Archive for September, 2009

The Cat Piano

Posted: September 13, 2009 in The Fourth Wall


September 13, 2009

I have very recently completed a workshop about cats, which is quite a coincidence as the following movie happens to be about the lithe and little furry felines.

Cats, whether you like it or hate it, inhabit our neighborhoods. They can be found living under cars, around garbage containers and gardens; they are the gypsies of the animal kingdom.

The purpose of the workshop arranged by Interruptions was to create a cat friendly city. It was a collaborative effort between architects, artists, designers and writers; and the three day exhibition that followed at Makan, where it was held, was a hit.

We created concepts, products and brands, and a media campaign befitting these majestic animals that were belittled by the unmerciful hands of time, however, Eddie White and Ari Gibson, two imaginative directors from Down Under, created a very animate cat city inhabited by animated cats.

This cat city exists within the cat-chy notes coming from The Cat Piano.

I stumbled upon this award winning animation starring anthropomorphic cats through a Facebook link posted by an acquaintance. Now, who says that Facebook is not a useful communication tool!

Based on a poem written by White the 8-minute Film Noiresque animated short was produced by The People’s Republic of Animation. Guess who is doing the reading? Nick Cave from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

The Cat Piano, basically an animated poetry reading accompanied by music and a very impressive one, follows a lonely beat poet cat, who finds himself stumbling upon a mystery that threatens the very existence and happiness of this cat haven laden with crooning cats, hooker cats, artist cats, strays and ordinary cats.

Cave’s voice, resonating with cynical and coarse masculinity, provides an ominous overture that is enhanced by Benjamin Speed’s lingering musical composition that is no less artistic and brilliant than the narration itself.

The original musical composition that comes out as a blend between jazz and oriental overtures, sizzled with percussions provide an ideal cadence for the poem. “Long ago my city’s luminous heart, beat with the song of four thousand cats / Crooners who shone in the moonlight mimicry of the spotlight / Jazz singers. Hip cats that went ‘Scat!’” the Beat Poet Cat proclaims.

Cave’s voice befits the beat poet’s, the main protagonist in this exceptional short. The poem by itself is quite musical thanks to White’s choice of vocabulary, alliteration and intelligent wordplay.

The cat piano, believe it or not, is for real and not a figment of White’s imagination. I found myself browsing the internet to know more about it. Apparently the cat piano, which is also known as a Katzenklavier, is a musical instrument that uses cats to produce music….or meowing.

The machination of this hellish instrument places a cat in a narrow compartment with its tail stretched out to its end. Attached to its keys are pointed hammers that pierce the tails of the confined cats when pressed.

It is believed that a German Jesuit Scholar by the name of Athanasius Kircher invented the Katzenklavier back in 1650.

The Cat Piano‘s storyline cleverly utilizes the concept of the Katzenklavier to address human cruelty towards animals from the viewpoint of a humanized cat.

“So you’ve heard of every instrument but? / Torn from your history books is this pianola, This harpsichord of harm. / The cruellest instrument to spawn from man’s grey cerebral soup,” the Beat Poet Cat continues.

Viewers will find themselves clinging to every word spewed by Cave and relating it to the passing imagery. The animation is more anime than conventional, which adds to the freshness of the narrated poem.

The short’s minimalistic visuals help focus the viewers’ attention to the bespoken narrative and characters involved. Keeping the backgrounds to a minimal was a brilliant choice, on part of Jason Pamment, the art director, and the directors, as the dark black to blue hue that shrouds the characters and cat city gives the short a dreamy feel.

White and Gibson left a few cinematic clues, for cinephiles that are found through the facades and personages of cat city, from movies like A Clockwork Orange and The Sound of Music. Pay attention to the fleeting backgrounds!

Intriguing, eerie and jovial are three words that describe the transition that this short undergoes, from soothing, contemplative and isolation, before reaching the grand finale.

I am glad that I have stumbled upon this extraordinary tail, which was created and executed by the highly imaginative writers, directors, animators, 3D visualists, colorists, musicians, sound designers and editors of The People’s Republic of Animation.

For more information about The Cat Piano and The People’s Republic of Animation visit:

The Fourth Wall: A Brief Prologue

Posted: September 12, 2009 in The Fourth Wall

The Fourth Wall

Instead of working on a comic strip’s storyline and storyboards that I am supposed to send out on September 21st to Lebanon I found myself writing my first online movie review.

Having worked in the print media sector for too long I found the transition a bit uneasy. To be honest with you after six years of deadlines and automated writing assignments I found it even harder to maintain the strict writing discipline under which I worked at a local English language newspaper, and that enabled me to produce, at one point, four to five different articles per week.

I am now a freelance-fulltime writer. Not having an agitated managing editor waiting on the other side of this cyber connection for an 800 – 1000 words piece is quite a relief but also a major disincentive.

Writing is not a mood related activity as much as it is about discipline. A person I worked with once wondered how I manage to write when I am surrounded by people. That very same person cancelled a writing assignment we were supposed to do for a cartoon series on the grounds that his creativity went on a coffee break.

Writing is about flipping open your computer screen, booting up the damn thing, opening a Microsoft Word document and start writing the words preceding the flashing bar. Apologies to all the pro handwriting individuals but I stopped using a pencil and pad since 2003.

I wrote about everything that you can or can’t imagine. I wrote about medicine, politics, economy, people, art, literature, music and of course one of my main passions in life: Movies, which will be the essence of this online corner of the cyber world.

