Friday, December 24, 2010

A Wonderful Review of Gulliver's Travels

It is highly unlikely I will ever see this movie to write my own review of it, so I read A.O. Scott's review in the NY Times. It is worth a read to anyone who has read Swift's 18th century satire.

The funniest thing about the review is that it will absolutely only be appreciated and understood by people who otherwise would have no interest in a Jack Black version of Gulliver's Travels and those who are certain to despise it for the very reasons Scott (in the voice of Swift) lays out.

For those who will love the movie, they probably won't understand a single word of Scott's review after "Dear Sir."

Roger Ebert started writing gimmicky reviews like this a few years ago. I wonder if that's what happens when you simply run out of ways to bash a bad movie.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter's Bone Movie Review: An Unusual Slice of Americana in One of the Best Films of the Year

Wikipedia tells me that the novels of Daniel Woodrell have been dubbed “country noir.” That would certainly be a fitting term for the film adaptation of his novel Winter’s Bone. Adapted by Debra Granik and Anne Rosselini and directed by Granik, the film presents a slice of life so distinctly American it belongs in the canon along with The Godfather or The Grapes of Wrath.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old Movie Review of Tron: Not exactly a classic, but a staple long missing from my diet

It’s easy to forget in the digital age, when nearly every film (a nearly obsolete word, come to think of it), if not shot digitally, has some digital elements, that computer computer generated images had its origin somewhere. CGI and digital technology inundate movies nowadays. They’re used to build action sequences from the ground up; create fantastic creatures; eliminate unwanted elements such as safety wires, boom mikes, and even an actor’s skin imperfections, from the frame.

Disney Studios’ Tron was one of the first feature films to employ heavy use of 3D CGI animation. It’s remarkable to consider that only eleven years passed between this film and Jurassic Park, two films that are hardly in the same league as far as CGI animation goes. And yet the latter film owes a great debt of gratitude to the former.

The American Movie Review: Mid-Life Crisis of an Assassin

George Clooney has that rare gift of being able to combine movie star power with a knack for challenging and adult movies. Consider his filmography over the last ten to twelve years. He’s worked with Steven Soderbergh on six films, the Coen brothers on three and younger new Hollywood directors such as David O. Russell, Wes Anderson and Jason Reitman. All this and he’s directed two thoughtful and interesting films himself. If his films since Out of Sight haven’t always been great, at the very least they’ve been provocative.

His latest is The American, directed by the Dutch born still photographer and music video director Anton Corbijn. In the past I’ve been critical of music video directors who have attempted to transition to feature films because too often their work is far too kinetic and/or incapable of sustaining a compelling story for two hours. Corbijn directed all of Depeche Mode’s videos from 1986 – 1998 and a couple of U2’s videos. Those videos, like this film, are marked by deliberate composition and attention to surrounding details.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon Movie Review

There’s a sequence in the animated film How to Train Your Dragon in which Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) soars away on the back of a dragon he’s been, well, training. The dragon takes him high up into the clouds, down to the surface of the ocean, darting in and out of and around craggy rock formations. The sequence is exhilarating and bears comparison to Jake’s first flight on the winged creatures in Avatar, which is completely shamed by this film.

It says something about the storytelling skill of screenwriters and animators who are able to draw such a strong emotional reaction from an adult with regard to a cartoon character. Hiccup is an outcast from a clan of Vikings (who bizarrely have Scottish accents – except the kids). He is the shame of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), who is the clan leader and strident warrior. The Vikings have one principal enemy – dragons. They are regularly beset upon by various species of the winged beasts that deprive them of sheep, homes and the occasional limb.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I Movie Review

Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic presents the items bequeathed by Dumbledore in his will
As the Harry Potter book series progressed, they became denser, packed with more and more material. As such, as the films have trudged onward they’ve had to make various omissions in order to fulfill a kid-friendly movie running time. They’ve also grown to be darker as the full weight of the power of Voldemort and Harry’s predicament comes to bear. The result has been a series of films that I imagine would be virtually incomprehensible to any viewer who hasn’t read the books. I say this because I’ve often had to try to refresh my memory of missing details from the book to aid my comprehension of the story of the screen.

My hope was that the splitting of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts would resolve this problem. Without a doubt, Steve Kloves has done a fine job of drafting a story that makes sense for Part I, but so many of the details the characters use to make connections are given little more than a cursory glance.

The Kids Are All Right Movie Review: A Typical American Family - Made from a Sperm Donor

Annette Bening is one of the lucky few Hollywood actresses who has transitioned gracefully into middle age without being cast aside for younger ingénues. I believe she’s done this by consistently choosing good material that reflects her maturity and professionalism as an actress. Her performance as Nic in The Kids Are All Right is so good it almost demands your full attention or else you might miss the fact that she’s acting.

