Friday, August 31, 2012

Battle Royale #4: Battle of the Horror Movie Giants (The Results)

We have finally come to the end of our fourth Battle Royale here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, and the final results this time around give us the biggest margin of victory yet - but it still wasn't as big a runaway as I thought it might end up being.  But who oh who was that winner?  Well, I suppose it is kind of obvious once you look at the picture included at the bottom of this post, but hey, let me play the dramatic drumroll just a bit longer, and drag this out to a respectably chunky paragraph or two.  Now you were asked to choose between those two classic Horror stalwarts of Universal's golden age of monster movies - Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff - and do this you did.  Granted, the voter turnout, at just 41 votes cast, may not have been as great as I was hoping for (we were aiming for triple digits people), but it was still a good and steady race as they say.  But again, to rattle the bones once more, who did win this fourth edition of Battle Royale?  Well, hold on, I'm getting there.   

Most known for the roles of Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster respectively, both Lugosi and Karloff, both friends and rivals, had a long and interesting career (not to mention a roller coaster version of said career in both cases - one a bit more than the other) in and around Hollywood.  And in the end (not of there careers, but of our voting) it was a surprisingly close race.  I must admit that unlike the first three Battle Royales (two won by a two vote margin and one ending in a tie) I truly believed Karloff was going to run away with this one.  But I suppose the great Austro-Hungarian soothsayer had more fans that I gave him credit for - and deserving fans at that, as I do not wish to diss Sir Lugosi.  But even with these fans, it was just not enough to best his old-time rival - the man known as Karloff.  With a 5 vote difference, William Henry Pratt, aka Karloff beat his old friend and rival Béla Ferenc Deszo Blascó by a score of 23 to 18, or 56% to 43% if you wish.  Not sure where that final 1% got to (maybe Ron Paul or something), but anyway, there you go.  Be sure to stop by again as participants for the fifth Battle Royale will be announced right here in just a few days, and this one is bound to be a funny one - and perhaps a silent one as well.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Film Review: The Expendables 2

Now let's face it.  If you are going to see a film like The Expendables 2, full of the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger and Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren, you should not be expecting great writing or great acting.  What you should be expecting is lots of action, a few kick-ass hand-to-hand fight scenes and some pretty cheesy one-liners and genre-specific inside jokes.  This ain't Kubrick or Scorsese after all.  This is a Sylvester Stallone written, Simon "I will never live up to the promise of my debut of Con Air" West directed action flick starring a slew of notably bad actors (sorry Chuck Norris, but you are just awful), an ex NFL player, an ex MMA champion and the guy who played Drago in Rocky IV: The Quest for Peace (or whatever that was called).   For better and/or for worse, this is exactly what you should be expecting from a film like The Expendables 2.  What you will actually get out of The Expendables 2, is a film with lots of action, a few kick-ass hand-to-hand fight scenes and some pretty cheesy one-liners and genre-specific inside jokes.  Well whaddya know?

Okay, this is far from a great film, as well as kinda far removed from even the cheesy fun of the first film (a film of which I said in my 2010 review, "There is a certain undeniable, if not embarrassingly so, enjoyment in watching this motley crew of, for lack of a better term, decades-gone has-beens." as well as, "What cold-hearted person can watch Sly and Lundgren interact without shedding at least one manly tear?") and it really holds no interest for anyone who is interested in anything more than just mindless and unarticulated action.  Sure, as any other red-blooded American male, I like action films, but I am looking for an action film akin to something like The Wild Bunch or The Great Escape.  Something with the chutzpah of Peckinpah or the bravura of Sam Fuller or John Sturges or even early Ridley Scott.  It doesn't have to be The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but it damn well better be better than what we are given here.  Good god, even the original film, directed by Stallone himself, was enough to raise the testosterone-laden arousal levels of one's film watching to at least an acceptable level.  A level that may not reach the aforementioned high water marks, but a level that at the very least gives some sort of cinematic enjoyment to some of its viewers.

What we get with part deux of the budding franchise, aside from lots of action, a few kick-ass hand-to-hand fight scenes and some pretty cheesy one-liners and genre-specific inside jokes - which may be enough for some, but not enough for me - is a lackluster retreading of the original film, which in its own right was nothing more than a retreading of some of the classic actioners mentioned here earlier, as well as many of the forgettable films that passed for action-fueled entertainment back in the 1980's.  We get nothing original here.  We get nothing that makes you sit up and say wow.  We get nothing but mindless action.  Granted, we get a lot of that mindless action, not to mention getting to see Chuck Norris telling a Chuck Norris joke, but that is all we get.  The film is nothing more than an excruciatingly flat attempt at recreating what the first film had going for it - which wasn't really all that much in the first place.  All The Expendables 2 ends up being is a series of mini-showcases for its stable of steroid-case super studs.  Granted, it is fun to watch The Governator do his thing, and Dolph Lundgren has his moments (howzabout that!?), but overall...meh, at best.  Even Jet Li (who receives third billing mind you) knows when to get out, as he disappears after the seven minute or so long prologue and never shows back up again.  Perhaps we should all do this.

Retro Review: The Expendables (Stallone, 2010)

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.  With the release of the second in what I am sure will be a series of Expendables films, I take a look back at my review of the first of the budding franchise. My review of part 2 will be up shortly.


I believe I should preface this review with an opening warning shot of sorts.  What follows is my latest attempt at reviewing what constitutes as the latest attempt at filmmaking by that beleaguered, mush-mouthed icon of 80's uber-masculinity (and inexplicable two-time Oscar nominee!?) Sylvester Stallone.  How's that for some ominous foreshadowing?  In fact, how's that for some rather blatantly obvious (but one could argue, quite fairly come by) preconceptions?  Actually, Stallone can be good sometimes (his performances in both the original Rocky and Cop Land are much better than most of the nay-sayers claim) and he would probably be a fun guy to have a beer with.  But still, when it comes to the man's ability to create good cinema...ah well, we all know how that usually turns out.  But alas, here we go anyway.

I suppose as genre experiment, or even as homage of sorts (a nostalgia of the cinematically ridiculous perhaps?), Stallone's latest, The Expendables (proudly, even quite cockily, invoking John Ford's classic They Were Expendable), does indeed have its merits - albeit in the most ironic of ways.  A competently made movie (Stallone knows how to make a shot, he just doesn't know what to do with it once he gets it!) The Expendables, with its opening sequences of a dark night somewhere in the third world, thudding overbearing music sweeping along with the airborn camera, brings us back to those halcyon days of twenty years past when muscled hooligans shot, stabbed and head-butted the requisite dark-skinned bad guys into climactic submission by film's end.  So much is the nostalgia factor; one almost expects to see the long defunct Cannon Group logo shimmering its way onto the screen in all its steel-glared glory (the opening credits are done it that same cold steel font in a bit of extra homage).

