Archive for August, 2009

Rating Movies

Posted in art, directing, personal on August 9, 2009 by barryshapiro

Last night we went to the movies. Since I was a kid watching a film on the big screen has been one of my very favorite things to do. More than a concert, a play or the opera, I enjoy sitting in a dark theater for a couple of hours watching some tale of adventure, some sappy love story or some politically poignant drama unfold. I can turn off my mind and lose myself in the characters. I love movies.

Last night it was Julie & Julia and we loved Meryl Streep transforming into Julia Child. Very enjoyable. As is my practice, when I come home from a film I enter it into a small book I have been keeping for years, tracking the films I see, the date, director, primary players and bestowing upon it a simple rating system I have devised.

One * means the film has at least one thing about it that made the movie going experience worthwhile. Two ** means decent to pretty good. Three *** notes a film I perceived to be very good and recommendable. Four **** is excellent and I would go see that picture again. The very rare Five ***** can only mean that the film is magnificent, a classic to be and a must see for all.

Then there are films, too many of them, that receive an NG which, duh, means just plain No Good. And finally there is the dreaded YUCK which is a nice way of saying SUCK, as in that film really sucked and how the hell did they get anyone to finance that piece of crap?  I also designate if the film is foreign, what country it’s from and if animated note the studio that created it, such as Pixar.

I have been keeping this scorecard since November 12, 1997. I was having dinner with my friend Brian Keller when I noticed he was making entries into a diary he kept. We had been to the movies earlier and he was making note of the film and the director in his book. I thought that I it would be a great idea to keep a movie diary myself. Brian notated all the events of his day but I just wanted to keep track of films, in part because as a member of the Directors Guild I would vote every year for the DGA Best Director Award and this would be a great way to remember what I liked and didn’t. At that time in my life going to the movies was a regular occurrence. On average I’d see about 90 films year. Every Wednesday I’d go to the DGA and see 2 films and during the ‘voting season’ I’d see a movie almost every night of the week. I have to admit that I am one of those people for whom the multiplex was invented. I would often go to see an early film and then, instead of leaving the complex, I’d sneak into another theater for a double feature. The movie notebook made absolute sense.

And so it was that on November 12 I made my first entry: Mad City directed by Costa Gravas with Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta. I gave it three ***. Two nights later it was The Jackal with Richard Gere and Bruce Willis directed by Michael Caton-Jones and rated by me as NG.  Two nights later it was A Life Less Ordinary directed by William Boyd with Cameron Diaz and Ewan McGregor (***) and two nights after that L.A. Confidential by Curtis Hanson with Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger (only ** for what was to be a Best Picture Oscar nominee).

Since moving to Florida my movie going has dwindled down to 20 or 30 films a year tops. It’s just not as easy to get to a theater from where we live and frankly the movies they show at the multiplex here are not ones I am dying to drive a half hour to see. Hardly any foreign or small independent films ever make it here unless they catch on with mainstream audiences the way Little Miss Sunshine did (8/24/06 *** 1/2 directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris with Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin and Steve Carell – no mention in my notebook of Miss Sunshine herself, the soon to be household name Abagail Breslin) or Juno (a rousing ***** on 1/12/08 from director Jason Reitman with Ellen Page and Michale Cera).

Fortunately I would travel alot, mostly on business and whenever possible, especially on trips to New York or L.A. I would try to catch some films that I knew wouldn’t get to the mall at Vero Beach. That’s how I got to see some gems like Once (2/16/08 by John Carney – who also wrote the screenplay – from Ireland with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and ****) or The Wackness (8/15/08 by Jonathan Levine with Josh Peck and Sir Ben Kingsley ****). Every once in a blue moon a small interesting film does get down here and I always make an effort to see it, which is how I caught a film on May 11, 2008 by one of my favorite directors, Wan Kar Wei. That film, Blueberry Nights with Norah Jones and Jude Law and rated it ****.

There are a lot of ones *, twos **, and threes *** on my list of course and many fewer fours **** or fives *****. Surprisingly though, there are also fewer NG’s than you would think. Perhaps this is beacuse  as someone who considers himself sort of a film maker, I intentionally look for the craft and often find at least that one thing the director pulled off. I have to give him or her credit at least for that. And there are some films I just won’t go to see because I know that I am going to hate them. Going to the movies is a special experience for me and I am not going to intentionally waste it on something I know I will dislike but will probably wind up watching anyway on TV in 3 months.

