Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Zoolander (2001)

Ehh...never a good sign when the DVD menu is funnier than anything that follows. The credibility of a few nameless people has dropped.

Monday, August 26, 2002

A while ago, the movie websiteCinescene asked for opinions on "Hidden Treasures" -- "20 films you love that, in your opinion, don't seem to get enough attention from critics, filmgoers, or the world at large."

So instead of relaying the weekend's activities, here are my submissions. No time to add more links than what's already here, I'm afraid...

Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941)

I get the idea this is often overlooked when talking about Hawks. Stanwyck at her sexiest, and Gary Cooper, whom I usually find wooden, is at his most enjoyable.

Battle Royale (Kinji Fukusaku, 2000)

Truly hidden, at least in the US; the post-Columbine climate assured this hybrid of SURVIVOR and LORD OF THE FLIES did not get a distributor despite being less stomach-churning than, say, Takashi Miike's work. In a reaction to escalated juvenile violence and delinquency, once a year a classroom of students is shipped off to a deserted island military base. The kids are fitted with exploding neck-collars, given some provisions and one weapon, and are instructed to kill each other within three days. Last one standing gets to re-enter society. Excellent dark-comic action; worth digging around for.

Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)

A straight description of this film is unlikely to attract the skeptical. Suffice to say it's one of the best, most believable, and most unconventional screen romances.

The Big Snit (Richard Condie)

The only short on my list. Without giving too much away: a couple plays Scrabble and gets into an argument, oblivious to the goings-on outside. By no means a technical masterpiece, it never fails to make me laugh A LOT, despite my tape almost being worn out.

Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)

It's hard to argue that something this commercially successful was in any way "overlooked" or "hidden," but I think Clueless is overlooked as a literary adaptation. I thought it showed more affection for the source material than many movies in the "Classics Illustrated" genre (most notably the anemic by-the-numbers 1996 Emma), and I particularly enjoyed how Clueless managed to turn that genre on its ear. Not that it should be shown in schools or anything.

Dames (Ray Enright, 1934)

The fine FORTY-SECOND STREET gets all the attention when discussing Busby Berkeley, DAMES' story is just as thin, the songs are at least as memorable, the cast is largely the same, but DAMES has more elaborate musical numbers, especially the title song and the hallucinatory "I Only Have Eyes For You."

Delicatessen (Jeunet & Caro, 1991)

(Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1991)

I'd been down on French films most of my life, mainly because I hadn't yet discovered Clouzot, and I still haven't invested much time in Truffaut or Godard. I thought French cinema was mostly unfunny sex comedies. Jeunet et Caro helped me look beyond that stereotype. Personal impact aside, I think it's a damn funny, visually stunning bit of Gilliamesque sci-fi.

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)

Kelly's screenwriting/directorial debut was produced and abandoned last year, but at least got a loving DVD tratment that may help it find the audience it deserves. I look forward to more from Kelly, Jake Gyllenhaal, and talented-beyond-her-years Jena Malone.

Hairspray (John Waters, 1987)

Hardcore Waters fans may cry sellout, but I prefer this one because: Waters finally had a somewhat personal story to tell, and finally had the budget to hire actors who could hold their own with the divine Divine. Then there's the soundtrack. And the dopey dances. And dodge ball. And of course, the hair.

Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994)

Restrained compared to his earlier energetic grossouts, Jackson get riveting performances from two unknowns -- Melanie Lynskey and someone you may have heard of called Kate Winslet -- and creates a fantasy world that surely got him the LORD OF THE RINGS gig. A fascinating true crime film, and still the pinnacle of Jackson's career.

The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

A deadly parasitic alien craves violence, fast cars, and loud rock. What's not to love? As an alien FBI agent on the killer's trail, Kyle McLachlan previews Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper, who was surely not of this earth either.

Kiki's Delivery Service/Majo no Takkyuubin (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

To call Miyazaki the "Japanese Disney" I think does him a disservice. Disney was largely a marketer and appropriator, not a craftsman. Also, that title keeps him in the anime/kiddie fare ghetto, while he deserves a place among the greats of Japanese cinema. Disney bought the rights to Miyazaki's work with Studio Ghibli a few years back but has only released two so far. Perhaps they're afraid of being shown up. As witches turn 13, they traditionally leave home for one year to establish themselves. Kiki moves to a seaside town and, as flying is her main skill, tries to establish a courier service. What we're given transcends both the babes/blood/bullets standard of most anime, and formulaic American kids movies. A young girl grows into herself and finds a place in the world. There's no big bad villain, no forced romantic interest. And not a frame that isn't breathtakingly beautiful.

