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Talking about the good life in the foodchain
4 Out Of 5 Stars
Werner Herzog was given a strange mission with the film, "Grizzly Man." How do you take 100's of hours of tape made by a delusional, self-centered and mentally imbalanced man who is ultimately killed (along with the poor woman he drags along after him) by his obsession with Alaskan Grizzlies and make him someone somewhat sympathetic? The documentary manages to do just that, with Herzog inserting himslef as a conscience/narrator into the tapes of naturalist and self-described "kind warrior" Timothy Treadwell. For over a decade of summers, Treadwell would haul himself to Alaska, embed himself in a State Park and try to become one with the grizzlies.

Yes, you're right...anyone with a lick of sense would see this as a fool's errand, and the movie doesn't even bother to hide that fact by mentioning at the beginning that Treadwell and lady friend Amie Huguenard become lunch for a "bear full of people and clothes." Treadwell fails to recognize what Herzog knows by instinct and a few millenniums of evolution; nature is "chaos, hostility, and murder." Treadwell looks at nature as some sort of Disney-fied harmony, where if you just dance with the animals, they'll be your friends and all will live in the big unity of the universe. This despite ample evidence to the contrary (adult males eating cubs to foster mating with females, the killing of one of his fox pup 'friends'); Treadwell rails on about the bear world versus the people world.

Herzog keeps Treadwell from looking like a blithering idiot by balancing some of the most intimate footage you'll probably ever see of bears in the wild and commentary from both the friends and enemies of Treadwell, and ultimately sacrificing an opportunity to exploit Treadwell and Amie's death. A narcissist to the very end, Treadwell had a camera running even as he and Amie were being attacked and killed, and Herzog makes the decision to not include the audio (the lens cap was still on the camera) or include the pictures from the coroner, going as far as to implore one of Treadwell's few friends to destroy the final tape and never look back. It's Herzog's sense of compassion for his subject (aided by a terrific score by guitarist Richard Thompson), even as he understands the madness, that makes "Grizzly Man" so compelling.


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"This is my family, this is my tribe"
5 Out of 5 Stars

For those unfamiliar with International Mr. Leather, it as an annual event where literally thousands of Leatherfolk gather every May in Chicago. The centerpiece of the weekend is the International Mister Leather contest, in which men from around the world compete for the chance to promote the Leather Lifestyle (among other activities).

But it wasn't always like this. In a DVD that is destined to take a place next to the book "25 Years Of Champions," "Kink Crusaders" chronicles the humble beginnings of IML in 1979 (12 contestants from 6 states) to the extravagant pageant that it is today. In 2008, documentarian Mike Skiff traveled to Chicago for the chance to capture the 30th year of IML as it unfolded. So as you would expect, this is the kind of film that is laden with imagery of Homomasculinity at its hottest, with pictures, interviews and event clips documenting every year of International Mr. Leather. (Including a brief but explanatory clip as a postlude from IML 2010.)

But once again, I have to repeat. "Kink Crusaders" is much more than a tableaux of hot men in leather. Perspective comes from a rare "Mr Gold Coast Leather" film clip to ongoing interviews with contestants and commentary from Guy Baldwin, founder Chuck Renslow and others (including the odd interlopers who found themselves inside the hotel as the contest was occurring). Mike Skiff and a host of contributors have created a grand history of this culture of leather in this magnificent 90 minute documentary. But if the thought of all those concepts and heavy thinking intimidates you, fear not. There are contest videos, and did I fail to mention that the pictures are hot? If you missed that earlier on, forgive me. I reiterate; the men are HOT. Get "Kink Crusaders" now. It's going to look great on your widescreen.


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It's All Here Now
5 Out Of 5 Stars

This review is from: Blade Runner (Four-Disc DVD Collector's Edition). First off, I was surprised to see this set at such a low price. Ridley Scott's Science Fiction masterwork and possibly Harrison Ford's singular best acting job, four discs. and all three versions of the movie. The remastering is stunning, and makes it all the more stunning that "Blade Runner" was created before the CGI days.

In the future, Androids are called Replicants, but they also are smart and strong enough to go renegade. if they do, the Blade Runners shoot them down. Deckerd (Ford) is the best of the Blade Runners, and is called upon when an escaped group of Replicants returns to earth in search of immortality. Seems they have a built in 4 year expiration date. That is, except maybe for the one called Rachel, which Deckerd may be falling in love with. Played with smokey noir feminine wiles by Sean Young, she becomes the lynchpin in Deckerd's chase for the runaways.

Noir is a major operative word here. Los Angeles in 2019 is covered in smoggy rainstorms and decaying buildings. Only the rich can afford to build themselves a place in the sun, and they're the ones making the killer bots. Which means everywhere else is darkness, shadows and slivers of light. This is easily one of the most exquisitely filmed Sci-Fi thrillers in history, which means the original cut didn't pass muster with the suits. That version (the happy ending voice-over version is included), along with the 1992 director's cut and the Ridley Scott final version. One of the few DVD's I've found fit to actually own, "Blade Runner" is a marvel of a movie.

