Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best Movies of the Year

1. 500 Days of Summer

I titled my review of this film, ‘Film Isn’t Shot In Order. Either Is Our Memory’, because that’s the way this film rolls out. It works like our memory. It isn’t edited to be from point A to point B. It is a film that works like our mind. ‘500 Days of Summer’ is a romantic comedy that doesn’t play by the rules of romantic comedy. It’s refreshing to see a film that isn’t about the wackiness of a relationship, as many romantic comedies make the mistake of being about, but instead is a honest and funny film about how we often have exceptions that are created in our mind as opposed to the reality of what we are. The director, Marc Webb, comes out of the music video world and uses his ability of fast cuts and unique little episodes to craft the emotions, thoughts and feels of our main character, Tom, as he tries to figure out what was real about his relationship and what he romanticized about it. The beginning of ‘500 Days of Summer’ starts with Tom’s sassy little sister riding her bike to Tom’s apartment to inform him that the relationship he thought he had was romanticized in his mind. Thus starts the way the relationship actually played out versus the movie version of it in Tom’s mind. It’s the most original film of the year.

2. The Informant

The Informant is a tour de force by Matt Demon. He creates a funny and original character, which tries to lie and cheat while doing the right thing all at the same time. Though not the smartest man around, there is no way we cannot feel anything but symphony for the main character Mark. He fumbles along, telling lies and truth all the same time while trying to make sense of the corporate world of the 1990s. There where times during this film I felt like I was watching a follow up to ‘Fargo’, the classic 90s film by the Cohen brothers. The world in that film felt plastic, and so does the world in this one.

3. Star Trek

The biggest surprise of the year has to be Star Trek. Of course I thought I was going to enjoy the new Star Trek film, though what I didn’t expect was the film to be as good as it was. While many Trekies where quick to shun the new Star Trek picture, it actual strike that right balance between service to the old fans and a hand reaching out to the new ones. I remember at the screening of Star Trek I was at, when Leonard Nimoy came on the screen, someone in the back of the audience cheered. The scene between a young Kurt and Leonard Nimoy is wonderful as he says to Kurt that Spock will always be his friend. The new cast is well, cool. There was so many ways this film could of gone wrong. A ‘Star Trek’ reboot with a young cast, could of felt like a episode of Star Trek for Kids, but instead avoids all the pratfalls that often happens when trying to update a franchise in desperate need of a tune up. At the same time though, it also really needed someone who can be careful with the fragile universe Gene Roddenberry has created. If anyone can make Star Trek cool again, J.J. Abrams proved he was the one to do this. As I said to my Trekies back in my review, we need this film to pass Star Trek down to the next generation. I’m happy to report, between the comeback of ‘Star Trek’ and the hit sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’, this was a good year for nerds.

4. Ponyo

Hayao Miyazaki is an animation rock star in Japan, and has a cult following in America. Hayao Miyazaki is the hero John Lasseter, the head of Pixar, and because of this, continually gets Disney to back a U.S. release of any film that comes from the mind of this magical man. On a dark and stormy night, something magical is brewing in the Ocean. A boy meets a fish, which turns into a human girl, and thus the magic begins. In a well-dubbed American release, with notably the voices of Tina Fey and Liam Neeson, the film provides a story that draws on some of the biggest themes that usually take place in a Miyazaki film. The themes of a Miyazaki film are constantly nature and children. At times it feels like a family film, but like most Myazaki, he never lets animation or family films turn to fluff. The themes are often having a dark undercurrent about how we treat our environment. His memorable 1997 film, “Princess Monoke” also touched on this film. Though, for the most part, a Miyazaki can simply be described as magic.

5. A Serious Man

The Cohan Brothers have brought us their version of the Book of Job. This film is a story about a good man without a backbone. Michael Stahlberg turns in a great performance in every scene, in what is probably not the easiest character to play. He plays a Jewish man who has bad luck, throughout the entire film. In fact, horrible luck, and the suspense builds as you wait for him to either snap or at least have one piece of good news. Though, as the film continues, nothing good happens to him. His wife runs off with a creep, his kids are indifferent, and the man his wife has run off with is a creepy overweight guy who is respected in the community. With a cross of Woody Allen and Kurt Vonnegut, the Cohan Brothers present a story about how one good man lets him become a doormat to a world full of evil. A full display of dark humor is on display here.

6. Coralline

This is yet another magical film. With wonderful clay animation, the wonderful Neil Gaiman bases Coralline on the book, who’s one of our better authors writing today. Coralline isn’t a nice little girl, and in fact seems quite ungrateful to her parents and those around here who simply want the best for her. She isn’t nice to her new neighbor either. An odd kid named Wybie who has bad posture and rides his bike into town; so much around Coralline she accuses him of stalking her. So, when she does make it to an alternative universe where her parents are perfect and Wybie lacks the ability to even talk, she thinks she has entered a perfect world. Yet, something evil is larking underneath the surface. She reminded me of Chihiro from the Hayao Miyazaki classic, ‘Spirited Away’, and this movie gave me shivers and a smile across my face. The smile only became wider as Wybie drove his bike through town. If that isn't every wonderfully odd kid I ever met!

My 4 Star Reviews of 2009: 500 Days of Summer, The Informant, Star Trek

Special Mention: It's not a movie, so I can't put it on the list, but 'The Big Bang Theory' on CBS, 9:30 Mondays is the most charming, funny and future classic of a sitcom I've ever seen in a long, long time. The show of the year.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When Zombies Attack, Boy Gets Girl

By Alec Horowitz

Three stars

Pity us guys who have to wait for the world to be taken over by zombies in order to get the girl. I keep waiting for something to happen. I go to the movies, saying that one day those hours playing “World of Warcraft” are going to pay off, and I’m going to be the hero as the zombies attack the girl and it’s up to me to save her. Though, lets face it. That’s probably not going to happen. So, lets talk about this in simply movie terms. Zombies are funny. Ok, this movie isn’t the brilliant 2004 British comedy “Shawn of the Dead”, but this is still funny. It stars Woody Harrison as a redneck survivor of the zombie uprising who comes across the narrator of the movie, a nerdy Jesse Eisenberg, who says before Zombieland happened, he was a lonely nerd who spent his weekend playing Word of Warcraft and drinking soda. So, basically, the two comes across Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, and it becomes basically a classic buddy road picture with a gimmick. Though, not a bad one. As I said earlier, zombies are funny.

There’s not too much going on here. They shot zombies, they wreck a store for no reason, Woody Harrison is a crazy redneck, Jesse Eisenberg is an insecure nerd and Emma Stone is really hot. It’s fun viewing to watch and has some good running gags. Though, if there are very few people in the world and the zombies outnumber the humans, than there’s probably a lot of time to kill. They go out and find a mason in Las Angles and there’s a surprise cameo by Bill Muarry, in a funny, funny few scenes. It’s always nice to see Bill Maury. He’s not a zombie, he just dresses like one to stay inspected because he likes to go out and do things. Ok, cool cameo. There’s a great line before he dies asking if he has any regrets, and he goes “Garfield”.

Woody Harrison kills the zombies quick. He’s a mysterious and funny character who obsesses over Twinkies (*cough* product placement) who kills the zombies. Harrison is good at this type of whacky over the top roles. Ok, so this isn’t the place where everyone knows your name, but Harrison knows how to play up the whacky redneck that is on the edge in a world taken over by zombies. There are a lot of guns in these movies, and often when the scenes where the characters are just shooting zombies felt like just watching a live action video game. Was this based on a video game? I goggled it but am still not sure. Just goes to show how on the cutting edge I am on the world of video games that aren’t RPG’s on a computer screen.

