California Literary Review

The Fourth Wall

A Film and Television Blog

The Weekly Listicle is Seeing Double!

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February 3rd, 2011 at 6:15 pm

The Roommate Kelly Meester still

The Roommate‘s Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester.

Fiction is perpetually preoccupied with doppelgangers–doubles or evil twins. See almost any David Lynch movie, the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King’s The Dark Half, Dostoyevsky’s novels, and even Back to the Future Part II for evidence of spooky (and sometimes humorous) duality. In doppelganger films, obsession reigns as king (or queen?): obsession with another person, preoccupation with oneself, fixation on the past. In film and TV, women in particular get a good dose of the creepy doppelganger action. For instance, take this week’s opener The Roommate, which looks to be a campy and ridiculous PG-13 take on Single White Female.

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Nice of Meester and Kelly to do a movie together — I actually did get them mixed up for a good while.

In The Roommate (a movie whose title I can’t even think without hearing this in my head), an every-American college assigns Sara (“Friday Night Lights” starlet Minka Kelly) and Rebecca (“Gossip Girl”‘s Leighton Meester) as roommates. After what I’m sure will be a happy, we’re-the-best-of-friends! montage, Rebecca goes a mite bonkers over Sara, attacking Sara’s friends and doing something insane that falls between “protecting” Sara and stealing her life. These are all things we’ve seen before; the ladies featured in stalker/doppelganger movies and TV suffer from obsessions and dysfunctions unlike any other, and, well, it’s hard to forget them.

For this week’s Listicle, Dan Fields and I (Julia Rhodes!) are focusing on flicks featuring females in potential peril at the hands of their crazy doppelgangers; dames in duplicate and ladies seeing double.

JULIA’S PICKS:

Single White Female (dir. Barbet Schroeder, 1992)

Single White Female still

Besties! For real. Until the crazy sets in.

Any list of lady-centric doppelganger movies has to include Single White Female. Any list of movies loosely based around the plot of The Roommate must begin with Single White Female. The two are unmistakably similar in subject matter, but then it’s almost twenty years later, so cue the rehash of old plots.

When Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda) breaks up with her boyfriend, she seeks a like-minded single lady for a roommate. Enter Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who at first seems too good to be true. But then Hedy starts to creep into the edges of Allison’s personal life: when Allison stays out late, Hedy acts like a spurned lover. When Hedy gets mad, she throws their puppy out the window (!). Hedy eventually cuts her hair in the exact same (horribly ugly early-90s red poof) style as Allison. She jumps into bed with Allison’s boyfriend. Hedy has no particular identity of her own, so she takes on Allie’s. Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Ballad Of The Soldier

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January 21st, 2011 at 2:32 pm

This weekend, Peter Weir graces us with The Way Back, a tale of daring escape from a Siberian gulag. On viewing the trailer, I hastily concluded that the characters were military prisoners of war, which I have since found not to be the case. However, it got Fourth Wall discussion brewing along those lines. In due fashion this week’s Listicle salutes the soldier in film. From comedy to adventure to stark, sobering drama, soldiers have faced a great deal on the movie screen.

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War is a great backdrop for a movie, no matter how prominently the conflict itself features in the story. It is just as useful as a “McGuffin,” that is to say a contrivance to allow certain characters and situations to play out in the film’s plot. In choosing today’s movies we did not seek merely to list our favorite war films, but expanded the scope to any great film about war and the effect it has on those meant to fight it.

Only after the discussions for this list began did William Bibbiani, Julia Rhodes, and I realize how many great films would surely be left out. There are many ways to tell the soldier’s tale, and a list of ten hardly does the idea justice. However, you may trust that we’ve picked some of our very favorites.

DAN’S PICKS:

The Dirty Dozen (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1967)

The Dirty Dozen - John Cassavettes and Lee Marvin

It always starts with one dirty so-and-so. Usually, that’s Lee Marvin.

This film stands in not only for its excellent self, but for the whole glorious idea of the military “caper” or “heist” movie. Maybe Where Eagles Dare is more up your street, or The Guns Of Navarone, Kelly’s Heroes or Inglourious Basterds. But one thing a war context allows is any number of daring commando missions, always carried out off the record. The Dirty Dozen has come to stand as the icon and unshaven grandfather of them all.

Having clashed with his superior officers once too many, Major Lee Marvin is put in charge of nearly every other rough-looking dude in Hollywood on a high-profile suicide mission. He is given twelve military convicts, each facing capital punishment or life imprisonment, to organize a secret invasion unit to infiltrate and assassinate a nest of Nazi high commanders holed up in a French chateau. The mission looks bad enough, but first he’s got to whip each and every one of them into some kind of order. They are crass, unruly, and mostly resigned to giving the finger to the same military that expects them to risk their lives one more time. The Major, however, still has a career on paper and does not intend to fail, even though he’s essentially been set up just to do that.

The Dirty Dozen

Notice that Bronson, as usual, is not amused.

Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Not Your Average Romcoms!

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January 14th, 2011 at 11:44 am

Valentine's Day Poster NO

We like our romcoms quirky. None of this, please.

Romantic comedy in the last few decades is (I’m a little ashamed to say) not my thing. I can’t handle the Bullock, Aniston, Heigl, Garner, and Hudson characters: “Oops, silly me, I just fell down a flight of stairs and embarrassed myself in front of the Guy of My Dreams–but I don’t know he’s the Guy of My Dreams yet because I’m a frigid workaholic with a secretly soft heart.” Boring. While they’re sometimes cute (I giggled a little at 27 Dresses and actually kind of enjoyed The Proposal–but I can use Ryan Reynolds as an excuse for that one), I generally avoid them. So when a quirky one comes along, one that offers dynamic characters, smart dialogue, and few cliches, happy dances commence! (Disclaimer: my fellow bloggers may feel differently about this.)

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“You fight like a hamster” may be the funniest thing to happen in this trailer.

This week’s No Strings Attached stars those undeniably pretty kids Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman as best friends who decide to start having sex. Emma (Portman), a workaholic (ding ding! cliche) doctor, seems from the trailer to be interested in a friends-with-benefits setup, and Adam (Kutcher) finds himself falling for her. The plot appeals because romcoms don’t often deal with the fact that some women aren’t interested in the cuddles, the goodbye kisses, the dates (gasp!). And conversely, some men do want those things. Of course, by the end of the movie I’m guessing Emma and Adam end up in a Real Relationship…that’s Hollywood for you! (Maybe I’m wrong…stay tuned for the review!)

Join William Bibbiani, Dan Fields, and me (Julia Rhodes!) for this Weekly Listicle as we waltz through the highs and lows of romcoms in search of the sweet, the funny, the quirky, the atypical and unconventional. The flicks to follow probably won’t make any top ten lists, but we love them all the same.

JULIA’S PICKS

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (dir. Kevin Smith, 2008)

Zack and Miri Make a Porno Still

Zack and Miri manages to make porn look even more ridiculous than it normally is.

Not often do I come across movies that manage to balance almost-but-not-quite offensive crudeness with sincerity and genuine sweetness. Kevin Smith’s movies massage that spot that loves pubescent humor as well as mature emotional depth. From Dogma to Chasing Amy, I can usually get behind Smith’s brand of self-deprecating, juvenile tomfoolery, especially when it comes interspersed with warmth and candor. Smith is pretty honest about how depressed he was Zack and Miri Make a Porno didn’t do well in the box office–and I feel the same way.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno Still 2

High school reunions: yeesh.

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A Voice In The Night Tells Dan Fields To Shut Up (Although He Does Have A Point)

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January 12th, 2011 at 7:00 am

Dan Fields, you are dead to me.

Oh wait, I mean well respected.

Movie Still: Let Me In

Dan Fields claims I never saw Let Me In. He’s right, but that doesn’t necessarily make me wrong.

I’ve never met a single film critic who hasn’t published a list of the Top Ten Movies of ____, nor have I met a single film critic who has seen every film in that given year. Even ignoring festival releases and foreign films (which may not be available in all markets, or even garner an American release at all), and even ignoring Straight-To-Video movies, TV movies, and pornography (which combined may equal thousands of movies in a single year… or ‘movies,’ if you feel like naysaying), there are still hundreds of films released in any given 365.25 day period. Read more…

“Let Me In!” Cries A Voice In The Night

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January 11th, 2011 at 12:08 am

Being an indignant response to the industry and critical prowess of my colleague, William Bibbiani, who shall remain nameless…

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz find love and blood in Let Me In.

“There’s a place for us…”

A certain writer for the California Literary Review has thoughtfully distilled a whole year of reviews, reactions, and reflections into two comprehensive and well-researched essays entitled “The 10 Best Movies of 2010″ and “The 10 Worst Movies of 2010.” Having been too shiftless to organize a retrospective list of my own, I take grave exception.

One of the most entertaining movies of the year failed to rouse sufficient praise or sufficient scorn in his heart to make either list. In point of fact, it hardly matters which. Let Me In will not perish in mediocre obscurity as long as I have anything to say about it, as it will hopefully be many a long year before I perish in mediocre obscurity.

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The Weekly Listicle: Oscar Buzz 2011 Rages On!!

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January 6th, 2011 at 6:28 pm

With 2010 behind us there’s only one thing to do: look backward. Because now’s the time when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sends out nomination ballots for the Academy Awards. At 5pm on January 14th the polls close and whoever is nominated is nominated. But whoever will be nominated?

Oscars

“That looks like my Uncle Oscar!”

Right now is pretty much the last chance for critics like Julia Rhodes, Dan Fields and myself (William Bibbiani!) to point out the best work of the year and reasonably expect it to make a difference, so we here at The Fourth Wall are taking another look out our favorite film work from 2010 in the hopes that we can help get some deserving folks nominated. Some of our picks are long shots (my Best Original Screenplay nomination hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell), while others may in fact be locks. But the point isn’t to highlight the obscure… it’s to highlight the truly deserving. Besides, just because it seems like a sure thing doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee. Lots of surefire Oscar nominations have been left off the ballot completely, from Rick Baker’s stunning Best Makeup snub for Tim Burton’s (otherwise awful) Planet of the Apes to (500) Days of Summer’s perplexing failure to garner a Best Original Screenplay nomination last year.

So here’s our second (and final) wave of Oscar nomination suggestions for 2010. (Here’s a link to our first wave, in case you missed it.)

Who do you think should be nominated this year? Tell us in the comments below!

WILLIAM’S PICKS:

BEST ACTRESS: Noomi Rapace, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

MOVIE STILL: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Ask anyone who was the breakout star of the year and they’ll say Noomi Rapace. Or at least they will if they’ve been paying attention. Rapace earned international acclaim this year for her performance as Lisbeth Salander in the feature film adaptations of the best-selling novels The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, but for some reason has been left off of practically every major nomination list I’ve seen so far. She’s been ineligible for certain accolades (like The Golden Globes) but she’s perfectly eligible for the Academy Award for Best Actress. But she has some hurdles to leap over first.

Firstly, the films’ Swedish producers and the American distributor Music Box aren’t major players in Hollywood, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to afford a competitive Oscar campaign (which can run hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars). Worse yet is the fact that Rapace could split her own vote: With one iconic performance spread across three films, voters who preferred her in one movie over another might end up giving her too few votes for one film, leaving her out of the running. (There’s an Oscar rule stating that one actor cannot be nominated twice in the same category.) So it’s important to decide right now which film to nominate her for. I suggest The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

MOVIE STILL: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander the total badass in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Read more…

Credit Where Credit’s Due: “Dexter” Main Titles

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January 5th, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Welcome to The Fourth Wall’s newest blog series, Credit Where Credit’s Due, which will focus on memorable TV and film credit sequences. In particular, we’ll spotlight credits that excel in distilling the show’s or movie’s content into a few-minutes-long sequence, or main titles that have become an indelible part of media history. Sometimes the credits of a TV show or film are so good they’ll play over and over in your head–and yet you probably have no idea who’s responsible for them.

Any film fanatic or avid TV watcher has a brain full of trivia: actors, directors, producers, composers, guest stars, plot points. But most of us aren’t running around with the knowledge that Kyle Cooper directed Se7en‘s unforgettable credit sequence before the artist founded (and subsequently left) the company Imaginary Forces, or that Saul Bass is the artist behind Anatomy of a Murder‘s classic credits. Even the Wikipedia page on Emmy Awards for Main Titles doesn’t list companies or names! So let’s give them credit for work amazingly done.

Orson Welles is CLAPPING

Kane thinks these deserve a round of applause.

First off:

“Dexter” Main Titles: Digital Kitchen

Digital Kitchen is responsible for some of the smartest and most artful main title sequences in the last decade, but “Dexter”‘s titles stand out among them. The show’s credit sequence won an Emmy in 2007, so we bloggers aren’t the only ones who noticed. I figure it’s worth reiterating, though: when looking for a credit sequence that features incredible music, fantastic imagery, and manages to fascinate you and make you cringe at the same time, “Dexter” is the place to go.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter in Dexter title sequence

Hall: father, lover, murderer.

Read more…

Brilliant Character Actor Pete Postlethwaite Dead at 64

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January 3rd, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Pete Postlethwaite still

Rest in peace, sir.

You may have known him as “that guy,” or “Kobayashi,” or “Father Laurence,” but you almost certainly recognize his face. Pete Postlethwaite, whose rugged features and bright, preternaturally piercing eyes made his face unforgettable, has died at 64 after a long battle with cancer. The prolific actor made three films last year (including potential Oscar nominees The Town and Inception) and will have one postmortem release in 2011.

Pete Postlethwaite in Romeo + Juliet

Postlethwaite in Romeo + Juliet.

Postlethwaite had many memorable roles, not least among them as the dangerous lawyer Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects, and the poison-shilling priest in Baz Luhrmann’s hypnotic William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. He gave depth to what could have been a cookie-cutter mob boss in 2010′s The Town, life to a dying father in Inception. The man played some incredible roles, and those close to him have nothing but good things to say.

Pete Postlethwaite in The Town

The actor in yet another role obsessed with flowers: Fergie Colm in The Town.

Postlethwaite will be missed by all who knew him, and by all who have loved British and American movies in the last thirty-five years.

There are so many to choose from: What is your favorite Postlethwaite role?

Yahoo! News: Oscar-nominated star Pete Postlethwaite dies at 64.

The Weekly Listicle: Parties For A New Year

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December 31st, 2010 at 11:27 am

And so we bid farewell to another year, movie pals. We at the Fourth Wall have sat through an astonishing number of films, and ruminated on countless more, for your enjoyment and the occasional provocation of thought. Now is the time to welcome a new season, as the Academy prepares to make its final pronouncement on the old. Let us hope the Oscars will remember the high points and neglect the various disappointments that marked Cinema Year 2010.

In the spirit of celebration, we take a moment to remember some of our favorite movie parties. While the mind might leap immediately to the Animal House toga party or the drunken chaos that ends La Dolce Vita, plenty of other great (severely unsung) movie moments have taken place in the midst of festive celebration. In some cases the party itself is one the audience might very much like to attend. In others it is a complete catastrophe, as was the case with many of our favorite dinner scenes, but still very entertaining to watch. So strap on your party hat and join me (Dan Fields) and William Bibbiani around the punch bowl.

Whatever your scene, enjoy a safe and happy New Year, from all of us at CLR.

DAN’S PICKS:

The Godfather, Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

The Godfather Part 2 - Al Pacino

Al Pacino is one smooth customer, insisting that everyone call him Godfather, Part II.

There are lots of good parties in the Godfather chronicles… but only one this bad. Late in the film, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has been through a rough patch. His families (domestic and criminal) are falling apart. His life and those of his loved ones have been endangered numerous times. The law wants him bad, as do several dangerous rivals. There may not be one single person he can trust for certain. Add to this a growing certainty that his jealous and cowardly brother, Fredo (John Cazale) had a hand in betraying him to his enemies. The reluctant godfather is staring down the barrel of a very bleak new year.

Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: The Best of Christmas on Television

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December 23rd, 2010 at 11:12 am

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

“A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”

What is Christmas all about? Sure, this time of year means trees with blinking lights, wreaths of spruce and pine, Bing Crosby and Eartha Kitt on the radio, mashed potatoes and gravy at dinner. Christmas also means hip-checking old ladies during the Black Friday consumer extravaganza, drinking heavily with one’s dysfunctional family, and serious electronic investment in Christmas lights. It also means television! On the boob tube this week you can’t channel surf for long without coming across reruns of It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story.

Finally, the yuletide means Christmas TV specials. Some are good, some are great, and some are totally forgettable. We at The Fourth Wall are here to pound some Christmas spirit into you with a Listicle of our favorites. We don’t mean to discriminate against other holidays–it just so happens Christmas specials are a time-honored tradition, and frankly there just aren’t a lot of Hannukah or Kwanzaa specials to be seen. Join William Bibbiani and me (Julia Rhodes!) as we delve deeply into the season and bring you our seven favorite Christmas specials. Happy holidays from California Literary Review and The Fourth Wall!

JULIA’S PICKS:

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (dir. Chuck Jones, 1966)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas 1966 still

Some of the best holiday imagery ever: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Any list of Christmas specials would feel empty without the Grinch, that king of sinful sots, that three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce. Chuck Jones, the director behind many a Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Road Runner cartoon, lovingly brought Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas to the small screen with Boris Karloff’s distinctive voice in 1966.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas 1966 still

Grinch, stealing Christmas.

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Brighton Rock Rises Again. Graham Greene Abides.

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December 20th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Here is an early alert for those who have spent most of 2010 being disappointed by movies. At least one great story is coming back to the screen after a long time away. Acclaimed screenwriter Rowan Joffé tries his hand at the directing game next year. For his feature debut, he has selected an auspiciously high-profile story. Brighton Rock, adapted from Graham Greene‘s 1938 novel, is a captivating crime thriller and a chilling exploration of the human capacity for love, betrayal and violence. The first trailer from Optimum Releasing reveals changes in several key details of the novel – not least of which is bringing the narrative forward about thirty years – but the core story seems intact. If all goes right, this will be one beautiful and scary film.

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Brighton Rock has been adapted before, and the 1947 film follows the book much more closely. Also known as Young Scarface in the USA, this version stars a very young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie Brown, a vicious teenage gangster fighting recklessly for his life in the criminal underbelly of Brighton. It is a gripping and suspenseful picture, incorporating the novel’s weighty moral themes effortlessly into a harrowing journey through the dark corners of the seaside resort town. The supporting cast includes classic British players Hermione Baddeley, Carol Marsh, and William Hartnell (Doctor Who fans, take note). The director and producer of the film were John and Roy Boulting, later to be renowned in Britain for their collaboration on offbeat comedies, still decades before the Coen Brothers hit the scene.

Poster for the 1947 Boulting Brothers production of Brighton Rock, starring Richard Attenborough

An endangered classic: the 1947 Brighton Rock.
Image courtesy of the British Film Institute.

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The Weekly Listicle: The 10 Best Videogame Movies AREN’T Based On Videogames

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December 16th, 2010 at 8:53 pm

In 1981, TRON transported us to the world inside of a videogame… and it was a little boring, since the videogames were from 1981. Abstract concepts were brought to “life” using state-of-the-art special effects, but despite the best efforts of Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and David Warner it was a stodgy film. Videogames and indeed computers in general weren’t familiar to audiences, nor did the well-intentioned filmmakers properly understand the audience’s relationships to their in-game avatars. Properly dramatizing abstract concepts during their genesis was nearly impossible, and TRON did about as well as could be expected.

Movie Still: TRON Legacy

Yeah, the lightcycles are pretty neat. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is just an elaborate adaptation of the “Snake” game on everyone’s cell phones.

These days, movie adaptations of videogames are common but universally reviled. Even the “best” videogame movies are, to use the parlance, “weak sauce.” When Mortal Kombat is considered a cinematic highlight, it’s definitely time to rethink your approach to the genre. It’s likable but hopelessly dorky, and the then-lauded action sequences pale in comparison to martial arts movies today. (Actually they paled in comparison to martial arts movies in the 1970’s, but I digress.) Resident Evil and Silent Hill both came close to understanding their source material but eventually they both checked their brains at the door in favor of unnecessary fan service and juvenile plotting.

So where exactly are the good videogame movies? They’re everywhere, if you know where to look. They’re just not based on videogames. With TRON Legacy in theaters this weekend, Dan Fields and I (William Bibbiani!) thought this would be a good time to explain why the best videogame movies – so far – aren’t based on a specific videogame. These are movies that capture the distinctive feeling of playing a great videogame or expertly dramatize concepts unique to that medium, something the directors of actual videogame movies rarely seem to grasp.

Movie Still: WarGames

Curiously enough, anti-videogame activists have yet to pick up on this quote from WarGames as rallying cry.

Fan favorites WarGames and The Last Starfighter (great movies both) deserve an honorable mention, but those are films “about” videogames. These films are videogames. Many of them are action movies, but that’s to be expected: videogames are about “doing” things, not “watching” things. So running, jumping, climbing trees, shooting Nazis while you’re up there…? That’s all part of the game.

WILLIAM’S PICKS:

Goonies (dir. Richard Donner, 1985)

Movie Still: Goonies

Goonies never say die… because in many great adventure games dying was almost impossible.

Richard Donner’s iconic kids flick Goonies is beloved and badass but not based on a videogame. It sure feels like it. The plot is standard 1980’s family movie fare: A group of kids are being evicted by an evil faceless corporation and set out on a grand adventure to save their town by following a treasure map to a legendary pirate treasure which just happens to be within convenient driving distance. The young cast is one of the most distinctive and lively ever assembled over the course of the 1980’s, and that’s saying something. Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan and Josh Brolin are just some of the memorable performers giving uncanny life to a ludicrous plot. Read more…

A Watchful Eye On… Sherlock Holmes

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December 15th, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Some characters are simply too good to retire. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried killing off his character Sherlock Holmes in 1893, the grief and outrage it caused among his readers persuaded the author to revive the great detective for another three decades. Thank goodness he did, but considering that Doyle merely wanted the freedom to move on to new projects, it seems his most inspired creation earned him a life sentence.

Since the author’s death in 1930 – and even before – Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson have not had a moment’s rest. Their adventures have surely been adapted, borrowed, re-imagined, spoofed, spun off and otherwise immortalized more than the exploits of any other characters in the history of fiction. On the page, on the stage, on the radio, on big and small screens alike, they have always found a place among our favorite heroes.

The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Granada Television - Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke

Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke – Granada Television’s Holmes and Watson

In 1984, Granada Television first aired its Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes series, which for many has become the definitive adaptation of Doyle’s original stories. The late Jeremy Brett, a predatory bird in human form, portrayed the master sleuth with a unique intensity that none before or since have matched. The episodes themselves were intricately crafted period pieces, of the kind at which British television often excels. The show was as moody as it was entertaining, and Holmes often got his feet sticky in a particularly grim case of the week. Though a number of well-known Holmes films preceded this series, none reconstructed Doyle’s text with such attention to detail. Besides Brett’s lauded performance as Holmes, the greatest achievement of the show was to restore Dr. Watson to his dignified position. The most celebrated Holmes movies – the ones starring Basil Rathbone – have long been criticized for demoting Watson (played by Nigel Bruce) to the status of bumbling comic relief. This is not to say Bruce’s character is not lovable and entertaining, but for Doyle purists his interpretation simply does not measure up. Granada’s series featured David Burke, then Edward Hardwicke, as the good doctor. Each actor fashioned the role into a character nearly as charismatic as Holmes himself. This self-assured and adventurous Watson made much more sense as a companion to history’s smartest detective. For ten years, this version of the Holmes legend brought the majority of Doyle’s original tales to life.

Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Winter flicks to make you shiver!

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December 9th, 2010 at 6:52 pm

People watch movies for all kinds of reasons. We watch them to laugh, to jump, to be affected, or to learn. We watch the ones we love over and over again to relive fond memories. What films do best is make us feel. Watching a movie can cause elation, depression, fright, fury, repulsion, arousal, or any combination of emotions. Watching a movie set in blistering heat can make us throw off our jackets, make us feel like if we don’t get that Icee from the concessions stand we may just fry. In the same way, a well made movie set in frigid temperatures may make us bundle into our coats, burrow farther under blankets, and prepare for metaphorical hibernation.

Tilda Swinton as the White Queen in Chronicles of Narnia

Don’t you feel chilly just looking at Tilda Swinton as the White Witch?

Following the massive release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 three weeks ago, December 10 brings us the release of the third Chronicles of Narnia movie. For some of us, this confluence of wintry fantasy movies signals that the holiday season is in full swing. The Narnia and Potter movies aren’t always holiday-centric, but they call to mind snowscapes and cocoa and the comfort of a warm theater while the wind howls outside. For this week’s Listicle, William Bibbiani, Dan Fields, and I (Julia Rhodes!) have compiled a list of our favorite winter movies, be they holiday-related or just snowy. Forgive our tendencies toward the horror genre–we each have our weaknesses, and while we’re no Scrooges, we simply happen to prefer the dark and twisted. Mostly.

JULIA’S PICKS:

30 Days of Night (dir. David Slade, 2007)

Melissa George as Stella in 30 Days of Night

Bundled? Check. Gun? Check. Vampires? Check.

30 Days of Night is based on a graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. Director David Slade went on to direct another, (ahem) more famous vampire movie, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which probably made him rich but was really awful. 30 Days of Night deliberately takes the “sexy vampire” mythos in a strangehold and crushes it. It’s not an entirely original approach (both Let the Right One In and the American version, Let Me In refute the Twilight and Anne Rice versions of sexy vampire too), but 30 Days of Night‘s moodiness makes it a fun watch nonetheless.

Vampires and fire in 30 Days of Night

What better way to keep warm on those chilly winter evenings? Setting the town on fire serves the dual purpose of covering up your evil, evil tracks!

Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the U.S., enters its annual month of darkness–making it a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet for creatures of the night. First comes The Stranger (Ben Foster, who transitioned magnificently from Canadian teen TV to really fantastic roles), a frostbitten and crazy-eyed man who warns the citizenry of their impending doom. Then enter the vamps, led by Marlow (Danny Huston). They speak their own language, a series of grunts, shrieks, and squeals that’s as unfamiliar to the human ear as can be. They’re monsters through and through, attacking without mercy and splattering blood all over the pristine white snow. The movie features sweeping shots of snowy tundra, a forlorn ship abandoned in the midst of icebergs off the coast, and a constant undercurrent of whistling, moaning wind. While it’s not a great movie, it certainly succeeds at one thing: the cinematography and sound effects will chill you to the bone.

JULIA’S PICKS:

The Ice Storm (dir. Ang Lee, 1997)

Kevin Kline and Joan Allen in The Ice Storm

Benjamin (Kevin Kline) and Elena (Joan Allen) had no idea what they were getting into with a swingers party.

If the title weren’t indicative enough, watching Ang Lee’s underappreciated family melodrama The Ice Storm is one of the coldest experiences you’ll have indoors (and I mean that both literally and figuratively). Based on a novel by Rick Moody, The Ice Storm tells the story of philandering husband Benjamin Hood (Kevin Kline), his wife Elena (Joan Allen), his mistress/neighbor Janey (Sigourney Weaver), and all of their children during a fateful Christmas in New Haven, Connecticut in 1973. In the early ’70s, the sexual revolution had made it all the way back to the suburbs, and the Hoods attend a key party after Elena finds out Benjamin has been cheating on her. Meanwhile, total space cadet Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) makes out with miserable Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), who then plays you-show-me-yours-I’ll-show-you-mine with Mikey’s younger brother Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). Elena takes up with Janey’s husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan), leaving her drunken husband to mourn his mistress’s departure. The Hoods’ son Paul (Tobey Maguire) goes to New York to try to seduce his crush Libbets (Katie Holmes), who passes out with her head in his crotch after taking a few too many Valium. All of these are horrible mistakes made by people desperate for some kind of real feeling. And all of them take place during a record (you guessed it) ice storm. Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Misleading Movie Titles

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December 3rd, 2010 at 12:46 am

This weekend marks the release of I Love You Phillip Morris, an offbeat-looking movie about an imprisoned con man (Jim Carrey) whose romantic relationship with a fellow inmate (Ewan McGregor) leads to both hilarity and sorrow. From the title alone, it sounds like a story about tobacco conglomerates – something in the vein of Thank You For Smoking. Not so, as the trailer indicates.

Potential viewers who are not in the know about the film’s content will probably react in two basic ways upon reading the title on a marquee or in the show listings. Those uninterested in the cultural debate over cigarette companies may sidestep it and never be the wiser. Those who feel otherwise will investigate, and no doubt be surprised. Perhaps it is a coincidence of naming that never occurred to the screenwriter. Nonetheless, I Love You Phillip Morris definitely constitutes a misleading movie title.

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The best line on this subject comes from Nelson Muntz of The Simpsons, in the episode “Bart On The Road.” After sneaking into a screening of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, he unhappily reflects, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.”

While a movie’s title may be completely literal – I’m thinking of Full Body Massage, My Dinner With Andre, and Sharktopus, three of the least ambiguous titles in film history – it is by no means appropriate all the time. Having a cool and unusual name to hook your viewers is a good creative choice. However, it can misfire. Sometimes the title appears to be a secret known only to the writer. Sometimes it is based on a very subtle detail in the story, which only becomes clear after multiple viewings. Sometimes a flaw in the film’s execution simply fails to bring out the significance of the title. And sometimes movies just have stupid titles. This week, William Bibbiani and I (Dan Fields) meditate upon the sticky subject of Movie Naming.

DAN’S PICKS:

Sorcerer (dir. William Friedkin, 1977)

Sorcerer – Truck on a bridge

Why, that sorcerer looks like a truck full of dynamite about to plunk into a deadly river.

Sorcerer! What else could this be about except wizards and magic? Well, trucks. In this remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages Of Fear, Roy Scheider leads a cast of rough-hewn lowlifes on a suicidal trucking mission. They must transport two rigs full of highly unstable explosive through the hazardous terrain and weather of South America, in order to help extinguish a massive oil well fire and make enough money to get the hell out of town.

Read more…

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