Saturday, August 29, 2009
The beauty of the town and beach is matched by the pride of the people who live there and have prevented it from becoming a tourist attraction. The downtown has about 6 buildings: restaurant, bar, grocery, surf shop, gift shop, art gallery. When signs are put up on the highway indicating where the city is, residents take it down, so the state has stopped putting them up.
Oona and I were there on a glorious afternoon. It's a large, long beach, and there were about 15 people on it. It was sunny and somewhat warm, but the wind was whipping off the ocean. Oona and I were throwing rocks into the water and listening to the resonance of their kerplunks. As I was standing behind her, watching her throw, I glanced to my right and saw Francis McDormand and John Turturro walking toward me, looking very relaxed and simply chatting. Francis looked at me, gave me a very warm smile, and said, "hi." John did not look. I like Francis, but I really love John's acting. Behind them were Joel Coen and a very pretty woman who I now know is Turturro's wife. Their children were tagging along behind. As an aside, I looked on IMDB and Francis has nothing listed in production. She did two things in 2008 and that is it. Now, how much of a shame is that?
It is the perfect place for people like them. People barely noticed them, I saw no one stop them. They were allowed to be people walking on the beach. I was happy for them.
Here's the beach:
Wow. Fascinating on so many levels.
First, the documentary. The real women are, of course, more engrossing. I could not take my eyes off of Little Edie. There is no question that the woman possessed charisma in spades, even without hair and with haphazard clothing. There is a genuine sweetness to her that makes you adore her. All of the unfair things that happened to her in her life, and she has very little bitterness and only shows anger (appropriate anger, by the way) once in the film. Her clothing, though odd, shows great creativity and has a certain panache to it. Her speaking style is mesmerizing with a slow cadence, a wonderfully creative vocabulary, and an unusual accent. It is my belief that she cannot fully distinguish between the past and the present, maybe because the present is so awful, she can only live as things were the same. At one point in the film, she talks about how the washing bins used to be in the servants quarters, then repeats, "The washing bins are in the servants quarters." She pauses and then says, "It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean? It's awfully difficult."
The elder Edie had no charm for me. She came off as dangerously selfish and self-absorbed, and her disgustingly dirty bed almost made me wretch.
Second, the film. What performances by Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. Truly amazing. I mean, it is a lot easier when you have so much footage to copy, but still, they were amazing. I wish there were more roles for Jessica Lange, she always was one of my favorites.
A flawed human being for sure, and MaryJo Kopeckne will never be forgotten. I do think that he was drunk that night, and that informed his decision making. Is that an excuse? No. But, I do think it allows us to see him in another way besides a monster who simply let her die. How many of us have been drunk like that and not really in control of ourselves?
But as a senator, I think we will never see the likes of him again. He was from a generation that is now gone. A generation where if you were given riches, you had a duty to help others. People simply don't think that way today. If you are rich, you flaunt it and there is never enough. They simply want to amass more. Ted Kennedy wealth was one of the reasons he could be trusted as a senator. He couldn't be bought by a lobbyist--he had enough of his own.
In looking at photos from the funeral, I was struck the the photograph below. A man, sitting alone and obviously early out of respect and reverence--waiting.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Anyway, you wanted my take on the Oscar dresses, right? You knew I'd come through.
First of all, wasn't the show GOOD?? I loved Hugh Jackman (is there anything that man can't do? Talk about a triple threat.), and I also really loved the way they gave out the lead and supporting roles, with an actor for each nominee talking about them. What I really wonder though, is if it was their own words. Most were so heartfelt. One that was really wooden and empty was Halle Berry--does she feel for others? I thought it was an excellent show, and I really enjoyed it. Loved the musical numbers, except Beyonce. She's not that talented, and she's freekin' everywhere. Can't someone else sing?
