Saturday, May 31, 2008

Smells fishy (what? she was covered in Sushi, what did you think I meant?)

The other night I braved a sea (a sea I tell you) of rabid female fans in order to watch the Sex and the City Movie. I wonder if when a few weeks ago Manhola Dargis of the New York Times was clamoring about the summer movie season providing little recourse for women was she really talking about a lack of event films for women. If she was, well Manhola need worry no more, at least not for this week. For millions of female fans this movie is ground zero this summer. It's Iron Man, Batman and Indiana Jones combined. I found myself in line two hours ahead of time because of my friend Allison (a fan but "not a die-hard fan") wanting to see it for her birthday. Let me tell you, oh loyal reader, that was one crowded, rowdy line. People were camped out, lying down right on the floor of the theater, taking pictures, eating dinner, women were dressed to the nines and they brought all their classic accessories (handbags, cell phones, over-sized sunglasses, a gay man). Now at this point I should say that obviously not all women love Sex and the City (or that the ones who do are vapid morons-I'm not about to get into a whole ewww girls internet fanboy rhetoric here), some like Highlander and helpfully get rid of your extra furniture as they're moving out (THANKS DANI), but a lot of them do. I saw a large, large group of women (about a 15:1 female to male ratio) in the theater of a variety of ages, class and ethnicities and they seemed pretty enamored of the film. Or perhaps it was that they felt more enamored of the characters and getting an opportunity to see them again since the film itself is no great shakes. Executive producer, writer and director Michael Patrick King, has for all intents and purposes created a very long, predictable romantic comedy, or if you'd rather, offered up fans a five episode extra glossy finale marathon.

A fun, frisky, garishly glittery opening brings the audience up to date (and unfortunate newcomers a quick catch up). There's former WASP turned JAP Charlotte (Kristen Davis, who aside from a simple pregnancy and some unfortunate waddling scenes isn't given much to do other than look cute), responsible and dour mom and lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon giving the movie it's dramatic heft), horny and brassy Samantha (Kim Catrall, who has less to do than Charlotte and can appear in New York like magic despite living in LA, is the clear audience favorite) and of course queen-bee Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) who's impending nuptials to Chris Noth's Mr. Big and where THAT story goes make up the bulk of the film's run-time. The film purports to not be a fairy-tale (a fact driven home by it's characters again and again) but how could it be anything else? If by my mere description of the characters hasn't tipped you off to their eventual fates might I bid you a happy welcome to the world of narrative fiction. I hope you'll enjoy your stay. These are women who despite all obstacles do find love and contrary to their remarks ARE defined by their relationships. There may be some bumps along the way, but ultimately it's nothing that a makeover, impromptu fashion show (hope you like clothing montages, there's at least four of them) or a bonding session filled with something-tinis won't fix. The film even goes so far as to have a digital age fairy godmother for Carrie, Louise (Jennifer "I have more Oscars than any of these veteran actors" Hudson). Hudson acquires a job as Parker's new personal assistant by saying that she came to New York in search of love. By all means try this technique at your next job interview and let me know how THAT goes.

Hudson helps Parker get her groove back in the film but she doesn't really do any kind of dramatic work to build off that Oscar win of hers. The actors themselves seem to be enjoying themselves and settle comfortably in their roles. Nixon and her on the outs hubby Steve (David Eigenberg) provide the film's gravitas as their marriage unravels and creates a series of other obstacles for the characters, though Noth and Parker also get some good scenes together. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a few laughs out of the film, but not in proportion to it's run-time. Michael Patrick King knows how to push the fan buttons but the film never really escapes it's TV roots, it's just an episode of the show writ large. The moment this film was announced I think the entire would-be audience decided whether or not they'd be in attendance so ultimately you've made your decision, all I can say is that he film provides a nice tidy, FAIRY TALE bow to the world of these characters, which is probably for the best. As for the title, well there is plenty of New York City (at least they got that right-though it is a part of the city that I, no being a woman in her forties see much of) but a surprisingly little amount of on-screen sex. I found this problematic give the m.o. of the show, here was an opportunity for some well orchestrated eroticism on a mainstream screen, but with one short exception there really isn't that much sex or nudity on display. I hope now that this story is resolved these actresses and writers can go and create something smarter and more progressive to add to the romantic comedy genre rather than just be the big lazy fish in the increasingly dwindling pond.

You will be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost-certain Academy Award nomination for the Best Supporting Actor.

This one gets me right in the guts. If there is one filmmaker I love on a primal, instinctual level from my childhood more than Steven Spielberg, then that man is Mel Brooks. Brooks, his writing collaborators and his actors created a secret club of jokes and gags and references and let the world in on the secret. Much of my sense of humor has been shaped by Brooks and unquestionably my favorite actor in his glorious comic stable was Harvey Korman. Korman tended to play villains in Brooks films. Korman villains reveled in their evil, Korman might as well have been bathing in it. Like most actors in Brooks' films he looked like he was having the time of his life. He was playing his heart out but always serving the scene and the other actors in it. I empathize with Korman's characters because they express a very human desire to cut loose and do their own thing but have the grand misfortune of being surrounded by incompetents who simply can't match his vision. No one gets amusingly angry like Harvey Korman. Korman was a master at wrapping himself around some of Brooks' most challenging fast paced dialogue and it appeared as though he relished every moment of it. I think the actors we end up liking the best are the one's we saw a lot of ourselves in and the way Korman played Hedy Lamar (That's HEDLEY!) in Blazing Saddles, well I could relate. Being an evil genius can be frustrating work, but damn if it's not enjoyable. Madeline Kahn scored an Oscar nomination for her work in the film but it doesn't tke much to notice that Korman was equally award worthy.

I'd be remiss to go without mentioning Korman's equally enjoyable turns as the nefarious Count de Money (de MONET!) in History of the World: Part One and as Dr. Montague in the charming Hitchcock send-up High Anxiety.
Korman is also known as a part of the legendary TV comedy institution The Carol Burnett Show. Korman's delightful comic egotistical persona got quite a work-out on the show as did his jaw muscles as Korman could frequently be seen breaking charcater and bursting out in laughter during sketches. Who could blame him?
Korman was also an accomplished voice actor, perhaps best known for voicing Fred Flintstone's alien companion the Great Gazoo. Which reminds me that Korman is also excellent as Wilma's father, Col. Slaghoople in the better than you think it is The Flintstones Viva Rock Vegas.
Mr. Korman, you will be missed, now go do that voodoo that you do so well.

Link Fist Way

So much good linking action for y'all this week. A lot of funny and a lot of awesome.

LINK OF THE WEEK: As you may have heard Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro will be collaborating with WETA studios on two Hobbit movies, one based on the book and the other acting as a bridging film between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At first I was concerned that Guillermo was being taken away from his passion projects to be a gun for hire but reading this amazing chat transcript the two bearded geniuses took part in comforts me a great deal. Be blown away by Hobbit-y awesomeness here.

