the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

My Photo
Location: Washington D.C.

Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Giving In to MySpace and Facebook

OK, I've finally given in and done what I said I'd never do. I've joined MySpace and Facebook. I don't plan on posting blogs or such at either location, but intend on using them strictly for that which I've been assured they are indispensable--networking and staying in touch with friends. Click on the links to be taken to either page.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Addicted to Ninjas

Is it wrong to find the Ninja so darn funny? Are there 12-step programs for this sort of thing?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Phil Van is a Winner!

Congrats are in order for my friend, New York filmmaker (and NYU grad!), Phil Van.

Phil has just won “Delta's Fly-In Movies” competition beating out five other films. His reward: $10,000 in cash, a pair of round-trip tickets valid for any international location Delta flies, and perhaps best of all, an awards party at the Sundance Film Festival where actor Bobby Cannavale announced his accomplishment before the film was screened.

Fear not, Sundance isn’t the only place to see it. If you’re flying anytime soon, Phil’s film, High Maintenance, will be airing on all of Delta's transcontinental flights through the end of the month.

Click here to watch the film.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

What a bold, ballsy stroke of genius Clint Eastwood had when he decided to make not one, but two films about the battle for Iwo Jima—one told from the familiar perspective of the American attackers and the other from the vantage point of the Japanese defending the island. Has such a thing ever before been attempted? It seems almost unimaginable that an American director would tackle such a subject. And yet here Letters from Iwo Jima stands, having gone where no other war film has ever gone: deeply, sensitively and fairly into the mind and actions of “the enemy.”

The companion piece to Eastwood’s earlier Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima is a profound meditation on the brutality, waste and human cost of war. And it is not only profound because it tells the story of a familiar battle from the perspective of the enemy, but because, rather than being a testament to the courage and ultimate victory of vastly outnumbered force, it is, from beginning to end, a chronicle of inevitable and crushing defeat.

Isolated on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima, one of the last strongholds before the Japanese mainland, the Japanese army is without reinforcements, living in a network of burrowed caves, insufficiently armed, and suffering from thirst and dysentery. There is no illusion of victory here, only the stark reality of a doomed cause and a military ethos that demands death either at the enemy’s hand or one’s own.

Consisting of a force of only 20,000 men, the Japanese prepare for an American invasion of 100,000. In total, the battle would last over a month and although the Japanese inflicted heavy losses on “the Greatest Generation,” the 7,000 U.S. Marines killed at Iwo Jima pale in comparison to the measly 1,083 Japanese survivors.

The Japanese commander of Iwo Jima was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi. His illustrated letters to his wife, recently unearthed in the caves, gave first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita the idea for the story that would eventually make its way to Eastwood. In the film, Kuribayashi is played by Ken Watanabe, best known in America for his roles in The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha. A dashing, sophisticated man, Kuribayashi is not a typical hard-as-nails general, nor does he fit the mold of traditional Japanese marshal politics. Educated in the West, Kuribayashi has a deep fondness for those he must fight, but an even deeper obligation to defend his homeland.

Kuribayashi is certain of only two things: Iwo Jima will fall to the Americans, and that he and his men will all perish. Determined to make the fall of Iwo Jima as costly as possible, Kuribayashi orders his troops to dig a honeycomb of tunnels into the volcanic earth. 18 miles of labyrinth and 5,000 caves are hollowed out in anticipation of the coming attack. Some of Kuribayashi’s fellow officers look upon his modern, tactical ideas with great suspicion though his troops love him for his great kindness toward them.

These men are made real to us by voice-overs, snatches we are allowed to overhear of letters they’ve written to loved ones back home who will never have the opportunity to read them. (When a Japanese soldier discovers a letter home from the body of a fallen Marine and reads it aloud for his comrades to hear, we realize just how alike both sides are). These characters are drawn with remarkable nuance and abiding tenderness. The emotional core of the movie lies with Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya, a pop singing star in Japan), as a young baker who only dreams of getting back to his wife and the baby he’s never seen. From an American point of view, it is impossible to demonize an ordinary man-child, pressed into service against his will, opposed to the battle and frightened of what he knows will come. He is a pawn, powerless to control any element of his own destiny. Eastwood’s humanity roars through the film in the silhouette of Saigo, be it as an innocent in battle or in flashbacks in which he hovers over his wife’s belly and whispers love to his unborn child inside.

Other significant characters include Shimizu (Ryo Kase), who once belonged to the military police, the dashing Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), an Olympic equestrian in his former life, and Lt. Ito (Shido Nakamura), who wants nothing more than to slaughter the Americans.

The screenplay, written in English, was translated into Japanese when it was decided Letters would have an all-Japanese speaking cast. Yet another courageous choice on Eastwood’s part. By having the cast speak in their native tongue, there is a sense of realism unimaginable without it, as well as a distancing effect on the part of the audience. It is as if Eastwood intentionally wanted to begin with his protagonists as far away from empathy as possible, and then, throughout the film, bring them closer and closer until, at least emotionally, we could no longer tell the difference between the two armies. Letters is utterly and absolutely devoid of the patriotic bloodlust so common to American war films. It is not that we want the Japanese to win; it’s that we don’t want these men, whom we’ve come to know intimately, to die as we know they must.

Eastwood's direction is a thing of beauty, blending unblinking ferocity with fragile delicacy. Once the Allies hit the beach, Letters from Iwo Jima essentially becomes a black and white film. Bleached and desaturated of almost all its color, much of the monochromatic film’s only blush is the crimson gore of those gorged upon in the maw of war.

The disciplined Japanese hold their ground with an unearthly ferociousness, but slowly the Americans gain ground. This time, the faceless enemy that just keeps coming is the Americans. Conflicting commands cripple the Japanese communication lines, and in vain, Kuribayashi instructs his troops to fight till the last man. But as the Marines overwhelm the entrenched forces, many of the Japanese soldiers chose suicide to surrender, and in a particularly horrifying scene clutch live grenades to their chests. The giant anthill comes to resemble a mass tomb.

