on another blog. Eventually I decided to bravely "take the plunge" and delve into the innerworkings of my own cinematic psyche. I can't tell you what a fascinating read it was. I learned things about myself that even I didn't know (the fact that my name sounds like a Sherlock Holmes villian, for instance, was something that never occurred to me but as a HUGE Holmes afficianado, I am immensely pleased by this revelation). Suffice it to say, this has been an incredibly illuminating experience, one that I will not soon forget. As John Cusack asks in Being John Malkovich: "What happens when a man goes through his own portal?" He meets himself is what happens..... Well, that or he ends up in a restaurant populated with people who look and sound exactly like him speaking nothing but his last name.

So, Adam, you've managed to confront me with my own self. I got to meet ME again and it was a wonderfully stimulating encounter. Granted, I wasn't necessarily thrilled by everything that I saw and heard, but I learned to overlook these flaws and just accept me as I am. In doing so, I discovered that, when all is said and done, I happen to like me and I owe you an immeasurable debt for that. Thank you. Now, if you don't mind I'm taking myself out for coffee and a movie. I really hope that I continue to get along with myself, because I'd hate to get on my own nerves after "hitting it off" with me so successfully. First things first, though... I have to agree on the movie.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"All things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

Okay, I am officially excited now!

I just finished watching the latest trailer for the upcoming Live Free or Die Hard over at Reel Fanatic and although I think a fourth Die Hard movie at this point in time is probably not a good idea (I tend to think the fourth movie in any series isn't a good idea), I have to admit that the movie does show promise. The first trailer I saw didn't do much for me but then the first Spider-man 2 trailer didn't do much for me either while the second one, to use rather popular terminology, "blew me away" (as did the movie itself). No matter how good or bad this movie turns out to be, I'm almost certain it won't match the quality of the original Die Hard (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite films). So far its sequels, though, have been pretty good... as far as sequels go anyway.

In commemoration of this, I was going to write an extensive analysis of the first Die Hard but, as fate would have it, I stumbled upon an amazing Appreciation for Die hard at The House Next Door and came to the painful realization that there was no way I was ever going to be able to say it any better than Kenji Fujishima does here (there is also an incredible collections of reactions, comments and insights by fellow Die Hard-lovers; I really wish I had known about this at the time as I would love to have chimed in). So, I'll simply re-post the trailer here in the hopes that you enjoy it as much as I did. I also hope I like the movie as much I liked the trailer. It looks like it could be a lot of fun. The stunts alone look spectacularly awesome... and yes, in case you were wondering, that is Kevin Smith at the very end!

So, that's it. All that remains for me now, I think, is to say:


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Great Cinematic Speeches: Pulp Fiction

In honor of this Friday's release of the Tarantino/Rodriguez double-feature tribute to exploitation movies Grindhouse, I thought I would highlight a speech from Tarantino's own Pulp Fiction: the one commonly known as the "watch story."

Now, some people might be surprised that I selected this speech and not the more popular "Ezekiel 25:17" monologue that Sam Jackson makes. Well, that is indeed a great speech, brilliantly done by Jackson, but in terms of trying to showcase Tarantino's skills as a writer, it's not really the best choice as it is mostly just quoting scripture. In spite of my general apathy toward Tarantino as a filmmaker, there is no denying that the man has talent, particularly as a writer of dialogue (which is where I think most of his films truly shine) and the "watch story" is an excellent example of his own unique style of "Tarantino-talk." It is simultaneously smart, weird, disgusting, hilarious and touching. It doesn't hurt either I suppose that it comes from the mouth of the great Chris Walken, who is absolutely flawless in his delivery. He seems to understand and capture all the various, almost contradictory, elements of the tale.

It also does a good job foreshadowing events that will occur later on in this particular story (I had actually forgotten Walken's line about hoping that the boy never has to experience something like what he and the dad went through and the comeraderie that resulted from it). So, much like the the very first speech I chose for this ongoing feature here at Windmills, "the watch story" is one of those movie solilquies that works well within the context of the film but also manages to function as a great "stand-alone" piece. Good stuff.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me, Eli

I came to a decision yesterday.

I am done with Eli Roth.

I will never watch another one of his movies.

This is not an April Fool's joke. I am very serious.

