Thursday, June 4, 2009

Actor David Carradine found dead in Bangkok

By GRANT PECK, Associated Press Writer
BANGKOK – Much like the character that made him famous, David Carradine was always seeking, both spiritually and professionally, his life forever intertwined with the Shaolin priest he played in the 1970s TV series "Kung Fu."
Just as the character, Kwai Chang Caine, roamed the 19th Century American West, Carradine spent his latter years searching for the path to Hollywood stardom, accepting low-budget roles while pursuing interests in Asian herbs, exercise and philosophy, and making instructional videos on tai chi and other martial arts.
Carradine was found dead Thursday in Thailand. The 72-year-old actor appeared to have hanged himself in a suite at the luxury Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel, said Lt. Teerapop Luanseng, the officer responsible for investigating the death.
"I can confirm that we found his body, naked, hanging in the closet," Teerapop said. He said police were investigating and suspected suicide, though one of his managers questioned that theory.
"All we can say is, we know David would never have committed suicide," said Tiffany Smith, of Binder & Associates, his management company. "We're just waiting for them to finish the investigation and find out what really happened. He really appreciated everything life has to give ... and that's not something David would ever do to himself."
Carradine had flown to Thailand last week and began work on "Stretch" two days before his death, Smith said. He had several other projects lined up after the action film, which was being directed by Charles De Meaux with Carradine in the lead.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, Michael Turner, said the embassy was informed by Thai authorities that Carradine died either late Wednesday or early Thursday.
"I was deeply saddened by the news of David Carradine's passing," said director Martin Scorcese. "We met when we made 'Boxcar Bertha' together, almost 40 years ago. I have very fond memories of our time together on that picture and on 'Mean Streets,' where he agreed to do a brief cameo."
Carradine came from an acting family. His father, John, made a career playing creepy, eccentric characters in film and on stage. Half-brothers Keith, Robert and Bruce also became actors, and actress Martha Plimpton is Keith Carradine's daughter.
"My Uncle David was a brilliantly talented, fiercely intelligent and generous man. He was the nexus of our family in so many ways, and drew us together over the years and kept us connected," Plimpton said Thursday.
Carradine was "in good spirits" when he left the U.S. for Thailand on May 29 to work on "Stretch," Smith said.
"David was excited to do it and excited to be a part of it," she said by phone from Beverly Hills.
Filming began Tuesday, she said, adding that the crew was devastated by Carradine's death and did not wish to speak publicly about it for the time being.
The Web site of the Thai newspaper The Nation said Carradine could not be contacted after he failed to appear for a meal with the rest of the film crew on Wednesday, and that his body was found by a hotel maid Thursday morning. It said a preliminary police investigation found that he had hanged himself with a curtain cord and there was no sign that he had been assaulted.
Police said Carradine's body was taken to a hospital for an autopsy that would be done Friday.
Carradine appeared in more than 100 feature films with such directors as Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby. One of his early film roles was as folk singer Woody Guthrie in Ashby's 1976 biopic, "Bound for Glory."
But he was best known for "Kung Fu," which aired from 1972-75.
Carradine, a martial arts practitioner himself, played Caine, an orphan who was raised by Shaolin monks and fled China after killing the emperor's nephew in retaliation for the murder of his kung fu master.
Pursued by revenge assassins from China, Caine wanders the American West in search of his half-brother Danny. His conscience forces him to fight injustice wherever he encounters it, fueled by flashbacks to his training in which his master famously refers to him as "Grasshopper."
Carradine left after three seasons, saying the show had started to repeat itself.
"I wasn't like a TV star in those days. I was like a rock 'n' roll star," Carradine said in an interview with Associated Press Radio in 1996. "It was a phenomenon kind of thing. ... It was very special."
Actor Rainn Wilson, star of TV's "The Office," said on Twitter: "R.I.P. David Carradine. You were a true hero to so many of us children of the 70s. We'll miss you, Kwai Chang Caine."
Carradine reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine's grandson in the 1990s syndicated series "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues."
He returned to the top in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's two-part saga "Kill Bill." Bill, the worldly father figure of a pack of crack assassins, was a shadowy presence in 2003's "Kill Bill — Vol. 1." In that film, one of Bill's former assassins (Uma Thurman) begins a vengeful rampage against her old associates, including Bill.
In "Kill Bill — Vol. 2," released in 2004, Thurman's character catches up to Bill. The role brought Carradine a Golden Globe nomination as best supporting actor.
Bill was a complete contrast to Caine, the soft-spoken refugee serenely spreading wisdom and battling bad guys in the Old West.
"David's always been kind of a seeker of knowledge and of wisdom in his own inimitable way," Keith Carradine, said in a 1995 interview.
After "Kung Fu," Carradine starred in the 1975 cult flick "Death Race 2000." He starred with Liv Ullmann in Bergman's "The Serpent's Egg" in 1977 and with his brothers in the 1980 Western "The Long Riders." But after the early 1980s, he spent two decades doing mostly low-budget films.
Tarantino's films changed that.
"All I've ever needed since I more or less retired from studio films a couple of decades ago ... is just to be in one," Carradine told The Associated Press in 2004.
"There isn't anything that Anthony Hopkins or Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery or any of those old guys are doing that I couldn't do," he said. "All that was ever required was somebody with Quentin's courage to take and put me in the spotlight."
In the 2004 interview, Carradine talked candidly about his past boozing and narcotics use, but said he had put all that behind him and stuck to coffee and cigarettes.
"You're probably witnessing the last time I will ever answer those questions," Carradine said. "Because this is a regeneration. It is a renaissance. It is the start of a new career for me.
"It's time to do nothing but look forward."
Associated Press writer Polly Anderson and Entertainment Writers Erin Carlson and Jake Coyle in New York and David Germain in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Unmistaken Child ( 2009 - June - 3 )

