Tuesday, March 31, 2009
(NSFC -- Not Safe for Chickens)
But hey, at least I'm not the first one to make the comparison. Guess it's easy to confuse a film that's set in a non-American slum and opens in the present day before flashing back years to a scene where the protagonist is failing at playing sports with ... another film that's set in a non-American slum and opens in the present day before flashing back years to a scene where the protagonist is failing at playing sports.
(Deep breath ...)
Anyway, not to Jai on Slumdog's Ho (that sounds dirty) -- and not to insinuate that the more recent flick is a total ripoff (the tones clearly are different) -- but it's unfortunate that the lesser of these two has been immortalized by the Academy while the other ... well, it had some pretty tough Oscar competition back in '03, so we'll let that slide.
My point is, dude, here's my point: If you're in the mood for something that's more than a simple fairy-tale love story*, try the darker, edgier Cidade de Deus (City of God).
*... that doesn't make much sense. Why, again, was Jamal so in love with Latika? I must have been texting while the characters explained that part.
If not, Slumdog's fine. It looks good, sounds good, and is exciting enough. But that love story ... I'll bet you it's no accident that the final frames of this clip came not from the movie that won the big award.
*No, not Overkill**.
**Wait, can I add italicized asides to an already-italicized aside***?
***I guess so.
Anyway, as is the right of all the filmically inclined, it's time to repossess an Oscar and give it to its rightful owner. Today's target: 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart.
Yes, Mr. Wallace, we might not be able to take your freedom, but we're taking your Oscar. Why?
First, can any non fanboy/fangirl honestly remember anything except that one famous line and all the blue paint*? I mean, I just looked at the cast again, and I don't even remotely recall Brian Cox being in this movie. And I love Brian Cox**!
*OK, OK, I'll admit it -- I remember a certain scene involving this actress, too.
Secondly, the real culprit behind this movie's big Oscar win was the Best Picture category's Epic Epidemic of the Mid-1990s (Schindler's List, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, The English Patient, Titanic and even Shakespeare in Love, sort of). Not a big period piece? Sorry, not a Best Picture.
But that was then. We're at now now. And when will then be now? Hopefully not soon*.
*If you're not sure what the hell that was all about, click here.
But alas, we're not just in the business of stealing Oscars from winners and keeping them for ourselves. Instead, after careful studying of 1) the landscape and 2) a small sample of eligible films, we're bestowing the award upon these guys:
Now, picking The Usual Suspects isn't simply a case of "I like this movie better than that movie." It's not even a case of "This movie pimp-slapped that other movie so badly that Travis Bickle had to shoot up the place* just to save it."
*Oh good God that "shoot up the place" link is NSFW.
No, it's also a matter of how times have changed. Check the last five Best Picture winners:
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2006: The Departed
2007: No Country For Old Men
2008: Slumdog Millionaire
Now, we could argue about these films' quality (or lack thereof*) forever.
But the point is: Not really any epics in there, eh? Not a single period piece (unless you count the No Country and the 1980s), no war (except mafia war) -- not even a story that spans too many decades.
Indeed, we have seen a recent priority shift in the Oscars. Films don't need to be GREAT in the literal sense to be great in the parlance of our times. Got a good story? Competent filmmaking? Then you, too, could be a Best Picture winner.
And if you've seen it, chances are you know: The Usual Suspects is beyond-words good. If it were released in the last few years, I'd've put considerable money on its receiving more than just two nominations/wins (editing, anyone?) -- and one might well have been Best Picture.
But it wasn't, so it didn't -- until now, as the first benificiary of The Oscar Repo Man's charity work.
Now, in return, I expect gifts from all cast members ... just so long as I don't receive what Kevin Spacey gave Brad Pitt (NSFW) in another 1995 film.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
*Literally: Anyone who knows anything about me.
**I wonder if the film will mention anything relating to this.
It involves sports* ...
... plus, the title itself has me humming this (and, briefly, this):
Watch SYSTEM OF A DOWN-SUGAR in Music | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
*Note: The preceding has not been in any way an endorsement of sugar as food. Down with refined sugar!
*First, let's hope the confession doesn't end up like the one at the beginning of this.
1) I'm not old enough to remember seeing basketball great Wilt Chamberlain play.
2) I'm not old enough to remember Wilt Chamberlain live (much)*.
*Aside: Although we're referencing Chamberlain, we won't talk much about this little detail.
3) Repeat 1 and 2, only in 1 replace "basketball great" with "filmmaking legend" and "Wilt Chamberlain" with this guy:
Yeah, so it's not exactly an original position for some film nerd to admire Orson Welles. But my point is this:
Welles' pre-1960s work wasn't just good for its era. Films such as Touch of Evil (the re-done 1998 version ... wow) and Citizen Kane are still good now. Like legitimate good, not "influential" good.
Which brings us to our Wilt Chamberlain/1962 analogy. Sure, during the 1961-62 season, the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain played alongside Hall of Famers like Oscar Robertson (Billy Wilder), Bill Russell (Alfred Hitchcock), Jerry West (Frank Capra) and Elgin Baylor (Elia Kazan). But come on. In '61-'62, Chamberlain averaged a league-record 50.4 points per game (Citizen Kane) and added 25.7 rebounds per (Touch of Evil). He was simply better than everybody else, even if he didn't win the MVP Award (Best Director Oscar) that year (during his career).
