Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Where is the next John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, (or Hershel Gordon Lewis) coming from? Maybe from Fangoria Blood Drive -- a DVD collection of "America's Best Short Horror Films," as decided in a nationwide contest conducted by Fangoria magazine, the standing authority on horror films for more than 25 years now. The collection was created by, and is produced by, long-time Fangoria editor (and fellow high school alumnus) Anthony Timpone. Timpone joined Fangoria the same time I joined American Film magazine. While American Film (once thought to be the foremost authority in film journalism) is long gone, Fangoria goes on, and is stronger than ever, with Timpone launching side projects such as Blood Drive (a testament to Timpone's insight and America's love affair with horror). The collection (now up to 15 films, in two volumes) is a must for all fans of the genre. The audio/visual influence of modern horror masters, such as Carpenter and Craven, can clearly be seen in many of these short films, most notably We All Fall Down. The collection is not regulated to "splatter" films (as the packaging might indicate), but is, in fact, a rather well-rounded body of work which also includes less bloody and more psychological thrillers as well. My favorites: The Gibbering Horror of Howard Ghormley -- a black-and-white piece "proudly" shot on Super 8mm, and reminiscent of the German Expressionistic style of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari -- and Sawbones, a Civil War tale of impending madness on the battlefield. More information on this collection of films, and the contest behind them, can be found at www.FangoriaBloodDrive.com.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Interview With: Page Ostrow, Producer's Rep
Producer's representative Page Ostrow -- founder and president of the Ostrow and Co. rep firm -- has negotiated funds and distribution for more than 125 feature films and documentaries to date. Recent films repped by Ostrow include Heaven's Falls, starring Oscar nominee David Strathairn (and on which Ostrow has an executive producer credit); the documentary Stolen Childhoods, narrated by two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep; the timely Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories; Sweat, Colorblind; and the romantic comedy Dating Games People Play. The eclectic mix seems to be part of what draws Ostrow, who has built a sizeable reputation for herself as a get-it-done type of person, "a filmmaker's friend," and "the darling of producers' reps." Ostrow believes that the commercial viability of film projects has shifted in recent years from being "star-centric" to "director-centric" (along with the desire for a well-told story). She has called it "a healthy trend." In April, Ostrow will receive the "Wave of Excellence" Award from Garden State Film Festival, in recognition of her contribution to the cinematic arts. Recently, she took the time to talk with "Movies on My Mind" about her career and where she sees the industry headed. To learn more about Ostrow and her services, visit www.ostrowandco.com.Movies on My Mind: When and how did your interest in film begin? Page Ostrow: When I saw Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey perform in Cabaret as a kid. Movies on My Mind: Why did you become a producer's representative? What particular satisfaction does it give you to obtain funding or distribution for a film?Ostrow: My father always used to say, "People enjoy doing things they are good at." I identified a need within an area of our industry where I thought I could be of maximum service. I like protecting and looking after the creative team.Movies on My Mind: How did you develop your contacts for film funding? Ostrow: I have a hectic schedule that includes speaking engagements at festivals and industry panels all over the world. I'm on the radio a lot, as are my filmmaking clients. So, the investors hear about us, and come to me.Movies on My Mind: What's your typical day like?Ostrow: Work work work...Negotiating, managing my team, lunch with execs from studios and/or Indies, going over contracts, booking out on hourly conference calls about new projects, reviewing materials, speaking with my current clients and determining who we are going to represent next.Movies on My Mind: How do you select the films you will represent? Ostrow: I have to like the film, and the people behind the film. Movies on My Mind: Do you find these films primarily through festival screenings? Ostrow: We get hundreds of submissions from everywhere. Most filmmakers find us either over the Internet, by referral, or they meet someone who works for me at a festival.Movies on My Mind: The business model for the industry has certainly evolved in the wake of growing ancillary opportunities (such as DVD) and emerging technologies (i.e. podcasting). What is your view on the where the film industry might be five years from now? Ostrow: I think the audiences are demanding and will continue to require better and more compelling subject matter and stories that make people think about what's really going on in the world and within us.Movies on My Mind: Congratulations on receiving the "Wave of Excellence" award.Ostrow: Thanks. It's nice to be acknowledged. I'm proud of this one.Movies on My Mind: Are there any particular challenges to being a woman in the film industry? Ostrow: Being a woman, in general, is challenging...Movies on My Mind: What advice, if any, do you give to women who would like to follow your path? Ostrow: My advice about being a woman in business is to leave the part of your womanhood that men complain about at home. Learn to compartmentalize -- get to work, and get the job done.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Killing for the Camera
