June 2011 posts
I am deviating off the course a bit this week. Since it is summer, and we are in the blockbuster season (a.k.a movies starring Shia LaBeouf). I would like to point out the short falls of a brilliant career.
Mr. Spielberg is one of the more interesting moguls of current Hollywood. He is a man praised for his ability and imagination, but hated by more people than George Lucas. While, I personally love what he has done making movies over the years, I am not the blind faithful either. Mr. Spielberg has made plenty of bad movies to go along with his greats. Compared to other filmmakers he is a god that walks as man, but compared to other legends (i.e. Kubrick), he is still a hack. So in looking at Spielberg’s career, I believe it is notable to point the following out:
1: Of the top 50 grossing films, he has produced and/or directed five of them.
2; He is Steven Spielberg. He has an idea about a guy going to the toilet, and it is green lit by 8 am Eastern Time.
3: Dude made Jaws.
4: Owns his own production studio, and sold his distribution company a few years ago for more money than we will ever see (take that Zanuck).
With all of this going for him, this does not make Spielberg immune to lemons. Here we have broken down his movies into three categories:
Awesome: Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters, Jurassic Park, Empire of the Sun, Raiders, Last Crusade, Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Catch Me If You Can.
Tolerable: Temple of Doom, Sugarland Express, Always, A.I., Amistad, Minority Report, The Terminal, War of the Worlds, and Munich.
Horrible: 1941, Lost World: Jurassic Park, Crystal Skull, and Hook.
As you can tell, he has an impressive career, but also some big failures critically, and box office wise. First off, he can never be forgiven for the last Indiana Jones movie. That ruined so many hopes and dreams of thirty-somethings, that it should be a crime. And I still marvel at the horribleness of Hook. I mean there is nothing redeeming about that movie at all. Nothing that even looking back on is funny. The only funny part is that when it came out when I was a kid, I loved the movie to the point of obsession. This just proves that kids have horrible taste in movies. The tolerable, at least have a good performance by one or more of the actors that saves an otherwise cheesy movie.
The fact is that we cannot sit here and say that Mr. Spielberg is a bad filmmaker. In fact, he is one of the greatest, but being a great means that you fail sometimes, at least in Hollywood. If Steve Spielberg can look back and say that I had three or four really bad movies, then he beats out nearly every other director in the good to bad ratio. Altman and Kubrick at least had one out of their few (Eyes Wide Shut and Dr. T and the Women). While he may not be every one’s favorite, it is clear that nearly everything he touches turns to gold. Ruth led for a long time in Home Runs and Strikeouts. For proof of this in the movies just look at Jaws and then the Transformer series.
Everyone has a favorite movie shot in beautiful and soulful N’awlins. What’s yours?? IMBD lists over 1,000 movies shot here! Wow…the most recent is Green Lantern (2011), just released and already yesterday’s Times Picayune was lamenting the film’s poor performance at the box office in an article entitled meaningfully “What Went Wrong?” (see link above)–but mind you they are not apologetic about its filming location. Having queried a friend or two about their favorites, here’s the list so far: Pretty Baby (Louis Malle introducing us to Brooke Shields in the title role); The Big Easy (sexiest Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin ever); Interview with the Vampire (Kirsten Dunst as another impressive youngin’); The Road (who knew!); the upcoming On The Road (directed by Walter Salles–can’t wait for this one); Cat People (reviewed by yours truly for Serious Movie Lover way back when); and of course, Easy Rider. Tell us your favorite in the comment line–please! And just to say, on a personal note, this is my first post-Katrina visit to the city and it’s really great. Plan to come as soon as you can.
YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (2010/DVD) Swept away by enthusiasm for this year’s fabulous and fun Midnight in Paris, fellow SML reviewer Be and I decided to rent Woody Allen’s 2010 film offering, which features Josh Brolin as Roy Channing in the blocked writer role, Naomi Watts as Sally his unhappy wife, Freida Pinto as Dia in the writer’s beautiful muse role and Antonio Banderas as Sally’s boss in the “art gallery owner/desireable male” role. Also in the picture are Anthony Hopkins as Sally’s father in the older man foolishly chasing youth by marrying a young and sexy but dumb hooker role and Gemma Jones as his forsaken older wife Helena. Helena hooks up with Cristal (Pauline Collins) at the suggestion of her daughter who wants her mother to be happy. Cristal communes with the spirits and convinces Helena that she has experienced other lives. She also begins to counsel Helena on financial matters, all of which will come back to haunt Sally by the end while Roy commits the unthinkable by stealing a book from a dead/dying friend and publishing it as his own. The film moves along with guidance from an unseen narrator who offers us the occasional Shakespearean quote and advances the various characters and plot lines. There are shades of many other Woody Allen story lines and characters here, particularly Husbands and Wives (with Anthony Hopkins taking the role played there by Sydney Pollack) and I had hoped that we were moving in a Crimes and Misdemeanors direction regarding Roy and the stolen book when suddenly the narrator lets us know that the movie is wrapping up. What?! So much more to go and such a shame to let these characters all dangle. All except Helena who meets her “talk dark stranger” in the shape of an occult book store owner and lives happily ever after in the certain knowledge that she was Joan of Arc in a past life. Perhaps the most unsatisfactory ending of any Woody Allen film I know….check it out but don’t get your hopes up.
