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May 2007

Neal Vitale Reviews: Grindhouse, The Hoax, Fracture

1? 3? 5? stars out of 5

Paul reviewed Grindhouse last week, and we had the chance Tuesday night for a little debate of its merits over dinner in San Francisco. I clearly liked more of the "film" than did Paul, but I found it impossible to review it with a single rating – there are too many angles and perspectives to lump together. Grindhouse is the product primarily of Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) and Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Spy Kids, Sin City), aided by the likes of Eli Roth (Hostel) and the multi-faceted Rob Zombie. There are two separate films – Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof – plus four trailers for non-existent movies like Don’t and Werewolf Women Of The SS. Much of Grindhouse is a tribute to the trashy B-grade (or lower) sci-fi/slasher/sleazy films of the 70s – replete with scratched or melted celluloid, missing reels, out-of-focus or shaky camerawork, cheesy props, gallons of splashing fake blood, bad color, etc. The loving attention to detail – however gross and unpleasant – is impressive, though almost academic in feel. Scenes are often disgusting, yet it in a campy, "can you believe he did that?" way. But I found Tarantino’s Death Proof to be terrific on its own. While by the time this part of the three-hour-plus Grindhouse makes it on screen a certain amount of viewer fatigue is inevitable, Death Proof is completely captivating. What starts as the story of a depraved killer (Kurt Russell) stalking and perpetrating vehicular homicide turns into a buddy film, then a tale of female empowerment and revenge. I alternated among admiration, tedium, and revulsion with what had come before in Grindhouse, but I found Death Proof an intoxicating thrill ride.

--Neal Vitale

Fracture

4 stars out of 5

Experienced TV crime series director Gregory Hoblit (Bay City Blues, NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, LA Law) has turned the genre on its head with Fracture. Usually, the story is a whodunit. Here, the film starts with Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shooting his philandering wife. A gun is found, a confession is taken, and Crawford is taken away. An open-and-shut case – right? Wrong, and the fun is just beginning. Hopkins is superb, albeit in role we have all seen him play before – evil genius (think Hannibal Lecter) – and plays off perfectly against this year’s surprise Oscar nominee, Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), as the cocky prosecuting attorney. While there are moments of implausibility in the film (such as Gosling’s impetuous amorous interlude with the lovely Rosamund Pike – his boss-to-be), and the film occasionally overplays the drama and tension in certain key scenes, Fracture is a refreshing twist on a familiar motif and well worth seeing.

[I concur--Paul]

--Neal Vitale

The Hoax

4 stars out of 5

The Hoax walks an intriguing line between fact and fiction. While the film ostensibly documents how Clifford Irving’s early 1971 fake Howard Hughes autobiography came to be, it is based on Irving’s follow-up book The Hoax – though Irving casts doubt on the accuracy of William Wheeler’s screenplay. So – is this truth or fiction? What do you believe from a convicted liar? It is an interesting conundrum, all the more so in light of a snappy and engaging film from esteemed director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, What’s Easting Gilbert Grape?). Richard Gere does an excellent job as Irving, transforming himself into a creepy Hughes doppelganger as he crafts his fictitious memoirs. This performance is all the more impressive coming from an actor who, despite a long career, has shown only limited range in the bulk of his past work. The film – like last year’s Bobby from Emilio Estevez – does a compelling job of recreating its era. The connection among Richard Nixon, Hughes, and the Watergate break-in – implied, if not confirmed – adds a tantalizing extra dimension to the storyline.

--Neal Vitale


Holocaust Education in Britain, Great Virginia Tech analysis, Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

An hysterical email whipped around the Internet last week about elimination of Holocaust education in the U.K. to avoid offending Muslims. If you check out the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, you can see that the situation is bad, but not as bad as you'd read.

Jon Carroll's Virginia Tech analysis says everything I can imagine wanting to say about the incident. Executive summary: it is a tragedy. Let us mourn. But it has no larger meanings. There are no lessons to be learned.

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: People committing eternal sin on YouTube , Will Ferrell in "the Landlord", Got 800K? You can own an island, Recreating vintage photos of London, Photos of fast food in ads and in real life, "60 Things Worth Shortening Your Life For" (8. Butter. 16. A night on the town with Kiefer Sutherland. 49-59. The 18-Hour Vegas Vacation), Miss America 1944 Takes on Would be Theives, Tom and Jerry they ain't 

Dan Grobstein File


Merrily We Roll Along

Friday after school, Vicki picked me up so we could out to Walden Park in Walnut Creek. This park is just yards from the intersection of two major bike paths: the Iron Horse Trail, which runs about 40 miles from Martinez to Dublin (and 7 miles north of the intersection), and the Contra Costa Canal Trail, which has two six-mile legs that meet at the Iron Horse. Ride two six mile legs and one seven mile leg round trip and you get 36 miles. You could get the same riding the Iron Horse, but it wouldn't be as interesting or pleasant.