So, about the dresses. My pick? Peneolope Cruz, no one even close. She looked like a dream come true in vintage Balmain. A Spanish queen. She was simply lovely, lovely. So elegant. I have always found her to be stunningly beautiful and vastly talented. I am very happy for her win. Second place was Marisa Tomei in her origami Versace. That is a work of art walking, and she wore it well. Honestly, everyone else paled in comparision to these two. The few awful ones were Beyonce (she has to stop wearing her mother's clothes, even if this wasn't one of her mother's clothes) and Sophia Loren. Sophia Loren just made you cringe, it was so sad to see her looking so bad. Her stylist should be fired immediately. Everything was wrong. Everything.
For the men, honestly, I feel sorry for them having to wear the same damned thing like a bunch of penguins. I wish they'd get a little risky and put a little color or something into their tuxes. Oh, well.
This show was so good, I can't wait for next year.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I can't exactly say I'm offended by their choices. It's different. It's like - they are using words I recognize ("greatest" - "film" - "directors"), but they are using them in ways that are completely alien to me. It's not even just that they're just talking about Hollywood, or American, or whatever it is - because they have Almodovar on the list (and Del Toro, and Ang Lee, who split time...) So foreign languages are allowed... so - what? I can't imagine any definition of greatest, film, or director that involves Zach Snyder in any capacity. Judd Apatow? he's a director? Even "active" is a bit dubious when you look for James Cameron's last film... All of them ahead of Clint Eastwood! who at least made the list, which gives him the ups on David Lynch or Woody Allen or Spike Lee. I'm not going to pretend they're supposed to care about Godard or Wong Kar-wei or Manoel de Oliveira, aged 100 and going strong, or even Werner Herzog, who has became a fairly mainstream documentary director these days...
So I don't know. I can't do anything with it but marvel. I'd have to add that I don't think I could muster a very good version of the list for myself - because it's harder than it looks to find ways to combine "greatest" and "active" in a meaningful way - how do you balance lifetime achievement, recent achievement, etc? Not to mention, how do you balance influence, maybe success, with the quality of the films (over the career or now.) All very difficult, unless you pile on the qualifiers....
The list, in case anyone wonders:
1. Steven Spielberg
2. Peter Jackson
3. Martin Scorsese
4. Christopher Nolan
5. Steven Soderbergh
6. Ridley Scott
7. Quentin Tarantino
8. Michael Mann
9. James Cameron
10. Joel and Ethan Coen
11. Guillermo del Toro
12. David Fincher
13. Tim Burton
14. Judd Apatow
15. Sam Raimi
16. Zack Snyder
17. Darren Aronofsky
18. Danny Boyle
19. Clint Eastwood
20. Ron Howard
21. Ang Lee
22. Paul Thomas Anderson
23. Paul Greengrass
24. Pedro Almodóvar
25. Jon Favreau
Saturday, February 14, 2009
The movies have not been kind to H.P. Lovecraft; though he’s considered one of the most important horror writers of the last century (at least in English), there has yet to be a significant film adaptation of his work. The closest we’ve gotten so far is the psychedelic 60s version of THE DUNWICH HORROR and Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR. The rest is direct to video trash, mostly, taking advantage of the dubious copyright status of Lovecraft’s work and paying little attention to what he was actually writing about. THE CALL OF CTHULHU is an interesting attempt to do right by the author, and a neat conceptual experiment overall; it’s a silent film, shot in the style of something from the late twenties, when the short story of the same name was published. Running at a mere 47 minutes, this not-quite-a-feature is surprisingly effective and atmospheric, though the retro filter does soften some of the impact.
Matt Foyer is the protagonist, a nameless man telling a nameless listener (John Bolen) about the discoveries he pieced together based on papers left by his deceased uncle (Ralph Lucas.) His story is divided into three acts. First we see his uncle’s contact with an artist suffering feverish dreams of an ancient city inhabited by an indescribably horrific being. These dreams, which inspire mad carvings, take place over the month of March 1925, when by coincidence a great earthquake is detected at sea. The second piece of the puzzle revolves around the uncle’s chance meeting with a police inspector who, decades ago, disrupted a mad human sacrifice ritual in the Louisiana bayou, perpetrated by cultists of the Great Old Ones, deities from the stars, and in particular the octopus-headed Cthulhu, who is said to wait slumbering in the lost city of R’lyeh. When the stars are right, he will rise, and humanity will be doomed. The third act tells of a ship lost at sea after a storm, and its crew attacked by cultists and stumbling upon a mysterious and uncharted island.