Letters from Iwo Jima is true to the established tenets of the war film even while radically subverting them. Though both Flags and Letters are able to stand on their own merits, each informs the other, and collectively plead against the gruesome futility of war. Though it is far too easy to assign the word “epic” to war films, Eastwood’s masterpiece is, if anything, an epic of intimacy and understatement. This is seen nowhere better than when Mt. Suribachi falls to the Americans and the U.S. Marines plant a flag atop its summit in what has become a defining image of World War II (and the nucleus to the first film). The camera refuses to leave the side of the Japanese. There is no musically charged scene of American heroism or well-earned bravado. We never actually see the flag go up. We only peer over Kuribayashi’s shoulder and see what he sees through his binoculars: a tiny speck fluttering in the distance, a symbol of the inevitable doom he and his incredibly brave men knew must come.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mr. Wilbersmith Goes to London

Before my screening of Letters from Iwo Jima last night, I saw a trailer for Amazing Grace, the new film by Michael Apted about William Wilberforce and his defeat of the slave trade in England.

Staring the phenomenal British cast of Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Ioan Gruffudd, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, and Rufus Sewell, Amazing Grace looks magnificent. I love these independent period pieces. And what an extraordinary message.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Queen

“Two households, both alike in dignity…” – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

I’ve never much liked British Prime Minster Tony Blair’s “New Britannia” and his push to minimize the monarchy and anything that smacks of outdated vestiges of England’s past. To this Anglophile, it always seemed that the very traditions he wanted to abolish were the very things I adored from afar. While I understood and sympathized with his perceived need to drag the United Kingdom into a brave, new world, I always wished I wasn’t around to see it happen.

The Queen is, subconsciously, that drama played out across a single, staggering incident in England’s recent history.

During the summer of 1997, Tony Blair and his Labor Party swept into office in a landslide, flush with a mandate from the people to clean house from the previous, conservative, Thatcher government. By no means a Royalist, Blair and his middle-class ideals posed a thorny if symbolic threat to the monarchy, presided over by Queen Elizabeth. Little did Buckingham Palace know that Blair’s ascension was to be a quickly forgotten historical footnote compared to what was to come next. The monarchy and the Prime Minster’s office would clash late that summer not over politics, but over a completely unforeseen personal tragedy—the death of Princess Diana of Wales in a car crash in Paris.

Following the death, Elizabeth (played with Oscar-gravitas by the great Helen Mirren), a very private woman in a very public role, makes the only proper decision a woman in her place could make. As the divorced Diana was, by her own choice, no longer a member of the royal family, there will be no formal recognition of the incident from the royal family. Protocol demands nothing less than the fulfillment of the letter of the law.

Newly minted Blair (Michael Sheen), flushed with the arrogance that comes with youth and success, is not so sure. While the royal family remains holed up at their Scottish estate far from London, Blair takes the temperature of the British people and realizes that the Queen’s icy aloofness and resolve could devastate the monarchy. He may disagree with their relevance, but a toppling like this is too much even for him. Everyday the monarchy remains silent, the national mood sours against them. His television set awash with a sea of flowers and mourners, Blair begs Elizabeth repeatedly to reconsider her position and give into some sort of public expression of sympathy for “The People’s Princess.” That the film does not manufacture false and cloying sentimentality about Diana’s death is exactly right—this movie is not about the loss of Diana (seen repeatedly in rare stock footage), but what comes after.

The Queen is a hybrid picture, a microscopic examination of two houses to which we have exclusive, “backstage” passes. While the camera lingers with the royal family, the mood is austere, formal and sterile, cocooned against discomfort or ugliness. Words are spoken properly and guardedly. Emotions are subdued. The cinematography is lush and warm; soft light spills from one character to the next. When the camera enters Blair’s world, however, it is an existence of cluttered and messy domesticity. First names are informally bantered about. At #10 Downing Street, toys are scattered about the floor, Crayola drawings are taped to the walls and dishes desperately need washing.

If, in the beginning, the royals appear callous and heartless, Blair and his cronies appear as petty and petulant children. One of The Queen’s staggering strengths is that it is capable of showing two equally correct sides of the same coin and leave you feeling as if both were equally right, and both equally wrong. This film should be required viewing for all public relations majors.

Blair is a man of a new millennium, just the sort of man to lead his antiquated kingdom into a new age. And Elizabeth is a woman rooted and framed in an ancient and exquisitely beautiful tradition. Her life and activities steeped in antiquity, it is, nonetheless, a life left behind by her people. The world, for now, is not done with either of them yet. As Elizabeth struggles to maintain her personal dignity in the face of immense and anguished public scrutiny, so too must Blair recognize the titanic structures of time-honored belief upon which he stands. The Queen refuses to demonize either side—it is a testament to the film that when the credits role, you find yourself left with a great affection and empathy for both sides.

The Queen is an unqualified triumph that works on all levels. Director Stephen Frears has made a gem of a film.

Peter Morgan’s screenplay is focused, literate, and perceptive, if given a bit too often to patches of unnecessary exposition. A paralleling story about a stag hunt provides for a beautiful metaphor of the monarch’s life (as well as one of the most soaring shots in any film this year).

The acting is superb. While Sheen is indeed fantastic (as are many of the smaller roles, particularly Alex Jenning’s Prince Charles), it is Mirren who possesses the power to take the audience’s collective breath away. Not since Ben Kingsley in Gandhi has an actor so inhabited or so channeled a historical figure. Mirren’s acting was invisible.

In the end, the grieving public is appeased, Elizabeth gives in, and Blair’s popularity is stratospheric. In a scene reminiscent of their first meeting after his installation, Blair and Queen Elizabeth sit in Buckingham, discussing both the past and the future. Without any sense of malice or spite, Elizabeth looks Blair in the eye and utters a warming. Though his popularity may be limitless now, there will come a time when it will suddenly face dire and unanticipated circumstances. The moment gave me shivers as I thought of the colossal unpopularity of the war in Iraq and the bare, wispy shell of a politician that even now, is shrinking, humbled, out of office at #10.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me

So I finally got around to seeing The Illusionist now that it’s out on DVD.

I guess I was more interested in checking it out since I’d seen and disliked The Prestige. I was assured that if I didn’t like the one, the other was up my alley.

Frankly, I wish I could make both of these movies disappear.

I simply do not understand why either of these films garnered the critical and mass acclaim that they did.

