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

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I've Seen Worse

You don't get to be called a film snob by liking movies like AVP. I avoided this one like the plague, not interested whatsoever in seeing it when it hit the theaters in 2004. But when it came on TV this afternoon while I was transcribing notes for a paper I was writing, I thought I'd keep it on in the background for comic relief. But you know what, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Not great, mind you. Not even good, precisely. Just not as bad as I thought it was going to be.

CGI? What's That?!

This YouTube video doesn't come with any explanation. It is assumed to be behind-the-scenes work for Jurassic Park IV. Now while I think the Jurassic films have gotten progressively worse as the sequels arrived, this alone is enough to make me stand up and cheer like a deranged school boy. Shirking computer graphics for good, old fashioned movie magic, these artists (after you see this, what else can you call them?!) have come up with some props that are nothing short of revolutionary!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Survive This!

Is it just me, or have the last couple episodes of Survivor: Fiji been some of the best the series has ever produced?! Overflowing with double-crosses, machinations, subversive plots, and out-of-nowhere surprises, the show I considered a lack-luster shadow of its former self has come roaring back the past few weeks with an explosive and breathtaking vengeance.

Jack Valenti Dead at 85

Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, guiding Hollywood from the censorship era to the digital age, and a film industry lobbyist who instituted the modern movie ratings system, died today. He was 85.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Happy 20th Gang!

The Brave Road Back

The man in the picture is barely recognizable as esteemed film critic Roger Ebert. After numerous operations over the past year to save his life from the ravages of cancer, Ebert is finally showing his new face to the world.

"I ain’t a pretty boy no more," he says, jovially mimicking the line from Raging Bull.

To read more about his road to recovery, in his own words, click here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Elephant in the Room

This evening, almost a week to the day of the horrific attacks at Virginia Tech, my American Cinema class watched Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, about two boys who go on a shooting spree at their high school. It had been on the syllabus since day one.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Real Star Wreck!

This is a delayed (it was supposed to premiere this week) and supposedly highly anticipated internet film directed by Tim "Tuvok" Russ and staring a galaxy of main and guest Trek stars.

My brother said it best: "I'm going to pretend that I never saw that and that you never sent me it!"

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

You're Outta Here!


Monday, April 16, 2007

Remaking Clash

According to "The Hollywood Reporter," the 1981 cult classic Clash of the Titans in which Zeus' son, Perseus must save a princess, capture Pegasus and slay Medusa -- to say nothing of battling a Kraken, is being remade by Warner Bros., with Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark scribe, Lawrence Kasdan set to pen the script. No word yet on who is to direct.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I fully intended to see Bobby in the theater but somehow got distracted by the cornucopia of other films that were released at about the same time and never got around to giving it a chance. I may have tried harder had not the reviews been distinctively mixed. “Oh come on,” I told myself, “It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Drama. It has to be worth the time.” But still I delayed until it slipped from the theaters and my grasp.

So when the DVD hit the streets, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. What I discovered made me doubly ashamed. Bobby— this maligned, ignored and overlooked film—was simply magnificent and had I seen it sooner, it would have easily have ranked among my favorite films of 2006.

Robert Kennedy’s life was understandably overshadowed by his better-known brother, John. But when the Senator and former Attorney General decided to run for the presidency himself, he launched a dynamic, charismatic campaign that turned him into something closer to a rock star. Speaking to those Americans most marginalized and overlooked, Bobby touched those on the margins and inspired others to do the same. He inspired a country mired in the morass of war and social upheaval. Winning the state of California was crucial for his bid for the Democratic nomination; without success there, he’d have to drop out of the race.

On the night of June 4th, 1968, while staying at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Bobby gave a televised speech in which the nation learned he had indeed won the state and was well on his way to occupying the same Oval Office once held by his slain brother. Mere minutes later, while he walked through the hotel’s pantry on his way to a waiting car, Bobby himself was shot in the head by a Palestinian radical upset over his pro-Israel policies. Hours later, he joined his brother John as an American political martyr.

While Bobby may appear to be about the last hours of Robert Kennedy’s life, it is, to be more precise, about the lives of all those who chanced into his path that fateful night, and, unknown to them, converged at the Ambassador for a execution. Bobby encompasses a gigantic cast of characters, and marks time with a deliberate, methodical and luxurious rhythm that allows us to truly get acquainted with the ensemble cast before the action begins. Each character becomes nuanced and multi-dimensional, an extraordinary feat in a cast this size. When the assassin’s bullets begin to fly, we grieve not only for the fallen statesman whom many considered this country’s last great hope, but also for all those caught in the crossfire, mingling their blood with his.

