Tag Archives: northern arizona university

Interview with Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie, noted author and writer, speaks with The Lumberjack on Tuesday prior to his lecture in Ardrey Auditorium. Alexie has written a number of Native American books and is famous for his screenplay Smoke Signals, which is an award-winning feature film. - Jacob Petersen/ The Lumberjack (Photo courtesy of jackcentral.com)

As Printed in The Lumberjack on March 5, 2009

by Gary Sundt

Sherman Alexie walks into the Drury Inn Hotel & Suites with a stride that does not reflect his status as perhaps the most influential Native American writer working today. Dressed in a black suit with a blue collared shirt, the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene poet, novelist and filmmaker drove himself up from Phoenix to Flagstaff for the Feb. 26 appearance at Ardrey Auditorium entitled “Without Reservations: An Urban Indian’s Comic, Poetic and Highly Irreverent Look at the World.”

Seeming slightly worn from his trip as he sits down for the interview, Alexie admires the laptop on which our discussion will be recorded. Continue reading

Lakeview Terrace

As Printed in The Lumberjack

by Gary Sundt

Lakeview Terrace is a lackluster film about very real topics. Samuel Jackson plays Abel Turner, a conservative police officer who has some real hatred for white people (and possibly anyone that isn’t Abel). Accordingly, he finds himself stuck with an interracial couple as his new neighbors. The couple is deeply in love, has sex in their new pool such that all the neighbors (including his children) can see, and is made up of a white man and a black woman. What is a bigoted police officer to do? What would you do if all your morals were questioned? Wage ware with your neighbors, that’s what.

I take this stance because the movie doesn’t have one, and most everyone else is going to see it differently. But I want to find a way to sympathize with Abel Turner and his plight of intolerance. I mean, his male neighbor, Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson) is just so damn… white. And his wife Lisa (Kerry Washington) is just so damn…sexy. I mean, WTF man? Seems reasonable to shine porch lights into their window, watch everything they do and use ignorant platitudes to intimidate them. When those actions don’t yield the desired effect, best to take it up a notch on the crazy-neighbor scale.

Of course I’m looking at this all wrong. Abel is the bad guy and the couple is the victims. It’s like a horror movie where the couple has sex and then they have to be chased and murdered (attempted, anyway). Jason Voorhees is wearing a Mace Windu mask. The film begs the question, “Which is more racist: to have a black villain or a white villain?” The movie has this question knocking at the door, but I don’t feel much like answering. Not because I don’t like the topic, but because I don’t feel this film has earned my thoughts on the matter.

Lakeview Terrace is a remarkably manipulative film. It has its inherent controversy, and wants to push the envelope just enough to make you a little queasy. Director Neil LaBute, who loves making movies about mean people, takes a very real joy in making his audience uncomfortable with every scene. You leave the theater feeling dirty, which wouldn’t be so bad if the movie were good.

For instance, take practically every line of dialogue that comes out of Jackson’s mouth. His character says things that are so overtly ignorant that no modern-thinking person could stop themselves from being offended. But curiously, we aren’t all that offended because most of these statements ring false.

These boorish pieces of dialogue are lines tailor-made for a trailer. This sentiment goes for almost every interaction in the film. At no point is Lakeview Terrace unmarketable, because of how its shot, how its written and how its edited. The advertisers could have taken almost any moment in Jackson’s performance and built the marketing campaign around it.

At one point, Chris asks Abel, “Can’t we all just get along?” I think that could have been a profound question 30 years ago. Today, with our ever-flattening world, it sounds trite. I felt the same way, to a lesser degree, when the ending came to the 2006’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Crash. It’s this very Hollywood creation, where playing it safe while pulling at the heart-strings will encourage the intended reaction from the audience. There are movies that pull this off well in regards to race issues, like American History X or Do the Right Thing. But they succeed by treating the audience like adults, presenting the issues and letting us make up our minds (even if they are subtly pointing us in the right direction).

Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Gone With the Wind, once said, “Hell, I’d rather play a maid than be one.” While this may be an appropriate sentiment for a black woman in the 1940s, films themselves should never function in this way. Unfortunately, we find that movies on controversial topics are still being made with that same logic. Films like Lakeview Terrace bother me because they have the potential to say something. But I guess it’s easier to play the hard-hitting film than be it.

Note: The film’s title, Lakeview Terrace, works both as the name of the character’s neighborhood and as a reference to the neighborhood where Rodney King was arrested and beaten. After the film, I felt this reference was rather hollow, considering the film had very little to say.

