Friday, June 30, 2006

 

Holy Super Icon, Part II

Regardless of what frequent "Movies on My Mind" commentator "Silberg" may think, there is no doubt, not one single shred of doubt, that the writers of Superman Returns intended to retell the story of Jesus Christ. I just came back from seeing the film with my children, and the parallels are unmistakable. Anyone familiar with the story of Jesus will not miss them. Another frequent "Movies on My Mind" contributor, "Ohio Girl" kindly provided a link to an article from The New York Times which alludes to the similarities (http://movies2.nytimes.com/2006/06/27/movies/27supe.html?8mu). And, in the current film market, why not solidify the comparisons to Christ? As I have said before, in a post-Passion film world -- where overtly Christian stories such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reap big bucks -- let's face it....Jesus sells! Sony, who owns more movie studio brands than any other corporation worldwide (Columbia Pictures, MGM, United Artists, Sony Picture Classics, Screen Gems, etc) has even set up an entire division to market to the Christian crowd. For the record, here's a list of 10 comparisons between Jesus of Nazareth and the current incarnation of Superman in Superman Returns:
1) Superman comes to earth from the Heavens, sent by his father to live among humans, and in his father's words, "to be a light to the world." In the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to earth from Heaven, sent by his father to live among humans and says, "while I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
2) In Superman Returns, Superman goes about helping humans with "powers far beyond those of mortal man," and at one point literally carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Jesus goes about helping human "with powers far beyond those of mortal man," and takes on his shoulders "the sins of the world."
3) Superman takes Lois Lane into the sky and asks what she hears. She says,"Nothing." He says, "I hear everybody." He tells Lois that she's wrong about the world not needing a savior and that he in fact is that savior.
4) The voice of Superman's father tells him that the world will come to know him, through the works of his son. Jesus says in the gospels, "The world does not know the Father because they have not recognized the Son."
5) Superman is beaten and mocked by his enemies and ultimately pierced in the side (by Lex Luthor) with a sharp shard of Kryptonite. Jesus is beaten and mocked by his enemies and pierced in the side with a spear (by a Roman soldier).
6) Superman literally gives his life to save the world from the evil of Lex Luthor and falls to his death, arms spread apart. Jesus, the Catholic church believes, gave his life to save the world from sin and the Lucifer, by spreading his arms on the cross.
7) When a female nurse visits the room where they have laid the body of Superman, she is shocked to find it empty and the police guarding the room immediately come to search it. When the women visit the tomb where they have laid the body of Jesus, they are shocked to find it empty, and Roman soldiers, guarding the tomb, immediately come to search it.
8) When Superman returns to life, the first person he visits is the woman he loves, Lois Lane. When Jesus returns to life, the first person he visits is the woman he loves, Mary Magdalene.
9) Lois asks the resurrected Superman, "Will we see you again?" And Superman says, "I will always be around." The apostles ask the resurrected Jesus to stay with them, and he says, "Don't be afraid, I am with you everyday, until the end of the world."
10) At the end of the film Superman ascends back into the heavens. At the end of the gospels, Jesus ascends back to Heaven.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

 

Knock Knock, Anybody Home?

The other day, "Movies on My Mind" received an excited correspondence from a film publicist who has contacted me several times in the past. I won't mention a name. It's not the intention of this piece to put this person on the spot (although I do think her lack of follow up in the past has left alot to be desired). However, I would like to make a larger point. The correspondence I received indicated that the publicist read a piece I wrote for "Movies on My Mind" which referred to Michael Moore as the most important filmmaker working today. So, she wrote, since she was covering Morgan Spurlock's new project, 30 Days, she wondered if I would be interested in participating in a promotion for that project. First off, I immediately presumed while she may have enjoyed my piece on Moore she clearly hadn't read the "Movies on My Mind" piece which said Morgan Spurlock is a Supersized Jerk. Secondly, beyond the fact that both Moore and Spurlock are considered to be left leaning documentarians, what does one have to do with the other? I guess what I'm saying here is this publicist didn't take the time to see if I had written anything on Spurlock (which I did). Nor did she bother to find out if what I wrote was negative (it was, due to remarks he made during a speech to school children). She simply felt that since I had written about Moore, I would naturally be interested in Spurlock. So, what accounts for this? Is it that she may have been reared on the kind of "in the moment" journalism which doesn't seem to care (or know) what happened last week? Could it be that what passes for journalism these days just clumps everyone with similar leanings into one big fat category? (You need to listen not further than Randi Rhodes or Sean Hannity, to see what I mean.) Afterall, even our black-and-white President made it clear, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." So, does this mean, if I am "with" Michael Moore, it would only logically follow that I am also "with" Morgan Spurlock? The world, regardless of what today's vapid media, and our President, would like to have you believe, is just not that simple. I mean, afterall, we should also remember -- Moore's most recent film took on President George W. Bush, while Spurlock's film took on a clown... Umm. Wait. Hmmm. Ok, so that's a bad example. But anyway, the world still isn't that simple. Does anyone do homework anymore?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

 

