Saturday, March 19, 2005

Happy Birthday to Patrick McGoohan...

Today marks the 77th birthday of Patrick McGoohan, the man behind what may well be the greatest TV show of all time, The Prisoner. Anyone who hasn't seen this show is strongly urged to get their hands on the DVDs. Also available is a huge set of the complete run of Danger Man, a show known here in the States as Secret Agent, for which Johnny River's classic tune "Secret Agent Man" was the theme. Although a much more orthodox spy series than The Prisoner, Danger Man is generally considered that show's direct antecedent, with McGoohan's Danger Man character John Drake being the actual identity of the latter show's unnamed Number Six.

Also worth watching is McGoohan's morally comprimised scientist in Scanners, his appearance in the Cold War thriller Ice Station Zebra, and even several superior episodes of Columbo in which he played the killers. Sadly, these aren't represented in the currently released season one and two sets of the show. I think by the time of season three we'll see one of his appearances.

Another of his best roles, as a prototypical spy/rebel in the year 1736, appeared in the mini-series Dr. Syn -- Alias the Scarecrow, whiched appeared here The Wonderful World of Disney. Sadly, the show was once slated to be released as one of Disney's tin encased special DVD collections, but was shelved before release, presumably because of rights issues of some sort. I keep my fingers crossed on this one, although it's been years since I've heard anything about it. There was a video tape version, apparently truncated, that appeared quite some years ago, but it goes for high prices on the collector's market.

McGoohan will always remain a fascinating actor to watch. Few could suggest and project raw intelligence and just the fact that his character was thinking as well as he can. In fact, Andre Braugher is perhaps his only equal in this regard.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Bullshit watch...

The April issue of GQ has a typically lame star profile/interview with Jessica Alba, who is about as interesting as the average 23 year-old sexpot. By which I mean, not much. She swears a lot, professes to know wine (who cares?) and there's a lot about her restrictive religious upbringing, blah blah blah.

I'm one of no doubt many, many fans whose eyes crossed when they heard Alba was signed to play Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four movie. She's just all wrong. Yes, she looks wrong, and is the wrong racial type. However, I can't imagine many fans cared much about that, beyond an inital, bewildered, "What, they can't find a young blonde woman in Hollywood?" sort of thought.

The thing with bringing a comic book character to the screen is that we already have an established image of them, and yes, it can throw you to have a completely different physical type cast. However, if the actor is right for the part, who really cares? They made Kingpin black in Daredevil, and pretty much nobody batted an eye because the actor matched the role well.

I think the real problem most of us have--me, definately--is that Alba is too outrageously sexpot-y to really capture Sue, not to mention that it raises the fear that Sue is now going to suddenly turn into a highly inappropriate Dark Angel-esque ass kicker.

However, sigh, the article has to go all "RACIAL CONTROVERSY" with the subject:

"Controversy has raged...She's half-Mexican, which might be okay for her stripper role in Sin City, but Fantastic Four's Sue Storm is the very picture of the American Heartland Wasp..."

That's bullshit. The way they try to imply that Middle America, or whoever they mean to indict, is only comfortable when a "half-Mexican" actress plays strippers and such is straight out crap. That's not the issue. The reason Alba playing a stripper in Sin City didn't raise eyebrows is because Alba, as, you know, an individual person, generally plays characters in a sort of slutty, strutting, sexually aggressive fashion. Thus that part seems right up her alley.

The problem with her playing Sue Storm isn't--other than in a minor, 'huh?' sort of a way--that you are taking a character who for forty years has indeed been established as being an "American Heartland Wasp" and casting a 'half-Mexican' in the role. It's that Sue has always been a pretty demur character, and 'demur' is not a characteristic that comes to mind when Alba is thought of. The fact that the article is mostly an excuse to publish numerous full-page photos featuring coy flashes of Alba's boobs and several close-up looks at her pert ass in teeny baby doll underpants didn't exactly undercut this point.

For instance, let's say that Pamela Anderson had been cast as Sue. I really think the reaction would have been just as bad, or even worse, despite the fact that Anderson is a blonde and presumably closer to the traditional "Heartland Wasp" that Sue has always been. However, the same personality problems I have with Alba would still be present. Plus, the idea of Sue with a rack that big is ridiculous.

So this isn't a case of TYPICAL AMERIKKKAN MIDWESTERN RACISM, but rather a well-justified fear by nerds that once again the properties they care about perhaps more deeply than they should are going to adapted in a way that makes them unrecognizable. For instance, a British actor has been cast as Reed Richards. That hasn't sparked any outcry, again because personality-wise he seems right for the part. However, I do have a problem with him being too young, for reasons I went into in a previous post.

I especially found this statement highly suspect and obnoxiously phrased: "All across the Net that day were postings by the Fantastic Four fans who claimed they would not venture into a theater where a half-Mexican actress played Sue Storm."

Bullshit on that racial stuff. Yes, some really immature fans will be freaked that the wrong looking type was cast as Sue. Hell, I remember reading a letter from a truly outraged kid, back in the days in which you saw such things in print in fandom magazines, moaning that Michael Keaton couldn't play Batman because Bruce Wayne had black hair and Keaton's was brown. So yes, there are people that anal about comic books. However, to try to make this about 'racism' is crap.

Also, I really, really doubt that a torrent of such sentiments raced "all across the Net". And the idea that any comic fan, no matter how well justified their fears are, will not "go to a theater" to see a Fantastic Four movie is laughable.

By the way, in a commentary track on the DVD of the very fun superhero spoof The Specials, lead actress Paige Brewster keeps referring to Alba as a "monster." Apparently the two have spent some time together and Alba drove Brewster up the wall. Every once in a while, Brewster will attempt to cut her some slack, noting the rigors of sudden stardom and stuff, but then the venom will quickly rise to the surface again and come spewing out. It's pretty funny.

Welcome Back Kot...Kojack.

