Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo. Thanks, BOM!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to the Box Office Mojo people for information - and note that only LA can look so sunny and be so chilly.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekend Box Office

thanks to BoxOfficeMojo, and i will do my best to capitalize them differently every week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo, who constructed the nice webpage you see behind me.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo for their fine numbers.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Weekend Box Office Figures

Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com, depicted on the screen behind me.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to the people who provide the box office numbers.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Zombie Night Football

It's incredibly easy to find images of
zombie football players on the web.
Just sayin'.
"The Walking Dead" did something not a lot of scripted television shows have done recently: it outdrew an NFL football game in the key 18-to-35 demographic last Sunday. This was the second episode of the season as well, and so far the fourth season has commanded the best ratings yet for the AMC show. Quite a feat: The NFL rarely allows other shows to take it's viewership. It may be a temporary thing, and the NFL will likely go on and continue to squash all other shows again, especially as the end of the football season approaches. It's still almost unheard of.

It leaves a big question:  Why is this happening? I think it is two factors, opposite and in tandem: How the NFL and "The Walking Dead" are remarkably similar-- and how they are almost exactly opposite.


• Basic Rules of Action. People, especially people in the key demographic, watch a football game and "The Walking Dead" for the intense action. As I noted elsewhere, a football scrimmage and a zombie attack are remarkably similar things: The offense swarms in from all directions, intent on tackling and gaining possession-- of a brain or a football (about the same size). A wave of undead and a line of fullbacks both possess a undeniably intimidating quality, and both are going to bring the hurt if not stopped. Stop a zombie attack, and seconds later they're lined up again, ready to re-attack. Stakes are higher with zombies, of course, and there is nobody to a call a roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

• Unpredictability. Media Critic Neil Postman claimed that sporting events are popular because, unlike scripted television, they offer genuine surprise to the viewer. The most ridiculous mismatched teams can face off, but the final score is far from guaranteed. It's a game of inches, and close one can be nail-bitingly tense.

The extremely clever show runners of "the Walking Dead" know that uncertainty can make for riveting television-- a rule that can be encapsulated by a single principle (one first put forth by, of all people, Joe Bob Briggs): anybody can die at any moment. The show is notorious for killing off key characters: No character shield in effect here, no sir. The way the show's shots are composed and edited is consistently and completely unnerving: long, quiet sequences (to raise viewer tension) with lots of off-center compositions (which make you wonder "what's just off-frame? What's behind that door?" etc.). Finally, there is at least one awful, surprise, pop-up zombie attack per episode. So the visceral thrill for viewers is remarkably similar in both a live football game and scripted zombie drama.

DIFFERENCES: Well, DUH. These two shows could not be any more different. DUH. Okay, but HOW they're different-- and why one is at least temporarily outdrawing the other-- says a lot about American culture and tastes. So yeah, DUH-- but DUH with a pedigree.

• Spectacle vs. Intimacy: To watch an NFL broadcast is to witness nothing less than a massive money bonfire. Millions of dollars of player's salaries clocking up on the field. 50,000 fans who plunked an average of $250 per ticket, wearing $80 replica jerseys. Commercial advertisers paying the most prime ad rates on TV. And the network itself, burning through a billion-dollar broadcast agreement, covering the game with dozens of state-of-the art cameras and the best graphics in the industry. In terms of color, action and sheer spectacle, no other regular broadcast comes even close.

"The Walking Dead," on the other hand, is scripted television playing on a basic cable network. It's produced on location in rural Georgia (the graphic novel was set there-- AND the state offers a sizable tax break for productions) and shot on film-- not even 35mm film: It's shot on economical, if almost antiquated, Super16. This lends the show a grainy, muted look. The episode budgets are surprisingly large ($2.5 million as an average) but it's hard to see it through the resolutely natural feel of it: the money is all in the realistic-looking effects, makeup and props. It's all designed to make the horror intimate-- and real.

• Transience vs. Permanence: The universe of the NFL is based on the temporary nature of everything you see in it. The very game you're watching will be history mere hours after the last play, just a jumble of statistics not even worth a re-run (unless something truly unusual or tragic happened on the field). Every product advertised has several newer versions of it waiting in the wings. Even the player's uniforms are subtly redesigned every year to assure a steady revenue stream. It 's disposable event which reinforces disposable consumerism and disposable consumers.

After the zombie apocalypse, however, the great American machine of consumer goods has completely stopped. The main characters of "The Walking Dead" struggle to survive with whatever worn-out tools and artifacts were left behind. Nothing is disposable. Nothing is wasted. Even bullets to kill zombies are carefully conserved. An interesting detail from last week's show highlights this thrift: Rick's toddler-age daughter contents herself playing with a stack of red plastic party cups, the very icon of disposable culture.

• Self-Image and Freedom: I think people form a positive relationship with a TV based on how it reflects on their self-image. You watch a police procedural to feel smart, a talent show to feel like a part of the talent discovery process, and a show show like "Here Comes honey Boo-Boo" to convince oneself that things could be much, much worse.

The big pull for the NFL is basically the same one for all professional sports: Rooting for the home team. Given the fact that the only local aspects of any given pro team is the stadium and the owner, this can be called a fading asset. So let's look at these through a very narrow filter: how the NFL and "The Walking Dead" define freedom, a tenet still held as near-sacred for the average American. We like to see ourselves as a free people in a free country: how do these shows interpret this for us?

To watch an NFL game is to be in the massive bear hug of free-market capitalism, meshed into the gears of a finely tuned hype machine. Everything is for sale: Every object is branded: every surface has a logo on it. The exception is the gridiron, which is reserved for NFL branding (for the time being: Premier League Soccer teams have had ads on their kits since the 80s). Filtered down as an expression of our freedoms, about the only aspect on display is the freedom of the wallet. We're free to buy everything we see and we're encouraged to express our relationship with our home teams by buying authorized merchandise. It's a relationship we all understand, but it is the hollowest expression of American liberty there is.

In the universe of "The Walking Dead" government, commerce, and the legal structures of society are gone. Freedom is total. The main characters are free of all but the basic responsibilities-- in fact, the only relevant values are those of collective responsibility: everyone helps everyone else survive. It's a scary world, but every living human has a vital place in it and an important job to do.

I can't help but think that there is some appeal to this simplicity. What sounds more exciting to an 18-to-35 year old demographic unit: watching millionaire NFL players give each other concussions, through a high-tech haze of self-serving hype and branding? Or patrolling the ramparts of an abandoned prison with an M4 rifle, the guardian of the last bastion of humanity?

Why did "The Walking Dead" beat the NFL? Maybe because eventually everyone gets a bit tired of being hustled all the time. Zombies may want to eat your brains, but at least they aren't trying to sell you anything.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Incubus: Malbenita Kulto Klasika

TCM screened a rarity last night-- a genuine cult classic for the rarified cults of indie horror, William Shatner, "The Outer Limits" and constructed languages: Incubus.

