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Monday, Apr 30, 2007


This is getaway week. The time when just about everyone in the country in which I live goes off to explore, experience, exploit, and exhume the esoteric and exotic, moving into and through places they normally don’t traverse. Perhaps it really ought to be called “X Time”, but it’s not.


Instead, it goes by the moniker “Golden Week” and golden it is—as it is a period in which 4 national holidays are strategically linked with a couple of weekends to form nearly 10 days of free time. And if one displays a little moxie, has accrued some on-the-job brownie points, and is in possession of an understanding boss, then a strategic sick day or two can transform this fortnight into a truly golden time, indeed.


If so, and strung together as an undivided whole, Golden Week enables Japanese to reconnect with the idea that they might actually be alive. Imagine that. Something more than automatons who are accorded a mere 18 paid days off per year—but hey: enough to rank them ahead of the paltry entitlements of fellow Asian work-a-holics residing in Hong Kong (7 days), Singapore (7 days), Taiwan (7 days), and South Korea (10 working days).


Be thankful for small favors. Count your blessings. Luck to the fortunate. Whatever works.


 


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Monday, Apr 30, 2007


While we here at SE&L typically hate those smarmy know it alls that throw their considered opinion in your face, we’re about to be guilty of the same thing. That’s because it’s a clear “I told you so” situation this week. In preparation for war with the big summer movies, the studios are pulling out all the stops, presenting prime DVD titles to compete for your expendable cash concerns. This Tuesday alone we have two major Awards season wannabes, a pair of meaningful mainstream efforts, and one of the most anticipated box sets in the history of the medium, among many, many others. These five releases by themselves indicate that the next 16 weeks will be a windfall of hotly anticipated offerings. The only problem will be finding the time to enjoy both the big screen and home theater experience. Whatever you decide, you shouldn’t miss the SE&L selection for 1 May. It’s an incredible cinematic statement:


Little Children


Imagine the David Lynch of his Blue Velvet period without the ugly underneath, or better yet, Robert Redford’s Ordinary People reshaped as a satire, and you have an idea of this amazing slam of suburbia by In the Bedroom‘s Todd Field. This lackadaisical look at how biology blinds people to both their feelings and their flaws represents one of the most insightful examinations of the human condition ever cast upon celluloid. It was also one of 2006’s most criminally underrated films, with some considering it nothing more than a soap opera with slight social substance. But buried beneath the sequences of sex and unspoken emotions lies a narrative unable to control its simmering contempt. Using the pedophile character played brilliantly by Jackie Earle Haley as a catalyst, Field forms an argument against getting lost in your offspring. While he recognizes the vile nature of such a pervert, he also blasts the parents who pretend that child safety usurps everything else in a community. The result is a conflict of interests that turns into an epic battle between hysteria and hypocrisy.

Other Titles of Interest


Alpha Dog


Justin Timberlake is such an industry made star that the leap from music to movies is not so shocking as it is standard operating procedure. What is dreadful is how amazingly lame he is as an actor. His first major performance in Edison Force was universal mocked, and his work in Southland Tales and Black Snake Moan has been equally unimpressive. Oddly enough, critics had some good things to say about this kiddy crime story, including some kind words for Mr. N’Sync himself. For the sake of his career before the cameras let’s hope they’re right.

Dreamgirls


It was poised to be the blockbuster event of awards season, a surefire hit that would earn not only critical praise and commercial success, but a boatload of Oscars as well. Apparently, no one told that to the Academy, resulting in a one of three ratio. Jennifer Hudson walked away with her mandatory Supporting Actress statuette, but Eddie Murphy and the film’s trio of nominated songs were shut out. Some even saw the snub as part of Hollywood’s continuing anti-minority slant. It’s up to DVD to save this film’s reputation, or prove the pundits right. 

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky


It’s cult film Holy Grail time as Anchor Bay unleashes this sensational box set from one of cinema’s most heralded and misunderstood outsiders. Featuring Fando y Lis, The Holy Mountain, and that amazing Midnight movie El Topo, this collection will have old fans foaming and new converts convinced that Jodorowsky is some kind of visionary god. Toss in a mountain of bonus features and digital extras and you instantly have one of 2007’s best DVD releases. 

The Hitcher (2007)


It’s obvious that Hollywood is running out of ‘classic’ horror movies to remake when they choose titles like this one to revamp. The original, with Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh has its defenders, but it was more notorious than noteworthy. Now, Sean Bean and a couple of no name kids make up the tenuous trio playing cat and mouse suspense games along the open road. Don’t expect much, and you’ll enjoy this generic genre effort just fine.

Mahogany


The second to last film in Berry Gordy’s push to have then girlfriend Diana Ross become a major movie star. Unfortunately, the most memorable aspect of this tale of a ghetto gal who works her way into the world of kitschy high fashion (this is the ‘70s, remember) is the title song. Otherwise, co-stars Anthony Perkins and Billy Dee Williams are wasted here. And then there’s the completely dated clothing Ross creates. This was Gordy’s folly from beginning to end.


