Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

The Most Quotable Movie You’ve Never Seen

February 12, 2010

If you’ve never seen “The President’s Analyst”, you’re missing out. For one thing, it has this incredible monologue from Godfrey Cambridge, an actor who largely spent his time playing comedic parts, including “The Watermelon Man”:

But that makes it sound like a serious drama. It’s quite the opposite. Take, for example, this bit between two FBI agents:

Or the highly memorable Quantrill family:

And we haven’t even gotten to Severin Darden’s character yet, who has some of the best lines, arguably ever (“You want to save the world? You’re the great humanitarian? Take the gun.”) You’re starting to see why this movie is compulsively quotable. Pretty much every single scene has a line that you have to take out of context and use somehow.

As a movie it’s of its time, which is a nice way of saying it’s a little dated. But it’s gloriously insane and still as funny as hell. Check it out, ASAP.

Movies – The Ten Best of the 2000s Part 1 – “Hulk”

December 3, 2009

A weird thing happens whenever “Hulk” is mentioned among nerds of any sort, be them film nerds or comic book nerds, or just regular people. Most people bag on it, but inevitably, two or three people come out and admit they don’t just like it, they love it. It is that truly rare thing: a genuine cult movie.

There are lots of reasons to love “Hulk”, one of two superhero movies that’ll be on this list (you get no prizes for guessing the second one). But the most basic is, it is a movie about superheroes that asks serious questions. After all, Bruce Banner doesn’t just get angry at major things. He gets angry at everything. In the comics, and in the movie, we’re presented with a mild-mannered guy roiling with fury underneath the surface.

That’s what’s great about “Hulk”; it explains not just how Bruce Banner got his powers, but why they happen. It’s the first bit about the Hulk that defines Bruce Banner as a person instead of a container…which is arguably why so many people hate it.

Is it a bit Freudian, both in the genetic manipulation of Bruce Banner and just how he became so enraged? Yep, but then again, we are dealing with a movie about a man who can grow eighteen feet in a few seconds and rip a tank in half, so asking us to believe some simplified psychology isn’t too demanding. And the payoff is beautiful, action scenes, especially an elaborate finale, that genuinely means something on a symbolic level that the movie has carefully set up. How often does that happen?

Just as breathtaking is the editing and visual work. Ang Lee brought everything and then some to this movie. The use of computers in the editing makes the movie feel like reading a comic book without interfering with the flow of the story. The few times Lee truly indulges himself (a flash of surrealism here, a final dramatic scene before the climax that’s a bit Brechtian in its setup, what with Nolte chewing the scenery), he earns it.

None of which is to discount the pure glee of this movie. One of the most baffling criticisms of this movie I’ve ever heard is “it’s not like the comics.” Are you kidding? We’ve got an extended scene of the Hulk destroying tanks, dragging helicopters to Earth, and flying into the troposphere before trashing San Francisco. We’ve got him trashing the lab by throwing a massive ball out a window and destroying some cop cars. Even the sometimes-mocked Hulk dogs sequence is a lot of fun.

“Hulk” deserves a reappreciation, and I think it will inevitably get one as expectations fade and people approach it as an Ang Lee movie instead of part of a franchise. For now, I’ll settle for being one of those card-carrying cult members.

Next – “The Fountain”.

Movies – “Nine”. NEIN!

November 24, 2009

I should preface this somewhat-dignified rant with a very clear and cogent explanation of where I stand re: one Federico Fellini.

Fellini, great eye aside, was never that good of a filmmaker. He had one classic in him, “La Strada”, which you insult on pain of an ass-kicking, and a couple of pretty-good movies; “The White Sheik” is a cute little farce, “Nights of Cabiria” has its moments, “Il Bidone” is OK. But after he became successful, he disappeared so far up his own ass he could tongue his prostate (when Pasolini wasn’t doing it for him, HEY-YOOOOH!) and completely forgot that the pains of a closeted rich Italian guy aren’t very interesting to anybody who isn’t a closeted rich Italian guy. Fellini’s later career, especially alleged classics like “8 1/2” and “La Dolce Vita”, are interesting as historical curios instead of actual movies that you care about, and subjecting anybody to them is among the worst forms of cinematic cruelty.

So, yes, you could say I have a minor distaste for the man’s overall body of work, “La Strada” decidedly excepted (I am not kidding about the fistfight thing).

And even I find what I’ve seen of “Nine” so far to be grating and tone-deaf, so that should REALLY tell you something.