Fahrenheit 9/11 Marine Dies in Iraq

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has become the seminal film of our generation. Now, as one soldier is very publicly suing Moore for what he terms a misrepresentation of his comments in the film, another Marine -- and one-time recruiter -- who appeared in documentary willingly, has died in a roadside bombing in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar, 30, died Monday of wounds he suffered while conducting combat operations in Iraq. After donating one of his kidneys to his uncle, Plouhar took four years off from active duty to serve as a recruiter for the Marines in Michael Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan. In Fahrenheit 9/11, he's seen approaching prospective recruits in a mall parking lot in Flint, saying, "It's better to get them when they're in ones and twos and work on them that way." Plouhar leaves behind a wife, and two children, ages five and nine.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

 

The Nickelodeon Movie Empire

What movie studio could ask for anything more? Nickelodeon has it made! A high recognition brand venue to develop its film projects (as TV shows first) right in front of its target audience, and the same venue to market its films, once the TV show (upon which it's based) is a hit. Forget the days when the network for best known for its game shows of green slime. Now, it's a well-oiled factory of TV shows-to-movies. Hit after hit. The Rugrats: The Movie. The Rugrats in Paris. The Rugrats Go Wild. Hey, Arnold: The Movie. The Wild Thornberrys Movie. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (which was even nominated for an Oscar!). And when the network develops an original movie, such as Nacho Libre (with Jack Black), again it again has the built-in venue to market it to the hilt. Built in give-aways. Built-in contests. Built-in interview opportunities. The Nickelodeon movie empire harkens back to the vertical days of the studio system, when the majors owned the equipment, the talent, the production lots, and the movie theaters.

Monday, June 26, 2006

 

Whatever Happened to Lucinda Dickey?

Although 15 minutes of fame may have come and gone in the short film career of Lucinda Dickey, one-time Solid Gold dancer-turned actress, had enough enthusiasm, charm, and girl-next-door beauty to stand out in the kind of grade-Z movies being churned out by Cannon Films in the 1980s. A trained dancer, and with a bit role in Grease 2 to her credit, Dickey was all over the screen in 1984 starring alongside Shabba-Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp in (Canon's poor-man answer to Flashdance), Breakin' and its same-year sequel, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, as well as Cannon's Ninja III: The Domination. At the time, on Siskel & Ebert, film critic Gene Siskel went out of his way to praise Dickey's performance in Breakin' 2 and Ninja III. It seemed as though she might graduate to bigger things. But that was it until 1987, when she appeared in the schlocky film Cheerleader Camp (also known as Bloody Pompoms). She has since married Survivor co-executive producer Craig Piligian, and has two children. A new breakdance movie with Dickey is rumored for 2007.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

 

You Must Have Been a Monstrous Baby, Cause Baby Look at You Now!

Remember when Saturday morning cartoons ran out of ideas, and someone thought it would be smart to take classic characters and explore their early years? What we got was The Flintstone Kids and A Pup Named Scooby Doo. Not the greatest move in the world. Well, before the producers of the Halloween series scrapped plans to delve into Michael Myers' childhood (in favor of greenlighting a remake of the original), that film was going to join the soon-to-be- released prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning as the latest horror franchise to "explain it all." Psycho did it. So did The Exorcist. But most great horror filmmakers know -- things are simply scarier the less they are explained. Do we really need to revisit the beginning? Absolutely not! If you saw Leatherface walking down a dark alley wearing other people's skin for a mask, would you ask him about his troubled childhood? I don't think so. We don't need to know. The mask made of skin and a chainsaw is scary enough. Part of the brilliance of the original film is the fact that Leatherface just appears -- suddenly and violently. We don't need to see, The True Hollywood Story: A Boy And His Chainsaw. In fact, we don't need anymore Chainsaw Massacre films period.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

 

Rob Zombie's Halloween

Well folks, Movies on My Mind kinda predicted this (see: Remaking John Carpenter Films, 9/20/2005). In the wake of long time Halloween producer Moustapha Akkad's sudden death (due to a terrorist bombing), the producers of the long running horror series have decided to scrap the idea of exploring the early years of Michael Myers in exchange for handing musician/director Rob Zombie an opportunity to REMAKE the original. That's right, following remakes of (George A. Romero's) Dawn of the Dead, (Tobe Hooper's) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and (Wes Craven's) The Hills Have Eyes, the producers of the Halloween series have finally decided to remake the original story. Zombie is not saying much about the film at this point (due out in 2007) other than it will bring back the characters of Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis, take place in 1978, and add some original elements to the mix.

Friday, June 23, 2006

 

Producer Aaron Spelling Dies at 83

Legendary producer Aaron Spelling, who ruled primetime television in the 1970s, and had a popularity resurgence in the 1990s, died today from a stroke at the age of 83. There was a time when Spelling could do no wrong for the ABC network, producing hit after hit, including The Mod Squad, Starsky & Hutch, Charlie's Angels, Hart to Hart, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Dynasty. Although he produced a handful of TV movies and theatrical films himself -- Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Mr. Mom, 'night Mother, and Soapdish, among them -- he was better known, of late, for the big screen remakes of his earlier hits -- most successfully Charlie's Angels. No doubt his TV hits will continued to provide fodder for big screen redos.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

 