There is already buzz for David Cronenberg’s
upcoming “A Dangerous Method” and the cast looks exciting: Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, Viggo Mortensen as Freud, and Keira Knightly as the attractive Russian patient they are both interested in. The film will premier at the Venice Film Festival which begins on August 31st. Sony Classics acquired the distribution rights to the film just this month and of course, it will be playing at Toronto, we assume. Oscar worthy performances are already being discussed. Can’t wait!
THE TREE OF LIFE (2011/IN THEATERS)
If you have already seen the trailer for this film, you have probably experienced some of its most magical scenes (at least in my opinion)—these are the ones where a trio of young brothers in 1950s Texas (all with gorgeous and expressive faces) play in their yard, swing from their big tree, run after the DDT mosquito truck, dance with their beautiful and gentle mother (Jessica Chastain), and try to understand their stern and difficult father (Brad Pitt). The oldest of the boys is Jack, played as an adult by Sean Penn and as a young boy by a marvelous Hunter McCracken. Jack is often talking to “God” in the film in voice-over, asking questions about why bad things happen, for example, or how he can deal with the tug-of-war inside him (“mother, father, always you wrestle inside me, always you will”). The scenes of the young family are so true to that 1950s life and in amazing detail, with the exact china and glassware we remember ourselves (if we’re of a certain age!), as well as the familiar meatloaf and peas at dinner, the tight-waisted dresses Chastain’s character wears, and Pitt’s skinny suits and ties. This portion of the film occurs roughly in the middle—the first third of the movie bring us scenes of the news of the death of Jack’s brother and his mother’s grief interwoven with Jack in the present day thinking of the loss of his brother. From there we move to a lengthy sequence depicting the formation of Earth (Big Bang style) and the creation of life, complete with dinosaurs. The ending brings back more ethereal imagery involving death, forgiveness and letting go. Terrence Malick, the writer and filmmaker, truly wants us to see all of these scenes and life as connected. And he brings us a cinematically beautiful film. For me, the “sci-fi” style creation scenes were off-putting and I would have preferred more of the beautiful shots of those young boys growing up. But I am not complaining and I do intend to see the entire film again. Congratulations to Mr. Malick who has been working on this project in one way or another since he completed Days of Heaven (which remains my all-time favorite of his films). The Palme D’Or which this film won at Cannes just last month is surely well deserved.
For Malick fans, particularly those who liked The New World which has a similar flow and feel. All others beware—this film is beautiful but has even less narrative.
BTW: Malick famously has only made five features: Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005) and this year’s The Tree of Life.
READ MORE: A wonderful interview with Jack’s younger brothers can be found here.
The city is L.A. The time is post WWII 1940′s. You are Cole Phelps. Your mission, clean up the whole damn town.
I know what you are asking, yes this is a video game, and yes, I am reviewing it as a movie. So get ready to have your mind blown. I am deviating from my normal path of movies before the last five years for a special reason. After completing the my first run through the game, I was overcome with the same feeling that I had after finishing watching a TV season on DVD. Which became the inspiration for this week’s column.
Some of us may remember reading what were called choose your own adventure novels. For those that are not familiar with these books, at certain points during the story, the reader is asked to make a decision for the main character and proceed to a corresponding page where you find out the outcome of your decision. These can lead to further reading, or as in my case, the immediate death of the main character. Several years ago, video game story lines began taking this approach. Allowing the gamer to make the choice for the character, and proceeding with the storyline instead of the the old follow the scrolling screen. In more recent years, games have become more complex to the point where the characters, and thus the gamers, are given moral choices. Choosing one or the other can affect the outcome of the game. In recent years, video game companies have been creating their own original plots with more intricate characters and various story lines to create whole new experiences for gamers, rivaling the creativity of Hollywood itself. Read more »
SUPER 8 (IN THEATERS/2011)
Warning: The following discussion is spoiler-heavy—although, come on, we all know that a Spielberg homage is going to have an alien in it, right? Whoops.