Let's forget for a minute the decades old debate and curiosity as to whether commercial snuff films actually exist (the kind of film where an "actor" or "actress" is paid to actually be killed on screen, and the film is sold for monetary gain). In the wake of war in the Middle East, an entirely new kind of snuff film industry has risen to take its place, not for monetary gain, but for political leverage. In the Middle East, where public beheadings are commonplace, the stark impact of the executions (mostly beheadings) of American and European hostages caused a chill throughout the globe, yet they have changed little. (See, we understand how to punish the behavior of American soldiers at Abu Ghra prison, but these beheadings and suicide bombings seem beyond our comprehension. We can't truly get our brain around them. So, we report them, not knowing what to do or say.) These acts illustrate a completely different kind of mindset, with perhaps even less value for human life than the perpetrators of conventional western warfare possess. The grizzly images have become all too familiar -- hooded executers (with guns and blunt swords), standing behind their kneeling shackled victim. Absorbing the utter helplessness of the situation can make some nauseous (myself included). But then, the state sanctioned executions of North American criminals in movies such as Dancer in the Dark, I Want to Live, The Green Mile, and Dead Man Walking, also make me shutter. While the search for commercial snuff films has become sort of an ongoing guilty curiosity into cinematic urban legend for some, the death films from the Middle East are the real deal -- modern-day human sacrifices. Man's inhumanities to man is as old as the race itself, I grant you, but there's something about capturing these moments on film which crystallize the gruesome, hyper-animalistic nature of our species in ways most of us would rather not recognize. Perhaps that's why most of these films are not televised in the U.S. And yet, one has to wonder, "Why not?" Does watching these final painful moments in a human life play into the terroists' hands or does it weaken it, and strenghten the resolve of good people to stop it? It's one thing to see executions in fictional films, convincingly shown with state-of-the-art special effects and superior acting, but I have always argued that broadcasting "actual" state-sanctioned executions (much like the death films coming out of the Middle East) would make most good Americans sick to their stomach, and lead to an end of the death penalty.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Thanks For the Laughs
Don Knotts, who died today at age 81, was best known for two roles he played on TV -- the bumbling deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show (for which he won five Emmys), and the bumbling landlord Mr. Furley on Three's Company -- but Knotts was also a staple of late 60s/early 70s Walt Disney live-action family films (including No Deposit, No Return; Hot Lead, Cold Feet; The Apple Dumpling Gang; Gus; and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo), as well as starring in the impressive live action/animation film, The Incredible Mr Limpet, in which his character wishes he was a fish. From his work in the Disney films, was born a mildly successful and short-lived on-screen paring with Tim Conway (which also included The Prizefighter and The Private Eyes). In 1986, he participated in the Andy Griffith Show reunion movie Return to Mayberry (which surprisingly became the most popular TV film of that year, and led to the popularity of such specialty networks as TV Land). More recently, Knotts lent his unique voice talents to animated projects including Scooby Doo. He made a small, but memorable appearance in the underrated film Pleasantville as the TV repair man, and, just last year, starred as Mayor Turkey Lurkey in Disney's animated film Chicken Little.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Spidey's Back...In Black...433 Days From Now
Ok. A couple of things here. It may not be a record, but Sony Pictures has just released the first official poster for Spider-man 3...a mere 433 days before the film is set to open on May 4, 2007. The black-and-white artwork of a brooding Spider-man, looking almost like a gargoyle against a building, in the rain, is magnificent. This image (which can be seen at the film's official website http://spiderman.sonypictures.com), is incorporated into a Daily Bugle cover page. (For non Spider-man fans, The Daily Bugle is the newspaper at which Peter Parker, aka Spider-man, works.) Great concept! Above the image, the newspaper headline reads: "Spider-man is Wearing a Black Suit!" Ok. That was pretty clear, don't you think? But wait. In case you didn't understand that headline, at the bottom of this image, the folks at Sony have added the following: "You may think you're looking at a black-and-white photo. Look closely, Spider-man wears a black suit in Spider-man 3." Really? You don't say? Hmm. Didn't the headline kinda spell that out? Does Sony's marketing team think Spider-man fans are morons?