Gross is the Word

I realize that a legion of movie lovers have built a cult around the kitsch 1970s musical Grease, but I recently watched just a couple of minutes of it on TV the other day and I have to say -- people in their 30s, running around pretending to be teenagers is just plain...creepy. Clearly, there are times in film when this can work. The Graduate for example. Dustin Hoffman, as recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock, in real life was 30, only five years younger than Anne Bancroft, who played the "older" Mrs. Robinson in the film. Michael J. Fox did a good job at playing a teenager in the TV show Family Ties and the Back to the Future films. Now, I know the popularity of Grease proves me wrong here, but there was simply something immediately jarring about these older actors pretending to be high school students. Not that Olivia Newton-John, or even John Travolta for that matter, are difficult to look at, but all of a sudden, the film struck me as some over produced 50s night at the local Elk's Club with old married couples dressing up and trying to recapture their youth. If this film is ever remade, here's a novel idea -- cast teenagers as the teenagers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

 

Holy Super Icon

His name means "the voice of God." He was sent to earth by his father -- for whom he was the only son -- as a savior, and according to his father, "to be a light to the human race." His mission was to overcome evil. Yet, he kept this messianic mission a secret, eventually revealing it to only his closest friends, among them a woman he loved. He performed miracles, and displayed powers far beyond those of mortal man. Ultimately, he was killed. But, he returned from the dead, in a new form. Is this a synopsis of the Gospel According to John? No. It's the story of Superman. The iconic nature of the Superman character and story is steeped in Christ imagery, an archetypical device used in other films (most famous among them, E.T. the Extraterrestrial) and also in literature (Stranger in a Strange Land, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five). As Superman Returns opens in just a few days, the story of Krypton's last surviving son has once again raised debate as to the symbolism of the Man of Steel. I remember watching Superman II on TV many years ago with my grandfather in the room. And as the trio of super-villains from the planet Krypton, led by General Zod, force the President of the United States to kneel before them in submission. The President says, "What I do now, I do for the people of the planet. But there is one man, who will never kneel before you." And Zod says, "Where is this man?" And the President responds, "I wish I knew." And my grandfather, watching this scene, instinctively said, "Jesus." But of course the answer was Superman. So, is Superman, in fact, Jesus? (Anyone remember that Jesus wears a Superman t-shirt in the film Godspell?) Or, since he was created by two Jewish men at a time when Adolf Hitler was slaughtering Jews, did they unconsciously mean to reflect the story of Moses, who also saved his people from slavery and death? Just this week, the gay media has even offered that Superman (who must live his life "in the closet") actually parallels the life of a homosexual. Ironically, the film's director Bryan Singer -- who is gay -- stated that Superman is the most heterosexual character in any film he's directed. Regardless. What is clear is the character is so iconographic, he transcends a particular time period or pigeon hole, thus accounting for his enduring popularity for nearly a century (or is it 20 centuries?).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

 

Sunday Afternoons With Abbott & Costello

I've mentioned before, how, growing up, television played a strong role in my early exposure to (and education of) films. The 4:30 Movie theme weeks... The Late Movie...The Late Late Movie...all exposed me to films I might have otherwise never known. Looking back -- in the pre-VHS, pre-Pay-Per-View days -- I think the fact that we were (in a sense) forced to watch what television programmers programmed was, in a way, a great thing in that it exposed us to a plethora of film genres, acting styles, and director's works, we might not have chosen for ourselves at the local Blockbuster, given the choice. Perhaps my most fond memory of "films I first saw on TV" are the Sunday afternoon Bud Abbott & Lou Costello films on Channel 11, in New York. These films were as much a part of my Sunday experience as Grandma's homemade tomato sauce, listening to Italian music, and going to mass. Abbott & Costello films on Sundays were a constant -- something I counted on. And each week, I was glued to Bud and Lou's film (mis)adventures -- watching time and again as the duo ran through their famous (and always funny) "Who's on First?" routine, or simply ran -- from the Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, or Boris Karloff himself! I watched them become Buck Privates (in two films which also exposed me to the "Boogie Woogie" singing style of the Andrew Sisters). I even watched Bud and Lou go to Venus (though the title said they were going to Mars). Point is, these Sunday afternoon programming decisions by local station WPIX in New York, turned into a multi-year, crash course on the films of Abbott & Costello for me. I know these films now as well as I know anything in my life. They're part of my make-up, and certainly an early reason for my love of film.

Monday, June 19, 2006

 

