Monday, July 31, 2006

 

Pirates Top Nemo to be All Time Disney Champ!

I will say it again. Who would have expected this from a movie that was based on an amusement park ride? Having grossed $358.4 million thus far (and with no end in sight), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men's Chest is now the all time Disney champ, surpassing Finding Nemo. Mind you, this is the movie studio that has produced The Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, Cinderella, Bambi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, hell even, Pretty Woman! And the sequel to a movie based on an amusement park ride now holds the distinction of topping them all. Interesting comment on the state of affairs in Hollywood, don't you think?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

 

In Vino Veritas

The latin phrase means: "In wine there is truth." Or more specifically, if you drink too much alcohol, you may end up saying something like "The fucking Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Such a drunken rant alledgedly spewed forth from the mouth of Mel Gibson, the Oscar winning director of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, after being pulled over for reportedly driving 80 miles an hour while under the influence of alcohol. The statement would seem to support ongoing claims that Gibson is anti-semitic. Admittedly, it does seem like an odd thing to say after being pulled over for driving drunk. More to the point, Gibson, who apologized for his statements, is an admitted alcoholic and is seeking treatment once again for his addiction. In a cult of personality, that is Hollywood, will this be the statement that undoes Gibson's career? I doubt it. Even if a vocal group of protestors attempts to boycott his upcoming films, Gibson's statements will not be his downfall. (The quality of his films -- ummm, Apocalypto? -- are a whole other issue.) Remember, Jane Fonda survived similar boycotts for her views of the Vietnam War.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

 

Free Family Film Festival

Once again (and I just think this is the greatest idea), Regal Entertainment Group is offering -- as a summer gift to families -- the Free Family Film Festival (co-sponsored by Animal Planet and Rice Krispies). What this means is, every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 AM, families are welcomed to come to participating Regal and United Artists theaters around the country to see a G or PG rated film for free. That's it. No catch. You may even get some free cereal! Admittance is on a first come first serve basis. For more information about the theaters in your area participating in this festival, you can go to www.regmovies.com. Enjoy this with your children.

Friday, July 28, 2006

 

Way Back in the 80s

It's kinda scary that I remember Miami Vice, which opens today, as both a contemporary TV show, and now, a retro theatrical film. Interesting to me is the fact that this may be the first and only time that the creator of a TV program (in this case Michael Mann) also ended up directing the film adaptation of that program. Having mined most of the campy TV fare from the 60s and the goofy shows from the 70s, it seems as we get closer and closer to 2010, the 80s has now become the dacade of choice for film adaptations. By 2010, the 80s will officially be 30 years old!! If Miami Vice scores, will we be seeing Hill Street Blues: The Movie or St Elsewhere coming to the big screen as well? Anyone for a big screen reunion of Cheers, The Wonder Years or The Cosby Show?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

 

My Son's Directorial Debut

My six (soon-to-be seven) year old son has been talking about wanting to make a movie. It thrills me to think that he is this interested in film at his age. I asked him to explain his movie to me. While it still doesn't have much of a plot, he knows that it opens on a swamp in outer space. He's cast me as a Super Dad who works at a buffet. And he has a role planned for himself as well. Somewhere along the line, Elmo (from Sesame Street) and Billy Joel show up. Quite avant garde, I realize. But the fact that he's thinking of fimmaking at all has me beaming. Clearly, my love for film has begun to rub off on him. Upon hearing my son's plans, my daughter, who published a book in her class last year, would like to see her book adapted to film as well! My children and I have a summer vacation coming up. Perhaps we will attempt to begin to make these movies then.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

 

Overindulgent Lady

I knew Lady in the Water, the latest effort from director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village) was off to a bad start when a short animated pre-title sequence (using stick figures to explain the backstory of this fable) was utterly confusing. Once the live action begins, it doesn't get much better. This is Shyamalan's most indulgent film to date, underscored by the extended role he himself plays as a writer who is told that his work will change the world! (Shyamalan has, a la Hitchcock, always cast himself in cameo roles in his films. Never has he had so much screen time.) Perhaps he should have called this film The Lady in the Water, the Wolves in the Grass and the Monkeys in the Trees, as these creatures are talked about endlessly throughout the film, with no satisfying payoff. The characters here just seem to be going through the paces as well, and the film itself isn't sure if it wants to be self-referential comedy (like Scream) or a serious parable on the nature of man and the universe. The result is kinda a mess.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

