Nick & Nora's

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Obama, Clean: Biden

Yes, according to Biden, Obama is that rarest of rare jewels; a clean black guy. In fact, not since the golden era of Bill Cosby's (Doctor Huxtable to you and me) immaculate and stylish sweaters and his enormous Doctor-money house with twenty-foot ceilings has America seen such a squeaky-clean black guy. He's cleaner than Flavor-Flav. He's cleaner than Huggy Bear. And he's certainly cleaner than Theo when he got his ear pierced by his buddy 'Cockroach' in less than sanitary conditions. The prime-time infection that followed captivated and delighted America, but also led some to the mental fringes of an ugly and marginalized question: Are black people just... dirty?

Democrat Senator Joe Biden thinks so. Thankfully, he's found one who never fails to scrub behind his ears, washes his hands before every watermelon, and only wears the filthy one-strap overalls with nothing underneath on special occasions, like during the manual acquisition of cotton from a vast field.

Let the word ring forth: Obama = Clean.

Thanks Joe!


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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Salacious Skydiver Sabotage:
The Coleman Francis Murders?

The recent tabloid murder of a Belgian skydiver, apparently motivated by a romantic rivalry has captured interest around the world. However, it's especially sure to raise eyebrows among one particularly small and dedicated group; cinephiles with a taste for old-school schlock and an affection for the dark bottom of the cinematic barrel. Enter 50-60's-era schlockmeister Coleman Francis and his seminal work, "Skydivers".

IMDB summary:
"In this cinematic ode to freefalling and java we meet Harry and Beth. They run a ridiculously unsafe skydiving school and consume the Gross National Product in espresso roast, just to get through their terribly troubled marriage. Harry cheats with a local town tramp, while Beth runs around, nonplused, making sure their clients don't plummet to their death . . . often. Eventually the spurned skank decides to teach Harry a lesson and pours acid in his parachutes, proving that unlike Maxwell House, not everything about the couple's business sense is good to the last drop."

And as Bill Gibron at Popmatters.Com explains him...

"So go ahead and praise those international auteurs who exposed the seedy, slimy underbelly of their beloved homelands. Champion those creative cinematographers that found beauty in the ordinary and grace in the routine. They can't hold a month old can of Spam to the life as lumbering mediocrity created by Coleman Francis. Instead of celebrating The Bicycle Thief or worshipping La Terra Trema we should point to The Skydivers, or Night Train to Mundo Fine as films that truly express the verisimilitude of the spiritless, colorless indifference that is reality. As much as we hate to admit it, Coleman Francis was in tune with the tedium of our life and times. He remains the true neo neo-realist." - Bill Gibron, PopMatters.Com

Coleman Francis is sure to be an unknown to most, except for morbidly curious seekers of grade-Z atomic-era cinema, or fans of the legendary Mystery Science Theater 3000 or MST3K, (I fall in both categories) which featured (and made fun of) most of Francis' films. His obscurity is admittedly deserved. A slovenly drunkard whose cinematic trademarks were a langorous pace, wretched lighting and framing, massively unphotogenic actors, and editing conducted with minimal regard to coherence of time, place, or the blocking of his actors. His films transcend the incompetence of the enthused and talentless rookie like his contemporary Ed Wood, and achieve an aesthetic badness so aggressive and complete, it can only be called a style.

Though even as B-movie fame goes, he never reached Ed Wood's iconic status. (even non-cinephiles have some awareness of Wood's infamy) His films were neither as lovably incompetent, or as comedy-of-errors funny as Wood. These were angry, mean, unlovable little things. Incompetent not by goofy missteps or inexperience, but with what looks like bitter, deliberate focus. Coleman's camera doesn't misstep or humorously slip out of focus, it hates the audience. Kicking the viewer with half-framed closeup shots of pockmarked faces and scenes of splayed men in filthy rooms that look as if lit with a penlight. Want coherent timelines? The camera skips forward through scenes and jumps around simple dialogue sequences like it's falling down stairs; anticipating by several years Seijun Suzuki's jumpy narrative style in the bright and charming 'Tokyo Drifter', though I admit I don't know if Suzuki was a fan. Characters conversing five feet away will look as if shot miles apart. His characters don't 'read' the lines, as much as they mumble, grumble, sputter, grunt, and chew their way through them (Francis included, starring in his own 'Red Zone Cuba') Francis is like Wood, minus the boundless, empty-headed optimism that made his efforts so clumsily endearing. Francis however, was apparently the greater realist.

