Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Air Doll Movie Review

This film has opened commercially in a very limited capacity in the US and only in a handful of European and Asian countries.

Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda established himself in the 90s with two masterful films (Mabarosi and After Life) and followed up in 2004 with Nobody Knows, also a wonderful film, about 4 young children abandoned by their mother and living for several months in an apartment completely unnoticed by the world.

His latest film, Air Doll, while sharing in common with his other work a gift for seeing deep inside the human condition, follows on from some of the themes of Nobody Knows. In the story of an inflatable sex doll that comes to life, wanders around the city, gets a job and falls in love, Koreeda takes a more philosophical look at the isolation and loneliness of city life than in that earlier film.

If You're Jewish, Who Do You Root For?

The obvious choice was the USA with 3 members of the tribe (Jonathan Bornstein, Benny Feilhaber, Jonathan Spector) on the squad, but now that we've lost out to Ghana where can you turn?

Tablet Magazine has a quick rundown for you. Hint: It isn't Germany (my second favorite in this WC after my birth country), nor is it "The Inquisition (Let's Begin) / The Inquisition (Look out sin) / We've got a mission / To convert the Jews (Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew Jewwwwwws)" Spain (my home country).


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sucks to Go Out on Penalties

Poor, poor Japan.

But Paraguay are through to the quarterfinals. The only loss suffered by a South American side in this World Cup was Chile at the hands of Brazil.

I'm sticking with my prediction of a Brazil-Spain final, but I think Argentina will be a tough opponent for Spain. But first they've got to get through Portugal tonight.


The Good Heart Movie Review: Spurning the Audience for No Good Reason

The Good Heart, the most depressing buddy comedy you’ll ever see, doesn’t offer much in the way of emotional investment, but what little goodwill it earns in its first 85 minutes is completely squandered in the most horrendously unearned ending in the history of cinema. Although maybe you have to give some credit to a movie that manages both that and the most high-minded philosophical fart joke in cinematic history. No, seriously.

Okay, Glenn Greenwald, Why don't you actually go and visit Iraq sometime?

At the risk of venturing too far into politics on what should be a blog dealing in Mostly Movies, I thought I would point out this post from Jeffrey Goldberg in which he relates a conversation with the PM of Iraqi Kurdistan about the fact that Glenn Greenwald of Salon believes the Iraq invasion was criminally inexcusable.
The prime minister said we could invite Kurds from different political parties and media outlets to a big, public forum, and Glenn could explain to them his position that the invasion was immoral, and the Kurds could explain why they supported the invasion. (Of course, we would try to find some Kurds who opposed the invasion, and there are, indeed, some out there, to meet with Greenwald as well). We would also be able to visit Halabja, and the other towns and villages affected by Saddam's genocide, and I'm sure we could arrange meetings with other Kurdish leaders and dissidents.
I think this is such an important part of the conversation that is too often left out of the Iraq War discussion. People get so bogged down in the WMD meme that they forget that was not actually the casus belli, even if the Bush administration made a minor fiasco of making clear what the casus belli actually was. Not enough people mention the net positive result of the war which is that the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein was removed from power and the Iraqi people now have the potential to self-govern.

The poor job we've done there does not affirm the anti-war movement's personal vanity in which they asserted their moral superiority by shouting slogans like "killing is wrong", "war is bad" and "Bush is the real terrorist." Most of the anti-war movement was, like Greenwald, taking a very complex situation and trying to boil it down to moral absolutes.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Iron Man 2 Movie Review: A Preview of Our Coming Attractions

I was not one of the legions of critics who fawned over the first Iron Man. I thought it was a top-notch superhero film, but hardly the revelation that many thought it to be. It benefited greatly from a charismatic lead actor (Robert Downey Jr.) in a role of aching narcissism, egotism and bravado. Now along comes the sequel this year and like many a superhero movie sequel that preceded it, comes more bloated with extra characters, extra plot and extra baddies.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

American Acceptance of Soccer

While every four years soccer fans have to endure the kind of childish, unnecessary bullshit of not only soccer-haters, but media companies that actually give a voice to opinions like those of Rick Reilly, writer of the biggest mass of steaming shit ever to disgrace the pages of ESPN's website, we also have to put up with question of whether soccer will "catch on" or "be accepted" by the American public.

When we're not defending the game against absurd conservatives who view soccer as somehow a liberal, socialist threat to American superiority, we're just trying to enjoy it for ourselves. I don't understand why sports writers who love baseball, basketball and football feel like they have to take time out to rail against soccer. If you don't like it, just ignore it, Mr. Reilly. Just as I generally try to ignore the Super Bowl and the World Series (unless the Yankees or the Mets are in it).

