2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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McBain Recommends
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The Blog:
Thursday, March 10, 2005
The 2004 Droogies -- Stage II

Nominations are now closed. Thank to everyone who got in their ballots. We have some categories unaccounted for in regards to counting. So far, we have:

Cinematograhy - Lons
International Film - Joker
Supporting Actor - Allyn
Supporting Actress - Merlot
Screenplay - Jason
Actor - ??
Actress - ??
Director - Joker
Picture - (Stennie?)

Stennie has graciously volunteered (in the Picture comments) to count leftover categories. Stennie, if you would take Picture and Actress, I'll take Actor, and we'll be filled up.

Vote counters: We are alotting 5 pts. to a #1 vote, 4 pts. to a #2 vote, and on down to 1 pt. for a #5 vote. Add up the points and list the top 5 vote-getters. Do so by editing this post and listing the nominees in your category. If there's a 2-way tie for 5th, it is okay to list 6 nominees. If there's a longer tie, you can choose to have either a 4-person nominee list, or do a run-off vote for 5th place. It's up to you. Once we have all the categories counted and posted, I will compose a new post to announce the final voting. Those final votes will be emailed to the category counter, not posted publicly in comments. Also, the final votes will be open to ALL BLOG READERS, far and wide.

Best International Film nominees:

House of Flying Daggers
The Return
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring
Time of the Wolf

Best Actress nominees:

Julie Delpy, Before Sunset
Nicole Kidman, Dogville
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Best Actor nominees:

Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator)
Jamie Foxx (Ray)
Paul Giamatti (Sideways)
Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset)

Best Director nominees:

Brad Bird (The Incredibles)
Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Richard Linklater (Before Sunset)
Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 2)
Lars von Trier (Dogville)

Best Supporting Actress nominees:

Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)
Darryl Hannah (Kill Bill Vol. 2)
Virginia Madsen (Sideways)
Natalie Portman (Closer)
Meryl Streep (The Manchurian Candidate)

Best Supporting Actor nominees:

David Carradine (Kill Bill Vol. 2)
Thomas Haden Church (Sideways)
Tom Cruise (Collateral)
Derek Luke (Friday Night Lights)
Clive Owen (Closer)

Best Cinematography nominees:

The Aviator (Robert Richardson)
Collateral (Dion Beebee & Paul Cameron)
Hero (Christopher Doyle)
House of Flying Daggers (Zhao Xiao-ding)
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Robert Richardson)

Best Picture nominees:

The Aviator
Before Sunset
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kill Bill Vol. 2

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


[As I am having difficulty sorting things out with this film, I have decided to replicate the experience of seeing it within my review. Enjoy.]

So here it is: After casting, shooting, reshooting, recasting, cutting, recutting and a million missed release dates, the new-jack werewolf movie "Cursed" finally stumbles, ragged and bleeding, into public view. [LINE CUT] It sounded like a winner on paper -- Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson return to the horror arena! And they've got werewolves and Christina Ricci with them! Never mind that neither writer nor director had produced a single decent work since "Scream 2"; [REST OF LINE CUT]. Also, never mind that the project was being funded by Dimension, the genre arm of Miramax that too often unleashes the Harvey Scissorhands Effect on the hapless horror community. But then, this was the comeback. Never mind, never mind, never mind. This would was supposed to do for lycanthropy what "Scream" did for mad slashers. But, as those well-acquainted with Dimension's track record know, what looks promising under the halcyon moonlight of pre-release high hopes often turns puny and laughable when exposed to the harsh sunlight of reality. And "Cursed" is [PHRASE CUT], a wretched genre hash that bears the scars of a troubled production like oozing stigmata.


True to form, Williamson's screenplay happily embraces cliche even as it plays at subverting it. You've seen all this before and you'll see it again, as with all Williamson scripts. This film is instrumental mainly in that it reminds us of something we've all known for a long time: [CLAUSE CUT], Kevin Williamson is a titanically bad writer. Capital B, capital W, circled a thousand times, whole bunch of blinking lights and big arrows pointing to it. [RANT ABOUT WILLIAMSON'S LACK OF ORIGINALITY AS DEMONSTRATED BY HIS HAVING STOLEN, WHOLESALE, A SUBPLOT FROM THE "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" EPISODE 'PHASES' CUT] His only merit lies in his snarky take on pop culture and how he can usually assimilate that into his work. As a demonstration of the worthlessness of "Cursed", I submit that this film lacks even that merit. The dialogue is clunky and stupid, but what's truly awful is that it has no verve or spark. [LINE CUT] If you're going to set part of your film on the set of "The Craig Kilborn Show", you'd expect at least some snark spillover from Craiggers. No go. What we have here is Williamson taking the scenario totally seriously, which is more frightening than anything onscreen. I didn't expect him to reinvent the wheel, but I figured he might at least stick a fork in the spokes.


