Saturday, April 17, 2010

AVENGERS... AND MIRAMAX ASSEMBLED!!!

Hey there folks! A few pretty spectacularly cool bits of news have hit over the past week or so, things that are so cool I can’t help but feel they need at least some sort of mentioning because if nothing else they’ve gotten this geek’s heart all a flutter.

THE WEINSTEINS ARE NEARING A DEAL TO BUY BACK MIRAMAX: If you remember a little while back I reported with great sadness about the shuttering of the once giant of independent cinema, Miramax Films. Well, it’s beginning to look like that may be the best thing that could have ever happened. It is beginning to look like that within the next few weeks Bob and Harvey will have the company back under their control and if you ask me that just makes all right with the world.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with Miramax. If you know anything about the company you know they can be an independent film maker’s greatest ally or most insurmountable foe. From my own personal perspective the idea of some day working with the Weinsteins gives me sweet dreams and horrid nightmares all at the same time. Having said that though one would have a hard time arguing that Bob and Harvey don’t know what they’re doing.

No matter how you slice it the world of independent film just hasn’t been the same since the Weinsteins split from their name namesake. Since their split both parties have sort of felt like gutless impersonators, mere shadows of their former glorious selves. To anyone that follows the world of movies it quickly became obvious that Miramax and the Weinsteins are intrinsically, indelibly linked and that apart they’re nowhere near the hurricane like force of ballsy, independent bravado that brought us some of the best films and film makers of the last 20 years. Thankfully it’s looking like all that is going to be changing very soon and if I had to place money on it I’d be very surprised if Miramax wasn’t once again carving a lasting swath through the cinematic landscape in the not too distant future.

You’ve heard Megan and I complain at nauseum about the current state of independent film and while I don’t think the reemergence of Miramax films is the end all be all solution to the problems plaguing independent film makers the world over, I can’t help but think that it returning to its former glory can’t help that same world either. Under the Miramax banner Bob and Harvey Weinstein showed that they were just about the most audacious, gutsy, unrefined yet brilliantly driven and dedicated producers the world of cinema has ever seen. These were the guys that gave us Steven Sorderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino to name a few. One can only hope (And I count myself amongst the hopeful) that now that they’re back in the game perhaps they’ll do what they do best and introduce the world to a whole new crop of cinematic genius and more importantly geniuses.

JOSS WHEDON TO DIRECT THE AVENGERS: No joke, no exaggeration, I actually got goose bumps when I learned that Joss Whedon had been tapped to direct THE AVENGERS, the culmination of all of Marvels various franchises such as IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA and so on into what could be the biggest, most badass superhero film ever.

For the longest time it was assumed that Jon Favreau would helm this super superhero film, but within the past 6 months it became apparent that this wasn’t going to happen (Thanks to COWBOYS AND ALIENS starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford which is another pretty cool piece of news by the way). Since then plenty of names have been bandied about, the most prevalent of which being Louis Letterier the man behind the helm of THE INCREDIBLE HULK and the recent CLASH OF THE TITANS. Then around the beginning of the month a rumor started spreading that Marvel was talking to Joss Whedon. Since this news hit around April 1st, everyone just assumed it was a prank and went about their lives. Over the next few weeks the rumor grew, but still no one actually believed such a thing would EVER happen. I mean it was a fanboy wet-dream, the kind of scenario you talk about with other geeks when you’ve downed a few too many beers and you start discussing the most impossible hypothetical situations you can think of. That’s all this rumor ever was, until earlier this week it turned out to be true and fanboys the world over lost their freaking minds, myself included.

I could go on for several pages as to why the selection of Joss Whedon to helm THE AVENGERS is one of perhaps the single greatest ideas in the history of movies. I could argue with those that are apprehensive because Whedon was already attached to another big budget comic book movie a few years ago, WONDER WOMAN, but dropped out and why that won’t happen this time or how in the long run this move makes A LOT of sense from both Whedon and Marvel’s perspective, but I’m not going to do that because I’m really not sure my words can do it all justice.

Pound for Pound Joss Whedon is probably the single best creative voice to have come out of Hollywood in the last 20 years. That’s not an opinion that’s a fact and you either understand and agree with me because you are one of his die hard fans (With Whedon there are no other kind) of you’re not and that’s simply because you haven’t seen enough of his work. If you question this move, if you can’t figure out why Marvel would hand over the reigns of perhaps the most important comic book film ever made to a man who only has ONE feature film directorial credit under his belt, then I order you to go watch BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER all the way through, all seven seasons. After that watch ANGEL all the way through, then FIREFLY, SERENITY and DOLLHOUSE. Once you’ve done that check out DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG and pick up his run on Astonishing X-Men or The Runaways. After all that, if you’re not completely convinced that he isn’t the PERFECT guy for the job and you’re not a ravenous fan… you need to have your head checked because there really is something wrong with you.