Anyway, The New Republic's World Cup blog had a good post today by Aleksandar Hemon on American acceptance of The Beautiful Game. Here's the best bit:
[W]hat exactly would count as acceptance? Should the MLS be like the NFL and end with a tacky superspectacle, with moribund rock acts performing at half-time, while U.S. Air Force flies over their heads, the field is covered with the flag and Budweiser premiers commercials in which, say, a horse farts into a woman's face? Should the game be reshaped so as to allow commercials to be broadcast during each throw in? Should soccer competitions be redesigned so that teams/clubs play 162 games before the first relevant one, rendering most of them entirely, fantastically meaningless as in baseball? Should the offside rule be changed so that soccer games have basketball scores and the American viewer of the thumb-happy remote does not switch the channel too soon? Would it be necessary for the U.S. team to attain the world superiority of the U.S. basketball team, so that Americans can crush, say, Ghana (oh wait!).... Would the U.S. team, every time they played, have to make the world look small and underdeveloped and undemocratic and pitiful if not exposed to the eternal sunlight of American greatness?


Trailer for an Academy Award-winning Movie

A friend of mine sent me this great video - a trailer for a generic Oscar contender. It's very well done and although it incorporates a lot of obvious cliches as jokes, it's spot on and quite funny.

USA 2014 World Cup Squad: Never too early to start dreaming

With the USA ousted from the World Cup by Ghana for the second straight cycle, it's time we start making that long slow march toward the next big thing for US Soccer.

Unfortunately for the CONCACAF teams there's not a whole lot to look forward to after a World Cup. Sure, we'll have the Gold Cup next year and the winner of that biannual tournament will then compete in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup (the tournament where, last year, the USA famously defeated the indomitable and mighty Spain to reach the final against Brazil). Apart from our regional championship, we'll have nothing but friendlies to watch until our next WC qualifying cycle begins probably sometime in Spring 2012.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Knockout Stage Preditcions

I will revise this after I'm sure to get something wrong in the Round of 16, but for now:

Uruguay over South Korea
USA over Ghana
Germany over England (difficult, but England hasn't shown anything that can defeat this German team)
Argentina over Mexico
Netherlands over Slovakia
Brazil over Chile
Paraguay over Japan (a difficult pick)
Spain over Portugal

Quarterfinals:
Uruguay over USA
Brazil over Netherlands
Spain over Paraguay
Argentina over Germany (before seeing Argentina perform I would have picked Germany. If both teams actually make it to this match up it could be the game of the tournament)

Semifinals:
Brazil over Uruguay
Spain over Argentina (another great match up but I have faith in Spain and I'm sticking with my prediction for Spain to go all the way)

Third Place:
Argentina over Uruguay

Final:
Spain over Brazil (we'll see)


Friday, June 25, 2010

Looking back at my Groups G and H Predictions

So in Group G Brazil and Portugal went through just as I had predicted. Unfortunately, my standing in my Yahoo sports group suffered because I picked Brazil to defeat Portugal today and after a very physical, yellow-card-studded first half, the two teams came out to have a damn kickabout for the entirety of the second half.

How Did I Do with Groups E and F?

Four years ago I was working an English Summer Camp in Portsmouth during the tail end of the World Cup. We had a large group of Italian students with us and we all watched the France-Italy final together. Look how happy they were as Italy won. Yesterday I couldn't help thinking about how those kids felt to see their precious Champions fizzle out of the first round of the World Cup.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

They Shoot Wimbledon Players, Don't They?

This epic tennis match is starting to remind me of Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Looking back at my Group C and D predictions

Well, I didn't quite get Group C right. I had England and USA advancing in first and second places, respectively. The actual result is reversed, which is perfectly fine for me because it means we don't play Germany in the Round of 16. If we defeat Ghana, then it's likely on to Uruguay, who I don't really think we'll defeat, but you never know. Why couldn't Mexico have won that group? I know we can beat them.

I was way off the mark with England getting 9 points from the group. I can't believe they've only scored 2 goals. The US has scored 6, but two of them were insanely called back for non-calls.

In Group D I had Germany in first place with 7 points. I wasn't far off with their 6. I didn't anticipate the loss to Serbia. Who could? But I had Serbia going ahead in second place. Oh they were so close to drawing level with Australia toward the end of the match today, which would have put them through. Instead it will be Ghana, who I had finishing bottom of the group.

So England will have to face Germany on Sunday while the US takes on Ghana (in a rematch of the 2006 World Cup match that put my boys out of the tournament). If we can defeat Ghana then we'll face the winner of Uruguay-South Korea.


Oh My God!

Why did the US have to wait until 90'+1 to score the goal that would put them into the second round?