Funny: College Humor's gorgeous man-candy (mandy?) Patrick Cassels has another amusing film-related write-up about God in the Indiana Jones trilogy. Laugh at face-melting here.
Meanwhile over at Cracked, they've compiled a list of the six least plausible jobs held by Steven Segal in films. Hey, cracked, here's a tip, of the job isn't tubby, pony-tailed douchebag it's not a plausible Segal job.
Cracked has also compiled a list of the eight least intimidating gangs in film history. They're way off about the side gangs in The Warriors. The only one's that should've made the list are the Orphans (seriously, check with their parole officer).
Several kind souls (all of them smart savvy ladies...and Etan) referred me to articles like this about the archeological "inaccuracy" in the Indiana Jones movies. Cute.
Speaking of Indy, the AV Club had some snarky, amusing things to say about the film.

Prurient: I've been listening to the fabulous She & Him Volume One A LOT lately. The group is comprised of studio brat M. Ward and the incredibly adorable Zooey Deschanel (Elf, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and a whole bunch of depressing indie films). Unlike ScarJo, Zooey can really bring it vocally. She's also hot as hell, see?

Lists & Analysis: Scene Stealer's has comprised a list of 10 flops turned classics. Oh in-theater audiences, you never know a good thing even when it's right in front of you.

Friday, May 30, 2008

They moved the island and other excuses

My internet was naughty, Lost was excellent and then I got bummed (at the passing of Harvey Korman-an actor whom I have tremendous affection for) and now you know why I took a day off from posting. No fears loyal fans, I'll be doing my usual Friday link round-up early tomorrow morning, talk about the late, great Mr. Korman and then, oh man, oh jeez, oh man, review The Sex and the City Movie. That's right, tonight I will be sitting down to a prada crunching TWO AND A HALF HOUR estrogen fest all in the name of your blogging entertainment (and for my friend Allison's birthday). Those are the only two reasons.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Post-Memorial Day Meme

I'm cherry picking this Memorial Day movie meme from Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule feel free to answer in the comments.

1) Best transition from movies to TV (actor, actress, producer/director, movie/show)?

I think that High Laurie and Dominic West are dynamite on their respective TV shows and tend to get bogged down on the big screen. Paul Feig and Ken Kwapis also probably better off directing TV than movies (as Unaccompanied Minors and License to Wed demonstrated).

2) Living film director you're most missing seeing on the cultural landscape regularly?

Michael Mann, one of the finest working directors in American cinema seemed to have disappeared after the unfortunately titled Miami Vice.

3) Eugene Pallette or Charles Coburn?

It's close but Charles Coburn OWNS Lady Eve. "Let us be crooked but never common."

4) Fill in the blank: “I pray that no one ever turns _____________ into a movie.”

With the right script, production and director there is no such thing. Naked Lunch, Unbearable Lightness of Being and Pirates of Caribbean should in theory all be "un-filmable" and they're all wonderful.

5) Jane Greer or Veronica Lake?

Jane Greer for Out of the Past.

6) What was the last movie you saw in a theater? On DVD? And why?

I caught Iron Man again (my friend Jesse hadn't seen it) and hope to see Reprise very soon. On DVD I finally watched the brilliant French noir Rififi on the recommendation of my friend Matt who knows a ton about the genre). That is one gorgeous brutal ending.

7) Name an actor you think should be a star.

Judy Greer is being wasted in funny friend roles, Lee Pace should be what Ewan McGregor was supposed to be.

8) Foxy Brown or Coffy

Coffy is just a little more gritty.

9) Favorite TV show still without its own DVD box set.

Spaced, but soon, oh so soon.

10) Jack Elam or Neville Brand

Jack Elam has the face of a titan.

11) What movies would top your list of movies you need to revisit, for whatever reason?

I'd like to take another look at Birth (always worth another look), Network (the last piece on the filmexperience really motivated me), Tootsie (missing Pollack already), The Mist (cause that it was one cool DVD) and The Thief of Baghdad (want a crack at that new Criterion collection disc).

12) Zodiac or All the President’s Men

Hmm maybe I should take another look at All the President's Men, I haven't watched it in about a decade. On the other hand Zodiac is a modern masterpiece in it's own right. Maybe I should add them to the above list. OK, gut instinct...Zodiac. Just to get another look at that picnic scene.

13) Using our best reviewer-speak, what is an “important” film comedy? And what is to you the most important film comedy of the last 35 years?

The most important comedy in the last 35 years is Anchorman. Here's why, it ushered in Judd Apatow as a major producer, announced Will Ferrell as a major box-office draw in a non-family comedy, introduced key comedy clique
members Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell and David Koechner to a broad audience and ushered in the arrested adolsecent style of comedy couple with non-sequiters.

14) Describe the ideal environment for watching a movie.

A theater with the proper sound and projection that is filled with a polite but enthusiastic and interested audience.

15) Michelle Williams or Eva Mendes?

Eva Mendes has only ever been sexy and yet to impress me even slightly dramatically. Michelle Williams on the other hand has demonstrated tremendous versatility from Brokeback Mountain, The Baxter to the Station Agent.

16) What’s the worst movie title of all time?

Any title ending with a "z" where an "s" should be is probably a bad sign.

17) Best movie about teaching and/or learning?

I was thinking about School of Rock the other day and was pretty damn inspired. It really captures the joy created in a classroom between teachers and students.

18) Dracula (1931) or Horror of Dracula (1958)

Horror of Dracula is a little bigger (in melodrama, scope and gore) and as one of film professor's once infamously said of the original Dracula, "It's so bleedin' slow."

19) Why do you blog? Or if you don’t, why do you read blogs? (Thanks, Girish)

To keep my creative writing muscles limber, to organize my thoughts on film, to entertain my friends, take your pick.

20) Most memorable/disturbing death scene.

Hard to say but most recently I was pretty impressed when Victor Crowley ripped a woman's face off from the jaw in Hatchet. In terms of disturbing I'd say any of the deaths in Funny Games.

21) Jason Robards or Robert Shaw?

Quint, no contest. Also my favorite Henry VIII ever.

22) A good candidate for Most Blasphemous Movie Ever

There was some pretty blasphemous shit going down in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

23) Rio Bravo or Red River?

Ugh, make me pick one child over the other why don't you. Rio Bravo has better chracaters and a WAY better ending so I guess Bravo.

24) Werner Herzog is remaking Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage—that’s reality. Try to outdo reality by concocting a match-up of director and title for a really strange imaginary remake.

John Waters remaking Top Gun. Oh please God.

25) Bulle Ogier or Charlotte Rampling?

Rampling is breathtaking.

26) In the Realm of the Senses— yes or no?

Haven't seen it yet, but I've heard it's pretty rough going.

27) Name a movie you think of as your own (Thanks, Jim!)

Terry Gilliam's Brazil feels like how I look at the world.

28) Winged Migration or Microcosmos?

I can't look down and see what I see in that movie. I can look up and see Winged Migration.

29) Your favorite football game featured in a movie

The climax of Rudy, I'm not made of stone.

30) Wendy Hiller or Deborah Kerr?

Deborah Kerr for Black Narcissus, I've got favorites.

31) Dirtiest secret you have that is related to the movies?

