Thursday, May 14, 2009


A few weeks ago the Los Angeles Times unveiled their Summer Sneaks section in which the hometown paper for the movie industry breathlessly and exhaustively reported on all the gigantic blockbusters (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, G.I. Joe, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, etc., etc.) that you apparently need to know about, as well as about 3,297 other movies to be uncorked between now and Labor Day, all of which add up to create the fevered season of hype known as a Hollywood summer. A week or so later Entertainment Weekly did the same thing. And I had to take note. I came of age in the summer of Jaws. I love the summer movie season. But I’m increasingly less impressed with the recycling of toys and comic books as the epicenter of the industry’s annual pitch for an ultimate orgasm of commerce and popcorn munching. This statement, you’ll remember, comes from a man who voted Speed Racer the best film of 2008, so you will understand that every preconception, prejudice and refusal has a glaring exception or two just waiting to jump out of the closet and expose folks like me as obvious hypocrites.

But really, it honestly is not very often that a surprise like Speed Racer gets logged in the banks of movie-going experiences. Granted, I thrilled to J.J. Abrams’ revisiting of Star Trek, even when moments before entering the theater I was still grumbling that I didn’t care about Star Trek anymore and was imagining a inevitably hollow, indifferent picture to follow the onslaught of trailers for more summer movies I don’t want to see. The ultimate triumph of Star Trek version 2009, besides being the most rousing entertainment of all the Star Trek movies (with the possible exception of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) is that it reminded me why the universe of Star Trek still matters. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, however, was discovering that these iconic pop culture figures somehow still do matter, that at least I still have far more invested in them and their care than I was even consciously aware of having. Watching the youth restored to these characters while having their mythos honored the way it is here was refreshing and a relief. Far more than the Star Wars series, Star Trek is no longer the province of cultural mothballs but revitalized, clever and ready to engage once again. That in itself is the biggest summer treat mass audiences have been given and accepted in a long time. (Speed Racer operated in the same heady realm, and it’s a far better movie still, I think, but as you are no doubt aware very few took the Wachowski Brothers up on their invitation to play during May of last year.)

But even with the proof, in Star Trek, that my expectations could be so fundamentally off-base, it’s still hard for me to get excited, as Entertainment Weekly insists I should, about this summer’s big-ass slate of films. I thumbed through that “Summer Movie Preview” issue with “all the buzz on over 80 new films” and was bored stiff by the time I turned the page into the month of July. Really, am I supposed to care that Stephen Sommers, perpetrator of Van Helsing, has a new action blockbuster based on a toy I was bored with in 1967? Am I supposed to get all squirmy with excitement at seeing shots of a sweaty Megan Fox intercut with heavy-metal images from Michael Bay’s new movie about toys I was at least 15 years too old for when they were first popular? And despite my fondness for McG and the first Charlie’s Angels feature (about as zesty and giddily exciting as any pre-fab confection could be), that new Terminator movie just looks so goddamn glum and desperate, and overly familiar. Hell, I didn’t even like Terminator 2: Judgment Day all that much. It’s going to take some real narrative magic to convince me there are untold elements of this John Connor saga that are still worth telling.

There are pictures being released this summer that I’m genuinely excited to see. They’re just not, with a couple of huge exceptions, the ones that studios are bolstering with embarrassing levels of marketing. Of the 16 movies I picked out of the over 80 new films EW is so damned excited about, only four of them could be classified as blockbusters, and only one of those has any chance at all of morphing into something resembling a tent-pole franchise. Two of them are crime thrillers with no sequel potential (Public Enemies, The Taking of Pelham of 1 2 3) and one is a Pixar film, which is its own kind of tent-pole. Only Land of the Lost looks like it has any possibility of being spun out past this summer, and sequels to that movie, if there are any, are better bets for the straight-to-video market, unless America falls deeply, profoundly in love with the way Will Ferrell skedaddles like a sidewinder away from the movie’s pesky T-Rex. Thankfully there will be small, independent releases that will show up to steal the thunder out from the likes of yet another Harry Potter movie (Zzzzzzzz--- Hunh? What? No, I’m awake.) But of the films gathered under the Summer Movie Preview umbrella, these 16 are literally the only ones to rouse anything like real interest on my radar. Frankly, like Juan Pierre thrust unexpectedly into the summer spotlight for the Dodgers, I’d be happy as hell with a .300 batting average at this end of this summer—if only as many as five of the 16 movies I’m banking the hopes behind my entertainment dollars on actually deliver on their promises, why, I’d feel like that was bucking the odds at a practically supernatural rate.

