Friday, March 28, 2008

Casino Royale...with Cheese

For anyone who hasn't seen the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, be warned: there are spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it, avert your eyes.

Avast ye mates...prepare to come about.


So the past several weeks have been a bit of a blur.

Between having a birthday and all the requisite activity and excitement that that brings, coupled with the typical huge workload and the various other facets of my day-to-day life, and planning a party at a new venue, it's been a tad crazy.

That's when I managed to get ahold of a copy of the Blu-Ray version of Casino Royale.

So I finally fired it up and, on first view, I'm at once both really impressed and really disappointed.

First, if you're a regular visitor herein -- and if you are, you have my sincerest apologies -- you will likely recall I chose the recent Daniel Craig film "Layer Cake" as a "Worth Viewing" suggestion.

Now, having seen "Casino Royale," Mr. Craig's first foray as James Bond, I stand by the "Layer Cake" recommendation and can mostly recommend "Casino Royale," albeit with some reservations.

"Casino Royale" is a re-do on several levels. First, it's what is ostensibly a remake of a previous James Bond film featuring George Lazenby, a one-hit wonder as Bond, that was made for all the wrong reasons. That film was one of the first examples of the conflicts between factions looking to own the Bond franchise. Despite all the Bond films featuring a basic formula of hot women, hot cars and cool, breezy action, there's been so much behind-the-scenes politics, bullshit and in-fighting that it sometimes suggests that the behind-the-scenes Bond action might be more interesting than some of the action committed to film (eg Moonraker, Never Say Never Again).

Second, instead of picking up where Die Another Day (the last film) ends, this one returns to the days before Bond had the famed "Double-O" status. In other words, this film begins with Bond not having a license to kill. Of course, the notion of a license to kill is complete crap; as soon as you're handed a firearm by a governmental agency, you've got a license to kill. But that's neither here nor there. For continuity's sake, and for the sake of re-telling and revamping the entire Bond saga, this film at once goes back to the future. Meaning -- the film wants to go back to the time before Bond is a Double-O agent, but it's set in the present. Cell phones, computers, the Internet (Google)'s all there. The fact that Bond's been a Double-O for 40+ years is a non-issue. That whole "suspension of disbelief" thing must always accompany the viewing of a Bond film, and for this one, it's more crucial than a tub of popcorn.

Speaking of this film, it has it all -- a slew of yummy women, lots of tension, some eye-popping stunts, and a visceral good vs. bad dichotomy that only James Bond films can present with a straight face, so to speak. This one pits Bond against a Banker-To-The-Terrorists named Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game.

Yep, that's the showdown -- a poker game.

Now granted, this isn't the same cavalcade of Riker's Island rejects that you see sitting around a poker table on ESPN2 at 3AM; these people are wearing tuxedos and look like they're respectable members of society. Problem is, one of them's a bad guy.

Okay, so on the surface it seems shallow, even for a Bond film. The thing is, if you accept the fact that this film's premise is less sophisticated than the patent for "Crazy Straw," you'll be fine.

Once you get by that, what you have is a pretty solid film. My main apathy regarding this film, prior to a moment of it even being filmed, was that I think Pierce Brosnan was a perfect James Bond. I'll always regard Sean Connery as THE Bond, but Pierce was really the ideal Bond. He was the most able example of the spy who could withstand a barrage of enemy gunfire, an impending doomsday clock ticking down and the possible destruction of the free world -- and look like the only concern he had was that his hair looked good while he was saving the world from assured annihilation. So when they replaced him -- suddenly -- with Daniel Craig, I was less-than-thrilled.

But the truth is Daniel Craig makes a good Bond. He looks athletic enough to be taken seriously as Bond, and he rarely had more than three consecutive sentences so he was plenty quiet and methodical on-screen, which the post-Roger Moore Bond should assuredly be. And as far as gadgets and goodies, this movie was light on the fluff and the only real toy crucial to the film is the Aston Martin DB-S.

Anyhoo...some points of contention... There's a scene in which 007 flips the Aston Martin during a high-speed car chase. Um...unless the Aston's reaching speeds of 180+, there's almost no way a driver can flip that sucker unless he hits a one-wheel speed-bump (which is probably how the feat was accomplished in the first place). It looks fantastic on-screen -- very dramatic and very cool -- but as someone who's driven cars at high speeds, I can't really get past the fact that it's complete bullshit. For the "here's a better way to have accomplished the same thing," why couldn't the bad guys have planted a land mine or something similar on the road instead of laying out a prone, tied-up Vesper Lynd across the road? I guess drama and excitement bely and defy the rules of physics, natch.