There is a certain undeniable, if not embarrassingly so, enjoyment in watching this motley crew of, for lack of a better term, decades-gone has-beens (though thanks to The Wrestler and subsequent work, Mickey Rourke can probably now be taken out of such a generalizations), along with a gang of more contemporary counterparts, shoot, stab and head-butt there way across the third world.  Featuring Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, the aforementioned Rourke, Eric Roberts, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Randy Couture (as well as uncredited cameos from Bruce Willis and an especially hilarious moment with the Governornator!) and Charisma Carpenter for no other reason than to throw in something good for all the testosterone-laden douchebags who are watching to jerk off to (if they are not already doing so to the oily-muscled, homoerotic biceps of the main cast of lunkheads), The Expendables makes a case for loving homage (what cold-hearted person can watch Sly and Lundgren interact without shedding at least one manly tear? - he said tongue firmly in cheek) but falls flat on its collective bruised and battered face when attempting to do anything even remotely related to storywriting.

Sure, its fun to watch these strange (one could say long dead) interactions so long after many of these stars have burned up like Icarus (and actually, Lundgren is quite fun here), but as far as putting together a coherent moviegoing experience, outside of some really kick-ass fun (and maybe that is all we really need), Stallone makes absolutely no headway here.  But then when one is nostalgic for such mediocre films as are being homaged here, I suppose it is an inevitability that mediocrity will again rear its ugly head.   Perhaps he should have taken a cue from Edgar Wright and went all out satire as Wright had done with his loving homage to the action films of the 90's with Hot Fuzz.  But then Stallone is nothing if not serious - which I suppose is kind of a sad fact of cinematic life.  Of course when it came to the final credits (where the Cannon Group logo never did show up!) I suppose it is rather inevitable that a film starring such a gaggle of 80's has-beens (there's that damned word again!) would end its story with Thin Lizzy shouting out "The Boys Are Back in Town".  Perhaps Stallone does have a sense of humour after all.

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 08/21/10]

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Gilda, and How Rita Hayworth Could Redeem My Shawshank Any Time She Wanted (Yeah, I Said it, What's It To Ya?)

Rita Hayworth once famously said, "Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me."  For the life of me, I cannot figure out what could possibly be wrong about doing either one of those things, at any time.  Yeah, yeah, I get what Hayworth was trying to say - the whole 'nobody is as perfect as the characters on the screen' (she is also quoted as saying, "No one can be Gilda 24 hours a day.") - but even so, falling in love with a movie character, especially that particular movie character, is more than quite understandable, and waking up with Margarita Carmen Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, aka The Love Goddess, would be a big ole 'must' on the to do list of any healthy patriotic red blooded American boy.

But we are not here to talk about personal cinephiliac fantasies (though I must admit to having one hell of a hard time getting certain images out of my head as I type this), we are here to talk about Charles Vidor's 1946 noir/melodrama hybrid masterpiece Gilda, and how its star, in what has become, and rightfully so, known as her signature role, Rita Hayworth put the ooh into ooh la la.  Sure, Hayworth made films prior to Gilda, and she was already thought of as a sexpot of the silver screen well before 1946 - just take a look at her roles in Blood and Sand, You'll Never Get Rich and Cover Girl - and she was a already a pin-up favourite as well (second only to Betty Grable in the minds of WWII G.I.'s), but there is something about Gilda that just drives a man, not only to the brink of insanity, but right over the veritable edge.  From Hayworth's introduction in the film, about a half hour in, as she tosses her head and mane of red (even in black and white) locks, and looks not into the camera, nor around it, but through the damned thing, to her show-stopping, half-striptease (just barely getting past the censors I am sure) rendition of "Put the Blame on Mame", the copper-topped bombshell is the very epitome of the kind of girl that no matter how hard you try - and co-star Glenn Ford does try his damnedest - you just know she is the one to whom you will eventually and quite inevitably give in and succumb.

As far as the film itself goes, it is quite the unique little nugget.  Playing at several genres at once, Gilda is not quite all the way a film noir, nor is it fully a proper melodrama.  It plays at thriller and musical too, but never fully falls prey to either of those categorizations either.  Mostly, to avoid confusion I suppose, it is labeled as noir, but even though it does have many of the requisite qualities for such a classification, as I said earlier, it never goes all the way into that territory.   Perhaps the most obvious reason for its stopping short is the fact that Hayworth's supposed femme fatale, in many ways the quintessential of the breed, ends up being not all that fatale after all.  Well, at least not in the way many of her ilk end up being.  But this by no means is to infer that Gilda is not the kind of woman some hapless man would not kill, or even die for.  Ford's Johnny Farrell just isn't as stupid as some of his fellow hapless male compatriots.  But why quibble over technicalities?  Let us just enjoy this magnificent film for what it is - a masterpiece.  And this is a word I do not use lightly.  And this is also all in spite of, to call a spade a spade, as it were, Charles Vidor being the kind of man who will never go down in history as a great director.  An auteur for the ages he is not.  The rest of Vidor's oeuvre, though some of it quite enjoyable (Love Me or Leave Me, The Joker is Wild, Cover Girl), leaves quite a bit to be desired.  Gilda is his one and only truly great film, and even though it is filled with stunning cinematography, courtesy of Rudolph Maté (some of the best of the era actually, almost comparable to Orson Welles and Gregg Toland's work), it is great not because of Vidor (at least not fully), but because of...yeah, you guessed it - Miss Rita Hayworth.

I may sound like a broken record here, but there is no denying such obvious facts.  Rita Hayworth not only breathed life into the tragic title character, but she stole that breath not just from all the men in her on-screen life, or even just those men in her off-screen life (which includes both Orson Welles and a real life prince), but also from all of those, myself whole-heartedly included, who have watched her up there on that aforementioned silver screen.  Let's not put the blame on Mame boys, let's put it on Rita. She wasn't nicknamed The Love Goddess for nuthin' after all.  Hell, even one of the many (many and many more) stories on how and when the Margarita was invented, gives credit to Hayworth.  Granted, the story of a bartender naming a drink after a certain young dancing girl down Mexico way, may very well be apocryphal - in fact it most certainly is just legend and nothing more - but that doesn't necessarily stop it from being quite believable.  I mean, what man wouldn't want to name something, anything, after Rita Hayworth?  But I am getting off subject again.  I am supposed be talking about Gilda, and about Rita Hayworth as Gilda, the gold digger with the heart of gold, but those dyed red locks (the genes of her Latin father actually gave her natural black hair) and that come-hither gaze she gives to both Glenn Ford and those of us watching her, tend to distract from whatever we may be discussing.  But since we do not seem to be able to go on in a reasonable, undistracted way, about the film Gilda, I suppose we should just end it all right here and now.  So please let me end on a quote from Rita herself, "All I wanted was just what everyone else wants, you know, to be loved."  You got it baby.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

There are films that work hard to play on your emotions and then there are films that seem to let everything fall into place naturally.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those films that seem to do both simultaneously.  Yes, the film can be rather contrived at times, but that never stops it from feeling quite sincere in that same said contrivance.  Yes, I know this sounds more than a bit weird (and possibly quite implausible), but don't let that fool you, for first time feature writer/director Benh Zeitlin's Beasts is certainly an enigma of a film.  Perhaps it isn't the proverbial riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside that enigma, that a film like last year's The Tree of Life, or even Blue Valentine - a pair of recent films that share a strange, certain kindred spirit, if not in narrative then at least in spirituality, with Beasts - but it is definitely a film that runs the gamut of emotions from the legitimate to the manipulated, and in mixing these two types of storytelling - the broad and the mindful - the film actually manages to work surprisingly well.  I would not call the film a groundbreaking creature, or beast if you will, like it is being marketed as, but the film does indeed work surprisingly well.

