July 29, 2004

The Village- A Movie Review

A Foray Into Fear and Utopia
By Fred H. Arm
At first glance this supposed late nineteenth century village seems picture perfect--a handful of Villagers living harmoniously in an idyllic setting. However, this close-knit community lives with the frightening belief that a race of frightening creatures resides in the woods surrounding their village.

The sanctity of “The Village” is held in constant check by a sort of an unwritten treaty with the creatures referred to by the townspeople as “Those We Don’t Speak Of.” The villagers live in a state of constant fear of the evil and foreboding force that lurks outside their tranquil settlement. So terrified are the people that no one dares venture beyond “The Village” perimeter into the darkness of the woods.

Despite the advice of his elders, a curious and determined Lucius Hunt (JOAQUIN PHOENIX) has a burning desire to step beyond the boundaries of the town into the unknown to bring back supplies and medicine from neighboring villages. Town leader, Edward Walker (WILLIAM HURT) warns Lucius of the danger beyond the town’s outskirts, and Lucius’ mother, Alice Hunt (SIGOURNEY WEAVER) begs him to stay at home and spare himself the greed and desires that exist in the outside world.

Lucius’ strength and courage is matched only by Ivy Walker (BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD), a beautiful and mesmerizing young blind woman with a profound wisdom well beyond her years. Her fearless nature and gift-like perceptions are beyond anything Lucius has ever known. Both Lucius and the mischievous village idiot, Noah Percy (ADRIEN BRODY) admire Ivy passionately, though her heart only has room for one of them. Her devotion eventually leads her down a tortured forbidden path where terrifying truths are revealed and sudden violence plays out its fearful hand. The so-called truce between “The Village” and the creatures seems to be ending and the ominous presence of the unknown force ultimately boils over into chaos for the town. And so, the story begins to unfold.

Brilliantly directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this haunting saga’s music and direction sends terrifying chills and conjures up horrifying images waiting at every turn only to turn out as ordinary events or things. Much like his previous movie, “Sixth Sense”, Shyamalan has a knack for creating tension and fear without having to produce a terrifying giant lizard such as in “Jurassic Park” to justify the terror.
The fear and respect given to these unseen creatures seems analogous to what early man must have gone through as beliefs were formed as the result of real and/or imagined forces that ultimately set up certain behaviors that were thought to placate these forces. In “The Village”, the people learned to avoid the color red and would go about destroying any red plants. Occasionally a slaughtered animal was left at the edge of the Village to appease the creatures. They learned to wear certain colors they were led to believe would keep the creatures away. Essentially, the effect was to create an artificial religion that may have ultimately bloomed into a fully formed and organized faith, much like island natives who worshiped and sacrificed animals and people to volcano gods in order to appease them.

The acting was superior to most films, however, nowhere near the level of an Academy Award. The film is to be admired for its ability to keep you terrified and involved; however, after a while it became quite wearisome when no bogeymen appeared to justify all that uproar and tension. Once the plot unfolded, it held many surprises, although somewhat implausible. Basically a fairy tale, the “Village” is worthy of attendance as long as there is plenty of popcorn available to dispel the tension of two hours of fright.

Posted by fredarm at 05:27 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2004

There is A New Man In Town--Phil Batchelor

Hope Reigns Supreme In The City Council’s Selection of An Interim City Manager
By Fred H. Arm
At long last, the Richmond City Council has appointed the former Contra Costa County Administrator Phil Batchelor to act as Richmond’s interim City Manager. Who would take on such a formidable task of managing a city that is in such a state of shambles? So, who is Phil Batchelor anyway?

Phil was the Contra Costa County’s Chief Administrator from 1984 through 2001 in a position similar to a city manager. In that position, he administered a much larger budget ($1.5 billion) than ours and directed many more employees (9,000). Those in the know and the people who worked with him gave him very high marks for his leadership and superior abilities. In Santa Clara County, he also served as assistant county executive, director of revenue and systems, director of personnel and administration, and personnel director and budget director.

Phil is also the author of a book recently published entitled, “The Purpose of Life”. Phil was presented the Outstanding Public Administrator Award from the American Society for Public Administration for outstanding contributions in managing public agencies. He also served as the president of the County Administrators Association of California. He has a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from San Jose State University. Since 2001, Phil has been a management consultant with such clients as the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and in the private sector as well including investors and law firms.

Phil claims that his strong points lie in budget and organizational management as well as recruiting exceptional department leaders. He will officially be in position on August 3rd, 2004, at a salary slightly less than that of that infamous pariah, former City Manager Isiah Turner.