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Vaginal Imagery in Film
In her scholarly study of the sexual subtext of the modern horror film, Men, Women, and Chain Saws, Carol J. Clover pointed out that women are often symbolically seen as a "portal" through which and in which evil can breed. In much the same way women are designed to receive and foster life within their bodies, in horror films, that same design offers "evil" an opportunity as well. So it's not surprising that the three films that come to mind when thinking about vaginal images in movies are all horror movies (to an extent) -- director David Cronenberg's Videodrome, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist, and Ridley Scott's Alien. Cronenberg has always dabbled in such imagery (going all the way back to Rabid). But it couldn't be more explicit than it was in Videodrome, when, after being exposed to certain TV signals, the James Woods character imagines a vaginal slit developing on his stomach (pictured top right), big enough for a VHS tape to slide into and literally "program" him. At one point, he even examines this hole with the tip of his gun (a classic phallic symbol in film). In Alien, HR Giger's bio-mechanic and techno-organic designs were incorporated throughout the film (and sexual imagery and references abound/). For example, when the astronauts discover the alien ship that has crashed onto an uncharted planet, they find "a way in" through large vaginal shaped portals on the ship's side (pictured top left). In the climatic final sequence of Poltergeist (after the house is mistakenly believed to be "cleaned" of evil spirits) the home once again erupts as the ghosts make a final stand, and a large, pink, mucus-filled vaginal hole (with a seemlingly large clitoris) develops on the wall of the children's room to draw them back in "to the other side." These "portals" in each film ultimately lead to a form of evil. So, it's no coincidence that most demonic possession horror films (i.e. The Exorcist) involve female victims or that in many slasher films (Friday the 13th, Halloween) sex equals death for the very same reason-- in both, women are "open" and vulnerable to evil.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Movies & Madness
Before DVD and VHS, a film lived or died by its theatrical run. Sure, a revival theater might be able to provide a small audience with the opportunity to see a rare film, or maybe even expose them to the body of work from a particularly interesting filmmaker. But, by and large, most films (after being released, or denied release) had nowhere to go but the shelf. Broadcast TV was the only ancillary market available at the time, and commercial TV certainly was not going to air rare gems or foreign films in prime time. All that changed in 1974 when Z Channel -- one of the country's first pay cable stations – was launched in Los Angeles. By 1980, the Z Channel had become one of the most influential forces in cinema, thanks to the decisions of its maverick head of programming Jerry Harvey. The Z Channel's uniqueness (which included not only an eclectic mix of foreign, independent, rare and commercial films; but also pioneering efforts in showing fully restored "director's cuts" of films; and on-air film festivals) was attributed to Harvey and his staff's determination, diverse taste and encyclopedic knowledge of cinema. The 2004 documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession chronicles Harvey's emergence as a brilliant programmer, but it also explores his emotional and psychological descent, which eventually resulted in him murdering his wife and turning the gun on himself (and the end of Z Channel itself). The film celebrates the importance and influence of this channel within the film industry, but it doesn't ask enough questions about whether such an obsession could have led to Harvey's spiral into madness. There's a sadness to the fact that such an important chapter in the history of modern cinema is marred by the personal demons of the man who led the revolution. The documentary includes interviews with directors Jim Jarmusch, Robert Altman, Alexander Payne, Quentin Tarantino, and others, who describe, with great sincerity and emotion, what the Z Channel meant to them. Noticeably missing from the film though is director Michael Cimino, who befriended Harvey after Z Channel ran the uncut version of his much maligned Heaven's Gate, saving it from critical oblivion. (It did the same for Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.) Today, in the era of DVD, "director's cut" versions of films are taken for granted, but the Z Channel was a pioneer in proving that releasing restored versions of films to the public was a commercial viable venture. Like the films Harvey dug up for the Z channel, this documentary is a treasure that should be in the collection of every film fan.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Why We Need The Lone Ranger
British mythology holds that, in their time of greatest peril, Britons can call upon their "once and future king," Arthur, to again lead the country. In much the same sense, I think we need to reach deep into our own American mythology and call upon The Lone Ranger to once again ride onto the silver screen with a mighty "Hi Ho Silver!" We seem to need him now, more than ever. In a time of ethical uncertainty on the part of our own government, this great hero of the American West could serve as a sort of moral ballast. Most children today don't even know who the Lone Ranger is, but they should (and DVD certainly assures they certainly can). There was a time when The Lone Ranger (not Howard Stern) was truly the "king of all media," appearing on radio, TV, in comics, in books, and on screen, in films. There are many lessons to be learned from The Lone Ranger. When he and his fellow rangers were ambushed and left for dead (not by Indians, but fellow Westerners), it's Tonto, an American Indian, and childhood friend of the Lone Ranger, who comes to his rescue, and saves his life. This bond of cross-racial cooperation and equality was certainly well ahead of its time (and even helped to debunk the commonly held belief that cowboys were always good and Indians were always bad). Lawlessness in the The Lone Ranger mythology does not come from the Indians, but from within the Ranger's own tribe -- fellow white westerners. Still, The Lone Ranger is not a killer or vigilante. (If he must shoot, he shoots to wound, not to kill.) And, affectively, his mask makes him everyman (or at least, the "everyman" we hope to be). In Genesis' "Land of Confusion," the band sings "Superman, where are you now? When everything's gone wrong somehow. The men of steel, men of power, are losing control by the hour." Superman reappears on the big screen this year. Batman made a triumphant return to the screen last year, in Batman Begins. And Spider-man will once again swing into action to protect New York. But we need The Lone Ranger. So, forget the attempt made in the 80s with the The Legend of the Lone Ranger. We are a wiser, more sober audience now, and I trust, that in the right hands (just as director Christopher Nolan did for Batman), this symbol of American Western mythology can ride again.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Godfather Actor Killed by Bus