The movie makes creative use of a constant list Eisenberg narrates and it keeps coming onto the background of the scenes. One of the items on the list is don’t be a hero, but when it comes time to save the girl from the zombies, what do you think he does? Maybe this is why I enjoyed seeing a movie about Zombies than say, Twilight, a movie about hot vampires who save the day. The Zombies aren’t some supernatural beings, which look like models and care about your feelings. They are blood-sucking monsters like vampires used to be. Classic monsters. It’s up to the normal human guy to save the day and get the girl. Not the other way around. The human guy prevails. It’s in the tradition of Godzilla and every monster movie ever made. The monster being the good guy is relatively new. Maybe the next Zombie movie, the slogan on the poster should be Zombies, the kind of monster vampires used to be.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A White Collar Criminal Who Does Himself In

By Alec Horowitz

Four Stars

‘The Informant!’ is more than just a satire on white-collar crime. It’s also a reflection on the corporate culture of the 90s. Matt Demon plays Mark Whitacre, a corporate stiff who works for a company called ADM, one of those companies, which puts invisible corn products into much of the food in the supermarket. Though, this movie isn’t about the corporate engineering of food, though that does add a bit of a creepy element to it. As FBI Agent Brain Shepard (Scott Bakula) says, “Americans are already victims of corporate crime when they finish their breakfast.” The corporate crime though isn’t so much the corn products put into their breakfast foods as much as it’s the price fixing going on inside the company that manufactures the product invisible in the food Americans consume. What follows is a very well done funny drama about a bi polar white-collar criminal, who we find hard not to like even after some of his sins are brought out in the public.

We find out a lot of unpleasant things about Mark Whitacre, but for some reason, we can’t really seem to really dislike him. Maybe it’s because unlike many other criminals in films about corporate criminals, we see something of ourselves in this character. The screenplay by Scott Burns, based on the book by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, smartly plays out a running dialogue throughout the film of Witacre’s thoughts. Often they are simple and not related to the core plot, but this also draws out his character as the common man. At first, he seems to be another stiff consumed in the corporate culture of the 90s. One scene he is standing at a abandoned field with two walls sitting there, thinking to himself it make a good spot for a shopping outlet with even a food court. He also early on has a habit of comparing everything that happens to a Michael Crithon novel. When he finds that the Chinese are involved in the price fixing scheme, his first thought is this is just like the Michael Crithon novel, “Rising Sun.” Though, as the movie progresses, we start to get the sense that this inner running dialogue isn’t a normal organization of thoughts. There’s something off about the way he runs them off.

What make this film’s script and direction by Stephen Soderberg are a few elements. One of them is that the movie turns around in the middle. The film isn’t a covenantal white-collar criminal story and the film doesn’t treat this like one. There where times in this film I felt like I was watching a scene from “Fargo”, with that feel of an America surrounded by middle class housing and cheap luxury. There’s no dramatic music, instead choosing to use cheesy music that belongs out of a TV crime show. There’s a delicate balance going on in this film of comedy and drama. At one end the film is trying to make fun of the corporate culture and the people who get caught up in this. The film is in a way making fun of Mark Whitacre, but on the other hand, it isn’t. Though he find that Whitacre is less than innocent in the matters he also fought to expose, we also don’t dislike him. We understand him, and there were times I wanted to help him. Mark Whitacre isn’t our usual criminal. In a way, he’s trying too hard to get ahead. On the other hand, he’s a victim to his own tics and mental disorder.

He’s a decent guy but also a liar and a thieve. Maybe it’s because of the way Matt Demon plays him. He’s exaggerates him, with his big glasses and constant spear of the moment thoughts. Though, every time he does something stupid during the FBI investigation, it’s because he simply isn’t very smart. On the other hand, he can’t be dumb if what he pulled off is true, but than again he seems so confused by what he has done. His relationship with the two FBI agents Brain Shepard and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale) seems genuine to a point. One of the reasons he seems to be doing this is because his wife told him it was the right thing to do. On the other hand, he’s told so many lies, who knows what his true motive is. Whitaker is a serial liar and thieve but also had the good will enough to come to the FBI and try to help them bust up a illegal plot. Though, also he’s trying to clear the board of the company so he will be celebrated for doing the right thing and getting upper hand in management. It’s stupid but it’s also understandable to watch someone try to accomplish this.

“The Informant!” is a very good, funny and at time, emotional corporate thriller. Though, it conveys emotions in a comical and low key way. Mark Whitacre is one of the more interesting whistle blower; with secrets of his own and problems he is trying his best to face up to. A important element of the film is that Mark isn't just a liar and a cheat, but he is for understandable reasons and we like him because of it. He has a undigonosied mental illiness. He is a victim of a coporate culture that has engulfed his life. He's also at times just not very smart. He's not a villian. He's just a guy trying to make it in the world, do the right thing and at the same time, well, make it in the world. He's well, a real person and this is said in one of those small sceens that often make a film. In one scene, when the other FBI agents are asking them what his motive would be, FBI Agent Bob Herndon talks out a picture of Mark Whitacre and his family and scolds his follow agents for thinking like that. “We carry this everywhere we go,” he says, “to remember he’s a real person”.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not Quite E.T.

By Alec Horowitz

Three stars

A good science fiction writer always leaves his reader wondering who’s the villain and who’s the good guy. All the best science fiction novels leave the reader asking this question. With science fiction movies, it’s often a little clearer. In the classic alien, film E.T., for example, the human who took him in were the good guys, and the government who wanted to take him away were clearly the bad guys. In the classic science fiction film, “Aliens” obviously we want the humans to survive the wrath of those slimy creatures who infected their ship. In that made for TV movie, “Decoys” I watched on the Sci-Fi channel a few years ago, I know the aliens where dressed up as sexy co-eds who seduces boys and kills them where clearly the bad guys. I cheered for the aliens to win. I mean, come on, these where some stupid college students. Yes, it was campy fun but perhas I should get the film at hand. The point is there’s a long tradition of aliens in film. In the movie, “District 9”, it’s obvious the humans are the abusive one overreacting over the aliens who have landed.

In “District 9”, the aliens land in an African city and the population is confused, and fearing danger, they confine the aliens to camps. Insert irony of this taking place in an African city. The government than decides to cut back on their budget and outsource the camps to a private company.

They have Wilkus van de Merwe (Sahrlto Copley), a company employee, put in charge of the camps. He is a one of those guys who is more happy just working in a office and doing what the company tells him to without thinking about he’s doing to others. He lives in a middle class house with a pretty wife. He walks around the camps with aliens, of which don’t look cute and usually are the villains the cheer against; expect in this one, we are cheering for them. They live in shacks and are addicted to cat food, at the mercy of the gangs who hold the food over their heads. It’s not a good situation.

Now, Wilkus really doesn’t care about the aliens until he is infected and starts to slowly become one. His life goes to heck, and he is stuck running. The aliens in this film are interesting, as they don’t speak out language and we are being asked to feel sorry for aliens who don’t really come off as cute. The visuals are ugly on purpose, and so are the aliens. Their shacks are gray and ghastly, made out of the trash the humans have left behind. When watching the film, and some of the exterior shots of the entire landscapes, I was reminded of the landscapes of classic science fiction films like “Blade Runner”, “Aliens” and “The Terminator”. I was glad to see visuals that where dark and look. I was glad to see visuals that looked dystopian and gray in their style. Though, don’t expect too many big special effects like the films I just mentioned.

