Rome, Season 2, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

After the crushing conclusion of Season 1, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo find themselves in a bit of a role reversal. Pullo finds himself as the soft-spoken “consiglierie” and Vorenus is the hot-headed badass. Octavian is all grown up and everyone is still schtupping everyone else. I think there are more schtups per episode in Rome than there is in any other show on TV.

Anyway, political machinations, tortures, curses, reversals-of-fortunes, you name it. This is quality soap-opera with just a dash of history to make it seem respectable. The final two episodes are really nuts, too. Rome is a base and vulgar dirty pleasure. I really hope they bring it back for another season or a feature film.

Of note – Ann is really crazy for Rome. I don’t know if it is the sets and costumes that does it or just being enveloped in a whole world like this. She hasn’t seen any of the recent long-form TV shows from beginning to end – not The Sopranos or Battlestar Galactica. Actually, that’s not true – she was one of the ten people who watched John From Cincinatti. Anyway, now that Rome is up I wonder if I should sic her on I, Clavdivs?

Sputnik Mania (2008), David Hoffman, A

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

A dizzying shot of cold war rocket fuel. Excellently told, marvelous stock footage, more than enough propaganda parallels to today. Tied with Cloverfield as best new movie of ’08, and a rare case of the movie being better than the book.

Juno (2007), Jason Reitman, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, March 24th, 2008

Pretty solid. Beginning had me worried, but once Jennifer Garner & Jason Bateman’s characters entered the rest just cruised along. I think I liked this just a hair more than Ann did – she gave this a “B.” I wonder if Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz has the same troubled relationship with Ellen Page as I do with Jack Black. But that’s a longer conversation.

Star Trek: Year Four

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Monday, March 24th, 2008

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It was a five year mission. We only saw three. This is Year Four – that is the conceit of this new comics series (and also James Cawley’s New Voyages, but that’s another story.) We begin with a tidy reference to Turnabout Intruder. The colors pop and the characters are true; the trade paperback edition has six chapters plus an introduction. Each chapter is its own short (short) episode. Some are better than others, but all really nail that TOS feeling. (Also, Arex and M’Ress show up, which is hardcore.) Stories include a “Dr. Moreau”-type tale, a planet in internal debate after new dilithium wealth, and a society obsessed with reality TV that want to make Kirk & co stars. I blasted through this 150 page collection in 1 day’s back & forth subway commute.

Vernon Reid – Masque

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

One album I’ve been listening to quite a bit lately is the most recent work by Vernon Reid. Remember Vernon Reid? “Glamour Boys?” Yeah, yeah. Well, he’s been doing edgy, avant-garde stuff for years. I saw him do a solo gig called “My Science Project” at the Knitting Factory maybe 10 years back that blew my mind.

Anyway, the new one, “Masque,” is a rock-jazz instrumental mindscrambler that is funky, tuneful, fun and, at times, beautiful. One of the highlights is a slow-as-a-dirge cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” with feedback and turntables. Quite extraordinary.

There Will Be Blood (2007), Paul Thomas Anderson, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Ah, yes, there’s more than just making a funny voice and talking about milkshakes and abandoning your boy – there’s a movie here! And a fantastic movie, too. Despite its length, this is not an epic – it is the story about one man who, at first, you aren’t sure if he’s an asshole or not, and then you discover that he is. Along the way is a fascinating snapshot at a unique moment in American industry.

Some people, I won’t say who, have absolutely lost their mind over this movie. I can’t jump on that bandwagon totally. I don’t think that there’s actually any great hidden meaning in this film and I don’t quite understand its appeal for repeated, near-religious viewings. Much like Daniel Plainview’s flat accent, I think this movie is about what it is about. And, frankly, that’s enough. The performances and the setting and the look are, as Plainview would say, fine.

My mother found Johnny Greenwood’s score “distracting” by the way.

Thine Own Self, TNG 7

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

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A-story: Data has his memory temporarily wiped, approaches a pre-contact civilization and inadvertantly sickens them with radioactivity. B-story: Troi decides to go for her Commander’s rank. Both learn that good intentions don’t always lead to good times.

