5/23/11

The GOP presidential nominating race begins in earnest

The last couple of weeks have seen the GOP presidential nominating race take off in earnest. First, Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) declared his candidacy. Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR) and Donald Trump (BIRTHER) quickly backed out. Former Libertarian presidential nominee and Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (TX) also announced his candidacy. Gov. Mitch Daniels (IN) declined to run, and Fmr. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) made it official that he would run.

So the race is taking shape, and the shape it is taking is of a broken-down party without popular ideas or leaders. I still think the race has room for somebody credible, just don't ask me who that might be yet.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

5/9/11

Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)


Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an incredible, not-to-be-missed documentary on one of the most beautiful and exciting discoveries ever, the Chauvet cave of France, a time capsule of an art gallery containing over 400 cave paintings of animals, the oldest visual art known, created during Paleolithic times by early humans who shared their valley with Neanderthals.

As a movie fan, I love it, and I think you will, too. As a movie critic, I can say that it is now, and will be, this critic's best film of 2011, and indeed it's my pleasure to report that it's one of the best movies of all time. You need to see it. Your friends and neighbors need to see it. Take the kids, the grandkids or the grandparents. I sincerely ask you to do yourself a favor and find out where it's playing and go there. If it's not playing near you, please contact your nearest theaters capable of playing 3-D movies and demand it in your area. In an ideal world, it would play and play, so that anyone could see it anytime they wanted forever.

I can sympathize with those who might be skeptical that it could be as good as I'm saying. Documentaries are rarely huge box office, and the 3-D surcharge could also keep some away. One might think, "Wouldn't a 3-D documentary be boring and expensive?" Boring, no way. And the 3-D adds so much. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is certainly as good a 3-D movie as How to Train Your Dragon or Toy Story 3. I've looked up and marveled at images from the cave online since seeing the film, and I have to say, it's better in 3-D.

Scientists have determined that around 32,000 years ago, in a cave nestled in a hill near the natural stone arch known as Pont d'Arc, early humans began creating an incredible work of art. They worked on it for 5,000 years. Then, about 20,000 years ago, a cliff collapse closed the entrance to the cave, which remained sealed off from human view and knowledge until 1994, when Jean-Marie Chauvet, for whom the cave is named, and two other explorers, found and uncovered it, allowing it to once again enter human consciousness.

Nature and the animal kingdom have also collaborated with these early humans to create the vision of this priceless jewel box of a cave bear cave now available to be seen by all...in 3-D. The beautiful paintings themselves take advantage of the curvature of the cave walls, so that the 3-D presentation is not a curiosity, but a necessity for the audience to see Chauvet cave very much like its creators would have. Water, minerals and gases seeping through the cave for thousands of years have left a layer of peach-colored calcite over everything, preserving the paintings with a startling clarity, blanketing the cave floor, strewn with preserved animal bones, and creating cascades, curtains, stalactites and stalagmites throughout with their own eerie delicacy and perfection.

But the beauty and intrinsic value of the cave and its contents are not all that makes Cave of Forgotten Dreams a masterpiece of incalculable importance. In many ways, this movie is a culmination of filmmaking, a genuine meeting of subject, medium and execution which provides unanticipated reasons the development of filmmaking and 3-D technology took place. The playful, almost off-hand way Herzog has put together images of the cave and its surroundings with experts who can put it all in context make both a fascinating document and a high-level artistic statement beyond a simple trip to an ancient art gallery (which is exciting enough!).

Herzog himself, one of our greatest filmmakers, narrates the film with a sense of seriousness mixed with wonder and whimsy suited to the task. He also served as one of the small crew allowed to film inside the cave. A humorous and confounding postscript side trip provides somewhat random but ultimately illuminating juxtapositions, contradictions and questions, and more stark beauty.

Then there's the music. Herzog, in the beginning of the film, makes some seemingly hyperbolic claims for the cave and its implications for art history and culture, as well as geology, anthropology, religion, zoology, and more, which create an automatic urge to scoff and doubt, until we see the stunning cave itself and conclude that his statements are, first, true, and second, modest. The original music, by Ernst Reijseger, works in a similar way, starting out with some relatively over-the-top and familiar tricks for evoking feelings of discovery and grandeur, then piling these on top of each other as we begin to believe. As a result, while the score constantly calls attention to itself, it also points back at the walls of the cave, so that while it is distracting at times, it also unifies with, accompanies and complements the images in a powerfully satisfying way.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the best view possible of the amazing Chauvet cave. Very few people will ever get to go inside and see it in person. So go and see it, and get a good look. It's hard to feel I could do a film this great justice with this short review, but I've seen it twice, and chances are good that even while you may be finishing up reading this, I may again be descending Cave of Forgotten Dreams, torch high, eyes popping. It is a rare beauty, in fact, one of the rarest. Do not miss out.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

5/3/11

Alex's worst ten movies of 2010

And now for the worst....Here are my worst ten movies of 2010, though, to be fair, I'm only including films I have reviewed. I'll do them in reverse order, with number one being the worst of all:

10. The Runaways. Blah, empty magazine-shoot rock-o-pic.

9. Knight and Day. Oh, Cameron Diaz/Tom Cruise movies, what are we going to do with you?

8. Case 39. Children are evil! This is a more fun premise when executed in a way which is not flat and boring.

7. Alice in Wonderland. Helena Bonham Carter is notably good in a movie which mostly doesn't really seem to care.

6. Robin Hood. Seemingly promising prequel to the familiar Robin Hood tale falls down quick.

5. Country Strong. This is a very unrelatable country music movie which is actually sad because it is not very sad.

4. Alpha and Omega. Not an animated wolf version of the Old Testament, but a weirdly racist animated wolf version of nothing with lousy animation and 3-D.

