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Judge Brett Cullum's Blog
• Location: Houston, TX
Japan Part 2
Okay, so I'm in Japan for the first time visiting my mother who works for the military school districts in Okinawa. I'm amazed at some of the things I've seen filmwise here in the Pacific. First off, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, is called SAYURI here to avoid the whole "Chinese women play Geisha!?" scandal trumpeted so heavily in the West. Every 15 minutes Rob Marshall and his cast are on television talking about how the movie is a "fantasy" and not meant to be taken as historical. They are running these sort of apologist spots every where, but everyone seems rather non-plussed. It's getting very little attention, and I think the movie is only doing marginal business here. Meanwhile the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie epic Mr. and Mrs. Smith is still going strong having just opened around these parts. Every time I turn around Angelina Jolie's lips are staring back at me.
It's been silly foodwise. I've been trying to eat lots of Japanese food, but that's hard when everywhere we go seems more Westernized than my hometown of Houston (which has a sushi bar on every block). For lunch I had a taco salad at an aquarium (which did not serve any fish for some reason), and then we were supposed to go to a place called PIZZA IN THE SKY - a pizza place up on a cliff, but we got there (up the steepest scariest hills ever - my mom and I almost had to change pants) only to find out it was closed.
We ended up at a McDonald's. Oh the irony! We were with a friend of my mom's who does not eat seafood and the choices were limited. So it was cheeseburgers and fries for dinner. I skipped the shrimp and cheese sandwich out of fear. I haven't eaten McDonald's in over 3 years, but it is better than America if only because they use real beef! And the coolest thing about McDonald's in Japan? It had singing toilets - the commodes play a little music when you sit down and the seat warms up to create a pleasing sensation on your cheeks. Then it sprays you to clean you off and blow dries your bum. I never walked out of a McDonald's feeling so clean back there ever. My butt was shiny!
So Angelina's lips, cheeseburgers, and a shiny bottom! Where am I again?
Brett in Japan!
Some of you may notice in the next few weeks my output as a judge may drop a little because I am in Japan visiting my mother (she works as a school psychologist for the Department of Defense). So just for grins I thought I would post some of my adventures on-line as I search out real geishas and look at Godzilla country!
I made it here after what seemed like TWO DAYS of flying. I was one of five white people on board China Airlines the whole way (my mom booked my flight). The further we got from the US, the stranger the food got. They stopped giving us forks, and I almost ate an octopus because I thought it was a strawberry (it was that red). Thank God fruit and salad are universal. Also for some reason they like to give you hot salty water about every 2 hours. Don't know what that is for, but it woke me up.
I slept through most of it thanks to my Tylenol PM and a trusty travel pillow. Nobody next to me spoke good English, so conversation was not going to happen. Most of the passengers were Chinese, so even my rudimentary Japanese was not very useful! The only Chinese I know I learned from that Joss Wheedon show SERENITY, so all I know how to say are things like "shit" and "you are a hairy monkey". Not useful for making friends. Luckily they have movies - tons of them to chose from in-flight as you trek across the Pacific. I must have watched the Tim Burton Wonka movie three times. I kept falling asleep and waking up right when Violet chewed the gum and turned into a blueberry.
My mom's house is amazing - very huge multilevel affair right on a private beach that looks a lot like a scene out of LOST (only more civilized). You have to push buttons for everything though. Want hot water? Find the remote control. Want heat to come on? Find the remote control. Want to work the bathroom? Find the remote control.
The weather here is very California. Breezy and cool with a lot of sea smell. They think its Winter because it's in the upper 60s. They are all wearing coats and shaking. Okinawa is quite industrial. It shocked me how sturdy and not pretty most of the buildings are, but they get typhoons that are 5 times larger and more powerful than Katrina or Rita on a regular basis - so protection is more important than pretty.
I really like Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen, and I am a sucker for a thriller. So naturally, I found myself in a Saturday showing of DERAILED. It's a rather dark violent movie, and I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a thriller or dark comedy. It straddles the line of being too violent and intense to be funny, but also too light and predictable to be truly thrilling. I'd say it's a good popcorn flick if rape, violence, and some questionable morality is okay for you. Anniston and Owen are hot together, and they certainly are easy enough to watch. Aniston is trying to ditch her Friends image, and Owen continues his tradition of playing a guy in a tough situation. Problem is the script makes them both so unsympathetic to the point where I didn't really like their characters.
