Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Best of the one-timers

You could argue that a good indication of how much you like a movie is how many times you've seen it.

Sure, people have many different criteria for why they like a movie, and most of us tend to rewatch guilty pleasures more regularly than we rewatch imposing epics or lacerating dramas. It doesn't mean we like the guilty pleasures more, it just means they're easier to consume.

Still, I come back to the idea that whatever your criteria for liking a movie, it gave you a certain feeling that means a lot to you. Even if it was difficult to watch, it stands to reason that you'd want to experience that feeling again, for the same reason you got so much out of it the first time.

So today on Flickchart Tuesdays, I'm going to look at my favorite movies I've seen only once, and try to figure out why I haven't gone back for a second viewing. In case you are new to Flickchart Tuesdays, I use the website to examine what movies have risen to the top of an endless series of duels I've performed in my time using the site. Flickchart gives you two movies, you choose which one you like better, and then it gives you another pair. Over many weeks and months you build up a huge list of favorite movies, and if you've fine-tuned it like I have, it yields a pretty accurate distillation of your feelings toward cinema in general.

I like this topic also because it should give me a good hit list of movies I need to get better acquainted with. I already love them -- the next step is watching them again.

So which movies I've seen only once do I like best? Let's jump right in.

1. The Bicycle Thief (1948, Vittorio di Sica). Why I've seen it only once: A bias against classic foreign films? I guess this is one of those cases of perceived difficulty. Although it contains a very moving depiction of the desperate lives of poverty-stricken Italians, and there's a lot of satisfying emotional material (especially between the central father and son, a theme that will gradually be more personal to me as my one-year-old son grows older), the film's very neorealist style probably makes it seem less "fun" to me. There's no denying that the perception of fun is an important factor in the decision to rewatch a movie -- at least for me. Flickchart: #26

2. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock). Why I've seen it only once: My goodness, I don't know. And may not have consciously realized I've only seen it once until now. I always discover things about myself when I analyze my Flickchart rankings in this way, and here's something I'm discovering even though I hate to admit it: I don't think I've seen any of Hitchcock's films more than once, so expect to see more of them here. I guess I must attribute this to a certain laziness about revisiting films of a certain vintage. Of all the Hitchcock films I haven't seen again, clearly this is the one I most need to -- at least according to my own valuation of his films. Flickchart: #48

3. Schindler's List (1993, Steven Spielberg). Why I've seen it only once: Length, length, length. And this may be a common theme as we go forward. When I thought of great films I'd seen only once, this is the first one that came to mind. You can't just pop it in on a Saturday afternoon ... although starting it in the afternoon would give you a lot better chance of actually finishing it than starting it at night. I'm worried that we're going to start seeing a lot of overlap with my last Flickchart Tuesdays, which focused on movies over three hours in length. I think there were only two movies on that list I'd seen more than once, so expect more of those titles to start cropping up here. Flickchart: #51

4. All About Eve (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz). Why I've seen it only once: And the bias against older movies rears its head again. At least with Eve I've had the definite intention of a second viewing. I seem to always encounter this movie at the library, and often have it among a handful of choices that I eventually pare down to the three I'm allowed to check out at once. This one never makes the cut, because I'm realistic about the actual likelihood of watching it. Such a shame ... revealing myself to be a philistine with a strong preference for movies made in my lifetime. At least I liked it enough to rank it as Flickchart: #63

5. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2008, Cristian Mungiu). Why I've seen it only once: Three words: Romanian abortion drama. Heavy stuff. Brilliant, but heavy. Also, my first viewing was only a couple years ago, so it may not have started scratching its way to the surface and demanding a second viewing yet, anyway. And since the topic is especially difficult to watch while you are expecting or in the first year of your child's life, it wasn't like I was going out of my way to offer it as a joint viewing experience with my wife. Flickchart: #65

6. 127 Hours (2010, Danny Boyle). Why I've seen it only once: It hasn't been a year yet since I first saw it. 127 Hours was my favorite film of 2010, so it's possible I'd have already been clambering for a second viewing. But there are only four movies that came out in 2010 that I have already seen twice. This just doesn't happen to be one of them. Flickchart: #77

7. Dances With Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner). Why I've seen it only once: See Schindler's List. Flickchart: #84

8. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick). Why I've seen it only once: The extreme brutality? Maybe. Actually, I've only seen one Kubrick film multiple times, and that would be 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although, I do have a second viewing of Full Metal Jacket on the docket for sometime in the near future. I think Kubrick is one of those ponderous filmmakers whose films leaving you staggering -- but not necessarily wanting more, or at least not right away. In fact, I only saw 2001 a second time because it was on the schedule of the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival, which I attended -- you guessed it -- in 2001. My first viewing of Clockwork was relatively recently (within the last ten years), but I've been thinking recently about how I need another helping. Flickchart: #85

9. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola). Why I've seen it only once: Another movie that staggers you but does not necessarily leave you wanting more -- at least not right away. Still, when I think about the fact that I've seen this only once, I have only one thing to say to myself: "The horror. The horror." Flickchart: #89

10. Before Sunrise (1995, Richard Linklater). Why I've seen it only once: And at #10, we finally get a movie I haven't failed to rewatch because it was old, because it was too long, or because the subject matter was too depressing. By rights, I should have seen Linklater's masterpiece a second time. I'm sure I would have if I'd seen it when it first came out. But I believe my first screening was around ten years ago -- which still doesn't excuse it. I'm especially likely to want to revisit a movie in which interesting, intelligent characters are involved in a brief romantic whirlwind with an uncertain future. Better get on this. Flickchart: #93

And now, 11 through 20:

11. The Graduate (1968, Mike Nichols). Flickchart: #100
12. Rain Man (1988, Barry Levinson). Flickchart: #102
13. Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn). Flickchart: #103
14. Waltz With Bashir (2008, Ari Folman). Flickchart: #108
15. All the President's Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula). Flickchart: #110
16. North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). Flickchart: #111
17. Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale). Flickchart: #117
18. Rabbit Hole (2010, John Cameron Mitchell). Flickchart: #119
19. The Crucible (1996, Nicholas Hytner). Flickchart: #125
20. Field of Dreams (1989, Phil Alden Robinson). Flickchart: #126

So it's interesting to note that each of my top 25 and 89 of my top 100 are films I've seen more than once. That's a pretty high percentage, which supports the theory that you do find your way back to movies you really love, regardless of the length, age and subject matter.

Or, maybe I just love a lot of movies that are short, new and easy. One thing this doesn't tell you is the 106 of my top 126 movies that I have rewatched. But then this post would really be getting long.

Another good question you could ask: Have I watched these films many times because they are my favorite movies, or are they my favorite movies because I've watched them many times? Ah, the old chicken-and-egg debate. I know that there was a rotation of about 12 films that I regularly watched on VHS when I was younger, because my mom had taped them off cable. I'm not saying all these movies are in my top 100, but I am saying that some of them are much higher ranked than they would be if I'd seen them only once. (The Pirate Movie at #825, anyone? Out of nearly 3,300 films I have ranked?)

Let's see if next time I can refine my topic to get us really deep into the rankings, instead of seeing these same titles coming up again and again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You know you're late on a movie when ...

... two of the six trailers are for movies coming out in the next two weeks (Shark Night 3D and Contagion) and one is for a movie already in theaters (Conan the Barbarian).

Such was the case when I finally caught Rise of the Planet of the Apes yesterday afternoon, three weeks and two days into its theatrical run.

After emerging from the theater, I decided I could have waited a little while longer -- say, until video.

