Friday, February 25, 2011

Here's Some New Flavorwire Stuff

10 Days the Movies Died
For film fans, the must-read article of the week — to hell with that, the year — is Mark Harris’s brilliant think piece for GQ on the state of the current cinema, “The Day The Movies Died.” Harris, whose book Pictures at a Revolution is the single best piece of film writing of the last decade, despairs of a Hollywood that, in the words of a studio executive, “doesn’t tell stories anymore”; instead, they crank out endless sequels and adaptations and remakes and reboots, more concerned with built-in brands than quality or craftsmanship.

“As you read this,” Harris writes, “the person who gave the go-ahead to Fast Five, the (I hate to prejudge, but…) utterly unnecessary fifth installment in the Vin Diesel–Paul Walker epic The Fast and the Furious, is sleeping soundly right now, possibly even at his desk. On June 10, 2011, he will bestow on several thousand screens a product that people have already purchased four times before. How can it miss?”

Good Buys: Lars von Trier’s Mobile Home
Hey there, families! Planning a big summer vacation? Hitting the road to see all the sights — but needing that perfect vehicle for the family getaway? Then allow us to direct you to eBay, item number 290534486341, a 1992 Dethleffs Advantage Mobilehome. The $150,000 price tag is a little steep, especially considering that it doesn’t have any air conditioning — which could be a little problematic during that August trip to the Grand Canyon. But it’s worth every penny, because the ’92 Dethleffs Advantage is the property of certifiably insane Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier.

The 21st Century’s Most Unfortunate Best Picture Snubs
When we first posted about this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, we objected to a couple of exclusions (seriously, you guys, if you haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, we’re not quite sure how else to sell you on it). But, in general, the ten films nominated this year are all solid choice. And though it’s a change that some have objected to — loudly — we really do like the ballooning of the list from five nominees to ten (and lest we forget, five was only the rule from 1944 on — in the ’30s, they’d nominate up to 12 films for the Best Picture honor). Sure, it makes the list comparatively unwieldy, and adds a few minutes to the awards telecast, which can be a bit of a long haul to begin with. But it allows traditionally snubbed titles — like genre movies, smaller titles, comedies, and animated features — to get a little bit of extra recognition.

Were it not for the ten-nomination rule, we probably wouldn’t have seen Best Picture nominations for Inception, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours, or The Kids are All Right, and since those are some of our favorite films of the year, we’d have been looking at a far less interesting list. The fact of the matter is, too often there are more than five really great movies in a year — or the Academy simply recognizes the wrong damn movies. If the ten-nominee rule had been in place over the last decade, for example, we might have seen Best Picture nominations for some really great films that got passed over. Take a look at just a few of them after the jump.

10 TV Actors Who Need to Make a Comeback
Full disclosure: Matthew Perry was always our favorite Friend. So it was with unbridled enthusiasm that we tuned in to last night’s premiere of his new ABC series Mr. Sunshine, and y’know what? It’s pretty good. It has a bit of that fumbling-for-our-comic-voice thing that plagues just about every situation comedy pilot (including the aforementioned Friends — ever watch their first episode? Not promising!), but the writing is snappy, it’s an ideal vehicle for Perry’s dry wit, and it sports our new favorite TV theme song (watch the episode here). Best of all, the supporting cast includes Jorge Garcia (Hurley from Lost) and Allison Janney (C.J. from The West Wing) — so it’s a show full of people we’re glad to see back on TV.

And that got us thinking about other actors we miss from TV shows past. Some TV folks graduate to movies (George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jim Carrey) while others bounce from one series to the next (Edie Falco, David Duchovny, Kelsey Grammer, Betty White, Peter Krause). But some kind of disappear from sight — either by choice (Jerry Seinfeld), by making poor choices (most of his co-stars), or by never flipping from recognizable character actor to name brand. Whatever the reasons may be, we’ve compiled a list of ten of our favorite TV actors who are overdue for a comeback vehicle.

