Friday, November 4, 2011

Some Friday Links

From American Public Media's The Dinner Party Download:
Episode 120: Chuck Klosterman, Diabolical Hawkes, and Zagats in the Zeitgeist

From their site: "Just ‘cause you like Halloween doesn’t mean you like horror movies. So Jason Bailey, film critic for Flavorwire (as well as The Village Voice and The Maddow blog), gives us a twist on the genre by sharing his favorite “horror hybrids” — comedies, rock musicals and family films, tarted up with monsters, spiders, and/or a few gallons of blood."

From Flavorwire:
10 Reasons We’re Done with Eddie Murphy

Tower Heist, perhaps the most unimaginatively titled movie of the year (and that’s no mean feat, following Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses), is out this Friday, and whatever interest it might have rustled up with its stellar cast of character actors (including Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni, Judd Hirsch, and Gabby Sidibe) and impressive screenwriters (Ocean’s 11’s Ted Griffin and Catch Me if You Can’s Jeff Nathanson) are pretty much cancelled out by two participants: director Brett Ratner, who has managed to kill every potential franchise he’s touched (with the unfortunate exception of his own Rush Hour movies), and co-star Eddie Murphy.

The fact that Murphy is playing an ex-con (like 48 HRS., remember? Back when he was funny?) in a movie not aimed at four-year-olds, and is actually bothering to do the slightest bit of publicity (in the form of a Rolling Stone interview—more on that later) seems to have folks feverishly talking “comeback” or “return to form” or whatever. This notion requires two giant leaps: 1) ignoring the Tower Heist trailer, which shows Murphy doing the same tired tough-guy schtick and exaggerated “street” patter as the execrable I Spy, and 2) overlooking the fact that he’s done exactly two good movies since 1999 (Bowfinger and Dreamgirls). We’re over Eddie Murphy, and after the jump, we’ll tell you why.

Movie Halloween Parties We’d Like to Attend

Happy Halloween, everybody! Since the ghoulish holiday falls on a Monday this year, we’re assuming many of you hit your Halloween parties last weekend—and have had your fill of putting on a ridiculous costume and enjoying far too many adult beverages. So if, like us, you’re staying in for the night, we’d like to suggest a few cinematic All Hallows’ Eve celebrations that you might visit this evening instead. After the jump, join us for a look at a few movie Halloween parties we’d like to attend.

Head of Major Studio Admits to Making Really Bad Movies

Candor is a rare commodity among powerful people in Hollywood—always has been, always presumably will be. But then there’s this fascinating Movieline report from the Savannah Film Festival, where special guest Ron Meyer (President and COO of Universal Pictures) dropped this little truth bomb: “We make a lot of shitty movies. Every one of them breaks my heart.”

Trailer Park: Scares, Swingers, and Safe Houses

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. We’ve got seven new trailers this week, ranging from family-friendly zombies to haunted hotels to psycho teens; check ‘em out after the jump.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In Theaters: "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas"

Either the “Harold & Kumar” movies are getting progressively better, or I’m just warming to these idiots. Their inaugural outing, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, was intermittently funny but mostly slapdash, sloppily made and wildly uneven (the “Battle-shits” scene is the low point of the series, and maybe of modern film comedy). The follow-up, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, was a modestly more successful affair, its coarseness and rough edges made more forgivable by the surprisingly sharp sociopolitical satire smuggled in among the weed-assisted giggles. And now we have A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, a full-on three-dimensional holiday extravaganza that is, walking away, the funniest and most entertaining film in the series. If these are the stoner Harry Potter movies, each one just a little bit better than the last, then 3D Christmas is the series’ Prisoner of Azkaban.

Some of that may be due to a slight shift in personnel; though series writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg again pen the script, they were otherwise engaged directorially (the duo is directing the new American Pie movie), replaced for this go-round by Todd Strauss-Schulson. Whatever the reason (the new director, a higher budget, a smoother script), 3D Christmas is a far more coherent and well-made picture than its predecessors, and one that is (for the most part) thankfully free of the odious scatological humor and unreasonable coincidences that made the earlier films so problematic.

Several years have passed. Harold (John Cho) is happily married to Maria (Paula Garcés), with a good job and a nice house. Kumar (Kal Penn), however, has dropped out of med school and broken up with Vanessa (Danneel Harris). Due to the divergent paths their lives have taken, the story begins with them rather at odds—they haven’t hung out in a couple of years, and there’s a weirdness and tension between them. As insane as it may sound to float the notion of “raising the stakes” in a Harold & Kumar movie, the bad blood is something of a masterstroke, allowing the film not only an actual narrative arc, but an opportunity to explode the regular formula.