There is also currently a rumor floating around that Whedon will take a crack at reshaping not only THE AVENGERS script but also help fine tune some of the other scripts for the other movies (Such as CAPTAIN AMERICA) that will be leading up to his opus. Whether that’s true or not I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this excited by a piece of entertainment news. This isn’t quite Lucas announcing he was going to finally make Episodes I through III but its pretty close. To put it in a context that’s slightly closer to home, the last time such a synchronously perfect pairing of film maker and material was announced was when Warner Brothers tapped Christopher Nolan to take over the Batman franchise and we all saw how well that turned out. Believe me if this all pans out minds won’t be blown, they’ll be full on eviscerated.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I know what he means

"I would like to build a house with my films. Some are the cellars, others the walls, still others the windows. But I hope in the end it will be a house."

-Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Say Huh?

I’m not sure if it was a rumor or a real news break that hit yesterday but it came out that Bill Condon will direct Breaking Dawn, the final two film end to the Twilight Saga. If this had been announced on April 1st I would have assumed it was a joke.

Bill Condon of Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Gods & Monsters & Chicago to direct the overblown, anti-clamactic ending to a badly made franchise???

I think I’m just going to keep saying it until It sounds possible.

Bill Condon may direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon will possibly direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon is directing Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon might direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon may direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Bill Condon to direct Breaking Dawn.

Nope…not sounding possible yet. Well, at least the Gus Van Sant or Sophia Coppola rumor died.

Monday, April 5, 2010

FotM: Oscar's Dark Side

There are times when I despair of writing about the movies at all. How can you take something that can be so vast and encompass it into a few hundred words of text on a white screen in such a way that someone, anyone, would actually want to read it? I guess I’m still trying to figure that one out. When I read the critics that I enjoy and respect most, there’s a sense of something greater at work. With Roger Ebert, it’s this idea that a movie can show us something about how to live our lives and what makes us more or less human. With Manohla Dargis, it’s this notion of how the movie she’s talking about fits into the scheme of things culturally and within the history of cinema. Peter Travers is kind of like everyone's secret hipster uncle giving it to them straight up, and if you like something he thinks is bad? HOW COULD YOU? Then . . . me. I guess I fit in there somewhere. It seems that, despite all the eloquent deconstruction I want to be good at, I should really just shoot from the hip until I get it right. In the end, all the imitation in the world isn’t going to add up to anything worth reading or worth writing.

Now, Best Picture. . .

I haven’t seen all 82 of the winners of the Academy’s big prize. I’ve only seen 34, which is less than I would like. I could choose one, watch it, and dissect it piece by piece (or, at least, I would like to imagine that I have that kind of dexterity at my disposal), but I don’t think that would be interesting.

Instead, let’s talk about the elephant in Oscar’s bedroom.

Crash.

I didn’t see the film until a few years after it had won the Oscar in dramatic fashion, upsetting Brokeback Mountain, the heavy favorite and winner of almost every other “best film” award this side of kingdom come. It went something like this. I’m at the store looking at the DVDs and I see Crash. I’ve heard that it’s very good, so I start considering the idea of buying it, which is more of a foregone conclusion at that point, because I’m terrible at telling myself no when it comes to something like that. I text a friend to ask his opinion. He suggests renting it instead of buying it, as he’s seen it and knows a bit about what I like. I don’t listen, buy it anyway, and watch it either that night or later that week.

At this point, all I knew was that a lot of people were incensed that Crash had won Best Picture, and others had said that it was an incredible viewing experience. Now, suddenly, I understood.The Oscar is supposed to recognize excellence in filmmaking, and if we’re lucky, what gets that recognition will be of the best work of that particular year. Despite that, Crash was clearly not high-quality filmmaking, not the best work of 2005, and certainly NOT even that good of a movie on its own merits.

I’m not opposed to the idea of film challenging popularly held cultural beliefs and forcing us to see things we recognize within people we don’t know. I actually think that’s one of the highest functions that any art form can fulfill. Some of the best films I’ve ever seen have done just that to spectacular, unforgettable effect.

The trouble with Crash isn’t in the grandiosity of its reach. The problem with the film is in the clumsy, heavy-handed, and simplistic way it goes about doing it. The idea is straightforward. In Los Angeles, there’s a group of ethnically diverse people whose lives are suddenly and violently going to crash together. Along the way, the notion is that the film’s supposed to illustrate the inbred racial prejudices present within all of us.

