Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Samurai dreams and stranger things

By Edward Copeland
As I continue my journey through as many of the films on our final list for the non-English language film survey as I can before the Sept. 16 deadline, I've now watched Kenji Mizoguchi's 1953 classic Ugetsu (or Ugetsu monogotari, depending which title you prefer). It starts slowly, but it certainly builds and contains stunning camerawork and a simple message that stands true for all time: Be careful what you wish for.

Late in Ugestu, a character comments that success always comes at a price and it's a lesson the two brothers learn the hard way in Mizoguchi's film.

Set during Japan's civil war period in the 16th century, Ugetsu tells the story of Genjuro and Tobei (Masayuki Mori, Eitarô Ozawa) who are struggling to support their families in a small village.

Genjuro has a sideline of making exquisite pottery, which he often sells to make ends meet for his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and his young son Genichi (Ikio Sawamura).

Tobei fantasizes about a life as a noble samurai warrior. When the warfare reaches their village, Genjuro and Tobei decide to embark on a hazardous journey to sell more of Genjuro's crafts, taking along Tobei's wife Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) since she's the daughter of a famous oarsman and will help them guide their boat across risky waters.

From there on, war becomes the least of their problems as they all are separated on their quest and Miyagi faces her own trials left alone with the boy.

Genjuro manages to sell his wares, but is soon separated from his money until he falls under the spell of a noblewoman named Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyô) whom Genjuro marries, despite his wife at home.

Tobei and Ohama are separated from one another but through a somewhat happy accident involving a warrior, Tobei actually fulfills his dream of becoming a samurai with riches and followers. Ohama's fate is far less fortunate.

To reveal much more would ruin the spell for future viewers, but Ugetsu earns its slow build and rewards the patient viewer. Mizoguchi's camera proves often fluid, effortlessly panning from one setting to the next, even when the next involves characters who were in the previous scene. Some of these sequences are quite remarkable.

If nothing else comes out of my little survey, finally seeing Ugetsu will be reward enough. It's a remarkable piece of work even more than 50 years later.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Twin Peaks Tuesdays: Episode 25

By Edward Copeland
As Eckhardt's assistant Jones climbs into bed with the passed out Sheriff Truman, she applies something to his lips and then to hers as well. She proceeds to kiss Harry who begins to hallucinate that it's Josie on top of him and talking to him. Soon he awakes from this reverie into a nightmare as Jones pulls out a wire and proceeds to try to strangle Harry to death. The two struggle mightily before Harry finally slams Jones against the wall and is able to knock her out cold to the couch. When the hungover Truman gets to the sheriff's station, he tells Cooper that Jones refuses to talk, instead requesting contact with the South African consulate. "In Twin Peaks?" Cooper asks, justifiably mystified why Twin Peaks should have one. Truman doesn't get why Eckhardt would want him dead. "Sexual jealousy," Dale replies and Truman seems to get it before running off to the john to puke.

Audrey visits John Justice Wheeler in his room at the Great Northern and once again plays her usual games as a tease. Wheeler remarks some advice Audrey's grandfather once told him: "If you bring a hammer, you better bring nails." Audrey is puzzled by the meaning, but Wheeler explains that it means you need to be ready to finish what you start. Audrey agrees to go out on a date with Wheeler, and tells him he's the one that better be certain to bring the nails.

As Harry returns to the chair behind his desk at the sheriff's station, he discovers a bonsai tree that has been delivered. The card says it's from Josie. At the same moment, the loud approach of Gordon Cole (David Lynch, reporting for duty) can be heard as he enters and fills Cooper and Truman on some facts from the classified portions of Windom Earle's file. Unbeknownst to everyone there, the bonsai actually was a gift from Earle, who is listening in thanks to a bug he placed in the tree. Cole informs the lawmen that Earle was on the drug Haloperidol, the same schizophrenia medication that the One-Armed Man used. (Digression: What happened to Philip Gerard? Last time we saw him he was dehydrated and dying in a Great Northern hotel room the day Leland died, but we've heard nothing since.) The revelation seems to reinforce Cooper's theory that Windom was faking his insanity. The file also reveals that Windom Earle used to work on Project Blue Book, the Air Force investigation into UFOs on which Major Briggs also worked. Cole notices the bonsai and being the loon that he is recalls banzai as the phrase Japanese suicide pilots used in WWII and yells "Banzai" into the tree, blasting the hell out of Earle's eardrums. After Cooper leaves, Cole holds Cooper back a minute with some welcome news. Thanks to Earle, the bureau needs him back so he needs to get his suit back on as Cole returns his FBI badge and a brand new gun to Agent Cooper.

Donna follows her mother to the Great Northern, taking note of a poster touting the upcoming Miss Twin Peaks Pageant. At the front desk, Mike and Nadine are checking out after what Mike describes as an "unbelievable" night. He says hi to his ex Donna, who seems a bit surprised that Nadine seems to have gotten what she wanted. Still, Donna has more important matters on her mind. She asks Audrey if she knows any reason why her mom would have business with her dad and Audrey replies in the negative, but she asks if Mrs. Hayward is there right now, so she and Donna go off to spy. In Ben's office, Eileen is trying to return some old love letters from Ben, who questions why now when she's had them for so long and he laments what could have been between them. Eileen says that all he's doing is possibly ripping open old wounds. Ben fondly remembers holding Eileen in his arms. Donna and Audrey arrive at the hiding place to watch the action, but miss the important part of the conversation, but Donna is determined to figure out what is going on.

Gordon, Harry and Cooper stop by the Double R for a meal, where Cole hopes to get "a steak so rare you could buy it at Tiffany's." The FBI man also takes an immediate interest in Shelly, whom he describes as "the kind of girl that makes you wish you could speak French." He's even more enthralled when he approaches her and realizes that he can hear her perfectly, even without his hearing aids or people yelling. Cole requests a glass of water because "his socks are on fire." Cole isn't the only one with a premature case of spring fever: Cooper seems particularly smitten by Annie, even to the point of telling her a joke. She notices him doodling, pairing the marks on Cooper an the Log Lady and remarks that it reminds her of Owl Cave. Back at the counter, Cole has had a chance to sample some of the Double R's famous pie and tells Shelly he plans to write an epic poem about it. Donna gets a postcard from James saying he's in San Francisco, heading to Mexico. Keep going James. Doc comes in and Donna quizzes him about her mom's relationship with Ben, which Hayward denies exists, though he tries to cover for his wife by saying perhaps it has something to do with a charity. Just then, flowers are delivered for Eileen, without a card.