You might expect his character to be taken out in a spray of bullets, but Richard Bright -- the 68-year-old actor, who played loyal Corleone crime family enforcer Al Neri in all three of The Godfather films -- was killed on February 18, when he was accidentally hit by a bus as he crossed a street near his home in Manhattan. It was Al Neri who, in the single darkest moment of The Godfather Part II (perhaps the single darkest moment in all of cinema) pulls the trigger to execute Fredo Corleone during a fishing trip, on the orders of Fredo's brother (and Neri's boss), Michael. It was Bright's appearance in The Godfather Part III (and the appearances of other supporting actors from the earlier Godfather films) which helped lend a sense of authenticity to the third chapter, which opened 16 years after Part II. Following his role in The Godfather films, Bright was somewhat type cast in crime dramas, appearing in (among others) Looking for Mr Goodbar, Vigilante, Once Upon a Time in America, Who Do I Gotta Kill, Witness to the Mob, Red Heat and Crimewave; and, more recently, in the TV shows Oz, The Sopranos, and Law & Order.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Holy Cinema, Full of Grace
Gone, it seems are the irreverent days of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and Meaning of Life. We are now living in a post-Passion world of cinema. The New York-based "God on Film" festival (http://www.godonfilm.com/) -- designed to provide filmmakers with an opportunity to showcase their talents and receive prizes for their exploration of spiritual themes -- is now entering its third year. The spiritual web site http://www.beliefnet.com/, has, this year, launched the "Beliefnet Film Awards" to honor to most Spiritual Feature Film of the Year (nominees: Cinderella Man, Walk the Line, Junebug, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Brokeback Mountain), Most Spiritual Documentary of the Year (nominees: Grizzly Man, Murderball, March of the Penguins, and Mad Hot Ballroom) and a Spiritual Lifetime Achievement recipient (nominees: Steven Spielberg, Morgan Freeman, George Lucas, Mel Gibson, and Meryl Streep). Last year, Sony Pictures opened the religious-themed film Left Behind: World at War in 3,200 churches, instead of theaters, across the country (see Movies on My Mind: "Separation of Church and ...Theater?," 10/24/05). and Walt Disney marketed its biggest film of the year, the Jesus-themed The Chronicles of Narnia, directly to churchgoers (see Movies on My Mind: "Can Disney Create 'Passion' for Narnia Audience?," 11/30/05). The new film End of the Spear -- the story of missionaries working in the eastern rainforest of Ecuador -- was made by Every Tribe Entertainment, a Christian film production company, founded by Mart Green, the former head of the Mardel Christian and Educational Supply company, with the mission "To create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth." The biggest stir at this year's Sundance Film Festival was for the film Son of Man, which portrays Jesus as a black African revolutionary (see Movies on My Mind: "Should Jesus Get an Agent?," 1/22/06). Recently founded by marketing and public relations consultant Joan Holman, the non-profit Spiritual Cinema Alliance (http://www.spiritualcinemaalliance.org/) -- which operates under the umbrella of the National Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C -- is (as you might imagine) dedicated to the development and promotion of spiritual films. So what's going on? Are movie theaters becoming the new churches? Why the sudden surge in spiritual cinema? Certainly there have been spiritual themes in movies since the beginning, but never before has it seemed so organized or magnified. Is it just good business? Or is it also good for the soul?
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Filming the World's Most Vulgar Joke
Among professional comedians, it's the stuff of legend -- a joke that has been passed down since vaudeville, with one purpose, to become the most vile, disgusting, putrid, obscene joke ever told. It's rarely performed in public. This is a joke for comedians to tell comedians. Every one who hears it tries make it dirtier than the one who told it to him. The joke is called The Aristocrats, which also happens to be the name of the documentary about it (not to be confused with Disney's animated film The Aristocats). No film ever made has taken language this far into vulgarity. When you watch it, you're in shock (or at least I was), but the joke itself is not that funny. However, after you've had time to let it settle in, you may find yourself laughing out loud at the shear concept of it (or at least I did). The joke generally starts and ends the same way. It's the middle section that allows comedians to riff. Legend has it that some performers have held private contests to see who can tell it for the longest time. The joke has sometimes gone on more than two hours. And each comedian makes it his or her own. Executive producer Penn Jillette (the talking half of the act Penn & Teller) was able to gather together 100 of the country's top stand-up comedians to discuss the nature of this "joke" and tell their version for the film. That alone makes it worth watching, but beware; you will never see a film with more taboo vulgarity than this one. It's a triumph of first amendment rights that this film was even made and shown (albeit in limited release). DVD, of course, has now made the film a blockbuster and available to all, in the privacy of their homes. One of the interviewed points out that this joke sort of holds a mirror up to the person telling it. In some regard, it also holds a mirror up to a society that, at times, pretends to be something better than its lowest, most basic instincts. The joke, as it were, is also completely organic, changing as society changes, from the inclusion of sexual taboos and scatological references, to racial and homosexual ones, etc. But, at its core, the joke has remained the same; that is, it's about people who want to be known as something greater than they truly are, in this case -- Aristocrats.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Would You Like a Movie With That Candy?