While the aliens and the space ship are obviousbly done with CGI, the film more of a feel of the independent, and not of a big budge science fiction adventure. That works with a film like this because this film is written with more a feel of exploring an issue of race relations and our general fear of the unknown than of space ships flying straight at the audience. This isn’t a happy go lucky alien adventure. This is a dark and distributing piece of science fiction that deserves to be scene and talked about. Unfortunately, though, and quite baffling, this film seems to run out of steam in the third act, and becomes baffling in a subplot thrown in about Wilkus running around in a Transformers type suit shooting up the place. No matter, though, the end of the film isn’t wrapped up in a tight bow. Usually, I would say expect a squeal. Though, the filmmakers obviously want you to leave the theater not really pondering about special effects or squeals. This all being said though, I love a good alien story and a good alien story always leaves the audience pondering: who's the real villian? Who's the real alien? Us or them?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Fish Outta Water

By Alec Horowitz

Four Stars

The film “Ponyo” could of started with the words “It was a dark and stormy night”. Though, it’s quite a sunny day when the film opens, Japanese animation god Hayao Miyazaki’s new film is a whimsical story of a boy and his first pet, girlfriend and sister. Heck, it’s the story of all three, who happen to be the same creature. Where does Miyazaki come up with these stories? I don’t know. The man is a natural storyteller, but this one is so out there that even a seasoned film critic like myself found myself shaking my head in wonderment. The story is a little far fetched in some places, like the reaction of the boy’s mother when she first comes upon the fish turned human during the end of a rain storm, where she looks at the boy and his new found friend and simply says “Life is amazing” right away, with any more bewilderment. Though, it has to be let passed. To enter the world of Miyazaki is to enter one of unquestionable, joyful and even dark magic.
Many of the reoccurring themes of a Miyazaki film are played out in this film. Ponyo comes from the ocean, from a wizard father who used to be a human himself. In the American translation, Liam Neeson voices the father with effort, as he angrily acts as both a father trying to keep his young daughter under control. He scoffs at the idea of his daughter turning into a human. “I used to be a human once” he says with distain, “They use the ocean as their own personal garbage can!” Much of the scenes with the water have trash floating around. This is a similar environmental message that Miyazaki presented in his 1997 film “Princess Mononoke,” which dealt with the environment in a similar way. A young knight meets a girl who thinks she’s a wolf and was raised by wolfs, but falls in love with him, a human. She is in fact, a human too but is torn between her human blood and her wolf family, as she feels a reasonability not to join those who are destroying the forest where her adopted film lives.
Ponyo, though, unlike the heroine in “Princess Mononoke”, isn’t an adult and isn’t adopted. She is a part of nature. She isn’t someone who is adopted by nature. She desires not to be one with nature. She wants to be human. Though, this brings up an interesting question. Though, we as humans abuse nature. Are we a part of nature? She wants to be with this boy she meets. She and this boy have formed a magical friendship with this boy and the boy with her. Watching the boy in this film, there’s an interesting progression. We see the boy’s love go from a gold fish to a girl, all in one. Though, at the end of the day, this film is about as much about forces of nature as it is about children.
Maybe the biggest connection Miyazaki is drawing between a young child and forces of nature that the connection of innocence and joy they have. This film is about the forces of nature, and children too, symbolized by the friendship between a boy and his goldfish. One of the wonderful things about Myazaki film is he strikes that right balance between the innocence of children and magic and something deeper and dark as a undercurrent. Each film he makes is a journey into the mind of a master storyteller. Let the magic begin. It's a dark and stormy night out. Let the magic begin.
A interesting side note here. Someone over at NPR wrote a interesting piece about about how his autistic daughter related to the main charater in "Ponyo".

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Film Isn’t Shot In Order. Either Is Our Memory.

By Alec Horowitz

Four stars

Films aren’t shot in order. Either is our memory. Films are edited in an order to make the events look like they happened in an order that makes sense. “500 Days of Summer” plays like a person’s memory; because we don’t remember our past romances and adventures in chronological order and neither does Tom (Joseph Godern-Levitt) as he tries to piece together what went right and wrong with his former girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel). In fact, the story begins not on day one, but day 488 and jumps around randomly between the different days. Sometimes the film is taking place on day 5 and other times it takes place on day 482, but don’t expect to see day 3 before day 482 because the film takes place mostly in the memory of Tom, as he pieces together what has happened.

One of the remarkable things about “500 Days of Summer” is how many different ways are used to show how a relationship is played out. When Tom gets to sleep with Summer, it turns into a scene of song and dance, a territory Marc Webb knows well, considering he is a veteran of the music video. At times Summer is charming, at other times, she doesn’t quite do right by Tom. The screenwriters are smart, as to make the movie a bit quirkier than the two main characters. This isn’t to say the characters aren’t quirky. Tom is quiet and obsessive, a bit of an emo kid who sits on the hill commenting on how there are too many parking lots. Though, still the movie is a bit quirkier than the characters in it, which lets the characters have a nice charm to them that doesn’t charm it down your throat. The third person narration, the different ways that are used to describe the relationship, such as a scene where the screen splits and on one side reads expectations and the other reality are examples of using the medium in different ways.

What is nice about Tom is that he isn’t going to be saved by the girl and be remade or anything. It’s more like we are watching Tom grow as a young man, as his obsession with a failed relationship becomes more about him and his problems that Summer herself. We aren’t stuck with the usual clichés of romantic comedy like the sexes don’t really understand each other or stupid prate falls. It’s been a while since we had this. The film is about Tom coming of age and trying to learn a mature way to deal with a relationship that didn’t work out, and even as his little sister (Chloe Moretz) suggests, to look back on his relationship and realize it’s not quite the way he romanticized it. The film does cut back to those scenes that we first saw as so romantic, and shows little differences, not big differences in the way they played out. Even something as little as a hand hold. That's refreshing, I thought, to see a film that plays with our concept of a romantic gesure that plays in our head and the real thing. That almost becomes a reflection on the genre itsself.

The film isn’t wrapped up in a neat little bow, and as such isn’t a simple romantic comedy where guy meets girl, and than it goes into autopilot and runs the motions. It’s been a while since I seen a romantic comedy that dares to be a little quirky. “500 Days of Summer” is a neurotic and pitch perfect comedy that doesn’t play by the rules of how romantic comedey is the simple plot of boy gets girl. "500 Days of Summer" isn't really about the girl. It's not about the whole cliche of how the sexes don't get eachother either. It's about the boy, and the growing experience he has because of his failed relationship with the girl. The film comes to conclusion that isn't in order. Maybe that's what the film is about. Just because it's a story of how boy meets girl, doesn't mean it's a love story. It might just be a story about boy trying to figure things out.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I See The Whole Picture. No One Else Does But I Do.

By Alec Horowitz

Three stars

It’s only a few minutes in when Boris (Larry David) the main character from Woody Allen’s new picture ‘Whatever Works’ walks up to the camera and starts to talk directly to the audience, telling them that he isn’t the most likable guy and wondering why they would want to listen to his story. His two friends sitting at a table outside a New York City café ask him who’s he’s talking to. He says ‘Those people out there.’ referring to the audience before he starts to complain about the people just staring ahead and the guy eating the popcorn. The character is played pitch perfect by Larry David, as he walks through the street ranting about how life is meanness and laying out what is constantly the reoccurring themes in a Woody Allen film.