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This Moon is Made Of Cheese
2 Out of 5 Stars

"Apollo 18" takes the 'found footage' horror methodology (think "Blair Witch" or "Paranormal Activity") and takes it off world. You thought Apollo 17 was our last lunar mission? You think the Russians never landed on the moon? Got news for you conspiracy minded types out there; neither of these is true. Sent up under the guise of a National Security/Department of Defense kind of Top Secret mission, our three astronauts board the Liberty and Freedom vehicles for one more investigation of what's really up there. It ain't the Sea of Tranquility, that's for sure.

Before you know it, something is making creepy noises outside the Lunar Module. Samples are suddenly not where the explorers originally left them. And them dastardly things ripped up the USA flag! Not only are these critters scary, they're downright UnAmerican! Then again, they weren't too nice to the Ruskie that landed there before Apollo 18, and the unlucky astronauts realize that their government may not have told them everything about their journey or its intended mission. The handheld cameras soon begin jerking and spinning, the automatic cameras are going static, and the humans just might be losing their minds.

"Apollo 18" mixes just enough "now-you-see-it" spookiness to add some real scare jolts, but mostly, it's dopey space B-Movie fun. The Metal Munching Moon Mice from the old Bullwinkle cartoons were about as believable as the space bug monsters wreaking havoc on our helpless heroes, and some of the effects are laughably bad. There's plenty of stock footage in use to help make the original bits work chronologically, however, as a horror movie is concerned, the green cheese that is "Apollo 18"? It certainly isn't rocket science.


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Dance With The Devil 
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Uday Saddam Hussein was the sadistic son of Saddam Hussein, and of Saddam's two sons, the craziest. Uday decides that, like his father, he needs a body double to protect himself from those who'd like to kill him. Soldier and former classmate of Uday, Latif Yahia, is picked for the job. When Latif initially declines, it is made more than clear that the offer is not a request. It's a life or death choice.

Based in the true story of Latif, "The Devil's Double" is a tale of what unchecked wealth, greed and sexual avarice can happen when the safety mechanisms are taken away. Uday had a taste for fast cars and young women, and he discarded them equally when he tired of them. Latif finds that even those close to Uday are wary and cautious of Saddam's son's appetites and savage behavior. The longer Latif remains ensnared by a man who announces at one point, "God doesn't give me anything, I take what I want," the more he falls into desperation. Which means that if Uday wants to watch videos of the men he's tortured and killed (graphically included in the film), he will and everyone around him will uneasily tolerate it. Latif knows he could be part of the next random cruelty...and likely will, eventually.

The most amazing thing about "The Devil's Double," aside from the bizarreness of the true story, is Dominic Cooper who plays Latif and Uday. Latif is troubled and fighting the person he's been forced to become, Uday is a raging id without conscious. Cooper digs into both roles with so much verve that it's tough to discern he is really playing both roles. Cooper heads up an international cast that includes Philip Quast in a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of Saddam (and Saddam's double) and French actress Ludivine Sagnier as Sarrab, a troubled woman also caught between Uday and Latif. It's powerful and disturbing movie, and not easily forgotten.

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Tune in to KCUS
4 Out Of 4 Stars

A giddy, goofy piece of rock and roll camp that delivers on all counts, from the homages to classic rock albums and pictures to the cameos from Moby, Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Alex Lifeson, "Suck" makes glorious hash of the overworked vampire movie and rock band films. Dave Foley manages "The Winners," a mediocre band that travels in a hearse and can't catch a break. That is, until the sexy female bass player gets bit and becomes a goth idol. Before you know it, the band is gaining fans by the thousands, leaving a trail of groupies in their wake and Malcolm McDowell on their trail.

There is no real attempt to make this anything but a corny cult flick, even the 'animation' is hokey. Alice and Iggy are obviously having a blast chewing their parts, and there's an hysterical inside joke regarding Moby as the lead singer of a rival band. The original songs are just good enough to be Spinal Tapp-ish, but not too bad as to make you graon. The soundtrack itself contains the likes of Lou Reed, Iggy, Cooper, David Bowie and The Burning Brides, and is a true addition to the film. "Suck" is exactly the kind of film that should be on the A-List for a few decades' worth of Halloween parties.

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Micheal E Uslan: The Capeless Crusader
4 Out Of 5 Stars

"The Boy Who Loved Batman" is the almost unbelievable story about a Jewish Kid from Asbury Park who was so in love with comic books that he made it a single-minded goal to be a part of that magical world. By the time he was a teen, he had cajoled his way into the homes of artists and authors like Bill Finger (renowned artist) and Otto Binder (creator of The Marvel Family). By the time he enters college, he brazenly proposes that there be a college course on Comic Books and clinches the deal by comparing the origins of Superman to the biblical tale of Moses.

