Saturday, September 30, 2006

 

Separated at Birth?

You decide. Was "the Great One" and frequent "Movies on My Mind" contributor "Michael" actually separated at birth?

Friday, September 29, 2006

 

Indie Spotlight: Posters

Check out the film posters of New York City-based graphic designer Fred Gates. In addition to movie posters, the Buffalo native also develops graphics and websites for a host of commercial advertising and marketing projects. You can check out more of his work at www.fredgatesdesign.com. His uncluttered style is definitely reminiscent of foreign film posters of the 60s. An Autumn Wind calls to mind poster art for the works of Truffaut and Kurosawa. Time Indefinite is more of a throw back to Harold Lloyd.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

 

Hey Joe, Where You Goin' with that Gun in Your Hand?

Travis Bickle and Archie Bunker can both find cinematic roots in the character of Joe Curran. Directed by John G. Alvidsen, six years before he brought Rocky to the screen, Joe tells the story of a racist factory worker who hates "hippies and niggers" (a raw and unforgettable performance by Peter Boyle), who teams up with a fellow bigot and goes on a shooting spree. Susan Sarandon (as a druggie who escapes from a mental institution), made her film debut in this film, which initially seems to offer an answer to the counter culture messages that filled the screens during the late 60s and early 70s, but ultimately demonstrates how the gun carrying, knee-jerk conservative views of the main characters in this film comes at a terrible price. This is the kind of film you simply don't expect to see in theaters any longer, as the film industry has become more homogeneous and corporatize. Fans of Alvidsen's work (in addition to Joe and Rocky, he also directed Jack Lemmon to an Oscar in Save the Tiger and the first two Karate Kid films); or anyone interested in seeing the early work of Susan Sarandon or Peter Boyle should rent this film.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

 

The Cult of Napoleon Dynamite

There's a new subculture developing - the cult of Napoleon Dynamite. If you understand why someone would say "Sweet!" instead of "Cool!"; if you get a "Vote for Pedro" reference; or advise someone that they need "skills" to attract a girlfriend; or know what the "dance sequence" is, then you are probably already part of the cult. If you don't, then viewing the film Napoleon Dynamite would be the first thing you would have to do. Why has this film, which is seemingly about very little, touched such a nerve in so many? Some have argued that it "takes you inside geek culture," which some deem a fascinating place. Ironically, as the film let's us know, in the world of Napoleon, he's actually cool (compared to his brother. his uncle and his friends). Advice from Pedro on getting a girlfriend: "Probably build her a cake, or sum-ding." Napoleon is not unlike the "Whatever I feel like I wanna do!" kind of person in all of us. He just says it outloud, and punctuates it with an exasperated "Gosh!" But the film is about taking great joy in the little things in life. Witness Napoleon's reaction to Pedro's bike: "Dang! You got shocks, pegs... Lucky! You ever take it off any sweet jumps?" At its core, film's overwhelming appeal is its theme of self esteem. Napoleon believes in himself in a way that teenagers who are hung up on status or the endorsement of others never can. Napoleon is definitely not "text book" cool, but he doesn't seem to give a shit about that - which in turn, of course, makes him cooler than Fonzie himself! (Cooler than The Fonz? Wow, does that show my age or what?) As one pundit put it (and I agree) "not caring is a liberating, even subversive, message...[it's] the ultimate rebuke to the conventions of cool." The film is about friendship and taking chances. But finally, Napoleon Dynamite is a film about optimism. Napoleon to Pedro before a key speech: "Just tell them that their wildest dreams will come true if they vote for you."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

 

Five Reasons Why Rocky Balboa Will Do Huge Business

5. Rocky fans, who made Part IV the most popular of the series, don't want Part V to be the last vision of their hero. The core audience will flock to Part VI. Why will they flock? Stallone has returned to the formula (which he abandoned in part V) and the formula works!
4. Children of Rocky fans (too young to even remember Part V in the theaters) will flock as well, just to say they saw a Rocky film in the theaters.
3. Adrienne is dead. Fans want to know how Stallone will deal with this.
2. Retro is always in. Rocky at 60? Even if it doesn't work (which it will) people are curious. What do you think made Return to Mayberry the number one TV movie the year it came out? People love "where are they now?" stories.
1. We need a hero. In these tense times, where there seems to be NO heroes on either side, America is ready to re-crown the one they once loved.