Audrey is researching the poem she, Shelly and Donna received at the library when she "bumps into" a poetry professor, who is of course Windom Earle in yet another disguise. He identifies the poem as one by Percy Shelley and insists that Audrey read it to him. Shelly quizzes Annie at the diner about her and Cooper, but Annie denies anything is going on, admitting how weird it is to be around men again after all that time in the convent. Lucy sees a puzzling length of rope drop from the sheriff's station ceiling in front of her booth, followed by Andy's appearance practicing rappelling for their excursion to Owl Cave. Lucy makes a point of thanking Andy for being so brave during the weasel riot "unlike Dick." We get another sighting of Johnny Horne shooting suction cup arrows and buffalo cutouts outside his dad's office at the Great Northern, where Ben tells Audrey he wants someone who can give him the unvarnished truth and thinks she is the one to do that, better than Jerry at any case. He apologizes for how he's been as a father asking her, "When have I been anything but a sleazy, rapacious heel?" Audrey tells him not to feel that way and tells her, "Daddy, I'm your man." Unfortunately, that means that Ben wants to send her off immediately on a business trip to Seattle, scuttling her planned date with Wheeler. She gives the bad news to John as he comes in to talk to Ben. Ben tells Wheeler he's full to the brim with a feeling of goodness and asks if he thinks it's possible for Ben to learn to be good. Wheeler advises that one course of action is to always tell the hardest truth first, which Wheeler demonstrates by telling Ben he's in love with Audrey.

Harry, Cooper, Hawk and Andy make the long climb up the mountain to the site of Owl Cave, bearing flashlights and hiking gear. As they approach the area of the markings that Dale's doodlings reminded Annie of, an owl suddenly goes berzerk and flies at the lawmen. A frightened Andy swings his pick at the bird and the implement sticks in the cave's wall and Deputy Brennan can't get it back out. It also starts the wall moving, revealing some sort of lever whose appearance fascinates Agent Cooper. "Coincidence and fate figure largely in our lives," Dale tells the others. Cooper doesn't know where this discovery will lead, but he's sure it will be somewhere both wonderful and strange.

Speaking of strange and wonderful worlds, Annie has arrived at the Great Northern, intent on trying some liquor for the first time, served to her by the hotel bartender (Jack McGee). Soon Dale arrives, back from the Owl Cave excursion, giddy at seeing Annie again and ready to engage in what passes as flirtatious banter for the FBI agent. While Cooper and Annie get to know one another better, Windom Earle is doing some spelunking of his own, venturing to the same spot in Owl Cave. He spots the lever, then shines his light on the wall opposite where he sees the same marking on the lever on the cave wall, only upside down. Earle turns the lever so that it's marking matches the one opposite and Andy's pick falls out of the wall and the cave appears to be crumbling, much to Windom Earle's apparent glee. Whatever he's after, he seems to welcome this development.

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Monday, August 27, 2007


The things we do for blog-a-thons

"When compared to the fact that he might very well be dead by this time tomorrow, whether he was courageous or not today was pointless, empty. When compared to the fact that he might be dead tomorrow, everything was pointless. Life was pointless. Whether he looked at a tree or not was pointless. It just didn't make any difference. It was pointless to the tree, it was pointless to every man in his outfit, pointless to everybody in the whole world. Who cared? It was not pointless only to him; and when he was dead, when he ceased to exist, it would be pointless to him too. More important: Not only would it be pointless, it would have been pointless, all along."

From The Thin Red Line by James Jones

When Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre called for a BIZARRO blog-a-thon, I wasn't sure what to come up with. His description certainly was clear enough: "Right will be wrong. Black will be white. Bad performances will suddenly be good. The worst movie will be the best. The saddest movie will be the funniest. And for those three days I may actually like Rob Zombie. Show me how much you hate some actor by telling me how much you love him/her. Give your favorite movie the worst review you've ever given. Declare Martin Scorsese the biggest hack to ever get behind the camera. Whatever you want, just bring your worst (and of course I mean your best)." Then I remembered a silly little review of Double Impact that I wrote eons ago, where I acted as if it were a good movie, though the review itself was clearly tongue in cheek. Of course, that Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle was an easy target. For this occasion, I decided to raise the stakes, so I've selected a movie that I don't think is bad in the truest sense of the word but that certainly is overrated and full of itself. So, for this blog-a-thon, indulge me as I pretend that Terrence Malick and The Thin Red Line was worth the time I spent enduring it, especially now that I've done it twice.

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The Southerners Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down Philosophers

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This post is part of the BIZARRO Blog-a-Thon being hosted by Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre.

By Edward Copeland
Terrence Malick's version of James Jones' The Thin Red Line opens with the ominous image of a crocodile slowly entering the muck of a pond. Of course, crocodiles are used to this sort of environment, which won't be the case with the American soldiers who find themselves trying to take the island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese during World War II. It also sets up Malick's point-of-view of not just this locale but everywhere: Man does not belong, if for no other reason that he keeps getting in the way of us being able to see nature in its purity, constantly interrupting with war and narratives.
Malick's adaptation of the World War II novel taught me something I didn't realize: Apparently the vast majority of Americans who fought in the South Pacific were from the South. Of course, Malick carefully instructs his actor not to distract from the reverent, dreamlike reverie of nature he creates by insisting that most of them employ the worst attempts at Southern accents they can muster. At times though, the damn actors still get in the way such as Sean Penn, whose accent seems legit at times, and Tim Blake Nelson who uses his real voice. Of course, the actors are an impediment in general since they keep getting in the way of the scenery. Malick's vision is about nature's vengeance and inner ability for self-preservation, and too often the actors get in the way. Fortunately, he remedies this by using odd, rambling voiceovers, assembled in such a haphazard way, that you can never quite be certain which character is speaking. This is good, because this film is not about people and doesn't stoop to humanizing the conflict but allowing its actors to add dimensions to their roles and allow sentimentality to seep in as Steven Spielberg allowed in Saving Private Ryan. The first American we see in the film is the one played by Jim Cavaziel, giving off a holy vibe as if he's preparing for his later title role in Mel Gibson's Jesus Chainsaw Massacre. When we first see Cavaziel's character, he is AWOL, romping on an island paradise with natives that seems as if it's out of Mutiny on the Bounty. That's not the only reference to other sources that Malick makes throughout the film: When we first see Cavaziel standing over the beach over the natives working with primitive tools, he's unmistakably supposed to be the equivalent of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cavaziel also gets the bulk of the dreamy monologues with fake drawls, as his internal conversation reflects on immortality and his dying mother. Unfortunately, the war intrudes on his peace in the form of a Naval vessel bearing his commanding officer (Penn) who plunges him back into the muck of the war. Now, I don't want to leave readers with the impression that The Thin Red Line is a pretentious, dull, humorless affair. Believe it or not, there is comedy to be found, laughs similar to those in the works of the Coen brothers with their dimwitted characters with overblown accents speaking in flowery prose. I have to wonder though: Who influenced whom? Did Malick pick up the Coens' tricks by watching films such as Raising Arizona or were the Coens inspired by earlier works such as Badlands and Days of Heaven which contained similar attributes? One scene for certain had to be inspired by Raising Arizona: When Woody Harrelson accidentally blows "his butt off" with a grenade, there is no mistaking that the expression on his face is an homage to Randall "Tex" Cobb when his bounty hunter in Raising Arizona realizes he's in possession of an activated grenade. Of course, Harrelson's presence is one of many notable cameos that makes The Thin Red Line play as if it's a World War II-variation on Robert Altman's The Player. Quick: There's John Travolta. Over there, it's George Clooney. John Cusack just showed up. I kept waiting to see Cher. Without a doubt though the funniest cameo is given by John Savage, who checks his dog tags to try to find out who his character is and make certain that somehow he didn't get teleported through time back to the set of The Deer Hunter. The character who makes the strongest impression, and therefore breaks the mood Malick is creating, is Nick Nolte as Lt. Col. Tall, outwardly a Nixon-like creature, but inside as reflective as all the soldiers, commenting on how he's degrading himself, that someone is always watching him like a hawk, regretting all he might have given for love and acknowledging that he is dying slowly, like a tree. Then, philosophy seems to be what all the Americans have in mind. Ben Chaplin's character is preoccupied with the wife he left at home, insisting he'll be waiting for her on "the other side of dark waters" only later to get a "Dear Jack" letter. When I first saw The Thin Red Line in 1998, I kept getting the characters played by Chaplin and Adrien Brody confused because of their similar facial features, distinguished only by Brody's slightly bigger nose. On my most recent viewing, the distinctions are clearer as you realize that Brody never says a word and that Malick must be making another film allusion, this time to Jean-Louis Barrault's character of the mime Baptiste in Children of Paradise. Malick excels at summoning his drowsy, trance-like Zentropa feel, but he does undermine his own movie with the sequence involving the storming of the beach and the taking of the hill. It doesn't belong and proves to be a true distraction, shocking the viewer out of his easy-listening mode. Even the character played by Elias Koteas seems to admit this in these sequences, stopping to check his watch as an audience surrogate impatient to end the action and get back to the existential. One thing that struck me on my recent viewing is his portrayal of the Japanese soldiers. They seem to be shrieking stereotypes with no humanity. One narrator even goes so far as to ask, "Who is this evil, robbing us of light and life?" At first, I was offended by this portrayal, then I realized that this must be Malick making a statement about the racist South, especially when you see the Japanese soldiers disguised as trees, showing they are much more in tune with nature than their American counterparts. "War don't ennoble man," Penn's character says at one point. "Turns them into dogs." Thoughts such as these preoccupy the troops, some who die, new soldiers who arrive and some who abruptly disappear from the film's canvas. They ask questions about the courage of a contented heart and the darkness beneath the earth that allows the sun to shine and which may dwell within us all. Penn also acts as a Malick surrogate to some extent, commenting that he's only lonely when he's around people and that every man should make an island for himself. While certainly flawed, The Thin Red Line has much bigger fish to fry than just war. However, Malick reveals his true target audience with one of his final shots. These two are who The Thin Red Line is really for.