I've seen the Hot Chick multiple times. I'm not proud of it. But I can't help myself.

32) Name a favorite film and describe how it is illuminated and is enriched by another favorite film.

Mullholand Dr. reflects back rather well on it's parallel street namesake Sunset Blvd. Both movies are thematically similar but Mullholand is more twisty.

33) It’s a Gift or Horsefeathers?

The Marx Brothers take it every time; Horsefeathers.

34) Your best story about seeing a movie at a drive-in?

No drive-in's for me. :(

35) Victor Mature or Tyrone Power?

Victor Mature, truly the Sly Stallone of his time.

36) What does film criticism mean to you? Where do you think it’s headed?

The best film criticism can illuminate and inform, can direct and suggest but it is never a substitute for your own opinion. I've heard it's heading online, I hope it doesn't devolve into mere reviews.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack-It is a poorer world without him

Sydney Pollack passed away the other day at the age of 73. Sydney Pollack seriously classed up the world of film in his capacity as director, actor, screenwriter and producer. As a director he made a number of classy human dramas including Out of Africa, The Way Were and They Shoot Horses Don't They (great, GREAT ending if you've never seen it). His two favorite films of mine as a director were Two Days of the Condor (a seminal spy thriller) and Tootsie (a film that battles Some Like It Hot for best drag comedy of all time). He was a solid technician and a marvelous director of actors. As a producer he was influential in pushing powerful adult dramas through studios. In a time when studios go for the sure thing (sequels, remakes and so on) and franchises Pollack pushed for an American cinema full of deep, thoughtful movies like Searching for Bobby Fischer, The Quiet American and the better every time I see it Michael Clayton. Most recently he produced the excellent HBO movie Recount and the forthcoming, long awaited Kenneth Lonergan project Margaret. His production company Mirage Enterprise, which he helped found with the late Anthony Minghella, helped bring to life films like The Fabulous Baker Boys, Sense and Sensibility, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain.

As an actor Pollack specialized in playing venal, harsh and direct corporate types who knew how to lay down a serious truth bomb or two. Most recently he played Michael Clayton's boss, but he also did some serious screen scorching in Eyes Wide Shut and Changing Lanes. For an abslutely devastating Pollack performance you can't do better than his adulterous turn in Woody Allen's Husbands & Wives. He also brought some enjoyable dramatic heft to Will & Grace as Will's adulterous uber-Waspy father. My younger readers may recall him for his pre-movie advertisement where he interrupts a phone-call with some well-placed direction. This commercial nicely characterizes Pollack as a man who cared about a refined, clever, adult movie-going experience and for that, we here at the Sickness Cinema salute him.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Get your panties in a liberal bunch

HBO is struggling to regain it's number one spot in the hearts and minds of pay cable viewers since the double whammy loss of The Sopranos and Sex and the City (never you mind the premature death of Deadwood and the take down of GOAT [Greatest of All Time] The Wire) but this hasn't stopped them from indulging in quality programming. Promising projects like the new Bob and David show and solid material like Flight of the Conchords are likely to keep the network on the cutting edge of original programming and then there are special even shows. First there was the sprawling and wonderfully acted John Adams series and tonight brings Recount an original film based on the events of the Florida recount scandal. The freshman debut of screenwriter Danny Strong is as powerful and snappy as his namesake. The performances are uniformly excellent with Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern and Shiva himself Tom Wilkinson being special stand-outs. The film takes minor liberties with character personalities but the facts ring true and the best compliment I can give the thing is that it fills me with the same mouth filling bile I felt during the actual events.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Link

Well it's been a week full of up and down. Of fond remembrances and mild disappointment. I will say this though, at least it is over. We're well over-do for some smarty pants linking don't you agree?

Analysis and theory: Four GREAT cinematographers discuss how they chose their shooting format. If you're an aspiring filmmaker this is a must read right here.
The Cinematic Art blog discusses the confluence of psychoanalysis, criticism and auterism in the films of Woody Allen.
Nate over at the film experience just finished off a wonderful piece about the greatness that is Sydney Lumet's Network right here.
Turns out Frank and I weren't the only ones who liked Speed Racer. Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule mach-a-go-go here.
Cinema Styles has a cute story about how the line of 2007 isn't going away any time soon. Good.

Friday, May 23, 2008

We Named the Blog Indiana: You're insulting them and you're embarassing me, now eat it

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crustal Skull is really several movies at war with each other. It's a for hire job to get the fans back on the side of it's creators, it's the actors chance to redeem or prove themselves to audiences and it's David Koepp's burden to patch together several different drafts in an attempt to satisfy a number of master's. Only one group really succeeds.
In his review of Indy 4's Devin Faraci remarks that the film is definitive proof that Steven Spielberg could direct a movie like this in his sleep and did. While I wouldn't go that far I will say that Spielberg's direction feels very removed. There are flashes of brilliance but he never attains the sense of awe that is the Spielberg hallmark. It feels very by the numbers and the film loses the organic, analogue feel of it's predecessors. It may have less CG than the average summer blockbuster but it never quite blends seamlessly into the world. I'd rather have the green screen or matte paintings of the previous film, it gave them a sort of unified feel. DP Janusz Kaminski, a great cinematographer in his own right, feels a bit lost and the opening scene has the sort of distance and feeling of unreality found in the Star Wars prequels. The script, while loaded with inventive action sequences feels bloated and mismanaged, a case of not enough fine tuning and editing. Characters are introduced and then given nothing to do, problems are solved through luck or convenience and Indiana Jones spends a great deal more time explaining rather than doing. The problem is that there are huge swaths of the film that aren't really about anything other than going forward (oftentimes with little more motivation than "because I have to"). That said the film does at time's return to the groove and feel of the previous films and consequently a good hour stretch of the film is purely enjoyable without any reservations.