The one thing that you will notice upon reading my reviews is that I rarely include spoilers. Watching a movie is like unwrapping a gift; what’s the use if you already knew what you were receiving?

Consider the above my first online prologue for a series of movie reviews and seventh art pieces that I will write under the title, The Fourth Wall.

Hope you enjoy my writings…

Mike V. Derderian,

September 13, 2009

Cinerama: The Thief of Baghdad

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The Thief of Baghdad

By Mike Derderian

Inspired by the Arabian tales in Arabian Nights: A Thousand and One Night, Clive Donner’s 1978 film The Thief of Baghdad recounts the adventures of the dethroned prince of Sakhar and his magician friend against the evil forces of the sorcerer. Brief as the adventures are in this version they are still enjoyable. The Thief of Baghdad, Taj (Kabir Bedi), sets out to save Baghdad from the clutches of an evil sorcerer and vizier known as Jaudur (Terence Stamp).

The original The Thief of Baghdad was produced in 1924 by Raoul Walsh and starred Douglas Fairbanks. However, Donner’s version depicts the hero, as apposed to Walsh’s original, as a real prince and not a thief as portrayed by the roguishly handsome Fairbanks.

This 104-minute fantasy stars Sir Peter Ustinov, Frank Finlay, Ian Holm, Pavla Ustinov, Daniel Emilfork, Marina Vlady and Roddy McDowall as the charming but not-so-lucky market magician Hassan.

Most people would remember McDowall as the boyish yet wicked Caesar Augustus Octavian in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1963 un-Shakespearian lavish production Cleopatra that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

To no surprise McDowall’s portrayal of Hassan was a show stealer and Bedi’s character Taj that started out quite audaciously suddenly turned flat especially near the end. The supporting actor ended up being the lead; and knowing McDowall’s formidable acting background I would not blame Bedi, who two years earlier brilliantly shone in the role of Sandokan the Tiger of Malaysia, a character created by Emilio Salgari, in a 1976 Italian television series based on his novel.

Did you know that Jordan television (JTV) aired Sandokan back in the 1980’s! However, Bedi’s austere stare and statuesque posture will forever be engraved in the minds of people thanks to his portrayal of Gobinda, Kamal Khan’s ruthless henchman in the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy starring Roger Moore and Maud Adams. Bedi also had a memorable role in Kevin Reynolds’s 1988 political and military masterpiece The Beast of War.

In this movie Bedi was the charming gallant prince Taj Al Molouk, who was unjustly deprived of his throne by his father’s evil vizier. On his way to Baghdad to seek the hand of the Caliph’s daughter Princess Yasmin, Taj’s caravan is ambushed. The henchmen kill by mistake an innocent man.

Believing that Taj is dead, the Vizier poses as the ruler of Sakhar and heads out to ask for the hand of the princess. Taj miraculously finds his way to Baghdad. Upon being saved by Hassan in the marketplace he is more than ever determined to win the princess’s hand. So they pose as royalty.

What do you know? He meets Jaudur at the Caliph’s court and a conflict of interest ensues. Yasmin and Taj’s hearts click; however, some members of the court identify Hassan from the marketplace and thus Taj is deemed an imposter. The Caliph (Ustinov) then realizes that someone is lying so he asks all four suitors including Taj to prove their love to his daughter by brining the most expensive item in the world.

Now, The Thief of Baghdad is hardly ever a lousy movie but still it has its shortcomings. A critic might say that it was too bloody fast. Jumping around from one place to another did not allow the characters to evolve and become more credible. Then again, after movies like The Matrix, do we need credibility to enjoy a good film, and do we have to see the marks, touch them and feel them to believe? No.

The final confrontation between Taj (Bedi) and Jaudur (Stamp) was so ill-conceived. I mean as a kid, when I was almost 10 and when I first saw it on a video, I really loved it but now it looks like breaking an egg. I mean a man with Jaudur’s dark powers should have been given more screen time before pulverizing him. Yes this is a movie where good actually wins. The special effects were highly admirable considering the year it was made; so don’t push the technical envelope.

Terence Stamp’s performance was coldly evil and Jaudur as a result was the embodiment of both avarice and apathy. Let’s face it Stamp knows how to act buddies. The acting is enjoyable and sincere and the actors’ pronunciation and grasp of Arabic terminology is highly admirable especially on the part of Ustinov senior—yes my dear reader Pavla Ustinov is his daughter.

Must-see-scenes: Hassan’s magical antics and disappearance act that saves the life of Taj, who was being pursued by police for stealing a watermelon; Jaudar’s flying horsemen vs Taj and Hassan during their magic carpet ride; and the eerie passage that leads Taj and Hassan to the Temple of Wisdom, where the all seeing eye exists—the most expensive item.

Cinerama: Words of Parting

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Words of Parting

By Mike Derderian

People come and people go just like the sea’s ebb and flow. In our office they came and they went. It is the cycle of life they say but to me it was like sitting close to an oasis, where people thirsting for water arrived every full moon. I arrived like many before me but I decided that it wasn’t water that I only wanted.

I thirst for words that I can arrange every week in my Cinerama. Last week I found myself scouring for words at the seabed of my soul. It wasn’t easy for alas, Ali is gone. He decided to move on; I stayed, I don’t know why?

Ali, my editor, once told me that a person should not hang around his workplace more than five years or people would call him/her a failure. A person must move on and move up in life, he told me.

So why is Ali leaving The Star? As Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 The God Father would aptly put it, “the company that he will be working for made him an offer he could not refuse.”