Very cool scene...just wish it was physic-ally possible. Which it most likely isn't.

The other scene was the opener...Bond confronts a rogue/corrupt double-O agent at the film's inception (not quite a fellow agent as this film opens with Bond not yet having attained the famed double-O status himself). The confrontation is very mild-mannered -- for you serious Bond fans, think back to Dr. No where Bond waits in his dark hotel room for the assassin to show himself and then, once his six shots are emptied into what should be Bond's sleeping figure in bed, he closes the bedroom door and puts a bullet into his would-be assassin. So this scene was pretty much a direct rip-off of that Dr. No sequence.

No problem -- I don't mind a lack of originality when it comes to Bond. Tradition and a nod to past glory and all that -- no problem. Problem is -- after the fellow agent aims his pistol at Bond and pulls the trigger to find his gun is empty, Bond shows him the magazine to the weapon and says "I know where you keep your gun." Unfortunately, it's hard to believe an agent who has kill clearance for a secret service (for England or the US or Upper Volta, it doesn't really matter what nation) would holster his/her weapon and not notice there was no magazine or, if there was a magazine, that said magazine was empty. In other words, rather than show your opponent the magazine filled with bullets, better to simply show a handful of bullets and say something similarly clever, like "You should be more careful to make sure you're drawing a loaded weapon." This scene could and should have been a lot more impactful but I kept going back to it because it didn't really work. And considering this was Bond's last pre-Double-O mission should have made the entire thing work properly instead of sorta-kinda-not really.

Overall, this was a pretty solid film. The locations and the photography, as per usual, were better than what you see on National Geographic, the Travel Channel and Discovery HD combined. The characters are, for the most part, somewhat two-dimensional -- another typical Bond staple -- and the acting was at least solid, if not great.

But overall, the main thing I couldn't really get by was the fact that this entire film was based on a showdown between good and evil that takes place at a poker table. Even if a true blue-blood Bond fan like me could get by the comparison of this poker showdown to the impotent, ridiculous video-game showdown between Connery's Bond and Klaus Maria Brandauer in Never Say Never Again, the thing is that there's no spy or agent who would willingly accept an assignment where he has to play poker against the bad guy when -- duh -- the guy is out in the open. Send two burly guys with guns and a little Jewish guy with a warrant, put the bad guy in a cell, inject him with sodium pentathol and you get all the info you need. Why pony up the $15 million for the poker-game buy-in? Why bother with all the bullshit? Toss the full-house tension and get the answers you need (the theoretical point of why this whole poker game was played was to cut off Le Chiffre's financial base -- which in theory was actually his terrorist cronies' money -- and thereby forcing him to cooperate with the British Secret Service/MI6).

Among the other lowlights were the preliminary chase sequence between Bond and some terrorist/arms dealer in an African country. Bond chases a bad guy through a construction site and the guy he's chasing is so lithe and athletic he practically bounces up, around, over and/or through the construction site. In fact he DOES bounce. He swings, he arcs, and he glides through the air. The only thing missing was a tutu or tights, a pair of Capezios and a big bulging turtle shell shielding his camel-toe. And trust me, that would not have made the movie any better.

It just seems to me that if you're a bad guy working for a government (or for a rogue agency within the confines of a government or an African nation) and you're carrying a gun, you're not going all Baryshnikov and channeling the mighty Gazelle as you evade someone wanting to kill you. It makes for interesting chase sequences but it belongs on Broadway or at The Met, not in the middle of a construction site chase sequence in a James Bond film.

The highlights, by the way, were numerous. Judi Dench is always solid, and here, as M, she is spot-on. Eva Green and Jeffrey Wright (as, respectively, Vesper Lynd and Felix Leiter) are both very talented and acquit themselves very well. And Daniel Craig was and is a respectable Bond. I still would prefer Pierce Brosnan as Bond, but now I know how people who voted for John Kerry feel.

Consequently, this film turned out far better for Pierce Brosnan supporters than did the nation after John Kerry's defeat. Then again, that's not saying much.

Incidentally, one thing I noticed about this film was it was inordinately long (it took longer to watch this film than read this critique thereof). Clocking in over two hours (where most modern films rarely exceed 95 minutes) says a lot. But whereas quality films like "Goodfellas" clock in at well over two (and sometimes three) hours, this film kept going and twice I caught myself wondering "When is this thing going to end?"