I opted for ROTPOTA over a couple movies that freshly interested me (such as Higher Ground or Circumstance) because I believed I'd be in awe of the visuals, and they demanded to be seen on the big screen. Plus, I'd made several false starts in my previous attempts to see it, the most recent being having to cancel on a friend on the first of eight nights of a persistent sore throat (which has only just really diminished in the last two days). So I was determined not to miss it.

**Major spoilers from here on out**

Well, I really liked everything that had to do with apes. Well, almost everything -- never for a moment did I believe, even as intelligent as he was, that Caesar would be able to figure out how to get back to his house from the ape enclosure he escapes. Then again, I guess he did ride in the car a lot. Nonetheless, I did have a momentary flash back to 28 Weeks Later -- "Oh come on, a zombie couldn't stalk his own children" -- even if the subject matter was entirely different. And 28 Weeks Later flashbacks are not usually a good thing.

But I thought the CGI was generally impressive, and the brilliant Andy Serkis was as brilliant as ever. Beyond Serkis' inimitable contributions, there was good screen time to devoted to meeting some of the other apes and developing a social dynamic among them.

That same time was not devoted to making the human characters seem human.

Let's start with the wooden James Franco. It's funny, I try not to read reviews of most movies before I see them, a) because I'm worried that parts of the movie will be spoiled, and b) because I don't want the critic to raise or lower my expectations. I didn't read any critical assessments of ROTPOTA, but I did read Franco's assessment of it, which was basically that it wasn't challenging and that he was an "actor for hire." With Franco's words in my head, it was all the easier to see that he didn't want to be there and that he was just going through the motions. "Passionless," my wife described it. Now that we've learned that Franco felt the same about the material he was given as an Oscar host, it's clear he has an off switch, and he likes to make liberal use of it. I'm guessing I would have noticed this anyway, but it was clear as daylight once I knew Franco didn't give it his all.

Then let's look at the sheer number of other characters who have a downright loathsome attitude toward the chimps. First there's Jacobs (David Oyelowo), the bottom-line corporate guy who just wants to make a buck. His second favorite thing is to hate on apes. Not only does he have a dozen lines that can be re-worded as "they're just apes," but he orders the euthanizing of a dozen animals based on an incident whose causes were not properly investigated, and then seems to relish in their imminent destruction at the end. ("I'm going to shoot them," says the guy with the gun in the helicopter. "Good," says Jacobs.)

Then there's the two monsters at the ape enclosure, one of whom the filmmakers wanted to be so evil, they hired Draco Malfoy to play the role. That's right, Tom Felton of the Harry Potter franchise is the sadistic son of the guy who runs the enclosure (Brian Cox). Every movie involving animal cruelty has to have a character who seems to get his kicks from it, but Felton is perhaps the worst such offender I've ever seen. And it's not just the physical violence against apes, of which there is plenty -- he sneers at them and laughs at them and thinks it's a riot that they are intellectually inferior to him. (Or so he thinks.) Of course, this is all done so that you're good and ready for him to die when that point in the narrative inevitably arrives, but is it too much to ask for a little subtlety? Cox is definitely subtle by comparison, and therefore suffers less of a gruesome fate. But at the very least Cox' character tolerates his son's behavior, if not downright endorsing it. (The scene in which Malfoy brings a six pack of beer and three friends into the cages to laugh at the monkeys is perhaps the silliest in the whole movie.)

As for Freida Pinto ... well, her involvement in the film clearly meant it would do good business in India (I've chosen above the poster from the Indian market), but the Indians who saw it couldn't have been very satisfied with her performance. She's an incredibly passive character who basically has one small moment where she tries to help -- she distracts a couple police officers for five seconds so Franco can run past them. You go, girl!

ROTPOTA just had the feel of being clumsily made. It was poorly written and badly directed by a guy who gave me pretty high hopes (Rupert Wyatt, who directly the twisty little prison escape thriller The Escapist). Wyatt's involvement in this particular film made me wonder, not for the first time, how directors get tapped for the projects they direct. Here's this guy who made one quiet little British prison movie (also featuring Cox), and it was somehow decided that his skill set was the appropriate one for the next Planet of the Apes movie. Well, more power to him, but I hope they get someone else to direct the inevitable next movie in the series.

And about that ... for some reason, I thought this movie was going to be about the way the apes rose up and overthrew humanity. That made me expect it to be really bad-ass. I mean, they've got to wipe the Earth clean of humans in order to take power, don't they?

Not exactly. It's up to a virus to do that. And the apes themselves are essentially pacifists -- led by Caesar's mandate to neutralize humans that are threatening them, but not kill them. All the humans they do kill are killed essentially by accident -- even Malfoy's death is the result of a sort-of accident. The only human killed for sport is Jacobs, and the overhead shot of his helicopter falling off the Golden Gate Bridge was my favorite in the movie.

But yeah, it does look like there could be a more bad-ass movie ahead, where we see all human beings dying of the virus, and apes multiplying, and eventually leading toward the mythology we know from the original Planet of the Apes (and, I suppose, its remake).

Or it could be another mild disappointment, like this movie.

It's funny, if you ask me if I liked ROTPOTA or I didn't like it, I'd say I liked it. There was enough good stuff with the apes that it made me highly interested for those sections of the movie. But clearly, my strongest impulse upon leaving the theater was to complain about the things I found to be bogus or underdeveloped.

It makes me wonder how individuals set the bar for whether they liked a movie or didn't like it. How much of a movie do you have to like to say you liked it?

But that's a discussion for another day ...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Movies begetting other movies

Let me start by saying that I have no idea about the production history of the new movie Colombiana. The script could have been whipped up by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen two weeks before shooting began, or it could have been gestating in each of their brains for ten years. The thing I can say for sure is that it was not based on some previous property -- if so, wikipedia would have told me, right? ;-)

But I do know that shooting began last August, about a year ago -- also courtesy of wikipedia. (God, my credibility is really at an all-time low.) That's about four months after The Losers, also starring Zoe Saldana, hit theaters.

So I ask you, tongue somewhat in my cheek, what are the chances that the entire existence of Colombiana was inspired by Saldana's performance/appearance in The Losers?

Consider the trailers back to back. First The Losers:

And now Colombiana:

It's not just using Saldana in action hero mode in both movies. It's the style of the action, the film stock used, even the locales -- both movies have her kicking someone's ass in an interior room, involving furniture, and both movies have her sitting in a bathtub. Oh, and both movies show her in her underwear -- both with a gun, in a violent context, and with a man, in a sexual context. Both movies even seem to have a number of scenes set in South America.

You've got to at least give me that they cast Saldana in Colombiana based on The Losers, right?

Then again, we saw Saldana in her underwear even when she played Uhura. So maybe people just like seeing Zoe Saldana in her underwear.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The random rewatch

Hello everybody ...

I've been sick this week -- I still have that sore throat I mentioned in my last post, which makes it a week now -- so I haven't had the stamina for any of my bigger topics I usually like to delve into on The Audient. Okay, maybe not "bigger" -- longer? wordier? Something like that.

So I just have a quick one today ... but it does involve the following preamble:

I used to define being an obsessive film fan as voraciously adding as many new titles as possible to my collection of movies seen. However, I ultimately recognized this as a pretty narrow view of film fandom. Sure, seeing as much as possible is part of it. But if you don't revisit films -- films you love, classic films you want to love better, films that left you feeling ambivalent, or even films you may have hated for the wrong reasons -- you're not really deepening your appreciation of cinema as an art form. Besides, if you don't watch a movie multiple times, how are you supposed to be able to quote it?