Monday, September 25, 2006

 

Inspired Remake

I generally don't like remakes. But talking about Grace Kelly, in the last post, and, a little while back, about Christopher Reeve directing Everyone's Hero, got me to thinking about the remake of Rear Window. Now, clearly, the remake does not match the cinematic genius of Hitchcock's original, but casting Reeve (amazingly affective in his first post accident role) as the man helplessly trapped in a wheel chair while witness to murder, was a stroke of brilliance. (And there was a certain level a braveness on everyone's part for doing this.) From the moment I read about the film being in production, I could not wait to see it. It's probably the single greatest remake idea ever. Film lovers should have both versions side by side in their film library.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

 

The Most Beautiful Actress Ever?

What was it about Grace Kelly? Her entire film "career" was just a handful of films in the 1950s (before she left Hollywood to become a princess) but who can forget her? High Noon. The Country Girl. To Catch a Thief. Dial M for Murder. Has there ever been a more beautiful woman on screen than Kelly dressed in mint green in Hitchcock's Rear Window?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

 

Two Must See Films With "The Great One"

My Dad loved Jackie Gleason. My granmother would tell me stories about how, as a boy, he'd make her and my grandfather laugh by doing imitations of Gleason at the kitchen table. So, Gleason is on my mind. Here's my advice. Forget the silly Smokey and the Bandit films, The Sting II and The Toy. Film buffs curious about the reason Orson Welles dubbed Gleason "The Great One," should go out and rent two films that served as bookends in the spotty film career of this empathetically comedic genius: The Hustler, in which he stars as billiards great Minnesota Fats, alongside Paul Newman's Fast Eddie. (Newman later won the Oscar for playing the same character in the sequel, The Color of Money), and his last film, Nothing in Common, where he shared the screen with a then up-and-coming Tom Hanks as his son. Both films illustrate the depth and range of Gleason only hinted at (though brilliantly) on his TV shows. Check them out.

Friday, September 22, 2006

 

All the King's Horses and All the King's Men, Couldn't Put This Movie Together Again

Thud. That's the sound the remake of All the King's Men -- starring Sean Penn and directed by Steve Zaillian -- will make this weekend. How far the mighty have fallen. Just last year, this was the movie Sony was pinning its Oscar hopes on, its huge holiday release. Then it was pulled and rescheduled for earlier this year and pulled again. Now it quietly opens this weekend amidst critics (from the Toronto Film Festival, where it previewed earlier this month) saying it's a mess. Why remake this classic anyway?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

 

Aquaman Doesn't Swim

An attempt to take a serious stab at the legend of the lesser known DC Comics superhero Aquaman apparently did not make the cut at the CW Network. But thanks to www.filmthreat.com, you can view the trailer for this promising TV pilot and at least have a glimpse at what filmmakers were thinking of doing with the character. Having seen it, I say, it looked pretty damned interesting. Certainly better than TV attempts at Spider-man and The Justice League of America (which Film Threat also references, and "Movies on My Mind" wrote about a couple of months back). TV has created some superhero winners -- The Adventures of Superman, Lois & Clark, Smallville, The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman among them. And I have a sentimental spot in my heart for the live action TV versions of Shazam!, Isis, and of course the 1960s Batman. Aquaman has never been given the same chance and, it seems, won't again. The pilot is making the rounds on the Internet and, no doubt, will quickly obtain cult status, if it is in fact never aired again.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

 

King/Roth

In answer to my question about Stephen King, I recently discovered that Eli Roth (director of Hostel) is attached to direct King's latest, Cell. Forget what I said earlier about the killer cell phone. All of a sudden I'm excited about what the collaboration might produce. I haven't been this interested in seeing a Stephen King film since the golden days I mentioned earlier in "Movies on My Mind" when directors such as DePalma, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Hooper, Romero and Kubrick brought King's work to life. No director has impacted the horror genre in recent years more than Roth. Two masters collide. I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

 

A Herschell Gordon Lewis Revival?