The Prestige was predictability parading as perplexity (how’s that for tongue-tying alliteration) while The Illusionist was something even worse—a film that doesn’t even attempt subterfuge until the last seconds when it presents a heavy-handed flashback montage, the sort of which is utterly unconvincing and crudely unsophisticated. It pretends to have fooled you all along though the reveal shows it for what it truly is—an after-the-fact manipulation of an uncomplicated script, the sort of artifice that is not built into the narrative but instead cobbled together from incidental plot points, the raw material of which is constructible from just about any film.

At least with The Prestige you spent the film trying to watch for the deception. At least you left the theater trying to figure out how you’d been fooled (if you had, which I had not). With The Illusionist, there isn’t even that luxury. You simply don’t care because it was all so obvious to begin with.

Though both films took place in the gullible 19th century, their philosophies and hence, cinematic audiences couldn’t have been more different.

In The Prestige, those witnessing Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale’s magic knew they were seeing exceptional smoke and mirrors. Though they could not explain it, they knew there had to be a logical explanation (of course the film cheated on even this by fabricating a ridiculous science fiction rationalization).

It’s different in The Illusionist. Here, the dark arts are emphasized (which I liked). Edward Norton is not simply a magician; he is imbued, supposedly, with supernatural powers. Too bad supernatural powers necessitated the need for excessive (and excessively bad) CGI. While The Prestige took it’s diagetic and non-diagetic audience along for the same ride, The Illusionist did not even attempt to submerge its theater patrons in a modicum of plausibility. The bad effects never let the viewer forget that he or she is being fooled twice—once by the character and another time by the filmmakers.

The Illusionist is a flimsy love story masquerading as a movie about magic.

And there is the biggest illusion of all.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

"People die in fairy tales all the time." -- Cinderella Man

Once upon a time there appeared a dark and wonderful fairy tale for grown-ups about a young girl beset by monsters, both real and imaginary. Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy) has made a dark, violent, R-rated fantasy that is as unquenchably imaginative as it is uniquely powerful. Sinister and disturbing, the spellbinding Pan's Labyrinth is also imbued with wonder and awesome beauty. It is one of the most unforgettable films of the year, and an unlikely voice for hope in a world increasingly spiraling out of control.

Ofelia’s (Ivana Baquero) pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) is moving them from the city to the countryside so they can live under the protection of the unborn baby's father, Capt. Vidal (Sergi López), an evil and conscience-less Spanish army officer tasked by the dictator Franco with crushing the last vestiges of insurgents in Spain’s mid-20th century civil war. Vidal has no love for his new wife or her daughter—his passion is only for the son Carmen will bear him. Sucked into this world of mayhem and madness, Ofelia loses herself in books about fairy tales.

One day, led, she believes, by a fairy into the woods, Ofelia discovers a massive stone maze. At its center, she meets a mythical faun with the head of a goat and the gnarled body of a misshapen tree trunk, who tells her that she is not a human girl at all, but a princess reborn to take her seat on the throne of a magical kingdom. To prove herself, she must accomplish three tasks. These are not arbitrary tasks or merely thoughtless beats to move the plot along. They are intricate both to the story’s and to Ofelia’s development. Each task will bring her face to face with monsters and challenge her bravery. But perhaps more importantly, they will challenge her ability to follow instructions, to understand that wrong choices can lead to tragic consequences and that a conscious—a comprehension of right and wrong—is the most powerful weapon against evil.

Ofelia is everything that her stepfather-to-be is not. An automaton of evil, Capt. Vidal is convinced that a subversive traitor is working in the camp, right beneath his nose. He begins torturing those around him in a gory attempt to ferret out the conspirator and in turn obliterate the freedom fighters hiding out in the woods. He is merciless and without remorse. Having first murdered his own conscience, he now kills arbitrarily, thinking of himself as a great military leader because he takes orders without a moment’s hesitation or questioning.

Pan’s Labyrinth glides in between these two worlds—that of the horror of totalitarian fascism and of beasts who feed on the entrails of children—so convincingly and with such a seamless, beguiling grace that the film defies you to comprehend where one ends and the other begins, or if there is any difference between them in the first place.

The film’s resolution is harrowing and tragic, yet speaks to the unconquerable power of love and sacrifice. American audiences are notorious for disliking ambiguous and unhappy endings in their films. Pan’s Labyrinth has both. Was Ofelia deluded by an overwhelming fantasy that served as an escape mechanism in the face of an all-too horrible reality, or as Hamlet stated, are there more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies?

Are fairy tales just a waste of time? Should children be allowed to indulge in such nonsense? Just as Ofelia’s mother asks the question in the film, so too does Del Toro anticipate the criticism of many people who see such pursuits as escapist diversions. Clearly Del Toro himself believes that myths, legends and fairy tales are necessary—imperative even—to both children and adults. He, like J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, weaves profound truths through make-believe and enchantment.

Pan’s Labyrinth speaks to the very real fact that stories can help us endure anarchy and affliction by giving us a narrative framework by which we can make sense of our tumultuous lives. By contrasting the clash of good and evil in the real world with the battles that take place in fantasy realms, Del Toro acknowledges what many of us have known since we were lulled to sleep by our parents bedside stories—fables, even dark and twisted one—offer worthwhile perspectives on disquieting realities and reveal the illuminative power of childlike faith to navigate a darkening world.


I should confess from the outset that the film that I value above all others, my favorite film of all time, if you will, is David Lean’s masterful 1962 epic, Lawrence of Arabia. High among its breathtaking reasons for acclaim is Peter O’Toole’s luminous performance as an eccentric yet dashing British army officer. In the role, O’Toole is light and airy, all nimbleness and endowed with a palpable, primal incandescence.

And so it was that I was not prepared for how O’Toole’s performance in Venus would affect me. Now nearly 80, O’Toole appears gossamer and brittle. He shuffles instead of walks. His handsome face is now sunken, almost skeletal. I walked out of the film in a melancholy funk, musing on what was, for me, an all too apparent example of mortality. It is the exact sort of sentiment the characters in Venus know all too well.