The bald, natty detective is returning in a USA cable series (home of one of my favorite series, Monk, although I catch it on DVD) in the form of Ving Rhames. I can't fault the casting. I've seen poster art with the back of Rhames' bald head, as he holds up a round sucker that takes the place of the 'o' in Kojak. It's nice artwork, anyway.

Happy Birthday Peter Graves...

Graves needn't worry about being remember for his schlock, but it's there. While '50s sci-fi awarded his brother James Arness pivotal roles in The Thing From Another World (as the Thing) and Them! (as the hero), Graves toiled for Roger Corman, in the actually pretty interesting It Conquered the World; and Bert I. Gordon in the more laughable big big epic Beginning of the End. His sci-fi nadir, however, came with the ludicrous Killers from Space, remembering featuring aliens marked with bulging eyes made from ping pong balls. In the '70s he returned to genre fare in TV movies like Scream of the Wolf and The Clonus Horror.

Earlier, though, Graves had already earned a spot in film history with a key role in Stalag 17. Then he earned pop culture immortality by starring in TV's Mission: Impossible, not to mention his pilot in Airplane!
Happy 79th birthday, sir, and many more.

Take a hype department...

Elle magazine has a cover article on 19 year-old actress Keira Knightley, which predictably labels her a "superstar." First a star was a star. Then non-stars became stars, and so stars became superstars. Now kinda stars are superstars, which means full-fledged stars are...what?

Knightley is undoubtedly a popular actress right now. (And, it must be said, really quite hot.) She also has some chops, having worked steadily as an actress since she was eight years old. She played Queen Amidala's stand-in in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace when she was fourteen, starred in Bend It Like Beckham three years later, and hit the big time at eighteen by starring in the surprise smash Pirates of the Caribbean. The fact that she's signed up for the two sequels already in production, and has other films in the can, indicated that she will keep working for a while.

However...a 'superstar'? OK, she's starred in one smash. Since then, she's starred in the megaflop King Arthur, and starred in The Jacket, one of the few horror films lately to tank. Her next film, wisely, is an art house adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It will her a breather from failed commercial pictures.

I don't know, 'superstar' seems a bit much.

Up, Up and Away...

Bryan Singer, his cast and crew have reportedly arrived in Australia to start filming Superman Returns. A few posts ago, I mentioned Josh Whedon being hired to write and direct a Wonder Woman movie, and noted how getting the right director seems to be the key in doing a comic book movie. Singer, of course, is a veteran of the genre, having done the first two X-Men movies. Superman presents a bit more of a challenge, however, since he's been brought to be the large and the small screen some very many times. Chris Nolan, the director of the upcoming Batman Begins, faces an easier job, in that the last two Batman movies really, really sucked. The bar's higher for Singer.

By the way, a fairly neat teaser poster for Josh Whedon's putative Wonder Woman film can be found here.

At the movies, 3/18/05

Ring Two: I really liked the first ring (haven't seen Ringu, the Japanese original, yet, but I hear it's largely the same). Personally, I like the recent trend towards P-13 horror, big since The Sixth Sense. I prefer my horror movies creepy rather than gross, and a few content restrictions helps push filmmakers in that direction. Of course, 'smart' is good too. And while limitations can be helpful in making a filmmaker work at what he's doing, films can be really gross and enjoyable and smart too. For instance, I really liked Cabin Fever, which was highly gross.

On the whole, though, creepy works fine for me. I'll probably see Ring Two, whereas I wouldn't see Saw. ("see Saw"...it's almost a joke!)

The Ring films, Japanese, American and (I think) Korean, are appropriately circles within circles. Therefore it kind of make sense that the Japanese director of The Ring, Hideo Nakata, has been hired to come here and shoot the sequel to the remake of his original movie. Or something. Plus, he probably worked cheap.

The critical response has not been great. The aggregate score at Rotten Tomatoes.com is only 30% positive. Cinescape.com, a site more representative of horror genre fans, gives it a B-. On the other hand, the guy at Chud.com only awarded it 6.3 out of 10. Ah, well.

Other opening films include Ice Princess, which frankly I won't rag on because it's made a for distinct target audience. Of course it's a mass of clichés. However, if you're 14, then you won't have seen the clichés as much. That's pretty much the point.

I actually half plan to go see The Upside of Anger. Occasionally it's nice to see a movie about regular people sans monsters and stuff exploding. Also, I rather like Kevin Costner when he's doing his laid back and charming shtick. Aside from Dennis Quaid, few people do it better.

Melinda and Melinda is Woody Allen's latest. I can't remember the last time I really was excited that he had a new movie, but it's been a looong time. I complained in my Everyone Says I Love You review that Allen has picked up a typically creepy trait of having one actor in the film basically aping his whole Woody Allen persona. Apparently this time around it's Will Farrell. (!)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

What I'm watching: The 4400

The 4400 was, I guess, a mini-series broadcast on the cable USA network. I’ve seen the first of the two discs containing the series—the other awaits me—which features the 90 minute pilot and the first of four ‘hour’ long (i.e., 45 minutes, minus commercials) chapters. It was obviously hoped that it would prove popular enough to justify an on-going series.

We see various people over the last fifty or sixty years disappear following the appearance of a blinding light in the sky. Then, in present day Seattle, a mysterious heavenly body comes to Earth and disgorges 4400 people who have similarly disappeared over the last 80 years. These people have no memory of what has happened to them, and have not aged since they were taken. The series follows investigators with the Homeland Security department as the Returnees attempt to reintegrate into society and what is for many of them a completely different world.

Ho hum. I’d heard fairly good things about this show, but frankly I wasn’t that impressed. We quickly learn that the Returnees have picked up paranormal abilities: One teenager can manipulate the bodies of others, bringing a dead bird back to life and literally stopping a tormentor cold. A little girl proves clairvoyant. And so on.

