Monthly Archives: May 2010

Calig1

 

Thirty minutes into the notorious art-porn movie Caligula, distinguished actor John Gielgud plays a suicide scene.  As Gielgud fades away, he turns to fellow thespians Peter O’Toole and Malcolm McDowell and declares, “From evils past and evils yet to come, I now choose to escape.”

It’s a tough call whether the old actor was referring to ancient Rome or to the daily rushes he might have been privy to on the set of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione’s chronicle of the depraved Roman emperor, Caligula.  Guccione had a point to make with Caligula, and his message came through loud and clear:  People can be pigs. The only question is whether the pigs were in Rome A.D. 40, or behind the cameras on a soundstage in 1979.

Nothing is implied in this movie, not when grotesque and graphic footage can be used.  Why hint that some poor slave has been castrated, when the actual snipping and gushing can be filmed in living color?  Why suggest sex is afoot when it can be shown in gynecological detail?  If there’s a bodily fluid or secretion with which you are unfamiliar, it’s all here for your edification.

It’s easy, maybe too easy, to trash a film like Caligula, particularly when so many people involved in it have distanced themselves from the production (along with Gielgud, O’Toole, and McDowell, astute viewers will spot young Helen Mirren).  You could argue that this kind of depravity exists in human nature and we all need reminders lest we fall from grace.  Look what happened, you could point out, when the survivors of Auschwitz and Treblinka began to die off — a lot of people went into denial about the reality of the Holocaust.

But there is a point where you say, “OK.  I get it.  Enough is enough.”  Guccione assembled big stars, a renowned writer (Gore Vidal), expensive and admittedly gorgeous sets (the budget was $22 million – a fortune in 1979).  All that talent, and yet Guccione’s “lesson” is no different from what I learned in kindergarten as I watched kids torment other kids:  People can be pigs.          Grade:  D+

 

Calig2

 

Director:  Tinto Brass  Cast:  Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, Adriana Asti, Mirella D’Angelo, Guido Mannari  Release:  1979

 

Calig3    Calig4

 

Calig5      Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

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Exit

 

Is Exit Through the Gift Shop an elaborate hoax?  Is this “documentary” about street artists good enough to warrant excited speculation about its authenticity among the nation’s film critics?

The answer to the first question is … probably not.  The answer to the second question is … probably not.  For those who have not heard the movie’s backstory, it goes something like this:  Earlier this decade, a French immigrant to L.A. named Thierry Guetta turned his obsession with photographing everything into a more-specialized activity:  filming street artists at work.  Guetta was introduced to the mysterious “Banksy,” a British legend in the world of illegal street art.  In a neat twist, Banksy became the filmmaker and Guetta the artist, resulting in an art-world frenzy for Guetta’s work and this acclaimed documentary for Banksy.

At one point, street artist Shepard Fairey (who is not a fabrication) wonders aloud whether Guetta’s artistic pretensions are simply a con.  The enigmatic Banksy questions Guetta’s mental health.  And since the film’s release, the nation’s film critics are questioning their own grasp of reality — is this film a prank?  Did events really transpire the way we are led to believe in Exit Through the Gift Shop?

The movie is amusing — that’s all.  I did not leave the theater pondering any Big Questions:  What is art?  Is it in the eye of the beholder?  Has art become too commercialized?  No, I left the theater pondering the merits of the movie itself, which to me was mildly entertaining.  No more, no less.        Grade:  B

 

Exit2      Exit3

 

Director:  Banksy  Featuring:  Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Rhys Ifans (narrator)  Release:  2010

 

Exit4     Watch Trailers  (click here)
   

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Steps

 

Just like the rest of us, Alfred Hitchcock was into self-improvement.  When Hitchcock directed his masterful North by Northwest in 1959, he was actually just adding polish to a film he’d already made in England in 1935 — The 39 Steps.  If you watch both movies, you will notice the similarities:  wrongfully accused man on the run, cool blonde at his side, action sequences tinged with humor, etc.  Watch Robert Donat (Cary Grant) and Madeleine Carroll (Eva Marie Saint) for free by clicking here. 

