Archive for the 'Film' Category

All trekked out

November 18, 2008

The trailer is out for the new “Star Trek” movie, and it looks like we’re going to get a “beginnings” type look at the original Capt. Kirk crew. Sorry, “Next Generation” stars. And, hey, fans of “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager,” you really got screwed. (What, no big-screen version of Seven of Nine? Unthinkable.) On the other hand, Kirk apparently gets it on with Uhura, which we all knew was happening anyway, right? I must  either be beyond my geekydom (live long and prosper!) or just in a bad mood, because I watched the trailer and it didn’t do much for me.



November 11, 2008

Holy cow:

 YouTube is by far the world’s biggest stage for online video. But in some ways Hulu is stealing the show.

With critical plaudits and advertising dollars flowing to Hulu, the popular online hub for television shows and feature films, YouTube finds itself in the unanticipated position of playing catch-up.

On Monday, YouTube will move forward a little, announcing an agreement to show some full-length television shows and films from MGM, the financially troubled 84-year-old film studio.

With YouTube, Hulu and Fancast (and who knows what site just around the corner), just give me my laptop and park me anywhere.

Humbert’s little helper

October 20, 2008

Another pervert bites the dust:

A former swim coach who admitted using hidden cameras to videotape girls in their locker rooms was sentenced today to more than 33 years in federal prison on child pornography charges.

[. . .]

Hindson hid videocameras in the locker rooms at Kokomo High School and Memorial Gym and secretly taped team members while they undressed over a 10-year period, court records said.

Authorities began investigating Hindson after a North Carolina woman bought an Apple iMac from him and found a video on the computer showing a nude teenage girl dressing in a locker room. Other files containing images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct also were found during a search of Hindson’s home, court documents said.

Thank goodness “technically savvy” isn’t the same as “criminally brilliant.”

Oh, and this is the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Lolita” in America, speaking of pathetic wretches. “. . .her sobs in the night — every night — the moment I feigned sleep.”

Terminat hora diem; terminat auctor opus.

New life for Brian

September 25, 2008

The planet has just gained a little in its supply of common sense:

There was a huge controversy when the silly burghers of Torbay in Devon slapped an X-rating on the Life Of Brian movie.

They accused the Python team of blasphemy and mocking the story of Christ.

But a local film festival asked for permission to show the 1979 classic on Sunday and officials in Torbay — the setting for John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers — lifted the restriction.

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that “Brian” contains one of the greatest lines in all of cinema. Brian (to multitude): “You’re all different!” Multitude (as one): “We’re all different!” Lone voice in crowd: “I’m not!”

Hang in there, Abe

September 24, 2008

I confess to being one of the ones surprised to find out he isn’t dead:

Abe Vigoda found out he was dead in 1982. He was doing a play in Calgary, Alberta, while a People magazine writer visited the “Barney Miller” wrap party in Los Angeles, California.

“Somehow it mentioned in the article that ‘the late Abe Vigoda’ was not [there],” Vigoda recalls.

The error was corrected, but the damage had been done. Vigoda’s “Barney Miller” character — the decrepit, downcast Det. Phil Fish — didn’t help the image. Never mind that the real Vigoda was a vigorous man just turning 60 at the time; the question of whether he’s shuffled off this mortal coil has followed him around ever since. There’s even a Web site devoted to his life-or-death status.

But Vigoda takes the attention with good humor (and occasional appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien“). Now 87, he can look back on a successful career with at least two immortal characters: Fish and the “Godfather” lieutenant, Sal Tessio.

I liked “Barney Miller” a lot. It took its humor seriously and didn’t often have “very special episodes,” if you know what I mean. It’s not on Fancast yet, but maybe soon.

Speaking of “The Godfather,” CBS News had one of its “ask the candidates” segments last night, and Barack Obama listed it as his favorite movie. He also mentioned “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Casablanca.” John McCain named “Viva Zapata!” Let’s see, that’s two movies about war, one about a revolution and one about an organized-crime family. Interesting, huh?

Here we are now, entertain us

August 1, 2008

“American Teen,” the documentary that follows five Warsaw High School students through their senior year, is getting terrific reviews everywhere, including this writeup in the Washington Post:

Producer-director Burstein has created a sort of Facebook-vérité that shows the vulnerability behind those stickers. No surprise, these students are infinitely more complex than their one-dimensional labels would suggest. And watching the young Midwesterners — a nerd, a jock, a princess, a free spirit and a heartthrob — as they grapple with their socially assigned roles, we are transported into philosophical reveries about our own experiences, no matter how far away from Indiana those experiences may have been.