Truth be told, this was a solid first outing and I'm glad I saw it, and considering the high-def quality of the print (not to mention the sound and the visual effects), it was pretty impressive. I just wish they'd thought this through a bit more thoroughly, and I hope the next film winds up showing evidence of thought that results in a better product on-screen and less excitement, bullshit and politics off-screen.

Monday, March 24, 2008

And Then You See This...

Some of the concepts, ideas and thoughts tossed around in these pages are sometimes regarded as highbrow, elitist, and/or sophisticated in nature. That isn't to say that I am any of those things -- especially sophisticated -- but some of these aforementioned concepts refer to self-determination, the contemplation of the individual's role within modern society, and the difficulties inherent within a world defined by more than one world religion and the willingness of each, if not both, to fight until the other is no more. Throw in the increasing proliferation of technology and nuclear material and the tenuous balance that was struck sometime in the mid- to late-80's has slowly unraveled, not merely evidenced by 9/11 but every day since.

However, after one manages to make it through the Big Politics pages -- the internation section, where we read about new US soldiers killed in Iraq, where we read about Hamas continuing its efforts to destabilize the so-called Peace Process, where we read about President Chavez's latest efforts to entertain the world through his bucket-headed diplomacy -- we deign to review the local sections and read about our fellow man. We read articles like this.

First and foremost, anytime one comes across a story like this, it can't help but leave some sort of scar on the soul. Reading about man's inhumanity to man, at least to me, never fails to repulse. As I get older -- and I suspect this applies to most -- it takes more to repulse me. Of course, the above-linked article was far more than sufficient.

The fact that children were participating in this disgusting exercise in the first place doesn't anger me as much as it reminds us of the bumper-sticker wisdom of the cliche "Stupid people raise stupid children." Frankly, I don't know much about Alton, Illinois (except for an episode of "Good Eats" when host Alton Brown visited that particular town strictly based on its name, natch). However, this type of incident, I am certain, could occur anywhere there are cruel, inhuman, pathetic, unworthy human beings -- if one is to refer to the perpetrators as such -- and geography, citizenship, nationality and/or ethnicity draw no boundaries around such behavior, cruelty or despicable, inhuman activity.

In an interesting parallel to the "Movies You Never Saw" piece which appeared herein within the past week, in the movie "Thank You For Smoking," William H. Macy as a senator from Vermont asks Aaron Eckhart, Big Tobacco's most gifted lobbyist, about how he'll react when/if the latter's son turns 18 and decides to smoke cigarettes. His response was "If he decides he wants to smoke, I'll buy him his first pack." The assembly groans, and his response is "Look, there's no point in putting a poison label on cigarettes. Everyone knows they're dangerous, so labeling them, at this point, is ludicrous. It's not about labels, it's about education. If I've done my job as a parent, then my son will not be interested in smoking cigarettes. It's my job as his father to look after his well-being, not a label or a Senator or the government." I've taken some liberty vis-a-vis paraphrasing here, but I believe my rendition of same is accurate. If you'd prefer, visit Drew's Script-O-Rama and read through the script yourself.

Now, while comparing these examples -- one absolutely real and the other completely fictional -- to one another isn't quite appropriate. My point in doing so is this: this type of behavior is a by-product of stupid, inhuman people. The children involved in this incident -- younger than 18 years of age categorizes them as such -- will not grow up to be compassionate, caring people. They will grow up as felons, a product of the penal system. They will not be products of intelligent, compassionate people. That isn't necessarily a fair statement, by the way; intelligence and compassion are not mutually exclusive. However, the adults within the construct of this particular situation are neither intelligent nor compassionate. And their behavior -- cruel, despicable, repulsive, downright inhuman -- merit equally repulsive treatment by the penal system.

On some level, should one even question why this type of behavior occurs? Exceeding the speed limit by, say, three miles an hour is a violation of the law, but at some point we as a society move past the violation of law and into another realm entirely, which is the violation of human behavior. Running into a bank with a gun and stealing money because a desperate man or woman has no food with which to feed his family is one thing; shooting someone merely for entertainment or as a result of the power that comes with the wielding of a gun is another.

So in this particular situation, treating a mentally-disabled woman -- a woman who was carrying a child, inexplicably -- as a human being never occurred to these individuals. Stealing her state benefits was not sufficient.

They threw things at her for entertainment. They poured chemicals on her which burned her skin, sometimes to the bone.

They fired bb guns in her direction.

They forced her to eat little or nothing. They fed her less frequently than most people feed their family dog.

They took her clothes from her and, in doing so, they robbed her of her dignity.

And by continuing to do these things to this woman -- this human being -- they let her die. Naked, hungry, alone and as less-than-human.

