August 2005

Last Days

by Marion M. Merritt on August 12, 2005

in Uncategorized

Last Days
4 Stars

It is usually a bad sign when, in a movie, the protagonist seems to be dead and an audience member shouts, “I hope he is finally dead, so this film can be over.” I overhead phrases like, “it was the worst movie I have seen all year,” to “a pretentious mess.”

The pretentious mess quote was my own, then something happened. Once the ideas, sounds, atmosphere and music of Last Days filtered through my brain and I stopped challenging director and writer, Gus Van Sant, and I opened my mind to his unique vision.

Even though we know the film is fictionalized take on the last days of a grunge rock start, as seen by Van Sant, the diehard Nirvana and Cobain fans can relax. What made Cobain a rock god to so many will remain intact because none of us knows what happened and it is the music, always the music that remains important.

Last Days visualizes the story of the struggles of a Kurt Cobain-like musical artist in the final 36 hours or so of his life.

We first meet Blake (Michael Pitt, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dreamers, Dawson’s Creek) running through the lush woods, underdressed in silk pajama bottoms, a dirty t-shirt, still sporting his hospital identification bracelet. He dives into what must be a freezing river stream for a cleansing, therapeutic swim, followed by some reflective time in front of an inviting campfire.

Blake is next seen as a man on a mission. We follow him tumbling and stumbling through the woods into a decaying mansion with shabby chic furniture, mumbling, groaning, incomprehensible. He finds his buried treasure and mumbles some of his first comprehensible words, “spoon, spoon.”

In an unsatisfying drug haze, he hides from the world, hides from friends, tries to hide from the a woman who may be the mother of his little girl, the wheelers and dealers of the music world, but, dressed in a black silk slip and coat, Blake greets and talks to, not mumbles, a determined Yellow Pages sales rep. He can talk to a strangers.

Blake enjoys little, but, he seems to be having fun, playing his own version of hide and seek throughout the mansion, in the woods and pretending to be both the hunter and the hunted with what may be a loaded rifle. He cradles and caresses it,  making it a twisted form of foreplay for him and for the audience because we know what is coming, but not when.

Then there is the music. Usually in a shuffling, mumbling, numbing drug-state, Blake only comes alive when making music. He is coherent, clear, passionate, intense, electric. Now we can understand his pain, through his lyrics and some primal screaming that could wake the dead. Outside the music, he is a dead soul, afraid of the world which no drug can help him overcome.

Although Blake rarely interacts with them, other members of his band are also roaming around the mansion. Luke (Lukas Haas, hiding behind coke-bottled glasses) mainly wants Blake to help him with a song. Scott ( Scott Green), is there to help deflect unwanted visitors. Asia ( Asia Argento, Michael Pitt‘s real life girlfriend at the time) is the girlfriend, maybe, of Luke. These are members of his troop, protectors, maybe, but, not real friends. They all seem to have their own agendas for Blake, but, caring about helping him save his life and their careers is not one of them.

Everyone sitting in the audience knows what is coming. We watch and wait and when the end does come, there is a sense of relief for us and for Blake because for him, after repeated failures in rehab, he is tired, he has shared his heart and soul with the world, through his music, now it is time for his big sleep.

Last Days is the third in a trilogy of death films, following Gerry (2002) and Elephant (2003). How could I go from thinking Last Days was a pretentious mess to thinking it is a film of beauty and poignancy? Gus Van Sant.

When I let go, stepped back and reviewed his whole approach to the film,  I then began to understand the inarticulate ramblings of a man, a boy, a put-on-a-pedestal, insecure rock god reciting his long suicide note to us, to himself. Irritating long shots of the meditative woods became visual postcards of the beauty that surrounded Blake but, he could not see. Looping and looping of scenes, some with subtle perspective changes, some not, was a view of the Blake’s world through the haze of his drugged-out, depressed mind. Van Sant teases us throughout the film, creating tension, by having Blake play with his rifle.

Michael Pitt plays guitar and sings and fronts for the band Pagoda. He has portrayed and sang as the glam, rock star, Tommy Gnosis, in Hedwig. For some strange reason, director, Bernardo Bertolucci uses Pitt’s cover of “Hey Joe” in the movie Dreamers, whose soundtrack covered the greatest musicians of the late sixties: Hendrix, Joplin, The Dead, The Doors. Pitt’s cover of a song that even Hendrix never felt he was worthy to sing, was distracting. But, in Last Days, Van Sant (he and Pitt have been good friends for years) lets Pitt cut loose in two powerful music scenes. We get to watch Blake, (with Pitt singing and playing all the instruments) tell the world his truths through the music. He is tired of all the crap that is his environment. Watching Blake create music from what was his ramblings is brilliant and electrifying.