So what are these 16 potentially magical SLIFR saviors of summer? So glad you asked.


Opening this weekend in limited release. I am going to take Aaron Hillis at his word and on his enthusiasm and get myself out to the showing of this one posthaste: “I hurt myself laughing at this amazingly inventive mockumentary, and because it's so good, I refuse to give away much more than an insistent recommendation. A long-haired, sad-sack government employee, Dai-Sato (Hitoshi Matsumoto), has somehow inspired a documentarian to follow him around as he eats lunch alone and extols the virtues of umbrellas (he likes anything that expands). In long takes that cut like early Jarmusch, the first half hour rambles on with downbeat wit before dropping a boulder of truth on our heads about the unlikely hero's job, why everyone in the city hates him, and how it involves electricity surging through his nipples and extensive CGI. Read nothing else about this film.” Perhaps you might want to avoid even watching this trailer...

'Nuff said. Let’s go!


Director Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Brick looks like a breezy, slightly odd caper that seems just silly and human enough to provide an excellent alternative when all those Angels and Demons shows are sold out. What would be better is to do what I’m gonna do-- just scratch the scary Catholic movie altogether and actually plan on seeing Johnson’s movie instead. Then you don’t suffer the disappointment (or the obnoxious opening weekend crowds shuffling through the turnstiles to see Tom Hanks) and you end up supporting a smaller-scale, much more personal project that looks like its director really had reasons to make it as opposed to simply marking time in Sequelville just because. (Nick Dawson talks to Rian Johnson here.)

UP (5/29)

Early reviews from Cannes suggest that we may now have to consider two possibilities: a) either John Lasseter has entered his and Pixar’s souls into a Faustian bargain to keep his company’s spotless commercial streak (and nearly-as-spotless artistic streak) intact, or b) the folks at Pixar are just simply brilliant storytellers working at perhaps historic heights of artistic confidence and that Up is going to be their best yet. Considering that their most disappointing movie (Cars) was still pretty good by anyone else’s standards, Up seem like a pretty strong bet.


Some proud horror geeks I know have seen this movie already and are confirming with great glee that the hopes those of us who have pined for a return to Sam Raimi’s horror-comedy roots (a la Evil Dead 2) may well emerge undashed and quite fulfilled by this new bag of bones. The trailer practically exalts in that old Raimi energy, making it, perhaps even more than Star Trek, the ideal way to kick off the summer movie season, especially if you can figure out some way to see it at a drive-in

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (5/20 on HDNet, 5/22 theatrical)

Steven Soderbergh’s newest drama looks provocative, chilly and visually arresting, and that’s not just because it stars porn actress Sasha Grey. This formalist examination of a particular aspect of the sex trade looks to be the rare semi-high-profile summer release that isn’t loaded with explosions and/or in 3D. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with those things, but if nothing else The Girlfriend Experience could be a alternative tonic, a restless respite from CGI action pictures and raucous comedy in favor of a more rewarding Sex, Lies and Videotape-esque template. Or maybe it’ll just be another Full Frontal.


I know, I know. Whaaaa...? I’m no Sid and Marty Krofft fetishist, though I did watch the show as a kid. It just looks funny to me, in an Anchorman/Step Brothers kind of way, only with giant dinosaurs. Sounds like an ideal Saturday matinee.


I’m having a harder time getting behind this one, given my great love for the original Walter Matthau-Robert Shaw picture which, despite what the Los Angeles Times thinks, is a movie that is hardly a solid candidate for improvements and refurbishments courtesy of Tony Scott. I’m willing to give it a try though, if only so that Larry Aydlette and I can have something to yammer about. Which reminds me, I promised L.A. I’d watch Domino, and I have yet to do so. Can I take two Tony Scott movies in one month? We’ll see.