Jerry Lewis: Love Him or Hate Him

Jerry Lewis, it seems, has always been a "love him or hate him" kind of performer. He's been called painfully unfunny and a comic genius; a self-centered egotist, and a warm-hearted philanthropist. Lewis' recent health scare (a mild heart attack) at age 80, made me think of the reasons I love this man's work. Lewis will act as silly as possible just to make someone laugh. So what's wrong with that? Plus, his perseverance with his life-long charitable work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (regardless of bypass surgery, prostate cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and an addiction to the medicine prednisone - which, for a time, blew up his face and body like a balloon) earns my respect. Now, some may say that it's just his egotism driving his desire to put himself out there -- to elicit sympathy for himself. Lewis is a performer (at one time the most popular film star in the country), and all performers have strong egos and a desire to be liked. What else would drive The Rolling Stones to still tour in their 60s, or George Burns to entertain until he was 100? I tend to think of the films Lewis has given us -- The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, Who's Minding the Store?, The Bellboy, The Errand Boy, The Disorderly Orderly, The Geisha Boy, The Ladies Man, Three on a Couch, The King of Comedy, and even his "comeback" film Hardly Working, high among them. These films make me laugh. When Lewis acts like a goofball, I laugh. It's that simple. So I ask again, what's so wrong with that? Sure he's silly, and no, his shtick doesn't always work, but he always goes down swinging. So, I'm happy to hear Lewis is on the mend and that he not only plans to once again host his annual telethon, but also direct a musical version of his film The Nutty Professor for Broadway. I saw Lewis on the Broadway stage in 1995 when he performed in Damned Yankees. He was magnificent. If you've never seen a Jerry Lewis film and have stayed away because others have said he's not funny, do yourself a favor and rent a few. Decide for yourself. Selecting from the list above might be a good start. If you watch them and decide for yourself he's not funny, that's okay too. Like I said, Jerry Lewis tends to be a "love him or hate him" kind of guy. And I love him.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

 

Garfield's Fun Pop References

On this Father's Day, I took my son and daughter to see the Garfield sequel A Tail of Two Kitties. I enjoyed the first film, with Bill Murray (who returns here) as the "too-cool-for-you" voice of Garfield. The sequel -- written by Joel Cohen (who also wrote the original, as well as the brilliant Toy Story) and not to be mistaken for Joel Coen of Coen brothers fame -- has some fun pop references. The title alone, is a play on the classic Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. The plot -- in which Garfield is mistaken for a wealthy lookalike in London named "Prince" -- is a clear nod to the plot of the Mark Twain novel The Prince and the Pauper. And along the way, the filmmakers are even able to fit in a tribute to the classic Harpo Marx "mirror scene" from the classic Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup. Now, any film (in this day and age) that even remembers Charles Dickens, Mark Twain the and the Marx Brothers even existed is ok in my book!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

 

Incredible Vaginal Imagery

Forget for a minute that Helen Parr (aka the wife, mother, and superhero Elasta Girl of the Oscar winning hit Disney and Pixar film The Incredibles) may well be the most sexually appealing animated female character ever. (Keep in mind the film continually reminds us of how "flexible" she can be, and shows us how she can spread her legs wider than other woman.) Add The Incredibles to the list of films (including Poltergeist, Alien, and Videodrome) that uses vaginal imagery. I have seen The Incredibles a number of times. But, this past weekend, watching it again on DVD with my children, the image just jumped out at me. During the scene in which Mr. Incredible is being taken to the secret headquarters of his arch enemy Syndrome, a waterfall "opens up" in the shape of a vagina to "let them in." I admired that this imagery is so subtle it took me repeated viewings to notice. But it's there.

Friday, June 16, 2006

 

Will Martin Scorsese Ever Win?

I know this question has been asked countless times, but all of a sudden it seems to be a matter of principle. Will Martin Scorsese -- who, it can be argued, directed some of the best films of the last 30 years - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas --ever win a competitive Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences? Scorsese has directed Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull) and Paul Newman (The Color of Money) to their Oscars. His longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker has been nominated for five, won two Oscars for Scorsese films (Raging Bull and The Aviator). And while he himself has been nominated seven times, he's never won. This fact was brought home clearly (and humorously) during the 2006 Oscar ceremony when, after the rap song "It's Hard Out There For a Pimp" won the Best Song Oscar, host Jon Stewart pointed out (as only he could do), "For those of you keeping track at home. That's now, Three 6 Mafia: one Oscar. Martin Scorsese: zero." Scorsese has The Departed on the way this year and Silence announced (both sound like close of career titles, don't they?) At, 63 years of age, will Scorsese depart and become silent without ever being able to thank the Academy?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

 

Animation Glut

Ever since the Motion Picture Academy instituted a category for Best Animated Feature (with Shrek being the first winner), the Hollywood industry has been slowly but steadily increasing its output on animated feature productions. But we've hit a log jam. Everywhere you turn these days, animated features are dominated the previews, opening in theaters or coming to DVD. In the last 10 months alone we've seen the openings or coming attractions for: Hoodwinked, The Wild, Ice Age 2, Over the Hedge, Cars, Open Season, Flushed Away, The Ant Bully, Monster House, Yankee Irving, Doogal and Chicken Little. Now, I have no problem with animated features per se. Many of them are a lot of fun. But even now, the themes, the plots, and the characters are already starting to feel derivative. The most popular recent example has been The Wild and Madagascar, but films with cute talking animals are everywhere (Over the Hedge, Open Season, The Ant Bully, Flushed Away). If not animals, the same basic storylines are transfered to other objects (ie Cars, Robots). The upcoming The Ant Bully seems to have forgotten that Antz and A Bug's Life both came out quite a while ago. With Yankee Irving we're down to talking baseballs and bats. I just wonder if there has been to much of a rush to increase the animated feature output. While A-list actors have been drawn to animation like a magnet, films like The Incredibles prove there are amazing writers working in this genre as well. I'd like to see more of them treat animation as they do live action and as a result add greater complexity to the genre for all age groups.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

 

The New AFI: Lists R Us!

