Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

A documentary alá 'Spellbound' about a ballroom dancing competition between public school 5th graders in New York City (where else would 5th graders learn ballroom dancing?). The results of the competition are, of course, the climax of the movie, but the kids themselves are the main focus. The filmmakers present them matter-of-factly, for the most part letting them speak for themselves, and the film avoids being too treacly, cutesy, or puffing itself up with pathos. It's simple, innocent, and utterly charming. (Be sure you stay for the credits to catch one of the best lines of the movie.)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Batman Begins

This is a very good movie--plenty of well-filmed action, some nice but unobtrusive special effects, good characters and good acting. Co-written and directed by Memento writer/director Christopher Nolan, the movie, like my favorite 1930s gangster movies, combines the best of old and new comics--a dark view of a decaying urban society and an unbendable altruism and optimism from the good guys. (The more 'modern' amoral sadism of, say, 'Sin City', is far less appealing.) Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne does a good job brooding about, and shows a very impressive physique, especially for someone who had turned himself into a human skeleton to play an edge-of-sanity-insomniac in last year's The Machinist. As the co-star love interest, Katie Holmes as crusading DA Rachel Dawes was a poor choice. Holmes looks like she's about 14 years old, and regardless of the scene is always wearing a silly half-smirk. Luckily she's not around that much, and her negative presence is more than compensated for by the high quality of other secondary actors--probably the best thing about the film. It would be nice to see a movie where Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson (again playing a martial arts mentor--is he being typecast, a friend of mine asks), Gary Oldman, Rutger Hauer and Tom Wilkinson all get to play larger parts. But their scenes here are little bits of excellence that help float the movie above the run-of-the-mill superhero flick. Also very good is Cillian Murphy as the creepy Dr. Jonathan Crane (later, I imagine, to become the villian the Scarecrow). There are plenty of set-ups for sequels if they care to make any, but the loose ends splay out fairly naturally rather than being the eagerly pumped up come-ons common to studio blockbusters. If the producers can maintain the quality of 'Begins,' I'll be among the first in line to see the next prequel. Or sequel. Or whatever.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The History Channel vs The Heroes

I caught a part of the a History Channel show on the secret weapons of the Nazi empire the other day, and got some enlightenment on the true facts of the Telemark Saga, and thought I would compare with the movie, (previously reviewed in this here blog...).

In the movie, Kirk Douglas is a physics professor at Oslo University (?) who is contacted by a resistance fighter (Richard Harris) with microfilm detailing what's going on at the plant. He and Harris then commandeer a small passenger vessel and force it to go to England. According to the History Channel, the British find a worker from the plant on a Norwegian fishing vessel that has sailed into it's waters.

According to HC, the Brits then send in 2 gliders filled with commandos to attack and blow up the plant. Both gliders crash, losing all hands on board. They subsequently send in 6 norwegian nationals (I think by parachute), who carry out the first attack on the plant, blowing up the equipment being used to create heavy water. In the movie, Richard Harris and Kirk Douglas have already returned to Norway. When the gliders blow up, they're already there waiting for the commando assistance. They subsequently decide on their own to carry out the mission themselves.

Both the movie and the HC agree that the Norwegians wore British uniforms when they attacked the plant to prevent 'retailiation upon the citizens' should they be captured and/or killed.

Though they succeed in blowing up the equipment, it barely stops the Nazi's as apparently they have spares in reserve (both HC and movie agree).

The HC then reports that the Americans send in bombers to blow up the facillity. There was no mention of this in the movie. Though I think this did stop the Nazis from producing more heavy water, it didn't destroy the supply they'd already generated. According to the HC, one of the six norwegian's they'd sent in first attack had stayed behind, and he succeeds in blowing up the ferry that ends up transporting the water. This pretty much jives with the movie, but there's no mention about how the Kirk Douglas character rides the ferry himself, gathers all the children on board at the back of the boat for 'the explosion' so that they can be saved, etc.

There's also no mention of how he happens to meet his ex-wife in the outback of the Norwegian mountains and has an amorous liasson, but presumably they considered this to be of less than historical importance...

The HC does mention about how the Norwegian nationals do have to ski into town, which makes the skiing sequences at least appropriate to the story...

Interestingly enough, it appeared as if the HC was actually using footage from the movie as part of their documentary.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Watched this movie again and would like to report it being funnier the second time around. I remember seeing it in Seattle when it came out, and thinking that it was funny in a quiet sort of way, but with jarring bits of juvenile humor. Well, maybe I've devolved since then, but the juvenile stuff didn't bother me when I watched it again. Very funny film.