I found this disappointing. There’s so much drama inherent in the idea of these people coming back after anywhere from a few months’ absence to one of 70 years or more that the whole superpowers thing just seems a bit silly. In the end, perhaps intentionally, the whole enterprise ends up seeming (so far at least) like an X-Files clone, as a male and female HS team investigates the Returnee’s paranormal activities. Admittedly, if the execution were better, the superpowers thing would be fine. Again, though, we’ve already had one X-Files, so why dish up another, inferior one?

To be fair, the show is moderately well written and moderately well acted. It’s possible that part of my problem with it stemmed from the fact that I spent much of the last two weeks watching the complete first season of Deadwood and the third season of The Shield on DVD. Those are two brilliant shows, and frankly The 4400 just reeks of being a standard television series compared to those two.

The second episode, for instance, a sub Twilight Zone-esque parable about a schlub who has gained enhanced speed and strength setting out to clean up his crime-infested neighborhood, is entirely too predictable. Not badly done, but way predictable. The climax is all too foreseeably tragic, followed by the equally inevitable inspiring fillip. Yawn.

There's also way too much soap opera stuff going on. The male investigator’s son has been in a coma for three years (coinciding with the abduction of his nephew, who just happens to be one of the Returnees), and now the investigator is being divorced by his wife. And that’s just one example. Cripes, isn’t there enough drama in the whole general idea without that sort of stuff?

Another character, a black military veteran who went missing in 1951, and who was then dangerously involved with a white woman, is used to explore how society has changed for black people. This is fine, except that it would also be interesting to see his reactions as just a person too, rather then a black one. There’s one brief bit with him reacting to some punk kids (after gazing at a convenient row of mixed-race couples to contrast with his own experiences).

But hell, what does he think of the increased pace of life, the end of the Cold War (he was a pilot in Korea, after all), the markedly reduced formality, indeed, sexualization of manners and dress, cell phones, computers, music, and all of that stuff? Other than the racial differences, he mostly seems to take most everything in stride, and that’s just bad scripting. And, in it’s own way, disappointingly racist.

There were a number of moments I just didn’t buy. One Returnee, gone for 10 years, learns that her husband remarried and her then-infant daughter was raised to believe that another woman was her mother. Her ex-husband gets a restraining against her to maintain the situation (i.e., keeping the daughter in the dark), and I just couldn’t belief that any court would issue such a thing. Admittedly, her husband is a local lawyer and perhaps has connections, but any higher court would invalidate that ruling. No body even mentions appealing the order, which is the first thing I thought of.

The most unbelievable aspect of the show is the complete lack of any media hounding these people. They are allowed to return to normal life without any reporters or talk show bookers doing the extremely elementary legwork necessary to discover their not-all-that hidden identities. Moreover, not one of 4400 to turn the Returnee story to their advantage. You’re telling me that out thousands of people, not one would want to become an instantly famous and no doubt rich celebrity? Or how about having one of the Returnees sit down to watch a lame cop show or sitcom and find that it features a ridiculously bad Returnee plotline?

This is easily the show’s worst aspect. We swim in an ocean of 24-hour omnivorous media now, and a story like this would change the world as much as the it had already changed for those missing for decades. The idea that there would be a couple of magazine articles and then the whole thing would go away is just literally unbelievable. Other than a website, we see almost zero evidence of this.

To sum up, the show’s OK, and possibly if I hadn’t just watched 30 hours of two of the best written TV shows ever, I’d have been a little easier on it. Still, unless things get significantly better on the second DVD, then this will be just another ‘eh’ TV show.

Pull her out from under, Wonder Auteur...

Buffy/Firefly savant Joss Whedon has officially been hired by Warner Brothers to write and direct a Wonder Woman movie. Hopefully it will be a period, WWII piece, that would kick ass. In any case, he'll presumably begin working on the film after he finishes up Serenity, the movie based on his aborted Firefly TV series.

It's interesting to see how Hollywood can half learn a lesson. By now it should be obvious that when you make a film based on a comic book, the director is the most important part. Pick a Tim Burton and you get Batman and Batman Returns. Sam Raimi gets you a Spider-Man, Bryan Singer an X-Men, Guillermo del Toro a Hellboy. On a related note, a Peter Jackson gets you a Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The important thing is to get talented directors who take the source material seriously, if not slavishly so. Too often they just go with a 'visual' director, as with music video director Francis "Constantine" Lawrence and "Pitof", who helmed Catwoman. Or else they just go with a 'hot' director, but one who doesn't respect the source material. Then you get Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin and Batman Forever, or (again, on a related note), Emmerich's Godzilla. Of you can just hire hacks, as with Daredevil's Mark Steven Johnson.

That's why I have a lot more faith in Robert Rodriguez' Sin City and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins instead of Tim Story's Fantastic Four. I grew up on Marvel comic books, and few things would make me happier (sadly) than a Fantastic Four movie as good as the Spider-Man films have been. OK, an Avengers film that good would make me slightly happier. But anyway. The fact that Story's last film was the Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah suckfest Taxi doesn't exactly put me at ease.

Further indication that the pivotal directorial decision was blown is that the parts have been miscast, other than Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing. My main problem with the casting is that the Fantastic Four have a well-established relationship dynamic. Reed Richards should be a good fifteen or twenty years older than his wife Sue, Ben is Reed's best friend, and his age, while Johnny is Sue's younger brother. If I had to guess, and this might be off somewhat, Reed and Ben should be somewhere between 35 and 40, Sue in her early twenties, and Johnny in his late teens.

This is not insignificant stuff, characterization-wise. However, the casting screws all this up. Chiklis is the right age, being about 42. However, Ian Gruffudd is ten years younger than Chiklis, which really screws that relationship up. The Alba is twenty-three, and thus about right, although on the face of it the vixenish actress seems a truly weird choice to play the shy, unprepossessing girl-next-door blonde Sue Storm. Meanwhile, the actor playing Johnny is the same age as Sue, and he should really be younger enough that she's evidentially his older sister.