 

Sequel-mania Part II

Ok, so I have sequels on my mind again. A handful of sequels (those I mentioned not long ago) are actually brilliant and improve upon or augment in some way the original film it follows. Some sequels are simply throw-aways. Meaningless. Not harmful, but not memorable either. Then there are the sequels that might actually insult the sensibilities of an audience, simply for the fact that it follows a film which might be deemed "untouchable" in the collective memory of moviegoers. While it's clear to see why filmmakers might be eager to create them, these sequels never had a chance, and probably should never have been produced. These five spring to mind.
5. The Godfather Part III. (sequel to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II) It's not as bad as some think, but it is terribly derivative of the first two and completely unnecessary. Plus, the casting Sophia Coppola is a huge mistake.
4. Direct-to-video sequels to all the Disney masterpieces. Cinderella II. Bambi II. Lady & the Tramp II. The Lion King II. Etc. When then end with happily everafter, that should be enough.
3. Psycho II (sequel to Psycho). Sure I understand the temptation to make it. But Hitchcock was dead, and this project should have remained dead as well.
2.Return to Oz (sequel to The Wizard of Oz). Why wait so long to make a non-musical follow-up to a film that is among the most beloved of all time and then not include the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, or the Cowardly Lion (until animated cameos at the end)?
1. Scarlett (sequel to Gone With the Wind). What were they thinking? No film has ever sold more tickets than Gone With the Wind, thus making it, truly, the most popular film of all time. Without Clark Gable or Vivian Leigh, why even bother, especially with material not based on Margaret Mitchell's work?

Monday, July 24, 2006

 

The All Time Greatest "Summer" Film

Well, here we are, smack dab in the middle of summer, and it's got me thinking about "summer" movies. For me, no film more embodies what it means to be a "summer" movie than Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic thriller Jaws. Everything about it screams "summer" movie. The film's story, about a small beach community threatened by the sudden and unexplained appearance of a great white shark, is all about summer. (Who can ever forget the opening scene? Or for that matter, any scene that follows.) Furthermore, it's based on a novel (by Peter Benchley) that was designed to be a "summer" read. And perhaps, most significantly, it was the first summer "blockbuster," ushering in the era of blockbuster films and forever changing the way Hollywood viewed that season.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

 

Drive-In Memories

Few cinematic experiments hold greater lore in the minds of movie lovers (or at least this movie lover) than the Drive-In Movie Theater. Sure, 3-D Movies were fun (sometimes). Double features made for some great memories too. But neither top the experience of the Drive-In. The very nature of it speaks to a simpler time, of warm Saturday nights in the heart of middle America. The Drive-In has since faded away in my neck of the woods. The last one, within any driving distance, was in Westbury, NY. But that has since been turned into (surprise) a multiplex. I only had the opportunity to experience a Drive-In twice, once in Westbury (just before it closed) and one other time, just outside Cincinnati. Watching a movie at a Drive-In is sort of like watching a movie in an airplane (not the most conducive to enjoyable viewing) still, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. In fact, if I could, I would see a film at a Drive-In again. Do you have any great Drive-In memories? Some great websites on drive-ins can be found at www.drive-ins.com, www.americandrivein.com, www.driveinmovies.com and www.driveintheaters.com.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

 

The Queen of Art Houses

The Angelika Film Center in New York City, remains one of the few places in the country were truly independent films, European imports, and art house favs can still find a home. Often, films playing at the Angelika are playing nowhere else in the city. I pass the theater regularly on my way out to see my children every week, and I am often amazed at the obscurity of the titles playing there. Seeing the posters advertised outside the theater gives me hope that a small film can still find an audience in a theater, and not have to be regulated to DVD or cable. I'm encouraged that the Angelika still survives in this time of broad corporate control, where even the greatest of filmmakers (ie Scorsese, Coppola) must make films by committee. Ironically, the New York location is one of three Angelikas currently operated by a subsidiary of Citadel Holding Corporation, a real estate and entertainment company, whose shares are traded on AMEX. Still, for film to truly remain an art form, there must always be an Angelika-type theater championing the little guy, the unknown, the slighted and the ugly. All these have a place in the world of cinema as well.