Kindly put, Herschell Gordon Lewis, the father of exploitation horror is responsible for some of the worse films ever made. His debut Blood Feast is barely tolerable. The Gore Gore Girls doesn't even register on the radar of low-budget camp. Along the way, along side such works as The Wizard of Gore and Color Me Blood Red, Lewis made a film called 2000 Maniacs (not to be mistaken with musical group 10,000 Maniacs). The frame work of the film is simply an excuse for scenes depicting some of the most depraved ways to kill humans. So, it was not surprising to discover that Eli Roth (director of the similarly themed Hostel) produced a modern sequel/remake of 2000 Maniacs called 2001 Maniacs. Lovers of exploitation horror films should definitely check it out. Tongue is firmly in cheek here; the sex factor is ratcheted up, and the effects are better than in 1964. And it doesn't hurt that "Freddy" himself, Robert Englund stars. However, the weak-of-stomach should stay away. Could this spur a H.G. Lewis revival? With Roth behind it, who knows? This is exactly the kind of cinema trash that filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino have attempted to elevate to cinema treasures.

Monday, September 18, 2006

 

The Stephen King Drought

In the beginning, Stephen King material on film was treated with tremendous respect. Some of the greatest directors of the genre lined up to interpret his vision on screen: Brian DePalma (Carrie), Stanley Kubrick (The Shining), John Carpenter (Christine), David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone), George A. Romero (Creepshow), Tobe Hooper (Salem's Lot). Then it became a free-for all. There were more films than we knew what to do with. And most of them were horrible: The Mangler. Maximum Overdrive. Children of the Corn. The Lawnmower Man. But from this came a few gems. Two directors elevated King's work to great cinema: Rob Reiner and Frank Darabont. Reiner gave us Stand By Me and Misery. Darabont contributed The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (the only King films ever to be nominated for Best Picture Oscars). Then King struck a deal with ABC to do a string of miniseries. Most sucked. (It, The Tommyknockers, The Langoliers, the remake of The Shining, the remake of Carrie. But from theses came the brilliant telling of King's The Stand and the excellent Storm of the Century (perhaps his best miniseries ever and certainly one of the best of his works on screen). Now, we have The Dead Zone TV series. and King is writing about killer cell phones?!? Is there anything left? Has the King well finally run dry?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

 

Punching up the Superman Franchise

Superman vs Batman may not have materialized, but what was evident from Superman Returns, the most recent installment in the Superman franchise, is that Superman has a boring storyline. And moreover, he has boring villains. Enough with Lex Luthor already! While Superman vs Batman may never come to the screen, I would like to suggest three other possible team-ups that could ad spice to the Superman film series. Each of these ideas already played out in comic books years ago, with great success.
Superman vs The Amazing Spiderman: This one is a no-brainer. For comic book fans in the 70s (like me) this was the holy grail of comics, the first time a character from Marvel ever met a character from DC Comics. Perhaps the greatest of all the comic book team-ups, this one would be a huge success on screen, but the red tape involved in making it happen would probably prevent it from ever seeing the light of day.
Superman vs Muhammad Ali: The world's greatest superhero vs the greatest of all time? It was a natural at the time, when Ali was known as the "black" Superman. Perhaps Will Smith can return as Ali to do this one!
Superman vs Shazam!: The Man of Steel vs The World's Mightiest Mortal. Sounds like a match Don King would drool over. True, Captain Marvel does have the cache he once did, but if done right, this could wake up a sleepy series. And both characters are from DC! That should ease things a bit.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

 