Since I started keeping track of the movies I revisited, about six years ago, I've had one period of as long as six months when I didn't rewatch a single film I had already seen. So I decided this simply couldn't stand. And on my blog last year, I came up with two weekly series to help deepen my appreciation of films I'd already seen. One was called Second Chances, where I rewatched movies that I liked less than the average person, to see whether I was wrong, or they were. The series that followed was called Double Jeopardy, where I rewatched movies that qualified as guilty pleasures for me, to see if they still occupied that role, or were indeed the schlock other people found them to be.

These series were fun for me, but they became hard to keep up with, since I was holding myself to a standard of writing one new post each week -- meaning I had to manage the logistical feat of both securing and finding the time to watch one of these movies every week. In fact, I abandoned Double Jeopardy right around this time last year. Today is my son's first birthday, and I know that my final Double Jeopardy post -- about the movie The Story of Us -- posted on the morning of the day we went to the hospital.

Of course, I've kept revisiting films in the past year, even without my blog mandating that I do so. Now that it's something I think of as a parallel focus, with equivalent value to watching new movies, I don't let it fall by the wayside like I used to.

But recently I've been longing to have that mandate back -- to rewatch movies according to some kind of plan, and not just because I feel like it, or because the movie is in my collection at home.

Even when the plan is "no plan."

See, I don't want these revisited movies to be just favorites, classics I need to love better, movies that left me feeling ambivalent, or movies I might have hated for the wrong reasons. I want these revisited movies to be any movie I've ever seen.

Yes, that's right, a truly random rewatch. Cinematic chaos theory at work.

Ah, but how will I do that? Simple. I've found a website that generates random numbers. I'm sure there are many, but this one is called You just create a number range, and it will choose a number randomly from within that range.

My own number range will come from the movies I've ranked in Flickchart, which right now stands at 3,282. #1 will be my favorite movie (currently Raiders of the Lost Ark, as discussed on Monday). #3,282 will be my least favorite movie (the execrable Twentynine Palms). So I will put my range from 1 to 3,282, and whatever number it chooses for me, I will commit to rewatching the film with that ranking.

Even if I hated it. Even if I never want to see it again. Even if it's really hard to get on DVD. Even if I just watched it a week ago.

You may wonder what the value of this will be. Well, I think it's always useful to reconsider movies -- we may see something in them we didn't see the first time, or we may realize we were seeing something that simply isn't there. As mentioned above, I have already done this in the past, but I've been targeting the movies myself.

Now, I'm letting a random number generator do it for me. I think there's value to taking the decision out of my own hands. It'll allow me to watch movies again even if I don't think I want to, or need to. It'll allow me to see how and whether my feelings have changed, even if I might not consciously recognize that my feelings are unsettled on that particular film.

Sure, I'm hoping I'll get some movies that I actually want to watch again, for one reason or another. Movies that I'd need an excuse to rewatch. This would be my excuse.

But I like the uncertain nature of it, and I like binding myself to the results. If #3,282 comes up as the random number, Lord help me, I will sit through Twentynine Palms again.

But because I sometimes feel like a prisoner to the schedules I set for myself about what I need to watch, when, I'm going to leave this series open-ended. Once I've had my movie chosen for me, it's up to me when I get the chance to watch it. I thought about doing one per month -- I could probably keep up with that schedule -- but I like the idea of not putting deadlines on myself. That way, I could actually watch more than one in a particular month, if that worked out for me, and in a particularly busy month I could just let it slide altogether. Each time I watch one, I'll write the corresponding post, then randomly select the next one up to bat.

Yep, that was quite the preamble. And, no one's definition of "quick."

Deep breath ... let's go to the random number generator and get this thing worked out.

Okay, my first movie is the movie I have ranked #672 on Flickchart. A nice softball start, as this movie is in the top 20% of movies I've seen. Now, to see what it is ...

Well well well. Full Metal Jacket. We have a date.

This actually works out well ... for reasons I will refrain from telling you about until I write my first Random Rewatch post.

Until then ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Testing #1

It was only by reloading my Flickchart rankings earlier this year that I was able to reach the following conclusion:

Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite film of all time.

I won't say it caught me surprise. But I'm also not a guy who goes around telling everybody how great Raiders of the Lost Ark is. Everybody already knows that, so you'd be wasting your breath, but I figured my favorite movie would be something I'd talk about a bit more than I actually do. I have one friend who wears his Raiders love on his sleeve, so much so that it's one of the primary things people know about him. He's the first guy you think to contact whenever you hear any new news about Raiders, or even anything about Harrison Ford.

Well, apparently, I should be that guy, too. After all, it's got to mean something if you have Raiders ranked first out of 3,270-some-odd movies, doesn't it? (I've seen about 50 more than that, but not ranked them all yet.) Is it possible that a movie so honored and so beloved could be kind of under the radar, even to the person who honors and beloves it himself?

Another example of my under-the-radar favoritism of Raiders: It's been at least five years since I've even seen it. About five years ago was when I started keeping track of the movies I revisit at the time I revisit them, and it's not on my list. I do have a clear memory of rewatching the movie with my wife, whom I've only known since the end of 2004, and I'm pretty sure it was while we were living together, which started in early 2006. So possibly as much as five-and-a-half years between viewings of my favorite movie of all time.

So, it seemed wise to figure out if Raiders really is my favorite movie of all time.

I'd like to say that I planned this test, but I didn't. As a Father's Day present, my wife got us tickets to see an outdoor screening of Raiders in a park in Beverly Hills, at which there would be a dozen food trucks present. It was to be one of the last in the summer season of Outdoor Cinema Food Fest, in which different classic films are shown in different venues around Los Angeles, each time with the use of an inflatable screen (pictured here), and each time with a host of food trucks present to feed us. (I don't know about where you are, but here, food trucks are in.) After two months of anticipation, the night finally rolled around on Saturday night.

Not without its challenges, however. For one, on Thursday night, I started feeling symptoms of a sore throat. I did my best to ignore it and was not significantly limited during the day on Friday, but by the time I got home, I knew I'd have to cancel plans to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a friend that night. Instead I watched baseball and most of Robert De Niro's 168-minute The Good Shepherd, feeling increasingly miserable as the evening went on. After a couple false starts in getting to sleep, I finally did, and felt better after a decent night's rest.

But as Saturday wore on, I knew the symptoms were not gone, and they started to intensify as afternoon crept into early evening. I was determined to go despite the fact that I had resigned myself to feeling miserable at some point, and knowing that this is not what any doctor would advise. Plus, my teeth were starting to hurt from all the lozenges I was sucking -- incessantly sucking, despite the fact that they did so little to ease the pain.

Then there was the flea attack. That's right, our son may have picked up fleas from daycare. (Or, they may have gotten in some other way, but daycare seems like the easy culprit to blame.) In any case, we saw some earlier in the week and did a bunch of vacuuming and laundry to combat them. Then my wife spotted another on Saturday morning, so the full assault was on, as we left nothing unwashed. This meant trips to the laundromat to make use of their front-loading machines, and general chaos around the house.

So I was a bit unsure whether the circumstances would allow me a focused consideration of the merits of Raiders of the Lost Ark as my favorite movie of all time. Then again, this would be the first time I'd seen it on a big screen in 30 years -- almost exactly 30 years, since Raiders was released on June 12, 1981, and I saw it some time during its theatrical run, which probably lasted a couple months. (It was on a trip to Illinois to visit our grandparents, which must have been during our summer vacation from school. I saw Raiders with my grandfather while my sister saw Annie with my grandmother. Wait a minute ...)