What does the City manager do? The City Manager's Office is responsible for implementing City Council policy and directing departments. He would direct the City's administrative functions, provide day-to-day leadership in policy development and implementation, and assure an efficient and equitable delivery of City services. The City Manager's Office initiates and develops short and long-term special projects; oversees the annual budget process; directs the City's inter-governmental relations and public information functions; and directs major economic development projects.
With a bit of luck the City of Richmond can recover from the madness that pervades its core with the appropriate leadership. I certainly hope the City Council and the other entrenched bureaucracies do not throw obstacles in his way. It is a well-known fact that the tendency of the ensconced is to resist change and be uncooperative. Perhaps we can overcome this inertia. Phil has stated that he is anxious to work with the people, business leaders, and other talented members of the community to help make Richmond the once proud and viable city it once was and to pilot us into the twenty-first century as a winner. We’re here for you Phil—all you have to do is ask.

Posted by fredarm at 01:14 PM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2004

Catwoman - Movie Review

A Purr-fect Setting For Clichéd Merriment
By Fred H. Arm
Imagine a beautiful and talented actress like Halle Berry cast as the timid, frumpy graphic artist Patience Phillips, whose curiosity ultimately gets her murdered by her evil boss. Restore her back to life by way of a mystical cat until she morphs into this super human hunk of gorgeousness who can leap enormous heights in the blink of an eye and voila, you have Catwoman, the new super heroine.

The thrust of the clichéd plot is that her evil boss, the tyrannical George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his icy supermodel wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone), have created this fantastic anti-aging beauty cream, albeit actually disfigures the user after a period of time, which they plan to unleash upon the public. Patience discovers the plot and is killed by the wicked henchmen of Laurel. A mystical feline and her furry friends restore patience back to the living whereupon she realizes that she has these amazing powers and strength.

Unfortunately, while fighting crime in her skin-tight, leather, slinky, sado-masochistic cat outfit, the world mistakenly believes she is actually the criminal. Now where have I heard that one before? Anyway, she becomes enamored with the local police detective, Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) while she secretly leaps from building to building--higher, faster and with more agility than the fabled Spiderman. The underworld and the police now have a new nemesis in the form of an extraordinarily seductive crimefighter with the agility and special senses of a cat.
Do not expect too much in the way of acting, plot, or direction and you will have a lot of fun while the adrenaline pumps chaotically through your veins. Of course, there is also the visual feast of Ms Berry in leathers for the red-blooded American males in the audience and the women can fantasize and identify with her as a metaphor for freedom and release from the oppressiveness of a male-dominated society. Kids will delight with her romps amongst the skyscrapers of New York a la Spiderman and Superman. There is fun and excitement for everyone as long as you do not take the movie too seriously. For me Halle Berry is always worth the price of admission.

Posted by fredarm at 09:43 PM | Comments (0)

The Blind Swordsman: ZATOICHI- -A Movie Review

The Dirty Harry Senior Citizen of Japan Crushes A Bevy of Bad Guys
By Fred H. Arm
Take a blind, aging, shuffling masseur in 19th century Japan who still possesses incredible and deadly precision and match him against several gangs of bad guys and ex-Samurais and voila, you have a mixed bag of comedy and a series of blood baths. The Japanese auteur Takeshi Kitano, director of such masterpieces as “Fireworks” and “Sonatine”, embraces the iconic character of Japan’s longest-running and best-loved film series, “The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi” as the lead actor and the director.

Best known for his gripping Yakuza gangster films and as a famous comedian, Kitano has laid down his guns and taken up the keen edge of the Samurai sword, slicing and dicing the bad guys in Shakespearean quantities. This white-haired, shuffling and bowlegged masseur masquerades as a harmless old man, however quickly dispatches the villains with lightening speed without remorse or hesitation.

This film is distinctly an oddity. It combines awesome and mesmerizing swordplay, corny humor, wonderfully choreographed and delightfully performed Japanese dances, cross-dressing, a creative glimpse into classical Japanese culture, combined with captivating cinematography and spiced with one gore fest after the other. It is fascinating that the gore has such an innocent and comical quality to it that even the most squeamish of us would not take it too seriously

While wandering through villages earning his living as a masseur and using his unique senses to beat the gambling casinos all the while posing as a shuffling old man, it comes as a amusing surprise that he is a Samurai warrior without parallel. At the one village, he finds the mountain people there at the mercy of Ginzo, a ruthless gang leader. Typical of such gangsters, Ginzo disposes of anyone in his way. Ginzo goes so far as to hire the out-of-work Samurai, Hattori (Tadanobu Asano), to annihilate a rival gang. After befriending a deadbeat gambler and breaking the bank in the primitive gambling hut, Zatoichi is forced to dispatch the entire gambling crew, who are also in Ginzo’s gang. He then meets the lovely Geisha brother-sister team who have come to town to avenge the killing of their parents at the hands of Ginzo.