The very idea of the stage show honestly stuck in my craw. I have a theater degree, so I know more and have had to think about stage musicals more than anybody who kind of dislikes 95% of them really should, and one thing that annoys me is Broadway’s desperate attempt to stay relevant by sponging off of the movies. What’s even worse is when the sponging yields a hit, so we’re subjected to the movie of the show of the movie. OK, “Hairspray” worked, partially because the source material was a musical itself, and who knew Adam Shankman actually had it in him to manage not to suck? That said, there is little joy and happiness to be found in “The Producers”, and I suspect the inevitable movie of “Spamalot”, as funny as that show is, is gonna hurt.

And to be fair, I dislike Rob Marshall, not because of any lack of talent but because he’s a goddamn boring director, just like Sam Mendes and all the other directors of “handsome” pictures. He doesn’t make movies that he loves, or movies he is compelled to do. He makes movies that are designed to get major nominations and draw the herd of viewers I’ve taken to calling the Oscar Death March, the people who go to see every movie nominated in the major categories. Marshall does what he’s told, gets handed a great cinematographer, and turns out product. Don’t even pretend to me anybody will give a shit about “Chicago” or “Memoirs of a Geisha” in ten years: they barely give a shit about them NOW.

But, anyway, “Nine”. It’s one thing to hear about the man’s, hell, let’s just be done with it and call them “fetishes” and quite another to actually put that into practice. The trailer to “Nine” feels like a desultory class assignment: “Make a movie in the style of Fellini. It must be just long enough to make the audience feel they are watching art. It must feature a cast of actors who are noted for being talented and will take a paycheck (cast Judi Dench for extra credit).

I’m not going to link the trailer; the pain is easy to find. Suffice to say that this will get nominated no matter how middling and bourgeoisie it is because this year, Oscar’s got ten slots to fill. And they’ll fill those slots with something interesting when they’re dead, and not a second before.

Movies – Hollywood Wants To Grab Your Outputs

November 13, 2009

The big news in the movie industry is the MPAA’s efforts to get access to Selectable Output Control: i.e., they want the keys to your DVR, because they want to control piracy. And if they can do that, they can deliver movies in a “timely” fashion. To which the Consumer Electronics Association and most especially the North American Theater Owners replied: “Oh, really, MPAA? Would you care to explain, oh, anything in your fucking statement whatsoever?” NATO in particular is pretty pissed because they think, and probably correctly, that Hollywood wants to cut them out of the distribution network altogether.

Just as fun was the recent announcement that RedBox and Netflix were taking different tactics as Hollywood freaked the fuck out over declining home theater revenues. Showing that they have never, ever had a Netflix account, Hollywood threatened to hold new releases to 30 days past the retail release window. RedBox, who would be fucked over by this, sued. Netflix said, “Sure, if you’ll cut the prices when you release it.” Netflix, in other words, understands that torrents exist, the piracy genie is out of the bottle for good, so they’re using Hollywood’s stupidity to cut their costs by enabling them to enforce a policy that will put Netflix’s competitors out of business. Well played, guys, if almost ridiculously evil.

Considering that the FCC just told the telcos that net neutrality was here to stay in what amounted to a bureaucratic version of “STFU, tits, then GTFO”, I don’t think the MPAA is going to get unfettered access to your consumer electronics (one of many reasons to vote Democratic, kids). No, this is mostly interesting in watching Hollywood flail as revenues drop.

You see, Hollywood makes the bulk of its revenue from home video. Like everything else, that’s taken a hit in the recession, especially as people have replaced all the VHS movies they want to with DVDs, and especially as Netflix, Hulu, etc. have arisen to fulfill the viewing needs of the general public. Basically, the days of fat home video profits are ending, meaning some big gambles aren’t going to be as profitable as they should be, and that’s something Hollywood desperately does not want to hear and will do damn near anything to prevent.

This is among the reasons Jeffrey Katzenberg and other Hollywood bigwigs are desperate to prove 3D is the wave of the future, even if they have to ram “Monsters and Aliens” and “A Christmas Carol” down every throat in the nation. 3D will jack ticket prices through the roof and supposedly cut down on piracy at the same time. It’s also why they have a stiffy for digital distribution, because that’ll erase print costs, lowering their back end. Getting four thousand prints across the country is not a cheap or easy proposition.

It’s worth remembering the threat of piracy is vastly overblown by the MPAA, although it is still stealing and still an asshole thing for you to do. If you compare what’s actually seized in piracy raids to the actual amounts of goods seized, there’s a pretty wide gap, usually billions of dollars. Piracy does cost Hollywood revenue, but I think the problem is a lot simpler: piracy means they’re losing control of their public relations.

Hollywood lives and dies on marketing and a tightly controlled distribution network, and it always has. Especially as it became a corporate world in the ’80s, and films were “product”, the focus has been on selling people on a movie and making sure they could only see that product in certain ways at certain times. Who cares if it’s any good?