That all makes sense, right?
No tengo ni idea de qué se trata esta película. También, sólo he visto una y un tercio de las películas de Almodóvar. Pero, estoy un poco excitado de ...
(Back to English) Which brings up the whole Pedro Almodóvar thing. Previous incarnations of The Film Official were averse to subtitles, so many great foreign films from years past got passed over. Then we (I; the royal we) happened upon this one accidentally, and everything changed.
Which brought us (me), recently, to Hable con ella*, the Oscar-winning 2002 film that starred two guys and two comatose women and had one of the most bizarre/original scenes imaginable (and one that's so NSFW I won't even remotely link to it). The plot, the dialogue, the characters -- OK, so they weren't quite as original as that one scene, but they were close, which placed Hable con ella alongside a number of great '02 releases.
*Literally: "Talk with her," but for some reason translated to "Talk To Her" for English crowds.
Subsequently I caught the first 45 minutes of Volver, the 2006 film that netted Penélope Cruz her first Oscar nomination. Intriguing stuff; hoping to see the rest soon. Then Los Abrazos Rotos ("Broken Embraces"). Then maybe, belatedly, I can take up residence in Almodóvarlandia.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Please, everyone, silence your cell phones ...
Now, with a post title like "Or: Why did I watch this?", you might expect a little film snobbery, a little commentary on character development and plot and dialogue and all that, regarding the Spring 2008 horror flick The Ruins.
Except not here. For a horror film, The Ruins -- in which a few college kids make the mistake of visiting some ruins in a Mexican jungle -- actually does those three categories pretty well. Sure, that setup isn't exactly groundbreaking, but its dead-serious (and intense) execution keeps the eye rolling to a minimum (unlike your typical kids-in-trouble screamers). It's not mind-blowing by any stretch, but that quote on the poster says it all: You'll scream, squirm, cringe and bite your nails*.
*Although, to be honest, I personally would replace "scream" with "Squeeze your eyes tiiiiiight" and replace "nails" with "knuckles and bottom lip."
So let's recap: On story, character and dialogue, we'll call The Ruins average. The positives then, are that it makes you scream, squirm, cringe and bite nails -- all because of some excruciatingly involving scenes with, well, let's not go into too much detail.
So ... why would anyone watch this, again?
And yet, I did. And I'd watch it again. And I'd watch others like it. I will watch others like it. And I'm not alone.
There's just something about horror films. Some go too far, sure, and some are so mindless, derivative and/or excessive that they're not even fun.
But when a horror film gets things juuuuust right -- just enough plot, just-appealing-enough characters, just enough scares and cringe-worthy moments (and yes, gore) -- it can be as memorable as another genre that doesn't require plot/character development/any sense whatsoever: Comedy.
So we're forever keeping an eye out for the next one*.
*And no, another CGI-riddled PG-13 offering doesn't count.
Gotta admit, wasn't too excited about Up after seeing the main trailer (exception: the multilingual dog translator):
But this seems kinda cool. Here's hoping the unique location spawned similar originality, as far as storytelling goes:
*Until they get on a popular soundtrack, and then you can't even go to strip clubs without hearing a track or two.
If so, then this one's for you:
A few comments:
First -- Jeez, Emily Blunt's bosses are tough!
Second -- It's sad that Alan Arkin might end up remembered by a generation of filmgoers as that aforementioned old man (it won him an Oscar, after all), rather than for a terrific, diverse set of turns, like this one (hilarious), this one or this one (NSFW).
Third -- Amy Adams really is good, and it's nice to see she's not playing an innocent little girl all the time.
That said ...
Fourth -- ... here's hoping she (and the other talented actors) get meaty roles in movies that don't appear to be Indie for the sake of Indie. Really, the formula is beyond old. Like in music, lacking the "big label" doesn't necessarily give you a creative advantage. You've got to, uh, actually employ creativity first. There's a DeJuan Blair-sized gap between by-the-numbers Indie and daring, independent originality, like this:
Friday, March 27, 2009
Honestly, it's not the best roundup. Sure, there are some fine picks (Han Solo, John McClane, Ellen Ripley), but Bland Bond and Stiff Superman and the whiniest hero in film history? Whither Tony Stark?
Actually, even Iron Man himself doesn't stack up to The Film Official's personal pick. Now, we're cheating here since these are technically two heroes, but how could you not pick this duo?
I mean, they fall in love, they save the world -- and oh by the way, the female half of it isn't some helpless little girl, either (do you really want to make Eve angry)? But she still has a heart (or heart-like parts, anyway). After all, that's why she -- oh, but that would spoil it for those who haven't seen it ...
I did, when skipping Ratatouille during its theater run -- despite copious accolades and strong reviews. And I used them again, when resisting the temptation to ... well ... to make any effort whatsoever to see it.
Until recently. Oops*.
Here's the point: Pixar's 2007 Oscar-winning film about a rat who happens to be a chef ... it's just not good. Sorry.
I know, I know ... I'm in the vast minority on this one.
And maybe it's because I couldn't care less about the culinary arts*.
*Personal note: I eat the same things, almost, every day. It's just what I do.