Oscar’s 10 Best “Best Picture” Winners
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve done a fair amount of second-guessing with regards to the Academy Awards — revisiting the worst films they’ve nominated, the best films they didn’t nominate, and the great filmmakers they ignored. But, in all fairness, the little gold guy sometimes manages to hand over the statue to the film that most deserves it. So, in the interest of hoping for the best come Sunday night, join us for a look back at ten times when Oscar got it right.

A Brief History of Ad Campaigns That Overstayed Their Welcome
Well, friends, our long national ordeal is over. According to Advertising Age, Old Navy has decided to retire the “supermodelquins,” those terrifying, soulless plastic spokespeople who have dominated their TV spots (and your nightmares) for the past two years. The company’s new senior VP of marketing, Amy Curtis-McIntyre, insists that the campaign put the them “back on the map,” and “clearly re-established Old Navy as a value player with a sense of humor.” Which is true, if you substitute “a sense of humor” with “an understanding that terrible ads don’t really effect people’s desire for a $20 pair of jeans.”

Still, two years? They stuck with this campaign for that long? Then again, plenty of advertising campaigns have proven both inexplicably popular and indescribably durable. Join us after the jump for a look at a few that stuck around well past their expiration date.

Should Cinephiles Dump Netflix for Hulu?
It’s tough to be a cinephile in the digital age. Make no mistake — there’s certainly something to be said for the rise in sheer availability these days; it’s hard to even remember a time when your film viewing choices were limited to the lousy stock at your local Blockbuster, to say nothing of our forefathers, who could only take in film classics at revival screenings and on the local TV stations’ “Late Show.” The rise of DVD, the takeover of Netflix, and the influx of streaming options amount to a film fanatic’s dream: just about every movie, available either right now or within a couple of days.

A Brief History of Documentaries That Changed the World
A couple of weeks ago, an interesting comment popped up in one of our posts. On Tuesday, January 25th, we wrote (as countless other blogs did) about that morning’s Oscar nominations — the snubs, the surprises, etc. The next day, this comment from “ANGA” appeared: “Claims in the film Gasland have been widely documented to be untrue. See the investigative documents for yourself here,” followed by the URL for a “truth about Gasland” page. Here’s what’s interesting about that comment: all we did in the post was mention Gasland — we listed it, among the Best Documentary nominees, without comment.

At risk of getting ourselves mixed up in this controversy over the accuracy of Gasland, we will merely note that we’ve seen the film and it seemed awfully convincing to us; that Fox has responded to each of the claims being lobbed against him; and that ANGA is a high-profile natural gas company which certainly benefits from Fox’s reportage coming into question. The fact that they have the resources to troll the Internet and comment on blogs that so much as mention the film gives you some idea of what a documentary filmmaker is going up against when taking on big targets like this.

10 Great Filmmakers Who Sold Out
It isn’t often that you get as clear a consensus about the Super Bowl ads as there appears to have been this year. Everybody seems to pretty much be on the same page, at least according to Twitter and the media blogs: the best ad was Volkswagen’s “tiny Darth Vader” spot, and the worst was Groupon’s borderline-offensive “Save the Money” ad, in which Timothy Hutton makes light of the troubles of Tibet because hey, they can still “whip up an amazing fish curry.”

In spite of the company’s blog post noting that their ads were parodies — never a good sign, when you have to announce that — and that they would be donating matching funds to three featured charities (including the Tibet Fund), the general distaste for the campaign was swift and unanimous. The general tone-deafness of the ads was all the more befuddling when The AV Club and others noted, on Monday, that the commercials were helmed by Christopher Guest, the director/star of such brilliant “mockumentary” comedies as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind (not to mention the granddaddy of them all, This is Spinal Tap, which he co-wrote and co-starred in).

Video of the Day: ‘Predator: The Musical’
We’ve always loved the ridiculously over-the-top machismo and shoot-’em-up sci-fi action of John McTiernan’s 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Predator, but it always seemed like it was missing something. And now we know what that mysterious missing element was: showtunes. Jon and Al Kaplan, the delightfully twisted YouTube geniuses known as “legolambs,” have previously combined film clips with original music and lyrics to create musical versions of such distinctively un-musical efforts as Schindler’s List, RoboCop, and Rambo. But their muse is clearly the Governator, whose Commando, Terminator 2, Total Recall, and Conan the Barbarian have provided inspiration for memorable five-minute musical re-workings.