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2009: "Unmistaken Child" is an example of my favorite sort of documentary, the fly-on-the-wall film that looks and feels like a narrative feature. It tells its story by marshaling extraordinary access and patience, rather than cutting cutting away to various talking heads and bits of archive footage. What makes it an especially intriguing film, though, is a caption in the early going that suggests that the audience not take it at face value.

It's not the opening description of Buddhist monk Geshe Lama Konchog, who died recently at the age of 84. He was notable for spending 26 years in a cavern retreat, pondering spiritual matters. Nor is it the description of rinpoches, which means "the precious ones", reincarnated masters whom the other monks seek out. In the case of "Geshe-la", the man charged with finding his reincarnation will be Tenzin Zopa, who served as the passed masters heart disciple for twenty-one years, and whose quest will take him to the Tsim Valley on the border of Nepal and Tibet until he finds baby Tenzin Ngodrop.

The line that makes this all so intriguing comes just after we've been told that young Tenzin Zopa was the master's close companion for the last two decades of their lives: "Tenzin feels terribly alone."

Without this line, or with it merely implied, Unmistaken Child would still be an intriguing documentary. It follows Tenzin Zopa as he goes through the process of searching for the child, from consulting with Tagri Rinpoche, the senior relic master, and an astrological center in Taiwan. We see Zopa return to his home village and traverse great distances on foot, asking if there are children of the right age and examining them to see if they show the signs of being the reincarnated Geshe-la. There's the test in front of other lamas, encounters with the Dalai Lama, and more. There is just enough captioning to fill us in on background or religious details that might not be obvious, and Tenzin Zopa is a genial protagonist, charmingly full of self-doubt about his suitability for the task ahead. Director Nati Baratz shows us the process with clarity; one can come out of the film learning a lot.

With it explicit, though, we're given free reign to question what we see. Are Tenzin Zopa's actions what his faith demands, or are we looking at a man who, having devoted his life to the service of Geshe-la, will do anything to get him back? To a non-believer, the evidence that Tenzin Ngodrop is the master reincarnated may seem incredibly flimsy: He was born in the general direction that the smoke from Geshe Lama Kagong's cremation blew, his father's name begins with an "A" sound as predicted, and he clutched at the dead monk's rosary. But babies are born all the time, especially in rural areas, to parents with all manner of names, and some are grabby. Tenzin Zopa likely isn't consciously perpetrating any sort of fraud, but he's revealed to us as a fascinatingly complex character in this drama.