Or maybe it's because I have an extreme dislike for Patton Oswalt, who took time off from his smug stand-up "comedy" act to voice Remy, our hero.
Then again, anti-actor sentiment hasn't kept me from liking films before (and the appearance of two favorites, Will Arnett and Ian Holm, should offset it here anyway). As for the anti-food bias -- Sideways' massive crush on wine (another thing I care zero about) couldn't keep that movie from being great, IMO.
So no, there's something else at work with Ratatouille. Really, it's just that everything about the film is so ... obvious. The dialogue*, the plot, the chase scenes (yawn), even the names of some characters**. It's a film that thinks it's being creative by sticking a rat in a fancy restaurant, but in the execution it manages to render even its original ideas ordinary. Plus, the animation isn't even that great.
*The stuff that's comprehensible, anyway -- because, honestly, I couldn't understand a one word Janeane Garofalo's character says.
**A would-be chef named Linguini? An arrogant guy named Ego? How clever!
It seems to be a problem with American animated films, and possibly the Pixar label itself. For some reason, the standards of excellence are just a notch lower. That's likely how Ratatouille became be almost universally loved -- it was on even more top 10 lists than Michael Clayton, for God's sake -- despite its unending mediocrity. It happened to The Incredibles, too -- a largely OK movie that somehow got labeled great.
And while I'm at it, that might be what happened to Wall-E. Its setup -- the first 45 minutes or so -- is the stuff of pure wonderment. In fact, the Wall-E/Eve love story never lets up, staying fresh and adorable until the end. Except there's this little subplot ... with humans ... and saving the Earth ... and even two human characters who strike up their own relationship ... blah. And that's just the kind of blah that keeps a lot of American animation down.
Ah, well. At least Wall-E had some stuff going for it, unlike its immediate Pixar predecessor.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
-David Huddleston as Olson Johnson ...
... and, later, as The Big Lebowski himself.
-Or John Hillerman as Howard Johnson ...
... and, in the same year, as a shady executive in Chinatown:
-George Furth as Van Johnson ...
... the year after he played, uh, this guy in Sleeper:
-And then there's Alex Karras, as Mongo ...
... and, of course, as a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle with the Detroit Lions.
Aren't we due for a '60s/'70s rock biopic or something by now?
Oh wait, we're getting one*.
*All right, I'll admit it -- Mike Myers as Keith Moon does sound a little intriguing ...
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I watched one entry on Wednesday -- and it was good, but far from the best.
Could Year One be the next addition to the list of latest and greatest? The cast (and director) certainly make you notice, and the trailer seems promising:
One thing's definite: When David Cross shows up, I pay attention.
"You're called 'Suck.'"
First, a quickie review: I Love You, Man was lots of fun, absolutely nailing the awkward nature of what has been dubbed "bromance."
It isn't perfect, but from the Paul Rudd character's endless string of would-be cool phrases that come out as gibberish, to the fact that the inevitable "love triangle" -- between Peter (Rudd), fiancee Zooey (Rashida Jones) and new best friend Sydney (Jason Segal) -- never devolves into some bitter melodramatic war, this is an enjoyable flick with a solid message that doesn't get too preachy, unlike some others in the genre*.
Now for the coolest part: Music references! Mostly, just one -- Rush.
For those (like Zooey in the film) who don't know, Rush is something of a cult band -- only theirs is a huge cult. The Canadian rockers have been around since the 1960s and still are rolling (unlike some other bands that are still trying to kick it*). Everywhere they go they draw huge crowds. A few of their songs are locked into classic-rock station rotations.
Still, they're not like The Stones or The Who or Led Zeppelin in terms of widespread popularity, despite having, IMO, three of the best ... musicians ... period* ... manning their respective positions.
*This guy, especially.
But instead of lamenting their lack of mainstream recognition, let's celebrate their sizable place in I Love You, Man, with only one complaint: Could they not have chosen at least one non-radio song for the soundtrack? YYZ, maybe? Or an extended drum solo for Peart? I mean, Peart got a (NSFW) solo here, after all ...
... an Oscars date: March 7, 2010, according to AP -- two weeks later than normal because of, ugh, the Winter Olympics*.
*Revolutionary idea: Have the figure skating finalists perform to the Best Original Song nominees. That way we can tune both out at the same time!
Oh, but this should be a positive post, because it's got us thinking about the Academy Awards and all their frustratingly exciting, obsession-driving glory.
Even more important: Christmas Day itself (a.k.a. Oscar Nominations Day) is set for Feb. 2.
So what will we see on the second day of February*?
*Do NOT say "our shadow."
Will the Academy recognize powerful, gripping cinema, like in 2007? Or will it honor over-hyped fluff ... like in 2007? Or maybe something like this?
Can't wait to see ...
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Now, we've had too many examples of Trailer FAIL* to say that these two- to three-minute bits tell us everything about a film. But let's do some simple addition: That trailer + the writer/director involved = Yawn.
*This one comes to mind.
I mean, seriously. Rock 'n' roll vs. the establishment? True story or not, that setup's about as compelling as the one about women vs. gender roles, or the idea that war is hell. Next!
Not to say this film will be bad or anything. I'm sure there's some great music in there, and it looks like The World's Greatest Actor (and I type that with zero irony ... I really mean it) has himself another meaty role.