We are riding with Marlow on Sunday, May 6, as part of Team Schwab, to raise money for diabetes research. We have chosen to do the 50 mile ride. Until yesterday, my odometer was broken, so we didn't really know how far or how fast we were riding; mostly, we guessed. Now we know. We average a 7-minute mile, 8 miles per hour. Last night, we rode four hours and 36 miles; next weekend we'll shoot for 40-45 and the weekend after that we'll invest six hours in a 50 mile ride. Marlow will finish her 50 miles in about 4 hours (she rides at an average speed of 12 miles an hour and is, of course, much younger than us). Before you ask, yes, I have consulted with my doctor and this amount of exercise is fine.

Those of you with long memories will realize this is child's play to me; I rode from SF to LA in 1997. You can read either a summary of the ride or an achingly detailed journal. Suffice it to say, if you want the executive summary, that the ride amounts to six back to back centuries (100 mile rides), more or less. A 50 would have been child's play to me a few years ago; it is still something I think I could do immediately because I spend 15-25 minutes a day pedaling on a stationary bicycle. The only problem with a 50 is the problem Vicki discovered yesterday; if you take your time, you won't tire out, or break or sprain anything, but your tail end will become extremely sore. Mine less so than hers, but let's just say every time we sat down Saturday, we were reminded of Friday's ride.

Someday, I want to ride the bike path in West Virginia that is a former railroad line and runs through some beautiful country in the Appalachian Mountains. If you've ever done it, tell me about it.


Rae on Women in Journalism

My daughter Rae wrote me last week:

Dad I really enjoyed your women in journalism section of PSACOT. Your answers were interesting and to the point. I laughed out loud at your fake statistic "They are the exception that proves the rule. And Bridget Jones and Ugly Betty are still prettier than 50% of all women journalists--and 90% of all men," and throughout your q and a you had the typical Paul Schindler pithiness we've all come to love.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to say how much I'm fed up with the stupid media representation of women not being able to balance work and homelife. It's a theme you've brought up because it's so pervasive. I just finished a Classic Hollywood cinema essay on the working women in Mildred Pierce and Gone with the Wind. Mildred and Scarlet took so much flak for their careers, even though they were the only breadwinners of their families. All they get is criticism from their men. I used the phrase "unappreciative parasites," and by the end of my essay, I am positively seething.


Iraq Deteriorates

From Richard Dalton:

Their message is blunt: "The humanitarian situation (in Iraq) is steadily worsening and it is affecting, directly or indirectly, all Iraqis." The rest of the eight-page report, prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross cites examples of how Iraqi civilian life is not just bad but deteriorating.

Couple that with the tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of Iraqi Shia who braved assassination while traveling to Najaf for a thunderous get-out-of-Iraq rally and you wonder how George W. Bush gets up every morning, looks in the mirror and says, "We're in Iraq to help the people establish a stable democracy." Well, the survivors (and those who haven't emigrated to relative safety) probably aren't thinking of that while drinking polluted water (when available), searching for gasoline for their vehicles (in a nation with the second-largest known oil reserves), and trying to deal with dead bodies lying in their streets.

And it has only cost $410 billion (so far, with another $100 billion in the pipeline) to create this stable democracy. Shouldn't we feel proud?

Briefs


Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

RIAA helps DNC alienate voters: Democrats lie down with dogs, can they help but wake up with fleas? Good call for alienating anyone under 30 who uses computers and likes music. Cory Doctorow is on top of his game here: DNC appoints RIAA shill to run Public Affairs for convention and RIAA shill's greatest hits. Speaking of the association everyone loves to hate, I gotta love any commentary, like this one from the NYT, that describes policies of the major record labels and the RIAA as shortsightedness and boneheadedness: Spinning Into Oblivion.

Natural science news: several items on brain science: Study reveals "Robin Hood impulse" in human nature, Getting Dirty May Lift Your Mood and Stop Signs: Study Identifies 'Braking' Mechanism In The Brain. A news perspective on cell lines: Female Stem Cells Work Better, According To New Study. What is a tree-hugger to do?: Tree-Planting Could Add to Warming. Wet exoplanet: Signs of water seen on planet outside solar system. New markets for entertainment software: Orangutans play video games at Zoo Atlanta.