That is the real shame of it in terms of recognition. Awards voters tend to reward the flashier performances, hence the reason Bening was Oscar nominated for her diva roles in American Beauty and Being Julia. Those performances almost announce, “Watch me Acting!”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Town Movie Review: Ben Affleck's Second Film as Director Shows He's Not a One-Hit Wonder

Film noir of the 1940s and 50s, with its dark subject matter, antihero protagonists, chiaroscuro lighting and often down endings, is largely regarded as an offshoot of the place of the American psyche following the harrowing years of WWII. Likewise, the resurgence of the genre, dubbed neo-noir in the 1970s (including films like Chinatown and The Long Goodbye), reflected the public’s attitude toward the downward spiral of the American empire in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam.

So one might think that today’s political climate – two wars with no end in sight, one of them started on dubious evidence, a financial crisis the likes of which no one has seen in more than 70 years – would foster a another slew of noir films. And it has – in a way. In recent years, novelists and film makers have veered toward noir subject matter, but this neo neo-noir doesn’t look a whole lot like the genuine article. This new version tends to come with happy endings and a lighter touch. Will audiences simply not accept the unhappy ending these days in spite of the great challenges we face?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Shrek Forever After Movie Review: A Dying Franchise Gets a Final Reprieve

Puss let himself go a little bit

What is it about the shift from bachelorhood to family man that makes men suddenly wake up one day and wonder how they got themselves into a lifestyle that is the complete opposite to what they imagined as young men? Mid-life crises are often exploited for dramatic purposes and there are more than enough real-life examples of men who leave their wives for a younger woman or just an exciting fling. There must be something hard-wired in men that causes them to seemingly leap from the single life to married-with-children with little to no consideration for the intervening years.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Expendables Movie Review: Sylvester Stallone and other 80s Action Heroes Get a Dusting Off

Poor Sylvester Stallone. It must be dreadful to have been one of two kings of 1980s action films only to suffer a swift and steep decline through the 90s. Now well into his 60s, he is devoting himself to sad knock-offs of the films that made him a superstar once upon a time. First was Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment in that series, then Rambo, his fourth film playing that character. This year he came back for more as writer, director and star of The Expendables, an action film which revels in cheesy schlock, washed up stars and dead bodies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Predators Movie Review: An Arnie Classic Defiled

Adrien Brody awakens to find himself in freefall, hurtling toward the earth at terminal velocity, desperately searching for a ripcord. His parachute opens quite late and he slams into the ground. Luckily he gets up virtually unscathed with no broken bones. Hopefully his career will turn out the same way after taking this part in Predators, the reboot (or sequel of sorts because reference is made to events in the original) of the 1987 cult favorite which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Shortly after landing he links up with several others in the same situation. They’re all left to discover what an American mercenary, an IDF soldier, a Mexican drug cartel enforcer, a doctor, a death row inmate, a Japanese Yakuza, a Sierra Leone guerilla, and a Russian Special Forces soldier all have in common. Well, one thing is that they all rather conveniently speak English. Phew! If they didn’t, the film would have been a hard sell on American audiences.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

25 Years Ago This Month: December 1985

In typical movie release calendar tradition, December 1985 was packed with the studios' various prestige movies vying for awards consideration.

One such film was Runaway Train starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca DeMornay. Roberts earned his one and only Oscar nomination (to date) for the film. He went on to become a trashy B-movie star. The director, Andrey Konchalovskiy, went on to later direct the wonderful Sylvester Stallone/Kurt Russell buddy copy film Tango & Cash.

The eventual Best Picture Oscar winner, Sydney Pollack's Out of Africa opened to rave reviews and went on to become the number 5 box office success for 1985, just behind...

A Nightmare on Elm Street Movie Review: A Reboot Following in the Grand Tradition of Other Banal Reboots

6 June 2012 - Minor edits for clarity and typos.
The recent remake of the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street relies on the rather dubious – no, absurd – premise that fifteen teenagers would all have absolutely no memory of having gone to a nursery school at age four or five. I haven’t got a lot of distinct memories from my nursery school days, but I know where it was and I know I went.

Once as a teenager I met one of my old classmates and we vaguely recognized each other in spite of the physical changes that accompany the transition from age 4 to 16. Five of the characters in the film go to high school together, believing that they met each other in middle school. None of them remembers anything from their early childhoods. This serves one purpose, only useful to the plot’s feeble attempt at mystery and suspense: to create confusion among the kids and allow for drawn out sequences of discovery and investigation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyrus Movie Review

Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei have an especially close mother-son bond.

Cyrus is a movie about a war of nerves between two emotionally stunted men. John C. Reilly plays John, a man stilled scarred by a divorce seven years ago, and his foil is Cyrus (Jonah Hill), the son of a woman he thinks he may have a future with. The film is directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, who have a couple of minor features and short films to their credit, but finally struck some luck by getting serious financial backing from Scott Free Productions, the production company owned by Tony and Ridley Scott.