[. . .]

We are our cliches, this movie is telling us, and yet we are not. The choices we make, whether in high school or later years, amount to how much we stick to, or depart from, those reductive templates. We either grow or we don’t.

One knock about the distributors of the movie is that they’re trying to market it in a way that disguises the fact that it’s a documentary, including an ad campaign that has the movies’ real five characters posing just like the five teens in “The Breakfast Club.” Documentaries don’t make nearly the money that “real” movies do, and so what if a few people go in thinking they’re getting something they’re not.

One thumb down

July 23, 2008

The show that began as “Siskel & Ebert,” then became “Ebert & Roeper” after Siskel died, is finally disappearing after limping along without the ailing Ebert for a couple of years:

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert says he’s cutting ties with the television show that he and the late Gene Siskel made famous.

[. . .]

Ebert’s announcement came a day after Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper said he was leaving the nationally syndicated show.

Roeper said in a statement Sunday that he had failed to agree on a contract extension with Disney-ABC Domestic Television so his last appearance on the show will air the weekend of August 16-17.

Sounds like it got a little ugly there at the end; too bad. I was a tremendous fan of the original incarnation of the show. It was a kick to watch two heartland guys become the most famous movie critics in the country, because they got such a kick out of arguing with each other over something they both loved. They managed to sound knowledgeable and passionate without coming across as pompous (or snobbish, Nance). I’ve always liked movies. Those two made me love them.

And they taught me something else, too, about how to disagree without being disagreeable, how to argue without being argumentative. I was just beginning as an editorial writer when I started watchting them, and they were more like my mentors than my mentors were. If only all who make a living dispensing opinions could be as cheerfully productive.

UPDATE: Commentary from the Los Angeles Times, which also includes a couple of clips from the Siskel & Ebert days.


July 21, 2008

Well, we’ll all sleep better now, won’t we?

A federal appeals court on Monday threw out a $550,000 indecency fine against CBS Corp. for the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show that ended with Janet Jackson’s breast-baring “wardrobe malfunction.”

The three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Federal Communications Commission “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in issuing the fine for the fleeting image of nudity.

The 90 million people watching the Super Bowl, many of them children, heard Justin Timberlake sing, “Gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” as he reached for Jackson’s bustier.

The court found that the FCC deviated from its nearly 30-year practice of fining indecent broadcast programming only when it was so “pepervasive as to amount to ‘shock treatment’ for the audience.”

Next, we’ll have more arguments and the continuing and expensive litigation over whether unscripted expletives (like Bono’s “F” word) should be fined.  Isn’t it time to just dissolve the FCC? The only excuse for its existence — allocation of limited spaces on the electromagnetic spectrum — has beeen eliminated.

Dark Knights and strange days

July 21, 2008

A few years ago, I thought we might be headed for a cultural bottoming out when I read that Steven Speilberg really doesn’t read — all his movies were inspired by other movies. (I haven’t been able to find the quote since, so maybe I dreamed it, or maybe it was George Lucas). I think the bottom is either here or very close. The top two opening weekends in movie history, and three of the top five, now belong to films inspired by comic books. (And one of the others is based on a theme ride.)

The critics are ecstatic, of course:

The Dark Knight” is not a simplistic tale of good and evil. Batman is good, yes, The Joker is evil, yes. But Batman poses a more complex puzzle than usual: The citizens of Gotham City are in an uproar, calling him a vigilante and blaming him for the deaths of policemen and others. And the Joker is more than a villain. He’s a Mephistopheles whose actions are fiendishly designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies.

Batman is good, but complex. The Joker is more than a villain. That such an analysis would be made in all seriousness says something important about the United States, but I’m not sure what — it’s been years since I read comics, after all. Maybe we’d better brush up. With Obama in the Middle East and foreign policy questions now ascendant in the presidential contest, we will need as sophisticated an understanding of good and evil as possible.

TODAY’S BONUS: Figuring out the No. 1 movie of all time can be tricky, because what the industry counts — gross revenue — is subject to inflation and other factors. If you go by number of tickets sold and try to adjust for inflation, what’s the top hit in American history? Hint: It’s been seen by far people more on TV than it even was in the movie theaters.

The end

July 11, 2008

The 20 best movie endings of all time (and if you click on the titles, you can actually watch the endings). If we’re talking emotionally satisfying, I’ll go with “Casablanca.” If we’re talking, “Omigod!” heart-stopping, it’s gotta be “Carrie.”

