March 2010 - Posts

LL Cool J's acting career.

In a startling public relations gaffe, a Fox News spokesperson responded to LL Cool J's unwillingness to have an interview from two years ago reappropriated for Sarah Palin's new show with this snippy self-righteous rejoinder: "as it appears that Mr. Smith does not want to be associated with a program that could serve as an inspiration to others, we are cutting his interview from the special and wish him the best with his fledgling acting career." This would sting if it were remotely true. Fortunately for us, it's not. Though LL Cool J (formerly James Todd Smith) is currently stuck on the CBS procedural "NCIS: Los Angeles" alongside far less compelling '90s casualty Chris O'Donnell, at least the show pulls in 17.82 million viewers on average, which isn't shabby at all. In any case, it's not like LL got the film parts he deserved -- but he is, as it...

Taking on the sacred films of an '80s childhood.

A Melbourne man named Luke Ryan has taken it upon himself to write a list of the"Top ten films that you shouldn't rewatch as an adult." This is a brave thing to do, given that a) his title isn't a bait-and-switch b) his titles include "Labyrinth," "The Dark Crystal," "The Goonies," "Spaceballs" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze." In some parts of the country, and many more parts of the internet, denouncing those movies could get you stoned to death. Setting aside Ryan's gratuitous slur of the most-awesome "Gremlins" (everyone's entitled to their opinion), his list is unusually idiosyncratic. Most lists are designed to flatter readers' familiarity with the titles involved, on the same principle that tells most reasonably intelligent people who know how to play guitar that they should pander to people their age. He takes the opposite tack, insulting the tastes of most...

Great moments in trailer failure: "After.Life."

If your trailer can't win a multiplex audience over -- if, in fact, it incites active derision -- you're in serious trouble. Such proved to be the case this weekend with "After.Life," the upcoming, oddly punctuated Christina Ricci-Liam Neeson horror movie (or whatever it actually is -- it's hard to tell). The "After.Life" trailer was running in front of "Cop Out," not a hard crowd to win over -- no one who shows up for "Cop Out," myself included, is setting the bar terribly high. If you ever want to assess how a movie is getting marketed, you could do a lot worse than simply sit in a darkened theater and listen to the audible reactions. In an era of widespread multiplex rudeness, you don't have to do much to make people respond. ["Cop Out," for the record, was much funnier than I'd expected -- despite the dismal reviews, there's...

Jonas Åkerlund: Requiem for a music video bad boy.

2010 is turning out to be a very good year for Jonas Åkerlund, probably his best since 1997, when his video for The Prodigy's "Smack My *** Up" generated controversy right on schedule. (Shocker: MTV doesn't show videos featuring women getting smacked/naked chicks. Who would've known? This video is still NSFW.) Åkerlund, the past master of getting people's ire up and then pretending he had a real point, has in the last few years found the collaborator he deserves in Lady Gaga. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Back in the '90s, it seemed like every single music video/commercial director who could adequately hype themselves would get at least one feature vehicle. This proved to be a pretty good filtering system -- David Fincher, Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek and so on -- but don't forget the ones who got left behind, like poor Peter Care, who may have made...

The morality of making movies about the Holocaust.

Bernard-Henri Lévy's "Shutter Island"/"Inglourious Basterds" op-ed in The Australian has been making the rounds for the last few weeks, jumping from one paper to another. (If you haven't seen "Shutter Island" and want to go in rasa, stop reading now, though there's nothing here that isn't in the first reel.) The editorial, which claims the films display "a real and potentially dangerous revisionism" in their treatment of Nazism and the Holocaust, is mostly bunk, but it does raise an interesting point. Lévy, a French journalist and philosopher, was recently publicly embarrassed by writing a whole book attacking Kant -- based, as it turned out, on satirical writings. So there are reasons besides moral ones as to why Lévy might want to weigh on the truth underlying "Shutter Island"'s Holocaust passages. It's certainly a good time to call out someone else for historical ignorance. Lévy's only substantive point is that Scorsese...

