August 2010 posts
LAS VEGAS, NEW MEXICO
Numerous famous villains and heros including Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Dick Liddell, the coward Robert Ford and even Wyatt Earp once walked the streets of Las Vegas, New Mexico, which is located roughly one hour and ten minutes due east of Santa Fe and only 75 miles from Taos . Among the 74 (count ‘em, 74!) movies that have been shot in Las Vegas, No Country for Old Men is certainly a standout. Standing in for Texas, the film was shot almost entirely here over a two month period—even the border crossing into Mexico (so realistic in the film) was recreated using the Interstate highway (I-25) overpass and the Galinas River. The still beautiful Plaza Hotel looks just as it appeared in the movie, complete with the poor desk clerk who meets his demise thanks to Anton Chigurh.
If you manage to visit, be sure to stop into Popular Dry Goods, which will also look very familiar! It’s here that Josh Brolin visits—not just once, but twice—first for those camping poles and later for some clothes!! Also shot in Las Vegas for No Country: the car that blows up in front of the drug store (and the windows that blow out) plus at least two motel scenes. When I asked where everyone stayed, no one seemed to know. Their attitude in town about films: fun, but really, no big deal.
Be sure to check out all the films shot here—quite a list! Thanks IMDB.
WHAT WE DO IS SECRET (2007/DVD)
To: Nestle Crush (Brian)
From: Fig Newtron Bomb (Kimberly)
Thank you, Nestle, for watching this silly, shallow biopic with me. It is so much more fun to be appalled with a pal! So WWDIS tells a much abbreviated version of the Germs story (a seminal hardcore punk band that played in LA in the late ‘70s), focusing on Darby Crash, the singer/songwriter. What a lame, spineless tribute to someone who, while presumably pretentious and insufferable (because duh, he was the songwriter/singer in a hardcore punk band) was surely a little more multidimensional than he is portrayed? The deepest we get is in an unintentionally comical flashback: a 10-ish-year-old Crash being shooed away by his mother as she gets drunk in a diner, then sitting down to read Nietzsche. Baby genius alert!
Movies like this make the “punk lifestyle” seem totally achievable and palatable—just dye your hair, say a few positive things about Hitler, abuse some instruments, and you’re in! What a glamorous way for a bored teen to spend a few years. I am sure the people portrayed had it a little rougher than the well-pressed clothing and fashionably messy hair (OK, hilarious wigs) in WWDIS suggest. Read more »
THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE (2009/DVD) With September right around the corner and Project Runway back with a seriously talented and bitchy bunch (unfortunately airing on the Lifetime Channel—who can ever remember where that is!), it seemed like the perfect time to watch this fabulous documentary about the real-life “Devil” Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue (U.S.), as she creates the largest-ever issue of the magazine—September 2007, weighing in at 840 pages (100 pages larger than September 2006) and featuring Sienna Miller on the cover. This 90 minute film is really fun to watch—a fabulous Netflix rental. The filmmakers do a good job of NOT demonizing Ms. Wintour while still showing her as the cold but very effective executive that she undoubtedly is. And, BTW–she is nowhere near as glamorous as her Devil Wears Prada counter-part Meryl Streep–she is a tiny little person, with her signature severe haircut and dark glasses who wears simple but chic dresses and the same simple jewelry over many days. She does however, seem to drink Starbucks all the time and the “book” of movie fame is real. And her underlings clearly are always nervous when they’re in front of her. All except Grace Coddington, Creative Director at Vogue (and former Vogue model prior to a car wreck that caused her to lose an eyelid—ouch!) who is also featured in the film and who has the creative balls to stand up to Anna. They struck me as having something like a working marriage—they have been together over 20 years and have enormous respect for each other, even while getting so angry (quietly angry, mind you) that we can feel it coming off the screen. What fun this movie is! Add this to your queue right away.
P.S. Very interesting soundtrack also….maybe worth owning.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (IN THEATERS/2010)
From: Brian McClelland
To: Kimberly Faulhaber
So…Scott Pilgrim vs. the World! Having never been much of a gamer OR or comic book (ha, I called it a comic book, Kim) fan, I wasn’t expecting this film—touted as pretty much targeted to those precise demographics—to connect much with me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Edgar Wright’s third film—following the excellent horror/comedy hybrid Sean of the Dead and the fun but slightly overcooked Michael Bay buddy cop tribute Hot Fuzz—is a hilarious and rollicking good time on par with his smashing debut. I smiled through through every frame of this thing.
Although the irreverent story—taken from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s manga-inspired series of graphic novels (Scott Pilgrim [Michael Cera] must defeat his new love’s seven deadly exes in order to continue dating her. What?)—is very silly and often quirky for the sake of being quirky, Wright’s sharp cast handles O’Malley’s cleverly absurd dialogue masterfully, grounding what is a fantastical premise with ease.