Back in the mid 1980s, when I was Associate Editor of American Film -- the magazine of the American Film Institute (AFI) -- though it had been in existence for sometime, the Institute was still basically known to the public for one thing -- its Lifetime Achievement Award, which it handed out annually to Hollywood royalty. And so it was moving forward, even after American Film magazine folded, the Institute still clung to its annual Lifetime Achievement Award as its main source of popular recognition. But like the Miss American Pageant, the Lifetime Achievement Award waned in popularity, due in part, no doubt, to the growing ways in which people could learn about and be exposed to celebrities on a more frequent basis (through the growth of award shows, entertainment news programs, the E! Channel, etc). Then, one day, the AFI decided to put together a list. In the summer of 1998, the AFI announced its list of the "100 Greatest American Movies." The media attention to the list was incredible, and the public really seemed to care. From that point on, the AFI lists have kept coming: "100 Greatest American Screen Legends," "100 Funniest Comedies," "100 Most Thrilling Films," "100 Greatest Love Stories," "100 Greatest Heroes & Villains," "100 Greatest Songs in American Movies," "100 Greatest Movie Quotes," and just this week, the "100 Most Inspirational American Movies." The lists have given way to TV specials, such as AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies. The AFI has learned to use the expanded media coverage of entertainment to its advantage. Each time a new AFI list is announced, it becomes the entertainment news of the day. Debates ensue on radio talk shows about the choices. The AFI has succeeded in reinventing itself as a list maker! People love lists.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

 

The Ongoing Sex Appeal of Nancy Drew on Screen

It used to be said of Ginger Rogers, she had to do everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. The same could be said for the legendary strawberry blonde female sleuth Nancy Drew in comparing her to her male counterparts, The Hardy Boys. Maybe that's why, growing up, Nancy Drew always seemed to intrigue me more than the crime solving brother duo. There was always something sexy about the fact that Nancy Drew solved her mysteries, all while wearing a skirt! (Think what you will of The DaVinci Code, but in it, actress Audrey Tautou does everything Tom Hanks does, but she does it in a skirt -- which I must admit is pretty sexy.) Nancy Drew, who was created by a group of scribes collectively writing under the name Carolyn Keene, has had a long on screen history. Soon after the character began appearing in print, she made her debut in a quartet of fun, fast-paced, and quick-witted films (over a two year period) all starring Bonita Granville -- Nancy Drew: Detective (1938), Nancy Drew: Reporter (1939), Nancy Drew: Troubleshooter (1939), and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939). However, while the books continued to be popular, the "on screen" Nancy didn't experience a real resurgence until The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries hit the small screen in 1977. The then-unknown Pamela Sue Martin, who played Nancy, became an instant teen idol and the series was quite popular for a couple of years. In 1995, Tracy Ryan (the Canadian-born actress who provides the voice of Duck in the children's animated series Little Bear) was cast to play the detective in the short lived series Nancy Drew. The character was revived once again in 2002 for the TV movie Nancy Drew starring Maggie Lawson. (That movie was intended to launch a new series, but it never materialized.) Now, due out in 2007 is the film Nancy Drew: The Mystery in Hollywood Hills. Emma Roberts of Aquamarine fame has the title role. Nancy has clearly evolved over the years, embodying the personas of the then-current generation's young, independent-minded female adventurers. No doubt she will continue to evolve and endure, as long as filmmakers continue to carefully mine the particular attraction of female curiosity.

Monday, June 12, 2006

 

Is it Brett Ratner's World?

Director Brett Ratner -- who splashed onto the Hollywood scene, and created his own franchise, with his unexpected hit comedy Rush Hour -- has seemingly become the "go to" man for other valued film franchises. First, (following in the footsteps of Jonathan Demme and Ridley Scott), he was handed the third in the Silence of the Lambs series, Red Dragon. Then, he was picked as the man to return Superman to the screen. But that fell through (due to casting issues) and was ultimately handed to X-Men series director Bryan Singer. So, with Singer taking the reigns from Ratner on Superman Returns, who better to give the X-Men series to then...hmmm....Ratner! The Ratner/Singer switch looks like a win-win situation. At the height of the Rat Pack years, it was joked that this was really Sinatra's world and the rest of us were just living in it. I wonder if the same could soon be said for Ratner, who slowly but surely, is gaining the trust of the Hollywood industry and, with results like X-Men: The Last Stand, earning it. In terms of commercial success, Ratner has clearly joined the A-list. Can he rise to the top of it?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

 

My Daughter's First Holy Communion

My daughter received her First Holy Communion on May 21, and at the time, I was told that no motion picture cameras (or still photography cameras, for that matter) were allowed in the church during the ceremony. Was the reason, the sanctity of the event? No. The church had hired Video Creations (a Staten Island-based wedding videography production company) to film the service, so they could sell it back to me as a packaged DVD for a pretty hefty price. Now, of course, few will argue the sentimental value of such a film for a parent. However, for the price tag -- and given the advancements made in digital video and post production by now -- I was expecting a pretty polished production. While the DVD I received did have menu options, the production itself was pretty disappointing. The cinematography was static and repetitive. The sound quality was shoddy, and the editing was all but non-existent. There's no excuse for this these days. There are plenty of film students who could (and I venture would LOVE to) cut their teeth working for such production companies -- some fresh talent who would really be able to offer the customer something special at the end. Numerous film directors have been plucked from relative obscurity because of the work they've done on music videos. To use a baseball analogy, if feature films are the major leagues, and music videos are the minors, then I grant you that event videography is double A ball. However, I would encourage a new generation of filmmakers to use this area of motion picture production to "do something special" -- not only be able to offer the customer a quality project, but perhaps be plucked from obscurity themselves.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

