Sunday, December 21, 2008

20 Actresses

In my fine tradition of lagging far behind the blogging pack, I'm just now ready to participate in the '20 Favorite Actresses' meme started at The Film Experience. I love a good excuse to dip into my pool of collected screengrabs (17 of the following 20 images came from my hard drive), and even though I could probably list 20 different names tomorrow, today it's the following ladies that entertain, awe and fascinate me the most, even if some of their filmographies are more impressive than others.

Note: The list of films following each name contain the performances by each actress that give me the most pleasure, and are not necessarily the finest films on that actress' resume. (But just try and argue with me on the merits of The Skeleton Key. I dare you.) The first film listed for each actress is the film pictured. Here we go:


Angela Bassett - Strange Days, What's Love Got to Do With It, Sunshine State


Jennifer Connelly - Dark City, Requiem for a Dream, Dark Water, Career Opportunities


Bette Davis - All About Eve, Jezebel, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?


Irene Dunne - Love Affair, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife


Audrey Hepburn - Funny Face, Wait Until Dark, My Fair Lady, Charade


Katherine Hepburn - Stage Door, Bringing Up Baby, Adam's Rib, Holiday


Madeline Kahn - Clue, Paper Moon, What's Up, Doc?, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Cheap Detective


Deborah Kerr - Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Innocents


Jennifer Jason Leigh - eXistenZ, Short Cuts, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Anniversary Party, Margot at the Wedding


Shirley MacLaine - Some Came Running, The Apartment, The Children's Hour, Steel Magnolias, In Her Shoes


Giulietta Masina - Nights of Cabiria, La Strada


Emily Mortimer - Bright Young Things, Lovely and Amazing, Lars and the Real Girl, Transsiberian


Sarah Polley - No Such Thing, The Sweet Hereafter, Go, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Guinevere


Thelma Ritter - Pickup on South Street, Rear Window, All About Eve


Rachel Roberts - This Sporting Life, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, O Lucky Man!, Picnic at Hanging Rock


Gena Rowlands - A Woman Under the Influence, Faces, Minnie & Moskowitz, Love Streams, The Skeleton Key


Rosalind Russell - His Girl Friday, The Women, The Trouble with Angels


Lili Taylor - I Shot Andy Warhol, Say Anything, Girls Town


Sylvie Testud - Fear and Trembling, Murderous Maids, Beyond Silence, The Chateau, La France


Rachel Weisz - My Blueberry Nights, The Shape of Things, The Fountain

Monday, September 8, 2008

Holy Grail List

There's a meme going round - Joseph has done it, I just managed a post - and - well - tagged YOU! Us, Whatever. Basically, the idea is this: name 12 films you 1) have not seen; 2) are not available through Netflix.

A list of participants, so far, can be found here.

Anyway - my post is rather long and inefficient - here is the condensed version: 12 films.... heavy on the Japanophilia, but that shouldn't surprise anyone...

1. Anything (besides Yi Yi and Mahjong) by Edward Yang - soon to be rectified.

2. Humanity and Paper Balloons, by Sadao Yamanaka.

3. Chikamatsu Monogatari - Mizoguchi.

4. Ishtar - Elaine May. (Yes, it's listed on Netflix; no, it's not "available" on Netflix.)

5. Out One: Noli me Tangere - Rivette - the 13 hour version.

6. La Cicatrice Interieure - Philippe Garrel.

7. Keep cool - Zhang Yimou.

8. Timeless Bottomless Bad Movie - Jang Sun-woo

9. Bigger than Life - Nicholas Ray. (I'm not alone.)

10. Histoires du Cinema - Godard. (This either... but I've been hearing about these films forever. Where are they?)

11. Fantomas - Louis Feuillade. Thanks to David Bordwell.

12. Souls on the Road or the Red Bat - a very early Japanese film, and a well known Chambara.... blame Noel Burch.

And - anyone interested - hop in! create your own post, add to this one, put it in comments, here or at The Listening Ear.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Don LaFontaine, voice of movie trailers, dies

Don LaFontaine dies.

Hi Everyone:

Been busy with school and summer vacation, but I come here and read your excellent posts.

I thought you'd be interested in the above obituary. I can't tell if he's the guy with the REALLY low raspy voice or not. I youtubed him, and I couldn't tell. I think it's him. The guy I am thinking of totally dominates trailers.

Karyn

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Movies About Movies

This is too good not to post about - Andrew Osborne at Screengrab runs through a five part series on Movies about Movies. Great series.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

And - since I have to contribute something - all of Osborne's top 20 in one place:

American Movie
State and Main
The Stunt Man
The Big Picture
Day For Night
Hearts of Darkness
The Player
Contempt
Sunset Boulevard
Singin' in the Rain
Mulholland Drive
Barton Fink
Living in Oblivion
Davd Holzman's Diary
BAADASSSSS
Demon Lover Diary
Ed Wood
Gods and Monsters
Bombshell
Los Angeles Plays Itself

Not had to come up with more - someone in comments started in with 8 1/2 - oh yeah, that... I'm inclined, quickly, to think of Sherlock Jr. or Never Give a Sucker and Even Break - or any of the host of films made about the early days of cinema, from Forgotten Silver (which definitely has to be pretty close to any best 20 films about films, I'd think), or Of Freaks and Men, or - going really obscure - Tren de Sombras (or Innisfree, for that matter). There are plenty more - what do you guys think?

Friday, July 25, 2008

What's Worth Your Time

ON DVD:

Perhaps you'll recall the minor rumble in the blogosphere caused by Armond White's assertion that critics were ignoring Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories. It was an odd claim -- at the time, you couldn't look at any film review venue without seeing a positive notice for the film -- but all the back-and-forth about who liked it first shouldn't distract from the actual work. It's an excellent debut film, about the feud between half-brothers over their recently deceased father.

Three brothers -- named Son, Boy and Kid -- resent the indifference of the man who left them with an unfeeling mother, found Jesus, and raised four more boys with another woman. They crash his funeral, say some harsh words, and set off a chain of events that slowly escalates into violence. At the film's center is an expertly restrained performance by Michael Shannon as the eldest of the abandoned sons, whose stern face has an uncanny ability to express all the longings, regrets and anger of his character with barely any movement.

Then, for those cinematic adventurers who've been dying to take a crack at Bela Tarr's legendary 7-hour opus, here's your chance: Facets has just released a 4-disc package of Satantango! Read Michael Atkinson's write-up at IFC Films here. Through some bizarre mishap on my Netflix queue, disc 1 is already on its way to me. Maybe I'll pull my head out of my ass and write about it...

Also, I just watched Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together for the first time, and it's so friggin' good I feel the need to recommend it to everyone.


ON TELEVISION:

With the second season of Mad Men approaching, I decided to catch up on what I'd missed with my cable's OnDemand service. Yadda yadda yadda, it's as great as everyone says, but what I most look forward to in every episode is catching a glimpse of Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway:
It's impossible to take your eyes off her, what with her bright outfits, fiery red hair and wicked grin. Forgive me for being a drooling man here, but WOW!