And the thing that empowers this film the most, and gives it the emotional center it has in spades, is the wonderful performance of a wonderful six-year-old newcomer by the wonderful name of Quvenzhané Wallis (pronounced Kwa-VAHN-Je-Nay).  Lying about her age when answering the audition notice for six to nine year olds, Miss Wallis, nicknamed Nazie, must have assuredly blown them away, much like she does to those watching her performance on the big screen.  To say this little girl with the giant voice, is a force of nature, may sound a bit cliché on my part, but in this particular case, it is more than true.   Wallis plays a girl named Hushpuppy who lives with her daddy in the flooded-out Bayou region known as The Bathtub.  Left alone to fend for themselves, this fictional community, based on many of those who were forced out of their homes after Katrina devastated the area, can also be looked upon as being a kindred spirit to the backwoods Appalachian folks of 2010's Winter's Bone - though to a much lesser degree of twisted evil found in that film.   And much like Jennifer Lawrence's suffering character in that film, Wallis is the guiding force through the hell on Earth that is her experience.

Zeitlin's film plays out like a mini Tree of Life, at least in style if not subject or scope (not to mention never even breaching the level of cinema chutzpah in the Malick film), and it is little Nazie that is at the center of of such a zeitgeist, such a southern wild if you will.  Even in those moments that seem a bit contrite - a fault that would be quite hard to overcome considering the story being told, and the inherent preachiness of such a subject - it is the performance of Nazie that pulls the film back up and into a better realm of cinema.  As I said at the outset, Beasts of the Southern Wild may not be the all powerful creature it is being advertised as, but with the help of little Quvenzhané Wallis (could she sneak in as the, by far, youngest Best Actress nominee come Oscar time?) the film is certainly one of the brighter spots of this year's American cinema output - and very possibly the best first feature of the year.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How is the Tweeview From Up There?

There seems to be a new game in town - and it's name is Movie Tweeviews.  As I am sure the more savvy reader has already ascertained, these are movie/film reviews of 140 characters or less.  In other words, reviews made on Twitter.  In other other words - Movie Tweeviews.  Ain't they a clever bunch?  All the action can be viewed at the site, called appropriately enough, Movie Tweeviews, which was ceated by and is run by Movie Producer, Distributor, Exhibitor, Columbia University Professor and Cubs Fan Ira Deutchman (his own description).  What it is actually (other than all the aforementioned things) is a place, somewhat like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, where critical looks at recent films are gathered together in one convenient outlet.  Granted, these are reviews that can never go any further than the 140 character limit of Twitter, but still.  Anyone can join in, by just tweeting a review (and nothing self-serving) with #mtrv in the tweet.  Now doing this will only get your review up on Twitter, but if you are found to be worthy, as apparently I have (the fools!!!), you will be added to the official feed that can be found at the link a few sentences back.  Included on this roll of critics, other than me of course, is Eugene Hernandez, Caryn James and Eric Kohn of IndieWire, Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Yahoo Movies editor, and former NY Post and Us Weekly film critic Thelma Adams, whose recent work can be found HERE.  I have only contributed four reviews so far (Dark Knight Rises, Safety Not Guaranteed, Total Recall, Beasts of the Southern Wild - a piece on The Expendables 2 will go up tomorrow, once I finally see it) but even so, I suppose I am in pretty good company.  Will the site last?  Who really knows, but I have confidence it will fill a niche market of easily distracted film buffs, and therefore survive.  This of course does not mean you should not come back here on a regular basis for the meatier look at all things cinema.  Well that's it for now.  Have a tweety day.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films: #860 Thru #879

Here is a look at the latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These twenty films were seen between July 7 and July 27.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#860 - Diary of a Country Priest (1951) - (#247 on TSPDT) Introspective (duh, it's Bresson after all) and disarmingly subtle (duh again), this work from the earlier years of the auteur is considered a masterpiece by many.  I don't think I would go quite that far, but perhaps close to that.  Similar in vein to Rossellini's 1950 The Flowers of St. Francis, but more tightly wound (as would be the case considering the spiritual fear of Bresson's priest as compared to the free form spirituality of Rossellini's Francis), this film works in double time - as Bresson's quiet but imposing camera weaves its way around the performance of Claude Laydu, we are drawn into the very film itself.

#861 - Scorpio Rising (1964) - (#434 on TSPDT) Now anyone who knows me, and/or has read this site's ramblings on at least a semi-regular basis, knows perfectly well that I am not a big fan of experimental cinema.  Bah, I say to the so-called genre.  Bah!  But here things change a bit - at least for the half hour duration of Kenneth Anger's ode to rebel culture (everything from bikers to the occult to nazis, Jimmy Dean and of course homosexuality) - as I actually was quite enthralled in the film.  I have never been much of a fan of Anger's cinema, but this one caught my fancy (what does that say about me?), and therefore, along with a few works of Deren and Warhol, and most of the oeuvre of Peter Kubelka, becomes that oh so rare thing - an experimental film that I actually enjoy watching.  The 50's and 60's pop music soundtrack helped too.

#862 - The Conversation (1974) - (#164 on TSPDT) There is Apocalypse Now, my favourite, and of course the first two Godfather films (there was a third?) and then there is that "other" Francis Ford Coppola film of the 1970's.  Now coming from someone who has kept enjoying Coppola through the 1980's and One From the Heart (I really do love that film) and The Outsiders, and even into the past decade and Tetro (let's just ignore the 1990's and Jack for now), I can say that I am indeed a Coppola fan, and not just the always vaunted 1970's output.  With that said, I now claim to not really getting all that into The Conversation.  Granted, Hackman gives a fantastic performance - one of his best actually - but that aside, The Conversation is a well done work of cinema, but just not all I was expecting it to be cracked up to be.

#863 - Tristana (1970) - (#394 on TSPDT) Normally I much prefer Buñuel's more heartfelt Spanish/Mexican period to his later, more flippant French works, but both Belle du Jour and this film make fine examples of exceptions to that so-called rule.  Perhaps it is Catherine Deneuve who makes this happen (another strong French period Buñuel is the Deneuve-less Diary of A Chambermaid), but whatever the case, Tristana is a stunning film indeed. 

#864 - Destiny (1921) - (#896 on TSPDT) With the exception of his Metropolis, this is my favourite Lang silent.  Forget the often overshadowing Dr. Mabuse or Spione.  They are interesting films, but certainly not worthy of the great praise they have hammered down on them.  Wracked with psychological horror, and not as long and overwraught as many of the director's other films of the period, Destiny is a quietly powerful near masterpiece of silent cinema.

#865 - In a Year with 13 Moons (1978) - (#403 on TSPDT) The prolific Fassbinder - he made 42 films in just a 14 year career (!?) - is rather hit-or-miss with me.  I mean, if you make that many films in such a short period, there are bound to be some not as worthy as others.  In a Year with 13 Moons is one of the better ones - one of the hits, if you will.  Perhaps it never quite reach the realms of Ali or Petra von Kant (my two faves), but it is quite an intriguing work - and made even more intriguing because of the performance of Volker Spengler in the central role.

