Friday, August 5, 2011

Your Flavorwires For This Week

How to Blame ‘The Smurfs’ for the Debt Ceiling Debate

Last weekend, the cinemas of America were bursting with several fine films—Captain America and Harry Potter in the multiplexes, The Guard, The Future, Tabloid, Project Nim at the art houses—yet the big hit was The Smurfs, a CGI-enhanced big-screen version of the intolerable, one-joke cartoon series from the 1980s. The film has been a punch line for months, but when the receipts were tallied up, The Smurfs came within a hair of beating the weekend’s top grosser, Cowboys & Aliens, co-starring no less than James Bond and Han Solo.

Suddenly, the previous big question surrounding The Smurfs (“How the hell did that get made?”) has been replaced by a bigger one (“How the hell did that make so much money?”) and sadly, both questions have the same answer: the 1980s nostalgia factor.

10 Memorable Movie Poster Controversies

As Roger Ebert says, “It’s not what a movie a movie is about, but how it is about it,” so who knows, maybe The Change-Up isn’t going to be the inane R-rated update of a 20-plus-years-stale narrative. (But it sure as hell looks like it.) We can’t say we’re too hopeful, though, particularly considering its numb-skulled print campaign, which high-lariously juxtaposes Jason Bateman’s miserable handling of twin infants with Ryan Reynolds’s delighted groping of twin models. They’re both in white! Which do you want—babies or babes? HAW HAW! (Indiewire’s @erickohn twit-pic’ed a piece of “subway film criticism” that nailed the issue fairly effectively.)

The movie poster is a tricky form, a very specific merging of art and commerce that must sell a product but hopefully also convey the essence of the picture in question. Occasionally, the marketers and artists responsible for them can run afoul—either in the court of public opinion, or in the boardrooms of the MPAA, who not only rate films but control their advertising. After the jump, we’ll take a look at ten movie posters that stirred up some controversy—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

Open Thread: What Movies Make You Cry?

So here’s an intriguing story that’s been working its way through the blogosphere: a pair of UC Berkley researchers have determined that the final scene of Franco Zeffirelli’s The Champ, in which Jon Voight’s washed-up boxer dies in front of his son (played by nine-year-old Ricky Schroeder), is the saddest movie scene of all time—that is, it has been scientifically proven to be the film clip most likely to make people cry. Don’t argue, it’s science.

The details of the research are compelling, and its conclusions were certainly not arrived at hastily. And yet… there’s just something about this story that rubs your author the wrong way. The “cry-ability” of a movie doesn’t seem all that measurable—like laughter or fear, crying at a movie seems such a singularly personal and subjective experience that it hardly seems quantifiable. Which begs the question: what makes you cry at the movies?

The Most Durable Film Franchises of All Time

Tomorrow marks the release of The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the latest installment of the surprisingly robust franchise that began way back in 1968 and has withstood five original sequels, a television series, a cartoon series, comic books, and a Terrible Tim Burton Remake™. (Between Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland, the Terrible Tim Burton Remake™ has proven a fairly stable subgenre, but I digress.) Though its 40-plus year run makes Planet of the Apes quite a long-running series, its meager seven films (so far) is dwarfed by several other, far more durable film franchises. We’ve collected a few of our favorites after the jump; check ‘em out, and add in your own long-running favorites in the comments.

Trailer Park: Sundance Hits and Action Misses

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. This week, we’ve got ten new ones—taken as a group, a rather eclectic mix of styles and subjects indicating that the summer movie season is drawing to a close. Check ‘em all out after the jump.

Gallery: Original Portraits of Cultural Icons by Noma Bar

Your Flavorwire is always on the lookout for cool pop-culture related visual art, so we can't thank the good folks at Brain Pickings enough for drawing our attention to Israeli artist Noma Bar and his book Guess Who: The Many Faces of Noma Bar. This 2007 volume collects 50 of Bar's minimalist vector portraits of iconic figures from the world of film, science, literature, politics, music, and more. We've picked out ten of our favorites from the book; check 'em out after the jump.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In Theaters: "Magic Trip"

The 1964 cross-country hallucinogen-fueled road trip of authors Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, and the so-called “Merry Pranksters” has been lionized seemingly since the moment it ended (if not before), but here’s one lesser-known aspect of the trip: the group brought along a battery of film cameras, and shot pretty much everything that happened. Of course, none of them had the foggiest idea how the hell to make a film, so the audio tape recordings were wildly out of sync, and the mass of footage (30+ hours) would have been a daunting task for an experienced film editor, and there was not one to be found. Various parties tinkered with the footage for 40 years, and then gave up and put it away.

