Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Dennis Hopper's Star, and Walk of Fame Insanity

A touching moment came last week when Dennis Hopper was awarded his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hopper, looking near death, suffering from terminal cancer, was finally given his spot along the most recognizable sidewalk in America. So let me get this straight… Dennis Hopper, one of the pioneers of the 70s film movement that revolutionized the way cinema was done, star of such classic films like Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, Rumble Fish, and True Grit, is just now getting a star on the Walk? So, before you could see this iconic screen legend’s star along the sidewalk, you could pull out a map and locate stars with names like John Stamos, Randy Quaid, Drew Carey… Stop the insanity.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Walk of Fame Committee is responsible for nominating and electing members to get a star, and I wish someone would explain to me their reasoning behind some of their choices. I scanned over the quite extensive list of celebrities and Hollywood businessmen and women who have stars in their name, and some of the entries were bewildering, almost as much as the omissions.

Walk along this sidewalk at any certain place and you might find a star belonging to iconic small-screen legend… Tim Allen. Walk a bit further, and you might run into stuffy Brit actor who has never really been good in anything, whose Bond films were the cause of the recent franchise re-boot, Pierce Brosnon. There must have been a brother discount day from time to time, because you will run into Randy Quaid and Beau Bridges along the way. Perhaps they are in the “lesser talented siblings” section of the sidewalk, alongside Frank Stallone, Eric Roberts, and Daniel Baldwin.

And, oh look! There is Wesley Snipes. I would keep an eye on that star, it might disappear and turn up as payment to the IRS. And there is Drew Carey, you know, the guy on that un-funny sitcom that is making The Price is Right more and more awkward as we speak. And… wait a second… is that… it can’t be. Uncle Jessie himself, John Stamos, has a fucking star!?! I’m surprised Stamos doesn’t have a star as well for his musical accomplishments with Jessie and the Rippers. And look, there is Ryan Seacrest.

Ryan. Seacrest.

A month ago, I could find these marginally popular celebrities’ names along the sidewalk in Southern California. But I could not locate Dennis Hopper’s name. And today, if I want to know where Sidney Lumet – legendary director of Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict – had a star, I wouldn’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist. Neither does Gene Hackman, Warren Beatty, and Lawrence of Arabia himself, Peter O’Toole. These are legends, each in their own way, and I find it astounding that these names are not on this Walk of Fame.

Oh, but you can find Ryan Seacrest.

It seems like the Committee overlooked Hopper, and when the news announced that he had only a few months to live they scrambled to get him on there. Maybe if Gene Hackman gets a brain tumor he can get a star, or if Sidney Lumet’s massive face mole turns out to be cancerous he can get a spot. And maybe they can put his star next to Seacrest, so people can stand on his name while they snap a photo of Seacrest’s immortality.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TUESDAY TOP 10: Films Best Fools...

April Fool’s Day is near, so what better time would there be to look at some of the biggest fools of film? Some of these comedic geniuses work better alone, and some are nothing without their partner(s). And some duos can fly solo, but are perhaps always considered as a pair… Well, you get the picture:

10) Chevy Chase – Say what you will about The Chevy Chase Show, or about Vegas Vacation, or about his overall reputation in recent years as being a jerk, in his day Chevy Chase was the very definition of subtle brilliance. He could be smooth and be a buffoon seamlessly in the same scene. His devil-may-care attitude was spot on in Caddyshack, and his physical comedy was right at home in the Vacation movies – well, the first three Vacation movies anyway. Fortunately Chase seems to be going through a career renaissance of late, though I can’t imagine him ever being as hysterical with such ease.

9) Will Ferrell – Though he still seems young in this business, Ferrell has been making movies for over a decade now. Sure, he hasn’t had a truly funny movie in a few years now, but in the middle of the last decade Ferrell dropped a one-two-three punch of Elf, Talladega Nights, and Anchorman. Aside from these three comedic gems, Ferrell has found his way into dozens of other films, sometimes in hilarious cameos (Wedding Crashers), other time in semi-dramatic roles (Stranger Than Fiction). Ferrell also mixes the physicality with a delivery of confusion, bewilderment, and general idiocy. His movies are perhaps the most quotable too. Think about it, I am sure you’re running through some Anchorman quotes in your head right now.

8) Eddie Murphy – I considered leaving Murphy off the list altogether because of his reputation for being a real asshole, not to mention his recent string of blockbusters like Meet Dave, Norbit, Imagine That, and Pluto Nash. Alas, I could not look past Murphy’s early career. His two stand-up films, Raw and Delirious, are two of the best of the genre, and Beverly Hills Cop is still one of the best action comedies ever made. The second best might be 48 Hrs., also with Murphy. His run of awful movies is epic these days, but that is still not enough to deny him a place here.

7) Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor – Standing alone, these two comedians had their fair share of comedic gold, but as a duo Wilder and Pryor gave the world Stir Crazy, a riotously funny movie. Wilder is brilliant in Mel Brooks’ two finest films, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, and Richard Pryor’s was a pioneer in the world of stand up. But when these two would get together on screen in movies like Stir Crazy and the much underrated, crass, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, their chemistry was undeniable.

6) Jim Carrey – Carrey the Canadian Comedian took physical comedy and facial expressions into unseen territory in the early nineties. After bursting onto the scene with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, showing off a face that seemed to be molded out of pliable rubber, Carrey starred opposite Jeff Daniels in one of the most enduring buddy comedies ever, Dumb and Dumber. The movie, beyond idiotic, still holds up, and is still one of the most quotable comedies in history. Carrey has been hit or miss at times, but when he hits the affect is brilliant. He has also managed to venture into some thinking comedies like The Truman Show… we wont go into his dramatic roles (The Number 23).

5) Steve Martin – The Jerk is the very definition of 70s comedy. It is crude, it is offensive, it is completely idiotic, and it is still quite hilarious. Martin mastered a sort of uncontrollable chaos within his body to do his physical comedy, and his unique look and delivery set him apart from others at the time. Martin has shown range within the genre as well, playing the straight man to John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, playing the goober in The Jerk and The Man with Two Brains, and playing a paternal everyman in comedies like Father of the Bride and the vastly underrated Parenthood. Martin’s scene as Cowboy Gil for his son’s birthday party in Parenthood is still one of my favorite scenes in a comedy.

4) Robin Williams – I often wonder if anyone was ever surprised to discover that Robin Williams has a cocaine addiction. Williams is the human embodiment of cocaine in his comedy, a nutty, manic, insane stream-of-consciousness comedian who is so out of control at times he will leave your head spinning. Sure, Williams has done his fair share of dramatic work, even winning an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, but there is no denying the power he has as a funnyman in movies like Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, and The Birdcage. And he steals the animated show in Aladdin as the genie, still the finest voice acting in a Disney film.

3) The Marx Brothers –
Everyone who has ever done comedy could be considered the offspring of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, one of the first and most indelible comedy teams in film. Groucho’s look is iconic, and his one-liners – “This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas, how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know” – are still quoted to this day. Harpo did the silent bit, perhaps a motivation for Dopey in Snow White, and Chico was, well, Chico was the other brother. But you have this sort of pecking order in any trio of comedians. Duck Soup is perhaps their most memorable film together, and A Night at the Opera is on Roger Ebert’s list of Great Films.

2) Abbott and Costello – This is where the list gets a little more personal. Most might put the Marx Brothers at number one, or at least above this original straight-man-funny-man combination, but not me. Everyone remembers Who’s on First?, but Abbott and Costello also pioneered the horror comedy, teaming up with all the big-time Universal monsters for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and continuing to meet Jekyll and Hyde, The Mummy, etc... The pair were anything but happy men off screen, and had a well-documented falling out in the mid 40s, but they were the perfect pairing on screen. Abbott was stubby and goofy, Costello was taller and rigid, and they played off each other with such ease and skill that it’s hard to picture them not speaking to each other near the end of their careers.

1) Bill Murray – Murray is the master, I don’t care what anyone says. There is something about Bill Murray’s dry delivery, his sagging puppy-dog face, and his droll attitude that set him apart as a unique on-screen goofball. Murray steals the show in Caddyshack as Carl Spackler, the dopey greens keeper on a mission to kill that pesky gopher. Every scene he appears in – the pool-cleaning scene, the re-enactment of The Masters, the night with Chevy Chase, the Dalai Lama speech – is the most memorable of the picture. Murray was genius in films like Stripes and Ghostbusters in the 80s, and he continued with the cult classic Groundhog Day and the gratingly hilarious What About Bob? in the 90s. Murray has shown some dramatic chops in films like Broken Flowers and Lost in Translation, but he is never far away from a smirk or a wry grin, and his roles in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore and Royal Tennenbaums are both brilliant and diverse.

SHOUTOUTS: To Ben Stiller, a hapless goofball who might be 10a, to Martin and Lewis, who had their moments on the screen but found more success as a TV duo, and to The Three Stooges, the kings of physical comedy who made some dreadful films.

Monday, March 29, 2010

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: David Cronenberg

Early in his career, director David Cronenberg could have been considered the thinking man’s horror auteur. Where John Carpenter, the master of the slasher, directed fear based on the physical, Cronenberg began his career as a director of the cerebral horror. That is not to say he didn’t dump his fair share of blood across the screen, perhaps even more than Carpenter (and in much more shocking ways), but his early horror films explored avenues of the disturbed, the supernatural. And in recent years, as he has found his muse, Cronenberg’s directing has begun to shape into something wholly satisfying as he has created a career of diversity not wholly reliant on shock… Even though those shocking moments are alive and well.