I have only walked out of a film once as far as I can remember. That was Stepmom, with Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts by Chris Colombus (12/18/98 NG). I have sat through many stinkers but that one I just couldn’t take for another minute. Even though I hate the European Dogma movement, finding it pretentious and over-hyped, I have sat through The Celebration from Denmark (12/11/98 by Thomas Vinterberg *) but didn’t bother writing down the names of the actors. And I even stayed to the painful end of At First Sight (1/20/99 Director Griffin Dunne with Mira Sorvino and Val Kilmer NG). In that one Kilmer plays a blind guy and believe me that movie made me want to pluck my eyes out. In retrospect, I should have given it a YUCK. Even Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (3/3/04 with Jim Cazaveizel, which I found appalling on several levels got  one * from me because he dared to shoot it in Aramaic.

Of course it’s all subjective but that’s what makes going to the movies with a friend so much fun: you can argue later over a bottle of vino. I fondly remember seeing Pretty Woman when it first came out with my friend Allison who was at the time the editor of now defunct SHOOTmagazine. She was appalled by the film and thought it objectified women. I liked it alot and saw it as an updated version of Pygmalion. I think we argued over two bottles and a great meal at LaCojou (pardon the possible misspelling but the restaurant doesn’t exist anymore either).

Looking back, here’s a list of the best and worst. Only my five ***** films followed by my absolute YUCKs.
The Grey Zone by Tim Blake Nelson
Amadeus (director’s cut) by Milos Foreman
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring by Peter Jackson
A Girl With A Pearl Earring by Peter Weber
Whale Rider by Niki Caro
Farenheit 911 by Michael Moore
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Micheal Gondry
Hotel Rwanda by Terry George
Vera Drake by Mike Leigh
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Tim Burton
Good Night and Good Luck by George Clooney
An Inconvenient Truth by David Guggenheim
Babel by Alejandro Gonzalez
Flags of Our Fathers by Clint Eastwood
Hairspray by Adam Shankman
Sicko by Michael Moore
Juno by Jason Reitman
Stop Loss by Kimberly Peirce
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Julien Schnabel
La Vie En Rose by Oliver Dahan
Gone Baby Gone by Ben Affleck
Wall-E by Andrew Stanton
Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle

Waking the Dead by Keith Gordon
Save The Last Dance by Thomas Cater
The Wedding Planner by Adam Shankman
American Outlaws by Les Mayfield
Devine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Callie Khouri
8 Femmes by Francois Ozon
Gigli by Martin Brest
The Other by Brian Helgeland
Beyond Boarders by Martin Campbell
King Arthur by Antoine Fuqua
The Longest Yard by Peter Segal
Apocolypto by Mel Gibson
Stepbrothers by Adam McKay

I know there is a lot to argue with here and that’s the fun of it. Also, I know that some would argue that there are three docs, two by Michael Moore on my best list and how can you compare a doc to a feature? Well, I saw them all in the theater and they were significant enough to me that I gave the my highest rating. Also interesting is that Adam Shankman  made both lists, the only director to do so.


The Right is Wrong

Posted in personal, political on August 8, 2009 by barryshapiro

The world can’t be all bad if the Yankees can beat the Red Sox in 15 innings on a beautiful summer night in the Bronx. And there are other things that make it great to be alive like the sun coming up this morning over the Indian River here in Sebastian or my neighbor Sam casting a line off his boat and pulling up some mullet. Yes, it’s a wonderful life and the world can be such a beautiful place. So why than must we ruin it by being hateful and violent?

Last night I saw on the news a photo of a teenager wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Obama that says “Hitler gave good speeches too.” I was appalled. Who could possibly be so stupid and twisted that they could not only equate Obama to the worst mass murderer in modern history but wear it on a T-shirt? It wasn’t an isolated incident. Another clip showed a man holding a poster of Obama with a Hitler-like moustache. And there was a video  of a man speaking to a crowd making direct comparisons of Hitler to Obama. When I hear other right wingers using the Hitler comparison and I watch morons like Glenn Beck or Michael Savage promote this kind of psychotic behavior I wonder what has happened to the people in this country. Where is our decency? Have we put Kool-Aid in the water? Has all the high fructose corn sweetener we consume started to turn our brains into head cheese?

I haven’t got a beef with talk radio, I believe in freedom of speech. I don’t much care for the system in Washington where “money talks and nobody walks” but I understand that money is the driver in this country. I believe in freedom of religious belief (but also in the seperation of church and state). But when you put all of that together and mix in hate speech, lies, deception and downright incivility, and then mix in a lot of money, it truly is a bad blend and someone is going to wind up getting killed.

The right has got it wrong. It is healthy to disagree and debate and compromise and you can’t always have your way. But the neocon attitude of “your either with us or your a terrorist” is dangerous and as un-American as it gets. What seems like a bunch of disgruntled old white guys is turning into a mass hysteria with the aid of some powerful, well financed right wing corporate backed lobbying groups. It is frightening.

The healthcare debate is becoming a last stand referendum on racism and, as we have seen in the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, the right is willing to stoop about as far as they can to get their point across. those same Senators who called Sotomayor a ‘racist’ are themselves using race as a divide. They are of the same group who from the floor of Congress, equate the healthcare bill will murder.

