A Tribute to John Polonia

There’s a famous quote about The Velvet Underground’s first album: only 3000 people bought it, but all of those people went out and started their own band the next day. In an era where music was becoming increasingly slick and polished, the Velvets were defiantly raw, proudly flaunting their seams and helping thousands of people understand that art and creative expression was something that anyone could, and should, achieve.

Mark and John Polonia are the cinematic equivalents of the Velvet Underground. Two of the most passionate film fans on the planet, these twin brothers have spent the last twenty years churning out dozens of direct-to-video horror flicks, earning a rabid cult following for their endearing blend of impoverished budgets and stunning creativity… and inspiring hundreds of fans to pick up a camera themselves.

Movie critics have not always been kind to them, but to watch a Polonia Brothers film is to watch a film that’s in on the joke — witness the (intentionally) hilarious How to Slay a Vampire, in which the titular creature cheerfully drinks a cup of tea, but substitutes a bloody tampon for a teabag. Or Peter Rottentail, in which an evil spirit wearing a tattered rabbit suit opens up a can of whoopass on a small Pennsylvania town. (The movie’s tag line: “You’ll Have a Bad Hare Day!”). Or Razorteeth, a pirhana flick shot partially (and obviously) in Mark Polonia’s swimming pool. Or Saurians, a delightful dinosaur adventure made for the cost of a Burger King combo meal, but containing more excitement and entertainment value than either of the Jurassic Park sequels.

But even if they lacked big budgets, the Polonia Brothers’ films have always had an unmistakable handmade charm to them — a sweetness and eagerness to please, made by two brothers with a real “Let’s put on a show!” mentality. I can’t think of any other filmmakers whose work so often possesses this sense of unabashed fun and excitement. Even after two decades of moviemaking, Mark and John never lost that wide-eyed sense of wonder at actually being behind (and sometimes in front of) the camera, and it shows.

John Polonia’s sudden death this week at the devastatingly young age of 39 was a crushing blow. To many, John was nothing more than a name on the back of a video box, or that goofy guy who died so memorably in The House That Screamed. Those people will, at the very least, mourn a staunch advocate of no-budget filmmaking, and a man whose generosity and mentorship to other aspiring directors helped create the direct-to-video horror movement.

But those of us who were fortunate enough to know John Polonia as a person and not just as an indie film icon will mourn the man himself. When I think of John, I will remember not just his movies, but a great friend with the most infectious laugh I’ve ever heard. I will remember a cinema fan with a rabid love of Argento, Bava, and Romero, who forgot more about giallo films than I’ll ever know. I will remember the simultaneously excited and nervous father-to-be who picked my brain for parenting advice shortly before the birth of his beloved son. And I will remember the man who never stopped being a champion and advocate of my own work, even when I had long since given up on myself.

Friday’s memorial service for John, held in his hometown of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, was a beautiful affair. Not surprisingly, the event was packed with family and friends who wanted to say farewell to a man whose life touched so many people. Frequent Polonia Brothers actor Brice Kennedy and I were fortunate enough to share some personal anecdotes and warm memories of John as part of the service, an opportunity for which I’ll be forever grateful.

And although I’m sure they knew, I was very happy for the chance to remind John’s family, particularly Mark, how much John’s friendship meant to me over the years.

How sobering that I never thought to tell John himself.

John Polonia loved movies, and the people who made them. And although 39 years was far too little time to have him with us, we can at least take solace in the fact that his was a life well-lived, rich with cinematic success, and overflowing with family and friends who loved him. We should all be so lucky.

Thank you, John. Thank you, Mark.

With all my love and respect,
-Joe Barlow
Scranton, PA (formerly Wellsboro)


Welcome to the Second Annual Cinemaslave Oscar Blow-by-Blow. As I watch the broadcast tonight, I’ll be updating this blog post periodically to give my running commentary. Feel free to refresh your browser throughout the broadcast and follow along. (Of course, if you’re reading this after the fact, then that game will probably be a lot less fun.)

7:54 pm
Here I sit, laptop at the ready, warm cat snuggled in beside me on the sofa, watching a pre-Oscar Barbra Walters special. Ellen Page just had her turn in the spotlight, answering a string of softball questions lobbed with too much affection by a journalist who barely seems to be going through the motions. Harrison Ford concluded the show, but seemed like he’d rather be in bed. It’s so disappointing; Ford rarely gives interviews, and it’s a shame that his first TV chat in over a decade had to be such a sugar-tinged affair, with Walters practically fawning all over him. Didn’t her interviews have teeth once upon a time?