The problem is, if a movie leaks online, anything can happen publicity-wise, and definitely distribution-wise.

The truth is, a leak usually isn’t disastrous for a movie’s gross in theaters. “Hulk”, Ang Lee’s underrated film, leaked online and got ripped apart by fanboys: it pulled down $60 million in its first weekend. “Wolverine” was leaked by somebody who wanted to sabotage the entire product, and it made $180 million in the US alone, and a bit more than that overseas. Even low budget indies can benefit, as the movie “Ink” recently discovered.

“Wolverine” is especially interesting because the buzz on it was pretty damn horrible, which is to be expected on a movie produced by Fox (motto: Ruling From the Ivory Tower Since The ’80s), under the gentle hand of a studio chairman who hates comic books. Sets were repainted, test screenings did not go well, bad reviews were everywhere and THEN the movie leaked. By Hollywood logic, everything should have ended in fire. Instead it was a decent-sized hit.

But the real money lies in DVD sales. Hollywood loses five bucks when you download a cam recording of a movie. Hollywood, to its mind, loses ten bucks when you download the DVD, even if you’re doing that instead of renting. Hell, it even loses money if you download it from Apple or Amazon: the prices are lower and they have to, begrudgingly, give Apple and Amazon a piece. They’ve gone from being able to control how the public sees their movies (in so many, many ways), to having that amount of control yanked right out of their hands.

Combine this with fewer people buying DVDs, and they’re freaking the fuck out.

Expect more attempts to grab your outputs in the future: Hollywood loves them, and yet fears them. Hm. Sounds familiar, somehow.

Movies – How “Precious”

November 11, 2009

“Precious” is a movie I’m on the fence about for a couple of reasons. African-American dramas are a lot like action movies; you can’t trust most critics because there’s usually something else at work in their responses. I’ve little doubt that the novel by Sapphire, “Push”, is grounded in reality and sincerely meant. But every time I see something from this movie, I’m painfully reminded of “Crash”, a movie that white people liked because they were afraid of coming off racist if they didn’t like it. Or, worse, it catered to their ideas about race in the first place, which is kind of fucking terrifying as “Crash” was basically eight stereotypes in search of a stand-up routine.

I said earlier that I’d be intensely curious to see what the nation’s African-American critics made of it, and now we know what one thinks: the ever-entertaining, ever-controversial Armond White.

I’m not going to split hairs here: White can be the biggest fucking loon in film criticism this side of Owen Gleiberman at “Entertainment Weekly”. I rarely agree with the guy. But his takedown of “Precious” starts by taking a chainsaw to Oprah and Tyler Perry and then proceeds to use every other movie best described as “handsome” black people were remotely involved in as clubs on it:

http://www.nypress.com/article-20554-pride-precious.html

So, you could say he has a mild dislike of the film. Here is, for me, a quote that sums up White’s opinion of the movie and White himself:

The hype for Precious indicates a culture-wide willingness to accept particular ethnic stereotypes as a way of maintaining status quo film values. Excellent recent films with black themes—Next Day Air, Cadillac Records, Meet Dave, Norbit, Little Man, Akeelah and the Bee, First Sunday, The Ladykillers, Marci X, Palindromes, Mr. 3000, even back to the great Beloved (also produced by Oprah)—have been ignored by the mainstream media and serious film culture while this carnival of black degradation gets celebrated. It’s a strange combination of liberal guilt and condescension.

Dude…”Next Day Air?” “Little Man?” But it’s the framing sentences that interest me.

One of the key problems in drama is and always has been suspension of disbelief. Some people can swallow incredible bullshit wholesale, while others have trouble accepting even the most carefully refined drama. It’s a common joke that truth is stranger than fiction, but I don’t think that’s entirely true; I think we’re more likely to accept truth over fiction.

“Realism” in film is fundamentally kind of a joke. When people talk about how real a movie seems, they’re complimenting the illusion it created. But they are, first and foremost, aware of the illusion. They know they’re being told a story, so there’s a limit to what they’re willing to accept, even from movies that are trying to depict reality or are based on real events. Sometimes, if you depict the truth honestly, people think you’re full of shit.

I suspect what it is, is that audiences are being asked to believe too much. On some level, they know the actor is just acting, that it’s just a performance for the camera. Then the movie crosses a point and the mind insists: “This isn’t actually happening! What the hell!”

But this is fundamentally short-circuited when dealing with films about race. Part of this is actually fairly sensible: if you’re a white person, weighing in on the black experience is tricky even leaving out the cultural baggage. But that baggage makes it worse: you’re not just kind of a jackass, you might get labelled a racist, even if you’re levelling an honest criticism based on your experience of the film.

