Saturday, October 21, 2006

 

A Modern Day "Good Night and Good Luck" Playing on You Tube

Last year, George Clooney caused a stir with this black & white film Good Night and Good Luck, which dramatized Edward R. Murrow's series of broadcasted editorial attacks on Senator Joe McCarthy's blacklisting trials. Today, a modern version of that brave journalistic move is playing out on www.YouTube.com, as the supporters of Keith Olbermann's editorials on the Bush administration have been rebroadcasting the MSNBC anchor's pieces on the Internet for all to see. If you haven't already seen or heard these editorials (which will no doubt one day become historic), you should. No doubt, in years to come, a film will mark this moment as well and dramatize the words of Olbermann, just as Clooney did for Murrow.

Friday, October 20, 2006

 

World War III on Film: Coming Soon?

In the 1980s, at the height of The Cold War, the images of a possible Third World War played across the big and small screen as cautionary tales of nuclear armageddon: Wargames, The Day After, Red Dawn, and Testament, to name a few. In all cases, the drama was drawn from tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Well that scenario is a thing of the past (as is the U.S.S.R. for that matter). Many believe that the attack on 9/11 was the first battle in World War III. The current U.S. President has said as much. Presently, it's not inconceivable that within a few months as many as 13 nations could simultaneously be at war (The United States, Great Britain, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and China). How will cinema document these days? How will fiction dramatize them?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

 

Movie Monsters: Classic vs Modern. Who would win?

Halloween is just around the corner. It got me to thinking about some dream match-ups on screen of classic movie monsters vs modern day counterparts. So, I have assembled a number of scenarios.
Who do you think would win if:
Dracula faced Freddie?
Frankenstein's Monster fought Jason?
The Wolfman battled Leatherface?
The Mummy met The Shape?
Now THOSE are some monster movies to think about!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

 

Is Feature Animation Crashing and Burning Already?

Can it be that the glut of animated features (talked about on here some months ago), has led to a temporary backlash of these films? Boxoffice has not exactly been boffo lately for films such as, The Wild, The Ant Bully, Barnyard, and Open Season. Of course, that could be due to the fact that... NONE OF THESE FILMS ARE ORIGINAL! Enough with the talking animals. (And don't insult our intelligence with MALE cows!!!) We have seen this all before, in much better films. And while I'm at it, enough with a redux of the same stories which simply replace animals with some other novelty (like Robots or Cars, for example). It can truly be said of animated films (to borrow a statement from another field) that the efficiency of the practice has not yet equaled the efficiency of the principle. With the level of technology available today, we need complex scripts which will offer a challenge to produce them as animated features. Once again, enough with the talking animals (especially MALE cows), or cars or robots! Man, I long for the days of Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and The Polar Express!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

 

Why are We Becoming a Nation Proud to be Dumb?

When I was growing up, I was always encouraged to do well in school; to learn more; to try to gain knowledge (or know where to find it); to develop wisdom. So why have we become a nation which now seems to embrace being dumb, or idiots, or jackasses? And why do we reward such insipid, sophomoric trash as Jackass: Number Two, or Dumb and Dumber with big box office returns? Why have we made bestsellers out of the "Idiot's Guide to..." and "....for Dummies" series of books? Why have we allowed this level of intelligence in all aspects of our lives? Since when did the desire to be smart become a bad thing? Why do more people watch Dancing with the Stars than care about the national and international crisis around us? Remakes reflect this as well. Almost 100 percent of the time, the original version of a film presumed greater intelligence in its audience than did the remake (The Out of Towners and Miracle on 34th Street are two great examples). There's an easy way to put a stop to films which appeal to our lowest sensibilities: don't pay to see them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

 

The Evolution of Casper the Friendly Ghost on Screen

Casper's the friendly ghost, the friendliest ghost you'll know...so says the jingle that helped introduce a generation of animation/movie fans to a character that has found a rebirth (if you will) in the world of live action films and now computer animation 61 years after he first hit the big screen. Casper was created in the early-1940s by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo. The character was originally intended for a children's storybook, but there was little interest. Then, while Reit was away fighting WW II, Oriolo sold the rights to the character to Paramount Pictures' Famous Studios animation division. The Friendly Ghost (released by Paramount in 1945 as a Noveltoon), was the first animated short to feature Casper. He began, umm, life, as a cute, pudgy ghost-child, who prefers making friends with people instead of scaring them. This would become the theme of EVERY Casper film to follow. Casper appeared in two more Noveltoons before Paramount started a Casper the Friendly Ghost series in 1950. When the rights to Casper were sold to Harvey Entertainment, Casper was given a slight make-over, and slimed down a bit. It was at Harvey that he would experience his greatest success -- in cartoons, comics and beyond. In 1995, the live action film Casper (executive produced by Steven Spielberg) became a big screen success, introducing the character to a whole new generation of children. A bunch of direct-to-video sequels quickly followed, including Casper: A Spirited Beginning; Casper Meets Wendy (with a young Hillary Duff as Wendy the Good Little Witch!); and Casper's Haunted Christmas. This in turn renewed interest in the classic cartoons and made way for new computer animated versions as well. It's always interesting to me when a classic big screen character like Casper, or Popeye, or Felix the Cat (seemingly) rise from the dead to entertainment an entirely new generation of children.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