It’s to Wright’s credit that the cast remains in focus here, while inhabiting a hyperspace, visually explosive manga-infused universe. My fave visual element is when Scott’s band plays and their awesome rock power is seen as a visible, tangible element, flying off and over the band into the audience as if bursting forth from some awesome volcanic force. I found the visuals to be consistently and exhilaratingly kinetic without fatiguing my eyes, or my nerves, for that matter. I was pleased it wasn’t released in 3D—with this much action in the frame, it would likely have only served to distract from the quick and witty dialogue and just-quirky-enough performances from this shit hot ensemble of young actors. Read more »
GET LOW (2009/IN THEATERS) Shown last year in Toronto and a hit at this year’s Sundance, Get Low is finally appearing in selected theaters across the country, featuring a wonderful plot about a man who wants to have his funeral party (emphasis on the word party) before he dies. Who can resist a cast that includes Robert Duvall as Felix Bush—the hermit in question who has lived 40 odd years in the back woods of Eastern Tennessee– and Bill Murray as Frank Quinn–former Chicago salesman now owner of a local Funeral Parlor that’s going broke. ( Of note, Duvall is also listed as one of the film’s executive producers, as he was for Crazy Heart.) Also doing a great job are Sissy Spacek as Mattie, a face out of Felix’s past, Bill Cobbs, excellent as the Black preacher who Felix says is the only guy who can say “something nice about me” and Lucas Black, Murray’s honest and innocent Southern assistant who becomes Felix’s day to day link to the outside world. The story is based on a true story (or legend depending on your source) from the late 1930’s about an old hermit—Felix Breaseale– who really did put on his own funeral party before dying. First time director Aaron Schneider keeps a steady and enjoyable pace to the film and really gives us a great period look and feel. (BTW: Schneider was a cinematographer first and it shows.) The dialogue is good, with some really great zingers—mostly delivered by Murray and Duvall. The movie at first gives the impression that it will be a black comedy when Felix says he wants to hear stories about himself and offers to hold a drawing for his 300 acres at the event for anyone who sends $5 to Quinn. But toward the middle of the film, we head in a more serious direction which leads to the final moving scenes as Felix, with the help of his preacher friend Charlie, tells his own story at the party—with plenty of drama (and no doubt an Oscar nod in Duvall’s future). No problem really…although I for one was looking forward to all those funny stories and Duvall’s reactions to them. Maybe next time….
WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT (1997/KNOPF) by PETER BOGDANOVICH Director/writer Peter Bogdanovich’s conversations-with-directors tome, Who the Devil Made It, is a spectacular achievement—and one hell of a gossipy beach-ready paperback. Collecting a lifetime’s worth of revealing and often quite personal conversations with an amazing array of nearly every great early-to-mid-20th century Hollywood filmmaker, PB is in giddy film historian mode here—and just as enthusiastic as the movie-crazy, star-struck kid he used to be.
The book’s best conversations are often just as much about the writer’s own personal experience with the subjects as the subjects themselves. While most film nerds are familiar with PB’s long and fruitful friendship with Orson Welles (read his 1992 gem This is Orson Welles), his long personal relationship with gadfly raconteur Howard Hawks is less well known. The longest chapter by far, Hawks is brimming with dishy dirt about everybody, period (Howard Hawks did not give a shit, yo!), and it is he who provided the book’s title, remarking on his preference that a director make his style known through his pictures so viewers will recognize a director’s work even if they arrived after the opening credits have rolled, never needing to ask, “Well, who the devil made it?”
Check out this roster of Totally Bitchin’ Dead Guys: Howard Hawks, Allan Dwan, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, Leo McCarey (on his death bed, basically), Fritz Lang, Josef von Sternberg, John Ford (not actually featured in this tome but somehow working his way into everybody else’s stories)…and this is only a portion of the great directors featured in the book. In this captivating collection (and his stellar follow-up companion piece focused on actors, Who the Hell’s in It) PB has given a priceless gift to future generations of film enthusiasts—you-were-there glimpses into the lives, works, triumphs, and tragedies of these trailblazing pioneers. Who the devil made it, indeed.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976/DVD) In the middle of WikiLeaks and endlessly depressing Mid-Year Election news, it’s great to look back to the Watergate era and to remember just how shocked we were by the revelations uncovered by young reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Wonderfully played by a very young looking Dustin Hoffman (Bernstein) and a smooth Robert Redford (Woodward), filmmaker Alan J. Pakula (Klute and Sophie’s Choice, among many others) builds suspense as the two reporters doggedly uncover the depth and height of the Nixon administration’s corruption. Hal Holbrook plays Deep Throat, standing in the shadows and leading the boys to look ever higher in that administration for culpability. Jason Robards (Oscar winner for Supporting Actor for this pic) is perfect as Ben Bradlee whose gutsy support of his reporters basically resulted in Nixon’s impeachment and resignation. Wow. I remember when this was all coming down. The movie is closely based on the best-selling book by Woodward and Bernstein and is filled with wonderful performances–Jack Warden and Martin Balsam as senior editors and Jane Alexander who, for her eight minutes on screen, earned an Oscar nomination. Speaking of which, this movie garnered 8—count ‘em—8 nominations and 4 wins in 1977, among them a win for screenplay (William Goldman) and a nomination for Best Picture. But who won the big prize that year? Rocky!! Proof that Stallone never dies, what with Expendables just released last weekend and topping the box office. Ha! Also passed over for the Best Pic Oscar in 1977: Taxi Driver. Some things never change.