Reilly has almost made an entire career out of playing big lovable lugs who wear their emotional insecurities on their sleeve. John, the character, bears a number of similarities to Reilly’s character in Magnolia, also a divorced man perhaps a little too open with his feelings and looking for the right woman.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spanish Dracula Movie Review

Carlos Villarías uses this expression about 50 times throughout the film.

First published at Mostly Movies on 29 November 2010

It was a common practice in the early sound era for Hollywood studios to produce a second, nearly identical, version of a film in a foreign language. They were produced in Spanish, French and German most often and very few of the foreign language versions survive to this day. One of the most famous that does survive is the Spanish language version of the 1931 Tod Browning Dracula.

George Melford served as director, as was his station at Universal pictures during that period. He directed Spanish language versions of several films. According to IMDb, he neither spoke nor understood the language, but Wikipedia tells me he got the job specifically because of his knowledge of Spanish. Oh what a perfect example of how unreliable the Internet is. Ten years before Drácula he directed Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, which survives as one of the classics of silent cinema.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Classic Movie Review: Tod Browning's Dracula

What’s most striking about Tod Browning’s Dracula is how, despite being almost comically stylized by modern standards, you can still see its profound influence on horror films through the decades straight up to the present. The camera and lighting techniques were mostly still in their infancy in 1931, and (apart from Fritz Lang’s M from that same year) film makers had yet to learn how to effectively incorporate synchronized sound in a way that augments the action, but most films of the genre that have followed owe some bit of credit to Browning. That said, Dracula itself, the first official film version of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, exhibits the influence of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, the 1922 German silent film that was an unsanctioned adaptation of the famous vampire story.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Alles is liefde Movie Review (Love Is All for you English speakers)

Kiki meets her Prince Charming

I suppose there’s something that should be comforting in the recognition that Hollywood doesn’t hold a monopoly on blatantly stealing from world cinema to create watered down versions of other films accessible to a new audience. It’s unendurably frustrating to see classics remade for new generations or to see successful films from around the world altered to suit American tastes. But we are not alone in the practice.

Love Actually, while certainly not a classic of British cinema, was a lovely Christmas holiday treat several years back. It may have started the sometime trend of amassing a large cast of well-known actors for an ensemble piece by the end of which all the characters’ relationships to one another are revealed. It was well directed and written, had some genuinely sweet, funny and touching moments, and endures as a warm film at this time of year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tamara Drewe Movie Review: Stephen Frears Attempts Classic British Farce

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe makes heads turn

Stephen Frears is no stranger to directing films that find notes of humor in dark subject matter. The Hit, The Grifters, and even to some extent High Fidelity, all comfortably juxtapose the two moods. His latest film, Tamara Drewe, is an uncomfortable melding of comedy into serious drama. I’m not sure he’s entirely pulled it off here.

It’s the story of the goings-on in a small village called Ewedown in the English countryside. There, Beth and Nicholas Hardiment (Tamsin Greig and Roger Allam) run a quaint hideaway for writers from all around to get “far from the madding crowd,” as their sign out front proclaims. And wouldn’t you know it, but an American writer has taken up residence there to complete his Thomas Hardy book. As (bad) luck would have it, this little spot is also anything but far from the madding crowd. With the high jinks that go on it’s a wonder that Nicholas can manage to crank out another in a series of popular detective novels year after year. Perhaps it’s his shameless philandering with a younger woman that gets him through. The screenplay was written by Moira Buffini based on a serial comic strip by Posy Simmonds. The comic strip itself is based on Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.

Mr. Nice Movie Review

Bernard Rose was present at the Seville European Film Festival earlier this month presenting his film, Mr. Nice. He comes across like Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty in Stnaley Kubrick’s Lolita, not only by his physical appearance with thick black hair and slight stature, but also in his speaking style and mannerisms, including his frequent adjustment of his horn rimmed glasses.

He introduced his film by prefacing it with his view that drugs should be legal and that people shouldn’t have to languish in prison for years because they take drugs recreationally. He also made sure to draw a distinction between what he considers to be two separate issues: the question of legality on the one hand and of addiction on the other. Any reasonable person should have no trouble agreeing to that, but Rose’s film fails to adequately address the second.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Of Gods and Men Movie Review: Who Knew the Monastic Life Could Make such Fascinating Cinema?

France has suffered an 18 year dry spell at the Oscars, last having won the Foreign Language Film award for Indochine. Their submission for this year, Of Gods and Men, could well be the one to break the bad luck streak. It’s already won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Here is a film of remarkably accomplished skill in storytelling, film technique and empathy.