ON THE INTERWEBS:

After reading this interview with Teri Garr at the Onion AV Club, I felt the need to share it with any and everybody. Following decades in the business and recently surviving an aneurysm that, as Gawker put it, "severed her give-a-shit nerve", she's ready to let loose with a heaping spoonful of candor that you pretty much never see in celebrity interviews.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Forums R Us

Has anyone here heard of an internet forum called "Silver Screen Oasis"? I tried to wiki it, but no articles showed up for it. It might be fairly new, or just little known. I've found a great site for discussing jazz, allaboutjazz.com, and one for soccer at bigsoccer.com, and had long wished to find a similarly-templated forum with moderators, etc. for art film discussions, but a lot of searching in the past turned up nothing. I thought, do all we want to do is blog?

But now, I may have found a suitable one at silverscreenoasis.com, that advertises itself as the place to discuss "classic" films--I don't know if that means "art films" or particularly B&W Hollywood "classics". But a keyword search on their site turned up names such as Bresson as topics for discussion. So this may be the place for me, if there are enough like-minded fans on there.

This blogspot here is a lot of fun too, and I'll continue to post here from time to time, but I've long wanted a place where a lot of feedback could be expected, and where registered users are on a more egalitarian plane, and if that's what you want also, then perhaps you should check this site out.

I don't know if discussion is allowed for modern would-be classics, though. I understand it probably doesn't want to descend into discussion about all the latest first-run features, which could make the website top-heavy in a way they wish it not be.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In Theaters: Wall-E


WALL-E is not only possibly the best picture of the year, it’s the best science fiction film in a year and a half at least. It’s getting kind of boring to talk about Pixar delivering yet another great animated epic, but even by their standards they may have created something special here. It’s a film that’s almost as dialogue-thin as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that tugs on the heartstrings as much as E.T., and that manages the level of social commentary of just about every science fiction film of the early Seventies, but without the unbearable preachiness. Despite all these comparisons, it’s unique. It’s original, something we don’t see enough of from the major studios, and it even defies some of the conventions that Pixar itself is associated with. Above all, though- look at ‘im! He’s adorable! Aww!

Wall-E (voiced, in a sense, by veteran sound effects creator Ben Burtt) is the last of a group of clean-up robots tasked with squaring away the litter of a terminally polluted Earth. Mankind has long since abandoned the planet, and Wall-E is left alone to crush garbage into cubes and stack it in giant towers. In his isolation he has gone a little eccentric; he preserves objects he finds interesting, makes friends with a cockroach, and listens to showtunes as he works. One day, however, his routine is disrupted by the arrival of an Apple-sleek, vaguely feminine robot named EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight), whose mysterious directive involves zooming around scanning the landscape. A friendship of sorts is kindled, and Wall-E has often longed for someone to hold hands with, but when he shows her a plant he discovered, her directive kicks in. A probe ship takes her and the plant away, Wall-E in tow, heading towards the Axiom, a giant worldship carrying all of humanity. They’ve been waiting for Earth to become habitable again for 700 years- at least that’s the mission statement, but in the meantime the species has become entirely fat and sedentary, whizzing about on floating chairs and cared for by the ship’s computer and countless helper robots who really run the Axiom. Worse, when Eve is brought up to the computer to make her report, the plant has gone missing. Eve and Wall-E get carted off as malfunctioning robots, and an unintended prison break has them chased by robot security guards and still trying to find out the fate of the missing plant.

Critics so far have expressed a preference for the film’s first act, in its wordless simplicity and desolate beauty as Wall-E and EVE form a relationship. To be sure, it works brilliantly in and of itself. But the rest of the film shouldn’t be dismissed as lesser, not by a long shot. The shift of tone when we reach the Axiom is jarring, but we end up in the midst of a sparkly, shiny dystopia dominated by consumerism and inactivity, a surprisingly sharp bit of social criticism for a children’s film. But here’s where it gets interesting; the film is not callous towards humanity, even after it’s trashed its home and locked itself in stasis. During his visit Wall-E manages to knock a few people out of their slumber, and when they wake up and look around, they’re not scared by reality, they embrace it. The people in this film aren’t selfish, and as a matter of fact, I’m not sure any character in the film fits that description. What they are is locked in a pattern, and this holds for the robots as well. It takes a force like Wall-E, a new element, to shake them out of it.

The animation continues to extend Pixar’s high standards, with a number of shots that would work perfectly well for a live action feature. The level of detail is utterly amazing, whether we’re dealing with the junk-encrusted Earth or the sparkling Axiom. Weirdly enough, there’s even some live action in the picture, seen on electronic video screens and billboards.

The film mostly forgoes the familiar tradition of having well-known actors and actresses voice the major parts. Burtt “voices” the main character (and several other robots) through his use of sound effects and voice modulation, and the ship’s autopilot is voiced by Apple’s Macintalk text-to-speech system. Sigourney Weaver, Kathy Najimy, and Pixar vet John Ratzenberger all have parts, but they’re outshone by the nearly wordless protagonists. There’s also the immortal Fred Willard appearing in the live action pieces as the President of the world-dominating Buy-N-Large corporation.

Of course, much of what makes Wall-E work is in the simple appeal of the main character. He’s cute, he’s humble, he’s friendly and curious. He’s attracted to EVE first out of his loneliness, but soon sees the virtue of her “directive” and works to preserve the life of the little plant that holds the key to mankind’s future. I’m not sure he ever fully understands what this is all about, but he knows that it’s EVE’s mission and seems to have a respect for all living things.

WALL-E is an extremely intelligent picture that manages to be very simple and fun at the same time. It’s a film with many layers, but it can be engaged with on the most basic level as the story of a lonely robot in love. It has just the right combination of passion and elegance, sweetness and sophistication. Definitely the picture to beat for overall excellence this year.

Written and Directed by Andrew Stanton

Grade: A

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mad geniuses

I've picked out 3 films that almost killed their creators, either literally or figuratively so. And the directors who made them had to be quite mad, as they pushed their craft to the very extreme in one way or another.

The first one is Jacques Tati's Play Time. Now this is a movie that is unlike any I have ever seen in my life, and I don't know how much I even like it, but yet I find it fascinating to no end. In it, there is not much dialogue at all, no main characters, and just about every shot is wide-angle. I think Tati detested closeups. His sets were so elaborate and with so many things going on at the same time, you have to watch it several times from different parts of the theater to catch everything. Its very nature was sort of off-putting to many audiences, so maybe that's why I haven't seen very many immitators. It's like seeing the Grand Canyon, if you consider yourself a true cinephile, you must see this film at least once in your life. It's quite a spectacle. I think he even said it was like this film came from another planet. In such a way I think it's quite inspiring by showing us different possibilities with cinema. This film was a real budget-buster, too. Tati created this whole futuristic city for a set, outside of Paris, they called "Tativille", and this project ate up so much money that he even resorted to using cardboard cutouts for extras at times. Incidentally, this movie put Tati into financial ruin.