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Friday, August 24, 2007


Is the world a dream or a dream the world?

By Edward Copeland
"A few clues for latecomers: Several weeks ago... A pile of money... An English class... A house by the river... A romantic young girl...," the narrator speaks in Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders.

Godard is another revered filmmaker whom I've never warmed to, even with the film that initially made his name, Breathless, with a script with input of the great Francois Truffaut. However, as part of my continuing quest to see as many of the nominees for our foreign-language film survey before my final ballot, I caught up with Band of Outsiders and it is by far the Godard work that I've enjoyed the most.

Band of Outsiders certainly plays as the most buoyant of the Godard films I've seen and it's easy to see its influence on many films and filmmakers to come. The most blatant tribute may have come in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, set during the time when the French New Wave was at the peak of its popularity, and included a scene where its leads try to re-create the Band of Outsiders scene where the trio of leads race through the Louvre.

While the general tone of Band of Outsiders is one of whimsy, there are definitely bigger issues at work. It's rather remarkable to see that Godard in 1964 already was commenting on what would become a common refrain in the decades to come of people seeking to find causation in real-life violence from the movies.

Arthur and Franz (Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey) make frequent references to life as a B movie and even stage pretend shootouts amongst themselves. Unfortunately, they decide to try real crime on for size with predictably dire results.

Brasseur, Frey and the female member of their trio (Anna Karina) all perform well. Band of Outsiders almost plays like a lighter version of Jules and Jim, only there really isn't a romantic triangle causing much trouble here.

Godard also resists the urge to be reactionary with the idea that life imitates art (or more accurately, in the case of the B movies he references, entertainment).

Band of Outsiders certainly turns out to be the most enjoyable Godard I've come across so far in my continuing cinematic journey. It even ends with a sly preview of an upcoming "episode."

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Thursday, August 23, 2007


Rolling on the river

By Edward Copeland
Forgive me film fans, for I have sinned. Prior to watching Aguirre, the Wrath of God at the end of last week, as part of my "homework" for the foreign-language film voting, the only Werner Herzog film I'd seen was Grizzly Man. I liked Aguirre a great deal, even if I doubt it would have cracked my 25 nominees if I'd seen it prior to submitting my own nomination ballot.

One thing I loved about Aguirre is how swiftly it moves and, of course, the wonderfully odd title performance by Klaus Kinski. As I watched it, I thought the way he physically moved was remarkable, but I was having a hard time thinking of the correct word to describe it.

Once I listened to the commentary track with Herzog, he said what he reminded him of and provided the word for me: Kinski moves as if he's a crab, jerking with pinched claws as he reels out of control.

Aguirre really proves to be quite a simple, unique film: a Spanish expedition heads down the Amazon in Peru in search of the fabled gold of El Dorado and to convert the natives to Christianity. The terrain is brutal and unforgiving and it's not helped that the second-in-command of the group's exploratory expedition, Aguirre, is barking mad.

It's truly remarkable to watch the film unfold just from a logistical standpoint, especially after you hear Herzog's commentary explaining problems they encountered and solutions. He also recounts many of the infamous stories of his tempestuous relationship with Kinski. One thing I found interesting about this 1972 film, which didn't reach U.S. theaters until 1977, is that it came out the same year as another river story, John Boorman's Deliverance.

The similarities, despite settings centuries apart, are quite interesting. The explorers in Aguirre fall prey to Peruvian Indians they seldom see taking potshots, often with arrows, from the camouflage of the jungle just as the men seeking a relaxing getaway in Deliverance don't see the hillbillies at first taking aim on them with arrows as well. I guess in the early 1970s, river trips were a big cause of phobias.

I regret that I hadn't seen Aguirre before this because it's definitely something I expect I'll return to again some day.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Total eclipse of the art

By Edward Copeland
After Michelangelo Antonioni's recent death, I figured I owed it to him to give him some more chances. I'd only seen three films and of those liked Blowup, was bored silly by L'Avventura and thought Zabriskie Point was just dumb. Now, I've seen The Passenger and L'Eclisse and while I've reassessed Antonioni a bit, I still can't say I've complete warmed to him.