The storyline is really not all that original, however the execution and style are fascinating to behold. Instead of six-gun justice, the swift and deadly swordplay emanating from the incongruous blind old man is sort of a delight in of itself. After a while, the spurting blood takes on a persona much like the old westerns where dozens of evil cowboys would clutch their chests and fall off their horses after being shot by the dude in the white hat. Interwoven in all this triteness, rises the unique Japanese culture, music and dance that trump all the violence. A captivating and absorbing saga that delivers a delightful variety and a symphony of beauty, culture, and humor.

Opens in San Francisco, in July 23.

Posted by fredarm at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2004


Once More Into The Breach
By Fred H. Arm
The basic theme of this documentary, “The Hunting of the President”, is that Bill Clinton was the target of an opportunistic right-wing campaign to dishonor and undermine him. When the so-called conspirators were unable to destroy him through overboard exposure of the “Whitewater” fiasco, they leaped on the alternate scheme involving his sexual escapades beginning while he was governor of Arkansas and in the White House that ultimately resulted in an impeachment trial by the US Senate, which was plainly a disguised attempt to oust Mr. Clinton instead of the traditional coup d’etat.

I must say that although I am sympathetic with Clinton being so maliciously hounded and persecuted; however, he was indeed substantially the philanderer they made him out to be. The facts the film presented have already exhaustively been presented during the impeachment years leaving very little novelty in the film.

As a historical piece, it would offer some insight to future generations who did not experience the public hysteria. Some of the comments by David Brock, the former conservative reporter who first exposed the Paula Jones sexual harassment contentions, demonstrates that most of the media networks of so-called rich conservatives were determined to break Clinton’s back any way they could.
It is almost impossible to determine whether the mainstream conservatives initiated the inquisition into Clinton’s financial and sexual affairs or whether they were the result of opportunistic right-wing wacko investigators who presented their evidence to the conservative media. Under either theory, the mainstream snapped it up and ran with it. The rabid conservative elements seem to be constantly on the lookout for any tidbit of information that would tend to discredit or otherwise harm any of their imagined liberal protagonists.
Susan McDougal is presented as an obscure woman who was sent to prison for contempt of court because she would not cooperate with the Starr investigation, suggesting that she knew more than she let on. At the guest screening itself, Ms McDougal in person came across as sincere and unassuming, willing to tell all to a hungry liberal audience who viewed the film at the Roxy in the Mission District of San Francisco. She still professes her original stance that special prosecutor Kenneth Starr had offered her immunity or some sort of leniency if she would lie for them in their case against the Clintons. She refused then and continues to rebuff any assertion that Clinton had done something wrong. Accordingly, Starr had her cited and imprisoned for contempt of court. What she did not tell us was that she was suddenly moved to Sybil Brand Institute, Los Angeles County's jail for women, to face California criminal allegations that she stole money while working for the famous conductor, Zuben Mehta, and his wife in Los Angeles. She was subsequently acquitted with the assistance of celebrated criminal attorney, Mark Geragos.
Some of the tales she spun at the theater about the cruelty and torture she observed and personally endured are highly suspect, particularly when she was an inmate at Sybil Brand county jail in Los Angeles. I cannot imagine imparting any veracity to some of her claims since Los Angeles has more hungry attorneys just chomping at the bit to sue the jail for much less heinous malfeasance on the part of the jailors than the sweet Ms McDougal related to us. It is also inconsistent and surprising for someone to relate such extraordinary tales of horror without more cynicism or bitterness.
The film itself has a clear message that some unsavory and powerful right-wing Americans had the power and the desire to almost “take over the throne” so to speak. For the conservatives, they needed a Clinton to hate since they no longer had the Communists to rant at. However, the film falls short in presenting facts showing why it was so easy for the right to sway the country against Clinton. The allegations concerning Monica Lewinsky were hardly touched upon, nor was the impeachment process adequately presented. Clearly, there were many reasons the people lost faith in Clinton. So, when he actually did tell the truth, we could not or would not really believe him. Thus, when it began to become obvious that Bill was actually the victim, how could the people consider him to be an innocent one?

Directed by well-known Clinton friend Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry, the film has some unique effects such as using old film clips from classic black & white films to illuminate a point. Together with “Fahrenheit 9/11”, this picture show should wake up some of those complacent people who think “the king can do no wrong”. Otherwise, the film mainly preaches to the “liberal choir” who most likely will make up the lion’s share of the audience. As for the conservative audiences, I doubt that they will give it much credence. I found the movie itself a bit tedious and somewhat redundant, thus aiding my sporadic cat-napping. Otherwise, it had an important message to deliver, albeit in a container that could have been better conceived.