 

Where the Heck is Maria Conchita Alonso?

I was watching a little of the LA gang warfare film Colors -- (a film I first saw at the Ziegfeld Theater), starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall, and directed by Dennis Hopper -- when I caught a glimpse of a young Maria Conchita Alonso. Then it occurred to me: "What the heck happened to her?" She was so hot in the 80s, starring opposite Hollywood's A-List: Penn in Colors, Michael Keaton in Touch & Go, Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss, and even Arnold ("the governator") Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. While she has continued to act right up and into the 2000s, I haven't seemed to notice. Have you? Twenty years ago, she seemed everywhere. Today, she seems lost in the crowd.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

 

The Cult of Scarface: Say Hello to My Little Friend!

In 1983, Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma, written by Oliver Stone and starring Al Pacino, opened to luke warm reviews and protests from Cuban Americans (with cries of negative stereotyping). The film -- a loose remake of the 1932 Paul Muni version, which in turn was quasi-based on the life of Al Capone -- is laced with profanity, visually over-the-top, steeped in 80s style excess, riddled with hammy acting, and destined to be a cult classic! But who would have ever imagined to this extent? The film laid dormant for years until the emergence of Gangsta Rap embraced the film and its violent themes of upward mobility. Liking Scarface gave you street cred. Soon, t-shirts, posters, framed film stills and even figurines were everywhere. It seemed every new gangsta rapper wanted to be "Tony Montana." Songs were dedicated to the character and his violent lifestyle. Rappers' homes were decorated to imitate the gaudy opulence of the character in the film. And now, a new video game Scarface: The World is Yours, has emerged (one can presume based on the popularity of the recent Godfather video game). But all this has cemented the cult of Scarface, a cult that seems to be growing stronger and larger now, 23 years after the film's release! Film critic Joe Gayeski said it best when he wrote of Scarface, "The Baby Boomers created and hated it. Generation X discovered and embraced it on Home Video. Generation Y turned it into a merchandizing empire of epic proportions in American pop culture." So, what Scarface spinoff is next?

Friday, October 13, 2006

 

Friday the 13th, Part 12?

What better day than Friday the 13th to speculate on another Friday the 13th movie? Although seemingly on hold, the current sequel has Joel Schumacher attached to direct. Wow. Has the series finally become trendy enough to attract an A-list director? Aside from the series founder (former Wes Craven partner) Sean S. Cunningham and two entries by Steve Miner, the series has pretty much been a training ground for lesser known directors to cut their teeth. (One other possible exception being the established horror director Tom McLoughlin). But no one close to Schumacher's marquee value as ever worked on the series (one of the most successful horror franchises in cinematic history). Lest you forget, when last we left Jason (the monster of the series) he was doing epic battle with another modern movie monster in Freddy vs Jason -- which actually picks up from Part 9, Jason Goes to Hell, forgetting all about the 10th entry Jason X - where Jason goes to....(what?)...Outer Space! As these series go, Friday the 13th has been a somewhat interesting string of films (if you like this sort of thing). Parts I, II, and II actually work together nicely as a trilogy, as do Parts IV, V and VI. Starting with Part VII, however, the series basically became an anthology series, with none of the episodes connecting. In (Part VII) The New Blood, Jason squares off against the telekenetic Tina (nice idea, well done). In Part VIII, Jason Takes Manhattan, he (eventually) makes it to the Big Apple, where he's done in by...New York sewage! (bad idea). As I said, Part IX sent him to Hell and Part X to Outer Space, and then there was an attempt to draw on Part IX to create 2003's Freddy vs Jason (one of the best in the series). That same year, a Friday the 13th short entitled Friday the 13th: Cold Heart of Crystal Lake, was written, produced, and directed by Joe Patnaud of Timberwolf Entertainment. So now what? Fans are already debating it at www.fridaythe13thforum.com. Will Schumacher actually stay on to direct? Although he's no stranger to the genre, I doubt it. Wouldn't Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth make more sense? As a fan of the series myself (and after films such as Saw and Hostel have raised the bar on gore), I suggest a return to basics. Forget gimmicks like Outer Space, Manhattan, and Elm Street. As the series nears its logical conclusion (Friday the 13th Part 13?), to paraphrase from a well known song "they've got to get themselves back the forest!"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

