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Judge Ryan Keefer's Blog
• Location: Stone Ridge, VA
Rescue Dawn - Review
I’m not entirely sure what it is that inspired Werner Herzog the retell the story of Naval Pilot Dieter Dengler in Rescue Dawn. It had been told quite effectively in Herzog’s own documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Upon further review regarding Dieter’s story, Herzog says on the film’s official site that “Dieter Dengler embodied everything I love about America: courage, perseverance, optimism, self-reliance, frontier spirit, loyalty and joy of life. He was the quintessential immigrant into America – a young man who arrived with a great dream and came to represent the best of the American spirit.”
For those unfamiliar with the basic outlines of the documentary and the man, Dengler (Christian Bale, Batman Begins) was an immigrant who had a boyhood dream of wanting to be a fighter pilot, and he graduated school in Germany and came to America with only thirty cents and the desire to fly. On his first flight in the Vietnam War, conducted in parts of Laos, he is shot down and captured. After some tortuous sequences, he is sent to a POW camp, where he meets Gene (Jeremy Davies, Saving Private Ryan) and Duane (Steve Zahn, Out of Sight). Both have been in camp for at least a year, bearing in mind that the conflict still hadn’t escalated when Dengler had been shot down. While Gene is convinced that there is progress being made towards a release, Duane is more resigned to not being able to leave the camp. Within a short period of time, Dieter manages to craft a lockpicking device out of a nail, so as to give the boys some freedom in the evenings, as they were handcuffed together, their feet held by wooden blocks. Dieter helps plan an escape for the men, which eventually does manage to occur, and they are sprung into the Laotian jungle to try and find friendly rescue forces. For those who scream “spoiler”, you can’t really spoil real life, so nerts to you.
For those who are familiar with the story from the documentary, you might be surprised to see the dark nature of the interactions of those in the camp. Dengler himself told Herzog that these men were almost willing to kill, as tensions frequently ran high. It is the major difference between the documentary and the film, which in the beginning, does state that it’s “inspired” by the events in Dengler’s life. Also, the previous escape attempts that Dengler attempted is ignored, rather, combining those events into one larger attempt is the more logical decision to make. Past those differences, everything remains pretty true to the events.
Many things strike me about this movie, the first being that Batman himself is very daring in the nature of his acting choices. In between The Machinist and his anorexic frame, his bulking up for Batman Begins and to lose it again for Rescue Dawn, he consumes himself into a role and devotes himself to it. He plays a man who has no quarrel with the Vietnamese, he is simply devoted to the country that gave him a chance at his dream. And coming from Hitler’s Germany, he knows what oppression is, and says so when offered the chance to admit to his “war crimes” as a propaganda ploy. And if you think he doesn’t do any heavy lifting, think again. His feet are tied to one end of a rope, the other end securing to a running water buffalo, whereupon Bale is dragged through the dirt while villagers kick and throw things at him. He has an anthill tied to his upper torso, and is dunked in a claustrophobic tank that fills to the neck. He’s doing all the work for this role, and it gives it much more believability than a lot of roles out there, and I haven’t listed everything he did. However in this film, Zahn’s performance is clearly the best. He plays someone who people know very little about, and does it with staggering surrender. When he starts to show signs of hope, it’s touching and heartbreaking at once. His performance is worthy of Oscar recognition next year, anything less would be criminal. He, Bale and especially Davies have lost an extraordinary amount of wait for their roles, it is staggering to see how skeletal they are in the film.
Is it “just another war film”? It’s a film set in Vietnam, for sure, but those who have asked if it’s pro or anti war are missing the point. Above all else, it’s about surviving extreme circumstances. Several scenes show Bale cutting through the jungle with a machete, with Herzog (or his longtime cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger) just over his shoulder. The brush and vines are that strong and that thick, and if it helps show just how hard Dengler had to get back to freedom, then its time well spent. The film is a compelling look at a harrowing experience, and it deserves to be seen by many people (MGM/Sony waited three and a half unexplainable weeks after its limited release, but it averaged over $3,000 a screen on less than 500, so here’s hoping that changes).