Paradise, DS9 2

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

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If you feel like you’ve seen this one before, it is because you have. The planet that’s gotten back to nature and live in an Eden, but with a dark secret. There’s a little bit of that DS9-ambiguity twist here (who is to say what is moral or immoral?) but this one is pretty darned predictable. Best, tho, is when Sisko decides to take a page out of The Bridge on the River Kwai and spend extra time in the sweat box. But Avery Brooks ain’t no Alec Guinness.

The Lower Decks, TNG 7

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

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The writers of TNG really had nothing left to say by this stage of the seventh season, but out of this desperation comes a cool episode about “The Other Enterprise” – all those nameless faces that pop up in the background and keep the ship running. I think M*A*S*H did an episode like this, too.

Anyway, we meet a bunch of redshirts (one of whom really is a redshirt) and get to see Riker (who really manages the rank and file) & co through their eyes.

One thing that bugged me was this new character “Ben,” obviously a replacement for Guinan after Whoopi Goldberg had left the show. Reminded me a little too much of the Simpsons’ “Roy.”

The American Astronaut (2001), Cory McAbee, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Funny how you can hear about a movie, plan to see it, miss it, then forget all about it and then one day someone lends you the DVD.

A very inspirational project – wonderfully lo-fi – a Kaurismaki meets Guy Maddin via Warhol vie Hedwig and the Angry Inch via off-off-Broadway romp with a dash of Plan 9 thrown in. A true midnight movie, with all the pros and cons that could possibly mean.

Best, maybe, just to show you a little.

Star Trek: Tests of Courage

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

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Remember a while back when I said I wasn’t gonna go nuts and start reading Trek books and Trek comics? Well, I guess I fibbed a bit. ‘Cause this just looked too cool and you can read it in, like, 1.5 subway rides.

This is the origin of Captain Sulu on the Excelsior – midway between the Fifth and Sixth movie.

It’s fun to watch Sulu settle in to the Captain’s seat (with Janice Rand as X.O.) and to watch how the Enterprise is involved in his first adventure. The adventure itself is kinda baffling and unthrilling (something to do with two races of lizard creatures who don’t like each other or something) but that is no matter. The net result is fun and it is great to pretend that there are more Trek movies out there. This book is the collection of the DC “TOS 2″ comics #35-#40.

Whispers, DS9 2

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

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Hey – there’s a nice little twist on this one that I didn’t see. Turns out there ISN’T a big conspiracy that we’re seeing. Shall I spoil?

We see the episode from the eyes of Chief O’Brien who knows things are going wrong and thinks everyone is gaslighting him. Turns out – he’s a “replicant” – and that in order to save the off-screen “real” O’Brien he must continue to get hoodwinked. And us, too.

It’s a mind-screwer and a real good one, too.

Sub Rosa, TNG 7

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

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Wow. I mean, wow! In a way, this episode is so bad it is good. In a Spock’s Brain kinda way, even.

On the Scottish Moors (but in space) Dr. Crusher’s 90 year old grandma is actually soul-shtupping a green floaty spirit who lives in a candle and looks like Fabio.

Then Dr. Crusher sinks her claws in.

There’s some funny Crusher/Troi girl talk scenes, but the “plot” is so awful and absurd that the whole thing makes me embarrassed for Star Trek in general.

Armageddon Game, DS9 2

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

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Here’s a terrific little episode, wherein pacifism is taken to ridiculous extremes. Two warring planets achieve peace and involve Dr. Bashir and Chief O’Brien in their plans to disarm. But anyone with any knowledge of how to create the deadly weaponized viruses must be destroyed.

The two escape – but O’Brien got a drop of infected goo on him! Meanwhile, the gang on DS9 think their dead (but Keiko won’t accept what’s on the video tape.)

Southland Tales (2007), Richard Kelly, C-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Sunday, March 16th, 2008

For the French to boo a film that casts a jaundiced eye on Bush’s Patriot Act – wow, it must really be bad.

But Southland Tales is not entirely without merit. In it, there is a commercial where cars have sex. The Rock drinks an entire six pack of Bud Light in one go. There are lines like “The fourth dimension will collapse upon itself… you stupid bitch!” And all that’s a good thing. But all the stunt casting (half the faces are from Saturday Night Live) and frame-within-frame-within-frame shots can’t hide the fact that there’s just no narrative here. And the “cool world” that has been created can be found in much more polished form in places as varied as Starship Troopers to Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.”