Filmmakers Alex Gibney and Allison Elwood have rescued that footage from oblivion, and it makes up the bulk of their new documentary on that journey, Magic Trip (subtitled “Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place”). Gibney, one of our most talented (and prolific) documentarians, mostly specializes in tales of contemporary politics, policy, and corruption (including Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and Client 9). But he has an interest in the history of American counterculture, as evidenced by his 2008 Hunter S. Thompson bio-doc Gonzo. Ellwood was the editor of that film, and several of his others; she edits this one, and the pair shares writing and directing credits.

In Theaters: "Bellflower"

Evan Glodell’s Bellflower begins with one of the oddest Meet-Cutes you’ve ever seen. Woodrow (Glodell) and his buddy Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are hanging out in a bar when their big promotion of the night is announced: a cricket-eating contest. The prize is nominal, but it’s just the kind of thing that sounds like fun when you’re half in the bag, and Woodrow likes the looks of Milly (Jessie Wiseman), the first girl to volunteer, so he’s in. She destroys him, but they get to talking afterwards; she’s got a terrific, wide smile, and an endearing way of calling him “buddy,” and she isn’t thrown by his response when she asks what he does (“I’m building a flamethrower”). He gets her phone number.

In Theaters: "The Whistleblower"

The Whistleblower is a film whose first act is such a mishmash of oft-done scenes and clunky exposition that it’s a little surprising how engaged we are by its end. It stars Rachel Weisz, which is reason enough to see it, and it is (we are told in the opening title) “inspired by actual events,” which is reason enough to hesitate. But it is a film that rewards patience; director Larysa Kondracki gains confidence and force steadily throughout the film’s 112 minutes, and comes up with a pleasing and potent investigative thriller.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On DVD: "Group Marriage"

Group Marriage is a ‘70s sexploitation flick, and as such, it shouldn’t surprise you much to learn that it’s not terribly good. But for a ‘70s sexploitation flick, it’s decent—and what’s more, a bit of knowledge about what was happening outside the frame makes what happens within it infinitely more interesting.

Released in 1973 by Dimension Films (no relation to the Miramax/Weinstein offshoot, though Tarantino appropriated their logo for his half of Grindhouse), Group Marriage begins as the story of two couples: Businesswoman Chris (Aimée Echols) and her live-in boyfriend Sandor (Solomon Sturges), and parole officer Dennis (Jeff Pomerantz) and his girlfriend Jan (Victoria Vetri). Chris and Sandor help Dennis when his car breaks down; he ends up crashing at their house and sleeping with Chris. He’s nervous about it at first, but Chris has a way of framing an argument. “Why does everyone think you only have to care for one person?” she asks innocently (yet not so innocently). When Sandor finds out, he’s mad—but less so when he meets knockout Jan.

On DVD: "Trust"

David Schwimmer’s Trust begins with a family scene so low-key and intimate as to immediately disarm the viewer. It is the 14th birthday of Annie (Liana Liberato), and everything seems perfect: she’s just started high school, she’s going out for volleyball, and she has a strong family that loves her. Her father Will (Clive Own) is a successful ad exec, her mother Lynn (Catherine Keener) is kind and supportive, she gets along with her older brother and younger sister. And she has a crush on a very cute boy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On DVD: "Last Night"

Massy Tedjedin’s Last Night begins with a sequence that is a bit worrisome, it seems so self-consciously artsy. Married couple Joanna (Keira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington) are going to a cocktail party, some kind of work function, but their time at home before, their taxi journeys back and forth, and their encounters at the event are played in fragments, hopscotching to and fro to the accompaniment of rather sad piano music. We brace ourselves for a mannered and overwrought examination of white people problems.