The second film I've chosen to mention is Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. He filmed this thing on the southern Alberta plains, and drove everybody up the wall during filming, I've heard. After shooting was over, he had to reshoot some scenes, and spent about two years editing the thing, which included overlaying a lot of the spoken dialogue with Linda Manz's voiceovers, and so forth. Two years of editing! I don't think he made the producers very happy, but the world should have no complaints because all that madness produced what I think is one of the most seamless and beautiful films I've ever seen in my life. I think this film comes as close to perfection as any film ever has. Incidentally, this film must have taken so much out of the director that he didn't make another film for the next 20 years. I guess that's called suffering for the cause. But I'll take one Days of Heaven over 20 Woody Allen films. And I like Woody Allen a lot.


And the final film I'll mention is.....can you guess it.....yeah, Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. Of course. This film was one of the most daring projects any director ever set out to make. I think Klaus Kinski almost murdered Mr. Herzog over it, or maybe I'm exaggerating, but it wouldn't have been a surprise if he did. I don't think any director in history has had more cahones than Herzog. He was quite demanding. There are no "special effects" in this film. They really did pull a ship up a mountain. He just had to do everything authentic, didn't he? There is a companion piece to this film, a documentary on the making-of, directed by Les Blank, that is equally as fascinating to watch, or moreso. Here is a clip I don't remember seeing before, but I'll use it because it really makes the point:

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Classics

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, Entertainment Weekly has posted several lists of "New Classics" -- that is, the best of everything that's debuted within the last 25 years.

Obviously, the movie list doesn't dare to be different. It's full of titles most people have seen and chatted about, and 94 out of 100 are English language films. Clearly, it's a list of broad popular tastes, and I'm not gonna waste energy criticizing EW for doing exactly what it always does. But I think we can do better.

There are nine contributors to this blog, so let's each list nine of our own New Classics. The only guidelines are: feature-length films released in 1983 and after. No need to create a new post, simply edit this one to add your titles.

As with any list, mine could completely change tomorrow depending on my mood. Here's what I feel the need to add right now:


MIKE DOC'S LIST

After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)
Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)
Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou hsiao-hsien, 2007)
Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell, 1996)
The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)

EVAN WATERS' LIST

Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
The Aviator (Martin Scorcese, 2004)
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2002)

Weepingsam's List (promoted from comments)
City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1989)
Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wei, 1995)
Yi Yi (Edwards Yang, 2000)
Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994)
Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000)
Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, 1986)
Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
O Brother Where Art Thou? (Les Freres Coens, 2000)

Erik's list
Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002)
The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)
Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)
GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)
Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003)
9/11 (Gedeon & Jules Naudet, James Hanlon, 2002)


Joseph B's List

(if nothing more than personal favorites.. I have such a damn hard time seperating 'favorite' from the abstract idea of 'important')

1. Casino
2. Magnolia
3. Heat
4. Laws of Gravity
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Goodfellas
7. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
8. The Double Life of Veronique
9. The Thin Red Line

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sports Post and Poll

It's been a tough couple weeks for baseball managers - John McLaren in Seattle, John Gibbons in Toronto, Willie Randolph of the Mets were all fired in the last couple weeks - and the trade rumors are starting: whither CC Sabathia? Matt Holliday? Jason Bay? And so Im putting u another poll, for you baseball fans: which of the dreadful underachievers are most likely to turn things around in the second half?

There have been some dreadful underachievers: The Mets, at least compared to their image of themselves; the Tigers and Indians, by pretty much any standard, have been huge disappointments; The Mariners wanted to think they were contenders, and acted like it,trading prospects for Eric Bedard; both the Rockies and Padres have been awful, after being in the playoffs last year... The Blue Jays, Dodgers, etc., all had dreams of contention, which aren't very likely now.

But - if I had posted this a couple weeks ago - I could have included the Yankees: a winning streak later, they're over .500 and only 5 out; The Brewers were mediocre for a long time - now - 6 1/2 out, but moving up on the Cubs; good lord - even the Orioles are over .500! So - who else can turn it around? I'm going to limit the choice to the teams that both have a shot at the post-season - so no Mariners, they won't come back from 18.5 out, and were supposed to be good, and were good last year, but have been lousy this year. Those teams are:

Detroit and Cleveland - both very good last year, supposed to fight for the top of their division, if not the league, this year - both very bad this year. Though lately the Tigers are hot - and both are still within range of contention, and both have bunches of established players who have not been performing - they are prime candidates to make a run.

Rockies and Padres - playoff teams (sort of) last year, awful this year - but close enough to make a run, and - maybe...

Throw the Dodgers in there too, since they fit the bill pretty well.

And finally - the NYMets - they're the ones getting the attention, of these sad underachievers. The joys and perils of being in one f the big media cities. And of spending a ton of money and playing to the tabloids every offseason - which seems to me to be a big part of their problem. They have been making the big splash almost every year of the Minaya era - signing Beltran, Martinez, trading for Santana and so on - all fine and good, except they haven't bothered to put a team around the stars. Take away Wright, Reyes and Beltran, and that is one sorry lineup. It's interesting to compare them to the Phils - what's the difference? comes down to this - the Phils' stars are playing at or above expectations (except for Rollins), while the Mets stars, while doing okay, have not been up to their standards; and the rest of the Phillies lineup is competent major leaguers who stat on the field - Victorino, Werth and Jenkins, Feliz - nothing special, but they give you something. The Mets? not so much...

Anyway: we'll see how this goes... maybe next we can ask about which of the overachievers (Tampa, Florida, the Pale Hose, those over .500 Orioles, etc.) can keep it up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Four Fathers

I Was Born, But... (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932)


The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)


A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)


The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shared Items

This is an experiment. I don't know if anyone else cares about my Google Shared Items page - but I think it might be interesting to have a post with a bunch of these. So - if anyone else wants to link to shared posts - it looks like you just have to add the script here.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Umpteenth Jokey Title

Spoilers? Probably...

The glowing review that Keith Uhlich posted on Sunday at The House Next Door for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still generating comments. As I type this, the latest are focused on the scene in which Marion drives herself, Indy, Mutt and Dr. Oxley off a high cliff and onto a sturdy tree branch, which bends far enough to allow the jeep/boat hybrid a safe landing into the river below.

Commenter Chris P, reacting to the assertion that this scene is equivalent to Indy’s leap of faith towards the end of Last Crusade, says:

“Before his leap of faith, Indy's scared. He's nervous and not sure it'll work. And when it does, he's even more amazed than the audience. He feels for us. We feel more a part of the adventure because of his emotional reaction to it.