It’s so refreshing to see a filmmaker who really understands how to use the medium of film effectively. Director Xavier Beauvois has obviously studied and internalized the masters who established film technique when the art form was still in its infancy. The first half is almost like a silent film. Dialogue is minimal. Everything is presented as image and we never have any question about who the characters are, what their relations are to one another or how they feel.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ondine Movie Review: Colin Farrell finds love with a mysterious woman from the sea

Irish director Neil Jordan was at his best when he was focused on making distinctly Irish stories. The triple punch through the middle part of the 1990s of The Crying Game, Michael Collins and The Butcher Boy (we’ll conveniently ignore 1994’s Interview with the Vampire) helped establish him as an important filmmaker capable of crafting intimate character studies within the grander scope of the Irish Revolution and The Troubles in Northern Ireland. After steering off course for more than a decade, I wondered if Ondine, his return to his native country, would provide a welcome repose from the astounding mediocrity of everything from the psychological horror film In Dreams to the Graham Greene adaptation The End of the Affair. That and the inevitable pairing of one of Ireland’s best working directors with Colin Farrell, probably its best working screen actor, gave me some hope.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Hit Movie Review: Stephen Frears' First Feature Film

Terence Stamp is identified by John Hurt while Tim Roth holds a gun to his face.

Stephen Frears’ first feature film, The Hit, came in 1984 after a long career in British television. It is a rough production, bearing more resemblance to low-budget TV movies and independent cinema than to the polished work that defines his career today. I saw it recently as part of the Seville European Film Festival. Rather unfortunately it was presented not on 35mm, but in some kind of video format. It looked like VHS or Laserdisc blown up for the big screen. I found this to be largely distracting for the first several scenes. Surely my overall impression of the film itself was affected by the inferiority of the images.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hancock Movie Review: A Different Kind of Hero

Will Smith as John Hancock, looking smug after carelessly destroying a freight train.

Hancock is sort of a “What if…” movie with regard to superheroes. What if there were a superhero who was good, but rude and offensive and generally left more of a mess in his wake than was worth the good deed done? It also rather amusingly deals with the problem of birds getting in the way of a hero in flight, a subject never broached by any incarnation of Superman. John Hancock, played by the reliably charismatic Will Smith, is such a guy. He’s got the strength and flying ability of Superman, but none of the finesse. When he takes off and lands he leaves giant holes in the street. He drinks most of the time and is generally regarded as a public nuisance. He saves lives not to the final applause of astonished onlookers, but to jeers and sneers (and a lot worse) of a public that is tired of his antics.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Am Legend Movie Review: A Legend for the Wrong Reasons

Robert Neville (Will Smith) and Sam stare down the Dark Seekers.

In the opening moments of I Am Legend, the 2007 film based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, Robert Neville (Will Smith) sneaks up on a deer grazing on the streets of New York after chasing it away from a scampering herd in midtown Manhattan. Suddenly a female lion pounces on the deer, stealing what would have been several nice meals for the presumed last man on Earth. The lioness is swiftly followed by her cubs and a stoic male waiting for his share and staring down Neville until he decides the better part of valor is to live to hunt another day. In this sequence the hunter striving for survival is supplanted by a different type of hunter also acting out of self-preservation, suggesting the theme of the source novel – a promise the film never lives up to.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

25 Years Ago This Month (November 1985)

Following the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, a Wes Craven horror classic that still holds up really well today, November 1985 saw the release of the first of man sequels: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge. For reasons surpassing understanding and logic, Freddy possesses a teen and makes him do the killings instead of invading their dreams. It was directed by Jack Sholder and written by David Chaskin, neither of whom ever had a higher profile Hollywood job. It still managed to gross nearly $30 million.

Jim Carrey played a high school teen who finds sexual satisfaction from Vampiress Lauren Hutten in Once Bitten. Not Carrey's first movie, but it was his first starring role.

To be filed under the Films That Time Forgot heading there was Santa Claus, a fantasy adventure film that attempts to seriously explain the origins of the mythical hero starring David Huddleston in the title role and Dudley Moore as an elf.

The two big films of the month were Rocky IV in which Rocky faces down the Russian Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, and White Nights in which Mikhail Baryshnikov plays a Soviet ballet dancer and defector whose plane crash lands in Siberia. After being recognized he is placed under house arrest and meets and befriends an American dancer and defector to the Soviet Union played by Gregory Hines.

Outside of film history:
-The comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" debuted on the 18th.
-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in Geneva on the 19th.

