February 2010 - Posts

Seven bronze-worthy Olympics movies.

Today is your last chance to watch the Olympics on TV; Monday brings the closing ceremonies and the end of the 21st Winter Olympics. Would you like to keep the athletic spirit going all year round? Like, in the movies? The sad fact of the matter is that most films about the Olympics aren't very good. Aside from a handful of valorized documentaries -- "Tokyo Olympiad," the controversial "Olympia" -- they're more like a genre you turn to for automatic cheese. Here, then, are seven of those:"Walk Don't Run" (1966) I've always had a soft spot for this comedy, perfunctorily set during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics but better known for showcasing Cary Grant's last performance. The plot's a bit of nothing, and it's all rather sexist and racist. You can get the feel from the trailer, below, which invites us to "Take a trip to the land of the rising...

"Alice in Wonderland" through the years.

Screenwriter John August's reliably insightful blog caused a stir yesterday with a post about the misconception that he wrote the latest adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic. It's an understandable mistake, since August has collaborated on four films with "Alice" director Tim Burton, including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Big Fish." But then, he proceeds to explain the "recurring motif" of working on other "Alice"-related projects, like the rave sequence in "Go," a Wes Craven-directed version of American McGee's video game "Alice" and a Sam Mendes take that would've incorporated Carroll's real life into the fantasy. Those last two projects never actually came to fruition, and August jokes that he expects to go back through the looking glass around 2025 to finish the job. He wouldn't be the first to return to Wonderland. With the Burton version, Disney is returning to the well after first making the 1951 animated...

Eulogy for the little black-haired ghost girl.

Tim Burton couldn't make it out to the Annie Awards a few weeks back, so he did the next best thing -- he sent a video, in which a standard-issue speech is interrupted by the arrival of a long, black-haired, presumably Japanese girl, who wreaks cheesy havoc upon him and then snarls into the camera, thereby neatly splicing together J-horror, camp and the ending of "Paranormal Activity." It's clever, but it's also a reminder of how long it's been since we've gotten to see one of those creepy, skulking black-haired ghost girls crawl with infinite menace and purpose. In an era that really only ended two years ago but seems much longer, we in the States were inundated with a flood of J-horror remakes after "The Ring" that seemed like they might go on forever; the cycle appears to have petered out sometime after 2008's "One Missed Call" remake. The...

Back when British accents were evil.

As we all know, the ancient world was run by a bunch of officious people with British accents, because Americans never did learn much Latin, and nothing says "empire" quite like a British inflection. We all know what it meant, and it saved us a lot of time. What is the story of "Spartacus" if not one of dimpled all-American Kirk Douglas vs. accented, vaguely homosexual Brit Laurence Olivier? "Ben-Hur" was a little more complicated -- Charlton Heston's rebellious Jew went mano-a-mano against Irish actor Stephen Boyd, whose accent is un-American but not quite British. Adoptive dad Jack Hawkins, at least, had that benevolent posh accent going on, though he still definitely possessed the upper hand. (This is somehow even true in the British production of "The Fall of the Roman Empire," where that same Boyd is now American versus Christopher Plummer's evil Commodus.) These rules served us well down...

Seven songs about movies.

Yesterday, a coworker asked me if I'd seen the "Event Horizon" music video. I had not. But it arrived in my inbox a dozen times over the next 24 hours from other friends who, too, found NYC-based band .357 LOVER's ode to the 1997 sci-fi non-classic, complete with delightfully shoddily greenscreened video, irresistible. Anyone can Will Smith their way into a plot song about the movie it appears in (usually running over the end credits). It's a rarer and, often, cheesier tune that apropos of nothing in particular devotes itself to a film. Here are seven selection from the past three decades, from newest on back to the early '80s..357 LOVER - "Event Horizon"Inspired by: "Event Horizon" (1997) Those visuals! That endless guitar solo! And those lyrics: "Then we'll rescue our friends from the gates of hell / Wave back to the rest and wish them well." Singer Jon Cunningham,...

How Kathryn Bigelow's non-political movie has gotten politicized.

"The Hurt Locker"'s biggest achievement has been to get people to talk honestly about how we depict war on screen in a way that hasn't happened in a long time, with everyone's cards and biases on the table. That effect is helped by the vicious feedback loop of Oscar season, where the need to generate daily content about the same material leads to all kinds of weird, non-critical voices being unleashed -- which may be the only good thing about awards season. In the case of "The Hurt Locker," every laudatory review reminded us that the movie was "apolitical," presumably in the hope of sucking in those who didn't want another "Lions for Lambs"-type harangue. And it worked. So why did Kathryn Bigelow feel the need to let it drop last week that this apolitical film does, in fact, take a stand against the war and can hopefully "bring closure...

Mr. Smith stays home.

In these troubled times, with both left and right factioned against themselves, you'd think more angry politics would be up there on screen. Wasn't this supposed to be the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression? In the '30s, the screen was full of visions of riot and turmoil -- sometimes as farce, but often with deadly seriousness. "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" was the logical culmination of a series of films in which inefficient blustering and cynical corruption were the status quo. Americans no longer have the same intense feelings about Congress as they did then, maybe because we know way too much about the mechanisms that drive American politics. Constant TV coverage means instant analyses of every last speech and campaign gesture -- it's no longer possible to be suspicious but uninformed (unless, you know, you want it that way). maybe that's why the Naughts haven't produced...

Actor vs. actor: a debate proposal.

The Huffington Post, god bless 'em, has long made itself an easy target for irate conservatives by providing a platform for every celebrity (with or without a ghostwriter, we'll never know) to mouth off about the causes near and dear to their heart. This turgid manifesto-driven stuff is apparently a fantastic traffic driver, despite having nothing novel to offer up. But no one, it seems, has figured out that they can take it to the next level by staging actual debates between actors. Here's an example: Michael Douglas (not a HuffPo contributor) has recently announced that he's now a supporter of nuclear power. This is some thirty years after Douglas produced and starred in "The China Syndrome," the single most effective anti-nuclear power movie ever made. Now, he's announced that having "dealt with the realities of global warming, and what the alternatives are... I do support nuclear power now. I...

The dangerous power of David Lynch's voice.

David Lynch has, as I'm writing this, 225,395 Twitter followers who are regularly treated to such insights as "I plan to cut strips of Douglas Fir for trim on plywood and apply Fix-All on a large canvas. What are you doing this weekend?" Nice work if you can get it -- anyone else who posted things like that would be lucky to get even their close personal friends to follow them, much less hundreds of thousands of people. But that's the power of Lynch's voice, which the late David Foster Wallace once described as "Jimmy Stewart on acid." In its peculiar, stop-start cadences and cartoonish tone -- in stark contrast to the darkness of his movies -- it makes even the most uninteresting material sound good. Lynch could get away with reading the proverbial phone-book -- he comes awful close with his daily weather reports. Lynch knows how to exploit...

Some of my best friends are remakes.

To say that you're anti-remakes is to film writing as opening and closing your mouth is to being a fish. Every day, somewhere in the world, someone writes a diatribe about the evils of remakes; right now over at the Guardian, there're two. The former's a generic complaint about how Hollywood ruins foreign films with remakes, the latter a peculiarly venomous attack on Breck Eisner, who has the temerity to want to do three remakes in a row (this Friday's "The Crazies" leading the way to "Flash Gordon" and "The Brood") and has the misfortune to be Michael Eisner's son. As we all know, the only thing easier to mock than remakes is professional nepotism. These tedious attacks on the remake are all the same: remakes miss the virtues of the original, dumb things down, tarnish memories, etc. It's dull, repetitive reading. It's also short-sighted -- to opine that Hollywood...
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