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Apocalypse Now

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*****

What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans, man? That he had wisdom? Bullshit, man!

I watched the Redux version of this film several years ago, but I have not seen the real things since college. For years I answered, “What is your favorite movie?” with this classic. It blew my mind as a 10th grader, and it still amazingly powerful today. But that is not why I said it my favorite. I said it because I do not have a favorite and no one ever challenges this choice.

Willard, Chef and the Photojournalist, man!

My favorite scene in the film is probably the opening scene with The Doors – The End playing, from the bombing to Capt. Willard punching his mirror. I have trouble putting into words how chilling and exciting it all is. Napalm explosions appear like an icy fire without sound effects and on my television screen. It is the manifestation of the disconnect between art and life, between a civilian existence and the Vietnam war. Each time I am wary and vulnerable because this “reality” seems more real than my own. Yet this is a reality where I cannot trust the rules from “real” life.

I could go on and on from this personal perspective, for example, how the Playboy bunnies dancing to John Fogerty – Suzy Q seemed so erotic, and still does, despite the lack of physical interaction or nudity, but I would probably do so with the same ramblings as in my last paragraph. Even after all these years I have trouble expressing what I saw and how Apocalypse Now makes me feel.

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30 for 30: Catching Hell

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***

Who picked it out, who decided that this was it?

The 2003 Chicago Cubs. The 1986 Boston Red Sox. Both produced the largest scapegoats in the history of baseball. Boston Red Sox fans are not the best. Chicago Cubs fans are the Red Sox fans of the NL. This documentary looks at those scapegoats, Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman, but it also focused on the greater losing traditions of those franchises, especially when they were ready to win. It shows what those fans and the media did to those two men.

The highlight for me was getting to see the 1986 Mets coming through, and to see Bill Buckner getting emotional. Alex Gibney directs and narrates the film, but tries to drag the story out too long. Very interesting stuff at first, but it gets a little heavy on the Chicago fan perspective. Learning about what happened to Bartman on that day was fascinating though.

Accuracy in…From Hell

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If people were banging on my door for an analysis of Ghost in the Shell, then I will now claim that people are politely ringing my doorbell for this. I love From Hell. I saw the movie in theaters, before I read the comic book. They are different media, but the comic book simply provides greater depth, detail and has no Heather Graham in it. The book is a fictionalized variation on one man’s interpretation of the possible murders of Jack the Ripper. That one man is Alan Moore, and From Hell is my favorite work of his—for those of you who do not recognize that name, he wrote Watchmen, the most widely acclaimed superhero comic book of all-time. His other works, V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were also adapted into movies.

The biggest character difference is that while Inspector Abberline is in the comic book, he does not suffer from visions of crimes. In fact, the comic has an entirely separate character who is a fraud of a medium–Robert Lees. He has the great line, “I made it all up, and it all came true anyway. That’s the funny part.” If only Johnny Depp could have said that line to himself in the film.

Unlike the movie, the comic book focuses on the history of women in the world. It proposes that until recently the world was ruled by matriarchy. That the mystery of birth gave women power. Moore did not invent the theory, but it fascinatingly leads to a freemason out of his mind who believes that men must fight to maintain the patriarchy that we have had these past few thousand years. It ties into the pulsing veins of the city, which the film can only vaguely reference.

The trippiest part of the comic book comes during the final prostitute murder—time travel. I imagine that no-one saw that coming. Jack the Ripper’s two famous lines are signing a letter, “From Hell,” and claiming, “I gave birth to the 20th Century.” Alan Moore allows the murderer a glimpse of the 20th Century and there was just no way to incorporate that into the movie. Instead, Jack imagines himself performing an autopsy on his poor victim, but before the college of surgeons. A similarly crazy moment, but one with a wholly different effect.

Thus in the end there are some major differences that show why the film is inferior to the amazing comic book. Still, with Johnny Depp, Sir Ian Holm, and Robbie Coultrane 4.5 stars is a reality for this movie. It might have made the best BBC show ever, but such was not the case and somehow Heather Graham got the role, along with some oddly colored red hair.

30 for 30: There’s No Place Like Home

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**

Come on, you’re either in or you’re out.

Did you know that Dr. Naismath, the father of basketball wrote down his rules? Well he sure did, back in the 19th century. Did you know that he moved to Lawrence, KS and brought those rules with him? Do you care where those rules are now? What if they went to Duke University? BOO! Oh wait, you don’t care where they wind up and Duke seems just as “whatever” as any other basketball place to have them? I am glad we had this talk. I just wish we had it before some Jayhawk fan made a documentary about convincing Mr. UChicago B-School mega donor David Booth into dropping a lot of money to get those rules for Kansas’s basketball hall of fame, which bears Booth’s name. Then I could have avoided director/narrator/fan/self-proclaimed “Moses” Josh Swade’s 30 for 30, which tried to add depth to vapid messages like, basketball is important at the University of Kansas, by using the biggest indie hits from the past three years. This took 90 minutes to tell! This had enough substance to be an 8 minute clip on “E-60,” but only just. Unless you are a Kansas almnus/a avoid this waste of time.

The Best Directors: A Series—Frank Darabont

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Frank Darabont might be one of the least well known good directors out there. His 1990’s prison dramas are the finest that sub-genre has ever seen. Clearly, The Shawshank Redemption is the best prison movie ever. But number two could be his follow up, The Green Mile. While his star may have fallen with the over criticized The Majestic, he returned to the horror-drama genre on television with his adaptation of “The Walking Dead.”

Frank Darabont of the set of The Green Mile.