This 1966 film is set in an imaginary country and past and tells the story of a demonic cult of hot blondes-- a sort of succubus-in-training farm team-- who lure weak, corrupt men to the sea and drown them to hasten their souls to hell.  One member, Kai (Allyson Ames, the director's wife at the time), is tired of having to deal with douchebags who are already damned: she wants the thrill of ensnaring a clean, virtuous soul. Marc (William Shatner) embodies this goodness: a heroic soldier returning home to live with his sister Arndis (Ann Atmar).

Kia shows up at their house during an eclipse, tempts Marc away to the sea, intent on doing him in. But his goodness stops her (I guess) and they end up in a church, where she freaks out at all the holiness. Terrible things happen to Arndis: she goes blind and mute, she's kidnapped and raped. Eventually things get so out of hand an Incubus is invoked to help with Kia's goal, which she so miserably failed.  The Incubus (played with shirtless greasiness by Milos Milos) eventually gets into a Kirk-versus-Gorn wrestling match with Marc, and by the end everyone is dead or nearly so.

William Shatner and Allyson Ames. At one point in the film
he roughly grabs her by the shoulders and kisses the
heck out of her. That was widely identified as a classic
Captain Kirk move: this proves it was actually a
classic Shatner move.
Writer-director Leslie Stevens (the producer behind "The Outer Limits") manages to give the film a stark, spooky tone-- it reminded me strongly of some other supernatural classics of the era, Carnival of Souls (1962) and The Seventh Seal (1957). He was no doubt aided by one of the best DPs of the era, Conrad Hall, lensing his first feature film. Never a dull moment-- though there a lot of long, long sequences of actors walking through the countryside.

It's worth a look for several interesting reasons:

• The movie-- dialog and credits-- is entirely in Esperanto, an international common language invented by a Russian ophthalmologist in the 1890s. It's a bold experiment, aided by the film's rather simplified universe of dichotomies (man/woman, good/evil, dark/light, etc.) If it's a gimmick, it's a good one: Make an instant Foreign Film!

The Esperanto dialog-- aided by huge, hideous, black-blocked subtitles-- is remarkably easy to follow. The language is a sort of mash-up of Romance, Slavic and Germanic language forms, so it sounds startlingly familiar. Apparently, those with a better ear for Esperanto than I say that Shatner gives his line readings a French accent, which may have something to do with his Montreal upbringing.

Mission San Antonio. It looks just a rough now
as it did in 1966, and probably 1771.
Incubus was filmed in my old backyard: Monterey County. Scenes take place on the coast at Big Sur, Carmel Valley and the back-country around Fort Hunter Liggett. The church in the film is Mission San Antonio de Padua-- a California mission in the middle of nowhere, take my word for it. The rugged beauty of the locations shines through the murky condition of the only remaining print (more below).

• Apparently a wandering hippie, unhappy with the rude way the Incubus film crew treated him, placed a curse on the production. If you are one to believe in such things as Hippie Curses, it was a quite effective-- if wildly uneven-- hex.

The film was released into the international festival circuit to generally positive acclaim. However, within a year: A) Milos Milos killed his wife, then himself; B) Ann Atmar committed suicide; C) Allyson Ames divorced Leslie Stevens; D) The film lab accidentally destroyed the master negative and most of the prints. Stevens, upset from the tragedies surrounding his film, withdrew it from release.

On the upside of this "curse," within the same year: A) William Shatner would land his iconic role as Captain Kirk on "Star Trek;" B) DP Conrad Hall would be nominated for an Academy Award (Morituri), then two more times in a row (The Professionals in 1966, In Cold Blood in 1967) , lens Harper and Cool Hand Luke, and win the Oscar in 1969 (For Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

Such is the simple dichotomy of Incubus, a cursed/not cursed cult classic.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo, boys!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo, though frankly I guess I coulda gotten those number anywhere.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gravity: So Good, You'll Never Want To Leave Earth

Who among us has not entertained the idea of being an astronaut? The idea of floating weightless, like a bird or an angel, away from the constant and inevitable downward pull of the earth? Having a job in humanity's final frontier, pushing the limits of human exploration, and even enjoying the mild fame that comes from mentioning at cocktail parties “what do I do? Well, I'm an astronaut.”

I believe they finally made a movie that may disabuse you from this particular career choice.

Don't get me wrong: Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity is an amazing, entertaining, thrilling film. The premise is remarkably simple: two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) struggle to survive in open space when their ship is pounded by a cloud of debris traveling at enormous velocity. Even if you care to classify this as a science fiction film (which it is in the most literal sense of the term) you could say the nemesis is Newton's Laws of Motion.

And quite a nemesis it is. Objects in motion remain in motion: Orbital velocities are considerable. There is not even a universal frame of reference, no up or down, outside the distant Earth, which provides a beautiful and startlingly detailed backdrop. The physics, the space hardware, even the sound were all quite accurate (not 100% accurate, though: read Phil Plait's admitted nitpicking here.) No need for slimy aliens, giant robots or Darth Vader-- All the bad guy you need is in a line from the opening credits: “Life in space is impossible.”

The amount of visual detail in Gravity is astounding.
This may look like a doctored-up production still,
but it ain't.
How simple and glorious is Gravity? Before the feature came the trailer for Ender's Game: thousands of spaceships, slimy monsters, space-suited teenagers, stuff blowing up. It looks absolutely ridiculous.

A few notes:

• First of all, I can guarantee you have never seen anything quite like Gravity: it is visually stunning and entirely unique. Still, could find references and tributes in it, from Cuarón's previous effects-heavy films (like Children of Men, particularly the long one-shot sequences), but to a lot of other science fiction films get a nod as well. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brian DePalma's Mission to Mars and Apollo 13 are the obvious references: The Wall-E call-out is a little on the unexpected side.

• Sandra Bullock? I love Sandra Bullock (From Speed all the way to The Blind Side) but as a reigning rom-com queen she seemed like an odd choice for this sort of film. Then the scene came where she gains shelter in the airlock of the International Space Station and removes her EVA suit. To quote the Australian sages AC/DC, she was knockin' me out with her American thighs. Hey: it's sci-fi, but Warner Bros. is still trying to sell movie tickets here.

Space debris hits the ISS. The result: more space debris.
These scenes are terrifyingly well-done.
• The first shot alone is worth the price of admission (which can run nearly $20 if you go for the IMAX 3D deal). This shot lasts about 20 minutes, threading all around the space shuttle and the Hubble Space Telescope and the intrepid space-walkers in smooth, continuous motion. When a cut finally happened I could hear a quarter of the audience gasp, as if they all stopped holding their breath.