My major concern going into this movie was that the silent movie approach was a pretty big gimmick, and it seemed like it had a chance of overwhelming the proceedings and not doing justice to the material as a result. Usually, horror works because it makes us believe in the horrible things it’s showing us, but the silent film inherently has an air of the unreal and artificial (for those of us who can hear, anyway.) Of course, silent films don’t get made much anymore and it’s hard to revive a lost art. On top of it all, this is a fan project, made by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, so there’s a high risk of kitsch and in-jokiness (there are a couple in the unskippable copyright warnings, but I'll let that slide.)
Fortunately, the filmmakers insist on playing it straight and trying to make the film as good as it can be, given a low budget. It helps that they’re going for an Expressionist look similar to what was popular at the time; the sets are obviously sets and just a little plywoody, but it doesn’t matter because what they stand for is so clear. The only places where this approach falls down are in some overly stiff and pantomimed action sequences, and what we see of Cthulhu himself; the film takes care not to give us clear prolonged shots of the beast, which is a good approach seeing how much effort Lovecraft went to in describing the indescribable, but the stop-motion model we do see is a little spindly and roughly textured, not quite conveying the bulk or power of the beast.
This is a pretty faithful adaptation, and the short length means they don’t feel compelled to pad out the story. There’s a good amount of dialogue and narrative text, but somehow the captions don’t feel like an intrusion as they often did in over-written silent films. The performers do a good job of emulating the heightened emotional style of silent acting without going over the top. All in all it’s a very well-balanced picture, and so succeeds at what must have been its primary goal of being really goddamn creepy. Perhaps a truly great Lovecraft adaptation is still yet to come, but this is defiinitely a film worth seeing.
Based on the short story by H. P. Lovecraft
Screenplay by Sean Branney
Directed by Andrew Leman
Monday, February 9, 2009
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's the top 10 list that you may have been interested in a month ago. I like to take my time, but I've either seen or waited too long to see all the films I wanted to last year, so let's do this thing.
As film years go, 2008 was, well, decent. Not bad, by any stretch, and with some interesting highs, just with some dry patches. It was, for whatever reason, a year when the blockbusters aimed for artistic glory and occasionally achieved it, but the holiday season was kind of anticlimactic and short on cheer. This was also a year in which we got two well-made dark comedies, which may tragically be a record. So here's how things shook out for me in the year of change, crisis, and I’ll try to think of something else starting with “C”:
1. WALL-E. Let’s stack this all up, shall we? Brilliant evocation of character through minimal dialogue and faces with limited expression, expert animation loaded with detail, a decidedly chipper take on dystopian sci-fi, an environmental message that isn’t the least bit judgemental or scolding, an affirmation of willingness to change, all topped with ultracute robots. Also, Fred Willard. We have a winner.
2. THE DARK KNIGHT. A well-oiled engine of a crime thriller with the framing of the superhero genre and the spectacle of an action movie, managing to be a great example of all three. Heath Ledger reinterprets the Joker as a ragged genius who won’t be happy until everyone is as savage and destructive as he is, creating one of the most weirdly compelling villains seen in a long while. The story moves in unpredictable ways and defies obvious structures, the characters are never sure of themselves, the visuals are pristine, and the action isn’t nearly as confusing as it’s been made out to be. A triumph.
3. SPEED RACER. Okay, show of hands, who anticipated this being half as good as it was? The Wachowskis take on a vintage Japanese cartoon known mostly for inspiring parodies on every animated show known to man, and create a visually dazzling and surprisingly heartfelt story of a family fighting the system. This is one of those fantasy films that wraps you in an inviting and tantalizing world which promises more awesome things than you can pick up at once, eschewing any kind of restraint in favor of ninja fighting and random appearances by Shaft. On top of that, it’s a nice reminder to modern filmmakers that it’s okay to have multiple colors on screen at one time.
