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Gosford Park

Where LOTR failed miserably to entertain me, despite (or due to) it’s garish and overblown use of computer effects, Altman’s pic had me riveted throughout its 2 hours and 10 minutes. Truth be told, the film could have ran another 48 minutes (equaling LOTR’s running time) and I would have still be enthusiastic about watching, something I can’t say for Jackson’s effexfest.

“Gosford Park” is a remarkable work, not only for its style, cleverness, nonchalance and characters, but also for the fact that it got made. Hollywood is not a place that allows much character development, but even as Robert Altman fills the screen with over 15 leads, by the end we know something personal about them all, something hidden, something very real. Normally, in the fare vomited up by those ill-advised suits on the Quake Coast, even with three hours of film trolleying through the projector we’d be lucky if we knew more than the lead character’s favorite catch phrase. “Yippeekayay, motherfucker” comes to mind. Can one person who hadn’t read Tolkein’s novel tell me, based on Jackson’s first film installment, what motivated Saruman’s switch to the Dark Side (or whatever they call it)r Other than, of course, expediency of plotr

“Gosford Park” tells the story of a dinner and shooting party held in an old English estate, and the interactions between the rich guests and their innumerable servants. It’s also a whodunit, with a murder occurring virtually in Act 3, bucking Hollywood’s usual penchant for putting it in during the opening credits. But the mystery is very much secondary, almost a second film in itself that is interwoven with such excellence one really feels they got twice as much bang for their box office buck. It’s important to relax while watching “Gosford Park;” the barrage of Altman style crosstalk, thick British and Scottish accents, and jumping scenes from upstairs to downstairs character development can be intimidating at first. Trust Altman, this is his skill; by the end you will know what and who and when, and walk away feeling very much like a guest at the party, having come to know some of your new acquaintances better than others, but with opinions about them all.

Sets are gorgeous, both the ornate “upstairs” rooms of the estate, as well as the dreary “downstairs” cubbies and workspaces of the servants. Costuming is marvelous, lighting realistic but at times expressive. In fact, realism is the key production design element of “Gosford Park,” realism in sets, in characters, even in dialog. The film reveals aspects of servant life that we modern types could never imagine, such as the organizational requirements of planning large dinner parties in an era of firewood-cooked meals. Boringr No, this is the context of the film, the atmosphere the characters move through, as necessary as water to the goldfish.

I could go on, but you get the point. “Gosford Park” is a true film, one that touches the viewer on a very personal, but not intrusive level.

Yeegads, but what does this mean about mer Which is, of course, why you read reviews… to learn about me.

My favorite film of all time is “Il Postino.” I like “The English Patient.” I think Welles’ version of “The Trial” may have surpassed Citizen Kane.

But in my list of favorite films of all time are such genre flicks as “The Road Warrior” and “The Crow.” I’m a “Godzilla” fan, for heaven’s sake. I’ve WRITTEN comic books. So what gives with my reactions to the latest batch of genre releases, such as LOTR or Phantom Menace or Burton’s “Planet of the Apes,” all of which were, in my view, crapr

Well, whereas the fanboy geeks who largely drive the genre picture business have, for reasons I might postulate in a future article, stopped their maturation dead in its tracks, rolling through their twenties, thirties and forties still convinced that Twinkies make one helluva breakfast, Hulk # 145 was a travesty, only real men plan Dungeons & Dragons, a goatee makes you look tough (even if you still tip the scales at 200+) and using Stan Lee-like Shakespeak in normal conversation is the mark of intelligence, some of us moved on.

Some of us recognized that life is more than the immediate thrill, more than the adolescent notion that pleasure is something obvious, that realism can be as engaging as fantasy. Some of us know that good food isn’t always sweet, that the better beverages aren’t the ones with the highest alcohol level, good movies aren’t the ones with the best effects, and the best actors aren’t the oldest guys with the strongest British accents.

Point being, genre films need to raise their standards so they appeal not only to the stunted sensibilities of special effects fans, even if their numbers are growing at a frightening rate.

The oh-so-occasional gem like “Gosford Park” serves a dual purpose: to remind us how good films CAN be made in this age of lowered expectations, and at the same time point out what a sad day it is for Hollywood that these films only come about so infrequently.

Why bother with this whole articler First, it’s a review of “Gosford Park” — really, it is.

Second, it might help to explain my position on films a bit better for those who are still stunned to find out that I think the last few years of genre films largely sucked. Geeks be warned.

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s simply that I’m turning into a stuffy, opinionated old bastard. Or maybe — just maybe — Hollywood sucks worse than a French whore on a German sub, and simply lacks the creative will to put out good movies that can appeal to both the geek and the intellectual in me.

