State of the Union Drinking Game 2008

President George W. (Dubya) Bush will be delivering his State of the Union Address this Monday Night, January 28th, 2008 at 9pm EST. 

Unlike last year, there is some cause for celebration as this will be the last address Dubya will deliver as President.  Still, he has plenty of time to muck things up, so with equal parts fear and joy, the only way to get through this is to drink up!

Those who got drunk with me last year will notice a return of many of last year’s favorite rules, but stay focused, there’s much CHANGE from last year, and remember, folks, we all love the buzzword of CHANGE!

Here are the rules for The State of the Union Drinking Game, version 2008, Last Year of the Dubya: Continue reading

A Review of “Cloverfield”

CAPTION:  Lizzy Caplan and Jessica Lucas were ready for their close-ups until that pesky monster came along.

Pretty Close to Something Terrible…, 21 January 2008
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

At one point during the mayhem of “Cloverfield” our jerky-jokey cameraman Hud (an annoying T. J. Miller) remarks that the monster ravaging New York City is “something terrible.” Well, “Cloverfield” is pretty close to something terrible, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny and loads of fun.

Taking cues from “The Blair Witch Project”, “Godzilla”, and our current YouTube/MySpace crazed youth oriented culture that believes everyone’s point of view deserves to be recorded, producer J. J. Abrams’ opportunistic “Cloverfield” operates at a mercifully quick clip to maximize entertainment value with a minimum of effort (and budget) while showing us allegedly top-secret video footage recovered after a massive monster attack on NYC.

Though barely ninety minutes long, we still have to suffer through an excruciatingly banal opening twenty minutes of vapid, spoiled twenty-somethings partying the night away before the monster strikes. There was a moment somewhere during this that I actually zoned out completely and found myself staring at the dark theater wall. The cast of unknowns thankfully contains a few people who might be able to act if given the chance in a normal film. Standouts include the painfully lovely Jessica Lucas as the feisty Lily and Zooey Deschanel look-a-like Lizzy Caplan as the sarcastic Marlena. These two young actresses acquitted themselves nicely while a group of anonymous and interchangeable actors playing stupid characters making bad decision after bad decision whirled around them. It made for one of those odd movie-going experiences where you actually start routing for certain characters to die in horrible ways while you hope the pretty girls make it out alive because, well, they’re cute.

As a gimmick film, “Cloverfield” is as shallow as they come. It’s also too silly and too much fun to end up mad about it. At least the idiot hand-held cameraman/character wants to see the monster and the destruction as much as we do. This leads to some great money-shots of the creature and its tour of terror through midtown Manhattan. It would’ve been more thrilling had I not seen very similarly designed creature effects in last fall’s “The Mist”. Like that film, “Cloverfield” certainly has its moments of giddy monster oriented fun, but it ultimately implodes and leaves behind a wreck of a movie that is pretty close to something terrible.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt1060277/usercomments-779

A Review of Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Orphanage”

 

Beautifully Sad Catholic Fairy Tale, 14 January 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to the orphanage she spent time in as a child with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and little boy Simon (Roger Princep) in hopes of re-establishing it as seaside retreat for children with disabilities only to find there may be some former residents who never left. In Juan Antonio Bayona’s tightly wound “The Orphanage” nothing is as it seems and child’s play takes on sinister overtones.

Bayona belongs to this new wave of Spanish-language directors (most notably Del Torro and Amenabar) who excel when it comes to creating moody atmospheric tales of the supernatural with Catholic overtones. Whereas “Pan’s Labyrinth” took a dark fantasy approach to a Passion Play, “The Orphanage” is closer to the classic haunted house themes of “The Others” as it attempts to give a sentimental view of life after death. Be warned, “The Orphanage” is often more sad than scary, and those not familiar with Catholic mysticism might find things a bit hard to believe. As goes the film’s mantra…Believe, Then You Will See. Those with the patience and the heart will be greatly rewarded as the audience doesn’t necessarily have to Believe to relate to the characters who do.

Working from refined “less is more” psychological horror templates, Bayona delivers the formulaic goods. There will be a simplistic but heartfelt exploration of grief. There will be allusions to classic literature (in this case a very nicely done “Peter Pan” as Catholic allegory motif). There will be uncovering dark secrets from the past. There will be precocious children with spooky imaginary friends. There will be creaking set designs and manipulative sound effects to create “gotcha!” moments. There will be a creepy medium (an excellent Geraldine Chaplin) brought in for a séance. And there will be a twist at the end.

Thankfully, there is also a great performance from Belen Rueda as Laura. She gives a compelling portrayal of a woman devoured by her loss and achingly desperate for the truth no matter how horrific that truth might be. One must have a cold heart not to find sympathy with her, and even the most hardened audience member will find it hard not to feel that stray tear form in the corner of their trembling eye when all is revealed. “The Orphanage” offers nothing terribly new, but sometimes the same old ghost story presented in a beautiful way makes for the best type of cold-rainy-day entertainment.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0464141/usercomments-40

The 2nd Annual Davies Awards in Film

The year’s best film , There Will Be Blood, closed in a orchestral flourish with this amazing piece from Brahms.  It was a fantastic way to end a wonderfully strange year at the cinema.