While age may have devoured O’Toole’s youth, it has been utterly unable to touch his blistering talent, or his eyes which still sparkle with rakish light. He puts in a magnificent performance, at once a coiled, assured, muscular tour-de-force but also a fragile, tender, wisp of a thing. It is a sunset performance for the ages. O’Toole, who was given an honorary Academy Award a few years ago for his towering body of work may yet win it outright for his role as Maurice, an aged actor who was once quite famous, but now gets by with bit parts and the occasional kind recognition on the street. Maurice’s estranged wife (the equally delicious Vanessa Redgrave) asks him, at one point, what parts he’s lately been playing. “Corpse, more or less,” he replies, referring to a soap opera bit in which all he did was lay comatose in a hospital bed. “Typecast again?” Redgrave asks sarcastically, both of their faces rich in the shadows and lines of old age.

Maurice spends his days sorting pills and trading cheeky barbs with fellow codgers Ian (Leslie Phillips) and Donald (Richard Griffiths). Ian can’t quite take care of himself anymore. He needs someone to look after his health, mind the flat, and cook his fish. Ecstatic at the arrival of his grandniece, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), Ian’s delight instantly turns to horror when the young girl turns out to be a boorish, uneducated, country tart who spends all her time eating junk food and drinking his best liquor. “It’s only been 24 hours and already I’m screaming for euthanasia!”

Maurice, on the other hand, is captivated by her. He sees her as a butterfly waiting to emerge—a rough, crude, at times even ugly shell that cannot fully hide the beautiful creature waiting within. He takes the young girl under his wing, introducing her to the theatre and art. She in turn introduces him to discotheques and Bacardi Breezers. When Ian asks Maurice why in the world Jesse even gives him the time of day, Maurice responds, “It is a very difficult thing. I am nice to her.”

Maurice may be old, but he is still a man whose mind and loins feel the warmth brought on by the presence of a beautiful woman. We are never quite sure whether Maurice would (or could) have sex with Jesse were she to ever give him the chance, or whether he is simply fidgeting with the feeble and flimsy boundaries of his impending transience in an attempt to see if he can still feel like the viral and potent man he once was. It is to O’Toole’s great credit that several scenes—which had the potential to devolve into a full-bodied ick fest—manage to stay tender, even innocent. What motivates Maurice is not some sort of revolting lechery, but the suffocating desire to spent time in the warmth and light of youth.

As Jessie reawakens Maurice’s zest for life, and he reveals to her a richer and softer world, he cannot help but be reminded of all that has passed and is now far outside his reach. In one powerful scene, he wanders, alone, onto the stage of an outdoor theater now abandoned for the winter cold. In his head, multiple voices—all his own—vie for clarity, a cacophony of Shakespeare, poetry and stagecraft. It is the chorus a life of promise and power not squandered or unfulfilled, but simply drawing to an inevitable and inescapable conclusion.

Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi have made a rare treat of a film that will make you laugh and break your heart in the same moment. Clever and poignant, Venus is a cinematic musing on those things which are fleeting and ephemeral, not the least of which is life itself, and the things we live for in the first place: the human imperative to connect.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

First Day of School

My classes started last night.

I mistakenly thought my first class was tonight. Good thing I checked my schedule yesterday morning instead of relying on my erroneous pre-Christmas memory.

So, for this spring, I am taking:

 Film Theory (Core)
 Television: History and Culture (Core)
 American Film: 1960 to the Present

I am excited about my classes this semester, more so than the last. While I still have a few required cores – these last two wrap them up – one, TV History to be specific, sounds especially fascinating.

I’ll keep you posted…

P.S. – I know many of you are wondering where my Golden Globes commentary is. Sorry, I’ve been in Chicago for the past week (just got back to New York a few hours before class) and with school beginning, it may be a few days before I put some thoughts down.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Catch and Release

Men basically break down into two groups—those who think Jennifer Garner is beautiful and those who think that she, in the words of one of my best friends, is “manish.” I am of the former persuasion. Those in the latter camp are just plain silly.

It cannot be denied that Garner has not made the wisest of choices when it comes to picking film roles (or husbands, for that matter). From Dude, Where’s My Car? to Pearl Harbor to Daredevil and Elektra, the star of TV’s Alias was in danger of following Brendan Fraser, a similarly talented actor with a penchant for preposterous roles, down the path of near obsolescence.

It appears that all that may be about to change.

That is not to say that Garner’s latest film, Catch and Release, is a romantic comedy masterpiece. It is not. But it is leaps and bounds above anything she’s done for quite some time. And with her international political thriller, The Kingdom edging closer to release, Garner just might have redirected the path of her career. Good for her.

For a romantic comedy, Catch and Release sure opens on a downer. For starters, the bride, Gray Wheeler (Garner), is wearing black. On the day that she was supposed to wed the man of her dreams, Gray is instead standing in the middle of her would-be mother in law’s house, unsuccessfully putting on a brave face (nobody cries like Garner) for those gathered at a funeral reception for her fiancée, Grady, killed tragically just days before. Unable to maintain her composure, Gray flees to a bathroom and hides in the bathtub, concealing herself behind the shower curtain. However, what was meant to be a place of solitude is shattered by the arrival of a giggling couple who duck into the bathroom for a noisy and oblivious quickie.

This opening boded well for the film. The mixture of genuine drama and absurdist comedy hit all the right notes and hinted at an underbelly of dark humor. Later, when details came to light exposing Grady as perhaps more sinner than saint, Catch and Release showed that it was willing to take some risks and embrace messy and realistic complications. Unfortunately, the film ultimately chickened out, choosing the box-office safe cliché of a sappy ending over a film of any real gravity.

Catch and Release is set in Boulder, Colorado, and is, in many ways, a love song for the beautiful, mountainous state. The film is suffused with tiny but significant mile-high details that none but Coloradoans (including this one) will likely catch—the local Fat Tire micro-brewed beer, Bolder Boulder t-shirts, Celestial Seasonings tea quotations. The end result is a reassuringly authentic and rich textual pallet upon which freshman director Susannah Grant has created a story about love, loss and love rediscovered.

That the love rediscovered comes in the form of one half of the aforementioned bathroom interlopers is the film’s driving comedic plot. This is the classic Pride and Prejudice, When Harry Met Sally routine—woman thinks she has good reason to hate man only to discover later that she misjudged man and can’t live without him.