4. MILK. The energy, the dedication, and the urgency of the Seventies pro-gay movement all course through this film, placing the viewer at the center of a civil rights struggle that’s rarely given its proper place in history. Sean Penn captures Harvey Milk’s charisma and political acumen, while a splendid supporting cast help bring his world to life. Not quite up to THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, but another take on the material is welcome.
5. THE WRESTLER. This one has grown in my estimation since I first saw it, a sign of just how subtly effective the movie is. Mickey Rourke is a powerhouse, Marisa Tomei is beautifully conflicted, and the world of small ticket pro wrestling is rendered with brutal honesty and admiration. The more conventional parts of the story are made believable by Darren Aronofsky’s deliberate eschewing of obvious movie trickery and slow development of emotional intensity.
6. IN BRUGES. Part black comedy, part morality play, part throwback to Hieronymous Bosch; this unique crime picture defies categorization but never ceases to entertain. It’s got a story that’s better constructed than it looks, actors who are putting in more effort than they seem to, and characters who may or may not be as damned as they think they are. Moving and hilarious in equal parts.
7. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. The grimiest and most stylish of heartwarming indie crowd-pleasers; part of me wanted to declare the whole thing overrated and overhyped, but it’s simply too well-made to dismiss. The story may be simplistic, its portrayal of India inaccurate, and some of its elements underdeveloped, but it is the story being told and the filmmakers do a damn fine job telling it. And I really hope more films start doing closing dance numbers.
8. BURN AFTER READING. The Coens follow up Oscar-winning respectable bleakness with an almost deliberately offputting farce that’s just as nihilistic, but has the courtesy to have a sense of humor about it. Like FARGO it focuses on people’s ability to let short term compulsions and a lack of critical thinking foil their ambition and make things very messy very quickly. As comedy it’s an unusual taste, but I couldn’t but laugh.
9. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. As overexploited as the “dumb white guys face the long-delayed onset of maturity” subgenre of comedy is becoming, I can’t help but appreciate the blending of this material with nostalgic callbacks to stoner comedies and 80s buddy pictures, complete with excessive gunplay and a theme song by Huey Lewis. The revelation that James Franco is a great comic performer helps catapult this onto higher ground, no pun intended.
10. TROPIC THUNDER. Feels weird to put these two movies right next to each other, but there you go. A fun satire of the Hollywood movie machine and the actors caught in its gears, not pointing in any one direction but still funny and possessed of a manic energy. Inspired and strangely uplifting.
Films I missed: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Waltz With Bashir, Doubt, Let The Right One In
Most Underrated Film of the Year: SPEED RACER. There’s really no contest here; the Wachowskis labored to bring us a bouquet of sheer Technicolor joy, and it was tossed to the ground because... I don’t know. The dialogue scenes are kind of longish. The editing style takes some getting used to. Um, it’s based on an old cartoon. In the end it amounts to looking at Michaelangelo’s David and bitching about imperfections in the marble. You’d expect either the critics or the public to miss the point but both at once requires some spectacular bad fortune.
Slight runner up though this one actually made some money and wasn’t slated that badly at first but Internet flaming reached really annoying proportions: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. I realize that suspension of disbelief has its limits but if your major point of contention with this film is that silly and implausible things happen in it, I wonder what genre you thought this picture was. (Also: CGI is not your enemy.)
Saul Bass Honorary Award for Best Opening Credits Sequence: QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Thank God for the Bond series, otherwise I may not have bothered to give this out. (THE WRESTLER had a nice one too, though.)
Worst Title of the Year: NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST. I know that was what the book was called, but seriously guys.