YEAR ONE (6/19)

Here’s the movie on this short list with the biggest chance of being a total dud. Yet it has the imprimatur of Harold Ramis behind it, and to hear him talk about the movie being a way of satirically engaging with the idea of religious fundamentalism has me at the very least intrigued. And there are at least two solid laughs in the trailer. So here’s hoping it lands closer to Groundhog Day or Stripes than Analyze This or Analyze That. Hell, I’d be happy if it was half as funny as Caveman.


Attach the name Kathryn Bigelow to any project and it automatically becomes worth a look. And so it is with this intense-looking film, yet another foray into that most dangerous of gambles, the commercial fate of an Iraq war film. Can Bigelow succeed in engaging the public where the likes of Paul Haggis, Brian De Palma and Kimberly Pierce have failed? This looks like a great opportunity to Bigelow to wrestle with the tension between her muscular pulp aesthetic and the grim reality of war, where the action is never as purely exhilarating as it can seem at times on screen.


I haven’t a whole lot of confidence in my expectations for this movie, based solely on the trailer above. I’ll just keep reminding myself that, against all likelihood, Michael Mann’s last movie, Miami Vice, was sensually alert, visually fascinating stuff, and maybe the revered director can pull another rabbit out of his hat with Johnny Depp starring as John Dillinger. That said, it seems to me that this one, alongside Year One and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, has the biggest chance of drowning in its own flop sweat right there on the big screen. I’ll still buy a ticket though, unless (and maybe even if) it starts getting reviews that more resemble Mann’s The Keep.

BRUNO (7/10)

In my book, the summer’s most promising movies are the ones that look to deliver big laughs, and of all those, if Borat and the audiences at SXSW are any true indicators, this one might just be the biggest producer of guffaws and belly laffs of them all. The comedy will, of course, be ladled on top of yet another of Sasha Baron Cohen’s devastating cultural examinations, much of it at the expense of the easily fleeced and flummoxed, and if it works then there’ll thankfully be a whole lot more to talk about around the cinematic water cooler than whether the effects in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen are as neat-o the second time around. I can’t wait to see that whole locksmith sequence.


In true Miramax/Dimension fashion, this highly regarded horror thriller has been sitting on the shelf for something like two years, but those who have seen it insist that it is something special. The trailer seems pretty routine, but I don’t think it is too much to hope for a bilious butterfly to emerge from the cocoon of mediocrity surrounding this movie’s marketing.


Well, this is either going to be really fun, a Kelly’s Heroes for the Kill Bill crowd, or the biggest eye-roller of the summer. I’m not sold on Brad Pitt’s accent as featured here, but it wouldn’t be the first time that bits of a performance seen in isolation do not reflect the quality of the thing as a whole. And that could be the case with the movie too. Good or bad, any Tarantino movie is going to have a must-see aura about it, and coming off the brilliant Death Proof I remain interested in what the aging wunderkind has left in his gas tank. If nothing else, it could be the movie that will make those who hated Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book reassess the offenses of that movie in light of a whole new slew of morally questionable carnage.


Still licking his wounds from the unfriendly reception afforded his lively, deliberately crude Snakes on a Plane a few years ago, director David R. Ellis returns to the Final Destination franchise (he directed the spirited, whiz-bang second chapter) to give it a 3D goosing. Here’s hoping Ellis gets ample opportunity to flex his action chops as well as his fear-mongering muscles as the Rube Goldberg contraptions rigged by a relentlessly spry Death just keep on cranking.


Wow, if the filmmakers somehow manage to bottle the pitch-perfect tone of this trailer and sustain it to feature length (a trick that was beyond Keenen Ivory Wayans and his genial but wildly uneven I’m Gonna Get You, Sucka), then we could be witness to a real marvel of a pop satire with this one. There’s so many ways it could go wrong, or flat, or remain grounded when it should be soaring higher that the hero’s hair, that I’m just gonna sit on my hands for now and quietly hope for the best. But, damn! He drives a $5,000 car and wears hundred-dollar suits! Now, that’s something to hope on!