-Stepin Fetchit, who popularized black stereotypes on film and television, died on the 19th at age 83.
-Anne Baxter at age 62 from a brain aneurysm on Madison Ave. in NYC. She was most famous for her role as the young eponymous theater ingenue who takes Bette Davis's place in All About Eve. She also won a supporting actress Oscar for The Razor's Edge.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sweet and Lowdown Review: A Woody Allen Modern Classic

Sweet and Lowdown doesn’t come across immediately as a very typical Woody Allen film. Sure it’s set in the late 1930s, a time period visited by Allen on more than one occasion. The subject matter is early jazz guitar and anyone familiar with his work and extracurricular activities knows he’s a real jazz aficionado. And of course the visual style is all Woody with wide shots that slowly zoom in on a subject and the writing is unmistakably his.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Solitary Man Movie Review: Wonderful and Subtle Performance by Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas and Susan Sarandon in a particularly tender and bittersweet moment in Solitary Man.

Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas), the character referred to in the title of this year’s Solitary Man, is like Grady Tripp from Wonder Boys meets Gordon Gekko of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. When we meet him, his life is spiraling out of control and his decisions over the next few months will continue to drive him further and further downward. Most of his troubles are the result of some illegal business practices within his chain of very successful car dealerships in the New York tri-state area.

Ben used to be famous for being an honest business man. He had everything and even donated enough money to his alma mater up in Boston to have the library renamed in his honor. But then a health crisis caused him to reevaluate his decision making process and things went south in a hurry.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ten Best Films from the All-Time Top 100 Box Office

Star Wars remains in the top ten all-time box office after 33 years
The list of the top 100 box office successes is measured only in terms of pure dollars. For this reason the list is heavily slanted in favor of more recent films. This is not only because of standard economic inflation, but also because of ticket price inflation, which generally has not matched inflation of the dollar. Star Wars remained atop the list from 1977 until it was unseated by Titanic in 1998. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial was number 2 from its 1982 release until 1998. Home Alone (released at the end of 1990 and earned a significant amount of its box office in early 1991) now sits in 45th position despite having been in the top 10 for a decade or more. In less than ten years it has dropped 35 places. That's an incredibly precipitous drop when you consider the kind of staying power older films had. But with exponential growth in ticket prices we're left with a constantly shifting list of the top box office kings.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shrek Movie Review: The One that Started it All

This review was written in 2001 shortly after the release of Shrek. This is the first time it is being published.

It's quite remarkable that the recent advent of computer animated feature films has produced some excellent movies. Disney and Pixar started it with the two Toy Story films and A Bug's Life and now Dreamworks has picked it up with Shrek, the story of an ogre who goes on a quest to rescue a beautiful princess so that the Napoleonic Lord Farquaad (say it out loud) can marry her and become king. Not only is Shrek the next in a line of films that look fantastic, but, like its predecessors, has an engaging storyline.

Shrek the Third Movie Review

Watching Shrek the Third is like watching the slow painful on-stage death of a once funny comedian who trying again and again to capitalize on the jokes that made him famous as a fresh talent. What a tragedy it is to watch a franchise gasp its dying breaths (of creativity, that is, because the film made boatloads of money at the box office) after such a charming and witty first chapter and a successful first sequel.

Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz still voice the big green titular ogre and his big green ogress wife, Fiona. Also returning to old roles and stale characters are Eddie Murphy as Shrek’s best friend, Donkey, and Antonio Banderas as the swashbuckling Puss ‘n Boots. Fiona’s father, the King (John Cleese) is on his deathbed, which leaves Shrek as next in line for the throne. He’s reluctant to take the job and so goes to seek a distant family member, Arthur (Justin Timberlake), who follows in the line of succession.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Michael Douglas for Another Oscar?

Maybe, but for Money Never Sleeps? Seriously? I mean, I understand the studios touting for Oscars for all kinds of garbage that's hardly worth it. At this time of year basically every film is offered up as a potential Oscar contender. Typically the studios only pour big money into genuine contender, however.

I simply don't see Michael Douglas getting anything close to a nomination for reprising his role as Gordon Gekko. Not only is the film not really worth a second look, but the performance is barely up to the benchmark he set 23 years ago.

Yet here's an article that basically just serves to promote studios and Oscars without bothering to examine the real possibility that Douglas might actually get a nomination or has any shot at all with Money Never Sleeps. It looks like this reporter was duped by the clever Oscar campaigns of two movie studios. He's just gone along with what they're selling.

As for Douglas's possible nomination for Solitary Man I can't really say because I haven't seen it yet, but it is on the docket. If anything I think it makes perfect sense for 20th Century Fox to try to push him in the supporting  category for the Wall Street sequel. It truly is a supporting role. Shia Labeouf is the obvious lead, but so help me if he gets a Best Actor nomination.