She can’t get away from him either. His name is Fritz (Timothy Olyphant) and not only was he one of Grady’s best friends, he’s also crashing at the house Grady shared with Sam (Kevin Smith) and Dennis (Sam Jaeger)—the same house Gray has moved into in an effort to find some semblance of a normal life again—while he helps wrap up Grady’s loose ends.

That Frtiz and Gray fall in love with each other far too quickly is one of the film’s weakest points. We would have been able to accept their romance, but there was no need to bring it on so strong and so quick. Sketchy revelations about a late fiancée do not an excuse for amorous haste make.

And yes, in case you thought you read it wrong, that was Kevin Smith listed above, the same foul-mouthed Kevin Smith who is the director of such edgy classics as Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. What is perhaps most (least?) surprising is that he walks away with the film, a consistently funny and delightfully endearing character. Juliette Lewis, however, is miscast in one of Catch and Release’s (numerous) subplots (hint: it involves fiancée Grady’s shadowy past) as Maureen, a New Age massage therapist with a young son in tow. Unlike Smith, she does very little to make herself endearing and yet is befriended unconvincingly by the principles in spite of it. The same cannot be said for the audience.

By the conclusion of the film, Catch and Release transformed itself from a risk-taking romantic comedy with a darkly humorous lining into a stereotypically syrupy outing that works very well in part but fails as a coherent whole. It’s a shame too. There was definite potential here.

Still, on some level, I have to admit to liking the film in spite of myself. It was probably just the Fat Tire.

Gray Matters

It takes a certain amount of flair (or fortuitous luck) to make a film that is solidly formulaic and yet genre busting all at the same time. Yet that is exactly what first-time filmmaker Sue Kramer has done with her film, Gray Matters, (executive produced by Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways helmer Alexander Payne) which recently premiered to its first New York audience during the New York Times’ Art and Leisure Weekend.

“I’m a New York filmmaker,” Kramer told the packed audience, “and this movie is a love letter to New York.”

It is also a love letter to the screwball romantic comedies of old, re-imagined as a gay-awakening farce.

“I wanted to tip the normal romantic comedy on its head,” Kramer admitted.

When Gray Matters opens, it is to a couple dancing. They are Gray (Heather Graham) and Sam (Tom Cavanagh), as beautiful a couple as one would hope to find. It isn’t until a dinner party some minutes later that we discover along with an embarrassed dinner guest that the pair is, in fact, brother and sister. Inseparable, Gray and Sam share everything—apartment, opinions, love of 1940’s musicals—which seems quirky and endearing to them and to us until Charlie (Bridget Moynahan) enters the picture and throws everything into discord.

The ensuing romance follows the predictable structure of hundreds of romantic comedies that have gone before, with the exception that the sexual tension is not only a his and hers affair, but the slow and bumbling sexual awakening of someone just beginning to suspect they are gay. You see, brother and sister both fall hard for Charlie, which is an unsettling revelation to relationship-challenged Gray.

Sam, who marries Charlie almost overnight (an incident based on the director’s own life) is delighted that his sister has final come to terms with her sexuality, but struggles with unexpected jealousy when Gray admits to feelings for the oblivious Charlie. Gray, meanwhile, tries to come to terms with her budding and exasperating feelings, looking for advice and counsel from clueless shrink Sissy Spacek, twitterpated Scottish cabbie Alan Cumming, and vivacious co-worker Molly Shannon. Shannon is over-the-top and hilarious while Cumming charming pulls the carpet out from under every scene he’s in.

While the light and whimsical comic timing of the leads carry the film far (Ed’s Cavanagh is his usual twitchy and amiable self, Graham is luminescent, and Moynahan spends half the film in various states of ravishing undress), even they cannot blind us to Gray Matters' many shortcomings.

Gray Matters is obviously a freshman effort. It suffers from an awkward and uncomplicated script, an overload of inauthentic classic cinema references, a desperate need for tighter editing, oddly amateurish sound quality, an overall situational awareness that owes far more to the world of the television sitcom than to feature films, and, in the end, a certain amount of preachiness that is both unbelievable and unprovoked.

Still, it tackles a subject matter few mainstream films have been brave enough to confront (the 1997 Kevin Kline vehicle In & Out comes to mind) and it must be said that that took a certain amount of bravery.

Sue Kramer told me that the film was based on her experiences with her own sister, who is gay, though she refuses to see the film as a homosexual polemic.

“It’s not about being gay. It’s about being in love. It’s about being true to yourself and who you are.”


I figured something was going on when the theater was suddenly swarmed with security guards who easily could have doubled as Secret Service agents. When I was asked to surrender my cell phone and put through a gauntlet of bag checks and metal detectors, I knew something was up. My seemingly innocuous ticket for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” secured through the New York Times' Art and Leisure Weekend, obviously—and clandestinely—had more going for it than a simply screening.

That something paced briskly down the side aisle roughly two hours later as the lights came up and the credits began to role: producer Jay Roach (also the director of the Austin Powers films) and the man of the hour himself, Sacha Baron Cohen, who appeared in an extremely rare out of character Q&A session.

* * *

What to say about Borat that hasn't already been said. This was my first time having seen the film. While I assumed it would be hilarious, it wasn't extremely high on my priority list (what comedy is?), though I knew I wanted to see it if for no other reason than to stay current in what has become one of the largest culture conversations in our country.

Yes, the film is funny—side-splittingly, belly-achingly so. Borat is destined to become the most hotly debated (and beloved) comedy in ages. But if you can watch it with a clean conscience, without any guilt, without turning away once in a while, then you are a bigger person than I.

Cohen, sporting an unwashed gray suit and a fluffy mustache, and speaking through a butchered excuse for English, disappears into the part of Borat, a TV reporter from Kazakhstan sent to America to do a series of reports on what makes our country work. Along the way, he meets a cornucopia of the America public, from driving instructors, rodeo organizers, feminists, Southern aristocrats, Pentecostal preachers and frat boys. Duped into thinking they are helping a third-world journalist learn about American culture, Cohen turns the tables on his condescending interviewees, feigning ignorance until their prejudices and bigotry are revealed. No aspect of intolerance, hypocrisy, arrogance or stupidity is overlooked.