Ambitiously striving to identify with as large a social strata as possible, the film does a transcendent job of evoking a place and time in which, for the briefest of moments, America seemed to be poised on the cusp of something truly wonderful. This is a film about the old and the young, one race vs. another, the committed and the “checked-out,” men and women, beginnings and ends, the birth of love and its ultimate demise. Using a rich textual pallet, the film lets us into the world of illegal Mexican immigrants and posh playboys, dedicated activists and drug-addled hippies, blue-collar workers and draft-dodging boys. But all are brothers and sisters; all are Americans.

Bobby throbs with tremendous contemporary relevance, addressing the enmeshment of this country in a widely unpopular war, the injustice of the political process, and the desire to run from life’s problems into the all-too eager embrace of drugs. Kennedy was seen as a man who had the power to inspire the country out of his problems. He himself is never portrayed except in news clips intercuts. Rather than giving his characters gushing lines about Kennedy’s brilliance, Estevez simply lets the man speak for himself in long, uninterrupted clips. The result is pure revelation. Had not a mad man taken his life, Robert Kennedy would surely have won and this country’s course would have been radically altered for the better. (I am struck by the parallels to the campaign of Barak Obama—both men in their forties, both Senators, both seen as uniters of race, both running during a time of upheaval and seen as a means to honorably withdraw the United States from an unpopular war.)

Who knew Emilio Estevez had anything like this within him. Doubtless drawing off of the rich liberal activist heritage of his father, Martin Sheen, Estevez has made a film of measured power and bountiful depth. Bobby is both riveting and contemplative, an animated snapshot of an America not all that different than the one through which we slog each day. And not without the same glimmer of explosive hope.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It is a delight to come to a forgotten or overlooked film and discover something precious and beautiful within. If, like me, Bobby snuck past you during its theatrical release, don’t let it happen again.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tortilla Heaven

To watch a trailer for the independant film, Tortilla Heaven, click here.

To call the town of Falfúrrias, New Mexico, population 73, off the beaten path is a colossal understatement. The tight-knit Latino and Native American farming community is isolated in the high desert with only a nondescript dirt road pointing the way into town. And so, it is a bit of a surprise that one of the finest restaurants in the state should be found in so unlikely a place. Too bad no one knows about it.

Isidor (“Izzy”) Navarro is the proprietor of “Tortilla Heaven.” He is also the town’s token heathen. While the rest of the community, including his pious wife and son, attend mass at the church across the street, Izzy busies himself with preparing food for the inevitable lunchtime crowd. Frustrated at some unruly dough, Izzy throws it onto the grill with a blasphemous curse. As if in response to his sacrilege, the tortilla begins to burn in a truly astonishing way. Before our eyes, the face of Jesus Christ appears...

This is an abridged version of a review I wrote for Christianity Today Movies. To read the rest of this review, click here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Everybody Now: "Awwwwwww"

Films are based on many things: books, true stories, graphic novels, even video games. But this may be the first time I've ever heard of a film based on...a painting.

According to the "Hollywood Reporter," Thomas "The Painter of Light" Kinkade's painting "The Christmas Cottage" is the basis for an inspirational true story of how a community and an aging artist come to the aid of the Kinkade family, save the only home they had ever known, and inspire young Thomas to become America's most popular painter -- all on the day before Christmas.

Oh. Spare. Me.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Mere weeks after 300's Spartans geysered enough computer-generated blood to sink a medium-sized archipelago, perpetually adolescent directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino present a devilishly over-the-top and absurdly off-the-wall gore-fest of their own. This is Rodriguez and Tarantino’s idea of camp as high art — part homage, part barefaced rip-off. Constructed to resemble the exploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s (known as Grindhouse films because of the incredibly fast and caviler manner in which they were thrown together and rushed into mostly drive-in movie houses), Grindhouse attempts to reinvent the genre closest to the co-directors’ hearts. Sleazy sex, gross-out horror and ultra-violent crime were a staple of the B-movies the two loved so well growing up and Grindhouse was probably a foregone inevitability.

Grindhouse is actually two films that play back to back, a cinematic one-two punch of Rodriquez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. In between the two features, Eli Roth (Hostel), Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead), and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) guest direct three so-bad-they’re-good trailers for fake movies with names like Werewolf Women of the S.S. Filled with an army of B-actors and Rodriquez/Tarantino veterans, Grindhouse is 185 minutes of schlock, goo, bare skin and unapologetically ridiculous entertainment.