This gives the film a unique ability to examine faith and religion in a way that is both respectful and skeptical. It shows us the process of seeking and finding a rinpoche from start to finish in a fairly procedural way, but if Baratz has any opinion either way on whether or not wise men are returned to Earth in this way, he doesn't even seem to be pushing it passively. It is, after all, not hard to go from Tenzin Ngodrop identifying Geshe-la's possessions to there being something to the whole reincarnation thing, but even as he doesn't show how this could be orchestrated, he doesn't quite draw that line. We can supply the explanation that makes the most sense to us.

I spend a lot of time discussing this facet of the film because I am skeptical of such things, and it feels unusual to see a film cover this sort of religious material and not feel like it is either preaching to the converted or trying to win converts. That is far from its only good feature; it is a well-made film in many other ways. It is beautifully shot and amazingly well-edited; in terms of telling a story, it puts many fictional films without the restrictions of capturing actual events as they happen to shame. Because of those restrictions, it sometimes doesn't delve as deeply into certain facets as one might like (I might have liked to see more on the reaction of parents to the news that their children are reincarnated lamas and should be taken from them and raised in a monastery). It's got a bit of a whimsical side, too, and is pretty good about showing Ngodrop as a kid, rather than selecting the bits that might best link him to Geshe-la.

I'm not sure how many will have my perspective on this movie - most of the people who buy a ticket or rent it will be those more open to mysticism in general and Buddhism in particular than me. There's plenty for that audience to enjoy here, but that just serves to make it more remarkable: How many films about faith do such a fine job of serving all of the curious?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

An early Drag Me To Hell review, courtesy of trusted source ‘Tobey Maguire’.

Got into a secret pre-screening of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” movie and damn. SO good.

First, when they said “a work in progress” they weren’t kidding. The footage was weirdly digitized and mostly blurry. Don’t know what caused that, it looked like YouTube quality.

But it didn’t matter. Even the unfinished VFX didn’t matter. This movie was so good it had the entire audience in the palm of its gnarled, witchy hand.

If you like Evil Dead you’ll like this. Sure, it’s PG-13 (or so they claim), so it’s not gory and there’s no bad language. But still in the first ten minutes a little boy gets dragged to hell in gruesome fashion and the whole thing is very messed up.

The story is simple: a bank teller refuses a loan to an old lady who turns out to be a witch. Chaos ensues.

And I mean chaos. We’re talking gypsy curses, ghosts, and goat demons. From the first attack to the end of the movie, it seems like every ten seconds something’s getting broken or something is getting killed. It’s REALLY tense from start to finish. I went in expecting a straight comedy like the final Evil Dead flick and was REALLY surprised how scary and intense the movie was.

But the movie does have its funny moments, like the kitty murder scene and the talking goat scene and the countless times the witch vomits some weird substance all over the hot chick.

Overall, I was surprised how clever the script was and how good the acting was. In particular, Justin Long is great. I mean, he’s relaxed and funny most of the time and then comes this INTENSE part at the end that I won’t spoil, but his performance is heart wrenching.

his movie twists and turns all the time. The plot is very simple, but it does a lot of things you don’t expect or normally see in movies. It’s so refreshing to see something so original.

This is a return to form for Raimi, who really blew it with Spider-Man 3. I hope he makes more movies like this in the future.

Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, David Paymer
Release Date: 29 May 2009
Grade: A-

Leave your own Drag Me To Hell review in the comments.

Star Trek (2009)

By Grace Cicatello

The 11th Star Trek feature jumps right into the story and action, without the usual pitfall of leaving the audience grasping for clarification. From the beginning it is obvious that great attention to detail was given. Usually in the television-to-big screen transition, mistakes in consistency with the details are often made, but this Star Trek movie is spot on with the minutiae and continuity in accordance with the Star Trek canon. It is noticeable by the story clarity and conciseness that the movie was thoroughly edited and refined as though it had been groomed with a fine-tooth comb.