I realize that I am probably revealing my bias with these proclamations but in my own defense, and before anyone attacks my stance as being "ultra-conservative," question my commitment to cinema or doubt my identity as a movie-lover, I can freely admit that horror movies are not my favorite type of entertainment. Nevertheless, I'd like to think that I can appreciate a great film whatever it's genre may be. In fact, some of my favorite movies fit quite comfortably in the "horror" category (Psycho, Jaws, The Exorcist, Seven, Alien, etc). Nobody likes to think of themselves as being self-righteous, hypocritical or just generally "close-minded." In fact, I'd like to think I'm a pretty "open-minded" cinephile, always trying to find the redeeming value in something rather than just looking for things to criticize. When it comes to movies, I believe I'm pretty liberal with what I allow myself to see/not see (with regards to quality as well as content); much more so than a lot of people I know.

Furthermore, I am not, typically speaking, one who chooses easily to avoid (I could perhaps say "boycott," but I don't particularly want to as it is such a "loaded" term) certain films. Like Emperor Joseph II says in Amadeus: "I am a tolerant man. I do not censor things lightly. When I do, I have good reason." Understand, of course, that I am not talking here about censorship (except perhaps "self-censorship"). I am not saying that nobody should watch Eli Roth's movies nor am I trying to ensure that nobody can. I am speaking only for myself. I mention the Amadeus quote merely because the sentiment is the same: my decision is not based on a knee-jerk reaction to recently viewing a film of his (in fact, I've only seen one of his movies and that was a while ago). No, I arrived at my conclusion based on a combination of two things: The first I will get to in a minute. The second was something I read regarding what is contained within the trailer for the fake movie Thanksgiving he has made for the upcoming Tarantino/Rodriguez film Grindhouse. Although I am not a terribly big fan of Tarantino (Rodriguez a little bit more), I will admit that I've enjoyed most of his movies and am curious to see Grindhouse, but given what I've heard about what is contained within Roth's section of the film (and no, I am not going to go into any detail here; you want to find out what I'm talking about, you can do so elsewhere), I'm not sure I want to see it. I was already deciding to use the time that Rob Zombie's fake trailer comes on to take a bathroom break. When it gets to Eli Roth's four minutes of the film, I may choose that moment to get a refill on my popcorn.

The thing that most recently got me thinking that Roth was a filmmaker whose work I really have no more interest in, was a statement he made regarding violence in movies (which you can read about here at Cinematical). On the surface his idea may seem relatively innocuous, but in my mind they more or less confirm something that I've suspected ever since I BARELY made it through Hostel and listened to his comments on the commentary track. Eli Roth seems to be lacking something that I think is important for a great horror filmmaker (or any great filmmaker really) to have: some kind of inner moral compass that allows his films to have purpose or meaning outside of the mere desire to shock, titillate or disgust. I don't think he has this. I do not get the sense from him or his movies that he is a responsible filmmaker, that he ever asks himself whether or not he has "gone too far" in what he puts up on the screen. I find his ideas (and consequently his work) to be cynical, apathetic and nihilistic (which might perhaps explain why it appeals to so many young people since, as I would argue, these terms seem to describe the general direction our culture is taking) and I think his disregard for whatever consequences his films might have is at best discouraging and at worst frightening and dangerous.

This is all tied in with something about which I've been doing a great deal of thinking lately, and that it is the disturbingly increasing tendency toward sexual sado-masochism in the general culture (movies/TV/music) but particularly in the horror genre (an approach which has spawned its own "sub-genre" of horror films labeled by David Edelstein as "torture porn" and, in some circles, "gorno"). It may prove to be the subject of a future post or two here on Windmills. In the meantime, I'll simply say that, like his fellow "splat-packer" Rob Zombie, I have sworn off any more of Eli Roth's movies. Hostel 2 is coming out soon and will no doubt have hordes of young "gorno" fans flocking to the theatre to experience it (I hesitate to use the word "see" because I wonder exactly how much of the time their eyes will be directed at the screen). I can assure you that I will not be one of them. Unless Roth undergoes some sort of "religious conversion" tomorrow and suddenly decides to start making movies about sweet little girls and cute puppies (where the girls aren't raped and tortured and the puppies aren't dismembered and eaten), he can go his way and I will quietly go mine. Thank you very much.

Nothing personal. Have a nice life..... you sicko.*

*Sorry, couldn't resist.