Their latest is the inspired “If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It,” a stirring, multi-leveled anthem in the “Do You Hear the People Sing” vein, inspired by Predator. They say it is “the final Schwarzenegger musical,” but c’mon, guys — what about True Lies? The Running Man? The duet possibilities of Red Heat are staggering. Anyway, take a look at “Predator: The Musical” after the jump and let us know what you think.

A Brief History of Historically Incorrect Oscar Winners
With its surprise wins at the Producer’s Guild awards and the Director’s Guild awards, The King’s Speech has inched ahead of previous favorite The Social Network to become the new frontrunner for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. But there’s one chink in Speech’s strong armor: Christopher Hitchens. The renowned author and raconteur’s strongly-worded rebuke of the film’s historical accuracy (“it perpetrates a gross falisification of history”) has been a pretty hot read in Hollywood circles since it first appeared on Slate a couple of weeks back. Now, since The King’s Speech is no longer the underdog, Hitchens’s takedown could be a problem for the filmmakers.

Or maybe not. The Academy’s motives for their choices are sometimes inexplicable, but Oscar voters have never worried too much about flaws in their history. Here’s just a few of the questionably-accurate movies that have won major awards over the past few decades.

Gallery: Art Inspired by John Hughes Films
Yesterday we told you about The Great Showdowns, a wonderful new show at the pop culture-infused Gallery 1988. Though the competition is stiff, our favorite of Scott C’s movie-inspired paintings may very well be his rendering of the detention kids and Mr. Vernon from The Breakfast Club. That’s not all the only treat the gallery has for fans of the late writer/director John Hughes, however. This Friday, their Venice location opens a new exhibit, The Road to Shermer: A Tribute to John Hughes, in which 50 artists celebrate the Hughes canon. To the press release: “By reinterpreting his films, characters, icons or style, each artist has created paintings, sculptures, plush or prints – all inspired by one of the best filmmakers of our generation.” We’ve got seven of our favorites after the jump; the exhibit runs from February 11 to March 4.

Rate-a-Trailer: Russell Brand and Helen Mirren in ‘Arthur’
We have to admit, of the many, many, many remakes of 1980s movies currently in production, Jason Winer’s new version of Arthur seemed one of the most egregiously unnecessary. If you haven’t seen the original (and really, there’s no excuse for that — it’s streaming on Netflix, for goodness’ sake), it really is a perfect comedy, and we’re not quite sure how these folks presume to improve upon it. But, that said, they’ve made some wise casting decisions: those of us who like Russell Brand (and you either love him or you hate him, it seems) can see him filling the Dudley Moore role well enough, while the decision to switch the gender of John Gielgud’s Hobson to a female, and cast Helen Mirren in it, is rather ingenious. Most exciting of all, mumblecore ingĂ©nue Greta Gerwig, so wonderful in last year’s Greenberg, is a perfect choice to play the Liza Minelli role. So it seems strange that she’s barely present in the film’s newly-released trailer, while Jennifer Garner — playing Susan Johnson, the object of Arthur’s arranged marriage, a very secondary character in the original — is all over the damn thing. Maybe they’re just advertising the more recognizable face?

And while we’re at it, does it seem strange that this oh-so-up-to-date-remake is being advertised entirely with songs that pre-date the original? (“All Right Now”? Seriously?) But, those concerns aside, there are some laughs in the trailer, so we remain on the fence about this one — reluctantly optimistic, if you will. Watch the trailer after the jump and let us know what you think.

Rate-a-Trailer: James Wan’s ‘Insidious’
The release of a new film from the director of Saw isn’t necessarily cause for celebration; whatever your thoughts on that somewhat game-changing horror tentpole, its never-ending sequels have — to put it charitably — softened the brand. To his credit, director James Wan only helmed the first installment, but his follow-ups — the murderous-ventriloquist-dummy tale Dead Silence and the Kevin-Bacon-as-Charles-Bronson thriller Death Sentence — both crashed and burned.

