Jul 31, 2007

Criticwatch 2007 – Know Your Shit, Period!

1 comments

My oh my, us critics can be a fickle bunch. Last year many took to the ink to cry out over the increase of studios hiding their films from us, neglecting the obvious data that it was business as usual, i.e. crappy movies and they know it. And those stats are on the rise for 2007. But the big outrage for this year began with a commentary by Variety’s editor-in-chief, Peter Bart, about critics being out-of-step with the public. I believe the article was originally entitled “DUH!” But when published under the less obvious headline “Film reviewers, moviegoers disagree”, the critics spoke up. From The Wall Street Journal to the message boards to virtual unknowns, everyone was a critic on the defense to prove their worth over Bart’s B.O. Honestly, who can blame them with the notion of print critics being higher up on the chopping block than gossip mongerers and horoscope scams. But if this was really going to be a serious discussion about the downfall of literate criticism, as it was shifted towards, then why did everyone choose to ignore the most obvious blights on the profession and the most serious threat to the anti-numbers approach to critical thinking? By now their names are synonymous with Criticwatch and I’m here to simplify this whole battle with the three words I hope to make synonymous with critics throughout this saddening movie landscape of ours – KNOW. YOUR. SHIT.

Going back to Bart’s article, which those without the internet should be able to find at the bottom of a parakeet’s cage, Peter draws conclusions on “the disconnect between the cinematic appetites of critics vs. those of the popcorn crowd” citing such early 2007 releases as Norbit, Ghost Rider and Wild Hogs. “The kids who storm their multiplexes to catch thergae opening of "Night at the Museum" don't give a damn what the critics think,” says Bart forgetting to add that the reverse feeling is probably mutual. As if playing to a crowd of nine year-olds are what A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis should be doing.

We’ll play Bart’s numbers game for a moment though. According to Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Top 100 films reviewed by critics in 2006, only four of them cracked $100 million at the box office. That’d be a great number for Bart’s argument as he could cite that a large percentage of those hundred were documentaries, indies and obscure foreign jobs. Therein lies the gaping hole in that number though. 2006 saw nineteen films reach nine digits. Casino Royale, The Departed, Borat and Dreamgirls shared a ranking in the Top 19 and the Critical Top 100. Of these 19, the weakest theater count belonged to Borat with 2611 (an eventual expansion over its 837 launch.) Going back to the critic 100, we find that only one other film on that list (Inside Man) to get as wide a release as the lowest on the $100 million list. And if you leap to the argument that the other 95 are films most people never heard of, you belong to the Peter Bart school of research.

At the Oscars alone, three were nominated for Best Picture (The Queen, Little Miss Sunshine, Letters from Iwo Jima), one was named the Best Documentary of 2006 (An Inconvenient Truth) and four others received acting nods (The Last King of Scotland, Half Nelson, Notes on a Scandal, Little Children). Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men were high-profile fantasies, horror geeks had support for The Descent and Slither, families could have taken their kids to Lassie and Akeelah & the Bee and discussion didn’t get more fervent than this time last year with the opening of United 93. Rounding out this portion of the list were Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, A Prairie Home Companion and Thank You For Smoking.

Is a critical disconnect with the public to blame for not one of those films hitting $60 million in ticket sales or should studios and theater owners be taking a hit for not giving greater access of these titles to a general public who might embrace them given half the chance? Don’t answer that yet. Getting back to the nineteen which reached $103 million or higher, just how harsh were us critics on these films the public ate up with a spoon? Well, twelve of them registered as fresh on the Tomatometer (a 60% or higher rating) and a total of fifteen got more than 50% positive. 15 of the 19 $100 million grossers had a majority of the critics on their side, eight with over 70% support and another three over 90%. Call me a traditionalist, but that seems awfully connected to “the popcorn crowd” of the summer where 11 of the films came from. The four true negatives were The Da Vinci Code, Click, The Break-Up and, the aforementioned, Night at the Museum.

Jump ahead to 2007, where four films have already broached $100 million compared to only one from last year (Ice Age: The Meltdown). Here the so-called “disconnect” is of the 50/50 variety with two of the films (300, Blades of Glory) getting 60%+ support and two (Wild Hogs, Ghost Rider) getting only 44%. COMBINED! Ghost Rider didn’t even screen for critics, so most reviews didn’t hit until Friday afternoon or even Saturday. Bart says “if the established media want to stay relevant, should their critics make a passing attempt to tune in to pop culture? In short, should at least someone on the reviewing staff try to be relevant to both quadrants?” Of course he never follows up on his definition of the “established media”. Is that a shot at the onliners gaining more and more prominence or his subtle jab at a profession that is losing credibility due to fanboys and converted reviewers uneducated in film history? I won’t give him any such credit on the latter, but the question remains – what is an established critic?

From the ground up, how many writers are there for exclusive online entities compared to newspapers and magazines in the USA alone? Too many to count right now, I assure you. Bart references Variety’s Crix Pix Chart, a collection of critics (mostly from critic groups) in large markets that didn’t give Ghost Rider a single positive review. That’s something to applaud rather than scorn. I hope they’re all established. I like my Rotten Tomatoes though and if Bart is in anyway suggesting that onliners are not part of the establishment than the Tomatometer seems like just what Dr. Bart has ordered – a staff of reviewers relevant to both the old school and the fanboys buying $156 million in tickets to one of three straight Nicolas Cage films hidden from the critics, both young and old?

Even the RT gang isn’t immune to segregation though, ciphoning off a group of print critics and select high-hit-count onliners like James Berardenelli known as the “Cream of the Crop.” Could Bart make his “disconnect” case by creating a divide here? In the majority of cases the “Cream” in their little Diplomat’s Club arrives at a lower percentage than the overall score. When you do the critical math on the big grossers just this year, Bart’s argument falls apart even further at the seams. Not only do you have the balance of geeky popcorn thinking improving the numbers decreased by those deemed worthy of the established tag, but those numbers (while better) still aren’t enough to rectify a bad movie when we all see it. Even us lesser critics on the Tomatometer come to the majority opinion that Ghost Rider and Wild Hogs are shit. In fact, in the case of the last 23 in the $100 million club, only six of them had enough juice to raise the overall-vs.-“CreamCrop” statistics by over 10%. The cream may not exactly be creaming all over 300 and numbers may not lie but this is a group of critics chosen by their numbers more than respect. Case in point – perennial quote whore Peter Travers is amongst their ranks.

WHAT MAKES A CRITIC?
So here we are in a world of numbers from box office and ticket prices to percentages and opposable thumbs. Fearful of the former rising and the latter diminishing on the whims of editors and studio publicists, such well-respected critics as Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal and Glenn Kenny of Premiere wrote direct responses to Bart; mostly of the bemused variety. Who was Bart to be throwing stones at the non-Spartan body types of the average critic? I admit to skipping the week at Columbia about pumping iron between Mise en scène and Eisenstein. Charles Taylor of Salon really began to hit the nail into Bart’s head though:

“These are rotten times to be a movie critic. In a bad economy, an independent voice delivering judgments on a multibillion-dollar industry that represents a tremendously lucrative source of ad revenue is likely to be perceived as a detriment. It has become increasingly common for critics to be pressured by their editors (who themselves may be under pressure from the sales department) to change their opinions. Pressure that no paper would think to bring to bear on their Op-Ed writers is routinely applied to movie critics. This has nothing to do with the quality of a critic's writing but solely with the content of their opinions, the area where a critic is supposed to be given free rein.”

The sad irony of Taylor’s truth is that many online writers are free from this kind of accepted censorship, but that freedom also causes their writing to suffer. Taylor’s on a roll though and I’m sorry to interrupt. Please, continue.

“By taking the line that critics serve no purpose Bart is -- intentionally or not -- doing the bidding of the studios, which, while maintaining a blasé public attitude toward critics, would love to be rid of them. What industry chief doesn't dream about being able to market his product in an atmosphere where the public has no information save that provided by the manufacturer? That's why, whether you like us or hate us, agree with us or think we're full of bull, you as consumers need movie critics. When the editor in chief of the publication known as "the Bible of showbiz" takes this public stand against critics, it's a fair bet that Hollywood is no longer feeling shy about making its true feelings about movie critics known. That's why, as moviegoers, you should feel nervous about Bart's article.”

Bravo, Charles! But here lies the proverbial rub. Taylor wrote that in 2003. He did it in response to an earlier Bart commentary attacking critics. It’s four years later and Bart is still spewing out the same suck-a-golf-ball-through-a-garden-hose verbiage for the studios that the whores of Criticwatch are famous for. So, where’s the outrage? I don’t expect to see the names of Earl Dittman and Shawn Edwards as anything but patron saints in Bart’s view of the critical d’elite, but why were others shying away from them and putting the spotlight on those doing their best to try and preserve criticism from being a bought and paid for profession? Taylor refers to Bart’s trilogy of critical thought.

““First, there's the "pop culture is yucky" school, meaning critics who reflexively reject any movie that has found mass acceptance. Most critics file their reviews before movies open and therefore don't know whether a film will be commercially successful or not, a detail Bart neglects to address. Second is the "obscurantist" school, critics who protect their air of authority by only praising obscure movies no one else has seen. Third, there's the "I admit to brain damage school." Apparently this is the category I fall into, since I fit Bart's criterion for brain damage: I praised Brian De Palma's "Femme Fatale." But since Bart admitted that the Guy Ritchie/Madonna "Swept Away" would have been on his own 10-best list, I don't think I'll be getting that CAT scan anytime soon.”

“POP CULTURE IS YUCKY”
Before Lewis Beale at The Reeler attacks star ratings and blames Siskel & Ebert for symbolizing the “precipitous dumbing down of film culture”, he offers an answer to the most important argument against Bart’s oversimplification. “The issue, however, isn't that it's OK to like junk. It's about what it means to be a critic, and what critics should be doing, but aren't. Critics are supposed to share perspective on a work, to think critically.” Beale continues, “Critics are not meant to be Masters of the Vox Populi, but people we read for intelligent, reasoned, probing analysis.” But not, apparently, on films such as Night at the Museum or Norbit which he deems “absolutely review-proof” and thereby unworthy of our attention. But how does good exist without evil? Why do we fall if not to learn how to pick ourselves back up? How can you correct mistakes if you’re only commenting on the positives? There must be a reason that The Nutty Professor is funny while Norbit isn’t. If “critics” aren’t covering them, then who is going to fill that void? The thought is more frightening than having to sit through Wild Hogs again.

THE SCHOOL OF THE OBSCURE
Ronald Bergan. Ever heard of him? He teaches film history and theory at an American university that goes unnamed in his response to Bart entitled “What every film critic must know.” Sounds vaguely important and I’m always looking to learn something from an elder professor. Excuse me while I sit in on his class. Mr. Bergan, you have the floor.

BERGAN: “It seems that film, the most accessible and popular art form, is just not treated on the same level or with the same degree of seriousness as the other arts.”

CHILDRESS: I agree. I have no idea what music critics are talking about and those food people deserve a pie to the crotch.