• Yes, I went big and saw it in IMAX 3D at the Metreon. This film was so well-made for 3D it nearly defies words. Having said that, I'm sure the 2D version would be good too-- because of what you lose wearing those dumb glasses. No 3D process, even if it is in hyper-sharp IMAX, is perfect: there is always a little fringing and image spill, and the stars, which were displayed accurately in configuration and brightness in Gravity-- were washed out. That bummed me out a little.

• Okay, the plot was a little thin and the backstory clunked a bit. This was all made up for by the fact the film was only an hour and half long. This fact alone sold me on seeing it on opening weekend. I was not being forced to sit through some stupid comic book character's origin story, or watch robots beat up on each other, for the Hollywood-typical three long hours.

Go see!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Breaking Bad:" Petting the Shark

Courtesy of desperation.com.
Sunday morning, the morning before the much-anticipated finale of "Breaking bad" was to air, my subconscious woke me up early. It often does that, if there is some pressing thing I have to do or some problem I need to address in the coming day. but this time it was a little different. My subconscious gave me a simple message: "In a few hours, 'Breaking Bad' will be over-- and we can finally get it out of your head."

I needed to get Walter White out of my head.

"Breaking Bad" was a monumental work of storytelling, 48-hour-long saga of an average man's slide into a universe of violence and destruction. And that is the power of it's gimmick in a nutshell: the "Mr. Chips turns into Scarface" story that Vince Gilligan imagined.

I have written before about how most of the big-hit cable shows are built around a white man who makes life hell for everyone around him. the difference between the other shows and "Breaking Bad" is Walter White is not initially a powerful man. He begins the show as a helpless victim, a very average person with a simple flaws, a bad temper foremost. His greatest asset is his intelligence and scientific know-how.

And slowly, over the course of five seasons, he applies these assets to become a monster.

If movies are dreams, and television is a mirror, then "Breaking Bad" was a unique sort of funhouse mirror, a reflection with a message: This could be you. Walter White is what any average person would become if life dealt him a few bad hands.

Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) from "Sons of Anarchy,"
a biker-gang retelling of "Hamlet." One of the reasons I find it
compelling is how much of it is set in Stockton, California, my
familial hometown. Take my word for it: The show gets
the details down a little too authentically.

This is a very different state of affairs than most cable crime dramas. Tony Soprano was introduced as a mob boss from a mob family; Dexter was a psychopath from day one; Jax Teller is the son of a biker club crime lord. We pick up their stories when they are at the height of their powers. Heisenberg, on the the other hand, was constructed right in front of our eyes. And because most of "Breaking Bad's" five seasons covered a span of fictional time less than a year long, we got to witness his transformation in slow motion.

Walter White was not a person I wanted in my head, week after week. His rise and downfall was too understandable, too accessible. It didn't help that he was about my age and we both subscribe to Scientific American. He was a weekly reminder of how fragile civil society is at any time.

Never was there such a plain example of comparative morality as seen in every episode of "Breaking Bad." In it's core, the overarching narrative was about how desperate adversity could potentially drive the best of us to abandon common values and embrace a Medieval, family-and-self-first morality. And it underlined the fact that in the special circumstances Walter White found himself in after he decided to cook meth-- Dealing with violent dealers, killing those who would harm him, etc.-- the primitive moral values he had to adapt to, one that renders the lives of those outside the circle of family as expendable, was not only logical but necessary. Chilling.

Remember the old term "Jumping the shark?" Time to coin a new term: "Petting the Shark." We're offered shows with murderous, psychopathic main characters, and asked to dip a hand in the dark waters week after week. Feel the smooth skin and powerful muscles as it glides by, see the white serrated teeth and dead black eyes. Week after week after week.

"Breaking Bad" was a beautifully written, elegantly shot series, and I loved every episode. Nonetheless, by the time the magnificent finale was over the catharsis was profound. I needed to get Walter White out of my head.

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo for the numbers, and thanks to you for watchin'.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for the numbers, and a nod to the ghost of James Wong Howe for the cinematography

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Weekend Box Office

thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for the numbers. You can't see them, but they're there all the same

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks, Boxofficemojo.com! You know why.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Yeah it's a little late, but the weekend was long and the week is hot. Thanks to my source material, BoxOfficeMojo.com.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to those guys at Box Office Mojo for the big screen

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Weekend Box Office

customary thanks to boxofficemojo.com for the image behind me

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com for everything!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Agency to Prevent Evil Didn't

Last night I tried to knock the last remaining rough edges off my day by opening up up Hulu on the iPad and browsing myself to sleep. Experience would have warned me against this strategy but listening to your rational self just makes you more awake. So I made my way to the Classic TV category and stumbled across one of the weirdest things TV ever spawned: Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.

This show hits a kind of sweet spot of my life - I was young enough to be its target audience but old enough to know that maybe the whole enterprise was kind of lame. Even then I recognized it for what it was: monkeys wearing wigs, trained to flap their lips so voice-over people could give them dialog in post. Another thing I am proud to have recognized is that the whole enterprise was not funny, just peculiar.

I made the mistake of loading up the first episode... it's like Purina's Puppy Chow. It's meant to be consumed by the young version of yourself, and it might upset your tummy if you're fully grown. I think the problem is, there's such a thing in comedy as "one joke too many." In this case the real joke is chimps playing parts that are meant for humans. The extra joke is the show is a spy spoof. So it's like Get Smart, only it's a parody of Get Smart because all the parts are played my chimps!


They even have Bernie Kopell as the voice of Baron von Butcher, the evil mastermind nemesis, doing his Sigfried voice.

I think the problem I have with all this is the show is so undisciplined. To be fair it probably would have to be; it starred chimps. But there is a reason that it only ran for a season on Saturday mornings. Something I suspected from watching the episode last night was just confirmed for me via Wikipedia:

To make the dialogue fit the chimps’ lip action, Burns and Marmer (the show's creators) went to ridiculous lengths. Voiceovers were ad-libbed on the set, giving birth to beautifully absurd moments of the chimps breaking into songs at the end of sentences or spontaneously reciting Mother Goose rhymes just so it would look right.

You know what? I refuse to suffer alone.

Hope you enjoyed that. I feel better.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo, whose website you see reflected on my chin.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

WEBO 072313

Thanks to boxofficemojo.com for those numbers!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Most Disturbing Paragraph I've Ever Read In Variety

Still, the chilly reception is a wake-up call for Hollywood. “R.I.P.D.” follows recent fiascoes “The Lone Ranger,” starring Johnny Depp, “Pacific Rim” and Will Smith’s “After Earth,” all of which were non-sequels.