Cronenberg, like many talented directors, was born into a family of artists. Born in Toronto in 1943, his father was a journalist and his mother was a classical pianist. Cronenberg was the perfect blend of his parents at a young age, writing macabre short stories and played the classical guitar at an early age. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Literature degree (he switched from the Science department, a background that is prevalent in his horror films), Cronenberg began directing horror schlock films like Shivers and Rabid. But it was not until 1981 when Cronenberg directed Scanners that he gained a cult following and marked notoriety.

Even if you have never seen Scanners, you know it. The film revolves around an underground movement of “scanners,” powerful mind-controlling individuals who can inflict enormous pain on their victims. And by enormous pain I am, of course, referencing the most famous scene in the film, when a news anchor’s head explodes. The shocking moment has been ingrained into the pop culture psyche, so much so that it even found its way into Wayne’s World: “Remember that scene in Scanners where that dude’s head blew up?” The head explosion is definitely dated technologically, but I think that is what makes the moment so endearing. A CGI head pop would feel superficial or perhaps less realistic.

After the success of Scanners, Cronenberg put his stamp on the 80s with modern classic horror pictures like the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone – another horror film about the workings of the mind – and a modern reboot of The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. The Fly is a modern horror masterpiece, loaded with mood, foreboding, plenty of gross-out moments that have perhaps been seen through the fingers of audiences more than any other picture, and a performance from Jeff Goldblum that is deliciously over the top.

In 1988, Cronenberg directed yet another cerebral horror picture, Dead Ringers, about twin gynecologists (played by Jeremy Irons) who share women. Irons plays the two men, one more sexually confident than the other, with decided eeriness and ease of a master thespian. Cronenberg originally wanted William Hurt to play the roles, but a scheduling conflict wouldn’t allow the teaming. But Hurt would be able to team up with Cronenberg seventeen years later, and the pairing would work out brilliantly. More on that in a moment.

It was a less-stellar 90s for Cronenberg that included pictures like Naked Lunch, an unfilmable novel from heroin addict William S. Burroughs that Cronenberg did the best to film, and Crash, a sexual exploration starring James Spader and Holly Hunter that misses the mark. But in 2005, Cronenberg found his perfect screen muse in Viggo Mortensen, directing him in A History of Violence, one of the finest psychological action thrillers ever and still Cronenberg’s masterpiece.
In A History of Violence, Mortensen plays Tom Stall, an everyman living in a small town with two kids and a beautiful wife (Maria Bello). But when he foils a robbery attempt, killing the two gunmen with ease an efficiency, he becomes a national hero and draws the attention of some Philadelphia gangsters – led by a delightfully sinister Ed Harris – that believe he is Joey, a former Philly gangster and vicious killer. ***SPOILER ALERT*** Tom is, in fact, Joey, and his quiet life is turned upside down. A History of Violence runs only 90 minutes, but is so completely layered with psychological depth that underlines the shocking moments of violence and tension. And the brief appearance of William Hurt, a chilling but funny role as a Philly gangster, earned him a Supporting Actor nomination.

Cronenberg uses several brilliant techniques in both the photography and the development of the story. One that sticks out is the introduction of two characters early in the film, the two murderous robbers. They are developed early on as the main antagonists of the picture, but are murdered in the first act of the film. This parallel to Psycho is undeniable, and an excellent way to keep the audience off balance in a film that requires uncertainty.

Two years after A History of Violence, Cronenberg teamed up again with Mortensen on Eastern Promises. The picture examined a much-overlooked avenue of the gangster genre, the Russian mafia. Mortensen plays a driver for the mafia and ***SPOILER*** is an undercover London policeman that uncovers a prostitution ring. Naomi Watts co-stars as a nurse who becomes tangled in the web with Mortensen. At first I didn’t much care for Eastern Promises, but after a second viewing I found the brilliance I had overlooked in the theater. Mortensen’s nuanced performance was much deserving of the nomination he received. The shot of him putting his two fingers into his throat has become an iconic image of the film, and the brutal knife fight in the bath-house is a new classic for the genre.

Cronenberg plans on revisiting the Russian underworld along with Mortensen in Eastern Promises 2, but not before the two work together on a Sigmund Freud picture called The Talking Cure. Both projects are fascinating to me, and it appears that Cronenberg has found an excellent on-screen partner in Mortensen much in the way Scorsese has done with DeNiro and Dicaprio, in the way Burton has done with Depp. Cronenberg is a master of mood and the tone of his pictures – however diverse from one another – all travel along the same patient, eerie thread. I love the new direction he has been going in recent years, and his work with Mortensen is arguably his best, most mature work.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Paul Thomas Anderson Tackles Organized Religion, Finds Distribution for The Master

Martin Scorsese may be the most important – not to mention the best – living director. But Paul Thomas Anderson, arguably the second best, is my favorite filmmaker. As soon as I leave the theater having seen his latest picture, I am starving for another one. I keep track of his career at every turn, and the news of his latest project, The Master, finally finding distribution is the most excellent of news. Now we can get down to the details of what this film will be, and whom it will star.