One thing though, it is not easy to part with your memories or the people you have been working with. Every week I do it by writing about a movie that I have seen on television many years ago. Movies that I fell in love deeply. Sure every now and then I write about newly released pictures, broadcast on some satellite channel; but if that is a crime lock me away and throw away the key. I breathe, eat, drink and even sleep holding movies instead of a pillow.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) kissing Marion (Karen Allen) in Steven Spielberg’s 1981 Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Last Ark; Sally (Liza Minneli) crossing her left leg over a reversed wooden chair in a nightclub in Nazi Berlin in Bob Fosse 1972 Cabaret; Cary Grant dodging a two winger in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 North by Northwest; Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) dragging an unwilling Paul Varjak (George Peppard) to Tiffanys in Blake Edwards’ 1961 Breakfast at Tiffanys; Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) fighting her way up into life in Clint Eastwood’s 2004 Million Dollar Baby; Salvatore watching a bewitching Grace Kelly from Alfredo’s (Philppe Noiret) projection room in Giuseppe Toranatore’s 1989 Cinema Paradiso and David (Haley Joel Osment) crying after his mother in Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence: A.I are some of the thousands of scenes that stuck in my mind over the years.

My friendship with Ali is now forever part of that cerebral repertoire despite of our differences as individuals. I mean whenever our views clashed I always pictured myself wearing a Darth Vader outfit (James Earl Jones voice kit included), hurling with all my might my light saber against Ali Wan Kenobi’s light sabers.

Ali was more than an editor to me; he was a catalyst and a tough one too. I admit at times I hated being pushed to a corner but that’s what life is all about: You being pushed against corners.

The assignments, broken deadlines, heated arguments, disappointment and satisfaction, omitted sentences and paragraphs and punch lines were what we had.

“I grew accustomed to his face”, quoting Dr Dolittle (Rex Harrison) in Richard Fleischer’s 1967 musical of the same title. This time there is no “I’ll be back” for captain Ali, who “will boldly go where no man has gone before.” Maybe this week’s column should be dabbed Cliché-rama instead of Cinerama.

The following lines are dedicated to Ali, who as life sometimes dictates has to move on:

Shivers of immortality/ Trembles of futility/ Brought about/ At twelve thirty/ It is past midnight/ All by now are alight/ All alone am I affright/ Even though I am surrounded by light? / An urge I hopelessly feign to fight/ So I write and I write/ Before in haste I to my den flight.

Remembering Han Solo’s (a very young Harrison Ford) words to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) before he boarded the X-wing fighter in George Lucas’s 1977 Star Wars, all I can say for now is “Hey, ‘Ali’… may the Force be with you” the same way it always was with me.

‘Movie Parody in Bun-O-Vision’

By Mike Derderian

As the guitarist brutally strummed the strings of his Gibson guitar an electrifying overflow of heavy music reverberated from a colossal Peavey amplifier. The strong lights coming out of the stage spotlights gave the guitar’s worn out enamel a glistening look. The electrifying solo went on until the lead vocalist broke out in a deafening shouting frenzy. “Put the bunny in the bag… put the bunny in the bag.”

Moments later a powerful electric surge echoed on the stage. All of a sudden the amplifier died out and the guitarist was strumming a mute instrument. A breakdown, ain’t that a stinker! The vocalist was gazing at a rabbit holding an electric plug. “What’s up doc and what’s with the ‘put the bunny in the bag’ song,” sardonically inquired the white-gloved rabbit.

“Nothing Mr Wabbit…uh I mean Bugs I was inspired to sing about bunnies after watching a re-enactment of the Highlander by Bunnies at,” the perplexed singer said.

Yes bunnies my dear reader. I’ve been watching 30-second bunny shorts on the Internet through out the weekend. Puffy tailed bunnies everywhere. After two and a half hours I started to feel like a bunny. But unlike other bunnies I refuse to be lured by a carrot the same way Arabs are lured and preoccupied with reality TV and star-hunt programs. All what people care about nowadays is the carrot. How to get the carrot! Is the carrot delicious? Well what about the land where carrots are grown.

No more land for after the big bad wolf known as Sam huffed and puffed the three little pig’s home away, he became a real-estate agent and started selling parts of the land cheap to bloodsucking boars.

As you can read watching movie parodies by bunnies is not like watching giant man-eating rabbits (believe it or not a movie with such a plot exists and is known as Night of the Lepus circa 1972). It is more like watching very short intervals of hilarious fun, squeaky dialogue, violence, gore and classic movie moment all in one.

Talkative, gifted, lecherous, murderous, envious and hilarious these little bunnies that were created by Jennifer Shiman basically sum up an entire classic movie in less than a minute.

Remember watching an alien coming out of John Hurt’s character in Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien; Leonardo De Caprio sinking to the bottom of the ocean in James Cameron’s 1998 Titanic; John Travolta and Uma Thurman twisting to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell at the Jack Rabbit Slim contest in Quentin Tarantino’s 1995 Pulp Fiction and Jack Nicholson’s Here Comes Johnny line in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining, well it all has been re-enacted by Shiman’s talented bunnies.

Alien; The Big Chill; Brokeback Mountain; Casablanca; A Christmas Story; The Exorcist; Freddy vs. Jason; Highlander; It’s a Wonderful Life; Jaws; King Kong; Night of the Living Dead; Pulp Fiction; Reservoir Dogs, which comes in two versions, the bleeped and un-bleeped version; The Rocky Horror Show; Scream; The Shining; Star Wars; Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Titanic and War of the World are the bunny shorts that are currently available at the bunnies’ library at

The animation is not exactly top notch Pixar—it is done using the usual flash media software—but the simplicity is what makes it so enjoyable. Each of the above bunny shorts has easy mellifluous contours, tons of characters, great sound effects and an abridged dialogue that still delivers the message of the parodied original.