(The most disturbing sentence, by the way, was "For Your Consideration: Nicolas Cage in Wicker Man")

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Weekend Box Office

 Thanks to Box Office Mojo for their nice l'il chart

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to the offscreen magic of Box Office Mojo for figures.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for the figures, which you cannot see this week.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Fever Dream That Was Casino Royale

Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble/James Bond 007. He was by far the most
charismatic actor in Casino Royale, so it's a shame he didn't shoot his
entire role. In this scene he is playing Baccarat with Le Chiffre
(Orson Welles), despite the fact they were never on the set at the same time.
I do not believe I have ever before seen the 1967 version of Casino Royale all the way through. That is, I thought I did not see this film until I watched it last night in pretty HD. Then I realized I had seen it, probably several times: it was such a mess of a film that my young mind probably couldn't coherently file it away. So this movie somehow fooled me into thinking I never saw it.

And now I know why.

Like I said, Casino Royale (which Daniel adores, for many reasons now very obvious) is a mess of a film-- a glorious tribute to the excesses of producers who believe they have such a hot property that, like a hyperactive dog with a soup bone, they don't know what to do with it. The hot property here was the film rights to "Casino Royale," the first Ian Fleming 007 novel from 1953. These rights eluded Cubby Broccoli and EON Productions, ending up in the hands of Charles K. Feldman and Columbia Pictures.

Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond / Mr. Noah. I'm guessing Charles Feldman
Owed him a solid for writing What's New, Pussycat? and gave him the
juicy Villain role. He was not as funny as you'd expect in this film.
What do you DO with a legally usable character of such as James Bond, Agent 007, in the absolute height of his popularity? Feldman couldn't compete with Cubby Broccoli in terms of making a straight action film. So he made a spoof out of it. And boy, did he lay it on thick. You don't get one James Bond here: you get at least six. Every girl in the film is a Bond Girl (or will eventually be). It's a work of reactionary cinema: almost every scene refers in some way to the main Bond series.

And, like I said, it's a mess. There were six directors and even more screenwriters. Peter Sellers walked off the production, leaving huge holes of missing footage. Orson Welles insisted on doing magic tricks in his scenes. In the end, the filmmakers got so desperate they literally hung the numbers "007" on everything: seals, monkeys and on a plane full of awful Native American stereotypes (who parachute while saying "Geronimo!" Get it?)

Joanna Pettet as Mata Bond. She was a very pleasant surprise: exeedingly
beautiful and quite funny, the best Bond Girl in the film. Yes,
Ursula Andress was also in Casino Royale, but she's a dud:
thanks to HD, It's plain Ursula read her dialog off dummy cards.
All this being said and well-documented (really, this is one of those films where the making of is more interesting than the film itself), I'd have to say it is still a very funny, very unusual film. If you were looking for insight into the mid-1960s, particularly into the slim moment in history when the early 60s James Bond Space Age aesthetic was about to be eclipsed by the psychedelic, Op Art late 60s, this is the touchstone.

The jumpy, scattered storyline is in some ways ahead of its time. Movies of this era were often plodding and linear: it took breakthroughs like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider to move Hollywood cinema to a more punctuated style of narrative. In Casino Royale this evolution happened accidentally: The very effort to salvage this movie -- missing stars, unshot footage, plainly overindulgent style-- into releasable form created a weird dreamlike flow to the story. This interpretation makes quite a bit of sense: If you were dreaming about, say, James Bond, and his appearance shifts from David Niven to Terence Cooper to Peter Sellers, that would seem to the dreamer as a perfectly normal development. Locations shift nonsensically: characters are carefully established, disappear, then re-appear: To the dreamer, none of this seems out of place. So now you know why I didn't remember seeing this film as a kid: can anyone really remember dreams?

It's about as insane as any Terence Malick or David Lynch movie, but much funnier.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Big ol' chart courtesy of boxofficemojo.com

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com for the numbers

Monday, June 17, 2013

This Is The End: Bropocalypse!

Another addition to the "At World's End" sub-genre, this time it's not an asteroid or anything even vaguely scientific: It's the biblical Apocalypse, right out of the evangelical Protestant interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

It's a brilliant idea, because it personalizes the end of the world for the main characters, a collection of the hottest comedy stars in Hollywood ostensibly playing versions of themselves. The Rapture hits without warning less than 15 minutes into the movie. Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, taking a break from a party in James Franco's house, witness blue beams of heavenly light appear and pull the righteous straight into heaven. They rush back to Franco's house, dodging flames and fissures in the earth-- to find nobody at the party has noticed anything amiss. This wonderfully confirms what we all suspect is going to happen to movie stars on Judgement Day.

I don't know if Danny McBride is a
borderline sociopath in real life. I
doubt it. But it's his persona, and he
definitely runs with it in this film.

And sure enough, the Tribulation begins: fierily sinkholes open up and swallow celebrities. Eventually, just a few survivors-- Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and an uninvited Danny McBride-- are holed up in Franco's Beverly Hills mansion, waiting for rescue and slowly coming to face their final destiny.

(How the apocalyptic theme ties into the exhaustion of the bro comedy as a genre is an association best left to future film theorists.)

It's a very funny film, one that obviously skewers everything about these self-based characters and every movie they've ever made (while holed up in the mansion, they make an impromptu sequel to Pineapple Express shot with the video camera from 127 Hours). Interesting character dynamics play out. There are even some spectacular special effects. Go see!

A few notes:

• What makes it good is it's a Judd Apatow universe, or at least one envisioned by his protégés. Apatow himself was not involved--which is just as well, as he's retreated into his own navel (This is 40) and that's not the funniest orifice. Still, it hews to the sub-genere's major themes: bro bonding, recreational drug-taking, movie geekery, and a casual approach to extraordinary, one-percent-level wealth. It also features the crude and unmistakable signature of an Apatow-inspired production: exposed penises.

The flip side of this genre hallmark is also on, um, display: a somewhat fearful and marginal take on women. In fact, the biggest female role belongs to Emma (Harry Potter) Watson-- the main characters have a difficult time not referring to her as "Hermione." She, on the other hand, knows what sort of universe she has wound up in and ends up holding all the other characters off with an axe.

• Seth Rogen and co. know very well what sells tickets and the star power in this film is formidable: Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and on down the line of Judd Apatow alumni right down to the amusing, bit-player appearance of Paul Rudd, who does nothing more than look terrified and carry an oversized champagne bottle with a bow on it.

• The budget of this film was surprisingly small ($25 million), considering the star power. This is an aspect I especially liked about This Is The End: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the producer/directors) must have talked everyone in it into working for scale or close to it. most of the money was lavished on production values-- apocalyptic exteriors, impressively destroyed sets, excellent visual effects-- so you see the whole budget on the screen. It also made all it's money back on opening weekend.

• I can also see how audiences could be led to believe that there is some truth to the characters that transcends the screenplay, Eisenstinian typeage at work. There is an undeniable kernel of truth to it, in that Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and their ilk tend to play versions of themselves in everything they do anyway. But there is no reason to believe that anything even close to celebrity true life is exposed in This Is The End. We don't know these people, and they would never allow anything close to that reality to be conveyed anyway.