Brian! Quiz! What is the thing that Steven Spielberg loves the most? A) Characters staring into the night sky with childlike wonder. B) Fat kids. C) One dead parent. D) Aliens finally going home, as string-heavy music swells in the background. E) Hating mean old military stiffs. All of the above! And writer/director J.J. Abrams includes all of these elements in his sweet tribute to Spielberg movies (the ‘80s ones), Super 8. As we know, Steven, who never met a leaden framing device he didn’t like, pushes my buttons. When the Amblin Entertainment logo pops up before a movie, it earns well-deserved boos in every theater I’ve ever been in (that I am doing the booing is beside the point). But put his formula into the hands of Abrams, who seems to respect the intelligence of his audience a little more, and it makes for a nostalgic movie that deserves summer blockbuster status. Enjoying the loaded-with-meaning father/son hugs, occasionally cartoonishly evil henchmen, hero’s zooms-in, and slightly-too-knowing-for-their-age kid dialogue is virtually guilt-free, and I look forward to many years of half-watching this on nonpremium cable. Read more »
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011/IN THEATERS)
With an 86% positive critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes (and 88% from audiences), last weekend’s box office champ—X-Men: First Class– is a definite hit and some are thinking it will top the box again this weekend. I admit that I wanted to see it for three reasons: James McAvoy as the young Charles Xavier (Professor X), Michael Fassbender as the intense Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto by the end) and 60s fashion (what?). Yes! This back-story to the original X-Men movie of 2000 is cleverly set during the Cuban Missile Crisis and features actual footage of JFK addressing the nation, all of which gave the fashion team for the movie a chance to bring back turtlenecks (check out Fassbender’s James Bond style look), peacoats (as in Rose Byrne’s CIA agent Moira) and tight zippered jackets (used to full effect by January Jones as Emma Frost). Add to that an evil Kevin Bacon (as Sebastian Shaw) in fabulous tuxedos and Nehru jackets and believe me, it was fun to watch. Also fun to watch were the special effects and the silly plot lines, all combined with wonderful acting stints from other young mutants, in particular Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique and Nicholas Hoult (the young boy in About a Boy) as Hank/Beast, both coping with their teenage angst and sexual attraction. It’s an action packed movie with something for everyone, whether you’re an X-Men aficionado or like me, just a casual viewer. There’s a serious theme underneath which shows itself in spades by the end when Professor X and Magneto must each choose their path but plenty of chuckles and fun throughout. The kids in my audience were jazzed—leaving the theater uttering “awesome,” and “did you see it when….” Definitely worth catching.
Grade: A- One peg down for plot silliness!
BTW: Not everyone loved it. Roger Ebert for example gave it only 2 ½ stars and an uncharacteristically negative review.
ALSO: The film is the 4th directed by Matthew Vaughn. His other three are all worth catching as well and show a lovely range of styles: Layer Cake (2004) which famously set up Daniel Craig to be the next James Bond, the sweet Stardust (2007) and last year’s highly rated Kick Ass (2010).
CHECK THIS OUT: If you can, scroll down halfway, look to the left column, and catch the Times Talks interview with James McAvoy for a terrific making-of X-Men story (and a wonderful illustration of his Scottish accent!).
One of the reasons I thought of this category, to begin with, was to point out this one line. I would find myself rewinding this scene over and over again laughing harder each time. It is almost funnier than any joke in the entire movie. So enough babbling, for those of you that don’t know, Happy Gilmore is the story about a failed hockey player that has uncommon gifts on the golf course, and through the course of one golf season, he tries to raise enough money to save his grandmother’s house and become a better person. It is an Adam Sandler movie, so it is not going to make you any smarter so don’t look for any deep meanings.
The romantic interest in the movie is played by Julie Bowen. Of late, she has found herself a steady job on Modern Family, but back in her journeyman days, this was her first high profile role. The scene is towards the end of the movie. Happy (Sandler) is in a playoff hole against his nemesis Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) when a hired goon, played by Joe Flaherty, comes driving a VW Bug on the golf course towards Happy. Virginia (Bowen) screams out to warn Happy, “HAPPY LOOK OUT!” However, the delivery of the line is quite different. In looking on the internet, the only other decipherable translation is, “HAPPY LOOK OUT AHHHH!” Along with the intelligible screaming, there are some waving of the hands, and in the end, Bowen looks and sounds more like a bad impression of someone with a mental disability. Now, I have no back story on the scene. It may have been a quick take, or the best out of a whole bunch of bad ones. However, this is the one that made it to print, and it is classic. The rest of the movie is pretty funny as well. It’s got Carl Weathers so it worth a look.
Come join us for a discussion of the trailers we’ve been privileged to experience over the last month or so. Are they tantalizing nuggets of the hits of tomorrow? Or harbingers of Green Hornets to come? We do not know! But we will assume that we do, because it is our way. Have YOU seen a trailer lately? Do tell. In the Comments, please—we can’t hear you from our cubicles.
Kimberly: And, we’re back! Oh how I’ve missed our talks about the movies of tomorrow…today! Let’s see what Summer 2011 has in store. Try not to cry.
Sarah: Yay! So nice to be swapping thoughts on Hollywood’s least promising offerings with you once again. This trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes is making me laugh so much! Hee! Based on the trailer, I’m assuming that at least 60% of this movie will consist of slow shots of apes staring menacingly at the camera. Why does James Franco seem so wooden and self-serious? Is it some sort of performance art? Stop staring at me, ape!