Friday, December 29, 2006

Camera Obscura - Best Movies of 2006

Before I offer up a list of the best from this year and the disclaimers which go with my selections, there are a few noteworthy movie news items to provide.

I was most happy to see what the first images of comic book legend Silver Surfer will look like in the second Fantastic Four movie out in 2007. He isn't all CGI - actor Doug Jones performs in a body suit which will get some CGI touch-ups and as fan, I am impressed. Here's to hoping they also do a good job creating the Surfer's boss, Galactus. More about the photo and the movie can be found here. And the first trailers are being shown with "Night At The Museum.

On Thursday, 25 more movies were added to the National Registry of Film for preservation and the list covers a wide range of films, as always. Some of the list includes:
Blazing Saddles
Groundhog Day

The complete list is here.

One of the best things about this year in movies was the stellar and influential collection of films from the Janus Collection. Not only did we get an massive boxed-set of DVDs and extras of the best from the Janus, many cities are hosting mini-festivals to allow folks to once again see these classics in a movie theatre. The Nashville Scene has the info about the festival playing in January 2007 at the Belcourt.

Among my favorites being offered are Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" and "The Hidden Fortress, a major influence on Li'l George Lucas, who borrowed much for his "Star Wars" tale -- instead of two robots, the story follows a tall and skinny and short and squat pair of peasants who stumble into a struggle between empires, aiding a heroic samurai charged with protecting an endangered princess. There is one astonishing and very funny scene of the two peasants caught on a massive staircase on a mountainside as thousands either flee or attack in a massive jail break.

Some others in the Janus Festival include "400 Blows", "La Strada", "Gimmie Shelter" and "Walkabout." And seeing these movies in a theatre is sheer bliss.

One of the best columns on the Best of 2006 is from The DVD Savant, whose list is properly titled The Most Impressive DVDs of 2006. His picks are perfection. Just go read it.

DISCLAIMER: My selections of favorites from 2006 are a blend of both new theatrical releases and releases from earlier years which became a regular part of my home viewing habits. There are several films from 2006 I haven't seen yet. And, naturally, the following represents something of my taste for obscurity. Some of these selections are .... aw, hell. I'll explain as I go.

Favorite Movies in No Particular Order:

"V For Vendetta" -- I avoided watching this in the theatres, as I am a massive fan of the Alan Moore graphic novel, so why ruin my memory with a bad movie? I finally caved and watched it this year and was most impressed with how the film kept the language and even the comic-panel style of imagery. Subversive and cautionary and very much a movie of it's time - plus a fantastic performance by Hugo Weaving from behind the mask.

"Grizzly Man" - Werner Herzog once again paints a picture of a madman and a doomed soul. Really more of a found artifact of the videotaped journal of Timothy Treadwell. Impossible to not be absorbed by Herzog's narrative.

"The Proposition" - Yes, a movie from this year makes the list!! Former rocker Nick Cave's script drops you immediately into a harrowing Outback western saga, and makes both a lyrical and ugly story. Add in the haunting musical score and the haunted faces and lives of the characters and this movie is a minor masterpiece.

Satisfying Sequels/Remakes: Two sequels, both hyped to death and big at the box office, actually impressed me this year - "X-Men 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest". The only drawbacks to X-3 was the poor Beast performance and Angel, who was lost in all the character threads. In Dead Man's Chest - my favorite performance of the year was from Bill Nighy as Davy Jones, who steals the screen whenever he appears. A remake I thought would be terrible was instead both careful to preserve the intent of the original and to enhance it as well -- "The Hills Have Eyes". The movie is about what it takes to turn a pacifist into a fighter and about the distorted creatures who make that pacifist transform. Just a brilliant remake.

"Pulse" -- No, not the remake from this year, which sucked, but the original 2001 Japanese version finally made available this year in the U.S. Relying on mood and shadow, it created an intense sense of dread for me. I was jumping at shadows for days. Not for every taste, I know, but for me it worked in spades as I watched the characters slip into despair, fear and then disappear into nothingness.

"Slither" - Part homage to horror films of the 1980s and the 1950s, plus part mindless escapism, I watched it several times, laughing often. Add in the hilarious and numerous DVD extras and this was some of the most fun I had with a film all year. Seek it out.

My Favorite of the Year:

This movie came out in 2004, but it was the one most often in my DVD player this year. It is a great comedy, has a fantastic musical score, is loaded with action scenes and has a romance story stuck in as well. The writer, director and star of the movie expertly crafted each frame and every performance is dead-on perfect. It's a kung-fu extravaganza, a Chuck Jones cartoon, and the supporting characters are famous for their previous roles in movies - from Bruce Lee's stunt double to one of the Japanese girls chasing Bond in "Man With A Golden Gun". The movie makes my obscure heart rumble with admiration every time I see it. If you haven't ever seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to watch it. Highest ratings for "Kung Fu Hustle".

Now I know this list is odd, eclectic and may not make much sense to you. That is why it's my list and not yours. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments - or just deride me for mine.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Blog Wars" Tonight

Pertinent and/or impertinent, those millions of people who take to the internet with a keyboard and become bloggers have been changing both political and personal realities for several years. 2006 especially was their year of political activism.