Boris meets a young girl (Evan Rachel Wood) outside his apartment and takes her in, after she is begging for food. He rolls his eyes as she tells him stories from the south and being a pregnant queen. He ends up marrying her, as he talks to the camera outside a market in New York City on a rainy day, saying, “Can you believe I married her?” The way Boris talks to the camera is actually quite charming in this film, though. He’s sitting on a couch, he makes a hang motion to the camera and goes “We need to talk for a moment” referring to the audience. Ok, so early on his relationship with the young girl he marries is a bit cringe worthy but it’s not overplayed in a sexual way. Their relationship is more out of respect for each other. Boris needs a young person to keep him going. The young girl thinks he is a genius. Boris meets the young girl’s mother and father (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) from the south, two God fearing simpletons.

As always though, another common theme in most Woody Allen films is how New York City changes the simpletons from the south. Patricia Clarkson totally changes and becomes an artist. The father discovers his true self. Don’t get me wrong; this film isn’t deep like other Allen films, which had a deeper underlining. A lot of this is recycled from other Woody Allen films. When I told someone about this film, they asked me “didn’t he already make that film”, to which I would say back whatever works.

Though, there’s always something to be said for even a smaller film in the library of 50 or so films Allen has made. Even a smaller film Allen has made has more insight and interesting qualities than fifty percent of the films currently playing in the theater. And besides, if you don’t like the actual film, at least you got to see some beautiful shots of New York City. No one shots New York City like Allen. The film at the end becomes as much about how New York City changes people as much as it’s about the worldview of Allen. Boris doesn’t quite get why anything should be celebrated. He feels people make life so much worst than it has to be. Obviously, this is how Allen feels about it as well.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Giant Robots. Hot Babes. No Script.

By Alec Horowitz

One Star

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a mind numbing experience that is so chock full of constant chase scenes, explosions and mindless insanity, that it goes from what should be a fun movie to a seizure waiting to happen. Shia LeBeuouf isn’t bad at his role. He’s a normal college freshman, trying to enjoy his first days at college. At this college, every girl looks like a printout from Maxim magazine. Now, one would think this would give the screenwriters some time to set up the characters and their new situations. I don’t want to sound like a snob. I understand this isn’t great screenwriting or anything, but the characters constantly pop like it’s a c grade anime. LaBeouf’s new roommate (Ramon Rodriguez) from the minute he meets him, in what should just be a scene setting up the two characters, righ away becomes a over the top scene with a fast talking character who has quick camera motions and over the top sound effects. And the robots aren't even on screen yet. Uh oh.

We have all the stock characters in place, but who cares. They try to insert some humor with LeBeauouf’s parents, played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White, and it would work if they would just slow down to for a scene or two. Now, as I said, I don’t want to sound like a snob, and it’s getting hard not to. After all, the audience is here to see the Autobots, the Decepticons and the Otherbots, who have meanless dialogue written by a couple screenplay-o-matic bots. Yes, the film delivers on this. Plenty of action scenes and explosions with the Transformers, blowing up all sorts of stuff, and jumping from place to place, with LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Ramon Rodriguez and John Turturro (yes, one of America’s finest actors collecting a paycheck) running from the robots as the machines battle and fall on stuff and stuff gets destroyed, and this all happens up to the point of enough already, with them transforming into cars and various forms of product placements directly in the bot’s being. I mean, is it really necessary to have the Honda logo on a character’s legs?

Michael Bay stumbles through this film, really giving his audience whatever they want. Explosions, no script and constant low grade action over maybe some science fiction. He gives the film explosion after explosion, up to the point that there is no real plot. There's little plot points here and there, and small attempts at being revelant with references to the war on terror, and even mentioning that President Barack Obama has been moved to a safe shelter during the robot invasion, but who cares. Is there even any reason to try to add anything resembling a plot? The movie becomes a bunch of loud sound effects and explosions and the Transformers making robot noises and transforming into stuff and the loud sound effects of my moans as I get a seizure in the movie theater.

I may sound like a snob here, but consider this. You know a movie is bad when it stops being fun watching Megan Fox run in slow motion in short shorts and a tank top. I mean, really, can looking at the body of Megan Fox really be overkill? Is that even possible? Considering the fact that this movie is way too long and that Megan Fox should just have a t-shirt and jeans on already because she's running away from large monsters, and maybe if your running away from earth eating monsters, it's time to consider putting your looks second. I know she's eye candy, but come on. There's a limit. When it gets to the point that looking at Megan Fox isn’t fun anymore, it’s time for your movie ticket to transform into a refund.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson: American Tragedy

By Alec Horowitz

Michael Jackson will always be remembered as the iconic king of pop. He had the bestselling album of all times. His music videos are classics, from John Landis’s “Thriller”, with Jackson in the street, dancing with zombies, singing “It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the night” to Martin Scorsese’s “Bad!” and songs like Billy Jean, with the ironic lyrics proclaiming the “kid ain’t my son!” to the bizarre commericialism, no one can deny that Jackson’s cultural impact is huge. He leaves behind an amazing body of work. From the ABC’s of the Jackson Five to the moon walk. Though, he also leaves behind something a bit more unusual too. He lives behind a mystery, a mirror of the dark side of American obsession and a story that can simply be described as tragic.

Jackson also leaves behind a story of a man who injected himself with chemicals to change the pigment of his skin. A man who didn’t understand that sharing a bed with children wasn’t appropriate. From his bizarre behavior of holding his children over the edge of a hotel, to his front-page scandals and a trial where he was accused of molestation, Jackson was something more than just a successful pop star. It would be too easy to pin Michael Jackson as a creepy pedophile. The media deemed him “Jacko!” and comedians had a blast making fun of him. Though, what made about Michael Jackson’s scandal clad career different from other careers is that Jackson was obviously a mentally ill man. He always seemed unaware of the serious problems he faced.

All you have to do is look at what Michael Jackson became with his pale skin, and his childlike behavior. He became a gentle monster, dancing on the roof of a car right before he was to go on trial , like he was treating it like a music video. It brings back the image of the bizzare scene where Jackson stands on top of a car, screams, breaks the windows and holds his pants in the middle of the music video, "Black and White". What do we make of Michael Jackson now that he is gone? Do we remember the cute kid? Do we remember the man doing the moonwalk? Do we remember the pale skinned man he became? Jackson is someone I have enjoyed over the years. His music was wonderfully done. He was a major talent. Looking at different phases of his career and life, he seems like was three different people and each person just went deeper and deeper and became just more bizarre.

He made us dance. His music will live on forever. Though, the man became was a mystery. I don’t know what to make of him. He was forever trying to chase a childhood he never had. He made his home his fantasy. He made his home into never Neverland, and the little boys he had around him were the lost boys. Michael Jackson was obsessed with Peter Pan. He seemed to have wanted to be Peter Pan, and he wanted the boys to be around. Though, maybe Jackson sadly even missed the point of his own obsessions, as he was overcome with his mental illness and had less and less touch with reality.

Michael Jackson made his fantasy a prison he built himself. His fantasy world became his obession. His Never Never land became the dream that never existed, and the childhood he chased but could never catch. Michael Jackson wasn’t Peter Pan. He was forever, deep down inside, behind the mask of the King of Pop. He wasn't Pete Pan, as he loved to think of himself as. Jackson did grow up, but he tried to fight it.