Thank goodness for the Altmans and Finchers and Mendeses and Nolanses. They are exceptions to the rule.

Rating: A
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Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (TheFacer)

Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” couldn’t have sucked more if it was a wet/dry shop vac at a bukkake cleanup.

I just came off my second viewing of “Harry Potter,” mind you, so I know a modern almost-three-hour film doesn’t have to be painful. It’s not the length that makes the film so bad, but it certainly makes it agonizing.

Part of the fault lies with the fact the JRR Tolkien source material popularized certain now-staple sword and sorcery themes and visions since its publication in 1954. I say “popularized,” because many of the themes and visions had been done elsewhere and better… Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, par exemple.

What happens, of course, when you put to the screen themes and visions that have been beat to death by every other entertainment media since the 1950’s, including books, pulps, graphic novels (and their antecedents, “comic books”), movies, tv shows, and computer games) you face a daunting task in making them fresh. Such a move requires two approaches: revisiting the original material (always a disaster) or standing firm and somehow marketing the thing as the “original.”

Well, what one finds out after sitting through Peter Jackson’s overlong exercise in Moviola masturbation, is that sticking to the original material isn’t a sure thing either. Especially when you pick out all the expensive (nee “action”) bits of a massive book and skip over the rest of it.

As a result, LOTR is a collection… yes, that’s probably the best word… of different action sequences from the book, not necessarily in order, not necessarily true to the source, but gooey fodder for the SFX team. With LOTR, Peter Jackson firmly places his creative vision beside that of his apparent mentor, Michael Bay. I’d invoke the names of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, but hopefully Hollywood has smartly banished those two hacks to the realms of straight-to-video, and saying their names in a public forum might somehow resuscitate them, like saying “Bloody Mary” three times.

In order to begin what appears will eventually be a nine hour long string of cinema cliches, Jackson starts out with a cliche device: the historical narration. A deep voice intones, John Huston-like, bringing everyone in the audience up to speed on all the parts that Jackson filmed, but cut out at the demand of the film executives who, for once in their lives, did the right thing and told him to keep the first film under three hours. We see huge battles, armies of orcs and elves, and all sorts of other quick-cut crap that ruins any building of suspense regarding the film’s creatures within the first two minutes. A convoluted explanation ensues: here’s all these rings but only one is powerful and who knows what happened to the others but who cares the bad guy made the one ring and then had his finger cut off and blew up and mankind sucks and orcs are ugly and elves …. you get the picture. If this were a sci-fi pic, the backstory would have been printed across the screen with a little anachronistic typing sound.

Ahh, but after the intro film slows down and one thinks — incorrectly, it winds up — that maybe Jackson is onto something. He takes his time in developing the main character of Frodo, and even the culture of the Hobbits. We get to ooh and aah over the realistic hobbit sets, even as we giggle at the inconsistent scale between the short hobbits and the human Gandalf, a problem when your actors are all the same height. But we get to see how they live, what they eat, what their furniture looks like. What they laugh about.

Then, something happens. It becomes evident that a bit TOO much time is being spent in Hobbiton. One wonders: when is this thing going to get goingr What is being sacrificed along the way to put this much development into the hobbitsr Why does this look like a Little House on the Prairie Episode (with Elijah Wood soon starting to physically resemble little Melissa Gilbert.)

Well the answer comes soon enough. Frodo is off on his adventure, carrying the ring that everyone wants so badly, with his band of hobbits. Some wraiths come on horseback and pursue our little heroes, while screaming this really obnoxious high-pitched wail, for what…. tenr Fifteen minutesr The chase goes on and on. Then, when one thinks it’s just about to conclude, there they are again, wailing and screeching again like Jerry Springer transvestites. I got up to go pee and let me tell you something… I MISSED NOTHING. They were screeching and galloping just as hard as when my bladder had been full. In retrospect, I should have marched upstairs and pissed on the projector; I would have simultaneously spared the audience the rest of that crap, while putting myself out of my misery through penile electrocution.

Having lost about an hour to narration, hobbit development and wraith chases, where was Jackson to go with the rest of this bulky novelr Into Bay-ville, of course. What follows for the rest of the film is a series of action sequences punctuated only by occasional pauses, which themselves are condensed little scenes whose sole reason is to keep the source material flowing. Because of the lack of background and development, entire sequences could have been excised without damage to the film (although not without damage to the novel.) Fair to say that any scene with an elf in it could be cut without anyone noticing.

Note to Hollywood: action sequences are supposed to be the punctuation between the story, not vice versa. And… ahh, screw it, no one’s listening anyway.