Funny, but I think Kill Bill and Sin City have influenced even lighter fare like Derailed. Ultraviolence is everywhere these days, and human life seems to be less regarded by Hollywood in each major release. I was amazed that a largely suburban Saturday night megaplex audience full of people on dates, parents with children, and soccer moms sat through a flick with such a high body count without batting an eye. Forget Fatal Attraction, Derailed turns a possible one night affair in to a nightmarishly violent dreamscape of brutal beatings, rape, murder, and blackmail. There are tons of twists, but you'll see them coming from the start. What you won't see coming is how casually the film deals with these situations. Rape and murder are treated with an "Oh well!" attitude as if someone's karma ran over their dogma and they accept it as fate. Death and violence are just something these people accept as something to deal with like a car note or mortgage. Ah, the wages of sin!
For a popcorn flick it is engrossing. But it made me love A History of Violence even more because at least in that film the events affected the characters properly. Are we this jaded now? Apparently so.
I don't know why or how I escaped seeing Zardoz this long, but somehow I did. It's odd because I love Sci Fi, adore John Boorman, and think Sean Connery is nifty in just about anything. So Netflix sent me a copy of the film, and I just had to sing the praises of getting to see Sean Connery in a red diaper running around a world in the future where Charlotte Rampling has "the looks that kill".
Could there possibly be a more silly sci fi romp from the '70s? Burt Reynolds was originally cast as Zed, but he had to back out at the last minute (he worked with Boorman on Deliverance). Connery was having a hard time after Bond, and Boorman got him on the cheap to run around in the skimpy costume which looks like a male Vampirella outfit to my eyes. Connery struts and preens as if he were still in the trademark tux he wore for so many years. He's the ultimate male peacock, and I love the fact he's playing an Irish brutal with a Scottish accent. The man refuses to be anyone but himself in any role, and you gotta admit that is the mark of a true STAR. Screw talent, he knows he's more interesting than just about any character a screenwriter can dream up.
The movie is a total gas, but it also has some serious things to say about organized religion. Nice thing is - it's all fantasy, so very hard to get worked up about it when it drives a point home. But I can clearly see why GoBear (from the boards) would dig it. It makes a great bookend to Logan's Run since it deals with a group that "lives forever" and compares well to the whole "life ends at 30" rule of the other film.
There's something about pre Star Wars '70s Sci Fi that is just beautiful to watch. Boorman is the king of it, and he has a unique look to this film that spilled over in to the more well-known Excalibur. The "teaching" sequence is mind-blowing with a simple use of naked bodies and slide and film projectors to accomplish what would now be done with a lot of CGI.
Sci Fi geeks should definitely put this one at the top of their rental lists, and anyone who has a hankering to see Sean Connery or Charlotte Rampling in some VERY revealing outfits will be thrilled too. You can't beat Zardoz for the value. It also comes with a wonderful commentary from Boorman who always does an amazing job on his DVDs.
Back in to the art house cinema for me this weekend. I checked out the Philip Seymour Hoffman biopic of Truman Capote. The film chronicles Capote's research for his only full blown novel In Cold Blood, and it does so quite well. Hoffman is completely convincing as the mincing Southern author who was in love with his own writing more than anything else. Catherine Keener is remarkable playing his research assistant and fellow author Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbord). The pair take off to a small town in Kansas to investigate the impact of a brutal killing on a small farm community, and in the process discover several disconcerting truths about human nature and the strange links between who you are and what you write about. It's a fascinating film that should create some Oscar buzz for both actors, at least if the Academy has any sense. If the movie comes anywhere near you then see it. It makes the perfect bookend to Cronenberg's A History of Violence. Great stuff!
FLIGHTPLAN and SERENITY
I saw two unplanned movies this weekend because friends hauled me to Serenity and Flightplan. Interestingly enough they eneded up as #1 and #2 at the box office, so my usually indpendent minded arthouse mentality was assualted by commerce and slick pop product. I would have to say it was a good news/bad news situation, and an ironic coupling that showcased why I usually avoid the theatre aisles more traveled.