He was hanunted by his father's cruel abuse. He was tortured by mental illiness, unaware of the world, as he worked hard to create a private fantasy world of his own. He was the mirror of the darkest half of American culture. He was obessed with youth. He was abused and haunted by a youth that was all showbiz and no play. Jackson was a victim of himself and a victim of a culture that became him and infected him. His life a American treagedy. His being became a American freakshow. At the end of the day, he was somewhere between a child and a man. He wasn't Peter Pan. He was one of Peter Pan's lost boys. Michael Jackson had his heart in the right place, and a talent that could be just described as genius. Though, when it came to reality, he was tragic. He told his grip on reality to beat it. Just beat it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Great Movies: Best Years Of Your Life? Think Again?

By Alec Horowitz

What a cruel and heartbreaking movie to watch. Though, what a refreshing realistic piece of work that honestly talks about how school was for so many of us. You won't find any romanticism about childhood or what it's like to go through school in this film. The 1995 debut film by Todd Solondz, “Welcome To The Dollhouse” is about one of the most realistic films ever made about school. The story is about a bullied 7th grade girl, her nerdy brother, her crush on an older guy who has a local band, and her parents who worship the ground her attractive younger sister walks on. Your more likely to find truth in this girl played by Heather Matarazzo than any of the usual clichés that often populate high school films. In a time when teenager movies focus on a teenager’s biggest problem of whether to have sex, “Welcome To The Dollhouse” stands out as a relatable and realistic film. Maybe it’s because it is an independent film that allows it’s main character, a lonely and troubled 7th grader named Dawn, to make us say to ourselves “Yeah, that was me as a teenager".

So many scenes in this film resonate with the truth about how cruel childhood can be. One scene that speaks volumes is a scene where Dawn is standing over her sister’s bed and she finds a hammer. She considers using the hammer on her sister, holding it over her head. Then she decides not to, and puts the hammer down to her side, and looks at her younger sister laying in her bed. A lesser movie would have had a moment where she says something clichéd about how she loves her sister deep down inside. Instead, she just looks at her sister and makes a statement of true feelings. “Your so lucky” she says. In another scene, Dawn asks her sister, who is named Missy, why she hates her. “Because you are ugly,” says Missy.

Dawn realizes she isn’t the only one with sibling problems. One of the kids who harasses Dawn in her school, goes so far as to say he’s going to “rape her at the end of the day.” Brandon brings Dawn out back the second day to the fences by the school, where he plans to “rape” her as he puts it. Instead he doesn’t do what she expects. He instead opens up to her about his brother, who he says is a retard, or as his brother is officially called, “mentally handicapped”.

Dawn than finds her sister is kidnapped and her parents pay even more attention to her sister than ever. She goes out, looking for her sister in New York City. In one of the most cringing scenes, Dawn is put up in front of the school, encouraged to thank them for their support while her sister was missing. We know that they didn’t support her and so does she. Though, she goes through with the thank you speech, but without a forced smile. Lets not forget that Dawn is only in middle school. She asks her brother if things improve in high school. He gives her a piece of advice about high school. “They call you names, but not as much to your face,” he says. As a former teenager, I couldn't of said it better.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review: It's Logicial, Captain

By Alec Horowitz

Four Stars

The new ‘Star Trek’ starts off like a common adventure film that yells ‘J.J. Abrams’. A ship going down and a mother having a baby is rushed through the corridors of the space station in a wheel chair. Yes, we Trekies know what is coming. For those of you new to ‘Star Trek’ and haven’t seen the films, read the hundreds of novels, and have all the action figures lined up next to your computer, let me explain: this new child is going to be James Kirk. Kirk is going to grow up to become the misled kid who needs a place like Starfleet Academy to set him straight. Ok, because we have many new people to our mist of Trekies, let me explain. Starfleet Academy, though, it feels like Hogwarts in a few early scenes. It came way before Harry Potter and that media franchise.
Though, I want to appeal now to the fellow Trekies who are angry about a reboot of our flawless perfect beloved cannon. Fellows, lets give this new ‘Star Trek’ a chance. I, for one, loved it. This film is going to introduce ‘Star Trek’ to a whole new generation. True, maybe there aren’t as many long scenes of people just talking to each other about science fiction mumbo-jumbo, as we would like. I say lets start off with a colorful action film like we have here. The kids can get into longer talk scenes in the squeal. Don’t worry, it will come, and one other thing, Trekies: yes, I’m sorry but William Shanter and Leonard Nimoy can’t play these characters forever. As William Shanter will tell you himself: get a life.
Now that I’m done talking to Trekies, let me talk to the rest of you. This is a wonderfully fun film. Like ‘Harry Potter’, which finally made being a wizard sexy, the new ‘Star Trek’ film does the same; it makes being a Starfleet commander sexy. It’s been a long time since being a Starfleet commander had some sex appeal. Yes, early on in the film, I was a bit worried. Some product placement, a car chase in the Iowa corn fields and in one scene seeing Starfleet Academy look a bit like Hogwarts had me worried that this was going to try too hard to be hip. Then the film redeems itself before it loses ground completely to hipness. Zachary Quinto does a good job of continuing the tradition of an emotionally unemotional Spock who struggles with his attempts at human emotion, being torn between two worlds.
Chris Pine makes James Kirk an attractive kid, worthy of having his poster hung up in any teen girl’s bedroom. Zoe Salana is really great looking as Uhura, and her kissing with Spock does remind you why nerds love Star Trek. Heck, in real life, many nerds are like Spock. Pine Spoke is that cold alien, who shows small signs of human emotion. Also, the attractive James T. Kirk doesn’t seem to be getting the girl. The cold, intelligent and emotionally defunct Spoke does. Now, only in a Star Trek universe, does that seem logicial.
Anywhere else but 'Star Trek' does being a nerd seem so cool (expect for maybe Harry Potter). If Spock and James Kirt where competing for Uhura in a real setting setting, maybe high school, instead of the USS Enterprise, Spock seeming to have a relationship heating up with Uhura, instead of Kirk, would be, dare I say, illogicial captain?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Review: Hang In There, John Connor

By Alec Horowitz

Two and a half stars

When I go to a used bookstore, I like to go through boxes of different series of books. It can often be hard to find the right kind of book, because the series of books are often out of order or missing books, and you can’t start a book series in the middle, or you will have no idea what’s going on in the book. The same could be said for the new Terminator film, “Terminator: Salvation”, which sounds like a franchise reboot. Don’t be fooled. “Terminator: Salvation” is not a franchise reboot, in a movie season chock full of them like “Star Trek” and “Friday the 13th”.

If your going to see “Terminator: Salvation”, you better know something about Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the smart but short lived show on the Fox Network to know what’s going on in Terminator: Salvation. Even as I check the Wikipedia page for Terminator Salvation, it says under plot: see Terminator 3.

Terminator: Salvation is directed by McG, who starts the film off with a man on death row named Marcus (Sam Worthington), who is convinced to donate his organs to charity. Year’s later; he wakes up as a Terminator himself. He meets John Connor (Christian Bale, cashing in his new status as a nerd icon). Connor is still leading the revolution against the machines. He doesn’t know he is a machine yet. He travels with a little girl who doesn’t speak and a man through the desert of deserted Los Angeles. There’s a scene where they go to an abandoned 7-11 (worst product placement of the year). As cool as the scene was, watching the giant robot attack, when one of the human fighters is talking, it’s hard to take him seriously when in the background; it says, “Try our New Slurpee." 7-11 shares honors with Sony for worst product placement. The world is in total ruins and Sony is still in business?

