Archive for April, 2011

The Gospel According To Saint Matthew

This has to be the best film on the life of Christ Jesus Our Lord & Saviour ever made by a gay Marxist atheist.

Okay … the unexpected death of my beloved Elisabeth Sladen derailed my review of Tangled, so I’ll get to that at some point.  In the meantime, with Zombie Jeebus Weekend (or, as my daughter lovingly refers to it, Peeps Massacre Weekend) bearing down upon us, I finally followed through with my annual threat of educating my boys about Jesus via controversial movies.  We all sat down together and watched:

Thursday: The Gospel According To Saint Matthew
Friday: The Last Temptation Of Christ
Saturday: Jesus Christ Superstar
Sunday: Monty Python’s Life Of Brian & Dogma

My wife tried desperately to talk me into shoehorning a Charlton Heston epic in there somewhere.  As much as I love The Ten Commandments, that’s a staple on ABC every Easter weekend, so my only true option for that had to be Ben-Hur.  But we already tweaked our schedule (adding Jesus Christ Superstar at the last minute), so we didn’t have time to add another three and a half hour film to the list.  It looks like we’ll be overdosing on Heston next Easter.

Alas, one of my criteria for ranting about things here is to only rant about things the first time I’ve seen them, which immediately excludes the latter four films in our marathon (since I saw three of them on the big screen in their initial release and the other some time ago on DVD).  So … onward to Pasolini’s The Gospel According To Saint Matthew ….

Wow!  What an amazingly beautiful film.  The boys didn’t care much for it, since to them it was far too long and too boring, but I found it to be an incredibly touching and loving film.  Especially considering it comes from the same man who made Salò, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom.  I find it amazing that Pasolini cast actors who had little to no experience — the actors who played Jesus and Judas were flat-out perfect in their roles.  I have a huge soft spot for Harvey Keitel’s Judas, but Otello Sestili is right up alongside Carl Anderson as a very close second in my eyes.

My only complaints were the rapid-fire dialog and the not-quite-natural English subtitles.  The subtitles ran by a little too fast for my boys, and the Engrish on them was just one step less awkward than the average Hong Kong action film.  But The Gospel According To Saint Matthew is gorgeous enough that it could almost tell the story without any dialog whatsoever.  It’s not my favorite film about the life of Christ, but it’s close.

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

Elisabeth Sladen died today.  Unless you’re a fan of British sci-fi, you probably don’t know that name.  But she was, along with Tom Baker and Ian Marter, an iconic part of my childhood.

Elisabeth Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who and its spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures.  She was the one constant in the tumultuous period at the end of the Third Doctor’s time and the beginning of the Fourth Doctor’s oh so long reign.  As good as she was playing up against Jon Pertwee, she & Ian Marter positively glowed alongside Tom Baker.  Tom Baker’s first series is one of the balls-out best full series of Doctor Who.

Jon Pertwee was always my favorite Doctor, but Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith was always my favorite companion on the show.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet both of them at a Doctor Who convention in Chicago in the early ’80s.  I distinctly remember having to push myself to work up the courage to tell her how beautiful I thought she was, since I knew I’d never have another chance to do so.  Here I was, a starstruck crush-ridden teenager telling her that.  She seemed touched, though … little did I know she had literally just gotten off a long trans-Atlantic flight and came straight to the theatre.  She felt tired, she felt worn out, she felt anything but beautiful … until I said those words and her wonderful smile lit up her face.

I still have the picture of her and Tom Baker that she signed.  Time has not been kind to it.  They used felt-tip pens rather than Sharpies to sign their autographs there, so the ink is slowly deteriorating along with the photo.  But I can still make it out: “To Robert Love Elisabeth Sladen.”  That was an amazingly happy day for me.

From what I see online, Doctor Who fandom is stunned.  She kept her battle with cancer out of the publicity machine.  With Nicholas Courtney, a lot of us knew he was ill.  With Lis, few of us did.

I’ve yet to watch all of her Sarah Jane Adventures episodes, so at least I have that to look forward to.  The BBC commissioned a fifth series of that, but I’m not sure how far the production got before her death.  Interestingly enough, what was the title of the final story of the fourth series?  “Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith.”

There’s not enough beer in my world right now …..

The BBC’s announcement.

Digital Spy’s obituary.

Unstoppable (2010)

This film gave me a migraine.  I’m very glad I saw it on the small screen, not the big one.

I usually like Tony Scott’s films.  He doesn’t make great films, but they’re usually flashy enough to be fun to watch, and I can usually appreciate his intriguing choice of camera angles if I can’t appreciate the missing character development or the abysmal dialogue.  Knowing what I was in for, I took a healthy dose of aspirin before we popped in the DVD.  It helped a little, but not enough.

With Unstoppable, my interest in Scott’s fluidly spiraling camera movements only lasted an hour.  After that, I kept thinking to myself, “Oh get on with it.”

I never saw any trailers for the film.  Never really paid attention to any synopses.  All I knew about the film ahead of time was that it was directed by Tony Scott and starred Denzel Washington.  And Chris Pine, my daughter kept reminding us.  And it’s about some sort of runaway train.  So … safe assumption then that every attempt to stop said train will fail until Washington & Pine figure out a way to catch up to it.  Yep.  Which in turn makes potentially exciting set pieces boring because we know how they’re going to turn out, which ends up with me thinking to myself, “Oh get on with it” that much more.

I honestly could not care less about Pine’s character’s domestic problems.  It was all totally irrelevant, seemingly stuffed into the script as some sort of half-assed attempt at character development.  Maybe it would make a difference if his wife and son were actually developed as characters … but no.  Oh get on with it.

And every time I was almost getting caught up in the story, we jumped to fake Fox news coverage of the impending disaster, which ripped me right out of it again.  Given the exaggerated descriptions of what would happen if the train went kablooey, would reporters and news helicopters actually be that close to the action?  I understand that good reporters will do whatever they can to nail the story, but stoopidly standing or hovering well within skin-melting fireball range (along with scores of police officers and fire fighters)?  They’re frequently close enough to be hit by the passing train long before they’re roasted in the hellacious fireball of doom.  This totally undermined my suspension of disbelief.  They talk about various evacuations … yet the townspeople are all still out there, gawking at Satan’s locomotive of death as it races towards them.  Yep … again, oh get on with it.

I can’t help thinking there must be some kind of fantastically tense R-rated director’s cut out there somewhere, and maybe the studio demanded that Scott cut it down to deliver a PG-13 rating and insert the Fox news bits as blatant marketing of their own network.  It feels like there’s a good 30 minutes or more missing from the film.  This could have been a Hitchcock-level masterpiece of suspense … but no.

I hear Runaway Train is supposed to be good.  I should track that down as a comparison.