• The real "tell" that This Is The End, "actors-playing-themselves" notwithstanding, is a work of full-on make-believe is buried at the end of the credits: This film was shot entirely in Louisiana, a state that subsidizes film production. It's just another runaway production. It's not James Franco's mansion. it's not even greater Los Angeles that's being impressively destroyed onscreen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kubrick at LACMA

I managed to rush down to Los Angeles to visit the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Art before it closed at the end of the month. It was a bit of a pain to get everything to work out on short notice, but the payoff far outweighed the cost.

The Kubrick exhibit takes up the first floor of the Art of The Americas hall, and is arranged like all good museum retrospectives: chronologically, starting with an overview, a short visit to his earlier works, and on chronologically through his highly singular ouvre to Warsaw Diaries, a project he was just in the early stages of researching when he died.

There are a few situational ironies about this exhibit. Stanley Kubrick only shot one film in California: The Killing (1956), his second feature-- and most of that was filmed in the Bay Area, around the former Bay Meadows racetrack in San Mateo. He scrupulously avoided spending time in Hollywood. Los Angeles put on quite a tribute for an outlander-- but then again, it's all one big business. The money that financed his films flowed for the most part out of studio gates. If he was not one of Hollywood's own, then he is widely considered one.

What I found especially pleasing is how hard the curators strove for authenticity in all the sections: there are very few reproductions, aside from amazingly detailed ones, like the model maze from The Shining or the hanging 10-foot model of Discovery One. But Jack Torrance's typewriter and axes, Private Joker's helmet, Barry Lyndon's costume: all the genuine deal. Someone had reproduced the sexy milk-dispensing mannikins from A Clockwork Orange, which struck me as an odd thing to do.

I was very gratified to see that the part of the exhibit concerning 2001: A Space Odyssey was by far the largest in space and number of artifacts. I had read in Piers Bizony's excellent, definitive book 2001: Filming The Future that Kubrick had deliberately destroyed the sets, props, spaceship models and costumes after wrapping 2001 to keep them from being used in cheesy sci-fi films afterward. (This happened to George Pal's Forbidden Planet (1956): those crazy grey jumpsuits showed up on TV shows well into the 1960s, as did Robbie the Robot). I was amazed even a little of it survived.

We visited LACMA on a Friday: there was a comfortable amount of other visitors there, no real crowding. Therefore, I was able to take as much time as I wanted in the Kubrick exhibit. I circled around and took it all in again.

It was an incredible culmuination for me. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring to be in the presence of the artifacts of Kubrick's works. It allowed me to slip through the gossamer veil of the cinema screen: while you're in there, among the hand-written script notes and props and lenses, you're on Kubrick's side of the camera. You stand with Kubrick, see what he saw and wrote and imagined. A powerful, unforgettable experience.

If you missed this retrospective, feel free to kick yourself.
Outside the exhibit space.

A dark room just inside the entrance. It shows side-by-side clips from his films,
one side overlaid with pithy quotes. This goes a long way to show the
breathtaking span of Kubrick's auteur vision.

This is on the wall just past the main entrance. It makes no sense here.
Makes all kinds of sense once you've gone through the exhibit.

Stuart Freeborn's articulated
Australopithicus makeup.
Part of the 2001 exhibit. The Discovery model is a reproduction: the
Space Station 5 chairs are authentic.

Fairchild-Curtis fisheye lens-- This is HAL's eye, the one they used
in close-ups and as a filming lens for HAL's POV.

They displayed the HAL Lens behind glass, but on both sides. All you have to do
is point your camera up to the back and you could shoot right through it.
This is a picture of me as HAL would have seen it, taken straight through
the Fairchild lens. Just amazing.

An actual production Discovery space helmet. This was Dave Bowman's: He wore it on the first EVA to replace the "faulty"
AE-35 unit, and unfortunately forgot it later on. I stared at this for at least ten minutes: I never, ever thought I'd
see something like this in person.

A detail from a surviving spacesuit costume, one of
the silver ones worn on the Moon. This is the
data pad, and there is supposed to be a number
of buttons on it. They must have fallen out.

There was other stuff there too: Here is Private Joker's helmet from
Full Metal Jacket. His gold wire-frame glasses were on display just
below as well.

All work and no going to LA to see a once-in-a-lifetime
museum retrospective make Jack a dull boy. The actual prop
Adler typewriter from The Shining.

Weekend Box Office.

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for the unreadable chart behind me

(Note: as I post this the video is upside down; I am assured this will be corrected. If you're seeing it rightside up and would prefer it upside down, drop us a line! We're flexible here.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo for the numbers and for visual flair.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo for the numbers!

HBO: Rich Weird Men Behaving Badly

Michael Douglas IS Liberace. It was the first time
Douglas ever portrayed a non-fictional character
in a movie-- and he nailed it.

I need to share an insight. Mind you, I'm not the first person to have this insight: it builds on an article by Brian Lowery in Variety.

There is something very unusual going in at HBO. The mysterious Powers That Be seem to have a fixation-- one that pokes right through the films and shows they approve, fund and broadcast like broken glass in a paper bag. I'm going to paint the idée fixe these executives seem to be obsessed with a sweeping, and ridiculously simple, comparison of two of their most recent cable films:

• Behind the Candelabra: A Steven Soderbergh HBO film about a wealthy, powerful white man (Liberace) who made life sheer hell for everyone around him.

• Phil Spector: A David Mamet HBO film about a wealthy, powerful white man (Phil Spector) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.

Lowry's article expands on this weird parallelism of these films-- wealthy decadent jaded men who channel their desires onto the lesser people in their orbit and force them, again through their power, to suffer for them as well. (BTW: Candelabra was an amazing movie; Phil Spector is talky and dull.) He concludes that HBO execs actually understand and sympathize with the moral universe these men inhabit. Phil Spector may or may not have shot Lana Clarkson; Liberace may or may not have screwed over Scott Thorson in the palimony settlement. It's not much of a stretch to believe cable execs live in the same world as the troubled men portrayed in these movies, a sympathy that may have tweaked the characterizations a bit.

Enoch "Nucky" Thompson
(Steve Buscemi). What he lacks in
brawn he makes up for in menace.

This is a decent read on these films-- but then there's THIS: What I believe is this theme's long, long tail:

• "Game of Thrones:" An HBO series about wealthy, powerful white men (Joffrey Baratheon, Jaime Lannister, Tywin Lannister, etc.) who make life sheer hell for everyone around them.

• "True Blood:" An HBO series about wealthy, powerful white men (Bill Compton, Eric Northman, various vampire royalty) who make life sheer hell for everyone around them.

• "Boardwalk Empire:" An HBO series about a wealthy, powerful white man (Nucky Thompson) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.

• "Deadwood:" An HBO series about a wealthy, powerful white man (Al Swearengen) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.

• "Curb Your Enthusiasm:" An HBO series about a wealthy, (sort of) powerful white man (Larry David) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.

