Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reprise - Vet's Day Off

Reprise - Like a veteran ball player, As Good As News is not writing a doubleheader today after watching one last night. The link takes you to a thorough review in Variety and I won't repeat it here. I enjoyed this Norwegian film as it followed the lives of two young writers from the point when they reach the mailbox to submit the manuscripts of their first novels for publication. Intellectual youth at work and play, humor, music, directorial techniques galore and Victoria Winge make Reprise worth seeing.

One question that no review seems to address (and I have no access to the film to check again for myself) -The soundtrack includes a voice over that speaks entirely in the conditional, i.e., . if the manuscripts of their first novels had been accepted (or not accepted in some scenarios), then..... such and such would happen. The voice over suggests the film will cover alternate versions of the two writers' lives. Reprise seemed to start down this path, returning to the mailbox scene after one brief scenario that felt almost like a false start. Only one version of the story was developed with any depth. The conditional approach added a certain edge to the voice over, but it almost seems as if the film abandoned its original structure in the editing room and didn't bother to go back and change the voice over. Is the conditional future voice over the voice of the screenwriter (perhaps Erik), considering what will happen to his characters as it appears on the screen? Is it some obscure difficulty in the translation from Norwegian to English? What is happening here?

The Village Barbershop - Drop In For A Trim

The Village Barbershop - Art (John Ratzenberger) is struggling. He's never recovered from the death of his wife eleven years ago. Now his partner has just died, his barbershop is failing and the barbershop's sleazy landlord is trying to evict him as Art avoids his problems with beer and gambling. Gloria (Shelly Coles) is struggling too. She's living in a small trailer with a truck driver who shows up twice, once to go to the bathroom and run, once more to dump her, leaving Gloria homeless, penniless, jobless and pregnant. Gloria is not avoiding anything. She solves her housing problem immediately by towing her ex's trailer right out of the park, then responds to Art's ad for a new barber. Sparks fly in the job interview, but Gloria parlays her spunk and business sense into a dual role as the savior of the barbershop and a surrogate daughter who helps Art pull his life back from the edge of disaster. As the landlord strikes one last time, Art recovers just fast enough to support Gloria in her own moment of crisis and ...guess how it all ends.

Writer/Director/Producer Chris Ford is making his first film, and it's a nice study of characters overcoming real life adversity. The reason Hollywood doesn't make many pictures like this any more is because mass audiences find them boring - and The Village Barbershop does stretch on somewhat predictably at times, with those double and triple helpings of adversity. Do not let this scare you away. The Village Barbershop does some things exceptionally well. See it whenever and wherever you can find it. Art is a well written, well played character, a grumpy stoic who breaks out with small moments of personal vengeance even before Gloria and Josie (Cindy Pickett, an old friend and new romance) begin to crack his hard boiled shell. Shelly Coles shines as Gloria, bringing not only zest, but credibility to a character that seems too good to be true on paper. Mr. Ford includes recurring comedic elements that will keep the film lively enough for most viewers. Art's one woman neighborhood watch from across the street, his running war with the party animals next door, his surveillance of the local Chinese restaurant/brothel and his counterattacks on his landlord using anonymous porn as ammunition all earn enough laughs to make As Good As News wish that Ford would try his hand at a comedy next.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Doc Gurby Rides Again

Turkmenistan: April is April Again: President Doc Gurby has returned Turkmenistan to the Gregorian calendar, reversing the unique calendar devised by his predecessor Niyazov, who had named the months after himself and his family. Turkmens are no doubt relieved that Turkmenistan has taken yet another step on the road back to sanity under the steady hand of Doc Gurby.