Soon after, Stan Lee comes knocking and before you know it, Michael is headed for DC comics. This young, purpose driven man is one step closer to being the Batman Writer he has always dreamed of, and "The Boy Who Loved Batman" is an enjoyable book into the love-affair Michael and his hero have carried from the day he first picked up a comic book. But what he doesn't realize is that his dream, to bring a dark, non-campy version of Batman to the screen is going to be a long and difficult slog, through the world of professional rejection, family tensions, and endless search for ways to keep his dreams headed forward.

Fortunately, Ulsan is one driven man. "Batman" was built on the blood of my knuckles" he comments at one stage, after 10 years of development hell stall his dream just as he thinks he's on the brink of achieving it. This may be the books only slow-point, as Ulsan makes choices to keep himself in the running (anyone remember the syndicated animated TV series 'Dinosaucers'?) until his expanding team finally locks down to Peter Guber, Tim Burton, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Ulsan not only has his dream come true, but beyond his greatest expectations. He then becomes invloved in all the Batman movies since (including the coming 2012 Dark Knight Rises) and writing both graphic Batman Novels and some surprisingly non-Batman titles.

He also hints at "disappointments" but is too kind to dish any dirt. (My guesses are at the "Batman and Robin" movie, given a quote about if a studio exec says you need two heroes and two villains, all they really want you to do is make an infomercial for merchandising.) However, Ulsan writes about many important aspects about comic history - there's even a Comic Book 'Museum' at Indiana University that bears his name - and the wheeling/dealing of Hollywood with such enthusiasm that it's really easy to be entertained throughout "The Boy Who Loved Batman," and that his unflagging enthusiasm for his dream allowed it to become real.

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3 Out Of 5 Stars

Two conflicting movies fight for dominance in the interesting if seriously flawed "Hollywoodland." One of them stars Ben Affleck as Geroge Reeves, a struggling actor who catches his one lucky break by becoming the star of the early TV Series, "Superman." Reeves is charming, funny, clever and witty, but not much of an actor. He has an angel in the form of Toni Mannix (an excellent Diane Lane), who picks Reeves to be her personal boytoy, sets him up with a home, jobs, all that her rich husband, MGM Studio VP Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins, channelling his inner Ed Asner). Eddie has his own toys, but he has a dark lining. Then there's the gold-digging Leona, who Reeves has an affair with, much to the consternation of Toni. But then, maybe Toni talked George out of marrying Leona. Or maybe George was just sick of Leona and called off a wedding to be with Toni. We never know, because a depressed Reeves committed suicide in 1959.

Or did he? This is the issue that "Hollywoodland" grapples with. Any one of these people orbiting Reeves had ample motive to kill him, and his death was clouded in controversy at the time. In this half of the movie, director Allen Coulter (his first movie after critically acclaimed TV episodes of The Sopranos and Rome for HBO) creates an interesting scenario of Old Hollywood, power, and dirty relationships. Not only that, he recreates the 50's in spectacular style, with a particular heads up for all the classic cars you'll see. Affleck is also at his best as the doomed actor, playong all the sides of Reeves in what was an Oscar worthy job.

However, there's a second part to this, and that is the Film Noir attached to it. This part stars Adrian Brody, doing a great job as hack detective Louis Simo. Simo gets hired when Reeves' mother raises suspicions that her son would not have killed himself. So Simo goes digging where others are too scared to, and Simo can't afford not to. Brody is engaging as Simo, although I kept thinking of Micheal Imperioli doing Chrissy on The Sopranos, to the point where I began thinking Brody was forced to watch the series to get the part down. And since Simo's story is trying to uncover the truth behind Reeves', it seems that we are forced to watch as the two stories, told as separate timelines (and in Reeves' case, as flashbacks) play out.

That's where the schism takes place. Simo's life is coming undone, and "Hollywoodland" keeps trying to force-fit Reeves' career slide with Simo's domestic problems. Reeves' life is so interesting that the continual forced jamming of Simo's becomes unsettling; the film works best when Simo is trying to pry up the boards of the all too pristine Hollywood system. There are so many subplots and spinouts from that main course, the movie ultimately falters. It's way better than "The Black Dahlia" or "Zodiac," but it's nowhere near the likes of "LA Confidential." Or even a couple episodes of The Sopranos, for that matter.

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3 Out Of 5 Stars

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are star crossed lovers. While that may sound like a set up for a romantic movie, in "The Adjustment Bureau," it could destroy the world as 'The Chairman' has planned. As loosely based on a story by Phillip K Dick, the adjusters come to Earth at the orders of the Chairman to quietly make little tweaks so the world runs just as it should. Trouble is, Damon and Blunt are not supposed to be in the plan.