Can I stop here for a second to tell you that I just blew my own mind? I just looked up Annie, and saw that it was not released until 1982. That means that my first viewing of Raiders was not during its initial theatrical run, but when the movie was re-released a year later. Mind = blown. I'd always just assumed I'd seen it when it was first out, but given that I was not yet eight years old, it doesn't surprise me that I missed it in 1981. A year later, I was mature enough, apparently, to handle all the violence that left my grandfather wincing next to me, like he was the one getting punched and smashed over the head with a bottle of whiskey. It makes me wonder ... what other movies did I first see on their re-releases? Today's kids don't have to ask themselves that ... if they saw it in the theater, they saw it on its initial run. Case closed.

Anyway, yeah, I wasn't missing Raiders for a little pain in my throat and a couple fleas.

Given our circumstances, I did question the logic of arriving three hours before the movie was set to start, which is what time the gates opened to get into the softball field where the movie was being shown. Turns out, we needed that time to get settled, listen to a couple bands and wait in line for the food trucks -- not to mention all the various things we had to do to prepare our son for bed. (His presence was a complicating factor I haven't even mentioned to this point. Since it was my Father's Day present, I assumed my wife would take him off to shush him if he began crying and disturbing our neighbors.)

We ended up getting gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches from this one truck, then later, just before the movie was about to start, I picked up a venison burger and some grilled chicken sliders for us to share. (I did not, however, purchase anything from the aptly named Indian truck called India Jones, pictured here -- and yes, I believe that's its name even on nights it is not accompanying screenings of Raiders of the Lost Ark.) We'd brought our own drinks and some chippy things, but I also picked up my wife a Mexican Coke.

Our son was still awake when the movie finally started at 9 -- after a screening of a pilot for the ABC TV show Revenge, followed by a couple technical difficulties -- and was letting out a comical array of gleeful shrieks. Better than tears, I guess, but you can bet I was glad when we were able to calm him down by rocking him in his car seat.

Oh, so I suppose you'd like to know what I thought of the movie.

First, a couple things I noticed:

1) Alfred Molina! I either had forgotten or never knew that Alfred Molina was the "You throw me the idol, I throw you the whip!" guy at the beginning.

2) For some reason, I had been operating under the misconception that Indiana Jones taught at a university in England. Denholm Elliott's accent was certainly to blame, but I wonder why I assumed that Indy was on his turf rather than vice versa. And I figured that the government bureaucrats who visit Jones at the beginning had just flown to England for the occasion. Of course, this time I noticed that his plane starts in San Francisco before making several hops that ultimately lead to Nepal.

3) The pacing. This movie just doesn't stop. For possibly the first time I considered just how tight Lawrence Kasdan's script really is, how much character development he gets across through so few scenes and such a small amount of dialogue. Consider Marion Ravenwood, perhaps one of the greatest female characters ever written (with a performance to match from Karen Allen). We only really get that one bar scene in Nepal to learn everything we need to know about her -- she's a spitfire, she carries a gleeful resentment, she's a romantic deep down, and she can drink toe to toe with any man. Then as soon as the action is transported to Cairo, it's only a few minutes later on screen that she's "dead" -- or so we think, anyway. I remember thinking of this as a tremendous loss to Indy, but she's only been on screen for maybe 15 minutes by that point. Truly incredible.

Okay, so, is it #1?

It has some flaws, but yeah, why not? And maybe only because I can't think of another movie that should obviously be there instead. I mean, if I'm looking at Flickchart, I could promote Back to the Future from #2 to #1, if I really wanted to. But Back to the Future is not a flawless film either. Even Back to the Future has got that agonizing question that gnaws at you: "Why didn't he just go back an hour earlier, rather than ten minutes earlier?"

No film is perfect. But Raiders is about as close as it gets.

Oh, and in case you're wondering ...

It quickly became clear that we hadn't brought enough blankets, and that the grass gets dewy pretty much as soon as the sun goes down. So I was a bit cold and a bit wet for most of the night. And I've still got my sore throat on Monday -- in fact, it kept me up most of the night last night.

But it was worth it. Worth it to see my favorite movie -- yes, I'll say it -- on the big screen.

For the first time in 30 -- er, make that 29 -- years.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The dregs of summer

Fright Night, Conan, Spy Kids 4 ... lend me your ears.

I come to bury you, not to praise you. The bad movies men make live after them; the good are oft interred with their bones.

Critical praise, critical praise -- wherefore art thou, critical praise?

To release, or not to release -- that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous reviews, or to take arms against a sea of rotten tomatoes, and by opposing, end them? To die a slow death at the box office. To sleep, perchance, to dream -- of a future cult following on video, or perhaps an alternate reality in which you'd gone straight there in the first place. Ay, there's the rub.

(The previous Shakespeare manglings brought to you by Anonymous, in theaters October 28th.)

I don't know, why not?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Up and over and out. For now.

On April 17, 2009, I announced on this blog that my wife and I were set to undertake the Up series. You know, Michael Apted's documentary series that catches up every seven years with a cross-section of Britons, starting at age seven and continuing onward throughout their lives. It started in 1963 with Seven Up! and has continued unabated through 2005's 49 Up. Apted and most if not all of his subjects are still alive, so 56 Up should be due out next year.

At the time, I expected we'd go through all seven existing movies rather quickly. You know, by the end of the year or something.

But on Monday night -- two years, three months and 28 days later -- we finally finished. Or maybe I should say "caught Up." In any case, watching 49 Up is what we finally did on Monday.

So I thought I'd give a quick run-through of my thoughts on the series. Forgive me if some of the details of the installments run together -- that's kind of the nature of the project.

Seven Up! (1963, Paul Almond). Watched: April 20, 2009

The first Up movie is not really a movie per se -- it's a half-hour TV special on a British TV program called World in Action. And Apted was only an assistant on this project, which was the brainchild of a gentleman named Paul Almond. When I reviewed this "movie" for the website where I freelance, I described it in the following terms: "Since few of those who've seen it caught the original broadcast, watching Seven Up! is kind of like discovering the early songs of a band that became popular after their fourth album: The penetrating emotional complexity of the later works may not yet be present, but the raw early stuff has its own immediacy, especially as a preview of things to come." At the time it was made, no one knew it would become an enterprise still going a half-century later. Since almost everything that's interesting in this film is seen in flashbacks in later movies -- often, numerous times -- you have to see it mostly just to check it off your list. Besides, why would you want to start anywhere else?

7 Plus Seven (1970, Michael Apted). Watched: April 20, 2009

The same night we watched Seven Up!, we also watched its sequel, since they run only 90 minutes combined and came together as a package from Netflix. With the kids at age 14, there still isn't so much life experience that the program needed to reach feature length, and I believe this was only shown on television as well. I enjoyed watching them being slightly older and still being sort of cute in their naivete, but I felt like the really good stuff wasn't coming until later.

21 Up (1977, Michael Apted). Watched: July 25, 2009

It took us another three months to get to the next film in the series, the first one that can really be properly described as a "film" in terms of its length, clocking in at 100 minutes. Apted has a lot more life story to cover for these guys now -- university, in some cases marriage and children -- but he hasn't yet figured out the best structure in which to present their stories. 21 Up is all over the place, literally, as it dips in and out of the lives of all the characters, based kind of on the topic being discussed. That's more or less the format of the first two films, but by 21 Up it starts to feel scattershot and kind of stressful. This was my least favorite film in the series to date.