There must have been a point during this production where Craven was simply praying for the madness to end. Judging from the final release version, that point must have come a day or two into the second attempt at shooting. For those who don't know, Craven shot about six weeks worth of material, only to have Dimension scrap it entirely [REST OF LINE CUT]. That'd take the wind out of anyone's sails, and it explains why this film feels so listless. Like I said, all the acting is terrible the actors seem to be going through the motions. Maybe it's because their director didn't care enough to do anything besides call 'Action!' and 'Cut!'. Note, too, the myriad continiuty errors. Now, I generally don't catch these things. But this film has errors that Ray Charles Stevie Wonder would have caught. [DETAILED EXPLANATION OF ONE ERROR IN PARTICULAR, INVOLVING CHRISTINA RICCI'S CLOTHING AND HAIR, CUT]

So, as you might have guessed, "Cursed" is just that. No film could go through the amount of tinkering this did and come out looking pretty intact, but the apathy on display here is overwhelming. The writing, acting and direction are bad, as previously stated. But it's more than that. The editing is bad. The special effects are mostly bad ([MEASURED PRAISE FOR RICK BAKER'S RELIANCE ON PHYSICAL RATHER THAN DIGITAL EFFECTS CUT]). The camerawork is particularly bad. Hell, even the sound design is bad. But the sound design does have something going for it: Listen closely, and you might hear the sound of one director dying inside.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Hell's Angels

One good thing about blockbusters is that they encourage the release of otherwise unavailable related movies. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's success played a role in the release of the Shaw Brother’s entire catalog on DVD. Van Helsing tied into a Dracula, including the original Spanish version, filmed simultaenously If there were justice in the world, Chicago (2002) would have meant Chicago (1927), even if only as a DVD extra. And, following in the tradition, The Aviator has produced a bumper crop – of both older Scorsese on the big screen and several long-missing Howard Hughes productions.

Turner Classic Movies recently televised several of the Hughes films, including the Aviator plot point, Hell’s Angels. This is the first of only two Hughes-directed movies, made fairly early in his Hollywood career. Maybe that's the problem, but the movie is a mixed bag: Hell’s Angels has some stultifyingly bad stretches sprinkled with some astoundingly good action sequences. First, the bad bits: there’s no other way to say it – the story sucks and the dialog only makes it worse. Two brothers goof around life; Monte, the gullible one, falls for Jean Harlow (uh-oh) and Roy, the wiser one, doesn’t stop him. Then comes WWI. They go off to war, become pilots, volunteer for a suicide mission; Mr. Gullible finds out how "faithful" Jean is just in time to make the mission. The brothers fly off and end up captured behind enemy lines, then end up dying in a murder-suicide pact rather than give up the secrets of their mission. (Actually, the whole thing looks better in print than it plays onscreen.) The Monte character, a playboy/pacifist/coward who can’t decide what he really is, throws a fit about the futility of war than puts Jerry Lewis’ Buddy Love transformation to shame. He and his brother (and why are they serving in the same squadron, much less on the same suicide mission?) sacrifice themselves for the greater good; however, when the Germans do that, they’re barbarians. Jean Harlow – well, she’s very blond, scantily clad, and could have been worse, I suppose. The random French is Americanized, and the main characters become Brits by modulating their American accidents, throwing in a couple of "old chaps," and calling it a day. (God knows about the German.) The women in general are shrill caricatures by a borderline misogynist, and the bad guys don’t even make it to one-dimensional. It’s just baaaad (cue Leonard Pinth-Garnell).

On the other hand, Hell’s Angels also has some of the most realistic and imaginative flying sequences of their day, and there’s not much that matched them in the following 40-50 years. This isn’t about storyline but pure action: Hughes poured all of his genius into what he understood and went beyond A+. Hell’s Angels wasn’t the first movie to take the camera up in the air; the phenomenally successful Wings (which is a good picture) had just won a Best Picture Oscar for doing just that, and the rule-of-two’s The Flying Fleet had somewhat successfully hopped on the bandwagon as well. But Hughes was more than up to bypassing the earlier movies, staging an aerial ballet featuring a good twenty planes manouvering through skilled acrobatics in a very small space. (Well, maybe skill is relative – three pilots died during filming). The good guys fly white planes and the bad guys fly black, but with the close-ups and dives and crackups at eye level several thousand feet up, there’s something really exciting going on.

I suppose I could cut Hughes some slack for the bad stuff. His original film was silent, but The Jazz Singer rocked the industry and changed the rules just as he was preparing for release. Hughes saw where the future lay and, as producer (and most likely funding source), decided to add sound. This meant canning the thick-accented Norwegian female lead for the 18-yr old Harlow and reshooting most of the film. The big problem was that this was early days for sound; no one really knew how to use the new medium, and Hughes’s genius lay with airplanes, not handling the new technology (see Lubitsch for that). Even The Jazz Singer only has a few minutes of sound sequences, so doesn't provide much of an example. So the heroes patter on during the aerial fight scenes, and the dialog comes from the Sarah Bernhardt school.

One interesting glimpse of the movie's evolution: the nighttime zeppelin chase scene is probably least changed from the original silent version. The dialog is exclusively German, as the Kaiser’s soldiers pursue their mission to bomb Trafalgar Square (I don’t know why; maybe they don’t like pigeons). Hughes doesn’t translate most of it, but when he does he uses beautifully wrought intertitles which, combined with the visuals, pretty efficiently convey the gist of what’s going on. This got me to thinking that, with the sound turned down and a few more intertitles, a good number of the blemishes start fading away and the story fills out. A modern audience used to simultaneous translation might feel frustrated, but the audience Hughes was targeting probably would have been very comfortable with the economy of text. And again, when it gets away from that newfangled mike, the film clearly improves.

Whether sound or silent though, the story itself was just... painful. But maybe it’s best to see Hell’s Angels as documentation of a transition point in film history and a major milestone in the life of a notable American.