I watched The Passenger first and as big a fan I am of Jack Nicholson and as intriguing a premise as it sets up, it failed to ever hold my interest for long. Granted, the final sequence is a good one, but it seems as if Antonioni was almost too determined not to allow forward momentum to occur for very long.

Why journalist David Locke (Nicholson) chooses to drop out of his life and assume another man's identity is only hinted at and the characters of the two important women in the story: the girl (Maria Schneider) and Locke's wife (Jenny Runacre) get even less development than Locke does.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing to me about The Passenger was that I figured that the DVD commentary track by Nicholson would at least be interesting, but that proved to be as dull as the film itself.

Thankfully, most of L'Eclisse was a different story and it certainly is the best Antonioni film I've seen. Its story is as vague as most of his stories, but there's something hypnotic at work anyway.

I'm hard pressed to use words to describe it, but I know I liked it. It reminded me of my reaction to Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad: Damned if I could tell you what it's about, but boy did it hold me in its grasp.

L'Eclisse works much the same way, though its story is clearer and more straight-forward than the usual Antonioni outing. It's still very elliptical in nature and it doesn't really spell things out, but somehow through the images as well as the performances of Alain Delon and Monica Vitti, you intuitively pick up what you need to.

L'Eclisse also contains something I've never seen much evidence of in the other Antonioni films I've seen: A sense of joy at times as well as energy, though not at the expense of his love of angst and alienation.

The only thing that lessened the experience for me was its final ending, where it suddenly throws in intimations about the atomic age with a suitably odd finish that seems as if it's almost tacked on in a desperate attempt to layer on more meaning than is necessary.

The sequence itself is quite interesting, with its quick cuts and unusual shots that abandon any sense of the story or characters we've seen so far, but at the same time it seems too manufactured as symbolism that, even though I liked the film, seems out of place in this movie.

So now I've liked two out of five Antonionis and L'Eclisse a lot, but my jury's still out on him as a whole.

There's a fine line between pretension and art and it seems to me he erred far too often on the side of the former instead of the latter.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Twin Peaks Tuesdays: Episode 24

By Edward Copeland
Following Josie's mysterious death, Sheriff Harry Truman has gone on a bender of stupendous proportions. Hawk even brought him a breakfast from Norma at the Double R, but Truman refuses. He's sticking to an all-liquid, alcoholic diet. Being sheriff "used to be a simple job," he laments. "I guess the world's caught up with us."

Someone else has some catching up to do with the world: Norma's sister Annie (Heather Graham) who has just left a convent. Norma asks if she's talked to their mother, but Annie says no, which Norma completely understands. Also at the Double R, the Log Lady is drawn to the mark left on Major Briggs' neck after his disappearance. With Harry out, Cooper has assumed more duties at the sheriff's station, mainly because Hawk has no interest in paperwork and Cooper has a lot to fill out with Interpol concerning Josie and Eckhardt's deaths. Doc Hayward's autopsy of Josie couldn't determine a cause of death but did find that she weighed a mere 65 pounds at death, which would seem impossible. Though the characters don't raise the issue, given that a tear rolled down her cheek prior to her death and water freed BOB from Leland, could Josie perhaps be some sort of elemental spirit and the low weight is evidence that all the water had left her body and ended up in that drawer pull?

Windom reads Cooper's latest chess move in the paper and gets angry because he realizes that Dale is getting help and is trying to play a stalemate game. Earle doesn't find that fair and takes his anger out on Leo. At the Great Northern, Dick is coordinating a fashion show that will serve as the launch of Ben's campaign to save the pine weasel. Mr. Pinkle shows up with a stuffed example of the creature, but Dick advises that perhaps that undermines their message. Audrey and John Justice Wheeler go on a picnic together and Wheeler serenades her with a guitar. Cooper makes another attempt at getting through to Harry, mentioning that Josie's dossier not only included murder and attempted murder but prostitution arrests in Hong Kong. Harry won't hear of it and yells at Dale to get out.

Eckhardt's assistant Jones (Brenda Strong) pays Catherine a visit. Naturally suspicious, Catherine keeps a gun trained on her at all times. Jones says that Josie and Eckhardt will be buried side by side. The better to keep an eye on each other, Catherine cracks. Jones reveals her purpose for the visit was that Eckhardt had left a gift for her and she gives her a mysterious, shiny black box. Windom Earle disguises himself as Dr. Gerald Craig, an old college acquaintance of Doc Hayward and visits with Donna, who shares her desire to get out of Twin Peaks. "Don't knock small town life until you've lived in the big city," Earle says. He thinks Donna has a small slice of heaven in Twin Peaks and urges her to enjoy high school in all its absurdity before leaving a gift for her father. At the sheriff's station, Pete has several chess games going at once, to try to figure the best way to get to a stalemate while losing the fewest pieces. He tells Cooper that even if he jerryrigs some of the classic stalemate games, he still can't do it without losing at least six pieces. Cooper tells him to do what he can and to protect the queen at all costs. Two of Pete's students, Lucy and Andy, are playing a game of their own and Lucy cries foul when Andy tries to move his knight without doing "the little hook thing." Andy insists the move is optional, but Pete sets him straight. The Log Lady and Major Briggs arrive at the sheriff's station to tell Cooper that the Log Lady has a similar mark on her leg from a similar disappearance in the woods she had when she was only 7. She also recalls the call of the owl. Donna's mom and dad return home and she tells them about Dr. Craig's visit, which Doc says is impossible since Gerald Craig drowned years ago. When he opens the gift, it bears a knight with a chess move. Doc realizes it's from Windom Earle and tells Donna that the man is very dangerous and to never let him in the house again.

Now that Ed and Nadine have "broken up," Ed enlists Dr. Jacoby's help in trying to explain the concept of divorce to her so the path for Ed and Norma will be clear. Jacoby isn't getting very far and tells Ed that Nadine will see reality again when her mind feels it's safe. When Nadine hears the word divorce, she says she thinks she's gone blind in her left eye. Another unexpected visitor arrives at the Hayward home, but Donna knows this one as she witnesses a mysterious conversation between her mother and Ben Horne. Norma tries to convince Shelly to enter the Miss Twin Peaks Pageant, but Shelly is skeptical, giving a mocking speech about world peace by getting all leaders to form a circle and hold hands because "you can't make a fist if you're holding hands." Coop pops in to the diner as well and once again doesn't notice a disguised Windom Earle. He does however notice Annie and instantly lights up, even when he spots the scar on her wrist indicating a suicide attempt. Harry is getting worse, with a bottle of booze in one hand and a gun in the other. Cooper tries to get him to give him the gun but Harry says he's never turned his gun over to anyone. Cooper suggests that this might be a damn fine time to start. Finally, Cooper gets Harry in a hug and the sheriff cries. He tells Hawk to make sure that someone keep watch on Harry throughout the night.