Posted by fredarm at 04:55 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2004

“The Door In The Floor” – A Movie review

A Wrenching Tragedy Shatters A Happy Marriage
By Fred H. Arm
This well-acted tragedy pulls us through an exploration of the complexities of love in both the darkest and brightest corridors. Adapted from John Irving’s best-selling novel, “A Widow For One Year”, the film carefully weaves its way through the painful and tragic aftermath of a deadly accident, alternating between comedy and disaster.

The setting is in the privileged beach community of East Hampton on Long Island, New York where our hero, a children’s book author, Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) resides with his beautiful wife Marion (Kim Bassinger). Once upon a time, they had a happy marriage until the bliss was shattered by the accidental death of their two sons. The aftermath resulted in a general despondency and bizarre infidelities that did little to assuage the pain and dysfunction of their deteriorating relationship. The remnants of a once great love are hinted at in almost every scene, although alas are clouded over by their inability to regroup to face the future and put away the past.

Eddie O’Hare, (Jon Foster) the college junior Ted hired to work as his summer assistant and protégé, becomes the couple’s unwitting, yet willing pawn, who ultimately evolves into the catalyst in the transformation of their bitter lives. Ted’s recent children’s book, “The Door In The Floor” in due course becomes the surviving metaphor for transforming their lives.

The evolving story seems to beg for something really horrific to happen, yet offers a kind of relief when this fear is unrealized. One senses that if this couple had only handled their loss differently, a far better result would have followed. It is also a poignant tale of a young boy’s rite of passage becoming a man and another man sinking into an emotional immaturity and then hopefully climbing back out.

Directed and written by Tod Williams, this tale is quite apart from the usual Hollywood drivel that may leave you mired in an introspective quandary for quite some time.

Opens July 14th, 2004 in San Francisco

Posted by fredarm at 02:48 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11-A Review

A Courageous Peek At Our Own WMD-George W. Bush
By Fred H. Arm
It took someone like Michael Moore to finally come out in all his blazing audacity to present to the American people how they have been burying their heads in the sand about our glorious leader. I recently wrote criticizing Reagan (Reagan Tributes-Enough Already! June 13th, 2004) and said that even with Reagan’s blighted record, I would still rather have him than “Herr Bush”.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” ventures into territory only suggested or hinted at by the other media. No one had the balls to say it like it really is. In fact, I thought Moore’s film had in fact been somewhat kind to “Der Fuhrer” when considering the damage he has done to America and it’s image around the world. There is hardly a country on the planet where Bush is not despised, laughed at, or held in awe that such an obvious asshole could be the president of the mightiest land in the world. And let us not forget his blessed cabinet, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice and the worst choice of all, John Ashcroft. Each one of these gems could be fodder for another film by themselves. Anyway, don’t get me started.

Moore’s film is perhaps the wakeup call America needs in these chaotic times. Of course, I could criticize the mechanics of the film such as the editing, directing, etc., but I will not. The film makes a powerful statement on how things are and that I will not sully. The people who saw the movie laughed, they cried, they fumed, and they cheered for what the man was trying to communicate and that should be enough said by itself. It took a lot of courage to defy the wrath of the ridiculous right by presenting Bush and his gang of thieves as they really are without whitewashing them Hollywood style.

This could be the “shot heard ‘round the world” and indeed it has been setting all sorts of box office records for a documentary film. It is something that really needed to be said and said right now. The press has been remarkably silent and ignoring Bush’s betrayal of his country, his incessant lying, and his ineptness in office. The special interests Bush has been serving, such as ‘Big Oil’ and the Bin Laden family has finally been given the exposure they have so richly deserved. It is now up to the American people to shout "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.” (Made famous in the old movie “Network” in 1976).

I have heard criticism from other reviewers that the film presents certain matters as though they are true without any support in fact. Obviously, the reviewer either has not really seen the film or is so taken in by the propaganda that they cannot or will not believe that such a blatant abuse of power could exist in this country. Well I have news for you. It can exist and it does exist and you better get aboard and do something about it.
The power has always been in the people; however, when they choose not to use it, the “evil empire” will fill the void with its own special interests and take the rights and freedoms that were earned by the people away from them again. I sincerely hope we heed this wakeup call and not go back to complacency and apathy. We each have the power vote this fall, get rid of this idiot in the White House, and have a real “Regime Change” for the better. Outstanding Mr. Michael Moore!