While the two prison movies have received great praise—two are in the top 66 films on imdb Shawshank is #1—Darabont himself has been nominated for 3 Oscars, but never as a director. That seems odd, but then again his star fell after The Green Mile when The Majestic failed to garner similarly positive reviews. And The Majestic was just average, not something worth getting sent to prison over! Ha ha! So he has only directed four movies total, and two have been classics. The fourth is The Mist. I have heard good things about it and I do enjoy Andre Braugher a great deal. Also in the cast are Jeffrey DeMunn and William Sadler who are in everything that Darabont does. With such a résumé I think I have to see The Mist. Stay tuned.

Argo

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*****

Argo fuck yourself!

Great director. Great story. Great cast. Great cinematography. Great costumes. Great dialogue. That adds up to a five star film.

Ben Affleck is a great director…is an example of a sentence I never imagined saying ten, or even six years ago. But the facts are the facts. From Gone Baby Gone I know that he can direct others, direct in Boston, and manage a small budget. With The Town he showed that he could direct himself and handle a large budget film. Here Affleck shows that he can travel far afield of the present and Boston to make the best film of his career.

Argo is an amazing true story. A part of a story that sticks out in the minds of every American conscious in 1979—the Iranian hostage crisis. The film starts at the embassy, as shown above with a photograph of the actual storming. Every scene in the US exists within the context of that ongoing situation. But the story focuses on the plight of six particular US Foreign Service officers who sneak out and get taken in by the Canadian ambassador. This tale tells of their rescue with the assistance of the CIA, and in particular, of CIA Agent Tony Mendez. That is enough for a great story. But it gets better! Mendez gets the idea of using the cover of a fake Hollywood movie to get them out, which is actually even funnier than it sounds.

What a cast! The funniest member of the cast is a tie between John Goodman–makeup artist John Chambers–and Alan Arkin–director Lester Siegel.  My favorite humorous scene, however, is when Arkin bullshits with Richard Kind over the rights to the “Argo” screenplay. That scene was like all of the comedy in Get Shorty rolled into four delightful minutes. Bryan Cranston does the best job of being angry as a CIA bigwig. In an amazing twist, Ben Affleck plays Mendez as a more realistic Jack Ryan. Amazing because Ben Affleck got his shot to play Jack Ryan in the unsuccessful Sum of All Fears. All six of the trapped Foreign Service officers showed the tension, pressure, and stakes exceptionally. The only one I recognized was Tate Donovan, who played the ineffectual senior official, but he did so without seeming obnoxiously ineffectual. Lastly, Farshad Farahat deserves credit for playing an Iranian Guardsman whose interrogation took my breath away a couple of times out of concern for the Americans trying to escape.

1979~ Tehran looked real. That the film showed the late 70’s in the US convincingly is not that noteworthy, but Iran was a challenge. I have no idea where this film was shot, but it looked like they went back in time and shot in between the student mobs who raided the US Embassy. It looked so real that I could not help getting angry. Angry in a way that is inconsistent with being born after the hostages were released. I believe that those costumes helped establish that reality, as did the wonderful shots around Washington, Los Angeles and Tehran.

© Ben Affleck

The dialogue was the last great element in this film. Having John Goodman tell actor/director Ben Affleck, “You can teach a rhesus monkey how to be a director in a day,” was perfect. It fit the film, it got a laugh to lighten the mood, and it was meta-comedy. Throughout the film comedy lightened the tension amazingly. That in turn highlighted the tense moments that always appeared around every corner. There was a wonderful absurdity to the situation of six people stuck in a house trying to flee a country by posing as a film crew, acknowledged when Scoot McNairy’s Foreign Service officer says, “This is the part where we are expected to say that this is so crazy it just might work?” and calls bullshit. Still, this was like the preview claimed, the best bad idea they had. By far.

30 for 30: 9.79*

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****½

Calvin was always clean, I know Carl, and I like Carl, but I think that the playing field was not always level.

This was a riveting documentary. I did not remember the 100 meter dash from the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. The only names I recognized were Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. I did not even know that Ben Johnson had tested positive, probably because it seems like 6 of the 8 finalists were doping, had doped, or were about to start doping. I did not realize that before competitive cycling—a dirtier sport than cock fighting in the back of Cuban convenience stores in Manhattan at 4 in the morning—there was track and field.

Ben Johnson comes across as a sad figure. The one who took the brunt of the blast for being the best cheater amongst the lot. He, along with Desai Williams, ran for Canada, a country whose Olympic track program got sick of losing to the infamous dopers of East Germany. Seriously, when I hear East Germany I think of the Stasi and images of mustached, over muscled German women. But Canada? Who know they played so dirty? That the US was playing almost as dirty, although in a slightly less centralized way, is less shocking.

The US had Carl Lewis, Calvin Smith, and Dennis Mitchell in that final. They each had their own coach. Only Dennis Mitchell was ever suspended for drug related activity, but this doc provides compelling evidence that the greatest athlete of the 20th Century was a fraud. As outraged as people are at Lance Armstrong for cheating and fostering an environment that only allowed the best US riders to cheat to compete, I wonder if Carl Lewis would represent a greater fall from grace. To be clear, the documentary does not accuse Carl Lewis of doping. It merely puts us back in a spot where he probably was cheating. Seeing his acne and braces just after hearing that those are signs of HGH use seems rather damning. Knowing that in 1984 the US Olympic Team had researchers in LA determining how to beat drug tests sickens me.

At least Carl Lewis was the best in the world once before getting bested by a Canadian doper. That frustration must have rankled him like watching Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Brady Anderson did Barry Bonds. Unlike Barry Bonds though, Carl Lewis was a media darling and an American hero. People do not want him to have cheated, even though it may have deprived clean American runners, like Calvin Smith of the chance of greater glory. Ben Johnson got crushed, a lifetime ban, and the hatred of his country for getting caught more than for doping. Somewhere in this doc there is a little sympathy for Ben.

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