28 Up (1984, Michael Apted). Watched: October 10, 2009

Even with the weaknesses my wife and I both perceived there to be in 21 Up, we got back on the horse less than three months later and watched 28 Up. Ah. What a relief. Through one simple structural change that would become his new narrative template, Apted made the movies instantly more digestible. That change was to catch up entirely with one person before moving on to the next. Not only is this approach cleaner and more segmented, but it also serves as kind of a progress bar along the bottom of the screen. If you know you've visited with six of the 12 subjects (two of three upper-class boys had discontinued participation in the series, one temporarily and one permanently), you know you're about halfway through the movie. Convenient. The improved structure makes up for the daunting running time: 28 Up runs 136 minutes, as 2+ hours becomes the standard running time for movies in this series. 28 Up is also interesting because it starts to include some of the real dramas of life -- divorces, death of parents -- as well as portraying one character (Neil) who seems to be in the depths of a potential mental illness that has left him homeless. Fascinating stuff.

35 Up (1992, Michael Apted). Watched: June 30, 2010

Perhaps this longer running time daunted us more than we thought, because it was another eight-and-a-half months before we got on with 35 Up. I should say, this delay also coincided with the anticipated outage in my ability to review the films. Having reviewed each of the first four films in the series, I was going to miss the next two because they had either already been reviewed or already been promised to other writers. However, having 49 Up hanging out there in the future, assigned to me to review, made sure I was incentivized to keep going through the series. (Not that I would have given up, just that it might have taken me even longer to keep moving through. You know how life gets in the way.) I don't have a lot to say about 35 Up because it was at this point that the stories began to blend together a bit. As you grow older, seven years starts to mean less in the overall trajectory of your life -- fewer things have changed, you're more set in your ways. But I liked the movie quite a bit.

42 Up (1999, Michael Apted). Watched: July 18, 2011

If eight-and-a-half months seemed like a large gap, how about more than a year? That's how long it took us to finally move on from 35 to 42. So, close to two years between 28 and 42. To be fair, during this year -- when my wife and I were also between the ages of 35 and 42 -- we had plenty of life changes of our own to deal with, let alone worry about someone else's. Our son was born last August, and that's just one of things that has kept us busy. In fact, it took our summer series called Documentary Mondays to finally get the penultimate and final Up movies on the schedule. When we did finally watch 42 Up, however, it felt good to return to these lives and learn of the many new marriages, divorces, children and job changes. Spoiler: Still no deaths yet. However, the movie did contain one big surprise (spoiler): Homeless Neil ends up getting elected to low-level political office ... despite still not having a job.

49 Up (2005, Michael Apted). Watched: August 15, 2011

And in our shortest gap in the series, we hurried on to the final film (so far) less than a month later. Thanks, Documentary Mondays -- finally another Up movie I can review. (I wrote the review yesterday.) 49 Up was a bit more interesting than its immediate two predecessors because there's a real sense of revolt among these people whose lives have been publicly dissected (or at least, that's how they imagine it) for 42 years now. Two of the women basically go at Apted, accusing him of prying too deeply and asking questions that are more negatively weighted than the questions he asks other people -- especially the people with more privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. (In defense of Apted, I didn't really see it -- but I guess I might have seen it a little bit, now that they mentioned it.) Then a third women talks in more resigned, exhausted, non-accusatory terms of wanting to bow out after she turns 50 next year. Odd, since this woman -- a social outcast and firecracker when she was young -- seems to have turned into one of the most contented and generally well-adjusted people in the project. In none of the last three installments did I get the impression there was a burden weighing on her.

I feel like I should summarize what I've learned so far from the Up series in some deep and profound way. But per usual, I'm writing this under something of a time crunch. I'm sure there would be plenty to say about cause-and-effect as related to Apted's project, and whether these people would have turned out significantly differently if they had never been involved in the Ups. While there's a presumption that this project has been damaging to most of them, I'm not sure if that's entirely true. Did it hurt their self-esteems? Possibly. Did it strain some relationships in their lives? Almost certainly. (In fact, one couple discusses the effect on their children of discussing the husband/father's infidelity in the previous film.) But we live in an era now where many people would kill to be celebrities -- even "reality celebrities." And though most of these folks are representative of British above-the-fray stoicism in one way or another, one senses they wouldn't keep doing this if it didn't titillate them, if there weren't some kind of inherent reward. And in the particular case of Tony, the cab driver/would-be jockey/small-time actor, a play has been based on his life. That wouldn't have happened if he'd been a cab driver/would-be jockey/small-time actor outside of the public eye.

I got a little off course there. As I was saying, I should sum this all up in some profound way, but I just don't have the energy for it today. So let's leave it at the fact that this has been an incredibly interesting series of films to watch ... interesting in all the ways you might expect it to be interesting, without me going to the trouble of specifically outlining that for you in philosophical terms.

So ... 56 Up is next up. I read on wikipedia that the idea is to shoot the footage this fall and air it in May of 2012. (I'm still unclear on whether these films get U.S. theatrical releases -- I should be able to remember whether the was a theatrical release for 49 Up, since it was less than seven years ago -- but I believe the series airs on television in England.)

So it'll be at least another nine-month gap before we continue Upwards. Maybe, if it does play in theaters, we'll honor 56 Up with a theatrical screening.

After all, it could be the last one. Michael Apted is 70 years old, and who knows if he's got an assistant willing to pick up the project and run with it until all the seven-year-olds from 1963 go to their ultimate reward.

And, if we're to believe them, for some it really will seem like a reward to finally be free from Apted's camera.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The commas can stay

It was less than three minutes into Crazy Stupid Love (henceforth known as Crazy, Stupid, Love) that I realized my anti-comma campaign was a losing battle.

Despite not being advertised with them in the print ads, commas are clearly part of the title when it comes on screen.

In fact, not only are there commas, but there's also a problematic period -- the kind that makes it difficult to include the title in the middle of a sentence without suggesting to your reader that you're coming to a full stop. If you want to get technical, I believe the title was also lower-cased, appearing as such:

crazy, stupid, love.

It was the same trick Good Night, and Good Luck. tried to pull on us. I don't include the period when talking about George Clooney's film (except here to illustrate its awkwardness), so I won't include it when talking about Glenn Ficarra & John Requa's film. (And it's going to take a long time for me to actually remember their names whenever I have to refer to them.) I won't give a variance on the capitalization, either -- I believe sex, lies and videotape is the only title I allow to be written in lower case on my watch.

But the commas can stay.

I guess. I mean, whether I like them or not, they do appear on screen.

And I think I'm going to need to learn Glenn Ficarra's and John Requa's names, because I sure the hell liked this film a lot. I thought there was a good chance I would, since several critics I respect have given it a glowing review. However, I nearly pre-sabotaged my screening when I made the curious decision to listen to a podcast in which it was discussed, just hours before I was scheduled to go. One of the co-hosts echoed the general love for Love, but one poo-pooed the movie. Not only that, but they discussed the movie in a level of detail that removed some surprises from the plot.

And I still loved it. Did I say I liked it a lot, or "sure the hell liked this film a lot?" Let's say "love," just as the title does.

I'll do you the favor of not going into too much detail, but what you've heard is true: It's kind of like the perfect romantic comedy. It's formulaic in quite a lot of ways, but formula can really work, if done correctly. There are some surprises, too, which of course I won't reveal here (one which the podcasters did not ruin either, to their credit). But at its core, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a pretty traditional romantic comedy. It just fires on all cylinders and gets great performances from its leads.

Such as Steve Carell, who has made at least as many films I don't like as films I do.

Such as Julianne Moore, who has not always been my favorite actress, but in the last five to seven years has come to be someone I really look forward to.

Such as Ryan Gosling, who was starting to take himself way too seriously (witness his twitchy, affected performance in Blue Valentine).

Such as Emma Stone, who I have already praised no less than 37 separate times on this blog.

Such as a pair of teenage actors -- Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton -- from whom you'll be hearing quite a lot more.

