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The latest from Martin Scorsese.  I don’t think he’s ever going to make a film without DiCaprio ever again.  This looks like THE SHINING meets SHAWSHANK and I probably wouldn’t have an interest in seeing it if it wasn’t Scorsese.  

SHUTTER ISLAND opens October 2nd.

Review: Up

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About 40 minutes into Pixar’s new animated feature UP, a 4 year old girl sitting a few seats down from me turned to her mother and said, “I want to go home.”  

I’m sure there will be many children who will love UP and many Doug the Talking Dog stuffed animals will be sold.  However, like the little girl seated in my row, there will be many kids for whom the larger themes of UP will sail right over their heads.  

UP is a film not of cartoon characters but of real people.  It is a great film, entirely in its own class when compared to the other releases so far in 2009.  The film opens with the meeting of two young children, Carl and Ellie.  Both have wild imaginations and thirsts for adventure, and the two instantly fall into a love that will last them the rest of their lives.  The story of Carl and Ellie is told in a prologue that is by far the greatest achievement that Pixar has ever accomplished.  With this prologue, UP manages to do in 10 minutes what BENJAMIN BUTTON couldn’t do in over 3 hours.  It is powerful storytelling and what struck me the most about the story of Carl and Ellie was the wisdom it contained.  The sequence contains no dialogue because it understands that some of life’s most powerful moments exist in gestures, not words.  A balloon tied to a stick sailing through a hospital room affected me as emotionally as anything I’ve seen in recent memory.  Ever since they were children, Carl and Ellie’s dream was to build a home on the cliffs of Paradise Island, the famous destination of their favorite explorer, Charles Muntz.  They save money in a jar for the big move but as they get older, real life gets in the way.  Car repairs, hospital bills and the like cause the jar to keep being dipped into until both have grown old.  There is a moment when Carl looks at his great love and realizes that she is now an old woman, and the full grasp of that deferred dream settles in.  That Pixar can manipulate Carl’s face with computers to display such a complex human emotion is incredible, yet entirely seamless.  

The real story of UP begins as Carl begins his life without Ellie.  Alone for the first time, he occupies the house they lived in together on a completely barren construction lot.  All of the neighbors around him have sold out to a big corporation except for Carl.  Their house, filled with all the pictures and trinkets of a life spent with another person now feels empty.  It is soon after that he decides to fulfill his promise to Ellie and move their house to Paradise Falls, aided by an endless bunch of helium balloons that stick out of his chimney.  He soon finds that he isn’t alone on his journey.  He is joined by a young Wilderness Explorer Scout named Russell, who shares the same adventurous spirit that once lived in Carl.  

UP largely involves the adventures that Carl and Russell encounter once they reach their destination.  There are hilarious bits involving a pack of dogs that have special electronic collars that allow us to hear their thoughts and the film also contains a truly sinister villain in the form of another explorer whose spirit of adventure has corrupted him.  The film is genuinely funny, with scores of colorful creatures and characters.  Michael Giacchino’s score flutters and soars, keeping the film humming along beautifully.  

Last year I told you that WALL-E was the best film that Pixar had ever made.  This year, they have raised the bar yet again.  UP is a beautiful film both visually and thematically.  I watched the 2-D presentation and am thankful for the experience given that some critics saw the 3-D presentation as a way of dulling the film’s rich color palette.  UP is a film about love and loss, the struggle to move from one chapter to the next and the special relationships that can propel us forward.  It is the film to beat of 2009.

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I am a passionate sports fan.  I can’t necessarily explain why.  I can’t say why a Laker victory catapults my mood to temporary euphoria and I can’t describe to you why a Laker loss makes me grumpy and irritable.  I know it’s just a game.  I know it’s silly.  I’ve tried explaining it to my girlfriend but can’t articulate it.  Bless her for putting up with me during the 2008 NBA Finals embarrassment.  