George Clooney jokingly mentions that he did a better acting job in Batman and Robin than Michael Clayton. Holy false modesty, Batman!

Hey look, it’s Cameron Diaz, who isn’t even nominated, blabbing on and on about the fact that Daniel Day-Lewis is a great actor. Thank God she’s here to tell us these things. Every year I claim I’m not going to watch this fluffy Red Carpet prologue, and every year I give in. I’m a bad independent thinker.

Is Jack Nicholson drunk in the front row, or merely insane? Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing more of his eccentric behavior.

The Oscars are off to a great start with an entertaining montage, blending together a bunch of characters from classic films. I bet there’s a list of all the movie references online before the show’s over.

Jon Stewart gets things started on a nice note, joking about the writer’s strike, the feel-good tone of Juno, Dennis Hopper’s perpetual state of confusion, and Javier Bardem’s haircut. (Best quips: “Even Norbit got a nomination, which is great! Too often the Academy ignores movies which aren’t good.” and “I’m happy Atonement got a nomination. Finally, a story that captures the raw passion of Yom Kippur!”) I also love to see him making people squirm with his political jabs (“Have you all had a chance to carefully consider which Democrat you’ll be voting for?”) Good stuff.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age wins the first award, for Best Costume Design. Hey, at least this oft-despised film didn’t get completely shut out.

George Clooney hits the stage to introduce one of those patently unnecessary Oscar montages that pushes back the end of the show until approximately 5am. HA! It’s a slight exaggeration, of course. I think.

Jon Stewart is a non-stop zinger factory tonight, quipping that to really appreciate Lawrence of Arabia on the iPod, you have to watch it in widescreen.

Next up is Best Animated Feature, and to no one’s great surprise, Pixar’s animated blue rat takes the cake (after first baking it in a Parisian kitchen). I regret that I haven’t seen Persepolis yet. Darn you, super rare arthouse movies!

La Vie En Rose takes the Best Make-Up award. I’ve rarely seen a group of folks so delighted to receive an award, but the way these award winners keep getting thrown off the stage after only a few moments is smack-worthy. Can’t they have just a *moment* in the limelight before the producers get itchy?

Amy Adams hits the stage to sing “Happy Working Song,” the first of three Best Song nominees from Enchanted. Words fail me.

Best Visual Effects, presented by The Rock. I think his sheer mass needs to win some kind of special effects award, but regardless, The Golden Compass beats both Bay’s smashy robots and Johnny Depp’s crew of pirates. Shocking!

It’s official… I’m in love with Cate Blanchett, at least while she’s wearing that purple dress. I wish I was Sweeney Todd, so I could accept the Best Art Direction Oscar from her. I’d put her in a pie, alright.

It’s Best Supporting Actor Time, and how sure am I that Javier Bardem is going to win? So sure that I’m already posting that he won, even though the winner hasn’t yet been announced.

Yep. And well-deserved, too, I might add.

Jon Stewart gives a demonstration of what the Oscars would’ve been like without the writers: “And now, a four-hour montage of binoculars and periscopes!” followed by “a montage of bad dreams”. Hey, it made me chuckle, but the audience seemed not to find it nearly as amusing. But now we’re into the second Best Song nominee: “Raise It Up,” from August Rush. I actually like this one… soulful and melodic, with some introspective lyrics. But nothing’s gonna shake my utter devotion to Once‘s “Falling Slowly”.

Owen Wilson introduces the Best Live-Action Short Film award; regrettably, all the nominees in this category are thusfar unseen by me. But the French Le Mozart Des Pickpockets takes home the gold.

It’s the same situation with Best Animated Short Film (introduced by a particularly obnoxious animated Jerry Seinfeld): I haven’t seen any of the finalists, but Peter and the Wolf, which did look great, wins the big prize.

Best Supporting Actress, and the competition is fierce this year. All five of these ladies did some amazing work, and although I was no fan of Atonement, this particular performance was my favorite part of the movie. But Tilda Swinton, who I’ve loved since The Beach, is the golden lady tonight for her work in Michael Clayton, and I *love* her reaction — absolutely stunned, and literally speechless. And once she did speak, she was almost incomprehensible. But her eventual teasing of George Clooney and his Batman performance was Oscar Gold!