 

Deep South Documentary

Imagine a filmmaker commissioned to produce a documentary on the culture that produced the fictional character of Joe Buck, the "Midnight Cowboy" of the film of the same name and you will understand the essence of Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, a fascinating documentary look at the poverty stricken Pentecostal people of the deep deep South who either turn to God, or to a life of drugs, booze, and violence. There is no middle ground. Their daily lives are a constant struggle of good and evil, and the anticipation of salvation. Structured as a road trip, the film is an amazing, unflinching -- at times, frightening, at times sad -- journey into this culture. It may be difficult to believe such a community still exists in modern day America. A great documentary. See for yourself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

 

Legendary Illustrator Ed Benedict Dies at 94

It was just announced today that Ed Benedict, the man who gave life to the characters of Fred & Wilma Flintstone, Barney & Betty Rubble, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw, and many more, died earlier this year at the age of 94. "Benedict's designs are both simple — they needed to be to accommodate the strenuous demands of limited TV animation — and highly sophisticated, containing that indefinable drawing quality that gives a drawing charm and personality," Amid Amidi wrote in his book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation. I agree. There was that extra something in the simplicity of Benedict's style, a style which almost singlehandedly transformed the look of animation in the late 50s and early 60s, borne of sheer necessity, due in large part to the constraints of TV animation budgets. Benedict's designs became iconographic and would influence all television animation that was to follow it. The Flintstones alone have become a cottage industry that has lasted 46 years thus far.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

 

Jerry Lewis on Law & Order

Jerry Lewis fans: did you catch his wonderful performance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit tonight? It was great to see Lewis, at 80, acting on the screen. In a rare foray into drama (The King of Comedy and Fight for Life being two others), Lewis offers a brilliant turn as a homeless man, confused, depressed, and perhaps the key to solving a brutal rape/murder case. What a wonderful piece to add to an already wonderful career. I would love to see Lewis take on more of these kinds of roles (especially on the big screen). This is the stuff Oscars are made of!

Monday, October 09, 2006

 

Superman II, Again?

In hopes of being considered some long lost cinematic treasure, Richard Donner's version of Superman II -- a film he all but completed shooting before being fired and replaced by Richard Lester (can anyone say Exorcist: The Beginning?) -- is now being released on DVD. The question is: Why? Who really cares? (It's not like seeing footage of Back to the Future starring Eric Stolz instead of Michael J. Fox. Now THAT would be interesting!) Plus, if rumors swirling around this version are true, it might have been better if left buried. Not that the Lester film is a work of art. But I hear tell that Superman once again solves things in the new version by once again...yes...reversing time. That was the single worst aspect of the first film. To repeat it would be a disaster. Plus, there has been no heat off the newest entry to the series, Superman Returns. So why release this new version of Superman II now? Will I see it? As a curiosity, I think I will. But I expect very little. The Lester version is flawed. (It's filled will silly stuff which makes absolutely no sense, even in the Superman universe.) This Donner version sounds just as flawed (if not more). Is it possible to make a great Superman film? I don't think Donner's newly unearthed version of part II will answer that question affirmatively.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

 

The Miracle Worker

A wonderful example of a film that bridged the divide between old Hollywood and new Hollywood at the time, Arthur Penn's amazing black-and-white film The Miracle Worker, is a powerful work of art from start to finish. Its stark visualization stands in interesting contrast to the more conventional performances of the supporting cast. But it's the leads which carry the film to a level rarely seen at the time. Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke (as Annie Sullivan and a young Helen Keller, respectively) both received well-deserved Oscars for their efforts. The documentary-like, black and white feel of the film helps to strip, what could have easily been an overly sentimental approach, given the subject matter. The Miracle Worker is years ahead of its time (1962) and as a result still feels fresh today.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

 

The Illusionist Works On Screen Magic

A day after seeing the first great film of 2006 (The Departed) I saw another. The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton is a brilliantly woven tale of perception and reality, of politics and greed, of passion and belief, of deception and ethics. Much in the way The Departed deals with themes of the duality in human nature, so too here we are thrust into a tale that forces us to think on a number of levels and has us question not only the power of perception and manipulation, but leaves us with an uncertainty about who in fact to trust. (As with The Departed, a resonate theme these days). Artistically, every aspect of The Illusionist work in concert beautifully. Highly recommended. It's interesting to note, this is the first of two magician films this year: the other -- Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, also boasting a great cast, opens later in the year, following the second Capote film within a year as well. Hollywood really should have better communication. Regardless, this one deserves your attention and the attention of the Academy as well. The Fall film season just keeps getting better and better.