Just it brings back memories of Almost Famous, another overrated music movie (I touched upon that here), and doesn't seem -- operative word there is "seem" -- to compare to the best recent example of music-related film-fiction.
One final note, and this is the major point here: I'm still waiting for someone -- anyone -- to do for the genre of heavy metal* what has been done for the likes of '60s/'70s rock or early country or jazz or soul or hip-hop.
*And no, this doesn't count as metal.
If there's one music genre that is completely misunderstood by the populous, it's metal. Is it esoteric stuff? Absolutely. I wouldn't take a girl to a Between the Buried and Me concert on a first date or anything. But NOBODY can listen to it and make any rational argument against its merit as music of the highest advancement. Plus, ya know, it'd be nice if people understood it just enough so as not to label As I Lay Dying fans Satanists (click the link to get the joke there).
But no, the whole thing still is mostly shunned in the Western world and often banned elsewhere. Therefore, the ingredients of compelling film drama all are in play: Dedicated, committed, creative musicians working on misunderstood art, making little money doing it, and touching people in ways that Indie Rockers only wish they could.
There. End of rant. Now somebody make that movie, instead another on the British Invasion.
(And when you do make the metal film, could you leave Metallica out of it entirely? Thanks.)
Monday, March 23, 2009
This was supposed to be a post questioning why Nicolas Cage still gets hired to play smart guys or action heroes or both in big movies. But apparently people still watch his flicks. So, again, what do I know?
This: It doesn't work. Not in terms of, like, making good movies. Sure, everyone does bad ones. But when they hire Vin Diesel for the Fast and the Furious remake (now with ampersand; articles not included), you go: "Yeah, sounds about right." Cage, though -- he just fits badly in bad movies. And it's not like this idea is new. It's been going on since at least, like, 1997*.
*Con Air actually owns, despite Cage's awful accent. "Or as they say in Ebonics, 'We be f*****.'"
Now, we could further rail on Cage, complaining about why the actor makes such choices. But that would be like badgering baseball players for saying "yes" to the multimillion-dollar contracts offered by billionaire owners. Nope, not gonna happen. Not here.
Instead, we'll just offer yet another string of "whywhywhy?" -- as in, why does Cage keep getting these roles? It hurts to watch. Mostly it hurts because there's a place (there's a place) where Cage can go (where Cage can go) to find perfect roles for his persona.
Cage did, in fact, flat-out nail the lead roles in three of The Film Official's all-time favorites:
(Pretty much NSFW...)
(Most def NSFW...)
Sunday, March 22, 2009
For some reason, I actually hadn't seen Hot Fuzz until, well, right before posting this. Now, if you've seen it, you don't need me to say (and say about two years too late) how clever it is.
Instead we'll dive into nerddom here: Film editing nerddom*.
*Note: If you haven't been upset about things like, say, the fact that The Pianist stole a Best Film Editing nomination from Minority Report in 2002, it might be best to return to your originally planned web surfing ...
Now, there was quite the slate of films in 2007, and quite the well-edited ones, too. So whether Hot Fuzz got snubbed (in favor of winner The Bourne Ultimatum and nominees The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Into the Wild, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood) ... well, who can say that when you're choosing five among dozens?
Regardless, just take a look at the following sequence (mostly the last few seconds of it) and try argue that Edgar Wright's hilarious action comedy didn't at least deserve consideration for The Film Official's favorite Oscar.
Brilliant indeed. Sure, it might not be the best-edited film of all time, but Hot Fuzz's quick, creative cuts certainly caught this avid (pun intended) editing nerd's attention.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Strangely, the Coen Brothers' 1990 neo-noir hasn't stuck in too many brains since its release, despite the Coens' rising profile. But just check its user rating on IMDB. It ain't all-time high. But 8.0 is pretty solid (and 0.1 better than the Best Picture winner -- ugh -- from '90).
There's a reason.
Anyone who's read Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest (one of my favorites) will notice the parallels between that book and this film. In fact, Miller's Crossing is probably the closest thing to a modern, English-language adaptation of Hammett's genre-defining work* -- it's got the setting (a mob-run town; Albert Finney plays the Irish head honcho here); a cold, witty, rational but not-quite-conscience-free protagonist (Gabriel Byrne); a can-you-really-trust-her? dame (Marcia Gay Harden), and a whole lot of shady characters and angles to be played.
*Incidentally, Harvest contains the phrase "blood simple" ... which later became the title of the Coens' first film.
Maybe that Harvest-Crossing closeness is why Crossing doesn't much find itself alongside films like Fargo in the pantheon of Coen Classics. Like in Harvest, Crossing's humor is black as a Thompson's handle. There's no Jesus the Bowler (NSFW!!!!) here, nor any funny-looking kidnappers. Not to say there isn't a little relief*, just not a ton. Mostly it's a clever, tangled, violent web of crime, and you're never quite sure what the hero's up to until it all comes together in the end.
*A kid. A dog. A dead guy. A hair piece.
The only significant issue here was the casting of Jon Polito as Finney's Italian rival. Polito's a fine comic actor, but plays his Crossing role a little too cartoonishly, compared to the others. It's far from enough to ruin the film, though -- and definitely no reason to skip this overlooked Coen gem.