• Game Change: An HBO film about a wealthy, powerful white man (John McCain) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him--by selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate. I'm not being partisan here: Much of the film focuses on the very real suffering of the staffers charged with getting Palin ready to campaign.

• The Girl: An HBO movie about a wealthy, powerful white man (Alfred Hitchcock) who makes life sheer hell for Tippi Hedren.

All of these shows are the puzzling evidence that points to a simpler explanation of HBO's thing about powerful white guys screwing over their financial and social inferiors. I believe it all started here:

Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in his natural
environment: checkered tablecloth, Pellegrini water.
• "The Sopranos:" An HBO series about a wealthy, powerful white man (Anthony Soprano Jr.) who makes life sheer hell for everyone around him.

It is difficult even now to fully illustrate what a profound effect David Chase's epic mob series had on American broadcasting. It redefined HBO from a movie channel to a prestigious destination, appointment television in the days before DVRs and binge-watching. It launched the style of hyper-serial series storytelling that is now the norm on cable and broadcast. "The Sopranos" was also soaked in gore-- bloodletting became an expected dramatic feature, spreading from premium to basic cable and now even to broadcast ("Hannibal" is as bloody a show as I've ever seen, and it's on NBC). It was The Show That Changed Everything.

Most importantly: "The Sopranos" dispensed entirely with a central character viewers could comfortably identify with. Tony Soprano was a cold-blooded mob boss, a man who was defined by his shrink Dr. Melfi as a sociopath. He killed without remorse. He was also affable and he loved those in his circle-- but his actions invariable led to the suffering of those in that circle. It was an absolutely fascinating push-pull with the audience, something David Chase admitted he struggled with: He wanted the audience to love Tony, so he made him charming-- but he made sure this charm was countered by frequent glimpses into his repugnant, immoral soul. Tony Soprano was lovable, chummy, loyal, repellent, unknowable and sick. This push and pull made for irresistible television.
Found this online. Makes my case perfectly.

In short: which executive would NOT want to emulate such success? So as a result we still see David Chase's story and character dynamics all over the airwaves. Tony Soprano's basic character traits can be found in all of the above-outlined shows-- in Dexter Morgan and Walter White and Don Draper as well. Weathy, famous television executives may very well feel sympatico with the wealthy and famous, but their primary concern is attracting eyeballs-- and thus keeping the jobs that made them that way.

Of course HBO does offer a counterbalance to this hegemony of Caucasian Male One Percenters. Most of their miniseries-- from Band of Brothers to John Adams to Mildred Pierce-- do not share these values at all. No, there's not much of a counterbalance to all that privilege, and it may or may not be the right or even fair sort of answer to this trend. It can be embodied thus:

• "Girls:" An HBO series about penniless, struggling white women who make life sheer hell mostly for themselves.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks for Box Office Mojo both for the numbers, and the rundown about why Star Trek maybe isn't a huge success after all.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Just Seen: Star Trek: Into Darkness

Kirk (Chris Pine) running through the red jungle.
That's motion blur, not lens flare.
Caught this in 2D, no less. It's getting to the point now with effects-heavy summer films that I try to make it a decision: 3D for Pixar and animated films or movies with some sort of innovation to it (The Hobbit, Avatar) or see it in 2D if the story promises to be compelling and I don't want the color and resolution compromised by those dumb glasses.

You definitely get your money's worth with this film. You get to see a lot of amazing stuff (even in 2D) and the action is well-directed and logically mapped out. Yeah, after a while there's too much action, especially at the end, but that's the entire stated purpose of J. J. Abrams and Paramount: to strip out Star Trek and turn it into a summer action-and-effects franchise.

The film kicks off in the thick of action, with Kirk and McCoy running for their lives through a blood-red alien forest. The visuals are amazingly cool, pure sci-fi. They're on a pre-technological planet, and the Prime Directive is about to be violated if they can't get out undetected. This being the new, kick-ass, impulsive Jim Kirk, he can't manage NOT to violate the Prime Directive, having the Enterprise rise out of the sea and fly over the terrified locals.

This part bothered me-- but not because the movie was violating Star Trek precedence: the opening sequence was quite faithful to the feel of how away missions went on The Original Series, and if Roddenberry could afford to show anything like this he would have. What bothered me is the fact the Enterprise was hidden from prying native eyes... under water. I know the technology of Star Trek is a magical thing, dilithium this and tritanium that, but... well.. it seemed crazier than usual.

Planet Express Ship,
flying through a gaseous medium
of 1013 millibars or less.
I was immediately reminded of an episode of “Futurama” where Planet Express Ship is being dragged to the bottom of the Atlantic by a huge fish. The outside water pressure becomes incredible:

Farnsworth: Dear Lord, that's over 150 atmospheres of pressure.
Fry: How many atmospheres can this ship withstand?
Farnsworth: Well it's a spaceship, so I'd say anywhere between zero and one.

After this opening development, Kirk is busted by Starfleet and his command is taken away. The main plot starts up here too-- it involves terrorism, questions about militarizing Starfleet, basically another examination of the post-9/11 world filtered into the Star Trek universe. The main story also references a lot of details from both the series and the previous movies: It's done with a certain reverence, and went a long way (but not all the way) to redeeming J. J. Abrams vision for this universe. It's good enough to compel me NOT to spoil any of the details!

A few notes:

The bad guy, surrounded by redshirts. The incidental
body count in ST:ID is really high: not "destroying
Vulcan" high, but a lot of digital extras get blown up.
• Most of Star Trek: Into Darkness works, and that has a lot to do with how much damn appeal Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the re-cast TOS crew still have. It's really a tribute to Gene Roddenberry: He created characters and a universe so rich and compelling that the smart re-casting for the new series for the most part works perfectly. In fact, I'd fault the film for not spending enough time with the supporting cast: they're all interesting (especially Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy).  

• This new movie continues the franchise tradition of hiring actors with long, rolling names to play villains: Ricardo Montalban (ST-II), Laurence Luckenbill (ST-V) and now Benedict Cumberbatch.

• The J. J. Abrams lens flare thing: Yeah, it's his director's signature, and it's in a lot of ST:ID. But there is not nearly as much of it as there was in the last Star Trek movie. Fact of the matter is, most of the most obvious optical flaring happens in the scenes set on the Enterprise's bridge.

The business end of an anamorphic lens.
A lot of people wonder why Abrams overuses flare so much-- I mean, millions are being spent of actors, sets and effects, and he's shooting a bright light into the lens, blowing out the picture and hiding all that hard work. Back in film school the production core instructors would go bananas when a student screened footage with visible lens flare. Cinematography, they said, was about capturing specular light. (then again, this was in the Super-8 and 8mm Camcorder days, when compound zooms would leave kaleidoscopic strings of artifacts through the center axis of the frame. It usually completely wrecked the shot.)