I spent the first 20 minutes of the match nervously waiting for Algeria to score (that great shot by Yebda that thankfully hit the crossbar almost killed me). We had our chances, a couple from Hercules Gomez, who should have started in our first two matches instead of Robbie Findley. Then we scored - a shot by Gomez deflected off the keeper, touched across the face of the goal and slammed in by Dempsey. The bar I was in went nuts, I went nuts, then the off side flag. Then the replay - he was clearly on side. Another legitimate goal called back by the referee. What the f--- do we have to do?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Look Back at my Groups A and B Predictions

In Group A it turns out I severely underestimated Uruguay, who won the group while I predicted a last place group finish. And France completely imploded, taking only 1 point out of the group while I predicted a second place finish and advancement to the second round. I was correct in guessing that South Africa would be the first host nation in the history of the tournament not to advance from the group stage.

I was right about Mexico moving on, but I had them in first place. Uruguay have performed quite well so far and at this point I'd say they're good contenders for a semi-final run.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Say Goodbye to some of the supposed best in the world

With Italy fizzling out against New Zealand that leaves only Brazil, Argentina and The Netherlands performing up to the standards people expect from the best teams in the world. And even then, Argentina only managed a single goal against Nigeria. However, they came back with fury, scoring 4 on South Korea. Brazil were unspectacular in their 2-1 defeat of North Korea, but were back to their old selves in a 3-1 drubbing of Ivory Coast.

England, like Italy, have only managed 2 points from 2 matches. Like Italy, the second of those came against a team (Algeria) that everyone expected to go out with zero points from 3 matches. I don't think Algeria were particularly good against England, they certainly weren't much good against Slovenia and they were awful in a pre-tournament friendly with Ireland. But England couldn't connect on passes, they couldn't string decent plays together in the box. They just kept giving the ball away. It was hardly the result of any brilliant defending on the part of Algeria, but of the lackluster performance of England. Their third match against Slovenia is going to be tough. I have a feeling they're going to lose and bust out of the tournament.

France are almost finished, too. They're sitting on 1 point after a scoreless draw with Uruguay and a loss to Mexico. They have yet to score a goal. They have some of the best players in the world on their squad but the talent has been squandered by the bizarre habits of their useless manager, who (rumor has it) left someone off the squad because of his star sign. Anelka has been sent packing after reportedly criticizing the manager during halftime of their loss to Mexico. Then the team refused to show up to training in protest. They should defeat South Africa, who are a dreadful team, but they're engulfed in inner turmoil, going down in flames. Has there ever been another country that, in four World Cups, made it to the final twice (winning once) and failed to advance from the first round twice? France could be that country this week. Even if France defeat the host nation on Tuesday, they have to make up a 5 goal deficit to advance.

Wouldn't it be exciting to see a second round with no England, Germany, France or Italy?


Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Cup poised to get more exciting next week.

A lot has been written about how dull the first round of matches was in this World Cup. Matches have been mostly low-scoring and there have been a lot of draws.

But now Groups A-D have finished their second matches and there is still no team guaranteed a spot in the second round and no team has been eliminated. Granted, there is only one very remote scenario that would keep Argentina from advancing and although there is only one scenario by which Nigeria can advance, it's more than possible. They have to defeat Korea while Argentina defeats Greece.

Group E will finish their second match tonight with Cameroon - Denmark. No matter the result of that match either someone will be eliminated (Cameroon) or someone will advance (Netherlands).

Looking ahead to Group F, it doesn't matter what happens in the second matches, no one can be guaranteed advancement or elimination.

So we've got the makings for some very exciting final group round matches in which just about every match will have big consequences. I would expect to some of the most exciting matches so far next week.



Friday, June 18, 2010

Bad call by ref could be the difference between advancing and going home

You tell yourself that in sports sometimes the referee or umpire makes a bad call, but when one of those bad calls goes against your national team in the World Cup and costs them the winning goal, it's hard to swallow.

The USA fought back from 2-0 down against Slovenia at the half. Goals from Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley brought us level. Then a free kick was awarded for a foul on Cherundolo. Maurice Edu got a head on it in the box and scored what should have been our go-ahead goal to give us 4 points and sitting on top of Group C. But for some bizarre and inexplicable reason, the ref had blown his whistle before the goal was scored, presumably for a foul committed by a US player. Replays show that the only fouls being committed were against the US.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The World Cup after all teams have played at least once

Ugh, what the hell happened to Spain? I didn't see the match because I was at work. According to my brother, Switzerland seems to have studied last year's US defeat of Spain in the Confed Cup semi-final because they used an identical strategy.