Again, I would love to see this movie work. However, I can't shake the feeling that this will prove a major disappointment.

Even ghosts don't like Keanu Reeves movies...

Per IMDB News:

"Keanu Reeves and director Francis Lawrence were overcome with fear when supernatural forces disrupted shooting on a vital Constantine scene. The cast and crew had gathered in sound stage 16 at Warner Bros' Hollywood lot to work on the spooky blockbuster, but were soon desperate to leave the building when paranormal activity started to arise. And it was particularly terrifying for all present - because they were all aware of the spooky forces that had tormented movie-makers working on The Exorcist and Poltergeist.

"Lawrence tells Britain's Empire magazine, "It was strange. There was this one set that we worked on that got weird. We were on Warner Bros sound stage 16, and we'd built theses two rooms, the physiotherapy and hydrotherapy rooms - they're a huge part of the ending of the movie. "And one half of it, the physiotherapy side, just got weird. We were there for six weeks in this room, and people were getting sick, or didn't feel good or got angry. There was just something about that room."

With evidence like that, can anyone yet doubt the existance of the supernatural?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Laughable Tagline Dept.

The April issue of Premiere magazine has a half-page add for an independent film entitled The Hillz. First, you can tell it's all fresh and hip-hop and stuff because it uses a 'z' in place of an 's'. Also, the featured personage in the ad is co-star Paris Hilton, so, I mean, it's all right there, right?

However, it's the tagline that sells it. The Hillz, we're told, is "American Pie meets Pulp Fiction...with a dash of A Clockwork Orange."

That's pretty close, but personally I'd call it "Citizen Kane meets Home Alone 2: Lost in New York...with a dash of Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Tomato, Tomahto.

A Roseanne by any other face is not as sweet...

Weekly Variety reports that Anchor Bay will release the first season of the '80s sitcom Roseanne later this year. Assuming sales warrant the eventual release of all nine seasons, this would provide an intriguing opportunity to watch a once superior sitcom utterly self-destruct due to the madness of its star.

The series started as an interesting and highly blue collar look at lower, lower working class families in Reagan's America. I can't say I generally agreed with the show's politics in the early days, but it presented a point of view that wasn't available elsewhere on TV and the family was refreshingly wiseass, including the kids. (Now, of course, there's a plethora of wiseass families, and the whole thing is tiresome.)

As the show became more succesful, however, Roseanne (nee Barr, then Arnold) basically went nuts. The politics went from occasionally strident to consistantly screechy, and no dissent was brooked. People with politics different from her's were just plain evil. Roseanne's real life friends and hubbies, like Tom Arnold, were cast as regulars, another sign of self-indulgance. A show originally based on telling it like it was mutated like Roseanne's constantly surgerically altered face and figure. It was like the slyest possible meta-sitcom based on The Picture of Dorian Gray.

After Roseanne's bitter divorce from Tom Arnold, it was clear that there was no one left to say 'no'. In the end, the show became so monumentally bad that it was fascinating. It was like one of those sci-fi stories where someone gets god-like powers and causes reality to reflect their own growing insanity.

There's a great book to be written there. Hopefully somebody will write it.

Action Jackson... (Or, snakes, why'd it have to be snakes)

Per Cinescape.com:

"New Line is in talks with Samuel L. Jackson to star in their thriller Flight 121. Jackson would play an FBI agent on a long quest to bring a ruthless mob boss to justice. He finds a witness and takes him on a commercial flight from Hawaii to L.A. Trouble is, the mob boss has loaded the cargo with all kinds of venomous snakes. "

How can a plan like that possibly go awry?

This is obviously an adaptation of a script earlier announced under the title (I kid you not) Snakes on a Plane, which matches Spring Break Shark Attack for its pure expositional value. The original plotline revolved around the plane's rookie pilot, but obviously has been rewritten in order to draw a more established star, like Jackson. My favorite part of the original script is that the snakes were set loose by an "assassin," who of course was actually on the flight (!!). You can see why, from a script standpoint; to allow for his death by his own critters. I'm not sure how they'll get a 'mob boss' on the plane, but we'll see. Anyway, poisonous snakes seem an amusingly uncontrolled weapon to use in closed quarters.

Actually, this basic scenario is a venerable trope. Criminals in a surrounded house (including Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski) had to contend with a deadly black mamba on the loose in Venom, while the 1974 TV movie Fer-de-Lance featured David Janssen dodging killer snakes slithering around a submarine stuck on the ocean floor.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

You say list of greatest film stars, I say load of crap.

Speaking of the List (see previous post), I went to check it out and it’s complete and utter crap. Let’s start by stipulating a couple of things. First, the word ‘greatest’ is obviously highly subjective. Second, so is the term ‘movie star.’ After all, a movie star is different from, say, an actor.

In general, I guess to me ‘movie star’ connotes popularity and cultural impact more than raw acting talent. Bela Lugosi was a movie star, and based on the fact that his image is still what the majority of the world calls to mind when they think the word ‘Dracula,’ he’s a great one. However, he was not a great actor. (Although he could be a very able one.)

The main problem is that Premiere has fashioned a list that is flawed in several areas. Partly, its hampered by obvious attempts to be what most of us would call politically correct. Second, it’s weighted waaay too heavily to recent actors, as if it were afraid it would lose the reader if a whole lot of contemporary names didn’t pop up. Call me a purist, but ‘great’ movie stars have to pass the test of time. A couple of the names here, meanwhile, would have inspired spit takes had I been drinking something while reading the article.

In a partial attempt to cover up this discrepancy, the article contains a forward noting that silent movie actors were excluded from the deliberations. They maintain that this was to avoid apples and oranges type problems. However, I believe it’s because they again wanted a large number of working actors involved, and obviously every old star they included would bump a modern one. Still, and even if the foreword gives proper due to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, as well as a number of less prominent names, its’ still a massive cheat. Taking silent movie actors out of the equation is just meant to culling names easier, and the whole point of a list like this is to require ruthlessness.