The punishing action score.

Friday sees the release of the revamped "Clash of the Titans," the trailer for which has to set come kind of record for the most joyless combination of grim faces, heinously ugly monsters and nu-metal roar. It's all very murky and loud, but mostly it seems like no fun: like the roar of Nickelback magnified with some industrial drums, capped off by the inevitable release of the Kraken, whose hoarse bellow would do Eddie Vedder proud. When did action scores becomes so industrial? If you're not one of those people who agonizes over the moral problems of killing people on-screen for sport -- and really, get over it -- there's no reason that action movies should be so monochromatic and trudging. And yet watching the "Clash of the Titans" trailer is like nothing so much as listening to alt-radio from a decade back. You half expect the Kraken to begin...

Seven deliberately anachronistic movies.

In a long, fascinating interview with DP Harris Savides at Moving Image Source, Savides -- one of the best cinematographers we have -- talks about how much of his recent work ("Zodiac," "Greenberg," "Milk," "American Gangster") has, in one way or another, drawn from the '70s. There's a startling side-by-side comparison of a Stephen Shore photo from 1975 above a still from "Zodiac," which momentarily looks exhumed from the era. Savides, of course, isn't the only person who occasionally makes work that seems to have come from another time. Here are seven movies that, one way or another, aspire to look deliberately out of time."Paper Moon" (1973) Perhaps no director has ever been as obsessed with recreating the texture of Old Hollywood than Peter Bogdanovich. Blessed with some power in the '70s, both "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon" came in period-appropriate black and white. ("Nickelodeon" was going to...

Resurrecting "The Great Mouse Detective."

When Tim Burton arrived at Disney in 1979, fresh out of CalArts, he was put to work on 1981's "The Fox and the Hound," one of the more forgettable films of the Disney cel animation era. It was rough for him: working on a story he had no connection to, thematically or visually, he ended up sleeping 14 hours a day, sometimes sitting in a closet or under his desk to avoid seeing anyone. It's a neat metaphor for how Disney's animation department was beginning to feel. The new documentary "Waking Sleeping Beauty" is dedicated to untangling the corporate rivalries and in-fighting that got Disney out of its animation slump and into the so-called Renaissance era of "Beauty and the Beast" and so on. By the time that had happened, of course, Burton was off and running -- given the freedom (in a what-the-hell kind of spirit) to experiment within...

Going Hollywood.

Relax, America: "Paranormal Activity 2" has a director. After a protracted and ugly round of corporate infighting about who was helming the next "Paranormal" and "Saw" films, the gig has passed out of the hands of the genre stalwarts entirely and into the hands of Tod Williams, best known as the writer/director of the mildly regarded indies "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" and "The Door in the Floor." This is a lateral move -- from mild indie dramas to genre franchising -- but not an uncommon one. One of the strangest consistent phenomenons of festival alums of the last decade or so is what you could call "Journeyman Drift," when seemingly distinctive out-of-the-gate indie guys (who often turn out to be just festival slot-fillers once you move away from the initial hype) quite comfortably hunker down for a lifetime of directing the kind of movies that, 70 years ago, would...

Continuity is boring.

One of the most famous edits in film history is "Lawrence of Arabia"'s pun-tastic "match cut" -- a term normally referring to edits that keep objects and people in the same spatial area, but in this case a legendary cut from a match being blown out to a hot desert sun. But that wasn't important in film school, when a professor pulled out the laserdisc and asked the students to identify the blindingly important continuity error in the scene that builds up to that. Peter O'Toole and Claude Rains are chatting and -- in a very discreet cut -- something in the background changes location. The person who saw this took great glee in pointing it out -- more so than in the actual pleasure of the legendary cut. The odd thing is that I've been looking at this part of the film over and over for ten solid minutes...

"Greenberg," a W.C. Fields for our time.