Spain will have lost a good bit of confidence from this and I'm sure Chile and Honduras are both looking at this and seeing a vulnerable team. I'd say Spain are lucky to be facing Honduras next because Chile would go for the throat. Spanish fans should be hoping for Chile to defeat Switzerland because that will guarantee them a place in the second round, so they'd be likely to rest most of their starters for the Spain match, when Spain will be looking for a win. But on the other hand, second place in this group is likely to face Brazil next, so Chile will be looking to avoid that considering they lost both their qualifying matches against them.

And South Africa, after losing 3-0 to Uruguay, look poised to become the first host nation to fail to advance. A miracle is all that can save them now. Their best result tomorrow would be a France-Mexico draw, but then they still have to defeat France in their final group match. If France and Mexico finish in anything other than a draw, then South Africa will still have to defeat France, but by a huge margin of goals. This scenario seems extremely unlikely.



The Last Station Movie Review

Michael Hoffman has directed several films of average quality and The Last Station, written by Hoffman from the novel by Jay Parini, fits right in with his other work which includes such forgettable titles as The Emperor’s Club and Restoration. You’re forgiven if you have little to no memory of these films from 2002 and 1995, respectively.

The Last Station, released last year, earned two Oscar nominations for its stars Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. They play Sophia and Leo Tolstoy in the early 20th century, before the Bolshevik Revolution altered Russia forever.Leo, or Lev, as he is lovingly called by family and friends, is nearing the end of his life and is set on establishing his overarching philosophy of socialism, hoping to pass his beliefs on to the next generation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflections on Groups E, F and G

Group E has really let me down. Okay, it was a long shot picking Denmark to defeat The Netherlands. I thought they could do it, or at least draw. But that 2-0 win will likely put the Dutch on top of the group in the end. I had Denmark in first place.

Also, I can't believe Japan pulled off a 1-0 win over Cameroon. I missed both these matches so I can't really comment on any of the performances.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Assessing Groups C and D after the First Match

I've already given my thoughts on England and USA. Now after seeing Algeria-Slovenia it looks ever more likely that we'll come out of the group with the Three Lions.

Both teams in this afternoon's match looked like not much of a threat at all. However, I have to say Algeria looked more threatening than I was expecting and they won't be quite the walkover I was hoping for. I still don't think Slovenia will be easy for us. Although I can imagine them turning their game around from today's performance and coming out strong against us. A draw was looking quite likely for a while, which would have been a good result for us. Because Slovenia got the 3 points, we really have to get the win. England may be lacking in some confidence this week after some poor decision-making by Capello (starting Green in goal instead of James?) and that could hurt them going into the next match. If they were facing Slovenia I'd say they'd have more to fear. But my guess is they'll pull off a convincing win against Algeria, rebuild confidence and then defeat Slovenia for a total of 7 points. That means if we lose to Slovenia we're finished. A draw could be good enough in the end, but we'd prefer the win.

Starship Troopers: Worth Another Look

I've long felt that the 1997 sci-fi action film Starship Troopers was one of the most misunderstood and undervalued films of the decade.

Here's Scott Tobias at The Onion A.V. Club with a fresh take on the film, looking at through a post-9/11 world.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

USA - England thoughts

So the USA gets a result off England thanks to a hilarious Clint Dempsey goal that was completely mishandled by England's keeper who allowed it to escape his paws and dribble across the line.

This came about 35 minutes after Steven Gerrard's beautiful goal which was really the gift of Emile Heskey's brilliant tip. When that goal came in the 4th minutes I thought for sure we were in for a pounding.

But the US came right back and kept good possession of the ball through the first half, made some good chances. Tim Howard came up with some excellent saves to keep England from pulling further ahead.

Reflections on Groups A and B

Now I've seen all 8 teams in the the first two groups play I can say that I'm willing to reaffirm my conviction that it will be Argentina and South Korea to advance out of Group B. Not only because they both won today (3 points in the opening match is a big step), but because they easily looked like the two strongest teams. Greece looked like they had no business being at this World Cup. They couldn't put a play together to put the ball in the net and they were shabby on defense. If they continue to play this way I'd say they're unlikely to get a goal, much less a point.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mammoth Movie Review

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson makes films about the ways people need each other. His newest film, Mammoth, is more specifically about the ways children and parents need each other. Here is a director who is comfortable with vastly different tones while maintaining a similar approach and style. This isn’t as joyous and celebratory as Together and certainly not the depressing nihilism of Lilya 4-Ever, but it falls somewhere in between.

There is something of an Alejandro González Iñárritu influence here, with interconnected action that takes place in three places around the world (New York, Thailand, The Philippines). The casting of Gael García Bernal (star of Iñárritu’s Amores Perros) is perhaps an homage to that influence. Mammoth doesn’t have the heavy-handed serendipity found in the films of Iñárritu, but deals with the interconnectedness of the characters in a more restrained and natural way.