It is amazing that a PTA film would struggle to find a distributor, but that is the world in which we live. His films typically don’t make money. His highest grossing picture to date was his last, There Will Be Blood, which earned only $40 million, so there is just cause for a struggling studio like Universal to pass on his project. Anderson’s pictures aren’t box-office machines mostly because they require thought. There is no assault of images and CGI to overwhelm the senses of the ADHD public. His movies require concentration, so they are immediately at a disadvantage. And it didn’t help in the selling process that Anderson’s new project sends him into the realm of controversy.

The Master is a religious parable tackling, of all things, the ideas behind Scientology, the chic new religion that specializes in exploitation and celebrity cred. And it stars none other than Philip Seymour Hoffman, longtime collaborator with Anderson in Sydney (renamed Hard Eight against PTA's wishes), Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch Drunk Love. Hoffman will star as an ambitious man who creates his own religion, a la L. Ron Hubbard. The co-star will play a character named Freddie, an alcoholic who is on his way to ruin before meeting and falling in with Hoffman’s character. And regarding the look and photographic approach to the art direction and visual power of the picture, The Master will be set in the 50s, a marvelous-looking decade. Count me in.

Anderson has never been directly controversial in his films. There are bits of controversy within his pictures, the final shot of Boogie Nights or the frog rain in Magnolia for example, but nothing wholly controversial to find its way into the general press. I imagine the parallels to scientology in The Master will draw a bit more attention from the national media than frogs raining in a film that drew $22 million (but perhaps one of the five best films of the 90s, might I add).

Anderson has never been outwardly critical of religion, but anyone who takes a close look at the dichotomy working inside the characters of There Will Be Blood and the end result of that film will find that Anderson clearly carries a bit of disdain for the exploitative nature and falsehoods that corrupt organized religion. So what better “religion” to deconstruct than what is perhaps the most exploitative of them all?

Paul Thomas Anderson may not rake in Michael Bay money with his films, but who really cares? I can tell you that nobody who truly understands or appreciates film should give a damn about box office. Martin Scorsese didn’t pass the $100 million mark until 2005 with The Aviator, after making perhaps the best film of the 70s, the 80s, and the 90s. Anderson is a genius unlike any other living director, even Scorsese to an extent. His ability to add a signature style to his pictures without ever drawing attention to it, as well as his ability to use those who have come before him to create his own vision, are two elements any director needs.

After Universal passed on The Master, a small company called Red River picked up the picture, which is estimated to cost around $35 million (and it is amazing to me how someone like Anderson can direct a picture on a small budget and have one of the finest American actors star in it. Amazing how these smaller pictures can go for quality instead of stardom, but that is for another day). Red River seems like a distribution company with their head in the right place, as they also picked up Terrence Malick's latest film, The Tree of Life, when nobody else would. Anderson is venturing into Oliver Stone territory with The Master, and I personally cannot wait as the details unfold over the next several months.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE DOUBLE FEATURE: Universal Disarray, and WHO just signed on to Transformers 3?!?

Universal Studios is perhaps one of the most recognized logos in the history of America, perhaps the world. There are certain studio logos that have been engrained in the movie going mentality; Paramount, MGM, and Universal are arguably the most recognizable. But Universal Studios is in bad shape right now. But why? You ask. Is it the economy? The recession did this? Not exactly. Universal is falling apart at the seams right now because of a staggering run of failed “tent pole” films and disastrous flops that, if they were to be spread across three major studios, would be an amazing feat.

Since 2007, Universal Studios has not crossed the $200 million mark with any of their major releases. That year, The Bourne Ultimatum was their biggest hit, and a great movie to boot. The next year, Universal’s two biggest films were the underwhelming reboot of The Incredible Hulk. It was decent, but pretty hollow. The second hit for Universal was Mamma Mia!, a movie I stayed far away from. Combined, those two brought in roughly $300 million. Other than that, pickings have been slim for the iconic studio.

Consider this list of amazing disasters. Anyone remember the third Mummy film? I would like to find one person in this world who was really looking forward to a just completion to this lauded trilogy of shit. Other failed pictures in 2008, though not as large, were Death Race, Changeling (although it was an excellent picture), and Leatherheads. The next year, Universal’s big summer release looked like a sure thing: Michael Mann, Johnny Depp, and Christian Bale teaming up for an epic gangster picture about John Dillinger and the early days of the FBI. Public Enemies had all the pedigree, and while it is not a bad picture, it is just kind of awkward at times. Nevertheless, the $100 million budget on Public Enemies was too much to overcome. And then there was Land of the Lost… enough said on that one.
2010 has not been kind to Universal either. Consider their three largest releases thus far: The Wolf Man, a disaster and a flop of the highest, most epic order, Green Zone, a war picture that is about four years too late for anyone to care, as evidenced by it’s fifth place $6.1 million opening weekend, and Repo Men, a movie… that opened… in theaters… apparently last week. Who knew?
It is time to cut the head off the Universal monster and regenerate. This year, the biggest chance Universal has at a rebound is the Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood, but the executives need to sell quickly. OR perhaps, what they need to do is thumb through their Rolodex and find Steven Spielberg’s number. Spielberg brought Universal Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park… three of their most iconic, successful pictures of the last thirty years.