Performances that impressed me (a forever incomplete list):
Elissa Knight, WALL-E
Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT
Aaron Eckhart, THE DARK KNIGHT
Michael Caine, THE DARK KNIGHT
John Goodman, SPEED RACER
Dev Patel, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Anil Kapoor, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Sean Penn, MILK
Emile Hirsch, MILK
James Franco, MILK
James Franco, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER
Marissa Tomei, THE WRESTLER
Colin Farrell, IN BRUGES
Brendan Gleeson, IN BRUGES
Ralph Fiennes, IN BRUGES
Robert Downey, Jr., IRON MAN
Gwyneth Paltrow, IRON MAN
Jeff Bridges, IRON MAN (in a cave with a box of scraps)
Frances McDormand, BURN AFTER READING
John Malkovich, BURN AFTER READING
George Clooney, BURN AFTER READING
J. K. Simmons, BURN AFTER READING
Frank Langella, FROST/NIXON
Michael Sheen, FROST/NIXON
Tina Fey, BABY MAMA
Amy Poehler, BABY MAMA
Robert Downey, Jr., TROPIC THUNDER
Daniel Craig, QUANTUM OF SOLACE
Gemma Arterton, QUANTUM OF SOLACE
... “crashes!” That’s it!
What was I trying to do that for again?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The Oscar Nominations are in, and as usual, they’re kind of disappointing. The Academy has long taken the position that it’s better to mildly disappoint everyone instead of really outraging anyone, and while genre fans will most likely be rightfully pissed at THE DARK KNIGHT not getting a nod for Best Picture or Director, that’s actually not the biggest sin. Now, I haven’t seen some of these movies just yet and I have yet to post my finished review of dark horse/favorite SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (short version: It’s really good), but I feel qualified to rant on some of these.
As mentioned above, THE DARK KNIGHT did not get a Best Picture nomination. It was a bit of an outside shot, but definitely worthy, so it’s disappointing but not outrageous. However, the big prize also passed over WALL-E, one of the very best films from the consistently awesome Pixar and so, by definition, better than anything you could possibly have seen last year.
Both snubs have their reasons. THE DARK KNIGHT is a superhero movie, and it made lots of money so it technically doesn’t need Oscar validation. WALL-E also was reasonably popular, but more importantly, it has a nomination and almost certain win in the Best Animated Picture category. I kind of approved of that category back when it meant that SPIRITED AWAY got an Oscar, but now it’s clear that it’s just an excuse for the Academy to avoid the seeming indignity of giving Best Picture to a cartoon. It’s the first step towards a Grammy-style segregation of genres, and further dilutes the chance of animated features actually getting the full recognition they deserve. Imagine if there had been a “Best Comedy Feature” category when ANNIE HALL was up for nominations.
There’s also THE WRESTLER, which I need to see, but given how positive the reviews have been I’m starting to wonder just who Darren Aronofsky has pissed off in the business.
In the outside track, we instead have THE READER, which may well be a fine picture, but with a Metacritic score of 58 (RottenTomatoes lists no score due to some technical error on their part) it’s hardly a critical darling. And, you always hate to bring this up, but it is a Holocaust movie and you wonder if it wasn’t chosen simply because the subject matter was worthy. I’m also not really sure why THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is such a favorite, seeing as its reception has generally been warm rather than superheated.
Also, can I just say how incredibly unbelievably bored I am by the nominations for Best Art Direction? This is a category that’s been a problem for a while, because the people who nominate films for it consistently show a bias towards meticulously researched costume dramas over any other kind of movie. Some of the films that have NOT won Best Art Direction include BLADE RUNNER, THE WIZARD OF OZ, BRAZIL, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, FORBIDDEN PLANET, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, any of the Universal horror films, anything by David Lynch, anything by Terry Gilliam, an entire host of imaginative creative work passed over in favor of recreation. Don’t get me wrong, the challenge of expressing creativity and arranging images within the bounds and conventions of an established period is significant, but surely setting those bounds and conventions yourself is also challenging. WALL-E was a triumph of design and composition, and the same can be said of SPEED RACER, HELLBOY II, and arguably SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE despite the high levels of location work involved.
Finally, though this is another film I have to get around to seeing, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was not nominated for Best Foreign Film despite a swarm of good reviews. The reason, yet again, is that its country of origin, Sweden, didn’t submit it on time, and apparently it didn’t even play theaters there in time to make the cutoff. Between this and the CITY OF GOD fiasco, I think it’s clear that we shouldn’t let the countries decide for us what movies we should look at, and just pick the best from the entire world market.