BERGAN: “Unfortunately, this has led to a deterioration in film criticism, which has become primarily descriptive, anecdotal and subjectively evaluative rather than analytical. Most reviewers deal primarily with the content of a film - anybody can tell you what a film is about - rather than the style, because they do not have the necessary knowledge to do so.”

CHILDRESS: God, I hate it when a review consists of nothing but plot synopsis. Those writers suck.

BERGAN: “Learning to read films is a complex, though enjoyable, business.”

CHILDRESS: Teach me read, Mr. Bergan. (In my best Robert DeNiro “Stanley” imitation)

BERGAN: “I believe that every film critic should know, say, the difference between a pan and a dolly shot, a fill and key light, direct and reflected sound, the signified and the signifier, diegetic and non-diegetic music, and how both a tracking shot and depth of field can be ideological.”

CHILDRESS: Cool, I can do that.

BERGAN: “They should know their jidai-geki from their gendai-geki, be familiar with the Kuleshov Effect and Truffaut's "Une certain tendance du cinéma français", know what the 180-degree rule is and the meaning of "suture".”

CHILDRESS: OK, I know about that editing effect with the soup and the dude and the 180-degree rule. Suture starred that President who got shot on 24, right?

BERGAN: “They should have read Sergei Eisenstein's The Film Sense and Film Form and the writings of Bela Balasz, André Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer, Roland Barthes, Christian Metz and Serge Daney. “

CHILDRESS: Wait, hold on…

BERGAN: “They should have seen Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire du Cinema, and every film by Carl Dreyer, Robert Bresson, Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel and Ingmar Bergman, as well as those of Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet, and at least one by Germaine Dulac, Marcel L'Herbier, Mrinal Sen, Marguerite Duras, Mikio Naruse, Jean Eustache and Stan Brakhage. They should be well versed in Russian constructivism, German expressionism, Italian neo-realism, Cinema Novo, La Nouvelle Vague and the Dziga Vertov group.”

CHILDRESS: How do you spell ma-rin-all, was it?

BERGAN: “These should be the minimum requirements before anyone can claim to be a film critic.”

CHILDRESS: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME???!!!

Granted, I’m having a little fun with Bergan’s didactic requirements but how is all of that going to relate to covering a season’s worth of popcorn fare? I read The Lover in college and I see it in no way influencing my review of Spider-Man 3. Does an incomplete knowledge of French cinema affect my ability to praise or criticize Kate Winslet’s performance in Little Children? Any sort of knowledge is a positive, but the way it’s applied is equally, if not more, important. Cinema is not under a solitary blanket of scrutiny and it’s up to each critic to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. As Beale wrote in his piece, “I mean, I love opera, but I'll be damned if I'm going to write a critique of Don Giovanni. I just don't know enough about the genre's subtleties.”

Precisely. I am vastly versed in the filmmakers I grew up with and as I discovered new ones I would go back and watch their earlier films, see how they progressed and researched as much as I could in-between watching more movies. That may not put me quite at the level of an A.O. Scott or Dargis, but I’m working at it. Take my opinion with a grain of salt if you must, but don’t dismiss it. Each genre and each film exists on its own playing field (just like each critic does) and Ty Burr of the Boston Globe, I believe, summed it up best:

“If you come out of a film, and I don't care if it's "Talledega Nights" or "Rules of the Game" or "2046," and you have thoughts about it and can articulate them, then you are indulging in criticism. Bergan worries that professional film criticism has become "subjectively evaluative rather than analytical," but he forgets that A) this is how most people process art, B) that's not a bad thing, and C) objectivity is a mirage. Dig deep enough into any critical opinion and you'll hit the mother lode of value judgment. To admit to that is honesty, not a failing.”

"I ADMIT TO BRAIN DAMAGE,” signed Pete Hammond
Burr stresses the need for each critic to be able to articulate their thoughts through the power of the written word. The rise of the film “reviewer” is intrinsically linked with the amount of junket whores and Cheshire personalities on TV working in a film review between their celebrity chats. They don’t have to write. They just have to watch, smile and bullshit their way through an explanation of what they saw. Basically they are nothing but the failing student in the back of the class who cheats and kisses enough ass for the system to pass him into the next grade. “The bottom line,” according to Beale is “it’s time for some critical triage. Time to weed the crap out of the system and let it find its own level,” bringing me back to my original point – Know Your Shit.

Critics have a responsible to their readers to live up to that standard and it’s about time the public started sharing in that accountability. The studios aren’t buying into Bart’s shtick nor Beale’s “review-proof” mentality when they fail to screen a movie for critics. The same is true in 2007 as it was in 2006 as it was ever since I first saw Dann Gire use the words “caveat emptor” to explain why he didn’t review a movie that week. Say it all with me.

“When a movie is not screened for critics in time for the Friday papers – THE MOVIE SUCKS!”

And I mention the Friday papers as a key element since a Wednesday or Thursday screening is unacceptable. It doesn’t count. You’re hiding it. You know you’re hiding it. Just admit it because it’s embarrassing when you try to justify it. Even more embarrassing are chicken littles like Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss who want to make it more complicated when he says things like “Implicit in Bart's argument is that a popular film is a good film, and vice versa. If critics can't validate that tautology, we're useless. That's why studios screen fewer and fewer of their films early, and if they do, they invite everyone but critics.”

Bullcock! When a studio has a confidence in their film, they show it to critics early and often. Hot Fuzz and Knocked Up are two perfect examples this year and Universal is notorious for their Tuesday night/week-of-opening screenings. Occasionally, but not often, a film is held closer to its release because its still be worked on as was the case recently with Grindhouse. In the most comical of their strategies, some movies are limited to “select press” which usually includes those “cream of the crop” folk who are chosen because they supposedly have the largest readership. So basically, they are showing their mediocre (at best) films to those who will be able to spread its mediocrity to the largest masses. In Chicago, members of the CFCA were invited to an afternoon screening of Fox’s Pathfinder only to get an e-mail 15 minutes later that the screening was canceled. What many of them didn’t realize at the time was that a third e-mail was sent out soon after letting “select” members know that the screening hadn’t been canceled. The explanation provided was that Fox didn’t want radio and online folk blowing the lid on the embargo even though the one and only person ever to commit this violation (aside from the “early reviews” of a certain TV show) was in the room for the screening. Select bullshit is more like it since anyone who saw Pathfinder knew it was shit.

THE LIST IS SHIT
Even by leaving out the Da Vinci factor (named after that Code movie) of studios not screening their films until the Wednesday before opening, 2007 has had over a dozen wide releases open “cold”. What do they all have in common besides a lack of confidence by their handlers? Only one could crack the 30% barrier of positivity at Rotten Tomatoes and that was this past weekend’s Next. And only one other was higher than 25%. Wonder where Bart stands on that title actually being Ghost Rider.

In the ensuing catch-up that occurs from online writers to the second-and-third-tier print critics, many of whom probably none too happy to dish out for admission fees just to do their job, the truth comes out.

21-24% - The Hitcher, Dead Silence, The Abandoned, The Invisible, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls
10-15% - Slow Burn, The Messengers, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Primeval
8% - Blood and Chocolate
4% - Kickin’ It Old Skool
2% - Epic Movie

Bart would likely counter that the numbers for those titles prove his point. Seven of those films belong to the horror genre (insert Tyler Perry joke here) and his beloved Ghost Rider is a geek fest. An argument can be made that horror films usually get a predisposed bad rap from the critics, but The Host and Grindhouse were screened and well-received. You could even throw Disturbia into that category. You don't think we're prone to sequels like The Hills Have Eyes 2? Then why would the same studio screen 28 Weeks Later for us? If Ghost Rider is so not the critical cup-o-tea for objectivity then why screen Spider-Man 3 or the Pirates of the Caribbean films or any big budget blockbuster destined to be “review-proof”? Because most of us know our shit and the few serious dissenters looking to fill up that year-end worst list with “disappointments” rather than all-out suckitude aren’t going to be enough to put (at worst) mediocre films in the sub-25% range.

WHAT YOU CAN DO. YES, YOU
How many millions of dollars have been wasted on shit? Over $291 million to date just on the films listed above. America has spent over $300 million on product that the manufacturers have zero confidence in. As Americans, don’t we get ripped off enough in this country? Aren’t we lied to and sold plates of crap on a daily basis? Aren’t you tired of not knowing who has a secret agenda when they’re telling you “the truth?” If a film is withheld from the critics for any reason, JUST SAY NO! Don’t go see it. Not a matinee nor a discount house. If you’re desperate to spend that $10, give it to charity. Or give half to charity and half to rent the DVD where the film should have gone straight to in the first place.

Someone once said that “insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results.” So, maybe I’m just on the fast track to Bellevue yelling out to an unresponsive public the same shtick (as it’s been called) at hopes someone would listen. Then again, Vince Lombardi said “the big thing in being a successful team is repetition of what you’re doing, either by word of mouth, blackboard, or specifically by work on the field. You repeat, repeat, repeat as a unit.” And that’s why critics who know their shit must stick together. We must continue doing what we’re doing even in the face of ineptitude by filmmakers, the paying public and especially those who dare to care themselves our peers. Our readers can then pay greater attention to knowing and subsequently picking out the shit to avoid. They can start by identifying the brown spots in these lists.


AS GOOD AS SPIELBERG? REALLY?
Don’t make comparisons the film can’t possibly live up to. I recently compared Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. But I did everything I could to back it up. Can these really say the same?

“A combination of Network and The Player. “ (The TV Set) - Rex Reed
“Reminiscent of Fargo and Memento! “ (First Snow) – Jenelle Riley, Backstage
“It's Psycho Meets Saw…“ (Vacancy) - Larry Carroll, MTV News
“It’s like Rocky with air guitars! “ (Air Guitar Nation) – Ain’t It Cool News
“It’s City Slickers on bikes! “ (Wild Hogs) – Pete Hammond

“It will remind you of E.T. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Jeffrey Lyons
“Captures the moonbeam awe of E.T. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“One of the best sci-fi fantasy adventures since E.T. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Maria Salas
“E.T. for a new generation…“ (The Last Mimzy) - Paula Nechak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“It’s a cross between A Wrinkle In Time and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Ty Burr
“On a par with Jaws. “ (The Host) - Harry Knowles
“It’s a dream fusion of Jaws and Little Miss Sunshine.” (The Host) - Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune


NOT IN A CROWDED THEATRE
This free speech costs somebody somewhere ten bucks.

“Carnahan can still fire up action and laughs like nobody’s business. “ (Smokin’ Aces) – Peter Travers
“The performances set Zodiac on fire. “ (Zodiac) – Clay Smith
“This movie is on fire! “ (Alpha Dog) – Pete Hammond

“A sleek, surprising and surefire thriller... “ (Fracture) – Pete Hammond
“A sure-fire thriller in the tradition of The Bourne Identity. “ (Shooter) – Edward Douglas
“A surefire family hit. “ (Firehouse Dog) – Susan Walker, Toronto Star


STOP SCARING AUDIENCES WITH OVERHYPE
Not every thriller is worthy of Hitchcock nor are they liable to peel away or explode a portion of your body. Pick your words carefully.