Such as Kevin Bacon, who is having quite the career resurgence this year.

Such as Marisa Tomei. The podcaster who had qualms about this film singled her out, yet I found her scenes to be funny, if a tad "big."

All I know is that I had a crazy stupid grin on my face when I left Crazy, Stupid, Love.

A grin that turned into a frown as soon I snuck into 30 Minutes or Less immediately afterward ... but I won't taint this post with that movie's particular wretchedness. A rant for another day ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Best of the beasts

I watched Spartacus over the weekend.

All 3 hours and 16 minutes of it.

Which is pretty challenging when you're trying to watch it during the day while also taking care of a baby. I sometimes feel guilty watching things on TV while babysitting, because he'll get exposed to TV plenty fast without our help. However, I feel a lot more guilty when my wife is around. Fortunately, she was out for most of the morning/early afternoon on Saturday, so I had plenty of time to finish the whole thing, especially factoring in his hour-long nap.

It got me thinking about really long movies in general, how they almost have to be really good for us to be willing to sit through the whole thing. Spartacus was no exception.

And that made me wonder which really long movies I like most, a potential topic for my Flickchart Tuesdays series. (I took last week off, sorry.) For the purposes of this discussion, I'm considering "really long movies" -- or "beasts," for short -- to be movies at least three hours in length.

Because it takes a certain type of movie to get the studio's blessing on a 3+ hour running time, I figure it will take awhile for me to even get a top 20 (ten to be discussed, ten just to be referenced). I mean, I may have only seen 20-30 movies that are even that long.

But given my thesis that 3+ hour movies are usually good, I'm interested in expanding my usual focus today beyond a top 20. In fact, since it's easy to quickly determine which movies even have a chance of being that long, meaning I can make rather quick work of this, I think I'll go through my whole list. After all, isn't it almost more interesting to figure out which three-hour movie I found to be the most tedious, rather than the best? On which movie did I spend the most time for the least return?

As you may know by now, the rules for this exercise are that I don't know what movies will come up as I roll on down through my Flickchart rankings. I just choose the topic and go, hoping I don't embarrass myself along the way.

One note: Spartacus itself will be conspicuously absent from this list. I have the following personal Flickchart policy: I don't add a movie into my Flickchart until it's been a month since I've seen it. That allows me some time to step back and have some perspective on the film before I decide what's better than it, and what's worse.

Here we go ...

1. The Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa). Running time: 204 minutes. I saw Kurosawa's greatest masterpiece for the first time in film class in high school. I believe it took the whole week's worth of classes, and possibly then some. My second viewing was of the more traditional variety, though it was still in an academic setting -- it was shown as entertainment in a classroom on a Saturday night in college. This was my freshman year, possibly before I discovered beer. Flickchart: #38

2. Schindler's List (1993, Steven Spielberg). Running time: 200 minutes. My only screening of Schindler's List was of the normal, theatrical variety. Except there was nothing normal about what I was seeing on screen. Don't remember it feeling like 3 hours and 20 minutes, and never had to leave to go to the bathroom. (If I had, it wouldn't have been until the end, and only if I'd needed a Kleenex.) Flickchart: #54

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson). Running time: 179 minutes. And here, at #3, I already get caught cheating. The second (and best) Lord of the Rings is one minute shy of three hours. Oh well. This is my list and I can make whatever exceptions I want. I had not been a huge fan of the original movie, but The Two Towers brought me fully on board to the LOTR phenomenon -- as well as making me go back and appreciate the first. Flickchart: #70

4. Dances With Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner). Running time: 181 minutes. The first beast on this list I watched entirely in a home setting. I remember getting so emotionally invested in this story (and what a payoff at the end), in the basement of my childhood home, that I doubt I noticed the passage of three hours. And this after I'd spent the entire Oscars scoffing over the fact that Costner's movie was picking up all the awards, over two sentimental favorites (Ghost and Awakenings) and one certified masterpiece (Goodfellas). Flickchart: #84

5. Titanic (1997, James Cameron). Running time: 195 minutes. Yes indeed, Titanic is in my top 100 overall. But if Flickchart had existed in 1997, it probably would have been #1. I was simply in love with this movie when it first came out, and I refuse to throw it under the bus now. Still one of the great spectacles ever filmed, with a degree of difficulty that's off the charts. One of the phenomena about Titanic, if you loved it like I did, was that you specifically did not notice 3 hours and 15 minutes passing you by. If you didn't love it, it probably seemed interminable. Flickchart: #98

6. Malcolm X (1992, Spike Lee). Running time: 205 minutes. Another movie that blew me away. I do, however, remember the full passage of 3 hours and 25 minutes -- I just didn't care. Still, I remember my friend Susan and I emerging from the theater feeling exhausted. What part of that was the length of the movie and what part of that was the vividness and brilliance of Lee's filmmaking, it's hard to say. Flickchart: #162

7. Short Cuts (1993, Robert Altman). Running time: 184 minutes. Fresh of a high from The Player, I dove into the theaters to see Altman's Short Cuts and was not disappointed. (I'm kind of amazed how many of these really long movies I had the stamina for seeing in the theaters back in the early 1990s -- or it could just be that they don't make 'em that long anymore.) The length of Altman's adaptation of Raymond Carver's short stories may have been blunted by the fact that there were so many different storylines to follow. Flickchart: #201

8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean). Running time: 202 minutes. My one condition for eventually seeing Lawrence of Arabia, which finally happened about six years ago, was for me to be able to appreciate its massive scope on a big screen. I finally got that opportunity when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) played it one night, and my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I went. I believe there was an intermission and I believe we stumbled out afterward, exhausted but amazed. Flickchart: #216

9. Gone With the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming). Running time: 222 minutes. I went to college in Maine, and chose to stay on campus for the snowy first week of a two-week spring break my sophomore year. Being basically snowed in really helped in my first screening of Gone With the Wind, which occurred in one sitting at a friend's house, which I remember as feeling like five hours long. Not to say it wasn't an amazing feat of cinema, just that I could feel it eating the life out of me bit by bit. Of course, that's still good enough to be Flickchart: #314

10. JFK (1991, Oliver Stone). Running time: 189 minutes. The first beast on this list where I have no memory of the circumstances of my viewing. I know I didn't see it in the theater, but the rest is hazy. I guess that's an appropriate way to wrap up the discussion portion of my top ten films over three hours long. Flickchart: #323

And now numbers 11-20:

11. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003, Peter Jackson). Running time: 200 minutes. Flickchart: #349
12. The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola). Running time: 200 minutes. Flickchart: #425
13. The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino). Running time: 183 minutes. Flickchart: #483
14. Ben-Hur (1959, William Wyler). Running time: 212 minutes. Flickchart: #554
15. Magnolia (2000, Paul Thomas Anderson). Running time: 188 minutes. Flickchart: #682
16. Gettysburg (1993, Ronald F. Maxwell). Running time: 248 minutes. Flickchart: #747
17. Nixon (1995, Oliver Stone). Running time: 190 minutes. Flickchart: #754
18. Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino). Running time: 192 minutes. Flickchart: #772
19. Hamlet (1996, Kenneth Branagh). Running time: 242 minutes. Flickchart: #852
20. King Kong (2005, Peter Jackson). Running time: 187 minutes. Flickchart: #1012

And because there are so few more in total:

21. Fanny & Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman). Running time: 188 minutes. Flickchart: #1144
22. Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch). Running time: 179 minutes*. (See variance allowed for The Two Towers). Flickchart: #1759
23. The Great Ziegfeld (1936, Robert Z. Leonard). Running time: 179 minutes.* Flickchart: #1847
24. Wyatt Earp (1994, Lawrence Kasdan). Running time: 189 minutes. Flickchart: #1916
25. Pearl Harbor (2001, Michael Bay). Running time: 183 minutes. Flickchart: #1959
26. Cleopatra (1963, Joseph L. Mankiewicz). Running time: 246 minutes. Flickchart: #2263 27. The Thin Red Line (1998, Terence Malick). Running time: 180 minutes. Flickchart: #2453

So I've only seen 27 films that cross the three-hour mark, of the 3,271 titles I currently have ranked in Flickchart. That's an extremely small number, which shows you just how rare three-hour movies really are. In fact, it's really only 24, since there are three movies on this list that I rounded up to three hours from 2:59. Though that goes back up to 25 if you include Spartacus.

