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The Edge of Heaven (2008), Fatih Akin, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Can a movie be a magical fable and yet be 100% realistic in tone? I think so. Fatih Akin’s far-fetched tale of intertwining (yet unaware) characters all searching for one another works on many levels. Most of all, lets face it, as soap opera – this is a damned good yarn! The exchange of cultures (much like Head-On we open with Turkish immigrants in Germany) and larger issues of individual freedom all kinda take a back seat to the deftly moving momentum of the story story story. When two hours are up you feel like you’ve been with these people for years, in an almost exhausting way. All of the characters, even the dirty old man, are good people; none of them ever get to share this fundamental goodness with anyone else. Except for the same-sex couple at the heart of the story and their wonderful, crystalline first kiss – wrapped up and presented to us in one miraculous long take.

It is interesting because Head-On, which I named as my top film of 2005, is loaded with style. Crazy cutting, flashy camera work and loud loud music. Very little of that is on display here. In fact, were it not for the inherent excitement of location photography (Istambul, Hamburg and the Black Sea) I’d go so far as to say that The Edge of Heaven’s aesthetic is a little bland. Which makes the aforementioned tracking shot all the more remarkable.

Cassandra’s Dream (2007), Woody Allen, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, May 29th, 2008

It is amazing what lowered expectations can do to a film.

I was very much a fan of Match Point and when this came out a few months ago the word was that it was a complete retread of Match Point, just not as good. And, frankly, that is a fair enough synopsis. It has none of the startling upper class WOW factor of Match Point‘s look and the acting isn’t up to that level either. What’s unfortunate about Woody Allen is that he’s so open in interviews. He has stated (you can track down the NPR podcast if you like) that he pretty much hates being on set these days and shoots his films as quickly as possible. As many master shots as possible, very few takes. I’m guessing very little rehearsal time, too. And even a good actor like Tom Wilkison or Ewen MacGregor is not going to get everything in the master. When there are inserts there are queasy jumps (watch Colin Firth’s arms in the scene under the tree) because everything is such a free-for-all that nothing is going to match. It’s the way Dylan records most of his albums and sometimes you get Empire Burlesque instead of Blood on the Tracks.

Still – the relentlessness of the story here. And the characters – since they DO have so much time to be on screen unedited – they get a chance to really pollenate your understanding. There were times when I felt this may’ve been much better served as a play, as there are relatively few cinematic tricks being utilized – shocking when you consider that Vilmos Zsigmond shot it and Philip Glass scored it. Nevertheless, the movie got under my skin enough – and I don’t think it is because I am a Woody Allen apologist. The specificity of the conflicts, the mundane reactions, are something you don’t see in movies too much. For all of Cassandra’s Dream being a retread, it is somewhat unique.

Predator (1987), John McTiernan, C

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

You know what’s a far worse movie than you remember? Predator. It isn’t awful, but it sure isn’t good.

Sydney Pollock, RIP

Jordan | No News Is Good News | Monday, May 26th, 2008

Dude made some shitty movies, but he made some good ones, too. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They especially and, of course, this scene – one of the best you’ll find anywhere.

You were a tomato!

Le Gai Savoir (1969), Jean-Luc Godard, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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It’s very important to have a drink or two before watching JLG’s more avant-garde films. It’s all about getting on the right wavelength. There are plenty of reviews of Le Gai Savoir out there (it just was released on DVD) but none of them mention how a lot of this movie is meant to be funny. Remember, Godard likes detective movies. This is a cut-up, and I mean that in multiple ways. If the point is that the medium of film is not to be trusted, or must be re-learned, then it is okay if a lot of it just flies by. Also: there is the very real possibility that he was just fucking around in the editing room trying to make a deadline. A lot of it is audio collage over black leader – a lot of it is just more Leninist rambling – a lot of it is just torn out pages of magazine images with faux revolutionary phrases scrawled over it. And then there’s Jean-Pierre Leaud in a black box room making radio sounds. If you can’t dig on all that, I don’t know what I can do for you.

Star Trek: Terok Nor – Day of the Vipers by James Swallow

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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Now, I know I run the risk of sounding like a complete psychopath, especially since all you have to do is scroll down and see that I just gave one of the best reviewed movies of last year a “C” – but here goes: this is a really good book. And I don’t mean a really good “Star Trek” book – I mean a good book. No, it isn’t particularly well written (it isn’t poorly written, the prose is smart enough to stay out of the way) but the clever tale on display is, no bullshit, a remarkable and timely solid piece of work.