Sports are an emotional enterprise.  The word “fan” is short for “fanatic” which can explain some of the heightened tensions and emotions that can exist during a game.  Last night’s NBA Western Conference Finals Game 5 is a perfect example of the emotional rollercoaster of being a sports fan.  The series was tied 2-2.  If the Lakers win, they go up 3-2 with a chance to close out in Denver and even if they lose there they have the deciding Game 7 in the cozy comfort of their home court.  If they lose, they face elimination in a hostile Denver crowd on Friday.  As the game progressed and the Lakers looked lethargic, I begin to chew my nails down to their nubs.  However, when they went on their fantastic run, effectively “flipping the switch” we’ve been waiting for them to flip, it was a great joy to watch.  

What is the point of all this?  Simply to explain that I get it.  I understand the emotions, the triumphs, the disappointments and the let-downs.  I am able to reasonably manage these emotions and keep them in check because after all, it’s just a game.  

This is a concept that European soccer fans just can’t grasp. They have the emotion, but not the self-control.  Recently, Manchester United lost their Championship game to Barcelona.  When American teams win championships the occasional riot is bound to happen.  Perhaps a car or two will be flipped over and set on fire.  While this behavior is obviously abhorrent, it is incredibly tame compared to European soccer riots.  In the aftermath of the Manchester Utd/Barcelona match, this happened:

(CNN) — A man “angered” by Manchester United’s defeat to Barcelona in the final of the Champions League killed four people when he drove a minibus into a crowd celebrating the Spanish side’s victory, police in Nigeria have told CNN.

Ten people were also injured in the incident in the town of Ogbo, where the driver was subsequently arrested, a Port Harcourt Police spokesperson said.

“He was displaying his anger at his team losing the match. The driver had passed the crowd then made a U-turn and ran into them,” spokesperson Rita Inomey-Abbey said.

What causes this behavior?  There is a massive Wikipedia entry titled “Football Hoolaganism” which chronicles the violence around the world.  Why does this happen?  It’s not like it’s all they have in Europe, which is home to some of the finest art, music and cuisine in the world.  Maybe because I don’t understand soccer I don’t understand the riots.  I know that you won’t find me within 10 miles of a European soccer match anytime soon.  I hate to be a killjoy but the league has to step in to insure that these kinds of fights don’t happen anymore.  Who knows how many other fights and injuries were sustained outside this particular incident.  

In the meantime I will watch my Lakers compete in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals tomorrow night.  Win or lose, I can assure you that you won’t flip on the local news to see that I’ve ran anybody over with my car.  Unless there are no cops around and  a group of Celtics fans are just asking for it.

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Red Bull, the popular energy drink, gives you such a great boost of energy that the German Health Institute decided to explore what exactly makes it kick.  The result is nothing short of fantastic.

“The [Health Institute in the state of North Rhine Westphalia] examined Red Bull Cola in an elaborate chemical process and found traces of cocaine,” Bernhard Kuehnle, head of the food safety department at Germany’s federal ministry for consumer protection, told the German press on Sunday. According to this analysis, the 0.13 micrograms of cocaine per can of the drink does not pose a serious health threat — you’d have to drink 12,000 L of Red Bull Cola for negative effects to be felt — but it was enough to cause concern. Kuehnle’s agency is due to give its final verdict on Wednesday when experts publish their report. 

Red Bull has always been upfront about the recipe for its new cola. Its website boasts colorful pictures of coca, cardamom and Kola nuts, along with other key “natural” ingredients. The company insists, however, that coca leaves are used as a flavoring agent only after removing the illegal cocaine alkaloid. “De-cocainized extract of coca leaf is used worldwide in foods as a natural flavoring,” said a Red Bull spokesman in response to the German government’s announcement. Though the cocaine alkaloid is one of 10 alkaloids in coca leaves and represents only 0.8% of the chemical makeup of the plant, it’s removal is mandated by international antinarcotics agencies when used outside the Andean region.

I was going to try to write some sort of clever shtick or joke to go along with this story but honestly, I’m just going to take off and get some Red Bull.  Enjoy your afternoon.

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To go along with my passion for the cinema, I have also been blessed with an iron clad bladder.  I never get up to go to the bathroom during movies.  I just can’t stand to miss anything and hate the feeling when you return to your seat and have to ask the person you’re with what you missed.  However, I understand that many of you out there enjoy sipping on a Mr. Pibb while watching NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 11: BATTLE OF THE NIXON LIBRARY.  Finally, there is a website for you.