Star Trek comes to us as a prequel to the original television series, this time based on a plot in which a black hole provides an alternate reality for the original cast of characters of the USS Enterprise. The audience is invited into the intimate early lives of both James T. Kirk and Spock, which had been inferred in other films but not so directly addressed as it is here. Star Trek then moves quickly into the scheme of a vengeful Romulan named Nero in his quest against Spock, ultimately taking his wrath out on anyone who comes in his path – Federation starships and other planets included. From there, fast-paced action puts the audience on the edge of their seats. Taking in one of the earlier IMAX performances after the release, audible gasps and clapping could be heard from the audience several times throughout the movie.

This Star Trek film really takes advantage of aesthetics. The movie is extremely visually appealing, from bright vivid colors to very well executed special effects. The USS Enterprise takes on an outer resemblance closer to the model of the original Star Trek series, however the inside main deck is dramatically redesigned in a clean, minimalist manner with neon colors against the white backdrop.

Being an avid Star Trek fan since early childhood, I went to see the new Star Trek movie expecting the worst but hoping for the best. Previous big screen efforts by the Star Trek franchise have been pretty average, and in the end always left me wanting for something more. This one, however, stands on its own and is definitely worth the theater admission, not an easy suggestion in this day and age. It is action packed, emotionally tinged, and contained comedic elements that were utilized in good health and not campy in the slightest. Overall, Star Trek is well written and very aesthetically pleasing. I am not one to see movies multiple times at theater, but this one has definitely left me giddy and wanting to see it again on the big screen.

Angels & Demons (2009)

By Deborah Young, May 04, 2009 09:06 ET
Bottom Line: Violent, occult thriller delivers as promised.
ROME -- Science or religion? Wait, there's room for both.

If the world could be rendered as simple as "Angels & Demons," we'd all be living in a less confusing place. Taking to heart the critics' lament that the first Dan Brown novel-to-film "The Da Vinci Code" was talky, static and arcane, director Ron Howard and his crew have worked hard to make Professor Robert Langdon's return a thrilling, faster-paced walk in the park.

It will be difficult for this papal mystery, beautifully shot in Rome and Rome-like locations, to gross less than its phenomenal predecessor, which topped $750 million worldwide for Sony Pictures in 2006.

Plucking the same violent, occult strings as "Da Vinci" while avoiding its leadenness, "Angels" keeps the action coming for the best part of 139 minutes. Scripters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman have taken a firmer hand with Brown's material. The opening scene, for example, omits the hypersonic Vatican jet that transports crack Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) from Cambridge to Geneva in an hour, opting for more conventional means to get him to Rome and into the thick of the action.

Although this attack of realism might disappoint the book's die-hard fans, it pays off in depicting the Vatican as a fairly "normal" nation-state, and not as some all-powerful SMERSH-like nemesis. And in the end, most of those who attacked the film before seeing it on grounds of its being anti-Catholic will have to eat their words, as the warm-hearted ending casts a rosy glow around the College of Cardinals, the papacy and the faithful throngs in St. Peter's Square.

But back to the plot. The pope is dead, and the Catholic Church is preparing to elect a new one. The handsome young Camerlengo Patrick (Ewan McGregor), who was raised by the late pope, is heartbroken.

Whisked to the Vatican at the behest of Inspector Olivetti (fine Italian thesp Pierfrancesco Favino), Langdon learns that the four cardinals who are the most likely papal candidates have been kidnapped. In Vatican security, he meets scientist Vittoria Vetra (sultry Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer), privy to insider knowledge about how a cylinder of anti-matter was brutally stolen from the Cern labs in Geneva. It's child's play to put two and two together and realize that the Vatican is about to be blown up by the ticking bomb of anti-matter.

Into this futuristic world of protons and neutrons erupts the long-forgotten religious cult of the Illuminati, a group of 17th century forward thinkers who championed scientific truth and were forced underground by the Church. Now they're back, in the mysterious person of a fanatic assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas.)

Aided by Olivetti and the earnest young camerlengo, while hindered by deadpan Swiss Guards commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard), Langdon goes about his semiotic business of pulling clues out of thin air.

The story line is brilliantly simplified into Langdon's search for the four cardinals, with Vetra and Olivetti as his sidekicks. His job is to find angel sculptures inside churches, which point to other churches. Black police cars race dangerously through the crowded Roman streets, always arriving five minutes too late to prevent the grisly death of an aged cardinal who has been branded with the words Earth, Air, Fire or Water. Hanks does a likable job of glossing over every implausibility, allowing the action to climax in gut-churning shots borrowed from cheap horror films.