#866 - 7 Women (1966) - (#547 on TSPDT) The great John Ford's final feature film, and one of his better works.  Definitely one of, if not his most provocative and subversive work, made just after the studio system, and the production code with it, crumbled into history.  It is fitting that a man who made his living from making movies with a strong moral code of ethics (even if this code wasn't always first and foremost in his character's minds) would go out on a film that took the ideas of morality and ran the fuck away with them.  In other words, this is definitely a film that belongs on a list such as this, as well as a film that will surely make my own Top 1000.

#867 - Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) - (#589 on TSPDT) I watched back to back John Ford's here.  One, his final film (see just above), is a psychologically brutal affair (just like I like 'em).  The other, one of his earlyish-to-early-mid career works, is more of a quiet gem of a film.  A film that slowly caresses you until you are all in, so to speak.  Appropriately enough, the film stars Henry Fonda as the titular young president-to-be (made in the year the actor went from budding newbie to full fledged movie star) - an actor that can also be described in that same caressing way.

#868 - Spartacus (1960) - (#390 on TSPDT) Yeah I know.  I claim Kubrick as my favourite director, and yet I am only now just getting around to watching Spartacus.   Granted, it is probably his least Kubrick-esque work (definitely a work-for-hire job) and, now that I have finally seen the damn thing, my personal least favourite of his thirteen features, but still, why the hell did it take me this damn long to see it.  Anyway, it is a well done film - after all, it is Stanley Freaking Kubrick - and I love all the homoerotic themes they managed to get past the beginning-to-crumble production code (and the fact that Kubrick and Douglas gave Dalton Trumbo his name back!), but it is just not all that great when propped up next to things like 2001 or Strangelove or The Killing or Lolita or Paths of Glory or Barry Lyndon or Full Metal Jacket or...well, you get the picture.

#869 - Le Plaisir (1952) - (#417 on TSPDT) Max Ophüls takes three of Guy de Maupassant's short stories and collects them into a charming triptych of a motion picture.  The first and last ones, the shorter of the three, are more flippant and more fun, but the center section (which comprises over half the film), is a deep and resonating work.  Well, okay, that one is fun as well.  What I am trying to say amongst my babblings and ramblings is that I quite enjoyed this film.  One of Ophüls better works - which I suppose is saying quite a bit considering he is Max Ophüls.

#870 - The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974) - (#472 on TSPDT) Herzog tends to be hit or miss with me, but this one seems to hit, for the most part.  It is quite an intriguing work from Herzog.  I do not think it works completely, but when it does it is quite an interesting creature - as is the title character.  What more can I say?

#871/872 - Winter Light/The Silence (1962/63) - (#459/509 on TSPDT) A double feature of Bergman is always a good thing.  These may not be up there with some of my favourite Bergman's (Seventh Seal, Smiles of a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries, Sawdust and Tinsel), but both are still quite good.  If forced to pick a winner so to speak, it would probably be The Silence.  While Winter Light is a solemn film, full of much of the religious questions so prevalent in Bergman's cinema, The Silence, though no less tragic and no less lonely in its substance, is more attuned to the kind of Bergman I like best.  I do not think either one would actually make my own top 1000, though The Silence could feasibly sneak in there (we'll all find out when I finally compile said list sometime in late Autumn), but I have no problem with them both being here now.

#873 - Lone Star (1996) - (#866 on TSPDT)  I must be honest.  Before seeing this film, my attitude toward John Sayles was of a competent but ultimately tepid filmmaker.   I have liked most of his films (Matewan and Silver City are both quite good) but none have been what one would call great or spectacular or a masterpiece or anything of that ilk.  That was, until I saw Lone Star.  Perhaps giving Fargo a run for its money as the best film of 1996 (though Fargo probably still ends up the photo finish winner in the end), Lone Star is easily what one would call great or spectacular.  Perhaps not quite in that masterpiece realm (a term I reserve for only a select few films) but certainly spectacular indeed.

#874 - Charulata (1964) - (#351 on TSPDT) Most Indian films seem to blend in together and this one is no different.  It is made by Satyajit Ray, and therefore more artistic, more creative and more visually stunning than most of the others though.  In fact, it is indeed better than most of the others, even if it is quite similar.  Make sense?  No, probably not, but that's how it is.

#875 - Judex (1963) - (#877 on TSPDT) Georges Franju did not make many feature films, so we should cherish the ones he did.  Luckily, such a thing is made quite easy by Franju making films as cherishable as Judex.  Taking the feel of the old Feuillade serials from whence the story came, and giving it a more modernist flair, Franju creates a stunning work that damn well deserves to be included on this list.  

#876 - Pakeezah (1972) - (#705 on TSPDT) I know.  I know.  Just two entries above, I rag on about how most Indian films seem to be the same ole same ole, but this doesn't mean they are bad because of it.  As a matter of fact, this particular one, directed by Kamal Amrohi, is one of the better looking ones - even though it plays out in the same ole same ole way once again.  Still not making sense?  Oh well. 

#877 - Europa '51 (1952) - (#897 on TSPDT) Just watching Ingrid Bergman act is worth the so-called price of any admission (not that I paid any to watch this particular film) and then combine that with the direction of Roberto Rossellini, and you have a simply incredible run of films from Stromboli to this one and then on to Voyage to Italy (yes, they did three others together, but I have not seen them, I am sorry to say).  This may be the least of these three films (and by least, I of course mean still pretty goddamn spectacular) but the power of Bergman's performance alone makes it worth that aforementioned so-called price of admission.

#878 - Scarface (1983) - (#606 on TSPDT) I am still my old school self, and cinematic purist, not to mention a certified Hitchcocko-Hawksian, and therefore prefer the original 1932 Howard Hawks version to De Palma's in-your-face remake, but that does not mean this wasn't a fun as hell film to watch up on the big screen, projected in all its blu-ray guts and glory.  Actually, even though I think the original a better film, I do still quite like what De Palma's gleefully heavy-hand (and Pacino's equally gleeful over-the-top-ness) does for the production.  It is often called De Palma's best work (at least that is what the hipsters and Harry Knowles acolytes claim), and even though that is a blatant falsehood (Blow Out is my choice), it is a spectacular spectacle indeed.  With iconic images that rival Che in pop art longevity, De Palma's film (and I do love me a good De Palma production) is an overblown work of brazen chutzpah, that makes even his other well-over-the-top films seem conservative - and that is just how it should be.

#879 - The Docks of New York (1928) - (#784 on TSPDT) A stunning Pre-Pre-Code film and now one of my favourite von Sternberg's (my second fave actually, after just The Shanghai Gesture).  The more than mere innuendo, the matter-of-fact talk of sex, and a gritty kind of poetic frustration combine to make a remarkable film.  Even little things, like the dramatically subtle closing of a door, are used by the director to such perfect effect.  A film that not only deserves insertion here (though ideally at a much higher position) but almost made my own 100 Favourite list I recently compiled, coming in at around 112 or so if I were to extend said list.

Well that is it for this round of twenty.  I will be back with my final twenty before getting down to my final 100.  Numbers 880 through 899, will include such Cool Hand Luke, The Last Temptation of Christ, Spring in a Small Town, A Place in the Sun, Splendor in the Grass, as well as Gilda, a film that has taken its rightful place in my own 100 Favourite Films list.  See ya soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Retro Review: Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 06)

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.  With the release of Farewell My Queen, Benoît Jacquot's look at the court of Marie Antoinette, I have brought back my 2006 review of Sofia Coppola's often overlooked, but quite spectacular film.