The director, Andrew Flemming, seems to have moved into television projects of late. His previous movies share with 'Dick' a focus on unconventional love lives of the highschool-college dorm set. Maybe he wanted to be a hipper John Hughes.

I thought Michelle Williams was great as the teen obsessed with, then jilted by, Tricky Dick. (Very subtle, Mr. Flemming.) She appears to be keeping busy with mostly secondary parts in smaller films, but she's got a larger part in an still-in-production film written by E. Annie Proux and directed by Ang Lee.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ah, the glamorous politics of 1972...

I'm not sure if this post belongs in the movie web log or the politics web log? Oh well--I'll put it in both. It's none of my work, either, just a charming stroll down memory lane with Carol Joynt, contributing to Harry Shearer's blog at that bastion of effete Hollywood liberalism, the Huffington Post. It's rather long, but it's worth it to read the whole thing. A sample:

Soon enough Jeb [Magruder, of Watergate fame] quit the White House to go to work for the infamous Committee to Re-Elect the President, where he was deputy director of the campaign. I quit UPI to move to New York to work for Time. We kept in touch. As far as I was concerned, he remained a good source. In the summer of 1972, Warren Beatty staged a lollapalooza fundraiser for democratic presidential nominee George McGovern at Madison Square Garden. I was assigned to cover it. After the event there was a celebrity-crammed party at the Four Seasons Restaurant. The party is memorable to me for many reasons. One was the once in a lifetime moment in which a flirtatious Jack Nicholson, coming face to face with me in a hallway between the Grill and the Pool room, said, "Are you looking for me?" to which I replied to Jack Nicholson, "No, I'm looking for Warren Beatty," and walked away. Oblivious to anything but my job, I wanted Beatty to tell me how much money had been raised. "Call me in the morning at the Carlyle," he said when I found him. "But not before noon."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

All the President's Men

With the revelation that Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat,' various retellings of the Watergate scandal are hitting the news. I highly recommend the 1976 Alan J. Pakula film 'All the President's Men' based on the book of the same title by Woodward and Bernstein. I watched it again recently and was glad to find confirmation of my fond memories of it from when I had first seen it long ago.

The film is chock-full of good actors, from the leads (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), to the supporting cast (Jason Robards and Jack Warden), to minor parts (including Ned Beatty, F. Murray Abraham, and Jane Alexander). And the actor playing 'Deep Throat,' Hal Holbrook, even looks something like Mark Felt. The direction is quite good as well, wringing a lot of suspense from a movie where most of the 'action' takes place in scenes of people talking on the phone and typing. I particularly liked the choice to show Nixon and other government figures only through television sets and newspaper headlines. It creates a sense of their distance and power that feels real, and that emphasizes the improbability of the two local-beat reporters the film brings you so close to playing a key role in bringing down a president. Most of the exterior shots are at night, and show a city of monumental buildings but empty streets, implying a place of immense isolation and arrogance.

I also appreciated the movie's lack of condescension. Perhaps because the story was already so well known in 1976, the script doesn't waste time pedanticly explaining everything in simple-minded ways. It makes the film seem more authentic, as if you're another reporter in the newsroom, eavesdropping on the excitement, cringing as the exalted editor Ben Bradlee angrily bellows from his office, 'Woodstein!'

Alas, the ending of the movie comes too quickly, and will probably leave you wondering if they ran out of money or were planning a sequel. It probably reflects the real-life movement of the Watergate story into the mainstream of American political attention, further away from the city desk of a minor Washington newspaper. Other newspapers and reporters, Congressional committees and Supreme Court hearings played increasing parts once the scandal started heating up. That transition could have been handled better, but saying that a movie isn't long enough is hardly a damning criticism.

Any other Watergate movies out there? I can think of only two:
'Dick' (1999)--a charmingly funny account of the heretofore unknown story of how two ditzy adolescent girls helped bring down Nixon. (Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward? I didn't remember that... Have to see this movie again.)

I've not seen Nixon (1995), and I have a certain amount of emnity toward the director, Oliver Stone, but it might be interesting to see Anthony Hopkins as Nixon going crazy in his last days in the White House.

Searches on IMDB turned up a movie I'd never heard of: Robert Altman's Secret Honor (1984). Altman films seem to alternate between being good and being highly annoying. I'm not sure what point in the cycle Altman was at when this came out. The format seems tailor-made for annoyance, but with Phillip Baker Hall (I'll always remember him as the library cop from that Seinfeld episode) as Nixon, it could be interesting.

The more recent The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004) looks like a good movie, but seemingly has little to do with Watergate.