James Swallow was tasked to create “Book 1″ of a trilogy filling in the back story of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor for us dysfunctional Star Trek nerds who need all the cracks of the timeline filled in. What he’s done is created a world, much like Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America that both mirrors our current treacherous administration, but also doesn’t. In Swallow’s Bajor, the first contact with the Cardassians is seen by some as a business opportunity, by others as an affront to nationalism, by others as a rally to patriotism or religion or just something going on as their marriage falls apart. There are about sixteen different factions at play in the ten years between first contact and occupation day, as the Obsidian-led Cardassian “Big Lie” lets itself filter through the population. There are Reichstag fires and Toby Keiths in this story, too.

I don’t know if I can expect this level of socio-political commentary in the next two books – they are written by different authors and they include characters from Deep Space Nine. I’ve found that “expanded Universe” lit can sometimes be a little freer when it isn’t so tethered to the characters we know from the show. Anyway, my psychosis aside, Day of the Vipers is also a ripping good yarn.

Atonement (2007), Joe Wright, C

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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When I was a kid and had a stomach virus or flu I was allowed to drink Coke, which was something of a treat as my parents tried to keep us away from sugary drinks. The catch was, though, that we had to let the glass sit out and get flat. And in the end it was medicine by any other name.

And that’s what Atonement is – a flat drink.

The time-shifts and the echoey, long-take middle section might lead you to think there is some new, perhaps Malick-inspired innovation happening here but, the closing credits come as a shock. When is the movie going to start? When are we going to get to know these characters? When are we going to have insight into the pain and conflict they are going through? This….this can’t be it? This can’t be the movie version of the book that I’ve seen people reading on the subway every day for the last ten years?

I’ve no doubt that that book is engrossing, but as a film I must say I am not impressed. And don’t tell me “it’s subtle” because any movie with a 10 minute tracking shot or multiple close-ups of the word CUNT is not going for subtlety.

Looks nice, though – and the performances in the first bit (the bit when there’s actually scene work happening) is pretty good.

Erich Korngold Violin Concerto

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Monday, May 26th, 2008

Last week I was lucky enough to see Glenn Dicterow perform Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto. This was a piece I had never heard before, but I was instantly enthused by it. It has three elements I really enjoy: heavy schmaltz, a little dissonance and echoey percussion like that you can find in Charlie Schmid’s original score from the motion picture Body/Antibody. YouTube has many good performances of it you can dig up, like this one.

Past Tense Part II, DS9 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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Usually these two-parters always set you up for a fall. Not here – the conclusion is of cats pyjama levels.

The death of a good samaritan (Gabriel Bell, luckily a large, bald African American, much like someone we all know) has caused a rift in the timeline. If Bell can’t be a martyr at an upcoming riot, he will not be a catalyst to social changes that will ultimately lead to the formation of the UFP.

This is background, though, to a Dog Day Afternoon-esque standoff with Dick Miller as a guard who has seen it all. Remarkably, the good guys and bad guys all have a point, here, once again proving that DS9 is a far better show than it needs to be.

All works out in the end, kinda….and we get a drastic look at what well-meaning social policy can do when it goes unchecked.

Past Tense Part I, DS9 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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Time travel! But this time, to our future. H-wh-waaaa? This seems like a natch, but remember this episode predates First Contact. We know that the 21st Century was a mess (WWIII, The Eugenics Wars) but who knew about domestic concentration camps for the unemployed? Oy gevalt!

Sisko & Bashir get stuck in the last act of Children of Men and lord knows if they’ll ever get out?!??!

Fascination, DS9 3

Jordan | The Star Trek Project | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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It’s funny, because I hadn’t watched any Trek for a while and was all excited to dive back into the project. And I got hit with this episode.

It is a fun one, but kinda idiotic. Every series needs its Naked Time, I suppose. The ever-menopausal Lwaxana Troi is emanating lust powder or something and making everyone admit to wanting to make kissy face with someone else. Who knew Bashir was into Kira? (Wasn’t there a whole arc a while back that he was into Dax?) And Dax is into Sisko…but how much of that is Jadzia and how much of that is some hardcore NAMBLA Curzon action? I don’t think it makes sense to spend too much time worrying about it…..

Hamlet 2 (2008), Andrew Fleming, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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There is a lot that is flawed with Hamlet 2 (like, does it take place in the real world or in satire-world?) but the one thing that is 100% spot on is the miraculous performance by Steve Coogan. And, luckily, he is in every scene of this movie. It is a classic performance in the making, one that will be talked about for quite some time. (Full review to come…)

Tropic Thunder (2008), Ben Stiller, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, May 26th, 2008

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My review is under embargo, but I think it is cool (and spoiler-free) to say that this movie is abso-frickin-lutely hysterical. And I’ve never been much of a Stiller fan. This one will be a big hit.