However, his latest effort, Insidious, is a collaboration with producers Oren Peli, Jason Blum, and Steven Schneider —the team responsible for the surprisingly taut, genuinely scary Paranormal Activity. (We’ll not talk about Paranormal Activity 2 for now.) And we’ve gotta say, the trailer for this Poltergeist-style haunting chiller looks pretty decent. It’s got Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne in the leads, some solid character actors in supporting roles (hey there, Barbara Hershey!), and we’d be lying if we didn’t admit this two-minute teaser gave us a mild case of the creeps. Click through to check it out, and let us know if you agree in the comments.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

In Theaters: "Hall Pass"


It’s time we just come out and say it: whatever the Farrelly Brothers had, they’ve lost it. It’s long gone. There is no denying their place in modern comic filmmaking; Kingpin is a deliriously gonzo, balls-to-the-wall masterpiece, and There’s Something About Mary is, well, There’s Something About Mary—a delightful mash-up of gross-out comedy and sunny romance that reconfigured the comedic cinema landscape. But since that critical and financial highpoint, each film has been successively worse than its predecessor: Me, Myself, & Irene, Osmosis Jones, Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, Fever Pitch, The Heartbreak Kid, and now, their first film in over three years, the misbegotten sex-in-marriage farce Hall Pass. They clearly did not spend the time off recharging their batteries. They’re still trafficking in the same tired formulas and constructs; meanwhile, more gifted comic filmmakers (Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, Greg Mattola, and others) have evolved the Farrellys ‘90s form into something fresher, smarter, bolder, and funnier. Hall Pass is like a late-‘60s Bob Hope or Jerry Lewis movie, stubbornly grinding out what used to work, current styles be damned.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New on Blu: "Ray"

So exactly how much bearing does the skill of the performances have on the overall quality of the movie? Should we give a subpar picture a pass because the acting is of such high caliber? Or should we judge it an even bigger failure, for squandering such fine performances at the service of a half-hearted, underdeveloped vehicle?


These are the questions posed by Taylor Hackford’s Ray, the 2004 biopic of R&B legend Ray Charles, for which Jamie Foxx won the Academy Award for Best Actor. That recognition, and the countless accolades that preceded it that awards season, was richly deserved—it’s a tremendous, accomplished performance, one that surpasses imitation and becomes an embodiment, a reincarnation, a riveting piece of acting and musical skill. The trouble is, the film surrounding this performance is nowhere near as loose, funky, powerful, or dangerous as Foxx’s show-stopping turn. Ray is entirely competent, and that’s the problem: It is simply too solemn and workmanlike in its strict adherence to the conventions of the Hollywood biopic, especially considering that it is the profile of a groundbreaker.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On DVD: "Get Low"

Robert Duvall gets one of the best entrances of his career in Aaron Schneider’s Get Low. He’s chasing (with a shotgun, no less) one of the many young boys who throws rocks and runs from his remote cabin in the woods; he’s first seen only in flashes—a hand on his gun, his feet on the ground. He chases the boy into his barn, where he’s seen only in silhouette—and then he steps into the light, revealing the scraggly hair and beard of a Confederate general. (It’s a moment that also subconsciously recalls Duvall’s reveal in his film debut, To Kill a Mockingbird, in which he also played an object of derision in a small Southern town.) It’s a wonderfully prepared entrance, and confirms what we’re hoping for—Duvall old-cooting it up in a Southern Gothic tale. What it doesn’t hint at is the depths of the film, the emotional power that its closing scenes will pack. I like movies that catch you off-guard like this one does.

Monday, February 21, 2011

New on Blu: "48 HRS."

Even now, knowing that he's coming, it is still a bit shocking that Eddie Murphy takes over 48 Hrs. as quickly and completely as he does. Up until his entrance, it is a well-made if unexceptional cock-waving early '80s crime picture--all tough talk and gratuitous nudity and loud shoot-outs. But then, 25 minutes in, Nick Nolte's growling cop, Jack Cates, goes to visit Reggie Hammond (Murphy) at the penitentiary. As he walks through the facility to Reggie's cell, Murphy's voice is heard, a comically high falsetto, singing along to "Roxanne" by the Police. We're laughing before we even see him; Murphy's not even on screen yet, and already he's stolen the movie.