Friday, July 21, 2006

 

The Lost Screenplay of Cesar J. Cruz

I have lost touch with my friend Cesar Cruz. He was one of the funniest people I knew. Last I heard, he was headed down to Florida to be with a woman who captured his heart while on a cruise. I think of my friend often, and hope he's doing well. One day, when both of us were just out of college, on my doorstep, I found an envelope and a note from Cesar. Turns out, he had been working on a screenplay and wanted me to read it. The note read, in part: "Hello old friend. No, I'm not dead. I would've called earlier, but I got a part-time job in the French Foreign Legion, serving in Samoa. (Cute girl, that Samoa. Frankly, I don't know how she managed all of us.) Enclosed, please find my child. This creation took me about a year to get it to this rough first draft. Please read it with care." The screenplay was called The Crusaders. It was clearly ahead of its time. In it, Cesar had recast the apostles of Jesus Christ as a spiritual band of Superfriends -- a universal Justice League, fighting the evil of Satan around the globe. It was filled with battles and razzle dazzle. The reluctant group leader, Peter, unaware of his mission, pieces it together bit-by-bit, as he's called into service. Given the current resurgence in superheroes and the overwhelming interest in all things Christian, this screenplay would be sure to be produced today. I hope Cesar still has a copy. I hope somehow he reads this. And I hope he makes a killing!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

 

Sequel-mania!

Speaking of sequels. They have now become a way of life in Hollywood. But there was a time when good sequels were a rare breed. In ascending order (of course), here's my list of the 10 Best Sequels of All Time: 10. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King 9. Rocky IV 8. Superman II 7. The Bells of St. Mary 6. Batman Begins 5. Aliens 4. The Empire Strikes Back 3. Before Sunset 2. The Bride of Frankenstein 1. The Godfather Part II

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

 

Calling All Jackasses

A sequel to Jackass: The Movie called Number Two? What a sad statement on filmgoers and our society as a whole if this films makes any money at all. We already have the Idiots Guide... and For Dummies series of how to books. Do we really need a series of films for Jackasses?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

 

Movies Based on Teachers

Following in the tradition of films such as Lean on Me, Stand & Deliver, and Take the Lead, add The Ron Clark Story (due out on TNT in August) to the list of movies based on the work of inspirational teachers. Directed by Randa Haines (Children of a Lesser God), The Ron Clark Story focuses on the work of the 2000 Disney Teacher of the Year award winner. While these stories seem like worthy candidates for films, unfortunately, they all seem to follow the same formula. A group of (usually underprivileged) school children are introduced to a new teacher/principal in their lives. At first they resist, act tough, and refuse to cooperate, but eventually they come around and the teacher/principal (usually critisized by his colleagues) becomes a hero. The end. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to capture on film the inspirational work of great teachers, but dramatizing it, usually gets caught up in the contrived plot line I just described. My suggestion: Produce a documentary on the teacher instead. The result is bound to be much more powerful, honest and real!

Monday, July 17, 2006

 

On a TV Screen Long Long Ago...

My children recently discovered the fun of 1970s Saturday morning animation series, The Superfriends, when I bought a DVD of episodes from a season called Challenge of The Superfriends. My son asks to watch it over and over, and it got me to thinking about a rare live action primetime TV movie that Hanna-Barbera produced as a tie in to this popular series. The film, which aired in 1979, was called The Legends of the Superheroes. The 1970s was the decade of live action superhero films and TV shows. Superman was taking off on the big screen with Christopher Reeve. On TV, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman (and even Shazam! and Isis, on Saturday mornings) were all popular live action shows. In fact, the producers of The Legends of the Superheroes were unable to use the characters of Superman and Wonder Woman (who are of course featured in the original animated Superfriends) because Superman had just been launched into a film franchise, and Wonder Woman had her own series on another network. Anyway, I doubt many people remember The Legends of the Superheroes. It was a campy sort of film (the kind you wouldn't see anymore), distinguished only by the fact that (a slightly older) Adam West and Burt Ward returned to reprise their roles as Batman and Robin (along with Frank Gorshin as The Riddler) from the campy 1960s live action series Batman. The film is broken into two parts, the first involving The Justice League battling their arch enemies; the second half focusing on The Superfriends gathering to give a Friar's Club type roast to Batman (I'm not kidding).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

 

Is This the Future of Hollywood (Based on this Year's Trends)?

