Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Popdose: Lad movies

Boys will be boys, as cult heroes The Boondock Saints return, and Sherlock Holmes gets some action, too.

Monday, March 29, 2010

For Godzilla's sake...

Get it right this time, guys. It's the least you can do for the Big G, and my 900th post. Don't screw it up as royally as you did in 1998, with a movie and monster so poor Toho spoofed the whole thing in 2004's Godzilla: Final Wars. With that studio giving Godzilla a rest it's incumbent that you do the following:

1) Use the original character with the original look;
2) Don't waste time on some half-assed origins story;
3) Don't use a comic/romantic relief interest who's never heard from again;
4) Don't use any romance, period. Some comedy, OK;
5) If Nineties perpetrators Roland Emmerich and/or Dean Devlin show up with "advice," show them the door, or better the window;
6) Bring in Rodan, Mothra, etc., from the get-go. Give Godzilla an opponent, something to be Godzilla against.
7) Just let me write the damn thing. Maybe direct it, And star in it, too. I'm big and tall...who needs CGI, just put me in the suit and let's rock.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Popdose: Michael Sheen, United and Undead

Hollywood's go-to Brit at the moment basks in the boxoffice glow of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, then finds redemption in the homegrown Damned United.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

24 no more

After eight seasons the clock's run out on an old favorite, which perfected itself in its Emmy-winning fifth season and inevitably wore down like an old watch, with the show losing altitude after a disappointing Season Six. It's been more of a habit since then, though it can still surprise me; revealing Battlestar Galactica veteran Katee Sackhoff as a bad guy on Monday should keep the plot boiling through the May 24 series ender.

Memo to Fox: Keep Sutherland and the delightful Mary Jane Rajskub and get the movie out in two years max, none of this X-Files sequel footdragging. The clock is definitely ticking on audience interest.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to milk your dragon

"Higher Prices Make Box-Office Debut: Tickets Get Costlier as Movie Chains Seek to Capitalize on Consumers' Willingness to Pay More for 3-D" is the headline of this morning's excellent Wall Street Journal story about the costly craze. The story is behind a paywall (oh, the irony!) but the bottom line is that in the absence of any consumer backlash the sky's the limit on those irritating surcharges for 3D and those damn glasses. Think $2, $3 or even $4 is a bit rich? "The exhibitors are trying to push the needle on ticket prices and see where it ends up," says Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution. "So far charging a $3 or $4 premium has had no effect on consumers whatsoever, so I'm in favor of this experiment to raise prices even more. There may be additional revenue to earn here." And to hell with goodwill, as prices on regular old 2D movies also go up by an average of 4% beginning this weekend, as the latest CGI cartoon prepares to slay families with the 3D price gouge.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thumbs down, permanently

An era ends. It ended me for at least a decade ago, when Siskel died (before that, actually, as the show became hard to find in New York). When Ebert left that should have been it, but it limped on. And now after 35 years in some form or another the show's over, and another standard-bearer of old media criticism (one hotly contested by the old guard until it became an institution of sorts) is extinct.

But fond memories I have of watching Sneak Previews as a teen, on my old black-and-white TV on PBS. I learned a lot, took note of movies I should see, or wished I could see, and treasured the "Dog of the Week," a feature that ended when the grindhouses and drive-ins that played them went toes-up. I now know that some of those dogs weren't so bad. But the show helped develop my faculties, and I'm glad to have shared the aisle seat with Siskel and Ebert.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Big deal(s)

Alarm in the blogosphere as the Great Satan, Michael Bay, announces that John Malkovich and Frances McDormand have sold their souls to him and will co-star in the next Transformers movie. As if these two laureled thespians, neither an A-lister (and one, Malkovich, a Madoff victim) are expected to live in monasteries...and as if they haven't grabbed a paycheck or two already. No one takes a vow of poverty to work in Hollywood. As I said, "The shorter and more interesting list is, which actors never 'sell out'? It may begin and end with Daniel Day-Lewis." Others have been suggested. The norm, though, is that integrity and Megatron go hand-in-hand in showbiz. And, another shocker--Transformers 2 was hardly the worst movie I saw last year.