It seems to me that we as a society and as a world need to focus less on legislating proper behavior, policing our language and not violating each other's "civil" rights and more on actually being human beings and educating our children accordingly. It's easier to laugh, denigrate or attack that which is different from us, but while the post-Imus world chides people for referring to black people -- some black, some white -- by the word "nigger," why is it that we worry more about the use of that word and less about its cause, or, even more importantly, its effect? How can a word -- nigger -- be so awful that we refer to it as the "N" word and yet hear its intended recipients use it without a moment's thought or after-thought? The hypocrisy is deafening in its silence. Why do we worry more about some scraggly, aged white man using that word -- or a similar one -- and ignore its use by young urban black men in entertainment and their every-day lives?

It's not about behavior or proper, appropriate conformation to rules and ascribed beliefs. It's about treating each other with dignity and respect, as human beings, and not needing laws or rules or guidelines as to how to go about doing that.

This incident shows (sic) just how far we've come -- and, more appropriately, just how far we have yet to go.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Best Movies You (Probably) Never Saw

Every time I have an hour or two to avoid using my noggin for constructive thought and don't feel like braving the elements and/or the denizens of the busiest city in the world, I typically opt for a movie from the comfort of my couch. The problem, of course, is that there are so many films available for viewing -- and my distaste for wasting what little free time I seem to have these days -- that I occasionally spend more time trying to figure out what to watch rather than actually watching it.

Part of the "problem" is the proliferation of standard, old-fashioned DVD's -- with HD-DVD disappearing faster than a client hearing the first sirens warning of a potential bust at a North East DC brothel and Blu-Ray prices climbing like Ashley Dupre's per-hour conjugal visitation fees, a variety of films -- both noteworthy and awful alike -- are available for next to no money.

To wit, worthwhile films like Garden State, Singles, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Brothers McMullen are readily available for less than $15 (most of these titles cost something around $8 a piece). Conversely, their Blu-Ray counterparts are all fetching nearly $19.95 on average, if not more. I can accept people wanting to upgrade movies they owned on videotape to DVD's, but for those of us with more than 750 DVD's (I stopped counting awhile back), there's very little reason to upgrade each title to Blu-Ray simply for the sake of keeping current.

Now, considering the fact that a good number of the films I own on regular DVD aren't science-fiction masterpieces or the kinds of movies that enhanced sound, clarity and features will make all that much difference, I don't expect, once I finally plunge into the world of Blu-Ray, to be bothered replacing more than 10% of my discs. Of course, the Star Wars films deserve Blu-Ray upgrades, and several more series -- The Godfather, The Lord Of The Rings, etc. -- merit the extra expense.

However, for now -- before most people have opted for high-definition players from either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray format -- and before companies stop producing standard DVD's -- it's time to consider spending $6 or $7 for a film that would have cost $15 for a ticket.

Therefore, in no particular order, are a ten-spot of films that you should consider clicking "Add To Cart" next time you visit
The Sandlot
Every so often a film poignantly and perfectly captures what it's like to be young and to live for nothing more than living life. Even with the days of our youth long since past, there's nothing wrong with spending an hour or two reminiscing in the form of a great baseball movie that's really about growing up as an awkward, misguided kid. Not all of us had Dennis Leary as a stepfather or a doting Karen Allen as a concerned, overly-protective mother; but anyone who's ever learned about baseball and life on a sandlot or a dusty neighborhood Little League field can enjoy this film and who knows full-well that the biggest insult one could hurl to another is telling him "You play ball like a girl!" And more importantly, anyone who's ever been a kid can find a part of themselves among this group of real-life kids.

· · ·
Garden State
Watching Natalie Portman's uncomfortable, self-conscious performance here against the backdrop of Zach Braff's self-instilled emptiness shows that sometimes two incomplete characters can come together to fill one another's emptiness. While Zach Braff waxes a combination of stupid and silly on Scrubs, his films -- this one specifically -- are, surprisingly, a worthwhile mixture of poignant, real, sad, uplifting and memorable. In addition to those two, the always-awesome Peter Sarsgaard turns in yet another solid performance (see him in "The Center of The World" for another creepy but memorable performance). And while we're talking Garden State, the nice part is the soundtrack is every bit as good as the film itself.