 

The Five Best (Instrumental) Film Scores Ever

Many have long argued, and I am in full agreement, that films in general are not complete without a musical score to accompany the action on screen. Following are my picks for the five best instrumental film scores of all time. The films with which these scores are associated with would not be the films they are, without this brilliant music.
5. Halloween (John Carpenter)
4. Psycho (Bernard Herrmann)
3. Jaws (John Williams)
2. Rocky (Bill Conti)
1. The Godfather (Nino Rota)

Friday, June 09, 2006

 

Those Crazy Christians!

Forget the Jesus and Mary thing, The DaVinci Code -- like Carrie, Seven, 8MM, Midnight Cowboy, the god awful See No Evil (which actually prompted this piece), and countless other horror films -- portrays Christians as crazed and murderous lunatics!!! Why was there no outcry from the Christian community over See No Evil -- in which a mass murdering fiend literally rips the eyes from his victim's sockets because he is convinced by his "good Christian mother" that it prevents them from "seeing the sin?" To this day, the Brian DePalma film adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie, is the benchmark for all Christian loonies -- Piper Laurie's brilliant portrayal of Mrs White, and her personal brand of "religious instruction," I'm sure scared the begeezes out of many a Sunday School student. (There are few more unsettling images on film than poor Carrie White forced by her mother into a closet to pray to a Voodoo doll version of a crucified Christ with wide starring eyes!) In Andrew Kevin Walker's Seven and 8MM, the "monsters" in the films are either outwardly Christian, or implied to be so. (Seven's John Doe may not be identifid as a Christian per se, but he is certainly killing on "Christian principles.") When Ratzo Rizzo cons Joe Buck out of a few dollars in Midnight Cowboy, he does so by sending him to a crazed Christian, who then attempts to have Buck kneel down and pray with him before a flashing red plastic statue of Jesus (which pops out of his closet!) Time and again -- See No Evil and The DaVinci Code, with its murderous albino monk, are just the latest examples -- films turn to Christians as the de facto crazies. That is what should have been brought to public attention in the fervor over The DaVinci code. Other religious or social groups would not stand for such stereotyping, and it's about time that films which portray Christians as loonies are spotlighted for the slanderous images they perpetuate.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

 

Amazing Story: Roger Corman & The Fantastic Four

The film is legend... Fans seek it out at comic book conventions and on-line site -- even if only to view it on an Nth generation bootleg video. The film? The Fantastic Four. No, not 20th Century Fox's big screen release of last year. This is The Fantastic Four film that was produced by Roger Corman to help German producer Bernd Eichinger retain the rights to the property (but was never intended to actually be viewed!) A little history...In 1992, Neue Constantin Films of Germany had owned the film rights to the Fantastic Four for several years, but the rights were set to expire on December 31 of that year and revert back to Marvel. Neue Constantin asked to renew its option, but Marvel -- who had yet to experience success of the Spider-man of The X-Men adaptations -- said no. To retain its option, Neue Constantin would need to begin production of an actual film before the year's end. So, Neue Constantin quickly entered into a partnership with Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures in the Fall of 1992, and a low-budget Fantastic Four film started shooting on December 28 of that year, with music video director Oley Sassone hired to head the intense 25-day shoot. From that point on, what happened to the film -- like most popular Urban Myths -- seems to deviate from source to source. Reportedly, according to Roger Corman, when Eichinger came to him, they worked out a deal to cut the budget from $40 million to $1.4 million, and made the film. "We were going to distribute it," Corman reportedly said, "but [Eichinger] had a clause in his contract that he could buy me out at a rather substantial profit for me anytime up to ninety days after the picture was completed. During that time he raised his $40 million. He bought the picture out from me and he [went on to] make it for Fox." (Eichinger was, indeed, the producer of the 2005 version.) In an LA Magazine article titled "Fantastic Faux," Eichinger rejected the rumored statement that the film was never intended to be released. "No, that's not true," said Eichinger. "It was definitely not our intention to make a B movie, that's for sure, but when the movie was there, we wanted to release it." As the story goes, Avi Arad, of Marvel, suggested a deal in which Eichinger could recoup his investment in the low-budget film provided all prints of the film were destroyed. But, somehow, the film survived (albeit in a battered form) and has now far surpassed its big budgeted doppelganger in the annals of film legend!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 