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (Aviva Kempner, 2001)

This is the only documentary I can think of that is truly uplifting. Most documentaries make you sad or angry. This is not a bad thing; when you get outraged hearing the verdict in PARADISE LOST, or watching a father buy drugs in HOOP DREAMS, you can't deny the film's power. Comedic documentaries, like AMERICAN MOVIE or ROGER AND ME, have an aftertaste of condescension. But a documentary that leaves you with a good, honest happiness is a rare bird indeed.

Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)

Much has been made of what I guess is a new wave of UK comedies since, oh, 4 WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, but few compare to this gentle comedy from a guy who hasn't been heard from in the States in too long.

The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 1942)

To me, this is near-perfect screwball. The Weenie King is one of the greatest characters in all of cinema.

Pennies From Heaven (Herbert Ross, 1981)

Audiences fueled by The Jerk and Saturday Night Live appearances weren't ready to see Steve Martin do anything other than comedy. Certainly not tragedy. Or a re-imagining (before that became a buzzword) of the Hollywood musical. Exquisite set design and musical numbers serve a bleak, bleak story. Like Dancer in the Dark 20 years later, you'll either love or hate this, but should see it all the same.

Searching for Bobby Fischer (Stephen Zaillian, 1993)

I submit this is one of the best sports movies ever made. Ah, you say, but it's about a boardgame! Chess is not athletic and therefore not a "sport." Perhaps, but as a film, that's to SFBF's benefit: since chess isn't athletic, the film doesn't suffer the pacing plight of most sports films that crash to a halt when the on-field action stops. The film does feature what makes sports movies great, though, and depicts it all better than most sports movies: Raw talent under development. Enigmatic mentors. Burnout. Pushy parents living vicariously through kids. Matches filled with palpable tension. Add a stellar cast, led by Max Pomeranc giving one of the best child performances since Mary Badham in to Kill A Mockingbird. A film that never gets old for me. And I don't enjoy playing chess at all.

Wing Chun (Yuen Woo-Ping, 1994)

Michelle Yeoh slaps around the bad guys, defeats the cotton belly, keeps the tofu safe, and proves, long before Crouching Tiger, that she deserves to be huge.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin, 1957)

The only reason to check AMC's listings any more is to catch this gem now and then. The always dependable Tony Randall tries to recruit Jayne Mansfield for a new ad campaign, she's trying to make her boyfriend jealous, and that's more than I want to give away about this clever satire of the 50s ad world that holds up surpisingly well.

Zero Effect (Jake Kasdan, 1998)

Another buried-in-winter sleeper. Long before Tony Shalhoub played "Monk" on USA, Bill Pullman was Daryl Zero, an obsessive-compulsive detective assisted by the put-upon Ben Stiller. Quirky without being precious, this did get some attention once it hit video, but not enough, IMO.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

My latest addiction

"Hey Greg," you ask, "what's making you an unproductive citizen lately?" Well, it's Power Players, a Mac shareware adaptation of the acclaimed boardgame Acquire. The latter link goes to a page talking about some PC versions of Acquire as well.

Before that, the addiction was emulated Atari 2600 games, particularly Activision's Stampede. Why this game, I have no idea.

Thursday, August 15, 2002


Busy weekend up in the land o' cheese, as I took in the Gen Con game fair for the first time Saturday, and Sunday we made our annual pilgrimage to the Wisconsin State Fair, warming up for the bigger event later this month.

Amazingly, the scary people-watching title remains at the state fair. This despite the prevalence of Genconners dressed as Klingons, generic renaissance wenches, X-wing pilots and Padawans (okay, if you're over 10 and dressed as any character from Lucas's current trilogy, you're just hopeless). The fair had the old standards of tube tops, leathery suntanned skin, and images of Calvin peeing on NASCAR numbers this year mixed with new anti-Osama messages and some sad fake breasts (according to Kirsti, I didn't see that particular person). And we didn't even get near the midway.

