Hey folks... Harry here with another of the old man's rumblings from that cellar he calls a lab. More like the torture chambers what with all the spikes and whips and tapes of ISHTAR... But that's another deal all together. Meanwhile... I'm stepping stage left so Moriarty can rumble....
ey, Head Geek...
Have you ever noticed how you can have some weeks where it feels like nothing's going on, and then suddenly you turn around and find that you can barely fit in everything that you want to do? Don't get me wrong, though; I'm not complaining. Far from it, actually. It's been a great and busy week at The Moriarty Labs. My only real problem is sorting it out so I can share it all with you. One thing that will help the process is a new addiction that has gripped the Labs with a stranglehold. I don't even know who to blame for finding it in the first place. All I know is one of the henchmen recently came into my private library with a rather distinctive bottle filled with a bright neon green liquid. I barely looked at it as I took my first sip. POW! It was like a mule kick to the head. I took a closer look at what I was drinking. Jones Soda. Small company. Never heard of it. Green Apple flavor. Never had anything like it. I took a second sip, expecting to be prepared for it this time. POW! Now, less than a week later, that's all we're drinking around here. Of course, it's damn near impossible to find, making it a painful addiction, but it's worth the effort. I'm currently working on a plan to have it administered intravenously. Find it. Try it. And stay the hell away from my stash.
I am equally thrilled at satisfying another of my new obssessions by finally seeing Miyazaki's poetic and extraordinary NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (or KAZE NO TANI NO NAUSHIKA). It's somewhat strange for me to randomly jump from one period of Miyazaki's career to another. Normally when I come in this late in the game, I try to see someone's work in the order in which it was produced. You get to see how someone's primary themes and interests develop and are played out over the course of their work. With Miyazaki, I've already seen PRINCESS MONONOKE, which feels to me like a deeper, more ambiguous exploration of many of the ideas presented in NAUSICAA. That's not to suggest that I didn't enjoy myself. I did, immensely. Once again, I am struck by the lyrical beauty of the scenes in which Nausicaa uses her glider, by the way Miyazaki captures flight so effortlessly. This time, though, there's an action edge that's not present in a film like KIKI. There's also very clearly deliniated good and bad characters, which makes this easier to have a rooting interest in. And, as always, there are dozens of images that I will never forget, whether it's the attempted rebirth of the Giant Warrior or the millions of Ohmu tracking their wounded baby or the shattering sky battles. I will be joined by Harry Lime and Henchman Mongo for this Saturday's showings of CASTLE IN THE SKY and PORCO ROSSO, starting at 7 PM at the Bridges Theater on the UCLA Campus. Anyone who wants to say hello or discuss the marvelous work that's been highlighted by this delightful retrospective should just remember how much The Professor loved IRON GIANT this year. If you need more of a hint than that, I can't help you out.
Before I press on to some of the other topics I want to discuss this week, I'd like to offer a correction to a story I broke here in the RUMBLINGS, the death of MINORITY REPORT. Based on a letter I got, I did some nosing around, and I've discovered that there are actually several sets still standing on the Fox lot. These stages are on hold for the film. This isn't to say that the plug won't be pulled, and it's not to say that it will. Right now, there is some major work being done to the script, and the future of the production will depend on solving some key issues. I wish Scott Frank and Spielberg well in their efforts, but I also hope that if they can't craft the story into a home run, they have the courage to pull the plug. No one needs another half-hearted SF ripoff of BLADE RUNNER. With talent like this aboard, there's a good chance they'll be the ones to get it right.
I want to thank the hundreds of you who have written me letters regarding my appearance on David Poland's KABC radio show last week, even those of you who sent me comments like "You're a fawkin' sellout PUSSY!" One of the things that Harry and I discuss frequently is how high a profile AICN should have via other media. I don't think anyone understands how often we turn down invitations to things that we think wouldn't be appropriate, or that don't really advance the site in any significant way. I went on this show for one specific reason: David has been very vocal in his feelings about this site, and he's raised some issues in the past that I felt demanded discussion. I don't believe in having "feuds" with people; it's silly and it's counterproductive. I also believe that when I speak to people about AICN, I am able to share my passion for the work we do here and impress upon them the hard work and the ethical struggles that I feel distinguish what we do. As we grow, as we learn, we will continue to do appearances that help validate what we're doing here. I like knowing that Harry trusts me to represent this site. I also like having a different form of interaction with you guys. When the caller was put through who said, "I'm first," I had to laugh. Hearing the little quirks and eccentricities of AICN in another context makes me smile. Of course, those of you who feel like this site was your secret, an underground thing that you don't want to see mainstreamed... well, I do care about what you have to say. I'm curious... for those of you who listened to the show live or who have visited the archived version that a fan was so nice to create, what are your feelings about running into us out there in the real world? What do you think about Harry's next twenty or thirty appearances on ROGER EBERT & THE MOVIES?