My Son's Super Birthday Party

I had a birthday party for my son today. His birthday was actually last week, but, when you're a divorced Dad, sometimes, you need to shoot for the closest weekend. Anyway, I asked him what he wanted the theme of his party to be and he said, "The Super Friends." I had introduced him to the 70s animated series that I had enjoyed as a child via DVD several months ago. As part of a very long list of specific decorations (let me tell you, Super Friends decorations are not easy to find), types of foods (a chocolate birthday cake, with chocolate mousse icing, chocolate ice cream in the middle, and chocolate sprinkles on top) and people to invite, he also made sure to tell me we needed to have a Super Friends movie to watch at the party. Well, you must know by now that this item made me smile. I've pointed out on here numerous times before how great it makes me feel that movies -- which have always been a source of enjoyment for me -- are now a fun part of my children's lives as well. I made sure there was a Super Friends DVD for viewing, and he had a ball, as did his little guests! (Ok, me too, and some of my friends as well!)

Friday, September 15, 2006

 

The Greater of Two Evils?

The talk of this year's Toronto Film Festival, Death of a President, a British film written, produced and directed by Gabriel Range, gained infamous notoriety for digitally altering documentary footage to fictionally "recount" the assassination of President George W. Bush. While on the surface, this may simply seem to be more "Bush Bashing," a closer read on this film actually reveals that the filmmakers clearly feel there is something far worse than a President Bush and that's a President Cheney, who, in the film, further encroaches on the civil liberties of U.S. citizens with the passage of Patriot Act III, and conflagrates the war in the Middle East. So, in a weird sort of way, the film is actually supportive of the idea that President Bush should remain in office.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

 

Two Christmas Movies I'm Looking Forward To

As frequent "Movies On My Mind" contributor Silberg pointed out to me in a photo he sent me from Amsterdam, it's just a little more than 150 days until Christmas. And the trailers for two Christmas movies have already been making the rounds in theaters. I am looking forward to both of them. The first is The Nativity Story, a film which relates the struggles of Mary and Joseph in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus, and the events that follow. Mary is played by 16-year-old, Oscar-nominated actress Keisha Castle-Hughes (of Whale Rider). What will be interesting for me to see is whether the same crowd that flocked to theaters to watch Jesus tortured and killed (in The Passion of the Christ) will be interested in this big screen telling of his birth. The trailer I saw just showed silhouettes on screen, and my son, who was with me blurted out, "That's Jesus!" The other film is The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. This one pits Santa against Jack Frost for the control of Christmas. I like the concept for a few reasons. It will be interesting to see if Will this film comment on the cultural battle that has been going on in this country over the holiday of Christmas? (By the looks of the trailer, it seems it will. Jack Frost plans to rename Christmas, "Frostmas.") I didn't hold out much hope for the first Santa Clause sequel, but in many ways, it worked better than the original film, so I'm willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt. Tim Allen is wonderful as St Nick and this time there's Martin Short as Frost. Let the sleigh bells ring! I'm ready!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

 

We Were Off to See the Wizard

I recently rented 1939's The Wizard of Oz to watch with my children. (It was the first time my son had seen it. My daughter was much younger the first time she watched it with me.) A few things struck me. First, how in an age of superior special effects and shorter attention spans, this simply told story of Dorothy and her friends over the rainbow can still command my children's attention. Seeing the film now, as an adult, the psychological sophistication with which the story unfolds also impresses me. A good witch and a bad witch? The wizard is just a man? Hmmm. Our hero literally starts small (in Munchkin City), and is threatened by drugs ("Poppies will make them sleep," and "snow" wakes them up) as she (and we) undergo a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, a journey of self discovery that leads Dorothy (and us) right back where she/we started, but (hopefully) with greater wisdom. The film doesn't want us to believe that Dorothy should never leave home, but rather that the things see seeks "out in the world" are actually found in herself -- common sense, a good heart, and courage. She can't discover her ability to return home (and thus find herself) until she develops these, in the external personifications of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. It was a joy to experience the film with my children. This journey is teaming with adult subtext that may pass in and out of your mind as a child, but allow you to truly appreciate a deeper understanding during a repeat viewing with your children.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

 

Everyone's Hero Directed by a Hero

Am I the only one surprised to discover that the new animated baseball fantasy film Everyone's Hero -- about a boy who rescues Babe Ruth's talking bat (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), with the help of a talking baseball (voiced by Rob Reiner) -- was the last film to be directed by Christopher Reeve, who died two years ago? I was further surprised to discover that he and his wife Dana Reeve -- who died earlier this year -- also co-produced the film, and that she was one of the voice talents. It makes sense that this film, which encourages children to "never stop swinging," was directed by a man who lived by those words.