For the most part, it seems like I considered the extended pressure on my butt cheeks to be worthwhile. My top five three-hour movies are all in my top 100, and my top 20 three-hour movies are all in the top third of my rankings. Only two three-hour movies -- Cleopatra and The Thin Red Line -- are in my bottom third. And that assessment of Thin Red Line may be too harsh. Let's just say I really disliked Malick's return to cinema when I first saw it, and only grudgingly respect it more now that I've seen it a second time.

Funny, even writing up this list exhausted me a little bit.

Tune in next week for more Flickchart nuttiness.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Too much/little respect for Scent of a Woman

Ever have one of those movies that keeps coming up in your life, even though it isn't new and in most other ways is totally random?

For me recently it's been Martin Brest's Scent of a Woman.

Scent of a Woman is one of those movies we all basically liked at the time it came out. It seemed like an appropriate enough Oscar nominee in the year 1992. But over time, it's come to be seen as hovering somewhere between simplistic and manipulative. Now, it seems average at best, and many people scoff at it when it comes up in film discussion. If it ever comes up. In my mind, I liken it to a movie like As Good as it Gets.

However, I don't think it's really deserving of the potshot I read over the weekend.

Since Thursday, the local NPR station, KCRW, has been involved in its twice-annual pledge drive. Once in January and once in August, this pledge drive breaks in on programming from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, cutting that programming at least in half for the nine days of the drive. (Used to be 11.) In the past, I used to roll my eyes each time this pledge drive came on, because it meant I was deprived of most of Morning Edition and All Things Considered for the seemingly interminable time the drive was going on. However, when I first donated, that all changed -- I felt a sense of ownership of what was going on. It took a big step forward when I started volunteering as a pledge taker for two shifts each drive back in January of 2009.

I took a break for the last two drives, when my son was on the verge of being born and when he was still young enough that my wife couldn't spare me, but I returned to my volunteer capacity this August. My two shifts this year were an 8:10 to midnight beast on Thursday, then last night's slightly more reasonable 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. Then again, it was last night that I really grew bored. In fact, so bored that I reached the end of the questions on the volunteer trivia game -- one of the only ways you can entertain yourself on your computer, which doesn't have an internet connection, and one of the only ways you can entertain yourself period unless you brought something to read. (I'd brought three things to read, but I was tired and I couldn't be bothered.)

Most of the questions in this trivia game are straightforward trivia questions. They may have been culled in a rather random way -- in fact, the only question about the NFL is "Which team won the 1989 Super Bowl?" -- but at least they are mostly straightforward.

Except this one:

"Which actor won an Oscar in 1992 for incessantly shouting 'hoo-ah!'?"

The answer, of course, is Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. A couple of Pacino's contemporaries, such as Jack Nicholson, filled out the other three choices.

What's hilarious is how much of a stance this question takes against both Pacino and the movie. I'm not sure if "shouting" was the correct gerund -- it might have been "claiming." But I know that "incessantly" was the correct adverb.

Even if Pacino's performance is reducible to a single vocal flourish like shouting out the military's abbreviation of "Heard Understood Acknowledged" over and over again, I'd hardly think this trivia game should be taking that kind of stance. Especially since the question stands out in such stark relief against the other questions, like "Which element is most common in the Earth's atmosphere?" and "In which year was KCRW founded?" I guess they figured Mr. Pacino would not be taking a shift in the phone bank.

Now, I mentioned that there was also a "too much respect" aspect of Scent of a Woman's recent appearances in my life.

I told you in my earlier post on watching the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski that I had started listening to a film podcast called Filmspotting, based out of Chicago and hosted by Adam Kempenaar and Matt "Matty Ballgame" Robinson. The Filmspotting guys are really intelligent about film and their tastes can run pretty elitist, although that's certainly not always the case -- Robinson goes on record saying that his favorite two films are Major League and Revenge of the Nerds. (However, just so you don't dismiss him out of hand, I should point out that he also called The Tree of Life possibly the most important film so far in the 21st century.)

Every week they open their show with two movie quotes. The second, I just learned, is a quote from The Graduate. Or rather, a brief exchange between a man and a woman:

"You're not interested in art?"
"Now look, we're going to do this thing, we're going to have a conversation."

The first -- otherwise why would I bring it up -- is from Scent of a Woman:

"What kind of a show are you guys putting on here today?"

In the movie, the line of dialogue refers to the farcical ceremony Pacino accuses Chris O'Donnell's school of putting on in trying to discipline him. Since it features the word "show," the line works out of context as an introduction to their show.

But is it really the first foot they want to put forward? Here's a film podcast where they incessantly (there's that word again) sing the praises of directors like Kelly Reichardt and Ramin Bahrani, yet the first voice you hear every week is Al Pacino, from a role that many consider to be clownish -- in one of those few moments when he isn't "incessantly shouting 'hoo-ah.'" Couldn't they have found another relevant movie quote that got across the same point, that wasn't from Scent of a Woman?

As discussed at the beginning, the truth about Scent of a Woman is probably somewhere in between KCRW's implied hatred for it and Filmspotting's implied affection for it.

And if Adam and Matty were reading this, they'd probably say "Dude, the quote just had the right words." And then cleanse themselves with a viewing of Old Joy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Too big and too graphic

Uh oh. Watch out.

I'm becoming one of those parents.

You know, the kind who worry about the graphic nature of the images their children are exposed to.

Actually, I'm only playing that role for the purpose of this post. My son is not yet a year old. I've had some pretty depraved movies playing on TV while he's been in the room. I'm not really concerned about him being scarred for life by images of sex and violence. Not yet.

But if he were three or four, well, I'd be somewhat worried by the gigantic billboard that's on my street.

The image in the billboard is the one you see above, for Final Destination 5, which comes out today. I included the actual poster so you could see it in better detail. But here's how it looks on my street -- or, I should say, one street over, but it's the main thoroughfare we take to get home:

Am I overreacting?

Or are you also a tad concerned by a giant image of a skull with no fewer than 11 rods of metal rebar smashing through it, causing bone fragments to come exploding outward left and right?

I'm no prude. But I think if I were a young child, I would find this disturbing.

The big problem is that it's the opposite of abstract. Let's look at the other most prevalent form of outdoor advertising for Final Destination 5:

See, this is more like it. Instead of an impaled skull splintering into a thousand pieces, you've got a 5 that's kind of in the shape of a sickle weaving its way through the skull. This is far more clearly a design than a reenactment of something that potentially happens in the movie. It gets across that it's a horror movie and that it's full of menace, without being such a literal depiction of violence. Even if there were a sickle shaped like a 5 in the movie, which there most certainly is not, it's doubtful it would take such an unlikely path through the eye sockets of the skull in order to kill its victim.

So not only is it more abstract, but it's also more clever, because it incorporates the sequel number into the image itself. Unlike the previous poster, which is just violent overkill. (Although it does communicate that the movie is in 3D in a way that the second one doesn't.)