Left at the altar by Fox twice, Mike Judge turns to the Weinsteins for some sugar this time. Not exactly a reassuring scenario for the director in terms of the Weinstein’s track record of shelving projects or turning them loose with lame-duck marketing, or no marketing at all, eh? (Some of the best Weinstein/Dimension titles have trickled onto video store shelves with no fanfare whatsoever). Let’s not only hope that Judge avoids the shiv slipped to him with Office Space and Idiocracy, but that this working-stiff comedy is as worthy as its predecessors were of the red carpet treatment they never received.


These are the 16 summer movies I am going to pursue with various degrees of intensity. Some will be duds; some will be better than they first appear in trailer form; and some will be exactly the tonic hoped for. Given that the time I have to spend in movie theaters is in no way as bountiful as it used to be, I’m going to hold myself to these titles as my main first-run fun over the next couple of months. There may be a smaller title that pops up and becomes unexpectedly alluring and irresistible, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to stay away from the big $200million tent-poles. Those can wait for Blu-ray. I have another plan for my movie summer.


Over the last year I have really enjoyed taking my eldest daughter out to revival screenings of some of the great classics and other fun, relatively vintage films available on Los Angeles screens, watching her interest in older films strengthen as she makes connections between actors from film to film, and between the films themselves. Since last summer together we’ve seen a Randolph Scott double feature (Decision at Sundown and Buchanan Rides Alone), The Magnificent Seven, Rio Bravo, The Lady Eve, Explorers, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, all on the big screen. Most recently we took in a Jimmy Stewart/Randolph Scott double feature, Winchester ‘73 and Bend of the River, at what I’ve come to think of as our theater, the New Beverly Cinema. When we walked up to the box office, owner Michael Torgan greeted my daughter with a smile and told her he’d heard that Bend of the River was one of her favorites. This made her grin profusely, of course, and feel very special. Then we were served popcorn by the lovely Julia Marchese, who greeted us with enthusiasm as well. My daughter likes Julia a lot: “It’s nice to see a pretty girl here, Daddy,” she told me as we marched down to the front of the auditorium. (The audience at the New Beverly may be weighted toward men who tend to look like me, but it is neither exclusively male nor weighted toward homely women. Julia just stands out for her because of her general friendliness and occasional high-profile appearances on stage.)

I’ve come also to look forward to checking out each fresh New Beverly calendar in great anticipation of what new treasures I can bring into my daughter’s purview, and it was the line-up Michael has concocted for May and June that really kicked my happiness into high gear. If there are only 16 movies out of 80 or so big Hollywood releases on tap for the summer, well, that’s high of a low must-see to who-cares ratio. But the New Beverly, the American Cinematheque, and the Cinefamily have probably three times as many fantastic programs in store just through the end of June alone. When it comes to what boils down to the better use of my entertainment dollar, the choice is pretty clear. Not only are admissions for all these Los Angeles revival screens less expensive (almost by half) that the screens the big elephants will be stampeding across this summer, there is no doubt as to the quality of what you’ll be seeing. You may go into Land of the Lost or The Brothers Bloom or even Up with a reasonable awareness that it is entirely possible the movie will end up less than the promise it dangles to you in the trailers and in your anticipatory imagination. But when you roll up to the box office and buy a ticket to see Lawrence of Arabia, or Duck Soup, or Meet Me in St. Louis, or Once Upon a Time in the West, or A Matter of Life and Death, you know you’re in for nothing less than a masterpiece, a sure, golden thing. With those kind of choices, I cannot justify rolling the dice for full price at the Arclight too often. Besides, at the Arclight they don’t know my daughter’s name or make her feel as welcome as she feels at home the way they do at the New Beverly.

My daughter and I are in for so many treats in the next few weeks, it’s almost embarrassing. I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of taking her to see her first Marx Brothers double feature at the New Beverly next weekend. By the end of Animal Crackers (1930) she’ll have Captain Spaulding’s big number committed to memory, and she’ll still have Groucho and Harpo’s mirror sequence, and all the sublime wordplay of Duck Soup (1933) yet to come. These are potential watershed moments for her, essential building blocks in her appreciation of the movies, and we’re so lucky to be able to see them together on a big screen. Will she be able to endure all three Back to the Future movies (1985-1990) in one sitting (March 29)? I doubt it. My plan is to go for one, maybe II, and fill in the blanks on DVD later.