“Absolutely outstanding and eye-popping!“ (Meet the Robinsons) – Bonnie Laufer
“An audacious eye-popping debut.“ (Tears of the Black Tiger) – David Fear, Time Out NY
“Prepare your eyes for popping – they just might fly out of their sockets!“ (300) – Peter Travers

“A high-energy movie with heart and the dance moves will make your jaw drop!“ (Stomp the Yard) – Rachel Smith, KVVU-TV

“Hair-raising!“ (Maxed Out) – David Edelstein
“… a twisted trek with hair-raising jolts.“ (The Number 23) – Pete Hammond
“…a hair-raising thriller!“ (Next) – Larry King

“A tough, bare-knuckle film... “ (Breach) – Rex Reed
“a ton of white-knuckle action. “ (Shooter) – Joel Siegel
“a real white-knuckler. “ (Disturbia) – Tony Toscano

“A nail-biter.“ (Disturbia) – Peter Travers
“An exceptionally suspenseful nail-biter with a shocking conclusion. “ (Fracture) – Rex Reed

“A mind-bending, nonstop mesmerizer of a movie. “ (Zodiac) – Peter Travers
“Mind-bending! “ (The Number 23) - Pete Hammond
“A mind-bending adventure. “ (Next) - Tim Estiloz, CN-8-TV
“A mind-teaser! “ (First Snow) – Stephen Holden
“Mind-warping fun!“ (Next) – Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“…Ambitious, mind-opening…“ (The Last Mimzy) - Paula Nechak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“one of the most audacious, mind-blowing characters you’ll ever meet. “ (The Hoax) – Jan Wahl, CBS
“Mind-blowing! “ (300) – Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today
“The ending will blow you away. “ (Perfect Stranger) – Kevin Steincross
“The ending will blow you away. “ (Next) - Tim Estiloz, CN-8-TV

“Filled with edge-of-your-seat action and excitement. “ (Shooter) – Chuck Thomas
“An edge-of-your-seat thriller! “ (Hannibal Rising) – Steve Chupnick, Movieweb
“It keeps you on the edge of your seat. “ (Breach) – Kelli Gillespie, FOX-TV
“A terrific thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat! “ (The Reaping) – Shawn Edwards
“...A first class thriller...It will keep you on the edge of your seat. “ (Vacancy) – Earl Dittman
"An action-packed blood-and-metal thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat." (The Hitcher) - Maria Salas
“Guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat! “ (First Snow) – Pete Hammond
“A blockbuster of suspense that will have you jumping out of your seat. “ (Disturbia) – Pete Hammond
“Packed with jump-out-of-your-seat moments. “ (The Reaping) – Dan Jewel

“Seizes you by the collar and never lets you go! “ (After the Wedding) – Darrell Hartman, The New York Sun
“…will grab you by the throat. “ (Fracture) – Pete Hammond
“…holds you captive from start to finish. “ (Breach) – Rex Reed
“Watch out or the snap ending will give you whiplash. “ (Fracture) – Joel Siegel
“Doesn't let go even after the final twist. “ (Fracture) – Gene Shalit

“The accelerating plot twists are more than just clever surprises. “ (The Lives of Others) – David Ansen
“Enough twists and turns to full four weepies.“ (After the Wedding) – Rob Nelson, The Village Voice
“Loaded with laughs, action, excitement, twists, attitude – you name it.! “ (Smokin’ Aces) – Pete Hammond
“Full of twists and turns…“ (Perfect Stranger) – Mose Persico
“Full of shocking twists and turns. “ (Premonition) – Earl Dittman
“Shooter is a thriller with a twist or two... “ (Shooter) – Joel Siegel
“An adventure with a twist that will leave you breathless. “ (Bridge to Terabithia) – Lisa Stanley

“Breathtaking! “ (Bridge to Terabithia) – Bryan Erdy, Gannett News
“Absolutely breathtaking from beginning to end! “ (Meet the Robinsons) – Mark S. Allen
“Sally Field is breathtaking. “ (Two Weeks) – Bob Rivers, CBS Radio
“It’s an excellent hold-your-breath thriller. “ (Disturbia) – Joel Siegel
“A breath of fresh air! “ (Puccini for Beginners) – HX Magazine


NEVER WRITE A REVIEW ON AN EMPTY STOMACH
Are we thinking about movies or Rachael Ray?

“A delicious Robert Altman-like mosaic. The elegant, worldly movie leaves you with the satisfied glow of sharing a healthful nouvelle repast with stimulating company and topping it off with the best Champagne.” (Avenue Montaigne) - Stephen Holden
“A deliciously funny comedy! Difficult to resist!” (The Valet) - Kenneth Turan
“Deliciously smart.” (The Hoax) - David Ansen
“Deliciously bizarre!” (American Cannibal) – Helen Yun, New York Post
“A delicious movie treat.” (The Hoax) - Pete Hammond
“A bona fide cinematic treat that plays out with intelligence and wit.” (Fracture) - Claudia Puig

“A delectable, irresistibly droll film.” (Color Me Kubrick) - Owen Gleiberman
“A delectable comedy! A sinfully delicious bonbon!” (The Valet) - Stephen Holden
“A cinematic sugar rush.” (Tears of the Black Tiger) – Richard Brody, New Yorker
“A French soufflé.” (Avenue Montaigne) – Ella Taylor, Voice
“A bracing, honey of a movie.” (The Last Mimzy) - Gene Shalit
“A crackerjack cast.” (The TV Set) - Lisa Schwarzbaum
“Will Ferrell is a ferocious marshmallow.” (Blades of Glory) - Stephen Holden
“Hopkins and Gosling go at each other with relish.” (Fracture) – Peter Travers


TAKE A COLD SHOWER
Everyone has different tastes when it comes to men and women. But I have yet to see any film which has given me an orgasm with a notepad and pen in my hands.

“Sexy.” (Factory Girl) – Emmanuel Levy, Emanuellevy.com
“A sexy slice of ‘60s cool.” (Factory Girl) – James King, Radio One
“Sienna Miller is sensationally sexy in a breakthrough performance.” (Factory Girl) – Roger Friedman
“It’s a marvelous movie-movie, with a new screen goddess Carice Van Houten.” (Black Book) - David Edelstein
“Salma Hayek embodies the ultimate femme fatale!” (Lonely Hearts) – Ronnie Scheib, Variety
“Zodiac stars a trio of beauties – Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo – all at the top of their performance game.” (Zodiac) - Manohla Dargis
“Pleasing and often moving…Wilberforce is…a true believer, a crusader, a man of action…he’s at once pure and seductive, a dashing, romantic figure…unfailingly attractive.” (Amazing Grace) - Manohla Dargis
“A dream cast with a dashing hero!” (Amazing Grace) - Stephen Farber
“A screwball comedy of sexual confusion.” (Puccini for Beginners) – Stephen Holden

“This sexy, action-packed film is an awful lot of fun!” (Grindhouse) – Leonard Maltin
“A sexy, thoughtful, smart film.” (Breaking and Entering) – Richard Roeper
“Funny and dark, and really sexy.” (Black Snake Moan) – Richard Roeper
“…thrilling, sexy and totally mesmerizing.” (300) – Paul Fischer
“Sexy and smart…” (Disturbia) – Earl Dittman
“A smart and sexy thriller.” (Shooter) – Rachel Smith, FOX-TV
“A sexy thriller that keeps you guessing every step of the way. The ending will blow you (away).” (Perfect Stranger) – Kevin Steincross
“Pack your spandex, stuff your crotch and press on your temporary tattoos, we’re going to Finland!” (Air Guitar Nation) – High Times

“Sexually charged.” (Factory Girl) – Bill Bregoli
“…chock-full of sexy surprises!” (Boy Culture) – Clay Smith
“Rich, juicy chunks of bravado, camaraderie, sex talk and pop-culture.” (Grindhouse) – Peter Travers
“Seriously dirty. A suave and salacious new movie.” (The Exterminating Angels) - A.O. Scott
“Raunch of the most decorous kind.” (The Exterminating Angels) - Manohla Dargis
“Raw sexuality and fever-pitched emotion.” (Red Road) – James Rocchi, Cinematical
“Red-hot! Not since Basic Instinct has a modern noir gotten so playfully aroused!” (The Exterminating Angels) – Rob Nelson, Village Voice
“A surreal masturbatory fantasy!” (Wild Tigers I Have Known) - Stephen Holden
“All but bursts with outsize passions.” (After the Wedding) - Joe Morgenstern
“Mark Wahlberg is Shooter and that is a good thing.” (Shooter) - Kenneth Turan

HIDDEN FROM CRITICS. PRAISED BY WHORES
The studios held them until the last minute and yet still got praise.

Code Name: The Cleaner
“Good-natured and funny. The ever-foxy Liu and the amusingly addled Entertainer make a solid comic team.” – Michael Ordona, Los Angeles Times

The Hitcher
“A truly twisted villain.” – Christy Lemire
"The Hitcher is an action-packed blood-and-metal thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat." - Maria Salas

Ghost Rider
“A high-energy thrill ride!” - Shawn Edwards

The Messengers
“...Eerie...Haunting...It doesn't get more terrifying than this.” - Earl Dittman
“Chilling and effective. The Messengers delivers the scares.” – Staci Wilson, Scifi.com

Next
“A hair-raising thriller! Nicolas Cage is incredible!” - Larry King
“A mind-bending adventure. Smart and action-packed. The ending will blow you away. Nicolas “Cage and Jessica Biel sizzle!” - Tim Estiloz, CN-8-TV
“Mind-warping fun! Next keeps you thinking, guessing and entertained!” – Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Sensational action!” – Jack Mathews
“Exciting!” – Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
“Brilliantly executed!” – Ella Taylor, LA Weekly


THE YEAR AIN’T OVER YET
You want to know how you do it when you’re really excited about a movie in the first few months? Pay attention.

“I hesitate, given the early date and the project’s modesty, to call it one of the best films of the year. I prefer to think of it as the antidote to all of the others.” (Into Great Silence) – A.O. Scott
“One of the richest and most satisfying films of the year so far.” (After the Wedding) – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“You won’t encounter many movies nearly as good this year from anywhere!” (Summer in Berlin) – Andrew Sarris
“One of the most amazing experiences you will have in a theatre this year!” (Meet the Robinsons) – Bonnie Laufer
“One of the great moviegoing experiences of the year!” (The Lives of Others) – Glenn Whipp

That’s how you do it. It’s too early to make sweeping statements like…

“One of the best movies of the year!” (Year of the Dog) – Ben Lyons
“…one of the year’s best pictures.” (Private Fears in Public Places) – Phillip Lopate, Film Comment
“The best summer movie you’ll see this year is coming out several months early.” (The Host) – David Fear, Blender
“The first great comedy of the year!” (Wild Hogs) - Ross King, KTLA-TV/Los Angeles
“The comedy event of the year!” (Wild Hogs) – Erica Land, NBC-TV/Houston

“The freshest, most surprising American movie this year.” (The Hoax) – David Ansen
“The funniest, craziest, wildest comedy of the year.” (Are We There Yet?) – Shawn Edwards
“The most fun you will have at the movies all year.” (TMNT) – Mike Sargent, WBAI Radio
“The new year’s most terrifying thriller.” (Hannibal Rising) – Pete Hammond
“The most electrifying thriller of the year” (Hannibal Rising) – Pete Hammond

And this is going a bit far, isn’t it?