RunPee.com is a rather genius website that tells you at what point in a film to run to the bathroom.  In addition, they will provide a description of what you missed in the time you were gone.  For example, when watching X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE you should never pay to see it in the first place.  However, if you find yourself watching it anyway, RunPee suggests hitting the head about 50 minutes into the film, right after Wolverine discovers his new claws in the bathroom.  Here’s what you will have missed (SPOILER, but seriously, don’t see WOLVERINE):

Wolverine accidentally chops up some of the bathroom fixtures with his new claws/blades. He then goes downstairs for dinner with the old couple. The old man and Logan talk about motorcycles and that’s about it. Next morning Logan is out in the barn when the old man comes out and gives him his son’s old jacket. The old lady comes out with some food and that’s when a sniper shoots her and then the old man. Logan is already sitting on the motorcycle so he speeds out of the barn just as the bad guys blow it up. Chase scene ensues.

So for those with shy bladders, you now have your new bible.

A few years ago, Vincent Gallo brought his film, THE BROWN BUNNY, to the Cannes Film Festival where it was declared “the worst film in the history of the festival.”  Audiences at Cannes aren’t like typical American audiences.  They are very vocal, and THE BROWN BUNNY was met with loud boos and jeers throughout.  The film was eventually re-cut into a film I enjoyed very much.  This year controversy surrounds Lars Von Trier’s new film, ANTICHRIST, which the audience at Cannes met with “derisive laughter, gasps of disbelief, a smattering of applause and loud boos.”

From Reuters:

Antichrist opens with a heavily stylized, black-and-white, slow-motion portrayal of the child’s accidental death set to soaring music by Handel.

Dafoe’s character, who is a therapist, tries to help his wife deal with her grief and encourages her to come off heavy medication that sedates her for weeks after the death.

They decide to go to an isolated wooden cabin in an unspecified forest to recover, but the woman Gainsbourg portrays loses control of her senses.

The abuse she submits herself and her husband to drew shocked gasps from the audience.

The reaction suggested that von Trier, who won the top prize in Cannes with “Dancer in the Dark” in 2000, could be in for a rough ride from reviewers and journalists on Monday.

Todd McCarthy of “Variety”, who is probably the most influential critic in the country, wrote:

Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with “Antichrist.” As if deliberately courting critical abuse, the Danish bad boy densely packs this theological-psychological horror opus with grotesque, self-consciously provocative images that might have impressed even Hieronymus Bosch, as the director pursues personal demons of sexual, religious and esoteric bodily harm, as well as feelings about women that must be a comfort to those closest to him. Traveling deep into NC-17 territory, this may prove a great date movie for pain-is-pleasure couples. Otherwise, most of the director’s usual fans will find this outing risible, off-putting or both — derisive hoots were much in evidence during and after the Cannes press screening — while the artiness quotient is far too high for mainstream-gore groupies.

However, Roger Ebert defends it.  Sort of:

I rarely find a serious film by a major director to be this disturbing. Its images are a fork in the eye. Its cruelty is unrelenting. Its despair is profound.

A reader signing himself Scott D posted this comment after my first entry on the film: “If it is in fact the most despairing film you’ve ever seen, shouldn’t it be considered a monumental achievement? Despair is such a significant aspect of the human condition (particularly in the modern western world) so how can this not be a staggeringly important film, given your statement?” There is truth to what Scott D says. In the first place, it’s important to note that “Antichrist” is not a bad film. It is a powerfully-made film that contains material many audiences will find repulsive or unbearable. The performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are heroic and fearless. Von Trier’s visual command is striking. The use of music is evocative; no score, but operatic and liturgical arias. And if you can think beyond what he shows to what he implies, its depth are frightening.

I cannot dismiss this film. It is a real film. It will remain in my mind. Von Trier has reached me and shaken me. It is up to me to decide what that means.

Though ANTICHRIST’s negative reviews probably put it out of the running for the Palm D’or this year, ANTICHRIST remains the talk of the festival.  At least until INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS screens.  When asked for comment, Von Trier responded that ANTICHRIST was “the best and most important film of my career.”