But times change and film styles certainly evolve. J. J. Abrams is sending a coded message with his little flare signature. If you really know how cinema lenses work, you can tell that Abrams only shows anamorphic lens flares. This is the kind of lens used exclusively for Panavision and CinemaScope cinematography: they are cylindrical, rather than spherical, designed to squeeze the image: they make flares that look like blue horizontal lines and wide counter-reflections. What he is saying: “This is a widescreen motion picture, not digital cinema: it is part of the common heritage of Hollywood spectacles also shot with anamorphic lenses.”

• Because ST:ID is essentially a franchise episode we've now dispensed with the origin story and the characters are now settled into interpersonal relationships much as they were in The Original Series. (except for Lt. Uhura and Spock, of course.). Their banter is looser and as a result this film is surprisingly funny. I saw this film on Sunday afternoon, a half-full auditorium: I have no idea why I was the only person laughing at the jokes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Armageddon: The Prequel

And.. we're outta here!
WARNING: All sorts of spoilers ahead. then again, it's hard to tell.

For some reason I can't quite explain, over the last two months I managed to catch three very different films from three very different directors, all with an identical gimmick: in all of them, the world is coming to a sudden, complete and final end.

I don't know exactly what social situation or artistic impulse led to this strange little sub-genre over the last couple of years. It might be the logical follow-up to a lot of bigger apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films, such as 2012, The Road, I Am Legend, and any of a huge slew of zombie thrillers. The crucial difference between these earlier films and the "At World's End" sub-genre is (and yeah, I'm either ••• spoiling ••• the endings or simply stating the obvious): post-apocalyptic thrillers concentrate on the survivors and tend to end on a hopeful note, signaling that humanity can and will continue. The three films I'm outlining all end the same way: cut to black.

A peaceful scene: Well-manicured estate gardens,
The End of All Things.
• Melancholia (2011) Is Lars Von Trier's entry in this peculiar sub-genre. He was one of the founders of the Dogme 95 film movement, and there are a few Dogme aesthetic elements to be found in the first half. This is a story about a two sisters (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) from a well-off family and the usual raft of personal, family and professional troubles: a full laundry list of "first world problems" played out within the walls of a fantastically huge family castle. The first half is one long unhappy wedding, and the second half is the same family mostly ignoring the fact that the Earth is about to be destroyed by a baleful blue rogue planet called, appropriately, Melancholia.

This is probably the strangest approach to apocalyptic cinema ever: a family drama disaster film, Deep Impact as directed by Douglas Sirk (it has been described elsewhere on the web as "The Tree of Life for pessimists"). It's remarkably similar to Rachel Getting Married (2008) except the destructive neurotic sister (Anne Hathaway) has been replaced by a destructive planet. In the end, however, Melancholia has a certain raw power: the awful inevitability of oblivion is shown in the humongous planet hanging in the sky. The effects are quite good: Melancholia plows right into the family castle's grounds. Flash white, then cut to black.

Willem Dafoe watching the Dali Lama obliquely
blaming the end of the world on ourselves.
• 4:44: Last Day On Earth (2011) is Abel (Bad Lieutenant) Ferrara's film depiction of…. well, the last day on Earth. It features Willem Dafoe as a downtown creative type, whiling away the final hours in his loft apartment with his artist girlfriend. The earth-killer is somewhat nebulous: at the appointed time (EST) waves of radiation will destroy the ozone layer and kill everything everywhere. So it's like Global Warming, but much much quicker, far quicker than depicted in The Day After Tomorrow, even.

Unfortunately, not much happens in this film. Sad Skype calls are made. Sex occurs repeatedly. The girlfriend continues to paint a huge canvas, ignoring the fact the art market is about to bottom out. Vietnamese food is delivered (it's New York City, after all). The girl runs out and does drugs with friends, but soon returns to Willem Dafoe for more sex. Sure enough, at the end, the screen goes hazy yellow, then cut to black.

The asteroid as depicted in the
promotional artwork does not
appear in this film.

• Seeking A Friend For End Of the World (2011) is the directorial debut for Lorena Scafaria, the scripter for Nick and Nora's Infinite Playbook. This one I liked quite a bit, and not just because of the appealing performance by Steve Carell: It shows how people in a larger world than a family estate or a SoHo loft deal with having three weeks left before asteroid 253 Mathilde hits Earth. I liked it because the film is an honest take on the human condition, far more than the brittle bourgeois fretting of Melancholia or pointless narcissism of 4:44. It says that people are going to react in all the different ways people react to anything, and Scafaria's clever script gives us lots of examples. Some people party, some kill themselves, some stay at their jobs, some stay at their jobs serving up burgers while whacked out on Ecstasy.

It's how any of us would react-- if nothing we did mattered anymore. A very funny exchange underscores this notion: Dodge's (Carell's) friend Warren (Rob Corddry) is throwing a party: Warren's sullen teenage son stomps out of the house, snarling to him " You ruined my life, dad!" Warren instantly replies: "Go fuck yourself!" Why not? It's not like he has to raise him anymore. As Warren's wife says (after she tries to seduce Dodge), "Nobody is anybody's anything anymore."

The very first scene of Seeking a Friend defines exactly the parameters of this odd "At World's End" sub-genre. Dodge and his wife (Carell's real-life wife Nancy Carrell, in fact) are in a car, listening to a radio report of how the valiant shuttle mission to deflect the 60-mile-long asteroid failed. So now we know what this film is NOT going to be about: survival, plucky resourceful folks who are going to prevail and rebuild the human race. The very next thing that happens: without a word uttered, Dodge's wife opens the door and runs away, shoeless, into the night, never to return.

It's not a perfect film: it suffers for having Keira Knightly as Dodge's love interest, yet another "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" with boy-like interests and no visible means of income. It was the same problem I found in David O. Russell's predictable, Oscar-bait Silver Linings Playbook, which I saw two weeks after this. But strangely enough, of the two movies the one that ends in utter oblivion was far more surprising and had a stronger emotional pull.

Cut to black.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com (briefly depicted herein) for the figures!

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Witches Of Southwest

Through no conscious effort of my own, I found myself in the thrall of public domain witches last night.

It was very hot in the San Fernando Valley this weekend, and my best time-killing option was staying home, in shorts, with the AC on watching Roku. In fact, once I got Tender Mercies out of the way (great movie but kind of a homework assignment for a show I'm doing next month) I narrowed down to Pub-D-Hub, a Roku channel which features things for which the copyright has expired. I like PDB because I'm a nostalgia hound and because they only ask a dollar a year for subscription fees, which is reasonable considering that they aren't paying for content.