Jessica Alba hosts the Scientific Technical Awards, which to me is a bit like asking Paris Hilton to design the Hoover Dam, but whatever.

Best Adapted Screenplay, and No Country for Old Men wins it… but interestingly, There Will Be Blood got far louder cheers from the audience when its name was announced during the reading of the nominees. A hint of things to come in future awards, perhaps?

Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus shows up to introduce the third nominated song — another Enchanted ditty called “That’s How You Know”. These sorts of songs are why I don’t like most musicals. I just can’t relate to them at all; they seem to belong to another time, an era that’s never heard of The Beatles. (Odd that I’m a rabid silent movie fan, yet I can’t stand most showtunes because they sound far too dated to my ears. Well, I’m nothing if not eccentric.)

Best Sound Editing, and another surprise: The Bourne Ultimatum beats out Transformers, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Ratatouille. Naturally, the winner is the only one I haven’t yet seen. But we follow it up almost immediately with Best Sound Mixing, where BAM!Bourne once again conquers. Nicely done. (Note that the guy on the far right looks like Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, and seems like he’s perhaps been partaking of his namesake weed.)

Forrest Whittaker presents the Best Actress Oscar, and man, he just radiates nobility. Screw Obama, I’m voting for Forrest Whittaker for president! Another tough category to call, with some fierce competition. I’d love to see Cate win, just so I can gaze adoringly at her in that purple dress once again, but the shiny gold man is going home with Marion Cotillard! Perhaps the one winner NO ONE predicted! I love upsets like this… makes me feel like I’m watching history. And kudos to Cate, who reacted with as much delight as if she’d won the award herself.

Colin Farrell announces the song “Falling Slowly” from Once, and the audience goes nuts just at the mere mention of the film’s name. I’m more sure than ever that the Best Song award is in the bag. And the performance was brilliant too! Glen’s playing that same battered-to-shit guitar he’s been lugging around for years, and looks damn proud of it. This song is sonic love, friends… a musical blanket in which to wrap yourself. And Marketa looked gorgeous.

Jack Nicholson introduces a montage of previous Best Picture winners, and looks disgusted at the cheesy introduction he’s forced to read. I love it. I’m also amazed, and a little saddened, to see how many of these former Best Picture winners have all but faded from the public consciousness.

Best Editing. I still maintain that I’m Not There deserved the award, but it wasn’t even nominated. And once again, The Bourne Ultimatum surprises me by winning. I would’ve loved to see No Country win, just so the Coens would have been forced to accept the prize. (They edited the film under an alias.)

The annual Honorary Oscar is presented to 98 year-old Production Designer Robert Boyle, whose credits include North By Northwest, The Birds, Dragnet, and Fiddler on the Roof. Although he had to be helped to the podium, he seemed genuinely touched and happy to be there. (However, he looked like a hobbit next to honorary Amazon woman Nicole Kidman.)

Best Foreign Film, introduced by Penelope Cruz. It’s a rare year when none of the nominees have much heat behind them… no clear favorite has emerged, which makes it anyone’s guess. But the correct guess is The Counterfeiters.

Another performance of a bland song from Enchanted. Someone text me when it’s over.

John Travolta talks music with the Best Song nominees. And although I liked “Raise It Up”, no one’s happier than me that my beloved “Falling Slowly” won. I want to hug these people. Glen was charming. (“We made this film for 100 grand, and never thought we’d be standing in front of you people. Thank you for taking our film seriously.”) And I love Jon Stewart’s quip after Hansard left the stage: (“God, that guy’s so arrogant!”) Sadly, Marketa didn’t get to speak, although she tried — but the orchestra steamrolled over her. Grr. Bill Condi, I’m biting you on the leg!

PHENOMENAL! After the commercial break, Marketa is brought back to the stage and allowed to give her acceptance speech. (“Let her have her moment!” says Jon Stewart.) One of the classiest things I’ve ever seen the Oscars do.

There Will Be Blood wins its first gold statue, for Best Cinematography. No complaints here; the look of the film is extraordinary.

The annual Oscar Roll Call of the Dead. It’s sad to see how many legends have left us, but their work will live on forever. Antonioni, Bergman, Heath Ledger, Deborah Kerr, Lois Maxwell, Laslo Kovacs, Jane Wyman… your work will live on forever. No Brad Renfo or Roy Scheider, though… although we did see Ledger. They must be saving the others for next year.