Shiman according to her website “creates and draws her characters by hand using a lightbox, scans her drawings using Adobe Photoshop, converts the bitamap art to vector art using Adobe Streamline” and then uses Flash software to color and animate her characters.

The voices of Shiman’s furry troupe of carrot nibbling actors are provided by Shiman herself and Douglas McInnes. Voice altering softwares are probably used to augment their vocal talents and help create the squeaky bunny pitch.

Shiman and McInnes tried to capture the magic and lure of the actors they were parodying as much as they can. In most shorts they were successful. Of course it was bunny style so don’t get any thoughts of watching the real deal on that computer screen of yours. The Jimmy Stewart impersonation in Frank Capra’s 1946 It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t exactly a hammer on the nail, contrary to the Michael Madsen impression in the parody of Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 Reservoir Dogs. “You’re gonna keep barking all day little bunny. I like torturing cops,” a gruff Madsen-like bunny says through out the blood drenched violent short.

Shiman’s website promises the creation of six more classics re-enactments: Rocky; Caddyshack, Superman (the Christopher Reeve 1978 version); Office Space; Raiders of the Lost Ark (a bunny with a Harrison Ford attitude—this I got to see) and The Ring.

Shiman basically winzipped some of Hollywood’s cult classics into less than a minute shorts starring adrenalin pumped bunnies that speak who knows how many words per second. Parallel to every movie in La La Land there is a parody and a bunny parody has no parallel. Well, at least not yet but who knows what will happen in the future when everyone starts paying you carrots instead of money.

To sum up Shiman’s bunny troupe concept is brilliant and a treat to anyone who enjoys watching classic and cult movies around the hour. It was for me and I hope it will have the same magical effect on you especially after you watch and listen to a classic line that you’ve known all your life coming out of a bunny’s mouth.

Must-see-bunny-scenes: The Exorcist, King Kong, Pulp Fiction, The Shining, Reservoir Dogs, Brokeback Mountain and Casablanca, which is come to think of it my favorite and I know fans of the “play it again Sam” line will simply adore it. It is simply Bogart and Bergman at their cutest and furriest performance.

Cinerama: My Name is Nobody

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

My Name is Nobody

By Mike Derderian

Whenever I meet different people I wish if I can introduce myself to them without having to pronounce my 12-syllable name. Just tell them that my name is Nobody. A poet sitting next to a shackled raven argued: “whether we like it or not we are all nobodies bearing worldly names that we inherited from long dead ancestors.”

The raven croaked as if unimpressed with the poet’s word. The charcoal bird was more concerned with the silver shackles that bound its feet to the ground than with the poet’s existential outburst. “We are but tenants inhabiting the face of the Earth with leased names. Mein Name ist Nobody,” the poet added before he turned to the crow and asked, “Have you seen Terence Hill in Tonino Valerii’s 1973 My Name is Nobody?”

After watching this 117-minute spaghetti western comedy, the lyrics of The Who’s Behind Blue Eyes echoed in my cranium and Henry Fonda’s unshaven visage was the only thing that kept popping up there. “No one knows what it’s like/ To be the bad man/ To be the sad man/ Behind blue eyes.”

“If you want to know. It’s like being Henry Fonda playing the bad guy,” The Who should have sung as an answer. Well, Fonda after all was the blue-eyed bad guy, who cruelly shot a child in the back, in Sergio Leone’s epic Once Upon a Time in the West. My Name is Nobody, which is Fonda’s second movie with Leone, is a slapstick comedy starring Jean Martin, Neil Summers, R.G. Armstrong and Geoffrey Lewis as the leader of the Wild Bunch.

Just in case you didn’t know Geoffrey Lewis, who appeared along Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter (1973), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Bronco Billy (1980) and Pink Cadillac (1989), is the father of Juliette Lewis, who is best remembered for films like Cape Fear (1991), Kalifornia (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994) Strange Days (1995) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Technically each and every psycho packed flick that was ever made.

Based on an idea conceived by the godfather of the Spaghetti Western genre, Sergio Leone, My Name is Nobody is a mesh of serious acting, fast-forwarded gun slinging, over the top dubbing, clowning and Terence Hill. If you look up the name Terence Hill in the comedy dictionary you would find his picture placed in the slapstick page. No such dictionary exists… I repeat no such dictionary exists.

The opening is so dead serious you’d think you are watching Once Upon a Time Redux but somewhere exactly right after that it becomes a Terence Hill movie but without the apocalyptic Bud Spencer element. Thus no hammer-hand bashing is ever seen or used in the film. Despite his age Jack Beauregard (Fonda) is still the fastest gun in the West but after years of shooting people—mostly bad looking bad guys sporting the dirty shave look—he wants to retire or so he thinks.

Three baddies arrive to town hoping to ambush Beauregard at the local barbershop. After incapacitating the barber and his son one of the bad guys pretends to be the barber, another acts as if to be grooming his horsie and the third starts milking a cow. Got milk material but still serious. Beauregard coolly struts into the barbershop and asks for a shave.

Fonda brilliantly demonstrates how a cowboy should really walk: Fonda strut style. The barber—the bad guy in disguise—lathers Beauregard’s sandy beard. He springs open the shaving razor. Is this the end of our brave old gunslinger? No, sticking his gun under the barber’s groin Beauregard manages to get a nice clean shave without getting his throat slit.