Anyway, the film can be fun. The giant robots chasing humans, as they try to escape slaughterhouses run by the robots. The romance between the death row inmates who’s now a robot and the human women who feels he is more than a machine and he has a soul. John Connor running, trying to get everyone out. McG is a good choice for this assignment. I’m glad this wasn’t a Michael Bay product. Fun, fun, fun but only if you understand the plot. There is a scene where Skynet is explained to Marcus by a computer. Still, they can explain as much as they want. If you don’t know the first few films or the short lived television series or both, your not going to get this film. It even has a fun but campy cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which serves as fan service. Most of this film is fan service.

Yes, it’s a good try at introducing a new generation to The Terminator, but while ‘Star Trek’ successfully re-booted the francise, this film is for followers and fans only. Maybe you should buy the video game before seeing this film. The truth is that either way, the experience will be about the same, and to have that experience, you don't even need to know a thing about the backstory. Just know how to aim your gun at a giant robot. You know, like the video game Call of Duty, except with a human/robot war instead of World War II.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Great Movies: Swept Away By The Wonders of Growing Up

By Alec Horowitz

‘Spirited Away’ is Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, which is saying a lot for a man who makes a masterpiece every time he makes a film. This is the second Great Movie column I have written about a Miyazaki film, the first being ‘Flying Into Adolescence’, about the wonderful ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’. As I will point out, yet again, our hero is a heroine. Miyazaki likes female characters. When asked about what inspired him to make this film, he said he went out to dinner with a friend, whose daughter came along with them. She seemed lost in her own world. The film starts indeed with a daughter, sitting in the backseat of her parent’s car, holding onto flowers, upset about having to go to a new school. She comes off as a spoiled kid.

Their car arrives in what her parents think is an abandoned amusement park. She is scared. She feels something wrong that her parents don’t see. Her parents walk into a line of booths. They quickly see free food, start to chow down and say ‘Don’t worry, daddy’s got a debit card’, and soon they are magically turned into pigs. Spirits start to come out and ten year old Chihiro is lost, and now a temporary orphan. The spirits are colorful and a testament to animation. She meets a boy who works there named Haku, who tells Chihiro he has known her since she was very young. She is baffled but too scared at the moment to ask questions. She starts to fade. Haku gives her a piece of food to keep her strength up.

She soon meets new friends and foes. A bathhouse girl named Lin, who becomes like an older sister to her and an old man with many legs who works in the boiler room named Kamajii. One of the most charming scenes early on in the film is when Lin tells Chihiro to say thank you to Kamajii for giving her a job. It’s a small scene, but it’s the first scene that shows growth. Maybe Chihiro’s parents didn’t teach her to say thank you but Lin will.

The film’s music is lovely because the Japanese Philharmonic performs it. The song ‘One Summers Day’ is haunting, as it begins with just a few notes of a lovely piano. Chihiro soon meets her first villain, Zeniba who takes away her name, after she is forced to ask for her first job and refuses to leave till she gets it. If she can do the job, Zeniba will let her family go. If she doesn’t, she will work at the spirit resort forever.

Chihiro meets another villain. The villain is a spirit of greed. Though, he doesn’t stay a villain and even he can change when he finds somewhere that he is accepted, but I’m going to give away too much. I will just say there is a scene where he offers her gold. She refuses to take it; instead just saying his thank you is enough. She is growing up. Growing up is what the film is all about. This is Miyazaki’s masterpiece. I’m not going to give away too much than I already have. Expect to say I hope you find this film as wonderful, haunting and memorable as I did.

I remember seeing this film in the theater. In the United States, the film was released by Disney. People assumed because it was animation, it was just for kids, but the theater ended up with many screaming and crying kids. Japanese animation, or as they call it, 'anime' isn't often made just to please children. The Japanese understand that animation is a artform. They understand that it is a art. Hayao Miyazaki understands that animation is a artform where you can find magic in the quiet, the dark and yes, even the cute.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Killing Piper: A Sick Sad Tale of Virtual Insanity

By Alec Horowitz

So, recently a story came on CNN about a middle school aged girl who had become a victim to virtual insanity. Some girls in her school made a video called “5 Ways to Kill Piper”, and posted it on the Internet. This happened in a middle school in Washington State. The video picked up steam and hits. The girls’ set the video to a song by Hannah Montana called “True Friend”. The mother of the girl called up the parents on the girls, upset for her daughter’s safety. Either they where shocked about their daughters behavior or just went “Oh, girls will be girls!” So the problem becomes quite clear. Bullying isn’t new. Though, virtual insanity is relatively new. Bullying isn’t new. Though, there’s something different about this new generation of bullies. This story is so disturbing in so many ways.

First of all, the idea that kids feel that it’s not enough to keep their bullying activities to themselves. They now have to do it on a global scale. This is mixed blessing in a way. In one way, it causes permeate humiliation on the poor girl who is the target of the bullying. She now has to be publicly spit in the face. On the other hand, some reporter at the Associated Press thought this make a good story, picked it up and now has turned the tables on the girls who made the video. Lesson for the girls: never put content on the Internet that backfires on you like this. The lesson is that when you put out content on the internet like this, some journalist who got bullied as a kid will find it, pick it up, syndicate it and turn the tables on you by turning your cruel little prank into an AP story.

Our kids turn into little monsters. The middle school has released a report saying the middle school girls have shown remorse for what they have done. Their parents should show remorse too. People are stupid. Stupid people breed stupid kids. So, they decided to post it on the web. Though, Piper will have the last laugh. This story isn’t going away. I wish the school released the name of the girls who did this. They deserve a college administer to do a Google search and see the horrible thing they have done. Yes, people deserve another chance. Though, Piper didn’t ask to have her name released. These girls released her name on the web through a cruel and sad prank that has damaged this poor girls esteem. They should now have the honor of joining piper on the Internet.

Before this went down, a girl killed herself because of a prank pulled over her over MySpace. Though, maybe it’s not just kids. Maybe it’s the Internet in general. After all, that prank was pulled by grown women. Lori Drew got the girl to kill herself over MySpace in 2006. As of 2009, her sentencing has been delayed. The trolls over on the forum, 4 Chan, have declared her the person your most likely to see in hell. For those of you who don't understand internet lanuage, trolls are the people who pull pranks on the web. If the lowest form of life on the web, trolls, over on, of all sites, 4Chan, hate your guts, you know you did something very bad.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Movies: She's My Rushmore

By Alec Horowitz

The ending to the Wes Anderson’s début film “Rushmore” says so much without much dialogue. The scene where the teacher Max has pursuing, trying desperately to make his adult crush work and avoid acting his own age, where she takes off his glasses, in the after party of the play Max wrote. She looks at Max. Max thinks this is the fulfillment of his crush. Though, she knows better. She just sees a screwed up and confused kid, and she understands, though he can be intense and seem slightly scary at times, he’s just an innocent kid. Maybe it won’t hurt to dance with him. Wes Anderson makes this scene with nothing but expressions. “Rushmore” is a movie whose script has the light subtlety of a J.D. Salinger novel. It’s the simple story of a kid who’s too intense for his own good, and how he’s slowly coming to terms with this.