 

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Good

 

If there were any justice in the world, we’d all be learning a hot new catchphrase that would join movie chestnuts like “I’ll be back,” and “Make my day.”  And that catchphrase would be … “Close your eyes, kids!”

That line is senseless to the uninitiated, but I’m guessing it’s instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen The Good, the Bad, the Weird, a Western joyride out of South Korea.  Yes, I said South Korea.  Director Ji-woon Kim’s film is a love letter to the Spaghetti Western that is both respectful and delightfully silly.

The story is about a whole bunch of bad guys trying to lay their hands on a treasure map in 1930s Manchuria. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the plot.  Here is what else you should know:  The movie is inventively shot, gorgeous to look at, and blessed with great performances.  “The Bad” (Byung-hun Lee) is a vain mercenary who struts about like Prince with bloodlust; “The Good” (Woo-sung Jung) is Korea’s answer to Clint Eastwood, and he’s featured in not one but two breathtaking action sequences that manage to reinvigorate that tired Western staple, the shoot-‘em-up; “The Weird” (Kang-ho Song) is on hand primarily for comic relief — and to utter the immortal “close your eyes” line.

Although the film is a bit on the long side (130 minutes), The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a screwball Western for people who think they burned out on Westerns a long time ago.      Grade:  B+

 

Good2       The Good

 

The Bad       Good3

 

Good4       The Weird

 

Director:  Ji-woon Kim  Cast:  Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung  Release:  2010

Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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 .        Sex City

 

Hold on to your Halstons, Sex and the City fever is upon us.  Again.

This got me to thinking about other male-female cultural disconnects.  Like Oprah Winfrey.

This disconnect serves our country well.  After all, if men were in charge of all voting, Pamela Anderson might be president.  But men also know, instinctively, that a woman like Winfrey is not to be trusted.  She loves her power too much, and we can picture her behind the curtain, being fed grapes and whipping her interns.

No, it’s good that men prevent Winfrey from becoming president.  And it’s good that not just women vote, or we might have a President Richard Simmons.  Although Simmons might be able to solve our obesity epidemic.

 

Anderson     Simmons

 

Speaking of gays in the spotlight … Newsweek columnist Ramin Setoodeh, who is homosexual, is feeling the heat of a ferocious backlash for daring to write about how gay actors have a tough time playing straight roles.  Entertainment Weekly columnist Mark Harris sniffed, “We may not be past this kind of thinking yet.”

OK, P.C. Harris, let me ask you this:  Would you pay good money to watch Richard Simmons, as Romeo, attempting to seduce Pamela Anderson, as Juliet?  You doth protest too much.

 

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Daybreakers

 

Daybreakers is a vampire movie with a social conscience.  It’s a horror film that doesn’t settle for violence and gore; it also wants to make you think.  And that’s what’s wrong with the blasted thing.

As the movie unfolded and began to bombard me with allusions to 1) class warfare, 2) immigration, 3) vegetarianism, 4) capitalism, 5) conservation, and  6) the kitchen sink, I could picture the directors (two brothers again; what is it with all these sibling directors — do studio heads now demand them?) planning their DVD commentary.  No simple discussion of wooden stakes and garlic for the Spierig brothers.  Nope, they would discuss social issues!  That’s an admirable goal for a movie with just one hitch — a vampire film first and foremost needs to be scary.  If you get that part right, then you can discuss serious stuff on the DVD. 

(Confession:  I haven’t seen the DVD.  Perhaps there isn’t any commentary, but you get my point.)

I also kept thinking of another vampire movie I recently watched, called 30 Days of Night.  That film worked because it had a very simple plot.  A horde of scary-looking bloodsuckers descends on an Alaskan village and does battle with the townspeople.  That’s pretty much it.  Danny Huston plays a truly terrifying vampire, and not once as I watched him was I reminded of conservation.  Or immigration.