By contrast, Marion has it all planned out, it works exactly as she expected -- nothing goes wrong, there's not even a moment where she thinks "uh oh, maybe this was a bad idea" -- and we don't get a woop of unmitigated joy, or even a sense that maybe her feigned bravura was just that, when something so amazing does work.

Simply: that short scene sums up everything that was wrong with the movie.”


Uhlich later responded:

“To which I say that we do get that sense of unmitigated joy in Karen Allen's smile after the stunt works, a visual cue that rhymes with her beatific reaction to Indy's "none of them [the other women in my life] were you" and with her mad "are we still alive?" laughter after they go over the three waterfalls.”


What this exchange boils down to is a round of “No it’s not!”/”Yes it is!”, and I suppose we can simplistically say that either the film worked for you or it didn’t. Though Uhlich is a good enough writer to make me wonder if I might be wrong, I do side with the camp that’s emphatically anti-Crystal Skull. And I think Chris P is on to something.

That particular scene makes use of the dreaded three letters: CGI. Though Karen Allen’s smile is winning, it’s not precisely enough to convince me of the adrenaline rush likely to accompany such a daredevil stunt. I wonder if Allen was ever shown the equivalent of the cliff in question, or the waterfalls she survived. Some highly-skilled digital artists created a nice-looking picture of a large tree whipping itself against the cliff, knocking several Russian digi-soldiers to their deaths. But Spielberg never provides a shot to convince, nor do the flesh-and-blood actors react in a way that suggests such a spectacle really happened. Mayhaps this wouldn’t be so jarring a letdown if Spielberg hadn’t already pulled off a virtuoso cliffside sequence in Temple of Doom, where none of the problems I mentioned exist. Because there was no CGI. That was a real, flimsy bridge over a really frigging high drop.

I get the supporters’ argument that it’s unfair to judge the movie based on what you expected, rather than what was presented -- though plenty that’s presented is worthy of derision, but this post isn’t about reaction shots of gophers and Shia LaBeouf’s injured testicles, so I’ll move on. Isn’t it fair for longtime fans who’ve invested in a franchise that employed innovative camerawork, on-site special effects and stuntmen (plus, as one commenter at HND put it, “a crisper, more ‘analog’ look”) in three previous installments to expect the same of the fourth? Rather than cartoonish, unconvincing CGI to cover up for most every daring feat? The excitement of the narrow escape doesn’t exist in this movie. The characters simply disappear behind the computer graphics, then appear again, safe and sound.

I appreciate Uhlich’s analysis of Spielberg’s imagery and the thematic content, but he expounds on it far more elegantly than the film ever does. After the movie, I told my friends, “I want to weep, it was so bad.” I grew up watching the Indy movies with my father, wondering at the movie magic on display. What do kids today have to wonder about? It’s all computers. I take my entertainment seriously, and Crystal Skull felt mostly like a bunch of clowning around.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cannes Results

This year's Cannes film festival is done: winners are up - Greencine has them all, competition and otherwise Un Certain Regard ; Critics Week; FIPRESCHI.

And now we wait for distribution. I've put up a poll - which of the award winners are you looking forward to seeing most? Or are you looking forward to films that didn't win awards - A Christmas Tale (Desplechins)? The Headless Woman (Lucretia Martel)? 24 Cty (Jia Jiang-ke)? Tokyo! (Michel Gondry, Leos Carax & Bong Joon-ho)? Kung Fu Panda?

Let me update with a link to Glenn Kenny's roundup of award winners.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sport

I've been thinking of putting up a baseball post lately - seeing Joseph's Rangers within a game of .500, that sort of thing. I have more concrete inspiration now - I come home from seeing J'Entends Plus la Guitare (a rare and precious Philippe Garrel screening at Harvard) - in time to watch Jon Lester finish off a no-hitter. The sentimental among us should be pleased. The cynics among us should become a bit sentimental. The Red Sox fans among us can think we have 2 starters with a combined 48 starts and 2 no-hitters.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Academy of the Underrated: Godzilla (1998): The short version


Okay, I've gone and written up my defense of the much-disliked American GODZILLA movie, and posted it over on Club Parnassus. I was going to post it here, but it may be even larger than the SPEED RACER post and I don't want to monopolize the blog. (Note: This might be a good time to implement a script that'll let you put long material behind a cut.)

So, if you're interested in reading it, the review is here. You can comment on that post or this one, or just ignore it. I figured I should post it today because it's the ten-year anniversary or nearabouts.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

In Theaters: Speed Racer


Ignore the cynical critics, who seem to object to SPEED RACER more on a conceptual level than on anything to do with the film that’s been made. Ignore the fact that this is yet another movie based on a vintage TV show. Ignore the poor box office reports. SPEED RACER is, and I never expected to say this, a truly great film. It does what it sets out to do almost perfectly- you may object to what it sets out to do, especially if you have epilepsy, but there is not only skill in this film’s execution, but genuine heart.

I went into SPEED RACER hoping to enjoy it, but seeing it mostly out of principle. Said principle was that movies are not colorful enough these days, and that anything which embraces the idea of having more than one shade onscreen at a time deserves support. I knew the reviews were not great, and at any moment I expected the film’s massive flaws to reveal themselves, and the divide in opinion (because I’ve heard enthusiastic responses to the film on various fora) would be explained, and I would decide what side I fell on. I actually kinda wish I’d seen what the problem was. Instead, I gotta say, this is a superb spectacle that delivers everything it promises, and the naysayers- I don’t get what their deal is.

If you’ve seen the show (I actually haven’t), you know the story. Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the middle child of the Racer family, who as you might expect are big in the car racing game. Pops Racer (John effing Goodman) builds cars, and big brother Rex Racer (Scott Porter) drives them. But at some point Rex seems to go bad, aggressively pushing off other drivers and seemingly being killed in the middle of a massive cross country race. Years later, though, the Racer tradition lives on, as Speed continues his brother’s legacy in the Mach 5 (in an ingenious touch, the first race sequence slides between Rex and Speed running the same track, eventually racing against each other for the all time record.) After a big win, Speed is approached by Royalton (Roger Allam), head of Royalton Motors, who wants him to race under their banner. However, Speed decides to stick with the family, and this infuriates his would-be boss, who vows that from then on, Speed won’t win, won’t place, won’t even finish a race.

A lot of major companies make a lot of money off of racing, and they negotiate and plan the outcomes of major races. Sure enough, Speed is forced off the track at Fiji, and Pops comes under investigation for alleged IP infringement. But the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox) has been investigating the link between the big companies and the underworld (represented by some downright Victorian British gangsters), and on finding out that racer Taejo Togokhan (Korean pop sensation and Stephen Colbert nemesis Rain) has been in their pay to protect his sister Minx (Nayo Wallace), he and the wonderfully named Inspector Detector (Benno F├╝rmann) try to get him to testify. In exchange, Taejo wants to protect his family’s company from a buyout, and to do that he plans to win the Crucible, the team cross country race that ended Rex’s career. Speed Racer is offered the third position on the team, and sneaks off, over his father’s objections.