A mega-budgeted Christian-themed cartoon that opens in churches before it goes wide to a record number of theaters on Memorial Day weekend, with the hopes of shattering boxoffice records! If current trends hold...that will be the golden ring every studio will be reaching for very soon. After nearly a year of observing the machination of the industry from a trench POV, "Movies on My Mind" has identified the following three trends which seem to have taken hold of Hollywood (at least for now) until three more replace them down the line.
3- The Animation Explosion. There are more feature length animated films being produced with more A-list talent than ever in the history of cinema. And there's no end in sight. Many of these films routinely finish in the top ten of the year. (Although given the sheer volume of them now, some do flop.) However, studios count on the audience drawing power of these films more than ever. It's no longer just a kid's genre.
2- Tent Pole Films (Without the Tent). Hollywood used to make movies. Lots of movies. Then, in the age of the blockbuster, it still made lots of films, but focused much of its money on the select few that would "open" the summer season or the Thanksgiving weekend. Now, it seems to have forgotten about the rest and ONLY focuses on the so called "tent pole" films (think Pirates of the Caribbean, Superman Returns, King Kong) but the tent is gone. (Witness Disney's recent move to streamline its staff and future slate of films to focus exclusively on huge brand name product. Effectively what Disney would like to do, it seems,h is just make three Pirates-sized hits a year!) But remember, when an exposed pole flops, it flops BIG!!
1- Christians. The number one trend n Hollywood is Christians? Yes. Studios are marketing to the faithful more than ever. Films play churches before they hit theaters. Christian themes are popping up in tons of films. Christian production companies are forming to create more and more film product. Ironically, Hollywood, once the very embodiment of a modern day Sodom & Gomorrah for this group of believers, has now become their revival meeting place of choice!
So, that said, don't be surprised if next year on Memorial Day weekend you are waiting in line to see The Passion of the Mice: Mickey Goes Messiah! battle it out with Donuts: The Last Temptation of Homer Simpson.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

 

Searching for an Oh! in Ohio

Move over Pink Flamingos, this film has all the ear marks of a future cult classic. The Oh in Ohio, is the last film you'd expect to see playing at the local movie house in Ohio. All about the big Oh (and no, in this case, I don't mean Overstock.com), the film follows the journey of frustrated wife Priscilla (played by Parker Posey) who, after having had sex with her husband thousands of times, has never had an orgasm. And so, Priscilla begins a quest to discover the ellusive Oh! Along the way, she runs into an eager lesbian (played by Heather Graham), a widowed swimming pool builder (Danny DeVito) and takes a course in masturabtion taught by...Liza Minnelli! It sounds like The Wizard of Oz through the lens of Russ Meyers! (Only in this case, if you pulled the curtain, er...skirt, aside, you'd find a cell phone -- on vibrate of course -- stuck in a pair of panties!) Too bad the glory days of midnight showings are a thing of the past. This one would be a natural!

Friday, July 14, 2006

 

Brad Pitt Gives Angelina Jolie a Pearl

Well, I guess one way to keep Jennifer Aniston out of more films is to have an affair with her husband Brad Pitt; cause a divorce; marry him; and then option a role (originally intended for Aniston), in a film Pitt retained the rights to after the divorce! Sound crazy? Well, that's just what happened when it was announced, by Pitt, that Angelina Jolie will play the role of Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in the film adaptation of the book A Mighty Heart, Mariane Pearl's account of her husbands kidnapping and broadcast execution by Pakistani militants. Aniston was originally slated to play the part when she, and her then husband Brad Pitt, bought the rights to the book for their since dissolved film production company Plan B. To the victor go the spoils (again).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

 

Sayonara Red!

Whenever I thought of Red Buttons, for some reason I also thought of fellow comedian Red Skelton, a contemporary of his. I can't be the only person to do that, right? Buttons, who survived Skelton by almost a decade, just died at age 87. His professional life had a couple of interesting points of irony. In 1941, actor Jose Ferrer had selected Buttons -- who up to that time was working as a Borscht Belt comedian and doing standup at Minsky's Burlesque -- to appear in the Broadway show The Admiral Had a Wife. A farce set in Pearl Harbor, the show was due to open on December 8, 1941. It never did. (In later years, Buttons would joke that the Japanese only attacked Pearl Harbor to keep him off of Broadway.) In a category which often awards comedic roles, Buttons won an Oscar for the 1957 film Sayonara as Best Supporting Actor, for one of his few dramatic turns!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