This Way Lies Trouble

As I consider my possible future career as a high school English teacher in the United States, I have to say t gives me pause when I remember how much focus is placed on test results.

I am well aware of the stronger and stronger push toward standardized testing to evaluate students' progress. And now No Child Left Behind ties federal money given to public schools into performance on standardized tests.

Now more and more teacher job performance is being tied into test results. And not just teachers, but administrators as well. I can't imagine the frustration of wanting to actually teach kids something and find that you spend at least half the year simply teaching them how to take a test. It's hardly surprising, then, to read this article about teachers and administrators cheating and helping students cheat to achieve higher scores.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2010 World Cup Predictions - Knockout Stages

If my predictions prove accurate for the top two teams in each group (and I firmly believe they will not) then there will be some tough matches in the Round of 16.

Argentina would face France, Portugal would be up against their Iberian neighbors and Italy would square off against the Dutch.

England will avoid a top flight team until the semifinal where they're likely to meet Brazil. That is assuming Germany wins their group, which is hardly a lock given the unpredictability in Group D.

2010 World Cup Predictions - Group H

This group should be little trouble for Spain, who are now on a streak of 1 loss in something like 45 matches (it was the USA who handed them that loss). They went through qualifying with 10 matches and 10 wins. They just beat up on Poland the other day 6-0. Switzerland, Honduras and Chile shouldn't present too much difficulty in achieving 9 points. I'm also predicting Spain to win the tournament. Sadly, I'll have to miss their first two matches because I'll be at work.

Switzerland won a pretty easy qualifying group with a loss coming against Luxembourg of all teams at home. They've got a strong chance of advancing, but Chile had a truly impressive run in South American qualifying, coming in second behind Brazil. And recent friendly losses to Norway, Uruguay and Costa Rica do not bode well, despite the recent 1-1 draw with Italy.

Honduras may take as many as 3 points in this group if they can pull out a win against Switzerland. But I don't see them having a great chance of advancing. They've also not had a very happy series of friendlies with the exception of a 3-1 defeat of the USA in California in January.

My money would be on Chile for second place.

Spain            9
Chile             4
Honduras      3
Switzerland   1


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

2010 World Cup Predictions - Group G

Many are calling this the group of death. With North Korea (I refuse to refer to them as DPR) I don't really think that's the case. Three tough teams and one bad team can't be a group of death. To me, a group of death should be four teams that all have a fair shot at advancing.

North Korea got lucky in qualification. They finished ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference by holding them to a 0-0 draw in the final qualifying match. And they both ended up only one point in front of Iran. They've played 18 friendlies with a record of 6-6-6 since qualifying. How's that for symbolic? All the losses came this year and the wins have all come against teams like Guam, Myanmar and Taiwan. These are not the teams you want to be defeating before going up against Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast in the World Cup. The losses have come at the hands of second tier teams such as Nigeria, Paraguay, Mexico and Iran. I don't expect them to take a single point from this group.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Kick-Ass Movie Review: If You Think This Movie Is Funny, Please Seek Professional Medical Help

The opening, depicted in full in the trailer, shows a man wearing an odd costume with wings standing on top of a New York skyscraper. A voiceover talks about fantasy of wanting to be a superhero. The man leaps from the ledge and plummets head first toward the street below while the crowds cheer. He slams full speed into a taxi cab – dead. This brief sequence is a microcosm of what follows.

I really wanted to like Kick-Ass. Really, I did. I thought the trailer showed great potential for ironic satire. I followed with bemusement the minor uproar over the filthy language that comes out of the mouth of Hit Girl, an eleven year old superhero played by Chloe Moretz. Then the reviews started coming in and some critics were put off by the violence inflicted by and on that same young girl. I thought maybe some of these critics were simply old codgers who were no longer in tune with the hip. Then I saw it and I never thought I would have this reaction to a movie in my life: This movie is morally repugnant.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Look how pretty my city is with all those protesting government workers who want the country to pull through a severe economic crisis but are completely unwilling to make any sacrifices on their own part.

Everyone wants Zapatero to "do something" about the crisis. But if that means cutting salaries, no thank you. If that means cutting entitlements (some of which are absolute bullshit), no thank you.

When the masses don't actually understand fiscal policy this is the reaction when the shit hits the fan. If there's no money why can't they just print more? You can bet they would if they were still using the peseta around here.

Glad I've just recently invested in some gold wedding bands.

Who Knew?