Just a cigar

June 18, 2008

(SPOILER alert)

I haven’t seen “The Happening” yet, so I want to be careful not to seem to be praising it (with Shyamalan, it can go either way). But I’ve been a little annoyed at some of the criticism of the movie, especially from my part of the political spectrum. It’s lousy science, kind of “The Day After Tomorrow” on steroids, the critics say, putting environmental concerns above human beings. One even said something like “it’s the most morally reprehensible movie ever made.” (Whew!) Reason’s Hit&Run has the right answer to all this hot air, in a post headed “It’s About Zombies, Dummy, Not Global Warming”:

The talking head scene at the end of the movie, in which an environmental expert explains the event as nature’s way of defending itself and warns that the event was only a “prelude” to a more catastrophic attack, reinforces the critical sentiment that The Happening is a really, really, bad environmental movie.

But there are some aspects of the plot that suggest the environmental aspects are only a means for scaring us for the sake of scaring us, and not a strategy for raising environmental awareness.

I submit as evidence one of the movie’s more explicit ironies: The few characters in the movie who are modeled after green freaks die horrible deaths. The greenhouse owner, who is the first character to suggest that it’s not terrorists releasing the toxin, but plants, shoots himself, as does his equally earth-friendly wife. And the old lady who lives off the grid, grows her own crops, and doesn’t own a car, ends up being bat-shit insane, killing herself by repeatedly headbutting the side of her earth-friendly house.

If a movie claims to be science fiction, I expect it to be at least partly an extrapolation from what is known to what is possible. But I don’t expect solid science from fantasy/horror/monster/disaster movies. I’m gonna pan “Night of the Living dead” because there’s no such thing as re-animating corpses? “King Kong” is bad because there are really no giant apes? I just want to be scared and/or entertained. The people who made “The Day After Tomorrow,” I suspect, did have pretensions of saying something “serious,” and the science was lousy. But in the end, it was just a disaster movie, and it can be judged on that basis — it was a lousy disaster movie. It may in fact have been the most poorly constructed disaster movie I’ve ever seen. All the exciting stuff — the “That blowed up real good” scenes– came in the first 45 minutes. The rest was just a long, boring slog through ice and snow.

Hot stuff

June 5, 2008

Another reason to like Angelina Jolie:

If anybody comes into my home and tries to hurt my kids, I’ve no problem shooting them.” That’s Angelina Jolie, revealing her up-with-the-Second-Amendment maternal instincts to Britain’s Mail on Sunday.

[. . .]

Says the goodwill-promoting earth mother, “There’s a side to me that people know is humanitarian, and there’s a side to me that’s a mommy. But there’s also the side that likes to get down and dirty and run and jump around and fire guns.”

And you thought she was just being a good actress in Tomb Raider. If I needed someone to watch my back, I’d probably take her over Brad Pitt.

What a croc

June 2, 2008

Wow. “Sex and the City” has knocked “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” off its No. 1 spot. Has anybody, I wonder, considered what a blockbuster it would be if those two movies could somehow be combined? It would be a guy’s picture and a chick flick.

Let’s see. We could have Indy go to the big city after one of his jungle adventures, establishing one of those fish-out-of-water plots. He could hook up with one of the Sex-and women, impressing her with his survival skills while she tames him with civilizing touches. There could be a scene where a mugger comes up to them with a knife, and Indy says, “You call that a knife?”

Oh, wait.

Shine a light

May 28, 2008

I continue my impressive record of seeing buzzworthy movies on cable months after everyone else has stopped even talking about them. This gives me the advantage of being able to read a lot of informed comment immediately after seeing the movie, to see if there’s anything I missed. And there’s little need to worry about issuing a SPOILER alert for anything I might write. 

My most recent viewing experience was “No Country For Old Men,” which my sister and I watched on Saturday. And it doesn’t look like I missed much. The last 20 or 30 percent of the movie lost steam and meandered disappointingly, and the ending was abrupt and unsatisfactory. And what do I read in dozens of blogs and online reviews? The last 20 to 30 percent of the movie meandered, and the ending was abrupt.

But the Coen brothers are Hitchcockian in their attention to detail, so we can probably assume they MEANT for the last 20 to 30 percent of the movie to meander and for the ending to be abrupt. When you think of those elements that way, they start to make sense.