 

"Hitchcock Actress" Dies

Interestingly, many reports of Kasey Rogers' death identified her as a "Hitchcock Actress." While she did act in director Alfred Hitchcock's great film Strangers on a Train, Rogers -- who in her mature years was also a regular on the television show Bewitched -- is not who you might think of when you think "Hitchcock actress." Grace Kelly immediately springs to mind. Eva Marie Saint. Kim Novac. Janet Leigh. Even Tippi Hedren. But not Kasey Rogers (who used the screen name Laura Elliott when she appeared in Strangers on a Train). The "Hitchcock actress" had a certain look (statuesque blonde) and attitude (no nonsense). Still, Rogers remains one of the most memorable victims in a Hitchcock film. Perhaps it was her wholesome 1950s look. Perhaps it was the fact that she was at a carnival when she's strangled in the film. Regardless, as Farley Granger's estranged wife, Miriam, who is murdered by a psychotic man Granger meets while riding a train, Rogers brought an immediate empathy to her character. Ironically, like the type of mystery Hitchcock put on screen, fans of the actress wondered about the sudden disappearance of "Laura Elliott" when Rogers started using her given name instead. She was 80.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

 

Is Big River Destined for the Big Screen?

With Hollywood's decades long love affair with the Mark Twain characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (films have been made about one, the other, or both in 1930, 1931, 1938, 1939, 1973, 1974 1975 and 1995), and its recent willingness to revive the big screen musical as a genre, can Big River -- the 80s Broadway musical hit (by King of the Road songwriter Roger Miller) about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn -- be long for the big screen? I guess that will depend on the success of the musicals currently in the pipeline, most especially Dreamgirls. If that Broadway oldie makes a splash, then watch for Big River to sail up stream to a movie theater near you.

Monday, July 10, 2006

 

Burger King: The Movie?

Well, McDonalds (Mac and Me); White Castle (Harold and Kumar go to White Castle); and Starbucks (Akeelah and the Bee) have all thrown their hats into the cinematic ring at one point or a another, so why not Burger King? But really, how desperate does Hollywood have to be to develop a project like this? According to a report in Advertising Age magazine, the advertisement agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky (the firm behind the creepiest Burger King TV commercials I have ever seen) is developing a film -- the firm says will take place in an apartment above a Burger King -- and actually describes it as a cross between Napoleon Dynamite, Garden State, Raising Victor Vargas and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. Any other films they'd like to throw into the mix? There apparently is a partially written script, but no director, no cast and no studio attached as of yet. The budget is set at under $10 million and (note to Tom Hank's agent) the movie reportedly will not feature any name stars.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

 

Movie vs Book

In the early years of cinema, getting anything on screen that moved was a miracle in and of itself. So when filmmakers started looking to literary sources for inspiration, liberal license was taken in adapting these books to the screen. As filmmaking and film acting matured, adaptations got closer to the source. Still, sometimes for no apparent reason, (and sometimes for very good ones), filmmakers would still change things along the way from book to screen. Take for example Frankenstein. The James Whale/Boris Karloff version was not the first attempt to bring this book to screen (Thomas Edison did that), nor was it certainly the last, but it is the best known version, although the film takes great liberties with the book -- including changing the name of Dr. Frankenstein himself, from Victor to Henry! More recently, when Coppola, Branagh and DeNiro tried to be more faithful to Mary Shelly's text, the film was a horrible dud. Probably one of the more famous examples of a book vs its movie adaptation is Stephen King's The Shining. The masterful director Stanley Kubrick made needed changes to bring King's more visceral work to the screen as a cerebral horror classic. Still, King hated it. And when he had the clout, he remade it, more faithful to his work, and it was a horrible dud. Clearly, film and books are different. What you can get away with in one, you can't in the other, and vice versa. Some authors, like Michael Crichton for example, write books as if they were movies. His books read like movies. And still, despite landmark special effects, Steven Spielberg's version of Jurassic Park was not as good as Crichton's original text. (The same holds true for the screen version of Crichton's Rising Sun. Great book. Bad film.) The debate will go on. Book or movie? Which was better? The answer can be "They both were great!" when a talented filmmaker is allowed to "adapt" the text to the new medium and a writer realizes that change is sometimes (but not always) good.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

 

Betting the Ship!