Brilliant and at the same time dead hilarious. Kind-a-like sticking your thumb in the gun barrel of a six-shot pointed at you. I think I have seen this somewhere in a Western movie starring James Garner.

With Ennio Morricone as the composer of the film’s soundtrack My Name is Nobody is a movie that you not only should watch but listen to. Who else than Morricone dares to re-arrange Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and use it as the accompanying theme song for a gang of rough riders known as “the Wild Bunch”!

By creating a wild west roamed by cynical heroes, cold-blooded killers and clowns Italian spaghetti directors the likes of Leone redefined the Western genre forever. Watching a Spaghetti western can be dubbed—excuse the pun—a psychedelic journey embarked on by a cowboy wearing electric spurs. The experience is like no other.

The characters were meaner or at least they were in the serious flicks that starred a young Clint Eastwood. The action sequences became more outrageous and the music simply evolved from brisk country to pure electric guitar riffs and howling solos. Watching Leone’s spaghetti productions would make anyone realize that the harmonica was given a boost and became an integral element in heightening the intensity of a scene or a showdown.

Another admirable element in My Name is Nobody is how the two main characters have a theme music that plays each time they appear on screen—a cinematic sound technique heavily used in spaghetti westerns. Hill was given a chirpy feel-good tune supplemented with high-pitched female voices, while Fonda was given a music theme similar to the one that accompanied his screen presence in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Now, not all actors in a spaghetti western are actors in the real sense of the word but Fonda and Hill were definitely the actors in this one. Fonda was the serious one and Hill the comic relief and the action tilted between seriousness and playfulness faster than a ricocheting bullet.

Nobody (Hill) has been keeping track of Beauregard’s shootouts and has been following him. The latter is somewhat his childhood hero and Nobody wants to give Beauregard the chance to retire with a big bang. He has a plan.

The events basically stream slower than a snail rushing on a hot pipe but the tediousness is broken every time Nobody confronts a hotheaded stupid baddy. The dialogue comes as witty and sharp slapstick body language. Most lines were delivered in punch-line form: Short and straight to the point in the case of Hill, and longer with Fonda.

Must-see-scene: the scenes that involve Beauregard and Nobody—especially the hat shooting routine that they both enjoy doing; the Wild bunch annihilation scene; the glass cup shooting contest in the saloon when Nobody is challenged by a teeth clenching bad guy called Squirrel; the final scene when the Wild Bunch leader poses as a barber and gives Nobody a clean shave.

Cinerama: The Fifth Element

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The Fifth Element

By Mike Derderian

Stun blasts ricocheted off the back bumper of the careering cab. Hovering police units tried to derail the yellow hovercraft off its course but the driver was not exactly your average Joe behind the wheels. His name was Mike Indiana, an ex-marine and an ex-Axe deodorant guinea pig. “Hey they pay well… I needed the money,” the husky voice of Indiana overlaps the written narration.

“This is the last time I am going to work on a rainy day. Who are you lady and why are the cops after you?” he frantically told the redhead, who was wearing nothing but white bandages around her slim figure and was sitting at the back seat of his car.

Imagine how our lives would be without imagination. Boring, governed by routine and at the same time morally exhausting.

We are usually preoccupied with four elements: politics, sex, the society that we live in and religion, but what about the fifth element? How many of you out there allocate a few minutes of their time for imagination? Try sitting alone for half an hour doing nothing but use your imagination. “Forgo the real world for a moment or two and you might stumble on something true,” Imagena, the Daydream Sorceress, told her children.

By the way the female passenger’s name was Leeloominai Lekatariba Laminatcha Ekbat D-Sabat or in short Leeloo (the stunning Milla Jovovich). Now Leeloo might have been the fifth element in Luc Besson’s 1997 summer sci-fi blockbuster The Fifth Element but to me imagination is and will always be the fifth element.

Two word sums up this 126-minute movie: Funky cool! And I am not just talking about its atmosphere. The characters are great, the costumes are superb (designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier), the special effects and Computer Generated Images (GGI) are out of this world and the plot… wow dude—or whoever is reading this week’s column—it is a Luc Besson movie and that’s all you need to know. Ok you need to know more and I am going to tell you a little bit about the plot.

Two hundred and fifty years have passed since a Mondoshawan ship-manned by aliens dressed in gold plated armors-last visited earth. Evil that took the shape of a flaming traveling planet decided it was time to re-claim earth. Many centuries ago priests were entrusted with a secret that would save earth from such a day. Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) now holds the key to the secret known as the Fifth Element.
While landing their ship the Mondoshawans were attacked by Mangalores, an alien race able to shift their shapes into any human form. Hired by Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) the Mangalores were to steal the five element rocks from the protectors of earth. Earth’s scientists, however, managed to save a severed hand from the burning wreckage. Using advanced science and technology—way advanced—they un-intentionally re-constructed the body of Leeloo back to life.
The Fifth Element also stars Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Brion James, Maiwenn Le Besco, Lee Evans, Charlie Creed-Miles and Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas, the ex-soldier turned cabby, who fell for Leeloo from the very first moment she crashed into his cab after a long fall from the governmental building in which she was created.

The script is loaded with French humor, which is one of the elements that made this movie funny. Now, not many know it but French humor is hilarious and at times extremely crazy the same way The Fifth Element is.