Speaking of television, I'm sorry I wasn't able to have the RUMBLINGS up yesterday. I wanted to be able to provide you all with an advance look at the season premiere of one of the funniest, smartest, and most consistently moving shows on television, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. One of the remote locations of the Labs is an information gathering center that is topped by Mr. Pointy, a powerful satellite dish. Late Saturday night, I got a call from Pointy's keeper, who told me that he had just stumbled across the network feed of the show. I dispatched several henchmen to bring me the tape immediately, and I watched it twice Sunday. I don't know if I've ever shared with you my deep and powerful love for this show, but it seems to grow exponentially every season. I was worried about how the show would change as several key players left and the cast moved into college, but it turns out there was no need for concern. Joss Whedon and his talented group of writers and producers have managed to extend the show's central metaphor in a clever and affecting manner. Whereas the show was always a canny x-ray of the reality of high school up until now, the premiere episode managed to capture the experience of starting college in a more concise and believable manner than the whole first season of FELICITY. The cast this year is a little thin, what with the departure of David Boreanaz and (slobber, drool, slobber) Charisma Carpenter, but the returning regulars all did knockout work, redefining their characters quickly and memorably. Also, ain't Alyson Hannigan cute this year? Man, I'd love to take a trip to band camp with her. I do hope that rumors of Seth Green's departure are exaggerated. He's leaving after episode six this season to go shoot a film, much like he did last year due to AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME. There's a lot of dispute over whether he'll be returning or not. I hope he does. His presence is one of the show's most consistently snarky jokes. For those of you who haven't tuned in to the brilliance of this program yet, go find the recent ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY cover story on the show, read every word, then dive in and catch up. Week in, week out, there's no better hour you can spend in front of the box.
I was saddened to hear about the poor, misguided souls who turned out this weekend to protest the premiere of DOGMA at the New York Film Festival. Seriously... don't these people have anything better to do with their time? I know Lion's Gate must be nervous about the controversy. They have yet to release a BLAIR WITCH-sized breakout hit, despite having scored several significant pickups in the last year or so. DOGMA has several elements in place that would seem to indicate that this could be the film -- Matt Damon and Ben Affleck together again, the stunt casting (even if it works) of Allanis Morissette as God, the return of Jay and Silent Bob -- but there's no guarantee here. The controversy might end up helping the film, and it also might end up creating false expectations for it. This sort of thing isn't unknown to Kevin Smith, either. The film A BETTER PLACE which he and Scott Mosier produced is set for a DVD release by Synapse Films (more on them below) in the near future, but Synapse can't find a VHS partner for the release because it deals with teens, a gun, and the repercussions of violence. Having not seen either DOGMA or A BETTER PLACE, I'm not prepared to comment on the quality of either, but I can say that having spoken with Kevin, he's not just out there looking to stir things up for kicks. He's a thoughtful guy with a moral streak a mile wide, and those who would try to silence him should thoroughly investigate their own motivations. Take a lesson from one of Kevin's heroes, people... turn that other cheek, and do unto others. Get it?
I don't think LAST NIGHT is going to be the breakout hit that Lion's Gate wants and needs, but it sure is a groovy little film. Written and directed by Don McKellar (co-screenwriter of the brilliant 32 SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD and THE RED VIOLIN), it's a picture with a simple, immediate premise. The Earth is going to end at midnight on a certain day. Everyone's known for months. The cause of this destruction is never specified, and I prefer it that way. This isn't a disaster film; it's a movie about those precious little moments and emotions and impulses that make life so very, very special. The film starts at 6:00 in the afternoon on the day everything is ending, and follows a number of characters through those last few hours. McKellar plays the lead in the film, a disconnected, emotionally hollowed-out man named Patrick who wants to spend his last hours alone. His sister is played by current queen of the Canadian indie scene, Sarah Polley, in a small but lovely role. David Cronenberg plays the president of the gas company, and he continues to prove that he's not just a great director but also a very memorable performer. I'd say he and Sydney Pollack are neck-in-neck for best director turned actor at this point. Sandra Oh, who was so good in DOUBLE HAPPINESS and who appears on the painful, numbingly stupid ARLI$$ each week on HBO, manages to almost walk away with the film as a woman who wants to find her husband so they can kill themselves together, controlling their fates instead of accepting them. In the end, though, the performance that really has haunted me in the week since I saw the film is that of Callum Keith Rennie, who plays a guy determined to finish his time on the planet without regrets. His laundry list of sexual urges and the way he goes about satisfying them is both funny and pathetic, sad and real. He's mesmerizing, and I'm sure we'll be seeing more of him soon. In the end, LAST NIGHT isn't a great film, nor will it be remembered as the year's best, but it does pose some essential questions about our priorities and our needs as people in a world that can be frightening and unforgiving. When it rolls out in limited release, you should make the effort to find it.