There were some pleasant surprises- Robert Downey Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for a great comic performance in TROPIC THUNDER, though the late Heath Ledger is almost certain to win. (It’s always a shame when an acting award is a foregone conclusion, though it’s tragically inevitable here.) Amy Adams also gets another nod, and though I haven’t seen DOUBT I’m sure she deserves it because she is cool. IN BRUGES gets a screenplay nod, and though it deserves more it’s a miracle the Academy even remembers it was released last year. Still, I have a feeling that Hugh Jackman will have to work hard to liven up these proceedings.
But then, it wouldn’t be the Oscars if they didn’t frequently get things horribly wrong, now, would it?
Monday, January 19, 2009
Evidence to support Theory B: for every blog that posts the song, Neko's record label donates 5 bucks to the Best Friend Animal Society. So here it is:
People Got A Lotta Nerve - Neko Case
This is from her album 'Middle Cyclone', out on March 3. I can't wait. Digging around on YouTube, one can find some poor-quality iPhone camera footage of Neko performing new material, such as this:
Sounds good to me! I'm biased; Neko's been my favorite singer since I purchased half of her albums the day after a friend played the song 'Deep Red Bells' for me. I can't talk about music with much authority -- I don't have the vocabulary for it -- but Neko's the rare singer for me whose lyrics, melodies and arrangements are equally powerful in their own right. I listen to the same song multiple times to focus on each element separately. Also doesn't hurt that she has a preternaturally beautiful singing voice. She packs more meaning into a two minute song than most artists have in their entire output. I'm gushing.
Here she is performing my favorite song, 'Knock Loud':
And for those who wish for the polished studio sound, here's 'Deep Red Bells' played over someone's personal camcorder footage (ignore that part):
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Back at the beginning of the year, Adam Ross at DVD Panache made up a meme - nine movie related resolutions for 2009. Ah yes. Our very own Moviezzz got tagged, and actually did it - which is certainly more than I can say about the last couple times I've been tagged for things. Meanwhile, Evan did his own resolution post - last week now... we're two weeks into the freaking year... I have stopped writing 2008 EVERY time I write the year...
Anyway: I am a resolution maker, of sorts - though most years it amounts to, spend less money, eat more greens, see more movies and post more often... no exceptions this year I guess. But - in the spirit of film, discussion, Making a Clean Start to the Year, and the End of the Decade (ooh! lists!), I shall now undertake this very meme for your reading and perhaps discussing pleasure!
Nine film (and blogging) resolutions:
1. As every year - aim to watch at least 250 movies. That's a good number.
2. Turn over a Netflix film every week. MOre if possible. This is a bad habit - letting them sit there for a month at a time... this would not be so bad except for the next resolution -
3. Watch the DVDs I buy. Just found a used copy of Centre Stage! Maggie Cheung! at her youthful finest! Will I ever watch it? will I at least attach a screen cap to this post?
4. Take a film class - I miss writing about films where there's something at stake - I need the discipline now and then. With luck, the discipline translates to more general writing - and more posting - with luck...
5. Speaking of which - post 3 times a week - make at least one of them substantive. This should be such an easy target - yet I go ages without posting anything worth the trouble. Alas! The brain is a muscle - if you do not use it, it becomes flabby and weak! etc.
6. Comment 3 times a week - or something like that. Enter conversations! post, comment, whatnot, here! and elsewhere! [I have not, contrary to appearances, resolved to use more exclamation points. There may be spiritual influences at work, however.]
7. Make things - films or videos maybe - whether this means vlogs or animations or home videos or swedes, make them, post them. Before the the Lawyers arrive en masse especially if there's sweding involved.
8. do Piper's dinner with X meme he tagged me with sometime back in the 90s, I think it was. In an ideal world, this would combine with #7. More likely, this will be part of my 46 resolutions for 2046 post....
