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.