All this and more takes place in a universe that is a giant live action and CGI cartoon, rendered in bright basic colors. The drivers race along impossibly twisted tracks, and are saved from crashes and explosions by being encased in spheres of foam. This encourages the racers to get a little violent, and even the good guys have to fight and inevitably force competitors off the road. The race sequences are insanely kinetic, but though the flood of color and motion is overwhelming at first, a rhythm soon emerges, and usually a shot will focus on a specific car or racer. In a way this mimics the look of the cartoon, in which, as in many anime shows, static characters would be surrounded by speed lines and signs of motion. The same balance of images is shown in the less actiony scenes- even though we’re seeing lots of things on screen at once, there are clever emphases and patterns that emerge. Royalton’s office is bedecked in royal purple, and when he tries to convince speed that the racing world is driven entirely by money, background colors fade and we’re surrounded by black and white.

This is a film full of whimsy and imagination, and tiny details and not-quite-necessary things are everywhere. The Crucible race is started when the Queen of Casa Christo looks out and sees the sun; various on-track “assassins” take the form of sexy pink-haired girls with phallic tire spikes a la BEN HUR (Speed combats them with tire shields, and right now Freud wishes he were still alive to analyze that), Viking marauders, and mercenary soldiers; Speed’s younger brother Spridle (Paulie Witt) and his monkey pal Chim Chim imagine themselves in the action of a superhero cartoon they watch; out-of-focus hearts appear in the background when Speed and his best girl Trixie (Christina Ricci, whose looks are made for anime) lay eyes on each other. There are vicious gangsters and ninja and caverns of ice, and the cars themselves have useful gadgets a-plenty, though some are less legal than others (the Mach-5’s jumping springs, which get it out of tight situations, are A-OK, but the spearhook, used to catch cars in a deadlock, is bad form indeed.)

All of this is handled with a good sense of humor; there’s an inevitable level of camp in the proceedings, obviously, though the movie tries not to let that undermine the story. We end up laughing with the film’s absurdities more than at them; we’re not asked to really accept anything as plausible, just as cool. This is a universe where logic and physics are subservient to aesthetics, and everything that happens, happens because it would be totally awesome if it did.

One doesn’t expect much from the acting in a movie like this, but some thought seems to have gone into this as well. To be sure, we’re dealing with cartoon characters, who must be strong and basic in their motivations and drives, but the cast works hard to make these personalities come across. Nobody breaks character, or goes through the motions; in particular Goodman, and Susan Sarandon as his wife,are very strong as Speed’s ever-supportive parents. One part of the film that works very well is its emphasis on family; a lot of kids movies will try to tell us that a given family is strong and supportive and so on, but this one makes us feel it; a bond between the characters is always apparent. Ricci is a treat as well, and there are a few fun cameos here and there. Hirsch carries the lead well, and though there’s not a lot to really distinguish his performance, it’s the kind of work that we would have noticed more had it gone horribly wrong.

Family is one of the main themes of the film, of course, as is the struggle of the athlete against corporate corruption of the sport. Some critics have made a point of calling out the film as insincere on this point, since it is, after all, a big budget summer movie replete with merchandising tie-ins; obviously SOMEONE involved cares about the money. But the point really seems to be that corporations are a bad thing when they try to reduce it to be ONLY about money, when they work against the passion that drives sports as well as filmmaking. The big message of the movie, I think, is a very idealistic one- that you CAN stand against the system. That nothing is so big that it cannot be brought down. And on this point the film is very strong.

I can, off the top of my head, name one flaw in the movie. Spridle and Chim Chim have a little too much screen time. They’re the film’s big comic relief, and though they’re not unfunny, they pop up a little too often. I’m also trying to remember the exact point at which Rex’s fortunes turned, but maybe in a film this overstuffed it’s inevitable that something will slip one’s mind. There is an interesting point where we get what seems like the climax, and an unusually long denouement, until we realize that the third act is in fact still around the corner. This is a long movie, to be sure, but despite that weird shift it’s never dull, and I do have to give the film credit for actually making me buy into the false crisis and false dawn.

And so here I am. I have to give this an A; the film almost never steps wrong, and there were many chances for it to do so. Not only is it fun, not only do we see John Goodman fight a ninja, but so help me God it is genuinely a compelling experience. You want Speed to win and to root out the corruption in his world, and there are moments of true suspense and elation. I cannot fault it. I honestly do not see the problem.

See this picture while you can. The box office apparently has not been good (nowadays we can predict these things before the opening weekend is even over, and if that’s not a grim bit of fatalism infecting the movie world I don’t know what is), and this blast of color and cheer does call for the big screen. SPEED RACER is a wonderland, a feast, a glorious over-the-top sports opera that looks wide-eyed at the drive we feel to be our best and what we have to do to stand up to a world which seeks to crush ambition. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s downright heartfelt. It’s honestly better than THE MATRIX, and I think the Wachowskis have genuinely redeemed themselves for the missteps made in the sequels. This film works when it really shouldn’t, and perhaps if you go in skeptical from the start it won’t appeal to you. Better to see it with an open mind and let it wash over you. Trust me, it’s an experience you should have.

Based on characters created by Tatsuo Yoshida
Written and Directed by the Wachowski Brothers

Grade: A

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Introducing...

This is the part where I shamelessly promote my new personal blog, Southland Cinephiles.

I know what y'all are thinking: this'll never last. He went and deleted his last blog without a word after a coupla lousy months. Sucks to him! Bah!

Well, shut up. I disagree. This time, I don't have to struggle to think of new content.

You'll notice it appears to be sort of a regional blog, aimed solely at Los Angelenos. Well, yes, that's its main purpose. I longed for a place on the web that, in one easily readable place, would list and discuss the overwhelming amount of daily screening opportunities in L.A. Since I've never found a satisfactory manifestation of that desire, I figured I'd make it myself.

But I'm hoping that folks outside of L.A. will participate as well. The variety of films screening from day to day is astonishing -- this Friday's choices include Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, Moustapha Akkad's The Message, Forbidden Planet, A Quiet Place in the Country, The Letter, and more. I know all the filmies out there have something to say about at least one of those.

So say something.

I plan to expand the content past just lists. Recommendations, reviews, articles and the like are forthcoming. But all shall be geared as much as possible toward cinema available to L.A. I'll maintain a regular presence here to post about everything else.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Three for the Dance

Solo

Not so long ago, I attended a screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art of Powell and Pressburger's The Tales of Hoffman. Overall, the experience was a disappointment. I failed to note beforehand that they'd being showing the film on video. The picture and sound quality left much to be desired, but that couldn't detract from the work of Moira Shearer, screen goddess. The woman is impossible to look away from, the very definition of poise and grace. At the end of her "Doll's Song" performance, the audience burst into applause:



Duet

I suppose I love an underdog, so all due respect to the very worthy Fred and Ginger, but my heart belongs to Fred and Kay.