I’d go into the plot details of this film, but if you’ve seen I Am Legend, you pretty much get the idea.  A terrible virus or plague or something mutates most humans into blah, blah, blah.  Daybreakers, by trying to make big statements, is instead a pretentious little bore.          Grade:  C-

 

Directors:  Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig  Cast:  Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Michael Dorman, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill  Release:  2010 

 

Daybreakers2     Watch Trailers & Clips  (click here)

 

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by Sarah Silverman

Bedwetter

 

The challenge for any memoirist is to win readers over to his or her side, and in The Bedwetter comedian Sarah Silverman succeeds — most of the time.  Silverman, who seems to be more famous (or infamous) for her periodic political dustups than for her showbiz career, comes across as intelligent, witty, self-deprecating … and sometimes as annoying as the six-year-old brat next door.

The book is most entertaining when Silverman depicts her childhood and coming-of-age in 1980s New Hampshire.  When she’s not penning sarcasm and poop jokes, her more-reflective passages are often touching.  On the other hand, near the end of the book Silverman laments, “At the time that this book is being written, I am single.”  Having just read about some of her childish exploits with colleagues at Comedy Central, my reaction to this statement was:  “And this is surprising to whom?”

 

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Rope1

 

Arthur Laurents, the screenwriter for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, said that the famous director had no desire to make a film about homosexuality.  Hitchcock, Laurents said, also had no interest in filming yet another story about garden-variety murder.  What the genius filmmaker wanted to do was more problematic — especially back in 1948.  Hitchcock wanted to make a movie about homosexual killers.

Rope is obviously about homosexuals [although] the word was never mentioned,” Laurents says in a DVD interview.  “It [homosexuality] was referred to as ‘it.’  They were going to do a picture about ‘it.’  And the actors were ‘it.’”

Rope is loosely based on the thrill killing of a 14-year-old boy in 1924 by Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy young Chicagoans.  The movie is best known for an innovative filming technique.  Hitchcock chose to photograph the story in real time, in a series of approximately ten-minute takes.  Thus, there are less than a dozen cuts in the entire film – something not done before and not done since.  “It was a gigantic trick,” Laurents says, “and that’s what interested him.”  Hitchcock was so gifted that no gimmick (he also used 3-D in Dial M for Murder) could prevent him from doing with Rope what he did so often:  create another cinematic classic.

Amusingly, the Jimmy Stewart character — a former teacher of the two young killers — was also intended to be homosexual.   But Stewart was just too darn hetero for that idea to fly.  As a result, Laurents claims, “The picture was curiously off-focus and didn’t have the sexual center it should have.”  Maybe so, but Rope remains Hitchcock’s most fascinating experiment.      Grade:  B+

 

Rope2

 

Director:  Alfred Hitchcock  Cast:  James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson  Release:  1948

 

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Edge

 

Sometimes I wonder why England, Japan, Sweden, and other victimized countries haven’t united to file some sort of class-action lawsuit against Hollywood.  Tinseltown has an annoying habit of taking perfectly good foreign movies, stuffing them into the blender of American culture — adding car chases and rock music — and then spitting out unrecognizable glop it calls “remakes.”

Next up on the hit list is poor Sweden, which will see not one but two of its recent successes – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Let the Right One In – regurgitated by Hollywood.

Edge of Darkness, the Mel Gibson thriller newly out on DVD, is not a bad remake. It’s just incredibly mundane.  I haven’t seen the BBC Television series that the film is based on, but critical reviews of the time (1985) acclaim it as excellent drama.  The Gibson version has the same director (Martin Campbell) as the original series, so I guess this downgrade isn’t entirely America’s fault.

But a lot of people don’t give a hoot about old British miniseries.  They just want Mel to get mad, get armed, and get payback, all of which he does as a Boston detective out to avenge the murder of his daughter, who was out to expose criminal collusion between a nasty corporation and the government.  As if to remind us that another country once did this story much better, there is one sparkling performance in the new film – it’s the role of CIA agent Jedburgh, played by Ray Winstone who is, naturally, British.       Grade:  C

 

Edge2

 

Director:  Martin Campbell  Cast:  Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts, David Aaron Baker  Release:  2010

 

Edge3     Watch Trailers and Clips  (click here)

 

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Friday

 

Back when women in the workplace were a rarity, director Howard Hawks saw the situation as rich with comic possibilities.  Check out Hawks’s 1940 screwball classic starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy.

 

Friday2

Friday3     Watch the Movie for Free  (click here)

 

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