9. Rather than another blogging resolution (which might get me to 46, before I'm done) - try this: go to an out of town film festival. NY - Toronto - something. Takes some planning, and some money, but - something like that. This or leave the country. For a while anyway. On principal.
I guess that's it. If anyone want to feel tagged - go for it! For Maggie's sake...
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Peter Hartlaub Pop Culture
Drink from me and live forever - the art of the movie tagline
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
When he pours, he reigns.
I remember the first time I noticed a tagline for a Tom Cruise film, on an advertisement for his 1988 bottle-flipping bartender romance "Cocktail." From that moment on, I became a lifelong fan - not of Cruise's acting but of the snippets of text that appear on his movie posters.
There was Cruise like Thunder for "Days of Thunder," Drink from me and live forever promoting "Interview With a Vampire" and Expect the impossible ... again for "Mission Impossible II." And even as the actor's career continues into the 21st century, he can still bring it. Many saw evil ... they dared to stop it on the poster of the current release "Valkyrie" isn't as overwrought or self-referential as Cruise's best work. But it's still the product of a man who, after more than a quarter century in the business, is near the top of his game.
Taglines are the promotional lines for a film, usually anywhere from a few words to three sentences in length, that appear on movie posters and other advertising. They're often more entertaining than the film itself. I haven't paid to see a Steven Seagal film in a theater since 1995, but I eagerly await each of his taglines, which remain among the best in the business.
Taglines are also proof that in the minds of Hollywood marketing executives, the IQ of the average moviegoer is about 63. Either that or the IQ of the average tagline writer is 63. How else to explain this sentence on the poster of the 1977 movie "Suspiria": The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92. Or this gem, from the 1982 action film "Silent Rage": Science created him. Now Chuck Norris must destroy him. Other taglines seem painfully obvious (See "The Matrix Revolutions") or intentionally cryptic. I'm still trying to figure out what this tagline means, from the 1998 film "Urban Legends": It happened to someone who knows someone you know ... you're next.
Not all taglines are campy or laughable or just plain bad. Lines such as Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water and They're back remain part of the lexicon decades after everyone has forgotten the bad sequels that spurred them. (New journalism rule: Every time a lazy columnist, blogger or editor in the American media uses a variation of "They're ba-aaack," he or she gets a week's suspension without pay.)
But all too often, it would be better to say nothing at all. Sequels in particular seem to get the most negligent tagline treatment. Search on IMDb.com and you can find more than two dozen sequels where the tagline writer did nothing more than add "... again!" to a line from the original film. A sampling:
"Hellbound: Hellraiser II": It will tear your soul apart ... again!
"Home Alone 3": It's bad news for bad guys .... again.
"Alien 3": Start running .... again.
"Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh": Dare you say his name 5 times ... again!
"Poltergeist III": They're back ... again.
Academy Award-caliber movies tend to play it safe with their marketing. Still, there's little relation between the quality of a movie and its corresponding tagline. There was absolutely nothing good about the 1986 Sylvester Stallone movie "Cobra" except the tagline, Crime is a disease. He's the cure. If you look at the 11 films on my all-time-best tagline list accompanying this article, six were panned by critics.
But there are definitely good years and good eras for taglines. Despite a few memorable entries ("The Happening": We've sensed it. We've seen the signs. Now ... it's happening), the year 2008 doesn't match up with anything in the late 1980s, when Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrick Swayze, Stallone and Cruise were each good for at least one memorable tagline per year.
And there are good and bad tagline actors. Tom Hanks may have more Oscars, but his taglines will never be as awesome as Swayze's.
The dancing's over. Now it gets dirty.
Now, if that doesn't make you rush home and put "Road House" in your DVD player, nothing will.
The best taglines
Here are my choices for the all-time-best taglines, judged for their ability to sell the movie, not for campiness or so-bad-it's-good qualities. I was born in the 1970s and watch a lot of bad science fiction and horror films, so your picks might differ. Add your favorites to the online version of this story at SFGate.com.
"Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974): Who will survive and what will be left of them?
"Rocky" (1976): His whole life was a million-to-one shot
"Jaws 2" (1978): Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water ...