Plays: I'm Walken here

The ghoulish comedian (which is pretty much what he is these days) returns to Broadway in Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane, while other good ensemble casts lose their cool in the drama When the Rain Stops Falling and The Pride. (Praise, too, for the New Group revival of Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, which closed on Saturday. Shepard himself found the piece "rickety" but its fine cast, ably directed by Ethan Hawke, found some life in it. Interestingly, for a piece that deals with some painful themes, there was no "adult language" in it at all. The absence of profanity is more startling than its presence.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Popdose: Wonderlands

Down rabbit holes with Alice in Wonderland, Matt Damon in Green Zone, and a new inmate in the prison-set melodrama A Prophet (un Proph├Ęte), an Oscar nominee from France.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Popdose: Up in the Air on DVD

Oscar nominees George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick give Jason Reitman's observant comedy a lift as it takes off on DVD.

RIP VCR Plus +

I remember how excited I was when these codes started appearing in the paper and TV Guide about 20 years ago. VCR Plus + was the old media version of the DVR, just pop in the code and be done with all that programming bother. Now TV Guide is dead, newspapers are dying, and the VCR is a relic; I still have a small box of tapes, and a player, neither of which have seen any use in years. The P.C. Richard & Son near me is still selling VCRs, for $40, which seems an unrealistic price point at this late date. But if you're going to buy one now and live off the grid with it I doubt you'll need sissy stuff like programming codes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Popdose: Revanche on DVD

The Criterion Collection does justice to a Foreign Language Oscar nominee from last year.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The full Monty

OK, not a complete retrospective, but tonight BAM kicks off an excellent career overview of Montgomery Clift with The Heiress (1949), one of my favorite films. And the hits featuring the handsome, sensitive, wounded actor keep coming, including Red River (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953, pictured), Wild River (1960), The Misfits (1960), and John Huston's little-seen Freud (1962), his final noteworthy credit. My wife and I looked for his grave within Prospect Park's Friends Quaker Cemetery, a lovely, wild spot that is occasionally open for tours. We didn't find it, but this presentation, not too far away from his final resting place, is apt tribute to a remarkable, influential talent.

Down with 3D surcharges

I saw Alice in Wonderland last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which now has a 3D screen. I'm hoping they'll find some better use for it other than the mostly dull Alice (retrospective programming perhaps? Would love to see Flesh for Frankenstein in comin' at ya form again). As a BAM member I paid $8 for the film-but there's no break on the $3 rental surcharge on the glasses, the standard price here in New York (I think it was $2 or $2.50 when I saw Avatar in Baltimore).

Off with its head, I say. It's all the same Real 3D process so one size fits all, whether you're seeing Avatar or Alice or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or Coraline. And the only movies that really benefit from 3D at all are the ones conceived with the process in mind from the get-go, like Avatar or the surprisingly promising Tron Legacy, due at Christmas. Many of the rest, like Alice and the Clash of the Titans redo, are converted afterwards, for a few unremarkable, fall-down-the-rabbit-hole cheap thrills. Nothing to see here, folks--so why pony up the extra dough? Families coughing up an extra $2 or $3 per member must fume at this something-for-not-much deal. Enough ire from ticket buyers and the 3D "revolution" (already a bit of a snooze) will be stopped dead in its tracks.

I recommend seeing the 2D versions of the non-event ones. Trust me, Alice gains little in the format. Re; 3D, until the studios drop the surcharge (which they'll be loathe to do given the golden eggs it's yielding) the work-around is to hang onto your glasses the next time you see a 3D movie, pay to see a different, surcharge-less movie when it's time to see another, and sneak into the 3D auditorium with your purloined specs. I don't condone this kind of sneaky behavior but the 3D surcharging is a ripoff in any dimension.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Popdose: Smackdown with Tony Jaa

You'll get a kick--and a punch, and a crushed windpipe--out of Thailand's martial arts sensation as he goes back to the beginning with Ong Bak.