After all, Rusty Ryan from the Oceans' series didn't.
Friday, March 20, 2009
I also never forget an Oscars misstep*, although -- and I know, this is like totally groundbreaking here -- that fact tends to tax the memory from time to time.
*The Departed over United 93 for Best Film Editing in '06? Are you serious?
Oh, but let's be fair. To expect the Academy to post a 1.000 on-base percentage would be ridiculous, and to say the Academy always fails would be equally so. In the 2000s alone, I'd say there were four very, very good films (Chicago, LOTR: Return of the King, The Departed and No Country for Old Men) that won the top Oscar.
But sometimes the Academy just plain blows it. And by blows it, I don't mean it misses out on some obscure film that only I and like six other people liked*. I'm talking about movies that clearly got at least some Oscar support -- just not enough.
*Like The Weather Man.
Take The Year 2000.
Here are the Best Picture nominees:
-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In other words:
-A fun-enough action movie
-An overdone, self-serious drug movie (although the Benicio Del Toro third of it is pretty good)
-A TNT movie (and by that I mean the network, not the AC/DC song)
-Didn't see the movie itself, but it was hard to avoid the endless allusions/homages/send-ups/ripoffs of the whole in-air-combat thing. Yawn.
-Didn't see it -- but can you blame me?
Meanwhile, check some of the other films released* in The Year 2000:
*Note: Contrary to what the link says, Memento indeed was not a 2000 release; otherwise it would be on this list, too.
-Wonder Boys: Proof that you don't have to be a downer to be a classic in The Film Official's eyes. Also proof that not all literary adaptations leave you wanting. (A horrendously snubbed) Michael Douglas nails it as a frazzled author/college professor who's got a lot on his mind -- and adds to the trouble during a three-day jaunt through Pittsburgh. Unendingly clever and creative. Deserved far more than its three nominations (Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing and Bob Dylan's winning Original Song).
-Cast Away: It's long and quiet. Some people say that like it's a bad thing. Me personally, I couldn't have rooted more for the lost soul and his pet volleyball. Plus, the ending is one of the all-time greats. So where are the nominations? It only got Sound Mixing and Best Actor (Tom Hanks). Not even cinematography. Oh, and side rant: Hanks was a thousand times better here than in his winning Forrest Gump role, yet Russell Crowe (who himself was a thousand times better in The Insider than in Gladiator) won the award in one of the worst Oscar Make-Up Calls ever.
-Requiem for a Dream: Seems like every hipster with a taste for the dark an uncomfortable considers Requiem to be one of the all-time greats. Me too. From Ellen Burstyn's Oscar-nominated (and should-have-been-Oscar-winning) performance ... to director Darren Aronofsky's innovative/influential style ... to Clint Mansell's chilling theme that still gets used in movie promos ... wow. Just one nomination?
-O Brother Where Art Thou?: It's perfect period Coen. Funny. Creative. Looks great. Sounds great (especially with all that catchy old-timey music). Features a trio of outstanding performances (George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson) ... and yet, just two nods (Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography).
-Almost Famous: Honestly, I don't see what the big deal is with this movie. It's fun (and has a great soundtrack, of course), but doesn't compare to the other four on this list. But is it better than the Best Picture nominees? Well ... yeah. What's weird is that people thought as much in 2000, and they certainly think so now. Still, it only got nods for Best Original Screenplay (which writer/director Cameron Crowe won), Best Film Editing and for Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand's supporting performances.
... So, uh, yeah. Not a good year for the Academy. Which is weird, because the year before, all five of its nominees (American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider and The Sixth Sense) ranged from pretty good to outstanding.
Or maybe it's not so weird. Through its history, the Academy has been pretty nebulous. One year, it honors Schindler's List with Best Pic. The next ... Forrest Gump. One year, it's Annie Hall. The next ... The Deer Hunter. Heck, the last two winners were a graphic, dark, intense thriller about a killer on the loose in the Texas/Mexico desert ... and an exotic fairy tale ride through the slums of Mumbai.
So what should we expect for '09? This?
Hope not. Here's hoping Oscar doesn't pull a 2000, no matter who gets picked for the Final Five.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
(I'll have that for you in a moment.)
... once in a blue moon.
True, it's no Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles, Brooks' 1-2 comic punch from 1974 that helped place that year among the greatest in film history. And no, it's not quite on The Producers' level either, but that one's in a different world.
But Brooks' send-up of The Master of Suspense's classic thrillers is right up there, maybe a half-step below his best, firmly entrenched in his Second Tier, alongside other spoofs like Spaceballs, Silent Movie (another overlooked one) and Robin Hood: Men In Tights.
One thing clearly going against High Anxiety is modern-day relevance. In pop culture, Westerns (which Blazing Saddles parodies), horror flicks (Young Frankenstein), period adventure movies (Men in Tights) and sci-fi sagas (Spaceballs) all have stayed alive in one way or another.
Meanwhile, Hitchcock movies (Psycho excepted) fall outside the purview of most of today's non-cinephiles. Sure, the old cheesy horror movies at the core of Young Frankenstein's jabs aren't around anymore either, but one typically learns through osmosis the story of Frankenstein and his monster and all that. But North by Northwest? Vertigo? These are AFI classics, not IMDB hits.