As the official blog of Turkmenistan, As Good As News must grudgingly give kudos where kudos are due. After a year of incessant mocking from As Good As News, the Times has finally printed an item on Turkmenistan without using "reclusive" or "hermetic" and without engaging in a speculative assault on Doc Gurby based on what the Times thinks he might, or might not, do in the future. Today's item was actually a news report, not a misplaced editorial. Yes, the terms "bizarre" and "elaborate cult of personality" did make unfortunate appearances. There's just something about a Turkmenistan story that makes the Times uncontrollably frisky. In this case, however, former President Niyazov and his colorful calendar were appropriate targets and the fallout didn't contaminate Doc Gurby or the proud people of Turkmenistan.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Clinton electability cover - elitism or racism

For Democrats, Questions Over Race and Electability - Kudos, Times. You finally noticed, with some prompting from As Good As News and the Obama campaign, that winning Democratic primaries in key states has nothing to do with winning the general election in key states. In fact Obama polls better against McCain than Clinton does in some of the very swing states that Clinton is using to bolster her electability argument. You finally noticed that the real electability argument is about race - if Obama can't win in November its because the White, blue -collar vote that turns out for Hillary in the primaries will vote for McCain or stay home in November, rather than vote for a Black candidate with the same Senate voting record and views as Hillary.

What happens if Hillary wins big in Indiana and breaks even in North Carolina? Will the super delegates begin to migrate to Hillary, even though she would still be behind in elected delegates and vote totals, because they buy into the argument that America won't vote for a Black President?

Obama's remarks about bitter people clinging to guns and religion may end up hurting him badly. It's not that these remarks say anything critical about his capability as President. The problem for Obama is that the remarks give Clinton cover to argue that Obama can't get blue-collar Whites to the polls in November because he's an elitist snob, without having to openly argue that he's not electable because of his race.

Garbage to the Rescue - Carlos Castillo paused at the window, his apartment a flaming inferno at his back, his neighbors gathered on the sidewalk three stories below. "Hold on" shouted the neighbors, as they gathered bags of garbage left at curbside awaiting pick-up. The garbage became a mound below the window, Castillo jumped - and wound up alive, though seriously hurt. As Good As News loves NY, there's always garbage when you really need it.

Mayor Lends Ear as Verdict Near in Bell Shooting -Sadly, today's on-line Times does not include the page B-6 photo of Mayor Bloomberg looking scared and desperate to escape as the Reverend Al Sharpton grabs his hand and poses on the steps of City Hall. Reverend Al has positioned himself as both the defender of the Bell family and a keeper of the peace - who can still erupt in rage tomorrow if he doesn't hear the verdict he wants. The Mayor gave Reverend Al a voice and he shrewdly used it to capture a can't lose position, regardless of the verdict. The Mayor looks like he has begun to realize this. Maybe he's thinking he should have learned something from Rudy, who would have met with Sharpton only after hell had frozen over.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mongol - you khan steppe on in

Mongol is a love story, but no one will confuse Sergei Bodrov's Oscar nominated epic tale of Genghis Khan's early years with a chick flick. The blood flows freely in one stunt filled combat scene after another as Temudjin (the Mongol who will become Genghis Khan, played by Tadanobu Asano) is born the son of a khan, but loses all when his father is murdered as they return from selecting Temudjin's future bride. Temudjin, only nine years old, is thrown into a life of deprivation, at times slavery. In a survival of the fittest world, Temudjin is different. He values his wife Borte (Khulan Chuluun), listening to her counsel and reuniting time after time when one nightmare after another forces their separation. He respects the Mongol god. He leads by example and shares the spoils of combat with his men. Eventually he builds an army large enough to challenge Jamukha (His blood brother and former ally) and unite the Mongol world. The film ends as Temudjin is poised to begin the world conquest that will engrave the name Genghis Khan in history.

The battle scenes include massive armies on horseback, spread across the steppes, who fight with swords and pikes. It's as if Temudjin is killing Orks in a fourth Lord of the Rings spectacular, but Director Bordov is very effectively using real stunt men and extras, not computer animation, and the only special effects are some extra gore. The director is Russian, the three leads are Chinese, Mongol and Japanese and I don't know what language the actors are speaking (the version I saw had English subtitles). Long stretches of dialog are very guttural and this combines with the location shots and soundtrack of Mongolian throat music to create a real feeling of the steppes from 800 years ago. Many scenes rely heavily on cuts between facial expressions with very little dialog (think Russian spaghetti Western). Chuluun thrives on this approach, playing Borte with a face that is somehow simultaneously stoic and expressive.