Update 23 October: I've seen Solitary Man and while I didn't particularly care for the movie as a whole, I think Douglas's performance is a standout. Whether or not it will earn him Oscar accolades is hard to judge at this point. It depends on the competition. A review for that film will follow shortly.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Classic Movie Review: Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th'inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
--“Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard” by Thomas Gray (1716 – 1771)

I can think of three significant cinematic uses of “La Marseillaise,” the French National Anthem. Its appearance in Casablanca is defiantly patriotic, induced by Victor Laszlo in Rick’s Café to drown out the singing Germans. It’s sung by the French crowd supporting the Allied prisoner football team at the end of John Huston’s Victory. But Stanley Kubrick is the only film maker to take what might be the most patriotic national hymn and turn it into an ironic statement about patriotic duty.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Zombieland Movie Review

There are vampire movies and there are zombie movies. They come in all shapes and sizes. They come in comedy, drama and outright horror. Only one of them truly lends itself to comedy, however. Vampires are not inherently funny in the way zombies are. Oh, they’ve tried with vampires. Who can forget a young Jim Carrey starring in Once Bitten? The comedy in some vampire movies tends to spring forth from more situational comedy: Kristy Swanson as the valley girl turned killer in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; James Woods’ wisecracking in John Carptenter’s Vampires; or the outrageousness of From Dusk Till Dawn.

Cohn says the rich are morally obliged to share their good fortune

Yeah, seriously. Jonathan Cohn makes the rather offensive argument in The New Republic that it's not only fair to tax the wealthy at significantly higher rates than everyone else, but that it's the morally right thing to do.

His argument follows on from the book Unjust Deserts by Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly which makes the claim that luck is the driving force behind any individual's wealth. Not just luck in being a successful entrepreneur or businessman, but historical luck - being born into the right place at the right time. All success builds off the previous innovation of entrepreneurs and inventors throughout history, so without their work, the modern entrepreneur wouldn't be successful. Bill Gates would have been nowhere without electricity, for example. Therefore the wealthy have an obligation to repay a debt to society through higher taxes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Movie Review

The thing that has made Wall Street a cult classic was Gordon Gekko. Here was a villainwhose thirst for more money kew no bounds, not so much because he wanted more, but because he liked the thrill of the chase. An entire generation of Wall Street has pathetically modeled itself on his balls to the wall attitude toward finance. To take that character and water him down, give him pathos, provide him a reason to repent is not to capture the spirit of the original film, but to capture a wider audience and bigger box office return.

Wall Street Movie Review: A First Look at an 80s Icon

“Greed is good.” So says Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street, in one of the most famous 80s cinematic speeches when he attempts to save his position as an investor trying to leverage more profit out of Teldar Paper. The line is oft quoted, oft cited as one of the greatest or most memorable lines in movie history, but most significantly it’s held aloft as the prime example of what was wrong with corporate America in the 1980s. And Gekko is viewed as the epitome, the representative on the screen of the worst elements of capitalism.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Social Network Movie Review: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

The story of the founding of the most popular and successful social networking site, Facebook, is the foundation for The Social Network, but it’s hardly the meat and potatoes of the story. It’s directed by David Fincher from a dazzling screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, who adapted it from Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires.

Fincher got his start in feature films as a studio director-for-hire who always brought a unique vision to such films as Alien 3, Se7en and Fight Club. He strayed a little off the map by opting for more commercial fare with the recent Hollywood favorite The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Although The Social Network is a big commercial enterprise, Fincher gets himself back on track as an auteur. He demands that we take sides with a severely flawed hero – Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) who sold out his best friend and may have partially ripped off the idea from fellow Harvard classmates Divya Marendra (Max Minghella) and Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Classic Movie Review: Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd.

Sunset Blvd. is probably director Billy Wilder’s best film, but when you’re talking about a man who made Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Lost Weekend, Stalag 17 and Double Indemnity, you’re really just splitting hairs with a statement like that. As with most of the best films throughout history, it is great not only because every element is part of a unified vision that coalesces into a finished product, but also because it employs several groundbreaking techniques to achieve its goal. There’s a reason why it’s ranked 32 (at the time of writing) on the IMDb’s Top 250 and has made the top 20 American films on lists prepared by the AFI. It’s also had two lines consistently singled out as among the most memorable in film history: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small;” “All right, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my closeup.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona Movie Review

Over the decades Woody Allen has continually returned to the same themes again and again, revisiting them with different characters and settings, always closing his films with a satisfactory resolution, but continuing the ambiguity in his next outing. Chief among these themes has been love, passion and fidelity.