I’ll be curious to see what other opinions are out there as the movie hits wider release.

Movies – Why a “Wrath of Khan” Remake Is a Bad Idea

November 3, 2009

I won’t lie. I’m not a fan of J.J. Abrams, as in, I actively dislike, if not outright despise, almost everything he’s been involved with. “Lost” was terrible, “Alias” was worse, “Cloverfield” had a plot problem so glaring I’m stunned it wasn’t fixed, and “Star Trek” was just “Star Wars” with the names swapped out (nothing against “Star Wars”; I just like it better when it’s called “Star Wars”). He’s not a visually dynamic or interesting director, he doesn’t write good scripts, as far as I can tell he just does what he’s told by studios and has had exceptional luck. I’m sure he’s a nice guy in person, but I’m just not a fan. And no, telling me “Lost” gets better will not magically convert me, because just from the plot summaries I can tell it doesn’t, so don’t waste your time or mine.

Also, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is one of my single favorite movies ever. It’s not perfect, just great. So it’s kind of a sign of my restraint that this entry isn’t just an all-caps rant. And to be fair nothing’s on the table yet, but I’d be surprised if Paramount didn’t want a de-facto remake of “Khan”; it’s their style.

It’s a bad idea for any number of reasons:

1) “Wrath of Khan” is, in the end, very much the hero entering middle age and facing doubts about his life. So, yeah, tonally, it wouldn’t fit. Unless this movie’s coming out twenty years from now, but I doubt Paramount plans their tentpoles that far ahead these days.

2) The entire idea of this reboot is to, well, reboot. My feelings about “Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Sequel” aside, the reality is, the franchise isn’t catering to the fans anymore and it needs to stop pretending that it’s doing so. Paramount never gave a shit about them in the intervening thirty years, so why throw us sops now? Just terminate the relationship, Paramount. Dump us. You haven’t cared for years. You know we’ll still go, just be honest.

3) It would probably underperform financially and almost certainly tank critically. “Star Trek”, for all of its flaws, at least had the virtue of being entertaining, and that earned it a surprising amount of goodwill. Tackling a movie written and directed by an Oscar-winning screenwriter, on the other hand, is just begging to get smacked down.

4) There are better remake targets. If Kurtzman and Orci can’t just make some shit up, let’s revisit and update some of the Cold War scenarios from the original series. Those could make for some interesting movies, and actually could benefit from a remake.

But “Khan?” No.

Movies – “Avatar” Will Be Both a Hit AND a Bomb

October 30, 2009

So I finally got a load of the new trailer for “Avatar”, along with the rest of the Internet.

First things first, the next person who greets complaints about the story with “you need to see it in 3D” gets a punch to the balls. If the script blows, 3D isn’t going to do anything for it. And, as much as it kills me to say this, boy does this trailer make it look like this movie blows.

I have to ask, who really wrote this movie? Ed Zwick? This whole “going among the other culture and being their Jesus” is his usual shtick. No way James Cameron actually wrote this movie, with its cliche plot and cliche dialogue. I’m also wondering how nobody noticed this entire plot is essentially furry porn. Think about it: you go to sleep as a human, wake up as a way more awesome cat-man, meet a cat-chick, and bone. Seriously, hands up everybody who DOESN’T think Sam Worthington stays a cat-man at the end of the movie.

That’s about all I’m going to say about the trailer, aside from the fact that it feels the need to remind everybody of every hit James Cameron has ever made. Now let’s talk about its box office.

$600 million worldwide, at minimum. Probably more like $800 million. At the very least, this has the visual goods to be popular eye candy, and Cameron waited until “Titanic” was out of everybody’s mind, so people are rooting for him again. And $800 million is great in absolute terms.

Unfortunately, this movie cost anywhere between $250 million to $315 million to make. In fact, there are rumors going around that it cost $400 million, and that’s before advertising, prints, and all those other expenses. In fact, add those in and I’m not sure Fox is escaping with a price tag of less than $400 million all told.

In other words, “Avatar” is going to have to do “Dark Knight” level business to make money in theaters. My estimate means that if they’re REALLY lucky, they’ll break even. Yeah, yeah, Cameron made “Titanic”, but this isn’t “Titanic.” “Titanic” largely made its money on teenage girls going to see it forty times, and basically being a cheesy old-movie romance with a James Cameron disaster movie stapled on. Who’s going to show up and see “Avatar” forty times, aside from furries?

OK, one more bit about the trailer: the characters are cartoons, the dialogue is terrible, and the movie looks like furry porn crossed with “Ferngully”.

But that shot of the Snidely Whiplash bad guy casually drinking coffee as they fire missiles into a village is pretty damn cool.