What does one get when one combines postmodern pop sensibility, French Nouvelle Vague philosophies and eighties new wave music and pour it all into an 18th century period piece already stuffed fat and full with ravishing costumes, luscious set pieces and sexually decadent behaviour? One gets Sofia Coppola's best film yet!

Opening with a wink and a nod, and full of candy-coloured confections of awkward yet graceful charm and wry wit, Marie Antoinette perhaps is not as surfacely deep as her two earlier films, but it does share with her predecessors a claustrophobic sense of entrapment and unheeded privilege. Like Scarlett Johansson's Charlotte in Lost in Translation, afraid to venture pass the lobby of her plush Park Hyatt Tokyo, and Kirsten Dunst herself as Lux Lisbon in The Virgin Suicides, a languorous kitten trapped by society inside her own imagined world, Marie, just fourteen when sent to marry the Dauphin of France, Louis Auguste, is like a lost little bird trapped inside the gilded cage that is Versailles. These girls, squelched by the strangulation of privilege, are what Coppola does best - for obvious autobiographical reasons - and she does it with her most grandiose hand yet in Marie Antoinette. Do not let yourself be fooled, for this is not your mother's historical biopic - it is frivolity underscored with seriousness.

Instead of faking the mannersims of a staunchy haughty period piece - so overblown by many a great director in the past - Coppola sends Dunst out with the voice of a mall queen with daddy's credit card in her Prada bag - princess of the all-nite rave. Many critics have said Coppola and Dunst portray the teen queen as an 18th century Paris Hilton - and this is probably true on many fronts - but they also show that being Paris Hilton (or any other rich bitch prima donna) may not be all that great a thing to be after all - you just might lose your head over it.

Full of music two hundred years out of time, this pomo set piece plays out as if The Cure or New Order are perfectly in sync with an 18th century masqued ball or a royal coronation. One number in particular, Bow Wow Wow's I Want Candy booms across the soundtrack as Marie and her ladies-in-waiting go on a shopping spree full of decadent wardrobes, delicious shoes (including a pair of purple Converse snuck in for flair) and resplendantly ridiculous hairstyles - never once seeming out of place. The modern music and period setting may be rather similar in vein to the films of Baz Luhrmann, but Coppola manages to weave her way past the overly trite style of a film like Moulin Rouge and belts out a film not only full of magniloquence and pretty party pieces, but also of a subtly meaty political underpining beneath the pink frosted exterior that is this pop star Versailles.

Peripherally responsible for the starvation of France which in turn led to the French Revolution which in turn led to the beheading of both Antoinette and Louis XVI, Coppola's queen is played more for sympathy than sneer (which assuredly led to the few boo's it recieved from the Cannes balconies). Showing instead, Marie Antoinette as an apathetic hautier that more likely than not never even came into contact with the "people of France" let alone was in any capable state to rule them. The scapegoat of history - her crime being perhaps more an innocent indifference than a calculated reign of terror - Marie Antoinette was more the giggling schoolgirl of privilege than anything else. Not that this is any excuse for what the French citizenry endured during those days before the revolution (remember when George Bush the Father could not even fathom a guess on how much a quart of milk cost?), but it is most likely the most accurate way to look at this child queen.

Even the surely apocryphal "let them eat cake" quote (the comment that launched a thousand guillotines) is played at by Coppola as if it were a snide little remark to be manipulated and teased - and Dunst's Marie, a pretty powdered present from Austria to France is commented on as "a piece of cake" early on in the film. All this leading to a pop film that seems at first glance nothing more than confectionary sugar and pink and blue sprinkles, but on deeper reflection can be seen as a politically charged dress-up film of revolutionary standards. A film that is set between 1765 and 1793 with music from 1980 through 1985 and is postmodern enough to have the heart of the cinematic future beating beneath its ostentatious chest.

Finally, in the end, although we all know the outcome (and if you do not then read a book once and a while) we still feel a kind of sadness at this fall of Eden - a child's Eden at that. 

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 10/12/06] 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Battle Royale #4: Battle of the Horror Movie Giants

Welcome to the fourth Battle Royale here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.   It is an ongoing series that will pit two classic cinematic greats against each other - and you can vote for who is the greater by clicking your choice over in the poll at the top of the sidebar.

With our fourth edition of the popular Battle Royale, we are going to get a little scary.  I remember first seeing many of these two great actor's films on late night television.  Back when I was growing up - that would be the 1970's and early 1980's if you are keeping score at home - before there was constant 24/7 TV broadcasting, there was a thing called the late show.  These late shows, or sometimes, late late shows, were where I first saw such classic horror movies as Dracula and Frankenstein and The Black Cat and King Kong and The Wolf Man and The Creature From the Black Lagoon and many many more.  These films had stars such as Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Lon Chaney, Sr. and Jr. - not to mention Julie Adams in that white bathing suit in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.  But none of these great stars were a match for the two that are invariably numbers one and two on any self-respecting classic horror movie star list - Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Béla Ferenc Deszo Blascó was born in 1882 in the town of Lugos, in what then was called the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is now called Romania.  After changing his name to Bela Lugosi (taking his stage name from his hometown), the great actor became famous for portraying Bram Stoker's legendary Count Dracula on both stage and screen.  Meanwhile, William Henry Pratt, born in 1887 in London England, and going by the name of Boris Karloff, became equally as famous as Mary Shelley's creation, Frankenstein's Monster.  Always rivals (Lugosi was the first choice to play the monster in James Whale's film) but also always friendly and cordial to each other, Karloff and Lugosi were the kings of Universal Horror in the hey days of the 1930's.  When the horror craze began to wear down (it would speed back up again then in the 50's) it was Lugosi's career that would be damaged the most.  He would end said career with a series of films with the notoriously terrible director Ed Wood.  Meanwhile, Karloff's career (and the actor would not get typecast as badly as his rival, able to make some non-horror films as well) would pick back up again, albeit in the most b-picture manner, until one of his final roles as Byron Orlok, a not so thinly disguised version of himself, in Peter Bogdanovich's 1968 debut masterpiece Targets.

So you must ask yourself, is it Lugosi's creepy charm or Karloff's wicked charisma that gets your vote?  Do you go for the guy who was buried in one of his Dracula capes (at his son and widow's bequest, not his own as is commonly believed) or the man who gave voice to that mean one, Mr. Grinch?  The man who gave blood sucking its original debonair style (long before today's glittering fops turned such a thing into a running joke) or the man who bitch slaps a lone gunman into submission at the end of Targets?  The man who scared the bejeezus out of poor Lou Costello or the man that scared the bejeezus out of poor Lou...oh, yeah, they both did that.  Anyway, it is time to pick your favourite of the horror movie giants.  Karloff or Lugosi.  All you need do is go on over to the poll sitting up there at the top of the sidebar, and make your choice.  You can make as many comments as you wish on this post (and please do just that) but for your vote to count, you must vote in the poll in the sidebar.  You will have three weeks to get your vote in, at which time we will announce the scary victor of our fourth Battle Royale.  And also, if you have any ideas for future battles (preferably in the classic cinema mold), please let me know.  And let's try to get into the triple digits in voter turnout this time around.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My 650th Post + Other Things

With the clicking of the publish button on this post (which happened at 7:45 pm on this day, Thursday, August 8, 2012) I have become the proud owner/writer of 650 posts on this here site known as The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  Having posted my first rant on September 14, 2009, that comes to a new post every 1.6 days.  It's all about the numbers ya know.  Anyway, the true reason for this post, other than to boast about being a rather prolific babbler of cinematic ramblings, is to let you in on what is coming in the near future around these environs.