· · ·
Waiting/Just Friends
With Dane Cook being so quickly over-exposed, his turns in "Good Luck Chuck" with Jessica Alba and "Employee of The Month" with Jessica Simpson might be his only shot at big-time Hollywood films. However, for my $0.02, I'd much rather see him in his supporting role in Waiting, a 2005 film starring Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long (the "I'm a Mac" guy) and Anna Faris. Jordan (daughter of Cheryl) Ladd and Luis Guzman, among others, make appearances here as well. This film feels like Office Space meets TGIFridays, and invariably this is the kind of film that people have come to appreciate via the Second Stage, ie home video. The first of these "Second Stage" films was the keeper, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I'm not suggesting this film was its equal, but Waiting is very much a worthwhile film not just for a first-time viewing but for lots thereafter. And it reminds us not to break the cardinal rule: "Don't fuck with people that handle your food."

Just Friends, another 2005 Ryan Reynolds offering, is nearly as entertaining as Waiting, if a bit less snarky and a more straightforward comedy-love story. What makes this one so worthwhile is Ryan Reynolds, who is great no matter the role. This particular film is no exception; Reynolds is a music company exec whose plane makes an emergency landing near his childhood home in south Jersey in the dead of winter -- and in the heart of Christmas season. The few weeks he spends there, trapped, reliving his childhood and his high-school days, are a cacophony of awkward, hysterical, slapstick and genius.

· · ·
Ash Wednesday
Edward Burns is known for The Brothers McMullen, a worthwhile sub-$10 offering in and of itself. It was a low-budget ensemble piece focusing on three brothers and their lives in their hometown, and it launched the worthwhile career of Ed Burns.

However, 2002's Ash Wednesday -- something a bit different, for Edward Burns, anyway -- is a departure from his usual "my brothers and I are going to drink, whine and complain a bit but everything's going to be better by the end of the movie" thing. This film is more of a solid thriller with the backdrop of he and his brother (Elijah Wood). There's still religious imagery and brotherly comradery, and there's alcohol, but this one's plenty different from the other Burns films. And if you can't find this film, pick up The Groomsmen, another solid offering from Eddie B. from 2006. It's more of the same -- solid, well-crafted, entertaining and really enjoyable. But Ash Wednesday's the black sheep of the litter.

· · ·
Beautiful Girls
Another stop in the perfect ensemble drama-comedy is Beautiful Girls (1996), perhaps one of the best films made over the past twenty years. A bold statement, true, but try as I might, I can't really find anything to dislike about this film.

First, the cast: Timothy Hutton, Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Lauren Holly, Michael Rapaport, Annabeth Gish, Martha Plimpton, Rosie O'Donnell, Mira Sorvino...and this film marks the first performance of Natalie Portman's career. Ted Demme managed to catch lightning in a bottle; the film is set in upstate New York against the approaching high-school reunion of a bunch of friends, most of whom seem stuck in a rut of one form or another but mostly of their own design.

There's not much to be said about this film other than it is absolutely perfect for multiple viewings and never gets old or fails to push the viewer's buttons. It's almost like the perfect roast turkey and homemade gravy with mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. No matter how many times you experience it, it never falls short or fails to hit you somewhere in the center of your chest. And the fact that even Rosie O'Donnell was great in this film says a lot. What also says a lot is this film can be picked up for less than $10, which qualifies it as a bona-fide steal. Run, don't walk...

· · ·
Thank You For Smoking
Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Katie Holmes, Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Rob Lowe...a farce dedicated to magnifying the hypocrisy of lobbyists in modern American politics, this one set against the backdrop of Big Tobacco.

Aaron Eckhart, who is great in every role he takes on, is Nick Naylor, a high-profile, high-stakes pro-smoking lobbyist who manages to spin everything his way. He takes on his nemesis, William H. Macy, the senior senator from Vermont, and the movie never lifts its foot off the to-the-wall accelerator. It's funny, it's political, it's insightful and it's worth keeping for repeat viewings.

· · ·
John Woo's The Killer
Long before the name John Woo was as much an American household name as the California Roll, John Woo was perfecting the art of Asian crime thrillers. That is to say that his films aren't simply films that focus on crime, death and the art of the double-cross, they combine all those things in a package that is slick, ultra-contrived, incredibly detailed, and for the most part, this film, like many of his other earlier films, is typically described as a grisly ballet of death.

It's hard to describe the film in terms typical to American audiences, in that The Killer incorporates typical, traditional Japanese values (honor, respect) with a combination of almost cartoonish violence (both martial arts and gunplay) with a physical depiction akin to anime (angular camera shots, quick-stop lighting and POV's, etc.). What makes this particular film even more interesting than is typical is the conflict between the paid assassin and the man chasing him; they are diametrically opposed, yet they become almost -- friends. It's somewhat similar to the distended, strained relationship between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in Heat, except it's more -- or less -- genuine, depending on what you think of subtitles. This film isn't new (it was originally made in 1989) and it's hard to find on DVD, but if you come across it spend an hour or two. Starring Chow Yun Fat, whose career on these shores was largely established by this film, this is the kind of the film that changed the genre across two continents and, subsequently, the world.