The film continues the Indiana Jones tradition of never repeating the same type of opening twice. This time it's a lively bit of drag racing between Nevada teens and an army convoy (secretly Communist agents in disguise). The Communists destination is a secret army base that is both a storage facility as well as a nuclear testing site. It is here that the villainous Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett channeling Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle) releases our nineteen years older, but not at all worse for wear Dr. Jones from the trunk of a car. Say what you will about the film but Harrison Ford is the most alive and in the moment as he's been in a motion picture in over a decade. He's having loads of fun and it shows. The Communist want Jones' expertise to help them find something in the warehouse, something magnetic. Jones however, isn't having it and wants out. Unfortunately this opening warehouse sequence is ridiculous in the extreme. Jones was always an adventure hero but Spielberg has him jumping, swinging and fighting like a super-hero instead of a mortal man. The dialogue is a bit stilted and awkward as we're filled in on Jones' relationship with OSS agent Mac McHale (Ray Winstone) and Indy's past as a Colonel in the US army. Then Mac, Indy's long-time friend mind you, goes and betrays him to the Russians. But no matter because even with as good as an actor as Winstone in the part Mac is so thin that the betrayal means nothing to the audience.
As Indy escapes he makes his way to the aforementioned nuke testing site and but for a lead-lined refrigerator would certainly be killed. When Indy makes it back to civilization the US government (as embodied by a suspicious FBI agent played by Neil Flynn aka The Janitor from Scrubs) worried about his possible affiliations with both the reds and Mac basically black list him. Indy returns to Marshall college where the new Dean (a well-intentioned but wasted Jim Broadbent) informs him that he can no longer teach at the school.
It's HERE that the movie I loved begins. There is a nice somber scene where the movie really becomes about something, notions of legacy and mortality that it pursues for a bit until the effects once again take over in the film's final third. As Jones ponders a life without teaching he discusses the losses of both his father and Marcus Brody. Here the scripting becomes almost elegant. "You reach a point in your life where life stops giving you things and starts taking them away." Had the film revolved more about the fallacy and truth of this statement it might have a bit more "oomph." Just as Indy is about to leave the campus, life gives him something instead of taking it away and that something is Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf). The introduction of Shia LaBeouf, of Mutt really, kick-starts the film into high-gear. He's an enormously fun character, a curious adventurer who's hair-obssessed greaser veneer hides an uncertain Mama's boy. He and Ford have wonderful chemistry. Mutt relays to Indy that his Mom and their mutual family friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt, as thinly characterized as the other Brits in the movie) have been kidnapped by the Russians and he needs Jones' help in deciphering the clues Oxley has left behind to find his family and the mysterious Crystal Skull of Akator. Unfortunately Mutt's acquisition of a note from Oxley was an ellaborate trap by the Russians and soon Mutt and Indy are locked in a thrilling motorcycle chase through the campus as the younger and older man impress each other with feats of daring-do. Then it's off to Peru where Mutt and Indy bond over unraveling the clues Oxley left behind. There's plenty of fun catacomb exploring and native fighting but the pair are eventually captured and the Russians want Jones to decipher Oxley's insane ramblings. He's compelled to do it when they reveal their prisoner (and Mutt's mother) Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, lovely but not given much to do except for some cute bantering). Yes, that means EXACTLY what you think it means, Mutt is really Henry...Jones...III. Indy's reaction to seeing Marion after so many years is so great that it almost makes the entire film worth it. I loved the early scenes with these two actors. Marion truly was Indy's perfect partner and had the film been about this newly discovered family unit and the legacy of the Jones' we'd really have something. This idea begins to carry over as Jones goes from cool contemporary to Mutt to basically the reincarnation of Henry Sr (going so far as to shout "This is intolerable" as Mutt drags him through an escape). We get the start of a cool Indy chase as various vehicles race through the rain forest as all the characters scramble for the skull. It's very exciting until a derailed Mutt has to pull a Tarzan, inexplicably mastering swinging on conveniently placed vines in seconds.
From here the film dips back from exciting, fun Indiana Jones movie to silly, over-stuffed with characters, by-the-numbers puzzle solver. Indy spends a lot of time explaining to us what's about to happen and then Oxley uses the titular crystal skull (easily my most hated MacGuffin EVER!) to do all the work. Oh that Crystal Skull. Whether it's repelling army ants and natives, opening doors, reading minds or turning a temple into a spaceship, the crystal skull is a lazy screenwriters dream. Oh how I yearn for the days when Jones solved problems through ingenuity, elbow grease or luck, here all problems get crystal skull-ed away. The end is never really in question but still there is enough promise shown in the Mutt and Indy's relationship that I wouldn't mind seeing a Last Crusade-esque follow up. Then again, maybe enough is enough and it's time for Dr. Jones to give it a rest. Regardless of the years the mileage may be too high.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

We Named the Blog Indiana: I thought I'd lost you boy!

So word has come in from New York midnight screening friends and while the consensus is lukewarm they're glad that the movie exists. The best of it is that Harrison Ford is alive, awake alert and enthusiastic as an actor once again (after basically sleep-walking his way through the better part of a decade). Or as my friend Frank put it:
You're not looking at Harrison Ford, you're looking at Indiana goddamn Jones.
Yeah, that'll do nicely. Frank, also was extremely complimentary of Shia LaBeouf, or as we like to call him "The Beef." Frank also posited that it wasn't George Lucas who dropped the ball on the film but-well, I'll leave those of you haven't seen it yet hanging. We'll talk tomorrow in the review and see if I agreed with Frank. The next time I post I will be living in a world where I've seen four Indiana Jones films. I am practically jumping out of my skin right now. Low expectations be damned.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

We Named the Blog Indiana: Anything Goes

Oh to have been a member of the audience sitting down to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on May 23, 1984. Fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark were eager to see Indiana Jones embark on a new adventure. Fans had seen a trailer full of exotic settings, thrilling action and must've been rubbing their hands together in anticipation over how the movie would begin. What would match the thrilling trip through the Hovitos temple? When you think about it, the answer would be "nothing." Something Steven Spielberg and his screenwriters Will Hyuck and Gloria Katz most assuredly knew. So Spielberg began with something that was so perfect yet so different that had there been an internet at the time it would've no doubt split it in half.

After transitioning from the Paramount logo to a mountain on the face of a gong we open to a very different kind of action, a glorious, glamorous 1930's musical number, "Anything Goes." Spielberg begins the film with one of his only musical numbers that he's ever filmed and I for one love it.

The scene takes on a whole new level when you realize that the main figure of the set-piece, Willie Scott, as played by Kate Capshaw, had a suitor in the form of director Steven Spielberg. If one of the greatest director's in the world is in love with you, chances are you're going to look good on screen. The number is exquisitely staged on the one hand paying homage to the kaleidoscopic patterns of Busby Berkley's dancers while at the same time disorienting the viewer by having the Cole Porter standard being sung in Mandarin. Once again Indy's greatest sidekick is John Williams orchestrations, giving the tune a whole new life. While the bulk of the chorus and the verses are sung in Mandarin, Spielberg wants us to be sure that we pick up the underlining point of positioning the number right at the front and having the song's main-line "Anything goes" be sung in English. You'll notice that most of the time when Willie sings the line we cut in close to her face. The reason being that the film wants us to know that in this, Indy's second filmic outing, truly anything goes. Whether it be assassins appearing out of wall portraits, mine-car chases, voodoo torture or men getting their hearts pulled out of their chests all the rules from Raiders have been thrown out. The characters in Temple of Doom probably have the most wear and tear of any of the films because of it's intensity, just think, most of Indy's signature wardrobe is torn or burnt to shreds by the end and it's all because in Temple
anything goes.