On the other hand, I’ll go with the rule requiring that they be American movie stars. Throwing it open to foreign actors simply broadens things too severely.

50) Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt?! This list already sucks.
49) Russell Crowe. How the hell is Russell Frickin’ Crowe one of the “Greatest Movie Stars of All Times?!
48) Nicole Kiddman. See previous remarks. The first three people already shouldn’t be here.
47) Johnny Depp. Seriously, now you’re just trying to piss me off. Not for Depp personally, but for cumulative effect.
46) Meryl Streep. Oh, for Pete’s sake.
45) Jack Lemmon. Finally, that’s more like it. He wouldn’t make my list, but a respectable selection.
44) Will Smith. WILL SMITH?!!!!!!
43) Clint Eastwood. Wait a friggin’ minute! CLINT EASTWOOD ranks only one spot higher than WILL SMITH?!!!!!!!
42) Gary Cooper. Fine.
41) Peter Sellers. OK.
40) Elizabeth Taylor. Not a fan, but she should actually be higher on the list. Taylor represents what a huge amount of people think of when the phrase movie star is used. (By the way, Richard Burton didn’t make the list, but WILL SMITH?!!!!! did.)
39) Denzel Washington. May I be blunt? Washington and (super especially) WILL SMITH?!!!!!! are on the list because the editor sent it back to the article’s author with a note that said, “Needs some black actors.” Washington is a great actor, but in no way is he close to being one of the 50 greatest film stars of all time.
38) Robert De Niro. That’s about right.
37) Al Pacino. Uhm, OK. Defensible, at least.
36) Sean Connery. Because of Bond, OK.
35) Harrison Ford. All right, although he should have been further down on the list.
34) Rita Hayworth. If they say so.
33) Shirley Temple. No there’s a movie star. Should probably have been a bit higher up.
32) Jane Fonda. I hate this woman so much, I can’t be objective. Shouldn’t be higher than Shirley Temple in any case.
31) Steven McQueen. A little low.
30) James Dean. Cool.
29) Warren Beatty. Please. This just means a lot of the votes were cast by people who grew up in the ‘70s and think Shampoo is a great movie.
28) Tom Hanks. OK. One of the few modern actors to belong here, although I’d move him lower down.
27) Gregory Peck. Sure.
26) Errol Flynn. Good.
25) Bette Davis. Fine.
24) Doris Day. Bit of a stretch, but it doesn’t distress me or anything.
23) Fred Astaire. Definitely, although he shouldn’t be one spot better than Doris Day, that’s for sure.
22) Judy Garland. Should be higher.
21) Clark Gable. Fine.
20) Sidney Poitier. Even Poitier doesn’t really belong here, although he’s got a much better claim than Washington or WILL SMITH?!!!!!!!!
19) Spenser Tracy. Most definitely.
18) Audrey Hepburn. Cool.
17) Robert Redford. I’d probably switch him with Steve McQueen, but that’s just personal preference.
16) Jack Nicholson. Fully earned.
15) Marlon Brando. Good.
14) Katherine Hepburn. Yep.
13) Humphrey Bogart. He’s the man.
12) Grace Kelly. Hmm, I wouldn’t put her quite that high.
11) James Cagney. I’ll say.
10) Henry Fonda. Yes.
09) James Stewart. Should be higher, I’d argue at #1.
08) Greta Gabro. No offense to Ms. Garbo, but not on my top ten. Switch with Kate Hepburn.
07) Julia Roberts. Sorry, my head just exploded. Roberts at #7, Kate Hepburn at #14. Eat me.
06) Paul Newman. Too high, but should be on list.
05) Ingrid Bergman. No problemo.
04) John Wayne. Damn straight.
03) Tom Cruise. I defended him earlier, but not at #3. Ahead of Stewart and Fonda?
02) Marilyn Monroe. Just right.
01) Cary Grant. Super choice.


People who couldn’t beat Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and WILL SMITH?!!!!!: Gene Kelly. Groucho Marx. Joan Crawford. Michael Caine. Richard Burton. Charlton Heston (really should have been on there). W.C. Fields. Boris Karloff. Burt Lancaster. Kirk FREAKIN’ Douglas. Orson Welles. Peter O’Toole. George C. Scott. Anthony Hopkins. Mel Gibson. William Holden. William Powell. Myrna Loy. Carole Lombard. Keanue Reeves. (So you are still reading.) Barbara Stanwyck. And so on.

Cruisin'

The April 2005 issue of Premiere is a “special issue” (oh, please) featuring what they deem the 50 Greatest Movie Stars of All Times. In an attempt to sell issues, or piss off old-style film fans, or both, the cover features Tom Cruise.

For myself, I wouldn’t disagree with Cruise belonging in that roster. Certainly he’s the biggest movie star of the last 20 years, and he’s amazingly canny and even ambitious when choosing his projects. Look at his last ten films: War of the Worlds, Collateral, The Last Samurai, Minority Report, Vanilla Sky, Mission: Impossible II, Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut, Jerry Maguire and Mission: Impossible.

Not every one of those films is a classic—The Last Samurai particularly was a flawed picture—but still, it’s and impressive slate. It’s also nicely varied. The list includes sci-fi, drama, action, art house fare and romantic comedy. Also notice the tendency of Cruise, as a producer as well as an actor, to work with strong directors: Steven Spielberg, John Woo, Stanley Kubrick, Cameron Crowe, Brian De Palma, Paul Anderson, Michael Mann. Cruise is at least secure enough not to worry about being the only 800-pound gorilla on the set.