But we’ll stay for both features the following Sunday (May 31) when Michael rolls out Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and George Cukor’s Little Women (1933), a double bill tailor-made for wide-eyed little girls. Thanks to the New Beverly, in June she’ll get to have her first experience with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) theatrically—how many kids over the past 25 years have been able to say that? And it’s on a double bill with John Carpenter’s Starman (1984)-- again, a perfect complement to her natural taste for the fantastic. The very next program affords the first opportunity for her to be exposed to Alfred Hitchcock, though I’m wondering if it might be better to have her first sampling be something like The Lady Vanishes or The 39 Steps or North by Northwest rather than the spectacular perversity of Strangers on a Train (1951), which will be featured alongside Suspicion (1941). I just think of Robert Walker bending over the unfortunate Laura Elliot in that amusement park and suspect my young one might not be quite ready for that just yet. She would most certainly be ready, however, for yet another literally dreamy double bill—Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and The Red Shoes (1948). She will officially be movie drunk after that program.

But it’s not all about me and my kid at the New Beverly over the next two months. Just me, me, me gets served just fine as well. For God’s sake, this is ridiculous: this weekend the New Beverly kicks off seven straight nights with a dripping-wet new print of Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) on a program with a feature-length bounty of sci-fi trailers from the vaults of New Beverly midnight maestro Phil Blankenship. And Friday night Phil extends the thrills with an ultra-rare screening of the schlocky 1979 thriller The Car, in which a demon-possessed Lincoln (it is a Lincoln, is it not, Phil?) pursues sheriff James Brolin and sends lots of innocent, unsuspecting Sunday drivers straight to asphalt hell.

I have until May 22 to convince my wife to come along with me to one of the greatest double bills in New Beverly history (well, at this this month), for it is on that day that Charles Bronson’s two best starring vehicles, The Mechanic (1972) and Mr. Majestyk (1974), will unspool in all their stripped-down glory. Majestyk is based on a terrific Elmore Leonard story and directed by Richard (Mandingo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) Fleischer, and The Mechanic may be not only Bronson’s best action thriller, but one of the only good movies ever made by director Michael Winner. Watch out for that shock ending! May 27 and 28 provides another opportunity to see Let the Right One In (2008) sans the crappy subtitles currently featured on its home video release, along with another acclaimed thriller, Timecrimes (2007).

On June 6, spend time in the company of character actor extraordinaire and New Beverly regular Clu Gulager as the theater mounts a triple feature tribute to the actor’s ‘80s output-- Hunter’s Blood (1986), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and Terror at London Bridge (1985). It should be a lot of fun to see Clu in his glory and listen to his stories from the stage of his (and our) home away from home. Phil shines with another couple of midnight classics coming this month: Motel Hell (1980; June 12) starring Rory Calhoun (“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!”); and John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980; June 20).

And on June 21 and 22, one more chance to see this blog’s mascot movie, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) the way it should be seen, all wide and wind-swept and echoing haunted echoes of Harmonica and the ghosts of Sweetwater.

Speaking of special programming Brian Quinn and Eric Caidin have populated June’s Grindhouse nights with some spectacular treats. June 9 brings you Plague Town (2008) and the queasy Swedish classic The Sinful Dwarf (1973). (Check out Michael Guillen's excellent interview with Plague Town's director David Gregory.) But the duo has really outdone themselves on June 23 with a Ray Dennis Steckler double feature of epic proportions-- The Thrill Killers (1965) and an ultra-rare chance to see Steckler’s oddball masterpiece, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies (1964) on a big screen. Screaming and frugging in the aisles will undoubtedly be encouraged!


Okay, that 27 separate chances to reach movie nirvana before the end of June alone at the New Beverly Cinema, and that’s not even the entirety of the calendar. (Keep up with their schedule on the New Beverly Facebook page.) That’s 11 more movies than were on my entire summer 2009 wanna-see list, and we have no idea what treasures will be in store for us during the months of July and August. And that’s just the New Beverly. You can see Tommy (1975) at the Aero as part of the American Cinematheque’s 70mm Festival (here’s the Cinematheque’s entire May calendar), and the Cinefamily has a run of Abel Ferrara double features every Friday through the end of the month, plus a spectacularly quirky line-up during their June comedy festival. Good grief, I haven’t even mentioned the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum, always stellar options for the revival minded Los Angeles filmgoer who doesn’t want his or her cinematic menu dictated solely by the big studios.