Any one watching a Hollywood movie high-speed car chase scene usually hears the rock and metal music playing in the background but Besson decided that an oriental track performed by Cheb Khaled was good enough and it was. Having the sounds of an oriental tablah music; Bruce Willis’s motor mouth jargon; aliens with big guns; Milla Jovovich, who is sporting a fiery red hair and an attire made of white bandages; and hovering police units all thrown in a CGI enhanced scenery of a futuristic setting is more then any sci-fi film fan can bargain for.

The soundtrack was vibrant and quite enjoyable even though it sounded a bit off in terms of picture and sound synchronization. Songs by Cheb Khaled and musical compositions written by Besson himself were included. For no apparent reason sci-fi movie directors believe that music in the future will be overshadowed by Arabian and oriental music. Do we look like we are going to influence anyone in the coming few years? Quoting Zager and Evans’ hit song it feels like the year 2525.

The Fifth Element might come as a blend between Blade Runner and The Jetsons, however, the plot’s gloominess was overcome by lightheartedness of its characters. Besson could have simply resorted to the dark path of sci-fi and made a dead serious action packed futuristic flick, where humans are eternally damned by their own hands and creations but this was not the case in this movie. The pacing was simply amazing and a person was barely able to catch his breath from the multitude of action and characters springing out on the screen every single minute.

Acting-wise Holm was as usual in any film he is in quite original as the anxious and mousy priest. Tucker’s personification of Ruby Rhod’s certainly redefined the future of radio presenting and Oldman was Oldman but with a bizarre hairdo and a southern accent and French-German name.

The Fifth Element might have been the movie that helped Milla Jovovich embrace her future as a sci-fi heroin—like Alice in the apocalyptic based on a videogame Resident Evil (2002) and futuristic Ultraviolet (2006) as Violet Song Jat Shariff. She was both fragile and tough as Father Vito Cornelius puts it.

The star of the show, however, was Bruce Willis, who gave us a performance worthy of a futuristic John McClane but without having to be bear foot for the rest of the movie. The Fifth Element is blazingly worth the watch.

Must-see-scene: Leeloo vs. the Mangalores; the scene involving Zorg; Diva Plavalaguna’s opera concert; Chris Tucker’s high pitched performance; the send-me-a-negotiator scene, when Mangalores capture the passengers of the space cruiser and Dallas decides to show them how negotiation is done; and the nerve wrecking scene near the finale, when the Fifth Element is about to be deployed.

Cinerama: The Insider

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The Insider

Mike Derderian

When I first started writing I believed in the power of the word. I still do for without the word our minds would simply cease from existing. But what good writing words and sentences to blindfolded people, who are strapped to wooden polls, would do?

“Por favor yo quiero un cigarrillo? Para fumar claro! Of course for smoking what other use does a cigarette have!” a poet in tattered attires said to the officer in charge of the firing squad. “Fuego! fuego!” the officer asking for a lighter shouted. Multiple gunshots echoed in the horizon. Lorca was dead for he was cowardly shot.

“Who needs words when ammunition is available,” a man holding a gun aimed at the dead poet’s smashed and bleeding head announced, “es el final señor.”

The wisdom behind the above story is to teach you to never ask for a cigarette when facing a Spanish-speaking firing squad. First it is not healthy and second of all the sentence “smoking causes cancer” is not a myth created to deter men from trying to look like the Marlboro Man, who is a strapping ragged man with a strong jaw line.

Leaning over a fence with his coarse arms extending and one of his dirty leather boots resting on a lower wooden railing the Marlboro Man is gluttonously smoking. What a relief after a long day of roping wild mustangs. However, after the release of Brokeback Mountain I don’t think us men want that look any more.

The truth about smoking, individual integrity, the power of the greed-driven corporate machine and professional news reporting is what Michael Mann’s 1991 The Insider is all about. It is in a way about cowboys and Indians but this time around the cowboys were the bad guys.

The Insider tells the story of Jeff Wigand, a tobacco research chemist, who blew the whistle on the industry back in 1994 by agreeing to talk to Mike Wallace from CBS’s 60 Minutes. After being convinced by 60 Minutes producer and hardliner Lowell Bergman to appear with Wallace, Wigand, who was fired from Brown & Williamson, reveals scientific facts that refute former statements and allegations by industry officials about the effects of smoking and if it causes addiction.

It stars Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Philip Baker Hall, Colm Feore, Bruce McGill, Gina Gershon, Michael Gambon, Diane Venora, Debi Mazar and Christopher Plummer as veteran reporter and CBS television presenter Mike Wallace.

The heads of the tobacco industry upon learning that Wigand is about to spill his guts decide to discredit him through the media and threaten to sue him for breach of contract. Wigand wasn’t allowed to talk because he signed a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement.

“And that’s what cigarettes are for?” Mike Wallace (Plummer) asks the tense Wigand. “A delivery device for nicotine,” Wigand (Crowe) answers back. “A delivery device for nicotine. Put it in your mouth, lit it up and you’re gonna get your fix?” Wallace repeating Wigand’s answer with a note of irony says to the camera. “You’re gonna get your fix,” Wigand affirms in confidence.

The network executives refuse to air the complete interview because they fear that CBS would not withstand a lawsuit by the tobacco companies. This is where the moral struggle of all parties involved in the case begins.

After his wife (Venora) filed for divorce and child custody of his two girls Wigand basically had nothing left to lose except his integrity and honesty, which was now on the line thanks to the shameless and manipulative tactics of the tobacco industry. Wigand is the underdog in this movie that was based on a Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner.

Encouraged by Bergman, who contrary to Wigand’s character is a fighter and relentless journalist willing to cross any line for a story, the emotionally stressed man does not falter and decides to go all the way with what information he has.

