Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Carlito's Way"

In 1983, director Brian DePalma, actor Al Pacino, and producer Martin Bregman teamed up for the Cuban gangster epic Scarface; though it generated heavy pre-release publicity, it was ultimately a critical and box-office bust. However, in the years that followed, it slowly found its audience on home video and became something of a cult classic, influencing young filmmakers and would-be rappers the world over. A decade later, the trio reunited for the Puerto Rican gangster epic Carlito's Way, and it was as though history were repeating itself--in spite of the heat coming off Pacino (who had just won his first Oscar) and Scarface's recent reappraisals, critics were indifferent and box office was mediocre at best. But then... well, you know the rest. Audiences began to discover Carlito's Way, and though its popularity certainly hasn't eclipsed the now-iconic Scarface (unfortunate, as Carlito is the far superior picture), it has a following of its own, as borne out by its multiple DVD releases and an unfortunate DTV "prequel".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Theaters: "Fright Night (2011)"

Full disclosure: I have never seen Fright Night, the 1985 horror picture upon which Craig Gillespie’s new remake is based. Depending on your point of view, that either renders me a) grossly under-qualified to judge the quality of the new film, or b) uniquely qualified to do just that, as it allows a viewing free of both negative comparisons and the nostalgic glow that tends to cloud our judgments of the pop culture of our youth. I went into the new Fright Night cold, so I can’t tell you how it stacks up. What I can tell is that it is a reasonably entertaining and high-spirited creeper that takes itself exactly the right degree of seriously.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On DVD: "Meet Monica Velour"

Sometimes small films can have unexpected heroes. For my money, one of the most valuable players in the indie comedy Meet Monica Velour is the graphic designer (or designers) who worked up its opening credit sequence. It gives us a kind of quickie history of the title character, a superstar of the Nina Hartley-Annie Sprinkle order, who headlined skin flicks during the “golden age of porn” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But these folks don’t just find someone with the look of the period, and think up some funny porn titles; they work up posters for titles like “Hooked on Hookers,” “New Wave Nookie,” “M*U*F*F,” and “Pork ‘N Mindy” that look absolutely authentic to both the source material and to the period. (I think. From what I’ve heard about pornography. Um…) That kind of attention to detail is part of what makes Meet Monica Velour, a fundamentally scanty little movie, work as well as it does; they create a little world credibly, so that even the broader moments have a degree of reality to them.

On DVD: "Queen to Play"

Poor Hélène (Sandrienne Bonnaire) is perpetually overlooked, overworked, and undersexed. She works as a maid at a fancy hotel on the French Riviera; she cleans houses some afternoons for extra money. Her husband is a hard-working painter, while their teenage daughter is embarrassed by their lower-class status. One day, while cleaning a room, she catches a glimpse of a couple on their balcony. They’re beautiful and classy and very much in love, and they’re playing chess. Hélène sizes this up and decides that she’d like that please, and so she starts playing chess. The other stuff comes later.

Monday, August 15, 2011

On DVD: "The Bang Bang Club"

Steven Silver’s The Bang Bang Club is set during the final years of South African Apartheid, but it was made in America, so of course it’s about the four white guys who took pictures of the struggle. It is also, you will not be surprised to learn, about how one of them enters the group as the brash but inexperienced rookie, slowly earns their respect, has an affair with their sexy photo editor, and wins the Pulitzer before being hit by an unexpected death, a colleague’s drug abuse, and a hard case of existential ennui. You will learn all of those things. You will not learn all that much about Apartheid.

And yet, somehow, here I am recommending The Bang Bang Club—not particularly for what it is about, but how it is about it. Silver shoots his picture with a go-go energy and a run-and-gun intensity; it’s a fast movie, full of hair-trigger encounters and big, epic street rumbles and people on fire, and damned if you don’t get caught up in the breathless spirit of the thing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Week's Flavorwires

Open Thread: Which Actors Are You Over?

Last Friday, during our weekly trailer round-up, we asked a glib but honest question: “Are we all agreed that we’ve passed the tipping point with Samuel L. Jackson?” The query was posed in response to the release of the trailer for Arena, a (from all indications) aggressively stupid straight-to-DVD video-game-centered action flick—and just another in a long, long line of terrible movies from an actor once considered to be among the finest of his generation. Jackson certainly isn’t alone, though; there are plenty of film actors who have proven themselves capable of brilliance but have apparently made the conscious decision to (barely) expend their energies on lazy, paycheck roles.

10 Movies Only Sort-Of Based on True Stories

On August 28, 2003, a pizza delivery man named Brian Welles walked into the PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania with a bomb strapped to his chest. It was placed there by a pair of criminals who told Welles that if he did not acquire $250,000 from the bank, the bomb would detonate. Forty minutes later, Welles was apprehended by police; he frantically explained his predicament and begged the officers on scene for help. Twenty minutes later, the device exploded, blowing a softball-sized hole into Welles’s chest that killed him.

Hilarious, eh?

The 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults In History

Earlier this summer, a shocking number of our readers flocked to read (and amend) our list of the harshest author-on-author insults in history. But you know who is even more childish, trifling, vindictive, and nasty than your favorite scribes? Your favorite filmmakers. These directors may not have quite the same precision with the written word as those rancorous authors, but when it comes to pettiness, they can’t be beat. After the jump, we’ll run down 30 of our favorite slights, slanders, and cheap shots from filmmakers both classic and contemporary; we’d love to hear yours in the comments.

10 Great Movies for Book Lovers

Hey there, bookworms, it’s National Book Lovers Day! How’s about celebrating by, um, watching a movie? (Our logic is less than ironclad, we’ll admit.) Sure, the moving picture doesn’t always do right by the written word, but a few fine films have celebrated literature and writers in ways memorable, thought-provoking, and entertaining; we’ve assembled ten of our favorites after the jump, with plenty of room in the comments for you to throw in your own.

Trailer Park: Shakespeare, Santa, and Spacey

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 eight new ones—everything from cancer comedies to Shakespearean dramas to, God help us, holiday fare. Check ‘em all out after the jump.