At the Great Northern, Mike and Nadine are checking in under assumed names. The fashion show includes Lucy and Andy. Catherine drops in, assuming that Ben is just setting up an elaborate plot to stop Ghostwood, but Ben insists he's sincere about his change, considering it a first scrubbing one of the dirtiest consciences in the entire Northwest. Pinkle brings out a real pine weasel and tells the story of the endangered critter and of its attraction to shiny objects and cheap cologne, like the ones Dick are wearing and the weasel bites Dick on the nose, before Tremayne is able to get the weasel off and chaos ensues, including great weasel point-of-view shots. The madness knocks Audrey off the stage and straight into Wheeler's arms, who gives her a kiss. Back at the Book House, someone knocks the man assigned to watch Harry unconscious. It turns out to be Jones, who then proceeds to remove her clothing and climb into bed with the unconscious sheriff.

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Monday, August 20, 2007


Choosing the best non-English language films

Over the past several weeks, I invited (or by extension invited) various people from critics to bloggers to professors and just plain movie fans to submit lists of their top 25 non-English language features so I could compose a list for a survey of all interest film fans to determine a Top 25 list similar to what the AFI does or what the Online Film Community recently did.

I now see how difficult list compiling can be. I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I may do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.

I see now why lists can sometimes cause such headaches. We had to decide things such as whether Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns were eligible (We decided no since most people are only familiar with the English dubbed version and the American actors didn't speak in Italian.) Some people voted for Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy as a whole, while others nominated some of the films, but not the others. In the end, all three titles made the cut, though interestingly White failed to receive a single vote for it outside the trilogy votes. Then there were the differences in titles. Thanks for IMDb which helped me avoid listing the same movie under different names. I also originally planned to have the eligible list consist of films that made at least 5% of all ballots, but soon realized that that would make pretty much every film that got at least one vote eligible, so I opted instead for films that appeared on at least three ballots.

So now the computing has been done. Be sure to check the list of who made up the nominating committee and a list of titles that I've never seen with links to similar posts elsewhere as well as a discussion of more idiosyncratic choices. The 122 films that made the cut appear below the fold.

A first place vote received 25 votes, second place got 24 votes, etc. In the event of tie scores, the total number of ballots on which the films appear decided who is ahead of the other.


Aguirre, the Wrath of God directed by Werner Herzog
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
All About My Mother directed by Pedro Almodovar
Amarcord directed by Federico Fellini
Amelie directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Amores Perros directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Andrei Rublev directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Army of Shadows directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Ashes and Diamonds directed by Andrzej Wajda
Au Hasard Balthazar directed by Robert Bresson
Band of Outsiders directed by Jean-Luc Godard
The Battle of Algiers directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Beauty and the Beast directed by Jean Cocteau
Belle de Jour directed by Luis Bunuel
The Bicycle Thief directed by Vittorio de Sica
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Black Orpheus directed by Marcel Camus
Three Colors: Blue directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Blue Angel directed by Josef von Sternberg
Breathless directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Celine and Julie Go Boating directed by Jacques Rivette
Children of Paradise directed by Marcel Carne
Chungking Express directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
City of God directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
Cleo From 5 to 7 directed by Agnes Varda
Come and See directed by Elem Klimov
The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Contempt directed by Jean-Luc Godard
The Cranes Are Flying directed by Mikheil Kalatozishvili
Cries and Whispers directed by Ingmar Bergman
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon directed by Ang Lee
Das Boot directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Day for Night directed by Francois Truffaut
Day of Wrath directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
The Decalogue directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Dersu Uzala directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie directed by Luis Bunuel
The Double Life of Veronique directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Earrings of Madame De... directed by Max Ophuls
8 1/2 directed by Federico Fellini
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser directed by Werner Herzog
Exterminating Angel directed by Luis Bunuel
Eyes Without a Face directed by Georges Franju
Fanny and Alexander directed by Ingmar Bergman
Farewell My Concubine directed by Chen Kaige
Forbidden Games directed by René Clément
The 400 Blows directed by Francois Truffaut
The Gospel According to St. Matthew directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Grand Illusion directed by Jean Renoir
The Great Silence directed by Sergio Corbucci
High and Low directed by Akira Kurosawa
Hiroshima Mon Amour directed by Alain Resnais
Ikiru directed by Akira Kurosawa
In the Mood for Love directed by Wong Kar-Wai
I Vitelloni directed by Federico Fellini
Jules and Jim directed by Francois Truffaut
La Dolce Vita directed by Federico Fellini
La Strada directed by Federico Fellini
Last Year at Marienbad directed by Alain Resnais
L'Atalante directed by Jean Vigo
Late Spring directed by Yasujiro Ozu
L'Avventura directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
L'Eclisse directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
The Leopard directed by Luchino Visconti
Le Samourai directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Lola Montes directed by Max Ophuls
M directed by Fritz Lang
The Marriage of Maria Braun directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Masculin-Feminin directed by Jean-Luc Godard
My Night at Maud's directed by Eric Rohmer
Nights of Cabiria directed by Federico Fellini
Nosferatu the Vampyre directed by Werner Herzog
Open City directed by Roberto Rossellini
Ordet directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Orpheus directed by Jean Cocteau
Persona directed by Ingmar Bergman
Pickpocket directed by Robert Bresson
Pierrot le fou directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Playtime directed by Jacques Tati
Raise the Red Lantern directed by Zhang Yimou
Ran directed by Akira Kurosawa
Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa
Three Colors: Red directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Red Desert directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Rififi directed by Jules Dassin
Rocco and His Brothers directed by Luchino Visconti
The Rules of the Game directed by Jean Renoir
Run Lola Run directed by Tom Tykwer
Sansho the Bailiff directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Satantango directed by Béla Tarr
Scenes from a Marriage directed by Ingmar Bergman
Seven Beauties directed by Lina Wertmuller
Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Seventh Seal directed by Ingmar Bergman
Shoot the Piano Player directed by Francois Truffaut
Smiles of a Summer Night directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sonatine directed by Takeski Kitano
Spirited Away directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Stolen Kisses directed by Francois Truffaut
Story of the Late Chrysanthemums directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Suspiria directed by Dario Argento
Talk to Her directed by Pedro Almodovar
Tampopo directed by Juzo Itami
Throne of Blood directed by Akira Kurosawa
The Tin Drum directed by Volker Schlöndorff
Tokyo Story directed by Yasujiro Ozu
To Live directed by Zhang Yimou
Ugetsu monogatari directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Umberto D directed by Vittorio de Sica
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg directed by Jacques Demy
The Vanishing directed by George Sluizer
Viridiana directed by Luis Bunuel
The Wages of Fear directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Three Colors: White directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Wild Strawberries directed by Ingmar Bergman
Wings of Desire directed by Wim Wenders
Woman in the Dunes directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Yi Yi: A One and a Two directed by Edward Yang
Yojimbo directed by Akira Kurosawa
Y Tu Mama Tambien directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Z directed by Costa-Gavras

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The nominating committee

Here are the 51 people who voted to determine the list of potential foreign language films for our Top 25, with their Web sites or blogs where available. Thanks to all for their input.