He called himself "The Great Man," and -- especially in the '30s -- W.C. Fields was just that. In a series of misanthropic comedies, Fields repeatedly professed his dislike of children and wives and his love of booze. There was more to him than that, of course -- 1934's "The Old Fashioned Way" is a rare tender crack in the facade, and one of his best vehicles -- but that's who he was on-screen most of the time, and audiences loved him for it. He was, in short, an "***." As is Ben Stiller's "Greenberg," in the charge most commonly levied against Noah Baumbach's fantastically empathetic portrait of the misanthrope as self-defeating, self-depleting maniac. There are meaningful differences, of course: the contours of Fields' movies always put him in the right, the lone sane voice in a wilderness of ninnies and hysterics. This isn't how "Greenberg" works. As in "The...

Animators who have made the live-action leap.

It's a pleasant surprise to see that Brad Bird is being considered as a possible director for "Mission Impossible IV," a game of musical chairs that is said to include "Zombieland"'s Ruben Fleischer and Edgar Wright. Of course, "The Iron Giant" director has never helmed a live-action feature before, though that shouldn't be a stumbling block if the action choreography in "The Incredibles" is any indication. (Bird's already had been working on a $200-million plus live-action adaptation of James Dalessandro's "1906," a romance set against San Francisco's most epic earthquake, which in turn pushed back a sequel featuring the superpowered Parr family.) With computer-generated imagery of all types invading all the more into live-action films, it's no wonder that Bird is up for the gig, just as "Horton Hears a Who!" director Jimmy Hayward is putting the finishing touches on this summer's "Jonah Hex" and "WALL·E" helmer Andrew Stanton is...

"Twin Peaks" -- less influential than desired.

The Guardian's got an article full of reflections from an even cross-section of the "Twin Peaks" cast twenty years on. It's nice to see frontman Kyle MacLachlan placed on on the same level as the invaluably squeaky-voiced Kimmy Robertson. If "The Wire" is the greatest consistent TV show ever made, "Twin Peaks" has some of the greatest episodes ever made. But it's Lara Flynn Boyle, of all people, who gets to the heart of the matter: "At the Emmys every year they show clips of shows that are well remembered. They never show clips of 'Twin Peaks'!" Spot on. For all the talk of how "Twin Peaks" paved the way for weirder and wilder TV -- by which is generally meant "Northern Exposure," "The X-Files," "Lost," "Carnivale" and not much else -- its legacy mostly lies in the fact that the show is as a significant part of David Lynch's...

People driving badly.

Generally speaking, it's poor manners (or much worse) to hope someone will experience a car crash. There's an exception to this rule -- when people drive poorly on-screen, constantly craning their heads over to the passenger seat (or, worse, to the back) to carry on a conversation for longer than two seconds, most of the time nothing bad happens. This is not how the world works. Forget the pernicious effects of seeing smoking on-screen. Forget, even, the vexing, never-to-be-resolved problems with getting science right. This isn't about dumb people trying to replicate dangerous car chases, "Jackass"-style. If kids learned everything about driving they knew from movies before they went in for their first lessons, we'd all be dead by now. That's because most movies film their driving scenes without anyone ever actually driving. You can green-screen it, or hook up the car to a truck with a camera mounted on...

Pasolini's ghost (via Morrissey).

On his 2006 single "You Have Killed Me," Morrissey dug deep into the reference well for opening lines that it'd take a cinephile to love: "Pasolini is me. Accattone you'll be." It's likely the only English-language song to reference not just Pier Paolo Pasolini but "Accattone," his unrelievedly grim 1961 writer-director debut. But, the eternal question: what does it mean? Pasolini's filmography is incredibly diffuse and hard to pin down. At least one of his films -- "The Gospel According to Matthew" (Pasolini's militant atheism led him to remove the "Saint") -- is a stone-cold classic, endorsed by film buff and Vatican alike. He's also responsible for the notorious "Salo" and dabblings in a particularly academic/theoretical type of documentary (his "Notes Towards An African Orestes" is a nearly indigestible mixture of touristic/anthropological footage, Greek myth and free jazz). And yet Pasolini is, unfortunately, best known for being murdered under mysterious...
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