The Insider is a 157-minutes of powerful and emotional outbursts brilliantly delivered by Russel Crowe and Al Pacino. Crowe managed to draw out the inner struggle of Wigand, who as a result of his brave and moral undertaking to reveal the truth to the people is chastised. His suffering in turn becomes Bergman’s.

Bergman is a man of word and ideals and when CBS fails Wigand the story becomes a cross for him to bear. He sees himself responsible for Wigand that is why he refuses to bail out on him. Wallace on the other hand was portrayed as an aging newsman, who because of his fear from the uncertainties of the future faltered and did not back his producer Bergman, whose only obsession was to deliver Wigand’s words and the truth to the public.

Plummer’s performance as Wallace was quite impressive and haunting especially in the manner by which he presented his inner concerns and fears regarding his career in the news business.

Both Colm Feore and Bruce McGill, who played the roles of lawyers litigating in a case involving tobacco and needed Wigand’s testimony, gave a formidable performance especially McGill’s. Gershon was very obnoxious as a CBS executive, which was very good in terms of acting.

Must-see-scenes: the opening scene with Lowel and Mike interviewing an Islamic figure in Beirut; Wallac’s outburst at CBS, when he realizes that his interview was edited by a CBS executive; any of the scene involving Russell Crowe and when Bergman tells Wallace that he resigned from CBS.

What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

By Mike Derderian

A policeman pulls you over for crossing a yellow light? You argue that it was yellow but he insists it was red, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You get a ticket. A coaster bus control orders you to give up your seat for a woman? You snarl back at him saying, “can’t you see I am reading a book and the bus was full in the first place, so why did you stop for more passengers you greedy bastard.” Now what’s the worst thing that could happen? You are thrown out of the bus. A taxi driver indifferently lights a cigarette. You ask him to put it out but he refuses to do so; you open a window even though it is freezing outside. He angrily orders you to close it but you refuse. Now what’s the worst thing that could happen? Displaying annoyance and contempt he puts out the cigarette. You see kids climbing over a wall overlooking a fig tree, they are picking unripe fruit from its overstretching branches. What’s the worst thing that could happen? The owner of the tree comes running out of his house shouting at the kids.

You hate Martin Lawrence but you like Danny DeVito and John Leguizamo. What’s the worst that could happen? You end up watching all three as they act in Sam Weisman’s 2001What’s the Worst that Could Happen? This 94-minute comedy has its ups and downs; it is funny and… not so funny. Meaning: It has a lot of bad scenes and a few good ones.

What’s the Worst that Could Happen? meshes DeVito’s Ruthless People (1986) with Lawrence’s Nothing to Lose (1997) and Blue Streak (1999). Throw in Leguizamo’s The Pest (1997) and you almost have a bargain.

This movie is a two-wheeler for Martin Lawrence, who has been repeating himself unsuccessfully since the success of the summer blockbuster Bad Boys (1995). It has the same facial expressions, same hand gestures, same streetwise baloney and same high-pitched cry that Lawrence so perfectly delivers in most of his movies.

Now, any comedy act would turn dull unless a comedian finds new sources and comes up with better punch lines.

In addition to the three stooges, (DeVito, Lawrence and Leguizamo), Glenne Headly, Carmen Ejogo, Nora Dunn, William Fichtner, Sascha Knopf and Bernie Mac as Uncle Jack the fencer. No, a fencer is not a swordsman but a man, who sells the stolen goods that a thief brings to him. Bernie Mac was Bernie Mac.

Kevin (Lawrence) is a cat burglar, who unlike rooftop felines uses the front door to break into homes. He prides in what he does for a living and upon meeting the girl of his dreams Amber Belhaven (Ejogo), he doesn’t exactly hide that fact. Accepting what he is, Amber gives him her lucky charm—her father’s ring. A very hideous ring by the way fit for a mobster or a very rich guy, who doesn’t mind wearing diamonds around his fingers.

One night Kevin and Berger are out on a mission but as it turns out they mess with the wrong guy… oops I meant the short guy. They break into Max Fairbanks’s mansion. You know what they say, “when the cat is out the mouse loves to hang out.” Max (DeVito), who is married to the tight lipped and loaded Lutetia Fairbanks (Dunn), is the mouse and he was playing with Miss September Tracey Kimberly (Knopf).

Somehow Kevin ended up staring down Max’s gun barrel and the robber ended being robbed. As Kevin was about to be dragged away by cops, Max decided to steal the thief’s lucky charm: The ring that will govern them all and cast them in an entangled web of deceit and revenge. So as Duffy Duck says in such a situation, “This means war.”

There is a scene where Kevin (Lawrence) and Berger (Leguizamo) wear towels on their heads and pretend to be loaded Arab Sheiks, using a mesh of Arabic vocabulary—non-coherent non-plausible palatal sounds is not the Arabic language. Like many Arabs I don’t wear a towel—fabrique en La Grande-Bretagne—but thanks to some satellite channels most of us are perceived as such.

When a dumb Yankee impersonates Arabs in films—very stupidly— it would naturally annoy anyone who prides in being an Arab. Despite of that stupid scene Leguizamo, however, brilliantly manages as always to demonstrate his strong comedic and impersonation talents. Leguizamo also brings with him hints of other classic movies and Television shows like Vertigo and I love Lucy.