Best Original Score. There’s still a lot of bitterness that There Will Be Blood was excluded from consideration on a technicality. And I’m upset too, because it means that Atonement actually gets to bring home an award.

Best Documentary Short Subject, presented (bizarrely) by a group of military personnel in Iraq. A shame most people probably won’t get to see these films, but Freeheld was the winner, which resulted in the most tearful acceptance speech ever. Tom Hanks sticks around to hand out the Best Documentary Feature, which goes to Taxi to the Dark Side. (Nuts… I would’ve loved another polarizing Michael Moore speech.)

Harrison Ford takes the stage (looking like it’s past his bedtime) to give out the Best Screenplay award. Please don’t be Juno… but even before the nominees are over, I know it will be Juno, simply because the audience went nuts when Diablo Cody’s name was read. Honest to blog, she still looks like a skank. And sure enough, after her name is announced as winner, she takes the stage in a see-through leopard skin dress that looks like something rejected from a Tarzan movie. She may as well be wearing a sign that says “Look, I’m hip and quirky, just like my characters! Love me!” No thanks.

My wife notes, as we watch the Oscar clips from previous years, that women’s fashions have changed tremendously over the years, but the men still look like penguins.

Best Actor, presented by a startlingly sexy Helen Mirren. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Daniel Day-Lewis owned this award. You can feel the power radiating off that man, even when he’s smilingly pleasantly at the crowd.

Best Director, and at last the battle between Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers will be decided! And the winner is… No Country for Old Men. It’s a great movie… but I feel bad for Paul, who certainly deserved it just as much.

No Country for Old Men takes home Best Picture as well! Well, whaddya know? The Academy got it right.

And with that… good night, folks. Thanks for hanging out with me. But please, get your filthy shoes off my red carpet. Gawd!


The Ten Best Films of 2007

On Oscar Day, I always enjoy reflecting on my favorite films of the previous year, since I have little to no hope they’ll get Academy recognition. Indeed, the majority of them weren’t nominated for any of the major awards. But they’re worth your attention.

10. Sicko

Michael Moore’s damning indictment of the US health care industry has come under fire for exaggerating the strengths of other nations’ medical care, including England, France, and Cuba. But I bet you won’t find a single British or French citizen who’d trade their system for ours. “Poignant” is a word that is often overused in regards to documentaries, but this film does a commendable job of mixing unpleasant facts with emotional, personal stories.

9. I’m Not There

Leave it to Todd Haynes to crossbreed a standard musical bio-pic with avant garde hipness. His latest film, I’m Not There, is half Walk the Line and half Eraserhead, telling the Bob Dylan story (or a reasonable facsimile of it) by constantly swapping six different actors in and out of the lead role over the course of the tale, and wreaking havoc with the Dylan timeline as well. It’s zany, creative, playful, and every bit as inscrutable as Dylan’s lyrics. You’ll either love or hate this movie. There ain’t no middle ground. And why the heck wasn’t this nominated for a Best Editing Oscar?

8. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

As a recovering Donkey Kong addict, I was utterly entranced with this fantastic documentary about two guys determined to kick each other’s asses in one of the greatest video games of all time. I found Steve Wiebe, a middle-school science teacher, very likeable, if a little unfocused with his priorities, but hot sauce king Billy Mitchell just gave me the creeps. But regardless of their personalities, these guys are Donkey Kong Artists. If you like classic video games, or portraits of obsession, or both, then go see this. NOW.

7. Gone Baby Gone

Tear down Ben Affleck if you must, but with this stunning directorial debut, Affleck (who also co-wrote the script) proves he’s a filmmaker with a real sense of vision, and not just a pretty boy. Every frame of this complex kidnapping story oozes with atmosphere; as in Good Will Hunting, Boston pops off the screen and emerges as a bona fide character, while Affleck is confident enough to cast actors who actually look like people, not movie stars. One of the best surprises of 2007, this powerful film is strongly recommend.

6. There Will Be Blood

Daniel Day-Lewis drank my milkshake. (The bastard!) Fortunately, he also gave one of the finest performance of this, or any, year in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant magnum opus. It’s an epic movie, filled with huge John Ford-like vistas, but never loses sight of its main protagonist: the oil tycoon who *must* have the whole world at his feet, lest he go mad with lust for it.