For anyone who suffered through this weekend's season premiere of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, just know this: I feel your pain. Regular readers of this column know that I am a longtime fan and advocate of the show. In fact, I was planning to use today's column to offer praise to Lorne Michaels and NBC for what I felt was a good, if not great, 25th anniversary celebration of what is inarguably the most influential comedy show in TV history. I thought there were some wonderful clips shown, some proper respect paid to the history of the show. I think there were some sins of omission, but even three hours is barely enough time to scratch the surface of such a wealth of material. On the other hand, 90 minutes can seem like an eternity when something falls as flat as the season opener did. I thought there was exactly one highlight, a very canny and hysterical parody of another of my favorite TV shows, OZ. Whoever convinced Tom Fontana and the cast of that show to participate should be commended, because the effort paid off. For those of you who didn't make it that far, the opening of the sketch explained that following the events of the last SEINFELD episode, Jerry continued to piss off the prison guards until he was transferred to a maximum security penetentiary... OZ. Every joke in the filmed segment was right on the money, and the use of the actual sets and film instead of video helped sell the parody. Nothing was repeated, and the sketch was exactly short enough to maintain itself.
So why was every other piece of writing on the show so pedestrian and predictable? I am genuinely horrified to see how quickly Lorne has allowed the show to snap back into its typical format. Cold opening, credits, opening monologue, commerical parody, commercial. Sketch, commercial. Sketch, commercial. Sketch, commercial. Weekend update, commercial. Musical guest, commercial, and so on. I mean, didn't he watch the anniversary show? How is it that I can appreciate what made SNL into an institution, but the man responsible for it all can't? When SNL premiered in 1975, it shattered all conventional notions of what could be done in a comedy variety show. The very idea of a commercial parody so real that it could be mistaken for genuine was unheard of. Lorne fought tooth and nail to get difficult, controversial material on the air. Several shows even destroyed expectations as to what SNL could do. He wasn't afraid to let one sketch be stretched over several breaks. He wasn't afraid to let subtle character work on the air. These days, the show's as subtle as a fart in church, and it hurts to observe. I still think there are some talented cast members on the show, even if I'm not convinced that guys like Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan, and Horatio Sanz are adding anything to the program, but the level of writing that's getting on the air right now is shameful. If this is how Lorne plans to treat this program this year, then maybe a quarter century is long enough.
Now... I mentioned Synapse Films above. It's a fairly small, fairly new DVD company. Why am I excited about such an unproven name? Because of the founder of the company, the one and only Don May, Jr. Did you happen to catch that amazing, remarkable NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD laserdisc in the early '90s? Well, that was the work of Don May. Or how about the astonishing TEXAS CHAINSAW special edition package? May again. This guy is... well, he's one of us. He loves these movies. He told me recently that one of the highlights of his life was the moment when he sat down with George Romero to look at the original negative of NOTLD. He held it in his hands and was overwhelmed by a sense of film history. That love of his reads loud and clear whenever you watch a film that May is responsible for transferring. If you need that proven to you, why not check out his new special edition DVD release of Frank Henenlotter's BRAIN DAMAGE? I did, and I was delighted by the entire package. The film is one that I must admit I hadn't seen before, and it's a surprisingly good gore comedy. I've never been the biggest fan of Henenlotter's other work, at least not in the execution of it. I've always enjoyed the ideas in films like BASKET CASE or FRANKENHOOKER. With this film, though, it felt like he got it right. It's funny, it's incredibly foul, and there's actually a point buried under all that spurting carnage. One of the best things about the disc is the secondary audio commentary by the director, who sounds reluctant to be pressed into service. That reticence fades quickly, though, and he turns out to be an engaging and funny speaker. The transfer of the film is outstanding, especially considering the tricky hard blue color scheme it was shot in. Films like this are the reason I love my DVD player dearly, and guys like Don May are the reason the format will ultimately be the favorite of any serious cinephile. Now I'm dying to see his upcoming release of VAMPYROS LESBOS. Oh, yeah, baby...
