Greg Giraldo – RIP, you funny bastard

If you followed the news, Greg Giraldo overdosed last weekend, and has been in a New Jersey hospital since then. Earlier today, a tweet from Jim Norton informed us that Greg has died. Not a joke, not another black humour stab, this one was sadly for real. It immediately got confirmed, and the condolences have been pouring in. Who is Greg Giraldo? He’s a comedian you wish you saw live, on stage. Continue reading “Greg Giraldo – RIP, you funny bastard”

Roger Ebert presents At the Movies – coming in January 2011

The show that spanned over three decades is back. The show that got me (and a big chunk of my family) hooked on movies, er, on films – is heading back to television. We’re willing to forgive ABC and Disney the last few years of less-than-stellar reviews (and hosts), along with terrible past-midnight timeslots. We’re going to ignore the fact the Gene Siskel is long gone, and Ebert is only vocal in his massive twitter and blog universe. We’ll even put up with a bunch of new hosts, and new ideas – which may make it better, or may not. We just want to watch.

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Agora (2009)

I first saw Agora at TIFF in Toronto almost a year ago, and remember walking out thinking: “this film will not find a distributor easily (if at all), and that’s a real shame”. You see, it’s a ‘swords and sandals’ epic story, loosely based on the events in Alexandria, Egypt in 4th century. It shows the famed library, and the emerging scientific renaissance that unfortunately takes a step back, when this new world brings in young, volatile religions, and things start to turn violent.

You see, the “bad guys” in this film are Christians – shown as a vicious, brainwashed crowd that slowly grows in strength, dismisses the (populist at the time) multi-god religion, and instead, shoves early version of Jesus mythology down people’s throats. It’s an intellectual conquest in reverse – tell the masses what they want to hear, discourage learning, and turn them against the popular rule. The film features a few massacres, and the eventual burning of the priceless library (also loosely based on historical facts), which directly and simply accuses religious zealots – especially early Christians – of intolerance and dirty political shenanigans. Sounds familiar? Something we’ve witnessed in recent years? Well, no wonder the reviews at the time were harsh, and the film really couldn’t get the attention it deserved.

A quick side note here – forget about the film as a spectacle, or story – and just consider the source material. Wikipedia actually lists 4 different destructions of the famous library – historically recorded (and here’s the entry on the film itself, take time to read the ‘critical reception’ section). The director (Alejandro Amenabar) just happened to pick one of them, and added some elements from surrounding events/places to punch up the drama. Notice the Muslim conquest in AD 642 – do you think this movie would even be made (without threats, suicide attempts, or negative campaining), if the bad guys were, gasp – Muslims? Just a thought – this region was handed from one empire to another for ages, and often, death and destruction was quite prominent. Nothing wrong with depictions of bigotry and violence – it DID HAPPEN, and dismissing it is an equivalent of burying your head in the sand.

If the so-called critics, and potential distributors would bother to look up the historical evens, and maybe see the movie for its ideas – the value of science, and freedom of expression – perhaps Agora would have been seen by more people.

As a spectacle, it’s a pretty good epic story, with high ideas expressed within the walls of the library, and sharply contrasted with seething, unstoppable violence on the streets. There are some great references to the beginning of the end of Roman empire, and there are dead-on observations of Christian and Jewish – still emerging – traditions and values. Politically incorrect, definitely, but making a point and drawing parallels with today’s intolerance. The whole ‘slavery’ angle is given more thought and shown as an acceptable practice – at the time. But no, this just didn’t go over well, I clearly remember people hissing in the theater, and being genuinely displeased with the way things were portrayed. Well, as an ‘idea’ movie, maybe that was the point, no? To turn the tables a little?

I felt the discomfort, but appreciated the intent – it’s the 4th century, the world is still emerging, there will be bloodshed, and there will be unnecessary destruction. As long as we remember what is lost during this turmoil, we perhaps can learn and prevent it from happening again. After all, the book-burnings were quite popular just 60 years ago in Germany. And as for the slavery – some southern states are still holding out hope that things will go back to the way they were. These people ‘want their country back’! Intolerance stays, bigotry has immense power, and knowledge/truth/enlightenment usually suffer when left unprotected. Tea Party, anyone? Fringe movements that make things worse for others?