5. Black Snake Moan

A stunning exploration of pain and remorse, masquerading as a grade-B exploitation film. Samuel L. Jackson is a delta bluesman who has been hurt by a cheating wife. When he discovers the nymphomaniac Rae (Christina Ricci) beaten up and bloodied on the road outside his house, he considers it his religious duty to cure her of her affliction. It sounds cheesy, but this is a thoughtful, powerful little film, more concerned with character development than crass exploitation. With this film, Craig Brewer earns a spot on my “Directors to Watch” list. Jackson and Ricci are both phenomenal, and the soundtrack is like manna from heaven.

4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

What a marvelous little film. I discussed this move in my last blog entry as well, but this triumphant tale of a man who suffers from “locked in” syndrome (i.e., his brain is completely normal but he is unable to move or speak, communicating only by blinking one of his eyes) is absolutely haunting. It’s been several days since I saw it, and I just can’t shake the experience. This is everything an Oscar movie should be, and I’m ashamed of the Academy for nominating Juno and Atonement for Best Picture, but ignoring this far more memorable gem of a movie.

3. Zodiac

David Fincher’s noir-tinged expose of the California serial killer is a perfect blend of visual style and narrative efficiency. Although the running time (nearly three hours) may tax a viewer’s bladder, the story is always gripping. A major snub by the Academy; suspense films haven’t been this good since Hitchcock’s prime. And let’s please stop bashing Jake Gyllenhaal, who does fine work as the obsessed cartoonist turned investigator. Thanks.

2. Once

This movie makes me embarrassed of every film I’ve ever made. So simple, so elegant, so beautiful. Funny yet serious, whimsical yet firmly rooted in the real world. And oh, those songs! A platonic love story about working-class musicians who channel their emotions into their tunes, Once is unquestionably the most emotional experience bestowed upon me by a film this year. What a gift.

1. No Country for Old Men

I am so in awe of this film that I can barely pick myself up off the floor. I am ashamed of myself for ever pronouncing a film a masterpiece before today. Call it what you will: a post-modern Western, an art crime film, a psychological exploration of the dark side of humanity. No Country for Old Men is all of these things, and none of them. It exists outside the limitations of genre. It is an absolute jewel of a film, strong in its convictions, masterfully shot, brilliantly acted, and edited so tightly that the movie practically hums with tension. Come for the Oscar buzz, but stay for some of the best performances and most memorable movie dialogue I’ve seen… ever? Quite possibly.

Now discuss.

(HONORABLE MENTION: Control, Hot Fuzz, In the Valley of Elah, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille)


Damn you, shiny gold man!

The Oscars aren’t even here yet, nor the inevitable feeling of outrage and anticlimax that they usually generate in me, and already I’m astonished by the utter cluelessness of the Academy.  Longtime readers of this blog will know that I rarely agree with the geriatric-approved Proclamations of Quality served up in this glorified popularity contest (Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction?  Are you shitting me, Pyle?), but this year sends us further than ever down the Dark Corridor of Madness.

Hello?  Am I actually living in a world where the ultra smarmy but undeniably cute and populist Juno might actually walk away with a Best Picture statuette, while the marvelous and challenging The Diving Bell and the Butterfly wasn’t even nominated?  Are voters really that clueless?  Perhaps they thought that the nomination of Juno would make them seem hip and relevant in an increasingly alien culture.  (After all, Juno contains the line “Honest to blog?” and a plethora of lo-fi Kimya Dawson tunes, so you just know it’s a phat and phunky phlick.)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, on the other hand, is a marvelous little film oozing with depth and substance. The true story of the editor of France’s Elle magazine, who had a crippling stroke and found that he could only communicate by blinking one eye. Working with a patient therapist, he eventually blinked out a poignant autobiography, with each blink translating into a different letter of the alphabet. Introspective, soul-searching, and shot in a very claustrophobic style that accurately conveys what it must be like to live with such a paralyzing (no pun intended) affliction, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly seems to have everything an Oscar hopeful could want — the chance for an actor to give a big showy “look at me, I’m disabled!” performance; stylish camerawork, and a full range of emotions.

Wait, what’s that? It’s *subtitled*? Oh, heavens…. we won’t be having any of that, thank you very much. Hey, maybe if we act quickly, we can get Meet the Spartans on the ballet for next year.