Hanks fits more comfortably into the role of Langdon here, taking a moment to deliver some friendly one-liners. If "Da Vinci" was criticized for the lack of sexual chemistry between its protagonists, "Angels" simply refuses to suggest any kind of romance between Langdon and Vetra. Their total lack of a relationship is so stunning successful that it passes unnoticed.

This allows Koepp and Goldsman to concentrate on what the audience really wants to see: burning cardinals, spectacular explosions and incomparable studio reconstructions of Baroque Rome.

Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins (2009)

Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins (2009)

Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Common
Director: McG
Opening Date: May 22nd, 2009

Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins will reinvent the cyborg saga with a storyline to be told over a three-movie span. The film is set in the future, in a full-scale war between Skynet and humankind.
On January 6th 2008, producer John Middleton had the following to say about the movie: "It's post-apocalyptic. It's set after the events of [Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines], where we see the nuclear exchange at the end of the movie, and we show what the world is like after this event, and we show how people try to deal in a post-apocalyptic world. And we introduce a new character, who becomes very important to the resistance and to John Connor, a new hero. It's really about the birth of a new hero."
About John Conner, he said: "I would look at him as a character that is introduced and that will grow in the second and third movies of the trilogy."
On Arnold Schwarzenegger's involvement in the film: "He has been approached, and in the early days of our development of T4, one of our producers, Andy Vajna, who's a good friend of his, spoke to him about doing a cameo. This was even before he was governor. But we know now that he is governor, he's got priorities that are above doing movies."
In this new installment of The Terminator film franchise, set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Christian Bale stars as John Connor, the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators.
But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past.
As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet's operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.
To be honest we weren’t all that excited when a fourth Terminator movie was announced. And when it emerged that Arnie will only have a small cameo in it (if at all!) and that it will be directed by the pretentiously named McG whose credentials include the brainless Charlie’s Angels movies we just rolled our eyes and gave up on the whole affair.
After all, when one is honest about it, the three Terminator movies made thus far are basically the same movie made over and over again: an artificial intelligence from a future in which mankind is battling for its survival against said machines sends an unstoppable killing machine back in time to kill the man who will lead the human resistance before he is born or just a boy.
But it seems the future has finally arrived . . .
When it became apparent that Terminator 4 won’t be rehashing that whole plot again (after all, how can they after the ending of Terminator 3 – Rise of the Machines?) and that it will be largely set in the post-apocalyptic landscape in which humanity is pitted in a desperate battle for survival only glimpsed in the various movies we perked up. When they cast new action god Christian Bale (Batman in The Dark Knight) we really started paying attention. Hey, this new Terminator flick just might be worth checking out after all . . .
And then came that teaser trailer . . .
So: consider us excited. Terminator Salvation as the fourth movie is now officially titled just might be a worthy entry in the franchise, one that might even equal any of Jim Cameron’s entries (come on! did you see that trailer?). Or will at least be better than the tired rehash that was Rise of the Machines . . .

Saturday, May 23, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

In the crowded pantheon of comic-book-derived movie-franchise superheroes, Wolverine, as embodied by the muscular Australian song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman, always seemed kind of special. A grouchy, sensitive loner with retractable metal claws and apparently unretractable facial hair, Wolverine brooded and growled through the first three “X-Men” pictures, helping to supply them (or at least the first two) with welcome grace notes of rough humor and macho pathos. And now “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” with its ungainly, geeky title and its relatively trim (under-two-hour) running time, helps explain just what makes this guy so intriguing and unusual.

In the crowded pantheon of comic-book-derived movie-franchise superheroes, Wolverine, as embodied by the muscular Australian song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman, always seemed kind of special. A grouchy, sensitive loner with retractable metal claws and apparently unretractable facial hair, Wolverine brooded and growled through the first three “X-Men” pictures, helping to supply them (or at least the first two) with welcome grace notes of rough humor and macho pathos. And now “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” with its ungainly, geeky title and its relatively trim (under-two-hour) running time, helps explain just what makes this guy so intriguing and unusual.