Grade: A+ Love this movie.
BTW: Be sure to watch as the intrepid reporters actually use books and paper files for research! No Google! They type on typewriters! They dial rotary phones! And they still manage to unearth the sordid truth about the Watergate break-in. Most impressive.
THE MUSIC BOX THEATRE, CHICAGO
A recent trip to Chicago led me and my teen traveling companions (two short people that look and behave eerily like yours truly) to this charmingly creepy gem of an art house in the Southport neighborhood. Pleased to have stumbled in on their Monday Special, we found shockingly affordable tickets ($5 for a 5:30pm showing of the hilarious [and teenager enthusiastically approved] doc Best Worst Movie) and sweet concession prices (a two-for-one deal of a pair of pops and ginormous bags of popcorn came to $11). Also welcoming was the staff, who didn’t mind us sprawling out on the lobby couch for an hour or so before showtime. Which was nice, because that couch was of a particular interest to us, as it is a key element of a certain bit of the theater’s lore. Read more »
STEP UP 3D (2010/IN THEATERS)
From: Sarah Gremillion, BFAB
To: Kimberly Faulhaber, Brian McClelland, Crew Members/Posse
So, Step Up 3D! This movie was a perfect outing for the three of us, combining Brian’s passion for good-looking digital 3D (I’ll let him fill in the details) with my and Kimberly’s love of the dance battle genre. A good dance battle movie has to include three elements: a ridiculously contrived plot moved along by poorly-delivered stilted dialogue, a boring romance no one cares about, and, duh, dance battles (the more the better, the sillier the better). Based on those criteria, Step Up 3D is the mother of all dance battle movies. The plot: Remember Moose from Step Up 2: The Streets? Of course you do. On the first day of his freshman year at NYU, he stumbles into and wins a battle in Central Park (happens all the time!), an innocent act which propels him into the New York underground dance scene where he is taken in by a dance crew called The Pirates (bitchin’ name, guys!) and their Vanilla Ice 2010 leader Luke. Their enemies are The Samurai, who dress in all black, obviously. This is a world in which all problems are solved by dance. And where people are constantly opening doors to reveal rooms full of people free-styling furiously in preparation for upcoming battles. Clearly, it is pretty great.
And the battles! Oh so many battles. Director Jon Chu, who also directed Step Up 2, really sincerely does an awesome job with these dance sequences. One that took place in a dusty warehouse and another on a floor covered with a few inches of water were really fun in 3D. The dancing is all pretty fantastic, with the exception of one dude whose sole move is the robot – you are not invited to join our crew, robot guy – and another who finger-danced over the closing credits.
The hilarity of the plot contrivances and the bad dialogue and even worse acting is too pervasive for me to even explain here. A stand out example for me was the progression of time. Problems arise and are then solved in a matter of hours. Films are edited and completed in half a day. College applications are accepted, deans are met with, mortgages foreclosed and then saved, all in the span of about a week. Read more »
SHUTTER ISLAND (2010/DVD) For viewers like me who really loved Inception and Leonard DiCaprio’s turn in it, Shutter Island seemed like a natural Netflix rental. But be warned! This movie is more than a bit of a mess—completely over the top in all respects—plot, music, lighting, camera angles…(I could go on)….with some seriously stiff dialogue and way too many flashbacks, dream-sequences and needless images of the holocaust. But wait, fans say. This is a fabulous thriller and movie portrait of mental illness from Martin Scorsese, complete with an all-star cast featuring not just DiCaprio, but also Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max Van Sydow, Michele Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, even Elias Kotaes (the Canadian Robert DeNiro). Or is it? Fabulous, that is….We’re meant to debate whether the main character, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), is totally lost in a delusional world of his own making, a preservation mechanism used to help him recover from a horrific violent event, or whether he is in fact on to something sinister at the island involving brain altering techniques and being set up for a lobotomy to keep him from spilling the beans. Ultimately, after a long 2 hours and 15 minutes of various twists and turns (and some serious weather), you’ll either be jazzed by this question, or totally bored and ready for bed. I found myself in the latter category. And clearly other viewers are divided as well—if you’re interested, take a minute to read the User Reviews on IMDB, sorted by date of posting. Or just check out Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie has a 58% rating from top critics and 67% overall. Maybe it was better on the big screen.
Grade: C. Didn’t work for me.
Favorite quote: “Mr. DiCaprio, having grown perhaps overly fond of his accent from ‘The Departed’ brings it along for the ride, and it spreads through the movie like a contagious disease.” — A. O. Scott, The New York Times