Flightplan was dreck. Originally the film was to star Sean Penn, but he passed and Jodie Foster came on board and even kept the name "Kyle" (because she's a touch butch). I wish they had kept the wife character too, and played it as a lesbian couple with a child. That would have been real progress though, and also would have endangered the box office in the Midwest. And Flightplan is all about the box office. Foster is a great actress, and she pulls off the first half of the film without a hitch. To her credit the movie is smarter than it should have been at first. Then the damn thing implodes in a series of random stupid plot devices with logical holes large enough to crash the plane through. It becomes Panic Plane, and this time no Fincher to darken things up or make them smarter. I hate movies that start smart and end dumb. You'll figure out who did it long before Jodie's character does, and you'll cringe when you find out how she finally defeats them.
Serenity has the opposite problem. It's Joss Wheedon, so it's too smart for it's own good. It's a wonderful sci fi action adventure with good dialogue, and an interesting plot. But like all things Joss, it requires a cult mentality to really appreciate it. Seems he was just making a big screen season finale to wrap up his cancelled Firefly series. Nobody watched it when it aired on the Fox Network, so this is really just a shout out to the fans who bought the DVDs. Neat idea in theory, not so practical for big box office. I didn't watch the show on DVD, and I only caught half of one episode on Fox when it was running. I felt like I was coming into something late, and that feeling lasted throughout the whole film. It was like watching Return of the Jedi without having seen any other Star Wars film. I liked it better than Flightplan, but I still wasn't as into it as the fans who obviously made up the rest of the theatre.
Two crowd pleasers - one made me cringe because it was so dumb, and the other was shooting right over my head because I hadn't seen a television show that nobody watched. Odd pair! Too smart for one, and not schooled enough for the other.
Respectable Rockstars and Computer Buying Woes
Ozzy Osbourne was the first rockstar to go on to a reality show, and reveal that despite his "Prince of Darkness" nickname he was just a dad struggling to keep his family happy and well cared for. It was a move that baffled long time Ozzy fans, and made him a cute MTV icon. Now we have the guys from INXS coaching young singers on ROCKSTAR, Tommy Lee going to college, and Gene Simmons teaching proper English music students to rock out. What is going on? When did rockstars become so sweet and cuddly? Gene Simmons even says at the start of his reality show "I wear more make-up and higher heels than your mother", but then he goes all Dead Poet's Society (or at least Jack Black) on us by teaching some stuffy Brit kids how to rock out and grab life on Rock School. And Tommy Lee at college is just... well... adorable. I'm having trouble listening to my old copies of Shout at the Devil and feeling any evil knowing the drummer is now wearing fuzzy band hats and cleaning toilets as a fraternity pledge. My heavy metal heroes of youth are now respectable and even cute. I feel like it might be a sign of something apocalyptic. Lions laying down with lambs, and men in spikey leather showing their soft side on national TV. I want my bad boy rockers back. When is Eminem going on The Bachelor or whatever else is next?
To add to my moving woes, I have to buy a new computer. I've been shopping at places like COMP USA, Best Buy, Circuit City, and even Fry's looking for that elusive tower/monitor combo that speaks to me. Despite my Internet presence I am a neophyte in the computer world. I use them to surf the web, write my reviews, and that's about it. All of these potential GEEK SQUAD members are showing me "media center machines", "this one's great at hyperthreading", and "you need this if you're going to get into 3-D resolution on-line gaming". How about you just sell me something I can use? They are worse then cars salesmen! Sad part is, at least I understand a car salesguy's babble. I glaze over the minute people start speaking to me about why I should consider having more than 3 USB ports. Until I bought an iPod I had no clue about them anyway! I have an iPod and a Digital Camera - I only need two ports that I know of.
And why is it important to buy a computer that will take you into the future? Guess what? All of them on the shelves today will be obsolete within 6 months, replaced with newer models with faster processors and more applications. To me they are like televisions... they will be antiques in a matter of months. A good blender, great shower head, things like that they never go out or become obsolete. But electronics? You might as well get out cheaply with what you need rather than loading up on extra RAM and Hard Drive space to accomodate your future needs. Just live in the now! Buy a refurbished or last year's model and be happy with the price break rather than trying to keep up with some mythical geek gold standard that you will never reach anyway. Jeez!