When you were younger, did you have a favortie "movie" candy -- you know, the kind of candy, it seemed, you could only buy at the concession stand of your local movie theater? Mine was Goobers. The sweetness of the chocolate-covered peanuts nicely offset the salty flavor of the popcorn. As a child, the candy stand in a movie theater lobby was a somehow a different world from the local candy store in town. Goobers. Raisinets. Sno-Caps. Ju-Ju Bees. Dots. Sugar Babies. Milk Duds. All seemed to only be available at the movies. This, of course, was in the days before theaters actually started selling chicken fingers, hamburgers, fries and nachos. (I remember standing in line, two years ago, and watching someone litterally buy dinner for his entire family at the concession stand.) But when I was young, there was none of that. Sure, some theaters had hot dogs; some even had ice cream Bon Bons. But that was it. Aside from the popcorn, this special brand of "movie" candy was what you had to look forward to. A couple of years back, the Food Network program Unwrapped even dedicated an entire episode to movie candy. It showed how Dots and Junior Mints and Twizzlers are made; how Mike & Ike got its name; and what's in a Whopper (the small, chocolate covered malt balls, not the sandwich from Burger King). Let's face it, movie candy has become part of our popular culture. For some, it creates nostalgic thoughts of trips to the theater. Still others imagine how a theater can charge so much these sweets today, and, more importantly, why folks are actually willing to pay so much to buy it. Four years ago, theater owner Howard Edelman, proprietor of Movieland Cinemas, an independent string of cinemas in the Long Island, NY-area was quoted on CNN as saying, "If you didn't have concessions at a movie theater, there would be no movie theater. We have movies just to get people in to buy popcorn and candy, [that's] where we make our money." So, will our children have the same fond memories of movie candy when they grow up? Or, are we the last generation of movie candy lovers?
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Variable Pricing at Movie Theaters?
In a way, movie theaters have been doing this for ages, with Saturday morning matinees. But, coming soon, some theater executives predict, will be a full-fledged program of "variable price structuring" at the country's top movie theater chains. What does this mean? It means you may pay more to see a movie on a weekend than you would during the week. Or you may even pay more for a blockbuster than you would for a flop. Does this make sense? Should you pay more for a ticket to see a film that will generate a longer line on Saturday than you would for the same film on Wednesday? Facing increasing pressure from TiVo, and Video on Demand options for viewers, theater owners seem willing to adopt this non-conventional approach to movie going. But I wonder if this is the answer. Should smaller films suffer a lower boxoffice intake? How does this encourage so-called art house film production? Is this a filtering process to make theaters the distributors of blockbusters alone? Yes, theater going has decreased 17 percent over the past three years. And, while I see the sense in making weeknight movies cheaper, I don't see how increasing the cost of weekend showings will help increase attendance. The theater-going experience itself has decreased in value, so it's not surprising that attendance is down as well. Some already feel (and with just cause) that it's too expensive to see a movie and buy refreshments for you and your date or you and your family. Movies, unlike live theater, have always been the affordable entertainment for the masses. (Even at the height of the Great Depression, people escaped to the movies!) This price restructuring seems to indicate that may no longer be the case. Here's what needs to happen: Prices need to come down across the board, for tickets and refreshments. If they do, I predict what the theater would make up, in volume, would more than justify such a move.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Sony in the Pink
Looks like the Sony/MGM deal is making more and more sense every day. Add The Pink Panther to the list of franchises now being given new life by the Sony purchase of MGM/UA. Late last year, I wrote about the revivals of both the Rocky and the James Bond series under the new ownership of Sony. Now, it seems, the long retired Pink Panther series, currently starring Steve Martin (as Inspector Clouseau, the role created by Peter Sellers 43 years ago), has been successfully revived as well. The Pink Panther opened this past weekend in the (all important) number one spot. With marketing opportunities that weren't available when the original series ended (for example, advertising on the all-kids Nickelodeon network), Sony has been able to position this new Panther film to children as well as their parents. (My six-year-old son was asking me to take him to the film for weeks before it opened!) I remember when Sony Music signed a five album deal with the then aging Rolling Stones, and thinking, "That was a bad move, these guys won't last for one more album." But that was back in the late 80s. And The Stones are currently circling the globe on their latest tour, in 2006. Will aging Bond and Rocky still perform for Sony too? I won't venture a guess, but I'm beginning to see some method to this madness.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Valentine's Day at the Movies
It's St. Valentine's Day and three movies come to mind. The first, Some Like It Hot, is now considered one of the funniest films ever made. For those of you who have never seen it, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two musicians, who after witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre must pose as women to avoid being killed themselves. Along the way, they run into Marilyn Monroe, and the rest of this Billy Wilder-directed film is the stuff of legend. The second film that comes to mind is the slasher flick Valentine. This film tried to do for Valentine's Day what Halloween did for Halloween. (Forget My Bloody Valentine, the quickie slasher effort that came out shortly after Halloween to cash in on the "holiday slasher" genre). This film, makes a valiant effort to revitalize the genre, but only partially succeeds. Still, it's worth a look for fans of that sort of film. The last film that came to mind was the Roger Corman-directed 1967 gangster film The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Look quick for a bit role from Jack Nicholson. Happy Valentine's Day!