In Dick's story, Damon's Dick Norris is not a rising polition, but some grey suit in an office who stumbles into the adjusters, who happen to be dogs. In the story, the dog is supposed to bark and delay Damon. In this case, the adjusters are given human form and magic fedoras that make John Slattery look like he just crossed the street from shooting Mad Men, but in the movie give them the power to navigate strange portals (a store door that opens to Yankee Stadium, for example) and make things work as the Chairman sees fit.

Religious Allegory much? While that is never mentioned, Chairman = God gets obvious and tiresome as the movie stretches out. While Dick's original story was deeply misogynistic, at least Blunt is given a woman who could conceivably be the strong character Damon would fall for. Ultimately, the faith versus fate versus freewill argument consumes the movie and the holes begin taking up more space than the magic doors. Blunt and Damon have good chemistry, Terrence Stamp is a menacing adjuster, but the movie can't maintain a steady pace. "Inception" this isn't.

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Gasland Set your sinks on fire

4 Out of 5 Stars

You've probably seen all the America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) commercials of late, cheerfully consoling us that safe, clean, natural gas can be easily extracted from the ground while happy people live above, leading clean and healthier lives. The Oscar nominated GASLAND exposes the corporate lie of Natural Gas mining. From the start, where filmmaker Josh Fox receives a letter offering him something near $100,000 for the rights to drill gas from his mountain and creekside home in upstate Pennsylvania, to the end, where you watch New York City and State lawmakers fight to keep the watershed that provides millions of people from polluted drinking water, Fox explores how the Power Companies have managed to manipulate the system with the help of corrupt and gullible politicians the outright greed of the Bush/Cheney administration.

The central point of GASLAND is that, in 2005, the EPA made changes in environmental policy that are called "The Halliburton Loophole." That rule, snuck through by Cheney and his secretive energy board buddies (including then CEO of Enron, Ken Lay), exempted the Halliburton developed technology of hydraulic fracturing (now widely known as 'fracking') from regulations of the old Clean Water Act. The end result? Drilling for natural gas and the unbelievable amount of water and chemicals pumped into the ground required to create a well are all but completely exempt from regulations regarding the toxins that are needed to extract the gas.

Of course, all the companies involved say that they have nothing to do with hundreds of drinking wells across the country suddenly turning unsafe withing weeks of fracking. Or animals getting sick and losing their hair. Or the methane explosions of people's homes. Or the mass die-offs of animals and fish when chemicals leak into a stream. But Fox, who tried to contact companies and individuals in mining throughout the course of his investigation gets the same treatment as the folks in states across the country; either "no comment" or massive run-arounds. When a State Environmental Agency head in Pennsylvania tells Fox that he'd help Fox and other PA citizens of Dimok (the first town Fox visits), only to note when the meeting ends that the state slashed the office's budget and basically dismantled it.

But more revealing than anything else in the movie is the notorious flaming sink footage. When fracking shatters the aquifer of a peace of land, the gases seep into the water table. The chemicals used to pump the gas out also get into the water, and before you know it, you have flammable tapwater. It's not just that water that is getting mixed up, the air outside the well is loading up with toxins to the point where a rural area of Colorado where the population is approximately one person per square mile is as dangerous or more so than a bad day in Los Angeles. GASLAND serves as a warning and reminder; the same smiling advertisers trying to convince you that clean, accessible natural gas is not threat to you at all are the same folks that told you off-shore drilling was both safe and existing regulations guaranteed that even if the miniscule chance accident were to ever take place, they could stop it from becoming disastrous.

When you watch GASLAND, there will probably be a detractor ready to tell you that the film is just lefty propaganda. Just remember the last sentence of the previous paragraph, and make sure to remind your companion of two little words. Deepwater Horizon.

Inside Job  Fuel Food, Inc. Restrepo Blue Gold: World Water Wars
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House of Numbers DVDUtter Bunk
One Out of Five Stars

"House of Numbers" is a horrible, angering mess. That is the kindest thing to say about it. Basically a rundown of every anti-AIDS conspiracy theory since the crisis began, it repeatedly asks the question over and over; Why Have We not Found The Cure For AIDS? Simple question, sure. But the answers are more complex that this movie wants to address.

For starters, AIDS is a relatively young disease. The main outbreak and plague broke thorough in the late 70's and swelled through the 80's and 90's. While research suggests that there may have been cases far earlier, it wasn't until this period that the Scientific and Medical communities began taking serious research into the illness. In the USA, that research was near nil, thanks to the likes of Jesse Helms and the despicable policies of Ronald Reagan. So asking why we have not found a cure is foolish. Cancer and even the common cold are far older and more researched diseases, yet we still have nothing to cure either. Health Research is not a toaster; things do not just pop out after four minutes.

