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Entertaining America: Jews, Movies & Broadcasting

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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What good could possibly come from a big fat coffee table book describing how Hollywood is run by Jews? Well, this one is sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary and co-edited by J. Hoberman. So I guess it’s okay.

It’s more than okay, it’s fascinating. There’s the usual stuff about Nickelodeons and the furriers from the east moving out to California. And page after page of “Oh, I didn’t know he was Jewish”-type bios. There are in depth chapters about the fascinating love of “Seinfeld” in Idaho, how Otto Preminger created America’s perception of Israel with “Exodus” and let’s not even get into the layers-deep discussion of early Jewish film actors assimilating by donning blackface. (The freaky lengths to which this discussion goes is a theory that Sammy Davis Jr., upon converting to Judaism, was donning “whiteface”. . .or something.) Most enlightening is the chapter of Gertrude Berg a/k/a Molly Goldberg. She basically invented the sitcom and personally wrote every script of her decades-long radio, TV, theater and film career. There’s a photo of her surrounded by thousands of bound works — enough to shame any writer who can’t get off his ass and figure out an ending to that dopey screenplay.

(Also: Chaplin wasn’t Jewish, but Marlilyn Monroe converted so technically she was.)

Robot Stories (2003), Greg Pak, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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It’s definitely weird that it has taken me this long to see Robot Stories, considering that it was shot by my friend Pete. The good news is that the next time I see him I can let him know with no bullshit how great a movie this is. And. . .like. . .really unique, too. A compendium of four shorts, all to do, in some way or another, with robots. But, like, not really. I mean, someone who hates sci-fi would still like this movie. Each of the shorts is really touching in their own way, and the last one, dare I say, is quite profound. The first three shorts feel like very good shorts; the last one is a slice of genuine European Art Cinema. With robots. Kinda. Recommended.

Happy Times (2000), Zhang Yimou, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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A wonderfully bittersweet film about friendship and community. The premise is straight out of Preston Sturges (plus a good 65 years and moved to Beijing.) And while it may get a little maudlin at times (and the collection of wacky friends may feel like a play from the “Full Monty” playbook) I can’t imagine there’s a person out there who wouldn’t enjoy and feel moved by this film.

Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), Tamara Jenkins, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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If you are going to do something as ordinary as a “coming-of-age” story it needs to be done right. “Slums of Beverly Hills” is filled with warm, wonderful, real characters, and, while there may not be much in the way of “plot,” there are still plenty of twists and turns. And it is hilarious. Real slap-your-sides rewind-the-tape funny. I watched this twice in one day, because I wanted Ann to see it when she got home. I think she liked it even more than I did.

Camp Hollywood (2004), Steve Markle, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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This feature-length doc feels more like a pilot for a reality show, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Shifting from inspiring to devastatingly depressing and back again with the alacrity of a tetherball tournament, we meet the inhabitants of a low-rent residential hotel for wannabes in Hollywood. Some actually have potential to become well-known actors, some are just delusional. Others are just old and weird. (Dear God, why is Tom Hulce’s father from “Amadeus” there and who is that freak of an alcoholic broad with him?) I haven’t spent too much time in LA, but I’ve gotten some nice juicy doses in my day. It’s a lot like this. A lot.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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Before anything: KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!!!

Now, much like my review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture I give this the perfect 5-insignia rating. Yet these two films are complete opposites. ST:TMP vies for some heady, arty, lofty shelf space next to “2001.” ST:TWOK wants to swash your buckle!

(Real quick, again: KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!!!)

You have to be insane not to like this movie. It’s got Ricardo Mantelban’s enormous rubber breasts, for god’s sake!!!

The action scenes are dynamite, the effects are great, the gross ear-monster going in Chekov’s ear is disgusting and everyone goes around quoting Melville. Is there anything not to like??

Now — readers — because I am always honest with you, I will share these facts. I’ve been pretty stinkin’ sick with flu all week. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this sick — certainly not in years. I watched ST:TWOK after a night of coughing and misery and with a *lot* of behavior-altering cherry-flavored medication flowing through me. So that must be the reason I found myself breaking into tears. Three times. At the end, of course. And when Scotty’s nephew got killed (when he turned to McCoy and said, “Ah know yuh tried” I just turned to jelly.) And — and this is really embarrassing — when Kirk first sees the Enterprise. I dunno. . .something about the music.