WHO?!?!?

Excuse me, John Malkovich, but what the hell are you doing? Oh, and Frances McDormand, Academy-Award winning actress from Fargo, shame on you. These two creative minds, these two unique actors, have sold their soul to the devil, er, Michael Bay. What’s the difference? That’s right, John Malkovich, star of stage and screen, actor in such films as Empire of the Sun, Of Mice and Men, Rounders, and Dangerous Liasons, and Frances McDormand, Oscar winning actress of such films as Fargo, Wonder Boys, and Almost Famous, are signed on to star in Michael Bay’s Transformers 3.

Now I am all for actors having fun, and it isn’t like these two haven’t had their share of sorry movies (Eragon anyone?), but this is absurd. It is absurd because Michael Bay is absurd, and a third Transformers movie is absurd, and I want this train to stop. Just picturing these two talented actors drop un-funny one-liners while being chased by CGI robots makes my stomach turn. It’s different when you have Shia or Megan Fox saying supposedly funny shit in the middle of a cyborg assault, because Shia is just a kid and Megan cant act anyway.

I don’t know, I am going to drop it. It’s giving me a headache just thinking about it. I give up.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TUESDAY TOP 10: Actors/Actresses/Directors Most in Need of a Comeback. And a Moment Regarding Tom Sizemore...

This was a tough list. Tough to narrow down to ten people. There are a lot of actors, actresses, and directors out there who have taken a wrong turn, some worse than others, and while some of them are past their prime, they are still opting to make more movies. That being the case, until they announce they are out of the game for good I would like to see some substantial work from these people whom I know are some of the finest talents in the business.

10) Kate Hudson – In Almost Famous, Hudson showed a sweetness that would continue to carry her for the next decade, but she also showed a range of emotion and acting abilities that I have yet to see again. For some reason, Hudson fell into the romantic comedy black hole and decided to make more than one movie with Matthew McConaughey. She has tried epic drama (The Four Feathers) and suspense (The Skeleton Key), but poor scripts and sloppy direction stifled those projects. Let’s all hope that now that she has ditched A-1 douchebag supreme, Alex Rodriguez, Hudson can re-focus on her career.

9) Kevin Spacey – Spacey has been in a few reasonable films of late, but reasonable films were not what Spacey was doing in the late nineties and previous. The time immediately after his second Oscar for American Beauty was perhaps his worst stretch, where he did sappy melodrama like Pay it Forward and The Shipping News, and strange and uneven pictures like The Life of David Gale and K-Pax (one I am sure Jeff Bridges wants to forget too). As Lex Luthor in Superman Returns, Spacey was muted, hindered by a lack of creativity in the character. Then again, so was everyone else. It’s time for Spacey to get back to the drawing board.

8) Jennifer Connelly – Anyone who knows me knows that Connelly is one of my favorite actresses, for more reasons that her ability to act. She seemed to transform overnight from a youngster with baby fat into a true acting force, especially in Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. And then she picked up the Academy Award for A Beautiful Mind. Connelly has been in some solid, albeit morose, pictures since 2002, pictures like House of Sand and Fog and Little Children, but they were supporting roles really elevated by the cast around her. Take Blood Diamond for example, a solid picture but not really because of or in spite of her. Connelly needs another edgy role, something she can sink her teeth into.

7) Cameron Crowe – The first director on this list is at least working on a new project, but it seems as if it’s been a decade since he made a good picture. Probably because it has been a decade, as his last great film was Almost Famous in 2000. When Crowe is on he is really on, showing some true prowess in Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous. In 2001, Crowe made Vanilla Sky, and the result was a bit of a muddled mess. And in 2005, Crowe made one of the worst films of the year, miscasting an effeminate Orlando Bloom in a romantic lead opposite Kirsten Dunst in the disastrous Elizabethtown. The film was a failure on all accounts, and something that has apparently affected Crowe as well, as he has not directed since then. I hope that his next picture, a promising story entitled We Bought a Zoo, will get Crowe back to where he was ten years ago.

6) Kevin Costner – Costner has never been really a powerful screen presence, but whatever it is that he has, that “aw shucks” everyman appeal, it worked in so many memorable films. His baseball pictures, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, are classics for the American male, and while Dances with Wolves is a bit overrated, there is no denying the skill and narrative pull of the story. And Costner really shines in pictures like JFK, Robin Hood, the underrated A Perfect World, The Bodyguard, and Thirteen Days. Even the golf comedy Tin Cup is a nice little movie. But Waterworld is a much-chronicled disaster, and The Postman is not far behind. Then there is 3000 Miles to Graceland, Dragonfly, Rumor Has It, The Guardian, and Swing Vote. Costner should revisit the baseball story, or head back out West like he did in 2003’s Open Range, some place where his appeal can carry the story.

