Monday, October 30, 2006

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Yesterday I saw the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, which offers a frightening look at how large corporations (and our own government) will do anything to ensure their weath, even at the cost of our environmental health.

The fast-paced film, narrated by Martin Sheen, presents the destruction of the GM V1 electric car as a murder complete with suspects, 'trials' (by way of documents and archival footage of the actual California energy hearings) and a full-scale funeral, led by those that were passionately attached to their electric cars (or helped create or sell them).

In a nutshell, the state of California initiated a mandate for cleaner air that required the development/implementation of more energy efficient vehicles. The car companies reluctantly responded and the V1 was born. Released in a limited supply, only for leasing, the cars were quiet, fast, reliable and aesthetically pleasing. Each person who leased one seemed to love their vehicle like a family member and was excited at the prospect of owning one.

But that never happened.

Due to pressure from the oil companies, the federal government and of course, the car corporations, the mandate was killed. And then GM decided to retreive ALL electric cars from circulation once their leases were up and kill those too. They offered no option of purchase although many citizens would've paid above and beyond the asking price to own one.

It was devastating to those who had grew fond of their electric cars, those who had worked to create them, and everyone who cared about the environment/and or our foreign oil policies.

And what was more absurd was that the cars were in excellent working condition—they required little service unless they had a standard problem such as a flat tire. So when the activists discovered that the cars were being transported to a wrecking yard in Arizona to be shredded, they took action and staged a protest in front of the Burbank lot where their former vehicles rested.

Unfortunately, nothing stopped the ultimate destruction of all but one car (which is now sitting idle in a vehicle museum) and you just have to wonder—do the car companies really think the engineers alive today couldn't replicate that successful prototype without a living, breathing example in front of them?


Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Marie Antoinette

Last night I saw Marie Antoinette, an exhilirating, realistic glimpse of the subject's life during her time in France.

Kirsten Dunst makes a perfect Marie—naughty and naive as a youth, clever and indulgent as a queen, and brave and sensible as a target of immense hatred. It's easily her best role yet. And her supporting cast is great too. From the sexually challenged Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) to the sexually charged Madame du Barry (Asia Argento), each actor fulfills their role and then some.

Sofia Coppla's writing style is brilliant. Every bit of dialogue sounds like words that would actually come out of the mouths of the historical characters, which makes it easy to follow. The fast-paced, blink-and-you'll-miss-it scenes are reminiscent of Baz Luhrman's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but not as dizzying.

The authentic sets (i.e. the actual palace where the actual Marie Antoinette reigned), coupled with extravagant costumes that are sure to attract attention during awards' season, make the viewer feel as if they're a party attendee rather than an audience member.

Can you tell I had a good time at this film? Well, I did.

That of course doesn't mean that it's perfect, because it's not. The pace in the beginning is frightfully slow and the time spent dwelling on the young couple's non-existent sex-life is too lengthy, but the payoff of an engaging middle and exciting end (though we all know how the story turns out before we arrive at the theater) makes it a worthwhile way to spend two hours.

Just go see it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Today I saw Shortbus...what was supposed to be an innovative exploration of sex in cinema, but instead was a weak story played out in the lives of pretentious characters.

I wanted to like the film—I really did. I think that our American society is far too close to its Puritan roots with our attitudes toward sex in film, music and general media. And I was hoping that this daring venture would take a bit of the fear from audiences and prove that sex, like eating, sleeping, working—breathing—is simply a part of everyday life.

But then the writer/director (John Cameron Mitchell) had to go in and create ridiculous caricatures of people (an identity-starved dominatrix, a sex therapist that can't have an orgasm, gay partners who are alternately suicidal and unimaginably irritating, etc.) to demonstrate 'normal' problems and somehow justify money shots and porn-store toys to illustrate them.

I was not amused (or aroused).

And that's another problem I had with this movie. I was constantly playing 'hunt the genre' wondering every few frames whether or not this was intended to be a comedy, a drama, a mockumentary or an adult film. All I concluded was that it was definitely not an adult film because the sex wasn't remotely sexy.

I appreciate what Mitchell was trying to do, but to have an audience connect with his intentions, he should've invented people that everyday moviegoers could relate to (or at least believe in).

I hope this doesn't discourage other hopeful filmmakers from attempting similar feats because if the box office returns were disappointing, it wasn't the subject matter's fault, it was the story.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl

Tonight I saw The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl.