Monday, March 08, 2010


Not my worst Oscar showing (that may have been last year's 14) but far from my best--when will we have another Return of the King-type sweep? The big categories were locked-and-loaded and had been for months (oh, Sandra!); I fell down on the shorts, cinematography, adapted screenplay, foreign film, etc. Serves me right looking to The House Next Door for guidance to fill in my blanks. Oh, well. There's a broken wrist for every handprint outside Grauman's Chinese, or something. Oscar season fatigue seems to have extended to the show itself, a listless affair--and those mawkish actors' tributes to their peers (plus that intro to the Top 10) have got to go (the Brits must find them excruciating in the extreme). With nothing pithy or insightful to say, I say, "Next!"

Sunday, March 07, 2010

My Oscar ballot

"Let's shoot this fucker!"--Oscar winner Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in 1994's Ed Wood

PICTURE: The Hurt Locker
ACTOR: Jeff Bridges
ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Inglourious Basterds
FILM EDITING: The Hurt Locker
ORIGINAL SONG: "The Weary Kind"
COSTUME DESIGN: The Young Victoria
SOUND EDITING: The Hurt Locker
MAKEUP: Star Trek
DOCUMENTARY SHORT: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
ANIMATED SHORT: A Matter of Loaf and Death
LIVE ACTION SHORT: Instead of Abracadabra

TCM, incidentally, is counter-punching the kudosfest by airing the glass-mountain-of-success camp classic The Oscar (1966) tonight at 8pm. "I hope the Oscar keeps you warm on cold nights!"

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Popdose: Sandra Bullock revisited

Rebooting and revisiting a three-year-old blog post as my crush object prepares her Oscar speech. "I'd like to thank Bob Cashill at Between Productions..."

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Spring issue of Cineaste, online and on sale

The season starts early with a bumper crop of web-exclusive articles and other Spring issue content, including an overview of repertory film programming today, a tour of Cinecitta, book reviews of titles dedicated to Psycho and Singin' in the Rain, a review of the controversial Chinese film City of Life and Death, and much, much more.

Film Forum's Fleming fest

I enjoyed reading Michael Sragow's Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master last summer, and now it's inspired a Film Forum retrospective of his work, which runs through March 18. Among other speakers Sragow himself will be on hand for some of the screenings, including the highly entertaining Red Dust (1932, pictured), which will be shown tonight and tomorrow. A number of these films haven't made it to DVD yet, and seeing them on the big screen is a treat. Of particular interest is a double bill of the Spencer Tracy-starrers Test Pilot (1938) and A Guy Named Joe (1943); I hadn't seen the former until I'd read the book, and the biography informed a rewarding re-viewing of Joe, which I'd never particularly liked.

Though Sragow makes a convincing case for Fleming's ultimate ownership of 1939's Gone with the Wind and The Wizard if Oz, two troubled productions that landed in his lap, it won't settle auteurist arguments over the matter. I have a hunch, too, that readers will be disappointed with Fleming's miscast, unsuited-to-MGM Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), which Sragow waxes about. The series concludes with Fleming's other challenged credit with lover Ingrid Bergman, 1948's Joan of Arc, his last film before his premature death. But there's a lot here to hooray-for-Hollywood about.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

New York Theater News: The Miracle Worker

The story of Annie Sullivan (played by Tony nominee Alison Pill) and Helen Keller (Little Miss Sunshine Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin) returns in a 50th anniversary season production, reviewed here.

On TCM: Heaven's Gate

It's a little late to celebrate, but TCM's "31 Days of Oscars" salute contained what I believe was its first telecast of Michael Cimino's reviled, now rehabilitated, Heaven's Gate. True, it came in the dead of the evening, and "Classic" is sometimes a bit of a stretch given what the channel airs, but there it was, proudly enshrined in a pantheon of sorts. Its Art Direction-Set Decoration nomination, incidentally, was awarded on the basis of the short version that was given a tiny release in 1981, a few months after Cimino's preferred version tanked. But TCM, and other channels, and the home video market, have long since embraced the long version--as has critical opinion. It's an uneven, indulgent, puzzling, but genuinely rewarding vision if you give it a chance, and TCM should give it many chances.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The shadowy Veit Harlan

There are certain movies that cultures would just as soon forget. In America it's Disney's Song of the South; in Europe it's Veit Harlan's outraging Jew Suss (1940), which is today banned from exhibition on the continent. I saw a few clips in a German history class I took in college and was startled at how blatantly anti-Semitic the film was. But this product of Goebbels' propaganda machine was a hit in this day, sympathetically reviewed by, of all people, then-critic Michelangelo Antonioni. Then again, from a distance, we revere Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, for its filmmaking if not its message.