There is an almost homoerotic scene between Luke and Scott, which is one of the many looped scenes, that even on reflection, seems out of place. I will have to continue to ponder that one, because there has to be some deeper meaning beyond the obvious.

Gus Van Sant is usually ahead of the curve in his story telling methods. He will make you work in order to “get” his story, understand his unique vision. When we are angry and frustrated with Blake, the film itself, we are suppose to be. After you have left Last Days feeling like Van Sant has made a bomb, wait, think, reflect and you will began to visualize, smell, feel and understand the small sparks and then the whole mental picture of a great auteur who refuses to tell his stories the easy way.

New Rule: Bill Maher is Damn Funny

by Alan Rapp on August 11, 2005

in Uncategorized

A compilation of Maher’s New Rules from the closing segment of his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher such as “Country music stars can’t be authors,” and “If you can’t get drunk at a fraternity, it’s not a fraternity.”  Great stuff!

New Rules
3 & 1/2 Stars

I’ve said it before and I will say it again:  I freakin’ love Bill Maher.  New Rules is a collection of Maher’s weekly musings from the closing segment of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher.  Although I don’t always agree with his take, I will constantly stand up and cheer him for having the balls to put it out there without apology.  So sit back kiddies; it’s time for New Rules.

I DON’T CARE IF YOUR PHONE TAKES PICTURES.
IT’S A PHONE, NOT A SWISS ARMY KNIFE.

Okay, you know I’ve going to recommend this so let me start of with some of the things that bothered me about the collection.  Except for the introduction there is no new material here.  If you have watched the show you will have seen and heard all that the book contains.  Also, some of the rules do not have the same impact taken out of the context in which they originally aired.  These are small gripes however and although it comes with a steep price tag (Hardcover is priced at $24.95) I still believe it’s a nice addition to a collection, or as Maher says in his introduction many, many times “it makes a great gift.”

So what are New Rules?  They are observations Maher has made about people, activities,  groups, and our society.  For each one he creates a “new rule.”  His rules have a certain liberal slant, but it does not stop him from voicing his displeasure at the both the left and the right.  He also comments on observations and troubling trends of our society.  Each rule is stated as a simple fact and then explained in greater detail.

Maher attacks the evil of fast food, parents who are incapable of disciplining their children, and the spinelessness of the Democratic Party.  He examines the hypocrisy of the small government party, Republicans, invading privacy in the home and even going so far as to try to regulate love and marriage.  He rails against interest groups power in Washington, especially the Christian Right.

He spends time ranting against pharmacists who refuse to fill medical prescriptions for birth control on their own personal moral objections.  He voices his displeasure over Hollywood’s ineptitude to put out a quality product, but spends some time defending his home state of California.  He attacks pop culture; he criticizes the idea of people being famous for nothing and makes a quite humorous suggestion for the name of Brittney Spears’ baby.

In two of his more entertaining spiels he looks as the sexually active youth of America.  In the first, he examines how abstinence pledges have caused teenagers to have exactly the same amount of STDs as teens who do not take the pledge.  Also it seems girls who have taken the pledge are six times more likely to perform oral sex and four times more likely to perform anal sex.  The kids signed a contract, but as Bill points out, “they found loopholes—two of them to be exact.”  In the second he examines a rather strange phenomenon at local malls.  It seems many young suburban white girls have begun prostituting themselves at the local mall in order to buy clothes from the various shops.  Sigh, to be sixteen again. 

I’d recommend this look to anyone that likes political and observational humor; this is well researched and well delivered.  Maher provides a sharp wit, an uncompromising gaze, and a certian flippancy at the world in analyzing what is wrong with all the rest of us.  I’ll leave you with a few more rules I paticularly enjoyed:

If you can’t get drunk at a fraternity, it’s not a fraternity.

Country music stars can’t be authors.

The more complicated the Starbucks order, the bigger the asshole.

Bob Dylan must stop denying he was the voice of a generation.

The people in America who were the most in favor of the Iraq war must go there and fight it.