His 2008 film Vicky Cristina Barcelona looks at two sides of the same coin in Vicky (Rebecca Hall), the pragmatist looking for a stable dependable love which she has in her fiancé, Doug, and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), the impetuous free spirit open to new experiences and more willing to find love in whoever comes along. The two are best friends recently arrived in Barcelona – Vicky studying Catalan identity and Cristina tagging along for adventure. Luckily for them and for the audience Vicky has a family connection to Mark and Judy (Kevin Dunn and Patricia Clarkson), who give them a place to stay in their picturesque villa.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Greenberg Movie Review

If writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest feature, Greenberg, feels a bit directionless, that’s probably because the title character, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), has lost focus after a breakdown and brief stay in a psychiatric ward. Come to think of it, Baumbach sort of specializes in directionless characters beginning with his first film, Kicking and Screaming, about four recent college graduates unwilling to go forth and take their places in the world. Roger Greenberg could be any one of those characters fifteen years later.

Universal Pulls Trailer for Vince Vaughan Comedy The Dilemma

Universal recently decided to pull its trailer for the upcoming Vince Vaughan comedy Dilemma because of its inappropriate and offensive (to some) use of the word "gay" in its opening. While I must admit I personally find the line funny as delivered by Vaughan I understand and agree with the sentiment that led Universal to pull the trailer.

(sorry, the original trailer is no longer available on YouTube)

I realize it's difficult for most people to understand why this particular use of the word "gay" is offensive to homosexuals, but I'll try. The problem with this is that "gay" has long been accepted by society as the common term for homosexuals, but it has also been appropriated as slang to denote something bad, something undesirable, something worthy of being the target of derision. I, too, am guilty of using the word this way. And while we should all make an effort to stop using the word that way, there is a difference between my using it with friends and Universal advertising their film to millions and potentially alienating a large part of their audience.

Still, the most offensive part of this trailer is its complete lack of a single funny moment. Dilemma looks absolutely awful (no surprise for a January release). And what a crap premise for a movie - this is what passes muster with studio heads nowadays? How can they stretch this "problem" out to feature length? I dread to find out. I absolutely can not believe Ron Howard has gone slumming so deep to make such garbage.

Trailer for Julie Taymor's The Tempest

Julie Taymor, who directed the visually splendid Titus, Frida and Across the Universe is back with a new film, an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Here's the trailer:

I will reserve full judgment until I see the film, but I sincerely hope it doesn't turn out as bad as this trailer makes it look. I thought her Titus, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus was fantastic, but it looks like she may have lost the plot a bit on this one, relying heavily on CGI and turning his late great work into an action spectacular to attract the Clash of the Titans crowd.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

25 Years Ago This Month: October 1985

Incredibly, October 1985 didn't see the release of a single truly noteworthy film. Sure there was the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando and the Jeff Bridges thriller Jagged Edge, which was the box office winner for the month, but everything else falls into the long or mostly forgotten list.

Of course there was the cult classic Re-Animator - a pretty amusing updating of the Frankenstein story. Also on the cult classic list (albeit on a much smaller scale) was Remo Williams - The Adventure Begins starring Fred Ward as cop turned government assassin.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Titanic's Gloria Stuart Dies

Other publications are much better at celebrity obits, and actually take the time to do real research.

I'd just like to point out that she was also on my celebrity death pool list that I made about 6 and a half years ago. Took her long enough. She was 100.

By the way, she was a stunner in the golden age of Hollywood.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island Movie Review

It’s hard to avoid seeing the parallels between Shutter Island and Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s two films from this year. Both deal heavily with illusion versus reality and the way we perceive the world. They both deal with madness, the former more than the latter. In both films the driving force behind DiCaprio’s characters’ actions is the tragic loss of his wife. And the soundtracks of both films are characterized by the droning sound of low horns in the orchestra, which in this film is a reminder of a ship’s foghorn. Although the two films have similarities in their subject matter, they could hardly be more different in terms of tone and directorial approach.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Runaways Movie Review: Revisiting a Minor Rock and Roll Band

“You bitches are gonna be bigger than the f---ing Beatles!” Not exactly prophetic words spoken by record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon, channeling the psychosis of his Oscar-nominated role in Revolutionary Road) early on in The Runaways, Floria Sigismondi’s feature film debut (she also wrote the screenplay based on Cherie Currie’s autobiography Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway) about the eponymous 1970s all girl rock band.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: Woody Allen Movie Review

It’s become a matter of routine clockwork that around this time every year the new film from Woody Allen finds its way to cinema screens around the United States. Usually his films open earlier in Europe, as was the case with his latest, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, his fourth London-based film.

As much as I have liked some of Allen’s recent films, none of them have made as indelible an impression on my mind as his earlier classics. I’m relieved and satisfied to accept that he seems to have permanently left behind the sad gimmicks that marred his work in the first half of the last decade: hysterical blindness; hypnosis; parallel stories, to name a few.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pixar's Up Movie Review

You have to wonder just how Pixar Animation Studios manages to churn out hit after hit – and not just money-making successes with highly profitable merchandising tie-ins, but quality animated works that never pander and are always thoughtful, interesting films even for the adults who accompany their children (or even those who just enjoy a well told story).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

3:10 to Yuma Movie Review

In the pantheon of classic Westerns, the 1957 3:10 to Yuma, directed by Delmer Daves, sits on the shelf of forgotten films. There’s simply no room in the history books for entertainments that rank slightly better than mediocre. Unfortunately it also suffered a close resemblance to High Noon, which went on to fill the quota for films about a lone idealist standing up for justice when no one else will.