It got me thinking about whether posters have always been this graphic and I'm just noticing it now, or if this is a particularly egregious case. For sure, you can find me a thousand more gruesome posters than this. But the real difference is that those posters were never displayed at a height of 20 feet on a busy street.

I think you're safe if you leave something up to the imagination of the adults. The idea is to communicate something to the people in the know -- communicate something that would go over the heads of those who aren't. You can still chill my blood and make me want to see a movie by being a bit more subtle. Like that second Final Destination 5 poster, or like this poster for the upcoming Fright Night:

You know he can't be planning anything nice with that axe. But there's a difference between planning to do something with an axe, and showing the axe actually sinking into somebody's skull.

As for the prospects of me seeing Final Destination 5 ... yeah, I learned my lesson after The Final Destination from 2009. I ranked something like 113 movies in my 2009 year-end rankings, and The Final Destination was #113. The series has actually been pretty terrible ever since the surprisingly good second film, and I think I'm finally accepting the fact that future installments will just disappointment me. I'm just figuring out how I'm going to deliver the news to my friend Steve that I don't plan to watch this one with him. (We've seen each since the second together.)

Looks like you'll have to puncture somebody else's brain with you metal rods, FD5.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Justifying my shitty taste

When blogger Mike Lippert of You Talking to Me? announced an interactive event on his blog this week called "Justify Your Shitty Taste," I knew I was in. One of my favorite things as a film lover is to defend movies I think people got wrong.

A film immediately jumped to mind: Repo! The Genetic Opera. Despite having some passionate cult fans, the film was generally lambasted, in part I'm sure because it features Paris Hilton. But my wife and I truly liked it -- a lot, actually -- and I thought it made a great candidate for Mike's project.

But then I decided I should really watch it again in preparation for writing the piece. As luck would have it, I own the movie on BluRay -- a friend gave it to me as what he thought was a joke. But the way my week's shaking out, I wouldn't have an opportunity to watch it until Saturday night, then write the post hurriedly on Sunday morning. Chances are Mike would like to be posting his results by then.

Then I remembered: I did a whole series on my blog last summer called Double Jeopardy, in which I re-watched films that I'd liked, but most other people didn't, to see if I still felt the same about them upon second viewing. I figured, Mike's probably not going to cry in his beer if the shitty tastes I choose to justify were first written on a previous occasion.

I had about ten movies to choose from in my series, but I chose Ivan Reitman's Fathers' Day because it was about the most universally reviled on the list. I figure, if I'm going to participate in Mike's project, I want to go all in.

So without any further blah blah blah, my first-ever re-post on The Audient. Enjoy. Or don't. It's up to you, really.

"It's no Ishtar"

I've never seen the infamous flop Ishtar, but I have a very specific memory of reading a review when it first came out, back in 1987. I was 13 years old and probably just getting into reading film reviews, so this one stuck with me, as such formative experiences often do. I can't remember if it was the Boston Globe critic or someone like Roger Ebert, but it was a two-star capsule review which read, and I may be paraphrasing slightly:

"One star for Dustin Hoffman. One star for Warren Beatty. No stars for anything else."

So when I heard Ivan Reitman's Fathers' Day, which came out a decade later, described as Robin Williams' and Billy Crystal's Ishtar, I was as wary as everyone else who steered clear on the basis of that dour prognosis.

But when I actually did see it, sometime in probably 2001 or 2002, in order to provide the review for the website that employs me, I thought it wasn't half bad. In fact, better than that. I thought it was good.

In the years since then, I've been operating on the assumption that I must have been crazy. Like Bedazzled, which I wrote about in my first Double Jeopardy post, I've owned this movie for over five years, but had yet to re-watch it until yesterday. And like Bedazzled, I didn't actively seek out this movie as part of my collection. In fact, I came into possession of it at a theme party at a friend's house. Her idea was that you brought over crap that you wanted to get rid of, put it on a table, and walked away with someone else's unwanted crap. I can't remember what I purged at this party, but I came home with Fathers' Day. I'd liked it, after all. But I haven't watched it again, and this was so long ago, now, that I'm not even friends with that woman anymore -- haven't been for three or four years.

Well, I'm not crazy. And now I think I probably ought to go watch Ishtar, because if it's anything like this, Ishtar is probably not half bad, either.

The plot basically revolves around a 16-year-old boy who goes missing for two weeks after running away from his heartbroken parents (Nastassja Kinski and Bruce Greenwood). Desperate, Kinski's character visits two of her former lovers, Jack Lawrence (Crystal) and Dale Putley (Williams), who both bedded the woman right around the time her son was conceived. Either could be the father, and she uses this possibility to separately enlist their help in finding young Scott. (In retrospect, it seems like a precursor to Mamma Mia!, as there's actually a third possibility for the boy's male parentage -- Greenwood, who has thought he was the actual father the boy's whole life, and is involved in his own separate search for the boy.) As might be expected, Jack and Dale cross paths and discover each has been told he's the father of the boy. Hijinx ensue.

It's the nature of those hijinx that probably left some viewers and critics displeased. Williams is skittish and eccentric, and when we meet him, he actually has a gun barrel in his mouth, ready to off himself -- in a scene that's played for laughs. Crystal is, well, Crystal -- he's businesslike and sarcastic. Both could do these roles in their sleep, I'm sure, and they're meant to be a zany odd couple.

Well, it works. I'm not a huge Williams fan, and Dale Putley is normally the kind of role in which I like him least. But for some reason, I found him lovable and actually sort of believable here. I like the dynamic that builds up between he and Crystal, whom I've always enjoyed on screen. (And why did he quit acting, anyway?) It's not just a buddy comedy-type situation -- it's almost a bickering lovers-type situation, since Jack so clearly wears the pants in the relationship, and Dale plays the sensitive role that's traditionally ascribed to a woman. As they say in the movie, they really do make a good team in seeking out the wayward boy, and their attempts to navigate the rock 'n roll underground (Scott is following the band Sugar Ray, before they became sellouts) contain some funny fish-out-of-water stuff. (And if you know Sugar Ray only from that song "Fly" that was ubiquitous back in the late 1990s, see this movie -- it reminds you that they were once inaccessible punks, musically speaking.)

And it shouldn't be a huge surprise to us that it works. After all, the film is directed by the reliable Ivan Reitman, he of Ghostbusters and Dave fame. And it was written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who also wrote Splash, City Slickers, A League of Their Own and Parenthood. Throw in producer Joel Silver, and you've got a dream team working on this film.

So why didn't people like it? Eh, who knows. Dale and Jack are likable, Scott gets swept up in a relatable predicament with his feelings for a girl (even if it involves a sort-of unrelatable theft from drug dealers), and even the notably serious actor Bruce Greenwood moonlights successfully into comedy, notably a scene where he gets pushed down a hill in a port-o-potty. If that just sounds silly, listen to Greenwood's hilarious line readings while he's trapped inside the overturned john: "Oh, it's horrible! Get me out of here!" Playing against type in the other direction is Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Jack's wife -- she's probably the most straight-faced person in the whole movie, and apparently, it didn't go over well, as she was nominated for a Razzie as worst supporting actress.

A couple other things to look for: an uncredited cameo by Mel Gibson as a guy with a face full of piercings, and the director's son, Jason, a future director himself, as "wrong kid in alley."

Double Jeopardy Verdict, Fathers' Day: It's not going to revolutionize the comedy world, but this is a nice little movie that didn't deserve to be bashed like it was. Fans of Williams and Crystal in particular should give it a shot. These two comedy icons give the fans what they came for, and isn't that one of the primary reasons people make movies?