This concept isn’t exactly brand-new. Robert Altman built a legacy on ensemble casts wandering in and out of each other’s lives. In more recent years, Paul Thomas Anderson has done much the same thing.

On some level, I get what people who dig this movie see in it, but I have a hard time believing that audiences really respond to such amateurish schlock. Despite my (shall we say) distaste for it, there are individual moments within Crash that are effective. The sequence where Matt Dillon pulls Thandie Newton out of a burning car was effective and even gripping. The scene where Anthony Pena comforts his infant daughter is touching. The bit where Don Cheadle buys groceries for his mother, even though she thinks his missing brother is the one doing it, is moving. . . and those are pretty much the only major examples I can think of.

Sadly, much of the rest of the film results in characters talking about how other people from different ethnic backgrounds don’t understand them, witnessing incredibly coincidental incidents that somehow just happen to bring them together, and then realizing that gee, we aren’t so different after all and maybe if we just stopped making assumptions based on race/ethnicity, the world might be a better place.

I could have told you all that, and I wouldn’t have needed an hour and fifty-two minutes to do it.

Paul Haggis, the film’s director and co-writer, certainly isn’t without talent. You’ve heard me wax long-toothed about my out-and-out love for Million Dollar Baby, one of my favorite films, and my admiration for In the Valley of Elah. I just don’t understand how someone who’s capable of such good work turned out something that plays like a film school student’s attempt at a feature film, albeit a student with an A-list cast to work with.

Three more things: First, know I texted my friend back and said, “I wished I’d listened to you.” I bet he loved hearing that. Second, Annie Proulx isn’t the sore loser I thought she was. Third, I sold the DVD as soon as I was able to. Crash is no longer is a part of my collection, thanks be.

A lot people don’t put much stock in what wins an Oscar. Even though I watch the show religiously every year, I have to admit that much of it is a popularity contest with a heavy slant toward films made by Brits or Americans. Despite that, a lot of times, I’m ok, pleased, or even thrilled with what wins.

Not here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Honey, there's a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick." FOTM: ANNIE HALL


I’m breaking the rules here a little bit because for this Feature of the Month assignment we are supposed to talk about a past Best Picture winner that we had never seen before that we recently watched. Well, the film I’m going to talk about I probably saw at least a year ago, if not longer and since then I’ve seen several other Best Picture winners such as IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (Totally deserving of all the love it gets) and several others, but out of all of them the one that struck me the most and still sticks with me to this day is a film that had to fight an uphill battle into my heart right from the very beginning. Not only could it be classified as a “Romantic Comedy”, one of my most accursed film genres but like THE HURT LOCKER and AVATAR it’s the little film that came out of nowhere and slew the giant, it was the David to one of, if not THE biggest Goliath of all time. It is Woody Allen’s stunningly brilliant ANNIE HALL.

For the longest time I resented the crap out of this movie because to me, no matter what it will always be the film that beat out STAR WARS for the Best Picture Oscar. So great was my resentment that I never even bothered to see this movie up until a little while ago. As soon as I did I immediately understood why this film has achieved that level of acclaim.

One of the reasons I hate most romantic comedies is because they don’t try, they all fit with a pat, predictable formula and very often they’re not even attempting to engage the reader on any other level than a cute, fuzzy, sentimental one. That is what makes ANNIE HALL so awesome and refreshing, it is a movie that digs deep into people, their relationships and the things that spring out of those relationships, those things that effect us in a way that almost no other human experience can. In fact when one takes a step back and looks at ANNIE HALL it is understandable if some have a hard time classifying as a romantic comedy at all. I think to call it a comedy / drama about life and love might be a much more accurate, yet long winded genre description.

One of my favorite movies of last year and perhaps the last few years was 500 DAYS OF SUMMER but I’ll be the first to admit (As would the film makers) that it would never exist if Woody Allen hadn’t blazed such a unique, brutally honest path across the cinematic landscape all those years ago. In fact I’d venture to say any truly smart, sophisticated stab at the oft tired story telling pattern of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, from WHEN HARRY MET SALLY to television shows like HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER has at least some small debt of gratitude to pay to Woody Allen’s classic.

My sister says that she thinks ANNIE HALL is quite literally a perfect film and I’m inclined to agree with her. Woody Allen has made a lot of movies, some good, some bad but far and away this is his masterpiece. I don’t think there is a single solitary thing I would change about this film. It is one of the VERY few movies that is flawless. The film is small and intimate, yet completely universal. It is a master class in writing, directing and everything else in between. I still like STAR WARS more than this film but there’s no denying it as an American classic worthy of every single shred of praise it receives.

GREAT SCOTT!!!

I’m going to warn everyone right now, there’s a good chance this is going to make you feel old.