We Named the Blog Indiana: Water, no thank you sir, fish make love in it

At this point there have been more than enough press screenings and early reviews up that one can a) get a good sense of what the movie is about and b) know that going with lower expectations rather than higher ones is probably going to be the way to go with Crystal Skull. I'm not going to make some declarative statement about the movie's quality without having seen it. I mean, I really dug Speed Racer despite a by-in-large critical thumping. The movie opens tonight for most people but I'll probably be seeing it tomorrow. I hope the crowds are still rowdy (but not rude). One of the things that I have heard about the film is that it will be making many nods to one of most beloved characters in the series, Marcus Brody. MINOR spoilers to follow.
The late Denholm Elliot's character apparently has pictures in Indy's home and even a statue now on Indy's campus. The museum owner and curator's depiction varied greatly in Raiders and Last Crusade and this "inconsistency" tends to drive a wedge amongst Indy fans. The fact remains that Brody can come off as entirely competent in the first film and somewhat bumbling in the third is entirely reconcilable. Sometimes people just don't work as well out of their element and Marcus Brody's element was in the hallways of the university and his museum. He didn't get lost, don't believe it. Apparently Spielberg was a huge fan of Elliot and was eager to work with him in an extended capacity after Raiders. He serves a valuable character function in the third film acting as a sort of mediator between the Jones' Junior and Senior. He also provides someone closer to Connery's age to bounce off of. He's funny, he's clever and yes he does bumble along a bit, but come on, how well do you think YOU would do in a tank chase, or in a completely foreign country for that matter?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We Named the Blog Indiana: There!

Saying that there are many classic set-pieces in Raiders of the Lost Ark is sort of like saying the sun is incredibly hot, superfluous but true. Yet for all those great moments only ONE can be a person's favorite. When I first saw the movie it was a toss-up seeing Indy escaping the traps of the Hovitos temple and Indy going after the truck. When I was older, more cynical and mopey it was when Indy shoots the swordsman. Older still and in a relationship it was when Marion and Indy pick over his wounds, the "It's not the years, it's the mileage" sequence. Now though my favorite moment is something a bit more smaller and a bit less obvious. Let me set the stage and give you a sense of my FAVORITE Raiders moment:

About an hour and a half (give or take a few minutes) into the movie. The exhausting and awesome chase for the truck with the ark as ended. Sallah has placed Indy and Marion safely aboard Captain Katenga's ship. Indy and Marion have spent a sweet, calm night together to kiss their wounds and have some Mutt making time. Then comes the morning and everything goes wrong, a Nazi sub has been sighted off the port bow. The Nazis board Captain Katenga's ship (with a bit of blocking that nods to Battleship Potemkin of all places).
They take the ark and despite his bargaining Katenga and his pirates can't manage to hold on to Marion. Indy is forced to hide in a vent. With ark and girl in tow the Nazis take their leave and all seems lost. Williams score is as low as defeated as it has ever been at this moment. A mournful Katenga is informed "Can't find Dr. Jones Captain, we've looked everywhere." Katenga, an experienced sea-hand suspects otherwise. "He's got to aboard somewhere, keep looking." Then (and this is really a credit to whoever played the crewman, note to self-find that out) out of the corner of his eye there is a glint of recognition,"I've found him sir." "Where?" asks the befuddled Captain "There!" the crew-man answers pointing. The camera cuts to Indy pulling himself onto the railing of the adjacent submarine. And at this point the Raiders March kicks in perhaps as triumphantly as it ever has or will as a harried but somehow rugged Jones tracks across the top of the sub sopping wet. Harrison Ford does a sort of half-run, half-shuffle across the deck after shooting off a salute(a Cagney-esque move if ever there were one) and it is glorious. The "March" is played in a sort of military time, a bit more syncopated and precise than typical and it really neatly accompanies the whole thing. The camera cuts back to the crew (now acting as a surrogate for the audience) cheering madly while Katenga and the mate who were just speaking return Indy's quick salute. It's glorious, just typing about it gets me a bit misty. Whatever happens now it is absolutely clear that no obstacle will be too great and Jones will pursue this thing to his absolute last breath. It's the sort of never-say-die attitude that one doesn't really see in films this often, but when used properly can really rally an audience. This is the perfect runner's high in the last quarter of the race and consequently my favorite Indiana Jones moment maybe ever. It's simple, it's action that stems from character and if there is even one moment like this in Crystal Skull it will have been worth it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

We Named the Blog Indiana*: He is...nefarious

In re-watching the Indy films this weekend (something that everyone probably is or should be doing) a lady-friend (who had never seen the movie) pointed out the following. As Indy ran out of the cave to a face full of Hovitos natives, she remarked "That's messed up", refering to the fact that the statue had belonged to someone still around. I immediately countered with a mature and well-thought out "Nuh-uh it isn't" and left well enough alone. However, the thought is now gnawing at the back of my head and has me wondering "Where does one draw the line between out and out tomb-raiding and archeology." I'm sure that his is a question actual non-fiction archaeologists have grappled with for years as they've watched the films either sighing wistfully or shaking their fists in anger at the glaring inaccuracies. Never you mind the plausibility of a man having his heart pulled out of his chest, but where are Dr. Jones' field permits dammit?! The film's themselves actually point out Indy's, let's call them atypical, methodologies. Toht (that would be the scary German guy from Raiders) mentions that Jones is "nefarious" in the bar in Nepal and given that at this point in the film the two have never met is worth noting. More illuminating is Indy's encounter at Pankot palace in Temple, where Chattar Lal (the Maharajah's second in command) regales the audience with tales of foreign dignitaries who are not particular fans of Jones' (It was my...misunderstanding). It begs the question, outside of his world of academia is Jones a crook? To we the viewers the answer is a simple no, but I'd be curious to what the world that Indy inhabits thinks of his escapades. Is he a righteous adventurer or a dangerous rogue stealing the priceless artifacts that he has no business taking?
Let's think back to that aforementioned incident with the Hovitos. That golden fertility idol is obviously an important totem to these people, they all bow when Belloq (Belloq!) raises it over his head. Still, how often could the Hovitos actually utilized this statue into ANY part of their daily religious practice? I have a difficult time imagining going to services on Shabbat only to avoid the light triggered spikes, tarantulas, poison darts and of course the giant boulder. The Hovitos weren't going into that chamber probably ever. Final verdict. Jones is in the right, Hovitos are wrong and Belloq is still a dick. Have your top men look at that. Top. Men.
*Props to Joel for the title suggestion.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

You call him Dr. Jones doll!

So the AP just ran a story on the good but not great reaction of Indy at Cannes here. I know, I know, keeps your expectation low, but damn it, I love this series. I love these characters, I love this world. Why SHOULD I settle for less or just be happy with "better than the DaVinci Code?" This is Indiana Jones for heavens sake. It damn well better be superior to the DaVinci Code, that's the bare minimum of what it should be better than. Remember, if adventure has a name it's this guy's. So I've made an executive decision, starting tomorrow we'll be doing an Indy retrospective here at the blog. I'll be talking about my favorite moments, themes, characters, bits of the score, dialogue and all sorts of Indy brick-a-brack in anticipation for my review at the end of the week. So grab your whip and hat and come join me for the adventure (and hopefully not the disappointment) of a lifetime.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hey you know who we haven't talked about in a while

Yes, that's the one. So our patron saint A-Dubs just signed on the dotted line for the oh so wonderful Noah Baumbach's new film Greenburg for Scott Rudin (according to the Hollywood Reporter). She'll star opposite Zodiac tracker and mind-wiper Mark Ruffalo. Amy is currently in New York (where I am sadly not anymore, shame) shooting Julie and Julia with Meryl Streep. Before Greenburg she'll strap on some aviator goggles and those cute puffy pants to play Amelia Earheart in Night at the Museum 2. I'll go, albeit reluctantly, to see this glorious bit of casting.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back in LA, regular posting resumes and the USC graduation review

Today, before I could even get my bearings of moving back to LA I was sucked into the long, hot, tiring world of graduations. Graduations, as events, are fraught with meaning, hope and potential for it's participants, but for the viewers it's just a long, hard slog through dull speakers, uncomfortable folding chairs and incredibly uncomfortable outdoor conditions. Mind you, I'm incredibly proud of my brother; he graduated so quickly and already has a job at a fortune 500 company (making him the EXACT opposite of me), but ugh was his graduation in dull (of course he didn't notice cause he was flirting with the blonde in his row). Well, maybe not entirely dull as this is LA and what is LA without celebrities?