As far as new reviews coming, look for my takes on such recent and upcoming releases as A Burning Hot Summer, Beloved, The Intouchables, Ruby Sparks, Cosmopolis, The Campaign, Dark Horse, Farewell My Queen, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Bourne Legacy, The Expendables 2, Little White Lies, Lawless and Killer Joe.  Also look for pieces on a pair of silent films, Louis Feuillade's 1918 serial Tih Minh and Fritz Lang's 1924 double feature Die Nibelungen - both being written about for the Speechless Blogathon happening soon over at Eternity of Dream.

Some long lost regular features will also be popping up once again.  My 10 Favourite Things feature, once a monthly thing, but only seen once in the past year, will rear its head once more, with a look at Brian De Palma's Scarface.   Also making a return to regularity will be Retro Reviews, where I repost some of my "older" reviews that were originally published at the now mostly defunct Cinematheque.  Some up-and-comers in this series will be Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers and Kathryn Bigelow's Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker.

You may also see some pieces on what many would call guilty pleasure films (I though have no guilt toward such things).  They are from my Widescreen Wednesday screenings.  What are Widescreen Wednesdays you ask?  Well let me tell you.  It is what I have dubbed my Wednesday mornings/early afternoons.  Each week I watch a different widescreen film, CinemaScope or one of its ilk, up on the big screen of the Midtown Cinema - the arthouse cinema my lovely wife and I run together.  Sometimes it is something serious - a Kubrick, a De Palma, a Nick Ray - but more oft than not it is something quite silly.  Something along the lines of Forbidden Planet or The Vikings or The Girl Can't Help It or Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.  So don't be surprised if you find a piece on the utter silliness of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea sometime soon.

As for new features, I am going to start running a monthly piece called Recasting.  Last month I participated in a fun blogathon where we were asked to recast modern movies with classic stars and directors.  Going overboard as usual, I took Pulp Fiction and recast it in ten different classic Hollywood genres.  Well that was enough fun that I want to do it again.  The first of this series will be a racasting of Dazed and Confused into three different genres - a 1949 Vincente Minnelli Musical, a 1955 Anthony Mann Western, and a 1961 Billy Wilder Comedy.  Look for that one sometime around the end of August.

Well that is it for this round of cinematic ramblings.  Check me out for my next 650 posts, and beyond.  And also keep voting in my Battle Royale series, where I pit two (semi)related classic Hollywood stars or directors in so-called mortal combat.  The poll, a new one every three weeks or so, can be found at the top of the sidebar.  The newest one, the fourth in the ongoing series, will be up and running later today (or is already up in case you are reading this at a later date and/or time.  And keep checking out my updates on My Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films, as it comes to its close this Fall.  I will leave you with a shot from (appropriately enough) the 650th film watched on said quest's list.  And now, as Stan Lee would say, 'nuff said.

The Most Influential Directors

The following is my official entry in The Most Influential Directors Poll over at Michaël Parent's great movie blog Le Mot du Cinephiliaque.  We critics and cinephiles were asked to name the 10 directors we believe to be the most influential throughout film history as well as the film that best showcases said influence.  My choices for last year's poll (where I extended it to 25 due to my tendency to ramble on) can be viewed here.  As I am sure you will notice, I have made some changes to this new list.  

These changes come about not necessarily because these directors became more or less influential over the past year, but because (and I am stealing a line from Prince now) maybe I'm just like my mother, she's never satisfied.  Whatever the case, I have flip-flopped numbers one and two, changed a few others up and/or down, kicked three to the proverbial curb and replaced them with three that missed the cut last time around.  And please take note that this is not a list of my favourite directors, but of the ones I believe have had the biggest and most influence on film history and later directors.  Granted, there are several crossovers on these two lists, but I digress.  So, without further ado, here are my choices for the most influential directors of all-time.

1) Jean-Luc Godard - It is a common assumption amongst cinephiles that without Jean Luc Godard, modern cinema would, at least the better qualities of it, look a whole hell of a lot different than it currently does.  I believe this is more than just mere assumption, and instead falls firmly into the realm of direct fact.  Jason Kliot, of Open City Pictures and Blow Up Films, says, "Godard to modern film is what Picasso is to modern art—the ultimate daredevil and pioneer, the man who had no fear, the man willing to try anything in any genre and push it to its limits." Along with fellow New Wavers, Godard not only changed the way cinema was made, but also the way we looked at it.  Without Breathless, a groundbreaking work of the art, or films like Band of Outsiders, Contempt and Weekend, we may not have filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai, John Woo, Gregg Araki, Wes Anderson, Gaspar Noe, Catherine Breillat, Chantal Ackerman or Quentin Tarantino.  Just think about that baby.

2) Alfred Hitchcock - I had Hitch in the top spot when I did this list last year, but he has been taken out by Godard.  But this by no means should make one believe that the Master of Suspense has fallen from grace.  In fact, let's face it, this is pretty much a dead heat tie for the top spot really.  An influence on so many directors, from Spielberg to De Palma to Terry Gilliam, Hitchcock has defined what cinema has become lo these past sixty years or so.  I think Hitchcock's influence is more noticeable than Godard's, with more homages having been created to honour him, but I believe Godard's influence is more ingrained in the creation of cinema itself than Hitch's.  But still, without Hitch, we would not have had such great films like Jaws or Dressed to Kill or Play Misty For Me or Peeping Tom.

3) Orson Welles - Godard said that without Welles, none of us would be here.  Can't argue with that.  Always at odds with those in power - Citizen Kane is really the only Welles production that came out the way the director wanted it, without interference from the studio and/or money men - Welles probably had a lot more inside him, but being the cinematic genius that he was, it was always so hard to get things done.  But what he did get done - Kane, Ambersons, Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Trial, his Shakespeare work - is all beyond brilliant.

4) Akira Kurosawa - The man who made the samurai into a legendary hero that transgressed genres and nations and became the symbol of bravery and chivalry - even moreso than the knight of old - one need look no further than John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (a remake of Seven Samurai), Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (based on Yojimbo) or George Lucas’ Star Wars (inspired by Hidden Fortress) to give credit where credit is most certainly due.  The most legendary of Japanese filmmakers who was actually more revered in the west than he ever was in his native land.  Good for us then.

5) Billy Wilder - I don't think there is a comedy today, be it high brow (Woody Allen's Manhattan) or low brow (Bridesmaids) that does not owe something to Billy Wilder.  And this was a guy who could do drama and noir and action just as well as comedy.  Simply put, he was so great at so many things, and without him, what would people like Woody Allen or Whit Stillman look like?

6) D.W. Griffith - I suppose without Griffith there would not be cinema at all.  No, he did not invent it, but he did re-invent it and made it what it became.  I also suppose that with this argument, one could easily make a case for the old Victorian charmer to top this list.  I mean, without him, there would be no Welles, and therefore no Godard, and therefore no modern cinema.  Hmmmm?