Monday, September 11, 2006

 

9/11 Movies to Date

To date, five years now after the event itself, there have been only four 9/11 features produced (not counting documentaries): The Guys (bravely leading the way in 2002) and three this year, the TV movie Flight 93, United 93 (originally titled Flight 93) and Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. So, where do we go from here? There are millions of stories to tell, and talented filmmakers waiting to tell them. The question is, will boxoffice returns support further films? None of the films to date have been blockbusters. Some might argue that not enough time has passed, but I dismiss that argument. Plenty of time has passed. No event in recent history has galvanized the country like 9/11. It's time to filter that day through the lens of some of our great filmmakers and let the human emotion spill out on screen. Politics aside, 9/11, if nothing else, is a day filled with personal stories, stories that are tailor-made for the screen. There are many more to tell, just as WWII and Vietnam supplied some of the greatest films ever made, so to will 9/11, when filmmakers and studios stop worrying about whether it's too early and start getting down to creating great drama.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

 

The Heat is Back for Scorsese!

Reclaiming the genre which made him a modern film master, Martin Scorsese returns to form with The Departed. Amazing trailer. Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio are in peak form. While this is the first time Nicholson has acted for Scorsese, the two both cut their cinematic teeth around the same time at Roger Corman's studios. Eschewing the epic scope of his last two films, Gangs of New York and The Aviator, Scorsese has gotten back to business with a genre no one does better than he does. Like Fast Eddie said at the end of The Color of Money, the Scorsese-directed sequel to The Hustler, "I'm back!" The same is true for this cinematic master. It's good to see him doing what he does best. With The Aviator, fans wanted to see Scorsese win because of his career. With The Departed, I believe we may see him win because he deserves to win for this film!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

 

The Best Movie Studio Logos

I've spent 20 years in the communications industry, covering the entertainment industry and one of things I have always loved is the continuity of the brand logos associated with the major movie studios. By the time I got around to working in this field, many of the classic movie studio logos and brands had existed for decades. Many draw on mythic imagery and in doing so have become somewhat mythic themselves. So here my favorites in ascending order.
4. Universal
3. Columbia
2. 20th Century Fox
1. MGM

Friday, September 08, 2006

 

Stallone Has a Winner!

"It ain't over til it's over." Effectively erasing the memory of the dismal Rocky V (the weakest installment in the Rocky series), Sylvester Stallone has gone back to the roots of what made the Rocky films work so well and, I predict, will deliver a knock out punch this Christmas at the boxoffice when his latest installment Rocky Balboa hits theaters. This one's a winner! I just viewed the latest trailer for the new film, and all I can say is I will be first on line to see it. It's all there. The music. The pacing. The humor. The pathos. The training. Everything fans of the series have come to love about Rocky movies. Based on the trailer, Stallone has pulled it off. Fifteen years after the last installment, he's been able to once again dig deep into the soul of his most famous creation and literally resurrect a dead series. The film is due out this December, just in time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first Rocky (a move predicted by Rocky psychic Paul Icolari). As previously mentioned here, Adrienne does not survive to this installment. But Paulie and Duke are back, and once again in Rocky's corner. (As are millions of Rocky fans who "ain't' heard no bell" and are more than ready for "one more round!") As the trailer says, "The greatest underdog story of our time is back for one final round!" I say, "Go for it!"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

 