My brother's graduation had two special guest speakers. The main graduation had Disney Chairman Robert Iger and his satellite graduation had Geena Davis (she of the bad teeth to gum ratio). Iger spoke about starting from the bottom and working to the top, it was inspiring (and self-deprecating, he blamed himself for putting Full House on the air) and the guy is incredibly charismatic. I dug him because at the end of the day he's still the guy who green-lit Enchanted and re-upped the deal with Pixar, so that's pretty damn savvy. He talked about character launching into a whole thing about "I know about charcters, at Disney we have Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Buzz & Woody, Captain Jack Sparrow and now even Hannah Montana." Couple things struck me about this list, first the fact that he mentioned A.A. Milne characters (which therefore weren't created in house) and then two live action one's. I wonder what these character's revenue is compared to what Iger mentioned. Is Tigger a bigger money-maker than I thought? Why no mention of Minnie Mouse or Goofy for goodness sake? Also isn't kind of hypocritical to mock yourself for unleashing the Olsen twins on the world but not Hannah Montana? Or does the ungodly amount of money she brings into the company already answer my question for me?

Geena Davis showed she's better off reading from a script than note cards. She talked about the hyper-sexualization of women in modern movies and the disproportionate ratio of female to male characters in children's entertainment. I found this amusing coming from the same Geena Davis who spent a good chunk of her first screen role dressed like this. But anything to break in, right Geena?
Sadly no mention of The Long Kiss Goodnight or Cutthroat Island was made. I honestly do love Long Kiss Goodnight. We need another Davis v. Bierko showdown post-haste.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hello, I must be going and my Clive Owen Encounter

Sorry, I'm about to undergo a massive life change as I leave New York for at least a year for a fellowship program in Los Angeles. The good news is that this blog is going nowhere and I will continue to update. Plus being in LA means that I am at the heart of the movie making world. Well, maybe not quite the dead center because New York certainly has it's share of filmmakers and actors that can be seen around town all the time. Which bring me to the subject of this post. So the other night I went to a farewell dinner with some friends at one of my favorite places downtown Westville East (gotta love the combination of a paradoxical name and market fresh vegetables). Once we're seated one of my friends says "Hey I just saw that guy, the guy from Sin City going to the bathroom." I love my friends but we love to mess with each other so several of us think it's bull right away. We run through a bunch of actors who it could be. "Clive Owen?" I ask, "Yeah, that's it." Sure enough several moments later in a suit (sans tie) strides out the greatest tough-guy actor of our generation. Clive Owen is every bit as cool live as he is on the big screen. He's also huge, the guy is tall and looks just completely bad-ass. I don't think anyone else noticed he was there, or maybe it was the fact that it's New York and nothing phases us he was left alone. But man oh man do I love Clive Owen. His CV isn't flawless but he's shown up and done a splendid job in Closer, Shoot 'Em Up and one of the best movies of the decade Children of Men.

Friday, May 9, 2008

And then they threw the bee's nest.

I feel like a prophet who has just spoken to that I've seen something you haven't and when I tell you about it you're going to think I'm crazy. Speed Racer, despite it's critical trouncing and likely box office floundering, is a work of mad genius. That's right, genius. Genius fluff mind you, but genius nonetheless.

Let's get one thing out of the way immediately. Speed Racer is an adaptation of a popular 60's anime TV series and it remains for children and families. The advertising that is marketing this film for action junkies and hipsters is way, way off. This is a film for the young and young at heart, the people who clap for Tinkerbell, who hope that the force will be with Luke when he's going down the Death Star and the people who cheer for Mr. Smith's filibustering. The Wachowski's show that they have a deft hand for family material, ditching the dour tone of the Matrix sequels. The film quickly establishes the character of Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), first as a boy then as a young man, with two great loves: his family and racing. The start of the film is a cinematic ode to motion and momentum as there is always something moving rapidly in the frame and it's exhilarating. Even just watching young Speed Racer tapping away at his desk at school the opening quickly sets up everything you need to know about the universe of Speed Racer and it's central character.
The plot, in aping the cartoon series shows a civilization obsessed with racing. There is a bunch of fluff dealing with industrial espionage and market manipulation but it's just a bunch of silly garnish. Basically the upper echelons of racing are very corrupt and it's up to Speed, racing for the memory of his late brother Rex (Scott Porter aka Jason Street of FNL) to help the mysterious Racer X change the league (Matthew Fox having fun being the coolest guy in the room) and help his family's independent car company stay in business. Oh and what a family. There's designer Pops Racer (John Goodman), Mom Racer (Susan Sarandon), younger brother Spritle (sensational discovery Paulie Litt), mechanic Sparky (Kick Gurry) and Speed's girlfriend Trixie (sexy Christina Ricci, not being given that much to do). Then there's Chim-Chim. Chim-Chim is Spritle's pet chimpanzee, who gets into mischief with Spritle. He wears clothes and is with the family in every scene they appear in the film. Every. Scene. This includes fight scenes and dramatic scenes. If you're the type of person who thinks adding a live chimpanzee to anything makes it better then this absolutely 100% the movie for you. Speed cares deeply for his family and extended family and the whole crew is constantly supporting and sacrificing for each other it's a very nice value to have underlined in a major studio release.
Still this may all ring familiar with readership. What sets this film apart is its style and its visuals. The performances match up to the visuals, which lead to some unusual bits of movement and line-reading, it takes some getting used to but it errs more on the side of charming than odd. The Wachowskis stuff the frame with kinetic visuals in all but the most tender scenes (in those they choose, wisely, to focus on the characters). The races are dazzling and not quite like anything presented before in film (the racetracks with their loops and twists and pop-candy color are reminiscent of video games like Mario Kart and F-Zero) and go gloriously cartoonishly over-the-top (without spoiling too much you can refer to this review's title). The cars jump, smash and flip like martial artists and it's fairly mind-blowing. The same goes for sequences like the Racer family visiting the corporate headquarters of Royalton Motors where the Wachowskis firmly lift their middle fingers at Tim Burton's Chocolate Factory. It's not just visuals though. The actual shooting style, to quote Frank, "rapes the 180 degree rule." Dialogue scenes, montages, flashbacks, whip pans and dozens of other conventional techniques are skewed creating a frenetic and surreal cinematic language that will delight and amuse the curious.