“One of the darkest, creepiest and most tantalizing thrillers I have seen in years.” (Zodiac) – Rex Reed
“The most gripping suspense film in years.” (The Lookout) – Stephen Farber
“The funniest, most original comedy in years.” (Meet the Robinsons) – Greg Russell
“One of the most powerful films in years.” (Reign Over Me) – Pete Hammond
“The most sophisticated, smartest, coolest action movie in years!” (Smokin’ Aces) – Mark S. Allen
“I haven’t laughed this much in years!” (Wild Hogs) – Marian Etoile Watson, FOX-TV/New York

“One of the smartest, nastiest, funniest and most truthful send-ups of television network programming ever made.” (The TV Set) – Rex Reed
“One of the greatest monster movies ever made!” (The Host) – Logan Hill, New York Magazine
“One of the best fright films ever.” (Disturbia) – Sandra Varner, Celebrity Profiles
“One of the most fun films you’ll ever see.” (Air Guitar Nation) – Ain't It Cool News
“One of the coolest movies you’ll ever see!” (Stomp the Yard) – Shawn Edwards

“On almost every level there’s never been a monster movie like The Host.” (The Host) – Derek Elley, Variety
“300 Looks like nothing you’ve ever seen…” (300) – Lev Grossman, Time
“Unlike anything you have ever seen before.” (Bridge to Terabithia) – Clay Smith
“Unlike anything you could ever imagine!” (Meet the Robinsons) – Larry King
“Unlike anything you’ve seen on the big screen.” (Stomp the Yard) – Melanie Moon, CW-TV
“You've never seen anything like it.” (Premonition) - Michelle Fizer, WSVN/Fox-Miami


THE MUST-SEE
It’s time to create some new kind of by-law for critics using the “must-see” line. Sports all have their rules and penalties. Shouldn’t every critic be limited to how many times they can order their readers to drop everything and head out to the multiplex? Those who use star or letter ratings, I think can all agree, that their top rating are the ones they are the most enthusiastic about; the true “cream of the crop” that find themselves in the running for the best of the year. The average number of films competing for a spot on a year-end list is usually about fifteen. The average paying moviegoer gets out to the theaters (maybe) once every other week. That’s 26 movies a year.

How about we make a new rule then? Let’s say every critic each month gets to recommend one film that the public “must-see” and one good enough to be called “very good” and worth their ten bucks. If nothing is worthy in January (and what ever is?) you can carry over those major recommendations to February and so on down the line. BUT…said critic must use a certain amount of discretion and not waste their picks. I’ll get the ball rolling and show you how it’s done.

Everything in January sucked. Therefore my two picks for that month give me four in February. I’d say Breach was worthy of a “very good” pick for audiences. So for March I now have three Must-See’s at my discretion and two secondarys, one of which I’m happy to use on 300 and then for Grindhouse in April where I exercise my first option on what I believe is “the first must-see movie of 2007” – Hot Fuzz! With the releases of May pending, I also know I’ll be using the “must-see” tag on Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up in June.

Yeah, I know it’s a stupid and unfeasible idea but it would make for an interesting chart to guide moviegoers towards what to wisely spend their money on. Do you really want to be telling people on a fixed budget to rush out and see Fracture?

“The must-see movie of 2007!” (Bridge to Terabithia) – Susan Granger
“The first must-see film of the year.” (Amazing Grace) – Paul Fischer
“The first must-see film of 2007!” (Offside) – Michael Koresky, Interview
“The first must-see movie of 2007!” (Starter for Ten) – Scott Mantz
“Must see!” (God Grew Tired of Us) – Marie Claire
“…A must see!” (Beyond the Gates) – Baz Bamigboye, The Daily Mail
“…A must-see…” (Fracture) - Elizabeth Weitzman
“A must-see!” (Amazing Grace) – Rebecca Rothbaum, O Magazine
“A must-see!” (Wild Hogs) – Bessie Tsionis, Comcast CN8 Network/Boston
“A must-see!” (The TV Set) – Christy Lemire
“There’s nothing else like it. A must-see!” (Grindhouse) – Christy Lemire

“A must-see movie!” (Offside) – Rebecca Rothbaum, O Magazine
“A must-see movie ****.” (Freedom Writers) – Shawn Edwards
“A must-see for the entire family!” (Bridge to Terabithia) – Lisa Stanley
“A must-see for families and for kids.” (The Last Mimzy) – Joel Siegel
“A must-see laugh-out-loud comedy.” (I Think I Love My Wife) – Pat Collins, UPN9/WWOR
“Shooter is the movie to see.” (Shooter) – Chuck Thomas

“Don’t miss!” (Triad Election) – Time Out NY
“Don’t miss it.” (Factory Girl) – Roger Friedman
“…Don’t miss it!” (Perfect Stranger) – Mose Persico
“Not to be missed.” (Music and Lyrics) – Chuck Thomas
“…too important and too good to miss!” (The Situation) – Roger Friedman
“Potent and unmissable!” (The Lives of Others) – Richard Corliss
“An experience you shouldn’t miss.” (After the Wedding) – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“You must, must, must see this movie!” (The Host) – Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Do not miss this film.” (Zodiac) – Pete Hammond
“A must-see movie.” (The Number 23) – Pete Hammond
“It’s a must-see movie!” (The TV Set) – Pete Hammond
“A movie you must see.” (Reign Over Me) – Pete Hammond
“Do yourself a big favor and put this movie at the top of your must-see list.” (Starter for 10) – Pete Hammond

You see the name on those last five quotes? Those are just five of the 24 times that this load from Maxim magazine has been quoted this year through April. For thirteen straight weeks, Hammond has been out getting his name and his publication in print, and is on pace for over 75 instances of self-promotion. Half of his quotes have been for films that have a Rotten Tomato and nearly half of those (The Number 23, Premonition, Hannibal Rising, Wild Hogs, The Condemned) have a sub-20% rating. Our 2006 Peter Travers Whore of the Year is the EVEN money favorite to repeat in ’07.

At 5-to-2 is perpetual bridesmaid Shawn Edwards is the only one with any juice right now to upset Hammond. His 10 quotes of ’07 include six below the 30% level including Ghost Rider. There's your support, Bart! A Tyler Perry movie has passed and the Wayans don’t have anything on the schedule this year, so it may be hard for Edwards to match Hammond’s score. But if a whore is good at one thing – it’s chasing down the hard – and Edwards will plant himself firmly on any studio tentpole he can find to get his name mentioned.

Also high up on the whorin’ scorin’ this year are Jim Ferguson (3-1) recommending The Reaping and Wild Hogs, two-time whore of the year recipient Earl Dittman (4-1) out there for Premonition, the Sandra Bullock stinker also hyped by Mark S. Allen (9-2) looking to get back into the Whore Top Ten. Last year’s runner-up, Jeffrey Lyons, has been quoted 12 times so far, which should get him around 40 for the year – a welcome double-digit drop from ’06.

Maybe the next time Peter Bart starts up a rant about how shitty critics are these days, hopefully he’ll turn his attention to the red-flagged names associated with Criticwatch. Cause the number one rule about knowing your shit is first being able to know where the stink is coming from.


This article is written by by Erik Childress
and officially published at http://efilmcritic.com/feature.php?cat=criticwatch&latest=1

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Bye, Polar: An Interview With "Arctic Tale" Director Sarah Robertson

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Two years after Morgan Freeman and his penguin posse marched their way towards staggering box office success and a Best Documentary Oscar, a doc concerning polar bears comes as little surprise. For 'Arctic Tale' director Sarah Robertson, the success of 'March of the Penguins' only came as a relief.

“I was ecstatic to know that Penguins did so well, because it proved what [husband/cinematographer Adam Ravetch] and I always knew, that there was an audience for this stuff,” said Robertson in a recent phone interview. “It belongs on the big screen, and it showed that there was an audience out there for it.”

The film represents fifteen years of Robertson and Ravetch’s work in the Arctic, although only the last four were more dedicated to making a movie out of their experience. “We didn’t know we were making Arctic Tale, but it ended up being an accumulation of discovering all of the animals and drama taking place over that period of time. We only spent the last four years more actively trying to get it on the big screen.”

Since it seemed that people would have trouble following the main animal protagonists throughout, they named in an effort to help. “We had tried calling them just Walrus and Bear, but audiences still had trouble. You know, they’re not Jane and Tom.” Eventually, the female polar bear was referred to as Nanu, while the female walrus became Seela, with each moniker being derived from their respective Inuktuk names. It comes as no small surprise given the timespan and conditions of shooting that Nanu and Seela represent composite characters of the Arctic. “No, they’re not just one bear or walrus, but a representation of all animals in the North.”

However, just because the animals are named doesn’t mean they can speak for themselves. Enter Queen Latifah. “At the end, we always knew that we’d have an A-list, highly recognizable storyteller, because Penguins did it and it went well for that,” shared Robertson. “We wanted a woman storyteller, a comedienne, since the story was pretty heavy, and we needed someone to put as much lightness into the movie as they could, to provide the comedy and accessibility to young people, but carry the weight and authority of the film, and she was perfect for that.”

Although the opening credits and film that follows might suggest otherwise, the inclusion of Kristin Gore, daughter of Al, to the narration staff was for laughs more than lessons. “Kristin Gore is a comedy writer, she’s worked on ‘SNL’ and ‘Futurama.’ She was brought on near the very end to infuse some funny lines. Contrary to what people tend to assume, she had nothing to do with the climate change message in the film.”

And as for the film’s evident message? “I don’t know if climate change can be reverse or held at bay, that’s really science stuff. We need the film to show and celebrate the qualities of these animals and their will to survive, and their dignity and charisma in the face of climate change, on the front line of creatures dealing with it, more and faster in the Arctic than anywhere else, to show them responding and celebrate the ultimate result: that these animals have the capacity to change and that’s really a metaphor for us, for humans who’ll have to face these changes with courage,” Robertson explained. “It’s really a morality tale, an inspirational tale, and not one of politics.”

The release of Arctic Tale doesn’t mark the end of the couple’s efforts. “We have other films in development, but our work in the Arctic will certainly continue. It is a big part of our lives, and we hope to capture this time capsule of animals adapting before our very eyes.”

Arctic Tale opens today in NY and LA, and will be in theatres everywhere August 17.