Maybe life does imitate art? Or maybe Francis' bleak directing style and disjointed narratives of barely-in-frame ugly people cheating, murdering, and backstabbing one another truly had tapped into some primal truth of the human condition. Maybe he truly had cultivated a style with its own ugly integrity; what one critic speculated as 'neo neo-realism'. Now with such an uncanny intersection of Francis' vision into cold reality, one can't help but wonder if time will indeed vindicate his cinematic vision and render his small but hardy filmography increasingly relevant. Are we on the verge of a Coleman Francis renaissance? Are Francis' bizarre films seeing some sort of macabre cultural vindication? Almost certainly not. But at least it's fast-food for thought for fans of one of filmdom's great unknown anti-heroes.


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Thursday, January 18, 2007

DISNEY Rumor Mill: Rapunzel Unbraided in Trouble?

EDIT: I notice in my stats that this article is getting some email-linked visitation from none other than our Disney Worldwide Services Inc. friends at Burbank. I don't know if they're sharing a laugh at the hysterical inaccuracy of it, if it's just an idle visit, or if I've somehow inadvertently released the coordinates to Walt's cryotube and now I need to be eliminated. In either case, I'd like to remind our readers that this is purely unsubstantiated rumor. I cannot verify it myself, and am not presenting it as fact. We clear? Nobody planning to sue? I will gladly remove it if requested/coerced. Ok then, read on.

Since John Lasseter's promotion to Chief Creative Officer at WDFA, word has it he's been shaking things up quite a bit. Which is only good news to those of us who have found Disney's animated output over the last decade less than inspiring. Many animators murmur that there'a a culture of creative stagnation at Disney, and are of the opinion that things need to be shaken up; the pond needs to be drained. New energy is needed.

As you know, lengendary animator Glen Keane is helming WDFA's Rapunzel Unbraided. Yet another bit of digital fantasy that promises if nothing else, opulent visuals. But the story?

Rumor has it Lasseter wasn't happy. In fact the grapevine murmurs that he was so unhappy with the results, that an exchange something like this took place: "Glen, you've done a lot of good for the studio, but the film isn't working. And if you can't get it working, I will have to pull it from you."

Yikes. If my sources are correct, Rapunzel could be in for some major retooling. I dunno what wasn't working, only that John wasn't happy. And what John wants, John gets. Hopefully this'll bode well for WDFA's future.


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

PIXAR Rumor Mill: W.A.L-E to be directed by...

Heard through the grapevine that it's Andrew Stanton, writer/director of Nemo. I was thrilled to bits when I heard this, as I regard Nemo as Pixar's only flawlessly written and directed film (with the possible inclusion of Toy Story) as well as their most beautiful and atmospheric.

Been hearing awesome stuff about this. Early word is that it's an ultra-widescreen, unusually dialogue-free, very visually-driven love story. The buzz is that Pixar is essentially pushing art-film territory. For someone who can't wait to see animation tackling some more challenging subject matter than teaching small animals the value of family, this is exciting stuff indeed. Risky? Maybe. But if any studio was ever in a position to take such a risk, economically and with the customer goodwill their name carries, it's Pixar and the timing is perfect. Enough with Disney's decade of animated trainwrecks and mediocrities, time to move forward. For all the talk of the abundance of CG films stagnating the animation industry, quite the opposite is occurring. The animation market is now evolving at a faster clip than it ever has, perhaps even more than in Walt's heyday. We're becoming more quickly burned out on the same old stories. And this can only bode well for the future.

We've gone from maybe seeing one animated film per year, to nearly 20 in the space of less than a decade. How much farther can this go?

