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Month: January 2005

Pretty silver discs: 2/1/2005

So, the legions ask, what should I be looking out for on DVD this week?

Well, the Babe Family Double Feature DVD is out. I’d be a little leery of this, although I liked both the Babe movies — it appears to be one DVD, so picture quality may suffer. Still, a cheap way to get two good movies.

DVD of the week is the Chariots of Fire Special Edition. It’s about time; this was previously only available in a full-screen version. It comes with commentary, screen tests, making of documentaries, deleted scenes, and so on.

I’m not going to buy the Karate Kid Collection, but I’ll sleep better at night knowing it’s out there. This appears to be new pressings — at least, the Karate Kid DVD has a bunch of extras, including a commentary by the director and the stars, which didn’t exist on the old standalone DVD. The other DVDs don’t have any such extras, though. I’d talk about how this set will ride on the coattails of Hillary Swank’s Million Dollar Baby, but I’m laughing too hard. “Sweep the leg!”

Hm, Ray is out. There are a bunch of editions, so choose wisely.

Bill Murray’s serious acting career probably started with Where the Buffalo Roam. Which was his third significant movie, so it’s not like his recent stuff is really a change of pace. He’s such a mensch. Anyhow, this DVD may or may not suffer from the same screwed up soundtrack as the Anchor Bay DVD release. (They didn’t get the rights to the original music and substituted pablum.) We’ll hope not.

Finally, there’s the complete run of some TV series called Wonderfalls that they tell me was good. All I know is that you could go over to the Borders in the Cambridgeside Galleria and buy a copy right now, cause it’s on display a day early.

Tools for creation

Some notes on Apple’s new word processor/page layout software, Pages:

It is a decent enough word processor for pumping out text; it is a consumer-class page layout program that won’t fit the needs of anyone doing serious layout work. It’s been driving me nuts, trying to get stuff done in it. You can’t put borders around an in-line paragraph. You can put borders around a text box, but it’s all or nothing: you have four borders or none. You can’t shrink table row heights to an arbitrary size; there’s a fairly widely spaced point beyond which it will not go. You can’t delete a single page in the middle of, say, a newsletter. You can’t shuffle pages around.

All that said, it’s good consumer-grade stuff. You can do some fairly flexible things with layouts, including columns with individually controlled widths, multiple different column layouts on a single page, different headers/footers for even and odd pages, and so on. So it’s not a total loss, and it’s as good as anything for just writing in. But don’t expect to be formatting books in it.

For ten bucks less, you can get Nisus Express. Mellel is only forty bucks. On the other hand, for the $80 you pay for Pages, you also get a top-notch presentation program in Keynote.

Art in science

If you’re into the Boston art scene, you might want to check out the Berwick Research Institute’s BRI:AIR, A Retrospective. I have somewhat of an ulterior motive in saying this, as my brother co-designed the exhibition, but I’ve been down to tbe BRI a few times and it’s always been interesting. It opens this Saturday and runs for about two months.


It’s my belief that the next wave of action movie innovation — or at least excitement — is going to come from France. Luc Besson made the initial pass at this back in the 90s with La Femme Nikita and Leon before a couple of regrettable US failures — but now he’s back in France producing movies like Wasabi and the Taxi series and Haute Tension and so on. The guy has his own little action movie empire over there.

You also have people like Florent Emilio Siri, who directed the brilliant Nid de Guepes; he’s got the director’s chair on the next Bruce Willis flick, Hostage. You’ve got Unleashed, a French production starring Jet Li, Bob Hoskins, and Morgan Freeman — which looks like it’s going to be the best Western Jet Li movie to date. (Written, as it happens, by Luc Besson. He pops up all over the place.)

And then you’ve got the just-released Assault on Precinct 13, a remake of the John Carpenter classic. It was directed by Jean-Francois Richet, who has not done much of anything of note, and it is absolutely smoking hot.

Not perfect or anything. I’m still wondering where the forest in the middle of Detroit came from. But these young punk French directors really seem to like what they’re doing, and Richet has a great feel for the uses of violence as punctuation to a tense scene. His sensibilities are different enough from mainstream Hollywood that when the movie turns a corner and something dire happens, it’s a shock rather than being just another cat leaping out of a closet.