Wanted

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

James McAvoy points a gun in Wanted.

by Gary Sundt

Before Wanted, I cannot recall a film more like a heavy metal song. Here is a flick that is loud, angry, hates its audience and informs them of its distaste. Funny thing is, the audience for Wanted is a lot like a heavy metal crowd, cheering the entire time while the movie basically says “$#&% you!” with every frame. Does that sound like a good time? As long as you are old enough to know that everything in this exercise in testosterone is absolutely and completely impossible, you bet your curving bullet it does.

Did I say curving bullet? I did. Why? Because, as the trailers make perfectly clear, Wanted is about a bunch of assassins that can curve the bullets they shoot. This makes executing a hit particularly nifty, because they, much like the movie, can do whatever they want. The script by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan wants to follow this insanity like the camera follows the curving bullets, letting their story run to infinite and beyond as long as it gets to the target.

The plot? Well, it gets pretty hairy with twists that often don’t make a lick of sense, but I’ll start you off. Wesley (James McAvoy) is a pencil-pushing accountant who hates his life. The guy is so restless that his heart goes into overdrive whenever he is remotely taunted by his rather irritating boss Janice (Lorna Scott). His girlfriend Cathy (Kristen Hager) is cheating on him with his buddy and coworker Barry (Chris Pratt). And his dad left him and his momma when he was a week old. All in all, Wesley feels as if he could’ve been dealt a better hand.

The chance for a full house seems to come along in the guise of Fox (Angelina Jolie), who shows up just in the nick of time to save Wesley from a curved bullet to the cranium. After one of the many brilliantly-executed action sequences, we are informed by the smooth-talking Sloan (Morgan Freeman) that he was rescued in order to kill the attempting assassin, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann). You see, they are all part of a fraternity of assassins, aptly calling themselves “The Fraternity,” and they get orders from a giant loom as to who the next target will be. These people are chosen because…

Oh, forget it. None of this matters. What matters is Jolie is a sexy chick, McAvoy is remarkable in this against-type role and Freeman uses that majestic voice of his with the added benefit of swear words. And the action sequences are simply outstanding. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (whose name I admittedly copy-pasted here because it is pretty intimidating) knows how to make action movies, and his freshman entry into American action cinema has the tenacity of The Matrix with a little bit of Tyler Durden DNA mixed in.

On the related subject, while comparisons to The Matrix cannot be ignored, Wanted is a different sort of beast. Sure, it has the wacky badass-powers-in-a-world-without-rules feel, but it also has a hint of consequence to the whole affair. How do the characters in Wanted feel about these consequences? Remember the whole “%$#@ you” remark that started this review? That’s how they feel about it.

The choice for moviegoers this weekend came down to WALL-E or Wanted, and I can’t think of a better weekend for these two films to come out. They are essentially the antithesis of one another. WALL-E is sweet and beautiful, while Wanted is sweaty and bloody. Which is the movie for you? That is a good question. If you are interested in a steroidal Matrix with a heavy dose of Fight Club on the side, then Wanted is for you. If not, go see the cute robot. If you want a good movie, go see both.

I am coming to the end of my review, but I wish to offer an analogy that I think best sums up the Wanted experience. Here is an adjusted conversation from my favorite scene from the great 2004 film Closer:

WANTED: You like this movie?
AUDIENCE: I love it!
WANTED: You like me &*%$ing in your face?
AUDIENCE: Yes!
WANTED: What does it taste like?
AUDIENCE: It tastes like The Matrix but sweeter!
WANTED: That’s the spirit. Thank you. Thank you for your honesty. Now %$#& off and die, you $#%@ed up people.

Our response to this, mirroring another famous piece of dialogue from Closer, is quite simply, “Thank you.”

NOTE: Wanted is based on a comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. I didn’t find much room in the review to write that, but I felt it was noteworthy.

Running time: 110 minutes. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Produced by Marc E. Platt, Jim Lemley,Jason Netter and Iain Smith. Screenplay by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. Starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Thomas Kretschmann, Lorna Scott, Kristen Hager and Chris Pratt. A Universal Pictures release. Rated R.

WALL-E

 

WALL-E is freakin' awesome in WALL-E.

by Gary Sundt

Film critic Roger Ebert once asked the great Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni what his favorite love scene was. Mastroianni (who most Americans recognize from Federico Fellini’s La dolche vita or 8 1/2), after careful consideration, eventually responded with: “I like it when Minnie kisses Mickey, and little red hearts go pop-pop-pop, over their heads, in the air.” I mention this because I believe I have found my own favorite movie love scene, which is when the two robots finally hold hands in Disney/Pixar’s latest triumph, WALL-E.