To some degree, Last Night is that. It is also a very good film. Does it suffer from the kind of upscale New York insularism that turns some people off of, say, Woody Allen’s movies? Sure. The characters that populate Last Night are, for the most part, wealthy and privileged, preoccupied with matters that don’t require them to cast a gaze further outward than the four walls of their fabulous downtown apartments. But when the characters are drawn with complexity, and when the dialogue they exchange is intelligent—as in Allen’s films, and as in this one—those concerns are of little consequence. Once it gets past its somewhat too-precious opening and in to the heart of matters, the picture penetrates.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On DVD: "Cold Weather"

Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather is an unassuming little gem of a movie, deceptively simple, instantly relatable. Katz is frequently lumped in with the “mumblecore” movement, and while he shares their DIY spirit, his films are in a different kind of style; yes, he’ll play scenes in a minor key, and he’s not adverse to a handheld camera, but here (as in his previous film, the wonderful Quiet City) the look is deliberate, the visual choices carefully considered. And it’s the service of a story that is surprisingly sly.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Look, More Flavorwires!

Open Thread: Whither the Female Action Hero?

On this day in 1986, James Cameron’s sci-fi/action epic Aliens was released in American theaters. A sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 scarefest Alien, Cameron’s picture was a smash with both audiences and critics, raking in $85 million at the box office and racking up seven Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nod for star Sigourney Weaver. More importantly, it reinvented Weaver’s Ellen Ripley as the kind of strong, muscular, tough action hero role played almost exclusively by male stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schawarzenegger. The trouble is, Aliens came out 25 years ago, and a female action hero like Ripley is still the exception to the rule.

10 Unrealized Book-to-Film Adaptations We’d Like to Have Seen

When Universal announced last year that an epic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower was in the works, which would include a trilogy of feature films directed by Ron Howard and a two-season television series, it sounded like a massive undertaking — from both a creative and financial perspective. This week, the studio decided it was too massive and pulled the plug on the project, breaking the hearts of fanboys and King readers the world over.

From the beginning, some had wondered if Howard was the right director for the project — now, unless the filmmaker attempts to set the project up elsewhere (unlikely, as both Howard and his Imagine production company have a long history with Uni), we’ll never know. It seems that we can add The Dark Tower to the long list of proposed book-to-film adaptations by famed directors that never saw the light of day. We’ve assembled ten of them after the jump; add yours in the comments.

The 10 Worst TV-to-Film Adaptations

A couple of days back, our own Judy Berman posted a wonderful essay called “In Defense of Turning TV Shows into Movies.” Give it a look, if you haven’t; it’s a reasoned, thoughtful, and persuasive piece. There’s only one problem: The Smurfs. But if The Smurfs merely turns out to be the worst movie adaptation of a TV show, that’s still a mighty tough competition. Though there have been occasional exceptions (The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible, Firefly), the boob tube has seldom proven a starting point for fine cinema. After the jump we’ll take a look at the ten worst TV-to-movie adaptations—and trust us, it was a hard list to narrow down.

Wish List: 13 Movies We’d Like to See on DVD

Buried way down on the list of this week’s DVD releases—below Limitless and Take Me Home Tonight and Peep World—is a little movie called Skidoo, which you may have never heard of unless you are a bad movie aficionado (as your author is). This 1968 “comedy” was an attempt by Paramount and esteemed director Otto Preminger to make a hip film about the counter-culture geared towards the young people—starring such youth heroes as, um, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Burgess Meredith, Mickey Rooney, and Groucho Marx. It concerns a gangster (Gleason) who is sent into prison to ice an informant and ends up dropping acid and escaping via a flying garbage can. It is as spectacularly ill-conceived as it sounds, and it sank without a trace following its release—though it occasionally popped up on cable, it was never released on home video (not even on VHS) until now.

Of course, Skidoo could be seen via the back channels of bootleg video, but it’s nice to see an oddity like this finally getting an official, authorized, legitimate home video release. And while the movie is an utter mess, it is an undeniably entertaining one, featuring inventive songs by Harry Nilsson and Groucho’s final film performance; let’s face it, even bad movies deserve to at least make it to the marketplace. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a wish list of some other titles that have never made it to DVD—some never even to VHS. Take a look after the jump, and add your own in the comments.