7) Howard Hawks - The man that could take any genre, from noir to western to adventure to musical to sci-fi to thriller to the screwball comedy that he near invented if not at least perfected, and make it sing like nothing else before it.  The precursor to such modern day equivalents as Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater, Hawks was, and always will be, simply put...The Man.

8) John Ford - The great man Ford claimed that he was just a guy who made westerns, but this modesty aside, he not only made westerns (and other types of films as well by the way) he made the western what it became and still is today - influencing everyone from Anthony Mann to Sergio Leone to Sam Peckinpah to Clint Eastwood to Andrew Dominick.

9) Stanley Kubrick - Kubrick is actually my personal favourite director of all-time, and his greatest masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey is number two on my favourite films list, and I would guess that he sits pretty high up on those lists made by Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, the Brothers' Coen and Tarantino as well. 

10) John Cassavetes - Cassavetes' influence may be more on the improvisational style of acting in his films, than on his filmmaking techniques themselves.  Perhaps seeming to be too chaotic and and jumbled for mass audiences, nonetheless, the way Cassavetes and his stable of regulars would reach the deepest and darkest depths of human emotion is, save for perhaps Kazan, beyond reproach.

I could go on, but I will stop there.  To point out some other obvious runners-up though, one need only look at directors such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jean Renoir, Vincente Minnelli, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Luis Buñuel, Sergei Eisenstein, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray, George A. Romero, Francis Ford Coppola, Jacques Tourneur, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Jacques Tati, F.W. Murnau, Mario Bava, Stanley Donan, and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  Just to name a few.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Film Review: Total Recall

I must preface this review by stating that I am a big fan of the original 1990 Total Recall.  It is my favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger film (I know, not that stiff of competition), one of my favourite Paul Verhoeven works, it was on my best of the year list for that year, and is one of the better sci-fi films of the period.  With that said, my reaction to this remake, directed by Len Wiseman (director of the first two Underworld films, and producer on the third and fourth) and replacing the Governator with Colin Farrell, is a straight forward, meh.  It's not the worst thing I have seen lately, but it is a far cry from Verhoeven's sometimes under-appreciated version.

Based on Philip K. Dick's 1966 short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," Total Recall is the story of Douglas Quaid, a frustrated blue collar guy, who in his desire to escape the bland conformity of the totalitarianism that is his world, goes to Rekall, a place that promises virtual reality/fantasy vacations that will live forever in your memories.  Of course everything explodes when certain hidden memories inside of Quaid suddenly burst to the surface.  At this point, the film becomes a series of near non-stop chase and action sequences.  As far as such a thing goes, the action in this film is done rather well, playing somewhere between Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and the Bourne movies, and manages to give, even with a feeling of been there done that, a pretty fun ride throughout.  That is until the end, when, instead of repeating the ending of the 1990 film, or perhaps coming up with a different one all their own, the door slams shut on everything and we are left with what could be construed as the weakest of all options possible.

As far as the adaptation goes, neither Verhoeven's nor Wiseman's version are all that faithful of a rendition (the former, taking place mostly on Mars, being somewhat more in line with Dick's story), but this newer edition is definitely the least interesting of the two.  We get a few aside references to the 1990 version, one playing out as a red herring, another a three breasted blast from the past, but mostly it is a different tale for a different day.  Showing a future Earth devastated by warfare, and left uninhabitable, save for The United Federation of Britain and Australia, known here as The Colony, Farrell's reluctant hero must fight a corrupt government, led by Brian Cranston, and a veritable army of robots that seem to be stolen from George Lucas' intellectual property trash cans, to save what is left of the world.  We also get Jessica Biel as a fellow freedom fighter and Kate Beckinsale, who also happens to be the director's wife, taking over the original's Sharon Stone role, as Quaid's wife-cum-maniacal assassin (who incidentally survives more near deaths than either Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees) - each going kick-ass womano y womano on each other for the fate of Farrell's Quaid.  Now who wouldn't want these two fighting over you?  Too bad it is in such an unremarkable movie as this.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Battle Royale #3: Battle of the Tinsel Town Bitches (The Results)

Well it looks like we are the conclusion of yet another tightly contested Battle Royale here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  Dubbed the Battle of the Tinsel Town Bitches (all you feminists just calm down now), is our third edition of Battle Royale.  This time around, in our series pitting two Hollywood heavyweights against each other, you were asked to choose between lifelong archrivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.  And once again, just like in our first two editions, it was a veritable photo finish.  In our first edition, Battle of the Beautiful Swedes, Ingrid Bergman bested Great Garbo by just two votes.  In round two, Battle of the Hollywood Hoofers, Fred Astaire took down Gene Kelly by, you guessed it, two votes.  Well now we come to our third round, and guess what?  Well, if you guessed one beat the other by just two votes, you would be wrong.  No, this one was so photo finish that no winner could be determined.  With both Davis and Crawford receiving 20 votes apiece, we have logged in our very first tie game in Battle Royale history.

Personally my vote went to Miss Crawford, which means this is the closest my choice has come to winning yet.  Sorry Gene and Greta.  But alas, no one victor could be determined this time around, so we will have to call Bette and Joan equal Tinsel Town Bitches.  Neither one would be very happy at that outcome I am sure.  What I am not happy with was the low turnout at the so-called polls.  After 50 votes were cast in the Garbo/Bergman battle, and 66 in the Astaire/Kelly bout, just a mere 40 were cast this time around.  What's wrong, you don't want to be in on all the fun of pitting classic stars and directors against each other in bloodless combat?  Of course you do!  Which is why I just know we can get the voting numbers into the triple digits with round four.  And speaking of round four, the classic Hollywood participants of that round will be announced in just a few days.  I am sure this round will be both classic and scary indeed.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Film Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

"Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed."  This is the ad, originally appearing in a 1997 issue of Backwoods Homes Magazine, and brought to prominence when read by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, that became the inspiration for this little indie comedy directed by first timer Colin Trevorrow.  Starring Mublecore maestro Mark Duplass as Kenneth, the writer of said ad (in reality, the ad was written as a joke by the magazine's editor), Safety Not Guaranteed is not about whether this borderline nutjob actually can travel through time (though we do get an answer to whether he can or cannot during the final fifteen minute frenzy of the film) so much as why he wants to, and even moreso, why we end up wanting him to.

Trevorrow infuses his film with a calming northwestern feel (shot in and around Seattle and Ocean Shores WA) and gives it what he has called a "Hal Asby look", and just allows the story to unfold in the least pretentious manner.  And it is this story, and the performances within the story that make the film fly.  Duplass' Kenneth, who is paranoid about government agents following him, actually does get stalked by a Seattle Magazine reporter and his two interns, one of which, Darius, a twentysomething slacker played with a witty nonchalance by Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation, manages to infiltrate herself into Kenneth's life.  At first posing as someone who wants to go back in time with him, Darius slowly (or actually not so slowly) begins to not only believe that they can indeed go back, and wanting to, but also, of course falling for the off-kilter Kenneth.  We also get a few subplots, one involving Jake Johnson's magazine reporter hooking up with his high school sweetheart, and this same said reporter trying to get his naive, nerdy intern laid, but these never really go much of anywhere, and only work to distract us from the main plot of Kenneth and Darius and their attempt at traveling through time.