For better or worse, the 2007 James Mangold remake is also likely to suffer a similar fate 50 years from now. There’s little in this update which will make it into a classic, but that hardly means it isn’t worth seeking out today.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Another from the Celebrity Death Pool Bites the Dust

Many years ago I heard about these celebrity death pools in which people throw their money into a pool to bet on which celebrities will die in the next 6 months. The younger the celebrity who dies and the sooner within the 6 months, the more points you earn. It's a sick game. It's morally depraved at best, but it was so intriguing. I thought about throwing myself into the thick of it and made up a preliminary list of those likely to die.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NY drivers better than DC drivers

The Atlantic's Megan McArdle has an amusing post on DC driving/drivers vs. NY driving/drivers.

I've never driven in DC - as far as I can remember - but being from Long Island I've driving in NY many times. She points out that as crazy as NY drivers are, there is a method to the madness. She contrasts this with DC which has no discernible rules for crazy driving.
There are strong local norms about things like merging, when to slowdown for a yellow light, and so forth, which newcomers are eventually forced to learn.  "Learning to drive like a New Yorker" is a sort of rite of passage, like knowing where to get good bagels.  People who arrive from elsewhere may lament the aggression of New York drivers, but they also recognize that navigating within the system is a skill that must be acquired, and they're a little proud when they master it.
I discovered once that when I enter Manhattan, I unconsciously adjust and prepare my body. Usually I've just been driving relaxed on the LIE. When you come out of the Midtown Tunnel or off the 59th Street Bridge, you have to have to be alert for the maelstrom. I tend to perk up and my eyes take in a lot more of the street than locally at home.

Before reading Megan's piece I thought that Seville drivers were crazy and unpredictable, but now I realize there is actually a set of norms here.

Basically, two-wheeled  vehicles don't have to obey traffic laws. If there's a red light, they can go right through it as long as there's no cross traffic.

Also, you don't have to wait for your light to turn green to go, you just have to wait for the cross traffic light to turn red. This is wonderful for pedestrians who are crossing late. Because the pedestrian walk signal turns red at the same moment the traffic light turns green.

The other problem is that traffic lights here are not suspended above the intersection like in most places in the US. Instead they are on posts on the right side of the road. In the US drivers may be looking straight upwards at the traffic light, but the direction is straight ahead which means you still have peripheral vision both left and right for pedestrians. Here the drivers (especially the motorbikes) keep their eyes fixed on the light and the very second (even before in most cases) it turns green they SLAM on the gas. If you're a pedestrian (or a cyclist like me) coming from the driver's left they never see you.

Also in Seville, if your car fits, you can park it there. The city could generate so much revenue in parking fines if they would just crack down on that.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A History of Violence Movie Review

The title of David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence superficially refers to the main character Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen). Alternatively it may refer to the mob men, led by Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) who come from Philadelphia to drag him back to his old life. Or does Cronenberg, a Canadian raised so close to the United States yet educated from a different historical perspective, have something bigger up his sleeve? Is he thinking of the story in terms of the violent history of the United States – from a violent overthrow of British rule in the 18th century to the invasion of Iraq in 2003? Remember A History of Violence was filmed in 2004 and released the following year.

Classic Movie Review: The Night of the Hunter

The actor Charles Laughton directed The Night of the Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Charles Grubb, in 1955. He never directed another movie. This was the result of poor audience and critical reaction to the film. It was considered a disaster at the time. More than half a century later, the film often finds itself on lists of the best movies of all time and in 1992 was deemed culturally significant enough to be marked for preservation by the Library of Congress.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Classic Movie Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg has said that if he made Close Encounters of the Third Kind today the ending would be completely different. After becoming a father himself, he could no longer conceive of a father leaving his family to embark on the great journey that Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is about to take at the film’s end. But I think Spielberg’s mistake in such thinking is the presumption that everyone’s experience of fatherhood is identical to his own.

Comedian Robert Schimmel Dies

I just read that Robert Schimmel, a not particularly well-known stand-up, has died from injuries sustained in a car accident on Thursday.

I distinctly remember the majority of his 1999 HBO special, "Robert Schimmel: Unprotected" in which he culls his personal life (including his daughter's sex life, life after his heart attack and his marital sex life) for hilarious material. If you can get your hands on a copy of that routine, check it out. It's worth it.

Maybe his publicist should let the webmaster know that his official site needs to be updated as it still indicates he's performing at a club in Chicago later this month.