Through The Onion A.V. Club's Random Roles feature, I've just learned that William Zabka, the actor whom everyone knows as Johnny in The Karate Kid and most people know as the dick in Just One of the Guys and Back to School was Oscar nominated several years ago for his live action short film Most.

Easy Rider as Christian Morality Tale

Was Dennis Hopper's conservatism actually coming through in Easy Rider, emblem of 1960s liberal counter-culture?

Deep Tracks

One of the things I like about putting my iPod on shuffle play is I often listen to a song I otherwise wouldn't if I simply put an album on or chose a specific song or artist.

I've always felt there's a pretty good argument to be made that Rubber Soul is The Beatles' best album. Take a listen to "I'm Looking Through You" and tell me that's not one of the best tracks on that record and an unsung masterpiece from Paul McCartney. Listening to it I thought it might be a George Harrison composition which I think suggests the lead guitarist's signature contribution to the song.

2010 World Cup Predictions - Group F

This is probably the weakest group in the tournament. Italy should have little trouble coming out on top with 3 wins. They convincingly won their qualifying group 6 points ahead of second placed Ireland.They haven't done well in recent friendlies including 3 draws against Netherland, Cameroon and Switzerland and a 2-1 loss to Mexico. But there's a bit of a historical statistic to keep in mind: they drew 1-1 with Switzerland in their last friendly match. In both 1982 and 2006 Italy drew 1-1 with Switzerland just before the World Cup and went on to win the tournament both times.

The Onion Found Out About Me

This piece at The Onion is the reason I'm so happy I've been in Europe for two World Cups now.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Old Movie Review: Colors directed by Dennis Hopper

Here is the last of my reviews commemorating the career of the late Dennis Hopper. Unfortunately, this movie was hardly worth my time, but I stuck with it to the end. The last time I walked out on a movie was Father of the Bride Part II when I was 17. So here we have the 4th movie directed by Dennis Hopper. He left a much better legacy as an actor than as a director.

It’s almost not even worth writing anything about a 22 year old film that time has all but forgotten. The Dennis Hopper directed Los Angeles cops and gangs drama Colors has not survived the long lens of history very well. It’s true that most films from that period have not dated well. The fashions, the hairstyles and the musical scores in particular have a distinct late 80s feel in several police dramas from that period including Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop.

2010 World Cup Predictions - Group E

The Netherlands have had an impressive string of 4 friendly wins against Hungary (6-1), Ghana (4-1), Mexico (2-1) and the USA (2-1). That was preceded by a rather unimpressive run of three 0-0 draws. Last September they defeated fellow Finals group member Japan 3-0. They topped their easy qualifying group with maximum points in which their biggest challenger were Scotland, but the Oranje have, in recent history, managed to get out of their group. The exception is their failure to qualify for the 2002 tournament, having been relegated to 3rd place behind Portugal and Ireland. And all American fans know what happened to Portugal in that World Cup. Currently ranked 4th in the world I don't think they'll have much trouble advancing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2010 World Cup Predictions - Group D

Group D is one of the most competitive groups in the tournament. 3-time World Cup winners Germany lead a group that includes Serbia, Australia and Ghana.

Serbia won their qualifying group which included France and they've done well enough in their recent friendly matches.

2010 World Cup Predictions - Group C

My predictions for Group C are colored by the fact that I refuse to predict anything short of the USA advancing. This despite my misgivings about our chances against Slovenia.

England is the team to beat in this group. It's really hard to imagine them not winning the group. The recent loss of central defender and captain Rio Ferdinand will hurt their back line but they've still got John Terry, Ashley Cole and Jamie Carragher. Up front they've got goal scoring machine Wayne Rooney and the 8 feet tall Peter Crouch. But who needs forwards who can score goals when you've got Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the midfield. Both those guys are major threats to score goals.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The real problem facing Steve Kloves (screenwriter of all but the fifth Harry Potter film) since, oh, about the fourth film is that the books are so bloated and weighed down by countless minor characters, back stories and pieces of the puzzle that it’s simply impossible to turn them into entirely coherent movies. I think he’s done a fantastic job with the thankless task he’s taken on. The first three films in the series, although still leaving out some key elements that help explain certain motivations, are effective adaptations of the source material. The third film is still the best, due in large part to director Alfonso Cuarón.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Classic Movie Review: Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry

The films of Woody Allen tend to be united by several common themes. Just about all of his films deal with love, relationships and infidelity in one way or another. Many of his films are largely viewed as semi-autobiographical. Or at the very least the characters played by Allen seem very much to be variations on his real life persona. Somehow he manages to unite several of these major themes in the hilarious and deeply philosophical Deconstructing Harry.