Anyone seen Fiona Apple's new video yet? It just premiered on MTV and VH1, and it's directed by PT Anderson. While I find it hypnotic -- maybe it's all those close-ups of the beguiling Miss Apple -- it's nowhere near as magical as the video they collaborated on for PLEASANTVILLE. Her cover of "Across The Universe" is wonderful, but it's the work that Anderson did in bringing the video to life that really makes it a classic mini-movie. I love that he's one of those guys who is willing to hop over and make a little short film (since that's what the best videos are) between epics like BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA. Keep your eyes peeled for "Fast As You Can."
The best story I read or heard this week was easily the news that Stanley Donen will be directing THE 7 DEADLY SINS, based on a script by Anthony Minghella. I know that this is a Henson Company production, and there's going to be some surreal effects work involved, so I'm surprised by the courage it took for the company to choose Donen as the film's helmer. I applaud them, though. Donen proved that he's just as sharp and as funny as ever when he accepted his special Oscar on the 1998 broadcast, and it's always seemed shameful to me how Hollywood turns its back on older artists who still have so much to contribute. Billy Wilder is one of those guys who was put out to pasture too soon, in my opinion. His wit hasn't dulled with time, so why not let him continue to give us gems? We're in the midst of a generational shift in Hollywood right now, and I know that it's my sincere hope that we don't make the same mistake by ghettoizing filmmakers like Boorman, Pollack, Frankenheimer, or Friedkin just because they're not young or hip or edgy any longer. Like anyone, they have their ups and downs. Unlike their younger competition, though, one misstep can end decades of creative productivity. Let's hope Donen knocks this film out of the ballpark and sends a clear and much needed message. Even more importantly, let's hope people listen.
On the other hand, the worst story I've heard or read in the past week was regarding Halle Berry. I've enjoyed her work in the past, but there are certain things that I believe you simply do not do. One of them is piss publicly on the project you're currently shooting. Especially when that project is a beloved property like X-MEN. What was she thinking? She appeared on THE TRAVIS SMILY SHOW on BET recently to plug her HBO picture about Dorothy Dandridge. Now, Berry has every right to be excited about the film and proud of it. She produced it, and she fought to get it done. It's a labor of love in every sense of the word, and I commend her for doing what Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson couldn't. Still, that doesn't justify her comments when asked about the state of writing for black actresses in Hollywood. She replied, "I've been reduced to doing a remake of a comic book called the X-MEN because of a lack of work for black actresses."
You've been "reduced" to doing it? Oh, poor Halle. I guess someone just stormed up to her (pun intended) and put a gun to her head and said, "Here's this property that is loved by millions featuring a role that allows a black woman to be a strong, spiritually centered superhero, and we DEMAND that you be in it." I mean, for god's sake... Angela Bassett's actually been quoted in the CALGARY SUN recently as being upset that Fox never came to her to discuss the role she was linked with for over a year. I guess Bassett's just got her head up her ass, right, Halle? I guess she's been "reduced" to the same kind of roles, right?
Honestly, I'm surprised Fox didn't fire her. Who needs an actor on a set who believes that a project is beneath them? Who honestly believes they're going to get the best effort from that actor? And most importantly, what are we, the fans, supposed to think of someone who spits on a project that we have been waiting over a decade to see? If I were Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, or Bryan Singer, I would be horrified by her comments, and deeply insulted.
Finally, I want to apologize for once again delaying my discussion of the proposed cultural committee and violence tax, but Harry and I have been busily discussing alternatives. We don't want to just rail against the status quo here on AICN; we want to propose a possible solution. We're looking into a comprehensive program of media education, starting with kindergarten and going all the way through college, that will help teach people how to process and filter media. The fact is, we live in a media soaked society, and that's not going to change. If anything, it's going to get more intense as technology advances. You can try to fight censorship all day, but that always comes down to arguments about taste. By proposing a change in the way we educate children and prepare them for the world, you eliminate the need for censorship altogether. There's no such thing as a dangerous idea if you've been prepared for viewing films and TV or reading books or listening to music. Ideas are just ideas. The only thing that's dangerous is someone who doesn't know how to think for themselves. As AICN continues to hone this concept, we plan to discuss it in greater length. Until then, just know that it's one of our primary concerns.
Later this week I'll be bringing you reviews of Ang Lee's RIDE WITH THE DEVIL as well as a film that you'll have to move quickly to find at your local theaters, a profound new anime experience called PERFECT BLUE. Let me slam another Green Apple soda and put on my Writing Cap (copyright 1999). There should be plenty of surprises as well, so I've got to get moving, get started on them. Until then...