WALL-E tells the tale of the dirty and beat-up WALL-E (Ben Burtt), a little trash-compacting robot with a curiosity rivaled only by small children. The droid is the last of his unit (is that the right term?), left in charge of cleaning up Earth when the trash became too much for us humans. WALL-E does his job efficiently enough (piling square cubes of garbage into skyscraper-like structures), but finds time to collect a lot of stuff and keep track of his pet cockroach. He (and I use the term loosely) even has his own favorite love scene from his favorite movie, Hello, Dolly!.

Everything in WALL-E’s world is shaken when a mysterious craft comes from above. From this space ship appears EVE (Elissa Knight), a clean and new robot who, like WALL-E, is one of many of the same unit designed for a task. She (again with the looseness of phrasing) is looking for new life on the planet Earth. The little garbage-handler is immediately smitten with the plant-finder, and he soon brings her to his collection of things, one of which is a plant he has recently discovered.

EVE sees the plant, takes it, and suddenly shuts down in wait for pick up. She is eventually snatched up by her spacecraft, and WALL-E tags along. They are taken to the Axiom, the space ship where humans have lived for 700 years (they have just celebrated the septua-centennial of their planned five-year stay). WALL-E desperately wants EVE’s affection, EVE wants to complete her directive, but the plant has gone missing. The film then goes off with the two robots and their malfunctioning brethren trying to locate and save the plant, such that the humans can return to Earth.

But “Are we so keen on going back and taking responsibility?” is the question. WALL-E has a whole lot to say about the environment, obesity and several other issues of note in our troubling political climate, so much to the point that I wonder how people will take to the film. For example, the humans on board the Axiom have gotten so reliant on technology that they have grown morbidly obese, flying around in hover chairs and drinking all meals through giant sippy-cups. They hold conversations via computer when the person on the other end is hovering right next to them. There are a few people who have accidental collisions with WALL-E, knocking them out of their technological stupor and allowing them to take in the beauty of the real world. These are the kinds of subtle jabs at mankind (Americans in particular) that will turn off some viewers, which is a shame because WALL-E is simply brilliant.

Every time Pixar comes out with a film, I wonder if it will finally yield the disappointment long-expected from the seemingly perfect animation company. It is alone remarkable that they have put out consistent greatness, but the fact that they top themselves continuously makes it even more amazing. With WALL-E, I believe Pixar has produced their masterpiece. This is a science fiction movie, a comedy, a love story and a political statement all rolled into one, and all of it is executed with absolute perfection.

Writer/director Andrew Stanton has made a movie here that can scarcely be believed. He has drawn from some classic films for inspiration, from the work of Charlie Chaplin to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Sigourney Weaver comes in as WALL-E’s very own HAL), and meshed it all together into a flick that is both earth-shatteringly original and uncannily familiar. These are computer-generated images, but the characters are more real than most of what you’ll find at the movies. There is hardly any dialogue, but the relationship between WALL-E and EVE has more depth than many screen romances (and all they can do is hold hands!). The ladies from Sex and the City could take some lessons in love from these two robots.

Not everybody is going to get behind this film. It has a lot of stuff that, if people get it, will be shocking and abrasive (because we know they’re right). But I loved WALL-E. I loved it a whole bunch. I want to see it again. I want to buy the DVD. I want the vintage soundtrack. Heck, I want the big cardboard model they have in the lobby at the movie theater. Very rarely will I see a film that touches me deep down, reminding me why it can be so special to go to the movies. WALL-E did that for me.

NOTE: Pixar is always reliable in providing short films before their features. The one before WALL-E, called Presto, is wonderful.

NOTE 2: Arizona Daily Star film critic Phil Villarreal has taken a remarkably large amount of flack for his negative review of WALL-E. We critics usually have several reasons to dislike a film, and people should understand that. However, I have to disagree with what I consider to be his principle argument: “WALL-E is programmed more for critics and intellectuals than families looking to have a good time at the movies.” I think WALL-E is for everyone who appreciates wonder and good storytelling, and people should not be discouraged from seeing a movie because it may be too smart for them. That kind of thinking is simply patronizing to the general public, and should not be a rewarded way of thinking (particularly when written in the bizarre and disconnected style of his review).

Running time: 97 minutes. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton. Produced by Jim Morris. Starring Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, Elissa Knight, Ben Burtt, and Sigourney Weaver. A Disney/Pixar release. Rated G.