I can completely understand the critics discarding the film and audiences laughing at it rather than with it, but there's really a lot of commendable risks being taken in this film. It's daring, exciting and nicely keeping with the films of summer thus far, fun. I would advise you to check out the trailer for the film and if you think you can handle the visuals without getting a headache than by all means give it a shot and discover one of the secret successes of the summer and be on the ground floor of a film that will attain a cult status sometime in the next five years.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Sickness' Cinema Guide to Summer '08 Part Three

When I started this feature we still had a few weeks until the summer movie season started. Now Iron Man sits high atop a mountain of fan adoration and money and Speed Racer is waiting in the wings as a big, hallucinogenic looking question mark. Remember you can check out my run-down of May here and prep for June here.
Hancock (July 4)
Premise: Will Smith plays the screen's first reprobate drunken hero while Spike Lee waits in the wings to complain that the first reprobate, drunken hero is black.
The Sickness ingredient: Peter Berg can tell a story well. Will Smith IS Mr. Fourth of July. Having Arrested Development alums Jason Batemen and Charlize Theron doesn't hurt.
What worries me: The premise sounds thin and early word was bad, but the previews just look so entertaining.

The Wackness (July 4)
Premise: The next Little Miss Sunshine/Juno/accessible stylized independent film with big name actors and a trendy soundtrack.
The Sickness ingredient: Good word of mouth after it's debut at Sundance. Features Juno best pal and honest-to-blog cutie Olivia Thirlby. Also a pot-smoking Ben Kingsley.
What worries me: That the backlash will hit before the movie even comes out.
SC Pick: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11)
Premise: Elves, fairies and mystical fantasy characters are pissed for being shunted off to the sidelines for so many years and want to take back the Earth. Hellboy and his band of misfits stop them.
The Sickness ingredient: Loved the first Hellboy and Guillermo Del Toro is still riding high (deservedly so) after the masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth. Plus with the origin stuff out of the way we can spend all our time developing caharcters and kicking-ass. Plus, MORE MONSTERS!
What worries me: The month is crowded with super-heroes and Hellboy just isn't as popular as Batman or Will Smith.

Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D (July 11)
Premise: Would you believe me if I said that this movie was about a trip to 2-D?
The Sickness ingredient: I'm amused that this and Mummy sequels is what Brendan Fraser has been reduced to. At least it's in the ridiculous glory that is 3-D.
What worries me: Been there, done that.

Meet Dave (July 11)
Premise: Eddie Murphy in Eddie Murphy=My lunch NOT in my stomach.
The Sickness ingredient: This film certainly does raise the too hot and talented for this movie quotient better than any other film this summer-Gabrielle Union AND Elizabeth Banks. Hot.
What worries me: A film that boasts proudly "From the makers of Norbit", do I need to spell it out for you.
SC Pick of the Month: Batman: The Dark Knight (July 18)
Premise: Does the presence of Batman in Gotham City create a costumed element to the criminal underworld? I don't know, but it's the same creative team as the first one, The Godfather of super-hero movies.
The Sickness ingredient: Hmmmm, maybe it's the EVERYTHING. Chris Nolan directs, Christian Bale and Michael Caine return, Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces some dead weight and Aaron Eckhart and Heath Ledger menace the Dark Knight.
What worries me: Whiny "too soon" contingent needlessly uncomfortable over Ledger's performance as the Joker.

Mamma Mia! (July 18)
Premise: Hey you know what's a great song? "Fernando." We should do a whole musical of Abba songs! Whoah, let's not get carried away. No, LET'S!
The Sickness ingredient: You can pretend to hate Abba songs, but you're just lying to yourself. Plsu uber hottie Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Veronica Mars) and uber talented Meryl Streep are on hand.
What worries me: Ugh, it's sooooo lame and girly.

Space Chimps (July 18)
Premise: Two adults had sex creating a child they weren't prepared for, so now they'll subject said child to any piddling animated crap as a means of distracting him or her for two hours. Repeat times a million. Add space chimps.
The Sickness ingredient: Patrick Warburton never gives less then a hundred percent to anything he's in, whether it's great or awful. Plus I shouldn't be so mad because apes plus anything usually equals greatness.
What worries me: The whole thing seems so damn slapdash and focus-grouped to within an inch of it's life.
SC Pick: Step Brothers (July 25)
Premise: Two grown men in a serious state of arrested development are forced to live together when their parents marry. Did I mention that the two grown men are John C. Riley and Will Ferrell. Hilarity ensues assuming it's not the same thing we've seen for the last six movies like this.
The Sickness ingredient: A Judd Apatow produced, Adam McKay directed, R-rated Will Ferrell comedy. It could be the next Anchorman.
What worries me: Or it could be the next Talladega Nights (which isn't the worst thing in the world but come on...wouldn't you want another Anchorman?).

The X-Files: I Want to Believe
(July 25)
Premise: An X-Files movie? What's next, a Simpsons movie? Hah, not bloody likely.
The Sickness ingredient: Even though I never really watched the X-Files on the air (yeah I'm surprised too) Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny continue to delight and surprise in all their subsequent work.
What worries me: Could I as a non-fan go in blind and follow? Probably. But I like to get the little inside jokes. Awww, damnit.

The Longshot (July 25)
Premise: Fred Durst (yes, THAT Fred Durst) directs Ice Cube in this family film where-
You know what, no, even I have my limit. Sorry. No more. I'm done.

Little Blogger's First Meme

Here we go, an inaugural Meme that you can fill out in the comments or if you have a blog of your own you can fill out your answers there and link back here.

The First Sickness Cinema Meme:
What is your...?
1. Favorite movie: The Godfather or Mary Poppins, depends on my mood
2. Favorite movie to come back to time and again: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
3. Best movie that you never want to see again: United 93
4. Last great movie you saw in a theater: Iron Man
5. Last great movie you saw on DVD: Fritz Lang's The Fury

How do you feel about...?
1. The ending of Iron Man: Amazing, bring on the Avengers asap.
2. Jason Segel taking control of the Muppets: Brilliance, can't wait.
3. Manolha Dagis' last editorial in the New York Times about women in film: I think yesterday;s post made it more than clear.
4. The MTV movie awards: Cute, but dispensable. Plus now you can watch the highlights on youtube so why bother with the tedium of the whole broadcast. I am excited about multiple Amy Adams nominations.
5. Ellen Page as Jane Eyre: She can do pretty much anything, why not costume drama.