Posted by fredarm at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2004

SpiderMan-2- A Movie Review

Superhero With Human Frailties
By Fred H. Arm
Dumb, loud, and cynical blockbusters have long brutalized movie audiences. “Spiderman 2” illustrates that a superhero film can always stand to strike a chord of what vibrant, intelligent, and heartfelt popular filmmaking could look like. Directed by Sam Raimi and adapted from a story whose many scribes include the novelist Michael Chabon; the sole screenwriting credit belongs to Alvin Sargent, who wrote "Ordinary People" and "Paper Moon". The new Spider-Man 2 is replete with dazzling colors, deafening noises and elaborate special effects. Of course this is what we expected.

What distinguishes this film, I am pleased to report, is solid character development with sincere emotions. Much like its Marvel Comic book kin, "X-Men 2," this sequel, free from the dreary weight of excessive exploitation, is somewhat better than its predecessor as well as better than most other comic-book-based feature films.

However, what disturbs me about this Super hero is his lack of maturity, looks, and good judgment. It would more aptly be called Spider Boy than Spider Man. His continuous child-like thinking and boyish appearance belong more in a high school teenathon than as the omnipotent Spiderman of comic book fame. This frail looking teenager hardly presents the image of a super hero who is able to attract the likes of a Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) or any other adult female.

In the comic book, the hero is depicted as much older, more muscular, and able to assert himself wherever and whenever needed. I would suppose that the powers that be selected Tobey Maguire for those boyish looks since they would more likely appeal to the teenagers who would more likely provide the bulk of the film’s attendance. Whenever Peter Parker kisses the mature-looking Mary Jane, it almost makes you cringe that he is about to be sexually abused.

At the end of the film, the hero was forced to choose between his superhuman powers and the heady charms of Mary Jane. However, it was extremely irritating and difficult to sympathize as to why poor Peter Parker could not have both. True to action-hero clichés, he felt the world needed Spider-Man, and so Peter hardened his resolve and surrendered his despairing, life-long love of Mary Jane Watson.

The dutiful web-slinger, although adored by the people, is unjustly scorned, and maligned in the Daily Bugle, led by the angry and abusive editor J. Jonah Jameson, played with fanatic passion by J. K. Simmons. However, his alter ego Peter Parker is the one who suffers the deeper emotional wounds. Jameson continuously insults, cheats, and badgers poor Peter while he is desperately scrambling to balance the demands of a normal life along with nocturnal forays into crime fighting. Perhaps even more insulting to Peter is the negative mirror image of Spider-Man he is forced to bear, being routinely hounded as penniless, lazy, selfish, and unreliable.

His poor aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who is still grieving from the loss of her husband, (Uncle Ben previously played by Cliff Robertson, in a brief flashback), is in grave danger of losing her home, and her devotion to Peter is eroded by palpable disappointment when he confesses his negligent role in her husband’s death. Even Mary Jane, whose career as a model and actress has been recently quite successful, is fed up with what appears to be Peter's consistent selfishness and unbelievable excuses. To make matters ever worse for Peter, she has become engaged to an astronaut, who just happens to be Jonah Jameson's son.

All of this hoopla moves us to the film’s midpoint when the pitiful Spider-Man, his webs drying up because of Peter's depression, dumps his Spidy suit into a back-alley garbage can. In the meantime, a brilliant scientist named Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) is presenting a dangerous and ambitious fusion project financed by Peter's best pal and who incidentally is also another Spider-Man nemesis, Harry Osborn (James Franco). A disastrous malfunction leaves Octavius not only a widower, but transforms him into a monster. Malevolent, intelligent mechanical legs that seem to have diabolical minds of their own now propel his body. Doc Ock, as Jamison in the Bugle characterizes him, is now Spidey’s enemy. Unlike Spidey, poor Ock is not the master of his octopus mechanical arms; rather he is their servant.
Sam Raimi, the director who cut his teeth on the gory, low-budget horrors of the "Evil Dead" franchise, is not totally an aficionado of fancy computer-generated special effects (CGI). Nevertheless, they remain an integral part of the film. (No filmmaker working in this genre can afford not to). Yet, the digitized scenes of New York City’s Spiderman flights and fighting are not the strongest parts of the movie, since Raimi does not yet have Peter Jackson's or Steven Spielberg's talent for a seamless combination of CGI with conventional moviemaking. Instead, he attempts to develop the characters more and provide more of a storyline than other action films.

The storyline, although much more interesting than the usual action extravaganza, still is a bit juvenile for my taste. The film is fun, yet often frustrating when the immaturity of Peter contaminates the hero mood.

Posted by fredarm at 10:36 PM | Comments (0)