Monday, February 13, 2006
DVD Renders MPAA Ratings Obsolete
Many people many not realize that an X-rated film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1969. It wasn't pornographic. It was a brilliant study of the friendship of two disenfranchised men named Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo. Midnight Cowboy was made in a time when the MPAA ratings had yet to become the censorship tool they are today. After years of the X rating being bastardized by the porn industry as "XXX," the MPAA replaced it with the much less sexy NC-17. But given the zeitgeist of the country, the NC-17 didn't stand a chance. Soon, films granted an NC-17 by the MPAA were refused newspaper ads (back when newspaper ads really mattered). Theater chains, in turn, refused to carry the films. So, studios began to insist that all NC-17 films be edited to receive an R rating before being released. This amounted to tolerated censorship. For years, this worked. Then came the dawn of DVD. Suddenly, unrated "director's cuts" were a draw for customers trying out the new format. Now, well entrenched, the DVD format has provided an easily accessed venue for people to view unrated versions of films the MPAA tried to censor. With films now available (even in Blockbuster) unrated, what's the point of the MPAA ratings? Perhaps when the industry realizes that this does not bring the end of Western civilization as we know it, NC-17 films will be allowed (in a practical way) back into theaters. Or better yet, perhaps people will be intelligent enough to judge for themselves which films are best seen by them or their children. Hmmm. Well, good thing for DVD!
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Wacky Words Documentary
Today comes word that documentary filmmaker Gregg Brown -- whom FEMA officials found listed in a phone book and hired to document the aftermath of 9/11 -- has used the images he shot of a smoldering Ground Zero for a documentary he directed which also includes toppless women talking about their breasts, and naked dancing men. The documentary, titled Words, is described by the filmmkaer as follows: "Words explores the connections between such seemingly unrelated events as a Native American sweat lodge ceremony, a gathering of topless women and the devastation of the World Trade Center through a combination of documentary and reality-based entertainment." Huh? I have rarely heard such bullshit. These images are "seemingly unrelated" because they are... hmmm... UNRELATED! Unbelievably, Brown, who was also given unique NYPD helicopter access to shoot his film of Ground Zero, was paid $302,000 for his work, even after he refused to sign an agreement giving "title and ownership" to the agency that hired him! Wow!
Saturday, February 11, 2006
No. Not the films directed by Francis Ford Coppola. I'm referring to the oft-filmed novel written by Peter B. Kyne in 1913 -- the story of three thieves/murderers coming across a dying mother and her infant, and promising to see it safely through a desert. the story was first filmed as The Three Godfathers in 1916, directed by Edward LeSaint. It was filmed again in 1919 as Marked Men, helmed by the great western director John Ford. In 1930, director William Wyler brought his version of the story to the screen as Hell's Heroes. It made it to the screen again in 1936 as Miracle in the Sand. In 1948, it became a John Wayne vehicle, titled 3 Godfathers, once again directed by John Ford. In 1974, director John Badham (Wargames, Saturday Night Fever) made a TV version called The Godchild. Most recently it was reworked as the animated 2002 film Ice Age. So, what is it about this story -- of a dying woman entrusting her child to the care of three men, she doesn't know are outlaws -- that has connected with filmmakers and audiences for almost 100 years now? Is it a story of redemption? Of hope? Or was Kyne simply being ironic?
Friday, February 10, 2006
Ed Norton, Alligator Victim
I love inside-jokes in films, and I always thought this was one of the best. In the slightly tongue-in-cheek 1980 film Alligator -- written by the talented John Sayles and directed by Lewis Teague, who also directed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and went on to make Cujo -- the first victim of the mutant alligator living in the sewers of New York is none other than dedicated sewer worker Ed Norton. As all fans of The Honeymooners know, Norton (portrayed by Art Carney) was the loyal pal of bus driver Ralph Kramden (played by "The Great One," Jackie Gleason). It was brilliant, and quite funny, to subtly suggest that Norton met his demise on the job by the alligator in this film.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Superfight, Special Film
The Superfight is quite an extraoridnary film. It was the brainchild of Murray Woroner, a Miami fight promoter who, in 1968, hired then undefeated heavyweight boxing champions Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano, for $10,000 apiece, to shoot a movie of a fight between them decided by a computer. The movie played one time only -- January 20 1970 (five months after Marciano died in a plane crash) -- to sold-out theaters around the country and in Europe. The idea was a spin-off of a popular series of "fantasy fights" that Worner produced for radio, in which two great boxing champions of different eras were matched via information fed into a computer. The fight would then be announced as if it were happening live, with an outcome according to the computer's analysis. The Ali/Marciano "fight" was filmmed in a North Miami gym in the summer of 1969. Ali was 27, Mariciano 45. Separate endings were filmed to keep the outcome a mystery. What an amazing film experiment. Convincing these two fighters to step into the ring together, now archived by this film, was a great accomplishment. The radio versions of these kind of fights obviously couldn't bring the fighters together since some had passed on and others were too old. But the Marciano/Ali fight works very well on screen (and, although the punches are pulled for the camera, they seem genuine). A one-time-only film, filling 1500 theaters in 1970 was also a tremendous accomplishment of movie marketing. Films, typically, did not play that many theaters back then. I wish there was this type of out-of-the-box thinking in Hollywood today.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
So, What Did Happen to John Hughes?