Harold is hosting Maria’s extended family for Christmas—including her father (Danny Trejo—inspired casting), whose near-fanatical devotion to the rituals of the holidays come, it turns out, from a very personal place. One of those traditions is his home-grown Christmas tree, so of course Kumar manages to set it on fire within about five minutes of walking into Harold’s living room. The search for a suitable replacement serves the same function as the White Castle quest in the first film and the trip to Amsterdam in the second—an excuse for an increasingly incredible series of unfortunate encounters.

There are some fumbles along the way. The duo’s reconnection, over a game of beer pong, is abbreviated to the point of obscurity, and the Claymation interlude crumples under the inevitable (and unfortunate) comparisons to last year’s Christmas episode of Community. Also, a little bit of Tom Lennon and his unlucky baby goes a long way, and the tie-it-all-up-with-a-neat-bow ending (a consistent problem in the series) is done no favors by the inevitable “do you know what I’ve been through tonight?” speech. (Seriously, let’s get together as a moviegoing community and retire that sloppy trope.)

But let it be said: this is a funny movie. Neil Patrick Harris’s appearance is, as always, a highlight, and the script’s intermingling of his real life and his comic persona is wickedly amusing. (Ditto his closing line: “Hey, Merry Christmas guys—we’ll see you in the fourth one!”) Patton Oswalt’s bit as a mall Santa with a lucrative sideline business is too brief, but is still a welcome addition. And the leads have developed the patter and timing of a good comedy team—Cho (with his killer deadpan) proving a reliable reactive comic actor, Penn’s crackerjack timing consistently adroit.

Best of all, the filmmakers have taken the only appropriate approach to the intrusion of 3D into the proceedings: by treating it as a hack gimmick, and exploiting it solely for comic effect. With little jabs tossed into the dialogue (surveying a 3D TV as a possible Christmas gift, Harold asks, “Hasn’t the whole 3D thing jumped the shark by now?”) and effects sequences so overdone as to render the CG utterly cartoonish, the picture turns, in spots, into a satire of the entire bullshit craze.

Not to give the movie too much credit—it is, after all, a dumb second sequel to a stoner comedy. But it’s got affection for its characters, honestly-earned laughter, and a little something to offend everyone. Yes, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is crass and vulgar. But it is loudly, proudly, triumphantly so.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

In Theaters: "The Other F Word"

“I’m up here trying to be a good lead singer of a band and a good dad at the same time,” says Jim Lindberg, of the venerable punk band Pennywise, “and you worry that you’re doing a bad job at both.” This is the conundrum faced by all of the tattooed, pierced, hard-rocking family men at the center of The Other F-Word, an entertaining and thoughtful new documentary from filmmaker Andrea Blaugrund. She looks at a handful of musicians—including Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ron Reyes from Black Flag, Lars Frederiksen from Rancid, Art Alexakis from Everclear, and Mark Hoppus from Blink-182—who are attempting to intermingle two seemingly incongruent ethos: punk rock and responsible fatherhood.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On DVD: "Crazy, Stupid, Love."

The trouble with Crazy, Stupid, Love.--which is a thoroughly engaging picture that proved quite popular in its theatrical release--is that it's about the wrong couple. The narrative is primarily concerned with Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore), who have been married for 25 years and are getting a divorce. But it also, secondarily, the story of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), the ladies' man who takes Cal under his wing ("I'm gonna help you rediscover your manhood"), and Hannah (Emma Stone), the sexy, funny law student who changes him up.

Let's be clear: Carell and Moore are good, very good, believable and grounded, and while the scenes of Jacob cleaning Cal up and teaching him how to talk to women have been done before, Carell and Gosling do them with a playful energy that's refreshing. But when Stone and Gosling get on screen together, it's suddenly another movie--a better movie, a smarter and funnier one that ends up getting smothered by the picture's imposing style and formulaic construction.

Monday, October 31, 2011

On DVD: "Tabloid"

In September of 1977, a young Mormon named Kirk Anderson went missing from a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in England, where he was working as a missionary. A few days later, he contacted police, and reported that he had been abducted by Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen he had dated back in the States. Anderson claimed that McKinney and her accomplice had taken him to a remote cottage and imprisoned him, and that McKinney, after failing to seduce him, had raped him several times. McKinney claimed that she had helped him escape from the Mormon "cult," and that they had enjoyed a romantic weekend together before his Mormon guilt sent him back to the church, which forced him to lie about the encounter.

These are, it seems, categorically opposite descriptions of the same event, told with equal force and vigor--a salacious, sensationalistic version, and a flowery, romantic one. Who the hell is our reliable source here? And with that question, we're getting into Errol Morris territory.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Your Friday Links, on Sunday

From the Maddow Blog:
Politics Goes to the Movies: 'Margin Call'

The first two reviews I read of J.C. Chandor’s new financial-meltdown drama Margin Call were startling in their incongruity, at least with regards to the current events in downtown Manhattan. David Edelstein, in New York Magazine: “[T]he fine men and women dug in downtown need to get themselves a big screen, a projector, and a few thousand tubs of popcorn, because J. C. Chandor’s Margin Call is to Occupy Wall Street what The China Syndrome was to Three Mile Island: the fiction that will make it, here in Movie-Mad America, ever so much more real.” Melissa Anderson, meanwhile, in the Village Voice: “Chandor’s debut feature audaciously asks us to empathize with obscenely overpaid risk analysts and their bosses, a gambit that fails not only because of what’s happening at Zuccotti Park, but largely because his characters are little more than mouthpieces for blunt speechifying and Mamet-like outbursts.” So which is it? A field-trip worthy cinematic accompaniment to the cause, or a tone-deaf apologia for those in its sights?