Oh, man, I need help.

March 3/4 — the weekend all Cinemaniacs went kerplutz!

Jordan | E-motions | Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

This weekend Anthology Film Archives is screening the rarely shown Béla Tarr film Sátántangó. Moving Image is showing Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 — the second screening ever in the USA for this legendary 1971 film.

No sweat, right? Plently of time over the whole weekend to see two films?

Not so. Sátántangó, you see, is seven-and-a-half hours (not counting two intermissions.) Out 1 is well over twelve — shown over two days.

It *had* to be the same weekend? It *had* to?

Hoberman and Maslin on Sátántangó.

Keith Uhlich and Aaron Hillis on Out 1.

Sick

Jordan | E-motions | Sunday, February 25th, 2007

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I am ill. Ill, I tell you. Everything aches and my asthma has got my chest so tight it feels like a buffalo is napping on me.

The above photo ought to express how much of a drag this is.

Ann deserved the Florence Nightingale award. . . either that or an iPod to tune out my whining.

A Man For All Seasons (1966), Fred Zinnemann, A+

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Sunday, February 25th, 2007

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William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

NASO at Symphony Space

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Sunday, February 25th, 2007

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This past Friday I had the good fortune to see the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra up at Symphony Space.

The program opened with a new piece by conductor Jonathan Schiffman, a spry triptych of Paris-inspired themes called “Three Streets.”

Guest virtuoso Sooyun Kim more-than-dazzled with the Mozart Flute Concerto #2. She played in a very demonstrative style, just-subtley swaying to the music in a way I found fantastic. She also wore, if I may be so tacky as to discuss wardrobe, a fabulous red dress.

Best was last, though, with Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” A bit of an MTV hit, but who would deny it wasn’t just what the doctor ordered. It is a dynamite selection & I’ve been humming it ever since.

I can’t deny admitting one other pleasure of the performance. The concert was well-attended, orchestra seating almost at capacity. The mezzanine, however, was close to empty. Particularly stage-right — because it is very difficult to get to the mezzanine stage-right. (I don’t know why, but you either need to go back into the lobby and hit the stairs/elevator or wiggle around the sound guy in the middle of the mezzanine.)

Obviously, I made a bee-line for this part of the auditorium. And there I sat, like an Emporer of Vienna, my own private symphony orchestra performing for me and me alone! It was some good, anti-social fun.

Gregory’s Girl (1981), Bill Forsythe, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

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Coming-of-age in Scotland. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more good-natured film. Original, creative. . .very relaxing. No problems, just clean streets, good schools and modern tract housing. Put this on a double-bill with Over The Edge. They are the exact opposite movies.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

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I don’t know what to tell you — I’ve grown to really love and respect ST:TMP. It remains controversial and many dismiss it. I will grant the naysayers this: it is different from every other piece of Kirk-led Trek out there. It is very serious. But. . .you know. . .not everyone acts the same all the time, right? Sometimes, even goofy fun people act seriously, right?

ST:TMP has the biggest relative budget of any of the films and it shows. Not just in special effects (which were and still are cool — the zappy blue light probe is SO freaky and the wormhole time-delay effect ain’t bad either) but in sets and graphics. Director Robert Wise loves cutting to computer screens (much like in Andromeda Strain) and the blippity-bloops on display here are all a) awesome and b) so incredibly ahead of their time for 1979.

There is an aesthetic of late 70s/early 80s sci-fi that we all know and love. It isn’t on display here — it exists only as a base and is improved upon tremendously. I’m going to be bold: ST:TMP has the best production design of any of the films.

The story? I dig it. I certainly dig the opening “getting the band back together” sequence. And if you really concentrate you can actually follow what’s happening in the plot and, more importantly, see how it is effecting Kirk, Spock & others on a human level. Spock goes through a lot of changes in this film. I don’t really know if the upcoming sequels play this out, but he basically sacrifices his entire life’s work for his own hybrid philosophy: Vulcanism with a hug.

Paramount could have just copied “Star Wars” when they took Trek out of mothballs. They didn’t — they allowed for art instead. Laugh if you will, but this is one of the few Hollywood films I know of that strives to reach a “2001: A Space Oddysey”-like plateau in its content as well as its form. It cost the franchise some fans and they certainly reversed gears for “Wrath of Khan,” but I like a change of pace. ST:TMP is a marvelously sui generis entry to the canon. . .and a movie I don’t mind watching over and over again.