But High Anxiety is worth it no matter how much Hitchcock you've seen. Like any Brooks vehicle, it's filled with memorable lines*, hilarious gags and ridiculous characters played by Brooks regulars (the writer/director himself, Cloris Leachman, the late great Madeline Kahn, the also late and also great Harvey Korman, Dick Van Patten, et al).
*"You're the cocker's daughter?"
Really, the whole thing's worth it just to see eventual Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (below) as a high-strung bellboy. Sadly, I found no clip online. So you'll just have to take The Film Official's official word for it, and Netflix this one.
"That kid gets no tip."
So in another one of my lives I'm into sports or something. Guess you might be able to pick that up considering the referee pic on the right side of this blog.
Anyway, as a sports junkie, I frequent this one little website from time to time, and often read this humor columnist named Bill Simmons. In a recent e-mail exchange with readers, Simmons (a regular pop-culture in-joke machine) talked movie bromance (he declared Shawshank's Red and Andy the "greatest bromance ever"), and he discussed many, many other things of varying topics.
One topic was bold predictions. One prediction was this:
"America will turn against Judd Apatow."
Not that Apatow didn't bring us one of the most likable gross-out comedies imaginable in The 40 Year Old Virgin -- which also pretty much resurrected the genre -- but I think we're nearing the saturation point. Too much, too fast.
It seems each passing Apatow film -- or at least each one that features members of The Judd Apatow Troupe (Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, Jonah Hill, et al) -- gets a little less hilarious, and a little more derivative. Not to say films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Pineapple Express weren't laugh-out-loud funny at times ... it's just, ya know, the shtick isn't as good as it was four years ago.
Now there's this:
Funny, sure. But a Deer Hunter joke?
And one more thing: Let's hope Funny People avoids the forced (and mostly unbelievable) ending that turned Knocked Up into a "grown-up" movie with "values" (or something like that). Less maturity, more (incredibly NSFW) Mooj.
For now, let's just celebrate one of the best on-screen couples: Fred MacMurray's Walter Neff and Edward G. Robinson's Barton Keyes. It's not quite bromance. But it's still pretty touching.
Keyes: Closer than that, Walter
Neff: I love you, too.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
They also say that ain't worth a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin gettin' it on.
So why not a new gimmick?
Since I hear no objections, this is happening. Introducing the first-annual inaugural debut edition of the oh-so-original Quote of the *Insert Time Period Here*!
It might not be the most original one out there, but there's a lot of hidden meaning in it. I think it's Spanish for, like, a fighting chicken.
"That. Just. Happened."
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
First, let's forget Alien: Resurrection ever happened. In fact, I might call Dr. Howard Mierzwiak just to get that junk removed from my brain.
And those AVP movies? In the word of Bill Lumbergh: Yeah ...
This is how The Film Official's Alien rankings stack up:
Yeah, you read that right. Alien3 > Aliens.
Sure, sure, in some circles, the James Cameron-helmed 1986 sequel is considered better than Ridley Scott's 1979 original -- part of that "which sequels are better than the original?" debate that often involves the first two Godfather and Terminator movies, too*.
*Although, strangely, Caddyshack II never seems to work its way into that discussion.
Aliens even has a healthy contingent of irrational fanboys and fangirls, intent on destroying everything that dare go up against their precious movie.
Well, bring it on.
First, though, let's say that the original is clearly the best -- a Hall of Famer for sure. It's bleak. Quiet. Almost slow -- just to maximize the dread. You don't really like the characters -- a seven-person crew of some towing spaceship -- but it's not as if you completely hate them. They don't have weapons or, it seems, any hope of surviving when that unmistakable alien finally shows up on their ship.
It's the kind of film where you can know everything --and I mean everything -- that happens before seeing it (that's how it worked for me), and yet it's still wholly terrifying. Even the infamous chest-bursting scene* is intense and surprising, no matter how many times you see it. And come on -- Alien even has a lovable cat as one of the good guys.
*No, not this one.
But now for the real alien-fight: Sequel No. 1 vs. Sequel No. 2.
What I can say about Aliens (which, strangely, received copious Oscar nominations despite being a sci-fi actioner) is this: It's a nice, mostly exciting shoot-em-up. It's certainly not bad -- definitely entertaining, with some intense scenes and nice effects for 1986. Sigourney Weaver does a fine job as our hero, Ripley. But that's about it. The script tells you exactly which characters will live and which will die. And gee -- Paul Reiser's character ends up being a bad guy all along? That's so obvious, I didn't even tag it with SPOILER ALERT.
Alien3, meanwhile, is all about atmosphere. The David Fincher effect -- this was the Se7en/Zodiac/Fight Club director's feature debut -- helps it rise above what is a somewhat simple script, even though Fincher (supposedly) dealt with considerable issues while filming.
That's not to say the story is bad. After escaping the Aliens situation, Ripley finds herself on an all-male penal planet, and one of those alien things is with her again. There's not too much action -- like in the original, the prisoners have no weapons -- so the film relies mostly on mood. Although the final chase-ish scene is chaotic, that's the point. Love the ending, too.