Think about the title. Put that with Tommy Lee Jones’ opening voiceover about how violence has gotten worse and his last remark to his wife about the dream of his father riding on ahead to light a fire in the cold and dark (“And then I woke up”). And put that all together with the scene involving the wheelchair-bound uncle in which the sheriff is told “you can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” The movie is saying that evil is eternal and relentless and random in whom it strikes (as capricious as, oh, a coin toss). Even if it wanders off with a broken arm, evil will be back. Each generation comes along and thinks it can make a difference but gradually (meanderingly) gives up the fight. We finally (abruptly) realize we haven’t been handed the torch we thought we had been.

It’s tempting to see this as a cuationary tale — that if good doesn’t stay focused, evil will win. But the Coen brothers aren’t sunny optimists, and these are cynical times. I suspect the movie pretty much represents their world view.

Ifeel that cynical sometimes, but it’s hard to get through life with that as a permanent attitude. Evil doesn’t have to do anything but be evil — it has the much easier job. Good has to concentrate on fighting evil AND doing something meaningful with the time and space, however temporary and limited, wrested from evil’s grasp. That’s the much harder job. If we don’t stay focused, each generation lighting the path for the next one, there’s no hope for a sane and moral universe.

Anyway, a great movie, and for now, I will see it as a cautionary tale, even if that’s not what was intended.

Next: Come back early next year for my take on “Sex and the City” and the new Indiana Jones movie!

Mighty stupid

April 24, 2008

Don’t you wish you had cool actor buddies like Woody and Denzel who would write character letters for you if you did something stupid like listen to a “tax avoidance” scheme?

Actors Denzel Washington and Woody Harrelson have written character reference letters to the federal judge who is set tomorrow to sentence their pal Wesley Snipes on federal tax charges.

[. . .]

For his part, Washington compares his friend to “a tree–a mighty oak.”

OK, what comes from oak trees? That’s right, acorns. And what are acorns? Class, anyone?

The new terrorism

April 14, 2008

What a nifty new concept — ninja buddhists! I can see the TV series now, perhaps starring Jet Li or Jackie Chan, and, of course, Steven Segall and David Carradine have to be technical consultants:

State media, meanwhile, labeled a group linked to the Dalai Lama’s India-based government-in-exile a “terrorist organization” — building on claims that recent anti-Chinese protests were part of a violent campaign to overthrow Chinese rule and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August.

The Tibetan Youth Congress said China’s communist leadership had long sought to destroy its effectiveness by smearing its reputation.

[. . .]

China has accused supporters of the Dalai Lama — whom it calls the “Dalai clique” — of orchestrating the violence within its borders.

The Dalai clique? Come on, that’s just a euphemism for ‘gang,” right? It has become accepted wisdom in the “war or terror” that the Muslim militants are outmaneuvering the West in the PR department, brilliantly playing the press. Thank goodness China is still so ineptly heavyhanded when it comes to manipulating the media.

This interesting Wall Street Journal article hints at why China is trying so hard to discredit the Tibetan Youth Congress. Most TYC members are devout Buddhists who still revere the Dalai Lama as a religious symbol. But they’re becoming impatient with his wish to remain part of China and his low-key tactcs. If the Chinese repression continues, the TYC leader says, “we can’t guarantee our struggle will be nonviolent forever.” A threat to fight back is the new terrorism.


April 9, 2008

I finally caught “The Illusionist” on cable, and I was very disappointed in it, for the same reason I was disappointed in “The Sixth Sense.” The only reason for each to exist is the stunning shocker of an ending — in the one case, finding out somebody is dead you thought was alive, and in the other, finding out someone you thought was dead is really alive. If you know the ending or suspect it, it pretty much spoils the movie for you.

And I knew both endings from the opening of the movies, so I spent the whole time studying scenes to see if I was right instead of just enjoying the unfolding of the stories. That’s not because I’m all that good at anticipation. But each movie had such a buzz going around about it that if you only half listenend and thought about it for more than a minute, you had to know what was coming. I mean, how many times did they play that trailer on TV of the kid saying, “I see dead people”? Duh.

So do me a favor the next time a “Psycho” comes along. Just tell me it’s a nice, suspensful movie, but otherwise, shut up.

Charlton Heston

April 7, 2008

Much has been written in the past couple of days about Charlton Heston’s acting career and politics. This pretty much sums up both of them:

Writing in The New York Times nearly 30 years afterward, when the film was re-released for a brief run, Vincent Canby called it “a gaudy, grandiloquent Hollywood classic” and suggested there was more than a touch of “the rugged American frontiersman of myth” in Mr. Heston’s Moses.

The same quality made Mr. Heston an effective spokesman, off-screen, for the causes he believed in. Late in life he became a staunch opponent of gun control. Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, he proved to be a powerful campaigner against what he saw as the government’s attempt to infringe on a Constitutional guarantee — the right to bear arms.