So why waste time complaining about the dearth of summer fare? If you’re lucky enough to have these options at your ticket-buying fingertips, I look forward to running into you repeatedly as we both take copious advantage of this bounty all summer long. And if you don’t, take a look at the titles above, write some down, think about other titles they’ll remind you of, book a Netflix-fed revival theater schedule of your own this summer and indulge, rather than trudging out to see Terminator: Salvation even though you might not really want to, just because the inescapable advertising says you should. This is the glory of great revival theaters like the New Beverly and all our Los Angeles options, and the plethora of classical goodies available on DVD—we’re never very far away, either a click of a mouse or a short drive, from the most nutritious courses on the cinematic menu.



Ryan Kelly said...

You're fortunate having a revival scene so swingin'. It's shameful, the Metropolitan area's is pretty dead. And even when good films do get shown, it's usually on a screen about the size of a brick. The best screen in NY consistently devotes itself to newer dreck. They had an awesome classics series in 06 but have barely done it since (I think that was a very random and special thing). Another of my area's great screens has a 'classics' midnight series, which roughly translates to showing crap for months and a good movie here and there. It's disheartening, really, because I'd rather check out a good revival than a new release, on most days.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to seeing Star Trek with my sons this weekend, as well as Drag Me To Hell (at the drive-in, of course), but as I've told a friend of mine, I've already seen the best movies I could see this year in the past two months, so I just need the summer movies to entertain me and not much else. My youngest son and I have been able to catch Seven Samurai and Citizen Kane at the Aero, and Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm at the Egyptian. He has committed to seeing Once Upon A Time In The West at the New Beverly, so maybe we'll see you there. Anyway, a mix of the classics and some pulp works. And if you're taking votes on the matter, I say no to taking Emma to Strangers On A Train. Take her to see Up a second time instead (because I know you're gonna have to take your daughters to see it at least once). I think Up is very good, but it will be interesting to see how it is received.

Virgil Hilts

le0pard13 said...

Another wonderful post. Some thoughts:

I agree with you on G.I. Joe.

On the Taking of Pelham 123: another remake of a movie that didn't it (the original is a cherished memory).

Looking forward to the The Hurt Locker. K. Bigelow is very under-rated.

Same for Mann's Public Enemies. Even when he bad (The Keep), he's still interesting as hell.

I agree with you on Death Proof. Even though Grindhouse didn't make $ or draw enough attention, it's a unappreciated (except by us) homage to the genre. Kurt as the bad guy was a great touch. Gets better on every re-watch. I'm so there come August for QT.

Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West at the Beverly Cinema in June? I'm so there, probably bringing my 13 yr old with me ;-).

bill r. said...

As the proud owner of a region-free DVD player, I was recently able to watch All the Boys Love Mandy Lane -- I'm so ahead of the curve! -- and, Dennis, it's pretty good. I'm at work, and didn't watch the trailer, but having seen the film it's easy for me to imagine how the film could be made to look very standard-issue. And it IS kind of standard-issue, in its set-up and general structure, but it has a bit more to offer. I think some of the early-adopters of the film have gone slightly overboard in their praise, but that doesn't mean that I don't think the film is well worth seeing. There are some really terrific moments, the film often looks really great -- it has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre grit to it -- and the acting is well above what this sort of movie generally offers.

So check it out. Keep those expectations in check, and I think you'll be well pleased.

Also, off-topic, but I watched Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse last night. Is it just me, or is that movie not that bad? Maybe it's my crush on Elizabeth Berridge, and the fact that I'm a sucker for carnival-set horror stories, but I had a pretty good time with it.

Robert Fiore said...

My idea for Terminator 4 was that they'd bring back the supermodel Terminator again, and as usual she'd show up naked, but try as she might she just can't find any clothes that fit . . .