It’s time to tone down the rhetoric and start acting like Americans. Americans are a nation of immigrants. We are a people of diversity. We make mistakes but we learn from them and grow stronger. With the exception of the Amer-Indians who were here when our predecessors arrived we all came from somewhere else. We all have proud family heritages we’d like to pass along to our children. We are industrious and innovative. We are accepting and we stand up for the underdog, the little guy. We are generous to a fault and we pull together in times of crisis.

This is a time of crisis. Families are suffering, people are out of work in numbers not seen since the Great Depression, companies are going out of business, people are losingtheir life savings, there is a war going on abroad that can explode in our faces at any time, global warming is a reality that threatens not just our children’s children but is impacting us right now, problems with our food and water supply must be addressed. We have issues! But they won’t be solved by shouting and calling the opposition a bunch of Nazis. That in fact is exactly the kind of behavior that the Nazi’s used in the first place. We need level headed people to come up with level headed solutions.


It’s Gotten Ugly

Posted in personal, political on August 5, 2009 by barryshapiro

I haven’t been on the blog for a while. First, I lost my day job, then my hard drive crashed (I was very neglectful at backing up and lost a lot of important data) and then I started working on a short story which I hope to publish. I’ve written many stories and screenplays but this time I feel I’m on a roll and I write every morning and evening so I haven’t had a lot of time. Usually after dinner I sit for an hour or two and watch the tube. Most nights it’s Rachael Maddow. Being a lefty at heart, I like her smarts and her point of view. But mostly I like that she’s not rude. She’s not a shouter, nor is she full of righteous indignation like Olbermann or the blowhards on the right (you know who I mean). She makes her points but in a witty and sincere way. And she let’s her guests talk, unlike Chris Matthews or Lou Dobbs.

I believe that there is room for all points of view in America but I am clever enough to realize that there will be many people who are radicalized on both sides of any issue. Some people just don’t like the other side no matter what they advocate. Other people are at least open to discussion. But it seems that recently the Republican party has taken organized dissent to a new all time low. While everyone in America is concerned about the rising costs and lessening services in the health-care industry and a majority of Americans agree that the current system doesn’t work and must change, a minority coalition of angry old people, lobbyists for the Insurance and Pharma industries and the recalcitrant Republican leadership has decided that if they can’t win the debate or the vote then what they will do is shout it down. Organized groups have been attending Democratic organized Town Hall meetings and disrupting them by shouting as loud as possible and not allowing the representatives leading the meetings to speak. This is not just a minor disruption, it’s gotten disgusting. There have been effigies of Congressmen being hung and signs saying that they are murderers – probably relating to the unfounded rumors that the new health care bill has a clause that will ‘kill’ old people.

Watching the news footage I was supremely disappointed but not surprised. This kind of behavior, though not limited to Republicans, is kind of their MO. Remember the “grassroots” protesters that showed up in Florida to disrupt the Bush – Gore recount? They were all Republican operatives who had been sent down there to stop the proceedings. Not one of them was even from Florida. But they made the news and the media reported it as a ‘local’ grassroots protest. Now, of course, we know better.

The Republicans have been doing this for as long as I can remember. Remember Watergate? Nixon was the king of dirty tricks. How about the Muskie “Cannuck” letter? But these shout downs, organized not by local leaders but mostly by Washington Conservative Lobbyists, have sunk to an all-time low. Because the health care system really does suck and not just for those who don’t have insurance. I pay through the nose for health insurance and I’ve recently experienced just how big a rip off it really is, as I was turned down for emergency room services performed. And to keep my premiums “low” I have a very high deductible which means I wind up paying for my meds and most of my medical needs myself anyway. It’s really gotten out of hand.

And that is why these people, these screaming idiots, are so screwed up. We need honest debate on healthcare. We need a public alternative. If the conservatives are so concerned about government interference in healthcare decisions, well how about insurance company interference?

Healthcare in this country is an insurance game, not a medical game. We need to have intelligent debate. I am sure that the current bill is nowhere near perfect and we need to hear all sides of the issues. But we need to be able to HEAR them.

It’s gotten to the point where even rational Republicans are getting caught up in the spirit of meanness. Today, a person I consider a friend who happens to be a Republican and someone who I enjoy debating with got so heated in an on-line health care discussion that he started to “shout” and called me (and another debater) retarded. He did later apologize but the point is that this was so out of character for him that I believe he has just been caught up in the organized right wing shout down.

It’s time for reasonable people to prevail. This kind of abhorant behavior has been promoted and modeled after the Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Michael Savages of the talk world and it really sucks. It’s time for real debate and real discussion and some compassion and understanding. Can’t we all just learn to get along?