A quick sidebar on Dengler. The man truly led a full life, with many close-calls and near-death experiences. He says in the documentary that “death did not want him”, and closer examination shows just how much that was true. When he was found, he lost a third of his weight and was less than 100 pounds; when found and examined on the helicopter, he had a half-eaten snake in his pocket that scared the man who found it so much he almost fell out of the chopper. After his military career he remained a test pilot, surviving four more plane crashes. He had to abandon ship in rough seas when helming a boat. He died from ALS complications in 2001 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (where most of this biographical information was found).
Score – 95
Virginia Film Festival
Well, it's almost that time, where I jaunt down to the University of Virginia to check out the Virginia Film Festival. Sure, it's not as glitzy and glamorous as Toronto, Sundance or Cannes, but how can you constantly drink champagne on a beer budget, huh? The theme of the festival is Revelations, or "Finding God at the Movies". The movies are eclectic but appealing. Among the ones I'm planning to check out are:
Life of Brian (hey, on a big screen, it should be great)
The Apostle, with a subsequent Q & A with Robert Duvall
Chronicles of Narnia with William Moseley, a.k.a. Peter
Everything is Illuminated with Liev Schreiber
Anyway, that's to name a few. Feel free to recommend any others to me.
So it's 3:25 AM as I type this, I can't sleep, and I've got a fever of 100.9. God I hate being sick.
The Demise of the Best Damn Comedy on Television
Not that this was a complete shock, but upon reading this news (thanks Adam), two things come to mind.
First, what the hell is wrong with you people at Fox? Emmys, a Golden Globe, Writers' Guild awards, SAG nominations. First, you give it a half-assed Friday July and August recap so that people can watch it. Brilliant move. If I'm a shut-in with no family, that what I might watch. It's pulled off Sundays (why?) and put on Mondays against football, another brilliant move. Then it goes on hiatus for baseball (all due respect to the White Sox, no one watched that series, and I hate Boston and New York), comes back, and the plug is promptly yanked on it. Bravo. I'm assuming that you've gotta put on another series of little substance with a bunch of pretty people, or have to steal another network's idea for a reality show. If Grey's Anatomy can sustain Top 10 ratings with a strong, edgy lead-in (sorry Simpsons, your time is past), then any show can.
Second, what the hell is wrong with you, the TV viewer? Do you really need to watch every friggin' TV show about forensic science, regardless of its content or quality? Good Lord, if there was a CSI: Dubuque, I'm sure it would have a Top 20 following. Here comes a smart, funny sitcom, with plotlines you will remember, and continuity that lends the show some rewatching, and it's tpssed away in favor of Teri Hatcher, v2.0? Congratulations, you've tossed Arrested Development into a sadly growing pile of critically acclaimed shows that are commercially neglected. Hope you're proud of yourselves.
Virginia Film Festival Review: Manderlay
Manderlay</B/> is the second film in Von Trier's USA Trilogy, and follows Dogvillewith Nicole Kidman. In in Grace, who is now played by Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) and her father, now played by Willem Dafoe (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou) leave Dogville and head south, where as they stop for a moment, witness a black man about to be whipped. Grace gets out of the car, despite her father's protests, and has the man freed. The person about to dole out the punishment, Mam (Lauren Bacall) collapses and eventually dies, so Grace decides to run the town, as they have been living in a world of slavery for over 70 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and are unsure how to work in a democracy.
Some of the actors in Dogville return for Manderlay, but are woefully underused. Bacall, Jeremy Davies (Solaris) and Chloe Sevigny (The Brown Bunny) return for brief glimpses, and the major players this time are Wilhelm (Danny Glover, Saw), an older member of the town, and Timothy (Isaac de Bankole, Coffee and Cigarettes), a younger, more rebellious town member.