The $1 Billion Club

Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (already the largest grossing film in the studio's history) continues to do the unthinkable as today, it enters an exclusive club of films that have grossed more than $1 billion in worldwide boxoffice. Reportedly, only two other films have preceded Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest into the club, Titanic, which made $1.83 billion, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which grossed $1.13 billion. To date, Pirates has racked up more than $414 million in the US, putting it at number six on the all time chart, and giving it the further distinction of being the film to knock The Passion of the Christ off the all time top ten list! Good news for Orlando Bloom, who was in two of the films. Great news for Johnny Depp, who continues to move from art house fav to boxoffice "king of the world" without losing an ounce of his quirkiness. But why do we give a "Yo Ho Ho" about it?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

 

The Late, Great Bruno Kirby

The great character actor Bruno Kirby died on August 14, at the age of 57 (while this column was on hiatus). Born Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu Jr., his role as Harry's friend Jess in ...When Harry Met Sally is simply one of the best supporting performances ever recorded on film. If you watch the film, you will realize that the rhythm between Kirby an Billy Crystal is acting perfection. He never misses a beat. And is very funny! In The Super, he played the son of Richard Castellano, who just the year before had played Clemenza in The Godfather. Kirby went on to play the young Clemenza the very next year in The Godfather Part II. He teamed once again with Billy Crystal in the fish-out-of-water comedy, City Slickers. There is no question his talent will be missed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

 

Here We Go!

For as long as I can remember, when the previews (and, these days, commercials) are over in a movie theater and the lights go completely dark, as the screen flickers to life, I find myself saying (usually out loud, but in a soft whisper) sometimes to myself, sometimes to the person with me: "Here we go..." I'm not sure how I started this little ritual of three words before each movie. I may have heard my father say it once or twice. But it makes perfect sense to me that I do it. That's how I feel about movies. They take me on a journey. And I'm always willing to go. Sometimes the trip is eh. Sometimes it's unforgettable. But at the beginning of each trip, I'm ready to go. I feel the same way with the new year of "Movies on My Mind." I'm excited to see where the year will take us. Will this be the year of a great new director? Of an unforgettable film? Of the beginning of a new trend? The return of an old one? Who will leave us? Who will rise to fame? I'm excited. Films excite me. They still do. I know there aren't as many good ones these days. But wow, when I find one no one knows about and it's great? It's like finding buried treasure. So far, 2006 has been kind of a flat year. I started "Movies on My Mind" last year by wondering who Oscar might recognize from the early part of the year. It was easy to come up with a few titles and one of them -- Crash -- actually won! But this year, I can't think of any. Not yet. (Even the 9/11 movies haven't caused much of a stir.) But I am excited about what's to come. The new one from Darren Aronofsky. The new one from Martin Scorcese. Then there's Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia (from Brian DePalma). And Clint Eastwood's Flags of our Fathers epic. So I will be there, as I have always been, waiting for the lights to go dark, and the screen to flicker to life, and willing to take the journey, again. "Here we go..."

Monday, September 04, 2006

 

In Voluptate Mors


A month ago, I wrote a piece for "Movies on My Mind" entitled "The Lost Art of Movie Posters." In it I said, "the most inventive poster I have seen in years is for the film The Descent. It's the story of a group of women on a caving expedition that goes horribly wrong. The poster uses the body forms of these women to create a glowing skull. If you don't check out the movie, you should at least check out this poster. It's really a work of art." Turns out, it was based on a work of art -- a 1951 colloboration between artist Salvador Dali and photographer Philippe Halsman entitled "In Voluptate Mors (The Skull)," to be exact. This wonderful little treasure of information was pointed out to me by "Movies on My Mind" regular Silberg, who happened upon the original photo and sent it to me. Check it out.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

 

SUMMER BREAK IS OVER!

I launched "Movies on My Mind" this Sunday last year (only then, the date was Sept 4). After my August 7, 2006 entry on How to Eat Fried Worms, I took a hiatus from the column to beat the drum for my new magazine Forest Hills Celebrity & Entertainment and to spend vacation time with my son and daughter. I'm back. And, what better day to start year two of "Movies on My Mind" than the day it began? I want to thank all who participated in year one of this column -- especially regular commentators Ohio Girl, Silberg and Michael -- making it the forum I hoped it would be. I look forward to more of your comments, tips and insights in year two. Here we go...

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