John Hughes ruled the 1980s. From 1982 to 1991, you couldn't turn around without another John Hughes movie coming out. He directed eight of them -- Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), She's Having a Baby (1988), Uncle Buck (1989), and Curly Sue (1991). His films created the concept of a "Brat Pack" and launched the careers of many of its members, most notably, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Judd Nelson. He practically gave a career to John Candy, who appeared in many Hughes films. In addition to the films he directed, Hughes also wrote National Lampoon's Class Reunion (1982), Mr. Mom (1983), Vacation series (starting in 1983), The Great Outdoors (1988) and Home Alone (1990). But, when the 80s ended, so, it seemed, did the audience's desire for Hughes' brand of comedy, a formula he honed and repeated (repeatedly). His films were easy to recognize -- large part crude comedy, a touch of sentimentality, mixed with hyper-realistic characters in crisis, and a dose of mayhem. The formula, which hit a chord in the 80s, fizzled fast in the grunge-oriented, "whatever" attitude of early 90s teens. When a couple of retreads of his old approach didn't work (Dennis the Menace, Baby's Day Out) -- and following an overly sentimental remake of Miracle on 34th Street -- Hughes went "Disney" for a while, writing the screenplays for the remakes of 101 Dalmatians and Flubber. He hasn't directed a film since 1991 and his most recent writing effort, the Jennifer Lopez flop Maid in Manhattan, barely made the radar. But something tells me that even if his films no longer play well with audiences, we need not worry about Mr. Hughes who, I would imagine, reaped a sizeable windfall from the (Vacation and Home Alone) franchises he created, now 20-plus years ago.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Not Ready For Prime Time, But Ready for Oscar
Here's a bit of trivia -- in the entire history of Saturday Night Live, only two of its performers (both from the original cast, back in the 70s) have been nominated for an Academy Award. Now, it's true that many performers from SNL (most notably Eddie Murphy, have had more successfully careers), only Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray have had their work recognized by Oscar. Aykroyd was the first to be noticed, in 1989, when he was nominated as Best Supporting Actor in the Oscar-winning Best Picture, Driving Miss Daisy. It wasn't until 2003 that Oscar finally noticed the outstanding work of Bill Murray when Murray received a Best Actor nomination for his turn as an over-the-hill movie star who, while filming commercials in Japan, falls in love with the young wife of a musician, in the Oscar-winning film Lost in Translation.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Please, Say Anything, Again
Much in the way director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were able to brilliantly revisit the characters they created for Before Sunrise in the superior (real time) sequel Before Sunset, it would be absolutely amazing for writer/director (and now Oscar-winner) Cameron Crowe to give us another glimpse into the lives of Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court, the characters he created for the masterpiece of teenage romance, Say Anything. Now one of the best actors of his generation, John Cusack (who played Lloyd) and Ione Skye (who so beautifully portrayed Diane) breathed such humanity and realism into their characters, I want to know, where are these characters now. Afterall, it's been 17 years since Lloyd and Diane stepped on that plane to Europe. Did they get married? Did it last? If not, why? Did they go their separate ways in Europe? Do they think about each other? With all the principals of the original film still available (including John Mahoney -- who today is better known as Fraiser Crane's father on TV's Fraiser than Diane's father in Say Anything), now is the time to make this film! Hollywood is often in the habit of extending the stories of on-screen characters we couldn't care less about. Here's an opportunity for one of Hollywood's most talented writer/directors and some of its best performers to once again embody the characters they made us care so much about the first time around. So please, Say Anything, again. I trust that Crowe can do for the thirtysomething and fortysomething crowd (who grew up with these characters) what he did for teenagers back in the 80s. Say Anything was an intelligent and knowing alternative to the over-the-top, often obnoxious, and completely artificial teen comedies of John Hughes. I truly believe that a sequel to Say Anything would be Crowe's finest film to date. Here's hoping we get to see it.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
The Piano Man's Cinematic Forays
Rock n Rock Hall of Famer Billy Joel is currently in the midst of a record-breaking string of 12 sold out concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden. His songs have always reflected, in a very personal sense, his own life and times. For me, they have guided and offered insight to relationships and moments in history, often filtering them, as only Joel can do, with a sense of honesty, experience and irony. Few songwriters can turn a phrase as deftly as Joel, and have them resonate as strongly as he can. On occasion, Joel's songs, many of which have now become American standards, have been used as themes for TV shows (Bosom Buddies used "My Life"; Dave's World chose "You May Be Right"). In addition to his voice performance as Dodger in Walt Disney's animated Oliver & Company, Joel has also contributed original songs for movies, including "Modern Woman" for Ruthless People and and the title song for Rodney Dangerfield's Easy Money. Dangerfield repaid the favor by appearing in Joel's music video for the song "Tell Her About It." Joel performed "All Shook Up" and "Heartbreak Hotel" for Honeymoon in Vegas; "In a Sentimental Mood" for A League of Their Own; "Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day)?" and his own "Vienna" for 13 Going On 30. His songs can also be heard in the films Wonderland, Garfield: The Movie, Agent Cody Banks, The Guru, A Family Thing, The Blues Brothers, and FM.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Al Lewis Dies at 82