*Interviewed by William Goss. This article is officially published at http://efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2231

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2007 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL COVERAGE

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by Marc Kandel

Much as I’m an Autumn guy, Spring is New York City’s crowning moment. In the midst of our planet’s spiraling decline into the possibility of:

A. Waterworld (hopefully bereft of annoying tatooed children but with plenty of Jeanne Tripplehorn lookalikes)

B. Desert Planet a la Mad Max/Cherry 2000/Judge Dredd (damn, really not coming up with good examples on this one)

C. Ice Age minus cute squirrel/rat hybrid lightening up our mass extinction with zany antics as we fail to outrun freezing temperatures on foot Roland Emmerlich-style

D. Planet of the Apes–eh, probably not… we’re gonna kill every living thing on this rock waaay before we go teets up, and my luck it would be the Burton version anyhow....

...we NY’ers have the promise of two, sometimes three perfect weeks of moderate, sunny weather with crisp, cool breezes coasting between buildings, no steaming asphalt, no baking concrete, no collective pit stain/sweatcrotch scent wafting through the streets- an excruciatingly rare miracle in this overcrowded kennel.

The bustling commerce is augmented with farmers markets and street fairs along the sidewalks (mozzarella fried in sweet cornmeal pockets a not-to-be-missed treat), the sparkling skyscrapers wring a look up from the most jaded city dweller, the planted trees on the avenues stippling bright green over grey stone and dark glass, the clouds race over a sky that’s more periwinkle than blue (more of an autumn thing, the blue), and the parks be it Central, Battery, Riverside, or just the fenced off patches of green amid the concrete are little swaths of Elysium (Union Square is my particular favorite in May), you aren’t being driven to the ground by that wet, oppressive heat that’s just around the corner- the sunlight splashes rather than beats. The crowds are present, but just short of the obnoxious throngs to come.

For a short time, everything’s just right in the world- people are eager to explore rather than wearily trudge from point A to point B, walking with ease and wonder, sampling the sense of pleasantness and spring clearance sales. And the women… Ah, the women lose those long black coats and scarves and break out the midriff and leg revealing outfits- and these are the women that should, mind you, not the August hogs that will soon be splayed out on the subway seats, munching on spider crab legs as their protruding belly bulges threateningly over their Denham skirt that finds scant purchase on their upper, upper thigh, threatening imminent visual onslaught by squamous, Elder Godlike camel toe.

As I said, I’m more of a purple/grey day October guy, so I can give with the life affirming joys of spring only oh so much, but it's a nice time to be here, and a great backdrop to the Tribeca Film Festival, providing a natural sense of renewal and excitement to the unveiling of so many creative ventures and opportunities.

And it appears I’m not going to be able to give you much else to go on beyond that, as I’m woefully deficient in coverage this year. For that, you have my sincerest apologies.
Here’s my full tally of reviews for the first week of the festival: http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16162&reviewer=358)

Yep, just one. And yes, I've never learned how to link the fucking text to the url links on this site- I've asked, I've put the data in that I thought would do it, and its never worked. Fuck it.

It’s a decent offering from Italy, putting classical comedic elements to use amid a fictionalized account of Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile on the isle of Elba and the subsequent hundred days of his return to power. There’s a smidge of tragedy thrown in that might irritate or distract those expecting a through and through farce, but I found the addition of political upheaval and brutality underlined the protagonist’s weaknesses in such a way as to effectively advance his journey, and the plot overall. Four Stars.

I didn’t see a single film the rest of the week, even over Sat-Sun. More on that in a second. I did manage a few other feature screenings in the next week:

First, Day Zero: http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16178&reviewer=358], a frightening look at an America with the Draft reinstated. I’m surprised this didn’t pick up more kudos, considering its one of the best September 11 Attack explorations to be found without beating you over the head with… well, September 11th. I really hope this gets a buyer (evidently only 4 films were picked up by the money at this fest, most backers evidently saving their checks for Cannes), because it's a frightening and enlightening exploration for folks who haven’t had to grow up in the shadow of the draft. Really, what the hell would you do if the Government decided to send you over to Habib’s House of Insurgency? Try and see this film, and let people know you want to see it get a run at the local multiplex please. Four Stars.

Then, Charlie Bartlett: http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15614&reviewer=358], my personal highlight of the festival- a synopsis here would be difficult, as its one of those white guys vicariously reliving high school through a guy who they wish they were back then, so just read the review. Tastes may vary, but I fucking loved it and want to get some buzz out there. Five Stars

Two winners, but this year’s been a real bitch at the ol’ festival screening-wise. Like many folks, I put in a solid work week to make my coin and it ain’t from doing reviews. As much time as I spend at and going to and from my cubicle (45 at work, 10 in train, 2.5 in subway per week), I’m rabidly protective of free time and if I’m offered a service and choose to take advantage of that service only to find my time wasted when the service is not functioning, its time to pick up my ball and go home, no regrets.

The TFF press office was friendly and courteous but perfected their strategy late in the game. In their defense, its an extraordinarily busy two weeks for them and they got their act together in the latter half, implementing suggestions about email inquiries for press screenings rather than office visits which piss away precious lunch breaks. They arranged a press screening or two for which I am grateful as I can’t do too many since they predominantly fall in the middle of my 8-5 workday.

Considering there’s a year between festivals to plan however… at the very least, better communication would have helped from the get-go, and I wouldn’t have had to lose a perfectly nice Saturday coming into the city for a screening I was told I’d have a reservation for only to discover none was forthcoming without even an email update. I had to use that fucking “I think I’m on the list” line; a bit of Studio 54esque lingo that tastes like dogshit on the tongue of a guy who’s never on the list, doesn’t expect to be, doesn’t want to be, which returned alternating blank and apologetic looks. I shrugged it off and waited two hours in line only to not make the cut when it came time to let the crowd in. I tried calling the TFF office on my cell, and after explaining the situation to two different people was told that the theater in question was not reserving tickets for the press. Ugh. I was so disgusted that in fury I wrote Sunday off as well and spent a nice day with my wife- that was me being stubborn and letting my stupid temper get the best of me about the whole thing, so don’t blame the festival folks.

I’m not a lazy prick, I don’t have an overblown sense of entitlement; I’ll stand in line with the next guy and pay up if I feel it’s necessary. FYI- 18 to 25 dollars a ticket = not necessary. Ah yes, did I mention skyrocketing ticket prices from the already considerable $13 last year? For that amount, not only should the film be a guaranteed five star epic with nude models, dinosaurs and rock stars, but I should be able to take the print, open my gas tank and expect 20 gallons of premium unleaded to pour out of the reel.

What’s really alarming is a survey that festival volunteers passed out in the lines prior to the film that asked a lot of questions about my income and what it’s spent on (as in MP3 Players or Plasma Screens) leading me to believe that as steep as prices were this year, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Those of you that pay mortgage or rent know exactly where I’m coming from. My boss, a regular festival attendee has the scratch to pick up 10-15 tickets at $18 a pop. Me? Not so much. And if I’ve got to come up with $100 dollars in 2008 to see five films whose quality is pretty much a crapshoot? No promises.

Enough kvetching, onto the Short Film Lightning Round:

The last day of TFF I saw Express Stops Only, a short film collection sporting the intro: September 11th is viewed through a different set of “eyes”… by various filmmakers. Horseshit. One film was a little ditty about 911, the rest just take place in NY, and frankly could have taken place in any large city, the tagline not only misleading, but needlessly infringing on the vision of the various filmmakers who didn’t need a commemorative ribbon stamped on their ideas. Moving on:

Say Can You See ** - A CGI requiem for the World Trade Center attacks. Initially, the world is seen through the eyes of the quarter-fed viewfinders atop the Empire State Building. They observe the attack, the heavens weep stars, photos of Ashcroft and Bush float around, the latter smashing his pug against the screen in a large ugly gesture of confrontation, the viper nestled in our bosom, and then we swoop back to our original perspective, the anthropomorphic viewfinder who finally sees a return to hopeful times as a child comes to look through his lenses, releasing an American flag balloon into the sky. Gebus, are you kidding me?

Had we stayed with the viewfinder on a journey watching the people of New York take the hit, pick themselves up and get their shit together again, maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed with the results. All I saw was a computer-generated feel-gooder morph into a political hissy fit. If the director needed to get that out of his system, great. Did nothing for me. I’ll pop a second star on for the clean, simple look and tight patterns of the animation, particularly on the viewfinders. Next.

A Nick In Time ***** - Tense, effective narrative of a barber defusing a volatile situation when a boy enters his shop asking for a haircut, large jacket and baggy pants obscuring his possessions, hand in pocket clutching what can only be a weapon. The barber is attending to one of his regulars, and both know the boy is working himself up to action.

The setup alone is riveting, but then the barber begins a tale flashing back to his younger days just starting in the business, his boss allowing him to cut the hair of a prominent black politician who needs a fast, perfect haircut on his way to meet the mayor. Nervous over handling this pillar of the community, he makes a mistake in the cut and must fix matters discreetly and effectively. The past and present interweave as the boy listens to the tale, the customer waits for the hand to emerge from the pocket and the barber cuts and talks, maintaining his composure and trying to reach this boy who has not yet made his move through the tale of this defining moment in the barber’s life when a mistake was made and a second chance was needed.

There’s a twist at the end which I won’t reveal here, suffice to say that the barber is protecting more than his and the customer’s life. A compelling, fascinating piece, told with a sure and solid hand by director B´e Garrett.

Red Shoes ** - The owner of a small massage parlor cannot afford a pair of nice shoes her daughter has her heart set on, and decides to take the drastic measure of utilizing the ol’ old rub-n’-tug on a client for extra cash. The customer offers more money in return for additional pleasures and the woman, having bought the shoes for her daughter, gratified in the pleasure she sees in her little girl’s eyes, decides to follow through considering what more money can do for her and her girl. Alas, she neglects to lock the damn door, her daughter finding out exactly how one gets the nicer things in life. A depressing morality tale with an ending that leads me to believe I’ll never buy a goddamn thing for my kid if they ever show such condescending ingratitude. Of course, I can’t think of any situation where I’d accept the cock. Death first. What was the point of this again? Next.

Lock * - A woman sitting on a rooftop is joined by a man who accidentally dislodges the door-jam locking them both out. Their efforts to find a way to the ground floor or alert passers by on the street are fruitless. Both are awkward around the other as strangers will be, but the two gradually see the humor in the situation- a classic New York moment (that still has nothing to do with 9-11). The man says “Fuck” a lot. Then someone opens the door, he goes to leave, she wants to tell him something that sounds important and portentous, but doesn’t letting him walk away, and evidently the audience is expected to grasp the significance based solely on subtext. Bah.

Happiness *** - Coming from the more surreal school of thought, an older woman working the line in a condom testing facility to check for holes in the individual products (funny in and of itself) covets the immaculately white high heels of her supervisor, but passes a pair of them by in a shop window to enter another store, where she purchases a box with the simple label of “Happiness” on it. Asking the clerk if she can take a look inside before she buys it, she is told that she cannot. She asks how long it will last, the clerk tells her its not exact- seconds, days, years, it depends on the person. The box is purchased, taken home, examined from every angle, shaken, poked at, and taken to bed unopened. In the morning she makes a decision. A charming piece about gratification and risk with a cute ending.