I admit I was skeptical. And who could blame me, really? But I'm here to eat a big plate of crow and tell you that I'm now a believer:

The deep-fried Snickers bar is f'ing amazing.

It's just behind the cheese curds in the pantheon of deep-fried foods consumed last weekend, and rivals the DF'd Pickle, which is available in Minnesota. The deep-fried Oreos were better than I feared but still just okay. They won't make it into my usual rotation.

Saw the llamas. They still look like space aliens led around by little 4-H kids. Alpacas even more so. Got to see the 4H-ers leading their animals in a showmanship contest: high jumps and limbo. let's just say I never need to hear "Limbo Rock" again.

I was at GenCon for 18 hours and had a hard time leaving. Games played:

Monopoly (entered a tournament, actually...came in second in my qualifier and was an alternate, but not needed)



Burn Rate (a clever game by a laid-off dotcommer about running a dotcom and trying to lose money slower than your opponents)

some baseball CCG (while waiting to see the demo of the Simpsons CCG; a deluge of trash questions will soon follow, no doubt)

DC Hero Clix (sucked, and so did the baseball game for that matter. )

Apples to Apples (rocked)



Gold Digger


Battle of the Bands


Settlers of Catan

Management Material (another workplace game, but better-conceived than Burn Rate)

Games bought:

Cosmic Encounter

Apples to Apples


Gold Digger


US Patent No. 1


Battle of the Bands

...and a Cheapass Games Ultimate Bits set

So, when to play all these?

And speaking of work,

I'm back at it. Same company, different department, already very busy; I landed in the midst of what's shaping up to be a month-long crunch time. The work's fine; I'm still wondering whether I'm "in" in this new group yet. And if it turns out I'm a Sneetch without a star, then I already have people to hang around with anyway.


Equalling my total from last year, saw my 141st film of 2002 last night, a dog called Garmento. fortunately it was free. The best part of the night is everyone got a pair of the "padded cup" briefs featured in the film. One of the better promo items I've seen in a while; too bad the movie wasn't better.

Friday, August 9, 2002

Quote of the month



--Katie (Sorenson) Paddock, after I informed her of Timmy/Josh Ryan Evans's death.

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

The Weekend

Not much to add that Mark didn't already cover. I could've sworn the Cubs tickets were $36 seats, but this could merely be imagination inflation; in a few years I'll be regaling folks with the tale of how our scalping prowess got us $110 seats for a mere fin apiece. I still prefer Fenway to Wrigley. Mark was astonished by this, but the grit and unique dimensions of Fenway appeal to me more than the manicured symmetry of the Confines. Of course, I haven't seen the Sox play since I graduated, so maybe the place has gone to hell even more since I left town. And my distaste for the Cubs surely plays a part.

The downside of Friday afternoon became evident Saturday, as I seem to be allergic or something to the sunscreen we have. I threw some on before picking up Mark, not knowing where we'd be sitting for the game (unnecessary, as it turned out), and the next day I had a rash on my wrists. Got the same thing a month ago after a beach trip; sunscreen was the common break in routine.

Mark's tournament went quite well; my performance on the other hand was a bit disappointing as I finished fifth (10-4). I think the truncated rounds worked to my disadvantage, but at the same time it was nice to play a full round-robin rather than splitting into brackets. Some particularly embarrassing gaffes were blurting "Stalag 13" when an answer was, of course, Stalag 17; and conflating All Things Considered with the correct answer; the show Kirsti listens to every weekday, Morning Edition. I did take home a swell game however; Smurf Ahoy!, one of those kids' balancing games.
Triple Eccchh

XXX is unintentionally the summer's funniest movie. Preposterous stunts, a silly Bond-rehash plot, and two very good-looking leads generating zero chemistry as they chew on each other's faces. It's this millennium's GYMKATA in terms of documenting the trends we will find embarassing 20 years down the road (extreme sports, lots of tattoos).

Vin Diesel can make the most of middling material (c.f., Boiler Room, Pitch Black), but he can't save XXX from falling into the land o' cheeze. Not that that's the worst place to be, but Rob Cohen is quickly turning the once-promising Diesel into Steven Seagal (and the reports of him suddenly becoming secretive about his past aren't helping either).

Not much to say about Asia Argento but she's attractive in a slutty sort of way, and I liked her crooked teeth.