It was an unlikely concept to begin with -- the latest in a growing list of movies based on rides! But when Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl opened it not only became a boxoffice phenomenon, it earned Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination (for his creation of Captain Jack Sparrow), and the stage for a highly anticipated sequel. Now, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest makes no bones about it. It EXPECTS to be a hit. And not only a hit, but a blockbuster. The film doesn't conclude so much as it stops (which reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back.) The third Pirates of the Caribbean movie was filmed concurrently with part two. Having just set a new record for opening weekend boxoffice -- an astounding $132 million in three days -- and no slow down in sight, Dead Man's Chest could easily make it all the way to the top ten of all time! Depp has always been a great actor, Pirates has now made him a superstar! Who would have expected all this from a movie based on a ride?

Friday, July 07, 2006

 

Stranger Than Fiction

Here's a movie idea I'm surprised some low budget film producer never thought of doing. In September 1996, while I was doing press relations for IBM, I was waiting for a reporter to show up and an article in USA Today caught my eye. A family and friends visiting the spot where Susan Smith drowned her two little boys in John D. Long Lake, in Union, South Carolina, met with tragedy themselves when their vehicle rolled into the same lake! Three adults and four children drowned. Here's the facts: A group of 10 had driven out to the lake and parked next to the ramp with their Chevrolet Suburban's headlights shining on two memorials erected to the Smith boys, 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex. Five of the group had gotten out of the vehicle when it started to roll toward the water with four children and an adult inside. It passed between the memorial markers, knocked over a young tree planted in the Smith boys' memory and slid down the embankment into about 15 feet of water. Two adults - parents of three of the children - dived into the lake to help, and drowned with the others. What a great idea for a movie, I thought! Based on a true story! Death Lake! Blood Lake! The Lake Where Evil Dwells! The plot line seemed like an exploitation natural!The lake is cursed, drawing people to their death. And we discover the source of the curse is the fact that years earlier, innocent victims were drowned in the very same lake! To date, no one seems to have made this film. But I guarantee, especially with the current resurgence in horror films, if someone did, this one would be a money maker!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

 

Where Did Helen Slater Fly Off To?

With the return of Superman, I got to thinking about the actress Helen Slater, who was picked from virtual anonymity to a play perfect looking Supergirl in the abysmal 1984 film of the same name -- produced, at the time, to cash in on the waning popularity of the Christopher Reeve Superman series. I first saw Slater in 1982 (as did, obviously, the casting director of Supergirl) in an Afterschool Special entitled Amy and the Angel (a teen riff on the classic It's a Wonderful Life theme). That performance hooked me and I followed her career through Supergirl into such films as The Legend of Billie Jean (best remembered for the Pat Benatar song "Love is a Battlefield"), Ruthless People (a modern remake of O. Henry's Ransom of Red Chief and vehicle for Bette Midler and Danny DeVito), The Secret of My Success (with Michael J. Fox), and City Slickers (in which Slater was overshadowed by Billy Crystal, Jack Palance, and the gang). Slater has acted consistently since then, but much of her time is now spent in guest roles on TV programs and in TV movies. I'd love to see her back on the silver screen.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

 

Super Cameos

It's clear that Superman Returns holds the Superman legend in high regard. Likewise, it also attempts to pay homage to the well-liked The Adventures of Superman TV series from the 1950s, which starred George Reeves as the Man of Steel. Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in the TV series, and Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen, both have cameos in the new film. Neill -- who also had a clever cameo in 1978's Superman: The Movie as Lois Lane's mother on a train ride through Smallville -- appears at the front of the new film as Lex Luthor's dying wife, Gertrude Vanderworth, who signs her fortune over to him then expires. Although appearing in a number of films before the Superman TV series, Neill has pretty much been trading off her Lois Lane persona (both on screen and off) ever since. Larson shows up a bit deeper into the film as Bo the Bartender. I'm certain had Christopher Reeve been alive, the filmmakers would have found a small role for him as well. As it is, they used digital technology to resurrect Marlon Brando from the grave for a small cameo, and more extensive voiceover, as well.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

 