Max’s (Jason Swartzman) is a mini wannabe genius. He sits by the cemetery where his mother is buried, and writes plays on a typewriter. His dad is a simple barber. At first in the film, he lies about his father’s profession, saying he’s a doctor, as he sits on the benches and reads “The Powers That Be” by David Halberstam. When Rosemary (Olivia Williams), the teacher he has a crush on, asks him where he is applying to college, he says he’s applying to Yale, Harvard, with Columbia as his safety school. His dreams are big, but he’s also the worst student at Rushmore Academy, the private prep school he is on in scholarship. There is a montage of the clubs Max has created at the private schools. There are many, and it seems creating clubs might be all he does. His academic adviser suggests to him he focuses more on his studies instead of the extra circulator activities. Max asks if he can give him some C’s and “let it slide like old times.” His academic adviser looks baffled at him, watching a teenage boy use the word “old times.”

Max is obsessive and focused. He is so focused and obsessive. He is like a nerd version of Holden Caulfield. He first sees Rosemary teaching her class of kindergarteners, and he is smitten. He is in love. He starts to go after school to visit her, and quickly secures her as his tutor. Though, the tutoring sessions are mostly he not really needing help, but having long discussions on his limited and intense range of topics. He is obviously trying to flirt with her, but doesn’t really know how. Max has trouble making friends, or actually is so focused he doesn’t even try. His own friend is a kid much you than him, whose friendship is based on the fact that he joins the clubs he created. His friend is named Drik and he is the first to figure out Max has a crush on Rosemary. He warns Max against pursuing this, but once Max has an obsession, he doesn’t stop.

Max develops a father son type relationship with Herman Blume {Bill Murray), a intelligent who is disappointed in his sons, two boys who love to wrestle. Max is disappointed in his actual family as well. He considers his father a “simple barber. Though, their relationship quickly takes a turn for the worst as they start to scam against each other trying to win the heart of Rosemary. Bill Murray breaks away from his high budget roles in this films, and starts his side career as a independent actor, which would lead to movies like ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Broken Flowers’.

What is so wonderful about his performance in this film is that we feel we are looking at a adult version of Max and Herman is looking at a child version of himself. Herman and Max clash. Than they make up. Rosemary, in the end, sees Max had bought Herman, her and them together. Max learns it’s OK to just be friends, and the three oddball friends look at each other. Max goes to dance with his friend, Rosemary, and Herman goes to dance with Max’s age appropriate girlfriend.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Right Has Writer’s Block

By Alec Horowitz

My mother called me up and asked why there were people in a nearby town having a tea party. I said it was probably some angry Republicans holding their tea party. Yes, you heard me right, Republicans held tea parties across the country. They where all preparing for April 15th, official tax day, when the National Tea Party will be held. Fox News has already announced that they will be on hand across the country covering the tea parties. Yes, Fox News is so fair and balanced. Their new host, and a mystery of the universe, Glenn Beck, has been actively promoting the tea parties on his show. So has syndicated radio show host and Fox News star Sean Hannity, who put out a press release, said he would be returning to his “second hometown” Atlanta (since when?) to broadcast his radio show and TV show live from the tea party. So, why is the right doing this? According to the official website, where you can sign up to help with right wing tea parties, it is protest the government abusing their power by raising taxes.

So, this is what the right has come to? Tea parties? Oh jeez. Is it just me or has the right really had writer’s block lately? I mean, the tea parties are just the tip of the iceberg. Over the last year, look at some of the unbelievable stuff the right has been pulling. For example, Michael Steel has the official title of head of the Republican Party, but the actual people in the Republican Party. Their common people members have really elected a shock jock as their leader. The people in the right have elected syndicated radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh as their leader. Remember his speech at C-Pac? Him standing behind a podium, wearing a black shirt, looking likes a fat nightclub bouncer. Now, the very people who made Rush Limbaugh a millionaire, and elected George W. Bush, are holding tea parties. Over on the Fox News website, they are running a video of tea parties that have occurred. They claim on their website it’s a website to protest tyranny.

Government spending is tyranny? How? Wasn’t torture by the Bush administration tyranny? Oh never mind. Thus, lays the problem with right wing Republicans. They have one issue. Torture? That’s ‘enhanced procedure’. Not tyranny. Spying without a warrant? Oh, that’s not tyranny either. Taxing people? Tyranny! Off with their heads! Of course, the conservatives like to hide the fact that they have one issue but making up what they call ‘moral’ issues. I think the American people have had enough. Let the Right have their tea party. I’ll have my tea, reading The New York Times and sneering at their stupid efforts to win back this country.

Though, I laugh now, but don’t laugh too much. An article released by both the Associated Press and the news website, The Huffington Post, reported that the Department of Homeland Security has recently said that right wing extremism is on the rise in America. According to the AP, the report warns of violent militia groups forming in the United States. Though, they aren’t talking about Mulism extremists. They are talking about right wing groups. Hmmm. So, how about those tea parties, huh? Lets fight tyranny with tea parties. You should watch the right wing do what they do best. Claim they love America. Than they treat America like child’s play and push America to its limits. Yes, it’s all about saving a buck and promoting violence, while Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Tea Party volunteers laugh it up.

Previously published in The New Paltz Oracle.

Friday, April 3, 2009

And You Think Your Family’s Not Lively

By Alec Horowitz

Neil Gaiman’s new book ‘The Graveyard Book’ has shades of his other young adult novel ‘Corlaline’. Even, more ironic is that its main character seems to resemble the character Wybie. Wybie wasn’t Gaiman’s creation, even though he appears in the film, ‘Coraline’, based on Gaiman’s novel. He was added to make the film more adaptable to the screen. Wybie, I felt, was a wonderful character and very relatable. He was that lost, awkward kid in all of us.

The main character is a young boy who was adopted by ghosts as a baby, after his family is murdered. The most charming moments in the book are the simplest. Moments like the warmth of Ms. Owen, who died quite a while ago, but is now a ghost, deciding to adopt the nameless baby as her own. Gaiman weirdly doesn’t seem to use his adoptive parents enough. He instead has them come in and out, and misses an opportunity to paint a supernatural family that would be been quite charming. I would of loved to see a parent teacher conference when the child, they name Noboby Ownens, goes to school, with ghost parents showing up or a scene where they are at a dinner table in the grave yard. Of course, his adoptive parents don’t eat. It would of helped with chemistry if Nobody called them mom and dad once in a while, which he doesn’t. Gaiman could of played more with that, but on the other hand, Gaiman doesn’t write charming kids. Often writers will write kids as charming just because they happen to be kids. Gaiman doesn’t believe in this, and instead makes his young characters charming in small doses, but makes them more realistic in their attitudes. Coralline wasn’t very charming either.

In ‘The Graveyard Book’, Gaiman introduces us to what is really a collection of short stories with the same characters. Nobody Owens ages from a baby to a young man in the book. One of the more charming things about ‘The Graveyard Book’ is watching Nobody Owens grow up. He can be a fussy little kid, who always threatens to run away, causing pain to his overprotective adopted mother and going against the advice of his guardian, Silas. The reader might thing Silas is dead, but in fact, Silas has some abilities that even the other dead in the graveyard seem to lack, which shows that Silas is something else. Silas tries to guide young Nobody Owens and keep him in line; at times being affectionate and other times growing quite mad with him. Gaiman recently revealed in an interview that Silas is a vampire, but the word ‘vampire’ is never mentioned in the book. The people in the graveyard generally care for the little living boy, while also being frustrated with him. He is frustrated himself, as he isn’t able to ever leave the graveyard.