Some consider Cohen’s brilliant skewerings unfair ensnarement. I don’t. Gullibility isn’t the same thing as entrapment. His guerilla ambushes didn’t force anyone to say anything they didn’t want to say. He simply gave them an opportunity to spew what was already boiling inside of them. By pretending to be an ignorant, racist, misogynist, gay-bashing, Jew-hating, gun-loving, warmongering bigot, Cohen elicited the same from those Americans he interviewed. Lynching gays, bringing back slavery, killing all Muslims—there is more than one occasion in Borat that the laugher ceases on account of all the gasps.

Cohen doesn’t allow you to laugh your head off. Indeed, even the zaniest of his jokes is meant to start in your belly but end up in your head. Those who leave the theater having merely laughed have missed the point. If Borat makes you laugh, Cohen makes you to think.

Borat holds up a savage mirror to American culture that could not have been made at any other time. Not only would its outrageous topics have been censored, but our celebrity culture now more than ever lives to preen in front of the camera. They’ll take their 15-minutes of fame any way they can, even if it means being recorded on digital video as monsters.

America, you got punk’d and the result is horrifying. Borat paints a picture of the American landscape that would induce nightmares were you not laughing so hard.

Borat, from its highbrow to its lowbrow humor, is a satire disguised as a gross-out comedy. Cohen is the ancient court jester speaking truth—even rude truth—to power. He is fully aware that comedy allows you to comment on things drama would never touch, to face things you would otherwise never know existed, and to ingest it all in such a way that we can laugh at ourselves even while being genuinely repulsed.

Part improviser, part brilliant comedian, and part courageous political satirist, how Cohen does it with a straight face is beyond me.

* * *

For his part, Cohen never suspected that Borat, first seen in short segments on his Da Ali G Show, could be made into a feature length film.

“I couldn’t imagine doing the character for anything over 30 seconds. I thought it would get old. Who’d want to watch that?”

It was director Larry Charles (Curb Your Enthusiasm) who convinced him a feature film was possible.

Though it is largely transparent, Borat did require a script.

“We needed something to pull the plot along,” Cohen said. Hewing out a rough story about a Kazakhstani journalist who runs afoul of his reporting duties in the United States when he obsesses over finding Pamela Anderson gave Cohen just enough framework to hold the story together but also allow him wide enough latitude to move around in response to the film’s more spontaneous moments. Each scene had to be funny but also work as a genuine story beat.

“We knew what jokes we wanted to do,” Cohen said. “We believed people would react exactly the way they did. While it’s true that we wanted to make the most offensive film imaginable, we were also interested in conducting a social experiment. Some very dark things were revealed.”

The film had to take place in America. In England, Cohen is widely recognized, despite his chameleon-like ability to almost entirely disappear into whatever role he’s playing. Cohen bet that few people in the United States would know him.

“That the advantage of no one in America having actually watched Ali G, he confessed almost sheepishly.

Although his days of anonymity in America are now gone, during the filming, he was rarely ever recognized and despite his zany, over-the-top antics, almost always taken seriously.

Cohen admits that there were several instances when he felt in danger for his life during filming. But it wasn’t always when you might think.

“We were almost arrested 38 times,” Cohen said. “In fact the only reason we left New York City when we did is because we were told a warrant had been issued for my immediate arrest. Only later did we find out we were trailed by the Secret Service and the FBI.”

Each time Cohen was confronted by law enforcement, he stayed completely in character.

“I’d say to them, ‘Are you the KGB?’”

One of the most dangerous moments of the film came during the rodeo sequence. Following his blasphemous rendition of the Kazak national anthem set to the music of “The Star Spangled Banner,” Cohen had to flee to one of the production’s RVs. Soon an enraged crowd surrounded the vehicle, crying that they wanted to lynch Cohen. A quick-thinking cameraman stuffed the tapes down his underwear and they fled the area as soon as a large enough hole developed in the crowd.

As bad as that was, perhaps the most treacherous scene of the film was one Cohen himself wrote, but when it came time to perform, wanted to chicken out on.

“I did not want to do the naked fight scene,” he admits. “Especially when I first saw Ken (Davitian, the actor who played Azamat Bagatov) on the bed, naked. The only way I agreed to do it is if we showered—I mean full showers—between each and every take. I saw things I don’t even want to describe.”

Throughout the Q&A, audience members peppered Cohen with questions about offended parties or the pending lawsuits being leveled at the film from its “unwitting” participants. Cohen refused to answer anything remotely having to do with such issues, instead replying with nonsensical answers about the weather or his wardrobe. The woman next to me who who’d carefully crafted and written out her question about the film’s perceived anti-Semitism (Cohen himself is an observant Jew) got just such an answer and went away fuming.

For his part, producer Jay Roach was full of nothing but praise for his funnyman.

“It is so hard to be that much in character. What most people don’t know is that Sacha never broke character, not once. While we were out and the cameras were rolling, he was Borat. He had to ready for anything that came at him. You see a scene that only lasts a few minutes, but in real life that scene lasted for hours. Watching Sacha is like watching a magician.”

Monday, January 08, 2007

Writing in the Dark

Photo courtesy of (the great and all-powerful) Martin Tsai

“Critics sit in the dark so they can show us the light.” – from the panelists’ introduction

This weekend was the New York Times’ sixth annual Arts and Leisure Weekend, a celebration of the arts throughout the city that manifested itself in free movie screenings, discounted Broadway tickets and a cornucopia of lectures and Q&A sessions covering everything from film to architecture, literature to dance, theater to music.

One of the weekend’s most dynamic sessions was entitled: “Writing in the Dark,” a panel discussion on film criticism moderated by the Times’ own A. O. Scott and paneled by David Edelstein (formerly of Slate and now with New York magazine), Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly), Nathan Lee (The Village Voice), and Wesley Morris (The Boston Globe).

The roughly hour-long conversation ran the gamut, highlighting films the panelists loved or loathed, examined the overall tone of films this past year, and touched on how technology is fundamentally altering both the ways in which films are made and how they are criticized.