When last I saw it during its theatrical release in 1997 I was a Woody Allen amateur. More than a decade later I’ve seen all but one of his 39 feature films, so revisiting it now was quite a treat. It’s still one of most sharply funny movies, written in dialogue littered with great wit and insight.

Allen plays Harry Block, a writer suffering from writer’s block as he prepares to accept an award from his old university. In the meantime, he spends time reflecting on his past wives and girlfriends, the cheating, the deceit and also the characters in his book, who very closely parallel real life.

2010 World Cup Predictions - Group B

Despite Argentina being managed by an absolute lunatic, I'd say it will be very surprising if they don't easily finish top of a group that includes Nigeria, Greece and South Korea. If Argentina is going to falter it will be in the 2nd round or more likely in the quarterfinal, where they'll probably face Germany or possibly England if South Korea upsets them to a second place group finish.

Classic Movie Review: Billy Wilder's The Apartment

Billy Wilder made a great career out of handling delicate subject matter in surprisingly frank ways. From murder for profit and marital infidelity in Double Indemnity (1944) to sexual politics in Some Like It Hot (1959). In his last great film, The Apartment (1960), he deftly crosses the serious subjects often present in his previous directorial efforts (most, if not all, of which he also wrote) such as infidelity, sexual politics, attempted suicide with a light-hearted and well-intentioned touch. This film, which pushes its 2 hour running time along at a brisk pace, brought Wilder his second directing Oscar, his third for screenplay and his first as a credited producer of a Best Picture winner (his The Lost Weekend won Best Picture, but Wilder did not win a statuette).

Jack Lemmon earned his third Oscar nomination as C.C. Baxter, a low-level accountant in a firm that boasts a city’s worth of employees in one building (so many that the start and finish times of the workday are staggered by floor so as not to overrun the elevators). He is a pushover for several executives to whom he lends the key to his Upper East Side bachelor pad so they can engage in their extra-marital flings. He enjoys a carefree lifestyle and the eventual benefits of being in the good graces of company execs until he witnesses firsthand the damage that can be inflicted on the young women who are led to believe (however naively) that these men might leave their wives.

Friday, June 4, 2010

World Cup Predictions - Group A

Group A will see hosts South Africa face off against France (dubiously defeating Ireland in a European playoff to reach the finals), Mexico (finishing 2nd in qualifying behind the USA) and Uruguay (defeating 4th place CONCACAF finishers Costa Rica in a 2 leg playoff).

This is one of the toughest groups to predict. No host nation has ever failed to advance out of the group stage. In 1994 it was widely assumed that the USA would be the first and we confounded the prognosticators with a win, a draw and a loss, finishing third in the group, but as one of the 4 best 3rd place finishers we went through. In 2002 again it was widely assumed that either South Korea or Japan would fail to advance and both went through. South Korea reached the semi-final by holding Spain to a 0-0 draw and then winning in penalty kicks after extra time. So although South Africa is one of the lowest ranked teams in the tournament, precedent would suggest they have a fair chance of going through.

Classic Movie Review: The American Friend

In honor of the late Dennis Hopper, I took a look this week at 2 of his films. Hoosiers I'd never seen and The American Friend I'd seen but had virtually no memory of any single detail. Here I review the latter.

Wim Wenders’ 1977 film Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) is loosely based on the Patricia Highsmith novel Ripley’s Game, the third of her novels to feature the sociopathic character of Tom Ripley. The novel was adapted several years ago with John Malkovich in the title role, but the Wenders film stars German actor Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Zimmerman and Dennis Hopper as Ripley.

This is perhaps one of the most inaccessible films I’ve ever seen. The film is almost all mood and atmosphere. After all, that was a primary effect of German New Wave Cinema of the 70s and 80s, of which Wenders (along with Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder) was a key director. It’s filled with opaque dialogue and lines that, upon reflection, probably served as inspiration for American independent film makers such as Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley. The most interesting lines are spoken by Ripley: “I like this room. It's got a good feel to it. It's quiet and peaceful;” and “This river reminds me of another river.” As read by Hopper, lines like these are sinister and forbidding.

A single viewing is probably not sufficient for following the story carefully. What you will get is a great sense of location as the action switches between Hamburg, Paris and New York. There’s Hamburg with its overcast skies and shipyards in the background, a setting as dreary as the subject matter of the film. New York is identified by the World Trade Towers looming in conspicuous solitude in the background as Ripley walks down the West Side Highway. And the Paris depicted is hardly the romantic postcard vision the movies normally provide. Wenders’ Paris is one in which organized crime bosses plan murder and doctors are complicit in medical deception. It’s got elements of film noir combined with a Hitchcockian thriller, which should come as no surprise as Highsmith also wrote the novel Strangers on a Train, most famously adapted by Hitchcock.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Death Comes Knocking

Actress Rue McClanahan (top left in photo) died today at 76.