That, and it'll keep you reaching for the popcorn until the last frame fades to black.

· · ·
Clay Pigeons
Each time I run my fingers along the DVD rack to pick out something to watch, I invariably laugh out loud when I reach Old School and/or Wedding Crashers and/or Swingers. Why? Vince Vaughn is easily one of the most entertaining actors of this generation. He's not overly confident but he's more than confident enough on-screen to make you laugh. He single-handedly has managed to share the stage with Snoop Dogg, Jennifer Aniston, Jon Favreau and Owen Wilson. And the word "earmuffs" will never be the same, not to mention he'll be indelibly linked to the phrase "You're so money."

But this film -- starring Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix and Janeane Garofalo -- is uniquely entertaining much like a bloody but non-fatal car crash. It's a plodding, slowly-told story like Fargo; without giving anything away, it keeps you on your toes and turns you upside down with regularity, and it will stay with you long after your Aunt Connie's legendary meatloaf.

And for $10, it's worth owning in lieu of renting. You might come across it on cable or on TBS, but keep in mind that one day it will cost $25 on Blu-Ray in "Criterion" guise. Definitely worth a look-see or two.

· · ·
Suicide Kings
Christopher Walken manages to steal every movie he's been in since The Dead Zone. Impressively, he managed to take a random afterthought of a film like 1997's True Romance and put it on the map (recall his performance as Dennis Hopper's torturer as Vincenzo Coccotti? If you saw the film you recall it).

In Suicide Kings, Walken plays a mob boss who runs into a bunch of rich kids who get themselves deep into a world in which they have no business being. Suffice to say that Walken, in true form, personifies entertaining, unsettling, captivating and humor all in one compact package, as per his usual. The plot is engaging, the acting solid if not top-notch, and the film is memorable. There's blood, there's laughs, there's grit, there's cruelty, and there's raw emotion all wrapped around an engaging situation that is as unique and cringe-inducing as it is fun. It's almost an American version of a Guy Ritchie film except it's better than that.

And it's only $9 on DVD.

· · ·
The Spanish Prisoner
David Mamet has authored some of the best modern plays you'll come across. His juxtaposition of vulgarity for effect, sharp dialogue for cadence, and tension for plot is peerless. Who can forget Glengarry Glen Ross? There's the gratuitous use of the word "fuck" in Scarface, but if you're going for quality over quantity, you go with Mamet -- anything by Mamet. And for anyone who enjoys hard-edged plot and tension that cracks itself open like a self-boiling egg, it's really hard to do better than Mamet.

In this particular film, however, it's his use of clever plot twist and intriguing characters and not brute force that is so memorable. Even knowing all the answers, this film had to be a fun romp through dialogue and plot twists for its actors, including Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Ben Gazzarra and Rebecca Pidgeon.

The ins and outs of a Mamet script are legendary, but what makes this one interesting is that so few people know of it; I include Glengarry Glen Ross as one of my all-time favorite films and I would choose it over The Spanish Prisoner. However, the fact that this film is such a little-known gem makes it even more attractive and worthy of inclusion here. It's the kind of movie that will reward you for having expended two or so hours and the energy to figure it out.

It's not as cheap as some of the other films included herein, but if you come aross it -- most likely in a bargain bin somewhere -- don't hesitate.

· · ·

There are more DVD's out there in virtual bargain-bins through the click-and-order world as much as there are DVD's stacked twenty-high in the brick-and-mortar world. It's your job to go find them; sure, you could run right out and grab a handy-dandy Blu-Ray player (they do play standard DVD's, after all), but it seems to me that now that the final nail in the HD-DVD coffin has been hammered home, Blu-Ray prices aren't going to drop for at least six to twelve months. And while we can all admit Blu-Ray is the future, it doesn't need to be the present.

At least not while there are great, worthwhile titles out there for under $10.


PS If there's a film you think should be included here, let me know. If your nomination is worth inclusion, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you, unlike the rest of your fellow readers, is actually paying attention ;-)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saint Patrick's Day

I don't know why they call today St. Patrick's Day -- it's my birthday, so it should be known as Boogie's Day. To a select few, it is -- so the hell with St. Patrick and his legions of beer-puking nimrods.

Happy Boogie's Day.