Also he’s very crisp. Come to think of it, I don’t recall any cats jumping out of closets in Assult on Precinct 13. When something loud happens, it’s someone shooting at someone rather than a false alarm. It’s direct and snappy and immediate.

Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne aid and abet this effort. Hawke’s got a nice tense depth to him as the tortured cop, and Fishburne plays the deadly gang lord with that cool Fishburne poise that is so very convincing. The tension between them is the core of the movie — well, besides the action — and it helps immensely that Fishburne makes us believe he doesn’t understand Hawke’s motives; it helps immensely that Hawke makes us believe that he’d see saving Fishburne as a means of redemption.

It’s just a loud action movie, and it did kind of get dropped in the middle of January where bad movies go to die, but if you want to see a good action movie then you ought to catch this one. Five years from now, you’ll be able to talk about how you were into French action directors before they were cool.

In the end

It’s pretty great that Iraq is getting to have an election. I don’t have a lot of hope for it; I think that we’ve failed to prevent the Sunni/Shia conflict from heating up, and I am not yet convinced we’re going to see any kind of stability in the country over the course of the next five years or more. But I’m glad that Iraq is having a multi-party election. It’s been over fifty years since they’ve had one.

Kirk sings

You ought, perhaps, to be watching Boston Legal.

Yeah, it’s a David Kelley show. He’s flashy and he goes for the cheesy drama too often and he allows his shows to slip into the precious. What’s worse, this one co-stars William Shatner, the very avatar of kitsch. Can the acting stylings of James Spader overcome these handicaps? Surely not.

But yes, because it’s fucking brilliant. Let me tell you about last Sunday’s episode.

The key plotline all season has been the relationship between Spader and Shatner, both lawyers; Shatner is a partner at the firm. He is becoming senile; the other partners are worried about the effect this will have on the firm, but Shatner is also the best rainmaker they have, so they can’t push him into retirement, and as a partner he can’t be stopped from taking cases. Spader is his only ally, and clearly his closest friend.

Last episode, Shatner took a case on his own, forgoing any assistance so as to prove a point to the partners. (Rene Auberjonois and Candice Bergen, by the by, who are quite good as always.) Spader, at the behest of the partners, asserts himself as second chair and flatters Shatner’s ego until he gives in. They’re defending a doctor who prescribed an unapproved weight-loss medication in order to keep his patient from dying of a coronary. Shatner does a great job, a surprisingly great job, of defending the client.

Then it’s time for his closing. William Shatner stands up, and braces himself, and tells the jury that he is at risk for Alzheimer’s. And then he looks down, and he’s embarrassed, and he pushes his way through it. He tells them that they wouldn’t know what it’s like to be losing it, to be slipping. He meets their eyes and you believe that it’s only because he has to. He tells them about the unapproved prescription drug he’s been taking, and how it feels to get your memory back. He finishes and walks away both relieved of a burden and weighed down by a new one, a burden he has taken voluntarily. It was great acting, lifted above the merely good by the conscious appropriation of Shatner’s typecasting. You come into this show expecting Shatner to play an aging egotistical goofball, and Shatner quietly works from that base to show you how much more there is to the character he’s playing.

It’s going to get too cute for its own good in a season or two, because it’s a David Kelley show and that’s how these always go. It’s almost too cute right now: Al Sharpton’s been a guest star twice, playing himself both times. But man, those first seasons? Those are always a rush, and this one has James Spader and William Shatner, and the older man is focused like a laser on the job of burning away everything we always laughed at about him. And he’s using his own reputation, his own myth of whimsical senility to do it. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Without prejudice

Speaking of Oscar nominations, here’s the stupidest thing I’ve read today:

But here’s an interesting dog that isn’t barking… Michael Moore gets passed over for the big award he coveted… and the lefty bloggers aren’t up in arms. In fact, nobody on the left is talking about Moore today.