This news-report-like documentary traces the lives of slain journalist Daniel Pearl and the terrorist responsible for his death, Omar Sheikh. Narrator Christine Amanpour shows us their similar upbringings (privileged, strong sense of faith, loving family) and explain that as they aged, Daniel grew more 'global' in a sense, while Omar withdrew from modern British society and adapted fundamentalist beliefs.

I appreciate the background on the killer, but I almost wish he hadn't been given that much airtime.

The Pearl home movies remind us of how much fun Daniel must have been; the calm spirit of his widow and surviving family are a testament to the peace that he stood for. He was truly a man that didn't just believe in tolerance—he believed in acceptance, which makes the way that he was captured and died all the more tragic.

Daniel had an uncommon desire to learn and use that knowledge to bridge undeniable gaps between faiths and cultures. Viewers will get the sense that although cautious, he was almost naive in his trust of strangers. And unforuntately, that false sense of trust led to his kidnapping and untimely death.

It may sound cliché to say that the world lost a hero when Daniel Pearl was murdered, but I don't care. God knows what more he could have accomplished if he had lived.

The Departed

Yesterday I saw The Departed starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 10, which is available here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

Tonight I saw Flags of Our Fathers starring Ryan Phillipe and Adam Beach.

The story tells of the soldiers who did (and didn't) raise the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima—the scene captured in the iconic 1945 photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.

Everything about America is in this movie: blood, pride, racism, mercy, politics, compassion, deception and redemption. I would expect nothing less from Director Clint Eastwood.

I liked all of the performances—Phillipe, Beach, and even the still-creepy-from-Heavenly Creatures Melanie Lynskey who has a small, but memorable role.

The only weaknesses were the pace (slow) and the fight scenes (especially gruesome, when less really could've been more). The characters were well-developed and Iceland made a fine stand-in for the real war-torn soil (the actual present-day Iwo Jima is shown in the credits).

But I'll have to admit, I only teared up at the very end and was able to compose myself rather quickly. It wasn't the sobbing-followed-by-headache pain of Schindler's List or the sobbing-followed-by-vomiting pain of Full Metal Jacket or the sobbing-followed-by-days-of-more-sobbing heartache of Glory.

Maybe I'm just immune to the genre.

Regardless, I'm intrigued by the project Clint is completing now, which actor Barry Pepper told us about during a Q&A following the film. It's a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers told from the Japanese perspective. It's called Letters from Iwo Jima and is currently in post-production.

Perhaps the theaters will market this cleverly and show the two stories back-to-back.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Queen

Tonight I saw The Queen starring Helen Mirren and James Cromwell.

As the brits would say, it was "spot on."

This movie chronicles the actions of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the days following Princess Diana's death and how the input of those around her supposedly did (and didn't) play a role in her response.

First, let me say that I understand why Ms. Mirren has generated so much Oscar buzz. Having grown up enamored with the drama of the royal family, I've watched the real queen all my life and studied her mannerisms. Seeing this film, I forgot I was watching Helen Mirren.

From the way she folds her glasses to her less-than-feminine walk, this woman has Her Majesty down.

The brilliance of her work however, was really in the supressed emotion that she conveyed—bubbling beneath the surface, yet refined and crisp in the presence of everyone except for a wandering stag, which she tenderly tries to save. I won't be angry if this actress takes the statue come March.

And the others weren't so bad either.

James Cromwell is perfectly cast as Prince Philip—bitter and irritable, always throwing in his two cents. And Alex Jennings as Charles is cowardly and awkward, even while trying to do the right thing as the actual Prince of Wales so often appears.

Michael Sheen, who portrays Tony Blair, is a little over-the-top and doesn't possess the real charm of the actual Prime Minister, but does an ample job of at least sounding like the man he's trying to imitate.

The writing is superb in that you can't bear to take sides as the crises unfolds.

In 1997, I was disgusted as many 'Diana fans' were, that the royal family didn't immediately fly the flag at half mast or make a public statement regarding the tragedy. But after seeing this, I'm left with mixed emotions.

While the silence of the queen was undoubtedly inappropriate, I no longer think it was because of any disdain she had for her former daughter-in-law. I think it was because she is a woman of duty and she believed her job was to remain strong.

In the end, she did the right thing by finally giving in to her advisers (in the movie it's implied it was mostly Blair and his team; I have to wonder in reality how true that was), but the damage she did to the reputation of the Monarchy may never be repaired.

Seeing the actual footage of Diana spliced in with the fictional reinactment gave it an eerie "I'm watching you" vibe, which quite frankly gave me goosebumps.

If only Her Majesty had realized the magic her grandsons' mother had with people while she was still alive, she may have reacted differently.