Born on the Fourth of July

I wasn't thinking of the compelling Oliver Stone film, of the same name, starring Tom Cruise (although that would be a great film to rent and watch on this holiday, along with James Cagney's Oscar-winning performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy). Rather, I was thinking of a trio of beautiful and influential actresses, all born on this date: Gloria Stuart, who starred in a pair of films by director James Whale -- The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House -- and returned to fame, decades later, in her Oscar-nominated role in James Cameron's Titanic, turns 96. Eva Marie Saint, who won her Oscar for On the Waterfront; is unforgettable alongside Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest; and is currently starring as Superman's surrogate mom in Superman Returns, is 82. And Gina Lollobrigida -- who along with Sophia Loren (Two Women) and Anna Magnani (The Rose Tattoo) -- helped redefine beauty, and usher in a late 1950s love affair between American moviegoers and earthy Italian women, turns 79. Nice to see that all three women are still active (and acting) in the industry.

Monday, July 03, 2006

 

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

The Village Voice called it "easily one of the most important political films of the era!" Fangoria magazine said "as pointed, clever and blackly amusing as anything the genre has seen in ages, a perfect example of horror's ability to address subjects too touchy to deal with in other genres." The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling understood the power of sci-fi and horror genres to make a political statement. (Remember the episode "The Monsters Arrive on Maple Street?") Well, just in time for the Fourth of July, Homecoming, an anti-war/horror film from director Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins), aimed squarely at the Bush administration, hits the DVD shelves. Adapted from the short story "Death and Suffrage" by Dale Bailey, Dante's second contribution to the superb "Masters of Horror" series is a great concept: Just a few weeks before the 2008 Presidential election, an unpopular war, based on lies, is still raging overseas. (Sound familiar?) When the Republican administraton publicly announces that it wishes the dead troops could return to tell America how proud they were to serve their country, (look out) veterans begin to rise from their flag-draped coffins (you know, the ones the media, and the current administration, won't let us see) to...vote! Even as the administration tries to devise a spin in time to steal the re-election, the undead army of men and women, who were killed for a lie, are on a new mission -- to show the country that war is hell. Powerful stuff without being preachy.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

 

The Influence of Ebert

Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert -- who holds the distinction of being the first film critic to ever win the Pulitzer Prize (he won it in 1975) -- is perhaps the best know film journalist (with the possible exception of Leonard Maltin) in the world. Starting in 1978, Ebert, along with his partner Gene Siskel (who died in 1999), through national TV exposure -- first on PBS's Sneak Previews, then the syndicated At the Movies, and finally Siskel & Ebert & the Movies) was responsible for a significant rise in the film critic's influence on the general moviegoing audience. Before Ebert, no film critic had the national exposure to reach so many moviegoers. Ironically though, his TV brand of quick and simplistic "Thumbs up, Thumbs down" reviewing -- which made it easy for viewers to immediately know where he stood on a film -- also dumbed down the process which once won him that Pulitzer. Feeding on this were studio marketing directors who realized they could include the easy-to-understand "Thumbs up" review in print advertising for their movies. So, while embodying the intelligent and knowledgeable criticism that characterized the 1970s, Ebert also singlehandedly brought it down to the USA Today brand of "blurb reviews" that marked the 1980s and beyond. However, what I have always admired about Ebert's approach to criticism (which was markedly different from that of Siskel) is the fact that he is willing to review a film relative to its objective. For example, he would never rate a film like Hellboy in comparison to Mystic River, but rather to say Spider-man or Superman. With the rise of the Internet, and a plethora of Ebert wannabes, Ebert's influence has waned of late. He also continues an ongoing battle with cancer, which has once again put him in the hospital. But no doubt, when the history of cinematic critique in the 20th Century is written, Ebert will hold a place as one of the major influencers, thinkers and lovers of film.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

 

Is It Real or Is It...Kids?

It's been just over ten years since Larry Clark's impressive debut film Kids (1995) stunned the movie industry with its all-too-realistic portrayal of a group of street kids living in the age of AIDS. When I first saw this film (on video) I watched it twice. I couldn't believe it was a work of fiction. I remember remarking then that either these were the best young actors ever, or it had to be a documentary. I still don't know how director Clark was able to maneuver his camera throughout this action so unobtrusively, and still manage to garner such believable, honest, and understated performances from such young actors (including a then-unknown Chloe Sevigny). If you haven't seen the film, I urge you to watch it. Its power comes from the lines it blurs right in front of your eyes.

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