Scott opened the afternoon by asking each panelist about his or her favorite film of the year. He and Schwarzbaum considered Clint Eastwood's World War II epic as seen though the eyes of the Japanese, Letters from Iwo Jima as their preferred film. Edelstein lavishly praised one of several of this year’s “little indys that could,” The Queen. Wesley Morris was very moved by the controversial and overtly sexual Shortbus. But it was Lee who sparked the first great debate of the day by proclaiming David Lynch’s Inland Empire as his pet film, despite its “cruddy digital” images.

“As critics, we hold onto the past too much,” said Lee. “I love 35mm. But it’s dead. It’s over. This is the age of digital video.”

Schwarzbaum blanched in disgust, arguing for the majesty of the classic mediums and wondered aloud if they might not still be able to co-exist side by side?

“Films are good not just because they move us or have something to say, but because they’re beautiful,” she said. “You’re taken in by the making of the movie as much as the story.”

The conversation branched out to include how techniques once considered edgy and avant-garde (hand held cameras, extremely long takes, etc.) now find their way regularly into mainstream films.

“Audiences recognize that movies have an aliveness, danger and electricity,” said Edelstein, “which is a direct by-product of the technology and new techniques.”

All agreed that no standards exist for understanding digital video beauty and that the very methods by which contemporary cinematography is judged must be redefined for a new era of filmmaking.

The conversation naturally steered itself to David Denby’s piece in this week’s issue of the New Yorker ("Big Pictures") on the current schism in the entertainment industry between big and small screen viewing practices. Scott, who also wrote a similar piece ("And You’ll Be a Moviegoer My Son") in the Times this week bemoaned the rise of iPod viewership and the younger generation’s predilection for devouring their films and other forms of media via technology that may be convenient but hardly showcases the wonder and majesty of the medium. The return of epic films like Pirates of the Caribbean, he argued, is a direct result of Hollywood feeling the pinch.

“You haven’t seen (some films) unless you’ve seen them on the big screen.”

But what about films which are decidedly not epics? Whereas last year's breakout independent features were generally dramas, this year’s standout indy films were mostly comedies, especially Borat and Little Miss Sunshine.

Morris wasn’t buying it. Citing the periods during the year when Hollywood saturates the market with the films it doesn’t think will do well (versus the summer or Chrsitmas season when the more pedigreed, obvious Oscar-bait films appear), he regarded Little Miss Sunshine as a fluke. If it had come out amongst stronger films, he argued, it would not have received any where near as much attention.

“People only liked Little Miss Sunshine because it was the only water available in a desert of films for adult audiences,” he protested.

Perhaps surprisingly, he and several of the other panelists still predicted that Little Miss Sunshine may yet walk away with a Best Picture Oscar.

Which inevitably brought up the other 400-pound gorilla in the soon to be announced Oscar race: The Departed. The film generated the most contention between the participants with Schwarzbaum and Lee arguing for its brilliance and Scott and Edelstein arguing against it.

“People are dying for Scorsese to win an Oscar,” Edelstein admitted. “But The Departed is a cynical film and if he wins for that and not Raging Bull or Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, what does that say about our culture?”

After several minutes of escalating back and forth debate, moderator Scott changed the subject, worried, he said, that the panelists might begin reenacting scenes from the hyper-violent film on each other.

“It’s true, there is so much war, inhumanity, and incivility in our movies this year,” admitted Morris, keying in on something everyone had been feeling, especially Edelstein.

“This is the year in which that old Republican Clint Eastwood made not one but two films deploring war,” he said. “In which the birth of the CIA signified the end of our national innocence and the spreading of evil. In which dystrophic films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men dealt with encroaching fascist and the breakdown of the social order. In which An Inconvenient Truth and even the children’s film Happy Feet dealt with the destruction of our planet.”

He went on to exclaim, “You look at the movies and you have to say, ‘We’re f-----d!’”

And yet, Edelstein mused that these dark films work to reveal the darkest parts of ourselves and our society and in doing so, actually make us want to become better people and change the world around us for the better.

Each critic on the stage admitted to a certain amount of difficulty in wanting to promote more mature films despite the fact that they were all well aware that the average movie-goer doesn’t want to think when going to the theater, but simply wants to be entertained.

“It’s difficult wanting to inform and enlighten,” said Scott, “when the public will always like what they like.”

The discussion ended with a brief Q&A session during which a question was asked about how one should go about getting into the business of film criticism.

“Ignore the print media,” Schwartzbaum shot out. “Get online. That’s the only place you can make your name these days. Start there, become recognized and blog your way to print.” Print media, she confessed, is still the recognized, preferred, “adult” means of communication.

Edelstein alluded to a dynamic synergism when he responded to the question: “When the technology made instant, mass communication possible, what did millions of people do with it? They all became film critics. There is this natural impulse not to let the movie end when you leave the theater—to relive it, to share it with others.”


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

God Grew Tired of Us

2003’s Lost Boys of Sudan startled the world and bowled over critics. Now, in 2007, comes an unintentional companion piece in God Grew Tired of Us. Covering some of the same ground but with a longer scope (filming took place over four years), God Grew Tired of Us is no less noteworthy and powerful than its predecessor and comes at a time when we can all deal with being reminded of the horrors of Sudan and Darfur.

Brad Pitt produced and Nicole Kidman narrates this harrowing, powerful and even hilarious film about culture shock, retaining one’s national identity, and life’s utter refusal to be eradicated. God Grew Tired of Us is one of those rare and unique films that can extract wailing tears and wailing laughter in the same moment.

In 1983, roughly 25,000 boys from Sudan, most younger than 10 years-of-age, fled the encroaching Muslim army bent on exterminating them. Two million people were already dead. The children trekked on foot for more than 1,000 miles, during which many of them died, eventually arriving at a U.N. refuge camp in Kakuma, Kenya as skeletal ghosts of their former selves. “Life,” one of the boys says, “is waiting for your grave.”

Trapped for over a decade in a limbo land, the nearly 100,000 boys grew up in a makeshift family, banding together into a close-knit society in which they all took care of each other. It is remarkable that despite having nothing except each other and their nightmares, the boys’ human spirit is indomitable and unbreakable.