Fred Astaire was pushing 60 and Kay Thompson was just under 50 when they co-starred in Funny Face. It's not every movie musical romance that lets its superstar ingenue (Audrey Hepburn) disappear for a bit while the two middle-aged pros hoof it in a showstopper. The Gap recently revived interest in Hepburn's easily lovable beatnik bar dance number, but I go for the admittedly not-so-innovative-but-a-helluva-lotta fun "Clap Yo' Hands":



Pas de trois

Fuck Baby Mama! The real female buddy comedy to watch and learn from came out in 1997, and it's called Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. The women here are just as foul-mouthed as any Judd Apatow slacker ("Why don't you go fuck a sheep, or your sister, or yourself?!"), their situation is true to life, and they get away with some blessedly weird moments. Observe the climactic three-way dance scene:

Dancing Poll

I'm experimenting with the polls: I've never been too good at coming up with quizzes and polls and the like, but, hey... this time around - let's acknowledge another neat blogathon - this one, the Invitation to the Dance from Ferdy on Film. I shall go straight to the top: for all my rather well documented love of Busby Berkeley film, and less documented love of Gene Kelly films, there is no one like Fred Astaire - and no Astaire movies like the ones he made with Ginger Rogers. And so I ask you: which is your favorite? I believe I have answered that question somewhere online - notably, my favorite Fred and Ginger movie is NOT the one that contains the Greatest 5 minutes of Film Ever Made! Vote! comment! sing along!

Monday, May 5, 2008

In Theaters: Iron Man


It may be a good sign that the first summer blockbuster of the year is as intelligent as IRON MAN. (I just know that statement is going to backfire on me.) It’s a solid action film, but what’s memorable about it is how much thought has gone into it. A superhero film that technically follows the structure of such things but does so with an offbeat attitude, the big screen debut of Marvel’s armor-suited guardian doesn’t pander to its audience the way big movies are expected to. Which isn’t to say it’s a great movie, or without its flaws, but it’s well put together, and the acting alone is of a caliber you don’t expect to find in films like this.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, which manufactures weapons, aircraft, communications systems, basically anything big and metallic that the government pays lots of money for. He’s a brilliant inventor and a millionaire playboy without Bruce Wayne’s angst, bedding beautiful girls and jetting around the globe, always with a drink in hand and a dry quip at the ready. He’s in Afghanistan making a sale to the Army when his convoy is ambushed by a mysterious terror group, who take him prisoner. In the scuffle he is injured by shrapnel from one of his own missiles, and a doctor who’s also being held prisoner comes up with a crude mechanical heart plug that stops the one unremovable shard from burrowing in further and killing him. The terrorists (known as the Ten Rings, and being more would-be conquerors than religious fanatics) want Stark to build missiles for them, but he takes advantage of their resources to instead build a giant suit of powered armor which he uses to escape. On getting back to civilization, Stark wonders how his weapons ended up in the hands of the enemy, and shuts down the weapons division of Stark Industries, rousing the ire of his partner Obadaiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who once ran the company. Stark develops his suit technology further, unaware that Stane and the Ten Rings are conspiring against him.

While most superhero movies seem to be driven by a particular script or director’s vision, it’s clear that IRON MAN is built around the casting of Downey. In the comics, Stark has struggled with alcoholism and bad-boy behavior (unfortunately current continuity has him in a rather dour authoritarian role), and though it’s hard to say how much the actor drew on the parallels to his own life, he’s obviously worked hard to create a fully realized character. Downey’s droll, deadpan attitude always works just right against his character’s excesses, both as playboy and superhero. It’s really fun to watch the performance, and the character created by it; it infuses a spirit of wild anarchy into a $186 million franchise picture. Movies like this aren’t allowed to take these chances, in theory, and though the film isn’t quite as radical with genre conventions as, say, Ang Lee’s underrated HULK, it shows what you can sneak in while still delivering what audiences come to see.

The writing is surprisingly strong as well; I have a feeling that Downey was allowed to take liberties with the script, but the dialogue is sharp overall, full of memorable quips. The story is literate, and though it actually takes a while for “Iron Man” himself to make his debut, the material leading up to it is good enough that it doesn’t matter. I would complain that the film doesn’t really have the time to deal with some of the things it gets into; the arms smuggling plot in particular doesn’t feel quite resolved. But then, delving too much into any one aspect of the film’s plot would probably slow things down, and though there are a couple of slow bits the filmmakers wisely keep up a steady pace, with no time for detours. The emphasis the film places on banter between its characters is also welcome; because studios depend on international grosses to cover overhead for almost every film they release, and because witty repartee isn’t guaranteed to translate at all, it’s often sacrificed in favor of physical humor. (Of course, as I write this, the film has made $96 million outside the US, so maybe the conventional wisdom can at last be put to bed.) There are some really funny lines in this film, and not just because Downey delivers them.

Actor/director Favreau demonstrates a solid grasp of pacing, and both the action and humor benefit from good timing. As much as Downey dominates, Favreau is sure to surround him with a strong supporting cast; Gwyneth Paltrow is decidedly strong as Pepper Potts, Tony’s long-suffering secretary, Bridges injects a very odd sense of humor into his villainous role, and there are strong turns by Terrence Howard, Shaun Toub, and Faran Tahir (as well as an uncredited appearance that- well, just wait through the credits, is what I’m saying.)

Upon initial viewing, the film lacks whatever extra quality that would make me put it into the A range, but that may just be the first viewing. It’s solid enough that it’ll definitely hold up well over time, and I absolutely recommend it. It’s pleasing to see such a big movie being as smart and spry as this, and to see a film as smart as this to be an apparent hit. If IRON MAN falls short of epic, it’s still a damn good time.

Based on a character created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack
Kirby
Screenplay by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Directed by Jon Favreau

Grade: B+

Thursday, May 1, 2008

L'avventura

Every once in a while, I'm asked "what is your favorite movie?", which in truth is an impossible answer for me, because it's so hard to choose just one. One moment I'll say Days of Heaven, then I'll say it's Blow-Up, or maybe it's The Sweet Hereafter, or Badlands, or La notte, or Mulholland Drive or Russian Ark. But for the purpose of the conversation, I tell them it's Antonioni's L'avventura (The Adventure), probably because of its epic scale, its daring break with convention, and its controversial history. And it's as good a choice as any of my pantheon of favorites.

For those who haven't seen it and don't want spoilers, stop here.

It's ostensibly about the search for a missing woman, but it becomes about something else. That's what sent its first audiences into a tizzy, that the first issue never gets resolved. I guess it's the law in movieland that all questions must be wrapped up before the film ends. Or at least, the "most important" ones. Maybe the dispute is over importance. Certainly the disappearance of the woman (Anna) seems to be central to the story, so it's unforgiveable then, that the filmmaker wouldn't lead us to the answer to that question.