The Godfather Part IV

Thinking about The Godfather films the other day (see Movies on My Mind: "La Festa: Music & Murder"), got me to wondering some more about the possibilities of a Part IV. (Mario Puzo himself briefly discussed the likelihood of a fourth installment in the DVD extras of The Godfather Collection.) Sure, there's a million reasons NOT to do it, but if Paramount Pictures ever seriously considers it, I think they need to scrap the idea of trying to adapt the novel The Godfather Returns (what a disaster that would be) and consider the safer (albeit more derivative) approach, of Part III. Here's my suggestion: Stick to the original idea Puzo had. Have Part IV be similar to Part II, intertwining the career of Vincent Corleone (Andy Garcia) with the early years of his father Santino "Sonny" Corleone (Leonardo Decaprio). This allows for a story to unfold that doesn't require recasting actors who are far too old to play the parts (Al Pacino, Robert Duvall) or have since passed away (Marlon Brando, John Cazale). The flash back sequence (which would take place in the 1930s) could allow Robert DeNiro (who won the Oscar for playing the young Don Vito in Part II) to reprise his role as a now slightly older (pre-Brando) Vito. The screenplay should be written by Francis Ford Coppola, with a story credit to Mario Puzo. While it could certainly contain some of the familiar lines from the series, it shouldn't be bogged down by them. Coppola -- or perhaps even Martin Scorsese -- could direct. As for the plot? The plot doesn't really matter. It has never really mattered in a Godfather film. The drama of individual scenes will carry enough of a plot to satisfy even the most ardent Godfather fan if done right. Keep Nino Rota's brilliant score; don't try to "update" the sound of the music with a more contemporary sound. Rota's music is as much a part of the series' mystique as anything else. Set the current days events in the late 1990, as the Mafia is falling apart and Vincent reaches out past cultural lines to form alliances. Somehow work in scenes that take place in Italy, and make the flashback scenes of 1930s New York meticulously accurate. Give the film a grand scope but a deeply personal center. Have Vincent die at the end, in a double cross and hail of bullets, and fade back to a time when Sonny thought he could rule the world.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

 

Rosemary's Baby-Sitter

Well, 6-6-06 has come and gone and the world still seems intact. Here's an interesting cinematic side note though: Mia Farrow, who, 38 years ago, played the reluctant mother of the Anti-Christ in the Roman Polanski masterpiece Rosemary's Baby, plays, in the remake of The Omen (which opened today), his nanny. Hell, taking care of a little devil like that, I hope the pay's good!

Monday, June 05, 2006

 

Late Night Movie Memory: The Bride Came C.O.D.

James Cagney and Bette Davis in a comedy? Sure, when I first saw The Bride Came C.O.D, as a child on The Late Late Movie, many, many years ago, I thought nothing of it. It wasn't until years later that I would discover how rare it was to see them in a comedy, not to mention together! Part of what I like about the memory of this film is that it's faint and exists in the very distant past for me now. I haven't seen the movie in a long time, but I remember it leaving an impression on me when I did. (If I remember correctly, I had a crush on Davis after this film, and then shortly after, ran into a girl who looked like Davis, and had a crush on that girl, although I can't remember her name.). Cagney played an airplane pilot who was hired to bring Davis -- who was trying to elope -- back home before she did. (Now that I think of it, it kinda sounds like a low-rent version of It Happened One Night.) The two land in a desert, near a ghost town. They argue a lot, and ultimately fall in love (I think). So, I'm curious to see the film again. Do you have a film that lives only in your distant memory that you'd like to revisit as well? (And by the way, does anyone even remember what C.O.D. means anymore? I wonder.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

 

Remember Kelly McGillis?

Does anybody here remember Kelly McGillis? The bright, beautiful, and talented actress had a triad of films which firmly established her back in the mid-to-late 80s as an actress to watch. Then (although she has acted regularly since), she seemed to have fallen from public awareness. In 1985, she burst onto the scene -- and gained immediate popular and critical acclaim -- acting opposite Harrison Ford in the taut Peter Weir thriller, set on an Amish farm, Witness. She brought a refreshing level of intelligence, grace, and innocence to her character Rachel, the Amish woman caught in the midst of a crime drama. The next year, she was well on her way to superstar status, opposite Tom Cruise in Tony Scott's high flying film Top Gun. Then, in 1988's The Accused, along with Jodie Foster (who won the Oscar for this role), McGillis received critical praise as the defense attorney in a violent rape case. Ironically, it was also around this time that the fact McGillis herself was sexually assaulted -- back in 1982 -- began to surface. In interviews, she said it was one of the reasons she embraced her role in The Accused. Then...nothing. Not one of McGillis' projects from that point on ever seemed to catch fire. I wonder why? Here's one fan hoping she can land the kind of vehicle that will make viewers (and critics) sit up and notice again.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

 