Super Powers ***** - Hilarious to the point of wetting oneself. A troubled couple’s attempt to spice up their love life is thwarted when a realtor brings clients to view their for-sale apartment, leaving the flustered lovers stranded on their balcony in Party City style Batman and Wonder Woman outfits (the husband having only succeeded in putting the top part of the Batman suit on). As the duo try to furtively find sanctuary where they can get a change of clothes and maintain their dignity, they stumble upon a crime in progress and nature takes its course- do I have your attention yet? This puppy fucking rocked, rightfully earning itself Special Jury Prize for Best Narrative Short.

Special mention for actor Jay Klaitz (Batman) whose mix of apprehension, frustration and tentative curiosity are bolstered by a tremendous ability for physical comedy and facial expressiveness that can’t even be hindered by a half-cowl.

Laura Nordin plays the wife at her wit’s end, comical to the extreme as the horror of her situation seethes from her wide eyes, but keeps the situation from being overly absurd, her obvious distress over the state of her marriage and the determination to save it bringing gravitas to an otherwise ludicrous situation. On a less professional note, the sight of her in that Wonder Woman outfit… I can’t go on. Suffice to say we have a major contender for the “Princess Leia Slave Girl Outfit Hotness Awards” broadcast live from the inside of my pants.

Seriously, this is a truly warm, funny film that will make you feel wonderful.
= http://www.tribecafilmfestival.org/tixSYS/2007/filmguide/title-detail.php?PageNumber=3&AlphaRange=SS&Category=ALL&FilterVenue=ALL&Day=&Month=&Year=&Genre=ALL&FestProgram=&ShowShorts=&ShowPast=Y

Raving ***** - Remember my rant about gross misuse of subtext in Lock? Julia Styles in her writing/directing debut manages to give a textbook lesson on the correct way to utilize this tool, allowing the audience a glimpse of just enough to put things together without having to spell it out, rather than slathering ambiguity all over a story insuring no one will come away with anything of value. She does it with a dress, a picture, and an irate neighbor complaining to the protagonist, all the pieces fall in place, and it’s as beautifully executed as anything you’d find in a JD Salinger short story. Nice work Julia.

Two damaged people come together under curious circumstances when a man hires a girl he knows to be a con artist, who we have already witnessed rooking marks to fund her club hopping lifestyle, to help him pack up his apartment. The girl is dubious of the offer, aware the man knows about her swindling, but is enticed by the $500 dollars he offers, as well as the opportunity to steal whatever valuables she can find. She soon discovers there is a strange plan in place by this strange man who is suffering crushing loss, and needs her particular brand of help to go forward.

Bill Irwin, a very physical performer whose work I have always enjoyed gives a rich, soulful performance as a man who has lost his way and much of his mind, but pulls it together enough to play out a desperate scheme to save both himself and another lost soul at the same time. Zooey Deschanel makes for a lovely, amoral scoundrel who discovers empathy, and finds she has the capacity to be better through this odd friendship. I really enjoyed this one – tight film.

Bill Irwin’s one of those actors you recognize lurking about in so much film and TV, from Robert Altman movies to Northern Exposure episodes, and he’s one of those terrific artists you want to see more often. As for Deschanel, she’s getting enough good work that she don’t need my props- very fond of her talent.

In Vivid Detail **** - A pleasing love story that challenges perception, Justin (John Ventimiglia), a talented architect, has caught the eye of Leslie (Piper Perabo), the new girl at the office. The two become involved but not long into the relationship Leslie is upset when Justin walks right by her, looking directly at her, not bothering to acknowledge her presence.

Justin apologizes, revealing he has a condition called Prosopagnosia – “a neurological disorder that makes him incapable of recognizing faces” Leslie takes this in stride, but as a devastatingly beautiful woman, finds it strange to be involved with someone for whom her face is immaterial. It’s not a simple matter of vanity, she wants him to be able to see her and enjoy her. Her attempts to address the issue infuriate him (think shouting in a deaf person’s ear to see if they can somehow hear you), but Justin comes up with an eloquent solution utilizing his drafting skills.

Its great to see Ventimiglia showcase a different side to his talent from his recognizable Artie Bucco role in The Sopranos. Here he is a capable, charming man of great humor and kindness, and Perabo complements him, creating a believable, imperfect relationship. A good capper to the selection of films.

With four absolute winners just squeaking past the mehs and ughs, I was very happy with my time and dough spent at the theater.

If you’ve kept up with me to this point, thanks- figured I’d take it all in one shot rather than breaking it up into two features. I’m sorry I can’t offer more, but that’s just how it went down. I had my share of fun times though, and did rack up some quality films I hope you’ll be able to see for yourselves in time.

::this article is officially published in http://efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2181

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Jul 28, 2007

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

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Directed by : Giuseppe Tornatore
Produced by : Franco Cristaldi, Giovanna Romagnoli
Written by : Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring : Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin
Music by : Ennio Morricone
Release date(s) : 1988
Running time : 155 Min Italy, 121 Min Cut USA, 174 Min
Language : Italian

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988) is an Italian film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. It was internationally released as Cinema Paradiso in France, Spain, the UK and the US.

It was originally released in Italy at 155 minutes but poor box office performance in its native country led to it being shortened to 123 minutes for international release. It was an instant success. This international version won the Special Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and the 1989 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In 2002, the director's cut 173-minute version was released (known in the U.S. as Cinema Paradiso: The New Version).

It stars Jacques Perrin, Philippe Noiret, Leopoldo Trieste, Marco Leonardi, Agnese Nano and Salvatore Cascio. It was produced by Franco Cristaldi and Giovanna Romagnoli, and the music was by Ennio Morricone along with his son Andrea Morricone.

Told in flashback, it tells the story of the return to his native Sicilian village of a successful film director "Salvatore" for the funeral of his old friend "Alfredo", who was the projectionist at the local "Cinema Paradiso". Ultimately, Alfredo serves as a wise father figure to his young friend who only wishes the best to see him succeed, even if it means breaking his heart in the process.

The film intertwines sentimentality with comedy, and nostalgia with pragmaticism. It explores issues of youth, coming of age, and reflections (in adulthood) about the past. The imagery in each scene can be said to reflect Salvatore's idealised memories about his childhood. Cinema Paradiso is also a celebration of films; as a projectionist, young Toto develops the passion for films that shapes his life path in adulthood.

A famous film director returns home to a Sicilian village for the first time after almost 30 years. He reminisces about his childhood at the Cinema Paradiso where Alfredo, the projectionist, first facilitated his love of films. He is also reminded of his lost teenage love, Elena, who was forced to leave Salvatore (Toto) because of her father. In the 123-minute release she remains only a lasting memory, but in the 154-minute version she and Toto meet again. Old and grayed they see the life that has passed before them. As their conversation unfolds, Salvatore discovers that Elena married an old friend, but even more importantly, discovers that Alfredo was the reason why their relationship ended, when Alfredo reluctantly manipulated her into leaving him, if only to see Salvatore follow his dreams. They see each other and make love in a car. Toto seems to want to relight their relationship, but Elena tells him that this is impossible.

The film ends with Salvatore inheriting a film reel that Alfredo left for him, made up out of film clips cut from the reels by the projectionist (to appease the censor, the local priest). The clips are romantic scenes from every film Alfredo has projected in the theater, causing tears to come to Salvatore's eyes.

Cinema Paradiso was a critical and box-office success and is regarded by some as a classic. It is particularly renowned for the famous 'kissing scenes' montage near the end of the film.

Cast

* Antonella Attili - Maria (Young)
* Enzo Cannavale - Spaccafico
* Isa Danieli - Anna
* Leo Gullotta - Usher
* Marco Leonardi - Salvatore (Adolescent)
* Pupella Maggio - Maria (Old)
* Agnese Nano - Elena (Adolescent)
* Leopoldo Trieste - Father Adelfio
* Salvatore Cascio - Salvatore (Child)
* Tano Cimarosa - Blacksmith
* Nicola Di Pinto - Village Idiot
* Roberta Lena - Lia
* Nino Terzo - Peppino's Father
* Jacques Perrin - Salvatore (Adult)
* Philippe Noiret - Alfredo

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Philip Seymour Hoffman Talks About "Capote"

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Philip Seymour Hoffman on Preparing to Play Truman Capote: Hoffman said he viewed documentary footage while preparing for his starring role in "Capote." “I had a great documentary by the Maysles [Albert and David] called 'With Love from Truman' that was kind of my bible, actually. I really watched that a lot because I thought that encapsulated a lot of things I needed to know. It was him at that time, it was before he completely disintegrated into what he eventually became, which is a man who died of alcoholism and stuff. So it was still him in that time. They caught him privately and you really got to see a simpler guy, not a guy who was on. So, it was helpful.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman on the Line Between Imitation and Interpretation: “It's not a literal thing, you know what I mean? Everything, if you give yourself over to it, eventually transcends into something artistic and that's always a world that is a bit gray and indefinable.

You do all the kind of concrete work that you can do, the documentaries or the audio tapes or the visuals or what you read, you interview people. I keep saying I put myself alone in a room four months before we started to shoot and tried to get in that room everyday for an hour or two with all these materials that I had and everything I could, and just start working. And what that is, is something that I had to figure out. A lot of it was practice and things like that of technical stuff. But ultimately all that had to be one. Where it wasn't just imitation, it wasn’t just mimicry, it was creating a character. A real guy and it was trial an error.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman on “In Cold Blood:” Hoffman says he didn’t read “In Cold Blood” until after he read the “Capote” script. “I wasn't assigned it like most people. People were like, ‘Oh, I read that in college.' I read other things. And so there was a lot of Capote reading I had to do.”

Did Capote Use the Convicts? “You know, I had to play him so I really didn't spend too much time on my own objective [looking] at it and still going, 'Oh, did he…?' I immediately started to try and look at it through the eyes of Capote. I don't think ultimately, I think he drew them in anonymous light. In that book I think it's somewhat of an empathetic light. In that book, it makes them very real people. You really do get an idea of Perry Smith's background and [Richard] Hickock's background. There is a certain compassion toward these two killers in that book. So that I realized [that] and that was pretty vivid. That tells you a lot about, obviously, how close he got to them.”

The Angle “Capote” Takes on Telling Truman Capote’s Story: “We knew that the story wasn't going to shine him in the best of lights. But it's a tragedy and there wouldn't be tragedy if you didn't see the self-awareness happen, which is not a pleasant one. That happens to him and it begins this downfall, so that's the story. That's the story, it wasn't like a judgment that we made, that's the story. This guy died at age 59 alone, of alcoholism, without writing another book. That's the story. We are trying to tell what we think instigated [it], started that ball rolling. But ultimately in playing him I had to go through his story, so I had to justify his actions in order for it - because he did - in order to go through it, and then ultimately understand what would be the overwhelming thing that would start this downfall in his life.”