In contrast, let’s look at the last ten films of the man widely considered America’s greatest actor, Robert De Niro: Hide and Seek. Meet the Fockers. Shark Tales. Godsend. Analyze That. City by the Sea. Showtime. The Score. 15 Minutes. Meet the Parents. Which list would you rather have to watch? And which list has more films you think people will still be watching in twenty years?

If I rolled my eyes, therefore, it’s having Cruise as the cover representative for the 50 Greatest Movie Stars ever. Again, though, it’s hard to argue with the marketing logic. Who’s going to sell more issues? Tom Cruise, or John Wayne? (Or James Stewart, my choice for America’s greatest film actor. Or Henry Fonda, etc.)

It's the Pitts...

Hmm. Matthew McConaughey will be playing Dirk Pitt, the adventurer lead of a long-running series of mostly nautical-based action novels by author Clive Cussler, in the film Sahara, due out next month. The last time Pitt was brought to the screen, he was assayed by the fairly obscure actor Richard Jordan in 1980's Raise the Titantic, a hugely expensive bust that ironically all but sank the British film industry as a major cinematic player. The good news is that it won't be hard to beat that picture, either as a movie or at the box office. However, chances are that this will come and go and basically be as anonymous as (the admittedly successful) National Treasure.

Miller's Un-Crossing (gad, that's lame)...

I have to admit, the commercials for Sin City have me intrigued. Moreover, I now have even more respect for director Robert Rodriguez, who gave up his Directors Guild card because he insisted that the film be co-directed by non-member Frank Miller, the author of the comic books from which this film is adapted. Good for Rodriguez, who is an authentic Hollywood rebel, rather than the more typical flavor of the month types who are regularly hyped as such.

This exact second in unnecessary sequels...

I actually saw Miss Congeniality when it was out (I needed a film I could see with my Mom, in case you're wondering), and it was the sort of movie you'd describe as 'cute.' It was exactly what you'd think and no more, but hit all its marks, and was pleasant enough.

However, did they really need to make a sequel to it? It's a sad comment on Sandra Bullock's career that she would bother. This is especially true in that the real star of the first film was Michael Caine, who's absent in the follow-up, perhaps because he's appearing in Batman Begins. Moreover, Bullock's sing-song "you liiiike me" bit, which made sense when uttered to her romantic interest in the first film, Benjamin Bratt, is obviously shoehorned in here whether it makes sense or not. This is the sort of thing that's so evidentially mere product that it leaves you a bit depressed. I'm not saying the film is going to be awful, although it wouldn't surprise me. It's just so, yes, unnecessary.

Joining the cannon...

If there's an offical sign that you've 'made it,' American literature-wise, it's to have your work collected into one of those classy black volumes put out by Libary of America. Over the last several years, the Library has paid more due to genre authors, including such influential writers as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Now H.P. Lovecraft has now been so honored, with a recent volume edited by horror writer Peter Straub. Lovecraft's influence on the horror genre, both literary and cinematic, grows every year, and so this is only just. At 850 pages, and generally available for under $25 (as it is at Amazon.com), it's well worth a purchase, and would be worth remembering when giving gifts.

Dip in the Bond Market...

Quentin Tarrantino has reportedly served notice to the producers of the James Bond series that he no longer has any interest in working on the next film, Casino Royale, because they have shown Pierce Brosnan the door in favor of a new, as yet uncast younger actor. Although I liked the recent, rather textbook Bond movies, there's little doubt the series could afford a little creative shaking up, and Tarrantino would seem to have been a perfect choice for this. Tarrantino, who in the past has been linked to everything from a new Godzilla movie to a new Friday the 13th film (a rumor he's since disowned) will have to seek elsewhere for a venerable series to screw around with.

Indiana Jones and the Bottle of Geritol...

The IMDB relates that Scarlett Johansson is up for the female lead role in the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Apparently Tom Cruise has promoted her to his buddy Steven Spielberg. According to "an insider," "Steven was saying there is a shortage of young actresses who can carry off a strong role. He considered Natalie Portman, but she's too connected with Star Wars - Tom suggested Scarlett."

Am I the only one who completely forgets that the new Star Wars movies even exist when they are not directly being mentioned? Maybe I'm just out of the loop, but the idea that anyone is "too connected" with these rather ephemeral films strikes me as a bit absurb. Also, there once was an actor connected with, you know, the real Star Wars movies, and he ended up appearing in the Indiana Jones series. Let's see, oh, yeah, his name was Harrison Ford.

By the way, I'm glad Ford is too level-headed to allow Johansson, 42 years his junior, to play a romantic interest for him. That would just be sad.

Needing a Bigger Boat Dept.



Don't forget that this Sunday (March 20th) will see the broadcast debut of Spring Break Shark Attack on the CBS network, 8:00 CST. Despite the title, the film isn't meant to be a comedy. Which means there will be a good chance of it actually being funny.

Monday, March 14, 2005

This week in DVDs...

The Spotlight Titles this week are a couple of robust sci-fi movies from Toho, the company that brought us the Godzilla series. The Mysterians involves an invasion of earth by aliens, and is the movie that brought us the memorable giant robot Mogera, as well as introducing the maser cannons, those energy beam projectors that popped up in so many of Toho's later giant monster movies. A great colorful flick, and featuring one of the best scores by the genius composer Akira Ifukube.

Then there's Matango, better known in the country as Attack of the Mushroom People. This is actually a pretty creepy little number, and better than you may remember it being.

The discs are being put out by Media Blasters, and sound fantastic. A review of the Mysterians disc can be found here, and the Matango DVD is just as loaded.

The Incredibles, arguably the best film of 2004, is coming out tomorrow, in both widescreen and mutilated, er, full frame formats.

For myself, I'll be getting the Laurel & Hardy II disc, which features both Way Out West (the Boy's second best film after Sons of the Desert, which was on the first disc along with a terrific selection of classic shorts) and Blockheads. These aren't the greatest transfers, but they are entirely watchable, and at a price south of $15 it's a must purchase.