La Festa: Music & Murder

I took my children down to Little Italy in Manhattan today to attend the Feast of St Anthony, on Mulberry St. While there, I couldn't help thinking of the two "feast" scenes in The Godfather films. While both of these scenes were shot on the streets of Little Italy, one is clearly derivative of (and inferior to) the other. The first feast scene, which takes place in the turn-of-the-century portion of The Godfather Part II -- in which a young Vito Corleone walks along the rooftops of Little Italy, tracking a local Mafia chieftain he's about to assassinate as he attends the Feast of St Rocco -- is rightly considered to be classic. Every detail of the scene is genuine, and clearly comes from Francis Ford Coppola's personal experience of Italian culture. (Having attended many of these feasts myself, I can further attest to the authenticity.) But on closer examination, we can see that this is as contrived and as "movie" as a scene comes. With too much thought, you might begin to ask yourself "How does Vito know that the man he's following will end up back in his own apartment building? What if he decided to catch a ride uptown?" Nevertheless, the scene -- like all of the best scenes in The Godfather films -- works, NOT because of the logic of it, but because of the drama of it. When we're watching it, we're not thinking about logic, we're caught up in drama. The camera draws us in, as does the score. The sounds of the feast mixing together -- the drumming, the chatter, the applause, the fireworks -- all add to its realistic nature. Coppola's approach here is nothing less than brilliant! We can worry about logic later. During the scene, we're just along for the ride. On the other hand, the second "feast" scene, clearly meant to evoke memories of the one I just described, is perhaps the most disingenuous moment in The Godfather Part III. Forget Sofia Coppola's lack of acting skills, her father's "you-can-see-what's-coming-a-mile-away" approach to this feast scene in Part III, combined with a decision to have participants of a religious parade in the scene dress as Europeans might have dressed hundreds of years ago (think Klu Klux Klan hoods) was a gross mistake. It pulls the viewers right out the moment, in exactly the opposite way that the genuine nature of the early feast scene in Part II pulls them in.

Friday, June 02, 2006

 

The Evolution of Superheroes on Screen

This month, the (super expensive) reinvention of Superman is about to make its way onto the screen in Superman Returns. And I must admit, I am very curious. It seems as if superheroes are finally being realized on screen by directors and screenwriters who grew up as comic book fans. While characters like Superman and Batman have a long big screen history, other superheroes (such as Spider-man and Wonder Woman) are best remembered from 1970s live action TV adaptations. It's been interesting to watch the evolution of these characters from TV to big screen. (With the notable exception of The Hulk, which worked much better on the small screen, most of these characters have finally been given the respect they deserve as iconic figures of modern American mythology. After years of red tape, the Spider-man franchise has firmly secured its place on screen (thanks to the guidance of Spider-man fan, and director, Sam Raimi). It may have taken nearly two decades of big screen tries --starting with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman -- but in the hands of director Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros. Finally got Batman right in 2005's Batman Begins. And now there's growing chatter about who will play Wonder Woman in the upcoming big screen adaptation being written by Joss Wheaton (creator of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer). Again, I'm intrigued, since Wonder Woman is most recognizable of the female heroes. Admittedly, not all screen adaptations do these characters justice. (Remember the abysmal Supergirl?) But more and more, as the comics themselves have become geared to adults (witness the comic book and boxoffice success of The X-Men), greater care (and money) is being given to realizing these characters on screen. As I have said before, these characters carry on because of our ability to reinvent them. That hasn't always worked well, but for some reason, I think we are seeing the rebirth of the Golden Age of the Superhero in movies.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

 

The Celestine What?

Today, the film version of the runaway international bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, is opening the Cannes Film Festival? No. The Tribeca Film Festival? Nope. The Toronto Film Festival? No. Today, the film version of James Redfield's book, which rocketed to the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for better than a year; the film version of the book that everyone read, and whose title was on everyone's lips, is opening (drumroll please)...the First Annual Staten Island Film Festival. Huh? Now, no offense to Staten Island, but this novel was an international blockbuster bestseller, and a true publishing phenomenon to boot -- the then 44-year-old Redfield, at first, self published his novel about the search for a Peruvian manuscript whose nine insights can save the planet, by reconstructing human consciousness -- out of his Hoover, Alabama home, and sent it out via mail order, using a P.O. box number. He sold 100,000 paperback copies by mail before accepting Warner Book's offer to buy the book in 1993 for $800,000. The novel then sold an amazing 450,000 copies in its first six weeks in print, and the rest was publishing history. So it's no wonder that fans (including myself) immediately started wondering about a film version. (I always kinda pictured it as sort of a New Age Raiders of the Lost Ark.) In fact, this book was The DaVinci Code of the the 90s, stirring a fair amount of controversy for it doctrine that there really isn't "one true religion" in the world, but that all religions contribute to the same universal truth. The essence of the story can be summed up by the quote of a priest in the action who embraces the insights: "We can't progress by using logic alone. We have to attain a fuller consciousness... because only then can our evolution toward something better be guided by a higher part of ourselves." In the 90s, people couldn't get enough of this. (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Care of the Soul, and God: the Evidence were also big sellers at the time.) But the 90s came and went without a film version, and The DaVinci Code actually appeared on the scene (with a whole new religious controversy to sell). Now, ironically, both novels have made it to the screen at the same time. But while The DaVinci Code opened to huge international boxoffice (fresh off the success of the book version), The Celestine Prophecy is platforming (remember platforming?) slowly, territory by territory, and opening film festivals such as the one on Staten Island. It's even more ironic that a book that professed "things happen when they are meant to happen," actually took 12 years to make it to the screen. I'm quite surprised the film version ended up being marketed this way. Perhaps it was too late. It might have been interesting to see both films open head-to-head on the same day. The Celestine Prophecy vs. The DaVinci Code. Still, with one 12 years older than the other, and given the short attention span of most Americans, and the fact that one movie has Toms Hanks in it, I think we all know how that would have turned out. Well, pretty much the way it did.

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