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Friday, February 17, 2006

Making Love - Before "Brokeback Mountain"

Harry Hamlin Starring: Harry Hamlin, Michael Ontkean
Director: Arthur Hiller
Fax: 1982, drama

Review by Brent Ko,

"Brokeback Mountain" has received international acclaim as a breakthrough for gay cinema, but it isn't the first movie about unfulfilled gay love to reach mainstream audiences.

Flashback to 1982 and Arthur Hiller's "Making Love".

Making Love
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Although it reached wide distribution "Making Love" was ahead of its time and failed to get the credit it was due. With the success of ":Brokeback Mountain" Fox has just issued a new DVD release of Love and it's well worth a look.

Starring Harry Hamlin ("LA Law") and Michael Ontkean ("North Shore"), "Making Love" is the story of a married Los Angeles doctor who meets and falls in love with an outgoing young novelist.

It was the first time two men locked lips in a major studio feature film. At the time it was shocking and the publicity surrounding the kiss kept many people away.

In many ways the story is a parallel of "Brokeback Mountain". Like Ang Lee, Hiller set out to tell a love story, one that just happened to be about two men.

"Making Love" is admirably acted, though a bit dated. Nevertheless, if you've seen "Brokeback Mountain" you need to see "Making Love" if no other reason than its historical significance - although a young Hamlin and Ontkean certainly have some nice scenes in bed together.

Making Love
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Even though "Making Love" was the first movie to explore gay love, the first actual gay kiss on screen dates back to 1930 when Marlene Dietrich in "Morocco" - her first American film - kissed another woman on the lips.

Greta Garbo did it in "Queen Christina" (1933).

The so-called morality hit Hollywood. In 1936 the Production Code forced director William Wyler to eliminate most of the references to lesbianism in "These Three" - his first adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play "The Children's Hour." But in 1961, "The Children's Hour," his second film based on the play, starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, was more faithful to the original work.

In 1970 there was the sad "The Boys in the Band" William Friedkin's film version of the path-breaking off-Broadway play about a group of gay men in New York.

"A Very Natural Thing" (1974) is believed to be the first feature film directed and performed by gays in the United States to receive national distribution.

"Cruising" came along in 1980. This controversial film by Friedkin stared Al Pacino as an undercover New York police detective investigating serial killings of gay men.

After "Making Love" came out in 1982 it paved the way later that year for "Personal Best" in which Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly stared as two athletes training for the Olympics who become lovers.

In "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985) William Hurt won an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay man sharing a jail cell in Latin America with a political prisone.

In the 90s there were "Longtime Companion" (one of the first feature films to look at impact of AIDS on the gay community.) "The Crying Game", "Philadelphia". "The Birdcage" and "Boys Don't Cry".

In 2003: "Angels in America" hit TV screens. Adapted by Tony Kushner from his award-winning play about AIDS and politics in the 1980s it won 11 Emmy awards.


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Thursday, February 16, 2006

"The Shaggy Dog" - Raise The Woof

Synopsis - A remake of the 1959 film, "The Shaggy Dog" tells the story of a lawyer (Tim Allen) who occasionally transforms into, well, a large, shaggy sheepdog. His transformation into a dog hampers his career, but teaches him to be a better father and husband.

The Shaggy Dog
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Bring back Wilby Daniels, send Tim Allen back to Tool Time. Tim had something once, but he's squandered it to become the new Steve Guttenberg. Give us Galaxy Quest 2, don't ruin a family classic. Depressing. What's left to Fred MacMurray now? Where is Tommy Kirk? Ignore this remake and run out and rent the original for your kids. Start teaching them to hate Lucretia Borgia now. Send a message, let them know that the use of that damn Baha Men song in any advertisement, movie trailer or otherwise, is no longer socially acceptable.

I have had a few Disney movies on tape and the original was one of them. (So was the Shaggy D.A.) And while even at the time I knew it didn't live up to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Love Bug, I saw it enough that "in canis corpore transumto" sticks with me to this day. So I can't begrudge them for remaking it, as I'm sure some kids will love it.

The Shaggy Dog
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As for Tim Allen, I've always thought it unfair (in both directions) that actors get credit or blame for dialogue they didn't come up with. Poor Tim might not get an Oscar no matter what he was in, but he's better than the lines he's given. Unfortunately for him, having found his niche acting in movies targeted at young audiences, he'll never get to try out some Quentin Tarantino dialogue.

But if you want to give the man a fair chance, Galaxy Quest is underrated if you're willing to appreciate it. Also if you ever see "Joe Somebody," be mindful that they wanted Jim Carrey for the part and settled for Tim Allen. It's not a particularly great movie either, but to me Allen carried it off far better than Carrey would have.