"Alien" (1979): In space, no one can hear you scream
"This Is Spinal Tap" (1984): "Does for rock and roll what "The Sound of Music" did for hills
"Poltergeist II: The Other Side" (1986): They're back
"Jaws: The Revenge" (1987): This time, it's personal
"Predator 2" (1990): He's in town with a few days to kill
"Army of Darkness" (1992): Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.
"Volcano" (1997): The coast is toast
"Monster's Inc." (2001): You won't believe your eye
- Peter Hartlaub
E-mail Peter Hartlaub at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
It's a confusing year for top ten lists. Two of my favorites of the decade, Flight of the Red Balloon and Silent Light, were on my 2007 list, but keep appearing on '08 lists. The paltry distribution most foreign films received outside of film festivals are leaving critics confused as to whether some of their favorites qualify as '08 releases. I've decided not to be shackled by silly rules. No one's gonna whip me for including a film on my list that I saw at a film festival, are they? The following ten films were seen by me, one way or another, in a movie theater during 2008:
10. Gran Torino (dir. Clint Eastwood)
9. La France (dir. Serge Bozon)
Set during World War I and inspired by the early war films of Samuel Fuller, Bozon follows a troop of French soldiers through the countryside, joined by a woman in drag (the incomparable Sylvie Testud) searching for her husband. They walk, they fight, and the men occasionally burst into songs sung from a female perspective. When motives are revealed and a distinct aimlessness to the journey becomes apparent, the film begins to feel like a vision of purgatory. Weird and fascinating in the best possible ways.
8. My Blueberry Nights (dir. Wong Kar Wai)
7. Transsiberian (dir. Brad Anderson)
6. Encounters at the End of the World (dir. Werner Herzog)
5. Tulpan (dir. Sergei Dvortsevoy)
Life on a steppe in Kazakhstan may not sound like an exciting subject for a film, but in my mind, there was no moment more thrilling in 2008 cinema than watching a mother camel wailing in despair as she chased after a jeep that drove off with her injured child. A close second would be seeing a baby sheep born in one long take. Then there are the awesome lightning storms, miniature tornadoes, and the little girl who sings at the top of her lungs to defy her father. Dvortsevoy's film focuses on sensitive sailor Asa's attempts to woo the titular bachelorette, one of a handful of women available to marry on the steppe. A broader scope and a deeply felt outlook on life develop thanks to the documentary style and constant, welcome peeks into the day-to-day goings on in the life of a Kazakh sheepherder. Not to be missed.
4. Shotgun Stories (dir. Jeff Nichols)
3. WALL-E (dir. Andrew Stanton)
2. Happy-Go-Lucky (dir. Mike Leigh)
1. Synecdoche, New York (dir. Charlie Kaufman)
My Fantasy Acting Award Nominations:
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Michael Shannon, Shotgun Stories
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Sean Penn, Milk
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Redbelt
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
James Franco, Pineapple Express
Josh Brolin & Emile Hirsch, Milk
Brad Pitt & Richard Jenkins, Burn After Reading
Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky
Viola Davis, Doubt
Dianne Weist, Synecdoche, New York
Hanna Schygulla, The Edge of Heaven
Vera Farmiga, Quid Pro Quo
Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
Rather than list my favorite albums of the year, I'm gonna give you a little tracklisting of the songs I had on repeat throughout 2008. I'd appreciate you doing the same, as I'm always looking for new tracks on the mp3. No particular order of preference:
1. "You'll Find a Way", Santogold
2. "Family Tree", TV on the Radio
3. "The Rip", Portishead
4. "Acid Tongue", Jenny Lewis
5. "Up!", M83
6. "Kids", MGMT
7. "Human", The Killers
8. "L.E.S. Artistes", Santogold
9. "Too Late", M83
10. "Things Ain't Like They Used To Be", The Black Keys
11. "Don't Hold Me Close", Spiritualized
12. "Valerie Plame", The Decemberists
13. "Buzzer", Dar Williams
14. "Panama", The Cat Empire
15. "You, Me & the Bourgeoisie", The Submarines