5) Francis Ford Coppola – Okay, so this guy made The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now, he should be exempt from criticism. But those four classics, those four staples of American cinema, are no excuse for the downward spiral. Copolla has always worked outside the Hollywood system, doing what he wants to do, critics be damned. His 1992 horror epic, the true adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, while it is a good picture in some senses, it becomes a messy, schizophrenic story. It became, in a sense, what could have become of Apocalypse Now. And then there was Jack. Remember that movie with Robin Williams where he was a rapidly aging person? You know, the crappy one? That was him. In 2007, Coppola directed Youth Without Youth, an ambitious, and completely disastrous time travel/linguistics/ancient civilization mishmash starring Tim Roth. At 71, perhaps instead of still directing, Coppola should just produce pictures for his daughter, Sophia.

4) Tom Hanks – Nobody has ever had a run quite like Hanks did in the decade of the nineties. After being a goofball in the late 80s, Hanks shocked everyone as a dying man in Philadelphia, earning his first of consecutive Oscars, the second being 1994’s Forrest Gump. And then there was Apollo 13, then Saving Private Ryan and a subsequent third nomination. The Green Mile is a bit awkward at times, but still a solid turn for Hanks. And then there is Cast Away, one of the most amazing screen performances. But it seemed that once the decade switched over, at least after his excellent performance in 2002’s Road to Perdition, Hanks began struggling in pictures like The Terminal and The Ladykillers. And these Robert Langdon films, while they make plenty of money, are just simply poor. I have no doubt that Hanks will break out of this slump; it just feels like a much larger valley given the run of greatness he was on.

3) Michael Keaton – This one might seem weird to some people, as Keaton has never been in the upper echelon of actors the likes of Hanks or Costner. He is not the leading man most would think of. That being said, there is a real actor here. Keaton can do some fine work in a lot of lesser films. We all know his dynamite role as Beetlejuice, and his somber turn as Batman in Burton’s films, but Keaton also shined in smaller films like One Good Cop, Pacific Heights, and Ron Howard’s criminally overlooked The Paper. I cannot figure out then, for the life of me, why Keaton opted to sign on for movies like the sappy My Life, the forgettable Speechless, Desperate Measures, White Noise, Jack Frost; the list goes on and on. Keaton has an ability to do convincing drama and spot on comedy (I don’t care what anyone says, Multiplicity is genius), he just needs to perhaps get a new agent to steer him in the right directions.

2) Al Pacino – I am sure Pacino, one of cinema’s most gifted treasures, would like to forget the year that was 2008. He started off with a whimper in the unwatchable 88 Minutes, and ended with… well… a bigger whimper in Righteous Kill, a picture I would consider rock bottom for someone like Pacino. And 2008 is not just an off year, it has been an off decade for Pacino, starring in drivel like Two for the Money, Gigli, The Recruit, S1m0ne… all epically bad. Pacino played Michael Corleone for God’s sake, he was Sonny in Sidney Lumet’s classic Dog Day Afternoon; this guy was Serpico. Even in the 90s, in pictures like The Insider and Heat, two of Michael Mann’s finest, DePalma’s Carlito’s Way, Donnie Brasco, all excellent roles and evidence that Pacino is one of the greatest. That greatness is still in there, it is just being held hostage by a curious laziness.

1) Robert DeNiro – This one might have been easy to spot, as I have written ad nauseum about the decade-long hole one of the three finest all time actors has been in. We all know about Raging Bull, The Godfather II, Heat, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas; great performances in great pictures. But ever since he flexed his comedic muscles in Meet the Parents back in 2000, DeNiro has fallen off the acting wagon is such an epic way. Let’s looks at this list of films, all seemingly worse than the one in front of or behind it: 15 Minutes, The Score, Showtime, City by the Sea, Godsend, Analyze That, Meet the Fockers, Hide and Seek, Stardust, Righteous Kill, Everybody’s Fine. Not one picture on this list deserves higher than a C rating. DeNiro has a lot of projects in the works right now, but the most promising rumor out there right now is the one involving a re-teaming with Martin Scorsese. Which may be the only hope he has.

SHOUTOUTS: To Sideways director Alexander Payne and Fatal Attraction auteur Adrian Lyne, two fine directors who haven’t been in a slump, but need to get back behind the camera some time soon, to Michael Douglas, whose comeback I predict will be this September in Wall Street 2, and to Will Ferrell, who hasn’t made a really enjoyable comedy since Ricky Bobby.