His mistake might have been that of assuming his audience would recognize in the end that Anna's whereabouts wasn't the real point of the story. But for some of us who are headstrong enough to insist what must happen in a film, rather than let the director lead the way, it can easily become a disappointment.

If the film were shown in theaters today, I think it would have similar reactions as in 1960, because in general people don't know what's come before them, so the wheel is going to keep on being reinvented. And the average film of today is as conventional as they were fifty years ago, except with more f-words and sex and violence. But the structure of most films hasn't changed much.

In this film, as with many Antonioni films, he likes to make use of landscapes to reflect his characters' emotional states. And I found a little ditty of a scene here, which is one of my favorites, because it has this otherworldly effect on me by the way it was composed.


The camera slowly pans across as though a third entity is present, as they (Sandro and Claudia) are searching for any sign of Anna. They drive up into a deserted town in the hills, perhaps one of those "experimental" communities the government built, only to fail to attract any residents. Much of this is filmed in wide-angle shots, which further isolates these characters in their environment, or shows their 'true scale' in the landscape. They find nobody present, Sandro sees what he thinks is another settlement down the hillside and then turns around to look at Claudia, and she, being a wee tad more observant, tells him no, it's actually a cemetery. (Sorry no subtitles here, it's the only video I could find of this scene.)

You see, Anna was Sandro's girlfriend, but in the process of looking for her, Claudia is falling for her best friend's guy. She tries to fight it off, because she can really feel it not right, but also she is very weak. That's basically what the movie is about, is Claudia's constant struggle with her emotions. They still have to "look" for Anna, and Claudia really wants to find her, but at the same time she's at this point half-hoping they don't succeed. She's not a ditz at all. Unlike Sandro, she has a real sense of her place in the universe, which is all the more scary to her, and is why love is such a powerful elixor here.

Anna could be dead, or lost, or not knowing the answer alone is what is eating at Claudia's psyche, and she almost can't deal with the pain--but there is the power of Eros, ready to steal her away from her troubles--so it's little wonder why immediately after this scene here (which gets cut off at this point), she and Sandro "make out" by the railroad tracks.

Monday, April 28, 2008

In Theaters: The Forbidden Kingdom


There’s something refreshingly old-school about THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, a kung-fu adventure that, oddly, marks the first time Jackie Chan and Jet Li have shared the screen. It’s very much a tribute to the history of wire-fu extravaganzas, reaching back to the early days of the genre to produce a fun and colorful romp that’s a welcome change from the more glum martial arts epics that have become common in this decade. The ads have cunningly concealed what’s already a sore point among genre fans- namely, that the real protagonist is a white kid from New York- but this isn’t handled too badly, and even adds to the retro vibe. A kind of NEVERENDING STORY for Shaw Brothers fans, as it were.

The white kid in question is Jason (Michael Angarano, who was the lead in 2005’s SKY HIGH), a teenage kung-fu enthusiast who frequently browses a Chinatown pawn shop for the latest bootlegs. A local gang bullies him into helping them break into the shop after hours, and when the elderly shopkeeper is shot, he hands Jason an antique staff, telling him to return it to its rightful owner. Jason is chased by the hoods, falls off a building, and ends up in- well, Mythic China, the spirit-infested medieval world of so many kung fu films. Jason falls in with Lu Yan (Chan), a drunken master of kung fu who tells the boy that the staff belongs to the Monkey King, an immortal spirit imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou), who now rules the land with the proverbial iron fist. The staff must be returned to the King to free him and defeat the warlord, so Jason and Lu Yan, assisted by the beautiful and vengeful Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), head towards the titular kingdom, and the fortress where the petrified Monkey King waits. There’s one problem- Jason knows no actual kung fu, unlike the Jade Army and pretty much everyone else, and when Lu Yan starts to educate him, he’s the classic slow learner who doesn’t understand the point of all these meaningless repetitive exercises (one would think he’d remember such things from the films, but then maybe he fast forwarded through those parts.) The group is completed when a mysterious monk (Jet Li) shows up wanting to learn the secrets of the staff, and he and Lu Yan decide to teach Jason together.

From the opening credits, featuring a montage of poster images from 70s kung fu epics, you can tell this is a film made by people with a deep and abiding love of the genre. Granted, I’m not sure anybody else makes martial arts movies, or at least any worth remembering, but the level of self-awareness in this particular adventure adds to the appeal. We’re meant to have a little fun with all of this, and enjoy it as a reinforcement and reconstruction of the central tropes of these films. I think what makes a successful pastiche is both the inherent enthusiasm and an understanding of what makes the genre work- we get the good parts, with most of the cruft cut out. (The early training sequences, wherein the kid still resists the messages of discipline and control that Lu Yan is trying to impart, do go on a bit, though.)

The characters are simple but strongly defined- Chan is essentially doing his “drunken master” character, Li’s enigmatic monk will be familiar to his fans (his characterization seems a little odd but is eventually explained), Golden Sparrow is the one with the personal vendetta against the bad guy, and the kid is, well, the kid. Certainly, building the whole thing around a white wanna-be kung fu master isn’t going to make Edward Said happy, and the ad campaign for this film has been unfairly deceptive, but in the end Angarano plays the part well and makes his character’s journey interesting. His lessons are the kind of psuedo-Zen wisdom that’s familiar to anyone who’s watched these films, but is still good to hear. Kung fu is described as an art, something done through intuition and the development of a clear consciousness, something that can’t be overthought or forced. It was a nice reminder for me since good writing is done in much the same way (at least before editing.) The villain has a generic lust for power, but is appropriately fearsome.

The fantasy world of the film is a vivid one, replete with elixirs of immortality, giant temples leading to the top of the world, lush jungles, and vast deserts. The sets and costumes are nicely elaborate, and the special effects are fairly convincing. The actual kung fu action doesn’t have any particular standout stunts, but serves the story. The film’s never very serious, animated instead by the playful spirit of the Monkey King himself. Chan and Li are both in superb form, and their physical and verbal sparring is quite fun.

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM marked the first time I’d actually been to the movies in a while, and it’s the kind of spectacle you may as well see in a theater. Certainly you can afford to miss it, but it does what it does quite well, and left me with a pleasant feeling as I left. Consider it a kung-fu appetizer before the big summer movies start rolling out, and enjoy.

Written by John Fusco

Directed by Rob Minkoff

Grade: B+

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Poll!