Cinemaslave #106: Racist Militants Pight the Flower

Cinemaslave #106: Dyslexic Militants Pight the Flower!

The discussion of movie racism continues this week with a look at Spike Lee’s sensational but controversial call-to-arms, Do the Right Thing. Joe also bids farewell to one of his all-time favorite actors as we mourn the passing of Roy Scheider, who’s finally going to get that bigger boat he always wanted. And your fellow Cinemaslaves do their part with a string of intelligent, articulate voicemails on film censorship and D.W. Griffith’s notorious and much-maligned movie blockbuster in this epic-length show.


We miss you, Roy! * Listener feedback * Better excuses for watching Meet the Spartans * The Hottie and the Nottie is “nottie” exactly setting the box office ablaze * A minority viewpoint on Birth of a Nation * Is Gone With the Wind more racist than Birth? * Brilliant propaganda and deplorable films * The importance of a societal viewpoint * Pop-culture spoofs: the final chapter * Revisionist film history * When political correctness goes overboard * Hey Disney… free Song of the South! * The influence and effect of the “racist” tag * Huck Finn: a literary “time out” * The legacy of Oscar Micheaux * Do the Right Thing

Click here to listen to the episode


Exploring Cinematic Racism

Cinemaslave #105: Blame it on Batman

The best laid plans, folks. After Joe happened to catch a screening of Columbia Pictures’ 1943 Batman film this week, and found himself horrified by its unabashed anti-Japanese sentiment, Joe threw out the planned episode and instead devotes this installment of the ‘Slave to a look at cinematic racism. We’ll continue the discussion next week, but for now, tip-toe with your host through the minefields of D.W. Griffith and Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer as we explore the effects that outdated prejudices can have on a film’s artistic legacy.


Batman ’43 * Birth of a Nation * Intolerance * Broken Blossoms * The Jazz Singer * The Vitaphone era * Listener feedback * Several listeners weigh in on Meet the Spartans * The plight of Orson Welles * Flying High and soundtrack substitutions in Australia * Bond is not forsaken * Pop-culture references in comedy * Dazzling DVD transfers

Play Cinemaslave #105 here or visit the main site


The Lion Whispers

Lions for Lambs

At last, here’s a movie about the Iraq war that functions just like the American government: people talk, and talk, and talk, and talk… and in the end, not a damn thing happens. Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert Redford are among those who talk and talk and talk and talk, before settling down for some serious talking. Occasionally we intercut some footage of a group of American soldiers in Iraq, who talk and shoot, and talk and talk and talk and shoot some more, then dramatically hunker down for some serious talking.

Then there’s the talking, mixed with talking, talking, and some very intense talking. If only someone would actually say something.

I like political movies, but this is a story that wants to be a play, not a film. It’s the least cinematic movie I’ve seen in ages, comprised almost entirely of medium shots showing people in drab offices, jabbering away like a “Liberal Propaganda for Dummies” informercial. The phrase “heavy handed” doesn’t even begin to cover it. (And by the way, I’m a hardcore liberal democrat, who basically agrees with the politics of this film… and I was still only moderately interested.)

What a missed opportunity.


Rambo: Angst Personified


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie as violent as Sly Stallone’s Rambo, and I don’t know if I need to see another one. Watching this movie is akin to witnessing a cinematic ballet of blood, albeit a ballet that has some underlying depth, or at least pretensions of it. Fortunately, the movie almost manages to avoid moralizing… almost.

Granted, the message here is neither particularly deep or controversial: we all know (or should know) that bad things happen in Burma, but even so I found myself quite engrossed in this kinetic little film. Unlike the many viewers who were unsatisfied with the first half of the movie, I enjoyed these character-based sequences. John Rambo is tired and weary, but still haunted, and Stallone effectively conveys a man who is sick of the world’s injustice but has become contaminated by the knowledge that there’s nothing he or anyone else can do about it. Angst is not a character I expected to see in this movie, but it’s a force so strong that it’s practically palpable.

By the time the climactic bloodbath occurs, the movie has earned the right to bathe us in violence — unlike Saving Private Ryan, which blows its load right upfront, before we’ve come to know or care about the characters. Rambo is a long way from a perfect film, but I was surprised how much it affected me. And I found some comfort in the ending, in which Rambo makes a choice which offers him at least the possibility for contentment, something he never enjoyed in any of the other movies. Good luck with that.