It’s a real shame the film never got the attention it deserved. Was ‘widely’ released just a couple of months ago, and quickly died at the box office. Find it online, or rent it – you won’t like the tone and some of the finger-pointing – but I hope you will approve of the ideas and intent. The last time something similar was on the big screen was probably “The Name of the Rose”, in 1986. I still remember Sean Connery musing: “How many more rooms? Ah! How many more books? No one should be forbidden to consult these books freely.” Oh, and if you will sit through all the black and white portrayal of Christians vs. Jews (yes, the film does show a little bias, but there’s a reason for it), and wait until the closing scenes, please compare it with the opening sequence, and consider the end-credits. Knowledge is invaluable, and freedom of expression – if mixed with careful misinformation campaigns – can be a devastating weapon. Sadly, it’s still used today…

Agora. 4th century Egypt. The famous Alexandria library. Rachel Weisz, Alejandro Amenabar, Oscar Isaac, Max Minghella. Get it. It’s worth your time.

At the Movies is canceled

Disney/ABC is pulling the plug on the popular ‘movie-critics-going-at-each-other’ show in August. It lasted 24 years. As far as I know, At the Movies died when Roger Ebert lost his voice in 2006. Yes, Gene Siskel’s death in 1999 was a big blow to the show, but the two of them have been doing it so long between ’75 and ’99 and knew each other so well that Ebert was able to continue the legacy of intelligent, informed, entertaining arguments about the state of cinema. He had a tough season with rotating guests in ’99-’00 (Kevin Smith and Richard Roeper were my personal favourites). Roeper stuck around for a few seasons as a second chair to Ebert, but the last few years were a big mess. ABC/Disney tried to put in Ben Mankiewicz and Jeffrey Lyons , but  got horrible reception, bad ratings, and people just didn’t like them. Besides, what the hell happened to Roeper? Pushed out?

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Sydney Pollack RIP

Sydney Pollack has died or cancer. What a terrible loss – the director of Tootsie, The Way We Were, The Firm, Out of Africa, and so many other films – the kind of movies you never watch just once – he’s no longer with us. He was also a gifted actor, appearing in many memorable scenes from the last couple of decades – Changing Lanes, Michael Clayton, Eyes Wide Shut, The Player, Husbands and Wives.
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Death of a President (2006)

This movie was one of my top choices at Toronto Film Fest. Unfortunately, the media blew the controversy out of proportion as soon as the film was announced, and I could not get a ticket to see it back in September. The good news, I was able to see it before it rolls out in movie theaters this coming Friday. The bad news is that the media is still desperately trying to bury/boycott/kill this movie, all without a valid reason. The movie theaters might be empty – a real shame. Death of a President is an odd film, but it has a point to make, makes it splendidly, and despite the volatile subject matter, deals with it in a mature way. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE who dismisses it as a liberal propaganda, or an invitation for a real assassination of the president has not seen the movie and clearly doesn’t know what s/he is talking about. It’s as if a review was based solely on the title. Why I never…
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Al Franken: God Spoke (2006)

We rarely get political on this site, hence the absence of Michael Moore’s and Al Gore’s controversial documentaries, or any documentaries for that matter. However, when a well-known comedian jumps into book publishing, then talk radio, and even politics – all with great success, it must be noted. Al Franken, one of few truly creative minds that came out of Saturday Night Live ensemble is here with a documentary movie. “God Spoke” – the fun starts right there, with the title. For those not familiar with the man, and his political work over the past few years – pick up his books. The documentary is a natural extension of the books – it is a gentle introduction to how a one-line writer got involved in press headlines, in local politics, and eventually in Washington shenanigans – while still remaining a comedian and entertainer at heart. For those who have read Al’s bestselling “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”, and recently, “The Truth in Jokes” – some of scenes in this movie will be familiar. Juxstaposed with news reels, and with Al’s early SNL work – this film is a story of a personal journey, in a way – a man’s ongoing battle for truth.
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