The film was introduced by Jacob Holdt, whose photos can be seen at the end of Dogville and return for Manderlay. Holdt says that the film is about the Iraq War, which Von Trier doesn't exactly say a recent Guardian interview. Holdt also went on to say that there was a scene that may have been inspired by the Abu Ghraib scandal, and it's not hard to see which seen inspired that.
I like Von Trier's work, and have watched his films since Breaking the Waves, which was one of the more amazing film experiences I'd seen. But now, even though he uses much of the same cast and the same production ideas from Dogville (using a sound stage to depict a town), but as opposed to Dogville, which included a fantastic performance by Kidman, Howard doesn't have much to work with here. John Hurt, who narrated the first film, reprises his role here, but plays a more active role, perhaps because the story was listless and without direction. There is no startling final act that his other films have had, the big surprise at the end of the movie wasn't really one to begin with.
Overall, this is a disappointing second film in Von Trier's second trilogy. I accept his position that you don't have to visit America to have a view on it, but Manderlay misses the mark on slavery, and expresses its views on American intervention erratically, with a confusing subplot focusing on Grace that appears to be included more to see Howard's genitals than anything else. One would hope that the final part of the film, which apparently may take place in Washington, has a lot more punch and bite than this film did. I'd say it's probably a C or C- film.
Virginia Film Festival Review: Green Street Hooligans
Green Street Hooligans
The easy way to pigeonhole any project that stars Elijah Wood is that he won't seem to age for another decade or so, and there are some scenes in Green Street Hooligans that do remind you of this. Good lord, he's only 24 years old?
But this is a far cry from his Frodo incarnations. North comes to England to kick some ass! Wood plays Matt Buckner, the son of a prominent journalist who attends Harvard, and is expelled because of a ethics issue with his roommate, who is also a son of a prominent politician. Matt's father is constantly away on assignment, so Matt decides to go to England to visit his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani, Meet Joe Black). Shannon is married to Steve (Marc Warren, Band of Brothers), who has a contentious brother named Pete (Charlie Hunnam, Cold Mountain). Steve wants to get Matt out of the house so that him and Shannon can have a romantic night together, and Steve has Pete take him to the football (British, not American) match.
At first, Matt and Pete don't get along well, but they strike up a friendship after Matt is jumped by some fans of the rival club. Matt finds out that Pete is the head of the home club's fan club, called a firm, where folks that have a common passion for alcohol and the home club (West Ham United), and vigorously defend their ground against other club's firms.
Directed by Lexi Alexander, whose previous film was the Oscar-nominated short Johnny Flynton, the subject matter in Green Street Hooligans does have some violent scenes in it, but Alexander shoots these scenes with handheld cameras and quick cuts to give you an idea of how frantic the scene is. As Alexander is a second degree black belt, she (yes, I said she) knows as much about a scene like that as anyone. Hunnam is very charismatic as Pete, and his shaved head and relationship with Matt can easily remind someone of Fight Club, but it doesn't revel in the violence, showing that friendships are strong in any environment, however objectionable.
The story does take some twists and turns and everyone seems to finally find their conscience in the end, but this is a pretty compelling film throughout, and an excellent first feature outing by Alexander, who should be on her way to becoming an excellent director of action films. I'd say this is probably a B to a B+.
Plan my Trip for Me
After a little bit of cajolling, I've managed to secure some creds to go to The Virginia Film Festival this coming weekend down at the University of Virginia. Aside from some showings of older films like Dirty Harry, The Wrong Man and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the newer films that are included are:
The Fever, starring Vanessa Redgrave
Green Street Hooligans, with Elijah Wood as a soccer enthusiast/badass
Manderlay, Lars von Trier's 2nd part of his USA trilogy and follow-up to Dogville
The Matador Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear in a dark comedy?
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, documentary based on the murder of a young black boy in 1955
The Ice Harvest John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton in another dark comedy, this one set in 1979 Wichita, Kansas.