REGARDING TOM SIZEMORE

We all know how great Tom Sizemore once was. Sizemore was always a supporting character in great films, but a pivotal supporting character. Without his presence in the side of the frame, standing next to DeNiro in Heat or Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, those pictures would have lost a commanding screen gravitas from a fine performer. Black Hawk Down, Bringing Out the Dead, Natural Born Killers, True Romance; all are films that benefited from Sizemore’s presence. But Tom Sizemore’s slump has not been poor choices – though the number of straight to DVD films is simply amazing – but a drug problem that was ruining his life. Sizemore’s addiction to meth, and every other drug for that matter, unraveled him. He is a shell of the person he once was. But after watching Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew over the past season, and now firmly locked in to Sober House, where Sizemore is a tenant, I feel like he may be turning a corner.

I know it sounds silly to cite a VH1 show as a sign of hope, but I feel as if I have been watching the true rehabilitation of one of Hollywood’s finest character actors. He has been a violent man, a real asshole to say the least, namely in his brutal assault of Hollywood Madame and at-the-time girlfriend Heidi Fleiss, but he seems to really have turned a corner. Sizemore has realized what he once had, and he wants it again, and the movie going public should be excited at the possibility. Of course, this could all fade away if Sizemore relapses – which he very well might – but I am holding out hope.

Monday, March 22, 2010

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Greenberg director Noah Baumbach

You may not know Noah Baumbach, but you should. With only seven previous films as director, only two finding a mainstream audience, Baumbach is still fairly new behind the camera. However, his career as a writer is what has allowed him the opportunity to become a director. With his newest picture, Greenberg starring Ben Stiller, Baumbach has created uniqueness to his films and the characters in his world, and seems to be carving out a signature style in a subgenre that is in need of a fresh voice and a keen eye for reality.

Noah Baumbach was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1969, the son of Jonathan Baumbach, a novelist and film critic, and Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown. He earned a B.A. form Vasser College in 1991, and in 1995 directed Kicking and Screaming (no, not the awful Will Ferrell kids soccer movie), a film about four young college grads who have a tough time stepping into the real world. While the film is not familiar to most, it was successful enough to get Baumbach on the Newsweek list of "Ten New Faces of 1996." After a string of very small, very independent pictures over the next decade, and after co-writing the screenplay with Wes Anderson for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Baumbach wrote and directed his breakout feature.

The Squid and the Whale (2005) is a semi-autobiographical dramedy about Baumbach’s childhood in Brooklyn. In the picture, two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) choose sides in the divorce of their two academic parents Bernard and Joan, played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney. Bernard is a smug professor in need of another successful publication, and when Joan’s career as a writer begins to surpass his, his ego cannot take it. Eisenberg plays Walt, the older of the two sons, and as the parents decide to split, Walt immediately takes the side of his father while the younger son, Frank, sides with Joan.

Walt struggles to find himself, plagiarizing his fathers thoughts and outlook on the world, while Frank is lost in puberty without a caring father figure to emulate. The dynamic of the family is fleshed out so deftly, and with such subtle humor and heartbreak, that you become involved in the lives of these characters. Not one of them is the hero; there is no moral trump in the bunch. Bernard is smug, arrogant, and constantly irritated by the lack of parking places in front of the apartment. Joan is choosing the split, and she once had a long affair with a family friend. Both parents have flaws, and neither of them is too concerned with the children, and the script pulls no punches on the subject matter. Both Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, playing their parts perfectly here, were deserving of an Oscar nomination.

It took me a second viewing to really appreciate The Squid and the Whale. At first, the tone of the picture and the rhythm of the narrative is hard to get into, but once you find the access point into the lives of these characters the story is something small and beautiful, a picture so rich in detail and dialogue, and a clear indication into the talent Baumbach has in telling this tragic comedies that examine people who are real in this world, meaning they are not without many flaws.

With The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach was now a directorial force in the independent circles, and his next feature was Margot at the Wedding (2007), starring Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jack Black. Kidman plays Margot, a condescending, biting older sister to Pauline (Leigh) who is to wed Malcolm, an oafish loser who Margot does not feel is worthy. But that is merely the setup for the real story, tension between Margot, Pauline, and the maturation of Margot’s young son, Claude. While not as impacting as Squid, Baumbach still creates a world of tension and humor that cuts to the bone. Margot is not a sympathetic character, but we still manage to understand her by the end of the picture.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is excellent as Pauline, and she also happens to be married to Baumbach. In an interview back in 2007, Baumbach tells of how he fell in love with Jennifer after seeing Fast Times at Ridgmont High. He recalled how most people saw the film as a comedy, but he empathized deeply with Jennifer’s character, a naïve young girl who gets pregnant from an older man. He saw the sadness amidst the comedy and the antics of Jeff Spicoli, and he immediately found a fondness for Leigh, whom he married in 2006.

Noah Baumbach is now entrenched into the world of offbeat human stories, cocktails of humor, narcissism, tragedy, and pathos that keep them away from overextended quirk. It is clear that Baumbach is not overreaching to be “indie” in his pictures, he is simply telling a story. Greenberg looks to be in the same niche of The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, and as long as he does not overreach in his human stories, I am sure Greenberg will be a marvelous little picture.