The non-hobbit characters are introduced with brevity, if at all. In some cases, they merely appear (Gimli the dwarf, for example.) A kiss between Aragorn the human and Arwen the elf comes about so quickly — it’s literally tacked on right after another scene between the two — that if it were any more forced it would qualify as a tokamak reactor.

So, after knowing the creepy-looking Elijah Wood thing inside out — we are left with a slew of other characters that are total blank slates. This includes, the wizard Gandalf, who gets huge screen time but who is so poorly defined as a person, you’d have to add a dimension to bring him up to two. Ian McKellen looks about as thrilled in this role as, well, Richard Harris did in Harry Potter. Maybe those beards itch or something.

The action sequences that ensue, for the rest of the film’s length, are of course nice to look at. Fight scenes still don’t hold up to that of Boorman’s Excalibur or even some of Milius’ Conan, but of course where CGI is used, it’s used spectacularly. The cybersets are beautiful, and the camera work realistic. There are a few shots where the tiny running characters look worse than Tomb Raider the computer game, but those are few and far between.

But you know whatr Good effects don’t score points for the film’s director. They score points for the effects house.

Back to the cliches. Again, this may in part be due to the adherence to an aging source material that has been already recycled elsewhere, but dammit if every frigging scene in this film hasn’t been done before. We see lots of people hiding under trees or bushes as evildoers pass overhead, feet in foreground. We see a dying guy make an important acknowledgement to his friend with his last breath. We see a drowning guy’s hand descend into the water, only to be snatched up by another hand at just the right moment. We see a guy holding onto a ledge with his last strength, only to fall into “shadow” presumably to his death (yeah, right.) We see monsters poking their heads around corners, screaming into the camera.

Where have we seen all this stuff beforer Christ, where do I beginr A lot of it seems lifted from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course (as one of LOTR’s leads fights on with three arrows in him, I heard the crowd giggling, everyone thinking of the infamously smart-mouthed Black Knight of Python.) There are scenes from Excalibur, from Jason & The Argonauts, Lawrence of Arabia, Last of the Mohicans, The Ten Commandments, Aliens, Seven Samurai, Halloween, and countless others. Oh, and every Star Wars film made.

But how could it not be clichedr Given that the popularity of Tolkien’s books may have created some of these clichesr

Well, a little more creative filmmaking wouldn’t have hurt. Here’s a trick Jackson uses: have character look toward camera, but frame him slightly to screen right… so we know well in advance that a hand will pop up from behind him, grab his shoulder and scare the shit out of him. Can’t anyone figure out a way to film this from another fucking angler

When you are filming cliches, it might be best not to use cliched filmmaking in the process.

So, is Tolkien to blame for this collection of clichesr Or Jackson for filming it so soullesslyr Suffice to say that’s one for historians and film reviewers with far more ego than I. But, hey! We have six more hours of this tripe to sit through for the next two years, as Jackson releases the next two films of the series! Maybe we can decide then. Well YOU can, I have no intention of sitting through those monstrosities.

In conclusion, let me remind you that this movie sucks. In a fairly full theater of mixed age groups, here’s what I noticed: a lot of watch lights blinking as people checked the time, a guy yawning next to me, and a constant parade of people getting up for the lobby— presumably to go pee so they could at least say SOMETHING worthwhile had happened while they were at the theater that night. Whereas the other mega-anticipated films of the past few years — Phantom Menace and Harry Potter — ended in applause, this one was met with utter silence. People were standing up early in anticipation of the end credits, and then filed out in a grim funereal march, seeking the light of the lobby like moths, where they could gather and analyze what had just happened to the last three hours of their lives.

Peter Jackson did succeed admirably in making his characters come to life. The audience was left as soulless as his Ring Wraiths. Good going, jackass.

Rating: F
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The Facer Strikes Back

Having somewhat notoriously defaced the pilot script for ENTERPRISE, and incurring the wrath of fanboy geeks whose emotional insecurities are eclipsed only by their willingness to be led like veal into the meat grinder of hack television, perhaps an interest in my immediate reaction to the actual aired TV show is due. Then again, perhaps not, so those of you who care little may resume masturbating, ogling your older sister, or whatever else it is you do late at night beneath the covers with a flashlight and a tube of acne cream.

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A FilmJerk Exclusive: The Annotated Enterprise Pilot Script

Oh boy have we got a treat for you, today.

We have, down below, a link to the Enterprise pilot script. But it’s not as simple as that… if you’re crafty, you can find it online elsewhere. This particular version of it… has had some, er, minor comments attached to it. It appears that the author of said comments, a gentleman who calls himself The Facer, hated hated hated hated HATED this script. So he went MST3K on its ass, and it’s now an instant classic. This is why you really can’t pay script doctors too much.

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