The quirky, but not too quirky screenplay aside (and we all know how indie cinema likes to over do everything and outquirk each other), the film's heart and soul, so to speak, comes from Duplass and Plaza, and their strange interactions.  Plaza, playing her usual pretty little slacker routine (which is not a dig, as I think she does a good job at such a routine) is at first a bewildered Gen Y nowhere girl, gliding through life with no seeming ambition, and no seeming way to achieve any.  But through Duplass's lovable lunatic Kenneth, and the idea of time traveling, i.e. escaping her lost and lonely life, Plaza's Darius grows past this slacker mentality into something greater, and perhaps something more hopeful as well.  And as for Duplass, his portrayal of a man who may or may not be completely insane, is one of the most subtly charming performances of the cinematic year, and it is through him that the film succeeds as well as it does.  Half little boy lost and half determined mad scientist, Duplass gives the part his own weird sense of frat-slack style.  And by the time the finale finally comes along (and it is not that long to wait as the film clocks in at a mere 86 minutes), we are all invariably rooting for his time machine to actually work.  Whether it does or whether he is just a lovable crankcase with a flair for the dramatic, I will not divulge here, but we are certainly rooting for him to pull it off.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Walking Central Park and Singing After Dark: New York in Genres

Hey gang (he said in his best Mickey Rooney impersonation) there is some stuff going on over at the film site known as Eternity of Dream.  It is a recurring series (as opposed to all those series' that do not recur?) that takes a city and asks we fine folks across the intrawebs to pick a film that represents said city.  The catch is that there is only one per genre.  One action film.  One musical.  One horror movie.  One doc, one silent, one short, one animated.....well, you get the picture.  Anyway, the object is that we each write up a little bit of something on the film(s) that we have chosen and/or been assigned and they are compiled into one master post.  The first of these was set in Paris.  I did not know about this one until it was too late.  Otherwise I would have jumped at contributing something Breathless or Rififi or some such film.  But the second one, set in New York, I did catch in time, and in doing so, I have been able to contribute three entries into the whole shebang.  My choices were for the genres of silent film, short film and experimental film.  If you want to know which films I chose, and read my thoughts on said films, then you will have to head on over and check that out.  And no, the picture below has nothing to do with any of my choices.  It's just another fun film about NYC.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

An Award or Two

Apparently there is this thing that has been bobbling around the web lo these past few years.  It is called the Liebster Award.  What it is or where it came from is anybody's guess, but what is known is that it is a cyber bobble handed out to we web-based writers by our peers.  I was awarded one last year by Natalie over at In the Mood.  Back then the only "rule" was to pass said award on to 5 fellow web denizens you deem worthy.  Well now the ante has been upped.  Upon winning this award, one must divulge eleven things about themselves, answer eleven questions posed by the awarder, create eleven new questions of one's own for passing along, and name eleven fellow bloggers as new recipients of the Liebster Award.  Well, ain't that a lot of shit.  Oh well,  I have nothing better to do with my afternoon, so I suppose I can squeeze all this in.  

Oh, did I mention that I was awarded this prize not once, but twice this past week - and while on holiday at the beach (which is why I am just getting around to things now).  First Dan over at Public Transportation Snob handed it to me (cyberly of course) on Friday, and then on Sunday, as I frolicked in the surf, the mysterious Movie Waffler sent it my way.  Yeah, so this means I need to do 22 of everything?  Probably not.  It would probably be more efficient to combine these two awarded forces.  I will go ahead and reveal eleven things about myself and follow that up with answering all 22 questions posed to me (that's only fair after all), and then pass the award on to eleven fellow webheads, with eleven questions for them to in turn answer.  Otherwise we are going to be here all day.  And as for being deserving of such accolades - I do not think any of us are considering these to be in the realm of the Oscars or some such semi-equivalent award, and therefore no heads need be swelled.  Well, swelled any more than they may already be.  Basically it is just a way to get us to talk about ourselves, and I am always up for that.  Did I mention the head-swelling thing?  Anyway, here goes. And please remember, when paying it forward, no tag backs.

11 (non movie related believe it or not) things about yours truly:

1. I have had over a hundred works of poetry published on three different continents.
2. My wife and I were married four weeks after we met.  We are still together 14½ years later.
3. I proudly wear my Yankee pinstripes.
4. My favourite food groups are meat and chocolate.
5. I grew up in an amusement park. That is not a metaphor. It was an actual amusement park.
6. My favourite comic book character has always been Magneto.
7. I collect Pez dispensers. I currently own 2,184 of the little buggers.
8. My favourite colour is plaid.  That's right, plaid.
9. I failed skipping in kindergarten.  I have since learned how to skip.
10. My biggest pet peeve is when someone calls a gorilla or chimpanzee a monkey.
11. As this is probably proof of, I love making lists.

22 Questions, and my answers to them:

1. What is the best movie of 2012 so far?  Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse.
2. What is the worst movie so far?  The Raven and Man on a Ledge are neck and neck.
3. What is your favorite band or artist?  Give me Sinatra and Dino any day.
4. What is your opinion on singing karaoke?  I'm a fool, so count me in.
5. Spike Lee: Overrated or underrated?  I use to believe underrated, but these days I'm thinking overrated.
6. Although he won't admit it, does Tommy Wiseau realize that The Room is terrible?  Never seen it.
7. Beyond movies, what is your area of expertize for a trivia team?  I am a Renaissance man of trivia.
8. What's your favorite brand of cereal?  Cap'n Crunch Crunch Berries of course.
9. Is The Tree of Life brilliant, a self-indulgent mess, or somewhere in between?  Gonna go with brilliant.
10. Are you excited about the Olympics? If so, which competitions?  Hello, Olympic junky here.
11. What is the last movie you watched?  Laurence Olivier's Henry V.
12. Which city and country do you live in?  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA.
13. If I should watch one movie I have not seen, what should it be?  The director's cut of Greed.
14. What's the best comment left on your site? A penis enhancement spam message.
15. And the worst? A penis enhancement spam message.
16. Of all the posts you've written, which are you most proud of?  All of them.  None of them.
17. What inspired you to be a blogger?  I am not a blogger.  I am a film historian and critic.
18. Do you write in your native language?  Oui.
19. How often do you visit the cinema?  I see on average about 125 films in theaters each year.
20. If someone is talking in a cinema, do you call them out on it?  I bitchslap them like they deserve.
21. When it comes to new movies, have we ever had it so bad?  They don't make 'em like they used to.
22. Is 3D here to stay?  Sadly, yes.

11 worthy successors, aka, the pay it forward gang (in no particular order):

In the Mood
Frankly, My Dear
Film Forager
Krell Laboratories
Le Mot du Cinephiliaque
A Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies
Eternity and a Dream
Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear
Wonders in the Dark
Martin Teller's Movie Reviews

11 Questions for 11 award recipients:

1. What is your favourite film of all time?
2. What was the first film you saw in a theater?
3. What is your opinion on the Oscars?
4. On average, how many movies do you watch per year?
5. What is your favourite decade in cinema?
6. If you could switch places with any movie character, who would it be?
7. What is your favourite guilty pleasure movie?
8. Audrey Hepburn - worthy of her hype?
9. How long have you been writing about movies?
10. Who is your most hated movie character?
11. What is your favourite movie musical number?

Well there you go faithful readers and true believers.  These proceedings are now at an end.  'nuff said.