And then to add insult to injury I'm looking at Mac versus a PC. I won't even start telling you the raging debate going on in my head and on sales floors across Houston as I weigh the pros and cons. You want to hear something sad? I'm leaning towards Apple not because of the nifty O/S, virus immunity, or the fact they have great consumer rapport. No, I am looking at them because I think they look cool. How shallow is that? I like the design. Forget that I am considering flinging myself into a niche world of incompatibility with 90% of the world - they just look better on my desk and go with my interior design. Call me crazy, but I may buy a computer solely on how it looks. I'm such a rube!
Let me just say that moving SUCKS!!!!
I am having to move apartments, and I am in a crisis of boxes, tape, and nightmarish deadlines. First off the DVD collection is extreme, and has filled many boxes on its own. At first everyhing went in alaphabetical order carefully placed in strategic ways to make it easy to rebuild. That lasted 10 minutes. Now alphabet be damned, just get as many of those things in the box as you can. Ugh! I hate this process. I would rather suffer 4 or five sequential root canals than have to do this ever again. I'm asking if "til death" is a lease option on the new place right now!
Other than my moving woes. I caught THE WEDDING CRASHERS last weekend, and was surprised that it was kinda smart and cute. Well, at least until an unexpected cameo drug things out... but on the whole, pretty nice little movie and perfect as a date flick.
Working on a review of PROFIT: THE COMPLETE SERIES. Awesome show! Definitely worth looking into... trust me. One of the best shows to ever flop on television ever.
Okay, and now back to boxes. AARGH!
Yet another iPod centered Blog entry from Brett
I'm completely obsessed with my iPod shuffle because I have made it my car stereo - fits right in to the VW decor. The thing about the shuffle is it doesn't have much memory and only lets you load up 120 songs or roughly eight and a half hours of music. So I end up every Saturday reconfiguring it for the week. For some reason today I ended up with tons of Cheap Trick. Why is it that Summer means I want to tool around listening to "Surrender", "The Dream Police", and "I Want You to Want Me"? I've seen the guys live many times (lately opening for acts they should be headlining over), and they are way too much fun. Also ended up watching a movie about The Runaways on Showtime - remember them? I don't either because I wasn't really into jailbait rock when I was in preschool, but it was the formative group for people like Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Grab the Greatest Hits somehow, and marvel at how far ahead they were of their time. Little more recent in music history I also find myself actually missing the 90s. Concrete Blonde, Mazzy Starr, and Local H have all ended up in the current playlist. I never thought back in the alt-rock heyday that I would miss the music, but it seems to have disappeared after ruling a decade. New stuff I actually bought recently include Leela James who actually puts the blues back in to "R&B". Seems like urban music (for lack of a better moniker) is the only thing interesting out now. Whoops! I forgot about the Hives and the Killers who are constantly rocking the VW whenever I'm not listening to "She's Tight" by Cheap Trick.
Blog Review of Wolfe Video's BROTHER TO BROTHER
I noticed a very disturbing review on Amazon where a guy complained the movie Brother to Brother was misnamed because the black lead character was not with another brother but instead a white student. He missed the whole point of the movie which was that relationship was only sexual, and was over before the half way point of the movie. The real story of the film is about a young man struggling to be an artist who meets a famous Harlem poet, and together they teach each other how similar the struggles are for young black gay men today as they were seventy years ago. That's why the film is called Brother to Brother, and it has nothing to do with sex. That's what makes the film so powerful, and why you should check it out. It's a painfully honest look at what it is like to be black and gay. A lot of people don't understand what the cultural difference is for men of African American descent in the gay community. There is an extreme struggle for them to reconcile a heritage with their sexual identity. And it is that struggle that makes the film work. Wolfe video has provided a great little movie that adresses this extremely well. It's an important release worth your time as a rental or a purchase.
And to Jesse Ataide who wondered if any of us watch indies... That's almost all I see. But I think we often concentrate our blog entries on the big releases because they are fun to weigh in on. But quiet little movies like Brother to Brother are more my speed. They don't have the mass appeal of another CGI entry in the Star Wars series, but they usually resonate on a deeper more personal level. I like when film is deeply intimate. Even when it is a film maybe I can't relate to in some ways like Brother to Brother. It's the little films that makes the cinema matter still. Hollywood has mastered bombast and special effects, but they often lose heart and soul in the process.
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