And Now for Something Completely Different
Illegal Aliens


Some folks just can’t die with dignity. Apparently having one’s name dragged through every civil court between LA and the Bahamas is not enough. All that speculation on the manner in which you finally merged with the infinite didn’t satisfy the scandal sheets. No, that notorious non-entity Anna Nicole Smith had to go a leave us a final film to keep her tabloid temperature raging above boiling. Feeling like an obvious knockoff of that ‘80s entry Earth Girls Are Easy (except with the gender roles reversed), this is a turgid tale of some wayward extraterrestrials that come to our planet, morph into ‘smokin’ hot babes’ (the PR’s words) and try to protect the populace from an evil cosmic force. Anna, of course, is the bumbling dumb blonde member of the crew. Some who’ve already seen this film say it’s a sad send-off for a pseudo-celebrity who deserved better. Others like the fact that, somehow, Anna’s managing to get the last laugh.

 


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Monday, Apr 30, 2007

Glad to collect money from non-members


I’m not particularly surprised to hear that the RIAA isn’t being fair and square with the industry but it’s worth noting when it’s scamming on such a huge level.  See this Daily Kos article about their SoundExchange system for online radio and how they’re probably reaping bucks even from non-members: Is the RIAA Pulling a Scam on the Music Industry?


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Monday, Apr 30, 2007

Reflections on student media

As thoughts and prayers flow toward the Virginia Tech family, I wonder about the future of campus life.


In the aftermath of April 16’s massacre, threats have been sent to terrorize campuses and cause severe disruptions to many schools. The most publicized occurred in Yuba City, California. The Canada.com website reports that according to Sutter County Sheriff Jim Denney, “a 28-year-old man told a pastor Wednesday night (April 18) that ‘he had some sort of explosive device and he was going to make the incident at Virginia Tech look mild by comparison.’” The suspect later surrendered. Nevertheless, many communities are still reeling, and specifically, as colleges react and identify new methods of dealing with such tragedies, their leaders must consider the roles of student media, particularly college newspapers.


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Sunday, Apr 29, 2007


Every summer, critics and film fans alike love to predict the eventual box office champions. They look across the 40 or 50 flicks about to open, manufacture a formula that takes into consideration past performance, their own interest levels, the timeliness of the title and a few other subjective factors, and draw their concrete conclusions. Sometimes, this process is stiflingly simple. After all, Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Shrek the Third all look like guaranteed money in the bank – and BIG money at that. Even if each one fails to fulfill its promise – either aesthetically or commercially – they will earn back their budgets via international releases, preplanned merchandising, and the eventual DVD release/TV premiere. In fact, it’s safe to say that they are doomed to succeed. There are just so many interconnected interests that it’s impossible for them to truly flop.


So what then, in this multimedia day and age, truly constitutes a bomb? How do you judge a failure in a film world bursting with recoup possibilities? Well, perception is part of it. Many people are pointing their fingers at Grindhouse, arguing that the Weinstein Company’s $70 million dollar exploitation experiment is a true disaster, barely earning $20 million in retail receipts. No matter the critical success, a lack of cash instantly seems to signal defeat. On the other side of the spectrum is something like Pathfinder. The Marcus Nispel Viking epic failed to generate any interest, even in the wake of the similarly styled (and massively successful) 300. Clearly, commercial failure is only one element in the equation. Other factors including buzz, anticipation, and artistic merit are considered as well. When sizing up any film, then, one must look at its path toward potential success, and the facets that also indicate eminent failure.


This still makes forecasting the Summer’s Stinkers difficult. As you will see below, the five films chosen all have some manner of redeeming cinematic qualities. Two are sequels, one’s aimed directly at the kiddies and another features a pair of popular comedians apparently working within the strict demands of their demographic. Toss in a potential genre sleeper, and you’ve got a group of slighty above average prospects. And yet there is also something about each of these movies that just screams debacle. Call it an aura of superfluity or a brazen big fishiness in what remains a mighty large cinematic ocean – whatever you want. These movies seem destined to die the most prominent of box office deaths. Others released between now and 31 August may be opting for a similar seasonal fate, but we here at SE&L are gambling that these projects will be remembered as 2007’s best of the worst. Let’s start with:


Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer


Let’s face it – the original wasn’t some massive megahit. It did rather nicely for its studio ($155 million), especially for a movie very few people actually liked (Rotten Tomatoes Rating – a mere 26%). And up until the sequel was announced, many in the comic book fanbase felt that this entire franchise would end up a well deserved one-off deal. Now comes the inevitable follow-up (thanks in part to the success of the film on DVD and cable TV showings) and with it, a villain guaranteed to make audiences groan. Back in the day, the Silver Surfer was a misunderstood alien dude who came to Earth to wreck some havoc, only to fall into the whole peace and love vibe of the magical ‘60s, and end up a kind of counterculture convert. Here, he’s the T-1000 on a CG boogie board. While geeks have been salivating over the possibility of this character’s arrival from the moment the original Roger Corman adaptation of the quartet was released, it remains difficult to figure out just who’s anxious to see Michael Chiklis in a bad Ben Grimm outfit again (Jessica Alba’s Susan Storm? That’s another story altogether). Indeed, everything about this cinematic series feels second rate and underdone, which translates into very little blockbuster potential.