Being a lazy so and so, I have not yet written anything related to Film at 11's Andrew Sarris blogathon. But it's a neat idea - to put the internet hive mind to work classifying directors since 1968 - analyzing them, describing them... It gets me thinking about directors - where do they belong? Some I'm pretty clear about - the Pantheon types: Altman, Lynch, Cassavetes, Scorsese, the Coens and - if it isn't too soon - Wes Anderson; some of the others - Spielberg, Demme, Spike Lee, say, all seem Far Side of Paradise; Ang Lee seems like a good vote for Strained Seriousnes; doesn't Christopher Guest belong in Make Way for the Clowns? Paul Morrissey as Expressive Esoterica... But others, I'm not sure. Or - I have my thoughts, but I'm not sure how pther people see them. And that is a segue to the poll I just added on the side.

What do people think of Woody Allen these days? There were a couple Woody Allen posts on a blog I read (because I got into a fight with one of them last year) that made me realize, to my surprise, really, that I have seen 2 Woody Allen films from the last 20 years. This is more surprising because I had seen almost everything he made in the 80s when it came out - some of them (Zelig and Broadway Danny Rose) more than once, and happy to do it. He was, it occurs to me, the first filmmaker I probably learned to recognize and seek out. But now - who cares? How did that happen? Once I got geeky about films, I didn't give a crap about Woody Allen anymore...

But what do other people think? I don't remember seeing a lot of talk about Allen - not as a filmmaker anyway. What do you think? Answer the poll! Express an opinion! try to talk me into renting something other than Sleeper or Zelig again! Help explain why I couldn't' care less about Woody Allen yet like very much (to love) the likes of Whit Stillman, Noah Baumbach, Hal Hartley, etc.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Magic of Technology Post

That is to say - Amtrak is trying out wifi on some of their trains. Allowing one to take a picture out the window, and more or less immediately, post it on the web, for anyone to see. Thus:



Nothing exciting, just a nice little bit of small town America. The biggest hassle in this process is actually my somewhat antiquated laptop, which doesn't allow me to edit pictures quite so well as I might otherwise. That one came out a little bit bigger than I would like... But otherwise - technology is great fun!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Andrew Sarris Blogathon

I posted this at my blog, but it belongs here too - if you're looking for film discussion: there should be quite a bit coming out of Film at 11's blogathon in honor of the 40th anniversary of the publication of Andrew Sarris' The America Cinema.

Friday, April 11, 2008

answer to Beetlejuice opening

No, no, no...that's not the right music for that scene. Try this tune:

Credits?

How about fake Saul Bass?



Though, now, I can't resist adding the real thing:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Opening Credits: Beetlejuice

Hey, if it's a video war y'all want, I'm game!

Hands down, my favorite opening credits sequence is from Beetlejuice. The blaring, completely awesome Danny Elfman score suggests macabre things going on in this sleepy little town we're flying over, and...what's that? A spider on the...? Heeeeey!

video comment

You want an opening credits sequence? Okay, I'll see that Pulp Fiction of yours and raise you my favorite opening credits sequence:

Opening Credits Sequence Theatre: Pulp Fiction

I thought this might be interesting to crosspost here. Over on my blog I'm a big advocate of movies having opening credits sequences- they're too often skipped over, and they represent a good opportunity to really transition the audience into the film's world. That can be achieved by other means, but I think a lot of times this gets ignored solely because the producers are scared of losing people's attention.

Anyway, for this installment, let's look at PULP FICTION.



So simple, yet so ostentatious- here the music's the thing, with Miserlou's ferocious surf riff telling us that things can only get wilder after the opening. Of course, the great title design helps- the way the title itself is used, almost filling the screen, implies a largeness to the entire project. This may be a low-budget film, but it's going to be a bit epic as well. And then, of course, we change stations, throwing us a bit off and transitioning into the next scene, without losing any energy.

Any more thoughts?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dana Carvey Returns!

I remember sitting down to watch Dana Carvey's new sketch comedy show twelve years ago. I was greeted with dancing tacos, Bill Clinton breastfeeding puppies, and the Church Lady repeatedly calling Princess Diana a slut. My mother found it offensive. I thought it was a riot.

A day or two after the first episode aired, I remember reading newspaper articles about the outrage Carvey's show was causing. Sponsors were threatening to pull out! How dare he depict Bill Clinton...breastfeeding...puppies. Well, at least we know that hysteria over television content has always been as ridiculous as it is now.

The show was canceled after seven episodes aired. For years now, I've been hoping to see it again on DVD. While that hasn't happened yet, Netflix has the next best thing: you can watch every episode online using their "Watch Instantly" feature.

Naturally, some of the humor is dated. Bob Dole Is Old and Refers To Himself in the Third Person jokes expired a decade ago, but the wackier material is still a hoot. Alongside Carvey, the cast included Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert. The writing staff boasted Robert Smigel, Louis C.K. and Charlie Kaufman. And let us not forget the skinheads from Maine:



There's really no reason not to check this out.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kansas

You guys have to look at this.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

April. Worst Month Ever! Contribution

In response to the several posts by Adam at DVD Panache who has designated the month of April as the worst month ever (you know, taxes, crappy films, warm weather, pictures of cute kittens in a wicker basket etc.), I humbly contribute this piece on the worst actor ever.... Nicholas Cage. If you want an actor to stumble through a film with zero chemistry, then call Nic. If you want an actor to sport a terrible hair piece (see his latest film trailer for evidence of this here), then definitely call Mr. Cage. And of course, if you want an actor to overact in every possible sense of the word, then get Nic on the phone immediately. I do not understand the box office draw of this guy. He was funny in "Peggy Sue Got Married" until I realized he wasn't really trying to be funny. And this macabre shtick has been perpetuated on the movie-going public for over 20 years now. Sad. Sad indeed. Regardless, he does provide the world with one brilliant piece of time waste in the form of Neil Labute's "The Wicker Man", a film that very well may be the worst movie I've seen in a theater in a very long time. And to commemorate his dreadful screen presence in that film, we have the glories of You Tube to freeze these very bad moments in time forever. Enjoy the worst actor ever montage!

Charlton Heston



Charlton Heston has died. Many links and tributes can be found through Greencine. He was every bit the movie star.

I will commemorate him with some clips from the best film he was ever in. His performance isn't always given its due - he's stiff and strange and about as Mexican as I am, but I still think he came pretty close to nailing it. He gets across a mix of heroism and high rectitude that defines the character perfectly. Watching that last confrontation, tailing Quinlan and Pete under a bridge, then facing Quinlan alone in the garbage - it might be Welles' finest hour, but it's hard to imagine it working as well without Heston. He plays off Welles' tragic decay, emotionally, Vargas all business, cutting through Quinlan's excuses and guilt and defeat, and physically, with his sleek athleticism, and almost complete control. Welles gives him just enough to do, physically, to make the point. It's good stuff.



Maybe I should leave Heston's politics out of it - but looking at a Touch of Evil, can I? The end of his life, devoting his authority and reputation to dubious ideas (at least, dubious extensions of ambiguous ideas), has a bit more in common with Hank Quinlan than it should. We shouldn't let it obscure what he did on screen.

Especially when he had a director who knew how to put pictures together....



Cross-posted at my blog.