Numerous (though not nearly enough) countries, including America, agreed to resettle some of the refugees. Enter director Christopher Quinn. His camera, which always seems to be at the right place at the right time, selects three intelligent, eloquent and charming young Sudanese men at the camp—John Bul Dau, Panther Bior and Daniel Abul Pach—as they prepare for life in the United States.

It is amusing to listen to the boys as they anticipate life in the United States. The filmmakers allow us to smile at the boys’ cultural insecurities and misconceptions without ever once condescending to them. One boy fears that electricity will be very difficult to learn while another wonders what rivers Americans go to in order to gather water for their baths. Their false impressions range from the humorous: “In America we hear you can have only one wife” to sad indictments of our own country’s failures: “In America, you never go to bed hungry.”

Leaving the camp is bittersweet. Despite the squalor and lack of opportunity, those lucky enough to be going overseas nevertheless leave behind the only family many of them have ever known. For the first time they encounter a world more like a science fiction movie than reality. They are entranced by the buttons on telephones, flummoxed by escalators, hypnotized by televisions, spellbound by newspapers, and flabbergasted at the jet airliner that wings them to their new home. One particularly perceptive young man observes that the plane food is worse than the food he’d been eating at the refuge camp.

One of the funniest scenes in the film comes when the boys are shown around the apartment they will all share. The most basic things must be spelled out in child-like detail and their reactions to light switches, refrigerators and toilets are endearing. Supermarkets are beyond comprehension. “In our country, we call this Coca-Cola," says another young man, pointing to a bottle of Pepsi. Their American hosts are little better. They stare at the young men with bewilderment and confusion. They have no idea where to look for Sudan on a map. And their grossly inflated stereotypes are as laughable and erroneous.

But these admittedly amusing fish-out-of-water moments are nothing compared to what the boys face as they try to adapt to a wildly foreign culture. As their stay extends into months, their loneliness and even survivor’s remorse is palpable. Their indigenous spiritual values clash with the overt commercialism of the Western world (“Where is Santa Claus in the Bible?”). They battle cultural assimilation and strive, sometimes unsuccessfully, to hold onto their native culture.

Following the initial phase of shooting, director Quinn returned every few months for the next several years to check on the men’s progress. His gorgeous-looking, briskly-paced and crisply-edited film reveals the transformation of young, timid boys into full-fledged men. Not simply responsible adults—though that is implicit in a reality in which the Lost Boys wake well before dawn, usually working three jobs a day so they can send all their money back to Africa in the hopes it reaches their surviving loved ones—but proactive ones, organizing, challenging and politicizing for the cause of their homeland. They become self-described ambassadors for the Sudan, committed to helping their friends and family back in the camps.

“Are we not human beings like other human beings (in Europe)? Can we not be helped,” asks John Dau, who is the natural leader of the group. “When somebody is in pain, the best way to help is to become involved in their problem.”

His are not empty words. At a brief Q&A after a recent New York City screening, Dau was on hand along with Christopher Quinn to answer the questions of several hundred mostly educators. He bemoaned the continuing sad state of affairs in his native land and the wedge of religion that split his country in two. He urged those gathered to become more active, to engage the media in keeping Sudan and Darfur front and center in the national consciousness, and to volunteer or, if possible, contribute to the cause.

Now married (to a Lost Girl) and proud father of newborn baby, Dau, who in his former life was a cow herder, has now completed college, spoken on behalf of his beloved country to heads of state, and raised over $154,000 for a medical clinic in his home village which has never had such facilities.

“Where there is a unique need, you have to invent something,” Dau said. “You have it within yourself to do that too. If I could do it, you can do it.”

Quinn, who admits to making the film because the world wasn’t paying enough attention to the problem, said, “I felt there had to be a way to express what was taking place in Africa, not only in the Sudan but also in Rwanda and the Congo.”

Both the main character in and the largest proponent of the film, John Dau sees God Grew Tired of Us and other media-centric calls to arms as the most potent way to rouse American audiences to action.

“Christopher told me from the beginning that this film is how we are going to spread the word (about what’s going on in the Sudan). Such is the power of media.”

The Promise

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

Once deemed one of China’s most luminary artists, filmmaker Chen Kaige (the exquisite Farewell my Concubine and The Emperor and the Assassin) has had a series of critical and popular missteps in recent years. In what could be an attempt to shore up his reputation, Kaige has returned to the kind of filmmaking that made him famous—the epic. Unfortunately, his latest film, The Promise, only seems to solidify everyone’s worst fears.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that The Promise was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 2005 (it takes these things a while it make it to our shores), or that it is the most expensive film China has ever bankrolled. What sounds good on paper fails miserably on the screen.

The Promise is the story of a young waif, Qingcheng, who makes a deal with a sorceress: she can henceforth live a life of luxury, but in exchange true love will remain forever beyond her reach and all the men she falls for will die. The deal is struck, but what seemed like a perfect arrangement to a hungry child ends up haunting the love-starved adult. This is especially true once Qingcheng’s life is saved by Kunlun, a slave to the great General Guangming, whom Qingcheng mistakenly believes is her rescuer. Kunlun himself is shrouded in mystery, ignorant of his origins and possessing supernatural abilities. When an evil Duke threatens them all, free will and fate will be put to the ultimate test.

The plot appears to be an engaging, if somewhat convoluted, Chinese fairy tale. But Kaige, in his effort to return to the top, decided to forgo traditional storytelling and tackle the mystical martial art genre of wuxia films (e.g.: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers and most recently, Curse of the Golden Flower), so influential in Chinese cinema today. The result, unfortunately, is an artistic disaster.

Attempting to best his wuxia predecessors, Kiage didn’t rely on wirework stunts alone (clumsy and almost wholly ungraceful as they are in this film, nothing like the liquid poetry of Yimou Zhang’s films), but decided to inject lavish amounts of computer-generated effects. Too bad the CGI is so amateurish as to be almost laughable. The Promise, ultimately, is a flimsy story held together with the cheapest of smoke and mirrors and represents not a return to greatness for Chen Kiage, but a spectacular embarrassment.

The Promise is an over-wrought and laughably goofy film, an empty and pale imitation of the far better films that have gone on before it.

To read the full review, click here.