Unfortunately, there's a Q & A with John Grisham and another film called Nine Lives with Sissy Spacek, directed by Rodrigo Garcia, which I can't get into. I'm down for The Ice Harvest because it's also directed by Harold Ramis, Green Street Hooligans looks appealing and I'm a von Trier fanboy and am looking forward to Manderlay. I'm open to any suggestions for other films you would like to hear about.
Oh Mike, I'll have those two DVDs done before I leave Friday.
Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way (Preview Disc)
Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way
Being a minor league enthusiast of Bruce Campbell, when I saw saw the title Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way on the Verdict Product Availability list piqued my interest, both good and bad (meow!). And since we’re a site that reviews discs, reviewing the book was a little hard to do. So we got the first CD of an unabridged six CD set. And not knowing Campbell’s latest career choices, popping the CD into the car and rolling into the parking lot called my “commute”, I was anxious to hear what was ole Ash was up to. So why not have him talk about it?
“Is Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way a relationship book? If, by “relationship book,” you mean that the characters have relationships or are related to someone, then yes, absolutely. Will you learn how to pick up chicks? I sincerely doubt it, and anyone who would rely on me for love advice needs their head examined.”
And surprisingly, Campbell’s latest tome is a pleasant hybrid of fiction combined with a few small portions of self-help. Bruce manages to surprisingly capture the supporting role in a Mike Nichols film entitled Let’s Make Love!, next to co-stars Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger. Bruce is cast as the doorman in Gere’s hotel, and since Bruce is not the type of guy who normally lands juicy roles in A list features, he preps really hard for his part. He writes a backstory for him, and gets really involved in the part. After a rehearsal, where Nichols tells him, essentially, to get some perspective, so Bruce decides to do some research for the role. And not just for the doorman semantics, where he almost gets his arse summarily kicked. He also learns more about being a relationship expert, as his role puts him in that position. Plus he’s very oblivious to how relationships work, because he’s not much of a ladies’ man. He goes through several different experiences as part of it, and also explains how things work in his life.
Campbell's story is set up like a old-time radio play, with actors playing the roles of Gere, Nichols, Zellweger and others. Bruce has a natural tendency to be a good storyteller, and it really comes through here. You can't go wrong with either the audio or literary version it seems, so I'll be picking up the book over the weekend. The CD is excellent, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
I hate being so damned indispensable.
I've been given the task of reviewing The Outsiders and the uber Ben-Hur DVDs, and with any luck, they should be up soon. Why haven't they been up before you ask? Because I'm too friggin' popular at work. Last week, I was ready to sit down and get to brass tacks, when I get a call from work around 9:30 Saturday morning. Then another, then another still. By 1230 I'd gotten seven calls and was on my way in, to get five minutes of work done. I went to my local music and movies store to sell some old music and movies for credit, and during a 15 minute drive, I get four calls. So yeah, people like me at work.
Anyway, almost done with Ben-Hur, and The Outsiders will soon follow. There's an interview coming with a Coppola rep that you may want to keep an eye out for too. If I'm overstating whatever following I have, so be it, but my "rye breads" as I call them, want to be informed.
Out of dinner ideas?
Here's a chicken recipe that's quick and easy, and your significant other will think you've discovered a new drug. Get 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and put them in some salt walter for 30 minutes. Rinse off, pat dry, season with pepper, and put them in an oven-safe skillet with a touch of oil on medium-high heat. Brown the chicken skin-side down for 5 minutes, then flip them and repeat for 3 more minutes. Then put the skillet in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.
Pull them out and set aside. Pour some of the fat out from the skillet, mince a shallot and put it into the skillet (on medium-high again) until it's softened. Then add 3/4 cup chicken broth and 1/4 cup red wine (any table wine will do) to the skillet to scrape the drippings out, then add 1 tablespoon sugar and a bay leaf. Reduce the sauce (about 5 minutes), turn the heat to medium, and slowly wisk in 1/2 stick of unsalted butter (one knob at a time). Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts and serve immediately.
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