3. The Warrior's Way. A super-awful kung fu Western, seemingly one hundred hours long.

2. The Bounty Hunter. Bad, bad Jennifer Aniston.

1. Daybreakers. A silly, grim vampire movie to inspire even vampire-movie lovers to want to punch vampire movies in the face.

Estimated number of viewings in total for these ten films: 10.

And that is quite enough of the worst movies.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

Alex's top ten movies of 2010

Well, I'm more than a little late this year, not sure exactly why. Maybe I'll be faster for 2011. Here are my top ten movies of 2010, all four-starrers:

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Niels Arden Oplev's moody, suspenseful murder mystery/romance/autistic character study is gorgeous and perfect, the best of a fun and exciting series based on the novels by Stieg Larsson. Noomi Rapace did not win the Best Actress Oscar, for some reason.

2. Black Swan. Darren Aronofsky continues to stack eccentric masterpiece upon eccentric masterpiece. Natalie Portman did win the Best Actress Oscar, for obvious reasons.

3. Toy Story 3. The third entry in a perfect series of groundbreaking computer-animated sci-fi/fantasy adventures, this one about growing up. Yes, I cried, too, and loved it.

4. Animal Kingdom. David Michôd directs an Australian true-crime family drama with knockout performances all around, and tension, love, heartbreak, betrayal as well as outstanding cinematography and editing, as gripping as any great gangster story ever.

5. Devil. The Dowdles' Shyamalan-produced slice-of-life supernatural thriller keeps moving, keeps you guessing. It's a dark mirror surface of horror and grief with genuine creep-outs and lots to say.

6. Machete. Danny Trejo stars in Robert Rodriguez's funny, smart, iconic and indelible parody/fantasy on national themes.

7. Cyrus. Cyrus puts characters before everything for a laser-sharp comic vision of modern family and weird people.

8. Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro's novel brought to complex and fascinating life by director Mark Romanek. Carey Mulligan, Keira Knighley and Andrew Garfield (and their younger counterparts) are like to break your heart with this lovely future fugue.

9. I Love You Phillip Morris. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor give some of their best performances ever in this brilliant true gay romance which is also a hilariously frank and dirty story of over-the-top pathological lying and obsession. Similar in some ways to The Jerk, Happy Together, and as great as both.

10. Get Low. Robert Duvall's hermit character plans his own funeral in the deep South with help from Bill Murray's funeral director and his assistant, played by Lucas Black. This one is also inspired by a true story. Bill Cobbs is especially excellent here, and his character is a key to the story's successful adaptation to drama.

Since these are, in my opinion, the ten best films of the year, I view it as an injustice that many were not nominated for Best Picture, as there were ten open slots for the year. But there are always Oscar injustices, you just have to factor that in, so whatever....I'm especially glad about wins for Portman and The King's Speech (see below).

And to round out a full top twenty for 2010: How to Train Your Dragon, Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist (L'illusionniste), M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender (no, I'm not kidding), Tom Hooper's well-deserved Best Picture-winning The King's Speech, Olivier Assayas's six-hour Carlos, Henry Jaglom's wacky Queen of the Lot, David O. Russell's The Fighter, Randall Wallace's Secretariat, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, and John Cameron Patrick Shanley Swayze Mitchell's Rabbit Hole (this is not the director's real name, just how I remember it).

Estimated number of viewings in total for these twenty films: 79.

Nowhere Boy, The Town and True Grit should get honorable mentions, too. Estimated total viewings of True Grit: 14.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

Ron Paul leads 2012 GOP presidential nominee web poll results for April

Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (TX) led April voting for who respondents thought would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. As usual, this is of self-selected voters of any party who found my website, so it is not scientific in any way. (This means you should not complain that it was not scientific because it's never going to be.) Voting is just for fun, please no wagering. Here are this month's results:

April 2011

#1 - Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (TX) ... 27.4%
#2 - Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) ... 20.2%
#3 - Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) ... 11.3%
#3 - Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) ... 11.3%
#3 - Other ... 11.3%
#4 - Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) ... 6.5%
#4 - Senate Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) ... 6.5%
#5 - Gov. Sam Brownback (KS) ... 3.2%
#6 - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) ... .8%
#6 - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge (PA) ... .8%
#6 - Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MI / UT / MA) ... .8%

124 total votes cast / Margin of error ±100%

The Other option was inflated for this month by Barbour votes cast before he announced his non-candidacy. I have also now removed likely non-candidates Brownback, Hutchison, McConnell and Ridge from the poll and the GOP field page.

You can vote for this month's new poll here, or click the vote button from any of the Choose Our President 2012 pages.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012