From the Village Voice:
Greil Marcus Revisits Some Strange Days...

Greil Marcus would like to talk about his iPhone.

“Look at the iPhone,” he says, picking it up from next to him on the couch in his crisply decorated, sun-soaked West Village apartment. “You know, it’s good looking…” He pushes the button at the bottom, and his home screen pops up. “I mean, isn’t that cool?” He points at the app logos. “What does that mean? Look at all those talismanic symbols—I wonder what they are?” He contemplates the object. “It was derided by all sorts of people, and I was probably one of them, as some sort of expensive status symbol, or just the latest electronic fetish object … But then people discover not only is it beautiful, not only is it cool—in the best sense of the word—but it’s also useful. And it really does make life easier. And not only does it make life easier, but it makes life more interesting and fun.

Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark Zooms In

No figure in the relatively brief history of American film criticism has proven as iconic, distinctive, or divisive as Pauline Kael, resident iconoclast of The New Yorker’s “Current Cinema” section during some of the best years of cinema (and several after that as well). Allergic to over-intellectualism and prone to fits of hyperbole, Kael was accused of picking fights and playing favorites. Filmmakers feared her, cinephiles adored her, editors dreaded her. But in her expansive essays, she took on American movies with an infectious enthusiasm and uncommon sincerity, and did it with a freedom and dexterity of prose that was, in its own way, revolutionary.

From Flavorwire:
10 Memorable Cinematic Alter Egos

This Thursday, Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel The Rum Diary opens across the country. Based on an early novel by the good doctor of gonzo journalism, the role of Thompson’s stand-in, journalist “Paul Kemp,” is being played by Johnny Depp—who has, with this film, pretty much planted is flag for good on the island of “cinematic portrayals of Hunter S. Thompson.” After the jump, we’ll take a closer look at Depp’s ongoing onscreen personification of the late Thompson, and nine more actors who became the cinematic avatars for distinctive writers and filmmakers.

Open Thread: What Are the Essential Horror Movies?

As we discussed last week, it’s a weird month to be a movie buff it you’re not also a horror movie fan. All of your cinephile friends on Twitter and on message boards are breathlessly updating their progress on whatever insane Halloween-month horror movie challenge they’ve undertaken (some do the “31 Days, 31 Horror Movies” thing; others push even further, proclaiming that they’ll do a full 100 scary flicks by month’s end); creepshows of all stripes are analyzed, recommended, and quoted. It’s even tougher to get by if you’re expected to write about cinema—where are your horror movie lists? What’s your ten scariest? Ten scariest horror movie kids? Ten bloodiest? Ten goofiest? And so on, and so on.

Festival Favorite ‘Shame’ Gets the NC-17, Because of Genitals

Shame, the sex addiction drama from director Steve McQueen that wowed audiences at the Telluride, Toronto, and New York Film Festivals (where we somehow managed to miss every single screening), has been officially branded with an NC-17 by the MPAA. The application of the rating, which prohibits anyone under the age of 17 from seeing the film (whether with an adult guardian or not), doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has seen the picture; star Michael Fassbender reportedly spends a healthy percentage of the film’s running time in his birthday suit, and without the artful and careful coverage of his man-parts that is required to get the R. (Co-star Carey Mulligan goes full-frontal as well, but that, of course, is perfectly acceptable within the R rating, so hi double standard, how ya doin.)

Our Favorite ’80s Horror Covers from Fake Criterions

We’ve made occasional mention of our love for the “Fake Criterons” tumblr, in which the striking graphics, clever designs, and isolated imagery of that preeminent cinephile line is applied to films that are, for the most part, entirely undeserving of inclusion among that “continuing series of important classic and contemporary films.” But that site has gone above and beyond this month, with their “Faked from the Dead” series, comprised entirely of fake Criterions for 1980s-era horror movies (From their challenge: "Summer camps, creepy basements, old caretakers, guys with improbable masks, dime store psychologists, abandoned insane asylums, broken down cars in the middle of nowhere- all of it"). Their many contributors risen to the occasion, and have created dozens of sharp, funny, and downright ridiculous covers. After the jump, we’ve selected a few of our faves.

Trailer Park: You Know, For Kids!

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. We’ve got six new trailers this week, with an emphasis on family-friendly fare. Check ‘em out after the jump.