Ranking Your Cinematic Nixons

On this day way back in 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed the first article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon. It was the culmination of the formal impeachment hearings against the President which began in May of that year, prompted by the break-in of the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel two summers earlier and the subsequent cover-up (and revelations that the Watergate break-in was part of a pattern of illegal activities and “dirty tricks”). Two more articles of impeachment were approved on July 29 and July 30; Nixon announced his resignation on August 8.

In the years since, this most dramatic of presidencies has prompted (unsurprisingly) a wealth of theatrical and television movies dramatizing the Nixon White House. The trouble, of course, is playing Nixon—or at least playing him credibly. The former president’s verbal and physical tics and eccentricities were parodied so endlessly (and mercilessly) by comedians and impressionists of the era that it’s all but impossible for any actor worth his salt to personify the man without making him into a caricature. But several fine actors have given it a shot; after the jump, we’ll take a look at their performances and rank them from worst to best.

The Bond Girls: Where Are They Now?

Quick, what was the first James Bond movie? If you said Dr. No, well, you gave the expected answer, and perhaps the technically accurate one—it was the first feature film based on a Bond novel to play theatrically. But the first onscreen appearance of Ian Fleming’s creation was a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale, which aired as part of the anthology adventure series Climax! While it may have had little in common with the film series that began eight years later (it featured an Americanized “Jimmy Bond,” CIA agent), it did have one indispensible element: the so-called “Bond girl.” Though the character of Vesper Lynd (played by Ursula Andress in the 1966 Casino spoof/adaptation, and Eva Green in the much-more-faithful 2006 version) was rechristened “Valerie Mathis,” she provided the seduction-and-betrayal angle familiar from our encounters with so many of Bond’s later leading ladies.

This arcane footnote of Bond trivia makes its way to your Flavorwire with an unfortunate pretense; Linda Christian, who played Valerie Mathis on that TV version of Casino Royale and was thus the very first Bond girl, died last week in Palm Springs at age 87. Her other film appearances included Up in Arms (with Danny Kaye), Green Dolphin Street (with Lana Turner), and Tarzan and the Mermaids, the final Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan picture. She was also the wife of swashbuckling star Tyrone Power and mother to two of his children. In honor of Christian and the seductive actresses who followed her, we decided to take a look at what became of some of our favorite Bond girls; check 'em out after the jump.

Open Thread: Does Comic-Con Matter?

If you read the movie blogs over the weekend, you read a whole lot about this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the annual convergence of comic book fans, movie geeks, and the filmmakers who would like their money. This year’s slate boasted several big-name directors—including Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Soderbergh—as well as panels for such potential blockbusters as The Amazing Spider-Man and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn- Part 1. But there were also some conspicuous absences over the weekend, perhaps attributable to increasingly abundant evidence that a big splash at Comic-Con does not necessarily translate to big box office. Is Hollywood’s love affair with the convention waning? And should it?

Cool Faux-Vintage ‘Captain America’ Posters

When your Flavorwire first received these gorgeous, propaganda-style posters for this week's Captain America: The First Avenger, commissioned by the Alamo Drafthouse and Mondo, we hesitated to share them--merely out of the fear that a post dedicated to them would amount to little more than a commercial for a big new release. Then we got a look at the movie itself, and figured what the hell, we'll shill for it--since it's a work of pure pop bubblegum pleasure, one of the most unabashedly enjoyable pictures in many a moon. (If it is outgrossed by Transformers 3-D, then Americans have lost their will to be entertained.)

One of the many ways that the film sets itself apart from its lesser comic-book movie brethren is in its unique period setting and distinctive production design; as you've probably gathered from the trailers, the bulk of the narrative is set in 1942, with Captain America taking on Hitler (specifically, a rogue wing of the Nazi army). That's why these promotional posters in WWII propaganda art style, as devised by artists Olly Moss, Tyler Stout, and Eric Tan, are so ingenious--they not only promote the picture, but encompass its jazzy aesthetic. Check them out after the jump.

Trailer Park: Badasses and Battleships

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. This week, we’ve got ten to show you—everything from new Soderbergh and Clooney movies to, yes, a film adaptation of a board game. Check ‘em all out after the jump.

Trailer Park: Superheroes, Ghosts, and Orgies

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. This week, we’ve only got six new ones—perhaps due to last week’s trailer overload—but there are two very big superheroes among them. Check ‘em all out after the jump.