Now, for one, final, spoiler-filled note:
In Aliens, two of the characters who (quite predictably) don't get killed off are Hicks (Terminator star Michael Biehn) and, of course, the Cute Kid (also known as Newt, played by Carrie Henn). At the beginning of Alien3, we find that these two have died in some sort of incident.
Some -- it's even said that Cameron himself used these words -- called this decision "a slap in the face." And that sentiment is understandable. After all, Hicks and Newt were quite likable*.
*That's why they didn't die in Aliens ... duh!
So if you share that feeling, here's what you do. Go back to your Aliens DVD and make like me with Alien: Resurrection -- as in, pretend it never existed. Then, leave those of us in the vast, vast minority to enjoy Alien3 for what it is -- a dark, bleak, brooding film that gives you that sweetly sick feeling while you watch it.
You know, like the original.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Because the guy invented a genre. Or helped invent it. I mean, I'm no licensed historian or anything. But I'm certainly not the only one to notice the clear similarities between Navin R. Johnson ...
... and Ricky Bobby ...
... and hey, even "Mike Honcho" (probably not quite SFW) ...
Yep, The Jerk helped blaze that trail. Now, 30 years after its release, Steve Martin's legendary entry in the Stupid Comedy genre is still just as funny as when it first came out*.
*I wasn't born yet, but that's what some guy on a bus told me.
No joke -- Martin even earned the No. 99 spot on Premiere's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (released last December). So ... When The Film Official reveals its Stupid Comedy Hall of Fame soon, this one's gonna be a first-ballot inductee.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Comcast's On-Demand lineup has offered a lot of Woody (no snickering!) lately. And watching some of his works again, it's pretty hard to argue* with the career of everyone's favorite nebbishy comic/philosopher. He's won all sorts of awards for all sorts of films -- from the most serious of dramas to the most ridiculously stupid** of comedies.
*Unless you're one of those types who holds someone's personal life -- like Allen's -- against them when it comes to assessing their work; better stop being a sports fan while you're at it, too.
**Stupid in a very, very good way.
Lately there have been lamentations about how his work is slipping, not nearly up to his standards and blah blah blah*. Here's hoping the teaming of Allen with the angrier, taller, 21st-century version of him breaks that trend. But even if it doesn't ... so? That's what Netflix is for. Or cable, if the On-Demand Library gods feel like being kind.
*Reminds me of a quote from author Joseph Heller, when told he had never written anything as good as Catch-22 after releasing that legendary novel. He retorted: "Who has?"
Not that Woody is inarguably the best ever or anything. But even if he never makes another masterpiece, he's near the top.
Here's why (note -- these aren't all of Allen's good films, but they're among his greatest):
-Annie Hall: The Best Picture winner isn't his best, IMO. Still, it's up there, offering Allen's typical mid-career mix of hilarious lines and interesting life (and, especially, relationship) insights. Extra points for the scenes where Allen's character interacts imaginarily with people in his flashbacks or with strangers out in public, and for the line "Everything that our parents told us is good is actually bad -- like the sun, milk, red meat, and college," and for hilarious early appearances by Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum*.
*"I forgot my mantra."
-Bullets Over Broadway: John Cusack is a blocked playwright and Chazz Palminteri a gangster with an unusual gift -- play writing. Palminteri, Dianne Wiest (who won) and Jennifer Tilly grabbed Oscar nominations; extra points for a great role for one of The Film Official's favorites, Jim Broadbent, as a gluttonous actor smitten with Tilly.
-The Stupid Comedies: Again, "stupid" is a compliment here, a word meant only to separate the likes of Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975) from Allen's more "serious" later works, or at least the ones that don't involve Woody beating a man insensible with a strawberry.
These are the closest to Allen's hilarious books. Personally, it's hard to pick a favorite among the first three I listed, which are slightly superior to Love and Death. Let's go with some favorite scenes, instead:
Remember when Miller beer, um, "came up with" the term "traveshamockery"? Well ...
It's beyond me why the bit at about 1:20 of this clip isn't more well-known.
Oh, the social commentary:
-Crimes and Misdemeanors: This 1989 film is dark. Funny. Tragic. Pretty much bleak. Moralistic, but far from annoying about it. Two story strands are at play here, linked only by a mutual acquaintance of both protagonists.
One of those protagonists is Judah (played by the ever-outstanding Martin Landau, known to Entourage-ophiles as Bob Ryan). He's upstanding and upstandingly married, but an affair with a woman (Angelica Huston) is coming back to haunt him. Meanwhile there's Cliff, played by Allen as sort of a less-successful version of himself (he's a low-level documentary filmmaker). Cliff is stuck in a loveless marriage and falls for a TV producer (Mia Farrow). Cliff's story is tragically funny. Judah's story is tragically not.
A lot is made about how Do the Right Thing wasn't nominated for Best Picture in '89, and I can't argue with that. But let's not forget that Crimes and Misdemeanors -- one of the few exceptional films made in the disappointing 1980s -- also didn't make the cut. Not even for offering this profound ending (spoiler alert) or a joke for the One-Liner Hall of Fame*.
*"Last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty."
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Next question: Was 2001: A Space Odyssey one of the most influential films of its time (1968)? Yes.
OK, another one: Is 2001 filled with pretty cool effects, sounds and images, even by today's standards? Absolutely. (Click here for an example, but beware spoilers.)