Reading Is My Superpower
Self-Styled Siren
Edward Copeland on Film
Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule
Culture Snob
Hell on Frisco Bay
Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Scanners, Chicago Sun-Times
Jurgen Fauth's Muckworld,'s World Film
Richard Gibson
The End of Cinema
Y Kant Goran Rite?
The Evil Spoon
director of undergraduate film studies, Columbia University
Worldweird Cinema
Edward Copeland on Film, The House Next Door, Liverputty
Edward Copeland on Film
The House Next Door, Vinyl Is Heavy
Cinema Styles
Lucid Screening
100 Films
The Moviegoer
The Moviezzz Blog
Mystery Man on Film
Edward Copeland on Film, The House Next Door
Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee
Boston Phoenix,
Goatdog's Movies
Lazy Eye Theatre
Strange Culture
Philadelphia Inquirer
Chicago Reader
The Bleeding Tree
The House Next Door
Awards Daily
Los Angeles Daily News, The Reel Deal
Film Comment
managing editor, Cinematical Indie
Edward Copeland on Film, The House Next Door, Liverputty
The Listening Ear



Ones I haven't seen, ones that didn't make it

By Edward Copeland
I had rather good luck with the 25 titles I submitted. Only two of those didn't make it on enough ballots to make the final cut: Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique and Francois Truffaut's The Story of Adele H.

I'd hardly call either of those idiosyncratic choices on my part, but many voters did cast their lot with interesting titles that I hope they write about in the comments here or on their own blogs to which I can link.

Perhaps the most interesting list came from Jared of Worldweird Cinema, who submitted a list of favorites of which only one title (The Great Silence) appeared on any other list. There also was the interesting case of a series of films of which I'd been unfamiliar: The Japanese series of films titled (with various English translations) as something akin to Female Prisoner Scorpion. The films managed to get three votes but unfortunately each person who submitted them picked a different title from the series, so none of them had enough votes to make the final list.

Perhaps the saddest case for me is that of the great Indian director Satyajit Ray, whose films received several votes but none of which got a total of three so it could land on the final list. As for the nominated films I have yet to see, that's a long one, but I hope between now and the voting deadline I can catch up with a lot of them. Also, if you'd like to list what you voted for, Jim Emerson is opening the floor at Scanners if you'd like to contribute that there.

The nominated films I have yet to see are:

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Army of Shadows directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Ashes and Diamonds directed by Andrzej Wajda
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Come and See directed by Elem Klimov
The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser directed by Werner Herzog
Exterminating Angel directed by Luis Bunuel
The Gospel According to St. Matthew directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
The Great Silence directed by Sergio Corbucci
Le Samourai directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
The Marriage of Maria Braun directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
My Night at Maud's directed by Eric Rohmer
Orpheus directed by Jean Cocteau
The Red Desert directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Rocco and His Brothers directed by Luchino Visconti
Satantango directed by Béla Tarr
Seven Beauties directed by Lina Wertmuller
Story of the Late Chrysanthemums directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Suspiria directed by Dario Argento
Viridiana directed by Luis Bunuel



Friday, August 17, 2007


A Girl's Got To Have Her Standards

By Odienator
When first released, Real Genius was marketed as a teenage sex comedy "from the writers of Police Academy and Bachelor Party." This was to draw teenagers familiar with those R-rated comedies to the theater. However, most teenagers looked in the lower left hand corner of the poster and realized Tri-Star pictures was trying to pull a fast one: This was rated PG. With the fresh paint still drying on the new PG-13 rating, teens knew PG was the kiss of death. You might see some kissing, and you might see some death. What you weren't going to see was what happened after the kissing, or the gory details of the death. After all, raunchy begins with R. So does Revenge of the Nerds.

Tri-Star next marketed the film as the revenge of one nerd. "When he gets mad, he doesn't get even...he gets creative" says the tag line on this poster. The he in question is Val Kilmer, and though many may have found him cute or even amusing with his bunny slippers and the alien headgear that was ubiquitous back in 1985, he still was smiling on a poster for a PG-rated teenage sex comedy. Teenagers stayed away in droves, opting instead to see The Breakfast Club, an R-rated John Hughes movie.

I'll bet they were surprised to discover there's more sex in Real Genius; Hughes' R was for language.

Despite the perverted pedigree of its writers Neal Israel, Pat Proft and Peter Torokvei, Real Genius is closer to WarGames than Porky's. It is somewhat a revisionist teenage comedy. Most flicks of this ilk pit the geeks/nerds against the jocks/popular kids, with the latter doing everything it can to make life miserable for the former. Real Genius presents us with a universe where everyone's a nerd, then proceeds to fracture it down the same middle as every other '80s teen comedy. The heroes are "nerds" and the villains also are nerds. I didn't find this hard to believe; in 1985 I was a senior at a gifted and talented high school, i.e., one full of nerds. We had the nerd nerds and the jock/popular nerds. Our world was bizarro in that it followed the same dichotomy of a regular high school despite having only one side of it.

Real Genius' other difference is that it takes place on a college campus like Cal Tech, where the teenagers are more concerned with getting a good grade than getting laid. Everything else follows the genre convention: there's a victimized hero, a cool kid who takes him under his wing to help him achieve his goal, and a mean villain whose comeuppance the audience greatly desires.

The primary villain of the piece is a senior named Kent Torokvei (Robert Prescott). In addition to sharing the last name of one of Real Genius' writers, Kent has 2-liter Coke bottle glasses, little fashion sense and a mouthful of braces. He has a group of yes-men who follow him around, laughing at all his jokes and his cruel putdowns of other students. His favorite color is yellow and he looks like a younger version of the character Philip Seymour Hoffman played in Todd Solondz's Happiness. He is a chronic masturbator and a rather sadistic piece of work. He is in service to a much older character who is the more dangerous villain of the piece. He's the lead guy on the school project that will guarantee him the job he wants after graduation — at least until our hero shows up.

Mitch (Gabe Jarrett) is a 15-year-old wunderkind recruited by the college as one of the few high school students ever to attend the school. He isn't the youngest, however. "We had one 12-year-old, but he cracked under the pressure," reveals Dr. Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), the aforementioned older, more dangerous villain. Our hero will be an asset to Hathaway's team, as his science project deals with the properties of lasers. It's a lot less fun than some of the other science projects at the fair, but Jerry is under pressure to build a specific type of laser.

Jerry puts Mitch over Kent in the project pipeline, and it's enough to jump-start Kent's vendetta against Mitch. Kent fears for his future — he doesn't want all the brown-nosing he's doing to go to waste. He picks up Jerry's dry cleaning, teaches his classes and even helps with the construction duties on Jerry's new house, a house Jerry is affording by being in business with some shady dealers.