Cannot wait to see some stills. Perhaps a teaser with Ratatouille?


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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Awards Season Review: The Departed

The Departed is a film Chock full of technical virtuosity, smartmouth writing, savage violence, and so much raw plot, story, and character material that it seems enough for several films. All the essential boxes were ticked off, yet all I could think when the lights rose was that maybe my impression of it it would improve after a few viewings. At which point I realized I hadn't enjoyed it enough to want to revisit it. All I had was the clammy awkwardness of high expectations dashed, of an undeniably lukewarm reaction to a film and director I wanted to love so badly.

The Departed is a film to be technically appreciated far more than it is to be enjoyed. However, there are very simple reasons why it doesn't work as well as his other films. My chief problem with the flick was that it's just crammed. Scorsese wants to tell a full-fledged cat-and-mouse crime story, as well as a fully realized character study. The end result is a crime story largely lacking a broad sense of tension and narrative momentum, and an undermotivated protagonist whose past is dealt with so cursorily in a brief expletive-laden dialogue, that it failed to provide a deeply-felt character launchpad to sustain Leo's arc over two and a half hours. There's lots of good stuff here; the dialogue crackles as expected, the direction is energetic and rife with Marty's usual audience-abusing bag of jarring grotesqueries, but for all the analysis that can be poured into it, it simply lacks fundamental emotional kick. Maybe because it's trying to do too much; maybe it's because all the compelling and cinematically important backstory was poured into a one-note character who changes the least. But most likely, it was because huge stories are not what Scorsese excels at. The Departed is too long, too much, and lacking the ferocious singularity of focus that made masterpieces of his earlier work. It's big. It's huge. It's complex. Unfortunately, simply understanding the myriad plot machinations does not make the film more emotionally interesting.

Maybe it's Leo's cursory backstory treatment that makes it tough to care about his present situation beyond a superficial scene-by-scene tension. Maybe it's the crammed, uneasy balance of cat-and-mouse plot and character-study that made the late revelation about Costello a relatively unexciting development, when it should have been a bombshell. Maybe this just isn't the sort of film Marty's comfortable making.

Elsewhere, in a discussion on Leo's Oscar chances, I summed up my feelings thusly:

I dunno about Leo, but Departed has a real shot at best pic. It's a Big Important Film pretending to be about Big Important Things with an all-star cast and an important director, and it has the added benefit of being deceptively hollow, unpleasant, and most important of all, quickly forgettable. And it's a critical and commercial darling. Frankly, it's a shoo-in.

Put another way, The Departed is a film that demands the utmost faculties of the viewer to learn things you don't want to know about characters you don't like. One of Marty's least interesting films.

Which, sadly, means it stands an excellent chance at Oscar gold.


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Monday, January 15, 2007

Saddam's Execution: The Pwnage Catchphrases

Everyone knows a particularly nasty character can't get pwned in the third act without the accompaniment of a wry and or chintzy catchphrase that's appropriate to the situation. I put the question to the film geeks at rottentomatoes, and here's what I and the fine folks came up with.

In no particular order...


  • "Noose to see you"

  • Saddam: Hung like a camel?

  • Saddam: Gallowed be his name

  • "Hey Saddam....Chin up!"

  • Saddam: Swinging Nutters

  • "HEY SADDAM! I Never knew you swung that way!"

  • "...Kabul went and got itself in a big damn hurry ... sometimes after work I go to the park and feed the birds,I keep thinkin' Uday might just show up and say 'Hello'. But he never does. I hope wherever he is, he's doin' ok and makin' new friends."

  • There are two kinds of people in this world, my friend: those with regimes and those who hang. You hang.

  • "You in some deep shi'ite now, boy"

  • WTF. *Looks at phone* Saddam hung up on me!!

  • Hang around. We'll order out.

  • Saddam - "Look what I've been roped into!"

  • You know what happens when a dictator gets hung by a rope? Same as everything else.

  • Look at the bright side Saddam, at least you have a timetable for exiting Iraq.

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