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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Crash (2005) - Movie Review

Wow! I really don’t know how to describe this movie. I could say it is a study of race relations, racial tensions and emotions in America, but that would make the movie sounds too artsy and stodgy - something which this movie is completely not. (Now, “Birth” is another issue and might be the topic of another review). Crash in a nutshell is the story of a complete day in the lives of a lot of people living in LA, how their lives intersect through the day and in my husband’s words, “set off a chain reaction” that ultimately ends in the death of a black man.

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The movie has pretty much every racial stereotype you can think of - Hispanic housekeeper, thuggish black people, racist white people, Chinese people who say “blake” for “brake” and illegal immigrants. There are Persian shopkeepers who think all Hispanics are out to cheat them - there are black guys who think the Whitey’s keeping them down - there are white people who think all black people are out to rob them. What keeps the movie from becoming a parody or a preachy lecture is the heart that the movie manages to find in it’s characters - the characters are all shades of gray - none really evil (well, maybe a couple who frame an innicent white cop so they can get the black vote).

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I thought the most complex interesting characters were those of the black director(Terrence Howard) who thinks he has to shut up and let people walk over him so he can get on with his life - he doesn’t want to cause any ripples. He is too afraid to even speak up when Matt Dillon’s racist white cop (another very interesting character) pretends to search her while actually feeling up her skirt. He would rather stand there and let him and his wife be publicly humiliated than do something - all this pent-up frustration causes him to erupt at quite an unlikely time that puts his life in real jeopardy.

Matt Dillon’s portrayal of a racist cop seemed run-of-the-mill initially till you realize there are layers of empathy, frustration and hurt below his hard surface once you get to know him. It was commendable of the movie makers to not take any sides in the argument, but simply present the various sides of the race story. What got me were the scenes of confrontation between Thandie Newton who plays the wife humiliated by Matt Dillon and her husband. The wife is screaming at her husband in frustration - angry that he, her protector simply stood by and watched while she was being molested on a road by another man. She is humiliated not only for herself, but also for him that he couldn’t muster up the dignity to fight back. He, on the other hand is passive-aggressive and punishes the only person whom he can safely stand up to - his wife - by refusing to talk to her, and playing the martyr while at the same time choosing to ignore the fact that it was she who was molested and she, who is in greater pain than he could possibly be in.

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Ryan Phillippe has an interesting little arc playing the honset sidekick to Matt Dillon who requests a reassignment since he cannot stand his partner’s racism, but in the end realizes there in inherent racism within himself too - whether he acknowledges it or not.

All in all, a very interesting movie - well-made with gripping characters that stay with you long after the movie has ended. A well-told tale that probably comes as close to balanced as it can when it comes to the state of race relations in America.

For some weird reason, a lot of this movie reminded me of Magnolia - I think it was two things - firstly, the way all characters in the movie have some connection to each other and secondly, remember the ending of Magnolia when frogs rain down? The snowfall-in-LA ending of this movie seemed very similar.

*Review by shanti, Dancing with Dogs.

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Monday, February 13, 2006


Tsotsi n. thug, gangster, hoodlum

In a shantytown on the edges of Johannesburg, South Africa, nineteen year old Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) has repressed any memory of his past, including his real name: "Tsotsi" simply means "thug" or "gangster" in the street language of the ghetto.

Orphaned at an early age and compelled to claw his way to adulthood alone, Tsotsi has lived a life of extreme social and psychological deprivation. A feral being with scant regard for the feelings of others, he has hardened himself against any feelings of compassion. Ruled only by impulse and instinct, he is fuelled by the fear he instills in others. With no name, no past and no plan for the future, he exists only in an angry present. Tsotsi heads up his own posse of social misfits, Boston, a failed teacher (Mothusi Magano), Butcher, a cold-blooded assassin (Zenzo Ngqobe) and Aap, a dim-witted heavy (Kenneth Nkosi.)

One night, during an alcohol-fueled evening at a local shebeen (illicit liquor bar) Tsotsi is put under pressure by a drunken Boston to reveal something of his past; or at the very least, his real name. But Tsotsi reveals nothing. The questions evoke painful, long repressed memories that Tsotsi would prefer to keep buried. Still, Boston keeps asking. The other gang members sense a rising anger in Tsotsi and try to stop the interrogation, but Boston keeps pushing, prodding, digging. Suddenly, Tsotsi lashes out with his fists and beats Boston's face to a pulp. The violence is brief but extreme.