Chembots to kegbots: DARPA Seeks Shape-Shifting War Robots call for ChemBots and Dartmouth Snow-Bot Hauls People, Kegs. New work on computer vision: Easy on the eyes ("a computer can now recognize classes of things as accurately as a person can").

Technobits: Microsoft Is Dead --- Silicon Valley seeks to revamp wireless industry --- Google Earth maps atrocities in Darfur , Darfur Crisis Comes To Google Earth --- Google Launches MyMaps, lets users create own maps --- PS3 Cell chip tapped for medical imaging --- Ease-of-use crisis: Designers or 'feature creeps'? --- OLEDs now and then: Toshiba says to make large OLED color TVs by 2009, Sony says to sell ultra-thin OLED TVs this year --- M.A.R.S. Floating Wind Generator Expected in 2010 this seems like a pretty elegant design for a wind turbine --- more on modern chainmail (previously, via) --- fun/challenging 3d construction puzzles: Building Houses 2 (#1 is particularly tricky!) via Math is congruent with fun! --- the 8-bit tie was a April Fools joke at ThinkGeek, but morphed into a real product by popular demand.


Don't Be So Picky

Women are like apples on trees. The best ones are at the top of the tree.

Most men don't want to reach for the good ones because they're afraid of falling and getting hurt. Instead, they sometimes take the apples from the ground that aren't as good, but are easy.

The apples at the top think something is wrong with them, when in reality, they're amazing. They just have to wait for the right man to come along, the one who is brave enough to climb all the way to the top of the tree.

Now, men on the other hand, are like a fine wine.

They begin as grapes, and it's up to women to stomp the shit out of them until they turn into something acceptable to have dinner with.


Grindhouse

2.5 stars out of 5

Rae really loved this film; she loves Quentin Tarantino, and thinks he features really empowered women in his films. Against my better judgment, I went to see this flick, which is three hours long and really consists of two movies, a zombie film by Robert Rodriguez and a slasher film by Tarantino. Now, I enjoyed Pulp Fiction as much as the next guy, and I respect Tarantino for stretching limited interests and limited talent into a good-sized movie career, but I'm not sure how much more of his pretentious stuff I can take. He calls it homage. I call it… well, beautifully photographed, well-acted trash. Rodriguez has been all over the map in the last few years (he did Spy Kids for pete's sake), and his wanderings all over the map don't stop with this film. The fake trailers in the middle, for "Werewolf Women of the S.S." and 'Thanksgiving" are creative, but hollow--which actually sums up this whole enterprise. The budget for these two films was, I am sure, equal to the budget of every single grindhouse film produced in the 1970s combined. I've said it before and I'll say it again--movies were better in the days when there were budgets. Directors and writers had to imply all the difficult and expensive stuff through clever angles and cutting, and/or clever writing. Now, it's all up there on the screen--and the movies are poorer for it, including this movie.


Rae Finds Evidence of Tarantino Feminism, Another Great Carroll Cat Column, Coquet on Stolen Elections, Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Rae, has found supporting evidence for her view that Quentin Tarantino is a feminist .

Jon Carroll Cat Column.

A long time friend and correspondent dropped me this note, which I wholeheartedly endorse:

Senator Boxer:

I don't read all of your e-mails, but ai read this one and I'm glad I did.

What occurs to me whenever I hear or read about how close this past election (and really the past two presidential elections) was, I wonder why there hasn't been a greater outcry over the fact that they were both stolen. This is not some crackpot conspiracy theory -- this is the conclusion that is inevitable from the results of exit polls. The predictions could have been a little off, but not a great deal off. I new something was up when George Bush went to bed the night of the election. He could sleep. The polls said he was behind, but he could sleep: he already knew he would win. As boss tweed said, "It doesn't matter who votes. It only matters who counts the votes."

Bush's strategists new they couldn't say he won by a landslide, so they said he just barely won in a key state. But exit polls in that state predicted he would lose by a landslide. And when a letter from the CEO of Diebold Company, promising to "deliver you the election" was made public, it was never denied.

Do you think we could have a paper trail, a physical record of every vote in future elections?

Sincerely,
Stephen C. Coquet

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: The Great Great Great Grandfather of the Star Trek ReplicatorStar Wars 1890!Fried Chicken Batter + Bacon = CholesterliciousThe Compu-beaver!Quake raises island by ten feet…Bear attacks guy. Guy survives. Guy builds suit to go all "Batman" on bear. Bonus -- includes video of battle armor in 'action' (scaring kids mostly).

 

Dan Grobstein File