If you haven't seen the Star Trek movie yet and you hate surprises, keep on reading. The original Star Trek came out when I was about ten years old and I thought it was the greatest television show anyone could have possibly made, then when I was in high school I read the David Gerrold book, which led me to watch the whole series again in reruns, and after that I was basically done with it, so I can look at the new movie from both the Star Trek nerd level and the Star-Trek-for-people-who-don't-like-Star-Trek level. I found it a painless (putting it ahead of all the other movies and reworkings) if uninvolving spectacle. Big shiny machines blew up real good and the if the reintroduction of the characters is not so much "Oh how clever" as "If you say so," the It's Only a Movie privilege was extended into anarchy a long time ago, so lie back and enjoy it. What I note, without having any particular opinion about it, was where the original show's hallmark was a certain respect for the more sophisticated idea content of literary science fiction, the rebooted version has gone completely into E.E. "Doc" Smith territory, complete with giant spaceships and planets blown up like firecrackers. Since the only thing that the reboot salvages from the old probability universe is the original Spock I guess we can say the final score on the original is Leonard Nimoy wins. I'm assuming the major internal conflict for the new Spock will be how he can live as a logical entity when there's more than one of him. You imagine him walking around in a daze saying to himself, "I'm completely implausible." Actually, the problem with the two Spocks plotline is they don't take it far enough. I imagine the scene where old Spock tells the new Kirk how they'd always be friends going on like this:

"As a matter of fact, we were a bit more than friends . . ."

"You're shitting me."

"No, no, look here, I've got an Internet connection, there's a whole literature about it. We were the Romeo and Juliet of outer space . . ."

"But one reel ago I was banging the green bitch!"

"You know, Jim, if you have one fault it's overcompensation. Now, if you don't mind, I've been in this cave a long time . . ."

It is kind of amazing, though, considering they were all decidedly second string TV actors, how charismatic that original cast was. Now they have their own equivalent of Beatlemania. I wonder if they get paid for the use of their likenesses. There must be some compensation in watching young, fit versions of themselves rather than the old, fat and bald reality, anyway.

Robert Fiore said...

By the way, you might want to just stay for "A Matter of Life and Death" at the Beverly and hold out for the restored version of The Red Shoes that must premiered at Cannes.

Robert H. said...

Can heartily recommend THE BROTHERS BLOOM... got to see it at KC Filmfest last month. It's the best Wes Anderson film for people who HATE Wes Anderson.

I just cannot understand the reaction to STAR TREK - what movie did other people see? The movie I saw was another successful con job by J.J. Abrams.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ryan: Yup, that New Beverly calendar, and now a glimpse at what the American Cinematheque has in store for June, is making the Hollywood summer slate look even more paltry.

Virgil: Welcome back to the comments column after a leave of absence going on, what, three years? I've missed your wit on these pages. You'll definitely see me there at Once Upon a Time in the West, though, like Strangers on a Train, I think I'll give my daughter another three or four years at least before exposing her to either of those great films. If somebody screens North By Northwest anytimne soon, however, we're there.

leOpard13: Let me know what night you're going to see the Leone film and maybe we can all hook up!

Robert(s): Without taking up the mantle of the great defender of a gigantic blockbuster that I don't really believe needs to be defended, I have to say I'm a little surprised at the negative reactions to the Star Trek movie. Personal reactions most certainly are what they are, and I didn't exactly expect uniformity, but the people I know who have the most invested in Star Trek, both as a series and a larger cultural phenomenon, have been the ones most critical of the new movie.

Without imagining it to be in any way perfect, and with it being the type of modern-day action film that I usually don't respond to (and the type that seems stylistically antithetical to the Star Trek we've known for 44 years or so), I was still swept up in it emotionally-- surprisingly so-- to the degree that the various problems I had with it narrative-wise ended up seeming like nitpicking to me, even as I mulled the whole twisted knot of time travel afterwards. I felt like J.J. Abrams, while not exactly being a distinct directorial talent, managed the universe with honor, bringing new flavor to some of the characterizations while not going so left-field as to be unfaithful.

(Truth be told, in its stodginess and disregard for the look of the established Star Trek universe up to thst point, I feel Robert Wise's Star Trek- The Motion Picture is a far more egregious offender on this point.)