Mongol may have one battle too many, but I enjoyed it. So will most audiences, but stay home if you can't stand the gore.

In real life Genghis Khan's armies went on to conquer most of Eurasia with ferocity, horsemanship and innovative battle tactics, the original shock and awe. They held a massive geographical area with a small army by leaving few troops behind. A conquered city would be allowed to run itself, subject to some basic laws including payment of taxes to the great Khan. The mere prospect of a return visit from a Mongol army was enough to keep most cities in line.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dear Rudy

Dear Rudy,

It is with some reluctance that I write this letter. After all, you come from a good family. Sure, your father was a crook and a convict, but he had you baptized and sent you to Catholic school. I'm sure you really thought about becoming a priest, even if you have been stretching the story with that little fib about the four years of theology (yes Rudy, we have a very extensive file on you). Even now, despite all your problems, you are the kind of guy who understands the value of cherished institutions, the need for authority in preserving those institutions and the vital roles that symbolism and discipline play in maintaining that authority. You have the 9/11 mantra just as I have the big hat and the red shoes. You too understand that driving a powerless enemy into the ground long after he has surrendered is not petty or vindictive, not when you need to make an example of someone.

So, Rudy, with all your advantages, how could you do this to me? First it was the whole abortion thing. Yes, I get it, you were running for mayor of New York, not Waco. Yes, I understand political compromise, Yes, I see the difference between supporting a decision made by the Supreme Court (may they burn in Hell) that limits the circumstances in which abortion can be punished as unlawful and actually recommending abortion over adoption to an individual mother. But Rudy, you went out of your way to pander to those pro-abortion loonies and barely mentioned my, I mean your, personal views.

Then it was the gay rights. Rudy, I too recognize the value of every soul, but enough already, this was ridiculous. All those pictures of you in drag, and we know this was only the tip of the iceberg (I think I may have already mentioned our extensive files). I actually share your view that deviants should have some of the same civil rights as human beings (not marriage of course, but some of the other stuff - like the right to vote in Republican primaries), but you don't need to join the other team just to make a point.

Next came the divorce. Sure that first annulment was expensive and time consuming, but we could have worked something out the second time around, I mean you were the Mayor of New York, a hero in the new crusades, you think the Ecclesiastical Court judges don't read the newspapers? Instead you rush into divorce so you can marry a bimbo who doesn't even remember how many husbands she's had. For Chrissake Rudy, it's not like we had a detective following you around (well, we won't go into that right now) you were slapping your own faith, the One True Church, in the face and doing it right on the the front pages.

All of this we could have abided silently, in the best interests of the Church (I mean - really we had to be careful, you could have become the effing President), knowing all the while that you would pay with your immortal soul throughout eternity. But yesterday, yesterday was the final straw. Rudy, the Roman Catholic Church is not a religion where you get to make your own rules up as you go along. In the eyes of God and your own Faith you are still married to Donna (OK, she vomits uncontrollably at the sight of you and the kids turn their backs - don't worry it happens all the time.) People who marry in the Church, get a civil divorce then have sexual relations with a new "spouse" in a marriage the Church does not recognize are living unrepentantly in a state of mortal sin. You can't take communion. To do so publicly at my own Mass --- Rudy, what did you think would happen, you left me no choice.

Guess what Rudy! Now that we know you aren't going to become President, you are going to become something else instead- the poster boy in my new campaign against cafeteria Catholics. That's right - there's no such thing as a cafeteria Catholic, there are only Catholics and fools unwittingly treading a self-guided path to eternal damnation. Rudy, there can be only one, one man who stands in the shoes of the Fisherman, one man who speaks from the chair of St. Peter with the authority of God that has been passed down through two millenia and that one man is your's truly. I don't care if the churches in Europe are empty, the churches in North America ignore me and the churches in the rest of the world are broke, I am still the boss and you will not forget it. Sorry Rudy, but, from a theological standpoint, it's Giuliani time.