The Second to Last Great Western Ever Made

by Louis Reyna on August 11, 2005

in Uncategorized

Philip Kaufman’s epic tribute to the coolest, baddest mothers to ever hold college degrees

“The Right Stuff” is a huge, ballsy chronicle of the early years of America’s space program, from Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in 1947 to Gordo Cooper’s Mercury flight – the final flight of that maiden program and “the last time America would send a man into space alone.”
Phillip Kaufman manages to corral Tom Wolfe’s book into an epic tribute to the coolest, baddest motherfuckers to ever hold college degrees. That was one of the requisites of those astronaut candidates – a college degree and being under six feet tall, just the right size to squeeze into those ‘cap-sools’ and become – in the words of Chuck Yeager, who was left behind in the program because he didn’t have a college degree – “spam in a can”.
The film was released in 1983 and it sunk The Ladd Company faster than Gus Grissom’s souvenir loaded capsule after he prematurely blew the hatch. At that time, well into Ronald Reagan’s first term, the public – at least the movie going public – wasn’t ready for a three hour film that, on the surface, was awash in unabashed patriotism. At least, that’s the way I saw it. The weekend the film was released, my brother Jimmy and I were at The Chinese Theatre looking at the posters in the courtyard. (The Chinese is owned by The Mann’s Corporation and the posters to all the movies being shown at The Mann’s Theatres in Hollywood were on display.) When we saw the poster for “The Right Stuff” we just looked at each other and shook our heads.
We were poor brown folk and we hated Reagan.
A few days later I went to see the film alone. The theatre was almost empty. But from the opening Appalachian drawl of Levon Helm’s narration to Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager walking away triumphantly from the burning wreckage of his NF-104, his face plastered with third degree burns and still chompin’ on that Beemin’s , I was hooked. Here was a film like I’d never seen – a perfect blend of post-Watergate, post-Vietnam cynicism and Hero worship. I had grown up on late 60’s and 70’s gritty realism and despair. Frankly, by that time, in my early twenties, I was tired of the messages of films like “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now”. I was ready for Heroes and these “star voyagers” were my type of guys. They had all the flaws and insecurities of most men, but they were confident and stoic on the surface. The ‘right stuff’ that Phillip Kaufman and Tom Wolfe (in the book) preached about were the same qualities I had seen in the men I knew while I was growing up, whether they were factory workers, gang members, con artists or good, solid musicians. These men knew how and when to wear their ‘game faces’. They just didn’t walk, they strutted. And, above all, they never ever let you see them sweat or panic.
Sure, the film is flawed. It’s a little too long. Kaufman could’ve pared down the New Mexico lab test toilet humor. And, like most historical and biographical films, he takes liberties with some of the time-line of events. But when it’s on, it’s ON. From the tight ensemble acting to the exhilarating flight sequences, especially the breaking of the sound barrier, where you see that little X-1 rocket drop from the p.o.v. of the belly of that b-29, and John Glenn’s lumbering and massive lift off on that Atlas rocket set to the strains of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, The Bringer of War” from “The Planets”…
Until Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” came along, “The Right Stuff” was the last great western ever made.
As far as the Special Edition 2 disc re-issue, I was disappointed with the aspect ratio, or the ‘widescreen’ format. I was hoping for letterbox, which gives more of the original screen image. But the mini-doc’s and the interviews are good, especially the cast reminiscing about partying at the bar that substituted for Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club, with the snapshots showing Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid and Fred Ward, among others, drinking hard, just like the flyboys some thirty years earlier.
So if you’ve never seen the film, or “only seen parts of it”, pop it in your player, turn off the lights, get a pillow ready for your girlfriend (because you know she’ll fall asleep halfway through it), and watch “How The Future Began”. Before you know it, you’ll be hunting down a vintage brown leather flight jacket on E-Bay, chompin’ on Beemin’s (if they still make it) and looking for all the original composers to the classical music that Bill Conti ripped off for the score.

Check Out Who Is Top Dog

by December Lambeth on August 11, 2005

in Uncategorized

20th Century Fox is in the lead for top Studio Market Shares so far this year. I was going to say with movies like, but now that I look back on their release schedule, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is the best they have had in their lineup. Now I’m a little surprised. They do have Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Big Momma’s House 2 and Transporter 2 in their future release schedule; still a little confused how they are on top? Me to. Check the stats for yourself.

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Doom or not Doom…

by December Lambeth on August 9, 2005

in Film News & Trailers

that is the question. Will The Rock’s new adventure in this video game film, be a flop or will Doom follow suite with some of it’s better predecessors? Check out the trailer, story, and photos for more details. This smells an awful lot like Resident Evil.

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