Still ... Is 2001 a slow, mostly empty experience whose story only makes moderate sense (unless you happened to burn one with The Dude before watching it)? That one, too, is affirmative.Sorry to go after an Unquestionable Legendary Film, but seriously -- sure, the cinematic tricks are fun (the opening bit about the Dawn of Man, in particular, still is a wow*). But a truly great film, in and of itself, these things do not make. That's why the word "influential" is thrown around. Here, it's a euphamism for, "Way original, and good for it's time, but ..."
*Not a ShamWow, though.
For a more complete experience, better to check out a near-forgotten work from director Stanley Kubrick instead.
And another thing: If I have to hear 2001's theme one more time ...
What to say about Stanley Kubrick that hasn't already been said?
My own comment: When looking at the late director's filmography, it's hard to believe the guy directed as few films as he did. Only eight after 1960. Only two after 1980.
Early on, in 1956 -- before helming legendary movies like 2001 and A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket and this unfortunate disappointment, and even before he made the I-can't-believe-Kubrick-did-that-one Spartacus and Dr. Strangelove (the best of the bunch) -- the peerless director crafted The Killing.
It doesn't carry the twisted vision later synonymous with the director. It's pretty much a straight, sinister, small-time crime film -- a group gets together to rob a horse track and make a killing (of one kind or another). The word "taut" gets thrown around a lot, but it's perfect here -- there really isn't much time wasted in the movie's 83 minutes.
Yes, like in many early films, some of the acting is wooden and the music a little excessive. There's also one character -- played by a hulking chess-crazy pro wrestler from Russia named Kola Kwariani -- whose dialogue was almost incomprehensible*.
*Seriously, listening to Kwariani in his couple of scenes, I felt like Brian Fantana talking to Ron Burgundy.
Still, those are small qualms with an otherwise slick, entertaining yarn. It's easy to see why this one often gets forgotten when talking about Kubrick's career -- it's not big/yuge/EPIC, like some of the others. But it's also easy to see why Quentin Tarantino liked it so much that he wanted to do his own quasi-version of it years later, with Reservoir Dogs.
And, in the end (literally), the film's final line belongs right there among the best ever:
"What's the difference?"
Atonement deserves a lot of credit for not sucking.
Obviously a lot of it should go to Ian McEwan, the dude who wrote the book on which the film was based*.
*I haven't read the book, here's a review of it from ESPN.com baseball analyst/book junkie Keith Law. Beware -- spoilers aplenty.)
The story starts at an English mansion somewhere (sorry -- it all looks the same to me), but luckily the book/film isn't a typical Costume Party for the Rich, not for the duration. Even the well-to-do characters end up elsewhere, and in tough situations. Some are self-imposed, some most certainly are not self-imposed, as -- in this Best Picture nominee -- a poor kid (James McAvoy) gets quite the shaft from a lovestruck young girl (Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan early, two other actresses later) who is jealous of McAvoy's forbidden relationship with her sister (Keira Knightley).
But this isn't one of those Merchant/Ivory-type snooze fests -- which, in the words of a person close to me, are little more than "stuffy British melodramas." Not quite. After that melodramatic setup and its main plot point (which involves a word once used to describe Larry David's wife's beloved aunt -- that link is most definitely NSFW), a good deal of the story exists on battlefields and in a wartime hospital and other not-so-glamorous places.
Like I said, it's still pretty melodramatic: Heavy issues -- true love, betrayal and, of course, atonement. Not much levity here. Some VERY SERIOUS conversations and confrontations, the kind that only seem to happen in fiction*. And lots of war-is-hell elements -- which sorry to say, are ordinary and played out**. In all, despite the film's surprisingly short two-hour runtime, it still seems a little lengthy, a bit bulky.
*Then again, considering how Atonement ends, there's something to that fact.
**Seriously, war is bad? I had NO idea.
Again, though, it doesn't suck. From the start you can tell it's different -- that aforementioned word clues you in that there's not an overwhelming sense of "proper," which is what drags a lot of these British Upper Crust movies down. The way it's filmed* -- director Joe Wright uses some creative devices, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey crafts some undeniably beautiful images, and Dario Marianelli's Oscar-winning score is unusual (the main character is a writer, and a typewriter's click cleverly serves as percussion in several places) -- also is an asset.
*I must say, though, while it's a remarkable achievement cinematically, that 5 1/2-minute tracking shot left me wondering: Yeah, but ... so what?
Then there's the ending, which gave the book's critics (at least the aforementioned Keith Law) a lot of pause. It involves an unusual narrative device -- I won't spoil it here -- but I can see why it left some angry, especially in written form. Strangely, in the film version, it kind of works. Movies so often are saddled with cheesy, cop-out Hollywood endings where everything gets settled neatly and cleanly. Atonement's, though -- even if it is, shall we say, told and not shown -- does not follow that pattern. Although a similar device was used far more cleverly in Adaptation (my personal vote for the best film ever, BTW), Atonement deserves points for not turning itself into fairy tale (and ... fade to black with swelling, happy music!) or simple climactic tragedy (and ... fade to black after the horrible final incident).
Oh my God, I think I just talked myself into liking this movie*.
*Still, in the context of 2007, it's not even remotely top-10. Stay tuned ...