I Can See The Music

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Une Femme Mariee (1964), Jean-Luc Godard, B-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

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Hardly one of JLG’s more springier films, I’m still, frankly, trying to put this one together.

Photography and production design are, as everything else Godard did in this period, perfect in their own pocket universe. I nearly passed out during the scenes at a fully mod airport. As I’ve said before, I’m hesitant to ever visit Paris because it won’t look like it does as shot by Raoul Coutard in the 1960s. Some debt is owed to Hiroshima, Mon Amour (indeed, there is an extremely quick shout out to Resnais toward the end of this film) for some of the evocative, lovers tryst shots – but where is it written that a good idea can’t be improved upon?

What bugs me about this film, though, is that I’m not sure what I am supposed to feel about the lead character. Because frankly, I hated her. She is a vapid imbecile…at least, that’s how I would feel about her if she was in my life. (She’s probably an anti-Semite, too, the way she offhandedly dismisses the scholar attempting to educate her on the Holocaust, but that’s another point.) Godard had yet to enter the surreal theatrics of La Chinoise or Le Week-end, so I don’t think he’s sending this woman up as a symbol of a corrupted soul. I think she represents a type that Godard felt was interesting to explore…similar to the female leads in, say, Vivre sa Vie or Contempt. The problem is that I just couldn’t stand this chick! (Maybe it was her face….she kept reminding me of someone I used to intern with during the semester I took a gig at VH-1 in 1995.) (I should also point out I didn’t much care for her obnoxious husband either. In fact, I don’t think I liked anyone in this movie. And I normally like people!)

I’ll tell you one thing, though. There is a lot of vintage underwear in this movie. One of the more entertaining sequences is a montage of magazine bra ads. Other than being a trip for graphic designers, this is supposed to give us some sort of empathy for our lead (she is being bombarded by images and signifiers! Sacre bleu!) but it comes too late. By then, I was waiting for this ditsy trollop to dig herself further into her pit of bourgeois ennui. Which she only kinda does. Oh, well.

Thieves Like Us (1974), Robert Altman, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, May 19th, 2008

Altman reins in his trademarked chaos and tells a straight yarn. Performances reach near Cassavetes-style greatness (anything with Burt Remsen can’t be bad) and such a full court press of realism places us in a world where Shelly Duvall is, by comparison to everything else, drop dead gorgeous. Altman has never struck me as a guy for period films, but the detail given to the production design (and ubiquitous radio broadcasts) of this depression-era tale is nothing short of miraculous. To put it bluntly: best kitchen bric-a-brac ever.

Shocking statement: Thieves Like Us is a far better film than Bonnie and Clyde.

Bayou – Staten Island

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Monday, May 19th, 2008

Listen, I’m as bad as you are when it comes to Staten Island. It’s a total mystery. Frankly, I don’t understand why people who live there don’t just move to New Jersey. As far as I can tell, it is just New Jersey with higher taxes. The Ferry is nice and all, but once you get there you can walk to one used book store or one Sri Lankan restaurant and that’s it. If you want to drive there: boom! $10 at the Verrazzano. Staten Island does have one thing the other four boroughs do not have: a kick-ass cajun restaurant.

There are some so-so cajun places in Manhattan, but none to rival what you can actually get in New Orleans. Bayou, located deep in the heart of Staten Island (not within walking distance of the Ferry, alas), has the skills what pay the bills.

I had something called the Seafood Gone Wild and I am still thinking about it three days later. They also have lots of fun, multi-colored drinks. There is also frequent live music.

But enough of my yakkin – take a look at the menu and let me know when you wanna pitch in for the bridge fare to go again.

Alien: Ressurection (1997), Jean-Pierre Jeunet, B-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, May 19th, 2008

Not nearly as bad as I remember. And certainly an improvement over Alien 3. Hard, though, to care for a group of people who steal sleeping humans and sell them for medical experiments but, hey, things are tough in the future, I guess. Too bad Winona Ryder went all loopy, because she’s got a lot of charisma in this picture. More than Sigourney here, who is all mopey with her cloned super-powered self. The real star, though, is Dominique Pinon, the crippled man with the strange accent. I could watch him all day.

The last few shots are strangely sad – and very gross….this may be the grossest of the four Alien movies. If you haven’t seen this since the theaters (as I hadn’t) give this one another shot. It isn’t, you know, GOOD, but it hardly sucks.

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