It’s delightful, it’s de-lovely, it’s de-struction!

I’ve got three more flicks under my belt.


I cruised by the local multiplex this afternoon for some good old-fashion Monster Smackdown, and I think I need to change my underwear.

In a word: Stunning.

In two words: Adrenalin City.

In three words: Really f**king amazing.

I’m knocked out by this film’s execution of concept. The budget on this thing must have been astounding, yet the decidedly lo-fi look makes it seem far more real than any other special effects extravaganza in recent years. The characters were far better developed than I expected, while the action set pieces were exhilarating without being intrusive. The 9/11 metaphor is driven home perhaps a bit too forcefully, and the prologue is a hair too long, but neither flaw is substantial.

It’s a shame Toho Studios never thought to make a Godzilla movie this way.


This stylish, avant-garde bio-pic about bisexual composer Cole Porter is slow to start and at least half an hour too long, but contains strong acting and some spirited performances of many beloved tunes, with cameo appearances by Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, and more. The frame story involves an eldery Porter watching the dress rehearsal of a stageshow based on his life, and one of the better gags involves the commentary from the old Cole, continuously criticizing the actions of his younger self. Kevin Kline plays both roles.

There’s so much style on display here (the final shot in particular is haunting, if vaguely reminiscent of Titanic), and yet the film never quite gels. De-Lovely is an ambitious failure, but it gets points for trying something different with one of the most tired of cinematic sub-genres.

(Doctor Who fans, look for John “Captain Jack” Barrowman in a small role.)

Girl 27

An absolutely chilling documentary about the rape of an aspiring actress named Patricia Douglas by an MGM studio executive in the 1930s, and the skillful way in which the studio and its lawyers destroyed her when she reported the incident. The filmmakers have ample evidence to support their claims, and Ms. Douglas herself grants her first interview on the subject in over fifty years to discuss the case and the effect it had on her life. Revolting yet fascinating viewing.


Jeffrey Barlow: Movie Mogul?

So it turns out I’m no longer the only filmmaker in the Barlow household! Three days ago, as he was getting ready for school, my son Jeffrey informed me that he had a great idea for “the ultimate horror film” and he wanted me to help him make it. (Keep in mind Jeffrey has never seen a horror movie in his life.)

Intrigued, I asked him to pitch the story to me. His idea concerns a vampire, a werewolf, a zombie, a mummy, and (my personal favorite) a “skeleton robot” who team up to kill humans. Each of them shares their knowledge and techniques with the others, so the vampire teaches everyone how to drink blood, the werewolf teaches them how to “eat flesh” (his phrase), etc. By pooling their knowledge, they all become better killers.

I thought it was a pretty creative idea for a seven year-old — especially the skeleton robot. (I’ve been rewatching the Terminator films recently for the podcast, and Jeffrey said he got the idea for the robot from the T2 DVD artwork. He hasn’t seen the movie.)

Still, some facets of the plot aren’t entirely worked out — when I asked Jeffrey what the zombie would teach, for instance, he said he didn’t know. So his twin brother Bryan pipes up with “How about a math or computer class?” Well, Jeffrey loved that idea, so my two boys are joining forces to further develop the plot. They’re going to get back to me after they’ve figured out a bit more of the story.

This is going to be the best movie ever, just you wait and see!

In other news, episode 102 of the podcast was released this week. Here’s the iTunes show description:

Cinemaslave #102: No Country for Old Songwriters

Inspired by the abundance of Terminator movies he’s been watching lately, Joe decides to fend off his current head cold by sending Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to give him some chicken soup before he got sick. It didn’t work, so please excuse the sniffles and coughs this week.

Who would believe that Joe would discover his two favorite films of 2007 within 24 hours of each other? Not Joe, that’s for sure. But it happened, and your intrepid host is bursting at the seams to spread his love for the Coen Brothers’ mesmerizing No Country for Old Men, and the haunting Irish anti-musical, Once. But then he has to ruin the fun by bringing up Terminator 3. He’s sorry.


Not playing in a Scranton theater near you * No Country for Old Men * Once * Listener feedback * Terminator 2 memories * Silent movie comedians finally get their due * Rob Zombie’s Halloween: A Rebuttal * Pixar and the Visual Revolution * Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Play episode #102 here or visit the main site