Live Free or Die Hard


Sorry Bruce, it just won’t work this time. Over the 12 years since the last installment in this series, you’ve done a wonderful job of dispelling your ‘action hero only’ mythos, and settled into a nice rut as a talented, reliable actor. Sure, you’ve certainly stumbled along the way (The Story of Us, Perfect Stranger), and your rocky personal life didn’t help matters much, but you did a decent job of leaving John McClane and his “yippee yay kay aye-ing” in your wake. So why pick him back up after all this time? It’s not like the latest generation of film fans has been eager to see you return to the agent against the. apocalypse format, and this latest idea (a supersmart computer hacker tries to give the entire world a crippling virus) is just so Y2K. And the choice of Len Wiseman as a director? PU! Come on, this is a guy whose been making werewolf vs. vampire films for the last four years – and when he’s done with you, he’s back to the paranormal with yet another installment in the Underworld franchise (this time out, it’s a prequel). Unless the stunt setpieces redefine the concept of action, this latest series installment looks dead on arrival.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry


This is clearly a case of a high concept losing sight of what truly makes people laugh. Now, if you get a bunch of drunken frat boys in a room together and tell them a slew of homophobic jokes, you’re bound to get some beer-soaked guffaws. But in our proto-PC society, where humor has to now walk a fine line between crass and considerate, something like this sloppy same sex stupidity can’t possibly work. Adam Sandler appeared to move beyond his arrested adolescence aura with Click, and for the most part, his fanbase decided to join him. But he has long stopped being the clown prince of the college crowd, and trying to reenergize your star status by making fun of gay men seems like a tricky proposition. Certainly you’ll draw the Neanderthals and those predisposed to prejudice as pratfalls, but there is something uneasy about the whole forced machismo and ‘emotions are emasculating’ narrative undercurrent.  Rumor has it that the studio ran this film by GLAAD before approving its release. It was also true that this script sat around for years, with many famous A-listers a tad antsy about how it would play in this supposedly enlightened post-millennial age. Here’s guessing it won’t.

Underdog


Talk about your animated sacrilege! Underdog may have been many things – a rhyme obsessed goody two shoes, a blind as a bat paramour for an eager Sweet Polly Purebred, a simpleton superhero battling less than capable crooks – but he was never, ever, EVER! considered to be real. Anthropomorphized and pictured in pen and ink, but no child ever thought he was an honest to goodness pup. So what do those dunce caps over in Tinsel Town try to pull on us? They figure that they can turn this entire project into a live action kiddie action film and no one will really care. They’ll even give the title character a hip adolescent swagger, turning him from a moralizing mensch into a skaterat with a tail. Didn’t these people learn ANYTHING from the whole Itchy/Scratchy/Poochie fiasco? You don’t mess around with the classics – even if you’ve somehow managed to stumble upon the brilliant casting decision of Peter Dinklage playing villian Simon Barsinister. Belgian director Frederik Du Chau may have the proper family film credentials (he made the semi-successful Racing Stripes) but this pile of hound hashwey appears ready to crash and burn. Those who remember the old series won’t darken its big screen doors, and by this time in the season (mid-August), the wee ones are just worn out.

The Invasion


Reshoots months after a movie has wrapped are never a good sign. Reshoots helmed by a completely different director many months after a movie has wrapped is basically box office poison. Oliver Hirschbiegel, the dynamic German director behind the fabulous Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich was handpicked by Joel Silver to realize this more or less unnecessary update of the classic Body Snatchers as his first foray into big time Hollywood filmmaking. What he wasn’t prepared for was the meddling by the manic producer, an accident which sidelined one of his stars (Nicole Kidman) and the sudden Bond-ing of male lead Daniel Craig. With his cut delivered in early 2006, Silver decided to simply sit on it. Then, when V for Vendetta proved popular, he contacted director James McTeague to reform the film. He, in turn, brought along the Wachowski Brothers, and soon Hirschbiegel became a creative persona non grata. But all of this is really ancillary to Invasion‘s biggest problem – there are already three versions of this idea sitting out in the motion picture marketplace – and two out of the three are considered classics. With its tentative production rep and a legitimate legacy to live up to, this film can’t ‘replicate’ past successes.


During the first week of September, we will come back to this piece and see just how accurate our predictions were. We’ll take the blame if and when we’re wrong. But if we hit these five unnecessary nails on the head, all we can say is – we warned you.


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