2007 ended up being a great year for films, possibly the best since 1999.  While 2006 was consistent in its passably entertaining mediocrity, filmmakers seemed to take more chances in 2007 leading to more highs (see below), more curiosities (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Beowulf, Sweeney Todd), and more lows (I Am Legend–not quite legendary).  The year’s two greatest films explored Greed and the American Dream.  There Will Be Blood took an epic approach to explore how greed driven and focused can build nations while slowly devouring the soul of the individual, while Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead took an intimate approach and explored how greed ill-planned and misdirected can destroy a family in the blink of an eye.  While Hollywood seemed to cash in on more name brand sequels and three-quels than ever before (and the public ate them up ad-naseum only to quickly forget them a few weeks later) three trends stood out in my mind that I feel defined 2007: Continue reading

A Review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood”

The World of Blood and Oil According to Plainview, 6 January 2008
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

There’s a recurring nightmare of mine where I am falling down a well. Our reality is an illusion. This life is simply the dream we have while we are actually falling down a well. It always seemed as if the well was bottomless. After watching “There Will Be Blood” I discovered the well has a bottom. At the bottom of the well is one thing. Oil.

Also falling down this well was “The Performance.” Watching Daniel Day Lewis play the unstoppable, unshakable, unfathomably misanthropic and greedy oil man that is Daniel Plainview, one is left to imagine that “The Performance” was always out there. It always existed somewhere in the ether, in our collective unconscious, in our nightmares and anxieties. It took a visionary auteur like Paul Thomas Anderson to realize that if he did a modern film update of Upton Sinclair’s early 20th century novel “Oil!” and ominously renamed it “There Will Be Blood” then this performance could be channeled onto celluloid as a testament to the defining struggles of 21st century mankind.

Blistering cinematography of stark California landscapes from Robert Elswit, an evocatively organic and haunting music score from Jonny Greenwood (from the rock band Radiohead), and the beautifully fluid movement and framing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s maniacally calculating camera grab you from scene one and never let go. Daniel Day Lewis moves through the film like a cold burning firestorm combining and combusting with the technical elements and the fabulous ensemble cast around him to create a rising tension that is unlike anything experienced in cinema since the golden era of Stanley Kubrick.

The story is multilayered and allegorical. Led to an untapped area floating in dust on rivers of oil by a mysterious young man, Plainview soon comes face to face with that young man’s twin brother, Eli Sunday (a fecklessly manipulative Paul Dano). Eli is a wunderkind preacher at the Church of the Third Revelation and has the town wrapped around his finger with his claims to be a healer and prophet. Eli agrees to let Plainview buy his family’s land for the right price. The profits are to be used to build a bigger church. But when Plainview refuses to let Eli properly bless the drill site, a series of events unfold that Eli trumpets as acts of “God” while Plainview views them as results of meddling people he can scarcely see any good in and must crush.

The heart of the movie lies in Plainview’s relationship with his adopted son H. W. (a wonderfully naturalistic and quietly expressive Dillon Freasier). When the boy is injured on a drilling site and loses his hearing, Plainview, torn by his love for the idea of the boy looking up to him and the friendly face the boy has leant to the family business, abandons him only to latch on to a shady vagabond (Kevin J. O’Connor) who trots into town claiming to be his long lost brother Henry. Plainview’s replacing of a fake son with a fake brother shows his character’s deep-seeded and wounded need to connect to someone when insatiable greed has been his only driving force.

To explore in detail the film’s deeper message and resonance for today’s audience would be to spoil the ending. Suffice it to say, after the slowly infectious, nerve-shattering build-up, the film culminates with a soliloquy from Plainview to Eli that will make your jaw drop. In the end, it lives up to its title. There was blood. Whose was spilled is not a matter of debate, but what that blood says to its 21st century audience will be discussed and argued and studied for years to come. If you want to know what happens when greed guised in religious zealotry falls down a dark seemingly bottomless well with greed blatant as corporate capitalism, look no further than this film. There is a bottom to that well. There is a winner at the finish line. Meanwhile the blood is on the floor, the walls, the desert sand, the silver screen, the nightly news, and pumping through our bodies until we die.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0469494/usercomments-59

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Official site:

http://www.therewillbeblood.com/

For further reading, check out this fascinating discussion of TWBB as political allegory and Kubrick Homage:

http://www.filmbrain.com/filmbrain/2007/12/there-will-be-b.html

For the most in depth and enjoyable to read review of TWBB I have come across yet, check out Wesley Morris’ insightful and energetic treatise from The Boston Globe:

http://www.boston.com/movies/display?display=movie&id=10610

Go With the Flow and Pay as You Go

 

With the ever increasingly stressful (and quite frankly, unnecessary) holiday season finally over, we can all now look forward to 2008.  “Go with the flow and pay as you go” is my annoying little motto for the year.  It’s a mantra I can repeat internally to remind myself to relax more.

I’m not much for the traditional resolutions (or “to do” lists) but here’s a quick rundown of what I plan to accomplish in this new year besides the ever present desire to travel more:

1.  Finish the 1st draft of my next novel.  I’m about 2/3 of the way there after starting in May of 2007.  What I do with it after that is anyone’s guess.

2.  Lay down the dough for that Rosetta Stone software so I can become fluent in French (finally).

3.  Buy a digital camera and perhaps take a photography class.

4.  Vote in November.  Dubya’s days are numbered.  Let’s not screw this one up like we did the last two presidential elections.

Here’s the list of books I plan to read in the early months of 2008 as winter is a great time to get lost in some heavy literature.  Hopefully these classics will wipe away the bad taste left in my mouth from Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker, which is a book so mind numbingly awful I don’t even know how to describe it.  Mister B. Gone is the type of “curiosity” I was forced to read to pass the time in the wake of the writers’ strike and no late night talk shows.  So thank you Letterman and Conan for returning this week so I can fall asleep laughing again!  Oddly, though, I was glad to have read it, because sometimes you have to read the garbage to appreciate the classics more and to know what to avoid in your own writing.  There’s nothing like gaining a little perspective.

TO READ THIS WINTER: 

Dubliners by James Joyce (his short story collection)

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway