California Literary Review

The Fourth Wall

A Film and Television Blog

Heat Wave: Movies that make us feel

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June 23rd, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Dreamy, steamy summertime: Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicides.

I’ve no idea how the rest of the country is faring, but in the southeast and Midwest, it’s as if the pits of hell have opened up, spewing forth temperatures and humidity levels that’ll knock you flat. It’s not even July yet, and already thermometers are hovering above 90 and weather.com is recommending staying indoors during the midday hours. This, after the kind of winter the whole country had. (Thanks, global warming.) Further, HBO’s fantastic supernatural dramedy “True Blood” has returned for a third season, transporting us deep into the dirty, sweaty, debauched South. (Oh, and this season looks to be so good.)

Scientists posit that our sense of smell triggers memories more effectively than our other senses. And it’s true: I have visceral reactions to smells, from the original Herbal Essences shampoo I used during in high school, to exes’ colognes wafting to me from men on the street. In the same way, music brings me back to walking through snowy, wooded areas of campus after film screenings in college (Modest Mouse’s “The Moon and Antarctica”) and driving around aimlessly through southern Indiana cornfields (Mirah’s “Advisory Committee”).

But for me, the medium most capable of causing sudden flashbacks, surprising bodily sensations, is of course film. From glee to misery, from nausea to uncontrollable laughter, good film (and really bad film for that matter) makes audiences feel. So in the midst of this massive, miserable heat wave, I’ve been thinking of the films that make me feel summer–films that, even when watched in a dark, cool cave of a theater, make you want to take off your sweater, buy an Icee, and bask in the sun. These are among the films that scream summer to me:

The Virgin Suicides (dir. Sofia Coppola, 1999)

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Sofia Coppola’s first film is based on a book by Jeffrey Eugenides. The book and movie are told from the perspective of a group of teenage boys who watch as five sisters spend a ’70s Michigan summer descending into their own personal hell. A soundtrack from ethereal French pop band Air and ’70s classics from Electric Light Orchestra, Heart, and Todd Rundgren provide grace notes. Coppola established herself as a brilliant director with this atmospheric, gorgeous film. From close-ups on Kirsten Dunst’s sweaty face to peach schnapps-fueled encounters under the bleachers, the movie transports you into its world of angst, impotence, and hot teenage summers.

Eve’s Bayou (dir. Kasi Lemmons, 1997) Read more…

The Great Music Videos #3: “Blue Song” by Mint Royale (dir. Edgar Wright)

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June 22nd, 2010 at 12:24 am

Welcome back to The Great Music Videos, where Julia Rhodes and I (William Bibbiani!) present some of the best music videos around for your scrutinizing pleasure. Last night at the Los Angeles Film Festival they hosted a panel called “Edgar Wright Saves the World,” in which J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, ‘Alias’) interviewed Edgar Wright (the brilliant director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) about his life, career and various films. While extended clips from ‘Spaced’ and his features were presented – including early shorts from his high school years – they also played some of his less appreciated work, namely (as you might have guessed by the title of this posting) the music videos. One of them truly qualifies as one of the greats, and here it is now:

“BLUE SONG” BY MINT ROYALE

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Mint Royale released this single and music video in 2003, around the time Edgar Wright was preparing to direct his breakthrough hit Shaun of the Dead. The music video for the officially tubthumping track cleverly mixes Hitchcockian suspense with an extremely dry wit. Noel Fielding of ‘The Mighty Boosh’ plays a getaway driver waiting for a major heist – pulled by such other great comedians as Julian Barratt, also of ‘The Mighty Boosh’, and Nick Frost and Michael Smiley, both of Wright’s own ‘Spaced.’ Fielding doesn’t have a watch… “Not that I read too good,” his defense… and asks for the exact amount of time he’ll be expected to wait for the heist to be completed. After some debate, the thieves settle on two minutes and fifty four seconds. Fielding selects a track of that exact length – “Blue Song” by Mint Royale – and the suspense begins. Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Ten Sequels We Actually WANT To See!

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June 17th, 2010 at 2:44 am

This Friday we welcome the release of a rare and mysterious thing… a sequel we actually want to see. Not just because we love the characters, but because the sequel is a natural extension of the original story. I am of course speaking of Toy Story 3, since the ‘hex’ in Jonah Hex has no relation whatsoever to the number six.

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The first Toy Story told the story of what happens to toys when their owners aren’t playing with them, and was as sweet and wonderful a family film as has ever been produced. The just-as-good (and possibly even more hilarious) took the story in a natural direction, focusing on the collector’s market for toys, and whether or not the characters have more monetary or emotional value. Now, Toy Story 3 makes a bold move back into pathos as it explores what happens to toys after their owners grow up, move away, and stuff them into boxes. Call me fanciful (I’ve been called worse), but I’ve always felt guilty for all of my He-Men, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joes still lingering in that crawl space we call an attic. Not that I ever intend on having kids (you may remember the recent blog post in which I described my intense distaste for children), but I feel a certain sense of satisfaction in thinking that eventually all of my beloved playthings will one day have a loving owner to play with once again.

Any sequel that gets us thinking about our lives, loves and futures is already a good idea, and that got us thinking here at the California Literary Review. We see so many unwanted, half-conceived sequels in the movie industry, but are there any sequels we actually want to see, yet somehow haven’t been made? Prepare yourself for this edition of The Weekly Listicle, in which Julia Rhodes and I (William Bibbiani) think would be a good idea, and not just a quick cash-in (I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity 2).

WILLIAM’S PICKS:

The Italian Job Sallies Forth (sequel to The Italian Job, dir. Peter Collinson, 1969)

Movie Still: The Italian Job

“Good luck!” Just one of many wonderful moments in the original Italian Job.

For years now people have been asking for a remake to The Italian Job, specifically F. Gary Gray’s 2003 remake starring Mark Wahlberg, Ed Norton and many other actors. The remake wasn’t good enough to make either of our ‘Great Remakes’ Listicles, but it was a competent little heist caper. Even so, I’ve never understood why everyone was so excited about it. Peter Collinson’s incredibly vibrant original version of The Italian Job was a hilarious film, excitingly produced and fool of classic bits that remain memorable today. “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

Besides one of the funniest lines in cinematic history, and one of the most incredible – albeit ridiculous – car chase sequences ever filmed, fans of the original Italian Job will never be able to forget it’s thrilling closing scene, a cliffhanger if ever there was one. SPOILER ALERT: The thieves have successfully captured the gold and drive along the winding cliffside roads, rejoicing in their victory. Then, a sudden swerve sends them careening over the edge. As the team balances precariously on the cliff, unable to reach their victory spoils without dooming them all, Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) says, “Hang on, lads. I’ve got a great idea.”

Movie Still: The Italian Job

“I’ve got a great idea! It involves ending the film on a cliffhanger.” – The Italian Job Read more…

When Movie Marketing FAILS: Cats & Dogs 2, Knight & Day, Babies and Grown Ups

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June 13th, 2010 at 5:55 pm

THE POSTER FOR CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE

Movie Poster: Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

God, I hope the name ‘Kitty Galore’ isn’t a euphemism…

Not terribly long ago there was a successful family film about superspy pets called Cats & Dogs. Wait… THAT WAS NINE YEARS AGO. Who exactly demanded this sequel again? Cats & Dogs wasn’t a particularly awful film (anything with Siamese Cat ninjas can’t be all bad), and it would seem that it made at least a little money, but for all the effort that went into the production it’s hard to imagine a film that made less of a cultural impact. If you think about it, in the last nine years the original movie’s entire target demographic has grown out of this kind of juvenile family film, but they’re also still too young (I hope) to have kids of their own to drag to this nonsense.

But you know what? That’s not the problem here. The problem is the poster. Take a good long look at it and tell me what you see. You see a dog flying in a jet pack. Makes sense to me, since the dog’s probably a superspy and has few other options besides the aforementioned jetpack if he wishes to engage in aerial combat. The same holds true for the cat in the background, who would appear to be in hot pursuit. These two observations call into question who, exactly, brought out their jetpack first. Did the dog attempt to flee an intended conflict by throwing on his trusty jetpack, forcing the cat into pursuit? If so, where did the dog keep the jetpack when it wasn’t in use? Or the cat for that matter? Most importantly, why is the f**king pigeon just sitting on the wing of the jetpack?!

Hey! Chirpy! You can fly. Get off your lazy ass and help somebody out here! We’re in the middle of a dogfight for pete’s sa… Oh, I get it. That’s cute. Seriously though, nobody in the marketing department knew that pigeons can fly? That doesn’t bode well… Read more…

Did Alfred Hitchcock Invent the “That’s What She Said” Joke?

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June 11th, 2010 at 3:22 am

Well, no. Probably not. But he just may have been the first person to make the joke on film in this rare sound test (Thanks YouTube!) from Blackmail!, officially considered the first synch-sound film made in Britain. Actually, production had already begun as a silent film but, like in the plot of Singin’ in the Rain, the sudden success of The Jazz Singer prompted the producers to finish the film in sound. Alas, some of the roles had to be recast, and leading lady Anny Ondra had to be dubbed completely due to her German accent (since she was playing a British character).

Movie Poster: Blackmail!

“See and hear it! Our Mother Tongue as it Should Be – SPOKEN!” But not by lead actress Anny Ondra…

In this clip, poor (yet fiercely adorable) Anny Ondra confesses that she “cannot speak well” while Hitchcock himself over-enunciates each syllable, mugging to the camera and culminating with what may be the earliest recorded version of the “That’s What She Said” joke. Ondra is suitably (and once again, adorably) mortified. Have a look:

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“Come here. Stand in your place. Otherwise it will not come out right… As the girl said to the soldier.”

Ondra’s accent doesn’t seem that thick to me, but she was dubbed anyway, in the most low-tech manner possible. Ondra appeared on-screen, mouthing her lines silently as actress Joan Barry spoke them just off-camera. (Once again, just like in Singin’ in the Rain.) Now you know!

I’d like to personally thank Brently Davis Koetter for making me aware of this fantastic piece of footage!

The Weekly Listicle: Remakes We Love

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June 10th, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in June 11′s remake of The Karate Kid.

This week’s release The Karate Kid, starring Will Smith’s adorable male spawn Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, is a remake of the much-loved 1984 classic starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. The new Karate Kid looks like it could be a fun, spirited reboot of the franchise that brought us “wax on, wax off” and brought martial arts to the American moviegoing public. On the other hand, it could be a total flop. Remakes have a bad rap in Hollywood and abroad (often for good reason–there is generally no good reason for a redo, and another version only tends to dumb the original down).

Ralph Macchio as student and Pat Morita as unshakable teacher in the original 1984 The Karate Kid.

In hopes that The Karate Kid won’t be so bad, with this week’s Listicle, William Bibbiani and I (Julia Rhodes!) bring you our favorite remakes.

Julia’s Picks:


Dawn of the Dead, 2004 (original 1978)

Running zombies? Say what now? Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Some zombie fanatics panicked when they heard Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead would feature not the walking dead, but the running dead. Romero’s 1978 original was actually a sequel to what many consider the American zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968). The original Dawn was a scathing indictment of consumerism, pointing its finger at the sudden popularity of brand new indoor shopping malls. When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, a group of survivors lock themselves in a mall, fortified by a huge pantry, gun shop, ice rink, and Penney’s. The zombie hoards follow soon after, though, and Peter (cult icon Ken Foree) assures the others, “They’re after the place. They don’t know why, they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.” Zombies, in almost every incarnation, simply want to consume—and Romero’s shambling, blue-faced messes wanted not only to consume brains, but also had an innate memory of their lives as consumers of things, clothing and knickknacks and ice creams. Of course they’d remember the mall.

They only want to consume: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

Snyder, whose film version of graphic novels Watchmen and 300 made him a big name, created a truly fantastic homage and reinvention of Romero’s slow-moving, slightly ridiculous zombies. Snyder’s zombies hide in dark corners; they have strength and agility comparable to our own; they even show a semblance of intelligence. Those of us who weren’t huffily offended at the idea of running zombies found a stunner of a horror flick in Snyder’s Dawn. The movie brought the concept to a whole new generation of fans, and brought the idea completely up to date. It’s stylish, relying heavily on saturated film, slow motion, and close-ups. It’s action-packed, with characters wielding machine guns, chainsaws, and eventually armored cars against some of the scariest creatures you’ll see in a horror flick.

What makes both Dawn movies good horror is their survivors. In Romero’s film, the cast is made up of four characters, two of whom are a couple, two of whom are military. They have vastly different personalities and manage to become friends as the world crumbles around them—and as they each react differently to the apocalypse. In Snyder’s film, the survivors are a much larger group which includes nurse Ana (Splice’s Sarah Polley), policeman Michael (Ving Rhames), a trio of power-hungry mall cops, and a teenager. Both movies feature montages that show us just how fascinating a shopping mall is when you’re trapped there for months on end. (Hint: you’d go nuts, too.)

BRAINS…Romero’s original 1978 Dawn.

Snyder took a classic and turned it into an utterly terrifying modern parable. The soundtrack, cinematography, action, and cast form one of the best horror movies of the 2000s, and with cameos from multiple of the original Romero cast, you know the original zombie guru himself was on the sidelines, happily watching as his masterpiece was ushered to a new generation. Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Insultingly BAD Movies

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June 3rd, 2010 at 6:58 pm

There’s something wrong with the world today. Aerosmith might not know what it is, but here at The Fourth Wall we’re pretty sure that it’s Marmaduke. Not the harmless daily comic strip, but the upcoming feature film adaptation that appears ready to do irreparable damage to the human condition. Don’t believe us? Check out the trailer, which has been described unironically as ‘the worst thing ever’ since its release:

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Marmaduke got us thinking about a special breed (no pun intended) of movie. It’s not a genre, since there aren’t any guidelines to making them other than an apparent hatred of the audience. Films like Marmaduke may qualify as ‘art,’ but only on a technicality. They exist to make money more than tell a story, and are fully satisfied to merely distract an audience rather than actually entertain or – heaven forefend – enlighten them. In this installment of The Weekly Listicle, Julia Rhodes and I (William Bibbiani!) present ten films, in no particular order, that insulted your intelligence… and expected to be rewarded for it.

WILLIAM’S PICKS:

Street Fighter: The Movie (dir. Stephen E. de Souza, 1994)

Movie Still: Street Fighter: The Movie

In the industry we call this a ‘group shot.’ In the case of Street Fighter: The Movie, it’s because we wish everyone in the group had been shot.

Videogame movies get a bad rap, and movies like Street Fighter: The Movie are the ones responsible. It wasn’t the first embarrassing videogame adaptation. Super Mario Bros. had already come out a year prior, although it was at least ambitious enough to add a dystopian Blade Runner angle that had nothing to do with the game but at least seemed to indicate that someone was really trying. Nobody expected much from the Super Mario Bros. movie. That videogame was based on the thinnest of plotlines, focusing instead on a series of hallucinogenic images that were easy to render in a scant 8-bits. Street Fighter, or rather Street Fighter II, was a different story. This was a videogame with a large cast of colorful characters with detailed backstories and conflicts, based on a simple but proven effective cinematic plot device of a fighting competition. Even little kids like myself (well, I was a little kid at the time) were expecting Enter the Dragon… or at least Bloodsport.

What we got was an insult, not just to the game (which wasn’t exactly Criterion material to begin with) but to the target demographic. We were adolescents, maybe a little younger, and writer/director Stephen E. de Souza, along with everyone else in the credits, made a film for babies. Gone were the martial arts influences, and for that matter most of the martial arts. The already simplistic characters were reduced to walking costumes. The plot was pretty much a G.I. Joe movie with the names changed, the stakes lowered, and the brain removed. They didn’t even bother with the central conceit of the game they were adapting: without a fighting tournament this wasn’t Street Fighter, it was just another brainless action movie with an unusually large cast. Wes Studi, who had previously played my favorite movie villain in 1992’s Last of the Mohicans, was completely wasted. Raul Julia, in one of his final cinematic roles, played Bison like the character was completely wasted. Actually, his performance as a Kim Jong-Il-ish psychotic dictator is the only redeeming quality in this piece of crap. His belief that his fascist superstate will be a magnet for fast food franchises is positively endearing.

Movie Still: Street Fighter: The Movie

Raul Julia, we miss you. His completely bugnuts performance in Street Fighter: The Movie isn’t just the film’s one redeeming feature, it’s worthy of a special Academy Award.

Street Fighter: The Movie is full of insults to not just the audience but also the very integrity of the film. There’s an invisible boat that leaves a mile of clearly visible foam behind it, nullifying the reason for its existence. The Japanese character is forced to fight in a miniature city like Godzilla. And Ryu and Ken, the actual stars of the game, are relegated to second string status, and their original storyline cut completely.

Some people would defend excrement like Street Fighter: The Movie by saying that it’s ‘made for children.’ That’s no excuse. If it was made by children I might be more forgiving, but it wasn’t. It was made by a veritable army of fully-functioning adults who decided that your children were stupid enough to be entertained by pointless drivel. Every time you take your child to see a film like Street Fighter or Marmaduke, what you are really saying is that you think your children are stupid, and are willing to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy. Street Fighter has ironic entertainment value, but despite that I hate it with every fiber of my being. Moving on! Read more…

QUIT IT! (A Moviegoer’s Pet Peeves)

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June 1st, 2010 at 10:14 pm

In the last year or so I’ve become almost as comfortable in the local theater as in my own living room. I’m what you’d call a frequent filmgoer, and am reclining in front of a theater screen once a week whether or not I write a review. The rest of the time I’m streaming something on Netflix or trying to keep up with the myriad addictive TV shows airing right now. I confess I sometimes feel like a blank-faced robot sitting in front of screens most of my waking hours. (C’est la vie, or La vita è bella, depending on your viewpoint.)

Theaters: unlike anywhere else.

Seeing a movie in the theater is a singular experience. It’s seeing a movie the way the filmmakers want you to see it. When the lights go down, the screen becomes the only brightness in a dark room, and all eyes focus on the eerie glow. Word of mouth fables are a part of human cultural evolution; our ancestors sat around campfires reciting tall tales, and the theater is perhaps the modern equivalent of those campfire stories. It’s one of the only ways in which a large group of strangers gets together to enjoy something together, and yet separately–because films affect each of us differently (which makes my job difficult sometimes). With the advent of home theater technology and the internet, the theater experience is (sadly) becoming unnecessary. I still prefer it, even when the movie’s terrible.

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John Goodman tells it better than I do in the criminally under-seen Matinee.

No matter the value of the theater “experience,” there are times when I bite my tongue against chiding my fellow viewers or have to restrain myself from smacking them upside the head. I won’t bother going into seat-kickers and unnecessary talkers, because we’re all familiar with those. What follows is a list of my own personal moviegoer pet peeves.

Gauged ears notwithstanding, just…put…down…the…phone.

1. THE CELL PHONE ADDICT. You know those commercials that air before movies requesting in some sugary-sweet way that you should be courteous and “set your phone for no sound and no light”? They’re not for your entertainment. I’m not even referring to jerks who actually talk on their phones, or someone whose phone accidentally rings, causing them to scramble red-faced to shut the thing off (although that happened during the suicide scene in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, nearly ruining the whole experience for me). No, I mean the one who can’t seem to get through a two-hour movie without checking his phone every two minutes. You are NOT that popular, and we all paid far too much for this movie to watch you giggle in your green-tinged LCD light at whatever super witty thing your friend just sent you. That light you think is really dim? Yeah, it’s not. We can all see it.

2. THE REPEATER. We just heard the line when the actor said it. You really, really don’t need to repeat it. Laughter will suffice to express your entertainment and admiration for a great script. Read more…

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS FILM?: Barry Caillier’s Daredreamer!

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June 1st, 2010 at 4:13 am

Every Memorial Day and Labor Day The Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles holds what they call “The Five Minutes Game.” The proprietors of the theater present the first five minutes of a series of generally obscure films – usually unavailable on DVD – and the audience votes for which film they wish to see screened in its entirety afterwards. The premise is sound, since the first few minutes of every film are always designed to compel the audience to watch more.

This Memorial Day was my first time attending, but will not be the last. Although we ended up watching Dragon Hunt, an unconscionably watchable Canadian martial arts action sequel (and a laugh riot to boot), I would particularly like to thank The Silent Movie Theater for introducing me to Daredreamer, a 1990 high school musical from writer/director Barry Caillier (who also directed the unbelievably titled In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo), and which I will stop at nothing to track down on home video. I would also like to thank ‘edmondant’ for posting these bizarrely entertaining clips on YouTube for all of us to enjoy.

If you’ve seen Daredreamer, particularly around the time it was first released, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. This has to be somebody’s favorite movie, and has to have influenced a young child on the verge of adolescence. I would very much like to hear about that person, what they remember about watching Daredreamer, and whatever happened to their own dreams (if, of course, they dare).

That first five minutes, which made me fall in love for the first time:

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And more, just incredibly joyous, possibly very bad and altogether adorable songs and scenes from what is destined to be my new personal obsession. I have no idea if these are in chronological order or not, and I’m pretty sure I don’t care: Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Epic Movies of Epic Epicness

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May 27th, 2010 at 10:40 am

Aside from questionable casting and probable cheesiness, this week’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time looks to be what Don LaFontaine (AKA “trailer voice guy”) would have deemed “an epic of epic proportions.” Thus, in this week’s Listicle William Bibbiani and I (Julia Rhodes!) bring you some of our favorite Epic Movies of Epic Epicness. (No, epicness is not a word—but it should be.)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

A few things to remember about The Weekly Listicle: our informed, obviously awesome choices are not in numerical order, nor are they listed best to worst. William’s and Julia’s picks come straight to you from our overworked blogger brains, from our fingertips to your eyes, but we aren’t offering a ranking system here. For instance, for this Weekly Listicle, I’m headed back to my childhood for epic inspiration, while William’s got the classics covered. We’re not ranking them—in no way is Forrest Gump a better movie than Gone with the Wind or Metropolis (really…no way).

As always, feel free to mention your own favorites in the comment and call us out on glaring omissions!

JULIA’S PICKS:

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (dir. Peter Jackson, 2001, 2002, 2003)

The Hobbits undertake an epic journey in Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy isn’t a single film, of course, but it sure is epic. Based on the three novels by linguist J.R.R. Tolkien (who is of course also responsible for one of my favorite childhood animated epics, The Hobbit—which Guillermo del Toro is remaking). Lord of the Rings, a twelve-hour descent into the alternate universe of Middle Earth, can’t be categorized as anything else but “epic awesomeness.” Because of my early adoration of Jackson and my affinity for geekery, I have waited in (sometimes two-hour) lines for midnight screenings of each movie. Read more…

Screw the Characters: Why ‘Lost’ Was Always About the Plot

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May 25th, 2010 at 2:54 am

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the finale of ‘Lost’ came and went this Sunday and by God it was grand. Action-packed and full of heartbreaking moments, the troubled but appreciated series came to a successful end. It may not have resolved all of the series ongoing plotlines, and maybe it left most of our biggest questions unanswered, but… Well, actually that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

Still: Lost

‘Lost’ had great characters, but if the series was about those same characters washing their socks for six seasons, would you really have watched?

You see, with ‘Lost’ finally over we can take stock of what the series actually accomplished. No more “Wait and see,” no more “They’ll get to it later,” now we know that the writers had absolutely no interest whatsoever in explaining Walt’s superpowers, or how turning a wooden wheel only caused a few select people to move around in time, or what the numbers really meant (no, the fact that Jacob wrote them on his wall does not count as an answer). It turns out that there was nothing to know about the statue, or the cabin, or the Dharma supply drops, or why that psychic insisted that Claire raise Aaron. All that mattered, according to the apologists, were “the characters.”

Nonsense.

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that at the heart of any great story lays a great character, and usually more than one. ‘Lost’ was no exception, and every member of the cast brought to life a compelling individual with complex motivation and emotional baggage. Character is important. But no, character is not everything, because those great characters have to do something in order to be interesting. Otherwise we’d just be reading their resumes (presumably in their magic files).

Still: Lost

Walt: A plot point and character that ‘Lost’ dropped like a stone when he became inconvenient.

‘Lost’ introduced an incredible cast of characters in an incredible situation: cast away on a (seemingly) deserted island. Frankly, this would have been enough of a setup to keep the series afloat for many seasons to come as they struggled to survive in a wild terrain and overcome their differences before they turned on each other. Yes, that would have been enough. But in the very first episode, they also introduced “The Monster.” And thus, the plot began. Soon the writers of ‘Lost’ were throwing increasingly wild concepts at the audience, from an ominous hatch to supernatural numbers to a mysterious group of quasi-religious zealots to a bizarre quirk of the island that prevents women from giving birth. And then, in an unthinkable turn of events, the writers started telling us that ‘Lost’ wasn’t about the plot.

Like I said: Nonsense.

I’m sorry, writers of ‘Lost,’ but if you didn’t want us to care about the crazy plot points you introduced over the course of the series, then maybe you shouldn’t have introduced crazy plot points. It’s one thing to say that a semi-plausible plotline is secondary to character, but to include time travel, Gods, ghosts, psychics and superpowered children and then ask us not to wonder about them is insulting. Imagine if you will that you were watching an episode of ‘The Wire’ and all of a sudden a giant statue of the Egyptian fertility God Taweret showed up in the middle of Baltimore. And then they never really discussed it. Wouldn’t that be considered, I don’t know… a flaw? Would you not find it distracting that the writers thought it important to include such a significant ‘detail’ and then never explain it? Just because ‘Lost’ made a habit of not explaining itself doesn’t really justify its behavior. Ask any heroin addict: There is such a thing as a bad habit. And introducing story elements without ever resolving them is as bad a habit as a good writer can develop.

Still: Lost

If the show was all about character, then why did they give a plot point its own action figure?

So praise ‘Lost’ if you must, because it was a fine series despite its many troubles. And praise the finale, because it was as emotionally satisfying as television gets. By all means praise the characters, without whom the series would not have been such a success. But don’t try to pretend that ‘Lost’ was never about the plot. Without the plot you wouldn’t have watched. Without the mysteries there would have been no debate. Without the story… there would have been no ‘Lost.’

The Weekly Listicle: The Worst Endings Ever EVER.

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May 21st, 2010 at 4:35 am

Six seasons have come and passed, but now this Sunday, May 23rd, ‘Lost’ finally comes to an end… and if this season has been any indication it’s probably going to be pretty disappointing. So, Julia Rhodes and I (William Bibbiani!) present to you our list of The Worst Endings Ever Ever, just to get into the spirit.

TV Still: Lost

Bad news, Jacob… You’re fired. But hell, after Sunday we all are.

Just to be clear: An ending can only qualify as “bad” if the story that preceded it was actually pretty good. For example, the ending of Transformers 2 was pretty rotten, but it was consistent with the rest of the movie. That’s not a case of a bad ending, it’s a case of a bad film. In contrast, well… Here’s what we have for you:

WILLIAM’S PICKS:

The “Sacrilege” of The Magnificent Ambersons (dir. Orson Welles, 1942)

Movie Still: The Magnificent Ambersons

These stairs make it even easier to look down on the ending of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons.

It’s easy to forget now that Citizen Kane is (pretty justifiably) considered “The Greatest Movie Ever Made” that despite a some love from the Oscars it was not considered a success by any means upon its release. When Orson Welles’ follow-up, an adaptation of Boothe Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, was set to be released the studio was already pretty jumpy. Unfortunately, test audiences didn’t know what to think of Welles’ original, 132 minute cut of this tale of an old-fashioned family losing their money and their minds at the turn of the last century. It was too dark, too long, and just too… too.

RKO freaked out completely and, while Orson Welles was out of the country shooting his next project, they recut the film down to 88 minutes, with most of the footage cut from the ending. The impact is obvious. For extended sequences The Magnificent Ambersons plays at an assured, skillful pace and then BAM! It’s time to end this sucker. Oh yes! An unfortunate accident brings everyone together again for a happy ending. Only Murnau’s The Last Laugh manages to pull a bigger 180 on its audience, although Murnau was at least snarky enough to play it off effectively.

Movie Still: The Magnificent Ambersons

The only wise cut in The Magnificent Ambersons: Our protagonist’s hair.

The real marvel here is that the rest of the film is so ridiculously good that even the egregious edits can’t destroy Welles’ original vision altogether. (The film is still considered one of the finest dramas ever produced.) Unfortunately, RKO was fully capable of destroying the missing footage, as was the custom at the time. So we may never know.

The “What Are They, Stupid?” Climax of Poltergeist (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1982)

Movie Still: Poltergeist

The only explanation for Poltergeist’s weak ending? Obviously the screenwriters were clowning around.

I love Poltergeist. I mean, I love love LOVE Poltergeist. Tobe Hooper (and probably Steven Spielberg, if the rumors are to be believed) directed this exceptional story that brought haunted houses out of musty old cobwebbed mansions and into suburbia, and everything about the film clicked: Exceptional writing brought to life a believable, funny, loving and flawed family and exceptional direction spooked  the living hell out of them with some of the best scares ever captured on celluloid.

Poltergeist was also clever enough to come up with a solution to the biggest flaw in the whole “Haunted House” genre. Namely, “Why don’t you just get out of the f***ing house?” By having the family’s youngest child kidnapped into purgatory by the eponymous poltergeists, the protagonists were forced to stay in a threatening geographic location for pretty much the entire movie. The problem is that once lovable Carole Anne (Heather O’Rourke) was rescued and the ghosts supposedly exorcised, everyone in the family decides to spend one more night just for the hell of it. Naturally, that’s when things get really bad. It’s an astoundingly clever film that ends on an astoundingly dumb note.

Still a great movie though. Read more…

Bret Easton Ellis: Film requires the male gaze, female directors need not apply

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May 19th, 2010 at 10:15 am

Movieline printed an interview with author Bret Easton Ellis, whose most famous work is probably American Psycho, which director Mary Harron translated into a bizarre little film starring Christian Bale in 2000.

Bret Easton Ellis in a publicity shot (from here).

Ellis’s books are infinitely dark, angry, and sometimes downright shocking. They are about the gritty, hideous underbelly of human emotion. Movie adaptations of his work, which include Less Than Zero (1987), The Rules of Attraction (2002), and The Informers (2008), along with American Psycho, are generally hit-or-miss. To be fair, the material’s often difficult to adapt, but Harron managed it brilliantly with American Psycho.

Christian Bale debates his weaponry in Mary Harron’s American Psycho.

For some reason, Ellis puts his in two cents to Movieline regarding female directors. He says,

“…There’s something about the medium of film itself that I think requires the male gaze.”
Read more…

What summer should have been: Camp in Movies and TV

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May 18th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

It’s already mid-May, guys. Summer’s nearly upon us. “Summer” means something different to everyone, but universally it seems to include any or all of the following: steamy weather; fresh produce; chirping crickets; blooming flowers; heat mirages rising from the pavement in front of your car; exhausted, sunburned limbs; and tossing yourself in the nearest body of water. I learned a few weeks ago I’ll be working a job as a camp counselor over the summer of 2010.

My first thought upon hearing I got the job was, “All right, what do I watch to prepare myself for this?” I immediately set to finding summer camp movies and TV to train my brain for a summer packed with kids, mosquito bites, arts and crafts, dodgeball, swimming pools, and awesomeness.

These made the list:

Camp Nowhere (1994, dir. Jonathan Prince)

YouTube Preview Image

Part 1 of Camp Nowhere, the whole of which is available on YouTube.

This under-appreciated little movie is a perfect vision of every kid’s dream summer. It follows pre-teens who decide to escape their parents’ expectations—computer camp, fat camp, military camp, and drama camp—and create their own summer getaway. With the help of the always-wacky Christopher Lloyd, the kids manage to con their parents out of a few thousand dollars, rent some old hippie cabins, and make the best of it, all while dealing with raging hormones and rebellious streaks. The kids in this movie do everything you wish you could’ve as a kid—playing with fireworks, eating nothing but Twinkies and peanut butter, mud-wrestling, swan diving into a sea of mattresses. Bonus: the internet offers little about the movie besides the fact that a very young Jessica Alba has a tiny, nonspeaking role in the movie. Camp Nowhere is not the best flick ever, but it holds a special place in my heart as a symbol of the way summer should have been when I was thirteen.

Meatballs (1979, dir. Ivan Reitman)

Chris Makepeace and Bill Murray in Meatballs.

Read more…

miniBLOGS: Why “Lost” Sucked This Week, Why 3-D is Doomed, and Three Trailers You HAVE to See

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May 17th, 2010 at 3:03 am

Nobody sympathizes with the problems of a film critic. “Oh really, the movie was bad? Well, woe is you…” is a pretty common refrain, even if the phrasing varies slightly from person to person. (Sometimes the “F”-word is involved.) Lately I find myself with lots to write about but nothing worthy of its own proper article, a problem I really fretted over until reaching the retrospectively obvious solution: a collection of Mini-Blogs. Let’s call them “William’s Woes.” No wait, let’s not. Let’s just call them miniBLOGS.

1. SO DID “LOST” SUCK THIS WEEK OR WHAT?

Lost: Across the Sea

Backgammon: Important. Everything Else: Optional. How does that work again?

You’re a great television series, “Lost.” I fell in love with you after a close friend forced me to watch the phenomenal second season premiere, and to thank him I bought the first season on DVD… which I then immediately borrowed and watched it over the course of a weekend. You’ve had your ups and downs, ‘Lost,’ and rewatching you from beginning-to-almost-end this past month really made them clear. Your first four seasons got a little spotty but told a consistently engaging story filled with mystery, corruption, redemption and unexpected twists and turns. Then the fifth season came around and you decided you were a science fiction show, and frankly the shift didn’t play well as I watched it the second time. It’s an about-face from the rest of the series, and ultimately leads nowhere except for the sixth season, in which you decided you were a fantasy series instead, presumably just to screw with us.

The problem is that “Lost: The Science Fiction Series” was just okay, while “Lost: The Fantasy Series” sucks. You told us last season that there was order to the universe, that all of time and space had cohesive rules. Now you’re back to telling us spiritual mumbo jumbo and asking us to take your word that it makes sense. This last episode, “Across the Sea,” told the origin story of Jacob and The Man in Black but didn’t bother to give it any dramatic consequence. We didn’t learn anything about the energy source on the island, we just learned that it’s there, which we already knew. We didn’t learn why Jacob and The Man in Black are incapable of killing each other, just that their “mother” made it so that they can’t. How does one even go about that, exactly? We figured that something happened to make it that way. Did you really need to devote an entire hour to simply not telling us what that thing was?

Lost: Across the Sea

Well, that’s smoke on the water all right. So does the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 count as ‘fire in the sky?’ Because this is going to make one is hell of a term paper…

And it turns out that The Man in Black made that frozen donkey wheel underground, but what does it do? It’s connected to a “mechanism” apparently. That wasn’t even worth telling us. Imagine you’re a kid asking someone with all the answers a direct and significant question. You’re at a field trip to an automobile factory and you ask the guide how the first car was made, and he says, “Well, it’s an interesting story. You see… Somebody whose name I don’t know built it. Cool, huh?”

YouTube Preview Image Read more…

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