Mitch is going to need all the help he can get. Enter Chris Knight (Kilmer). Chris is the top student in the school, handpicked by Jerry himself back when he was a freshman. Chris and his pals also are the only people in school who realize that grades aren't the only important thing in college life. He has a sense of humor, a thing against authority, a mischievous streak and active hormones. Jerry puts Mitch into Chris' room so that Chris can get him up to speed on the project and help him acclimate to dorm life. Mitch is somewhat in awe of Chris, whose reputation precedes him. Chris' goal is to get the stick out of Mitch's butt and convince him to bend the rules and have a little fun. Chris and his cronies do science-oriented mischief such as turning the entire dorm hallway into an ice skating rink and using laser splitters to invite their sex-deprived fellow students to a tanning invitational filled with bikini-clad beauticians-in-training. Said invitational occurs in a lecture hall that has been turned into a swimming pool complete with water slides.

It's at the tanning invitational that Mitch has a second run-in with Jordan (Michelle Meyrink), Real Genius' love interest. Jordan has the hairstyle Meryl Streep robbed for that "dingo-ate-the-bay-bee" movie, talks a mile a minute, is so hyper she knits sweaters and sands the floor in her room, and is so preoccupied she fails to realize on their first meeting that she followed Mitch into the men's room. "Are you peeing?" she asks while Mitch tries to cover his indecent exposure. At the invitational, Mitch isn't holding his exposed penis, so he is more comfortable and confident talking to Jordan. The two connect while testing out her underwater breathing apparatus. Everything is going swimmingly until, of course, Kent shows up to ruin things. Mitch and Chris are supposed to be in the lab, so Kent interrupts Jerry's public access science show (on the wonders of the human colon!!) to tattle on them. Jerry finds Mitch in Jordan's company and chews him out, telling him he's too immature to be in college. Mitch panics and calls his parents, unaware that Kent is recording the conversation. This leads to the single most painful sequence in Real Genius, where Mitch is publicly humiliated by Kent. Kent plays Mitch's embarrassing call to the entire student body, and the pain on Mitch's face feels palpably real.

However, Kent's plan to get Mitch to leave backfires; Mitch and Chris bond over their desire to avenge Mitch's honor. Chris tells Mitch his story of coming to the college and realizing that, after three years of keeping his face in the books, he realized that he had missed out on all the fun things that make college great. This pep talk makes Mitch smile, especially the part that goes "we have to get revenge on Kent. It's a moral imperative." This isn't the revenge alluded to on the poster however — that comes later.

Mitch then asks Chris about the mystery man whom he has seen several times. The bearded man enters the room, acknowledges Mitch's presence, then says nothing before entering their closet. When Mitch opens the closet door, the man is gone and the closet looks untouched. There are no secret doors or compartments. The guy just vanishes. Mitch's attempts to catch him or interact with him all fail. "Oh, that's Laslo," Chris says matter-of-factly. "He used to be the No. 1 guy here." Where Laslo goes when he enters the closet, I'll leave for you to discover, but it might explain how R. Kelly came up with his "Trapped in the Closet" series. Since there are no extraneous characters in Real Genius, expect Laslo to assist in the aforementioned poster-predicted revenge.

Meanwhile, Jerry cracks under the pressure of his shady benefactors. They are from the government and they want the laser his student team is trying to create so they can use it to fry enemies from space (this is depicted in the hilarious minimovie that opens the film). When Chris is summoned to Jerry's, he encounters the government guys and a very hot looking young woman who turns out to be the daughter of one of the agents. "If there is anything I can do for you," Chris begins, "or more importantly, TO you, let me know." "Can you hammer a six-inch spike into a board with your penis?" she asks. When Chris answers that he cannot, she says "a girl's got to have her standards."

Dr. Jerry Hathaway also has standards, and when Chris can't commit to the accelerated time frame for the laser, Jerry tells him he'll never graduate from the school. Now it's Mitch's turn to give his mentor and best bud a pep talk. He finds Chris outside their window meditating on the words of the great Socrates, who said...I drank what?!" Mitch gets Chris to meditate on the words of Chris Knight: "We have to get revenge on Dr. Hathaway. It's a moral imperative." He and Mitch bust their asses to get the laser working, and when they do, all seems right with the world. This being an '80s teenage comedy, we know this is a short lived nirvana. Kent shows up to sabotage things once again, and though Chris has a last minute epiphany to save the laser Kent destroys, he still vows more revenge on Kent.

So far, there has been so much revenge-vowing in Real Genius that one expects Charles Bronson to show up. Instead, Laslo does, interrupting the team's celebration to ask "why would they need a laser this powerful?" The guys ponder it a moment, then realize they've been used to create a weapon of mass destruction. More revenge vowing ensues!

When the gang finds out the laser has been taken from their lab, they execute revenge plan No. 1 on Kent, who tells them where Jerry has taken it. Revenge plan No. 2 has Chris and Mitch sneaking into the military base while Jordan and Laslo stay behind to hack into the computer to help them. Posing as older military scientists, Mitch wears aging makeup he got from Jake Gyllenhaal's makeup artist on Brokeback Mountain. Somehow it works, and the guys leave a nasty little surprise for Jerry and his benefactors. The bad are punished, the good get avenged, the right people hook up with each other, nobody dies, and everyone who deserves it lives happily ever after. Just like every other teenage sex comedy in the '80s.

Real Genius is a smart movie. Unlike most films of the time, it demands that you pay attention. There are multiple things going on in the plot, and a throwaway line by Jerry early in the film pays off wonderfully in the end for those who have paid attention. Martha Coolidge directs and manages to keep tone despite the film being a pastiche of paranoid government plot movies, science fiction movies, buddy movies and comedy of the high and low variety. It's telling that women directed the best teenager-oriented movies of the '80s, and I'd like to think this is the reason women play a bigger part in this film (and Fast Times at Ridgemont High) than they normally do in this genre.

For example, Jordan plays a major role in the film, and though she is not exactly Phoebe Cates, she is allowed to be not only brilliant but also the object of a young man's desires. Late in the film, Mitch finds the very sexy Patti D'Arbanville in his room. She offers him what Patti D'Arbanville offers you in movies. It appears that Mitch is going to lose his virginity to her, but shortly after the scene ends (remember, this is PG), Mitch appears in Jordan's room. He explains "there was a woman in my room!" Jordan asks, "Did you make it with her?" Mitch says "I wanted to, but I wanted to with you." Jordan pauses, and you can see her hyperactive brain wrapping around this concept. "Oh," she says. It is a perfectly calibrated moment, filmed in closeup by Coolidge so you can see Meyrink thinking. I doubt a male director would have done it this way.

Of course, I could be wrong; three men wrote this film and their screenplay is full of hilarious lines that are almost underplayed by the actors. The one-liners have an almost Steven Wright air about them (the Socrates line had me stumped at first, then I laughed out loud 10 seconds later when I got it) and Kilmer delivers them with impeccable comic timing. Israel, Proft and Torokvei also allow their characters to be more than just genre types. Each has a story and is filled in with three-dimensional detail. Chris runs through a myriad of emotions despite being the resident comedian in the picture; Kilmer invests his scenes of anger and elation with a scary intensity — Chris is allowed to be real to us. Each character, even Kent and Jerry, act in ways we can understand and identify based on the story and their character arc.