Then they try and look at the disease itself. They roll out the same tired tropes, like poppers gave you AIDS, the drugs were what caused AIDS deaths (partially true, the misunderstanding of the EARLY drugs - like AZT - harmed people), and the usual crap that gay men having sex were doing it to themselves. The modern 'drug cocktail' has been refined over the course of near 20 years to have balanced the side effects since then, but there's still plenty of conspiracy theorists who will try and convince you that "Big Pharma" is just trying to get your money.

Then they find the Doctors who are happy to tell you their theories why HIV and AIDS are right and the rest are bogus. However, the overwhelming preponderance of the Medical/Scientific have no doubts that HIV and AIDS exist and can kill you if not properly treated. The question raised in "House of Numbers" that HIV may not even be communicable is not just ignorant, it is dangerous. People are exposed to different infections every day (and I'll jump back to that common cold analogy again), but you don't have an illness every day. Illnesses break through in a variety of ways, and sometimes the factors involves vary from moment to moment, even in the same person.

"House of Numbers" raises question and offers no answers. It throws theories out but offers few facts. It questions the deaths of hundreds of thousands, but offers little insight into what killed them. It's easy to cast aspersions on things you do not want to believe. "House of Numbers" drags out stupidity and wild-eyed fear and then tries to offer it as controversy. Like Climate Change or Intelligent Design deniers, there can always be found a small group of true believers willing to argue that there is dissent over 'the facts.' But opinions are not facts and "House Of Numbers" does not offer much of factual info, and that makes it dangerous.

 And the Band Played On Philadelphia Frontline: The Age of AIDS Silverlake Life - The View from Here Angels in America
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The Company MenThe New Normal
3 Out of 5 Stars

Bobby (Ben Affleck) is your typical white collar success story. He has a great job at a conglomerate company, a pretty neat boss, Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), a good wife and two kids in a fabulous New England home. Then the crash of 2008 occurs and Bobby's job, despite twelve years at GTX (a transportation company of some sort), wasn't so valuable after all. Soon he has to figure out what his measure of a man truly is, and it's not pretty. "The Comapny Men" focuses mostly on Bobby's struggle, but it is an ensemble film with strong support from Chris Cooper, who struggles with the realization that a man pushing 60 in this job market is paddling upstream against younger and cheaper help, Kevin Costner, a contractor who is (IMHO) written into a cliched part, Craig T Nelson, the CEO making 22 million as he downsized left and right, and Mario Bello as the HR director who begins to doubt her ethics.

This is not an easy movie to watch, as it probably cuts a bit too close to the bone in a country facing 9% unemployment. Bobby and Phil (Cooper) soon finding that there are sacrifices both intentional and unintentional that have to be made for the sake of survival. There's also underlying messages about being prepared for the future and just how much we've thrown away for "kids working for a dollar a day" (as Costner's character unsubtly jibes Bobby incessantly). People are losing their cars, homes, families and lives in reality; "The Company Men" holds up an unflinching camera to this world. It's a good movie, just don't expect a feel-good wrap at the end.

 The Town State of Play (2009) Gone Baby Gone
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RubberSelf Inflation
3 Out of 5 Stars

"Rubber" is a very funny 30 minute short horror satire expanded into an 80 minute mediocre movie. However, the brilliant premise of a tire wreaking revenge across the desert and falling in love is gutbustingly funny in short bits at a time. The Tire (listed as "Robert" in the credits) humanizes itself by wobbling, rolling, shimmying and doing unexpected things throughout, but when Robert gets mad, heads are gonna blow. They also discover a penchant for NASCAR and swimming pools.

The failure of the movie comes when a "Greek Chorus" of spectators gets added to watch "the film" via binoculars somewhere in the California desert. They get used to break the fourth wall by doing things like chastising one of the viewers for trying to videotape the movie. "That's piracy," one of them scolds"You could co to jail!" They seem to have been included mainly as padding, even if Wings Hauser does some scene stealing as one of those spectators. Meanwhile, Robert is rolling through the desert, blowing up things he can't mow down, and having a tire epiphany when he comes across a junkyard where the leftover tires are being thrown atop a blazing pile.

Soon, Robert has decided his steel belted brethren are ready to take over the world. A few times during "Rubber," I kept thinking about Stephen King's "Christine," and that perhaps Robert was that particular vehicle's last surviving member...and boy, was he mad. The final shot alone is a hoot and a half. Ignore the fact that this tire is over-stuffed and you'll enjoy the fun.

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WizardsFamily Friendly from Fritz The Cat?
4 Out Of 5 Stars

I saw this movie when I was in High School, in a grindhouse type of theater and - at the ripe age of 17 - thought it was fantastic. After all, it had crazy (read not Disney) weird animation, wizards, and seemed really 'adult' at the time. It took me a few more years before I discovered "Heavy Metal" magazine, but Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards" was probably as close as I got to an introduction to that kind of underground comic style.