In the meantime, I tore open a box of goodies Kaia sent me, which included a couple great shirts and a couple of other niceties which I won't mention. As always, as good as the goodies are, the cards are even better. Until I get my real gift -- ie Kaia being here -- I'll more than happily count the days until she is.

Meanwhile, to be honest, as much as I'd love to focus on my birthday and celebrating the day, I've got so much work ahead of me (not to mention what I accomplished work-wise over the weekend) that I'll be glad if I survive the day without losing my mind completely. Today is the extension of a March 15th deadline, and as is always the case, it follows another office-wide deadline which invariably sees my father head out for a week of vacation while I am faced with last-minute pressure, much of which results from the fact that we as an office have completely focused on the prior deadline. This is how it's been for awhile and I'm sure it will be this way until the filing quarters are changed; of course, the filing quarter deadlines will never change, so this is it. Overall, it could be worse; since Kaia's not in town, my birthday's mostly just another day on the calendar. When she and I are together, that's when we celebrate; so next year, when she and I have the same zip code, me having to work the weekend prior to my birthday and kill myself the day of -- presuming the deadline yet again falls on my actual birthday -- will probably bother me a lot more than this year's schedule does. Suffice to say that I'm more disappointed she's not here than I am knowing today is going to be a difficult one.

As Leo Durocher once said, better luck next year.

Happy Boogie's Day!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Hoover Dam

The title of this post refers not to the intestinal yoga which has entertained me for the past week but instead the pressure that has exponentially ramped up since the intestinal yoga first appeared.

Without going into detail, we had a filing deadline about ten or so days ago that we survived (actually we were very successful in handling it); however, on top of that, another looming deadline is fast approaching, and to complicate matters, we had another ongoing matter reached fever pitch. That too was a home run, but with all our focus trained on the ongoing matter, that delayed our addressing the deadline. And, if that all wasn't enough, we have several other issues which are also fairly significant and which need to be handled. So all in all, there are about ten different things which need to be handled yesterday, and tomorrow looms large.

Considering the severe degree and nature of all this "excitement," I began wondering if my stomach issues were a result of all this pressure. I generally handle pressure very well; I don't explode, I don't break down and I don't make a living hell out of the lives of the people close to me. Back in my serious hockey days, I never threw up or had severe nerves prior to a game and I never folded under pressure. We'd lost big games as a team but we did so as a team. I've had bad games, but never so much so that our loss was directly attributable to me folding under the strain of the moment. Generally, I'm someone to whom my friends refer as having ice in my veins. However, given the past week, I'm not concerned so much with what's in my veins but instead with what's in my intestines (insert weak, semi-serious chuckle).

In any case, the stomach issues have been subsiding so my short-lived, self-questioning concerns are, I believe, nothing for concern. If my stomach issues were a response to the pressure, they'd be getting worse -- much worse -- so I guess this last week was merely a taste of what some funky bacteria can do to an otherwise normal male (or, in its place, me).

In other news...we finally addressed and sent out evites for our next party. It's set for the first weekend of April and we've gotten a huge, positive response, although we intended (and have been chided for failing to) sending the evites out earlier. No matter...we've found a new place so it should be a great shindig, and for better or worse, we're counting down the days.

But for now, with work deadlines aplenty, I'll continue counting down the hours and go from there.

I'm just glad I can indicate "I'm going" and not be referring to the bathroom.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Near and Far

Now that one deadline's in the books, another's on its way fast approaching -- and without fanfare, whilst all this continues its crescendo towards March 15th, I manage to catch something akin to a stomach virus.

What this all means, of course, is that since Thursday, I've been double-fisting Immodium, rolls of toilet paper and any food that is bland, boring and inoffensive -- rice, bananas, saltines -- in the hope that I'll be able to actually consume some measure of food without worrying about having to schedule some post-consumption bathroom time. Thus far, that hasn't worked out too well -- better to skip food altogether and stick with sips of water, warm, de-bubbled ginger ale and hope for the best.

Yesterday -- he wrote proudly -- I managed to take the bus to the office without fear of reprisal from my lower regions. Then again, that's after having had two eggs that featured less flavor than a white man's choral group from Nebraska. Sure, it's a nasty hang -- but with work to do and nothing exciting to eat, it's a lot easier to just skip the food altogether and go with what works.

Now before anyone begins feeling pangs of sympathy, it's not quite all bad -- I've managed to reacquire a quasi-taste for bananas, and more importantly, I've noticed that a lot of stuff prepared on the Food Network during weekend shows isn't nearly as appetizing as it's seemed in the past. I figure that if the subconscious lack of appetite remains, I'll forever give up my secret urge to prepare Coq Au Vin and my uber-lust for a double-Viking range with a 500-degree grill in the middle.