Who is your...?
1. Favorite actor: Paul Giamatti
2. Favorite actress: Amy Adams
3. Favorite actor (deceased): Cary Grant...maybe Jack Lemmon
4. Favorite actress (deceased): Katherine Hepburn
5. Favorite Director: Terry Gilliam

Which do you prefer...?
1. Sub-titles or dubbing: Sub-titles, no question.
2. Kurt Russel or Bruce Campbell: Bruce Campbell, hail to the king baby.
3. Buttered Popcorn or Salted Popcorn: Buttered
4. Ambiguity or clarity: Ambiguity, I don't mind a little confusion if it doesn't REQUIRE clarity.
5. Characters or plot: You can have a movie with the best plotting ever but no one will watch if there aren't intriguing characters. No one will come back anyway.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Here's to the ladies who lunch...instead of going to the movies

In Sunday's New York Times Manhola Dargis went to task on Hollywood for continuing to make films that appeal to and star men and women are becoming an afterthought in film altogether. She cited this summer's slate of male oriented action blockbusters (is she only noticing this now?) and the failure of last fall's female starring films. While the numbers certainly indicate that films with strong female leads aren't pulling in audiences Dargis' "reasoning" for this doesn't amount to much more than a lot of posturing and whining. She also uses the article to go off on a tear about the Apatow male leads being soft, weak and feminine (effectively acting as both the man and the woman of the film-now who's being sexist). If anything the failure of female driven films is indicative of women actually being SMARTER film-goers then men. The numbers show that the coveted 12-28 male demographic studios crave are rarely discriminating. They go see movies regardless of quality. The fact remains that in the long run the great movies get seen (even if they are only discovered years later at home). Maybe women just have a better bullshit detector than men. Dargis cites her disappointment in the failure of Invasion and the Brave One as a result of the studio not pushing the films enough. Really? How about the fact that the movies were AWFUL? The current success of Baby Mama certainly illustrates that a film with female leads can be successful if it's marginally clever, a fact Dargis buries way at the end of her piece (she also cites The Devil Wears Prada-as so many articles like this have). Dargis keeps using qualifiers to exempt films with women that actually did well ignoring films like Enchanted and Juno because they dealt with princesses and pregnancy respectively. She balks at No Country for Old Men as a boy's club affair forgetting that Kelly MacDonald gave one of the best performances in the film. It's a no-win affair with Dargis. Frankly, like most things Hollywood is cyclical and just as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katherine and Audrey Hepburn all once reigned supreme at the box office, it will happen again. You need to open your eyes Manholia it could be happening right now.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Celebrating with the world's greatest train-set enthusiast

Some important birthdays today. First off my brother, who in all likelihood is unfamiliar with this blog's existence, though I have a feeling his not dicking around on the internet is the reason why he recently got promoted at his fortune 500 company job. Still he's my brother and I love him and am proud of him.
In the world of cinema however there are three major birthdays. First off is Brian De Palma regular Gregg Henry (Body Double, Scarface and Femme Fatale to name a few), the man is to De Palma what Campbell is to Raimi. Henry has stolen scenes from leading men as varied as Mel Gibson (in Payback) and Nathan Fillion (in Slither). He can currently be seen as Eddie Izzard's extremely corrupt and lecherous boss on the marvelous FX series The Riches. He's 56 today, but he brings the smarm of a man twenty years his junior.
Next, modern film's greatest leading man, George Clooney is turning a stately 47 today. I've waxed rhapsodic on Clooney before but I could still go on for days about how the American cinema is a much better place for having Clooney in it. From his early mullet'ed, humble beginnings on The Facts of Life and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes to mega-starrdom with countless examples of pitch perfect work (sure Leatherheads was a misfire but pobody's nerfect, am I right?). JA over at My New Plaid Pants has five great performances in mind and you really should check them out here. My own favorite Clooney performance you ask? I guess I'd have to say it's Ulysses Evrett McGill. In addition to having the good sense to be a Dapper Dan man and being fortunate enough to be blessed with the gift of gab, Evrett is always more than happy to spit out reams of good advice, like so:
Lastly, today commemorates borth of the man I consider to be the King of Movies. You can argue that our King in question is more of Lear figure, a once great man shamed in old age but the fact remains that Orson Welles changed movies forever. He's one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time and as practically a boy, made the American cinema grow-up. I love Welles in all his incarnations, the boy genius, the writer, the director, the actor, the radio impresario, the camp figure, the bloated pitch man, the basso profoundo narrator and all his other iterations. I could go on and on about Welles but it's all just a roundabout way of saying that Orson Welles IS cool. His coolest character? That would have to be as the third man himself, Harry Lime. Here are the scenes that fans of the movie should get a chill down their spine over and if you've never seen The Third Man well then you are in for the treat of a lifetime.
First we have Lime's introduction, coming after nearly an hour's worth of build-up and everyone talking about Harry Lime, who is SUPPOSED to be dead:

Then we have one of the most famous speeches in movie history. Glorious:

What does the O stand for?

Today's imdb poll asked the question Favorite Alfred Hitchcock-Cary Grant movie? North by Northwest has remained in first place all day but number two is frightening and chills me to my very core. Currently coming in at number two with 2916 votes is "I am not familiar with Hitchcock-Grant movies" brrrrrr. Oh people, people, people of the internet, you don't know what you're missing. You know what, I refuse to get mad about this, no here is an opportunity to teach and start many people on a path of cinematic love that will endure all their lives. The sooner you familiarize yourself with these films the more you'll want, nay, demand more from your movies. Hitchcock was rarely better than when he teamed with Grant, well, I suppose rarely more entertaining, Here's a quick run down of these films to get you pumped to see them at a revival house or college campus or send them to the top of your netflix q double quick. Below I'll provide a brief synopsis to entice you and then follow up with the film's trailers (many of which were created and designed by Alfred Hitchcock himself). If a tug from Alfred Hitchcock can't get you to see a movie than in the words of Angela from the Office "God help you."

North by Northwest-The thriller that all other thrillers should be measured against. Grant is a cool executive type who gets mistaken for a secret agent. Now with the bad guys after him Grant must clear his name, find out who this George Kaplan guy is that everyone keeps mistaking him for and figure out whether he can trust the sexy and alluring Eva Marie Saint. NxNW propels the first time viewer forward by not only entertaining you but making you shout to the heavens, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!?! Returning viewers can apprecaite the exemplary craftsmanship on display from the script on up. I don't think Cary Grant was ever more definitively Cary Grant than he was in this movie (he's very suave, but he is still flappable and that makes him worth rooting for). A lot of James Bond's outings was inspired by this film so fans of that series would do well to scope out this one. Oh and the Bernard Hermann score is pure ear-porn. Good lord I love this film.
Notorious-Sleek, sexy and intense, the film features Grant as a government spy-master who has the daughter of a former Nazi, played by the ravishing Ingrid Bergman, integrate herself with another former Nazi played by The Sickness Cinema's favorite character actor of the 40's Claude Rains. The integrating gets a little intimate and Ingrid's Alicia is torn between Rains and Grant (what a dilemma?) while the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Alternatively romantic, erotic (check out the censor smashing extended kiss between Grant and Bergman) and thrilling (the scariest tea cup in all of cinema, trust me).

To Catch a Thief-A sexy, glamorous spree, think Ocean's Eleven. Though a bit fluffier than the two previous films, TCAT revels in it's decadence. Check it out: Grant is a retired jewel thief who's vacationing in the French Riviera, as Grant tries to clear his name for the crimes he encounters MIKA inspiring actress Grace Kelly. A very sexy time ensues.

I kind of wish all directors introduced their films in trailers. "Hi I'm Brett Ratner and what your about to see will assuredly keep me rolling in coke and playboy bunnies for years. Enjoy two hours of broad racist characters."