(It also has the coolest poster ever, as seen above. I didn’t see ST:TMP in the theater, but I remember being fascinated the poster. In fact, a story: X-mas of 1979 the Hoffman clan decides to stay in Manhattan for a few days. We stay at a hotel in midtown, one now defunct but near a theater showing ST:TMP. It may have been the Ziegfeld. I keep whining and pointing to the mysteriously compelling poster. “I want to see that!” But my mother will have none of it. She’s taken us to the City to see theater (Mummenschanz and some Chinese Acrobats) and for her to go shopping. Secretly I am relieved. I am fascinated by the poster and stare at it each time we pass it. . . but I am also a little frightened of it. Who is that stern man on the right? What kind of effect does he have on me? I am five years old and have never heard of Star Trek.)

A Few More Pictures Of Aruba

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

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Daisy Miller (1974), Peter Bogdanovich, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

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Call me crazy, but I quite liked this movie. Yackity-yak-yak Daisy is quite well played by Cybill Shepherd. She’s putting her neck way out there in a role like this. (She also has the best plastic surgeon in Hollywood. She looks the same now as she did in 1974!) There is a lot of talking but everything is framed beautifully. Bogdanovich uses close-ups very effectively — the shooting style is similar to “Last Picture Show,” as are many of the themes of the story. A little catty at times, but always droll. Most of the movie is like a champagne buzz, so I was surprised that by the tragic end I found myself quite touched. I guess the soft sell does work sometimes.

Fritz the Cat (1972), Ralph Bakshi, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

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Two shocking things. First: no, I’d never seen this before. In fact, other than the first reel or so of “Lord of the Rings” I’ve not seen *any* film by Ralph Bakshi. (I know, I know.) Second: this movie is actually good on its own merits — not just as shock value or a late-60s curiosity. But. . .as a late 60s curiosity. . .it is awesome!!!!. Two of my main fascinations is late 60s counter culture and its politics and New York City. So. . . when these two topics collide, I get quite giddy. (I find little mirth in London or San Francisco hippies. . .but longhairs on St. “Marx” Place get me very happy.) Anyway, Fritz, the assholic, date-raping, joint-sucking, negro-enchanted, vaguely-leftist NYU-attending cat has a number of far-out adventures. Best are the ones where real people were brought in to a studio to “rap in the mike” and the scene was later animated. All of the drawings of NYC are just beautiful. And Skip Hinnant, the voice of Fritz (and later of many, many children’s shows), has a real understanding of the “I-kinda-get-it” student who yearns for bohemianism so much that he’s rendered unable to find it. Sexist, racist, anti-Semetic, needlessly violent and morally ambivalent — this movie is *waaaay more* than cats fucking. But there are a lot of cats fucking. That’s fun, too.

All The President’s Men (1976), Alan J. Pakula, A

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

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I don’t have much to add to the review I made a few months ago, except to say that I anxiously await the day we’ll be watching movies about the far worse corruption in the Bush regime.

The Counter-Clock Incident, TAS 2

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

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The Animated Series ends on a high note — a solid what-if premise that’s fun and engaging. The Enterprise slips into a backwards universe. Space is white and stars are black. And everyone is getting younger. How to get back in time before Mr. Spock forgets his sums?!? An inordinate amount of techno-babble to explain the solution, I grant you, but I dare you to watch this and not have fun. And isn’t Baby Uhura cute??

How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth, TAS 2

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

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This episode gets high marks just for being so fucking insane. It is an idiotic episode, don’t get me wrong, but anything so earnest and high concept — I have to have respect for it. Turns out *all* of Earth’s great societies owe a dept to a certain Froot Loops-colored winged space-serpent called Kukulkan (despite that Kirk insists on calling it KuKLAkan.) Mr. Kukulkan visited ancient Earth and hepped them it his society — but the peoples of the time were very selective in what they decided to keep. Pyramids and ziggurats, mostly. So now, thousands of years later, when Big K. is just kinda getting wind of this, he is naturally annoyed. So he has decided to wipe out humanity. Kirk & co. (aided by an Ensign Walking Bear, someone we’ve never seen before and won’t see again) talk him down from this position. Oh, and there’s a ferocious, electric pussycat. All ends well.

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