For whatever reason, I felt a pique of interest in watching it some 35 years later. While I still admire what Bakshi did with an eccentric and new style of animation, "Wizards" has lost a little of its fascination over time. Bakshi (who started his career doing Terryoons for TV like "Deputy Dawg") wanted to prove he could do more than his controversial adult 'toons like "Fritz The Cat" or "Heavy Traffic." He also started using trace animation and the coloring in of stock footage, which makes for odd effect. But how Bakshi would consider this "family fair" is baffling, as the fairies and dwarves may be cute and fun, but the themes are strictly for grown-ups.

In the war between the brother wizards Avatar and BlackWolf between magic and technology, the flagrant use of Nazi footage sure skips the subtlety of any message, and the heroine is clearly showing her nipples under her sheer fairy wear. (As to the Anti-Nazi themes, one needs to remember that Bakshi's family came to the US to escape persecution in WWII.) The jokes are often forced and poorly timed, with the 'goons' of BlackWolf's army often slipping into slapstick that - while dopey at age 17 - now seem like jaggedly improper fits. Still, Bakshi's vision for "Wizards" was unlike anyone else making animation at the time, and kin only to R. Crumb.

I also have to admit that I am giving the "Wizards" DVD a bonus star because of the bonus feature interview with Bakshi. He talks about the politics of making the film, interesting tidbits about being pals with George Lucas and making his film the same time Lucas was readying "Star Wars," and inside stories about becoming an animator in the early 60's. His talk explains a lot about the quirks in "Wizards" as well as his future "Lord Of The Rings" movie. Even more illuminating is hearing Bakshi explain that "Wizards" is his favorite among his creations, and the only one he ever has sat down for an interview upon its DVD release. To swipe from a title of one of his other movies, "Wizards" is a really Cool World.

Cool World  The Lord of the Rings (1978 Animated Movie) (Remastered Deluxe Edition)American Pop  Heavy Metal (Collector's Edition)  Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Vista Series)
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Passion PlayBirds of a Feather
4 Out Of 5 Stars  

This intriguing, if slight, allegorical drama features a cast that works a low key script effectively. "Passion Play" (and no, it has nothing to do with the Christian Ritual dramatic presentation about the Death of  Jesus) features Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Megan Fox in a love triangle over an angel. That angel happens to be Fox, who Rourke discovers in a carnival sideshow after surviving a mob hit ordered by Murray's gangster, Happy. But Happy isn't going to be happy unless he can keep this angel for himself. Roarke, who is playing a washed up jazz trumpeter Nate Poole, refuses to accept that this heavenly being is going to be stolen from him, and for that matter, neither does Rhys Ifans, who runs the Freak Show Lily (Fox) ran away from.

The surprising thing about all this is Fox, who plays Lily with just enough smoldering hurt that all my usual prejudices about her were dispelled. Each character is trying to escape their own rhetorical demons (Poole to free himself from his drug destroyed past, a life devoid of beauty and joy for Happy, and literal cages for Lily) that the noir-ish elements of the film work well. Murray, who can really do malevolence well (he's even better in "Mad Dog and Glory"), slithers his way through Happy's role with his usual low key smarmy. In his efforts to continue his come-back, Rourke does a decent job as the dazed Poole, even if it just comes off as a lower degree version of his character in "The Wrestler."

My biggest gripe was that I had the twist figured out by the time Poole finds the side-show. I won't reveal it, naturally, but if I could pluck that particular feather from "Passion Play," my guess is so will a bunch of other viewers. Don't let that stop you from watching this, though. Softly spun movies like this are hard to find.

  The Wrestler Mad Dog and Glory Angel Heart (Special Edition)  Scrooged
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Inside JobIt will take decades to undo this damage
5 Out Of 5 Stars

A few years ago, I watched the documentary "The Smartest Guys In The Room," about how Enron systematically duped the system, employees and the public into believing their fraudulent practices were a legitimate business. In 2005, they went from the USA's seventh largest company to bankruptcy, leaving a trail of death, debt and broke employees while the principles scooted away with the bulk of their fortunes. It was revealing to watch how they cozied up to presidents, regulators, and essentially eliminated anyone that caught on to the giant ponzi scheme the company was. I watched and wondered, how did they get away with this, and could we stop it from ever happening again. The Oscar Winning "Inside Job" answers that creeps like Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were only the tip of the iceberg.

"Inside Job" takes an in-depth look at how, starting with Reagan and continuing with President Obama, the financial pirates of Wall Street bought their way into massive paper fortunes, played the markets like parlor games and then got the world to buy them free passes when the house of cards came down. Narrated by Matt Damon, featuring plenty of interviews by several key government players, including Elliott Spitzer and Barney Frank (who, the film does NOT mention, voted for the "Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000", which is a key bill in the slippery slope). Several of the key Government types get sudden convenient cases of memory loss when pressed for certain details that they were intricately involved in (see the financial lobbyist who gives his Wall Street masters a 'B' grade for their handling of the collapse), and how major ratings firms suddenly turn their respected viewpoints of Triple A commodities ratings for companies on the verge of collapse into "it's just an opinion."