Fans of old musicals will want to grab the new special edtions of Easter Parade and (especially) The Band Wagon.

Meanwhile, the indispensable Criterion company is releasing the Japanese samurai classic Sword of Doom.

Happy 72nd Birthday to Michael Caine...

Thank you sincerely, sir, for all the pleasure you've afforded me over the years, with performances both brilliant and horrible. Luckily, one end of the scale doesn't diminish the other, and your work can be enjoyed in all its vast variety, from The Swarm to The Man Who Would Be King. God bless you.

New at Jabootu...

The Challenge of the Superfriends: Monolith of Evil

Where's Patrick Wayne when you need him?

Per Cinescape.com: “Director Rob Cohen and producer Neal Moritz have cast Keanu Reeves to star in The 8th Voyage of Sinbad for Columbia Pictures. The story will be set in eighth-century China, Sinbad (Reeves) and his shipmates embark on a quest to find the Lamp of Aladdin. Along the way, they meet a beautiful empress and battle fantastical creatures as well as a rebellious Chinese general who threatens the kingdom with his supernatural powers.”

Just to kick things off: “Sin-bad?! Don’t you mean, ‘Act’ Bad?!” Or: [In Keanu voice] “Wait…A roc in Iraq? Whoa!”

Actually, there’s a whole Who’s On First bit there:

“And so, Mighty Sinbad, you must go to Iran to find the treasure, but beware, it is guarded by a roc.”
“Who’s guarding it?”
"A roc.”
"Wait, you said the treasure is in Iran.”
"Yes, Sahib.”
"But who’s guarding it?”
"A roc.”
"What, the whole country?”
"No, Sahib. Just a roc. However, and I’m sure you will understand, when I saw a roc I ran…”
"But weren’t you in Iran?”
"Yes, Sahib.”
"Then how did you run from Iraq?”

Later:
"So you got the map in another country?”
"Yes, Siam.”
"'You are’ what?”
And so on.

Horrors!

I’ve never seen Project Greenlight, a cable reality show where buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck pick one of several competing scripts, wherein the winner gets enough money to make his low-budget movie. I’ve never seen it, by the way, because I don’t have cable. Anyway, presumably in an attempt to draw more viewers, the latest edition will pick a horror movie script rather than the art house fare chosen earlier. Because of that, Wes Craven is also involved this time around. That sounds cool, and if this edition of show ever comes out on DVD, I’ll certainly give it a look.

Another advantage for Affleck of being one of the hosts is that maybe he can beg the winner for an acting gig.

Race relations...

Here’s a “Who Cares?” topic: I’m a big fan of The Amazing Race. There’s a controversy of sort regarding the latest edition. This involves the stunt casting of a couple of Survivor veterans, Rob “Boston Rob” Mariano and his fiancée Amber Brkich, who herself won a million on Survivor: All Stars.

Personally, I have no problem with it. They are an entertaining couple, and that’s all that matters. They are obviously competitive, but having already won a batch of money, seem a little laid back, which is sort of refreshing. I like people who actually seem to enjoy the incredible things they get to see and do on the race, and already the two have paused at several junctures to smell the roses. Moreover, they actually seem to like each other, and considering the borderline abusive relationships you sometimes see on the show, that’s refreshing. Everyone else on the show seems to resent their presence, but tough. If they win, they win.

Certainly one advantage they have is that TAR isn’t nearly as physically or emotionally draining as Survivor (although it’s no walk in the park), and you don’t have to worry about being stymied by other players as much. So yes, their prior reality show experience does give them an edge of sort. Even so, they’ll be near or at the top of the couples I’m rooting for as things progress.

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar...

Speaking of magazines, the March 11th issue of Entertainment Weekly features a cover story about the recently held Academy Awards. Actually, there are several stories, covering a total of 25 interior pages. Really, does anyone care about the Oscars anymore? Certainly not enough, you’d think, to necessitate such a bizarrely in-depth post-ceremony review.

Unlikely assertions...

I got a pretty big chuckle out of a cover headline on the March 2005 issue of Premiere magazine: “THE HOT 100 / Critics Vote on the Year’s [2004] Best Films.” I don’t think I’m alone in suspecting that it’s been quite a while, if ever, since Hollywood produced in one year a hundred films even remotely worthy of a ‘best’ designation. Pretty much by default, wouldn’t that end up being a list of 100 films that were better than SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2?
In the end, this wasn’t an article; it was a two-page table weighting the respective zero to four-star ratings awarded each of 100 films by fifteen major print critics. Admittedly, the cover blurb doesn’t put the words 100’ and ‘best’ together, but were Catwoman (#100, with two one-star reviews and 9 zero-star ones) or Alexander (#99, one two-star, seven one-stars and seven zero stars) even remotely ‘hot’, either? By the way, that latter rating seems to somewhat undercut Oliver Stone and Colin Farrell’ constantly reiterated assertion that audiences stayed away because so many Americans are fundamentalist homophobes.

Of course, then there are simply matters of taste. Was Lars Van Trier’s agitprop epic Dogville, a film so didactic and braying that even Roger Ebert memorably ripped it a new one, really better (#72) than Ocean’s 12 (#73), a movie that might not have lived up to its predecessor but was still a fun little trifle? And while I didn’t see either film, was Denzel Washington’s Man on Fire (#89) really just microscopically better than the almost universally panned The Day After Tomorrow (#90)?

[On a side note, Dogville is meant to be the first chapter of a planned trilogy. Humorously, it just so happens that star Nicole Kidman has had to drop out of the second film, supposedly due to schedule conflicts. A less painful way to have fun at Van Trier’s expense is to watch the documentary The Five Obstructions, in which the neurotic director attempts to screw up a more linier filmmaker by dictating ‘obstructions’ the fellow must work under. As the guy continues to make marvelous little films, Van Trier practically melts down.]