Al Lewis, who passed away today at the age of 82 (not 95, as is popularly believed), did not have a very distinguished film career, appearing mostly in B-movies or sporting bit parts in better known films, but the world will forever remember him as Grampa on the 1960s TV sitcom The Munsters. Playing "Dracula" to Fred Gwynn's "Frankenstein monster," the two bumbled their way into more hair-brained schemes then you could imagine. In addition to a couple of Munster reunion movies, Lewis also appeared in the films Night Terror, South Beach Academy, Fast Money, Car 54, Where Are You? (the 1994 big screen version of the sitcom, in which he also starred), My Grandfather Is a Vampire, Bum Rap, Married to the Mob, Comic Cabby, Used Cars, They Might Be Giants, The Boatniks, and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Cine Gear Expo News
In addition to creating Sony Network magazine and the film festival Digital Reports (which I wrote about earlier), one of the publications I was most proud of creating was CineGear Expo News. This glossy, color publication, which reports on the equipment used to make movies, became the official magazine of the Cine Gear Expo, which is held annually in L.A. Cine Gear Expo is now in its 10th year, and has grown from a one day social event with a hands-on equipment display at the Paramount Theatre to become the premiere Film, Video and Digital Media Expo, networking event and seminar series for the entertainment production and post production community in Hollywood. Cine Gear Expo attracts an audience of top notch industry professionals. Many companies now choose Cine Gear Expo to introduce new and groundbreaking equipment and services to professionals in the community. Cine Gear Expo 2006 will be held at the Wadsworth Theatre and Grounds in West Los Angeles, California on June 23-24, 2006. To read the most recent editon of the Cine Gear Expo News, you can go to http://www.cinegearexpo.com/CineGearNews2005.pdf.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Documenting the Current Downturn
Oil prices are higher. Gasoline prices are higher. GM is cutting 20,000 jobs. Ford is cutting 30,000 jobs and closing 14 plants. Kraft is cutting 8,000 jobs and 20 plants. Individual savings rates are the lowest since the Great Depression. The real estate industry bubble is about to burst. Our country is fighting a foreign war with no end. The world view of the U.S. is at an all-time low. The ethics of the current presidential administration are constantly being called into question. It feels like we are a country in crisis. Much in the way Michael Moore focused the nation's understanding of the political fallout of 9/11, a filmmaker needs to come along with the courage to document the current "depression" of the nation. We need a film that cuts throught the PR of the left and the right and offers a "fair and balanced" view of what's going on. Fair and balanced, remember that? Is such a film possible in our current climate? Can one be made before things get worse? Film is such a powerful force, with the ability to educate so many so quickly. Such a film would have to be devoid of "leanings" and just present the facts, as best we know them, in a clear and objective manner. We need this film. It needs star power from the left and the right. It needs to speak to the middle. Will somebody make it?
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The noticeable (and deserved) absence of the current remake of King Kong from major Oscar nominations yesterday got me to thinking about the type of film it was. I don't mean the genre, I mean the fact that it was a film that followed an amazing success in a director's career. Usually, directors get one shot at this kind of "open check" trust from financial backers (be them independent or studios). A handful of directors have enjoyed such freedom, and there have been some noticeable examples. Here are a few. Following Citizen Kane, Orson Welles got to direct the Magnificent Ambersons, but never had such freedom of direction for the rest of his career. The phenomenon of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II allowed Coppola to go into the jungle to film Apocalypse Now, but the failure of One From the Heart, earned him a number of gun-for-hire jobs for a while. The Deer Hunter gave Michael Cimino open reign to direct Heaven's Gate. But when it sunk UA, Cimino didn't work again for years. Now, Peter Jackson is faced with the unfortunate situation of having made a film that (even though it grossed $600 million worldwide) is considered a disappointment by Titanic standards. So, it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. Another big budget effort? I don't think so. Small and safe would be my bet. Speaking of Titanic, its director, James Cameron wisely decided not to direct a feature since. Afterall, how could he possibly out "Titanic" Titanic?