DeVito brings out his mean alter ego the same way he did in Ruthless People displaying the same contempt Sam Stone had for poodles only this time it was a poodle called Muffy

Glenne Headly, who played the role of Gloria Sidell, Max’s jealous mistress and fortuneteller, was a fun to watch. But the funniest of all was William Fichtner, who portrayed detective Alex Tardio. Now, Tardio is a very chic, elegant and a sophisticated policeman. You’ll love this guy.

Some of the jokes just fall flat on the floor, however, the film is still watch-able and can draw a few laughs out of us. It is Max puts it “Très Bizarre” but all you have to do is pay more attention for Leguizamo, Bernie Mac, Fichtner and DeVito.

Must-see-scenes: the manner by which Max swindles Kevin’s ring; when both Kevin and Berger pose as Arab Sheiks (because it gives us a good idea about stereotyping and how stupid it looks and sounds on screen when you are); Detective Alex Taardio’s stunning waltz into Max’s impounded home; and the auction near the end when all the crooks decide to pose as auctioneers and help sell Max’s house and positions.

Cinerama: Vice Versa

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Vice Versa

By Mike Derderian

A teenager went into a supermarket and stood apposite the soda refrigerator. Opened the first can but nothing happened except a faint fizz. He opened the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh but still nothing happened.

The storeowner was shocked by the boy’s behavior and walked towards the boy, who was standing in the middle of a puddle of spilled soda and bruised cans. “What do you think you are doing?” the man irritably shouted.

The boy looked indifferently at the angry middle-aged man and said, “I’m looking for Shakira! I saw the ad on television but nothing happened with me so far.”

How many of us trust what they see on television, read in the newspapers or hear on the radio? No not the news—that’s another story—but commercials and ads.

For instance we all hear how different voices buzz on the airwaves of different radio stations announcing that their station is the best place for music. “You are listening to the number one hit station in town.” Says who? Well, technically speaking, their marketing managers.

The other day, I was so infuriated when I found out that a Jordanian local newspaper believe they can trick readers, by posting a fishy picture as a marketing ploy. Leafing through the newspaper, I stumbled, at the last page, on a photo of a “tourist” reading a daily that is affiliated with the newspaper’s publishing establishment.

The “clever” photographer and “brilliant” marketing manager, who were behind this publicity stunt didn’t realize that when holding a folded newspaper with its name facing the camera upright, its back page is always flipped upside down. Whatever that “tourist” was reading he was reading it upside down.

My guess was that the daily was either promoting a new page entitled “for the vice-versa-upside-down-reading-challenged individuals” or they were simply bamboozling us. It is one thing to advertise a product and another to cheat people by telling them that your product is the best using a dirty trick. If you want to cheat try to at least do it right.

If you reached this far, congratulations, you won a dinner with someone. Now let us discuss Brian Gilbert’s 1988 Vice Versa that starred Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage. A very long time ago!

Father and son Marshall Seymour (Reinhold) and Charlie Seymour (Savage) are not exactly eye to eye when it comes to life, having a good time and matters of the heart. Then again show me a father and son who are.

Vice Versa also stars Corinne Bohrer, Swoosie Kurtz (Alex from Sisters), David Proval (Richie Aprile from The Sopranos), Richard Kind (Paul Lassiter from Spin City) and Jane Kaczmarek (Lois from Malcolm in the Middle).

Marshall is divorced and Charlie is his son… duh. They are stuck together for a few weeks because Charlie’s mom Robyn (Kaczmarek) is too busy to look after him. They are not exactly happy about it and things won’t get any better.

Now, having to drag a boy around, clean up his mess and looking after his pet frog that spends most of its time in the bathroom sink isn’t exactly fun time for an alpha male like Marshall, who got used to being single with no strings attached.

So what’s the catch in Vice Versa? Comedy. Its modus operandi is derived from the much popular and overused body-switching recipe, where two characters one preferably old and the other young end up switching bodies.

How can one perform a body switching experience? We usually need two elements to make it work: A wish and a mystical supernatural religious artifact. Please note there are two other elements: A mad scientist and a lab, where a scientific experience is programmed to go haywire. Due to bad side effects most directors prefer using the first two elements.

Marshall and Charlie end up switching bodies, when a priceless silver and gold-coated skeleton creates a supernatural vortex. Its magic is triggered by mistake when both father and son wished if they were able to switch roles touched it.

Savage, who was at the height of his screen cuteness at the time this movie was made, is best remembered for his role as Kevin Arnold in the 1988-1993 hit television series The Wonder Years. If you don’t remember that show, then you might remember him as Number Three, who had a bad case of mole-on-face, in the 2002 shameless James Bond spoof Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Kurtz and Proval played the roles of two villainous smugglers dying to put their hands on the magical skeleton by any means possible. They were basically two stooges, who ended up having more than they have bargained for.

Any comedy void of romance is like a fish in a bowl filled with cold water and thrown in a bathtub filled with boiling water. It generates laughs on the expense of a fumbling child trapped in a man’s body desperately trying to fend off the wooing of an older woman—Sam (Bohrer), Marshall’s attractive girlfriend.

One of Hollywood’s underrated comedic talents Reinhold was simply hilarious in this 98-minute comedy. He brilliantly managed to capture and transmit enough childish mannerism to convince anyone that his 6-foot tall body was occupied by an 11-year old boy. The same goes for Savage.

Must-see-scenes: the opening scene when the bejeweled sacred skeleton is retrieved from an ancient temple; the body-switching scene, when Charlie, who is now trapped in Marshall’s body, panics and starts to cry and the rock concert that Charlie (in Marshall’s body) conducts at his father’s department store with the help of a teenage customer and a frantic salesman.