Friday, October 06, 2006

 

The Departed Lives Up to the Hype

Martin Scorsese is back, just as "Movies on My Mind" predicted he was after seeing the trailer for his new film, The Departed. Seeing the film confirms it. This is material Scorsese knows better than any other living director. Plus he trusts cinema to tell a story. And what a cast! Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Walhberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin -- all giving amazing (career leading) performances capable of disguising the fact that they are stars. This is the most passionate Scorsese has been in years. He's not over reaching as you can feel him do in Gangs of New York and The Aviator. This is his turf. And the stories of these people clearly resonate with Scorsese. He takes it seriously. It's the element that has made his great films great: Mean Streets. Taxi Driver. Raging Bull. Goodfellas. Casino. Sure, I admire when he tries a Last Temptation of Christ or an Age of Innocence. But this is what he does best. Better than anyone. And he's back. And on top! See it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

 

Will the Academy Raise the Flag?

Of course, it's too soon to tell, but the early Best Picture Oscar buzz has been good for the upcoming Clint Eastwood directed epic Flags of Our Fathers. It's ridiculous to even talk about possible Best Picture nominees this early, especially before they've even been released. So why the buzz? Well it's partly based on journalists needing something to write and being too lazy to find legitimate news. It's also partly based on Eastwood's now impressive Oscar history. Two Oscars for directing, two for Best Picture (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby). It's partly based on a good looking trailer (which seems to have all the elements of an Oscar worthy film). Plus, the time is right for a film that comments on war and media in this country (even if the war used is metaphorical for the current war being fought). Of course, it is ironic if Eastwood is able to pull off film tat says more about the current war than films like Oliver Stone's World Trade Center were able to.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

 

Interesting Strategy

Today, I read a short interview with Martin Scorsese's current producer Graham King. In an article entitled "Counting on the Big Score-sese," King (who also produced The Aviator and Gangs of New York) says of the new Scorsese film The Departed, "We're going for commerciality on this one. Pure commerce. And if anything comes along with it, great. If it doesn't, that's fine, too." I say, "Nice strategy!" Most feel (myself included) that Scorsese's camp campaigned a little TOO hard for him to receive an Oscar for his last two films. Scorsese, the rebel filmmaker, had become Scorsese the elder statesman of cinema. Now, saying they don't care about Oscars for The Departed just might land him one! He's gone back to the kind of film he does better than any other living director. The "we aren't looking for awards" attitude of King might just work in getting them EXACTLY what they want, and something Scorsese has deserved for years!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

 

St Francis on Film

If you've never seen it, check out Brother Sun Sister Moon (Fratello sole, sorella luna), Franco Zeffirelli's bio pic of St. Francis of Assisi. Very much of its time, it even features songs by Donovan. Zeffirelli made this film right after his much acclaimed breakthrough adaptation of Romeo & Juliet and just before taking on the life of Christ in the brilliant Jesus of Nazareth. (Of note, in 1990, Zeffirelli also directed future Christ filmmaker Mel Gibson in the title role of Hamlet.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

 

What Happened to the Angel Craze?

There was a time (the early 90s to be more precise), when almost every A-list actor wanted to play an angel on screen. We had Nicolas Cage in City of Angels, John Travolta in Michael, Christopher Walken in The Prophecy, Emma Thompson in Angels in America, and even Christopher Lloyd in the remake of Angels in the Outfield. Not only movies, but books upon books, magazines and TV shows featured the heavenly creatures. Angels were hot (then poof) they were not!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

 

The Nights He Comes Home!

Halloween fans take note: While we will have to wait a full year to see Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's Halloween, (a production predicted here at "Movies on My Mind") the original Halloween is being re-released on the big screen in 125 theaters across the country on (when else?) October 30th and 31st. In addition, playing before the feature film will be an all-new 16-minute short called Halloween: The Shape of Horror. This short features exclusive interviews with the cast of the original horror classic and the filmmakers of the next Halloween, including director Rob Zombie. Also, the definitive documentary on the Halloween series, Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, featuring more than six hours of content, is now available on DVD.

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