Anyway the first title that caught my eye: The Naked Witch. Now and then a favorite DJ of mine plays the lurid radio commercial for this movie. They had me at "naked"! It was shot in 1960 as the very first feature of  Larry Buchanan, which means it lacks the sophistication and polish and Buchanan later applied to Zontar: Thing From Venus and Mars Needs Women. It is the story of a grad student who travels to a small Texas town to study witch legends for his thesis. He finds the grave of a famous local witch who was buried a hundred years before, digs her up (with his hands!) and removes a stake from the heart of the corpse. The naked witch rises, walks away, and starts a campaign of killing the descendants of the man who had her staked. There are only 3, because the whole movie is less than an hour. The student manages to re-stake her, and she is buried again.

A bad movie fan needs, as the best arrow in his quiver, patience. It's how I can say this is entertaining even though it's literally 20 minutes of story, shoehorned into 59 minutes of movie. Really, the first 20 minutes is a lecture on witchcraft, shots of a convertible driving the empty highway, and "fascinating" local color explaining why there are little Germanic towns in Texas. For a witch, she isn't particularly supernatural. She's more like a zombie serial killer. I recall she kills one guy with a knife, and other with a rock. On the other hand you actually get a few glimpses of  actual sexy witch nudity, which could explain why Larry Buchanan kept working steadily.

After that hour, and as a way of avoiding Columbo reruns, I dug around a little and found an NBC Matinee Theatre kinescope of Dark Of The Moon. The hook for me was the leads, Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott. They had also both starred in my favorite underrated 50's alien gem,  I Married A Monster From Outer Space and both are eerily, unnaturally good-looking. As I watched, some of the dialog seemed familiar to me and I realized we had put the play on in High School.

The Golden Age of Television
Told in an extremely thick Appalachian patois, Dark Of the Moon is the story of a Witch Boy (Tryon) who wishes to be made human so he can marry Gloria Talbott. The head crone (?) grants his wish, but only if Talbott can remain faithful (and not even kiss someone else) for a full year. Meanwhile, Witch-Boy is tormented by appearances of his cackling witch colleagues, who taunt him and say he's doomed to failure. Eventually the townfolk realize he'all is on o' them witches! and forcibly kiss Talbott, forcing him to return to his hellish lair.

It was just a very weirdly staged hour of TV. Weird music, weird overacting all around, punctuated with random screeching eagle noises. Still a unique experience. I can't call this bad. I'd say good AND off-putting. Still Talbott looked better in the movie. She deserved good lenses.Tom Tryon went on to become a best-selling novelist, which is surprising. It'd be like if Arnold Schwarzenegger had become governor of California.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these two movies is that neither one of them, in any way, prefigured the TV series Bewitched. I can only shrug.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Low-res thanks to the fine folk at Boxofficemojo.com, who give me the numbers I throw at you.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for numbers. And you know what else! ;)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Weekend Box Office

The usual thanks to our numerical benefactors, Box Office Mojo.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com for figures.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Room 237: A Place to Hang Your Tinfoil Hat

Room 237 is on it's face a typical documentary, a movie about a movie. Now, there are a few good docs about movies, mostly about the making of them and their effect of culture and society. But Room 237 is different: it's a dissection of the deeper meanings of one film, interpretations so deep and obtuse they seem nutty and imaginary. More about that in a bit.

The film in question is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). He was one of the most singular and identifiable directors of his era, especially after 2001. His precise camera placements, deliberate dramaturgy and atmospheric editing have made his films playgrounds for critics. He was a fearsomely smart man, and he was unafraid to leave his films enigmatic, evocative, and downright puzzling. His movies have gathered not just fans but followers, theorists.

In comes Rodney Asher, who collected together five Kubrick theorists and gave them 102 minutes to spin out their interpretations.*

The result is hilarious, baffling and ultimately depressing.

The hilarious part, intentional or otherwise: these five "experts" on The Shining take the film and stitch it, Doctor Frankenstein style, with their pet obsessions. The result of this is we learn that Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece is: 1) about the Holocaust; 2) about the genocide of Native Americans; 3) about Kubrick's complicity in faking NASA's moon landings; 4) I haven't the slightest idea, and 5) The "Paul is Dead" school of criticism.

Believe it or not, none of the "experts" had anything at
all to say about these gals.
Most of the interpretations is made explicit with frame-by-frame examinations of the film. Jack Torrance uses an Adler typewriter (German=Nazi=Holocaust). A large can of Calumet baking powder is prominent in several shots (Calumet=peace pipe=Indian Genocide). These little examples go on and on, getting more unbelievable as the doc progresses.

One of the funniest bits happens when one of the "experts," citing another Shining expert so exalted he didn't participate on the film, projected the film superimposed running forwards and backwards. He then points out the juxtapositions of images of the forward and backward frames as evidence of... something. I'm not sure. He made it sound terribly meaningful, even though it was the single most meaningless bit of film criticism I've ever seen. I was waiting for the guy to continue his dissertation as he played the film while listening to "Dark Side of The Moon."

One of these "experts" gives away the whole game near the end of the film with this line: "One of the tenets of post-modern film criticism is the idea that the director's intentions is just one aspect of the meaning of a film." This line made me laugh out loud. I remember this approach was very popular when I was in college, and I believed then as I still do now that this idea is the ultimate cop-out. If the critic has an agenda to advance or is simply intellectually weak, the idea that any interpretation of a cinematic work from any source is valid turns films into funhouse mirrors, megaphones for their own biases. These sloppy, pinwheel-eyed biased interpretations happen over and over in Room 237.

We used to see a lot of
UFOs back in the 70s too.
Having said that, I think the idea that a film's meaning is a cultural construct is essentially valid. But I'm talking about things like market forces, the weight of narrative conventions, the needs of studios, producers and stars, the mood and values of the society the film depicts and is released in are all parts of the message of any film. This is actually self-evident. To that end, it is easy to see when someone is dragging wacky conspiracy theories into the mix, because it stands out so garishly. It's like that guy back in the 70s who saw "SEX" in glasses of Bacardi in magazine ads: "My God, they're everywhere!"

What's depressing here is I have over the years read some amazing works of criticism: interpretations of works so nuanced and well-studied that it changes the way you see all works of cinema. As an example: the British Film Institute put out a series of monographs on prominent films-- just one author each, a lot of research, and remarkable insight. My favorite is still Anne Billson's book on John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) She took this horror film apart, logically and passionately, getting to the core of what makes the film work: the psychology of horror, the extinction of the self and the meaning of individual identity. She did all this without bringing in one tinfoil-hat idea.

And that's what's depressing about Room 237. It's existence is a towering condemnation of the feeble critical powers of our age. Seeing and hearing the five fools Rodney Asher assembled jabbering and pointing at The Shining reminded me of the apes screeching around the base of the Monolith in 2001: It wasn't hard to see who the smart guy was in that scene.

*I'm actually not sure of Rodney Asher's movie is a sincere work of criticism or he's just giving his "experts" enough rope to hang themselves and laughing behind their backs. But that's post-modernism for you.