The Incredible Hulk

Photo courtesy of nashvillecitypaper.com

Edward Norton is not pictured here, but his CGI counterpart is in this still from The Incredible Hulk

by Gary Sundt

Five years ago, director Ang Lee made Hulk, a movie I have often referred to as the single worst movie theater experience of my life. See, I was dating this girl, and our relationship was heading south. I was only 15 at the time and couldn’t drive anywhere. And I was watching Hulk. I couldn’t drive away, couldn’t indulge my hormones, and the flick was simply awful. Art-house and comic books might be able to mix, but there needs to be… well, some sort of action in a Hulk movie. Instead, there was a whole lot of talking, jumping through the desert and monster-poodles.

Thankfully, director Louis Leterrier has corrected the horrors of the first film, and made a nifty flick in the spirit of (dare I say)… the comic book! The Incredible Hulk may not quite be as great as the title suggests, but this movie knows its subject matter. A Hulk movie should have an introspective genius named Bruce Banner who has a nasty habit of turning large and green when he gets pissed, followed promptly by lots of smashing and explosions. This is delivered in full in The Incredible Hulk.

The film opens with an astonishing shot of a Brazilian neighborhood, where Bruce (Edward Norton) has put himself into seclusion in hopes of curing his angry side and avoiding his old buddy, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). Forgetting Ang Lee’s lore entirely involving gene passing, the story goes that Banner was conducting an experiment involving gamma radiation, headed by the cigar-smoking Ross. Things went crazy, the nerd went green, and he had to leave his home and his girl (who also happens to be the general’s daughter) Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) behind in favor of being constantly hunted by the U.S. government.

Banner has been pretty good at playing Jason Bourne, effectively disappearing from the grid and always staying one step ahead of Ross. It is because of this that the general enlists the assistance of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a badass to end all badasses who is very capable of extreme levels of badassery. Blonsky leads a team of soldiers, which causes Banner to Hulk-out, and the chase is on. After the initial encounter, Banner goes to get his long lost Betty, while the badass approaches the general in hopes of injecting some gamma-radiation of his own. 

The Incredible Hulk begins and ends at the genre of chase movie, which is the type of film Leterrier has made before with efforts like Unleashed and The Transporter. However, because of some pretty big pacing problems, I was disappointed by the former and downright enraged by the latter. With this project, the director has not necessarily fixed these issues, but they are not nearly as glaring. The cast here is pretty phenomenal (Marvel is getting pretty great at drawing A-list talent to their endeavors), and their work, along with the impressive action sequences, allows The Incredible Hulk to flow at a brisk yet reasonable pace.

However, unlike the recent Iron Man, the top-notch cast finds their talents somewhat underused. The rather young Marvel Studios was very afraid of making another Hulk-snoozer, thus Leterrier and Norton apparently were asked to cut approximately 70 minutes from the movie. The result is a fast flick in which, after the opening, the audience is put through one action sequence after another. At that point, everyone (including Norton) seems to doing what they can in the brief spaces between explosions to keep this story as interesting as possible. This isn’t a bad thing, particularly because this is an action movie, but it is a balance that will hopefully be improved upon in future Hulk films.

However, my minor complaints are quite simply that – minor. I thoroughly enjoyed The Incredible Hulk. It was big and loud and awesome, and the film’s final fight sequence between The Hulk and The Abomination (aka gammarrific Blonsky) is alone worth the price of admission. And the script has dropped even more hints as to the future of Marvel comic-book movies. Don’t miss mention of the Super-Soldier Serum that created Captain America and the advertised cameo appearance of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). 

On the related subject, let’s just discuss the issue on everyones’ mind: The Incredible Hulk is not Iron Man. It doesn’t have a hilarious and suave James Bond-ian protagonist, nor does it have the “GO AMERICA!” undertones. Also, this film is simply not as good as Iron Man.

But who the hell cares? This is The Incredible Hulk! And, by God, this is a neat movie. Dare I say… incredi…

No. I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it. Not because of the title, but because it simply isn’t there. Not yet anyway. But we’re certainly getting close.

NOTE: During the film, I and my lady had the unfortunate occurrence of sitting next to a man with some pretty bad body odor. People: movies are for everyone, but consider taking a shower if you happen to notice you are smelling less than your best. I’m just saying.

Running time: 114 minutes. Directed by Louis Leterrier. Produced by Avi Arad, Kevin Feige and Gale Ann Hurd. Screenplay by Zak Penn and Edward Norton. Based on the characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, and Robert Downy Jr. A Marvel Studios release.