I still strongly believe that no blogger is obligated to write about any topic, but I just find it interesting that web personalities who one would think would be big Michael Moore fans are collectively shrugging their shoulders over this. You know a lot of Christian conservatives are grumbling about the three nominations in technical categories for “The Passion of the Christ,” and Kathryn’s already noted this on the Corner.

Other possibilities, which Jim Geraghty seems to be incapable of considering:

  • Much of the left isn’t upset because they don’t think Farenheit 9/11 deserved a nomination, because they don’t automatically assume that movies which advance ideological agendas similar to their own are de facto great movies.
  • As countless people pointed out all year, Michael Moore is not the spokesman for the Left.
  • The Oscars are not controlled by a left-wing conspiracy. (Hard to believe, I know.)
  • Geraghty’s assumptions about who is a big Michael Moore fan are hopelessly flawed.

Less snidely, more seriously… I think it’s really sad that a guy who writes for a fairly important conservative national magazine doesn’t understand the difference between appreciating someone’s ideology and appreciating their artistic talent.

It's a boring envelope

The Oscar nominees have been announced. My reaction is, as usual, lukewarm. From the top (of the page):

DiCaprio did not deserve a Best Actor nod. Jude Law might have. Bill Murray might also have, but I didn’t expect anything there — the Academy seemed unlikely to recognize his work twice in a row. You only get one quirky nomination per decade, or something. Paul Giamatti, however, is the big slight. What’s up with that? My choice would be Clint Eastwood, but if Giamatti had been nominated it’d have been a tough choice.

Alan Alda for Best Supporting Actor? Uh. Also, Morgan Freeman? Uh. This is just the halo effect; the Academy likes giving the hot films lots of nominations. Peter Sarsgaard deserved a nomination for Kinsey. I give this one to Clive Owen either way, though.

As I’ve mentioned before, Natalie Portman should have been nominated as Best Actress, not as Best Supporting Actress. That’s purely people not wanting to piss off Julia Roberts. Laura Linney also deserved a nomination for Kinsey. If Portman had been nominated, she’d be my choice; failing her, I think Kate Winslet, but I have no strong opinion.

If Natalie Portman had been nominated for Best Actress, Cate Blanchett would be my choice here; as is, Portman will win and probably deserves to win. It’s an immensely strong category, though. Hey, there’s Laura Linney! I couldn’t really object to any of the nominees winning; this is a very strong group.

How cute. They nominated Shark Tale to fill out the Best Animated Feature group. Incredibles will win and should win.

Art Direction, Cinematography — I think these are deserved for The Aviator. It looked incredible.

Directing, um. Nothing for Gondry? How about Brad Bird? Although there’s a long argument to be had about animated feature directors; in some ways it’s apples and oranges. But it’s tough, directing an orange, so I tend to think Bird deserves a nomination here. Of the nominees I’m hard-pressed to choose, but I guess either Million Dollar Baby or The Aviator. I thought the latter was directed well; the problems come from DiCaprio’s acting and the meandering screenplay. But the Best Director of the year was Richard Linklater, for Before Sunset, an absolutely outstanding achievement.

No opinions on some of these… The Aviator again for Film Editing. No, wait, Collateral is nominated. That was awesome. Actually, where’s the Collateral nomination for Cinematography?

Hm — ah, Last Life in the Universe was submitted for the 2003 Best Foreign Lanaguge Oscar and, regrettably, was not nominated. Hero was nominated in 2002. And didn’t win. Man, those Academy voters are dorks.

I wouldn’t give Best Picture to any of the nominees. Admittedly, I didn’t see a couple of them, so what do I know? If I had to choose, it’d be Million Dollar Baby, but I don’t see how Closer wasn’t a better film.

Since when is Before Sunset an Adapted Screenplay? Weird. Give it the win in this category, especially since I’m not enthralled by any of the other nominees as screenplays. Too many structural flaws. And, again, where’s Closer?

And finally, I would just barely choose The Incredibles for Best Original Screenplay over Eternal Sunshine. It’s a very close call. Move Before Sunset to this category, and I throw my hands up and declare a three-way tie.