Name a movie that EVERYONE likes, go ahead, I can wait (Especially since you’re reading this hours after I’ve written it). Try to name a single movie that unequivocally every single person you know likes. You can’t use STAR WARS because sadly there are some people that think it’s overrated or are turned off in general by sci-fi. JAWS is too graphic, too gory and just a little too scary for some. How about GONE WITH THE WIND? Nope, I can stop you right there because I think that’s one of the most overrated films of all time. Maybe CASABLANCA? I’d love to say yes, but there are far too many people that won’t watch a movie if it’s in black and white and doesn’t have explosions. With RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK you’re getting closer but I’m sure somewhere out there, there are a small handful of people that find it too thrilling or not quite deep enough. One could argue for THE PRINCESS BRIDE but at the end of the day not nearly as many people have seen that movie as you’d think. Is there a film, any movie out there that genuinely reaches across all lines, bursts through all demographics and is really, truly embraced by all who have seen it? The answer is yes, there’s at least one film that immediately springs to my mind.

Twenty-five years ago Robert Zemmeckis in conjunction with Steven Spielberg and too many other great talents to name released a perfect movie. A movie that to this day I think holds up unimaginably well. A movie that had EVERYTHING and something for EVERYONE, a movie that even when you watch it now, a quarter of a century later, you look at it and realize there is not a single, solitary thing you would change. A movie that has stood and will continue to stand the test of time, which when you think about it is all too fitting considering the subject matter. I am of course talking about BACK TO THE FUTURE.

That’s right, 2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the classic sci-fi, comedy tale of Marty McFly, Doc Brown and the coolest Delorean / time machine that’s ever hit the screen. 1985 was a hell of a year for movies, it was the year that saw the likes of BLOOD SIMPLE, WITNESS, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, LADYHAWKE, FLETCH, THE GOONIES, DAY OF THE DEAD, SILVERADO, PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, REAL GENIUS, BETTER OFF DEAD and BRAZIL released and that is just the very tip of the iceberg. However out of all those great, classic films, some of which I consider some of my favorite movies of all time the one that holds the biggest place in my heart is BACK TO THE FUTURE and I’m almost willing to bet I’m not the only one.

While I’ll be the first admit that I’m tend to hyperbole more than most people I don’t think anything I’ve said so far is untrue. Seriously, start talking with someone, ANYONE about BACK TO THE FUTURE and no matter who they are I can pretty much guarantee a smile will cross their lips as you dredge up fond memories of a film that plays in at least some way to every single person I’ve ever come into contact with. It is a film that reaches every person that sees it, whether it be because of the comedy, the sci-fi, the nostalgia or for those snobby intellectual types the subtextual undertones about mothers lusting after their sons, children bringing parents together and so much more. BACK TO THE FUTURE is a lightning in a bottle type film, one in which every possible individual item converged to form the kind of magic that every film maker prays for yet is only harnessed on far too rare occasions.

I tell everyone that probably one of my ten favorite movie moments amongst the thousands of films I’ve seen is when George McFly (Played by the creepy, yet brilliant Crispin Glover in a role that should have notched him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) finally stands up for his future wife and more importantly himself and decks Biff Tanen. It’s one of those scenes that gives me goosebumps every time I see it, heck it gives me goosebumps every time I think about it. The reason the scene works so well, the reason audiences cheer at that moment is because it is the moment, the singular, serendipitous moment that 90 minutes worth of film making brilliance has led up to. At that point you forget all about Marty McFly’s need to get back to his own time period, you are there, smack dab in the moment of the greatest revenge of the nerd moment ever committed to film. And after all that you still have the coolest rendition of Johnny B. Goode ever and the pulse pounding, heart in your chest thrill of watching Doc Brown try to harness lightning via a clock tower to send his young charge back to whence he came. Seriously, tell me thinking about those moments doesn’t make you want to rewatch the film this very second.

Unless I’m greatly mistaken BACK TO THE FUTURE has never shown up on any AFI Top 100 list, yet I’m willing to bet its more beloved, more watched than at least half the films on that list. If you’re anywhere close to my age you grew up watching BACK TO THE FUTURE. It was a movie that the whole family could enjoy because it was clean, funny, thrilling and uplifting. In many ways it’s like THE PRINCESS BRIDE only it’s a film that exploded into the mainstream in a way that Rob Reiner’s opus never did. BACK TO THE FUTURE is the movie that made Deloreans cool, orange vests a hip fashion trend, time travel… somewhat believable and most importantly of all brought people of all ages and walks of life together to marvel at the magical stories movies can tell. Happy 25th anniversary to truly one of the greatest movies ever made.