I can best describe the long, long mess that is Southland Tales as if John Waters came in to direct every 25th scene of David Lynch’s Dune. And while that may sound like a fun thing worth checking out – it really isn’t.

The Falls (1980), Peter Greenaway, Who Can Grade Such A Thing?

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Sunday, March 16th, 2008

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I was going to slap down an “A” as my grade for The Falls but that would be disingenuous. It would imply that I loved watching the movie. And while I found it very entertaining (and fascinating and awe-inspiring and overwhelming) I don’t know if the word “enjoy” really came up. It took me about a week to get through The Falls, Peter Greenaway’s legendary three-and-a-half-hour opus on the human condition told through a radically absurd lens of faux-hyperactive academia. I want everyone I know to see The Falls, but I never want to sit through it again.

How to describe The Falls? It is a mock documentary – a mock filmed encyclopedia, really. A document is being created giving thumbnail descriptions of every one of the twelve million people who suffered during the “VUE” or Violent Unkown Event.” We are simply watching one chapter – the chapter of everyone whose last name starts with FALL.

The VUE may or may not have been a massive blow-back strike on behalf of birds toward mankind’s invasion of airspace. (Tippy Hedren iconography abounds.) As a result, many VUE victims now are either mutating into birds, are having trouble with gravity or are simply obsessed with flying.

What is on the screen, though, is a barrage of text. Drawings, graphs, photos, archive film, all to a dippy Michael Nyman march and set against dry voice over narration (or multiple narrations.) The net result is far out, freaky comedy. It’s like a less silly Monty Python, but still damned amusing.

Lists, quizes, puns (visual, oral and aural), metatextual jokes and flat-our silliness hit us in the face as if we’ve been smacked by the world’s biggest, thickest dictionary.

This is, frankly, more a gigantic art project than a movie and luckily it can all be played with online. Go nuts, I dare ya.

Vertical Features Remake (1978), Peter Greenaway, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Sunday, March 16th, 2008

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For any psychopaths out there who find Greenaway’s films from the 80s to today to be a little too mainstream, rejoice that his early films are now available on DVD.

Vertical Features Remake is a Three Stooges-esque poke in the eye at art and cultural criticism, at documentary filmmaking and at the scientist/librarian in all of us that need to investigate everything from every angle. It is darkly satirical and it is also, deep down under there somewhere, very beautiful.

The bulk of the film, really, is just a collection of shots of vertical things in natural settings. Trees, telephone poles, tire treads in snow leading up toward the horizon. They are remixed over and over (to a Michael Nyman score) partly as wallpaper, but also for rather anal arguments of a psuedo-scientific/aesthetic nature. If this all sounds like mumbo-jumbo in an early Cronenberg of Pynchon-esque way, that isn’t by accident.

I find it hard to give even a thumbnail synopsis of Vertical Features Remake so here’s something I clipped from Greenaway’s website:

The subject of Vertical Features Remake is landscape, scrupulously filmed and framed in static ‘bits’ centring around verticals – nature-created and man-made. . . The warring academics were an excuse to explain the methodology, always a structuralist bane, and maybe their explanations set down filmically between the three films, with copious apocryphal diagrams, visual aids, archival exposition and subjectively-viewed manuscript text and drawings, are the highlight of the work – how are film solutions and agendas arrived at, how are they manipulated, what intellectual devices are pulled out to justify schemes and propositions?

This is all comes at you in a Dr. Who-like 16mm BBC aesthetic that I find positively adorable and reminiscent of the Yes album Fragile. I wish I could explain more, but you just have to see it.

Schultze Gets The Blues (2003), Michael Schorr, C

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Saturday, March 15th, 2008

One of three things has happened.

1 – I either just don’t like (or have grown tired of) detached, observational films about cultural curiosities.

2 – I was just too tired when I watched this.

3 – This movie just isn’t all that good.

I’m going with number three.

A newly retired blue collar German sits and drinks beer with his friends until he hears Zydeco music on his radio. So he starts playing Zydeco music instead of Polka on his accordian. H-Whaat? Then he winds up in Texas and walks around observing things in elegantly framed shots.

The end.

And it is shot on video, too.

Has something died within me?

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