On Capote’s Need for the Killers to be Executed: “I know the book only works if they are executed. Who knows what everyone was thinking how the book could have ended and still done well… I think there are a lot of reasons that, again, aren't so black and white of why them dying is beneficial. I think it had to do with the book and it had to do with would he be able to successfully come out and publish this book and get it out there with them still alive and in their voices? Then they could read it. Would they disagree with it? All of these things may come up. There were a lot of issues that he saw and I think he just wanted it clean. He wanted an ending and also wanted it clean, and he was really dealing with it.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman Explains His Attraction to “Capote:” “It was really the story that was the most attractive thing. The story of this and his story. The idea of the technical stuff of playing him, that wasn't the thing that attracted me to it. That stuff was daunting and the scary stuff. I had to be drawn into this in a different way. What I was drawn to was the tragic tale. This classic tragic tale. Something being inevitable, something playing itself out and no one could stop it. There was something about that, which was very interesting to me and compelling. I think that what makes the film compelling is you can't stop it and it's so subtle and simple and kind of slow. It's there and it's lulling you and you realize that you are on this train toward this place.

It's inevitable and that's, I think, something that makes for good story and a good film.”

On Remaining in Character During the Shoot: “I didn't really go to shops and stuff, I really didn't. That would have been really frightening, I think. At work, because it was like an athletic event in a way, very specifically meaning that if you are running a race you don't want to stop in the middle of the race and have to start running again. It's harder to do that. Trainers will tell you that's how you should work out because you will burn more calories because it takes more energy. I had to keep a certain sense of the voice and quality and these things because if I let it go, it was just too much energy to get it back up again. Once the day is over, I can go home and be me. I needed to do that. I needed to rest. It's really that simple.”

The Responsibility of Being in Almost Every Scene in “Capote:” “It’s a huge responsibility and sometimes that's overwhelming. But it's a positive thing in the aspect that you get to work everyday and you do get the benefit of getting into a rhythm. You are in front of the camera a lot. Whereas when you are a supporting player, you come in and there is pressure to just get those three scenes just right. Whereas when you are a lead, you kind of modulate through. Like some scenes are this, some are this, there is something different about it which actually can be quite freeing.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman on Working with Clifton Collins Jr: Collins plays Perry Smith, one of the killers Capote became close with while writing “In Cold Blood.” Hoffman says working with Collins was a pleasure. “It was great. He's great, I really think that everyone in this film [is]. I think you will agree with me, the cast kind of just settles right into these roles in ways that are kind of uncanny. You kind of forget who they are. It's really just one of those special times when the ensemble just kind of [works].

While we were casting it, as a producer I was, I had never been having a say. It was scary. Like who is going to play these guys? Perry Smith, it was really, really tough. The fact that we got Clifton… I remember seeing his tape. He auditioned and it was great. Just the way he looks, everything about him. We are the same size and that's such an important aspect of the story. He just rammed it right in there. I was just so grateful as, really as a producer, that we got him.”

From Rebecca Murray,
Your Guide to Hollywood Movies.

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Movie Review: Curse of the Golden Flower

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In the ten years since Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) and his one-time muse and mistress, actress Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice), parted personal and professional ways, their respective careers have flourished, crossing international film barriers. It was together, however, that they created a series of memorable masterpieces (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad) - films which relied less on traditional Chinese martial artistry and instead, engaged audiences with compelling narratives and cinematic beauty. The historical epic, Curse of the Golden Flower (which marks their first reunion in over a decade), is no exception. Lush with lavish costumes and exotic set designs, Yimou intricately weaves wuxia martial arts with tragedian elements of passion, betrayal, incest, fratricide and murder in order to create an eye-popping extravaganza about the familial decay beneath the gold and jaded walls of the Imperial Palace. And it is no surprise, that his most precious Flower, the incomparable Li, is at the center of it all.

Adapted from one of China’s most famous plays (Cao Yu’s Thunderstorm), Curse of the Golden Flower takes place during the flamboyant Tang Dynasty, circa 928 A.D. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, the cold-hearted and chauvinistic Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat), along with his second-born son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou), return from a three-year battle with the Mongols. The royal bed has hardly gone cold during his absence, however, for the Empress Phoenix (Li) has been keeping warm with the Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), the Emperor’s first-born, from a previous marriage. Although heir to the throne, the less-than-political Wan prefers to evade the deadly ramifications of such love triangles and run away with Chan (Li Man), both the Empress’ servant and daughter to the Imperial Physician (Ni Dahong). Unbeknownst to Prince Wan, however, the Emperor’s faithful have already advised him of the illicit affair.

Rather than confront the adulteress, the Emperor orders the doctor to add black fungus to his wife’s daily medicine; a deadly concoction that will slowly, and painfully, cause her to lose all mental faculties. (And you thought your family was dysfunctional.) Problem is, an unlikely source (Chen Jin) has already advised the Empress of her husband’s diabolical design (a confidante who also proffers family-shattering insight into the tangled web of deceit woven by the Emperor during his rise to power). Thus, with every mandated sip, the Empress aligns a bloody coup that will ultimately pin son against son, son against father and husband against wife.

Martial arts enthusiasts looking for non-stop, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-esque action, be forewarned: Curse of the Golden Flower plays more like a slow-moving Shakespearean drama, almost devoid of hand-to-hand combat, building psychological tension until it finally explodes in a bitter bloodbath. And even then, the computer-generated armies are less than awe-inspiring. Rest assured, however, that even though martial arts is merely a supporting actor, there are some scenes to behold: the black-cloaked ninjas descending through a mountain pass are, for lack of a better word, awesome; when the steely-eyed Emperor takes on his weak, third son, Prince Yu (Qin Junjie), the beating is brutal; and when a blood-soaked Jai approaches the palace door shielding his father, your heart races, imagining what is to come.

But for what Curse of the Golden Flower lacks in martial artistry, it makes up for in beauty. A $45 million production bathed in pure opulence (the most expensive in Chinese film-history), every inch of every frame is drenched in gold (symbol of economic power) - walls, carpeting, wardrobes, fingernails, the endless sea of chrysanthemums that line the courtyard, even the lips that dare not speak of the atrocities that occur within the royal family’s gilded cage. Although the kaleidoscope of color, at times, nearly swallows its characters, it is a constant and chilling reminder of how even the most self-imploding feudal family must always present a facade of strength and family unity. (The most dramatic example occurs post-slaughter. Watch how after the chrysanthemums are covered in blood and thousands of bodies are strewn across the courtyard, palace servants immediately haul the carnage away, scrub the blood-soaked tiles and replace each and every pot with fresh, blooming chrysanthemums.)

Recorded in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles, the commanding performances of Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat require no spoken words; be it a defiant stare, a change in posture or a stroke of the beard, their facial and physical expressions speak over and above what the written dialogue can offer. And while Junjie and Ye are, unfortunately, less effective as book-end princes, the only character to upstage this Asian-royalty is the royal wardrobe, itself.

Nominated for an Academy Award, costume-designer Yee Chung Man ensured that his oppressed army of female servants looked stunning while tightly bound, his Empress’ robes could swallow the five servants required to administer her deadly tea, and his males were draped in astounding garb that only reinforce their palatial dominance. (In fact, it took a team of forty, over a two month period, just to embroider the layers of gold necessary for the Dragon Robe and Phoenix Gown adorned during the Chrysanthemum Festival.) Even more astonishing is the “choreography” of the wardrobe. Ornate hair pins fly, releasing Li’s hair when she encounters a struggle; the Emperor’s train swirls violently behind him when he becomes enraged; when the crowns are adorned, strength is invigorated; and when blood touches the Empress’ embroidered chrysanthemum scarves, it symbolizes her own blood to be shed.

No one can deny that the final chapter of Yimou’s wuxia martial arts trilogy, Curse of the Golden Flower, offers a haunting yet visually intoxicating view into the opulence, and decadence, that pervaded the insular palace-world of the Tang Dynasty. A breed of ancient tragedy mixed with pure eye candy, this film is packed with intense, emotional story-lines, veteran performances from Asia’s leading actors and the most luxurious costumes and set designs to grace the screen. And while many action-oriented fans will find that its melodramatic pace, color-drenched palate, host of unanswered questions and less than breathtaking fight scenes cause it to wilt in comparison to its martial arts predecessors, Yimou’s faithful will immediately recognize that Curse of the Golden Flower has blossomed from unique garden of films planted by Yimou and Li years ago. As such, it should neither be compared nor tampered with, but merely admired for the beauty it possesses.

Brandi L. James
www.franksreelreviews.com

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Jul 26, 2007

Nicole Kidman Upcoming Movie: Australia (2008)

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Nicole plays Lady Sarah Ashley

CURRENTLY Nicole is in Australia. Filming for the new Baz Luhrmann film 'Australia' has now started, and will last up to 10 months. Nicole plays Lady Sarah Ashley, an English aristocrat who must battle against cattle barons to protect her land. Australia is set for release in 2008.

The Untitled Noah Baumbach Project tells the story of Wendy Pews and her family. Wendy takes her 12-year old son with her to visit the upstate home of her sister, Cindy. It is set over one weekend, and is described to be a "multigenerational" story. Jack Black plays Cindy's husband, John Turturro plays Nicole's. Nicole's character Wendy is rumoured to be uptight and straight-laced, and her sister Cindy an alcoholic.

GENERAL INFORMATION
Status: Post-Production
Released: US- 12th October 2007 (limited); UK- 16th November 2007; Belgium- 28th November 2007
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Co-stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh (Cindy Buff), Jack Black (Tony Pews), Flora Cross (Ingrid), Zane Pais, John Turturro, Halley Feiffer
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Filming: Filming started April 4th and ended in June. Filmed in Long Island, New York
Budget: $10m
Box Office: -
Runtime: mins / hr mins

More about Nicole Kidman movie, visit her official site http://www.nkidman.com

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Nicole Kidman New Film: The Invasion (2007)

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Nicole plays Carol

The Visiting tells the story of Carol, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist with a practice overlooking Freedom Plaza. She has a young son, Oliver, but is no longer involved with his father. Ben (Craig) is her companion and colleague. Not long after a national tragedy has occured, a mysterious "bug" spreads across the globe. Carol's skills as a psychiatrist soon help her recognize a strange pattern that has developed. People are becoming almost emotionless, "oddly somber," and their loved ones all have the same panicked refrain: "He no longer seems like my husband/son/brother, etc." After people she knows begin to change, Carol learns from a doctor that there is actually something inside them, "something completely foreign," that is altering human DNA. Although it has thus far proven resistant to treatment, Carol discovers that the key to combating this otherworldly invader may lie with someone close to her. [filmforce.ign.com] // The movie centres on an epidemic sweeping the human race, which is greatly altering their behaviour. After discovering that aliens are behind the invasion, Carol battles to protect her son, who may hold the key to halting the takeover.