And more importantly, I'll be able to hit the treadmill without any concern whatsoever that I'll need to interrupt my hour-long runs with a visit to the Loo.

Otherwise, a few movie recommendations:

Layer Cake, starring Daniel Craig -- entertaining, if a bit confusing (due to the English accent and the colloquialisms); sort of a more grown-up, more serious Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels;

Fracture, starring Anthony Hopkins (and Ryan Gosling) -- a darkly fun romp through a "We Know Who Did It, But How" set in the shine of SoCal. Solid, if a bit more playful than it probably should be;

Hot Fuzz -- stupid, funny, silly, entertaining, and a tad bizarre, this is what I believe is the second film from the group who did Sean Of The Dead. If that movie didn't do it for you (the gore, silly zombie movie cliched spoofs, etc.) then this probably won't either. However, overall, definitely worth a viewing if that movie got you laughing (and I can't fathom anyone not finding that movie somewhat hysterical). A bit long on the gag but nonetheless a worthwhile watch.

My next-up is the reincarnation of Beowulf; see what happens when you can't eat, can't do much sleeping and you've got a broadband connection and the feminine wiles as to how to best put it to good use?

Stay tuned, and stay healthy...

And for gawd's sake, stay out of the bathroom until I have windows installed...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Follow The Cursor

If you thought that Sharper Image Animatronic Elvis was weird (and you're not alone thinking that, incidentally), check this out.

I can't wait to try it out while eating sushi in front of my rig.

Freaky, right?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Hell To Pay: RIP Jeff Healey, 1966-2008

Awhile back -- the summer of 1990, to be precise -- I was in a studio in the Village sometime around 2 or 3 AM; bleary-eyed, beat to hell and needing to stretch my legs, I walked through the mixing board room and headed into the main hallway. Some guy was listening to a CD of a new blues guitarist/singer and when he saw me he sat me down and told me I had to give it a listen. The song, if I recall correctly, was called "See The Light."

He thumbed a button on the front of the little boombox and said "You gotta hear this." The next song up was "Confidence Man," and then, afterwards, a cover of ZZ Top's "Blue Jean Blues." Pretty soon we'd listened to snippets of the entire album. I asked him what the band's name was and he said "I don't know, but the guy's name is Jeff Healey."

I liked it enough to pick up a debut copy of Healey's first album, "See The Light," and within a few years I'd bought several of Jeff's discs. All of them featured a smattering of rock classics, covers, some blues interpretations and, overall, stuff that I was interested in not only listening but playing.

Of course, the interesting thing was that Jeff Healey was blind.

He'd lost his sight when he was a year old and soon after developed some sort of musical affinity when he picked up a guitar and sat it on his lap and began playing. Somehow he managed to combine the lap-based style of pedal-steel guitar (a staple of country stuff) and the hard, tone-driven classic rock that he'd grown up with. That meant anything he'd heard -- Cream, Zeppelin, ZZ Top, the Dire Straits -- were all fair game.

If you've ever caught the movie Road House -- truly a crappy exposition of 90 minutes of film -- you'll recall seeing Jeff and his band onstage and off. Otherwise, he stuck to the music rather than the extraneous trappings resulting from it.

He'd been quiet for some time, moving to jazz and some other types of music, until he released -- two weeks ago -- a new blues/rock album; I hadn't heard anything about him for awhile, until this morning, when I discovered he'd passed away in a hospital in his hometown of Toronto. Apparently, at age 41, he succumbed to cancer. I'm not sure it's the same cancer that claimed his eyesight when he was a year old, but he lost his battle and the world, sadly, lost a musician who never failed to amaze me -- not just due to the fact he was blind -- but that he was a great musician.

This article probably sums up his life better than I ever could, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to pay homage to a person who really reminded me that accomplishing goals was a matter of setting the bar high. More importantly, I hope that some of you go dig up a Jeff Healey CD and give it a listen, and maybe another listen after that. Hopefully, some of you will find -- as I did -- that you like his music, regardless of the fact that he had a disability. Perhaps, as a person, he merited respect and admiration for all that he achieved despite his disability; however, for me, the real admiration is for the fact I thought he was a great musician regardless of the context of his disability. And, frankly, to me, that is the real noteworthy achievement on his part.

Finally, I wanted to make sure I didn't fail to mention that Jeff and his music will most certainly be missed.