Tonight a documentary from Sundance and the BBC titled "Blog Wars" will air, telling the political story of how blogging and bloggers have forever altered the media landscape. Starting with the crafty use of the internet by Howard Dean in 2004 and focusing on the Lamont and Lieberman campaign, the documentary attempts to tell a rather complex story.

Info on the documentary is here at the Sundance website. A short mention and clip was made last week at Crooks and Liars.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Details in PS3 Shooting Continue to Emerge

It's likely that items in this post will offend some people. Good. This should disturb most of us.

I've been following the surreal and violent events from North Carolina about the shooting death of 18-year-old Peyton Strickland, gunned down by police in their "investigation" of the theft of two PlayStation 3's. Some previous posts are here and here.

Certainly more tounges are wagging about another news story in North Carolina, the one involving the Duke Lacrosse Team. The story has been getting great ratings.

But let's be honest - all the speculating and pontificating on that case is pretty much a standard story in American athletics. The majority of athletes do not always make the news for drunken, drug-fueled, sexual assaults. However, enough of them do so that we might as well include arrest and conviction records along with the stats kept on the players of pretty much every sport. If anything, the events concerning what happened at Duke should inform most of us that the term "sport" is equitable with the term "justice." It's a game where the win is determined by the abilities of the legal "players" and not by notions of Justice.

The killing of Peyton Strickland does bother me though.

Let's say for argument's sake that the teen was guilty of beating someone up and stealing their PS3. What followed that crime is lunacy. And what the Hanover County Sheriff's office did over the last week to raise money for the now-fired deputy who did the shooting -- raffle off a PlayStation 3 - is a clear indication of these officers sneering at the death of Strickland.

The only reason the raffle was halted - changed to a Plasma TV - was because the public and the media learned of it.

Troubling too are the overwhelming paramilitary tactics waged on a teen who essentially stole a toy.

16 officers, including a 10-person SWAT team, surrounded the teen's home. And as I've said before, paramilitary tactics and weapons are far too common in every town in America. A study from the CATO Institute this summer noted that in the last 25 years, there has been a 1,300 percent increase in the number of such raids on American homes. Standards and training, however, are barely existent, according to Peter Kraska, criminal justice professor at Eastern Kentucky University and author of two other nationwide studies of SWAT teams deployment and tatics:

There's absolutely no standards or national accreditation or anything a department has to do to establish a tactical team," Kraska said. "So many people have the misconception that because there's a SWAT team, its members are competent and highly trained ... and it's just not the case."

North Carolina, like most states, doesn't set statewide standards for tactical training, leaving that up to individual agencies, Kraska said."

A Grand Jury, which "mistakenly" marked the wrong box and found deputy Christopher Long guilty of second degree murder, and then the next day said, "whoops! we meant not guilty", has also revealed some highly questionable testimony --

As reported by the Greensboro News-Record, here's what was supposed to happen: Long was standing next to an officer at the door who had the battering ram, he would then go inside first and the other 15 officers would follow while a search was conducted. (And yeah, a battering ram? That may be the norm when raiding a home of suspected drug-dealers or in hostage situations, but for the theft of a toy??)

Long's statements to investigators was that when he heard the sound of the battering ram, he thought someone inside the apartment was shooting. Even though he was standing right beside the battering ram. He immediately shot through the door - blindly, not knowing who was on the other side.

Long did knock on the door -- it hasn't been reported if he identified himself as a policeman with a warrant to enter. (Thanks to the Supreme Court decision this year, none of that is even necessary anymore) Instead he fired multiple times through the closed door, one bullet travelling through Strickland's brain, another just missing his heart. Strickland's dog, Blaze, alarmed at the gunshots began to bark and came to the doorway and other officers gunned the dog down.

By this time, according to testimony, Long was in the yard, away from the apartment, freaking out, saying "Oh Jesus Oh Jesus".

The D.A.'s office is continuing a criminal investigation into the case and may attempt to bring other charges before a Grand Jury in January.

Here at this blog, I know I'm just being an armchair detective -- hell, it's a national pasttime, 21st century sport, with it's own celebrities, like Nancy Grace and the entire CourtTV channel or the handsome and sturdy stars of shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order."

But shooting blindly through a door - with no idea who, if anyone, was behind it, is a clear example to me of someone who believes any and all actions are justified.

An editorial in the Wilmington Journal points out some key concerns here:

This whole sorry episode calls into question the safety of every citizen in this city, county and state, especially our children. Who will be the next officer who recklessly acts alone at the risk of all nearby? How appropriate is it to send in a small militia to a well-populated street when there’s no evidence of violence emanating from the address?

And if it wasn’t for the news media, the grand jurors claim they wouldn’t have known that the wrong box was checked on the indictment sheet. How do we know innocent people haven’t been erroneously indicted in the past? Grand jury proceedings are secret by law and no recording of them is made. So how do we hold the system accountable?

How do we know it works, or doesn’t work?"

More on the rise and the deadly mistakes in the use of paramilitary raids can be read here. Or maybe you're ok with the fact that in the early 1980s there were some 3,000 paramilitary raids per year and by the early 2000's, that number is 40,000 a year.

That's all - go watch your favorite team play a game on TV now.