Nobody wants to learn how to get revenge on the people who killed his family. He brings it up throughout the book. The feel of the murder at the beginning of the book felt like it happened in a shadowy old town, or that’s how I felt about it. As much as I did like many elements of this book, what I didn’t think worked was the reasoning the murderer gives later on in the book for why he killed Nobody’s family. It had to do with an ancient society. That idea is only talked about in one chapter and with the feeling of most of the novel, taking place in a graveyard, which felt out of place. It should have been like an old time British killer. Come on, Neil, that’s just random. With the fantasy feeling of the novel and the tone of the book, it doesn’t seem to fit.

The nature of the book is quite wonderful when Gaiman keeps the tone of a fantasy world. There are little pieces of modernity that come into the book, but very little. He brings in the modern stuff with the supporting character of the girl he meets from the village. We see her twice in the book, once as a young child and next as a tween, who keeps looking back at the time she spent with Nobody, thinking she made him up. Their interactions are quite nice at times and are also realistic. They aren’t meant to be together. They are two kids in bad situations who get stuck in one certain situation and probably won’t see each other again.

Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ is a fantasy and horror genre remake of ‘Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book’, with a little boy being adopted by the forest animals, but this time it happens to be the graveyard ghosts. It’s a children’s novel, so it’s probably good for kids twelve and over to read. The language is relatively simple. The plot is really short stories instead of a straight narrative. Still, like the big twelve year old I am, the ending still made me tear up a bit.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thoughts On This Year's Oscars

By Alec Horowitz

The set to the Oscars was puzzling this year. They tried to make the set look smaller and less glamorous. The opening number by host Hugh Jackman openly acknowledged this. He used what looked like paper cutouts to show to show the Oscars where going to be toned down and Hollywood was more in touch with America. Ok, let me just say this. If the Oscars wanted to look more in touch with America, than they minus will of just took ‘The Reader’ out of the best picture category and replaced it with ‘The Dark Knight’. Come on, this is the Oscars. I don’t want them to be in touch with the unglamorous picture painted by a speech by President Barack Obama on the economy. I want my Oscar’s big and glamorous. I want to feel like I’m sitting in a movie theater during the great depression, as I forget my troubles, and the biggest problem in the world is Gene Kelley needs to find a way to make rain fun.

There where some lovely moments, though. Heath Ledger’s family was lovely. They weren’t overly ghoulish, and they didn’t break out into tears. They where moving about the way they spoke how Heath would of liked to be honored by his peers. Though, most of this night was kind of a disaster. The idea of having each presenter take us through how a movie is made wasn’t a good idea. I mean, the truth is movie buffs already know this and those watching for escapism don’t care. I did like having each actor or actress say something about each nominee. I thought it was wonderful to see long shot Richard Jenkins get nominated. He looked slightly uncomfortable sitting there in the audience, but for me, that’s part of his charm. His performance in ‘The Visitor’ was wonderful. Though, I was surprise to see Sean Penn win the Oscar for Best Actor, because of all the hype that was surrounding Mickey Rourke. Rourke gave an over the top and wonderful performance in ‘The Wrestler’ but Sean Penn gave the performance that deserved to win.

Also, it was nice to see ‘Frozen River’ nominated for best original screenplay. I was happy to see ‘Milk’ win for best original screenplay as well. Best improvement over the overrated indie clichéd filled script that won an Oscar last year (do I even need to say it?) Though, this was clearly ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ night and rightly so. While there where other wonderful films nominated that year, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was unique. The night, though, wasn’t very good. The feeling of the Oscars just didn’t feel like the Oscars. There’s nothing wrong with escapism, and the Oscars are the ultimate escapism. Go over the top, Oscars. Be distasteful, and I encourage the Oscars to discard good taste with regard to the rest of the nation. This is why people go see movies. While the rest of the world is falling apart, at least we can be told stories, and that’s wonderful.

So, next year, take my advice, Oscars. Go over the top. We watch to escape. We don’t watch to be remained. Though, there are some important points made during the Oscars, as the point made by Dustin Lance Black about the unacceptable treatment of homosexuals in America. It’s a perfect example of why the escapism is important, because sometime’s it's possible to escape but also learn something as well and that’s important. The crop of Oscar nominated films this year where socially aware. When was the last time you thought about India? Homosexual rights? Or illegal immigrants? (Frozen River and The Visitor, the two indies nominated this year) It’s painfully important. Stories are important. Never forget film is important.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vetting, Vetting, Gone

By Alec Horowitz

The Obama Administration has been having a ton of problems with vetting lately. Their first choice for Security of Commence seemed like a slam-dunk, and as we know by the Bush Administration’s use of the word, slam-dunk is not a good thing. Bill Richardson, former Presidential candidate, popular Hispanic governor of New Mexico and someone who looked like Santa Clause with the bread added. He seemed good when he first stepped foot into the appointment, but soon has to resign because he was being investigated by the federal government. Uh, ok. Well, it’s one mistake. Obama can overcome this! Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes, we can vet the next person right. Yes, Tom Daschle can!

Tom Daschle was appointed to be security of human health and services, and seemed like a great choice. He was long known as a great advocate for universal health care. Universal health care! Yes we can! Yes we can! As he stood behind the microphone, answering questions during the vetting process, it seemed the only thing wrong with Tom Daschle was his choice of pink glasses. Who told him to wear pink glasses? Seriously? Pink glasses? Hey, though, this was going to be the man who is going to get us universal health care. Than something came up that wasn’t expected. A little problem called back taxes came up. It seemed there was something in his past. An evil monster called back taxes. Scary, I know.

So, than Daschle had to step down and Barack Obama felt like he was in the movie ‘Groundhog Day’. He just went through a similar episode with Timothy Geithner, who did get in as Secretary of the Treasury. Though, Geithner happened not to pay his back taxes. Than Barack Obama had a brilliant idea. If the Democrats weren’t paying their taxes, maybe the Republicans paid their taxes. Plus, appointing a Republican would go with his whole message of change. Lets bring the people together! Democrats and Republicans! Together at last in a bipartisan way! So, Barack Obama tried to appoint Republican senator Judd Gregg into his cabinet. Of course, Judd Gregg was on board for a little while until he saw that the cool kids in the Republican Party weren’t letting him eat at the lunch table of the congressional building. He got upset, because Rush Limbaugh’s mom always packs the best cookies and he shares it with his friends at the cool table, so he ended up turning down Obama’s offer to join.

So, there was obviously nothing left for Obama to do. He has had some successful appointments. Hillary Clinton was doing a great job as Security of State. Joe Biden was a good choice for the Vice President. See, these where some good appointees. Though, he might have to appoint some new people to do his vetting. Some of the people he has appointed to vet didn’t do a good job and don’t get how they glossed over some of the obvious problems some of the people vetting had. Obama got up from his desk, and picked up a small white box.

Obama went to his security of ‘chill’. He didn’t have to do too much vetting when he appointed this guy during college. Anything shady about this representative was found out years ago and no one seemed to care about it anymore. He told everyone that he stopped doing business with this representative, but it was one lie that wasn’t the end of the world. No, it wasn’t that shady real estate dealer in Chicago. He told the secret service to stand outside the back alley of the White House, because President Obama needed to have a meeting with Representative Joe Camel. Representative Camel didn’t require any vetting, just a match.