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Tsotsi turns and flees into the night. He runs wildly, desperate to escape the pain of unwelcome images rising in his mind. By the time he stops running he has crossed from the shantytown into the more affluent suburbs of the city. He collapses under a tree. It is raining hard. A woman in a driveway is struggling to open her motorised gate with a faulty electronic remote. Tsotsi draws his gun. It's an easy opportunity for an impromptu car jacking. As he races away in the woman's silver BMW, he hears the cry of a child. There's a 3 month old baby in the back of the car. Tsotsi loses control of the vehicle and crashes to a stop on the verge of a deserted road. The car is a write-off.

Tsotsi staggers from the vehicle. The baby is screaming. Tsotsi walks away. Then he turns back. The baby calms slightly when Tsotsi looks at it. This unsettles him. He hesitates. An unfamiliar feeling stirs within him: an impulse other than his pure instinct for personal survival. Suddenly, he gathers up the infant, shoves it into a large shopping bag and heads for the shantytown on foot. Tsotsi does not reveal to anyone that he has the child. He hides it from his gang. At first he thinks he can care for it alone. Keep it in his shack. Feed it on condensed milk. But he soon realizes that he cannot cope. The baby screams constantly and his attempts to feed it fail miserably.

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At the community water tap, Tsotsi selects a young woman with a baby of her own and secretly follows her back to her home. Forcing his way in behind her, he makes the terrified woman breastfeed "his" baby at gunpoint.

The young mother, Miriam (Terry Pheto), is only a few years older than Tsotsi. She has recently lost her husband to violent crime and lives alone with her baby, making ends meet as a seamstress. At first Miriam is very frightened by Tsotsi. But gradually she takes on the role of both mother to the baby and mentor to the desensitized young gangster. As their relationship tentatively progresses, Tsotsi is compelled to confront his own violent nature and to reveal his past.


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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Eight Below - Pre Screen Review

Eight Below Starring: Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs, Panou, Moon Bloodgood

Review: Disney has found the perfect film formula for Paul Walker. Keep him off the screen, or better still keep him quiet. Eight Below stars Paul Walker as a guilt-ridden mush-master but the real stars of the movie are the dogs, while Paul serves as in-between dog filler.

Guided by career second unit director Frank Marshall (he's been second banana on all three Indiana Jones movies, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Seabiscuit), Eight Below tells the story of eight Antarctic sled dogs who risk their lives to save an imperiled scientist, and are then abandoned at the bottom of the world. Their owner is a guide named Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker), and when his team is forced into an emergency evacuation from their Antarctica research base, he only agrees to leave his dogs chained outside as long as someone agrees to go right back and get them. Injured and facing serious frostbite, Gerry passes out in mid-airlift.

When he wakes up days have passed and no one has gone back to get his heroic animals. Now it's too late. Antarctic winter has set in and the storms are too fierce for travel. It'll be months before Gerry can find a way back to his old base camp, leaving his beautiful dogs to fend for themselves in the world's most inhospitable climate. No one expects them to live, in fact there's a pretty good chance they won't even get off their chain in front of the research base. But facing death by cold and starvation, the dog pack rips free of their chains and braves the Antarctic wilderness to make an attempt at survival.

Eight Below - 8 below - Disney - Disney's Eight Below
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Eight Below avoids a lot of the worst pitfalls you might expect from a Disney movie featuring animals. For instance, though they're all given cutesy names, the canines don't talk, nor are they given overly human traits. Instead, Marshall's movie takes an almost documentary-like approach to filming its animals. His movie has more in common with March of the Penguins than it does Milo & Otis. In fact, at times it's a lot like a modern retelling of Jack London's classic masterpieces 'Call of the Wild' or 'White Fang'. With a few exceptions, for the most part the dogs behave like dogs, making the movie a fascinating, beautiful exploration of pack animal behavior and desperate, instinctual survival. What a welcome relief from the usual pandering kiddietainment.

There are a few hiccups though as the film cuts between Gerry's struggle to get back to his furry family, and the dog pack's fight to live on in a completely inhospitable, subzero, barren wasteland. There's a terrible, almost silly scene with a computer animated leopard seal that looks a lot like a dinosaur, and then there's Paul Walker who still hasn't managed to find a way to display more than one or two emotions on screen. Neither of the two emotions in his repertoire fits with what his character is going through, and for Walker it's a struggle to find the heart of his character's story with such limited ability. But Paul's screen time is cut in half since he's sharing it with the dogs, and with what he has he should probably get some credit for really trying. At least he doesn't say 'Bro' in this one.

Eight Below is an eye-catching adventure with eight striking, energetic, furry stars. The dogs are absolutely beautiful, and outshine a lot of the little flaws (like Paul) plaguing their movie. Dave DiGilo's screenplay (adapted from a Japanese film) doesn't pull any punches, and capably balances the demands of realism and family-friendly entertainment. The movie's not afraid to hurt you, and its happy ending doesn't come without first facing sadness.

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*By Joshua Tyler,


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