Last year Bea Arthur died.

In 2008 Estelle Getty died.

Betty White is the last surviving "Golden Girl". Death is coming for her in 2011. Update your celebrity death pools.

In related trivia: Robert Vaughn is the only surviving member of The Magnificent Seven.

Classic Movie Review: Hoosiers

*In honor of the late Dennis Hopper, this week I took a look at two of his films, one of which I'd seen but had no memory of and the other which I'd somehow never gotten round to watching. The second is reviewed in this post. I'll write on the other in the coming days.

In the annals of inspirational sports movies, the 1986 high school basketball saga Hoosiers holds a special place. It made it on two of the AFI’s lists celebration a century of motion pictures, coming in at number 13 on their list of the most inspirational films and number 4 among the top ten sports films behind Raging Bull, Rocky and Pride of the Yankees.

By today’s standards it is in some ways quite conventional yet in most others not. I’m having trouble thinking of another sports film prior to Hoosiers that centers on a Cinderella-story victory under the leadership of an inspiring coach who brings new values and practices. The Bad News Bears may be a kind of example, but that’s more comedic than inspirational. However, following Hoosiers the formula has been repeated over the years in films like Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, Mystery Alaska and Miracle.

Interestingly, Hoosiers is the one that really gets it right most of the time. The screenplay by Angelo Pizzo, based loosely on a true story, hones its focus on Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) without getting bogged down in bloated back stories and side trips. The secondary characters include Dale’s old college friend, Cletus, who hires him for the job of high school basketball coach; Myra (Barbara Hershey), a teacher at the school and caretaker of Jimmy, perhaps the best player the town has ever seen but who refuses to join the team owing to his inward isolation after the deaths of his parents; and finally Shooter (Dennis Hopper), the town drunk who also happens to be a walking encyclopedia Indiana basketball history.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

25 Years Ago This Month (June 1985)

One of my favorite childhood movies was released this month.

That movie was The Goonies which went on to finish the year at number 9 on the box office list with $61 million. I didn't see it in the cinema, but I watched it incessantly once we had it on video (taped off cable, I'm sure). I knew about every line, although not as well as I knew every line to Star Wars. The Goonies still holds up as a decent pre-adolescent adventure movie.

One movie from 25 years ago that doesn't hold up so well: Red Sonja, which took in only $7 million at the domestic box office. I remember watching it a couple times on cable. I enjoyed it because it was a Conan: The Barbarian spinoff and I loved Conan (still do, by the way).

Cocoon also opened that month. I remember watching it on cable, but it was a bit cerebral for my 7 year old mind. And it was about people who just seemed absolutely ancient to me, which is why it still surprises the hell out of me that while every other elderly actor from that film is dead (Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, Jack Gilford, Gwen Verdon), Wilford Brimley is still alive! But that's because he wasn't even a senior citizen at the time. He was only 50 at the time of filming. And Stapleton, who played his on-screen wife was a youthful 59. All the other actors were well into their 70s. Cocoon took in $76 million to finish sixth for the year.

John Huston's second to last film and last Oscar nomination came for Prizzi's Honor starring Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner and Anjelica Huston.

Also opening in June 1985 were the forgettable D.A.R.Y.L. starring Barrett Oliver, also known as the kid in Cocoon; Perfect starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis which rates a 3.8/10 on IMDb and a 19% on Rotten Tomatoes; the Brat Pack film St. Elmo's Fire; and Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider.

Births 25 years ago:
-Michael Phelps - American hero of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, winner of a record 14 Olympic gold medals, winner of the most gold medals in a single games when he won 8 golds in Beijing setting 7 world records in the process - celebrates his 25th birthday this month.
-German footballer Lukas Podolski also turns 25 this month. Look for him to score a bunch of goals for Germany starting on the 13th against Australia in this month's World Cup.

Nazi history 25 years ago:
-A body believed to be Nazi criminal Josef Mengele a.k.a. Angel of Death (that wonderful man who performed grisly experimental surgeries on Jews in Auschwitz - in the name of science, of course) was exhumed in Brazil. Several years later DNA conclusively proved it was Mengele's body.

Non-movie related history 25 years ago:
-The Discovery Channel was launched.
-Air India flight 182 exploded from a bomb over the Atlantic off the coast of Ireland killing all 329 people aboard. A Sikh terrorist group was responsible.
-Route 66 was officially decommissioned putting an end to a seminal route through the American heartland.
-Claus von Bulow (portrayed by Jeremy Irons in the 1990 film Reversal of Fortune) was acquitted of trying to murder his wife.