Still, the cruder Jew Suss is harder to rationalize. While anti-Semitism remains a vexing problem we know longer have to live with the film--but the family of its director, Veit Harlan (pictured), does. Opening today at Film Forum in New York Felix Moeller's Harlan--In the Shadow of Jew Suss is pedestrian filmmaking, the documentary equivalent to Harlan's own stodgy, sentimental pictures, which are shown in excerpts. But Moeller gets into a fascinating subject, one that tantalized Stanley Kubrick, who married Harlan's niece Christiane, who does talking head duty here. How does a family deal with a legacy of shame that persists on the cultural record?

For Thomas, Harlan's son, the answer is relentless activism, and criticism of his father, which antagonizes his family. They prefer to view the matter in perspective. His grandchildren, while aware of the taint, can't quite wrap their heads around the troubling legacy their grandfather's "creaky old movie" represents as a museum showcases his work, safely under glass. No one is entirely satisfied with Harlan's "just following orders" self-defense, or that he fell out with his patron, Goebbels, over the editing of the epic Kolberg (1945), which was the basis for the patriotic film-within-the-film in Inglourious Basterds (the poverty and violence that Harlan wanted to leave in, a fact on the ground for German audience members as the war effort collapsed, Goebbels ordered sanitized). But these served him well enough through two controversial war crimes trials (he was acquitted both times) and allowed him to make more movies, in his same flat, fussy style. Harlan retired to an aerie on the island of Capri, where he's buried. The juxtaposition of its beauty and his notoriety is most startling contrast Moeller offers as his family muddles on.

On TCM: Not a Dream adaptation

TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" unearthed the flat-footed 1966 version of Norman Mailer's high-strung An American Dream, a nominee for Best Song (Johnny Mandel's "A Time for Love"). I suspect the writer was singing the blues over how this one turned out, a film that needed the nervous urgency of a John Frankenheimer but instead got a director of TV shows (Robert Gist) to shepherd a cast of TV familiars, or soon-to-be TV familiars (Stuart Whitman, Barry Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Murray Hamilton, Warren Stevens, J.D. Cannon, Paul Mantee, and in smaller parts Harold Gould and George Takei), on TV production value sets--it's like a more posh 70s TV movie, or an impoverished Ross Hunter or Joseph E. Levine feature. Whitman is an anti-cop, anti-mob TV pundit who lets his shrewish heiress wife (the underrated Eleanor Parker, vivid as always) plunge to her death following a brawl on their penthouse balcony, with staging that reminded me of the final fight in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (and, it must be said, a memorably awful, though bloodless, finish 30 floors down). This puts the cops and the mob on his tail, with Janet Leigh (with cropped platinum blonde hair) as a former flame who now flickers for the Cosa Nostra. The effect, with most of the actors leadenly intoning hard-boiled dialogue, is more like The Oscar than Mailer--but that has its own appeal, and if the beautiful letterboxed (1.85:1) print shown turns up in the Warner Archive (it was a WB release) I'd consider it. Trivia for Hammer fans: This was the first of the two films the lovely Susan Denberg appeared in, the other being Frankenstein Created Woman.

And what do you know...two days after posting this on the Mobius Home Video Forum it did turn up in the Warner Archive. Still considering it, but love the noir porn box art, under its original title, featuring Parker. Was it really exhibited somewhere as See You In Hell Darling? Was the retitling Mailer's idea?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Popdose: Shutter Island and The Ghost Writer

In turbulent times for film culture, Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski show that old masters still have something to teach.