The acting also is first rate. Gabe Jarrett gives Mitch an uncertainty about himself that makes you want to be his mentor and pal. Atherton gives us a villain whose motivation, no matter how wrong-headed, seems plausible (and he apparently can hammer a six inch spike through a board with his penis). Jonathan Gries adds mystery to Laslo at first, and then a bit of real pain when he realizes that the vicious cycle of the college making things that kill people is happening again. He gets the biggest reward in the picture, even if his calculations are off. Everyone is very good, but this film belongs to Val Kilmer.

This was Kilmer's second movie, coming after 1984's ZAZ-comedy Top Secret! In that film, Kilmer was loose and hilarious as Nick Rivers, a singer not unlike Elvis who winds up in a World War II movie. Kilmer sings and dances and tosses off every joke without a hint of the glum self-seriousness that marred some of his later work. In Real Genius, he knows how to play every note and every line. There is a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo in the script and Kilmer actually sounds convincing spouting it. He is even funnier here than in Top Secret! and I wish he'd do more comedy. Sparks of the comedic side of Kilmer show up occasionally in movies such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but I don't think he's ever been looser or better than in Real Genius.

At the end of the film, Chris' pal asks, "Do you think it's getting too weird around here?" "Absolutely," Chris says as Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" plays on the soundtrack. The last scene of this film drives that statement home, and looks like so much fun I wish I could have been there to partake in it. They must have used tons of this stuff.

There's a twist on the adage that goes "the geek shall inherit the earth." I doubt that, but they do inhabit one of my favorite movies of my coming-of-age years.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007


Elvis left the building 30 years ago

By Edward Copeland
Dead Elvis has been part of my life far longer than Live Elvis ever was. When Elvis Presley died 30 years ago today, I had a vague idea who he was. I knew some of his songs (I suspect from the TV show Happy Days), but because of the hysteria that greeted the news of his demise, whenever I think of him, I always equate it with death, not music.

I still remember where I was when I heard the news. Lying on the floor of our living room, I either was back home from an early day in third grade or school hadn't started yet (I'm hazy on that). My mom was watching The Merv Griffin Show when the local station that carried the talk show began a crawl announcing that Presley had been found dead that Tuesday in his Memphis mansion. (Merv's guests that day were Buddy Hackett, Robby Benson, Steve Collura and Morton Shulman, which I didn't know off the top of my head but thanks to the research of the kind folks at The Paley Center for Media, formerly known as the Museum of Television and Radio, in New York.)

I don't think I'd ever heard the word "Graceland" yet. A neighbor down the street was a gigantic Elvis fan and so my dad and another neighbor went down to her house and started mockingly performing "Hound Dog" and telling her he'd be buried in a guitar case (That would have to be one huge guitar case), so the dark humor started even before it was clear how he died or where they found him. I always remember the Denis Leary routine about how much better off everyone would have been if Elvis had been killed early in his career so everyone would have fond memories of the energetic, fit-and-trim Elvis instead of the bloated man who expired on a toilet. Of course while I know from reading that there were huge media frenzies when other stars such as Marilyn Monroe (who died Aug. 5, 1962, nearly 15 years to the day as Elvis) and Rudolph Valentino (another August death, this one being Aug. 23, 1926), it seems to me that Elvis took it to a new level. He may have passed in the days before cable news, but I remember how the CBS Evening News received criticism for leading their Aug. 16, 1977, newscast with news that a final deal had been reached for handing over the Panama Canal to Panama instead of focusing on the death of the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

It's not that big a leap to go from Elvis' death (the death of someone with real accomplishments) to the overblown freak show that greeted the passing of Anna Nicole Smith. The hysteria over Elvis was instantaneous: late-night retrospectives, special airings of his old movies (one local affiliate rushed to get Blue Hawaii on that evening), special sections in newspapers, etc.

As a kid who still was vague on the detail of Elvis and his career, I also got caught up in a sort of investigative hoopla, having my mom take me out to a store to purchase 45s of "Heartbreak Hotel" and "All Shook Up." (Someone stop and explain to our younger readers what a 45 was. Hint: Not a gun.) What did annoy me though was that three days after Elvis' passing, a star I was aware of and whom I did love also passed away. Groucho Marx succumbed to pneumonia at 86. I even remember one station promising a late-night special on him, one which never seemed to air. Still, Elvis did fascinate me. When we went on our summer road trip the following year, we made sure to stop through Nashville and Memphis, visiting the Elvis museum, seeing his gold Cadillac and looking at the gates of Graceland, which was packed since our trip nearly coincided with the first anniversary of his death.

I also had a personal link since my sister had actually attended his final concert in Indianapolis in 1977, though a more aggressive fan grabbed the sweaty towel he tossed to the audience out of her hand during the show. Since then of course, I've become very familiar with his musical work, most of which stands the test of time even though on the radio soon after his death, the songs that seemed to dominate were less-interesting ones such as "In the Ghetto" and "Kentucky Rain."

I've watched some of his movies, most of which were campy at best. I think of the ones I've seen, Jailhouse Rock probably holds up best. Of course, I've always been fascinated by the great "what if?" about would everything had changed had Col. Tom Parker allowed Elvis to star opposite Barbra Streisand in the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born. More than likely, the film still would have stunk, but perhaps that would have given him a boost if the drug addiction storyline hadn't cut so close to his real life, since he would have had to stay high to deal with looking at Streisand's awful 'fro hairstyle at that time every day on the set. Still, even though I've been as guilty as anyone else at making jokes at Presley's expense, it's sad that his actual musical achievements have been lost in the shuffle of the circumstances of his death and, later, the loopiness surrounding the whole "Elvis is alive" phenomenon.

I still recall how creepy it was to go through the grocery store checkout line with my mom and see the tabloid cover showing Elvis in his coffin, though honestly it didn't look anything much like the most recent pictures of him in that time period. I imagine it's too late for Elvis Presley to ever truly rise back as a talent over the pop culture phenomenon he became after his death. I mean, when you have photos like this one with Nixon teaming up with him to help fight the war on drugs when everyone now knows that Elvis had his own drug problems and Nixon wasn't really that beholden to the rule of law, it's hard to counter that seriously. Still, that man could sing (Elvis not Nixon) and he left a lot of great music behind.

It's sad when anyone dies that young (it's easy to forget he was only 42 at the time), but especially someone with so much talent that got squandered as so many entertainers have. Valentino begat James Dean who begat Marilyn who begat Jim Morrison who begat Elvis who begat Natalie Wood who begat John Belushi who begat Karen Carpenter who begat Kurt Cobain with a plethora of names interspersed between them all. I hope that somehow Presley did find some peace and an endless supply of peanut butter and banana sandwiches (Sorry I couldn't resist. Even I'm not immune, no matter how noble my intentions.)

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