One odd note is that filmmakers and critics still feel a warm, fuzzy nostalgia for totalitarian regimes and murderers, at least as long as they were communist one. Or so I infer from the high, back-to-back position of The Motorcycle Diaries (#28, a romantic yarn about the young Che Guevara) and Goodbye, Lenin! (#29, comic farce about a son frantically attempting to hide the end of the Cold War from his lovable, hardcore communist West German mother).

Those redos that you do (not) so well...

I saw a commercial last night for a film called Guess Who. (By the way, what’s with the lack of question marks in movie titles that would seem to call for them? I’m specifically thinking of this and Isn’t She Great.) It’s a comedy featuring Bernie Mac as a father thrown for a loop when his daughter brings home a white boyfriend, played by Ashton Kutcher.

While I have my doubts that this will be a very good movie, I did think it was a prime example of what would be a better direction for remakes. Although most modern audiences won’t get the allusion, Guess Who is obviously an allusion to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), a typically plodding Stanley Kramer ‘social issues’ film of the sort that destroyed the director’s career. In the original, Spenser Tracy and Katherine Hepburn are white liberal parents thrown for a loop when their daughter brings home a black fiancée (the inevitable Sidney Poitier--and talk about inequality! The white family is confronted with Poitier as a son-in-law, the black family with Ashton Kutcher.)

The film is almost impossible to watch today, despite the fact that Kramer does attempt to deal with issues like the parent’s hypocrisy. In the end, however, it is brought down, like most of Kramer’s late work, by its longing to be an Important Statement. Times were changing so fast that the film was probably beginning to calcify even while it was in theaters, although news stories were duly reported about Southern outrage over the picture. Today the film is a relic, and of interest only as in indication of how far we really have come.

Sidney Poitier did make a great film about racism, one that does remain both fascinating and relevant today, but it wasn’t a talky meditation on the Human Condition, it was a cop thriller. This was In the Heat of the Night, which, conveniently for this essay, as also released in 1967. That the two films were made back to back is almost fascinating, and I’m actually now thinking of watching them back to back as a Compare & Contrast double bill.

The difference between the two films is easily grasped. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner endlessly lectures us on race and racism—literally, in the form of Spenser Tracy’s ‘climatic’ dissertation on the subject—while In the Heat of the Night actually portrays how racial divisions affected lives, of both whites and blacks. Films are, after all, moving pictures; hence the general rule, show, don’t tell. In the Heat of the Night shows. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner tells. (And tells. And tells…)

In Heat, a prominent white man is murdered in a small Southern town. When a well dressed black man is found waiting at the train station, with a wallet full of cash, he is arrested and the case is presumed to be solved. However, the black man is actually a Philadelphia homicide detective visiting a relative. However, when the town’s white sheriff (Rod Steiger) realizes that he’s over his head with the murder, he maneuvers Poitier into staying around and helping to solve the crime.

Having a black man walk around questioning white folks, however, arouses a great deal of anger amongst the townsfolk, and Steiger’s own position becomes increasingly precarious. At the same time, as he gets to know Poitier all his casual racial assumptions are challanged. An essentially honest man, he finds himself having to examine for the first everything he’s ever been taught and known.

The film’s climax isn’t when the murder is solved; it occurs as Steiger watches Poitier interrogate one of the town’s old-school, hopelessly racist gentry. Eventually the man loses his temper and slaps the uppity Poitier across the face. Poitier slaps him back, and both white men are quite literally stunned. Stammering, the enraged town father turns to Steiger and asks him what he’s doing to do about Poitier’s transgression. (Pretty clearly, he actually expects Steiger to draw his service revolver and shoot him). Bewildered, Steiger confesses, “I don’t know.” He means it, too. His social compass has been smashed, and he obviously has no idea how to react.

When I was a kid, I thought it unfair that Steiger had won a Best Actor Oscar for the film instead of Poitier, the film’s star, and who also gives a powerful performance. As a more sophisticated viewer, however, you understand that Steiger’s role is by far the more complex one. I don’t say this often, but the Academy made the right decision in this case.

There’s a lot going on in this film. Whereas one can barely sit through Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? even one time, you are rewarded by multiple viewings of In the Heat of the Night. The film doesn’t just linger on racial divisions here, but also economic and social ones, and it brilliantly observes each and every character. Perhaps the gutsiest decision was to make even Poitier’s character flawed. His longing to hang the murder on one of the town’s racist bigwigs blinds him to what might actually be the case’s real solution.

Getting back to Guess Who, what is interesting is that, whatever the picture’s eventual flaws—and again, it’s an Ashton Kutcher movie—it will benefit from the fact that it isn’t trying to be ‘Relevant.’ Indeed, even the central switch of having the perturbed father be black and the questionable boyfriend white isn’t a remotely interesting turnaround. Racial tensions have declined enough that Mac’s cantankerous dad will probably be viewed less as a bigot than just a comically unhip fuddy-duddy. Mac will do doubt learn an Important Lesson by the time it’s all over, but it will be one that we veiwers already knew. The original film assumed that its audience had to be taught that racism is stupid; the new version will be predicated on its audience already knowing this.

The reason I like the idea of the film as a remake, even if I wouldn’t necessarily like the movie itself were I to see it, is that rather than taking a superbly realized film that’s already been made and just pointlessly ‘updating’ it, this one borrows the original’s premise and takes a completely different tact with it. It does help, of course, that one could hardly make a film that’s actually worse than Kramer’s. (Although, I have to admit, many still consider it a classic.) Still, what I like is that they took a drama and are making it a comedy.

There’s a realization that such more intrinsic redoes are the way to go, and thus for a while the term ‘reimagining’ has been tossed around. However, the idea hasn’t caught on to the degree that it probably should. Perhaps it’s a good sign that a film still lauded by many to be a venerable Hollywood classic is inspiring a slapdash comic makeover.