Rudy, you are hereby excommunicated. If you don't like it - well I think I may have mentioned an extensive background file once or twice. Not only am I the Pope, with that whole infallibility thing going for me, I have enough on you to make Giuliani a synonym for slime.

From the Chair of Saint Peter,
Benedict XVI, Defender of the Faith

PS - you can get in touch with my people if you want to make a true confession (in your case we would require a public confession on Network TV - I'm thinking Oprah) and stop living in sin.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Visitor arrived a little late

The Visitor - Chuck Rose's symposium usually screens films before general release, providing fodder for reviews here at As Good As News before a film's tidal wave of publicity crests. Last night's class featured The Visitor. Although it's playing in New York, The Visitor has not yet been released in New Jersey and select areas within North Dakota. By waiting, Mr. Rose was able to schedule Writer/Director Thomas McCarthy and Producer Mary Jane Skalski as guests for the post film Q and A. Shockingly, the Times and other critics did not await the New Jersey premier to release their reviews, which were consistently favorable. As Good As News won't cover ground that's already been thoroughly trampled. In brief, The Visitor has no box office stars, no Hollywood ending, but inspired casting, a moving story and the wisdom to leave the "s" off Visitor[s] and let Richard Jenkins find his rhythm as the title character re-inhabiting his own life make this film well worth seeing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Not the Burning Bush

God is buried - When you picture God, what do you see? Thanks to exposure to the DeMille epic The Ten Commandments at a tender age, I envision a stern eyed, white haired man parting the Red Sea with his staff, a vision I suspect I share with millions of boomers. Charlton Heston only got the Moses credit, but he made a far deeper, more lasting impression than that cheesy burning bush. The NRA, and anyone else utilizing Mr. Heston as a spokesman, sent the ultimate subliminal message.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Fuji Watch - Day Whatever -Fuji fell asleep during his trial and explained to the judge that he was exhausted. Do not be alarmed, Fuji remains in good health, and that courtroom is hot and airless. I've had trouble staying awake there myself. The nap time demo was just the introductory phase of his primary defense - "I was much too tired to notice anything amiss while Montesinos was looting the country and making my opposition disappear".

Albany Fails Again - Albany fails again - this is news? Teachers union insures student performance won't be considered in tenure decisions with mystery provision in budget bill - teachers union controls NY legislature, job security trumps learning - again, where's the news? The only news here is that the Times noticed, with both a Metro story and and an editorial. In an unrelated story, reported exclusively by As Good As News, Randi Weingarten, soon to be elected President of the American Federation of Teachers, has turned down Hillary Clinton's offered vice presidential nomination. "This is a great honor, but at this point in my career I think it's vital to serve in a position where I can really deliver for my constituents."

Albany Fails Again - With the steamroller sidelined and the ever popular David Patterson professing his own powerlessness, Sheldon Silver and Joe Bruno return happily to the path of financial suicide. The fundamental premise of this year's budget is to raise the tax on cigarettes to the point where a pack costs a million dollars, then hope there's at least one multi-billionaire out there who just can't quit.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Yella -

Yella - Yella (Nina Hoss) is running from a failed company and a broken marriage -including a stalking ex who plays on her guilt. She finds work in a new town, but accepts a ride to the station from Ben (Hinnerk Schoenemann), that very angry ex, who hijacks Yella and drives off a bridge into the Elbe. Both Yella and Ben somehow emerge to reach the shore. Yella grabs her bags and catches the train, leaving the unconscious Ben on the river bank, but for the rest of the film she's haunted by the sound of water, an ominous caw from a lone crow and a foreboding rustle of wind.

The new job is a fiasco, her putative supervisor Ott-Schmitt is fired for misconduct on the day of Yella's arrival. Yella's quick witted reaction to the mess reveals a strain of amorality and a naive intelligence, traits that will define her fate. Yella steals a document pouch from Ott-Schmitt's former office at his request, then withholds it from Ott-Schmitt until he offers her a comparable job at his next company. But the pouch contains only cash, Ott-Schmitt has no future, no ability to get a job, much less offer one. Yella's negotiation was doomed before it began, and she ends up on the side of the road.