Well, one outta two anyway.

Rodriquez delivers everything he promises and then some. In Planet Terror, Rose McGowan (TV’s Charmed) plays a Texas go-go dancer who must fight for her life when a town becomes infected with a military biological weapon that transforms the populace into flesh-eating zombies. That a few of them manage to chew off one of her legs before her boyfriend (Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under) rescues her might seem like a terrible downer but that’s before she’s outfitted with a prosthetic machine gun/grenade launcher. Yes, that is how any rational person defines over the top — deliciously, deliriously so.

Planet Terror looks and feels every bit the part of a ‘sploitation film of the 70s, albeit with a terrific budget and impressive CGI. Director Rodriguez throws everything that he has at his segment. Planet Terror is filled with enough T&A, tough guys, blazing guns and gross-out horror to pack several films. Intentionally damaging his movie to give it the abused look of one too many projections, Rodriguez has repeatedly scratched the image, removed frames, inserted skips, edited incompetently and at one point even excised an entire reel. The end result is a film that is endlessly entertaining, disgustingly fun, and dead on target.

Too bad everything comes to a screeching halt once Tarantino’s Death Proof hits the screen. The Grindhouse pictures of old may have been many things, but you could never accuse them of being boring. Until now. For a man who swears he learned everything he knows about filmmaking from watching Grindhouse fare as a kid, Tarantino sure doesn’t seem to remember much of it. He promises all-out mayhem but what he delivers is 90% bore-fest and 10% white-knuckle action. The formula, Herr Director, is precisely the opposite, methinks.

Death Proof follows Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) as a psychopath who uses his supped-up muscle car as a weapon with which to murder unsuspecting beautiful women. What Stuntman Mike forgets or perhaps never knew is that hell hath no fury like a woman… No more plot or story explanation is required. Or at least, in a genre film of this nature, there shouldn’t half to be.

While Rodriguez’s gruesome mayhem would be a tough act for anyone to follow, Tarantino’s Death Proof so scandalously kills the mood that it is as if all the fun in the theater is suddenly sucked into the vacuum of space. Death Proof is never-ending dialogue. Too caught up in once again trying to impress us with his verbal repartee, Tarantino spends incalculable time allowing his characters to drone on and on about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. This might be ok if Tarantino were half as funny or as hip as he thinks he is. But instead, the tiresome first half of Death Proof hits the theater floor with the sort of resounding thud no one would have been capable of hearing in Planet Terror because the audience was too busy laughing and screaming.

Worse yet, eschewing Grindhouse’s notorious lack of cinematic quality, Tarantino shoots his subjects with loving cinematic caresses, beautiful light, and fluid camerawork. Death Proof is preposterously self-referential, playing like a cinephile’s broken record of movie shout-outs. (I swear, Tarantino, if you invoke Vanishing Point just one more time…!) Like Rodriguez, Tarantino fills his segment with homages to the look and feel of his predecessors — freeze-frames, funky colors, and voyeuristic ogling of scantly clad girls — but overall he fails so miserably at anything even close to a facsimile, let alone a reenvisioning, that, cut off from any sort of context, the film utterly crashes and burns. It is as if Tarantino knows what a sloppy, over-the-top, schlocky movie is supposed to look like but he just can’t lower himself to sincerely make one.

To be fair, this achieves the desired affect — when the twisted metal and mechanical carnage begins in earnest, we have indeed been lulled into a false sense of security. But we’ve also been lured right of out giving a damn.

Despite this stinker, one cannot help but smile to see Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken or The Thing's R.J. MacReady swagger back into a B-movie. Kurt Russell may be past his prime, but he is still one badass mofo. And let’s face it, the ladies (including Rosario Dawson) certainly aren’t hard on the eyes either. (Stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who doubled Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, is infectious fun in her acting debut; that she is also able to do her own stunts lends a terrifying degree of authenticity to the only exciting parts of Death Proof).

Does Tarantino have any original ideas of his own? Is he incapable of doing anything at all other then blatantly ripping off from and amalgamating the films of those who’ve gone before him? It so, we haven’t seen it yet. Sure, he’s made some fine films, but has he ever made a singularly authentic, sincere, innovative frame of film in his entire life?

It’s too bad Grindhouse didn’t come out one week earlier. At least then we’d all be in on the April Fool’s joke.