Friday, March 19, 2010

FRIDAY SCATTER-SHOOTING: Horror remake talk, how to make a movie suck and a non top ten list


*I am not fanatically opposed to remakes. In fact, at the end of this post you find a list that includes 3 of the best horror remakes of the decade. But you know what pisses me off about remakes? The fact that this generation of moviegoers, myself included sometimes, has to endure half-assed ripoffs before some of us get to see the originals. It's not that I feel all these movies are sacred or anything. It's the fact that, in a few cases, a great story is destroyed and a great twist is revealed. I'm mostly basing this thought on having just watching the original Wicker Man for a third time. I was lucky enough to never have seen the remake, which I've heard is terrrrible. Because of this, I know I've been able to enjoy this film infinitely more.

*Speaking of remakes, two 80's horror comedy classics are now in the works to be remade. Fright Night and The Monster Squad. Now I'm not worried about any great story being ruined here and I wouldn't totally hate to see Fright Night done in an updated fashion. However, the thought of seeing someone touch The Monster Squad bugs the shit out of me. Multiply that thought by a thousand when you throw in the fact that the producer rumored to be in charge is King Douche himself, Michael Bay.


*For me, the most disappointing horror movie of the decade was 30 Days of Night. It had a very promising premise of a small Alaskan town being overrun by vampires as they enter a month long period of darkness and the bloodsuckers in the film are frightening and brutally evil killers who speak their own ancient language. Unfortunately, there is one big problem with this flick and his name is Josh Harnett. He can suck the life out of a movie faster than any vampire. The other problem occurs when it's time for our "hero" to save the remaining townspeople. Suddenly these lethal murderous creatures who have been slaughtering people like Harnett slaughters director's hopes and dreams, can't fight their way out of a paper bag. What could have been a nice addition to the genre was turned into epic mediocrity by the walking blunder that is Josh Harnett. Sigh.

*And now it's time for todays joke.
What sucks worse than Josh Harnett?
Twilight



The Top Ten horror films of the decade that didn't make my top ten....

1) Thirst
2) Inside
3) The Devil's Backbone
4) Dog Soldiers
5) The Ring
6) Orphan
7) Paranormal Activity
8) The Last House on the Left
9) Dawn of the Dead
10) The Hills Have Eyes

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday Treasures: A zombie short, I Love Sarah Jane

Mia Wasikowska is currently starring in Alice in Wonderland as the title character. Before signing on to play Alice she appeared in the HBO series In Treatment and a few other films. I have to believe that the following short film is, in part, what convinced Tim Burton to give her the lead in his newest film.
I Love Sarah Jane is a beautiful piece of zombie gold released at the 2008 Sundance film festival. It was filmed in Australia, in a post apocalyptic setting where we get a glimpse into the lives of a group of adolescent survivors. I've heard it referenced as Gummo meets 28 Days Later. Take the next 13 minutes and appreciate this horror genre nugget. It's rumored to be in the works as a feature length film. I can only hope.




Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday's Sign of the Irish: Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Top o' the morning to ya!
Well, today is St. Patrick's Day and The Movie Snob is actually in Ireland this week with his lovely wife. They are, no doubt, soaking up the scenery and the libation.


I've struggled with what to present to you folks today.
The only horror related Irish movie I can think of is.....







yeah you guessed it, Leprechaun. I'm not going to talk about Leprechaun. Showing this picture is more than enough.




To even things out I will show this picture of Jennifer Aniston since her first movie role ever was in Leprechaun.














So what I will bring you is a list of 7 Irish born actors and what horror related films they may have been in.


Maureen O'Hara starred in the 1939 classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If this isn't Irish I don't know what is. She was quite the beauty.


















The great Peter O'Toole was in the film, Caligula which is a horror film on many levels. I honestly don't know much about it but from what I've read it was very controversial.












Pierce Brosnan was in the Lawnmower Man. I don't know what else to say about him. The only movie I've seen of his that I actually thought he was any good in was The Matador. His 5 film run as James Bond was very poor, although he faired better than Timothy Dalton I guess.
















Brendan Gleeson is a fantastic Irish actor who has appeared in 28 Days Later, The Village, Braveheart and the Harry Potter films.

















Cillian Murphy who was the star of 28 Days Later also appears as the Scarecrow in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
















Colin Farrell, I can't really find any movies of his that qualify as horror but he was in, In Bruges with....Brendan Gleeson. In Bruges is Farrell's best film by a mile.



















Liam Neeson...is a bad MFer in case you didn't know. His links to the horror genre include Darkman and the underwhelming 1999 remake of The Haunting. Neeson has spent his career playing a gentleman, a hero, a jedi and a villian but mostly he's a badass. In Batman Begins, a villianous badass. In Taken, an assassin badass. And in Gangs of New York, an Irish badass. Later this year he's apparently playing a cigar smoking badass as Col. John "Hannibal" Smith in The A-Team reboot.

On the right you may notice the familiar face of Brendan Gleeson, once again.