Adrift back at her hotel, Yella is recruited by Philipp (Devid Striesow), a venture capitalist negotiating to buy a stake in a start-up company. Philipp asks Yella to assist him as, essentially, a prop in a key meeting. She surprises him by discovering a real flaw in the target company's balance sheet, allowing Philipp to cut a better deal. Yella does not seem surprised, or disillusioned, when she learns Philipp is getting paid under the table by his buy-out targets to give the targets a sweeter deal at the expense of his employer. Despite her ability to spot real problems in the target companies and negotiate like a veteran, Yella remains naive when it comes to Philipp. Even after she knows he's a crook (who she could control by threatening a report to his employer) she accepts a fee that's a small fraction of the value she's producing and is terrified she will be dismissed when Philipp tests her and finds she is willing to take a "forgotten" 25,000 euros.

Ben reappears in Yella's room and she runs to Philipp. Romance ensues and for Yella it's the real thing. Phillip's dream is to amass enough kickbacks to buy a company he's identified as a unique opportunity to make millions - all to avoid being a suburban family man with a child, a garage and a green jaguar, the very picture that seems to call to Yella. But Yella's been separated, bankrupted, stalked, drowned and fired - and she's ready to cling to Philipp, even when he's fired after his employer discovers his scheme. Yella pushes too hard to make Pilipp' dream come true with one last big score and the results are disastrous, then eerie.

Director Christian Petzold shoots against spare backdrops and lingers on Yella. Nina Hoss holds the audience with an effective, understated performance that adds grace to an otherwise uninteresting film. Something may be lost in cultural translation (this is a German film with English subtitles), as Yella's trek from guilt and failure in her home of Wittenberg in the former East Germany across the Elbe to flash, cash and moral disaster in the former West Germany means more to a German audience. Other reviewers have hailed the film's metaphysics, but the repeated omens and alternative ending added little for me. The title link will take you to one of many reviewers who felt otherwise. If you want a film about an accountant caught up in a con game, As Good As News recommends The Producers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Young@Heart - Should I Stay or Should I Go? -Go.

Young@Heart documents a senior chorus that performs rock and punk hits to cheering crowds on international concert tours. Seniors and punk - an unlikely pairing. Young@Heart begins by capturing the group as a successful musical act that trades on its novelty but pivots into an examination of purpose and dignity in the life of these senior singers, whose show goes on despite two deaths in the week leading to the concert that forms the dramatic conclusion to the documentary.

The chorus, Young at Heart, is far more than a novelty act at times. Based in Northampton, MA it's led by Bob Cilman, who isn't kidding around in his experimental song selections and sometimes harshly critical rehearsals. The band accompanying Young at Heart, a highly professional group including some non-seniors, is no joke either. The singers themselves are a diverse group but several have some vocal chops. Joseph Benoit masters David Byrne's lyrics, tone and attitude in his first rehearsal of "Life During Wartime". Fred Knittle unveils a surprising (considering he's on oxygen for congestive heart failure) bass range when he introduces himself with an a cappela "Ghost Riders in the Sky". Both Benoit and Knittle have a sense of humor that generates out loud laughs from the audience and Knittle's a showman as well, the dramatic star of the music videos edited into the documentary. Many others hit some sweet notes and even the musical amateurs can capture something in a specialty number like Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia".

The film turns serious with the deaths of Bob Salvini, a Young at Heart member attempting a comeback after a prolonged illness, and the sudden passing of Joe Benoit, one of the group's current standouts. The chorus members are moved, especially by the surprising death of Benoit, but never waiver in their drive to put on the show. The film let's the seniors tell the story of what performing as part of Young at Heart means to them - and it's a lot.

Young@Heart is definitely worth seeing. More back story on some of the chorus members might make it even better, but the film, like choral director Cilman, takes the seniors on their own terms and the result is entertaining, often moving.

Housekeeping Note - Regular readers may have noticed that As Good As News missed last week's review. A reliable source characterized Row Hard, No Excuses as good but not great. Given the subject it would have been overrated here.