Nobody, left or right, gets out unscathed. Reagan gets first whacks for elimination of regulatory agencies, put in Alan Greenspan as his ideological watch-dog, and opened the world up to Savings and Loans. It took about nine years for them to collapse (under Bush One), so Wall Street had to come up with something new. That became derivatives, which Clinton legalized despite strong strong objections (and the person objecting is told firmly to keep her mouth shut) under Graham/Leach in '99 and effectively repealing the Glass-Steagall act from The Depression. With all the regulatory firewalls removed, banks could now effectively make a poorly advised loan, bundle it to a whole bunch of risky loans, sell this to someone else, then that group could sell it up the chain, with the complicity of the bonding agencies that gave these ticking time bombs triple A ratings.

When it comes to deregulating, though, nobody did it better than Bush the second. In 2004, he got the Securities and Exchange Commission to drop regulations against predatory lending, unleashing a new wave of sub-prime lending to the poor even if it was obvious that the loans wouldn't be repayable. Just bundle it into securities/assets, sell it and the risk belonged to someone else. By 2004, banks could leverage funds beyond their wildest dreams, so they did; some up to 33 times their available cash. Then came the biggest hit of all, the watchdog arm of the SEC was cut to a single employee. In an industry that has 5 lobbyists for each elected official, there was only one person left to investigate wrongdoing.

"Inside Job" also tackles the thorny issue of morality; when is too much not enough? Banks began to figure out that these bundled securities weren't going to be able to withstand the market much longer, they insured themselves against their failure then sold them even harder to drive the profits up before the explosion. They could profit now, success or failure, and things began to resemble a competition. Who has the most jets? Who has the most houses? Who has a private elevator that no-one else can use? So when the explosion came, starting with Bear Stearns in Spring 2007, the bankers had already covered their own behinds. And again, thanks to Bush Two, when the bankers realized the house of cards was about to enter meltdown, when they came crying to the government with their hands out, AIG and Goldman Sachs got 100 cents on the dollar. No risk, all reward.

President Obama fairs little better. He is criticized for putting the same old robber-barons in place (Tim Geithner, Larry Summers) and not pushing for tougher regulations post-crash. Even scarier is how these old hands are now advisers to business schools AND financial groups, which means the same flawed rules they played by to create this septic situation are being bought and paid for by financial institutions and taught and sold for by educational institutions. That is what is so maddening and ultimately depressing bout "Inside Job." While Enron (and folks like Bernie Madoff, Bernard Ebbers (MCI), Allen Stanford and his ilk) give you a convenient and singular target, "Inside Job" shows just how spread the dominoes are, and just how eager most of the players are to reset the table just as it was before.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room  Wall Street (Insider Trading Edition) No End in Sight Taxi To the Dark Side

Easter Day

Apr. 25th, 2011 12:53 am
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Joel and I decided to head for the local Borders Bookstore, which is having a going out of business sale. I bought a few CD's, Joel got some books and music. It was a warm and sunny walk in the city. I picked up Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies' lead singer gone solo), Pernice Brothers, Elliott Smith, Sting, Violent Femmes, The Kooks and (no sniggering) a Toto CD.
Later, I had dinner with some friends, but Joel decided to stay home and avoid the temptation of non-Passover food (Passover ends Tuesday). Had some VERY tasty vegetarian Chinese in Philly's Chinatown. I had some non-chicken General Tao's Chicken with Brown Rice and soup, with Fried bananas for desert. It was probably good Joel skipped this, as there was way too much wheat in the non-meat.

We also watched some movies over the weekend, including "Inside Job" (Oscar winner deserved, but maddening), "Charlie Wilson's War" (Tom Hanks, terrific), "28 Weeks Later" (nihilistic and stupid) and "Triage," a very good war drama.
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Splice B Movies With Big Budgets

3 Out of 5 Stars

This movie is such a super-collided atomic mess that it us hard to rate "Splice" with just a single star for how endearingly awful it is; and for that reason, it's almost tempting to give it five stars for being such a stunning screw-up. Obviously, someone had high-hopes for "Splice;" by casting Oscar winner Adrian Brody and handing it to up and coming director Vincenzo Natali (best known for cult science-fiction classic "The Cube"), "Splice" had a high concept and old fashioned B-Movie science fiction plot going for it. Brody and co-star Sarah Polley are the scientists who decide to ignore all the rules and go against those stuffy conventions that they get the scientific breakthrough they wanted. The bad news is: they get the scientific breakthrough they wanted.