The only thing I have to add to the discussion is to recommend 1967’s “Will Penny,” my favorite Heston flm, which seems to have gotten overlooked in most of the retropsectives. It’s a sad story of an aging cowbody whom time is passing by, who has one last chance at happiness and can’t quite figure out how to latch on to it. It’s one of the most poignant tales of missued opportunities I remember seeing. I hapened to see it in Tokyo, in English but with Japanese subtititles. Everytime there was a funny line in the movie — more often than you might think — I would laugh, and, a beat or two later, the rest of the audience would laugh. That tends to make a movie stick in your mind.

No show for old men

February 26, 2008

Well, good:

The Oscars are a ratings dud. Nielsen Media Research says preliminary ratings for the 80th annual Academy Awards telecast are 14 percent lower than the least-watched ceremony ever.

I was a part of the vast majority that didn’t tune in. If I want to see shallow, self-satisfied people congratulating themselves, I’ll just go to the next Hoosier State Press Association awards banquet. You know what might have made a good show? If the writers strike had continued and they put the Oscars on anyway, with the presenters and hosts just saying normal things instead of scripted “wit.”

Did the kid do it?

February 15, 2008

Reason links to a fascinating back-and-forth on “12 Angry Men,” the wonderful movie set entirely in a jury room. Was the kid actually guilty, gotten off by Henry Fonda’s self-rightously liberal architect character? Or was the movie deliberately unclear on whether the kid actually did it as a way to show the difference between “guilty” and “beyond a reasonable doubt”? I tend toward the latter. That movie, by the way, shows why Henry Fonda was probably the best American actor ever. One of the cable channels (Showtime, I think), did a remake starring Jack Lemon and for one of the showings aired both of them back to back. Lemon did not look very good by comparison. Fonda was just there, effortlessly blending in with the story. In every scene, you could see the “acting” in Lemon’s work in a way you couldn’t in Fonda’s.


February 14, 2008

Don’t you hate reviewers who won’t just come out and say what they mean?

Well, it had to happen. Madonna has been a terrible actor in many, many films and now – fiercely aspirational as ever – she has graduated to being a terrible director. She has made a movie so incredibly bad that Berlin festivalgoers were staggering around yesterday in a state of clinical shock, deathly pale and mewing like maltreated kittens.

She also wrote the script, which is “a nightmare of crass and fatuous stereotypes: south Asians, Jews, gays – no one escapes her lack of insight or common sense.” I don’t know — it sounds like one of those “so awful it’s actually good” experiences. 

First in line

November 12, 2007

What movie line have we quoted most in our everyday lives? No, not “Beam Me Up, Scotty,” which is third, or “Do you Feel Lucky, Punk?” which is eighth, and both of which are actually misquotes. Not even my favorite, “You talkin’ to me?” — which was is sixth.

Hint: It’s a variation of What Gen. MacArthur said when he left the Philippines.

A little T&A with that Happy Meal?

October 8, 2007

At an unmanned Redbox kiosk, you can pay your money and get a movie from the vending machine, even an R-rated one. The kiosks are at a lot of areas with high kid traffic, like McDonald’s. So the fight is on:

Having received no response, Conklin is now preparing to seek a state injunction to remove the mature movies from McDonald’s.

“I’m not the moral right, but if you’re marketing Happy Meals, and you’re entertaining kids, then this isn’t the place to be renting these types of movies,” said Conklin. “Our intention is that, if this is going to be for the general public, then we are asking them to have G-rated films only.”

Redbox VP of marketing Gary Lancina said, “Redbox is intended for use by customers age 18 years and older. We feel the appropriate measures are in place to allow parents and families to make educated choices regarding age-appropriate entertainment options when using Redbox kiosks.”

There are plenty of ways for kids to get “age inappropriate” moves, such as downloading them on the computer or just watching them on cable TV. It’s probably easier to do than finding drugs for sale near a high school. So is this a pontless battle? Ot does it matter to still try to draw a line somewhere?


September 24, 2007


He’ll be on sick leave, probably

August 30, 2007

We can be ghouls:

The report that Owen Wilson, the 38-year-old comic actor known for his easygoing demeanor, had attempted suicide was shocking and sobering for both fans and the industry. And it left many people wondering how this sensitive situation will affect the in-demand actor’s workload.

How it will affect his workload? He tried to kill himself.

The ghoul of legend fed on human flesh, specializing in robbing graveyards of corpses.