And I like the idea of Spock's lack of emotion being a choice rather than a genetic code-- it always seemed odd that one of mixed parentage such as he would be less emotional than his father. (Mark Lenard obviously had the hots for Jane Wyatt.) All that said, Robert F.'s comment re the temporal-physical conundrum the movie leaves itself with zeroes in, for me, on the new movie's least satisfying feature:

"I'm assuming the major internal conflict for the new Spock will be how he can live as a logical entity when there's more than one of him. You imagine him walking around in a daze saying to himself, `I'm completely implausible.'"

I know it's still early yet, as we baseball apologists are wont to say, but this is the comment of the year so far in my book!

Robert H.: Your comment re The Brothers Bloom is really interesting to me. I blow hot (Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited) and cold (The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums-- excepting Gene Hackman) on Wes Anderson, so I'm going to be interested to see how Bloom plays for me. I like the idea of Wes Anderson, and a filmmaker who might be inspired by him (or copying him), much more than I often find myself liking Anderson's films moment to moment while I'm watching them.

(Oh, and by the way, I put your suggestion of Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus, or whatever the hell that thing is called, at the top of my Netflix queue today.)

Bill R.: Being one of the people I trust on horror (even when we don't necessarily see eye to eye, like on Diary of the Dead), I really appreciate your input on Mandy Lane. If it has a Texas Chainsaw grit to it, then that is good news, properly applied, of course. I have decided to pass on Wolf Creek, however. I will be writing this week about Greg Maclean's follow-up film, Rogue, but from all I can gather from folks who I also trust on these matters, I'm not sure I need Wolf Creek rattling around in my head right now. Did you ever express here what it was you liked about it?

And finally, you are absolutely on the money about The Fun House. It's no TCM, but it's a major step up from Eaten Alive, Lifeforce, The Mangler and just about every other Tobe Hooper movie I've seen, excepting TCM2, which I think is a real gem. The Fun House is formula in many ways, but it really exploits that calliope-driven atmosphere in delightfully creepy ways, not the least of which through the presence of Sylvia Miles, who is a one-woman freak show of the highest order and good for at least two chills/chuckles per appearance. Thanks for reminding me of this one. It's been too long!

bill r. said...

Dennis - I don't know if I ever got too specific about why I liked Wolf Creek, but since I only kinda liked it, I don't consider your skipping of it to be a major loss on your part. I just thought the film showed an admirable amount of patience regarding mood and character before getting to the nasty stuff. And that nasty stuff was nowhere near on the level of, say, Devil's Rejects, which some critics gave a pass to while crucifying Wolf Creek for its sadism. I just thought Maclean's film deserved better than it got, and the attacks on it were usually inconsistent.

As for The Funhouse, the ending -- or the final shot, at least, and Berridge's performance in said shot -- reminded me a lot of Texas Chainsaw.... Survival, mixed with permanent mental scarring.

And let us not forget Kevin Conway. "Alive alive alive!" As it happens, over this past weekend my wife and I went to a carnival -- inspired in no small part, on my end, by having just seen this film -- and there were two animal attractions, and outside the booths both had signs that read "Alive!" Now, these attractions only consisted of a larger than average bull, and a larger than average horse -- no two-headed nothin', unfortunately -- but still, I heard Kevin Conway's voice in my head.

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Anonymous said...

Another great entry Dennis, the coverage of the programming work we all do is always appreciated. And thanks to some recently located reels, the Ray Dennis Steckler tribute will now be a triple-feature! For those who can stay a little later after THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES... and THE THRILL KILLERS we'll be throwing on THE LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS.

-- Brian

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Well, Brian, you know you had me at The Incredibly Strange Creatures.... But with the The Thrill Killers and now the addition of the allegedly amazing Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (I've never seen it for myself), Ray Dennis Steckler night at the New Beverly Grindhouse, already rated a "can't-miss," is now officially upgraded to a "can't-miss-and-worth-losing-sleep-over" program!

See you this Tuesday for Plague Town and The Sinful Dwarf too!

Michael Guillen said...

Always appreciate the shout-outs, Dennis, thank you. What did you think of Plague Town now that you've seen it?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Maya: Actually I won't have seen it until Tuesday night, but I'll let you know after I do. Sounds potentially quite disturbing which, in the world of this genre, is usually a good thing! Thanks for a terrific interview-- I did take you seriously and stopped reading it, however, when the spoilers began to get too thick. I'll pick it up again for bedtime reading Tuesday night!

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