Yes, that's right. These ever so hip scientists (Brody wanders the lab with ironic t-shirts, there's Anime artwork in the couple's apartment) are genius DNA specialists that somehow match human DNA with amphibians, scorpions, birds and who knows what else to create Dren, which happens to be Nerd spelled backward. Like most science fiction monsters, Dren grows at a ridiculously fast pace, has super-human intelligence, childlike behavior and not much by way of moral turpitude. Of course, Brody and Polley soon lose all scientific objectivity regarding Dren and fall in love with their little monster, and that's when things go horribly wrong.

While this might seem like boiler-plate science-fiction, "Splice" may be the first hipster Science Fiction movie. The best sci-fi/suspense/horror works when your monster somehow is an allegory for whatever the zeitgeist of the world is at the moment. "Splice" works that angle in that "Dren" begs us to consider what nasty creatures we may create if we start messing with Mother Nature, but soon starts going for new levels of irony. Before you know it, "Splice" is whipping questions of gender identity, circumcision, lust, love, parenting, rape and finally, the usual evil corporation profit mongers. With ever upping of the ante, as a viewer, you're left to wonder "did they really just go there?" The answer is yes, and the film just keeps on going. The final third of the movie is such a mess that you feel like you're watching the train wreck. It's not wretchedly bad (for that, you need "Alien Vs Predator" or "Battlefield Earth"), but "Splice" - which borrows so much from the likes of "Species," "Alien," "Prophecy" and even "Rosemary's Baby" that you may feel a bit of deja vu - will still leave you stunned.

 Species (Collector's Edition) Aliens (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) The Prophecy Battlefield Earth AVP - Alien Vs. Predator (Widescreen Edition)
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Exit Through the Gift ShopTrading Places, Street Art Style
4 Out Of 5 Stars

What starts off as a documentary about notorious London street artist/prankster Banksy doubles back on itself and becomes a documentary about the documentarion, one Thierry (Terry) Guetta. Thierry is a Frenchman who emigrated to Los Angeles and started a used clothing shop. He also has some sort of weird Obsessive/Compulsive disorder with video-recording every waking moment he possibly can. Somewhere in the camera ear of Thierry's life, he becomes obsessed by street/graffiti artists and begins to tape them and their nocturnal activities. As he climbs the strata of artists, he eventually encounters Banksy. Voila! A film is born.

Only one problem. Turns out Thierry is a complete dud as a film maker and Banksy takes over the tapes and editing. This is where the film gets interesting. After watching Banksy throw a huge and profitable opening in Los Angeles, Thierry takes Banksy's offhand comment about creativity (Thierry has developed some street art and a personna of his own) to mean that Banksy is approving of Thierry's work and should become the next big name in the artist community. Before you can say 'spray paint,' Thierry is overhauling an old network studio and planning his own, major coming out exhibit.

The question is, can art be made just by sheer force of will? Thierry seems like such a savant that his ascension into a world-class artist seems hard to swallow. Even the artists he was filming on his camera seem dumbstruck that this "character from the 1860's" could launch himself without much experience; there are some who believe the whole "Mister Brain Wash" (as Thierry has now dubbed himself) is one of Banksy's elaborate pranks on the creative universe. That's not to say the film is not without entertainment value. Thierry is, despite his loopiness, a charming eccentric, his own determination to hype himself into a success supplies "Exit Through The Gift Shop" with humor and interest. The gray area the film treads between creativity, hype and scam is so blurry that the DVD becomes its own circular argument, and a heck of a lot of fun.

Exit Through the Gift Shop [Blu-ray]  Restrepo Inside Job Waiting for "Superman"
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How many of these 100 movies have YOU seen? Copy the list, and mark those you've seen with a + sign. The winner is listed first for all past years.

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
+The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

+The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
An Education
+District 9
+Inglourious Basterds
The Blind Side
Up in the Air

+Slumdog Millionaire
+The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader

+No Country for Old Men
+Michael Clayton
+There Will Be Blood

+The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
+Little Miss Sunshine
+The Queen

+Brokeback Mountain
+Good Night, and Good Luck.

Million Dollar Baby
The Aviator
Finding Neverland

+The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
+Master and Commander
Mystic River

+Gangs of New York
The Hours
+The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
+The Pianist

+A Beautiful Mind
+Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
+The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
+Moulin Rouge!

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
+Erin Brockovich

+American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
+The Insider
+The Sixth Sense

+Shakespeare in Love
Life is Beautiful
+Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line

+As Good as It Gets
+The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
+L.A. Confidential

The English Patient
Jerry Maguire
Secrets & Lies

+Apollo 13
Il Postino
+Sense and Sensibility

Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
+Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
+The Shawshank Redemption

+Schindler's List
+The Fugitive
In the Name of the Father
+The Piano
The Remains of the Day


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