GENERAL INFORMATION
Released: US- 17th August 2007; UK- 14th September 2007; Germany- 1st November 2007; Russia- 8th November 2007; Japan- 22nd December 2007;
Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Written by: Dave Kajganich
Co-stars: Daniel Craig (Ben), Jeremy Northam (Tucker), Jackson Bond (Oliver), Alexis Raben (Danila)
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Action, Drama
Filming: Filming started on the 26th September and ended 18th December 2006. Filmed in Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington
Budget: $50m
Box Office: -
Runtime: mins / hr mins


TRIVIA
[1] Nicole is reportedly earning $16 million for this film
[2] Project was initially called 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', then they changed it to 'Invasion' before deciding on 'The Visiting'
[3] Contact address: Invasion, 1301 S. Baylis Suite #425, Baltimore, MD 21224.
[5] Nicole was involved in an accident whilst filming a car scene - read about it here.

More information, visit Nicole Kidman official site http://www.nkidman.com

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Al Pacino Filmography

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Actor - filmography
(2000s) (1990s) (1980s) (1970s) (1960s)

Angels in America (2003) .... Roy Cohn
Gigli (2003) .... Starkman
Recruit, The (2003) .... Walter Burke
Simone (2002) .... Viktor Taransky
People I Know (2002) .... Eli Wurman
Insomnia (2002) .... Detective Will Dormer
America: A Tribute to Heroes (2001) (TV) .... Himself
Chinese Coffee (2000) .... Harry Levine
Any Given Sunday (1999) .... Tony D'Amato
Insider, The (1999) .... Lowell Bergman
Devil's Advocate, The (1997) .... John Milton
Donnie Brasco (1997) .... Benjamin 'Lefty' Ruggerio
Looking for Richard (1996) .... Richard III/Himself
City Hall (1996) .... Mayor John Pappas
Heat (1995) .... Vincent Hanna
Two Bits (1995) .... Gitano Sabatoni
67th Annual Academy Awards, The (1995) (TV) (uncredited) .... Presenter - Best Picture
Jonas in the Desert (1994) .... Himself (Interviewee)
Carlito's Way (1993) .... Carlito Brigante
Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980, The (1992) (V) .... Don Michael Corleone
Scent of a Woman (1992) .... Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) .... Ricky Roma
Godfather Family: A Look Inside, The (1991) (TV) .... Himself (interviewee)
Frankie and Johnny (1991) .... Johnny
Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991) (uncredited) .... Himself
Godfather: Part III, The (1990) .... Don Michael 'Mike' Corleone
Dick Tracy (1990) .... Big Boy Caprice
Local Stigmatic, The (1989)
Sea of Love (1989) .... Detective Frank Keller
Revolution (1985) .... Tom Dobb
Scarface (1983) .... Antonio 'Tony' Montana
Author! Author! (1982) .... Ivan Travalian
Cruising (1980) .... Steve Burns
...And Justice for All (1979) .... Arthur Kirkland
Bobby Deerfield (1977) .... Bobby Deerfield
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) .... Sonny
Godfather: Part II, The (1974) .... Don Michael 'Mike' Corleone
Serpico (1973) .... Frank Serpico
Scarecrow (1973) .... Lion
Godfather, The (1972) .... Don Michael 'Mike' Corleone
Panic in Needle Park, The (1971) .... Bobby
Me, Natalie (1969) .... Tony


Director - filmography
(2000s) (1990s) (1980s)

Chinese Coffee (2000)
Looking for Richard (1996)
Local Stigmatic, The (1989)


Producer - filmography
(2000s) (1990s) (1980s)

People I Know (2002) (executive producer)
Looking for Richard (1996) (producer)
Local Stigmatic, The (1989) (producer)


Writer - filmography

Looking for Richard (1996) (narration)



Miscellaneous crew - filmography

In the Name of the Father (1993) (special thanks)



Notable TV guest appearances

"Leute heute" (1997) playing "Himself" 5/13/2002
"Airport" (1996) playing "Himself"

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Al Pacino Biography

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Real Name: Alfredo Pacino
Occupation: Actor, Director, Writer
Date of Birth: April 25, 1940
Place of Birth: New York, NY, USA
Sign: Sun in Taurus, Moon in Sagittarius
Education: High School of the Performing Arts dropout; studiedacting at the Actors Studio and the Herbert Berghof Studio, both in New York City.
Relations: Kid: Julie Marie (mother, Jan Tarrant); Companion:Beverly D'Angelo (actress)
Nickname: Sonny
Height: 5' 6"


Mini Biography:
One of the greatest actors in all of film history, Al Pacino established himself during one of film's greatest decades, the 70s, and has become an enduring and iconic figure in the world of American movies. Born on April 25th, 1940 in New York City, Pacino's parents (Salvatore and Rose) divorced when he was young. His mother moved them into his grandparents' house. Pacino found himself often repeating the plots and voices of characters who he had seen in the movies, one of his favorite activities. Bored and unmotivated in school, the young Al Pacino found a haven in school plays, and his interest soon blossomed into a full-time career. Starting on the stage, Pacino went through a lengthy period of depression and poverty, sometimes having to borrow bus fare to make it to auditions. He made it into the prestigious Actors Studio in 1966, studying under the legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg, creator of the Method Approach that would become the trademark of many 70s era actors. Making appearances in various plays, Pacino finally hit it big with "The Indian Wants the Bronx", winning an Obie award for the 1966-67 season. Gaining notoriety on the theater scene, Pacino then won the Tony Award for "Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie?". His first feature films made little departure from the gritty realistic stage performances that earned him respect: he played a junkie in Me, Natalie (1969) and Panic in Needle Park, The (1971). What would come next would change his life forever.

The part of Michael Corleone in Godfather, The (1972) was one of the most sought-after roles in film history. Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, 'Ryan ONeal, Robert De Niro, and a host of others were bandied about for the role, but director Francis Ford Coppola had his heart set on the unknown Italian Pacino. From the studio, to the producers, to the cast on down, nobody else wanted Al Pacino. Though Coppola won out through slick persuasion, Pacino was in constant fear of being fired and replaced at any minute during the hellish shoot. But the role was a career-making hit, and earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Instead of taking on easier projects for money, Pacino threw his support behind tough important films, such as the true life crime drama Serpico (1973) and the tragic real life bank robbery film Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Pacino opened eyes around the film world for his brave choice of roles; and he was nominated three consecutive years for the "Best Actor" Academy Award. He faltered slightly with Bobby Deerfield (1977), but regained his stride with the law film ...And Justice for All (1979), for which he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. This would unfortunately signal one of the only bad points in his career, one that produced the flops Cruising (1980) and Author! Author! (1982). He took on another vicious gangster role and cemented his legendary status in the ultra-violent Scarface (1983), but a monumental mistake was about to follow. Revolution (1985) endured an endless and seemingly cursed shoot in which equipment was destroyed, weather was terrible, and Pacino became terribly ill with pneumonia. Constant changes in the script also further derailed an already terrible project. The Revolutionary War film is considered one of the worst films ever, gained Pacino his first truly awful reviews, and kept him out of movies for the next four years.

Returning to the stage, Pacino has done much to give back and contribute to the theatre, which he considers his first love. He directed a film Local Stigmatic, The (1989) but it remains unreleased to the public. His self-imposed exile lifted, he returned in striking form in Sea of Love (1989) as a hard-drinking cop. The film marks the second phase of Pacino's career, the first film to feature his now famous dark, owl eyes and hoarse, gravelly voice. Making a return to the Corleones he made Godfather: Part III, The (1990), and earned raves for his first comedic role in the colorful Dick Tracy (1990). This earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and two years later he was nominated for Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). He went into romantic mode for Frankie and Johnny (1991). In 1992 he finally won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his amazing performance in Scent of a Woman (1992). A mix of technical perfection (he plays a blind man) and charisma, the role was tailor-made for him, and remains a classic. The next few years would see Pacino becoming more comfortable with acting and movies as a business, turning out great roles in great films with more frequency and less of the demanding personal involvement of his wilder days. Carlito's Way (1993) proved another gangster classic, as did the epic crime drama Heat (1995) directed by Michael Mann. He returned to the director's chair for the highly acclaimed and quirky Shakespeare adaptation Looking for Richard (1996). City Hall (1996), Donnie Brasco (1997), and Devil's Advocate, The (1997) all came out in this period. Reteaming with Mann and then Oliver Stone, he gave two commanding performances in Insider, The (1999) and Any Given Sunday (1999).

In his personal life, Pacino is one of Hollywood's most enduring and notorious bachelors, having never been married. He has a daughter Julie Marie with acting teacher Jan Tarrant, and a new set of twins with long-time girlfriend Beverly D'Angelo. His romantic history includes a long-time romance with Godfather co-star Diane Keaton. With his intense and gritty performances, Pacino was an original in the acting profession. His Method approach would become the process of many actors throughout time, and his unbeatable number of classic roles has already made him a legend among film buffs and all aspiring actors and directors. His commitment to acting as a profession and his constant screen dominance has established him as one of movies' legends.


*IMDb mini-biography by
Brian Stewart


Trivia

  • (16 October 1997) Recieved a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • (October 1997) Ranked #4 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list.
  • Was arrested in January 1961, charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Son of Salvatore Pacino (insurance agent) and Rose Pacino (she died when Al was 22).
  • He has a daughter, named Julie Marie, with acting teacher Jan Tarrant.
  • Dropped out of school at the age of 17.
  • Turned down Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).
  • Turned down Born on the Fourth of July (1989).
  • Turned down Apocalypse Now (1979).
  • Turned down the role of Han Solo in Star Wars (1977).
  • Turned down Pretty Woman (1990).
  • Turned down Crimson Tide (1995).
  • Originally asked for $7 million for _Godfather: Part III, The (1990)_ (qv), a figure that so enraged director Francis Ford Coppola that he threatened to write a new script that opened with Michael Corleone's funeral. Pacino settled for $5 million.
  • Father of twins Anton and Olivia with Beverly D'Angelo.
  • His grandparents originate from Corleone, Sicily.
  • Was frequently refered to as "that midget Pacino" by producers of 'The Godfather' who didn't want him for the part of Michael Corleone.
  • Francis Ford Coppola asked Pacino to play Captain Willard in his film 'Apocalypse Now'. Pacino politely turned down the offer saying he'd "do anything" for Francis but he "woudn't go to war with him!"
  • Stopped a 2-pack-a-day smoking habit in 1994 to protect his voice. He now only occasionally smokes herbal cigarettes.
  • Al was so much into character (playing a plain-clothes NYC cop) while filming 'Serpico' he actually pulled over and threatened to arrest a truck driver for exhaust pollution.
  • Is an avid fan of opera.
  • Once worked as an usher at Carnegie Hall.
  • Larry King considers Pacino's appearance on his show ("Larry King Live") in November 1996 one of his personal all-time favorite interviews.
  • As of 2002, Al Pacino's current salary is around $10 million a picture.
  • One of the few Hollywood stars who has never married.

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Salary
Godfather: Part II, The (1974) $500,000 + 5% of gross
Godfather: Part III, The (1990) $5,000,000
Insomnia (2002) ca. $11,000,000

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